Complications of the Mind
Justin was halfway to school when his cell phone rang. He felt a slight smile trace his lips as he read the call display. "Hey," his voice softened. "You okay?"
In the café, Brian felt some of the tension he felt ease away. Amazing how just the sound of Justin's voice could calm him down, though he'd never admit to that fact. "Yeah," he responded, taking a sip of coffee. "The kid is in the bathroom. He eats more than you, by the way. I didn't think that was possible."
Justin gripped the seat as the bus took a wide right turn, holding onto his messenger bag with the other hand. Public transportation sucked. "I'm glad things are going okay between you and John. I, um, I called the super about the callbox and getting the locks re-keyed."
"You pick out a code, yet?" Brian asked, setting the empty coffee cup down and realizing that it was one of the few decisions about the loft that Justin hadn't just ended up shoving back on him. That bore thinking about.
"I was thinking our initials but with the numbers that correspond to the letters. Not in order, of course. I think it's easy for us to remember and won't be that easy for Michael to guess. Not like our birthdays or 6969."
Wishing desperately for a nicotine fix and irritated over the fact that he couldn't just light up in the restaurant, Brian settled for pulling one out of his pack and sticking it behind his ear. "Brilliant, Sunshine. Make it so. Anything else happen after I booked with John?"
There was a slight hesitation and then Justin said, "The littlest hustler found showed up at the loft. He wanted my help in repairing the rift between you and Michael."
"What'd you tell him?" Where the fuck is John? It doesn't take that long to take a fucking piss, he thought, irritated.
"That you and Michael would have to work it on your own. That our relationship wasn't a three-way."
"Is that it?"
"Um, I might have mentioned the fact that Michael has fucked things up between us more times than I care to count."
Justin became silent after his pronouncement and worried that he'd said too much. He needn't have worried. Brian reached for one of the kid's abandoned home fries and dragged it through the pool of ketchup on his plate, before popping it into his mouth.
"I'm too pissed at Michael right now to talk to him." It was a moment before he added, "And you aren't wrong."
Justin nearly sighed in relief at Brian's words. "You planning on keeping John with you the entire day?"
"Don't know yet. He's confused and scared and angry. A lot like me at his age, actually. But I had Mikey and Deb. I think I'll just play it by ear. You want to meet for lunch?"
"Sure," responded Justin. "Send me a text message to tell me where."
Brian smiled as John finally emerged from the bathroom. He raised an eyebrow and John responded with the patented Kinney smirk. "Gotta go. Later."
Brian stuffed the phone back in the pocket of his suit and met his nephew's eyes. "Lose the bet yet?"
"Nope. You ready to go?"
At John's nod, Brian tossed some bills down on the table and they left the restaurant. A few minutes later, they arrived at Kinnetik. Brian saw Cynthia's midnight blue Accord and realized that his assistant was already there. Good, he thought. He glanced at his nephew who had a curious expression on his face.
"Something wrong?" Brian asked, reaching for his attaché case and glancing at his silent, brooding nephew.
"No, just thinking."
"Thinking tends to get the Kinney men in trouble. If you want to talk, John, let me know."
John nodded and followed Brian inside. He was immediately struck at how much light was let in through the blasted cube windows. "Hey, boss," Cynthia said, resplendent in a midnight blue suit which accentuated the honey hue of her blond hair. She started to say something more when she noticed the teen standing next to him. She raised an eyebrow as she waited for an explanation.
"Cynthia, this is my nephew John Brennan. John, this is my assistant/creative director Cynthia McClellan."
To her credit, Cynthia kept her composure though she was curious as to why her boss would have his sister's oldest son in tow. It was an established fact that he didn't get along too well with his family. She'd been there on more than one occasion when his sister had flown out of the office, irritation and agitation clear in every move. "Nice to meet you, John."
"You too, Miss McClellan," John said.
"Cynthia, please. Miss McClellan makes me feel too old and like some schoolmarm."
"Well, you are old," Brian snarled.
"Not as old as you," she retorted, giving her boss a warning glance.
"Point taken. So I told him that we have some filing and copying that needs to be done. Can you set him up, please?"
Cynthia nodded and took John with her on an impromptu tour and then left him with a stack of documents to copy while she went back to her own desk. She paused outside Brian's door and then knocked. "Come in," he barked.
"So spill, Kinney? Why do you have your sister's kid with you?"
"Long story, Cyn," Brian said, finally looking up from the fax that Telson's people had sent over. "He's staying with me for a little while."
"The dragon lady is allowing that?" Cynthia had been privy to Claire's acidic tongue more times than she cared to recall. She'd much rather deal with a mercurial Brian than Claire, though there were days when she'd wanted to throttle him.
"She doesn't have much of a choice. Look, I may have to shuffle some meetings and trips around. I may need you to be prepared to go to Chicago to meet with Brown at the end of this week."
"He prefers dealing with you," she reminded him.
"I'm aware of that. I'm also aware that you are a damn good adwoman, in your own right. And you would have hit the 'glass ceiling' at Vanguard had you stayed. Think of it as baptism by fire."
"Okay. You need me to do anything else?"
"Keep him out of trouble. I need to list the 'vette and as soon as Theodore comes in, I need to talk to him."
"Sure boss," Cynthia said, turning to leave his office.
"Yeah," she said, pausing in the doorway.
"I need to talk to you about something. Can you close the door behind you?"
Doing so, Cynthia returned to his desk, and Brian said, "Sit. I'm not going to slit your throat, for Christ's sake."
Since she still looked nervous and he actually wasn't intending that response for once, Brian took a deep breath. He reached for the sterling silver cigarette case that Justin had bought him for his birthday. Watching her boss with an idle curiosity and having to sit on her hands because she was nervous, Cynthia finally burst out with a, "Tell me what's wrong and I'll fix it."
Brian barked a short laugh and then said, "You asked me about Telson. Remember?"
"Yeah. I wanted to know why we didn't land the account when we were working for Marty. You were so reticent about talking about it and I know Ryder busted your balls when we didn't get it."
Brian inwardly winced; she was right. "Telson had a family, Cyn. But on business trips he liked to fuck men. He asked me to take him to Babylon and I did. Then he invited me to his hotel room. I wasn't naïve enough to think that he was proposing a business meeting. I went to see him, knowing full well that he expected me to have sex with him to get the account. I proceeded to get comfortable and then the phone rang. One of his kids had gotten hurt and his wife was pretty hysterical, wanting him to come home. He was more interested in me and when I called down to the concierge to arrange transport to the airport, he was pissed. He asked how I was going to explain to Ryder that I didn't land the account and I told him that we weren't able to satisfy his requirements."
"So we didn't land the account because of your morality?" Brian wouldn't fuck the guy so we lost his account? She wondered incredulously but wisely didn't say her thoughts aloud.
"I prefer to think of it as a noble act. But I wouldn't sleep with him and he pulled his business."
"I don't know whether to respect you or strangle you. After all, it wasn't too long afterwards that you fucked the guy at the Atlas Awards." Oh shit, she thought, realizing what she'd just revealed.
Brian cocked an eyebrow at her. "You watched?"
She colored and slowly nodded. "Um, yeah. I'm sorry."
"Sorry's bullshit," he responded. He was rather amused but decided to let her twist in the wind for a little while. "Water under the bridge. Not pissed."
She pushed her chair back from his desk and said, "I'll list the 'vette and keep an eye on John. You taking all calls today or screening?"
"Put everyone through except Michael and Melanie."
"Michael?" Cynthia asked.
Brian shuffled some pages on his desk, avoiding her questioning gaze, and finally ground out, "And Michael. That's all. Close the door behind you."
It was midway through the morning when he heard the tentative knock on his door. Looking up from the stack of ad copy and e-mail, Brian growled, "Come in at your own peril."
Ted poked his head in and Brian relaxed. He set the pen down and motioned him inside.
"What's up, boss?"
"Theodore, I need to know how much I can liquidate within the next couple of days."
"Planning on making a big purchase?"
"Yeah, I'm planning on buying the loft underneath mine. I need to know how much I can offer as a down payment and I need to get a car for Justin."
"I thought he was going to California," Ted said, then realized he'd revealed too much.
Brian's eyes narrowed and he fixed Ted with an intense glare that caused the other man to squirm under the gaze. "Who told you that?"
Brian lit his tenth cigarette of the day, inhaling deeply, before blowing the smoke out in a perfect circle. He counted to fifty and then up to a hundred before responding. "It's not definite. I asked him to move in with me and he said yes. I don't know if he's going to California."
Ted, mild-mannered accountant that he was, had always sort of hero-worshiped Brian. He'd envied Brian and imagined what it would be liked to be fucked by Brian but this-this was absolutely different. Brian's whole voice and demeanor got softer when he talked about Justin and he couldn't miss the razor sharp edge when he talked about his best friend. Something is not alright in Michael-and-Brian land, Ted observed silently. "I'll get the figures for you. I saw the kid in the copy room. He belong to you?"
At that, Brian smiled. "He's my nephew, John. Long story."
"The same John who accused you of sexual abuse?" Ted asked incredulously. Michael had shared all the gory details of that ride home after Brian spent the night in a holding cell.
"Yes, Theodore. Now go do whatever the fuck accountants do best and leave me to handle my own personal business."
"Aye, aye, Captain Kinney," Ted responded with a crisp salute.
By a quarter to noon, Brian was ready to kill something or someone. The ad copy was all wrong and he was getting a headache. The only saving grace was that Cynthia had managed to list the Corvette and John was doing a great job with copying and collating pages. Seemed the kid had a natural aptitude. All he needed was a little honing, Brian thought.
John poked his head in his uncle's office door and said, "Um, Uncle Brian."
Brian looked up and felt his features soften somewhat. "Yeah?"
Brian saved the letter he was drafting to Telson and put his system on standby before standing up and stretching. "Let me piss and then we'll go. I told Justin we'd meet him for lunch." He glanced back at his nephew and said, "You can go home with him, if you want. I'll have Cynthia cut you a check for today."
He was surprised and appreciative when John shook his head. "She's really cool. And hot," he added almost as an afterthought, amused to see his uncle shudder. "I'll stay until you decide to go home."
"You think Cynthia's hot?"
"Well, yeah," John said.
Brian shrugged his shoulders and disappeared into his private bathroom, wondering about teenagers and who they thought worthy of the label 'hot'. At least, he hadn't made the observation about Meg, Brian rationalized. And were he straight, Brian acknowledged, he probably would have banged Cynthia on principle, were it not for the possibility of a sexual-harassment suit.
Half an hour later, the trio were ensconced in a private booth at a French bistro that during the day didn't require a dress code. For that, John and Justin were grateful while Brian was amused. He glanced at his lover and nephew and realized that this wasn't what he'd imagined at the age of thirty-three. Hell, he hadn't even thought that far ahead, thinking he'd end up going out in a blaze of glory. Shaking the mordant thoughts from his head before they could take root and end up ruining his appetite and lunch, Brian met the hazel eyes of his nephew and the blues of his lover's.
"What?" he finally snapped, uncomfortable with their scrutiny.
"You're testy," Justin observed, receiving a withering glare from Brian which foretold bad things happening later.
"John thinks Cynthia's hot," Brian said, ignoring the glare his nephew shot in his direction. So, it was childish and immature, but Brian was feeling itchy all over. And he knew it wasn't from the fine blend of his suit. What the fuck is bothering me? He wondered.
Justin grinned, knowing full well that when Brian slipped into immaturity it was a sign of his discomfort. Only usually he did it when he was stoned or drunk so this was new even for Brian, who had more mood swings than Texas weather. Brian's hand was fisted on top of the table and Justin reached out, gently brushing his palm across the top of Brian's knuckles. At the slight touch, Brian's hand unfurled like a butterfly's wings and he intertwined his finger's with Justin's.
It was only when John cleared his throat that the two adults remembered they weren't alone. "What?" Brian snapped.
"PDA makes me uncomfortable," John said, trading a sidelong glance with Justin, his partner in crime and mischief.
"It's not like we're fucking on the table, John," Brian snarled, remembering too late the bet. His eyes narrowed at his nephew and then he found himself smiling. The kid was part Kinney, after all.
To his credit, John didn't crow. He simply smirked at his uncle and said, "I-Pod."
Brian snapped his menu open, pretending to lose himself in the menu options even though he knew perfectly well what he was going to order. He always ordered the same thing and he criticized others for predictability? Finally, he set the menu down to meet the amused faces of his dining companions.
"Fuck it," Brian said. "You get the I-Pod. Anything else you want?"
John might have answered that, had Justin's elbow not made impact with his side. Inhaling sharply, John simply shook his head. The limits of Brian's generosity were not boundless and he was rapidly becoming aware of that fact.
Later that evening, Brian and a tired John stumbled into the loft, looking as if the hounds of hell themselves were after them. Justin glanced at both of them and took the briefcase from Brian, saying only, "You go shower now. I'll take care of the kid."
"Dinner?" Brian asked, hopefully, allowing Justin to take his suit jacket. He would have smiled when Justin began to undo his tie but he was dead on his feet.
"Yeah, baby, I fixed dinner. Cassoulet. It's a Cajun dish I think you'll like it."
"Hotlanta hiding here somewhere?"
Not amused at the reminder, Justin steered him in the direction of the bathroom. He looked at John who simply shrugged. "How'd it go?"
John took a seat at the bar and watched Justin add some cayenne pepper to the mixture. "He's really good at what he does. I didn't know that."
"Yeah, neither did I."
Justin turned the heat down under the pan and met John's hazel eyes, noting how similar they were to Brian's. If not for certain things, John could be Brian's son. "I used to be really resentful of Brian and his job. We planned this great trip to Vermont a few years back and Brian ended up not being able to go because of business. I was really pissed off at him and ended up going without him. I came back and things were tense between us from then on."
"You left him, right?"
"Not my finest hour. Yeah, I left him. Biggest mistake of my life. Too many people who say they love him have ended up hurting him, John. I promised him that when we got back together I'd never hurt him again."
"Are you going to California?"
"Set the table, John," Justin said, indicating the table that they'd set up in the nook. He and Brian rarely used the table, preferring to eat on the pillows. He handed John the napkins and silverware. While John was setting the table, Justin found Brian sitting on their bed.
"You okay?" he asked, sitting down next to him, wrapping an arm around Brian.
"I heard what you said about Vermont."
Justin felt Brian lean into him and then said, "I was just telling him how I didn't understand then that business often comes first. I didn't understand your responsibilities."
"You weren't an obligation, Justin. I wanted to pay for you to go to the Institute, to see your dreams realized."
"Did you give up a dream, Brian?"
"I didn't dream a lot as a kid, Justin. I was an old man living in a child's body by the time I was ten. I look at Gus and it's so important to me that he have everything I didn't as a child. I can't ever fix our aborted trip to Vermont. You'll never know how much I wanted to share that with you. And I was willing to take the hits to my reputation. The great Brian Kinney going on a romantic trip with his boyfriend." Brian hesitated, and then said, "I want John to have a childhood, Justin. I don't want him to graduate from high school feeling that there's nobody in his corner."
"He's got you," Justin said softly. "And me."
John had paused in setting the table, hearing their conversation. He felt himself tearing up and realized that despite everything that had been said and done by him and his uncle, his uncle was still willing to have his back. He wasn't willing to fuck that up. He crossed to the bottom of the stairs and said, "The table's set. Do you guys want me to serve the cassoulet?"
It was Brian who stood first and shook his head. "I'll help you."
They finished dinner and John posed a hopeful question, "Dessert?"
Justin and Brian looked at each other and grinned. "How about bananas foster?"
"Bananas flamed with brandy and caramelized sugar. And vanilla ice cream."
Brian groaned and said, "None for me. That's an extra hour on the treadmill."
"I'm sure you'll work it off," John said, with a knowing smirk.
"Go watch Barney," Brian snapped, though he was more amused than irritated. He could see a lot of himself in John.
John simply stuck out his tongue and disappeared into the bathroom while Justin and Brian cleared the dishes. "So what happened today?"
"Cynthia listed the Corvette. I had Ted go over my financials and we can make an offer on the downstairs loft. I also want you to reconsider my offer to buy you a VW Bug."
"Because I think you'll need a car and-" he paused and then looked at Justin. "Okay?"
"Okay. I was riding the bus this morning and realized that with John living with us and the potential of having Gus on a more permanent basis, it's ridiculous for me to refuse on the basis of pride."
"I'm not your sugar-daddy," Brian warned.
"I'm aware of that. But you are cream-filled and I love your cream," Justin said, leaning into his lover as Brian set a plate in the draining pan.
"You reminded me of that fact last night, dirty boy. But I still want to fuck you."
John emerged a few minutes later and Brian gave him a questioning glance. "I thought you guys needed a chance to talk alone. Can I help with the dessert, Justin?"
Surprised by the offer, Justin simply nodded. "Sure." He turned to Brian and said, "And you?"
"I'm going to the gym."
"Not the baths?"
"If I was going to the baths, I'd tell you. No, I'm going to work out. I may call Lindsay. She told me she found an apartment that she thought I'd approve of."
"What about a condo or townhouse?"
Brian stared at him. "I told her no because if she and Smelly Mel do get back together, she'll have another mortgage and I don't want to wind up co-signing on something that will just end up in default."
Brian pecked him on the lips and went to change while Justin showed John the fine art of making bananas foster.
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