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Mel rolled her eyes and tried to concentrate on the mail in her hands. So far she'd been able to keep her cool but if Lindsay didn't shut up soon she didn't know what would happen. Thank God the kids were with Debbie, the last thing Mel wanted was Lindsay acting like a fishwife in front of the kids. As the thought entered her head she realized that Couples Therapy had really helped her in the last year, too bad she couldn’t say the same of Linz.

"I still can't believe he said that to me, can you?" Lindsay said as she laid plates onto the table. "I mean come on; I'm the only one who has been on their side since day one."

No wonder Brian built his walls Mel thought to her self, having Linz and Michael as his 'best friends' it's a wonder the man could actually get through the day. Wow, did she really think that. Pity for Brian Kinney; what the hell was wrong with her world?

It took a moment to realize that silence had filled the kitchen so Mel looked up and turned to see what had caused Lindsay to stop bitching. As she turned she found her wife standing and staring at her, as if she was waiting for Mel to say something.

"Right?" Lindsay asked.

Oops, she was waiting. What the hell had Linz been saying when Mel had tuned her out? "Yeah, yeah right." Mel said cautiously.

"Exactly." Lindsay said as she turned, pulling open a drawer she started to collect forks and spoons. "And believe me, I told Brian the same thing."

Mel wondered what she had actually told Brian, but she wasn't going to ask, no that would just lead to Linz's anger being turned on her.

"I mean, it's not as if they actually are a couple," Lindsay snapped as she got glasses down and set them next to their plates. "As Michael always says they don't actually spend time together, and they don't have to face the in's and out's of being a couple. Mortgage payments, sick kids, bills...right?"

Mel's eyes opened on that one. Jesus, what fantasy world was Lindsay living in...Oh wait the same one that Michael lived in. If her and Lindsay or Michael and Ben had had to face half the shit that Kinney and Justin had had to face they probably wouldn’t have dealt with it as well as those two did. The bashing, Justin's bastard father, Brian's asshole mother, separations, hell, having their Liberty Avenue family stepping in and fucking up their relationship and still they were together. And since the asshole had decided that wanting and having a relationship with Justin was doable they were stronger then ever. Thinking those thoughts led her to just blurt out the first thing in her head, "Linz, how do you think Brian and Justin pay their bills, the magic fairy?"

Lindsay stopped and turned to look at Mel, "but that's just it, 'they' don't pay their bills, Brian pays all 'their' bills. It's not as if Justin has to pay for anything, oh no, not with his sugar daddy Brian paying for everything."

'Whoa...’ Mel couldn't believe it. No, wait, she could. Mel knew for a fact that Justin paid his own way in New York, she’d looked over his lease agreement for his loft/studio, well that’s what he called it, but Ted and Emmett said it was more like a small attic room, but she knew who paid for it. She knew what Justin paid his mom for his half of the insurance coverage, his visits to doctor’s never seemed to end, she knew he was still determined to pay Brian back for his art school fees, even if he didn't get to finish. Hell the kid had to take a weekend job just to keep food in the loft/attic. Plus Emmett had told her about the arguments between Justin and Brian about who was paying what, she’d learned in the past six years how independent that little shit was, too bad Michael or Lindsay never realized.

She watched as the woman SHE LOVED bitched and complained once again about Brian’s love for someone that wasn't her. Maybe her and Ben could get together one day and talk about this, 'so, Ben tell me, how many times in a day do the words "Brian" come out of Michael's mouth? Does Michael ever scream out Brian’s name during sex?” Hell, maybe they could start a support group. At that thought she didn’t stop to think before allowing the humor to show on her face.

“What the hell is so funny?” Lindsay’s voice intruded on Mel’s private thoughts.

“You.” Mel said without thinking...Oh shit now she’d done it.

“Me, what the hell did I do?” Lindsay shrieked. She slammed the lid down on a pot and stood with her hands on her hips waiting for Mel to answer her.

Waving her hand in the air she turned back to the mail sighing, she prayed she could keep her mouth shut. “Nothing, just forget it.”

“No, I won’t forget it. You seem to think that everything I’ve been telling you is some kind of joke or something.” Linz moved till she stood right in front of Mel. “What the hell is funny about Brian forcing Justin to return home after only two years in New York? New York is where he should be, and just because he can’t go on living without Justin’s....” Lindsay’s face went flush; she closed her eyes for a moment, and then snapped them open and stared directly at her wife. “His ass. There I said it, alright; it’s what you’ve been saying for years. Brian can’t go without getting...fucked, so that means he’s ruining Justin’s chances of being a great artist. What the hell’s so funny about that?”

Mel closed her eyes, ‘Give me strength’ she thought to herself. “Linz...”

“Don’t you use that tone of voice with me.” Lindsay snapped. “All I’ve ever heard from you is what an asshole Brian is, so here I am, agreeing with and you just stand there and laugh. I want an answer damn it.”

“Because you don’t want Justin to come home, not because he’ll lose his chance at being a great artist, he is and will always be a great artist.” Mel spit out moving closer to her partner. Bullshit, I’m tired of this shit she thought, you want it Linz, well you’re going to get it. “It’s because you can’t stand the thought of Justin coming home and living in that big beautiful house with Brian Kinney.”

Lindsay took a step back, her eyes opening wide. “What, that’s ridiculous...”

“Is it?” Mel said. “Let’s just lay the cards out on the table Linz, just like Dr Garber has been telling us from the beginning, ok?”

Lindsay took another step back. “Are you saying I’m not being honest, that I’m...lying?”

Mel huffed out a laugh, “honey, you’ve been lying since day one when it comes to Brian Kinney.”

“WHAT!” Lindsay shrieked, horrified that Mel would even say that to her.

“Since day one baby. To me, to Brian, to yourself.” Mel said calmly. “You’ve been in love with Brian since the two of you played footsie together in college. All this talk of Justin staying in New York for his career is bullshit. Total bullshit.”

“That’s crazy," Tears started to well up in the blonde woman's eyes, she shook her head back and forth. "No, no...Mel we’ve talked about this before, I’m not in love with Brian; if you could only get over this crazy jealousy you have.”

“Do you practice giving yourself that speech in the mirror everyday?” Mel asked. “Cause lets face it babe, you love him, and if Brian wasn’t gay you’d be Mrs. Brian Kinney right now, with 2.5 kids, a dog and a white picket fence. That’s why you chose him to father our son, just one more way that Brian can be tied to you, hey look at me...I’m the only woman that has Brian Kinney’s baby, no one else. So don’t blame your jealousy on the fact that Justin is coming home. He’s coming home because that’s where he wants to be, it’s where Brian wants him to be. And no matter how many of Kinney's buttons you and Michael try to push or pull this time around Brian isn’t falling for it.”

Lindsay turned away and started fiddling with the pots on the stove again. “That’s ridiculous; Justin needs to be in New York to further his car....”

“Bullshit, ever since we moved back from Canada and you got a look at that big beautiful house out there in the fucking backwoods of West Virginia it’s been driving you crazy that Justin is getting all the little fantasies with Brian that you’ll never have. ‘Oh Brian can’t we stay with you while we look for a place. Oh Brian you have all this room out here and you’re all alone. Oh Brian you’ll get to see Gus every single day; you won’t miss a thing in his life if we stay with you.’ Huh! Yeah right, Wendy wanted to live in the tree house with Peter and when Peter said no all of the sudden you’ve been on a tear about Justin staying in New York. Well get over it Wendy, Peter Pan grew the fuck up and has left you and Michael behind.”

“Melanie, I can’t believe you would say something like this to me.” Lindsay was in complete shock. She wasn’t doing that, she wasn’t.

“You’re the one that insisted that we start seeing a therapist, well here ya go baby, I’ve sat through all those sessions with you sitting there like the good little WASP you are, thinking I’m the one who needed it, and that you’re fucking perfect. Well guess what, you aren’t. But I have been listening, and here’s your truth. All these years I’ve been blaming Brian because I just couldn’t blame you. Oh no, I made him out to be an asshole so that I wouldn’t look like the bigger one, thank your therapist for this one sweetie. I’m the bigger asshole.”

“Mel, where is all this anger coming from, what does this have to do with Brian forcing Justin home.” Lindsay’s eyes are started to tear up again.

“Oh no you don’t, just keep those tears in your fucking head. I’m the asshole because I let you get away with it. I’m not saying Brian hasn’t been an asshole, because he has, because you like him that way, but I’m the bigger asshole because I blamed him for your faults, your obsessions. Jesus Christ, between you and Michael I’m amazed that the man hasn’t checked out years ago. For almost 15 years I’ve watched the two of you manipulate him in the worst ways. I’ve always kept my mouth shut because I thought he deserved it. But in the last two years I’ve seen that man change more than I thought possible. He’s been a good friend to you, no, to us. He has helped us when we were at our lowest. He helped us make some big decisions, mentally, physically and financially. Decisions that could have taken Gus even further away from him, but he was there helping us, by letting us make all the big decisions. And never once did he rub our noses in it, never once did he make more than his usual snide remarks, but then again I’ve come to expect that from him, its something I learned from Justin, it’s not what he says, it’s what he does. Something neither you nor Michael has ever taken the time to learn.”

“I think I know Brian Kinney better than anyone else, even Michael.” Lindsay defended herself, never realizing how condescending she sounded. “Because I see him as a man. Not a hero, not some God or King, plain and simple; a man.”

“A man that you will never have.” Mel stated. “A man that is a great father to both our children, hell he spends more time with Jenny than Michael ever did. A man who takes care of those he cares about. A man that does and will love you and Michael until the end of time. But he has never, nor will he ever be IN love with either of you. And both of you will have to face that fact before you can ever grow up and move on with your lives.”

The two women faced off each other for a few moments without saying a word.

“I can’t believe you're saying these things to me.” Lindsay finally whispered. Moving a chair from the table she dropped down into it. “I’ve never manipulated Brian, never.”

“Keep telling yourself that, maybe one day you’ll believe it.” Mel said dropping the mail onto the table. “Linz I’m not trying to be cruel, I’m not. But you are going to have to realize that in two weeks Justin is going to be moving into that great big beautiful house and he’s going to spend the rest of his life with the man he loves. The man who loves him. And if you and Michael don’t stop trying to come between them....well, then you’ll both have to learn to live without Peter Pan, because if you make it a choice between you and Justin...we both know that Justin will win hands down. Because face it, that kid is everything you and Michael aren’t when it comes to Brian Kinney. Smart, accepting and forgiving. Hell, that kid not only wrote the Manual on the Care and Feeding of Brian ‘Fucking” Kinney, he’s the one who tamed him. Something you or Michael couldn’t do in twenty years.”

With that said Mel turned and left the kitchen of the small apartment that she and Lindsay shared. Maybe she aught to give her cousin Rita a call, see if her and Jenny could come stay with her for awhile. And maybe she could make some plans, real plans, because she was tired of living in this lie that Lindsay had been forcing her to live for almost 15 years now. Maybe...

Chapter Text

Emmett made sure for the third time that all his notes for the Garrison party were in order. Clipping the small index cards together he slid them into the large pocket of the day planner that Teddy had gotten him for his last birthday and pulled out another stack of note cards.

Taking out a pen he wrote a few notes on the top card, sucking his lips in he wondered if he could get a discount on the glossy silver doves for the Brown wedding or would he have to pay full price again. Mario had promised him a discount the last time but in the end the paperwork had slipped through with no discount. He’d give the big burly bear one more chance. If no discount, then he’d give Patty’s House of Paper a call and see if Patty was willing to give him a better price. He didn’t want to have to deal with Patty, not after that flighty queen had stolen his costume ideal for Babylon’s Halloween party last year, but business was business after all.

He was taken out of his wondering when Michael suddenly slammed himself down into the booth across from him. He looked over at his friend with a welcoming smile.

Emmett’s smile broke. Shit, just by the look on Michael face Emmett could tell he was in one of those moods. Didn’t take a genius to figure out what was wrong with his friend, either it was the fact that Justin was coming home this week or he had heard the news about Mel and Lindsay, Emmett had heard about it from Teddy earlier in the week. He hoped he was wrong but he doubted it.

“Good morning Michael.” Emmett tried to smile again, hoping he could forgo the bitching and moaning he knew was coming.

“Yeah right, who told you there was anything good about this morning.” Michael snapped.

“Well, it could be a good one if you just look on the bright side of things.” Emmett said as he paper clipped his notes and put them away. Closing up the book he slid it into the large shoulder bag, he might need to make a quick get-away if things went the way he thought they would.

“Who died and left you Mary fucking Sunshine?” Michael whined. “Did you know that Mel and Lindsay have split up...again, bet you didn’t know that did you? What the fuck is going to happen to my daughter now. How many fucking times are we going to have to go through this?”

“Michael I really think we should all just stay out of it and let the girl's handle it.” Emmett tried, he knew it wouldn’t work, but this southern boy always held hope. At least Michael wasn’t bitching about Justin. Emmett had heard Michael bitching about that enough to last a lifetime.

“You think I’m just going to stand back and let my daughter's life get fucked up?” Michael said with contempt.

“Who’s fucking up your daughter's life?” Ted said as he slid into the booth next to Michael. He looked at Michael and when no answer was forth-coming he eyed the man across from him.

“Nobody,” Emmett said with a sigh, “as you know the girls have decided to take a break from each other at the moment, and it’s their business, nobody else’s.”

“Oh, that, yeah I talked to Mel about that.” Ted said as he looked around for a waitress.

Michael practically broke his neck turning to glare at Ted, “you knew, when, when did you find out?”

“Well, this is Friday, so I guess I found out Wednesday night.” Ted said.

Michael's mouth flew open at Ted's revelation.

“Mel called and we talked for awhile. She had some financial questions she needed to ask me.”

“Wednesday...you fucking knew on Wednesday but you didn’t think to tell me about it. Lindsay only told me this morning.” Michael couldn’t believe that Ted wouldn’t have told him as soon as he found out. He turned back to Emmett, “you knew too, when the fuck did you find out? I can’t believe the two of you didn’t tell me. I thought you guys were my friends.”

“Michael it doesn’t matter when we found out, and we are your friends, but it’s also our job as THEIR friends to stay out of it. You wouldn’t like it if we all stuck our noses into your and Ben’s personal business now would you?” Emmett quietly said.

“Whaaat! This is my personal business; this is my daughter we are talking about.” Michael whined.

“Yes, we all know that Jenny is your daughter, first and foremost those two girls will always put the kids first, and you know that. They would never do anything to harm either Gus or Jenny.” Emmett could feel a slight pain behind his left ear; he noticed it more and more when dealing with Michael lately.

“Listen to Emmett.” Ted said, he raised his eyes, where the hell was their waitress, he just wanted to get his breakfast and get to work before Michael threw one of his hissy fits. He decided then and there to order his meal to go.

“What the fuck does Emmett know about it, he couldn’t raise a fucking plant if it was plastic?” Michael snapped. Crossing his arms over his chest he glared at both his so-called friends.

“But he is a good friend, a damn good friend, and he’s trying to give you some really good advice right now, so why don’t you for once think about someone else besides yourself and listen.” Ted snapped back at him. “Just back the fuck off okay.”

Emmett smiled at his best friend, he was so glad he had Teddy in his life, especially after the way their nightmare of a relationship had ended. He could have lost him, either to the drugs, or the failed attempt at living a happy homo life.

“Oh yeah, did Mel happen to mention why she left Lindsay, did she, it was fucking Justin’s fault, did she tell you that?”

The friends watched as the spittle flew from the other man’s mouth, he was really working himself up for a good one and they weren’t looking forward to it.

Emmett dropped his head into his hands and blew out a long breath, ‘not again, not again, please dear lord not again.’

Ted just stared at Michael for a moment, he couldn’t fucking believe how the man's mind worked. “And how the hell did Justin break them up, the kid’s been in New York for two years? How could he have done anything?”

“And he should fucking stay there if you ask me, that fucking kid has been trouble since day one. He’s never done one good thing for this family if you ask me.” Michael slammed his hand down on the table top, grimacing slightly as he pulled his hand to his chest and rubbed it against his shirt.

“Fuck you Michael, nobody did ask you.” Ted’s raised voice caused a few of the customers to glance their way. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear this particular group get loud, but it was always interesting.

“Please don’t start this again Michael, it’s been quite awhile since you have gone into your ‘Justin is the Anti-Christ’ mode and frankly I don’t care for it at all. I didn’t like it years ago, and I don’t want to hear it now.” Emmett told the sulking man.

“Tell me one good thing that brat has ever done, one thing?” Michael was spitting again giving them no time to answer he continued, “see you can’t, can you?”

“I don’t have to defend Justin to you, you never listen anyway.” Emmett declared, thinking of the comic book that Justin still did for Michael, along with all his commission work and helping Brian out at Kinnetic when asked. “He’s a member of this family and he always will be. And do I need to mention he happens to be the partner of your best friend. That should be enough in itself.”

“He is not Brian’s partner, never has been and never will be. He’s just a trick that has stayed too long...”

“Just stop right there. Don’t even go there.” Ted said sternly, holding his hand up in Michael’s face. “Justin is not a trick and he never has been, no matter what you tell yourself.”

“He’s just a fucking stalker, that’s all he’s ever been. He wouldn’t leave Brian alone and Brian didn’t have the heart to kick his ass to the curb, he still felt guilty...”

“Brian has nothing to feel guilty about Michael, so just don’t go there, I told you I don’t want to hear it.” Ted knew he had to interrupt, this was starting to really work on his nerves, he felt like someone had turned time around and it was six years in the past.

Emmett smiled; it was an evil smile, but still a smile. “Michael do you know what the definition of a stalker is?” Emmett asks with that evil smile in place.

“Yeah, Justin Fucking Taylor,” Michael said snidely.

“No, it’s someone who follows someone else around, he always wants to know what the other person is doing, what they are thinking, they get jealous if they think the other person is with someone else.”

“Em don’t, he won't understand where you are going with this,” Ted knew where his friend was going, but he doubted if Michael would get it.

Michael looked at Ted; he didn’t understand what Teddy had meant by that. He looked back at Emmett.

“Stalkers make constant phone calls, morning, noon and night.” Emmett continued, his voice even, almost as if he was telling a story. “They might follow their victim...watching them, watching them do intimate things in private, intimate places...say like backrooms maybe. Or maybe they wait around, wait until their prey is say...drunk or drugged, waiting for their chance to get them alone, maybe take them home, help them remove their clothes, put them to bed, hoping that maybe just maybe this time their prey will turn to them. That this night will be the night that Bri....ah...I mean their prey will want to be with them in that private, intimate way. Do you think that might constitute a stalker?

“Hell yes,” Michael screeched. “That’s exactly what Justin did.” Michael jerked his head as if making a point.

Emmett stood, “no Michael, that isn’t what Justin did. Justin got into Brian’s face and made him face the fact that Brian cared about him, that Brian loved him, like a real man would do. Oh no Michael, what I described is what you did to Brian, and you did it for years. So, if you're gonna sit there and talk shit about Justin maybe, just maybe, you ought to take a good look at why you feel the way you do about Justin. Why you feel you have to blame that strong, intelligent, beautiful young man for everything that goes wrong in your life. Maybe the answer will come to you, but I doubt it.”

Bending over he kissed Teddy on the cheek and with a quick ‘later’ he headed for the door.

Michael watched him leave, turning confused eyes to Ted he blurted out, “what the hell was he talking about Ted?”

Ted slid out of the booth, maybe he could stop off at the coffee shop around the corner from Kinnetic. Maybe he’d pick up a dozen of those raspberry glazed muffins, yeah, that’s what he’d do, Cynthia loved them, and he’d get a dozen of them and a large coffee to go.

Shaking his head at Michael he quietly said “grow the fuck up Michael, you’re starting to lag too far behind the rest of us, you get too far behind you might never catch up.”

As Michael watched him leave he couldn’t believe that Emmett and Ted had turned everything around. When they should have been talking about that little shit causing trouble again once again, they were all defending the little asshole. Why didn't they get it?

Chapter Text

“Are you fucking ready yet?” Brian’s voice drifted through the bathroom door.

Justin smiled one last time into the mirror, “I’d fuck you.”

A voice came from the doorway, “so will I, if you hurry the fuck up.”

Justin turned and laughed at Brian, “why are you in such a hurry?”

Turning from the bathroom Brian stomped through the bedroom, “because of the God Damn Laughman campaign I haven’t been to Babylon in almost two weeks. I need to go out...now!”

Leaving the bathroom Justin turned the light off, quickly grabbing his jacket from the bed he followed his lover to the door. ‘His lover’, God he never got tired of saying that. Even after all these years, after everything they’d gone through they were still together. If anyone would have told him at seventeen that he and Brian would still be together nine years later he would have laughed at them. But here they were. They had survived the age difference, the bashing, Ethan; or Ian as Brian still liked to refer to him, and the cancer. Then, came LA, then New York. And the one big obstacle of them all, the family. Justin sighed, out of all of them he thought the family had been the toughest obstacle in their way, but they had come around, well most of them. He still had a bit of trouble with Michael, and every once in a while Lindsay got into a prissy WASP mood, but he could handle those two. He just wished Brian could as well.

It had taken forever but Justin had finally figured Brian's so called best friends out. They were selfish, and no matter who pointed it out to them they would never get it, they just didn’t get that Brian Kinney didn’t belong to them. And they always ended up hurting Brian the most, that’s the part that Justin couldn’t stomach, that no matter how long those two knew Brian they still didn’t know or understand the man behind the walls. And they never would. Or more likely Justin thought they didn’t want to. Well fuck them!

“Today Justin, today,” Brian intoned from the door of the loft. “Let’s move it.”

“I’m coming.” Justin took both stairs at one time and smiled at his lover.

"And next time we stay in town we bring more clothes; the pickings are getting mighty slim here." Brian said.

"Or maybe we should just buy some club clothes to keep here?" Justin told him with a smirk.

Brian smiled as he checked the alarm, closing the door they moved to the elevator, "sounds like a plan."

"To Babylon." Justin said as he pulled the gate down.

Brian pulled Justin into his arms, "to the backroom."

"Works for me."

******

The thumpa-thumpa beat through Justin’s body, this was their time, their time to relax and just let all the bullshit float away. Between Brian’s work and his they hadn’t had time for this in so long. In the last six weeks Brian had made three trips, one to Chicago, one to London, both scheduled and organized. Then, not even one full day home from London and Cynthia calls, Joliars wanted a meeting in Paris. Brian had been trying to get his foot in the door of the largest selling perfume company on the planet for almost a year, so off he went. Three days turned into one week but he got the hottest perfume account in the world. Justin knew he’d get it, who wouldn’t want Kinnetics running their account. Kinnetic was not only the best ad company on the east and west coast, but finally they were gaining a foot hold in the European market, it wouldn’t be too long before other European companies came knocking on Brian’s door...Kinnetic International sounded very good to Justin and Brian. Hell, every time Brian mentioned it in-front of Ted the older man actually got giddy.

And with all that going on one of Brian's top clients, Phillip Laughman of Laughman’s Swimwear had been driving Brian crazy, he felt that everything had to be handled by the top man, his stuff was too good to be handed off to one of Kinnetics’ other admen, or at least that's what Phillip thought. Brian had practically had to hold the man’s hand every day. But the account was finished and the ads were number one right now, so Brian could just sit back and relax until the next headache came his way.

In the same amount of time Justin had made four trips, he had been scheduled for two originally, one to New York, and one to Philly but the gallery manager in Philadelphia had screwed up, twice as a matter of fact, one not so serious and one very serious but still Justin had had to make two extra trips to clean the messes up. In the end it had worked out, after the gallery owner had kissed ass big time Justin had relented and not pulled his work, but it had been close. The first screw up was nothing, Justin had dealt with gallery managers long enough to know that they can’t control everything. When Justin arrived and had been told by Jerry Warfel the gallery manager, that two of the pieces hadn’t arrived with the rest of Justin's artwork he hadn’t freaked, he knew how to handle it, he called his agent Marissa and had her track the two missing pieces down. At least they had been in the same city so it hadn’t been that bad, and she’d done it before so she had the experience, it does happen from time to time so he could understand and except it. But the second screw up, that was a no-brainer, Jerry had been fired immediately and the owner had freaked. You do not secretly, ever, ‘loan’ art out to friends a week before the showing. It’s done yes, but there are papers to sign, insurance and bonding that needs to be taken care of, it isn’t done on the down-low and NEVER without the artist permission. It seemed Jerry had flipped when he had tried to get in-touch with his friend and found out the friend had left town, the friend had left instructions for the four pieces to be returned to the gallery naturally but his housekeeper hadn't planned on having a heart attack, and in all the chaos the pieces had been forgotten, three paintings and one sculpture to be exact, and since she was in the hospital no one knew how to get in-touch with her, so major freak-outs all over the place. Brian had wanted him to sue, but that wasn’t Justin’s scene. Too much grief for something that was already taken care of, the manager was fired, the pieces were returned and everything had turned out fine. And it had been sort of fun to watch the snooty owner having to deal with opening night chaos in front of all his snooty art friends. And all of that had taken from the time he would have spent with Brian, this was the first time in weeks that they were able to just relax and enjoy themselves.

Justin moved with the music and enjoyed the thought that he didn’t have any shows lined up for another eight months, he had commissions true, and he did plan to help Brian with two of Kinnetics accounts but he could breathe for a bit, just take the time to relax.

His lips spread into a large smile when he felt two hands slide under his shirt and proceed to map his stomach muscles. He’d know those hands anywhere.

“Feel’s like Sunshine has been working out.” Brian whispered into his ear.

“What do you think I’m doing when I say ‘going to the gym with Em’.” Justin laughed.

“I pictured the two of you giving each other facials at Aunty Em Manor.” Brian snorted. “Maybe a pedicure or two.”

The younger man laughed at Brian’s tone, no one in the family could believe that Emmett had finally left Deb’s and bought himself a house, and not just any house, but a huge beautiful Victorian that sat on the edge of the city limits. “And here I thought you were developing a toe fetish, but it just turns out you were checking me for polish.”

“I can’t believe he painted it pink.” Brian said as he turned Justin in his arms. “Who paints a fucking house pink? Especially one that size, Christ.”

“Emmett does, that’s who.” Justin said as he maneuvered his face into Brian’s neck, he licked along the line between shoulder and neck. “Hmm...salty.”

“You and the fucking sweat on my body...kinky.” Brian breathed.

“Are you finished with your paperwork for the night?” Justin asked, there had been a weeks worth of signatures needed and hopefully they were all out of the way.

“All the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, I’m all yours...”

“Briiiiaaaannnn!”

“Shit.” Brian whispered.

“One night, couldn’t we get just one fucking night without this shit.” Justin said as he looked up and saw the man heading towards them. He watched as one Babylon patron after another gave Michael pissed off looks as he pushed them out of the way to get to Brian in the middle of the dance floor.

“Mikey, what a surprise.” Brian said as Michael came to a dead stop in front of the two men.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming to Babylon?” Michael shouted over the music. “You know I would have come with you.”

Brian shrugged, “wasn’t really something we planned, just decided at the last moment. Where’s Ben?”

Justin watched as Michael shrugged, “he’s talking with JR’s teacher, then he had to grade papers or something, I’m not sure. You could have called as you were walking out the door asshole.”

“Hello Michael.” Justin said with a grin. He knew Michael would never acknowledge him first.

“Yeah, hey.” Michael looked at Justin; his eyes going from Justin’s face to his feet and back again. And just like that he was dismissed again. “Wanna dance Brian?”

“I am dancing Mikey.” Brian said as he pulled Justin’s back into his chest and wound his arms around his partner.

Michael pouted, his shoulders dropping lower with each word, “you can dance with Justin anytime but I’m not out as much as I used to be, not with JR and Hunter. I don’t have the time like I did when I was single, not like you.”

The blonde quickly turned his head to hide the grin; hell Michael still had to get the little digs in whenever possible. He still had to believe in his small world that Brian WAS single. And even with the small amount of time he and Brian had, they still spent more time with Gus and Jenny then Michael did. Hell, they had to listen to Mel bitch about it every time they picked her up. And he noticed how Michael still referred to Jenny as JR. The precocious three year old had been declaring for quite awhile and very loudly at that, that her name was not ‘JR’, it is Jenny. Once again Michael never listened.

Justin turned to Brian, “dance with him Brian, I’m going to go order us something to drink, beam?”

Brian sighed, “sure, I’m gonna need it.” Grabbing Justin’s face he slammed his lips down over Justin’s mouth. Into his mouth he said “make it a fucking double.”

“Brian, come on, lets dance.”

Pulling away Justin waved and smiling he sing songed “have fun.”

Making his way to the bar he ordered for them both and turned to watch the dancing. He watched as Anita approached Brian and Michael, Brian shook his head no, but surprisingly Michael did buy something and swallowed it dry. Justin was a bit shocked; Michael rarely if at all took drugs anymore.

“Well there’s our baby now, look Teddy I told you they would be here.” Emmett shouted as he and Ted moved to stand in front of Justin.

Justin hugged both men, Em a little longer than Ted as usual. “So Emmett, when you were telling Ted about Brian and I being here did you happen to notice Michael listening too?”

Emmett turned and eyed the crowd, “Is Michael here, where is he?”

Ted stepped up to the bar and ordered their drinks, “find Brian you’ll find Michael.”

Emmett clasped his hands to his chest, “but he said he was busy tonight, said that he and Ben were going to something or other at Jenny’s pre-school.”

“Wonder if Ben went alone...again.” Ted asked.

“Oh, shit. I thought he and Ben really had plans Justin I’m so sorry, I know that you and Brian were looking forward to this night together.” Emmett said with a sigh.

“Then why did you drag me here if they wanted to be alone?” Ted snapped, “I could be home with Blake right now.”

“Because you know damn well Blake asked me to get you out of the house.” Emmett said. He bent closer to Justin and in a loud whisper said, “he’s working on Teddy’s birthday present. Told me to kidnap him and get him out or else he wouldn’t have time to finish it.”

“Birthday present.” Ted head snapped up, he almost spilled his ginger ale. Trying for a non-interested tone he questioned, “so...what’s he getting me?”

“That’s what I ask him, he was doing something with shiny CD’s, but he rudely told me I couldn’t keep a secret, which we certainly know is not true.” Emmett told them, shaking his head back and forth; he didn’t even realize what he revealed.

“CD’s,” Ted said thoughtfully, then giving his head a shake he handed Emmett his drink, “yeah Emmett Honeycutt, tighter than Fort Knox.”

“We’re not talking about my finer attributes Teddy,” Emmett turned and shimmied his ass. “We’re talking about the fact that I don’t blab secrets, right baby?”

“No, of course not, that’s why Michael is here.” Justin said clinking his glass against Em’s.

“Well, I didn’t do it on purpose; he did say they had plans.” Em defended himself.

“And of course we know that Michael won’t drop everything to spend time with Brian.” Ted said, watching the bubbles in his glass.

Emmett sighed and leaned against the bar. “I’m so sorry baby; I really, really thought he had left these Brian obsessions in the past.”

“Apparently not, if the last six months is anything to go by.” Justin said.

“Is he still calling a lot?” Ted asked. He got a nod.

“Email?” Another nod.

“What do they say?” Em eagerly asks.

Justin smiled, “I don’t know Em, I stopped breaking into Brian’s email when I was 18. All I know is that Brian is spending more time deleting than reading. Same with the phone messages.”

“You knew his password for his computer when you were 18?” Ted was astounded.

Emmett giggled, “our baby knew everything when he was 18, well everything that had to do with Brian Kinney.”

“Not everything Em or the first couple of years would have been easier. Brian’s an ever changing landscape. It’s hard to pin the guy down.” Justin said with a smile.

Ted nodded. He’d tried to figure Brian out on many occasions. And after many years of believing Michael, Debbie and Mel’s hype about Brian he’d finally met the true Brian Kinney after working with him on a day to day basis at Kinnetic. And he liked what he saw, Justin was right, Brian was an ever-changing man, but wasn’t that what life was about, change. Hell, even Melanie admitted that Brian had changed for the better in the last few years and Ted knew it had to have taken a lot to change Mel’s mind about Brian.

Just then the crowd parted and he saw his friend and boss in the middle of the dance floor. They stood facing each other, words were flying out of Michael’s mouth and his hands were all over the place.

“Damn, I don’t know what’s going on out there, but it can’t be good.” Ted said.

The other two men turned and saw what Ted was talking about.

“God damn it, Brian doesn’t need this shit, we came out to enjoy ourselves tonight, not put up with more of Michael’s bullshit.” Justin said as he stood and started to make his way towards his partner.

Emmett and Ted were right behind him. Emmett told Justin quickly "you get Brian, we’ll handle Michael.”

“Brian,” Justin said as he moved up next to his lover. Brian just stood and stared at his so-called best friend.

“Fuck this shit, and fuck you Michael.” Brian said quietly, pushing others out of the way as he headed through the crowd. Justin watched as Brian made his way towards the back, he headed directly towards the backroom. He spared one glare for Michael, the other man had tears running down his cheeks and he was mumbling to himself. Shaking his head Justin turned and followed Brian.

He entered the dark tunnel like room and looked around for his lover. This was not going to be fun, but he just couldn’t walk away when Brian needed him. Turning the corner he spotted Brian up against the wall with his pants being lowered by some guy. He watched as the face-less man prepared to put Brian’s cock in his mouth.

Justin moved to stand next to them. Justin spoke quietly, “is this helping?”

Brian shook his head as if to clear it, and mumbled something. Face-less guy glared at Justin but didn’t remove his mouth.

“What, I couldn’t understand you? Is this helping you?” Justin asks again, more forcefully this time.

Brian closed his eyes. Reaching down he pushed the stranger away and pulled Justin around in front of him and against his body. Justin could barely hear Brian murmur, “no.”

The trick mumbled something in Justin's direction then turned and stalked off.

“Wanna get out of here, or do you want me to give you the best blow job you’ve ever had?” Justin smirked. Mikey was for another day, tomorrow, or next day. But not tonight, tonight was their night.

“Let’s go home. I want to fuck you in our bed. Fuck you so hard the neighbors call the cops again.” Brian told him.

“The neighbor’s never called the cops on us.”

“Oops, that wasn’t you, never mind.” Brain said with that lopsided grin that told Justin he was kidding.

“Fuck you.” Justin laughed.

“Okay, just this once you can fuck me first, but then I AM fucking you...all night long,” Brian said as they left the backroom and headed home.

Justin took a deep breath, this night proved that Brian had changed, a few years ago Justin would have been not only been pushed aside tonight, but Brian would have also made sure in the following weeks to punish Justin for interfering. Why couldn't some of the family understand this, the man had changed, making it better for all of them.

******

Ted started the car and listened to Emmett going on and on in the backseat. He didn't dare turn to look at Michael in the passenger side, he was afraid he might be tempted to slap Michael upside the head in his best Debbie impression.

"Sometimes Michael I don't think you use the brains God gave you."

Michael said nothing as his friend went on.

"What the hell did you say to Brian this time?" Emmett questioned. "Did you say something about Justin, is that what this is about? Because I swear I'll kick your ass myself if you did. I warned you, both Teddy and I warned you not to go there, but do you listen, do you ever listen?"

Michael still didn't say anything.

"Michael...Michael are you even listening to me?"

Ted finally turned and looked at Michael; tears were streaming down both cheeks. Whatever had happened on that dance floor must have been bad if Michael was reacting like this.

"Michael!" Emmett shouted from the back seat.

Ted put the car into gear and pulled out, "let it go Emmett, whatever happened Brian will take care of it."

Michael turned and looked at Ted for a moment, then he turned back to staring out the windshield, more tears found their way down his face.

*****

The bell rang over the shop door just as Michael finished counting out his drawer. He looked up to see who it was.

“Michael.”

“I didn’t think you’d be around for awhile, not after last night.” Michael's eyes found their way to the change drawer again; he didn’t want to see the look in Brian’s eyes. He kept his eyes on the money as he ran his fingers through the dimes, moving them around a bit.

“That’s what I’m here to talk about, last night.” Brian told him.

“I told you in my phone messages this morning, it was just the drugs, you know I’m not used to taking any thing anymore and Anita said it was a strong batch, you heard her.” Michael whined. He turned to look at Brian for the first time since he’d entered the shop. He was surprised when Brian reached up and locked the door.

“Hey, I can’t afford to just shut down whenever you feel like it.” Michael slammed the drawer shut. “Not all of us have money fucking laying around like you do.”

“My money isn’t laying around, and I worked hard for every fucking penny. So don’t make comments about shit you don’t know. But then again you do that quite often don’t you?” Brian moved towards the counter. He didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to have this conversation but after last night he didn’t feel he had a choice anymore.

“Fine, you work hard for your money, and Justin works hard spending it.”

Brian stopped and just stared as his friend. Did he even know this man anymore...did he want to know him anymore?

“Don’t try and use Justin as an excuse for your petty jealousies. Justin has nothing to do with this.” Brian spoke softly.

“What the fuck, he has everything to do with it. Ever since that fucking brat took his first step on Liberty Avenue he has done nothing but fuck up my life.” Michael screeched. “Every time I turned around he was taking one more thing from me.”

Brian couldn't believe what he was hearing, his first reaction was to scream back at Michael, but that wasn't what he was here for, he promised himself he would stay calm.

“He’s never taken a fucking thing from you Michael. He gave, he gave to you, your mom, and everyone in our little family has benefited from knowing Justin Taylor.” Brian’s voice was still soft. “You just don’t want to admit it.”

“Admit what, what the fuck has he ever done for me? He took my room, my friends, he took...”

“Me.”

Michael glared at Brian, snorting air through his lips he started whining again, “that little fucker couldn’t take you from me if he tried. Our friendship is too important to us for him to interfere. No one can come between us, we’re forever, remember. Always...you always say always.”

Brian dropped his head and raised two fingers to the bridge of his nose. “Michael we are not fourteen years old anymore. We both have families, we both have resp...”

“But Brian we are family.”

“Yes, and we’ll always be family, but we have our own families to think of first. Priorities, you have Ben, Hunter and Jenny...I have...”

“Gus, yes I understand about Gus. Between you and I Gus and JR will have the best lives a kid could ever hope for, we’ll raise them right, not like we were raised.”

“We, what do you mean we?”

“You know, how we just had each other, just us.” Michael started to move around the counter.

“Just us? Jesus Christ Michael, how fucking deluded are you? What about your mom, your Uncle Vic. They were both there for you; your mother has done more for you than most kids dream about.”

“Yeah, but she was never like other mom’s, you know she...she was loud and embarrassing...”

“Would you fucking listen to yourself? Embarrassing, that woman loves you more than anyone I know; you are so fucking lucky to have her. But once again, you just don’t get it. I mean after all, look what you said last night about Ben, if that didn’t prove to me that you’re not thinking right, nothing will.”

Michael turned away, “I told you that was the drugs. I didn’t mean...”

“First you blame Justin, now it’s the drugs, Jesus Michael, you told me that Ben wasn’t long term, he was only a temporary moment in your life. That with the HIV he wouldn’t be around forever...Christ, what kind of selfish son-of-a-bitch says something like that?”

“I don’t want to talk about this.” Michael headed for his closed office door, grabbing the handle he only got it opened about 2 inches.

Brian had taken three large steps and cut him off at the door. Slamming his arm across the doorway he blocked Michael’s escape. “Too fucking bad, we are talking about it. Too many times in the past I’ve walked away and let you exist in your happy little delusional dream world, but it ends here. It ends now.”

Michael backed away shaking his head vigorously “No, I don’t have to take this, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You did everything wrong. You left your fucking husband to go off alone to discuss your daughter's education while you ran off to dance and get stoned at Babylon. What the fuck was up with that Michael?"

“I went to Babylon to see you, so fucking shoot me why don’t you, just because I wanted to spend some time with my best friend...”

“You're not my best friend Michael, Justin is my best friend, and he has been for a long time.”

Michael just glared at Brian for a few seconds, and then his head was shaking back and forth rapidly. “No, no, that’s not true, he’s just a trick, he doesn’t mean anything, and you don’t love him, no, not like you love...”

“I don’t love you, not like I love Justin. I love you like a brother Michael, like a brother.” Brian’s voice sounded so tired, but he knew he had to make Michael understand. After last night he knew he couldn’t let this go on any longer.

“But...” Michael couldn’t finish, he couldn’t believe it.

“Michael you have to understand, we are family, we’ll always be family, but we are never, listen to me," Brian grabbed Michael by the chin and turned his face toward Brian's. "Are you listening, we are NEVER going to be lovers. Ben is your lover, but if you can’t get these stupid half-assed thoughts of us out of your head, then you don’t even deserve him. He’s a good man Michael. Hell, I always worried that it would be you being hurt, but after last night I never thought it would be Ben I would be worried about."

“I would never hurt Ben, never.” Michael stammered.

“Then what was last night, what the hell were you talking about, you said that we didn’t have to worry about Ben, because Ben’s only temporary, remember, that was your exact word...temporary.” Brian watched as Michael’s eyes filled with tears. “You said that when I was ready, ready to settle down that Ben would just be a memory and we could be happy. But then you said we couldn’t be happy with Justin being part of my life, do you remember that Michael, do you?”

Michael shoulders shook as he tried to answer Brian, “I didn’t...I didn’t mean it...it was the drugs, I told you, why...why won’t you listen to me?”

“I was listening Michael, last night. Granted I haven’t listened in a long time. I’ve let you get away with your immature bratty remarks, your snotty little attitudes; I ignored you being a bitchy queen whenever you felt like it. I let you go, because I knew, I knew that no matter what you dished out, Justin could take it. That kid...he’s so fucking strong Michael, stronger than the both of us. He figured out a long time ago that no matter what you said, or what you did, I was the one he had to watch, had to listen to, because you didn’t matter. What you thought and what you did, didn’t matter, because no matter how much you tried to drive him away, he knew you, just like he knew me. He knew that most of what you said was bullshit, he knew you were jealous. He also knew I’d never do anything to stop you because he thought that I needed you in my life, and maybe back then I did. He never once put me between you and him, but you Michael, you did it all the time, you couldn’t wait to run and tell me every little sin you perceived he did. But he never once ran to me about you. He never once bitched about you calling him a trick, he never complained whenever you barged in, never once. And he was what 17 and you were 30 years old.”

“No, Brian, he doesn’t get us, he doesn’t understand...”

“No Michael it’s you who doesn’t get it, you who doesn’t understand. That kid is my best fucking friend in the whole world. He’s my partner, my lover, he’s my son’s other father. He doesn’t put me first, he puts ‘us’ first. Gus, me and him. And that’s the way it should be.”

Michael's head was vigorously shaking back and forth again, “no, no, he’s not your best friend Brian, he can’t be.”

“He is Michael. Just as Ben should be your best friend. You should put Ben and your kids first in everything.” Brian dropped his arm and stepped back towards the door.

“But Ben knows. He realizes that you and I have a special relationship, he understands that I have to be there for you, he knows Brian.” Michael was pleading; he couldn’t believe that Brian was saying these things to him. He wanted so much to just grab onto Brian and make him understand.

“I shouldn’t be first in your world Michael, just like you’re not first in mine. The kids and Justin come first, they always have, always will.” Brian unlocked the door and started to pull it open.

“Kids...but...but you only have Gus.”

“I was talking about Gus and Jenny, Michael, she’s Gus’s sister, she’s part of my family too you know.”

“But JR is mine...”

“Jenny Michael, Jenny is your daughters name, she doesn’t like to be called JR, but then again, you never do listen to anything but what you want to hear.” Brian turned and left the comic book shop.

Michael stood and watched his best friend walk down the street. Watched him walk away from him...

Chapter Text

“Where does this go, and what the hell is it?” Hunter let out a loud groan as he sat the heavy wood statue down with a thump he stood and stretched backwards, trying to ease the pain in his back.

Melanie glanced up from placing books haphazardly on the shelves of the pressed wood bookshelf she’d bought at the Q-mart. It was cheap but it was large, and large was what she needed to hold the collection of law books she’d accumulated over the years.

She smirked, “that is what Michael and Teddy got Linz and I for a wedding present.”

Hunter shook his head as he eyed the monstrosity, “that still doesn’t tell me what the hell it is.”

“Michael said something about African Fertility Goddess or some shit like that.” Mel told him with a wave of her hand.

“Michael thought it was a fertility figure, but after looking it up on the internet we found out it’s a simulacrum, or a copy of a Blolo Bla.” Ben said as he stepped out of the short hallway that led to the two small bedrooms and bathroom. “Not a fertility figure after all.”

Hunter rolled his eyes, “and that still doesn’t tell me what this ugly freakin’ thing is here people.”

“I’m with him,” Mel grinned as she straightened from her task.

“A simulacrum is a fake, a copy, usually it’s a clone of the original, but in this case it’s a very poor copy. The Blolo Bla is an African figure that one gives sacrifice to when one is getting married. It’s believed in certain cultures that souls are reincarnated in different bodies, and that each soul has a soul mate. If during one of the reincarnation periods, one of the souls marry, but it’s not to their soul mate you give sacrifice to Blolo Bla to appease the soul of the original soul mate."

Hunter shook his head, with one finger moving back and forth he questioned, “uh uh...how do you know you’re not marrying your soul mate again?”

“The website didn’t answer that question, and frankly I didn’t care. Notice my name wasn’t on the thing. I’m with you; I find it a bit...creepy. But I can still respect their beliefs.” Ben said as he picked up another box marked “J’s Room” and moved off towards the hallway again.

“It’s still fuckin’ ugly if you ask me.” Hunter tapped it with his toe.

“Tell me about it, Linz must have stuck it in the truck when we weren’t looking, 'cause I don’t want the damn thing.” Mel said as she grabbed another box and started unloading books.

“Want me to return it to Michael?” Hunter said as he picked up one of the boxes and sat it on the bar between the small kitchenette and living area.

Mel shook her head, “hell no, he’s already pissed at me, lets not make it any worse.”

“You too, don’t sweat it, right now Wittle Mikey is pissed at the world.” Hunter snorted. Opening the box he pulled out a white china plate with small red roses along the edge. “Where do you want these?” Hunter held it up so she could see what he was referring too.

Mel immediately stood up and grabbed the plate out of Hunter’s hand, “WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU FIND THESE?”

The boy took a step back and shrugged his shoulders, he'd never seen Mel this angry before, not even at Brian. “It was in with the rest of the boxes we moved out of Debbie’s garage. You know the ones that didn’t have any writing on them.”

Mel closed her eyes and sighed. “That bitch. She told me these were lost in the move from the first apartment years ago. I don’t believe it, I was on the phone with that storage company for weeks, hell I threatened to sue them. Now I know why she talked me out of it. The bitch had them hid in Debbie’s garage all this time. Just so we could use the set she got from her grandmother. Christ! These were a gift from my Bubbe, and they weren’t bought at fucking Neiman Marcus like hers, oh no, these have been passed down from generation to generation for over a hundred years. My mother wouldn’t speak to me for almost a year because of these fucking plates.”

“Well look on the bright side, at least she didn’t throw em out.” Hunter quietly said. “When I ran away the first time my mom threw all my stuff out.”

Mel watched Hunter’s face; he looked shocked that he said it.

“I think I just channeled Ben.” The boy mumbled, a shudder passing through his shoulders. He turned back to the box again. “So where do you want em?”

“Just set em aside, I’ll have to go through the box and see if it’s all there.” She stroked her fingers along the rose as she said it. She replaced the foam separator and gently lay the plate back on top of the set and closed the flaps of the box, turning she carried the box to the wall and sat it down in the small kitchen space with another loving caress. “For ten years she’s lied about those plates, did I even know that fucking woman.”

“Do we really know any of the people who come in and out of our lives?” Ben said as he re-entered the living room. “Sometimes I think Brian is right, you are the only one you can rely on. Just yourself.”

“Okay, now we’re quoting Brian on tips for life. I need to go lay down.” Mel laid her hand against her forehead in exaggeration, “because I think I’m starting to agree.”

“I need food, that’s what I need.” Hunter said. “Are we finished here for the day, or what?”

Even though there were still a few boxes sitting around Mel thought they could wait till the morning. “Yeah, we’re finished. I can finish up the rest of these tomorrow.”

“Need my help?” Hunter said as he snagged his coat off the back of the couch and moved towards the door.

“Yeah Mel, neither one of us mind helping, just say the word and we’ll be here?” Ben told the small brunette.

Wrapping her thin arms around herself she smiled. “Thanks guys. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t forced me to let you all help me. Brian and Justin paying for the moving van, Debbie sent food and kept Jenny over night and Emmett and Ted are coming by tomorrow to help set up the crib and stuff.”

“Hey, you’re family, don’t forget it.” Ben told her. “Just because you and Lindsay aren’t together anymore doesn’t mean you’re not part of our family.”

“Yeah, what he said.” Hunter said as he started to pull the front door shut behind him. “Plus the twenty that Ben gave me helps out a lot. Going for pizza, pepperoni only on one half so that the Professor can enjoy some. See ya in a few, ciao”

Melanie placed her hands on her hips and stared at Ben, “You paid him twenty fucking dollars to help me move?”

Shrugging his shoulders the man laughed. “It’s only twenty bucks, he’s a college student, and money doesn’t go far.”

“No, twenty doesn’t, but the forty I gave him will go a bit farther.” Mel laughed.

“What!” Ben exclaimed.

“Hey, at least he’s making his money honestly these days.”

“I don’t know how honest you could call that.” Ben said smiling. “Well, I guess I’ll see you...”

Mel cut him off, “You’re not going to stay and enjoy the pizza we paid for from Hunter? Why don’t you stay and have a beer?”

Smiling at the woman he nodded as he moved towards the bar. “Sure, it’s not that late.”

Mel grabbed two beers and headed towards the couch. “I’m glad Debbie could watch the baby for me, it made the move a lot easier.”

Grabbing the beer she handed to him Ben took a seat next to Mel on the couch a friend had given her. “I’m sorry Michael couldn’t get someone to watch the store today. I know he’s worried that you and Jenny won’t be safe living here alone but I think if he could see the neighborhood, meet some of your neighbors today like Hunter and I had a chance too, he could relieve himself of some of his worry.”

“Give me a break Ben, you and I both know why Michael isn’t here today. He’s pissed at me for leaving Linz, believe me, I’ve already gotten an earful from him about the entire situation.” Mel said removing the cap from her bottle, taken a large swig she let the cold brew settle before adding, “I ask him if he was going to be an ass about it this time, because if he was I’d call my lawyer now. Told em I want to be prepared when he stabs me in the fucking back.”

“I wouldn’t let that happen again Mel.” Ben told her. “I told him we’ll be there for both of you, we are not picking sides.”

Mel laughed, “I can hear him now ‘but Ben, this is my fucking daughter we’re talking about’.” She turned and looked at him, “right?”

Smiling Ben nodded, “yeah, you’re right. Although he threw a bit more whine in there.”

Mel snorted, “I just wished he’d remember Jenny’s his daughter when there’s not some big drama moment going down.”

Ben nodded. He and Michael had had more than one conversation about Michael shirking his duties as a father. It just seemed that the minute Justin had informed the family that he was moving home there was only one thing on Michael’s mind. Brian. It didn’t matter that his daughter was getting pushed aside then, oh no, Brian will always come first. Unlike Brian who puts Gus first, well Gus and Justin.

“You don’t have to say anything. I understand, believe me I more than understand.” Mel laughed when there was nothing forthcoming from the man.

“What?” Ben questioned.

“During the last argument that Linz and I had I thought that maybe you and I should form a support group.” Mel told him taking another sip out of the cold bottle in her hand.

Now it was Ben’s turn to snort. “Let me guess. Let’s see, now what would we call it...”

“Assholes Who Love The Assholes Who Worship The Asshole.”

“AWLAWWA, hmmm, pretty long acronym, don’t you think.” Ben added.

“Yeah, but true, so very fucking true.” Mel said as she clinked their bottles together.

Ben smiled, “to us, the first assholes.”

Mel sat up quickly, “I just don’t get it. What the hell is the attraction? Why Brian Fucking Kinney?”

“Who knows,” Ben shrugged. “I think that at the time they met, Michael needed a strong male influence in his life. And Brian fit what Michael needed.”

“True, Lindsay was at a bad time in her life, she was a dyke who still needed to keep mommy and daddy happy by being their little WASP princess.” Mel agreed. “Who am I kidding, she still feels that way.”

Ben nodded again. “For a long time Lindsay and Michael were the only two people Brian needed or wanted in his life. He protected them, gave them what they needed. And he kept them close, desperately close, who knows; maybe he needed them more than they needed him back then. It was a small circle, Brian, Michael and Lindsay. Back then nobody expected Justin to show up. Justin entered Brian’s life and forced him to grow up.”

“And Gus, don’t forget Gus came to Brian on the exact same night as Justin, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it was both of those factors that caused the changes in Brian’s life. That circle got bigger and the center changed, Linz and Michael were pushed to the outer rim of the circle, they were no longer the core, they had to make room for Gus and Justin.” Mel poked her bottle at Ben, using it to drive home her point.

“You’re right, but the difference being that Justin was willing to share the circle with Gus and Brian’s friends, but those friends weren’t. For the first time in their lives Linz and Michael had to share and neither one was prepared for that. Well, at least from everything I’ve heard Lindsay at least attempted to at first.” Ben conferred.

Mel snorted. “Yeah right; don't believe everything that you hear. In the beginning she was all “Justin this, and Justin that’, pushing Brian to let the boy in. But I think that was part of her plan, she pushed him at Brian. And Lindsay has told me a million times you can’t push Brian to do anything. So in her passive aggressive way she made people think she was all for it, but secretly she did everything to make it so that Brian WOULDN’T accept Justin. And why in the end was she all gungho about Justin moving to New York? She almost became obsessed about it. But I always knew, it wasn’t about Justin making it big in New York, it was about Brian being here alone without Justin. Where he would once again only have Michael.”

Ben turned to her, “I wonder why she considered Michael safe? Why did she trust leaving Brian to Michael but not to Justin?”

Mel shook her head, “Because Michael is no threat to Lindsay because she always knew, Brian was never in love with Michael, no matter what Debbie tells you. Brian loves Michael true, but that love is the love of a brother, a bratty little brother. Linz knew that Michael was never any serious threat to her relationship to Brian. Linz has done the one thing no one else on this planet can do. She has Brian’s child. Gus is her eternal link to Brian. Plus the fact that the first weekend Brian brought Linz to meet the Novotny family Linz learned how to manipulate and control Michael.” Mel laughed. “For not being a Jew Lindsay Peterson can do guilt better than any Jewish mother, believe me, I’ve lived it!”

“And Michael never considered Lindsay a threat because she hasn’t got the one thing Brian Kinney will always want.” Mel said with a smile.

“A dick.” They both said at the same time. Laughter filled the room.

Ben suddenly stopped laughing, turning he grew serious. “I’ve always wanted to ask you something."

“Ask away.” Mel told him as she got more comfortable.

“Why did you stay with Lindsay all these years, if you knew down deep inside that she’s in love with Brian? I mean I’ll understand if you don’t want to answer, but I’ve always wondered?”

“Why do you stay with Michael?” Mel countered back.

“Because I realized two things that first year; number one, Brian is never going to fuck Michael. Number two, Michael really doesn’t want Brian to fuck him. He just wants, no, no, he NEEDS to be the one that Brian Kinney needs. The only ONE.” Ben told her. “That’s where his shitty attitude towards Justin comes from. If Brian is paying him attention then everything is fine, he actually shows quite a bit of caring and concern for Justin. But if Brian is not playing in the ‘Mikey and Brian Show’ then out comes Michael’s jealousies.”

“Did you know that Teddy once told me that I’m the female version of Brian Kinney?” Mel told him jerking her beer towards him. “That that’s why Lindsay fell in love with me.”

Unfortunately Ben had been taking a swallow when she had said this. Beer spewed across their laps, a few drops hitting the couch fabric, Ben rubbed his hand over the spots. “Well...now that you mention it...without the sex of course.”

Mel nodded, “of course, although in my younger days I could have matched Kinney with no problem if I’d wanted too.”

“I can only imagine.” Ben laughed.

“I truly believe that’s where all my jealousies came from. Not the fact that my wife was in love with Brian, but that she’s STILL in love with him, but pretending that she isn’t. And like I told Linz a few weeks ago, I couldn’t blame her, so, naturally...”

“You blamed Brian. It’s all starting to make sense now.” Ben nodded. He looked down at his hand and noticed his bottle was empty. “Another one” he asks as he shook the bottle towards Mel.

At her yes, he rose and grabbed two more bottles. Removing both lids he returned to his seat. “But see, where you took your frustrations out on Brian, I couldn’t do that. So, I...well I just ignored it. Whenever Michael started in with ‘but I’m his...."

“Best friend.” Mel finished with him. Leaning towards each other they both cracked up in laughter.

“My God, how do you handle that? Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to just haul off and hit Michael every time he says it.” Mel snorted through her laughter.

“Nope, no hitting. Every time Michael says it I add a dollar to Hunter’s college jar.”

“Jesus Christ, you won’t have to worry about loans and grants will you.” Mel snapped. “When you’re done with his lets make one for Jenny.”

“Got cha.” Ben agreed. “But truthfully from the way I hear it none of us will have to worry about college funds for our kids.”

“What have you heard?”

“Well, let me tell you, Hunter heard it from Emmett, who heard it from Blake, who over-heard Ted during a phone conversation that he wasn’t supposed to be listening to, that Brian is taking care of all three of the kids’ college funds. He’s just waiting for the end of summer before he brings it up to Hunter. According to Emmett, Ted has already spoken with Hunter’s financial counselor at Penn State.”

“See, that’s just like the Fucker, in the end he always does something that’s wonderful and outrageous, but nobody ever mentions it. Like paying Deb’s house payment or Michael’s shop...or for Vic’s meds.” Mel just shook her head. Damn the Asshole!

“That’s because Brian doesn’t want it mentioned. I think he likes doing things without anyone knowing about it.” Ben sobered, “but don’t let Michael know, just before the big argument he and Brian had already talked about it but since the argument Michael has stated very emphatically that Brian is NOT paying for his kids to go to college.”

Mel snorted. “Excuse me; if Michael actually thinks he can make decisions of that magnitude without me, well I don’t think so. My girl is going to college and if I have to accept help from the asshole then I’ll accept it.”

“That’s what I told him. But you know Michael.” Ben stated.

“Who, you mean Open Mouth Insert Foot Novotny?” Mel giggled, then stopped, because it just didn’t sound dignified. “Don’t take this the wrong way Ben, Michael does have a good heart, a great heart, as long as it’s something he agrees with or it doesn’t interfere with his own happiness.”

“You don’t have to explain that to me.” Ben told her, “I’ll never forget how cruel and mean he was to Hunter when he first came into our lives.”

“Exactly, remember when Deb started dating Carl, Michael was a total shit to her. And look what happened the last time Linz and I split up. He was all over the single mother thing. And the little shit kept saying it in front of Deb from what Emmett told me. Em said Debbie was really hurt by that.”

“Yes, she was. I still feel as if I owe you an apology for that and Debbie too. I got caught up in Michael’s emotions and didn’t stop to think that in the end the one who was really going to be hurt was Jenny.” Ben told her sincerely.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mel waved her hand in the air. “I’m over it. But I’ll never forget watching Michael’s face that day in our custody hearing. The lawyers were going at each other, and he was just glaring at me. I think I could actually feel his hatred.”

“Michael is a very emotional man. And you're right many times he doesn’t stop to think before opening his mouth.” Ben stated. “We’ve talked about that very same thing and he always apologies afterwards but if he would just stop for one moment and think he wouldn’t get into half the shit he does.”

“Like Brian hitting him at our party?” Mel stated, cautiously.

“What do you mean?” Ben could see the slight anger in her eyes. “What do you know Melanie?”

“Do you remember Bonnie, from the GLC?” Mel asks, looking down at her bottle.

Ben pondered her question for a few seconds. “Tall black women who worked in public relations, yeah. Didn’t she move to Washington D.C. about a year ago?”

“Yeah, works for Humana Organization, the one that's fighting for gay rights.” Mel answered. She finally looked up, “she was standing next to Michael and Brian at our party. She heard what Michael said.”

“Let me guess...Justin.” Ben had always known whatever Michael had said had had to do with Justin.

“It’s bad...are you sure you want to hear it?” Mel questioned.

“At this point, knowing what I already know I think I need to hear it.” Ben said.

“What do you mean what you already know?” Mel was curious at what Ben was talking about.

“You first, then I’ll tell you what I heard recently.”

“Okay...well Bonnie heard Michael going on and on about someone he kept referring to as the ‘little shit’. Cheater and liar were brought up too, she never knew who Michael was talking about, but Brian kept telling Michael to shut the fuck up. But as usual Michael didn’t listen. Michael then told Brian that he should have left him laying, bleeding on the floor of the... Michael never got to finish because it was then that Brian hit him.”

Ben stood suddenly; he turned to his left, and then his right. It was almost as if he didn’t know what to do.

“I’m sorry; maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Ben shook his head for a moment. “Jesus Fucking Christ!”

“Ben I’m sorr....”

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me this when you found out. Why wasn’t the family told?”

Mel nodded her head, “you’re right, she told me right after the party. I should have said something then, at least to Michael. But I was still in my ‘Asshole Bitch’ period. My anger and jealousy at Brian over-rode everything else. It wasn’t until a few months ago in therapy that I finally admitted to myself that I should have told the family but by then too much time had gone by and I didn’t want to stir all that shit up again. And frankly I don’t think Brian would like knowing that I know.”

Ben sucked his lips in over his teeth. He let out a gust of breath, shook his head a little and then smiled. “I can’t bitch at you for keeping something to yourself when I’m just as guilty.”

“What do you mean, guilty of what?” Mel questioned. Mel was a bit shocked, Ben was always the one in the family who wanted to talk things out, she couldn’t imagine him feeling guilty about something and not saying anything about it.

Ben moved around two boxes and sat on the arm of the sofa. “You know this fight that Brian and Michael had at Babylon last week. The one that’s driving Deb and Emmett crazy because they don’t know what Brian said?”

“Yeah, it’s all we hear about.” Mel sat up and moved forward on the couch.

“Well Bonnie isn’t the only one to overhear things. There’s a guy at my gym that was dancing next to Brian and Michael. It seems Michael had decided to take a hit of something, he was flying pretty high, feeling pretty good,” Ben snorted again, “God, he was probably in his element. The Mikey and Brian Show live on the floor of Babylon, what more could he ask for.”

Mel nodded; she didn’t know where this was going.

“Brian had stopped dancing, there was a lull in the music and Michael...well...he opened his mouth and my friend clearly heard him say ‘but Brian we don’t have to worry about Ben, he’s only temporary.”

Mel couldn’t have been more shocked. “Oh My Fucking God, he didn’t.”

Ben nodded, “yeah, he did.”

“Wait, no I can’t imagine Michael saying something like that.” Mel intoned; the disbelief clear in her voice.

“I can.” Ben quietly said, his fingers idly peeling the label off his bottle. “I’ve always had these small moments of doubt you know. Every now and then, a thought would enter my head. With my disease...well, we all know that there’s a chance my life expectancy isn’t going to be very long. And well...who better for Michael than someone who isn’t going to interfere with his plans of him and Brian in Palm Springs, just the two of them, two old men, too old and too tired to play at Babylon anymore.”

“No...I just...I never...” Mel didn’t know what to say.

Ben turned and looked at her. “I did.”

Chapter Text

“Ben maybe Michael was talking about something else, your job or...I don’t know, I just can’t fucking see him saying something like that.” Mel told the man. She could see the anguish on his face.

Ben shook his head. He moved to sit on the sofa cushion, taking a seat next to Mel he continued. “No, my friend heard more, he clearly heard Michael telling Brian that they couldn’t be together unless Justin was out of the picture.”

“Ben you don’t think Michael would leave you, do you?” Mel questioned. She knew that they had made jokes about Michael’s obsession with Brian in the past, but things had changed...hadn’t they?

Ben shook his head and laughed quietly. “I tell myself no, in the light of day I tell myself that there’s no way...but...”

“But what?”

“But in the middle of the night, when I’m laying there thinking about my life or wondering about the future...”

Mel smiled a bitter smile, “yeah, I know what you mean. I used to do that with Linz. I’d play the ‘what if’ game. ‘What if Brian wasn’t gay’ or ‘what if Brian decides he wants Gus to live with him.’ I told myself it was unrealistic but...”

“You knew, down deep inside you knew that if ‘what if’ actually became reality they would be gone.” Ben nodded his head.

They both turned and looked at each other. Raising their bottles they clicked them together again. “To the Assholes”

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“So what are you going to do?” Mel asks him.

A loud chuckle burst from his lips, “I have no clue. I tell myself over and over again that it’s never going to happen, Brian proved that by telling Michael to fuck off and walking away from him, plus the fact that as far as I know Brian isn’t talking to Michael right now.”

Mel laid her head back on the couch, “because he doesn’t want them. No matter how much they think they want him, he’s never going to want them in his bed.”

Ben smiled and nodded slowly, “exactly. It took him forever to admit it, but some us realized a long time ago that that hard headed, egotistical bastard does have a heart, it’s buried deep when he’s with the rest of the world but when he’s with Justin or Gus he shows them both that they own his heart.”

“Yep, he’s hooked.” Mel laughed, “it’s sorta funny when you think about it. In the end, Justin and Brian might out last us all.”

Ben agreed, “I think that’s one of the reasons why Michael has never fully accepted Justin. Justin did in one night what he Michael couldn’t do in fifteen years. He always thought he could wait him out you know. Once Brian was too old to be the King of Liberty Avenue well then, Michael would be there to finally get his man. And by then I’ll be long gone, a bookmark in his life. Probably not even a memory.”

Mel suddenly reached out and punched the big man in the arm.

“OUCH! What the hell was that for?” Ben’s voice wasn’t loud but it was filled with astonishment.

“You are not ‘temporary’ nor are you a ‘bookmark’ in the life of Michael Fucking Novotny.” Mel told him loudly. “You’re Professor Ben Buckner, a better man than that little shit deserves.”

Suddenly Mel was up and pacing around the room. “This is such bullshit. Those two sons-of-a-bitches have us doubting ourselves and have been driving us fucking insane for how long? And they never fucking learn, no matter what happens. It always comes back to Brian for those two and for me I’m sick and fucking tired of it. I made a promise to myself when I walked out of my marriage. NO MORE! I will not do that to myself ever again.”

Ben just sat and watched her, he sat up straighter when she turned and stopped directly in front of him.

“Repeat after me.” The woman told him.

“What?” Ben was confused, his voice clearly showed it.

She pointed her finger at him, bending over she jabbed him in the chest. “I said repeat after me damn it. ‘I Ben Bruckner...”

“I Ben Bruckner...” Ben repeated.

“Will not let Michael Novotny drive me fucking insane.”

Ben smiled, “I Ben Bruckner will not allow Michael Novotny to drive me insane.”

“I will start putting myself first...and I will protect myself any possible way I have too.” Mel poked him again to drive her point home.

“I Ben Bruckner will not allow Michael Novotny to drive me insane; I will start putting myself first. And I will protect myself in any possible way I have too.” Ben stuck his chin out with the last word.

“Well it’s about fucking time,” a voice said from the door. They both turned and spied Hunter standing in the doorway with two large greasy pizza boxes with a plastic bag sitting on top.

“Hunter.” Ben stood and looked at his foster son.

The boy moved towards the kitchen. “Hey, don’t stop on my account. Can you get him to promise not to let Michael get away with the puppy dog eye thingie? ‘Cause that shit works on my fucking nerves. And while we're at it can you make him stop with the whining, there is nothing worse than seeing a grown man whine like a six year old.”

“We’ll work on that, but I seriously doubt it, the fucking whining thing is like cockroaches, it will be part of our lives forever.” Mel said as she followed him, she grabbed the bag, reaching in she pulled out a roll of paper towels and a bag of paper plates. Undoing the plastic tab she removed a handful of plates. Setting them on the counter she ripped the paper towels open and removed six of them.

“Hunter I’m sorry you had to hear that...” Ben started.

“I’m not.” Hunter told him opening the top box and grabbing two slices he dropped them onto the top plate and handed it to Ben. “Michael is a great guy...when he wants to be. But if something isn’t going his way he can be a total shit. I found that out the first few weeks I met him.”

“Boy does that sound familiar." Mel said as she grabbed a slice, she sat the hot food onto the top plate and moved it in front of her. Walking around the bar she grabbed two more beers and a soda out of the fridge. Setting them on the countertop next to the pizza she picked up her slice and took a bite. “It’s like I said, if it’s going Michael’s way he’s great, but if it’s not...”

Hunter threw his hands into the air and made a loud boom noise.

“Exactly” Mel nodded and chewed.

“Nuclear meltdown.” Hunter nodded. “With a side order of Deb thrown in. ‘Cause if you piss her baby off, look out ‘cause she’s threatening your balls.”

“Tell me about it.” Mel said. “And I don’t even have balls.”

“Well...that hasn’t been proven...yet?” Hunter stated with a grin.

Mel laughed and took another bite of pizza.

“See that’s another thing, Michael can be pretty hard to take, but add Deb to the equation and it turns apocalyptic.” Mel said dragging her napkin across her lips.

“Tell me about it,” Ben said. “Just once I would like to sink to her level and tell her to just kiss my ass.”

“God I would love to see that.” Hunter laughed. “I’d pay you.”

“So would I.” Mel joined him laughing.

“Every time Michael and I have a problem, here she comes, just barges in and starts telling us what to do.” Ben told them his arms waving through the air. “She doesn’t even bother finding out what’s going on, just knows that her precious baby boy is upset and I better fix it.”

Hunter grinned. “Hell, half the time her precious baby boy is upset because he’s fucked everything up himself.”

Mel started waving her pizza in the air, “wait, wait, what I want to know is who the fuck taught him how to eat? I’ve always wanted to ask that. ‘Cause, once Linz and I helped out at the homeless shelter and he holds his silverware and shovels food down just like some of the homeless people, and hell they go without eating for days. What the hell is up with that?”

Hunter nodded. “I told Ben we should teach him how to hold his utensils but he always thinks I’m kidding.”

“I am not touching this conversation at all.” Ben said.

“Does he act like that when he gives you a hand job?” Hunter asks jerking his hand back and forth in a fairly good imitation of Michael’s eating skills.

“HUNTER!” Ben and Mel both cried.

“What?” Hunter said, “come on, you’ve all seen his grip. I mean, I’m just asking here, inquiring minds want to know.”

“I’m surprised Brian lets him get away with it when they eat in public together.” Mel stated.

Ben laughed. “You think Brian takes him out to eat, no way that would be too much like a date. Believe me I’ve heard Michael bitch about it for the past few years...‘Brian never takes me to a restaurant for lunch; he only goes to the diner with me. Why doesn’t he take me to a restaurant?’ Drove me crazy for a week with that shit.”

“Why do you think Brian calls him pathetic,” Hunter asks, “he’s seen him eat.”

They all laughed. After a few minutes all you could hear was eating and drinking.

Hunter finally broke the silence, looking directly at Ben he quietly asks, “so, are you going to stick with it?”

Swallowing Ben questioned him, “stick with what?”

Hunter started waiving his hand in a circular motion, “your oath, the one you were making when I came in.”

“Yeah Ben, are you sticking with the official Assholes Oath?” Mel laughed.

“Official oath?” Hunter eyed the other two, “what’s going on here?”

“It’s nothing, just something we were joking around about.” Ben told him.

“So you weren’t serious?” Hunter said, sucking his lips over his teeth.

Ben looked into Hunter’s eyes. He could see something there but he wasn’t quite sure what it was. “Do you think I should take it seriously?”

Hunter thought for a moment then nodded his head. “Yeah, I do. Don’t take this the wrong way man, but sometimes you let Michael get away with too much shit, know what I mean. You should stand up for yourself more often.”

Mel smiled at the boy. “Out of the mouth of babes.”

Ben nodded, “Okay, then I will. I’ll take it seriously and start standing up for myself.”

Hunter nodded back and smiled. “Good.”

Mel nodded. “Yeah, that’s good.”

Chapter Text

Jennifer kicked her shoes off as she turned the television to the correct station. Molly was finally asleep, Tucker should be home soon, and she could just relax and watch her favorite show. She moved to the sofa and placing her small glass of red wine on the nearby coaster she clicked on the remote to turn the sound up a bit. Never having been a fan of William Shatner before, she’d been totally sucked into the bizarre world of Denny Craig. She’d have to thank Tucker for introducing her to ‘Boston Legal’; she loved every minute of the ABC dark comedy.

She looked up as the doorbell rang; she wondered if Tucker had forgotten his key? Raising the remote she muted the television, rising she headed for the door.

Reaching up to move the curtain aside on the panel window next to the door to see who it was. The porch light she'd left on for Tucker showed her who her late night visitor was, she instantly thought something was wrong, someone was hurt. With a nervous hand she unlocked the door and turned the knob.

“Debbie, what’s wrong?” Jennifer voice conveyed her worry, because something must have happened or Debbie wouldn’t be on her doorstep at ten at night.

Debbie attempted to smile at the blonde, “I’m sorry for coming over so late Jen, but I’m so worried about Michael that...well I just figured you might be able to help me.”

“Michael.” Jennifer was confused, how could she help Debbie with her son. She stepped back laying her hand on her chest. “Did something happen to Michael, is he okay?”

"Yeah, physically he's fine, but I’m so worried about that kid of mine. I mean...well I know he’s an adult, with a family of his own,” Debbie said as she moved into the living area of the beautiful home. “But I just don’t know what else to do. I figured you could talk to Justin and find out what the hell is going on.”

“Have a seat; can I get you anything to drink, I have wine, tea or coffee?” Jennifer grabbed the remote, switching the television off she watched as Debbie flopped down on her beige sofa, once the other woman was situated she tried again. “Has something happened to Michael?”

“Maybe something fizzy, do you have any ginger ale?” Debbie ask, Jen could clearly see the other woman was flustered.

“Yeah, I’ll be right back, make yourself at home.” Jennifer moved towards the kitchen, she knew that there was a bottle or two of clear soda in the small pantry off the kitchen; she always kept some on hand in case Molly got sick.

She grabbed one of the small green bottles and stepping back into her kitchen she noticed that the flamboyant redhead was now sitting at her kitchen table.

“Ice?” Jennifer asks.

“Yeah,” Debbie looked around the kitchen and smiled.

“I wouldn’t know what to do in a kitchen like this, so shiny and everything in its place,” Debbie said quietly.

Grabbing a glass Jennifer added the ice and then poured the soda over the ice and then moved towards the table. “Debbie what’s wrong, what’s going on with Michael, and how can I possibly help? I don’t really spend much time with Michael.”

Debbie watched as Jennifer placed the glass on the table in front of her. “No, but your son spends time with that asshole.”

“Brian.” Jennifer sighed as she took a seat next to her friend.

“Yes, fucking Brian.” Debbie stated, reaching for her glass she proceeded to take a huge gulp. “I don’t know what in the fuck he’s done now, but he’s hurt Michael and I want to know what the fuck he did. I’m not going to stand by and let him hurt my kid, no fucking way.”

With her last words she slammed the glass down on to the wooden table top, Jennifer cringed as she watched a few drops of soda splash onto the table. Jennifer hoped her glassware held up.

“Debbie if something has happened between Michael and Brian don’t you think they’re old enough to handle their own problems?” Jennifer asks kindly. She’d learned a long time ago that sticking your nose in Brian Kinney’s business wasn’t something you wanted to do unless you were prepared to take on a full frontal Kinney attack. Brian was a private person; she’d learned her lesson when dealing with her son’s relationship with the older man.

“Bullshit,” Debbie snorted. “I knew from day one that that asshole was no good, getting Michael into trouble in school, sticking his nose into Michael and David’s relationship, making him quit his job at the Big Q. I knew he was trouble with a capital T.”

“What’s he done now?” Jennifer waited, she really didn’t want to hear this, but she knew she wasn’t getting the older woman out of her house anytime soon tonight.

“That’s just it, I don’t know, my kid is walking around like his fucking dog died. He won’t talk to me or Ben. When I ask Ben what was going on he was no help at all, no fucking help. Do you know what he said to me, what he actually had the balls to say to me?”

Jennifer shook her head, from the tone of Debbie’s voice she knew that whatever Ben had said wasn’t what Debbie had wanted to hear.

“He told me to mind my own business, can you fucking believe that, like Michael isn’t my business.”

“But Debbie, he has a point. Michael is his husband, maybe you ought to listen to Ben and let them handle it.” Jennifer waited for Debbie’s reaction to that.

“He might be his fucking husband, but Michael is my son, I think I know him better than anyone else, even his fucking husband.” Debbie snorted. “I gave birth to the little shit; I know him and understand him better than anyone else.”

“I know as his mother you want to protect him, fight his battles for him, but you can’t.”

“Why can’t I, if a mother can’t protect her children, what the hell’s the use of being a mother?” Debbie slammed her hand onto the table top, wincing slightly she rubbed her stinging hand against the palm of her other hand.

Jennifer sighed. “Deb please keep your voice down, Molly is asleep.”

Looking slightly chagrined the older woman apologized, “I’m sorry. I’m so worried and I don’t know what to do. I was hoping you could talk to Justin and find out what Brian did that has my kid walking around like a zombie.”

Shaking her head Jennifer reached out and laid her hand over Debbie’s. “Deb I just don’t understand what you want me to do. If Michael hasn’t told you what happened, why do you think Justin would tell me?”

“Justin tells you everything.”

Jennifer snorted. “Like hell he does. I realized a long time ago Deb if I wanted to have a good relationship with my son I had to just stand back and let him come to me. Pushing Justin for answers is a sure way of not getting any.”

“I thought you two talked about everything, like in some kind of fairy tale or something, the happy mother and son.” Debbie said.

“No one has a fairy tale life Debbie, you should know, I mean come on, would you call Justin's life a fairy tale?”

“Hell no, your kid picked the worst person in the entire world to have a relationship with.” Deb snorted, picking up her glass she took another large sip of soda.

“I admit, Justin and Brian had a bad beginning, but in the last few years they have both finally figured out what it takes to make a relationship work.” Jennifer said with pride. Yes, she’d admit she was one of the naysayers back at the beginning, but not any longer. She would have never believe it if someone had told her back at the beginning that her son would still be with Brian Kinney all these years later, but they had done it. They had both finally reached a point in their lives where they were both happy, and because of that they were both better men. The Brian Kinney of today was a man that Jennifer was proud to refer to, well only when he wasn’t in the room; as her son-in-law.

Debbie snorted. “Oh come on Jen do you really think that Brian truly believes that he’s in a relationship with your son? You don’t think he’s out there right now fucking everything that moves?”

Jennifer counted to ten in her head. It wouldn’t do any good to get mad at Debbie; Jennifer realized a long time ago that neither Debbie nor her son actually listened to anything other than what they believed. Jennifer thought it a bit ironic that they constantly called Brian selfish; they didn’t see the trait in themselves at all when dealing with Brian.

“What did Michael say when you ask him?” Jennifer tried to get the conversation back on track.

“He won’t tell me. Said it’s none of my business.” Debbie stood and started pacing. “I’m just so pissed at that bastard. You haven’t seen Michael, you haven’t seen the sadness, and the pain he has in his eyes. I just can’t stand and do nothing while Brian Kinney rips my son’s heart out...again”

“But if he’s not talking to you there’s not much you can do. What did Brian say when you ask him?”

“Like I’m going to get any answers out of him, he told me to ask my kid. Like its Michael’s fucking fault or something.”

“My kid never hurt anyone in his whole entire life, he’s got a good heart, and he gives, look how much he has done for everyone, look what he’s done for Justin with the comic.”

Jennifer’s head snapped up at this, “Justin has worked hard on that comic too.”

“Yeah but if my kid wouldn’t have thought of it Justin wouldn’t have gotten a lot of notice, he would have never went to Hollywood, he owes Michael for that.” Deb cried.

“I thought it was an equal partnership, they both worked hard at it. They both made it happen. But we’re not talking about Justin and Michael; we’re talking about Brian and Michael. Their best friends Debbie, how many times have you told me that? They wouldn’t actually physically hurt each other.”

“Yeah, well what about when he fucking punched my kid for no God Damn reason at the girls’ anniversary party, what about that, he physically hurt Michael for no damn reason at all.”

Jennifer had had enough, she wasn't going to sit here and let Debbie go on and on about the punch, everyone knew what that punch was about. “Oh come on Debbie, we both know why Brian punched Michael that day, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that your son said something he shouldn’t have about my son.”

“That doesn’t justify him hitting him.”

“No, it doesn’t but one thing I’ve learned about Brian, you can push him all you want, but he doesn’t get violent, it had to have been something really bad for him to use violence against Michael. And plus the fact that your son didn’t make a huge fuss about it lets me know that whatever he said was bad, and you can bet it was probably something concerning my son.” Jennifer eyed the woman coolly. She liked Debbie, she truly did, but when it came to Michael Debbie had tunnel vision. Standing she moved towards Deb, “I think you should just back off and let Michael and Brian figure this out on their own.”

“Don’t tell me what to do when it comes to my son.” Debbie said angrily.

“Why not, you’ve never been shy about telling me how to handle mine. And maybe, just maybe we wouldn’t have had to put up with these...dramatics from your son.” Okay, Jennifer was pissed now. She was really tired of Debbie always bitching about her son, her precious spoiled brat, that petulant thirty-five year old little boy. And somehow it was always Brian’s fault. Well no more, she was tired of it.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means your son is out of control when it comes to Brian. He can’t accept the fact that he is not the center of Brian’s world anymore. Brian has moved on, grown up. And he’s no longer there to take on the responsibilities of this fucked up family that we all have here. The girls need money, call Brian, the girls have a fight and break up, blame Brian, the girls cheat on each other, blame Brian, Michael can’t keep a relationship, blame Brian, Michael quits his job, blame Brian, Ted breaks the law, call Brian, and I fell into that at first, my son, my beautiful son gets bashed, blame Brain; until my son opened my eyes. Our lives get fucked up and we all run to Brian to fix it. And when he needs us where are we, not there helping him, oh no because he’s Brian Fucking Kinney, he doesn’t need our help. He was always there to take the blame for everything that happened but thank God some of us have grown up, Justin, Emmett, Ted, hell even Ben now realize that Brian is not the big evil we all made him out to be.”

Deb just stood and glared at Jennifer.

“Maybe it’s time you realized that your son causes his own fuck-up’s and you always expect Brian to clean them up. You have made using guilt a fine art when it comes to Brian. Well no more. Michael fucks up, let Michael clean it up himself. He’s what, thirty-five fucking years old. You can’t wipe his ass anymore Deb, let him grow the fuck up!”

Jennifer never saw it coming, just a blur as Debbie’s hand flew through the air and connected with her cheek.

SMACK!

It took her a moment to realize what had just happened, just one moment as the words formed in Jennifer’s brain, ‘that bitch just slapped me.’

“I don’t think so!” Jennifer screamed, balling up her fist she let loose.

Tucker came through the door just as Jennifer broke Debbie’s nose.

******

“What the hell is going on in here?” Tucker couldn’t believe what he was seeing; his calm, cool beautiful partner was in a cat fight. And damn, she looked hot.

He didn’t even think they knew he was in the room. He watched as they stood and stared at each other, Jen’s eyes as wide as they possible could go, Debbie standing and holding her bleeding nose with a look of total shock.

When suddenly they both broke out in tears and reached for each other. He heard ‘sorry’ ‘forgive me’ and ‘I didn’t mean it’’ as they wrapped arms around each other and clung to one another.

Walking towards the sink he grabbed a tea towel and turned the cold water on.

“Not that one honey, get one of the old blue ones out of the drawer.”

He couldn’t believe it one minute they’re throwing punches and now Jen was worried about her good towels. He would never fucking understand women, never.

Chapter Text

Carl made his way down the steps; he could hear Debbie moving around in the kitchen, he wasn't sure he was ready for this, but he'd spent all night worrying about what had happened over at Jennifer Taylor's that would have led to Debbie spending the entire night in the ER. Ready or not he was going to find out what happened even if he had to tie her to a chair and interrogate her. He loved Debbie, but he was getting damn tired of the theatrics that came along with being her husband and lover. He didn't know who was worse when it came to the hysterics, Debbie or her son. This last fiasco could be laid at Michael's door was Carl's first thought but the more he thought about it while laying in bed last night, it was just as much Deb's. In a way he had to blame Deb, because Michael was very much his mother's son.

He spied the food as soon as he stepped into the kitchen, he looked around in awe. A bowl of scrambled eggs on the counter, a platter of bacon was set in the middle of the table. Pancakes were bubbling on a black griddle on top of the stove; Deb was standing at the sink washing a few utensils, he could just make out the edge of the white bandage, standing out against the red of her wig. He couldn't see it with her back to him but he bet her cheeks directly under eyes were starting to bruise. He looked at the food again. It wasn't the food itself that had caused Carl's astonishment; it was the amount of it. There was enough food to feed ten people.

"Ah...Deb...Exactly how many people are coming for breakfast?"

Debbie didn't even stop what she was doing. "Just us."

Carl just shook his head and stared at all the food again. "Why are you making all this food then?"

A spoon was slammed down onto the countertop. "Because I feel like it, you have a fucking problem with that?"

The venom in her voice caused Carl to take a step back. So, this is how it was going to be. To Debbie taking out her anger on Carl was the norm. But not today, he was tired of it and he wasn't going to take it.

"So, let me guess, you had to high tail it over to Jennifer's and start shooting your mouth off, do I have it right?"

"Me. Me, shooting my mouth off, you want to know what that woman said to me, what she had the nerve to fucking tell me about my kid." Debbie said as she threw the washcloth into the sink.

"I can just imagine what she told you." Carl snapped back. "Just like I told you to stay the hell out of it, it wasn't any of your business."

"Not my business, you're telling me that Michael isn't my business?" Debbie questioned.

Carl smiled, but it wasn't a nice smile, "I bet she told you to mind your own business too, didn't she. But being Debra Jane Novotny-Horvath, oh no, you couldn't do that could you?"

Debbie jerked away from the counter heading right for Carl, "Michael is my fucking kid, nobody tells me nothing when it comes to him, do you understand me, nobody."

"Well maybe somebody should have, just maybe then he wouldn't act like a little bastard so much." Carl began. "Deb I love you, you know that, but the way you coddle that boy, it's pathetic. I've seen it happen time and time again. I've always told myself to stay out of it, it's not my business. But when you come home in the middle of the night, with bruises after getting in a fight with someone who I thought was one of your best friends, when then I have to put my foot down."

"You don't have any say in anything when it comes to Michael, you hear me." Debbie shouted. "You don't get any say about him at all."

"Why not, you get to butt into everyone else's life, you and Michael both. Especially when it comes to Brian Kinney. For some reason you two think you can just butt in whenever the hell you please. No matter who you hurt."

Up comes the finger, Carl watched as it waived through the air. "Listen here, I know Brian Kinney better than anyone else does. I know what an asshole he can be..."

"Just as much of an asshole as Michael can be." Carl stated.

Carl thought steam would shoot out of Debbie's ears any minute now. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound Carl thought as he got ready to really piss her off.

"Well maybe if you would let your thirty-five year son stand on his own two feet once in a while, maybe we wouldn't have to be arguing about this bullshit."

"Fuck you, as I told Jennifer last night, if his mother can't defend him against that fucking asshole then who will?" Debbie shouted back.

"Maybe you aught to let Michael defend himself, did you ever think of that?" Carl snapped back. "He's thirty-five for Christ sake; quit treating him like a child. Make him stand on his own two feet and maybe, just maybe we won't have to live with these tantrums of his. But then again, he learned his tantrum from you, so maybe not."

What the fuck did you just say?" Debbie demanded, moving to stand directly in front of Carl.

"What are you going to do Debbie, slap me upside my head?" Carl gently asked, "because believe when I say this, you swing at me, it will be the last time."

Debbie stuttered for a few seconds, "What, what...you'd hit me...you'd hit me back."

"No," Carl stated, "but I will be gone. Trust me on this. I'm sick and tired of having to deal with both you and Michael acting like a bunch of six year olds when you don't get your own way."

Debbie just stood there and stared at Carl.

"Did you hit Jennifer last night?" Carl asked quietly. He watched as Debbie's face went white, and then red.

"You did, didn't you? You just couldn't control yourself could you?" Carl shook his head back and forth. "Deb, she's not one of your boys; you just don't do that. The boys have put up with it; they've grown used to it. You just don't get to slap people because they don't agree with something you've said. You can't do that. This shit has got to stop..."

The finger was in Carl's face before he had a chance to finish. "People don't tell me what to do when it comes to my kid. No matter who they are."

Carl tilted his head to the side. "Am I just people Deb?"

Debbie didn't answer.

"No, I'm not I'm your husband. And as your husband I'm telling you now that this is going to stop. You are going to have to let Michael handle his own dealings from now on. You have enough on your plate without worrying about a thirty-five year old man with a husband and two kids who just can't handle the fact that he's not the only person in Brian Kinney's life. He's his friend, not his lover, not his mother, just his friend. And until you and him both realize that this is never going to end.

"But he's my kid." Debbie's eyes started to water up.

"And I'm your husband, and I love you, but for God's Sake Debbie you have to let him handle his own life, do you hear me?" Carl moved to take her into his arms.

"I love you, and I care about Michael but you have to realize that Michael makes his own problems, and since he makes them you have to let him unmake them." Carl gently told her. "And anyway, I'm too old to have to bail you out of jail in front of all my co-workers when you start slugging other people."

******

Brian rolled over and pulled Justin's warm body against his. He opened his eyes and raised his head enough to see the alarm clock. It was still early; they had time before they had to be up. Hell, Brian smirked as he dropped his head onto Justin's pillow, maybe they wouldn't get up today, maybe they would just lay here and ignore the phone. He doubted he had to worry about the door; it was very rare for any of the family to make the long trek out to West Virginia.

"What are you doing?" Justin quietly asks him, his voice barely making it past the pillow that he had his face smashed into.

"Nothing." Brian answered. "I don't want to get up. I don't want to get dressed. I don't want to move at all today."

Justin smiled. "You don't want to get up. You don't want to get dressed. You don't want to go to Debbie's for dinner."

Brian snuggled his face into Justin's back. "Can you call and say you're sick?"

The bed shook with Justin's giggles. "No, because I'm not sick, why don't you call and say you're chicken shit?"

Justin yelped as Brian bit into his shoulder blade. "I'm not chicken shit. Don't have any reason to be chicken shit."

Silence.

"I just don't want to go."

Justin turned over and tried to look at Brian, but the other man kept his face hidden in Justin's neck. "Are you whining?"

Brian shook his head no.

"Pouting?"

"Ouch, fucker that hurt." Justin yelped, he tried moving his stinging neck from Brian's teeth.

"I don't pout." Brian said throwing himself onto his back, his arms covering his face.

"So, you're not whining or pouting, what are you doing?"

Brian started kicking his legs and feet, his fist bouncing off the mattress as he slammed them up and down. "I don't wannnna go, don't make me gooooo."

Laughing Justin leaned up on one elbow. "Brian we talked about this with Gus, throwing tantrums does not get you your own way. And anyway if Michael can't handle our relationship the best way to handle it is to just ignore him."

"I can ignore Mikey...its Deb who's too hard to fucking ignore. I know she's going to hit me, and yell. God I hate it when she yells, she gets so fucking loud."

"Just tell her to back the fuck off; you do it to everyone else, why not Deb."

"Because she doesn't listen, that's why. The rest of you'd listen, she doesn't. Never has."

"You know the one I pity the most is Ben. I mean Ben's a good guy, why is he wasting his time with Michael." Justin leans back against the headboard.

"That's what I told Michael, it was always Michael I thought I would have to worry about being hurt. I never imagined it would be Ben we'd be worrying about." Brian said.

Justin reached over and ran his hands thru Brian's hair, trying to correct the bed hair Brian was sporting.

"I told you. Michael always wanted you for himself. He never liked the thought of sharing you with me, hell he did everything he could to run me off that first year." Justin said as he continued to try and tame Brian's hair. "Hell, I thought the two years I was in New York brought us closer together, I mean we spent a lot of time on the internet and the phone with Rage. We spent a lot of time working together and I thought we were actually becoming friends. I actually thought he was over all that, until I announced I was coming home. Then it was like the first year all over again. I honestly don't think he's ever going to accept me Brian. It's just something we are going to have to live with."

"No, we're not. He either gets over his youthful fantasy or else he finds a new friend, because I've already told him, you're my best friend. Ben should be his."

"I love you." Justin quietly said.

"Yeah, me too." Brian replied.

"You love you too?"

Justin yelped again as Brian quickly yanked him down to lie next to him.

"Want me to prove it little boy, do you?" Brian smiled, his lips bare inches from Justin's.

"Yeah, prove it." Justin whispered.

*******

The crowd of men in Debbie’s backyard couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They all started talking at once.

“Jen...”

"Justin's mom...

“Blonde cool, Queen of the WASP...that Jen...”

“Mother Taylor...”

“My mother....punched Debbie?”

Tucker nodded, “yep, I walked in, heard something about wiping Mikey’s ass, then Debbie threw an open handed slap, then it happened, my woman threw one hell of a right hook, bam...broke her nose, spent half the night in the emergency room too.”

“What the hell was going on?” Ted ask he glanced at Blake, he couldn’t believe it.

“I don’t know, I ask Jen, all she said was that it was over, and I didn’t need to worry about it.” Tucker told him.

“And they made up?” Emmett queried.

“Boom, punches flying one minute, the next they were wrapped up in each other’s arms crying their eyes out.” Tucker told them, he could see the confusion on their faces. “I didn’t get it either.”

“Women...this is why I fuck men.” Brian just shook his head. Reaching out he pulled Justin into his side.

Tucker nodded his head, "I'm starting to understand why so many men are gay, evolution is protecting us from women."

All the men in the backyard all nodded along with him.

“It’s like the twilight zone.” Justin just looked at Brian, confusion still running though his eyes. "I can't believe my mother hit somebody...hit Deb...I just can't take it in."

“I can, I’ve always thought she could hold her own in a fight.” Brain said.

“That’s because you’ve always been afraid of her.” Justin told him.

“No I’m not...well not anymore, maybe at the beginning...but not now, now Mother Taylor loves me.” Brian told him smugly.

“Well, I’m not surprised, I mean come on both of them are like Mama Bears when it comes to their babies, and like Tucker said, Michael’s name was mentioned, and we all know that Michael has been in a snit since that night at Babylon. I betcha Deb was discussing Brian in some way and now that Brian is one of Jennifer’s baby bears well, there ya go. And we know how strong and independent Jennifer is. I believe it,” Emmett said, he dropped his shoulders in disappointment. “I just wish I could’ve seen it. I love a good cat fight.”

“Fuck you Emmett,” Brian snapped, he turned and looked off into the darkness mumbling. “Baby bear my ass.”

“And now they’ve all made up and everything is fine?” Ted said. “Brian’s right, women are too hard to figure out.”

“Not everyone...since neither Michael or Brian are willing to share what happened on the dance floor that night, and since they still aren’t talking to each other, not everyone has made up.” Emmett said with a sly look to Brian. Emmett knew what Michael had said to Brian that night, and he'd shared what he'd learned with Teddy last night. On Liberty Avenue nothing stayed secret for long; all it took was just one person who was standing close that night to overhear and a few days later almost everyone knew what had happened on that dance floor. But Emmett wasn't going to bring it up unless Brian or Michael did, well he wanted to but Ted wouldn't let him. Ted said the best thing he could do was to stay out of it and let them handle it. He figured Justin knew but wasn’t talking so he couldn't bring it up to Justin either, and the last person he was going to bring it up to was Deb, no he liked his pretty little face bruise-less thank you very much. So there was no one he could talk to about it, it was so depressing to have good gossip and no one to gossip with.

The back door opened and Ben stepped through, raising his hands in the air he made quote symbols. “Deb said it’s time to eat, she’s got the food on the table, you're all supposed to, I quote get your fucking asses in here, unquote.”

The men turned and one by one they entered the back door.

Ben reached out and put his hand on Justin’s shoulder stopping him. “Justin, do you have any idea why Debbie looks like a raccoon?”

“Maybe you should ask her.” Brian said as he moved up behind Justin.

“Yeah right, like when I ask Michael why you two aren’t talking and he just says ‘don’t worry about it, it doesn’t matter.’ Is that what I’d get from Debbie also?”

“All we know Ben is that Tucker walked in on Deb and my mother in a very heated argument. Neither one is saying anything.” Justin told him with a shrug and moved through the door.

Brian moved to follow him, but Ben stepped into him, “I guess you won’t enlighten me either, about what you and Michael are fighting about?”

Brian shrugged, “I’m not fighting, Michael and I talked, and he didn’t like what I had to say. That’s it.”

Ben just looked at him for a moment, nodding he stepped away and let Brian pass. He watched as the man stepped through the door.

“Look at what you did this time Michael? How much more of this are we all going to have to take?” Ben whispered, and then giving himself a shake he followed Brian into the house.

Chapter Text

"It's about fucking time, this food didn't cook itself. Get your asses in here. Sit down and start eating." Deb said as she placed another platter of veal Parmesan on the table. She'd made twenty of them; somebody had better fucking eat them she thought as they all took their seats.

Michael watched as Brian and Justin took two seats on the opposite side of the table from where he usually sat. So far neither of them had spoken a word to each other. Michael was waiting for Brian to apologize to him and Brian had already said everything he wanted to say, plus he did not want to start a discussion with Michael in front of the entire family.

When everyone was seated Debbie stood and grabbed Michael and thrust him into the seat next to her, leaving Hunter to Michael's left, and Ben on Hunter's other side.

"So, everything looks so good Debbie, I don't know where to start" Linz said eyeing the various dishes spread over the table. There was barely any room for plates and cups.

"Start anywhere, I got two more servings of veal so dig in everyone."

This being the first time that Linz and Mel had been in a family setting since they'd split; the first time that the family was all together since that fateful night at Babylon; the first time that the family besides Jennifer, Tucker and Carl had seen Debbie's broken nose caused everyone to just sit and eye each other.

Emmett decided that he would be the one to break the ice. "So, Mel, Ben, is either one of you going to tell us what those lovely t-shirts stand for?"

Mel who was taking a sip of water suddenly spit it back out all over the plates and dishes in front of her. Everyone suddenly leaned back in their chairs while Jennifer and Debbie tried to quickly clean up the drops while at the same time trying not to look at each other.

Emmett being the king of decorum just kept right on going, "I mean I love the color on both of you, black just brings out both your eyes. But I don't understand what the words mean?"

Hunter snickered, "The First Assholes, you've never heard of 'em Em?"

Emmett shook his head, "no, are they a rock band? Teddy have you heard of them?"

Mel looked right at Hunter. "I warned you you little shit!"

"They were gifts from Hunter for Mel and me." Ben told everyone. "Just a little private joke, that's all."

"You have private jokes with Mel?" Michael demanded hotly, trying to glare at Mel and Ben at the same time.

"Imagine that Michael." Hunter snickered.

"Hunter." Ben gave him a warning glare of his own.

"What you aren't even allowed to joke around with anyone besides him?" Hunter asked. "But then again these days Michael ain't joking around too much with anyone is he?"

Brian smiled to himself.

"So Hunter, how is school going?" Ted was anything but subtle

"If it's a joke I think everyone should know what the hell's so funny?" Michael snapped right over Ted’s question.

No one said anything.

"Well, if it's a joke why not share it with everyone?" Michael tried again, looking between Ben and Mel again. "What the hell do the fucking shirts mean?"

Ben reached across Hunter and laid his hand on Michael's shoulder. "Michael it's not something everyone would understand, like Hunter said it's private."

Michael pushed his hand away. "You mean I wouldn't get it don't you? I'm too stupid to get it."

Hunter laughed, "oh, no you'd get it, that's the problem."

"That's it; I'm taking the fucking thing off. I knew I shouldn't have even listened to you Hunter." Mel stood and started to reach for Jenny's diaper bag; she had thrown her other shirt in there when Hunter had presented her and Ben with the shirts when he'd first gotten there. She still couldn't believe she'd allowed him to talk her into wearing it.

"Mel maybe you should just let all of us in on the joke, that's all Michael is saying, right Michael?" Lindsay, always the pacifier tried to help the situation.

"Why do we have to explain it to anyone? It's our business, nobody else's." Hunter said as he shoveled a large bite of veal into his mouth.

Ted was sitting to Justin's left, he decided he wasn't going to be drawn into this debacle, and turning to Justin he asked him about a recent commission that he'd done some paperwork on for him. As the rest of the family squabbled back and forth about the t-shirts Justin and Ted tuned them out, in a few moments two conversations were going on at the same time, one between Michael, Hunter, Ben, Lindsay and Mel another between Ted, Blake, Justin, Jennifer and Tucker. Debbie and Carl sat quietly in the middle trying to listen to the two different conversations at the same time. Once Debbie opened her mouth to defend Michael when Hunter said something caustic, but Carl squeezed her hand and she kept her mouth shut, turning she smiled at her husband and continued on with her meal. Carl smiled back. He looked up and caught Brian's eye, they both laughed and shook their heads back and forth.

"Oh Hunter before I forget, here are the brochures you wanted." Mel said as she handed a packet of paper across the table to Hunter.

"You got them. Cool." The young man replied as he started looking through the packet.

"What are those?" Michael demanded as he tried to read what was written on the top page, but Hunter was moving around too much.

"I ask Mel to pick me up a bunch of information on law school." Hunter replied, still reading through the packet with one hand and taking a bite with the other.

"Hunter don't talk with your mouth full." Ben said with a smile. He loved seeing his foster son so excited about school; he remembered the times he couldn't even talk about college with the boy because Hunter hadn't believed he'd have a future, let alone an educated one.

"LAW SCHOOL!!!" Everyone's eyes turned to Michael as he screeched out the words. "Why would you even think they'd allow you in law school?"

"Allow?" Ted couldn't believe Michael, sometimes he wondered if there actually was a brain in his friends head.

"Yeah, what the fuck do you mean by 'allow'?" Mel's voice only held half the anger her eyes held.

Michael didn't take the time to notice all the glares that were coming his way.

"You know damn well what I'm talking about, he was a...ah...you know."

“No, apparently we don’t know Michael, why don’t you educate us.” Ted still couldn’t believe Michael could be so dense some time.

“He was a hustler...” Michael snapped, there he'd made his point. “They aren’t going to allow some kid who was a...”

“Stop it Michael.” Ben couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Hunter’s past has nothing to do with his fut...”

“The hell it doesn’t. He’s going to get all excited about it, and we end up throwing all our money away because they find out...” Michael didn’t get to finish before Carl interrupted him.

“It doesn’t matter Michael, he was never arrested, and even if he was it’s not illegal to better yourself. And who the hell are "they"?”

“The college people, the people in charge, they're not going to want a...”

“I said stop it and I meant it.” Ben’s voice was raised. “Hunter can go to school anywhere he likes, he can take any courses he wants. And I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

“But it’s our money...” Michael started to whine.

“No, it’s not. It’s mine.” Hunter stated. He’d had enough of Michael’s attitude. “I’ve already got loans. You don’t have to worry about your precious comic book money.”

“LOANS!” Michael screamed. “Where the fuck did you get...” He stopped and sputtered a bit, turning he glared at Brian. “You gave him the fucking money after I told you we didn’t want it.”

Brian shrugged. “It wasn’t your decision, it was Hunter’s. He’s an adult now; he can make his own decisions.”

Brian leaned over and whispered something in Justin’s ear. Justin smiled and Brian chuckled.

"Now what the fuck do you think is so funny?"

Brian turned and looked at Michael, who was glaring directly at him.

"What the fuck do you think is so fucking funny?" Michael demanded again.

Brian smirked, "I just reminded Sunshine here that I'd rather be home fucking right now then listening to this bullshit."

"Michael." Debbie decided it was time to distract her son. Grabbing onto the platter of veal she shoved it in front of him, "have another one, I made so many...

"I don't want another fucking piece of meat Ma." With that Michael reached across and pushed the platter out of his way getting ready to give Brian a piece of his mind but Deb's grip slipped and the platter went flying, sending meat and sauce in all different directions. The platter cracked Deb across the bridge of her broken nose and all hell broke loose.

********

Carl hung up the phone and tried to herd through the mass of bodies that surrounded Debbie. "Dr Irving thinks that we should head to the emergency room..."

"No, I spen' all last nigh'..." Debbie cried her voice muffled around the ice bag draped over her face.

"Well it looks like you'll be spending tonight there too, he wants to make sure that no cartilage broke off and made its way into your sinuses. He says that can lead to all kinds of complications. I agree I'm not taking any chances with you babe." Carl slipped his arms around her and helped her up. "Let's go."

"Tucker, get the car," Jennifer said as she grabbed Debbie's jacket and purse. "We'll drive, that way you can sit in back with Deb."

"Tank you." Debbie replied as she handed Emmett the ice bag and slipped her arms into her coat. She caught the sight of Michael standing in the kitchen as she turned back towards the front door. She couldn't look at him right now, couldn't speak to him. All of this just confirmed what Carl had been saying earlier. Michael didn't take into account what his actions meant. She knew he was waiting for her to tell him it was alright, that she didn't blame him, but she did. He'd been in the midst of one of his temper tantrums and didn't stop to think before pushing that platter back at her. She wasn't ready to talk to him, not yet.

"Jennifer don't forget to call and let us know what the doctor says alright?" Lindsay said as she walked with them to the door. "We'll be here cleaning up for about another hour and then try me at home okay."

Jennifer nodded. "I won't forget Lindsay. Once I call you you can call everyone else."

"Good luck. And when you get back we'll just make some more of those slushy ice bags." Emmett stood next to Lindsay at the door, dramatically waiving a tissue in the air as Jennifer and Carl finally got Deb through the door. "Don't worry about anything, everything will be alright, I just know it."

Emmett turned to Lindsay, "we have to make some of those bags for you and Mel, they're great to have around in case the kids need them. Thank God for Rachel Ray, those bag form right to your injury and they're not stiff like the regular ones, form-fitting is so much nicer no hard parts poking you, it's better for the little ones."

With a smile Lindsay reached up and wiped a tear from Emmett's cheek nodding; she realized the man was beside himself with worry for Debbie. "Yes, Emmett we can do that."

"You ready Sunshine?" Brian turned to Justin. "I think I've had enough of family fun night, what about you?"

Justin nodded as he moved to grab their coats off the coat rack. "Can someone call us and let us know what the doctor says?"

Mel moved up behind him and helped him on with his jacket, she smiled. "Are you going to the loft or the country house?"

"Just call one of our cells. We never know where we're going until Brian gets behind the wheel." The smile left Justin's face as he turned and spied Michael standing in the kitchen; he shook his head and looked back at Mel. "Just don't forget to call and let us know okay."

From the moment the door clicked shut silence filled the downstairs of the small house. Slowly as if on cue everyone turned and looked at Michael standing alone in the kitchen.

"I didn't...I didn't mean it." Michael stammered. No one said anything. "I'm sorry okay."

Ted just shook his head back and forth. "If I had a dollar for every time I've heard you say that I'd be a rich fucking man Michael."

"Very rich," Emmett nodded in agreement. "Sometimes I wonder what the hell you are thinking Michael. Debbie could have seriously been hurt."

"She didn't even say anything to me..." Michael began; they could hear the self pity in his voice.

"What the hell was she supposed to say, 'thanks for breaking my nose again asshole." Hunter said as he threw himself onto the couch.

"Hunter." Ben placed a hand on his shoulder.

Hunter shook off the hand, "no, no fucking way am I going to let this one slide, especially since he was busting on me when it happened."

Michael took a few steps towards the boy, "I wasn't busting on you. It was fucking Brian's fault..."

Ted threw his hands into the air. "Oh Jesus Fucking Christ, here we go again, you're starting to sound like a God Damn broken record Michael."

"He does know how to pass the buck doesn't he?" Emmett reached over and rubbed Ted's back.

"Well if Brian wouldn't have pissed me off, if he would have just stayed out of my fucking family business then it wouldn't have happened." Michael's self pity was blossoming into anger again. "And anyway if it's anyone's fault it's Justin's."

He crossed his arms over his chest and glared back at everyone. Once again they were all standing and staring at him, they couldn't believe that he could find a way to blame this on Justin.

"How the fuck is this Justin's fault?" Ted demanded of him.

"It was his fucking mother who broke ma's nose in the first place."

Emmett opened his mouth to argue but Ted raised his hand to hold him off.

"Quiet."

Mel took a step towards the kitchen. "Michael there is no fucking..."

Ted's hand moved towards her. "Shhhh..."

Everyone stopped and stared at Theodore, he stood with one hand in the air holding them back, the other hand grasp both temples at one time.

"Teddy?" Emmett whispered. "Teddy are you having an aneurysm?"

Ted shook his head no. He moved towards the kitchen table and pulled out a chair. Turning to Michael he quietly said, "sit."

Michael looked at Ted then he looked at the chair. "Why?"

Ted's expression didn't change. "Sit. In. The. Fucking. Chair."

Michael didn't know this Ted; he'd never seen him like this before. He moved to the chair and sat down, keeping his eyes on Ted the entire time.

No one else in the room said anything, they just all stood and watched as Ted removed another chair from the table and placed it across from Michael. He sat in the chair and looked directly at Michael.

"What?" Michael questioned.

Ted closed his eyes for a second, and then opened them. "Michael do you remember a few weeks ago in the diner I told you then that if you didn't catch up to the rest of us you would be left behind?"

Michael's shoulders drooped. "Yeah, and I didn't understand it then either. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"It means," Ted began talking very slowly. "It means that when things don't go your way you act like an immature child, you've always reacted this way, and we've always let you get away with it. But that ends tonight."

"I do not..." Michael crossed his arms over his chest and pouted.

"Look at yourself." Ted motioned with his hands at Michael's position. "Right now you are in the same position that a five or six year old takes when his mother won't let him have a cookie."

"Fuck you..." Michael began.

"No. Fuck you." Ted answered him in the same calm and even tone. "I, for one am sick and tired of this petty jealousy that you have over Brian Kinney."

"Jealousy, I am not jealous, I have no...I don't..." Michael sputtered.

Ted nodded, "jealousy. Plain and simple. From the time you were fourteen years old you'd been the only person that Brian has let into his world."

Lindsay took a step into the kitchen, "that's not entirely true..."

"Shut up Linz." Mel snapped. "This isn't about you."

The blonde blushed and took a step back.

"Brian is my best friend." Michael stated.

"He was there for you, and you were there for him, you both needed each other at the time. You needed a man to represent the missing father in your life, a super hero who would always be there to save you. And Brian needed a safe harbor to run to when it got too rough at home."

"We've always been there for each other." Michael stated proudly.

"Yes, you were. But that time is gone. Neither you nor Brian needs that safety net in your life anymore. You have Ben and the kids, and Brian has Justin."

"But he's my best friend..." Michael started.

Ted shook his head. "No, he's not. And you're not his best friend, if you were his best friend you would realize what you are doing. But since you're not you don't see it."

"See what?"

"See that you are being a total and irresponsible shit to Brian...and Justin."

"Justin. This isn't about Justin, this is about..." Michael voice was filled with anger now. "This is about the fact that because of that little shit things aren't the way they were, it's changed and because of that change Brian..."

"Has a life of his own." Ted finished. "Brian has a life that revolves around Justin and Gus, the two most important people in his life. The two best people in his life."

Michael jumped out of the chair, "That fucking spoiled brat is NOT the most important person in Brian's life. No fucking way. I know Brian better than anyone, better than any of you, no matter what the fuck you think."

Everyone started yelling and moving towards Michael at the same time. Ted simply stood up and raised both arms. "Back off and let me handle this." Dead silence met his request, Ted wasn't sure why, but they all listened to him. If Ted could have seen his eyes at the moment he would have understood why everyone backed off. His eyes were dark and they were mean.

Turning back towards Michael he quietly told him to sit back down. Michael sat.

"Ted why are you..." Michael couldn't understand why Ted was acting the way he was.

Ted took his chair again, "Why am I saying these things to you?"

Nodding his head quickly Michael stammered, "I don't understand how you can be so mean to me. I thought we were friends."

"Because we are friends Michael, that's why I'm saying these things. Everyone in this room is your friend. Brian is your friend, hell even Justin is your friend. But you keep falling back into these fits of jealousy..."

"I'm not jealous." Michael said. "I'm not; it's just that Justin hurt Brian and I have to protect my best friend."

Ted shook his head, "you are jealous. Every one of your friends and family know this. We've recognized it for years, but we never say anything, we never bring it up. It's like the dark secret the family keeps; Michael Novotney's jealousies of everything Brian Kinney."

Michael's hands fisted, "I told you I'm not jealous."

"You're in denial. The worst state of denial I've every seen, and I've seen many cases, hell I used to be one." Ted kept his voice calm; no matter how much he wanted to scream at his friend he knew it would get him know where. "When Justin was in New York everything was fine, you lived your life with Ben, and we all saw each other socially, kept in touch, like I said everything was fine. You even talked to Brian about the kid's college fund with no problem."

"That's because everything WAS fine. Life was the way it was supposed to be." Michael quietly said. "The right way."

"But the minute Justin announced he was coming home you and Lindsay went into over-drive. You were having secret meetings at the gallery or comic shop, discussing ways of subtly getting Brian to make Justin stay in New York. You didn't think we knew but we did, neither one of you are very good at hiding anything. You started pushing Brian's button's...'but Brian, he won't make the contacts here that he'd make in New York...but Brian, you're never going to be a husband, you know what happened in the past is just going to happen again don't you...but Brian he cheated on you once, don't think he won't do it again.' Yes, you used true and tried methods that have worked for you both in the past. And those plans took you away from the important things, your daughter, your sons, and your partners. They got left behind, not being part of your schemes and plans."

Michael glanced over at Linz, but the woman wouldn't meet his eyes, she stared at the floor, her face flushed red. He turned back to Ted; he couldn't come up with anything to say.

"But something new happened didn't it?" Ted ask, "Brian didn't react the way you expected him to. He didn't get mad, he didn't start drinking or tricking anymore or any less. He didn't make any elaborate plans to push Justin off The Great Cliff Kinney."

Michael slightly shook his head no. "No, it didn't..."

"We know, we all watched it, every one of us. Some of us decided to clean house, decided that they weren't willing to play in your games any longer. They moved out and moved on."

Everyone looked at Mel, but she was too busy staring at Michael, she was not going to give in to the need that was building inside of her, the need that wanted to go off on both Lindsay and Michael.

"Brian started planning for Justin's return. And you started getting angrier and angrier. You no longer had your partner in crime, after Lindsay lost her partner she didn't have time to play in your little games any longer, so you were left alone. And in the end you decided to go back to the old days, the days of partying at Babylon, just you and Brian. You waited and you crashed their night out, the one night they planned on spending some time together...alone, but you couldn't let that happen could you Michael you had to put a stop to it. So off you run to Babylon, leaving your partner to deal with your daughter's teachers, something you should have been there for. And then you took the drugs, not something you've done in quite a while. Not something you had really planned, but what the hell, it was you and Brian, just like the old days. But you found out what it took an addiction to teach me, drugs and truth will out. You couldn't keep those feelings you've kept hidden for years buried any long..."

"No...I don't want to hear this...I don't..." Michael went to stand. But before he could Ted grabbed both shoulders and shoved him back into the chair.

"The drugs made your tongue loose and you finally admitted what you've kept buried, you told Brian Fucking Kinney how you truly felt. You told him you loved him, wanted to be with him."

Michael let out a sniff, his shoulders shook once. Ben took a step towards him but was pulled back by a hand sliding into his; he turned and was caught by the look in Mel's eyes. "Don't. Let Ted handle this."

Ben nodded and stepped back but didn't release Mel's hand, Hunter stepped up next to her and took Mel's other hand, Emmett moved over and clasped Hunter's, he then turned and put his hand out for Lindsay. She sucked her lips into her mouth and took a moment to think, her face suddenly relaxed and with a small smile she moved up and took Emmett's hand. Blake stood back by the stairs, he knew this was about the family, he wasn't part of this, not yet, maybe one day but he stood back in case Ted needed him.

Ted looked up and saw the united front his family was taking; it took everything he had not to let his emotions show on his face. He had to stay in control if this was going to work. He smiled at Blake.

He turned back to Michael, there were tears openly flowing down his face now.

"You told him that he couldn't be with Justin because when the time came, when Ben wasn't part of your life any longer he had to be there for you. Just you, no Justin allowed. Brian tried to make you stop, tried to get you to let it go, something he was finally able to do after meeting Justin, Justin taught him how to let his overly protective feelings for you go. To let you live your own life, make your own choices. He grew up, with Justin's help."

Michael's head flew back and forth vigorously. "No, he didn't help him grow up, he didn't, HE changed him. He made him different, not the same person anymore. He wasn't there for me like he promised. He promised..."

"He doesn't need to be there for you Michael, not any longer. You have Ben..."

Michael suddenly sat up. "But it's not the same, not like it was. I'm supposed to have Ben, I love Ben, and he loves me. But Brian was supposed to be there for me, not for Justin. He didn't do love, didn't do boyfriends. Nobody but me is supposed to be close to him. He let Lindsay in, but that was okay, 'cuz he's never gonna to want to live with her, and then Gus came. I tried to tell him that Gus would change him but he didn't listen, he let Lindsay get pregnant and I thought it would change...I did, but it didn't, he was still the same. It was only with Justin that he changed. He became different because of Justin, not better...different. Don't you see it? I'm not going to always have Ben."

Ted nodded, "because Ben could die. And then you'd be alone again. And then you could fall back on your good old buddy Brian to take care of everything, protect you, and always make sure your life is okay."

"Yes," Michael cried. "Yes."

"But don't you see Michael, it's not Brian's job to do that anymore. You're an adult now. You should be taking care of yourself. You'll have all of us, me your mom and Carl, Hunter, Jenny, Mel, Emmett, Linz. And Brian...and Justin. Your family, we'll all be there to take care of you."

"But it was supposed to be me and Brian, two old queers living in Palm Springs." Michael cried. "That's how it was supposed to be."

Ted moved in closer. "Michael look at me." Reaching out he lifted Michael's chin up. "Look at me. You're afraid, you're afraid of a future without Ben, I understand that. But it's not just Brian's job to make it all better. It's yours...and ours, all of ours, your family."

"You need to get help Michael, you have all these fears and hopes mixed up in your head, you need to see someone professionally, someone who can help you see that you're never going to be alone. Not really. Okay?"

Michael looked into Ted's eyes and they weren't as cold as they were before, there was warmth there that drew him in. "Promise?"

Ted nodded. "I promise...we all promise."

Michael shoulders shook, cries poured from his mouth. Ted looked over at Ben and nodded. The larger man came and wrapped his arms around his partner. "It's going to be okay Michael. We love you."

The family turned and smiled at each other.

Chapter Text

One Year Later

"God, I'm sooo glad my OB/GYN rounds are finished, I never thought it would end." Daphne laughed as she took a huge bite of the cheeseburger in front of her.

"Daph I think you're the only woman I know who doesn't go all goo-goo eyed over tiny babies." Justin laughed as he watched his friend try and steal another fry off his plate, he playfully smacked at her hand. "You didn't want any, remember."

"I can't afford 'em; my hips are growing in leaps and bounds." The girl laughed as she managed to steal one of the greasy treats off the side of his plate. "And it's not the babies I mind, well not much. It's all those pregnant women. I'm telling you right now, if you ever want a kid you better start looking other places cause I'm not having any. No way, saggy tits and stretch marks are not my things."

"Vain much?" Justin teased her.

"Plus they take over your life. I like my life and my hips exactly like they are thank you very much."

Justin laughed. "You and Brian, you both act like you are getting fat and you're still both skinny as hell."

"I'm not skinny." Daph threw the stolen fry across the tabletop; it landed on his chest and bounced back on the plate. She watched as Justin picked it up and tossed it onto the table. "Keep it up and I'm telling Brian you called him skinny."

"Okay, what did Jared call it, voluptuous, yeah that was it." Justin laughed.

"And that is why Jared is sharing my bed...at the moment."

"I like Jared, Jared can stay." Justin told her.

"Ooooh, aren't we all over-protective. I'm a big girl Justin; I can pick my own date's thank you very much."

Justin smiled and took a bite out of his burger that rivaled Daphne's.

"And speaking of over-protective friends how goes the Mikey drama?" She made quotes in the air as she spoke.

"The Mikey drama..." Justin sighed. "Not so well."

"I thought he was getting therapy?"

"He was, but that only lasted about three months. And everything seemed to be going good. It seemed like everyone was taking their turns with the doctor, first Ben and Hunter, then Deb, then the doc ask Brian to a few sessions. I really thought it was helping. Michael seemed calmer; he didn't pout or whine as much. We all thought it was going well. And his and Brian's relationship really improved...a lot."

"So what happened? Did he catch you and Brian having sex in his old room or something?" Daphne laughed.

Justin shook his head, "Michael's old room, which was my old room, then Em's old room, then Hunter's old room, is now Michael new room."

"WHAT!!" Daphne shrieked dropping her burger back onto the plate. "When the hell did this happen, or more importantly, what the hell happened?"

Justin frowned, "like I said we all thought that therapy was really helping, but then Mel started seeing Deedee, Michael didn't react very well to that. Dr. Fraiser said it had to do with the fact that Michael didn't face change very well, well that and one of those long ten syllables words doctors like to use. OCD was brought up once, and the doctor was going to start serotonin treatments, but I don't think Debbie and Ben believed in that theory very much and Michael put a stop to that real quick."

"Well in the medical field there have been supportive arguments from both sides of the fence on whether it's a brain disorder or a mental disorder." Daphne told him. "So is he still in therapy?"

"Nope." Justin, "like I said he stopped it after about three months, when Mel started seeing Deedee. Michael always hoped that Mel and Linz would get back together. But that wasn't going to happen; Lindsay is still dating half of Pittsburgh, male and female, now that's she's admitted to being bi-sexual she's a lot happier, just not lucky in love. And Mel started seeing Deedee pretty regularly, or Melody which is what her driver's license says. But Brian said he wasn't going to start calling out Mel and have both of them answer so she became Deedee. And everyone loved Deedee, hell even Brian likes Dee."

"Brian Kinney admitting to liking a lesbian, what is the world coming too."

"Exactly, but they meshed the minute they met, in a lot of ways they remind me a lot of each other, Dee's not into bullshit, she's totally honest, even brutally sometimes, and she's very unapologetic. Emmett says it's amazing that for years they all thought that Linz was with Mel because she was the female Brian and now Mel's with Brian's female twin. But whatever you do don't say that around Mel. It's not pretty. Oh, it's really fun at family get togethers, and Dee is absolutely amazing with the kids. I really like her. And Debbie adores her. Everyone likes her, even Linz got along with her, but Michael didn't. He reacted by being shitty to her but unlike me who always ignored him when he got shitty, she didn't. I can't tell you the amount of times she verbally kicked the shit out of him, until he finally got the message and just ignored her."

"See being in Philly causes me to miss all the fun shit." Daphne complained. "What happened next?"

"Michael started up with the pouting, then the whining, then the verbal diarrhea again and Ben and Hunter got the shits of it, no pun intended. Hunter moved into Debbie's because he had to wait a few weeks till he could get into the dorms, which is where he is now. And then even Ben had had enough, it seemed he started bitching about me again, never in my or Brian's hearing but he started his bullshit in front of Ted who really really knows how to put Michael in his place. And that led Ben to make the decisions to break up with little ole Mikey."

Daphne nodded, "I remember you told me about the intervention the night Debbie's nose got broken, well I guess it was the second time I mean."

"Yeah, Ted should be counseling at the center he and Blake attend, he's really good from what I hear." Justin smiled. "You know I'm still surprised sometimes by Ted, he's really changed, But Brian never is, he said he raised Theodore right, unlike Michael."

"So Ben moved out?" Daphne asked.

"Well no. It seemed that when the store had that trouble a few years ago, when Michael wasn't doing much business they had Mel remove Michael's name from the deed on the house. In-case Michael had to declare bankruptcy or something. So Ben asked Michael to leave. He is in the process of paying Michael his share of the house. And then there was the fire at Emmett's..."

"Emmett's pink house caught on fire?" Daph was stunned. "Em's okay right, you would have told me if..."

"Emmett's fine seems the formal owner knew about the faulty wiring and didn't tell anyone, but after the fire his ex-wife contacted Em and so after some legal stuff happening Em got all of his money back plus more. And then he moved in with Ben."

"Emmett moved in with Ben. Oh My God Michael probably busted a nut when that happened." Daphne giggled.

"Oh yeah. It was ugly, really ugly. Michael started running around and telling everyone how Emmett had 'stolen' Ben from him. He was on the phone to Brian at least twenty-times a day." Justin told her.

Daph practically jumped out of her seat. "That's why you had all the numbers changed isn't it? Well, all except for Kinnetic's. I wondered about that. I mean come on, one maybe but both houses and both cellphones no way. Now I totally understand now why you did it."

"He filled Brian's cell phone message box one day and the next day Brian had them all changed, and let me tell you it was a bitch trying to make Lindsay and Deb understand that under no circumstances was Michael to have any of the new numbers."

"So, ARE Ben and Emmett an item?" Daph ask coyly.

Justin smirked, "not yet, but Brian says any day now it's going to happen. It's sorta cute to watch them together. And Christ, for being a cynic Hunter is doing everything to help it along. He turned the fucking power off one night and told them they were having a power outage and had to use candles, and the little shit left them alone with dinner on the table."

"You're just jealous you didn't think of it first." Daph told him with a laugh, she reached over and stole a fry. "Oh, these are cold, order new ones."

Justin just looked at her.

"Oh alright, I get it." Turning her head she asks Kiki to bring them another order of fries.

"So where were we, Michael is acting like a shit, Ben and Emmett are falling into lust and Brian is changing numbers and locks right? I mean come on; the little shit doesn't still have a key does he?"

Justin shook his head, "no, he doesn't. He walked in one too many times, plus Brian thinks he was there a few times when we were either at the house or out of town, so he changed the locks at the loft, and the alarm at the house. Michael never had a key to the house, no way was that happening."

"So Michael is living back home with mommy, at least he has a built in babysitter now." Daph smirked.

"He needs one. Mel won't allow him to have Jenny alone, well let's put it this way; the State of Pennsylvania won't allow Michael Charles Novotny alone with his daughter at the moment, and until the next hearing comes up he's got to have Debbie with them."

Daphne sobered up quite quickly, "he did something to Jenny, Oh My God. And Mel hasn't killed him? What, tell me, come on?"

"Jenny wasn't hurt, nothing happened Thank God. But one weekend when Michael had her over at Debbie's and both Carl and Deb were working the night shift; Debbie coordinates her shift with Carl's, isn't that cute?"

Daphne waved her left hand in the air in circles, "sure, yeah, cute, whatever, get on with, what happened to Jenny?"

"Well Michael got it into his head that Ben and Emmett were doing the nasty and had to rush over to the house and stop them. The only problem was Jenny was asleep upstairs in her crib. But that didn't stop him; once again he didn't stop to think so off he went to Ben's. Want to hear Michael's defense?"

"Yes, what did the creep have to say for himself?"

Justin smirked again, "well it was okay because, get this...because he took the baby monitor with him."

Daphne groaned. "Shit Justin, tell me he is not that fucking dense. He has to know they only work for so many feet...right?"

Justin shook his head no, "nope, he actually thought he would be okay, he'd hear her if she cried and he could rush right home."

"What happened, how did everyone find out?"

"Emmett and Ben were in bed...in their own rooms of course, and Michael was peaking in the windows and he tried to climb the rose trellis to get a look upstairs and it cracked, he fell...but before he fell the neighbor saw someone peaking in Ben's windows so he called the cops. Carl has certain addresses flagged at the station, he was informed, he called Debbie and the shit hit the fan."

"What was Mel's reaction?" Daph was on the edge of her seat.

Justin leaned in, "I was really surprised at first, there we all were at Deb's, because you know Deb, call everyone, get everyone's ass out of bed to come help Mikey. Mel walks in, Carl and Deb tell her what happened, she doesn't even look at Michael, just goes upstairs starts getting Jenny's things together, bundles her up, walks downs stairs, hands her off to Dee, turns and punches Michael directly in the face, then she just stands there looking at him for a moment, everyone is frozen, doesn't know what to do, then she quietly informs him she'll see him in court. And then walks out with Dee and Jenny."

"Wow." Daphne says in amazement.

"Get this, Michael and Deb actually thought Brian would pay his fine for trespassing and criminal invasion, plus for a lawyer against Mel. Brian didn't say a word, just looked at me and asked me if I was ready to go, and then we left."

"Is Debbie even talking to you and Brian?"

Justin smiled and nodded his head, "she didn't for awhile, but you know Deb, she comes around after she settles down, or Carl talks some sense into her."

Daph nodded in agreement then ask, "So the judge won't allow Michael alone with Jenny?"

"Nope, he has to be supervised and seek therapy and in a few months they'll have another hearing but Michael hasn't sought therapy so the judge won't change the order, and so that means no just daddy and Jenny outings."

"Jesus, he's so pathetic. I can't believe it." Daphne said shaking her head. "All the dumb ass has to do is sit in therapy for a few hours and he's out of trouble, but does he? He is so stupid."

"Tell me about it." Justin said as the waitress placed the new order of hot fries between them. "I've always knew Michael was obsessive, but I didn't think he was nuts, I'm not so sure now."

"Filling our girl in on all the gossip since she lives in Philly now are we?" Brian asks as he slid into the sit next to Justin.

"Hello there hot stuff." Brian smiled at Daphne.

"Hello Brian, Justin IS catching me up on everything I missed?" Daphne took one of the new fries. "Been a freaky year for all of you hasn't it?"

"Tell me about it." Brian shook his head. "So when are you done in Philly and heading back for the Pitts?"

Daphne smiled, "one more year, then I'm back here, for good. University of Pittsburgh Medical School in Oakland will be my new stomping grounds."

"Good, you'll be here to keep this one out of trouble." Brian nodded towards Justin.

"Me...keep me out of trouble. Hah, right." Justin smirked, "she's the one who always led us into trouble."

A fry suddenly went flying towards Justin. "Liar."

"Your fathers' wet bar...need I mention any more?" Justin said with a laugh.

Daphne dropped her head, "Oh God, don't remind me; just thinking about that night makes me nauseous."

"Hello Brian."

All three of them turned and looked at Michael; he stood next to their table staring at Brian.

"Hello Michael, how are you?" Brian said leaning back and draping an arm across the back of the booth.

"I'm good, ah, I was thinking of going to Babylon tonight, wanna come with me?" Michael asks without even glancing at the other two. It was almost as if he didn't see them.

Brian slowly shook his head. "Not tonight, I have other plans."

Michael reached out and playfully shoved Brian on the shoulder, "come on, just the two of us again, just like old times."

"No Michael. See ya later." Brain said, he turned his back on his old friend and moved his arm down to wrap around Justin's shoulder.

Michael stood for a few seconds more, then smiling he told Brian he would see him later, turned and left the diner.

"Okay...is it me or was that...kinda creepy?" Daphne questioned her eyes watching the door slowly shut.

"No, it's not you." Brian said a sad look in his eye. "But there's nothing we can do about it, he has to want to get help for him, we can't make him, we tried and it didn't work."

"He's so deep in denial sometimes I wonder if it's safe to let him out by himself." Justin said.

"Not our problem anymore Sunshine, not our problem." Brian said leaning in and placing a kiss on Justin's temple. "You two ready, Mother Taylor is expecting us, and I can't wait to tell her you two ate BEFORE coming to her house for dinner."

"Justin can't you promise to withhold sex or something." Daphne said as they slid out of the booth.

Brian snorted.

Justin laughed.

Daphne looked at the two of them then laughed herself. "What the hell was I thinking...withhold sex, either one of you withholding sex...what a hoot."

~~~*~~~

The three people exited the dinner, crossing the street they never noticed the dark haired man who stood next to the building in the alleyway watching them.

"One day Brian...one day you'll remember...always have always will. One day."

Fin