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Empty Lives

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After almost losing Trev in the icy waters of the shallow lake, Vaughn had forced himself to face a lot of facts. It was something that should have come easy to a lawyer of his renown, except he'd spent a lot of his career glossing over or hiding the truth if it didn't suit the needs of his client--himself in this case. It had been so easy to bury the memories of their abusive father but that weekend had brought everything out into the open--everything from Trev's self-harming to his own obsessive-compulsive behavior. Finally he had understood his reluctance to see things change, terrified to lose the better memories of these three childhood friends--but nothing stayed the same. Children grew up, took on new experiences, discovered new things about themselves... and for a friendship to survive it had to change too. It had to adapt or die.

Vaughn didn't want their childhood friendship to die.

In the two months that had passed since the incident at the cabin, Vaughn had seen Jon several times to arrange the photo calendar for his law firm and he had gone to the gym religiously twice a week, spending time working out with Stevie. The weird part was seeing Jon and Steve together. He'd known about Jon for a couple of years, and Jon was right. Knowing Jon was gay and acknowledging it were two separate issues and, until the cabin, he'd tried to ignore that side of his friend. Discovering that Steve had broken off his engagement to Jennifer and moved in with Jon was yet another issue that Vaughn had to face in their ever-changing friendship but, this time, Vaughn met the challenge head on. This time he acknowledged the change in their relationship towards each other and towards him.

Of Bry he had seen nothing.

Under the circumstances that shouldn't have been a problem, but Vaughn recalled the long hours waiting at the hospital while the doctor checked over Trev to ensure that he wouldn't come down with pneumonia--or some other bug--after swallowing all that cold lake water. Bryan had stayed with him, falling asleep in a chair several feet away as if afraid to sit too close and yet reluctant to abandon him. At one point Vaughn had hovered over Bryan's sleeping form, seeing the bruise darkening around his eye from the punch Vaughn had landed in a fit of anger. It didn't matter that Bryan had deserved it. After all, he'd caught Bry having sex with his estranged wife in the damn cabin while he was only twenty feet away, only then learning that they'd been having an affair right under his nose for months and he'd been too blinkered to see the signs. Yet Vaughn still felt guilty for the two punches to gut and face, recalling the shocked disbelief on Bryan's face and the memory of his father's heavy fists, not liking either memory. He didn't want to become his father.

To his everlasting shame he had still wanted Renee even after finding her fucking his best friend, but she was right--he didn't love her enough. He would never be able to keep a promise to put her first. He'd always find some excuse to spend his time checking his portfolio or reading his emails rather than simply being with her, but he couldn't say the same of Bry. He'd always dropped everything for Bry and he always would.

Renee had gone to Vancouver and, despite being a lawyer, he had no intention of contesting her demand for part of his personal wealth. He owed her that much but strangely, after just a couple of months, he no longer missed her.

He missed Bry.

Several times he had picked up the phone and started to call but always hung up when he heard Bry's wife Heather on the other end. The last time he tried phoning, rather than ignoring the churning in his gut whenever he heard her voice, he had focused on the feeling and discovered a new truth. He hated her. He resented the way she had stepped between him and Bry, and the way she had dictated when they could meet, often making it double dates so he had little opportunity to spend time alone with his best friend. Afterwards he would rant to Renee, calling Bry pussy-whipped and spineless, and yet Vaughn had been no better with Renee, allowing her to dictate the pattern of his life.

He phoned again, grimacing when Heather picked up.

"Heather, it's Vaughn. Is Bry there?"

The silence lengthened, and just when Vaughn thought maybe they'd been cut off, Heather sighed loudly.

"Bryan doesn't live here anymore."


"He...He told me about Renee and he moved out several weeks ago."

Vaughn felt his heart sink into his stomach. "Where did he go?" He held his breath as he awaited her answer, suddenly convinced that he'd been wrong and that Bryan had found the courage to leave Heather and move to Vancouver with Renee, just as Renee had hoped. It would explain why none of them had seen him since the hospital.

She rattled off an address and Vaughn felt his heart start beating again when he realized Bry was still here in the city. He thanked her and put the phone down, staring for several minutes at the address scrawled on the legal pad lying in front of him. No phone number though. Squaring his shoulders, Vaughn stood up and grabbed his coat--decision made. His secretary startled when he stepped out of his office.

"Cancel my appointments for the rest of the day, Claire. I need to go out."

"Yes, sir."

He could feel her eyes burning a hole between his shoulder blades all the way across the floor towards the elevator, grateful when the doors closed behind him. The downtown traffic was heavy as he threaded his way towards the less affluent residential area of the city. As he pulled up outside the address written on his sheet of paper, Vaughn froze for a moment, wondering if he was making a mistake but inside he knew he had to be the one to make this first step to save their friendship--or risk living out the rest of his life feeling empty, alone and full of regrets. Viciously shoving aside a momentary concern for his expensive car in this downtrodden neighborhood, Vaughn climbed a few steps to the bank of buzzers at the entrance way; he moved his finger along until he found Bryan's name. Pressing the buzzer, he felt his heart skip a beat when he recognized the tinny voice coming through the comm system.

"Who is it?"

"It's me... It's Vaughn."


He was tempted to make light of the confusion in Bry's voice, tempted to say, "Yes, Vaughn, your best friend of twenty-three years." A few more excruciatingly long seconds passed before the buzzer sounded and the door unlocked. Vaughn pushed through and shut the door firmly behind him, climbing the stairs to the fourth floor where he found Bry standing in the doorway of apartment 403, waiting for him with his shoulders hunched and a haunted look in his eyes.

"Can I come in?"

Tight lipped, Bry nodded and stepped aside before rushing past to gather up a few items of dirty laundry and a couple of empty beer bottles. "Wasn't expecting anyone. Do you want a beer?" His voice held a tone of false levity, betrayed by a slight tremor of trepidation. Years in court had attuned him to the shifts that revealed truths and falsehoods, but he had many more years of familiarity to recognize Bry's fears. He wondered why he hadn't picked up on the affair sooner as, in hindsight, it had all been there, written across Bry's expressive face, and in his voice. Vaughn swallowed hard, suddenly aware of all the clues Bry had dropped as if begging Vaughn to sit up and take notice, and rid him of the guilt. Perhaps that was why Bryan had allowed Renee to manipulate him into fucking her when Vaughn was standing in the next room. Maybe they had both wanted to be discovered, wanted to see an end to the lies and subterfuge.


He accepted the opened bottle and watched as Bry sank into a seat by the far wall, as far away from Vaughn as he could get without climbing out of the window. Vaughn sank onto the unmade bed, noticing the expensive guitar leaning on the wall behind Bryan's seat and he wondered if Bry had played it since that day. It seemed to offer the right opening so he indicated towards it, part of him hoping Bry would recall the aborted conversation that had led to those two punches.

"You asked me why." Bryan froze with his beer partway to his lips, waiting for Vaughn to continue. "I bought it to make you happy...because you're my friend. My best friend."

"I'm a shitty friend."

Vaughn snorted softly. "Yeah... But you're my shitty friend."

Some of the tension left Bryan and his mouth curved up in a self-deprecating smile. "I tried to break it off so many times."

Vaughn nodded because he believed him. Putting the beer down, Vaughn rose from the edge of the bed and took the five steps across the room until he was standing in front of Bryan. He reached down and removed the cold bottle from Bryan's hand, placing it on the window sill before drawing Bryan to his feet. The tension was back along with the hunching inwards of broad shoulders and the downcast eyes and down-turned mouth. When Vaughn raised a hand to capture Bryan's chin and make him raise his head, he saw Bryan flinched. The guilt from hitting Bryan came back like a punch to his own gut. He forced himself to continue the move, cupping Bryan's chin. He didn't have to do much as Bryan was the taller of the two.

For only the second time in his life, Vaughn let emotion get the better of him. This time, instead of a punch it was a kiss pressed against the crooked mouth. It was something he'd never contemplated before Jon and Steve revealed the change in their relationship to include sexual contact but it had made him wonder if the reason they had all become such firm friends was because they all carried that capacity to love each other beyond the Platonic.

Kissing a man was different, feeling the slightest rasp of bristles that tingled against his lips; different but not repugnant because this was Bryan. This was his friend since childhood. Bryan was blinking in confusion--long, pale lashes fluttering against the pinkish tinge of his cheeks. When Bryan leaned in and kissed him in return, Vaughn let him, surprised by the dull ache in his belly and groin as his body reacted to the stimuli. He raised his hand, letting his fingers run through the long strands before cupping the back of Bryan's head and drawing him into another kiss that was deeper, and more demanding. Bryan let it happen, letting go a single, lonely sob that tore at Vaughn's heart as Bryan's arms wrapped around Vaughn, holding him tight.

Later, he would never be able to say who had moved them to the bed or who had started undressing first. He'd never be able to say who reached out first, curling fingers around hard cocks as they brought each other to completion, gasping out relief that went beyond sexual, beyond physical to their very souls. All Vaughn would recall later was the welcome weight of Bryan lying in his arms on the lumpy bed, and of the warmth of Bryan's breath fanning against his throat--and realizing that what he now had with Bryan was what he had been missing all his life.