Changes 16

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Despite Nick's misgivings, Ian gave very little thought to Morgan's `date', or the possibility that it might grow into something more for his friend. The young solicitor's attentions were drawn in an entirely different direction shortly after the night that Morgan was left to his own devices in the bar, and Nick and Ian went home alone.

The trial of the men accused of drug dealing by Geoff's posthumous evidence was looming. Ian had been contacted by Detective Sciutta several times already to clarify minor points of his remembered details, or simply to keep the young lawyer informed as to the progress of preparations for the case. Even without Ian's re-telling of Geoff's story, the police felt reasonably confident -- they had the information found in Geoff's apartment, including his computer files and bank records, but Ian could tie it all together very strongly if allowed to tell his tale.

It was only the thought of in some way avenging Geoff's death that kept Ian going however. As the hearing grew closer, his anxiety increased accordingly. He knew that he would be called upon not only to repeat the information that Geoff had given him that day on the drive into Canberra, but also to face strenuous cross-examination about his memory and indeed his whole relationship with Geoff Carruthers. That in turn would re-ignite all the memories and all the emotional upheaval he had tried to bury over the last few months. Nick and Tina constantly offered support and reassurance, and Jim at the office tried his best to prepare Ian for the grilling he would face, but when the time came, they all knew that the young man, still so fragile in many ways, would face the interrogation of the defence lawyers alone.

Michael Sciutta was also very much aware of what Ian was facing, and far more concerned for his star witness' peace of mind and emotional well-being than he let on to his own superiors and the prosecuting officer. He felt a greater affinity for Ian Sterling than mere professional courtesy. The events leading to Carruthers' death; the devastation wrought upon Ian's quiet, closeted life; and the mental and emotional pressure placed upon the young man now; for all of these things Michael felt at least partially responsible. And as hard as he tried to hide it, even from himself, the attraction he felt for the solicitor on a personal level meant that the cop was doing everything he could to ease Ian's burden as the trial approached.

Ian's nerves roller-coastered along as the days passed. He would be up and confident one day, determined to do his part in convicting the drug-dealers whom he now saw as having destroyed Geoff's life; then down and fidgety the next, concerned that his testimony would not be enough, that the criminals would walk free. And through it all, he grimly braced himself for the coming public scrutiny of his relationship, and the baring of his emotional wounds. Michael's calls of reassurance and gentle encouragement grew more frequent, and Ian began to count on them as a foil to the depression he sensed. There was little more that Michael could tell him on a daily basis now about the trial itself - all was in readiness. Ian didn't need the Detective's advice or information in order to prepare his story or his evidence, but he certainly relied upon the cop's friendly voice to get him through the days. It was as though the world was racing all around him, and Michael Sciutta's calm, determined promise that all would be well was a rock to cling to in the gathering storm.

Finally, it was time. Ian presented himself at the prosecutor's office as soon as the Court house opened, approaching the imposing sandstone fa´┐Żade of the monolithic building on Taylor Square without even noticing it. Somewhere below him, in the labyrinth of tunnels and holding cells, were the men he was here to help convict. As he passed from sunlight into the shadow, between the massive Corinthian columns, a shudder rocked his frame and the butterflies filled his stomach once more.

"Ian, over here!" came a familiar voice.

"Hello, Michael," he smiled palely.

"Ready to do battle?" the cop grinned, trying to make light of the task ahead.

"I, ... I guess so," came the uncertain response.

"You'll be fine! Come down here - we have some reasonably comfortable rooms where you can wait to be called without having to sit and wonder," said Michael as he led Ian away from the public foyer and into the police chambers. "You know we can't discuss the case once it gets started, but there's no need for you to be 'on show' out there while you wait."

"Any idea how long before I'll be called?" Ian asked in a timid voice.

"I'm not sure," answered Michael. "I'll be giving evidence first, and then I understand they'll call you."

"You? You're giving evidence too?"

"Of course, Ian. We have to link the computers and documents found at the flat, and that's where I come in. Then you'll testify as to what Geoff said, and after that the experts will come in, to explain what was actually found on the computers, and how it leads to the defendants."

"Yes, of course," Ian mumbled. It had not occurred to him that Michael would also be facing the witness box. But it all made sense. After all, Michael had been the driving force behind the investigation - how could Ian have thought he would not be giving evidence as well?

Very soon afterwards, a court officer came through, calling out Michael's name. The Detective stood up and acknowledged that he was on his way. "Make yourself comfortable," he said to Ian. "There's coffee over there. And don't worry - it will all be fine!"

With that he was gone. Ian settled down to wait, knowing that it could be hours before he was required in the Courtroom. He flipped through a discarded magazine lying on a side table, but couldn't concentrate on the stories to read it. He stood up and paced for a while, then sat and closed his eyes, although sleep was the furthest thing from his mind at that time. He fidgeted a little, and examined every square centimetre of the room carefully. His nerves had receded now, and he was becoming distracted by old fashioned boredom.

Just after 1.00 p.m., the prosecutor pushed open the door and breezed into the room, his stiff grey wig slung carelessly over one hand, his black robes flowing behind him.

"Well, Mr Sterling," he boomed. "Things are going well! Detective Sciutta's evidence is done, and the judge has just taken a lunch break. I don't want you and Detective Sciutta even seen speaking with each other for now - I'm sure you both know the rules well enough, and I trust both of you, but it's better if we keep up appearances as well. Go and get yourself something to eat, and be back here around 1.55 if you can. I plan to call you shortly after lunch!"

"Oh, okay," said Ian, a little bemused. He knew that he could not discuss the matter with Michael now that evidence had commenced, but it had not occurred to him that they would not speak at all. Still, it made sense not to give the defence any ammunition, so Ian hurried from the Court as suggested, and found a small cafe nearby where he picked uninterestedly at some pasta while the minutes ticked by until it was time to return to his waiting.

As predicted, around a quarter past two, Ian heard his name being called outside the Courtroom. He quickly got to his feet and gestured at the attendant, who led him into the chamber itself.

"Ian Sterling before the Court, Your Honour!" announced the man, as Ian walked toward the bench.

"Mr Sterling, please take the witness stand," muttered the judge without looking up.

Steeling himself, Ian strode purposefully toward the small timber-panelled box to one side of the bench, past the jurors who looked at him with disinterested curiosity. He could feel the eyes of the police prosecutor on him, as well as those of the defence counsel, and he swore the stares of the two defendants from the enclosed area behind the bar table were stabbing into his back. As he stood to face the judge, a court attendant handed him an open bible, and a slip of paper from which he read the oath. As he finished, the judge looked at him and asked him to take his seat.

The prosecutor, Mr Adams, began. "Would you please state your full name, address and occupation," he asked.

Ian complied, and as he announced that he was a solicitor, a ripple of interest ran through the jury, and more than one set of eyebrows was raised. Even the judge looked more closely at him over the rim of his glasses.

"Thank you, Mr Sterling," the prosecutor started again. "Now, do you recall the events of the 23rd of March this year?"

"I'll never forget them!" Ian said with conviction.

"Quite! ... And could you tell the Court what happened on that day?"

Ian drew a long breath, and began. "That day I drove from Melbourne towards Sydney, with a Mr Geoff Carruthers," he said. "On the way, Mr Carruthers received a telephone call which caused us to divert into Canberra. During the drive from Yass to Canberra, Mr Carruthers explained to me in great detail the criminal activities in which he had been engaging for some time beforehand ..."

At that statement, the defence barrister, Mr Zelinski, was on his feet in a flash. "Objection, Your Honour," he stated loudly.

"Yes, Mr Zelinski?" said the judge.

"This witness is testifying about a conversation with some third party, of which my clients have no knowledge. Neither the witness nor this other person, Mr Carruthers, are on trial here today, and any such conversation is irrelevant to these proceedings."

The prosecutor looked expectantly at the judge, and in response to a raised eyebrow of question, he also stood.

"Agreed, Your Honour," he began. "However Mr Sterling is the only one able to give evidence of what Mr Carruthers said that day. Mr Carruthers was killed shortly afterwards. Mr Sterling's evidence is of what it was that Mr Carruthers said at that time to Mr Sterling, and that conversation is indeed relevant to Mr Carruthers' dealings with the defendants, and the matters before the Court."

The judge looked from the prosecutor to the defence counsel and back again, thinking hard.

"I will allow some latitude in the circumstances," he declared. "But you are sailing close to the wind, Mr Adams. Mr Sterling, as a solicitor, and an officer of the Court, I expect you to be very careful about what you say. You will be allowed to repeat the conversation you had with Mr Carruthers, but on a 'word-for-word' basis. You are not to speculate on what Mr Carruthers thought, and you may only give evidence as to what Mr Carruthers said he did, not on what he may have told you others did. Do I make myself understood?"

"Very clearly, Your Honour," Ian responded.

"Very well, continue then ..."

Taking a deep breath, Ian recounted his story, repeating as best he could the precise words Geoff had used in the car that day. He listed Geoff's activities - the drug deals and arrangements, the money transfers and delivery procedures; and he carefully avoided anything he felt would be against the judge's instructions. Even so, the defence lawyer jumped to his feet with objections several times, and each time the judge weighed the matter carefully in his mind before allowing Ian to continue. Finally, late in the afternoon, Ian finished.

"That is all I have from this witness, Your Honour," announced Mr Adams.

"Hmmm," murmured the judge. "I feel this is an appropriate time to break for the day. We'll come back for any cross-examination first thing tomorrow morning!"

A court attendant jumped up and commanded everyone to stand, as the judge exited the bench. The prosecutor approached Ian quickly.

"Well done!" he said. "You did very well. Tomorrow won't be easy for you, but the jury were taking close notice of what you were saying. Thank you!"

Ian smiled weakly.

"Be here tomorrow by 9.45, okay? And don't forget - no discussion of the case with anyone."

"No, I won't." Ian reassured him. He looked to where Michael stood, and saw the cop shrug his shoulders without making any attempt to approach him. 'No chatting with him either', Ian told himself as he made his way out of the building and into the crowded street. Despite the thousands of people around him, Ian felt truly alone at that moment. He considered calling Nick, or Morgan, but discarded the thought - they would only want to ask him about the case, to talk about what had transpired in the court-room, and Ian wanted simply to push it all aside until it was done with.

He opted instead to make his lonely way home through the throngs, and locked himself away for the evening, his answering machine on, as he faced a listless and difficult night.

The next morning, he was back at the court well before necessary, tense and fidgety again. He told himself it was the lack of sleep, but in reality he knew deep down that it was the thought of facing the cross-examination, and wished that he could have been anywhere else but here.

With the court resumed, and Ian warned that he was still on his previously given oath, the defence barrister, Mr Zelinski, took the floor. He smiled warmly at the young solicitor, but his eyes were cold and sharp. For the next two hours he fired off a barrage of questions which had Ian repeating several times certain things that Geoff had said to him, and each time Ian recounted what had been said, as close as he could to the original conversation from Geoff.

Eventually, it became clear that Ian was not going to be shaken or tricked into contradicting himself or his evidence. Without warning, the questioning took an entirely different course.

"Why did Mr Carruthers tell you all of this detail about his dealings?" Mr Zelinski asked.

"Because he was coming to give himself up to the police," Ian answered.

"But why go into so much detail, in a motor vehicle?"

"We were on our way back to Sydney, and he was going to go to the police, to surrender, as soon as we got back," Ian said uncertainly.

"That may well be the case," the defence lawyer said almost patronisingly, "but why tell you?"

"He wanted to convince me that he was serious about turning himself in."

"Surely he could have done that later," Zelinski said, although it was phrased as a question rather than a statement. "Why go into it in the car?"

"He wanted my help, my support, when he was in custody."

"Again though, why do it in a moving vehicle?"

"Well, he was also trying to prove to me that he really was coming back to Sydney ..." Ian said slowly. "We had diverted to Canberra against my wishes, and he was anxious to show me that it wasn't just an excuse to avoid coming to Sydney."

"But why did he feel such a pressing need to convince you, Ian Sterling, that he was serious about it? Why tell you about this at all?"

Ian hesitated for a moment, seeing where the question was leading, and yet hoping that he could still avoid revealing the truth of that awful day. But Mr Zelinski didn't wait for an answer. He went on himself.

"I suggest to you, Mr Sterling, that Mr Carruthers was so keen to impress upon you his seriousness, because you and he were lovers, and that you had had an argument over his activities. Is that the case?"

Ian blushed a deep red, the heat rising into his face as he gripped the edge of the witness box fiercely.

"Yes," he said in no more than a whisper.

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you ..." said Zelinski.

"Yes!" Ian replied with some force. "Yes, we had been lovers, and yes, we had argued over his criminal activities." He looked quickly around the room, taking in the bemused and surprised jurors; the sudden disapproval of the judge, and the anguish on Michael's face, and went on. "In fact, we had broken up because of his activities. He was trying to convince me that he would change - he wanted us to get back together again," Ian hissed through gritted teeth.

The defence barrister sneered smugly. "So he would have told you anything, anything at all, if he thought it would re-unite the two of you," he said knowingly.

"No!" Ian declared forcefully. "He was being completely honest with me! If he had wanted to trick me, he would have come up with some excuse, tried to make himself out as the innocent one. But instead he laid all of his cards on the table, told me everything." Ian was fighting to stifle a sob as he spoke out, pointedly directing his remarks at the jury rather than his questioner.

"So you say," Zelinski shrugged dismissively. "But who knows what he really thought."

"No ..." Ian began to protest, but the barrister interrupted him with a wave of his arm.

"I have no more questions for this witness, Your Honour," he said as he turned his back on Ian and moved back to his seat.

"Thank you, Mr Sterling, you may step down now, and you may be excused from the precincts of the Court," said the judge in a formal voice. "We will adjourn now, until tomorrow morning," he intoned.

"All rise!" came the shrill voice of the attendant. "This Court is now adjourned!"

With a bustle of activity, the room emptied, and Ian stepped away from the witness box, feeling drained and devastated. As the prosecution lawyers packed away their papers and files, Michael stepped up to where Ian stood, his hand coming up to rest on Ian's shoulder.

"You okay?" he asked, the concern in his voice genuine.

Ian nodded tiredly.

"Thanks for that. I know how hard it was for you," Michael empathised.

Together, the two men exited the court-room, Michael leading Ian back to the police preparation room, and pouring him a strong coffee. As the cop handed the steaming brew to the young lawyer, he looked down at Ian's bowed head, and his heart ached.

"Ian, it's all over now!" he stated flatly. "You should be proud of what you've done."

"But have I helped?" Ian agonised. "Or was it all in vain - having my feelings dragged out into public, having my relationship with Geoff put under the microscope like that? All I did was make Geoff look like a real thug, a criminal. Maybe he was, but he was more than that, you know? And now he's dead!"

"But his death wasn't your fault!" Michael said forcefully, a little more forcefully than he intended. "Geoff may have truly regretted his past, he may well have been intent on changing his life and becoming an upstanding citizen, inspired by how he felt for you. But unfortunately time ran out for him. Maybe it was too little, too late, maybe it was just meant to be."

Ian winced as the memories came flooding back again. His body began to tremble involuntarily.

"Don't be upset," Michael pleaded. "I didn't mean that I was questioning his motives. Geoff just ran out of time, but at least you can be sure he loved you," he said, his voice almost a whisper of emotion. "For heaven's sake, Ian, he was giving himself up because of how he felt for you ... and he was a smart man. What you two had was special, was powerful. Even I can see that."

Ian looked up at the policeman, his eyes misting as the words sank in. Suddenly, his legs went to jelly, and he began to pitch forward, his body wracked with sobs. Michael saw him topple, and reached out quickly, gathering the solicitor into his arms, holding his weight as Ian cried out the pain. For long minutes the two men stood together as Ian sobbed and Michael held him, feeling a mixture of sorrow and elation at the proximity. Finally, the young man's grief subsided, and he regained his composure, lifting himself embarrassedly away from Michael's shoulder.

"I'm sorry," he sputtered at last. "I didn't mean to get all blubbery on you ..."

"That's fine," replied the cop. "I don't mind. You needed a shoulder, and I'm glad you felt you could use mine."

"Thanks, Michael," Ian said quietly. "I mean it, thanks for everything you've done since ..."

He didn't need to complete the sentence, and as his eyes began to moisten again, Michael tried to lighten the mood.

"Hey, take it easy," he said comfortingly. "If you're not careful, you'll have to buy me a new shirt."

They both grinned at that, and Ian forced himself to stand up straight. "You deserve it. And I think I should buy you dinner too, if you'll let me?"

Michael spluttered in surprised delight. That was exactly what he had been wishing for over these last weeks, but never had the courage to ask it. His face reddened instantly and he struggled to speak.

"Just as a thank you," Ian added hurriedly, mistaking Michael's consternation. "I'm not trying to ask you on a date or anything, I just feel I owe you so much. Of course, I'll understand if you would rather not go out for dinner with someone who's gay ..."

Michael almost laughed out loud. His face softened and he stepped towards the young lawyer, impulsively wanting to hug him. But just at that moment the door flew open, and the barrister entered the small room, followed by his instructing solicitor and a couple of assistants.

"Wonderful!" exclaimed Mr Adams. "Mr Sterling, you did a great job. I'm sure your evidence will sit really well with the jury! I feel very confident of a successful outcome to this case now."

"I, uh," Ian said, lost for words. Michael stepped away from him quickly, not wanting to let the others see what had been about to happen.

"Now, Detective Sciutta," the barrister went on breezily, "I need to go over with you what else we need to cover for the rest of the case ..."

Michael looked helplessly from the prosecutor to Ian and back, torn in his sentiments.

"I, ah, I'll get moving then," Ian said helplessly.

"Ian, if you need to talk or anything ..." Michael said.

"I'll be fine," came the unconvincing reply, as Ian turned and made his way outside. Michael watched helplessly as Ian left, then his attention was drawn back to the room again as the barrister began listing the matters that he wanted the policeman to attend to as quickly as possible.


For the next week, Detective Sciutta was kept very busy as the hearing wound up, and he used that as an excuse not to call Ian Sterling again, to take up the offer of dinner. In truth, after thinking about the events of the day long and hard, Michael had convinced himself that Ian's invitation had come as a spur of the moment thing, made without real thought and in a cloud of emotion. He was not at all sure that Ian would seriously want to have dinner with him now that things had calmed down, and the court case finished.

For his part, Ian ascribed the failure of the cop to contact him to a concern that Michael might think he was being propositioned. 'He doesn't want to give the wrong impression' Ian told himself. 'He is probably uncomfortable with the idea of having a one-on-one meal with a gay guy!'.

A little over a week after his evidence was finished, Ian had arranged to resume his regular drinks with Nick and Morgan at their usual pub. Arriving with Nick, he found Morgan already seated at a table, with the same guy who they had left him with a month or more earlier. Ian grinned knowingly, and Nick stared at the newcomer openly, as they joined the couple.

"Hi, Ian, Nick," Morgan said a little nervously. "This is Tony." He smiled at the two friends, before turning to his companion. "Tony, this is Ian and Nick."

The three shook hands easily enough, and before long they had settled into a light banter, Tony quickly accepted and easily fitting into the group. Even Nick came to the grudging conclusion that he was a nice guy, and that he and Morgan made a happy pair. Three quarters of an hour later, Tony excused himself from the table and went in search of the men's room.

"So," said Ian mischievously, "is this love?" He dragged out the 'L' word in a long and exaggerated voice.

Morgan grinned good-naturedly. "You know, I think it might be! He is just wonderful. We have so much in common, and I feel so comfortable just being with him."

"Congratulations!" Ian said, and meant it. He was so happy to see Morgan enjoying life.

"And no more pretending," Morgan went on. "I am just being me, and amazingly enough, he seems to like it."

"That's great," said Ian.

"Now all we have to do is find you a man, and we can all live happily ever after," Nick joked.

"I doubt it," Ian became sombre again. "I don't think there is anyone out there for me."

"Of course there is, you just have to go looking," Nick protested.

"No you don't!" Morgan interrupted. "I think the best thing you can do is just to be yourself. Love found me when I wasn't looking, and I'm sure it will do the same for you. If you go out searching for it, it's just as likely to pass you by!"

The three of them laughed again as Tony re-joined them. But later, when Morgan had the opportunity to catch Ian alone, he repeated his advice in a more serious tone. "I mean what I said, Ian. Be who you are, don't go about pretending to be someone different, and you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised when some really nice guy asks if he can buy you a coffee or dinner!"

Ian smiled again, but he took Morgan's words to heart, and promised himself that this was exactly what he was going to do.


Over the next few weeks, Ian became embroiled in a whirlwind of activity. With the prosecution of Geoff's former associates completed, the finalisation of arrangements for his new project became his top priority. He had rented office space and recruited staff, finding the best and brightest in the field of assisting homeless youth for the Foundation named in honour of Geoff's memory. Ian's dream, with the help of Geoff's money, was now a reality.

Ian planned a gala opening - a big party at the newly completed offices, to announce his plans and to launch the new programme of assistance for young gay men down on their luck. Invitations were issued to politicians and community groups, businessmen whom Ian hoped would offer additional support, colleagues and friends. The guest list ran to over a hundred, and Ian smiled proudly. He had included Detective Sciutta on that list, partly because he wanted to show the cop that Geoff could do some good, even in death, and partly because he felt he owed the detective for all his help. And just maybe, Ian thought he might like an excuse to see the good-looking cop one more time. After all, he was very easy on the eye!

He personally delivered the invitation for Nick and Tina to their home.

"You will come, won't you?" he asked confidently.

"Of course!" declared Nick.

"We wouldn't miss it," Tina added. "We know how much this means to you. I think it's a wonderful thing that you're doing."

"Thanks, guys, I mean it!" Ian said. "I will be on the main table with the people who will be running the various sections, and a couple of high-flying big-wigs I hope will support us. I hope you don't mind, but I've put you on another table, close by to where I'll be, but not at the same table. Maggie Jones will be sitting with you, and Michael Sciutta - you remember him?"

"Sure," replied Tina. "The police officer who was involved in everything - he seemed like a nice guy, if a bit on the quiet side. We'll get along just fine."


The night of the party arrived, and almost everyone who had been invited showed up. Ian worked the room, a little nervous, but at the same time glowing in the compliments he received for taking the initiative and setting up this new Foundation. As the official part of the proceedings got underway, the crowd took their seats, and Tina smiled warmly at a slightly out-of-place Detective Sciutta who sat beside her.

"Nice to see you again, Detective," she said easily.

"Ahh, thank you," Michael replied. "Although I'm not sure what I'm doing here."

"Don't be so modest," Tina rebuked him.

"Yes," added Nick. "I know that Ian is very grateful for all your help through this whole affair."

"Just doing my job," Michael answered, although the smile he wore showed his pleasure at the recognition.

"Could I have your attention please, ladies and gentlemen?" Ian's voice rang out from the neighbouring table. The room hushed, and all eyes turned to the young lawyer as he stood alone, fidgeting to overcome his nerves.

"As you now know, the purpose of tonight's gathering is to launch a new venture - an organisation dedicated to providing assistance - both monetary and otherwise - to the large number of young men in this city, some as young as 12 and 13 years of age, who find themselves on the streets without support simply because they are homosexual. In far too many cases, these boys are deserted and abandoned by family and friends as a result of the fact that they are gay. They cannot change the way they are, they cannot hide it any longer, but the prejudices which still haunt our society mean that they are cast adrift by the usual network of peers and parents, and left to fend for themselves. Homelessness often follows, resulting in the victims - for that is what they are - victims; turning to prostitution in order to support themselves, and to drugs in order to ease the pain and loneliness.

"Geoff Carruthers was once a young, gay, street-boy. He may not have been thrown out of his home, but he was abandoned nonetheless. He fought his way up from the gutters to establish a life for himself and to accumulate the wealth he believed was necessary for his self-preservation. I will not pretend that what Geoff did was completely legal. There were many activities with which he became involved that were criminal, or at the least, suspect. It was the criminal side of his life which led to his early and untimely death."

Ian took a breath at that point, drawing his strength and courage to go on from the supportive faces of his friends in the crowd. "Despite his criminal activities, Geoff Carruthers was a powerful and charming man. I fell in love with him, and he changed my life for the better." A short pause as light clapping broke out around the room, and then he went on.

"Shortly before he died, Geoff decided to 'go straight' - to confess his crimes, and to try to change his life. In the most unfortunate of circumstances, he was murdered by evil men before he had a chance to implement that decision, but I have no doubt that given time and opportunity, he would have done so as determinedly as he did everything else in life. As a result of my relationship with Geoff, I have been given control of his assets, and in memory of him, I have decided to make use of his money to try to assist the young, disadvantaged gay men who find themselves without the backing that most people can rely upon during their formative years."

Ian smiled again as more clapping followed his comments. The noise subsided, and he continued.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people who have been so helpful in setting up this organisation, and so supportive of me over the past months. My colleagues and friends at `Armstrong and Sorenson, Solicitors', especially Ms Maggie Jones; my parents; my closest friends, Mr & Mrs Nick and Tina Leonidis; and Detective Michael Sciutta, who helped and guided me through a very difficult time following Geoff's death, and whose wonderful assistance truly went 'above and beyond the call of duty'! On that note, I would ask that you all raise your glasses, and join me in a toast - to the ongoing success of the 'Geoff Carruthers Foundation for Homeless Gay Youth'."

A cheer went up, followed by a long and boisterous round of applause for Ian and his new charity. Several of the guests turned to look at Maggie and Nick and Tina, and at Michael, following their being singled out for special comment. All of them beamed with pride, and reddened slightly at the attention being directed at them. Nick looked again at his dinner companion, the quiet Detective Sciutta, and saw on Michael's face something more than simple pride. He found himself wondering at the look in Michael's eyes - a kind of longing, emotional look, and swivelled around, following Michael's gaze to see what it was the officer was looking at.

With a start, Nick realised that Michael was looking long and hard at his friend, Ian. And from somewhere deep inside, Nick knew that he had seen that look on Michael's face before - yes, it was the same look he had seen when he found Michael sitting with Ian late at night in the hospital on the day that Geoff was killed. Tina always accused him of being slow, but in a flash it occurred to him what the look was; Michael was in love with Ian! Nick was certain of it.

Following Ian's speech, the guests were treated to a lavish meal, and conversations flowed throughout the room. Ian himself circulated around the different tables, accepting congratulations, recommending support for the Foundation, and generally taking on his new role as the head of the organisation. He managed only a few words with Nick and Tina and Michael before being called away to meet with another politician. As the evening wore on, Nick contrived to change places with Tina, so that he was now seated directly alongside Michael. Taking advantage of a lull when the people on either side of the two were talking with other guests, Nick leaned closer to Michael, and spoke quietly.

"Detective," he began.

"Please, call me Michael?" the cop interrupted.

"Okay, Michael. This is really none of my business, and if you tell me to butt out I will, but - I was wondering - are you gay?"

Michael's eyes raised quickly with surprise, but without any embarrassment, he answered smoothly. "Yes, I am!"

"I suspected as much," Nick said. "You know Ian is my best friend ..." Michael simply nodded his acknowledgment. "... so I guess I'm looking out for him a little. I've noticed a few things over the last couple of months which prompt me to ask - are you interested in him, you know, romantically?"

Michael blushed deeply this time, the blood rushing to his face as he spluttered to find words. Finally he answered in a croaky whisper. "I think he is a wonderful man, and yes, I would love to get to know him like that."

"Then for god's sake, why haven't you done anything about it?" Nick almost exploded.

Michael's eyes hardened with sad resolve. "Because I don't have anything to offer him," he stated flatly. "I'm just a working stiff, a cop who does his job and gets on with it. What would I have in common with a man like Ian Sterling? He's rich, handsome, and smart. He lives life to the full - and I doubt that there would be room in his life for me!"

Before Nick could say another word, Michael stood quickly, embarrassed by his own outburst, and walked out of the room, leaving Nick to stare in wonder at his retreating back, open-mouthed.

Overcoming his initial shock, Nick felt a growing sense of exasperation - with Ian and Michael in particular, and with gay men generally. Drawing Tina's attention away from the other guests, he fumed as he repeated to her word for word, his conversation with the detective.

"Well, what do you know!" Tina stated, her face developing a knowledgeable grin. "And incredibly observant of you to pick it up, my darling," she added teasingly.

"Maybe I'm developing some 'gaydar' of my own," Nick laughed.

"We have to do something, have to get those two together," his wife declared.

"But how? I'm certain that if we start playing matchmaker, both of them will run as fast as they can in the opposite direction."

"Agreed. This will have to be carefully planned," Tina said thoughtfully, her mind already working hard at a solution.

Half an hour later, Tina managed to work her way into a spot where she had Ian to herself, many of the guests beginning to depart as the party wound down.

"Congratulations once again," she said.

"Thanks Tina, I couldn't have done it without all the help from you guys, and Maggie and Michael."

"Mmm," said Tina. "That Michael certainly seems to have made a good impression on you."

"Yeah, he has been amazingly supportive, right through the court case and all," Ian agreed.

"Good looking, too," Tina observed with a grin. Ian laughed out loud.

"You are totally incorrigible, young lady," he said in a mocking voice.

"No," she defended herself. "Just keeping an eye out for you. So, have you asked him out yet?"

Now Ian showed a little annoyance. "For pity's sake, Tina. Not everyone is as anxious as you are to see me married off. Give the poor guy a break! Maybe, just maybe, if he were gay, I might have been interested. But he's straight, so that's the end of that. Somehow I don't think he would want to be going out on a date with me."

Tina said nothing, but raised her eyebrows at her friend in surprise, her mind ticking over furiously.

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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!