Of course, he wasn't enough for Justin.
This thought came to him on his drive to work, three weeks after they'd broken up for what turned out to be the last time. It was a shitty thought to have on the way to work and basically ruined his whole day, but he figured it happened then because it was pretty much the only time he was sober in the six weeks that followed the break up.
It was a strange thought for him to have, but not really surprising; no one had ever expected him to be romantic before. Justin was a fucking spoiled yuppie kid from the suburbs, who hadn't know his head from his ass when he met Brian.
And Brian had let him down.
He sat in the parking lot and smoked a joint and thought about that for a minute. He'd failed. He'd failed Justin. Then he pinched off the end of the joint and went into work and sat in on a meeting where one of the junior execs came up with the brilliant idea that sex sells.
"He wanted me to be his fucking hero,"he told Michael at Woody's that night. "He got mad if I didn't bring him flowers or write him poems."
"You wrote him poems?"Michael asked, choking.
"I wrote a jingle about his ass,"Brian admitted. Michael laughed, relieved, but it had been a pretty good jingle. Brian was too drunk to remember it, but it had been pretty good. There had been a line about jello. "The point is, he wanted a fucking husband."
"And this is a surprise,"Michael said.
"No." Brian shook his head, because that was the long and short of it really; it hadn't been a surprise. From the first time Brian fucked him, Justin had always wanted a husband, someone to love and adore him unreservedly and obviously, like a fucking Hallmark card. Frankly, it was a shock to Brian that it had lasted as long as it had.
"Tell me about it,"Michael said, when Brian mentioned this. "I expected one night."
Brian smiled. Some things never failed to cheer him up.
He spent a lot of time drunk over the next couple of months, and took a lot of random shit from shady dealers who he couldn't remember and fucked a few too many ugly guys, but all in all it was easier than the last time. The last time Justin had left him for a skinny pompous asshole, an"artist"who promised him a rose garden and breakfast in bed every day and Brian hadn't even had to talk to the fucking kid to know exactly how long that was going to last. Many people were more romantic than Brian Kinney, but no one was that romantic. Not even a fucking violinist.
It had hurt a lot to be left for that.
This time it had been easier, maybe because Justin had been standing in the middle of the loft screaming "you're so fucking selfish, Brian!" his face red like he was going to pop. Brian couldn't remember what he'd been being "selfish" about, but it didn't matter. There was always something. There always would be.
"Yeah, well," he'd said. "This song sounds familiar."
"Fuck you!"Justin had shouted. "Fuck you and fuck this, Brian!" Then he left.
It had taken three days before Brian realized he'd actually meant it.
"So, are you devastated?" Emmett asked him at breakfast.
Brian looked at him over the edge of his coffee cup. "About what?"
Emmett smiled. "You know. It's all so tragic, losing the love of your life, having your heart laid out for the world to see, spending your nights alone thinking of the one that got away." He clasped his hands over his heart and closed his eyes.
"Who said I'm spending my nights alone?" he said.
"Not the point, Brian," Emmett said.
"What is your point, then?" Brian asked. He didn't care, not really, but the more Emmett talked the less he would have to. It was bad enough that he had to eat at the fucking Liberty Diner, with Justin ten feet away serving coffee to bears at the counter. He didn't want to have to discuss the Big Breakup as well. "And where's Mikey?"
"Ben's,"Emmett said. "And I notice that you didn't deny pining."
"Yeah, well, now I'm denying paying." He stood up and shrugged into his jacket. "I have to get to work."
"You're going to have to let the pain out sometime," Emmett called to the back of his head. Brian would have flipped him off, if he could have figured out a way to do it without Justin seeing.
For awhile, his life was normal again. Normal as in before Justin became his stalker and then his...whatever. He went to work, then he went out and drank and did whatever drugs he felt like doing and fucked whoever he felt like fucking and made Michael drive him home. Sometimes, he missed Justin, but he told himself it was in the same way he missed the cactus he'd had since college that died when his fucking housekeeper had accidentally left it outside on the fire escape in the rain. Sometimes, he would look up at the corner by the stereo and expect the cactus to still be there, the same way that he would open his closet and expect to see Justin's shoes or roll over in bed and expect to feel Justin's skin. It was just a period of adjustment, and if he wasn't over the fucking cactus yet, there was no way he was supposed to be over fucking Justin.
"You've never done well with change," Lindsey told him when she came over with Gus while he was incredibly hung over and vulnerable and espoused his cactus theory.
"This isn't about change," he mumbled, pressing his face into the couch pillow. He'd had the couch re-upholstered after Justin left and the new fabric was nubbly and scratched at his face. Three thousand down the drain and now he was going to have it done again.
"Well, what is it about, then?" She dropped Gus on his chest and went to the fridge. Gus tipped over onto him and hung one arm over his neck. He was a good little kid. Brian patted his back. "Because if I didn't know better, I'd say it was about love."
Brian laughed aloud and Gus jumped a little.
"Very subtle, Linds," he told her.
"Come on, Brian," she said, perching on the back of the sofa. "You go out every night, you fuck a different guy every, what, fifteen minutes or something, you're partying harder than I've ever seen you party. If that's not love lost, what is it?"
Brian smiled into Gus' short silky hair. "Fucking fantastic," he said.
Lindsey yanked Gus out of his arms. "Hedonist," she said, pretending that she thought it was a bad thing. "Promise me that you'll talk to someone if you need to talk to someone."
"I promise," he said. If he didn't love her so much, Lindsey would be incredibly annoying. Plus, it wasn't a problem to make the promise. He wasn't going to "need" to talk to anyone anyway. He was fine. "I'm fine," he said to her.
She made Gus wave to him before she left.
And he was fine.
Then Ben got pneumonia.
He found out about it when he called Michael to go to Wet Willies night at Babylon and Michael answered crying.
"What the fuck?"he asked, not pissed anymore but worried. Something shifted deep in the pit of his stomach because if it wasn't Michael, if Michael was fine enough to be on the other end of the phone crying, then there was only one thing it could be.
"Ben," Michael said.
"Where are you?" Brian said.
Michael was at the hospital, of course, standing in another hallway outside Ben's hospital room, leaning back with his eyes closed.
"Deja vu," Brian whispered in his ear, and wrapped his arms around him. Michael cried for a good long while, getting his slobber all over Brian's new Versace sleeveless tee. In some sick way, it was like when Gus spit up on him" he didn't mind. "Hey,"he whispered in Michael's ear eventually, pushing him back and wiping the tears from under his eyes. Michael looked like shit, puffy and blotchy and red. At least his nose wasn't running. Much.
"It's pneumonia," Michael said. "He had, like, this cold and his doctor said he was fine, just to, you know, take it easy or whatever, and then he couldn't breathe and..." and he started crying again.
"Hey," Brian said again. He didn't know what else to say, because what he wanted to say was "what did you expect? Ben's been positive for what, years? And you're getting upset because he's getting sick? Really, Mikey, what the fuck did you expect?"
He couldn't say that. He wouldn't say that. But that was what he wanted to say.
"What did the doctors say?" he asked after Michael started breathing again.
Michael started flailing his hands around and saying something about fluid in Ben's lungs and Brian sat back in one of the fucking torturous waiting room chairs and pretended to listen.
He stayed until Deb got there and took over Michael-sitting. Then he went home and jerked off to internet porn and went to bed.
When he woke up Ben was dead.
Brian's father had been a bastard for Brian's entire existence, so Brian hadn't really cared when he died except for the small corner of himself that had secretly hoped that someday Jack Kinney would have really looked at him and said, "sonny boy, you didn't turn out so bad." So when he cried after his father died, it wasn't for his father at all, but for the death of that part of himself that had still bothered to hope after the rest of him had grown up and gotten smart.
He was surprised, now, by the grief that kept welling up inside him, sadness not only for Michael, but for himself. He hadn't really cared for Ben that much, he'd thought. Sure, hot, and certainly an improvement over Michael's normal choice of father figure/boyfriend, but Ben was just a little too much of a do-gooder for Brian to really like. He was hot, smart, involved in the community" hell, he was probably a fucking member of the Save the Whales campaign. Ben had been the poster child for why straight people should embrace homosexuals as upstanding members of the community and sometimes Brian wanted to punch him in face.
Had wanted. Had.
He did the funeral arrangements with Emmett, who had to keep excusing himself to "powder his nose" until Brian finally said "Jesus! Come here!" and let Em cry on his shoulder.
"You're a good friend, Brian," Emmett said, sniffling. He pulled away and patted Brian on the shoulder. "You're a good friend to Michael and you were a good friend to Ben."
Brian rolled his eyes. "I didn't do shit for Ben," he pointed out. "Besides tie him to a bed during the White Party and fuck him til he screamed."
"Wasn't that enough?" Emmett asked. He was smiling a little. "It's good of you to do this. I couldn't get through it myself."
"That's 'cause you're a pussy," Brian said.
Emmett slapped him on the shoulder. "I'm delicate," he said.
"That's not what they say at the Glory Hole."
Emmett slapped again, but he was smiling a little so he must have felt a little better. Brian felt no better at all.
He didn't feel better at the wake, when everyone got up and said how fantastic Ben was and what a great human being and what an asset to the community, blah blah blah. And he didn't feel better when Michael came up to him, pale and red eyed, and hugged him and breathed "thank you" onto his neck before heading home under Debbie's hawk-like gaze. He didn't even feel better when he guilted the lesbians into sticking around while the caterers cleaned up, so that he could go home early and chat up cock on the internet.
The guy that ended up coming over was pretty hot, blond (and would he always have a thing for blonds, he wondered, or would that ever go away?) and hung, and he cried out "oh god! Oh yeah!" as he came, which Brian enjoyed hearing. He was also young enough or possibly cool enough to pull on his clothes and leave without even being asked afterwards. "Call me," he said, and tossed his number on the table. He was casual enough that Brian thought maybe he might. It was only the hopeful ones that you had to worry about getting attached.
Brian showered and pulled on some jeans and a tank top and his leather jacket. Then he went downstairs and got into his new BMW and drove over to Debbie's place and banged on the door until she opened up.
"What the fuck, Brian?" she hissed. "It's two in the fucking morning."
He stared at her until she stepped back and let him in. "He won't even know you're here," she said. "The doctor gave him something to help him sleep."
Brian crept up the stairs and pushed open the door to Michael's room. Michael lay on the twin bed, surrounded by cowboy wallpaper and memorabilia of a happy childhood. Brian didn't even know what his old room at his mother's house looked like anymore. For all intents and purposes this room had been his room, too.
"Mikey," he whispered. Michael didn't move. Brian shucked his jacket and his jeans and pulled back the covers on the bed. Michael groaned when the mattress shifted under Brian's weight and reached for him.
"It's okay," Brian whispered, gathering him close. "It's just me."
"Ben," Michael murmured.
Brian squeezed him tight against his chest. "Yeah," he said. "Go to sleep."
When he woke up, Michael was looking at his shoulder, stroking the skin of his arm near the edge of his stretched-out tank top.
"Hey," he said. Michael lifted his eyes.
"When'd you get here?" he asked. His fingers felt like feathers on Brian's shoulder.
Brian shrugged. "Late," he said. "Your mom let me in."
Michael nodded and went back to staring at Brian's shoulder.
"You're gonna be okay," Brian said. "Not, you know. Soon. But you will."
Michael shook his head. "I don't think so. Not this time." His voice was soft and empty and quiet.
Brian grabbed his chin and forced it up. "Every time," he said. "Every time. If I have to do it myself." That didn't make sense, he wasn't making sense, but it didn't matter much, because then Michael was crying again and nodding and saying
"okay, okay, okay."
Brian leaned down and kissed him, hard, and pulled Michael on top of him so that his weight was holding him down, and Michael's tears could just slide across Brian's neck and onto the sheets without a moment of hesitation.
When he got back to the loft, the door was open. "Fuck," he muttered. He'd been robbed before, before he'd given all his shit up willingly for a "cause" and realized how much he loved it and how much it cost to replace. "Not the clothes," he whispered, pushing the door open all the way, but it wasn't burglars, just Justin, sitting on the couch with his feet up.
"I thought you gave me your keys," Brian said. He wished it were some other day, because some other day he'd be happy to see Justin on his couch with his bare toes on the cushion and his chin on the back, looking up at him. Even stupid funeral sex would have been welcome any other day but today. Today he was too fucking tired and too fucking depressed. He'd just gotten up out of Michael's bed an hour ago and he already needed a nap.
"You never asked for them," Justin said. "Where were you? Michael's?"
Brian nodded. "Look, I'm wasted. So can we have deep and meaningful death sex later? Because I've got to work tomorrow.'
"Sure." Justin stood up, but he didn't look around for his shoes. "It just got me thinking, you know. Ben. About how""
"About how what?" Brian asked, annoyed. "About how life is short and you have to make the most of it because you could die any minute? About how bad things happen to good people, but assholes live forever? About how the most important things are the people you love and who love you back?"
Justin didn't even flinch. "Yeah," he said. "About how I was stupid to walk out on love when it could end any minute."
Brian laughed. "Oh yeah, Sunshine? You may want to ask yourself, then, if love is so fucking important to you, how come you're the one that's always leaving?"
That made him fucking flinch, Brian thought with satisfaction.
"Brian," Justin whispered. "I'm sorry" "
"Save it," Brian said. "Save it for someone who gives a damn. I'm going to bed." He stalked up to his bed and yanked his clothes off. By the time he was lying down, Justin was gone.
"Deja vu all over again," Emmett said, sitting down at Brian's table with his cup of coffee.
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
Emmett sipped and cast a significant glance over at the counter. Justin was leaning up against it, watching Brian, smiling a little to himself.
"Oh," Brian said.
"So how long are you going to make him wait?" Emmett asked. "Because he's really pining away over there. He says he's not eating."
"Then how come his ass is so big? Hey, Deb!"
Debbie glared at him, but stalked over anyway. "Look, just because you and Sunshine are fighting doesn't mean he can't pour your fuckin' coffee."
"How's Mikey?" Brian asked. It was really what he had called her over for; the lack of Justin was just a bonus.
Debbie fell into the seat next to him. "He's fine, I guess. Vic's keeping an eye on him. But he hasn't gotten any better."
"It's only been a week, honey," Emmett said, patting her forearm. Brian wondered sometimes if the reason he hung with Emmett, kept hanging out with such an obvious and stereotypical queen as Emmett Honeycut, was because Emmett could say the sappy stupid stuff that Brian could never bring himself to say.
"I know," Deb said. "It's just. Well, it's hard." She grabbed Brian's napkin and dabbed her eyes with it, her mascara leaving spider-like black splotches on the paper. "I gotta go get your orders."
"It's so sad," Emmett said, watching her leave. "Ben was like her son-in-law."
"They weren't married," Brian said.
"Well, of course not," Emmett said. "But practically."
"Practically, my ass. I gotta get to work." He threw money on the table and grabbed his jacket. "Later.'
He didn't say anything to Justin, who was loitering near the cash register.
He called in from the car. "Cynthia, I'm sick."
"You don't sound sick," she said. She was such a bitch. He supposed that was why he'd taken her with him when he left.
"Cough, cough, Cynthia."
"Fine, fine. I'll reschedule everything."
"Leave me a message if you need me," he said and hung up without waiting to hear her squawk.
Michael answered the door, wearing sweatpants and a Spiderman t- shirt and looking exactly the way he had when they were fourteen. He'd told Brian once that Brian would always be young, but it was Michael who stayed the same year after year, not just his appearance, but his heart. Michael was still always surprised when people hurt him.
"Aren't you supposed to be in bed?" Brian asked, shoving him back through the door. "Your mother said Vic was here."
"He went to the grocery store," Michael said.
"Well, then, I guess it's up to me." Brian turned him and pushed him up the stairs.
"I'm not sick," Michael protested. "I can sit in the living room if I want!"
But Brian didn't want to be sitting in the living room when Vic came home and have to listen to his rants about the freshness of the produce and only two kinds of olive oil. He wanted to be alone.
"This isn't cool, Brian," Michael said, but he sat down on the bed anyway. He looked okay. Sad. Thinner. But basically fine.
"No," Brian said, pulling a joint out of his jacket pocket. "But this is."
"The doctor says I'm not supposed to have anything like that. He said it would only make me feel worse.'
"Fuck the doctor," Brian told him, and lit up.
"So what are you doing here?" Michael asked when they were about halfway through the weed, lying on their backs looking at the water stained patches on Michael's bedroom ceiling. Brian had had sex in here once, when it was Justin's room, but he hadn't looked up at the ceiling then. In the beginning with Justin, he had always been on top. "Don't you have to work?"
"That's the brilliant thing about being your own boss," Brian said. "Setting your own hours."
"You shouldn't have," Michael said. "You should be at work."
Brian rolled his head until he was facing Michael. The pillowcase slipped under his cheek like silk, although it was just plain cotton, washed a million times in Debbie's old Maytag. "So should you," he said.
Michael's eyes got darker when he cried, as if the tears sucked all the light right out of them. Brian watched, feeling like he was watching from across the street.
"Yeah," Michael said, eventually, wiping his face with the back of his hand. "I just can't yet, you know?"
Brian, who wanted to think that he had never lost anything that couldn't be replaced, nodded. "Sure," he said.
"You should really go to work," Michael said, but he threw his arm over Brian's chest and hooked his leg over Brian's knee.
"Mmhmm," Brian said. He finished the joint while Michael went limp and fell asleep on top of him and then he must have fallen asleep, too, because he didn't hear Vic come in and when he came back to himself there was the smell of fresh marinara in the air.
Brian went back to work the next day and Michael went back the week after that, taking the store over from Justin, who had been keeping it open in between his classes. "I know you hate him now," Michael told Brian, apologetically, but Brian didn't hate Justin anymore. He didn't really feel anything about Justin anymore. He didn't really feel anything, period, actually, which was perfectly fine with him. He saw where feelings got people and it was usually hurt and alone. He'd rather not bother.
Time passed. Michael stopped crying all the time and started being a slightly sadder version of his old self and everyone focused on the new drama, which was that Ted, who had been doing so well in his program, had fallen off the wagon again and was living in a crack house off Wayfarer Boulevard. Emmett said things like "well, it's a process" and pretended that it didn't really hurt him. Brian wondered if God loved anyone besides lesbians, who were the only people he knew at the moment who had the remotest glimpse of happiness. Then two new clients came in in the same week, a gay rights organization from New York and a progressive tech start-up from Silicon Valley, both of whom wanted not only kick-ass campaigns, but the cache of doing business with an openly gay ad-man and Brian was up to his tits in work, so he didn't wonder anything about God anymore for a while. It was hard enough remembering to get his dick sucked regularly.
He closed the first wave of the tech campaign on a Friday and went straight to Babylon, because eight o'clock in sunny Cali was late enough to go out in dingy Philadelphia. He left his suit jacket in the car and unbuttoned his shirt all the way and had two drinks and some guy's hand under his belt when Justin came up to him.
"Hey," Justin said.
He looked almost the same. His hair had grown out some to the medium length Brian liked it at, and his smile was a little nervous, but he was the same Justin. "Hey," he said.
Justin tapped the guy on the shoulder. "Get lost," he said. They guy scowled and got lost, disappearing into the crowd like smoke. "Let's go back to your place," Justin said.
The sex was also almost the same, the way Justin's toes curled when he came, the way he tossed his head back, the knowing grin when he sucked Brian off" there were a few minor differences in technique, but nothing really new.
Afterwards, Justin sprawled on top of the sheets and shared his cigarette. "I like what you've done with the apartment," he said, gesturing. Brian looked around. He guessed it had been nine months, maybe a year since Justin had been over, but he couldn't remember what all was different.
"Thanks," he said. He handed the cigarette over to Justin and stood up, stretching, wondering what would happen next, what Justin would say. Brian, himself, had nothing to say. His mind was strangely blank.
"Brian," Justin said, sitting up, and the phone rang.
Brian looked at the caller id. Michael. He picked it up.
"What?" he said.
"I'm at this guy's apartment and you gotta come get me," Michael whispered. He sounded like he was playing Spy or something. Michael was so fucking melodramatic.
"Is that Michael?" Justin said. "Tell him I say hi."
"Justin says hi," Brian said, but Michael didn't seem to hear. He was babbling about how this guy had been superhot, but he wanted to go and the asshole had fallen asleep and blah blah blah and Brian was seconds away from telling him to call a fucking cab, already, when he caught sight of Justin opening the refrigerator door and pushing stuff around in search of something to drink. The curve of his back, his ass, the vague expression of dissatisfaction when he realized that Brian was out of Evian and only had sports water" it was all so familiar.
"I'm on my way," he said. "What's the address?"
Michael told him. Brian pulled on his dress pants without underwear, since they'd have to be dry-cleaned anyway, and grabbed a t- shirt. "I have to go," he told Justin, who was sitting on the couch drinking a V8.
"Okay. He's alright, right?"
"He needs a ride. He's stuck at some guy's place and needs a ride." Brian pulled on his tennis shoes and grabbed his leather jacket.
Justin nodded. He took another sip of his drink. Brian waited. Justin looked at him curiously. "Wait," he said after a minute, setting his bottle of juice on the counter. "You want me to go?"
"Very good," Brian said. "College must really be working out."
"Are you serious?" Justin asked. "Because I thought that..."
"Whatever you thought, forget it," Brian said. "I'm leaving and so are you."
"But I lived here!" Justin said. His face and chest were flush with blood. He sort of looked like he did right before he came.
"You left," he answered.
"Brian," Justin began. Brian picked up Justin's bottle of V8, opened the door and threw it down the stairs.
"Your pants are next," he said.
"Justin was there?" Michael asked, throwing his jacket into the backseat.
"What were you...no, wait. Nevermind. I don't want to know." He fastened his seatbelt and folded his arms over it. "I can't believe you."
"You can't believe that I'd fuck a hot blond guy ten years younger than me," Brian said. "Have you met me?"
"Shut up," Michael said. He waited until they were a block away from his apartment before he spoke again. "It's just. I can't believe you'd get back together with him after all the shit you guys have been through, all the shit he's put you through! That's just dumb, Brian, and you know it."
"What makes you think we're back together?" Brian asked. He pulled over to the curb and turned off the headlights.
"You just fucked him. He was just at your apartment in the middle of the night."
"When did that become a sign of anything?" Brian asked mildly. Sometimes, he had to admit, he said things just to see Michael get upset. It amused him.
"Since him," Michael said. "Since the first night you went home with him."
Brian, who had been digging in his jacket pocket for a cigarette, stopped. He'd known Michael was jealous of Justin" fuck, who the hell hadn't known? Michael had fucking taken out a billboard" but Brian had thought that all went away when Ben had shown up. That Michael, enchanted by true love, had given up his stupid little boy crush on Brian.
He looked over at Michael, whose eyes were glimmering a little in the orange glow of the streetlight.
I'm sorry, he though about saying. I'm sorry. I didn't realize.
"Well, it doesn't fucking mean that, "he said instead. "Not anymore."
"Oh," Michael said.
"I've got to go in to the office tomorrow, so maybe you should get the fuck out of my car," Brian said.
Michael smiled. "Yeah. Thanks," he said.
Brian waved a hand at him.
Justin apparently hadn't gotten the message, though, because he kept calling and just stopping by and sidling up to Brian on the dance floor and it got so annoying that Brian wondered how it had ever worked in the first place.
"It was the exuberance of youth," Debbie said, when Brian voiced his displeasure over dinner one night. "It worked because he loved you."
"Yeah, well, then how come it's not working now?" Michael asked, peeved. "It's not working, is it?"
"No," Brian said.
"Well, fuck, I don't know," she said. "Maybe because he's older, you know. The bloom is off the rose. Maybe because you're a cynical bitch."
Brian faked a smile at her. Later, after the guy du jour (or, du nuit, Brian thought) had taken off and Brian was drifting in the gentle haze of early sleep, it came to him. It worked because it was innocent. He wouldn't remember thinking that in the morning, although he awoke feeling as if something had been resolved.
"What do you think of that guy over there?" Michael asked, pointing. He'd had maybe two drinks and was bobbing in time to the music, clear signs that he'd reached the happy part of the evening. Four or five drinks from now he'd start missing Ben and have to be taken home, but at the moment he was fun.
"Too short," Brian said.
"Not for me," Michael answered, which was fair enough, but Brian, who didn't want the happy part of the evening to be wasted on some asshole when he, Brian, was going to have to deal with sad Michael later, grabbed his wrist.
"Oh no you don't," he said.
"I wanna dance," Michael said, yanking.
"Then let's dance." Brian took him out onto the floor, close enough to the short guy so that the guy could see what he was missing.
Michael had always been a stupid dancer, too hoppy and crazy, but Brian had resigned himself to Michael's lack of cool decades ago. When he got tired of avoiding Michael's flailing arms, he pulled him in close and put his hands on Michael's hips.
"Brian," Michael said.
Brian, who had been watching at the smooth plane of his own stomach where it sank into his jeans, looked up.
"You're a good friend," Michael said, and kissed him. Brian, touched in spite of himself, kissed him back.
"You need another drink," he told Michael when they pulled apart. "C'mon."
It took four more drinks and two hours, but eventually Michael leaned against him and murmured "I miss Ben," and it was time to go home. Brian helped Michael into the car and drove slowly.
He waited while Michael opened the door and followed him in, parking himself on the couch while Michael brushed his teeth. Maybe he'd stay on the couch, or make Michael shift over in the bed, instead of going home. He was tired and his bed wasn't made. Michael's bed was always made. He closed his eyes, just for a second, to consider his options.
"Brian," Michael said, sometime later.
Brian snapped awake. Michael was standing in the doorway to his bedroom, his hands down at his sides, his eyes dark spots in the dim light that slanted through the apartment windows. He was naked.
Brian stood up. He didn't know what to say. Michael came toward him, and Brian fought the urge to back up, to run, escape, but Michael was too close and too warm and his hands slid up Brian's arms under the sleeves of the t- shirt he was wearing and his mouth was open just a little bit and that was it, really. Brian didn't stand a chance.
In the back of his mind, Brian had always thought that sex with Michael would be boring. It was part of the reason why they had never done it, because the actual sex couldn't possibly live up to the teasing and the longing and the enticement of the unknown.
It didn't, at least, in the way that Brian thought it wouldn't, it didn't. Michael wasn't secretly really limber or into strap-ons or real bondage or ice cubes up his ass. The sex was pretty plain old vanilla dick sucking and fucking, the end.
But in another way, it was completely different. Because when he looked at Michael, whose legs were tight around Brian's waist, his face contorted and sweaty with pleasure, Brian thought I want to touch him, which, in one way, was stupid because his cock was as far up Michael's ass as physiology allowed, but in another way wasn't stupid at all. Brian leaned down and put his hand along the side of Michael's face and kissed him until they both came.
Michael was already awake when he came to, lying a short distance away, one hand behind his head, staring at the ceiling.
"Hey," he said, when Brian moved.
Brian rolled onto his side. They were totally fucked now, because Michael was going to want some huge monogamous Ben-like substitute and Brian just didn't "he didn't know what he wanted, actually, but whatever it was, and whether or not it involved fucking Michael again, it wasn't what Michael wanted.
There was no getting around talking about it, though, so Brian put his hand on Michael's stomach. Michael covered it with his own.
"You're the first person I ever loved," he said.
Brian blinked. Of course, there would be no warm-up. "I know," he said.
Michael rolled his eyes. "I fucking hate you sometimes."
"I know," Brian said again, and that got a smile. "Look, you're not expecting'"
"I'm not expecting anything," Michael said. "I know you."
"True," Brian admitted.
"We're fine," Michael said, patting Brian's hand. "You want to go eat?"
"God, yes," Brian said. He lay in the bed for a moment, though, after Michael rolled out, thinking this is where they did it. He wasn't sure why.
The good news was that Michael did seem fine. He didn't tell anyone about it because "God, can you imagine all the bullshit we'd have to put up with?" but, other than not clueing the entire world in, he seemed normal. They went out to Babylon and Woody's that week and Brian kept an eye out for signs of jealously when he picked up some random tourist or for signs of neediness when Michael got into sixth drink range, but there was nothing to see.
"He seems better," Emmett said, while he and Brian were ordering drinks.
Brian stopped himself before he said "I cured him."
The bad news was that Brian himself wasn't feeling fine. The tourist guy was hot but mind-numbingly boring and couldn't take a hint, so Brian had to practically shove him out the door. The two guys who invited him into their threesome in the back room at Woody's were also hot, and also not very good at hand jobs, which was particularly distressing to Brian. How could a fucking guy not be good at hand jobs? It was mind blowing, in the worst possible way.
So he went home with Michael and they fucked again, and he sucked Michael off afterwards, and got hard again while Michael was calling his name softly, "brian, brian, brian" pushing his dick into Brian's mouth.
When he woke up the next morning, Michael was still asleep. Brian kissed his hair and got up.
The third time they fucked was that afternoon, after Chinese food on Brian's floor and it was hot and dirty and both of them were sort of screaming near the end, and afterwards, Michael sort of said "I love you" although what he really said was "fuck, I love you," which, Brian knew, usually meant something very different after hot animal sex.
"Are we going to keep doing this?" Michael asked two days later, during one of their mid-day phone calls.
"Are you tired of it?" Brian asked.
"Don't avoid the question," Michael said.
Brian sighed. "I don't know," he said. What he meant was yes.
"I was thinking," Michael said one Sunday afternoon.
"mmm." Brian was on the couch naked, a towel full of ice on his forehead. Tequila was not a friend, but it was a fucking great enemy.
"I was thinking about something," Michael said again. He was in the kitchen in his underwear, stirring up something that Brian hoped wouldn't taste like shit. He didn't feel like putting clothes on, which he would have to do if they had to eat at the diner. Probably. "It's not, like, a big deal. Just a thought."
"Please, Michael," Brian said. "Please share your every thought with me."
"Fuck off," Michael said, but he sounded maybe like his feelings were really hurt so Brian stood up, staggered over to the stove and hung his arms around Michael's neck. He smelled like sweat and soap.
"No, what," he said.
"Just." Michael sighed. "Never mind."
Brian shook him a little, pressing his mouth into Michael's neck. His head hurt like a motherfucker. The eggs actually sort of looked good.
"You and Justin had rules. About staying out and who you could see and stuff, right?"
Brian stepped back. "Aww, does Mikey want a boyfriend?" he asked.
Michael turned a little and looked at him, keeping one eye on the eggs. "I just thought, since you and Justin""
"I don't do boyfriends," Brian said. "You know that."
"I know that's a fucking lie," Michael said. "I know you, Brian. I know how you felt about him."
Brian leaned against the counter top and folded his arms in front of his chest. "So what."
Michael shrugged. "So nothing," he said. He turned back to the pan. Brian watched his shoulders move for a minute and thought about ignoring the whole thing, whatever Michael was thinking, was asking for, whatever. It would be easier.
"Look," he said, when Michael turned around, the eggs divided onto two plates. "You didn't think that was going to change just because it was you, did you?"
Michael set the plates on the table and went back for forks, holding the handles in his mouth and grabbing bottles of water out of the fridge.
"No," he said, after everything was on the table. "I didn't think that."
"Good." Brian pulled a chair up and sat down, propping his elbows on the table. "Because it hasn't."
"Great," Michael said. He left after breakfast and Brian went back to the couch and his towel full of ice. He stayed there until the sun faded from the windows and the air was dim and blue. Then he got up and took a shower and put on clothes and went to the diner.
No one was there, or, at least, no one he cared to talk to. Just guys he'd fucked or thought about fucking or wouldn't fuck with somebody else's dick. Nobodies.
"Why the long face?" Debbie asked when she brought him his coffee. "Too much working, too little fucking?"
"Yeah, that's it," he said. "Has Mikey been in?"
"Not yet. Isn't he meeting you?"
Brian shrugged. "Maybe. Our plans are" up in the air."
"You had a fight with Michael?" Debbie slid into the booth across from him.
"Look, don't try to bullshit me. Ever since Ben" passed you and Michael have been stuck together like glue and now you're asking me where he is. Ergo, you did something stupid and pissed him off or he met someone." Her face brightened. "Did he meet someone?"
"I don't keep track of who he's fucking," Brian said.
"He's fucking someone? Who? Is he cute? What's he do?"
Brian glared at her. "Don't you have work to do?"
"Gosh, you're always a pleasure," she said, standing up.
"I do my best."
"Well, if there's not another guy then you should fix whatever you did to him," Debbie said.
"First, I didn't do shit to him. And second, I can have dinner on my own. I am capable."
"You mean pathetic," she said, and sashayed off, hopefully to get his damn sandwich.
"Fuck you," he muttered, but not loud enough so she could hear. Debbie wasn't above dropping his sandwich on the floor mustard-side down.
Michael showed up as he was finishing his dinner, picking idly at the french fries. "My mom said you were here."
"She called you? Jesus!"
Michael slid into the booth. "She asked me if I'd gone out for groceries or something, because you were looking for me."
"I wasn't looking for you," Brian said.
"I know," Michael said. He nabbed a french fry.
"I don't know what the fuck you want from me," Brian said. "You just keep coming around and coming around""
"I'm not 'coming around,' you shit. I'm your best friend. Or did you forget that?"
"I didn't forget."
"Yeah, well, it sure seems like you have. I mean, you keep"" He looked around quickly, checking Debbie's location. "You keep fucking me," he whispered, "and then wanting me to be different. Like I'm asking you for something, when I'm not. I'm not asking you for anything."
"Oh really?" Brian asked. "Then what was all that this morning about me and Justin?"
Michael slammed his hand down on the table. "You know what, Brian, forget it. I thought you and I could have a conversation, since we've know each other for fifteen fucking years and I'm, like, what? The second guy you've ever fucked more than one night in a row? So I thought a conversation wasn't totally out of the question, but just forget it. Forget fucking me and forget calling me and forget even knowing me, because I'm done." He stood up. "Mom, I'm out of here," he called. Debbie waved.
Brian stared into his coffee cup. A conversation. It sounded like a little thing, even though Brian knew that it wasn't. He never should have fucked Michael, because there were things that couldn't be taken back, not between friends.
"So," Debbie said, flattening her palm on the table in front of him. He looked up. "You finally did it, huh?"
"This is none of your fucking business," he told her.
"See, that's where you're wrong, buddy, because that's my son you're fucking with and that makes it my business."
Brian sank his head into his hands. "It's nothing," he said. "We'll figure it out."
"You'd better." She slapped his wrist to get his attention. "Look, I've seen you in love, Brian, and I know you don't do it like normal people. I know you have some fucked up idea that love makes you vulnerable and weak, but this is Michael you're dealing with now. He already knows how vulnerable and weak you really are, Kinney. You can't fool him. You can only hurt him."
Brian sighed. "I don't mean to," he admitted.
Debbie rolled her eyes. "You think I don't already know that? It's the only reason you didn't have a snot sandwich for dinner."
"Nice!" Brian flopped back in his seat, pressing his fingers into his eyes.
"Brian, honey," Debbie said. "Just figure it out. Either you want him or you don't. Either way, you've got to let him know. He's not going to wait forever."
"No?" Brian said, laughing a little. "Why should it be any different this time?"
Debbie smiled a tight ironic smile. "Because this time you fucked him," she said. She patted him on the hand. "I'll get your check."
Brian left a twenty on the table before she could get back.
He didn't see Michael for two days and then decided that he couldn't stay home for the rest of his fucking life and type with one hand and he got up and took a shower and went to Woody's.
"Well, if it isn't our favorite shut-in," Emmett said, sauntering up to him at the pool table.
"Oh, fuck," Brian said.
"No worries, no worries," Emmett said. "Your secret's safe with me."
"There's not a secret. It's just""
"Michael!" Emmett shouted. "Look who's here!" He hooked an arm around Brian before he could slide away.
"Hey!" Michael stood up on tiptoes and kissed Emmett's cheek. "Hi," he said to Brian. Brian lifted his drink. Emmett's arm curled like a steel bar around his shoulders. For a queen, Emmett was surprisingly strong.
"So I was just telling Brian that it was good to see him out. Isn't it good to see him?"
"Sure, great," Michael said. "I'm gonna go get a drink."
"Brian, sweetie?" Emmett said after Michael had bounced away.
Brian turned his head. "Yes, dear," he said.
"Honey, I mean this in the nicest way, you know that, but what the fuck are you doing?"
"Fuck! First Deb, now you? This is exactly why we didn't do this fucking years ago, because you fucking assholes can't fucking keep your noses out of other people's shit. God!"
Emmett shook him by the shoulders, hard. "Uh huh. That's why. Look, if you can't do it or you don't want to do it, that's fine, Brian, because the last thing I want to see is Michael getting hurt again. But you should think about it hard before you decide. Really hard. He's the best person I know, Brian, and he loves you and would do anything for you and you may not want to admit it but you love him, too. So make sure before you fuck this up, sweetie, that's all I'm asking."
Brian sipped his drink. It was watery. The glass was slick in his fingers. "What the fuck, Emmett?" he said finally.
"You remember when Teddy came back the first time and you pulled me away from him and told me he was already dead?"
Brian shifted uncomfortably. "Why?"
"You saved my life, Brian. You kept me from throwing everything away and going with him. This is me returning the favor."
"Anytime, honey." Emmett kissed his cheek. "Ta."
Brian played a game a pool against some guy who looked like a frat boy from Brian's college days and then took him home and fucked him up against the loft door. He didn't look for Michael before he left the bar.
Michael showed up the next morning just at the frat guy (whose name Brian could not remember) was pulling on his pants. "Revolving door," Frat Guy said as Michael came in.
"Don't let it hit you in the ass," Brian said sweetly.
"I brought breakfast," Michael said.
"So, um, we should talk."
Brian sighed. "Okay," he said again.
"Okay." Michael said. He took a deep breath. "I know this is stupid and for straight people and bullshit and everything, but I love you. And I know that you don't believe in love and you don't 'do' boyfriends," Michael made the little quotation marks with his fingers, "and I'm not asking you to change your whole fucking self to be with me, but I want you to be with me. I want to be with you. I don't care what stuff you need to do to make yourself okay with it, like, fucking other people or whatever, I don't care about that. But if you don't want to, then you need to fucking say something, Brian, because I'm sick of this whole wanting you and you not wanting me back."
He stood next to the counter the whole time he made this little speech, his fingers clenching convulsively around the marble edge. His eyes flickered nervously from Brian's face to somewhere just over Brian's right shoulder. He was terrified.
"Michael," Brian said.
"Look, it's cool, okay?" Michael said. "I'm your best friend forever, Brian. But you have to decide."
Brian paused for a second. There had been a moment before, with Justin, when he'd made the decision that he was in, completely in, for as long as he could take it. They'd been at Babylon a day, maybe two, after Justin had asked him to his high school prom, and Brian had seen him out on the dance floor shaking his ass with Emmett and thought, "alright. Okay." And that had lasted even through Justin's fucking violinist all the way until that last fight and then it stopped.
Michael was looking at him. He had on a t-shirt with a cartoon character on it, some guy Brian didn't recognize. The shirt was light blue with a dark blue collar. It looked soft and worn. Brian wanted to touch it, run his finger along the collar and slide his arm around Michael's waist and feel the shift of the cotton over Michael's skin.
"I'm not moving in with you," he said. "And I can fuck whoever I want. And you can, too," he said, when Michael raised his eyebrows. "We can. Fuck whoever we want. But no numbers. And no repeats."
"No repeats," Michael repeated solemnly. His hand was still clenched around the edge of the countertop. Brian put his hand over it.
"And I don't so""
"Save the speech, Brian," Michael said.
"Alright," Brian said. "Okay."
Michael blew him on a sunny patch of the rug, his hands slipping up and down Brian's thighs. He pushed Michael backwards after he finished and shoved the blue shirt up over his nipples, licking them. When Michael arched up, Brian slid a thigh between Michael's legs and jerked him off until he came, gasping, into Brian's mouth.
"Love you, Mikey," Brian whispered into the sweaty curve of his neck.
"I know," Michael said, and laughed when Brian slapped his stomach.