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Inescapable

Suz

Disclaimer - CowLip/Showtime own them, no infringement, etc etc.

Brian/Justin, rated NC-17. Serious AU, based around the episode 510. Knowledge of 510 would be a distinct advantage, and if you haven't seen it this fic could be considered a big ol' spoiler for what happens in said ep.

Part One

When the world ended, it happened in the same place the world had started for Brian: Babylon.

He'd had experience before - learning with his gym teacher what after-school practise *really* meant. But it was at Babylon that he discovered who and what he was. The kind of man he was. Brian hadn't rolled over for anyone since, metaphorically or physically.

That was why he'd agreed to hold the fundraiser in the first place. He may not have shared Mikey's quaint little picket-fenced dream - he mocked it, most of the time - but he sure as fuck wasn't about to let any old straight guys tell queers what they could and couldn't do. So he'd said yes, and Mikey had been thrilled (and maybe that'd been part of the reason he'd agreed, too. Maybe).

When the world ended, he'd only partly been paying attention to the performance on stage, more interested in the guy who'd just brushed by him.

And everything changed.

Sensory overload. Light and sound and heat as he was thrown to the floor, the breath forced out of him, his brain trying to figure out what the fuck was going on.

After the world ended, he coughed, choking on the stench of burnt metal, plastic - flesh. He stumbled over bodies and bloodied shoes, eyes tearing up from the smoke and shock, watching panicked queers fighting to get the fuck out. At any other time it might've been funny, but all Brian could do was hope like fuck that he wasn't walking over anyone he knew.

Joan had always said he was going to hell.

Turned out she was right.

******

There was a light source coming from somewhere that hadn't been destroyed. It did little more than illuminate the smoke and Brian coughed again, turning towards the bar.

Or what used to be the bar. Fuck.

Instinct took over: taking care of your own. Fuck everyone else. "Mikey! Ted! Emmett!" God fuck *shit*, it was hard to make out individual faces. Too much smoke, too many people yelling, no one keeping still. The practical thing to do would be to get out, wait for help, but screw being practical when they could be fucking hurt.

He found Ted by literally walking into him, stumbling along with an arm around his 'date'. "Ted!" He barely noticed Brian at first, blinking and shaking his head. Clearly in shock. He didn't look hurt and Brian grabbed his shoulder, trying to get him to focus. "Have you seen the others?"

His shook his head, making a noise. Realising Ted'd be no fucking help in the club, he shoved him towards the exit. "Get out. Make sure someone's called for help." It was probably redundant, but Brian wasn't taking any chances.

Christ, Babylon had never seemed so fucking huge before, not even on his first visit. Now it was just endless. A smoky, blurred void.

There was still more than one person yelling or screaming or crying, but Brian got lucky, close enough to distinguish an individual voice.

"Ben!" a hoarse, unfamiliar voice yelled. "Is there a Ben Bruckner here?"

It was the only clue he'd had until now, and Brian moved towards it. At first he just saw one guy supporting another guy, helping him walk, but then he realised the guy being helped - the guy with the black skin - was Michael. Fuck.

His stomach rolled. "Mikey!" But fuck, as he got closer he could see that his skin hadn't been burnt - it was just black. Like he'd been covered in a thick layer of soot.

The guy helping him lifted his head, his face bearing its own traces of black, and Brian realised he probably looked the same.

"You Ben?"

"No," Brian moved to Mikey's other side, taking half the weight. Christ, Mikey was out cold and weighed a fucking ton - no wonder they'd been moving so slow. "Brian. Best friend. Ben's his husband. Haven't seen him since..." Shit. Not now. He concentrated on getting to the exit, getting Mikey out, and they shuffled forward. It was hard going, and the reason why the guy'd had his head down was obvious - he didn't want to trip the fuck over anything. Where the fuck was help? "He was conscious?"

"Yeah," the guy coughed, wheezing slightly. "Asked for Ben. I thought we'd get to the exit together but he passed out. Don't know where he's hurt."

Brian didn't think about Mikey being hurt. Brian just focused on stepping over everything that littered the floor, and getting outside.

"Brian!" Emmett's voice. "Oh my God, Michael?!" Emmett had been triumphant earlier, obviously pleased to be the night's host. Now he just looked terrified. "Oh my God, is he-?"

"He's alive," Brian grunted, stepping over a piece of metal, really *not* in the mood for Emmett's histrionics right now. "Get outside and tell the first paramedics that get here that we're bringing him out."

"Wait, wait," Emmett said, turning around and looking for someone. "Ben! Ben, I found them!"

The professor arrived then, looking much less perfect than usual - hair in disarray, clothes ruined, face anguished as he looked at Michael. "Oh my God." And very obviously intent on carrying him out of Babylon all by his fucking self.

It was just as well. The rest of them would just slow him down, and the guy who'd been helping Mikey kept wheezing louder and louder.

It was a lot easier to move after Ben had relieved them of Mikey's weight, and as Brian watched him practically race ahead even with the added weight, he'd never been so fucking glad that Ben was built like a fucking monster truck.

The wheezes got worse, the guy hitching for breath. Fuck. This was just what he fucking needed. "What's wrong?" Brian took his arm, helping him around an unidentified mess on the floor. He didn't want to know what the fuck that was.

"Asthma," he gasped. "Been...fucking years. No inhaler."

Shit fuck. "Why the fuck did you stay in here if you used to-?"

"I didn't...fucking *think*." Amazing how he could sound so pissed while he was gasping for breath at the same time. "He...needed help. And I said...hasn't happened...for years."

They got out just as the fire-fighters were coming in.

Outside there were too many people, crushing together. Yelling at them to get the fuck out of the way, Brian grabbed the guy's hand and led him through the crowd until there was space, room to *breathe*. It didn't seem to help any.

He spotted a paramedic climbing out of an ambulance. "Hey! There's someone who can't breathe over here!" Jogging towards the paramedic, he thrust the guy towards him. "Asthma attack. No inhaler." The paramedic instantly got to work.

"Brian!"

Shit, now what?

Turning, he barely registered that Linds was running towards him before she was hugging him.

"Are you okay?" she demanded. "God, Brian, we were right outside when it happened."

Arms going around her, his hand tightened on her jacket. It was fucking lucky that she'd been running late - she'd called him just a few minutes before the explosion. Shit, maybe they were even lucky that Mel was okay as he watched her over Linds' shoulder, arms wrapped around herself.

"Fine," he replied, letting her go. "Mikey was hurt." Her eyes widened. "Don't know how bad. I need to get to the hospital." Turning back to the ambulance he saw the guy sitting on the back of the ambulance, breathing into an oxygen mask, the paramedic encouraging him to take slow, deep breaths. "Linds, can you keep an eye on..." Shit. He didn't even know his name.

"Justin," the paramedic offered, evidently having got that little piece of information out of him.

"Justin," Brian repeated. Bending down, he met his gaze. "I have to go check on Mikey, okay?" Justin nodded, taking another deep breath. "Thanks," Brian said briefly, putting a hand on his shoulder, before standing up and moving away.

Still too many fucking people, and too many lights, but then Brian caught a flash of red that could only be Debbie and ran towards it.

*******

Brian drove Deb to the hospital, following behind the ambulance that was carrying Mikey. She cried the entire way and rarely spoke which was just as well, because when she did speak it was fucking depressing.

"Do you think..." she sniffed. "Do you think it was a bomb?"

He so did not want to be having this fucking conversation. As it was he'd have to deal with all that shit later, and he really couldn't bring himself to give a fuck about the club right now, even if he did own it. "I don't know." But it had to be a bomb. Of course it was a bomb. It'd be too fucking coincidental - an accidental explosion on the very night they were holding a fundraiser to fight against a homophobic piece of legislation - to be anything else. Brian didn't need to hear police reports or investigative findings. It wouldn't be anything else.

"How could someone do that? Hate someone else so much?" Pointless fucking questions, and nothing any of them hadn't asked a thousand times before. "Try and kill my fucking kid?" She cried again, louder, and Brian couldn't fucking wait to get to the hospital.

He let her out when they arrived, grateful to have a few moments peace while he looked for parking.

In the waiting area Ben was sitting down, clasped hands resting against his mouth. Deb rushed towards Brian.

"Anything?" he asked.

"Not yet," she shook her head, swallowing anxiously. Brian hugged her.

More people started dribbling in. Mel and Linds arrived, reporting that that Justin guy had been fine. Other people he didn't know whose friends and loved ones had been injured; maybe worse. Brian felt like he was in the middle of a war zone. Still too many people and too much fucking blood.

Predictably, Deb started freaking out, pacing around hopelessly. "What if I lose him? What am I gonna do?"

Completely unexpectedly, Ben lost it, snapping at her. "You're not gonna lose him and this is not about you, so sit down."

Stunned, looking lost, for once Deb followed obediently and sat down, glancing around but obviously not really seeing anything. "I'm sorry. You're right."

Brian, for his part, had only been able to stand about restlessly. Running a hand through his hair. Taking a step forward, taking a step back. He fucking *hated* waiting; had never been any good at it. He'd much rather be doing something that just standing around uselessly.

Seeing movement, Brian glanced to the left and saw the doctor who'd been working on Mikey. Brian took two steps to get to him, and Ben was standing next to him in seconds. "Well?"

The doctor didn't pull any punches. "He's lost a lot of blood. Before we can do anything he needs a transfusion."

The answer seemed obvious. "Well, what the fuck are you waiting for?"

"Well, he's AB negative," he explained, "we're short on his type so we're checking other hospitals."

Brian looked towards Deb and when she shook her head to indicate she wasn't the same type, he started rolling up his left sleeve. "Okay, I'm O negative. That's the universal donor, right?"

Pausing awkwardly, the doctor scratched at his ear. "Are you gay?"

What the fuck? "What's that got to do with anything?"

Ben looked towards him sombrely. "We can't give blood because of HIV."

Jesus Christ. "I don't *have* HIV."

"It doesn't matter," the doctor said apologetically. "Gays are considered too high a risk." He moved to turn away.

No fucking way. That wasn't good enough. Reaching out, Brian grabbed his arm. "What about all the straight studs and bitches who fuck around without protection? I mean, you'd take their blood, right?" The fucking hypocrisy was mind-blowing.

He shook his head. "It's an FDA regulation. I'm sorry." Pulling his arm free, he walked away.

Mel of all people tried to calm him down. "Brian..."

"I don't give a shit!" Brian tried to run after him, to get the fucker to listen, but Ben stood in front of him and blocked his path. "Take my blood, mother fucker!"

"Brian, look!" Ben tried to reason, pushing him back. "You couldn't give even if you were straight. You had cancer."

Cancer. Fuck. Fucking cancer. It was bad enough that it'd taken one of his balls; now it was stopping him from helping his best friend. "Fuck!" Whirling away, he started heading somewhere - anywhere. Just fucking away.

"Brian!"

"Leave him," someone said, and Brian was fucking glad for it.

When he reached the bathroom he suddenly turned towards it and banged the door open, striding inside. Three stalls, all empty, and when Brian turned towards the mirror he realised he looked almost as bad as Mikey had. Running the taps, he cupped the water in his hands and rubbed roughly at his face, watching the dirty water mix with the clean no matter how many times he did it, again and again, he just couldn't get fucking-

The door creaked open and he turned his head towards it, water running down his neck and soaking into his shirt. It was the guy - Christ, under better lighting he looked like little more than a kid - from the club.

"Hey," Justin said, still holding the door open. "I saw you come in here and..." He must have taken in the way Brian looked, and his expression dropped. "Oh, fuck. Is your friend...?"

"He's alive," Brian replied hoarsely, turning off the water and reaching to the side for a paper towel, yanking it out of the dispenser and giving his face a perfunctory dry before throwing the paper into the trash. "Lost a lot of blood. Waiting on a transfusion." Brian wasn't a big fan of talking to strangers because he generally wasn't interested in anything they had to say. But this Justin had been there. Maybe even saved Mikey's life.

"What blood type is he?" Justin asked, stepping in further and letting the door close behind him.

Brian knew where this was going. "Doesn't matter. You're queer, right?" For one, he'd been at Babylon, and Brian's gaydar was pinging so hard he'd probably never stop hearing it. "Queers can never have the joy of sharing our blood with others. They think we all have HIV and, therefore, we're too big a risk."

Justin's face transformed into outright indignation. "But that's *bullshit*! Fuck, do they even know the statistics? Christ, what about straight people who have sex? They'd take their fucking blood, no questions asked."

Brian suspected he had a gay, miniature version of Debbie on his hands. Perfect. "Believe me, I told them that already." Justin continued to fume. Brian continued to watch him. "So what the fuck are you doing here, anyway?"

He looked surprised for a moment. "The hospital?" Justin shrugged. "They suggested I come in, just to make sure I was really okay, nothing else was wrong. Seemed like a good idea and..." he smiled a little. "Frankly, I wanted to see how your friend was doing. This whole night's been so fucked up. I'm just hoping that something good comes out of it."

No reason he couldn't tag along. Besides, Debbie'd wanna meet him. "And you're all right?"

"Me? Yeah, I'm fine."

Brian nodded. It would've been really shitty if the guy who'd helped Mikey ended up dying. "Good. Let's go meet the gang."

When they got back to the waiting area, it didn't take long for Brian to discover he'd been right about Debbie's reaction. "This is Justin," he introduced, pointing a thumb towards him, "he was the one helping Mikey in the club."

"Oh!" Deb was on her feet instantly, rushing towards Justin and pulling him into a hug. Brian almost felt sorry for him. "Oh my God, thank you, thank you so much for helping my son."

Justin handled it with remarkable restraint, although he still looked kind of stunned. "It's okay, really. Anyone would've done the same."

"You're an angel," Deb told him, still holding on tight, "a fucking angel! Fuck knows how long it would've taken them to find him in there - he could've bled to death! Christ, I don't know what I'd do if..." She started welling up again, and Mel and Linds managed to coax her into sitting down.

Ben approached Justin, holding out a hand. "I, uh...didn't get a chance to thank you. Before. Thanks."

"Don't worry about it," Justin smiled, shaking his hand. "I know how I'd feel in your position."

After releasing each others hands they stood there for a few moments awkwardly, before Ben nodded and moved back to his seat. Linds invited Justin to sit down next to her, and they greeted each other as cheerily as they could, obviously recognising each other.

It probably helped, having an unknown there. Linds and Mel started asking him questions - what he did, what his background was - and they all listened. Fuck, there was nothing else to do, and it was better than just waiting. Apparently 24 (though he barely looked 20), Justin had just returned to Pittsburgh after going to college and working for a few years in NYC. He had a new job working at some art gallery that Linds got all a-flutter over, and this had been his first night out since moving in to his apartment.

"When I saw the flyers," he explained, "I had to come. Proposition 14's such a piece of bullshit."

"It's not fucking right is what it is," Deb agreed. "And even after what happened tonight..." she faltered. "I know my Mikey would attend another one right now if he could." Reaching out, Ben put a hand on her shoulder. They all sat in silence for a while, until Deb made a concerted effort to keep going and cleared her throat. "So, Justin, you have any family in Pittsburgh?"

He talked around the subject for a while, before admitting that his dad had thrown him out when he'd come out. Deb was appropriately horrified, and Justin continued his story. "I was able to stay with my best friend until I finished high school," he said. "Mom mostly sided with me, but things were fucked up with Dad and she had my little sister to worry about. I just wanted to get the fuck away from everything, so I went to art school in New York."

Brian frowned.

So did Deb. "Have you called your mom to let her know you're okay?"

"Uh, sure," he glanced away, "she was happy."

Brian frowned harder. Justin's story had the distinct smell of bullshit about it, but what the fuck did it matter if some kid didn't want to reveal his whole life story to a bunch of strangers?

The brief diversion over, time started dragging again. Eventually Mel and Linds had to leave so their babysitter could go home, and Brian couldn't really blame either one of them for wanting to get out of the hospital. They hugged everyone - well, just about everyone - and when it was Brian's turn he held Lindsay to him. "Give my kid a kiss for me."

Promising to return in the morning and asking them to call if anything changed, the munchers departed.

Feeling restless again, Brian headed towards the exit. "I need a smoke."

Not sure why, Brian nonetheless wasn't surprised when Justin stood outside the automatic doors with him.

"You got a spare?" Justin asked.

Shrugging, Brian took a drag on his own cigarette as he passed the pack and his lighter over. "Should you be smoking?" he asked, as he watched Justin light up.

"Probably not," he admitted, passing them back, blowing out a rush of smoke. "But fuck it. I'm already at a hospital. And after tonight, I fucking need it." He took another pull on the cigarette.

Brian almost found himself smirking, shoving the cigarettes and lighter into his pocket. "So," he began, "how exactly does an eighteen-year-old kid afford to move and go to college in New York?"

Justin bit back what was probably a grin. "You've never heard of a scholarship?"

"Really?" he asked, disbelieving. "I'm guessing your shit head of a dad worked a decent job. And they took that into consideration, and decided you didn't need financial assistance."

Justin studied him. "Are you a professional psychic or something? Because I have to tell you, you don't look the type."

Brian just shrugged, not exactly thrilled by the comparison to Mysterious Marilyn even if Justin's tone had been teasing. "You look like you come from money."

"Well lucky me," he rolled his eyes. "They weren't exactly rich, but they had enough. And yeah, I didn't get any help - at least from them. I had an accident the night of my prom, sued the fucker and got more than enough to pay for college."

A memory slammed to the front of Brian's brain. "You were the kid who got bashed."

"Shit," Justin replied, "you make me sound like Harry fucking Potter."

It'd been all over the news years ago. Gay high school kid taking his boyfriend to the prom, getting bashed afterward. Deb had been thrilled when the asshole had been found guilty. "Sorry - don't know what Harry Potter sounds like." Stubbing out his cigarette, he threw it into the small trash can obviously meant for cigarette disposal.

"Just as well," Justin said, finishing his own cigarette and doing the same. "The author's seriously overrated."

"So why the fuck did you come back?" Brian asked. "Why return to dismal old Pittsburgh?"

Jamming his hands into his back jean pockets, Justin thought it over. "It may not be as exciting, or...glamorous," Justin's lips twitched, and Brian understood why - for all its fame, New York could be a real cess pool. "But it's home. I missed it."

Clearly the guy was insane. Still running on instinct, Brian placed a hand against Justin's chest and started walking forward, pushing him back until Justin's back was against the side of the building. "You realise you're nuts."

"But I'm happy," Justin looked up at him, completely unfazed, his hands coming out of his pockets to rest on Brian's waist, "and that's all that matters."

"Guys."

Ben's voice. They both turned towards it.

"There's news."

*******

Debbie and Ben hovered around the bed, Ben holding Mikey's hand, while Brian silently watched from a few feet away. Mikey's face had been cleaned so at least he didn't look quite as shitty as he had earlier - not that that was saying much. He was still out cold.

"We've stabilised the blood loss," the doctor told them, "but there's still internal bleeding from a punctured spleen. We're going to need to remove it immediately."

Standing tall, back straight, Debbie's face was pinched as she asked the question. "Will he be all right?"

He hesitated. Fucking hesitation was never a good sign, and Brian wanted to punch him. "This amount of blood loss...we can only hope for the best." If hope was all it took, they wouldn't need surgery. If hope was all it took, it never would've fucking happened in the first place. "I'm gonna give you a moment with him, and then we need to start prepping."

After the doctor left, Ben kissed Mikey's forehead, and Deb bent down over her son to start playing with his hair. "You'd better fucking come through this, you little shit."

Brian couldn't fucking agree more.

When Mikey was eventually wheeled away they followed him as far as they could, until he was through the door marked Medical Personnel Only. The frustration he'd been feeling before had started to ease, but now it was back with full force. Mikey was being operated on, and there was nothing he could do to make it better, or make sure he came through. It was all down to luck.

Annoyed, he turned around and saw Justin waiting at the side of the corridor, looking anxious.

"What's going on?"

His best friend could be dying. "They're taking out his spleen."

Justin took a step towards him, nodding. "Okay." He stopped. "Anything else?"

There was nothing else to say. "They don't know if he'll make it."

"Okay." Justin took another step forward.

Brian didn't know what the fuck he was playing at. "What're you doing?"

"You look like you could use a hug."

Oh, Christ. "I don't fucking think so."

"What?" Justin asked plainly. "You can man-handle me around outside but I'm not allowed to touch you?"

"That was different."

"Because you were going to kiss me?"

Couldn't deny it. Justin was pretty hot. "Well...yeah."

"So...let me see if I have this straight. You were perfectly willing to kiss a complete stranger, but not hug him?"

"You have a problem with that?"

"Ohhh," Justin said, coming to some kind of conclusion. "You're one of *those*."

What the fuck? "I'm not one of anything. I'm me, and I don't like people I don't know touching me."

"Apart from sex."

"Right."

"So you *are* one of those."

Brian was two seconds away from hitting him when he realised that Justin's expression looked a little...smug. Jesus Christ, he was being played! He had to admit that the kid had balls. "Nice try, but you're not about to make me stop worrying about Mikey." Looking around, he realised Debbie and Ben had gone back to the waiting area and, sighing, he decided to join them.

Justin did too, sitting next to Brian. After about two hours - interrupted by the occasional trip outside for a smoke - Justin fell asleep on Brian's shoulder. Brian considered waking the presumptuous shit up, but decided if he left him Justin'd just get a crick in his neck and that'd make it worthwhile.

Eventually Brian fell into a kind of limbo state - not quite asleep, not quite awake. It was so fucking boring and he was so fucking tired, but he didn't want to miss any news about Mikey. He wasn't really aware of anything but he wasn't getting any rest, either, and when he roused himself enough to look at his watch, he realised it'd been nearly ninety minutes since the last time he looked.

Fuck. It'd felt like three hours.

Looking across to Ben, he was surprised to realise he was sitting alone. "Where's Deb?"

Ben still looked wide awake. "The chapel."

Right. Somehow Deb had still retained her faith in God. Brian figured most people who believed in God were just wasting their time - or enormous fucking hypocrites, like Joan - but he couldn't begrudge Deb her beliefs. Not tonight. Shit, if anything could help Mikey he didn't care what the fuck it was. God, science, the fucking devil. He'd make a deal with any of them.

Realising he needed to take a leak, Brian turned his head to study the shaggy blond head still resting against his shoulder. How the fuck could anyone fall asleep there and *stay* asleep there? It had to be really fucking uncomfortable.

"Hey," he said. "Wake up."

Nothing. Great.

"Hey," he tried again, shaking his shoulder slightly. "Justin."

Stirring, Justin slowly lifted his head and produced what looked like a face-cracking yawn. Jesus, he had a big mouth. "Any news?" he asked around a smaller yawn, sitting up more and rubbing at his eyes.

"Not yet," Brian got to his feet, not as annoyed as he should be that Justin's neck didn't seem to be hurting at all.

After taking a piss, Brian went outside for another cigarette and tried out his cell phone. It still seemed to be working, and he discovered he had a couple of messages waiting. One was from Claire, asking if he was all right. Brian was surprised she called at all, and deleted the message without replying to it.

One was from a news company, asking for his thoughts on the bombing. He deleted that one too, wondering where the fuck they got his number and making a mental note to never watch that fucking channel again.

The latest was from Ted, asking him to come back to the club whenever he could make it - as the owner, there were things they needed to talk about. Sighing, Brian called Ted back, gave him the latest he knew about Michael - not much - and promised to be there soon.

Why the fuck hadn't Ted come to the hospital yet?

Back inside, Justin was handing Ben what had to be his tenth cup of coffee.

"I have to go back to Babylon," he told them. "Business shit."

"Why you?" Justin asked, sitting next to Ben.

Shit, yeah, he probably didn't know. "I own the club."

"Oh, shit," he replied, proving Brian's theory. "So, even worse night for you."

"Right now I could give two shits about the club," he said, looking at Ben. "I've got my cell. Call me if anything changes. Don't forget your meds."

Walking away, Brian followed the signs for the chapel. Deb was the only one sitting there when he cracked the door open, and he moved to the front, sitting on a chair on the other side of the aisle. "They need me back at the club," he told her quietly. She didn't look away from the cross. "I'll be back as soon as-"

"I know, kiddo," she said, still staring forward.

By the time he left, Debbie had outright demanded to God that He take care of her kid.

No one ever said no to Deb, and Brian could only hope that God wasn't the first one to start.

*

Things were surprisingly quiet when he got to the club - but then given what it'd sounded like the last time he'd been there, anything would seem quiet. Except for the occasional lingerer the press had all but vanished, and Brian was let under the police tape after showing his ID and Horvath told them to let him through.

"Ted here?"

"Not yet," Horvath shook his head, then paused. "Look...it's your club. I get why you're here. It's been declared structurally sound enough at the moment so I'm gonna let you in," he said, "but don't touch anything. We've still got investigators sifting through for evidence." Pausing again, he studied Brian seriously. "You okay to go in?"

Saying no wasn't an option. "Yeah."

Everything seemed to slow down as he followed Horvath into the club. It still stank of burnt plastic and flesh, and with the lights that'd been been set up he could see far more than he had right after the explosion. Christ.

It was like those post-war scenes in movies, that shit that Brian'd never really bought as being what the truth looked like. Except it *did* look like that; beams that'd fallen from the ceiling, charred metal and too many, too fucking many splashes of blood. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust, only Brian didn't think it was dust at all and wasn't about to fucking ask.

There were no bodies, and no body parts, and Brian realised that it'd been a while since the explosion. There'd been time to clear everything out - or at least the dead.

Horvath didn't say anything, just walked away and let Brian take it in on his own. He focused on the bar...the remnants of the bar. Was that where Mikey had been standing? He'd passed Brian on his way to get drinks just a few minutes before...but then he'd found Mikey and Justin further way. Shit. Had he been thrown that far? They were fucking lucky he didn't suffer even worse injuries.

Brian tried to dissect it, tried to piece it all together in his brain, figure out the course of events, but when he closed his eyes he was being thrown to the floor and the world was burning and the alarm was blaring in his ears. Fumbling for his cigarettes - fuck, he needed to buy another pack - he lit one up and sucked in a big breath of nicotine.

Fuck, he was tired. Where the fuck was Ted?

Sighing, Brian looked towards the ceiling and dedicated that particular smoke to the memory of Babylon.

*

"Brian."

His eyes snapped open. Realising he'd somehow managed to fall asleep he blinked, slowly becoming aware of his body and the fact that he'd found something to lean against that wasn't about to fall over.

Ted had arrived fuck knew how long ago now, obviously ready - and eager - to talk about insurance, the cost of re-building, paperwork. Brian hadn't wanted to listen to any of it, but knew that running a business meant having to think about that shit even when it wasn't convenient, or when he just didn't fucking want to. So he listened, and said yes or no to Ted's suggestions - shit, Ted even had ideas for a new design inside the club, changes they could make and he moved around, gesturing with his hands and telling Brian all about what would go where.

It was too fucking annoying and too much movement, and Brian'd zoned out like he had earlier, only this time he'd managed to fall asleep.

Until now, where Ted was standing next to him, a lot less enthusiastic than he had been earlier.

"It was a bomb," Ted told him, obviously shaken. "Someone...planted a bomb." He seemed surprised. What the fuck had he thought it was?

The sound of movement made Brian glance to the right, where he saw Horvath making his way towards them.

"Ted tell ya?"

Nothing he didn't already know. "How many?"

Coming to a stop, Horvath's mouth settled into a grim line. "Four dead. Sixty-seven wounded. Eleven of them critical." Jesus. "Hell of a thing," he continued, looking around at what was left of the club. "Not something I ever expected to happen in Pittsburgh." Brian was pretty sure it was something no one ever expected to happen in Pittsburgh. What was so important about fucking Pittsburgh?

Ted shifted. "Any idea who did it?"

Seemed fucking obvious to Brian. "Obviously someone who didn't care for Stop Prop 14."

Sighing, Horvath started walking away, no doubt to get back to work. Brian didn't envy him his job right now. "We're interviewing everyone who worked here. We're gonna need statements from you two, as well." Turning to look back, he pointed at them. "And a copy of the guest list."

"No problem," Ted replied, making a note in his PDA.

Pausing, Horvath looked back at them properly. "Why don't you two...go home?"

If Brian left, he certainly wasn't going to the fucking loft. "Come on," he said, standing away from the beam he'd been leaning on. "Let's stop by the hospital - see if there's an update."

Ted gave excuses, rambled off a list of things he had to do. Brian just left him, too tired to care about excuses right then.

By the time Brian walked back into the waiting room, it was just after 7am. Em had turned up, and somehow Brian wasn't surprised to see that Justin was still there.

They all looked like shit.

"Any word?" he asked Deb as they hugged briefly.

"No, we're still waiting," she said anxiously, tugging at his arm so he'd sit down next to her. "Did Carl say anything?"

Brian didn't see what a little creativity could hurt. "Just that he loves you, and he wishes he was here." A brief smile of pleasure flickered across her mouth. That was something. He almost hated to ruin it with the truth, but they needed to hear it. "And...that it was a bomb."

Em looked horrified. "Oh my God."

Brian just stared at him. "Well, what the hell did you think it was?"

"What kind of sick fuck would do something like that?" Deb ranted, shifting in her seat restlessly, looking like she'd love nothing more than to choke the fucker to death with her bare hands.

"The kind of people who went to Matthew Shepard's funeral, carrying signs that said 'your son's burning in hell'," Justin offered. "The kind of people who support Proposition 14."

Well, that was fucking depressing but, again, nothing he didn't already know.

Emmett left suddenly, obviously freaked out by news of the bomb, asking Deb to contact him as soon as anything changed. He might as well have stayed, because ten seconds later the doctor came out to the waiting area, looking as tired as Brian felt.

Ben immediately got to his feet, Deb right beside him. "Dr Ryan?"

And just like that, Mikey was going to be fine. Well, the actual term had been 'cautiously optimistic' but Brian knew ass-covering when he heard it - they were just saying that to be on the safe side.

Christ. He was gonna be fine.

Christ.

Mikey was in recovery and they probably wouldn't be able to see him for the rest of the day, so the doctor suggested they all go home and get some rest. Brian knew there was no fucking way Debbie or Ben would be leaving, but also knew that personally he could use a fucking shower and a clean change of clothes.

"Deb," he bent down next to her after she'd taken her seat again, "I'm gonna go home, get cleaned up."

She realised what he was saying and touched the side of his face. "Get some rest, you asshole. You've got a company to run." Pressing a kiss to his forehead, she planted a hand on his shoulder and gently shoved him away. "Now get the fuck out of here."

Managing a smirk, he stood up and nodded at the professor. Ben nodded back.

Brian turned towards Justin. "Give you a lift somewhere?"

"Sure," Justin said, picking up his jacket and getting to his feet. "Thanks." Watching as Justin said goodbye - hugged - Debbie and Ben, Brian knew there was no escaping the fact that after the events of the previous night, Justin was now a part of their screwed-up family.

On the walk to the car they silently shared Brian's last cigarette, passing it between them. Stubbing it out in the ashtray inside the Jeep, Brian let out a big breath and grasped onto the steering wheel with both hands.

The club had been destroyed. Someone had tried to kill them.

Mikey was gonna be fine.

Brian pulled at his seat belt. "Where can I take you?" he asked, glancing across at Justin. It was a test as much as anything else.

Justin glanced back. "Your place."

Nodding, Brian put the key in the ignition. At least they were on the same page. "Good," he said, and started the car.

********

On the way to the loft they found a store that was open, so Justin ran inside to get cigarettes. Brian was just starting to wonder what the fuck was taking him so long when Justin emerged, climbing into the passenger side with an obviously full paper bag beneath his arm.

"What the fuck did you buy in there?"

"I nearly got blown up last night," Justin declared, setting the bag on his lap and pulling his seat belt on. "So I picked up one of every candy bar they had."

"Jesus," Brian muttered, peering into the bag. "Just don't get any of that shit on my bed."

"Right," Justin rolled his eyes. "Because chocolate is so much more offensive than come."

"At my place?" Brian asked, pulling out into the morning traffic. "Eating chocolate is practically a federal offence."

They didn't talk for the rest of the drive and by the time they got to the loft, Brian's mood was completely fucking foul once again. Stomping inside, he headed straight for the drinks cart.

"I like your place," Justin said, looking around and walking further into the loft, putting his bag on the kitchen counter. Moving back to the door and sliding it shut, he joined Brian by the cart. "Can I have one?"

Brian was already on his third glass of JB and he poured one for Justin in another glass, leaving it for him to pick up himself. Throwing back the whole shot in one go - the way Brian had been - Justin closed his eyes and swallowed. Watching the movement of Justin's neck, Brian was suddenly struck by the undeniable need to fuck the shit out of something. Anything. Any*one*.

He gave Justin a thorough once-over - messy hair, rumpled clothes, dirt-streaked face - and he'd never wanted to fuck anyone more than he did right then.

Evidently noticing the appraisal Justin stared right back at him, eyebrows raised.

Brian moved.

Their glasses crashed to the floor as they lunged for each other, mouths mashing together as they pulled at their jackets. Brian didn't care about foreplay, or being nice; he barely got undressed. Justin's pants came off and Brian barely had his undone and pulled down before he was rolling on a condom and shoving lube up Justin's ass. Justin didn't seem to mind, his left hand coming back to dig into Brian's thigh as he fucked him across the sofa, urging him on. And Christ, Justin was tight, and Brian mouthed the back of his neck as he frantically moved inside him. It wasn't about good sex - it was about getting off, and they managed that fucking quickly.

Justin came first, jerking himself off, and the contractions around his cock brought Brian off just seconds later. Groaning, panting, Brian collapsed on top of him.

He was still queer. He was still a big, fat fucking success. And he was still gonna fuck as much as humanly possible.

Shifting beneath him, Justin groaned quietly as Brian pulled out. "Fuck, we should've recorded that," he gasped, and Brian had a brief flash of concern about an asthma attack as he disposed of the condom. It proved unwarranted. "Give a copy to every homophobe we come across," he laughed breathlessly. "We're not gonna stop fucking just because..." his voice faded out, his mood obviously dropping. "Brian?"

"Yeah?"

"I need a shower."

They both did.

It seemed expedient to share so they did; Justin pulling off his come-splattered shirt and Brian finally actually getting undressed. Under the water Brian helped Justin rinse the dirt out of his hair. They inspected each other closer, pointing out dirt-marks that'd been missed and, quite frankly, Brian enjoyed the contact. Despite what he told Justin earlier, he didn't mind touching people - but Brian had to be the one starting things. Besides, they'd already fucked. That kind of extended a general invitation to your whole body - with certain limitations, of course.

While he wasn't about to admit it anyone, after last night it was...good to be able to touch a warm body - especially a body that had a great ass. When they stepped out of the shower - Justin blew Brian; Brian jerked Justin off - they dried off, and Brian found himself staring at his reflection in the mirror. He looked normal. No dirt, no blood. Just Brian Kinney, on any fucking night of the year.

But Christ, now he felt absolutely exhausted.

Apparently Justin felt much the same way. "Oh my God," he said dramatically, stumbling towards the bedroom. "Bed. *Bed*." He fell face-down onto the mattress, lying naked across the covers. "Do you hog the covers?"

Throwing his towel into the washing basket, Brian walked out to join him. "No."

"Sleep on a particular side?"

"No."

"Have any particularly weird sleeping habits I should know about?"

Not even the view of that ass was worth this much aggravation. "I give annoying twats who don't get under the covers a big kick up the ass."

Justin got the message, although he was clearly using as little effort as possible to move around. Finally Brian could climb into his own bed, and he'd never realised before just how fucking comfortable it was. He'd be asleep in no time at all, even if it was daylight out.

"Brian?"

He better not be a talker. "What?"

"Thanks for..." He stopped. "After last night, it would've been...weird, falling asleep alone. So. You know. Thanks."

Brian felt the sentimentality starting to grate on his nerves. "You helped Mikey. We fucked. I'm not about to kick you out of my apartment. Now go to sleep."

The fucker of it was, he knew exactly what Justin meant.

*

Brian woke with a gasp.

He couldn't say that he'd had a nightmare, because he couldn't remember dreaming about anything in particular. Instead he felt a sense of overwhelming dread, that there was something seriously fucking wrong and if he didn't do something to stop it-

"Hey."

Blinking, Brian turned his head towards the source of the voice - who held a half-eaten chocolate bar in one hand, a pencil in the other, and was resting a piece of paper on a book in his lap. He'd obviously been drawing.

"Bad dream?" Justin asked quietly.

"No," he said, watching as Justin shrugged and took a bite from his Snickers bar. "What time is it?"

"Little after one," he replied, his breath carrying a distinct waft of peanut and clearly not giving a shit.

One. That was later than Brian'd been expecting.

"Deb called a couple of times," Justin continued. "You slept right through it. Michael hasn't woken up yet. Oh," he paused, frowning, "and some woman called Cynthia asked you to call her back."

Yeah. He really should've called the office before he went to sleep, but he'd just been too fucking tired to think about it. "Did you sleep?" He couldn't have much if he'd taken all those messages.

"I tend to sleep lightly," he explained. "The good news is I can fall asleep just about anywhere, although I don't get any real rest if I'm not in a bed." He took another bite. "You like Snickers?"

He shrugged. "They're all right."

Climbing off the bed, Justin took everything he'd been holding with him, and returned with a brand new un-opened Snickers bar. He threw it onto Brian's chest. "Here," he said, settling back onto the bed. "I bought one for you."

Lifting his head, Brian observed the chocolate bar for a few moments before lowering his head back down. "Thrilled as I am that you spent fifty cents on me, I'm not eating chocolate for breakfast."

"It's lunchtime."

Okay, so that might have been true. "It's full of all kinds of crap anyway." Normally he had to be stoned and decided against mentioning that little fact.

"Uh huh," Justin said speculatively. "And what were you planning on eating instead?"

Frankly, he wasn't hungry. "That's none of your fucking business."

"Right," he sighed, reaching out to the bedside table to pick up a condom and the bottle of lube.

Frowning, Brian watched as Justin pulled back the covers and straddled Brian's groin. Leaning down to lick at his neck, Justin slowly rotated his ass over Brian's rapidly hardening dick.

Fucking traitor.

Sitting up, Justin kept moving his hips as he smiled down at Brian. "You eat the chocolate bar, you get to fuck me."

Brian was almost amused. "I've already had you."

"So? Have me again. You have to admit, it wasn't exactly the fuck of the year before. I say we do something to rec..." he ground down hard, and Brian couldn't help it - he moaned. "...tify the situation."

Sitting further back, Justin opened the condom he'd left laying next to them and efficiently rolled it over Brian's dick, jacking him off a few times in the process. Squirting lube onto his fingers, he leant forward, one hand bracing the weight of his body against the bed; the other reaching back to work lube into his own ass.

Jesus. There was nothing so fucking hot as a guy who was comfortable with his body, and sex, and Brian's cock got harder as he watched Justin fuck himself with his own fingers. He groaned, and whimpered, clearly having the fucking time of his life and Brian wasn't going to settle for not being involved in that. When Justin finally pulled his fingers free Brian grabbed his hips, pulling him towards his groin again.

"Chocolate first!" Justin laughed, picking the bar up from Brian's chest and ripping it open, wrapping the edges down and holding it towards Brian's mouth. "Go on," he urged in a breathy voice. "Take a bite. I'll even share it with you."

Brian hated being manipulated into anything, but he was horny and Justin's ass was rubbing over his cock again, and he did actually kind of want the Snickers bar. He just knew that he shouldn't want it.

But shit. He could've died last night. What was the point in wasting time? Maybe Justin had the right idea. Besides, didn't Brian pride himself on doing whatever the fuck he wanted, whenever the fuck he wanted?

Holding Justin's gaze, Brian bit into the chocolate bar - and then flipped them over, until he was on top. Lining his cock up with Justin's ass, Brian finished chewing and swallowed. "I shouldn't eat when I'm lying on my back," he said through gritted teeth, closing his eyes as he pressed inside. "It's a..." Fuck. "Bad habit."

"Pretty sure," Justin hooked his legs around him, gasping, "it's not your only one."

Opening his eyes, Brian looked down to see Justin smiling up at him. Suddenly the chocolate bar was brought back into view.

"Want more?" Justin asked chirpily.

What the fuck? "You are so fucking weird." But...hmm. Chocolate and sex. There were worse things. Taking another bite, Brian pulled out before thrusting back in - hard.

"Fuck," Justin whispered, closing his eyes, so Brian did it again until the fucking Snickers bar was abandoned and Justin was pulling his head down with both hands to share a chocolate-soaked kiss. It should've been gross but Justin clearly loved it, sucking the chocolate out of Brian's mouth as they fucked, and it just urged Brian on more, reaching back to pull Justin's legs from around him, folding them back towards Justin's body and holding his thighs apart as he fucked him harder and harder.

Their mouths met infrequently after that, latching on to whatever they could find and when Brian finally came, he could feel the power of it vibrating through his entire body.

Helping Justin stretch out his legs, Brian carefully pulled out and rolled away.

"Holy shit," Justin breathed, looking down at his own come-covered chest. "That was definitely the fuck of the year."

Brian was pretty fucking sure he had as many streaks of chocolate on his face as Justin did. "I knew you'd get chocolate on my bed." He reached over to the bedside table, looking for a cigarette. He was surprised to see a pack waiting, and realised Justin must've placed it there. "I hope you realise you'll be cleaning the sheets later."

"Right," he mocked, "like you don't have a cleaning service."

Lighting up two cigarettes, he passed one to Justin.

"So what're your plans for the rest of the day?" Justin asked after they'd been smoking for a while. "Going to the hospital?"

"Later," Brian agreed. "I should stop in at work first."

"Babylon again?"

"No. I own an advertising agency."

"Shit," he said, puffing out a surprised breath of smoke. "How many companies do you own?"

"Just the two," he smirked, taking another drag. "What about you?"

"I don't own any companies," he joked. "But I don't have any definitive plans. Hospital, I guess. I don't start work at the gallery for another couple of weeks - which is just as well, considering that it's after one and I'm still in bed. I should probably go home and get some fresh clothes on, though. Speaking of which," Justin looked towards him, "do you have a shirt I can borrow? Or I'm gonna be gracing everyone I meet with a come-stained Justin Taylor original."

He snorted. "You should wear it proudly. But," stubbing out his cigarette, he got out of bed, "first you need a shower."

"Two showers in one day," Justin followed behind him. "We're really not doing our part for conservation."

"Sure we are," Brian insisted, starting the water and dragging Justin towards him. "We're sharing."

*********

After showering, handing over a spare toothbrush and finding Justin a shirt, Brian offered to drop him off somewhere on the way to work. Declining, Justin said he actually wouldn't mind the walk - that he wanted to see if he could find his way back to his new apartment on his own. Brian thought that was fucking weird, but whatever.

Justin left the loft with as little fanfare as he arrived - telling Brian he'd probably see him at the hospital later, and walking out the door. The come and chocolate stains were the only evidence he'd ever been there.

Or so Brian thought until he finished getting dressed, and stepped down into the kitchen. The drawing Justin'd been working on was resting on the kitchen counter and Brian picked it up, studying the sketch of himself. The kid had talent, no doubt about it. It was Brian sleeping in bed - obviously the image Justin had seen when he'd woken up - naked, relaxed.

Or maybe not exactly relaxed. Somehow Justin had managed to capture the fact that Brian hadn't slept well; his body tense in ways it usually wasn't when he was sleeping. In the bottom left corner there was one word - Thanks - and what had to be Justin's cell phone number.

Leaving the sketch on the counter, Brian went to work.

Cynthia was surprised to see him, popping up as soon as he stepped through the glass doors into Kinnetik.

"I didn't expect to see you here today."

"Mikey's gonna make it," he shrugged. "But he's sleeping. Where else am I gonna be?"

"That's great," she said, eyeing him warily. "Well, all I can say is thank God my mother has congestive heart failure." Brian just stared at her, not comprehending and blaming it on the lack of caffeine in his system (something he counteracted by taking a sip of the coffee he'd picked up on the way in). "If I didn't have to be with her, I would've been there last night."

Ah, good point. Losing his right hand Cynthia would've been a distinct disadvantage. "Is everyone present and accounted for?" he asked, heading towards his office.

She tagged along next to him. "Except for Phil in the art department." Pausing by the door to Brian's office, she turned and leant closer, lowering her voice. "He got trampled on when everyone was trying to get out. Broken hip." Jesus. Brian hadn't even seen him. Had he stepped right over him? "He'll be laid out for a month."

Shit. "I'll give him a call. And send some food. And porn."

"Basic essentials," she smiled softly - something she didn't do often - before moving back to her desk.

"Jesus, Brian," a voice said behind him, and Brian turned to see Ted walking towards him. "What are you doing here? You should be at home, getting some shut-eye."

Ted was hardly one to talk. "I was - for a while." Of course, with Justin around there really wasn't all that much shut-eye. Although Brian had the feeling he wouldn't be getting a full nights' worth of sleep anytime soon anyway.

"Well, you'll be happy to know I've already submitted a claim to the insurance company, I've spoken with three contractors - they're submitting bids - and the building inspectors are double-checking the initial assessment that the structure's sound, so..." Shrugging, he turned back towards his desk.

There was one vital piece of information he hadn't mentioned. "Aren't you forgetting something?" Brian asked, continuing when Ted looked at him blankly. "Are you gonna ask how Michael is?"

"Oh," Ted said, "oh, I heard. Ben called from the hospital, so...it's great news," he finished, not looking particularly happy.

Ted clearly had issues for whatever fucking reason. A couple of years ago Brian might just've ignored it; now he crossed the few steps to his desk. "So, why don't you put the estimates and contractors and the inspectors on hold for a minute? Haul your ass down to the hospital."

Also clearly, Ted wasn't fucking ready. "I'm afraid you'll have to bring bouquets and bon-bons without me," he rambled nervously, "because at the moment I'm trying to get your business back up and running as quickly as possible. For which, by the way, I don't expect a thank you. If you'll excuse me, I put a call into Düsseldorf Plumbing about a broken water main." Sitting in his chair, he picked up the phone, effectively dismissing Brian from the conversation. "Klaus? Hi, sorry to keep you on hold so long..."

Brian was giving Ted exactly one day of lee way. If he kept that shit up, he'd be out of a job the next day.

Finally making it into his office Brian placed his coffee and briefcase on his desk, and stripped his coat off. It didn't take him long to get engrossed in work - it was almost a relief, in a way, and he understood Ted's perspective a little more (not that he was about to tell Ted that).

Just after five he made that call to Phil, pretending to be annoyed that they were a man down in the art department - although Phil's absence could have some real implications. While they were capable of running with a man short - they had to be, for vacations or illness - a month was definitely longer than most breaks.

When Brian got the phone call twenty minutes later that Mikey had woken up, Ted was still working.

*

Brian found Mikey's room by first finding a familiar blond head of hair. Justin was standing outside, looking through the window into the room. Following his gaze, Brian saw Ben and Debbie standing on either side of Mikey's bed, obviously talking to him.

"Hey."

"Hey," Justin said, smiling towards him. "How was work?"

"It was there," he shrugged, still looking into the room. "You spoken to him?"

"Briefly," Justin replied. "Just to tell him I'm glad he's okay. I mean...we don't even know each other. He was probably wondering who the fuck I was - well, at least until Debbie started telling him in extremely vivid detail what I'd done. You'd think she'd been there herself or something."

Brian smirked towards him. "You realise you're going to be her hero from now on, don't you?" Shit, if Justin ever went into the diner he'd probably get free meals for life.

"My life is *so* hard," he rolled his eyes. "Somehow I'll survive. Anyway, this whole hero thing is weird. Anyone else would've done the same."

He couldn't help but doubt it - after the bomb went off, Brian hadn't been able to think about anything but the people he already knew. "Not necessarily," he said, stepping around Justin and opening the door to the room. "Mikey," he announced, walking dramatically to the bed. "You look like shit." While it was the truth, he still looked a hell of a lot better than he had the night before.

"You don't look so hot yourself," Mikey retorted weakly, and Brian knew he'd better keep the visit short.

"I can give you the names of about twenty thousand guys who think otherwise," he replied, leaning down to brush a quick kiss against Mikey's lips. "You know," he drew back, "if you wanted to be more popular than me for once, you really didn't need to go this far."

"Fuck off," Mikey said with a small laugh that turned into a cough.

Deb brought her hand to her chest, stepping closer. "You okay, baby?"

"Fine," he smiled, but it was marred by a wince. Brian and Debbie exchanged glances.

"Look," Brian said quickly, "I better get out of here. There was a hot nurse I passed on the way in who obviously wanted me to fuck him. If I oblige, I'll make his day and we all know how much I love doing my part for humanity. Get some rest. I'll come back to visit tomorrow." He kissed Mikey again, hesitating when he pulled away, keeping his eyes closed. "Always have, Mikey."

"Always will," Mikey completed the familiar refrain, and then Brian was standing up and facing Ben. "A word, professor?" Shrugging, Ben nodded at Mikey and Deb before following Brian outside.

As soon as the door shut behind them, Brian turned towards Ben and started talking. "What's happening with his medical bills?"

"His insurance should cover it."

"Good," Brian nodded. "If it doesn't, come and see me."

"Brian..."

"Neither one of you are raking it in, professor. Not the way I am. Plus you have a new home and a kid to help support. It's simple math."

Sighing, Ben ran a hand through his hair. "Fine. But *only* if the insurance doesn't come through."

"Deal," Brian said. They stared at each other for a few moments. "Don't try and hug me or anything."

Ben let out a bark of laughter. "Wouldn't dream of it, but...thanks." Nodding, he let himself back into Michael's room.

Brian stood there for a while, watching the three of them through the window, when he became aware of another presence standing next to him. "Want a lift home?"

"Sure," Justin said.

*

He took Justin to his own place this time, following his directions, and accepted the invitation to come upstairs. They managed to get all their clothes off before they fucked this time, and appreciated the fact that Justin's bed was nearly as big as Brian's. As they enjoyed a post-coital smoke, Brian got up and started nosing around the apartment. It was slightly smaller than the loft, but more than comfortable for one person. There wasn't all that much unpacked yet - there were still piles of boxes against the walls - but there was plenty of art on display.

Brian stared at one in particular; big gashes of red and black. "You did this."

"Yeah," Justin said, coming to stand next to him. "I painted all of them."

That wasn't a surprise. "Do you sell?"

"Yeah. I had a few shows in New York - they went well. If I didn't have the other money I couldn't live off my paintings right now, but...I do well enough."

Brian nodded. "Good." Then, bizarrely, his stomach rumbled.

Justin stared at him. "What was the last thing you ate?"

Shit, he hadn't thought about eating since... "Besides your ass?"

"That's it," Justin sighed. "I'm ordering Chinese."

*

At first Brian thought he was still stuck in a dream, but as he concentrated...no. No, it was definitely the sound of crying that'd woken him up.

Justin wasn't lying next to him, so Brian pushed back the covers and got out of bed, making his way through the unfamiliar apartment. It was hard navigating with the lights off, but eventually he found his way to the bathroom and pushed the door open, flicking on the light.

Justin was on the floor, crammed in between the toilet and the shower, his knees brought up to his chest. He was crying his fucking eyes out, and winced visibly when the light came on. "Fuck, go away!" he demanded, although the crying kind of rendered him non-threatening. "I'm not some pathetic little pussy!"

Christ. This was why he never fucked anyone twice.

Brian didn't know what the fuck was going on, but he did know that Justin couldn't spend the night on the bathroom floor. Kneeling down, he carefully reached out to touch Justin's arm. When he didn't get kicked in the balls for his trouble, he reached out with his other hand. "Justin."

Despite his words Justin didn't fight him, letting Brian coax him out of the corner. He continued to sob and sniffle as he was led back to the bedroom, and when Justin climbed into bed Brian lobbed a toilet roll at his head.

"Fuck off," Justin muttered, then yanked a handful of toilet tissue off and blew his nose loudly.

There wasn't much to say after that. Justin lay with his back towards Brian, still sniffing and shaking. Feeling awkward as fuck, Brian almost prayed for some divine intervention telling him what the fuck he should do. When God didn't respond - as predicted - he did the only thing he could think of. Scooting closer to Justin, Brian wrapped a wary arm around him.

Stiffening immediately - not in a good way - Justin eventually began to relax, and eventually stopped crying, too. Reduced to the occasional sniffle, he cleared his throat. "Sorry."

Brian thought about saying that sorry was bullshit, but decided not to.

"The...shit." Justin hesitated, obviously nervous, before trying again. "Since the bashing...sometimes my emotions get...out of whack. I can't control them. Turns out brain damage can do that," he said mirthlessly. "But it's rare, now - usually when I'm over-tired or stressed out. I'd say I have a good excuse this time, wouldn't you?" He tried to make it a joke but it fell flat. "So," he cleared his throat, "if I get kinda weird, sometimes...that's why."

Brian tried to process all that. Fuck. "Is there shit you can take?"

"I'm allergic to just about every drug you can think of," Justin confessed. "The side effects sucked. Coping with it is just simpler all round. Like I said, it doesn't happen all that often now. It's partly my own fault it happened tonight - I knew I wasn't getting enough rest and wasn't really dealing with the bombing and..." he trailed off with a sigh. "Are you gonna stop fucking me?" he asked matter-of-factly.

Extremely important question. They'd managed to get through the episode reasonably well, considering, and...fuck. Justin had been hurt through no fault of his own - Brian could hardly punish him for that. Justin being hurt by the bashing was no different to Mikey being hurt by the bombing - the injury was just in a different place.

Still, Brian did have his own personal credo to deal with. "You know, technically I don't usually fuck guys more than once anyway."

"Oh." Justin wiggled in his arms. "Well, you know, you've already definitely fucked me more than once, so I'd say none of your usual rules apply to me."

Brian snorted out a breath. Christ, he'd just had a major fucking queen out and he was playing Brian already. "I don't know. Does your ass throw the occasional queen out too?"

"No," Justin replied, an obvious smile in his voice. "Just my head."

"Hmm," Brian inched closer still, his hand slipping down to Justin's cock. "Then I'd say you have nothing to worry about."

*********

The next morning, Brian woke up his favourite way after a restless night's sleep - with a hot guy's mouth wrapped around his cock.

Actually, it was his favourite way of waking up after any kind of sleep.

Just enjoying it, Brian didn't try to hold back - he let Justin suck him off quickly, dispelling the vague unease he still felt from the dreams he couldn't remember.

Obviously pleased with himself afterward, Justin clambered up Brian's body to share a kiss. He'd swallowed, but Brian could still taste the traces of himself and Justin hummed happily as Brian sucked on his tongue. What was a little thing like morning breath compared to come shared between friends?

There was no sign of the frightened, sobbing mess he'd found in the bathroom last night, or the apologetic man who'd appeared afterward. Brian couldn't have been more fucking grateful.

"Mmm," Justin murmured as he broke the kiss, biting gently along the line of Brian's jaw, nipping at his neck. "Do you have any idea how hot you are?"

"Well," he smirked, rolling Justin onto his back and moving down his body, "it's funny you should ask..."

Brian was a big believer in reciprocating in bed - it almost always made the sex hotter.

The shower was only big enough for one, so while Justin cleaned up Brian started making coffee, searching through the kitchen cupboards to find what he needed. As the pot filled he found a sketch pad on a coffee table and started flicking through it - obviously Justin's work, and Brian found himself intrigued. After hearing that Justin was an artist and seeing that sketch of himself in the loft, Brian had presumed that'd been Justin's area of interest. But with the paintings on the wall and the news of the art shows in New York...

Justin emerged from the bathroom naked, rubbing a towel over his wet hair.

And promptly banged his shin against the edge of a box.

"Ow! Fuck!" Stumbling back, he dropped the towel and rubbed a hand over his injured leg. "I've got to stop fucking doing that."

Brian turned another page in the sketch pad. "You could also try unpacking the rest of your shit."

"Shit, I might as well throw it away - if I haven't unpacked it yet, I obviously don't need it. Hey," Justin was standing next to him - still very much naked - his head a big mess of damp blond hair. "You like looking at my stuff." It wasn't said with ego, just as a statement.

"You're good," Brian nodded, studying a sketch of a male arm that ended in a hand holding a pencil. Self-portrait? "Painting, drawing...that's a pretty broad spectrum."

Justin seemed amused. "Art isn't that cut and dried, Brian. I happen to be good at both, and they're not as dissimilar as you seem to think. True, a lot of artists choose to focus on one form, but..." he shrugged. "I just do whatever I feel inspired to do. Besides, they can compliment each other nicely." He let out a deep breath. "Anyway, I'd better get dressed." He headed for the bedroom and Brian glanced up, watching that ass as it walked away.

There was no denying Justin was talented. He also had brains, inspiration, and an obvious eye for what looked good.

"Oh, hey!" Justin called a few minutes later, emerging from the bedroom fully dressed with something in his hands that Brian recognised. "Your shirt," he smiled. "Do you want me to wash it? I didn't jerk off on it or anything."

Brian ignored the question.

"You ever worked on ad-copy?"

*

"Holy shit," Justin laughed as they approached the old baths. "Is this seriously your office space?" Brian smirked. Justin grinned. "Can I just say I love the way your brain works? Fuck, everyone you meet here for business - including, I'm sure, some assholes you can't stand - will be standing in exactly the same place as where some fag took it up the ass."

Some days it gave Brian no end of pleasure thinking about that. "Thank you. Although I don't know how I'll be able to cope with such adulation."

"Something tells me you'll deal," Justin smirked, following Brian into the building.

As it'd turned out, Justin had interned for a small advertising agency while he was at college so although it'd been a few years, he was at least familiar with how the business worked. Brian had made it clear that they wouldn't need his help for more than a few days; just until they found a temp that he was sure had the right vision for Kinnetik. Sometimes weeding out candidates took longer than he'd like.

It was the end of the week but he'd agreed to come in, get a feel of the place - although he wasn't without his doubts. "How do you know I have the right vision?"

Brian leered at him. "That sketchpad had at least twenty drawings of cocks inside. Tells me everything I need to know." It was only a partial truth, but Brian rarely played to anyone's ego too much. If someone did good work he'd tell them, and that was it.

Justin had been just as adamant that he only be paid for the exact number of hours he worked - although that hadn't stopped him from negotiating a very nice hourly rate. Brian almost felt proud.

Inside Kinnetik Brian made the introductions to Ted and Cynthia quickly, explaining Justin's temporary presence, then asked Cynthia to take him to the art department.

"That is," he teased, "if you think you can manage to cope without me."

"Don't worry about it, Brian," Justin smiled cockily. "I'm a big boy."

Remembering the feel of Justin's cock in his mouth that morning, Brian could only nod his agreement.

The morning flew by. They had a presentation due the next week and Brian spent most of his time refining the words of the pitch - they were often the most important thing of all. The boards were almost all done - leaving shit until the last minute was for amateurs - and he made a few critiques, otherwise thinking they were damn good work. If they didn't get the account then the company they were pitching to were idiots.

At one point Cynthia came in to report the progress on her search for a temp, and to tell him that there'd been a memorial arranged that evening for the people who'd died or been injured in the bombing. Shit, Brian hadn't even thought about doing anything like that, when he probably should've been involved in arranging it. Sighing, he leant back in his chair and told her to pass the word to everyone in the office.

Thank God the weekend started tomorrow. This was definitely a week Brian wanted to be over.

Not long after three, Brian realised two things - he hadn't gone to visit Mikey yet, and he'd barely heard a word about Justin (Cynthia had given him one of her 'you are so fucking him' looks, but that was all). Making his way to the art department, Brian immediately spotted Justin hunched over a design board, and kept one eye on him as he approached Murphy. He'd been the head of the art department ever since Kinnetik had opened.

"How's Taylor working out?" Brian asked, nodding towards Justin.

"Good," Murphy said. "He dived right in. He obviously knows what he's doing."

"He's had experience before."

"It shows," he nodded. "Not that it's the most complex of jobs, but he takes instruction well, and isn't afraid to voice his own ideas. Frankly, if he keeps it up I wouldn't mind having him here permanently."

Disturbingly, Brian didn't find the idea as horrifying as he should. "Can you cope if I steal him away for a while? He's a friend of Mikey's," not a complete lie, "thought we'd go pay him a visit at the hospital." Mostly, Brian was hoping that with it being earlier in the day Mikey might be more alert.

"Sure," Murphy shrugged. "He's good, but it's not like we can't survive without him."

Good to know. Striding up to Justin's desk, Brian spoke. "Pack up."

Surprised, Justin looked up at him. "Huh?"

"We're going to the hospital."

"Oh. Is Michael okay?"

"As far as I know."

"Oh." Frowning, Justin bent back over the desk and kept sketching something. "You know, there are these things called questions."

When did his life get so fucking complicated? "How fascinating." Oh yeah, when he decided to take Justin home.

"You should try one sometimes, instead of just telling me what I'm going to do."

"I really don't-"

"Something like, 'Justin, would you like to go to the hospital?' Of course I'm going - it's a given. But you could try being nice about it."

Brian refused to be told about manners by someone nine years younger than he was. "Come to the hospital or I'll kick your ass all the way back to New York."

Lifting his head, Justin regarded him carefully. "I think this qualifies as harassment in the workplace."

Christ.

*

Thankfully, once they got in the Jeep Justin stopped being an irritating little shit.

"I like it," he announced. "There's a good vibe. The people are friendly, and they obviously respect you - even if they do think we're sleeping together."

Brian wasn't bothered. "We are sleeping toge..." What the fuck? "Fucking. We are fucking."

"I noticed," Justin grinned. "But normally I'd expect them to be judging me, you know? And they're not."

"That's because you can do the job," he replied, pulling into the turning lane. "If you were useless I'm sure they'd be talking all kinds of shit behind your back."

"That's...reassuring."

"Thankfully you're talented," Brian continued, "so I'm not hurting my reputation or my company."

Justin laughed. "You sure know how to show a guy a good time."

Debbie was the only one sitting with Mikey when they got there, and she greeted both of them with a hug. Apparently Ben had a class, and both she and Mikey insisted he give it.

Definitely more alert than he had been yesterday, Mikey talked with Justin for a while as they got to know each other better. It wasn't long before Debbie declared a need to eat, and Justin volunteered to go with her.

"I could eat something myself."

Brian rolled his eyes. "Christ, didn't you eat at the office?"

"Sure," he grinned. "Cynthia told me about that bagel place. But it's hardly my fault I have a healthy appetite - you know, like a *normal* human being."

Brian kind of saw it coming, but it still managed to surprise him when Mikey started speaking the moment they were alone.

"He's helping you at Kinnetik?" He sounded a hell of a lot better than he had the day before.

"He's an artist," Brian explained. "One of ours got hurt; Justin's just filling in until we find someone else."

He seemed to consider that. "You fucked him?"

"Mikey," he pretended to be offended, "I'm shocked - *shocked* - and mortally wounded that you'd think I could think about sex at a time like this."

Mikey grinned. "That'd be a yes, then. But seriously, Brian," his smile faltered, "fucking someone you work with? Usually not a good idea. That said, it's not like you ever fuck anyone twice..."

Brian would swear on anything - his cock, Justin's ass, the Bible, ten copies of the Koran - that his face didn't produce the slightest flinch whatsoever.

But Mikey still fucking saw something.

"Oh my God! You *did*!"

He had a vague thought that Mikey really shouldn't be getting so worked up about it. "Will you calm down? If your stitches burst Deb'll have my other ball."

"Oh my God," he continued. "Shit, Brian. When was the last time you fucked anyone more than once? And he seems really nice, too-"

Fuck, here it went. "Christ, we're not fucking *dating* or anything. Just because we fucked more than once doesn't mean we're about to move into a homo home together like you and the professor. It's just trauma sex."

"Trauma sex?"

"Mikey," he explained not-so-patiently, "we met in the aftermath of a bombing, carrying your unconscious body out of the building. Trauma sex."

"Huh." He seemed to think it over. "So it's...'we're alive so we're gonna fuck' sex."

That was more like it. "Exactly."

"Still not sure how that's different from normal sex for you."

He may have had a point.

When Debbie and Justin returned, Deb made a point of making sure they both knew about the memorial. She was planning on speaking, which came as a surprise to no one.

By the time they decided to leave Mikey was clearly flagging, but insisted he was glad they visited for so long. "Even when you're asleep half the time, it still gets really boring in here. Uh," he shot Deb a look, "no offence, Ma."

Before they could leave, however, Deb asked to have a word with him outside. Curious - possibly wary - Brian followed her out into the corridor.

"So," she folded her arms, lifting her eyebrows, "what the fuck's going on with you and Sunshine?"

It was obvious who she meant, but... "Sunshine?"

"True, we haven't had a chance to see it much," she grinned, "but have you seen that smile? It lights up the whole fucking room."

Brian had definitely not had any similar thoughts on the matter. "We're fucking."

"Just fucking?"

"You know I don't do anything else."

"Hmm." She regarded him carefully. "Don't think I haven't noticed."

He wasn't even going to attempt a guess. "Notice what?"

"Since..." she fixed him with an almost contrite expression. "Since you got sick. Or probably since you got better. You've been...different."

Fuck, he so didn't want to get into this. "Can't say I've noticed anything."

She ignored him. "You're still you, just..." she smiled. "The edges aren't so rough."

Brian gritted his teeth. "If you say so."

Deb evidently decided to take some pity on him. "Whatever's happening, just...don't be in your usual big rush to push him away, okay? If there's one good thing about fucking disasters, it's that they remind us how fragile life can be. How we should appreciate every moment we have."

"Believe me," he told her, grateful to get back onto familiar territory, "I'm appreciating Justin's ass as much as is physically possible."

Laughing and rolling her eyes, she gave him an affectionate slap around the head. "Well, at least you're appreciating *something.*"

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