Burning From The Inside by Taylor-Kinney
Summary:

***Major Character Death!***

A terrible tragedy has changed Justin's life forever, and he is now struggling to find the will to keep going. ***THE STORY IS NOW COMPLETE!***
Categories: QAF US Characters: Brian Kinney, Debbie Novotny, Emmett Honeycutt, Gus Marcus-Peterson, Jennifer Taylor, Justin Taylor, Lindsay Peterson, Melanie Marcus, Michael Novotny, Original Character, Ted Schmidt
Tags: 10k+ Word Count, Anal Sex (Lots of it!), Death, Family, Friendship, M/M, Major Character Death, Post-series, What if...
Genres: Angst, Drama, Tragedy
Pairings: Brian/Justin
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 16 Completed: Yes Word count: 54046 Read: 5421 Published: Oct 04, 2022 Updated: Jun 01, 2024
Story Notes:
I apologize for any mistakes!

1. Chapter 1 by Taylor-Kinney

2. Chapter 2 by Taylor-Kinney

3. Chapter 3 by Taylor-Kinney

4. Chapter 4 by Taylor-Kinney

5. Chapter 5 by Taylor-Kinney

6. Chapter 6 by Taylor-Kinney

7. Chapter 7 by Taylor-Kinney

8. Chapter 8 by Taylor-Kinney

9. Chapter 9 by Taylor-Kinney

10. Chapter 10 by Taylor-Kinney

11. Chapter 11 by Taylor-Kinney

12. Chapter 12 by Taylor-Kinney

13. Chapter 13 by Taylor-Kinney

14. Chapter 14 by Taylor-Kinney

15. Chapter 15 by Taylor-Kinney

16. Chapter 16 by Taylor-Kinney

Chapter 1 by Taylor-Kinney
-

(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)

The plane landed at the Pittsburgh airport exactly at noon, and the young man sitting by the window waited for the other passengers to get off while trying to find the strength and courage to actually face the inevitable. He knew he had to do it, that he had no other choice, but he just needed a little bit more time. He hadn't been here since the day everything changed. Since the day he...

"Excuse me sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to leave the plane," the flight attendant smiled at him.

"Oh, yeah, sure, sorry, I was just waiting for the others to leave, I didn't want to..."

"Deal with the impatient passengers who think they're entitled to gett off first? she laughed, raising her eyebrows.

"Exactly," he laughed as well. "I always prefer to sit a little longer and as soon as everyone is gone, I go too. It's easier that way."

"Mmm, clever."

“Yeah, someone used to call me a genius."

"Used to? Not anymore?"

"Um... yeah, not anymore," he smiled sadly and began to gather his things.

"Oh, okay. Well, do you live here or you're here just for a visit?" she asked while walking to the exit with him. “I mean, if I may ask."

"That's a little complicated."

"Complicated how? Sorry, not my business."

“Well, Pittsburgh used to be my home, but… let's just say things have changed,” he said as sadness settled on his face again.

“Life can be pretty unpredictable, huh?"

"You have no idea. Well, it was nice to meet you..." he paused, waiting to hear the flight attendant's name.

"Rachel," she said with a smile.

"Rachel… I'm Justin… maybe we'll get lucky and fly together again."

"That would be nice and maybe you could tell me more about that mysterious person who rightfully called you a genius."

"Yeah, maybe..."

Justin gave her one last smile and finally got off the plane. Then he went to get his suitcase and after a few attempts he even managed to catch a taxi. He almost said the address that he still knew by heart, but stopped himself in time and said the correct one. The cab dropped him off at the house he last saw three years ago. The last time he was here he was trying to heal his mind and all his wounds. Both physical and emotional. Memories of it suddenly flashed before his eyes, which almost filled with tears, but by now he had learned how to fight with it - well, most of the time.

He then took a deep breath, headed for the door and knocked.

"Oh my god, Justin. You're here early," Michael said surprised, but immediately reached out and hugged him.

“Yeah, I caught an earlier flight."

“Well, it's really good to see you. Come on in."

Justin hesitated for a moment, because this house simply didn't evoke the best feelings in him, and actually neither did being in Michael's presence. He actually admired him for the fact that he even talked to him, not to mention invited him into his home with open arms and treated him so kindly. In fact, the only reason Justin was here right now was because of Michael's persistence and refusal to give up on him, if it wasn't for his calls a pleas, Justin would probably be locked in his studio right now working on some new painting that he wouldn't end up selling anyway. Not because it wouldn't be good, but because it would have a great emotional value for him. But he was here and determined to fight whatever he was about to face, one step at a time.

So he took another deep breath and finally entered the house.

"I've got your room ready for you, so you can just put your things in there."

Your room. It was so strange for Justin to hear that. All those years ago when he had met Michael and he had taken him to the diner for the first time, trying to convince him to stop chasing Brian, he would never have thought that one day he would have his own room in his house.

“Thanks, Michael."

"When you're settled, come down here, I've cooked something, so hopefully it won't be terrible," he laughed.

He didn't have the heart to tell him that he couldn't even think about food right now because he felt like he's gonna puke. Michael was trying so hard to make Justin feel the best he could that he just didn't want to sound ungrateful, so he just nodded with a smile and headed up the stairs to his room.

He took the door handle but wasn't ready to open the door just yet. The last time he was in this room, he swore he would never step into it again because it hurt so much and even though three years had passed it still hurt the same, the difference was that this Justin had already learned to handle the pain. That's why he simply closed all his emotions somewhere deep inside and opened the door.

To his surprise the room did not look the same, the color was changed and the furniture was rearranged. Michael probably couldn't stand the room either, he thought. After hearing Justin scream in pain and tears countless times from here, it was no wonder.

He placed his suitcase in the corner of the room and sat on the edge of the bed. Before he knew it, he fell straight into the covers. Then he closed his eyes and let his mind escape reality for a moment.

I love you, Sunshine. And I will love you forever.

Justin immediately sat up, clutching the duvet in his hand, he could hear his heart pounding. He knew that those words would haunt him forever and that he would never forget how and when Brian said them to him. On the day the rest of their lives together was supposed to begin.

He quickly shook his head in order to stop the thoughts racing through his mind, he just couldn't afford to fall apart now, even though something was telling him that maybe that was exactly what he needed.

"Oh, hey, Justin," Ben greeted him from the couch as Justin finally walked into the living room. "How are you?" his facial expression changed the moment he realized what a stupid question he had just asked. "I'm sorry," he said and went to hug him.

"You don't have to be sorry, it's a normal question that I should be able to answer," he chuckled. "I'm fine. I mean, as fine as I can be."

"And you must be hungry, so I'll get you the food," Michael said and before Justin could protest, he disappeared into the kitchen.

"You're not hungry, are you?" Ben noticed his face.

"Not at all, but I don't have the heart to tell him that."

"Yeah, I haven't had the heart to tell him a lot of things lately either."

Justin was taken aback, but Ben didn't look like he wanted to talk about it, so he didn't force him. After a while, Michael called him from the kitchen and he followed him there with an artificial smile. He had a good portion on his plate and he knew right away that no matter how hard he would try, he had no chance of eating it all.

"Don't worry, you don't have to eat everything," Michael assured him.

"Oh, thank god... I mean, it looks wonderful, I'm just not that hungry, but I'll eat some."

And I'll try to keep it in my stomach, he thought to himself.

Justin could feel Michael's gaze almost burning through his skin. He just knew he wanted to tell him something, or maybe even ask him something, but he didn't have the courage, maybe because he didn't know how, or he just wasn't sure it was the right time.

"What is it, Michael?" Justin asked him.

"Huh, what?" he looked at him confused.

"You're staring at me. And it's really annoying."

“Sorry, I-I didn't mean to."

And in that moment Justin realized that Michael wasn't staring at him, well not exactly… he was staring at something Justin had on his body since that day three years ago. Something they both wished wasn't there. But it was and there was nothing they could do about it.

"If you don't mind, I think I'm done."

"You barely ate anything," Michael pointed out.

“Like I said, I wasn't really hungry."

"Well, if you say so. But let me know when you're hungry, okay?"

"Don't worry, I will," he smiled.

Michael took his plate while Justin went to look around the house, his room wasn't the only one that had undergone some changes. It seemed that Michael has been spending his free time working on this house and Emmett was probably helping him with that.

"That was Emmett's choice," Michael suddenly said behind him.

"I figured," he chuckled. "It looks like something he would pick."

They both laughed and were a little relieved that the strange atmosphere between them had subsided a bit. But it didn't take long for Michael to finally ask the question he was probably itching to ask from the moment Justin arrived.

"Were you there?"

"Michael,” Justin sighed in frustration.

"I'm just asking."

"I went straight here from the airport."

“You're going to have to go there eventually, Justin."

"I know, that's why I'm here, right?" he barked.

Justin made it clear that he didn't want to talk about it and Michael knew there was no point in forcing him to, actually this wasn't an easy topic for him either, but he always preferred to talk about things rather than pretend they weren't there.

"How is Debbie anyway?" Justin asked.

"Um, you know her… she's still the same crazy woman… she's even met someone. When she told me she was dating I was a bit horrified, but I've come to terms with it," he chuckled.

Justin laughed, but he was really glad for her. "That's good, she needs to find happiness again."

“Yeah, I know, Carl's death broke her, but she's a tough woman, she always gets back on her feet. I don't know how she does it."

That's what Justin always admired about her, no matter how cruel life was to her, she never let it get her down, she always fought back and came back stronger than before. He wanted to be able to do it too, but he didn't know how.

"How are things going between you and Ben?"

"You noticed, huh?"

"Noticed?" Justin arched his brows, trying to look confused, but actually yeah - he did notice.

"We've been sleeping in seperate rooms for the past few months and everything between us is just... not good."

"What happened?"

"Life... I guess. After everything that happened, life changed for all of us, not just you."

Justin felt as if he had been hit with a brick.

“Sorry, that wasn't fair."

"That doesn't mean it's not true... life has changed for all of us, I just have been too selfish to see it because I was desperately trying to move on..."

"That's understandable, I mean, you loved him..."

"And I killed him," Justin blurted out suddenly.

"Justin..."

“It's true, we both know it… he's dead because of me."

Justin's voice broke just like it had many times before when he said those words. He was broken just like his heart and soul had been since the day he lost the love of his life and it was all his fault. He was responsible for Brian's death and hated himself for it.

-
End Notes:
Thank you for reading and please let me know if you're interested in reading more of this, I understand it's not everyone's cup of tea :)
Chapter 2 by Taylor-Kinney
Author's Notes:
Since you've shown interest in this story, I obviously have to continue it... but I have to warn you that I'm going to reveal what happened slowly, so bear with me, I just have this idea in my head and I hope that it will be worth it. Thank you.
-

(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)

Justin tried his best to hold back the tears, but it was almost impossible, it just hurt too much. Before that horrible day he had no problem showing his feelings and when he needed to cry he simply did. He was probably the most sensitive person in the world and they didn't call him Sunshine for nothing. But that changed when the pain and guilt he felt was much bigger than he could handle. So he built a wall around himself, determined not to feel anything ever again. And he's been damn good at it ever since. After all, he had the best teacher. But there were moments like this when he simply couldn't pretend that he was fine and that he didn't feel anything. Because he felt everything. Pain, sadness, guilt, anger. All of it.

"You know what we should do?" Michael tried to change the subject because he could see how hard it was for Justin.

Justin wiped away his tears with his hand and looked at him. "What?"

"Go out... just like old times. What do you say?"

"Michael, I don't think that's a good idea."

"Yeah, that's probably true. We're too old for Babylon."

"Hey, speak for yourself. I'm young," Justin finally laughed.

Michael frowned, but then laughed as well. "So how about going to the diner?"

"Debbie still works there?"

"Nope," he sighed. "But at least you get out of the house. I know how hard it is for you to be here."

"Michael, I appreciate your trying to cheer me up, I really do, but I'd like to go lie down if you don't mind."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I had to get up early and I didn't sleep much, so..."

"Okay, well, get some sleep and maybe we'll figure something out later, I can call Emmett and Ted, they'll be happy to see you."

And I'd love to see them, I just don't know if I can look them in the eye, Justin thought.

"Sure," he replied.

Justin ran up the stairs two at a time and quickly closed the door of that terrible room behind him. His blood was boiling, he just wanted to break something, take it and smash it on the ground... smash this whole room... his rage was indescribable. He'd felt it all these years, but here it was even bigger, because this was where it all happened... this was where his life changed forever, because this was where he lost Brian. Until that day, he really loved Pittsburgh and he could imagine spending the rest of his life here by Brian's side, but it all turned to dust, literally...

He was only supposed to stay here for three days, but it was really hard for him to resist the urge to go back to New York right away. And since he knew that he needed to think about something else, he went to unpack his suitcase to distract himself and calm down. And it really helped, well, at least until he found something in the closet that he thought was long lost - Brian's bracelet.

"Oh my God," he whispered.

He took it in his hand and lay down on his bed, he hadn't seen it in three years. Not since the day he left Pittsburgh. He left it here because he just couldn't bear the thought of having that bracelet with him, it would kill him to have to look at it every day. And he thought Michael would take it, but apparently he left it here so Justin could take it back when he's ready.

As he looked at it while gently touching it, he immediately remembered how good it looked on Brian, he loved it so much when he wore it. And he also remembered how he gave it back to him after his nephew stole it from him - how he tied it back around his wrist and their hands touched, Brian's skin was so warm and soft. Justin could almost feel him. He knew in that moment that he had made the biggest mistake of his life when he left Brian for Ethan, but he didn't want to admit it. But if he did, they could have a little more time together.

Thinking about it, Justin had walked away from him so many times and regretted it every damn time. But they always found their way back to each other, Justin always came back to him... but the last time he did it, he made the worst mistake of his life.

God, you shouldn't have come back, you should have stayed in New York. If you did, Brian would still be alive.

Justin tossed the bracelet to the other side of the bed, unable to look at it any longer.

You can't hate yourself, Sunshine. It wasn't your fault.

"Shut up!" Justin shouted. Hearing Brian's voice that wasn't real was killing him. It happened all the time. Every time he hated himself the most, he suddenly heard Brian's voice trying to calm him down. And sometimes he could even see him. He knew that his brain was just playing tricks on him and it hurt so much because he wanted to see and hear Brian more than anything in the world but he couldn't. Not really.

"Justin, what is it?" Michael suddenly ran into his room.

"Are you okay?" Ben ran right behind him.

"Take this," Justin pointed to the bracelet lying on the bed.

"Justin..."

"Take it!" he shouted.

Michael and Ben looked at each other and exchanged looks that said it all. Justin knew exactly what they must have been thinking - that he probably lost his mind. And maybe they were right. Maybe he really was crazy.

“Brian would want you to have it."

“But I don't want it… I don't want it to remind me of him."

“You can't just forget about him."

"Why not? Everything would be so much easier," his eyes filled with tears.

Even though Justin was saying that, he knew very well in his heart that it was nonsense, he didn't want to forget him - ever. Brian was the love of his life and he would never love anyone the way he loved him... he just couldn't take the pain anymore. He had not been able to find any peace in his life or in his heart and soul since Brian's death. And it was exhausting.

"Because Brian wouldn't want you to forget him… and he wouldn't want you to suffer like this."

"And I wish he was here, but he's not… if I hadn't come back then, he would still be alive."

"You know that you coming back had nothing to do with what happened."

"How so? If I had stayed in New York as planned, none of this would have happened..."

"Justin, listen to me, are you listening?" Justin was annoyed that Michael was trying Brian's method on him, but for some reason it worked.

"It's not your fault. Brian wanted you to come back, you wanted to come back, you were miserable without each other and after you came back you two had 4 beautiful years together, yes it ended sooner than any of us wanted and trust me I miss my best friend every day, but you coming back has nothing to do with what happened 4 years later..."

"Yeah, but if I never came back..."

"Then it would destroy Brian, at least this way he had a chance to experience something beautiful with you and believe me he loved every second of the time you had together from start to finish. Before you got married he told me that he'd never let you go again because every minute without you he felt like he couldn't breathe... he loved you so much, Justin. And he wouldn't want you to forget him."

Justin was completely affected by Michael's words, and after a long time, he finally let out everything that he had hidden inside him and burst into tears. Michael sat down next to him and hugged him, Justin didn't fight back and hugged his friend tightly as well. But then he looked up over Michael's shoulder and immediately saw Brian standing in the corner of the room smiling at him - almost as if he was glad that Justin had finally let it out. And Justin smiled back as he felt a huge sense of relief.

"Now get some sleep, will you?" Michael said.

"I'll try," his lips curled into a half smile.

"And if you need anything, just say the word," Ben added.

"Thanks."

After they both left his room, Justin took a deep breath and went to splash his face with cold water. He really needed this, even though he was doing everything he could to avoid it. But it felt good to let out everything he was feeling... but it still didn't change anything. What Michael said was something he needed to hear, but he couldn't just magically change what he thought and what he knew in his heart... that Brian would be still alive if it weren't for him.

And he also knew the hardest part was yet to come. Tomorrow he will see his all friends and family after years of avoiding them because he blames himself for taking Brian away from them. But they all come together because tomorrow is the third anniversary of Brian's death.

This is the first time Justin has dared to come here, he just couldn't do it the first time and the second time and he probably wouldn't have been able to do it this time either if it weren't for Michael who didn't take no for an answer.

But most of all, this is going to be the first time in three years that he will see Gus and he's pretty sure that he's not going to want to see him. Because Gus was there that day too and he knows very well what happened. He's not a kid anymore, he's a 16-year-old boy now. And the thought that he's gonna blame him for losing his dad scared Justin to death. Although deep down he knew it was really his fault. And that he deserves whatever comes his way. Even if that meant Gus would hate him.

-
Chapter 3 by Taylor-Kinney
-

(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)

Even though Justin was beyond exhausted, he couldn't sleep more than a few hours as his mind kept him awake. In fact, he couldn't even remember the last time he got a good night's sleep without tears, nightmares, and thoughts that drove him crazy. But there were also the better nights when he forgot that Brian was gone... when he thought he was right next to him, holding him in his arms. And sometimes Justin simply let his imagination run wild, imagining that Brian was with him. Yes, he knew it wasn't normal or healthy and honestly he didn't even care because he needed it... he needed Brian. And he was willing to do anything to feel like Brian was with him.

But of course that had a price he had to pay. Because each time, a painful realization had to come, reminding him that Brian wasn't really there and that he was never coming back. And at that moment, his heart seemed to shatter all over again. Well, if he still had any at all... sometimes he felt like he only had a hole in his chest. A big, black, painful hole. And it was so unfair. They were supposed to spend the rest of their lives together and grow old together. To have kids and grandkids. Instead, Brian was gone and Justin was forever changed.

God, he missed him so much and wished he could just take that night back more than anything. But he couldn't, no one could.

"May I?" Michael asked as he knocked.

"Sure," Justin replied and sat up in bed.

"How are you feeling?" Michael sat down on the bed next to him.

"Like I got run over by a truck... twice."

"And you look like that too," he laughed.

"Thanks," Justin chuckled.

"Anyway, I made breakfast... I mean, if you're hungry."

"Yeah, actually I am. But I'm gonna take a shower first."

"Okay," Michael nodded. "Then I'll leave you to it."

Justin just smiled and the moment Michael closed the door behind him he fell right back into the covers. He just wasn't ready for today. And he wanted to delay it as much as possible, although he knew he would never be ready. Not for this. There was a reason he couldn't bring himself to be here the two years before, and that reason didn't just magically disappear. But if he didn't want to disappoint Brian again, he needed to find the strength to face it. So he finally forced himself to get up and go to the shower.

The moment he stood under the hot water, he knew there was only one person who could help him get through today, no matter how ironic it might sound, so he closed his eyes and escaped reality once again.

"Hey Sunshine, can I join?" Brian peeked through the door, completely naked.

"You always can," Justin smiled.

And Brian got into the shower, pulling Justin closer by his hips. "I missed ya."

"We saw each other… about ten minutes ago… in bed."

"Mmmm," Brian licked his lips. "Ten minutes is a really long time."

"Sure is," Justin chuckled.

"And I think we should make up for lost time. What do you say?" Brian arched his brows while running his hands up and down Justin's back.

"That it's a great idea."

"Thought so."

Brian smirked and grabbed Justin by his ass cheeks, then pulled him even closer, their cocks were already hard and throbbing and Justin's heart immediately sped up. Brian then ran his fingers through his wet blond hair and started kissing him hungirly. It was hard, deep and bruising and it almost took their breath away.

With how real it felt to him, Justin ran a finger over his lips. He could almost feel Brian kissing and touching him.

"Turn around," Brian whispered in his ear.

Justin smiled and did as he was told. Brian pressed himself against his back and Justin immediately felt his erection rubbing against his ass. Then Brian's hands began to gently massage his shoulders and he leaned down to kiss the spot on Justin's neck he knew drives him wild.

Justin moaned.

Of course, it didn't take long for Brian's hand to find its way to Justin's cock and close his fingers around it, slowly playing with it. First he rubbed the sensitive and swollen head and then he started stroking it. Justin arched his back and rested his head on Brian's chest, his hips slightly moving.

Justin slowly slid his hand to his cock and started stroking himself while his breathing began to increase.

"You're so beautiful," Brian breathed out against his skin, sending chills down Justin's spine while his hand sped up.

Justin was shaking and could feel that he was close. And as the water slowly ran down his body, it almost seemed as if the pain and emptiness began to fade away.

"Come for me, Justin," he licked his earlobe.

"Oh god," Justin moaned again, he was really close. Few more strokes and...

"Justin? Are you okay in there?" Michael asked at the bathroom door. "I heard some weird noises."

"Uh, yeah, so-sorry! I'll be there in a minute!"

"Oh, okay, but hurry up, the food is getting cold," he paused. "Are you really sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, don't worry!"

"Okay then."

Justin sighed and prayed Michael didn't think he was doing... well, exactly what he was doing. And he could almost see Brian laughing at him right now. And not that Justin thought it was normal to imagine having sex with Brian who was dead, but that was all he had… these were the moments that helped him survive and forget. At least for a little while.

And sometimes he found it quite ironic. When Hobbs attacked him at the prom with the baseball bat, he forgot everything that happened that night and then spent months trying to remember... now he remembered every little detail of the worst day of his life and he would do literally anything to forget.

"There you are," Ben said as Justin finally came into the kitchen. "Coffee?"

"Yeah. Thanks," Justin sat down while Ben poured him one.

"How many pancakes do you want?" Michael asked with a smile.

"Um, I don't know, two… I guess," Justin shrugged.

"Well, you'll get three because you need to eat. You've lost weight."

His figure was the last thing on his mind at the moment, although yes - he had really lost weight. But who the hell would think about food when the man he loved was gone.

"And how are you feeling today?" Ben asked.

"Uh, I… I don't even know. I'm kind of numb. I just can't imagine seeing his, um…"

"Grave?" Mike asked slowly.

"Yeah," Justin closed his eyes. It was still so hard for him to hear that word. Let alone say it.

And he felt really ashamed because the last time he had been to Brian's grave was when he was burying him in it… he just couldn't go there. He could not see the piece of stone with Brian's name carved on it. He wouldn't survive it. But the guilt of not going there ate him alive every day, there was no doubt about that.

"Mom and I go there quite reguralry and take care of it, you know... he has it really nice there, Justin."

Justin wanted to yell that it didn't fucking matter how many flowers or candles Brian had there, because he was dead and it would be the last thing he would care about. But he was just angry and sad. In reality, he was grateful to them for doing what he couldn't.

"You probably think I'm a selfish asshole."

"What do you mean?" they both asked at the same time.

"After what happened, you both helped me so much… and I just ran away and went back to New York without looking back."

"No one blames you for that," Ben began. "What happened was a terrible tragedy. And everyone grieves differently... this was just your way of moving on."

"But I didn't move on. I'm still stuck... in that day. I feel like a walking dead. And like a coward who just ran away from everything and everyone. Hell, I'm not even visiting his grave!"

Justin suddenly got up from the table and rushed out of the house like some crazy person. But he stopped himself on the porch because he felt like he couldn't breathe. His heart was racing and he could feel his chest tightened, he was so sure he's going to faint.

"Justin?" he heard suddenly and immediately knew very well who the voice belonged to, and therefore he was afraid to look up.

"Deb…" he whispered and finally looked into her eyes.

"Is everything okay, honey?" she immediately went to him and grabbed his arm. She hadn't seen him in so long, but despite that she acted as if they had seen each other yesterday.

"Uh, yeah… I just... I just needed some air."

"It looks like you just had a panic attack."

Justin sighed and sat down on the bench. "Yeah..."

"Does this happen often?" she sat down next to him.

"Sometimes... after the prom Brian was the one who help me overcome them, but now..."

"Oh honey," she stroked his hair.

"And especially today it's really hard to stay calm..."

"I know. Today is hard. But I'm glad you're here," Deb wrapped her arms around him and Justin immediately hugged her back as tight as he could while tears began to fall down his face. He missed her so much.

Then they just sat there together, quietly keeping each other company. They both understood each other's pain very well. They had both lost people they loved. But not only did Debbie lose her husband and Brian, who was like a son to her, but eventually Justin, who just disappeared from her life. And yet she was still so strong.

"How are you, Deb?"

"You better tell me how are you, Sunshine?"

"Um, I'm okay," Justin smiled, but Debbie could always tell when he was lying and only one look from her was all it took for Justin to change his answer. "I feel awful. Like my heart is about to explode."

"That's because you haven't said goodbye to him yet."

"Deb..."

"You know I'm right. And I get it. You weren't ready and you probably aren't yet. But you can't move on in your life until you say goodbye to him… and he wouldn't want that. He'd want you to be happy."

"But how can I be happy? He made me happy!"

"I know, Sunshine, I know. But your sadness won't bring him back. And you can't live with this pain for the rest of your life."

"But I don't know what else to do. I don't know how to live without him... I don't know how to live with that hole in my heart..."

"I know that right now it feels like you can't even breath, but you will get there, step by step..."

That's when it hit him, Debb was talking from her experience.

"Is it even possible to start breathing again?" he asked.

"Yes, you just have to believe that there is more to life than this... that you can live again... even without him..."

Justin wanted to believe it, but he wasn't ready for it just yet. Saying goodbye to Brian… was downright unimaginable, no matter how absurd it sounded considering Brian was long gone.

"I heard you met someone."

“Oh, Michael and his big mouth," she rolled her eyes.

“Come on, Deb… I want to know everything," he smiled from ear to ear.

She sighed. "Okay then. His name is Jack… he's a taxi driver. One night he drove me home and we talked the whole way… and the next day he came to my house to ask me out. He said he couldn't stop thinking about me. Of course I said no."

"No, you didn't!"

"Yes, I did," she laughed. "I just didn't feel like it yet. But apparently fate wanted us to meet again and it happened a month later at the grocery store. We started talking again and before I knew it we were going out for coffee... and then another and another... and you know the rest."

"That sounds like the perfect lovestory. And you deserve it, Deb."

Justin was really happy for her and wished her the best, but suddenly he couldn't stop thinking about how lonely he felt.

"He's a good guy. After Carl, I didn't think I'd find anything like that again, but... I did. And you will too, honey," Debb knew very well what was going through Justin's mind.

"I can't even imagine being with anyone else and I don't even want to."

"That's what you think right now and trust me I understand... but I believe that you too will eventually find someone who will make you smile again. I know Brian was and still is very special to you and I also know that there will never be anyone like him, but when someone comes along, don't be afraid to give them a chance."

Justin knew Debbie meant well, but there was no way in hell that he would ever fall in love again. His heart belonged to Brian. And he had already given all his love to him... there was simply no more left.

"I hate to interrupt," Michael joined them on the porch.

"Oh, don't pretend like you weren't listening the whole time," Debbie crossed her arms.

"I wasn't!" Deb gave him on of her knowing looks. "Okay, maybe I was... but just for a minute..."

Justin chuckled, knowing very well that Michael's curiosity had probably kept him pinned to the door for the duration of his entire conversation with Debbie.

"Anyway, I came to tell you that Linds just called to say that they'll be here around three o'clock."

Justin was sure he was going to choke on his own saliva. Yes, he knew that he would see them today, but still... it just felt more real now. And it scared the crap out of him. Gus and the girls had every right to hate him. Gus lost his dad and they lost the father of their son and a friend. And Justin hasn't been able to face them ever since. He didn't even answer Lindsay's phone calls. He just really thought they would be better off without him. And he also knew that every time he would look at them, he would be reminded of Brian. And he felt that way about everyone. Only Michael became his personal pain in the ass and made sure they stayed in touch and there were days when Justin really hated him for it, even though deep down he was grateful to him that he didn't give up on him.

"Gus must hate me," Justin sighed.

"What?" they both looked at him in surprise.

"I ruined his life… he lost his dad because of me."

"Justin, look at me," Debb cupped his cheeks and started, "I never want to hear anything like that again. Brian died saving those he loved. He saved you and no one can hate you for that… not even Gus."

"But if he hadn't saved me, Gus would still have a dad."

"Justin…" Michael began. "No one blames you. You just have to stop blaming yourself."

"I wish I could," Justin got up and walked back into the house, leaving them both speechless.

He went to his room, got on his bed, put a pillow over his face and started screaming. He screamed until he was out of breath and then some. He then threw the pillow across the room and just stared at the ceiling as if he was trying to find the meaning of life there.

But he knew that right now he needed Brian more than anything, so he simply closed his eyes again and waited for him...

"Hey," Brian smiled at him.

"Hey," he smiled back.

"Don't be sad, Justin," Brian stroked his cheek.

"I just miss you so much."

"I miss you too, Sunshine. But you have to start living again and stop blaming yourself..."

“Shhh, please, just... just hold me."

And so it happened, Justin's imagination was so strong that he could feel Brian's arms wrap tightly around him and he completely lost himself in them.

-
Chapter 4 by Taylor-Kinney
-

(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)

"They'd really think I'm crazy if they knew I'm talking to you like this," Justin chuckled, burying his face into Brian's chest and inhaling his scent. "Though I probably am."

"Fuck them," Brian snorted. "You just can't resist me - it's that simple."

Justin looked up with a smile and watched Brian lovingly. "It's really stupid how much I like your face."

"You're so corny," Brian laughed.

Justin laughed as well, but then his face got serious. "You know I love you, right?"

"And I love you, Sunshine," Brian ran a hand through his hair. "But you know it can't go on like this forever."

"Can we not talk about it?"

"Well, actually, you're the one talking about it because I'm not even here," Brian's tongue found its way to his cheek.

"Thanks for the reminder," Justin sat up and hung his head, just staring into nothing.

"Hey, hey, Justin..."

"What?"

"You know I mean well. I just… you can never move on in your life unless you stop imagining conversations... and sex..." he laughed again. "With me."

"I don't have anything but that, Brian. I don't want to let you go. Not yet."

"But you can't just..."

A knock on the door was all it took for Brian to suddenly disappear before his eyes. Justin knew what he was doing wasn't okay... but he wasn't ready to stop, even though deep down he knew Deb was right. That saying goodbye to Brian was the only way for him to be able to move on in his life... but he just couldn't.

"Come in."

It was Ben who walked in. "Justin, the girls and the kids will be here in 15 minutes. Are you ready?"

"Oh," Justin looked at the clock and was surprised to see what time it was. How long did he actually talk to Brian? "Give me ten minutes," Justin smiled apologetically and quickly got off the bed to get ready. At that moment it still didn't fully hit him what was awaiting him.

Ben smiled at him and was about to close the door but stopped at the last second, "Um... Justin?"

"Yeah?"

"Is everything okay?"

"What do you mean?" he was confused.

"I just… I heard you talk before I walked in and…"

"Talk?" Justin immediately froze. "Oh, I was just calling Daphne. I want to see her before I go back to New York, you know."

"Oh, right," Ben smiled and finally closed the door behind him.

But Justin could tell that it was not believable enough for him. He just really hoped that it at least delayed his committing to a psych ward. But he should really call Daphne though, there was no doubt about that.

"Ready?" Michael looked at him from the couch when he came down.

"Uh-hm, yeah," Justin nodded, trying to look convincing.

"Are you sure you really feel up to it?" Deb asked him.

"Um, yeah, I think so," Justin smiled at her, even though deep down he could feel how scared he really was.

"Okay, honey. You look nice by the way. Brian wouldn't be able to stop staring at you," she smiled and stroked his cheek.

"Thanks," he chuckled softly.

"I bought these red roses for his grave... I hope you like them," Michael said, looking at him.

Justin glanced at the roses and that was all it took for him to be finally and fully aware of what was actually happening today. He was so lost in his conversation with Brian, which wasn't even real, that he completely ignored the reality - that today marks exactly three years since Brian's death.

Oh my god. Oh my god...

Justin's heart immediately began to race and it felt like he couldn't breathe properly, he was almost gasping for air. He was so close to passing out.

"Justin? Justin?" Michael rushed to him immediately.

"Honey, just breath, okay? Breath," Debb held his hand tightly.

"I'll get him some water," Ben said.

Justin could feel his throat getting tight and his chest felt so heavy. His whole body was shaking and he was covered in cold sweat. He kept clutching his chest and thought his heart would jump out of his body at any moment.

He was definitely not ready for this. He had been preparing for this day since he promised Michael he would come, but now he felt like he wasn't prepared at all. Well, how could he? There was a reason he was avoding this. Reason why he dreaded to come here, let alone live here.

But now he felt as if it had literally slapped him in the face. The realization. The fact that today it's exactly three years since he last saw Brian. It was supposed to be a very special day... but then it turned into a nightmare. A nightmare that Justin still hasn't fully woken up from.

"Is it better?" Michael wanted to make sure as Justin started to turn pink again.

"Yeah... thanks," he replied, still shaking a little, but thankfully the worst was over. God, he really hated these panic attacks.

"You scared the shit out of me, Sunshine!" Debb wiped away here tears, still shaking too.

"I'm sorry… it's just that… that I suddenly realized what… what…"

"What today means," Michael finished for him.

"Yeah."

"I know what you mean. It happened to me on the first anniversary… it was like it finally dawned on me that Brian was gone."

"I know he's gone, but..."

"Now it feels more... real."

Justin nodded. He didn't even know it was possible to feel worse than he already did.

"It will get better, you'll see."

He wanted to believe him, but he just couldn't. It was more than obvious that Michael had already come to terms with Brian's death and was able to move on with his life... but that was something Justin still had ahead of him and right now he was not sure he'll ever be able to do it.

Then suddenly the doorbell rang and Justin's heart immediately skipped a beat. But he really didn't want to fall apart again, so even though he knew that the people behind that door who were very close to him probably hated him, he took a really deep breath and waited for whatever was about to come.

"Daddy!" a dark haired girl ran into the house and straight into Michael's arms.

God, Jenny is so big, Justin thought with a huge smile, but at the same time he felt sad… he had lost so much time with her and didn't see her grow up.

And then it was Lindsay and Melanie who finally stepped into the house. Justin couldn't even look at them and preferred to hide behind Michael and Ben. Everyone immediately started hugging and greeting each other... well, almost everyone - Gus still hadn't crossed the threshold of the house. This made Justin wonder if he was even here. Maybe he couldn't come here because it was too hard for him. Or maybe he knew Justin would be here and didn't want to face him. Could he have hated him so much that he'd rather stay home than come to the anniversary of his dad's death?

With these thoughts racing through his mind, he was sure he's going go insane at any moment.

"Justin?" he heard suddenly and completely froze - it was Lindsay.

Justin immediately held his breath and slowly looked up, "Linds," he breathed out.

And what happened next took him completely by surprise. Lindsay's arms suddenly wrapped around him and hugged him as tightly as possible, "It's so good to see you, Justin."

Justin wasn't able to react or even hug her back until Lindsay said, "Come on, just hug me," so he finally did and it felt amazing. He was really happy to see her.

"Oh my god, Justin, honey," Melanie joined them. "We've missed you so much."

"Me too," Justin literally had tears on his face. Never in a million years had he expected such a warm welcome from them after everything that had happened.

"Uncle Justy!" Jenny was so eager to hug him too that he almost ended up on the floor.

"Jenny Rebecca!" Melanie exclaimed.

"It's okay," Justin chuckled. "God, you're so heavy... and so big," he couldn't stop smiling at her.

"And where is Gus?" Debbie asked and Justin was really glad because he needed to know too.

"He's still in the car - sulking," Lindsay replied. "This day is already hard enough, but now that he's a teenager... well, I guess you can imagine," she sighed.

"I'll go get him," Melanie said and left the house.

And in that moment, Justin was really surprised at how fast his heart could beat and knowing that Gus was not in the best mood made it all even worse. God, he was so not ready for this. But no matter how much he wanted to get out of there right now he just stood there staring at the door basically without blinking until it finally opened and Melanie walked in followed by Gus. And Justin's jaw immediately dropped... he looked so much like Brian. It wasn't just resemblance, it was like he was looking at Brian. Teenage Brian, but Brian. His Brian. And there were no words to describe how shocked Justin actually was.

"Justin? Justin?" It was as if someone was speaking to him from afar. And it wasn't until Michael touched his shoulder that he was able to come back to reality. "Are you okay?" Michael asked, worried.

"It's just that... um... you look so much like your father," he breathed out, literally staring at Gus.

Everyone immediately fell silent and didn't know what to say. They too could see how much Gus looked like Brian and understood why it affected Justin so much... but they didn't know what they could do for him so they just waited helplessly to see what was going to happen next.

"Shocking," Gus replied wryly, almost rolling his eyes and then headed to the kitchen.

"Gus!" Lindsay scolded him.

And Justin just stood there, not really surprised as he expected some kind of reaction from Gus, but of course that didn't mean it didn't hurt because it did, there was no doubt about that.

"I'm really sorry, Justin," Lindsay smiled at him apologetically. "He's just... I should talk to him..."

"It's okay, Linds. Don't be mad at him. Today is hard."

"Yeah," she sighed. "How do you even feel?"

"I'm fine, really. Just... you know," he shrugged.

"Yeah, unfortunately I do. But I'm really glad you're here. Brian would be happy too."

Justin almost had to laugh because the truth was that Brian would be much happier if Justin would be literally anywhere else enjoying his life instead of being here and getting ready to visit his grave. If he was here, he probably would have smacked him and yelled at him to get the fuck out of here.

They all went to sit down and Ben poured them coffee and some orange juice. Meanwhile, Gus had came back from the kitchen but wasn't making eye contact with anyone let alone an actual conversation, despite Debb's several attempts to do so. He just stood quietly in the corner of the living room playing with his phone. But no one blamed him, how could they when today was a reminder of what he had lost.

But Justin really wanted to have a moment alone with him and apologize. Because even though he knew that no apology in the world would fix this, he really needed to say it. He just had to be patient and wait for Gus to at least acknowledge his existence.

Feeling a little overwhelmed, Justin got up and went to look out the window while slowly sipping his coffee and trying to take his mind off everything. But suddenly Jenny bumped into him by accident and spilled the coffee all over his shirt.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, uncle Justy, I didn't mean to!"

"It's okay," he smiled. "Nothing happened, don't worry about it..." Justin assured her, seeing how bad she felt.

"I'll get you some napkins," Melanie offered immediately.

"No need, I'll just go get changed," Justin smiled and hurried upstairs. He was actually glad to be alone for a bit.

Justin took off the wet shirt and took a clean one from the closet. He then headed to the bathroom to wash the coffee off his skin. But as he was standing in front of the mirror, he couldn't help but stare at himself. It wasn't like he was seeing his scars for the first time, but... today they had a completely different meaning. They reminded him of the pain that had seemed so excruciating back then, but little did he know that it was actually nothing compared to the pain he felt today.

"Justin? Is everything okay?" Lindsay suddenly opened the bathroom door and her eyes immediately widened when she saw Justin's scars. So he quickly began to put on the shirt. "I'm sorry, I… I didn't mean to…" she closed the door behind her. And Justin sighed, running a hand over his face.

After a while he was finally able to walk out of the bathroom and as he assumed, Lindsay was there waiting for him, "I should have knocked," she said apologetically.

"Don't worry about it, Lindsay. It's just scars."

"Yeah. I just… it's the first time I've seen them."

"Well, we haven't seen each other since then, so..." he looked down for a moment, feeling guilty. "And you have no idea how sorry I am."

"What happened, Justin?" Lindsay asked. "I mean... you just disappeared."

"I just… I thought you wanted nothing to do with me."

"Why on earth would you think that?"

"Come on Lindsay. Brian is dead because of me. Gus is without a dad because of me. Your best friend is dead because of me."

Lindsay just stared at him in disbelief, not really sure if she heard correctly. "Justin, none of us blame you for what happened. Not me, not Gus. NO ONE. It was a terrible accident."

"Gus can't even look at me."

"Gus can barely look at me… it's called being a teenager," she chuckled. "Trust me it has nothing to do with what happened. He knows it was an accident."

Justin wanted to believe it, but it was too hard.

"We love you, okay? You're part of our family and nothing can ever change that. So don't you dare leave us again, you hear me?"

Justin had to smile, barely able to hold back the tears. Lindsay had no idea how much those words meant to him and how much he needed to hear them. He couldn't help but hug her. But then they were interrupted by Michael, who came to tell them that Ted and Emmett had arrived.
Chapter 5 by Taylor-Kinney
(Pittsburgh, May 2013 - past)

Justin let out a soft moan in his sleep when he felt Brian's fingers gently brushing the bare skin of his back. The brunett always knew how to wake him up and give him a good morning. He slowly opened his eyes and turned to look at him, a smile instantly forming on his lips. Was it even legal how much he loved Brian?

"Hey," his smile even widened.

"You're finally awake," Brian licked his lips. "It's actually amazing how long you can sleep," he chuckled in amusement.

"Well, it's called beauty sleep."

"I'm pretty sure you don't need that," he tenderly kissed him. "You still look young as fuck and your're already... beautiful," he breathed out.

Justin bit his lip, enjoying hearing such words. "If you don't want a zombie walking around here, then trust me that I do need it," he yawned.

"You would be a really hot zombie," he looked at him with his horny face.

Justin giggled and pulled him in for a hungry kiss. "How about you stay home today? We could fuck all day," he looked at him hopefully.

Brian sighed. "You know I can't... I have a lot of work to do, but... I can fuck you now," he smirked.

"Uhhh, let me think about it."

"Oh really?" Brian arched his brows and began to tickle him.

"Okay, okay... you can fuck me... you can fuck me all you want," he said through laughing.

Brian flipped him onto his back and lay on top of him, their cocks immediately began to harden as they rubbed against each other. He slowly licked around his lips with the tip of his tongue and the blond parted them so Brian could slide his tongue deep inside. After the kiss, Brian gently bit Justin's lower lip and nuzzled his face.

"I'm really glad marriage didn't kill our sex drive," Brian chuckled.

"Trust me, that will never happen to us," Justin assured him. "Forty years from now we'll still be fucking like crazy."

"Can't wait," Brian winked and leaned down for another kiss. "Now roll over," he commanded, his voice husky.

---

(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)

"Sweetie?"

Justin looked at Emmett in confusion after his voice brought him back to reality. "Um, sorry, what did you say?"

"I was just wondering how long are you planning to stay?" Emmett replied with a smile.

And Justin felt really terrible, he was reunited with his friends after three years and he wasn't even able to listen to what they were saying because he just couldn't stop thinking about the last moments he spent with Brian.

"Uhhh, two days… at most."

"Oh. Really? I thought we'd catch up a bit… you know, since we haven't seen each other in so long."

"I was hoping for that too," Ted added. "But we understand you have your responsibilities at home."

It was really strange for Justin to hear Ted call New York his home because he had never felt at home there. He had already spent a total of 7 years there, but he never considered it his home.

And truth was that no responsibilities awaited him there. He didn't really have a single reason to go back there so soon... except one - he wanted to get out of Pittsburgh as quickly as possible, because otherwise he was sure he would go completely insane soon. Everything was just getting to be too much for him and he hadn't even done the most important (scariest) part yet.

"But we could go out tomorrow like old times. What do you say, Justin?" Michael asked hopefully.

That right now I'm absolutely unable to think about anything but the fact that the guy I love with all my heart is buried in the fucking ground and I'm still not ready to face it.

"Yeah, that sounds good," he replied, though he didn't really know what he was answering to. He was too numb.

"Great," Michael smiled.

And Emmett and Ted were instantly excited as well, but Justin couldn't share their excitement as he was dying inside right now.

"Do you need help with something?" Justin peeked into the kitchen where Ben was doing the dishes.

"No need, but thanks," Ben smiled at him.

And Justin sighed softly, he just really needed to distract himself with something. And fortunately for him, Ben noticed his expression…

"Or you know what, can you help me put the dishes back where they belong?"

"Gladly," Justin immediately lit up and went to help him. "Thank you," he smiled at him.

"You're welcome. I get it. You need something to do and not think about what's happening."

"Yeah," he sighed. "I just need my brain to stop thinking for a moment and doing something at least calms me down a little so..." he paused for a moment. "I just didn't even realize what I've been avoiding all this time... until today. And it's really hard."

"I know. But it's good you're here. You need it."

"Yeah, that's what everyone keeps telling me. But despite that, I'd rather run away."

"I don't blame you, Justin. You still haven't accepted what happened and in your world, you're still hoping that Brian will show up somewhere, that you'll just wake up from this nightmare and he'll be here..."

"But he won't be," Justin tried his best to hold back his tears, but he couldn't stop them.

"Shit. Sorry. Here..." Ben immediately handed him a tissue.

"The crying is getting really annoying," Justin chuckled but still couldn't control the tears.

Ben put a hand on his shoulder and looked at him sympathetically. He couldn't even begin to understand how Justin must have felt. When Michael was in the hospital after the Babylon bombing and he didn't know if he was going to survive, it was literally the hardest thing he's ever been through. But luckily, Michael made it through so Ben never had to feel what Justin felt right now and as selfish as it might sound, he was really grateful for it… he really wouldn't want to be in Justin's shoes. But on the other hand - who would?

"Is there anything I can do for you, Justin?"

"It's okay. I just need to pull myself together. I'm gonna get some fresh air."

"You sure?"

"Uhm, yeah," Justin smiled at him and quickly headed to the front porch.

He sat down on the porch steps and buried his face in his hands, trying to calm down. The hardest part was yet to come and he was already on the verge of a mental breakdown, so he really did need to pull himself together.

"You know I hate seeing you like this," Brian's caring voice suddenly said next to him.

"Maybe if you hadn't died, you wouldn't have to see me like this," Justin barked.

"Sunshine," Brian sighed. "If I could prevent it, believe me... I would. I would do anything to be with you again."

"You shouldn't have come back for me!"

Justin's crying was overcome by uncontrollable rage... but only for a moment, as he then realized how pathetic this whole thing was. He was yelling at someone who wasn't even there... Brian will never know how angry and broken Justin really was... how much he missed him... because he was gone and nothing could ever change that.

"Uncle Justin?"

"Oh god, Gus," Justin quickly wiped away his tears and smiled at him nervously.

But then he noticed the way Gus was looking at him. "Who were you talking to?" the boy asked, his face worried.

"Um, nobody… or I mean, I was just talking to myself. But don't worry, I'm not crazy," Justin shrugged and laughed at the same time, not that there was anything funny about it, but he just didn't know what else to do. He really didn't feel up to explaining to a 16-year-old boy that he was talking to his dead dad.

But then he realized something. Gus was talking to him. Gus. Was. Talking. To. Him.

"Gus, do you have a minute? Please?"

"Why?"

"I just wanna talk."

"About what?" Gus suddenly put back on his mask of a teenager who doesn't feel anything and who is annoyed by everything.

He really was Brian's son.

"Um, well, about everything... about what happened... about why I didn't call..."

"I don't want to talk about it," Gus just turned around and quickly disappeared into the house.

"That went well," Justin muttered under his breath and sighed.

And suddenly he could hear Brian's laugh behind him. "Teenagers."

"Shut up," Justin rolled his eyes and walked back into the house as well.

But to his surprise, everyone suddenly fell silent and their gazes were directed straight at him. Great, now they're talking about me, he thought.

"Let me guess, you're considering whether I need a shrink..." Justin arched his brows.

"No honey," Debbie walked over to him. "We're just worried about you," she stroked his cheek.

"Well, it may seem like I'm on my way to going crazy, but trust me there's no reason for family intervention just yet," as he finished the sentence, he could see Brian standing behind them with that knowing look on his face. He just wanted to yell at him to go away, but that probably wouldn't help him much at the moment, so he decided to ignore him.

"But if you need anything, just say the word," Melanie said kindly.

"For now, I just need this day to finally be over," he sighed.

And they all nodded in agreement, realizing that it was probably time to go. He may have been the one who dreaded it so much, but the others were also putting it off. After all, they might have come to terms with Brian's death, but that didn't mean it was easy for them.

"I almost forgot, Cynthia's coming too," Ted said.

Oh great, another person who probably hates me, Justin thought. But he really hoped it wasn't the case because he really wanted to see her. And everyone immediately nodded enthusiastically. Before Brian died, Cynthia was a big part of his life for a really long time, not just as his assistant, but as his close friend who helped him a lot in his career, so of course it wasn't a surprise that she was coming too.

Then they all got up and finally went to face the inevitable. The moment Justin got into Ben and Michael's car, he could feel his chest tighten.

"You okay?" Michael looked at Justin the moment Ben started the car.

"Uh-hm," Justin replied, but he really wasn't okay at all. And to be honest, he was considering jumping out of the moving car at the earliest opportunity.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Brian said, suddenly sitting next to him.

Justin immediately wanted to yell at him to leave him alone, but he was aware that it might not turn out well for him.

"You'll just break a few bones, end up in the hospital, and then these two clowns will have to take care of you."

"How much longer?" Justin asked, trying to ignore Brian.

"Uh, about 20 more minutes," Michael replied, surprised that Justin was suddenly in a hurry.

"What's the rush, Sunshine? I thought you liked spending time with me," Brian looked at him, smiling.

"Not like this," he said through gritted teeth.

"What'd you say?" Michael asked, confused.

"Oh, nothing."

"You know I'm not doing anything, it's you… you're the one who wants to see me and talk to me, that's the only reason why I'm here," Brian pointed out.

Justin was fully aware of that, but suddenly he had absolutely no control over it. It was almost as if his brain was doing whatever it wanted.

"God, you don't even know how much I want to touch you," Brian sighed.

"Please, just stop," Justin whispered with a lump in his throat.

Then he closed his eyes and held his breath, holding it as long as he could and he was even willing to pass out if it meant Brian would leave him alone... and by some miracle it worked, even without passing out.

Imagining Brian was what kept him alive, but right now it was the worst thing that could happen to him… being on the way to his grave but talking to him at the same time? Yeah, he probably really needed a shrink.

"We're here," Ben announced as he pulled up.

And at that moment, Justin's heart just stopped.

"Already?" he asked in a shaky voice.

"Yeah," Michael replied with a sigh. "Already," he himself was having a hard time looking at the cemetery in front of him, fully realizing what was going on. "Shit," he muttered under his breath.

"Are you okay?" Ben asked immediately.

"Yeah, I just… this part is always the worst. Getting out of the car and going there… I hate it..."

"I know," Ben stroked his hair, obviously taking Michael and himself by surprise… they hadn't been touching each other much lately.

Meanwhile, Justin was really trying to pull himself together, internally encouraging himself and trying to stop himself from running away, although he was ready to do exactly that.

But he just couldn't do that to Brian... not again.

And so, taking a deep breath, he finally got out of the car and dared to look at the most terrifying place for him. Meanwhile, the others started to arrive as well, including Cynthia, who immediately greeted everyone.

"Hi, Justin," she smiled at him, placing a hand on his shoulder.

And Justin immediately flinched because he didn't even realize she was there... that's how much numb he was right now. "Oh, Cyn… sorry… It's so good to see you," Justin accepted her hug, feeling kind of weird. They had never been close friends, but they shared a devotion to Brian, and right now the guilt was eating him up even more.

"You look nice," she said.

"Thanks, but you look nicer."

They both chuckled but suddenly neither of them knew what to say and luckily they were saved by Ted. "So you're finally reunited," he smiled at them. "Cynthia is really great, you don't even know how much she helps with Kinnetik, I couldn't do it without her..."

"Come on, boss…" she laughed. "I'm just doing my job..."

"And you're amazing at it."

Justin smiled, glad that the two of them were taking care of Kinnetik that meant so much to Brian... but it was still really hard knowing that he would never see Brian there again.

"I know she's amazing," Justin said. "You always helped Brian even when he was acting like a jerk, so… and he really cared about you, Cynthia," Justin smiled, then looked down sadly.

"And that he acted like a jerk most of the time," she laughed to lighten the mood and Justin and Ted joined her.

Suddenly Justin caught a glimpse of Gus out of the corner of his eye - he was standing alone, probably ignoring everyone, and even though unreal pain was written all over his face, he was trying his best to hide it behind the mask of a tough guy who didn't feel anything. But Justin could see how much he missed his dad.

Justin couldn't help but go to him.

"Are... are you okay, Gus?" God, what kind of stupid question is that?

"Yeah, I'm great," he replied sarcastically.

"I know this must be hard for you… so if you want to talk I'm here for you…."

"Hard for me? As far as I know, you're the one who's been avoiding this for years, so..."

Justin knew he deserved it, but it still hurt... though the truth always hurts.

"But I'm here now, ready to face it… ready to face you…."

"I really can't do this right now," Gus turned around and walked over to his mothers and sister.

Justin wasn't at all surprised by Gus's attitude towards him, in fact he expected even worse because he was sure Gus wouldn't even want to see him... so the fact that he was talking to him, kind of, even if not in a friendly way, Justin took really positively. Small steps Justin, small steps...

"I come here almost every week to bring him and Carl and Vic some flowers and candles... but I still haven't gotten used to that feeling... it still gives me chills," Debbie summed up how she and the others felt.

"We should go there," Lindsay said. "Knowing Brian, he's probably laughing at us right now..."

And they all laughed in agreement, happy for her comment.

Even Justin relaxed a bit, almost wishing Brian would appear next to him and tell him exactly that... but right now he needed him to stay away.

"If he could, he'd probably tell us to leave him the fuck alone and just go live our damn lives," Emmett added with a chuckle.

Again, something everyone had to agree on. But even if Brian could really say that, Justin still wouldn't be able to live his damn life... not without him.

"Let's go?" Michael looked at them to see if they agreed. And as soon as they nodded, they walked through the gate together and made their way to Brian's grave.

But as they were passing other graves, Justin became more and more anxious, his heart was beating so hard and fast that he was sure it was going to jump out of his chest at any moment. But before he knew it, they were suddenly standing in front of his headstone...

***

Brian A. Kinney

1971 - 2013

Loving husband, father, son and friend

***

God, Brian would hate that stone, Justin thought bitterly. He'd rather have "Brian Kinney - the hottest fuck of Liberty Avenue" written on it. This stone just wasn't him. And who knows if he even wanted to be buried in the ground, maybe that wasn't his wish... but Justin will never know that because they never talked about it because they just thought they had more time...

"Hey Brian," Michael spoke first, placing a red rose on his grave.

They all had one in their hand and like Michael they also started placing them on Brian's grave while saying a few nice words to him. Only Justin clutched his rose tightly in his hand and tried to hold back his tears. He was completely paralyzed.

And suddenly a memory of that night flashed before his eyes... the night that changed his life completely, the night he lost everything... the night he lost Brian.

He remembered the scream, his scream, he remembered Brian trying his best to save him, he remembered Gus crying...

He will never forget the horror.

"Justin? Justin what's going on?" Lindsay rushed to him when she saw how pale he was.

"Honey?" Debbie said, her voice worried.

But Justin was unable to say anything, he was completely paralyzed with fear, it was almost like he was there again, like he was reliving it, like he was losing Brian all over again and the sight of that stone in front of him broke him completely.

"I can't… I just can't…" was all he got out.

And the next moment all he knew was that he was walking away really fast while the others called after him, but he didn't stop, he just ran, far… as far as he could.

---

Justin found himself at Woody's, he didn't even realize he was going there, but suddenly he was sitting on a bar stool ordering a Jim Beam. Brian's favorite drink. He couldn't explain it, but drinking it made him feel closer to him, even if just a tiny bit. And as soon as the glass landed in front of him, he dranked the whole thing and ordered another. It wasn't until the fourth glass that he decided to slow down. Though not only did the alcohol make him feel better, but it was really good for the pain too... his leg was killing him now, running probably wasn't the best idea, the doctor had warned him about it... but whatever.

"Can I sit with you?" he suddenly heard behind him.

He immediately looked up and was taken aback by who he saw. "Cynthia? How did you… how did you know I was here?"

"Well, it wasn't that hard to figure it out… Brian's favorite bar and you definitely need a drink today. I'll have what he has," Cynthia waved at the bartender. "Everyone is worried about you."

"They don't have to."

"I know. You're strong. That's what Brian always said. No matter what came your way, you didn't let it break you."

Justin had to smile, knowing that Brian was talking about him like that to someone meant a lot to him.

"I'm pretty sure I'm on the verge of insanity so… I don't know if that's the case."

"You're not going crazy, Justin. You're just fighting with the pain any way you can."

"Why are you here with me?" Justin asked looking at her.

"Well… I'd say you need company."

"I just… you have every right to hate me so…"

"And why on earth would I do that?"

"I think you know the answer to that question."

"God, Justin," she sighed. "Brian was my boss and my friend and yes, I miss him a lot… but you lost the love of your life and the pain must be awful. You shouldn't make it worse by blaming yourself because, Justin, it wasn't your fault."

"That's what everyone tells me, but none of them were there... Gus on the other hand, who was there, really hates me."

"He's a teenager… he probably hates his teacher because he got homework."

Justin had to chuckle.

"Yeah, but this is different. I can see it in his eyes… he can't even look at me."

"Give him time. Don't forget that you disappeared from his life… that must have been hard for him too."

Justin acknowledged that there was some truth to that, but still… Gus had lost his dad because of him, and that was reason enough for him to hate him.

As Justin and Cynthia drank, it became easier for them to talk about Brian and reminisce about everything they had experienced with him. It was really liberating for Justin, he couldn't even remember the last time he had talked to someone about him like that.

"Oh god, he was a prick, but a really great prick," Cynthia lifted her glass still laughing, "To Brian," she dranked the rest of her drink.

Justin immediately joined her, "To Brian. I love you," he said looking up.

And soon the tears of laughter were replaced by real tears.

"Here," Cynthia handed him a tissue.

"Thanks. I feel like a crying queen. I fucking hate it."

"You have every right to cry today Justin. But tomorrow you have to pull yourself together and get on with your life because we both know Brian wouldn't want you to live like this."

"Yeah, I know," Justin sighed. "I just miss him so much and I wish we had more time. Even before he died, we had so little of it... he was always at Kinnetik and I was traveling for shows... I can't even count how many times we fought about it. It was so stupid. I'd give anything to take it back and just be with him..."

"Brian wanted Ted to take over Kinnetik for some time," Cynthia blurted out suddenly.

"What?" Justin breathed out in surprise, his eyes widened.

"Yeah… maybe even permanently. He knew he was missing out on so much time with you and he wanted to change that. He just wanted to be with you more. He knew that working 12 hours a day meant losing precious time with you… so he wanted to make Ted the boss so he could work regular hours and be with you."

Justin's lower lip began to quiver, he was completely taken aback, "I… I didn't know that. He didn't tell me."

"He wanted it to be a surprise. And he needed to talk to Ted first, he knew he had his life with Blake, but he also knew he didn't want anyone else in his place... and he was willing to beg."

"Brian Kinney doesn't beg..."

"Yeah, he does. For you he does."

Justin didn't even know what to say, but he knew that right now he needed to see Brian more than anything...

"Will you excuse me for a moment? I need to go to the bathroom."

"Yeah, of course," Cynthia smiled.

The moment Justin walked into the restroom he made sure no one else was there. He then looked in the mirror and in a few seconds Brian appeared in the reflection...

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"It was supposed to be a surprise, Sunshine. I know how much it was killing you that we weren't together much… it was killing me too and I wanted to change that."

Justin immediately burst into tears. "I'm so sorry. This is all my fault. You're the one who should be here, not me... but you. I'm so sorry, Brian..."

"Shh, Justin… don't do this to yourself," Brian pressed against his back and wrapped his strong arms around him.

"I wish you were real..." Justin whispered, resting his head on Brian's chest.
End Notes:
Comments are very welcome... so I know if you're still with me and hopefully enjoying this story! Thank you.
Chapter 6 by Taylor-Kinney
-

(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)

Late at night taxi brought Justin back to Michael and Ben's house, he was just too drunk to get there on his own. After Cynthia left, and especially after what she told him, he basically drank everything he got his hands on. But even that wasn't enough for the pain to go away nor for Justin to forget the worst night of his life. Well, at least for a while. He would do anything to just feel normal again... to have Brian back. Anything. But instead, he was here, drunk, pathetic and totally heartbroken.

"Justin!" the door opened before Justin had the chance to knock.

"Michaeeel," Justin said, his voice amused.

"Where have you been? Do you even know how worried we were about you?"

"Uhhh... I'm 33, Dad," he chuckled.

"Justin..."

"Yeah?" Justin looked at him with his brows arched, obviously not giving a fuck about anything right now.

And Michael took a deep breath, ready to continue, but when he saw Justin's face, he knew that this was the last thing he needed.

"I'll make him tea," Ben said and headed to the kitchen.

"Come sit down," Michael took him by the elbow and led him to the couch. "I'm just glad that you're alright."

"But I'm not," Justin almost laughed but his voice sounded desperately. "I am everything but alright."

"You just need more time..."

"Time? It's been three years! Three fucking years! And I can't even visit his grave... I ran away like a damn coward."

"Everyone grieves differently, Justin. This is just your way of coping… don't be so hard on yourself."

"God, Michael, could you just stop? Stop trying to make me feel better and telling me it's going to be okay! Just stop already... Brian was your best friend and you act like all of this is normal! You should hate me!"

Michael's eyes widened and he looked at him almost as if he didn't know what to say, but then his face changed from worried to almost angry.

"You really think this is easy for me, Justin?" he raised his brows. "You don't even know how much I fucking miss him and I would give anything for him to get out of there alive... none of this is normal! But Justin, you need to stop with this crap already! Brian loved you and thanks to him you have a long life ahead of you... so don't throw it away and stop wasting the time he has given you. I definitely won't let you, do you hear me?"

Justin opened his mouth to say something but shut it again when he realized there was nothing he could say or do so he just stared at him with tears running down his face. It was hard to hear, but somehow it was exactly what he needed...

---

(Pittsburgh, May 2013 - past)

"Are you really sure Brian?" Cynthia asked for the millionth time.

Brian took a minute to think, it was a really big decision after all, but he knew he was doing the right thing, so he answered in a firm voice, "Yes, I am. Kinnetik can survive without me and Ted is more than capable of taking care of it... I mean I taught him well..." he smirked proudly. "But Justin... Justin is what matters now."

Cynthia smiled, proud of her boss and friend. Of course she was sad knowing that it wouldn't be the same here without him, but she knew he was doing what he needed and wanted. "Do you think Ted will agree?"

"Well, he should if he doesn't want to lose his job."

"In other words, if he tells you no, you fire him?" she looked at him amused.

"Yes," Brian smiled.

"I wouldn't expect anything less from you," Cynthia laughed and left his office.

Brian leaned back in his chair and stared at the papers on the table in front of him. Papers that will make Ted the boss and him just a regular employee. Well, not regular, of course he'll still have some power, it's his agency after all... but it won't be the same anymore. Ted will be the one in charge. And Brian needed to suck it up. It was his idea after all and he didn't regret it, he wanted and needed that free time to be with Justin and have more than what they had now. He just needed to swallow the fact that Ted would be giving him orders.

You must have lost your damn mind, Kinney.

"Knock, knock."

Brian looked up to see his prince standing there. He immediately had to smile like every time he lays his eyes on him. But then his inner panic took over as he realized what was on his desk, so he quickly took the papers and put them in the drawer.

"Hey, Sunshine."

"What are you hiding there?"

"Nothing. Just work," he cleared his throat.

"Uh-hmm," Justin clearly didn't believe him, but if Brian didn't want to tell him, there was no point in forcing him. "Well, I hope you don't mind me barging in," he walked over to him and sat on his lap, putting his arms around his neck.

"Quite the opposite," Brian smiled, leaning in for a kiss. "But what brings you here?"

“Well, I was at my mom's but I didn't want to go home yet because it's so empty without you… so I thought I'd pay you a visit."

"My little genius," Brian nuzzled his neck, inhaling his scent. "And how is she?"

"Good. And she's really hoping we'll come over soon and have dinner with her."

"Of course."

"So I kind of told her that next week could work."

"Of course."

"She's really excited."

"Of course."

"Do you know other words besides 'of course'?" he chuckled.

"Of course."

"Hey!" Justin punched him in the shoulder and they both started laughing. "You know," Justin snuggled closer to him.

"Yeah?"

"We haven't fucked on this desk in a really long time."

"Oh really?"

"Uh-hmm. Too long actually," Justin's hand found its way to Brian's crotch to feel his already hardening dick, slowly rubbing it.

"Aaaach," Brian groaned. "You're a little devil."

Justin licked his lips. "Well, I learned from the master," he winked.

Brian smiled and let Justin unbutton his pants and slide his hand into his boxers making him moan 'fuck' under his breath. The blond immediately wrapped his fingers around his boner and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"God, you're going to kill me," he whispered in a heavy voice. "If someone walks in..."

"Since when do you care, old man?" Justin teased him.

"Oh, you did not just say that. I will spank you so hard that..."

Before Brian could finish the sentece, Justin began to move his hand up and down his cock, causing Brian to close his eyes, taking in the feeling of his touch, and moan softly. Then Justin leaned closer to his ear and wrapped his lips around the earlobe, gently sucking it, while he continued to stroke his erection at a slow, almost painful pace.

"You were saying?" the blond asked playfully.

"I don't even rememeber," Brian chuckled.

"Mhmmm, interesting," Justin smiled, licking Brian's neck. "God, you are so hard."

Brian grunted, making Justin’s hand grip his cock harder and pump it faster. A gasp escaped his lips immediately. Justin smiled and nuzzled at the underside of Brian’s jaw, using his teeth to playfully scrape over the skin found there before gently biting the jaw. And soon pre-cum was slowly dripping down Brian's cock right on Justin's fingers. The brunet made whimpering sounds as he held on to the edge of the desk with one hand and clutched Justin's bicep with the other.

"Fuck, don't stop... just don't stop," Brian breathed out, his eyes rolled back in his head.

"I won't," Justin whispered. "Not until you cum," he gently bit Brian's lower lip.

That sent goosebumps down Brian's spine and his breathing increased. Then the throbbing in his dick started and Justin knew he was close. He was panting, his eyes darkened and his head fell back. So Justin tightened his fingers, stroking Brian even faster while nibbling his throat.

"I love your big cock," the blond breathed softly against his neck.

"God," Brian gasped.

Then Justin gave the hot red cock in his hand a few more strokes and before he knew it Brian's body was shaking with pleasure. He was moaning and making loud uncontrollable groans followed by whimpering sounds as he came all over Justin’s hand.

"Well, that happened… I just creamed my pants," Brian chuckled, trying to catch his breath. "Hopefully no one heard me."

"I'm pretty sure everyone heard you," Justin laughed, stroking his hair.

"Great. Then it's your fault if they'll think I'm a fucking pervert."

"Sorry to break it to you, but they already do."

"True," he nodded and smiled. "But I thought you wanted to fuck..."

"I changed my mind. This was just for you."

"How sweet of you, Sunshine."

"Maybe next time. But tonight…" Justin whispered huskily but said nothing more and got up to leave.

"What about tonight?" Brian was curious.

"That's a surprise," Justin smiled widely. "See you later."

With that he left his office and Brian could only sigh. Then he buttoned his pants, feeling that his semi-erect cock was still sensitive as hell, and went to enjoy his last moments as the head of this agency. But about two hours later, Justin's number appeared on the screen of his phone...

"Let me guess, you regret not letting me fuck you?" he asked jokingly.

"Well, I definitely should have taken the chance… while I still could," Justin whispered the last part with a nervous laugh. And Brian knew immediately that something was wrong.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Just... promise you won't freak out..."

"Justin!"

"Just promise me."

"Jesus Christ, fine! I promise. Now tell me."

"Well, I had a little accident..."

"What?" Brian stood up so fast that his chair hit the wall behind him.

"You promised you wouldn't freak out."

"What kind of accident?"

"Uh, well… I was driving home and all of a sudden there was this cute dog on the road and before I knew it, I hit a tree…"

There was a moment of silence. "Please tell me you're okay," Brian's voice was shaking.

"I am… um, I mean kind of… but the car… I'm really sorry about that… I know you gave it to me and I should have been more careful…"

"Christ, I don't give a fuck about the car. I care about you. How bad are you hurt? Or you know what, I'll be at the hospital in twenty minutes... just don't do anything stupid in the meantime."

Before Justin could say anything Brian hung up and exactly twenty minutes later he was at the hospital looking for someone to tell him where to find Justin.

"Excuse me, um, my husband… he was in an accident… could you please tell me what room he's in? His name is Justin Taylor-Kinney."

"Okay, give me a minute," the woman smiled. And to Brian it felt like an eternity, not just a minute. "He's in room 113. Third floor."

"Thank you," Brian immediately turned on his heels and ran up the stairs, his heart pounding. And the moment he found that room, he opened the door as fast as he could. "God," he breathed out heavily when he finally saw him.

"Yeah, I know... not my best look," Justin chuckled nervously.

But Brian didn't say anything and immediately walked over to his bed, gently squeezing his hand and kissing his head. Then he finally took a moment to look at him closely. He had a scary looking purple bruise under his left eye and several stitches above his eyebrow. But that was nothing compared to his right leg...

"Christ," he whispered.

"Yeah... my tibia is broken and my knee is pretty bruised... I might need surgery but hopefully it will heal on its own. Either way, I have a lot of physical therapy ahead of me," he sighed.

Brian was too numb to hear any of it, he was just too happy that Justin was... alive. He just couldn't stop touching him.

"I'm really sorry about the car, Brian."

"It's just a car," Brian rested his forehead against Justin's and took a deep breath. "But if you ever do this to me again... I'll fucking kill you myself."

Justin laughed softly. "I love you too."

---

Fortunately, surgery was not needed and after three days in the hospital, Justin was finally able to go home. But the bad news was that he needed a wheelchair because the bone was really fragile and he couldn't put any pressure on it to prevent more damage. He hated it, but anything was better than surgery.

Of course, everyone immediately offered to help, especially Debbie and Jennifer, who made sure they had plenty of food at home and pretty much everything they could possibly need. Emmett and Ted did their best to give Justin some distraction. And Michael and Ben were ready to help with anything needed. Even Lindsay and Mel called every chance they got. Justin found it quite hilarious - everyone was acting like he was going to die any day.

And Brian decided to take some time off and put the whole Kinnetik thing on hold. Justin was the priority now and he needed Brian to take care of him.

"If you need anything..."

"I know, Deb, I know... we'll call you," Brian basically pushed her and Jennifer out the door.

"Maybe I should just stay," Jennifer said.

"God no," he immediately protested. "I mean there's no need, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of him myself… as I've proven many times before."

"But..."

"No, no… I really appreciate your help, but I'll be honest “ you're seriously driving me crazy and I'd like to spend some time alone with my husband, so... bye-bye," he waved his fingers and quickly closed the door, immediately pressing his foreahead against the wall and letting out a sigh.

"Are they gone?" Justin looked at him hopefully from the bed when he came to the bedroom.

"Yes," Brian crawled into the bed next to him and buried his face into the pillow, completely exhausted.

"Thank God. I was scared they're gonna live here."

"Your mother wanted to..."

"Christ. That would be more hell than my leg."

"Yeah..." Brian whispered quietly.

And Justin finally noticed how tired Brian was. He barely left his side in the hospital, and when he did it, it was just to take a shower. So it was not surprising that he was running on fumes right now. So Justin did the only thing he could now, and began to gently stroke him on his back and hair. And of course it didn't take long for Brian to fall asleep. And Justin coudln't help but stare at him... he looked so peacefull and so beautiful. He still didn't know how he got so lucky.

----

(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)

The moment Justin woke up, his head felt like it was going to explode any minute and he could barely open his eyes. But of course that was nothing new to him, he'd had so many bad hangovers in the last three years that he should probably be used to it by now... but the opposite was true. And his leg wasn't fun either. He could feel that stabbing pain exactly where the bone was broken, the doctors explained to him that it was the result of not starting the physical therapy in time because of what happened. Oh, and there was also the nerve damage. Looking back, he would almost laugh at how many things went wrong in such a short time back then. But he certainly didn't feel like laughing. And knowing how different things would be today if he hadn't hit that fucking tree made it all even worse.

He finally took off his clothes that reeked of alcohol and cigarettes and went to take a shower. He felt much better after that, but still... nothing could save him from that empty feeling inside. And when he finally had the courage, he went to face Michael and Ben...

"Good morning," he said quietly.

They both looked up from their breakfast and newspapers to look at him. And thankfully, the expressions on their faces didn't indicate that they were angry with him, for which he was truly grateful.

"Good morning," they both said at the same time.

"Are you hungry?" Michael asked. "We didn't want to wake you up, but I can make you some scrambled eggs if you want… or do you want something else?"

"You don't have to, I can do it myself. You have done enough for me," he smiled. "And I don't even deserve it," he added, biting his lip nervously.

"It's not a problem for me, really. So sit down," Michael smiled at him.

"Okay then," he replied and did as he was told.

"I'll go wake up the girls and kids. They should eat something too," Ben said and left the table.

And in that moment Justin's heart just skipped a beat. Not that he was particularly proud of it, but he had completely forgotten that they were here. And since he didn't remember all the details of last night, just that he got drunk and acted like a total idiot, he really hoped the family of four hadn't witnessed it.

"Please tell me they didn't see or hear me yesterday," he looked at Michael desperately.

"I don't think so. They went to bed about an hour before you got home."

"Oh thank god," he sighed in relief and smiled. "I would hate if they saw me like this ..."

"You gotta get your shit together, Justin," Michael said suddenly, looking at him with a very serious face, clearly not going to hold back, "When Brian died… I thought I'd never be able to breathe normally again, it felt like he took a piece of me with him. And I guess that's normal," he paused before continuing. "But, Justin, you act like you died there with him, like you have no life, no one around you... but you have us, you have people who love you and it's killing us to see you like this. And if Brian could see you now… he wouldn't even recognize you and he would not stop until he would get the man he loved so much back. I know I'm not Brian, no one will ever be Brian, and I know I don't have the right to tell you how you should live your life, but... I won't let you destroy yourself because Brian would never forgive me. And let's be honest, he wouldn't forgive you either."

Justin couldn't say a single word. It was the first time he was truly aware of how much his behavior was affecting everyone around him, and he knew that if he didn't want to hit rock bottom, he had to finally let others help him, and start getting his life together.

-
End Notes:
Comments are very welcome!
Chapter 7 by Taylor-Kinney
(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)

"This is stupid!" Justin suddenly blurted out and in all seriousness.

"What makes you think that, Justin?"

"Because this isn't going to help me."

"Then why are you here if you don't think it's going to help?"

"Well for starters, because my whole family thinks I'm crazy and they're probably right… and I've got to get my life together if I don't want to lose everyone."

"So the reason you're here is them?"

"Yeah," he said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Just them?"

"Yes. Well, I mean… I want to get my life back together. I want to get myself back together. But I don't think it's possible. When Brian died… the whole world as I knew it turned to dust. And I've been just surviving ever since... because I just don't know how to live without him... and I don't even want to. So I really don't think therapy will help me... no offense."

The therapist just smiled to herself, probably used to such remarks, "Justin, this is the third time you've been here and the first time you've said more than a few words to me... trust me, this is the beginning of getting yourself and your life back together."

Justin didn't know how to feel about that. Sure, she's the therapist, while he has a total mess in his head. But he couldn't even imagine that this little nervous outburst of his had anything to do with a 'good start'. But it's true that today was the first time he actually said something. He basically just sat through the first two sessions, although he had to admit that even that was kind of therapeutic, just sitting here and relaxing. But the only reason she knew anything about the situation he was going through was because Michael told her. He was the one who recommended her to him. But the first two sessions were completely wasted because he simply didn't know how to talk to this woman, whom he was seeing for the first time in his life, about Brian and the worst thing that had ever happened to him. But he had promised Michael that he would do everything in his power to get his life back together... so here he was, ready, though not really, to face it.

"Tell me about Brian, Justin."

"Why?" Justin could feel his stomach tighten.

"Because if you want to move forward in your life, you have to be able to talk about him."

If he didn't count his drinking with Cynthia and how they reminisced about Brian together, it had been a really long time since he'd talked about him to anyone… like really talked. It's just hard for him. Because talking meant reliving the worst day of his life and that usually meant a lot of tears and a feeling like his life really had no meaning anymore. But that's what he was here for, and no matter how uncomfortable this was for him, this was his last chance before he hits rock bottom... even though he may have already hit it and this was his way how to slowly climb back up.

And he really wanted that.

"Um, well... Brian was... I mean he is the only man I've ever loved."

"Why?"

"What do you mean why?" Justin felt offended that she was even asking him that.

"What made you fall in love with him?"

"Well, he was… special," he breathed out softly with a little smile. "Of course he could be an idiot and drive you crazy and make your blood boil because he just didn't want anyone to know he cared. But he did. More than he could ever express. He wasn't good with words, it took me a while to figure that out, but when I realized that his actions spoke louder than his words... everything changed. I read him like an open book... and the lines and chapters were just... beautiful," Justin's smile widened, he closed his eyes and immediately saw Brian's face.

"How did you feel when you were with him?"

"Like the happiest guy in the world. Of course he could give me a hard time, no doubt about that and there were times when I thought we could never work... I even left him a few times because of it... but at the end of the day I always found my way back to him. I just couldn't be without him. He was kind of like my drug. But not the nasty kind that kills you slowly and has total control over you. He was the reason I got out of bed every day. He helped me with everything he could. He helped me find myself, he helped me follow my dreams and he loved me in a way I didn't even know was possible."

"He was your epic love."

"Yeah," a tear found its way down Justin's face. "Everything was just better with him. I mean, he made me the best version of myself. He made me a better man. And he helped me become the best homosexual I could possibly be. But now? I don't even know who I am anymore. I just feel... lost."

The therapist jotted down some notes and then looked back at Justin. "And do you think Brian was the best version of himself with you?"

"Um… I guess so."

"You guess?"

"I know he was. He changed… he changed for me, but mostly for himself. At first it scared me, I was afraid he was throwing away who he was just to make me happy. But I was wrong. He wasn't throwing away who he was... on the contrary, he finally took off his mask and accepted who he really was and who he was afraid to be - the most selfless, caring and loving man you could ever find."

"Why do you think he was afraid to be that way?"

"Because he didn't want to have his heart broken. You know, Brian he had a really rough childhood and it affected him so much that even though he desperately needed and wanted to be loved, he didn't want to go through that pain of having his heart ripped out of his chest again, that he simply deciced not to believe in love..." Justin chuckled softly. "But then he met me and I was persistent... I refused to give up on him and even though he kicked and screamed at first, he eventually took a chance on love."

"I see," she smiled. "You made each other better."

"Yes. We did."

"And that's why you think you can't live without him?"

"Uh… I… I don't know. Life without Brian just doesn't make sense to me. Without him I'm nothing."

"Why do you think that?"

He was getting really frustrated with her questions. "Like I said, he made me better. I used to be so optimistic and full of hope, always smiling, enjoying my life because I had him by my side... but the guy I was when I was with him is gone now... he died that night too."

Again - she wrote down some notes. And it was getting annoying.

"Justin, what you've been through is a very traumatic event that you still haven't been able to process, so your feelings are completely normal. But you're still the same person you were with Brian... you just buried it under the grief. And it's up to me to help you find that person in you again. You have to learn to be that person without Brian, you have to believe that you can do it. And the first step is to accept the fact that what happened that night was not your fault."

"How would you know? You weren't fucking there," he said angrily.

"So take me there. Tell me what happened that night."

Justin could feel his throat tighten, his heart pounding uncontrollably, and a cold sweat running down his back. He wasn't ready... he just wasn't ready to talk about it. And luckily he was saved by the timer that suddenly went off to remind them that their session was over.

"Guess we're done for today," Justin got up to leave feeling incredibly relieved.

"Justin?" her voice stopped him.

"Yeah?"

"I'll give you homework."

"Homework?" Justin chuckled.

"Yes. Every time you look at yourself in the mirror, I want you to say these words out loud... 'It wasn't my fault'."

"What?" he arched his brows in amusement.

"People around you can tell you this all the time, but you won't believe them because the only person you need to hear it from is yourself."

"And this is supposed to help me? Talk to myself? I thought you were supposed to help people not do that."

"You'd be surprised how effective this method can be. You might have to say it a hundred times before you actually believe it, but you'll get there… and eventually you'll get much further. You just can't give up."

Justin wanted to repeat himself and say how stupid this all was, but he decided to swallow it and trust that the damn woman knew what she was doing, even though he highly doubted it.

"So next Friday at the same time?"

"Yeah sure," Justin nodded and then left her office happy to be done for today.

He decided to walk to Michael and Ben's house, he really needed to think and a long walk in the fresh air was perfect for that. When Michael confronted him that morning, Justin promised him that he would do anything to get his life back together, so he decided to stay in Pittsburgh longer while going to therapy, spending time with his family, and trying to figure out how to live in this world without Brian. And they even gave him a key to their house, officially making him a member of their Novotny-Bruckner family.

"I'm home!" he announced when he arrived and couldn't help but laugh.

But surprisingly he got no answer. He took off his jacket and shoes and headed straight to the kitchen because he felt like he was going to pass out from hunger at any moment. But as soon as he entered the living room, he regretted his decision…

"Oh my god! Jesus Christ," he quickly covered his eyes so he wouldn't see more than he already did, which was more than enough and he knew instantly that it would be burned into his memory forever. "I had no idea!" he shouted apologetically as if it was his fault that they decided to fuck right on the couch.

"God... we are so sorry!" Michael exclaimed, trying to gather up all his clothes that were scattered all over the room.

"We thought you'd be back later," Ben added. "Though that doesn't excuse us obviously."

"Can I look now?" Justin looked through his fingers hoping it was safe and thank god it was. "You don't have to apologize. You're not the first people I've ever seen… you know. Don't forget who I lived with and how much I've seen because of him," Justin chuckled, not even realizing it was the first time he'd talked about Brian without tears welling up in his eyes. "Besides, this is your house… and I'm glad it's working for you again," he smiled sincerely.

"Yeah… well. We're trying," Michael chuckled. "And actually, your presence helps us quite a bit."

"Am I so hot that it spiced up your sex life?" Justin laughed.

"What? God, no!"

Justin tried to look offended, but he wasn't far from laughing.

"You know what I mean," Michael rolled his eyes. "Helping you brought us closer together again. And we realized how much we love each other," Michael glanced lovingly at Ben who nodded. "And that we don't want to lose each other. I mean, I haven't been the best husband lately… probably lost in my own grief, which has affected our marriage," he looked down sadly. "But I'll do anything to make it work," he reached for Ben's hand.

Justin smiled, truly happy for them. But to be honest, it only reminded him how lonely he actually was. "I'm really glad to hear that," he said and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving them to have their romantic moment… and to save himself from the pain.

But as expected, Michael soon joined him, "We're really sorry."

"You don't have to."

Michael smiled but realized that this probably wasn't easy for him, so he decided to change the subject. "And how was the session with Dr. Brown?"

"It was… okay, I guess," he shrugged.

"You just sat there again?"

"No... actually I said quite a lot. About Brian and our relationship. She wanted to know why I fell in love with him, how I felt when I was with him... all of a sudden I was just pouring it out and I didn't even know how..."

"Well, that's great news."

"Yeah, until she asked me to tell her what happened that night. I instantly froze."

"Give it time. She's really great and I know she can help you. I mean, she helped me too."

"Can I ask why you were seeing her?"

"Of course you can. I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after the Babylon bombing."

"Really? I didn't know that. Brian never mentioned."

"I wasn't very proud of it at the time, I was kind of like you... I didn't believe it was going to help me. So I didn't even want him to tell anyone, but it was actually his idea for me to start therapy."

"Really?" Justin was surprised.

"Yeah. He wanted me to fight it and do everything I could to get through it. And he was there for me every step of the way."

"That sounds like Brian."

"Yeah," Michael agreed. "And then when he died... I went to her again. She helped me deal with the grief. I'm not saying it's gone, I mean it probably never will be, but I learned to control it instead of letting it control me."

Yeah, Justin would definitely need that too, but he still had some work to do before he gets there.

"Anyway... wouldn't you like to go out today? Ever since you're here, you've pretty much only been going to therapy or sitting on the porch. And the guys have been calling… wanting to see you."

"Uh, I don't know..."

"Come on, it'll be fun. Plus you'll make us look younger than we really are," Michael laughed.

"Oh, that's what you need me for," Justin laughed too.

"They probably won't even let us in without you."

"Well, what kind of person would I be to spoil your fun, right?"

"Does that mean yes?"

He knew he wasn't ready for it, but he also knew that if he keeps avoiding everything all the time, he will never be ready, "Yeah, it does."

"Yes!" Michael was really excited and immediately ran to call the boys to tell them. There was a time when Justin would never have thought that Michael would even accept him, and now he was closer to him than anyone else.

Justin quickly ate something and then ran to the shower to get ready for tonight, he wanted to feel at least a little bit normal after a really long time. And after the shower he decided it was time to finally shave his beard. But when he looked in the mirror, he immediately remembered his homework… it felt stupid, but what did he have to lose? So he took a really deep breath and just said the damn words…

"It wasn't your fault," exactly as he expected it had no effect on him so he decided to try again, this time in a firmer voice, "IT WASN'T YOUR FAULT."

He kept staring at himself for a while, waiting to see if the words would sink in and he would feel at least a little relief or something... but instead he ended up laughing at himself because saying words he didn't believe in the slightest felt really stupid.

"What are you looking at?" The last thing he needed right now was another conversation with imaginary Brian, but he'd be lying if he said it wasn't damn good to see him.

"You," he smiled.

"So you could see me go completely crazy? God, I don't know what's worse, talking to you… or myself," Justin laughed.

"You're not crazy, just sad."

"How would you know? You're not here. Not really. You're gone and I'm the one who's still here and I hate it," tears began to form in his eyes. "You shouldn't have left me, we were supposed to be together… for the rest of our lives. Damn it!" he was so angry.

"I know, Sunshine," Brian sighed and reached out to stroke his hair, but Justin pulled away.

He really didn't want to deal with this right now, he needed Brian to leave and thankfully he did. And once he felt strong enough, he finally got ready for the night.

"Oh, you shaved," Michael said in surprise.

"Yeah, I thought it was about time."

"It suits you."

"Thanks," he smiled.

"So you ready to go?"

Justin took a deep breath and nodded. "As ready as I can be."

Michael smiled and then they headed to the car. Justin could feel his heart racing all the way there. And the moment Ben pulled up in front of Babylon, he was just waiting for it to jump out of his chest.

It was so strange for him to be back there, years ago he spent almost every night there, thanks to Brian he discovered things he didn't even know existed, danced with him on the dance floor for hours and had the best sex experiences there. It was unbelievable how many memories it brought back. But one memory had a much bigger impact on him than the rest... that street lamp... that fucking street lamp... where they met for the very first time...

And Michael noticed right away that something was wrong. "Justin, what's going on?" he asked, but when he saw where Justin's eyes were looking, he immediately understood. "Shit. I'm an idiot, I didn't realize that, Justin… are you okay?"

Justin didn't answer, his mind was lost on that day 16 years ago... it seemed so unreal... 16 years... to him it felt like yesterday, he was walking down Liberty Avenue, aimlessly, but for some reason he ended up right here and right under this street lamp where his whole life changed because Brian Kinney chose him... and not just for that night, but ultimately for life.

"Justin?" Ben's voice was a bit more forceful and he managed to bring Justin back to reality.

"Um, I just… it's like it happened yesterday… it feels so real."

"Yeah, I know," Michael looked at him sadly. "I still remember it so perfectly, he chose you over us, left us standing here like three idiots and just drove off with you… God I was so pissed off that night," he laughed and Justin couldn't help but laugh too as he remembered how they stood here yelling at Brian who just didn't give a shit because he wanted him.

"I was sure you'd give him a hard time later, but I couldn't care less… I just wanted to go with him."

"I know, you were a determined and persistent kid… and my personal pain in the ass."

Justin chuckled. "Yeah, but things change."

"They do," Michael smiled, placing a hand on his shoulder. "So do you still want to go there or do you want to go home?"

Justin thought about it for a few seconds, but then he just took a deep breath and said, "No. I can't keep running away from everything. I can handle this."

Michael and Ben nodded and assured him that all he needed to do was say the word and they would leave immediately. And then they finally headed inside. As he looked around, some memories of his time here began to flash before his eyes… memories that felt like they happened yesterday, yet happened so long ago.

He immediately remembered how confidently he stole the two men from Brian and danced with them right in front of him, determined to give him a taste of his own medicine... and it worked, Brian didn't even hesitate and pulled them away from Justin so he could dance with him himself.

He also remembered Brian leaning against the bar with that sexy smirk of his just eyeing the hot guys around him. He hated it so much back then, but looking back, all he could see now was how hot Brian actually was when he was looking for his next prey, and at the end of the day, it really didn't matter how many guys pulled his pants down for Brian because he always came back to him... he always found his way back to Justin who meant the most to him.

"Emmett and Ted are over there," Ben nodded towards the dance floor where, as expected, they were dancing like they were still in their twenties.

"Of course - on the dance floor," Michael chuckled.

"They definitely still know how to move," Justin acknowledged with a laugh.

Then he looked around again, Babylon was still the same but somehow different, the times were different and most importantly the owner was different. Brian sold it sometime in 2011 when he realized that it no longer fulfilled him as it used to and preferred a more domestic life. That's when he really freaked Justin out. Brian Kinney being a domestic husband. Justin suspected that he was doing it for him again, but the truth was Brian had just gotten to the point where he simply had grown out of it and knew that within the walls of their home he could find much more important things in life. And it wasn't like they stopped going to Babylon overnight, it was just never the same.

"Justin, oh my god!" Justin didn't even realize Emmett was running towards him until he was crushing him in his arms. "I'm so glad you're here, sweetie!"

"Um, Em, me… me too… but it's getting really hard to breathe," he said through gritted teeth.

"Oops, sorry," Emmett chuckled. "You look amazing, by the way," he winked at him as if it was a candy he'd like to eat.

Justin just smiled, blushing. He had almost forgotten what it was like to be around Emmett's crazy nature.

"I'll skip the choking," Ted said before hugging him like a normal human being. "It's really nice to see you."

"You too, Ted. Both of you."

"I hope you're ready for the best night ever," Emmett clapped happily.

"Em, go easy on him," Michael warned him.

"Of course, I know, baby steps," he smiled innocently.

But Justin suddenly realized something, "Where are Blake and Drew?"

"Oh, Blake just wasn't feeling up to it today," Ted explained.

"And Drew had other plans," Emmett added.

"Uh-hm. In other words, you've decided it's better for me not to witness you being madly in love because my heart might not be able to handle it?"

They both tried to look offended, saying that it definitely wasn't true, but soon realized that they weren't going to fool Justin: "Yeah… something like that."

"Well, next time I'll be happy if you take them with you… trust me I'm not made of glass," even though Justin was saying that there was a part of him that was really grateful to them, he really wasn't sure he would be able to stand the sight of everyone being happy and in love, while he knows he will never experience those feelings again.

However, if he was ever going to feel normal again, he needed others to treat him normally, so he was glad they both agreed.

Then they went to order drinks, Justin knew he would definitely need one if he was going to relax. Of course, Emmett and Ted couldn't sit still for long and were basically glued to the dance floor… just like all those years ago.

And Justin couldn't help but think of his moments on this dance floor, the moments of happiness that seemed endless back then...

"You should go dance too, you don't have to babysit me."

"What? We're not doing that," Michael protested.

"Yeah, we're happy to keep you company," Ben smiled.

"Please, you're basically dying to go dance… so go! Now! I'll be fine."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes I am, Michael."

"Well then... just one song," Michael chuckled excitedly, already dragging Ben onto the dance floor.

Justin had to smile, he was glad they were happy again… just a few weeks ago it looked like they weren't far from a divorce and now they couldn't get enough of each other.

And Ted and Emmett? They just danced like crazy. Neither of them were distracted by the stares of the much younger boys dancing around them.

"You should be there with them," he suddenly heard Brian's voice.

"No, not now," Justin whispered desperately, the last thing he needed now was to be seen talking to himself. "Go away."

"I can't. You want me here."

"Yeah, I do… but the real you. Not... this."

Justin tried to speak really quietly, but luckily most of the people here were drunk or on drugs so they didn't really think he was that weird.

"Just go dance Justin, you need it."

"Not without you."

"I'll be right here... watching you," he smiled.

"I just… I can't."

"Yes you can. Just one dance... let me go for now and live a little. Please. I want to see you dance."

Justin was definitely losing his mind, there was no doubt about that, but these conversations he had with Brian were the best thing he had right now, and even though they weren't real and they seriously drove him crazy at times, he knew that if Brian was here now, he'd say the same thing to him... and that's why Justin had to do it. For him. And especially for himself. So he finished the rest of his drink and went straight to the dance floor to be with his friends, determined not to worry about anything tonight.

And it brought back so many memories and so many feelings at once, but for the first time in a long time, thinking about Brian didn't make him sad, quite the opposite, his sunshine smile spread across his face and he just felt... free. And he enjoyed every second of it.

Then he simply closed his eyes and let his body move in perfect sync with the music. He immediately remembered how easy it was to melt into Brian's arms right on this dance floor and forget the world around them.

And suddenly he could feel Brian's body press against him from behind and his strong arms wrap around him. It felt so real and so intense and he completely surrendered to it. His eyes were still closed and their bodies seemed to become one, together in sync with the music... the way it always had been... and should be.

But of course all good things must come to an end, so it didn't take long for Justin to realize that this wasn't just in his head and that there really were arms around him, body pressed against him and lips kissing his neck... but unfortunately none of it belonged to Brian...

"You're so fucking hot," said a horny voice near his ear.

And Justin immediately froze and was completely paralyzed. The last person to touch him like this was Brian. But now he stood here, with this stranger's hands around him... and all he could feel was panic spreading throughout his body and a cold sweat running down his back. Even his breathing got faster.

But for some reason, he was suddenly able to find the strength to fight it and defeat that horrible feeling of helplessness... and the next thing he knew he was yelling at whoever was holding him to stop fucking touching him...

"Are you crazy or what?"

Probably, Justin thought. But the moment he was freed from his grip, he didn't wait for anything and just ran and didn't stop until he was outside.

"Justin! What's going on?" Michael rushed after him, confused. "I turned around and all I could see was you running away… what the hell happened?"

"Can we… can we go home please?"

"Yeah yeah, I'll just go get Ben, okay? Wait here."

Justin nodded and Michael went back inside. And it seemed like forever before he and Ben came back. And when they were finally in the car, Justin just stared quietly out the window and didn't answer to any of their questions. He was completely numb. And when they finally parked in front of their house, he just hurried inside and ran up the stairs to his room. He immediately took off his clothes because he felt like he couldn't breathe in them and he didn't feel safe until he was in bed and hidden under the blanket. He suddenly felt like a little boy hiding from a monster under his bed... although he was actually hiding from a monster... but this one was much scarier and more real than the one from his childhood.

---

When Justin woke up in the morning and realized it wasn't just a dream, he wished the floor would just open up and swallow him whole. And he immediately swore that for everyone's sake he would never leave this room again. But of course it wasn't long before someone knocked on his door.

"May I?" Michael asked.

"Well, you're already here, so..." Justin sat up on the bed with a sad look on his face.

And Michael sat down next to him, "Are you going to tell me what happened yesterday?"

"It's stupid."

"Well, there must have been a reason for the way you reacted."

"I overreacted… really, it's not that big of a deal."

"Justin..."

He could see that Michael was really dying to know, so he figured it would be better to just tell him.

"Shit. Justin..."

"I know, I know, I'm crazy.

"No. You're definitely not. Your reaction was completely normal. Trust me, if it were me… I would have reacted exactly the same way you did."

Justin couldn't decide if Michael really meant it or was just saying it to make him feel better, but he was definitely grateful.

"When is your next appointment with Dr. Brown?"

"Next Friday, why?"

"Maybe you should go sooner."

"So you do think I'm crazy."

"No. But I want you to get better."

"Yeah, I want that too, but I just... I don't know how. And I know therapy is supposed to help me with that, but... I can't just run to therapy every time I'm having a bad day, Michael. I'll be fine, trust me."

"Okay, do what you think is best. But…" Michael's voice trailed off.

"What?"

"I've been thinking and… don't you think it's time to go see your mom?"

Justin's heart stopped for a moment. Not talking to his mother was another hard thing in his life, but it was his choice after all. She was a reminder of the worst moment of that night and to this day he couldn't forget the words that came out of her mouth that absolutely broke his heart… and after that he just couldn't bear to look at her. And as much as he hated himself for it, he couldn't even imagine that he would just knock on her door now.

"No... I-I can't..."

"Justin… she's your mom… don't you think it's time to make things right with her?"

"I just can't, not after the way I treated her… she probably wouldn't even open the door for me."

"I'm sure she would and I bet she misses you a lot."

"Michael, please…"

"Okay, fine. I can't force you. Just think about it, okay?"

"I will. I promise."

Michael smiled and then left his room and Justin immediately sighed in frustration. He knew Michael meant well, but he simply wasn't ready for it. Not that he didn't want to see her, but he knew that if he faced her now, he would completely fall apart.

But he also knew he definitely needed to talk to someone - someone other than Michael, his therapist, or dead Brian, so he picked up the phone and called the person he should have called a long time ago.

And exactly an hour later he was sitting in a cafe, waiting...

"Hey," he suddenly heard a familiar voice behind him.

And he immediately stood up with a huge smile on his face, "Daphne," he breathed out. "I'm so glad you came."

"Of course I came," she smiled back at him.

They immediately hugged, so happy to see each other after such a long time, and then sat down. First they both ordered and before they knew it they were dying of laughter as they reminisced about the craziest things they had ever done together.

"God, those were great times," Justin said, still laughing.

"Yeah I know," Daphne agreed. "And how are you, Justin?" she looked at him with a curious face.

"Yeah, I'm good…" Justin trailed off as he realized there was no point in lying, "Well, that's not true. I'm not good at all."

"Justin," Daphne placed her hand on Justin's. "You know I'm here for you, right?"

"I know. And I'm sorry I just disappeared and didn't call."

"I don't blame you. After what happened, you just needed to get out of here… if it were me, I'd do the same thing."

"Yeah, but instead of helping me, it did the exact opposite. I stopped talking to everyone and tried to deal with the grief all by myself… and three years later, nothing has changed, I'm still stuck."

Daphne suddenly looked at him completely devastated and it didn't take long for tears to find their way down her cheeks…

"I'm so sorry, Justin…"

"Daph. What's wrong?"

"That night was my idea. My fucking idea..."

"What?" he breathed out. "Daphne, come on. You did what any friend would do… you wanted to help me because I screwed up."

"Yeah and look how that turned out…" she wiped away her tears.

And Justin was completely taken aback by how guilty Daphne felt about what happened that night. He had never once considered blaming her… well, how could he? She was just trying to help him.
"It was just a stupid accident Daphne… we had no idea this was going to happen."

And exactly in that moment it seemed to finally dawn on him - the meaning of the word accident - to this day everyone around him was telling him that what happened was just a terrible accident, but he refused to believe it because he just couldn't stop blaming himself for it... but saying that word out loud for the first time had a bigger impact on him than he ever thought it would. Almost as if he was slowly starting to realize that he wasn't the one to blame...
Chapter 8 by Taylor-Kinney
Author's Notes:
I feel like my brain was working less than usual (if that's even possible. lol.) while writing this chapter, so I apologize if you find anything that doesn't make sense or if there are any mistakes.
-

(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)

To see how miserably Daphne felt about what happened that night was really eye-opening for Justin. He had spent three years avoiding everyone he cared about, convinced he was doing them all a big fucking favor. They must hate me, was what he kept telling himself. They don't want to see me. They want nothing to do with me. And he could go on like this forever. For three years he acted as if the world revolved around him. As if he was the only one grieving. The only one who blamed himself. The only one who lost something. But now as he was slowly uncovering and realizing the truth, he was even more angry with himself. He was just too selfish to see any of it. Not once did he think to pick up the phone to see how they were doing. If they needed anything. If he did, Daphne wouldn't have had to live with that feeling of guilt for three years. Yes, he was there that night. And yes, he was the one who lost the man he loved with every fiber of his being. But he wasn't the only one whose life changed that day. And maybe if he hadn't left, everything would have been much easier for everyone, including himself. If he hadn't left, he could have been surrounded by his family and they could have healed together. But then again, he was so devastated that leaving was the only option for him at the time. Or so he thought. But none of that mattered now, all that mattered was what he's going to do next.

"I really hope we see each other again soon," Daphne said before getting into her car.

"Don't worry, I won't just disappear this time," Justin chuckled, though it was obvious he felt bad about it. "And thanks for this, I had a great time."

"Yeah, me too."

"And get home safe."

Daphne smiled and nodded. "Bye Justin."

"Bye Daphne."

As Justin watched his best friend drive away, he really hoped that he had at least managed to give her some peace of mind. But knowing that she had blamed herself for what happened that night was really killing him. Especially when he knew she had absolutely nothing to do with it. She was just trying to help him fix what he screwed up. And neither of them could have known what was going to happen. Not her, and not even him. It was an accident. Yes, just a terrible accident. Justin knows that now. But just because he wasn't the one to blame for what happened that night still didn't change the fact that he was the reason they got into that situation in the first place.

Completely lost in his thoughts, he stood in the same spot for several more minutes, unable to move in any direction, just trying to absorb what had just happened. But finally he took a deep breath and just went, aimlessly wandering through the streets, not sure where he was actually going.

But suddenly, without even realizing that he was walking in that direction, he was standing in front of the building that had been his home for so many years and his heart just stopped for a moment. He loved that loft so much and knew he would never forget it. There was simply too many memories. Good ones, great ones and even the bad ones, but ultimately the most wonderful moments of his life.

He couldn't even imagine anyone living there. This was Brian's kingdom. A place big enough just for one person, as Brian liked to say... of course, that was until he came along and made Brian change that little rule. And Brian opened not only his door to him, but eventually his heart as well. Well, he didn't just open it, he gave it to him without even realizing it. He gave his heart to him because he loved him and because he wanted to be loved by Justin for the rest of his life.

Justin still had the key to the front door and the urge to go inside was really strong, but… what exactly would he be looking for? It's all gone now. Memories are all he has left.

He would have given anything to just go home… really anything… but without Brian, there was no such place anymore. Not here in this loft, not in their palace... and not anywhere else in the whole world...

Therefore, after just staring at the loft windows for a while, he simply took another deep breath and left, feeling completely empty inside.

But he knew right in that moment that if he ever wanted to feel even remotely normal again, he had to start taking things seriously and face everything he tried so hard to bury inside... no matter how impossible it seemed right now... and he definitely knew he couldn't do it alone. So he went to the only person who could possibly help him with it.

"Justin, what are you doing here?" Dr. Brown asked when she opened the door.

"I'm so sorry for just barging in, but I really didn't know where else to go and I seriously need to talk to someone… and I know our next appointment is scheduled for next Friday… and since I practically laughed in your face yesterday, I wouldn't be surprised if you slammed the door in my face, but I'm begging you... I'm really begging you, help me please..." The look on Justin's face was so broken that even she could see how desperately he needed her help.

"Come on in then..." she opened her door more. "And take a seat."

Grateful as he hadn't been in a long time, Justin followed Dr. Brown into her office and then sat down in the chair he really hated up until this point, but right now he wanted nothing more than to simply sit in it and finally find some relief.

"So... tell me what happened, Justin."

"Okay," he said, his voice shaking. Then he took a really deep breath and started. "So, I just saw my best friend Daphne, who I haven't talked to since the day I left Pittsburgh. And she told me that she blames herself for what happened that day. That it was her fault because it was her idea. But that's completely absurd because she just wanted to help me. She couldn't have known what was going to happen. And... I couldn't have known either. It was an accident. A tragic accident. I know that now. But..."

"You still feel guilty?"

"I do!" he exclaimed.

"And why?"

"Because... because I acted like a fucking child!"

"Justin?" The therapist encouraged him to continue when he suddenly stopped.

"I broke my leg that month, pretty badly and almost needed surgery... so I had to be in bed all the time and because I couldn't put any weight on that leg I had to use a wheelchair to prevent further damage. I was so frustrated and annoyed because I couldn't do anything by myself. I couldn't even go to the bathroom without assistance. And not to mention our house had stairs... so you can only imagine. Every morning Brian had to carry me downstairs. And he had to help me with basically everything. I felt so bad and angry at the same time. But when Brian had to go back to work, it got even worse. So my mom, Debbie and Daphne were the ones who took care of me when he wasn't home. And I hated it so much... just sitting at home all day waiting for help and for Brian to come home late again. And of course one morning I took my anger out on him. And it was bad. Really bad."

---

(Pittsburgh, May 2013 - past)

"Come on… it's time to carry you down…" Brian said with a smile as he carefully began to lift Justin into his arms.

"Oh, fuck! Stop! Jesus Christ!" Justin yelled suddenly.

"What's wrong?" Brian quickly put him back on the bed. "Did I hurt you?"

"No… you didn't!" he barked angrily. "It just fucking hurts like hell… that's all," he groaned in pain. "I hate this. I just feel so fucking helpless."

"Yeah, I know," Brian sighed and stroked his hair gently.

"And how the hell would you know? You're barely here. And all I can do is sit here all day in this huge palace and wait for someone to come feed me and help me to the bathroom."

"I'm pretty sure your hands are working fine so I'm confident you can feed yourself," Brian tried to ignore Justin's tone of voice.

"You know what I mean," Justin rolled his eyes. "I'm a fucking burden."

"Hey. Don't say that. You're not a burden, okay?"

"Yeah, and that's why you happily run to Kinnetik every morning?"

"What? You know that's not true."

"You could just take more time off and be here with me. We hardly see each other because you're working all the time. Not to mention I feel so much better when you're the one helping me to the bathroom. It's just really humiliating when my mother is standing next to me when I'm peeing," he laughed.

"I'd love to, really, but there's a lot going on in Kinnetik right now... and I have a lot of things to do before I..."

"Before what?"

"Nothing. It doesn't matter. I just have to be there, you know."

"Yeah, sure. As always... work comes first."

"Justin, I understand you're frustrated, so am I, but don't take it out on me. This sucks for both of us."

"Well, if you're that frustrated, I'm sure someone will be more than willing to help you with that."

"Go to hell, Justin!" he finally snapped. "Is that what you think of me? That the only thing I care about is fucking?"

"Well, we can't fuck because of my stupid leg, so if you want, you can just go and fuck someone else... I mean, it wouldn't be the first time..."

Brian snorted and shook his head in disbelief, "Well, you might be surprised, but fucking is the last thing on my mind right now," he paused before continuing. "I love you Justin, but you're acting like a fucking child because things aren't easy... which for sure isn't the first time either," Brian turned to leave but stopped right at the door, "Daphne should be here soon, if anything, call me. And don't forget to take your pain meds," and with that he left, clearly hurt by Justin's words.

---

(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)

"I still remember how hard he slammed the door. He was so mad at me and he had every right to be. He spent years proving to me that I was his everything, that he loved me and wanted only me... and I basically stomped on his heart in return. It didn't matter that I didn't mean what I said, that I was just angry and frustrated... because I hurt Brian's feelings and I hated myself for it."

"And what happened after?"

"Daphne arrived…" Justin bit his lip nervously. "Luckily she had a key to the door so she was able to let herself in since Brian left me upstairs. And if there was anyone who could help me fix things with Brian it was her."

---

(Pittsburgh, May 2013 - past)

"Hello?! Is anyone home? The nurse is here!"

"I'm upstairs Daphne! In the bedroom!" Justin shouted desperately.

And less than two minutes later Daphne had appeared in the bedroom doorway, "What are you doing here? You're always downstairs. Are you getting so fat that Brian can't carry you anymore?" she asked with a chuckle.

"Ha-ha. Really funny," Justin let out an annoyed laugh. "Brian couldn't carry me down because my leg hurt too much. But even if it didn't he'd probably drop me on purpose somewhere along the way, so... it's probably better that he left me here."

"Should I even ask?"

"I don't think you have to. I'm just going to tell you straight - I'm an asshole."

"Fuck. What did you do?" she wrinkled her nose.

"Well, for starters, I acted like a complete idiot and took my anger and frustration out on him. And then I ended up practically giving him my blessing to go fuck someone else because and I quote "it wouldn't be the first time"."

"Oh shit."

"Yeah - shit."

"How angry is he?"

"Let's just say I'll be surprised if he comes home today."

"That bad, huh?"

"Like I said - I'm a fucking idiot," he ran his hand over his face. "It's just that we barely see each other because he's at Kinnetik all the time and I miss him so much. Sometimes I even feel like we saw each other a lot more when I was in New York. And I know what Kinnetik means to him, I really do, but sometimes I just wish it didn't exist..."

"I get it, Justin. And I'm sure Brian feels the same way... but you just have to get through it together. It will get better, you'll see. You just have to be patient."

"Yeah, I've been really short on patience lately."

Daphne just laughed in agreement, "I won't argue about that."

Justin let out a sigh. "But now I have to fix it… do something nice for him to show him that I really appreciate how he takes care of me and everything he does for me… and that I love him more than anything. So... will you help me? Please?" Justin looked at her hopefully.

"What would you two do without me?"

"I honestly have no idea."

"Well, I'm sure we figure something out, but first... what do you want for breakfast?"

"I'll eat anything you make."

"Okay then," Daphne headed to the kitchen.

As Justin waited for Daphne he couldn't stop thinking about the things he had said to Brian and wished he could just take it all back. But he couldn't. All he could do was try and make it right. And hope that everything will be fine between them. He just couldn't wait for his leg to heal and everything to go back to normal.

"I hope you're really hungry," Daphne smiled as she placed a plate in front of him. "Because these are the best pancakes in the world."

"The best?" Justin arched his brows in amusement.

"Yes! Because I'm the one who made them."

"Oh. Right. In that case, they really must be the best."

"Duh!" she stuck her tongue out at him. "Anyway, I've had time to think and I know exactly what you two need."

"Yeah?" his eyes lit up.

"A romantic date night. You know - a special night just for the two of you with great food, music, candles… and most of all, lots of sex," she giggled.

"Uh-huh," Justin cleared his throat. "I don't know if you have noticed, but my leg is broken and I can't walk."

"No shit! Really?" she faked a shocked expression.

"Daphne!"

"I'd help you, obviously."

"Even with the sex part?" he asked amused.

"Well…" she pretended to think about it.

"Daphne!"

"What? It's not my fault your husband is smoking hot... I've always had a soft spot for him."

"Really? I never noticed," Justin laughed. "But I admit it's not a bad idea. I mean, we deserve a nice night together. I want to show Brian how much I love him and how sorry I am for everything. So… we should do it."

"Great because you guys really need it. So how about this Saturday?"

"Yeah, that could work. I mean, assuming he doesn't divorce me by then…"

"I'm sure he'd rather sell a kidney."

Justin had to laugh as he remembered the time Brian had said the same thing… only it wasn't about him, it was about his bed that he didn't want to give up.

"But I feel like I should do more than that… something special."

"What do you have in mind?"

"Well, there's one thing I know he'd definitely appreciate - seeing his son. I know how much he misses Gus. We both do. The last time he was here, he only stayed for a few hours. And I know how much it hurst Brian that he can't spend more time with him."

"Then call Lindsay to bring him over for the weekend. The three of you can spend Friday night together and on Saturday Brian can take Gus out for some quality father-son time while I get everything set up here for your romantic date."

"I'm not sure how romantic it will be with Gus here… but at least we'll get to spend some time together."

"He's a kid so I'm sure he has a bedtime. Just send him to bed," Daphne stated the obvious. "Don't worry, it will be great."

"You really have it all figured out, don't you?"

"Yes, because I'm awesome," she said with obvious smugness in her voice.

"Yeah, I definitely agree with that," he smiled at her gratefully. "Thank you, Daphne."

"You're welcome," she winked at him. "And now eat," Daphne ordered.

Justin chuckled. "Yes, ma'am."

---

(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)

"I called Lindsay and arranged for her to bring Gus on Friday. I was sure it was going to be a really special weekend and I couldn't wait for Brian to get home from work so I could tell him about Gus. But I decided that I'll keep our Saturday date as a surprise... not knowing that it would be our last date ever," a tear rolled down Justin's face.

---

(Pittsburgh, May 2013 - past)

"Ah, looks like my job here is done for today," Daphne said as the front door opened. And it wasn't long before Brian appeared in the living room where Justin and her were watching TV.

"Oh hey you two," Brian suddenly stopped and looked at Justin, "Wait, what are you doing down here?"

"Daphne helped me," Justin explained nervously.

"Are you out of your mind? You know you can't put any weight on that leg… and I'm sure Daphne is no Arnold Schwarzenegger to carry you down the stairs by herself."

"We were really careful... and as you can see, I'm still alive..."

"Christ, Justin," Brian shook his head.

"I was really keeping an eye on him, Brian," Daphne assured him. "And I should probably go," she decided when she saw that Brian's angry face hadn't softened one bit. She then hugged Justin and whispered in his ear, "Be nice or the date night won't be enough," she laughed and walked out of their house.

"I'm really sorry, Brian," Justin smiled apologetically.

"Well, the main thing is that you're okay. Just don't do it again," Brian took off his coat and went to sit next to him on the couch.

"I won't, I promise," he paused. "But I meant everything. I'm sorry. And most of all I'm sorry for this morning... I shouldn't have said what I said."

"It's okay."

"No, it's not. If you want to yell at me, please do. I deserve it."

Brian sighed, "Justin, I don't want to yell at you. That's the last thing I want. I just… I don't want to argue anymore. All I want is to be with you and have a nice evening after 12 hours at work."

"Yeah, I want that too."

"Good," Brian smiled and didn't wait any longer, finally pulling him in for a kiss. "I really love you, you moron. And even though sometimes I just want to strangle you… there's no one I'd rather spend the rest of my life with."

"Then I should probably warn you that I will get on your nerves many more times."

"I'm sure of that," Brian rolled his eyes and laughed.

"Hey!" Justin punched him in the shoulder.

"But I will love you anyway," Brian added and kissed him tenderly.

"Guess I'm a lucky guy," the blond smiled and nuzzled Brian's neck. "Anyway, I'd like to make amends for my behavior."

"Don't say. And how exactly?"

"Um… Lindsay is bringing Gus over for the weekend."

And that was exactly the look in Brian's eyes that Justin was expecting... pure joy, excitement and gratitude... Brian just wanted to have his boys with him.

---

(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)

"And then what happened, Justin?" the therapist asked.

"Worst day of my life... I'll never forget the moment I woke up because I couldn't breathe... and the smell of our home burning down..."

-
End Notes:
Thank you for reading! Hope you're still with me!
Chapter 9 by Taylor-Kinney
Author's Notes:
I'm really sorry for the long wait, but I needed to take a break from this story. And once again I ask you to be patient, we are getting really close to finding out what exactly happened that day... actually this chapter contains the moments just before the tragedy... it's just them being happy and not knowing what's about to happen... :(
-

(Pittsburgh, Friday, May 24, 2013 - past)

"Hey sleepyhead," Brian grinned from ear to ear, leaning against the doorframe and holding a mug in his hands. "I made you coffee," he said before slowly walking over to him.

"Mmhmm," Justin smiled sweetly from the bed. Seeing the excitement on Brian's face knowing he would soon see his son was the best thing he could have woken up to. "You're the best."

"Oh, I know," the brunet said smugly.

"And very confident," Justin let out a chuckle.

Brian shrugged and handed him the mug before leaning down to finally kiss him. "But you love that about me," he murmured playfully against his lips.

And Justin could only agree. Brian's confidence was sexy as hell. So sexy, he could feel his dick harden.

"Um, not that I'm complaining," Justin said. "But aren't you late for work? I mean, you're not even dressed."

"I'm not going. Ted and Cynthia can handle it. Today I'm yours and Gus's."

"Wait, really?" Justin got immediately excited.

"Uh-hmm," Brian rolled his lips into his mouth, looking at Justin with lust in his eyes.

"Well, in that case, I'm definitely not complaining," Justin placed the mug on the nightstand and pulled Brian closer for a hungry kiss, running his fingers through the brunet's hair.

"I see I should stay home more often," Brian breathed heavily.

"You know I want nothing more."

Brian nodded and took a deep breath before resting his forehead against Justin's, they immediately closed their eyes, breathing slowly and just enjoying the moment. Even though things hadn't been easy between them lately, it didn't change the fact that they had a very deep connection - a connection that they had from the very beginning and that only grew stronger over the years. That's why they knew that no matter what, they would always find their way back to each other.

"Justin," Brian whispered.

"Yeah?"

"Um, I just... there's something I need to tell you..."

"What?" Justin arched his brows.

"Well, I..."

Whatever Brian wanted to say, the ringing phone stopped him. Justin was frustrated because he felt like this was one of those times when Brian really wanted to be honest with him about something, but as usual they got interrupted.

"Who was that?" Justin asked as Brian hung up.

"Ted. He was just looking for some papers and wanted to know where I put them."

"Oh."

"Anyway, where were we?" Brian asked, giving him a seductive look.

"I think you wanted to tell me something," Justin looked at him hopefully.

"Really? Um, I don't even remember. Guess it was nothing," he shrugged his shoulders casually and was already pulling Justin in for another kiss.

Justin knew it was something, but whatever it was... he could only guess.

---

"Oh, that must be them!" Justin said excitedly as the doorbell rang but he was really frustrated that he couldn't open the door himself. He just couldn't wait to see Gus (and of course Lindsay). But luckily, Brian wasted no time and Justin could soon hear Gus laughing. It was truly music to his ears. But it seemed like forever before the three of them finally appeared in the living room.

"I was worried you'd keep me waiting all day," he said, trying to sound hurt.

"Uncle Justin!" Gus immediately started running towards him, obviously very happy to see him.

"Gus, be careful!" Brian yelled to stop him from jumping on Justin eagerly and especially to prevent further damage to his leg.

"Oh, sorry!" thankfully, he stopped himself in time and gave him a careful hug instead. "Can I draw something on your cast later?" he asked excitedly.

"You bet. We'll make it the coolest cast in the world," Justin promised.

"Yay!"

"It's so good to see you, Justin," Lindsay leaned down to kiss his cheek.

"You too, Linds," he smiled.

"Do you want anything? Coffee, tea... water?" Brian asked her.

"Unfortunately, nothing. I have to head back."

"Now?" Justin was disappointed. "You just got here."

"Yeah, well, J.R. is having a sleepover at her friend's house tonight, and since Gus is going to be here with you, Melanie and I finally have some time to ourselves, so we want to take advantage of that."

"In other words - you want to go down on each other?" Brian let out a laugh. "Just don't broke the bed."

"Brian," Justin rolled his eyes. "Well, I hope you're going to have a great time," he smiled at her.

"Thanks, honey," she smiled back. "Gus, be good to your dad and Uncle Justin, okay?"

"Sure, mom," Gus nodded.

"I'll pick you up on Sunday around noon."

"Mhm," he replied absently, already planning what he was going to draw on Justin's cast.

"Enjoy," Lindsay mouthed looking at Brian and Justin before she left.

"So, Gus, what would you like to do?" Brian asked, grinning, but the moment he saw Gus' expression he knew it was going to be something he wasn't going to like one bit.

---

"God, this is going to kill me. How the hell am I supposed to make a word out of these letters?" Brian sighed really annoyed.

And Gus immediately burst out laughing because he was obviously really enjoying that he could drive his dad crazy and Justin was enjoying it just as much. Board games weren't exactly Brian's thing and it wasn't easy at all to talk him into Scrabble, but when Gus wanted something, it wasn't exactly easy to say no to him either. Especially when Brian wanted to make his son happy more than anything else. But he really wasn't enjoying the fact that his 13-year-old son seemed to be totally crushing him in it.

"I can help if you want," Justin offered when he saw how desperate Brian looked.

"That's cheating!" Gus shouted immediately.

"Or not," Justin laughed.

And Brian instantly grunted, running a hand over his face and really praying that someone would come to his rescue soon. But it took another half hour before they finally finished the game and of course Gus beat them both. Brian then made a mental note that even if they tortured him, he would never agree to play again... in fact, he would burn the game in the fireplace just to be sure, so they would never even think about it again. They were both having too much fun at his expense, but that was the end of it.

"So what now young man?" Brian asked, already dreading the answer.

"Ummm... I'd like to watch a movie!"

"Mhm. That sounds fun," Brian nodded.

"Yeah, I actually saw a really good comedy a few days ago and had a great laugh so…" Justin said but was cut off by Gus.

"I want a horror movie!"

Brian immediately froze. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Horror movie!"

"Absolutely not," Brian said firmly, shaking his head.

"Come on Dad! I'm 13, I'm not a little kid anymore," he threw up his hands.

"Gus, if you don't want your mothers to castrate me..."

"Brian!" Justin shouted.

"Castr-what?" Gus looked at his dad confused.

"Nothing. But we're definitely not going to watch a horror movie tonight. In a few years? Maybe."

"I've seen a few before and it's not that bad. I mean, it was bloody and stuff, but I didn't even have a bad dream," Gus shrugged his shoulders casually.

"Really?" Justin arched his brows in surprise.

"Yeah, with my best friend Scott Andrews… he stole them from his parents," he explained, looking almost proud.

"I think I'm going to have to talk to his parents," Brian said through gritted teeth.

"Dad!"

Justin had to laugh, not only did he know all too well what it was like to be a curious 13-year-old doing things behind his parents' backs, but seeing how Brian was acting over something that he would otherwise find totally stupid because this was his Sonny boy made him completely melt.

"Please don't tell moms," Gus basically begged him with puppy dog eyes. "Or they'll never let me sleep over at Scott's again."

"Don't worry Gus, I'll make sure he keeps his mouth shut," Justin gave Brian a look that made it clear he was going to punish him otherwise. "But we'll save the horror movies for when you're, let's say, fifteen, okay?"

"Sixteen," Brian corrected him.

"But," Gus started, but then he noticed the look of determination on Brian's face and gave up. "Fine," he said, but he wasn't the least bit excited about it. "Can we at least watch that comedy, Uncle Justin?"

"Sure thing," Justin smiled.

And while Gus seemed to be totally disappointed at first to have to watch some "lame" comedy instead of a horror movie, he ended up absolutely loving it. He laughed so hard his belly and cheeks hurt. Actually, they all did. Gus's laugh was simply contagious. And Brian and Justin couldn't help but exchange glances full of love and happiness every now and then. Brian's gratitude to Justin was almost palpable. And Justin just loved seeing Brian happy.

When the movie ended, Gus literally begged them to watch another one, but since he should have been in bed an hour ago, they had to say no, even though Brian almost gave in because seeing the excitement on his son's face was something he really enjoyed.

"I feel like he's growing up right before my eyes," Brian said when they were finally in bed as well.

"Yeah, I know," Justin sighed. "I think he'll be as tall as you. Plus he looks so much like you. I think girls and boys will be lining up for him," Justin chuckled.

"What can I say - I have great genes," Brian smiled proudly.

"Of course," the blond let out a laugh.

"But whoever this Scott Andrews is, I want his head."

"Come on, you act like you didn't do things like that when you were his age."

"At his age I didn't have time to do stupid shit because I was too busy waiting for my dad to come home from the pub and start looking for reasons to hit me."

"Which is exactly why you should be glad Gus only watches horror movies."

Brian nodded in agreement, it was definitely better that his son was only watching horror movies and not living in one like he did when he was a kid.

"I think you should take him out tomorrow. Do something fun and just catch up, you know," Justin suggested.

"You know you can't walk, right?"

"I meant just the two of you. You deserve some time together."

"I won't leave you here alone."

"I won't be alone, Daphne will be here."

"Oh right, Daphne - my replacement," Brian rolled his eyes.

"You know you can never be replaced, right?" Justin bit his lip, smiling.

"Well, I certainly hope so, but I feel like if she had a dick, I'd probably be long gone…"

"Hmm, I hadn't thought about that," Justin rubbed his chin.

"Hey!" Brian slapped his ass. "You belong to me and only me."

"Of course," Justin brushed his nose against his and kissed him. "But you really should spend some time with Gus. Make some new memories together, you know."

"And you won't be sad that you can't come with us?"

"Well, I'll miss you both terribly. But I'll be fine, I promise," Justin assured him.

Brian bit his lip, thinking about it for a moment, but finally agreed. "Okay then."

Justin smiled, not only did he really want Brian to spend some quality time with his son, but he also needed them both out of the house so he and Daphne could get everything ready for their date. And he really couldn't wait, hoping that everything would go according to plan.

---

(Pittsburgh, Saturday, May 25, 2013 - past)

Justin and Brian were still in bed enjoying each other's company when the door to their bedroom suddenly opened and Gus turned the peaceful morning into a battlefield as he jumped onto their bed and began repeatedly hitting them with a pillow while laughing uncontrollably. And since Gus knew he had to be really careful with Justin because of his leg, it was Brian who was the main target. But of course Brian didn't hesitate and took his own pillow, immediately fighting back. And soon the three of them were just collapsed on the bed, laughing and trying to catch their breath. However, Gus needed much less time to recover than Brian and Justin, and while he was back on his feet already, they were still searching for their lungs.

"Come on, you old men! It's time to get up!"

Brian and Justin immediately looked at each other in shock and then back at Gus who just couldn't stop laughing. Did he really just call them old?

"That kid is going to kill us," Brian breathed out in frustration.

"We're not the youngest anymore, let's face it," Justin sighed, still panting.

"No, no, no. We're still young and we're still beautiful," Brian protested immediately.

"Of course," Justin chuckled and kissed him.

"Eww," Gus made gagging sounds, making Brian and Justin laugh.

"How about you go to the kitchen and pour us all some orange juice while I help Uncle Justin downstairs?"

"Sure," Gus didn't hesitate for a second and was already running there.

"He's definitely your son," Justin laughed.

"Yeah," Brian smiled. "I just wish I could be in his life more."

"I know," Justin stroked his hair. "Maybe we could talk to the girls and figure something out..."

"Yeah, maybe," Brian nodded and kissed him again. "Now let's get you downstairs, honey," he grinned.

"Yes, dear," Justin grinned back and Brian took him carefully in his arms and together they headed to the kitchen where Gus was eagerly waiting for them and to their surprise he already had all the ingredients necessary for French toast ready on the kitchen counter. "Guess we're having a French toast," Justin laughed.

"Guess so," Brian nodded and Gus flashed them a big smile.

And since Justin was pretty much useless in the kitchen at the moment, it was up to Brian to take over and he certainly couldn't hide his annoyance as he was definitely no chef when it came to cooking, but luckily with Gus's help the toasts ended up being actually really good. Which of course made Brian smug as hell. And Justin and Gus couldn't stop laughing about it.

"Gus, how about we stop by at Uncle Mike's comic book store today?" Brian asked.

"Yeah!" Gus's eyes immediately lit up.

"And then we can get some ice cream and do something fun… well, only if you want, of course."

"Yeah, I do!" he was grinning from ear to ear. "But what about Uncle Justin?" he looked at Justin's leg. "Are you going to carry him all day?"

Justin and Brian immediately laughed.

"No," Brian shook his head. "Or… if he wants to, I suppose I could," he glanced at Justin, rolling his lips in.

"Thank you for the offer," the blond chuckled. "But no, you and your dad deserve to spend some time together, just the two of you, you know," he smiled at Gus. "And I have some work to do."

"Work?" Brian wondered. "What work?"

"That's a surprise," he winked at him making Brian frown. "All I can tell you is that you should do everything you can to make Gus so tired that he'll go straight to bed when you get back," he whispered close to his ear, his voice sounding playful.

"Um," Brian swallowed hard, liking the sound of that. "I'll do my best," he whispered back, biting his lip. He didn't know what Justin was planning, but he already had a feeling he was going to like it.

Since Michael's store didn't open until noon, Brian and Gus had some time and of course Gus took advantage of that to finally draw on Justin's cast and as it turned out he was actually pretty good at it which really excited Justin. Gus was too young to know what he wanted in life, but if he ever decided he wanted to be an artist like Justin, he would definitely help him with it.

"Ok, time to get dressed," Brian said.

"Already?" Gus sounded a little disappointed as he tried to concentrate on drawing Spiderman - his favorite superhero.

"Don't worry Gus, you can finish it later," Justin assured him.

Gus sighed softly but finally did as he was told and ran to his room to get dressed. And while Brian was waiting for him, he decided to do something completely ridiculously romantic.

"What are you doing?" Justin asked amused as Brian took the red marker from the table and sat next to his broken leg.

"I'm just doodling," Brian smiled, but made sure Justin couldn't see what he was doing until it was finished, which was basically 30 seconds later.

"Brian," Justin laughed when he saw it. It was a heart with 'B+J forever' in the middle.

"What? I mean, I know I'm no Picasso, but it can't be that bad."

"It's not," Justin smiled. "I just never thought I'd live to see you do something so..."

"Pathetic?"

"Romantic."

"Well, I'm full of surprises."

"I'm sure you are," Justin laughed and leaned in to kiss him. But unfortunately their moment was cut short when they heard the door open as Daphne had finally arrived. But of course that still didn't stop them from making out.

"Thank God I have the key, otherwise I'd probably be standing outside all day," she complained.

"We'd definitely let you in eventually," Justin laughed.

"Or not," Brian shrugged, smirking.

"Nice to see you too, Brian," she glared at him. "Gus! Oh my god, you're so big!" she exclaimed as the boy entered the living room. "I mean, you were so tiny just a minute ago," Daphne mimicked the size of a baby with her hands, making Gus laugh. "Ugh, time flies."

"It sure does," Brian agreed sadly. "Ready to go, Gus?"

"Mhm."

"Ok. You two - behave," he looked at Daphne and Justin, warning them.

"Come on Brian, you're acting like you don't know us “ we're total sweethearts," Daphne giggled.

"Just make sure he doesn't do anything stupid. If he tries to walk or anything, nail his ass to that wheelchair."

Justin cleared his throat. "You do realize I'm right here, right?"

"Yes. That's why I know you heard me perfectly and won't do anything stupid," Brian smiled at him with his brows up.

"Don't worry Brian, I'll take care of him," Daphne promised.

"I'm counting on that," he told her before turning to Justin and leaning down. "Just don't break anything else," he pressed his lips to his and kissed him gently.

"I promise," Justin whispered before letting himself be kissed again.

And it was only thanks to Daphne clearing her throat and reminding them of her and Gus's existence that they stopped. After that, Brian and Gus finally set off on their adventure and Justin and Daphne began theirs. Justin wanted the best night with Brian and that just wasn't going to happen without Jambalaya (that Brian loved), which Daphne had never made in her life and Justin could only guide her... so yeah, the fun could begin. But anything to make this night worth it...

---

"This is going to be a disaster," Justin hung his head and covered his face with his hands to avoid seeing the mess on the kitchen counter.

"I'd say it's going pretty well," Daphne replied, though not quite convincingly, but rather desperately.

"So why does it smell like something is burning in here?"

"What? No! Shit!" Daphne hurried to the oven and took out what was supposed to be dessert. Well, not anymore.

"Like I said - disaster," Justin would have laughed if he didn't know that Brian definitely had expectations for tonight… but so far it looked like all he was going to get was a bad tasting Jambalaya, a burnt dessert and a nervous Justin.

"Well, if I cut the burned parts off, he won't even know it was ever burned," Daphne smiled at him hopefully, but she couldn't hide the horror in her eyes.

"Oh yeah? And how much is left when you cut off the burnt parts?"

"Uh-huh," Daphne cleared her throat. "Okay, so how about I put a lot of cream on it to kill the burnt taste?"

"Which cream exactly? The one we haven't even started making yet? Because I'm pretty sure Brian and Gus will be here soon… and unless you've got some miracle hidden up your ass, I have no idea how we're going to make it in time…"

"Well, maybe if you didn't just sit there and actually helped me."

"You do realize I'm in a wheelchair, right?" Justin raised his eyebrows in amusement.

"Thank God you told me. Otherwise I wouldn't have noticed," Daphne stuck her tongue out at him. "But that doesn't mean you can't help. Here, you can start making the cream," she handed him a bowl and all the necessary ingredients and tools.

Justin studied her for a moment, but then he just laughed and nodded in agreement. While it wasn't exactly an easy task considering he couldn't quite reach the kitchen counter and making the cream on his lap was a complete mess, it was definitely better than just sitting and watching Daphne helplessly.

"See, I told you it was going to be okay," Daphne said when the food was finally and miraculously ready.

"Yeah, assuming Brian loses his taste buds, it might actually turn out pretty well," he teased her with a smile.

"You're such a funny guy," she frowned. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to set the table for your romantic date."

"Uh, what exactly do you mean?" Justin wondered.

"That's a surprise," she winked at him.

"Just don't overdo it. You know how Brian is."

"Trust me, he's going to love it."

Yeah, Justin certainly hoped so. After everything they'd been through lately, he really wanted this night to be perfect. And even though Daphne really did go a little overboard, Justin was ultimately impressed with what she was able to do in such a short amount of time.

"Daphne… this is amazing," he breathed.

"Oh, I know," she smugly agreed. "You have the music ready, of course I didn't forget to add your prom song," Daphne smiled. "You also have a small snack on the coffee table so you have something to eat while you watch the movie..."

"Wait, we're going to watch a movie?"

"It's a date night! Couples watch movies," she said in her duh voice.

"Well, our "dates" usually start and end with our pants wrapped around our ankles so..."

"Luckily you have a broken leg and you can finally enjoy a proper date," she chuckled. "So you have a few movies on the flash drive to choose from."

"Daphne, if there's one thing I'll never force Brian to do, it's watch a romantic movie."

"Who said anything about romantic movies?" she arched her brows. "They're horror movies, so you can snuggle up really close. And I personally recommend Insidious. It's fucking scary."

"Oh," Justin laughed. "Just please, don't mention this in front of Gus or he's going to join us."

"Oh, right," she giggled as she remembered Justin telling her about it. "Although I don't really know what the problem is. I mean, he's 13 and it's just horror movies. I'd say kids his age do a lot worse than that… it's definitely better than drugs and booze."

"Yeah, well, I don't think Brian really has a problem with it, he's just having a really hard time accepting that his little boy isn't so little anymore. Especially when he doesn't see him as much as he'd like, so he feels like he's missing out."

"That's hard."

"Yeah," Justin sighed. "But we both really hope that things will change and we'll see him more often."

"I hope so too," she smiled and squeezed his shoulder.

"Thanks Daphne. And I mean for everything, you really are the best friend in the whole world."

"Thank me tomorrow… after the best date of your life," she giggled. "Oh, the candles! I should light them before I forget."

"You really didn't hold back, did you?" he chuckled. "Well, let's hope Brian doesn't run away screaming when he sees this. You know romance isn't exactly his thing."

"Yeah, I know. But I also know that he's a guy who loves you, so he'll put up with some ridiculous romance and some candles."

The moment she finished that sentence, they could both hear the front door open and Justin's heart immediately sank. He was about to have a date with his own husband and he was nervous as hell. It was pathetic. But he loved him so much and just wanted everything to be perfect.

"Oh, here we go," Daphne clapped her hands enthusiastically, almost as if it was her date.

And Justin swallowed hard, waiting for the two to come into the living room. "I hope you had a-" Justin trailed off when he saw Brian holding a sleeping Gus in his arms. "great time," he finished quietly with a smile. "I see you've worn him out."

"He fell asleep in the car on the way back, which really surprised me because even before we got in he had so much energy and wanted to do so many things that I considered leaving him somewhere on purpose," Brian laughed, but tried to speak quietly so he wouldn't wake up Gus. "I'll take him upstairs."

Justin couldn't help but laugh a little, because Brian obviously really did his best to get Gus straight to bed. Then he basically drooled after him as he walked up the stairs, he just couldn't shake that stupid smile off his face whenever he saw Brian with Gus… it was simply a really beautiful sight. Brian loved that boy very much. And he loved them both as much.

Daphne quickly used the time to light the candles and make the final necessary adjustments. Justin didn't know what he would do without her… she was the reason tonight could be special and thanks to that Justin could at least make up for his horrible behavior.

"So everything is set… and the rest is up to you two," she informed him with a smile from ear to ear.

"I owe you Daph. Big time."

"Well, I already have some ideas on how you can thank me later," she laughed.

"Anything for you. I mean unless you want me to murder someone because that would be a no."

"Damn. You're a buzzkill."

"Sorry," he mouthed.

"Just remember to call me tomorrow… I want to hear every little detail."

"Don't worry, I'll give you a full report as soon as I can," he promised her.

"Can't wait," she rolled her lips into her mouth, smiling like an idiot. And then they both heard Brian's slowly approaching footsteps, instantly making Justin's heart race. "Guess it's time for me to go."

"Ugh," Justin grunted. "I'm kind of starting to wish you'd stay here and help me with the rest of the night too," he chuckled.

"Justin, are you inviting me to a threesome?" she gasped, holding back her laugh.

"Okay, I take it back," Daphne immediately let out a disappointed sigh. "Find your own husband. This one is mine," he emphasized the word mine.

"Does he have a secret brother by any chance?" she whispered.

"Sorry, just a sister and she's a real bitch," he whispered back.

"Oh, I know," Daphne nodded, remembering all the horror details she had heard about her. Then she bent down to hug him. "Enjoy your hot date," she winked at him and finally left.

Justin chuckled to himself, but before he knew it, Brian was suddenly standing right in front of him.

"He was clinging to my shirt, I couldn't…" Brian trailed off as he finally saw everything Justin and Daphne had been preparing all day. "Wow," he stood completely stunned, clearly struggling for words. "This is..."

"It's too much, isn't it?" Justin bit his lip nervously. "I mean, I know you don't really like these things but… Daphne helped me… well I helped her actually… or you could say I just sat and watched her but with a broken leg there wasn't much I could do… so of course Daphne took advantage of that and did this for us… I told her not to overdo it but… you know her and…" Justin stopped babbling when he suddenly noticed how amused Brian was looking at him.

"So this is what you two were up to?"

"Well… I wanted to do something special for you. I know it hasn't been easy lately, especially since I broke my stupid leg… and the way I acted a few days ago was just awful... so I just wanted to apologize and…" Justin stopped again, realizing he was talking too much.

"Are you done?" Brian laughed.

"Yeah," Justin breathed a chuckle.

"Good," Brian walked over to him and bent down to meet his eyes. "Because I think it's perfect," he pressed his lips against his for a sweet kiss. "But you really didn't have to do this."

"Yes, I did," Justin replied firmly. "So I could show you how much I love you and how sorry I am for acting like a complete asshole."

"Justin, I'd say you've had your fair share of "fun" with me over the years, especially in the beginning... so let me handle something from you now, okay? I'm a big boy and your big mouth and moodiness aren't the worst things in the world..."

Justin chuckled. "My big mouth, huh?"

Brian smirked and showed him that even though his mouth sometimes said the wrong thing, he still loved to kiss it - very much.

"So what's for dinner?" he asked right after.

"Jambalaya," Justin rolled his lips in.

"I was so hoping you would say that."

"Well, don't get too excited yet… we might end up in the ER with some food poisoning."

"Huh?"

Justin didn't say anything and instead just laughed, but he really hoped they didn't have to worry about that. They then sat down at the table and started their meal together with some red wine. It didn't taste like Justin's Jambalaya, but surprisingly, it wasn't a total disaster after all, quite the opposite actually. They had to be more careful with the dessert, but once they managed to get rid of the burnt parts, the taste was really delicious.

"Well… I think Daphne did a pretty good job except for those few, um, imperfections," Brian laughed. "But I'm already looking forward to Jambalaya from you," he smiled at him.

"Yeah, it turned out better than I expected. But don't worry, I promise as soon as I can stand on my feet, I'll make you the best Jambalaya in the world."

"Can't wait," Brian took Justin's hand in his. "You two are really crazy, you know that?"

"Friends for over fifteen years, what else would you expect," he chuckled.

"Right," Brian nodded in agreement.

"And the best part is yet to come."

"What do you mean?"

Justin rolled his lips in, beaming. "Yeah, she prepared everything for us. And I mean everything - music, snacks, movies - she recommends Insidious by the way."

"Is that a new sex position?" Brian huffed a laugh.

"I think we're going to wish that."

Sitting in front of the TV half an hour later, Justin was really trying his best to feel safe in Brian's arms, snuggling as close to him as possible... unlike Gus, he really hated horror movies especially the ones with ghosts and every time there was a jump scare, he wasn't far from crapping his pants.

"Oh fuck! Jesus Christ!" Justin screamed again, quickly covering his eyes. "Remind me tomorrow to kill Daphne for making me go through this," he squeezed Brian's hand even tighter. "But I have to admit that the actor is really hot."

"Excuse me?" Brian shot him a look, arching his brows. "You're only supposed to have eyes for me today."

"I always only have eyes for you," he gave him his brightest smile.

"Good boy," Brian smirked and kissed him hard.

"Damn," Justin breathed, resting his forehead against Brian's.

Then they basically spent the rest of the movie making out, which was a really great distraction for Justin because he really didn't want to continue watching it, and even if he did, kissing Brian was just better overall.

"Oh thank god," Justin breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the closing credits on the TV.

And Brian immediately burst out laughing. "I can't believe our 13 year old son is braver than you."

"Our?" Justin was surprised by that. Of course, he saw himself as more than Gus's uncle for a really long time, but he and Brian never talked about it.

Brian was quiet for a moment, but then a smile spread across his face. "Um, yeah. I mean, you were there when he was born, you named him, and you love him like he's your own, so yeah… our son. He already has two moms, so why the hell not two dads?"

"I like that," he smiled widely.

"Yeah, me too," Brian stroked his hair, just looking at him with so much love. "Now let's see what music Daphne has prepared for us."

"So you can dance for me?" Justin chewed on his lower lip teasingly.

"Oh, you want me to give you a striptease?"

Justin started nodding eagerly. "Mhm. That would be great. Thank you."

"You little devil," Brian let out a laugh. "But unfortunately, I'm not really feeling up to it right now… it takes preparation and stuff. So… maybe some other time?" he wrinkled up his nose.

Justin sighed, trying to look annoyed. "Ok. But soon?"

"Soon," Brian promised.

Daphne's choice of music was - let's say interesting. It definitely wasn't something they would have chosen to listen to if it was up to them, but after a few songs they got used to it and actually quite enjoyed it. Well, they mostly enjoyed each other's company (especially the kissing part), but the music was a nice bonus. It definitely set the right mood.

But then their song started playing and both of them could immediately see the change in the other's expression. That song meant so much to them, yeah, it was still painful, but they refused to let Hobbs destroy that memory for them, even if it was a vague memory to Justin, it was still a memory. A beautiful one.

"There was a time when I really thought I'd never be able to listen to this song again," Brian confessed, his voice weak and shaky like every time he talked about that night.

Justin looked up to meet his eyes, "Yeah, I know what you mean. But it was a long time ago… it doesn't matter now. We're here, we're together, and we're happy… and that's all I ever wanted."

Brian smiled and pulled him closer, pressing his forehead against Justin's. "I love you," he breathed softly.

"I love you too," Justin whispered, a smile forming on his lips.

Brian then gently kissed his temple and cheek and slowly worked his way to his lips which were already waiting for a kiss. At first he just pressed a little kiss to the corner of Justin’s mouth, but that of course quickly turned into something more heated and they both started to lose control pretty much immediately. They hadn't made love in so long and it was driving them both completely crazy.

"Okay, we need to stop," Brian quickly pulled away.

"What? No!" Justin protested. "I can feel you're hard. And so am I," he playfully licked his lips.

"Exactly! But we can't... you know we can't... I mean, your leg..."

"We'll be careful."

"No, Justin. No," Brian shook his head, but he was clearly tempted. "I don't want to hurt you..."

"You won't. We'll be extra careful. I won't even move, I promise… you'll do all the work," he chuckled.

And Brian bit his lip, just staring at him for a minute, clearly fighting the urge he was feeling and obviously trying very hard to be strong, but as much as he knew in his head that they shouldn't, his heart, and let's face it, his groin area, were much stronger than he was at that moment.

"What are you doing?" Justin asked confused as Brian suddenly stood up.

"What do you think?" Brian smiled. "I'm taking you to bed," with that he carefully scooped him up in his arms, holding him high against his chest and carried him into the bedroom where he laid him on the bed. "Promise you won't move?" he asked to make sure.

"I won't move," Justin nodded. "At least not too crazy," he rolled his lips into his mouth and smiled, hoping he hadn't changed Brian's mind by saying it.

Brian leaned closer to his face so Justin could feel his hot breath on his lips, "Not at all," he warned him and with that he captured Justin's bottom lip between his and bit it gently before kissing him passionately.

"I'll definitely do my best," Justin breathed heavily between kisses, pulling him closer and feeling how hard Brian was. "God, I need you so much," he moaned, his own cock already throbbing in his sweatpants. "So, so much."

Brian breathed a chuckle, pulling Justin's shirt over his head and started kissing his neck gently. He licked and nibbled the sensitive skin right below his ear and slowly moved to his jugular, sending shivers down Justin's spine. His hand rubbed his chest soothingly, brushing over his hard and sensitive nipples before he let his hand fall to the bulge in his sweatpants. He looked at Justin's face and enjoyed seeing how much he was craving his touch.

"God, Brian," Justin breathed. "Stop torturing me."

Brian let out a laugh and finally slid his hand inside Justin's sweatpants and wrapped his fingers around his amazing cock. The blond's eyes instantly rolled back in his head. "Better?" he asked teasingly.

Justin couldn't even speak and just nodded with a smile as Brian's hand worked on his swollen cock. And soon, Brian began to drag his tongue down his neck, chest and accross his stomach, causing Justin's heart rate to quicken immediately. He stopped right above his pants and looked up to meet Justin's eyes, his lips were slightly parted and he was breathing heavily as he waited for Brian's mouth to finally touch his cock.

Brian took a firm hold of the waistband and began to pull his pants down slowly so he could slip them under Justin's butt. When he got to the cast he was really careful with the pulling and then he quickly slide them over his feet.

Justin's cock was already leaking and pointing straight up to his belly. Brian squeezed the root firmly and began moving his hand up and down, using the preecum as a lube. Then he finally wrapped his mouth around the tip, playing with it real slow, just teasing him, licking and sucking. He could hear Justin gasping and moaning above him while running his hand roughly through Brian's hair.

"Fuck, Brian..." Justin exhaled heavily, trying very hard not to move.

Brian smiled and started taking Justin deeper and deeper. He really missed that taste. And he definitely missed seeing Justin like this. Then the head of his cock hit the back of his throat and it made Brian gag immediately, but he quickly got used to it. Justin's whole body was shaking and loud moans were escaping his lips.

But when he saw and especially felt that Justin was getting dangerously close to cumming, he knew it was time to stop if he wanted to get to the main part. So he gave his cock a few more teasing licks and kissed his way up Justin's body back to his lips. Justin made disapproving noises, but Brian silenced him with one deep, long, hot kiss, full of passion.

"Take off your clothes," Justin whispered heavily against his lips, his eyes dark with lust. "I want to see you."

Brian smiled, pushing his tongue against his cheek and he then began to remove his clothes while Justin watched him closely as he slowly exposed his gorgeous body. There wasn't an inch of it that wasn't perfect. After all these years, he still felt that warm feeling inside him whenever he saw Brian naked, just like the first time. He knew Brian's body in such detail that he could literally draw it blindfolded, but he never got the slightest bit tired of looking at it.

"Like what you see?" Brian wiggled his brows playfully.

Taking a deep breath, Justin rolled his lips in, eyeing Brian up and down. His gaze was drawn mainly to his groin area. Brian's dick was so hard and so red. "I love what I see," Justin bit his lip. "So beautiful and so sexy."

Brian breathed a chuckle. "You're making me blush, Sunshine."

Flashing a big smile, Justin reached his hand to Brian's chest and slowly dragged it down to his pubic area and his cock. He first cupped the balls, they were warm and heavy. Brian immediately moaned in response, he was usually very sensitive, but now that he hadn't been touched by Justin for so long, it was a completely different level and Justin loved seeing what his hand was doing to him. Then he finally gripped his hard cock, wrapping his fingers tightly around it, making Brian gasp for air.

"Fuck," Brian muttered under his breath. "I've missed this so much."

"Me too," Justin smiled, gently stroking Brian's throbbing cock and kissing the salty skin of his neck. "I can't wait to feel you inside," he whispered.

"Mhm," Brian cleared his throat. "So we should probably do something about it."

"We definitely should," Justin agreed with a playful smile.

Brian reached over to the bedside table and found a condom and lube. Then he helped Justin roll onto his side and pressed himself against his back. He reached between them, took hold of his cock, and began to gently push against Justin's opening. Justin closed his eyes and relaxed as much as possible, taking Brian's entire lenght inside him, immediately receiving a grunt of pleasure from Brian.

Then they just lay still for a moment, both getting used to that amazing feeling. Although Justin couldn't quite ignore that his leg didn't really like this position, and of course Brian noticed that.

"It hurts, doesn't it?"

"No," Justin shook his head.

"Justin."

"Just a little..."

"You want me to stop?"

"No. Please don't," he breathed heavily.

"Ok," Brian kissed his lips. "But if anything... tell me..."

"I will," Justin promised, reaching behind Brian and squeezing his ass to pull him closer and deeper. The brunet immediately moaned loudly into his ear.

"God," Brian grunted. "You are so tight."

Justin breathed a chuckle. "It's been a while."

"Mmm," Brian hummed, kissing Justin's neck. And then he finally started to move his hips - slowly and gently, enjoying the feeling of being inside him. It was simply... mesmerizing. And Justin gasped everytime he hit the right spot, completely lost in the bliss.

"Oh god," Justin moaned helplessly. "That feels so good. But you can go a little faster, you know..."

"Justin."

"Please," he begged. "I'm not made of glass. You're not going to hurt me."

Brian breathed softly and instantly pushed his cock deeper, then his pace quickened and hardened, but he was still cautious, though it wasn't exactly easy. He just couldn't get enough of Justin. And Justin couldn't get enough of him. The sound of their skin slapping against each other filled the room and they actually had to muffle their moans with kisses so they wouldn't wake up Gus. That feeling was just euphoric.

Soon Brian could feel that he was really close so he took Justin's cock in his hand and started stroking it. Justin immediately turned his head and kissed him hard, whimpering against his lips. His hand was gripping the sheets and he groaned with every thrust Brian made. And then he felt it, Brian's cock started twitching inside him, his eyelids were shut tightly and in a matter of seconds Brian came, making every sound there is. And Justin's orgasm followed immediately.

Brian then wrapped his arms around him and pressed him tightly against his sweaty body while his cock was still inside him. And it wasn't long before they both began to fall asleep with smiles on their faces, feeling absolutely amazing... not knowing that these were their last happy moments together...
Chapter 10 by Taylor-Kinney
(Pittsburgh, Saturday, May 25, 2013 - past)

Justin had always been a really heavy sleeper, Brian always joked that he would sleep through an earthquake and whenever Justin had something important he would set his own alarm to wake him up in case Justin decided to ignore his. Oh, you love me so much, Justin always laughed at him, but he appreciated that little gesture more than he could ever express. He appreciated every little thing Brian did for him. He loved how he took care of him… he loved that…

Justin suddenly felt something irritating his throat, it was such a strange feeling and it made him cough in his sleep but it didn't wake him up completely. Quite the opposite, actually, as he subconsciously felt his eyelids getting heavier... like he couldn't wake up even if he wanted to.

But what finally pulled him from his sleep was the insane feeling of heat spreading throughout his body. He really wasn't the type to wake up at night feeling cold or hot, he always somehow adapted to the current temperature and slept peacefully until morning. Brian hated him for that, he always suffered, especially in the summer, and as he paced the bedroom trying to cool down a bit, Justin was snoring calmly.

That's why he was really surprised when he felt sweat on his naked body. Also his breathing felt really heavy. It was strange. He reached over to the bedside table for the bottle of water he had there, which if he wasn't so terribly thirsty, he would rather pour over himself to cool down. He then looked at the suprisingly sleeping Brian, which helped him forget the unpleasant feeling for a moment. He smiled as he remembered their sex, that they both really needed. Well, maybe that's why he was so hot, that would explain it. And the thought made him smile even wider.

But suddenly, Justin began to cough again.

God, why did his throat and nose burn so badly? Why did the air feel so strange and thick? Why did he feel like his body was on a damn fire?

So many questions flashed through his mind, but he didn't know the answer to any of them. Besides, he was too tired. And knowing that he couldn't do much to cool down with his broken leg anyway, he figured it would be better to just go back to sleep. So he let his upper body fall back onto the bed but as he was about to close his eyes he saw it... through the crack under the door... the light was on. Although it looked strange. Like it was flickering. But he was probably just too sleepy. Guess they forgot to turn the lights off as they were too busy doing... other things. Justin chuckled to himself. Or maybe Gus was awake.

He knew he could just ignore it, but his thoughts wouldn't let him sleep, knowing that the light was on, and since he couldn't do anything about it because of his stupid leg, he needed to wake Brian up. And knowing Brian wouldn't be happy, he promised himself he'd make it up to him first thing in the morning.

"Brian, I need you to wake up," Justin gently ran his fingers through his soft hair to help him wake up and let's be honest so Brian wouldn't be so mad at him. "Come on, Brian, you have to-" Justin was surprised by another wave of coughing and this time it was much worse. "Fuck, this is getting tiring," he sighed in frustration. The last thing he needed was to get sick.

"Then sleep," Brian spoked suddenly in his not-so-pleasant tone. "And don't disturb my sleep," he pulled the covers up over his head.

"Sorry," Justin smiled, founding it cute when Brian got "angry". "But I really need you to get up… we must have left the light on… or Gus fell asleep on the toilet," he chuckled.

"Huh?" Brian gave him a sleepy look.

"We left the light on in the hallway. I can see it under the door."

"Jesus... just ignore it and go back to sleep..."

"I can't ignore it."

"If you're worried about the electricity bill, there's no need... we've got the money," Brian breathed a chuckle. "Fuck, why is it so hot in here?" he muttered.

"Briiiaaannn, pleeaassee," Justin used his most annoying voice, testing his patience and hoping he would get his way eventually.

"I really hate you, you know that?" Brian reluctantly rolled out of bed and rubbed his eyes as they felt strangely itchy.

"No. You love me," Justin grinned.

"Right now? Not really," he replied annoyed as he slowly walked to the door to fulfill Justin's wish.

"Come on, you love me. Just say it. There's no point in hiding it anymore," Justin giggled.

"Well, when you're not giving me reasons to strangle you… then yes… I do love you..." Justin smiled widely, satisfied with Brian's answer. "God, is it just me or is it really fucking hot in here?" Brian complained.

"Definitely not just you. It woke me up. And the air is weird too," Justin sighed.

"Yeah," Brian cleared his throat, coughing a little. "Really weird. Fuck!" he shouted suddenly and Justin's heart literally stopped for a second.

"What the hell just happened?" Justin asked immediately with a worry in his voice.

"The knob… it's… hot..."

"What do you mean it's hot?"

"I don't know. It's like..."

"Like what?" Justin swallowed and could feel his heart in his throat.

"I don't know," Brian breathed nervously, trying to find the light switch, and when he finally turned it on, they both immediately knew something was very very wrong. The entire bedroom was foggy and smoke was coming out from the crack under the door.

"What the hell..?" Brian's voice was horrified and confused at the same time.

"Brian, is that... smoke?" Justin breathed out.

They were both completely paralyzed with fear. They couldn't move. They couldn't breathe. They couldn't even speak. They just stared at nothing with panic in their eyes while their hearts pounded in their chests.

And neither wanted to believe it was real. Because... because it couldn't. But it was. It was very real.

Suddenly, Brian reached for the doorknob again, but was able to stop himself in time as he remembered how much it had burned just a minute ago. And instead he picked up his shirt from the floor to use to open the door. To be honest, he really didn't want to open it, but he knew he had to, so he did…

And what appeared right before their eyes was the most terrifying thing either of them had ever seen in their lives. Just flames and thick smoke through which almost nothing could be seen. So much smoke. It was a horror sight.

"Brian!" Justin shouted seeing that Brian was in complete shock and thankfully his voice managed to snap him back to reality and he quickly shut the door. "Oh my god... oh my god... Brian what... what the hell is happening... Brian..." Justin's voice was shaking and he was on the verge of tears.

And Brian just stood there trying to pull himself together and understand what was going on because despite the obvious, he just couldn't. But then he realized something he should have realized a long time ago...

"Oh my god, Justin - GUS!"

"Jesus Christ!" Justin exclaimed with panic in his voice.

And Brian didn't hesitate for a single second and went to open the door again to get to his son, at that point he didn't care about anything else, he just needed to get to him. He needed to get to Gus. The only thing that stopped him from walking out of the bedroom without thinking and potentially into the flames was the excruciating pain when he took the knob in his hand.

"Oh, fuck! Jesus Christ!" Brian cried out, jerking his arm back and clutching his hand against his chest

"Brian are you okay?!" Justin just wanted to run to him, but he couldn't. He felt so helpless.

"It's nothing..." Brian shook his hand a little, trying to ease the pain… but it didn't help. He had a deep red burn all over his palm. But that was the last thing he was worried about right now. "Justin, I need to get to him... I need to get to Gus."

"I know, I know, uhhh…" Justin didn't know what to say or do, but then he got an idea. "Wet some towels and put them around you and over your mouth..."

Brian didn't wait for anything and immediately went to do as Justin told him. After a minute he came back from the bathroom with several soaked towels. They both quickly put on at least sweatpants and a shirt. Brian's hands were shaking like crazy as he was wrapping one of the towels around Justin.

And then he looked into his eyes, his hazel ones into Justin's blue ones “ both filled with tears and despair “ they knew what this moment meant. They knew they might not see each other again. They knew that the moment Brian leaves this bedroom, he most likely won't be able to come back for Justin if the fire gets worse. Right now it was mostly spreading around the walls and across the ceiling, but they knew it was only a matter of time before the entire house would be engulfed in flames.

But they also knew that the most important thing right now was Gus.

"Go," Justin said in his shaky voice. "It's okay Brian, just go..."

Brian bit his lip, unable to move, but with every second he stayed there, his worst thoughts were more likely to come true. Brian had to act now, and he had to act fast.

"I'll come back for you, I promise."

"Save Gus, that's the most important thing right now, okay? Just save him… I'll be fine… really," Justin tried his best to smile even as tears streamed down his face.

He knew his chances of getting out of there were even slimmer than he was willing to admit. He couldn't walk and he certainly couldn't let Brian get him out before Gus... there was only one solution to this - he had to stay there while Brian had to get Gus out of the house.

"I'll be right back…" Brian quickly kissed Justin's lips.

He then walked over to the door and just before he opened it - carefully this time, Justin yelled, "I love you!" and he said it as if it should be the last time, because he knew in his heart that it was.

"I'll be back in a minute... even if I have to run through the flames," Brian replied, refusing to accept that this might be the last time he sees Justin, and then his figure disappeared in that thick smoke, and the door closed behind him.

And Justin suddenly felt what he had tried very hard to ignore until this moment - an indescribable fear. His heart was pounding. Tears were rolling down his cheeks and his lips were quivering. The silence that suddenly filled the bedroom was unbearable. He felt his throat tighten more and more and the irritation in his throat made him cough more and more urgently. But nothing compared to the fear he felt at the thought of Brian and Gus. He didn't know if Brian had gotten to him... he didn't know if they were out of the house yet... he didn't know if they were okay...

But he knew one thing.

He didn't want to die. Not like this. Not here. Not now.

Therefore, he gathered all his strength and got off the bed onto the floor and started crawling towards the door, dragging his broken leg behind him. He held a wet towel as close to his body as possible and another over his mouth. The smoke burned his eyes and he could barely see, but he refused to give up. But the moment he was at the door he realized he couldn't open it from the ground, he tried but just couldn't reach there. So he slowly picked himself up off the ground, trying very hard not to use his broken leg, but he was starting to feel really dizzy and he knew getting out of there was more important than saving his leg, so he simply did what was necessary... and when he heard the cracking sound, his scream immediately echoed throughout the house and he felt an excruciating pain that almost made him pass out.

"Oh my god. Jesus Christ," Justin grunted in tears as he bit down on a piece of towel, hoping that would make the pain more bearable. It didn't. But he knew he had to get over it and finally opened the door. The flames were almost everywhere now and he felt like he was already on fire, it was so hot and he hadn't even entered the hallway yet. He didn't want to enter it. But he had to. He had no other choice. So he took a step and then another and another... holding a towel over his mouth and trying not to inhale the smoke. He couldn't see anything at all and basically just went by memory trying to get to the stairs without knowing if it would even be possible to go down them. He watched the flames around him and did his best to avoid them, but it was nearly impossible and he started to regret leaving the bedroom and not jumping out of the window instead, although that seemed like a death sentence in itself considering that the ground below was as hard as rock. With each step he felt his broken bone even more and his tears became more urgent as did the coughing that was getting really violent and rough and he felt as if he might actually throw up.

And then the worst happened - he tripped and flew straight to the ground. And while the pain he felt from his leg a second ago was downright unbearable, it was nothing compared to the pain he felt right now as he felt himself on fire. He could feel the flames on his body and the way his nerves were exposed beneath them and every one of them was in excruciating pain… he screamed at the top of his lungs, it was so loud they must have heard him miles away.

He immediately began to roll from side to side to smother the flames, and thankfully, it didn't take long for them to go out. But suddenly he knew he couldn't do this. He was in so much pain and there was no way he was going to be able to stand on that leg again. And so he just lay there on the ground with flames dancing around him. They were getting closer and closer. And at that moment he knew... this was it... this was the end and he couldn't run away from it...

He could only close his eyes and wait for the moment when it would all finally be over. His thoughts were completely focused on the people he loved, but Brian most of all. He wanted him to be the last thing he saw... even if it was only in his head...

He wasn't even afraid anymore. He was actually calm. And ready for what was about to happen.

And suddenly he saw Brian's face in front of him. He immediately smiled. He was so beautiful and seemed so real. Justin reached out to touch him… and to his surprise he could actually feel him…

"Justin, can you hear me? Justin, please answer me…" Brian's voice was completely desperate. "Justin, please say something..."

"Brian?" Justin breathed a small sigh of relief as he realized Brian was really there.

"Hey there," a smile immediately spread across Brian's face even as his eyes welled up with tears. "Oh my god, Justin…" Brian saw the burns on Justin's body and was completely horrified.

"You came back," Justin said weakly.

"I said I'd be back. Come on babe, we have to get out," Brian used all his remaining strength to lift Justin into his arms.

"Where's Gus?"

"He's out... I got him out... he's fine don't worry..."

"Thank God," Justin smiled, but he was slowly losing consciousness.

"Come on, don't fall asleep, stay with me."

He heard Brian's voice talking to him, but it seemed so far away. He was so tired and just wanted to sleep.

"Justin? Justin… wake up… come on… I need you to wake up… I need your help please Justin…"

"Mhhmmm," the blond hummed sleepily.

"Justin!" This time Brian's voice was loud and harsh even to his own ears, but he needed to get Justin's attention. And thankfully he succeeded because Justin immediately opened his eyes and focused them completely on Brian. But suddenly he realized that there was no fire around them because they were no longer in the hallway. They were in Gus's room.

"Brian?" Justin was confused.

"Listen to me. Are you listening?" Justin nodded so Brian continued. "The stairs are on fire and so is everything below us. We have to go out the window, okay?"

"What?" Justin's eyes widened even more. "But I can't... my leg... I can barely move..."

"I'll help you. That's how I got Gus out. I used the sheets and lowered him down..."

"But…" Justin suddenly noticed Brian's hands. They were covered in burns. "Oh my God, Brian."

"It's okay. They're just hands, Sunshine."

"But how are you going to lower me? I'm too heavy and with those hands..."

"Let me worry about that, okay?"

Justin knew there was no time to argue and that he wouldn't win anyway. So he nodded and Brian tied one end of the sheets around his body.

"I'm scared," Justin admitted.

"I'm fucking terrified," Brian laughed nervously. "But it's going to be okay, I promise."

And in that moment, Justin believed it.

And then Brian started to lower him down. He could hear him groaning in pain above him the whole time while he could feel the sheet cutting into his own burns. It was unbearable. But by some miracle he could soon feel the ground under his feet. He immediately collapsed and untied the sheet around him so Brian could get down.

But he immediately began to lose consciousness again. He was so tired. And his body was starting to give up.

And suddenly, before he knew it, Brian's hands were holding him tightly. "We're out. Can you hear me, Sunshine? We made it out..."

Justin was barely able to open his eyes, but seeing Brian's face and knowing they were really outside almost made him forget the excruciating pain.

"Brian," he whispered.

"Hey," Brian smiled, happy that Justin was talking. "Oh my god," he immediately pressed his lips to Justin's forehead. "I love you so much, Justin. So damn much..."

"I love you too," Justin smiled despite the pain. And suddenly he noticed Gus standing next to them. He looked so scared. And his face was full of tears, but luckily he looked unharmed. "Are you okay, Gus?"

"He is," Brian assured him. "And you will be too," as soon as Brian finished that sentence he began to cough violently.

But at that moment they heard the sirens of the fire trucks and ambulances and felt an incredible relief.

"See, we're going to be fine," Brian said pulling Justin closer to him and Gus as well. He then looked at their burning home, feeling sad but he was sure that the worst was over. "We're all going to be fine..."
Chapter 11 by Taylor-Kinney
-

(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)



Justin didn't even realize tears were running down his face until the therapist handed him a box of tissues. And at that moment, a harsh reality hit him like a well-aimed punch. He suddenly realized what had just happened - he was reliving the worst day of his life. He found himself once again in that fiery hell that marked him forever, both physically and mentally. He could feel himself shaking and almost like he couldn't breathe. His throat was tightened... just like that day... except this time it was all in his head. He was already on the verge of losing it and he hadn't even gotten to the worst part yet.



"Justin?" the therapist said carefully.



"Uhm, yeah?" Justin looked at her, wiping away his tears.



"I can see this is really hard for you, so do you want to stop? You can come tomorrow and we'll pick up where we left off."



"I'm not sure I'll be able to continue tomorrow if I leave now... I just need a moment."



"Alright then. We'll take a 15 minute break. If that's enough for you?"



Justin nodded, then got up from his chair and left the doctor's office. He needed to get some fresh air and just walk around for a bit to clear his mind, which was even harder than it seemed. But most of all he needed to light a cigarette to calm his nerves. At first it seemed almost impossible with his shaking hands, but eventually he succeeded. He'd never been much of a smoker, sure, he'd light a cigarette here and there, but it wasn't something that was part of his daily life. But ever since that day, he found that little thing to be more useful than he ever imagined. Which was probably odd considering he almost died in a fire. But in most cases it was the only thing that could calm him down and he wasn't willing to give it up.



He checked his phone and found that he had several missed calls from Michael and even one from Ben. He really appreciated everything they had done for him and that they cared, but... sometimes he felt like they were just waiting for him to finally completely fall apart and it was driving him crazy. Although he knew very well that their fears were justified. But right now, he just needed a moment without feeling like they were suffocating him, even though he felt guilty for even thinking that.



He therefore texted Michael that he was fine and not to worry about him. Then he finished his cigarette, took a deep breath and headed back to the doctor's office.



"So how are you feeling?" Dr. Brown asked as Justin sat down.



"Um, I… I don't even know. Confused… scared… but also relieved to finally be able to talk about it, but at the same time it's so hard… it still feels like yesterday… "



"What you're feeling is completely normal. You're reliving the trauma that's been holding you back for the last 3 years and now you're finally taking control of your life again... so the relief makes sense, as does the confusion and fear. But you're really making progress, Justin."



"Yeah, I... I guess."



"I know it doesn't seem like it now, but baby steps are more important than you think… when you first came here I didn't get a word out of you… so the fact that you're finally talking about it is quite an achievement."



"I know, I just wish it was easier... because right now I feel like I'm dying inside..."



"It just takes time, but trust me when I say it will get better."



Justin nodded, really hoping she knew what she was talking about and that she was right.



"So… are you ready to continue?"



"Yeah, I think I am."



"Okay. In that case, tell me what happened after you got out of the house… what happened to Brian…"



Justin took a deep breath, immediately having flashbacks of that night and knew his heart was about to break all over again...



---



(Pittsburgh, Saturday, May 25, 2013 - past)



Justin was immediately loaded into the ambulance and Brian's persistence ensured that both he and Gus could ride with him and not in the other ambulance. All three were then given an oxygen mask, though thankfully Gus didn't seem to need one. Then the ambulance finally started rushing to the hospital. And even though Brian's burned hands were in extreme pain, he couldn't help but hold Justin's hand as tightly as possible so that Justin knew he was with him and he wasn't going anywhere.



And as the adrenaline started to wear off, Justin was now exposed to how much he was actually hurt and it was excruciating. All he could do was cry desperately and repeat how much he wanted the pain to stop. Brian couldn't bear to see him like this and hated that he couldn't do anything to help him, but he tried his best to calm him down.



"Justin, come on… just hold on... please… you're going to be okay, I promise. They'll fix you up and everything will be fine," his voice broke but he did his best to hold it together. "And then we're going to go on some great vacation for at least a month, because after what we just went through, we fucking deserve it," Brian managed to crack a tiny smile even though his lips were quivering.



"And we're going to fuck our brains out," Justin tried to laugh through the tears and pain, but immediately squeezed his eyes shut in response.



"Yeah, you bet," Brian stroked his hair covered in ash, then turned to the paramedic on his right and whispered through gritted teeth, "Could you just give him something for the pain already?"



"I already gave him morphine," Brian didn't take that for an answer and glared murderously at the man. "I'll give him another dose."



Brian nodded and looked back at Justin, whose face soon began to relax a little.



"Oh, that's much better," Justin almost sighed in relief, though it was obvious he was still in a lot of pain, but it was more manageable now. "I can't believe we just almost died, Brian. I just don't understand what happened..."



"Hey, don't think about that right now, okay? Just focus on getting better."



Justin's blue eyes met Brian's hazel ones, both filled with tears, pain and fear. "I was so scared, Brian."



"I know, I know… me too," Brian squeezed his hand even tighter.



And within a few minutes, they finally stopped at the hospital, where many doctors were already waiting for them. And before Brian could say anything, they started rushing Justin in and even though he tried to follow them, keeping Gus close to him, a nurse finally stopped him and asked him to go to the waiting room.



"Dad, where did they take Uncle Justin?" Gus asked in a frightened voice.



"Well, somewhere where they can help him, you know."



"Is he badly hurt?"



"Um, yeah… he… he is…" Brian didn't want to say it, but after seeing Justin in the state he was in, he couldn't just pretend he wasn't. "But he'll be okay, Gus, don't worry," he added when he saw how sad his son looked.



"You promise?"



Gus looked at him with his teary eyes, and even though Brian knew he shouldn't promise him what he didn't know, he refused to accept the possibility that Justin wouldn't be okay, so he replied, "I promise."



Gus smiled, but then looked down at Brian's burned hands. "And you're going to be okay too?"



"You mean this? That's nothing," Brian smiled, not wanting to worry his son even more but he couldn't deny that the pain was killing him almost as much as the strange feeling in his chest.



"It's not nothing, Dad. You're hurt. You should see a doctor."



"Alright, smartass," Brian chuckled. "We'll find one. And for you too, just to be sure, okay? And hopefully by then someone will give us an update on Uncle Justin."



"Ok," Gus nodded with a smile and they immediately headed to the ER.



--



"Your vitals seem fine and the swelling in your throat is minor, which one might call a miracle considering how long you've been in there."



"What can I say? I am simply invincible," Brian grinned.



"Well, you took in a lot of smoke and your heart rate is a little elevated, so we're going to run some tests just to be sure."



"Oh, that sounds like fun…" Brian huffed a laugh, trying to be sarcastically charming as always.



"Now show me your hands, please," Brian did as he was told, praying the doctor would finally give him something for the pain, but of course he was trying to look tough. "Looks like second degree burns."



"It sure as hell feels like it," Brian chewed on his lip as the doctor touched the wounds.



"I'll give you some pain killers."



"Music to my ears."



"It should heal within two to three weeks. And you shouldn't have any scars."



"I hope not. Do you even know how expensive those hand creams are that make your skin look younger? I wouldn't want it to go to waste."



The doctor wasn't far from rolling his eyes, he couldn't believe that the guy in front of him had saved two people from a burning house while his hands were on fire and he was acting like the scars were the worst thing that could happen to him. But he didn't know Brian, he didn't know that this was his way of dealing with it or that he was currently losing his mind because he didn't know if Justin was okay.



"Well, you're going to apply this cream every 12 hours, okay?"



"Sure doc, every 12..." Brian was unable to finish the sentence as he was suddenly surprised by a violent cough.



"That doesn't sound too good. How's your breathing?"



"Surprisingly good. I mean, it could be better, but I'm not complaining."



"Do you feel any chest pain? Or dizziness?"



"Just a little, but I'm fine, don't worry about me, doc," he gave him his charming smile, but then started coughing again.



"We'll see how the tests go, but I'll definitely want to keep you here overnight for observation. The nurse will take you to your room."



"Thanks, but no."



"Sorry?" the doctor arched his brows.



And Brian looked over the doctor's shoulder to see Gus with a nurse who had apparently said something that made him laugh out loud and Brian had never felt more grateful. He was so close to losing his son.



He then looked back at the doctor with determination on his face. "My son needs me right now."



"I understand, but Mr. Kinney you took in a tremendous amount of smoke and we need to keep an eye on you."



"I just need to call someone to pick him up and be with him until then, but then you can do whatever you want with me."



It was obvious the doctor didn't like it, but he knew he couldn't force Brian to do anything if he didn't want to. "Okay, but please don't leave the hospital."



"Don't worry, I have a reason to stay," he said, immediately thinking of Justin. He then got up and walked over to Gus. "Let's go, sonny boy."



"Where are we going, Dad?"



"Find some phone."



After finding the nearest phone, Brian was suddenly faced with the question of who to call. He really didn't know. Michael? Because Mikey was the closest thing he had to a brother, and he sure as hell needed him right now. Debbie, who was practically his mother and someone who would absolutely do anything in her power to comfort Gus. Or Lindsay and Melanie, who had every right to know what happened, and most importantly, that their son was safe and unharmed. But deep down, Brian knew there was definitely someone he should call first, but he was afraid to even dial the number. So he closed his eyes, calmed his breathing, and counted to twenty before he finally did what was necessary.

-
Chapter 12 by Taylor-Kinney
(Pittsburgh, Saturday, May 25, 2013 - past)



"I really hope you have a damn good reason to call me at this hour," as soon as Brian heard Jennifer's sleepy voice, he immediately froze, it was as if his own voice was stuck in his throat, he just couldn't speak. His chest felt so tight and heavy, though he wasn't sure if it was because of the fear of what he had to tell her, or maybe because he didn't feel as 'good' as he tried to convince himself. "Hello? May I know who's calling? Hello? Okay then, I'm hanging up and going back to sleep," she was obviously irritated and Brian couldn't blame her, but it only made him feel worse.



But he knew there was no avoiding this, so he finally work up the courage to speak. "Jen-Jennifer, it's me, Brian-" he cleared his throat nervously and immediately felt how sore it was.



"Brian?" Jennifer was obviously surprised and confused at the same time. "Is everything okay? Where are you calling me from?"



Brian closed his eyes and bit his bottom lip so hard he could taste blood. He just didn't know how to tell her that her son could have died tonight... that he still might. Because he didin't know anything. He didn't know shit. He didn't know how serious it was. He didn't know if Justin was going to be okay. And he was so close to losing it. But he knew he had to be strong no matter what because this wasn't about him. This was about Justin's mother who deserved to know the truth.



"Jennifer, um, there's something I need to tell you and I really don't know how…"



"What's going on?" she asked with obvious worry in her voice. "Brian? Please talk to me."



Brian took a deep breath and finally found the strength to say it. "Jennifer, there was a fire in our house..."



"What?" she breathed out in a shaky voice. "What happened?" she urged him to speak.



"I don't know... we just woke up and the whole house was already on fire..." Brian's voice suddenly broke and Jennifer immediately knew it was serious.



"Oh my God. Brian, is he..?" she couldn't even bring herself to say that word.



"No!" Brian said quickly. "God, no. But we're in the hospital... Justin's hurt and it's bad… I think it's really bad…" It was like hearing himself say those words made it even more real and he suddenly felt sick to his stomach. "I really need you to come here, Jennifer."



"I'm already getting dressed. Which hospital?"



"Alleghany General."



"I'll be there as soon as possible."



"Okay," Brian let out a heavy breath and hung up.



Then he pressed his forehead against the wall and took a few deep breaths to calm himself down while clutching his chest. He felt so fucking helpless. The last time he made a call like this was when Hobbs smashed Justin's head in with a bat. And there was no way in hell he could manage to call anyone else right now. He just needed a moment.



"Dad?" Gus spoke quietly after a while. "Are you okay?"



"Yeah, bud. I'm fine. Grandma's on her way here. She's going to take care of you until your moms get here."



"What? Why? You're here!"



"Well, you see, I have to stay here overnight for observation. Doctor's orders," he chuckled nervously.



"But why?" his already frightened eyes widened even more. "You said you were fine!"



"I am," he assured him. "They just want to make sure I stay that way," he explained, hoping Gus would understand.



"But…" Brian could see his eyes filling with tears. "I just..."



"Hey, hey, come on… I'm fine. I really am. You don't have to worry about anything. I promise, okay?" Brian pulled him close and hugged him tightly, ignoring the pain in his chest even though he could feel that he was really starting to struggle to breathe. But he was sure it was nothing, just anxiety and not knowing if Justin was going to be okay. "Don't worry about me, Sonny boy."



"I just don't want anything bad to happen to you," Gus muttered sadly.



"Nothing's going to happen to me, Gus. Except I'll probably have to stay with Grandma Debbie for a few days until I find a place to live," Brian rolled his eyes in annoyance causing Gus to chuckle which made him smile.



"And what about Uncle Justin? When are we going to see him?"



And just like that, Brian's smile disappeared.



"I don't know," he breathed heavily. "Hopefully soon."



"But he'll be okay too, right, Dad?"



Brian was really starting to lose his mind, he had no idea how to explain to his son how serious Justin's condition was because he didn't know it himself and everything in him just wanted to go and start screaming at the nearest doctor or nurse to fucking tell him something already. It was only thanks to Gus that he kept himself in check or he would have unleashed hell a long time ago.



"I'm sure he will," Brian stroked his hair. "He's very strong. Just like you."



"Okay," Gus managed to crack a tiny smile and hugged his dad again.



They then went to the waiting room where they sat for what felt like an eternity but probably not more than fifteen minutes when they finally heard what they were waiting for, "Is Justin Taylor's family here?"



Brian basically jumped out of his seat and hurried over to the doctor, trying to read her face, but there was nothing to tell him how Justin was doing. "I'm Brian Kinney, I'm his husband… please tell me he's alright…."



He immediately saw the slight change in her expression and prayed she wasn't a homophobic cunt.



"Mr. Kinney, your husband suffered second and third degree burns, he also took in a lot of smoke, but what I'm most concerned about right now is his leg..."



"What does that mean?"



"Well, since the bone wasn't fully healed yet, the fact that he put all his weight on it made the fracture even more serious and complicated, so that means he's going to need surgery as soon as possible. Not to mention that he's going to need a lot of physical therapy. And even then, it will be months before he can fully use his leg again."



Brian's heartbeat quickened again. "But he's going to be okay, right?"



"If all goes according to plan, then yes, he should be perfectly fine."



"And if not?" he asked nervously.



"It's hard to say now, but he would definitely face some difficulties that would complicate his daily life, so it's really important that he starts physical therapy as soon as possible to regain full function of his leg."



Brian suddenly spaced out, trying to take everything in. He could feel the sweat on his forehead, his heart pounding… it was like a nightmare. And he wished he could trade places with Justin.



"Do you have any other questions?" the doctor asked after a moment of silence.



"Just one… can I see him?"



"He should rest, but… yeah, I'll take you to him," she agreed, seeing the desperation in Brian's eyes.



Feeling extremely grateful Brian immediately followed her, keeping Gus close to him. A million thoughts raced through his mind - about Justin, about Gus, about the fact that all three of them could have died tonight, but by some miracle they were still alive. And he certainly wasn't going to take that second chance for granted.



When they finally stood outside Justin's room, Brian was so eager to open the door that he almost pushed the doctor aside and it took everything in his power not to. And when he finally saw Justin's face, it was the most indescribable feeling he had ever felt.



"Hey," Justin said weakly with a small smile on his lips.



"Hey," Brian smiled back.



And it was like the world stopped for a moment, it was just the two of them looking at each other. Brian was surprised that Justin actually looked much better than he expected. But it was still hard to see him like that. There was a tube going into the back of his hand with a liquid running inside and many other things attached to his body. A monitor was quietly beeping beside his bed. But all Brian could see was how beautiful he was.



"I'll leave you alone," the doctor smiled and left the room.



And the moment Brian heard the door close, he walked over to his bed. He was so ready to kiss him but was quickly reminded that they actually weren't alone.



"Uncle Justin!" Gus exclaimed excitedly, basically pushing Brian aside.



"Oh my God, Gus, I'm so glad you're okay… I mean, he's okay, right?" Justin immediately looked at Brian with obvious concern in his exhausted eyes.



"He's perfectly fine, not even a scratch, don't worry," Brian smiled, stroking Gus's hair, knowing they were truly lucky.



"Thank god," Justin breathed a sigh of relief.



"But you look really awful, Uncle Justin."



Despite everything, Justin couldn't help but laugh. "I'm sure I do. But I'll be out of here before you know it."



"I hope so, I hate hospitals, they smell so weird," Gus twisted his face.



"Yeah, tell me about it," Justin rolled his eyes in annoyance, making Gus giggle.



"I'm really glad you didn't die, Uncle Justin," the boy said suddenly, surprising both him and Brian.



"That makes two of us," Justin replied, feeling really blessed to be alive. It was truly a miracle. Although he knew very well that the actual reason he was still alive was standing right behind Gus. Brian loved him so much that he risked his own life to save him. In other words - Brian was his miracle.



"Gus, could you please go outside for a moment?" Brian asked.



"What, why?" Gus clearly wasn't a fan of that idea.



"Just for a moment. Please?" Brian basically begged him with his eyes.



"Fine," he sighed. "I'll give you two minutes."



"How about five?" Justin tried to negotiate, hoping to be alone with Brian as well.



"Three," Gus frowned.



"Four?" Brian raised his eyebrows hopefully. "And maybe some ice cream later?"



"Okay!" Gus quickly turned around, making them both laugh.



And as soon as the door closed behind him, their eyes instantly met and before they knew it, Brian had closed the distance between them and kissed Justin's lips as gently as possible. He did his best not to touch him in any way, not wanting to cause him any more pain than he was already in. But it was really hard for him to hold back, all he wanted to do was take Justin in his arms and feel every inch of him.



And even when their lips parted, he still had his forehead pressed firmly against Justin's, just enjoying the feeling of being with him again. Especially when the thought of never seeing him again crossed his mind a few times tonight.



"God, you scared me so fucking much," Brian finally said, his voice trembling. "I thought I lost you," he admitted, feeling a tear roll down his face.



"You didn't. I'm right here," Justin breathed out heavily. "And I'm not going anywhere."



"I wouldn't let you go even if you tried," Brian smiled, kissing him again.



"Well, to be honest, I can't even walk right now, so… I'm definitely not going anywhere," he chuckled, hoping to make Brian laugh, but it actually had the opposite effect. "What's wrong?"



Brian looked down at his body and back into his eyes. "Does it hurt a lot?"



"They have me on so many drugs I don't even know," he chuckled again, but he could tell by the look in Brian's eyes that he wanted an honest answer. "It hurts really bad, but the meds are helping... but I'm really scared it's going to hurt a lot more once the drugs wear off, which I'm not sure I can handle…"



"You can," Brian said firmly. "Because you are strong. And I will help you with everything."



"What if..." Justin trailed off.



"What?"



"What if you don't like my body anymore… with the scars and everything?"



Brian immediately shook his head, "That's not possible. I'll never stop loving your body."



Justin smiled, his lips quivering. The love and gratitude he felt for Brian was completely visible on his face. "What about your hands?"



"That's not even worth mentioning," he shrugged, trying to play it cool.



"Brian?" Justin arched his eyebrows.



"It's nothing, I promise. The doctor gave me some cream and it should heal within three weeks."



"I'm so glad to hear that," Justin breathed a sigh of relief.



"Yeah, but-" Brian rolled his lips in.



"What?" Justin's eyes widened.



"The doctor didn't like my cough so he wants me to stay overnight for observation and run some tests just to be sure… which I think is completely unnecessary," he rolled his eyes.



"Sorry, what?" Justin raised his voice. "And why exactly aren't you in bed right now?"



"Because I wanted to see you first and make sure you were okay," he smiled and stroked his hair.



"Brian!" Justin gave him a murderous look.



"Don't worry, once your mom arrives, I'll do whatever the doctors tell me, I promise."



"Wait, you called her?"



"Of course. I thought she should know. She should be here any minute."



"You know she's going to kill us, right?"



"Yeah and Debbie will be happy to help her," Brian laughed.



"Did you call her too?"



"Not yet. I didn't want to scare her. Actually, your mom is the only one I called. And with how much I scared her, I didn't have the guts to call anyone else."



"Shit. Do we even know what happened?"



"Well, it took me a minute to figure it out, but..."



"What?"



"I think you know."



Justin was confused, trying to read the answer on Brian's face, but then it finally dawned on him. "Oh my god, the candles! I'm such an idiot, I completely forgot about them!"



"We both forgot. It's not your fault."



"Yeah, but if I hadn't been acting like an ungrateful selfish asshole, the candles wouldn't have been there in the first place."



"Don't do this to yourself. The main thing is that we're all okay. Nothing else matters. And once I'm discharged tomorrow, I'll go see what's left of our palace and then I'll start looking for a new place to live... and I'm already looking forward to christening every single room there," he winked at him.



"You're fucking unbelievable," Justin chuckled.



"It's true. I am," he stuck his tongue in his cheek. "Um, is it just me or did Gus decide to give us more time?"



"Looks like it."



"Mhmm," Brian started to lean down to kiss him, but suddenly the door flew open.



They assumed it was Gus, but when they turned their heads to the door, it turned out he wasn't the only one standing there.



"Oh my god, Justin!" Jennifer yelled out, her voice completely terrified. "Honey, are you okay?" she immediately headed to his bed with tears in her eyes.



"Yeah, mom, I'm fine, I promise. We all are."



Jennifer was so paralyzed with fear for her son that she was unable to grasp the meaning of his words and just cried as she desperately stroked his hair.



"You scared me to death," she said when she finally calmed down a bit. "Both of you," she looked at Brian. "Don't you dare ever do that to me again."



"Don't worry, this was just a one time thing," Brian couldn't help but joke a little.



And while Justin laughed, Jennifer just rolled her eyes.



"I'm so happy all three of you are okay," she smiled and looked at Gus. "Gus, honey, come here," she reached out and gave him a long, tight hug.



"Grandma, you're crushing me," Gus laughed.



"I'm sorry honey, I'm just… so relieved," she wiped her tears and turned back to Justin. "God, you look like you must be in a lot of pain."



"I'm fine, mom. And if it wasn't for Brian, it could have been a lot worse… he got us out of the house… I'm alive because of him…"



"You're giving me too much credit, it was a team effort," Brian replied, but before he knew it, Jennifer was holding him in her arms. "Oh, okay," he chuckled nervously.



"Thank you," she whispered in his ear. She then pulled back and looked into his eyes, giving him a look of gratitude as she took his hand in hers, but quickly realized that it was not a good idea. "Christ, Brian, your hands."



"It's nothing, don't worry," Brian tried to give her one of his charming smiles but instead started coughing.



"Let me guess, this is nothing too?" she arched her brows.



Brian grinned as he tried to catch his breath and clutched his chest.



"Brian, are you okay?" Justin asked in a worried voice.



"Uh-hm, yeah, I'm fine," Brian nodded and cleared his throat. "It's just really annoying," he laughed. But they could tell by the look in his eyes that it scared him too.



"No, Brian, you're obviously not fine" Justin replied. "You promised to let the doctors take care of you... and my mom is here so… could you please do that?"



"Wait what am I missing here?" Jennifer asked confused.



"The doctor wants Brian to stay overnight for observation to make sure everything is okay, but Brian is being stubborn as usual."



"I'm not stubborn, Sunshine."



"I strongly disagree! Why the hell are you here instead of listening to the doctors and resting in bed?" Jennifer was furious.



"Yeah, Dad, Grandma's right."



"Oh, you too? Little traitor," he sighed. "Okay, okay, I'm gonna let the doctors stick needles in me and everything, don't worry. But Jennifer, I need you to take care of Gus until the girls get here."



"Of course. They must be so worried."



"Well, actually, I haven't called them… yet."



"Oh god," she ran her hand over her face. "Okay, I'm gonna call them, you go to your room," she pointed at Brian. "And you, young man, will have some explaining to do when I get back," she looked at Justin.



"I know, mom, I know."



"Good luck," Brian mouthed at him, holding back his laughter.



Justin scowled at him but couldn't help but smile.



"Gus, be nice to your grandma, okay?"



"Okay, Dad," he promised.



"Thanks, sonny boy," Brian smiled at him and went to hug him. He then walked over to Justin's bed. "Try not to miss me too much," he rolled his lips in.



"I will do my very best," Justin chuckled.



"Good," Brian gave him a loving kiss. "See you later."



"Later," Justin smiled. "I love you."



"I love you too," after Brian kissed him one last time he left the room but he couldn't help but look back at him one more time before the door closed.



---



Lying in bed, Justin was staring at the ceiling, still unable to believe what had happened... it was like a dream. Well, nightmare was probably a better word for that situation. But he was so relieved that Brian and Gus were okay. He didn't even want to imagine that something would happen to them. He can survive the pain he's going through right now, but losing one of them... he wouldn't survive that.



"Lindsay and Melanie are on their way, they should be here in a few hours," Jennifer said when she returned with Gus.



"Were they angry?"



"Why would they be angry? If anything, they were just happy that their son-" Jennifer paused as she looked at Gus, "-is alive. That you all are."



"Yeah, I know," Justin nodded, looking at the boy. "But could you please go check on Brian and make sure he hasn't left and is actually in bed?" he chuckled.



"Oh, don't you worry, I'll tie him to the bed if I have to and kick his ass so he won't even think of leaving."



Justin laughed out loud. "Thanks, Mom."



"Sure, honey. Gus, I'll be right back, okay? So don't go anywhere."



"Don't worry mom, I'll keep an eye on him."



"No offense Uncle Justin, but I think I should be the one keeping an eye on you."



Justin opened his mouth in disbelief, but realized he was probably right, "Okay, fine, that's fair," he laughed.



Jennifer then left the room and even though Justin felt really exhausted and all he wanted to do was sleep and not think about the pain he was in, he did what he could to take Gus's mind off of what he had been through. He may have been really brave for his age, but he was still just a kid. So they just talked and laughed and made crazy plans. And it honestly distracted Justin as much as Gus.



"What's taking your grandma so long?" Justin looked at the clock and realized that she had been gone for quite some time.



"I guess she's kicking his ass," Gus chuckled.



"Yeah, I bet she is," Justin laughed. "Your dad is really something."



Justin tried to stay calm, he didn't even think he had a reason to be nervous, but he couldn't help but watch the clock anxiously. So when the door finally opened, he felt like he could breathe again.



"Oh there you are, I was getting worried. Was he hiding or something?" he chuckled, but then he noticed how pale his mother was and immediately felt his heart speed up. "Mom?" he breathed out nervously.



She didn't answer and instead looked at Gus. "Gus, could you go outside for a moment?"



"Why?" he frowned.



"Just go buy something from the vending machine, okay? Here's some money."


"Oh, thanks, Grandma!" he was immediately excited and ran out of the room. Jennifer closed the door behind him and turned to Justin, barely holding back tears.



"Mom, you're scaring the shit out of me. What the hell is going on? Did something happen to Brian?"



It was obvious she couldn't find the words, which scared Justin even more, but nothing could have prepared him for what she was about to tell him.



"Yeah, something happened," she finally said.



"What, mom?" he urged her to speak. "Is he alright?"



"No Justin, he's not… um, Brian… honey, Brian's gone…." she said in a shaky voice.



Justin was in complete shock, just staring at his mother, trying to understand what she just told him, but all he could do was laugh. "What are you talking about? Brian's fine… he was just here," he shook his head, clearly not believing her.



"No, Justin," she stepped closer to his bed. "I was just walking to his room, but the doctors were already there, trying to save him, but honey, he didn't make it. He had a heart attack and he died, Justin."



"What? No!"



"I know this is hard, but..."



"No-no-no!" he yelled in her face, shaking his head again. "He's fine. And I'm gonna prove it to you," he tried to get up, but he was too weak.



"Justin, honey, I'm really sorry, but he's gone," Jennifer couldn't hold back her tears.



"Stop saying that!" he shouted. "It's not true, so just stop!"



"Justin, I'm sorry, but Brian's dead."



"No... no, he's not!"



"Justin... please..."



"NO!"



As much as he didn't want to believe it, he could feel his heart breaking into a million pieces and it felt like he was dying too… and then he started crying while he desperately called out Brian's name...
Chapter 13 by Taylor-Kinney
Author's Notes:
Yeah, this has taken me a long time, but we finally have a new chapter! Yay! And we only have a few more to go, so bear with me... hopefully it won't take me another year to finish it.
-

(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)



"Brian died that night and I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye," Justin wiped his tears and looked out the window. "I still wonder what he must have felt, if he was scared... what he was thinking right before he died... I just can't get it out of my head and I wish I was there with him so he wouldn't be alone and to tell him I'll find him again when my time comes. God, there are so many things I want to tell him... especially how much I love him and how sorry I am..."



"Sorry for what, Justin?" Dr. Brown asked, making Justin furrow his brows as if he didn't understand why she had to ask the obvious. "Tell me."



"For being the reason he's dead," he said a little angrily. "If it wasn't for me… he would still be alive."



"Justin, you already know it was a tragic accident and that no one could have known what was going to happen. Not Daphne, not Brian, not you. And you both forgot to blow out the candles. It could have happened to anyone.… so you really shouldn't blame yourself."



"Candles?" Justin scoffed. "No... this isn't about the damn candles... sure, they're the reason our house burned down, but the reason they were there in the first place was because I was being a fucking idiot, but even if I wasn't... this is about Brian coming back for me. He could have easily gotten out of the house with Gus, but he didn't, instead he came back for me and saved my life. That's why he inhaled so much smoke... he came back for me because he couldn't let me die and he died as a result..."



Once again, Justin's grief began to turn into guilt and self-hatred for what had happened that day. He hated that he was the one who survived and not Brian. It should have been the other way around. It should have been me, Justin thought, his heart sinking.



"Justin, answer me this question. If it was the other way around and Brian had to stay in the bedroom while you went to rescue Gus, would you go back for him, or would you get out of the house with Gus, knowing he would die?"



Justin slightly opened his mouth as he was completely taken aback by her question, but his expression was enough for Dr. Brown to guess what his answer was.



"Then why do you hate yourself so much when you know you would do the same thing he did?"



"Because he's dead," Justin replied, his voice breaking. "You think I don't know that? That I don't tell myself every day that I'd do the same thing he did? I know I would. I wouldn't hesitate for a single second. I would do anything to save him. But you know what? It doesn't matter, because he's dead and I'm still here... and nothing, nothing in the world can change that."



"You're right, nothing can change that. But I'm sure you wouldn't want Brian to feel the way you feel if it was you who died and not him."



"Of course I wouldn't want that," Justin said immediately. "I wouldn't want him to feel guilty... if anything, I'd want him to move on and be happy, but honestly? I knew him too well to know that he would probably feel even worse than I do. He'd hate life without me. And he'd definitely blame himself. And it hurts my soul to know that," he paused, chewing his lip nervously. "But I just don't know what to do. I wanna feel normal again. But he was a really huge part of my life and I can't just erase that... when I first met him I was just a naive kid who didn't know shit about anything... and he helped me become the man I am today, and when I think back to the best moments of my life, he's in every single memory, he was just everything to me... and it's only been three years since I lost him, and I can't just move on... and I probably never will."



"It's okay to feel this way, Justin. You're grieving and you have every right not to be ready to move on. You've lost the love of your life and there's no cure to help you deal with it. It's a long, hard process. But I'm here to help you through it. No matter how long it takes. And you have family and people who are also ready to help you however they can. And the most important thing is that you want that help. You want to face that pain, and that's a big step."



"Yeah." Justin sighed softly. "I'm just scared. That no matter how hard I try, I'll always feel like this. But I don't want to give up, I want to fight and start living again. I owe it to the people around me, I owe it to him, and I owe it to myself."



"That's good," the doctor smiled. "But until you believe that Brian's death wasn't your fault, you won't be able to fully heal."



"I know," Justin sighed again. "So what do I do?" he looked at her desperately.



"You said there were a lot of things you wanted to tell him."



"Yeah, but I can't."



"Maybe not in the way you'd like, but there's always a way."



"What?" Justin furrowed his brows in confusion.



"I want you to write a letter."



"A letter?" Justin asked to make sure he heard correctly.



"Yes, a letter," the doctor nodded. "I want you to write in it everything you want Brian to know. And I want you to bring the letter to our next session."



Justin didn't know what to think, but at this point he was willing to try anything. So he agreed and then headed home. He couldn't believe what had just happened. He had just spent an hour telling every little detail of the worst day of his life. And he felt sad, angry and relieved all at the same time. But he knew that he had just taken a big step that was just the beginning, and as scary as what lay ahead seemed, he wanted to face it.



And on the way home, he decided it was time to take one more step today. He'd been avoiding it for a really long time, but avoidance never helped anything. He knew that now.



"Oh, my God, Justin." Jennifer gasped, completely taken aback when she opened the door.



"Hi, Mom." Justin smiled, but the shame was palpable on his face.



Jennifer just stared at her son, unable to believe her eyes, which were slowly filling with tears. "What are you doing here?" She finally asked.



"I've been in Pittsburgh for a few weeks now... and I know I should have come sooner... much sooner, but..." Justin's voice broke.



"No, no... the important thing is that you're here now." Jennifer couldn't control herself anymore and pulled Justin into her arms.



For a moment he just stood still, trying to process everything, and then he finally put his arms tightly around his mother and immediately felt a rush of happiness and joy.



After a while they went into the house and sat down with a cup of tea. But neither of them knew where to start.



"You're so different," Jennifer smiled. "So grown up. God, I've missed you so much."



"Mom," Justin began uncertainly. "I came here because I want to apologize for the way I acted... and for disappearing from your life..."



"Justin, honey, please don't apologize. What you went through was horrible and I don't want you to think for one second that I'm angry with you, okay? You don't know how many times I wanted to call you, but I knew you needed time, and when the time was right, you would come... and look, you're here," she reached out to him with a smile and stroked his hair.



"I know, but I need to say this... when I lost Brian, everything went black and I mean everything, and I just didn't know how to function anymore... and you reminded me of the worst moment of my life, because every time I looked at you, I heard those words over and over again... I heard you say that Brian died... and I just couldn't listen to it anymore... so I cut you off because I didn't want to relive that moment when my world fell apart every time I was around you... but I realize that I must have hurt you a lot, and I want you to know that I'm really sorry," tears started streaming down his face.


"Oh, honey." Jennifer reached out and hugged him. "You did what you had to do. I only lost you for a little while, you lost Brian forever... so you had every right to grieve the way you needed to. Even if it meant cutting me off. I could never be mad at you for that."



Justin hugged Jennifer even tighter, just like he did when he was a little boy every time he got hurt, because he knew she was the only one who could comfort him.



"Where are you staying? With Debbie?"



"No, I'm staying with Michael and Ben. Michael is actually the reason I'm in Pittsburgh... he was very persistent and didn't give up until I agreed to come," Justin smiled.



"He's a good friend."



"Yeah, annoying, but good," he chuckled.



Jennifer smiled before taking a deep breath. "I visited Brian's grave... on the anniversary of his death."



"You did?"



"Yes, I brought him flowers. I do it every year."



Justin bit his lip, trying to stop the tears. "I didn't last two minutes at his grave, we all went there, but I just couldn't face it, so I left like a coward... and the worst part is that I didn't even think to tell you to come with us."



"Justin," Jennifer grabbed his hand. "Stop blaming yourself so much. You need to heal, not be angry about everything all the time."



"Yeah, I know," he sighed. "That's why I'm in therapy."



"Really?"



"Yeah. Today was the first time I was able to tell what happened that day... I've never said it out loud to anyone. With all the details. It was so scary... but liberating at the same time."



"I'm really proud of you, Justin. It must have been hard to keep it to yourself all those years."



"Yeah, but I still can't shake the feeling that it was my fault... I can't stop thinking about it, I keep replaying in my head that if he hadn't come back for me, he'd be alive right now..."



"Justin, don't say that. If he hadn't come back for you, you wouldn't be sitting here right now and it would be Brian who would be absolutely devastated. I know I don't even remotely understand how you feel, and I know you would give anything to get Brian back, I would give anything too, because believe me, I miss him every day, but Brian saved you because he loved you. And that's nobody's fault. He gave you a second chance at life, so don't throw it away."



Justin was used to people telling him that it wasn't his fault, and while there were times when he really tried to believe it, he never did, but hearing those words from his mother had a completely different effect on him for some reason.



He spent a few more hours with her, making up for lost time, and when it was time to head to Michael and Ben's house, he promised to visit her again soon. He never wanted to hurt his mother like that again. But he also knew that if he didn't want to hurt the people around him anymore, he had to stop hurting himself first.



"Justin!" Michael immediately got up from the couch to make sure he was okay. "We were worried about you."



"I'm fine, Michael."



"Where have you been?"



"I was with Dr. Brown. And with my mom," he smiled.



"Really?" Michael was obviously surprised and proud.



"Yeah."



"And how did it go?"



"Fine and fine."



"I'd like details!"



"Not today, I'm tired. We'll talk tomorrow, okay?"



"I'll grit my teeth and try not to go crazy with my thoughts," he replied with a laugh.



"Thanks," Justin laughed as well and headed upstairs.



He quickly took off his clothes and crawled into bed. He was exhausted after today and all he wanted and needed was a good night's sleep.



"Hey," a very familiar voice whispered.



"Oh shit!" Justin rolled off the bed in shock and immediately heard Brian's loud laughter. "I hope you're having a good time!"



"I always have a good time, Sunshine. Especially when you're falling on your ass."



Justin frowned, but couldn't resist a smile. "What are you doing here?"



"I'm pretty sure you wanted to see me."



"I wanted to sleep."



"And yet here I am!"



"I'm really tired, Brian." Justin climbed back into bed and lay down with his back to Brian.



"All right then, I'll let you sleep."



"No!" Justin turned quickly to him. "Don't leave. Not yet. I'm not ready."



"But eventually you will be," Brian smiled sadly.



"Yeah, eventually... but I just need more time with you..."



"Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere, not until you want me to."



"Good," Justin smiled and snuggled closed to him. And then, with a peaceful smile, he fell asleep.



Maybe he wasn't ready now, but he knew that eventually the right moment would come when he would be able to let Brian go, which was more than he had thought just a few hours ago, and Justin was taking it as a really good start... sad, but good.

-
Chapter 14 by Taylor-Kinney
(Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 26, 2013 - past)



Justin was lying in the hospital bed, completely numb, with dried tears on his cheeks. He wasn't even crying anymore. He just didn't have the strength to do so and was barely aware of what had just happened. All he could do was stare into space. He could hear voices, but they seemed so distant, he simply couldn't pinpoint who the voices belonged to, but he could tell that they were all filled with sadness, pain, and utter devastation, desperately trying to understand that they had just lost a loved one. That they had just lost Brian.



"What the hell happened?" Michael asked tearfully, trying to take in the fact that his best friend, who he thought of as a brother, was dead. "He can't be gone," he sobbed and was completely heartbroken.



"Michael," Ben grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him into a tight hug.



"Jennifer, you were here, what... what exactly happened? Because I really don't understand," Debbie asked through her tears, trying to keep it together.



"Um, when... when I arrived, Brian seemed fine, Justin obviously seemed much worse, but they wanted to keep Brian overnight because they didn't like his coughing, they wanted to run some tests to make sure everything was fine... but when I went to his room to make sure he was really there, I could already see the doctors running to him.... I immediately ran too... and I watched them try to save him for what seemed like forever, but... it was too late," she paused, still shaking from what she had witnessed. "They said he had a heart attack from inhaling too much smoke, his heart just couldn't take it, they said it happens, everything seems fine one minute and the next..."



"If they know it's something that happens, why the hell didn't they do the tests right away?" Michael asked angrily.



"Brian didn't want to." Jennifer tried to keep her voice low, knowing Justin would blame himself. "He wanted to make sure Justin was okay first. But even if they had done them immediately, it probably wouldn't have made any difference, his heart was just in a really bad shape..."



"Oh my God." Lindsay put her hand over her mouth and quickly ran to the bathroom, immediately throwing up.



Emmett and Ted immediately followed to comfort her, although they were completely devastated and unable to process the situation themselves. Melanie, meanwhile, stayed in the hallway with Gus, not wanting him to hear any of it, he still didn't even know his dad wasn't coming back, and no one knew how to tell him... so the last thing he needed right now was to see how devastated everyone was. Even though Melanie herself was struggling to hold back tears.



"Are you okay?" Debbie asked when Lindsay returned from the bathroom with the guys.



"No... I'm not, not even a little bit. My son could have... and Brian... he... I just don't understand what the hell happened... because... oh, my God." Lindsay broke down in tears again, she simply couldn't find the words, no one could.



Brian meant so much to everyone that there was no doubt that his loss would change them forever.



"I'd like to see him," Justin spoke suddenly, his voice almost inaudible and weak, but that didn't change what he wanted... and needed.



They all immediately fell silent and exchanged glances, no one sure exactly what Justin wanted, even though deep down they knew it. And it scared them.



"Justin," Jennifer breathed. "You want to, uh..." she couldn't even say it.



"I want to see him. I want to see his body." Justin finally turned his gaze to them, a gaze that was full of pain, yet determined.



"But Justin, that... that's probably not a good idea."



"Don't fucking tell me what's a good idea," he snapped at Jennifer, who was taken aback but understood. "I need to see him."



"Honey, I know this is hard, but maybe you should..." Debbie said and stepped closer to his bed. "I just think..."



"Deb, I don't care what you think... I just want to see Brian. And either you help me or I'll do it myself."



"I'll get the doctor," Jennifer said and left the room.



After a while, she returned with Justin's doctor and Justin explained his request. She wasn't surprised at all, she was used to this, the family of the deceased always wanted to see their loved one one more time and say goodbye. So she agreed despite Justin's condition, knowing he needed it.



"I'll be back in fifteen minutes," the doctor said and left.



"Thank you." Justin replied weakly, turning his head to look out the window.



And no one dared say a word, they just waited quietly with Justin for the doctor to come back while they worried about what seeing Brian's body might do to him. They just wanted what was best for him, but they had to respect Justin's wishes no matter how scary it was.



"Are you ready?" The doctor asked when she returned.



Justin didn't say anything for a moment, almost as if considering whether this was a good idea after all, but knowing what he needed, he finally said, "Yes, I am."



"Okay."



She then helped him into the wheelchair and Justin really had to fight the pain he was in, but he was determined to see Brian no matter what. The others decided to wait in the room because they knew it was something Justin had to do alone.



All the way there - wherever that was, though Justin had a pretty good idea - was excruciating. Not because of the pain, though it made him bite his lip, but because he was scared to death. A few times he almost yelled at her to stop and take him back to his room. His heart was just racing. And he didn't know if he could do it. To see him like that. But not seeing him somehow sounded even worse.



They took the elevator all the way down and he could tell it was a completely different part of the hospital. So quiet and cold. And the smell was different, too. Suddenly he felt sick to his stomach. This was where Brian was? All alone?



"We're here," the doctor said as she stopped in front of the white door.



"Is this the morgue?" Justin hated to even ask.



"No, I mean the morgue is located on this floor, but we've put Mr. Kinney in a private room so you can spend some time with him and say goodbye."



"Oh." Justin didn't even know how to feel about it, it all still seemed unreal to him.



"Or did you change your mind?" she asked when she saw Justin's face.



"No," Justin said quickly. "I want to see him. I'm just... scared. But I want to do it. Please."



"Okay then," she gave him a smile.



She went to open the door and Justin felt panic rising in him. But there was no turning back. Because within seconds the room opened and he saw it. The table Brian was lying on. He was completely covered, but still... it was him. His Brian.



The doctor then wheeled him to the table, and Justin suddenly felt really doubtful. He knew that the moment he saw him, his whole world would change. But that had already happened anyway, so...



"Are you ready?" The doctor asked.



"I don't know." Justin said, his voice shaking. "I'm afraid that the moment I see him, it'll become real. I have this feeling inside me that he's just going to show up and be okay, but... that's not going to happen," he took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a second before he said, "Okay, just do it."



She nodded and Justin held his breath, waiting for her to pull down the white sheet and reveal Brian's body, and when she did, he immediately gasped and knew he would never get this image out of his head. "Oh my God," he breathed out.



"I'll give you some privacy."



Justin waited until the door closed behind her and grabbed Brian's hand. He was immediately shocked by how cold he was. He hadn't expected him to be so cold. It was just heartbreaking. And all he wanted to do was to make him warm.



"Brian," Justin whimpered and started stroking his hair. "I need you... I can't be without you... I don't know how to be without you," he sobbed.



Tears began to roll down his cheeks as he desperately stroked Brian's hand. He knew Brian was no longer there, that it was just his body, he was aware of the harsh reality, he could think rationally... but none of that could change how much he wished Brian would open his eyes, and the sadness clouded his mind completely, so he was willing to wait quietly for a miracle that could never come...



"Brian, please... please... please come back to me," he cried desperately, barely able to see through his tears. "I love you so much, please... come back... we have to be together... we're supposed to spend our lives together..."



No matter how much Justin begged and how devastated he was, nothing could change the fact that Brian was dead. He then pressed his head against Brian's chest and just cried silently. He was completely broken, as was his heart and soul.



"I'm so sorry," he sobbed softly.



----



(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)



Justin awoke screaming from the nightmare that was actually a memory he had been trying to suppress all these years. He could feel his body covered in sweat and shaking. He could never regret his decision to see Brian one last time, but he knew full well that seeing him like that, seeing his body... that was what had left the biggest mark on him. An image he would never be able to get out of his head.



"Justin, are you okay?" Michael rushed into his room, absolutely terrified.



"Sorry, Mikey, I'm fine... it was just a nightmare... I didn't mean to scare you."



"God." Michael clutched his chest. "That must have been one hell of a nightmare."



"Well, it was more of a memory."



"A memory?"



"Yeah," Justin sighed.



Michael sat down on his bed. "Which one?"



"The one when I saw his body..."



"Oh."



"Yeah," Justin looked down.



"Have you ever regretted it?" Mike asked after a moment.



"I could never regret it because I really needed to see him, I couldn't just walk away as if he never existed... but I'll never be able to forget how awful it was to see him lying there and begging him to wake up."



"I remember when the doctor brought you back... you looked like a body without a soul... and for the next few days you hardly said anything..."



"I don't even remember that."



"Yeah, it was like you weren't even there... plus they kept giving you painkillers that made you pretty tired, so you slept most of the time, which was probably a good thing..." he smiled sadly.



Justin could feel his eyes watering. "I really don't know what I would have done if it hadn't been for you and Ben..."



"Justin," Michael breathed out.



"It's true, if you hadn't taken me in and been there for me every day and tried to make my life as good as possible... I probably never would have gotten out of bed. Whenever I had a nightmare and woke up screaming... when I needed help to the bathroom... even help getting dressed... you cooked for me... you did everything for me. And I didn't even thank you for it, instead I ran away to New York..."



"You needed to get out of here, everything here reminded you of him."



"Yeah, but maybe that was the problem, maybe if I had faced it then instead of running away, things would have been different today... I don't even have anything that belonged to him... just the bracelet..."



"Wait here," Michael said suddenly and left the room.



Justin was confused and waited for Mikey to return and when he did, he was holding a box which he then placed on the bed in front of Justin.



"What is it?"



"Everything I was able to salvage from your house... I went there a few days after the fire," he explained.



"What?" Justin let out a breath, completely taken aback.



"I wanted to give it to you a long time ago, but I knew you weren't ready, but... something tells me you're ready now."



Justin's heart raced, he never thought he'd see anything that belonged to Brian, that belonged to both of them, ever again, he thought he'd lost it all in that fire... so the fact that a small part of it was in this box really meant a lot to him.



Justin then opened it and began to look at everything carefully. Mostly it was just little things, but there were three things that immediately had his attention.



The first one was a photo of them together, the glass of the frame was shattered, but it didn't matter, only what was underneath was important. It was their wedding photo, they looked so happy in it... and they really were.



"I thought I'd never see it again," Justin smiled through the tears.



Next up was Brian's black shirt, one of many, but undeniably still smelling like him. It seemed impossible considering everything the shirt had been through and how long it had been since the fire, but Justin would recognize his scent anywhere. He immediately pressed it to his face and inhaled the scent for several long seconds.



And then he looked at the third and most unexpected thing - a drawing Justin had done at the very beginning of their relationship, a drawing he'd thought until this moment had been bought by a stranger. A drawing of Brian naked.



"He was the one who bought it?" Justin asked in surprise.



"Yeah, I didn't know either, Brian's little secret I guess," Michael chuckled.



"We'd only known each other for a few weeks and I already meant something to him."



"And you ended up meaning everything to him."



Justin smiled and pressed the drawing, the shirt, and their wedding photo to his chest. It was such a strange feeling, for the first time in a really long time he was able to feel something other than anger, sadness and pain... he was able to feel joy. Indescribable joy.
Chapter 15 by Taylor-Kinney
(Pittsburgh, July 2016 - present)



Justin nervously paced outside Dr. Brown's office, clutching a piece of paper tightly in his hand. It was the letter she had assigned him to write. A letter to Brian. He'd basically spent the entire night writing it because every time he wrote something, he felt like it wasn't good enough and started all over again. It wasn't that he didn't know what to say, he just didn't know what words to use. He just... he wanted it to be perfect. He wanted to tell Brian everything and more. Everything he hadn't had a chance to tell him in person. And he tried really hard to ignore the part where it sounded absolutely ridiculous to him because... because Brian was dead and he couldn't actually tell him all the things he'd written in the letter, but he decided to trust Dr. Brown and hope that this would actually help him. He'd already made a lot of progress, but he still wasn't quite where he wanted to be. But this letter could change that. And Justin really hoped it would.



"Justin," Dr. Brown was surprised to see him when she arrived. "Um, am I late or are you early?" She chuckled quietly.



"The latter," he smiled apologetically. "I guess I'm a bit early."



"Yeah, like 25 minutes early," she said as she looked at her watch. "I haven't even opened the office yet."



"I can wait, it's not a big deal," he replied quickly. "I just... I've spent the entire night writing this letter and I really feel like I'm about to lose my damn mind any second, so..."



She gave him a look of understanding and sympathy, then smiled and said, "Just give me five minutes."



"Thank you so much." He couldn't even describe how grateful he was to her.



He then sat down in the waiting room and tapped his foot nervously, preparing himself for what was to come, even though he didn't even know what it was yet. He was just guessing. And when Dr. Brown finally opened the door, he felt his heart drop, but he walked in determinedly.



He automatically went to sit down in the chair he had hated so much at first, but he had gotten so used to it over the last few meetings that it almost felt like the safest place in the world.



"So tell me how you feel, Justin," she began.



Justin swallowed nervously, his palms sweating. "Uh... like a big mess. I mean, I don't know what this letter is supposed to do, if anything at all, but I know it just scares the shit out of me. Sorry," he smiled apologetically.



"These are perfectly normal feelings."



"I guess," he shrugged. "So what am I supposed to do with this?" He asked looking at the letter.



"Read it. Tell Brian everything that's in the letter."



"How?" Justin sounded slightly amused. "He's not... here." He stated the obvious.



She gave him a slight smile and rose from her chair. "Imagine him sitting right here, looking at you and listening to everything you are saying... it's time to let go of that burden you've been carrying in your heart ever since he died... so just tell him everything you want."



Justin still wasn't quite convinced, I mean, was he really supposed to tell everything he felt to an empty chair? Wasn't that something that people were locked up in mental institutions for? But on the other hand, he had nothing to lose, so he might as well give it a chance.



He just really wanted to get rid of the pain, the guilt, the anger... and even though he knew one letter probably wouldn't solve it all, he wanted to believe it would help him get on the right track.



"Okay then," Justin smiled, visibly nervous.



The doctor went to stand aside and nodded for him to begin, but it was obvious he was uncomfortable, looking at her out of the corner of his eye. "Just forget I'm here, okay? It's just you and him... no one else."



Justin exhaled heavily and closed his eyes for a moment, gathering the courage to begin. When he opened them again, he sat up straight and looked at the chair.



He'd be lying if he said he didn't feel stupid, but on the other hand, how many times in those three years had he talked to Brian, seen him, felt him? So many times he couldn't even count. But this was different... scary... everything he was about to say had been in his mind for so long that saying it out loud felt surreal.



But he knew there was no point in delaying it any longer, so he finally opened the letter.



"Brian," he said in almost a whisper, and he could already feel his heart starting to beat faster. "From the first day I met you, I knew I would love you until my last breath. I always thought I'd be the first to go, that when my time came, you'd be the one to hold me tight, and I hoped your face would be the last thing I'd see... because your face is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."



Justin closed his eyes and suddenly saw Brian's face, it was like a movie playing in his head, he had to smile, and when he opened his eyes again, Brian was suddenly sitting in the chair with that damn smile of his that always took Justin's breath away, looking beautiful as always.



"But plans don't always go as we wish... of course you had to beat me to it." Justin chuckled softly through the tears that had started flowing a moment ago, trying to relax a little. "Of course you had to go first. And not only that, you went too soon. And I hate that so much. Because we had so much ahead of us, so many plans, so many things we wanted to try and experience... we were supposed to grow old together..." Justin said, looking directly into Brian's eyes, who was obviously hurting as well. "But most of all, I hate that I wasn't there with you in your last moments... I should have been there to hold your hand, to tell you I'd be okay, to make sure you weren't scared... and I'm sorry I wasn't there for you... I'm so sorry, Brian..." Justin sobbed loudly, wiping his tears away with his sleeve.



Then he suddenly realized he didn't even need the letter, so he set it aside before looking back at Brian and continuing. He just wanted to speak straight from the heart.



"Every day I think of the last days we were together, how badly I acted while you did everything you could to take care of me... you loved me so much that you tolerated all my bad moods. You were even willing to give up your position at Kinnetik for me just so we could be together more and I know how much Kinnetik meant to you, how much you worked for it, and yet you were willing to give it up to be with me... God." Justin breathed heavily. "And all it took was one night that took everything away from us. And it's my fault. If I hadn't been an idiot, none of this would have had to happen... if I hadn't broken my leg, I could have walked out of that house by myself and you wouldn't have had a reason to go back in... if I hadn't forgotten about the candles, you'd still be here.... so many 'ifs'," he whispered.



Justin looked down, his tears finally somewhat under control, then he took a deep breath, feeling ready to say the most important part.



"Or maybe it was all meant to be... maybe the "what if" doesn't matter, because fate is something neither of us could control... and even though I will forever hate that it happened, I must finally forgive myself... I have to figure out how to do that, not just for me, but for you, because I know you lost your life so I could live... and you wouldn't want me to throw it away... I want to live the life you gave me as best I can... for you... and most of all, thanks to you, because without you, I wouldn't be the person I am today, and for that, I'll be grateful for the rest of my life..."



Brian smiled just as he would have if he were actually sitting there. He was proud of Justin, his Sunshine.



"I don't want to remember the bad things... I want to remember us happy, in love, crazy, having sex in the weirdest places," Justin laughed out loud. "I want to be able to think of you and have a smile on my lips instead of tears in my eyes and know that we had the best years of our lives together and that's something no one can ever take away from us... because it's hidden in my heart," Justin put his hand on his chest. "I will never stop loving you and I can't wait to see you again when my time comes."



What Justin suddenly felt was an overwhelming relief, he felt like he could finally breathe again, like a huge weight that had been holding him in place and unable to move had been lifted from his chest.



"So how are you feeling?" The doctor asked as she sat back down.



"Uh, good... really good," Justin smiled. "I know this is just the beginning, but... just a few weeks ago I thought I'd never be able to do something like this..."



"You just needed time to face it. Grief is something that can't be rushed, but you're making huge progress. You should be really proud of yourself... and Brian would be, too."



Justin nodded with a smile, knowing full well that wherever Brian was right now, he was proudly looking at him and smiling.



"I know," he said.



When Justin finally left her office, he felt like a completely different person. He was aware that it was only a momentary euphoria, he had always been a realist, sometimes naive, but a realist, and he knew that there would be times when he would still feel miserable, but he also knew that he didn't want to be controlled by it anymore because he finally had that power in his hands.



He was originally headed back to Mikey and Ben's place, but changed direction halfway there, realizing it was finally time to visit a place he'd avoided for far too long. He was still scared shitless, but he was more prepared than ever.



He could feel his heart pounding like never before and his body shaking, but he didn't stop until he was facing Brian's grave. And he felt immense relief that this time his primal instinct was not to run away. Instead, he walked even closer and sat down on the grass. He just stared at the stone for a while, carefully reading each word, letter by letter... trying to get used to the fact that Brian was here now. It was still scary and painful, but suddenly somehow comforting at the same time, because there was a place Justin could go when he wanted to be near Brian... he hadn't been able to feel that way until now.



"Hey, Sunshine," he suddenly heard a very familiar voice behind him.



"Christ!" he yelled, clutching his chest. "This isn't funny!" He ripped out the grass and threw it at a laughing Brian. "You do realize this is a cemetery, right?"



"Don't tell me you're afraid of ghosts, Sunshine?" Brian asked mockingly.



"No," he was not at all convincing. "Stop laughing!"



"I haven't laughed this hard since I died, so let me enjoy it."



Justin looked at him sadly, the words gave him a chill, but the next moment he realized that if the real Brian were really here, that's exactly what his words would have been, so he finally couldn't resist laughing himself.



"I can't believe I'm laughing with you in a cemetery... I mean, isn't that disrespectful?" Justin asked quietly.



"Probably." Brian shrugged. "But I couldn't care less because I'm dead and no one can see me... you, on the other hand, probably look like a crazy person." Brian rolled his lips in, smiling.



"Thank you very much." Justin frowned.



"Like a hot crazy person." Brian added. "We've never fucked in a cemetery, huh?"



"Brian!" Justin laughed out loud.



"What?" Brian tried to look innocent. "I'm allowed to have weird fantasies."



"Not that weird!" Justin laughed again.



"And yet you'd beg me to fuck you harder." Brian smiled knowingly.



Justin rolled his eyes and looked back at his grave. They were both silent for a moment, then Brian sat down on the grass behind him and pressed himself against his back, his chin resting on Justin's shoulder. "Are you here to say goodbye to me?" He asked softly.



Justin didn't say anything, instead his lips began to quiver, but he really tried not to cry, but it was useless because soon a tear rolled down his cheek.



"It's okay, Sunshine, don't cry. I knew this day would come and I'm ready for it." He stroked his hair.



"I really don't want to do it, but I feel like if I don't do it now, I never will."



"Now is the right time, otherwise you wouldn't be here..."



"Yeah, but it's so damn hard," despite Justin's best efforts, more tears began to stream down his face.



"I know," Brian breathed. "Thank you for everything you said in that office. And remember, I'll never stop loving you either, and I'll wait patiently for the day we meet again."



"Who would have thought - a guy who couldn't even remember my name and didn't believe in love turned into a man who will love me forever," Justin smiled teasingly.



"What can I say? You changed me."



"And you changed me."



Brian chuckled softly. "I'm really glad that fate is something we can't control, because it's the reason I found you... and it was the best thing that ever happened to me, Justin."



Justin smiled, almost unable to see through the tears. "Thank you, Brian... thank you for saving my life."



"And I would do it again in a heartbeat, no one and nothing would stop me." Brian ran his fingers through Justin's hair. "Your job now is to live the most beautiful life possible. And I don't want you to be alone, Justin..."



"Brian." Justin breathed, closing his eyes for a second.



"When you're ready, and I know you will be eventually, let someone love you... you have your whole life ahead of you and you deserve to experience at least one more love. And I don't want you to feel guilty about it."



"Please. Let's just not talk about it now..."



"Okay," Brian smiled with a nod. "And what do you want to talk about before you dump me?" He chuckled.



"Hey, don't say that, I'd never do that." Justin said quickly. "How about we don't talk for a while? Let's just be here together and enjoy each other's company."



"We can do that for as long as you want, Sunshine." Brian kissed him on the temple.



Justin smiled and snuggled even closer to Brian. Brian held him close to his chest and Justin could feel his heart beating, it was so strange, he knew his heart had stopped beating a long time ago, but despite that it felt so real. They didn't say a word the entire time and they didn't even have to because they knew exactly what the other was thinking like they always did. Justin was so comfortable that he almost forgot why he'd come here in the first place. He just didn't want it to end, he wanted to sit there on that grass with him forever and know that he didn't have to wake up another morning without him beside him.



But that simply wasn't possible.



"Brian?" He whispered.



"Yeah?"



"I think it's time," he said in a shaky voice.



A soft sigh immediately left Brian's lips. "I know. It's time for me to go."



"I'm scared." Justin admitted.



"Don't worry, Sunshine, I'll never be completely gone, I'll be right here in your heart." Brian put his hand on his chest. "And remember - it's only a matter of time before we see each other again."



Justin smiled and his eyes filled with tears again. But Brian was right. It really was just time. No matter how long it took, they would find each other again eventually.



"But promise me something." Brian said.



"Anything."



"Just... take care of Mikey and Gus for me, okay? And tell Gus his daddy loves him so much."



Justin bit his lip and nodded. "I promise."



Brian smiled and wiped away Justin's tears with his thumb. "Okay, I'm ready."



Justin took a deep breath and gave Brian one last loving look, then closed his eyes with the words: "Goodbye, Brian."



When he opened them again, Brian was gone, but not from Justin's heart, because he would stay there forever.

-
End Notes:
Good news, the next chapter will be the last! So let's just pray I don't take f*cking forever to write it (fingers crossed)! :D
Chapter 16 by Taylor-Kinney
(Pittsburgh, October 2016 - present)



Justin was packing up the last of his things from his apartment. It felt so strange, he really thought it would be harder to leave, after all he had spent quite some time of his life here, it was the place he had tried to put himself back together after Brian's death, but the truth was he couldn't wait to get out of here, and not just out of this apartment, but out of New York in general. He was looking forward to going back home. He was so excited to go back home to the people who meant the most to him in this entire world.



He rented a loft in Pittsburgh that was very similar to Brian's, but had Justin's style. Something Brian would definitely appreciate, he thought with a smile. And Lindsay had gotten him a job at the art gallery through a friend, and if that didn't work out, there was always the diner that would certainly welcome a busboy. But he wasn't going to give up art at any cost, he might not be painting in the big city, but that was okay, he'd find a way to get where he wanted to go. He was ready to do whatever it took to make Brian proud. But he also wanted to be proud of himself. He wanted to be happy and live the best life possible. He owed it to Brian and most of all to himself.



He looked around the apartment once more, then closed the door behind him and handed the keys to the owner. It was such a liberating feeling. He was finally doing something big with his life, finally daring to take the next step and head into a new future - without Brian. He was terrified, but excited at the same time.



When he was finally settled in the plane and enjoying the magnificent view while counting down every minute that separated him from landing in Pittsburgh, someone suddenly spoke to him, "Justin?" He immediately looked up in confusion and was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar face.



"Oh my God, Rachel, right?"



"Yes. Wow... how long has it been?"



"Too long." Justin smiled.



She immediately smiled back. "Well, it's really nice to see you. Are you visiting again or...?"



"No," he cleared his throat. "I'm actually moving back to Pittsburgh." Just saying that made Justin even more excited.



"Oh, wow, that's great. I'm guessing it has something to do with that mysterious person who called you a genius?" she giggled.



"I cannot believe you remember that." Justin laughed.



"Of course I remember. I'm a flight attendant, people tell me things all the time and I like to remember the good stuff. So?" Rachel insisted.



Justin chuckled softly. "Well, the mysterious man's name is Brian. He's the love of my life."



"Oh, do tell." Rachel smiled excitedly. "Is he hot? I bet he is."



"So hot." Justin grinned. "He was basically the most beautiful man I've ever seen."



"Was?" Rachel breathed out in surprise.



Justin stared into space for a moment and finally spoke, "Yeah, he died. Three years ago."



"Oh, my God, I am so sorry... I shouldn't have made you talk about him. I feel so stupid."



"That's all right. Trust me, I don't mind talking about him anymore. In fact, I really enjoy it. It's almost like he's still here, you know."



She nodded in understanding. "I'm sure he was a very special person."



"Yeah, he was. He was really extraordinary." Justin's familiar sunshine smile appeared on his lips.



"Well, in that case I want to hear all about him. That is, if you don't mind."



"I don't mind at all. But... don't you have like work to do?" He looked around the plane.



"Well, I didn't say it was going to be easy," she responded with a chuckle.



"Oh." Justin giggled.



It hadn't been that long since he felt like he wouldn't be able to talk about Brian with anyone, let alone a complete stranger, but Rachel was the kind of person you felt like you'd known your whole life, even though you'd just met them, so he didn't hold back any details, even the spicy ones.



However, the flight wasn't long enough for him to tell her all about his wonderful life with Brian, so they exchanged phone numbers on landing and promised to meet for coffee as soon as possible.



After going through the whole process at the airport, he went to get a taxi, but to his surprise it turned out he didn't even need one.



"Guess I'm not even surprised," he let out a laugh.



"You didn't think we wouldn't pick you up, did you?" Michael replied with a grin.



"I kind of expected it, but I wasn't sure."



"Well, welcome home, Justin." Michael hugged him tight. "Come on, Ben's waiting in the car."



Michael helped him with his things, and once Justin said hello to Ben, they headed to his new home. There were many unpacked boxes waiting for him that he had had sent ahead, and Michael picked them up for him. He still needed to buy a few things and do some final touches, but it was starting to look really cozy. Emmett had offered to help him, but Justin was still considering whether to let him, after all, he was afraid that things would get out of hand and his apartment would turn pink and crazy.



"So how do you feel now that you're finally here?" Michael asked.



"Uh, strange... happy... excited... and also a little scared, but I'm ready for this new chapter of my life." Justin smiled broadly.



"Well, we're very proud of you for taking this step, Justin." Ben squeezed his shoulder. "And we're here for you whenever you need us."



"Exactly," Michael nodded in agreement. "You can call us day or night."



"Thank you so much, guys." Justin smiled, grateful for all they had done for him. He knew he wouldn't be where he was right now without their tremendous support and help.



"Oh, before I forget." Michael said as they were leaving. "It's a surprise, so you don't know anything, but my mom is expecting us at her house at 7. So we'll pick you up at 6:30."



"Ugh, I guess there's no avoiding it?" Justin made a face, but Michael shook his head, giving him the answer. "I'll try to look surprised then."



"Great." Michael smiled before closing the door behind him.



Justin sighed, he didn't really feel like going anywhere tonight, but he knew his crazy and loving family all too well and there was simply nothing he could do to avoid it, so he just accepted it his fate. But as he suddenly stood alone in the middle of his apartment, hearing nothing but his own breathing and thoughts, his heart actually squeezed at the thought of spending tonight alone, so he was actually pretty glad for whatever they had in store for him.



But right now there was something he needed to do first before anything else. He went to find the box that had 'Brian' written on it and then carefully took out the photo that meant so much to him. He was so sure he would never see it again, but Michael had been saving it for him all this time and gave it to him at just the right moment. Justin just looked at it for a few minutes, a big smile on his lips as he remembered the most beautiful day of his life, the vows they'd said to each other and that beautiful kiss right after they'd said 'I do'. He could feel the tears slowly forming in his eyes, but he fought them back. Of course, he was still heartbroken, but he was slowly healing and that was the most important thing, he could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, something he couldn't say just a few months ago. He then placed the photo on his nightstand, knowing that he would fall asleep and wake up with memories of that beautiful day.



"I really wish you were here," Justin smiled sadly. He finally accepted that Brian was gone, but he would never stop missing him. How could he? There would always be a hole in his heart where Brian used to be, but as time goes on, the pain will fade.



After a moment, he went to pour himself a glass of wine, put on some music, and sat down on the sofa, where he just absorbed the new reality, which frightened and excited him at the same time. He was so ready to put the dark past behind him and just focus on the future, knowing that wherever Brian was, he was smiling at him because he knew he was going to be okay.



As expected, Michael and Ben picked him up at 6:30 sharp and headed to Debbie's house.



"Soo... how big is this welcome party?" Justin asked.



"Not too big... just intimate." Michael replied, not sounding very convincing. "Just please, for the love of God, look surprised or it will break my mom's heart. She's super excited to have you back."



"We all are," Ben chimed in.



Justin met Ben's eyes in the rearview mirror and smiled. "I'm super excited to be back, too." He said, looking out the window. He just wished Brian was by his side.



Once they pulled up to Debbie's house, Justin jokingly tried to prepare his surprised expression, making Ben and Michael laugh several times. Then they finally headed inside, Justin suddenly slightly nervous, and as soon as the door opened, there was a loud and synchronized shout of "Welcome home, Sunshine!"



Even though he knew to expect something, he certainly wasn't expecting this, and his surprised expression was completely genuine. Seeing his entire family gathered to welcome him home definitely warmed his heart and made him smile big. He just felt so loved.



"Sunshine!" Debbie hurried over to him and gave him one of her strong, tight hugs.



"Hi, Deb!" Justin gave her a big hug in return. "It's so good to see you."



"I hope you're surprised and that these two didn't give anything away." Deb looked at Michael and Ben questioningly.



"They didn't tell me anything," Justin assured her, seeing the relief on Michael's face. "I wasn't expecting it at all and I really appreciate it," he grinned from ear to ear.



"Well, I'm glad. You don't know how happy I am to have you home."



"And she's not the only one," Jennifer spoke up, smiling at her son. "Hi, honey," she pulled him in for a hug.



"Mom, I'm so glad you're here."



"Well, where else would I be? My son is finally home," she stroked his hair with tears in her eyes.



Justin smiled and kissed her on the cheek. "Sorry it took me so long," he whispered in her ear.



"The important thing is that you're here now."



Justin nodded in agreement. Then he went to say hello to the others. Emmett and Ted were the first up, he felt like he had neglected those two the most lately, and he really hoped he would have plenty of opportunities to make up for it and make up for the lost time with them. He'd probably have to let Emmett help him with the finishing touches on his apartment after all. And Ted would be more than happy to watch and giggle.



"We have to go for a drink soon," Emmett smiled excitedly.



"Not only that, I'm going to need you for something."



"For what?" he gave him a quizzical look.



"Well, I need help getting my loft finished." Justin smiled at him.



"Oh my God! You're going to let me help?" Emmett's eyes lit up.



"Mm-hmm." Justin hummed in agreement.



"Christ," Ted muttered. "You shouldn't have said that, you won't get rid of him now, and if I were you, I'd learn to like the color pink."



Justin grimaced a little, but Emmett immediately began to reassure him, "Hush, Teddy. Justin will just tell me what he envisions and I'll make it happen. Don't worry sweetie, it'll be perfect." He clapped happily.



"Yeah, because you're so good at self-control." Ted laughed out loud.



"Don't listen to him and better tell me what you have in mind." Emmett grabbed his shoulder and was already dragging him towards the couch, Justin could only manage to throw Ted a look that said "help me", but Ted just laughed again.



Emmett had so many ideas that Justin felt like his head was going to explode, not that he didn't appreciate it, but he wasn't ready to deal with it right now, after all it was his first day home. And thankfully Drew sensed that his boyfriend was once again being too much in his own adorable way and came to Justin's rescue.



"Thank you," Justin mouthed to Drew, breathing a sigh of relief.



Then he took a moment and headed over to Lindsay and Mel, who he was particularly, but pleasantly, surprised to see. He hadn't seen them since the last time Gus had made it very clear that he didn't want to talk to him or have anything to do with him, and from his current expression it didn't seem like it would be any different this time, but Justin had told himself months ago that he would give him time, as much time as he needed, because he knew himself that time was the most important thing when it came to healing.



"There you are!" Lindsay said with a smile.



"Sorry, Emmett basically held me prisoner." Justin chuckled.



"Yeah, we noticed." Melanie laughed and kissed him on the cheek. "How are you doing, honey?"



"Good, I'm glad to be back."



"And how are you looking forward to your new job at the gallery?" Lindsay smiled excitedly.



"You have no idea. So thank you again."



"You don't have to thank me, it's the least I could do. Just be happy, Justin."



"And don't be a stranger." Melanie added.



"I promise," he smiled and looked at Gus, who was sitting at the dining table. "He still won't even look at me."



"We told him he could stay home, we didn't want to force him to do anything, but he decided to come with us... so I don't think it's going to be that bad," Melanie assured him, and hearing those words really meant a lot to Justin. It certainly gave him hope that things could get better between them.



"Why are you smiling like that?" Daphne asked as Justin sat down next to her.



"Maybe because I'm happy," he replied, hugging her tightly. "I'm so glad you're here, Daph."



"I'm glad you're here too. I really missed having you around and I can't wait to spend time together like we used to."



"I feel the same way. And I'm really sorry for everything, especially for not being there for you when you felt like it was your fault... and I promise I'm going to be a better friend to you, okay?"



"Okay," she nudged his shoulder and smiled.



Once Justin had said hello to Blake, J.R. and Hunter, he settled comfortably into the chair, drink in hand, enjoying every second of this beautiful evening. It had been a really long time since he had felt happy, and now, surrounded by his family, he felt really happy.



Everyone was laughing, talking and dancing. These were the moments he missed the most. It had always been this way with his family before that horrible night changed everything and he was so ready to get back to it. It reminded him of what a strong and loving family they were and that only with them would he be able to move on in life and be happy.



Brian's death tore them all apart and they knew things would never be the same, but it was their love for Brian that finally brought them back together. And it brought Justin back home.



Feeling a little overwhelmed, Justin quietly snuck out onto the porch to get some fresh air, wanting a few minutes to himself and his thoughts. But there was also another reason he needed to be alone, it was just something he needed to do to make this evening complete.



So he closed his eyes and waited.



"Sunshine," came a soft voice behind him.



Justin opened his eyes and immediately smiled as he missed his voice so much. Then he turned to face Brian.



"What am I doing here?" Brian asked a little worried. "I thought we said goodbye, that you were okay..."



"Brian, shhh." Justin pressed a finger to his lips. "I am okay, I'm more than okay, and I want you to know it. I want you to know that you don't have to worry about me anymore."



Brian smiled, clearly relieved. "You're strong, Justin, I always knew you'd be okay in the end."



"You're the one who taught me to be strong."



"I think it was the other way around." Brian stroked his cheek. "Thank you for letting me see you one more time, but you have to let me go now."



"I know." Justin let out a breath. "But we'll see each other again when the time comes," he said with tears in his eyes, grabbing Brian's hand that was still on his cheek.



"I'll be waiting." Brian smiled. "Just remember that I love you."



"I love you, too." Justin smiled back and took one more good look at Brian's face before closing his eyes again and letting him go. This was the last time he allowed himself to see him until they met again. It was all he needed to truly bring closure to that painful chapter of his life.



Then he lit up a cigarette and looked at the world around him, prepared for whatever awaited him. He was ready to live life to the fullest. He might not spend it with Brian, but he was the reason he was still alive and he wasn't going to waste it.



"Can I have one?" he heard suddenly behind him.



Justin turned around and was surprised to see Gus, "You smoke?"



"Sometimes," Gus admitted with a shrug.



Justin laughed, opened the pack of cigarettes and let Gus take one. "Just don't let your mothers see you, or they'll murder me and bury me in the woods."



He knew bonding with Gus over a cigarette wasn't the best way, but right now he didn't care. He was just glad he was even talking to him.



"Yeah, that's true." Gus let out a laugh.



"Really comforting," Justin chuckled. "If your dad was here, he'd kill me too."



"Nah. He loved you too much to kill you. Plus, I'm a teenager, I'm allowed to make mistakes. And he'd understand."



They looked at each other and burst out laughing. Justin could feel the ice melting. It had been so long since they had laughed together and were able to communicate normally. Gus was just a kid when Brian died, but now he seemed so grown up... and Justin really hoped he could have a relationship with him again.



"I'm sorry for being such an asshole to you," Gus said suddenly, shame showing in his eyes.



"No, Gus, you have nothing to be sorry for... you lost your dad..."



"Yeah, I did lose him, but that didn't give me the right to act like that. So I am sorry. But the truth is, I didn't treat you like that because I blamed you... but because I blame myself..."



"What?" Justin let out a shocked breath. "What are you talking about?"



"I hid," was the response Justin got from him. "When Dad came into my room to get me out of the house, I was hiding... I was just so scared I couldn't move or talk, I could hear him looking for me and calling my name, I could hear him coughing and gasping..." he paused, tears running down his cheeks. "And when he finally found me and took me in his arms, I refused to let go of him, he told me he had to go back for you, but I wouldn't let him, I screamed and kicked, trying to stop him... I was so scared of losing him, and begged him to come with me, but he promised me that nothing would happen to him, that he would be okay, and made me leave the house without him..." Gus took a drag from his cigarette, his hands shaking. "If I hadn't hidden and tried to stop him, he would have had more time, the fire wouldn't have been as bad as it was by the time he went back for you, and it would have been easier for him to find you and get you out..."



"Oh my God, Gus." Justin squeezed his arm tightly, tears in his eyes. "You were just a kid, a scared little kid who was worried about his dad... it wasn't your fault, you hear me? It wasn't your fault, and I'll remind you of that for the rest of my life. Your father loved you and he would have done anything in the world for you and he wouldn't have let you feel guilty under any circumstances. And neither will I." He pulled him into his arms.



"I just miss him so much." Gus sobbed.



"I miss him, too." Justin said softly, hugging him tightly.



Justin was taken aback by how Gus had been feeling all this time. And he really wished he'd found out sooner and been able to help him, but now he was ready to do whatever he could to help Gus understand that his dad had saved his life and that he wasn't to blame for anything that had happened that night.



After a while, they decided to go back inside to enjoy the rest of the evening alongside people they simply couldn't imagine their lives without. Lives they both still had because of Brian.



Even though Brian was no longer there and was deeply missed by all of them, he had such a profoundly positive impact on everyone in that room that his presence would always be felt and every single one of them would always have a piece of him hidden in their hearts.



And Justin would be forever grateful to him for saving his life, not just that night, but also the night they met... Brian saved his life in every way that can be saved, because he gave him the best life anyone could ever dream of...



He might not be able to see his love anymore, but he would feel it forever.



And when the time comes they will meet again.

-
End Notes:
Thank you for sticking with me through this story. Comments welcome and appreciated. :)
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