Never Have, Never Will


Warnings: Character death, sort of.  (Not Brian or Justin)

Author's Notes: We all know that I don't like Mikey, but that's not the sole reason this is the way it is ... it just struck me as a damned interesting 'what if ...'



Looking back, what Justin remembered most about his first visit to Brian's loft was the cold.  Well, no, what he remembered most was the play of muscles in Brian's back and shoulders as he'd shrugged off his jacket and then pulled his wife beater over his head.  And the amazing sex that had followed, that had been not so much hot as incandescent.  Which made it even stranger that his strongest impression about the loft itself had been the cold.

A few nights later (nights that were in Justin's mind a strange montage in which images of Brian's cool classical elegance mixed with others that weren't cool at all: flushed skin, Brian's cock, dark and hot and swollen, his own body's overwhelming sexual arousal and the pungent mix of smells -sweat and lube and come) he'd mentioned it to Brian who'd shrugged. 

"It'll heat up," he'd said with the sultry grin that never failed to make Justin's cock twitch into life.  Then he'd reached for Justin and the subject had disappeared in haze of heat and want and need.

But it had still struck Justin as weird - if only because the cold seemed to be in pockets.  And it was hard to put those down to drafts because they moved.  In those first visits, he'd walk in and the temperature would seem normal, and he wouldn't notice it drop till he moved towards the bedroom, or into the kitchen area, or maybe the bathroom.

It had taken him a few visits to figure out that, in fact, it seemed to get colder whenever he moved towards Brian.

Maybe he only figured that out because it had been after those first few visits that the other things started happening.

Things like the glass that had shattered in his hand, so he had been incredibly lucky to escape with just a small cut on one finger.  If he hadn't decided just at that moment to put the glass down to get some ice, if he'd still been gripping it tightly, then the tendons in his thumb could have been sliced open. 

Or the time the heavy metal door had suddenly started to slide shut with him only half way through, so that only Brian's quick reflexes had prevented him getting off with no worse than a bruised shoulder.

Things like the shoe he'd stumbled on going up the steps to the bedroom.  He'd tripped and cracked his knee on the edge of the step.  It had hurt like fuck and had started swelling almost immediately so they'd spent most of that night in the Emergency Room.  Brian had been like a bear with a sore head for days because the best sex they'd been able to manage had been blow jobs - and even then Justin had been the recipient far more than usual because he'd been totally unable to bend his knee, let alone kneel in worship before Brian's cock.

It had been that last one that forced Justin to really start to question what was going on.  Because when Justin had started to tease Brian about how come a neat freak like him had left a shoe lying around, Brian's reaction had been … strange.  Not guilty, or defensive, just ... strange.  Kind of … spooked.  If Justin hadn't known better, he'd have said that Brian actually looked afraid.  Then he'd shrugged it off and said with one of those grins that he must have dropped it in his hurry to get Justin to the bedroom. 

Justin had let it go, lost again in the heat and passion that ignited so easily between them.  But his memory of that night was vivid and he'd known a strange frisson of misgiving.  Because he remembered the stumble, remembered his foot coming down unexpectedly on the shoe he simply hadn't seen, remembered the pain exploding in his knee.  And remembered Brian's hands on his hips, helping him up, Brian's arm round wrapping tightly round his waist from behind, supporting him.

From behind.

Brian hadn't dropped the shoe on his way to the bedroom.  Justin had been ahead of him because Brian had stopped to get some water from the fridge.

So where had the shoe come from?  How on earth had Brian, so careful about his expensive footwear that each piece had its own place in the neat racks in his closet, come to leave one expensive Prada boot lying around on the bedroom steps where it was almost sure to be trodden on?   And later there had been the weird reaction of Brian's friends.

But of course Justin had rationalized away any lurking shreds of concern.  There obviously had to a logical explanation.  And meanwhile it might just be that in this astonishingly beautiful, undeniably sexy, unbelievably complex and sometimes completely maddening man, he'd someone stumbled on to his soul mate.

And Brian, although he would have had himself castrated before he'd have put things that way, was beginning to share much the same feelings.

At first, hardly anyone who knew either of them would have believed it.

Justin suffered the curse of being blond and innocent looking and most of the people who knew him had trouble seeing past the apparently sweet and angelic face to the tough, determined and highly sexual man he was.  Only his friend Daphne, who'd grown up with him and seen him fight his way past bullies and bigots as well as his own father's homophobia and rigid conventionality knew how strong he was.  How strong he'd had to be to carve out a life and career for himself in the field he wanted as the person he wanted to be.

Brian's friends, even the ones who saw past the asshole persona he'd so carefully cultivated, had never known him to show the smallest inkling that he was looking for any sort of relationship that lasted for more than the time it took him to come.  Friendships, yes.  He was good at those, in a non defined, non conventional way.  His real friends, the ones who really knew him, knew that they could absolutely rely on him, that if they needed him he would be there for them.

But any sort of love affair?  No.  Really.  Just … no.

Brian didn't do love.  Or boyfriends.  Or even fuck buddies.  And while his friends might have suspected that there were reasons why he behaved that way, that didn't change the essential fact: Brian Kinney avoided anything that would complicate his life.  He had always been resolute in avoiding all entanglements, engaging in a seemingly endless stream of `one time only' sexual encounters.  It hadn't so much been "fuck `em and leave `em" as "fuck that one and that one and that one and then start again tomorrow with a new batch".

But, after three weeks during which he'd hardly been seen at any of his regular preying grounds, he'd suddenly emerged from wherever he'd been holing up (with a snigger at the double entendre) with a beautiful blond at his side.  It had taken a while for even Ted and Emmett, the closest of his friends, to get their heads around the fact that the blond seemed to have somehow become a permanent fixture.

And when they did, mixed in with their amazement, with their genuine hope that their friend was reaching out for a share of the happiness he'd never known, was a deep, deep sense of foreboding.  Almost of fear; a fear of which they found it hard to speak, even between themselves because … well, really, they were men of the 21st century.  How could they admit to being afraid of things that went bump in the night?  Except … except …

Justin was intrigued by Ted and Emmett, and even more about what their presence in his life said about Brian.  Not that he wasn't fascinated by everything about Brian - his beauty, of course and his sexual prowess, but also by his intelligence, his wit, the breadth of his knowledge about a whole range of subjects, by the kindness he saw lurking at the corners of Brian's mouth, by the shy glimpses of fatherly pride that came when the man talked about his son, and especially by the sadness which Justin read so clearly in those amazing hazel eyes.  But he was especially fascinated by Brian's choice of friends.

If he'd been asked, he would have said that he'd thought that Brian's friends would be a lot like him.  Successful, professional, smooth, competitive …

But Ted and Emmett weren't like that at all. 

Ted was, at least on the surface, conservative and … well, maybe a little bit boring.  Justin wasn't at all surprised when he found out that Ted was an accountant.  Although the fact that he worked for Brian did surprise him a little.  Brian didn't seem like someone who'd become close friends with any of his work colleagues, let alone someone who worked for him.  It hadn't taken Justin more than a couple of days to work out that Brian liked his life neatly compartmentalized - there was work, there was play, there was fucking and there were friends, and the four things didn't spill into each other. 

So his friendship with Ted was one more intriguing facet of the enigma that was Brian Kinney.

Emmett on the other hand was hardly conservative.  The night Brian had off-handedly suggested that they go and have a drink at Woody's and then just as off-handedly introduced him to his friends, Justin had blinked at the sight of Emmett in what Justin could only describe as a cerise blouse worn over avocado green pleather pants.  No, Emmett wasn't conservative.

But Justin, treated almost from the first to Brian's disdain of his non-designer wardrobe and amused by the man's label queen antics would never in a million years have pictured him sitting opposite someone clad in pleather - let alone cerise and avocado - without so much as a snide remark about it.  Nor, for that matter, would he have imagined him being friends with such a very … well, queeny queer.  Emmett's flame certainly burned bright.

Justin was a long way from being stupid however, and he possessed the true artist's gift of highly developed intuitive powers, so it hadn't taken him long to see that, as friends, this oddly assorted trio worked.  They'd clearly known each other a long time, but it wasn't habit that had kept their friendship working.  They obviously cared for each other a great deal, and, Justin had realized watching the interplay between them that Brian clearly had a great deal of respect for both men.

Equally obviously, of course, his friends had both been surprised by Justin's presence at Brian's side.

Justin was still a little surprised himself.

He and Brian had met, if you could call it that, at Babylon.  He'd not long moved back to Pittsburgh and had heard word on the street that Babylon was the best club with the hottest guys.  He'd walked in and seen Brian and had had to admit that the word on the street had been spot on for once.  He and Brian had circled each other all night, and had finally hooked up on the dance floor.  A quick trip to the backroom had been an appetizer, but had left both of them wanting more, so they'd gone back to Brian's place.

Justin still wasn't quite sure what had happened next.  Well, he knew what had happened, he couldn't quite track why.  He'd had no illusions about what the hook up had been about.  It was about fucking, pure and simple.  A night's entertainment, a release for pent up energy and cum, but nothing more. 

But somewhere along the line, in between the bouts of stellar sex, they'd started talking.  And laughing.  And somehow Justin hadn't left when they'd done, which he'd fully intended to do.  Instead he'd fallen asleep and woken with his face smooshed against Brian's shoulder.

Brian had woken when he'd gotten out of bed, so Justin had asked if it was okay if he'd had a shower, and Brian had grunted an agreement.  It had been freezing cold, so he hadn't dawdled in getting under the shower and he'd nearly finished when Brian had come into the bathroom.  He'd turned to see the man's outline through the steamed glass and then the door of the shower cubicle had opened and Brian had joined him and for a while he didn't feel cold at all.

He'd noticed it again though while he was dressing, and had hurried to pull on his coat.  His skimpy top, however hot it made him look on the dance floor, wasn't proof against the increasingly bitter cold in Brian's loft. 

Brian had walked towards the kitchen uncharacteristically ready to offer coffee when he'd realized that Justin was already in outdoor gear.  For a moment he'd stood silent while Justin buttoned his coat (wondering if he had a scarf in his car), but then he'd moved to the closet, pulled out his own coat and asked Justin if he wanted to go to breakfast.  Justin had blinked at him in surprise, and then smiled, a smile so bright that Brian had been almost dazzled - enough to fight of his reactive impulse to withdraw the invitation.  (Later Brian, uncharacteristically reflective, had acknowledged to himself that Justin's smile had seemed so bright it had been as if the sun had suddenly emerged from behind some very dark clouds.)

So they'd walked down together to the little diner on Fuller Street and shared their first breakfast together.  Brian had teased Justin about his choice of French toast smothered in syrup and Justin had reciprocated by pointing to the three coffees Brian had consumed, and mentioned the detrimental effect of caffeine on sexual performance.  And all the time, between the teasing and the laughter, they'd talked; so that by the time they'd walked back to Brian's building to collect their cars and head off for the day, Brian had known that Justin, after completing his original business degree at Dartmouth at his father's insistence, had now come back to Pittsburgh and was working on a second degree at PIFA.  Which had left Brian suitably impressed, though a little curious as to how Justin was funding that if daddy wasn't paying.  In turn Justin had discovered that Brian owned his own ad agency which he was slowly building into a serious player in the north east with a number of fairly major clients. 

The whole experience had been completely different to what Justin had expected, but he'd still been careful not to get his hopes up.  He'd known from the moment he'd first seen Brian at the club what the score was, and there'd been every indication that Brian was one of those men who were only interested in casual sex and one night stands. 

So he'd been more than surprised when Brian had called him later that day.  Brian had taken his number in case there was any casual work going in his art department but Justin hadn't expected a call so soon.

Nor had he expected that Brian would suggest hooking up again.  But he had and they had and the sex had been even better than the first time.  So much so that a third night together had seemed almost an inevitable outcome, and that time Justin had come prepared for the cold with thick socks and a warm sweater. 

But after that third night Justin had stopped and taken stock.

He'd been deeply attracted to Brian, and not just sexually.  But he'd had no intention of slipping into a "fuck buddy" arrangement.  He hadn't expected, or even wanted, instant monogamy and a march towards a pink picket fence.  But he had wanted, needed, more than the occasional hot fuck with no emotional involvement.

So the next day Justin, taking courage from the fact that the worst that could happen would be that he'd feel like a complete idiot, had called Brian and asked if he wanted to go to dinner.  Even over the phone, Justin could feel Brian's astonished disbelief. 

"What do you mean `dinner'?" Brian had asked, like he was hoping `dinner' was just a code word for something completely different.

Justin had smiled at him down the phone.

"Dinner," he'd repeated.  "We go to a restaurant.  We sit, we eat.  You know … dinner."

"You mean like a date?" Brian had said, his incredulous tone suggesting it was the most ridiculous idea he'd ever heard.

"I mean exactly like a date.  I pick you up, we go to dinner, I take you back to your place.  And then we have hot monkey sex before I come back home."

There'd been a pause during which Justin had resigned himself to Brian simply laughing at him, so it had taken him a moment to absorb Brian's words.

"I don't know if I should put out on the first date."

If Justin had been surprised by his response, Brian himself had been dumfounded.  He'd had no idea why he'd even consider doing this.  He didn't do dates, he …

"Oh, I'm sure I can convince you that it would be in both our interests."

The sultry purr in Justin's voice had gone straight to his cock, and Brian had from that point on made only token protests about him picking Justin up, or else meeting up at the restaurant.  Justin, with no intention of risking sitting around either at home or in a restaurant waiting for a man who'd had second thoughts about the whole thing, had brushed this aside and insisted that picking up his date was absolutely the required etiquette for a first date and Brian, to his own astonishment, had finally agreed.  Even more astonishingly, he hadn't conveniently "forgotten" about the date, and headed off to the Baths instead, so when Justin had hit the buzzer, he'd been ready and they'd headed off together for their first date.

All had pretty much gone as planned, except that because it was closer they'd gone back to Justin's for the hot monkey sex and Brian hadn't left till Justin dropped him home next morning.

There'd been a couple more dates - including a movie during which they'd not so much held hands as given each other mutual hand jobs - and lots and lots of sex.  Just about every night in fact, although after the night he'd smashed the glass, Brian had usually steered them towards Justin's small but acceptable apartment rather than the loft.  All of which had led them to the moment when Brian had taken him to Woody's and he'd sat down at the table with Brian's friends.

Since then, they'd regularly shared a drink or a game of snooker with the guys and gradually Justin had gotten to know them, and to see how supportive the three of them were of each other.

So at first he'd put the odd looks that the two sometimes shared behind Brian's back down to … not jealousy, but caution.  As if they were just making sure that their friend wasn't with someone who was just taking him for a ride.  Especially as Brian was clearly fairly wealthy and on the surface at least, Justin was a penniless student with no visible means of support.

He'd sensed, though, that something was off the evening after what he'd come to think of as the door incident when he'd backed out of a game of snooker because his shoulder was hurting.  He'd tried to ignore the quick glance Emmett had given Ted before he'd leaned forward to ask how he'd hurt himself.  But he'd found it hard to ignore the strange look the two men had shared when he'd told them about the loft door slipping closed.

When a week or so later he'd hobbled into Woody's leaning on a stick, and had needed to put his foot up on a chair because his knee had been so swollen, Emmett's face had had a look of real alarm, and even Ted, far less volatile, had looked unnaturally concerned.  Because it wasn't, Justin had figured out later, so much that they were primarily concerned that he'd been hurt.  Although there was an element of that in there, it hadn't been the predominant cause for their tightened faces.  What worried them, he'd finally realized, was that he'd been hurt at the loft.

But what did that mean?

Surely they didn't think that Brian was beating him or some shit like that.  No, that couldn't be it.  They knew Brian better than that, they loved him.  So what in Hell were they being so weird about?





That question however, paled temporarily into the background compared to the `what the fuck?' Justin felt the night they all left Woody's together and he suggested they grab something to eat at the nearby Liberty Diner.

All three of his companions froze for a moment.  Then Emmett rushed into speech, "Oh, no honey, you don't want to eat there."

"The food's no good," Ted chimed in.  "Too high in fat."

Justin stared at them, trying to work out why they were all so freaked by such an innocent suggestion.  "It's okay," he said, confused.  "I ate there the other day.  Some of it's alright."

To his astonished anger, Brian snapped, "This is fucked!" and walked off.

Ted, with an apologetic look at Justin, scampered after him, while Emmett turned placatingly to Justin.  Just as Emmett stumblingly tried to excuse Brian's behavior, Ted caught up to Brian and Justin heard Ted say "Brian, he didn't mean anything, you know that.  He just doesn't know …"

The rest, including any response Brian might have made was drowned out by Emmett's voice.

"Honey … it's a long story, but believe me, Brian's got good reason for staying away from the Liberty Diner.  It … don't let this mess things up for you two, Justin.  Please."

Justin met his eyes and saw Emmett's full of real concern, with maybe even a glimmer of tears.  He took a deep breath.

He was pissed as hell that Brian was behaving suddenly like a total prick, but there was clearly something going on here that he didn't understand; and judging by the reaction of all three men, it was something serious.  He bit back his anger and when Brian turned and said, "If you're fucking hungry we can get something at that place on Fuller." Justin didn't tell him to go fuck himself.

Instead, he shrugged and moved towards Brian.  As he did he caught audible sighs of relief from both Ted and Emmett.  Then he looked into Brian's eyes and saw more than relief; he saw something that looked like the sudden unexpected easing of pain.  He watched their color change from a steely gray to warm brown-flecked green and would have had to be blind to miss the way that Brian's face softened, and the thankfulness with which the man pulled Justin close to his side.

There might have been no verbal `I'm sorry' but the apologies were there, loud and clear, in the way Brian touched him, the hand that caressed his neck, the tightened grip on his shoulder.

Needing to regroup, they wound up going back to Justin's and ordering Thai.  They were settling onto the couch to eat it when they both started to speak at once:

"Justin, look … about before …"

"What are you doing this weekend?"

They stopped and looked at each other, Brian stiffening uncomfortably.  He wasn't sure he was ready to start actually making plans together.  That implied … well … maybe more than he was ready to …

"The thing is, I have to go to Boston for the weekend."

Brian let his breath out slowly, feeling a bullet dodged, until Justin went on, "And I'd really love it if you could come with me."

Their eyes met.  Surprisingly, it was Justin who looked away first.  He seemed … embarrassed.  Nervous, even.  Well, maybe, Brian thought, he realized he shouldn't be pushing so …

"There's a gay film festival there and Rage is the festival highlight or something.  It's screening Saturday night, and they want me to come and introduce it and do a Q&A afterwards."

Brian was more than confused now.  He was also intrigued.  Justin saw the look on his face and said, "Rage is a …"

"I know what the fuck Rage is," Brian interrupted.  "He's that fucking gay superhero."

He bit back the impulse to tell Justin how fucking annoying it had been to be told by every second fucking trick that Rage looked just like him.  Of all the fucking lame lines that pathetic fags could come up with …

"Well," Justin went on, "the movie is … you know … doing okay at Festivals and stuff …"

Brian stared at him.  Part of his success as an advertiser was that he made sure to always be aware of trends - in music and film as much as in clothes or styles, and he knew that the movie was doing more than okay.  For a small budget indy movie - almost a student film - based on a comic book about a gay superhero, it was doing remarkably well.  Released nearly a year ago, it had quickly gained a growing cult status.  It was a regular at various festivals and had done good business over the summer at the smaller, niche cinemas in cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  While it was hardly a blockbuster, it had out grossed many far more expensive movies and, having been made so cheaply, was reputed to have made substantial profits.  The expected DVD release was being predicted to sell very well indeed.

But what did …

"Well, I kinda helped make it.  Sort of.  I mean, I do the drawings for the comic and I helped write and design the film.  And, you know, get it made, so …"

Justin stopped, feeling that he was babbling now.  He'd deliberately been putting off letting anyone in Pittsburgh know about this.  His professors at PIFA knew - his experience in doing the comic and his work on the film had been instrumental in helping him get accepted -although he'd still had to convince them that he was serious about pursuing a career as a "real" artist.  But he'd asked that it be kept confidential.  He didn't want to get caught up in any crap about his "celebrity" status - either from people who wanted to suck up to him, or people who wanted to put him down over some "tall poppy" shit.

But he and Brian had been seeing each other for a while now, and he'd started to feel bad that there was this whole part of his life that he hadn't even mentioned to him.

Now he waited anxiously for Brian's reaction.

But Brian was staring … not at him, but somehow past him, as if … well, it was unsettling.

The slowly the man brought his gaze back to rest on Justin and a small smile curled those beautiful lips.

"So I've been fucking a staahh, huh?"

Justin laughed.  "Hardly.  No one knows who the fucking producers are - least of all of some small little indy film."

"Producer?" Brian said, raising an eyebrow.

Justin laughed and then gave him a look which held a good deal of devilment.  "Well, no one really had any money, so …"

Brian was already starting to laugh when he said, "Go on.  What did you do?  Rob a bank?  Stage a blow-a-thon?"

Justin shook his head.  "Didn't think of that.  Wish I had.  No, I …"

His eyes sparkled mischievously, "I told my father I wanted to do some post graduate work and he coughed up the `fees'."

Brian laughed louder.  He'd heard enough about Craig Taylor from Justin to know how the man would have reacted if he'd known what the money was really for.

"I paid him back," Justin said virtuously.  "Eventually."

Brian reached out and dragged him in for a kiss.

"Good for you, Sunshine," he said with that curl to his lips that told Justin he knew more than a little about shitty fathers, even if Brian never spoke about his family. 

Justin relaxed against him, enjoying the approval, and basking in the nickname that Brian had recently started to use.  He'd never asked Brian about it, had just accepted it, but it made him feel like he really did have a special place in Brian's life, even if neither of them were yet prepared to try and define what that place might be.

Gently he slid his hand inside Brian's shirt.

"I hate doing these fucking show and tells," he said softly.  "They really freak me out.  It would … I know it's … I mean, it's not like I'm asking you to come away with me for some fucking `romantic weekend'.  I'd just really appreciate the company."

Suddenly things clicked into place in Brian's mind.  Things he'd read a few months ago.  Not long before Justin had moved to Pittsburgh.

Justin realized the instant it happened because Brian's entire body suddenly tensed.  He sat up, turning away from Brian.

"Look, I'm not some pathetic little fag who needs … I just …"  He broke off.  To his shame he knew that his voice had started to shake.

Brian wasn't surprised.  The story of the film had followed that of the first issue of the comic.  It had been about a young gay boy who was bashed outside his school by some of the local jocks.  It had garnered a fair amount of publicity one way and another, and at one of the screenings Brian remembered now, some good ol' boys had decided to recreate the film.  They'd waited in a dark parking lot, and then attacked one of the film's creators after a charity screening.

He took a deep breath and gently reached out to touch Justin's rigid shoulders.

"I've never been to a `highlight screening'," he said.  "What to wear?  What to wear?  I mean, I can't be too fabulous - I'm sure it's not done to outshine the guest of honor.  But then … it's hard not to, given what shitty clothes sense he has."

Justin huffed a difficult laugh.  "Brian, it's okay.  I … I kind of hoped that you wouldn't …"

"Wouldn't know you'd once nearly got your head beaten in and were saved in the nick of time because the guys who attacked you were total retards.  They totally fucked up because they chose a charity screening that was raising money for an injured gay police officer and the place was swarming with cops as soon as they heard you scream.  Is that what you thought I wouldn't know?"

Justin sighed and nodded, still not looking at him.

"How bad was it?" Brian asked carefully.

Justin shrugged.  "Could have been worse," he said, desperately trying to trivialize the terror he'd felt in those moments when the first fist had come at his face.

Brian stroked his back once more. 

"So what do I wear?" he asked.

Justin turned to him then, and forced himself to look the other man in the eye.  "Brian, you don't have to come.  I just …"

"I want to.  Okay?"  He grinned.  "How many times am I going to get to be the fabulously attractive partner of the guest of honor at a film festival?  You offered … you can't take away the opportunity now, Sunshine.  I'd be crushed."

"Twat!" Justin said fondly, slapping him gently in the chest with the back of his hand.

Brian grinned at him, and pulled him into his arms.  "Prick maybe," he said.  "Want me to show you?"

Which pretty much put paid to any further discussion on the matter.

When Brian picked him up to go to the airport with a cut on his jaw Justin didn't think anything of it.  Anyone could cut themselves shaving he supposed.  Even Brian.

On the Monday after they got back from Boston, Emmett called him and asked if he'd like to meet for lunch.  Justin had no Monday classes, so he agreed readily enough.  He didn't exactly plan to pump Emmett for information on what the fuck Brian's melt down the other night had been about, but if the conversation happened to stray in that direction … he'd be all ears.

Which was just as well, because it was exactly why Emmett had invited him.

"Teddy and I talked about it," he said.  "I mean … we'd never violate Brian's privacy or anything.  But … it's not like no one knows.  You just weren't around at the time." 

Justin swallowed a mouthful of the sinfully delicious lobster bisque Emmett had insisted he try and then said sincerely, "Emmett, I'd never want you to put yourself in a situation where Brian might think you'd gossiped about him behind his back."

"Oh, honey," Emmett said with a small laugh.  "Most of gay Pittsburgh gossips about Mr. Kinney."

He took a sip of his own soup and then said quietly, "It's just that Teddy and I think that maybe you need to know … some things."

"Okay," Justin said.  "Could we start with what happened the other night?"

Emmett nodded.  "It's kind of a long story," he said.

Justin grinned at him beguilingly.  "I'm hungry," he said.  "I was planning on a long lunch."

Emmett laughed, seeing yet again what it might be that kept Brian Kinney of all people coming back to this particular young man, breaking all of his own `no repeat' rules.  Then he sighed.  Pushing away his empty bowl, he looked sadly down at the table for a moment and then said, "I guess it all really started when Brian was fourteen."

Justin went on with his soup but his eyes barely left Emmett and by the time his own bowl was empty, he was staring at the man in something like horror.

"Brian had a really bad childhood.  I mean, he doesn't talk about it, but his father was a violent drunk, and his mother … well, she was a cold bitch and … things at home … they weren't good.  So when Brian met Michael the year he turned fourteen, and Michael's Mom Debbie kind of took him in … well, you know … gave him somewhere to go at least when things got really bad … I guess for Brian it was like the first real haven he'd ever had.  You know?"

Justin nodded.

"But it was … Debbie's okay … but she … Michael was just her whole life, you see, and she could never believe that he wasn't perfect, so … if anything happened, if they got into any trouble, she always blamed Brian.  And at the same time she always expected Brian to take care of Michael because he was taller and stronger … in all ways, stronger and … well, it really put a lot of pressure on Brian to always do what the pair of them wanted.  Because …"

"Because he didn't have anyone else," Justin said softly.

Emmett smiled at him and nodded, grateful for his quick understanding.

"And Michael," Emmett stopped for a moment, looking even sadder, and then he sighed and went on.  "Michael was very … possessive about Brian.  Brian wasn't ever supposed to get close to anyone else.  Only Michael.  It was okay for him to trick because that didn't mean anything, but he was never supposed to stop and get to know anyone else."

Justin frowned, turning over in his mind what Emmett was saying and comparing it to what he knew of Brian.  He supposed that it explained a few things but …

"I didn't know them then, of course.  I was still in Hazelhurst, Mississippi.  I arrived in town just after Brian had gone away to college.  That's when I met Michael.  I needed somewhere to stay, and he'd advertised for someone to share his apartment.  But only for a few months, he told me, because when his boyfriend came back for the summer, they'd be living there together.

Justin's frown deepened.

Emmett waved his hands in the air.  "Honey, I'd never met Brian.  I didn't know how things were.  I believed Michael .  It wasn't till Brian showed up for the Holidays and we all hit the clubs that I saw how it all worked.  And even then it was a while before I finally clued in to how delusional Michael was being about the whole thing.  Apparently he'd only moved out of home because he'd thought that if he had an apartment, that Brian would agree to stay in Pittsburgh and go to Carnegie Mellon or something."

After the waiter had served their entrιe, Emmett went on.  "After Brian had left again, Michael kept saying about how Brian would soon be ready to settle down and then they'd be together and a whole bunch of other stuff that … well, you know, honey, even if you can't smell the horse shit after a while, it's still horse shit."

Justin grinned.  He loved Emmett's little lapses into downhome hokey wisdom.

"Well, anyway, eventually Brian finished college and came home.  And he'd met someone there.  Fortunately … or maybe not … it wasn't a guy, it was a woman."

Justin nodded.  "Lindsay," he supplied.

Emmett looked a little surprised, but then smiled, clearly delighted at this evidence that Brian Kinney was actually starting to share bits and pieces of his life with this lovely young man.

"Michael wasn't all that happy," he said.  "But Lindsay already had a girlfriend, and after Michael had had a little chat with Mel about Brian's … well …"

Justin grinned.  "His extremely varied sex life."

"Well, yes.  Although Mel would call it whoring.  Or at least promiscuity."

Justin, Emmett was glad to notice, just shrugged. 

"Women don't get it," he said indifferently.

Emmett nodded.  "Exactly.  And of course, Michael did what he always did, and told Mel all about how selfish Brian is, and how she should never expect anything from him because Brian never looked after anyone but himself, but that she should understand that Brian was just so fabulous that Lindsay couldn't help but love him, even when he was a total shit."

Justin stared at him, his eyes narrowing in anger.  "Why the fuck would he …"

Emmett shook his head.  "I told you honey, he always did that.  He said the same sort of things to me, and to Teddy and because for those first few years, we only saw Michael, and hardly saw Brian at all, we … well … Michael could be very … persuasive.  I can't explain.  He had these big puppy dog eyes, and he used to turn them on you and look so sad when he talked about how hard it was caring about someone like Brian … and … well …"

"Had," Justin said.


"You said `had'," Justin left the rest of that sentence hanging.

Emmett gave a deeper sigh and nodded.  "I'm coming to that part."

He paused for a moment, to take a few mouthfuls of his entrιe and then pushed the rest away, with an air of wanting to get on with something difficult, to get it over.

"Anyway, we all went along for a few years, and nothing much seemed to change.  Brian partied with all the boys, Michael watched and accepted it as long as it went no further than partying.  As soon as anyone showed any interest in Brian for anything other than a fabulous fuck, Michael would take them aside and have his little talk with them, and that would be that."

"And Brian let him?"

Emmett bit his lip.  "Honey … Brian still felt like he didn't have anyone else."

Justin nodded.

Emmett took a breath and went on.  "Teddy and I were getting to know Brian better, although … we still didn't really know him, if you see what I mean.  I mean … he was sort of the other side of Michael.  You know, if you stood us in a line, there'd be Teddy and me, then Michael, then Brian on the other side.  We sort of never connected with him except through Michael."

Justin nodded his understanding.

Emmett took a sip of water and then said quietly, "It might have gone on like that forever maybe, except that Lindsay and Mel decided they wanted to have a baby and Linds wouldn't even think of anyone else for the father except Brian."

Justin nodded again.  He knew about Gus, Brian's son, who lived with his Mommies in Toronto, and whom Brian quite clearly adored and missed dreadfully.

Emmett was silent for a moment then he said, "Michael went mad.  Brian didn't … he just did it, without telling Michael, and when Michael found out …"

He was silent again for a time, remembering the ranting and screaming, the ever more frantic chorus of "but I'm your best friend!" that Michael had repeated over and over for what seemed like months.  Maybe it had been. 

"But Brian convinced him that all he'd done was jerk off in a cup and he wasn't going to have anything to do with the baby."

"But that's not what happened," Justin said quietly.

"No."  Emmett smiled in remembrance.  "No, it wasn't.  From the moment he first saw Gus … it was love at first sight for Brian, I think."

Justin smiled back at him.

"You should have seen him when Mel tried to have him circumcised without telling Brian first.  He just tore them both to shreds.  No way was he letting that happen to his son."

Justin loved Emmett for the way he sounded so proud of Brian.

Emmett tilted his head on one side, considering.  "I think it was around there that Ted and I began to really see Brian … see who he really is, what he's really like."

Emmett's face darkened.  "But Michael … he … he hated it.  He hated Brian having someone else in his life like that.  Someone who had an even bigger claim on him than Michael.  And somehow he convinced himself that Brian hated it too.  He … it was like he made himself believe that having a son made Brian know he was getting older and that Brian hated it, that it was really freaking him out that he was nearly thirty and …"

He took one more deep breath and then blurted out, "So Michael decided that the best thing for both of them was to die together.  And on Halloween five years ago, he mixed up some stuff in one of his mother's pasta thingies and took it over to the loft and … "

Justin gaped at him.

Emmett said with difficulty, "Michael was so keen to get on with it that he gulped down a whole lot of the food, but Brian didn't like the taste, and then when he wouldn't eat it, Michael got hysterical and told him what he'd done, and Brian tried to make him throw up, but Michael grabbed a knife and …"

Justin stared at him appalled.

Emmett brushed away the tears that had begun to slide down his cheeks.

"I talked one of the ambulance guys.  He said it was a horror house.  Brian called them, and they got there as fast as they could, but there was blood everywhere, and vomit and …

"Michael had tried to stab Brian with the knife and there were knife cuts all over Brian's hands, and he'd started throwing up himself, and still tried to make Michael sick but while Brian was throwing up, Michael grabbed the knife again and stabbed himself in the stomach. 

"Michael was still alive when the ambulance got there and he kept saying over and over on the way to the hospital that Brian was his and he was never going to let anyone else have him.  The guy I spoke to was really freaked out by it.  He said that Michael sounded completely demented, and kept saying in this really horrible voice, `I never have, and I never will. Never.'"

"And then …" Emmett's voice cracked, and he when he spoke again his voice was thick with tears and remembered horror.

"And then he died. Michael died."





Emmett brought his eyes to Justin's horrified face.

"Michael's mother works at the Liberty Diner," he said, his voice hardening a little.  "And she's never stopped blaming Brian.  Even though all the experts and all the witnesses, including the ambulance guys, said it was really clear what had happened, she still insisted that either Brian had outright killed Michael, or else he'd somehow forced Michael into a suicide pact and then he'd backed out of it."

Justin swallowed hard to stop himself being sick.

"That's why Brian freaked out the other night, honey.  He just doesn't go near that place.  He doesn't go near Debbie."

He sighed.  "We none of us do, anymore.  Well, Mel used to.  But she would.  She even tried to help Deb put together some sort of civil case against Brian, but finally even she had to admit that there was no evidence that he'd known anything about what Michael intended to do.  I mean … Michael left the packets from the stuff he used at his mother's, and they found the spoon he'd used to stir it into the pasta and everything, and Brian had all those defense wounds on his hands … but Debbie still believes that there's no way her little angel could ever have done such a thing.  So it has to be Brian's fault."

He sighed deeply.  "Maybe if she'd ever learned to let Michael take responsibility for himself and not make everything about Brian then … who knows?"

"This happened at the loft?" Justin said, unable to force his voice above a whisper.

Emmett nodded.  At the look on Justin's face, he went on, "Honey, we all tried to persuade him to move.  Everyone.  Even Mel.  But … "

He leaned forward, dropping his voice even lower, "Justin, if you ask me, I think Brian's punishing himself.  I think that he hates living there, hates being surrounded by all that, but that he thinks he deserves it because he let that happen to Michael."

Justin leaned back in his chair for a moment, his mind whirling.  That made sense.  It fitted absolutely with what he knew of Brian.  But, fucking Hell!  What a nightmare it must have been for him - bad enough to go through that, but to live every day with those memories, in the place it happened … Fuck!

But Emmett hadn't finished his revelations.  As they both ordered much needed coffee and then added an order for brandy as well, he straightened himself in his chair. 

"The thing is, honey," he started seriously, then he stopped, and then started again, his voice taking on a note of desperation, "Honey, I know this sounds crazy.  I know it.  But Teddy and I talked about it and … Justin, we like you.  And it's obvious Brian likes you and … honey, we are so scared."

Justin would have laughed, but there was nothing funny about the real horror Brian had been through, or the equally real fear in Emmett's face.

He tried to summon up the words that would put Emmett's fear into perspective without ridiculing it.  In the face of the man's sincerity he just couldn't do that.  But he surely couldn't mean that … what?  He was afraid of Michael?  That didn't make sense.

"Justin … I know it sounds crazy.  But things happen at the loft.  Bad things.  They've happened to Brian, and now they're starting to happen to you."

Those words jolted Justin. 

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"Well, honey, like when you hurt …"

Justin shook his head dismissively.  "Not me.  What has happened to Brian?"

His voice sounded a little sharp, and Emmett, even in the midst of his worries, felt a little glow of warmth.  He couldn't help but smile at the young man who was more concerned about Brian than about his own safety.  Then he sighed.

"The first Halloween after it happened, Brian was … Teddy and I were worried about him.  So we kept an eye on him all night.  We all went to Babylon, and Brian had quite a bit to drink, but nothing else, honey, I'm sure.  We were watching him all night.  He let Ted drive him home and I followed in Teddy's car, and we got Brian upstairs.  He was being … well, Brian.  All `I don't need you two pathetic faggots to tuck me in, go and get laid' sort of stuff.  But Ted and I are used to that, and we just ignored him. 

"So we got him into bed and he was okay.  We were a bit nervous about leaving him, but he was getting more and more pissed off, so we went down to Ted's car and then Teddy realized he still had Brian's keys.  So he went back upstairs.  He was just going to sneak into the loft and leave them.  I mean, it had only been a few minutes since we'd left.

Emmett stopped and looked closely at the young man opposite. 

"Honey - when Teddy walked in, Brian was … he was standing on a chair with a scarf tied around his neck, trying to throw the other end up over one of those beams."

Justin stared at him.

"Teddy pulled him down, and Brian swore at him, but then Teddy said he looked around like he didn't know where he was.  Teddy called my cell and I came running up, and …" he shook his head.  "Honey … Brian blustered and tried to bluff his way out of it, but the truth is … I don't think he knew what he'd been doing.  He didn't seem to remember at all.  In the end, we made him come back to Teddy's, and … honey, he came with us with hardly a squeak out of him about it."

Justin nodded to show he understood what that meant.  Brian must have been really freaked.

Emmett sighed.  "We never talked about it again - at least not with Brian.  But the next year he took a business trip around that time, so he was away for Halloween.  It wasn't until after he got back that we found out that just before he left he'd tripped coming down the steps from the bedroom and could really have hurt himself except that he landed on his bags.  As it was, he was really pissed because he damaged his Louis Vuitton suit holder."

Justin was trying to make sense of what he was hearing.  Trying to find the rational explanation that he knew there had to be.

But meanwhile Emmett was going on. 

"The next year, I tried to get Brian to go away again, but … things had been going on and he was … he was involved in this election campaign, and he just refused to leave.  Teddy was ... away at the time, so I stayed close to Brian and partied with him all night, and then when I made sure he got home alright and I just didn't leave.  I settled down out on this futon he had at the time, and I must have drifted off to sleep, because all of a sudden I was jerking awake.  I didn't know what had woken me up at the time, just that it was freezing."

Justin stared at him, these words bringing vividly to his mind the memory of the intense cold he'd so often felt in the loft.

"Then I heard these horrible noises coming from the bedroom.  I ran up the steps and Brian was lying on his back, choking.  His face was going blue and … it was awful.  Luckily, I'd done these first aid classes because - well, it doesn't matter - but it meant that I knew what to do, so I managed to check Brian's airway was clear and somehow I got him breathing normally again, then I pushed him into the recovery position and called an ambulance.

"They took him to the hospital, and tested him for drugs, because they thought he'd overdosed, but there was nothing in his system.  The next day he was okay and no one ever figured out what had caused it, and Brian just wouldn't talk about it. 

"And …," Emmett said, the frustration clear in his voice, "No matter what any of us has said, we've never been able to persuade him to move out of that horrible place."

Emmett looked on the verge of tears now.  But he took a deep breath and went on.  "By last Halloween Teddy was working for Brian, so he managed to arrange a business trip that got him out of town at that time.  But Halloween is this Wednesday, and honey …"

He looked at Justin and said with some dignity, "Justin, I know a lot of the time I seem like just a silly queen, but I come from down South where we know a little about these things, and I have to tell you, I'm scared.  Because it's getting worse.  I mean … it's always been creepy in there.  And there's the damned cold."

"I kept telling myself it was drafts," Justin said quietly, almost to himself.

Emmett gave him a sharp look.

"That's what I mean, honey," he said.  "I think you being around has made it worse.  It's not just what has happened to you, although I don't like that one little bit.  But I'm really scared for Brian."

"Well, maybe I can get him to come away with me for Halloween."

Emmett shook his head.  "Honey, I'm not sure that … whatever it is … will wait till Halloween."

He swallowed hard and said, "I … that cut on Brian's chin …"

Justin sat and looked at him, trying to fight off a feeling of panic.

"He cut himself shaving," he said slowly.

Emmett met his gaze steadily.  "Sweetie, in all the years I've known Brian Kinney I have never known him to cut himself shaving.  Never."

He grinned, sudden and unexpected.  "He's far too careful of that pretty face."

An answering grin flashed across Justin's face for a second, and then he sobered.  He sat for a moment in thought, and Emmett, realizing with a profound sense of thankfulness that Justin wasn't trying to laugh off the situation, was content to fall silent.  He took a deep sip of his brandy.

Suddenly Justin nodded decisively. 

"Can you get Ted to clear Brian's calendar for the next few days?" he asked.

Emmett nodded.  "I think so.  Ted says he thinks Brian's been looking for an excuse to get away.  There's a client meeting in Philly next week that he's been trying to bring forward.  So he hasn't got anything else planned."

"Good.  Then I'll call … no, I might go over there this afternoon.  It's not far from Liberty is it, Brian's office?"

Emmett gave a slight chuckle, despite himself.  "Not far, no."

Justin gave a ghost of a grin.  "He told me it used to be a bath house."

Emmett nodded.  "It's in an alley just off Liberty."

Then he said a little anxiously, "But what are you going to do?"

Justin just grinned at him, more confidently now. 

"I've had an invitation," he said a little mysteriously.  "To a party out of town.  I wasn't planning on going, but … maybe it would be a good idea."

"Can you get off school?" Emmett asked.  "Because, honey, I know Brian, and for all that he plays hard, he absolutely believes in getting the work done first."

Justin wrinkled his nose.  He and Brian had had that discussion before now.  "I know.  But I'm kind of ahead in most of my classes.  I don't think it will be an issue.  I'll clear it with my professors before I go to see Brian."

Both of them feeling relieved that at least they were handling the immediate problem, they finished their coffee and headed off in their different directions.

Getting the okay to miss classes for the rest of the week wasn't as big a problem as might have been expected.  At least two of his professors recognized that Justin's work was already ahead of his classmates, and would have raised no objections.  Only one might have complained, because he took delight in pointing out to Justin at every opportunity that he was just another student. 

Fortunately for Justin, the Dean didn't agree.  Far more concerned with the possible benefits of having a future alumni with a successful film career than with playing ego games, the Dean was only too happy to give Justin leave to attend an event in New York that would boast such other illustrious guests as Bob Kane and Sam Raimi.  It was even rumored, Justin had hinted, that Tim Burton might put in an appearance.  And if the press were there, and Justin were interviewed, and mentioned PIFA - well, that could only be good for the college.  Not to mention, of course, the possibility that in time Justin, if he pursued this career, might become a very wealthy man indeed.  And a wealthy alumni who was grateful to the college for their understanding and support during his time there might well look for ways to show his gratitude.

So the Dean was more than happy to be accommodating.

Justin hoped that his lover would be as co-operative.

At first it didn't seem that was going to happen. 

Brian was surprised to see him, and not apparently not all that thrilled.  The truth was, he was increasingly on edge, and his inability to persuade his Philadelphia client to move their meeting forward had left him with no excuse to get out of town over Halloween.  He couldn't admit, even to himself, to any fears for his own safety (although he'd made a vow to himself that he was going to keep Justin away from the loft from now on), but there had been a series of small incidents over the last week that …

Brian told himself that he wasn't afraid, that he didn't believe in any fucking ghost.  But the truth was that he was becoming scared.  Aside from the razor that had seemed to shift in his hand so that he'd been lucky only to cut his chin and not his throat, he'd had another fall - just managing to catch hold of the kitchen counter to save himself before hitting the stainless steel refrigerator head on; and last night he'd been about to step into the elevator when it had suddenly dropped several floors for no apparent reason.  He'd taken the stairs after that, carefully. 

Then this morning, he'd started his car only to find that against all his usual practice, he'd apparently left it in gear and with the handbrake off.  On starting, it had jerked forwards, and only his quick reflexes had prevented it from hitting the garage wall head on.

So he'd spent the day fighting off any acknowledgement that he was scared.  Because if he was scared, if he had reason to be scared, then …

Then there was every reason to be even more afraid for Justin.  Emmett wasn't the only one who'd been told what Michael's last words had been.

"Brian's mine.  I will never let anyone else have him.  Never have.  Never will."

Brian was still wracked with guilt that he hadn't realized how dangerous Mikey's feelings for him had been, how desperate Michael had become. 

But he didn't think he could live with himself if anything happened to Justin.

And he didn't know what to do.  Keeping Justin away from the loft might not be enough.  The only solution seemed to be to stop seeing him.  So since the incident with the elevator last night, and the car this morning, he'd been trying to psych himself up to end things with Justin.  But …

He didn't want to.  It was that simple.  He must be the selfish prick that everyone had always said he was because he didn't want to keep Justin safe in the only way he could be sure would work.  If he ended it, then Justin should be safe.

But he didn't want to. 

Brian suspected that what he did want right now was the thing that he'd always tried to convince himself he'd never want …  He wanted a life with Justin.  A future with him.  A future with one man.  Fuck!  Maybe he was really going insane, but …

He wanted it.  When he was with Justin … everything was better.  He was better.  A better person.  A better man.  He felt like … he felt more himself with Justin than he ever had with anyone.  He felt like maybe he could even be happy.  Maybe he could even make Justin happy.

But he had to be kidding himself.  He couldn't even keep Justin safe.

And at that point, Brian's mind would turn in another circle, shying away from the unthinkable and unable to admit what it was that he was trying to protect Justin from.

So when Justin arrived, Brian was caught in between two deep desires.  One was to keep Justin safe, at whatever cost.  The other was just … Justin.  Consequently, his initial greeting was more acerbic than welcoming.

But Justin ignored that, and smiled at him engagingly.

"How busy are you this week?" he asked.

Brian shrugged, still fighting an internal war with himself.

"It's just … I've been invited to a Halloween party in New York."

Brian gave him one of his less than thrilled looks, but somewhere inside him, hope raised its head.  If he just got out of Pittsburgh for a few days, till after Halloween … then maybe …

He didn't know, but maybe something could be done.  Something.

Of course, he also couldn't appear too eager.

"Yeah, well,  traveling 300 miles to a party in the middle of the week makes perfect sense," he scoffed.

Justin nodded.  "I know, and I wasn't going to mention it.  But I'd really like to go, and …"

"Have fun," Brian heard himself say, and was acutely conscious that he was a fucking idiot.

Justin moved to sit on the edge of his desk.  "Brian, I wouldn't even ask if I didn't think it would be worthwhile.  Worth your while."

Brian sucked his lips in and considered him for a moment, then waved a hand inviting him to continue.

Justin bit back a grin.  "It's a publicity thing for a new superhero theme restaurant," he said.  "They're having a Halloween party and getting people to come in costume as various super heroes and …"

Brian made a face and Justin laughed.  "What?  Like you don't know you'd be perfect as Rage," he teased.  Then he turned on his considerable charm and let himself become enthusiastic, knowing that for some reason it was a facet of his personality that Brian found it hard to resist.

"They're going to have all sorts of movie and comic book people there.  Maybe even Tim Burton.  And lots of you know "high flyers" - there could be contacts and stuff."

Brian grinned, but before he could open his mouth to tease Justin over his choice of words, Justin said quickly, "Networking opportunities then.  Anyone could be there."

Brian pretended to consider.  But his decision had been made the moment Justin had put forward the suggestion.  It was too perfect an excuse.   Even if he couldn't tell anyone else the reason without breaking Justin's confidence, meaning the excuse was purely for himself.

"Okay," he said, and was immediately conscious of a great weight being lifted from his mind … even his heart.

Justin beamed at him.

"I've got the rest of the week off school," he said.  "So we could go tomorrow - or even tonight if you're not busy … I mean … we could have a few days to check out the galleries and things."

Brian thought quickly and found himself nodding.  He pressed the buzzer on his desk and when his assistant answered barked an order for her to book two return flights to New York leaving that evening, and returning on Sunday.  And to make his usual hotel booking.  Trained well by Cynthia, the woman simply said she'd provide him with the details as soon as she'd confirmed the bookings .

Then Brian called Cynthia and told her that she and Ted would be looking after things for the rest of the week.

Then he flipped closed his laptop.

"I'll meet you at the airport," he said.

Justin smiled and shook his head.  "I didn't think there was any sense in paying parking for both cars, so I caught a cab here.  My bag's at reception."

"Pretty fucking cocky, aren't you?"  Brian bitched, not sure if he liked the implications of Justin's certainty and definitely not wanting to take him back to the loft.

Justin shrugged, having foreseen this reaction, but determined to be with Brian while he went to the loft to pack. 

"If you'd said `no' I might have gone on my own," he said, with a quizzical emphasis on `might'. 

Brian had to grin.  "Yeah, right," he said. 

And with no more argument, they went out to the car and headed to the loft. 

Brian made a half-hearted attempt to persuade Justin to wait in the car, but after the morning's incident he wasn't sure if even that was completely safe, and at least if Justin was with him, he could …

But at that point he stopped trying to think it through, because the it was all just too crazy to contemplate.  So he resolutely put any fears from his mind.  He was just going to go up and pack a bag and then they were going away for the rest of the week, and in New York at least they would be safe, even if they did have to go to this lame-assed restaurant.  Fucking super hero theme.  Pathetic.

He wondered what he'd done to deserve the fact that the two men he …

That both Michael and Justin were so fucking tied up with super heroes. 

At least Justin was doing something about it.  Not like fucking Mikey with his pathetic figures and comic books and all the collectible shit that Brian had tried to get Debbie to sell after …

Well, he hadn't tried.  He'd known how she would react to anything he said.  But he'd persuaded Lindsay to try.  That hadn't gone well.  But even Mel couldn't get it through to Debbie that she could just about pay off all her debts and Vic's as well with the money Mikey had invested in that shit.  She'd just kept wailing about how it was all she had left of him.  Stupid fucking cow.  Stupid fucking shit!  Why couldn't he …

Brian took a deep breath and let it go. 

He opened the door of the loft and held it firmly while Justin entered, not letting go till he'd stepped through himself and could let it slide shut behind him.

To his embarrassment the clang as it closed made him jump, and he saw Justin shiver.  Determined not to waste any time, he carefully moved up the steps to the bedroom, pulled out a bag and began to randomly shove some clothes into it.  Justin, he was relieved to see, had stayed down in the open area and wasn't moving around.  It made it easy to keep an eye on him and there was nothing that he could see that could hurt him there.  And it would only take him a moment to close the bag and then …

The sound of the first object hitting the wall brought his head up with a jerk.  His eyes sought Justin, and found him still standing in the middle of the loft, his face pale with astonishment.  Before Brian could work out what the noise had been, something that Brian's brain registered later as his fax machine, flew past Justin's head, only just missing as the younger man ducked away.



Brian grabbed his bag and took the steps down from the bedroom in one leap.  His foot seemed to twist treacherously under him but there wasn't time to stumble.  He'd seen another object flying across the room.  Somehow he flung himself forward and the bottle of Beam that had been speeding straight towards Justin's skull deflected from his arm to shatter harmlessly on the hardwood floor.

For one breathless moment he held Justin close, shaken to the core by what he had almost lost, and then somehow they were at the door.  As Brian fought to open it a chair hurtled towards them.  Brian moved to sweep Justin behind him, and as he did Justin, holding Brian's bag, thrust it upwards and knocked the chair from its path so it merely brushed Brian's shoulder.  Then the door was open and they were on the landing. 

Brian slammed the door shut behind them and steered Justin towards the stairs.  There was no way he was going in that fucking elevator. 

At the top of the steps, he turned to take his bag from Justin and as he did Brian gave a sudden cry and pitched downwards.

Justin would swear ever afterwards that at that moment he heard a voice cry triumphantly, "Never!"

Then his arm shot out and he caught Brian's flailing hand and flung himself backwards, onto the landing. 

The paramedics said later that it was his quick thinking that had saved Brian's life.  If he'd gone headlong down those stairs, they said, shaking their heads, well …

It hadn't been enough to prevent Brian from a nasty wrist sprain and badly bruised shin, however, and the paramedics loaded Brian into the ambulance and took him off to have x-rays taken to make sure that it wasn't worse than they thought.  Justin went with him to the hospital and calmed down his fractious and shaken lover while they waited for the x-rays to be done and his wrist to be strapped. 

He used Brian's cell to contact Cynthia and ask her to have their flight re-scheduled to the next day.  Then he took Brian back to his small apartment and fed him and soothed him and cajoled him into taking the sleeping pill the hospital doctor had prescribed.

Then, once Brian was soundly asleep, he went back to the loft.

The door slid open silently but when Justin flicked on the light switch, nothing happened.  In the fitful moonlight that was the only illumination the loft seemed larger, the shadows dark and full of menace.

Justin felt the anger that had been building in him all evening reach a peak and overflow.

Light started to glow.  Stronger, brighter, it shone, sending the shadows scurrying.  Justin raised his arms and it shone brighter still, unbearably bright.  It was like the glow of a thousand suns.  Every surface in the loft seemed to reflect it, till finally there was nowhere for the shadows to hide and in that unbearable brightness a shape appeared, writhing and twisting, as if it was the victim of unendurable torture.

Justin watched it impassively for a moment, then he said quietly and clearly.  "He's not yours.  You can't have him.  You never had him.  Never have, never will."

And then the light burned even brighter, and the shape shriveled and disappeared, leaving only a smudge of fine dust on the hardwood floor.

Justin smiled slightly, and the light died.

Then he slid the door closed behind him and went home to Brian.




Brian and Justin never did discuss what had happened at the loft.  By some strange alchemy they were both, for different reasons, sure that whatever had happened it was over.  For Brian, it had ended when he'd managed to reach Justin before that hurtling bottle had stolen his lover from him.  In saving Justin's life, Brian had somehow found peace with himself.  The loft now was only a place of memories, its power gone.  When they got back from New York, it was tacitly understood that Brian would be staying at Justin's for a while.

They visited the loft one afternoon, however, so that Brian could pick up a few things, and looking round, Brian thought vaguely that it felt different.  It looked different too.  Sort of … faded.  As if the whole place had been exposed for too long to bright sunshine.  But he wasn't too worried about it.  It should still sell alright. 

He wasn't quite sure if he was ready to move in with Justin on a full time basis yet, but his narrow escape had set him thinking.  It was time he did something about Gus.  He might have died with his son hardly knowing him, and that wasn't right.  It wasn't fair to him, or to Gus.  So he needed to find a new place.  Somewhere that had room for his son.  And maybe, in time, room for the other man in his life as well.  But that was in the future.

For now Brian just hoped that Linds and the she-wolf she lived with would be reasonable and agree to Gus spending at least some of his vacation time in Pittsburgh.  If not, then he'd have to consider his options.  But he'd worry about that later if he needed to.  For now, he needed to get a move on if they were going to get to the airport on time.

They were going to Toronto for the weekend so that Justin and Gus could meet.

Justin hoped the visit went well.  He and Brian had talked about the situation with Gus, and he knew how much it meant to Brian to have the women agree to let Brian see more of his son.  Without ever meeting them, Justin felt some disgust towards these two people who demanded that Brian helped to support his son, gladly took his money, but weren't prepared to give Brian a role in parenting the child he'd helped to create. 

It hurt Brian, and Justin didn't like people he loved being hurt.  It made him angry; and he was rather wary of allowing himself to get too angry.

People who knew about his role in making the film assumed that he'd based the character of JT on himself, while the super hero was purely a figment of his imagination.

People didn't have a clue.

Justin could only hope that the two women in Toronto didn't give him cause to show them the real truth behind the character of Rage.


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