Complications of the Mind
Brian's internal timer woke him around dawn and he sat up in bed, trying to remember desperately when his life became so fucked up. Oh yeah, it's always been that way, he thought. How could I fucking forget? Just once he wished the powers that be would cut him and his a frigging break. He reached for the pack of cigarettes on the night table and lit one, face lit only by the orange glow. He'd turned off the blue lights because Gus claimed he couldn't sleep with them on and Brian didn't wish to deal with a tantrum. Simply easier to acquiesce and, as he reflected, he realized he'd been doing a lot of that lately. Saying and doing things that were completely out of character and he wondered just what it was that was driving him. Sure, he was upset about the possibility of losing Justin but he was also happy for him and proud of him. But there was a part of him, a part he didn't like to acknowledge that was worried that Justin would leave and wouldn't come back. That he'd be left alone, at sea, lost and adrift. After the fiddler, he'd vowed that he'd never lose Justin again. He intended on keeping that vow.
As if he could sense the inner turmoil of Brian, Justin turned to him and whispered quietly so that he wouldn't awaken the sleeping Gus, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Go back to sleep," Brian said. Nothing could be further from the truth. He didn't like lying to Justin but he also knew that he couldn't deal with another emotional encounter. He hated what was happening to him, to them. And he couldn't seem to stop it anymore than a conductor could stop a train on a collision course with another train.
"Brian," Justin's whisper was urgent. "Tell me what's wrong?"
Brian took another drag from the cigarette, ignoring the fact that Lindsay would kill him not only for smoking in bed but also for exposing Gus to secondhand smoke, and handed it off to Justin. Justin took a drag and handed it back to Brian. They'd both cut down, a feat that had been greatly aided by the fact that Brian feared the recurrence of his cancer with a paranoia verging on mania. He handed the pack to Justin and said, "I feel like I'm losing myself."
Justin looked at him and said, "Bathroom, now."
Brian stared at him and then simply nodded. They slipped from bed and Brian faced the mirror with Justin standing behind him, arms loosely looped around him. "You are still Brian fucking Kinney. You are still a sex god. Nothing has changed."
"Bullshit. I'm a family man. I'm in a committed relationship for all intents and purposes. I'm thirty-three, the same age Jesus was when he died. And I'm contemplating monogamy. Justin, I don't know who I am anymore."
Justin stared at him, knowing now wasn't the time for teasing. "I haven't been pushing for monogamy," he reminded Brian. "It never even occurred to me. I know that you don't see tricking as infidelity, especially not when you come home to me. I don't even see it that way, anymore. I'm content with where we are now, Brian."
"So you'd be happy if we ripped up the partnership agreement?" Brian asked, having no intention of doing such a thing but needing to ask the question for some inexplicable reason that he couldn't rationalize.
For a second, Justin forgot to breathe. He sank down to the floor of the bathroom, and put his hands over his eyes. His slender shoulders began to shake and Brian felt sick. He sat down next to him. "Hey, no tears. Okay?"
"You'd really do that?"
Brian shook his head. "No. Even I'm not that cruel."
"That was really mean, Brian. Even for you, that was mean." Justin wiped his eyes, glaring at Brian, and stood up. "Asshole."
"I just needed to make sure that we're on the same page," Brian said. He held out his hand and Justin helped him up.
"There are easier ways of doing that, you know. Like asking me instead of gutting me like a trout, Brian. I thought we agreed to no more cliffs. That we'd talk things out when we got wigged about something."
"Did I agree to that?" he asked, then seeing the look in Justin's eyes hastened to add, "Okay, okay. Don't queen out on me. I just started thinking about everything."
"What have we said about thinking?"
"Highly overrated," Brian responded, smiling. His tone turned more serious as he said, "I wouldn't have done that, Justin. I'm just doing things I never thought I'd do."
"Like being romantic?"
"Like admitting how I felt to you."
"I know how you feel about me, Brian. It's not about that. If all this is too much, too soon, we can do baby-steps. It's a lot to decide right before I'm leaving."
Amused and baffled and somewhat resentful, Brian shook his head, "It's not too soon. We've been together off and on for so long that it's ridiculous. I got pissed at Michael because he said that what we have isn't as real as what he and Ben share."
"He said that?"
Brian had thought he'd heard everything that had been said in the comic book store but as Justin voiced the question, he realized that the younger man hadn't. "I thought you heard everything, Sunshine." It occurred to him that this was an odd place for them to be having this conversation but they weren't alone in the loft and couldn't resort to usual methods. Not for the first time, Brian wondered about buying the loft below him and renovating it so that Gus would have a room. He didn't have the money now because so much was sunk into Kinnetik and wasn't liquid but he'd been thinking about it a lot lately. Of course, he hadn't discussed it with Justin. He wasn't sure how he'd feel. Hell, he wasn't entirely sure how he felt. Seemed like a scary step into permanency, an area he wasn't sure he was ready to explore.
"No, I didn't hear everything, Brian." And he hadn't. He had noticed that the comic book store had been empty when he'd come in and that their conversation had been heated. He'd rarely seen Brian so pissed at Michael, not since the fateful anniversary party.
"I told him I thought he still wanted me and that it would never happen."
Justin gave him a raised eyebrow and Brian shrugged. "I don't know. Give the guy a ring and he still doesn't get it. Pay for his reception and he still doesn't get it."
"Maybe you should have fucked him," Justin said quietly.
"I offered. Once," Brian admitted. "He turned me down cold because he knows our friendship would never be the same. There probably would be no friendship because it would be too awkward." Not that he was sure there was much of a friendship now if Michael still had unresolved feelings for him.
"This thing with Gus could cost you his friendship too, Brian. He wanted Jenny so bad and he's got a bond with Melanie now too, like you have with Lindsay. He may be your friend but that tide could change."
"You telling me that you think Mikey would fuck me over in court, if it comes to that?"
"You honestly telling me that you don't worry about that possibility? Come on, Brian, you're not naïve. You know how far he's gone to keep us apart. And he knows shit about you that nobody else does. Who is to say what he might do?"
"Michael wouldn't do that," Brian said, but even he wasn't sure of that. He'd once thought that Michael's loyalty was inviolable but now he wasn't so sure. All he knew was that Justin hadn't fucked him over once (at least not intentionally) in the eleven months that they'd been back together. And Michael had used the knowledge of Justin knowing about Brian's cancer to drive a wedge between them. Of course, it hadn't taken much effort on his part. The more Brian thought about it, the more he wondered if Justin was right.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Loyalty and betrayal. Lovers and friends," Brian answered with an enigmatic smile. "Let's go back to bed."
In a rare role reversal, it was Justin who rose first. He awakened before the alarm clock at 7:00 a.m. He gently shook Gus awake, pressing a finger to the little boy's lips when he started to wail a protest at being awakened. "Ssh, Daddy's sleeping. Want to help me with breakfast?"
Gus nodded and took Justin's hand as they crept down the stairs. "Daddy needs to sleep," Justin explained quietly.
With a preternatural maturity, Gus soberly nodded. Justin put him on one of the bar stools and poured him a cup of milk. Gus sipped it and Justin watched to make sure he didn't spill it. He opened one of the cupboards and scanned the contents. He finally pulled out a packet of pancake mix and found the griddle. Gus's eyes lit up as he squealed, "Pancakes!"
"Ssh," Justin said. "Yes, we're having pancakes." He looked at the small boy, so rumpled from sleep, and was reminded of Brian. The child shared his father's propensity for bad bed hair, complete with an unruly cowlick. He pulled out the eggs, vegetable oil (which was actually being used in the manner intended on the label for once), and the 1% milk. He saw Brian shift in his sleep and held his breath but the other man fell back to sleep.
"Can I help stir?" Gus asked and Justin nodded.
"Not at that point yet, kiddo. But you can help."
"Justin," Gus asked, staring at the young blond. "How come Daddy doesn't tell you he loves you? Mommy and Mama said it until Mommy went away."
"Um, Gus," Justin began, not sure how to answer the prickly question. Why wasn't Brian awake when he really needed him? Crash course in Parenting 101, he thought. At least it wasn't the birds and the bees' question. He thought about that one for a moment and realized that was a topic better left to Lindsay than Brian. Who knew what Brian might tell the boy? Though, on second thought. Uh, no.
Okay, the boy had his father's solemn demeanor and his mother's natural tendency to push. "Sometimes an action means more than a word, Gus," Justin finally settled on that response, thinking he'd gotten over the rough part. He'd learned that rather painful lesson. Unfortunately, Justin had forgotten that kids say the darndest things.
"Daddy loves you, right?" Gus asked.
Justin hesitated. "I think so," he said. He wondered for a moment what Brian's answer would be if Gus had posed the question to him.
Playing possum in bed, Brian heard every word of the conversation and noted Justin's hesitant non-response. Wondering if he should go rescue the blond, he heard Gus scramble down off the chair and heard Justin's hissed, "Gus, no!" a second before his son jumped onto him.
"Daddy!" Gus said.
"Grr," Brian mock-growled to Gus' delight and Justin's trepidation. He never responded quite so well when Justin woke him up unless it was with his mouth on his cock. But then again, Justin felt the same way about Brian. He opened his eyes and noted that he'd awakened before the alarm. Surprise, surprise. "Hey, sonny boy. What are we having for breakfast?"
"Pancakes," Gus said and then looked seriously at his father. "Do you love Justin?"
Brian glanced at Justin and saw the younger man avert his eyes. He knew that Justin didn't doubt the intensity of his feelings but it was the first time his kid had actually asked him point blank. "Um, that's a very grown-up question, Gus," Brian said, having decided long ago that he wasn't going to engage in baby talk with his son. Too demeaning and not at all healthy. He wished he could convince Lindsay of that fact. "I care a great deal about him."
"That's not an answer, Daddy," Gus said, employing a pout that always worked wonders on his mommies. He wanted to see just how well his daddy would respond to it. He didn't have to wait long. Not at all.
"I'll explain when you're older, Gus. Okay?"
Gus sighed and hugged his daddy. "Okay," he said. "Daddy, you need a shower. You 'tink," Gus pointed out. Both Justin and Brian began to laugh. They exchanged glances and realized that Gus shared his father's bluntness.
"Okay, sonny boy. Daddy'll go take a shower while you and Justin finish making breakfast."
Justin's eyes narrowed at that toss away comment and wondered if he'd been lying in bed listening to their conversation. He figured it was just the type of thing Brian would have done. Devious devil.
"Come on, Gus. Let's make breakfast and then we have to get you ready for school." Justin looked back as Brian slipped out of bed and padded into the bathroom.
Gus followed obediently behind Justin, wondering just why his daddy hadn't answered the question. He thought his daddy loved his Justin but he didn't understand why his daddy wouldn't just say it. Sometimes adults were silly, he thought, as he was lifted back onto the chair. Justin handed him a wooden spoon and set the bowl on the counter so Gus could stir the batter. When all the clumps were broken up, Justin took it back and poured some on the heated griddle.
Ten minutes later, Brian emerged from the shower, dressed in a pair of faded blue jeans, with the top button undone. Justin inhaled at the sight of him, wanting to eat him. "Hey, we made you a pancake."
"Trying to get me fat," Brian protested but he took the plate. After all, it was probably a good deal safer than the fare he'd have gotten at the diner.
He sat down next to his son and Gus poured a liberal amount of syrup on his pancake which made his father wince. When they were entirely drenched and soggy, Brian said, "That's enough, Gus. You'll be a diabetic before you're five if you keep eating like that. Christ, and your mommies tell me I spoil you."
"What's a dia--, Daddy?" Gus asked, mouth full of pancake. A line of syrup dripped down his chin and Brian reached for a napkin to wipe it away. Kids, he thought.
"It's someone who has problems with sugar, Gus. It can make your body hurt, make you real sick."
Justin smiled at the simplified explanation of the disease. He always enjoyed seeing Brian as daddy. As much as he hoped it wouldn't end up in court, he knew that spending time with his son and being a parental figure would be good for Brian. And give Lindsay a break. He hoped that Lindsay and Melanie would patch things up and he also hoped that Lindsay would figure out just who or what it was she wanted.
At Kinnetik, Cynthia was somewhat relieved that her boss was not there yet. She'd rarely heard him sound as tired as he had the previous day, but she remembered times he'd stumbled in looking like shit after a night of tweaking and fucking. She was somewhat startled to find the woman standing outside the office door. It took her a moment to recognize her and then it clicked for her. Brian's sister, she thought. Claire. Not always a welcome visitor and Cynthia had vivid memories of the last time one of Brian's "family" members had dropped by.
"Claire," she said. "Can I help you?"
"You're Brian's assistant right?"
"Creative director," Cynthia said. Then she added, "Basically his glorified assistant. He's not here. Do you want me to tell him you stopped by?"
The other woman shook her head and Cynthia noticed for the first time just how tired she looked. There was a family resemblance although it was clear that Brian had gotten all the looks. "Want a cup of coffee?" Cynthia offered.
"No," Claire said. "I made a mistake in coming here."
"Claire, you can try the loft."
Claire nodded and then began to walk away as Cynthia watched her leave. She watched her turn a corner and then dialed her boss's home number. It was an in-case of emergency number but she figured this qualified as one and she had no desire to have him ream her out for an unintentional lapse in judgment. So she was relieved when Brian answered with little of his usual snarkiness but a lot of fatigue.
"Cyn, what's up?' Brian asked, as he watched Justin hand his son another pancake.
"Your sister was just here, boss. I offered to make her a cup of coffee and she said that she'd made a mistake by coming here. I told her that I thought you were at the loft. You're not pissed, are you?"
Brian took a deep breath and then said, "No, Cyn, I'm not pissed. So I guess I should be expecting a visit from Linda Blair herself. Thanks for the warning. I should be in tomorrow. Did you ever send me those pitch proposals?"
Cynthia sat down at her desk and rolled her eyes upward. Sometimes she would love to throttle him. "On their way, boss. By the way, Marvin Telson called yesterday wanting to switch ad agencies."
Huh? Brian remembered the older man and how he'd so callously disregarded his daughter's injury until Brian had pointed it out. The older man's priorities had definitely been fucked that night and he'd definitely wanted to fuck Brian. "Set up an appointment. My terms. No hotels. In Kinnetik with you."
"You want to tell me why you didn't land the account when we were with Ryder?" Cynthia asked, the question having bothered her for years. Along with the fact that she'd been counting on a percentage of Brian's bonus.
Brian remembered feeling that he'd be able to pay the loft off if he came across and didn't like himself much. It was one thing he'd never done. "It's a long story. One I'll tell you about later. Thanks for the update."
Understanding that she was being summarily dismissed, Cynthia glared at the phone and said, "Call me when you know what your week is going to look like and tell Justin I said hello."
"Yeah," he said brusquely, severing the connection.
Justin looked at him and said, "What's up?"
"Marvin Telson wants to meet. Claire stopped by the office and I'm letting Cynthia make a pitch." He took a breath and said, "Do we have any Advil?"
"Headache," Justin asked, concern evident.
"Yeah, Clara Barton. Is it in the medicine cabinet?"
Justin nodded as he looked at Gus. "How you doing buddy?"
"Full," Gus said and then burped, looking sheepishly at his daddy who just grinned at him.
Definitely his father's son, Justin thought. Brian disappeared into the bathroom and he scooped Gus up. Ten minutes later, Gus was dressed and Justin was tired. It was hard handling a four-year-old. Even harder when that four-year-old had Kinney blood. He dressed in a pair of cargo pants, forgoing a shower for the moment, and a FCUK t-shirt. The t-shirt clung to him like a second skin and Brian inhaled when he emerged from the bathroom, having undertaken his morning ablutions.
Justin marked the look and gave Brian a long considering look before saying, "You want me to take mini-me to school?"
Brian slowly shook his head and said, "No, if the dragon lady gave me shit yesterday she's bound to have a conniption fit if my lover drops my kid off. I hate to leave you here to face Claire but just keep her away from the alcohol and the valuables."
Justin glared at him and Brian knew that he was going to owe the blond big for handling his sister. Brian had donned a charcoal shirt, which cost $300, and his Diesel jeans. He looked positively yummy but then that was nothing new. "Fine," Justin said. "I've got an art project to work on."
Brian smiled, knowing that the blond's mood was easily remedied. "I'll owe you," he wound up saying.
Justin simply nodded. Yes, he would. He was still pissed at Claire for striking Brian. "Bye Gus."
"Bye, Justin," Gus said, as his father took him by the hand as they left the loft.
Justin was in the middle of a rendering of Brian's profile when he heard the knock on the door. He figured that the security system was on the blink again because nobody had hit the buzzer to be buzzed up. He set down the grease pencil and walked over to the door. He slid it open, expecting Claire, and was stunned to find his father at the door.
"Dad," Justin said, shock overtaking him for a moment. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I can't visit my son?" Craig asked. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"
"I don't think so," Justin said, hardly believing his father's audacity. "I'll ask again, what are you doing here?"
"I wanted to talk to Kinney and see if I can get him to forget this foolishness. It wasn't a hate crime, Justin."
Justin took a deep breath, one hand balling into a fist. The hell it wasn't. He was tired, grumpy, sexually frustrated, and pissed off. Not a great combination in anyone. "Brian's not the one who said it should be classified as a hate crime, Dad. I did. I haven't forgotten you kicking the shit out of him. His ribs were bruised for weeks. And he had whiplash from the car accident. You should learn that you don't fuck with faggots, Dad."
Craig stared at him, realizing that he no longer knew the person standing in front of him. He noticed for the first time the pendant around Justin's neck and asked, "He give you that?"
Justin fingered the pendant, remembering the moment Brian had first given it to him, after they'd reconciled. "Yeah, he did."
"So you're his kept man?" Craig asked. He couldn't believe his son was living with someone so much older than him and horrified that he'd chosen Brian over his own family.
Justin laughed at the sheer naïveté of the question. He shook his head as Craig wondered if he'd said something amusing. "No, we're equal partners. I make my own way and contribute." He took a moment to pause and then said, "We're not going to drop the charges. If that's why you came then you should just leave."
"So you speak for him now?"
"I always have."
Justin slid the loft door closed on Craig's shocked countenance and slid the bolt home, leaning against the door until he heard his father's footsteps fade away. He slumped to the ground and began to cry. He needed Brian. And going to California for the movie seemed like such a dream when faced with the reality of life in Pittsburgh. A luxury, an escape.
He pulled himself together and returned to the easel, picking up the pencil and beginning to sketch the curvature of Brian's body. He always had been his favorite subject and still was. There were others who had better bodies but Brian was Brian. He was deep into his mode when he heard the knock on the door. Setting the pencil down with a muffled curse, Justin again went to the door, ruing the fact that the security system was not working. He'd have to ask Brian to say something to the owners of the building.
He opened the door and found Claire standing there. He stepped aside and said, "Come in, Claire."
Since the younger man betrayed no shock at finding her at the door, Claire stared at him and said, "I guess Brian's assistant told you that I stopped by Kinnetik."
Justin nodded and said, "He took his son to daycare and he'll be back. You want me to make you some coffee?"
Claire shook her head and said quietly and in a tone marked with sadness, "You and Brian must really hate me. You must think I'm a villain and a failure as a mother."
Brian, you're going to owe me so big for this. I'm not up to soothing your sister's insecurities and my patience is not bottomless. He said nothing of his thoughts and said only, "I don't know you well enough to hate you. And what's happened to your sons is terrible, Claire."
"It's all my fault." Claire said, her nose red from crying and her eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep.
Looking at her, Justin doubted that he and Brian looked much better. "Where are the boys?" he asked.
"Alone?" he queried. It was like trying to get blood from a stone, he thought, realizing that Brian and Claire shared that. Brian had always been like a cipher and he hadn't thought that Brian shared that quality with his sister.
"No, they are with my mother."
"That's just fucking wonderful, Claire."
Both turned at the booming voice to see Brian standing in the doorway, looking magnificent in his fury. He stormed inside and said, "You should have brought them here with you."
"Don't you have a business to run?" she snapped. "I didn't think you wanted anything to do with my 'demon spawn' sons, Brian. And Mom is just sick about everything."
"I'll bet," he said. "Claire, the last place in the world they need to be is with Saint Joan. You know that mom is an alcoholic. And what if Father Padraic stops by and Mom's passed out?"
The color drained from Claire's face. Clearly the possibility hadn't occurred to her and Brian wondered again why he was the only one who thought in this family. "I didn't-I didn't think about that," she said.
"The boys are going to stay here for a few days, Claire," Brian said, making an executive decision. "You need some time to sort through what you are going to do and I think it'll do them some good to have a safe haven."
"Exposing them to your lifestyle is not safe," she hissed. "It's what got them into this mess in the first place."
Brian hadn't struck his sister in over twenty years but in that moment he came closer than he'd intended. It was only Justin's quietly muttered, "No," that stayed the blow. And from the look in Claire's eyes, he knew that she knew just how close she'd come to being knocked flat on her ass.
"Most pedophiles are straight men, Claire. John and Peter came to me for help. They trusted me, not you. They can have the bed and we'll figure out what to do." Brian's look stopped Claire's inevitable protest cold. "It's not a question, Claire. So you're going to scurry home, pry the sherry bottle from Mom's hands, and bring the boys back here. Make sure they have clothes and their books and whatever else they need."
Justin stared at him; the take charge Brian was back in full force. Claire started to protest and then said, "Okay, Brian. You know best."
In that moment, both men realized that she'd been backed into a corner and had caved. She grabbed her handbag and said, "They'll be here around 10. Is that okay?"
Brian nodded; it gave him and Justin time to talk or whatever and to put the loft back to rights. Gus was safely at school so he didn't have to worry about that and he'd already talked to the cops. It was only when Claire left that he turned to Justin and saw the expression in his partner's eyes. Uh oh, he thought, figuring he was about to be witness to one of the blond's famous tirades.
He was stunned when Justin took his hand and led him upstairs. Justin slowly undressed him and Brian's eyes went dark. Justin looked down at him, the hazel eyes nearly black, and kissed him, tip of his tongue tracing his lips. Brian inhaled and pulled the blond down to him. He said, in a voice gone hoarse with desire, "I want you to fuck me but we really don't have time now." He paused a moment, taking a deep breath, and then said, "I'm in love with you. You know that, right?" He held his breath, waiting on the response, realizing it was the first time in over a decade that he'd said the words to anyone.
"Yeah, I know," Justin said, kissing him again. "I love you too."
"God only knows why," Brian said, as Justin rolled off him.
"I guess you should get dressed," Justin said, unable to keep the somewhat mournful note from his voice. He not only wanted Brian; he needed Brian like he needed oxygen. It was rather terrifying, that simplistic and animalistic need.
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