The Dark Road

Ellyrianna

Rating: R
Fandom: Queer as Folk
Summary: Six years ago, Justin took a bat to the head. Now, Brian takes an Italian wood floor to his, and Justin deals with the ramifications.
Warnings: Amnesia!Brian, who acts like a total asshole. And way more sop than I generally condone.
Notes: Done for the lovely allie_quixotic as a return for the blind!Justin fic I forced asked her to write for me. Love you, darling <3 Generously betaed by camelhaircoat.




Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.
--J.R.R. Tolkien




“Shit, shit, shit – Brian, fuck, don’t – just…”

Justin thinks that he knows exactly the way Brian felt six years ago when he knelt in the semi-darkness of a parking garage as he helplessly watches blood leak from under Brian’s brown hair and onto the new Italian hardwood. Detachedly, he thinks of when he told Brian that was the stupidest thing you could ever buy for an art studio, and how Brian flippantly replied that he should just put down drop cloths, since he was getting the best whether he wanted it or not. He knows the fit Brian will pitch when he’s been stitched up and returned home and sees the stain. Maybe Justin can find a cleaning service capable of getting rid of it before that happens.

His gimp hand finds his phone and his fingers seek out the buttons and he struggles to compose himself for the 911 dispatcher, but it only works for a second. He knows that, underneath the hysteria and the self-loathing and the fear, Brian’s voice hadn’t wavered when he’d made the same call all those years earlier. He wishes he were Brian so desperately that, as he tries to stop the blood with his turpentine-soaked rags and paint-smeared paper towels, he pretends his hands are Brian’s sure ones and his hitched breathing not a part of him at all.

When he can’t think of any other way to calm himself down he stops trying to differentiate between the various permanent wailing sirens in his mind and those actually headed toward them. Justin holds Brian tightly in his arms with his fingers rigid to Brian’s bloodied pulse and shakes with suppressed sobs.


--


“Would you get down and wash up already? We have reservations that we’ve been waiting fucking six months to use and you’re covered in paint,” Brian remarked disparagingly from where he stood at he foot of Justin’s ladder. Justin grinned down at him and reached up to get at the blank spot of canvas he was working on covering.

“One more minute,” he begged, and then winced when a bolt of pain shot through his wrist. His brush slipped out of his hand and clattered onto the cement right by Brian’s Gucci shoes. Brian snatched it and then started up the ladder, where Justin was holding his hand.

Brian set the brush in the paint can hanging from the side and then took Justin’s wrist in his hand, applying pressure in all of the familiar spots. Justin leaned back against the rungs and let Brian do what Brian did best – take care of him. Brian shifted his weight on the ladder, went to turn so that he could unzip Justin’s fly, tripped and slipped and didn’t even get out the surprised cry he began when he landed on the stone-cold floor and started bleeding out from a gash behind his ear.


--


For a long time, Justin can’t bring himself to call anyone. Brian’s been away from him forever, something about possible hemorrhaging in the brain and needing surgery to relieve the pressure. He knows that what is going on now behind those big double doors is not that different from what took place while Brian waited in the hall on a chilly May night calendars ago.

Finally, though, he takes out his phone and calls his mother. She’s the first person he thinks of, the person his mind equates with warmth and comfort and reassurance. The tears that so far had only gathered in his eyes begin spilling out and he hiccups when he tells her what happened and where he is and how fucking scared he is. He tells her that he wants Brian to hold him right now, because that is the only thing in the world that will make him feel better.

She says she’ll call everyone and will be on the soonest plane, which is the next best thing.

He wipes his tears with his bloody hands and leaves red streaks on his face that he doesn’t notice.


--


He falls asleep in the white hospital hallway with his head against the wall and dreams of Brian twirling him in a black tuxedo on a vinyl fake-wood dance floor while his entire graduating class watches, dumbfounded. He feels Brian’s hand warm in his and the strong arm around his waist when Brian lifts him up and spins him in the air. He tastes the kale and the shot of Beam Brian did before he came to this cheesy hotel when they kiss, and he hears the stunned gasps of his classmates behind him when they smile secretively at each other in the fluorescent lights. Brian says “ridiculously romantic” and he laughs and turns and Chris Hobbes nails him right in the head with a baseball bat and –

--and he wakes up screaming with a nurse shaking his shoulder and the other people passing by giving him odd looks.

“Sir,” the nurse says in what must be a patented no-nonsense, brook-no-argument, fear-no-evil voice. “Sir, Mr. Kinney is out of surgery. His doctor would like to speak with you.”

Justin draws a shaky breath as he stands to meet the serious-faced man waiting for him at the end of the hall.


--


Michael and Justin’s mother come into Brian’s room hours later and he finds himself enfolded in a hug from both of them at once. His mother lingers, brushing at his face with her smooth fingers, whispering, “Honey, honey, it’s going to be fine.” He wants to believe her more than he wanted to be Brian those hours ago at the studio.

“Justin?” Michael gently asks.

“We had reservations at Per Se,” he says softly, the first words he’s spoken since going into the hospital. “Brian was looking forward to it so much. More than me. He –“

“What did the doctor say?” he probes carefully. Absently, he wonders if his mother is offended by Michael’s creepily mothering attitude. Justin can’t see any faces, not even Brian’s impassive and expressionless drug-induced sleep. He feels blind and suffocated under his mother’s gaze and Michael’s burning stare.

“I – I don’t –“ He swallows, and his dry throat scratches and burns.

“Justin?” Michael presses, his voice tight.

He thinks Michaels’ going to hurt him if he doesn’t tell him, but he can’t, can’t say it or even get his mouth to work, can’t do anything but fixate on Brian’s pale face and the stitches in the one bald spot on his head where the doctors worked.

Then his mother comes over to him and silently begins to clean his face with wet towels she conjured out of nowhere, and he knows no one could ever come close to replacing her.


--


When Brian wakes up the next day and says “Who the fuck are you?” just like the doctor said he might, Justin lays his head down in his arms on Brian’s bed and sleeps, because he can’t possibly begin to deal with anything right now.


--


Justin thinks it is God finally punishing him for any of his numerous transgressions since Brian remembers everything up to maybe a month before Lindsay gave birth to Gus.

He’s not receptive to Justin, either, not even when Michael tells him over and over about how they’re partners and they live together and no they’re not in Pittsburgh anymore, they’re in New York, because love really is sacrifice and Brian learned that about two months after Justin left a year and a half ago. He thinks the entire thing is a big fucking joke and that it’s Michael and Emmett and Ted joshing with him about how he’s going to turn thirty in just a few short months and will be too old to remember anything. He asks Justin how much they’re paying him to play the part of his concerned lover.

“It’s very likely that this is just temporary,” the doctor tells him firmly when Justin starts to have a panic attack in the hallway. Michael can’t get through to Brian at all, because Brian won’t even entertain the slightest possibility that they’re telling the truth. “Head trauma like this sometimes causes slight amnesia, but the idea of it being permanent, especially in Brian’s case, is far-fetched. You’ll just have to wait it out, but in the meantime, you might try jogging his memory.”

Justin thinks of when Daphne and Brian rolled up the rug in the loft and they danced haltingly around in the bright summer sunlight, and of when Brian took him to the parking garage, and Gus’s first birthday party. He thanks the doctor, takes a few deep breaths, and goes back to their apartment to root through the photo drawer.

Brian never condoned having a photo album – that was just too breeder for him. He rarely took pictures himself of events, occasions, or even anything; photography was, for him, always a work-related activity and never something he would do just for the hell of it. But when Linds and Mel or Michael snap photos, they always send copies, because they know Justin cares about those sentimental things even if Brian doesn’t. Justin keeps them all in a drawer in his desk that Brian knows about but doesn’t really touch or go near.

He takes the most prominent ones he can find with shaking hands and grainy eyes, of the two of them, of their family, a few of himself, several of Gus. He shoves them in his messenger bag and goes back to the hospital, where Michael is sitting beside Brian’s bed and is giving him a timeline of the past six years, which Brian is getting very frustrated by.

“I would never fucking do that,” he spits with a violent hand gesture. “Even if I ignore everything else that’s wrong with this, I would never take that little shit back after he left me. Not that I would even be in a relationship in the first place. Fuck, Mikey – you can’t expect me to believe this. What the hell?”

The two of them look up when Justin enters the room, and he crosses to the bed, reaching into his bag as he does. He pulls out the pictures by the handful, throwing them in Brian’s lap, his entire life for the past handful of years lying in a smear on the bed.

Brian looks up at him and then reaches for the photos. Justin leaves before he can say anything about them, and chooses to sit in the hallway while Michael takes the brunt of Brian’s force of will.


--


Michael comes out some time later and looks at Justin with a plaintive expression. Justin wishes his mother hadn’t left that morning, because he’s sick of it just being him and Mikey with no Brian in between. They get along, but it’s kind of forced and stiff, like they don’t want to and are making themselves while pretending the other doesn’t know that.

“You should go in and talk to him now,” Michael says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the door. Justin stands up and rubs his hands on the back of his jeans for something to do before skirting around him and going inside. He can’t think of anything he can possibly say that will make either of them feel better about what has happened, so he doesn’t bother.

Brian’s carefully sorting through the photos and looks up when Justin comes in and sits down in Michael’s vacated chair. They look at each other soberly for a minute before Brian tosses one of the pictures down in front of Justin. It’s the one he had in his old bedroom, back when he first met everyone. Brian had his arm around Justin’s neck and was holding a beer bottle.

“What month was this?” he asks in a kind of strained voice that he reserves for uncomfortable situations.

Justin picks it up and sighs softly. “I met you at the end of September. This is probably around the middle of October, something like that.” He shrugs and sets it back down. Brian takes it and frowns at it for a long time.

“So if I remembered three more months, I’d remember this?”

“I guess so.”

Brian looks weird in the hospital bed with the gown and the little oval of white where his hair should be, thick and full, just like the rest of it. Justin’s glad for once that he didn’t go with Brian to Johns Hopkins, because it’s hard enough looking at him like this, pretty much completely healthy. In retrospect, Brian probably did the smartest thing by not bringing Justin, since he probably would have been as much of a mess then as he is now.

He tosses more down in front of Justin – Pride, Lindsay and Melanie’s wedding, after Stockwell’s defeat, and a few random ones from Babylon or the diner or Debbie’s house at a Sunday dinner. He laughs, putting a hand over his mouth, and suddenly changes moods, sweeping them all off of the bed in a swing of his arm, full of rage and anger.

“What the fuck is this? It’s not my life. It’s not me. This isn’t Mikey or Lindsay or even fucking Theodore – these are people I’ve never met in my fucking life, some fucking strangers I don’t know anything about. You. Who the fuck are you? Who the fuck am I?” he shouts, so loudly that Justin’s sure a doctor’s going to come in any minute and tell them to keep it down.

If he registers the way Justin looks, he doesn’t give any indication. He throws back the thin blanket and stands up, unmindful of the wires he’s pulling out of place. The photos scatter across the linoleum and Brian steps on a few without meaning to. They stick to the soles of his bare feet and he kicks them off, running a hand through his hair, frustrated beyond belief and with no way to properly articulate it.

“Fuck this shit,” he mutters. Then he repeats it louder, saying, “Fuck this shit! I want to go back to my loft. I want to talk to fucking Ryder, I want – “

“Your loft isn’t yours anymore!” Justin suddenly screams back, his head snapping up and his eyes fixing on Brian’s, which are startled and annoyed at the same time. “You sold your loft, and Ryder sold the agency. Then you got fired from the next one, and you have your own. It’s called Kinnetik, with two N’s.” It is very important that Brian know that, for some reason. “I named it. I wrote it down on a napkin at Woody’s, and you loved it.”

Brian furrows his brow and is now focused completely on Justin.

Justin gets down on the floor and starts picking up the photos, their smooth, shiny surfaces skidding beyond his grasp occasionally. He reaches under the bed for them and snatches them from where they’ve slid into the wall, and he keeps talking, saying, “You live in New York City. You moved here because I’m here. You don’t admit that to me – you never do.” He laughs bitterly at that, and feels infantile and ridiculous, crawling around after the memories Brian so casually knocked all over the ground. “You have a son, and you love him. I named him, too. He was born the night you met me.”

He reaches the last one and then stands up so that he can shove them back in his bag. He pushes them in deep, past the pad and the pencils and the Metro Cards, all the way to the bottom. He throws the strap over his head and crosses his arms, looking at Brian unwaveringly. “The only piece of real estate you own in Pittsburgh that you could live in anymore is this giant fucking house you bought for me. There’s nothing in it, but I guess you could sleep on the floor where we fucked in front of the fire, if you wanted.”

It’s hard to go back to the way Brian was when they first met. He doesn’t remember a thing about Justin, and so he doesn’t remember how much he’s changed. He’s a complete shit again – the kind that kicked Justin down again and again, the kind that never offered him a kind word except for the occasional “You have a great ass”. Justin is not a starry-eyed teenager anymore, though, and being star-crossed and in love will not ease the fact that Brian acting that way and talking that way is inexcusable and unacceptable and completely hurtful. Teenagers are insatiable and can get knocked down a thousand times and still get back up, but Justin’s definitely a man now, and he’s the best homosexual he can be, and being that includes not taking shit from anyone – even Brian.


--


The only positive thing that comes out of Justin’s tirade is that Brian decides he should go back to the Christopher Street apartment with him and not Pittsburgh with Michael. He says that the doctor said his memories should return, and he thinks it would be smarter to be where he belongs when they do.

That makes Justin happy, but he hides it from Brian, who is pissed at his situation and doesn’t understand the concept of his life. They go back to the apartment and he looks around it like it’s a museum – something he should appreciate but not necessarily understand. He recognizes the bed, a few pieces of furniture, and his treadmill. He jokingly applauds his own taste as he sees the new things, and doesn’t say anything when he sees the art on the walls and the signature in the bottom right hand corner of them all.

Justin tells himself over and over again Brian is Brian is Brian, because that’s the truth, and Brian will remember it eventually.


--


Justin sleeps on the couch because it would be just too awkward sleeping in the bed with Brian. For one, Brian doesn’t remember him and is barely able to tolerate him; for another, the bed is one of the only things Brian can recognize about their apartment, and Justin would rather not take that away from him.

But on the very first night, Justin wakes up to rough shaking and shouting, and he opens his bleary eyes to see Brian bent over him, hands grasping his shoulders, his eyes wide and something that looks suspiciously like worry in them.

“What?” Justin mumbles, trying to sit up under Brian’s iron grip and failing.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Brian asks, not removing his hands.

“What do you mean?” Justin can pretty much surmise what had happened, though, and regrets asking.

“You have these kinds of nightmares every day? I could fucking hear you all the way in the bedroom. How do we ever get any sleep?” Brian realizes that he’s still holding onto Justin tightly, and releases him, flexing his hands briefly. His back is still bent, though, and he’s still hovering over Justin’s body.

“Not every day. Usually just when I’m stressed out or I see something that reminds me –“ He stops there, because he hasn’t gone into detail with Brian on the bashing before and doesn’t want to start now, at four in the morning on a Wednesday night.

“What?” Brian asks, his eyes narrowing.

“Nothing,” Justin lies. “Go back to sleep.”

Brian is Brian is Brian, except when he doesn’t remember baseball bats and the Pink Posse and cold hard cement beneath his knees.


--


“I have to go into work today,” Justin says Thursday morning when Brian comes out of the bedroom, looking disoriented and scratching the back of his head. He’s eating cereal out of a shallow bowl and flipping through the newspaper, but the cereal is soggy already and he hasn’t actually done much eating. He’s mostly been glancing at the headlines of the newspaper and pushing the stuff around in the skim milk it’s swimming in. “I’m an underpaid slave at a graphic design company, but they say my next promotion will be worth selling my soul to them.”

“What am I supposed to do? Sit around like a little housewife waiting for you to come back?” Brian sneers, going over to the fridge and grabbing a bottle of cranberry juice.

Justin grits his teeth and says to his cereal, “I don’t know. Take a walk around, go into the Kinnetik offices. Maybe screaming at your employees will jog your memory.”

“And just how am I supposed to find these offices? I don’t know where the fuck they are,” Brian shouts, slamming the refrigerator door and swigging from the bottle directly.

“Open your wallet, take out your business cards, and look at the address. Then get in a cab and tell the driver,” Justin returns, standing and taking his virtually untouched breakfast to the sink. He runs the garbage disposal as he rinses the bowl out and then sets it in the wrought-iron drying rack on the counter. Turning, he meets Brian’s eyes, which had been watching him curiously. “What?”

“Where did I hit my head?” he asks, once again doing a complete 180 in terms of mood and temperament. Justin rubs a hand tiredly over his eyes.

“My studio. It’s a few blocks over that way.” He gestures vaguely. “You fell off a ladder.”

“What’s the address?”

Justin eyes him a minute, and then pulls a pad out of a drawer and scribbles it down. Ripping off the page, he folds it in half and hands it to Brian. “I have to change,” he mutters, and leaves Brian staring at the paper as he goes into the bedroom.


--


Work sucked, as per usual, so when Justin gets back to the apartment that evening, he really doesn’t feel like dealing with an emotionally regressed Brian and more snide remarks. He hangs up his coat, kicks off his shoes, grabs a cigarette, and plunks down on the couch with it, closing his eyes as he lights it and inhales. The apartment is almost completely dark, and he figures Brian’s in the bedroom, because he saw his wallet and keys on the counter when he came in.

His cellphone rings, and he digs it out with a frustrated curse. Glancing at the display, he sees it’s Daphne and flips it open. “What’s up?” he asks, not bothering to try and sound cheerful when he feels like shit.

“Sorry it took so long to return your message – September was having a crisis. What’s going on?”

“Brian…he fell, and he – shit, Daph. He doesn’t remember anything about me. It’s like when I got hit and I couldn’t remember the prom, only a thousand times worse. And he’s here, he’s in the apartment, but he might as well be back in Pittsburgh, or on the fucking moon, because he doesn’t know anything. He can’t do anything, he doesn’t understand anything. I –“ He swallows a few times, because his throat has closed involuntarily and he’s pissed at himself for getting worked up on the phone. Daphne’s somber silence is a warm reassurance, though, so he finishes with, “It’s even worse than when I was here alone, because at least I could call him and talk to him. Now I can’t even do that.”

Brian stands in the bedroom doorway watching the orange glow at the end of Justin’s cigarette bob as he talks, and he listens to his voice, and the thinks of the dark stain on the wood floor of the studio and the paintings and supplies he’d seen all over that place a few hours ago. He thinks of the futon in the corner and how often Justin must fall asleep there, and how just as often he must fall asleep there with him. He thinks of the reviews and the features taped up on the walls, and the picture in one of them with Brian’s arm around Justin’s shoulder as they stand in front of a huge canvas.

He thinks of the scarf he found in the back of the closet when he came back, angry and annoyed, and started rifling through everything he could find. That included the rest of the photo drawer, and all of Justin’s desk, the files on his computer and those on his own, and how everything in the apartment was him but wasn’t him, and at the same time Justin was everything and nothing.

He understands that Justin is the key to his memories, but that his pride and sense of self will not let him try and get close to Justin because of the undeniable fact that there is love, and a lot of it.


--


Justin hangs up with Daphne after about an hour of trying not to cry anymore (because he’s sick of doing that already) and venting as she talks soothingly in his ear. Then he lights another cigarette and just sits, looking blankly out of the window at nothing. He wishes he could fall asleep, but he’s too wound up on emotions and nicotine to try.

At first he doesn’t hear Brian pad across the hardwood in bare feet, but then he looks up and Brian is sitting down next to him on the sofa, snatching up the pack of cigarettes and the lighter. He props his feet on the table, blows a few smoke rings, and says, “If you really are everything that Mikey says, then you shouldn’t be offended.”

“What is that, an apology?” Justin scoffs, turning away from him. He can only see the faintest outline of Brian’s face in the darkness of the loft, the shadowy hand that rises to take the cigarette from between his lips.

“I don’t do apologies,” Brian retorts. “No apologies, no regrets. You should know that, too.”

Justin thinks of the Brian who let him stay on his couch that night Craig Taylor beat him up, and he wants to smile but forces himself not to because dammit, he’s in the middle of a good sulk, and he’s not giving into Brian’s wiles that easily. He takes another pull on the cigarette instead.

“What’s the story with the nightmares?” Brian asks, looking straight ahead. Justin glances at him quickly and then away, shifting uncomfortably. Brian wouldn’t have asked unless he wanted to know, and since the explanation is a big part of who they are as a couple, maybe it will have an effect on his memories.

“You danced with me at my senior prom and some homophobic football prick hit me in the head with a baseball bat,” he says simply. “There was other shit, too…but that’s the basic idea.”

He isn’t proud of the Pink Posse, not in the slightest, and even if the real Brian knows about it, this one doesn’t. This one doesn’t think he was a crazed lunatic running around in a pink tank top with a gun, and this one won’t have lost respect for him for that reason.

Brian is Brian is Brian, except when Justin can keep things he’s ashamed of hidden from him.

“Where?” Brian asks levelly.

Justin hesitates before he takes Brian’s hand and raises it to his hairline. He’s held Brian’s hand a thousand times, a million times, walking down the street or to the backroom or while he was slowly fucked into oblivion, but it feels like the very first time right now. Brian has turned and is looking at his silhouette with his lips parted slightly. Justin touches Brian’s fingers to the raised, rigid scar hidden by his blond hair and then lets go. Brian doesn’t.

He runs his thumb along it, grazing the nail back against the puckered skin, and Justin’s hitched breathing reminds him of how in the hospital hallway those few nights ago he had fallen asleep and remembered everything, just everything. He wishes he could tell Brian that he finally, finally had seen the look in his eyes when they kissed in front of everyone, but this Brian would not understand that at all.

Justin thinks it’s interesting that Brian can find his mouth in the dark, especially since this Brian doesn’t know everything about him as well as the back of his hand. He feels Brian’s hand slide down from his hair to cup his chin, and then he sees the cigarette he’s holding drop from his mouth like a firefly as he leans over and carefully, tentatively, very gently, kisses Justin’s mouth.

It feels like coming home. It feels like breathing lots of clean mountain air deep into his lungs. It feels like a cold glass of water after doing a seven-minute mile on the treadmill. It feels like dancing to his favorite song at Babylon while glitter rains down around him and he’s on half a tab of E so everything just glows.

And then Brian’s looking at him with this kind of confused disbelief that he can see even in the satiny darkness of the room, and it feels like going through an intersection at seventy miles per hour to race the red light and then getting slammed in the driver’s side door by a pick-up truck.


--


Justin goes to work again the next day and Brian says he’s going to look at the Kinnetik offices. They don’t talk about the kiss or about how Justin slept on the couch again. Justin doesn’t eat breakfast for the fifth day in a row and is accordingly foul-tempered to his colleagues, who try their best to stay out of his way. He has a few friends at the company, but mostly he likes to stick to himself and e-mail Brian and Daphne instead of chatting it up at the water cooler. Also, he has a few pictures up in his cubicle -- one of Brian, one of him and Brian, and one of Emmett and Ted and Blake. There are no women up, and that must be a clue.

He decides that he wants to paint afterwards, because he’s sick of these stupid mediocre projects he’s getting assigned and he wants to make some real art. When he goes to the studio, though, he’s too angry to work on the canvas he’d been painting the night Brian fell and instead pulls out a new one that he stares at for ten minutes before picking up an entire can of red paint and splashing it on.

He throws the empty can across the studio, hears it slam into a wall and roll across the drop cloth-covered hardwood, and kicks the thing over. It falls onto the floor, paint-side up. He stalks across the room, grabs the ladder that’s still propped up by the dark spot on the floor, carries it, staggering slightly, back to the wet canvas, and throws the ladder down in the middle. Paint splatters across his face and the black Armani sweater Brian bought him last year for his birthday.

Justin picks the ladder up, watches the imprint of it in the paint settle, and then he throws it as hard as he can across the room. It’s hard, because the thing is long and heavy, but he manages to get it on the other side of the studio. Arms shaking, he leans back against one of the support beams in the middle of the room and closes his eyes.


--


“Where the fuck are we going?” Brian asks as they stand in the forever-long line at the metal detectors of the airport.

“Pittsburgh. Isn’t that what you wanted in the first place?” Justin snaps back, in no mood for queening out or fits of drama. He drops their two carry-on bags on the conveyor belt and goes through the detector after the woman in front of him, stepping back into his shoes once he’s done. Brian does the same, although he’s not happy about it. They grab their luggage and start going towards the gate on their boarding passes.

“It would’ve been smarter to send me back with Mikey a week ago, then,” Brian reminds him.

“Yeah, maybe,” Justin replies testily.

They arrived late because Justin didn’t feel like sitting for hours in the uncomfortable chairs, so they’re able to board quickly. Brian immediately starts checking out all under-30 guys on the plane. Justin takes the window seat so Brian can have the aisle room for cruising and tries to sleep.

The flight is short, and when they arrive in Pittsburgh, Michael and Ben are waiting with their modest sedan and the Corvette. Brian sacrificed a lot in moving to New York, but the ‘vette he was not willing to part with. He kept it parked at the Novotny-Bruckner house for when he and Justin made their periodic trips home.

“Thanks, Michael,” Justin says tiredly, taking the keys from him.

“No problem,” Michael replies, and shoves Brian towards the car.

“Who the fuck is he?” Brian asks, gesturing to Ben as he climbs into the passenger seat of the ‘vette.

“His husband,” Ben answers cheerfully, hugging Justin hello and then waving as he ducks into the car.

“How come I’m not driving?” Brian asks when Justin starts the car and backs out much faster than Brian ever would have in his precious Corvette. “I may not remember you or Mikey’s hubby or my son, but I do remember how to traverse the treacherous streets of Pittsburgh.”

“You don’t know how to get to where we’re going,” Justin tells him, slamming the gas.


--


When they pull up in front of the house, Brian steps out of the Corvette and looks around with the most bizarre expression. Justin thinks it might be recognition, which makes his heart skip a beat.

“Wait ‘til you see the tennis courts,” he starts, slightly breathily, as he shuts the door behind him. “And the pool. And the stables.”

“Stables?” Brian asks distastefully, raising an eyebrow. Justin suppresses his smile. He knows that Brian only must be thinking Why would anyone want filthy stables to clean and maintain?, but it’s too good, it’s too real. “Who lives here?”

“We do.” Justin tugs on Brian’s lapel as he lets himself into the house with the key he has never used before.


--


This place is so fucking familiar. Brian can’t put a finger on it, doesn’t know why he should think he can – he hasn’t been out this way in years, and he’s certainly never seen this manor before. But when he looks at the wood paneling, at the smooth cherry wood floors under his feet, he can distinctly remember something.

This what you’re looking for? It’s the closest I can get you to Pittsburgh with everything you wanted. You said stables and a pool, right? It’s a lot of money, but I can try and get you a deal, since you are my son-in-law – or you would have been, anyway…

He shakes his head and squeezes his eyes closed briefly. Some woman’s voice he’s never heard before.

Justin’s gone into a room right off the foyer, and he follows him, picking up his pace. He sees Justin standing in front of a fireplace with cloth-covered furniture all around him and a huge chandelier over his head. He takes a step in, and as soon as he’s over the threshold he gets this idea, this feeling, this memory

He runs his hand over Justin’s chest and through his hair and leans down to kiss him again, all light in the gleam from the fire, his skin cold but heating up fast. His hand finds Justin’s side and without even asking or prompting two legs are settling over his shoulders as hands lace behind his neck and he pushes in without any resistance at all, only Justin’s warm breath against his neck as he pulls out and then back in again and and and…

“What the fuck happened here?” Brian asks him, suddenly short of breath. He tugs at the collar of his shirt. The fire’s not lit and the room is fucking freezing, but it feels stuffy and hot.

“You asked me to marry you here,” Justin says to him.

That’s also the reason why I’m the best candidate.

“I did?”

Say it.

“Yeah, you did.”

Brian runs a distracted hand over his eyes. Justin’s here in the room with him, but he’s fucking hearing him in his head, he can see it – this room, Justin’s face, his eyes, that smile. “Why?”

So I can prove to the person I love how much I love him.

“You were afraid,” Justin says quietly. “This thing happened

Babylon burning with smoke coiling high in the night sky and the flash of lights that were accompanied by sirens

and you were afraid that I was going to die.

bloody cement and that white scarf and his hands tight around the neck of a baseball bat as he swung and hit the backs of that fucker’s knees

Or that you would die and never do what I needed to make me happy.

the halo of a light above him, counting back from ten, breathing in bottled air

You wanted me to know that you loved me.

the warm light of his office and the blinds half-closed but only maintenance was still there and who cares if some geezer janitor saw them fucking on his desk? because there wasn’t going to be anymore violin music and just this and this and this

But I knew it anyway.”


--


Justin watches the way Brian’s expression changes as he tells him so simply what Brian meant when he asked him, and he sees the way Brian raises his head to look at him, and he thinks Daphne’s idea to take Brian back to the house was the smartest fucking one she ever had, even surpassing getting into medical school and taking care of him after Ethan and during the Pink Posse.


--


“Justin,” Brian practically shouts after a minute of tense, uninterrupted silence. Justin jumps and looks at him, not breathing. “What the fuck are we doing here?”

Justin’s breath comes out in a rush and he laughs harshly. “That’s what everyone says when you’re in Pittsburgh,” he manages to get out before he crosses the room to Brian and kisses him harder than he ever has before.

End