Always Have, Always Will
Toronto in the Fall was beautiful. It was cold, but so far
there had been very little snow and the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky,
while the air had that unmistakably icy nip of oncoming winter. It was November
- about two weeks before Thanksgiving. American Thanksgiving, Justin reminded
himself. In Canada, Thanksgiving took place earlier.
They'd come to Toronto to visit Brian's son. As they drove to the suburban address, Brian tried clumsily, with a sort of ugly self deprecation that Justin hated, to warn him in some way about what their welcome was likely to be. But nothing could have prepared Justin for the attitude of the two women who were the mothers of Brian's son.
He found the venomous hostility that the dark haired woman who was Gus' second mother made no attempt to hide or disguise shocking enough. This was the woman to whom Brian had signed over his parental rights; the one who, as far as Justin could see, owed Brian an enormous debt of gratitude for that alone. Not to mention for his ongoing financial support - money that he didn't even insist was ear-marked solely for Gus, but allowed them to spend as they liked.
Yet from the moment Melanie opened the door she attacked Brian in various ways, some open, some more covert. Vicious little comments about his lifestyle were mixed with smug reminders about her status as Gus' parent - and Brian's lack thereof. She even spitefully asked how Debbie, was going; knowing that the woman still insisted on blaming Brian for Michael's death, knowing what an open wound that was for Brian.
Even more despicably, as far as Justin was concerned, she kept pointing out to Justin all of Brian's flaws - as she saw them. Especially those relating to his "unreliability" and his promiscuity, which for some reason that escaped Justin she seemed to think were linked. And she did it under the guise of "friendly" teasing. It was horrible.
Justin, who had won the story of how and why he had signed over his parental rights to Mel from a drunken Brian two days before they'd left for Toronto, debated whether to openly challenge her by asking in what way a person who was open about his sexual adventures was less reliable than a liar and a cheat who'd fucked around behind her post-natal partner's back. But he decided to bide his time.
This wasn't about him, or even Brian, it was about the beautiful boy who, on their arrival, had stood shyly at the top of the front steps as they'd come through the gate, and then had suddenly thrown himself into his father's arms, wrapping his own arms round Brian's neck and saying over and over in a choking voice, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy."
Justin would never forget the look on his lover's face as he held his son for the first time in months, or the desperate longing in the boys' voice. For Gus' sake, and for Brian's, Justin resolved to keep his temper. Sometime in the future, if these two women kept this up, the right moment would come.
Because it wasn't just Melanie who triggered Justin's anger. At least with Mel, the hostility was open and directed towards Brian, of whom she was clearly envious - for a number of reasons, some of which Justin even found at least vaguely understandable.
Her partner's hostility was expressed far more subtly and was targeted, not at Brian directly, but at him. Or at least his relationship with Brian.
Over and over as the difficult day went on, Lindsay would smile at Justin and, gushing a little over his talent (Brian had apparently sent her some photos of his work), would tell him how he must travel, he must see Italy and Greece and visit London and Paris. She emphasized his youth, and how much he had ahead of him. She took every opportunity to stress the contrasts between him and Brian, making it sound as if Brian were closer to fifty than to thirty.
Justin had to fight not to let his anger erupt disastrously. This fucking bitch was deliberately pushing all Brian's buttons, playing on all his feelings of worthlessness, his fears of ageing and deep-seated fears of abandonment, doing her best to drive a wedge between him and Justin, to keep him alone, just so she could feed her own sicko little fantasies. And all the time she was hundreds of miles away playing happy families with a harpy who made no secret of her loathing for Brian, with Brian's son and on Brian's money.
Justin sat and seethed in silence, fighting his own demon of anger.
Then, over dinner, with Gus tucked safely into bed, Lindsay made a supposedly throw away comment about what an unlikely couple they seemed. Justin, a long way from stupid, knew that part of the reason for the comment was that she expected that just mentioning the word `couple' would send Brian into a spasm of denial. For some reason that was the last straw for Justin. At that point his good intentions went momentarily out the window.
Smiling at her brightly, he said, "Oh, I don't know. We're both men; we're hot and smart. We both like cock. We both want as much as we can get. And we both enjoy each other's. Seems to me we're a perfect match."
Without warning he launched into an off key rendition of the cheesy theme music, then in a dramatic TV announcer voice said: "What question would you like to ask Number One, Brian?"
In a gruff imitation of Brian, he `responded': "Let's cut to the chase. Number One, how would you describe your cock sucking technique?"
In a caricature of his own voice, he said brightly, "I suck like a Hoover, Brian, and I love it."
Back to Brian's voice: "I'll take Number One - right now."
The announcer's voice again: "And there you have it - another Perfect Match!"
Brian gave a quiet chuckle at this performance. Melanie's vinegar look of disapproval indicated that perhaps she'd come to the conclusion that Justin was a better match for Brian Kinney than she'd realized, and that it did him no credit. Lindsay, however, pursed her lips prissily.
"I think you'll find there's a little more to any relationship than sex, Justin."
He felt Brian tense next to him at the tone in her voice and immediately modified the response trembling on his lips. He forced a shrug. "Sure. But good sex surely doesn't hurt."
He broke off, considering, and gave a laugh. "Well, actually, sometimes when it's really hot it does. But that's part of it."
He touched Brian's leg and smiled at him. Brian met his eyes, and after a moment returned his smile. Justin felt something in him ache, actually ache, at the tentativeness in Brian's eyes. He forced down his anger and smiled at Brian once more, his own face softening as he met those amazing hazel eyes that had from the beginning, intrigued and charmed him. How anyone could look into those eyes and claim that Brian was an unrepentant asshole was beyond him.
He turned his attention back to his opponent and, keeping his voice calm and even, said, "But you and Mel must know that. I mean, you've been together a long while, haven't you? You must still enjoy each other - or what's the point?"
Something passed between the women then - not so much a look as a moment of mutual frozen stillness, and Justin knew then with absolute certainty that there was something very wrong here. He guessed they were once more having problems. Having heard the history of their on-again, off-again relationship from Emmett, that didn't surprise him. Issues that had been serious enough to drive both of them to the infidelity they professed to despise and to twice spend months apart, were not going to be resolved just because a bomb blast had momentarily driven them back together in panic.
But he kept his mouth shut on his suspicions, not wanting to create any waves that might swamp Brian's attempt to get these women to allow him to spend more time with his son.
Instead he changed the subject, asking about one of the prints on the wall - a Matisse he hadn't seen before. Lindsay was happy to show off her knowledge, and the moment passed.
Brian sent a silent thank you to his whatever Justin was, and decided that now was as good a time as any to start the ball rolling with his campaign to see more of Gus.
"It's Thanksgiving soon," he said.
"Not up here, it's not," snapped Mel.
Brian didn't bite, he simply went on. "I thought maybe you'd like to come down to Pittsburgh for the weekend - longer if you want. You could stay at a hotel, and maybe I thought Gus could stay with me. For a day or so, anyway. I mean I'd pay. Hotel, air fare whatever you need."
Both women looked startled.
"Well, Brian, I don't know. I mean, the loft's not really suitable "
Justin wanted to slap Lindsay for the self-righteous prudishness of her tone alone.
"I'm not at the loft any more."
Lindsay stared at him.
"I've I've bought another place. A house," he confessed softly.
Lindsay turned her eyes to Justin. Then back to Brian. Justin strongly had the feeling that rather than bolster Brian's chances, the fact that he'd sold the loft, that he was moving on from the `bad boy' image she clearly clung to, was just about the worse thing he could have said. Short of announcing that they'd moved in together anyway. Which they hadn't quite. Yet. Technically Justin still had his apartment, but he was using it more and more as just a work space, spending nearly every night at Brian's new place, and having considerable input into the choice of both location and dιcor.
"But the loft I mean "
Brian shrugged irritably. "You've all spent years telling me I should sell the place, let go of the past. Well, I finally decided to do it. What's the big deal?"
Lindsay couldn't stop staring at him. Clearly she was more than shocked by this evidence of Brian's changes; she was appalled.
Melanie however took up the argument. "I don't give a fuck if you've moved into a palace, there is no way I'd trust my son to you for even an hour, let alone overnight."
Justin bit his tongue till he was surprised he couldn't taste blood.
"It won't be just me," Brian argued. "Justin will be there as well."
`Uh-oh,' Justin thought. `Bad move, Brian.'
Lindsay's smile was so fake, Justin was surprised her face didn't crack. It was an image that would stay with him, and some time in the future he would paint a woman with her face cracking apart and a cascade of repulsive worms and insects spilling out of it. The critics would rave, and he would sell it for a great deal of money. In that sense, perhaps, he should have felt some gratitude to Lindsay for the inspiration. But all he felt at the moment was the anger he had to fight so desperately to bank down. He couldn't let it erupt here. This was too important to Brian.
"Brian Justin seems very sweet. But we don't really know him, and he's so young." She leaned forward, fake sincerity oozing from her pores. "It would be a mistake to let Gus get too attached to someone who well, I mean Justin isn't in a position to make any sort of long term commitment at the moment, he's far too young and who knows where life will take him once he's finished school."
"And we all know that you're not going to stop fucking around, so you're not exactly a great prize, are you, Kinney?"
Lindsay bit her lip, and gave Melanie a look that clearly said, `let me handle this'.
"Brian," she went on, "It's not as if you really want that sort of relationship. You never have. You enjoy your freedom. And I'm sure Justin does too. He doesn't want to be tied down. So it's just not fair to Gus to "
Justin could feel the pain coursing through the man beside him and he'd had enough. He didn't have to shed blood, but on the other hand he didn't have to sit here passively and let this pair of bitches attack his his partner, he decided. No matter what these vicious cows thought, and even if Brian wasn't yet ready to vocalize it, they were partners.
He gave a little smile at both women and said casually, "I've always thought it strange when people who are in happy, committed relationships spend so much time talking their single friends out of them. When I'm feeling cynical, I think it's because no matter what they say, they're not really all that happy."
He blinked at his opponents in an innocence as fake as Lindsay's sincerity and went on, "But when I'm feeling really cynical, I think that they're just entirely selfish and trying to hold onto something good all for themselves."
Melanie looked at once startled and a little puzzled, as if she wasn't quite sure how to react. Lindsay however heard exactly what he was saying and glared at him with pure malevolence.
Justin tilted his chin up and said firmly, "Brian and I are doing just fine. We haven't known each other all that long, and we're taking things slowly, but I plan on being around for a long time. Even if we stop fucking, I think we'll always be friends." He smiled at Brian. "Mind you, I can't imagine ever not wanting to fuck him. But I really, really can't imagine not having him in my life, one way or another, either. So why don't you leave us to worry about where our relationship is going and stop talking such a load of crap."
As Mel opened her mouth to argue, Justin drilled her with a very straight look. "Don't talk bullshit about not wanting to have Gus upset because of any attachment he might form to me. You didn't hesitate in taking him away from everyone and everything he'd ever known and dragging him up here. You didn't give a fuck about his feelings then, and you don't now. You just want to jerk Brian's chain."
"Brian!" Lindsay spluttered. "Are you going to let him ?"
"Brian doesn't `let me' do anything, Lindsay," Justin said calmly. "And the last thing that I want to do is to cause him problems with you two. But you have to know that you can't pull the crap on me that you pull on him. It just won't work. So let's talk turkey. What will it take to get you to agree to this Thanksgiving visit? Should we hire a fulltime Nanny to look after Gus while he's with us? What do you want?"
Lindsay actually dropped silent.
"You think I'd fucking sell my son?"
Justin smiled. "Not at all. I think that you have been offered a nice all expenses paid holiday weekend down in Pittsburgh which will give you a chance to catch up with your friends there. It will also give Gus the chance to spend some time with his father. If it makes you feel more confident that Gus will be properly cared for, Brian will hire a Nanny to make absolutely sure that Gus is safe and well looked after at all times. What I want to know is what you're afraid of?"
Again there was that strange moment of absolute stillness from the two women. Then Lindsay recovered her voice.
"Brian, this isn't really a subject that " There was a momentary pause before she said maliciously, "that strangers should be involved in. Perhaps we can talk about it later."
Justin found himself holding his breath waiting for Brian's response. He realized that he was scared, terrified almost. He'd gone too far. He had no right to interfere in this way, especially not about Gus. But he hadn't been able to just sit there and let Brian take all the shit that these women threw at him. As if Brian believed he deserved it all. Fuck!
For a long moment Brian was silent, torn between anger and fear. Anger at all of them, including Justin. Fear that he could lose everything here - including Justin. He just wanted to get up and walk out. Fuck them all!
But at the same time, in direct contradiction to those fears, he felt once more the new sense of support, of comfort and solace that Justin had brought into his life. For so many years, each hurt, each insult, each spiteful comment - from his family, his friends, the world in general - had had to be buried. They couldn't be shrugged off, because it had been drummed into him when he had no resources to defend himself that he deserved them all. So they had been buried deep in his heart, his soul, along with the ghost of the hurt and damaged child he'd once been, because there was no one to whom he could ever have turned for comfort. Not even Mikey. Especially not Mikey who had been so needy on his own account; Mikey, for whom he'd always had to be the strong one.
Except now, now there there was someone who
Brian clamped down on those emotions. He wasn't some fucking fragile little flower. He didn't need any fucking protector. But at the same time, no matter how much he might deny needing or evening wanting a defender, his heart was in some way warmed by the fact that apparently he had one. Instinctively, he reached out to the source of those feelings and gripped Justin's hand hard. Strong fingers twined with his, and held secure in that clasp, he raised his eyes a little and looked up at Lindsay from under a frowning brow.
"I'd actually like to hear the answer to Justin's question, Linds," he said. "What the fuck are you so afraid of?"
"Brian, we've just got Gus settled up here," she started.
"You said he'd settled in fine months ago," he reminded.
"Look, asshole, he's our son and we don't need to explain ourselves to you."
Justin bit his lip, forcing himself to keep silent.
Brian nodded. "Fair enough", he said.
Then abruptly he stood. "I guess there's nothing more to be said then."
Lindsay got up quickly. "Brian, don't be like this. It's just you sprang this on us. We need time to "
He shook his head. "I sent an email weeks ago saying I'd like you to come down for Thanksgiving. That I wanted to spend some time with Gus."
He gave a long level look at her and then a sneer in Melanie's direction.
"You don't want me to. Fine. That's " Another glare at Melanie. "That's your prerogative. You are his parents."
Justin had also risen and now stepped close to his side.
"But " Brian took a deep breath, and with a sudden courage that he knew he was drawing from the young man beside him, went on, "the gravy train stops here."
Both women stared at him: Lindsay appalled, Melanie speechless with anger.
"I'll talk to my solicitor when I get back to Pittsburgh. From now on there'll be no more cash on demand. No more money just to throw away on anything you feel like. From now on, it all goes on Gus, on what he needs - clothing, school, anything - he'll have everything he needs. But you won't touch a cent, and none of it will go on anything but his personal needs. And I'll have it set in concrete to make sure that happens."
"How the fuck do you think we're going to manage, asshole?" Melanie snapped. "How do you think we're going to keep a roof over his head?"
He stared at her for a moment, and then turned to Lindsay. "You've both got jobs," he said slowly. Then he said more sharply, "Haven't you?"
Once more, through that strange frozen stillness, Justin could feel the ugliness in the air. This was spiraling out of control and he was suddenly afraid. They would be on a plane back to Pittsburgh tomorrow night, leaving Gus with these two women. If they were desperate, they might do anything.
"Brian, sit down," he said softly. "Let's all sit down and work out what we really need to do here."
"I don't fucking appreciate being threatened," Melanie seethed.
Justin nodded, forcing calmness on the situation, drawing on all his resources. "I don't think Brian or I meant it as a threat, Mel. We're sorry if it came across that way. Brian just wants to spend Thanksgiving with Gus. Let's start with that and see if we can work something out. Lindsay?"
To his great relief, Brian lost some of the tense anger and looked at Lindsay sadly, "Linds, please."
She took a deep breath, and sat with assumed dignity. "Justin's right. We shouldn't let things get so out of control. Brian if you really want us to come down at Thanksgiving, I'm sure something could be arranged. And maybe Gus could spend the days with you but come to us at the hotel at night."
Brian nodded, relieved. "Okay. That could work."
Justin felt his anger rising again. But this wasn't the time. And there would be other visits. They'd fight one battle at a time.
Melanie was glaring at all three of them. "I can't just fucking take time off whenever I feel like it, you know."
Lindsay said sweetly, but with a strange urgency in her voice, "I'm sure you could manage a couple of days. Or else Gus and I could go down on Wednesday night and you could come down as soon as you can get away."
Melanie glared at her. "You're not taking him without me."
"Then come with us," Lindsay said reasonably. But her eyes moved quickly towards Justin and then Brian before coming back to her partner's in what was unmistakably some sort of message.
Justin was left wondering exactly what that message was.
Whatever it had been, from that point on, the visit, on the surface at least, seemed to pass without further conflict.
The two men spent most of Sunday taking Gus about - to the CN Tower where he clung tightly to his father's hand as they walked out onto the glass and looked down through it to the ground so far below (till he gained confidence at least, when he ran them ragged dodging in and out among all the other tourists); shopping to buy some clothes that Brian considered suitable for his son (rather than the shabby-not-so-chic ones Linds was apparently obsessed with); and then, taking advantage of the crisp sunshine, on a boat cruise round the Harbour that Gus had begged for, on the grounds that he wanted to go on a ship `like a pirate', and that was the nearest that even his adoring father could get at such short notice.
Justin wasn't sure what had been said between the two women, but they made no demur about letting Brian take his son for the day, which set him to wondering. Whatever the reason, it resulted in a day when he got to watch the man he loved interact with the beautiful boy who was so much like him. Justin had offered to amuse himself so that the two could be alone together, but Brian had given him a semi-horrified look, one which, Justin realized sadly, was not wholly assumed. Brian truly did doubt his ability to look after Gus successfully for even a few hours.
Once more, Justin felt the anger simmering, and once more he forced it down.
Instead, he happily joined his lover and then took care to stay as much as possible in the background while Brian renewed his acquaintance with his son.
Gus seemed to accept his presence without question, until towards the end of their day together. As they got off the boat Gus announced that he was thirsty. The two men also felt that a hot drink would not go amiss, so they found a small coffee shop and, while Brian kept Gus amused, Justin went to order two coffees and a cup of hot chocolate. He was on his way back to the table when he overheard Gus say to his father, "Is Justin your boyfriend, Daddy?"
Justin paused. He didn't want to embarrass Brian, and he had to admit he was kind of curious about how Brian would answer.
Brian, however, looked up and saw him. He smiled into Justin's eyes and then turned to his son. "Yes, Gus. I guess he is. Kind of. I mean "
He looked up again at Justin and this time Justin saw the plea for help. He came and sat down. "Do you think I'd be a good boyfriend for your father, Gus?" he asked.
Gus looked down at the table and bit the side of his thumb shyly (a gesture so like his father that Justin's heart squeezed) and nodded, still not looking up from the table.
Then the little boy won Justin's heart forever. He suddenly raised his eyes and stared earnestly for a long moment into Justin's, obviously trying to look into the heart of this stranger who had suddenly appeared at his father's side.
"Do you love him?" he asked seriously. "He should have a boyfriend who loves him lots and lots and lots. `Cos he's all by himself now and I don't want him to be lonely."
Justin found it hard to see for a moment, but he nodded. "Yes, Gus, I do. I do love him. Lots and lots and lots."
He didn't dare look at Brian, but fortunately Gus defused the unexpected moment of emotion. "That's good," he said happily. "Did you ask for sprinkles on my hot choc'late?"
If Brian was quiet while they sipped their drinks, Gus made up for it, chattering happily about all the things they'd seen that day, and asking when they would come to Toronto again. Brian did take the opportunity then to ask if Gus would like to come to Pittsburgh for a visit. The little boy's delighted "yes!" echoed all round the coffee shop and his glowing smile brightened the darkening afternoon.
All too soon it was time to take him back to his Mommies.
He cried a little when they left him, but the promise that he would be coming to Pittsburgh soon did much to ease his obvious grief at being parted once more from his father. He clung to Brian as they said goodbye, and shyly whispered in his ear, "I love you, Daddy."
Forcing his voice to work, Brian whispered back croakily, "I love you too, Sonny boy. Always have, always will."
Then somehow he stood and allowed the women to shoo his son up the stairs away from him. It was maybe only the thought of the visit to come that made that moment bearable. Brian left Toronto mentally clutching the handful of promises that Lindsay had scattered about confirming all the details of their Thanksgiving visit in the next couple of days.
Once they were in the hired car driving back to the airport, Justin wondered whether he should raise the subject of Gus' question to him, and his response. But before he could work out what to say, Brian said abruptly, "I'm sorry Gus put you on the spot like that."
Justin took a deep breath, and said quietly, "Don't be. I've been kind of waiting for the right opportunity to say that to you, and just haven't been able to find it."
There was deep silence for a moment, then Brian mumbled, "Justin, I don't I'm not good at "
Justin touched his thigh, and smiled at him. "Brian, you don't have to do or say anything. I'm just relieved to have finally put it out there that that's how I feel about you. It's okay if I mean, it still hasn't been that long and I know that you maybe have some issues with all that stuff especially those words. And that's okay. Really. I just wanted you to know. And now you do."
And to Brian's inner astonishment, he realized that he did know. He knew that Justin loved him. He believed it.
He spent the rest of the trip home almost silent, lost in wonder at that certainty. And even more so at the fact that the knowledge didn't make him want to leap out of the plane in panic. In fact, it felt good. It felt he felt Well, not ready to go off on a major sex, drugs and alcohol bender just to deal, anyway.
Justin might have been worried by his silence, except that something in Brian's face, something perilously close to happiness, told him that this difficult man he'd fallen so hard for was okay with how things were between them. And if he had any doubts, the fact that somehow Brian managed to spend the entire trip with part of their bodies touching at virtually all times, sent its own message of reassurance.
They spent the next couple of weeks preparing for Gus' visit. Lindsay had emailed confirmation that they would arrive on the Wednesday night and stay till Sunday, and had even agreed to let Gus spend at least one night with his father at the new house. A suite was booked for the women at the William Penn, including full use of the hotel's spa and massage facilities. Cynthia chivvied various agencies until they found a woman they felt comfortable having around the house and who they were confident could fill the duties of a temporary Nanny for Gus. Arrangements were made for catering a full Thanksgiving dinner at the house, and invitations issued to Ted, Emmett, Cynthia and some of the women's old friends.
Then there was the creation of Gus' room - from the brightly colored mural Justin painted on one wall, showing Gus, Brian, and even, high in the rigging, a tiny Justin, as pirates on a full-sailed pirate ship, to the "sea chest" bed that Brian had specially made, the fabric of its cozily quilted doona covered with "pieces of eight".
Plans were also made for Gus' entertainment while he was staying with them, including the purchase of a whole host of dvd's that Justin guessed Brian had never expected to house on his shelves. But other things were selected as well - card games like Snap and Old Maid and Happy Families and simple board games like Snakes and Ladders, as well as crayons and pencils and paints and paper - both white for his art work and colored to cut and paste and create other wonders. Playdough figured in the mix, as did a huge bucket of Lego - suitably sized for his age and dexterity level.
Finally, even Brian felt that everything was ready.
He spent the Tuesday night trying to pretend that he wasn't as excited as Hell that his son would be arriving the next day. And the whole day Wednesday in a fever of anticipation.
Which of course all got blown to shit when, just as he was leaving for the airport to pick them up, the text message arrived to say that they wouldn't be coming.
Just that. No other message. No explanation. Just those few words to break his heart and turn all their joyous preparation to a total waste of time. Worse, all the things they had bought and made, the home they had created for his son, became an infuriating reminder that he should never expect anything from anyone, that he didn't ever deserve to have people follow through for him. That he deserved nothing except to be treated like the total piece of shit everyone was obviously right to believe him to be.
He canceled all plans and disappeared for two nights.
By the time he emerged, hung over, exhausted, totally wiped out and even more desperately depressed, from his pain management binge all signs of Gus' planned visit had vanished. All of the toys, the dvds, every single piece of evidence that they had ever planned to have Gus stay had been stashed away in Gus' room and the door to that was tightly shut.
The room they had planned for the Nanny to use had been stripped, the bedding stored away. The extra chairs they had arranged for the Thanksgiving dinner had disappeared, and all the decorations had gone.
There was nothing to remind him, no visual sign at all to stir up again that crushing disappointment.
But despite that, just entering the house, Brian felt as if he were coming apart. And to make it worse, his behavior over the last couple of days must surely have pissed Justin off to the point where he'd be lucky if the blond ever got over it, ever forgave him for it.
Wearily, he made his way through the house. Needing a shower, but not ready to face the loneliness of the bedroom, he used one of the guest bathrooms, and then, towel wrapped round his waist, went back to the kitchen to see if a cup of coffee might provide enough inspiration to work out what he could possibly say to Justin.
On the counter was a large note. Very large. Written on a page that had obviously been torn from a sketch pad. For a few moments, Brian was too afraid even to look at it. He was tempted just to crumple it and throw it in the trash. But his longing to have some contact with his lover, even if it was just an angry `Dear Brian' letter made him read it.
Brian - I thought you might need some space, so I'm working from the apartment for a few days. When you're ready for company, just call me. In the meantime, I've left some food in the fridge and there's plenty of guava juice. And a new bottle of Beam in the cabinet. If I don't hear from you by Monday, I'll call you all day at work till you speak to me.
What I told Gus still goes, you twat. Just don't keep running away from that.
Love - J
Brian sat at the counter sipping coffee and studying the note. He felt strangely disconnected, caught between the extreme contradictions of his emotions. Self-disgust jostled with a deep sense of relief and gratitude while all the while, beyond both, was a growing concern for his son. As that came into sharper and sharper focus, waking him from the near trance he'd fallen into, he reached for the phone.
An hour later he knocked on Justin's door.
Justin opened it and stood silent, apparently waiting to hear what Brian had to say. His face was calm, but his eyes held a touch of anger, firmly held in check.
Brian winced away from it, and shrugged. "I'm an asshole," he said as if that explained everything. "We know this. The whole fucking world knows it."
Then he waited.
Justin gave an exasperated little snort, like a kitten's sneeze. "Yes, you're an asshole. And I won't put up with it Brian."
Brian's head came up and his face hardened.
Justin put his hand up and touched that stubborn face. "I don't give a fuck how many men you fuck," he said quietly. "But I won't be just shoved aside and disregarded whenever you freak out about something."
Brian swallowed, his face still doing its best to remain emotionless, but his eyes, fixed firmly on the frame of the door near Justin's head, were wounded.
Justin's voice softened. "I love you, you asshole, but Brian, I need you to trust me enough to at least give me the chance to make you feel better when things go wrong, when you get hurt by something or someone; not just run away from me, as well as from everything else."
Brian sucked in a deep breath and dared a look at him.
"If we're going to be partners, you have to give me that chance," Justin said firmly.
Brian looked away again, but he nodded slightly - so slightly an observer who wasn't watching for it might have missed it completely.
Justin stifled a smile, and again touched his lover's face, forcing him to once more meet his eyes. "Are we clear on this?" he asked.
Brian huffed a would-be sullen agreement, and then stuck his tongue in his cheek. "If I say that it's crystal, can I fucking come in?"
Justin stood back and let him pass. Brian entered, and watched as Justin closed the door behind him. Then he grabbed his lover's shoulder and pulled him into a long kiss. When it ended, his face buried in Justin's hair he said softly, "I just "
He broke off. He didn't know how to finish the sentence, how to explain that he wasn't used to having someone to turn to, had never had that. Not really. Only Michael. And that had been ... it hadn't been right or healthy. It hadn't been like this.
Justin held him, nuzzling into the hollow of his throat. "I love you," he said, his voice low and tender.
Brian nodded against his hair and then moved away a little.
He took a deep steadying breath and said, "I've got an appointment with Loxon at 1.30. He agreed to see me when I told him what had happened."
Justin stared at him. Keith Loxon was the solicitor Brian had consulted after their trip to Toronto. He'd decided to at least explore what his options were as far as Gus was concerned, and Loxon was one of the top family law specialists in the country with the reputation of being a total shark in pursuit of the rights of disenfranchised fathers. That Brian was gay was a detail he shrugged aside.
"If the mother was a straight woman," he'd said at their second meeting, after studying the details Brian had provided him, "I'd still be prepared to fight this one. She insisted that you be the one to father the child, and she's not only accepted a great deal of money for his support, she demanded that you take out an insurance policy to provide for the child's future should anything happen to you. That is clear evidence that she not only expected you to provide for your son, she was counting on it on an ongoing basis. She can't then claim that there was never any intention of you being involved in your son's life."
Justin studied his lover for a moment, remembering what Brian had told him of that meeting. "Okay," he said nodding slowly. "Do you want to come back ?"
Brian met his eyes full on.
"I thought you might want to come with me," he said abruptly. Then he gave a little shrug, perhaps of embarrassment. "Loxon said he'd like to meet my partner."
If there was a pause before the last word, it was very short, hardly noticeable. Brian went on quickly, "Then I'm catching an evening flight to Toronto. There's one at 6.50 - doesn't get in till nearly midnight, but "
He shrugged again. "At least I can get out to the house first thing in the morning."
Justin nodded, suddenly almost overwhelmed. That Brian had told Loxon anything at all about him was well, major. Although in some ways that might have seemed pathetic, given Brian's background Justin understood just how big a step that had been for him. But he'd actually done it, and he'd just used the `p' word into the bargain.
After a totally shitty two nights in which he'd had to fight hard not to let his own disappointment turn into a bitter anger at Brian, Justin felt not just happy, but validated.
It was worth it. If Brian was ready to move forward into some kind of committed relationship, however unconventional, then it was all worth it.
Brian took another breath. "Um do you have plans for the weekend?"
Justin smiled at him, a vibrantly warm smile, letting Brian see how happy these words were making him, and said with a slight laugh, "Well, a trip away is always nice."
Brian nodded, once, briefly. Then he said, "I have to see him. Have to know he's okay."
Justin stepped closer and ran his hands up Brian's arms to his shoulders, gripping them firmly. "I know," he said seriously. "I know."
He stepped away then and moved into the bedroom, pulling off his paint stained t-shirt on the way.
Brian was tempted to follow him, but they needed to get to Loxon's office on time. The guy was breaking into his holiday weekend just to meet with them and Brian needed his help and advice, he couldn't afford to piss him off. Instead, following the lawyer's instructions he sat down with a notepad, writing down everything he could remember of the conversations that had taken place about the visit and transcribing from his cell the text message Lindsay had sent to cancel. He'd already printed out the emails confirming the details and giving the time of their planned arrival.
Justin emerged less than half an hour later, showered, changed and carrying the backpack which had been his only luggage on their trip to New York as well as the first visit to Toronto. Mentally making himself a note to at least get the little twat a decent fucking carry-on, Brian smiled at him grateful for his no fuss preparation. They left the house together and made it to the solicitor's office with a few minutes to spare.
Keith Loxon frowned over Brian's notes, nodding thoughtfully. When he'd finished, he picked up a folder and opened it.
"After we talked I had our Montreal office go over the case," he said. "They agree with me that even in the Canadian courts, the fact that you have consistently contributed so generously to supporting Gus will mean that most judges would be very reluctant to deny you access rights to your son."
Brian shuffled a little in his chair. "I don't exactly have a spotless reputation," he said, forcing himself to hold his head high.
Keith gave a little shrug. "Who has?" he asked. "Certainly not these two women."
Brian looked even more uncomfortable. "I really don't want to get into that," he said uncomfortably.
Keith nodded. "And let's hope we don't have to. In fact, if they've got any sense at all they will not want this to get anywhere near a courtroom."
Brian frowned, his anxiety obvious.
Keith used his most soothing voice. "Brian, leave me to worry about all this. You just go up there and find out what's going on. Tell them that you expect them to honor their agreement to visit, and to let Gus stay with you. Don't threaten them, but make it clear that you have taken legal advice. Try to keep it rational. Best case scenario is that you get them to agree to another visit soon."
He handed Brian a small card.
"This firm specializes in discreet observation - especially in family cases. They'll keep an eye on things and make sure that the women don't just take off somewhere. They're very good, and very professional."
Brian swallowed hard as he took the card.
Suddenly all he wanted was to see his son, make sure he was all right. He had no idea how he could protect Gus when he was so far away. And the thought that Mel and Lindsay could just take off and he might never find them terrified him.
Keith studied his client for a moment, and then spared a look at the younger man sitting so close to him. If Brian's face showed conflicted emotions, including fear, Justin's simply showed a quiet but steely determination. Keith permitted himself a small smile. Unless he was gravely mistaken, the little blond would prove a very tough opponent if these women did anything foolish; and he'd surely be prepared to support Kinney in the course of action Keith was about to advise his client to take.
"Brian, I think that you should apply today, in the Canadian courts at least, for interim shared custody arrangements for your son."
Brian looked startled.
"We can push it through quickly, get it registered this afternoon, but you need to make up your mind now to go for this."
As Brian opened his mouth to speak, clearly intending to argue, Loxon went on quickly. "It's the best way to protect Gus."
Which made Brian bite off whatever he'd been about to say and sit staring at the lawyer. "Why?" he asked eventually.
Loxon relaxed a little. At least the guy was prepared to listen. "Because if it's registered with the court that there is a custody case pending, then the women must notify the authorities if they intend to move - whether within Canada or back to the States."
Brian sat for a long moment, sucking his lips together. If he did this, it might help to protect Gus, but Lindsay would never forgive him for it. Let alone Melanie.
"I'd rather talk to them first," he said.
"I understand that," Keith said. "But the fact is that they don't have to talk to you. They're not returning your calls or your emails. If you go up there and they refuse to see you, then "
He stopped and then said, "Brian, I don't want to alarm you, but the fact is that their status with Canadian Immigration is shaky at best. Neither of them seem to have full time employment, and "
"They both have jobs," Brian said almost desperately.
Loxon nodded. "Yes. Ms Peterson has a part time job teaching night classes in art, and Ms Marcus works around twenty-five hours a week in a legal firm doing some sort of ad hoc paralegal work. They've managed to get temporary work permits, but neither of them have full time jobs. They have no permanent resident status. There is nothing to keep them anchored in Toronto, or even in Canada. If they take off before you've filed for a custody hearing then you're going to have the devil of a job to find them and pull them into court. The best thing you can do is to file now, and let us register it with the court today. Given the high flight risk that shouldn't be a problem. Then we can make sure that the Toronto authorities are alerted. It means that if they try to book a flight anywhere, it will flag immediately and the authorities will be notified."
Brian sat stunned. All he wanted was to be able to spend a little time with the son he'd loved from the first moment he'd held him. The son he'd been prepared to support even when he'd been hounded and belittled by the woman who called herself Gus' mother. The son for whom he'd do almost anything.
But maybe it would be better for Gus if
Justin felt the conflict going on within his lover. He knew how Brian's mind worked; knew that Brian would be in the process of convincing himself that it would be better for Gus if he backed away from this now and let that pair of bitches do whatever they wanted. But it wouldn't be.
Justin had no illusions about either of the women. He knew that Lindsay was both stubborn and weak, and that Melanie was apparently completely unable to moderate her deep resentment of Brian even around Brian's son. Justin's artist's perception told him that the older Gus got, the more he would resemble his father; and he sensed that Melanie's bitter hatred of Brian would spill onto Gus, poisoning his life.
Meanwhile Lindsay would be too stubborn to admit that in her infatuation for Brian and her determination to have his child, she had created a completely untenable situation, and too weak to stop her partner taking it all out on the one innocent in the situation. Justin understood well enough that Brian wasn't completely without blame here. He'd known how Melanie felt about him, and either didn't care how that would affect her relationship with his child, or had even enjoyed the fact that his being the father would piss her off.
But that was in the past. That had been when it was all theoretical and Brian's intention had been that his only involvement would be to jerk off in a cup.
Once Gus had been born, that had all changed. Justin knew that. He'd seen how Brian was with his son, and had seen how Gus adored his father. There could be nothing good about separating the two, especially, Justin thought cynically, since the whole blame for that would be cast on Brian's shoulders by the two women. It was almost certain that if they succeeded in keeping Brian away from his son, Gus would grow up believing that his father just hadn't wanted him, hadn't wanted to spend time with him. He would be made to feel that he had failed to win his father's love.
Seeing that so clearly, Justin leaned forward. "You can't let this happen, Brian. You can't let them separate you from Gus completely. Even now, he must wonder why you don't spend more time with him. Do you believe for a moment that they tell him it's because they won't let you?"
Brian looked at him for a moment, and then looked away. "Maybe that's a good thing," he offered helplessly. "Let him believe his father's a worthless shit "
Justin gripped his hand hard. "But he won't, will he? It's not you he'll believe is worthless. Do you want Gus to grow up believing that he's so defective even his own father didn't want him, didn't love him?"
The words struck Brian like blows, and Justin winced, knowing how he was hurting him.
"Brian," he said gently, "that just isn't right. No child should have to grow up believing that."
The deeper layer of meaning in his works hung in the air between them. The words both confronted Brian with Justin's understanding of how painful his childhood had been, and at the same time warned him that he risked exposing Gus to that pain.
Brian swallowed hard and rubbed his free hand over his face. Then he faced the lawyer.
"Do it," he said hoarsely.
Justin squeezed his hand and rubbed his other hand over Brian's back, offering all the support and comfort he could.
The lawyer nodded at them both in satisfaction, and stood. "I'll just get the paperwork. Then we can send it off to Montreal. They're on standby to act on it."
As he left the room, Brian turned his eyes towards his lover. "You know there's no going back after this, right?"
Justin sighed. "I know, Brian. But what else can we do?"
Brian sat silent for a moment while he pondered how weird it was that he found such comfort in that small word "we".
Then Loxon came back and Brian found himself signing paperwork and agreeing to a further course of action that he would file to obtain regular visitation rights with his son, both in Toronto and in Pittsburgh. The international aspect of the latter might be a challenge, but Keith assured him that given that neither of the women had Canadian citizenship, it wouldn't be as tough a battle as it might have been.
By the time they left the office, it was after three. They decided to head straight for the airport. It was unlikely they'd get an earlier plane, but they could have a drink and something to eat in the relative privacy of the first class lounge and try to find ways not to worry about what was happening, and going to happen, in Toronto.
It was after midnight by the time they'd cleared airport security in Toronto and even Brian, desperate though he was to check on his son, acknowledged that it was way too late to turn up at the house; that to do so at that hour could only provoke the kind of confrontation that they both hoped to avoid.
They got a taxi easily enough, and the hotel suite was waiting and comfortable, but it was a long time before Brian could settle enough to sleep. He'd been moody and morose all during the trip, although doing his best, at least intermittently, to let Justin know that the problem wasn't with him.
Justin knew that. Just as he knew what an incredible recognition of their relationship it was that Brian had asked him to share this trip with him. For himself, he was seething with anger, but none of it was in any way directed at Brian. For a man who'd been so damaged, and who'd had so little opportunity to see and understand how a loving relationship was meant to function, Brian was doing remarkably well. Yes, he'd had his little hissy fit over the past couple of days. But Justin knew how incredibly disappointed Brian had been at the visit being canceled. Worse, he'd been deeply hurt; because being Brian, he took it personally. He believed that it was because of some flaw in him that the woman who claimed to be his friend treated him that way, that he deserved nothing better.
No, it wasn't Brian who was the focus of Justin's anger.
All the while as they'd driven through heavily falling snow to the hotel, as he'd stood beside Brian while his lover drank the single glass of whisky he'd allowed himself, looking out through the frost-laced windows to the icy world beyond, as he lay beside his lover in the eerie glow of moonlight reflecting from snow while Brian finally fell into sleep, Justin's anger grew. There was no heat in his anger, no fire, rather it was a cold rage, implacable, but icy as the world beyond the window. Eventually, it peaked and spilled out into the world.
Across town the women began to toss and turn in suddenly restless sleep. As they slept, they dreamed, dreamed of a world of ice and light. Light so bright it hurt the eyes, but cold; so cold that the light alone seemed to freeze the very blood as it flowed sluggishly through veins turned dark and blue. In their separate dreams, the light penetrated their eyes, flowing in through the pupils along the nerves to the brain and then to the heart where it shone brighter and brighter still, illuminating every dark corner. Every twist and turn in the psyche was remorselessly exposed to that horrifying icy light.
And the women saw themselves.
For Melanie, the revelation was a painful recognition of how demeaned she had been by her relationship with the woman who claimed to love her. She saw herself fighting Lindsay's long-standing infatuation with the man she'd insisted father their son. Saw clearly how weakly she'd fought, constantly giving ground, paralyzed by the knowledge that if she threw everything into an attempt to break the bond Lindsay deliberately maintained with Brian, she would lose.
She saw how this had twisted her view of a man who, in another world she would have respected, might even have come to like. How she had allowed herself to blame Brian for all that was wrong between her and her partner. Saw how this twisted dislike of Brian was poisoning her relationship with the boy she loved as her son. Saw how much damage she had done, was doing to Gus. Saw how Lindsay had allowed even that, condoned it, as long as she could keep the link with Brian intact. Saw truly what that meant for her relationship with the woman she'd hoped to be with forever.
In the icy light that penetrated her deepest being Melanie saw her life, saw herself, and didn't much like what she saw.
Weeping in her sleep, she came to some inner decision, and woke the next morning, knowing what she had to do, what she must do if she wanted to remain even a shred of the woman she'd thought herself to be.
Lindsay, however, fought the light, tried to run, tried to hide, twisted and turned in her own mind to escape the self knowledge that the light forced upon her. She tossed and turned, finally wrenching herself out of sleep to lie in the darkness reminding herself of why she was right, always right, to want Brian in her life, to want his son, to need to keep him dependent on her to be able to see his son. Reminded herself that that was best for all of them. Then fell asleep again to be assailed once more by that terrifying brightness.
By the morning, both women were exhausted. They could hardly bear to look at each other, but they had a full day ahead of them, and lots to do, so they just had to get on with it.
Melanie spent the morning wondering how she was going to tell her erstwhile partner that she was going back to the States, perhaps to Florida; she had family there and she'd always hated Pittsburgh's winters. And she was going alone.
She wondered what she could tell the little boy who called her "Mama". She had to find a way to make things right for Gus, and although she hated the very idea of it, there was only one thing she could think of. While Lindsay made breakfast for Gus, and tried to find a way to keep him out from underfoot, Melanie booted up her computer, found the document she was looking for, and began to type.
It didn't take long. Only a few words needed changing. By the time Lindsay came looking for her, it was done, and she was apparently occupied in packing up the printer and the laptop.
Justin and Brian arrived at ten. Just before the removal men.
Lindsay's look of shocked horror when she opened the door would in the future form the basis for another of Justin's paintings. People would confidently attribute the look to the effects of terrorism or war or horrific natural disaster. They would all be wrong. What had caused the look was Brian's arrival just as Lindsay was on the verge of running away with his son.
Before she could say anything, Gus saw his father on the doorstep and charged by her, gripping his father's legs fiercely. Brian picked him up and after Gus had half strangled him, and given him two loving (though rather soggy kisses), the little boy said passionately, "I sorry, Daddy. I wanted to come. I did. I told Mommy and Mama and "
Brian held him closely for a moment, kissing him and pressing his forehead against his son's. "I know, Sonny boy. Don't worry. We'll have you come visit soon, I promise."
Gus calmed down as soon as he knew his father didn't blame him and that he still planned to make the visit happen. He released his death grip on Brian's neck and sat back a little in his arms, his face shining now with joy at his father's sudden appearance. It was just when he spotted Justin and was smiling at him beguilingly, clearly delighted that he had come with Brian, that the removal van arrived.
For a moment, Brian stared at it, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach at the implications of its presence. What if he hadn't come this weekend? Would he ever have seen his son again?
Then the sick helplessness was replaced with anger. He handed Gus to Justin and after giving one furious glare at Lindsay went down to speak to the removal men. Something passed from his hands to theirs and they climbed back into the cab and drove away.
"Brian!" Lindsay remonstrated, "what do you think you're doing? We need to move today. We "
He cut her off with a gesture, and unexpectedly she fell silent.
Then she shrugged. "You'd better come in," she said. "Although when Melanie "
"When Melanie what?" came a voice from the stairs and the small dark haired woman came into view.
Both men were shocked at her appearance. She was pale and haggard and looked tired and ill. Lindsay, however, didn't seem to notice.
"Mel, don't get upset. There's been a small misunderstanding with the movers. Brian sent them away. Can you call them and tell them we still need them?"
Melanie looked at her for a long moment. "Have you always done that?" she asked, apparently rhetorically. "And I just let you?"
"What are you talking about?" Lindsay snapped, scared by the anger still pulsing from Brian, and irritated by her partner's apparent lack of response to the fact that their worst nightmare had happened and Brian had arrived just when they looked like they were going to get away unhindered.
Not that Lindsay had actually planned to lose all contact with Brian. Of course not. But she'd been sure that after a little while of not hearing from them, of not knowing where his son was, that he'd see the need to be more reasonable about the money. After all, it's not as if he could legally stop them going where they liked. He had no rights to Gus. None at all. He was completely dependent on her good will if he wanted to see his son. Which was a good thing for Gus, because everyone knew that Brian could never be relied upon. She needed to be vigilant and protect her son from ever feeling too close to his father because he would only be disappointed. Just as
Well, that was all a long time ago, and really it was probably just as well that Brian hadn't been prepared to get married and build some kind of life that fitted his status as a successful businessman while allowing him - well, them both really - discreet sexual encounters that were more to their individual tastes. Not that she'd hated sex with Brian. Far from it. But of course she'd never had any illusions that she could ever be what he needed sexaully. That didn't matter. Brian only ever had one night stands, and as long as nobody knew, then why would they matter? But the problem was that he would never have been able to be discreet. Not Brian. And she just couldn't have coped with all the scandal. No, really, this way was probably better. After all, she had the one thing that no one else could give him. His son. She knew he'd never agree to father a child with any other woman, and no matter how much that other little blond of his might want to cement their relationship as she had well, biology had made sure that Justin, or whatever his name was, wasn't really a threat.
But Brian turning up right now had spoiled all her plans, and Melanie, far from berating him and forcing him to leave, was simply standing there staring at her.
"For Heaven's sake, Mel, what on earth do you mean?" she asked again, her voice petulant.
Melanie walked down the stairs and held out her arms to Gus. He somewhat reluctantly went to her and she hugged him close for a moment, despite his wriggles. Then she put him down and asked him if he could fetch her a glass of water. Proud to be given this responsibility, he trotted off to the kitchen and at last Melanie met her partner's eyes.
"You blame me to Brian, and Brian to me. You make us the bad guys to each other. And you always come out of it smelling of roses."
Lindsay wasn't the only one taken aback by her words. The two men stared at her, Justin possibly a little less astonished than Brian.
"Mel! I "
Ignoring her, Melanie turned and retrieved a small bag from the steps behind her. Then, straightening, she held out her hand to Brian.
"I'm sorry," she said simply. "I've always blamed you for being the asshole when " she shook her head quickly and then said in a very shaky voice, "when she's such a bitch and I'm just a stupid cunt."
Bemused, Brian allowed her to take his hand then looked down sharply at the paper she'd placed there.
"It should be okay," she said. "At least in US courts. And if there are any problems, I've put a contact address on the bottom. They'll know where to find me."
Then she turned to Lindsay who was crying, protesting and trying to embrace her. Shrugging out of Lindsay's clasp she said, "You should know, I've signed my parental rights back to Brian. It's the only way I can think of to keep Gus safe. To try to make things right for him. I love him, but :" She gave a sad little huff. "I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive him. Every time I look at him I see what a total fool I've made of myself for the last ten years. Trying to love someone who only ever used me. Just used me."
"Melanie, no! How can you say that?" Lindsay cried desperately.
The dark-haired woman laughed bitterly. "Easily enough, when it's true."
Lindsay stared at her, her own face becoming angry. "I left my home for you. I came all the way up here. Took Gus away from his father."
Tiredly, Melanie shook her head. "You left because you wanted to make sure Brian knew who had all the power in your little family group. It was nothing to do with me. Anyway," stooping she once more picked up her bag. "It really doesn't matter anymore. Tell Gus goodbye for me. I'll send for the rest of my stuff when I get settled."
Then she would have walked out, but Brian stopped her.
"No," he said firmly. "You can't do that to him. You can't just walk off as if he doesn't matter."
"Don't you fucking understand?" she snapped hoarsely, her voice choked with tears. "I have to go. For his sake more than anything."
"Then you have to explain," Brian said quietly. "You at least need to tell him you love him and that you're not leaving because of him. You can't let him think that."
Gus appeared just then, walking slowly and very carefully, clutching her glass of water. Feeling suddenly boneless, Mel turned and sank down onto the bottom stair.
Lindsay moved towards her son and went to say something, but found herself confronted by a still very angry Brian. He grabbed her arm and pushed her through the door of the living room past several crates and moving boxes.
"I don't know what the fuck is going on here," he hissed, "but you'll fucking keep you mouth shut and let her do this properly so Gus doesn't "
At that point his voice wavered, and for the first time, Justin inserted himself into the situation.
"I'll take care of her," he said quietly, but there was an edge to his voice that made Lindsay suddenly almost afraid of him. Eying him warily, she hardly protested as he steered her further into the room, preferring to seek refuge in tears. She sank down onto the couch, sobbing piteously, while Justin watched her cynically.
Brian stayed in the doorway. Close enough to keep an eye on Gus and to be there for his son, but far enough away to give Melanie at least some feeling of privacy. His thoughts were in turmoil. He had no idea what was going on, why Melanie was leaving, why she'd suddenly done a complete turn around and signed back his damned rights, why he'd arrived just in time to intercept the movers, what the whole fucking deal was. He had every intention of getting the whole fucking story out of Lindsay if he had to shake it out of her.
But first, he needed to make sure that Gus was okay.
Melanie took the glass of water from Gus and downed half of it in one gulp. Then she put the glass down on the step behind, and drew the little boy to sit beside her. She wrapped one arm around him and said softly, "Gus, I have to go away. For a long time. A long, long time."
"No, Mama," the little boy whispered.
Her face quivered and she buried it briefly in his hair.
"I have to, my darling. I just have to."
"But why?" Gus whimpered.
She sighed and stroked his face. "Gus, my darling, my beautiful boy. It's something Mama just has to do. If I could work out a way to stay with you, I would do it in a heartbeat. Leaving you behind is the hardest thing Mama has ever done in her life. But "
Briefly she looked up and across to where Brian stood, then she said more clearly, "Your Daddy's here. And he knows this might make you unhappy, so he's promised me that he'll be around a lot more, that he'll look after you now that I can't anymore."
"I want to go home with Dadda," the little boy said damply, reverting to the more childish form of his father's name.
Mel nodded. "Yes, I think that would be a very good idea."
"You could come too," he offered hopefully.
She smiled sadly and kissed him. "No, Gus."
"Is it `cause you don't like my Daddy?" he asked.
"No, Gus. It's not because of that. In fact " once more her eyes moved to the tall silent man across the hall, "I think your Mama has been very silly about that. I think she's just found out that your Daddy is a much better man than she ever realized."
"Is it `cause you don't love me anymore?" he whispered.
She hugged him tightly, trying desperately to stop the tears running down her face. "Oh, no, Gus, no. Mama loves you very, very much."
She tilted his little face up to hers. "Mama loved you the minute you were born and she will always love you. You have to remember that."
He cried out then, trying to hold onto her as she stood, and swiftly Brian moved towards them.
He scooped Gus up into his arms and Gus wrapped his arms tightly around his father's neck and sobbed into his shoulder.
"Say goodbye to your mother, Gus," Brian instructed softly.
The little boy raised a woebegone face, but said obediently, "Bye, Mama."
Unable to say anything, Melanie nodded at both of them then snatched up her bag and stumbled out of the house.
Back in the living room, Justin put up with Lindsay's tears for only a minute or two, then he said calmly, "They're wasted on me, you know. I told you last time I was here that you can't pull the shit on me that you do on Brian, that it won't work."
She stopped crying and looked up at him malevolently.
He didn't think he'd ever seen a more unattractive sight. Her eyes were red and puffy, as was her nose, and her hair was a complete mess. But it wasn't those things that made her so repulsive. It was the bitter air of betrayed self-righteousness that made his gorge rise. Once more the anger surged through him and meeting his eyes, Lindsay experienced a severe shock.
Justin seemed to tower over her, filling the room, and his normally warm blue eyes somehow penetrated her being like icy knives. They glowed at her with a cold eerie light, and she was once more back in her nightmares. That light, that light
She tried to turn her eyes away, but that just made the light glow brighter. She forced her lids closed, but the light burned through them.
Eventually, with a little whimper, she collapsed onto the couch, curling into a fetal ball.
Justin met Brian in the doorway. "She's not very well," he said calmly. "I think it's all been too much of a shock for her."
Brian frowned. "What the fuck has been going on?" he asked, before becoming aware of the boy in his arms.
Gus gave a watery little laugh. "Daddy said a bad word," he giggled.
Justin nodded. "Yes, Gus, he did. Daddies do sometimes."
"So does Mama," said Gus and then, remembering, his face clouded over again.
"I think Mommy would like a cup of tea," Justin said pacifically. "Gus do you think you could show me where everything is so we can make her one?"
Gus nodded and reached out his arms to Justin, who took him, smiling at him.
"Most stuff's in boxes," Gus said. "But not the tea."
"Well, that's good, then. Let's make some for Mommy, and maybe get a drink of juice for Gus. And perhaps a cup of coffee for Daddy to drink while he talks to Mommy."
Brian gave a slight huff of exasperation at the thought of having to deal with a hysterical Lindsay, but was too relieved at Justin's easy management of his son's needs to protest too loudly at drawing the short straw. Besides he could hardly leave Justin to sort out this mess.
Gus nodded, happier, and Justin, with a sly look of commiseration over his shoulder at Brian, carried him out to the kitchen.
Brian took a deep breath and went into the living room. He found Lindsay still curled up, and touched her shoulder.
She jumped. Then curled up tighter. "Make him go away," she whimpered, then again more loudly, "Make him go away!"
"What? Who? What the fuck are you talking about?" Brian demanded.
"Him. That horrible man."
"Justin?" Brian said bewildered. "What the fuck did Justin do?"
His tone carried complete disbelief. Whoever was at the bottom of what had gone wrong in this house, he found it hard to believe it was Justin.
"He looked at me!" Lindsay wailed.
That almost did it for Brian. Of all the fucking stupid "Lindsay, sit up!" he said sharply, and to her surprise as well as Brian's, she did, but droopily. As if she had no energy, no will left to her.
"Now what the fuck is going on?"
Lindsay shook her head pitiably, apparently unable to speak. Finally she mumbled, mostly to herself, "I don't know. Why? Why would she suddenly just walk out? It's not like we've really been together anyway. Why would she suddenly do this?"
She broke off, suddenly wary of saying too much. The truth was she and Melanie hadn't actually been together for quite a while. They'd both stayed in the house, they couldn't afford not to. But they had had separate rooms, and separate lives for months. But if Brian had known that, he would have insisted that she bring Gus back to Pittsburgh, and she hadn't been ready to. Least of all at Brian's insistence. The whole point had been to make sure that Brian knew how totally dependent on her he was where Gus was concerned. When she'd been ready she'd planned to throw out the possibility of going back, and then watch Brian turn himself inside out to make it happen. He would have offered just about anything.
Including getting a house for them. For her and Brian and Gus, anyway. Melanie well, that had been over for a long time, really. It would have been natural, leave Melanie, need somewhere to live. Brian would want Gus around. They could have lived together quite happily. But then things went completely wrong.
When he came. He was the one who'd thrown things out of joint. He was altogether hateful and
Inwardly she quailed. She couldn't fight him. Couldn't. Wouldn't. He'd look at her again. Make her look at herself. And she wouldn't. She just wouldn't.
At that point Justin walked in carrying a tray with Gus beside him.
Despite herself she gave a quick glance at him, then quickly looked away.
Justin placed the tray on a crate and handed her a cup of tea. She took it, still refusing to look at him. Then she remembered Gus and held out a shaky hand to her son.
Gus, totally confused by the morning's events, but obscurely feeling that his Mommy had made the bad things happen moved closer to Justin, leaning slightly against his hip. Justin rubbed a hand over his head, fondly.
"Gus is fine. He's been helping me to unpack some things in the kitchen. Now we're going to go upstairs and he's going to do me a drawing of where he'd like to go with his Daddy this afternoon. Aren't you Gus?"
Gus nodded vigorously.
Brian gave his lover a look that promised rewards of all kinds later and Justin grinned at him before taking Gus's hand and asking him to lead the way to his room.
Then Brian turned to Lindsay, who sat listlessly sipping her tea.
Brian picked up the cup of coffee his lover had brought for him, and pulled one of the armchairs free from its position upturned on another, and sat down.
"So tell me what's been going on, Linds," he said. His voice was calm, but Lindsay, forcing herself out of the fog that seemed to surround her to take a quick look at him, quailed a little. He was still furiously angry.
She tried to summon up the energy to build the fabrications she needed, but it just wouldn't come. Finally she gave in. Her voice was lifeless as she told him the truth - or as close to it as she could get.
"We broke up again just after we moved up here. She couldn't get a proper job, because they wouldn't recognize her qualifications unless she went back to college and studied at least two years of Canadian law, and she didn't want to and we couldn't afford it anyway. And the job I was supposed to get fell through because they said I had to have permanent resident status to take it and to get that we would have had to wait back in Pittsburgh - probably for at least a year. They said that by coming up here without it, we'd risked them not processing it at all, or at least not until we'd gone back and
"So there was hardly any money, and it was just all horrible, and Mel wanted to go back, but I said well, I didn't, and she wouldn't go back without Gus and
"It was all just horrible. And then when I was ready to go back, she'd got this paralegal work and they said that if she stuck at it then the work experience might allow her to qualify to practice law here, so then she didn't want to leave and wouldn't let me take Gus."
Her voice trailed off.
"What happened on Wednesday?" Brian demanded softly.
She shrugged. "Mel was working on something for a big case and they wouldn't give her the time off and she wouldn't let me take Gus without her in case I didn't come back and we fought about it and then finally she said she'd had enough and she wanted to move out of the house.
"I told her I couldn't afford to stay here without her, and she said that was just too bad, and I should ask you for the money, but " for the first time her voice held some energy. "I didn't want to. I didn't want you to be the one in control, and I knew you would be if you knew what was going on, so "
Once more her voice faded. "I made arrangements to move into another place. It's small, but I could afford it, just about. And Mel said she'd pay something for Gus, so "
She looked up, suddenly looking alarmed. "We have to go though. We have to go today. The rent's due and we haven't paid "
Brian pinched the bridge of his nose. This at least he could handle. He pulled out his cell and dialed a well worn number and was rewarded with the sound of Ted's voice grunting a grumpy, "Come back from the dead, have we, boss? What the fuck do you want on a Saturday morning?".
Brian gave a little smile, recognizing the relief imperfectly concealed. He felt a twinge of remorse, realizing that his friends would have been worried about him.
"I'm fine, Theodore, and how are you?" he asked smoothly.
Ted read the apology in the tone, if not the words and said, "Just dandy, for someone who was enjoying a free Saturday on a holiday weekend."
Brian gave a chuff of laughter which at the other end of the phone Ted was desperately relieved to hear.
After the canceled party, he and Emmett had helped Justin tidy the house and pack away anything that might have reminded Brian of his son's aborted visit. But since then they'd heard nothing and they had both been worried.
"I'm in Toronto," Brian said, making Ted even more relieved.
At least Brian would make sure that everything was okay with Gus.
"I need you to do some stuff for me."
Brian went on to explain what he wanted done, leaving Ted nodding and asking the minimum of questions to make sure that he had all of Brian's instructions absolutely clear.
"Okay, boss, I'm on it," he said at last. "I'll call you back as soon as it's all organized."
"I count on it, Theodore," Brian said. Then added softly, "Thanks, Ted."
Clicking the cell shut, he looked at Lindsay. "Ted's going to fix up the rent and look after all that. We'll send someone up here from the office to sort out all the shipping and stuff."
She stared at him vaguely, not quite comprehending.
"And he's booking tickets for us all on a flight back to Pittsburgh tonight."
At this last, she reacted, flushing. "No, Brian. I don't want "
He regarded her grimly. "I don't give a flying fuck what you want," he said. "Gus wants to go home. And that's what's happening. You can come with us, or you can stay here and fucking rot for all I care, but Gus is coming home with me."
She stared at him for a moment and seemed ready to reject the idea violently, but just then Justin walked back into the room. After one startled look at him, Lindsay seemed once more to shrink back into herself and made no further argument.
Justin ignored her completely. "Gus wants to show you his drawing," he said to Brian.
Brian reached out a hand and Justin moved towards him and took it, squeezing it for a moment and then moving aside to let Gus approach his father.
Shyly Gus stood in front of Brian, clutching a piece of paper.
Brian did his best to shrug aside all the tension and ill feeling that had been swirling around the room, and smiled at him. "Well, come and let me see it, Sonny Boy."
"This is what Gus wants to do this afternoon," Justin reminded him.
Brian's smile slipped a little. "Well, as long as it's something we can do quickly," he said.
Gus' face fell, and Brian rushed on, "Because we're getting a plane home later today and it would be fu terrible if we missed it."
Gus' eyes lit up and he clambered onto Brian's knee, grabbing his father's sweater in a way that would have brought annihilation down on anyone else.
"Really?" he said his voice squeaking with excitement, "Really, truly?"
"Really truly," Brian nodded, his delight at his son's response lighting his own eyes.
"If Teddy wants to keep his fucking job," he murmured under his breath.
Gus ignored that part. "We could do this really quick," he said hopefully and held up the paper so his father could see it.
Brian took a deep breath and prayed to any God who'd hear him that he would be able to make out what his son had drawn.
As it turned out, he had no need to worry. It was very clear. In the drawing a tall man stood in the middle of what was, judging by the trees and wobbly paths, clearly a park. Beside him was an angular structure even taller than he was; two lines snaked down from the top of the structure, and between them was a smaller seated figure wearing a top just the color of the one Gus had on. Something in the way it was drawn captured the joyous sense of movement, almost of flying. And Brian thought for a moment he could even hear the small figure laugh.
Gus wanted his father to take him to the park and push him on the swings.
"Mama said you wouldn't want to," Gus said dolefully. "She said you'd be too busy pushing something else. I asked her what but she wouldn't tell me. Mommy wouldn't let her."
His words filled Justin once more with anger that he only managed to banish when he heard the ensuing conversation between Brian and his son.
Brian, on the other hand, wasn't angered by the words - Melanie had gone and in doing so had given him back his son. He wasn't even hurt by them. What they did for Brian was to fill him with absolute certainty that in coming up here, whatever had been triggered by his visit, he had done the right thing for his son. Under no circumstance was Gus going to be left to believe that his father didn't want him, didn't want to spend time with him.
"Maybe she thought I'd rather push you on a bike," Brian offered, and Justin wanted to hug him for giving such a clever answer.
Gus looked happily surprised. Clearly the idea that the only reason his father wouldn't want to push him on the swings was that he wanted them to do something else together was a very welcome one. Then he considered. "I can't ride a bike yet," he said, then, allowing his voice to sound deeply mournful, "I even don't have a bike."
His eyes peered up at his father hopefully. Brian grinned at him, and reached under his arms to tickle him.
"We'll see about it when we get home to Pittsburgh," he said. "If you're good today at the park."
Gus gave a squeal of delight, and Brian laughed and Justin's anger melted away.
They spent a surprisingly exhausting couple of hours at the park, leaving Lindsay to finish any personal packing. They had hot dogs for lunch, and both Justin and Brian took turns at pushing Gus on the swing. They also supervised his play on the slide, and the monkey bars and the jungle gym and Justin sat with him in the sandpit sculpting a plane out of the coarse sand while his father stepped aside and rang his solicitor.
After apologizing for breaking once more into his weekend, Brian explained the situation briefly.
"Best thing you could do," Loxon affirmed. "But if the notification has gone through, then both Lindsay and Gus could already be flagged in the system. That's okay, you just need to make sure that you've got all the paperwork. All your passports, Gus' birth certificate and the paper that Ms Marcus gave you this morning. You might have a few more questions to answer at immigration but it should be fine. If you have any problems once you get into the States, call me. If there are any problems in Canada call this number. I'll give them a heads up so they'll be on alert just in case. But I don't think you will. Provided you've got the paperwork I think they'll be glad to get you all out of the country and make any messy custody battles the problem of the U.S. courts."
He gave Brian a number and hearing his client's slight sigh of relief, he went on sincerely, "This is a good thing, Brian. It's the best thing that could have happened. For your kid as well as for you."
Brian thanked him and ended the call. For a moment he watched the two men in his life, both of them deeply engaged in their task. Then Gus looked up and saw him and his happy smile almost stabbed his father to the heart, so deeply did the joy penetrate.
He strode over and joined them, folding his long legs into the sandpit taking care not to damage the plane. Listening to Gus tell him all about it, pointing out the wings and the windows and the propellers and the tail, he somehow couldn't get the smile off his face.
While Gus made a small alteration to one of the windows, and put in a door, he reached out and touched Justin's hair. Justin's smile matched his own, and Brian stared at him for moment, wondering just how this had happened to him, how he had suddenly found his life so full of love. Then Justin pursed his lips in a kiss-blowing gesture and whispered, "Later" and Brian stopped wondering and just accepted.
Life was good.
They had very little trouble with immigration at either end, although as Loxon had predicted, they did need all the paperwork. When they stepped off the plane in Pittsburgh, Justin holding the arm of a sleepy Lindsay and Brian carrying a dead to the world Gus, both Ted and Emmett were waiting for them.
Brian was slightly surprised at how glad he was to see them, but he had to admit that they were just what he needed right then. They helped the tired travelers find seats while they collected all the luggage, then efficiently moved them through the airport to two waiting cabs.
"I think Lindsay should come and stay with me for a while," Emmett said, loading her cases into the back of one cab, while Ted stowed all Gus' things into the other. "We can have some girly time together and eat lots of ice cream and watch weepy movies."
"And Gus can spend some time with his father," Ted finished, virtually pushing Brian into his cab, while Emmett kindly but relentlessly assisted a dazed Lindsay into the other.
Ted stopped for a moment to stick his head in through the door and say to Brian, "Turns out Cynthia's got family in Toronto. She jumped at the thought of a week's paid time up there."
Brian felt more of the stresses of the last few days melt away. If Cynthia was in charge then everything involved in sorting things out in Toronto would go smoothly. And they could surely manage without her at Kinnetik for a week. He hoped.
Ted moved aside to let Justin pass Gus to Brian. Before he moved round the car to slide into the other seat, Justin turned and hugged him. "Thanks, Ted. You are an absolute star."
Ted gave him a shy smile. "Just doing my job," he said with an air of embarrassment.
"And don't think I'm going to give you a fucking raise," Brian grunted.
Ted laughed, on familiar ground now. "Wouldn't dream of it, boss," he said.
Brian stole a look down at his sleeping son and then looked up once more at his friend through the small window. "Thanks, Teddy," he said softly.
Ted grinned. "You should probably thank Emmett," he replied. "He's the one who's gonna take the heat when she wakes up properly."
Justin smiled as he closed the door of the car. "Oh, I don't think there'll be much heat," he said. "I've got the feeling Lindsay's been cooled off a bit."
But by then the cab was already pulling away and Brian was occupied with Gus and neither of the men really heard him. Ted walked off and climbed into the other cab.
Gus woke a little as he was carried into the house cradled safely in Brian's arms.
"Mommy?" he mumbled uncertainly, still half asleep.
Brian felt his stomach clench.
"No, honey," Justin soothed the little boy. "Mommy's going to stay with Emmett for a little while. Do you remember Emmett?"
The name conjured for the boy vague memories of a tall man who wore funny clothes and often gave him nice things to eat. "Emmett," he repeated sleepily.
"And you're going to stay with Daddy for a while," Justin went on.
"Daddy," the little boy said, his face smiling now. "Daddy."
Then the word seemed to penetrate his sleepiness and suddenly his eyes opened, the sleepy look banished.
"Daddy!" he squeaked, delightedly, wriggling in Brian's arms till he could wrap his own around his father's neck. "Daddy!"
Brian hugged him, his heart suddenly pounding.
Gus was here. Despite everything, after all the traumas, Gus was safely here in his home. He kissed his son suddenly and then tossed him to his shoulder while the little boy giggled with joy. Brian carried him through the house.
Justin opened the door to Gus' room. The toys and other paraphernalia that had been packed in here had mysteriously disappeared, and the room looked inviting and ready for a tired little pirate.
Gus' eyes opened wide when he saw the painting on the wall. "That's Gus!" he said excitedly, pointing to the smaller pirate. "And Daddy!" he added.
"Did you make this, Daddy?" he asked.
Justin snorted. Brian could barely draw a stick figure.
Brian gave him a surreptitious slap on the rear, but replied, "No, Gus. Justin painted this just for you."
Gus gave Justin one of his most beguiling smiles. "Thank you, Justin," he said sweetly. Then he seemed to consider, and stared hard at the painting. "Where you?" he demanded.
"I'm up there," Justin said, pointing to the figure in the rigging. Gus nodded, clearly happy that Justin was included in his pirate world.
"We can play pirates tomorrow," Gus said. "Daddy can be Cap'ain Crook and I'll be "
But before he could even finish the sentence, he was overtaken with a huge yawn.
Justin grinned at him. "Bed for you, I think," he said.
Gus was about to argue, despite the fact that his eyes were starting to droop again, when he caught sight of the bed. The thought of curling up in a real treasure chest was enough to still any further protests and while Brian got him out of his clothes, Justin went and fetched a facecloth to at least wash his face and hands. Anything more would have to wait till morning.
He fussed a little when they first tried to leave, but when Justin left them alone, and Brian started to read him `just one story', he was out like a light before his father had gotten to the end of the first page.
Just before he drifted off, he murmured sleepily, "I love you, Daddy."
He may well have been asleep before his father could master his voice enough to respond, "I love you too, Sonny boy. Always have, always will."
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