Shadows from the Past

Notes: I experienced some angst over this one. This chapter has been planned almost since the beginning. But after the wonderful job that Cael and Randall have been doing with similar subject matter, I wasn’t sure whether I should scrap this completely. But … it goes in quite a different direction to the path they’ve taken, so eventually I decided to go ahead. I want to thank them, though, because their work has been amazing, and truly inspiring.


I need him to go back to sleep. But I know he won’t until I do. Or at least until he thinks I have. So I lie here trying to relax and make my breathing steady and somehow, somehow convince him that he can go off duty now; to make him believe that he doesn’t have to stay awake beside me to guard my sleep. I need him to switch off so that I can think about what happened without dredging it all up again for him.

Well, anymore than I already have anyway by starting to scream the place down in the middle of the night.

I can’t believe I had another one of those nightmares. It’s been so fucking long since I had one. Why now? Why the fuck did it have to happen tonight? This was our ‘holiday’. This was our time away from all the work and the worries and the constant bullshit drama that always seems to be part of our lives. Once I would have been ready to cry like some wussy little faggot about how unfair it is. But now, I’m just mad as hell.

I want to strip myself apart to find the part that is so fucked, so defective that it has to self-destruct the first chance I get to just relax and really be happy with Brian.

The first chance Brian and I have had to relax and be happy together. And I blow it apart by bringing back all that shit into our lives. Like it wasn’t bad enough the first time. It fucking tore us apart then - slowly. I won’t let it wreck things again. I won’t.

Fuck it!


Stupid little shit. He’s lying there trying to sucker me into believing that he’s gone back to sleep again and everything’s fucking fine. As if it’s all just going to fucking go away and tomorrow we won’t talk about it and it will all just be …



He’s doing just what I fucking taught him to do. All those nights … all those times he woke me up, and I was back there in that fucking parking garage and …

It was all happening again, and there still wasn’t anything I could do.

Except try to hold it together while I held him, rocked him, tried to make him believe he was safe. That I could keep him safe. That I could help him and make his world better again.

What a load of fucking bullshit! It was all I could do not to start screaming with him. Except I was afraid that if I started I’d never stop. So I’d hold him and soothe him, and when he’d finally fallen asleep I could lie in the dark holding him and fight not to come unglued. Fight the tears and the fear and the guilt and the anger that were trying to make me fly into a million pieces.


Like I had the night before. And the night before that.

I couldn’t let him talk about it then, because I had to be strong for him. And if I’d let him talk about it, let him take us back there, back then, back to the soft innocent swoosh as he fell to the concrete floor, to the dull thud of the bat hitting his head, and the sound of my voice screaming his name - too late, always too fucking late …

If we’d talked about it then I would have fallen completely apart - or gone on a bender that would have made the time I spent drunk and drugged and fucked out of my mind while he was in rehab seem like lifestyles of the sober and abstinent. And I couldn’t afford to do either. He *needed* me. For the first time in my life someone was really depending on me. Not just someone. Justin.

Justin was depending on me. There wasn’t anyone else. His fucking father was nowhere to be seen, Deb … well, with the best will in the world, she couldn’t help, Jen … she’d been so quick to snatch him back to her nice suburban home, but even she’d had to admit she couldn’t help him, so she’d had the sense to toss him back to me. I was the one who could. Me.

So, despite all the years I’d fought ever having anyone rely on me, despite all the time I’d spent making sure that everyone knew they couldn’t rely on me… this was Justin, and I had to come through for him. I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to let him down.

Except of course that I did. Maybe if I’d made him get some therapy then for his head and his heart the way I made him do all those exercises for his hand; hell! if I’d even made it alright for him to get therapy, made him feel like it was just the same as the physical therapy he needed, then maybe he wouldn’t be lying here now still trying to deal with shit that’s nearly two years old. Shit that could and should have been dealt with then - for both of us. If I hadn’t been too chicken shit to do it.

Well, like they say, that was then …

I press myself against him and kiss his ear.

“Justin … we should talk about this.”

“No!” His voice is adamant and defiant.

I run my hand down his back. Okay … the apocalypse is coming and he doesn’t want to talk. Well, tough shit. He needs to. And if the only way to get him to do it is to start things off, then that’s just what I’m going to have to do. If I can.

I can.

I have to.

It’s for Justin.

So I just have to do start and hope that once the words begin to flow I won’t fucking bleed to death from them.

I pry my mouth open and say, “I need to talk about it then. Is that okay? Will you listen? Just listen, that’s all I’m asking.”

He goes absolutely still in my arms. His fucking breathing stops. Then he rolls on his back to look at me.


I can only stare at him. He wants to talk about it?

He never fucking wanted to talk about it!

Back then, when I needed … needed someone to hear me, someone to help me make sense of it all, he fucking led the charge in not fucking talking about it.

Now, now when all I want to do is get back to our ‘holiday’, now he fucking wants to talk about it?

I roll over so ready to rip him a new one, but seeing the look on his face, I can only stare at him.


I knew it had been bad for him, but not this bad … oh, God! not this bad.

I put my hand on his face, and find it wet. I don’t think he even knows he’s crying. I press closer to him and slide my arm under and round him. He’s propped up on one elbow looking down at me, but as soon as he feels my arm around him, he sort of collapses down on top of me, his face in my neck. I put my other arm around him and hold him for a long time.

When he first starts talking, it’s hard to understand the words, but gradually he calms down and they become clearer.

“I never meant to make you bottle it all up,” he whispers. “I never meant to make it harder for you.”

“Brian … “ I hear the pain in his voice and all I can do is hold him and ache for him, for us. “You were the one who saved me.”

He shakes his head of course, denying it.

“You did,” I insist. “I couldn’t even walk down the street …”

He huffs something that might be a laugh. “Sure you could. You got yourself to Woody’s, and to the loft …”

“Only because I was looking for you. Only because I …”

‘Needed you’, I want to say. But that, I know, is something he never wants to hear.

“You needed me,” he says, and I wait for the sound of the trump of doom.

“And ..” He sighs and pulls himself off me. He sits up and props himself against the head of the bed, staring straight ahead of him.

“I had to be there for you. Had to. Had to be strong for you. You were so fucking brave … the nurses told me how hard you worked every day at those damned exercises, and then when you walked into Woody’s that night …”

He breaks off and shakes his head.

“You were so brave,” he says again, “and I had to match you. Had to be what you needed. I *had* to, Justin.”

I put my hand over his where it lies beside me on the bed. He makes a harsh sound, a self mocking laugh, but as his face twists into that bitter grin I know only too well, his fingers tangle with mine. I hold tightly, and he goes on.

“The thing is … I’m not … not brave, not strong, not anything like you. I am such a pussy fucking coward …”

His voice chokes and he’s silent for a moment. I want to say something, to disagree, to argue, to tell him what bullshit he’s talking, but I don’t dare interrupt. So I lie beside him, and hold his hand, and try to will him to know how much this means to me, to hear this from him. Not because he’s right, but because he’s trusting me … oh, god, I can hardly breathe with how much it means to me that he trusts me with this.

“But I had to be … had to somehow hold it all together to be what you needed me to be.”

He looks down at me with that wry look that can tear my heart out. It’s the look he had on his face when he gave me the ‘so I’m a rotten father, are we surprised?’ line all those centuries ago. He sees something in my face though, because his eyes soften. I take that as an invitation, and pull myself up to sit next to him, our hands still tangled together. It might be accidental, but it feels like he moves slightly, because suddenly our shoulders are touching. He pulls our hands out of the sheets and places them on his thigh, squeezing my fingers hard.

“It was okay when you were in the hospital. I could run off and get wasted every night before I …”

He breaks off abruptly. Then, carefully, as if he hopes I’m not noticing that little snippet, he goes on, “But once you were living with me … I had to be together all the time. Had to. There was so much … I just had to be on my game, all the time. And …”

He swallows and looks down at our hands, “ … I know that maybe it would have been better if you’d talked about it. I know that. But I didn’t dare, Justin. I just didn’t dare. If I’d tried …”

His voice chokes off and then he says, softly, sadly, making it sound like defeat, “I had to keep it together. Had to. Had to be strong for you.”

There’s a long pause, while I try to work out if he’s finished what he needs to say. Then, even more softly, even more sadly, “I’m sorry I let you down.”

Oh, Brian!

Emotions, thoughts, things I need to say flood through me and clog my tongue. I can’t say anything. I need a space to get a grip on this. I’ve waited for this chance so long. No, not waited, that’s not right. You wait for something you expect to happen. I never expected this. Never.

But somehow this is happening, and I need … *need* to say some things to this stupid, beautiful idiot who not only saved my life, but against all the odds helped me claim it back. This amazing, patient, loving jackass who helped me heal, enabled me to let myself to touch and be touched, and gave me back my art. This solitary, guarded, damaged cretin who turned his whole life around so that I wouldn’t be alone, so that I didn’t have to stumble my way back to life alone. Which I don’t think I could have done, by the way. And who somehow thinks he failed me. Fuck!

I somehow have to find the way to show him, make him really know, what he did for me. But first I need a moment or two to pull myself together. And, knowing Brian, he probably does as well. Besides, we might as well get comfortable. It looks like this could take a while.


I don’t know what the fuck I’m expecting him to say. Maybe that he understands, at least. I don’t know.

But he doesn’t say anything. He turns his head and kisses my shoulder, then pulls my hand to his lips and kisses it. Then he gets out of bed. He leaves the bedroom and through the door I see him walk over to the mini bar and pull out a couple of beers and some nuts and chips and stuff. Then he puts on the fucking coffee maker and grabs some cookies. Then he goes into the bathroom. When he comes out, he’s wearing one of the hotel robes.

I stare at him for a moment, then realise that he’s probably right. I make my own trip to the bathroom and am about to go back to the bed when I realise that the robe is maybe a good idea. It’s not all that warm in the suite - neither of us like overheated rooms, so we turned the thermostat way down. I pull it on and head back into the bedroom.

“Let’s take this out there,” he suggests. So we do. He puts all the stuff on the coffee table, and then takes my hand and pulls me down next to him on the couch. It all seems fairly surreal, sitting around in fucking hotel robes in this hideously expensive suite, raiding the mini bar and settling in to … talk. Jesus. Just when did I become a lesbian?

But we need this. He needs this.

Which means I need to give it to him.

And, okay, maybe I need it as well.


I can hardly believe that he’s going along with this, but he’s right here on the couch beside me, so I have to make this good. Or at least, I have to try to say some of the things that I’ve never said to him about that time. The things he’d never let me say. Maybe that’s why I sort of forgot them in the whole Ethanesque delusional stage.

But how do I start? How do I make him recognize all that he did for me without him going over and over the things that he didn’t do.

But I have to … even if this gets bad. Even if he winds up just clearing out of here. Even if it takes us weeks …

We have to deal with this. This is our chance. He was strong for me when I needed him to be. He didn’t let his own fears and failings stop him from trying to give me everything, every damned thing, that I needed from him. Except the fucking words.

Now I need to give him the words.


He sits there without saying anything and I’m just wondering if I still have to say something else, still have to rip away more layers, when he finally opens his mouth.

“I still don’t really remember the dance. Our dance. Sometimes I sort of get glimmers, like an image of lights moving, or I’m moving. Faces swirling by. But it’s like remembering parts of some old movie … it’s not like remembering something that really happened to me.”

My heart squeezes. It’s all I can do not to double over in pain.

He tightens his hold on my hand and turns a little to face me.

“I sort of remember something about the parking garage … before …”

I stiffen at his side and without even seeming to realise he’s doing it, he pulls my hand to his mouth and kisses my fingers. Then he looks into my eyes.

This is not the boy who looked at me so happily, so lovingly, that night. He’s come way beyond that now. I don’t believe he’ll ever again feel that unshadowed happiness. It’s that thought that catches the breath in my throat and makes my damned eyes sting.

He touches my face with his free hand.

“I remember … a feeling … like … like …”

He stops and looks away.

“You have to let me say this, okay. I mean, I know … I know how I remember it probably isn’t how it was. And anyway, just because I felt it … I know it’s not … anyway, it was a long time ago … I just need to say it.”

I nod, and then realise he’s still looking down at the floor, and so I touch his face.

“Just fucking say it.”

It sounds harsh, but he looks up at me and smiles and for some reason the band around my chest loosens a little.

“I only started sort of remembering this part a few months ago … when I was living at Daph’s. I think I had a dream one night, not a nightmare, just a dream … about you. And when I woke up …”

I’m about to growl at him to spit out whatever it is he’s going to damned well say, but I can’t. I have to let him do this his way. Have to.

“It’s like … it feels like … I felt really happy. And I felt like we were … beginning.”

He crinkles his nose, as if that’s not really the word he wanted, but he can’t quite get one that’s any better. And fuck me if I don’t want to reach out and kiss him because it’s so fucking cute! Shit!

I’m fucked if I’m going to do that, so I just stick my tongue into my cheek.

He reads me too damned well, though, because he immediately knows there’s something going on. He raises one eyebrow and says, “Brian!”

Like it’s a warning. I grin at him. Then, when I see the storm clouds gather, I touch his face again, trying to find the words to let him know that he’s not fucking delusional. To let him know that however vague this might be, however pale a glimmer of the brightness of that moment, it’s still real. It’s still a real memory, maybe the only one he’ll ever have, of the ‘best night of his life’. I have to give him that much.

“We were,” I manage to get out.

He looks puzzled for a moment, and then … his eyes go wide and dark and for a moment I think he’s going to faint or have another of those fucking panic attacks. Then they flood, and I brace myself. But this isn’t my little drama princess anymore. This is a man who is tougher than I ever have been.

He blinks the tears away and just nods, gulping a little, but determined not to let me see him fall apart. And I’m reminded once more that no matter what all those fucks who call themselves my friends think, I do have a heart, because right now it’s hurting so much I think maybe it’s going to break all over again. The way it did that night.

I pull my hand out of his and wrap both my hands round his face so that he is looking straight into my eyes. I don’t have words for this. There aren’t fucking words for this. So I give him the only thing I can. I let him watch as the tears spill out of my eyes and run down my face. He stares at them for a moment and then gives a great shuddering sob, and his own tears spill and he reaches for me and for a long time then we just hold each other and slobber all over those damned hotel robes.

We wind up wrapped around each other, his head on my shoulder, my cheek against his hair, and somehow it’s okay. Somehow it feels like … like this is where we belong. I’m exhausted and so fucking tempted to let it go now. To pull his robe apart and see if I can’t tempt him back to bed. But I know that’s not right.

I know it.

So I hug him and say, “I could use a fucking drink.”

He gives a soft little laugh and sits up a little.

“There’s Beam in the bar.”

I look at him. But that’s not the way to go either. So I sigh and stretch.

“Coffee,” I say.

He fucking beams at me like I’ve just done something fucking wonderful and hugs me again. Jesus! does he want to do this or not, because he’s going the right way to force me to forget all my good intentions and just drag him back to bed.

Then he gets up and I don’t know whether to be pissed off or relieved.

“Coffee it is,” he says. And goes to make it.

It will probably taste like shit and I’m tempted to ring room service. But even suppose that they’re actually awake down there, the chances of there being someone who can make a decent cup of coffee are probably around zero so I resign myself to drinking whatever shit it is they put in those damned baskets.

He brings the coffee back and I get up and go find my bag. I bring out a packet of his favorite cookies and his eyes widen.

“I know you and your midnight munchies,” I smirk.

He grins and tears open the packet.

Coffee and cookies in hand we settle back into our places, his body fitting so smoothly against mine. I take a sip of the coffee. It’s not bad. I look at him. He’s watching me carefully. There’s something there …

“Better than I would have expected,” I say, and his eyes light up. Little shit! He’s brought some of my coffee from the loft.

I nudge him with my shoulder so he knows that I’m onto him, and hear him smile. I swear it. I could hear his smile in the little huff of air he puffed out, and read it in the way that his shoulder settled more comfortably against mine. Then his head comes down onto my shoulder, and I know we’re off again.


I know I have to try to find words, but for once in my life, that’s really hard. I rest for a moment with my head on his shoulder and just enjoy the feel of it, the feel of being with him. Then I sit up and twist around a little so that I can face him. I take his hand and begin.

“You know what I remember most about the time after the bashing?”

He gives me one of those Kinney looks, the ‘I don’t play these games’ kind, so I go on, “I remember waking up in the hospital every morning and hoping that today would be the day when you would come to see me.”

His face tightens and I know I’ve hurt him, but this has to be said. He has to understand.

“I wanted so much to see you. To have you … I wanted you to need to see me.”

I have to stop for a moment because my voice goes wobbly. Shit! I thought I’d gotten past all this. I thought I was over it. His face is tight with pain and I reach out to touch him.

“Brian … this isn’t meant to hurt you. I just need you to hear this, so that you understand what … how it was later.”

He nods and I stroke his cheek. Then I take a deep breath and go on.

“The thing is … if I’d woken up and found you sitting next to my hospital bed and all that … all the things I thought I wanted, thought I needed at the time … I mightn’t have worked so hard at getting well. I mightn’t have pushed myself so hard. Because it hurt, Brian.”

A muscle in his face twitches and I touch him again. “No, I don’t mean you not being there. Although it did. I meant the exercises. They really hurt. If I’d had any leeway about not doing them, I probably would have taken it. And … if I’d done that, I may never have got the use of my hand back. The doctors all told me I wouldn’t draw again, remember?”

Brian looks into my eyes, his own dark pools of painful memory, and I stretch out and kiss him gently on the lips.

“They were surprised at how well I did recover. But they all said that it was because I worked so hard in those early days. That it’s those first few weeks that can really make a difference. So in a weird way, you not being there helped me.”

He is still staring at me, and then he gives the ghost of a smile, and reaches out and brushes the hair back from my face.

“You don’t have a clue, do you? Justin … whether I was there or not, you’re just too damned tough to take the bullshit they dish out and let it ride. You would have worked just as hard. You just would have had …”

He stops and sighs and looks away and looks back. “I didn’t know how to help you. It was killing me. There you were … and you needed … something … and there wasn’t anything I could do, except …”

I meet his eyes head on.

“Except sneak in to see me every night and stand guard over my sleep.”

He sucks his lips in tight, his eyes locked to mine, wide but shadowed, trying even now to guard his secrets. Then he gives a little sigh. A tiny grin appears as his tongue curls into his cheek and he nods.

I let out an exasperated little huff. I want to pursue this, I want to slap him, I want to demand why he never told me, never told anyone. But I don’t. I don’t have to. I understand. Sort of. It’s Brian.

So, having let him know that I am so onto him, I squeeze his fingers in mine and start off again.

“Brian … I don’t want to go through all the things that happened between us after I got out of hospital, but there are some things that I do need to say. And I need you to hear me. I need you to promise that you’ll listen to me. That you won’t start trying to fix things, or taking blame for things. That you’ll just listen. Okay?”


I stare at him. I really don’t want to do this. But we need to. He needs to. So I take a breath and nod, and try to hold myself together. He’s going to talk about all the ways I hurt him. All the things I did or didn’t do, or did badly. And I need to sit and listen without feeling like … like I’m so afraid that I haven’t learned anything, like it’s only a matter of time before I fuck it all up again. I have to listen.

“In fact,” he starts off, “I don’t want you just to listen. I need you to hear me. Do you understand? I’m asking you to stop being you for a minute. To stop trying to take everything I say and work out how you could have fixed it, and blaming yourself because you didn’t. I’m telling you now most of what went wrong between us … it just happened. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t mine. I was a mess … and that doesn’t mean that you failed because you didn’t fix me. It just means that I needed time. Do you hear me?”

I stare at him. His eyes are peering straight into me. I want to break the contact; I can’t let him see me, but he does. He always has and …

He reaches out and touches my face.

“Brian … you … you have to trust me. And you have to let me take responsibility for my own fuck ups. Okay?”

I stare at him and he’s giving me that raised eyebrow look I taught him. I find my lips twisting into a grin and he smiles at me.

“Okay,” I agree.

Justin gives my hand a squeeze, then lets go and reaches for the beer he took out of the fridge an age ago. He opens it and takes a deep swallow. I figure he’s got the right idea so I reach for mine. He hands it to me and picks up a packet of some salty shit and opens it. He stuffs a handful into his face, and then leans forward to feed me some. I let him push a couple into my mouth and then pull back a little. He laughs and finishes the handful himself.

When his mouth is finally food free, he says, “I guess that from the time I first woke up I felt like there were this whole batch of emotions that were trying to burst out of me. Pain and fear and … sadness, because you weren’t there.”

I try not to wince at that. I have to stay calm, stay clear so that he can talk. If he thinks I’m getting upset he might stop, and I don’t want him to. I don’t want to do that to him again.

“And anger,” he says. “Beneath all of it was the anger. And I just didn’t have the strength to deal with any of it, so I sort of pushed it all away. Shut it all down.”

I bite my lip. It’s a battle to do as he has asked, and not just to take the responsibility for not helping him with this.

And he sees, he knows. He touches my face again.

“Brian … I wasn’t ready to deal with it. It was such a battle just to deal with all the other stuff. And if it hadn’t been for you ..”

His voice chokes and his eyes go very dark, as if he’s seeing some image that really scares him. I tighten my hold on his hand, and he’s suddenly back with me again.

“If it hadn’t been for you, I don’t think that I would have made it. I know you don’t want to believe that, but I believe it’s true.”

I shake my head a little in denial, but he stops me with a look. “Brian … this is about how I see things, and I’m telling you … I might have got over my fear of being touched without you - eventually. I might even have been able to go back into crowds and stuff. Who knows, I might even have found a way to work on my art. But it would have taken a lot longer, and I think that by the time I found a way to do all those things, I wouldn’t have been Justin any more.”

I want to tell him that he’s so much stronger than he’s giving himself credit for, but I’ve promised not to interrupt. To hear him. So I try to take in what he’s saying without letting myself disagree. To just hear him. God! who knew that listening would be so fucking hard?


I’m so grateful to him for his silence. I know that he wants to say things, or at least to deflect what I’m saying, but he isn’t. He’s hanging in there with me, and that means more to me than anything right now. But now I have to say some of the really hard things. I take a breath, and another swig of beer. Then I go on.

“The thing is, that all that clamping down on those emotions … it left me kind of numb. Like I could hardly feel anything. It was weird. And I think …”

I pause for a moment and look at him.

“I think that for a long time I went out of my way to create … dramas … just so that I could feel something.”

His eyes have never left mine, but now they’ve narrowed a little, and I know that he’s really trying to take in and process what I’m saying.

“I think that all the shit … the threeways and the baths and the Vermont trip and the with Sap and the rules … I think they were all just ways to make myself feel something.”

His eyes are very wide now, and darkly shadowed. He knows what’s coming next and he’s bracing himself for it. I twine my fingers more closely with his, as if that frail link can hold us safe through all the torrents I’m about to unleash.

“I think that’s what the Ethan thing was mainly about.”

He’s shaking his head. I knew he wasn’t going to want to hear this. He wants it to be his fault. But it wasn’t. Maybe a little. But mostly not. Mostly it was me. I was the one who fucked up; and there were reasons that I did, but very few of them were to do with what he’d done or hadn’t done. Which is why he doesn’t want to hear it. Because if it was him, then in some way he was in control. Is still in control. If it was about what he did back then, then if he can just not do it this time we’ll be okay. In Brian logic.

But I won’t let him take that on. I won’t. He’s just going to have to deal with not controlling every fucking thing in the universe.

I touch his face.

“Bri … I know you think that if you’d been the perfect boyfriend things would have been different. I’m telling you that’s not true. I was fucked up. And no, that doesn’t mean you should have seen it and got me help. It just means that I needed some time for all that shit to sort of … heal. That’s all.

“The thing with Ethan … remember how I said I had all this anger? It was simmering inside me, all the time and I had nowhere for it to go. It was all bottled up in me, and you were … I could let it all focus on you, because it was safe. I knew you’d never hurt me. So all the anger, all the frustration … I could put it all on you. Not consciously. I don’t mean that. But inside … whenever I needed to feel something, it was safe to let myself feel angry with you. All the frustration and resentment … there you were. Sometimes it came out, but mainly, I just bottled it up and let it seethe inside me.

“Then Ethan came along, and … it was exciting, all the sneaking around. And it was a way to punish you …”

I touch his face. I have to make sure he hears this.

“Not for anything you’d done. But … I couldn’t punish anyone else. Not Hobbs, not St James, not my fucking father. I was so powerless. Except where you were concerned. You, I could punish.”

Brian’s beautiful eyes are shiny with tears now, and I lean forward and kiss the corner of his mouth. It’s killing me to say this to him, but he needs to let himself off the hook. He needs to know how badly messed up I was so that he understands the difference in me now. So that he knows this isn’t the same asshole that fucked things up so badly.

“And I could punish me.”

His head snaps up at that, and I go on.

“Brian … I was such a mess. I hated myself some days. I felt like I was a total reject, and …”

This isn’t the time to tell him Michael hadn’t helped that at all.

“And while I was creeping about behind your back with Ethan … it was like a way of saying to myself, ‘this is what you are, this pathetic lying cheating little sack of shit’. It sort of validated how badly I felt about myself.

“I mean, that’s not how I thought about it then. Then it was all about what a mean shit you were, and how you wouldn’t do this, or you did that … but none of that was real, Brian. None of that was what was really going on.”

I stop and have another swig of beer. Bottle’s nearly empty and I debate getting up to fetch some more, but I don’t want to stop here, so I make do.

I run my tongue over my lips and go on.


There are knives in my chest and I feel like I’m going to puke, but I have to sit here and keep calm. Have to. Must.

It’s for Justin.

Christ! when does it get to be for me?

I can’t hear this. I can’t.

But I grit my teeth and let him go on.

“With Ethan … I think mainly it was just a relief. With him, it didn’t matter if I didn’t feel too much. He was so emotional, throwing feelings around all day and all night that I could sort of take a back seat.”

Not like me, he means. Keeping everything to myself. Never even trying to tell him …

Stop! Kinney. Stop. You promised him you wouldn’t do this. Just hear him. God!

“But … I was numb. I was trapped in some sort of limbo. Brian … you have to understand, if I’d stayed with Ethan, there’s no way I could have fought against Stockwell. There wouldn’t have been enough of me, the real me, to do anything. I probably wouldn’t have even cared.”

I give him a look. That one I am so not buying. But he touches my knee.

“Believe me, Brian. I know what I’m talking about. I was so confused, so … not me … all the time I was with him. He talked so much about how wonderful I was, and how I was his muse, but … I wasn’t real to him. I was just … just part of him, of his image of himself. I wasn’t Justin. And the longer I was with him, the harder it would have been to have been Justin.”

He looks into my eyes, and wrinkles his nose and smiles at me. God! that’s why I’m sitting here listening to this. That’s why I’m letting him make me feel all this shit all over again. All the agony and self contempt I felt when I let him leave me. Because I want him to smile at me like that. How fucking pathetic is that?

“I know you don’t want to hear this. But you were the one who saved me.”

I stare at him, and some remnant of my old defence mechanisms creeps in. “Memories of how a good fuck felt, huh?”

He grins and pinches my thigh. “No. I mean it. You made me feel like I mattered.”

My eyes meet his full on again and his are soft and shining. He touches my face.

“That day at the munchers’ … in the bathroom … what you said … it made me feel like what I wanted mattered.”

“I thought …” the words are out before I can stop myself. Surely the whole damned thing with the fiddle fuck was about Justin getting what he wanted - or at least, what he thought he wanted. He smiles at me a little sadly.

“What I wanted never mattered to Ethan. Not really. There is no way, if things had been the other way round, that he would have said something like that to me. You have no idea, Brian, no idea at all, how much that meant to me.”

All of a sudden I want to smash the fiddle fuck’s face in. I want to pulverize him completely - not for what he did to us, but for what he did to Justin. For treating him like some kind of toy or trophy. For not letting him be Justin. For not seeing how incredible Justin is and giving him the fucking respect he deserves. Just in this moment, I truly want to hurt that little fucker in a way that I never did over him taking Justin from me.

Then Justin smiles at me again, and the rage just sort of evaporates.

“Brian … that’s what I mean. He never gave me one iota of the respect that you have always given me. You haven’t said all the flowery words, but always, always, you have treated me as if my feelings mattered. Not in the bullshit ‘I’d do anything to make you happy’ way. But in the ‘you have the right to do what you need to be happy even if I’m not’ way. And that’s much more … real. It’s more …”

He looks at me a moment with a look compounded of nervousness and guilt and mischief and says, “It’s more loving.”

The heavens don’t rain fire down on his head (in other words, I keep my fucking mouth shut for once), so he grins and goes on.

“All through that time, you made me feel like I mattered. Me. Justin. Things you did for me. The tuition. The poster.”

I’m trying not to shake my head, to shrug this away, but I … it’s hard to hear. Harder than hearing him talk about the fiddle fuck. He sees it too, the little shit, because he leans towards me and kisses the corner of my mouth again. I press my forehead against his for a moment, and somehow that … I don’t know. It helps, is all.

He says softly, “It made me know that I had value to you that wasn’t just about being a good fuck, or even being your friend. That I had value just for being me. Not for anything I gave you, anything you got from me. Not as your muse. Just as me.

“With Ethan … I never had that. And everyone else was treating me like I should be so grateful, and so glad to have Ethan. They all seemed to believe that I was so much better off with him. Which made me even more confused.”

Then he stops and gives a little giggle. “Well, except for Daph. She never liked him. Not from the beginning. And after the ‘cousin’ thing …”

He must see the confused look on my face, because he shrugs and says, “After he decided there was nothing noble about being poor …”

Our eyes meet for a moment, and I really want to cringe. I’m not sorry that I said what I said to Ethan, and I still think I was right - with his fucking ego it would have spelt disaster for them, he would never have let Justin forget what he’d given up for him, and Justin wouldn’t have been able to forget it either. But the ‘blond boy ass’ comment - that I regret. I was hurting. And I didn’t want him getting on to me about interfering and trying to run his life. I was just trying to deflect him. But I hurt him. He didn’t hear what I was trying to get him to see about his place in the fiddler’s life, he just heard it as how I viewed his place in mine. I saw that in his eyes as the words went home, but there was fucking nothing I could do. He wasn’t mine anymore to try the only ways I knew to comfort him, to show him how I really felt. Although, I guess, in the circumstances, using those ways would only have made things worse anyway.

I grimace at him, and he taps my thigh and says, “Brian, stop beating yourself up over that. It was Ethan’s decision.”

“Not that,” I mumble. And damned if he doesn’t give me one of those smiles.

“Oh, you mean the blond boy ass thing?”

I sort of nod, and he smiles wider and rubs his hand up my thigh. Shit! does he want to finish this or not?

“Brian, considering what you did because of what some piece of blond boy ass said about things …”

He breaks off there, and I can actually feel myself fucking blushing. Fucking little shit!

The fingers of one hand are still tangled round mine, but he takes the other hand and cups it round my face so that I have to look at him. His touch is so gentle, cool and warm at the same time. Cool and soothing like water when you’re dry and parched, but the warmth of it is comforting the cold lonely place inside me. The place of non-feeling. The place I banished myself to when I lost him. Does he truly think I don’t know how that place feels? How fucking scary and lonely and isolating it is?

It scares the shit out of me that he must have been teetering on the brink of that for so long, and I did nothing to help him.

Except that he says I did. He says that even my pathetic attempts to make sure he was still part of my life … or rather that I was still part of his, he was always going to be some huge part of mine, even if it was only the emptiness of him not being there - he says all that helped him. So maybe I didn’t totally fuck things up, didn’t totally fail him.

I manage to meet his eyes again, and he’s got this teasing grin on his face, like he has when he is really onto me, and I find myself grinning back. He laughs and squeezes my hand.

“Anyway,” he says, taking in a deep breath, ‘after he’d signed that damned contract, he was interviewed by some journalist and introduced me as his cousin and Daph as my girlfriend.”

He stops and grins again, “That was it, as far as Daph was concerned. She was so pissed. He was history after that, really.”

I raise an eyebrow, and he looks exasperated.

“I kept trying, Brian. There’s no way I was going to admit that I’d made such a huge fucking mistake. I had to keep trying, but … it was all over, really.”

He sighs and says thoughtfully, “See, that’s when I first really noticed the difference.”

He looks at me and says, “Everyone thought it was hard for me, you being my first. My first lover and my first love. And it was, but not in the way that they meant. The thing is that you taught me to take certain things more or less for granted. You taught me about great sex, you taught me about taking care of myself, and you taught me to expect honesty. Harsh, maybe, but honest. Or at least …”

He stops and seems to think about it for a moment. “You mightn’t always have been honest, but if you weren’t it was always in the ‘promise less, deliver more’ sort of way. Not ever the other way round. Ethan, on the other hand …”

He sighed, but it was a ‘his loss’ sort of sigh, like he was sorry for the fuck for being such a dick, “Ethan just fed me bullshit.

“It wasn’t him signing the contract that hurt me, or made me angry with him, whatever … it was the whole, ‘oh, I’d never want to lie about us’ thing, and *then* he signed the contract. Without even talking to me about it. Like I was supposed to not only swallow what he’d done, but just forget all the bullshit promises and declarations he’d made the day before. Like they’d never happened. He just couldn’t see …”

He shook his head, and looked at me. His hand went up to brush some of the hair out of his eyes, and in some ways he looked about twelve. But in others he looked so much older, so much a man who has been through shit, has suffered, and has learned some lessons. And he’s still only twenty fucking years old. Shit!

“That’s what made it hard for me that you were my first. All I’d known was your honesty. I had no way to really read the bullshit until that all happened. I know I should have been smarter, but …”

“You’re young,” I say provocatively, wondering if he’ll remember. Like there was a chance that he wouldn’t. Mind like a steel trap for any fucking stupid thing I’ve ever said. He pinches my thigh again.

“Like I said at the time, you’re so damned smart?”

I grin at him and he grins back.

Then he moves and stretches. “After that … it was just a matter of time, really. The cheating was just … I don’t know. Inevitable, I guess. And he even tried to bullshit his way through that.”

I nod. I can understand that. Justin has a rock solid integrity that Ethan must simply not have seen, or not understood, because there is no way he would have tried to go on bullshitting him if he’d understood it. Even I was never that dumb.

Well, I fed him some bullshit along the way, but by the sound of the ‘promise less, deliver more’ comment, he’s pretty much onto that as well.

He sighs. He looks tired and I realize how much all this must be taking out of him. Maybe it’s time we called it quits. For now, at least.


I can hardly believe that he’s still sitting here with me. But he is, and things are … it feels … okay. It feels as if he’s okay with what I’ve said. As if things really are okay between us.

I stretch a little and then I say, “If all that had happened, and you weren’t still … you know …”

“Around,” he says. I have to touch him again, so I stroke his hand.

“Around,” I agree. “If you hadn’t been showing me that you still wanted me around, I don’t know what I would have done, Brian. I think … I think I would probably have stayed with him and just let him go on bullshitting me, because I don’t think I would have believed I deserved any better.”

That gets his attention. Suddenly his eyes are like lasers, boring into me.

“But … like I said, you’d showed me that I meant something. So …” I shrug. “I left him. And for while it was like going back into limbo, but not really. It’s more like it took me a while to come out again. To come back to being me again. And when I did …”

Brian looks at me, and gets this slightly smug look. Well, so he should, because what I did as soon as I came to my senses was go after him. Of course. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to let him get away with that look. I pinch him again, harder this time.

He gives a silent ‘Ow!’ and I look straight into his eyes and let him know that I’m not putting up with any shit from him.

“When I did,” I repeat, “it hurt. Because I’d lost you. I’d made the biggest fucking mistake I could ever make in my life, and I’d lost you.”

Brian smiles, a slow, sweet smile and shakes his head.

“Not really,” is all he says, but suddenly I’m blushing like some dumb kid and I have to fight not to throw myself into his arms. God! if I ever find myself doubting again why I should be with Brian Kinney, I’ll think of this moment, and know.

He looks down, and up at me through his eyelashes in that way he has when he’s trying to say something, but doesn’t have the words, and just wants me to know. I give up, and move to sit beside him, putting my arm across him and my head on his shoulder. He lets go of my hand for a moment, and puts that arm round me, then he curls his other hand round mine. I sigh and nuzzle closer.

“Tired?” he asks

“A little, but …”

“Justin, we could talk tomorrow.”

“No … I want to finish.”

He doesn’t say anything, but I feel his face brush my hair.

I take a deep breath.

“It wasn’t just about you, though. I mean, somehow, from the time I started working and Vangard, I really started to feel like me again. Like I was almost back to who I should have been all along. Does that make sense?”

I want to crane my head to look up at him, but I feel him nod, and that’s enough. I relax back onto his shoulder.

“And then the Stockwell thing happened, and everything, and I felt like … it made me know who I am again.”

I feel him nod again. Then he says, “So why now? Why the nightmares now?”

I turn my face up so that I can see his eyes. He’s so close to me that I almost go crosseyed, but it’s okay.

“Before … when I had the nightmares, it was always just the pain, and the fear.”

I see the look in his eyes, and go on quickly, “But this time, mainly it was anger. I was just so damned angry. I felt like I was going to explode with it. Even when I woke up.”

Brian’s eyes are intent on mine. He’s listening, but he doesn’t really understand why it’s different, or at least, what the difference means. I try to explain. And I hold tightly to him while I do. This is the really tricky part.

“I think it’s because … these last few days, how things have been with us. The dinner, the car, Michael, everything really …”

He’s looking worried now. No, not worried, scared. He is so afraid of what I’m going to say, and I don’t know if saying it will make things better or worse, but it’s too late now.


Fuck! I feel hot and cold all at once, as if I have a fucking fever. And I want to throw up. What is he telling me? Is he saying that things have become such a fucking mess that the whack on the head he got from Chris Hobbs hardly counts now in the scheme of things?


I can’t hear this. Can’t. Must. Have to.

Christ, Justin. No. Not tonight. Give me tonight.

I want to get up, to throw him off and walk out the way I would have once. But that’s not an option any more. At least I know that much. I force myself to sit still. I feel his arm tighten round me.

“I think the way we have been with each other … it’s what he would have wanted. It’s what he did want … and so …”

My heart is thumping so hard I think it’s going to implode. What is he saying? What who would have wanted?

He must realise I’m not getting it, because he starts again.

“I think that I’m back to where I was trying to get to before the Prom. I think that this is what he … that Justin, the boy who asked you to his Prom … this is what he wanted to have with you. I feel like we’re back to where we would have been if the bashing hadn’t happened.”

The words fall into my head and the pattern they form makes sense to me. He sees the recognition of that in my eyes and smiles at me. Somehow that smile becomes part of the pattern and it all makes even more sense.

“In fact, it’s probably better, because no matter how romantic all that was … we probably would have stuffed it up. I wasn’t really ready for this back then …”

I stifle a laugh and he says in a voice a lot like that boy would have used, “Well, neither were you!”

And ain’t that God’s own truth? He’s right. We almost certainly would have fucked it up. It would have been different anguish, but anguish we would have had, just the same. And who knows? It might have ended so badly that we could never get it back together. We might never have got here, to this point. I tighten my hold on him, and he nuzzles my neck.

“So,” he breathes into my ear, “it’s like … all that anger that I had inside because of what was stolen from us … I can let all that go now. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

I want to believe him, but the dream …

He gives a little shrug and holds me tighter. “I think the dream was just sort of getting the last of it out of my system. I feel like …”

He put his head on my shoulder and gives a happy sounding sigh.

“I feel free of it. Free of all of it.”

Damn! I can feel tears flooding out of my eyes and he’s got my arms and hands all tangled around him and there’s fuck all I can do about it.

I just hold him for a while, while I get wetter and soggier, and eventually he sits up. He takes a fold of his robe and wipes my face. The little shit even makes me blow my nose on the tie. Gross!

Then he says, “I think maybe it’s time for bed now.”

I shrug and try to look like I haven’t been fucking coming unglued, and he gets up and holds out his hand.

I want to do a Brian Kinney and either smack it away or ignore it, but what would that prove? He fucking knows how filleted I am by what he’s said. I don’t know why relief, why happiness, should make me feel so fucking overwhelmed, but it doesn’t matter. For now all that matters is that he’s right. Somehow, against all the fucking odds, we’ve found our way to where we were supposed to be.

I let him help me up, and he winds his arm around my waist as we walk into the bedroom. It takes a couple of steps before I realise that I have both arms wrapped tight around him. It doesn’t make the walking any easier, but I don’t know how to let go.

We’re settling down into the bed, too exhausted to even think about fucking, when he says quietly, “Brian?”

“Mm?” I grunt.

“In the parking garage, did you say to me … did you tell me it was ‘ridiculously romantic’?”

My heart squeezes, but I find the way to answer him.

“Right after you told me it was the best night of your life,” I say, wrapping myself firmly round him, and pulling him even closer against me.

He’s silent for a moment, and I know that no matter what he says, he’s always going to feel pain that he can’t remember that night properly. Just like I am.

Then he says, “Brian, there’s one more thing I have to say.”

I sigh. I’m tired. I’m worn out dealing with all this. I need to get to sleep just to get a break from it. But …

“Okay,” I say.

He wriggles out of my arms and turns to face me.

“You’re going to hate it,” he warns.

I sigh again. “Fuck it, Justin, just spit it out. I can suck it up. I’m still fucking here, aren’t I?”

He smiles into my eyes and nestles close to me, his arms going round me in the semi darkness. “It’s … you’re going to really hate it. But sometimes I need to say it, that’s all. And you’re just going to have to put up with it.”

I stare into those innocent seeming blue eyes. What the fuck?

He smiles again and rubs his nose against mine. I find myself smiling back. I just can’t fucking help it.

He kisses the corner of my mouth once more.

“I love you,” he breathes.

Then he settles down into my arms and closes his eyes.

My arms wrap themselves round him but it’s a while before I can say anything. Finally I manage to get my voice to function enough to mumble some sort of response.

“I don’t hate it,” I croak and I feel him smile against me in the darkness.

As I drift off to sleep, my main feeling is amazement. Astonishing as it seems, what I said is true.

I don’t hate it at all.


Dec 14th 2003


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