Complications of the Mind

Chapter 4

Before leaving the park, Justin turned to Brian with a serious look on his face. Recognizing the look on his partner's face as one of deep contemplation, Brian sighed. "What?"

Justin hesitated and then said, "Can you do me a favor while I'm gone?"

"Depends on what it is," he said, cautiously. He didn't want to commit to an action without first knowing what it was Justin was asking of him. The thought of monogamy was surprising enough. For both of them.

"Watch out for my mom and Molly. And Daphne."

Brian nodded. It still baffled him that somehow over the years he'd become someone's son-in-law. It baffled him even more that it didn't seem to bother him as much as it once had. "Yeah, no problem."

"Really?"

"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to look a gift horse in the mouth?" Brian asked, and then Justin leaned in to kiss him. He moved away before Brian had a chance to deepen the kiss. Brian became more somber as he said, "It's just really important for me to be stable right now for Gus. I'm thinking about selling the Corvette."

"Why?" His surprise was genuine.

Brian wrapped his arm around him and said, "It's not really practical. If I'm spending more time with Gus, I need a car that has an actual backseat. All the childcare professionals say that a child should ride in the backseat. It's safer." When did I become so fucking old?

Justin raised an eyebrow. When did Brian begin reading childcare books? It wasn't like him, he thought, wondering just how much Brian had changed.

Then Brian said, "I'm going to have Cynthia list it tomorrow." Until the words left his mouth, Brian didn't realize he'd already made his decision, that it was just a formality now.

They continued walking and Justin said, teasing the other man slightly, "I just can't picture you in a Volvo or mini-van."

"Bite your tongue, young man," Brian said. "I was thinking more along the lines of a Jeep Cherokee and maybe a VW Bug for you."

Justin stopped stock-still in the middle of the sidewalk and said, "You're thinking about buying me a car?"

"You need one, don't you?"

"I don't want to be a kept man, Brian. I want to buy my own car." Grr, he thought.

"Don't be so sensitive. It was just a suggestion. It's not locked in stone. Don't be such a princess."

Justin smiled slightly. "Okay. Sorry. So have you decided what to do about Lindsay and Gus?"

"I'm thinking that I should maybe talk to Melanie. She's cheated on Lindsay before and they were able to work things out."

"You worked things out for them," Justin reminded him. "They might have broken up for good if you hadn't signed the parental rights over to Melanie."

Brian grimaced. He still wasn't a 100% sure that he'd have done that if it weren't for the fact that he didn't want to see Lindsay with that fucking Frenchman. And he'd hated seeing Melanie beating herself up over the indiscretion. "I want Lindsay to be happy. If that's with Melanie, then that's okay. I just hate to see them throwing away a decade together over one night. But if it's with someone else then that's okay too."

"Melanie cheated on Lindsay with a woman. Lindsay fucked a guy. Kind of a big difference there, Brian."

Brian looked at him and said, "Surprised you're so judgmental. I'd have thought you, of all people, would understand where Lindsay's coming from."

Justin winced at the reminder of his actions with Ethan, and then realized Brian didn't sound angry, just resigned to the reality of the circumstances. "I'm not judging Lindsay, Brian. I'm the last person in the world to criticize someone for cheating. It's just: would you have been more or less pissed if I'd fucked a woman instead of another guy?"

Brian paused a moment and then said, "I don't know.? He continued walking and then said, softly, "I can't see you having fucked another woman so that's not exactly a fair analogy. But considering how I reacted to Ethan, I'd have been less pissed if you'd fucked a woman. I could have chocked it up to youthful naivete."

"And Connor James?"

"I'd have thought less of you if you hadn't taken the opportunity to fuck a star," Brian said, smiling slightly. "I'm okay with it. Just another of Justin Taylor's experiences in Hollywood."

Justin heard the hint of sadness that lay underneath Brian's casual words and said, "I'll look back, Brian."

Hearing the words, Brian stopped and stared at the younger man. "What?"

"I'll look back, Brian."

"Jesus," Brian muttered. "You aren't making this easy, Justin." Why can't I just tell him that I don't want him to go? Why is it so difficult for me to say those three little words?

"I didn't think you wanted me to make it easy."

Brian began walking again and said quietly, "I know you have to go. But it doesn't mean I have to like it." Did I just admit that I'm not okay with this whole California thing?

Justin took a deep breath and said, "It's not locked in stone, Brian. Brett can still get someone else. I can stay here and work in the diner."

"Or you could work as an assistant in the art department at Kinnetik." He realized as he spoke that he'd been thinking about the possibility for a while now. He knew Justin was talented and versatile; he'd proven that during his internship at Vanguard. Yes, he'd paid attention to the younger man's work even when he'd been thinking about various and sundry ways of getting the blond into bed and back into his arms.

Justin had caught up to Brian and at the words he put a hand on Brian's arm to stop him. "Look at me," he said, quietly.

Brian faced him and said, "What?"

"Are you serious about me working at Kinnetik?"

"You're my partner. And yeah, I'm serious." Christ, I'm in danger of losing my other ball here tonight, he thought, nearly wincing at the thought.

"I thought you didn't believe in nepotism."

Brian took a deep breath and then said, "Deb said that she could keep Gus tonight. I think you and I need to talk."

"I can count the number of times you've said that on one hand," he teased but Brian didn't even smirk. In fact, his countenance didn't even change. "Brian," he began.

Brian looked at the crosswalk and then began to cross the street when the symbol for pedestrian flashed. Crossing the street to their building, Brian took a seat on the top of the steps and Justin sat between his legs. Brian wrapped his arms around his lover and said, "Things are never easy for us, Justin. But it doesn't mean that we have to make things harder for each other. I hate talking but sometimes a good, hard fuck isn't the solution."

Justin began to snicker but then realized that reaction wasn't healthy. Whenever Brian decided it was necessary to talk, he had better listen. "I'm not entirely happy about this LA thing but I know you need to go. You are on the board of Kinnetik so it's not entirely unreasonable that I offer you the position. I'd offer you the position of Director but, and don't get pissy, I don't think you're quite ready for it yet. This thing with Rage will give you that necessary experience. Besides, if you and I are in it for the long haul we're going to have to deal with separation."

"I haven't dealt with it very well," Justin said, remembering the aborted trip to Vermont and the subsequent demise of their relationship. That thought tempered his elation at the idea of him and Brian being in it together for the long haul.

"You were young and I didn't really explain the ramifications of what happened when the agency shifted ownership. But this is different. You're going into this with your eyes wide open. It's me that has to be mature," Brian said. "After all, you aren't the one who hired a hustler because I was fucked up over you walking out on me with the fiddler."

Still not entirely comfortable with the knowledge that Brian had fucked a hustler, pretending that said hustler was Justin, Justin said, "I'm not looking for a way out or another fiddler, Brian. I know what to expect from you. I'm happy with you, happy with us."

"Really?" Brian asked. "Would you tell me if you weren't?"

Shit. Justin turned to face his lover and said, "Come upstairs with me. This isn't very comfortable and I don't think our neighbors really want the Brian-and-Justin show in live living color. Again."

Brian snickered and said, "I think they've seen it and heard it all, Sunshine." But he still followed his boyfriend up to the loft. Forgoing the stairs, they waited for the elevator, hearing the familiar clang. They both remembered a very memorable night when the elevator had gotten stuck between floors and they'd ended up fucking each other in the cart. It was a good thing that Brian was always prepared.

It was Justin who unlocked the door and disarmed the alarm, to Brian's amusement and slight alarm. He unzipped the tight leather pants and Brian bit his lip as the blond's creamy white ass was slowly and teasingly revealed. He was on the younger man before Justin had a chance to fully remove his shirt. "God, Brian," Justin moaned as Brian's mouth attacked the slender column of his neck.

"No God here, just me," Brian said, as he found Justin's pulse point, sucking on it slightly. "What do you want?"

"I want you inside me," Justin whimpered. What he really wanted was to feel Brian's naked flesh inside him, but he knew that wasn't possible for a multitude of reasons. Then he stopped thinking for a moment as Brian's mouth attached itself to one of his nipples, hard-sucking the nubbin of flesh.

Brian paused for a moment, looked at Justin, and then said, quietly, "You want me to fuck you bareback, don't you?"

Justin hesitated for a second, and then slowly nodded, unsure of where Brian was going with the question. The last time they'd discussed it hadn't gone so well. He wasn't sure he wanted to answer the question. Brian could be cruel when he wanted to be. "Yeah," he whispered.

"If we're monogamous for a year and get tested every six months, I'll think about it."Brian couldn't believe what he was saying but it was something he'd been thinking about a lot lately. Would Justin understand the concession he was making for him? He hadn't fucked anyone raw in more than a decade.

Justin could barely breathe as he took off the gauzy shirt and slowly stripped the wife-beater off, tossing it to the floor. He took a step closer to the still fully clothed Brian and said, "You so love me. You are in love with me."

Okay, time's up. Checkmate. "Yeah, I am."

The words fell like a bomb in the suddenly quiet loft. The air conditioner clicked on as an accent to the proclamation. Justin had only been teasing but the response from Brian wasn't delivered in a teasing vein. He looked at Brian and asked, "What?"

"Don't make me say it again."

"I don't think I heard you right, that's all. I think I heard something wrong. Can you repeat it for me?"

Shit. Holy fucking shit. Brian's mouth was suddenly dry. Then he met the blond's eyes and said, "Ask me how I feel about you."

"You're in love with me," Justin said, knowing that he'd forever remember this as the moment everything changed.

Brian took a step closer and felt like he was in some fucking 1950s movie. "Yeah, I am." So he couldn't say the actual three little words but this was good enough. And, strangely enough, he didn't feel like he was losing any of himself. Then he said, "We don't have to tell the guys, right? I mean, we can just keep this between us, right?"

Slowly Justin nodded. He couldn't speak. "I think I can handle this just being between us. I mean, nobody else needs to know how things really are between us."

Brian felt relief and then found his arms full of a blond. "I'm not ashamed of us. It's just that our life is like a soap opera for the guys and I want something that's just ours."

"And my mom?"

Brian's arms tightened around Justin and then he said, quietly, "Your mom already knows how I feel about you, Sunshine. And Debbie has known for a long time. I think the only person who still has a problem with understanding exactly how things are between us is Michael."

"My mother knew before me?" Justin couldn't help the slight indignant tone of voice but his mother! God it was as if he'd fucking told Michael.

"I told her when we had the whole conversation after we got back together. She asked me if you were just my fuck buddy and I told her you are my partner."

"I remember." He hadn't thought Brian did, though. "I walked in on that and you looked so shell-shocked."

"Well, I hadn't talked to you about it and then you walked in and had a look on your face like the air had just been knocked out of you. I'm not good at the whole romantic gesture thing."

"You're learning," Justin said. He didn't want to go to Los Angeles now but he knew how Brian'd react.

"I can't give you the words," he said.

"It's okay. It's enough to know that you care."

"I more than fucking care."

"I know, Brian. I know. Can you fuck me now?"

Slowly Brian shook his head and watched the shock play across Justin's features. Then he slipped a foil packet into Justin's hand and said, "No, now you can fuck me."

Understanding was not slow to dawn and Brian watched as Justin's face was transformed. God, he looked like a kid in a candy store. "You know if I didn't know better, I'd swear your boyfriend didn't let you fuck him."

"Partner."

Brian didn't miss the emphasis on the word partner and took Justin's hand. "Yeah, partner." He wasn't going to get weepy or anything but even Brian Kinney recognizes a monumental occasion when he's smack-dab in the middle of one.

But before Justin could make a move on him, his cell phone rang. Muffling a slight curse, Brian answered it to hear the faintly acerbic tone of a certain faux redhead. "Yeah, Deb, what's up?"

He spared a look at his naked and aroused partner and bit back a sigh. Then he said with feeling, "Yeah, I'll be over in a few minutes. No, you weren't interrupting anything. I'll come get him."

Justin sighed and Brian hit the off button, looking at him with genuine regret. "I have to go get Gus. Seems he's been asking for his daddy."

Justin nodded and said, "It's okay, Brian. I'll be here when you get back."

"Promise?"

Justin smiled at him and Brian thought again just how lucky he was to have found someone who loved him as much as Justin did. "Yeah, Brian. Go get your son. I'll make some coffee."

Brian arched an eyebrow and said, "We'll be up all night and not in a positive, life-affirming way."

"I'm living with an insomniac and a rambunctious four-year-old. I'll make sure it's decaf, Brian."

Snorting, Brian grabbed his keys and kissed Justin hard before leaving to go fetch his son.

Once he heard the door slide closed, Justin picked up the leather pants and his shirt, heading into the bedroom. He pulled on a pair of gray sweatpants and re-donned the black wife-beater. It was a good look on him. He picked up the phone and dialed Daphne's number. When a sleepy Daphne answered, her voice sounded as if it were muffled in cotton, "'ello."

"Daph, it's me. Sorry to wake you but I just wanted to say thanks."

"Things all right in the Taylor-Kinney household?"

"Yeah, things are all right." No need to tell Daphne that he'd finally gotten the words from Brian. He wanted time to bask in that without sharing it with others. And he really didn't want to go to Los Angeles now. Suddenly the very idea seemed very, very bad. And it wasn't just because of the distance but because of what Brian was now offering him. "Thanks, Daph."

"Good night, Justin."

"Night, Daph."

Justin hung up the phone and sat on one of the pillows waiting for his lover and son to arrive home. It was well after Gus's bed time but he fervently hoped that the younger Kinney would sleep late the following morning. After all, the elder Kinney was grumpy enough when he didn't get enough sleep. But dealing with father and son was enough to make anyone wish for divine intervention. He curled up intending to shut his eyes for a moment, but then was fast asleep.

He didn't stir when Brian and Gus arrived back home, the four-year-old relatively quiet for once, a condition that had Brian wondering just what it was that Jaime had treated him to in the kitchen. He started to say a teasing, "Honey, I'm home," when he saw Justin curled up on one of the pillows, fast asleep. In slumber, Justin looked exceptionally angelic. Tonight was no exception.

He looked at his son and held his forefinger up to his mouth as he said, "Ssh, sonny boy. Justin's asleep." He and Gus climbed slowly up the stairs and Brian said, "Stay here for a minute. Daddy'll be right back."

He left his son sitting in their bed and then retrieved a blanket. He crossed to Justin's side and tucked it around his sleeping partner, feeling Justin move slightly. Then he saw the blue eyes open slightly. "Hey, I didn't mean to awaken you."

" s okay. How's Gus?"

"Fine. I think I'll set him up in our bed," Brian said. "You okay with sleeping on the futon?"

Justin nodded and then said in a tone that was tentative, "You might want to think about buying a rollaway for Gus. I think he's old enough for it now."

"Where would I put it?"

"The nook. You barely use it after all," Justin suggested. "You could put in the storage closet when Gus isn't here."

Since it wasn't an entirely bad suggestion, Brian simply nodded. "I think Mini-Me can forgo a bath tonight."

"You're spoiling him rotten," Justin teased. "What would the mommies think?"

"It's a father's prerogative. Besides, he's bound to be wondering what's going on between his mommies. He doesn't need to worry about what his father's doing. I understand just how traumatic a chaotic household can be."

"Brian, do you want to talk about it?" He decided to make the overture even if it was rebuffed as usual. Brian never wanted to talk about his childhood. So he was astonished when Brian responded, in a relatively non-sarcastic fashion, "Not tonight. Maybe. Just don't push. I'll talk when I'm ready."

Justin simply nodded. It was a major concession and one he didn't want to have Brian regret making. "I know you appreciate the time you spend with Gus, Brian. I know you're a good father."

"You've said that about me from the very beginning. How did you know that I wasn't going to fuck things up royally?"

Justin merely smiled and held his hand out to Brian, who helped him up. "Because, baby, I'm onto you."

"Shouldn't it be I've got you, babe," Brian said, unsurprised when Justin got the reference to the Sonny-and-Cher song.

"Yeah," he said softly watching as the look in Brian's eyes gentled. He knew that there were moments of genuine affection and emotion between them that would go unmarked by those closest to them but it was those times that he treasured the most. Deciding to change the subject because they'd done enough of the mining the emotions thing, Justin said, "You want me to order you some Thai?"

"No, I had a turkey sandwich at the diner," Brian said, and might have said more had Gus not piped in with a, "No, you didn't, Daddy. You didn't eat."

Turning back to Justin who had a "you're so busted" expression on his face, Brian had the grace to look momentarily abashed. "I was dealing with shit," he said quietly. "I lost my appetite. You know how the diner food affects me."

Justin merely gave him a look (Brian sometimes ate diner food for three meals a day) and then said, "So do you want Thai or not?"

Brian smiled and said, "A peanut butter and avocado sandwich, honey."

Raising an eyebrow at the endearment which wasn't delivered too sarcastically, Justin nevertheless found his way in the kitchen. The sandwich was one of the few things Brian could fix without making a disaster in the kitchen. Justin smiled to himself remembering the one time he'd come home to find Brian trying to make a chicken casserole. They'd ordered out that night.

Brian watched his partner make his way around their kitchen and felt a sudden pang. I'm really going to miss him, he thought. He knew that it would only take one word from him for Justin to call Brett Keller and turn down the opportunity. He also knew that if he gave Justin that incentive that the younger man might never forgive him. Turning his attention away from his partner for the moment, Brian walked up the stairs and glanced at his son. "Hey, Gus. Want me to get your PJ's?"

His son nodded and then said, "You and Justin all right, Daddy?"

"Yeah, kiddo. Daddy and Justin are all right," Brian said, meaning the words.

He hadn't forgotten his admission of earlier that evening but was relieved to find that Justin wasn't harping on it. Somehow he'd thought that Justin would make him repeat it over and over again. The other Justin, the Justin pre-Prom might have, but the Justin post-reconciliation and post-cancer wouldn't. Brian found himself admiring his partner even more. Brian knew he hadn't made it easy for him but somehow Justin had stuck and they'd found themselves closer than ever. He sometimes wondered what might have happened had it not been Justin who asked for the second chance but knew better than to do the hindsight thing. All that mattered now was that he had him back.

"Daddy," Gus said, and brought his father's attention back to the present. "I want to wear the PJ's."

Brian hunted for the bag Lindsay had dropped off and then handed his son the pair, proud that he didn't wince at the sight of the cartoon characters emblazoned on them. Christ, can't either of those women have some fashion sense? Then it occurred to him, of course not, they are lesbians after all not denizens of haute couture. Like me. Have I mentioned that Brian's narcissism was as innate as his psychological demons?

Gus quickly put on the PJ's with a speed that impressed his father. As Brian watched his son settle in to the center of their bed, he was unaware of the very loving and gentle expression on his face. Justin, watching his partner from a not insignificant distance away saw the look in Brian's eyes. He slowly walked up the stairs and lightly touched Brian on the arm. "He looks just like you," he said softly.

Brian turned and smiled. "Yeah, he does." Then he reached out and took the plate with the sandwich and said, "Thanks."

Justin shrugged, letting Brian know that he'd been happy to do it for him. Justin and Brian sat watching Gus shift as he got more comfortable, finally curling up in a near-fetal position that both men recognized. Brian was kind of surprised that his son hadn't asked him for a bedtime story but he figured the kid was just worn out. Putting a finger to his lips, Brian took Justin's hand and led him back downstairs. They settled on one of the pillows and Brian put the plate on the light box as he said, "I know why you were upset earlier today. I know it bothers you that I can say it to everybody else but not you."

Justin shook his head and began to respond but stopped when he saw that Brian wasn't through talking. "I know that I've been shitty to you. That I've kicked you out and told you that you weren't my partner (not one of his finer moments). I think I'll get there. It will just take me some time."

The fact that Brian even worried about the fact that Justin needed to hear him say "I love you," was a balm to Justin's bruised feelings. But now he didn't need the words as much as he once had. Hell, if he didn't know that Brian loved him by now, he'd never know it. And he was willing to accept a lot of the shit that came with loving Brian, because he had the parts of Brian that were good and loving and only ever directed at him and for him. There were things and actions that Brian would only do for him. Not Michael. Only him.

"And you don't need to worry about Michael," Brian finished.

At that Justin looked up to see Brian wearing a somewhat worried or conflicted expression. He seemed genuinely concerned about his partner's reaction. "I know how you feel. I know you love Michael. I'm okay with that. Besides I think his husband would have something to say about it if he made a play for you now."

"God, that's strange, isn't it?"

"What?"

"Michael as someone's husband. It's just I-" Brian began and then cut himself off as he realized what he started to say.

"You always thought he'd be there hanging out in your shadow?" Justin was mighty pleased that no heat accompanied the words.

Yeah, there was still some bitterness between him and Michael but it was now mellowing. He had to admit that he had reason to be grateful for Michael not saying anything about the job offer to Brian. Yet he somehow doubted that Brian would be as grateful. In fact, he figured Brian would be pretty fucking pissed when/if he found out that his supposed best friend had kept such an important detail from him. Of all the times for Michael Novotny to keep his mouth shut. Justin was relieved that he could find the amusement in the situation. But he knew that if Brian got a wild hair up his ass to confront Michael and see if Michael knew about the possibility of a job on the set, it would be bad for everyone.

Brian's eyes narrowed as he took a bite of the sandwich to keep from delivering a snarky, sarcastic comment in response. He swallowed before answering. "No. I just thought that he'd end up someone's wife." Okay, so that wasn't really what he thought but I think we all know Brian Kinney's views on marriage by now. "Ben's a good guy. And Hunter's a mixed-up kid. Ben and Mikey will be good for him."

Justin snickered at Brian's summation of Hunter as a "mixed-up kid". That supposedly mixed-up kid did a pretty good job of flirting with his lover every chance he got and Brian, damn him, encouraged him slightly. Though Justin had noticed lately that Brian's temper was flaring a little bit more when the kid made his suggestive comments, accompanied with the prerequisite wiggled eyebrows. God, Justin thought, the poor kid didn't have a chance. Brian's mine, he thought.

"What?"

"Just that you're remarkably accepting of Hunter all of a sudden."

Brian's eyes narrowed again. "I would never fuck him," he said, a little indignant at the assumption Justin was making. He did have some discretion and lanky, greasy-haired kids just weren't his style.

"I know," Justin said, recognizing dangerous water when he felt it. Damn, they'd been having such a good conversation. And he really didn't want to fuck it up now. "I'm not jealous. And I know that Mikey's your best friend and you'll always love him."

And that lay at the crux of the matter. Brian was smart enough to realize that. "You two need to get over your petty jealousies. Michael's got a husband and I've got you. You're my little shit and I intend to keep it that way."

"Ooh," Justin said. "Am I Jane?"

"Me Tarzan. You Jane." Brian said, doing a passable imitation of the character. Gus had recently coaxed him into watching the cartoon version because he refused to watch Brendan Fraser cavort in a loincloth though he hadn't minded him so much in The Mummy. Hell, that movie at least had the hot Billy Zane in it. "Seriously Justin. I know you and Michael have come to some sort of truce over me. But I hate being pulled between you two. It's like watching two dogs with one bone and I hate being the fucking bone."

"Okay, Mufasa," Justin said and was rewarded with one of Brian's rare genuine smiles. It brought back good memories. Deciding once again that a change of topic was in order, he watched as Brian finished the sandwich and then emitted a very self-satisfied belch. In some ways, Brian was still a typical man. In others he was all but typical. "So you want to do New York?"

Brian nodded and said, "We're steering clear of the East Village and Chelsea."

"Why?"

Hesitating, Brian found himself standing, looking out at the sleeping city. It was weird that somehow he didn't mind the nights he and Justin spent alone at the loft so much. He found that Babylon was losing its allure to a degree. Well, he was never into recycled goods and lately that was all he'd found at Babylon. He sensed Justin move up beside him and turned his head to look at his partner. "Did I ever tell you that when I was twenty I made a trip to New York?"

Justin slowly shook his head and moved closer to Brian. Brian marked the action and said in a low, husky tone, "Come here."

Justin found himself tucked in beside Brian and then the other man began to speak again. "I wanted to go for some reason and Mom and Dad didn't want to pay for the trip. I was busting my ass with school and work and soccer. I knew that Michael didn't have the money to go and I didn't want to make him feel worse by not asking him. So one night I found myself in the gay district and this guy approached me. He said he'd give me $300 if I'd suck him off. It wasn't the worst offer I'd ever had and the guy wasn't that bad looking. Kind of hot in a rough way, you know the type."

Justin was silent. He'd never heard this story before. But now Brian's reaction to him dancing at Babylon was suddenly much clearer. It made sense now that more lay behind the reaction than just jealousy. "I let him suck me off and he gave me the three bills. He said how nice my dick was and told me I could earn an extra $100 if I could suck him off. I'd never done anything like what he was asking me, at least not for money. I felt a little weird about it but it was an easy $400 if I didn't let myself think about what I was giving up."

"Brian,"Justin began.

"Let me finish. So I knelt in that dirty alley and got the guy off. He paid me and said that there were ways I could earn that much money nightly if I wanted to. I shook my head. I wasn't naive enough that I didn't understand what he was implying. I wanted the money but I had no intention of becoming a hustler. I had more self-respect for myself than that."

"Is that why seeing me hustle for Sap bothered you so much?"

"Yeah, it's part of it. I don't think anyone would like seeing their boyfriend shaking their ass for a bunch of tweaked-out crystal queens and horny queers. But yeah, I didn't want to see you drifting down the same path I did. I wanted more for you. That's why I wanted you to take the money from me."

"Why are you telling me this now?"

"Because I understand how seductive the thought of a quick buck can be. But you're worth so much more than that, Justin. When you go out to Hollywood, don't sell your dreams for a dollar. Remember that you have them and what you've had to go through to get there." Brian hesitated a moment, "I just have some bad memories of that particular trip to New York. Can you understand that?"

Justin nodded. But he still didn't entirely understand the man. "Why don't we make new memories to replace the bad ones?"

"Maybe."

Then cracked a smile as he asked, "A pep talk? From Brian Kinney?" He could tell from Brian's noncommittal reaction that his attempt at levity was lost on the man.

"Hey, I'm having a moment here," Brian said. "I just don't want you to let some Hollywood jack-off persuade you into giving up the strength and fiber of what went into making Rage and JT a success." Tempering his serious tone, Brian smirked as he said, "Besides I am Rage after all."

Yes, Brian was Rage but he'd mellowed a bit. Justin seriously doubted he would live to see his 22nd birthday if he reminded Brian of that fact. Besides, after the blow-up earlier that evening when he'd walked out, he'd half wondered if he'd ever see the loft again. It was weird seeing it through a lens that now said that he lived here. Again. And for real, this time.

"Hey, Sunshine, what's with the gerbil routine?"

Okay, moment over. Justin began to glare at him and then decided it wasn't worth the effort. Brian wouldn't change that much. "Nothing. Just thinking."

"Thinking is highly overrated," Brian said, with a suggestive look on his face that said he'd rather do something else. Something very likely illegal in several states.

But the story Brian had just related was still fresh in Justin's mind. He didn't think Brian would ever understand just how much it hurt him when Brian was hurting. Sometimes it was actual physical pain, like the pain you get when someone is sticking a needle in your arm to draw blood. Other times it was just a topical sensation. But he couldn't imagine just how Brian had felt when he'd given some guy head for money. And not even for desperate reasons, that would be bad enough, but for a trip to New York.

Brian marked the sad look in his partner's eyes and regretted for a moment telling Justin the story. Then he realized that Justin was possibly the only person who would understand. "Michael doesn't know."

Justin moved into his arms and Brian embraced him, Justin nearly sitting astride him. There was a slight twinge in his collarbone but he could deal with the pain as long as it made that look in his Sunshine's eyes go away. "I love you, Brian," Justin said quietly and Brian knew he was forcing back emotion.

"I know," he said, resting his chin atop Justin's head, breathing in the clean scent of shampoo and the faint scent of the expensive moisturizer that Justin had only recently begun using. Better to start early he guessed but he figured that any lines Justin might have were a direct result of a relationship with him.

Justin knew, he just knew, how difficult this had to be on Brian but he was elated by the other man's admission. What a major thing it was for Brian to admit his feelings. He began to say something and then heard a banging on the loft door. Both he and Brian looked up at each other; Brian with a bleak look in his eyes. Fuck me, they both thought as Brian sluggishly walked towards the front door. At least, they weren't fucking, he thought, though it was of little comfort at the moment.

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