We were drying each other off when he dropped the towel he'd been rubbing over my chest and cupped his hands around my face.
"Justin … nothing happened."
I just shrugged a little, because I really didn't want to go into it right then. We'd been laughing and happy and that's how I wanted to go to bed.
But he tilted my face and made me look at him. So I took a deep breath and did, staring straight into those amazing hazel eyes. And he looked straight back at me.
"There was a guy - at work, someone they've got in to do some freelance art work - and I was … he was hot."
He pulled his lips in then and his eyes dropped for a moment; then they met mine again.
"But nothing happened. I thought about it, and … it wasn't worth it."
I fight to keep my eyes from spilling tears, and he must know, must see, but he doesn't say anything, he just lets go of me and picks up the towel again. As he's hanging it up, he says, "I nearly went to Babylon on the way home, but I didn't do that either."
And there's something about his voice. Like he's a bit defiant as if he's waiting for me to dare to challenge his right to go to Babylon and get totally wasted and fuck his brains out with anyone who comes along; but also like … he's proud. Like he's proud of himself for not doing any of that; proud that he came home to me. And, yeah, he's embarrassed as well to be feeling that. But mainly he sees what he did tonight as an accomplishment; and he wants me to be proud of him too.
That's when it really hits me. He's telling me something huge here. And it might be even more huge that he's telling me.
For some reason I suddenly flash on all the times when he was a kid that he must have come home after a day at school, proud of himself because he'd aced a test, or won some race. And got nothing from those asshole parents of his but scorn and criticism, if he was lucky; or the shit beaten out of him if his dad was in the mood. So he stopped coming home with those expectations that his parents would be proud of him, stopped ever exposing himself like that. And the `don't give a shit what you think' Kinney myth was born.
Except that here he is, telling me this amazing thing. And all over again I feel myself falling in love with him. He's the bravest person I know.
I don't really know how to react. I want to show him, tell him somehow that I've heard him, what he's said and all that he hasn't put into words, but I'm not sure how. Because making a big deal over this will make him close off again as much as ignoring what has happened here.
I touch his shoulder and he slowly turns to me again. He's looking rattled and like he doesn't quite know what to do now either.
I touch his face, stroking the fingers of each hand down from his temples to his chin and then I stretch up and kiss him.
"Thank you," I breathe against his mouth.
He shrugs, like it's no big deal. But then he smiles too, his sweet beautiful Brian smile. And the smile tells me that he's heard me, that he knows that he's been understood.
I hang up my towel, and he switches off the light and our hands find each other's and we make our way to bed hand in hand. Then we're lying close together in the bed that now belongs to only us. and gently, tenderly we find ways tell each other how we feel although the only comprehensible words are `yes' and `more' and the crying of each other's name.
Later, we find other ways, that aren't what you could call tender or gentle, but are thorough and satisfying and we fall asleep spooned together, me plastered to Brian's back, while he clasps my hand against his chest, and it is all, all, good.
As soon as I'd opened my mouth and told him that nothing had happened, I felt as if … I felt fucking terrified. As if I'd given him … everything. As if now he'd be able to …
Shit! I don't know. I only know I've never been more fucking scared in my life.
So why the hell I heard my voice telling him that I hadn't even had the balls to at least go to Babylon and get laid I don't fucking know. That's right, Kinney, I thought. Just hand yourself over to him. Give him all the fucking keys to your psyche so that he can fucking pull you apart.
But then he touched me and I turned to look at him, and he stroked my face and somehow then it was okay. Because it was Justin. And I'm safe with Justin. Or if I'm not, then I'm fucking doomed anyway. If he turns on me, if I lose him, then … I am so completely fucked that it doesn't matter how much I try to pretend, there won't be anything of me left. So there's no point trying to fucking hold back. I have to go for fucking broke this time. Because there won't be anything, anything at all, if this falls apart.
Except maybe, to know that this time it wasn't because I was too much of a fucking coward to go for it.
So instead of making myself pull away, and heading for the Beam, I let myself feel … happy. Happy that he has heard me, has understood me.
Then I take him to bed. Or he takes me. It doesn't matter. And although I know that I should make sure that he goes straight to sleep, because he's got that damned test tomorrow, we fuck twice and if it wasn't for the test, I would have been up for more, because it felt so damned good.
And after he has gone to sleep I lie there for a while thinking about that. About how I could have had a quick fuck with that guy and another, or more than one at Babylon, but that none of them would have felt like that.
So why bother? I'm Brian Kinney for fuck's sake, and I never settle for less than the best. And the best is sleeping right beside me.
It's somewhere about there that I fall asleep.
At least we didn't sleep in this morning. Since the episode on Monday, I make sure to set the alarm when I get home from school, or the diner, so that it doesn't matter if we get distracted later.
I half expected Brian to have pulled back a little after last night, but instead he went into mother-mode, making sure that I had breakfast (the solid kind in addition to the high protein I got during our shower) and insisting on driving me to school. We were both clowning around a lot though, so I guess we both needed to keep it light this morning.
Last night would have been amazing at any time. Coming after the week we've had it's made me feel like … like I'm living with someone I don't really know. I'm not sure that this is the man that I thought I was moving in with.
But what's really weird is that he's a lot like the man I thought I was falling in love with when I was seventeen. The man I was sure existed behind all the Brian Kinney bullshit. The one I was "on to". Maybe I wasn't as dumb and naïve back then as people thought. Hell, as I'd thought, looking back. Maybe all the time that seventeen year old kid really did see right into Brian.
This time, I was prepared to accept Brian with all his limitations because I love him, and because life with that Brian is still infinitely better and more exciting and more fulfilling than life with anyone else could ever be. It's so typical of Brian, that just when you think that, just when you're prepared to say, okay, this will do, I know who you are now, and I'm not going to keep expecting you to change, or be something else, he fucking turns it all around and suddenly starts turning into who you thought he was in the first place.
And while I'm thinking all this, I should be trying to get my head together for the test. But while I'm pulling out my pens and shit, I can feel this big stupid smile on my face, and part of me wants to say `Justin, be careful, don't expect too much' but the rest of me is saying, `fuck that. Last night was how we can be. And that's what I'm going to fight for.'
And I am. Brian being Brian, and me being me, it isn't always going to be like that, but that doesn't matter. Because at least I know now that sometimes it can be, and sometimes it will be, and when it isn't, I'll have that to hold on to.
And for some reason, it's that knowledge that makes me decide to go to see Michael to ask him about the Rage money. I've been kind of avoiding that because I feel like if we have some sort of argument about it, then Brian's going to be stuck in the middle again. But today, although I don't want that to happen, it doesn't seem to matter so much, and once the test is over I have the rest of the day free, so it's the perfect time.
There were a few people in the shop when I walked in the door, and so I just browsed through some of the comics, checking out the competition, I guess. Michael served a couple of people and then the only ones left were the ones who weren't in any kind of hurry, young kids mainly, just browsing and reading the comics off the stands, and fuck me if the first thing he says to me when he's free isn't, "So, have you finished the drawings for the next issue?"
I just stared at him a moment, and then I said, "No, not yet. I told you that it would be a while. I have heaps of stuff to catch up with for school, and I still have to work."
"Why? I mean, Brian's partner now. You can't need the money."
I look him right in the eye. "I don't live off Brian, Michael. I pay my own way. Or try to."
I'm about to tell him that Brian might be partner, and he might be out of debt, but he's still only just started to draw a salary again, and we have a home with no furniture, and right now we don't even have a car. The company might make a good annual profit, but it won't be till the next financial year that Brian sees any of that money, and in the meantime he's poured just about everything into buying the partnership. He's not exactly cash rich at the moment.
But I don't. Because all that is Brian's business, and if he wants to share with Michael, that's up to him, but it's not my place to spill all his business to anyone. Not even Michael. Well, okay, from my point of view, especially Michael.
So I bite my tongue, and say, "About Rage … I wondered how the sales of the last three issues have gone."
And he goes sort of quiet then, and looks away, and starts fiddling with things behind the counter, so I know that he's hiding something.
"Well, you know … the first one did okay, `cause it was a novelty, I guess, but you can't expect that it'll really take off straight away."
"So how many copies did they sell?"
"Well, I don't remember the exact figures. A few. But of course, there are the publishing costs, and stuff …," he trails off.
"Michael," I say firmly, trying not to let the anger that is starting to build up inside me make my voice shake, "if there's any money coming, I need it."
He sighs in that exaggerated, put upon way he has when he's being a total martyr-prick and says, "Okay! I get it! I'll check out the books tonight and if there's anything, I can maybe let you have something next week."
And this is where I am really grateful that Brian made me get a contract drawn up when we first started to work on Rage. I'm not sure who he was trying to protect at the time, me or Michael, but I'm so glad now that he did it.
"I tell you what, how about if I get Mel to look at all the paperwork, and she can work out what we should each be getting?"
I try to say it really calmly, not like I'm accusing him, but just like I'm trying to be helpful, but he hits the roof.
He starts on this whiny tirade about how he does all the hard work, and deals with the publishers, and I just think that I can waltz in and take money that I haven't even earned, and all that kind of shit. Including, of course, that I'm just a spoiled little brat, and anyway why do I need the money when I can just get anything I want out of Brian? And about how he knows that I'm only using Brian, and Brian will wake up to it one day, and … well, a lot more of the same.
I don't let him throw me. And I don't start screaming back at him. I just say really quietly, "I think it would be better if we got someone independent to check out where things stand with the money, that's all. I'll organize something."
Then I leave.
I'm shaking with anger, and at the same time really upset. It's horrible having someone say that sort of stuff to you, even when it's Michael and I should know better than to let it get to me. And I can't even talk to Brian about it. That's the killer. Because I won't, I will not, put him in the middle of this.
I might think that Michael's a total prick, but I've seen how much Brian loves him, and I won't put that at risk for him. So I'm just going to have to deal with this on my own. Except that I've just realized I don't really know how. And that going to ask Mel for help is not fair to her either as she's expecting Michael's baby (something I keep trying to forget). And Ted's not around, and I don't exactly know a lot of other people who fit that sort of bill. I could ask my Mom if she knows someone, but I don't want to throw things between her and Deb either. Deb has helped Mom a lot, dealing with me, and who I am, and all that shit, and it's not fair to mess that up for her.
So I call Daph and she's free so we get together and I can let it all out, all the joy from last night (well, the bit about how Brian was there when I got home, and how he wants to take me out to dinner and that stuff, anyway) and all my frustrated fury with Michael and we abuse him so much his ears must be just about ready to burst into flame and then my phone rings.
I checked the number and it was familiar, but I couldn't quite remember it, so I answered cautiously. "Justin Taylor."
It was Cynthia. Suddenly my heart contracted. "Is something wrong? Is it Brian?"
"No, no, Justin, nothing like that. It's just that apparently the partnership contract is finally ready to be signed and Mr. Vance (and by the way she says that I know, somehow, that there is someone else there listening) wants to make an announcement about it, and have a bit of a celebration, so he asked me to call you and see if you could make it down here this afternoon. Say around four?"
I'm not quite sure what to say, but then her voice changes and I can sort of tell that the other person has gone. "Justin, it's okay. It's just that it's a sort of surprise for Brian and Vance really thought that he'd like it if you were there. Vance's wife's coming, and I think he wants to show that he knows that you and Brian are… well, you know …"
I do know what she means, and that's exactly the problem. Even after last night, maybe especially after last night, I don't want to take things for granted with Brian, and I don't want to push. Or make him feel trapped in any way.
I try to figure out what to do.
While I'm thinking, there's a bit of a noise at the other end, and I hear Cynthia say, "Oh, hi, Brian."
He says something, I'm not sure what, because it's suddenly very muffled, and I'm guessing that she's covered up the phone. Then abruptly Brian is on the line.
"So, Sunshine, are you coming to our little celebration?"
He sounds a bit edgy, so I say slowly, trying to think, to work out how to deal, "Well, I guess I could, but …"
Then he sort of sighs, and somehow I can hear him grinning, and he says, "Well, thank God for that then. At least I won't be by myself with all the fucking breeders clucking about. How did the test go?"
And it was that simple.
I suppose that Vance thought he could keep this little party a surprise, but it only took about ten minutes after Mel called to let me know that the contract had finally been fully agreed before I'd sussed it out. I went and asked him what the fuck was going on, and he came clean with a laugh.
It was good to let him know that it's not that easy to put one over on me. But I have to admit I was a bit surprised when he said he'd asked Cynthia to invite Justin.
I knew the little shit wouldn't be sure whether he should come or not, so I made it back to her desk pretty fast to make sure that he knew it was okay, that I want him here to share this.
Hell! if anyone should be sharing at this celebration, it's Justin. In some ways, he's the mastermind behind the whole partnership thing. I sure as fuck don't think I'd have gone for it without his support.
I've never really had anyone believe in me like that before. And hell, yes, I know that it's partly that he's young enough not to know better. But it's not like life hasn't kicked him in the teeth a few times already. He knows that things aren't always easy. That sometimes you can be disappointed in people, that shitty things can happen. But he doesn't let that stop him. And he makes me believe that it doesn't have to stop me either.
I can't believe how fucking good it feels to have him to share all this with. I've never had this before. Not with Mikey, not with anyone. This degree of support and understanding and … love.
Mikey has always loved me. But there have always been things about my life - especially my work life - that he could never share with me, because he didn't understand them. So he'd support me, but he'd fucking undermine me at the same time, because he'd look at things from the sort of vantage that you have when you all you know is having a nine to five job at somewhere like the Big Q, and you never take risks and you never want to. So no matter what the situation, whether it was a smart risk to take or not, he'd always be there with his `Brian are you sure?' `Brian, it's a big step', so I'd get confused about what was smart and what wasn't and in the end I stopped talking to him about those things; and in many ways, I stopped taking the risks.
The truth is, there were risks I could have taken, moves I could have made, that I didn't. Because if I had, it would have meant leaving Mikey behind. And he was all I had. Not that I would ever have admitted that to myself back then. But I can now.
Because now there's Justin, and Justin - Justin is smart and savvy and he'll be right there beside me in anything I do, any career move I make. With him, there's no question of having to leave him behind because he can't keep up. Hell! he fucking leads the way. And he understands the risks, can help me weigh them up, help me decide, work with me to shape our future. Our future.
So, fuck yes! I want him here this afternoon. I want him right beside me, where he belongs. Just like, when it's the other way round, I want to be right beside him. And that will be soon enough. He'll be the one taking on the world, and I'll be so fucking proud of him …
Fuck! Can it, Kinney, or you really are going to turn into a fucking dyke. Or a wanna-be breeder, like those losers at the GLC. But all the same, I'm sitting here with a big smile on my face, and looking forward to having him here when we sign the fucking deal, and looking forward even more to taking him to dinner afterwards.
Shit! I can feel the threat of dykedom hovering and I still can't stop fucking smiling.
I can hardly punch the off button when the call ends because I am so excited. I'm trying not to be. I'm trying to be calm and not let all of this get to me, but that is so hard when this is all I've ever wanted coming at me. I'm back in school, I have Brian … and Brian wants to be had. He's even okay with people knowing. I look at Daph and somehow manage to say calmly, "There going to be signing the partnership agreement this afternoon. That was just my invitation."
But this is Daph and she knows me way too well. She gives a little squeal, and says, "So, you're going as Brian's partner, right?"
I nod. And she must see how overwhelmed I am right now, and she just hugs me without saying anything else. So I hug her back and hold on for a few minutes because while this is all great it's also a bit scary, and having her here, and knowing she's on my side, no matter what is really really good.
Mom's on my side if it doesn't involve Brian (although she is trying to accept that I'm back with him, she still isn't exactly thrilled).
Deb's on my side if it doesn't involve Michael. But the problem is that mostly she interprets being on my side as criticizing Brian, as if I never get anything wrong, and he never gets anything right. So I can't ever really go to her, because she'll just be all over Brian, and a lot of the time she doesn't understand.
And that pretty much applies to everyone else as well.
But Daph knows me, and I tell her more about what happens between Brian and I than I'd ever tell anyone else. (Not everything, not things like what happened when he got home last night, that was too personal, too … it would leave Brian too exposed to have anyone else know about that, and what it meant; that's just between us.)
She knows that I'm not always the `good' one, and that I make huge, fucking huge, mistakes sometimes. And she won't exactly get on my case about them, but she will tell me. Like she did with Ethan. And then she'll just go on being on my side. Even when I'm wrong and stupid, she'll do her best to straighten me out, but if she can't, then she'll be there when I finally figure it out, or it all comes crashing down. And she won't say `I told you so' (or not a lot). She'll just hug me and let me know someone still loves me even when I fuck up. And then she'll encourage me to find someone else.
And that's a good kind of friend to have.
That's the kind of friend that I wish Michael was to Brian.
But he isn't.
Because the difference is … when I was with Ethan, and Daph thought I was crazy, she told me; just like I'm sure Michael tells Brian that I'm a mistake. But once she'd made her point, and I stuck to it that Ethan was wonderful and all that shit, she just backed off. She let me find out for myself. She never tried to make me choose, to put me in the middle. She sure as hell wasn't in there constantly trying to make things crash and burn between Ethan and I. (Although she did point out once or twice that Brian wasn't really the monster that Ethan and I pretended that he was, but hey! even my Mom did that.)
Whereas Michael never stops. Never stops sniping at me. Never stops demanding Brian's attention. Never stops catching Brian in the middle.
So I decide that the best thing for me to do right now, is to get something to eat, and to go home and have a shower and change into something that makes me look at least a little bit like the … whatever I am, of the firm's new partner and co-owner, and put all the shit with Mikey right out of my mind at the moment, so that I can focus on Brian. And on us. Because I am not going to let Brian see that that little shit upset me. I am not going to let anything spoil today for him.
And then I remember that he's taking me out to dinner tonight, and I can feel a big smile on my face again and Daph punches me in the arm, and tells me, "Stop thinking about sex!"
And I tell her to get her mind out of the gutter, and we both laugh. Then she drives me home, and helps me pick something to wear before she heads off to her afternoon class.
I suppose that it's fucking ironic that it's because I feel so good that I decide to go and see Mikey.
I should know better.
Because as soon as I walk in the door he starts off with, "Oh, I suppose the little shit has asked you to come down here and demand his money for him."
And I know I'm in for a shitty visit with my best friend.
And I don't want to be in the middle. I don't.
But I know Mikey. And I know when he's up to some sort of bullshit that he doesn't want me to know about. And I'm getting that fucking feeling really strongly right now.
And there's a part of me that just wants to walk out the fucking door and not come back. Just go. And enjoy the rest of my life. And part of me wants to grab him and try to shake some fucking sense into that thick skull of his.
But I'm Brian Kinney, aren't I? The one who can always be relied on to step in and somehow sort out other people's fuck ups (it's just my own that I'm fucking useless at sorting). And there are a few things that I obviously need to make clear here. So I say quietly, "The `little shit' has a name, and I think it might be better if you used it."
"Don't give me that Brian. Don't tell me that little …"
"Mikey!" I say and he must hear the warning in my voice.
Because he says, spits out, "Justin, then! Don't tell me dear little Justin didn't get right on the phone to you as soon as he left here and tell you that he thinks I'm cheating him."
From here on, it was strange. It was like watching someone you love disappear over the horizon and there's nothing you can do to stop it, and you're devastated. But at the same time your brain keeps working on all sorts of other levels.
One part was thinking about the money, and about how there is something very fucking unkosher going on here.
Part of me was thinking, why now? why today?
And, while the pain of what was happening to my friendship with Mikey was cutting me open, somewhere part of me was just thinking of Justin, and about how he hadn't said anything, would never say anything, would never do this to me; and knowing that once this was over, he'd be there. And just wanting him to be here now, because I needed him. And at the same time being very glad he wasn't.
"Are you cheating him, Mikey?"
My voice sounds strange to me. I don't want to have this conversation. I do not want to be here, talking about this, hearing this.
"No! I just … Look, you have to explain to him …"
"What, Michael. What do I need to explain?"
He must at last hear that there's something wrong with my voice, because he finally looks at me. "Brian! You know I would never cheat him. You know that."
I nod. "So what is happening? What do I need to explain that you couldn't explain to him yourself?"
"He wouldn't listen. He just came in here, asking about the money. Hell! he wants to get a lawyer or someone in to look at the books. There's no need for him to do that."
I perch on the edge of the counter and take a deep breath. "Mikey, this is me." His eyes meet mine. "So stop bullshitting me, and tell me what's going on."
I swear I didn't hear the door open then, and I guess he didn't either, because he put his hands on my arm, and said, "Brian, it's not like you need the money any more. And as long as you've got money, then he doesn't really need it either."
I roll my tongue into his cheek. There are so many things wrong with what he's just said that I hardly know where to fucking start, but I figure that it's best not to argue, to just let him go so that I can find out what the fuck he's done.
"Well, I do. We do. Ben and I. There's the lawyer for Hunter," here he takes a breath and then he fucking says, "and I know that when all that happened you couldn't help out with it, and I don't blame you for that …"
And I'm not sure that I heard the next part, because something in me was screaming "I'm not your fucking partner! I don't have to be there for you that way. You shouldn't … I shouldn't… I'm not just a fucking wallet!"
But I let it go, and he's going on, "But now we're moving, and that means that I have to decide what to do about the store. So I've either got to pay someone to run it for me, or I have to sell it, and look at buying something in Boston. And there's the shipping costs for the stock, and the taxes, and I'll have to get a new mortgage and … I just really need that money right now."
I don't say anything as I feel it all crashing around me … all those years of friendship that I'm about to blow out of the water, because he's never going to forgive me for what I'm about to say, he'll never forgive me for taking Justin's side.