Brian awoke with a start and sat straight up in bed. Justin was curled into a ball next to him, hugging himself and rocking slightly as he cried, "No! No! No!"
From long experience of the dreams, Brian knew better than to shake Justin roughly awake; instead he turned on his side, stretched out behind him, and slipped his arms around Justin, held him still, held him tight and murmured, "Shh-shh-shh."
Justin stopped rocking, took a deep breath, another, and leaned back against Brian. He was waking up. "You're okay," Brian reassured him in a whisper, "You're with me."
"Yes. Shh, you're okay."
Justin turned over and pressed his body close. "You left me," he said accusingly.
"No, I didn't. I'm right here."
"In Alaska. In the snow. It was so cold! And you left me there." Justin was shivering, as if he were lying in a snowbank.
"No, it was only a dream. I'm right here, baby." I said 'baby,' Brian thought; where did that come from?
"A dream," Justin repeated sleepily. "Only a dream." Brian could feel him slipping back into sleep, never having fully awakened. He continued to hold Justin close, nuzzled his hair, breathed that unique Justin-smell of Pantene shampoo and artist-crayons and a smoky hint of cigarettes. He wished Justin would quit smoking; why did college kids always think it was so cool to smoke? Deb had gone so far as to suggest that Brian himself quit smoking, to set a good example. Brian had no intention of setting any good examples, for Justin or anyone else.
How had Justin known that he was thinking about leaving Pittsburgh? Brian had almost stopped being surprised by Justin's intuition; he was sure this abandonment dream was related to the thoughts lately chasing around inside Brian's brain about relocating to San Francisco.
Brian had a job offer from a large west coast advertising firm, Alioto & Fischer. A real job this time, he didn’t even need to interview, the president of the company had wanted to hire him on the spot. Next week he had to make a business trip to Los Angeles for the agency, and so he'd agreed to fly up to San Francisco, to look over the offices and meet with Paul Alioto and the other administrators. But Brian had told no one, not even Michael, about this trip; so how come Justin was sensing something wrong?
Unconsciously, Brian hugged Justin tighter, wondering where the fuck his protective persona had come from. Was it there before 'the incident' at the prom, or had it emerged full-blown afterwards? Brian was not a caretaker. Brian tried very hard not to care about anyone. Except Michael. Lindsay. And now Gus. Gus. He'd be leaving Gus, as well as Justin, if he made this move. That would be hell, probably. Yet Gus would be better off without him in the long run. Brian wouldn't even quit smoking to set an example for Justin, so he sure as hell would not be setting any good examples for his son. Gus would be better off, and so would Justin. Justin might not think so, but Brian knew it was true.
Justin was doing well in school, it was mid-term and he'd settled into a routine with his classes and was making new friends, friends who shared his interest in art, friends his own age. Brian was glad that Deb had agreed to let Justin continue living at her house; he also knew she could use the room-and-board money paid by Justin and his mother. Justin had more freedom at Deb's than he did in Jennifer's condo, and although he knew Justin wanted to move into the loft, Brian already’d had a taste of living with a teenager and he wasn't in a hurry to repeat it. He told everyone it cramped his style and everyone believed him; well, it was true, in a way. But more than that, Brian had floundered under the unwelcome sense of responsibility he'd felt. Especially after Justin's injuries.
Justin swore that he was one hundred percent back to normal, but it was far from the truth. He was physically healed, except for a slight moon-shape scar on his forehead and occasional migraine headaches, but Brian was aware, more than anyone else, of the injury to Justin's psyche. The dreams were frequent, though Justin seldom remembered having them; but more than that, there was a hesitancy about Justin's actions, a vague fear of the unknown, that was new, and which upset Brian more than he could put into words.
Justin tried to hide it, and Brian pretended not to notice. But it wrenched Brian's heart each time he became aware of it. Justin was – had been – no, WAS, one of the bravest men Brian had ever known. Courageous, self-possessed, fearless. But now. . . now things had changed, subtly changed. It was for that reason, more than the physical injuries, that he wanted to get hold of Chris Hobbes and tear him limb from limb. The boy was out on parole, no trial date set, and Brian lived in fear of running into Chris - fear that he would not be able to control himself around that fucking little asshole who had hurt his darling Justin.
Not 'darling.' Not 'his Justin.' Just Justin.
Justin, still asleep, pulled slightly away from Brian and rolled over onto his stomach. Brian let him go, waited till he was settled, then slipped silently, inch by inch, out of the bed. He'd always had trouble sleeping and was no stranger to insomnia, but he'd learned to stay in bed when Justin slept over, because almost always, Justin heard or felt Brian stirring and got up to join him, unless sent forcibly back to bed. Brian needed to get up. Needed to pace. He did his best thinking on his feet.
If he took the San Francisco job, Brian had already told Paul Alioto that he'd need a leave of absence when the Hobbes trial finally took place. He had to be here with Justin, help him get through the ordeal of reliving the attack, try to protect him from publicity and do-gooders like that bastard Fred Phelps, who'd threatened to bring his religious zealot picketers to the trial. Brian had talked to Senator Baxter, and been surprised that she continued to champion Justin; he'd been sure she was merely posturing at the school demonstration and would forget all about Justin's misadventures with homophobia. She seemed genuinely interested in gay rights. Maybe. Brian was cynical about politicians.
Paul Alioto had been empathetic when Brian described what had happened to his 'friend' Justin Taylor; probably San Franciscans were more open-minded about the issue of homophobia, since half the population of the city was gay. Or so it seemed. As Brian silently paced his living room he felt his pulse quicken, thinking about moving to the 'City by the Bay.' He'd been there once before on a visit to Charlie McDougall. Charlie had given him the gay version of the Grand Tour, leading him through the bars and cafes in the Castro and in his own neighborhood off Polk Street. San Francisco was a good place to be gay; open, like New York, and nearly as cosmopolitan and cultured, with better weather.
Though it was almost half his lifetime ago, Brian remembered the pain he had felt when Charlie ditched him, ditched Pittsburgh, moved away. So he knew it would hurt Justin if Brian left. Yet when he’d visited Charlie three years ago, Brian had been shocked to see that Charlie had gotten old. Okay, not old, he was only forty; but his face had collected wrinkles and he was losing his hair. It had been a shock to Brian, a shock. Charlie was still a looker, still charming; but how long could that last? Brian didn’t want Justin to see him at forty, forty-five, fifty. Would he feel revulsion and disgust?
Shivering in the chilly living room, Brian contemplated getting his robe from the bedroom, but was afraid he’d wake up Justin. He quietly poured himself a shot of Jim Beam, as antifreeze, then another. Then he put the bottle back on the tray. Justin didn’t like it when Brian drank whiskey in the middle of the night.
Fuck that! Brian told himself, and picked up the bottle yet again, poured another shot. Nobody would decide when he drank. Or smoked. Or fucked around. And there was the rub. There was the heart of the problem. Suddenly, as if a cartoon light bulb had gone off over his head, Brian realized that he wanted to move to San Francisco so he could continue fucking around. He had no intention of being monogamous, not in this lifetime. He enjoyed his lifestyle, his constant sexual conquests, he was not giving that up, not for Justin, not for anyone.
Justin never asked you to, the reasonable side of his brain reminded him. No, but that’s what he wanted. Like Michael, Justin was a one-man man.
Brian jumped slightly and turned to see Justin come down the platform steps. He felt guilty holding the whiskey glass, and the ridiculousness of that feeling made him angry. He was a grown man, it was his home, it was his whiskey, he’d drink it whenever he damn well felt like it. “Go back to bed,” he said gruffly, “It’s the middle of the night.”
He saw Justin glance at the clock, then notice the whiskey, but he said nothing, just padded across the floor to Brian’s side. “It’s cold,” he shivered; like Brian he was naked, and Brian saw the goosebumps on Justin’s arms.
“Go back to bed,” Brian repeated, more gently.
“I have dreams when you’re not there.”
“Do whatever you do when you’re home alone with these dreams.” It came out sounding more harsh than intended, so Brian added, “What DO you do when you’re home? Does Deb fix you warm milk, or what?”
“Oh, I don’t tell her,” Justin said hastily, “And don’t you, either. She drives me crazy enough, fussing over me. That’s why I like to come here.” Justin smiled and shook Brian’s arm. “I know I won’t be fussed over. You treat me like a man, not a baby.”
“Justin.” Brian set down his glass without finishing the shot and pulled Justin over to sit next to him on the sofa. “I think it’s time for you to see a therapist.” When Justin shook his head and opened his mouth to protest, Brian hurried on. “Wait.” He took a deep breath. “I know everybody agreed that it was YOUR decision. But if I asked you to go, would you do it?”
“I don’t need a therapist,” Justin said patiently. “It’s only a few bad dreams, that’s pretty normal, I’m not Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, you know?”
“I think the medical term is ‘non cuckoo mentis.’” They laughed, but Brian grew serious immediately, and took both Justin’s hands in his, leaned down to stare into his face. “We both know it’s more than bad dreams.” Justin tried to pull his hands away, but Brian held tight. “A few visits to a shrink won’t hurt you.”
“. . .No.”
“Justin, I’m asking you to do it, for me. For me.”
Dropping his eyes, Justin was silent.
Justin pulled his hands away and folded them in his lap. He stared at his interlaced fingers for a moment, then suddenly, from out of nowhere it seemed, he sobbed. One sob, then another, then another, God-awful sounds wrenching out of his chest, and he dropped his head into his hands.
Brian was shocked into immobility for a moment, then he grabbed Justin’s shoulders, pulled him into a tight embrace. He said nothing at first, letting Justin sob against him, his breathing ragged, gasping. At last he said, “It’s okay, you’re okay, it’s okay.”
“I’ve been trying so hard!” Justin cried, an explosion of frustration in his voice. “Nobody was supposed to know! Nobody!”
“Know what?” Brian asked gently. “That you’re afraid?”
“I am not fucking afraid!” Justin nearly screamed, pulled away from Brian and stood up quickly, smacking his shin on the coffee table; he didn’t even notice. “I AM NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING!” he yelled, stomping around the living room. “I’m NOT. I’m NOT!”
“Of course you are,” Brian kept his voice low, matter-of-fact.
“NO, I AM NOT!”
“Justin. . .I’m afraid, too.” There, Brian told himself, that wasn’t so hard, was it? And it stopped Justin in his tracks.
“You? What are you afraid of?”
“Oh, lots of things,” Brian answered. “Spiders. Gray hair. Men in dark alleys with sticks.”
Brian was speaking quietly; Justin had to walk back close to the sofa to hear him.
“Justin. . .” Brian hesitated. He needed to do this right. “Justin, I got bashed once, too,” he lied. “Not as bad as you!” he hastened to add. “Just a couple of homophobic bullies, they caught me alone one night in an alley, and beat me up.”
“Really?” Justin’s eyes were wide with surprise.
“It wasn’t too bad. I had a few stitches in my face, my shoulder was dislocated. I told people I fell down the stairs when I was loaded.”
“When was this?”
“In college. The point is, Justin, that for a long time after that, I was scared to walk down the street at night. Silly, huh?”
“No!” Justin denied it, putting his arm around Brian’s shoulders. “It’s not silly at all. Poor Brian!”
“And you know what helped me get over it?” When Justin didn’t answer, Brian continued his fabricated story. “I talked to a shrink at the college health center. Just a few visits. But somehow, that helped me get past it.” He paused. “It’s not weakness to get some help dealing with shit like this. You don’t have a weak bone in your body.”
Justin sat back down on the sofa. “If I do it, will you promise not to tell anybody?”
“You have to ask?” Brian raised his eyebrows, insulted.
“No, no,” Justin hastened to assure him.
“So, it’s settled? You’ll do it?” Brian took Justin’s hands in his. “Promise?”
“Yes. Okay. Yes.”
Brian stood up, pulled Justin up with him. “Let’s go back to bed, I’m cold now.”
“Even with all that anti-freeze in your bloodstream?”
“One shot. No, two shots. That’s all.” Why am I explaining? Brian asked himself. He pulled Justin into the bathroom and made him wash his face, then they slipped back into bed and made spoons; Justin loved to sleep that way. Brian thought he would never get used to it, but somehow, he almost liked it now.
Justin was immediately asleep again but Brian lay awake, thinking. He was shaken by Justin’s – ‘breakdown’ was too strong a word, but whatever you would call tonight’s episode in the living room. He’d known Justin was still dealing with demons in the aftermath of the attack, but he had not realized the boy was struggling so hard, was keeping so much pent up inside him.
Yet he should have realized, damn it; he could remember himself as a kid, pretending everything was fine, trying to cope with his abusive father. Brian was glad he’d provoked Justin into admitting his fears; now he could get some help. In general, Brian thought psychiatry was a crock of shit. But if it would help Justin. . .
And what about San Francisco? he asked himself for the millionth time. He didn’t know. In one way, Justin’s emotional need made Brian wish all the harder to be free, free of everything that made him feel tied down and responsible. Freedom. That’s what he wanted. Freedom. A wisp of an old song drifted into his mind, the singer’s voice screeching, full-throated: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. . .”* Eventually he fell asleep, trying to remember the name of that singer, her scratchy voice lacing through his own dreams of cable cars and earthquakes and prison cells at Alcatraz.
“Can I bring Jimmy Marston to Woody’s tonight?”
They had showered and were getting dressed; Brian offered to drop Justin at PIFA on his way to work.
“You don’t need my permission,” Brian snapped, “I’m not your keeper.”
“I know,” Justin answered patiently, “But I want him to meet you. And the guys. I just don’t want to bring him if you’re going to be, you know – “
“In one of your bad moods.” Justin tucked in his shirt and looked around the floor for his shoes.
“Here,” Brian bent down and retrieved a shoe from his side of the bed. “How’d it get over here? And I don ‘t have bad moods.”
Justin mumbled something under his breath but refused to repeat it. “Never mind. It’s just that Jimmy’s shy, and he’s not really out yet, it’s all kind of new to him. I don’t want him to have a bad experience.”
Shrugging on his suit jacket, Brian made a rude noise. “I hate shy people.”
“But will you be nice to him anyway?”
Justin was dressed but Brian held him still with one hand and straightened the collar of his shirt with the other. “Yes, I’ll be nice to your little boyfriend. He can meet the guys, he can have a few drinks. Then you can bring him back here, and we’ll tie him up, and take turns fucking him.”
“Ha ha. And he is not my boyfriend, I asked you to stop saying that about a zillion times.”
“Sorry. I meant to say fuck buddy.”
“Brian!” Justin made a growling sound and shook his fist, but he was laughing. “Do we have time for breakfast at the diner?”
“You know we don’t, you insisted on that extra quickie in the shower.”
“Come on. We’ll go to McDonalds' drive-through and you can get a couple of those disgusting cholesterol time-bombs you like so much.”
Justin was shoving books in his backpack. “They’re healthy. Eggs and ham on muffins. That’s healthy.”
“That’s two hours on the stairmaster. Each.” Brian shuddered. He waited for Justin to exit the loft, then punched the alarm buttons and pulled the door closed, locked it, and followed Justin down the stairs.
Brian was aware of Justin hesitating for a fraction of a second before exiting the building, and he knew without looking that Justin’s eyes would be scanning the street. It was subtle, and Brian believed that for the most part, Justin was not even aware he was doing it. It was part of Justin’s new wariness, and it made Brian angry and very sad, every time he noticed it happening. He’d made up his mind; he was finding a counselor or therapist for Justin today. He could afford it. His job was secure for the moment.
There had been a time, for a few weeks anyway, when Brian had been sure he was losing his job. Marty Ryder had given him a rough time about the publicity surrounding the bashing of Justin; the newspapers had not hesitated to print Brian’s name and photograph as a participant in what Marty considered to be a scandalous affair. Marty had been sure that clients were going to drop like flies once they knew their ad agency harbored a queer, and, to hear Marty rage about it, a pederast. Never mind that Justin was eighteen, legally an adult; and neither Brian nor Justin had been at fault in the incident. In the end, no clients had dropped the agency, as far as Brian and his spy Cynthia could find out.
Marty Ryder had been Brian’s mentor for years, since college in fact; he’d recruited Brian at Penn State for an entry-level account exec job at the agency. He’d helped push Brian up the ladder, and had always been tough but fair. Brian never hid his sexual orientation from Marty or anyone else. Marty had warned Brian to be discreet, and he had been. Well, mostly. The Kip Thomas fiasco had been Brian’s first major slip-up, and he’d learned then that Marty was not the open-minded man he claimed to be. If Brian had been sued for sexually harassing a female, Marty would have gone to the wall for him; he had come right out and told Brian so. But because Kip was a man, Marty had turned his back in disgust. If Kip had not dropped the suit, Brian would have been long gone from the agency.
Justin had saved Brian's ass, getting Kip to drop the harassment suit. But Brian was sure only one thing had saved him from Marty: the Liberty Air president insisted that Brian be put in charge of the new national ad campaign, and it was a raging success. Marty had simmered down and, if he had no longer periodically sought out Brian for lunches and games of handball, at least he had gotten off Brian’s back.
Tired of Marty’s bombast and cold-shoulder treatment, Brian had considered leaving the agency several times, and had welcomed the opportunity to interview for the New York job. He knew he’d knock ’em dead, he’d always gotten what he wanted. The news that someone else, someone younger, had been selected instead, was an incredible blow to Brian’s ego. He admitted it - as great as his confidence was, Brian never stopped being honest with himself. Maybe he wouldn’t admit things to others, but when he looked in the mirror, Brian was positive he saw himself clearly. And when the president of Alioto & Fischer, the most prestigious ad firm in San Francisco, had personally asked Brian to come and work for them, his heart had leapt at the chance for a new beginning, a new world to conquer. There was so much bitterness for Brian in Pittsburgh. Nothing was holding him there.
Except Justin. And Gus. And Michael, although Michael was taking another stab at a relationship after David’s departure from the scene. And Gus had two mommies, he didn’t need a part-time father. Justin was the problem. Justin. Damn it all to hell. How was he going to leave Justin?
"Jimmy, this is Brian."
Brian almost laughed out loud at the threat of murder in Justin's eyes, his blond head bent, his blue eyes glaring daggers, a phony smile pasted on his mouth. Brian was tempted to call Justin on his threat, just for fun, but at the last minute he didn't. "Hello, Jimmy," Brian responded, unctuously charming, extending his hand in welcome. Jimmy blushed and shook Brian's hand, as Justin sighed audibly with relief. Then Justin pulled Jimmy's arm, turned him around and introduced Emmett and Ted. Michael had not shown up and was probably on a date with his new heart throb.
Leaning against the pool table, Brian watched in amusement as the others fell over themselves to welcome Justin's little friend to Woody's. Jimmy was attractive, with dark curly hair and brown eyes, very slim, about the same height as Justin. But almost painfully young. Despite the guys' teasing about Brian's predilection for 'sweet young things,' Brian was not really a chickenhawk. Usually he found new boys incredibly boring. He had never been sure exactly what had attracted him to Justin that first time. His beauty, of course; he remembered Justin's blond hair turned golden by the hazy lamplight, his body obviously slim and taut despite the baggy jeans he wore; and when Brian had approached him, Justin - though his demeanor fairly screamed 'virgin' - didn't stammer and stutter like most newbies. Justin had looked Brian in the eye. Wary, yes; nervous, yes; but obviously more man than child. There had been a strength about Justin, even then, that attracted Brian.
Brian was reminded again about the change in Justin since 'the incident.' It was subtle; probably most people totally missed it. A slight hesitation in his voice at times; a way of glancing around him surreptitiously. Other people, not knowing about Justin's frequent nightmares, were probably unaware of any difference in him; but Brian was so tuned in to Justin that even a slight change in the cadence of his voice was obvious. Brian pulled himself up short on that thought. He didn't want to be so tuned in to Justin. Shaking his head, Brian admitted that Justin was equally tuned in to HIM. Damn it. He'd had no intention of letting Justin, or anyone else (except Michael) get that close. He didn’t know how it had happened.
Ted was inviting Jimmy to play pool with the guys, but the kid was stammering some gibberish about not being good enough; Brian immediately lost interest, he really couldn't stand shy people. He turned back to the table and took his shot, missing on purpose; he wanted to get out of Woody's, he wanted to disassociate himself from the gay initiation of Justin's little school friend altogether. But Justin was inviting the boy to come along with them to Babylon, and the guys were bending over backward to be nice. Brian was never nice. He was not going to start now.
Taking a quick and probably very rude leave of the others, Brian pushed his way past the crowd at the bar and was out the back door and halfway down the alley before Justin caught up with him. "Brian, wait a second," he heard, and turned to face his pursuer.
"Why are you leaving?" Justin asked a little breathlessly, putting a hand on Brian's arm. "I want you to get to know Jimmy."
"But I don't want to get to know Jimmy," Brian responded harshly. “I’m going home.” He saw disappointment reflected on Justin's face, but that was too bad. He took a deep breath and added, "Justin, he's your friend, that's fine. I don't need any more friends. Got it?"
Tilting his head to one side, Justin regarded Brian seriously. "You're not jealous of him, are you?"
Brian laughed. "Jealous? Don't be ridiculous. I don't care how many friends, or lovers, or tricks you have. We're not a couple, remember? Why can't you remember that?" He saw Justin's jaw tighten and he dropped his hand from Brian's arm.
"Okay," he said, turned away and started back down the alley.
He'd gone three steps when Brian's hand on his shoulder stopped him, turned him around. Brian laughed as he asked, "You're not actually fucking him, are you? I don't care," he added quickly, "I'm just curious." And he didn't care. Justin could fuck whomever he wanted to, it was nothing to Brian. Only, he didn't really think Justin was fucking around. Or not very much.
"Well, I wasn't going to," Justin answered sharply, "But maybe I will, after all. Maybe I'd like being on top once in a while, you know?"
"Is that what this is about?" Brian asked incredulously. "You're trying to make me jealous, so I'll let you fuck me?"
"Brian Kinney, sometimes you are the world's biggest asshole!" Justin fairly spat at him, pulled free of Brian's hold, shoved his hands in his pockets and hurried back toward Woody's. Brian let him go.
'I'm not jealous,' Brian reminded himself again; Justin was a free agent, he could do whatever and whomever he wanted. But surely he wouldn't want to top that giggly little schoolboy with the dark hair curling over his ears and the pink blush spreading up his neck whenever anybody spoke to him.
Uninvited, a video began to play inside Brian's mind, a movie reel of Justin fucking Sean in the backroom of Babylon after Justin was crowned king. He wanted to change that scene; he wanted to make Justin look awkward, uncertain, uncomfortable. He didn't want Justin to have looked so. . .hot. So damned hot. He didn't want to see Sean loving it. And he was damned if that video was going to become a double feature. He did not want to see Justin fucking Jimmy Marston, to see Jimmy’s face reflecting rapture alongside Sean's.
Brian got into the jeep and lit a cigarette. He was angry, but not really angry at Justin. He knew he was not being fair or reasonable, by not letting Justin fuck him. But since when was Brian Kinney required to be fair and reasonable? ''What are you afraid of?' he'd wondered, every time Justin asked him. But 'afraid' was not the right word. He was not afraid. Yet sex was power. Brian had learned that many years ago, and it was no less true today. Sex was power, and he was not about to surrender any of his power. Not to Justin, not to anyone.
"Fuck," Brian said out loud. He got out of the jeep, flicked his half-smoked cigarette onto the gravel, and made his way around the block and down the street to Babylon. He was on his second double Absolut when he spied Justin and the others making their way through the gyrating crowd on the dance floor headed for the bar where they always hung out. When Justin spotted Brian and their eyes met, Justin's face lit up with a huge smile. Brian struggled not to smile back, but he lost the battle.
"Hey," they said quietly to each other, the shared word somehow becoming intimate between them.
"Want a beer?" Brian asked, and when Justin nodded, he got two from the bartender and handed one to Jimmy. Predictably, Jimmy mumbled thanks and blushed.
"Do you like to dance?" Brian asked the kid, who (again predictably) murmured that he did, but wasn't very good at it. "We can fix that!" Brian assured him graciously. "Emmett here is a fabulous dancer, I'll bet he'd love to teach you some of his moves. Wouldn't you, Em?" Brian smiled brightly at Emmett, who looked askance at Brian's jollity.
"Sure, sweetie, sure," Emmett assured the boy, putting an arm around Jimmy as he led him onto the dance floor, but turning his head to secretly stick out his tongue at Brian over his shoulder. Brian knew Emmett was wise to him, but he didn't care. Ted was slower on the uptake, but Justin was at least as wise as Emmett, and knew Brian even better.
"That was sneaky," Justin said, as Brian took his hand and led him toward the opposite end of the dance floor.
"Sneaky?" Brian asked innocently, but before Justin could answer, Brian captured Justin's mouth with his own, pulling Justin into a tight embrace, and continued the kiss as he slowly gyrated his hips against Justin's. He was gratified to feel Justin's cock begin to harden immediately, and he felt Justin start to let go, to relax in his arms, to return Brian's kisses. Brian had always loved how Babylon's crowded dance floor was the common denominator for chase and capture, lust and desire.
Breaking free to draw a breath, Brian laughed quietly, deep in his throat. “Thought you didn’t like guys making out on the dance floor.”
“. . .I forgot,” Justin whispered. “Don’t stop.”
“Come home with me now.”
“Oh.” Justin pulled away. “Oh, but I can’t leave Jimmy.”
“He’s with Ted and Emmett. He’ll be fine. Let’s go – “ ‘Baby,’ he’d almost said ‘baby.’ Again. He was losing his grip.
Justin moved in his arms and raised his head for another kiss. “Baby. . .” Brian breathed. He couldn’t help it. “Baby.” He wanted Justin so bad in that moment. But Justin was pulling away again.
“Wait, Brian, wait. Please?” Justin put his hands flat on Brian’s chest and held himself at arm’s length. “Let me go talk to him.”
“Justin, he’s fine. He’s not a child, he’s the same age as you. He can find his way home.”
Justin was looking deep into Brian’s eyes. “Please?” he asked again, and Brian sighed.
“Okay. Okay.” He released Justin, turned him around and gave his shoulders a little push, walked behind him through the crowd. Ted was holding up the bar, and Jimmy was standing, looking forlorn, beside him. His face lit up when he saw Justin.
“Jay! I thought you left.”
“Jay?” repeated Brian, and when Justin explained that ‘Jay’ was Jimmy’s nickname for him, he was annoyed. It was too precious, too cute. Brian curled his lip, but he was careful to turn away first, so Justin could not see his face. Ted saw though, and barked a short laugh. Ted loved the times he caught Brian off guard; Brian knew he’d be hearing Ted riff about this in the not too distant future. He tuned back into the boys’ conversation.
“We can give you a ride home, if you’re ready to leave.” Justin was offering Brian’s Chauffeur Service, another annoyance. “Or do you want to stay awhile longer?”
“Oh, I’m ready to go!” Jimmy assured Justin, “It was great, but it’s kind of late for a school night.”
“It’s midnight,” Brian offered.
“Yeah, I thought so!” Jimmy agreed.
Brian sighed, glared at Ted, who had turned a laugh into a coughing fit, and jostled his way through the crowd to the door, the boys close behind him.
For a terrible moment, Brian thought Justin was going to get in the back seat with Jimmy. Justin had held the door and the seat while Jimmy climbed in back, and reached a hand to squeeze Jimmy’s shoulder. What would he have done, Brian wondered, if Justin had got in back with the kid? What if he’d looked in the mirror and saw the boys kissing, rubbing their hands on each other? I’d crash the fucking jeep, he thought. Luckily, he didn’t have to. Justin climbed in front, next to Brian, and although he kept turning around to talk to Jimmy, he stayed put.
They were talking about a school assignment, they shared two art classes, life drawing and something else; Brian didn't need to pay attention. But their laughing and giggling reminded him how young Justin really was. Sometimes Justin seemed twelve, sometimes he seemed a hundred and eight. Brian wished Justin was thirty. Well, not really. But sometimes it bothered him to be the older man. He thought of the older men he'd been involved with, during his growing-up years. It's funny, he realized, that he remembered them all so fondly. They'd been good to him, mostly. Well, not all of them. But Charlie, Henri and Zach had each given Brian something he needed, at various times in his life. Not for the first time, Brian wondered if some day Justin would look back and think of Brian in just that way. An older man he'd once cared about.
"Brian, you missed the turn," Justin's laughing voice interrupted his melancholy thoughts.
"Oh." Brian made a sharp u-turn in the middle of the street and tuned back in to the boys' conversation, following directions to Jimmy's home in the suburbs. It turned out to be a sprawling two-story brick house in a neighborhood much like the Taylor's. Somehow that pissed off Brian, too. The boys said their good-byes, and Brian forced himself to wave at the little gremlin crawling out of the jeep, then he revved the engine and took off down the lamplit street.
Brian felt Justin's hand cover his own on the gearshift and Justin whispered, "Thanks." He nodded and kept driving. He could feel Justin's concern, could almost hear the wheels turning in the kid's head as he tried to figure out why Brian was so annoyed. He was wasting his time; even Brian didn't know why he was annoyed. Luckily, Justin kept quiet and they rode in silence cross town to Brian's building, rode up the elevator and entered the loft.
Brian desperately wanted a drink, and the fact that he knew it would upset Justin if he picked up the bottle of Jim Beam, made Brian even angrier. His temper was simmering, and he didn't know what to do with it. In the past, he would have lashed out at Justin, or anyone who happened to be in his vicinity. How many times had he seen Justin's face reflect pain when Brian lashed out at him? He didn't want to see that face tonight. He should have taken Justin home; he didn't want to deal with him now.
They'd been standing in silence just inside the loft door while Brian's temper swirled around them. Justin broke the spell at last. "I'm really tired," he spoke, casually yawning, taking off his jacket. "I'm going to bed now." Brian said nothing, but watched Justin cross the floor and climb the steps to the bedroom. He thought about leaving, driving off for a while till he calmed down. Maybe hitting one of the clubs on the outskirts of the city where he'd be anonymous; scoring some dope, picking up a trick and fucking the shit out of him. He actually took a step toward the door, before stopping and standing stock still. He didn't want to go anywhere. He wanted to be with Justin. God-damn it all to fucking hell.
Slowly Brian took off his own jacket. He was suddenly exhausted, anger draining out of him like a plug had been pulled. He slogged across the floor, dragging his jacket, he could hardly make his feet move. When he'd climbed the Mt. Everest of the platform steps, he stopped by the bed. Justin was hanging his jacket in the closet; he turned and looked at Brian, his forehead wrinkled. Brian watched as Justin approached him and, in slow motion, took Brian's jacket and tossed it on the ledge. Justin unbuttoned Brian's shirt, pulled it off, unbuttoned Brian's jeans and pulled them down. Somehow Brian managed to kick off his boots, step out of his jeans. Justin took his hand and led him to the bed. Brian crawled under the duvet and was immediately asleep. He knew Justin would get in bed and put his arms around him, but he was gone before he felt Justin's warmth against his back.
Brian awoke with a start and sat straight up in bed. Justin was curled in a ball beside him, but he immediately awoke and sat up next to Brian.
"Shh, shh," Justin whispered, putting his arms around Brian and holding tight.
Brian shuddered and looked around him at the darkened room, expecting to see - what, exactly? The dream was still so vivid, it was as if the walls of his apartment were transparent and he could see through them, could look at himself, standing alone on the shore of an island. An island lost in the middle of the ocean, whitecaps frothing the curl of sea-green waves, cold winds whipping the tops of swaying palm trees. Brian shivered.
Justin held him tighter and whispered, "Did you have a bad dream?"
Brian shook his head to clear it, and focused his eyes on Justin's face. "You're here."
"Yes, of course," Justin answered.
The dream was fading, the unreality of the island disappearing, the images dissipating like mist. Brian took a deep breath. "I need a drink," he muttered, pulling away from Justin, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He knew Justin would come with him; he tensed his jaw, waiting for a disapproving sound from Justin as he reached for the whiskey bottle. But silently handing him a glass, Justin asked, “Want me to find your cigarettes?”
Brian poured an inch of whiskey, gulped it, grimaced, poured another. Without waiting for an answer, Justin went in search of cigarettes and quickly returned with the pack, and Brian’s Zippo, and an ashtray. “Tell me about your dream?” he asked hesitantly.
Lighting a cigarette and exhaling a cloud of gray-blue smoke, Brian sighed, shook his head. “It was nothing.”
“I’m good at analyzing dreams,” Justin said.
“Hunh.” Brian didn’t need his dream analyzed. He didn’t need Justin, or even Sigmund Freud, to explain what it meant, to dream of being cast adrift alone on a desert island. It wasn’t that fucking deep.
Brian drained his glass and, although he wanted another shot, he put the empty glass on the table. He ground out his cigarette in the ashtray so thoughtfully provided. Then he reached out for Justin, pulled him into his arms. He rubbed his face on Justin’s soft, sweet-smelling hair, and hugged him tight. He hugged his boy, his lover, his whatever-the-fuck-he-was-for-however-long-it-lasted, and murmured, “Let’s go back to bed.”
*”Me and Bobby McGee,” Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits, c. CBS Inc., 1972; words and music by Kris Kristofferson.