Chapter Summary/Teaser: Melanie tells Lindsay that she plans to revoke Lindsay's parental rights of JR. Ben is getting more and more fed up with Michael. Brian gets good news as Melanie worries. Justin and Brian deal with something that has been haunting them for years.
THIS STORY IS NOW COMPLETE!
(I am working on a prequel called This Mess We're In and a sequel called The Only Way Is Up. Apparently, Melanie has a lot to say in the sequel about what happened in the prequel, so the prequel will be posted first.)
"What?" Lindsay's voice was shrill with annoyance, tinny over the phone. "What are you going to say, Melanie? You use that apologetic tone of voice with the words 'I have to tell you something.' That usually means that you're doing something completely selfish and only looking after yourself."
"Jesus Christ, Lindsay. You seriously think I'm only considering myself. Excuse me, but I am looking after the welfare and happiness of my daughter. I seem to remember a conversation some years ago where you told me to do just that."
"So spit it out. What are you siccing on me this time?"
"I…" Melanie sighed. She'd been with Lindsay for almost fourteen years, give or take their various infidelities, and it still hurt to do these things. "I'm petitioning to revoke your custody of Jenny Rebecca. I don't—"
"You heard me."
"This is ridiculous! I thought you wanted me to be Jenny Rebecca's mother. I thought we were partners, that we'd stand up for each other. And suddenly…Why is everyone suddenly ganging up on me?"
"Lindsay, I feel like we shouldn't be discussing this. I've made my decision, and I wont be changing my mind. I just wanted to let you know so that you wouldn't be surprised when the legal processes began."
"I don't consider you fit to look after my daughter. You've become so extreme. You get distraught over such little things. You exaggerate and turn the smallest occurrences into wild fantasies. You don't seem to be looking after the wellbeing of the children, and I think you are more focused on yourself than the kids. I don't think that is a healthy environment for a child."
"What, and a hotel is?"
"I'll be getting an apartment, temporarily."
"So we're just going through this whole divorce thing again?"
Melanie sighed. It was true, they were. "I suppose so."
Lindsay's voice was hard and cold on the other end of the phone. "I see."
Blinking back sudden tears, Melanie announced, "Call my lawyer from now on if you want to talk about this." Then she hung up.
Ben entered Red Cape Comics, perching himself on a stool by the counter and setting a bag of sandwiches on the table. He could hear Michael slamming around in the back, muttering to himself. He sighed. He really didn't like it when Michael got worked up, though he realized it was probably genetic, doubly so since his father was apparently a drag queen. But, he loved him, and so he would put up with it. Still, this was getting a little ridiculous, Ben was still of the mind that all this drama with Melanie, Gus, Lindsay and Brian did not concern Michael, and that he shouldn't be messing with other people's business.
The subject of his thoughts came bustling out of the back carrying a box under one arm and an extra display rack clumsily under the other. He dropped the display rack shakily on the ground and slammed the box down on the counter, narrowly missing squashing the sandwiches. Michael looked up at Ben for a moment before tearing off the tape on the box and beginning to sort through the comics inside.
"So Lindsay called an hour ago," Ben silently prayed that it wouldn't be a big one this time. "Apparently, Mel wants to take away her custody of JR. What the hell?" No such luck. Ben pulled the sandwiches out of a bag, took a chance and offered one to Michael to see if he would shut up. Michael shook his head, refusing the food, and continued to slam the comics into sorted piles. "Uh, no. Fucking bull dyke lawyer. She has no right to do that, Lindsay is JR's mother, just as much as Melanie. They told me that years ago, remember? The bitch hired a lawyer and everything, just jumped right into it, didn't even give us time to think about it. She's so fucking selfish, always thinking about herself."
"Calm down, Michael. You have to think about this in a reasonable way."
"Why does everyone always tell me that?"
Ben did not want to get into that. That question alone was a whole other can of worms. Instead, he put his hand on top of one of Michael's. "Listen, Michael. Remember how hard it was just to get up to Toronto to see JR and the girls?" Michael nodded. "Remember how exhausted they all seemed when we went up to visit, especially Mel? She worked her ass off up there. She went to school all over again and held a job as a legal assistant. She made whatever sacrifice she could for her children's happiness. She's looking after her child's needs, Michael. And I think we should respect that."
"Michael, hold on. She's not threatening your custody of JR. She's not forcing Lindsay out of their house or taking everything away. She's simply doing what she thinks is right."
Ben sighed. This wasn't working. He put his hands on Michael's shoulders, deciding to be a hell of a lot more blunt than usual. "Michael. Michael, can we just give this a rest for a little while? I'd like to spend time with you, without hearing about Melanie or Lindsay or Brian. Please? Just you and me?"
His husband stared at him, then nodded. "Okay. Alright."
Almost a week later, a call came. Brian was sprawled out on the couch, naked, his head back as Justin sucked him off. Justin lapped gently at the underside of his cock before looking up.
"Wanna get that?"
Brian tangled his fingers in Justin's hair, pressing his head down. "I'll let it go to voicemail. Keep going."
Justin wrapped his lips around Brian again. The ringing stopped and was interrupted by the beep of the message machine, and then, "I'm not here, leave a message."
"Mr. Kinney, this is Trevor Holstead. I'm calling to tell you that your custody of Gus Peterson will most probably be granted within two or three weeks. Congratulations."
Justin grinned, and looked up into Brian's face. Brian's eyes were shining, a smile on his face happier than Justin had ever seen him before. Brian's hands tugged him up and they were hugging, and Justin was kissing Brian all over.
"Congratulations, Mr. Kinney." Justin whispered in Brian's ear. "That's some kickass birthday present, huh?"
Brian tried, but he couldn't keep the grin from getting wider. Then it turned mischievous and he leaned in to Justin's ear, eyes flashing. "Wanna celebrate?"
"Our friends are completely insane." Emmett sighed.
"Yeah, well, that's why we love them." Ted raised his eyebrows.
"Sometimes, Teddy, I just want to shake them. Brian and Justin and Mel, they're doing such a good job. Justin was telling me that Brian's lawyer called last week and said he'd get custody of Gus soon. And it's his birthday tomorrow; that seems like the perfect sort of gift.
"If he can stand the whole age thing." Ted quipped.
"Oh, he'll survive, get a dye job and kiss Justin and still looking fucking fabulous. Which is wonderful, but what's going on with poor Lindsay? She's changed so much since the girls moved to Canada."
"People change, Em. You know that."
Emmett nodded. "I just never expected her to end up that…extreme."
"You know she's always been a little dramatic."
"Uh huh. But to act like that to Mel, who's been her partner for years? It's almost frightening. I don't know what happened up north, or why she's begun to act this way, but I feel like our friend Lindsay has disappeared."
"I know how you feel. By the way, have you heard from Michael and Ben lately?"
"Not really. They seem to be keeping to themselves." He glanced out the window at the bustling street, then clapped his hands a little. "But, on a happier note, Jenny Rebecca adores me. I can't wait till she's old enough to learn all that I have to teach. A young learner, ready to be educated in the ways of fabulousness!"
Ted snorted and shook his head.
Justin entered the diner slowly. He really shouldn't have to work on a Saturday, but he needed something to take his mind off things, and Saturday nights were the busiest, so it would work. Brian was working late at Kinnetic, probably with the same plan in his head. Debbie gave him a rib-cracking hug and kissed him on the cheek when she saw him.
"Hi, Deb." He tied on his apron and picked up the plastic tub for bussing dishes.
Her voice softened and she leaned close, a hand on his arm. "By the way, Sweetie, don't forget to take some lemon bars with you when you leave, on the house. I know what today is, you both might need some."
Justin nodded and moved away, but he had no intention on bringing home pastries. It had been years, and many of the demons of the even that had occurred this night had been vanquished, either by his art or Brian's love or by his stupid run with the Pink Posse. He didn't really need much comfort for this day any more. Most years he had just stayed inside and painted, or talked to Daphne on the phone. There was still a pinch of regret for the blank space in his memory where the prom should have been, for the lost hours that should have been the happiest moment of his life. But it was the past now. He shook his head and concentrated on the group calling for their order to be taken.
Melanie lay in bed in her hotel room, Jenny Rebecca curled into her side, snoring softly. She rubbed the little girl's back and stared up at the ceiling, wondering when her life had become such a mess. She wondered what had happened to make Lindsay like this, what had fallen apart in their relationship and in the other woman's mind that could make this happen. She wondered what was going to happen to Gus, what was going to happen to Jenny. She hoped all this legal crap would go well, what would happen if it didn't. She wondered how she would cope without a person she'd lived with for so long, without someone to share her past, her life, her love, her children with. The ceiling stared blankly back and gave no answers.
Justin rode the elevator up to the loft, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. The diner on a Saturday night was chaos that was almost too ridiculous to comprehend. When he reached the loft, he pushed of the wall with a sigh and went to the door, sliding it open. Inside it was dim, only a few lights on. Justin bit his lower lip, frowned.
A small clinking noise from the couch brought his attention. Brian was slumped, half-sitting, half-laying on the couch, a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand, with plenty more bottles of various alcohol, both empty and full, surrounding him on the floor. A cigarette dangled from his fingers, dangerously close to the fabric of the sofa. Brian's head shifted a little at the sound of his voice, but he didn't respond. Justin stepped over to him. Brian's eyes were shadowed, sunken from lack of sleep. When he turned to Justin, they were dull and full of an aching, deep-set pain.
"Brian?" Justin sat down gingerly beside his lover. "Is this how you've spent today for the last three years?"
Brian scoffed out a dark, drunken laugh. "I've done this every year; you were just never around to fucking see."
"What do you mean, I—"
His words were weary, as if they'd gone round and round in his head for years. "That first year you were with the fiddle fuck. Then you were in L.A. Then New York. You were never around."
"Brian…" Justin didn't know what to say. "I…I thought you'd gotten over it." Brian's hand slid across his shoulders, up his neck until he felt gentle fingers rubbing at the small raised scar on the right side of his head.
"I thought I'd get over it by now, too, that it would go away, but…..fuck! I can't get it out of my head. I just…." He pressed the bottle against his face, closing his eyes and grimacing, unable to keep his mind from venturing to a place he only ever visited in nightmares, never awake because it hurt too much. Brian dropped the bottle, shoved off the couch and strode unsteadily to the window, wrapping his arms around himself, rocking just a little.
Justin got up, followed him across the room. He could hear Brian breathing hard though his nose, could see the tension in his shoulders. He had to stifle a small intake of breath when Brian's fingers slid beneath his shirt and tugged out the scarf, still white in places, the rusty blood paled now to a faded brownish plum. Brian threaded it through his fingers and then clenched his hand around it like a morbid rosary.
"We danced, Justin. And it was amazing. It was more than amazing. You were smiling at me the whole time, and I couldn't see anything else, it was like you were the only thing in the fucking world. And I was actually happy. I mean, I thought I was going to surprise you and make you happy for just an hour or two, but the truth is, it was the happiest I'd been in years. And I think you knew it, too. You could see it, you could see what I was saying to you. Because that was when I knew that I….And then he came and fucked it all up. And I can't…I can't…"
Justin stepped close, raised his hand and touched Brian's back gently. "You saved me, Brian. You saved my life. You're the reason I'm alive."
Brian wheeled around then, staring at him. Justin had never seen him look so raw, so torn open. His eyes held pain so embedded in the depths of him that Justin could not see the bottom. His gaze flicked from Justin's face to his right temple, and he shuddered, then moved suddenly, pushing past Justin and pacing back to the couch, clutching the scarf in his hands. He didn't sit, but instead stood in front of the couch, head down, shoulders hunched. Justin stopped about a foot away from his back. When he spoke, his voice was rough, stopping and starting with aching difficulty, as if the words were being dragged up from some painful, awful place deep inside of him.
"Your fucking heart stopped in the ambulance. Stopped. Just….the little beeping signal, it was there, and then suddenly….it wasn't. It wasn't there and there was so much noise and you weren't moving or breathing or…" Brian half-sat, half-crumpled onto the couch. His eyes were cast down to his hands, but they turned to Justin, full of agony and raw aching guilt. "You have no idea how much I wanted it to be me on that stretcher. You have no idea."
A small keening sound, like a wounded animal, tore from his throat. He curled in on himself then, drawing his knees up and wrapping his arms around them, tensing himself into a ball, a motion that seemed so vulnerable and out of character that Justin was a tiny bit frightened. Brian was staring at a spot somewhere just past Justin's knee, but his eyes were wide with fear and unfocused, moving a bit as he watched the memory unfold in front of him. Justin could only watch the past as it flickered across his lover's face.
"I just couldn't get there fast enough. I could see, like I was watching it in slow motion, or something. You were smiling at me, you were so happy, and then he hit you….the sound it made…." Brian groaned, shaking his head. A horrible grimace of pain slashed across his features, and in the next moment it was again replaced by the raw, aching stare.
"You were fine, you were happy, you were alive, and then you weren't, you weren't moving, you weren't waking up. And there was so much blood, so much, and you just laid there. And I could feel you—I could feel you dying, I could feel it. I couldn't let it happen. I think I called someone. I don't remember. I just, I couldn't let you go, and you wouldn't wake up. I had to watch you dying, I had to hold you in my arms and I could see it. I could fucking see you leaving me, I watched it happening, and there was nothing I could do. I wouldn't let go, I was screaming at them; they had to pull me off you to get you in the ambulance. I was so fucking scared. I didn't know whether you were allergic to the things they were giving you. I…And then your heart…and you…."
He shuddered again, twisting the crumpled scarf in his fingers. Justin felt like his heart was breaking as he listened to the pain in Brian's voice. He took a step forward, reaching out, but then thought better of it. Touching Brian right now might be the worst possible thing, so Justin suppressed to incredibly strong urge to just go to him and hold him. Brian exhaled roughly, clenching his hands into fists. "Christ!"
Justin realized suddenly that Brian had shoved the memories away and tried to forget; he'd kept these things, these horrible visions locked deep inside him for years, letting them eat away at his emotions and fester, rotting within. He, Justin, had had many forms of release for his pain and trauma, but Brian had none.
The older man went on. The pain seemed to be seeping from every pore, it seemed he didn't have control over whether the words poured from his body or not; all the memories and agony were shoving their way out of him, even if it tore him apart. "They brought you back. And I just—just couldn't let go of your hand. And then they took you back into the emergency room and they wouldn't tell me what was going on and I had to just sit there, just fucking sit there for hours. I didn't know if you were alive or dead, whether you were going to survive. All I had was a bloody fucking scarf—your blood all over me. I didn't sleep for days, because every time I closed my eyes I watched it happen over and over again. I tried to keep you safe. I can't keep anyone safe. I just…" He shook his head, let out a shaking breath, trying to keep the unbearable images from surfacing in his mind, but it was futile.
Finally, Justin moved, sinking onto the couch beside him and wrapping his arms gently around Brian. The older man didn't move from his curled position, didn't remove his gaze from the wall. Justin whispered Brian's name, slid a hand across his chest and up to cup his cheek. He expected Brian to pull away, or shove his hand down, but instead he leaned into Justin's warm palm, pushed his face into it, a soft whimper escaping on a wobbly sigh as he squeezed his eyes closed and leaned against his lover. Justin tried to ignore the clench in his stomach that came because Brian was never this vulnerable, never needed him this badly.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, feeling his own warm breath pass Brian's ear. "I'm sorry, Brian. I'm so, so sorry." He was sorry for Brian having to hold all of this in for so long, sorry for the fact that he'd never been able to remember that night, sorry for him having to take care of Justin for so long when he was healing, while Brian was still hurting from that night as well, sorry for the fact that Brian had showed him love, and that he'd been damaged by it and because of that he had hidden his emotions behind walls again, afraid that if he made himself vulnerable another time, someone would be hurt. Brian shook his head as if in pain, groaned softly and pressed himself a little further against Justin. They both stared out across the room, lost in memories. Justin broke the stillness when Brian's weight on his shoulder became too much.
"Come on, Brian." He slipped his arm around Brian's shoulders, gently coaxed him up and together they made their way to the bed. Brian undid his pants and shucked them off, and his underwear, then fumbled with the buttons of his shirt. Justin helped it off him and rid himself of his own clothes before joining his lover in bed. Rolling over to face him, Brian reached out and pulled Justin close, wrapping himself around the younger man, huffing a watery breath in his ear. Justin returned the embrace, and felt Brian's arms tighten, clutching him closer. They lay together with their eyes closed, each breathing the other's breath, but sleep did not come easy.
Justin woke abruptly at around four AM. The only reason he knew the time was because he was staring directly at the glowing numbers of his digital alarm clock when he opened his eyes. A strange sound had pierced the fog of his slumbering brain, and he heard it again, though he was still not awake enough to register exactly what it was. He frowned a little and wondered if Brian was awake, if he was hearing it too. Rolling over, he was about to reach out to shake his lover awake, when he stopped.
The solid shape of Brian's back loomed beside him, muscles accentuated in shadow and blue lights. Brian's head was down, hidden within his hands. His shoulders were shaking. The sound came again, and Justin was startled to realize what it was he had heard.
Brian Kinney was crying.
Justin sat up slowly and put a tentative hand on the man's back. Brian was trembling, shuddering. Justin moved to place his hand on his lover's shoulder, to stroke his cheek, but Brian suddenly grabbed it, turning himself around and tugging Justin back down, wrapping his arms and legs around the blonde. He saw Brian's face before he hid it; he looked terrified, devastated, worse than Justin had ever felt upon awakening from a nightmare. Justin could feel him shaking hard as he buried his face in his shoulder, hot tears landing on sensitive flesh. He clutched at Justin, breathing hard and murmuring words into his skin, things Justin wasn't sure he was supposed to hear. Then Brian's grip tightened even more, his head raised just a little bit until his nose was nudging at Justin's jaw.
"Don't." he whispered, shuddering violently in Justin's arms.
"What?" Tears landed now on Justin's cheek as Brian pressed his face hard against the side of Justin's head.
"Don't. Don't you dare." His whisper was hoarse, his words coated with fear and unbearable pain, his clutching fingers needy. "Don't you dare die on me. Don't you dare leave me here alone."
Justin's chest clenched, his breath caught on the lump suddenly in his throat. "Oh God, Brian. I won't. I won't."
An intake of breath that sounded like a surprised gasp at a response jerked into a sob, and the trembling fingers of Brian's hand reached over to trace the small white scar on the right side of Justin's head. Brian's shivering worsened, he was shaking, his face pale even in the dim light, his eyes wide and wet.
"Promise me. You have to promise. Don't fucking leave. You can't."
Justin pulled Brian closer to him, closing his eyes to keep the threatening tears at bay. "I won't, Brian. I promise, I won't. I swear, I promise I won't leave you, never again."
Brian let out a sigh, trembling and long, a cathartic expelling of air, of all the horrible things inside. Justin held him in his arms, felt his lover's shaking gradually lessen, until it was the simple shudders of dying sobs. They curled together, entangled tighter than ever, so that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. Justin waited, stroking Brian's hair softly until he relaxed and slept. Then he closed his eyes as well, knowing that tomorrow, together, they would begin to heal.