Thanks to burnitbackwards
for reading through and offering much needed suggestions on its improvement.
Also, very tiny, minor you-won't-even-notice-it-if-you-don't-kn
When Brian Kinney came back to Pittsburgh -- alone -- a ripple went through Liberty Avenue. The legend was back, the greatest gay Casanova that had ever graced his humble subjects with his presence. Rumors had been circulating for weeks, but then, they always did. The couple that had been renting his loft moved out, a truck with what looked like ridiculously expensive Italian furniture dropped off its contents there just two days later. The population of gay Pittsburgh watched eagerly. Which was why, when Brian Kinney came back without anyone seeing him, the legend grew even more.
Passersby who weren't remotely interested, really, observed that it didn't seem as if there was anyone living with him. 'Strange,' they said, 'wasn't there a blond with him before?' 'Oh yeah, that cute one with the bubble butt. Wonder what happened to him.' 'Probably stayed in New York City or something.' 'Whatever, he's gone, Kinney's free.'
But Brian Kinney did not frequent Babylon anymore, and the disappointment was palpable. 'So what if he's in his forties, he's still hot.' The older guys told stories about him, how they'd had that one fuck, that one unforgettable night with him back in '99, or was it '98? 'Was that before he hooked up with the blond?' the younger ones would ask. 'Yeah, probably. After the blond came along, Kinney started going out less.' Sometimes when they talked about it at the Liberty Diner, a tallish queen sitting over at the counter would snort, but no matter how much they begged, he wouldn't tell his insider's account of what had happened ten years ago.
The week after Brian reappeared, Michael dropped by. "You didn't tell us you were coming back," he said accusingly, but he embraced Brian just the same. The loft was different, he thought, with the paintings and sketches and drawings hanging everywhere, all with the signature J. Taylor in the corner.
Brian nodded. "Yeah. Thought if I stayed any longer, I'd shoot myself. So I got an express ticket back to glorious Pittsburgh." He laughed, and Michael thought that there was a note of hysteria in his voice.
Brian didn't answer. He turned and walked up to the largest painting in the loft which adorned the space where once a naked man had hung. Shades of blues and grays made up a portrait of two men entwined, arms and legs sprawling, so tangled up in each other that they could never come undone. Reaching out to touch it, Brian said, "He's gone."
Silence. Then, "Did he leave you?"
Back still turned, he replied, "He's dead, Mikey. Justin's dead."
For the first time in his life, Michael did not know what to say to his best friend. So he didn't say anything.
Brian Kinney had left Pittsburgh years ago, left his life and his friends and his family to follow his lover, his first and only and best, to New York City where Justin might further his career and Brian might find new clients for Kinnetik and where they might live solely for love, though the word was never spoken.
When Brian left, Michael had been angry, though he didn't know why. Probably because it was instinct to dislike that Brian was being taken away from him; instinct because he'd loved Brian for so long. He quickly realized that there was no point to it, because Brian racked up hundreds of dollars in long distance calls every month. He would talk about how everywhere he went, New York or Pittsburgh, there were people prying into his business. ("It's hard being the center of everyone's universe," he would sigh, meaning since Kinnetik had moved its main office to New York and Justin's work was discovered by a studio, they'd gone through as many social circles as they used to do tricks and society had found them to be the height of interest, the brilliant advertising executive and his young artist.) Rumors circulated. Brian had been seen making out with a gorgeous blond woman ("Kiss the lesbian mother of your child, and you're immediately straight," said Brian), that he and Justin slept around behind each other's backs ("Well, they're not wrong about that," and Michael could hear the smirk in his voice and Justin laughing in the background and he laughed too, knowing that they probably hadn't slept with anyone else for months), that they were on the verge of breaking up ("The little fucker loves me too fucking much to break up with me." "Whatever, Brian, gimme the phone. Hey Michael, I'm emailing you the sketches for the next issue tonight.")
It was sweet and almost absurdly domestic, Michael thought, remembering the twenty-something who had the gay men of Pittsburgh dropping to their knees and opening their mouths, and the teenager hopelessly in love with him. But then again, he did always know that Brian loved this kid to a ridiculous extent. ("Ridiculously roman--" Brian had muttered years ago in a hospital with a blood soaked scarf wrapped about his neck.) And now.
"What happened?" he asked finally.
Brian didn't answer. After fifteen minutes of silence, Michael left, pulling the door shut as quietly as possible.
As soon as Michael made the mistake of telling his mother and Ben the news about Justin in the diner, surrounded by dozens of curious queens whose ears all piqued at the name Brian, it was only a matter of time before the entirety of Liberty Avenue knew as well. To tell the truth, the twink who heard it first hadn't been deliberately listening in, but he had heard about Brian Kinney for so long without actually seeing him, and when he came to pay his check at the counter and found Debbie deep in conversation with her son and his husband, he couldn't resist casually leaning in to catch Michael's words.
"I've never seen him like that in my life," Michael was saying. "Except for that one time right after Justin got bashed."
"I should bring him some soup or something," said Debbie. "When your lover dies, you don't think too much about eating."
"Uh, Deb," the twink called, and he paid his check, went back to the table where his friends were sitting and sat down, whispering, "You'll never guess what I just heard."
"We're really sorry, Brian," said Ted and Emmett the next day, more or less in unison.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" said Brian, blocking the doorway when they attempted to enter.
Emmett tried to hug him, but Brian stepped backwards, and Ted slipped inside. Brian glared and slammed the door behind them. Emmett was staring at Justin's artwork, and he was already starting to tear up. Despite this, he said, "Are you okay, Brian? Can we do anything? Do you wanna go to Woody's with us? The new bartender -- "
Here he promptly burst into tears; Ted gave him a tissue and continued for him, "The new bartender is blond and really hot, and he's dying to be fucked by Brian Kinney, and he's never bottomed for anyone, so it'll be like having a virgin or something."
Brian's eyes narrowed. "Not that being blond and a virgin would make you wanna fuck him," said Ted hastily. "We just thought that maybe, considering recent -- "
"How the fuck did you find out?" Brian interrupted.
"We -- it's all over Liberty Avenue. I mean, we went to Woody's and it was all they could talk about. It was the same way at Babylon."
"Good news travels fast, doesn't it. Go away."
"But we just wanted to see if you needed anything. Do you need some shopping done or your laundry picked up or --"
"What I need is for you to get the fuck out of my house," said Brian, his eyes blazing.
"But -- " said Emmett.
"Get the fuck out!" Ted left, consoling Emmett, who was still sniffling, and warned Debbie not to visit for a while as she got him his tuna on rye.
"Hey, Bri," Lindsay said when he opened the door to his loft a day later.
"You aren't going to offer your fucking condolences, are you?" he said bluntly. "Because dear old Theodore and Emmett already stopped by and stood around distracting me from my new account for fifteen minutes before leaving."
"Well, like it or not, you didn't have a monopoly on loving Justin. Other people did too, and that's why we're here."
Gus peeked out from behind his mother. "Hey, Dad."
Brian gave him a smile. "Hey, sonny boy." Gus hadn't seen his dad for a year, and somehow, his father seemed smaller, and thinner, though maybe that was because Gus had finally gotten his growth spurt at fourteen and had shot up six inches in as many months. But Gus wasn't dumb, and he knew that the thinness was probably because his father's partner, the one that gave Gus his first real baseball bat at the age of eight while his father looked on with hawk eyes, the one that always told Gus that they were going to an art exhibit, but they ended up at a laser tag arena instead, was dead. Gus wasn't clear on the details, and he didn't think his mom was either. He'd been in the room when his mom picked up the phone, and looked on as she sat down hard after ten seconds of Michael speaking. The next day, here they were visiting his dad.
"Debbie sent me with some a tuna casserole, and some lemon bars," said his mother, pushing past Brian and making her way toward the refrigerator.
Gus sat at the counter staring around at the loft as his dad handed him a soda. "So, how's school?" from Brian.
"How're you?" he countered.
"I'm fine. I'm fabulous," said Brian as his eyes darkened. He sat down at his computer and started clicking.
"Dad, you're a shit liar."
Brian looked up. "I thought your mothers taught you not to use words like that."
"You say that every time I cuss, and you never do anything about it."
"That's a job for your muncher mothers. I'm just the sperm donor and the occasional masculine influence you don't get from Melanie."
Gus glanced at his mother, who was opening a container of who knew what, but Gus could smell it from here, and looking at Dad out of the corner of her eye.
"You're avoiding the question," said Gus, who knew his father's diversionary tactics too well.
"I told you, I'm fine."
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't be if my partner just died and everyone in Pittsburgh was talking about it." Brian stopped clicking.
"I'm not about to pour my heart out to my fourteen year old son."
The silence was unbearable, so Gus got up and started looking at art that he'd seen back in their apartment in New York City, and newer pieces he didn't recognize. The clicking resumed, though it grew slower as he worked his way up to the painting of the two men entangled. "Is this one new?" he asked. Brian didn't answer, so he went on, "It's not done, is it? Justin's signature isn't on it."
His father didn't speak, and Gus didn't push, because it was easier to get answers from a father who wasn't pissed off at you for asking too many questions. But Brian didn't say anything for the rest of their visit, and Lindsay leaned down and kissed him goodbye as he sat typing in his chair, and Gus said, "Bye, Dad," and Brian grunted. On the way home, Gus asked his mother, "Dad's really upset, isn't he?" Lindsay gave him a look that said, "What do you think?" and nearly crashed into the car in front of them.
Things went back to normal after a while, at least with regards to the twinks and the queens and the rumors, because Liberty Avenue had a short attention span, and Rufus Wainwright was stopping at Pittsburgh in a month. After all, if Brian Kinney didn't want the attention, they could just as well bestow it on someone else, and this one was a real celebrity.
Everyone still tip-toed around Brian until he unexpectedly showed up at one of the family dinners at Debbie's one night. He made fun of Ted's shirt, said something snide about Melanie's haircut and messed up Gus' gelled hair. Melanie said, "Fuck you, asshole," and everyone held their breath. Brian smirked and said, "I wouldn't if you paid me, Mel." They felt then that Brian was really back.
Gus made a point of visiting his dad every weekend from then on, though it resulted in his seeing much more of his dad than he'd ever planned on seeing, and sometimes having to get his father into bed, or at least sitting down when he was swaying with the alcohol or the drugs or both in his system. He wouldn’t say anything about it because if there was anything he’d learned in his life, it was that his dad was full of shit. And besides, he was sure if he did, Brian would probably give him a baleful look and mutter something about being dead before fifty while downing endless amounts of black coffee.
Once, when his dad was too hung over to care, or maybe he just wanted Gus to know, he mentioned Justin. Gus' ears perked up at this, because Brian never talked about Justin if he could avoid it. To this day, Gus didn't think that anyone in their family knew exactly how Justin had died. Brian was nursing his coffee, and said into the cup, "Do you know what his last words were to me?"
Gus shook his head and waited for his father to continue. "He was walking out the door, and he looked back and said, 'I'll be back.' I said something about the Terminator, and he laughed, and then he left." Brian was silent, and Gus poured him some more coffee. Brian turned to look at the sole unfinished painting in the loft. "It was the last thing that he worked on, did you know that? And he was so mad that he couldn't get it right. That's where he was going that day, to the studio to work on it." Gus stared at Brian, who was staring at the painting. Then he picked up his coat and left, after reminding his father that the championship game was next Saturday, don't forget.
Years passed, and it was as if Brian Kinney had never left Pittsburgh. Kinnetik had moved its main office to Pittsburgh again when Brian came back so long ago, Gus was graduating from college while his sister Jenny was starting, Ben had succumbed to his disease, Hunter was starting to be bed-ridden all the time, Debbie was aging, not going as strong as she used to be, but despite all the change, Brian could feel no difference. After all, he was still living in his loft, still single, still good-looking (for someone of his age, but Brian didn't like to add that particular fact in when he was thinking), still the legend.
It was like he was twenty-nine again, only this time around, he didn't go out too much because he was jet lagged from flying to his kid's graduation and then flying to California for a meeting with a client and then coming back to Pittsburgh, and he didn't do recreational drugs anymore because he found out that weird substances could aggravate the cancer into reoccurring, and he didn't fuck around anymore, because he could never find anyone that he wanted to fuck. He held every man up to a standard, and they never measured up. He thought maybe he should be mad at Justin for ruining anyone else for him, but Justin's been dead for years now, and you can't stay mad at a dead man for long.
As time went on, Brian took to laying in his bed and staring at his ceiling. Those who stopped by would swear that he was waiting for something, waiting as he got them a drink, waiting as he lounged around, waiting as he laid out a new design.
One night, as he lay beneath the covers and his eyes fluttered sleepily, he saw someone step into his line of sight. "Hey, Brian," the figure said. "What're you doing?"
Brian started to smile. "Nothing special."
Lips curled. "I can change that."
Brian laughed and said, "I knew you'd be back."