Complications of the Mind

Chapter 10

Justin left Brian in the bedroom to get dressed and change the sheets, and hide the party favor box and lock their toy box, while he went to stow his easel in the corner of the loft. He was unsurprised a few minutes later when the man joined him. "Hey," Justin said, turning into him.

"Want to explain to me why I've suddenly developed this need to rescue my nephews when I could give a shit about my sister?"

"Um, maybe because John and Peter are still innocent."

Brian scoffed at that and Justin glared at him. "All I meant is that they haven't developed the cynical hardness that you possess. And their lives have been fucked up by this, Brian."

"That still doesn't explain why I've suddenly decided to step in. I'm not Rage," Brian said, running a hand through his hair. "I'm not a hero trying to save Gayopolis."

Justin started to offer a flip response and sensed that wasn't what Brian needed from him at the moment. He took his hand and led him to one of the cushions. He knew how much the events of the past couple of days had cost his lover and knew that it wouldn't take much to push Brian to his breaking point, causing him to do and say things he wouldn't otherwise admit and regret later. He didn't want Brian to regret anything that had happened between them, though. Perhaps that was selfish but he recognized just how much courage it had taken for his lover to get over his pride and admit his feelings. "You're still my hero," he said softly. "Always have been. Always will be." He couldn't help wondering if Brian's need to help John and Peter stemmed from his inability to save him when he'd gotten hurt by Hobbs. No matter how many times he tried to reassure Brian it wasn't his fault, the older man seemed insistent on holding to that misconception regardless of how painful it was for him.

Brian stared at him. It never failed to amaze him that Justin had such blind faith in him, despite all the various ways they had ended up hurting each other, some intentional and some through no fault of their own. He ran a finger over the hairline scar on his wrist and met Justin's curious blue eyes. "You always do that when you're nervous," Justin observed. "Want to tell me why?"

Whatever response Brian might have given was delayed by the knocking on the door. Both men groaned and Brian rose to answer it, sending a rueful glance back at the reclining Justin. He opened it to reveal a haggard Claire and a surly John and a seemingly befuddled Peter. It was John who pushed past Brian, flopping down on a cushion, backpack and pillow cast aside. Peter gave his uncle a wary glance and then tentatively stepped forward, offering a hug which Brian returned awkwardly. He couldn't remember either of his nephews ever showing affection towards him. It just wasn't done in the Kinney family.

Claire stared at her brother and Brian finally said, "Come in, Claire."

She shook her head and said, "I've signed the boys out of school for the rest of the week. There's an investigation pending and Father Tom has agreed to bear witness against Father Padraic." She looked down at her hand, twisting the lone ring she wore in a nervous habit. "You were right about Mom, Brian. She was passed out and the boys were upstairs. Anything could have happened."

He started to say 'I told you so' and then knew that it wasn't something his sister needed to hear. For once he didn't want to fuck with her just for the sake of fucking with her. She didn't need it from him, not now at least. "I'm sorry, Claire."

"Not your fault," she reluctantly acknowledged. "If you need me, you know where to find me. They can turn your hair grey."

"I have one of those," he reminded her. Justin glared at him and he hastily added, "My four-year-old, Gus."

Despite her reservations, Claire smiled. "I owe you, Brian. I shouldn't have accused you of corrupting them."

He simply shrugged and cautiously said, "Any particular time the boys should be in bed?"

Claire shook her head and said, "I can't enforce a bed time for the boys. John's got his laptop so just keep him off porn sites."

John heard his mother's comment and glared at her. "Shut up, Mom."

Brian glanced at his nephew and sent him a warning glance. John looked away, knowing that he had to tread lightly around his uncle. "They'll be fine, Claire. I'll let you know if I have any problems but it should be okay."

Claire wasn't so sure of that, but she nodded. She took a checkbook out of her shoulder bag and asked Brian for a pen. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"Writing you a check," she said.

Brian's hand stilled her hand as she began to write. "I'm not taking your money, Claire. Go home and make sure Mom's okay."

Justin watched the interaction between his lover and his sister and wondered at Brian's calm. "So where did you two hide the beads?"

The question came not surprisingly from John, and Justin turned to him. "What beads?"

"The beads Uncle Brian shoves up your ass," John said, with a knowing smirk. "I'm not ignorant, you know."

Justin turned red and Claire beat a hasty retreat, figuring her brother could handle her surly son. Before Justin could deliver a tactful answer, Brian crossed to them. He looked down at his nephew, glowering at him, and then said, "Justin, you stay here with Peter. I'm going to take John somewhere we can talk."

John looked at his uncle cautiously and then slowly stood, figuring that this was one person he couldn't push around like he did his mom. He looked at his younger brother, who looked happy to spend time with his uncle's boyfriend.

Brian grabbed his car keys and headed to the door, looking back at John. "You coming?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" John shot back, ignoring the look Brian gave him.

Not responding to the perfect opening the smartass kid had given him took concentrated effort from Brian as he tried to remind himself that John was still, for all intents and purposes, a kid. Justin recognized the look on Brian's face and figured that only one of them would be left standing. He figured John was in for one hell of an afternoon. He looked at Peter and said, "You bring any games?"

Peter nodded and Justin said, "Let's play. I'm going to kick your ass."

"Uh huh," Peter said, as he watched Justin boot up the PlayStation.

Neither one of them heard the loft door slide open and closed behind Brian and his young, unrepentant charge. There was an uneasy silence between the two Kinney men as they rode the elevator downstairs. Once in the parking garage, John said angrily, "What the fuck are you going to do to me? Force me to give you head? There's no toilet to flush my head down."

Brian gritted his teeth and ground out a barely civil, "I shouldn't have done that. But you pissed me off when you went through my wallet and then kicked me in the knee. And I'm not the one who hurt you, John. I don't take advantage of young boys, no matter what your mother or grandmother might have told you. I'm sorry that you were raped."

John paled and his bravado cracked a slight bit as he said, "It wasn't rape."

Recognizing the words as ones he'd uttered himself, not so long ago, Brian opened the car door and watched as his nephew reluctantly climbed inside. He turned on the engine and John hit the CD player button, grinning at the sound of techno music blaring from the radio. His pleasure was short-lived as Brian hit the mute button. "Hey!" John protested.

Brian just looked at him. "My car, my rules."

"Fuck you," John said.

"Being a little shit may work with your mom but it won't work with me. I'm not the enemy here, John. I'm trying to help you. And just because you're a male doesn't mean that what Father Padraic did wasn't rape. It was rape under any definition."

John became real quiet and Brian was reminded of himself at that age, scared shitless of what would happen if his dad had found out just what he and the coach had been up to after soccer practice, knowing that Jack Kinney would have beat the living fuck out of Coach MacKenzie for busting his only son's cherry, even if he had consented. Brian said nothing as he pulled out onto Fuller. He didn't know quite where he was heading but found himself heading to the river. It was a place of refuge for him and a place he'd found himself often after he and Justin had split, when he needed to be alone and the thought of fucking anonymously didn't offer any solace.

The silence was almost unbearable and Brian would have given anything for even a smartass comment. What he wasn't expecting was brutal honesty from his nephew. "I shot my load," John said, voice clearly miserable. "When he pushed himself inside me, it really hurt, but I got a woody."

Not quite sure how to respond to his nephew, Brian said, "Open the glove compartment."

John did so, noticing the condoms and lube with a sidelong glance at his uncle, and said, "What are you looking for?"

"There should be a pack of cigarettes in there and a lighter. Get them out."

"Mom doesn't let me smoke," John said and Brian smiled sardonically.

"You're not with your mother and we're not going to tell her. It's just us men," Brian said.

Grinning at being referred to as a man, John handed him the cigarettes, and waited as Brian lit one and handed the pack back to John. "My cherry was busted when I was fourteen, John. By my gym coach. I know you think I don't know what the fuck you're going through but I do. The difference is I went into the locker room, thinking I knew what to expect, and then I was confronted with the raw reality of man on man sex. What happened to you is more horrifying but I was still sexually molested even if I thought I was man enough to consent."

"But you wanted to be fucked by the gym coach," John said, coughing as he took a drag. Brian suppressed a smirk as John held the cigarette out the window, absently flicking it when the ash grew too long. "You like being butt-fucked."

Realizing that now wasn't the time to clarify his position as the ultimate top, Brian took a pull off his cigarette. "I was still a kid, John. It doesn't matter that I thought I wanted it. What matters is that the adult did something wrong, took advantage of the situation."

"First time he wanted to watch me whack off, and then he made me give him my jockstrap and he jacked off into it, making me watch."

Brian winced as he pulled up to the bridge. "None of this was your fault, John. He's sick."

They got out of the car and Brian walked to a bench. He'd never imagined having this conversation with his nephew. It was surreal. But he couldn't help noticing that his nephew was opening up to him, despite his initial reservations. It seemed John was beginning to trust him, at least a little bit.

They sat and Brian noted the distance between them. He figured John needed that distance and wasn't about to push him beyond necessary boundaries. "Uncle Brian, I'm sorry I accused you. I figured it wouldn't matter if you went down for it. And Mom and Grandma believed me without question." He looked down and Brian recognized it as classic avoidance. Seemed they had more in common than he'd like to admit. Then he met his uncle's eyes and said, "Why don't you wear the bracelet anymore?"

Instead of offering a caustic response, Brian pointed to the hairline scar on his right wrist. "See that?" he asked. John nodded and Brian proceeded to say, "When I was fourteen, I tried to slit my wrists. I got that bracelet when I was eighteen in Mexico to cover up the scar."

"You attempted suicide?" John's shock was genuine. "You tried to kill yourself?" He couldn't believe that his strong, arrogant, successful uncle had tried to off himself. It just didn't bear thinking about.

"Yeah, John, I did. Pop beat the shit out of me and I was getting fucked on a regular basis by the coach who really liked it when I told him it hurt. So I was pretty depressed and your grandmother was too deep in a sherry bottle to recognize what was happening to her son. I found the replacement blades to Pop's razor in their bathroom and took one to my wrist. I passed out and your mom found me. Luckily she found me in time so I didn't need to go to the hospital."

"What happened?"

Brian smirked as he said, "When your grandfather found out, he beat the shit out of me with a leather belt and told me that the next time I tried to commit suicide, I should fucking well make sure that the job was done, because he didn't need my ass around to feed. That I should pick a method that would work."

John blanched. Suddenly his life didn't seem too bad, at least not when faced with the reality of his uncle's life. "And Mom?"

"Your mom took care of me at times, John. But there were other times when he'd turn his rage on her and I'd step in to take the blow intended for her. Growing up in the Kinney house was fucked up. I don't know how Claire and I made it through alive but we did."

"How did you make it through?"

"By shutting down, internalizing everything, telling myself that if I didn't let anyone close I couldn't be hurt. That loving anything or anyone just caused pain. The exception to that was Michael Novotny, my best friend. You met his mom a few nights ago. And much, much later, Justin." He studied his own hands as he took a deep breath. It was the first time he'd ever really talked to his nephew and he couldn't help wishing the circumstance was different. "I love Justin, John, and he loves me. I know the age difference bothers your mother but emotionally he and I are on the same level. He's a great person and, in a lot of ways, he saved me."

"What do you mean?" John asked, sliding closer to his uncle.

"I mean that he has a blind faith in me. He saw the redeeming qualities in me when I was an unfeeling, unmitigated bastard who treated him like shit. He fell in love with me when anyone sane would have told me to go straight to hell. But he fought for me, John. The night I turned thirty, I tried to kill myself. My best friend, Mikey, walked in and reminded me of who I am. His words made a difference to me and I wound up going to Justin's prom."

"Is that when he got hurt?"

Brian glanced over at him and raised an eyebrow. "How'd you hear about that?"

"Mom cut out the article and has it in a scrapbook. She has a lot of your press clippings saved, Uncle Brian. Like when you went to the state finals in soccer and when you made dean's list at Penn. And the article about you showing up at Justin's prom and the aftermath of his beating. She also saved everything about you taking down Stockwell."

Brian went silent. Why hadn't Claire ever told him? "Yeah, that's when he got hurt. It's when I realized that I was willing to have a relationship with someone that wasn't just based on carnal interest. I realized that I loved him. I wanted a future with him and some homophobic piece of shit took that away from us. He still can't remember that night, John." And I can't ever forget it.

John inched closer to his uncle and Brian felt the slight movement. He looked over at his nephew and waited. "Will Father Padraic be punished for what he did to me and Petey?"

"Yeah, John, he'll be punished. I know you can't be comfortable with me and Justin but neither one of us has any intention of hurting you."

"I know," he whispered. "And I'd rather be at the loft with you than at home with Mom and Grandma."

Brian turned to him at the quiet admission. "No matter what happens, I'll always be there for you, John. You can count on me."

"I can't count on my dad," John said and Brian could hear the intense pain underneath the matter of fact statement.

"I'm not your dad, John. I won't just sit idly by and watch your life be fucked because of some monster."

The smile John flashed at him was genuine and Brian smiled back. "We Kinney men have to stick together, John."

"I'm a Brennan," John reminded him and Brian shook his head. "You've got Kinney blood coursing through your veins, kid, whether you like it or not. Don't deny your heritage."

"Thanks," John said quietly. "Thanks for not treating me like some fucked-up kid who doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. Thank you for being honest with me and not telling me to fuck off when I showed up at your door. I know you had to be pissed at me."

Brian glanced at his watch and then at his nephew. "I was but I am more angry at what happened to you and your brother. I wasn't mad at you, John. This situation is messed up and you deserve better."

They walked back to the car and John got in quietly. He buckled his seatbelt and waited as his uncle started the car. "You pick the music," Brian said, willing to give into John's wishes for once.

John grinned at him and said, "Thanks." He paused a moment and then reluctantly asked, "How long can Peter and I stay with you and Justin?"

The question so stunned Brian that he almost rear-ended a Porsche Cayenne SUV. He hit the brakes, and the force of the sudden movement jarred both him and John. The driver flipped him the bird and he returned the gesture in kind. Since it was a red light, Brian gave his attention to John. "Don't you want to go home?" He wasn't really equipped to deal with two teenage children and he'd only intended this to be a temporary solution.

John shook his head, looking sad, and Brian mentally kicked himself for not having more tact. He took a deep breath and considered his nephew. "I think your mom will miss you and your brother, John. But depending on how things go with the court case and finding you a school, I'll think about asking Claire about having you and Peter move in with me on a more permanent basis."

"Into the loft? But there isn't enough room."

Brian agreed with that statement. There was barely enough room for him and Justin much less two other people. For the moment, he conveniently forgot that Justin would be leaving for California in a few weeks. As he realized that, he also realized that their trip to New York was probably postponed. "I'm working on a way to fix that problem. Let me have a few days and we'll figure out a solution."

"I don't want to hear you guys fucking," John said with a mischievous grin that did not go unnoticed by his uncle.

"Your mother know you talk like that?"

"You talk like that," John reminded him.

"I'm thirty-three," Brian shot back. "And I don't have a mommy to worry about."

John smirked, an expression that reminded Brian of his own. "You're so old," he said, the tone of his voice making it clear that he was teasing.

"Hey, brat, watch who you're calling old," Brian said, as his nephew turned up the volume as Forever Young came on.

"I'll always be younger than you," came the smartass retort.

Seeming to realize that he wasn't going to win this argument or discussion, Brian simply gave in and let his nephew think he'd won. A minor miracle had occurred, he realized, as he gave a sidelong glance to his nephew who was bopping to the rhythm of the music, a motion that reminded him of his lover.

If he could fix this for John and Peter, he thought, it would all be worth it. Every fucking thing he'd gone through as a kid would be worth it. Every beating, every word of abuse uttered by his drunk old man, would be worth it. For the boys were entitled to a childhood devoid of further abuse and neglect. And he'd do everything humanly possible to make sure that things were better from here on in.

They were halfway to the loft when John posed a question that jolted Brian out of his reverie. "What did Granddad say when you told him that you were gay?"

"I told him after I found out he was dying of cancer. I went over to the house and told him; he said that it should be me dying instead of him. He didn't say he hoped it would be AIDS but it was as clear as if he'd shot me." Brian couldn't quite hide the pain in his own voice and it did not go unnoticed by his nephew. "I almost hit him and then decided that the old man wasn't worth it. I knocked over a pile of boxes instead."

"Mom? And Grandma?"

Brian began to answer and then said, "Why all the questions, John?"

"Because you won't bullshit me like Mom. You don't think that just because I'm a kid I don't know shit. So?"

"Claire found out when she came home and found me fucking her boyfriend in the bathroom. It wasn't exactly a stellar situation, John. She wouldn't speak to me for weeks. And your grandmother found out when she paid an unannounced visit to the loft a few years back. I went to answer the door and a few minutes later Justin emerged from the bedroom, asking when I was coming back. She told me I was going to hell."

John stared at his uncle and said quietly, "You sound like it bothers you, Brian. I always thought you didn't give a shit about the family. That you felt you were above all of us."

Brian chuckled; the sound not the least bit humorous. "It does bother me. Even though the old bastard is dead and buried, I still want his approval on some level. I know how fucked up that sounds. And Mom, well, I don't think mom and I will ever come to terms. The role of son has been pretty well filled by Father Tom." He looked at his nephew and said, "Did your mom tell grandma that I fucked Father Tom?"

Shaking his head, John wondered at how deep his uncle's pain really ran. It was a side of him that he'd never seen, had never even thought existed. He was beginning to realize just how his mother and grandmother's bitterness towards Brian had affected his own view of his uncle. "No," he replied. "I think knowing that would send Grandma into an early grave."

"Sayonara," Brian said flippantly.

"You really don't care?" John asked, not believing that for an instant. He'd heard the pain in Brian's voice, pain that his uncle tried to conceal with great effort.

"No, I care," he answered. "But I remember her saying when I told her about my having testicular cancer, that it was my fault because I fuck guys. That if I repented and denied who I am, God would grant me mercy and forgiveness. The words I said to her when I got released after you pulled your little stunt were 'fuck you'. The only reason she had me was to fuck with my old man, because she believes that abortion is a sin. But she didn't do a goddamn thing when Jack got out his belt or paddle or I was blessed with his fist. I have little love for my family, John. Every time I've needed them, they've turned their back on me. I've given up."

"So is that why you call us demon seed?"

Brian had the grace to look embarrassed as he turned onto Fuller. "You should know by now that I don't put much stock in tact. I call situations as I see them. I don't suffer fools. And the relationship between us hasn't been great, John. I didn't know your mother told you I called you that. That wasn't right."

"Nice, huh?"

"So why don't you like your mom?"

"Because she wouldn't have believed us. She would've thought we were making up some fantastical story so we didn't have to go through catechism. I know Peter said she beats us but that's an exaggeration. She's used a belt on occasion but it's not child abuse. It's nothing like what Father Padraic did to me and Petey."

Brian pulled into his parking space and stopped the car. His nephew made to get out and Brian's next words stopped him cold. "Do you have any physical evidence?"

"Like a condom or jizz-stained underwear?" John asked, and Brian wondered at the logic of allowing young teenagers to watch so much television.

He nodded. John nodded, saying only, "The first time it happened, he didn't use a condom. When I took off my underwear at home that night, there was blood along with his goo." He flushed suddenly and his lip quivered slightly.

Brian cursed himself, reminding himself once again that he so wasn't meant to be in this role. He was silent for a moment and then saw the emotions overflow as John began to shake with quiet sobs. Fuck, he thought. "Hey, it's okay. John, it's gonna be okay. Nothing bad is going to happen to you and your brother now. I'll make sure of that."

John used the corner of his shirt to wipe away the fresh tears and said, "I kept the underwear in a safe place. Today, I put them in a Ziploc bag. Can't they do DNA or something?"

Brian nodded. "You did good, kid."

He smiled through his tears. "You're not such an asshole, Uncle Brian."

Brian grinned at him. "Promise not to tell?"

A hesitant nod was his answer. Brian followed John into the corridor and as they waited for the elevator, he said, "I've got your back, John. Nobody's going to fuck with you ever again. I promise." He didn't do promises but with this kid he was willing to compromise a little.

John turned to him, eyes questioning, and Brian smiled what he hoped was a reassuring smile. He wasn't sure but since the kid didn't begin to cry again or get defensive, he was reassured that so far things were going okay. Or at least as okay as they could go in light of this situation. He was fully aware that his sister might balk at the idea of having her boys move in with him but he thought he might just be able to convince her to allow at least one of the boys to stay with him temporarily. And his mother had better just butt the fuck out.

He opened the door to find Justin sprawled out on a pile of pillows and Peter in a similar position as they played a video game. "Kids," he muttered, not realizing that John had heard his quiet comment and grinned. He dropped his keys on the counter and went to the blond, placing his hands over his eyes. "Guess who?"

Justin smiled, a radiant smile that couldn't help warming the chill that threatened to pervade Brian's heart. "Um, Brian?"

"Got it in one, kiddo. You get an "A" plus," Brian said, remembering the night he'd first said the words to Justin. The night that had changed both of their lives. He pulled Justin to a standing position and pulled him flush against him. He dropped his mouth and took Justin's in a crushing motion that had Justin gasping before he returned the kiss in kind. John watched his uncle and realized for the first time that no matter what shape love came in, the love his uncle shared wasn't wrong or immoral.

They only broke the kiss when John cleared his throat. "You guys ever come up for air?" he quipped.

Justin looked at him and then back at Brian who simply shrugged. One way or another, Justin figured, he'd get the whole story. Things had definitely seemed to settle between Brian and his stubborn nephew. Brian looked at John and said, "There are takeout menus in one of the drawers, along with some petty cash. Order whatever you want. I like Thai but Justin likes pizza. He and I are going up to the roof for a few minutes."

John nodded and smiled slightly. It was an expression that took Justin by surprise because he'd never seen the younger boy ever smile. It was nice to see that he could. He bumped Brian with his hip, and Brian wrapped his arm around Justin as they walked out the door. Justin was quiet as they made their way up the narrow staircase that led to the roof. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been up to the roof. But Brian needed to talk and whatever had to be said he didn't want it said in front of the boys. Justin could understand that even if it made him curious as George.

Sensing Brian wanted quiet, needing time to get his thoughts in order, Justin perched on one of the lawn chairs that he'd somehow convinced Brian to buy during the lean times after Stockwell. After things got pretty much back in order, Brian had determined he didn't want to see the 'fuckin' eyesores so Justin had hauled them up to the roof, cursing Brian with every breath. He'd then been rewarded by one of their hotter fucks after the chairs were out of sight. So he just went quiet as Brian paced the length of the roof, finally settling down and standing in front of Justin.

Justin stared at his feet and Brian finally took ahold of his chin and tilted his chin up so that their eyes could meet. "Things are gonna change," Brian said, without preamble. "John and I had a good talk. I told him a little about my childhood and he told me some things. The upshot is he wants to stay here with me. He doesn't want to go back to his mom and frankly I can't blame him. I don't particularly like Claire, myself."

Justin started to speak but the look in Brian's eyes quelled his words. He sat and listened. "The loft downstairs is for sale and I'm thinking about buying it. I think it would be good for us. The additional space would provide you room to have an actual studio and I can have a room for Gus and the boys. If we have another blowout you would have a place to land and wouldn't have to run away until things get cooler."

"It sounds like a great investment for you," Justin said, feeling cold. It sounded as though Brian had already made the decision and all that was left was finalization.

"Don't do that, drama princess. We're in this together, remember. Thick and thin. All that shit that you know I won't ever verbalize. Don't run away from me. Not now." Not ever.

"You really want your nephew who has hated you for nearly all of his life under your roof?"

"He needs time to get his head back on straight, Justin. He can't do that with his mom and grandmother hovering."

"You trust him?"

At the question, Brian shook his head. "I don't know. But I do know that I'm not sending him away again. This is one demon that a scared teen can't face on his own and his mother's all but useless. I'm not turning my back on the kid, Justin, and I can't believe you'd even suggest it. Where would you have been if we hadn't stepped in when your fuckwit of a father cast your ass out?"

"I know you took me in, Brian. I haven't forgotten. But we were involved, despite your protestations to the contrary. You weren't dealing with a kid who has just been sexually abused by a priest he trusted and felt so alone that he turned to a man he once accused of molestation. You once told me that you didn't take in strays. That if Hunter had turned up on your doorstep, you'd have given him a couple of grand and sent him off. What's different?"

"He's family. Just like you would give your left nut for a relationship with your father, one where he doesn't hate you for sucking cock and taking it up the ass and being my lover, John and Peter are blood. We don't choose our parents. He's blood, Justin. And I think I'm better equipped to deal with this particular demon than his mom. He can talk to me. When he's scared about his sexual identity because this awful, hellish trauma is gonna fuck him up, he can talk to me about it. His mom will simply say that he needs to settle down with a good, little Irish Catholic girl and make babies. He needs a choice. I'd have thought you would understand that."

"Why is this suddenly your problem?"

Brian sat down on the chair next to him and ran a hand through his hair. "Because I didn't think to explore the deeper reasons that John accused me of making him suck my cock. I was too pissed at him to think straight. This is my problem for the same reason that it was my problem when you ran like a scared little rabbit and I chased your ass down. You do it for someone you love and you do it for family."

"What are you saying?"

Brian glared at Justin and said quietly, "You're going to make me say it? Aren't you?"

Justin was deriving little pleasure from watching Brian get skewered by the depth of his own emotions. But he still nodded and watched as Brian's expression underwent a subtle yet noticeable transformation. "I love you, twat. I fucking love you and you've known it since day fucking one. I didn't intend to get sucked into this quagmire. I never wanted to love anyone but it's only ever been you. So get the fuck over yourself."

"And the monogamy we've skirted around?" Justin said, careful not to let his expression betray his elation at Brian's words, though the delivery left something to be desired.

"If I trick occasionally it doesn't constitute fucking around, at least not in my definition. The only way that'd change is if either of us met someone who we would consider a friend or a potential lover. But there's only one person in the world who I consider capable of being my partner in the shit we both deal with: you." Brian took a deep breath and said quietly, "I won't be bringing any tricks home. I won't be fucking anyone in our bed. I can promise you that I'll limit my tricking to the baths or the backroom."

"And we'll be having plenty of hot, steamy phone sex," Justin said, leaning into Brian.

"Absofuckinlutely. Now I have to talk to my accountant and lawyer about the loft downstairs. My life suddenly got a hell of a lot more complicated." And you're leaving, he thought, but didn't have the energy to throw that gauntlet down. If Justin decided to stay it had to be on his terms not because Brian needed or wanted him to.

"What about barebacking?"

Brian glanced down at his hands and then at Justin. "The thought scares the fuck out of me. I haven't fucked anyone raw in nearly a decade. But if we're safe and we talk things through, I'll think about it. I'm not ruling it out because the idea of coming in your tight, little ass, and seeing it seep out of your hole makes me hard. The idea is extremely hot. But even though I love you, I'm not going to put your health at risk for a fantasy. We're not there yet, Sunshine."

Justin felt heartened at his words. He hadn't ruled it out and he had left it open as a possibility. At the moment, Justin couldn't ask for anything more. He let Brian take his hand and was unsurprised when Brian whispered against his ear, "I think the boys will be okay. I want you to ride my hot, hard cock."

Justin turned in his arms and grinned. "I think that can be arranged." He tugged his shirt free from the cargo pants and let Brian hook his fingers inside, encountering naked flesh. Brian grinned and said, "I've taught you well, grasshopper." He stroked the head and was rewarded by a silky drop of pre-cum. "You're hot," he murmured. Justin fumbled the buttons of his jeans loose and sank down to the pavement, ignoring the pebbles underneath his knees. He licked the underside of Brian's shaft, from base to tip, and then gently flicked the tip with his tongue, rewarded when Brian grunted. Then he proceeded to lap at him as if he were an ice cream cone. He turned his attention to Brian's balls and gently scraped his teeth over the tender flesh as Brian's hands fisted in his hair. Going down on the shaft, Justin let his lips and tongue do most of the work, knowing that Brian was close when he moaned a, "fuck, Justin. I'm close."

Justin redoubled his efforts, knowing when Brian's balls drew up and tightened. He dug his tongue into Brian's piss slit and with a jerk and a nearly shouted, "Fuck!" his tonsils were soon bathed with Brian's jizz. He milked him dry, gazing up at Brian with an expression of wonder. Brian pulled him up to him and said, mouth hot against his ear, "I can hold off my orgasm with almost anyone. With you, I can't. I lose all control. And that, baby, was fucking hot."

Grinning, Justin watched as Brian tucked himself back inside. He let Brian get halfway to the door before he murmured a quiet, "I love you, Brian. And I'm standing behind you."

Figuring Brian hadn't heard him, Justin started to follow when Brian turned around and said, equally as quietly, "I know you love me, baby. I-hell, you know how I feel about you."

"I know. It's okay. Once is enough," Justin said, surprised to find that the words were true. Once he'd heard the sentiment expressed by Brian, he didn't need to hear it repeated again. It was enough to know that the man felt it and was willing to say it.

Brian was relieved to find that Justin wasn't requiring him to repeat it every thirty seconds. He'd have to take it back if he did and he found that he didn't want to take it back. The loft door was closed when they approached and Brian gave him a questioning glance. Justin simply shrugged and Brian went to slide it open and found that it was locked. He found himself in the rare position of having to knock on his own door.

Expecting to have it opened by one of the boys, Brian and Justin were shocked to find themselves greeted by an irate Michael Novotny. "Where the fuck have you been? And why are the demon children here?" He took in Brian's disheveled expression and then understanding dawned. "Oh, you've been fucking, of course," said Michael, voice fairly dripping with sarcasm and barely concealed jealousy.

Brian hadn't forgotten their earlier conversation and Michael's betrayal by omission so he glared at his best friend. "How did you get in?" he asked, voice not betraying his intense anger.

"I used my key," Michael said, staring at him as if he'd lost his mind. "I walked in figuring I'd find you and the Boy Wonder fucking and found the two demon spawn here playing your PlayStation. I thought something had happened to you. I thought I'd stay to find out."

Brian took a step forward and Justin put a hand on his arm, which he shrugged off. This wasn't Justin's fight. "None of your fucking business, Michael. It's between family."

"I'm family," Michael said. He glared at Justin and said, "He's not. He's just a convenient fuck."

Brian felt a flash of anger and then felt the ice course through his veins as he shut down. Hitting him, satisfying as it might be at the initial moment of impact, wouldn't fix a goddamn thing. "He's my family, Michael. He's my partner, not you. And since this is my fucking loft, I get to choose who I invite in. I don't recall inviting you in."

"But Brian-" Michael began and then cut his words off as he saw the expression in Brian's eyes. He suddenly understood what shaky ground he was on.

"Remember after Justin and I reconciled?" Brian asked, voice cold and dispassionate.

Slowly he nodded. "Yeah, I came to see what the fuck you were thinking, taking him back."

Brian smiled, a smile that worried Justin and scared Michael. He knew his lover was on the edge of a precipice and he didn't think he could talk him down. This was between Michael and Brian, Justin realized, edging away from his lover. He was surprised when Brian said only, "Stay." Not liking being treated like a pet told to heel, Justin nevertheless paused. Brian returned his attention to Michael and said, "Give me your key."

Michael went beet red and said, "What?"

"It's for emergency use only, Michael. I've told you that before. It's not to be used so you can walk in whenever you damn well please. I know all about your voyeuristic tendencies and how you like to watch me in action. You're not going to get that opportunity again. Give me your fucking key."

"Brian," he tried.

"GIVE ME YOUR FUCKING KEY, MICHAEL!" Brian shouted, the noise tearing the boys' attention away from the dueling action figures in the game they were playing. "I'm not fucking around. The key and then you get the fuck out of my loft. And stay the hell out of my personal life. You don't choose who I love. That's up to me and I chose to love Justin, not you. I'm in love with him."

Michael's lower lip quivered and then he straightened up and pulled his key ring out of his jeans pocket. Brian and Justin watched as he fumbled the loft key loose. He started to hand it to Brian and then let it drop to the hardwood floor. Brian smirked sadly as he said, "Very mature, Michael. Now get the fuck out of my loft before I have you thrown out."

"I can't believe you chose him over me."

"I can't believe you thought that I'd choose you over him," Brian said, sadly. He watched as Michael strode to the door, trying to keep what little remained of his dignity intact. It was like watching the last veteran of a war leave a battlefield. Michael slammed the door shut behind him and Brian leaned over to pick up the key. It took long moments before he could meet Justin's eyes. When he did so, Justin could see the sadness in the hazel depths. This choice was hurting Brian and Justin didn't like to see him hurt, for any reason. Brian gathered his composure and said only, voice devoid of any semblance of emotion, "Remind me to get the locks changed and change our security code."

Justin simply nodded as the boys stared at their uncle. John hadn't heard him roar like that since the day he'd come by the house to insist that John recant his accusation. "I'm sorry, Brian. I know how much you love him."

"Loved him," Brian corrected. He glanced at the key and tossed it aside. "I'm going to take a shower. Call the super about the locks. Pick a code that's easy for both of us to remember and that won't be easy for Michael to ascertain by dumb luck."

"Okay." Justin watched him stride into the bedroom, only stopping to unzip his boots, and take off his jeans and shirt. He stalked naked into the bathroom, closing the door behind him, an action that he only ever did when he was intensely upset about something and didn't want to let Justin in on his emotions.

Peter's eyes were glued to the television screen and it was John who got up, saying to his younger brother, "Play solo for a little while, Petey. Okay?"

A noncommittal grunt was the only response, his attention focused on the game. John walked to meet Justin who had retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge. Sensing the younger boy's approach, Justin met his questioning eyes. "Is he going to be okay?"

"I don't know," Justin answered honestly. "He's loved Michael for a lot of years. They share a lot."

"Michael seems to be jealous of your place in Uncle Brian's life."

Justin smiled slightly at the kid's accurate interpretation of the situation. "Yeah, he is. He'd like nothing better than to be the one warming Brian's bed. Only thing is, he's married to a great guy who happens to have fucked Brian, something that never happened between Michael and Brian. He has never liked me because Brian loves me."

"I thought you two worked on the comic together."

"Yeah, but it's always been an uneasy truce. A truce we instituted because we both love Brian."

"You don't like me much," John observed, remembering their encounter in the arcade at the mall and later in the living room at his house.

"Not true. I don't know you. I've heard bits and pieces from Brian."

"Michael called me and Peter demon spawn."

Neither of them heard the bathroom door open or Brian walk downstairs so both were shocked when they heard his voice. Brian was still dripping wet, a towel wrapped around his waist. "Michael was wrong. Don't pay any attention to him. He's not your concern, John. He's about as inconsequential as a cockroach. He's pathetic. And he won't ever be a problem for you or your brother again. I promise."

For once, referring to Michael as pathetic was not delivered by Brian in a teasing vein. Justin marked the difference and wondered at how the loss of his best friend would affect his lover. But he knew better than to say anything. If Brian wanted to talk to him, he would and not a second before he was ready. "Did you order food?" Justin asked, wanting to change the subject.

"Thai, for Brian. We saw the selections were circled on the menu. And a pizza with everything on it save anchovies for us, Justin," John said. "We made sure to insist on sesame noodles."

Despite his anger over the confrontation with Michael, Brian smiled. "Thanks, kid."

"Yeah," John said, flushing with pleasure at his uncle's kind words. It struck both men that he probably hadn't been exposed to many kind words in his household. "It should be here in a little while."

Brian nodded and returned to the bedroom, pulling on a faded pair of blue jeans. He returned to the living room, shirtless and barefoot. He noticed that John carefully avoided looking at him and said, "You want me to put a shirt on, John?"

"Um, no. It's just Mom always insists we walk around fully clothed."

Understanding his nephew's reluctance and discomfort, Brian felt an unfamiliar stab of something akin to guilt. He returned upstairs and then rejoined them wearing a white t-shirt. "Better?"

John turned to look at him and said, "Yeah. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It's just around here we tend to view au naturale as being natural. I should have thought about how it would appear to you. Tell me when something makes you uncomfortable, so I don't make a faux pas again."

"A faux, what?" John asked, expression confused.

"Mistake, John. It's a fancy way of saying a mistake." Brian looked at the wall clock and saw that it was 2. He had to pick up Gus in a little under three hours and had no idea of how to explain to his son who the strangers in his loft were.

"Where are we going to sleep?"

"In the bed. Justin and I will bunk on the futon and you'll have to share with Gus. I'll get a cot delivered so that Gus can sleep on that in a few days."

John looked down at the floor and then at his uncle. "Thank you," he said quietly.

"Stop thanking me. You'll probably want to kill me in a few days. But I'm trying to make things better for you and your brother. It may take me some time."

"You already have," John said. "I'm sorry if we're causing you problems."

Justin avoided looking at Brian, feeling guilty for his ill-advised comments up on the roof. He felt an elbow nudge him and knew that Brian was leaving this open for him to respond. "You're not, John. We're more than happy to have you and your brother here. And we're working on a way to make it comfortable for everyone."

"You two just want to be able to fuck," John said, with a familiar Kinney smirk that made Justin grin.

"Well, yeah, there's that," Brian said bluntly. "I also need to call a cop friend of mine and see if they can rush DNA testing on that pair of shorts you said the Father donated his jizz to. If we didn't want you here, John, you'd be back at your mom's with your grandmother saying a hundred Hail Mary's to save your immortal soul."

John smiled despite himself. His uncle was a straight-shooter and he could admire that. His mother always beat around the bush and his uncle didn't pull any punches. "You got any movies, around here, that aren't porn or kiddie fare?"

"Somehow I doubt you like art films or avant garde. What kind of movies do you and your brother like?"

"Action, like stuff with Jackie Chan. Or Kill Bill."

"Bloody stuff, huh?"

John nodded. "What, you like musicals?"

Despite the sarcasm, Brian laughed at the question. He glanced at Justin who looked embarrassed. "Nothing wrong with musicals," Justin said, around an uncomfortable cough. He was going to kill Brian when he got him alone. Before he could instigate revenge against him, Brian's landline rang.

"I've gotta get that," Brian said, leaving nephew and partner staring at each other. No rest for the wicked, he thought, realizing that he'd been less wicked for the past couple of days. Pretty fucking responsible, he thought.

While Brian went to answer the phone, Peter set down the controller and saved the results of the game, going to join his brother in the kitchen. He was quiet and unsure of how to handle things. His uncle had barely spoken two words to him and he felt like this whole day had just been about John; that what was going on in his mind was of little concern. If he'd known that going in, he'd have stayed at his mom's. There he was used to being ignored. He'd thought it'd be different, better somehow, with his uncle.

John noticed his younger brother's approach and felt a pang of guilt. "Hey, Petey," he said quietly. "You doing okay?"

Peter shook his head and said, "I'm scared, John. He said he'd hurt us if we ever said a word. He said that he'd make me sorry."

Justin watched the interaction between the two boys and realized for the first time just how traumatic this whole experience had been for both boys. He'd spent the better part of the morning with Peter and hadn't really broached the subject, not knowing how to ask what had really happened. He'd thought he'd be better at this whole thing and was stunned to recognize that it was Brian who was better at this than he.

John moved towards his little brother and hugged him, feeling the shudder at the gentle touch and cursed the priest for causing that reaction. "It'll be okay," he murmured. "Uncle Brian said he'd take care of everything. And he will, Peter. You don't have to be scared."

Justin heard the quiet words and glanced at his lover whose countenance appeared to be carved of stone. Uh oh, he thought, recognizing the expression on Brian's face. It was one he wore when he was being reamed out by one of the family and refused to defend his actions. There were only a few people who could provoke that reaction from him, including Lindsay and Ben. He wondered who was giving Brian what for but then heard Brian say loudly, "Butt the fuck out, Deb. I appreciate your help last night but what happened between me and Mikey isn't your concern." Apparently Deb had a typically caustic response to that because Brian said, "I told Justin what I could never say to Michael, Deb. He can't fucking deal with that. I'd have thought you'd be happy that I finally had the balls to admit my feelings." On that happy note, Brian hit the end button on the portable phone and hurled it against the wall, the door to the battery compartment splintering as it hit the wall with a thud.

Peter shuddered and John gripped his little brother tighter. "It's okay," John said, even as he cast a wary glance at his uncle who sank down in the chair, head in his hands, fingers massaging his temples.

Justin glanced at him and walked over to him. Brian looked at him, with eyes full of pain. "I have a headache," he said, misery clear in his tone.

"I can see that," Justin said.

"They are here through a series of circumstances that have proceeded to give me the worst headache of my fucking life," Brian said, unaware he'd once said those same words in a similar situation.

Justin almost smiled at the words and then said, "What can I do to make it better?"

Brian sighed and smiled wryly. "Give them back their childhood. Make it so that John's first sexual experience wasn't with a pervert. Make it so that their dad gave a shit about the welfare of his children and his mom isn't a clueless basket case, and his grandmother isn't a hypocritical Bible-thumper."

Since Justin could do none of those things, he simply wrapped his arms around Brian, and Brian rested his head against his chest. "I love you, Brian."

"Yeah, so you keep telling me," said Brian. He inhaled and then looked at the shattered remains of the phone and back at his nephews who still clung to each other. He met Justin's eyes and said, "Did I scare the kids?"

Not sure that lying to Brian would solve anything, Justin reluctantly nodded. "Fuck!"

The knocking on the door startled all of them and Justin let go of Brian. He retrieved Brian's wallet on his course to the door, sliding it open to reveal two delivery people. He recognized one as a former trick of Brian's, who clearly recognized him. Justin paid both delivery people and saw the hungry look on the former trick as he glanced at Brian. "Not happening," Justin said, closing the door. There wouldn't be any sharing, at least not tonight at the very least.

Brian had heard the last words Justin uttered and offered a hesitant smile. For one of the few times in his life, his depression wasn't sending him away from Justin and into the arms of an anonymous trick. He found slight comfort in that. He joined the three younger people in the living room. Justin handed him his container of Thai food and the unopened package of chopsticks.

He and the boys dug into the pizza with unrestrained glee. They were halfway through their meal when Brian's cell phone rang. He sent his meal a rueful glance and then went to dig his cell phone out from the pile of clothes in the bedroom. He really did need to clean, he thought, as he noticed a pair of cum-encrusted jocks. Justin's not his, he recognized, as he recalled a night when Justin had shot off in his pants before they could make it to the backroom.

"Hello," he said. His expression changed slightly as he said, "Lindz."

"I just heard from Michael," she said, tapping her pen on the blotter on her desk at the gallery. "What's going on with you? You casting everyone who cares about you out of your life?"

"No, just those who want to fuck with me and mine," Brian said, looking at Justin as he sat down on the bed. "Can you take Gus tonight?"

"Why? Spending too much time with your son preventing you from fucking the shit out of Justin? You can't put your sex life before your son."

Brian bit his tongue as he counted to fifty before answering her. "I've got a family crisis here. It would help me if you could take Gus tonight or leave him with Smelly Mel. I will explain later but I don't need you passing judgment on me. You know I love Gus. And Michael will have to get the fuck over whatever crawled up his ass and, unfortunately for him, it wasn't my dick."

"Brian!" she said, shocked.

Tired of dealing with those who persisted in judging him for sins committed and those only assumed, Brian said, "Lindsay, please do this for me. Go get laid. I don't care if you take a ride on ten dicks, just give me this one thing."

"What's wrong?" she asked, concern finally outweighing her enmity for him. He didn't sound quite like himself, she thought.

"Family crisis, Lindz. My family."

"So you turn Michael away and let Justin stay? That's fair," she said, sarcastically.

"Justin's my partner, Lindz. Michael's got a husband and a kid. He needs to grow the fuck up and let me have my own life and I choose to live it with Justin, not him. I've got a 'wife' or the next best thing to it, so just let me have this time. I'll explain later just stop assuming that I'm the problem and Michael's some innocent victim."

Lindsay dropped the pen to her desk with a clatter, idly watching as it rolled off the edge of the desk. "You should have fucked him, Brian. Instead of cockteasing him all those years. What did you expect? You kissed him and fondled him and then didn't follow through."

"I offered," Brian said, the headache rearing its ugly head like a dragon. "He turned me down. And from what I understand, the only reason you fucked Sam is because you couldn't get me to fuck you again."

Lindsay took a deep breath and said, "I'll pick up my son, Brian. Call me when you know what the fuck you want. I have an apartment to show you. It's not far from the loft and I think you'll approve not that I give a shit. Fuck you, you arrogant bastard." She disconnected the call and felt a shudder roar through her. How did he know that? She wondered, and then realized that it would be just like Melanie to tell him something like that, knowing how deeply it would wound her and irk Brian.

Brian tucked the cell phone into the pocket of his jeans and looked up to find Justin framed in the doorway looking at him. "What?"

"You okay?"

"No." He looked away from Justin and down at the floor. "I need to go out," he finally said, avoiding Justin's eyes, knowing that they'd be accusatory. He couldn't deal with that right now. He just needed to get the fuck out of the loft before he quietly went mad.

Justin, recognizing the mood and knowing that it wasn't one he wanted to deal with, said, "Take your cell phone and plenty of condoms. I'll stay with the boys." His voice was tired and Brian gave him a sharp glance.

He turned to walk away, when Brian's voice stopped him cold. "I meant what I said up on the roof, Justin. I meant what I said to Michael. I need some air, that's all. I'm not going to indulge in my favorite pain management exercise because this problem is not between us."

Justin faced him, not believing that for a millisecond because he knew Brian too well, and said, "Shower before you come home. I don't want to smell some other guy's sweat and cum on you all night long."

Brian glared at the words and Justin knew that they were more than slightly hypocritical. How many times had Brian lain awake in the darkness, knowing that he was fucking someone else then coming home to his bed? "I'll fuck who I want," Brian finally said. "We're not married!"

"I know," Justin said, not willing to turn this into a battle royale. "Who am I to stop you? I'm not some little woman to stay at home while you fuck around."

John silently watched the interaction between Brian and Justin and could sense the tension even from the safe distance. Peter ate a piece of pizza, ignoring the tension that stretched like an electrical wire between his uncle and Justin. He took another slice of pizza, diverting his attention from the argument, for it was clear to him that it was that even if their voices were low out of deference to the boys.

Brian took a deep breath and looked at Justin. "Fuck you, twat. I'm the one who dealt with that. You're the one who lied to me about fucking around with the fiddler. I have never lied to you about my life. I'm not the one who has the history of cheating. That's your department." He whipped off the t-shirt and dug through the closet until he found a sleeveless charcoal tank top that clung to him like a second skin. "I fuck who I want, when I want. It's just lately that's only been you. But you shouldn't get so fucking comfortable because that can change." He snapped his fingers to accentuate his last point.

Justin's eyes burned with tears. He realized that it was just par for the course; that the instant Brian admitted how he felt he'd run away or instigate a fight. "Run away," he said. "Run away like a fucking coward. Like some dickless fag you're always criticizing. Cause when it gets tough, you run."

The words lay there like the proverbial elephant in the room as Brian slowly, very slowly, turned to face him. He stepped towards him and said quietly, "You have me. You have my heart, my soul, everything I am. And I'm not fucking running away from you. I need space. I love you but I'm not sacrificing everything I am to make you happy. If you want that, then get the fuck out. You know who I am, Justin. You know how I operate. I'm tired, I'm horny, and a quick blow job up on the roof does not make me a very happy man. I need more. So I'm going before I say something to you that both of us will regret."

"Go," he said, turning away to return to the living room with the boys.

A few minutes later, he heard the door open and close behind Brian. John stared at him and Justin finally snapped at him, "What?"

John shook his head and said, "You love him and yet you let him walk out of here, knowing that he's going to fuck someone else when it could be you in his arms. What the fuck does that solve?"

Justin looked at the half-eaten slice of pizza on his plate and then at his lover's nephew. "What else can I do?" he said, miserably. He hated fighting with Brian and knew that there would be little chance of makeup sex with the boys in the loft.

"Go after him," John said, as if it were the clearest thing he'd ever said. "He's hurting. He needs you not some other man."

"When did you get so smart?"

"I know Brian," John said, his voice weary as if he'd had years of experience dealing with someone as neurotic and fucked-up emotionally as his uncle. "And I can see how much the two of you love each other. It's clear to me because I never saw that between my mom and dad. But it's undeniable between you and Brian. Do you want to lose him?"

Justin shook his head and said, "I can't go after him. I can't leave you two alone."

John grinned at him. "We'll be okay. I've babysat Peter before. We won't destroy the loft. Go make things right."

Justin stared at him and then reluctantly nodded. "Okay. I've got my cell phone. I'll leave you my cell number and Brian's. We won't be home late."

John smiled at him and said in a near-whisper, "Fuck the shit out of him before you come home. I don't think I've ever seen someone as horny as Brian."

Justin grinned at him, feeling slightly uncomfortable with the conversation. He grabbed his phone and wallet, noticing that Brian had left his behind. He wouldn't really need it to get into Babylon or the baths but he'd need it to buy drinks. It was evidence of his emotional state that he'd forgotten it.

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