Complications of the Mind

Chapter 19

At seven o'clock that evening, Brian and Justin sat uneasily on the couch in Jennifer Taylor's living room. John sat in an easy chair and Molly sat Indian-style on the floor. The two teenagers glanced at each other occasionally and finally Jennifer said, "Why don't you two go surf the net? Dinner will be ready in about half an hour."

Justin's expression turned dark as John and Molly disappeared upstairs. "Mom!" he protested.

Giving him a bland expression, Jennifer opened her eyes wide and asked, "What's wrong, honey?"

Pouting, Justin said, "Nothing. Nothing's wrong."

Jennifer looked at Brian and he squirmed under her insistent gaze. "Stop staring please. It makes me itchy."

"Want something to drink?" she asked, ever the polite hostess.

"Double bourbon on the rocks," Brian said, ignoring the look his partner gave him. "Stop acting like a nervous father," he hissed under his breath.

When Jennifer returned, she asked, "So when are you going to California, sweetheart?"

"Um, I'm not," he said.

"What?" she asked, glancing at Brian who shrugged his shoulders. "Why?"

"The studio honchos want someone with more experience."

"Are you disappointed?"

"Kind of." Justin reached for Brian's glass of whiskey and took a deep swallow.

Jennifer smiled at him and noted that her son's partner didn't even bat an eyelash at the familiarity of the gesture but then she realized they shared even more intimate things so drinking after each other was nothing. Still, she kind of missed that sort of casual intimacy that came with being lovers. "Um, Jen," Brian began. "We're going to New York on Friday."

"Business trip?"

Brian swallowed deeply and it was his turn to reach for the glass. "No, a honeymoon of sorts," he said, biting the words off as if it were a pencil snapping in two.

"Honeymoon?" she repeated, glancing at him. "You two have something you want to tell me?"

Justin glared at Brian and then said, "It's an opportunity for us to spend some time together away from the Pitts. We're not getting married, Mom."

"Oh," Jennifer said, unaware that her expression conveyed disappointment in that simple pronouncement. She wouldn't mind seeing her son and Brian exchange vows, she realized, thinking of how far they'd all come. How much they'd all weathered together and the storms that Brian and Justin were bound to face in the future. "You two need someone to watch John?"

"I was going to ask Cynthia," Brian said. "But if you're offering-" he let his words trail off and she glanced askance at him.

"For pity's sake, Brian. It's not an imposition and I don't mind keeping an eye on him."

"But-" he began and then stopped unsure of what he'd intended to say.

"You're going to hurt my feelings," she warned him. "We're family, remember."

At the simple words, Brian stood wordlessly and crossed to the doors that opened onto a small patio. He opened the doors and stepped outside, closing the doors behind him. Jennifer looked at her son and asked, "Was it something I said?"

Slowly Justin shook his head and glanced out at his lover standing alone on the patio. "No, Mom. Just let him be."

"Did something happen today?" she asked, unable or unwilling to let the subject drop for the sake of all involved. It was something that came with being a mother, Justin thought.

Justin dragged his eyes back to meet his mother's warm gaze and finally said, "He found out that Michael is going to support Melanie to keep him away from Gus. That his best friend isn't so much of a friend as he once thought."

"Are you two okay?" Jennifer asked, knowing how important Michael was to Brian. She glanced at her son-in-law standing by himself on the patio and wondered at the wounds that ran deep within Brian's soul.

They watched Brian pull a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket and light up. "He looks so sad," she observed. "And so alone."

"For a long time Michael was all he had, Mom. He's mourning a loss in the only way Brian knows how. I'm just surprised that he's coping like this."

"Pain management?"

Justin narrowed his eyes at his mother and said, "You've been talking to Debbie." His voice was full of reproach and Jennifer shifted under the accusing gaze.

"I know that Brian often went to the bars when he was hurt to fuck someone. I know that he often drinks or gets high when the pain gets to be too much." She glanced at her son and finally said, "Shouldn't you go out there?"

Justin shook his head. "He'll come back in when he's ready."

As if Brian had heard the words, he turned to look at them. From his place outside, Brian took a deep drag on the cigarette and finally sat down on one of the chairs, quietly smoking. Left alone with his thoughts was often a negative but today he needed the solitude. He was sure his mother-in-law was wondering at his behavior and curious as to why his lover wasn't outside with him.

Brian finally tossed the cigarette aside and stood. He opened the door and returned to the living room. "If you want to smoke," Jennifer began, "you don't have to go outside."

Justin stared at his mom but remained silent. Amazing how things had changed, he observed. Brian gave a brusque nod, returning to his seat on the couch. He put one hand on the sofa and Justin placed his on top. Brian gently squeezed and Jennifer bit her lip. She'd never seen Brian with all his defenses down but somehow her son had breached his armor. "Honey," she said quietly, "why don't you go check on the kids?"

Justin nodded and left the living room to check on John and Molly, leaving Brian and Jennifer alone to talk. Brian studied his hands as if they were a fascinating piece of object d'art. She stood and said, "You mind helping me with the food?"

Brian dragged his gaze from his hands upward to land on her face. He offered a hesitant smile and then nodded. He followed her into the kitchen, leaning against the counter, as she pulled down plates and glasses. She handed him the plates and Brian set them at the respective places. He wondered for a brief moment who sat at the head of her table now that Craig was gone and then dismissed it. No need to torture himself with that reminder. She removed a crystal ashtray from the nether regions of the cabinet and handed it to Brian wordlessly.

"Thanks," he said quietly.

Jennifer gave him an appraising glance and said, "John's welcome to crash here tonight, Brian. You look exhausted."

"Thanks for the offer but I'm not pawning him off on you. He's my nephew."

"I care about you, Brian. All I meant was that he's more than welcome to crash in the extra bedroom."

"Sorry for being an asshole," Brian said, feeling somewhat sheepish for his churlish behavior. "It's been a long day and I am wiped. If your offer still stands about taking the kid while Sunshine and I are in New York, I'd like to drop him off on Thursday night. We have a 5 a.m. flight."

"Why so early?" she asked, curiosity winning out over her reluctance to pry.

Brian smiled slightly. He pulled out his cigarettes and extracted one, looking at her for permission. She nodded, "Go ahead."

Lighting up gratefully, he said, "The last time Justin was in New York he didn't have an opportunity to see much of the sights. And he got hurt before we could go to the Bahamas. And then business got in the way of us going to Vermont. I'm trying my damnedest to make up for the vacations together we've lost. This one is not going to get fucked up. I intend to make this the best five days of his life, Jen. It's-he's important to me."

"Got it," she said. She removed a dish from the oven and Brian inhaled and then raised an eyebrow.

"Deb's vegetarian lasagna?" he asked.

Jennifer nodded. "I know how you feel about carbs but I figured you might forgo your rule if I made this without meat."

Touched, Brian spoke around the sudden lump in his throat, "Thanks."

"Mind going and getting Justin?"

Silently, Brian shook his head, crushing out his cigarette. He stepped towards her and then said quietly, "Thank you, Mother Taylor."

"You used to say that so sarcastically," she observed.

Brian looked at her and smiled. "You've had the dubious pleasure of making the acquaintance of my mother, Jen. I know you wondered why I made the point of introducing you to her as my mother-in-law."

"The thought did cross my mind," she admitted.

"I don't know that Justin and I will ever move beyond being partners but he's the closest thing I've got to a husband, Jen. And you're the closest thing I've got to a mom other than Debbie. It wasn't meant sarcastically or to demean or ridicule you. I dislike my mother with a passion that borders on pathos but I don't feel that way about you."

"I think that's the sweetest thing you've ever said to me, Brian."

"Don't spread that around," he cautioned her, then lightened the words with a grin.

He crossed to the foot of the stairs and then made his way up. He paused in the doorway to the first bedroom, finding Justin sacked out on the bed, snoring lightly. He closed the door behind him and lay down on the bed beside him. Poor kid, he thought, as he wondered just how much trouble he'd get into if he seduced his lover with his mother cooking dinner downstairs. Bad Brian, bad Brian, bad Brian, his good angel said. But his bad angel thought it was a good idea. Fortunately for all concerned, the door swung open and John burst in, stopping dead in his tracks as he saw them.

He backed out, closing the door behind him. He and Molly went downstairs where her mom was prepping the salad. Jennifer looked at her daughter and John and said, "Where are Brian and Justin?"

It was John who answered. "Justin's asleep in the guest room and I think Brian's close to it."

"I'll go get Jus," Molly volunteered, eager for the opportunity to torment her older brother.

Jennifer narrowed her eyes and finally just shook her head. "Leave the boys alone, Molly. Dinner will keep and I can send the leftovers home with your brother."

"I want to talk to Brian," Molly protested. "I like Brian."

John snorted and was the recipient of a Molly Taylor glare. "What is your damage?" she snapped at him.

"Don't be such a girl," John said, reaching to nip a piece of lettuce from the salad only to have his hand swatted by Jennifer. He had to admit the dinner smelled better than anything his mother had ever attempted to cook. And the only really decent thing his grandmother could cook was the chocolate chocolate chip cake that she could only make when she wasn't three-sheets to the wind.

"Okay, kids," Jennifer said, cutting a healthy slab of lasagna for John and a smaller portion for her and Molly. "Let's eat."

"You don't want to call the guys down?" Molly asked, hopefully.

"Let them sleep, honey. I think they need it."

"I know they need it," John said, then flushed as he realized what he'd revealed. His uncle was gonna kill him, he thought.

The rhythmic sound of Justin's light snoring lulled Brian into sleep as he curled around him. When Justin awoke, it was to find that a blanket had been put over them and he wasn't alone in bed. He glanced at the digital clock and uttered a muffled curse. He gently untangled himself from Brian and quietly opened the door, walking to the master bedroom. His mom was in bed reading and Justin tapped on the door. She looked up and smiled at him. "Hi, honey."

"Where's John?" he asked, voice sleep-roughened.

"He's asleep on the couch downstairs. Go back to bed, honey. I'll take you guys home in the morning." She put a finger in the book to mark her place and said, "There's lasagna in the fridge downstairs if you and Brian get hungry."

"Thanks, Mom," Justin said, turning to return to the guest room. He closed the door behind him and encountered a visibly sleepy and cranky Brian. "I woke up and you weren't there," he grumbled.

"Come back to bed, Brian."


"Downstairs couch. Come on, Bri."

Unusually docile, Brian let himself be led back to the bedroom. He waited as Justin turned down the covers and they both undressed, sliding naked underneath the covers. Brian made a strange sound as Justin settled in his arms and it prompted the blond to ask a question. "What's wrong?"

"I'm someone's son-in-law," Brian said, still vaguely unnerved at the thought.

"I know." Brian fretted about things at the oddest of times, Justin observed. "Go to sleep."

"Want to fuck you."

Justin glanced at him, realizing after a moment that he was serious as a heart attack. "We can't have sex in my mother's house," he hissed at him.

"Why not? She knows we fuck," Brian reminded him. "And she knows we do it a lot. We fucked in Michael's old bedroom."

"That was different," Justin said, but couldn't really figure out how that was different, only knowing that it was.

"Fine," Brian finally said, irritation clear in his voice.

"We don't have anything with us."

Brian turned onto his side and looked at Justin. "Justin. You can't tell me that you don't want to feel me inside you without latex. I'm offering."

Justin couldn't explain his reluctance and he knew he was close to pissing Brian off. He sat up and looked at his lover. "It doesn't seem right somehow."

Brian huffed and closed his eyes as he heard Justin settle in bed. Justin's torso against his back, Brian felt Justin's arms creep around him. "I love you. I know it was my idea but I want it to be right."

"Goodnight, Justin. We have an appointment with Miranda tomorrow afternoon."

Around three, Brian pulled on his jeans and padded downstairs. He walked into the kitchen and removed the container of leftovers. He pulled out a beer and nuked the lasagna. He was eating when he saw a blond head sitting across the table from him. "Why are you pissed?" asked Justin, speaking quietly because John was still sleeping.

"I don't really know. It just feels like you're rejecting me."

"We have sex nearly every time either of us is in the mood and sometimes when we're not. Christ, Brian, our sex life should be studied by Masters & Johnson. I don't like feeling guilty for wanting to be sure we're ready. I know that it would have been a huge mistake to fuck bareback when I originally suggested it. We weren't in that place yet. I think we are now."

"What are you waiting for? A Goodyear blimp to fly across the sky with a banner that reads 'Brian loves Justin'?" Brian asked sarcastically. He took a last bite of lasagna and leaned back in his chair.

"Fuck you, Brian," Justin said, pushing his chair back, unable to hide the telltale sniffle. He crossed the room hearing the muttered curse from behind him. He was halfway up the stairs when Brian turned him around to face him, pulling him flush against his body. "What do you need from me?"

"I don't know," Justin said, miserably. "It's just I don't want us to fuck raw for the first time in the guestroom at my mother's house. Can you understand that or are you too horny to see reason?"

"Shit, Justin," Brian said on an exhaled breath, releasing him. Then a realization occurred to him and he met the shining blue eyes of his lover. "You want it to happen in New York," he said quietly. "You want there to be champagne and rose petals and just you and me without the possibility of interruption. You want this to be our moment of perfect happiness."

"Yeah," Justin finally said. "I know you think I'm some silly little faggot for wanting that."

"Shut up."


"Shut up, little boy. I get it." He reached for Justin's hand and took it, leading him into the bedroom, closing the door behind them. Justin crawled into bed first, facing away from him and Brian growled in frustration. "Don't run away from me."

"Where the fuck would I go?" he snarked.

Brian sighed and climbed back into bed, pulling the covers up over them. "I understand it. I never told you what I had planned for us the night of prom, did I?"

Justin shook his head and reluctantly turned to face his lover. "What did you have planned?"

"Champagne. We were going to fuck all night long and I was ready to let you fuck me. I was ready to face the dawn with you. And then my plans got shot because of that sick, twisted little fuck. And we lost out on the Bahamas."

"Would you have gone with me?"

Brian smirked. "If you'd asked me, yes. Still think I know fuck-all about romance?"

For the rest of his life, Justin was going to regret saying those words to Brian. "And Vermont?"

"I was going to tell you that I considered you my partner. That wasn't just us getting away from the Pitts because we needed it; it was a change in the dynamics of our relationship. That pendant you're wearing is the closest I can come to promising you anything, Justin. I wanted to go on that trip just as much as you did. So New York is really fucking important to me, too. I want those memories to hold onto even if we fade away, Justin. We're in it for the long haul but that doesn't mean that we'll stay together for ever. There will be men we both meet who test the mettle of our relationship. I understand you wanting to wait. I just wish you'd tell me."

"I thought you'd laugh at me," he whispered.

Sighing, Brian kissed his forehead. "My silly little boy. My silly little Sunshine. Don't you know by now that there is little that I find stupid about you? I love you."

"So you keep saying," Justin teased quietly.

Brian halfheartedly glared at him. "Go back to sleep, drama princess."

" 'Kay," Justin said, as he drifted back into sleep.

Jennifer woke up the next morning to the aroma of coffee brewing. Wrinkling her nose with surprise and unexpected pleasure, it occurred to her that there was only one possible person who had a coffee jones so early in the morning. She pulled on a robe, her good one-not the battered one that she wore out to get the newspaper-and didn't want to dwell on the reason for that overlong.

She slipped on her slippers and walked downstairs to find Brian at the table, cigarette in hand, newspaper spread out in front of him, and a cup of coffee at his elbow. He looked up sheepishly and said, "I kind of made myself at home."

Since she could see that and she wanted coffee so much she could kiss him, she simply nodded. Noticing what he was reading, she raised an eyebrow. "The sports page, Brian?"

"I have a client who is a major player in the sports world. I try to keep up and I catch the occasional Steelers game." He paused and said, "What-you expected me to read the Arts & Leisure section?"

Jennifer blushed and Brian grinned mischievously at her, and she realized belatedly that he was teasing her. It was nice, she reflected, that he was comfortable enough with her now that he could drop his guard and not automatically deflect. "Justin and I work the crossword puzzle on Sundays. We trade off."

She went to the coffee pot and poured herself a mug, then sat down at the table opposite him. "I'm glad you two are together. I walked into the guest room last night and saw how close you two were."

Brian frowned slightly and she hurried to explain, "No, nothing like that. It's just nice seeing how comfortable you are with each other. I never got that sense when he was-well, when he wasn't with you."

"Better the devil you know than the devil you don't, eh?"

"No," she said shortly. "Want me to fix you some breakfast?"

"I usually just grab an English muffin or a bagel."

"And sometimes you forgo breakfast altogether."

"How'd you know?"

"I was married to a Type-A personality, Brian, for twenty years. I see the same drive in your eyes that I saw in Craig's. Oh, I'm not comparing you to that bastard. I'm just saying that you two share a ruthless business acumen and a drive for success that propels you forwards."

Settling back in his chair, Brian felt some of the tension ease out of his body. "I never intended for any of this to happen. I never intended to cause Justin to lose his dad. I hated my old man but Justin had the love of his from day one until I walked into his life." He took a last drag off the cigarette and crushed it out with a ferocity that surprised her.

"Remember me saying I'm onto you when you told me about you being sick?"

Brian nodded and she smiled at him as she got up from the table and went to the refrigerator to remove eggs, butter, and milk. She looked back at him and said, "I consider you my son, Brian. And I think Molly idolizes you. She's proud that her brother has such a handsome, successful partner."

Brian blushed, uncomfortable with the effusive praise. Jennifer got out the skillet and proceeded to briskly whisk the eggs together and then returned to the fridge to remove the bacon. "I-um, I like her too. I think she's a good kid."


Brian took a sip from his cup of coffee and asked, "How was John last night?"

"Your nephew was good. He and Molly teased each other a lot. I think it's good for him to have a safe place to land away from the pressures."

"It sucks that he needs a soft place to land, Jen."

"You had one," she reminded him softly.

"It's what saved me," he admitted. "Having Deb and Mikey there saved me."

"I don't want to pry but if things were that bad why didn't social services step in to get you out?"

"It's different today. But I didn't want Pop to get into any trouble and Mom would just say I was lying. That it was just regular punishment for bad behavior."

"But it wasn't normal punishment."

"No," Brian agreed, "it wasn't. I'm sure you don't want to hear about this."

Jennifer hesitated a brief moment and gave him a reassuring glance. Reluctantly he continued, "I got a 'B' on a math test when Pop wanted me to get an A. A frigging 'B', Jen. Not a low, borderline 'B' but a high 'B'. Didn't matter to him. He saw the test grade and called me downstairs. He told me to go out to the garage and strip down. Then he proceeded to get the bull whip that he'd gotten from some distant relative in Texas or bumfuck Oklahoma and began to lash me with it. I don't know how many times he hit me but I do know that I blacked out from the pain. I woke up, cold and naked, and alone in our fucking garage. I walked into the house and nobody was there. They'd gone out for some fucking reason."

Jennifer gasped and Brian smiled sardonically at her instinctive reaction. A hand went to her mouth and she grasped at the edge of the counter. "Oh my God, Brian."

"It wasn't unusual, Jen. Then there were the times he'd tie my wrists around a column in the garage and beat me with a fucking belt. And then he'd hit me." He avoided looking at her, knowing that he'd see the sympathy that all the Taylors were so good at. He didn't want or need that. "Just an ordinary day in the Kinney household." He wasn't about to share the horrors that Claire had experienced.

"What about your mom?"

He barked a short laugh and said, "She'd get lost in a bottle of sherry, thankful that it was me who got the brunt of Pop's anger and not her."

"Why did he hate you so much?" she breathed out.

Brian's mouth twisted in a snarl. "Because I was the boy who lived."

She turned back to the skillet, checking on the eggs, aware that tears were coursing down her face.

In the living room, John shivered underneath his pile of blankets. He suddenly understood his uncle a little better. He couldn't believe that the man who'd taught him how to play darts was the same man who had so brutalized his son. It cast a whole new light on his grandfather and his grandmother.

Finally he sat up and walked to the downstairs bathroom. When he returned to the living room, he saw Brian's eyes were trained on him though he rather thought his uncle wasn't really seeing him but a blank space. Jennifer turned around, spooning eggs onto two plates, and smiled at John. She saw Brian's vacant expression and said quietly, "John, go get Justin. Now."

John nodded and fairly ran up the stairs. He opened the bedroom door and said, "Justin. Wake up."

Justin stirred sleepily in bed and then slowly, very slowly, opened his eyes. He saw the scared expression of John and said, "What's wrong?"


Hastily grabbing a pair of sweatpants that he'd intentionally left at his mom's, Justin took the stairs two at a time, ahead of John. He knelt at his lover's feet and looked up at his mother. "What happened?"

"He was telling me about his childhood and all of a sudden he just zoned out."

"Fuck!" Justin said vehemently.

Jennifer stifled an immediate chastisement and realized now wasn't the time. Her son was concerned about his lover. "Bri," Justin said, spreading his hands on Brian's thighs. "Come on back to me."

"Does this happen a lot?" Jennifer asked, worry clear in her tone.

"No," Justin said shortly. "It only happens when he goes into emotional overload and his body just decides Brian's had enough." He looked at his mom and John. "Can you two give us some space?"

Jennifer nodded and looked at the teenager. "We'll be upstairs, honey. Take your time." For the first time, she saw the fragility in Brian that lay underneath all the steel that he presented to the public.

When they were alone, Justin kissed him. He wrapped his arms around Brian, noting how cold the other man felt. No, he realized, this wasn't good. "Come on, baby. I need you," Justin had to force himself to remain calm, to not allow himself to panic. Panicking would do no one any good, least of all Brian himself.

Justin sat there with him, slowly nearing a full-blown panic, when he heard Brian's voice, say shakily, "Sunshine?"

"Yeah, Bri. I'm here."

"I'm cold," he observed, sounding like a child.

It was when Brian was like this that terrified Justin the most. He'd been with Brian through more mood swings than Mother Nature had seasons but when he shut down like he did it was terrifying. And way too close to catatonia for comfort. "I'm so cold," he repeated.

"Come on," Justin said. "Can you stand?"

"Think so," he said, feeling as if he were lost in a hazy fog. He tried to stand and his knees buckled. Justin cursed and then took a tighter grip on his lover. It was not easy getting Brian mobile but he'd gotten him upstairs when Brian was too tweaked or too drunk to make it under his own steam. Too many times to count. "Oops," he said, then giggled slightly. The sound went through Justin like a chill.

They slowly made their way across the living room and finally up the stairs. He stopped in front of his mom's bedroom and said, "Mom, can you and John clear out? I'll explain later. Just keep Mollusk out of here for the near future."

"Honey, is he okay?"

"He will be," Justin said, as he steered Brian in the direction of his mom's bathroom. Usually a hot shower helped but Justin figured that a steamy bath would suffice today. He hated the fact that the loft didn't have a bathtub. It was the single thing that he wanted to install when he and Brian closed on the loft downstairs.

He heard the door close behind his mother and John and then closed the bathroom door behind them. "Justin," Brian's voice was all too quivery, a prelude to an ancient, even more crotchety Brian. God help us all.

"Yeah, baby. I'm here."

" 'Kay."

He stripped Brian out of the jeans and began to run the bathtub, relieved when the temperature approached a near scalding heat. He closed the drain and helped Brian in while he tossed his sweatpants aside, climbing in. Brian's head lolled back as he leaned against the wall, his mouth open slightly. "Jesus, Bri," Justin said, his voice almost inaudible. He was thankful that his mother had installed a huge garden tub instead of a standard-size tub. He turned to face Brian, smoothing an errant strand of hair aside.

He wasn't sure how long they sat in the bathtub together but he did know when Brian looped his arms about him, pulling him close. "Did I scare you?" Brian finally asked, his voice slowly returning to normal.

"Yeah, you scared me but more importantly than that, you terrified your nephew. And scared the shit out of my mom."

"Hey," Brian protested. "I didn't intend to scare either of them. I don't exactly have control of this, Justin."

"It's like a fucking waking coma, Brian. I wish you'd find out what the fuck causes it," Justin said, finally giving into the panic he'd held in check for so long.

"Okay, okay, don't DQ out on me."

Justin turned to glare at him. "My lover goes into a state and every single time it happens it gets worse and worse. Brian, what if it happens and I'm not around? What if this happens again and you actually lapse into catatonia? I can't fucking handle losing you!" he yelled.

Stunned by the force of Justin's reaction, Brian wisely kept silent. Then he said, "Okay, I'll go get a CAT and a PET and an MRI to find out. And you can go with me."

"Well, thank you, oh great one, for giving me permission to find out what the fuck is wrong with my lover. Jesus, Brian, sometimes you just piss the hell out of me. You went to the doctor immediately when you knew something was wrong that could seriously impact your sex life but this you won't get into. Where the fuck are your fucking priorities?"

It was a foregone conclusion that the DQ moment Brian had been hoping to avoid was in full-swing. Justin's eyes blazed with temper and then he just began to full out sob, crumpling in Brian's embrace. "Ssh, baby, it's okay," Brian said, as Justin leaned against him, tears falling on his bare torso.

"If you ask me if it's my fucking allergies, I'll have to seriously hurt you," Justin growled, voice muffled.

Brian figured laughing was not a wise option at the moment so he said, "It's okay."

Finally Justin settled down and pulled away from him, giving him a baleful look, letting Brian know that the worst of the storm had passed but there was more on the forecast. He met the glare and said quietly, "I was telling your mom about the times Pop beat me. Then I just went numb. It's like I lose all sensation, Justin. If it's fucking scary to you, it's scary to me too."

"Yes, I know, Mr. Control Freak. If this were happening to me, you know goddamn well that you'd have called an ambulance and have a whole battery of tests run. But because it's you, well, that's different for some fucked up reason. Jesus, Brian, do you have a death wish?"

"Not anymore."

Justin quieted at that, staring at him.

"You think I didn't consider it after you left me? And after I got the diagnosis and realized I was gonna lose a ball and you, all in one fell swoop? I'm not Rage, Justin. You cut me and I bleed. And I'm not a stranger to suicidal thoughts."

"I know. You think I don't worry that someday I'm going to come home and find you swinging from the rafters, Brian? That thought causes me to have nightmares. That someday you're just going to decide that enough is enough and you don't want to fight anymore and so you are gonna take the ultimate control over your destiny."

Brian didn't know quite what to say to that and he didn't know that words were necessary. He started to crack a joke but realized that with the mood his blond was in it was more than likely to backfire on him. Finally, he said quietly and with deliberation, "I would not put you through that pain, Justin."

"Pardon me, if I get little comfort from that statement."

"Hey, twat, cut it out. I'm not gonna check out on you. I promise."

Justin stared at him and finally said, "I-God, Brian. Do you know how scared I get when I think of having you in bed with me one day and then sitting in a fucking cemetery watching them lower you into the ground?"

"Did your fight with Michael transfer drag queen blood into you along with nervous Italian?" Brian asked, trying valiantly to make a joke. "Stop queening out, baby." He sighed and then added a, "Please."

Justin stood, glaring fiercely down at Brian, who looked all too vulnerable sitting there naked. And this was a man who embraced nudity without the slightest worry about modesty. "I'm going to go eat breakfast. You sit there."

"Are you punishing me?" Brian asked. "I don't do this on purpose, Justin."

Justin sighed, opened a cabinet and then sighed with disbelief as he scanned the contents. He finally turned around to face Brian with a tube and a box. Brian grinned at him. "Want to fuck in the bathtub?" he suggested, leering suggestively at him.

"I'm still pissed off at you," Justin said, but the edge of his temper was becoming much blunter. "And it's my mom's house."

"So, it's not like we'll leave jizz stains in here, Justin. That's the good thing about bathtubs. They have drains and all the evidence will just drain away. Come on, baby. Please?"

When Brian resorted to pleading, there was little Justin could deny him. But he still felt vaguely uncomfortable. He looked down at Brian and saw his lover was hardening in anticipation. He bit his lip and then handed the condom and lube to Brian. "You win," he said, climbing back into the bathtub.

Brian kissed him hard, tongues dancing in a primal dance that was as instinctive to them now as any other sexual act they engaged in. Justin responded in kind, eyes locked on Brian's, as Brian broke the kiss to nip at his neck. "Don't break the flesh," Justin cautioned.

"Is it okay, if I give you a hicky?"

"Marking your territory?"


"Well, then," Justin said, smiling as he tilted his head to give Brian better access, "go right ahead."

Justin's own cock was growing hard against his belly and Brian smiled knowingly at him. So predictable. Finally, he told Justin to move so he could put the condom on. Justin turned so his back was to him, and Brian put his hands on his hips to guide him down onto his dick. Both men sighed as Justin took the full nine and a ½ inches into him. "Jesus Christ, baby, you're so fucking tight," Brian ground out, then said nothing as Justin began to swivel his hips. Justin began to move up and down and Brian said, "Ride me, little boy. Ride my dick."

He knew that Justin was pulling on his own cock as Brian fucked his tight little hole. Justin slammed down on him and Brian smiled at the sensation. It wasn't long before Justin made sure that the tip of Brian's dick was brushing against his prostate, his money spot. "Shoot baby," Brian said, aware he was close but wanting Justin to get off first.

Justin bit his lip as he began to shoot, continuing to move up and down on Brian's dick, knowing that Brian had to be getting close but was waiting for him to ride it out. That was the thing most people didn't realize about Brian: he might have a reputation as a top but he made sure that the bottom got off. It wasn't all about his pleasure. Brian muffled his own shout against Justin's shoulder as he unloaded into the condom, unaware of just how much his own balls had been storing. Cum streaked the tile wall and Brian grinned at the sight as he slipped out of Justin's hole. He pulled off the condom and tossed it into the waste basket.

"Mom's gonna wonder about that," Justin observed, too satiated to even care.

"Do you care?"

"Uh uh," Justin said, suddenly aware that the water had grown cool. "I'm sure they are wondering about us."

He made to stand and then reached for a washcloth to wipe the remnants from the tile wall. It wasn't a gift he intended to leave for his mom. God only knew how long it'd been since Jennifer had gotten some. Brian accepted Justin's help to stand up and they dried each other off. Justin was poised to open the door when Brian spoke quietly. "Sunshine, I'll make an appointment to see a neurologist when we get back from the Big Apple."

"Okay," Justin said, relieved that Brian wasn't going to allow his stupid, stubborn pride to prevent himself from getting checked out by a reliable physician.

Brian was well aware of his lover's mood despite the hot fuck they'd just shared. The only thing hotter would be if it had been raw. And Brian nearly groaned aloud at the thought because he found that he wanted that with Justin more than almost anything in the world and once he'd nearly throttled the kid for suggesting it. What the fuck is happening to me he wondered.

Finally emerging downstairs, they found John watching television while Jennifer puttered around in the kitchen. "Mollusk get off to school?" Justin asked.

"Yeah," Jennifer said, finally turning around to face her son and son-in-law. She noticed that Brian couldn't quite meet her eye and the truth crashed in on her. They'd had sex in her bathroom!

"You two want breakfast? Or did Brian already get a high protein snack this morning?" Jennifer's question was unnecessarily snarky and the two men glanced at each other, both scenting trouble in the wind.

"Um, Mom. You pissed at us?"

Jennifer took a deep breath and exhaled as she glared daggers at Brian. It was a look he hadn't seen since they'd reconciled and frankly he hated being the recipient of the Taylor death glare. "Just tell me that you two cleaned up afterwards."

Oh yeah, definitely trouble, Brian thought. And he realized that she was pissed off at him. "Um, yes ma'am, we cleaned up after ourselves." He looked at Justin. "Right, honey?"

Justin glared at him and said, "Um, I left something upstairs. I'll be right back." He was going to fucking kill Brian for making him dispose of the fucking evidence.

Brian sat down at the kitchen table and was quiet, thinking that if he remained silent he wouldn't be noticed. No such luck. Jennifer slammed a plate of eggs and bacon down in front of him and then slammed a cabinet door. "Jennifer, did I do something to make you angry?" he asked, taking a bite of egg reluctantly, wondering absently if she'd poisoned his food.

"You scared the shit out of me, Brian. I don't like it when my son-in-law goes catatonic in front of me and then comes out of it only when he's in a steamy hot bath and then fucks my son in my bathroom. So yeah, I'm pissed at you. But I'm also grateful that we aren't visiting you in a hospital, you stubborn man."

"I'm going to get checked out after we get back from New York. Your son already read me the riot act, Mom," Brian said, hoping desperately that the attempt at charm would soothe Mama Taylor's ruffled feathers. It hadn't escaped his notice that she'd referred to him as a son.

Jennifer started to rant again and then realized what he'd called her. Well hell, she thought, how can I be mad at him when he just called me Mom? He took another bite of eggs and wondered if he could coax her into pouring him a cup of coffee. "You promise me that you are going to find out what causes that to happen, Brian?"

"Yes," he said. "Your son was scared shitless too, you know."

Jennifer could just bet he was. She crossed to look out into her backyard and then finally said, "I don't want to lose you, Brian. My son loves you and somehow I've come to love you too. So find out what's going on, please."

"You're not going to tell me that I should call my mother?"

Jennifer laughed shortly. "I've met your mother, Brian. There are snakes warmer than your mother. No, somehow I don't think Joan Kinney would bat an eyelash if she found out something was wrong with you. On the other hand, Debbie and I would be the ones beside ourselves if something happened to you."

Justin had reappeared to hear the tail end of their conversation. His eyes widened as he heard his mother's words. Somehow Brian had charmed his mother and he found that he was so relieved by that fact. He'd gotten under her skin and she cared about what happened to him now. He wondered if Brian was as happy to know that as he was. God knew it was about fucking time.

Mid-afternoon, John was settled at Brian's computer working on something and Brian and Justin were bored. Unable to engage in their favorite activity, they looked at each other and simultaneously smiled at each other. "You guys can go out, you know," John said, not looking up from the keyboard, fingers flying across the keys.

"Trying to get rid of us?" Brian asked.

John sighed and finally looked up from whatever it was that he was working on so prodigiously. "I'm cramping your style, Brian. Why don't you call the Doc and see if she can squeeze you two in earlier?"

Well, that was actually a brilliant idea, Brian thought. He gently dislodged Justin who made a slight sound of protest and then dialed Miranda's number. 'Hey, Isabella. Can Miranda squeeze me and Justin in any earlier?"

"She actually had a cancellation. Can you two come in now?"

"Yeah. Not a problem," Brian said. He hung up the phone and glanced down at Justin's prostrate form. "Get up, sonny boy. The good doctor had a cancellation and can see us now."

Justin beamed a bright, brilliant smile at him, reminding Brian once again why Debbie had dubbed him Sunshine. He held out his hand and Brian helped him to his feet. As they were on their way out of the loft, Brian turned back to his nephew and said, "Don't surf any porn sites."

Then he shut the door behind him as Justin went into a gale of laughter. "I can't believe you just told him that," he finally managed to say.

"Why?" Brian asked, trying to keep a straight face. Okay, that set him off. He pulled the grate down and pushed Justin into a corner of the elevator. "I'll be fucking glad when he has his own space. I don't mind having the kid around but I miss being able to walk around the loft naked and not having to worry about a kid who has gone through hell at the hands of some miscreant. I miss us being able to fuck wherever and whenever we wanted, being free to make as much noise as possible. I miss hearing you shout my name when you shoot, Justin."

"We don't have to leave the hotel room," Justin said. "We can fuck all day."

"My dick will be rubbed raw and your ass will be sore. Nope, we fucked like energizer bunnies one day and remember how sore you were? We're going to see the sights, Sunshine."

"You had taken Viagra, Brian!"

"I'm well aware of that fact, Justin. I'm also aware of what else happened that day. Fastest way to make my dick soft and me angry is to bring up my mother. So just don't."

Justin nodded, realizing that there were some boundaries that just shouldn't be pushed. "We going to talk about today?" he hesitantly asked.

Brian didn't answer until they were in the Corvette. "Yeah, we need to talk about today. Miranda will want to know that I freaked out. She'll probably insist that I go in and do the tests now instead of waiting until we get back." He sighed with feeling and added, "We need this trip for us, Justin. We're both of us raw. This shit with Mikey and John and Gus is hard."

"You don't have to be strong, Brian. You're not fighting this battle alone."

"I know that but it's of some small comfort. My best friend for twenty years is completely okay with fucking me over and doesn't see that as wrong." Brian punched up the volume on a Metallica song and Justin winced. He only listened to the heavy metal when he was stressing about something.

Once in Miranda's office, Brian and Justin looked in two different directions. Miranda marked the studied expressions of her patient and his lover and bit back a fierce comment. This wasn't healthy, dammit.

"Brian, do you want to start? I know you mentioned something about you and Justin considering having unprotected sex? I can't begin to tell you how concerned that makes me." Miranda spoke, fully aware of the judgmental note in her voice.

Brian glared at her and said, "Miranda, I'm not fucking Caligula. I don't have orgies and for a long time Justin has been the only one I've been fucking. I'm not stupid enough to engage in unprotected sex."

"So is this a step towards monogamy and solid commitment to Justin?"

Justin heard Brian sigh and then finally he said, "Yeah, it's a fucking commitment to Justin, no pun intended. The only time I engage in unprotected sex with a party other than Justin is when I'm getting blown. Otherwise, I always suit up."

Well accustomed to Brian's bluntness when it came to his sexual activity and experience, Miranda simply made a notation. "So why do you want this now?"

Brian hesitated a moment and then looked down at his feet, big feet encased in $500 dollar shoes.

Miranda recognized the maneuver as classic Kinney avoidance and so turned her attention to his partner. "Justin?" she prodded gently.

Justin looked at his hands and finally dragged his pretty blue eyes up to meet her emerald green eyes. There was no give in Miranda's gaze and he realized that she was dead serious when she expressesd concern about their sex life. "He told me he loves me, Miranda. We're partners in every sense of the word. We're buying the loft downstairs. We're taking care of his nephew and we're seeking partial custody of our son. I asked this when I was nineteen and was so fucking green. So naïve. But Brian and I have both changed now."

"What's changed?" she asked.

It was Brian who answered. "I finally realized that the only one I really want to be fucking is him. That I just go through the motions to get off and with him it's true intimacy. It's a spiritual encounter when we have sex. I love him and I didn't think that would ever happen to me. He's not walking away from me and I'm not running for the hills. This was my idea. It was a fantasy to him and a scary thought for me."

"Why now?"

"Because I'm willing to forego the tricking or at least try to. If something happens it happens, but both of us know that we would never put the other's health at risk. I'm not going to play Russian roulette with his health. We're clean. We're both clean, Miranda. I know he didn't fuck raw with the fiddler."

"Is that true?" she asked, cutting him off.

"Yes, it's true. Ethan asked me and I told him no."

"Why? I thought you were in love with him."

Justin smiled uncomfortably and said, "Not the way I love Brian. It would have felt like I was really cheating on Brian if I had fucked Ethan bareback. And I guess I realized that if we ever did get back together, I would be risking Brian's health if something did change between us. I'm okay with us fucking with condoms, Miranda. But we're partners now. I think he considers me his-"

"Wife," Brian said. "Or husband. Mate. We aren't gonna have a civil ceremony with all our friends and family - frankly I can't take that. But I love him, Miranda. And if ever this was going to happen, the time is right. I'm thirty-three. I'm not going to be prime real estate much longer and I've found the person who's going to love me when I'm older."

"Is this an ego thing?" Miranda asked before Justin had a chance to do so.

"No fucking way," Brian snapped at her. "So are you my whateverthefuck?"

"I actually don't mind you calling me your wife even though I know you meant it as an insult," Justin said. "I've always been the little woman in our relationship," Justin said, looking at Miranda.

"It wasn't meant to be a slam at you, sonny boy. I was just irritated with the good doctor's view that this is some ego trip. That I'm risking both of our lives because I think I'm too old to pull the good tricks. That's bullshit."

"Jesus, Brian," Miranda started. "I didn't mean to piss you off. It's just I'm well aware of your sexual history and it's just strange to think of you only fucking one man."

"I'm aware of his sexual history," Justin said, allowing his irritation to show. "I know he hustled. I know he's had upwards of two thousand tricks, possibly more. I also know that he's pathologically careful. I also know that he would never consider this if he wasn't dead certain that we are going to last. I never set out to be Mrs. Brian Kinney but it's turning out that way. And I'll be damned if I let anyone dictate the terms of my relationship with Brian. Fuck that. We get enough of that from Michael. We don't need it from you too, Miranda."

"Do you want this, Justin?" she asked, ignoring his outburst for the moment. He was entitled to a drama princess moment.

Justin gripped the edge of his chair and Brian reached for his hand, grasping it in his bigger one. The two men exchanged a look and Miranda could nearly read the future in that look. She'd never seen that look on Brian Kinney's face before and it boggled her mind that it was Justin who had put that look on his face. "Yeah," he said, voice firm as he looked directly at her, "this is what I want. This trip to New York is our honeymoon. It's our Paris, Miranda. I love Brian. I trust Brian and I'm not leaving Brian, come hell or high water or fucking Republicans. Or Michael."

At that Miranda cracked a slight smile. Brian gripped his hand tighter and said, "I never wanted a relationship. I certainly never thought I'd end up with a wife or partner but somehow along the line Justin has moved from annoyance trick to ward to lover to boyfriend to lover to partner and now to somewhat of a spouse. Despite everything, he's stuck. And I don't want him to go away, Miranda. I'm happy with him and fuck everyone who thinks that he's using me. He and I know better. We've weathered an awful lot of shit together and he's still by my side. I love him, Doc. And you know better than anyone how difficult it is for me to say those words and not think of them as trite and overused and more worthy of a Hallmark card than coming out of my mouth. We're ready for this."

Miranda looked at both Brian and Justin and then said, "Justin, can you give us a moment?"

"Why?" the question came from Brian.

"I need to talk to you for a minute."

Brian reluctantly let go of Justin's hand and said, "You mind?"

Justin shook his head, kissing Brian, and then left, closing the door quietly behind him. Brian stood and walked to the other side of Miranda's desk, looking out the window, his back to her. "Brian?"

He turned and finally said, "What?"

"Is this what you really want? You have always said monogamy was bullshit, that fucking was the only real thing in your life."

Brian sat in the chair behind her desk, pulling the enameled cigarette box towards him and withdrawing one. "Where's your lighter?" he asked.

"Top drawer," she responded. "Don't change the subject. And if you're going to smoke in here open the window, please."

Brian did so and then lit the cigarette. He sighed and met her unflinching gaze. "I'm the one who brought this up, Miranda. Justin has dropped it and I've been tempted the past couple of days and he's been the one to remind me that we promised to talk to you first."

"Do you trust him?"

"Yeah, I trust him. I don't think he's going to bail on me again. We've fought a few times in the last couple of days but nothing major and we've worked it out. Buying the loft downstairs will give us space and he won't have to run home to Mommy or Daphne when we get edgy with each other."

"And you? When you feel penned in by the reality of commitment to Justin, are you going to run to the baths or Babylon?"

Brian glared at her. "Why does everyone think that the minute things get somewhat bad between us I'm going to run and fuck the nearest guy?"

"I don't know, Brian. Maybe past behavior has established a fucking pattern, pun intended." She paused and said, "I know I'm crossing the professional line here but I don't want to see you hurt. I was there after you reconciled with Justin and saw how raw you were. I know you love him and I know he loves you but you guys don't have the best track record and I think fucking raw is putting a band-aid on your relationship like straight couples use a baby."

"Fuck you, Miranda," Brian said, grinding out the cigarette. "I'm leaving."

"Brian," she cautioned, "this is exactly why I don't think having unprotected sex with him is a good idea."

"My decision," he said flatly.

"Yeah, Kinney, I know it's your decision. I also know that you have no prior history of commitment. And Justin's relationship with Ethan notwithstanding neither does he."

"He wears the fucking pendant I got him," he reminded her. "What do you want me to do, Miranda? Give him a fucking claddagh ring? Would that make you feel any better?"

"Have you thought about it?" she asked. "Thought about giving him a claddagh ring?"

He sat back down and lit another cigarette, studying the scratched surface of the mahogany desk. "You need to refinish this," he observed. Then he returned to the topic at hand and looked at the print behind her, before finally meeting her gaze. "Yes," he admitted quietly. "I've thought about giving him a claddagh ring but every time I think we're in that place something happens to remind me that the idea is fucking crazy. When I bought him that pendant, it crystallized a lot of emotions for me. I was peaceful when I bought it."

"Does Justin make you feel peaceful?"

"I don't know that I ever feel peaceful, Miranda. I do know that he's one of the few people who will ride out the storms with me. I don't know that he'd even accept a claddagh ring from me. Lindz suggested a commitment ceremony because it would look better to the courts when he and I seek joint custody of Gus."

"Did you talk to Justin about it?"

"He said he didn't need it," Brian responded, taking a drag off the cigarette and avoiding her eyes.

"Brian, look at me, please."

Hazel eyes met green and Miranda asked a question she'd never imagined asking Brian Kinney in a million years. "Do you need it?"

"I don't want to stand in front of friends and family pledging eternal love to him and all that schmaltzy shit. But I remember him asking me if I ever thought it would be us when Lindz and Mel got married. I didn't answer and he made some crack about how stranger things have happened. I think what Justin and I have doesn't need some certification but in some ways I would like to know that we're for keeps, that we'll stand the test of time."

Miranda sighed and tossed the file on the ottoman in front of her. She kicked off her heels and said, "Go to New York, Bri. Drive to Toronto if the mood strikes you. But you need to admit that you still have worries about his commitment to you and your relationship. Talk to him."

Brian took another drag off the cigarette and said quietly, "I went to the White Party a few years back. Justin was supposed to go with me but he stayed for the girls' wedding. I caught the bouquet that this drag queen tossed out into the audience. I held it and danced with it and didn't drop the fucking thing. If ever I have found the other part of my heart and, mind you, I don't know if I have, then Justin is it for me. He's the only person I would ever consider partnering up with. He gets me, Miranda. And the thought of losing him again, letting the possibility of a future slip through my fingers, scares the hell out of me. I'm not willing to risk it."

"But you're willing to risk your future, possibly your life, on a gamble?" she asked.

"He's a safe gamble, Miranda. I've got a parachute and I'm not worried about it not opening. He'll be there to catch me if I fall."

"Ultimately it's your decision," she said, still harboring doubts and reservations about his decision. "Anything else happen that I should know about?"

He paused and said, "I was telling Jen a little about my childhood and I went into a state. The closest thing I can describe it as is catatonia. I'm there but it's like I'm not there. The only thing that snaps me out of it is being in a hot shower. I don't understand it. I scared Justin and his mom and my nephew."

"I want you to go see a doctor," Miranda began. She couldn't imagine her life without Brian Kinney in it even though he caused her considerable agitation.

"He and I are going to New York for five days. Upon our arrival back in the Pitts, I will go see a neurologist. He will go with me because as he put it, I went immediately to a doctor when I realized I had a problem that would affect my sex life. But I've put this off."

"Will you let me give you some names, at least?" she asked, well aware of his stubbornness.


His easy acceptance surprised her but then everything Brian had said and done over the course of their session had surprised her. "You're clean?" she asked. "I don't mean just HIV. I mean across the board: are you completely clean?"

"Yeah, Miranda. We're both clean."

She sighed and finally said, "I'm not endorsing this decision, Bri. But if you trust him enough to lay your life at his feet and not worry that he's going to crush your heart, then take the step. Ultimately, it's your choice."

"I'll always worry that he's going to crush my heart, Miranda. He's ripped it out of my chest before but he's also sewn up the raw, gaping wounds. I trust him."

"Where are you staying?"

Brian grinned like a mischievous kid when he said, "The Honeymoon Suite at the Waldorf Astoria."

"Wow, Brian. I never knew you were a romantic."

"Yeah well, I prefer to be thought of as a cold-hearted asshole." He took a final pull of the cigarette and said, "He remembered the prom, Miranda. He remembers what I was telling him with that dance. He knows now why remembering that dance was so important to me."

While it didn't change everything, it went a long way towards explaining Brian's behavior. She watched him grind out the cigarette. "I'm happy for you, Brian. I'll see you when you get back, right?"

"Yeah, Doc. You'll still get your weekly dose of the Kinney income from me."

"Fuck you, Brian. It's not about the money, you know that."

"There's the infamous Jameson temper I know and love," he quipped. He turned serious as he said, "I wouldn't be doing this if I thought it was the wrong thing. If I thought for an instant that I was putting his life at risk, I'd back off. The last thing in the world I want is to hurt him, Doc. We fight-Christ, I guess we fight like an old married couple. But at the end of the day, I want to come home to him and have him regale me with stories about him and Daphne. I want him in my bed and I want to share my life with him. I'd be so much more upset about losing Michael if I wasn't confident of Justin's love for me."

"What's different about Justin's love for you than Michael's?"

Brian spoke without hesitation. "Justin would be willing to walk away from me if he saw I had the chance of being happy with someone else. It doesn't matter who it is, if Michael saw I had that chance, he'd do everything in his power to sabotage it. Because as long as I was miserable and unhappy and fucking my way through Pittsburgh, Michael was confident of his role in my life."

"And now?"

"Now I don't want anything to do with Michael and his adolescent bullshit. He's married now, Miranda. He's someone's wife and he's got a foster son who would dearly love it if I fucked him. And I've got Justin. I'm not giving that up for anyone, least of all Michael."

"I want you to be happy."

"I am."

The simple statement required no further response from Miranda and she simply nodded, watching as he scribbled out a check to her. She watched him close the door behind him and hoped that he knew what he was doing.

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