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DISCLAIMER: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Chapter Notes:

TW- Starts with the a memory of a rape.





It was like one day he was a whole person with dreams, love and wants. Then the next he was a shell of his former self. The hospital had seemed so cold, and the people looked so bored. How could a life altering thing for him just be another Tuesday for them? It wasn’t like he didn’t know bad things happened; he’d been bashed in the head at prom. Working for Sap, best not talked about. He’d been in a building when it was blown up. Said yes to the man he loved only to move away. A year after he left for New York Brian came to see him. Told him that he met someone. His heart broke but he had realized he was a steppingstone for Brian. Something that he needed to get to where he’s going.

Six months later he got an invitation to Brian and Ozzy’s wedding. He sent a present and told them that he was happy for them but unable to attend. The weekend of the wedding he stayed in and drank himself into a stupor. Then one day he was walking home and grabbed. The man attacked him from behind, he didn’t see his face, but he believed he had a mask on. Justin had fought like his life depended on it, but the man was too strong. He was hit in the head after the assault and woke up in the hospital.

It doesn’t matter how kind the doctor and nurse try to be, the rape kit feels like another assault. Even though everything is said with gentle words and caring smiles, you’re dead inside by then. After Brian broke up with him, he changed his emergency contact to one of his roommates, Steve.

Instead of walking or taking the subway, Steve shelled out for a taxi. That meant he was trying to be nice because Steve was as tightfisted as Scrooge.

Unlike what he thought, life didn’t end, it just went on. He listened to the doctor and got a therapist, one that specialized in male sexual assault survivors. He even joined a support group but stopped going a few meetings in.

The city started to have awful memories, but he couldn’t go back to Pittsburgh. Running into Brian and his happy life, his already broken heart couldn’t take that. When a guy he knew said he was going to travel across the world for a year, Justin asked to tag along.

Somewhere along the way, he fell in love with Jake. Before they were just casual friends. Jake was bi so he had only actually seen him with women before. But the man was so caring and nice to him. So, when they were in Brazil, they kissed for the first time. Then what followed was the first time he had sex since his assault. Jake had been so gentle and sweet.

A few months later they got married. He had invited all his friends in Pittsburgh. Only his mom, sister and Daphne came. His mom broke the news that Brian and Ozzy were in the process of adoption. The man who told Justin over and over again he wouldn’t get married, and Gus would be his only child. He wanted Brian to be happy, but he had to admit it hurt. He thought he meant more to everyone that they would at least try to show up. When they didn’t, he decided a clean break was enough. He told his mom and Daphne that he didn’t want to know how anyone of them was doing unless someone died.

Jake brought up moving away from New York. Knowing that his rapist was somewhere in the city terrified him. The police were unable to find him and said that the man’s DNA wasn’t in their system. He knew they wouldn’t find him; it was like he was assaulted by a phantom.

They moved to Nantucket and had an amazing life. He painted and worked in the local art gallery. Jake was a pilot; he had been getting his commercial license when they met. Two years in they decided to expand their family. They started the process of adoption. Mark Taylor-Barnes came into their lives like a hurricane. He was seven at the time. He was followed by several foster children but finally they welcomed Emma Jean Taylor-Barnes, age ten. That was their perfect family. It had been ten years since he moved away from Pittsburgh. Ten years ago, he thought this life was impossible but now he was happier than he ever thought possible.

Then he got the call this morning from his mom. Carl had died while putting up Christmas lights that morning. Massive heart attack, dead before he hit the floor. Debbie was absolutely devastated. After a talk with Jake, it was decided Justin would take the kids to Pittsburgh. Jake would meet them there the day after Christmas. Being a pilot on an island he was always busy, more so during the holidays. That left Justin and his kids visiting people he hadn’t seen in nine years. His mom and Daphne had kept their word, they didn’t tell him anything of anyone’s lives.

Once they landed in Pittsburgh, he started to doubt himself. Maybe Debbie wouldn’t want him there. He told his mom he wanted a clean break, so he didn’t want her or Daphne to give his address or anything about him. He had just been so hurt about his wedding. No one even sent a card. For Brian’s wedding he sent them a painting he had done of Brian and Ozzy, even though it killed him inside. He used a photograph to do it. He hadn’t even gotten a thank you.

He picked up the car he rented, and they were on their way. “Dad, Emma’s hungry,” Mark told him.

They couldn’t be more like twins if they were. There were only three days in between their birthdays. They still had a few months until Emma’s adoption would be final, but her caseworker was confident that it was all but a sure thing. But because she wasn’t ‘official’ she felt out of place sometimes. She was so nervous about the trip she had clammed up. Which is why Mark would be speaking for her.

“We’ll stop at the diner,” he told them. Maybe he could find out from someone there how Debbie was doing before he went over.

Liberty Avenue hadn’t changed much. The Delight had turned into a quick cash place but everything else looked the same. His children followed closely behind him. He stopped dead in his tracks as he entered.

There at the usual table sat Brian, still beautiful and almost completely untouched by time. There was a teenage boy sitting opposite him, one that was his spitting image. Justin couldn’t believe that Gus was so grown now.

Brian hadn’t looked up; he was looking at something on his phone. Justin walked past; he knew the exact moment Brian noticed him. Even after all these years he could feel Brian’s eyes.

He directed his kids into a booth a few tables down. Instead of facing Brian, he made sure his back was to the man. A young man with a trim beard came over.

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before. I’m Josh and I’ll be your server. What can I get you to drink?” he asked cheerily, putting the menus on the table.

“Three waters, please.”

“Sure thing, coming up. I’ll be back to get your orders soon.”

He opened the menu and looked everything over. The menu hadn’t changed and that was unfortunate.

“Can I have a hamburger?” Emma asked quietly.

“Yes, do you want fries?” he asked. She nodded and smiled. Usually, she wasn’t so quiet, but she was out of her element here. She’d been in the foster care system since she was two. With Mark, they were his first placement. He had a good childhood, but his mom was single and no known father or family that would take him. His mother had an undiagnosed heart condition and she died in her sleep. Mark was the one that found her. Emma’s mother had a drug problem. After two unsuccessful tries to get her back with her mom, the woman overdosed. Again, no known father and no one wanted to take her in.

“I’m going to get a BLT with onion rings,” Mark said.

“That sounds good,” he said.

“You can’t have any, Papa would be mad,” Mark said.

He was quite aware of that, but he didn’t want his kids to get an eating complex. When they were adopting Mark, he put on about fifteen pounds. Jake had told him it was getting difficult for him to be attracted to him with the extra weight. Justin started dieting and now weighs less than he did when he was seventeen. He wanted to work out and get some muscle, but Jake said he wasn’t attracted to men who had big muscles. Justin didn’t think even with all the work he would get big muscles but that was inconsequential to Jake. It was funny, Jake was a walking, talking billboard for muscleheads.

When Josh came back, he ordered the kids food and didn’t get anything for himself. He hardly ever got hungry anymore anyway.

“Mind if we join?”

He was so lost in his thoughts he hadn’t noticed Brian and Gus coming up to the table.

“Brian,” he said, a little breathlessly if he had to admit. He could still get lost in those eyes. He shook his head; they were both married men. “Sure,” he said, getting the kids to let him in so he could sit next to the wall. They were still little enough they made up enough room as one adult. First Brian slid in then Gus sat down.

“What are you doing back?” Brian asked. He looked unbothered about whatever would be said, but he always looked like that.

“Mom told me about Carl. I wanted to be here for Debbie.”

“Really? Don’t show your face here for nine years and now you want to be here for her?”

“Not in front of my children, please,” he begged.

Brian looked at the two worried faces and seemed to lose his tension. “Right.”

Josh dropped their food off. “Emma,” he said. She had started eating fast, it broke his heart because her doing this meant she was unable to eat before. Either there wasn’t enough, or it was taken away too fast.

“Sorry, Dad,” she said.

“Where’s your lunch?” Brian asked.

“Not that hungry,” he answered.

“Papa said that Dad isn’t allowed to eat junk food,” Mark said as he put a fry in his mouth.

Justin saw Brian clench is jaw. “That’s not true. I’m trying to eat healthier, that’s all.”

“You’re not eating anything at all,” Gus said. Guess he really was a chip off the old block.

“As I said, I’m not very hungry. How is Debbie doing?” he asked, changing subjects.

“She just lost her husband, so not great. When are you leaving?”

“After Christmas.”

“Two weeks? Bet the husband doesn’t like that.”

That annoyed Justin, Brian didn’t know anything about Jake.

“He’s fine. He’s a pilot so he’s working through the holidays. He took the week off after Christmas so he’s meeting us here the day after Christmas. What about Ozzy?”

Brian’s eyes darkened. “It was a mistake, thankfully one I realized before we brought children into it.”

Justin nodded. It would have been cruel to adopt children just for their world to implode again. They had to jump through so many hoops just so they knew they weren’t going to split up.

“Anyone else?” Justin asked, actually sad that Brian wasn’t happily married any longer.

“Dad doesn’t believe in marriage anymore,” Gus answered for him, shoveling his own fries in his mouth.

“We’re going over Deb’s after we eat. You can join us if you want,” Brian said ignoring what his son had said.

“Thanks, I hate to admit it, but I’m worried to see everyone again.”

“Why did you cut all of us off?”

It was something he considered after his rape, but he couldn’t let go of the only family he had. But it was only after everyone ignored his invites that he cut them off. He made sure his mom and Daphne never said a word to them about how upset he was about them not coming.

“Thought you all had moved on, seemed the thing to do.”

“It wasn’t, you don’t just disappear never to be heard from again.”

“It was time for a change.”

Brian didn’t look happy with that answer but didn’t say anything else. After the kids finished eating, they got up to leave. Justin thought it was rich that Brian got onto him about not eating but all he had was a black coffee.

The walk to Debbie’s was mostly quiet, his heart was thundering in his chest. Deb had meant so much to him, like a second mom and he just cut her out of his life. It was just too painful to him but what about them? He had been so selfish, only thinking of himself and how much it hurt him.

There were several cars on the curb when they arrived. There was an ache in his heart because he hadn’t let himself miss it here. He hadn’t been back to the Pitts since Brian had ended it. The memory of being in his crappy apartment as Brian asked if he was going to be alright. He lied and told him yeah. After all the breakup he had realized it was the only time that Brian had actually broken up with him. Sure, he had left him after his bashing because his mother asked him too, that lasted a full week. Then there was when Justin found out about Brian’s cancer. But Justin didn’t allow Brian to push him away. Had Brian felt like that every time he ended it? It tore at his heart.



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