Buddy by Tagsit
Summary:

What if there was more to the story behind Brian’s ‘first time’ in the shower with his gym teacher? What if there’s a darkness in his past that perhaps even his Sunshine can’t penetrate? And what if that darkness was suddenly exposed, tearing Brian’s life apart? Will Justin be able to hold them both together while Brian fights with the demons in his mind?


Categories: QAF US Characters: Brian Kinney, Justin Taylor, Original Character, Other Cast Regulars
Tags: Abuse/Child Abuse, Dubious Consent, M/M, Mental Health Issues, Minor Violence, Non-Consent, Rape, Suicide, Torture, Unsafe Sex, Vulnerable Brian
Genres: Alternate Canon
Pairings: Brian/Justin
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 15 Completed: No Word count: 59196 Read: 6521 Published: May 22, 2021 Updated: Oct 31, 2021
Story Notes:

CW: This is going to be a very dark story with lots of potential triggers, so please be warned. Will include non-graphic discussion of child abuse, sex trafficking, rape and exploitation of children. I’ll try to keep the worst of it in the past but the descriptions of the characters’ trauma may still be offensive or triggering for some, so please don’t read if this will be a problem for you. TAG

1. Chapter 1 - Shock To The System by Tagsit

2. Chapter 2 - Head Shrinking by Tagsit

3. Chapter 3 - Heading Home by Tagsit

4. Chapter 4 - Coach by Tagsit

5. Chapter 5 - Meet The Prescotts by Tagsit

6. Chapter 6 - Conversation by Tagsit

7. Chapter 7 - Celluloid Nightmares by Tagsit

8. Chapter 8 - Mandatory Reporting by Tagsit

9. Chapter 9 - Come on, Buddy by Tagsit

10. Chapter 10 - The Fallout by Tagsit

11. Chapter 11 - Night Terrors by Tagsit

12. Chapter 12 - Going Home by Tagsit

13. Chapter 13 - Sea Glass Green by Tagsit

14. Chapter 14 - Statements by Tagsit

15. Chapter 15 - The Lake Monster by Tagsit

Chapter 1 - Shock To The System by Tagsit



Chapter One - Shock To The System.



“Brian, will you please put your damn phone away? You’re supposed to be here to see me, not to conduct business by smartphone from four hundred miles away,” I complained as my partner shuffled down the sidewalk while scrolling through his messages. 


“Don’t get your panties in a twist, Sunshine,” Brian drawled, still not looking up from the damn phone. “I promise, I’m not working. I told you I wouldn’t touch anything to do with Kinnetik this weekend. You have my entire attention until Wednesday night, and can drag me to all your New York art crap, just as soon as I deal with whatever bug Lindsey has up her ass this time.” 


I paused my steps and impatiently waited for him to catch up to me as he typed a message one-handedly into his phone. 


“You’re the one who wanted me to come to New York to do all the art scene ‘crap’, Brian. The least you could do is pretend to think the pursuit I’ve spent the past two years of my life struggling with is more than just ‘crap’. Remind me again why you maintain that I should keep slogging away at this art scene ‘crap’ if even you don’t think it’s going anywhere?” 


Brian sighed and finally looked up at me with that same exasperated look he got when he was about to comment on me still being a brat at the ripe old age of twenty-four. I couldn’t help being a little annoyed at him, though. I know we’d said all that stuff about ‘it’s only time’ back when Brian first sent me off to New York City, but after two years here it was starting to feel like time was up. I missed Brian and the rest of the family and even, fuck me, Pittsburgh itself. It wasn’t easy to keep up a long-distance relationship with a closed-off curmudgeon like Brian Kinney, you know, despite the fact that he’d been resolutely coming up to the City at least once a month to see me. But you get why I didn’t appreciate it when any of the precious time we have together was stolen away by work shit.


“I don’t think it’s ‘crap’. That was just a turn of phrase,” he responded tersely as he went back to his perusal of whatever was so compelling on his phone. “And we’ve been over this multiple times, Justin. We agreed that you need to give New York a fair shot. If you give up too soon, you’ll resent it - and me - later. Besides, you just got that new job at the Biont Gallery, right? Didn’t the owner say he’d be open to displaying a couple of your pieces after the next show? That’s promising, right?”


It was true that my art had been coming along, but only because Brian insisted on renting me studio space and subsidizing my rent so I only had to work two jobs to survive. So, I guess things have been going okay, but I still hadn’t had that ‘big break’ Lindsey and everyone else promised I’d have as soon as I hit the art scene, and I was getting tired of waiting. I had to remind myself on a daily basis why I was still slogging away here, all alone, instead of moving home so that I could spend more than the random weekend every month or so with the man I love. It didn’t feel like the possibility of being ‘discovered’ was worth all the hassle. 


Basically, I was ready to call it quits and was only waiting until I could convince Brian of that fact.


But that was a discussion we’d already had too many times to count and apparently it didn’t merit Brian’s continued attention right then. Instead, he scowled at his phone and tapped at the device’s screen with sharp, staccato motions, his finger moving so fast I could barely follow its movements. He paused for a second - presumably waiting for Lindsey’s response - but was tapping away frantically a moment later, the scowl turning into a determined frown.


“What is it that Lindsey wants?” I asked when I could no longer contain my curiosity.


“Lindz wants me to pay for Gus to go to sleep-away camp this summer,” he answered, stopping again, right in the middle of the busy sidewalk. “He’s not even seven. Isn’t that too young for that kind of shit? He’d be there for a full month . . .” The disgust on his face revealed his opinion on the matter.


“I was going to summer camps at that age,” I replied matter-of-factly. “Camp Lackawanna. Six weeks every summer from first grade on until I finally put my foot down and refused to go the summer after my freshman year.” Brian turned his scowl on me as if this admission was a betrayal of him personally. So I added, “it’s a WASP thing. It’s something to brag about to the other parents. There’s a whole hierarchy of which camps are the most prestigious.”


“Fuck that. I don’t want the girls turning my son into some social-climbing breeder. And I’m not paying to send my son away to some mosquito-ridden forest just so Lindsey can have six weeks off and bragging rights,” Brian grumbled, tapping viciously at his phone again. “I don’t trust those places. What if Gus needs us? Isn’t there some program he can go to, closer to home, that’s just during the day?”


“There is, but I think the camp Lindz is pushing for is some special soccer camp that Gus is dying to go to. His best friend went there last year and it’s pretty much all he can talk about. He was telling me everything about it the last time I FaceTimed him,” I explained, looping my arm through Brian’s in order to get him ambulatory again. I wanted to hurry and get to The Met so we’d have time to see the new Nineteenth Century Impressionists exhibit Brian had promised to go to with me. “Besides, the camp isn’t off in some forest; if it’s the one Gus was telling me about, it’s located just outside Pittsburgh.”


I could tell by the way his frown softened that he was at least slightly reassured hearing that. Plus, if Gus really wanted something, Brian was usually a pretty easy sell. He was no longer grumbling as he typed out a new message on his phone with the arm I wasn’t holding onto. 


“I still don’t think he’s old enough to spend that long away from his parents . . .” he mumbled as he texted back and forth with Lindsey. “. . . Child safety protocols, my ass . . .”


I laughed in the face of his stubbornness. “You know you’re going to give in eventually, Brian. Why fight it?” He looked up at me long enough to shoot a death glare my way, which only made me laugh harder. “Come on, Brian. Gus is dying to go to this camp. All he ever talks about is how he’s gonna grow up to be just as good a soccer player as his dad. And a summer of learning some soccer skills isn’t gonna hurt in that regard. I’d think Brian Kinney, of all people, would approve of that kind of camp. Don’t you want your son to grow up just like you?”


Brian looked at me strangely, almost as if he didn’t understand what I was talking about, and muttered something about how, “he’s too young . . .” 


I wasn’t sure why Brian was being so uncharacteristically oppositional about this silly camp, especially when Gus was set on it. I felt like I had to take the boy’s side, so I kept arguing as we walked. “I figured you’d be thrilled to see Gus so excited about soccer. It’s your game, right? Michael told me once that you went to college on a soccer scholarship.”


Brian’s response was clipped and he looked angry for some reason that I couldn’t comprehend. “Yeah, I did, but only because there wasn’t any other way for a poor Mick from the wrong side of the tracks to get to college. Thankfully, Gus won’t have to whore himself out to a university athletic department just to go to college. I don’t want my son to have to go through all that shit.”


I don’t know why, but I got a weird feeling right then. There was something more to Brian’s reluctance about this camp than met the eye. Maybe it was the edginess I heard in his voice, or perhaps it was the nervous vibrations I felt wherever our skin touched, but I just knew I was missing something. It didn’t make any sense that he’d be this worried about something I looked on as a normal part of growing up. What was so worrisome about a kids’ summer soccer camp?


I never got the chance to ask him about it, though. 


As we continued walking down the sidewalk, enjoying the pleasant spring afternoon, Brian’s phone made that telltale swooping chime that indicated a new text message had come in. 


“Fuck, Lindsey, give it up . . .” Brian started to say but then he just stopped in his tracks. 


I’d taken a few more steps without him, not really paying that close attention, but I paused when I realized my partner was no longer by my side. When I looked over my shoulder, there was Brian, frozen in place, staring at his phone with a look of horror on his face. Confused, I retraced my steps and craned my neck around to try and see exactly what had freaked out my normally composed boyfriend. 


Before I could figure it out, Brian whispered something I could barely hear. It sounded like, “no . . . Not again. Not Buddy.” Then his phone slithered out of his hand, crashing to the sidewalk, the tinkle of breaking glass and plastic audible even over the nearby traffic. 


“Shit, Brian. What the hell?” I questioned, getting no answer at all. 


I bent down to pick up the shattered device, sort of nervously chuckling at Brian’s uncharacteristic klutziness. But when I looked up again, holding the damaged phone out, Brian had started to walk off already. He totally ignored me and the broken remnants of his phone. I called out his name but he didn’t even look back. He was already half a block away before I started trotting after him. He seemed lost in his own head. Dazed. So dazed, in fact, that he wasn’t paying attention to the traffic signals.


While I ran after him, confused as hell, calling out my partner’s name, Brian stepped off the curb and walked right into the street, against the light, into the swirling morass of midafternoon traffic. 


There was nothing I could do. 


I watched, horrified, as a motorcyclist, driving too fast while dodging through the slower car traffic, barreled into Brian. Brian was knocked to the ground and the motorcyclist was thrown into the side panel of a nearby taxi. The bike itself skidded to a halt underneath a moving van several feet further along the pavement. 


Meanwhile, Brian just lay there, looking up at me with lost little boy brown eyes. 



“Mr. Taylor?” A tall, statuesque woman adorned in the standard issue white lab coat called out my name as she approached. “I’m Dr. Prakash. I’m the resident in charge of your partner’s case.”


“Please, call me Justin,” I offered, standing up and extending my hand in greeting. “How is Brian?”


“He’s pretty beat up,” she replied, accepting my hand and offering up a calming smile. Her dark eyes, long black hair pulled back into a knot, and glowing brown skin, not to mention the slight accent, gave away her Southeast Asian descent, but her professionalism was all American. “But, other than a broken wrist - which Orthopedics is setting right now - some extensive bruising and a few cuts that I’ve already stitched up, I’d say he’s pretty lucky. He should be okay . . . Physically, at least.” 


“What does that mean?” I asked, not liking the tenor of her carefully worded statement. 


“We’ve treated all the physical damage caused by your partner’s accident but Brian is still behaving oddly,” Dr. Prakash elucidated with a worried frown. “He won’t answer any questions except to repeatedly say he ‘wants to go home’. He doesn’t seem to realize he’s in the hospital and isn’t responding to his name. It’s more than a little worrisome.” 


“Shit.” 


I dropped back into my seat. It felt like the bottom had dropped out of my world. Brian wasn’t supposed to be the one to get hurt or sick. He was the strong one. Hell, he’d barely been slowed down by fucking cancer; he wasn’t supposed to lose it over a minor accident. 


The doctor had continued to speak even as I silently melted down, trying to alleviate my concerns to whatever extent she could “. . . the CT scan didn’t show any evidence of head trauma, so we’re not sure what’s causing this. Has Brian ever exhibited this kind of dissociation before?”


‘Dissociation’ sounded bad. “No. Not that I know of.”


“Well, we can run a few more tests and hopefully we’ll figure out what’s going on with his mental state. In the meantime, I’m not going to release him until we’ve resolved what’s going on. I’ve already ordered a psych eval, in case the problem isn’t solely physical.” She gestured with one hand towards the hallway leading off to her right. “In the meantime, I can show you back to where your partner is waiting.”


Now I was the one that was walking around in a daze as I followed the doctor down a labyrinth of corridors until she stopped at a cubicle concealed behind a drawn curtain. Through the gap between where that met the wall, I could see a figure curled up on the hospital exam table inside. He was lying on his side, facing away from me, looking somehow smaller than he should amid the clinical gadgetry and ER equipment. Dr. Prakash gave my shoulder a squeeze, with a bit of a push as if to urge me forward, before leaving to do whatever a busy doctor in a busy hospital needed to do next. Left with no other option, I nudged past the curtain and joined my boyfriend in the small cubicle.


“Brian? It’s me,” I announced myself, getting no response from the lump on the exam table. “How are you feeling?”


Going around to the far side of the bed so I could see his face, I approached slowly; it felt like I was approaching a wounded animal and needed to move carefully to avoid spooking him. His hazel eyes were clouded when they flickered up to meet mine, briefly, before he looked down again. He was cradling his injured wrist to his chest, the left hand hooked around the bulky cast, which was wrapped in tasteful royal blue medical tape which contrasted nicely with the white cotton batting underneath. Leave it to Brian to make sure even his cast was fashionable, right? Of course, it had to be his right hand that got injured, though, meaning he’d be unable to write or type or do anything he needed his dominant hand for. That was going to be a bitch.


“Hey?” I tried again, still getting no response, so I moved closer and laid what I thought would be a reassuring hand on the knee that was drawn up closest to me.


Brian flinched away from my touch and gasped with a sharp intake of panicky breath. I could see fear in the darting glance that was scanning me and the room around us. He was clearly disoriented. He didn’t seem to recognize where he was. Worse still, he didn’t seem to recognize ME at first. There were major alarm bells going off in my head. 


“It’s okay, Brian. It’s me. Justin. You’re going to be fine. You just got a little banged up, is all. But you’re going to be just fine,” I explained, moving my hand up to rub soothingly along the shoulder of his injured arm until he finally calmed down a bit. 


“Justin?” he asked, looking right in my eyes with evident confusion. 


“Yeah, it’s me, Big Guy,” I replied, my hand drifting up so I could softly stroke along the scratchily stubbled cheek. “I’m here.”


I was reassured by the way he sighed and leaned into my touch, closing his eyes as if he was too exhausted to keep the lids open. 


“I want to go home now,” he mumbled in this little-boy voice that didn’t sound at all like the Brian Kinney I knew. 


“Soon, Brian. Soon,” I responded, stroking his hair, more to relieve my own fears by that point than Brian’s.


He nestled into my hand and repeated, “I want to go home,” as a tear began to trickle down from the corner of his eye, wetting the pillow under his left cheek. 


“Shhh. You’re okay, Brian. You’re okay,” I crooned, not sure what else to do or say as my heart sort of broke. “We have to stay a little while longer. Just until the doctors figure out what’s wrong with you.”


Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say. 


Brian completely broke down at that point and began sobbing like a child. I was more freaked out by that than I had been watching the accident itself. I’d never actually seen Brian cry before. I mean, he’d comforted me through many a crying jag after the prom incident, but he’d always held back his own tears. He insisted on putting on that brave, manly front. He always had to be the strong one, even when he was aching inside. Even at the worst of times, when he was practically a fall-down mess, Brian staunchly refused to admit to his pain. Which meant whatever he was going through now was deadly serious. So, yeah, it’s no wonder I was totally freaking out, right?


“Brian. Shhhh.” I bent down, wrapping the sobbing man in my arms, and moving him over so I could perch on the edge of the padded exam table. I could feel his body shaking uncontrollably as he literally convulsed with sobs. “It’s going to be okay, Brian. The doctors are going to take care of you . . .”


That only engendered a more violent burst of inconsolable wailing as he clung to me with a desperation that terrified me in turn. “No. Please. I don’t like ‘playing doctor’,” he whimpered in that same tiny voice, sounding more like a child than a thirty-five year old man, making goosebumps rise all over my body. 


But all I could do was hold on and wait and hope that whatever was haunting Brian wouldn’t break him completely.


 

 

End Notes:

5/22/21 - I really should NOT be starting a new story right now. I can’t even begin to tell you how crazy busy RL is for me at the moment. Plus, I’ve still got one outstanding WIP and a fledgling novel that I intend to finish. But sometimes you just can’t control your inspiration. This damn plot bunny just won’t go away and leave me in peace. So, instead of all the work and studying and other writing I already had planned, here I am, writing this horribly angsty, depressing, hurt/comfort fanfic that insists on worming it’s way out of my brain. Hope you’re happy, plot bunny from hell; I’m writing you now. Quit keeping me up all night, please. Enjoy! TAG

 

Chapter 2 - Head Shrinking by Tagsit


Chapter 2 - Head Shrinking.



“Hello, Mr. Kinney. I’m Dr. Kajiwara,” the latest visitor to Brian’s hospital cubicle announced as he pushed aside the curtain and came inside. 


I was sitting on the exam table, still holding Brian’s hand. He’d only recently stopped weeping. It had taken me the longest time to get him calmed down; all I could do was hold him as tight as possible and rock him like I would a baby while muttering nonsense platitudes. It eventually worked, but not before I was almost as keyed up as he’d been. This just was not at all like the Brian Kinney I knew. He didn’t cry - ever - let alone spend twenty minutes bawling incoherently in my arms. It didn’t make any sense. Not after what had been, in my opinion at least, a relatively minor accident. Something was seriously wrong. So it was no wonder that I was exceedingly grateful when the psychologist finally showed up to do the mental health evaluation Dr. Prakash had ordered.


Dr. Kajiwara approached Brian, holding his hand out in greeting. Brian didn’t react at all, just staring off into space over the top of the doctor’s head. When the man reached out to make contact, one hand resting briefly on Brian’s shoulder in a very non-threatening way, Brian shrank away from this stranger, moving closer to me. I squeezed his knuckles tighter to let him know I was still there. Brian resumed his blank staring at nothing, almost as if he’d forgotten we were all there. 


“Dr. Prakash tells me that you’re not feeling well,” the kindly doctor began, using that placating voice you’d use with potentially violent lunatics. “She said that you’re very upset and maybe even a little confused about how you got hurt. Can you tell me how you’re feeling, Brian?”


“I want to go home now, please,” Brian repeated with an emptiness that chilled me, never even looking at the doctor as he spoke. 


“He just keeps saying that over and over again,” I relayed, pleading with my eyes for the doctor to make it all make sense. 


“I take it you’re,” Kajiwara looked at the tablet computer he was holding, “the partner? Mr. Taylor?” I nodded. “You were there when Mr. Kinney had his accident?” I nodded again. “Can you tell me more about what happened? The report I have here says Mr. Kinney walked into traffic? I would imagine there’s something more to the story than just that.”


So I launched into the story about us walking down the sidewalk and talking and Brian texting with Lindsey. It all sounded so mundane. There was nothing in the story as I remembered it that would account for Brian walking into traffic like that, let alone his behavior since we’d arrived at the hospital. However, the proof that something was distressingly wrong was sitting there, beside me, doing his best imitation of a blank wall, while I explained what had happened to the doctor responsible for evaluating Brian’s mental state. Based on my partner’s performance so far, I suspected he was going to fail this particular exam spectacularly. 


“So you were just walking down the street when Brian began to act in a disoriented fashion?” Dr. Kajiwara commented. 


“Yeah. It was . . . It was so strange,” I confessed. “One minute we were talking about his son and the next minute he walked off and left me there, stepping off the curb into traffic. I don’t understand it at all.”


The psychiatrist made a note on his tablet with an electronic pen and then looked up, focusing again on the almost unresponsive patient. “Brian? Do you remember the events your partner just related?” 


Brian’s only response was a quiet sniffle.


“Mr. Kinney, can you look at me please?” 


Brian turned his head further away from the doctor, now looking intently at a poster advertising the hospital’s HIV/STD testing options, which was the only thing adorning the wall of the little cubicle.


“Mr. Kinney? Brian? Can you please talk to me for a moment? I’m just trying to help you, but I can’t do that if you won’t work with me. I need you to talk to me . . .” There was still no response from the blank wall of man sitting next to me. “Brian, if you want to go home, you’re going to have to cooperate here. Okay?”


That got his attention at least. Brian finally turned back to look at the doctor but remained mute. Through the hand I was still holding, however, I could feel the shaking that had only barely abated after his earlier crying jag, begin again in earnest. I was just completely stymied by this bizarre reaction. This was not at all like the supremely confident Brian I knew. What the fuck was going on here?


“Something is seriously wrong, Doctor,” I spoke up. “This,” and I tilted my head towards the mute, trembling man sitting next to me, “is not like my partner. Not at all. He’s not normally shy or quiet or introverted. He’s bold and totally in your face. Hell, Brian is a respected business owner who’s built his own advertising agency from the ground up; it’s become one of the most profitable agencies on the east coast in only five years and something like that doesn’t happen if you’re not good at talking to people. He’s also not someone who just walks into traffic or who . . . .” I didn’t want to reveal all Brian’s secrets to this unknown man, but I would have to say something if I expected any help. “Or who breaks down crying over a minor accident. I . . . I can’t explain this behavior.”


Brian continued to just sit there - I wasn’t sure if he was even listening to my complaints - saying nothing. It was like he wasn’t even really there. His body was present, but his mind was gone. Off in another place. A safer place? Maybe. Brian Kinney, though, had disappeared and been replaced with an empty replica of himself. 


“It does seem like Brian’s experiencing a serious dissociative event,” the doctor said, repeating the same word that Dr. Prakash had used - dissociative - a word that made my guts clench with worry. “If we could pinpoint the triggering event, whatever it was that caused Brian to react the way he has been, it might help us to treat him.” He paused a minute and scanned through the notes he’d made on the tablet while we’d been talking. “You mentioned that he’d been texting with someone while you were walking?’


“Yes. Our friend, Lindsey. She’s the mother of Brian’s son,” I replied, not seeing why that would be important. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”


Dr. Kajiwara nodded, his mouth pursed up as he thought through the situation. “What were they texting about? Was there anything in what they were discussing that could have triggered this?”


“No. I don’t think so . . . Um . . . Lindsey wanted Brian to help cover the costs of the summer camp his son, Gus, wants to go to this year. They were sort of text-arguing about it because Brian thought Gus was too young to go to a month-long sleep-away camp . . . There’s nothing about any of that out of the ordinary, though. Brian and Lindsey text all the time about Gus.”


“Did you see any of these texts? How do you know what they were discussing?” the doctor asked.


“Brian was relating everything to me as he was texting. We were discussing it while we walked. I told him I thought Gus would be fine and that he really wanted to go. It’s this soccer camp in Pittsburgh . . .” I was interrupted by a moan from Brian, the first recognizable sound he’d made since the doctor’s arrival, and felt his hand clutching at mine more tightly than before. 


“Could it be that there was something more in these texts than what he was telling you about?” the good doctor suggested logically. 


“I don’t know.” With my free hand I pulled Brian’s shattered phone out of my pocket. I’d forgotten I even had it in the confusion that had followed the moment he’d dropped it. “Now that you mention it . . . Brian had just received another text from Lindsey when he dropped his phone. I had bent over to pick it up for him when he walked off. That’s when he walked into the traffic.” 


I held up the broken phone as if it was evidence of some kind. It was totally trashed though; the screen was cracked and even the casing was beginning to come apart. I tried to push the ‘on’ button to see if there was any way to boot it up so we could look at that last text message, but no luck. That phone was dead. 


“We’re not getting anything on this.” I shook my head and tossed the broken device onto the rolling tray table waiting beside the bed. “But . . .” I pulled out my own phone which was, thankfully, still intact. “Luckily, we have a shared Cloud account.” I tapped away at my phone for half a minute or so while Dr. Kajiwara waited patiently for me. “Okay. Here’s Brian’s messaging account . . . It looks like the last message he received was from Lindsey, like I said. ‘THIS is the camp your son wants to go to. Please check it out for yourself and think about it before you tell him no’. There’s nothing there that would cause Brian to lose it like he did . . . Oh wait. There’s some pictures that came in right before that last message . . .” I held up the phone so the doctor could see the images on my screen. “It looks like Lindz sent pics of the flyer for the camp they were talking about. 


As far as I could tell, there wasn’t anything about these images that would have thrown Brian for a loop either. The flyer was a typical, glossy, tri-folded brochure; it was the kind of thing almost any business might put out as part of their standard advertising. Most of the pages were just text or graphics stating the details about the camp, like dates and times and location. The front flap - the first picture in the grouping - was the only one that was in any way interesting. It showed a team photo consisting of a group of about twenty boys around Gus’ age, all dressed in soccer uniforms, with an older man standing off to the side wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Coach’ on it. The coach had one arm around the shoulders of a brunet boy who kinda resembled Gus to some extent. The majority of the boys were grinning at the camera, all sun-kissed and happy, looking like they were enjoying their time at the camp. It looked like your typical soccer camp photo. Nothing of concern at all. In fact, it looked exactly like I imagined a U6 Soccer Camp photo would. As far as I was concerned, It looked like a fun thing to do with your summer if you were six, and that was saying a lot because I had never been a big sports enthusiast. 


Bottom line, there was nothing in that photo that would explain my boyfriend wigging out the way he had.   


Or was there? 


When I looked at the picture a little more closely I noticed that at least one of the soccer players wasn’t smiling. The kid standing next to the man wearing the ‘coach’ shirt didn’t look like he was having much fun at the moment the pic had been snapped. He was frowning. The coach - a distinguished man of about sixty or so with grey hair, a little thick through the waist, but still handsome and tanned - looked serious and intent. Was the boy trying to pull away from the man whose arm was draped over his shoulder or was that just a trick of the photography? Of course, there was always one kid who didn’t smile at the right time in these group shots, right? It was probably nothing. I was just trying to read something into the picture to make Brian’s reaction make sense. 


“Is there anything about this picture that would have caused Brian to react the way he did? You say he dropped his phone and walked into the oncoming traffic immediately after seeing this? Any idea why this would have triggered him?” Dr. Kajiwara asked, taking the phone out of my hand so he could look at it more closely. 


“None at all,” I answered. “I don’t see anything here . . . None of this makes any sense.”


The doctor looked at the picture a moment longer before turning the device so that the patient on the exam table could see the screen. “Is there anything in these texts that upset you, Brian?” he asked.


That finally got a reaction out of the silent man sitting beside me. 


Brian slowly turned his head to look at the phone the doctor was holding up and, as soon as his eyes locked on the screen, he whimpered, vaulted up off the bed, and scrambled across the floor, desperate to get away from the doctor. I was left, alone, sitting on the edge of the exam table, my mouth hanging open, in shock. Brian ended up in the corner of the small cubicle, unable to retreat further and unable to flee completely with Dr. Kajiwara blocking the exit. Instead, he crumpled to the floor in a little ball. I shook myself out of my momentary stupefaction and got up, approaching Brian’s corner at the same time as the doctor. Both of us seemed unsure what to do, though, so we simply stood there, staring.


Brian, meanwhile, sat there, huddled in his corner, wearing only the hospital issued backless gown, his knees pulled up into his chest and his broken wrist curled into his stomach protectively, rocking himself and hyperventilating and muttering about how he didn’t want to play anymore. 


“I want to go home now. I want to go home. Please, I don’t want to play. I want to go home,” he repeated over and over again as new tears began to seep from his eyes and drench his cheeks.


Dr. Kajiware looked at me, and I looked at him, and we both looked confused. 


We took turns trying to coax Brian out of his corner for about the next five minutes or so, to no avail. He flinched away from either of us trying to touch him. All he would say was that he wanted to go home. Eventually I couldn’t take it and I went back to sit on the exam table alone. Dr. Kajiwara called for a nurse to bring in a sedative, which he administered forthwith. Brian finally fell quiet about two minutes later and the doctor ordered him to be admitted for further observation. 



When I returned to Brian’s hospital room - after taking a half hour out to make the unpleasant but necessary phone calls, letting the family know the bare bones about what had happened and that Brian was in the hospital here in New York - I found that the patient was finally awake. 


“Hey. Brian. How are you feeling?” I asked trepidatiously. 


“I don’t know. You tell me. What the fuck happened?” he asked, holding up his casted wrist. “Why am I in a damned hospital room with a broken fucking arm?”


“You don’t remember what happened?” I wasn’t a doctor but this didn’t seem like a good development.


“I wouldn’t be asking if I did, would I?”


“Uh . . . You had an accident,” I stuttered, feeling like I was totally out of my depth. “You tried to cross the street against the light and just walked into traffic. You were run over by a motorcycle . . . You really don’t remember any of that?”


Brian got a confused look on his face for a minute or two before shaking his head. He pulled back the covers and did a visual scan of his body, frowning at the array of bruises on his legs, most of which were already turning a deep purple-black. But, not seeing anything more serious, he shifted his legs to the side and began to get out of bed. I rushed over - to help him or stop him, I wasn’t sure - but he waved me off as he cautiously got to his feet and tested out a few steps. 


Pulling open the door to the bathroom, he flipped on the light and examined himself in the mirror over the sink for a few moments. His face was also showing some bruising on the right side of his jaw, and there was one cut on his chin that had required stitches and then been covered with a liquid bandage treatment, but other than that, his face was unscathed. He hadn’t discovered the much more extensive bruising that covered most of his right side and hip, but I’m sure he felt the stiffness. Other than that, though, he was remarkably unscathed considering that he’d walked straight out into the busy afternoon NYC traffic.


“Well, I look like shit, but it doesn’t seem too bad. When can we get the hell out of here?”


“You really don’t remember anything?” I pressed. “Not the accident or the doctors or . . . Or anything?”


“No,” he answered succinctly. “Should I? I mean, I’m assuming I was unconscious or something, right?”


“Uh, no. You were awake, just . . . Not acting like you.”


“Did I hit my head or something?” he asked, reaching up with the uncasted hand to prod at his head as if his fingertips might find a hidden injury that his eyes had missed. “No bumps. I feel fine.”


“I don’t think you hit your head,” I reassured him. “The doctor did a CT scan to be sure and said there wasn’t any sign of a TBI . . .”


“Good. So, then, when can we get the hell out of here?”


“We’ll, it’s not that simple.” I tried to think of a tactful way to explain that, for the hour or so he’d been in the ER, he’d seemed kinda insane, but couldn’t come up with anything, so I just blurted it out. “You were acting really strange before, so they did a psych eval on you, and you sorta lost it, and the doctor had to sedate you, and you’ve been admitted for further observation . . .”


“What the fuck are you babbling about, Justin? I’m fine. I don’t need to be ‘observed’,” he insisted, leaving the bathroom and starting to pull open the doors of the cabinets on the wall behind the bed. “Where the fuck are my clothes?”


“They got pretty torn up in the accident. I think the ER doctors probably just threw them away,” I explained. 


This, of course, caused Brian to scowl, because nobody should be allowed to treat his precious designer clothing like that; the scowling must have pulled at the stitched cut on his chin though since he almost immediately reached up to rub at the spot and the frown disappeared. “Whatever. Just . . . Go get me something to wear and tell the doctors to get my discharge paperwork ready. I don’t want to spend the whole day hanging around in a fucking hospital room, for fuck’s sake. I promised you I’d go to that thing at The Met with you, right?”


“Um, Brian, the museum closed about,” I pulled out my phone to check the time, “three hours ago.” Brian looked at me, his forehead furrowed with confusion. I turned the phone around so he could see the time display on the home screen. “It’s after eight pm.”


“Shit. How long was I out?” 


“That’s the thing,” I attempted to explain again. “You weren’t ‘out’. I don’t think you lost consciousness at all. You were awake all through the ambulance ride and the ER stuff. It wasn’t until the psychiatrist, Dr. Kajiwara, tried to talk to you, and you completely freaked out on us, that he had to sedate you. That was about five hours ago.” He was staring at me with an accusing look, as if he thought I was making up the whole story. “You REALLY don’t remember any of that?”


“No. I don’t,” he replied, momentarily looking worried. But then the confident and decisive Brian was back and making executive decisions. “But it doesn’t matter. The doctors must have been wrong about me hitting my head. I feel fine now, though. I just want to go home.”


“That’s what you kept saying before,” I mentioned, “only you didn’t sound like you . . .” 


“We’ll, I’m ME now. And this ME wants to get the fuck out of here,” Brian stated. “So let’s get this show on the road already. Where’s the damn call button for the nurse?” He started to pull apart the bed covers until he found the little remote device that attached to the hospital bed that allowed a patient to ring for assistance. Hitting the button two or three times for good measure, he looked up at me with determination and ordered, “while I’m waiting around for Nurse Ratched, you can go buy me some new clothes. I’m sure there’s a gift shop or something, right? They’ve got to sell scrubs or something.”


“But, Brian, we can just leave. We don’t know why you were acting so off or why you don’t remember any of that stuff. Don’t we need to stick around at least long enough for the doctors to clear you?”


“Fuck that. I’m not in the mood to become some head shrinker’s guinea pig. The only head I want played with is the one in the pants you’re going to go out and buy me right now, Sunshine,” he directed, back to his usual levels of innuendo and snark, while physically turning my shoulders so I was facing the door. “Or do you want me walking out of here in my birthday suit? I mean, I don’t mind either way, but I’m pretty sure the NYPD frowns on that kind of display.”


I hesitated in the doorway, looking back over my shoulder at the tall, assertive man making shooing motions at me to get me going. He certainly seemed like he was back to normal. He was ordering me around and making sexually-tinged jokes and just, generally, being his usual snarky, domineering self. So why did I still feel so uneasy? Why didn’t he want to talk about what happened? Or seem even the tiniest bit curious about the seven hour gap in his memory? He might be willing to just move on and forget about everything that had happened that afternoon, but I’m not sure I could. I’d probably never be able to get the image of a sobbing brunet crying his heart out in my arms out of my head. Not to mention the sight of my partner cowering on the floor in a corner mumbling in a little voice about how he didn’t want to play anymore. That was gonna haunt me pretty much forever. Or at least until I’d figured out why he’d reacted that way. And I didn’t think running away from the problem - or the hospital - was going to help.


I paused in the open doorway to his room. “I really think you should wait, Brian,” I suggested. “At least until we get the results of the blood work back and you have a chance to talk with Dr. Kajiwara again. He’s worried about you. I am too, to be honest. You were acting so weird before and . . .”


“Fuck that! And fuck you too, Sunshine,” Brian snarled, his anger levels ratcheting up so fast it had taken me by surprise. “I feel fucking fine! I just need to get the hell out of here! Your fucking Dr. Crackerjacks can psychoanalyze somebody else’s head. Leave me out of it!” Shouldering past me, and knocking me against the door jamb in the process, he started screaming down the hallway, “isn’t anybody actually working around here? I pushed that fucking call button five minutes ago. If somebody doesn’t get my damned discharge papers in the next ten minutes I’m calling my lawyer and suing your incompetent asses!”


I could tell by how unreasonably angry Brian was that there’d be no further discussion about sticking around long enough to let the doctors diagnose his little moment of forgetfulness. Brian was nothing if not determined once he was set on a course of action. The best I could do was hang on for the ride and hope that he’d listen to my concerns after he’d cooled off a little. In the meantime, though, I’d better go find him some clothes or he’d probably follow through on his threat to leave the hospital naked just to be perverse. 


“I’ll go find you something to wear,” I promised. “Just don’t leave without me, please.”


He grunted what I took for assent and strutted back into his room, his bare ass hanging out of the hospital gown, completely unfazed by his nudity or the many eyes staring at him. That was perfectly in-character for the Brian I knew. So, even though I was still disconcerted about what had happened earlier in the day, and by his lack of memory, I was at least somewhat reassured that he was back to his old self once more. Maybe I really was overreacting? Either way, I needed to get the marauding mental case some clothes before he took his act on the road - literally - so I trotted off on my assigned errand, and left ‘Rage’ to deal with the nursing staff on his own.


When I returned about fifteen minutes later, a pair of hospital scrubs in hand, I found Brian and Dr. Kajiwara arguing in his room. 


“Mr. Kinney, be reasonable,” the doctor was arguing. “I witnessed a major dissociative event. When I questioned you, you didn’t even know who you were and couldn’t relate how you’d been hurt. You were incoherent at times and it got so bad you required sedation. You can’t just walk out of here after something like that. We don’t know what caused the break or whether it could happen again. Just think, this time you were lucky - you survived with only a broken wrist and a few bruises - but what if this kind of event happens again? What if you’re not so lucky next time or if your partner isn’t around to get you to medical attention? You could be seriously hurt.”


“Fucking stop already, Doc!” Brian screamed, moving closer so that he towered over the much smaller man. “I told you, I’m fine! I just want to go home!”


Kajiwara looked over at me, our eyes locking for a long minute, both of us concerned by hearing those eerie words again. 


Then the doctor sighed. “Fine. I can’t hold you against your will, Mr. Kinney. But you’re going to have to sign our standard AMA form indicating you’re leaving against my strenuous recommendation that you stay, pending further tests and evaluation.”


“What-the-fuck-ever,” Brian responded, his arms crossed unrelentingly over his chest. “Just get me the fucking papers so I can get out of here already.” Turning to me he added, “those the clothes? You couldn’t find anything other than purple? What am I, Barney or something?”


“Sorry, it’s the only ones they had left in your size.”


“Give them to me,” he demanded, snatching the items out of my hands and tearing the plastic wrapping off before shucking the hospital gown and shamelessly pulling on the scrubs without regard to the doctor’s continued presence.


“Mr. Taylor? If you’ll come with me, I’ll get your partner’s paperwork started for him.” 


Dr. Kajiwara indicated I should precede him out the door, so I did. He led me down the hallway towards the nursing station. He sent the one nurse who’d been sitting there off, with directions to see to another patient, leaving us alone at the desk. Then he looked at me, letting his concern show plainly on his face.


“I don’t need to tell you that I’m troubled by your partner’s condition,” he began. “His over-the-top anger now isn’t any more reassuring than his emotional outburst earlier. He also indicated to me, before you returned, that he doesn’t remember the accident or the exam I did. That’s not a good sign.”


“I know. I agree it’s not good,” I admitted. “But what can I do about it? He’s not acting rationally, and it’s freaking me out, but when he gets like this there’s not much anyone can do. He just keeps saying he’s ‘fine’ and wants to go home. What am I supposed to do, doctor?”


“All you can do, for now at least, is keep an eye on him,” Kajiwara advised as he scribbled something on an Rx pad. “These events didn’t just happen; something triggered the dissociative state he was in when he arrived at the hospital. Based on his subsequent reaction to that photo you found in his messages, I suspect something about that picture brought up past abuse of some kind. But, until we identify the exact cause and, preferably, work out why he reacted so strongly, I think you should be prepared for it to happen again.”


“Shit.” I was NOT looking forward to that prospect. Not at all. “If it does happen again, though, how do I handle it? Better yet, how do I prevent it, because . . . I don’t want Brian to get hurt again, doctor.” 


I didn’t elaborate that the ‘hurt’ I was referencing included both the physical and the psychological pain I’d watched Brian go through that day, but I suspected Dr. Kajiwara understood. 


“I suggest you look into your partner’s past a little more closely, Mr. Taylor,” the psychiatrist offered, giving me an intuitive look. “In my experience, severe dissociation like the kind Mr. Kinney is exhibiting is almost always tied to childhood trauma.”


 

 

End Notes:

5/23/21 - Do I hear a chorus of ‘Poor Brian’? You know I love to torture our boys. And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. I somehow always manage to get them to their HEA, though, so please bear with me. TAG

Chapter 3 - Heading Home by Tagsit


Chapter 3 - Heading Home.



I was almost grateful when my phone rang halfway through the silent trip from the hospital to my apartment. I’m not sure if Brian was pissed off at me, the doctors, the hospital, or the world itself, but I knew better than to get in front of the boiling ire that was pouring off him. So we just sat together in the taxi, saying nothing, and not even talking. Needless to say, when my phone rang I was happy for the distraction, even if the caller ID said it was Lindsey returning my earlier message. 


“Hey, Lindz. Thanks for calling me back. Sorry to leave such a cryptic message before,” I said after accepting the call. “I didn’t want to alarm you, but Brian and I had a bit of a hiccup this afternoon. Luckily, it turned out to be nothing and we’re already on the way back to my place, but I didn’t know that’s how it would turn out when I was calling and I thought you’d want to know we were at the hospital.”


“What? The hospital? Are you both okay?” Lindsey’s incipient hysteria was so loud that I had to pull the phone away from my ear or risk permanent hearing damage.  


“We’re both fine, Lindsey. You don’t need to panic,” I rushed to assuage her fears. “Brian had a minor run in with an NYC motorcycle and came out a little worse for wear. But, except for a broken wrist, he’s okay.” 


Of course, that didn’t placate her. Lindsey kept spluttering in my ear without letting up long enough for me to explain. Just then the taxi pulled up to the curb in front of my apartment building and I watched as Brian handed the driver his credit card. Since we were getting out anyway, I decided to put the call on speaker so Lindsey could hear Brian’s voice for herself; nothing else would convince her that he really wasn’t on death’s doorstep. 


“Hang on a sec, Lindz, and I’ll let you talk to the man himself.” I tapped the icon that would engage the speaker function and held the phone out towards my partner. “Brian, please tell Lindsey you’re okay.”


“I’m okay. Now, please, stop screaming. You’re traumatizing all of New York,” Brian growled in the direction of my phone as I trotted along, trying to keep up with him and his ridiculously long legs as he strode down the sidewalk. 


“Oh, thank goodness,” Lindsey’s tinny voice came through the phone speaker. “What happened? Justin said you broke your arm? How bad is it? What can I do to help? Should we fly down there?”


“Fuck no! Do NOT fly out here,” Brian ordered brusquely. “I’m fine, Lindz. It’s just a broken wrist. I’ll be in a cast for six weeks and then it’ll be good as new. And if your plan is to fly out here and bug the shit out of me over this, then I’m taking my broken wrist and flying off to Ibiza where I won’t have to deal with your nagging. So you might as well stay put.”


“Well, if you’re sure, Peter,” Lindsey simpered, sounding like she still wanted to argue the point. 


“We’re sure, Wendy,” Brian replied. “I’m in good hands; I promise. And, as soon as we get home, I’m going to make Sunshine play naughty male nurse to distract me from the pain.” He offered me a wolfish grin that I returned. 


Lindsey laughed, “I guess your libido wasn’t injured, at least.” 


Then there was a noise in the background on Lindsey’s end of the call and a smaller voice interrupted. “Is that Daddy? Can I talk to him?” Rustling noises followed and Gus’ voice came over the speakers much more clearly. “Hi, Daddy!”


“Hey, Sonny Boy! How’s things up in the Great White North?” Brian asked and I hoped that his son could hear the way the doting father’s face literally lit up when they were talking. 


“You’re silly, Daddy. It’s not white in Toronto. It’s May. The snow that makes it white sometimes is all melted already,” Gus lectured his mistaken father. “Mama’s flowers are all blooming and, on Friday, it was warm enough that Mommy let me wear shorts to school even.”


“You sure it’s not snowing? Every time I come up there to see you it seems like it always snows,” Brian kidded.


“I’m sure, Dad. There’s no snow left. Sheesh, it’s almost summer already,” Gus ensured before harring off on a new, only semi-related topic. “I can’t wait for summer. I want to take swimming lessons at the pool with my friend Eric. And we’re going to come to Pittsburgh to see you and Grandma Debbie and Uncle Mikey. Annnnd, Mama said I could go to this really cool camp this summer where I get to sleep in a cabin and we’ll get to play soccer all day and there’s a lake and we get to go on trips to other places some days and it’s going to be so fun and my other friend, Anthony, went there last year - he’s seven so he already knows all about it - and he loved it so much and I can’t wait to go this year . . .” 


Gus was still happily prattling on when I noticed that Brian had continued walking right past the entrance to my apartment building without stopping. At least this time I noticed in time to grab him and pull him to a stop before he walked out into traffic again. When I grabbed hold of his sleeve, though, Brian flinched away from my touch with a little mewl of fear and attempted to pull out of my grip. What the fuck? What was it about that damned soccer camp; the second the topic was even mentioned, Brian seemed to lose it. I was now officially wigged out by whatever the fuck was doing this shit to my boyfriend.


“Hey, Gus, we’re about to get into the elevator at my apartment building now,” I said, interrupting the child who thankfully hadn’t noticed that he’d lost his father’s attention about two minutes back. “We’ve gotta go. I’ll have your dad call you back later to talk about your summer plans. Okay?”


“‘Kay! Bye, Dad! Bye, Justin! Love you!” Gus burbled jovially.


I said goodbye as well and terminated the call before turning to deal with my clearly disturbed partner. “Brian? You okay?”


“I want to go home,” Brian whispered, again with the creepy little-boy voice that didn’t sound like him at all, making my skin crawl. 


“We are home, Brian.” I gestured upwards at the facade of the building I’d lived in for the past two years. A building that Brian had visited a couple dozen times at least. “How ‘bout we go upstairs and let you lay down or something, huh? Maybe you’ll feel better after you rest a bit.”


Brian complied - or, I should say, this vacant semblance of a Brian complied - allowing himself to be led inside, across the lobby, and into the elevator, but all the while his eyes kept darting around like he was just seeing the place for the first time. He clearly didn’t recognize where he was. Not a good sign. And I’d thought that he seemed back to normal again just a few minutes earlier. As soon as Gus had brought up the topic of that stupid soccer camp, though, he’d gone all blank on me again. This shit was seriously fucked up. 


Brian was silent and disconnected all the way up in the elevator. When we got off on my floor, he started to walk the wrong way down the hall. I had to grab him by the hand and physically guide him the other way, then pull him to a stop at the correct door, dragging him into the apartment behind me. When I let go of him long enough to relock the door behind us, I found my partner wandering around the living room, touching random items - a lamp, art books that I had piled on the kitchen table, a small sculpture that he’d bought for me the last time he came to visit - and looking at them like he didn’t understand what they were. All the while he kept nervously looking around himself as if he expected something or someone to jump out unexpectedly from behind the furniture. I could tell, by the way he was biting at his lower lip, that he was anxious, an emotion that Brian Kinney rarely exhibited outwardly even when he had a reason to be anxious. Only, here, in the safety of my apartment, I couldn’t figure out what he had to be anxious about.


“Are you looking for something, Brian?” I asked, trying to unlock the secret to whatever was bugging him. 


“I don’t . . . I don’t know,” Confused Brian responded, swallowing nervously as he continued to look around himself. “I just . . . I want to go home. Please . . .”


“So, we’re back to that, huh?” I muttered, dropping my messenger bag so I could rub my face tiredly. “We ARE home, Brian. This is where I live now; at least, while I’m in New York. Don’t you remember that?”


“No, I . . . I don’t . . . Don’t . . .”


“Fuck, Brian. What the hell is going on?” I felt like crying now myself. I rounded the couch so I could reach him, ignoring the way he retreated from me as I approached but, when he flinched out of my grip again, finally giving up. I flopped down on the sofa instead. “Please come here, Brian. Sit. We need to figure out what’s going on because you’ve got me worried out of my fucking mind here.” He shuffled closer a few inches but then hesitated before sitting next to me. “You’re okay. I promise. I just want to talk.”


He watched as I patted the sofa cushion next to me before tentatively lowering himself till he was perched on the very edge of the couch. He was determinedly NOT looking at me; instead, he was scanning the apartment like he was looking for an escape route or something. I felt almost as confused as he was acting. This was clearly another one of those ‘dissociative’ episodes, like the doctor had warned me about. But I was all alone here and didn’t have a friendly psychiatrist to help me figure out what was causing my partner to lose it or to give him a sedative if he went bonkers on me. I was going to have to solve this latest crisis by myself. 


“Brian, please, tell me how I can help you,” I pleaded, feeling lost. “I can see that you’re upset. I know there’s something wrong. But I don’t know what to do. What do you need?”


He looked around again, his gaze not focusing on anything. He seemed sort of dazed; slow and unsure and spacey. For about half a second I started to wonder if maybe the pain meds they’d given him for his broken wrist were too strong or something. Or maybe he’d slipped a couple of tabs of Ecstasy on the cab ride home. Who knew? All that was certain was that my Brian wasn’t all there. 


“I just want to go home. Please. I want to go home,” he repeated again in the plaintive voice that made me want to do whatever it took to protect him.


“Okay. We’ll go home,” I conceded.


I pulled out the emergency credit card that Brian had given me back when I first left for NYC and used it to reserve a rental car; it was already late and even if we could have got a flight out that night, I didn’t know how THIS Brian would react to a crowded airport full of strangers, so driving seemed to be the best option. Then I packed a bag for myself, repacked Brian’s suitcase that he’d only just unzipped the night before, and left a note for my roommate to let her know what had happened to me. Brian, meanwhile, wandered aimlessly around my apartment until I told him it was time to go. I closed the door and locked it behind me just as my phone chimed to let me know the ride share car I’d ordered had arrived. 


When I looked at my phone it was just after ten. If I drove all night, we would reach Pittsburgh - aka ‘home’ - just about when the sun would be coming up. I only hoped that Brian would be back to himself as soon as I got him back to familiar surroundings.



Looking at Brian, asleep in bed next to me, everything seemed perfectly normal . . . Except for the fact that he’d been unconscious for more than twenty hours by that point.


Despite sleeping for most of the drive back to the Pitts, Brian had still seemed ready to drop and only partially aware of what was going on around him when we pulled up to the loft just around five am. Granted, I had been pretty out of it myself after the all night drive, so I probably wasn’t a great judge of anyone’s mental state. We’d stumbled off the elevator together, dumped our bags just inside the door, and collapsed on adjoining stools at the bar. I only just managed to find enough energy to scramble some eggs and pop some bread into the toaster for breakfast. But, as soon as we’d eaten, and Brian had popped another pain pill for his broken wrist, we both collapsed again in the bed. 


I hadn’t awakened until around dinner time when my growling stomach refused to be put off any longer. Since Brian was still snoring away, I decided to leave him be. I ordered myself a pizza and devoured all but one slice while channel surfing on Brian’s brand new, seventy-five inch, Samsung Q900 series, super high definition, television. I somehow got caught up watching this fascinating documentary on the History Channel about all the stolen art in the British Museum, which kept me entertained until about nine. After that, though, there was nothing to keep my interest on the boob-tube so I gave up that pursuit.


Without anything else to do, I crawled back into bed. Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty had remained lost in dreamland, meaning that I wouldn’t be finding any entertainment with Brian in his bed. No fun there for a horny blond boy toy. 


Even as I cuddled up closer to the warm body next to me, I was a little worried by how long Brian had been sleeping. I know he’d been banged around in the prior day’s accident, so I guess it was understandable that he’d be a little tired, but this seemed excessive. 


I once more started to wonder if maybe Brian hadn’t hit his head; the CT scan had been clear, according to the doctors, but a concussion would have at least explained his memory lapses, personality fluctuations, and even the excessive sleeping. And if he did have a concussion, wasn’t too much sleeping a bad thing? I vaguely remembered something about waking concussion patients up every few hours to make sure they were okay. Or was that something they only did on television? Besides, the doctors had seemed pretty sure that it wasn’t a TBI that had been causing Brian’s strange behavior. But this much sleeping still seemed weird, right? The question was, was it weird enough to necessitate another trip to the hospital or was I just being a wuss and freaking out over nothing?


In the end, I fell back on my mother’s advice about how rest was the best medicine and decided to let the man sleep.


But, when I woke up the next morning around six am - unable to sleep any longer after getting more than eight hours of sleep myself - and discovered that Brian was still pounding out the zzzz’s, I started to wonder if I’d made the right call. I’d never, in all the years I’d known him, seen Brian sleep that long. Hell, insomniac that he was, the man rarely managed a full eight hours of sack time. For him to sleep for almost an entire day was unprecedented. I was almost more frightened by that than I’d been while watching his accident back in New York. If it weren’t for the fact that I could clearly see his chest rising and falling with each breath he was taking, and hear the adorable little wheezing noises he made because of his deviated septum, I might have totally panicked and thought he’d slipped into a coma or something.


However, just when I had worked myself up to the point that I was ready to call for an ambulance, Brian’s alarm clock went off and the snoring beside me sputtered out. The man lying next to me stretched, rolled my way, close enough to deposit a tender morning kiss on my cheek, and then reached over to shut off the alarm. With another yawn, he rose from the bed and shuffled off towards the bathroom just like he would have on any other Monday morning. Curious, I threw off the covers and sprinted after him, pausing in the doorway to the bathroom long enough to watch my partner finishing at the toilet before heading over to turn on the shower. 


“Morning, Sunshine,” he greeted me. “Aren’t you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning? Usually it takes me a good fifteen minutes to lure you out of bed with my cock but look at you. Guess this means we have time for more than the standard shower blow job this morning . . .” He grinned wolfishly and waggled his eyebrows at me as he gestured for me to precede him into the shower enclosure. 


“You sure you're feeling up to that?” I questioned, hesitating just inside the door. “You’re not in too much pain or anything?”


“What the fuck are you talking about? Since when have I ever not felt up for a blow job?”


“Well, it’s just, after the accident and all, I thought . . .” I didn’t really know what I’d thought so I didn’t bother to finish my sentence. 


A flash of confusion sparked in Brian’s eyes but then he frowned, shook his head as if to clear out any random thoughts from his mind, and ignored my comment. “You thought wrong, Sunshine, because, as long as my dick is still in one piece, I’m always going to be ready for you to suck it. So, get your creamy, white ass in here and we’ll get started,” he directed with a tilt of his head towards where the thick, warm steam was now pouring out of the shower stall. 


Okay! Nothing dazed or weird or distracted about that. A Brian Kinney demanding a blow job was something I could definitely handle. This version of Brian was acting a lot more like the man I knew and lusted after. Maybe all that rest really had helped? 


Just as I was starting to get into the shower, though, I noticed that the hand Brian was using to hold the door open was the one in the cast. “Oops. We’d better wrap that before we get in,” I warned as I retreated from the shower again. “I’ll get the plastic wrap. Be right back.”


I streaked nakedly through the loft to the kitchen, rifled through the drawer under the sink where Brian kept crap he didn’t know what else to do with, and eventually emerged with the roll of plastic wrap in hand. When I returned to the bathroom, I found Brian still standing there, in front of the open shower door, the entire bathroom filled with steam to the point that beads of moisture were dripping down the face of the mirror. He was staring at his own wrist as if it were some alien body part. And, for a moment, I flashed back to this movie I saw a long time before where a woman had this disease - I think it was called ‘body integrity dysphoria’ or something like that - that caused her to try to amputate her own arm because she was convinced it belonged to someone else. 


“Brian?” I spoke his name quietly, trying not to startle him. “Is your wrist hurting you? I can get you a pain pill. You’re definitely overdue for your next dose.”


“Huh?” 


He looked up at me as if he didn’t remember I was still in the loft. 


“Your wrist? Is it hurting?”


He had to think about it for ten seconds before he spoke again. “A little, I guess,” he replied.


“Let me wrap it with this, so you can take a shower, and then I’ll get you another pill,” I suggested, holding the plastic wrap out in front of me as I approached slowly. 


He was still holding his wrist out like he didn’t know what to do with the cast, so it was easy for me to pull out the free end of the roll of cellophane and start wrapping. Brian didn’t say a word as I wound plastic around and around his arm. He just continued to stare at his arm in silence. And when I was done, he still held it out, away from his body, at an awkward angle. I waited a few moments, trying to discern if he wanted me to do something more; if he wanted me to add more wrapping or something. When he continued to just stare mutely, I finally remembered the pain pill, and turned to get the prescription bottle out of the medicine cabinet. 


“Here you go.” 


I held out the pill. Brian started to reach for it with his right hand - which wouldn’t work because cast and plastic wrap up to the elbow and all - but since it was his dominant hand it was kind of understandable. The fact that, instead of reacting by holding out his other hand, he just continued to stare at the injured limb was what concerned me. It was like he didn’t know what to do with it. I had to use one of my own hands to grab his left, gently prying open the fingers until there was enough room to leave the pill in his palm. Luckily, by the time I’d turned around to fill a glass with some water, he’d managed to get the pill to his mouth on his own. 


After that, the rest of the shower went more smoothly, although he still seemed confused by the broken wrist and kept trying to grab things with it. He even, accidentally, knocked me in the side of the head with the damn thing when I was on my knees in front of him about to swallow his cock. But, after he cursed at himself in lieu of an apology, and I went back to my work, the rest of the blow job went much more smoothly and he remembered to only run his left hand through my wet hair as I sucked him off per our usual showertime fun. By the time we finally climbed out of the shower, squeaky clean inside and out, Brian was in a much better mood once again. 


Of course, that’s when things went and got all strange again. 


“Why are you putting on a suit?” I asked when I came out of the bathroom to find my partner suiting up in his Armani best. 


“Because, if I go to work in the buff, Cynthia will yell at me for sexually harassing the interns,” Brian quipped. 


“Why are you going to work, though? It’s only Monday. You weren’t even supposed to be back here in Pittsburgh until Wednesday night? You’re technically still on vacation.”


He paused for several heartbeats, his hand hovering over the row of hangers filled with dress shirts of every fashionable color and style, but then shrugged and continued, explaining, “I’ve got a meeting I can’t miss.”


I froze in place, the damp towel I’d been drying my hair with dangling from one hand. 


That was a bald-faced lie. He couldn’t possibly have a meeting scheduled this morning. Brian was supposed to be in NYC, with me, today. Cynthia wouldn’t have scheduled a meeting this morning. Hell, nobody even knew we were back in Pittsburgh yet. I hadn’t told a soul about our return and Brian couldn’t have called anyone since his broken phone was still waiting in the bottom of my messenger bag. And that’s even assuming he’d somehow woken up from his day long catatonia long enough to make a phone call without me knowing. So, clearly, Brian had to be lying; something he’d never done before. 


Yet another indication that something was seriously wrong.


“Hey, Brian, how about you just stay home today, huh?” I pleaded. “I think you’re still a bit shaken up by your accident. And, with your wrist like that, you won’t be able to do much work anyway. Especially not once that pain pill kicks in. Don’t you think you could, maybe, take the day off?” 


Brian completely ignored me as he selected two ties to compare, holding each up in turn while admiring the effect of a stripe versus a floral pattern in the mirror. He decided on the one with the small pink roses - a favorite of mine - and tossed the reject at my face in a playful gesture. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and pulled on his socks and shoes. I still didn’t really understand what was going on so I just stood there, like an idiot, watching the Brian-Gets-Dressed show in silence. 


Rising to his feet with shoes in place, he grabbed his suit jacket and goosed me as he passed by. “Later, Sunshine.”


He was gone before I’d collected myself enough to figure out what I could or should do. Despite Brian’s seeming return to ‘normal’, I couldn’t help thinking that something still wasn’t right. He continued to act off. Erratic. Inconsistent. Strange. I still didn’t know what the fuck was causing him to behave so mercurially. Not even his show of going to work like it was a normal Monday had been enough to allay my fears. I just knew that he wasn’t doing as well as he was pretending. The staring at his wrist thing earlier hadn’t been at all reassuring. 


But I knew Brian Kinney. I knew all about his standard coping mechanisms. First, he’d try to ignore anything that was bothering him and hope the problem would just go away. When that inevitably didn’t work, he’d try to drink or drug himself till he was too stoned to care. And if even that didn’t work, and whatever was causing him to act out continued, he’d resort to semi-dangerous sexual encounters. None of which I wanted to have to watch. Which meant that I was going to have to figure this out myself in order to head off the worst of the possible repercussions. 


Back at the hospital, Dr. Kajiwara had suggested that I look more closely into my partner’s past. He’d mentioned childhood trauma as being the most likely cause of Brian’s dissociative moments. Moments, perhaps, like what had happened just a little while past when he’d been staring at his arm in confusion, I wondered? 


The only problem was that I knew virtually nothing about Brian’s childhood. He hated his parents and almost always refused to talk about them. I was aware, more through family gossip than from anything Brian had told me directly, that his father, Jack, had been an abusive drunk and his mother, Joan, was an emotionally distant ice queen. But, other than that, I didn’t have much else to go on. I didn’t know even the basic facts about Brian’s earlier years, let alone any trauma he might have suffered. I was going to need help if I wanted to figure out what was happening to my partner. 

 

The only person I knew who had any insight at all into Brian’s childhood was Michael.

End Notes:

 

5/31/21 - Thank you to long weekends that provide me with extra time to write! Pardon the slow build up here... I promise this is going somewhere. Really. TAG

Chapter 4 - Coach by Tagsit



Chapter 4 - Coach.



I found Michael just leaving the Diner on his way to open the store and tagged along with him. Red Cape Comics was only three blocks or so further north along Liberty Avenue, so it didn’t take us long to get there. We passed the time chatting about ideas for the next story arc we were going to use for Rage. It wasn’t until Michael had unlocked and rolled up the security gate over the front door that he finally broke down and asked me what I was doing in Pittsburgh.


I made sure the door was closed behind us, for privacy, before I started off on the tale of Brian and the Motorcycle. It went exactly as I had expected, with Michael freaking out over the news of Brian’s hospital trip and broken wrist. I didn’t let him run with it though, plowing on to discuss what I’d really come there to talk about; the soccer camp connection. 


“So, you think Brian got spooked by that soccer camp flyer and that somehow made him walk out into traffic?” Michael asked, sounding skeptical. “That doesn’t sound like Brian.”


“Exactly! That’s why I’m so worried, Michael. None of what has happened the past few days is in character for Brian. He’s not some space cadet who would walk into traffic or not recognize where he was or, for that matter, sleep for more than twenty hours. Something is seriously wrong. But if it’s not a physical problem - which the doctors assured me it wasn’t after running a bazillion tests at the hospital - then I’m left with no choice but to believe the psychiatrist. He called what was happening to Brian ‘dissociative events’ and said it was most likely related to childhood trauma that was somehow triggered by that photo.” 


“‘Dissociative events’?” Michael echoed. “That sounds like something out of ‘Three Faces of Eve’ or something.”


“What?” I asked, lost by his reference, something that happened quite often since I wasn’t raised on iconic queer movie favorites of the 40s and 50s like he’d been.


“You know, multiple personalities and shit like that? Or, at least, that’s what they used to call it. I don’t know what they call it today, but it kinda sounds like the same thing.”


“No. it’s not the same. Not at all,” I replied, trying to derail Michael from equating what was happening to Brian to some crazy movie plot. “Nobody’s saying Brian’s got multiple personalities. At least I hope not . . .”


“Right.” 


Michael didn’t seem willing to let go of his pet psychology theory, though, so I hurried on with my own agenda in the hopes of distracting him. “What I really need from you, Michael, is more information about Brian’s childhood, not a second opinion on Dr. Kajiwara’s diagnosis,” I explained. “See, I don’t know anything much about Brian’s past. He refuses to talk about it. But the doctor said that, if I wanted to help him, I should look into traumatic events in his past and, I don’t know, get him to face them so he can get over whatever it is that’s causing him this current stress. Which is where you come in.”


“I don’t know.” Michael sounded reluctant to divulge any proprietary information but qualified his response by saying, “I can’t tell you much. I didn’t meet Brian until we were both in high school and he’s always been just as closed off about his early childhood with me as he is with everybody else.”


“Well, at least you know more than me, since I didn’t know him till he was thirty.”


“Ah, ah, ah - twenty-nine,” Michael corrected me and we both laughed, because that was something Brian would have been adamant to point out. 


“Fine. Twenty-nine. Whatever. That’s still a long time after what most folks consider ‘childhood’.”


“True,” Michael conceded with a grin. Then he paused for a long minute to think. “I still don’t know what you want from me. I don’t think he ever told me about anything overly traumatic in his childhood. I mean, there was the usual shit with his father, but he never seemed traumatized by it.”


“What do you mean by ‘the usual shit’?” I asked, focusing on that for a start.


I watched Michael’s face darken at the unpleasant memories my questions brought to light. “Jack Kinney was a total bastard. He used to beat both his kids, sometimes pretty badly. He didn’t even try to hide it; I personally saw Jack slap Brian in the head one time so hard that Brian was knocked sideways and fell, hitting his head on a shelf in the garage, and all Jack did was stare at me like he was daring me to say something. I can’t tell you how many times Brian showed up at school with a black eye or a bruise. One time, when we were in tenth grade, Jack broke his arm, although Brian claimed he injured himself falling down the stairs. I knew better but Brian had long since sworn me to silence on pain of losing his friendship forever so I didn’t say anything,” Michael sighed and I could hear the long-suppressed regret for actions not taken. “Regardless, I never got the impression that Brian was so traumatized he’d freak out over it now, like, fifteen years later.”


I had to agree. As bad as it sounded, I didn’t think Jack’s abuse was enough, in itself, to cause Brian’s current freakout. Plus, even if he was carrying around psychological issues about his father, that didn’t explain what I’d seen in NYC. There didn’t seem to be any connection between a flyer for a soccer camp for Gus and Jack Kinney. There had to be something else we were missing. 


“Maybe it was something from earlier in his childhood?” I posited. “Like, from before you knew him? Something to do with him playing soccer, maybe?”


“Soccer? Why would that have been traumatic for Brian?”


So I explained a little more about what had happened just before Brian walked into traffic, telling Michael about the text conversation I’d overheard between him and Lindsey about the summer soccer camp Gus wanted to attend. 


“It was the weirdest thing,” I said, trying to put into words something that I felt in my gut. “One minute he was looking at his phone and reading Lindsey’s texts to me and the next minute it was like he was gone. Like his mind wasn’t there anymore. He just stood there, staring at his phone with the strangest look on his face. And then he dropped his phone and just started walking without even looking where he was going. I don’t know how to explain it; it just felt like Brian - the Brian I know and love - sort of disappeared then.” I hesitated before adding, “I’m not sure if he’s really back yet, either, to be honest. Even this morning he just seemed . . . Strange . . . Like, whoever is in his body right now isn’t the real Brian.”


“What did I say? ‘Three Faces of Eve’!” Michael insisted, only half joking. 


“No,” I corrected him. “It’s not like there’s multiple Brian’s taking turns in his body. It’s more like . . . It’s like he’s just checked out and there’s nobody left in there. He just, sort of, goes blank . . . I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say he just isn’t acting like himself.”


The seriousness in my tone seemed to have finally penetrated Michael’s joviality and he stopped to think through what I’d related more thoroughly. 


Then, after a couple of minutes, his brow furrowed and he bit at his bottom lip contemplatively. “Okay . . . Maybe this has nothing to do with anything, but . . . There was one time that I saw Brian acting sort of out of it, like you say he’s acting now. You said he just went blank, like he wasn’t there?” I nodded encouragingly. “Well, there was this one time, spring of our freshman year, when Brian was acting all weird and blank and totally out of it. I only just remembered now that you mentioned it. But, yeah . . . I think it’s the same kind of thing.”


“Tell me.” I insisted. “Maybe it’s related to what’s happening now somehow.”


“Maybe. But, if it is, you could be waiting a while to see the real Brian come back.”


“Why do you say that?”


Michael smiled sadly at me as he replied, “that time, when Brian seemed lost, it lasted a lot longer than a couple days. Brian was out of it for at least a month, maybe more, before he suddenly seemed to snap back to normal.”


That was NOT an encouraging thought, but I had to learn more before I could tell if there really was some connection, so I prodded Michael to start from the beginning and tell me the whole story.


“It started around the time Mr. Saluka, our gym teacher, shot himself in the foot while on a hunting trip and had to take several weeks off while he was recovering from surgery. I remember because he was a real ball-breaker, that guy, and we were all glad to hear we’d get a substitute in his place. The new guy was quite an improvement too; he was actually nice. For a while there even I, with my two left feet, didn’t cringe at the prospect of gym class.” We shared a laugh, communing in the fact that neither of us were the athletic type, before he continued. “The substitute was young, maybe only thirty or so, and quite the looker . . . Oh, hey, you already know this story, don’t you?”


I looked at him, lost. “I do?”


“Yeah, Brian told you this one that first night he took you home, right? The most famous shower scene since ‘Psycho’, remember?”


“That’s THE gym teacher? The guy Brian blew in the locker room after school?” I chuckled at the memory of my first night with Brian and how shocked I’d been to hear Brian’s retelling of his first sexual experience. 


“Yep. That’s the guy,” Michael confirmed. “And it was right after that that Brian sort of lost it.” He paused in his reminiscing, cocked his head to the side and screwed up his face in thought before adding, “I had always thought that Brian distancing himself from me and acting a little awkward was because he was weirded out and maybe had even shocked himself with that whole locker room scene, you know? I mean, that was a huge fucking deal. I know I was shocked when he told me about it, although I tried to pretend I was as cool with it as he was. But, now that I think about it, Brian had been acting strange even before then. The whole time that sub was there he was sort of blanking out, although it did seem worse after his big shower scene. And, as soon as our regular teacher returned, Brian seemed to snap out of it. Do you think that’s somehow related to Brian’s accident now?”


I thought about it. I remembered the night he’d told me the story about his gym teacher so well. But, the funny thing about that story - the thing that stuck out to me as odder than all the rest, to the point that it made an impression even beyond all the other remarkable events of that night - was the strangely dismissive way Brian had spoken of such an important milestone in his life. And then, after he’d bragged on the fact that he’d given his first blow job at the tender age of fourteen, he’d added that odd coda, saying, ‘I guess everyone's a little scared their first time . . . But I don’t remember.’ That non-sequitur had always stayed with me. I’d wondered about it over the years many times. Had he meant he’d forgotten whether or not he’d been scared or was there more to that statement? If I hadn’t been so shocked by how young Brian had said he was at the time - only fourteen - I might have commented on the other statement, but somehow the age thing was the only part I’d mentioned at the time. That odd ‘I don’t remember’, though, had really stood out. And now, after Michael’s retelling and the clue about Brian’s dissociation both then and now, I thought maybe the words meant something more menacing.


While I was thinking about that, Michael’s brain seemed to be running on a parallel track. “You know, I never really understood why Brian went after that guy anyway. Personally, I remember thinking that the substitute was handsome enough, for an old guy, but kinda creepy too.” 


That comment caught my attention right away. “Why? What was it about the guy you thought was creepy?”


“I don’t know . . .” Michael thought about it for a few seconds before he could pin down his impressions from all those years before. “I guess it was because of the way the guy was always touching Brian. He was hella handsy right from the beginning, you know? Most teachers were more careful about that kind of stuff but not this guy. He was always patting the boys on the back. Only, with Brian, it was like a constant thing.” 


“That sounds pretty creepy to me,” I agreed with him. “I don’t know about back when you were in school, but nowadays there are rules and protocols about that kind of thing in most schools. I remember one of my teachers telling me once how they had special trainings on that shit. And, I think, it’s even illegal in some states, isn’t it?”


“I don’t know about that,” Michael replied dismissively. “But even if there were rules back then, this guy obviously didn’t care.” After we both fell silent, lost in our separate thoughts for a few minutes, Michael broke the silence again with a new story. “There was this one time that really stands out in my memory. I was waiting for Brian to finish soccer practice and I remember seeing Brian and the substitute together out on the soccer field. It was late and, except for a few of the guys on the JV team, who were just finishing up their practice, most of the other kids had already gone home. I think I was probably the only other student hanging around school that late. Anyway, I saw the two of them coming off the field together and the guy stopped Brian just before they reached the bleachers and hugged him. Right out in the open. In front of the rest of the team. It didn’t look like a casual, friendly hug either. Brian sorta tried to pull away from the guy but he held on and then, when he finally let Brian go, walked him towards the locker rooms with one hand on his back.”


“That sure as fuck sounds inappropriate to me.” 


“Right? I thought it was weird too and I commented about it later, while Brian and I were walking home together. That’s when Brian told me about the shower blow job,” Michael admitted, looking sideways at Justin with an almost guilty expression. “At first, I thought he was making it up because of how Brian seemed almost as if he didn’t believe it had happened either. I mean, it’s nuts that a teacher would do that, isn’t it? Shit like that only happens in bad porn flicks. But Brian insisted it had happened so I was forced to believe him.” Michael huffed a disbelieving snort of laughter and shook his head. “Then, when I pointed out to my friend that he was going to get in so much fucking trouble if anyone at school found out, and made the mistake of commenting that it wasn’t right for a teacher to do shit like that, Brian got ridiculously angry. After that he completely shut down and refused to talk about it any further. He just clammed up and didn’t say another word all the way home. It was just . . . It was so weird, you know? Both the thought of what Brian had done and the way he reacted when I tried to talk to him about it.”


“That does seem a little strange, since he was literally bragging about it to me the first night we met,” I mentioned. “If he was ashamed or upset about it, to the point he wouldn’t discuss it with his best friend, why would he tell some trick about it years later?” 


“I don’t know,” Michael replied. “All I know is that Brian gave me the silent treatment the rest of the way home and then totally ignored me for, like, four or five weeks afterwards. Whenever we did see each other, he acted almost like he didn’t recognize me. And, like you said about how he was acting in New York, he just seemed kind of blank. He wasn’t himself. He didn’t volunteer anything in class or talk shit with his friends or flirt with the football players or anything that the normal Brian would have done. It was like he was just going through the motions of life for that month or so. And the way he was ignoring me, well, I was afraid our friendship was over. We didn’t make up for several weeks. Not till after Mr. Saluka came back from medical leave and Coach Langley left.”


“Coach? I thought he was just the Gym teacher?” I asked, catching that one little discrepancy in the story.


“He was both, actually,” Michael elucidated. “While he was there, Langley took over Mr. Saluka’s duties coaching the boys’ JV soccer team. Apparently, Langley was actually a pretty decent coach too; I remember hearing something about how the guy had played semi-pro himself back in the day. That’s why everyone called him ‘Coach’.”

 

The title ‘Coach’ triggered a memory and I pulled out my phone, tapping on the screen until I’d opened the Cloud account and pulled up the record of Brian’s text messages. 


“This is the text that Lindsey sent to Brian just before he went cray-cray on me.” I enlarged the picture of the summer camp team from the front of the flyer and held the phone out so Michael could see the picture. “What do you see?”


“SHIT! That’s him. That’s Coach Langley. I mean, he’s a lot older here, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same guy,” Michael insisted, looking back and forth from the picture on the phone to my face. 


“So, the same guy who had inappropriate sex with a fourteen year old Brian is now the coach at the soccer camp Gus wants to go to this summer?” I summed up the situation as I saw it. 


“I can see how that would wig out a parent, can’t you?”


“Yeah . . . Maybe . . .” I faltered while I tried to put my spiraling thoughts into words. “I guess I can see Brian not wanting to have anything to do with a guy like that and not wanting him to be around his kid, although that’s not really like Brian . . .” 


“You know, now that I’m a parent, I feel differently about that whole shower scene blow job than I did back when I was just fourteen,” Michael reflected, his eyes focused not on me anymore but on the bulletin board he had nailed up behind the register where several photos of family and friends and customers were displayed. “Especially with Hunter having experienced so much abuse at around the same age. See, when you’re fourteen and your best friend gives a blow job for the first time, you tend to think it’s pretty cool, even if the guy involved was a little creepy. But, when you’re an adult, and you think about your own fourteen-year-old son in the same situation, you see it differently. Right now, all I feel when I think about what Brian did is horror and anger.” Michael looked back at me and I could see the sadness in his face. “Looking back on the events now, ALL I remember is how totally creeped out I was. Coach Langley was clearly a pervert and . . . And I don’t feel nearly as impressed by Brian’s exploits any more.”


I tried to swallow past the lump in my throat but couldn’t. Why hadn’t I seen it that way when Brian had told me about that shower scene back when I’d first met him? Yeah, even then I’d thought that anyone who’d do that to a fourteen year old was probably a perv, but I hadn’t thought about it from Brian’s perspective. Until now, I hadn’t thought about how that kind of thing might warp a kid. Maybe it really wasn’t so much of a stretch to believe that something like that might throw Brian - now a father in his own right - for a loop? 


Michael seemed to be thinking the same thing. “I wonder if that’s why Brian got all freaked out; because he didn’t want Gus to go to a soccer camp taught by some perv.”


“Probably,” I agreed. “But I think it’s more than that. I think . . . I suspect that there was more than that one blow job, don’t you?” Michael shrugged. “Brian’s probably fucked or sucked half the male population of Pittsburgh - a substantial number of them while he was still under-aged, assuming he was as promiscuous back then as he is now - and he’s never acted like this when confronted by any of his other former tricks. No, there’s something more happening here.” 


We just needed to figure out what.


We both fell silent for the next several minutes, each of us lost in our own thoughts. If it weren’t for the bell over the door ringing as Michael’s first customer of the day entered, who knows how long we might have sat there musing. But, now that we didn’t have the requisite privacy needed to dig into such intimate issues, I wasn’t about to continue the discussion. I got up to go, sliding the strap of my messenger bag over one shoulder and waved one hand in goodbye as I headed towards the door.


“Wait. What are we going to do next?” Michael interrupted my escape. “Should we try talking to Brian? Maybe ask him about Coach Langley?”


“That would be a ‘no’!” I quickly shot down that absolutely terrible idea. “Have you forgotten the whole cancer thing and how badly that turned out? Don’t you know better by now than to go to Brian and offer him unwanted sympathy?” Michael rolled his eyes at me but didn’t bother to try and refute my position. “I’m not going to confront him until I know everything about what’s going on. Once I have all the facts - which we clearly don’t have yet - then, I’ll be able to make an informed decision about how best to approach the big drama queen without getting my head bitten off. Until then neither of us can say anything.”


“But . . .”


“No buts, Michael,” I spun around and took the two steps needed to allow me to stand nose to nose with the irritating little meddler. “I swear to all that is holy, I will HURT you if you undermine me on this, Michael. You hear me?”


“Justin . . .”


“I’m serious about this Michael,” I growled at him, wishing I could shoot paralysing laser beams out of my eyes like Rage if that’s what it would take to keep him in line this time. But, since I didn’t have laser beam eyes, I poked him in the chest with my finger and demanded, “swear to me, on J.R.’s life, that you will NOT go to Brian and confess what we’ve been talking about today.”


“I’m not going to swear on my daughter’s life,” Michael whined.


“Yes, you are. Swear to me or I’ll never draw another panel for another Rage comic again in your lifetime!”


Michael looked around him, as if trying to find some out, but only found the one teenager who had given over his perusal of the Marvel Comics bins to eavesdrop on our conversation. 


“Fine. I swear on J.R.'s life that I will not go to Brian with this. Are you happy now?” I nodded and gave him what I hoped was a reassuring smile. “But only if you agree to keep me in the loop and tell me if he needs any help.”

 

“Deal,” I relented and left the store, pulling out my phone as I strode down the sidewalk, heading back in the direction of the Diner. “Hey, Daph, are you still a Nancy Drew fan?” I asked when my best friend answered the call. “Wanna go solve a real mystery with me?”

End Notes:

6/1/21 - Finally, some real clues... Enjoy! TAG

 

PS. Happy Pride, Everyone! 

Chapter 5 - Meet The Prescotts by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

Ick factor ramping up here... Enjoy? TAG


Chapter 5 - Meet The Prescotts.



It didn't take long for Daphne, in her Nancy Drew persona, to make a few calls to the folks who ran the soccer camp and arrange for us to meet with their coach. 


Daph gets off on that shit, to be honest. I still remember the summer when we were ten when she made me follow her around the country club, magnifying glasses in hand, trying to solve the mystery of what had happened to our favorite swimming instructor, Anneke. Daphne, who’d spent most of the prior school year voraciously reading every single Nancy Drew Mystery she could get her hands on, had been convinced that Anneke’s disappearance had nefarious underpinnings. We’d conducted interviews of the Club staff, examined Anneke’s locker in the staff locker room, even snuck into the Club’s administrative offices and tried to pick the lock on the file cabinet that held the employee files. It took us weeks of pseudo-covert operations before we discovered that Anneke and her boyfriend had been caught skinny dipping in the pool after hours and she’d been summarily fired. So much for our ten-year-old detective skills. 


I was hoping those skills had improved a little with age. The current plan, for what it was worth, was for the two of us to pretend that we were a young married couple looking for a summer camp for our beloved, only son, and use that cover to surreptitiously scope out Coach Langley. I don’t know what I hoped to discover by this ruse. I guess, mostly, I just wanted to talk to the guy and get a feel for him. Find out if he was really a threat or not. See for myself if he was as big a perv as Michael had implied. While I was at it, I’d be checking out the camp that Gus seemed to have his little heart set on.


The kind people at the KickIt! Camp offices had been more than happy to discuss their camp with a prospective parent. Brenda, the camp secretary, had raved about Coach Wade Langley, pointing out his years of experience coaching youth soccer and emphasizing his kind and caring nature. Brenda had given Daphne the hard sell; going on and on about how sports builds character in young boys, etc. Daphne, for her part, pretended to be worried about her son and unsure about sending a child so young to a sleep-away camp. Brenda outlined all the safety precautions the camp supposedly took, including mandatory two-deep staffing and youth protection training. When Daph had continued to feign indecision, Brenda had suggested she meet with the coach in person and directed Daphne to the athletic fields in a nearby park where Coach Langley’s Boys U6 soccer team practiced on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. 


Which is how we ended up driving to a park about fifteen minutes away from Liberty Avenue late on Tuesday afternoon. As we approached the field where a gaggle of small boys were running every which way chasing after a plethora of matching blue and white pentagonal-patched balls, we easily spotted the one adult in the group. The man, a reasonably attractive guy in his early-sixties, with short-cropped salt-and-pepper grey hair and wearing stylish J. Crew chino shorts, was kneeling on the ground giving one of the players a hug. While the gesture appeared outwardly innocent, something about the sight gave me the willies. Trading glances with Daph, I could tell she felt the same. But, telling myself it was too soon to rush to judgement, I kept walking towards the man, pausing when we were a couple of meters away. When the kneeling man saw us, he whispered something I couldn’t hear into the boy’s ear and then got up, patting the young soccer player on the shoulder. The kid frowned, never looking up from where his eyes were focused on a brown patch in the otherwise impeccably maintained lawn, before slowly shuffling off to rejoin the rest of his team. That’s when the Coach turned to smile at his visitors. 


“Coach Langley?” Daphne took the lead while I hung back and observed the man we were there to surveil. “I’m Dee Dee Prescott and this is my husband, Mark. Brenda from KickIt! sent us over to meet you and observe your coaching methods. We’re considering sending our son, Zach, to your camp this summer.”


I took a moment to appreciate my accomplice’s acting skills - and her ability to come up with fake names on the spot - before I chimed in. “Zach is just dying to go to your camp, Sir, but we’re not sure he’s ready. He’s only five - he doesn’t turn six until just before school starts in the fall - so we’re a little reluctant to send him away to camp for a full month.”


“It’s nice to meet you both,” Coach Langley replied, his supremely confident low tenor voice landing on my ear mellifluously. “And I’d be more than happy to alleviate any fears you might have about sending your son to our camp.” He paused long enough to yell some direction to a group of boys that were practising a ball dribbling drill nearby and then returned his attention to us. “I’ve been associated with the KickIt! Group for seven years now and I don’t think we’ve ever had any unsatisfied customers. So, tell me what I can do to reassure you.”


Daphne, who’d already talked at length with Brenda, took the lead in the discussion, asking all sorts of questions while I hung back and observed Coach Langley’s demeanor. Outwardly, the man didn’t seem very threatening. He was smooth and charming. He laughed with Daphne, telling her little stories about prior years’ camps and even winking at her at the conclusion of a little joke he told. A normal, non-suspicious person would have probably found him quite likable. I, however, was not a non-suspicious person and I found all the schmoozing distasteful. But, even so, there was nothing concrete I could put my finger on that would explain why I shouldn’t like him.


“Zach is totally in love with soccer right now,” Daphne raved about our non-existent son. “I don’t really know anything about it myself, but the peewee team coach said he thought Zach had a lot of potential. Plus, we both work,” Daph gestured back and forth between the two of us, “so we need to find something to do with our son over the summer. If this camp works out, it would be great for all of us.”


“Quite a few of our parents are in the same boat,” Langley confirmed with what I’m sure he thought was an understanding smile. “But, if your son really is that good, our camp is definitely the right place for him. I pride myself on helping the boys I’ve coached explore their full potential. If Zach really wants to become a better player, I’m the one who can make that happen. I’ve been doing just that for years; I’ve been coaching PeeWee and Youth Soccer for almost thirty years now. You won’t find anyone with more experience.” 


“Oh, really?” I asked, pretending innocence, “I didn’t realize you’d been coaching all this time. I thought someone said you used to be a teacher?”


“That’s true. When I was just starting out, back in the stone ages,” he joked, “I got my teaching certificate and worked as a physical education teacher, first in the Philadelphia school system and then here in Pittsburgh. However, after spending a few years teaching, I decided that coaching youth soccer was my real passion. I’ve always enjoyed working with kids of all ages but it’s the little ones that I enjoy the most and soccer is my sport, you know.”


I made a mental note to check on the status of Langley’s teaching certificate, just as a precaution. 


Meanwhile, Langley had continued to rhapsodize about his experience working with young boys. “I get such a thrill out of molding their minds and bodies,” he elucidated. “At that age, they are so much more open to new ideas and new experiences, you understand, and I can teach them anything. Of course, boys that age sometimes also need a firm guiding hand, and so many of the youth I work with lack strong parenting examples - many without any fathers in the picture at all - but that’s one of the reasons I find coaching so rewarding. I just love watching how some of my boys bloom after I take an interest in them.” He took that opportunity to point out the boy he’d been hugging when we arrived, using the child as an example. “Taniel there, for instance, is a special case. Unlike you two, his parents are too busy with their own lives and careers to pay any attention to him. I can’t tell you how much that boy needed someone - anyone - to step in and prove they cared about him. After he came to our camp last summer, though, Taniel finally started coming out of his shell. And now, just look at him! He’s probably my best player.” 


We all paused and watched as the boy Langley had been discussing broke away from a guard that he’d been facing off against and scored a goal in the little make-shift net that had been set up for the team’s practice session. The rest of the boys in that drill group cheered and congratulated little Taniel. Langley yelled out a ‘Good Job, Tanny’ and clapped. When the boys all looked over towards the coach he smiled at them patronizingly. Then, blowing the whistle that had been dangling around his neck while we’d been talking, Langley made a circling motion in the air and all the drill groups stopped their activity to come assemble. 


“Great job, boys. I think that’s enough drills for today. How about a short scrimmage before we wrap up practice for the day?” There was cheering from amongst the assembly of children. “Taniel & Wes, you two can be captains for this round. Choose up your teams and then you’ve got fifteen minutes to show me what you can do.”


We watched as Taniel and a little blond boy took turns calling out the names of the other players in order to form up two teams. When everyone had been assigned to a group, they all headed out onto the field and started to play. Daph and I watched as the boys scrambled after the ball, with Taniel quickly breaking out of the pack to steal the ball away from another boy and boot it down the field to another forward.


“I’ve made a bit of a special project out of that one,” Langley bragged as he watched Taniel’s exhibition, obviously proud of the boy’s skills, which were clearly advanced for his tender age. 


But that term - ‘special project’ - combined with the way Langley smiled while he watched the boy, caused my hackles to rise. I might have been imagining it, but that grin had a possessiveness about it that worried me, even though I couldn’t pin down exactly what it was that had me squicked. Nothing that Langley had said was incriminating, in itself. It was more a gut feeling. And, yeah, maybe I was predisposed not to like the guy after what Michael had told me, but . . . There was no reason to suspect the guy of anything more than being a devoted coach, but I just didn’t like him for some intangible reason I couldn’t put into words. 


While I was busy trying to examine my instinctual dislike of Coach Langley, Daphne had been pelting the man with still more questions about the upcoming summer camp. 


“Our Zack has always been a bit on the shy side, you know, which is why we’re a little hesitant to send him to a sleep away camp,” Daph explained, looking wistful as she worried over her imaginary son. “But maybe you’re right. Maybe this would be just the thing to entice him out of his shell. We’d love to see him ‘bloom’ like you say this other boy has.” My wife pointed to the field where Taniel was kicking some serious six-year-old butt on the field. “What do you think, Mark?”


Unfortunately, I’d already forgotten my fake name so I didn’t respond when ‘Dee Dee’ posed her question. Daphne had to elbow me to get my attention. I laughed and pretended that I’d been so caught up in watching the kids on the field that I hadn’t been following the conversation. Daphne repeated the question with a sideways look at Langley that seemed to intimate that I was always a clod of a husband.


“Well, if you can teach Zach to handle the ball like that kid,” I pointed at young Taniel, “I’m all for it.”


“Like I said before,” Daph saw the opening I’d left and ran with it, “Zach’s coach has told us - multiple times - that our boy is a bit of a soccer prodigy, even as young as he is. Coach Crawford said that Zach could maybe even end up playing professionally some day, provided he gets the right training.” 


Then Daphne pulled out her phone and showed Langley a picture of a beautiful, brown-haired boy that we’d pulled off the internet. Random Brunet Boy #2345 was a small kid with big brown eyes and shaggy brown hair who looked remarkably like Gus. I imagined that Brian must have looked a lot like that as a child as well. The picture we’d selected showed the boy in a blue and gold soccer uniform so it was completely believable that this might be our child, or at least believable enough to convince Langley, who looked at the image for longer than was really necessary when you were just looking at a pic of a stranger’s child. And, was that an excited sparkle in the man’s eyes? I didn’t think I liked where things seemed to be heading . . .


“If he’s as good as you suggest, I’d love to coach your son. There’s nothing more satisfying than working with a truly gifted young athlete.” Langley paused and looked once more towards Daph’s phone, where you could still see the picture of the boy on the screen, and nodded. “You know, there’s no reason we have to wait for summer to get started on his training. I sometimes provide private training sessions for my more promising players. If your son has as much talent as his coach says, I could work with him one-on-one and get him ready for camp. Then he’d have a leg up on the other boys and be ready to really shine.” 


Daphne looked at me, pretending that she was interested in that suggestion, and I tried not to betray the growing unease I was feeling. 


“I can’t tell you how much I love working with promising young players. If I can help them on the way towards a better future, all the better,” Langley continued, focusing his sales pitch on Daphne, clearly thinking she’d be the easier sell. “You know, a number of the boys I’ve trained over the years have gone on to play in college, and there were even a couple who rose to the level of semi-professional club soccer, although I’m still waiting to get one of mine on the professional circuit. I’d be happy to evaluate your son and, if he’s a good candidate, we could talk about setting up some private lessons.”


“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Daphne demurred. “We probably don’t have the money to afford that kind of training.” 


Langley laughed and waved off her concerns. “Nonsense. For the boys that really please me, I’ve been known to provide my services for free. Seeing a boy grow into his potential is all the payment I need.” He smiled smarmily at the both of us in turn and I felt my stomach do an uneasy flip-flop. Sensing that he hadn’t completely sold us, he continued on a different track, adding, “sometimes the extra training pays off big in the long run; I can get your boy to a level where he’ll really shine. And, if he’s good enough, he might even get recruited for a more advanced, elite team. I know a few that will offer scholarships that cover the costs of the equipment and travel for better players. After that, who knows? With that kind of head start, a career in soccer might be your son’s ticket to the bigger things. I even had one boy who ended up with a full-ride scholarship to college after training with me.” 


That comment made alarm bells start to ring in my head. Was Langley talking about Brian? Had he coached Brian for longer than that one month when he’d subbed at Brian & Michael’s highschool? Or was there some other boy that Langley had coached who landed a college scholarship for soccer? 


I remembered back, before Brian’s freak out in NYC, how dead set he’d been against Gus playing soccer. How he’d commented that he didn’t want Gus to have to ‘whore himself out to a university athletic department just to go to college’. The way he’d talked about it, a soccer scholarship didn’t sound like a good thing at all. But here was Langley, pushing it on us as a sales point? 


The more the coach went on with his sales pitch, talking about the boy he’d mentored all the way from the peewee leagues to a full-ride at Penn State, the more unsettled I felt. It certainly sounded like he was talking about Brian. Which meant that Coach Langley and Brian must have met long before his brief stint as a substitute teacher when Brian was in high school. 


Shit.


I mean, on one level it made sense. I didn’t think that one freshman-year blow job would have been enough to cause Brian to lose it so completely that he’d walk off into traffic. There HAD to be more to the story, right? Even if Brian had been somehow manipulated into it at the time - pressured by Langley into a sex act he wasn’t entirely comfortable with as a fourteen year old - would that alone have been enough to account for the amount of trauma Brian was now exhibiting? Dr. Kajiwara’s admonition - ‘In my experience, severe dissociation like the kind Mr. Kinney is exhibiting is almost always tied to childhood trauma’ - had made it sound like the cause for Brian’s recent freak out had to be something pretty serious. Considering the level of ‘trauma’ that I’d seen every time Langley or his soccer camp was mentioned, whatever had happened had to have been majorly bad, making me wonder if the trauma we were talking about - which was somehow tied to Brian’s relationship with Langley - had gone back a lot further . . .


“I tell you what, Ms. Prescott,” Langley added, seeming to think it was time to close the deal, “one of my older boys has recently moved on to a new team so I actually have an opening on Wednesday nights. If you’re interested in pursuing private training sessions for your son, I might be willing to start working with him right away. That way I can get him ready for the summer camp and he’ll feel right at home when it’s time for the real thing.” 


Daphne pretended to be interested in that idea but then turned to me and said, “oh, wait. Wednesdays won’t work. I’ve got that class I’m taking this semester on Wednesday evenings and you work till nine.”


Instead of accepting the conflict and moving on with the conversation, Langley seemed to get even more excited about the idea. “That shouldn’t be a problem. I’d be happy to step in and help you out. I could pick the boy up from school for you - I’ve done that in the past with some of my other special students - and then, after we finish our training sessions, he could just hang out with me until you’re able to pick him up. It wouldn’t be that big a deal. I do whatever it takes for my special boys . . .”


I faked an interested look, as if I’d be willing to go along with that idea, while inside there was a voice inside my head screaming ‘Danger! Danger!’. “That might work,” I said aloud, ignoring my internal panic. “Let us check our schedules and we’ll get back to you, Coach Langley.” 


The Coach stretched out his hand to shake mine, a self-satisfied look on his mug, and then made a point of giving me a business card with his personal cell phone number on it. “I’m looking forward to your call. I can’t wait to start working with your Zach. From everything you say, I’m sure he’s going to end up being one of my favorites.” 


Those words made me cringe and, while I felt like puking, I managed what I hoped was a banal smile as I pulled Daph back towards where the car was parked as fast as possible. 


“Okay, so that was hella creepy, right?” Daphne commented as soon as we were back in her car and couldn't be overheard. “Both Brenda and the camp website were pretty explicit about child safety and all; it says on there that there’s two-deep adult supervision at all times. But this guy’s out here saying it’s no problem for him to pick up a kid from school and keep him all night without anyone else around? What’s up with that?”


“And did you see the way he was touching that one boy when we arrived? I think he’s the boy in the flyer. The one who wasn’t smiling . . .” I pulled the picture up on my phone so both Daph and I could confirm that Taniel was, indeed, the one unhappy camper.


“Yeah. Something’s really not right here, Justin. I’m getting a bad feeling about this.”


“Same,” I replied with a worried frown. “You heard the comment he made about the boy who went on to a full-ride college scholarship? Sound like someone we know?”


“Brian was a scholarship kid, right?” Daphne asked, although, from the look she gave me I could tell she already knew the answer.


I only nodded. 


“Fuck . . . Well, if what I’m starting to suspect is true, that would definitely explain Brian going all Zombie Freak Out on you when he saw the guy’s picture.”


“Yeah. I’m starting to suspect the same thing,” I confirmed with only a moment’s hesitation. “But we still need to prove it. We can’t go around making allegations like this without confirmation. Only, how can we be sure? How do we confirm our suspicions about something that happened, like, more than twenty years ago? I don’t want to just go to Brian and shove this in his face without all the facts. He’s just barely hanging on as it is. Who else would know though?”


“Well, there’s one person . . .” Daphne spoke up, looking nervously in my direction. “His mother would know, right?”


“Daph, I’ve told you about Brian’s mother. She’s not going to help us. She hates me. She’d never tell me anything. She wouldn’t even answer the door if I went over there to talk to her.”


“But she doesn’t hate me . . .”


 

 

End Notes:

6/13/21 - How much do you hate Coach Langley already? Well, hang on to your hats because it gets worse... More torture to come, I’m afraid. TAG

Chapter 6 - Conversation by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

Justin and Daphne continue their investigations. Not sure they'll like what they turn up though... Enjoy! TAG



Chapter 6 - Conversation.



“Are you sure this will work?” I asked while trying to figure out how to use the Google Voice app that Daph had set up on my phone that morning.


“Yes. I’m sure.” She grabbed the device out of my hands and tapped at the screen with efficient motions for a few seconds until I heard her phone begin to ring. “See, you just call my phone using the new Google Voice number I set up for you and then hit this button to record.” She showed the button she tapped to start the recording. “I’ll have my phone on speaker so you can pick up everything Joan says on my end. That way we’ll have a record of the entire conversation.”


“I think you like all this spy gadgetry way too much, Daph.”


“Come on. You’ve got to admit it’s pretty cool what technology can do these days, right?” she pressed.


I just shrugged. Daphne knew I wasn’t exactly a technophile like she was. I had more of a love/hate with all the gadgets of modern day life. Now, if we were talking about graphic art applications, then I was all in favor of tech. But being tethered to a digital tracking device like a cell phone, so that I could be interrupted at all times of the day or night even when I was in the middle of a painting or some other burst of creativity that I didn’t want disrupted, that was a whole ‘nother thing. Daph, on the other hand, loved her phone more than pretty much anything else in the world and was always regaling me with the latest, greatest app that could do wondrous things. 


“Just don’t say anything,” she reminded me for, like, the fiftieth time, “or Joan will twig that we’re onto her.”


“I promise to keep the call muted on my end.”


“Okay. Here I go. Wish me luck.” Daphne giggled.


“Luck, Daph.” 


I watched my very own Nancy Drew Wannabe take out the steno notebook she’d brought along as part of her disguise and then march down the sidewalk towards the modest, slightly-dilapidated, clapboard-sided house. 


From where I was sitting in Daphne’s car, parked a little ways down the street so that Mrs. Kinney couldn’t see me, the house didn’t look like much. It was just one of those non-descript tract homes built in the sixties and seventies for the burgeoning middle class. It was small by modern standards but probably adequate for a family of four. There was a two car garage on the south side of the front door. To the north it looked like there were at least two bedrooms facing the front of the property; the master bedroom probably faced the back. I couldn’t discern the rest of the house’s layout from the outside. Since it was built on a bit of a slope, the basement probably had some light coming in from the back, which was better than most houses of that era could boast. 


Unfortunately, the current occupant hadn’t kept the property up very well, so it was kind of the eyesore of the block. The pea-green paint had faded and the lighter cream trim paint was peeling in places. There was no landscaping to speak of, just a large plot of grass that had several swathes of dead brown across it. Apparently the owners had given up on gardening and both the circular bed in the middle of the lawn as well as the long bed under the front windows had been filled in with rocks. The few remaining evergreen shrubs that were still in place were overgrown; the one closest to the door almost blocking entry. 

 


Bottomline, the place didn’t give off very hospital vibes. But what did I know? I was a rich kid from the suburbs and more than a little biased. For all I knew, the interior might be a regular Taj Mahal. Maybe.


I didn’t have long to contemplate this possibility, though, because right then I heard the doorbell ringing via my phone connection to Daphne and I had to pay attention to what was going on.


“May I help you?” a papery-thin voice came across the Google Voice line. 


From where I was sitting in the passenger seat of Daphne’s car, I could just barely see my friend standing on the front porch of the house next to the previously-mentioned overgrown bush. I couldn’t see the person who’d answered the door at all. But, even though I had only met the woman twice, both times for very brief intervals, I could still clearly see her face in my memory, along with that prudish, disapproving frown she always wore. The sound of her voice immediately brought to mind the woman’s tall, spare stature, the mushroom grey hair, and the pinched face. And, judging by the way that initial greeting had sounded - slightly slurred - I imagined that the woman who’d come to the door to meet Daphne was also probably sporting bloodshot red eyes.


“Mrs. Kinney? I’m Dee Dee Prescott,” Daphne announced her alter-ego. “We spoke on the phone.”


“Ah, yes, I remember now,” Mrs. Kinney replied, although she sounded more than a little confused still. 


“You did say I could come over this morning so I could interview you for the piece I’m doing for the Pittsburgh Business Journal,” Daph reminded her. 


“Of course. Please come in.”


I watched as my friend disappeared around the bush, presumably entering into the house behind it’s owner. I sent Daphne a pulse of good luck vibes. I was glad it was her entering the lioness’ den and not me.  


“Can I offer you something? Water or . . . I could put on a pot of coffee I suppose,” Mrs. Kinney offered, somehow making it sound like the provision of beverages would be an incredibly taxing affair.


“No, thank you,” Daphne demurred like the polite young woman she was raised to be. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to get right to the point of my visit. I’m on a bit of a deadline, you understand?”


“Well, I’ve never been interviewed by a reporter before,” Joan Kinney voiced her reluctance. “I’m sure I don’t know why anyone would want to talk to me.”


“I promise not to pry too much, Mrs. Kinney,” my faux-reporter promised. “As I told you when we spoke yesterday, I’m working on an article for the local business journal about the personal lives of some of the city’s most prominent new business moguls. A ‘What Makes Them Tick’ piece, if you will. And, as the mother of Brian Kinney, owner of Kinnetik Advertising and one of brightest new stars in the local business world, I’m hoping you can give me some important insight here.” I could hear the flattery dripping from Daphne’s lips and hoped that Joan wasn’t as good at detecting the falseness of that tone as I was. “I mean, as Brian’s mother, you, more than probably anyone else out there, are responsible for your son’s current success. If you hadn’t instilled in him the integrity, decisiveness, and drive that Brian Kinney has made a cornerstone of his business leadership agenda, he wouldn’t be one of the city’s movers and shakers today. Am I right?”


“Well . . . Quite.” Joan sounded a bit flustered at first but then covered it up nicely as she continued. “I always did strive to instill in him a sense of duty and good, solid Christian values. Not that it was easy, mind you. Brian was always a difficult child, you know. He was forever getting into trouble when he was younger. There was a time when I almost despaired of the boy ending up as some kind of juvenile delinquent. But, thankfully, after my husband, Jack, got transferred, and we moved here from Philadelphia, Brian turned himself around and found his way. I credit the Monsignor at St. Paul’s; he was such a comfort to me when we first relocated here. He took both my children under his wing right away. After that, Brian started to do much better in school and his commitment to the Catholic faith was renewed. Praise the Lord.”


I could tell by the way Daphne hesitated at that point - seeing as she was usually the most glib person you'd ever meet in your life - that she had no idea how to respond to such an epic level of bullshit. Nobody who’d ever met Brian Kinney would describe him as the least bit religious. It was virtually unthinkable to imagine him ‘renewing his commitment to the Catholic faith’. To listen to him now, describing himself as a ‘recovering Catholic’ and ranting about the horrors and hypocrisies of the church, you’d never believe Brian had ever been counted as a ‘believer’. Joan was either deluding herself or lying. I suspected she was going to have to do a shit ton of penance later that afternoon once she’d confessed to her priest about all the ‘bearing false witness’ that had gone on in this interview. 

 

“I see,” Daphne finally found her voice and continued on with the ‘interview’ as best she could. “So, when was it that you moved here to Pittsburgh and this . . . Transformation . . . Happened?”


“I believe it was the summer just before Brian started High School,” Joan answered after a thoughtful pause. “Yes, because I remember that my daughter, Claire - who’s two and half years older than her brother - was quite upset that she was having to transfer just as she was starting her senior year. Poor dear. She was just devastated to leave her old school. Claire had been quite popular back in Philadelphia and it was so hard for her to start all over when we moved here.”


I was glad that I’d muted my end of the phone call then because I couldn’t help the chuckle that comment evoked. Brian had told me all about how ‘popular’ Claire had been in high school . . . At least with the male population of the school. Her younger brother claimed he was surprised she hadn’t gotten pregnant before her senior year. It was probably for the best, though, since she’d managed to graduate before the pregnancy that resulted in her first marriage had become obvious. From what I understood, Claire’s graduation in June was followed just two weeks later by a quickie wedding to the father of the child that was born only four months later. Such good Catholic values, right?


While I was laughing quietly to myself, Joan had carried on, rhapsodizing about her daughter and Claire’s two boys and how wonderful they all were . . . Until Daphne finally managed to get a word in edgewise and refocus the woman on the real subject of the purported interview. “So, you say that Brian did much better in school once you moved here to Pittsburgh? Is that right? And he stopped getting in trouble?”


“Yes. That’s right. After that the boy really started to apply himself, although even then he was trying. That boy is just so stubborn . . .”


“Well, stubborn can be good, right? I mean, that’s something that you want to see in a business leader. You want someone with persistence and drive,” Daphne hypothesized.


“I suppose,” Joan conceded. “But it wasn’t easy for me, as his mother. And, as the good book says, moderation in all things. After all, too much stubbornness borders on the sin of pride.”


Daphne, apparently, didn’t want to waste time debating theology with Mrs. Kinney, and so she let that statement pass without comment. “Okay . . . Besides what we’ll call instilling Christian values, was there anything else you did while your son was younger that you think helped him succeed later in life?” Daph paused but Mrs. Kinney didn’t speak up to fill in the blank she’d left so the faux-reporter offered a few helpful prompts. “For instance, maybe you helped tutor him in his school work or made a habit of taking him to museums to foster his sense of curiosity or . . . Or maybe you encouraged him to play sports?”


“Oh, yes. My husband, Jack, was a huge sports fan all his life,” Joan piped up immediately when offered the right bait. “Jack, himself, played a bit of football when he was younger and he always said there was nothing that built character like being part of a team.”


“So, you encouraged Brian to play sports then?”


“Well, yes. Although, in the end, the boy didn’t really have the aptitude for football or any REAL sports, I’m afraid. He just didn’t have the build for it, you know. Brian takes after my side of the family; my father had the same tall, thin build. Not like Jack’s family. All of the boys on that side of the family are built like pitbulls. But, even though Jack kept trying to push Brian that way, the boy couldn’t hack it. Eventually Jack relented and agreed to let Brian play soccer instead. It was a much better fit, I think. Brian did quite well at that game. He played all the way through school from peewee through college. He even got a scholarship to Penn State, you know.”


“Yeah. I had heard something about that,” Daphne replied, clearly trying to keep any hint of excitement out of her voice now that she’d finally maneuvered Joan in the direction we’d wanted her to go. “They say athletics are a great way for children to learn teamwork and problem-solving skills. So, tell me more about that. Was your son good at soccer? Do you remember what teams he played on or any awards he won? Who were his coaches; were there any that stood out as mentors to Brian as he grew up?”


“That was so long ago,” Joan quibbled. “I’m not sure I remember that much about it. I, myself, wasn’t very involved with that sort of thing. I’m far too busy with my church duties, you know . . . Let’s see . . . All I recall is that Brian played all through school; he was constantly running off somewhere for a soccer game or practice or whatever. Every time I asked him to do anything - his chores or whatever - the boy would tell me that he couldn’t because he had to go to some sports thing or another. He was even on this special team that travelled around a lot on the weekends. I don’t remember what they called it, but I do seem to recall that they wanted Brian to play on their team so badly that they arranged to have all the costs for the uniforms and equipment and travel covered and we didn’t have to pay out a penny. I remember that because Jack and I had a bit of an argument about it at the time. Jack was against accepting any kind of charity but I didn’t see any harm in it and it kept the boy out of trouble. Well, mostly. Luckily that coach talked Jack into it and after that it was a done deal . . .”


“What coach?” Daph pounced on the factoid we wanted more than anything.


“Oh, I’m sure I don’t remember the man’s name. It was so long ago. All I remember was that the man was ridiculously young and rather good looking. And so polite too,” Joan mused, then added. “He always seemed quite fond of Brian and was such a help. He took it on himself to drive that boy everywhere, always picking him up to take him to games and offering to give him special training . . .”

 

“You’re sure you don’t remember this coach’s name?” Daphne pressed. “Because if this guy really was as big a part of Brian’s life as you say, I’d love to interview him too. I’m sure he could give me even more background on what drives Brian to excel.”


There was a longish pause and, in my mind, I could see Joan struggling through the fog of five decades of alcohol consumption to find the missing name. “No. I’m sorry. For the life of me I just can’t call it to mind.”


“That’s too bad.” Daphne sounded as disappointed as I felt. 


And then, out of the blue, Joan Kinney came through like a trooper. “I don’t know if it will help, but I think I still have a box of memorabilia from Brian’s soccer days up in his old room. There’s a ton of photos and award certificates and other junk in there. I’m sure there might be something in there with that coach’s name on it. You’re welcome to go through it if you like.”


“Really? That sounds perfect!” I could hear the enthusiasm in Daphne’s voice mirroring my own. At last we’d have some proof to back up our suspicions.  


Joan directed the erstwhile reporter to follow her and I listened in as the pair walked down the hallway toward what the old woman explained was her son’s bedroom. “We mostly only use it for storage these days, although my grandsons sleep there when they come over on occasion.” I heard a door creak open and then some vague rustling noises. “Now, let me think. Where did I put that box . . . Aha! Here it is.” There was a noise of something heavy being dropped onto a surface. “Yes. This is the one.”


“Wow! These are great, Mrs. Kinney. Look at all these pictures of Brian. He looks like a real soccer star here.”


“Quite,” Joan replied in a disinterested tone. “That coach of his was a bit of a photography enthusiast, you see, which explains all these. That young man was always giving me pictures he’d taken of Brian and the other boys. I don’t have any idea why you’d want to take so many pictures of boys just running around on a field, but there you have it . . .” I could hear more muted noises that sounded like papers being shuffled around. “I always meant to do something with all these - put them in an album or something - but I just never got around to it.”


“There’s certainly a lot here. You’d need more than one album to hold all this.” Daph’s voice sounded muffled, like maybe she was already digging into the box of memorabilia and the cardboard was muffling her words. “Do you know if there are any pictures of that coach? What about this one? Is this the guy?”


“Oh! Yes. That’s him,” Joan sounded pleased that she could identify the man. “I still can’t remember his name, I’m afraid, but that is definitely the right guy.”


“Great! I’m sure I can track him down with this if I put my mad reporter skills to work,” Daphne laughed deprecatingly. “Do you mind if I borrow a few of these photos? I might even use one or two in the piece I’m writing.”


“Go right ahead; I have no use for them anymore. In fact, take the whole box if you like,” Joan offered magnanimously. 


“You’re sure?” Daphne sounded uncertain. “You don’t think your son would like to keep this stuff for himself?”


“Pish,” Joan insisted, totally dismissive of Brian’s desires, her voice sounding even more slurred than before. “Brian, that ungrateful wretch, hasn’t shown any interest in remembering his past - or his mother - in a long, long time. If he had wanted any of this, he could have come by and got it years ago. Besides, it’s about time I cleared out some of the clutter in here. You just go right ahead and take it all, young lady. If you don’t, it’ll probably just end up in the landfill one of these days. Anything you don’t want can just be thrown out and good riddance to it.”


Daphne didn’t bother to wait for Joan to change her mind. After thanking the woman for speaking with her, she turned down Joan’s offer to stay for a cup of tea, gathered up her box of goodies, and made polite but quick goodbyes. Two minutes later I saw my friend reemerging from behind the camouflaging bushes. 


“Thanks again, Mrs. Kinney. You’ve been a huge help,” Daph yelled over her shoulder to where the front door should have been without slowing down even a tiny bit. 


While Daph was practically jogging down the sidewalk, hindered only slightly by the unwieldy bankers’ box she was carrying, I hit the button on my phone to stop recording the call. Then I pushed open the driver’s side door for her. She shoved the box at me as soon as got close enough and then climbed into the car with a look of triumph on her pixieish face. I already had the top off before she’d pulled the door closed behind her.


“We got him!” Daphne crowed, reaching into the box to pick up the photo that was resting on the top of the pile of junk. “Look! It’s him!”


I took the photograph out of her hand and nodded; it was an image that was eerily similar to the one that had started this whole debacle. 


Printed on the glossy photograph paper, only slightly yellowed with age, was a team photo depicting a group of about twenty elementary school-aged boys, all dressed in soccer shorts, with a significantly younger, but still recognizable, Wade Langley standing in the back row. Unsurprisingly, Langley’s arm was draped around the shoulders of a skinny boy with shaggy brunet hair, who was standing next to him. A boy who was looking off to the side, rather than at the photographer, and who was the only child in the photo that wasn’t smiling.


Even thirty years later, it was impossible not to recognize the features of that sad little boy. 

 

“Brian. Oh, shit, Brian . . .”

End Notes:

6/14/21 - I love weekends when I get lots and lots of writing done! This story is about to really heat up, so be prepared... TAG

PS. Not a lot of reviews on this story yet. I'm wondering if folks aren't enjoying it or maybe they're just scared off by the warnings? Please let me know which of the two is the case. Thanks. 

Chapter 7 - Celluloid Nightmares by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

I stayed up waaaayyyyy too late last night finishing this chapter for you. It's a doozy, though... TAG



Chapter 7 - Celluloid Nightmares.



“Seriously, how do you get away with being that drunk at 10:30 in the morning? I mean, the second I stepped into the house I could smell the booze wafting off her. It’s like it was coming out of her fucking pores. And when she spoke, her breath alone was almost enough to get ME drunk too,” Daphne chuckled, still ranting about her visit with Joan Kinney even as we pulled up outside her apartment building. “The whole time we were talking, she was sipping something that clearly was NOT Earl Grey out of this dainty porcelain teacup, acting like I somehow wouldn’t catch on to the fact that she was getting sloshed. Hell, the entire room reeked of cheap cooking sherry. I hope she wasn’t that much of a souse back when Brian was a kid because, if so, she would have been a menace to her children. By the time I left, Joan looked like she was about to pass out; I’m not sure she didn’t as soon as I walked out the door . . .”


I hadn’t really been listening to Daphne’s rant. I was still trying desperately to grapple with the horrible conclusions I’d been led to by our confirmation that Coach Creepy had been in Brian’s life a lot further back than previously known. I was getting more freaked out by all these coincidences as we went. My gut told me that shit was seriously wrong here. But, at the same time, my head was telling me to slow down; we didn’t have any PROOF that anything bad had happened . . . At least not anything more than a possibly coerced blow job involving a minor and his adult teacher/coach, who had apparently known his victim since childhood, and had fostered a relationship which eventually caused one of the parties enough trauma that he’d suffered a near-total breakdown. 


Yeah, maybe I should be listening to my gut, not my head, this time.


Daph knocked on the window of the passenger door to get my attention. She was waiting for me on the sidewalk next to where she’d parked the car, the box full of Brian’s old soccer memorabilia in her arms, looking at me with big brown eyes full of concern. Meanwhile, I was toying with the fleeting fantasy of just refusing to leave the car. Ever. Because, maybe, if I hid in Daphne’s car for the rest of my life, instead of following her upstairs to begin going through that box of pictures, it would all somehow be okay. Things would miraculously work themselves out. I’d never have to confront my fears about what we might discover and I could pretend nothing was wrong. That way I could ignore the unpleasantness I knew in my gut we were about to be forced to acknowledge


Daphne, unfortunately, ruined my flight of escapism by pulling open the door and asking, “You coming?” 


Which left me no choice but to return to reality and face up to my fears. I reluctantly got out of the car and followed my friend up the stairs to her third floor apartment. Daphne plopped the box full of pictures down on her coffee table before detouring to her kitchen to grab us two beers - apparently not at all fazed by the hypocrisy of us starting to drink before noon after she just spent the entire car ride bitching about Joan’s day drinking. Whatever. Personally, I figured I was going to need a beer before this was all over so I wasn’t going to point out Daph’s moral shortcomings. When my alcohol-bearing friend joined me on her couch we tapped the necks of our beer bottles together in a sort of toast and then turned, as one, to contemplate the waiting mystery box. 


“We don’t know that it means anything,” Daph began, echoing my own thoughts almost exactly. “Just because Langley is a bit touchy-feely, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he’s doing anything wrong. He could just be a really affectionate and caring guy who likes working with kids.”


“And who also engaged in sexual acts with a fourteen year old boy while employed in a position of authority that gave him an unequal power advantage?” I countered.


“Okay. Yeah. That’s bad,” Daph conceded. 


“Really bad.”


“True. But, the way Brian tells it, he was the one who came on to Langley in that shower scene, right? Maybe the guy really was innocent and just succumbed to Brian’s overwhelming charm?” Daphne suggested with a hint of humor.


*Pffff* I shook my head at my friend’s feeble attempts to lighten the mood. “Like that would make a difference. No matter how charming a fourteen year old Brian Kinney might have been, it’s still statutory rape. And, it’s one thing if it happened just the one time, with some rando, hot substitute teacher, but when it was someone who had known Brian from the time he was just a kid? That’s just . . . Ew.”


“Yeah. Really, ew,” Daphne agreed with me, scrunching up her face into a mask of disgust. “Plus, from the way Michael talked about it, it sounds like whatever happened kept on happening the whole time he was teaching at their school. Otherwise, Brian would have snapped out of it sooner. Although, we don’t have any proof of that.” Daphne paused to take a swig of her own beer. “How’s Brian doing, anyway? Is he still being Zombie Guy?”


I tilted my head from side to side to indicate how iffy the whole Brian situation remained. “He’s better than he was those first couple of days after his NYC traffic debacle but . . . I don’t know, Daph. He just doesn’t seem like himself. He’s . . . Blank . . . That’s the only way I can describe it. He seems like he’s only going through the motions. He goes to work and he comes home and we sit on the couch and watch old movies but he’s not really there. It’s like, every time I try to talk to him about anything that’s not purely trivial, he turns into this big, blank, expressionless nothing. Which so totally isn’t like Brian, you know? He’s normally this uber-decisive, self-confident, control freak. But now he’s indecisive and wishy-washy and seems lost half the time. It’s not right. He’s not right.”


“Damn. That sounds . . . bad.”


“No shit,” I agreed and then downed the rest of my beer. “But sitting around here staring at that damned box isn’t going to fix anything so let’s see what’s in there and if it will give us the answers we need.”


“. . . Even if they’re answers we don’t want?”


I didn’t bother to reply to the implication in Daph’s question. Instead, I pulled the box closer to me and flipped the lid off. A brief look inside showed that it was going to take a while to go through all this crap so I sighed and grabbed the first rubber-banded stack of photo processing envelopes I saw. Daphne followed suit, pulling out a handful of old team participation medals whose ribbons had all become tangled together. 



It took us quite a while to go through all the crap in there. The box was almost full when we started. At some point in time, one corner of the box had been exposed to water and, as a result, some of the papers and photos were slightly damaged. The really moldy stuff we just tossed aside without bothering to look through it. Most of the stuff, though, was salvageable. Still, it was a time consuming and laborious process to go through all the pictures and awards and knicknacks, looking for who knew what.


It was clear from the beginning that Coach Langley really had liked taking pictures. Specifically, pictures of Brian. There were SO many pictures of my partner - in every conceivable pose - running down the field, dribbling soccer balls, kicking soccer balls, posing with soccer balls. It was fun, at first, going through the pictures and exclaiming over how adorable Brian had been as a youth. But, as we went on, even I became inured to the overwhelming levels of cute Brian-ness. What was clear from the very beginning, though, was that Coach Langley had played a much more significant role in my partner’s life than just being a substitute gym teacher at his high school for a month; there were almost as many pictures of the two of them together as there were of Brian alone.


Going through that box was kind of like going on an archeological dig; the items near the top were more recent and, as we dug down deeper, we began to unearth older and older pieces of the puzzle. It was like watching Brian age in reverse. He got younger and younger in the pictures as we went. Finally, near the bottom of the box, I found a sleeve of really old photographic prints that showed a very, very young version of Brian. From the yellowish tinge to the photos, as well as the retro look of the clothing the people were wearing, it was clear we’d arrived at a layer dating back to the late seventies or early eighties. 


“Hahaha! Look at this one,” Daphne held up a polaroid she’d unearthed showing Langley wearing suede brown slacks and a matching argyle-print sweater vest, his face decorated by mutton chop sideburns and a walrus mustache. 


“Hey, he was probably considered quite the stud in those duds back in the day.” I laughed along with her at the ridiculous outfit. 


“Macho, macho, man . . . I’ve gotta be a macho man . . .” Daph sang, giving her best Village People imitation.


I was about to join in and sing along when I pulled out one of the last of the photo envelopes and opened it to find the youngest yet incarnation of Brian Kinney. “Oh, shit he looks just like Gus in this one,” I commented, showing the snapshot to my co-conspirator.


“Wow. He’s really, really, REALLY young in that one. He couldn’t be more than seven or eight,” Daphne surmised.


“And totally adora . . .” 


Daphne looked up with concern when I failed to finish my sentence. “Justin? Did you find something?” 


“Holy shit!” I whispered, as I rifled through the photo prints I’d just discovered in that one envelope. 


The top couple of pictures had been just like all the rest; Brian and a bunch of other kids dressed in soccer shorts running around on a field. Then there were a couple showing Brian and Langley together. There was even one of him with the Coach in a pose similar to the one in the camp flyer, Langley’s arm wrapped affectionately around the young Brian and a big grin on the man’s face. Brian was frowning in that one and looked like he was trying to lean as far away from Langley as the man’s grip would allow. I grumbled and shuffled that one to the back of the pile only to discover that the next photo was also of Brian and the coach, this time though, for a change, Brian was not wearing soccer clothes. This one had been taken indoors, in a small room that had a soccer field mural painted in garish primary colors on the back wall. Brian looked even more unhappy in that photo than he had in the last. 


“What’s that?” Daphne asked, leaning over my shoulder to see whatever it was that had so startled me. 


“No idea,” I replied. “But it’s pretty clear that they’re not still on the soccer field.”


“I wonder if this is one of those times that Langley picked Brian up and drove him all over the place, ‘taking him to games and offering to give him special training’, like Joan mentioned?” Daph suggested, the unspoken implications of her words making my stomach lurch again.


“I fucking hope not,” I murmured as I laid that picture aside and fingered through a few more showing the same odd background, all of which depicted an unhappy Brian with a grinning Langley draped all over him. “But these don’t look good.”


“What a fucking creep,” Daphne commented, voicing my exact sentiments. “I’m not sure this is enough to prove he molested anyone, but it’s still pretty gross, don’t you think?”


I shrugged without comment. These pictures might not be enough evidence to convict someone in a court of law, but they were more than enough to confirm my own suspicions about why Brian had freaked out so badly when he’d seen that flyer with Coach Langley’s picture on it. If Brian had survived the kind of abuse I suspected Langley was capable of, he had every right to be upset. What a creep was right.


That was when my world totally fell apart and I realized that even the suspicions I’d already had were far too naive.


As I came to the last few pictures in that sleeve of photos I gasped and almost dropped the stack of prints I’d been holding. The last four pics in that packet showed something much different than the snaps of boys playing soccer out on a big grassy field. These photos were taken indoors - in that same room with the strangely gaudy mural - but from a new perspective that showed a wider view of the room. In these pictures you could see that there was a bed in the far corner of the room made up with a soccer ball-themed bedspread and pillows. 



Standing in front of the bed, his pale skin standing out in stark contrast to the dark purple and black of the bedspread’s background, was a very scared looking Brian Kiney, wearing nothing but baggy, white, y-front briefs. 


In that first picture, the boy was standing face-on to the camera, looking like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck. The next two pictures showed the same boy, now arranged in what was obviously supposed to be ‘provocative’ poses; one with him turned three-quarters of the way away from the camera, looking back over his shoulder, and the other from the back with the boy’s thumbs hooked into the waistband of the briefs, as if in the process of stripping the cloth away. The final image showed the same boy sitting on the edge of the bed, looking scared and small and so very alone, with what appeared to be a tear glistening on his left cheek.  


I couldn’t stop staring at that one. I think I was in shock. I’d suspected that bad things must have happened to have caused Brian to react the way he had, and Langley’s behavior towards the boy we’d seen at the park the day before had reinforced my concerns, but to see the proof right there in front of me like that was too much. It was just too fucking much. It made me sick to look at that poor boy - that tear on his fucking cheek - and yet I couldn’t look away because it was Brian. My Brian. The man I loved more than anything in the world. And here I was, a witness to something that was horrible in and of itself, but to know that it had happened to someone I cared about was so much more devastating than I could ever describe.  



I barely even registered that Daphne, who’d snatched the previous pictures out of my hands one by one as I’d gone through them, was angrily expostulating about the many violent things she was going to do to Langley, most of which included uncomfortable acts involving the man’s genitals. When I wouldn’t release the last of the pictures for her to examine more closely, she instead picked up the envelope which had previously held this set of pictures. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her pull open the paper flap in the back where the negatives from that film roll were kept in a separate pocket. Taking the stack of celluloid strips out, she held each one up to the light as she scanned through the tiny reverse images, obviously trying to locate the one I was currently freaking out over. 


“Motherfucking piece of shit fucking shithead cuntfucking damned douchbag fucking monster . . .” Daphne’s string of increasingly vitriolic curse words finally penetrated my shocked paralysis and caused me to focus on her.


“What?” I breathed, not really sure that I wanted to know what had obviously thrown her off the deep end.


“This! This piece of shit cuntfucker! This nutfucking monster . . .” Her curses died off as she looked at yet another of the strips of negatives. Whatever she saw there was apparently too much. She screamed out one last “FUUUUUUCK!” at the top of her lungs before vaulting to her feet and kicking over the coffee table, causing the bankers’ box and stacks of photos and piles of memorabilia and everything else to scatter all over the floor. 


I didn’t have to say a word. I just held out my hand, pleading mutely, until she handed me the collection of negative strips that she’d been scrutinizing. I didn’t want to look at those images, but I knew I had to. I needed to know what I was up against. I had to know the truth even if it felt like whatever was waiting for me on those brittle pieces of decades-old celluloid was going to upend everything I’d ever thought I knew. Even though I was already certain it was going to hurt. Because, whatever was on those negatives had already hurt Brian, and I couldn’t do anything to help him until I knew the truth. 


Unfortunately, I was right. It did hurt. A lot. 


There were more negatives than there’d been prints in the same envelope. Either some of the pictures on that roll hadn’t been printed out or someone had removed several of the more incriminating prints before handing the envelope over to Joan; I suspected that the later circumstance was more likely. The regular soccer team pictures were there on the first few negative strips as well as the four pictures showing Brian in the room with the mural. But there were many more. More pictures taken in that room. More pictures showing a young Brian on that bed with the garish soccer-themed bedspread. More pictures showing things a lot worse than even the pictures of a scared Brian standing in front of the camera in his briefs. 


While it was difficult to clearly make out everything that the tiny reverse images would show if they were developed, I could see enough to know they were the kind of pictures that would give me nightmares. 


One showed the same small boy lying on the bed, stretched out and posed in a way that might have been considered ‘sexy’ if the image had been of an adult. This picture, however, just looked wrong. This boy was lying on his right side, with his left knee crooked up, exposing his crotch, his body propped up and supported by one elbow, and his other arm bent back behind his head. The face in the picture was frowning and the child’s eyes looked haunted. Another, still worse, depicted the same boy, again stretched out on the bed, but it seemed like the briefs were now gone and only a fold of the purple-black bedspread remained, draped over the boy’s hip, hiding the child’s nakedness. In that picture, partially cut off by the edge of the frame, you could also see the naked torso of an adult man. The man’s hand was lying proprietarily on the boy’s thigh. You couldn’t see the man’s face but you could see the boy, whose eyes were closed and his mouth puckered, as if he was trying to hold back sobs. I couldn’t look at any more. 


I dropped the pile of negatives and they fluttered like fall leaves down to the carpet by my feet. 


I’m not sure how long I sat there, staring out the window of Daphne’s apartment, too overcome to think. I eventually roused when I noticed Daphne collecting the telltale negatives from the floor and neatly stuffing them back into the pocket of the photo processing envelope where she’d found them. Blinking, I realized that, while I’d been lost in lalaland, she’d righted the coffee table, picked up all the mess, and restored order. All of the soccer memorabilia had been returned to the bankers’ box. All except for that one daming envelope containing the critical evidence. That one was waiting on the coffee table in front of me, as if reserved until I had proclaimed judgement over it. 


“What the fuck am I supposed to do with . . . With . . . With,” I stuttered, flinging a hand at the incontrovertible evidence of something I never wanted to know about.


“We have to turn this over to the police, Justin,” Daphne stated with conviction. When I made a pained noise of protest - something halfway between a mewl and a groan of pain - she crossed her arms unrelentingly. “I’m sorry, Jus, but we HAVE to. Even just having shit like this in your possession is, like, a major felony. We can’t keep it. And we can’t just destroy it either. It’s evidence of a crime . . .”


“I know but . . . But it’s Brian. I can’t just . . . It feels like an invasion of his privacy to have even looked through it. How can I just turn something so . . . So revealing . . . Over to strangers . . .”


“I understand what you’re saying, Justin, but look at it this way; I know it’s probably way too late for the cops to do anything about what happened to Brian,” she pointed to the cursed packet of photos and I saw the rage in her eyes, “but it’s not too late to stop Langley from doing the same thing to that other little boy we saw him with yesterday.”


“Shit,” I moaned, thinking of that poor, quiet, sad little boy who bore a striking resemblance to Gus. And to Brian when he’d been younger. The fucking monster clearly had a ‘type’. “Shit!”


“Exactly,” Daphne continued, pressing her point. “You can’t really tell from those negatives, especially the way the framing cut off the face of the man, but I think it’s safe to assume that, even if it wasn’t Langley, he at least had something to do with what was going on in those photos since he took the rest of the soccer pictures on the same roll. And, judging by the way the shitstain was pawing at that other kid - what was his name? Taniel, I think - it’s likely that the same thing that happened to Brian is going to happen to that boy. Assuming it hasn’t already.” She paused and waited until I lifted my head so she could look me straight in the eye. “We have to speak up and tell someone, Justin. We can’t let him get away with it. We can’t let him hurt any other boys.”


“You’re right. I know you’re right. It’s just . . .” I had to force the words through my throat and out past suddenly parched lips. The sentences I was making tasted like betrayal and rage and left a bitter aftertaste. “This is going to destroy Brian.”


“Or save him,” Daphne countered. “He’s had to live with this hidden in his past for way too long, Justin. Maybe it’s time for it to come to light? He obviously can’t go on like he has been, unless you like living with Blank Zombie Brian?”


I slumped back into the depths of Daphne’s couch and ran my fingers through my hair, catching hold of the ends and tugging at it as if pulling my scalp off would somehow let the ugly thoughts inside my skull escape. “I don’t think it’s going to be that simple,” I replied, even as I resigned myself to the inevitable. “I don’t know. Maybe . . . Maybe I could approach Carl and see if he can give us some idea what we need to do?”


“That’s a start,” Daphne readily agreed. “Hopefully, as a family friend, he can at least try to protect Brian’s privacy. As much as possible, anyway.”


“Yeah, right . . . But, the real question is, how do I explain what we found to Brian?”



 

 

End Notes:

6/15/21 - I tried to keep all the squicky stuff vague and non-graphic, but I’m afraid even this might be too much for some folks. I’m sorry. Please bear with me. I’ve never yet failed to get my readers to the HEA. Eventually. And now, in case you need a laugh after all that negativity, why not take a stroll down memory lane with the Village People: Macho Man. TAG

Chapter 8 - Mandatory Reporting by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

Justin confesses to Brian about his investigations... Enjoy! TAG



Chapter 8 - Mandatory Reporting.



I had dithered and wasted time, getting the majority of my freak out over with before I left Daphne's, so I didn’t make it back to the Loft until almost five. Before I’d left, though, my adamant friend forced me to call Carl; she assumed, rightly, that, if left to myself, I’d have talked myself into delaying, and she wasn’t gonna let me wimp out. So I called Debbie to get Carl’s number at the police precinct where he worked - another fun conversation, by the way, where I only barely deflected Deb’s concerns by telling her I had a question about a legal thing ‘for a friend’ - and then left a message for Detective Horvath, asking him to call me back as soon as possible. Once satisfied that things were in motion, Daphne finally let me leave. 


Not that I was all that excited to go home. I knew I couldn’t stay silent about our private investigations any longer; if Brian inadvertently found out what I’d been up to, he’d be exceedingly pissed off. Plus, it was his life I was prying into, so he had a right to know what I’d found. The only reason I’d kept quiet about it up till then was to spare him any more trauma. However, there was no way I could avoid pulling him into the loop now. Shit was about to hit the fan big time. It was better that I clue him in, so he’d have as much time to prepare for the fallout as possible, rather than let him be blindsided. Still, I wasn’t exactly excited for the conversation I knew was coming.


I’d only been home for about twenty minutes - spending my time pacing the beautifully polished wood floors while I attempted to organize my thoughts and plan out how I’d approach my partner - when the man of the hour unexpectedly came through the door a full hour before I’d expected him. 


Brian was never home this early on a Wednesday night. Never. When I noticed how exhausted he looked, though, I wasn’t surprised that he’d called it a day already. He looked completely beat. My Blank Zombie Brian, as Daph had christened him, seemed to be getting worse. He barely even acknowledged my presence with a sub vocal grunt as he walked past, heading straight for the liquor cart and filling a highball glass almost to the brim with Beam. Not a good sign considering what I had planned.


I was just about to reach for my phone, intending to call off the confrontation with Carl, hoping to put off the big reveal about my meddling until Brian was feeling at least a little better, when the intercom buzzer went off. Brian, who’d taken his drink to the couch, didn’t even look up. I trotted over to the receiver next to the door and pushed the button to connect to whomever was at the building entrance downstairs. 


“It’s Horvath,” our visitor announced brusquely, leaving me no choice but to invite him up.


I spent the two minutes it took for Carl to come upstairs staring intently at the back of my partner’s head, chewing at my bottom lip, and wringing my hands, completely at a loss as to how I could possibly soften the blow I knew was coming. Nothing at all came to mind, though. I just hoped that me being here to catch him would be enough this time; I really didn’t want to spend another evening at the hospital with an emotionally traumatized and almost comatose Brian. I suppose it was a good thing I didn’t have too long to get worked up about the possible outcomes I saw spiraling around in my brain before I heard Carl’s knuckles rapping against the metal of the door. 


“Hey, Carl,” I greeted the gruff and rumpled detective when I opened the door to him.


“Taylor,” Carl returned my greeting with a curt nod. “The desk handed me your message right as I was walking out the door. I figured I might as well just come by and talk to you in person. Whatever you needed sounded important . . .”


“Uh . . . yeah.” I looked over my shoulder to where Zombie Brian was still sitting on the couch, apparently uninvolved, and sighed. “It is. I’m afraid. You, uh, better come in.”


Carl followed me in but declined my offer of a drink. Instead, he marched directly over to the living room and took up a seat in the chair across the coffee table from my favorite Zombie. I retrieved my bankers’ box full of evidence from where it was waiting on the floor near the bar and unenthusiastically joined the others in the living room area.


Dropping the box off on the coffee table in front of Carl Horvath’s chair, I started in on my explanation. “So, last Saturday, when Brian came to New York to see me, he had a bit of a run in with a motorcycle. Hence the broken wrist . . .”


I spent the next half hour detailing for Carl the events that had transpired over the past several days. I explained about Brian’s conversation with Lindsey and his odd reaction when he’d seen the copy of the flyer she’d texted him. I described what had happened at the hospital and Dr. Kajiwara’s advice to look more closely into my partner’s childhood. I added in the part about how Brian had seemed to relapse again, after he got out of the hospital, following the telephone call with Lindsey and Gus, which led to us coming back to Pittsburgh. I didn’t leave out the part about how Brian was still acting off or why I was still so worried about him and his seemingly inexplicable reaction. All the while, the subject of this tale simply sat there, never making eye contact with anyone, nursing his drink, and saying nothing at all. Carl’s glances, darting back and forth between a silent Brian and myself, indicated that he was just as surprised by the underwhelming response from such a normally dynamic person.


“So, when Brian still wasn’t acting like himself, even after we got back here, I decided to take Dr. Kajiwara’s advice to heart and do some digging on my own into Brian’s childhood.” Even that statement, which should have earned me an angry tongue lashing from my oh-so-private partner, elicited zero response, so I huffed impatiently and continued on. “I decided to go talk to Michael, who was the only person I knew that might have any insight into Brian’s past . . .”


Both Brian and Carl listened as I walked through my private investigations. Brian said practically nothing during the whole explanation, not even looking up from his glass of Beam when I used my phone to show Carl the Kick!It website, the homepage of which featured the same picture of Coach Langley as they’d used on the flyer. When I mentioned that Daphne and I had actually met with Langley, Carl showed more interest than Brian did. It wasn’t until I explained how it was that Daphne and I had ended up at Joan Kinney’s house, that Brian evinced any curiosity about the story I’d been spinning. 


“You talked with Saint Joan? I’ll bet that was fun,” Brian scoffed.


“Not me - Daphne. I suspect your mother wouldn’t have told me anything, but you know how charming Daphne can be.” Brian offered up a ghost of a smile and then went back to contemplating the almost empty glass of scotch in his hand. “Which is how we ended up with this,” I segued into the most dangerous portion of my confession by pointing to the large box that had been waiting on the table in front of me this whole time. “Your mother gave this box of childhood soccer memorabilia to Daphne, ostensibly so she could use it to locate your old coach. We took it back to her place and started going through it. I don’t know what we thought we’d find - mostly I was just enjoying looking at pictures of you when you were younger - but then we found this . . .”


I opened the box and pulled out the envelope with the disturbing photos, handing the packet to Carl. 


“Pictures of kids playing soccer?” Carl asked, looking at me skeptically as he shuffled through the deck of prints.


“Keep going,” I advised, moving closer to Brian on the couch. “Check out the last few photos in the stack,” I directed, sneaking a worried sideways glance at my partner, who was studiously avoiding looking at the box himself. “And the negatives too . . .”


“Holy shit,” the usually laconic Carl Horvath swore under his breath before looking up at Brian. 


Brian was still intently examining his now-empty highball glass. 


“Yeah.” I waited a few moments while Carl inspected the damning photos and the associated negatives. Then I turned to address Brian directly. “You understand why I felt like I had to tell Carl about this, right Brian?” I pleaded, getting no response at all from Blank Zombie Brian. “If you were the only one involved, I would have let you make the call on whether or not we reported this to anyone, but . . . If Langley did this to you, he’s probably doing it to others, and that boy we saw yesterday . . . I couldn’t NOT say something and leave that boy at risk. But, it’s still your call. I didn’t want to do anything more without telling you what I’d found and letting you decide how you wanted to handle this.” There was still no response from the icy statue of blankness sitting next to me and it was making me panicky. “Brian? Please, say something. You can scream at me or throw something or . . . Whatever. Just, please, don’t . . .” I didn’t know how to end that plea because I didn’t know what I wanted or expected Brian to do.


While Carl continued to examine the negatives by holding them up to the light, Brian finally roused from his lethargy. Leaning forward, he picked up one of the revealing photos from where it was waiting on the coffee table. I held my breath, waiting while Brian stared at the photo of himself, as a child, sitting on the edge of the bed in the mural-painted room. The whole time, his face remained completely expressionless. It was almost like he didn’t understand what he was looking at or recognize the boy in the photo.


“I . . .” He shook his head, brow furrowed with confusion. “I don’t . . . I don’t remember . . .”


“This is the teacher from the shower episode though?” Carl asked, holding up another picture from the box which more clearly showed Wade Langley.


“Yeah. I guess. He’s a lot younger in that picture but . . . It looks like the same guy.”


“That’s enough for me to at least open up a file on the matter,” Carl concluded, all businesslike and decisive, as he gathered up and put the pictures back in their specific envelopes. “I’ll have my team look into this Langley guy and see what we see.” He stood up and hefted the box of evidence to his hip. “You did the right thing, calling me in, Taylor. Guys like this don’t just do it one time and stop. Anyone who’d have sex with a fourteen year old boy can’t really be trusted around any children. And, judging by these photos you found, I suspect he’s capable of a lot worse. I’ll let you know what I find out.” 


Carl was out of there before either Brian or I could say anything further and I was left, sitting in silence, with the Zombie Edition of Brian Kinney. 



“Hey, Carl. Got some news for us?” I asked as soon as I saw who was on the other end of the call I’d just received. 


“Possibly . . .” The detective’s tone of voice gave away more than his words. I could tell that he was withholding something important. “I need both you and Kinney to come into the station. We’d like to get a formal statement about the photos you found and Brian’s history with this teacher/coach guy.”


“It sounds like you’ve found something more on Langley?”


“We have . . . But I don’t want to discuss it over the phone,” Carl replied circumspectly. 


“I get the impression, whatever it is, it’s bad.” There was only dead air on the other end of the line so I huffed a sigh and asked the next most important question, “when do you need us there?”


“Yesterday would be good,” Detective Horvath ordered before explaining a little more. “Things are in the works here but we won’t be able to move forward without your statements. Can you and Brian get over here this afternoon?” 


“Hang on, let me check Brian’s schedule.” I pulled up the Kinnetik calendar on my phone - Cynthia had long ago given me access so that she wouldn’t have to constantly field calls from me asking when Brian would be available - and confirmed that there wasn’t anything much on the agenda that Friday. “Yeah, I think that’s doable. I’ll call Brian and let him know what’s up. We should be able to get to your office in, say, an hour or so?”


“Great. I’ll leave word at the desk that I’m expecting you,” Horvath said and hung up without even a goodbye.


“Yeah, great . . .” I groaned and wondered how the fuck I was going to get Brian to give Carl a statement about something he couldn’t even talk to me about.


Okay, so, when I was complaining about Brian being a virtual zombie before Carl’s visit to the loft, I was obviously exaggerating a bit. But, after my big reveal, complete with incriminating photos, he really HAD gone into full zombie mode. I don’t think he’d said more than a dozen words to me in the past two days. He just walked around like he was in a daze. I was actually surprised that he hadn’t walked into traffic again, or had a car accident, or something worse, as out of it as he was. And whenever I’d tried to confront him about it - tried to get him to talk so he could at least release some of the pressure that I could see building up inside his closed off walls - he would simply walk away from me. It was some scary shit, and infuriating as hell, too.


Worse than the blankness Brian was exuding during the day, though, was the way this heaping huge pile of emotional shit was hammering away at him every night in his dreams. I had lost count of the number of times I’d been awakened over the past couple of nights as Brian struggled through absolutely horrific nightmares. I’d no sooner shut my eyes than I’d be startled awake as my bedmate thrashed around, struggling against unseen forces, whimpering in his sleep. If I tried to touch him, it got substantially more freaky; Brian would fling himself away from me and flail until he almost fell out of bed. I was completely at a loss as to how to handle these night terrors. Mostly, I just waited patiently, calling out his name in the calmest voice I could manage, until he woke up enough to realize where he was. Then we’d go back to sleep, only for it to happen all over again. Needless to say, we both woke up even less rested than when we’d gone to bed. I was a total wreck and I didn’t know how Brian was supposed to have functioned at work. I guess it was no wonder that he was sleepwalking through his days.


I didn’t think this new development, or having to go to the police station to talk about Langley some more, was going to help matters, but it didn’t look like we had a choice.


Reluctantly, I hit the icon on my phone that would speed dial Kinnetik and waited until the line was answered.


“Good afternoon. You’ve reached Kinnetik Advertising. How may I help you today?” answered a genteel voice.


“Ted? Is that you? Since when were you demoted to Receptionist?” I chuckled, happy for the tiny moment of reprieve and an excuse to laugh. 


“Since about 1:00 today,” he replied with a responding chuckle of his own. “Unfortunately, almost the entire office got taken out by food poisoning due to the Carnitas special at the staff’s favorite food truck. Luckily, Reliable Ted opted for his usual, the chicken enchiladas, so I was spared the Carnitas Carnage. But that means I’m the only one left to hold down the fort.”


“Shit . . .”


“Yep. And lots of it, I’m afraid,” Ted joked, earning himself more laughter.


“Damn. Please don’t tell me it got Brian too. I kinda need to borrow him this afternoon.”


“You’re in luck there,” Ted reassured. “Brian, that lucky overworked dog, hadn’t gotten around to eating the tacos that Cynthia brought him for lunch, so the Boss Man ended up being one of the few survivors.”


“That’s good, because I’m on my way to come get him,” I advised while gathering up my wallet and keys from the kitchen counter. “Can you keep an eye on him for me and not let him leave. Or eat any more tacos. We’ve got an appointment to get to and I can’t have him puking his guts out or stuck on the porcelain throne for at least the next three or four hours.”


“You got it,” Ted agreed. “His schedule is clear the rest of the day, so you should be fine.”


“Thanks, Ted. Oh, and, please don’t say anything to Brian until I get there. He doesn’t know I’m coming and . . . I’ll explain it to him on the way.”


“A surprise, eh? Hope it’s a good one. Brian seems like he could use a good surprising,” Ted launched another joke, his tone adding a lascivious implication to the words, but I was too nervous by that point to laugh again. “He hasn’t seemed like himself lately, you know.”


“I know . . .” I sighed and wished I was just on my way to see my partner for some afternoon surprising at his office, instead of the less pleasant surprise I'd be dragging him off to receive at the police station. “See you soon, Ted.”


When I arrived at the office, a mere twelve minutes later, Ted waved me back without interrupting the phone call he was in the middle of. I walked through the strangely empty office, which should have been bustling on a Friday afternoon, and let myself into Brian’s office without knocking, assuming Ted would have warned me if the boss had been otherwise engaged. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if I had knocked though because I found Brian just sitting at his desk, staring at his computer screen, lost to the world. He didn’t look up when I approached or even when I came around the side of the desk to try and get a glimpse of what he was so engrossed with on the computer. Somehow, though, I wasn’t surprised to see that the screen he’d been staring at was completely blank; the computer must have gone into sleep mode long since. Not a good sign. 


Space Cadet Brian only finally reacted when I snapped my fingers right in front of his face. 


“Wha . . .” Brian seemed to wake from whatever reverie he’d been trapped in. “Justin? What are you doing here? Is there a problem?”


I decided to go with the ‘yank the bandage off’ approach and just blurted out, “Carl called. He needs to talk to us down at his office.”


"Fuck,” Brian replied, unoriginally. “That sounds ominous.”


I shrugged because I didn’t disagree but didn’t want to add to his unease by agreeing either. “He said something about taking our statements. I think they’re maybe going to go after Langley after all.”


As soon as I said the words, I could see Brian shutting down again. Just the mere mention of his former coach’s name was now enough to send my man into full Zombie mode. I worried that whatever Carl was about to disclose to us was going to send him off the deep end. Or, was that the even deeper end? Who knew at this point? I could tell that Brian was hurting but, since he refused to talk to me about it, it was hard to gauge exactly how deep the hurt went. All I could do was be there for him and hope I was strong enough to get us both through whatever was coming.


Even so, there was no way I could have anticipated what happened next. 


 

End Notes:

6/16/21 - Just a quick segue chapter to get us to the real meat of the story... (Howdja like that cliffhanger? Bwahahaha!) We’re about to get to the real intense stuff here. Hang onto your hats! And thanks for reading. TAG 

Chapter 9 - Come on, Buddy by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

CW: Child Abuse. This one is bad so be prepared... TAG


Chapter 9 - Come on, Buddy.



I approached the desk at the police station with so much anxiety boiling up inside me it felt like it would soon be leaking out my ears. A quiescent but empty Brian was standing just a few feet behind me, staring at his shoes and ignoring everything that was going on around him. The drive over from Kinnetik had been completely silent. Again. Was it wrong of me to hope that, regardless of how hard I knew it would be on my partner, this meeting with Carl would at least serve to get SOME reaction out of Blank Brian? I didn’t think I could handle more of the status quo.


“Gentlemen. What can I do for you?” the handsome, young, uniformed officer who was on desk duty that afternoon purred in greeting. 


I could tell by the elevator eyes that the guy was checking Brian out over my shoulder. It never failed. Even half zonked out, my man could still turn all the heads in the room. Shit like that always made me kinda proud because who wouldn’t want to be the partner of someone like Brian, amirite? Anyway, since Brian was too distracted to do it himself I winked at the guy in his stead. That got me a smile and a personal escort back to Carl’s office as soon as I announced who we were there to see. 


We chatted amiably about the weather and when it might feel like time to get out my favorite summer shorts as Derrick - the uni - led us through a maze of desks towards a reasonably comfortable, although small, office near the back of the building. Brian followed on autopilot. Derrick didn’t seem to mind or notice. He made a point of gently brushing against my shoulder as he reached past me to knock on Carl’s door. I gave him one of my best Sunshine smiles, which was returned in kind. Dayum! If the purpose of our visit wasn’t so fucking dire, I might have blown Carl off altogether in favor of following Derrick and his adorable dimples. Too bad Carl, oblivious to the flirtation going on at his door, interrupted us right then. Alas, the detective hollered at me to come in and shut the door behind us, and that was the end of my chance to get better acquainted with the dimples. 


“Thanks for coming down, guys,” Carl welcomed us, standing up from behind his desk in order to point us towards two chairs. The third chair in the room was already occupied by a stranger with beautiful amber skin and a shaved head that was so shiny I thought I might be able to see myself in it’s reflection. “Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor, let me introduce you to Special Agent Terrence Bridges.”


I accepted the hand Agent Bridges held out while Brian walked right past and plopped down in the chair positioned furthest from the door. 


Carl pretended not to notice Brian’s behavior and carried on with his pre-rehearsed speech. “Terry is the head of the FBI’s local trafficking task force.” That got my attention right off the bat; ‘trafficking’ was a hella scary word. “He’s also the department’s liaison to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”


“Mr. Taylor. Mr. Kinney. Nice to meet you both,” the Agent responded politely before resuming his seat. 


I followed suit, taking the last empty chair, and turned my attention back to Carl, who was already jumping right into things. 


“So, after I left your place the other day, I started to look into this Langley guy. I would definitely call him sketchy, although somehow he’s managed to keep his nose mostly clean up till now. He doesn’t have much of a criminal record; just one old DUI and a hefty number of speeding citations. It does seem that your coach likes fast, expensive cars and doesn’t care how much his insurance costs.” 


I briefly glanced over at Brian whose blank expression didn’t confirm or deny this new info. 


“The only thing that really stood out was an assault complaint about eight years ago by an angry parent. The complaint was dropped without any charges being filed but that incident coincided with his teaching license being suspended. Which is why it caught my eye. Unfortunately, the whole affair got swept under the rug by the cushy private school where Langley was teaching at the time. I tried to get more of an explanation but the headmaster refused to talk to me, citing a nondisclosure agreement that restricts dissemination of any information related to Langley’s employment and dismissal, and the cop who took the complaint retired to Boca later that year. It all looks pretty suspicious to me, to be honest, but without more I wouldn’t usually have had reason to follow up.”


I remembered thinking that I should check into the status of Langley’s teaching credentials, but with all the hoopla I’d forgotten; good thing Carl was a lot more diligent than I was.


“Thankfully, it was suspicious enough to prompt Detective Horvath to run the pictures you found through the NCMEC database,” Terry Bridges interrupted, taking up the narrative at that point. “And it probably won’t surprise you that Horvath’s search got an almost immediate hit. Which is when I got pulled in; I’ve been the primary on this case for a long time, so I get automatically notified anytime one of these images pops up anywhere.” 


Bridges opened a manila file that had been waiting on the edge of Horvath's desk and pulled out the photos I’d originally found in Joan’s box, each one now carefully encased in a plastic cover, spreading them out across the desktop. We all looked at the images of a frightened little boy in his tighty whities for several long seconds without further comment. Meanwhile, the implications of what the FBI agent had just said filtered through my brain. I’d watched enough crime drama television to understand that ‘getting a hit’ in this situation meant that the prints I found weren’t the only copies. And that feeling I’d had for the past week, like there was some pendulous dread hanging over my head, instantly became a ten ton weight that descended with crushing despair.


Bridges shifted in his chair so he was facing Brian more directly. “It turns out that these photos, along with the others indicated by the negatives you found, are pretty well known to most trafficking investigators. They’ve been circulating for decades on the internet and are pretty much a staple in the kiddie porn scene. And, unfortunately, there’s a lot more out there just like these. In the ten years or so I’ve been doing this, I’ve personally come across a couple hundred pictures of the same boy and maybe two dozen related videos.” 


I must’ve made some tiny noise of protest then, because three pairs of eyes turned to look at me, interrupting Agent Bridges' explanation. I could read concern and sympathy in the expressions of both law enforcement officers. Brian, however, still betrayed no emotion at all. I held up my hands in a gesture of apology, mouthed the word ‘sorry’, and then waved at the agent to indicate he should continue.


Terry returned his attention to Brian. This time his expression betrayed a touch of awe, almost as if he was meeting a celebrity or something. “I have to admit that I didn't think I’d ever locate the real person behind these pictures. To be completely frank, Mr. Kinney, the consensus among those of us who do this kind of thing was that the boy in these pictures probably hadn’t survived the amount of abuse he was subjected to. We didn’t expect to ever be having this conversation with you.”


Brian‘s only response was to reach out and pick up one of the photographs - it was the one showing a young Brian perched on the edge of the bed and crying - while slowly shaking his head. 


Was he still in denial despite all this proof? Or, maybe, he was just trying to shake away the fog of paralyzing confusion he’d seemed to be suffocating under all week? At first I couldn’t tell. But, when he used two of the fingers still hampered by the bulky cast on his wrist to swipe at the surface of the plastic casing holding the glossy print, gently trailing his fingertips across the visage of the small boy staring back at him, I realized that he simply wanted to erase the images he could no longer deny. He wanted to make it all go away. To make it stop. And I was right there with him. One hundred percent.


“Which is why,” Carl took up the burden of the conversation at that point, “these pictures Justin provided are so important. They’re like the Rosetta Stone of the porn world. They’re the key to bringing down a whole ring of pornographers and traffickers the FBI has been after for years.”


“You see,” Terry chimed in enthusiastically, “the same person - or, more likely, persons, plural - who’ve been propagating the ‘Buddy’ porn are also responsible for a metric fuck ton of related material depicting the abuse of dozens, if not hundreds, of other children. It’s one of the biggest kiddie porn rings the Bureau has ever come across. If we could bust these guys, it would be seismic.”


“Buddy porn?” I questioned, not sure of the reference.


“It’s what we call the output from this particular production group,” Bridges elucidated with a halfway apologetic smile aimed in Brian’s direction. “We nicknamed the child in the videos ‘Buddy’ because that’s the only name the adults ever used for him; we figured it wasn’t his real name, but we didn’t know what else to call him, so . . .”


“Buddy . . .” Brian muttered, vocalizing for the first time, but not looking up from where his gaze was locked on the photograph is his hand.


“Anyway, that’s where you two, and the evidence you’ve provided,” Carl intervened, pointing to the array of incriminating photos, “come in.”


“Exactly!” Terry seemed far too excited to let his fellow investigator take back the narrative. “Like I said, we’ve been trying to bust this particular ring of douchebags for years. Our forensic techs have put together enough evidence to tie it all to one individual production location, but that’s as far as we got. We’ve tried going at this case from every angle we could think of, but we could never pinpoint the man, or men, who were creating the primary content. They stripped all location information out of the metadata. There’s never any identifiable images of the adults involved; their faces are always obscured. And even when we’ve managed to bust one of the lower-level scumbags distributing this crap, they all claim ignorance as to the identity of the producers. But now, with Justin providing the all important link between the source material and Langley, we think we can prove he’s the guy in charge. And, once we nail Langley, we can go through him to bring down the whole fucking network.” 


“To do that, though, we’re going to need your testimony,” Carl insisted. “That box of evidence is the first step. That, plus Justin’s statement about how he got ahold of it, should be enough to get us search warrants for Langley’s properties. But, to convict him, we’re going to want both of you to testify.”


I was nodding my agreement before Carl had even finished speaking. I would gladly do whatever I could to put the monster who’d hurt Brian behind bars. Hopefully forever. Somehow, though, I didn’t think it was my testimony the cops needed the most. To make the most damning charges stick, they undoubtedly needed one of the victims to speak up. 


They needed Brian, aka ‘Buddy’.


Everybody in the room waited, literally holding our breath, for the man of the moment to speak. Brian, though, was still doing his Zombieland impression. He didn’t even look up until Carl called his name.


“Brian?” Horvath asked, softly, as if coaxing out an easily frightened animal. 


Finally looking up, he replied with a less than articulate, “huh?”


“You’ve been awfully quiet this whole time,” Carl pointed out. “Are you okay with all this? Do you have any questions?”


“More importantly,” Agent Bridges interceded, less solicitously than his comrade, “can we count on you to testify against Langley? Because, while I understand how difficult this is going to be, I’m telling you now that we won’t be able to make this case without your direct testimony. Not unless we miraculously turn up a lot more evidence at some point. You’re the lynchpin of this whole case, Mr. Kinney. You’re the only living witness we know of.” 


Brian finally sat up and tossed the picture he’d been analyzing back on the desk. “I don’t know how much I’d be able to help, Agent Bridges. I don’t remember any of . . . Of this.” He pointed to the photos dismissively. “I’m not even convinced that boy is me. This kid is what, five, here? There’s no way to tell what he would have looked like when he was older. How can you be sure . . .”


Bridges was already rifling through the file folder again before Brian had even finished his sentence. “We’re reasonably sure,” he stated, handing over a computer printout he’d pulled from the file. “Back when we were first looking into the Buddy case, we had this age progression done. Take a look for yourself.”



The computer enhanced drawing Brian was scrutinizing looked like a dead ringer for my partner, at least according to this artist’s judgment. It was a little vague, of course, because those things always were, but the progression had got the shape of the face, the cheekbones and the eyes almost dead on. Only the nose was a little off. That might have been because Brian’s nose had obviously been broken at some point in the past, which altered the shape a little bit. Overall, though, it was about as close as you’d get to a firm identification.


“This doesn’t mean anything,” Brian maintained, tossing the printout onto the desk next to the photos. “It can’t be me in those pictures. Wouldn’t I remember if I’d been . . . You have to be wrong.”


“Brian, son, I realize this isn’t easy but, even if you don’t remember, you’ve got to admit it all makes sense,” Carl offered, trying to sound reasonable. “You already positively identified Langley from the soccer photos in the box, and confirmed he was the one from your high school shower scene, I don’t know what other proof you need.”


“That was different. I was in high school. It was my choice . . .” Brian faltered when he noticed all three of us giving him exasperated looks. “Whatever. I get it . . . Him being a teacher and all, but it’s just not the same. It’s not this.” He looked down at the pictures again. “It doesn’t mean he would do this. I just don’t . . . I mean, that couldn’t be me . . .” 


Brian’s blind denials made me almost as angry as the photos he was referencing. I couldn’t let him delude himself like that. Not to protect a scumbag like Langley. So, to back Carl up, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and selected one of the photos I’d taken of Gus during our last trip to Toronto. Holding up the screen so that everyone in the room could see, I picked up the closest Buddy photo and held them side by side. The resemblance was uncanny. The only difference between the two was that Gus was smiling and happy and clearly loved, while the older picture showed a sad, lonely, neglected child.


“You know how everyone’s always saying Gus looks just like you?” I commented to my partner, who looked away without any outward acknowledgement of the truth that was being shoved in his face. “This boy and Gus could be brothers . . .”


Brian had, apparently, finally reached his breaking point and, instead of capitulating to the obvious, that famous temper of his took over. 


“This is bullshit! All of this.” He reached out with his injured hand and swiped at the accumulated pile of evidence, knocking it all to the floor. “I don’t remember ANY of this shit. I don’t! That,” he pointed to the pictures scattered across the linoleum tiles making up the floor, ”that can’t be me. It can't!” 


With a growl of rage the beleaguered man vaulted to his feet, attempting to escape physically even if he couldn’t escape the truth that had already settled in his heart. Too bad Carl’s office was far too small to allow him to get past both my chair and Bridges’. He couldn’t make it to the hallway, and eventual freedom, without us moving out of the way. He’d barely made it two steps before he was forced to a halt. 


I stood up then too, reaching out to grab him, intending to offer comfort. But that seemed like the wrong approach; Brian snarled at me, holding up both hands in a gesture meant to fend off my advances. But, instead of striking out at me - which Carl and Terry seemed to think was a possibility, causing them both to rise to their feet in a rush to stop whatever they thought was about to happen - Brian took a shuddering breath, scrubbed cholerically at his face with the one uninjured hand, and then pinched at the bridge of his nose in a familiar way that I recognized meant he was fighting off a headache. 


I was well aware Brian wouldn’t appreciate any overt displays of emotionalism right then; all I could offer was a squeeze to his biceps. I guess my touch was enough, though, to afford him some measure of calm. He dropped his hand and looked into my eyes and I could see the barely restrained panic hiding behind the hazel gaze. With gentle pressure, I managed to guide him back to his chair. Then the two cops sat as well and all was momentarily tranquil again. 


“I can’t help you,” Brian reasserted, but this time in a slightly more restrained tone. “I really DON’T remember anything.”


Agent Bridges wasn’t ready to give up, though. “I have more pictures. Maybe, if you looked through them, something might jog your memory?”


Brian sighed and shrugged, his arms rising in a ‘whatever’ gesture that seemed to give the FBI agent permission to try out his suggestion. 


Bridges retrieved a mini-tablet computer from the briefcase that had been waiting on the floor next to his chair and opened the photo gallery app. I got up and moved around to stand behind Brian’s chair, allowing me to not only look over his shoulder so I would be able to see what was on the tablet but also to help ground Brian by way of the hands I rested on his shoulders. I could feel the invisible tremors that were running through my partner’s body even while he was trying to maintain a stoic facade. I didn’t know how I was going to get through this, and I knew it was going to be even more difficult for Brian, but I’d do whatever I could to provide any support he might need.  


The tablet lit up, displaying a full color photo of a not-quite-teen boy, lying atop the same bed with the same soccer-themed cover in the same room with the same creepy cartoonish mural. It was clear that this boy was the same child as in the previous photos, only older; here, though, you could see even more clearly than before the resemblance to adult Brian. The other big difference was that the kid had become much more adept at striking the type of faux-sexy pose that his handler had been trying for with the younger version. This boy was displayed at the perfect angle for the camera, spread out across the bed, completely naked, his legs wide and one hand resting on a soft thigh, provocatively close to his crotch. While the subject of this photo still retained all the vestiges of youth, you could tell he was on the verge of the inevitable transition into adulthood. Some sick minds might have found that image attractive but, personally, it made me ill. 


Bridges scrolled through a dozen or more images along the same lines - each making me cringe more than the one before - as the version of Brian that was displayed on the tablet regressed in age. The last couple showed a boy almost as young as he’d been in those first pictures I’d found in Joan’s box. If there was any doubt before that the child in the photos was Brian, it was gone now. You could see the resemblance so clearly as the succession of images made it seem like you were watching him age in reverse. 


“Anything?” Bridges asked when he reached the last of his carefully curated collection of images. 


Brian shook his head. “No. Nothing. I don’t remember any of this.”


After a brief, conspiratorial glance Horvath’s way - the detective nodding his tacit permission to continue - Bridges closed out the photo gallery he’d been going through and instead opened the video player. 


“Let’s try this,” he suggested and tapped the screen to begin playing a video that was already cued up.


The scene opened in the same room with the same bed and the same boy. The grainy, low-definition production value and poor sound quality of the video, even more than the age of the child being taped, proved exactly how dated this particular piece of cinematography was. The audience it was meant for, though, probably didn’t care about the amateur filming; that wasn’t what they came for. 


The video started off with a wider view of the entire room but then, almost immediately, zoomed in on the subject of the production. The camera maneuver allowed the viewer to get a closer look at the beautiful little gamin’s face. The child was sitting up on the bed, knees tucked under his body in an innocent pose, leaning slightly towards the camera. To my relief, he didn’t look all that upset this time.


“Go ahead, Buddy. Say your lines just like we practiced,” a disembodied male voice, altered electronically so you couldn’t identify the speaker, directed the child.


“I don’t want to,” the boy replied, screwing up his face pugnaciously. Even with all the intervening years, I could hear the Brian of today in that chirpy little voice. “I want to go home now, Coach.”


“Buddy . . .” the adult voice warned. “Don’t be like that. You know better. If you don’t play the game the right way, you’ll have to be punished. You don’t want that, do you?” The boy frowned, squirmed around a bit on the bed, and shook his head. “Now, say it. And don’t forget to smile for the camera so all your fans can see how pretty you are.” Baby Brian smiled shyly without looking directly into the camera lens, which only made him seem even more adorable. “That’s right, Buddy. Come on. Say your lines. Just like a movie star.”


The boy on the screen finally looked up and spoke in a clear, sweet voice. “Do you wanna be my Daddy? I’m all alone and it’s a big scary world. I need somebody to teach me how to be a real man. That could be you if you’re lucky . . .”


I put one hand over my mouth to stop the groan that wanted to escape. Fucker. If the feds didn’t get Langley, I was going to go after that nutsucker myself and castrate him with a rusty spoon.


Unfortunately the video clip we were watching didn’t end there.


“That was great, Buddy!” the off screen voice praised, eliciting another beautifully angelic smile from the brunet boy. “You did really good. People are going to love you when they see this one.”


“Can we get ice cream now? You said if I was good, I could have chocolate ice cream,” Buddy asserted, sounding hopeful.


“Not quite yet, Buddy. First, I’ve got a surprise for you.” The voice paused and there were some sounds from off camera. “Look. We have guests who’ve come over to play with us tonight. Doesn’t that sound fun?”


Judging by the way the boy’s expression fell, his body immediately shrinking away from the camera as he pulled his knees protectively into his chest, Buddy didn’t think much of this prospect. “I don’t want to play tonight. I want to go home now. Please, Coach. I just want to go home.”


“Stop being rude, Buddy,” the voice ordered, no longer sounding at all pleasant. “My friends came over especially to meet you. They’re big fans. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, right?” 


The camera slowly panned out while the voice spoke until you could see two male bodies entering the frame of the picture. Both men were naked; one was older and heavyset with coarse, grey body hair, and the other younger with a compact build. Meanwhile, Buddy had curled up into a ball, pushing himself as far back into the pillows at the head of the bed as he could get. 


“Be a good boy now, Buddy, and show our new friends that fun little game I taught you yesterday . . .”


“STOP! Just, stop already!” Brian roared, pushing aside the tablet and covering his face so he wouldn’t have to look. “What the fuck? Why are you showing me this shit?” 


Agent Bridges paused the video and set the tablet aside. “Did you remember something? Did that trigger any memories? Anything that would help you confirm the identity of the man speaking . . .”


“NO!” Brian insisted, the word ending on an involuntary sob and his shoulders shaking so badly as he tried to hold back all the emotions that it felt like he might explode. “No. That’s not me. It’s just not. I-I-I don’t remember any of that.” His words started to fade away until we were all leaning forward in order to hear him. “It can’t be . . . That’s not me . . . That’s not me. That’s . . . That’s Buddy . . .” Then, whispered in a plaintive voice that was more sob than anything, he added, “I want to go home.” 


Just like in the videos.



 

End Notes:

6/17/21 - Okay, I know that was horrible, but it’s the most important chapter of the story. This was the heart of the plot bunny that attacked me and demanded that I write it. This is what started it all. Now, all I have to do is resolve the horribleness that I’ve set up for poor Brian . . . Watch me write! And thanks for reading all my angsty stories! TAG 


PS. If you want more information about the issues discussed in this story, or you’d like to donate to help prevent this from happening to a real child, you should check out the NCMEC website.

Chapter 10 - The Fallout by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

Moving the story along... Do I hear a 'Poor Brian' or two? Enjoy! TAG


Chapter 10 - The Fallout.



“Yeah, it was . . . It was fucking brutal.” I’d been saying the same thing, in about a dozen different ways, for the entire twenty minutes I’d been talking with Daphne. “He just looked so broken, Daph. He sat there the entire rest of the time we were in Carl’s office and didn’t say another word. He didn’t even look up. It was like he was practically comatose. And all I wanted to do was leave - get the fuck out of there - but the fucking FBI agent insisted that I finish giving my statement while it was still fresh in my memory. It was just so fucking . . .”


“Brutal?” Daphne finished my sentence for me and I laughed in spite of my pain. 


“Exactly.”


“I know you don’t want to hear this yet, Jus, but that’s probably the best thing you could have done for Brian right then,” she offered.


“What? You lost me there, Daph.”


She hesitated for a moment, maybe working out how to say what she wanted to say. “It’s like this . . . I know you want to help Brian, and watching him go through this is almost as painful to you as it is to him, but you can’t stop him from hurting.” I made a noise, intending to respond, but she refused to let me interrupt her. “Hear me out on this, Justin . . . You can’t shield him from this. He’s been avoiding dealing with the events of his past for decades. He repressed all those memories because he wasn’t ready to deal with it. But Brian will never get past it all - not really - until he faces the truth and works his way through it. And you can’t do that for him; you can be there, be a sounding board, support him - all the stuff a good partner would do - but not until he’s ready to admit to himself what happened and let you in. Until then, he’ll just resent you if you try to push him to deal with something he’s not ready to face.”


I had to concede that my friend might have a point, but then again, this was Brian Kinney we were talking about. “You’re saying that I should just leave him alone and let him work it out for himself? The guy who practically has a PhD in avoidance techniques?” We both laughed, because the description was so accurate. “You do realize that, right now, Brian’s literally hiding from the world? The minute we got back from talking to Carl, he went straight to the bedroom, crawled into bed with all his clothes on, and pulled the covers over his head. This is the guy you think will somehow find a way to work through his history of abuse and trauma on his own? Or that, maybe, he’ll wake up and realize he needs to ask for help? Yeah right,” I scoffed. “More likely, he’ll opt for more repression and drown his feelings in all the drugs, drinking, and dick he can get his hands on.”


“Well, you might be right,” Daphne admitted with an amused smile in her voice. “But that’s kinda my point. You can’t help him with that crap. He’s not going to LET you help him. Not yet, at least. But what you can do is help arrange things so that, when he is ready to confront his past, he’s set up to succeed.”


“And how do I do that?”


“Easy. You make sure that you give the police any assistance they need to haul Langley’s ass off to prison. You give them your statement - which it sounds like you already did - and you answer any other questions they might have in the future that will help them arrest the fucker. Then you hang on and try to make sure the rest of Brian’s life doesn’t implode until he can get back to managing it on his own.”


“You think all that is gonna be ‘easy’, Daph?” My snort of disbelief echoed off the brick walls of the stairwell where I’d been sitting after I snuck out of the Loft in order to have my conversation with Daphne in relative peace. 


“Well, you’ve already done the first part,” Daph pointed out. “Right?”


“Yeah. I told them everything I could about our meeting with Langley and how we found the photos. The FBI guy said my statement was important and that it would help to authenticate the evidence if the case ever goes to court. Of course, they also said that, if Brian doesn’t remember enough to testify, the case probably won’t go anywhere. So far, between claiming he doesn’t remember anything and his intermittent zombie act, he hasn't been able to give them anything much.”


“You really think he doesn’t remember anything?” Daph asked, voicing a question I’d had myself. “It seems like, maybe, it’s more that he’s in denial of whatever memories he does have.”


“I don’t know. Agent Bridges, though, seems convinced that Brian knows more than he’s saying. He was really pushing Brian hard today. After watching that video, though, Brian just completely shut down. Horvath eventually intervened and told me to take Brian home. They said they’d give him a few days to process but implied that, sooner or later, he’d have to come back and give some kind of statement. Bridges didn’t seem like he was gonna let this drop, no matter how reluctant Brian is to discuss it.”


“Considering everything we’ve learned in just the past week . . .” Daph sounded just as overwhelmed as I felt, “it’s probably gonna take more than a few days for Brian to come to terms with this shit.”


“Yep,” I readily agreed. “Oh, before I forget, you should be prepared to get a call from Carl too. He said they need your statement to back up what I already told them and confirm the chain of custody of the pictures.”


“No problem. I’m happy to help. I’m all about putting rapists and child abusers in jail.”


“I wish it was that easy.” I sighed and slumped back against the riser of the stair I’d been leaning against. “From what Horvath said, I don’t think they’ll be able to prosecute Langley for what he did to Brian - something about ongoing constitutional challenges to the new law that got rid of the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse - but even if the law was in his favor, the case is so old, it would be hard to make the charges stick. The good thing, though, is that, because the pictures are still being actively disseminated online, the police can pretty easily get him for the kiddie porn. Which is, like, five years per picture.”


“That is good news. I wanna see that fucker Langley in jail for the rest of his unnatural life,” Daph asserted.


“Same. And, even better, the FBI guy assured us that, if Langley really is the guy producing these videos, and there’s still ongoing abuse happening to kids under his control, they’ll be able to prosecute him for any newer cases, even if they can’t go after him for what he did to Brian.”


“Good. I hope the feds hurry, though, cuz in my head I keep seeing that poor kid, Taniel, and worrying about what a creep like Langley is doing to him . . .”


“Me too.”


“Well, you know if you need me to do any more recon missions, I’m ready, willing, and able. Whatever it takes to bring this guy to justice. Once I’m on the case I never back down!” I laughed at her ridiculous enthusiasm and could almost picture the outraged expression on her face when she added, “Hey, it’s a Nancy Drew thing. You wouldn’t understand.”


“I think, between the Pittsburgh Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the cops have this under control,” I suggested.


“Maybe. But it might be fun to stake out Langley's soccer practices just to be safe . . .”


“No, Daphne.”


“You’re no fun.”


“Sure I am. Just ask Brian,” I teased.


“I would, but you say he’s hiding under the covers, so I’m sticking with, ‘you’re no fun’.” We both got a chuckle out of that. What would I ever do without my bestie? She could always figure out some way to cheer me up, even at the worst of times. “Speaking of his zombieness, are YOU okay? Anything I can do to help?”


That was a good question. Was I okay? Was I going to be able to somehow drag Brian out of the pit of despair he’d fallen into? Was anything ever going to be okay after what we’d just been forced to acknowledge?


“I don’t know Daph. I don’t know what anyone CAN do at this point. Maybe, like you said before, just hang on and make sure everything doesn’t go completely to shit until Brian’s able to function again?” Then I thought of all the obstacles to even that minimal plan of action and felt like crying. “Not sure how I’m supposed to do that long distance from New York, though.”


“You’re going back?”


“I don’t have much choice, do I? Not if I want to keep my jobs. One of my bosses called already today and left me a pissed off message. I can’t say as I blame him, to be honest. I’d be pissed off at me too under the circumstances. Now Clyde is going to have to scramble to find somebody to fill all the weekend shifts for a second week in a row. When I do get back there, I’m going to have to do some serious ass kissing to get back in his good graces.”


“I say, fuck him,” Daphne insisted with her typical curtness. “You can’t go back now - not with Brian in the state he’s in - he’d probably drive himself off a cliff or something without you there to run interference.”


“You’re not wrong, I suspect, but I hope he snaps out of it sooner rather than later. I’m seriously going to get fired if I stay in Pittsburgh too much longer.”


“And that would be a bad thing because . . . ?”


“Because I need to eat and a place to sleep and New York is expensive and I don’t want to end up some penniless beggar peddling my art on the street corner for twenty bucks a pop . . .”


“Then just don’t go back there,” Daphne concluded. I was about to argue the point with her but she refused to let me get a word in edgewise. “I’m serious, Justin. You know you hate it there. You’ve been bitching about having to stay in New York for months now. The only reason you were staying was because you wanted to prove yourself and make Brian proud. But I say, fuck that. Right now Brian needs you more than you need to make some stupid point about how you can take care of yourself and make it big in the NYC Art Scene.”


I made a small grumbling noise but couldn’t really come up with any valid argument to counter her assertions.


“Admit it, Justin. You hate being in New York. Going there - and leaving Brian - was a stupid mistake. You don’t belong there and it’s time to man up and move home to Pittsburgh for good already,” Daphne pushed.


“Shit,” I cursed, more at myself than at my persistently truthful friend. “You’re right, of course. I never should have listened to everyone trying to push me to leave Pittsburgh. New York was a bust, at least as far as my art was concerned; there’s no reason I have to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities just to paint. Especially not when it means leaving my partner and all my friends behind. Besides, I need to be here now, anyway.”


“That’s what I’m saying!” Daphne asserted smugly, knowing she’d proven, once again, that she was always right. “So, now, take that emergency credit card Brian gave you out of your wallet and use it to hire some movers to get all your shit back here.”


“Fine. But you have to call Steph and give her the bad news that her roommate is bugging out and leaving her to pay all the rent on her own.”


“No problem,” Daphne replied. “She’ll be thrilled by the news. She’s wanted her boyfriend to move in for weeks now but didn’t want to kick you out and make you homeless. Now she won’t have to worry.”



The cafe where I was meeting Daphne for lunch was only two blocks away from the gallery where I was working, so it was a convenient option, despite how busy it usually was. I was glad to see that my friend had already beat me there and snagged us a table on the sidewalk out front. She waved happily at me with her menu as I wove my way through the crowd and butted in line past the rest of the peons still waiting for a table. 


“‘Bout time you got here, Jus. The waiter gave me the stink eye the last time he came by to ask if I was ready to order and I put him off again,” Daph greeted me snarkily.


“Sorry. The gallery was ridiculously busy this morning. Mr. Bloom had me doing three rush framing jobs that he wanted to be ready for the UPS pickup at one. I just barely made it,” I explained.


The waiter approached our table not ten seconds later so further apologies had to be put off while we rattled off our orders. Then, while we sipped at our iced teas and waited for our food to be delivered, I regaled Daph with more stories about my crazy busy morning. 


We both laughed at the description I gave of the uppity art snob who’d come into the gallery that morning, looking for the perfect piece for the bathroom of his new mansion in the hills, and was put off by the fact that we didn’t have what he regarded as appropriate bathroom art. Apparently, ‘appropriate’ artwork in this case involved calming pictures with water scenes. The poor guy’s prostate issues probably shouldn’t have been so amusing, but sue me. I’d been chuckling to myself about it all morning and couldn’t wait to share with Daph. 


Working at the Bloom Gallery in provincial little Pittsburgh sure was a lot different than the hustle at a major gallery like Biont in New York. I was more than happy with my new job and thrilled that it had taken me less than a week after deciding not to return to New York to land an Assistant Gallery Manager position. It was a hella lot more fun than either of my old jobs and I can’t say I missed the stress or pretentiousness of my old life in the City. Besides, Sidney Bloom was a way better boss and much more laid back about things. Relocating back to Pittsburgh might turn out to be one of the best decisions I’d ever made.


Now, if only my personal life would work itself out the same way my professional life had.


“How’s Brian doing?” Daphne asked when my chatter about work finally died down. “Any improvement?”


“Unfortunately, no, and I’m getting really fucking worried, Daph,” I confessed. “It’s been two weeks since that day in Carl’s office and there hasn’t been any change at all. Brian’s basically not functioning at all at this point. I don’t know what to do.”


“Ouch,” my best friend commiserated. “You think it might be time to consider getting professional help?”


“You think I haven’t already contemplated that?” I scoffed with a hopeless shake of my head. “Shit, Daph. I’ve taken to scrolling through the internet listings for psychologists in my spare time just dreaming about that possibility. But there’s no way Brian would agree. Hell, he refuses to talk to me; how the fuck am I going to get him to open up to a stranger about this shit?”


“Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger,” Daphne argued. “Especially if it’s a professional who can be all detached and neutral about a tough subject.”


“I don’t know. I don’t think it works that way when you’re dealing with Brian Kinney,” I argued. “Besides, I’d have to get him out of the loft first if I wanted to take him to see a shrink and that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon.”


The conversation paused while our waiter delivered the food. I scarfed down the first half of my sandwich, thus staving off my hunger. It had been a long time since breakfast and I was starving. I took advantage of the natural break in our discussion to think back over the past two weeks since the meeting with Horvath and Bridges and wonder if there was anything I could have done differently to help my struggling partner. 


‘Struggling’ was putting it mildly, to be honest. The Brian Kinney I thought I knew had almost completely disappeared after that momentous meeting. This new version of my partner was a total basket case. He hadn’t left the loft since that meeting, not even to go into the office. He just lolled around the house, moving listlessly from the bedroom to the couch, barely speaking, and eating only when I brought him food and forced him to taste it. I had come to the point where I found myself researching the steps I’d have to take to get him committed if he didn’t snap out of it soon.


As soon as the worst of my hunger pangs had been quelled, though, I’d spoken up, hoping to get some guidance from my always-rational friend. “It’s bad, Daph. Really bad. He’s having these absolutely horrendous nightmares,” I disclosed, “and I can’t do anything to stop them. If I try to touch him he just starts screaming. It’s killing me to watch him like this. But I don’t know what else to do. I don’t think the lack of sleep is helping either; we’re both turning into zombies now. But, no matter what I say or do, he just refuses to talk about it.” I laughed mirthlessly and shook my head at the memory of the discussion we’d had about the topic - again - just that morning. “All he ever says is that he doesn’t remember anything. But . . . I’m there for the nightmares every fucking night, Daph. I know he’s not telling the truth. He clearly remembers more about what happened than he’s willing to admit. If I could just get him to talk to me about it . . .”


“Maybe it’s time for an intervention?” Daphne suggested, in contravention of her prior advice to just let him work through his problems himself. She could obviously tell by my expression of horror that I was not on board with that suggestion but she pressed on nonetheless. “Think about it, Justin. Brian needs help. Sitting around the loft all day, every day, watching television, and neglecting his business and his life isn’t going to work for much longer. Eventually it’s all going to come crashing down around his ears. I know it’s going to be fucking painful for him to confront his past, but there’s no way for him to move forward without doing the hard work. And, I know I said before that you couldn’t force him to deal with his past, but I was assuming that he’d move on a little faster than this. Maybe it’s going to be up to you to force him to that realization after all? So far, nobody else has stepped up and it doesn’t seem like Brian’s willing to go there either. So, if it’s as bad as you say, maybe I was wrong before? Maybe it’s time to press him?”


“You may be right,” I admit, finishing off the last bite of my BLT and pushing my plate away. “We definitely can’t go on like this much longer. I know Brian’s a fucking mess and I’m getting there too. It’s just . . . It feels like I might have already lost him, Daph. He’s . . . He’s acting very un-Brian-like, you know? He’s just so . . .” I sighed and then figured, what the hell, I might as well confess everything. “So, the thing that, I think, is freaking me out the worst is that . . . Well, shit . . . Fuck it, Daph . . . The worst part is that we haven’t had sex since Brian’s run in with the motorcycle back in New York.” 


Okay, I’d said it. Let the apocalypse commence. 


“Whoa . . . That’s bad.”


“Right?”


“Yep. It’s definitely time for an intervention,” Daphne concluded.


 

 

 

End Notes:

6/21/21 - Not a lot of substance here; just trying to move the story along so we get a better picture of how messed up Brian is. The healing can’t start until he admits the pain he’s already experienced. I’m working on that, though. And, hey, at least I got Sunshine home from NYC for good, right? Gotta fix that no sex thing though . . . TAG

 

PS. Happy Summer Solstice! 

Chapter 11 - Night Terrors by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

Sorry it took so long to get this chapter up. I was dealing with the Heat Dome & other Climate Crisis issues... Enjoy! TAG

 

Chapter 11 - Night Terrors.

 

I spent the next week mulling over Daphne’s intervention idea. The longer Brian went without snapping out of his funk, the more reasonable the idea sounded. By Thursday afternoon, I was about to pull my hair out and decided that, while a full-out intervention probably wouldn’t work, it might be a good idea to call in a relief pitcher.

 

 

“I’ll get it,” I announced when the buzzer to the street door zapped through the silence of the loft. 


Not that Brian would bother to get up off the couch where he was on his third viewing of Streetcar Named Desire. I probably shouldn’t complain; at least he was out of bed and dressed for a change. He was still doing his zombie impression though and hadn’t been back to work since the big reveal at Carl Horvath’s more than two weeks before. Something had to change, and soon, or I was going to lose it too.


“Hey, it’s me. Buzz me up, Boy Wonder,” Michael Novotny’s nasally voice blared out through the tiny speaker. 


I, of course, had already known he was on his way, but I pretended to be surprised as I hit the door release button. My play acting was unnecessary though since Brian didn’t even look up from the television. I sighed and pulled the door open, hovering in the entryway until I saw Michael’s head clearing the gate of the lift, gratefully accepting his reassuring grin. 


“The cavalry's here,” Michael whispered, giving my arm a squeeze as he passed and handing off the case of cheap beer he’d brought for me to put in the fridge. Then, his voice raised over the television, he greeted the target of this intervention. “Hey, Brian. What’s up?”


It took Brian almost a full minute before he focused on his oldest friend’s face. “Mikey? What are you doing here?”


“I came to see you, of course,” Michael answered and plopped himself down on the couch without being invited. “Nobody’s seen hide nor hair of you for more than two weeks, and you’re not returning calls or texts, so I was deputized to come make sure you weren’t dead.”


“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” Brian drawled in his best Mark Twain imitation.


“Yeah, well, how do you expect anyone to know that if you never leave this fucking loft?” Michael groused. “Seriously, Brian, what the fuck is up with you? Everyone’s getting a little freaked out by your disappearing act. Nobody’s seen you on Liberty Avenue for weeks and Ted says you haven’t even come into the office in days. What gives with all that? That’s not the Brian Kinney I know.”


I watched surreptitiously from the kitchen, trying to be unobtrusive, while Brian struggled back to full awareness of what was around him. It was an encouraging sight. I hadn’t seen Brian actually take any interest in something outside his own mind in days. I was curious if he’d answer Michael honestly or go with more deflection. Thankfully, it seemed like this direct attack had penetrated his blankness and caught him off guard. He answered truthfully only because he hadn’t had time to think up some way to avoid the question.


“I’ve been . . . Dealing with some heavy shit, Mikey,” Brian replied.


“Yeah. I know,” Michael admitted. “Carl called me down to the station a couple days ago to give my statement about Coach Langley.” Brian looked directly at Michael for the first time, a tinge of panic flashing in his eyes. “He didn’t tell me much, just that they were building a case against the guy for being a serial child abuser, and they wanted me to corroborate your story about the high school shower scene. I was happy to give them all I knew about that pervert.”

 

“Mikey, there’s more that you don’t know . . .” Brian faltered without completing his thought.

 

 

Michael reached out, laying one hand on his friend’s shoulder in a gesture of silent support. “I get that. I know there’s probably more. But it doesn't matter, Brian. It really doesn’t. All that matters is that I say ‘I’m sorry’.” Brian looked like he was about to interrupt but Michael refused to let him. “No. I need to say it. I’m so fucking sorry, Brian. I knew there was something serious going on back then and I should have spoken up sooner. That Langley guy totally creeped me out; the way he was always touching you and making these snide little comments, it was just downright sleazy. I could tell that you were freaked out by the guy - even though you tried to blow it off and pretend like it was all your idea - but I still knew something wasn’t kosher. I should have said something. I was too worried about looking uncool and I didn’t understand how serious it was. I know that’s no excuse, though. All I can do is say that I’m sorry and be here for you now.”


Brian took his time coming up with a response. He rubbed at his eyes with one hand, almost as if trying to clear away the things he was seeing in his mind. When he finally did look up at Michael again, the sadness breaking through from behind his barriers was almost enough to floor me. 


“You couldn't have known. We were just kids. There wasn’t anything you could have done,” Brian offered what absolution he could.


“I still could have said something,” Michael refused to be excused. “But that doesn’t fix anything. All I can do now is be here for you and help you get through this shit. And this time I’m not going to let your false bravado distract me. You don’t need to pretend to be stronger than you are, Brian. You don’t have to go through all this alone. You’ve got friends who care about you and we are still going to be there no matter what fucking shit you’re going through. You don’t have to hide behind your secret identity all the time; it’s okay to be Clark Kent and not Superman once in a while.”


That comment earned Michael a rare Kinney smile. “You’re so full of shit sometimes, Mikey.”


“I know. That’s why you love me,” Michael replied with his usual goofy grin. “And you’re not going to get rid of me, no matter how long you try to hide out, so you better just resolve yourself to hang out with me for the rest of the afternoon.” Michael aimed a smile my way, convinced he’d won the battle. “Now, are you going to break out your stash already or what?”


Brian actually laughed - something he hadn’t done in weeks - and the sound made my heart flutter with relief. 


“Here you go,” I butted in, bringing Brian’s stash box out from the bedroom before either of them had a chance to get up. “If you two are good for now, I’m gonna get going. I’ve got a thing I need to do . . .”


“Thanks, Sunshine,” Brian took the small wooden box out of my hands and offered me what I took as a conciliatory smile. “I think we’ve got this.”


I let my fingers trail along his shoulders as I passed behind the sofa on my way to the door. For the first time in two weeks I didn’t have a weighty ball of dread filling my gut at the prospect of leaving Brian alone. I gathered up my messenger bag and other stuff while the two amigos argued over what kind of junk food they were going to order. 


“Pizza or chinese?” Michael posited. “I just had pizza for dinner last night but it was veggie pizza with Ben, so that doesn’t really count, right? And nothing counters the munchies better than pizza, am I right?”


“I’m not going to eat a bunch of crap with you, Mikey,” Brian complained, sounding more like his old self than ever, which made me smile so big it felt like my face would crack open. 


“Go for it, Michael,” I chimed in as I headed out the door. “If Brian gets any skinnier, I'll misplace him the next time he turns sideways.” 


Michael laughed and commented that Brian would thank him for ordering the pizza in advance when the munchies from the pot they’re going to smoke eventually hit. As I turned to pull the loft door closed, I saw Brian concentrating on rolling a joint, a slight smile on his beautiful raspberry red lips, while Michael was already on the phone with their favorite pizza place. I sent up silent thanks to Daphne for the intervention idea. I was so happy to see Brian smiling and engaging with life for a change. Maybe we’d make it through this shit after all?


 

Unfortunately, my sense of relief at Brian’s renewed connection to reality was short-lived. 

 

I’d just left the gallery when I got a text from Michael saying he was leaving the loft. The text came complete with a stoned selfie showing the both of them grinning at the camera through a haze of smoke. The smile on Brian’s face warmed my heart. I tentatively started to think that maybe we’d made it through this rough patch.


That hopeful feeling lasted precisely twelve minutes.


I was just turning the corner off Liberty onto Fuller, less than a block away from the loft, when my phone rang again. I groaned when the caller ID announced that the person trying to contact me was none other than Detective Horvath. Seriously? Now? He couldn’t let us be happy for just one evening? 


“Taylor,” the gruff police detective returned my greeting when I reluctantly answered the call. “You and Kinney going to be around tonight? I’ve got news . . .”


“That sounds ominous,” I complain. 


“For once, it’s good news,” Carl responded with a forced chuckle.


“Okay. But I’m holding you to that,” I warn him. “I’m just about home now. Brian should still be there, although I can’t promise he’s sober.”


“I can be there in a half hour,” Carl replied and then ended the call.


My steps the rest of the way were a lot heavier than they’d been on the first part of my walk home. I hated the idea of dashing Brian’s momentarily good mood with more talk about Langley and I didn’t believe Horvath’s promise that he was bringing good news. Any discussion of Langley and the past would hurt Brian, merely by bringing up all those painful memories. But there wasn’t anything I could do about that, and I really did want to see that creep put behind bars, so I supposed we’d have to suffer through more discussion about the matter. At least until the legal case was fully resolved, one way or the other.


As I pulled open the loft door, I found Brian sitting at the kitchen island, scarfing down the last piece of Meat Lover’s pizza. He had a goofy, pot-induced grin on his face. He looked relatively relaxed for the first time in weeks. 


I hated that I was about to ruin that good mood.


“Hey, Sunshine.”


“Hey . . .” I sighed and then just decided to go with the ‘yank the bandaid off’ approach, blurting out my bad news. “Carl just called. He’s on his way over. It sounds like there’s been a development in the case.”


Brian dropped the crust of pizza and sank lower on the stool. “Fuck . . .”


“Yeah. Sorry,” I didn’t know what else to say. 


I watched as Brian got up and shuffled back over to his spot on the couch. He didn’t even bother to turn the television on. He just sat there, dejectedly, staring at a spot on the carpet, not saying anything, and getting lost in his head again. So much for my intervention strategy.


Horvath showed up about fifteen minutes later. I buzzed him up and greeted him without much enthusiasm. He didn’t seem to care, though, as he strode jauntily over to greet Brain. 


“We got him!” The detective brayed with a smug smile. “We arrested Langley about two hours ago. He’s facing a butt load of state and federal charges. And that’s before we executed the search warrants for his house and the cabin he owns up in the Poconos. Bridges has his Feds looking through all the guy’s computers; he tells me that, if there’s any evidence of Langley’s porn distribution or trafficking, they’ll find it. But even without that, we probably have enough to charge him for the child abuse.”

 

“You’re going to charge him for what he did to Brian? I thought you said there’d be problems with the statute of limitations?” I questioned.

 

“There’ve been other victims who’ve come forward,” Horvath explained, looking sideways at Brian to gauge his response. “Once we started asking around - talking to parents whose kids went to that camp or whose sons were on Langley’s soccer teams - we hit paydirt. There were at least three incidents in the past five years. Nothing as egregious as what you went through, Kinney, at least not from the victims we’ve talked to so far, but enough questionable behavior that it shows a clear pattern and practice. Unfortunately, the parents were all too worried about retraumatizing their kids to come forward and report it at the time. And that’s just the kids whose parents were actually involved and watching out for the warning signs; we think there are probably a lot more kids he victimized who don’t have concerned parents that were looking out for them. Either way, we expect to file additional charges against Langley based on the evidence we come up with after searching his place.”


Brian finally showed some animation, audibly scoffing at Horvath’s proclamation. “Like it’ll come to anything.”


“Why do you say that?” Carl asked. 


“I . . . I’ve started to remember a few things and . . . One thing I do recall clearly is that Coach was constantly bragging to everyone about all his contacts. Not only does the guy come from big money . . .”


“Shit! Langley Aeronautics?” I interrupted, just now recognizing the name. “He’s THAT Langley?” 

 

“Unfortunately.” Brian nodded with another sigh. “Which means he also has the kind of important friends only old money can buy.” Brian rubbed at his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose in a familiar exhibition of stress before continuing. “Coach once threatened Buddy that, if he wasn’t good, or if he ever told anyone about the games they played, Buddy would be ‘punished’.” The way Brian said that word sent shivers down my spine, a feeling that only got more intense as he continued explaining. “When that threat no longer worked to keep him submissive, Coach said he’d give Buddy to some of his ‘friends’ who would take Buddy away and he’d never see his parents again. And when even that no longer worked - because by that point Buddy hated his parents almost as much as he hated the Coach - Buddy threatened to run away where Coach couldn’t find him. Of course, that only made Coach laugh. He told Buddy that one of his best friends was a cop and, if Buddy tried to run away, they’d just track him down and then punish him even worse once they found him.”

 

 

Something in the way that Brian only spoke about himself in the third person - like Buddy was some separate entity - creeped me out. It was like, the only way he could deal with the trauma that had occurred in his past was to physically disconnect from the experience. Although, I supposed even that was an improvement on him not talking about it at all. Still, something had to give eventually. I didn’t think he’d ever be able to move on as long as he couldn’t face the pain in a more meaningful way. Basically, it just made me more sad. And more angry at Langley.

 

"That's interesting," Carl replied, thoughtfully. "More likely than not, though, it was just an empty threat. The guy was dealing with an eight year old; he could have said anything and you'd have believed him."

 

“Five,” Brian interrupted.


“What?” Horvath asked.


“Buddy was only five when it . . . When it started,” Brian answered, again with the noticeable detachment.


Carl and I shared a worried glance but neither of us commented. 


“Well, thanks for giving me the head’s up about Langley’s possible police contacts,” Horvath continued, not addressing the new fact that Brian had let slip. “I’ll keep an eye out for internal problems, but I’m pretty sure it was an empty threat. And, even if the guy did have some contact on the force twenty-five years ago, I doubt the guy would still be on the job today. That’s a long time in police years.” The detective got up from the armchair where he’d been sitting, looking like he was about to leave, but took that opportunity to drop his biggest bomb. “We’re definitely going to need that statement from you now, Kinney. Especially if we find the kind of evidence we think we’ll turn up in the search warrant on Langley’s properties. It might be enough to give us grounds to add charges related to your abuse to Langley’s prosecution. But none of that is going anywhere without your official statement.”


Instead of responding to this imperative, though, Brian deliberately stood up, turned towards the bedroom, and walked away without further comment. Detective Horvath looked at me as if I could do something to help. I didn’t know what he wanted from me. I couldn’t make Brian talk if he didn’t want to. Yeah, I wanted Langley to suffer for what he’d done, but I was conflicted between that desire and the need to support Brian. I couldn’t do both while still protecting my partner from the renewed trauma that seemed to be inflicted on him every time the subject was brought up. 


“Thanks for coming over and telling us the news, Carl,” I said, getting up to show the police detective out without further ado.


“No . . . No, please . . . Please, Coach. I don’t want to play any more games tonight. Jimmy is mean to me, Coach. Please, can I go home now. Please . . .” the words are whispered in an ethereal voice that wakes me up from a deep, deep sleep.


I don’t, at first, recognize the voice. I sit up in the bed and rub my eyes as I look around the bedroom. On a subconscious level I note that Brian isn’t in bed beside me. That surprises me more, in the moment, than the weird voice I thought I’d heard. 


Brian should have been in bed. He hadn’t stirred since Carl had left. He’d just gone straight to bed, crawled under the covers with his clothes on, and not responded at all to anything I’d said to him the rest of the evening. I’d spent the next six or seven hours pacing, stressing out about this new ramification, and wondering what I was going to do to help Brian. 


It seemed like we were back to Catatonic Zombie Brian and that wasn’t the direction I’d wanted to go. We couldn’t go on this way. Brian was drowning and I didn’t know what to do to stop it. I needed help. I just didn’t know if Brian was open to accepting any help I had to offer. I was almost certain he wouldn’t agree to calling in professional assistance either; he’d never been a big fan of the Psychology profession and I doubted this experience had changed that perception. But something had to give. Soon. Or we’d both be lost. 


Not coming up with an immediate solution, though, I’d finally gone to bed around two AM, exhausted enough to sleep despite my through-the-roof anxiety levels.


Only to be awakened at - I checked the clock on Brian’s bedside table - three-forty-five. I’d closed the drapes on the big loft windows last night before I came to bed, so it was pitch dark in the bedroom. I couldn’t see more than a few feet. So the corner over beside the closet, where the creepy whispering was coming from, was a black hole. Only about every tenth word was even comprehensible and in my barely awake state the uninterrupted, underlying susurrus was ominous and totally freaked me out. For about the first five minutes I just sat there, frozen in place, my mind conjuring images of ghosts and other spectral creatures.


It wasn’t until I heard another cry, this one significantly louder, that I realized my mystery whisperer was Brian. Even this didn’t sound like him though. The voice was higher pitched than usual and spoken with a slight lisp. It sounded like a child’s voice. 


It sounded like the personification of terror.


“No. No. No no no no . . . Please,” the whispering tapered off into unintelligible sobbing.


I switched on the bedside light, scrambled out of bed - almost tripping when my feet got tangled in the sheets - and rushed over to find my partner huddled in the corner of the room, curled up in the tiniest ball his big body could fit into, tears washing down his cheeks. 


“Fuck,” was all I could think to say at first. Then my brain came fully on-line again and I found real words. “Brian? Hey, big guy. It’s okay. It’s just a nightmare. It’s gonna be okay . . .”


Brian flinched away when I tried to reach out and touch his shoulder. His sobbing took on a more frantic pitch. He clearly wasn’t awake. 


I knelt down on the hard wood floor beside him and tried to slowly inch closer, attempting not to frighten him more. I wasn’t sure if this was just another nightmare or something worse. If it was a nightmare, it was a really bad one. It took me a good ten minutes before Brian allowed me close enough to hold him and even then I still didn’t think he was completely awake. He kept muttering in that little boy's whispering voice the whole time. 


“I just want to go home. Please, Coach . . . I want to go home . . . Please . . . I want to go home now . . .” 

 

End Notes:

7/10/21 - Yeah, more Brian torture. By now you get that it’s kinda my thing, right? Who knew I had this huge sadistic side, huh? Now, I just need to figure out how to fix it... Thanks for sticking with me on the journey. TAG

Chapter 12 - Going Home by Tagsit


Chapter 12 - Going Home.



Things were slow at the gallery that Friday so Sydney sent me home around two. I was glad to be out of there early. I was exhausted after my sleepless night, worried about Brian, and not in the mood to coddle pretentious wannabe art collectors. Strangely enough, though, I wasn’t at all eager to go back to the loft and deal with the problems I knew were waiting for me there.


I shouldn’t have been surprised, upon my return, to find that Brian still wasn’t out of bed. It had been a rough night. I hadn’t got Brian back to bed after his night terror episode for almost an hour. I don’t think he ever completely woke up but he did eventually quiet sufficiently so that I was able to guide him towards the bed. Then it took another half hour or so before all the adrenaline wore off, allowing me to get back to sleep as well. However, poor Brian didn’t sleep well even then; he’d had at least two more, slightly less intense, nightmares before my alarm went off at 7:30. Needless to say, we were both total wrecks today.


So, yeah, it was understandable that Brian had stayed in bed, trying to catch up on his sleep a little. But, from the bags under his eyes, it didn’t look like he’d got any real rest. He looked wiped out - like a hollow husk of his real self - and almost completely drained of life. He barely stirred when I came into the bedroom to find him and ask how he was feeling. 


It fucking broke my heart to see him like this.


“Hey, Brian?” I asked, sitting down on the edge of the mattress so I could run my fingers through his slightly sweaty hair in a gesture that was more to comfort myself than him. “Can we go somewhere? Anywhere? Just to get out of the loft? I need a change of scenery and I think you do too.”


Brian slowly raised his bruised-looking eyes to mine. He hesitated a moment and then nodded. I let out the breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding. 


“Yes!” I felt so relieved. Any reprieve, no matter how small, was welcome at that point. “Great, so where do you want to go?” 


Brian replied, his voice cracking and gruff after a night without sleep, “I want to go home.”



I finally realized, after we’d been driving west for more than twenty minutes, where Brian was taking me.


It had been more than two years since I’d last been out this way. It was winter then and the hillsides had been a dull brown dotted with icy patches of white where the lingering snow had remained in sheltered nooks and crannies. Now it was late spring and the scenery was a glorious green, with all the trees blooming, and brightly colored flowers decorating the landscape. The way the colorful scene outside the car windows blurred as we sped past reminded me of any of a hundred impressionist paintings from the nineteenth century. It was a beautiful afternoon. Maybe that was contributing to my buoyant mood. Or maybe it was just because I’d finally realized where we were headed.


Brian was taking me back to Britin. 


We pulled up to the large, rambling country house and I was amazed all over again at the scope of Brain’s overt generosity. The house was perfect. It was practically a castle. Which brought to mind again the way Brian had called me his ‘Prince’ the first time he’d dragged me out here and used it as a prop to convince me to accept his proposal of marriage. I wished now - for about the millionth time - that we had gone forward with the wedding. Instead, I’d let other people put grandiose ideas into my head and push me away from Pittsburgh. And from Brian. At least I was back now, though.


“I didn’t know you kept the house,” I commented as we both got out of the Vette. “I thought you’d probably sold it after we called off the wedding.”


“Don’t be ridiculous,” Brian scoffed, hiding a small smile by rolling his lips inward. “I’d never sell your house out from under you. Especially not without at least telling you first.” 


“My house?”


“Well, the title’s in both our names,” Brian explained, “so I suppose it’s technically OUR house but . . . Well, I bought it for you so I just . . .”


He didn’t have to finish that sentence. I smiled over at him to let him know how much I still appreciated the gesture. He tried so hard to hide it, but Brian Kinney was the sweetest man ever invented, and I was well aware of that fact. But I’d let him obfuscate if it helped protect his poor manly ego.


To distract us both, I turned to another topic altogether. “It looks like there’s been some landscaping work done.”


“Yeah. I’ve made a few changes,” Brian hedged.


“I’m glad you had all those ugly juniper bushes pulled out,” I commented, earning a smile from Brian. “I hate those things. They always look so scraggly when they get big. These reddish ones look so much nicer.”


“They’re arborvitae. These ones are called ‘Fire Chief’ because of the red foliage. They’re still evergreens, so they’ll stay colorful all year long, but they’re easier to maintain.”


“Look at you, Mr. Landscaping,” I teased, impressed against my will at my partner’s apparent knowledge of a topic I knew absolutely nothing about. 


By then we’d reached the front door, which Brian opened with a key he had on his keychain which looked strangely well-used. When I followed him inside, I could see that the changes to the exterior were just the tip of the iceberg. There’d been significant remodelling done in here as well. I took my time, walking through the downstairs and looking around, noting that some of the plans we’d tentatively made had already been completed. The wall between the front room and the kitchen had been taken out, leaving only a few pillars to support the upper floor, thus creating a huge open-concept greatroom. The beautiful wood floors had been refinished and were now a gleaming Golden Oak color that went well with the fresh pale gold paint on the walls. The room was so much more cheerful with just these few changes. I definitely approved. 


Brian watched intently as I surveyed the downstairs, shadowing my steps from room to room as I catalogued all the changes I remembered. It looked like he’d done an excellent job of accomplishing all the little remodelling plans I’d made while lying on the floor in his arms after making love that one, long-ago afternoon. 


“I’m sorry that I went ahead and did all this work without consulting you,” Brian apologized after waiting for several minutes without me saying anything. “I needed to get some of it done because  . . . Well, I come out here a lot on the weekends to get away from the city and I needed it at least minimally furnished. So it just made sense to do the work first . . .”


“I don’t care, Brian,” I rushed to reassure him. “It looks like you did a great job. And I’m just so happy to be here.” I spun around and practically leaped into my man’s arms, overcome with happiness to find that the house was still ours and to know that Brian had invested so much effort into remaking it into the vision we’d shared. “Thank you. Thank you for keeping it. And for doing all this to make it livable.” 


Brian beamed back at me. His expressive hazel eyes sparkled with satisfaction and love. He never could hide from me, much as he would have liked, but nowadays he rarely even tried. 


Better even than the joy of rediscovering the thouse, though, was the way Brian was perking up at the prospect of showing it off to me.


We spent the next half hour or so doing a full tour of the house starting in the basement. Brian gave me the play-by-play of everything he’d already done and outlined all his remaining plans. We discussed decorating schemes and paint choices. I made a couple of suggestions here and there. I was glad to see he hadn’t yet started on the kitchen, which would be my sole domain, because I’d wanted to be in charge of that. But, for the most part, I approved of everything Brian had done so far. 


By the time we’d made it up to the second floor I was just feeling so amazed and grateful, I couldn’t take it anymore. Interrupting Brian The Tour Guide’s dissertation on his choice of flooring for the upstairs hallway, I grabbed him by the shirt, towed him closer, and just started kissing the bejesus out of him. Another miracle; Brian kissed me back. I hadn’t seen him this amorous since our return from New York City. It felt so good. The kissing, almost more than the house, restored my faith in the fact that my Brian was still there under the sad surface of the zombie I’d been living with for the past several weeks.


“What was that for?” Brian asked when I finally broke for some air.


“Consider it my way of thanking you for all the hard work you’ve put in here.”


“My pleasure,” Brian purred. 


And, for the first time since the whole Langley debacle had begun, I heard the real Brian speaking. 


He leaned down and took my lips again, kissing me so hard it almost hurt. But that was fine with me. I needed him right then more than I could say. It felt right. There was heat involved. Did I mention how long it had been since Brian and I had been intimate or how incredibly horny I was? Brian could have eaten me alive right then and you wouldn’t have heard any objections from me. Not as long as he was kissing me like that. And touching me like that. And putting his hands there . . . Oh, yeah! Definitely there!


The kissing inevitably led to more. There were pieces of clothing coming off right there in the hallway. I was thrilled to find that Brian was actually responding as hungrily as I was. This was more like it!


“So, I just have one question.” I managed to fit in a few intelligible words between tongue-fuckings. “Have you finished the main bedroom too?”


Despite my driving lust, though, I was thrilled with Brian's answer. “No. I wanted to leave that for us to do together,” he replied, interrupting his unbuttoning of my jeans to offer up a sweet smile. “But I DID finish off one of the guest rooms - which is where I usually sleep when I come out here - if you’d care to follow me . . .”



I was more than happy to let my randy partner tow me off towards the room in question. I barely got a glimpse of the modern decor, dark wood furniture, and comfortable ambiance, all accompanied by some shockingly bright sea glass-green accents, before Brian pushed me down on the bed and started to tug off my pants. After that I was far too distracted by what Brian was doing with his fingers to notice any more of his decorating accomplishments.


It had been way too long since I’d seen THIS Brian and can I just say that I’d missed him. A lot. I’d missed the way he would run his nimble fingers over every millimeter of my skin, touching all of me with his warm hands, and setting all my nerve endings on fire. Even after his hands had moved on, my flesh remembered each instance of touch as if it longed to be touched again. It was like my skin was a map of everywhere Brian had been and I could trace his progress via that legend. But it got even better when his lips followed along behind his fingers, depositing little barely-there kisses every couple of centimeters, licking away the lingering tendrils of sensation, adding new layers of sense memories, and nibbling at my body as if he really did want to eat me. I was in ecstasy. This was the real Brian - I was so ecstatic to find he was still in there somewhere - and that discovery, almost more than the sensations he was eliciting from my body, was what was turning me on so much.


While I was pondering all that, Brian had slowly worked his way upwards from where he’d started at my feet, and was now stroking and kissing his way along. I groaned when he skipped over significantly important parts around my midsection, but by the time he’d moved on to biting at my nipples I kinda forgot to be annoyed. Almost without volition I found my torso arching up so that he would have a better angle. I revelled in the way he’d so quickly nibbled me into hard little nubs of pure pleasure, alternating between sides with his teeth and his pinching fingers. It felt like there was a direct connection between my chest and my dick so that, with every tiny bite, my cock swelled even more. 


Lacing my own fingers through the baby-fine brunet tresses, I tried, unsuccessfully, to guide him downward. Nothing doing. Brian was in total control for the moment, which I supposed was a good thing, although it also frustrated the hell out the horny victim of his machinations. Meanwhile, he seemed intent on driving me insane, slowly licking little heart shapes across my chest and nipping hard enough to leave marks; come morning, I supposed I would have evidence of those ‘love bites’ in the form of heart-shaped bruises, but I couldn’t care less. 


Eventually he relented and started moving his attentions downward. The kisses gradually descended until his evil little tongue finally tickled lightly at the very apex of my cock, sending chills over my skin, and prompting me to squirm just a bit. Brian’s hands quickly moved to my hips, pressing down firmly to hold me in place, keeping me still; the lightweight nylon cast which had replaced the bulkier, solid cast on his wrist the week before, barely slowing him down. This allowed him the control he needed to devote all his efforts to my dick, which he began to kiss, all up and down the shaft and around the crown. The kisses never lingered too long and were accomplished with just enough pressure that it made me start leaking. But, struggle as I might, I couldn’t get myself free enough to maneuver my dick more firmly into his mouth where I so wanted it to be.


When I was just about to scream from frustration, Brian relented and pulled away far enough so he could run his fingers across the head of my straining cock. He used his touch to spread the precum that had been bubbling from there down my shaft. His fingers felt cool against the overheated flesh and the dribbles of cum tickled. It was exquisit torture and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  


All through this procedure Brian had been murmuring - between kisses and nibbles - offering dirty little suggestions about all the nasty things he was going to do to me. I was too distracted to consciously listen, but the sentiment of his comments had nevertheless penetrated through my wavering focus and no doubt added to my soaring lust levels. Nobody could talk dirty like Brian Kinney. But, when his lips were no longer quite so busy, he upped his game by throatily whispering about just how hard he was going to make me cum. I was so on edge by that point, he probably could have brought me to orgasm with just a word. It was obviously overkill, but I loved it.


Taking pity on me - most likely in response to the neediness of  my moaning, which I was too far gone to be embarrassed about in spite of how much begging was involved - Brian swiped his big, broad tongue across my slit and I just couldn’t hold back any longer. When Brian wanted, he could instantly turn me back into that same neophyte teenager without a shred of self-control. In fact, I think he was proud of this ability and used it like a tool, on demand, whenever he needed to reassert himself. Like he was doing then. So is it any wonder that I lost it completely and started to come so hard at just that licking touch, that I soaked the both of us? 


“Nectar of the Gods,” Brian mumbled as he slurped up a healthy serving of my seed and then climbed back up my body to share the taste with me. 


“Mmmm,” was all my brain was capable of saying as I sucked myself off his tongue.


“Now that we’ve got that out of the way,” Brian summed up the situation nicely, “how about we move on to the main event.”


“There’s more?” I asked, still feeling so ecstatically limp that I didn’t see how there could be more. 


“Silly little boy. Of course there’s more. Weren’t you listening before?” Brian chuckled as he scooped up another dollop of the cooling cum off my belly and promptly used it to begin fingering me open. 


“Oh! Oh, yeah. Yeah, there’s more . . . Yes, more. Please, more. So much more . . .”


My pleading caused him to laugh again. Each note of happiness helped alleviate a tiny bit of the angst that had been weighing on my heart for the past few weeks, so I didn’t bother to curb my begging. It was all for a good cause, right? Plus, the bonus was that I could feel Brian’s dick twitching against my groin with each renewed entreaty for him to hurry along. Not that he acceded to my begging; if anything he slowed down the more I begged, intentionally taking just that much longer, working at me until I turned into a big, dripping, whimpering mess. Which, to be fair, was how he liked me best. 


I have no idea how long that phase of the proceedings lasted. It felt like forever and yet I never wanted it to stop. When Brian removed his fingers and suited up, I heard myself groan at the loss, and momentarily felt confused. My overheated brain somehow jumped to the conclusion that he was leaving me; that something was wrong and he wasn’t going to finish. I felt bereft and confused and so, so sad. I guess the past few weeks of neverending existential dread had shortcuicuited my brain or something. I now automatically expected the worst. Luckily for me, and my needy ass, I was wrong, and Brian was only pausing long enough to move forward with what he’d called ‘The Main Event’. 


Before I could voice all my worries, I felt Brian using one hand to line himself up at my hole. He pushed in slowly. I was so relieved I almost cried. He entered me so gently, so carefully, as if I was fragile and going to break or something, that I think a few tears did escape. Even my overly lusty brain could somehow understand that the care he was taking of me now was a response to the renewed trauma he’d been dealing with and I was touched at just how caring he was attempting to be. Fuck, I loved this man more with every damn day I knew him. He was so good to me. He was so good, period. Too good for all the horrors he’d had to live through.


The slow burn of Brian’s entry served to distract me, at least partially, from my maudlin musings. I was allowed to just let it all go and enjoy the way Brian made love to me, right? 


He was always a master at the art but this time it was evident how much effort he was putting into making the entire experience absolutely perfect. I loved the slowness of his deliberate motions. The way he was cradling my body with his arms as he sensually pushed and pulled himself into my body. The way his face was buried into the crook of my shoulder so that the fragrance of his hideously expensive shampoo filled my nose, suffusing me with the essence of Brian, as he fucked me. The tiny mewlings of pleasure he couldn’t hold back vibrated against the thin skin over my collar bone. I relished the little love runes his fingertips were tracing against my skin where his hands couldn’t stay still even as he pulled us both, irresistibly, towards that point of no return. 


Even as I was going out of my mind with the building fervor of my orgasm, I could feel all the love Brian was putting into this fuck. It was that, more even than the escalating electrical currents caused by his repeatedly brushing across my prostate, that eventually washed me over the edge of ecstasy into one of the most profoundly powerful climaxes of my entire life. When Brian followed me to his own release half a dozen heartbeats later, I wasn’t at all surprised to feel the warmth of a couple tears of his own puddling in the indentation of my shoulder, where he was trying to hide his emotional response.


Maybe my Brian was still there under the Zombie disguise after all?


 

 

End Notes:

7/11/21 - I figured you folks could use a break, so here’s your happy little porny interlude. Enjoy it while it lasts. There’s still more torture ahead, I’m afraid... *Cue the ominous music* Special thanks for her help on this chapter go out to my wonderful friend, Lorie. You can thank her for the prompts that got me through the sex scene. She’s an awesome writing partner! TAG

Chapter 13 - Sea Glass Green by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

CW: Sickly sweet sentimentaility. Be prepared... TAG



Chapter 13 - Sea Glass Green.



I didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed with my ass this sore. Even just rolling over to try and inch my way out from under the arm Brian had draped across my body caused all my nether regions to throb. Not that I was complaining, mind you. At least not about the way my ass got that sore. I just didn’t want to have to haul my sore ass off to work.


However, there was no arguing with the *beep, beep, beep* from my phone indicating it was time to get my achy ass in gear if I didn’t want to be late. 


“I think we’re past the stage where you have to try to slink out the morning after without waking me up, don’t you, Sunshine?” Brian drawled sexily as he rolled over, closer to his side of the bed.


“I don’t think I’m gonna be slinking anywhere for a long time to come,” I replied, groaning ostentatiously as I attempted to sit up. “I was just trying to be quiet so you could sleep in a little bit longer.”


My big sexy stud reached his arms over his head, grabbed hold of the headboard with his uncasted hand, and stretched like a contented cat. I smiled down at him. I think last night was the first time in three weeks that he’d slept through the entire night without a nightmare waking us both. He looked moderately well rested; a welcome change after the past few weeks. 


I swatted at his naked thigh before I hoisted myself to my feet. I didn’t get far, though, before Brian hooked one of his super-long legs around my calf and toppled me back down on top of him. “I can think of better things to do with you in bed than sleeping,” he announced with a low rumble of pleasure. 


I kissed him back for a few minutes but then my damn phone beeped at me again and I realized I couldn’t stay there and make out with my man any longer. Not if I didn’t want to be late. And, since I’d only had this job a little over a week, it was probably too soon to show up late for work, right?


“I’d love to stay and pursue this further, Stud, but I’m afraid I’ve got somewhere I need to be this morning. Can I take a rain check?”


Brian let me go with a subvocal grumble. Something about ‘Saturday’s aren’t meant for early appointments’ or at least the annoyed Brian equivalent of that, with a few more swear words thrown in for effect. I left one last kiss on his crushed cranberry red lips and then dragged my sore ass off to the shower. 


Brian was still lounging in bed when I came out all showered and clean and freshly shaved. He was scrolling through something on his phone - a good sign since it meant he was engaging with the world again - and damn if he didn’t look so fucking tempting. I would have loved to crawl back in bed with him and let him do more of those crazy nasty things he was promising to do to my ass yesterday afternoon. But, alas, I didn’t have that luxury. So I resisted the temptation, avoiding even looking at him further so my resolve wouldn’t crumble, and instead went in search of the bag of clean clothes I’d brought with me for the weekend. 


I was just about dressed when Brian came ambling lazily down the stairs. He’d pulled on some jeans along with my t-shirt from the day before - probably the only clothing he could find in the room where we’d ended up after practically tearing each other’s clothes off in our rush of lust - and I smiled at the way my two-sizes-too-small shirt rode up on his belly. Damn he was so fucking adorable sometimes! It physically hurt to have to leave him when he looked so delicious.


“Nice shirt,” I commented with an ear to ear grin.


He rubbed his hands down his chest, smoothing out the cotton fabric, and then did a sexy little wiggle with his hips when his hands got to the bottom hem. “You could always stay and pull it off me instead of abandoning me.”


“I would love to but . . .” I looked at the time on my phone and groaned. “I HAVE to go. Is it okay if I borrow the Vette for the day? Did you want to come back into town with me?”


“I have a better idea,” my man said, a huge smile lighting up his face as he shouldered past me on the way to the kitchen. 


I followed, a little confused, as he led me through the kitchen and out the door that connected to the cavernous three-car garage. I expected to see it empty, since we’d left the Vette parked out front the night before, forgetting it completely in our rush to fuck. To my surprise, however, there was a brand new, maroon, Honda CRV parked in the closest bay. 

 


“You bought a new car?” I asked, sounding like an idiot. 


“I kinda had to after I started coming out here all the time. The roads in this area in winter were too much for a Corvette,” Brian answered, as he retrieved a set of keys from a hook by the garage door. He handed them off to me with the most adorably sheepish grin before he added, “and also, well, I knew you’d need a car when you eventually moved back. Or, at least, I hoped . . .”


I didn’t bother letting him stutter through to the end of that sentence. I was already jumping into his arms and kissing away the rest of the words. Sometimes Brian is just too stinking sweet for his own good. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to thank him properly for the new car just then because I was already gonna be late for work if I didn’t leave right away. So I merely gave him one more kiss, climbed down off him, and beamed at him with my best Sunshine smile.


“When I get home, I’m going to show you just how grateful I am for this,” I promised, swirling the keys around on my extended index finger. “You gonna come back into town or stick around here? I need to know so I can find you later for your thanking.”


Brian was smiling back at me with a self-satisfied grin that told me he knew just how lucky he was gonna get later that night. “I’m gonna hang out here at the house and putter a little.”


“Cool. I’ll bring some groceries back with me and we can try out the kitchen for the first time.” 


As I got in the car and pushed the starter button, the car roaring to life, I waved to the man waiting to see me off by the garage door. Brian seemed happier than I’d seen him in weeks. The combination of a full night’s sleep and the retreat to Britin appeared to be just what he needed. I hoped the change would last. 



“Damn it!” I cursed, coming in through the garage door about nine hours later. 


I rushed to put down the three over-full bags of groceries I was carrying, dumping them unceremoniously on the kitchen counter, and then ran back to retrieve the two lemons and the little plastic jar of Italian seasoning that had fallen on my way in. I was so excited to try out the kitchen for the first time, I might have gone a little overboard on the shopping. I didn’t know how long we were going to be hiding out here in the boonies, so I probably didn’t need to buy enough to feed an army for a week, but whatever. I had been inspired to try out this new recipe for Garlic Butter Chicken Bites and Lemon Asparagus and if that meant buying half the damn market, so be it. Besides, it was the kind of low-carb meal that Brian would love.



Before I got started in the kitchen, though, I also took the opportunity of Brian being nowhere in sight to cart in the last few boxes of stuff that the movers had sent from NYC. I’d stopped by Daphne’s - where my personal property had been hiding out for the past week - and grabbed everything that I hadn’t already surreptitiously sneaked into the loft. My previous plan had been to move everything into the loft a little at a time so Brian wouldn’t realize what I was up to until it was a fait accompli. But now that I had a whole house to store stuff in, I figured what the hell. I’d just stash everything in one of the thousand or so empty rooms out here and be done with it. 


Mostly, though, I was just super eager to unpack all my art stuff so I could get started setting up the room we’d decided would be my Britin studio.



When I pushed open the door to the atrium on the north side of the main floor, however, I was stunned to see that someone had already beat me to the initial setting up. The beautiful room had been completely transformed. The previously small windows in the back wall had been replaced with a bank of huge single light windows that flooded the room with soft light. As if that wasn’t enough, Brian had installed two frosted glass skylights that beamed diffused light even into the back corners. The floor had been refinished with cushioned vinyl tiling that would be easy on my feet while I stood in front of an easel for hours but that looked like travertine stone which had been polished to a gleaming shine. The walls were painted a bright white; all the better to display my artwork against. There was even an easel set up in a place of honor near the windows and a large work table ready for me to spread my projects out atop. Even better, the wall where the entry door was located had been lined, floor to ceiling, with storage cupboards, which my considerate partner had already partly filled with art supplies. 


And he’d done all that in secret while still trying to convince me to stay in New York; sometimes I just loved that man silly.


When I saw my beautiful studio, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to go find my man and thank him properly. So I dropped my boxes off on the work table and went to find Brian.


Which wasn’t easy, actually. I wandered through the rest of the downstairs without encountering any sign of Brian. Eventually I climbed the stairs and began searching the various guest rooms. It wasn’t until I heard music coming out of the en suite bath in the guest room we’d slept in the night before that I found the man I was looking for. 


He was so involved in what he was doing that he didn’t even hear me come in at first. Which gave me a chance to admire the sight of his tight little bum elevated in the air as Brian bent down to apply more paint to the baseboard he was coating with more of that gorgeous sea glass green color he’d used in the room itself. In fact, in the eight hours or so that I’d been gone, he had repainted the entire room that color. It looked absolutely fabulous. So NOT Brian, but one hundred percent Justin Taylor, which must have been the reason he’d done it. 



“Excuse me, Sir, but have you seen my partner, Brian Kinney, around here somewhere?” I interrupted as he sat up and reached for the pan of paint he was using. 


Brian looked up at me with an almost guilty look. He had a smudge of green across his cheek that made me want to smile because he was just so fucking adorable. He was wearing a dirty, paint-streaked t-shirt that had seen better days and his beautifully manicured hands, as well as the unfortunate nylon wrist cast, were covered with paint. 


“Ha, fucking, ha,” Brian replied, unamused.


“Sorry, Brian. I didn’t recognize you. I mean, come on. Brian Kinney voluntarily doing manual labor? What is the world coming to?” He shot me with what I’m sure he thought was a withering look, but it just made me giggle. “Now, if Armani made a ‘Working Man’ line of clothing, that would be different.”


“Fuck you, Sunshine,” Brian growled and then held out his hand so I could help him up off the floor. “I’ll have you know that I like to paint. It’s soothing. Besides, I kick ass at it.” He set his paintbrush aside and used a rag that was waiting draped over the side of the tub to wipe off his hands. “I worked summers all through college as a house painter, so I’m as good as any professional, and I cost a lot less.”


“Wow! I had no idea you had all these hidden skills,” I responded, impressed against my will. “And here I thought I was the only painter in the family.”


“Good to know I can still surprise you occasionally,” Brian smirked at me then gestured around at his work. “What do you think?”


“I love it. It’s so bright and . . . Happy . . . Not a color I would have thought you’d pick, though.”


“I figured that this is the guest room where we’d stash Lindsey and Mel when they came to visit so I went with a more lesbian-approved color pallette,” he confessed. 


“Good call,” I offered my approval. 


Brian didn’t respond other than to start cleaning up his painting supplies. I helped because, the sooner this was all put away, the sooner I could jump the gorgeous handyman’s bones. As we worked together Brian explained more about his plans for the rest of this bathroom as well as some of the other rooms he hadn’t got to yet. I really had zero objections to any of his ideas. His decorating acumen was unparalleled. 


At one point he stopped, and turned to look at me with a questioning look. “What?” he asked when he realized I had been staring at him. 


“Nothing, I just . . . I like seeing this side of you,” I admitted. “It’s a little unexpected, but I like it.” 


He shrugged and refused to meet my gaze while he answered. “I like working on our house on my own. I want to make it exactly like we discussed. I get a real sense of accomplishment that . . . Well, I haven’t felt like that much lately so . . . I guess this just feels good.”


And, of course, I was so fucking turned on by that confession that I sorta forgot about dinner and my studio and all my other plans. Instead, I asked Brian to fuck me right there in the halfpainted bathroom. The paint stains on my favorite pair of dockers and the damage to the half-dried wall that Brian would have to repaint the next day were totally worth it. Besides, we needed to christen that bathroom anyway, right?



“Ouch,” I grumbled when I dropped the heavy bundle of canvas stretcher bars on my bare foot. 


What was it about this house that seemed to cause me to constantly be dropping things, I wondered.


Since it was 3:30 in the morning, though, I didn’t make as much of a fuss out of my pain as I normally might have. I didn’t want to wake Brian because that would probably mean having him drag me back to bed where he could continue ravaging me some more. Not that I objected to a good ravishment, but right at that moment I really wanted to play with my art supplies more than I wanted to play with Brian. 


Besides, the man was still catching up on three weeks of not sleeping so I figured he could use all the sleep he could get.


I, on the other hand, had needed food and my art more than sleep. I’d woken up around 2:45, after fuck knew how many rounds of lovemaking, rarin’ to go. We’d moved on, after christening the newly painted bathroom, to re-christening the guest room, and then, since we seemed to be on a roll, had taken our act to various other rooms throughout the upstairs before landing back in the sea glass-green bedroom again sometime around ten. We both passed out at that point because, well, sex is a tiring business, you know? But my stomach wasn’t happy that I’d neglected it and woke me up to make sure I’d take note and remedy that shortcoming. 


After I’d appeased the stomach monster, though, I couldn’t resist going back in to admire the amazing studio that Brian had set up for me one more time and . . . Here I was almost an hour later, still putting away my NYC supplies and rearranging things the way I wanted them.


Have I mentioned how much I loved this house? And this studio in particular? And the kitchen I was going to remodel into a chef’s dream space? And Brian for giving all this to me? I literally couldn’t wait to start making it all mine. 


At that moment I totally understood Brian’s comment earlier about how he enjoyed working on the house himself and turning it into a private haven for the two of us to enjoy for years to come. I hadn’t really had a ‘home’ of my own in years and years. I’d been thrown out of my parents home at the tender age of seventeen and thereafter been shuffled around from Brian’s to Deb’s, back to Brian’s, to Ethan’s, to Daphne’s, back to Brian’s once more, and then off to that dive I’d occupied in New York for the past two years. None of those places had felt like my home. They’d been places to live, sure, but not homes. Britin, though, was mine and I was more eager than I can say to make it into the kind of home that Brian and I could cherish.


When I’d finally placed the last tube of acrylic paint on the proper shelf, I kicked aside the empty cardboard box, and immediately picked up the first untouched canvas I saw. I couldn’t wait to paint. It had been weeks since I’d had even the barest twinge of inspiration. Right then, though, my fingers were twitching at the mere idea that they’d get to hold a paintbrush again. My nostrils flared the second I opened the first tube of paint and the aroma of turps and pigment reached them. I was immediately transported and lost to my art.


The rosy hues of dawn were painting the sky outside my studio windows a complementary shade of pink to the one I’d just applied to the canvas when I finally looked up and realized that I was no longer alone in the studio. Brian was curled up on the futon couch in the corner, watching me with this contented look on his face. I had no idea how long he’d been there; I hadn’t heard him come in. But the proud smile that was gracing his lips told me he wasn’t upset that I’d discovered his little surprise. 


“Good morning,” he drawled, unfurling his long legs and then gracefully rising so he could finally come over and wrap me in his arms. “I take it you approve of my decorating in here as well?”


“Oh, Brian! It’s perfect. Absolutely perfect!” I enthused, adding a wiggle and a kiss to his neck to emphasize my approval. “You have no idea how happy I am to have a real space to paint in again. That tiny nook that I was renting out in New York was a joke compared to this. I just can’t . . .” 


Words weren’t sufficient to convey exactly how happy I was right then. The only adequate way to express my true feelings, it seemed, involved shoving down the loose-fitting sweatpants Brian was wearing, bending him over the edge of the work table, and using my eager dick applied to his welcoming hole to prove my happiness. Brian didn’t even seem surprised at my manhandling him. If anything, he seemed just as enthusiastic at my ‘thanking’ as I was. Or, at least, that’s what I took away from the almost non-stop groaning, moaning and begging that ensued.  


When I was done plowing his taut little ass into the table, Brian pulled me back to the futon and wrapped us both in the cashmere throw that I’d notice draped over the back of the frame earlier. 


“I’m glad to see you’ve finally moved all your stuff in,” the sly boots commented with a look around at the pile of empty boxes I’d left in the wake of my unpacking. 


“You know I’m not going back, right?” I pointed out, a little bashful now that I’d been caught.


“Yeah, I figured. You’ve been in the Pitts for what? More than three weeks now? Even if you were planning to go back, you’d have been fired by now.” 


“And you’re not pissed off that I didn’t talk to you about it first?” I pressed.


Brian didn’t answer, other than to fold me tighter into the nest he’d made of the blanket, squeezing me tighter with his arms and kissing me until I ran out of breath. 


After lots of additional kissing Brian eventually broke away, got up, and walked over to the wall opposite the worktable. Looking back over his shoulder at me with a meaningful expression, he removed one of the paintings that had already been hung on the wall there - one of mine from a couple years back that I’d given to him as a thirty-fifth birthday present - disclosing a brand new wall safe. 


“The date we were supposed to get married,” he explained as he tapped the combination into the keypad.


Which, okay, almost made me cry because it was one of the saddest days of both our lives and I didn’t want to remember the day I’d basically abandoned him. But Brian didn’t look at all sad while he pulled open the safe door and fished around inside for a moment. When he found what he’d been looking for, carrying the beautifully carved wooden box back over to where I was waiting on the couch, I think I really did cry a little bit. 


“You kept them?” I asked, snatching the ring box out of his hand and opening it to find our wedding bands nestled amid the velvet lining. 


“Of course I fucking kept them,” Brian scoffed at my credulity. “Did you not hear the whole part about ‘It’s only time’?”


“I did. I just didn’t think this option would still be here when the time came around again,” I responded with a hiccup as my breath caught in my throat.


Brian ignored my histrionics. He opened the box, took out the smaller of the two rings, and slid it on my finger without any fanfare or hesitation. Then he folded my fingers in and kissed my knuckles with so much tenderness I couldn’t bear it.


“Since you’re apparently back for real, what do you say we make it permanent this time?” 



 

End Notes:

7/18/21 - OMG! So much sentimentality! I’m seriously worried about Brian’s state of mind. Maybe all that trauma he’s been through lately has permanently warped him? Or, maybe, he’s just feeling freer to say and do all the stuff he’s been holding back? Either way, Justin is thrilled! Hope you enjoyed this sickly sweet interlude, though, because I’m itching to get back to all the torture again... Prepare yourselves. Bwahahaha! TAG

 

PS. I’m approaching the point where my initial outlining of this story comes to an end. It’s scary. I had this story all thought out up to this point but then, I just wrote, ‘Something happens here’, and that was that. Now I have to figure out how I get past that nebulous middle part to the end I originally envisioned. I hate writing the middle parts of a story. I always knew the beginnings and the endings, but the middle can be sticky. Wish me luck... 

Chapter 14 - Statements by Tagsit

 

 

Chapter 14 - Statements.

 

I pulled the new Honda up to the curb in front of Kinnetik and put it into park. “You’re sure about this? I could drop you off at the loft instead.”

 

“Don’t be an idiot,” Brian dismissed my worries as he retrieved his briefcase out of the back seat and then leaned over to kiss his chauffeur goodbye. “I need to at least check in at work every so often to make sure Ted and Cynthia haven’t bankrupted me. Besides, there’s a meeting with one of Kinnetik’s VIP clients later today which I really should be at . . .”

 

“Fine,” I cut him off. “But call me if it gets to be too much and you want to go home. I can take a break from work and come get you.”

 

“I’ll be fine, you big mother hen,” he replied and rolled his eyes at my overprotectiveness. "Call me when you get off and I'll meet you at the Diner so we can make sure to sate your stomach monster."

 

“Deal.”


“Later,” he drawled.


“Later,” I echoed as he shut the door and headed towards the building. 


I wished I didn’t have such a bad feeling about leaving him on his own for a full day at work. I knew it was silly; Brian was a big boy and could take care of himself. He’d be fine on his own for a few hours, right? The foreboding I was fighting against was probably just a projection of my own fears and my regret at having to leave our refuge after such an amazing weekend

 

We had enjoyed three glorious days of escape at Britin. I’d had Sunday and Monday off work so we’d just spent the rest of the weekend hiding out in the house together. I’d painted pictures while Brian painted rooms. I’d cooked some amazing meals that Brian actually ate without complaining about all the carbs. We’d made love, walked in the woods that backed up on the estate grounds, slept, and lounged around like big lazy cats. We’d even shut off our computers and ignored our phones so that nothing could intrude on our idyll. It had been wonderful. 


But now it was Tuesday morning and I had to go back to work.


While lying in bed after my alarm went off that morning, I’d finally confessed to Brian about my secret job. I had expected him to be a little pissed off at me for all my behind-the-scenes machinations but, surprising me again, Brian was quietly supportive. He admitted to being not at all surprised about how sneaky his former stalker was. 


We’d decided to drive into town together and I’d won the discussion about which car to drive by begging to be allowed to show off my new Honda. Brian laughed at my antics and caved in easily. He seemed to be feeling much better after our weekend away; he’d finally got some sleep, ate some real meals, and hadn’t had one nightmare the whole time. We were both feeling happy and relaxed as we drove into town, making plans about going out to the Diner and Woody’s after work and then returning to Britin again that night.


But, even as I watched Brian opening the door to the former bath house and going inside, I felt this kernel of dread throbbing away in the pit of my stomach. 

 

It had been a great, relaxing weekend and Brian was acting much more like himself than he had in weeks. That part was reassuring. But we still hadn’t dealt with any of the shit that had sent him around the bend to begin with. We hadn’t talked about Langley or the man’s arrest or the abuse or any of it. Brian was acting as if none of that had ever happened. And, while I was glad he was feeling better and had finally gotten some sleep, I knew that ignoring the problem wasn’t going to make it go away. 

 



I should probably take up telling fortunes and doing Tarot readings in the pub along with Mysterious Marilyn seeing as my premonitions were so spot on.


It turned out I’d been right to be worried about Brian as I’d driven away from Kinnetik that morning. When I’d called to talk to Brian during my afternoon break, an almost frantic Cynthia had informed me that Detective Horvath had come by just after lunch and escorted Brian out of the building. Kinnetik was buzzing with rumors about what was going on and half the staff believed that Brian had been arrested for something. Apparently Brian still hadn’t got around to telling Cynthia or Ted exactly why he’d taken all the unplanned vacation time over the past several weeks so speculation was already running rampant before the addition of a police officer coming to the office. Now, the staff were outright freaking out. Poor Cynthia. I promised to update her as soon as I found out what was going on myself and then hung up so I could go find my man.


“I need to speak to Carl Horvath right away,” I demanded of the fresh-faced young officer who intercepted me as I ran into the station ten minutes later. 


“I’m sorry, Detective Horvath is in a meeting at the moment,” I was informed by the Noob.


“Yeah, I know. It’s my partner he’s meeting with and I need to be in there with them,” I insisted, trying to brush past him so I could get to where Brian was.


Noobie stopped me with a hand to my shoulder as he tried to maneuver me towards one of the chairs set up in the entryway waiting area. “Sir. If you’ll just take a seat for a minute, I’ll call the detective and let him know you’re here.”


Since Noobie was wearing a gun, and looking at me as if he might be justified in pulling it out of its holster, I let him deposit me in a chair. Then he went back to his desk and picked up the phone. I told him my name, watching as he dialed and then informed whoever answered that ‘Mr. Justin Taylor’ was waiting to speak to Horvath. 

 

“Someone will be out to speak to you in just a minute, Sir,” Noobs told me after hanging up his phone. 

 

Then I waited for way longer than I felt appropriate. Fuckers. I knew when I was being ignored and I didn’t care much for the experience. So, the second Noobs got called away from his desk, I vaulted off that damn waiting chair and sprinted through the station to where I knew Horvath’s office was located. Carl headed me off halfway there, though, coming out of another room and closing the door behind him.


“You needed to see me, Taylor?” He greeted me with feigned stupidity and gestured with pretend politeness towards his office. 


I let him usher me into the tiny room, holding back the explosion of my anger until he’d closed the door behind us. 


“You can’t just drag Brian out of his place of work and tow him down here like this,” I accused. “Everyone at work thinks you’re arresting HIM. It’s going to get back to his friends and possibly even to his clients. I thought you said you’d do everything in your power to protect his identity? So how is this protecting him?”


Carl sighed and shook his head. “It wasn’t like that, son. I just stopped in to try and persuade Brian to finally come give his full statement. We’d been trying to get a hold of you two all weekend to follow up but neither of you returned my calls. This was the first opportunity I had to talk to him so I . . . Made the best of it.”


“I took Brian out of town for the weekend and we turned our phones off,” I admitted. “He’s been a fucking mess, Carl. He can’t sleep. He gets woken up a half dozen times a night by horrific nightmares. We just needed to get out of here and get a break.”


“I can understand that,” Horvath replied, sounding understanding but resolute. “But we can’t move forward on the charges against Langley without Brian’s statement and he’s had more than enough time to come in voluntarily.” I started to object again but Carl cut me off. “Langley was arraigned over the weekend and, of course, got out on $250,000 bail. We have a limited amount of time to firm up our case and file pre-trial motions before discovery starts. If we don’t have Brian’s statement before then, Langley’s going to file a motion to dismiss and he’ll probably win. So it’s now or never, Taylor.”


“Fine. But you should have warned me before you dragged Brian down here for questioning. I need to be with him.”

 

“Kinney’s an adult. He doesn’t need you to hold his hand,” Carl scoffed, which just pissed me off even more. The detective must have noticed the sparks of rage darting from my eyes because he immediately changed his tone to a more conciliatory note. “You can’t give his testimony for him, Son. And, anyways, we need the unvarnished truth, which is sometimes hard for people to relate when loved ones are sitting there listening in. Trust me, this will go smoother for everyone if you aren’t around when we question him.” 

 

 

“You’re wrong, Carl. I need to be there. You have no fucking idea how fragile Brian really is. He’s barely hanging on. He can’t even talk about what happened to ME and you think he’ll bare his soul to you? Damn it, Carl. He hasn’t let on to anyone what’s going on behind the scenes; he’s basically just walked away from his business, that’s how bad it is. And now you’re just going to mine his brain, refreshing all those painful memories, and you think he’ll be fine afterwards? Well, fuck that.” 

 

I tried to push past him so I could get out of the office but his big, firm hands on my shoulders held me back. “I’m sorry, Taylor, but I can’t let you be in this interview. Besides the fact that I think it would be a bad idea, it’s against policy. You’re going to have to sit this one out.”

 

 

“Please, Carl?” I figured I wasn’t above begging if it got me to Brian. “You don’t understand. He’s a fucking, fall down mess. The nightmares all this is causing are almost crippling and you forcing him to talk when he isn’t ready is going to kill him.”

 

“I know it might feel like that, son,” Carl tried to be reassuring, all the while trying to get me to sit down in one of his office chairs. “But maybe talking about it will help? It’s got to be better than reliving it in his nightmares, right?” I shrugged. "Either way, I think it's time that we pressed him to get it all out. If he is having night mares, after repressing the memories for who knows how many years, it means he’s remembering more and we need every scintilla of whatever he can recall if we want to take down Langley for good. So, I’m sorry, Taylor, but we need to do this and we need to do it now.”

I slumped defeatedly in my chair. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to convince him to take it easy on Brian. And, who knew? Maybe talking about it would help a little? I sincerely doubted that presumption but, since there wasn’t anything I could do about it, arguing further seemed futile. 

 

“Tell you what,” Carl offered, moving towards the door. “If it will make you feel better, you can hang out here in my office until we’re done talking with Kinney. If anything goes pear-shaped we’ll come get you. But I promise, Taylor, Agent Bridges and I have both been on the job for a long time. We know what we’re doing; we’ll do our best to help Brian through it. And then, provided his statement helps us to put Langley away for good, Brian and all the other boys that creep hurt will ALL be able to sleep better.”  

 

Carl left me there in his office, cooling my heels, for what felt like forever. If I leaned forward, because of where the chair I was sitting in was located, I could just barely see around the doorjamb and get a glimpse of the interrogation room where they were questioning Brian. Watching the door of that room only made me more anxious, though, so I mostly didn’t bother. I just huddled in my chair in Carl’s tiny, airless office, and silently freaked out inside my own head for fuck knew how long. 


Eventually I gave up and pulled a sketch pad out of my bag so I could at least while away the time doodling as I waited for them to finish destroying my boyfriend. I was working on a sketch of Brian getting out of the tub in the sea glass green bathroom, all soapy and dripping, when my attention was sapped away by the sound of violent whispering happening just outside Carl’s office door. At first I hadn’t paid it too much mind, dismissing the whispering along with all the other random office noises that had passed by the office while I was waiting. Then I realized I recognized one of the voices as that of Coach Wade Langley and I was suddenly quite interested in what the voices were saying. 


I leaned forward again, allowing myself to peek out into the hallway and confirmed, yes, it was none other than the creepy coach himself out there. Langley was dressed to the nines in a designer suit - Brian would have instantly known which designer but I usually couldn’t be bothered with that kind of shit - and was busy arguing with another, younger man, who was wearing a suit that wasn’t quite as nice. Judging by what they were saying, I assumed the second suit was Langley’s lawyer. 


“No, Patterson! This is just ridiculous! I’m not going to listen to their bullshit plea offers. No fucking way!” Langley hissed.


“Listen, Wade, you’re facing some serious charges here,” the lawyer responded patiently. “The penalty for mere possession of child pornography is ten years and distribution gets you another five PER PICTURE! On top of that, they’re alleging sexual exploitation of a minor, not to mention the state law claims for child sexual abuse. Most of those crimes are strict liability, which means the DA doesn’t even have to prove intent; all they have to show is that you had those pictures on your computer and you’re done for. Do you really want to go through a long, drawn out court battle, with your name smeared all over the nightly news, just to get the same - or worse - outcome than they’re offering now? Come on, Wade. You’ve got to at least consider taking a plea.”


“No fucking way,” Langley angrily griped at his mouthpiece. “Those charges are all blown out of proportion. I’m not pleading guilty to that shit. Especially not if they’re going to ask me to turn on my friends as part of the deal. I don’t care what the DA says. It’s only a few dirty pictures anyway. They can’t prove that I did anything other than look at the damn things and, maybe, share them with a friend or two. I’m hardly some kingpin of the porn industry for fuck sake.”


“They say they have the proof you were distributing . . .”

 

“They’re bluffing,” Langley cut him off. “If they had that kind of proof I wouldn’t be out on bail. What I really want to know, though, is where they’re getting the other shit? All that crap about child abuse? They couldn’t possibly have evidence tying me to that. So where’s all that coming from after all these years, huh? If I find the lowlife who’s accusing me of that crap, I can promise you he won’t like the consequences. And if it’s coming from any of my so-called friends, I want to know who. I’ve got a ton more crap on all of them than they could ever have on me and they know it. If anyone thinks they can mess with me, they better think again.”

 

“I’m meeting with the DA again later this week to discuss preliminary matters,” the lawyer said. “I’ll ask then but, depending on who’s making the claims, I might not get an actual name. There are shield laws protecting abuse victims, particularly if they’re minors . . .”


“Fuck that, Patterson!” Langley blew up again, forgetting to modulate his voice for a moment. “I want names, damn it! I deserve to know who’s making these allegations against me.” Several heads turned to look their way after that outburst, causing Langley to lower his voice again. “Trust me, none of my boys would turn on me like that. They know better. And most of my friends know better too. Whoever it was has to have a death wish . . .” 


“Stop. Do not threaten a witness in front of your lawyer or you’ll be without a lawyer faster than you can say ‘disbarment’,” Patterson warned his client. 


“Just find out who is making these claims,” Langley repeated unabashedly. “Once I know who it is that I’m up against, and what dirt I have to trade on them, maybe then we can discuss a plea deal.” 


The two men turned to leave. I realized I was shaking with anger and fear. I poked my head out the doorway long enough to confirm that Langley and his lawyer were out of sight before rushing off to find Horvath so I could relate what I’d overheard. I didn’t bother to knock before bursting through the door I’d watched Horvath go through what felt like hours earlier. Inside, I found Brian sitting across the table from Carl and Terry Bridges looking like he was about to crawl out of his skin.


“I told you, Carl,” Brian was explaining as I barreled into the room. “I don’t remember that much and what I do remember, it’s like it happened to someone else. It’s all a blur. What you’re telling me . . . I can see it but only after you tell me about it. I don’t know anything more. I don’t know anything. That wasn’t ME. That was Buddy.”


Brian pushed away a stack of photos the cops had printed out and I caught a glimpse of the horrors they depicted. I could see that the pictures showed a small boy being forced to have sex with an adult man. It was pretty graphic and, even from across the room, it was clear what happened there. I cringed but didn’t know what to say or even whether I should acknowledge what I’d seen. Maybe pretending ignorance would be the better approach? Luckily, Carl interrupted my spiraling thoughts, by turning his attention to where I was standing in the open doorway and asking what I was doing.


“I thought I told you to wait in my office, Taylor?”


I shot an apologetic grimace to my partner and then turned my attention back to Horvath. “I need to talk to you. Now, please. It’s important, Carl.”


Carl and Bridges did this nonverbal communication thing and eventually Terry nodded dismissively. Carl got up and strode towards me. I left Brian with a sad smile, hoping that he could feel how much I loved and supported him in that small gesture. Then I followed Horvath back to his office.


Once the door was closed, I told him what I’d overheard between Langley and his lawyer. Carl’s expression was guarded. I couldn’t tell if he was surprised by what I’d related or angry or what. All he did was nod and then, when I was done, thank me for telling him. 


“That’s it? You’re not going to do anything? That creep Langley is threatening to go after the witnesses and you’re not going to do anything to stop him?” I growled, so angry that I kicked my messenger bag halfway across the room.


Carl sighed and gave me a condescending smile. “As I told you and Kinney before, while we’ll try to protect Brian and the other witnesses as long as possible, a defendant is entitled by law to see all the evidence against him. Eventually, Langley will be shown the pictures that formed the basis for the search warrants leading to his arrest and given a list of all the prosecution’s witnesses. Both Brian’s name as well as your’s, Taylor, will be on that list and, even though the police are required by law to withhold witnesses’ personal contact information, there’s nothing to stop the defense from contacting them if they can locate the witnesses in some other way.” 


“Meaning that it’s highly likely Langley’s attorney will be able to figure out how to reach a fairly public figure like Brian Kinney, the owner and CEO of a well-known advertising firm,” I concluded for him. 


“Unfortunately,” Horvath admitted. “But if he harrasses either of you, let me know and we can get restraining orders against him or, if worse comes to worst, assign some protection to you.”


“And in the meantime Langley will be free to attack Brian and me publicly, maybe even destroy Brian’s business? Fuck that,” I moaned angrily. 


Since Carl didn’t have any response that would reassure me, he wisely stayed silent. And I, concluding that the rules were fucked up anyway, decided that I shouldn’t have to respect them any more than a criminal like Langley would. So, without bothering to listen to any more of Horvath’s empty platitudes or regurgitations about policy, I strode back to the room where Bridges was continuing to grill my partner, let myself in, and sat down in the seat next to Brian. Fuck the police and all their useless promises to protect us. I wasn’t going anywhere as long as Brian was still struggling through finishing his statement. 


End Notes:

7/19/21 - Okay, back to the torture... Enjoy! TAG

Chapter 15 - The Lake Monster by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

I'm Baaaaaaack! Enjoy! TAG


Chapter 15 - The Lake Monster.



“I told you, Bridges, I don’t remember any of this shit,” Brian was growling as I entered the conference room where my beleaguered partner was being raked over the coals by our favorite FBI agent. 


Bridges began to object but Brian had clearly had enough and, without pausing to listen to whatever new argument the agent was about to voice, the angry brunet tossed down the sheaf of photo printouts he’d been holding. The pile of 8x10 glossies spilled across the conference room table. I couldn’t stop myself from looking down at the images they depicted even though I hated myself for my curiosity. The pictures all showed the same sad little brown-haired boy, in various stages of undress, accompanied by different men. I didn’t want to see what the men were doing to the boy, but it was like watching a train wreck; I just couldn't tear my eyes away. Unfortunately, that’s when Brian looked up and noticed my presence. He also clearly noticed the look of disgust that must have been on my face. With another growl, he swiped all the photos off the table and onto the floor so nobody would have to look at the evidence of his humiliation.


With commendable patience, Bridges bent down to collect his photographs off the floor. I took that opportunity to pull an empty chair around to Brian’s side of the table and plopped myself down next to my man. Brian didn’t look up from where he was staring stubbornly down at the cup of coffee which seemed to have somehow escaped his wrath. From the way the milk had separated into little clumps of yellowish-beige, letting the browner coffee show through, and the oily sheen that floated on the top of the beverage, you could tell that it was cold. Brian seemed to be using that cup as a focal point for his private meditations and, at that point, that’s all it was good for anyway. 


“How about we try a different approach,” Horvath suggested, joining the rest of us in the airless little room and taking up the seat next to the one where Bridges was perched. “You say you don’t remember much but that’s not completely true. You’re obviously starting to remember something or you wouldn’t be this upset. So, instead of forcing you to remember things you say you can’t recall, how about we try to start with whatever you do remember and work back from there?”


Brian sighed and slumped back even deeper into the uncomfortable chair he was sitting in. “It’s not much. Just random flashes that don’t seem to go together,” Brian confessed. “It’s like it all happened to someone else. Like I’m watching from outside. Those are Buddy’s memories, not mine.”


“Well, then, tell us what Buddy remembers,” Bridges prompted gently. When Brian still hesitated, he pressed again. “Just describe one of these ‘flashes’ for us. Don’t worry about the context. We’ll figure that part out later.”


Brian took a deep breath and closed his eyes, as if he might see the scene better against the blackness of his eyelids. I reached out for his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze just to let him know I was there. I could feel him relax just a tiny bit. Then he started to speak in a detached monotone, his voice barely more than a husky whisper, as he related whatever he was seeing in his mind. 


“Coach and Buddy are at the soccer field. It’s late. Almost dark. All the other parents are there to pick up their kids. Buddy is worried that his parents won’t remember and he’ll be left there all alone. Russel is the only other boy still waiting. And then Russ’ mother comes to get him too and there’s nobody left but him and the coach.”


“How old is Buddy in this memory?” Bridges asked in an unobtrusive voice, as if trying not to interrupt the flow of the narrative. 


I noticed that he’s pulled out a legal pad and is taking notes. There’s also a little digital recorder whirring away on the table. I glanced up and noted that the camera affixed in the corner of the ceiling has a flashing red light flickering away on the top as well. I hated that Brian had to endure having his most vulnerable moments recorded like this, but I know there’s no help for it. If we wanted to take Langley down, this is the evidence that would do it.


Brian was still caught up in his memory as he answered the previous question. “I don’t know. He’s so little; maybe five? I can see Buddy standing there next to the adults, listening while Coach laughs with Russ’ mom, and they just tower over him. Buddy was always small for his age. At least till he hit puberty . . .” Brian’s voice peters out to almost nothing as whatever he’s seeing in his mind usurps all his attention. 


“What happens next?” Bridges prompted gently.


“Russ leaves with his mom,” Brian elaborated. “Buddy is trying not to cry. He’s scared. What if his parents don’t come for him? He doesn’t want to have to wait all alone in the dark in the park.” Unexpectedly, Brian got this small smile on his face and continued. “That’s when Coach kneels down next to Buddy and hugs him. He says, ‘it’s okay, Buddy. You can come home with me and we’ll wait for your parents there, okay?’ And Buddy feels so relieved. He’s not going to be left all alone. Coach says he’ll take care of him and that they can stop for ice cream on the way home and Buddy is happier than he’s been in a long, long time, because . . . . Because someone is finally paying attention to him. Coach is paying attention and being nice to him and . . . It feels good to have someone care . . .”


I had to struggle against a wash of emotions then, listening to Brian talking in that little voice, explaining how he was happy that his abuser was paying attention to him because nobody else ever had. I didn’t know if I was angry or sad or what. I wanted to punch his parents in the face and scream at them. I wanted to beat Langley senseless for taking advantage of a sad, helpless little boy who was just so desperate for love that he became the perfect victim. And I wanted to take little Buddy in my arms and shield him from the world. But I couldn’t do any of those things right then. Instead, all I could do was squeeze Brian’s hand to remind him that he wasn’t alone anymore. I was there for him and I wasn’t going anywhere.


“What happens next?” Carl questioned when Brian didn’t say anything more.


“Nothing. That’s where the memory ends,” Brian answered, opening his eyes finally and looking shyly around at the rest of us. 


“Okay. What else do you remember? Tell us about another of these flashes,” Bridges directed.


Brian went through several additional memory vignettes. Like any memories of a young child, they were splotchy and disconnected and focused solely on instances of heavy emotion; times when Buddy was sad or scared or happy. It reminded me of my own childhood memories and how they were all so disjointed and contextless. It proved how incredibly young Brian must have been when these events were taking place because, if he’d been older, the things he remembered would have been more linear and coherent. 


These memories also proved that Coach Langley had found the perfect prey; a child too young and naive and unprotected and desperate for attention to realize he was being groomed by the most dangerous kind of pedophile.


I listened, the ball of sour dread in my stomach growing larger and larger, as Brian rambled through Buddy’s earliest memories. He related how Coach had bandaged a skinned knee and offered a butterscotch candy to cheer up an injured boy. How Coach had picked him up and let him ride in the front seat of the fancy red sports car on their way to a game across town. How Coach had praised him when he made a goal during a game and then bragged to the other kids’ parents about how talented Buddy was. How Coach had bought him a second ice cream cone when Buddy’s had gotten knocked out of his hand by a rowdy teammate and hadn’t yelled at him for being clumsy like his own father would have. And the whole way through this recitation of his earliest memories, Brian was smiling fondly at what he remembered of the monster who’d later taken advantage of him. It made me sick.


It wasn’t until Brian got to a memory of a time when Coach had taken Buddy out for a day at ‘the lake’ that Brian’s smile faltered. 


He said that Coach had picked him up from home and told Buddy’s mother that they were going to play some games out of town that day so she shouldn’t expect them back until late. Buddy had been happy and excited about the idea of going to a tournament out of town and he remembered watching the scenery through the window as the red sports car sped out of Pittsburgh. He hadn’t ever been out in the country before - at least not that he could remember - so he was awed by the sight of the forested hills as they drove further and further away from the city. 


“Buddy had never seen so many trees before,” Brian related the memory he was in the middle of. “It was a hot summer day but when they turned off the highway onto this little dirt road, the trees were so thick overhead that they blocked out all the heat. It felt dark and mysterious, but in an exciting way. It was like a fairy tale; like the woods that Little Red Riding Hood had to walk through or something. It felt like an adventure. And then Coach stopped the car next to his little stream and they got out and walked down a path through the trees to the most beautiful lake. Coach let Buddy take off his shoes and roll up his pants so he could splash around in the water . . . It was the best afternoon Buddy had ever had . . .”


Which was when the look of contented wonder that Brian had been wearing slipped off his face and was replaced by one of confusion. 


“What happened next,” Bridges prodded.


Brian’s brows lowered and the corners of his mouth turned down. “Coach told Buddy to come out of the lake, that it was time to go, and Buddy asked if it was time to get to the soccer game. Coach laughed. He said that wasn’t the kind of game they were going to play that afternoon. That he had other games to teach Buddy. Games that Buddy was going to really like . . .”


Nobody said anything for several minutes after that. I was too scared of what I thought I knew was coming next. I think Horvath and Bridges were afraid that, if they said anything, they’d jar Brian out of this important memory. So, we all just sat and waited to hear what Brian would say next.


“Instead of going back to Coach’s car, they walked down a different path that led away from the lake, back into the trees. Buddy was skipping ahead, investigating all the rocks and plants and things along the path, not paying much attention to where they were going. Coach had to keep calling to him to get Buddy to hurry up . . .” Brian paused and I could see that the frown on his face had deepened. “There was a cabin at the end of the trail.”



“What did this cabin look like?” interjected Agent Bridges with his pen held ready over the legal pad so he could note any details that the witness might remember. 


Brian closed his eyes again, his face screwed up as if the effort to recall this part of the memory was painful. “It was just a regular cabin. Painted brown with red . . . Red trim around the windows and the door . . .”


With a little more prodding from the two detectives, Brian added in that the cabin had two stories with a large dormer extension in the back on the second floor. The front had a large porch but the entrance they’d gone through that first time was a smaller back door that only had a small set of four steps leading up from the pathway that snaked off through the woods to the lake. Brian wasn’t able to remember much about the inside, except that it was sparsely furnished. 


“. . . Coach led Buddy up the steps and inside. They didn’t stop to look around the main room. Coach said . . . Coach said they were going down to the game room . . . Oh . . .” Brian stopped, his eyes popping open but his gaze still unfocused, as if he was seeing something that surprised him.


“What did Buddy see in the game room, Brian?” Bridged asked.


“I don’t remember . . .” Brian started to say, but Bridges cut him off. 


“Yes, you do. Just close your eyes and take a deep breath,” the FBI agent directed. “That’s it. Relax. And then tell me what happened when Buddy and Coach went into the game room. What did you see there?”


Brian followed directions, although I couldn’t say the deep breath had done much to relax him; the hand I was still holding was trembling slightly as he continued with his story. 


“It’s . . . It’s the room in your pictures. The one with the soccer mural on the walls,” Brian whispered. “It’s the same room . . .”


I watched as the two police officers exchanged excited glances. This was what they’d been hoping for all along. This was the good stuff, as far as they were concerned. 


“Buddy asked Coach where the games were,” Brian continued in a voice so quiet I had to strain to hear him and I was sitting right next to him. “It was a game room, so he expected to see board games like the kind they had at the library or at school. But Buddy didn’t see any games . . .”


“Can you tell us what the room looks like? What do you see?” Carl prompted quietly.


“Not much. The room is almost empty. There’s the bed with the soccer design on the bedspread in one corner. And a television over in the other corner that has some gadgets and stuff attached to it. That’s about it. There weren’t any games . . .” Brian’s breathing hitched and I could feel him tense up. “Oh, there’s someone else there, in the room. A man. He’s talking with Coach and they’re laughing and whispering and the man is smiling at Buddy . . .”


“Tell us what this man looked like, Brian,” Carl urged, leaning forward in his eagerness to get the next juicy tidbit of evidence.


“He’s old. Gray hair. Older than Coach; not as handsome. And fat . . . Buddy doesn’t like him . . . He comes over and sits on the bed and Coach tells Buddy to sit next to him . . . His breath smells bad; like cigarettes and stale beer and dead things . . .” Brian tries to pull his hand free from my grip but I refuse to let go. He has to use his other hand to reach up and rub at his face, only the soft cast still protecting his injured wrist interferes, so he just gives up and slumps back deeper into his chair. “‘This is my friend, Kenny’, Coach says. They laughed about how Buddy’s name, Kinney, and the guy’s name, Kenny, sounded kinda similar but Buddy isn’t laughing. He doesn’t like the man. Kenny has his arm around Buddy’s shoulders and he’s squeezing him too tightly . . . ‘Kenny knows some really fun games he’s going to teach you, Buddy, so be a good boy,’ . . .”


“What happens next?” Terry asked, his voice sounding excited now that it seemed like they were getting somewhere. But his face fell when he heard Brian’s response a minute later.


“I don’t know. It all goes black. I don’t remember anything more . . .”


Despite all their additional poking and prodding and suggestions to relax, Brian could’t recall anything more about that first visit to the ‘Game Room’. Buddy’s memories shut off at that point. It’s all been blocked out; which, as far as I was concerned, was probably for the best. The detectives weren’t satisfied, however, and kept pressing for more. They urged Brian to go through more memory flashes, trying to focus him on other times he remembered going to that cabin. Brian isn’t able to give them anything concrete about the site’s location, just that it’s in the woods and near a lake. After more than an hour of questioning, though, he’d managed to recall several more trips to the woods with Coach Langley. He also remembered more men: Tommy, Nick, Cutter, Sticks . . . He can’t remember what most of them even look like, just names and vague images. But whatever happened after the men came into the Game Room, is all just a big blank, no matter how much Agent Bridges or Detective Horvath pressed him for more. 


When Brian had finally had enough and insisted he couldn’t remember any more, Horvath reached over and scribbled something on Bridges’ pad of paper. Reading upside down, all I could see was the word ‘Nightmares’. I mentally berated myself for having divulged that piece of information to Horvath. Bridges nodded at his fellow inquisitor and then turned back to his interogee once again. 


“I think you remember more than you think, Brian,” Terry surmised. “Maybe not consciously, but it’s all in there somewhere. So, how about we look at this a different way . . . You mentioned before that you were tired and haven’t been sleeping much. I’m assuming you’re dreaming about all this shit?” Brian shrugged and reluctantly nodded. “Okay. Tell me about your dreams then. Maybe there’s more there?”


Brian shook his head and looked away but in the tiny conference room there was nothing to look at except for the bear wall off to his right so I don’t know what it is he finally found to focus on before he slowly began to relate his most recent nightmare. 


“I’m at that fucking lake in the woods. The dream always starts out good, you know. It’s sunny and warm and I’m walking in the shallow water near the shore and then I hear a noise behind me. When I turn around there’s nothing there except the trees. But they’re somehow bigger. And it’s become dark. I need to get home now that it’s got so late but I don’t know how to get home. I can’t find the path. I can’t see anything through all those fucking trees. And while my back is turned to the lake . . .” He looked over at me and I could see so much fear in his liquid hazel eyes; it made me want to scream, but I held it all in so as not to interrupt him. “While I’m turned away from the water, something reaches out and pulls me backwards. I go under. There are . . . Hands - so many hands - touching me all over, scratching at me, pinching my skin, tugging at my hair, and they pull me down. I can’t . . . I can’t breathe. There’s a hand over my face, so I can’t see. I’m drowning.” His voice faded into a tiny whisper. “And the lake monster’s hands are all over me, poking into me, inside me . . .”


Nobody said anything for a really long time after that. The silence felt so heavy it was almost like a physical weight pressing down on all of us. What the fuck could you say after something like that? 


Eventually Bridges shook himself out of the momentary stupor. He reached out and pushed the button to turn off the little recorder that had been whirring away on the table the whole time. That seemed to break the spell and we all began to move again. I figured I could finally let go of Brian’s hand without worrying that he’d fly off into a thousand pieces. 


“I know this is painful, Brian,” Agent Bridges admitted aloud, his face set in a determined frown. “But even the little you’ve remembered helps. At the very least, it corroborates the things we can see in the pictures and videos.”


“Is it enough to make the charges against Langley stick?” I asked, speaking up for the first time since I barged my way into the interrogation.


“I’m not sure,” Bridges confessed with a shrug. “Based on what we found in his house and on his computer, we’ve got Langley for sure on the possession charges. And we’ve subpoenaed his internet service provider so we think we’ll be able to locate  messages or emails proving dissemination. But, to be honest, we’d actually expected to find a lot more than we did if Coach Langley really was the one who’s been producing all these videos.” Bridges and Horvath shared an indecipherable look before the Agent returned his attention towards Brian and myself. “We suspect there must be somewhere else where Langley is keeping all the really incriminating stuff. Maybe the same location where the videos are being filmed? This lake house perhaps?” He started to gather together his legal pad and the recorder and the file full of photographs. “Keep thinking, Mr. Kinney. Anything more you can remember will help. And, if you remember anything about where that cabin is, the one where the filming was done, please let us know.” 


 

 

End Notes:

10/31/21 - I’m soooo sorry for being MIA for so long these past few months. My personal life has been crazy. But I’m happy to announce that, after getting put on hold for two years because of the pandemic, I was finally able to take - and PASSED - the Patent Bar Exam as of the end of August! Yay! Even better, I start my new job tomorrow! So, now that I’m not totally stressed out and spending every night either studying or job hunting, I will have more time for writing again! Also, get ready for another Time Blitz sequel because that’s what Sally & I are doing for NaNoWriMo this year. Thanks for bearing with me. TAG.

This story archived at http://www.kinnetikdreams.com/viewstory.php?sid=1660