Oh, Inverted World


Rating: NC-17-ish (dirty words, dirty Brian)
Summary: Every part of Brian's life has led him here.
Note: Spoilers through 407.

thanks to erinface and parallactic for betas, rhiannonhero and seperis for general encouragement, and especially to quinn222 and eleveninches for being generally amazing and helping me with just about everything. you two rock so hard that i can't even stand it. also, thanks to the shins for making the beautiful album that i couldn't help but write about.

I. Caring is Creepy

It's a luscious mix of words and tricks
that let us bet when you know we should fold.

When Brian is six years old, his father hits him for the first time. He spends twenty minutes crying for his mother and twenty more crying when he realizes that she isn't going to come. He resolves, in his six-year-old way, to be a better son to his parents, a better brother to Claire, a better caretaker to his two hermit crabs. His quest for personal improvement, he thinks, will keep him safe.

But there is a next time, and a time after that, and still another one after that, and Brian stops crying for his mother, stops trying to be a good son. He pulls Claire's hair, calls her fat and stupid and ugly. He takes the crabs' cage outside and dumps everything -- rocks, food, the crabs themselves -- into the backyard, then throws the empty cage in the trashcan.

His first grade teacher notices that something is wrong after Brian begins refusing to do his work, pinches another child on the playground, sprays piss all over the bathroom wall to the amused giggles of his classmates. She pulls him aside one afternoon during recess and instructs him to "be a man and start behaving," explaining that awful punishments await lazy young men who hurt other people, that they become criminals and drunks and child abusers.

She glances briefly at the large, finger-shaped bruises on Brian's upper arm, revealed by his rolled-up shirtsleeves, then rolls the sleeve down to cover it and tells him to go play.

II. One by One All Day

If every moment of our lives were cradled softly
in the hands of some strange and gentle child
I'd not roll my eyes so.

When Brian is fourteen years old, his social studies teacher calls his parents in for a conference to discuss Brian's almost-failing average in the class. Brian's father shows up drunk, calls the principal a faggot, and pulls Brian out of school the next day.

He finishes the last two months of eighth grade at John J. Kane Junior High School, where no one will talk to him except a short, nerdy-looking boy whose face is always buried in a comic book. Brian hates the kid immediately and spends most of each day trying to avoid him.

He eats alone in the cafeteria at a corner table and puts on his best menacing glare to prevent anyone who might want to take pity on him from sitting down. The comic nerd eyes him from across the room for the first week and a half, then one day, Brian arrives to find NerdBoy occupying his usual table.

He scowls but sits down anyway, pulls each item out of his lunch bag, carefully avoiding the kid's eyes. He knows the boy must be gaping at his food choices -- two apples, three small boxes of Cracker Jacks. Brian doesn't let his mother pack his lunches anymore, not since the day when he got to school and found six pieces of bread and a mason jar half-full of bourbon in the bag.

While Brian eats, the boy talks. He tells Brian that his name is Michael Novotny, that he loves comic books and hates math class, that his mother's name is Debbie and his father was killed in Vietnam, that people think he's weird because he likes to read and doesn't play sports.

Brian listens attentively, but when the bell rings for the next class, he tells Michael, "This doesn't mean we're friends." Michael just smiles like he knows a secret that Brian doesn't. The next day, Michael sits with Brian again, and this time, Brian talks too.

III. The Weird Divide

It pleases me this memory has swollen up with age.
Even time can do good things to you.

When school lets out for the summer, Brian and Michael spend every day wandering through Michael's neighborhood and looking for ways to get in trouble. They start by annoying the neighbors: they put Mr. Foster's rake in the Pullmans' tool shed, take Mrs. Neely's cat and drop it in Mrs. Jacobs' yard. It feels devious, but not devious enough, so they steal a bike and ride it to the other side of town, then steal another one and ride it back.

Michael's mother catches them one afternoon, lying in the backyard and laughing hysterically with a blue Huffy and a bottle of vodka between them. She yells at them for riding the bicycle while they're drunk, then yells some more once she realizes that neither boy owns a bike in the first place. She tries to make them return it, but they're too drunk to remember where it came from and can't stop laughing, so she drives Brian home and grounds Michael for a week.

Brian comes back the next day with a black eye and a red, oozing welt across his back and neck, and this time she lets him stay. Brian knows that Debbie tries to take care of him, but her methods puzzle him, and he can never get used to the idea that the same woman who tells him to shut the fuck up also tells him that she loves him, that she can slap her son across the face and then hug him so hard that Brian's ribs creak in sympathy.

At home, at least, he always knows where he stands. Still, Michael and Debbie feel safe to him, and the first time that Brian returns one of her hugs, she cries and he thinks that he might be part of an actual family.

IV. Know Your Onion!

I knew the worthless dregs we are,
the selfless, loving saints we are,
the melting, sliding dice we've always been.

When school begins again in September, Brian and Michael start high school as best friends, and even though it means that the other kids now consider Brian to be officially weird, he pretends he doesn't notice. They have gym class together the last period of the day, and one Friday afternoon, Brian tells Michael to go ahead home, that he'll catch up later.

His cock is hard by the time he makes his way to the back of the locker room and finds exactly what he expected: his gym teacher, naked in the communal showers, one soapy hand fisting his dick, eyes staring straight at Brian.

Brian doesn't say a word, just walks into the shower with all of his clothes still on, drops to his knees, and gives his first blowjob to a thirty-three year old man with a wife and a baby. By the end, his eyes are watering and he's gagging on every stroke, but the idea of it all -- sucking cock, fucking another man -- is enough to make him come in his pants.

He finally stands up, the combination of his shaking legs and the wet heaviness of his clothes making him grab the wall for support, and his teacher leans over, whispers in his ear, "You're so hot. Let me fuck you." Brian wants to say yes, wants to say something, but his mouth feels numb and he just stands there silently until the man pats him on the head, says, "It's okay, kid," and walks out.

Brian counts to a thousand, then turns off the shower, puts his gym clothes back on, and walks the mile to Michael's house. He's proud of himself for doing this, for making a grown man want him enough to risk his career just to feel Brian's mouth on his cock. Underneath it all, though, a litany of faggot and queer and pansy plays inside his head in a voice a lot like his father's. There's another voice, too, one that chastises Brian for feeling afraid, for not getting fucked, for jizzing in his Dockers like some little kid, and that voice sounds like his own.

He pushes open the front door to find Debbie and Michael, sitting on the couch and wearing twin expressions of concern. "Are you okay?" Michael asks. "What the hell happened to you?" Debbie demands, eyeing his wet hair and dirty t-shirt. He ignores them, bounds up the stairs and into the hall bathroom, wraps his arms around the toilet seat and rests his head on one elbow. Michael finds him a minute later and kneels down beside him, runs his fingers through Brian's hair.

"You did it, didn't you?" Michael asks, and Brian's not sure whether he sounds more curious or concerned.

"Yeah," Brian grins broadly and nods, hoping that Michael doesn't see the panic that's setting in just below the surface.

V. Girl Inform Me

This is no umbrella to take into the wind
and before we begin
is there nothing to kill this anxiety?

When Brian is nineteen years old, he meets Lindsay Peterson in his Econ 201 class and acquires his first and only friend with a pussy. They stay up all night watching James Dean movies, and when they kiss for the first time, it's warm and sloppy and not-quite-right, but Brian ignores that, smokes a joint laced with Special K, and fucks her the same night just because he can.

They get drunk together often, and Brian tells her things that only Michael has ever known, secrets about his childhood and his parents and the scars that he's caught her staring at before. Lindsay, in return, tells him about growing up in suburbia and the "phase" that she went through in high school, during which she covered her walls with posters of Jennifer Beals and might have looked at them when she masturbated, but only once or twice.

Michael despises Lindsay, he announces one day over the phone, and Brian accuses him of being jealous, tells him to get the fuck over it, and hangs up. When Michael calls back five seconds later, he shouts into the receiver, "You don't even like women!" and Brian hangs up again.

He knows that Michael's right, that this isn't even close to what he wants or needs, but Lindsay's friendship has helped him through the four hardest years of his life, working night and day for a goal that he can barely see. The least he can do, he thinks, is take care of her, and maybe fuck her once in awhile.

VI. The New Slang

I'm looking in on the good life
I might be doomed never to find.
Without a trust or flaming fields
am I too dumb to refine?

When Lindsay has sex with Rebecca Tucci on his couch, Brian laughs. He threatens to make her steam clean it, claiming that he doesn't want his furniture to smell like twat, even twat that he's already had. She smiles, then starts crying, and he hugs her and says that just because Jesus hates her doesn't mean he will. She punches him in the arm and says that she doesn't hate him either, even if Jesus does.

He takes her to a gay bar that night, makes a toast "To cock and pussy, but never together!" then sends her home to Rebecca and lets the bartender blow him in the bathroom. It's messy, and the guy accidentally scrapes his teeth against Brian's cock more than once, but it still feels good to be here and queer and whatever the fuck else.

After Rebecca breaks Lindsay's heart, Brian helps pick up the pieces, tells her not to let one bad dyke spoil the whole bunch, then takes her back to the party that rages downstairs, spikes the punch with E, and leaves with the boyfriend of the woman that Lindsay's dancing topless against.

She eventually finds another girlfriend, and while she explores relationships, he fucks every guy on campus who's gay and a lot who aren't. Sometimes she seems concerned about his health and safety and happiness, but he brushes her off, tells her to stop worrying and go get laid.

VII. The Celibate Life

You led no celibate life no skirt while chemicals danced on your head.
You stole the keys to this ride and your fables are falling tonight.

When men hear the name Brian Kinney, they drop to their knees and open their mouths in anticipation.

Brian learns quickly what guys will do for someone as beautiful as him, as seemingly self-assured as him, and he becomes flippant with them, sometimes even cruel, but never so much that they don't keep coming back. He gains a reputation, becomes The Brian Kinney, gets his dick sucked three times a day by three different men and never fucks the same guy twice.

He discovers after graduation that he's desired professionally almost as much as he is sexually, and he celebrates his new job at Ryder with six bottles of Beam, a fridge full of poppers, eight of the hottest guys he's ever seen, and a double-ended dildo that leaves him sore for days.

Debbie corners him at the diner one afternoon, says in that motherly voice that it's wrong to fuck everyone and love no one, but Brian tells her to fuck off, that sex has nothing to do with love, and proves it that night in the backroom of Babylon.

VIII. Girl on the Wing

We could have been so good-natured
if I'd relented when you insisted,
but we've been backed against all nature's walls far too long.

When Brian is twenty-nine years old, his entire life changes over the course of one night. The idea of fatherhood makes him sick to his stomach, but not as sick as the idea of a relationship, so he resigns himself to loving Gus and throws all of his energy into trying to get rid of Justin.

He doesn't try hard enough, though, and Justin doesn't leave, just pushes more and breaks down walls that Brian didn't even know he had, and one night he kisses Justin in a dark, dirty parking garage and realizes that he might, maybe, possibly have kind of fallen in love. But Brian's forgotten his mother's golden rule, that God Hates Faggots, and he's reminded by a stupid, angry kid with a baseball bat and Justin's blood on a white scarf that he doesn't stop wearing for weeks.

The night that Justin takes it off of him and throws it to the floor feels like absolution, feels like forgiveness and a hundred other beautiful things that Brian is sure he doesn't deserve to experience. He hates himself for wanting this, for needing it, so he stops fighting with Justin and fights himself instead. He alternates between bingeing -- on Justin's sweetness, his warmth, his adoration -- and purging, fucking tricks in Justin's face and reminding him that Brian Kinney doesn't do boyfriends.

He wants to believe that he's hurting Justin a lot more than he's hurting himself, that it's for Justin's own good, but most days he feels like shit anyway.

VIX. Your Algebra

You may notice certain things before you die.
Mail them to me should they cause
your algebra to fail.

When Justin leaves him for the fiddler, Brian isn't surprised. At first, he's not even sad, just relieved that he doesn't have to wait for it anymore and proud that he's finally succeeded in making Justin go.

His friends prove unbearably annoying: they coddle him, then accuse him of getting what he deserves for not loving Poor Little Justin, then call him six times a day to make sure that he's alright, then berate him for taking his phone off the hook and avoiding them. Debbie brings him dishes of pasta that she forces him to eat and advice ("Next time, don't fuck up.") that she can't force him to take.

He knows that he shouldn't want Justin back, but he finds himself going to the diner when he knows Justin will be there, trying to surreptitiously watch him work, then making rude remarks once Justin acknowledges him. He considers, for the sake of his sanity, finding a new place to eat, but then Justin starts popping up everywhere -- not just the diner, but Babylon too, and his loft, and even at fucking Vanguard.

He starts getting desperate, tricks more and more often, and even though he only fucks them from behind now, he still sees Justin's face every time he comes.

X. Pressed in a Book

Cut from bad cloth or soiled like socks
we're ordinary people, we can't help but to change
as we walk and make plans in the dark.

When Justin comes back, Brian lets him. He spreads Justin out over his desk and only feels a little bit embarrassed that he can't stop touching Justin, kissing him, staring with undisguised amazement at this man who wants him enough to fight, who loves him enough to fight.

He slides his cock inside Justin's impossibly tight ass and finally understands what people mean when they say that something feels like coming home, because this feels familiar in all the right ways and none of the wrong ones, and it takes every ounce of effort that he can muster not to tell Justin this.

Instead, he closes his eyes and clasps their hands together, listens to the chorus of oh god and please and more and harder and yes coming from Justin's mouth, and he vows that he'll make it right this time, make himself right, that he'll do anything if he can just keep feeling this way.

They go home together that night, and Justin says, "I can't believe this is actually happening." Brian can, but it still feels even better than he'd ever let himself imagine.

Everything between them feels so easy this second go-round that Brian almost forgets what it used to be like, and even when Justin fucks up with a gun and Brian fucks up with a secret, they stick together, keep finding each other, hold on tight.

Eventually he stops fighting it, and when he does, it doesn't feel like surrender. It feels like freedom.

XI. The Past and Pending

Feed till the sun turns into wood
dousing an ancient torch.
Loiter the whole day through
and lose yourself in lines dissecting love.

When Brian is thirty-four years old, he will realize that nothing in his life has turned out the way he expected. He'll have Debbie, who yells at him and feeds him and loves him like her own child; Michael and Lindsay, who would die for him if he asked or even if he didn't; Gus, who's beautiful and smart and has shown him that he's not Jack Kinney; and Justin, for whom he'll still have no real label but will love with a gut-wrenching ferocity anyway.

He'll have Kinnetik, successful beyond anyone's wildest hopes; a loft full again with sleek, expensive furniture; and real vacations to Ibiza or wherever else he wants to go.

And if he tricks a little less, drinks a little less, feels angry and lost a little less, it won't be because of any new-age, self-help, heal-your-old-wounds bullshit. It'll be because he's finally figured out that it's okay to be a son and a friend and a father and a lover, a comic book superhero and a cancer survivor and a royal fucking asshole. It'll be because everything he's ever wanted and everything he's never allowed himself to want will be right there in front of him, and because he's enough of a man to take it.