The Importance of Being Brian
by Julad

The weirdness gets unavoidable when Brian refuses to get his job back.

"What are you talking about?" Justin demands. "Gardner'll be shitting himself. You made Stockwell and then you destroyed him, and you could do the same to Vangard."

Brian rubs his forehead. "So?"

"So," Justin drawls, crawling across the bed for a kiss, "are you gonna start your own agency, or go back to Gardner?"

Brian twists his face away. "I'm gonna lie in bed and jerk off until my brain melts."

Judging by the state of the sheets, he's been doing that for some time already. "Go jerk off in the shower," Justin tells him. "Somebody needs to do your laundry."

The cleaning service went the way of the naked guy and the Mies Van Der Rohe coffee table, and Brian isn't dealing with that any more than he is with the bills or the sudden adoration and respect of his friends.

"It was a pissy little victory that nobody will remember in a week," he snapped last night at Woody's, "and a month from now it'll be like it never even happened."

Justin takes the laundry to Daphne's, and tells her he'll be staying with Brian for a few days.

"Like that's news to anyone." She jumps up on onto the washing machine, swings her legs, and holds out a piece of red licorice to him.

Justin takes a bite from the top, and chews slowly as he sorts out whites from colours.

"What are you gonna do about school?" she asks.

"Fuck school, I'll deal with that later." He suspects half of these shirts are dry-clean only, but if Brian can't do his own laundry, he can suck it up when Justin does it wrong. "Are you gonna get down from there," he asks Daph, "or do you want to sit and vibrate?"

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it's not just Saturday's leftover Thai on the counter, although that probably explains the smell. Brian hates untidiness, and yet there it is, escaped dust bunnies from under the missing couch and muddy footprints the removalists tracked in. Lost beer bottles have been slinking out of nooks and crannies since Brian's little orgy. A dozen coffee cups sit in the sink, and Brian's ignoring it all by sitting on the steps and reading.

"Brian," Justin says, filling the sink with water. "Come dry up for me."

"Maybe later," Brian says, frowning down at the page, and that's the most Justin's gotten out of him all day. He won't answer the phone, won't look at the want ads in the newspaper Justin brought him, doesn't want to check his email. He won't talk about Vangard, or Stockwell, or even Justin's suspension. He won't look at porn.

It's very disconcerting. They won the battle, but there's still a huge mess to clean up, Michael and credit cards and Brian's career and Brian's many very expensive bills, and also a shortage of furniture to fuck on, which is a serious threat to Justin's future happiness. This situation needs Brian to deal with it, but Brian's too busy playing Hamlet, for whatever fucking reason, to pay attention.

Brian, Justin concludes, is not being the best homosexual he can be. He, on the other hand, is a kickass fucking homosexual. In fact, with Brian offline, he's gone straight to the top of the list. That probably makes it his responsibility to earn a shitload of money, fuck hundreds of men, and keep shit stirred up until Brian reclaims his throne.

It's not a bad plan, he thinks, wiping the counter clean. Plus he's getting bored now that he's not in school anymore, and it's something interesting to do -- step into Brian's shoes and see just how much he can get away with. It's the kind of outrageous stunt Brian would reward with an elaborate blowjob, if he wasn't currently part of the problem.

Outrageous temptation of fate seems to be how Brian operates, so that night Justin goes out, gets high, and prowls for the hottest guy on the dancefloor. Fate can resist anything but Brian Kinney's brand of temptation, it seems, becuase he's rewarded with not one but three fantastic fucks, and a new bartender who plies him with free cocktails in between and mind-blowing head after.

So far, Justin agrees with himself as he staggers up the stairwell to the loft, it's working perfectly. Brian's asleep when he gets inside, and doesn't want to fool around when Justin pounces on him. In fact, he seems very distant when he rolls over and pulls the covers over his head. The weirdness of Brian not wanting to take advantage of the hot, wasted, horny blond in his bed just confirms the need for this plan of action, and Justin goes to sleep mostly satisfied.

In the morning, after three glasses of guava juice to clear his hangover, Justin uses most of Brian's remaining cash to buy an Armani suit and matching shoes. The sales guy blows him in the change room, and Justin scowls at the discount he's offered after. He gets distracted by a waiter setting up tables at a cafe he passes two blocks down, and bends him over the cold deep fryer out back. He helps himself to two chocolate croissants when the guy disappears to clean up, and then rocks up at Vangard knowing he's got Brian's act nailed.

Gardner isn't happy to see him. "Didn't I tell you to get your backstabbing ass off my premises?"

Justin sits himself down. "Technically, you never said a word to me." Being this brazen is great fun. No wonder Brian can't ever stop smirking. He leans back in the leather chair and waits.

Eventually, Gardner takes the bait. "And you've finally come to deliver your sincere apologies for losing this agency a third of its clients."

Justin knows Brian does his homework, or, technically, gets Cynthia to do it. "You lost three current clients and seven potential ones. Not exactly a death blow, although I'm sure marketing wholesale office supplies to tight-ass government offices would have gotten you lots of free pens." Brian would have brought a pen. Justin takes a pencil out, twirls it between his fingers and then tosses it on Gardner's desk. "There. Happy?"

Gardner's not dumb. "And you've come all the way here to beg me to give your boyfriend his job back. That's really very heartwarming, but not in a million years."

Justin smirks. Brian's so much smarter. "That's right. Not in a million years will Brian ever come back here. Not unless you have me on your side." Brian's methodology is an unsubtle mixture of smugness, blitheness, and total bullshit. It works equally well on tricks and Tampax. "I got kicked out of art school for fucking you over, so I should probably get a job. I can get you what you need, so you might as well give me what I want." He doesn't bother telling Gardner why hiring him is a brilliant idea. Brian would never stoop to using logic.

"You're wasting my time. Kinney was good, but not that good."

"Oh, and I suppose you've already told Leo Brown that." That was homework assignment number two. Brian doesn't make mistakes twice.

Gardner tries to stare him down, but in the end he's not dumb at all. If he's done his own homework, he knows Justin has Brian, and Brian has every major client from Brown onwards. "You can have your internship back, but that's it. I'm not paying you for fucking up a major client."

"My internship was very educational, but it's over now." Justin stands up. "Thanks anyway."

Gardner lets him go. Justin has a moment of panic, but Brian wouldn't panic. Smug, blithe, total bullshit. Justin stops to flirt with the secretaries on his way out.

In the foyer, a receptionist hands him the phone.

"Get me Kinney, and Kinney can decide what you're worth."

"Deal," Justin says, and crosses 'Get Brian His Job Back' off his mental to-do list. That still leaves a rather long list, including pay the gas bill, figure out what to do with his life, and find out what the fuck is wrong with Brian.

It's a slow night at the diner, and the tips have been lousy, so he and Deb sit down for a cigarette and let the customers go hungry for a while.

When she's done worrying about Michael and Hunter, Deb changes the topic to Brian. "I'm so fuckin' proud, Sunshine," she clucks. "He showed them all what really mattered to him."

Justin's starting to get uncomfortable with Brian's hero status, because he thinks maybe it's part of the problem. "I don't think that's what he meant by it," he says cautiously.

"That's crap and you know it." Deb pinches his cheek. "You can't believe a word that man says! You listen to his actions, kid, cause that's when he tells the truth."

It's his actions that are starting to worry Justin, but he doesn't want to burden her with that. There's a problem; he'll fix it. That's what Brian does.

So far, it hasn't been too hard, being Brian. He just fixes in his head that he is Brian Kinney and he can do fucking anything, and it turns out that he can. He's not sure whether he'll be able to out-Brian Brian, but Brian isn't acting like himself anyway.

"So," he announces as he cleans up after dinner, if leftover meatloaf from the diner can be called that. Smug, blithe, total bullshit. He can do anything. "I got a job at Vangard today."

"That's nice," Brian says, with apparent disinterest. He's been reading to Gus all evening, and it sounds to Justin like one of the books he slept through in English class. Brian's stopping every few pages and explaining to Gus how it's all about drugs and sex, and Gus is sleeping peacefully through it. If Brian had been his English teacher, Justin would have paid much more attention. He picks up Gus and climbs into Brian's lap with him.

"It's my job to get you to go back there."

Brian smiles sweetly. "Good luck with that."

Justin smiles sweetly back. "They're not paying me until I deliver you, so ... whenever you're ready."

There's still no TV, so Justin listens to Brian read until the Lesbians collect Gus. They eat, they fuck, and then they fall asleep in the quiet, empty loft.

It's not normal, but for a few hours, it feels good.

On Saturday, he does six to six at the Diner. Deb lets him take all the tips, which at least nets him drinking money for tonight.

Brian doesn't want to go out.

"But Brian, we have to! We haven't seen Emmett in forever, and we don't even know how Ted is."

"Fuck Emmett, and fuck that twat Theodore," Brian says, not even looking up from what he's reading.

"What if Ben's heard from Michael?"

"And fuck Ben, and fuck Michael." Brian finally looks up, face twisted into a personalised nastygram. "I don't fucking care, Justin, so you go out and have a nice time, and leave me the hell alone."

"I don't want to go without you." Justin knows he's being petulant, but fuck it. He's worked all god damn day, and he wants to go out. Brian would throw a temper tantrum, so he's sure as hell allowed to.

"So stay in."

"I'll be bored here. Brian, I want to do something."

Brian finally puts the book down and lights a cigarette. "Can you play blackjack?"

"Blackjack? You want to play cards on a Saturday night?"

Brian twists his lips and stands up, finds a deck of cards in the kitchen drawer. In a wife-beater and black pants, three-day beard, smoking, shuffling as he walks back, he looks like a card shark. "Every good faggot can play the real man with the straight boys," he says. "I've obviously neglected a vital part of your education. Here," he tosses the deck to Justin, then rummages through the bar and pulls out a bottle of Glenfiddich.

"No way, that stuff tastes like piss."

"No protege of mine goes for a drink with the client and orders a fucking Cosmo." Brian pours several inches into two glasses, puts them down on the floor, and puts his cigarette into Justin's mouth. "Dangle it," he orders. "And stop smiling like the fucking tooth fairy."

Justin grins so broadly at this that he drops the cigarette into his lap. "Fuck!"

"It's 'damn' or 'hell'." Easing down onto the floor, Brian neatly grabs the cigarette and puts it back in Justin's mouth. "Real men don't smile like that, Sunshine, or they singe their balls. Now, shuffle the cards."

On Sunday, Justin drags Brian down to the comic book store, to give Ben a day off. For eight hours, Justin sweeps, scrubs, tidies, and serves customers. Brian sits at the counter and reads with unwavering concentration, as if it's absolutely imperative that he finish this book. The pages flip by like the seconds of a clock ticking, and Justin wonders if maybe Brian just wants to feed his mind while he has time to do it. He reads like he's starving for it, so Justin gives him a break and acts like this is perfectly normal behaviour. He even waits until he finishes the second book before closing the store.

They stop by the diner to eat, and Deb asks Brian how he's doing. "Fine," he tells her distractedly. They sit down to eat, but after a few minutes Brian puts down his fork and studies Justin with the same concentration he's been giving the books.

"What?" Justin says, getting paranoid, but Brian just shakes his head and goes back to his lasagne.

When they get home, Brian scoops up the playing cards and announces that real men's poker involves taking a swig of vodka and a lungful of dope with every item of clothing removed. Justin thinks he might possibly be making that up for his own nefarious reasons, but he sits down obediently and picks up his cards.

"All hail the new poker dunce," Brian says, when Justin takes off his last sock and keels over, laughing at his own ineptitude. "You're worse than fucking Lindsay." Brian's still wearing everything, even his overcoat and scarf.

The floor is cool and smooth, so Justin stretches out and wriggles his bare skin against it. Fucking Lindsay, fucking Lindsay-- he could say so many things about that, if he could find the words in his head for it. "You fucked Lindsay," he manages, and then stares at the ceiling, seeing images of her and Brian, and lets all the laughter bubble out of him.

"Well, you fucked Daphne," Brian singsongs.

"It felt kinky," Justin tells him, brushing his tingling limbs across the floor. The air is cool on his balls, teasing his nipples, making him slowly hard. The light from the windows is playing out beautifully on the unadorned surfaces of the loft. Brian's face is a similar play of shadow on bare surfaces, melting into the background, and his tightly-wrapped body is somehow foregrounded. Maybe he's stoned, but Justin sees something profound in the scene. He tries to commit it to memory, to draw tomorrow.

When he's finished taking in the shapes and colours of it, the strange angle of the ceiling and the gleaming shadows of the kitchen beneath, he notices Brian is staring blandly back at him.

"You're fucking stoned, Sunshine."

Justin can only grin up at him. "Get naked, Poker Face."

Brian does a shot, and a hit, and takes off his scarf. Justin stamps his feet on the floor and tries to whistle in encouragement. By the time Brian has his shirt off, taking another shot and another hit, he gives up on whistling and just slaps his palms on the floor. It was freezing out, but Brian hates bulky jackets, so he's wearing layers and layers and layers, and sways on his feet when he gets up to get another bottle of vodka and more pot. Then it's a slow tease of wifebeater, belt, right shoe, left shoe, pants. Justin jacks off slowly to it, watching Brian slowly join him in naked oblivion.

"More to go," Justin protests, when Brian tries to kiss him. Brian takes a long drink and then pulls off his CKs.

Brian naked is a thing of beauty, and Justin lies there and drinks with his eyes. Brian naked and gulping from a vodka bottle in the moonlight has a certain il ne sait quoi, like a scene from the kind of French movie that has a femme fatale and a lonely detective and a lot of full-frontal nudity.

Those movies really turn him on. He clambers up on his knees and reaches for Brian, who obligingly saunters into blowjob vicinity. Justin kisses his balls and sucks the head of his cock and then giggles some more. It's pretty funny, because he's trying to go down on him but he's laughing too much to seal his lips closed. Brian grabs his hair and hauls him back up.

"You," Brian drawls, "are a lousy fuck."

That's really fucking funny. Justin pokes his chest. "I learned from you."

"I didn't teach you to giggle like a fucking schoolgirl."

"Yeah, well." Oh, Justin's so hard now, aching for it and dizzy for it. He sits down, drags Brian down, tries to push him onto his stomach. "You're a lousy bottom, you know that?" He leans forward to whisper in Brian's ear. "I could teach you a few things."

Brian stretches out on the floor, and rests his face on the floorboards. "I could teach you a few things." He still has socks on, Justin notices with a frown, and shifts back to peel them off. Brian snorts loudly. "You just lie there and scream my name. You never show me a good time."

Justin pictures Brian banging his head and screaming Justin's name. While he's laughing, Brian flips him onto his back and lifts his legs up. "Not my fault," Justin manages. "You're just too good."

Brian is making a low, rumbly chuckle that is probably the Real Fag's way of giggling. "Personal responsibility for your sexual performance-- I taught you that." He pinches Justin's toes, one at a time, and Justin flexes them for him. They seem to be fascinating. Brian looks as if he's thinking about sucking them, but tilts his head and sucks Justin's achilles heel instead.

"You're too stoned to fuck me," Justin accuses. Brian chuckles for a few more minutes, rubbing his face against the sole of Justin's foot. Justin tries to sit up. "You are. You're fucking wasted."

"Am not," Brian mumbles, keels forward and puts his head on Justin's stomach. "I'm not wasted," he whispers, sounding scared.

Justin strokes his hair. "You're not wasted," he says gently. "You're fine."

"I'm fine," Brian repeats, and then nods to himself, smiling into his own stoned haze. "And you're good." He rolls onto his stomach, presenting his ass in invitation.

Justin fumbles with clumsy fingers until he gets a condom on, and crawls on top. He fucks him as gently as he can, listening to Brian's laboured breathing.

Monday morning, and Brian refuses to get out of bed. The weirdness is back, bigger and weirder than ever. He won't go help out at Michael's store. He won't go the diner, and he won't go to the gym. He won't join Justin in the shower and he won't even get out of bed to eat breakfast. He just reaches over to the nightstand for yet another book. Justin leaves his eggs to get cold on the kitchen counter, and rushes downstairs to catch the bus.

He's in the Vangard offices by eight thirty, back to being Brian. It's not so bad-- he gets to call the new intern a brainless twat for cowering timidly by the water cooler, and tells Cynthia she's looking hot.

"You're real cute, kid," she says, but then she brings him coffee and fills him in on the gossip-- Leo Brown called, asking after Brian, and Gardner said Brian was at a conference in Vienna. They clink their Alessi coffee mugs together for good luck.

Gardner wants him to sit in on a war council, some new campaign, probably to watch Justin flounder out of his depth. It's a new anti-drug thing--apparently the last one didn't work, and neither did the one before that.

"The youth of today," Justin says.

They're deciding between hip young things having fun without drugs, and tragic young things all fucked up by drugs. Gardner invites him to comment, and Justin doesn't even have to wonder what Brian would think of them.

"That one makes me want to puke," he tells him. "Or get wasted. Maybe both." He tilts his head and studies the shiny happy kids spinning around on the beach in the sunshine. "Definitely both." He looks at the other one, grainy black and white elf-eyed drooling junkies. "That one makes me want to get wasted and fuck my brains out." He's getting dirty looks from around the table. "And then puke," he adds for good measure.

A woman coughs nervously. "Our focus groups responded well to depictions of the tragic aftermath of drug abuse."

High-cheekboned models weren't tragic aftermaths. Ted was a tragic aftermath. Ted on drugs was gross and lame, but that was the point-- it was Ted. Justin would never end up like that. Justin fucked up on drugs would be like Brian fucked up, because Brian fucked up was the hottest thing ever. He let his head fall back and shuddered under every touch, like he needed it and hated it and couldn't get enough. Brian fucked up made a few little white pills look like the best lay of your life.

For this campaign, Justin realises, Brian is the competition.

"It would have to be dangerous," he finds himself saying. "And glamourous." There's a pencil in his hand, and he starts sketching. He thinks about Brian as he surveys Babylon, owning it with a sweep of his eyes. "Ambiguous. Alluring."

"We tried sexy," one of the drones says. "It didn't work."

"You wouldn't know sexy if it fucked you until the entire universe was his cock in your ass." The curves under his hand are shaping themselves into typography, a series of sensual spirals on black. Brian last night, reading Chaucer to Gus. "Smart, and cruel. Not caring that they won't understand. Making them feel small for not getting it."

Gardner is watching him. "How?"

Heavier shading around the eyes, rub in some light around the hair. "Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade," he recites softly, making them lean in to hear him, "how cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood."

For a moment, silence hangs like a spell, and Justin thinks he's won. Why the fuck he'd want to win this, he doesn't know, except that he likes the taste of victory on his lips.

"Poetry?" another drone sneers, breaking the moment. "For teenagers?"

Justin shrugs. "And you have a better suggestion?" A quick glance at the storyboards. "Oh, wait, you do. Win the war on drugs with capri pants and sparkly lip gloss, then get the Spice Girls to sing at the victory concert." He leans back in his chair and folds his arms. "Besides, if you pitch it right, it's not poetry. It's something that other people are getting and you're not."

"It's an interesting angle," Gardner interrupts. "But what would Brian Kinney say?"

Justin can picture him sitting across the table, and feel the caress of his voice in his ear. "Close," he drawls, "but no post-coital joint for the Boy Wonder."

"And what would Brian Kinney suggest?"

Justin shrugs cheerfully. "I don't know. I'm not Brian fucking Kinney."

"Hi Honey," Brian greets him when he walks in the door. "I made roast lamb; I hope you're hungry."

Justin's so high on being Brian, he forgets who he's dealing with. "Really?"

"What the fuck do you think? And I'm fucking starving, so I hope you made Gardner pay you."

Brian refuses to eat one more "lard-assed Liberty Diner excuse for sustenance," so they go to LaforÍt, eat poached salmon with new potatoes, drink cognac, fuck in the men's room and then leave without paying.

As they walk home, sharing a joint, Brian lets him hold his hand and talk about his day. "Not bad for an amateur," he concedes, when Justin tells him about his pitch. "Better than the usual shit."

"What would you do?" Justin asks.

He inhales deeply, and then blows out a cool stream of blue smoke. "I wouldn't bother. I think kids should do more drugs."

Justin swings their hands and laughs. "Come on. Seriously."

"There's a difference," Brian drawls, swinging Justin around against a brick wall and slipping the joint between his lips, "between doing what the client asks, and keeping the client coming back for more. So who are they?"

Brian's hand is sliding into his pants, so Justin really doesn't give a damn who they are. "Suck me," he says, and the hand withdraws. "Brian."

"You have to keep them coming back," Brian whispers, breath hot against Justin's face. "Who are they?"

"Some shit like Parents for a Drug-Free America," Justin manages.

Brian releases Justin and unbuttons his own fly. "A bunch of neo-liberal ex-hippies who are shitscared because their kids are getting as fucked up as they did." He gets Justin's hand and holds it against his hard-on. "What do they want?"

"I don't fucking care," Justin whines, trying to get his fingers around cock. Brian won't let him.

Brian's got the light of sanctimonious evil in his eyes. "They want to stop their kids having the same petty rebellions they did, without feeling like the decrepit, washed up hypocrites they are. So how do you keep them coming back?"

Justin never wants to hear about them again, so he gets down on his knees and mouths Brian's cock through his shorts. Brian lets himself be manoeuvred against the wall and sucked off.

Later, while he's brushing his teeth, Justin finds himself thinking about the difference between doing what they ask and keeping them coming back for more. Brian, he admits, rarely fails to communicate his message.

Their body clocks are set to patterns which reflect their normal lives, not these lives. There's hours to go until he'll be able to sleep, and Justin is fidgety with boredom. No TV, no stereo, no couch to sprawl on. All his art supplies are at Daphne's. Brian's not in the mood to fuck. Brian's fucking reading again. The books are scattered all over the loft, now, and Justin's really starting to get pissed with this show of literary fervour. Brian's also smoking another joint, and Justin can't remember him ever doing this much pot. Michael would probably know for sure, but Justin takes this as another weird sign.

"Don't you think you're doing a bit too much of that?"

Brian looks at the joint and snickers. "Why? Because drugs are bad?"

"Because this isn't like you."

"Call 911, Brian's out of character again." He takes another drag and picks up the book. "Go the fuck out. You're pissing me off."

Justin goes out, because there's nothing to do in the loft except fucking read. He lets strangers buy him drinks, and gets blown by two of them in the backroom. When they're done, the anger has slowed to a sluggish pulse in his veins, but the itch under his skin isn't scratched. There's a young twink who's been watching him from the corner, all nervous twitches and longing eyes. He could take him out the back, probably take his fucking virginity among the used condoms and empty poppers, but that would be more angst than it's worth. He's not in the mood to be callous, but he's also not in the mood to be nice.

He gives the twink ten bucks for a cab, tells him not to look for love on Liberty Avenue, and heads over to the diner through the bitter cold.

Sure enough, they're understaffed, countless singles and doubles crowding into the close warmth of the booths, so he puts on an apron and vows to charm enough in tips to cover the gas bill and his rent at Daphne's.

It's disturbingly easy to smile and flirt, purse his lips, swing his hips, and bend over to stretch his pants tight across his ass.

"I don't need to ask what got into you," Deb hollers across the diner, and Justin takes a bow as the room whistles and cheers. It's just another role, that's all, and he dances with strings attached to his ankles and wrists, making him defy gravity.

When he gets home, Brian's still reading, red eyes drifting almost shut. If there's a message, it looks a lot like 'S-O-S', but when Justin sits down and tries to touch him, Brian shifts out of reach.

"What are you reading?" he tries.

"Nothing," Brian says.

He takes Brian by the chin and forces him to meet his gaze. "Brian, is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," Brian says blandly. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"Fine," he says, standing up. He leaves him on the floor and goes to bed.

Tuesday morning, Justin's only had three hours sleep, and Gardner's on his case the moment he walks in, yanking him into his office and demanding to know what Brian said about the campaign.

It takes Justin a minute to remember -- the stupid anti-drug thing. "That they're decrepit hypocrites," he says helpfully. "And that if you're going to waste your money paying amateurs, you might as well pay me too."

"Nice try. Here, have a pen."

Justin catches it. It's a pretty good one.

"So when's Kinney coming back?"

"I don't know," Justin says, sitting down and putting his feet on the desk. "I think he likes being a stay-at-home Dad."

Gardner throws another pen and tells him to fuck off. Justin settles in at a table in the lunch room, and spends a couple of hours sketching a new issue of Rage, where Zephyr goes missing in action and Rage seems weirdly content to hang his superhero costume in the closet. He's not getting paid, after all, so there's not much point in working.

The drones decide to go with the shiny happy drug-free kids. "It's alluring," he hears one of them telling one of the others. "Ambiguous."

The ex-hippies won't find it even vaguely convincing. Justin smirks to himself. They won't be back.

By lunchtime, the comic is starting to seem like a waste of his time here. He should do something, take some kind of action, because Brian Kinney wouldn't lurk aimlessly around the offices like a stranded tourist. He doesn't know what the fuck to do, though, so he marches into Gardner's office and complains that he's bored.

"That's hardly my problem," Gardner says, but takes him into another meeting, some trendy chain of hair salons.

Justin actually loves the campaign, so he can't find much to bitch about. It's sassy and cute, an offbeat flirtiness achieved with acute angles and exactly the right shade of green. The models, outdoors and mischievously half-dressed, are effortlessly desirable.

It turns out to be one of Brian's.

The clients are heartbroken that Brian's not there. They're an elderly gay couple, so it doesn't take much imagination to guess why. "You don't need him," Justin tells them, winking. "You've got me." After that, they agree enthusiastically to everything Gardner has told him to suggest.

Justin isn't sure whether Brian would have fucked these guys or not, but it turns out he doesn't have to worry about it. They run their fingers through his hair, pronounce him "cute as one of those zebra-striped Gaultier buttons," and link arms as they get into the elevator.

For the rest of the day, Justin studies the campaign layouts in awe, and wonders what happened to the man who could use Even better than bed head as a slogan, and get wildly away with it.

Lindsay has invited them over for dinner that night. Brian doesn't want to go, but the cupboards are getting emptier by the day, and Justin isn't settling for boiled rice with ketchup when there's pot roast on offer. He shoves Brian into his jacket and pushes him out the door. One of them has to get an actual income, before they run out of coffee and breakfast cereal. Maybe, he muses, Brian should go work at the diner.

Brian patiently feeds Gus at the dinner table, and wipes his face clean after. He and Lindsay talk through the whole meal about the art and poetry of William Blake, whose biography Brian apparently read today.

"What the fuck is he playing at?" Mel asks, after Brian and Lindsay have wandered off for one of their incestuous little chats. Justin can see why Mel's concerned. He very nearly flipped out himself, coming home to find that Brian had a library card.

"He's just fucking with your head," he tells her. They're doing the dishes, and he can see out the kitchen window to where Lindsay and Brian are sitting on the swing set. Brian's doing blase, but not smug or full of shit. Justin's tempted to think there's a deep and meaningful discussion going on, but they're probably bitching about Mel.

Mel rinses a stack of plates before putting them in the rack. "Well, consider my head fucked. Seriously, what's going on with him?"

Justin suspects a lot, knows nothing, and he doesn't want to give Brian any expectations to defy. "Don't worry," he says softly, because he's been going to a lot of effort to pretend nothing's going on. "I think it's some kind of experiment. A test. He'll be back soon, better than ever."

"I knew it couldn't be for real," Mel says, and wrings out the dishcloth, apprently satisfied. Justin isn't so sure. Brian's doing something, and he doesn't know what it is. Brian probably doesn't know either, but that's hardly reassuring.

They head out into the garden, where Mel and Lindsay snuggle and rub Mel's stomach. Brian seems distantly amused at the grossness of lesbian love, which probably means he's stoned again.

Justin takes their coffee and a box of cereal on the way out.

Perhaps it's boredom, maybe something else, but Brian fucks like a caged animal that night, like a different person again from who he's been all week. He pulls Justin's hair in angry fistfuls until he cries out for it to stop, and then fucks him until it sails past agony to a kind of blissful numbness in his knees, his shoulders, his ass; until he's afraid to come because then the feeling will come back. Afterwards, Brian takes a pillow and goes to sleep on the living room floor.

Justin stays on the bed, mostly because it hurts to move, but also because something tells him it's the right response. He sprawls himself carefully across the mattress, like it's his-- as if he belongs there, even if Brian doesn't.

Lindsay shows up at Vangard the next day and offers to take him to lunch. "If you needed our Wheaties, you only had to ask," she says, with her cutting brand of softness.

They go to a cafe around the corner, and Justin's hungry all the time lately. He orders two coffees and fettucini carbonara and two salads, because he's probably approaching scurvy from diner food.

"Here, take this." Lindsay's holding out a fifty dollar bill. "You shouldn't be walking home in this weather."

He shakes his head. "I'm not taking money away from Gus. I'm fine."

"Gus has everything he needs. Seriously, Justin." She tucks it under his plate, and puts a hand on his arm. "You need to take care of yourself, even if it's just for Brian's sake. He's... troubled right now."

"No kidding. Did you know he got a library card?"

Linsday almost blanches. "He's just processing. You know Brian-- introspection is a fate worse than death. He thinks about things he reads, because he can't think about his own emotions."

"That's bullshit. He's more aware of who he is than any of us will ever be."

"Oh, honey, that's just the facade, you know that. And you know," she squeezes his hand, "that he hasn't got a clue what goes on in his own heart."

Reluctantly, Justin nods.

"What he did was a big deal, a really big deal. He needs to work out how he feels about it."

"He's pissed off because you all love him for what he did, not who he really is."

Lindsay laughs. "Brian could give a fuck what we think. He's confused because he threw all his principles out the window, for, well." She laughs again. "His principles."

Justin laughs too. "Only Brian could do that."

"Only an adult could do that," she corrects him. "Mel gave up a Supreme Court case, Deb closed her heart to Ben, Emmett begged Brian to help Ted." She smiles at him, and it looks a lot like pride. "When you're young, it's easy to stand by your principles at the expense of everything else, but as you get older you realise the people close to you are more important than some abstract behavioural ideal."

"So how come he's getting stoned all the time?" Justin demands. "He stopped tricking, he doesn't want his job back-- why won't he leave the loft?"

But Lindsay shakes her head. "I don't know, Justin. I just don't know."

Nobody knows what's going on in Brian's head, and that worries Justin more than anything. This is like Michael's birthday party, somehow-- some twisted Brian logic that will only make sense when you look at it from Brian's queer perspective, but Justin can't see any of the lines that lead from A to B.

The waiter clears their plates, and Lindsay pays and settles back with her mocha. "So have you done any artwork lately? I really was impressed by the posters, you know. They were superbly executed."

Justin thinks regretfully of Brian in the loft on the weekend, the picture of him somehow lost in it. It had been a beautiful image, but he left it too long, and the details are gone from his mind.

"I haven't had time," he admits.

"You need to make time," she says, frowning. "You might not be in school any more, but that makes it even more important. Being an artist is who you are, how you live your life, and if you don't live it then it'll slip away."

"I can't," he says, because he's not just an artist. He's also got to be Brian as well. He can be a student and a waiter and a son and a friend and still be an artist, but right now there's too many other things to be.

Lindsay looks disappointed, and Justin feels tired and tight, like he's stretched too far, in too many different directions, to bend any more without breaking.

He's saved from a lecture by Cynthia, who walks past, chatting with a girlfriend. Cynthia points and whispers, and the friend gapes at him.

"You've obviously made an impression," Lindsay observes.

Justin can't help grinning. "Brian's shoes are easy to fill, if you know how."

"No, Justin." Lindsay shakes her head. "They're not, and you know it."

Cynthia waves off her friend and comes over to their table. She and Lindsay exchange kisses, and Lindsay kisses him sternly on the forehead as she leaves.

"Back to the mines?" Cynthia says. "Walk with me."

Justin pockets Lindsay's fifty dollars and follows her out.

"I was going to invite you to lunch, but it looks like the Muncher Mommy got to you first."

Justin grins. "You've been with Brian too long."

"Lindsay's a woman after my own heart. She knows exactly where to grab and how hard to squeeze." Cynthia reapplies her lipstick as they walk, hand steadier than any artist's, looking at Justin from the corner of her eye.

With a twinge of panic in his balls, Justin looks back at her.

"Relax, kid. I'm on your side." She pulls out a compact and dusts it across her cheeks, effortlessly dodging the street crowds.

Justin allows himself a sigh. "I'm glad somebody is."

"I'll tell you a secret." She bumps shoulders with him conspiratorially. "Brian's clients are getting very frustrated with Vangard. It seems the new execs can't handle the pressure-- they're losing briefcases, running late for meetings, that sort of thing. The place is just falling apart without Brian to bark at everyone."

There's a triumphant glint in her eye as she relates this, and Justin doesn't doubt he's meant to notice it. He grins at her. "Wow, you're good."

"I know." Cynthia claps her compact shut, drops it back into her purse, and dabs the corner of her mouth with a manicured finger and a cat-cream smile. "Brian likes his women blonde, cunning, and loyal as fuck. It's a weakness of his."

"I'll be sure to tell him," Justin promises, but Cynthia just raises her eyebrow at him.

"Don't bother, honey. He'll know."

Justin holds the door to the building open for her, and she nods in satisfaction.

In the elevator, she leans close and whispers. "One more thing?"


She slides a friendly hand around his neck and squeezes. "Don't rely on any coffee except mine. Somehow," and Justin feels his eyebrows going up to his hairline, "all the rest turned to decaf."

The thought of stealth-decaf keeps him going through a meeting with White Mountain Villas that Gardner wants him to sit in on. Dan and Don, the two execs hired to replace Brian, are suggesting that the five-star ski resort promote itself as safety-conscious and family-friendly.

Justin feels positively buoyed when Gardner drains his espresso and immediately demands another. The White Mountain people are drinking it too.

"This isn't exactly what we were expecting," one of them says, tapping her fingernails on the folio.

Gardner looks at him. "Mr Taylor, would you care to comment?"

Gardner's expecting him to be Brian, and it occurs to him that not even Gardner Vance has enough balls to be Brian Kinney when there's something on the line. Fine, that's fine. Justin Taylor has Brian's balls. He leans back in his chair, smiles, and looks the White Mountain people in the eye.

"It's crap, and everyone here except Dan and Don knows it." Gardner stares at him in disbelief, and Dan and Don look faint with terror. "Mr Vance doesn't have time right now to check up on all his braindead minions, and it's showing." Justin's beginning to understand that Brian's recklessness isn't apathy-- it's powered by a continual burn of anger at this half-assed cowardly bullshit. "Unfortunately for you," he continues, "this agency's only good executive is at a conference in Vienna right now, so you're stuck with the sloppy seconds."

Gardner's face is going white. The White Mountain people start closing their briefcases. He's told them exactly what they wanted to believe.

It's almost too easy.

"You need an image that captures the viewer," Justin muses. "Strong lines, bold shapes, aggressive colours to draw them in, and then the right words to pull them through, into action." His hand twitches for oil pastels, but he doesn't have the luxury of communicating this through art. He reaches for a folio and flips through it, finds a photograph of jagged peaks, hard and stark under an icy night sky, and studies it. "The attraction is to the mountains, and you can pitch them as a one-night stand. They're elusive, intimidating, but that just makes them more desirable. They're lying under white silk sheets, waiting for you, and they want to rough you up, but you could ride down and down and down until it's so hard, so fast, that you're flying." He runs a finger along the edge of the photograph. "It all merges into one long night of ecstasy," -- he casts his mind back through the last three years and lets it show on his face -- "the thrill of domination and the ecstasy of surrender."

Everyone in the room, apparently, is holding their breath. Justin peeks up through his eyelashes. "Is that more like what you expected?"

Being Brian, Justin thinks smugly as they sit back down, is about never settling for half-assed cowardly bullshit. It's about finding the best possible fuck in any given situation, and taking it for all it's worth.

He's late for his shift at the diner, because the White Mountain people ask for mockups of Justin's ideas, and he refuses to leave it to Dan and Don. They want to do it in shades of pink, cream, and apricot. Obviously, they haven't gotten laid since Justin was in grade school, and their memories of sex have shrivelled up with their testicles.

Deb's frantic when he finally gets in, and he tries to get a word in to apologise.

"Apologise? For fucking what?" she says.

"For being late?"

"Are you even listening to me, kiddo?"

He thought he was, but maybe all the jesus-fucking-christ-ing wasn't about the meals going cold on the counter. "What's wrong? Is it Michael?"

She stares at him, hands on hips. "He didn't tell you."

"Tell me what?"

She hands him a newspaper and a takeaway coffee, over the outraged shout of the customer who owned them. "Take a cigarette break, Sunshine. Don't bother about comin' back."

Getting worried, Justin slips out the back and sits down on a milk crate to read. He doesn't know what he's looking for until the word "Mayor" catches his eye on page four.

Under mounting public pressure, the new-elected Mayor Deekins has ordered an inquiry into allegations made against Police Chief Stockwell during the final days of the campaign.

Brian is named as the key witness. Stockwell's painting him as a radical gay activist with a personal grudge, and a sex-obsessed pervert. In the interest of fair and unbiased reporting, the paper mentions that Brian corrupted a high school kid who eventually got bashed at his prom, and notes that some allegations of sexual harrassment against him were mysteriously dropped, and implies that Brian was sleeping with the office intern who made the posters for him.

Stockwell's also suing Brian for slander and damages and charging him with interfering with the electoral process, and all sorts of other crimes Justin has never heard of.

Mr Kinney was not available for comment.


He leaves the newspaper on the floor and is at the end of the block before he remembers his shift. He's halfway back before he remembers Deb anticipated this, turns back around and runs all the way to the loft.

There's something fucking serious going on with Brian. Not just the job, not just the money and the principles and the Corvette and Michael. The Pittsburg Chief of Police is throwing the book at him, the Mayor he put in office is standing aside to watch the press beat the shit out of him, and Brian's not doing a goddamn thing about it.

Normally he'd make popcorn and call everyone he knows, but there's no way that Brian is on top of this situation.

He gets back to the loft to find Brian sitting against the bare wall where the naked guy used to be, with yet another book. Justin rips it from his hands and hurls it across the room.

"Stockwell's suing you?"

Brian looks annoyed at the loss of his book, and then bored. "Technically, he's suing the Concerned Citizens for the Truth."

"Fuck you, Brian! Why didn't you tell me?"

"What does it matter? What have I got to lose now?" Brian asks the ceiling.

Justin sits beside him and looks up as well. "Only the roof over your fucking head. Don't you think you should call Melanie?"

"I can't afford Melanie. Do you know how much that bitch charges?"

"She'll do it pro bono, you know she will."

Brian shrugs, like he's exhausted from sitting at home all day. "Just drop it. I don't care."

Justin stands up, looks down at him, and decides he doesn't have the energy to deal with Brian in this mood. "Fine," he snaps. "Consider it dropped."

He makes them both sandwiches, something to do with his hands to fend off impending panic. Money problems, he can deal with, but he can't fend off Stockwell and an inquiry by himself. He could call Mel, but she's still supposed to be taking it easy, so she won't waste her time on it if Brian won't cooperate. He could call Lindsay, but Brian's so fucking anaesthetised he won't even feel her nails in his balls. He doesn't know what the fuck to do.

He's slamming the fridge door and gouging holes in the bread. There's only jam to eat, so they're shitty sandwiches anyway. There are unopened bills on the counter-- phone bills and about six others.

There's probably some twisted Brian logic that can sort this out, some outrageous stunt that can be pulled so all the pieces fall magically into their right places, but Brian's the only one who'll ever see it. He can't out-Brian Brian. As long as Brian wants things to be this way, they'll be like this.

"So, how was work today, honey?" Brian asks, when Justin brings the plate over. He's so fake, so insincere, that Justin dumps the sandwiches on his head and walks out. He clatters down the stairs as loudly as he can, as if his echoing footsteps will drown out the sound of Brian laughing.

"What the hell are you doing back here?" Deb asks.

"What the hell else can I do?" he replies. He's so fucking sick of the Diner. He's been doing this for three years and he doesn't know how Deb can get out of bed every morning for ten years to come here and do this all day and half the god damn night. As he slams down each plate, he decides which bill this thirty seconds of his life is going towards. That's for the internet bill. That's for the cleaning service bill.

That's for the dry cleaning bill. That's for the cellphone bill. That's for the god damn fucking credit cards. And that's for the fucking lousy tips.

He's eternally grateful for Lindsay's fifty bucks when the cab drops him outside Daphne's. It's after midnight, and the apartment is dark. He kicks off his shoes and sits down for a moment, shaking with maybe anger or maybe despair. Probably both. Brian's Hamlet act is out of fucking control.

It's after midnight, but he calls Ben anyway. "Where the fuck is Michael?"

"Justin." Ben doesn't sound like he was asleep. "He doesn't tell me where they are."

"Well, when the fuck is he coming back? Brian needs him."

"Yeah, well, I need him too!" Ben shouts. "Emmett needs him, Ted needs him. Debbie needs him, the store needs him. I'm sure Brian needs him as well, but frankly, the person who needs him the most right now is Hunter."

Ben sounds like Justin feels, like he's just trying to hang on for another day, and then another, and then another. Justin presses his head against the wall and listens to Ben's strained breathing.

"I'm sorry," he says eventually. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Don't apologise." Ben sighs slowly. "I read the news today. That's gotta be rough."

"Yeah," he admits. "It's rough."

"Emmett and I are looking after each other. Can you handle Brian?"

No, Justin thinks. "Yeah," he says, because if he can't, who else will? "And I'll spend some time with Deb tomorrow. She probably needs somebody to listen to her talk."

"Hey," Ben says gently. "We're supposed to be family, right? We should act like it. Come to dinner tomorrow night, I'll make the curry you like."

"I've got to work," he says, and it makes him tired just thinking about it. God, how long since he's seen Emmett? He doesn't even know how Ted's doing. Without Brian and Michael at the heart of it, their little world has unravelled.

"As soon as you're free, then. And tell me if there's anything I can do to help."

"That would be great," Justin says, feeling a little lighter, and Ben sounds lighter too, as he says goodnight.

For a while, Justin considers calling him back and asking for money to pay Brian's bills. Brian helped Michael out all the time, so it only seems fair. He's reaching for the phone when he realises Deb'll be needing money for Vic's meds and the mortgage, but Michael's not around to help her out. Ben's already paying Mel's costs for Hunter's case, Emmett's paying for Ted's rehab, and Lindsay's supporting a wife, kid, and foetus on a single wage, without any checks from Brian.

He'll ask for money when he needs it more than anybody else, Justin decides, resigning himself to a whole weekend at the diner. But he's man enough to crawl into bed with Daphne, because he needs to sleep and he can't bear to sleep alone.

Daphne's an angel in the morning, waking him up with coffee and a kiss.

"Wanna talk about it?" she offers, but Justin's too tired to even talk any more. He curls up at her feet, wishing he could stay there all day. She plays with his hair while he drinks, and offers to drive him to work.

"I'd marry you, if I could," he tells her. It suddenly seems unfair that he can't; that he had to live through the last few years of his life, instead of living at home with his still-married parents, going to college parties with his gorgeous girlfriend.

His would-be girlfriend is laughing. "Well, if I was a lesbian, I'd ask you to father my babies."

Justin manages a smile. "I'll father them anyway. Just don't tell your husband."

She comes with him to the diner for breakfast, and convinces Deb to sit down with them for a few minutes. It isn't long before Deb is pouring her heart out, glad for a woman's sympathetic ear.

"Hunter's mom wants him charged with kidnapping! Fucking kidnapping! Michael could go to jail, and Ben would be left all alone, and Hunter would be sent back to that woman, or a god damn delinquent home!"

"That's totally fucked up," Daphne agrees breathlessly, caught up in the drama. Justin wishes he'd thought to bring her here sooner.

"I had the fucking cops in here, nosing around, bothering customers. Can you believe it, the cops!"

Daphne makes all the right noises, and asks all the right questions while Justin gets through his eggs, bacon, toast, and second coffee of the morning. Deb eventually winds down, as much as she ever could.

"Ben said he called, though-- he and Hunter are fine. They don't have much money, because Michael can't use his cards." She clutches her teatowel to her chest. "Oh, I hope they have enough to eat! I can't stand it, thinking of my own son going hungry." She jumps up and returns with two more plates piled high with pancakes, as if feeding somebody else will help the situation. Daphne looks at Justin with a wry smile, and he shrugs. Maybe it will. And anyway, he can't afford lunch.

When she drops him off in the city, Justin leans over and kisses her.

"I fucking love you, Daph."

"You too. I'll see you later, okay?"

He stands on the sidewalk, and waves as she drives off. When her car vanishes around the corner, he turns to stare up at the office building, and thinks about calling Brian. He was worried before, but now he's really starting to get pissed, and he's already late for work, even though he's not getting paid and he doesn't know what the fuck he's still doing there.

The end of the week, he decides. After that, Brian's on his own. He doesn't call, just sighs heavily and heads inside.

Apparently, the decrepit hypocrites aren't happy. Nor is Gardner.

"Where the fuck is Kinney?" he hisses, as the Parents for a Drug Free America file past into the conference room.

Justin doesn't know where Brian is, but he doesn't bother getting philosophical with Gardner. He works on the shading in JT's cape. Without Rage and Zephyr, he's just trying to keep the crime wave under control. "Brian's taken up decoupage. He says it's very relaxing."

"I'm starting to think you don't have what it takes," Gardner says. "Maybe the Stockwell fuckup was all his doing, and you were just a passing piece of ass."

Justin doesn't take the bait. "Yeah, well something made him do it, and you know it wasn't his conscience." The shadow behind JT needs to be more sickly, he thinks, but Gardner snatches the green pen away.

"I hired you to get me Kinney, not to draw stupid cartoons."

"You're not paying me to do shit," Justin replies, "so I'm not doing shit. But don't worry. He's working on something. He'll walk in this door and blow your shitty clients through the roof, but not until he's ready." The point of this bullshit has somehow faded; Justin's doing it on principle, now.

Gardner taps his pen, studying the comic, or Justin. "Fine. In the meantime, they're your shitty clients, and it's your job to keep them happy."

Justin pauses outside the conference room, and thinks. People always see exactly what they want to see, but when Brian walks into a room, people see what Brian wants them to see. He steps onto the stage and gives a performance they want to believe in.

Justin musses up his hair a little, untucks his shirt, and takes off his tie. He strolls through the door, hands in pockets, shoulders back, spine loose, and throws himself into a chair like the Genius Wunderkind that he is.

The hypocrite's faces are lighting up, and Justin smiles at them the way Ethan smiled at him, once, making him believe that everything he was missing in his life was waiting, gift-wrapped, behind those eyes.

He keeps them happy by bitching about the drones, and flattering them for knowing that kids won't buy that lame-o bullshit, and scaring the fuck out them with stories of all his junkie friends. After the Tragic Tale of Ted, a Carnegie-Mellon Business Major who found himself getting fucked up the ass on live webcam, they're eating out of his hand. "I have some good ideas," he tells them modestly, "but you need something brilliant, and that takes time."

They leave telling him that he's exactly what they hoped for. It's an empty achievement, because what they want is Brian, or whoever Brian would have pretended to be, but he tells Gardner smugly that he's saved the agency's ass again. Then he finishes another six panels of Rage, feels it pouring out of him as soon as he gets the pen in his hand. JT is at the end of his rope, wondering how long he can hold back the crime wave with a borrowed costume and no superpowers of his own. It's some of his best work ever, but he stares at it without satisfaction. He still doesn't know how the story ends, but maybe when Michael gets back he'll be able to bring about some kind of happy superhero climax.

After work, Justin fucks a delivery boy in the cafeteria men's room, because he hasn't gotten laid for two days now, and then goes to see his Mom, because he's sick of having no food, and she can at least take him grocery shopping.

He tells her about Stockwell and PIFA as they push their carts along the aisles, and he gets a super-triple dose of the Mom-look for it.

"Just don't, okay," he mutters, feeling twelve. "I got kicked out, but Brian lost his job because of me, and now he's in deep shit."

The feeling of victory over the forces of evil is long gone, and all that's left is emptiness. He's not an artist any more, he's not an activist, he's just pretending to be somebody who's pretending to be somebody else.

Brian isn't home when his mom drops him back at the loft, so he makes a steak and salad, puts the groceries away, and then wanders around the empty living room, at a loss. The scattered books are freaking him out, and he still can't work out why Brian's reading them. It's some kind of test, he's sure of it, and he's sure Brian's testing himself. There's a weird parallel, he thinks, to what went on while he was with Ethan. Brian's trying to live without money, maybe; proving to himself that his success didn't matter to him. The job, the furniture, the car, the clubbing-- if it hurts Brian to be without them, then he'll kill himself to keep from needing them.

Somehow, this conclusion pisses him off more than anything else. Like it would kill Brian to just suffer a loss like a normal human being, to live with a void for a few weeks, to fucking deal with his own problems or even admit to himself that he's been shaken by them. Maybe he would have talked to Michael, eventually, or Michael would have pod-personed into his mother, barged in and started yelling, but nobody else is getting through.

Justin's got his own mother's way of dealing, and that's with proper middle class passive-aggression. He rifles through Brian's closet until he finds a shirt that looks hot on him, wears it to Babylon, picks up a nice twink and then fucks him in Brian's bed. The twink falls asleep there, and Justin lets him, retreating to the window and staring moodily onto the street below. A part of him is watching for the Corvette, and it's an hour before it occurs to him that he won't see it pull up.

Brian gets home at four in the morning, reeking of the Baths. He throws the twink onto the landing and his clothes out the window, leans against the kitchen bench and drains a carton of juice. Wrapped in the ribbons of light coming in through the blinds, he looks lost, so Justin quells his own anger and kisses him softly. He's coming down from something, probably not just E, so he's slow and a little clingy, with that edge of anger riding just under the surface. It's bitter like dark chocolate, and Justin finds himself drowning it the taste of it, choking on the irony of everything going wrong because everything went so right. They make out in the kitchen until the sun comes up, shedding bleary and reluctant grey into the darkness, and then fuck, almost grudgingly. Brian doesn't say anything, and Justin has nothing to say, so they lie side-by-side on the dirty bed until the alarm goes off.

In the shower, Justin dredges up just enough energy to tell Brian about the hypocrites, and how Vangard is going to hell in a handbasket; how Gardner is actually coming to rely on him. Brian twists his lips with what could be anything from bitterness to pride.

While Justin shaves for work, Brian storms around the loft looking for the phone.

"Vance," he says eventually, loud enough for Justin to overhear, and Justin pretends to not listen. "Give him my fucking office, already."

In Brian's office, Justin sits at a desk covered in sketches and layouts, and fights off a red mist of rage. Brian's accounts all over the desk, and he hates it. It's gross, it's obscene, making fucked up housewives feel good about buying some fucking fabric softener. Debbie buys that brand of ice cream. His Mom wears those shoes. He tried to bring up the phone bill as he left, and Brian just said he should have let it get cut off years ago. He's going to have to work all night at the Diner, or the electricity will be gone, and this is all because Brian has flaked the fuck out on everyone.

"Here," Cynthia says, and hands him a cup of coffee with an extravagant flourish. "Quick, the drug-free people are on their way, and Gardner's running late. Talk to them about what they want, whatever, just keep them entertained."

He doesn't talk to them. He stumbles in, sits down and studies his coffee, the designer glass, the designer beans, the designer fucking fat-free extra-calcium iron-enhanced milk that tastes like crap. He's sick of designer shit. Nobody needs it. Nobody wants it until some stupid commercial makes them think they do, and this is the job he's trying to save for Brian. The whole advertising industry seems like some stupid joke. It probably is, to Brian. Brian must think the entire universe is a stupid joke, and filling it with pictures of happy blond families eating deep-fried chicken wings is probably the punchline, but Justin isn't laughing any more.

While he waits, still seething, for Gardner to show up, one of the hypocrites asks if he's feeling okay. No, he almost screams. He's not fucking okay, and he's sick of acting like he can do everything and be everyone to everybody and magically make everything the fuck all right.

He takes a couple of slow breaths. He's acting like Brian's been acting. Jesus H. fucking Christ.

She's smiling encouragingly at him. "You really don't look well. Perhaps we should reschedule?"

"I just didn't get any sleep last night," he admits grudgingly.

"Out partying?" she says, and grins when he shakes his head. "Handsome young man like you, you should have been."

"My boyfriend's completely fucked up," he tells her, just to wipe the conspiratory smile off her face. "I was up all night waiting for him." Shit, he's thinking, and he wants to cry. Brian.

"Oh." She folds her hands on the table top, and twists her wedding ring. Eventually she looks back up at him and smiles gently. "I used to stay up waiting for my daughter." The shadows in her eyes say the daughter's long gone.

"It's always the nights that stick with you," another man says. "You never knew if you were waiting up for him to come home and smash the furniture, or waiting for a phone call from the hospital."

"Waiting all night in the police station for the paperwork to be done," another adds, and it's like his face comes into focus for the first time: deep blue eyes, salt and pepper hair, ironed white shirt, and the same haunted expression as all the others. Justin feels the quick snap of his memory storing it away to draw later-- the shape of exhaustion in his shoulders, dignity in the linework of his carefully combed hair.

Silence falls around the table, and Justin feels sick with fear and self-loathing. He was going to bullshit his way through this meeting and the entire fucking day, but that isn't possible now. On top of everything else, he' lost his fake Brian edge, because he just can't keep pretending any longer.

Gardner finally saunters in, shakes hands, smiles jovially. Justin doesn't stand.

"So Justin, what have you got for us?" he says, exuding utter confidence in his exciting young account executive. Justin looks around the table, seeing living portraits in every face. He thinks he may puke.

"Nothing," he replies, staring back down at the table. "I've got nothing." The woman puts her hand on his shoulder.

"Don't be so modest," Gardner says, eyes going hard in his smiling face. "He's one of our very best," he tells the parents. "You'll love it."

"It's fine, Sweetie," the woman tells him. "Keeping kids off drugs, it's an impossible task, we know. But don't you realise we have to try?"

The Brian part of Justin realises that he caught these clients hook, line, and sinker with his fucked up boyfriend crap. Brian, the other Brian, would reel them in. Justin just feels shitty for deceiving them. "I don't want to do this Brian Kinney's way," he tells Gardner. "I want to do it my way."

Gardner takes a few quick breaths and then picks up his briefcase. "Fine," he says. "Waste my time, waste my clients' time, waste everybody's time. Brian Kinney's become a fucking liability, and you can clean out his office when you're done." He nods to the parents and then slams out.

The parents stare at the door, but Justin starts telling them about Brian, and how addictive he is, and why he doesn't work at Vangard anymore, and how it feels to be on ecstasy, dancing until it feels like sex, and why fucking up the Stockwell campaign was better than the best drugs he's ever had, and how Brian is acting now.

"I don't have anything yet," he confesses when the story's finished. "But I know you don't have time to be fucked up when you've got something better to do."

They look around the table at one another, and nod. "You understand exactly what we want to achieve with this campaign," the woman says. "We want you to work with us."

Justin lets out a breath he didn't realise he was holding. He wants this account, he realises. He wants to do this, and do it his way; his own twist on agit-prop, stirring from within. He can make something real out of this. He thanks them, studies their faces one last time, and sees them out.

It's all a matter of looking at it from the right angle. He's not Brian fucking Kinney. He's Justin god damn motherfucking Taylor. Let Brian be the cynical one, let Brian study it from all angles, let Brian do the careful planning and make the brilliant gameplays. Justin Taylor follows his heart, and he knows--he didn't know, but he knows it now-- that his heart has the power to move mountains.

And that's why he's getting nowhere, with Brian. He tried to out-Brian Brian, but Brian doesn't buy make-believe, he sells it. He knows make-believe from the inside out, and it has no power over him. Michael, Deb, Lindsay-- the only thing that Brian can love, the only thing that can move him, is honest-to-God sincerity.

Justin picks up the phone and calls him. "I love you," he says. "I need you. I want you to be happy."

Brian laughs at him. "In way over your head, aren't you, Sunshine?"

"No, actually," he says, and it's the truth. "I'm doing fine. But you need your job back, Brian. "

"Well, maybe I don't want it back," he sneers.

In the background, Justin can hear the turn of a page, and it pisses him off. "That's bullshit. You want it back. You want the money and the power. You want to walk into the room with an attitude and make them want nothing but you."

"Is that what you think?" Brian asks, in the voice that means danger.

"It's what I fucking know!" Justin yells, because fuck danger. He's never been afraid of Brian. "You get off on this crap! This shit makes you fucking happy. You live to shove the fake fucking straight world down people's throats, and you love queering all over it. This is how you survive, Brian-- by beating them at their own game."

Brian snickers. "But I didn't survive. I got fired, remember? I'm a sick, twisted faggot, and I'm not allowed to win."

And somehow it all makes sense, then, with that as the twisted perspective Brian sees it from. He was forced to choose between being successful, and being gay. He achieved everything he'd ever worked for, with the Stockwell account-- the sick, twisted faggot had prestige, respect, influence, power, and then he lost it because he was gay.

"Fine," he says, pissed off that Brian would let that stop him, after all Justin's been through. "Fine! Fuck victory. A sick, twisted faggot needs freedom, you taught me that."

"Sure, Sunshine," Brian says. "Whatever you say. So run along, and let me enjoy my freedom from employment."

Justin wants to smash the phone on the edge of the conference table. "You're not fucking enjoying it, Brian! You're not free! Stockwell cost you everything that mattered to you, and now you're too chickenshit fight him again. You're just sitting in your empty loft like it's a fucking prison cell!"

"Is that what you think?" Brian asks again, deadly now.

"I think you better get your ass in here, or I'll tell Gardner you've lost your balls."

"I'm taking Gus to the zoo today. Maybe some other time," Brian says, and hangs up.

So much for honesty. Jesus fucking Christ. Where the fuck is Michael when Brian needs him? Justin dials again. "Fuck you, asshole!" he yells into the machine. "Whatever they took, take it the fuck back! Be a real fucking fag, and get it all back!" He knows Brian can hear him, but he slams down the phone. There's really nothing else to say.

His hands are trembling, and he runs them through his hair. And fuck, it's true, he realises-- Brian hit the glass ceiling, and he hit it hard. He couldn't keep acting as if he could do it all, be it all, have it all. He had to choose, success or faggot, and that shattered him. Brian Kinney no longer believes in his own performance.

It shakes Justin more than he can bear to think about, realising that not even Brian Kinney can keep pretending that fags can always win. He hates it, he really hates it, knowing that no matter how good he is, how carefully he plays the game, how cleverly he handles himself, there will be Stockwells, ceilings, people who will let him go so far and no further. He's fought so fucking hard, just to get this far, and it hurts to think that he'll never stop running into brick walls with FAGGOT spraypainted on them. He hates what it feels like to be gay right now, and he hates that he can still be made to feel like that.

But he already knows, deep in his bones, and in all the places where Hobbes hit him, and all the places where Brian kissed him, that the answer is not to give up. Its his own argument, coming back to him-- he's got better things to do than be fucked up by this. He takes a deep breath, wipes his cheeks dry, then pages Cynthia to bring him art supplies and coffee. It takes a moment to get his hand warmed up, and then he sits at the conference table and fills page after page with ideas for the campaign: Don't take it up the arm. Fuck them up. Raise some fresh hell. It's coming from his heart, now, an avalanche of righteous anger, and he knows it's exactly what the youth of today need.

He can see it in his mind, he can feel it in his blood, taste victory coming together as he sketches. It won't reach every dumb kid, but it'll reach some. It'll make the parents feel like they've done something, and it'll make him feel like he's done something, too.

And he's done it, he thinks, staring at the pages with satisfaction. He can hardly believe it, but it's an entire campaign, right there. He turns a new page and starts sketching faces, feeling the artist in him take over. Each of those parents takes life on the paper, in pain and in all sincerity, stories and losses that Justin only half-understands etched into the lines around their eyes and lips. He'll mount them and show them in a gallery somewhere, show the calmly resolved aftermath of grief and suffering, show the moment when he learned his own way of doing the job that will buy him the freedom to draw everything he wants.

This is important, because Brian was right, back when he had faith. Every fag needs freedom. Brian needs to be free of limitations, but for Justin, it's freedom of expression that counts. He can sleep on fucking couches and he can wait on tables, he can settle down with a partner who pays the bills, he can do whatever it takes to keep the freedom he needs. He can even work for Gardner, because he understands, now, that he'll walk away from it if he has to, and he won't be losing anything important when he goes.

He didn't lose anything when he walked away from PIFA, because he still has his freedom. He's Justin fucking Taylor, and he's a gay man, and he's an artist. He's gonna be the fucking best, and looking down at this portrait series, he knows he will be. This is his finest work to date, but more importantly, he believes in it with all his heart.

"Hey, Sonny Boy," he hears, and looks up to see Brian leaning in the doorway, holding a sleeping Gus.

"Hey," Justin says, rubbing his eyes, not sure if he's really seeing him. The office behind him is dark. "What time is it?"

"Late. After ten."

He looks down at the table in amazement. There are twenty or thirty pages spread over it-- an entire day's work.

Brian leans down and kisses him, and then hands him Gus, who grizzles quietly. He has ketchup all over his face.

Justin rolls his eyes and licks his fingers, trying to gently rub it off. He doesn't know why Brian's here, and he doesn't want ask just yet. Brian's here, and right now that feels like a little sunlight breaking through the clouds.

Brian sifts through the scattered sketches. "Not bad, Sunshine."

"Yeah?" Justin can't help it; his heart beats faster when Brian's around.

Leaning against the edge of the table, Brian's got that distant glitter back in his eyes. "Yeah," he says softly. "You'll do just fine."

Justin will never be immune to the thrill of Brian's approval. It's electrifying, validating; it makes him happy, fulfilled, proud. It makes him hard, too, but Brian always has that effect on him.

Brian reaches for him, but Justin steps back.

"Did you talk to Gardner?"

Brian steps after him, eyes glittering with intent. Justin's knees want to weaken, want to put him down on the carpet with his face in Brian's crotch, but he grabs a chair and clings to it, trying to keep his priorities in order.

"I'm not fucking kidding, Brian. I've had enough of your shit."

"I've got other things to do first. Like you."

"No." It's not good enough, it really isn't. "I'm so fucking angry with you," he begins, but Brian leans in and silences him. The kiss feels good, it feels dirty and sexy and strong, carnal like raw meat. Brian's tongue rubbing hard against his own makes him want to spread his legs as wide as he can. Brian's fingers yanking his hair make him want to present his naked ass to every man who wants it. He moans into it, because he can't help but need it. It feels slutty and easy and wrong, Brian's unique flavour of sensuality. Hard and cruel and humiliating, so utterly wanton that everything else feels like the chickenshit version of what sex was meant to be.

Justin wants to stop, wants to slap some fucking sense into Brian, but Brian's hand is squeezing his cock, demanding and unforgiving, and the words choke in Justin's throat.

"You want it like this," Brian whispers, lifting his hands away from the chair and putting them around his neck. "You love it when you don't want it." Justin almost sighs with mixed lust and despair, lets his knees give out and leans heavily on him. He closes his eyes in exhaustion and relief, but when he opens them again, he sees Gus asleep on a chair, four feet away.

"Shit, no, wait, Gus."

There's a tongue trailing the curves of his ear, making his head spin, and Brian tips him back on the table, where Justin can only see the ceiling.

He struggles to sit up. "Brian, no, not with him right there."

Brian smiles, feral. He pushes Justin's thighs apart and reaches for his waistband. "I'm gonna rim you until you're dying to be fucked," he whispers, smoky hot, "and you're gonna beg me to do it."

This is getting more wrong by the minute, but Brian's right, Justin loves it like this. He'll take the sex and screw everything else, he thinks, hating himself as Brian's lips on his throat drag low moans out of him. He helps Brian get his shirt off, and clutches it against his mouth as Brian drags his pants down, trailing his tongue wet and hard as he goes. His legs are spread and lifted, and he feels a thumb pressing possessively at his asshole.

"Say yes," Brian insists, faint glitter of sweat on his cheeks adding to the madness. "Say I can make you want this."

He wants to be fucked already, he wants to feel cock taunting him right where Brian's thumb is, and he's already pushing greedily for the intrusion, but he doesn't want to settle for the chickenshit version of this. "Make me beg," Justin whispers. "I'll beg you for it."

"Good boy," Brian murmurs, and jacks him slowly while his thumb taunts some more; jacks him far too slowly, a cruel restraining pace, until Justin's lifting his ass and offering it in mute desperation.

"Please," Justin whispers. "Please."

Brian slows down even further, like he's thinking about walking away, and Justin knows he won't let him, knows he'll do anything to have this entire experience. He grabs Brian's wrist and pulls his hand away, reaches for the other one, reaches for Brian's face to push him down.

"Please, Brian."

Brian catches both his hands in one hand, places Justin's discarded t-shirt over his face with the other, and then puts Justin's hands on top of it. He's blinded and muted and he clings to the soft cotton, inhaling his own sweat, and groans into it as he feels Brian's tongue circling him.

It's slutty and easy and wrong again, cruel and hard and humiliating, and they're on the conference table in Vangard, and Gus is asleep on a chair, and they didn't even shut the fucking door, and Justin moans harder and just lets himself feel it. This is why there's nobody but Brian for him, why there's never gonna be. This is why Brian is so important-- because all the shit, all the hurt, all the phobia, comes down to cocks in asses. It's about being wired to fuck like this, and if you're not going to take that cock and squeeze every last drop of ecstasy from it, all the other crap is for nothing.

This is for Hobbes, Justin thinks as Brian's tongue sends a slow dirty fire along his nervous system, as his mind slides sideways into rivulets of lava. This is for the school principal and that fucking judge, and his fuckhead father. This is for the PIFA board, and his bones are melting from the filthy hot lust he has for cock in his ass.

And oh, he wants it now; he wants Brian to fuck him. His cock is so hard for it, and his hands are clutching fistful's of Brian's hair, driving him further and further in. He's flung the t-shirt aside and he opens his eyes to see Brian's hands on his legs; belatedly, he feels that gripping fingers are bruising his thighs. It's the only kind of pain that matters. Justin throws back his head and laughs through his breathless moans-- Brian's going to fuck him until they both pass out, and he won't have to beg, because this is for Stockwell and Gardner and glass ceilings, and the Center, and Brian's family, and everyone who's ever had a problem with what Brian Kinney does with his cock.

"C'mon," he gasps, still laughing at them all. "Fucking do it."

"Anything you say, Sunshine," and then Brian's over him, kissing him deeply with a tongue that's just been licking him into madness, and Justin kisses back, a promise. Brian slides a condom between their teeth and Justin bites down on foil, spits out the corner and then they're kissing again. He soaks up Brian's silent groan as he puts it on, and then the world stops, breathless.

Brian raises an eyebrow at him. "Ready?"

"What, are you still chickenshit?" Justin taunts, and Brian answers with a thrust that makes his eyes roll back in his head. Fuck, it hurts, and it's fucking amazing. It hurts him and fills him and stretches him and makes him whole. He's laughing again, seeing waves of red behind his eyelids, gasping at the rightness of getting exactly what he was wired for.

"Yes," he's chanting, loving every second of it. "Yes." He lives for this. For better or for worse, it defines them both. Brian pushes in, hard, and Justin pushes back, harder. It's a dance beyond logic for them, mindless but perfectly right, as Brian's fingers tear at his hair and Justin's hands clutch his hips.

They're both gasping for breath, and Justin lets his eyes fall shut as it builds from his ass out, along his spine to his scalp and through his veins to his very toenails. He's going to come, feels it coalesce in his balls as Brian grabs his thighs, lifts him up and fucks him harder.

"Do it," Brian orders, through gritted teeth. "Come from this."

There's never been anything easier. Justin lets out what breath he has left and just comes, lets the dirty sexy heat of it white out his mind and spill over his body. He rides it, burning alive, over Brian's jagged thrusting and then eases down through sunset shades of red and pink and orange to the golden warmth of Brian slowly softening inside him.

"Fuck," Brian gasps, head down, still panting.

Justin sighs breathlessly. "Hell, yeah."

Brian smirks and steps back, removing himself carefully and letting Justin's legs back down. Justin watches through half-lidded eyes as he throws the condom in the trash, does up his pants, adjusts his collar and reaches up selfconsciously to assess the state of his hair. Justin laughs at him.

"You're a tool, Brian, you know that?"

Brian leans over with a secret smile, and touches his lips to Justin's. "You're fucking amazing, you know that?" There's a way Brian's voice sounds on rare occasions, warm and alive. It only happens in the moments after he's come hard enough to knock his walls down, and it sounds like that now.

Justin stretches the kinks out of his muscles, basking in approval. "I know." There's come all over his stomach, already going sticky. He grabs his shirt and sits up, still tingling all over. "Back in a second. I gotta go down the hall, clean up."

Brian opens an invisible door in the conference room wall to reveal a bathroom. "Guess you don't know everything yet."

"Give me time," Justin tells him, and goes inside. He has to grin at his own reflection in the mirror-- he looks well-fucked and then some. He wets a towel and wipes his face and body, then makes a half-hearted attempt at tidying his hair.

When he comes out, Brian's checking on Gus, and Justin gets a cold shock at the realisation of what they did in front of him.

Brian catches the look on face. "He wasn't going to wake up."

Heart in his mouth, Justin checks for himself. He taps Gus' arm and is almost faint with relief when he doesn't respond. "Jesus, Brian. How could you be so sure?"

"He's down for the fucking count, okay? The zoo's the fucking White Party for kids." Brian grimaces. "Complete with the tweaked out twinks running around shrieking, and the less fortunate puking in the sawdust."

Picturing Brian at the zoo, the complete annihilation of the devoted father act, Justin has to laugh at him. "You poor baby," he mocks. "How did you cope?"

"Planning," Brian says, and his face goes hard. "Let's go talk to Gardner Vance."

Justin knocks softly, according to Brian's plan.

"Who's there?" Gardner asks, and Justin sticks his head through the door. Gardner's the only one left in the office, and his desk is piled high with papers and mockups and reports. There's some kind of classical music playing, but he looks haggard. The half-empty coffee mug on his desk almost makes Justin feels sorry for him, but not sorry enough to suggest a run to Starbucks.

"You're still here? Come in." He hands a stack of folders to Justin. "Since you're so good at keeping clients happy, keep these people happy tomorrow. And you have my express permission to ream Dan and Don new assholes while you're at it."

"That sounds like work," Justin says, and with the post-coital glow emanating from his bones, he feels himself getting flirty. "You want to trying paying me for it?"

Gardner looks at him for a long moment. "You've got some balls, kid." He taps his pen against a pile of folders. "You've got ideas, and you've got a way with clients, but you don't know half the shit you need to know."

"So?" Justin shrugs. "The drones know the shit. Cynthia knows it. Just pay me for what I'm good at, and I'll spend the rest of my time on my art." He flips idly through the folders, and then offers them back. "Or I can keep waiting tables. I'm cute and sexy, so I make a lot of money in tips. Your call."

After another long pause, Gardner leans back in his chair and rubs his temples. "Pull another stunt like the Stockwell one, and I'll have you shot. I mean it."

"I won't," Justin promises, and he means it too. "I'm not Brian, and I won't play games with homophobic assholes. I'll walk away first."

"I'll settle for that much," Gardner agrees. "We'll sort out the details tomorrow."

So he's too tired to haggle. Justin really feels sorry for him, now. "I've got a present for you," he says, and pulls the door back. "You remember Brian Kinney?"

For a moment Gardner looks like he's seen his personal saviour, but then he schools his face into a frown. "I think I remember somebody by that name. Wasn't he the one who fucked over this agency because he couldn't keep his politics in his pants?"

"That's the one," Justin says cheerfully as Brian hands him Gus. "Offer him ten percent and backpay, and he's yours. And get him a new office, because I'm keeping the old one."

Gardner laughs at them.

Brian just smiles serenely. "Jackson Pharmaceuticals and West Morton Financial have approached me; they can be signed tomorrow." He tosses a couple more folders onto Gardner's overflowing desk. "But that's small fry. Your problem, Gardner, is that you lack vision."

"Do I really?" The dry chuckle sounds lethal.

"That's why you never landed Brown Athletics, and why your cock's not quivering over what I did to Stockwell."

Gardner tilts his chair back and presses his fingertips together. "You mean, exposing a client's dirty laundry just in time to hand a silver-plated victory to his rival? Dragging this agency's name through the mud with your own abominable conduct? I fail to see how that could possibly benefit this agency."

"That's very good, Vance. Admitting your failures is a big step towards personal growth." Brian applauds sarcastically. "Now try thinking outside the fucking box for a second. You never wanted Stockwell in the first place-- you wanted his backers. Stockwell was just the bait, and who the fuck cares what happens to bait?" Brian leans against the doorframe, and studies his cuticles. "When the inquiry proves me right, I'll have the new Mayor of Pittsburg in my debt, and Stockwell's cronies switching teams so fast your head will spin. I'm positioned to scoop the backers from both sides, and the city contracts for the rest of Deekins' term. And guess what?" Brian smiles at him, shark-like. "I can do it for you, or I can do it for a rival agency."

Gardner stops laughing. Justin's almost breathless himself. That's more than the best possible fuck from a situation; that's a first class fucking orgy.

"I think I want to be senior partner," Brian announces, and drapes his arm around Justin's shoulder, resting his hand on Gus' head. "And we need a car, Honey. Do you think we should ask him for a Jeep or a 'vette?" Justin smirks and leans up for a kiss; Brian gives him one.

"You're not getting a fucking car," Gardner snarls, equilibrium back. "And you're sure as hell not getting promoted. Five percent and backpay."

"Maybe." Brian pretends to think. "If the Boy Wonder gets my old salary."

"Half what you got would be ridiculous. Twenty percent."

Justin has no idea what Brian's salary is, but he's fairly sure twenty percent of it is a great wage for sitting around and drawing Rage half the day.

Brian shakes his head. "Forty."


"Reviewed after three months."

"Done. You get your old office, and the kid can share it."

"Separate offices, or there'll be nine levels of hell to pay."

Justin nods fervently.

"Fine." Gardner sighs. "I hate your guts for this, Kinney. You're in toilet paper purgatory 'til next Christmas."

"Firing me was the dumbest move you ever made," Brian says coldly, and Justin's almost shocked to hear such ice in his voice when his arms are warm around him. "I could hold out for senior partner, and you know it." Gardner stares up at him in despair, but Brian tilts his head and turns the charm up. "And I really do need a new car. My best friend ran from the cops in mine. He got involved with a fifteen-year-old whore-- you know how it is with us fags."

Gardner puts his head in his hands. "Don't do this to me."

"Relax." Brian takes a few casual strides over to Gardner and claps his shoulder. "Because I like you so much, I'll let it go. For that ten percent raise."

"Are we done? Do you want my firstborn?"

"I want the fabric softener account," Justin tells them. "And the ice cream. And the shoes."

"Good," Brian says. "Take the diapers as well, I hate that shit."

Justin shifts Gus in his arms, which are starting to ache. "I don't know why. You never changed a diaper in your fucking life."

Brian smiles down at him, the perfect Brian smile. "Well, I had you for that, didn't I?"

"Get out before I have a fucking heart attack," Gardner tells them, and they do.

Brian Kinney really is back in the building, Justin realises, when Brian pulls out a set of keys and points to a gleaming new Maserati.

Justin glances back and forth between the car and Brian, Brian and the car, until Brian finally nods at him. "Oh my God," he breathes, and runs over to check it out. It's fucking gorgeous-- a rich midnight blue with silver accents, colours of wealth and confidence. It's sleek, it's shiny, and it flaunts sex in every curved line, power in every smooth steel angle. It's smug, blithe, and oozes success. "This is fucking amazing."

"It'll do," Brian says, studying it fondly.

"So you already had a new car?" Justin bounces in glee. "Wow, that was cruel."

"He deserved it."

Justin can't stop circling it, running his hands over the cool metal just to feel the silky finish of the paint. This is the car Brian's going to drive to the inquiry. Justin's going to make popcorn, and call everyone he knows. "How can you afford this?"

"I had a nice payrise coming," Brian smirks, unlocking the doors, "so I mortgaged the loft. And you have a big fat income now, so you can pay back your tuition and I'll have it cleared in a year. Oh, and," he leans against the hood, basking in the ethereal glow of the lamplight, or of his own magic, "the inquiry is giving Mikey a Get Out of Jail Free card if he brings his little hustler back to testify, so I can have my 'vette back as well. And the Vampire Dyke From Hell is countersuing Stockwell for whatever Vampire Dykes countersue for, which should pay for the Corbusier lounge suite and the new TV."

All that, and he took Gus to the zoo. It's all Justin can do to keep from rolling his eyes. "And did you find time in your busy miracle-working day to cure world hunger?"

Brian lights a cigarette. "Why the fuck would I do that? Those starving-kiddies campaigns are worth millions."

Justin has never in his whole life been so relieved to hear Brian pretending to be a selfish asshole. He straps Gus into the back seat and then hugs Brian until he thinks his arms will break. "You fucking prick," he says. "I missed you so much."

"Why?" Brian says lightly. "Did I go somewhere?"

He went somewhere, Justin knows. He's run a fucking marathon in Brian's shoes, and he knows what being Brian is like. And Justin understands, now, that admitting he stumbled just isn't in Brian's repertoire. He never has and he never will, and frankly, Justin's fine with that. "You're here now," he says, sliding his hands down to grab Brian's ass, "so let's go home and fuck our brains out."

Brian hums noncommitally. He's grinning from ear to ear.

It's two in the morning when they get Gus to the Munchers' house, because the Maserati demands to be driven on the freeway, and exit after exit passes before they can bring themselves to take an off-ramp. Brian even lets Justin drive for a while, and the way the it turns under his hands, the way it accelerates beneath his foot, forces him to concede that there might be one thing in the universe better than sex.

When they finally pull up at the house, Brian refuses to get out of the car. "You take him in, Lindsay won't cut off my sperm-tastic balls, and we'll all avert certain disaster."

The front light comes on, and the door swings open to reveal Melanie, looking seriously pissed.

"Fuck." Brian slides down in the seat. "Hurry up, or she'll ruin my hard-on."

Justin gets Gus and leans him in the window for a kiss from Brian. Brian rolls his eyes and complies, and Justin hurries up the path and hands Gus off to Mel, who is definitely poised for the mother of all Brian-Kinney-is-an-irresponsible-prick rants.

"Tell Lindsay everything's fine now," he says quickly, and runs back down to the Maserati and flings himself in. Tires screech on suburban asphalt as Brian spins them around, and Mel's shouting fades quickly behind them.

They fuck on all three pieces of the new lounge suite, which is amazing, and there's a new rug on the floor, so they fuck on that. The new dining table is fantastic, so Justin pushes Brian onto it and sucks him off, nice and slow, until he's sprawled like liquid sex all over it, gasping for breath. He wants to fuck against the huge new TV, but Brian insists its not worth Justin's miserable life to damage it, and puts DVD porn on instead.

They collapse on the sofa, half watching as the screen fills with cocks three feet long.

"It's kind of gross, isn't it?" Justin says, and breaks up giggling when the camera closes in on an asshole sixty inches wide.

"We'll just have to buy another TV for the bedroom," Brian says, turning it off. He puts the remote down and picks up the snuff box with his dope stash in it.

The sight of it sends a shiver down Justin's spine. He's seen enough stoned Brian this month to last him a lifetime.

"What's the matter?" Brian croons, running a finger down Justin's chest. "Are drugs bad?"

Justin's feeling well-fucked and overwrought and a little bit sulky, so he snuggles in closer. "You fucking scared me, Brian. You really freaked me out."

"That's because I'm a scary son of a bitch." Brian takes one of the library books on the new coffee table, carefully tears a page out, and rolls a joint with it.

"Brian!" Justin shouts, sitting up. "Jesus Christ."

Brian hands the joint to Justin and starts rolling another. "For a pretentious literary jerk-off, it wasn't bad. You should have read it."

Justin snatches the book away, and assesses the damage. Alas, Foucault's Pendulum is no more. "Why the fuck were you reading it?"

Brian shrugs. "Boredom."

Almost rolling his eyes in despair, Justin thumbs through what's left of it. Drugs, sex and irresponsible fatherhood are one thing, but Brian just destroyed a library book. He can't escape a sense of impending doom. "You know what?" he says. "You're not some fucking hero. You're a prick."

"But honey, I thought I was your hero."

Justin grins. "You're my prick. I'm the hero." He'll have to buy the library a new copy of the book, and return the others before Brian can get to them.

"Whatever," Brian says, lighting up and lying back. "All that matters is that you're a good fuck."

"I'm the best fuck you ever fucking had," Justin declares, grabbing the joint and inhaling deeply. He stubs it out in the ashtray and climbs on top of him. "And we both know it."

"Hmm. Maybe."

Justin sits on his chest with his eyebrows raised until Brian smiles up at him.

"Sunshine, you'll do just fine."

A million zillion thanks to Jenn for much-needed cheerleading, Cesca for repeatedly explaining the story to me, and Josselin for much fine-tuning. Feedback makes for the happy, and constructive criticism is more than welcome.

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