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Brian Stephen

When Brian left Chicago, he wasn't totally sure what he was going to do or where he was going to go to do it, and so he drifted.

He had friends who'd moved to Detroit after high school and so he went there first, tried selling cars like that was a great idea in the current economic climate. Another friend had wound up in Milwaukee and so he went up there, too, got a job selling fishing tackle that had left him completely unfulfilled and totally unsurprised by that. In seven months, he'd tried four cities and found himself dissatisfied each time, though he guessed that in fairness he never really gave them much of a chance. He just hoped he'd know what he wanted when he found it, and so he'd keep trying till he did.

And then, because why the hell not, he went to Boston.

There was a branch of his mom's family who still lived out there on the east coast and he'd gone over to visit, then found himself still there weeks later, found himself staying in the end. It turned out his mom's second cousin Jackie was a cop, like Jackie's dad had been a cop, like Jackie's dad's dad had been a cop, and Brian bought into that because that was just the way it was and had always been with his own family, with their damn obsession with firefighting. He liked Jackie, and Jackie's cousin Joe who was a cop down in Hartford, and his uncle Pete who was a captain with SWAT. And so, the next logical step was to join the academy.

Once he'd graduated, it turned out he was good at it. Really good at it. He was quick to learn and quick on his feet, drove pretty well, the guys in his precinct liked him pretty much from the moment they heard he was Jackie O'Connell's cousin, and he got on and did the work. It hadn't taken long for him to get noticed, which he guessed he owed to the way he looked as much as to the strong work ethic that was maybe the best thing he'd gotten from his dad. And, after a couple of years, three years, maybe three and a half, he'd been assigned to Narcotics for a pretty long while and they were hovering over giving him his detective's shield. The shield actually made its appearance part way through his fourth year. He was proud of it, and the O'Connells made a pretty big deal of it. There was a party. There was cake.

It wasn't his idea to go back. He'd been happy in Boston pretty much since he'd arrived, liked the city and most of its suburbs, liked the people, liked his extended family full of an array of career cops, had decent pay and a decent place of his own and a car that didn't crap out at the first glimmer of winter. He had girlfriends, on the force and off it, two or three that were basically Jenny with a Boston accent though none of them really took. There were a couple of boyfriends he kept secret, one from the precinct who still actually talked to him sometimes and one who was getting his doctorate in something hugely esoteric from one of the many colleges in the vicinity. And he had to admit it was pretty great to be out of the shadow of his brother and his dad and his grandfather and all the other McCaffreys who'd ever fought a fire, even if he'd sidestepped into another family tradition that he'd never really known about before but somehow made his own. He felt good about himself. He'd found his niche. He did not need to go back to Chicago.

But then his captain said they needed someone who knew the city to go over to Chicago, go there under cover, something about the son of a Boston mobster trying to make a name for himself in drugs in Chicago and a joint taskforce being set up to deal with that shit ASAP. Brian got called into the captain's office, and he sat there with the captain and some hardass narco detective who'd come in from Chicago, listening to the spiel about how interdepartmental cooperation was such a worthwhile endeavour and how his input would be invaluable. He wasn't all that interested in an undercover op no matter how strategically important, didn't feel like fucking around with the son of a guy like Istvan Vankov, but he agreed to their dumbass plan anyway. He wasn't sure why, because there were plenty of guys who could've done the job with the right departmental briefing and he didn't want to go back. He really didn't.

So, there he was, living in a gigantic department-funded downtown apartment surrounded by every modern gadget they'd been able to dream up, working the area, throwing around big names in the Boston drugs scene like it was going out of style. They'd had enough contacts in enough strategic places to make it look really good, to give "Danny Quinn" a watertight backstory, make it totally believable. And, four months in, he was getting somewhere. He thought maybe another week or so and he'd have the sociopathic bastard eating out of his hand, because if there was one thing Aleks Vankov liked, it was a pretty-boy with solid connections and the promise of cold, hard cash.

The club wasn't exactly low-key. Brian had been going there from a couple of nights after he'd arrived, looking pretty sharp, flashing a smile and just enough cash to get himself noticed. There were guys there who were into his particular brand of blue-eyed boyish good looks, and Brian guessed maybe he wasn't a bad fit for the part since he'd seen bars like this before and wasn't about to freak out the way some of the boys from his precinct probably would have. Gay bars really weren't their scene, weren't particularly his, but they were Aleks Vankov's. And no one on his crew ever dared say a word about it because Aleks had killed for less and daddy would've had words to say. Aleks wasn't a pleasant guy. He might even have been worse than his father because while daddy Vankov ordered hits, rumour had it Aleks liked to take care of that side of things himself. And the more time Brian spent with the guy, the more he understood just why the Chicago PD was willing to get him off the streets on drugs charges instead of going after him for murder; they just wanted him gone, right now, before he started a huge, bloody turf war.

The club was packed. It was a Saturday night so that made sense but it seemed even busier than usual, though Brian guessed it wasn't exactly the biggest or brightest club in the world and when Aleks had taken it over he hadn't made a fuss about marketing, probably something to do with it being a front for his other less legal business. The music was loud and the air was thick with smoke and sweat and bad cologne, and Brian really couldn't say he was a fan of the dancefloor though he'd paid a few visits to it over the months. He'd been telling Aleks he had a boyfriend since they'd met, a possessive boyfriend with a really bad temper, so the guy would at least feign keeping his distance because frankly he made Brian's skin crawl, but he'd still been dragged out to dance a few times. Aleks was young enough that dancing like a goddamn idiot between his deals still seemed like a fun way to spend his time.

He'd just arrived that night when it happened. He could see Aleks and his man-mountain bodyguard up on the mezzanine at the usual table, a booth up by the wall overlooking the dancefloor where the music wasn't so loud they couldn't talk, and that was where he'd head next, after he'd grabbed a drink. He waded through the crowd, the heat by the bar by the dancefloor making his skin feel sticky under his shirt, and he ordered a couple of vodkas, one for him and one for his good buddy Aleks. The barman knew him, and knew not to charge him. He flashed the guy a smile, yelled a quick thank you and he turned, and he swore.

"Stephen."

"Brian."

They stared at each other. Brian's pulse picked up to a sickening rate because of all the guys he'd known there in Chicago, of all the guys in all the fucking world, he'd had to run into Stephen. He didn't have time to think about why that was, to ask if he'd followed him or if this was just a weird coincidence and if it was a coincidence then what exactly did that say about Stephen? He was wearing a black tank top and jeans and bike boots and looked like he belonged there with his sweat-slick skin and the smile that had faded the instant he saw it was Brian, but he did not have time to ask questions. Aleks was coming down the stairs from the mezzanine. Aleks was looking at them both like he had questions of his own. He had to act quickly.

"My name's Danny Quinn," he said, and Stephen frowned so he leaned in by his ear and said it again. "Danny Quinn. I'm from Boston. You're… I don't know. Jesus. Fuck. You're my boyfriend. And don't give me that fucking look, Stephen - if you don't play along, I'm dead." He stood back, and Stephen frowned harder. Brian drew his thumb across his throat, his back to the approaching Aleks, and mouthed the word again. Dead. He hoped the look on his face told Stephen he meant it, because he did mean it. He meant it with a truly awful certainty.

"Who's your friend?" Aleks asked, shouting above the music. His shirt probably cost more than Stephen's entire wardrobe, and he clearly knew it.

Brian looked at Stephen, whose expression was giving absolutely nothing away, then back at Aleks who did not look patient.

"You remember that boyfriend I've told you so much about?" he replied, and gestured at Stephen. "Here he is. Aleks, Tom Connor. Tom, Aleks Vankov."

Aleks eyed Stephen. Stephen eyed Aleks. Brian felt like his heart was going to beat its way out of his chest and the bodyguard standing behind them had his hand inside his jacket, on the grip of a Glock that looked like it'd seen a lot of use. They were going to die. They were going to fucking die, in an alley behind the club or up in Aleks's office and they'd find them in a week in the fucking lake or maybe they wouldn't find them at all. Brian guessed at least they weren't going to go in a fire, not that that was much of a comfort.

And then Stephen smiled, smiled that big, easy grin of his and held out a hand that Aleks shook more by instinct than by design.

"Pleased to meet you," Stephen said, and he sidestepped closer to Brian, wrapped an arm over his shoulders and Brian flooded with potentially premature relief. "Danny's told me nothing about you."

Aleks laughed, though it was hardly a pleasant sound. "Pleased to meet you, Tom," he said. "Danny's told me pretty much nothing about you, either."

They weren't out of the woods yet, Brian knew that, tried to convey that to Stephen with a look while Aleks's back was turned. Aleks invited them up to his booth up on the mezzanine and they went because there was nothing else to do but go. They talked, Aleks quizzing Stephen - Tom - about what he did and who he was, and Brian was grateful he hadn't made up more of a character or a story for him. Stephen wasn't really good but he filled things in quickly, pretty convincingly, made himself landlord of some crappy downtown apartments who went hunting at the weekends and managed to look half-comfortable through a weird-ass conversation about rifles that he bluffed his way through, probably due to reading old magazines on the station house can. He'd make a lousy cop but with the low light and the music, it might've worked. Brian tried to convince himself he only saw the cracks in the story because he knew Stephen so damn well, or at least he'd thought he did.

And Brian, well, Brian just tried to keep his smile in place. He tried to push his questions down and save them for later, after they got out of this with all their teeth and fingers still intact. They called Istvan Vankov Istvan the Ax, like some damn B movie horror villain, thanks to the reputation that had followed him over from Bulgaria, and Aleks was worse, Aleks actually liked that shit. Sometimes Brian thought he could almost see what the guy was thinking behind the big, broad smile and the perfect white teeth, and it turned his stomach. He wanted no part of that, no part of that at all.

"We should really be leaving," Brian said, after their third drink, after nearly an hour. Aleks looked at him, still smiling, but with that edge beneath, like he still hadn't quite made up his mind. Their story was pretty tenuous, hanging by a thread because Stephen had turned up there unexpectedly in the last place on earth Brian had ever thought he'd see him. But Aleks waved a hand and Brian put on a grin. "Thanks for the drinks, Aleks. I'll see you tomorrow?"

Aleks nodded, and shook Brian's hand when he leaned over the table. "Tomorrow," he said, looking him straight in the eye, and Brian's stomach sank. He still hadn't decided, and this was at best a temporary reprieve, a stay of execution. Brian tugged at Stephen's arm, and Stephen said his slightly overzealous goodbyes. Then they left, together, as quickly as Brian thought was appropriate without making them look guilty of something Aleks would then either torture out of them. Were he feeling particularly lazy, he'd just shoot them and have done with it completely.

They took Brian's car. He was driving a slightly older model silver Porsche that wasn't the most comfortable car he'd ever driven but did have the effect of making him look closer to the big time than the average undercover cop. Stephen got into the passenger side and they took off away from the club in perfect silence, like neither one of them was sure what the hell they were meant to say. Brian wasn't sure if he was relieved they'd made it out alive or concerned they'd fucked it up entirely and he had a sick, sick feeling about all of this because frankly, he could see Aleks's bodyguard tailing them three or four cars back. They weren't getting out of this so easily. He guessed the only way out was through. He needed a plan, just to get them through the night.

They pulled into the garage under his building and into his parking spot maybe ten minutes later. He killed the engine and he gripped the wheel and he breathed, slowly.

"I'm a cop," he said.

Stephen laughed, right out loud, and Brian jerked his head up to look at him. "You're a what?"

"I'm a cop, Stephen. Boston PD."

"I hate to break it to you, Brian, but this ain't exactly Boston."

"Tell me about it."

Brian rested his head down against the steering wheel for a moment, bounced his forehead off of it a couple of times then looked at him again. "Look," he said. "Let me make this simple for you, okay? The guy you just met, Aleks Vankov. He's a bad guy. He came in a year ago from Boston where his old man's a really fucking big deal. And I was sent over here by the Boston Police Department to work with a task force here in Chicago to get junior off the streets before he kills the wrong guy and starts a gang war spread right across the goddamn state. I've been undercover for the last four months. And you just stumbled in on my op, Stephen, with a guy who likes to feed people's fingers to his dogs."

Brian rubbed his eyes with one hand, totally aware that it all sounded like 24 carat bullshit but hoping Stephen would get the hint and go with it anyway. "We're being followed. And I already know they bugged my apartment. They've got audio and video everywhere in there. Some poor fuck's been watching me burn toast and read yachting magazines on the can for the last six weeks."

Stephen frowned. "So why don't I just leave?" he asked. "Right now. Just walk out the door."

"‘Cause Aleks's pet enforcer will choke you with your own intestines," Brian replied. "Or maybe he'll just shoot you. Depends how energetic he's feeling."

"So, what do we do?"

Brian paused, because the only thing he could think of or had thought of since they'd left the club was a genuinely fucking terrible idea and the more he thought it through the more he knew it could go wrong. But there was nothing else because if they left then they'd be dead inside the hour. If they went up and called the cops, called his contact in the Chicago PD, they'd be dead before anyone ever got there. And it wouldn't be quick, because Aleks didn't like it quick when someone betrayed him. Brian had seen some pretty grim photos of what he did to traitors.

"We go upstairs and we put on a good show, Tom," he said.

He wasn't sure if Stephen was about to laugh or cry, but he apparently understood. There was nothing he could do but agree.

It was totally insane. It was totally and utterly insane and as they made their way to the elevator, Brian was pretty much convinced they were going to die. Stephen looked at him, his expression almost desperate as the doors slid shut and Brian pressed the button for the 7th floor, and he shook his head. There was nothing else they could do, nowhere else they could go, no way out except for this and as tough as Stephen was in a fire, this was so far away from his comfort zone that it was verging on the comical. Brian wished he had it in him to laugh.

"Any advice?" Stephen asked, his tone painfully earnest, totally out of his depth..

Brian huffed, perversely amused, as close to a laugh as he could get as the doors slid back open on his floor. "Pretend I'm the guy you went there to meet," he said. "And don't fuck it up."

His cover apartment was down the hall and Stephen hovered behind his left shoulder, a little too close but he guessed that was best given their situation and their watchers. He let them both inside, flicked on the lights and Stephen looked around while he tried not to look around, tried to fit in like he'd been here before many times. The cover was that Tom had been away, some crap about a sick relative and they didn't spend much time there at Danny's place anyway, but Stephen was looking so damn awkward that even his best attempt was going to give the whole thing away in about thirty seconds' time. He'd have to do something. He hated what he'd have to do.

"Tom." Stephen turned. At least he seemed to remember the name. "Are you going to tell me what the hell you were doing there tonight?"

Stephen hesitated a second then he shrugged. "Looking for you."

"I guess that's one way to phrase it." Brian got in closer, pulling himself up tall and looking down at him the way he knew Stephen hated. "I'd call it checking up on me."

"And so what if I was?"

"You know how important this deal is to me. You think Aleks is impressed that my macho-ass boyfriend turned up to check on me?" He paused, and frowned, summoned as disgusted a look as he had in him. "Jesus, Tom. You think I'm having an affair. You think I'm fucking Aleks."

"You're telling me you're not?"

"And what if I am?"

"You're telling me you are?"

"What are you going to do about it, Tom?" He got in closer. "Are you going to hit me? You going to ride my ass till I realise the error of my ways? Huh?" He got in closer still, making Stephen back up, getting in his space. "You going to hurt me, Tom? You going to fuck me up?"

It was enough. Just. Or maybe Stephen just got what he was doing, but he lashed out, he hit him full in the face with the back of his hand and the next thing he knew they were fighting, practically wrestling, down on the hardwood floor with Stephen on top of him and they shoved at each other, clawed, Brian pushed him off and followed through, got his hands around Stephen's neck though Stephen tossed him down and was back on top in a second. They'd never been shy of fighting but this was different, charged, it was either this or both their fucking lives, and then Stephen was kissing him and Brian bit at his lip and it was hard and it was messy and it was wrong but it was all they had.

Stephen dragged him to his feet and shoved him up against the nearest wall, hard, hard enough that the back of his head bounced off of it and put bright points in his vision though Stephen was right there against him in a second. It was weird because Stephen was just like he remembered but then not at all, he was bigger through the arms and shoulders like fighting fires was just as good as lifting weights and he looked almost gaunt through his face and his eyes, hollowed out except for the anger. Brian wanted to ask about Helen and what the hell he'd been doing there in the club but Stephen bit at his jaw and shoved one hand down his slacks and Brian gasped in a breath. Apparently, Stephen was still pissed at him for leaving, or any of a hundred other things he'd done. Maybe that would make this easier.

They fumbled their way into the bedroom and Stephen pushed him down onto the bed, just shoved him with one hand and sent him sprawling. Brian might've been taller, he might've had police training on his side and might've been pretty handy in a fight but he had to lose this one and he knew it.

"That all you got?" he asked, turning onto his back, lying there with a taunting smile.

Stephen was on him in a second, and slapped him hard across the face. Brian tasted blood as the inside of his cheek split against his teeth, made sure they were coated and smiled again, bloody. Stephen looked just about ready to kill. He guessed this had been coming for a while, or at least the fighting had.

Brian bit Stephen's wrist and made him curse, made him grab the front of his shirt and pull, making the buttons pop and a section of the fabric tear. He raked his blunt nails down over Brian's chest and made him hiss with it and then they were kissing again, Brian pulling at Stephen's flimsy black tank top until it was off and his chest was bare, Stephen's mouth hot and tasting like tequila, needy and urgent. Brian hated it and it made so much sense and none at all, how he was shoving at Stephen's jeans as he toed off his own shoes over the side of the bed and Stephen paused, went up on his knees between Brian's thighs to unbuckle his belt. He looked down at Brian then, and something seemed to seize him, made him stumble to his feet and brought Brian to the edge of panic, brought him up on his elbows because that shit was going to get them both real dead real fast. But then Stephen yanked off his boots, his socks, pushed his jeans over his hips and stood there at the foot of the bed, naked.

It was ridiculous. Brian's eyes moved over him and he hated the way they were drawn to Stephen's hard cock, hated that his gaze was eating him up so fucking ravenously when he should've needed to make an effort to get it right. Stephen came back then, tucked his fingers into the waist of Brian's slacks and pulled them off with the underwear beneath, left him in the tattered shirt but pulled off his socks. Stephen's face was flushed, flushed red right down his neck with anger and with something else Brian didn't really want to contemplate as Stephen's hands moved over him, rough and strong and hard. He sucked roughly at the inside of one of Brian's thighs, then the place where thigh met hip met body, ran one big hand over Brian's cock and gave a squeeze that made him give a vocal gasp that was so damn close to moaning that he didn't know if he should feel embarrassed or congratulate himself on his acting. He went for the latter.

But then Stephen was on top of him, propped up on his hands, Brian's legs splayed, and they looked at each other. Stephen was so familiar, the shape of him, the weight because it wasn't like they'd never fought, but this was fucking crazy. Stephen flexed his hips and pressed one hand down over Brian's throat. Brian took an unsteady breath as he held his gaze.

"You done, Tom?" he asked. "Or have you got any more?"

Stephen's face flashed hot and the frustrated sound he made was almost a growl as he pulled Brian over, pushed him down face first into the mattress though he gave him a moment to push back up onto his forearms. Stephen leaned over to the drawer by the bed and rummaged through it, found aspirin and a dirty magazine and a bottle of water.

"Other side, genius," Brian said, and maybe it was easier like this because he didn't have to see him, could pretend it was anyone but him, except Stephen started talking and he couldn't block out that voice. It was right there as Stephen grabbed the lube from the other drawer, as he heard the slick sound of him getting ready, as he felt the chill of lube and the warmth of Stephen's fingers as he prepped him superficially. Stephen was calling him every name under the sun in a low voice and Brian's heart was racing as he pressed his forehead to the sheets, arched his back and told himself it was just because he knew there were cameras watching them, Aleks watching them, not because of the way it made Stephen's slick cock slide against him.

The sex itself was brief and hard, Stephen up on one knee with his hands gripping Brian's hips pretty much tight enough to bruise, Brian jerking himself off unsteadily with one hand as Stephen pushed inside him. It wasn't even the worst argument they'd ever had because no one had wound up with broken bones, but it was the weirdest, Stephen occasionally swatting his ass with the flat of his hand as he fucked him harder, calling him anything and everything he'd ever called him before then and a few names he'd never heard before, through gritted teeth, thighs slapping loudly against him with each thrust. When Brian came with a shout and pretty much collapsed, Stephen pulled out and finished himself off over the small of his back. He pulled him back over and he hit him again, hit him again, like it was more from spite or shame or something else that Brian didn't quite understand than from anger. He just knew he'd be a goddamn mess in the morning. He already hurt.

Then, Stephen left the room. He gave him one last look like maybe he was going to say something, like maybe he was appalled or incensed or just fucking bereft because of what he'd just done, they'd done, and then he left Brian lying there. Brian had to guess it was at least convincing, but if they didn't die then he didn't know how he'd ever look his brother in the eye again. But at least he'd know he'd saved Stephen's life.

They didn't die. Stephen left sometime in the night and Brian showered and dressed and assessed the damage in the morning. Aleks paid him a visit there in the apartment and strategically said nothing about the bruised state of his face. And they set up the deal, for the following night.

It went down as planned. Brian kept himself busy with that, got pulled in with Aleks when the arrest went down, spent three hours going through the op in debriefing and then disappeared back onto the street not long after, having explained away the bruises as a drunken bar fight. He had a flight booked for the following morning and he toyed with the idea of stopping by the house and seeing Stephen and Helen and Sean but he couldn't bring himself to do it, though he actually got as far as grabbing a cab and giving the address before he stopped, turned the cab around and went back to clear his crap out of the apartment. He thought about calling but he didn't call. He left in the morning as planned.

The O'Connells welcomed him back with open arms and no one asked if he'd seen Stephen. They had a big family dinner to welcome him back home, all the cousins and aunts and uncles and a few of the kids he'd never met before, and no one really cared that his tenuous link with the family was that his mother's grandmother was also Jackie's grandmother because that was actually more of a link than some of the others had, though he'd never have known it to look at them. But he couldn't feel like he was home, somehow, not the way he'd felt before, even when Jackie's wife Ellen brought him lasagne because she knew he hated cooking or he got invited over for their son's high school graduation or cousin Joe's retirement, any of the full social calendar of events that belonging to a huge damn family seemed to require of him. He had to admit he kind of liked that about them.

He got into a relationship, the brother of a friend of his partner's sister or some other really loose connection, a guy called Sam with an easy smile and bright blue eyes who turned out to be a fucking full-time firefighter, a captain, of all the things he could've been. After a couple of months, Brian told him about his dad. He told him about the dysfunctional idiocy that was his family, the way his dad had died, the way his dumbass brother and his smart mouth had gotten into the business and gotten himself stuck at lieutenant because he cared more about the guys than about his career, though he couldn't make that sound like a bad thing. He told him he'd dropped out of the academy and moved to Boston and gotten himself sucked into another family business. Sam seemed to understand, but asked when he'd last seen his brother. Brian just laughed. Sam didn't get the joke.

It didn't last much more than six months and change, though by that time they'd come out to Brian's odd, huge family and, somehow, it'd gone down pretty well, something about cousin Joe's daughter Carrie being a lesbian that had prepared them for such eventualities. Sam would come over to Brian's place some nights after work, even after they'd technically finished, and he'd smell so familiar, he'd stand a certain way and if Brian squinted he could almost fool himself into thinking it was Stephen. Sometimes, he'd pretend it was, and Sam couldn't understand why it wasn't always so hot and heavy. He felt sick when he thought about it after or when he thought about that night, the way he'd needled Stephen into it, the way he couldn't think of a single goddamn way to get Stephen out of there alive without dragging him into something that was going to mean they never spoke again.

And then there was the other thing, the worst thing, the thing where Brian knew he'd wanted it without ever realising he did, at least not before the moment that it happened. He'd've done anything for Stephen, to keep him safe, but he couldn't help thinking that goading him into really fucking rough sex and then enjoying it, like that was the only way they could relate and maybe the only way he wanted them to, maybe that hadn't been his finest hour. Stephen was probably disgusted, but at least he was alive. And Sam was a good guy and deserved to be more than a substitute for his twisted, imagined relationship with his brother. Brian wasn't that good a guy because even after they called it quits, they were screwing on and off.

Work was work, just the same as usual. He got called in on a couple of interesting cases, some joint bullshit between narcotics and homicide that the captain was dangling like a carrot since Brian was their current golden boy and it turned out he did have some measure of enthusiasm for it. Jackie had been in homicide for years and he had to admit the family connections helped there were everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone. He thought maybe when work was going well he was getting past it, maybe someday he'd go to work in the morning and feel like he hadn't fucked everything up even though everything was great, and maybe someday he'd come home at night and call Sam, see Sam, fuck Sam and know there wasn't someone else in his head.

Their big case closed and Jackie clapped him on the back as they made to leave the office that afternoon; the tradition was a bar down the street, an Irish bar of course, where the boys would drink until the bartender had to call their wives to come pick them up, and Jackie assured him that there'd be a ride home for him after. Brian laughed and grabbed his jacket and he was ready to go until he saw a familiar face across the bullpen, standing there leaning against the wall, standing there watching him. Stephen nodded to him in acknowledgement. Brian did the same, as Jackie led him over.

"Can we help you?" Jackie asked.

Brian gave Jackie a quick pat on the shoulder. "Jackie, this is my brother Stephen," he told him.

Jackie raised his brows. "He looks a whole lot like Sam," he muttered to Brian, though he shook Stephen's hand.

"Stephen McCaffrey," Stephen confirmed, with a firm shake.

"Pleased to meet you, son." Jackie smiled warmly; even after thirty-plus years on the force, he'd still got that about him, and Brian guessed he had to have or he'd've burned out years ago. "Jackie O'Connell. Your mom and me shared a grandmother, back in the day. Come by the house before you leave, my Ellen's got enough photos of the family to carpet Fenway and we're always taking in new waifs and strays." He turned to Brian, giving him a pat on the back. "Like this one here. I'll see you bright and early, Brian. We've got your new desk all picked out ready for you."

Jackie left and Brian looked at Stephen, so completely incongruous there in the homicide bullpen right at that moment that Brian just didn't know what to say. So he opened the door and he led the way back down, went over to his car in the lot and let them both in.

"So, I guess you really are a cop," Stephen said, as they sat there, fiddling awkwardly with seatbelts.

Brian eased back his jacket to flash his gun in its shoulder holster, his badge at his belt. "Really a cop," he confirmed. "Nearly six years now."

"And that's mom's cousin Jackie?"

"Yeah. There's about a hundred O'Connells and O'Reillys and Murphys and Donnellys around here who are all some kind of distant relation and they're all going to invite you to dinner when they know you're here."

Stephen made a face but said nothing, so Brian started the car.

He drove back to his place, parked by the kerb in front of the apartment block and led Stephen inside in that same interminable fucking silence. They got into the elevator and Brian pressed the button for the third floor, feeling like they'd been here before and not sure what to make of that except to continue the silence, trying not to figure out why the hell Stephen had come all the way out to Boston.

"Who's Sam?" Stephen asked, suddenly.

Brian's gaze snapped straight to him, actually surprised that he'd spoken. He guessed he was. "My ex," he said.

"He looks like me?"

Brian shrugged. "Yeah. He's even a firefighter."

Stephen fell quiet after that. Brian wasn't exactly surprised.

His apartment was on the corner, a good size, split over two levels and aunt Ellen kept insisting that she help him with the cleaning because she knew what busy cops were like. He had a freezer full of portions of cousin Alice's pies and cousin Bob's best chilli, and cousins Sandy and Mel who ran the diner on the corner liked to stop by with leftovers sometimes when they closed up for the night. His landlord was Jackie's partner's brother-in-law and his car came from some other homicide detective's brother's dealership. He'd found a new family, in the force and out of it, and there Stephen was standing in his kitchen just inside the door.

"I'm sorry," Stephen blurted, not looking at him, looking at the ceiling, like he didn't even mean to say it.

"What for?" Brian asked.

Stephen did look at him then, frowning, his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans as he leant there against the counter. "You know what for, Brian. Don't play dumb."

"Then you've got nothing to be sorry for." Brian frowned, hard, rubbing his face with his hands as he leaned back against the back of the closed door. "You like to think I don't know what I'm doing. You think you've always got to protect me, right? You don't have to protect me, Stephen. I'm a good cop. What I made you do that night saved your life." He sighed, shook his head. "I knew what I was doing. Don't think I didn't know."

There was a pause where Stephen looked away, where Brian had no damn idea where to look, where neither of them seemed to know what to say and they stood there like idiots, silent. Brian was subtly pissed that Stephen had apparently taken all the blame on himself when all he'd done was have the misfortune to stumble across something he hadn't understood, and pissed that he'd come all the way out here without a word though he guessed if he'd called he'd have told him to stay right where he was. But he didn't need this. This was going to start up a whole new crappy circle of dating Sam like that would ever be remotely healthy.

"There was a guy," Stephen said, abruptly, then cleared his throat. Brian looked up; Stephen was watching him, a sort of reluctant-grudging expression on his face that made no sense except maybe the story was going to make sense of it. "There was a guy," he repeated. "Dominic. He looked a lot like you. Looks, I guess. But he looked a lot like you, blue eyes, y'know, the hair." He gestured at Brian, like he didn't know what his own hair looked like, and Brian just raised his brows. "Yeah. I was meeting him that night. In the club."

"Helen?"

Stephen chuckled bitterly, ducked his head. "Yeah, I fucked that one up. She'd filed for divorce before that. Was final a couple of months ago."

"Sorry."

"Yeah, me too." He paused and Brian went over and stood next to him, leaned back against the counter just like him and shrugged, giving him a sidelong glance. "I caught up with him a few days later, when I could, y'know, stand to look at myself." He gave another wry chuckle and Brian did something close to wincing. "He said he'd seen me, with you. So I told him who you were ‘cause by that time it was all over the news that you'd caught the guy. And he told me no, he knew who you were. Everyone in the club knew who you were. And he saw the way I." He smiled, wryly, sarcastically. "He saw the way I looked at you. He said I had a type."

"And you think that makes you the bad guy." Brian glanced at him. Stephen looked utterly defeated and Brian had absolutely no idea how to deal with that. "Because you think you wanted it. You think you wanted me."

"That's about the size of it, yeah."

Brian laughed. "Fuck you, Stephen," he said, though the words lacked any real venom; by that point he was more tired than really angry. "I know I wanted it. You think it's a coincidence I'm fucking a guy who looks exactly like you? Jesus."

Stephen turned. He did it slowly, like he was thinking about it, like he was weighing what Brian had just admitted or weighing the options. Then he moved closer, stepped around in front of him, set one hand at either side of his waist against the countertop. He was close, maybe too close, so close Brian could feel the heat of him like somehow the fire rubbed off on him or some other such dumb poetic bullshit, smelling like smoke under the soap and lingering aroma of noxious airplane food. And he leaned in closer, leaned up almost on his toes, rested his forehead Brian's temple and let his mouth scrape against the stubble at Brian's jaw as he set his heels back on the ground. Brian's head reeled.

He looked so apprehensive that Brian almost didn't know what to say or do, an expression like he desperately sought approval, sought his approval and Brian honestly wasn't sure he could give it, at least not in the immediate way he wanted it. He wished he could. He really did.

Brian raised one hand, skimmed it up over Stephen's back to the back of his neck. "How long are you here?" he asked, shifting to rest his forehead down against Stephen's.

"I'm on shift on Thursday," he replied. "Couple of days."

"That's long enough."

"For what?"

"For us to work this out."

It wasn't easy to step away, and Brian half expected Stephen to bolt after that but he didn't. He took a seat on the couch and he squeezed the back of his neck and he took a beer when Brian offered one. He tossed his jacket over the coffee table and it was pretty obvious he felt awkward as hell but he was there and that was important.

They didn't talk much for the first couple of hours, had a couple of drinks as it got dark outside, microwaved some of Sandy and Mel's diner leftovers and ate from too-hot plates there in front of the television, nearly burning their fingers in front of some crappy sitcom Brian had never seen before and that barely raised a smile from either of them. And then Brian zapped off the TV with the remote, and then they talked.

It wasn't an easy conversation, not that it was ever going to be, and it was kind of like Stephen had expected they'd just slip into something, some kind of weird-ass relationship where they were brothers and lovers with a flavour of that leftover bullshit baggage Stephen had about raising him and that way madness lay.

"You're not dad," Brian told him, which he grudgingly conceded, though he guessed they both had dad's fire, both his passion and his temper. But it wasn't exactly that easy to resolve and Brian had no clue how to even approach this, except by midnight they were so damn tired and they'd yelled so much they were almost hoarse and it wasn't a surprise when Stephen punched him right in the damn face and split his lip just off-centre. But that was how they'd always been, fiery, at odds, like the only way they could feel any connection was to get their blood up, except Stephen took a step back. And Brian realised, right in that moment, that Stephen wasn't the problem here. Brian had always been the one shining him on, to make him make them both feel something for each other, and if Stephen hadn't taken that step back then they'd have really fucked each other up. Again. And Brian would've wanted it, practically begged for it, right up until Stephen inevitably flooded full of guilt and fled just like he'd done that night.

He slumped onto the couch. Stephen stood there for a second, clearly not quite sure what the hell had just happened in Brian's head, then he turned away to go fetch a damp washcloth from the bathroom at the end of the hall and he tossed it to him to dab the blood from his lip.

"We really need to quit beating the shit out of each other," Brian said.

"We got our temper from dad," Stephen replied. He held up his hands. "Yeah, yeah, I know I'm not dad. I've barely even been your brother in years." He leaned his head back against the back of the couch, rolled it to the side to look at Brian as if that were in some way a display of nonchalance when really he was just as scared shitless by all of this as Brian was, that much was clear, or maybe it was only clear to Brian. The way he looked at him, so closely, was not nonchalant. "You want me to be your brother?"

It was a loaded question and maybe the most important that either of them had asked in a hell of a long time. And Brian didn't know how to answer, just dabbed at his lip, checked if he was still bleeding and then tossed the cloth onto the coffee table. It landed on Stephen's discarded coat and they both cursed under their breath while Brian leaned forward and nudged it onto the floor instead, though judging from the state of the coat it wasn't like it hadn't seen better days.

But the question hung there, and Brian sat back, rubbed his hands on his thighs and thought it over. The longer he thought about it the greater the risk Stephen was just going to take that as a big fuck you and walk straight out the door, but he wanted to be sure before he answered because for once it looked like Stephen was genuinely interested in the answer. It looked like he'd give it a go whatever he said, whether what he wanted was a brother in his life or maybe they could try to forget about that and be something else, something a little further into left field that wouldn't be easy and would always be a secret.

But the longer he thought about it the more he realised, impossibly, that he wanted both. He wanted that familiarity, the sibling rivalry that could piss them both off or make them both fight harder, be better, that fierce sense of loyalty despite it all where they'd do anything and say anything and be anything to protect each other, the two of them against the world. But then he wanted that intensity, that desperation where it all spilled over into the physical, quick breath and quick pulse, that connection built from everything they shared and knew and loved. How the hell could he decide? He guessed he couldn't, and maybe he shouldn't. Maybe they could find some way to take all the rough edges off of both and make something new, something that could work.

But the question remained: did he want him to be his brother?

"I'm pretty sure there's no name for what I want you to be," he said.

It didn't get any simpler from there. There was so much accumulated crap that the family had given him or lent to him or asked him to store for them all piled up in the spare room that it would've taken a small army to clear it, so they made up the couch and Stephen slept out there; Brian went to bed on the second level upstairs, a sort of weird mezzanine with two rooms that looked down over the big open plan kitchen-den.

He was renting but the landlord was willing to sell for the right price and Jackie and Ellen said they'd be happy to help him out with the down payment, and it was just that kind of irrelevant bullshit that started filing through his head as he lay there in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to sleep. He started mentally writing his report on the case they'd just closed, wondered if the cannelloni Bob's wife Angela had brought over was still good, asked himself if he wanted to take on one of the puppies Sandy and Mel's labradors had just had or if leaving it alone in the apartment all day was just cruel. Knowing his luck, it'd just pee on his bed and destroy his couch cushions while he was out at work.

And then the bedroom door opened and Stephen came inside. As much as he hadn't expected it, that seemed simpler than the crap that was running through his head, somehow, or maybe it was just that he wanted it more.

"You asleep?"

Brian rested an arm over his eyes against the light coming in through the door though that was hardly worth the effort. "No, I'm not asleep."

Stephen closed the door and came toward the bed, stubbed his toe on a bedpost and cursed under his breath before the mattress dipped at the edge as he sat himself down.

"I think I've got an idea," he said.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. For how this could work."

He pulled up the comforter and the sheet below and slipped into the bed; a few seconds of repositioning and Stephen was on his side next to Brian, head propped up on one hand, close enough that when Brian looked at him he could actually make out the contours of his face in the relative dark.

"So, what's the big idea?"

Stephen ran a hand down Brian's side, lightly, almost tentative, then tucked it in under his t-shirt and rested his palm over his stomach. He looked so goddamn hopeful. And so this time he didn't stop him.

Stephen kissed him. It wasn't like the first time, wasn't even much like Sam, hesitant in the start but then firmer though still careful of the split in his lip that he'd put there as he shifted over, stretched himself out on top of him. Brian slid his hands to Stephen's hips, tucked them under his boxers and down to give his ass a firm squeeze, that made Stephen chuckle against his mouth and pull back.

"You really okay with this?" Stephen asked.

"Yeah, Stephen, I'm really okay with this," he replied, sarcastic enough but with a big enough smile that Stephen reached up and flicked his forehead. "Jerk."

Stephen shrugged, with a smile of his own. "Takes one to know one, Brian."

It moved on from there. Stephen was careful, almost too careful as they kissed and groped and took it slow until Brian cursed under his breath and took Stephen's cock in his hand. Stephen hissed in a breath with it, against the side of Brian's neck, and shifted his hips against that hand. But it was still slow, the violence and urgency they'd had before lacking without it really seeming a lack, and when Stephen nudged him over onto his side and spooned up behind him, as he pushed into him all slick with lube and hot and breathy, as he slid his hand over Brian's hip to take his cock in his hand and stroke, Brian had to admit that he couldn't give a fuck about urgency. Stephen had always known him better than he knew himself, after all, even if he usually handled that knowledge like an A-grade jackass.

Stephen didn't leave after. He made a vague attempt after they'd cleaned themselves up but Brian just pulled him back down and slung an arm over his chest to keep him there, and he was still there in the morning when the sun through the curtains was just enough for them to lie there and look at each other in daylight. Brian kissed him, they bitched about morning breath and fooled around in the bathroom, both of them trying to brush their teeth over the sink at the same time, the shower not really big enough for two but they made it work with a lot of yelping every time warm skin hit cold tiles.

It wasn't going to be easy, because there was no way it could be. After all, even aside from the obvious there was the fact Brian was living in Boston, had made a life there, had a family who'd accepted him for who he was, and Stephen's home was Chicago. But after breakfast, reheated pancakes from the diner and sticky maple syrup, slightly stale coffee but he'd tasted ten times worse at the precinct, after they'd fought over some trivial bullshit and worked each other down from yelling instead of one pushing the other till it went too far, he found himself looking at Stephen, really looking.

Brian belonged there, in Boston with the family, in the Boston PD with a badge and a gun and gallons of crappy coffee, an apartment with assigned parking and a morning run. Maybe Stephen could belong there, too, maybe transfer to the Boston fire department and they'd clear out the spare room and they'd see if they could work out everything they were and were trying to be to each other. They'd talk that out and maybe even act like adults over it, maybe they wouldn't, maybe it would be dumb pranks and Stephen giving him that look like there was so much he wanted to tell him but he just didn't have the words.

And the family would love him, smart mouth and all, they'd welcome him in because he was one of them, just like Brian was. There'd be barbecues and weddings, Christmas with the whole damn lot of them.

He looked at Stephen, over the tabletop. Brian had found his place; now he'd help Stephen to find his, finally out of their dad's shadow.

And, for the first time in months, he felt like he was home.

When Brian left Chicago, Stephen was intensely pissed the hell off about it.

He'd dropped out of the academy like a total jackass and he didn't know what he was going to do with himself, had no direction, said he was going to stay with some old high school buddies in Detroit because that sounded like such a great idea. So Stephen hadn't wanted him at the academy, yeah, sure, that was true, but he'd wanted him to have some idea of where he was going in life at the very least. Maybe he could've gone to college, at least he could've gotten a job and gone in the evenings the way Stephen never would or could. Brian was the smart one, always had been. Maybe more than anything, it pissed him off that Brian was throwing that away.

But he never came back. And, pissed as Stephen was, he really hoped he'd made a life for himself wherever he was..

Stephen, well, Stephen was a firefighter and there'd never really been much doubt about that. He'd known he'd wind up going into the business when he was still a kid, though their dad had tried to push for something else, maybe sports, maybe he could get himself a scholarship and go to school and have a career that wasn't life-threatening. But then their dad had died, and though he'd still played sports, was a regular in the high school football team and played hockey when the season came around, he'd known what he was going to do. It was an easy choice when he'd joined the academy.

He'd married Helen when they were both pretty young, he guessed, maybe too young considering where they'd ended up. He wished he could've said it came as a surprise when she threw him out but it'd been brewing for months, maybe years, because she'd always loved the danger of his job until she realised he might really die doing it. She got pregnant and that was it, she hated the job, and that was logical, that made perfect sense because who wanted to be made a widow? And it wasn't like it was some remote possibility that only happened to other people, he knew that, and she reminded him sometimes, obliquely, that the job had killed his dad. He hated that she did that but he guessed every time she did, it made it clearer what was coming. She didn't hate him. She loved him. But his job was fucking nuts.

So he moved out. They argued, of course, because he couldn't go quietly, couldn't let it just slip away because he loved her, he did, and he adored his son. But then he looked at Sean and he thought about the day his dad had died and he thought about Brian and that goddamn photograph that had haunted them both all their lives. He didn't want his son to go through that. He didn't want to put Helen through that. And so he argued but he left and he told himself it was absolutely the best thing to do, for all of them, even if it hurt like hell.

Of course, he had no place to go except his dad's old boat that he'd clung onto for reasons he didn't even understand himself. So yeah, maybe Adcox had a spare room and there'd be one of the guys who could put him up on a couch until he got back on his feet, he could probably grab a bed in the station house and get woken up by bells or the goddamn dog twice an hour. But, Stephen being Stephen, he went it alone.

He missed Helen. He threw himself into work, like that was hard to do when he spent so much time there anyway, but he'd go back to the boat every night and drink more than he knew he ought to, fall asleep half dressed and wake up practically numb from the chill. Helen didn't want him to visit and the lawyers said she wanted a divorce, said they'd try to get an arrangement in place but basically said she'd get custody of Sean because of his high risk occupation. He got that, though the idea stung him. He saw Sean every second weekend, at the house, with Helen hovering there over them the whole time like he was about to kidnap their son and vanish over the border. Maybe he felt like it sometimes but he knew he was going nowhere. His life was there, at least what was left of it, even if he wondered if that really mattered much anymore. Either way, he'd never felt so completely cut off before.

Maybe that was how he ended up in the bar. He guessed he'd had it in his head for a while, pushed it way into the back because he didn't want to deal with it on any level, but it was there, had pretty much always been there, under the team sports and drinking with buddies and all that bullshit. He loved Helen, he liked women, but there'd always been this damn curiosity he'd tried to shove away because the last thing he needed on top of everything else, on top of getting divorced and Brian taking off to who knew fucking where and the guys at work sometimes looking at him like they expected him to fall the fuck apart at any second, was rumours he was actually gay.

It took three tries to get himself there. He got in his truck and he drove in the right direction, drove past it, drove past again, and then went straight back to the boat and drank till he could almost forget he'd chickened out. He did the same the next time, a week later, cursed himself as he sat there with a beer and a headache and hated himself for being such an ass. Then the third time, he finally got to the door. He went inside and he hated it, it was absolutely everything he despised about nightclubs and that whole party scene that he avoided like the plague, which was pretty easy when ‘going out' meant drinking in a bar with the guys from work.

Then the bartender gave him a smile as he poured his drink. Two guys on the end of the bar were giving him the eye. And as terrified as he was, scared completely shitless that this was going to end badly like all of his courage channelled directly into fighting fires and left exactly zip for his personal life, he stayed. It was weird and he hated the damn music and if wanted hot then he'd go to work, but he stayed. And he went back again three nights later.

The club was where he met Dominic. He wasn't expecting it, he guessed, because he hadn't been trying to meet anyone, not really. He was just trying to see if this fit, and maybe working himself up to doing more than sharing a drink and looking awkward as he did so. He'd been in maybe six or seven times in a month and he'd noticed this guy, this taller guy, dark hair, blue eyes, who danced like a maniac but when he came over to the bar and he grinned at Stephen, all sweaty skin and strange vitality, Stephen couldn't help but smile back. They'd struck something up pretty soon after, something Stephen couldn't really explain and didn't really want to though there was something that nagged at him every time they'd wound up in bed.

He was meeting Dominic there that night, and they'd probably grab a drink and he'd watch him dance and they'd go back to Dominic's place because like a total ass Stephen was still living on the boat, in spite of all of Dominic's protests. They hadn't been in for months by then or at least Stephen hadn't, he guessed it wasn't like they saw each other every night, or even every week, but things were pretty regular, even if he couldn't put his finger on what made him feel so awkward about it. He headed over to the bar, thought he spotted Dominic there, waded through the crowd of guys that seemed to be more than was usual even for a weekend. Then the guy ahead who wasn't Dominic turned, and swore.

"Stephen.”

"Brian.”

They stared at each other. Stephen suddenly felt sick because this was either the worst coincidence in the world or he'd just been found out and he didn't know which was worse. But Brian had a glass in each hand and looked just as awkward as Stephen felt, and damn, if he didn't look just like Dominic. His stomach sank.

He wanted to say something, but he didn't know what, maybe try to explain that he wasn't cheating on Helen because somehow that seemed like the salient point at that particular moment, like the fact of where they were wasn't a fucking huge deal. But all he could do was look at him, like an idiot, watching the colour drain out of Brian's face as he glanced up over Stephen's shoulder.

"My name's Danny Quinn,” Brian said. Stephen frowned and Brian leaned in like he thought he just hadn't heard when really, Stephen's reaction was more to do with the fact his brother had just given him a false name. "Danny Quinn. I'm from Boston. You're… I don't know. Jesus. Fuck. You're my boyfriend.” Stephen made a face. "And don't give me that fucking look, Stephen - if you don't play along, I'm dead.” Brian drew his thumb over his throat, glass still in hand. Dead, he mouthed. And fuck, fuck, because Stephen could see all too clearly that he meant it.

"Who's your friend?” a guy asked, arriving beside Stephen's shoulder, making him turn slightly though Brian was pretty much all that was on his mind..

Brian looked at the guy then looked at Stephen, like he was trying to see if he was going to play ball when he guessed he'd already made up his mind.

"You remember that boyfriend I've told you so much about?” Brian said, with a wave of his hand in Stephen's direction. "Here he is. Aleks, Tom Connor. Tom, Aleks Vankov.”

Stephen eyed the guy, wondering how he knew the name. The guy - Aleks - eyed him back, and Stephen tried not to notice the goon behind him, the guy the with the gun in his coat. This was insane. He should just walk. But Brian looked like he was about to have a heart attack and Stephen couldn't leave him here in this, not even after all that time, not even if he wanted out of there so badly it almost made his Christmas wishlist. He didn't move.

And so he smiled, widely, and held out his hand to the guy. And Aleks shook it, looking faintly surprised by the change in his demeanour.

"Pleased to meet you,” Stephen said, tense though he took a step closer to Brian and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, hoping that was right. "Danny's told me nothing about you.”

Aleks laughed. "Pleased to meet you, Tom,” he said. "Danny's told me pretty much nothing about you, either.”

It seemed fine and Stephen hoped it was fine and hoped they could just turn and walk away but Aleks invited them to his booth and Stephen suddenly remembered why he knew the name. The guy owned the club, and no one had a good word to say about him. Dominic said he was a mobster, his dad was some kind of east coast head honcho and the kid was trying to make a name for himself out of daddy's shadow. The way Dominic talked about him, it didn't sound like Aleks Vankov was anyone he wanted to know, and here Brian was, with him, like that made any kind of sense at all.

They made conversation. Stephen had a pretty broad knowledge of a broad range of utter bullshit and kept up his end of the conversation while he conjured a new ID for himself right from thin air. From the look on Brian's face he was doing okay, maybe Brian hadn't given Tom Connor much of a story and so Stephen happily filled in the blanks with some crap he'd cribbed from the captain's tales of his nephew, wrote Tom Connor as a landlord who'd bought up some godforsaken downtown apartments and rented them at over-inflated prices to young professionals. He made himself sound as dull as possible, maybe that way the questions would stop.

Aleks seemed to buy it, but Stephen still had the image of Stephen at the bar in his head, dead, so fucking serious. He hoped Aleks bought it, because if not then he guessed they'd have a problem and frankly he did not want to find out exactly what that problem would be. He got the distinct impression that he wasn't going to like it.

"We should really be leaving,” Brian said, after their third drink, after nearly an hour. There was a tense moment, even Stephen could feel that though he had no clue what it really meant, when Aleks looked at Brian and smiled like a fucking shark. Maybe he'd bought the story and maybe he hadn't, he guessed. Stephen just wished he knew what the hell was going on but he hadn't a single goddamn clue. "Thanks for the drinks, Aleks. I'll see you tomorrow?”

Aleks nodded, and shook Brian's hand as he leaned past Stephen. "Tomorrow,” he said. And Stephen did not like the sound of that one little bit. He wanted to elbow the guy in the throat and tell him to stay the fuck away from his kid brother but the guy with gun was hovering close by. So he went with Brian when cued to go, followed him out, stayed close because he could practically feel Aleks Vankov's eyes still on them, right the way out to the door. He didn't want to find out what he'd do if he decided he didn't believe them.

They took Brian's car. It was a freaking Porsche, and that just raised even more questions, as if Stephen hadn't had enough of them racking up in his head, piling one on top of the other though he couldn't seem to pick out the right one to ask first, and so he just kept quiet. His truck was back there somewhere near the club but he didn't complain, guessed there was a reason they were both in the car and he'd maybe find out later, though he might not actually like the reason Brian gave. The whole thing felt off. He was tense because Brian was tense. He'd never seen him like this, hands gripping the wheel so tight his knuckles were white. It was really damn unsettling.

They pulled into a garage under an apartment building and Stephen tried not to curse as Brian parked the car, still gripping the wheel. He did not look pleased, had an air of calculation that Stephen hadn't known him ever have before, but like calculation was going to take him so far. Stephen braced himself, no idea what he was bracing for.

"I'm a cop,” Brian said.

Stephen laughed. He couldn't help himself, though he knew it was entirely the wrong reaction. "You're a what?”

"I'm a cop, Stephen,” Brian repeated. "Boston PD.”

"I hate to break it to you, Brian, but this ain't exactly Boston.”

"Tell me about it.”

Stephen watched as Brian rested his head against the wheel, not sure what the fuck was going on but he had a sick, sick feeling he was about to find out.

"Look,” he said. "Let me make this simple for you, okay? The guy you just met, Aleks Vankov. He's a bad guy. He came in a year ago from Boston where his old man's a really fucking big deal. And I was sent over here by the Boston Police Department to work with a task force here in Chicago to get junior off the streets before he kills the wrong guy and starts a gang war spread right across the goddamn state. I've been undercover for the last four months. And you just stumbled in on my op, Stephen, with a guy who likes to feed people's fingers to his dogs.”

Brian rubbed his eyes with one hand. "We're being followed. And I already know they bugged my apartment. They've got audio and video everywhere in there. Some poor fuck's been watching me burn toast and read yachting magazines on the can for the last six weeks.”

Stephen frowned. "So why don't I just leave?” he asked. "Right now. Just walk out the door.”

"‘Cause Aleks's pet enforcer will choke you with your own intestines,” Brian replied. "Or maybe he'll just shoot you. Depends how energetic he's feeling.”

"So, what do we do?”

And the way Brian looked at him, sitting there, Stephen had a feeling he didn't want to know what they'd have to do. He didn't want to think about this, about any of this, about his brother the cop, an undercover cop because yeah, that was obviously so much safer than firefighting, about his brother buddying up with a fucking monster son of a Boston mobster who'd kill them both if he so much as suspected the truth of the situation. This wasn't exactly Stephen's area of expertise. He'd always thought he'd die in a fire. He'd wanted Brian to live for-fucking-ever.

"We go upstairs and we put on a good show, Tom,” he said.

And what could he say to that? He bowed his head and he nodded. He'd do what he had to to do help Brian get through this.

It was totally insane. Totally insane, and if their lives rested on this then Stephen was pretty sure they were going to die. He looked at Brian as the elevator doors slid closed behind them and Brian shook his head like that meant something and Stephen guessed it did, guessed it meant he'd looked at their options and this was it, this was their best shot. It was odd to find he trusted him, maybe even with his life, even then, even after all that time, even after a silence that had lasted years. He just hated that he couldn't protect him. Brian McCaffrey the firefighter was almost the better option.

"Any advice?” Stephen asked, sounding like an idiot about it, cursing himself in his head because really, what the fuck was that.

"Pretend I'm the guy you went there to meet,” Brian said. He sounded amused in spite of it all. "And don't fuck it up.”

He knew what they had to do. It was totally nuts but he guessed Brian was the one who knew what to do here; he just followed him into the apartment, resisted the urge to ask where he'd got the cash for this and then bit his tongue because he was meant to know this place, was meant to know all of this, and the place was wired. He couldn't give them away, he hoped he wouldn't but he was the world's worst actor, couldn't lie worth a good goddamn, had never really had that skill. That was why he sucked at playing politics, why he spent his time training and drilling and working with the probies, because what he did best was action and not lying through his teeth like a goddamn politician.

"Tom.” Stephen turned, startled by the name. "Are you going to tell me what the hell you were doing there tonight?”

Stephen hesitated a second then he shrugged. "Looking for you.”

"I guess that's one way to phrase it.” Brian got in closer, doing that thing where he used his full height that Stephen hated. "I'd call it checking up on me.”

"And so what if I was?”

"You know how important this deal is to me. You think Aleks is impressed that my macho-ass boyfriend turned up to check on me?” He paused, and frowned, and looked so completely disgusted that Stephen almost believed it. "Jesus, Tom. You think I'm having an affair. You think I'm fucking Aleks.”

"You're telling me you're not?”

"And what if I am?”

"You're telling me you are?”

"What are you going to do about it, Tom?” He got in closer. "Are you going to hit me? You going to ride my ass till I realise the error of my ways? Huh?” He got in closer still, making Stephen back up, getting in his space. "You going to hurt me, Tom? You going to fuck me up?”

It was enough. Stephen couldn't keep himself from hitting him, connecting with his face with the back of his hand and the next thing he knew he'd shoved him down, they were down on the floor, shoving and cursing and it all felt so right that Stephen almost reeled away, appalled with himself. But Brian's hands went around his neck and Stephen shoved him back down to the floor, his heart beating so hard he could almost hear it. He kissed him. He kissed him hard and he tasted vodka and Brian's hands were on him, Brian bit his lip and made him shove him hard against the floor, hands gripping tight at his shoulders. It had never been like this before, but maybe it had always been there.

He dragged Brian to his feet and shoved him up against the nearest wall, feeling the muscles in his shoulders ache with it as he watched Brian's head bounce off the paintwork. Then he was up against him, his mouth at Brian's neck, sucking, biting, telling himself he could get through this if he thought about Dominic but he couldn't bring an image to his head that wasn't just Brian. He was just like he remembered, irritatingly tall, slim but not skinny, but there was something else, that damn confidence he'd picked up somewhere along the way while Stephen had tried not to wonder where the hell he was, if he were even alive, though that seemed like a stack of melodramatic bullshit the couple of times he'd said it out loud. He looked like he was doing well, which seemed ironic given where they were and how they'd gotten there. But mostly Stephen was was pissed that he'd missed him.

They stumbled their way into the bedroom and he pushed Brian down on the bed, shoved him one-handed and sent him down in a heap. It was too easy and Stephen hated this, hated that he wanted this, hated himself for knowing he did.

"That all you got?” Brian asked as he turned onto his back, and the taunt and the smile made something in Stephen flare up. He was on him in a second, slapped him hard across the face and when Brian smiled again his teeth were all blood. He wanted to hit him again. Brian looked like he wanted him to. Stephen had no idea how he'd stop if he started.

Brian bit him. He bit him. And all Stephen could think to do was grab at the front of Brian's shirt and pull, the buttons scattering over the hardwood floor, a section by the collar tearing at the seam. He ran his nails down Brian's chest, hard, then they were kissing again with Brian pulling Stephen's tank top over his head and he felt dizzy, unstable, like the floor was tilting, like everything had just slipped out of place as Brian kissed him back, so fucking urgent that he could barely think. Brian pushed at his jeans and Stephen pulled back, started to unbuckle his belt but that wasn't going to work, God, that wasn't going to work because what the fuck was he doing? He practically fell from the bed, got up onto his feet, looking at Brian like he'd never forgive himself and maybe he wouldn't. This was going too far. He needed to leave.

But leaving would get them both killed. And maybe he could protect Brian after all, even if it meant they could never go back. He just had to let himself go, just this once.

He pulled off his boots, pushed down his jeans, stood there naked and pretty much loathed himself for the fact that he was hard. But Brian was looking at him and that look, Jesus, it wasn't exactly full of horror. He was a damn good actor. At least he hoped that was what it was.

He stripped him down, didn't exactly take his time about it, tossed Brian's clothes over the side of the bed and left him there in his ruined shirt. He ran his hands over him, rough, his grip firm, sucked at his skin in places and hovered by his cock for a moment, thought better of taking him in his mouth because angry head was doing no one any favours. He ran his hand down and squeezed instead, made him gasp, practically moan, and a thrill of something really damn perverse went straight to Stephen's cock. He let himself feel it, as he told himself he was angry at Brian for putting him in this position. That helped.

He stretched out on top of him, propped up on his hands. It was awkward, really damn awkward, how Brian's body felt so familiar, how his face had changed and stayed the same, how they were so different and so alike and still the only way they'd felt close in years was to fight like this, and maybe fuck. He pressed one hand over Brian's throat. He wanted to squeeze.

"You done, Tom?” Brian asked. "Or have you got any more?”

What came next was pretty shameful, Stephen thought. It pissed him off that there'd maybe been a chance for this to be easy, not easy but easier, for them to take a breath and come to an agreement that they'd do this but they'd do it like they actually gave a damn about each other and didn't just want to tear each other apart. And yeah, so taking it slow and doing it right, leaving the fight aside and putting on a show like they were something more than a couple of headcases with a violence fetish, that might've been harder. They might've had a harder time selling it. But at least Stephen wouldn't've felt like he was committing some kind of assault.

He pushed Brian down face-first into the mattress. He rummaged for lube and got angrier when Brian needled him about trying the wrong nightstand for that, and he knew the anger made it easier and hell, maybe this was what Danny and Tom were like, whoever they were supposed to be. He started talking, cursing, calling Brian every name he could think of just to keep the anger up as he slicked himself quickly, wiped his hand off on the over-expensive sheets his tax dollars had probably funded. He watched Brian arch his back, shivered as that made the length of his cock skim the cleft of his ass. This was really happening. He wondered idly if all of Brian's undercover ops ended in sex.

The sex itself was brief and hard, Stephen up on one knee with his hands gripping Brian's hips pretty much tight enough to bruise, Brian jerking himself off unsteadily with one hand as Stephen pushed inside him. Stephen kept going as he felt the tension start to coil in his belly, his hands tightening at Brian's hips, fucked him harder as he fought down the question of whether Brian had ever even done this before. It was an op. He was working a case. He'd never have been in that club if it hadn't been for his job. He should've been in Boston and Stephen should've been with Dominic or maybe just drinking alone on the boat and he fucked him harder, felt it fucking viscerally as Brian came with a shout, tight around him.

He pulled out, finished himself off over the small of Brian's back like that was better somehow. Then he hit him again, hit him hard before he left the room. He'd made a mess of this and he'd made a mess of Brian. He'd be fucked up physically for weeks, and all Stephen could think was he hoped this was enough to keep him safe.

They didn't die. Once Stephen was pretty sure no one was coming for them, he left without a goodbye because he had no earthly goddamn idea how to say goodbye, especially not to Danny where the name he knew was Brian. He told himself again that this was okay, they were playing parts to save their lives, maybe this was just what Danny and Tom were like together and what Brian had described all along because no one came for them. No one followed when he left.

He drove around for over an hour before he went back to the boat. And then he cried; he just broke the fuck down and he cried.

It was all over the local news when Aleks Vankov was arrested, though Brian's name was nowhere in it. He thought about calling by the apartment and trying to say he was sorry. He thought about calling the Boston PD and finding out how to get in touch after it was clear that he'd left. He went to work instead.

He called Dominic a few nights later and they met, by the boat that Dominic absolutely despised. He'd been trying to get him to move into an apartment since they'd met but maybe that was just the shady realtor in him, the day job, the salesman part of him that Stephen wasn't sure he liked at all.

"Who was he?” Dominic asked, as they stood there by his car. He refused to come down to the boat, had never gotten close, and Stephen guessed that should've told him something, that and the fact that he'd never cared enough about the fact he strolled into burning buildings for a living to even ask him to be careful. He guessed he'd never fooled himself that this was anything more than casual.

"You saw that?”

"Yes, I saw that.” Dominic leaned against his car. "Who was he?”

Stephen shook his head. "That's Brian,” he said. "Y'know, my brother. Brian.”

Dominic smiled, that twisted smile he reserved for arguments, and Stephen knew then that he didn't believe him. He knew how this was going to end.

"That's Danny Quinn,” Dominic said. "One of Aleks Vankov's friends. And I saw the way you looked at him.”

And because he couldn't bring himself to say the words undercover cop, Stephen just shrugged at that.

"No reply?”

He shrugged again. He'd already lost this argument, and Dominic was going to leave, and leave him. He guessed he deserved that. Frankly, it might have almost been a relief.

"He looks a lot like me. I guess you have a type.”

Stephen let him go without another word.

It bothered him more than he'd thought it would after Dominic was gone. When he hadn't been trying to talk him into buying an apartment he'd been pretty good company, liked sports, liked crappy movies and beer and pizza and was fun to be around. But Stephen had to wonder if he was right; he couldn't stop wondering, on and off, day or night, if he did have a type, and that type was modelled on the one guy it should never have been.

He beat himself up about it. He agonised over it. He drank too much sometimes and he came too close to breaking sometimes and there were a couple of times when he could've lost himself in a burning building because his head wasn't in the game and the guys were starting to realise that, even if the only one he ever put in danger was himself. So he found another club, and he mingled like he didn't feel like the world's worst fraud while he was there. He had drinks with a few different guys. He finalised his divorce with Helen and bitched about his one weekend a month with Sean and then he went on a date with a guy called Aaron and nothing felt right at all.

"When was the last time you saw Brian?” Helen asked.

Stephen gave her a wry smile as he handed over Sean's stuff from the back of his truck, coming back from a weekend camping. He knew she was only trying to make civil conversation but he also knew she still cared, in a way. She was dating again, and he had to grudgingly admit that the guy seemed decent enough. And she had no way to know that Brian was the last person on earth who'd ever want to see him.

It was maybe eight months till he finally got on the plane, the way he'd told himself he never would or maybe he just shouldn't. He'd called the Boston PD, spent an hour navigating switchboards and secretaries all around the city until he found out that yeah, Brian McCaffrey was a cop, everyone knew Brian, Brian was the golden boy, detective in just four years. Stephen felt perversely proud of him. And, because he couldn't leave well enough alone, he went out there. Helen told him he'd regret it if he didn't at least try to make things right and goddamnit if she wasn't always right about him.

He was there by the wall by the door when he saw Brian across the room, there in the bullpen in the homicide office at his precinct. Stephen had charmed the desk clerk into telling him Brian was in narcotics but there was a big promotion coming up. He was pleased, and he was anxious, and Brian looked at him in the middle of a conversation. He came over.

"Can we help you?” asked the guy Brian was walking with. He looked vaguely familiar, blue eyes and a shape to his nose that reminded Stephen of his mom somehow.

Brian patted the guy's shoulder. "Jackie,” he said, "this is my brother Stephen.”

The guy raised his brows. "He looks a whole lot like Sam,” he said, taking Stephen's hand to shake it, like that was meant to mean something to anyone. He guessed it might mean something to Brian. He confirmed his name, with a firm shake.

It was Jackie O'Connell, he learned, his mom's grandmother's son's son. He'd heard the name a couple of times but they'd never met, and somehow it started to dawn on him that Brian wasn't so very alone out there in Boston. Jackie was the tip of the family iceberg and that iceberg was freaking huge, more than he'd ever expected. Brian had friends. Brian had a whole life that didn't involve him and that twisted Stephen up inside in ways he hadn't expected at all..

"So, I guess you really are a cop,” Stephen said, as they sat there, fiddling with seatbelts.

Brian eased back his jacket to flash his gun in its shoulder holster, his badge at his belt. That really was a weird sight, his brother the cop, Brian with a gun, Brian with a badge to prove it. "Really a cop,” he confirmed. "Nearly six years now.”

"And that's mom's cousin Jackie?”

"Yeah. There's about a hundred O'Connells and O'Reillys and Murphys and Donnellys around here who are all some kind of distant relation and they're all going to invite you to dinner when they know you're here.”

Stephen made a face but said nothing so Brian started the car.

They went back to Brian's place. It wasn't as grand from the outside as the PD-financed apartment in Chicago had been but there was a sinking familiarity about them getting into the elevator there together that Stephen tried hard to ignore. He really wished he could have, but damn if the memory he'd tried so hard to put away didn't just come straight back the moment the doors closed.

"Who's Sam?” he asked, instead in following that thought..

Brian looked at him, maybe surprised by the question. "My ex,” he said.

"He looks like me?”

Brian shrugged. "Yeah. He's even a firefighter.”

There was nothing to say to that, because everything Stephen had thought he'd known about the situation had just gotten tilted over on its head. He just followed Brian down the corridor and into the apartment, looked around at the place once Brian had locked the door behind them. It was pretty nice, clean, homely touches that Stephen supposed he understood since Brian had clearly been living there for a while and apparently had a whole other family Stephen had barely even known existed. It was like someone had a hard-on for family trees and had managed to gather all the branches together in one city.

He stood back against the kitchen counter there just behind the door and stuck his hands into his jeans pockets. This was a mistake.

"I'm sorry,” he blurted, surprised that he'd even said anything but there it was, right out in the open. He guessed he meant it.

"What for?”

And to be honest, he hadn't got a clue what it was specifically, except for maybe that one thing, the worst thing. "You know what for, Brian,” he said, in the end. "Don't play dumb.”

"Then you've got nothing to be sorry for.” Brian frowned, hard, rubbing his face with his hands as he leaned back against the back of the closed door. "You like to think I don't know what I'm doing. You think you've always got to protect me, right? You don't have to protect me, Stephen. I'm a good cop. What I made you do that night saved your life.” He sighed, shook his head. "I knew what I was doing. Don't think I didn't know.”

What the hell was he supposed to make of that? He guessed maybe it was meant to give him a pass for that night, for the bruises Stephen knew he'd left but never saw, for the way they'd fucked up their relationship as if he hadn't been pretty damn fucked before. But it just made him see what he'd missed while Brian was away, who he'd turned into while Stephen wasn't looking, what sort of a man he'd turned out to be. He wished like hell that Brian hadn't had to move a thousand miles away to be that guy.

But, most of all, he wished Brian hadn't just blamed himself.

"There was a guy,” Stephen said, then cleared his throat because he couldn't quite believe he was actually saying this aloud. "There was a guy. Dominic. He looked a lot like you. Looks, I guess. But he looked a lot like you, blue eyes, y'know, the hair.” He waved vaguely, like somehow that described how Brian's hair looked and didn't just make him look like an idiot. Brian raised his brows, and he knew he did look like an idiot, like that was anything new where this whole thing was concerned. "Yeah. I was meeting him that night. In the club.”

"Helen?”

Stephen chuckled bitterly, ducked his head. "Yeah, I fucked that one up. She'd filed for divorce before that. Was final a couple of months ago.”

"Sorry.”

"Yeah, me too.” He paused and Brian went over and stood next to him, leaned back against the counter just like him and shrugged, giving him a sidelong glance. "I caught up with him a few days later, when I could, y'know, stand to look at myself.” He gave another wry chuckle and Brian did something close to wincing. "He said he'd seen me, with you. So I told him who you were ‘cause by that time it was all over the news that you'd caught the guy. And he told me no, he knew who you were. Everyone in the club knew who you were. And he saw the way I.” He smiled, wryly, sarcastically. "He saw the way I looked at you. He said I had a type.”

"And you think that makes you the bad guy.” Brian glanced at him. Stephen felt like all he'd done was make this worse when all he'd wanted to do was make it right. "Because you think you wanted it. You think you wanted me.”

"That's about the size of it, yeah.”

Brian laughed. "Fuck you, Stephen,” he said, though he really just sounded as tired as Stephen felt, and he was pretty damn close to exhausted. "I know I wanted it. You think it's a coincidence I'm fucking a guy who looks exactly like you? Jesus.”

Stephen turned. He did it slowly, weighing the options because his pulse had quickened and he didn't want to act entirely on impulse and make a total ass of himself, make this worse again somehow, though that seemed pretty much impossible. But Brian was admitting something Stephen had barely managed to admit to himself and he needed to know because damn, if this wasn't the most screwed up situation he'd ever been in and it wasn't like he had the words to ask are you saying you want to fool around with me? in any way that didn't sound like he'd turned into some kind of a ridiculous pervert. So he stepped around in front of him and rested a hand either side of his waist against the counter. And he leaned up on tiptoe which was no mean feat in his thick-soled boots, no fucking clue what he was doing as he rested his forehead against Brian's temple, let his mouth scrape along against the stubble at Brian's jaw as he set his heels back down. He was pretty sure he'd never been so shit-scared in his life, hadn't been in his first fire and probably wouldn't be in his last.

Brian raised one hand, skimmed it up over Stephen's back to the back of his neck. "How long are you here?” he asked, shifting to rest his forehead down against Stephen's.

"I'm on shift on Thursday,” he replied. "Couple of days.”

"That's long enough.”

"For what?”

"For us to work this out.”

Brian stepped away and Stephen didn't know what to make of that, the combination of what he'd said and what he'd done because working things out and moving away did not seem to match up and he guessed, to his everlasting goddamn shame, he'd been expecting something more. Maybe a fight, because that had always been a way to get Brian's attention, his complete attention, or maybe he'd been expecting that somehow it'd be okay to fall into bed and pretend like that was fine and didn't need thought. Brian had always been the smart one.

They watched TV, ate and it was pretty good, Brian said something about some of their cousins owning a restaurant or a diner or something like that just down the street that the food had come from and explained that cousin here seemed to mean any vague relation from across four generations. And then they talked, though the segue from births and baptisms and confirmations Brian had attended and was scheduled to attend, all the family dinners and parties and cousins and aunts and uncles, to the idea of screwing around with his brother about was as subtle as a hammer in his gut.

"You're not dad,” Brian told him, which he knew was right and which he guessed was the way he'd been acting for who knew how many years. He needed to knock that shit off. Maybe he'd be better for it.

The conversation wasn't easy. And it got heated like their conversations always did and he shouldn't have been surprised by that. Brian knew just how to get under his skin and he hit him, right in the face, not like there was no warning but Brian didn't even try to stop him. It was dumb and it was usual and it was everything that was wrong with the two of them because how the hell were they meant to function together in any way at all if all they did was fight? Stephen stepped back abruptly instead of following through, rubbing his hand, watching Brian bleed from his newly split lip, a bead of blood rolling down his chin and he felt sick to his stomach. He'd done it again. Maybe he needed to leave. Maybe they needed to just keep the hell away from each other.

But then Brian slumped onto the couch instead of yelling or getting in his face, instead of any of the reactions he'd ever have had before and Stephen had no clue what that meant. So he grabbed a cloth from the bathroom and tossed it to him to wipe the blood from his lip.

"We really need to quit beating the shit out of each other,” Brian said.

"We got our temper from dad,” he replied, sitting himself down on the couch not too far away. He held up his hands. "Yeah, yeah, I know I'm not dad. I've barely even been your brother in years.” He leaned his head back and he looked at Brian, as something cold went through him. "You want me to be your brother?” he asked.

It was a loaded question and he knew it; he knew exactly what he was asking and almost regretted asking it as soon as he'd opened his mouth because he was forcing Brian's hand. The problem was he wanted to know. He needed to know, like it was clawing at him and had been since he'd shown up at Brian's precinct, maybe earlier. Maybe always.

Brian said nothing. He tossed the cloth onto the table and they both cursed under their breath when it landed squarely on Stephen's crappy old coat where he'd left it earlier that evening. But Brian didn't answer, and that did nothing for Stephen's nerves because what the hell did that mean? Did he just not know? Was he trying to find a way to phrase it so they didn't need to fight again? But hell, he just needed an answer one way or another, needed to know if what he wanted was a brother or a lover or nothing at all because he'd try, whatever he wanted. He just couldn't keep pretending it was fine that Brian had left. He was pretty sure it was the pretending that was getting to him most of all.

The longer Brian sat there silent, the longer Stephen had to think about it. It was crazy, completely nuts. He watched him as they sat there and he knew it was absolutely insane and he guessed he had to go ahead and ask himself the same damn question because how could he not? Was this all for Brian, was this guilt talking or just his desperate fucking loneliness or some kind of dumbass protective instinct, or did he actually have an opinion here?

He smiled wryly to himself. He had an opinion. A crazy opinion, but that kind of made sense given the circumstances. He guessed he'd known what he wanted since he'd talked to Dominic and he'd known ever since, even if he hadn't wanted to think about it. He'd known when he'd stood at the bar in a club and he'd noticed the guys with bright blue eyes and dark hair and he'd told himself that was fine, maybe that was healthy, or maybe he just needed to stop or go find himself a shrink and get his head sorted out because it was driving him round and round in circles, driving him absolutely insane.

"I'm pretty sure there's no name for what I want you to be,” Brian said. And that just about summed it up for Stephen, too.

They left it hanging there. Brian had a spare room but when the looked around the door it was so full of an accumulation of crap that it would've taken them half a day to clear it out and then some, so Brian grabbed pillows and sheets and made up the couch for him before he disappeared up to the second level that Stephen had to admit he hadn't really realised was there. He undressed and he stretched out on the couch, a stray spring jabbing him in the back and his mind wandered, he was so damn exhausted in his body but his head wasn't ready to sleep. He was still trying to puzzle it all out.

All they ever really did was fight. There were moments, sure, there were always flashes of something else like maybe they could be better than that and be real brothers, hang out on the weekends and lend each other money when they needed to, go to ball games, reminisce. Then there was the other thing, where the fights left him breathless because in that moment they were the only two guys in the world and then that spilled over, till Brian was dating a guy who looked like him. There was a photo of the two of them together in the family scene at some kind of summer get-together stuck to the refrigerator with a cheap-ass Boston PD magnet. Sam really did look just like him. He wondered if Brian had ever pretended he was. He thought maybe he wanted to ask.

Maybe that was the reason he went upstairs, and opened Brian's bedroom door.

"You asleep?” he asked.

Brian sighed. "No, I'm not asleep.”

Stephen closed the door and went toward the bed, stubbed his toe on a bedpost and cursed as he sat himself down on the edge of the bed.

"I think I've got an idea,” he said.

"Yeah?”

"Yeah. For how this could work.”

This was news to him, too, but he guessed in the end it was true. He tugged up the edge of the comforter from the top of the bed and he slipped in under the sheet, shifted around like that made much of a difference and wasn't just so he could make sure this was okay, but Brian didn't move. He took that as a good sign.

"So, what's the big idea?”

Stephen ran a hand down Brian's side, lightly, tentative, then tucked it in under his t-shirt and rested his palm over his stomach. Brian was watching him. He didn't make any move to stop him.

He kissed him then. It wasn't like the first time, wasn't much like it had been with Dominic, hesitant in the start though that seemed totally nuts given the circumstances, then firmer, deeper. Stephen moved over, arranged himself on top of him, and Brian's hands moved down, slipped under his boxers to give his ass a teasing squeeze. Stephen chuckled. Brian was smiling.

"You really okay with this?” Stephen asked.

"Yeah, Stephen, I'm really okay with this,” he replied, sarcastic enough but with a big enough smile that Stephen reached up and flicked his forehead. "Jerk.”

Stephen shrugged, with a smile of his own. "Takes one to know one, Brian.”

It moved on from there. Stephen was careful and felt like an ass because of it because hell, this was Brian and Brian knew he was the go hard or go home type, all or nothing at all. Brian took Stephen's cock in his hand in the end, made him hiss and push against him because damn if that wasn't wrong and right and exactly what he wanted. But he steadied himself, because this was the big damn idea and he needed to show him that. Neither of them needed to fight, not really. What they needed was some goddamn honesty. What they needed was a connection that didn't come at the end of a fistfight.

When he pushed inside him it was hot and possessive and slow and fraught with everything there'd ever been between them, all the shit that'd built up over the years, even when they'd been apart, maybe especially then. Brian reached back and caught the back of Stephen's neck, arching against him, keeping him close. It was fucked up, but they'd always been fucked up. The McCaffreys pretty much had the monopoly.

He didn't leave after. Brian said something dumb as they cleaned themselves off and pulled him back into bed so he couldn't leave, kept him there with an arm over his chest and Stephen couldn't say he was sorry about it. It was a relief. And when he woke there in the morning it was still fine, maybe still weird but fine anyway, when they kissed and showered and he flicked Brian's ass with a wet towel. Brian gave him a look like he'd be starting something if he did it again, so he did it again; Brian sucked him off in the bathroom, Stephen's fingers fisted in his hair, breathless while Brian looked teasingly smug.

It wasn't going to be easy, because there was no way it could be. It was pretty damn messy even if they were on their way to something like an understanding because Brian was a Boston cop and had this family, this huge damn family that Stephen knew he couldn't ask him to leave behind. Brian belonged there, that was clear even to Stephen who'd been there less than a day, even when the only one of them he'd met was his mom's second cousin or something like that.

They ate breakfast and they argued and Stephen could feel it all slipping sideways just for a moment. But he bit back the retort and Brian sat back down. And they looked at each other. When the anger subsided, everything else was still there.

Brian belong there, there in Boston with his family, a cop with a badge and a gun and more cousins than he could actually name. Maybe if this worked then Stephen could belong there along with him, get himself a transfer, fly over to see Sean once a month or get him to come over to Boston if Helen would agree. She liked Brian. She'd like that they had a family, that it wasn't the two of them against the world anymore, the way it always had been.

He looked at Brian, over the tabletop. Brian had found his place; Stephen had to wonder if he was finally finding his own.

And, for the first time in months, he felt like he was home.