Complications of the Mind

Chapter 8

Michael stood there and fumed for minutes before he realized that his best friend had just given him the shaft, and not in a positive, life-affirming way. He looked down at the ring and then at the clock on the computer, sighing when he realized that his husband was still in class. It was a slow part of the day so Michael locked up the cash register and put the closed sign up on the door. One of the benefits of owning his own business was the fact that he didn't have to answer to anyone. He also didn't realize that he had overstepped with Brian and things would never be the same between them. Some things you just couldn't come back from.

When he arrived at his mom's, Debbie was dressed in a ratty old bathrobe and slippers, standard attire for a rare day off from the diner. Now that Vic was gone, she wasn't working so many shifts. "Hey, honey. Come in. I was just watching Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Let me just put it on pause." She noted his expression and figured it had something to do with his best friend.

"What's wrong?" she asked when he was comfortably situated on the couch.

"Brian and I had a fight," Michael said.

"He'll get over it, honey. He always does. What did you two argue about?"

Michael gulped and said, "I told him that he didn't love Justin. That what he felt for Justin wasn't real, like what I feel for Ben. I told him that he should be grateful that Justin is going to California."

Debbie just stared at her son in horror. She couldn't believe he'd done that. Oh wait a minute, yes she could. She had just hoped that once he'd married Ben this adolescent shit with Brian would be done. "Michael," she said, "that boy loves Justin. He loves Justin so much that he went through hell last night. Leave it alone. What they have is between them. It's not a clusterfuck."

"But Ma," Michael protested.

"No, Michael. Brian's entitled to a relationship of his own and doesn't need you messing around in it. They're partners. What he and Justin have may not fit the standard definition of partners but it is real. Don't fuck with it."

"I'm his best friend," Michael began the familiar refrain.

Debbie took a deep breath and said, "Honey, you're gonna lose him if you keep telling him that Justin's gonna hurt him again. That boy is worried about enough right now without you adding to the agitation. If you push him too far I guarantee you won't like the consequences."

"He wants custody of Gus."

That surprised Debbie so much she was momentarily speechless. Then she narrowed her eyes at her son, "Brian's his dad, sweetheart. He has helped out the girls on so many occasions. It's only fair that he gets to spend additional time with him. It's even more important now when Lindsay and Melanie are experiencing problems."

"He didn't even want him. He got up on the ledge at the hospital the night Gus was born and asked me if I thought we could fly."

"Michael Charles Novotny! Brian loves that kid. He's everything that is good and innocent about Brian. Gus represents everything that Jack and Joan destroyed in him, the qualities Justin is helping him rediscover. Don't begrudge him that. And, for Christ sake, get the fuck over it. Brian's life is more stable right now than it ever has been. He has Justin and things are going good. Don't butt your nose in where it doesn't belong."

Michael listened to his mother but he didn't hear a word she said. He wondered how he was going to get back into his best friend's good graces. He'd rarely seen Brian so pissed at him. Somehow he had to get his best friend to listen to him and understand that it was better for everyone if he cut things off with Justin for good.

Meanwhile, Brian dialed the number for Kinnetik. "Hey, Cyn. How are things?"

"Fine," Cynthia responded, kicking off her Prada pumps and massaging the ball of her foot. Those damn things killed her feet but they made her calves look amazing. "You okay? You sound wiped."

"Family shit," Brian said, lighting a cigarette, aware of the disapproving look he was getting from Justin who was sacked out on the futon, trying futilely to get some sleep. "Do I have a busy week?"

Cynthia pulled the agenda towards her and looked at it. "Nothing that can't be postponed. Nothing that I couldn't handle if you needed me to," she said, throwing a hint at her boss and friend.

"Fax me some ideas and I'll think about it," Brian said.

Cynthia had taken a bite from a dark chocolate candy bar and nearly choked as she heard what Brian had said. Is he actually going to allow me to pitch to clients more than once? Finally show my stuff as an ad exec? I've certainly learned from the master, she thought.

"Cyn, are you still there?" Brian asked, amused. "You choke on your chocolate?"

Cynthia glared at the phone, wondering idly if Brian had a mini-cam installed in the office that he could view remotely. Nothing about the man would surprise her. "Yes, I'm still here. Why don't you go fuck something?"

Brian looked at the reclining blond and said, "Not in the mood."

"What, it's broken?" she retorted.

"Never baby. Just fax me your ideas and email me a presentation in PowerPoint. Call me if an emergency comes up."

"That won't be the only thing coming up," she said, rolling her eyes. She knew him so well it was frightening.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" was his rejoinder.

Justin smiled at the interaction between his lover and his assistant. He knew that underneath their bickering there was a layer of respect and it was mutual. Brian knew that Cynthia had to have balls of steel to have continued to aid Brian while working for Gardner, risking her comfortable job.

"How's my favorite blonde?" Justin asked, opening his eyes as Brian sprawled next to him, head on his chest. Justin traced Brian's jaw with just his fingertips, happy when the man smiled up at him.

"She's fine. Giving me shit as usual."

"You couldn't do without her."

"Yeah, I know. She's good. And Kinnetik is lucky to have her."

"Good thing she fell out of love with you," Justin said.

"Huh?" Brian asked, giving him an owl look. "Cynthia was in love with me?"

"God, Brian. Don't you ever pay attention to any of the women in your life?"

"I pay attention to you."

"Fuck you," Justin said. "I am not a girl." He pinched Brian's shoulder, rewarded when the man said, "Ouch."

"You act like a queen."

"I have a dick, asshole."

"Yes, I know, darling," Brian drawled, watching as the blond's expression changed to a fierce glare. "Okay, okay, I'll stop fucking with you. Yes, you have a dick and I love your dick. All 8 and ½ inches of it. I love smelling you while I go down on you. So why don't you explain what you mean about Cynthia being in love with me?"

"How can you be so oblivious?" Justin asked.

"Maybe because it just never occurred to me. Cynthia has always known I batted for the other team. She's encouraged my liaisons. Why on earth would she fall for me?" He truly didn't understand the way women's minds worked which might be why he had never really clued into the fact that Lindsay still harbored intense feelings for him.

"Because you're tall, gorgeous, successful, and rich? And you have a big cock which she's seen on occasion. God, Brian. She adores you but she's gotten over that."

"Well, that's good," he said, relieved. Cynthia had been in love with him? Christ, what was it about him and straight women?

"Feeds your ego, doesn't it?" Justin said, stroking his hand. "So what do you want to do until 5:00? I'm hungry."

Brian laughed. When wasn't he hungry? "C'mon, sonny boy. Let's go get food. You mind if we go off-Liberty?"

"Nope," Justin said, smiling beneficently at him.

"Don't be so smug. It's not a frigging date. Just two men having lunch together."

"Um, Brian, that constitutes a date."

"No, Justin, that constitutes a dining arrangement. There are no flowers, no candles, and no fucking violin music. There is no date."

"Touché," Justin said. "Okay, so it's not a date. So am I okay wearing what I'm wearing?"

Brian cast a critical glance at his lover and sighed. Would the boy ever get fashion sense? He feared it was a lost cause. He sighed dramatically and said, "I suppose, if you must."

"I could wear the black leather pants," Justin teased.

"You do and I'll end up fucking you on the bathroom floor and I don't care if the President himself walks in on us. Let him see what he's missing."

"Okay, Brian, you've succeeded in ruining the mood by bringing that asshole into things. Let's just go eat."

Brian smiled and Justin realized he'd just been played by the maestro himself. Brian stopped himself from imagining Justin in those leather pants because he seriously doubted they'd make it out of the loft if he didn't. And lunch would serve to take his mind off the other more critical matters looming on the horizon. Little did they know that trouble was not far behind them.

Across town, in a mid-town office, Craig Taylor closed the file he was working on and told his secretary he was going to get a bite to eat at Jean-Pierre's, a French bistro not far from his office. He had no reservation but he was a favored patron of the establishment, having entertained clients there on occasion. His company also threw major business their way, having company dinners there.

So he was feeling pretty smug as he walked into the restaurant and saw his son and that monster he called a lover dining. Feeling his temper surge, Craig thanked the maitre d' who showed him to his seat a few tables away. He watched as his son took the other man's hand and began to seethe inwardly. Ever since the confrontation he'd had with Jennifer and the other man, he'd wanted to show him just who was more important, who had the bigger set of balls.

Justin looked up from the wine list and then gasped. Brian marked the sound and looked at his lover. "My dad's here," Justin croaked out as he reached for his glass of water.

"What?" Brian said. Absolutely fucking perfect, he thought. Just perfect. He let the famous Kinney icy calm begin to flow through his veins as he glanced over. Craig was dining alone, Brian noticed. Too bad he couldn't have his little girlfriend join him.

"My dad is here," Justin repeated.

"You want to go?" Brian asked. He'd never really been one to walk away from a fight but Craig Taylor never fought fair and he was more concerned about Justin at the moment than a pissing contest.

Justin shook his head and leaned across the table. "Kiss me," he said.

Brian stared at him. "Your father will be over here in a flash. He'll fucking kill me. Besides, I don't want to make a scene. This isn't the diner, Sunshine, and we're in a very straight-laced part of town."

Justin saw the sense in what Brian said but he couldn't pretend it didn't sting a little bit. Since when did Brian give a shit about impressions? "Okay," he said. He set his hand on the table and Brian covered it with his own, their fingers laced against the tablecloth.

A few tables over, Craig ordered a double scotch neat and watched his son. He couldn't deny the intimacy of the two men; it was obvious that they were involved. The other patrons dining seemed oblivious but he'd never been so acutely aware of anything in his life. It took considerable effort for him not to storm over to the table and wondered if Kinney was experiencing the same emotions. Shit, he thought. Justin should have gone to Dartmouth. It never occurred to him that wouldn't have changed his son's sexual orientation. It would only have been changing the landscape.

"You okay?" Brian asked as Justin had gone rather quiet.

Justin met his concerned gaze and shook his head. "You know he won't even know that I'm going to California unless Mom or Mol tells him. I think he's content, denying that I even exist. I can't pretend it doesn't hurt, Brian. I know your father was a miserable bastard but mine was loving for a lot of those years. I still remember the man who took me fly-fishing in the summer and to the golf course on weekends and played catch with me in the backyard."

"It's okay to miss him, Justin. Just because my old man was horrible doesn't mean you can't still have good feelings about your dad."

"Yeah, I have those feelings, and then I remember him telling you to get the fuck out of our house, and coming up to you and sucker-punching you. And I remember that he never once came to see me in the hospital while you paced the halls in the twilight hours before dawn. You are the one who cared and agonized over my recovery."

"That's what you do when you love someone," Brian said softly, and only after he said the words did he realize what he'd just admitted.

"Brian," Justin began, startled by the admission.

"Let it go." Brian said. Knowing the blond had no intention of doing so, Brian shook his head. "I'm not going to recant, just don't press it here."

Nodding, Justin leaned forward and gave Brian a chaste peck on the lips that had Craig coming half out of his seat. Brian marked his action and met his gaze, daring the other man to do something. The loathing Brian felt for Craig Taylor was only eclipsed by the loathing he felt for his father and Chris Hobbs. "Brian," Justin said. "Don't."

"I won't start anything but I'll fucking finish it." Brian said. He said quietly, "You ever think your father has homoerotic fantasies?

Justin paled and looked at him. "Are you nuts? You'll provoke him into starting something."

"He wouldn't dare," Brian said, taking a sip of his scotch as they waited on their hors d'oeuvres.

Craig had heard the comment and felt himself flush with anger. How dare he?! He got out of his seat, tossing the napkin to the chair and made his way over to his son's table.

"Justin," he said in a tight voice.

"Craig," Justin returned in an equally frigid voice.

Craig scrupulously avoided looking at Brian. And Brian just waited, knowing that sooner or later the man's emotions would cause him to slip and say something that would leave him wide open. Sneaky little bastard, wasn't he?

"Why are you flaunting your disgusting lifestyle here?" Craig hissed.

"It's still a free country. There's no amendment on the books. I'm having a lunch with my partner. That's still permissible. I don't have to check with you," Justin said, infuriated by his father's attitude.

"Partner?" Craig repeated, the color draining from his face. "You mean you two are-" he couldn't finish the sentence, he was so appalled.

"No, we aren't married, Craig. But we are legally bound together. Our relationship is recognized by the state," Justin said, proud that he was able to keep his voice level and keep emotion out of it. He'd learned a few things from Brian over the years.

"Your relationship?" he repeated, aware he sounded like a parrot.

"Yes, our relationship."

Brian just sat, calmly drinking his scotch as his lover and his nemesis talked. He was surprised that the older man hadn't yet turned on him. He waited. Three, two, one. And then there it was; the expected explosion. "You corrupted my kid. And now you're partners. I thought your credo was just fucking, no relationships."

At that, Brian and Justin stared at each other, startled. Justin knew he'd never said those words to his father and Brian knew he'd never said them to him either. "Who have you been talking to, Dad?" Justin said.

"No one. I just thought all fags fucked anything that moved, that has a hole. I didn't think Kinney here was any different. In fact, I thought he wrote the book."

Brian clenched his fists in his lap. It was one thing when he spoke that way about himself, quite another when a man he loathed said the same thing. Not acceptable and completely out of line. "Straight men do that too, Craig. Who the fuck told you that?"

"Does it really matter, you fucking monster?"

"Yeah, it matters. It matters because I'm in love with your son, you miserable son of a bitch. It matters because I'm the one who comforts him when he cries and mourns the loss of his father. So who the fuck told you that?"

The maitre d' watched the interaction between Monsieur Kinney and Monsieur Taylor with an expression of worry. It looked to be a heated conversation and it appeared that the older gentleman was the younger man's father.

"You are in love with my son? Last I heard you were promiscuous."

"Dad, have you talked to Ethan Gold?" Justin asked, wondering if his ex had been in contact with his father. It was exactly the dirty trick his ex would play, feeding his father lies and misinformation about his relationship with Brian.

Brian's eyes narrowed. Craig took a moment to answer and seeing little point in lying, nodded. "Yeah."

"Don't believe everything you hear." He turned to his irate lover. "Brian, you ready to go?" Justin asked, his appetite gone.

Brian nodded, tossing a fifty down on the table to cover a meal they weren't going to eat. "Yeah, baby," he said. "Let's go home." He knew it was a childish thing to do, provoking a man so close to the edge already but at the moment Brian didn't give a flying fuck. He'd been itching for a fight all day long, to get out his aggression and frustration. And he and Justin hadn't even fucked. They'd simply masturbated each other to completion in the shower that morning. And he was craving his blond, like a junkie craves their next fix.

He turned his back to Craig and was unsurprised when the older man grabbed his shoulder, turning him to face him, and punched him in the nose. Brian was braced for the impact but it still hurt like a motherfucker. Jason, the maitre d' who was about as French as Emmett, looked askance at the tableaux. He picked up the portable phone and dialed the nearest precinct.

"Assault, Craig. Thank you," Brian said, smirking.

Craig paled as he realized that he'd just been played and by whom. Justin glared at his father and turned to Brian, saying, "You okay?"

"Yeah, kiddo, I'm fine. It's not the first time my nose has been broken. It's just been a long time." He looked at his lover and said, "Really, Justin, I'm okay."

"I'm not," Justin said. He was pale and his breathing was shallow, a hand pressed to his chest. Brian stared at him, concern in the hazel depths, realizing too late what was happening as Justin collapsed.

Brian's attention was immediately diverted from his aching and bleeding nose to the prone figure of his lover. Shit, he thought. A fucking panic attack.

Jason picked up the phone again and dialed 911 as Brian knelt down next to him, reminded of the last time he'd knelt by an unconscious Justin. Craig stood and said, "What's wrong with him?"

"Panic attack," Brian bit out. "Probably brought on by our argument."

"Does he have them often?"

"No," he said, tersely. He returned his attention to Justin, thinking that a vial of poppers would wake him up, but he didn't have any on him. He looked around and saw a salt shaker on a nearby table. "Hand me that salt shaker." It crossed his mind that it had been months since he'd had one; the last had been a few nights after the confrontation with Hobbs.

Craig did so and Brian unscrewed the lid and held it under Justin's nose, hoping the salt would serve to wake him up. Justin stirred and said, "Brian."

"Yeah, I'm here."

"What happened?"

"You had a panic attack and passed out."

"I fainted?"

"Well, I wouldn't put it quite that way, but yeah. You okay?"

He helped Justin to a sitting position and said, "My head hurts."

Brian sat down next to him while Craig silently watched the interaction between the two men. "I bet," he responded. He'd never seen this side of Brian.

Jason approached the three men and said, "I've called the cops and the paramedics. Brian, is he going to be okay?"

"He had a panic attack but I think the paramedics will want to check him out anyway."

"No hospital," Justin said.

"No, no hospital," Brian agreed. He turned to Jason and said, "The cops are on their way?"

As Jason nodded, Craig sat down with his head in his hands. Brian looked at him and then at Justin. He quietly said to Justin, "You want me to back off?" He wouldn't file charges if that was what Justin wanted even though it went against the grain. The man had gotten away with so much. He'd hurt Justin way too many times.

Justin thought a moment and slowly shook his head. It hurt and he knew that he was going to have a major migraine. Already the sensitivity to light was beginning and he just wanted to go back to the loft. "No," he whispered. "File the charges. He got away with it when I was 17. He shouldn't get away with hurting you again, Brian."

Craig heard what his son said and then glanced at Brian, whose concern for his son was obvious even to a mere observer. "Justin," he started and then watched as his son's expression went blank. He, too, remembered sitting in the living room of his old house watching as his son and wife slipped away from him. Both taken in by the charismatic monster known as Brian Kinney, he thought bitterly. Cost me my marriage and my son. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"For what?" Justin asked, finally looking at him. He leaned back against Brian.

Brian tensed, waiting for what the man had to say. Craig avoided looking at him. It was so blatant that Brian almost called him on it but knew that this particular moment was between father and son. There was no room for him in it.

Craig hesitated and asked, "Can you give us a moment?"

Are you out of your frigging mind? Brian thought. I'm not leaving you alone with him! He only thought it though and slowly shook his head. He started to respond and then Justin said quietly, "He's my lover, Dad. Whatever you have to say to me you can say in front of Brian. It might be the only chance you get."

Brian marveled at the strength of Justin's words. "Okay, then," Craig said, avoiding looking at Brian. He still remembered being accused of hating his son by the younger man. "I regret not understanding that you knew what you were and who you wanted at the age of 17. I regret plowing into the back of your jeep." Brian tensed and Craig continued, "I regret sucker punching you. But I regret losing you, Justin. That's what I regret most of all. I miss my son."

"I'm still your son. It shouldn't matter who I love. I needed you and you weren't there for me. Brian has been. He's been the one who fed me, educated me, and loved me."

"He's a pedophile," Craig retorted. "Worse than that, he's a pederast."

Justin shook his head sadly. "No, he isn't. I went after him and I was legal, Craig. That doesn't matter now. I love him, Dad. I just wish you could see past your hatred and bigotry. He makes me happy." He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.

Brian marked the action and silently wondered where the hell the paramedics were. At least Justin wouldn't have to spend time in a hospital. He touched his nose and briefly wondered if the break would fix his deviated septum. He found the humor in that. He looked at Craig and the two men silently stared at each other. Both knew their emotions were too raw and to close to the surface.

The other patrons stopped and an older society woman addressed a comment to Brian. "Honey, if you need someone to tell the police what happened here, I'll be glad to testify." She handed him a business card with her name and phone number on it and Brian just nodded. She wasn't the only one to do so and Craig watched, realizing that he'd just been fucked by Brian Kinney.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Pittsburgh's finest arrived along with an overly solicitous paramedic who dressed Brian's nose and determined it wasn't a bad break. He sat next to Justin as they took his blood pressure and his heart-rate. Deciding that it was a panic attack, they determined that a visit to the hospital was not necessary which profoundly relieved both Brian and Justin.

The cops were another matter. When Brian told them his name, the older man snapped his notepad closed and said to his younger partner, "I'll wait in the car. You take the statement."

She looked apologetically at Brian and Brian smiled sardonically. "Friend of Stockwell?"

"Yeah. You want to tell me what happened here?"

"My partner and I were dining together. His father, Craig Taylor, approached our table. We had a heated discussion about my relationship with his son. When we decided to leave, I called my partner 'baby' and his father heard. It made him angry. He grabbed my arm, turned me around, and punched me in the nose."

"Are you going to file charges, Mr. Kinney?"

Brian looked at Justin and said, "Yes."

Craig looked shaken and said, "Justin, please don't do this."

"What, turn my back on you? I learned it from you."

They returned their attention to the cop and she said, "I'll take his statement and then the DA's office will be in touch with you to see if a court case will be necessary."

Brian nodded. Justin looked at Brian and then at his father. He addressed the cop quietly. "It should be reported as a hate crime. He has a problem with gay people. He attacked my lover outside of Woody's, a gay bar on Liberty Avenue three years ago, and on another occasion totaled his jeep when he was at a stoplight."

"Is this true, Mr. Kinney?"

Stunned by Justin's words, Brian said, "Yes, I have the insurance records. I also have witnesses who will testify to the attack outside of Woody's."

"Okay, we'll let the DA know about this," she said.

Craig sent a venomous look Brian and Justin's direction as the woman officer handcuffed him and read him his Miranda rights. "I won't forget this," he hissed as he was led out. "I no longer have a son."

Justin leaned against Brian and whispered, "I want to go home. I don't feel so good."

"Yeah, baby. Let's go home," Brian said. He wanted to crawl underneath the covers and hibernate for a season.

He looked apologetically at Jason and said, "I'm sorry for the disruption, Jason. I hope Jean-Pierre isn't too angry."

"No, he's not angry, Brian. It's okay. You've thrown enough business our way that I think he'll forgive you just about anything and it's not like any furniture or dishes were damaged by the altercation. Just your nose."

Brian grinned as he turned back to Justin. "Okay, we're going home."

Once at home, Brian started to turn on the lights when Justin said, "Leave them off, please."


"Yeah," Justin said.

"Bad one?"

"Uh huh," he said, slowly climbing up the stairs to the bed. He kicked off his sneakers and gingerly crawled onto the bed. He flopped onto his back and Brian stood for a moment, looking down at him. "Want me to go?"

"Uh uh."

"Need your pain pills?"

"Yeah," Justin said, voice weak. "Brian," he said as the man turned to go to the bathroom.


"I'm sorry."

There was no need for him to ask what he was apologizing for. Brian figured he knew. "Not your fault. It'll be okay."


It was at times like this that he remembered just how young he was. "Yeah, I promise. Rest now or you'll get nauseous, and I don't want to see you puking your guts out. Very unattractive."

"Wouldn't be the first time," he squeaked out, closing his eyes.

Brian grabbed a bottle of prescription meds from the cabinet in the bathroom and then went to the refrigerator for a bottle of water. He went back to Justin and found the younger man in an uneasy sleep. He brushed a strand of hair away from his forehead and kissed him gently. It was an expression of tenderness that few would expect from him. He set the water and the pills on the night table and quietly went to his desk. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Jennifer Taylor's number.

When the woman answered, he said, "Hey, Jen, it's Brian. I need to see you. Do you have time to stop by the loft?"

Jennifer Taylor glanced at the contract on her desk and then at her agenda. She didn't have another showing until later that afternoon. "Yeah, I can stop by. Is something wrong?"

Brian barely kept himself from sighing. He was exhausted and grumpy and sexually frustrated; the combination of the three made him very surly indeed but he refused to take it out on Justin's mother. "I'd rather talk to you in person. It's important."

Jennifer took her glasses off and set them down. At times like this she found herself wishing she had a nervous habit, like smoking or chewing Altoids. But her vices were relatively few and whenever her son's partner called her, her guard went up and her radar antenna was deployed. "Okay, I can be there in twenty minutes."

"Jen, thanks," Brian said, glancing at the sleeping Justin. Surprisingly enough, he and Jennifer had forged a friendship in the aftermath of their reconciliation and she'd been cool about his cancer. So he respected her and he figured he owed her.

"No problem, Brian."

He returned upstairs and gently pulled Justin's pants off and then pulled the covers up over him. It had been a trying day for all involved. He had a sinking feeling that things were bound to get worse before they got better.

Finally, he found himself sitting at the bar, scrolling through emails that he needed to respond to and others that he immediately deleted. When he heard the tentative knock on the loft door, he closed his laptop and went to the door. Finally, a visitor he was expecting. Or so he thought. He slid the door open and saw his mother.

"Mom," he said, silently wondering what he'd done to piss the gods off so mightily. This was rapidly turning into a nightmare of epic proportions that would only be completed by the complete decimation of him. He heard the elevator begin to make its progression up from the first floor and realized that it would be the first time that Joan Kinney and Jennifer Taylor had met face to face.

"Hello, Brian," she said. "May I come in?"

"Well, you're here, aren't you?" He said, stepping aside to let her in. He didn't bother closing the loft door. He sighed and said, "Justin has a migraine so please be quiet."

"I didn't come here to fight, Brian. That's never my intention. I came to talk to you about the boys."

"You talked to Claire."

Joan nodded, noticing the disarray of the loft and said, "It's messy."

Rolling his eyes, Brian said, sarcastically, "Well, the cleaning lady is off today and I haven't had much of a chance to sleep or clean, so pardon the mess. Why are you here, Mom?"

"To apologize and to say thank you."

"What?" He stopped and stared at her.

"Thank you for taking charge. Claire wouldn't have had a clue what to do. I'm just so upset about Father Padraic. I never would have expected it of him."

"It's always the ones we trust who betray us," he said. Looking up, he saw Jennifer framed in the doorway.

"Hey, Jen," he said, his tone much warmer than the one with which he'd addressed his own mother.

Joan turned and saw the forty-ish woman in the doorway. She wondered who it was and then Brian said, "Come on in. Mom just dropped by. It wasn't an expected visit."

"Brian, who is this?" Joan asked.

"Oh, you two haven't met," Brian said ironically. "Mom, this is Jennifer Taylor, my mother-in-law. Jennifer, this is Joan Kinney, my mother."

To her credit, Jennifer's mien didn't betray her shock at being addressed as his mother-in-law. She could read the uneasiness in Brian's posture and knew that he was ill pleased at having his mother there. She knew that his relationship with his family was tense; she'd just never witnessed it firsthand. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Kinney"

"You condone this-this hedonistic lifestyle? This abomination in the eyes of God?" Joan asked.

Jennifer blinked and then said, "I love my son. As long as he's happy, I'm happy. He and Brian are partners in a committed relationship. I'd think you'd be grateful that he found happiness. Happiness that you yourself didn't find in your own marriage."

It was Brian's turn to blink. He hadn't expected Jennifer to be quite so blunt. Joan flinched and said in a steely tone, "I can't be happy knowing my son is sinning and is going to spend an eternity in hell. And my marriage is none of your business. Neither is my relationship with my son."

Jennifer smiled, a slow smile that let Brian know just where Justin had gotten it from, and said, "I don't think Brian and Justin are going to hell, Mrs. Kinney. Your relationship with your son is my business, however. It's my business because over the years I've come to love him and I don't like to see him hurting. I haven't always liked your son but he and Justin have a good relationship."

"And you are okay with the fact that he's twelve years older than your son? That he corrupted your son, by seducing him into this immoral and licentious behavior."

Jennifer laughed, a sound that startled Joan. She hadn't thought she'd said anything amusing. "Justin was gay long before he met Brian. I thank God every day that he met Brian and not someone else. Yes, the age difference concerned me at first, but emotionally they are on the same level. They are good for each other, Mrs. Kinney. And, frankly, Justin gives Brian the love and support that he didn't get from you and your husband."

"How dare you presume to judge me?" Joan's voice rose as her temper began to fray.

"I know that you accused your son of molesting his nephew without even asking him about it. You just automatically assumed that because Brian is gay that he would have done such a thing. I know that you continually tell him he's going to hell and that you said that his bout with testicular cancer was a punishment for being gay. I know that you've done more damage to his psyche than can be explained away. I know that he was physically abused by your husband and that you stood by and did nothing, lost in an alcohol fueled haze. Would it surprise you to learn that he is well respected within the business community?"

"He brought down a great man who would have done much to clean up our city. To rid it of dens of iniquity and centers of sin," Joan said, completely ignoring the other things Jennifer had said.

"That 'great' man covered up a murder of a young gay man, Mrs. Kinney. Brian did that at great personal cost to himself, risking financial ruin and nearly committing professional suicide. You should be proud of him, Mrs. Kinney, not ashamed. He's your blood after all. Your baby."

"I can't accept this and I don't think you should either." Joan said, knowing that she'd made a mistake by coming here. It was as bad as talking to that awful woman Debbie Novotny, she thought. She clutched her purse tighter and said, "Goodbye, Brian. Goodbye, Mrs. Taylor." With that, Joan made a sweeping exit that Greta Garbo would've been proud of.

Brian stared after her, waiting until she was out of sight to close and lock the loft door behind her. He met Jennifer's eyes and went silent. "Brian, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have spoken to her like that."

"Don't apologize. I think that boat has sunk, Jen. You didn't do anything wrong. Thank you for defending me."

Jennifer set her handbag down on the counter and looked at him. "Brian, you look awful."

"Gee thanks. That's just what I need to hear."

"I'm sorry but you look like someone who's been through a war zone. I just meant you don't look like yourself. Want to tell me what's wrong?"

"Yeah. First, I'm going to attempt to get partial or joint custody of Gus. Lindsay and Melanie have split up and I don't know if it is temporary or permanent but he needs me right now. Second, Justin and I found out last night that my nephews have been sexually abused by one of the priests at their parochial school and were up nearly all night dealing with that. Third, we ran into your ex at lunch today."

Jennifer's eyes had grown wide at the first two statements he'd made but she goggled at the last pronouncement. "You saw Craig?" For the first time, she noticed his nose. "Craig did that?"

Brian nodded and said, "Yeah. We kissed and it offended your ex's delicate sensibilities. He hit me and Justin had a panic attack. Then the paramedics came and the cops. I told the cops I was pressing charges."

"I think I need to sit," she said and Brian hastily pulled a chair out for her.

"I wouldn't do it if Justin didn't want me to but I think Craig just pushed him too far this time. He told the cops that the assault today should be treated as a hate crime and that it wasn't the first time." He met her eyes and asked a difficult question, "You remember when I got in that car accident?"

Jennifer nodded and said, "Yeah. Craig came home and the front end of the Lincoln Town Car was totaled."

"Would you be willing to testify as to that?"

Taking a deep breath, Jennifer slowly nodded. "Yes, I'd be willing to testify as to that, Brian, if it comes to that."

Brian wondered at the strength of the Taylor family and how she had bravely fenced with his mother. "Where is Justin?" she asked.

"In bed with a migraine," he said quietly. "He got one before we left the restaurant. He fell asleep before I could get him to take his pain pills."

"Has he been having panic attacks a lot?"

"No, I think this one was brought on by the confrontation between me and Craig. It was pretty intense, Jen. I know how important his relationship with his father is to him. I think Justin finally realized that his father will never accept him."

Jennifer inclined her head and said, "I take it you never laid a hand on the man."

"No, I didn't touch him." He gave her an appraising look and noticed her suit for the first time. "Jil Sander?"

"Yeah, it cost me a fortune but I think it's worth it," she said, obviously pleased that he noticed and that he approved.

He smiled at her. "You want something to drink?"

"Just water, thanks," she said, keeping her voice soft. She looked in the direction of the bedroom and then back at Brian. "You take care of him," she said, wonder in her voice.

He handed her a glass of water and said, "I told him last night that I was in love with him, Jen."

She took a sip of water and set it down on the counter. "Would you be pissed if I said it was about time?"

He chuckled. "No, I think that's the majority opinion. I still haven't said the words but I've conveyed the emotion. He knows how I feel."

"And California? Are you okay with him going to California?"

"That's a little tougher to answer. It bothers me, Jen. Nine months is a long time. And he's nearly a day away so if something happened I couldn't get to him."

"You worry about that?"

He took a seat next to her and said, "I worry about how he'll react when they shoot the scene where JT is getting bashed and Rage comes to rescue him. I worry that he'll end up happier out there than he is here. Christ," he said.

Jennifer studied him for a moment. "You really are desperately in love with him, aren't you?"

He turned to her with a bleak expression on his face and blew out a breath, as he rested his head on his hands. "Yeah," he whispered. "So much so it scares the shit out of me. I don't want to lose him again."

"Honey, you won't. Remember our conversation the day you told me that he was your partner?"

Brian nodded and she continued. "In all the ways that matter, you've been protector, lover, friend, teacher, and now partner. Your relationship has evolved. You've let him make his own mistakes and learn from them. You're encouraging him to have an experience that few are allowed. You are supportive and don't make him feel guilty. You're putting aside your own needs for him. Brian, I know my son. He has always loved you and always will. He says he'll come back and he will."

"How do you know?"

"A mother always knows, honey," she said, reaching out to pat him on the arm. He covered her hand with his own and said, "I'm pathetic."

She laughed a bit. "Then we both are, Brian. I'm going to miss him too. I've never been so far away from him either. It's going to be an adjustment."

"He told me to take care of you and Molly."

"And you will. I believe in you, Brian. I have faith in you two, and I have faith in you as an individual."


"Because," she replied honestly, "you two share a love that transcends time and space. I realize that sounds ludicrous but you two are drawn to each other. It's inexplicable and scary but it's what you've got. It doesn't come around often and you weren't expecting it but somehow it found you. You've got to embrace it, Brian."

"I'm scared," he said quietly.

"You're human. It's okay to be scared."

"Not when you're Brian Kinney."

Jennifer felt a pang of hurt for him when she heard the quietly spoken words. She'd seen the icy composure of Joan Kinney and knew her son shared that quality in no small measure. She wondered just how badly his parents had wounded him. She started to say something and then saw his eyes. She knew then that words were the last thing he needed. She squeezed his hand and just let him be.

Brian saw her begin to say something and then stop, as understanding dawned in her soft eyes. He was tired and hurt and irritated by his own vulnerability. But he was comforted by the slight pressure of her hand squeezing his own. He took a deep breath, saying, "Thanks. Sorry about the Oprah moment."

She was taken aback for a moment then realized that the sarcasm covered up embarrassment. She couldn't begrudge him that. She'd witnessed his relationship with his mother firsthand. It was a miracle he was as warm as he was and at the beginning she thought she'd seen polar bears friendlier than Brian. "No problem. You need me to fix you anything to eat?"

"I kind of lost my appetite after seeing Craig but thanks for the offer." He glanced at the clock and then back at her. "I'm watching Gus for a few days while Lindsay is dealing with her personal stuff. Do you want to stick around for dinner?"

"Thanks for the offer but I have a feeling you'd rather be alone with my son."

He flushed as he nodded. "It's been one drama after another the last couple of days. I wish it would all just slow down so we can stand still."

She sympathized with him. "Call me if you need anything, Brian."

"I think I've got it covered," he said, as she began to get ready to leave. He walked her to the door and was startled when she pecked him on the cheek. "Thanks, Jen."

She simply nodded as she hit the button for the elevator. "You're welcome," she said, as she pulled down the grate.

Closing the door behind him, Brian leaned against it and sighed. He returned to the bedroom, set the alarm for 4:30, and then sat down on the edge of the bed and unzipped his boots. He crawled underneath the covers, without disturbing Justin, and fell into an untroubled sleep. Justin stirred slightly, opened his eyes, saw the comforting presence of Brian and moved closer to him, and fell back asleep.

When the alarm went off at 4:30, Brian groaned and sat up. His audible groan woke Justin and he mumbled, "Wass wrong?"

"Nothing, go back to sleep. I have to go get Gus. I'll be back in a little while."

Justin turned onto his side, falling immediately back to sleep. Brian envied him that ability even though on occasion it had been a detriment. He ran a hand through his hair and imagined he must look a sight. So he pulled on his boots and left the loft, hitting the coffee shop around the corner. He needed a big cup of coffee and he had little desire to stop in at the diner. He'd had enough Michael for the day and he figured he'd have to deal with that issue soon enough.

He was heading back to the 'vette when his cell phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID display and inwardly groaned. Lindsay. "Hey, Lindz," he said. "I'm on my way to get sonny boy now."

"I heard you lit into Melanie. What were you thinking?"

"I was pissed, Lindz. I'm not going to apologize for it."

He heard Lindsay take a deep breath. "So you're serious about custody?"

"I always say what I mean," he reminded her. "Lindz, I don't want full custody. I wouldn't tear him away from you. But he needs his fathers."

Lindsay mentally slapped him and then responded coldly, "He needs his mothers, too."

Brian switched lanes and topics. "What did you need, Lindz?"

"I may need you to co-sign for a loan for a townhouse."

Brian groaned audibly. "No. You and Melanie may get back together and the last thing you'll need is a mortgage. Think smaller. Like a two-bedroom apartment and then we'll talk."

"You're not my husband, Brian. I don't need your permission."

"If you want my financial assistance, Lindsay, be reasonable. It can be something nice. Don't go low end just because you're pissed at me."

"Fine," she said, obviously irritated. "I'll call you back. You think Jen would help me?"

"I think she may have a lot on her plate. I think she handles houses and condos, not apartments. But you can ask her. I've got to go, Lindz." He severed the connection, leaving the blonde glaring at her phone.

He hated pulling rank on Lindsay but she was the same woman who had trusted Ted with their son's college account and then been screwed out of the five grand. He trusted Theodore now but at the time he'd been bloody pissed at everyone involved. Justin had been the one to calm him down when he'd wanted to press charges. So he walked into the foyer and saw Gus playing inside. His son saw him and dropped his block as he ran through the open door to his daddy. Brian smiled and said, "Hey, kiddo. You have a good day?"

Gus stared at his father and then his lower lip crumpled as he touched the bandage on the bridge of Brian's nose. Brian realized belatedly that his appearance was bound to upset his son. "What happened, Daddy? You got a boo-boo," he said.

"Yeah, sonny boy. A mean man got mad at Daddy and hit him. It's okay though. You can kiss it and make it better," Brian said as his son pressed a delicate kiss to his nose and then his cheek. Yep, he mused, there was little that was better than spending time with his son. Gus hugged him and then said, "I'm hungry, Daddy."

"What do you want to eat?" Brian asked.

"Cheeseburger and chocolate shake."

"Diner?" Brian asked, surprised and relieved in turns when his son shook his head.


Brian refrained from groaning and simply said, "Okay." So it was a heart attack in a bag but Justin was in no condition to cook and his stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten since 8 that morning.

A little over an hour later, father and son arrived back at the loft. Brian noted the police car at the curb and figured that it was for him. "Daddy, why the cops here?"

"Um, because of the mean man that hit Daddy," Brian said, figuring it was the lesser of the two evils and easier for a four-year-old mind to comprehend.

Ten minutes later, Brian was being grilled by two of Pittsburgh's finest. Finally fed up with the questions and their obviously homophobic attitude, Brian said, "Do I need legal counsel?"

The two cops looked at each other and then said, "No. We're not arresting you. We are investigating the claim by the minors John and Peter Brennan. It's just that your name popped up in connection with an earlier allegation of sexual abuse, involving John Brennan."

"Charges were never filed and the allegation was false."

"We know that, Mr. Kinney, but we have to explore all possible angles. We are also aware of the incident at Jean-Pierre's restaurant earlier this afternoon."

"The two are unrelated." Brian snapped at them.

Recognizing that the interview had come to an end, one of the cops said, "If we have any further questions we'll let you know."

Brian nodded and escorted them to the door. Now Justin wasn't the only one with a headache. He walked up the stairs and looked at the blond and his son. Gus had curled up next to him, a thumb in his mouth, and Brian feared future orthodontic bills, but the picture was cute and he almost wished that Justin had the opportunity to sketch it. Then an idea struck him and he retrieved his digital camera taking a picture of the two. He scanned it into his laptop and then printed it out, knowing that Justin could sketch it from the print.

It was around eight o'clock when he finally heard movement from the bedroom. He was deep into a chapter of Reading Lolita in Tehran when he heard Justin pad downstairs. He turned to look at him and said in a low voice, "You feeling any better?"

Justin nodded, blinking sleepily, and asked, "You okay?"

"I've had better days. This has been a rough 36 hours. I'm exhausted." Brian handed him the picture of him and Gus and watched as Justin's face was transformed with a glorious smile.

"That's cute," he said.

"I think it'll go on my desk at Kinnetik." My two sonny boys, he thought.

Justin hesitated a moment and then posed a question, "We going to talk about today?"

Though Brian was fully aware of what he was really asking about, he chose not to open the topic up for discussion, opting for a lesser answer. "Eventually. Just not now. I'm too wiped. I just want to sleep twelve hours. The cops left a few hours ago."

"Were they here about the boys or my dad?"

"Both. They are exploring all avenues. I guess it doesn't matter that Peter and John can name the man who molested them. But they actually weren't absolute assholes about it. They listened to me and didn't jump to any conclusions. Did I tell you that we have a meeting in two days with Liam Kilkully?"

Justin nodded. "I need to give my notice at the diner."

Brian paused to look at him and said, "Your mom was here earlier too. She and Joan met each other."

Justin's jaw dropped. "Close your mouth, alligator," Brian said, laughing at his expression. "Jennifer really gave my mom what-for. I see where you get it, Sunshine. I told her about the incident with Craig and she's willing to testify about the car being damaged. I'm sure she has insurance reports. Craig may be in more trouble if he filed a fraudulent claim for damages."

Justin frowned and Brian noticed the expression. "What's wrong?"

"Just thinking about all the court costs, Brian. And my leaving just seems like it's the wrong time."


"Don't what?"

"Don't obfuscate the issue. You made a commitment, Justin, even if you haven't signed a contract yet. Everything will be okay and you'll fly back if I need you too. We don't even know yet what's going to happen with your dad. The DA's office may decide not to prosecute. After all, your dad is a scion of an influential banking family and he is influential in his own right. And we're just two fags."

Justin heard what Brian said and thought about it. "I'd like to see my father pay for emotional distress, Brian. I'm behind you one hundred percent."

"Something's bothering you, though. What is it?"

Justin moved towards him and said, "What if it wasn't Ethan that talked to my dad? What if someone like Kip contacted my dad?"

"How'd he even know, Justin? Kip didn't even know your name, right?"

"No, I didn't tell him my name. I'm not that stupid. Blond hair does not equal stupidity. Something just seems off."

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Brian said, though Justin's fears laid the groundwork for his own concerns. "We could file a civil suit instead of a criminal case if you don't want to see your dad go down for a hate crime."

"No," Justin said, meeting his eyes. "I'm okay, Brian. He stopped being my dad a long time ago when he told me that he couldn't accept who I was. It's just so much happened today that it's colliding in my skull."

"I know what you mean. I didn't expect to have a showdown with your dad."

"You handled it well, Brian. I know you would have liked to have hauled off and hit him but you didn't."

"Violence never solves anything. It just obscures the issue," Brian said.

"Yeah, I know. Violence often covers up what is really going on underneath the surface." He looked at his lover and put a hand on his arm. "You ready to go to bed?"

Brian set down the book and smiled wryly. "We are officially becoming boring, Justin."

"I know but we're still more interesting than most. Come on, we'll be dead on our feet tomorrow if we don't get some sleep."

Brian allowed his lover to lead him to bed.

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