Complications of the Mind

Chapter 20

Brian drove back to the loft in utter silence with Justin wondering at his sudden mood and wondering if it wouldn't be better if he just crashed elsewhere. Then he dismissed the thought; he wasn't running away from Brian. When Brian pulled into the garage, he finally spoke, "I need to call Claire and give her Jen's number so she'll know that John is safe."

"He could just stay here," Justin began and then cut himself off at the darkness of Brian's expression. "Or not."

"The pervert knows where I live. My mother knows he's staying with me. And I so don't trust Father Tom. But I trust your mom implicitly, Justin. John will be fine with Jen. And I think Claire will be okay with him staying with my mother-in-law." Left unspoken was that Brian thought he needed some adult supervision or guidance while he was gone but it was such an un-Brian thing to say that it was better left unsaid.

He began to climb out of the car and Justin said quietly, "Brian, we don't have to do anything you don't want to do."

"Get out," Brian said, voice suddenly harsh. Justin did so, a little nervous at the tone of Brian's voice. It never boded well for him. He knew Brian would never physically hurt him but still it made him nervous.

"What?" he asked, aware that his voice nearly trembled.

Brian looked at him in frustration and finally said, "You love me, right?"

Justin stared at him and took a step towards the man. "Yes. Why?" It made him uneasy when Brian asked for confirmation of his feelings because the other man did so seldom.

For all his bravado, an insecure little boy still hovered within Brian. That part of Brian was the part of him that brought out all of Justin's protective instincts for he hated to see Brian hurt. "Nothing. Never mind."

"Brian?" Justin asked, voice tentative. He got no response as the man walked towards the door that led into the building. He followed him and wondered at his sudden mood shift. When the elevator reached the top floor, Brian raised the grate and nearly slammed it back down again. Can't fight fate, he thought, resigned. All he wanted to do was sleep and then he saw a familiar blonde head and felt the walls begin to close in on him.

"Hello, Lindsay," he finally said. "Hi, Sonny Boy."

"Daddy," Gus said, as he ran into Brian's arms. Brian swung him up and then looked at Lindsay, expression conveying intense irritation and fury. Couldn't the woman have called first?

"Couldn't you have called first?" he asked aloud.

"You didn't have your cell phone on and John said you weren't home."

"Yeah, Miranda doesn't allow cell phones to be on during a session." He handed Gus off to Justin and unlocked the door.

"Why didn't you go inside?" he asked.

"My key didn't work," she explained. "Why doesn't my key work, Brian?"

Justin put Gus down and Gus ran in the direction of the pillows, leaving the adults to talk. Brian headed towards the fridge removing two bottles of beer, one for him and one for Justin. "Brian," Lindsay began.

Brian took a swallow from the bottle of beer and met her eyes. "Your key doesn't work because Justin and I had the door re-keyed."

"When do I get a copy of the new key?"

Brian looked at Justin and Justin knew that he had to field this question because he was the only one who could remain calm. "You don't," Justin said. "There are three copies of the key, Lindsay. One for each of the people who live here."

"I want a copy of the key," Lindsay said, as if she were perfectly entitled.

"No," Brian snapped at her. "I didn't have a key to Muncher Villa. And it's bullshit that people can just walk in here at any time and catch us doing whatever."

"Like I haven't seen you fucking," she snapped at him. "I need a key for emergency situations."

"Have you suddenly gone deaf?" he asked, pleased that his voice was level. "I'm not giving you a fucking key, Lindz. You can whine all you want but I'm not giving you a key. And don't play the 'I'm the mother of your kid' card."

Recognizing that she was on his last nerve, she fell silent and then said, "I was hoping you could watch Gus for a few more days."

"No," Brian said truculently, not offering any explanation.

"He's your son," she said.

Brian set down the beer bottle and stood. "Yes, he is. I remember that, Lindsay. I have made plans to go to New York," he began, irritated when she cut him off.

"That's just wonderful. Going off to play when your son needs you."

Brian's eyes flashed with temper and Justin tensed. Brian looked at him and Justin took a step closer to him as Brian wrapped an arm around him. "We're going on our honeymoon, Lindsay. Jen's going to take care of John for the five days we're gone. You will have to make other arrangements for our son. As much as I love Gus, you are the primary custodial parent as you and the cunt took great pains to remind me. Now please go home."

She started to say something more and the expression on Justin's face warned her it wouldn't be wise to push her luck. "Can I at least have the number of the hotel where you and Justin will be staying?"

"The Waldorf-Astoria, Lindz. Honeymoon suite," Brian bit out, turning away to disappear into the bathroom, bottle of beer in hand.

Lindsay looked at Justin. "He's in a mood," she observed. "Sure you don't want to come home with me, honey?"

Justin smiled slightly. "My days of running from a moody Brian are done, Lindz. We'll be fine. Take Gus home and we'll call you when we get back. We're leaving really early Friday morning so we're dropping John off at my mom's Thursday night."

Lindsay looked in the direction of the bathroom and then back at Justin. "How's he doing, honey?"

"He's fine, Lindz."

"I don't like leaving you alone with him when he's in a mood," she said. "He could really hurt you."

Justin nearly laughed at the words, though he knew she was sincere. Instead he said, "I'm well aware of Brian's thorns, Lindsay. Seriously, it'll be okay. We'll talk when he and I get back."

"Honeymoon, huh?" she asked, looking at her son who was busy crawling all over John who didn't look too uncomfortable dealing with his young cousin.

"Of sorts," Justin admitted. "Please don't spread it around, Lindsay. You know how Brian feels about other people getting up in our business. He's dealing with enough shit right now that he doesn't need everyone ragging on him about being sentimental. He'll look at it as a sure sign that I've cock-whipped him."

Understanding that the young blond was deadly serious, she finally nodded. "Take care of him," she said quietly. She left Justin standing in the kitchen while she went to grab her son. She and a fretful Gus waved as they went to the door and closed it behind them. Noticing that John was occupied again with whatever he was watching and paying no attention to him, Justin disappeared into the bathroom, after his lover.

He found Brian putting moisturizer on his face and refrained from smiling. "She gone?" he asked, without looking at Justin.

"Yeah, Bri. She's gone."

"I guess we'll come back to find all of Liberty Ave knows that the great stud has finally been cock-whipped by the young blond," he said bitterly.

"Brian, I told her not to say anything about this being a 'honeymoon' for us. I think she'll respect that."

Brian barked a laugh and finally met his lover's eyes. "This is Lindsay we're talking about. She won't keep quiet about this. It's too big."

"Maybe we should just trust her," Justin said. He met Brian's level gaze and then looked away. He didn't want to fight with him, not about this.

Brian gave him a look as if he thought he was crazy and then stalked out of the bathroom, stopping in the bedroom to take off his shirt. He walked downstairs and met John's inquisitive gaze. "What's up, Brian?" the kid asked.

"Nothing. What are you watching?"

"Some shit. I'm hungry."

"You know where the take-out menus are and the petty cash. You don't have to ask me about food."

John laughed and said, "I've seen the contents of your refrigerator, Brian. You may be gay but you are definitely a bachelor. Naked chef you aren't."

Brian raised an eyebrow and set his bottle of beer down on the floor. "You happy?"

John reached a hand out for his uncle's beer and Brian narrowed his eyes and swatted his hand away. "I told your mom no corrupting influences."

John snorted a laugh and Justin watched the interaction between them from the top of the stairs. He looked back at the blue neon tube lights and then at the framed sketch of Brian he'd drawn so long ago. He knew Brian wanted to hang it in the nook but he wanted it in their bedroom. He tossed the sketch on the bed, noticing the rumpled covers and his pillow so close to Brian's. So much had changed between them and even if Brian was joking, he knew that this was the closest thing to a honeymoon he would get.

He picked up an abandoned sketch pad and began to idly sketch John and Brian, pleased that they had discovered some common ground.

Unaware of being observed, Brian waited for John's answer. "Yeah, I'm happy. And not just because you bought me new clothes and CDs and the I-Pod. I know I've been an asshole to you but you opened your home up to me. I like hanging out with you and Justin."

"You okay with staying with Jen while Justin and I are gone?"

"I'd prefer staying with Cynthia," the brat responded with a smirk, "but Justin's mom is cool. Molly's not bad either."

"Best behavior," Brian warned.

"I know. I'm not going to piss you off, Brian. And I know you guys need some time to adjust to having me around. But I'd rather be here with you two than with my mom."

"Things that bad at home?" Brian asked.

"Mom's just tightly wound," John said, reluctant to actively criticize his mother. "She's got good intentions but Dad left her in a bad predicament when he walked out on us. And she depended on those child support payments. Now she works all those hours and it's hard for her to keep track of us kids."

"She should have known something was up," Brian said, then bit his tongue.

"What happened isn't her fault, Brian. She didn't know that the priest was a perv underneath the robes. And I should have told someone sooner." John couldn't believe he was defending his mom but his uncle had a very low opinion of his sister and he didn't exactly want to contribute to it.

"Why did you come to me?¡"

John looked down at the floor and then reluctantly met his uncle's eyes. "I didn't have a choice. I was desperate and I know that you wanted to kill me when I accused you. I was scared and it was happening to Petey and I knew Mom wouldn't believe me." His voice cracked at the end and Brian was reminded once again of just how young the kid really was despite all his bravado. "And I don't have a dad."

"It's okay, John. You're safe with me and Justin. And that fucker won't hurt you again."

John blinked away tears and asked, "Did Granddad really do all those things to you that you told Mrs. Taylor?"

"You heard me?" Brian asked. Oh holy fuck. I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

John nodded and Brian said, not willing to lie to the kid, "Yeah, he did and more. My dad was a grade-A asshole drunk or sober. He hated me for being born, John. Hated me because he didn't want another fucking kid and he'd told my mother to get an abortion."

"So what you said at the wake was true?"

"Every bitter word. One thing about me, John, is that I never sugarcoat the truth and I always say what I mean. I won't bullshit you."

"What about school?"

"You want to do public school?"

John shrugged and Brian smiled slightly. "I got kicked out of parochial school, John. I met Mikey in public school. But I understand if you want to finish up in private school. I can afford it." Even though the thought of another tuition bill made him wince.

"Can I think about it?"

"Sure," Brian said, draining the bottle of beer. He moved to stand and looked down at his nephew. "What did you want to eat?"

"Indian?" John asked, hopefully.

"Fine," he said, looking in the direction of the bedroom. "Hey, Sunshine, Indian okay with you?" He noticed the blond furiously sketching and climbed up the stairs. "What are you working on?"

Justin looked at him and said, "You and John. Indian's fine."

Brian noticed the sketch on the bed and said, "You want to hang it up in here?"

Nodding, he met his gaze. "You mind?"

"No. I think it's a great idea." Brian kissed him softly and then knelt by the side of the bed, withdrawing the box he'd been going through a few days earlier. He withdrew the cowry shell bracelet and Justin wondered what he was going to do with it. He didn't have to wait long for his answer.

Brian returned downstairs and sat down next to John, long legs spread out in front of him. Brian fingered the cowry shells and handed the bracelet to John. "I can't," John began but his uncle shook his head.

"I don't need it anymore. And there was a reason you wanted it enough to steal it from me. I want you to have it, John. No strings attached."

John lifted his arm and Brian asked, "Which wrist do you want it on?"

"Um, the right, I guess."

"It's the one I always wore it on," Brian observed. "It's a little loose on you but I don't think you'll lose it."

He was astounded when John hugged him. "Thank you," John whispered against his neck. "Thank you."

Uncomfortable with the outward display of emotion, Brian moved to pull back without hurting the kid's feelings. He looked at the green eyes and smiled slightly. "I…" Brian started to speak and then suddenly couldn't. Finally finding the words, he said, "For a long time I needed that reminder that I was okay, that I was alive, that I'd survived whatever Jack Kinney threw at me. I think you need it more than I do, John."

John nodded, fingertip tracing the shells as Brian stood and walked into the kitchen. He leaned against the counter and watched Justin come down the stairs, knowing that his lover had heard everything he'd said. Justin nudged him with a hip and Brian looked at him. "You did a good thing, Brian," Justin whispered.

Smiling slightly, Brian spoke quietly, "If you'd gone to California, I was going to pack the bracelet in your stuff to remind you of me and home."

"I think John needs it more, Brian," Justin said, touched by the thought. "You know, Brian, I don't need you to be romantic 24/7. But I love it when you are."

"Are you looking forward to New York?" he asked, relieved that Justin didn't need him to be romantic and sentimental all the time because frankly he wasn't sure he could do it. He'd about reached his quota.

"Yeah, cause this time I know I'll be there with you and it'll be for the right reasons." Justin removed a menu from one of the drawers and started to walk over to John when Brian's fingers hooked his pants, drawing him back to him. "What?" he asked.

"I bitched about coming to find you, saying it wasn't my responsibility. When I found you in that hotel room, I was relieved. I hated the idea that something might have happened to you."

"I know."

Meanwhile, at the Liberty Diner:

Ted and Emmett were having an early dinner when Michael blew in. "Hey, Ma," he said, catching Debbie's eye.

She waved and he slid into the booth across from his two friends. "Hey, honey," Emmett said.

"Hey, Em. Hi, Ted," Michael said. "Guess what the asshole did now."

Emmett and Ted exchanged glances and finally Emmett asked, "What?"

"He told me to get the fuck out of his life. He made me give him the key to the loft and told me he'd chosen Justin. That Justin is his partner."

Since all of that was fairly obvious to the other two and Emmett privately thought it was about time that Brian put a Prada boot down when it came to Michael's interference, he said, "Well, honey, I think he's right."

"What?!" Michael screeched. "And the twat isn't going to California, after all."

"I know," Ted said. "They leave for New York in a few days," he said, and then could have bitten his tongue off. Brian was so going to kill him for spilling that pearl of wisdom to Michael. He knew how pissed his boss was at his supposed best friend.

"How'd the twink talk him into that?" Michael asked, visibly enraged. He twisted his wedding ring on his left ring finger as he spoke.

"I don't know," Ted said, trying to save face. Not for anything would he admit that his boss was looking at it as a honeymoon of sorts for him and Justin. He liked his dick and balls, thank you very much.

"Emmett?" Michael asked, turning his attention to the one member of the group who couldn't keep his mouth closed about anything.

Not willing to betray either Justin or Brian, Emmett mimed locking his mouth with a key and tossing it away. "Don't know, honey."

"You know his demon spawn nephew is staying with him?" Michael asked.

Emmett and Ted exchanged another look. "Um, Teddy, don't we have tickets to that dinner theatre thing?"

"Yeah," he said, glancing at his watch. "We'll be late if we don't leave now." He looked at Michael and said, "Sorry we've got to go, Michael. Talk to you later."

Debbie watched Emmett and Ted leave and then looked at her son, sitting alone in the booth. She maneuvered her way over to him and sat across the table from him. "You okay, honey?"

"He cut me off," Michael said. "He chose the twink over me. He chose a piece of blond boy ass over me, me his best friend!"

"Yes, I know, honey, your best friend in the whole wide world. I'm well aware of your relationship with Brian. What I want to know is why in the world you would begrudge him happiness?" She lifted his hand and pointed to his ring. "You're married to Ben, Michael. Brian's got his own life."

"He chose Justin over me," Michael said, a tear trickling down from his eye and rolling down his cheek.

"About fuckin' time, if you ask me," Debbie said.


"Give him space. He's dealing with his own shit right now, Michael. He and Justin are going through some stuff and it doesn't involve you. He's got a partner and he's happy, Michael. Leave Brian alone."

"But Ma," Michael whined.

Debbie slid out of the booth and looked down at her son. While she loved Michael dearly, she sometimes wanted to smack some sense into him. "Michael, pushing him on this will only make things worse for you."

"He's got the nephew who accused him of fondling staying with him."

"Yeah, Michael, I know. Leave him alone."

Since Michael had no intention of heeding anyone's advice and forgetting for the moment that he was supposed to be deliriously happy with Ben, Michael left the diner and headed to the loft. He pushed in the security code and was irritated when it was denied. He tried a few other combinations to no avail. Then he pushed Brian's buzzer and heard him say, "Yeah?"

"Brian, let me in. It's Michael."

Brian looked at Justin and Justin shrugged, letting Brian know it was his call. "Go home to your husband, Michael. Leave me the fuck alone."

"But Brian…"

"Leave before I call the cops and tell them you're harassing me," Brian said, the words not far from the truth.

At the street level, Michael saw a delivery guy trudging up the sidewalk and his eyes lit up. A way in, he thought, noticing it wasn't Brian's regular delivery guy but that didn't matter to him. The guy buzzed Brian's loft and Michael heard Brian buzz him up. Catching the door, Michael watched as the guy took the stairs, opting to wait a few minutes before taking the elevator up. It never occurred to him that Brian rarely said something he didn't mean.

He heard the delivery guy taking the stairs on his way down and Michael slipped into the elevator, unnoticed.

Brian, Justin, and John were trading dishes on the floor when they heard the knock on the door.

"What the fuck?" Brian muttered. The guy's tip was big enough. More than enough not to constitute a return visit. He stood and crossed the loft to the door, sliding it open and wishing that he hadn't.

Justin saw that it was Michael at the same time as Brian did and cursed under his breath. This wasn't going to be pretty, he thought. John had a perplexed expression on his face; even he knew not to fuck with Brian when he told you something in that tone of voice. He picked up the container of coconut chicken and waited for the explosion. He almost wished he had popcorn for this. On with the show.

"Michael," Brian growled. "How the fuck did you get into the building?"

"Followed the delivery guy in," he said, and then said in an accusatory tone, "You changed the code."

"No shit. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't toss you down the fucking stairs, Michael."

Michael backed up a step and Justin stepped forward, putting a proprietary arm around Brian. Brian was fully aware of the intent that lay behind his lover's action and accepted the gesture without comment. Michael's expression went dark and then he said, "I'm your best friend."

"And I'm his wife," Justin said, not daring to glance at his partner. "Go home to your husband, Michael. Go home to the little hustler. Leave us alone."

"Brian, he called himself your wife. Aren't you going to say something?" He couldn't believe the liberty the twink had just taken.

Brian smiled slightly and looked directly at Michael. "It's the truth, Michael. I've said it sarcastically in the past but it's somewhat true."

"You've lost your fucking mind, Brian," Michael breathed out, shock in his expression. "You hate the idea of commitment, of ties that bind. You think marriage for queers is stupid. What kind of snow job has he done on you? More importantly, where's the coke?"

Brian turned to glance at his nephew who had picked up a piece of naan and was dragging it through chili sauce. He saw John take a bite and then lapse into a coughing fit, reaching for the closest drink, which happened be Brian's bottle of beer. When the teen stopped choking and his face returned to something akin to normal, Brian said, "Has Justin said anything wrong, John?"

John shook his head, clearing his throat, and said, "Nope. Justin said everything right." He lifted his arm and Michael's gaze fell on the bracelet. He gasped and took another step backwards.

"What's wrong, Mikey?" Brian asked, returning his attention to his best friend.

"I've stumbled into an episode of The Twilight Zone," Michael muttered. "I think I just saw your nephew wearing your bracelet."

Brian laughed and smirked. "You did." He paused a moment and then asked, "Are you the only one who can be happy, Michael?"


"It will never be you, Michael," Justin said. "I give Brian what you can't."

"Spectacular head?" Michael shot back. As parting shots go, it wasn't much of one. But he didn't have much material to work with, and let's face it, Michael wasn't the most imaginative or intellectual of the bunch. Brian had met models with more intellect than Michael Novotny, and that was saying a lot because as a breed models weren't known for brains.

"Well, yes, that's true," Brian observed, smiling at the blond. "No, he loves me for me. And I trust him not to fuck me over. I trust him to be at my back when I need him most. He's not pathetic."

"His ass can't be that hot," Michael sputtered.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Brian asked. He turned serious for a moment, finding little amusing in this little encounter. "I would never have let you fuck me, Michael. Frankly, I don't think you're that good."

As the words left Brian's mouth, Michael's hand shot towards him, nearly making impact when Justin deflected the blow, inches from Brian's already broken nose. "Get the fuck out of here," Justin hissed. Play time was over. All chips were down when Michael tried to hurt Brian.

"Brian! "

"Don't call, don't stop by, don't e-mail me. You see me at the diner or on the street and you walk the other fucking way. If you see me in the backroom at Babylon, whether I'm with Justin or not, you leave. You see me anywhere and you walk the other fucking direction. Got it?" There was no bend in Brian's voice, as cold as the wind off the Arctic Circle. His face was implacable.

Michael stared at him and then at Justin, whose own face was a mirror of his partner's. "Yeah," he whispered, "I hear you loud and clear." The words left his mouth and he sniffled, the tears beginning to fall. He turned away, the sobs coming faster and louder. He walked towards the elevator hitting the down button when he heard Justin's voice from behind him. "Take the stairs, Michael. By the way, our partnership is over. Do whatever you want to do with Rage. I don't want to see you."

Michael didn't respond, vision obscured by tears, as he fled down the stairs. He collapsed against the wall outside the building, dissolving in tears.

Brian was utterly silent as he closed the door. He walked up the stairs, changed into a sleeveless black shirt that conformed to his chest, and grabbed his jacket and keys. It was an outfit he wore when he had one intention in mind and only one intention. Justin marked his actions and didn't say anything. Brian had to do this his way and Justin wasn't going to interfere. Not when it came to this. Not when it came to him saying goodbye to Michael.

"I'm going out," Brian said, voice devoid of emotion.

"You have protection?" Justin asked, knowing full well what his lover was going to do and understanding why. Pain management.

Brian put a hand in his jacket and pulled out a fistful of condoms, nodding. "Yeah, I have protection."

"Call me if you need me to come get you. I don't care how late it is and where you are. Don't drive home if you can't."


John watched in stunned silence as his uncle crossed to the door and walked out. He stared at Justin who watched him go. "Justin?" His name was a question on the teen's lips.

"He'll be okay," Justin said, wanting to reassure the teen but not believing it for an instant. Brian was absolutely shattered. He walked up the stairs, going to the closet he shared with Brian, and removed the black satin robe that his lover favored. The robe smelled of Brian: musk, whiskey, and the mingled aromas of pot and cigarettes. He wrapped the robe around him and returned downstairs.

"Shouldn't you go with him?" John asked.

"There are times when my presence is the last thing Brian needs. I know when to allow him his space."

"Strange way to have a relationship," John observed.

"Yes," Justin agreed. "But it's our relationship, John. I don't want to talk anymore. Okay?"

The teen nodded and Justin halfheartedly began to eat, having lost most of his appetite. He was more worried about Brian than he wanted to let on. He finished eating and began to put up most of the leftovers with John's assistance, eyes falling on the cowry shell bracelet. "You take care of that bracelet, John."

"I will."

Justin nodded and then went to the drink cart, pouring himself a glass of Beam. John watched him and said nothing. They were both mourning, in much different ways. And he figured Justin was mourning for his uncle not that asshole Novotny. Didn't seem to him as if there was much love lost between them.


Brian walked in to Babylon, the rhythmic pulsating music washing over him. He gave the coat check guy his jacket and keys. The crowd parted for him as it always did when Brian Kinney walked in. He made his way to the bar, finding Emmett and Ted. Great, he thought, not really wanting to give a recap to Abbott and Costello.

"Hi, honey," Emmett chirped, and then saw the expression on Brian's face. He smelled trouble, like those old bloodhounds his grandma used to raise.

Ted wisely said nothing, knowing his mere presence was occasionally enough to set his moody boss off. He took a slug from his bottle of Samuel Adams and with a glance at Emmett slipped away. Emmett always had better luck with Brian for some reason. Emmett noted that Teddy had left him and the big bad Kinney alone and wished for a brief moment that he hadn't. "Buy you a drink?" he asked, as Brian leaned his elbows on the bar.

"Double Chivas," Brian said, voice barely audible even considering the loud music. The bartender, recognizing Brian and wondering why his boyfriend wasn't with him, slid Brian the drink. He acknowledged it with a slight incline of his head and turned around, so that his back was to the bar.

"Want to tell me what's wrong?" Emmett asked, dropping the queenly affectation he often adopted. He could sense that something was very wrong with the King of Babylon. "Where's your consort, honey?"

"At home," Brian muttered. He finally made eye contact with Emmett and Emmett could see the pain writ in the beautiful hazel eyes. "Want to get out of here?"

Emmett scanned the crowd, knowing that he would never find Ted. And he also knew that Brian needed someone with him or he'd make a desperate and foolish mistake. The man had a self-destructive streak as wide as the Mississippi and as deep. "Yeah," he said. They made their way through the crowd and Brian stopped only to pick up his jacket and keys. Once in the fresh air, Brian glanced at him.

Cracking a slight smile that was as far from his usual smirk as it could get, Brian said, "I need to talk."

Emmett could count the times Brian Kinney had said that on one hand, and he didn't even need to use his whole hand. "Okay," he said. He followed Brian to the car, matching Brian's stride. Brian slid into the driver's seat and unlocked the door. Turning on the car, the heavy bass line of early Metallica assaulted Emmett's senses but he knew better than to suggest Barbra or the Divine Miss M. He didn't intend to be tossed out of the car on his pretty little ass. He was silent as Brian drove north, heading towards the river. Brian finally parked and Emmett followed him to the bench he preferred.

Brian sank down on the bench, wishing he had a bottle of Beam with him, but he hadn't wanted to stop at a liquor store. He'd just needed to get the fuck out of the loft. It wasn't so much that he wanted to get away from Justin because none of this was his lover's fault, it was just that memories of him and Michael hung like stale cigarette smoke in the air.

"Brian," Emmett's voice brought him back to himself and he glanced at the man sitting next to him.

Brian could never talk to Theodore but he could talk to Emmett. "I ended my friendship with Michael tonight, Emmett."

"I figured as much. I'm sorry, Brian."

"I thought when he got hitched to the hunky professor he'd let me be happy and live my own life."

Emmett heard the sadness in Brian's voice and hurt for the other man. God knew Brian Kinney had pissed him off on occasion but even he didn't like to see him hurt. "He showed up at the loft tonight after I told him I didn't want any contact with him."

Emmett could imagine how well that'd gone. Brian did not suffer fools gladly and when he wanted to be left alone, he wanted to be left alone. Michael lived under the delusion that that applied to everyone but him. "What happened?" Emmett asked.

Brian dug in his jacket pocket for a pack of cigarettes and sighed. "You mind?"

"Who me, honey? No, you go right ahead and light up. Who am I to tell you no?"

Brian lit a cigarette and inhaled, drawing the smoke deep into his lungs. He'd smoked more in the past couple of days than he had in the past few months. Strange what stress drove him to do and it wasn't lost on him that he'd opted to talk rather than trick and talking wasn't what had driven him to Babylon in the first place. "He told me that Justin was just a little twink to me and that he'd hurt me again. That I needed him. And that we didn't have what he has with Ben." Brian paused, taking another drag, and gazed out over the water. "Of course, we don't have what he has with Ben. The professor is a fucking saint for taking on Michael, knowing full well that he has unresolved feelings for me. And I know I'm not easy but somehow Justin loves me in spite of that."

Emmett didn't know what to say. Sometimes the sheer stupidity of Michael boggled the mind. "Have things changed with Sunshine?"

Brian smiled slightly. "I consider his mom my mother-in-law. And I guess you could say that he's the closest thing to a husband as I'll ever have. So yeah, things have changed."

"Honey, I'm happy for you and Sunshine. It would never have worked with you and Michael. Frankly, I'm surprised you haven't chosen before now."

"I didn't want to choose between Michael and Justin. I didn't want to lose my best friend over the man I happened to fall in love with. I loved Michael for a lot of years but it would never have reached the level of intensity that I have with Justin. And fuck Michael for being so desperate to hang on to me that he tried to sabotage things with us."

"You're pissed at him."

"Well, duh," Brian shot back. "Yeah, I'm pissed at him. It's like he's only happy when I'm miserable and miserable when I'm happy. And he's been jealous of Justin since day fucking one. He's had a long time to grow accustomed to the fact that he's not going anywhere. I shouldn't have had to choose between them. Why do I have to lose one to have the other? Justin would never have forced this choice."

"I don't know, baby. It isn't fair but most of what's happened in your life hasn't been fair. Realizing you loved him in the same night that you almost lost him was hell. Having him leave you for someone else was hell. Finding out that you had cancer almost cost you him. You, more than anyone, deserve happiness, Brian. You've had far too little of it in your life and the fates just keep throwing more in your way. But you're not navigating the waters alone, sweetie. You've got Justin and that kid loves you more than is rational."

Brian finally looked at him, tossing the cigarette away. "I haven't always been kind to you."

"Well no, you haven't. But you shoot straight from the hip, honey, and I have to admire you for that. You use your sense of humor as a weapon and you have such contempt for happy couples like Teddy and I used to be. You're unapologetically honest and I have to respect you for that."

"I called you Mrs. Schmidt, didn't I?" Brian asked, remembering Emmett's visit when Ted's porn site had been dismantled, begging him for help which he'd denied in a manner true to form. He also remembered stepping in to make sure that Stockwell didn't press the issue and try Theodore in the court of public opinion.

Emmett nodded and Brian smiled ruefully. "And now I kind of have a Mrs. Kinney. Shit, how fucked up is that?"

"Pretty fucked up. But that blond will do just about anything for you, Brian. Beg, steal, or borrow because you're all that matters to him. He's willing to let you have a friendship with Michael because he knows how important it is to you."

"Michael tried to hit me tonight," he said, needing to stop Emmett from continuing down that path. He needed space away from Michael, space to decide whether it was a permanent step he needed to take.

Emmett's eyes went wide and his mouth gaped open. "He what?"

"He tried to hit me."

"Well, fuck him," Emmett said, remembering how unsympathetic Michael had been regarding his feelings after Teddy had gotten out of rehab and was hanging around with Blake. "Good riddance." He couldn't believe that MICHAEL had tried to hit Brian.

"I guess I need to go home, don't I?" Brian asked. He was feeling more grounded now, more normal, less like he was about to fly apart.

"He'll face the dawn with you, honey. And I think that's what we all want: someone to sit there with us in the darkness and wait for the light. Even you."

Brian sighed and stood, looking at Emmett. "You want me to drop you off at Babylon or at Deb's?"

"Oh, I think my night of dancing is over, sweetheart. You can drop me off around the corner from Deb's."

"I can drop you off at the front door," Brian said, feeling a bit like an illicit date.

They began to walk back to the 'vette and Emmett said, "You want to face Deb tonight? Are you up for that?"

Brian realized with a shudder that he'd forgotten about that. "You don't mind me dropping you off around the corner? I can't deal with another encounter with a Novotny tonight, Emmett. I have had my quota."

"New York will be good for you and Sunshine. You'll return refreshed and nobody deserves this more, baby."

Brian handed Emmett the CD changer once they'd gotten in the car and said, "Anything but People."

Emmett smiled and said, "I remember."

He gave a curt nod and twenty minutes later he was dropping Emmett off at the curb, dismissing the slight pang of guilt he felt as irrational. He reached for his cell and dialed the number for the loft. He heard Justin's sleepy voice and said, "Hey, baby. I'm on my way home."

Justin sat up in bed and glanced at the time. It was much earlier than he'd anticipated. "You're sober," he said.

"As a judge," Brian said, stopping at a stoplight. "No tweaking either."

"Where'd you end up?" Justin asked, figuring the baths or Babylon.

"Babylon, but I didn't stay. I ended up cutting out of there and going to the river."


"With our favorite queen."

It took Justin a minute to realize who Brian meant and then he gaped at the phone. "Emmett? You went to the river with Emmett?" he squeaked.

"I didn't fuck Emmett, Sonny Boy. Christ, I wouldn't do that. No, we talked. That's all. We talked and now I'm coming home to you."

"I guess I owe him," Justin said.

"Oh, the queen wants a pretty little bauble from Tiffany & Co or something along those lines. He's actually a really good friend."

Justin had learned that years before but he wasn't surprised that it took Brian more time to realize these things. The man had a strange learning curve. "Yeah, he is. Hurry home."

"Yeah," Brian said, navigating through what appeared to be a late night traffic snarl. He circumvented it and hit the main feeder road that intersected Fuller. He pulled up to the curb, forgoing the garage for the night, when he saw the figure sitting huddled up on the stairs. Recognizing the brown hair and the woebegone expression even from the street, he bit back a curse. He reached for his cell phone and dialed Carl's office number.

When the aging detective picked up, Brian said, "Horvath, it's Kinney. Your stepson is sitting outside my loft. We had a fight. Can you get a radio car to drive by and roust his sorry ass?"

"Why don't you handle it?" Carl said, scowling at the stack of paperwork on his desk.

"Because you'll be booking me for assault & battery," Brian snapped. "If I have to handle it, he'll probably end up in Allegheny General and I'll be spending the night in a holding cell. I don't want to call my partner to bail me out."

"Okay, okay. You want to tell me what happened?"

"He insulted my partner's honor," Brian snarled, ending the conversation before Carl could ask any questions. He pulled out into traffic again, knowing that he'd been seen by Michael, and went to the parking garage.

A few minutes later, he opened the loft door. He noticed that the kid was curled up sleeping and his lover was sitting up in bed, in his robe. He locked the door behind him and armed the alarm system. He quietly crossed the loft to the bedroom, meeting Justin's questioning gaze. "You look comfortable," he remarked, noticing how the darkness of the robe offset the paleness of the blond. He wanted to lose himself in Justin's arms, forget about everything and everyone that seemed determined to put nails in the road for them.

Justin started to slip out of the robe and Brian shook his head. "It's fine." He sat down on the edge of the bed to unzip his boots. He left them where they were rather than putting them back in the closet. Then he took off his shirt and his jeans. He crawled into bed, allowing Justin to tuck him in.

"I'm…" Justin began and Brian put a finger to his lips to quell his words.

"Don't you fucking dare apologize to me for defending me. Not ever."

"Am I your 'wife'?" Justin asked quietly, knowing that he'd slipped into the role of taking care of Brian as easily as he'd slid into the role of submissive.

"I prefer life partner but I guess you fit in that niche. Does that bother you?" It should bother me more, dammit, Brian thought.

Justin shook his head, and then rested it on Brian's shoulder. "You ever think about cutting loose?"

"What do you mean?" Brian asked, meeting his eyes.

"Leaving the Pitts?"

Brian stared at him. "Well, I always wanted to move to New York. But that was before I lost my job with Vance and thought Stockwell's backers were going to pave my way. But now I've got Kinnetik and I've put down roots. Why?"

"I've got a year and a half left of school, Brian. John hates it here in Pittsburgh. And New York has always been your dream."

"A pipe dream." He narrowed his eyes at his lover and said quietly, "What are you leading up to, Sunshine?"

"I could finish up art school in New York. You could open a satellite office in New York. We could buy a loft that has three bedrooms in Soho or Midtown. Selling the loft would give us a sizeable nest egg."

Brian sat up in bed and flipped the switch to turn the blues back on. "You went through our financials?"

"Yeah," Justin admitted. "You pissed?"

"No, Brian said, "just a little surprised. You've never taken an interest before. Always wanted to keep your assets separate from mine. It's always been my contention that we shared the money but you always wanted that degree of separation, not wanting to depend on me. What's changed?"

"Other than Gus and Kinnetik, what are the reasons to stay in Pittsburgh?" Justin asked, watching Brian's face closely.

Brian thought for a moment and then said, "I can't think of any. I've fucked my way through most of the gay population and some of the straight. My business is going good and I've established a business reputation. But I still can't swing opening a satellite office unless I land a few more clients on the scale of Brown."

"What about Telson?"

Brian tensed and glanced at him. "Telson¡¦s big but not that big."

"Hundreds of thousands?"

"Closer to $10 million with a $1 million dollar advertising budget. The only problem I have with Telson is he wants to fuck me. I wouldn't put out when I was working for Ryder and I'm not putting out now to land the account."

"Okay, say you land Telson," Justin said, thinking a moment and carefully not thinking about the possibility of Brian fucking the old breeder. "How many other clients would you need?"

"Two or three who are multimillion dollar conglomerates." He stared at him and said, "You're serious."

"Dead fucking serious, Brian."

"What about your mom and Daphne?"

"I can fly home."

"And Gus?

"I haven't forgotten about Gus, Brian. He could split time with us and Lindsay."

"You have a time frame for this?" Brian couldn't believe he was actually considering this but the idea of getting out of Pittsburgh might be the healthiest thing for everyone. And it was an endgame Michael would never expect.

"A year?"

"Jesus," he sighed. "We put an offer in on the downstairs loft. It's in escrow. We'd lose our deposit if we pull out now." He winced thinking at the potential loss of a considerable amount of money.

"We keep it as an investment and lease it out. Regardless, we need space for the kids."

"You really want this, don't you?"

Justin pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. "Yeah, I do. But if you're not a 100% behind this then I won't push it. Finding out what's going to happen with Gus and with my dad is more important than moving to New York."

"We can draw up a business plan, Justin. Have you on board as the art director. Draw up a two-year prospectus. We'd need to talk to Theodore. It's actually not a bad idea. I don't know how I'll talk Claire into it. And if his dad comes back into the picture, having taken John out of state may cause all sorts of problems."

"Not if you get appointed his guardian ad litem, and Claire signs off on it."

"Justin, how much research did you do?" he asked, surprised by the intensity and thought that Justin had put into this. He hadn't expected to come home to this proposition though he wasn't completely averse to the idea.

"A lot. This isn't about what happened earlier, Brian. I just don't really see either one of us being truly happy when we have so few people on our side. And being around Debbie for prolonged periods of time if we aren't talking to Michael is going to be impossible. Can you imagine the family dinners?"

"Yeah," Brian nodded. "I dropped Emmett off around the corner."

"Brian," Justin said, not bothering to hide his shock.

"Hey, it was his idea. You think I liked feeling like a date some mother didn't approve of," he said, then glanced at him. "Okay, don't answer that."

To his credit, Justin only snickered, remembering mornings he'd returned to Deb's at dawn after a night of nonstop fucking with Brian. "So you'll think about it?"

"Yeah, I'll consider it. It's actually not a bad idea. And if things hadn't gone down the way they did with Vance and Stockwell, we'd already be in New York. You know that."

Justin smiled at him and slid the robe off, his alabaster body slowly revealed in the dappling moonlight let in through the windows. Brian met his gaze and drew him down to him. "I love you," Justin whispered.

"I know," Brian whispered, not returning the words but knowing that it was how he felt, and comforted by the knowledge that now that Justin knew, it wasn't necessary for him to say it all the time.

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