Justin dropped by on his way back from school. He winced as he approached Cynthia’s desk, hearing the raised voice emanating from behind the closed door to Brian’s office.
Cynthia looked over from her conversation with Ted as Justin approached, and said, “He was at his mother’s house this morning.”
Cynthia shrugged. “In that mood, I ask no questions. I suggested he take a few days off, and he just said that there was no reason, that work help keep him focused and that I should mind my own business.”
At that moment, a shout penetrated the closed door to Brian’s office, and they heard a muffled, “You told me Wednesday and I fucking expect Wednesday, not Wednesday night!… Wednesday night is not Wens-Day. Wens Day, Wednesday! it’s not fucking Wens Night!”
“Uh, I don’t really need to be here,” Ted said, firmly gripping the boards he had been fumbling with, and walking away. “Can you just make me an appointment for next week?” He nodded at Justin.
“Coward! You know he wants that by tomorrow!” Cynthia yelled after him. She turned to Justin. “He’s been like this all week. You sure you want to go in there?”
Justin just smiled. “Yeah, give me twenty minutes, keep everyone out.”
Cynthia gestured at him to go right in.
Brian barely glanced up from his phone call when Justin walked in. He was on his feet, his chair pushed back as if he had leapt out of it, rolling it away. He leaned on the hand that was planted on his desk, while the other hand held the phone to his ear. “How much business have we sent your way? Do you realize how much competition there is… I don’t care if you know I only hire the best, don’t try to flatter your way out of this screw up…!”
Justin dropped his bag on the floor, circled the desk, and moved behind Brian’s chair, pushing it back to where it belonged. The chair hit the back of Brian’s legs, just at the knees, and they buckled so he sat abruptly. He frowned, looked over at Justin. “No, five o’clock is simply not acceptable, am I not being clear here?…” Justin swiveled the chair around, and dropped to his knees, reaching for Brian’s belt buckle. Brian raised an eyebrow, swatted at his hands, but Justin was nothing if not persistent, and Brian had only one hand for Justin’s two. His dick was out in no time, and Justin’s tongue set itself to work. “Uh… okay… okay, oh, Christ… What? No, uh, uh, look, fine, I guess we’re going to have to live with five, just don’t let it happen again.” He dropped the phone in the cradle, and his hands moved to wind into the blonde hair at his lap, pushing Justin’s head down, surging up into his mouth.
* * *
“So, did you stop by because Ted and Cynthia screamed for help? Come to blow Mt. Vesuvius?”
“Noooo,” Justin responded, his face screwed up in disgust that Brian would ever suspect such a thing. He rolled his tongue, licking the last of Brian’s cum from the back of his mouth, yummy. “You seriously think I’d play whore for them?”
“No, I thought you’d play whore for me,” Brian smirked, trying to take the edge off his question. Well, shit, he’d just been kidding, he hadn’t meant to insult his boyfriend. “That was just what I needed.”
“Yeah, well, sometimes I just know what you need. I don’t need anyone else to tell me.”
Oh, shit, he’d really stepped in it. “You always know just what I need.”
Ah, that did it. That smile he loved so appeared across the lovely face. “Actually, I stopped by to ask if you have a movie preference. I’m stopping by the video store on the way home.”
“We’re doing a movie night?”
“Yeah, I think you could use a night of just hanging out and relaxing. No phone, no Claire, no funeral plans, just us.”
“Hm…” That blow job had only whetted his appetite. He sighed, as if put upon. “Well, Michael sent me an email that he and Emmett were meeting at Woody’s around 9… but I suppose, if you insist…”
“He probably wants to see how you’re doing, before the whole funeral thing starts. How bout we just relax, watch a movie, and then see if we’re in the mood to go out?”
“That sounds just about right. Fine, movies… I want something as gruesomely violent as possible, absolutely no redeeming value, no moral message, no sentimental value. Blood and guts.”
“Anything in mind?” Justin picked up his bag and moved toward the door.
“Nope, use your imagination.” Brian turned back to his computer. Then he tossed over his shoulder, “I’ll try to be home around seven.”
* * *
“Christ, movies at home,” Brian commented, eyeing Justin’s ass. “Next thing you know, we’ll be breeding.”
Justin straightened up from inserting the DVD into the player, hit the play button on the remote, and walked back, falling into the far end of the couch. “Who’ll be breeding, Daddy?” He kicked Brian’s bare foot with his stocking one.
“Shut up and watch the show.” He tugged on Justin’s foot. “Come here,” he ordered.
“Yes, Daddy,” Justin replied, moving eagerly to the other side of the couch, his back against Brian’s chest.
“Cut that Daddy shit, sonny boy.”
“I’ll have to be spanked.”
On screen, “Dead Alive” kicked up.
“Never heard of it,” Brian said, fitting his chin in the space between Justin’s shoulder and neck, breathing against his ear.
“The kid at the store said it was directed by Peter Jackson.”
“The Lord of the Rings guy?”
Forty-five minutes later, they were laughing hysterically as the hero of the film beat up a zombie baby on a playground, and two horrified mothers, not knowing that the child was the undead, looked on.
“This is by Peter Jackson?” Brian asked in disbelief, gasping for air as the baby was drop kicked across the yard. At least this scene spared them the consumption of zombie pudding pus from earlier, falling eyeballs, and copious, oozing brain matter. They should have seen it coming; in the first three minutes a man bitten by a rabid monkey had had various body parts chopped off by his machete wielding colleague after a horrified, “You’ve got… the Bite!” He had never seen so much gore in one film. And that was saying a lot.
“Yeah, guess it’s one of his really early films. I can’t believe this, this has got to be the sickest movie I have ever seen,” Justin snickered. Yup, he’d thank the girl who gave him the recommendation.
Just as the zombie baby was being violently stuffed into its own diaper bag, there was a pounding on the loft door. Justin lifted his head and looked back, while Brian hauled himself up and away from the other man’s body, bounding easily over the back of the couch, padding across the floor and hauling open the door.
Justin’s brows scrunched up as a stocky man he had never seen before barreled into Brian, grabbing him around the waist and lifting him up.
“Jesus, Liam, put me the fuck down!”
“Oh ho! Still the lightweight, are we? Sorry to hear about your mum.” He put Brian down, patting him on the shoulder. Justin saw the man was probably about Brian’s age by the way he carried himself, but he looked a lot older. Not in shape, bit of a gut, red hair thinning a bit. Still, in his face one could see the fine structure, the high cheekbones that weren’t obscured by the bit of chub, the lush lips that made clear he was related. Brian stepped back, away from Liam, and sighed. He glanced over at Justin, who had put the movie on mute and stood.
“Oh, hey, sorry. I didn’t realize you had company,” Liam remarked as he took Justin in.
“I don’t, just you,” Brian bit back. “How you doing, Liam? You want a drink?”
“Foolish questions! I’m fine. You have whiskey?”
Brian moved into the kitchen. “Justin,” he called across the space. “This is Liam. My cousin. Liam, this is Justin. My…” He paused. Liam waited, expressionless at first. Then russet eyebrows shot upwards as Liam waited for Brian to finish. “What are we calling each other these days?” Brian asked, busying himself with pouring the whiskey. “Want some?” he asked Justin, off hand, pretending not to watch Liam’s face.
“Life partner?” Justin offered, moving across the room. “Uh… boyfriend? Lover?” Revenge for Brian’s dumping the definition of terms in his lap. “I prefer love of his life.” And that was just being perverse. “Nice to meet you, Liam,” he finished, holding out his hand for Liam to take, albeit a bit limply. Justin wondered if it was just surprise or if this was an indication of things to come. He let go of Liam’s hand as the other man stared at him. “I’ll just have a beer, Brian, thanks though,” Justin finished, moving to the refrigerator.
“Asshole works, too,” Brian said to him, softly, as he passed, an edge in his voice.
“It certainly does,” Justin grinned, ignoring him.
“So. You’re gay.” Liam took the shot glass, knocked back the liquor, held the glass out again. Brian poured more in. Damn, at this rate, his relatives were going to drink him out of his alcohol supply. He made a mental note to pick up a cheap bottle for these occasions. A few bottles.
“Yup,” Brian answered.
“And Justin’s your boyfriend.”
“I prefer partner. He lives here. You shocked?”
Liam paused. “Nah. I mean, I’m surprised. Just because, you know, this is the first I’ve heard of it, and we used to hang out a lot when we were kids.”
“Liam and I used to run away and hide, immediately, whenever our families got together,” Brian explained to Justin.
“Yeah, believe me, there was plenty to run from,” Liam added.
“Your mom was fairly sane,” Brian commented.
“Sane enough to divorce my dad when I was fifteen. I was only sorry I didn’t get to see you so much after that. But I didn’t miss seeing my dad, or Aunt Joan. Sorry! I shouldn’t speak bad of the dead, huh? Anyway…” He knocked his glass against Brian’s. They both downed the contents. Justin watched, took a long gulp of his beer. He was not going to stay stone sober in the face of this.
“Anyway,” Liam continued, “I’m surprised. But it makes sense. There were never any girlfriends that you talked about at all. And then that time you emailed me a couple years ago, about moving to New York…”
“Moving to New York meant Brian’s gay?” Justin didn’t get it.
“No, but writing that he heard there were, quote unquote, some fabulous clubs in Chelsea, kind of made me think, huh.”
“Yeah, I wondered if you’d pick up on that one.”
“Obviously I didn’t really. Probably just didn’t want to think about it. Anyway, here I am. Holy God, what are you watching?” Liam stared across the room at the t.v., where a man was running with a lawnmower extended in front of him through a crowd of people. Blood and body parts rained across the screen.
“Just a little something to forget my troubles,” Brian smirked. “Seemed appropriate way to get mentally prepared for dealing with the family.”
“I’ll go turn it off,” Justin offered, moving out of the kitchen.
“That’s no way to get your mind off death,” Liam reprimanded, eyeing the screen before it went blank. “Only two things for that, sex and booze.”
“Well, we were…” Brian started, but Liam coughed loudly, following that with a slight strangling noise.
“No, no, no details, please. All American guy gagging here! Unless it’s pussy, I don’t want to know.”
“Pussy, gross,” Justin commented, seemingly to himself, but quite audibly, his voice dropping in from the background.
Liam’s eyebrows twisted at Justin’s comment, but then he thought about it, and laughed at himself. Brian joined him. Liam just might offer more amusement than that sicko movie. He always had been pretty much the one relative Brian had been able to stand. “So, why’d you drop by?”
“My dad dragged me over to Aunt Joan’s house. Apparently Claire’s moved in…”
Brian’s eyebrows shot up at that.
“Huh, didn’t know that one? I see you two are getting along same as usual.”
“Some things never change.”
“Nope, and as usual, as soon as the family gathered, I ran the hell out. Came looking for you. Claire said you couldn’t be there because you had this big business to run, but I figured that’s what you’d told her. Or she was lying to make it look like you might actually want to be there. I kinda figured it was that last one, so I just came here.”
“I’m surprised you came at all. You never got on with Joan.”
“My dad got a thing in his ass that I should come, and you know him, it’s easier just to go along and get the crap over with then the grief you earn for years by setting your head against the tide of those assholes. Besides, I wanted to see how you’re doing. Seems you’re doing well.” He looked around the loft, taking everything in. “Beautiful place, beautiful things.” He watched Justin walk back toward them.
“So, I suppose I should get going,” Liam said after the slight pause. “Don’t want to interrupt your movie.”
“Why don’t you come out with us?” Justin asked. “We were going to meet a friend out for drinks.”
“Oh, we were?” Brian echoed.
“Hey, I don’t want to intrude…”
“Well, Woody’s is hardly a titty strip club, but there’re drinks.”
“Hm, if you insist. Definitely, let’s go get drunk and bitch about our fucked up family. Woody’s a club? Not a gay club?”
“Nah, just a gay bar. Although we could take you to Babylon…” Brian began, his eyes sparkling as he considered the shock value.
“Brian…” Justin warned.
“…but you’d like Woody’s better. You’ll probably like my friend Michael, too. I picked up with him right after you moved with your mom to New York.”
“Uh… a gay bar?”
“You want to go out drinking, or hang out at a motel with your dad?”
“Well, if you put it that way…”
“Trust me, Liam. Nobody’s going to pick you up.”
“Fine. And, by the way, I’m staying at a hotel. My dad’s the cheap fuck, not me.”
Brian knew there was a reason he liked his cousin. Even if he was a relative.
* * *
Liam managed tolerably well, but mostly because he was on his way to ensuring a state of blind drunkenness, matching Brian shot for shot. He had convinced himself that he wouldn’t remember anything in the morning anyway. “So you’re married to Michael,” he said to Ben.
“And you’re straight.”
“Not many straight guys show up here.”
“Except for that Pool Boy cooler guy,” Michael laughed. “And he ran screaming. Hey, didn’t Brian bring him down here, too?”
“So, what do you think?” Ben asked Liam, nodding around the bar.
Liam looked around. It was fairly late, after midnight, and the lights had gone down. There was a couple making out in the corner, but besides that and some flamboyant outfits, not much different from the straight bars Liam hung out at in New York. He had seen plenty of guys making out there. It was Wednesday night, so the atmosphere at Woody’s was fairly tame. “Seems like every other bar out there. Only no girls.”
“There are a few, sometimes.”
“Yeah, usually your mother,” Ben joked.
Michael scowled, and changed the subject. “You should see Babylon if you want to see a scene.”
“Fairly carnivalesque,” Ben added.
“In the Bakhtinian manner?” Liam asked, almost knocking down his beer as he mis-estimated the distance between his hand and it. Shit. Time to start sipping, boy-o, he told himself. “Or the Rabelasian definition?” He meant to be a smartass, and was shocked when Ben replied, “Oh, I’ve always thought that Bakhtin’s ‘Rabelais and His World’ could be applied to gay culture…”
“Oh, sweetie, don’t get him started,” Emmett sighed, reaching over and patting Liam on the knee. “He’s beauty and brains, but unfortunately you can never bullshit around him, not even in a bar.”
Ben laughed. “Sorry, I’m lecturing on Bakhtin for one of my classes. Part of the idea is that the gay club might be a current example of the carnivalesque, in its suspension of the ordinary, a tearing down of daily hierarchical distinctions in the wild indulgence of excess, sex, drugs.”
“You should talk to Brian about that,” Michael spoke up. “Bring him in for your next lecture as the perfect example of the carnivalian, same as I lectured on your gay comic heroes.”
Unfortunately for Michael, Liam did not pick up on the point in the conversation he had been hoping would rivet attention.
“Brian’s gotten around, huh?”
The three men around him roared.
“Oh, my god,” Emmett gasped, after he stopped laughing, “Brian’s had sex with probably every fuckable guy in the city!”
“Even the straight ones?” Liam joked, somewhat uncomfortably, but drunk enough to ask.
Emmett’s face twisted in puzzlement. “Straight guys aren’t fuckable, they don’t…” he trailed off, not wanting to insult Liam by pointing out his obvious need to hit a gym.
Liam ignored Emmett’s discomfort. “Really? Would you fuck me?” Okay. So maybe he was really drunk.
“No, honey, I’m a bottom.”
“I prefer getting fucked. Well, most of the time.”
“So you’re versatile.”
Emmett grinned suddenly. “Well, you seem to be picking up on things. Maybe you aren’t so unfuckable! Yeah, I might suck you off. What size are you, exactly? I have a size requirement, you must be this big to get on the ride…” Emmett peered downward, between Liam’s legs.
“Brian!” Liam twisted around, searching for his cousin.
“He’s harmless, really,” Brian called over, having caught the last part of that conversation. “Just tell him no and swat him on the nose.” He straightened up from the pool table, where he’d just missed his shot, and wandered over to the side of the room, where everyone was sitting, leaving Justin studying the line up on the pool table. He moved to where Liam and Emmett sat. “Emmett, how many times do I have to tell you, you try to fuck the straight guys, you’re only going to get hurt. If only by me, if you don’t at least leave my poster boys alone. And now my cousin?” He reached for his beer, which seemed to be on the verge of multiplying. Shit.
“He doesn’t fuck them, Brian, he only bottoms or sucks dick, right?” Liam drained his glass, looking at Emmett for confirmation. Emmett beamed encouragingly.
Brian stared at Liam, then flicked his gaze to Emmett. “What is it with you?” he asked.
“I have the magic,” Emmett replied, “it just sucks them in.”
“It sucks their dicks in,” Michael snickered.
Justin came over to join them. “I won,” he announced, leaning his stick up against the wall.
“What? What do you mean? I left the cue ball behind my two and the shot on the eight.”
“I didn’t see anything,” Brian griped. “Anybody see that shot?”
“Hey,” Justin replied, poking him in the ribs, “I don’t need anyone watching to prove anything. You’re just going to have to trust me.”
Liam watched as Brian paused, his eyes moving to meet Justin’s. Something passed between them. Then Brian smiled. “Fine. I believe you.” He reached out and touched his partner’s cheek.
The moment was a bit too intimate for Liam. He could take in strangers across the room making out. Hey, he was just drunk enough that he hoped that some of those guys might go further, just so he’d see what the deal was. But this, between his cousin and the blonde kid, that was just too… intimate. It was as if everything around the pair had faded away. Him included.
“So where’d you guys meet?” Liam asked. “Was it at that Babylon place?”
Emmett snickered, and Ben rolled his eyes. Justin glanced at Brian, who smirked back.
“They met on the school bus, Brian was playing monitor,” Michael replied before thinking. Ben squeezed him in a warning. “Hey, I’m kidding, it was a joke!”
“Seriously?” Liam asked.
“No,” Brian ground out, glaring at Michael. Damn it all anyway, he probably should have been prepared for questions of this nature, if he was planning to drag Justin to face his family. He reached over to the table next to Michael, and picked up the shot waiting for him. He hadn’t been planning on downing that one, but, what the hell.
But Justin spoke up, surprising him. “Actually, I came down to Liberty Avenue for the first time a few years ago. Brian was coming out of Babylon, so you’re kind of right. He spotted me across the street, and sort of…”
“Picked him up.” Brian finished the sentence.
“Really? So, love at first sight?”
Brian and Justin looked at each other, and then everyone was laughing. Liam looked around, confused. “What?”
“Love at first sight for me. I stalked him.”
“The twink that wouldn’t leave,” Michael added, lifting the beer to his lips, willing himself to shut up. Too much of an edge there. And he didn’t feel the way that sounded, testy. Not anymore. But recall is a funny thing, bringing back the memory of old feelings, even if we no longer hold onto them.
“I didn’t resist that much,” Brian added, causing Emmett and Michael to both choke on their drinks. Ben just listened; he hadn’t been around at the time, and had only heard the story through Michael’s obviously biased point of view.
“Oh, he tried everything to get rid of me, but I just moved in. Brian was not a commitment kind of guy.”
“King of the carnivalesque,” Ben explained, and Liam got it. No doubt, apparently Brian was to dick what he, Liam, aspired to be to pussy. Although at this point, he would settle for a girlfriend, if only for the regular sex. Watching the way Brian had been eyed all night by almost every guy walking by, somehow, Liam didn’t think that lack of opportunity was an issue for him.
“So what happened?” Liam asked. “I mean, you’re obviously serious about each other now.”
Silence again. “Oh, fuck me, I’ve entered the shit field, haven’t I?”
“The shit field?” Ben asked.
“Sometimes, you know, you’re just walking along, and you feel your foot slip on something. And you’ve stepped in shit, only it’s in the tall grass, hell, it’s a field of tall grass, and there’s shit all around, and you had no idea you’d wandered into it. Seems a common occurrence in our family,” Liam nodded Brian’s way.
“I call it the minefield,” Brian answered. He looked over at Justin, who shrugged. Brian moved closer, in back of him, put his arms around his shoulders, hugged him into his chest. He could use the support, feeling none too steady on his feet. And of course, all the chairs were taken. He found himself saying, “I went to Justin’s senior prom…”
Liam’s eyebrows raised slightly at that, but he said nothing, sensing he should just shut up. He got that, even through the tide of alcohol.
“One of the kids there took serious issue to my boyfriend showing up to dance with me,” Justin finished, realizing Brian wasn’t continuing the story, just breathing heavily and leaning on him a bit too hard. “He took a bat to my head. In front of Brian. Crushed my skull, I was in a coma for a while, then rehab for a really long time.”
“Holy shit!” Liam breathed. He glanced up at Brian, who had bent his face down into Justin’s hair. “Holy shit… holy shit.” He could think of nothing better to say. Finally, he came out with, “I guess that’s gonna turn things serious.”
Justin breathed out, relieved. He’d been worried Liam would say something stupid. That was one of the reasons he avoided talking about this. People never knew what to say, or they would say something like, “Well, at least you lived.” And he had repressed his feelings over it for a very long time. But now that he’d brought it up, the first time, in fact, since confronting Hobbes, he realized, while the subject was still upsetting, the intense, sickening rage that burned through his gut at its very mention, that was gone.
“Yeah, it was bad.” Justin left it at that.
Liam was nodding. “Shit, man, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to put a downer on the evening.”
“You didn’t…” Justin assured him, but it was obvious he had. Brian was holding him far too tightly, his head not coming up, leaning too heavily against him. “You couldn’t have known, it’s a pretty depressing story.”
“But it brought you two closer.”
“Don’t tell us we should look on the bright side of things,” Brian spoke up, his voice muffled. “That’s bullshit.”
Justin sighed, and patted Brian’s hand, where it convulsively gripped his shirt. “I’m fine. We’re fine.” He was speaking to Brian, not to Liam, but the only response was another squeeze, the arms drawing him in tighter.
“Well, it’s getting late, we should be getting along,” Michael said, looking at Ben, who nodded back at him. “Liam, you need a ride somewhere? I’ve only had two beers since I’ve been here.”
“I can take a cab,” Liam answered, getting up off his chair and stumbling a bit.
“No trouble, we’re giving Emmett a ride home, he lives across town,” Ben filled in, reaching out to steady the other man. “Only, no puking in the back seat. It’s a rule.”
“Cool, thanks. Hey, Justin, I’m sorry if I brought up bad memories,” Liam said, turning back to his cousin and his significant other. Justin just smiled slightly.
“Hey, Brian, we’ll see you Saturday,” Michael finished, knowing he wouldn’t get an answer. He turned to leave.
“Tell Brian I’m sorry, when he comes out of it,” Liam added.
“I will. It’s nice to meet you,” Justin finished, and watched the group walk away. “Brian. Brian?” He heard the breathing against his ear, and how heavy Brian’s body was against his back. Mentally, he counted the shots of whiskey backward, and watched as Ben practically carried Liam through the doorway. “Brian!”
“Hm? They go?”
Oh, just fucking great. Justin pushed backwards slightly, and Brian swayed back with the shove, enough so Justin could turn around, and catch him by the shoulders. “That sucked,” Brian commented. At least he was standing. “Like we need to think about that. Fucking family.” His words were running into each other, his eyes visibly working to focus. That last shot… damn it, he knew he shouldn’t have done it.
“You want to get a cab?” Justin asked.
Brian peered down at him, squinting with one eye shut. “Uh huh. You should be in charge of that. Take the love of your life with you.” He enunciated those last words slowly but not so clearly, then chuckled.
“Asshole,” Justin answered, grabbing his hand and pulling him out of Woody’s, so they could find a ride home.
* * *
“Come here.” The whispered command belied the drunken state he knew Brian was in, coming through the darkness as Justin knelt at the foot of the bed, pulling off Brian’s socks.
Justin finished his ministrations, then climbed upward, pulling his own shirt over his head, dragging off his pants, throwing them aside. He lay next to Brian in nothing but underwear, and began unbuttoning Brian’s shirt.
“He’s right, you know.”
Justin pressed his hand against Brian’s shoulder, swept the shirt off his arm. “Here, lift up, let me get this…” Brian struggled up, and Justin peeled off his shirt, then ran his hand over the warm skin thus exposed. “Who’s right?” He reached for Brian’s belt buckle.
“Liam,” Brian said, pressing his hardening dick against Justin’s fingers as his zipper came sliding down. “That was going to get things serious. Why did it take a fucking bat to your head to make me get it?”
“Brian…” Justin began, his tone a clear warning. In it lay the whole mantra, it’s not your fault, don’t blame yourself, you probably saved my life by being there. He didn’t need to actually say the words.
Brian kicked off his pants, and slid his hands down the back of Justin’s underwear, sliding them down around his thighs, clearing the way for his hands over his rear cheeks. “Sometimes I wonder if I would have just kept being an asshole to you, if that hadn’t happened. That’s shit, that I’d be grateful to something that almost killed you. That’s sick.”
“No, it isn’t, it’s human. And I don’t think that’s true at all.”
“I mean,” Justin answered, trying hard to form the words into coherency even as Brian’s lips nuzzled at that sensitive spot just above his collar bone. “You yourself said that night was ridiculously romantic. Did you mean it, not ironically? It was romantic, wasn’t it?”
Silence. Lips moving up, against soft skin at the neck, jawline, tip of tongue moving into play, tracing a warm, wet path across the skin. “Yes.”
“I think we were moving into something more serious anyway. I think *you* were moving into something more serious. I was already there.”
“I can’t lose you,” Brian said, his hands moving down the back of Justin’s thighs, grabbing his hamstrings and pulling him in, closer. His words were thick with alcohol, and there was something else in his voice, a kind of tension, something that Justin could not identify. “Take these fucking things off.” His knee hooked the underwear, drawing it down Justin’s legs to where his foot could pull them all the way off. His knees nudged apart Justin’s legs so he could tangle his own in them, entwining their bodies ever closer
“I’m not going anywhere,” Justin answered Brian’s former statement softly. He wasn’t sure what this was, and didn’t want to say anything to break the strange but oddly comforting mood. Not that that seemed likely, now that they were both fully naked, and Brian’s lips were moving over his cheek, grazing his mouth, Brian’s tongue coming out to trace a slow, excruciatingly slow pattern across his lips, then leaning in, mouth possessing Justin’s, invading tongue sliding over teeth, into the deep recesses. Then Brian pulled back, shifted them both onto their sides, their bodies lined up, Brian’s chest at Justin’s back. He pressed his erection against the space between Justin’s upper thighs, and placed his hand on Justin’s hip, kissed his shoulder blade, rested his forehead on Justin’s upper back. “If I loved you…”
Justin held his breath, afraid to move. He took in the sensation of Brian’s hand as it opened up on his hip, slid down, grasping Justin’s shaft as it jutted up against his stomach, moved his thumb onto the sensitive tip, letting it rest there. “Just, let me love you, just shut up, let me…” Brian trailed off, his hand moving to create the friction, glorious sensation, and before long, the satisfying burn of Brian pressing into him, slowly filling him, his movements careful, and easy, and Justin realized he was recreating the time they had first made love after he had been injured. He arched his back to take Brian in more fully, and turned his head back to the lips that waited for him.
* * *
Daylight poured into the loft when Brian awoke to find Justin propped up on one elbow, watching him. Oh, shit. That look, what the fuck? What was that look about? “What?” he barked out, and winced. His head throbbed as answer to his vocalization.
Justin grinned. “So you were fairly drunk last night.”
Right. Liam. And Justin with that look on his face. Like the Cheshire cat. “Oh, fuck, what did I do?” He flashed through the evening, it was spotty, but there they were, oh, yeah, Liam and his stupid questions...
Oh, well, hell. He sat up, gasped in regret at the piercing pain that flooded him at his sudden action, and dropped back down into the pillows.
“Don’t worry, Brian. I know what it was all about.”
Great. He couldn’t wait to hear this. Justin had been thinking. Worse, analyzing. That never boded well. He closed his eyes. He did not have long to wait.
“Really, it’s okay, Brian. I know all that shmoopy stuff really wasn’t about me, well, not completely. Although I did appreciate hearing how you feel. I know you really are upset over everything that’s happening with your family and, even if you don’t admit it, Joan’s death. You’re somewhat in denial about how upsetting this is, even if,” Justin held up a hand to forestall the words that would surely follow Brian’s drawn-in breath, “…even if you aren’t sorry Joan’s dead, this whole situation brings back feelings you don’t really want to think about because they’re painful. So you transferred the pain you buried, that’s been triggered by the death of your mother onto the memory of my attack, because it’s safer for you to process. In psychoanalytic terms, you performed an act of transference away from the uncontrollable object and onto the safe one. That would be me. Which is actually kinda cool, besides being kind of fucked up.”
Brian snorted. “Thank you, Dr. Freud. Are you going to shut up and let me suffer in peace now?”
“It’s perfectly normal to feel upset about the death of your mother, and to be unable to acknowledge the level of anger you have for not being allowed to love her. So instead, you asked me if you would, quote, let me love you. Unquote. I think that was about a lot more than me, if it was about me at all. So don’t worry, I’m not going to get all weird about what you said.”
“That’s just great.” Brian tried sitting up again, winced. “Either I’m all drunken sappiness over you, or I’m having latent and unwanted sorrow about my bitch of a mother.”
“It’s okay, Brian, it’s okay to feel upset under the circumstances…”
“Can you please shut up? Seriously. You can shut the fuck up now. My head is killing me, and you’re going to finish me off.” He covered his face with his hands, dropped back down to the mattress, and curled up into a ball.
“Told you I’d kill you with kindness.”
“I was hoping you’d fuck me to death instead.”
Justin laughed, and bounced out of bed. Brian seemed back to normal. Whatever that was.
Author’s Note: “Dead Alive” really is a movie directed by Peter Jackson, one of his early works. It is just as described, and has to be seen to be believed.
Knocking, again. Justin opened his eyes slowly, coming out of the warm cocoon of half-sleep he’d been floating in, sprawled out on the bed. The slant of the sun told him it was late afternoon, so he’d been asleep for longer than he expected. Well, it was to be expected. He’d had an early class, getting up so Brian could drive him in, hung over after their late night.
He’d kind of hoped it was Brian who would wake him from his nap, those wonderful hands and lips slowly drawing him out of his state of sleep, dragging Justin up for the kind of comfort Brian seemed to need a lot of in the last few days. Not that he would ever admit it. But Justin knew, despite Brian’s words, he was instinctively seeking warmth to counter the cold shock of his mother’s death, the sudden change in his world. For whatever reason. Brian’s resistance to admitting any emotion at all, his fierce rejection of any feeling whatsoever as far as this latest turn of events, was just… wrong. Justin felt some weird lack of balance whenever Brian touched him, as if he were slightly off-center. Or maybe he was merely projecting his own feelings onto Brian, the desire to not believe that Brian could be so hard-hearted. He had to feel something.
“Yeah, yeah,” Justin called as he dragged himself out of bed, and walked barefoot, clad only in the sweat pants that hung around his hips, “I’m coming.” Didn’t know why, the only knocking lately had been for Brian. “I just live here,” Justin muttered, as he pulled the door open.
And came face to face with Claire. Oh. Just great.
“Uh… hi. Claire. He’s not here. I can tell him you stopped by.” He was not going to babysit his lover’s sister as she got slowly drunk. Not again.
“Actually,” Claire replied, moving into the doorway. “I figured Brian would be at work. I’m here to see you.”
“Me?” Justin turned and walked to the bedroom and picked up the t-shirt he’d thrown aside earlier. Then he returned to the kitchen, where Claire had seated herself on one of the seats at the bar counter. “You want some coffee, or tea?” he asked. Not something to drink. Just like approaching Gus, he reasoned, offer only those choices you want accepted.
“Coffee would be great.” Claire studied him as he turned to get the coffee out of the refrigerator. “I always wondered what you were like,” she continued, watching him pour the beans into the grinder. Justin pressed his palm down on the lid, and the whine of the machine filled the space, giving him a second to consider that.
“You knew about me?” he asked, pouring the grounds into a filter, and placing the filter into the machine. He took the pot to the sink.
“Not exactly. There was that prom thing that was in the papers. Then, when Brian opened Kinnetik, there was a picture with his arm around you in the social section. Mom almost had a heart attack. Her successful son, outed to all her friends, the city.” Claire’s smile was sour. Justin turned on the water to fill the pot. Huh. He vaguely remembered Ted mentioning that picture, but he had only glanced at it over Emmett’s shoulder, mostly noting that he looked okay, but Brian looked awesome. Brian hadn’t said anything about it at all. “Mom called you ‘that boy,’ as in, if Brian doesn’t care for his own immortal soul, he should at least worry that he’s dragging ‘that boy’ into a sea of iniquity. I’d tell her, he’s been with you this long, maybe he actually loves someone for once. She never listened to me, that bitch. She never listened to anyone, but the voice of God in her head. Personally, I don’t think that was God…”
Justin returned to the coffee machine and poured the water in, carefully putting the pot into place. He didn’t quite know how to respond to any of this.
“I’m sorry I insulted you in your own home the other day,” Claire continued, meeting Justin’s eyes with her own. “I get pretty bitchy when I’m upset.” She smiled, her lips a tight line. “Inherited trait.”
“Yeah, well…” The coffee pot gurgled. Else, nothing but quiet. Finally, Justin asked, “Are you here just to apologize?”
She looked uncomfortable for a moment, then shook her head, the stringy hair swaying in front of her face. She brushed it impatiently aside. “I don’t know how to reach him, Justin. I was hoping you could help me.”
“Reach him…” Justin repeated. He held himself absolutely still, much as he would if he were to come across a rattler, curled up, head back, tail shaking.
“I can’t do this alone,” Claire continued. “I’ve got relatives descending, to say nothing of Mom’s church biddies. You’d think the Church would be helpful at times like this. I’ve got Father Steven saying stuff like, it’s all for the best, and I know if I ask him what the heck he means, he’s only going to say, you must have faith… Faith in what? No one’s helping me. I’ve got to get that house together, do you know my mom didn’t leave a will? You know how much the state takes when you don’t make provisions? The whole thing’s gonna go, and I don’t know who to call. I can’t afford an attorney to sort this out. You’ll laugh, but I need to write an obituary and I just keep writing ‘Joan Kinney, selfish drunken icicle, beloved by no one except for a supernatural being who may or may not exist.’ You know, the only thing I’ve been able to do is pick out the dress to put her in, and that’s only because Brian actually stopped by one of the twenty times I asked him, and...” She started laughing, almost hysterically. Justin became worried when she didn’t stop. The coffee stopped perking. He took a mug out of the cabinet, poured coffee into it, and slid it in front of Brian’s sister. She slowly stopped laughing.
“Want to share what’s so funny?” Justin asked, getting himself a mug.
“Um, not sure.” She peered at him over the rim of the cup, took a sip, and put it back down on the counter. She smirked. “We’re dressing Mom in red for the funeral, forever in red.”
Justin stared, not sure he heard her correctly. “Red?”
“Yup,” Claire practically crowed. “I had two other dresses lined up, but then there was the red one. Oh, I really wanted to just send it over myself, but… and I couldn’t send over the other ones. And one had to go, or she’d go into the ground naked. It was like I was paralyzed, just like writing that obituary.” That red dress. Now Brian could be blamed for it, and Claire got what she wanted. She smirked, considering the horror her mother would feel if she could see her own corpse. “I mean, I loved my mother, but I hated her too. You know how much I hated her, Justin?”
“I'm starting to have an idea,” he replied, extremely uncomfortable. He did not really know Claire. He felt he was invading some territory he should stay out of. Through no fault of his own, but still.
“Brian took a look at those dresses, and said, ‘the red one,’ he made the decision, got another dig in I would never be able to. He’s hard like that. I wanted to kiss him, but… you just don’t touch relatives affectionately.” She looked up, a hard stare as she gazed intently at the man across from her. “You love him, don’t you?”
Justin wondered if she’d had anything to drink before getting here. “Yes. Very much.”
“Do you? Love him?”
She seemed taken aback for a moment, then a sly smile returned. “Sorry. I’m getting too personal, aren’t I?”
Justin nodded shortly, and sipped his coffee to hide his perplexity. Damn, these situations really made him feel his age; he hated being made to feel so inexperienced. He wasn’t, either. It just struck him that Claire had an agenda, and he had no idea what it was.
“Claire, why don’t you tell everyone to fuck off, and do what you want? Write a bitchy obit, say that she never did anything for anyone who fell out of her step, and you’re not grateful.”
“It’s my community,” Claire explained, “the church. Those people. My sons are altar boys. It’s all I have. I clean offices at night. My colleagues don’t speak English. I have no friends, no skills, no experience. I have a GED. There are no other jobs. The only people who talk to me are people I see on Sundays at church. If I show how I really feel… I’ll have nothing, and nowhere to go. Especially after the state takes Mom’s house.”
Man, what kind of job did their parents do on these kids, Justin wondered, eyeing Claire. “More coffee?” he asked.
Claire shook her head. “She loved him, you know. Both my parents did. He disappointed them about as much as they loved him, so the fall from grace was big. Yeah, it’s screwed up, but at least they loved him. I didn’t even exist as far as they were concerned. He was it, bet you didn’t know that.”
Justin shook his head. What the hell was she talking about?
“From the time he was born, he was the golden child. He was good at everything, sports, school, you name it. Me, I was awkward. Gawky. The second he popped out and started talking at 18 months in whole sentences, teaching himself to read at age three because my mom wouldn’t read as much as he wanted her to… they might not even have had another kid. There are boxes of stuff that my Mom kept of his, packed away in the attic. You know he was on a soccer team that went to nationals? He headlined the Pittsburgh sports section one Sunday. My dad cut it out, and carried it around in his wallet, showing it to everybody. But he had nothing on Mom. Until about two years ago, when she came home, and told me I had betrayed her by not telling me about my brother’s sinful lifestyle… was that you she walked in on? She only said, ‘my son, corrupting that angelic boy…”
Justin almost spit out his coffee when he started laughing, but he managed to keep his lips closed, and so instead only choked a bit. Angelic. Him.
“You okay? You fit the description,” Claire commented. “You’re gorgeous. But then, Brian would settle for nothing less than the best. Mom used to say that, ‘my son has my refined taste. He certainly didn’t get that from his father.’ My father was pretty crude. Had a way of bullying everyone in his way. Everyone who disappointed him. The only one more disappointed than him was Joan.”
“Uh…” Justin could think of nothing better. Then he shook himself mentally. He shouldn’t be listening to this. “Claire, I can’t help you. You know how he is. I don’t influence him.”
“I don’t believe that. And do you think this is good for him, just shutting out his whole history, as if it doesn’t exist? If nothing else, Mom’s death is closing a huge chapter in his life, in our life. Doesn’t that deserve some kind of acknowledgement?”
Justin considered this, and remembered his own feelings earlier, that Brian’s urgent need to take comfort in Justin’s body was as much of a release from the tension of the situation, and probably not the best way of handling his emotions. But since when did Brian ever handle his emotions? He channeled them through his dick, letting out his anger at the vulnerability he could not control through aggressive, physical means.
“I told you, she deserves nothing from me. What didn’t you hear?”
Both Claire and Justin jumped at the sound of Brian’s voice. He was leaning in the doorway to the hall. Claire had failed to shut the door on her way in; Justin had been too distracted to double check.
Brian stalked into the loft, and walked into the kitchen, foregoing the coffee and grabbing the whiskey bottle under the sink. Shit, Justin thought. This is not good. “Brian…”
“What, honey?” Brian returned, in a tone that could freeze the fresh-perked coffee in Justin’s mug. Justin pursed his lips, deciding silence was best. For now.
“Brian…” Claire tried.
“What? Isn’t it enough that I don’t return your calls? Or emails? Can’t you take a hint, Claire? You want this done right, whatever the fuck that means, you do it the way you want. I really don’t give a shit.”
“I can’t believe that,” his sister returned, pushing back the chair and standing up. “Not because she was our mother, you think you’re the only one who suffered in that house, but I hated the old witch, probably more than you did. At least you escaped. And you got this great place, your own business, a gorgeous boyfriend who loves you… and all you can do is bitch about how much your parents sucked? What do I got? I got nothing, all the crap, and now the state’s gonna take the house since mom didn’t leave a will, I’ve got relatives milling around the place, Father Steven wants to know about the service, and I can’t even write… I can’t even write…” She started sobbing, laying her head down on the counter. “And worst of all, I have to pretend, all the time, that I actually loved the woman, I have to go around with this oh, poor momma dying… like that crap at the funeral home, pretending…”
"At my expense. Thanks, beloved family member. You really make me want to help you, Claire."
She looked up, her expression woebegone. "I don't know what else to do. If I come out with how I really feel, they'll all abandon me. Then what will I have? Huh? I sure don't have you."
Brian stared at his sister, realizing she was possibly more fucked than he was. Not that that excused her. He looked over at Justin, his expression completely neutral. “She get to you?” he asked. “Don’t bullshit me, Sunshine. What’s going on in my gorgeous boyfriend’s head?”
Again, Justin heard the metaphoric rattle of the snake’s tail, but he was backed into a corner, and this was no time to freeze. Fine, fuck it. “I think she’s right,” he said. The look of surprise on Brian’s face at his response quickly dissolved into one of disgust. Claire sobbed on, as the two men faced off. “For yourself, not for Joan. This closes a chapter in your life, one you yourself say you’re glad is ending. Isn’t the point of its ending the fact that the irritant is gone? So do the work, put the period on it, and when it’s over, it’s over. Don’t look back. What do you have to be so pissed off about anymore?”
Claire sobbed. Brian stared down at her. Then he looked back up at Justin. “That?” Justin spat out. “You’re kidding, right?”
Brian’s arm snaked out, and wrapped around Justin’s waist. He drew him in, and kissed him, fiercely. When Justin swam out of the heady sensation, he realized Claire had stopped sobbing, and was staring at them. “Claire,” Brian said, not looking away from Justin’s face.
“Justin has a notebook and a pen over by his easel, across the room. Would you go get them?”
KINNEY, JOAN (nee McAfee), of Pittsburgh, on September 23, 2005. Wife of the late Jack. Bore children Claire and Brian. Grandmother of three. Viewing Friday, 3-5 and 7-9 PM, at the Leslie Funeral Home, 220 Glen Street, Pittsburgh. Funeral Mass at the Church of St. Patrick, Saturday, 10 AM.
“Can’t we say, celebration of death instead of viewing?” Claire asked wistfully.
Brian shook his head. “Can’t offend your community, Claire,” Brian mocked her. “Unless you're willing to say you, not I wrote it?" Claire was shaking her head, as he knew she would, so Brian only continued, "Besides, a lot of time it’s what you don’t say. Trust me. The message is clear to anyone who knows the usual format of these things. A lot of the usual crap is missing, ‘beloved,’ etc.”
“I only have two children, Brian,” Claire reminded him, pointing at the “three grandchildren.”
“Yeah, I have one,” Brian returned, studying the copy for any last changes. Looked fine.
Justin glanced up, saw Claire staring at her brother. “What?” she whispered.
Brian looked up, calmly. “My friend Lindsay has a son. I’m the father.”
“I have a nephew?” Brian almost groaned, damn it, not the waterworks again. “Everyone’s going to ask about that, everyone knows Joan only had two… well, they thought they knew… You have to bring him.”
“No.” That was definite.
“No, Claire, he’s not to be exposed to that. I’m not going to bring him there as some sort of last ‘fuck you’ to my mother. He doesn’t deserve to be used like that.”
“Besides,” Justin added, half-joking, “That’s my job.”
Brian’s eyes turned to him, and he sucked in his lower lip. “You don’t deserve that either. I shouldn’t do that to you.”
“Oh, you have to,” Claire said before thinking. Damn it, not only a last slap to her mother, but the erasure of all those old biddies’ ideas that Brian was the perfect child, Claire the loser. Easy for them to believe that. They never saw Brian.
“I don’t have to do anything,” Brian returned.
“You’re bringing me,” Justin declared. “You’re not doing that *to* me, we’re doing that together. And do you really want me there only because it’ll shock people?”
Brian wrestled with his answer; he really did. But Justin knew him, and that psychoanalysis he’d gotten in bed that morning, well. It had made him think, despite his desire to avoid all of the ideas Justin had suggested. His well-established guilt over Justin, he could handle that. The idea that he was using that guilt to mask other, less desired emotions, that he had not been prepared to consider.
Truthfully, he felt stripped. His drunken breakdown last night in front of a cousin he actually liked had been unexpected, and embarrassing. Justin had been there to chill him out when, swear to god, he had really been about to lose it; Justin’s “I’m fine, we’re fine,” echoing in his head as the one sane thing to hold onto. That’s right, we’re fine. Last night had reminded him of a bad trip he’d had once in college; he had almost seriously lost his shit, convinced under a dose of really bad LSD that his parents had discovered everything about his drug and sex life in college, and had sent the police out to drag him off to prison forever. Kids he’d known for years suddenly turned into undercover agents in his drug-addled mind, planted as students all along to haul him off to jail. And then his friend Bobby, who’d been killed the next year in a motorcycle accident, Bobby had seen something like terror in his eyes, and had told him, “It’s just the drugs, Brian. Go home. Put on Pink Floyd. It’s just the drugs, everything is fine.” So he had. And everything had been fine.
Last night had echoed that bad trip. He wished he’d stayed home, watched the rest of that fucked-up movie with Justin. He’d felt spacey all day, and then Liam, a blast from the past, all that whiskey, but what other way to distance himself from the strange tension, his nerves on edge, a feeling like biting on tinfoil thrumming through him, and the tension of concealing it, the need to escape the tension from without, from within? The only problem was, he’d felt not only the tension, but that distance too, all day, all week. Like if he came in too close to any sort of reality, allowed himself to feel anything at all, he’d lose it, as he had last night. Justin had it, spot on, he’d been practicing emotional transference, turning his fucked up condition onto the safe object, the safe *subject,* the only one he wanted to lean on. And the Great Kinney did not lean. But Brian ached to just relax from this tension, into the one place he knew could hold him, nonetheless.
So did he want Justin at this funeral only for shock value? Honestly? No. Could he admit that? With Claire watching? No. Even without her? He hoped he might… he didn’t know.
Justin watched him, and waited, but the only response from Brian was a stony stare. Justin sighed, and looked away, over to where Claire was picking up the piece of paper on which the obituary was written out. “Thanks for this,” she said, getting up to leave. “I’ll send it into the paper when I get home. Could you…” she hesitated. “Could you come to the house tomorrow at noon? Father Tom’ll be there to talk about the service.”
“Claire, how did she die?” Brian asked. “Okay, she hit her head. But what happened?”
Claire just shrugged. “Not sure, but it was in the church. Father Steven found her. Ask Father Tom, he probably talked to Father Steven about it.” She turned to Justin. “Thanks, Justin.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
Claire smirked. “Uh huh. Brian? Could you come?”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll be there,” came the grudging return.
After she’d walked out, Brian wandered over to the couch, his glass of whiskey in hand, as Justin closed the door. “Lock it,” Brian said. “Turn off the intercom, I don’t want to talk to anyone.”
“I was gonna order Thai,” Justin answered.
“Okay, fine. Only open for the delivery.” He picked up the remote and switched the tv on. Gotta see the end of that movie…
But Justin came over, and sat across from him, staring. Brian tried to pay attention to the action on the screen, but… He sighed, and looked over at the piercing blue gaze. “What?”
“I know you hate this question, but really. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. What else would I be?” Eyes back on the tv.
“No, you’re not.”
“Why do you ask if you already know the answer?”
“Because I don’t know what to do for you.”
“You can suck my dick.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“I know. Why were you ready to kill Claire, and then totally switched gears?”
Brian shifted his eyes back. He was very aware of the fact that Justin’s gaze was held steadily on him, as Brian’s own darted all around, seeking, avoiding, away, returning. Stop doing that, he commanded himself. He shrugged.
“I just worry, Brian. This funeral’s gonna be hard for you. But I’m not sure how, exactly.”
“Well, if that’s true, then you better be with me so I don’t hurt myself, little caregiver, light o’ my life.”
“Fuck you, Brian.”
“Uh uh, you said you’d suck my dick, now come here.”
Justin grinned, knowing that Brian’s command that he “be with me so I don’t hurt myself” was the admission he wouldn’t give earlier when directly confronted with his reasons for wanting Justin to go. He wanted Justin there, not just for shock value. Justin was happy; he’d gotten the reply in Kinney-speak. He got up from his position, and moved toward an infinitely preferable one