Instead of being in his loft he was in a dining room standing on the other side of the table from a young teenager he didn't recognize. The table was obviously expensive and didn't appeal to Brian's modern tastes with its smooth varnished wood surface. There were two placemats on the table, and the boy was seated at one reading a comic book.

"This is one fucked up dream," Brian announced in irritation, "This is the last time I trust Anita."

"Isn't that what you said the last time?" a voice near his ear inquired. He turned to scowl at Rage who merely smirked, "This isn't a dream Brian, and I've already told you you're not on drugs."

"The simplest explanation is usually the right one, which makes this a drug induced hallucination," Brian informed Rage as he gave him a disapproving frown, "Do I have to look at my double dressed in what, now that I see it, is a tacky costume?"

It suddenly occurred to him that talking to his hallucination was probably not the best way to maintain his sanity. Oh now you think of that, he told himself. What other choice did he have, but to go along with it, though, when his double had kidnapped him against his will?

Rage merely teased, "Then don't look. After all I didn't kidnap you to have you ogle me."

Brian raised an eyebrow at the smirk Rage gave him, this was getting entirely too weird. When did he drop down the rabbit hole and how did he get off this ridicules ride?

"That's not Michael," he informed Rage as turned his head to take in the boy again. He didn't noticed them, merely turned a page of his comic and sigh loudly.

"No, but this is Michael's life without you."

The young teen scowled and pushed the comic away before tilting his head to look through the doorway as he shouted, "He's not coming is he?"

Having asked the boy slouched in his chair and glanced around the table, his gaze falling on the placemats before muttering, "He said he'd be here, but you weren't even expecting him were you?"

Michael walked in the room and Brian's breath caught in the back of his throat. His friend was thin, thinner then he'd been when he came back from Portland. Not thin enough to be considered sickly, but thin enough that it had Brian worried. Michael had always had a tendency to eat less when he was unhappy.

Michael stopped at the chair in front of the unoccupied placemat and leaned over it tilting his head towards the boy, not once noticing the two nearly identical men standing in the room, "He just called to say he's sorry. Want to stay for diner? We can eat in the kitchen."

The boy scowled and pushed his chair back, causing it to squeak as it ran over the wooden floor. Crossing his arms he growled, "Why can't he make it this time?"

Michael's brow furrowed in concern and he looked extremely tired for a moment before he forced himself to smile, "He said he had some extra work he needed to catch up on."

"He's always got extra work," the teen announced as he picked at the placemat with an almost resigned look before turning to Michael, "You guys came out here so he could spend more time with me and now he's always busy."

"Hank," Michael sighed, "We do spend time with you, it's just hard getting a pract…"

"No Michael, you spend time with me, he doesn't…not anymore. When you first came here we spent all this time together, even with him getting his practice started, but now he doesn't have any time for me."

Michael frowned and the two stared at each other in silence for a moment before Michael suggested they get something to eat.

"Or you," Hank added as Michael began to walk out of the room. Michael flinched slightly, but kept walking, pretending that he hadn't heard.

Brian's frowned. Hank, who the hell was Hank? Why did that name sound familiar in its association with Michael and who the hell was this guy they were going on about?

"This can't be real," he informed Rage, "because only a moron would hurt Michael."

"You've never hurt him?" Rage pointed out.

Brian scowled and as he looked at his hands. Yes, he'd hurt Michael. Would Michael forgive him and, if Michael did forgive him, how would their friendship forever be changed? Or was their friendship over? Perhaps he truly had lost everyone he cared for.

That's why, he told himself, you don't care for anyone. It was what his parents had taught him, if you care for someone and you'd eventually be hurt by them. No, Michael had taught him different. Michael had taught him that love could be unconditional, that it could bring the greatest peace and yet…yet everything had fallen apart. He had pushed away the last person who loved him, the person he'd known would always love him. He'd hurt Michael.

His voice sounded hollow even to him as he answered Rage, "When you've know someone as long as I've know him, it's bound to have happened more than once, but Michael doesn't put up with this kind of shit. He's better than that. He knows better than this."

"However rare true love is, true friendship is rarer," Rage quoted before explaining, "He's never had either, how's he suppose to know better?"

Brian shook his head as Hank sighed and followed Michael out of the room. Slowly he said, "This doesn't make any sense. Shouldn't Mikey be playing Mary-Anne to the good Professor about now?"

This caused Rage to smile, "Somehow I knew you'd be a UC shipper."

Brian raised an eyebrow, he didn't understand, but Rage's words had broken the tension he was feeling and internally he was grateful.

Rage shrugged before asking, "Ben?"

"No Ted," Brian answered sarcastically.

Rage ignored it and answered, ""In your reality yes Michael would be with Ben. We haven't moved forwards or backwards in time only to a different reality where you don't exist and obviously a different place."

Brian shrugged, "So why is he here, wherever here is and not with…"

"Ben's dead."

Brian froze.

"There are some things that even without you don't change. His trip to the hospital, the one that had Michael so upset Ben still got, but the only difference was that it wasn't Michael who was with him and it was Michael that made all the difference."

"That's stupid."

"No," Rage countered tilting his head, "It's the truth. This is the world without you. This is what you wished for."

"You're putting words in my mouth."

"Your mouth, your thoughts…'If only I'd never been born', does that ring any bells Brian? It is of course why we're standing here and arguing isn't going to change that."

"I don't want to see this."

"Do you want to live?"


" Then too bad," Rage informed him, "You'll see this."

Brian crossed his arms and scowled. Rage raised his eyebrow before he stepped in front of Brian, leaned in, ran his fingers down Brian's face and told him, "I'm going to speed up time."

"If I say no?"

"Well he's about to say goodnight to Hank, then putter around till he starts to falls asleep on the couch. Then he'll go to bed so he can be up by five for work.," Rage informed him with a shrug, "You really want to watch him sleep?"

"It wouldn't be the first time," Brian admitted hollowly.

Rage regarded him for a moment before informing him, "Sorry, wrong answer. We've got a lot more then Michael's turmoil to go over and I've got people to save, men to fuck and you, well, you're monopolizing my time. So let's get this over with, okay?"

Annoyed Brian shrugged then glared. Rage smirked before he sauntered out of the room. Feigning indifference Brian began to follow him. As he did his gaze fell on a shelf and a picture caught his eyes. He paused and picked it up looking at the two men smiling from the photo. Not wanting to believe what he was seeing he looked up towards Rage for confirmation, "David? He's with David? What the fuck!"

Rage paused, turned around and gave him a disapproving frown, "Took you long enough."

"He and David broke up."

"Not here. See in this reality Michael plays the little housewife that David wants, because he's managed to convince David to let him keep a job and well with David insisting on paying for everything he can send most of that money home to his family. Of course he's saves for when he might go back to school. It's all a pipe dream, but he convinces himself that it's what he wants because his mother's happy and he's managed to pay off her house. So really it's the perfect relationship for him, don't you think?"

"No. David's an asshole."

"And you're not?"

"David doesn't know how to treat Michael," Brian informed Rage as he put the picture back on the shelf.

"Well, see the thing you have to know about David is that he wanted to save Michael. It made him feel special or something, maybe made himself feel better about the mistakes and people he'd lost in the past. Problem is now that he's 'saved' him he doesn't find Michael nteresting anymore."

"So who's he fucking?"


Brian raised an eyebrow which caused Rage to smirk and add, "Among other men, who he doesn't bring home."

"Does Michael know?"

"That his lover is cheating on him? Yes, not everyone has monogamous relationships Brian, you of all people should know that."

"Michael does."

"Not here, not now."

"It's what he wants."

"Yes, but it's not what he's settled for, is it?"

Brian's hands balled into fists, "And Michael doesn't leave him?"

"Why would he? He can take care of his family and they're happy, finally, so why would he change that."

"Because he's not happy!"

"When did Michael ever care about himself before others?"

Brian ran a hand through his hair, "This is really fucked up."

"You weren't there."

"How does my not being there have anything to do with him not having any respect for himself?"

"I told you, 'However rare true love is…"

"Fuck the quote," Brian growled.

Rage smirked, "Come on, there's only one more thing to see."

Brian answered with a scowl but followed Rage through the house, upstairs to a bedroom. Michael entered right behind them, taking no notice of them as he pulled his blue long-sleeved shirt over his head and dropped it on the bed as he began to take off his pants. Brian's eyes raked up and down his friends form and his scowl was replaced with a frown, "Fuck I can see his ribs, isn't he eating?"

Rage glanced at him, but didn't answer.

Michael put on a pair of loose fitting cotton pants and then walked near as he took the clothes he'd just discarded to a hamper. Brian couldn't take his eyes off his friend, he moved slowly, wearily, and then he noticed the bruises, old and new, gracing his friend's inner arms, particularly his wrists.

His voice choked as he asked Rage, "His arms, what did David…"

"David didn't do anything. Do you know what a wrist-banger is Brian?"

Brian shook his head, he used to do that, a long time ago, in his childhood, when things got extremely bad at home, when he'd felt trapped, as if he was about to suffocate or drown in the non-love his parents supplied. He took a breath, then another, "Not Michael."

"Yes, Michael," Rage informed him. Brian glanced over at Rage, he could feel tears starting to well in his eyes, he swallowed hard and forced them away.

His voice steady, low, devoid of the emotion and pain coursing through him he asked, "Is there anything more you want me to see?"

"One more thing."

As soon as Michael was curled up in bed the clock starting moving quickly, time speeding up. Brian frowned as he watched his friend toss and turn in sleep as the clock told of how quickly time was actually moving. Then the clock slowed, returned to normal and it was just past three thirty, David walked into the room and began shedding his clothes. Shoes were kicked into the closet, tie undone, tossed in the hamper, the rest of his clothes soon following. He crossed to the bed and woke Michael with a kiss. Michael groaned and blinked up at David.

"What time is it?" he asked groggily.

"Does it matter?" David answered him as he covered Michael's body with his own, kissed Michael's neck. Michael's arms wound their way around the slightly larger man as he sighed. He seemed to stare at a spot on the wall just past Brian's head, his eyes were weary, resigned and then blank.

Brian frowned as he glanced at the clock again, then back to the scene playing out before him. He glanced at Rage who raised an eyebrow, then shook his head, before he wrapped an arm around Brian's shoulder and asked, "How bout we visit your boyfriend next, see how he's doing?"

Brian shrugged his eyes once again seeking Michael. He was too stunned at the moment to point out that he didn't have a boyfriend.

"Whatever," Brian told Rage as he kept his gaze steady, taking in his friend's blank eyes. He couldn't have looked away if he tried, he knew the image would stay with him long after this ordeal was over. The world began to whirl again and he lost Michael in the haze of it. He wondered what would be next. Justin couldn't be any worse off then Michael, could he?