Complications of the Mind

Chapter 5

While Brian went to the door, Justin went to check on Gus, making sure that he was still sleeping. Gus had turned onto his side and Justin stood there for a moment just watching the child sleep. He was about to go back to join Brian when he heard his lover's voice say, "Why are you here?"

Justin went to the top of the stairs and looked down, stunned speechless when he saw Brian's two nephews standing framed in the door. What the fuck are the Terrible Two doing here? And where the hell is Claire? He had no idea just how close his thoughts paralleled Brian's but wouldn't have been too surprised.

Justin walked downstairs to join his lover and saw John's eyes go a shade darker. "Oh, you're here," he said derisively.

Brian glanced at his partner and refrained from making a snide remark. Clearly the kids were here for a reason. He just couldn't fathom a reason that the demon spawn of his sister would darken his doorstep and alone. "He's my partner, John."

Before John had a chance to respond, Peter, the younger of the two, spoke up. "Uncle Brian, what does that mean?"

Since Peter had never done anything cruel to him, Brian saw the sense in at least being kind to the kid. It wasn't his fault that his mother was a cunt and his older brother was a homophobe in training. "He's my boyfriend, Peter. He lives with me." Brian said.

John snorted and said, "He means that they suck each other's cocks and fuck each other."

Brian glared and took a step forward when he felt the calming pressure of Justin's hand upon his arm. He glanced at his partner and took a deep breath. Justin knew that Brian was never good at dealing with family and particularly not his nephews. He'd heard the story of Brian telling the young boys that he had their grandfather's head in a bowling bag at the wake of Brian's dad. So he figured it was up to him to broker some sort of peace accord. "Peter, we have a Play Station 2. Why don't you come with me?"

Peter followed Justin into the living room and left John and Brian staring at each other. Finally realizing that he wasn't going to win a staring contest with his uncle, John began to speak. "I think something happened to Peter," he began.

"Like what?" Brian asked. If the kid could make an attempt at being civil, so could he. After all, he was the grown up. Supposedly.

"He's been spending a lot of time with the older altar boys and spent some time alone with Father Padraic O'Connell."

Brian had begun paying more attention. With all the headlines about corrupt priests and pedophilia running rampant within the Catholic Church, even a lapsed Catholic like himself paid attention. "You said Padraic O'Connell?"

John nodded. "You know him?"

Brian sighed and looked at his nephew. Before getting any further into this conversation, he knew that he needed to tell Claire that her offspring were safe. Somehow he doubted that she'd see it that way but he knew that John had to be desperate to come to him for help. "Where does your mother think you are?"

"Asleep," John said. "We snuck out through the bedroom window."

Realizing a smile would be seen as a sign of encouragement, Brian simply said, "I pulled that one myself on nights when your grandfather beat the shit out of me."

John's eyes went wide. "Granddad beat you?"

Brian nodded. "Yeah, he did. You remember that story I told at the funeral?"

John studied his uncle and then nodded. "Yeah. It was true?"

Trust Claire to make it seem like Brian was a master of prevarication when she was no novice at it herself. He didn't ever want to lie to his son. "Jack Kinney was a mean son of a bitch when he drank. And sometimes when he was sober as a judge. He didn't want another kid and he certainly didn't want me."

"Because you are gay?"

Of course John would think that. "Dad didn't know that until a few months before he died. No, he didn't want me because I was me. I wanted more than a pension plan and a job with the union." He glanced at his nephew and said warily, "What do you think happened to Peter?" I'll be damned if I get accused of fondling another one of my nephews.

Sensing his uncle's reluctance to get involved in anything involving him and his brother, John bit his lip. "I shouldn't have taken the money and the bracelet, Uncle Brian. I shouldn't have accused you of what I did. I was just pissed at Mom for dumping me on you."

"I was pissed at your mother for dumping you on me," Brian said, realizing that his young nephew probably had just as low an opinion of his mother as he did but for different reasons. Claire was just his sister. He had no idea what it would be like to grow up with his sister as a mother. "And I shouldn't have shoved your head in the toilet."

To his amazement John just grinned.

He glanced over and saw Justin and Peter playing Lara Croft. Somehow his partner had convinced him to buy the game and since various sexual favors were promised in return, he'd acquiesced. "Uncle Brian," John said tentatively.

Brian returned his attention to his unexpected guest and said, "Yeah. Let me call your mom, John. Can I trust you not to take anything?"

John nodded, looking sheepish and guilty. "I'm not going to accuse you of anything. Uncle Brian."

Okay, the uncle part was beginning to bother him. So Brian said, "Drop the uncle. Just call me Brian. So you want anything to drink?" Thank God, he and Justin had gone to the grocery store. He had all kinds of junk food and other unhealthy items.

"Beer," John said, obviously testing the limits of what his new unexpected ally would allow him to get away with.

Brian cracked a smile. Smart-ass kid. "Try again."

Well, John thought, it was worth a try. "Soda. Can I use your bathroom?"

"Yeah," Brian said, turning to grab a bottle of soda and then a glass. It was only as he turned back that he realized he'd forgotten about his sleeping son. Shit, he thought. Well, the kids had to find out about their cousin someday. He looked up to see his partner staring at him. "What?" he asked softly.

Justin smiled slightly. "You're a good uncle," he said.

Brian snorted. "Try telling Claire and my mother that. You get anything out of Peter?"

"Only that something is going on at church and at school. You ever notice that the kids who go to parochial school are sometimes more fucked-up than the kids who go to public school?"

"I think it depends," Brian said. "Nothing much out of John except that his brother's been hanging out with an older crowd. Sixteen-year-old altar boys." Brian remembered himself at sixteen and knew just how much trouble kids could get into when they wanted to.

"Christ, Brian," Justin said and then said nothing as they were joined by a wide-eyed John.

"Brian, who's the kid in your bed?"

Brian and Justin exchanged glances and then Brian swallowed hard. "My son," he answered.

"No shit?"

"No shit," Brian responded in kind. "His name is Gus. He's four."

"I thought you didn't sleep with girls."

"I don't. It happened through artificial insemination, John."

"You mean that you jacked off in a cup and then they inserted it into her."

Well, shit. It was scary just how much John's interpretation matched what Brian had told Justin about the experience. Brian nodded. His nephew seemed to have grown up a slight bit though Brian still didn't entirely trust him. He glanced at his partner and saw the gleam of amusement in Justin's eyes. He found little about this whole situation amusing.

"I'm going to call Claire," Brian said, leaving his partner and nephew in the kitchen.

Justin watched Brian out of the corner of his eye, knowing that Peter was engrossed in the game, and said, "You okay, John?"

Rather than answering the question, John looked at him, really looked at him, and then said, "I think someone did something to Peter."

Justin took a deep breath and said, "Something bad?"

John slowly nodded, taking a sip of soda. He remembered Justin coming up to him in the arcade and how he'd reacted. Granted it had only been a few years ago but he'd grown up in a household where homosexuality was not condoned or even discussed so he'd felt uncomfortable especially remembering the confrontation at their house later. His mom had a habit of referring to her brother as "that queer" or "that fag". His grandmother wasn't much better. "I think someone touched him or made him do something."

"Like what?" Justin said, not intending to put words in the kid's mouth. If John had suspicions it was better he talk about them than respond to suggestions.

"Maybe Father Padraic got Petey to suck his dick," John said, looking down as he spoke. "Or got him to touch his dick."

Wasn't living with Claire bad enough? Justin wondered, stealing a look at his partner. "Have you gotten any kind of sense that might have happened from Father Padraic?"

John set the glass down and then his expression changed. "Yeah, because he did it to me," he burst out and then to Justin's surprise he began to cry.

Brian glanced over and then hit the redial on the phone again. Claire better be there, he thought. He had no intention of taking care of his nephews for longer than an hour. He muffled a curse when he heard the answering machine again. Where the fuck are you Claire? Knowing his sister she'd probably call the cops if she knew her offspring were with him.

Rejoining his lover and nephew in the kitchen, he was astounded to see John crying. He raised an eyebrow and met Justin's eyes. His lover mouthed the words, "It's bad," and Brian stifled a groan. He was not equipped to deal with this shit even though he was usually the only calm head in a crisis, except when it involved someone he cared about, like Justin or Michael. "John, does your mom have a cell phone?"

The weeping teen looked at his uncle and shook his head. Brian rolled his eyes upward. Couldn't she join the technological age? "She said it costs too much money. And Grandma said only drug dealers and pimps have cell phones."

Brian couldn't help snorting at that. "Sounds like something my mother would say. There's no answer at your house. You think she might have gone out looking for you two?"

John shook his head again and Brian was struck for the first time by the familial resemblance. He'd never seen it before or he'd just never cared enough to look. "No, usually she just passes out. She really likes vodka."

Like mother, like daughter, Brian thought. But he couldn't blame Claire for that too much since he shared his father's affinity for well-aged scotch. "You want to tell me why you're so upset?"

John glanced at Justin, his sudden and unexpected ally. He supposed his uncle's partner wasn't too bad. Justin gave him an encouraging look and John said, "Father Sean's been touching me, Brian."

Brian took ahold of the bar stool and stared hard at his nephew. The little fuck better not be making this up. As if the kid had read his uncle's mind, John suddenly stiffened his spine, a move both men recognized from their encounters with Joan Kinney, and said, "I'm not making it up, Uncle Brian. I think he's been touching Peter too."

"When did this start?" Brian asked, taking great breaths to keep from exploding. Couldn't one generation of Kinney children have a break?

"About a year and a half ago," John admitted, not meeting his uncle's eyes. He knew what his uncle was going to think and couldn't exactly blame him.

"Is that why you accused me of molestation, John?" He couldn't quite keep all the anger out of his voice but he tried.

John's eyes welled up with tears again and then he said, "I didn't think about how it could fuck up your life. I just needed someone to believe that something bad was happening."

"And you couldn't tell your mom the truth?"

All three were astonished when a voice from behind them said, "No, Uncle Brian, we couldn't tell Mom the truth. We can't tell Mom the truth because she'll punish us for saying something bad about the Catholic Church."

Brian turned around and saw his youngest nephew looking at him. "Claire beats you?" Well, there goes the last option of my remaining neutral, he thought. He couldn't just stand by and do nothing while his nephews were going through this. And where the hell was their father in all of this?

"What about your dad?" Justin asked, not missing the dark expression on Brian's face as he asked the question.

"Don't know where he is. The alimony and child support checks stopped coming a long time ago," John answered, taking another sip of soda and putting an arm around his younger brother. "And she doesn't exactly beat us, but she has pulled out the belt on occasion."

Brian suddenly had a better idea of why his nephew had tried the five-finger stroll through his wallet. He ran a hand through his chestnut hair and then said in a gentler tone, "John, is that why you were taking money from me?"

"Partly," John admitted. "And part was because Mom always talks about how you have more money than God. But I knew that Peter needed a new pair of sneakers and even with Mom working all those hours at the hospital it isn't enough."

"Did you think about telling me all this then?" Brian asked, not sure he would have listened.

Again, John asked, "Would you have listened?"


Brian looked down at the portable phone and then said, "Do you want me to call Grandma to come get you?" He knew it was a useless question. His mother was usually deep into the cups by ten o'clock in the morning. Still he was somewhat surprised when the boys chorused, "No!"

"Can't we just stay here, Uncle Brian?" Peter asked with a look on his face and Brian knew he'd feel like a shit if he said no. Besides he couldn't just turn the boys down and send them back into the night.

Resigned to the company of his nephews, Brian glanced at his lover. Justin had a matching expression on his face. "Yeah, the bed's up there. There are spare toothbrushes in the cabinet." He turned to Justin and said, "You have any extra boxers that John could borrow?"

John suddenly flushed as the reality of his uncle's living arrangement came home to him. Brian's not such a bad guy, he thought, feeling guilty for the way he'd treated him a few years back. "It's okay, Brian. I can sleep in my jeans."

"I've got some sweats," Justin said. "They may be a little big but it'll be okay for one night. Want me to help you guys get set up?"

John and Peter nodded and Justin led them into the bathroom, while Brian stood in the kitchen, wondering what exactly he was going to do. Then he picked up the discarded portable phone and dialed Claire's number again. He had little hope that his sister would actually answer but still he knew he needed to make the call. When the answering machine picked up again, he said, "Claire, it's Brian. Your kids are here. When you get this message, call me or come over. Do not call the fucking cops on me."

He had just hung up when Justin and the two boys returned. Sure enough John was nearly swimming in Justin's sweatpants but it was Peter who concerned Brian. "Are you okay, Peter?" Brian asked.

"What Father Padraic's been doing is wrong, isn't it?" he asked, the plaintive note in his voice tearing at Brian's heart.

"Yeah, Peter, it's wrong."

"But isn't what you and Justin do wrong too?"

Brian avoided looking at John, sure that the elder of the pair would have a smug expression on his face. "Justin and I are in a consensual relationship, Peter. What Father Sean is asking you to do is wrong and it's not something you can consent to."

He wasn't sure that Peter understood but he'd given as delicate an answer as he could. He'd never been one to carefully craft his words but he knew better than to give a smart-ass response. The kid wasn't trying to be rude or insensitive. "He made me do things, Uncle Brian," Peter said. "Bad things."

"How old are you now?" Brian asked. He could never remember his nephews' ages and why would he when he made great effort to stay away from his family?

"Twelve," Peter answered, voice quavering.

"You can't consent to what Father Padraic did to you, Peter. It was wrong. Evil behavior." Not intending that this stretch any further into the wee hours of morning than it already had, Brian said, "You two try to get some sleep. I'll call your mom in the morning."

Peter went up the stairs and Brian heard him getting comfortable. It was John who took a moment to linger. Brian sent him a questioning look and then John said, "Thanks. I think you made him feel better. He's still just a kid."

"So are you, John. We'll talk some more in the morning. I'll introduce you two to Gus then."

John nodded and took a step towards his uncle and then hesitated. Brian marked the action and then said, "It'll be okay, John."

Later, once they were sure the two boys were asleep, Brian and Justin found themselves talking in low tones so as not to disturb the three children. Though both usually slept nude, Brian had slipped on a pair of crimson silk pajama bottoms and Justin wore a pair of sweatpants. "Did you try Claire again?" Justin asked.

"Yeah. I got the answering machine again. You know, if Claire would talk to her kids it would be different."

"You know how difficult it can be to trust parents, Brian."

Brian nodded and then said, "I can't believe they came to me. I nearly shut the door in John's face when I saw it was them."

"I know," Justin said. He glanced at his partner and said, "You did good tonight, Brian."

It always made Brian feel good when Justin praised him. It made him feel even better when he could hear the pride even though he didn't always acknowledge it. "I couldn't just shove 'em out, could I?" Then a sudden thought occurred to him, "How the fuck am I going to get them to school tomorrow?" He really did need a bigger car.

Justin nearly smiled and then thought better of it. "You will call them in sick tomorrow. And I will stay here with the kids while you go track down Claire and talk to Carl. He may not be in the child abuse division but I'm sure he knows some cops who are."

Brian groaned quietly. "I'm not exactly a friend of the boys in blue, Justin. And I nearly ended up wearing prison orange. And I don't look good in orange."

Justin slid closer to him, wrapping his arms around Brian's neck. "It's going to be okay. You'll be fine. The boys will be fine. Let's just sleep."

"I'd rather fuck you," Brian said, morose that it couldn't happen. Then he felt Justin's lips on his and they kissed long and passionately. When the kiss broke, he looked into Justin's eyes and spoke quietly, "Thanks."


They were awakened a few hours later by a fierce knocking on the door. Since it had begun to be a pattern, Brian rolled away from Justin and crossed to the door. He slid it open and was faced with an obviously angry and hung-over Claire. "You fucking pervert," she hissed. "Where the hell are my kids?"

"Up there," Brian said, indicating his bedroom. "With my kid."

Without another word, she clomped up the stairs and stopped dead when she saw the young child in bed beside her sleeping sons. She turned and was faced with an equally angry Brian. "What did you do to my kids?"

At her harsh words, John stirred in his sleep and then slowly opened his eyes. "Mom," he said, voice harsh with sleep. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing. Get your little butt up. We're leaving. What did your uncle do to you?"

John looked at his mother and then at his uncle. Gathering strength from some hidden reserve of resolve, he said, "Nothing. Mom, he didn't do anything to us. He let us crash here. He was nice to us."

Startled at the unexpected praise, Brian was pleased but knew better than to show that reaction. "I don't believe that," she said.

"Fuck you, Claire," Brian said quietly. "You didn't even know where your fucking kids were. I won't be blamed because you are a miserable excuse for a parent."

"How dare you?!" she said, raising a hand.

Brian marked the action and then said dryly, "You hit me and I hit you back, Claire. I'm not ten anymore. I don't think you want to play that card."

"You fucking little faggot," she said.

"Claire, you have it right on all but one count. I'm not little," Brian said and then his sister's hand was arcing through the air making dead-on contact with his cheek.

John watched in horror and saw Justin sit up, rubbing his eyes as he looked around for his partner. Justin heard the impact and then was up the stairs. He stood between Brian and Claire. "We did nothing wrong, you malicious cunt. Your kids came here because you were in an alcoholic stupor. They needed their uncle's help because you aren't doing your job as a mother."

"We're leaving," Claire hissed. "Get your clothes now!"

Brian fully expected his nephew to heel but was surprised when John stood his ground. "You hit Uncle Brian for no reason, Mom. Just like you hit me and Peter. Father Padraic has been touching both of us. He made me touch his dick and suck it."

If it were any other person, of any other age, Brian might have asked if he'd enjoyed it. But the horrors of child abuse were nothing to joke about. Apparently John wasn't done because he said, "Father Tom's gay, Mom. Uncle Brian never did anything to me. I stole the money and the bracelet because I was pissed off at you."

"Don't use such language and don't say that about Father Tom," Claire said, knowing that she'd lost face in front of her eldest son. But the horror of her son's statement was suddenly penetrating the alcoholic haze. "Father Padraic has been molesting you?"

John slowly nodded. "Yeah, Mom. Did you really think all those times he wanted to give me private lessons was because I didn't know the verses? You and Grandma drill them into me enough."

Brian was beginning to understand his nephew a little better. He could still quote chapter and verse of the Bible on occasion. It wasn't a talent he used but he remembered. "Claire, I think your son has been through enough. Let the kid go back to sleep," he said, rubbing the place on his cheek where her hand had made contact. He was grateful that she wasn't wearing rings. That would have hurt more. Now it was the indignity of her action that bothered him more.

"I don't listen to you," she said. "Don't tell me how to raise my kids, Brian."

"You're not raising them. You didn't even sense there might be a problem."

"And you're such a saint with your fucking teenage boyfriend."

"I'm twenty-one," Justin said. Christ, didn't this woman ever learn?

"He's my partner, Claire. And our relationship is none of your fucking business. Now, let John get some sleep. I'll make coffee."

Claire glanced at her son and saw how tired he looked. Of course, her brother looked gorgeous as usual, except for his usual case of bad bed-hair. Not wishing to argue, Claire simply followed Brian back into the kitchen. She took a stool and Justin took the other, surreptitiously moving it a bit further away. He rather doubted Claire would notice.

Claire slumped into the chair and Brian pulled down the coffee pot. He wondered briefly if he had anything to knock her out. But then he said, "John's right. Father Tom is gay."

"That's blasphemy," Claire said. "I don't believe you."

Brian and Justin looked at each other. "I fucked him in the baths," Brian said. "He sure does look different when he's on all fours begging for my dick." As he spoke he couldn't look at Justin knowing that the other man would probably, no definitely not approve of his last statement.

"You are disgusting," Claire responded. "How could you sleep with a priest?"

"Sleeping wasn't involved," he said with a smirk, avoiding Justin's eyes. He knew his partner would think the comment was ill-advised but at the moment he didn't give a fuck. When did the loft turn into Grand Central Station? "And I didn't know until I took Mom to church, Claire." Brian said, measuring out coffee. "Don't you think your sons are more important?"

"Don't tell me how to raise my kids, Brian. I'm the only one they've got."

"They've got me," Brian pointed out. "They were so desperate for someone to listen to them that John came to me. He came to the man he accused of molestation because he couldn't talk to you, Claire. Don't you see how fucked up that is?"

Suddenly weary, Claire slowly nodded. "What do you want me to do, Brian? I work fifty hours a week and I'm barely making ends meet. The boys are growing and need new stuff every other week it seems."

"And their dad?"

"John, Senior, has all but disappeared," she said. "The last time I heard from him was two years ago. That's when the alimony and child support checks stopped coming."

"Is that when you started telling your kids about how much money their Uncle Brian had and how selfish he was for not giving you any?" Justin asked. He had lost all sympathy for Claire if he'd ever had any. Man, she was a miserable human being.

Claire turned to meet his eyes. "How can you sit there and talk to me like that? He's your sugar daddy, isn't he?"

Both Brian and Justin winced. "No, we're partners, Claire. I may not make as much money as Brian but I don't depend on him for everything. In fact, I'm leaving for California in a month to work on a movie."

"What exactly does 'partner' mean?" Claire asked, voice sarcastic.

Justin began to answer and then Brian cut him off, "He's the closest thing to a brother-in-law you have, Claire. So just fucking deal with the fact that I'm in a relationship with another man. A hot younger man." He took a deep breath and then said, "Cream and sugar?"

"No, I drink it black." Claire said and then openly began to study Justin. "So you two love each other?" she asked.

"I love him," Justin answered. He couldn't look at Brian.

"Brian?" Claire inquired with little of her customary acidity.

Brian poured coffee into three mugs and looked at his sister. "I care a lot about him, Claire. Shouldn't you be more concerned about your kids?"

"What about your kid?"

"Lindsay's his mother, Claire. Artificial insemination. Your kids, Claire. I'm not the issue here tonight." Why can't she stay on topic?

"What do you suggest I do, Brian?"

"Well, Claire," he said, with exaggerated patience. "You call the cops and they'll take John and Peter's statements. And then you get them away from that school."

"I can't afford another private school," she said. "They're on a partial scholarship, Brian."

"Public school, Claire. It's where I went. I still went on to get my bachelor's degree and own my own business. There's no reason why John and Peter can't do the same."

"But there are all the problems in public schools. I don't want my kids walking through metal detectors and dealing with all the security measures."

Priorities? "Would you rather them stay in an environment which is even more unhealthy to their mental and physical health? Claire, the boys deserve to go to school in a safe environment."

She sighed and then took a sip of her coffee. She looked at her brother and said, "What about you?"

"What about me?" Brian said, figuring he knew where she was going next. "I'm not their father, Claire. It's not my responsibility to bail you out every time you have trouble."

"But-" she began.

"Claire, public school isn't so bad. I'll help you do the research and see which one is best for the boys. But you can't have them go back to Saint Ignatius'."

Hearing the logic in what her brother was saying, Claire nodded with resignation. "I'm sorry they dumped all this on you, Brian."

"Your son apologized for lying about me molesting him, Claire," Brian said, hoping she'd take the hint.

Of course, Claire didn't. She simply continued to drink coffee. Brian glanced at his partner and said, "Justin, you can go back to sleep. I think the drama's over for a little while."

Slowly Justin shook his head. Brian had lost it if he thought he was leaving him to deal with Claire alone. United we stand, he thought.

John had laid awake in bed listening to his uncle and mother arguing. He cried silently as he tried to fall back asleep. His uncle seemed to have his best interests at heart and he hadn't just kicked him and Peter out. He wished his mother would act like she cared more about them, that they were more than just a nuisance to her. Finally he kicked free of the sheet and walked downstairs.

"Mom," John said quietly.

His mother turned to look at him. Certain he had her attention at least for the moment John took a deep breath. "Uncle Brian didn't do anything to me. This is not his fault. Father Padraic is sick and he's touched both of us. I need a mother right now, not a religious zealot," he said, sounding much older than his years.

Justin and Brian exchanged glances and then waited. Claire set down her coffee cup and said, "What do you want from me?"

"I need a mom," John said. "Do you know how it made me feel to spend time with him alone and then when he called Peter into his office? I knew something bad was going to happen but I couldn't stop it."

Claire looked at her son and then at her younger brother. "Brian, what do we need to do?"

"I think both John and Peter need to be examined for signs of sexual trauma. The best place to do that is at the ER. They can see if anything else has been done. They'll notify the cops and then eliminate those males closest to the family as possible perpetrators. That includes me, I guess." He looked at his nephew and said, "Go wake your brother up. It's obvious that this can't wait."

While John did so, Brian thought about the logistics of how everyone was going to get to the hospital. "I'll ride with you and the boys, Claire. Justin will drive the 'Vette and I'll call my friend Debbie to come stay with Gus."

Claire's eyes filled with tears. For years, she'd seen Brian as the bad guy, the one with all the money and success, the golden boy. Now she was seeing her younger brother as a man who had a family and a partner. She picked up a napkin and dabbed at her tears, finally meeting her brother's eyes. "Thanks," she said, not faltering over the word. "I appreciate your help."

"Yeah," Brian said, not sure he believed her or not. "I'm going to get dressed. Justin."

Justin nodded and said, "I'll call Deb and let her know what's going on. Unless you'd rather me call Lindz."

Brian shook his head and said, "Lindsay's dealing with her own stuff right now. Besides this is family stuff. I think she'll understand."

Claire narrowed her eyes as she glanced at her brother and the young man he called his partner. Even she could see how much the two of them cared about each other even if she thought it a disgrace and an abomination in the eyes of God. She said nothing as they disappeared into the bathroom.

Once away from Claire's investigative eyes, Brian leaned against the wall and then felt Justin's arms loop around his neck. "I love you," he said.

"I know." Not for the first time he wished he had the stones to say it back. "I-Justin, I," he tried again and then just gave up.

"It's okay. Let's get dressed and deal with this. At least, Claire's listening and isn't accusing you of 'unnatural acts'."

Brian nodded. He opened the door that led from the bathroom to their bedroom and saw that the boys were dressed and probably waiting downstairs. He heard the low murmur of Claire's voice. He pulled on a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt and waited patiently as Justin got dressed. "You call Deb?"

Justin nodded and said, "She's on her way. She was kind of sleepy when I called but she understood when I said it was family stuff and not our relationship shit."

Brian felt a momentary stab of guilt but he wasn't given time to dwell upon it because he heard the knocking on the door. Obviously Deb had made it in record time. Brian was relieved. He walked downstairs to open the loft door and was stunned to find that Deb had forgotten her wig. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the woman without her red wig.

"Hey, Deb," Brian said and was engulfed in a hug.

"Hey, kiddo." She said, releasing him and then her eyes took in Claire and her two sons. "Claire," Debbie said cautiously.

Claire took in the sight of the woman and then she realized who it was. "You're Michael's mom, right?"

"Yeah, I'm Debbie Novotny. It's nice to see you again."

Not wishing to be rude but this was perhaps the least pleasurable experience Claire had ever gone through, she simply nodded. "These are my sons Peter and John Brennan."

Debbie nodded and said, "Hello, boys."

"Hi," both John and Peter said.

Brian watched the stiff interaction and wondered what Claire would have said if Debbie had arrived in her usual regalia. He figured she'd have torn out of the loft without looking back. But now that Debbie was there he realized that he and Justin could just follow Claire and the boys to the hospital. That sent a wave of relief coursing through him. He hadn't relished the thought of having to spend time with her in a confined space.

"Claire," he said, and his sister turned her attention to him. "We should go now."

Claire nodded and they said their goodbyes.

Once in the car, Brian flipped on the music, tuning into a heavy metal station that made Justin wince as he cranked up the volume. But he knew that Brian needed the distraction. Instead of speaking, he simply rested his hand on Brian's thigh, knowing that the simple act would be of some small comfort to his lover.

They were halfway to the hospital when Brian turned down the volume and said, "You do realize that I'm actively helping my sister? This should qualify me for sainthood and several hours of the sexual acts of my choosing."

"Planning on a visit to a backroom?"

"Smart ass. No, I meant you, you twat." The insult was a running joke between the two men and Justin no longer felt offended by it. Now he was simply relieved that he seemed to be back in true Brian form. He always was good in a crisis, Justin remembered, excepting the time he'd spent in the hospital after Hobbs.

"This is the first time I've been in a hospital since-" Justin began and then stopped.

Shit. Brian hadn't thought of that, hadn't thought of the impact on his lover. "You can stay in the lobby if you want. I'm sorry, Justin. I didn't even consider how this must be impacting you."

"Stop. It's okay, Brian. It didn't even occur to me until a few minutes ago. Stop acting like Atlas because you're not."

"I love it when you compare me to mythological characters. Makes me feel immortal."

"You're not, you know. But I still love you even when you're as stubborn as an ass."

"You love my ass," Brian said.

Justin grinned at him. "Yeah, I do. But I love other things about you too." His tone turned serious as he remembered the errand they were on and desperately hoping it wasn't a fool's errand. "How do you think Claire's doing with this? Really?"

Brian sighed as they pulled into the parking garage and he rolled down the window to take a ticket. He turned to his lover and said, "I don't know. Claire always bottles up her emotions. She and I are a lot alike in that way. I think she is probably internalizing a lot of this and feeling like she failed her two kids. That this is her fault. But when she lets go, she really lets go. You should have seen her at Pop's wake."

He pulled the car into a parking space and turned the engine off. "I hate dealing with this shit. Where the fuck is their dad, Sunshine? I never intended to participate in either of my nephew's lives especially after that stunt John pulled. I was shocked when he apologized to me."

"I know, baby." Justin started to say more and then hesitated when he saw the look in Brian's eyes. He was stunned to see tears form on the surface. "Brian, what is it? What's wrong?"

"Just you're the only one who can call me baby and not have me get my Irish up. You do realize that you make me do things I wouldn't ordinarily do?"

Justin nodded and lifted a hand to trace his jaw. "Let's go face the demons, Brian."

Brian simply nodded, grateful that he had the support of his lover to get him through this particular trial.

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