Title: Be My Downfall
Spoilers: Through Season 4
Warnings: Some violence in later chapters, A/U after Season 3, supplemented with Season 4 plot lines.
Fandom: US QAF
Archive Permission: Always and ATP
Rating: R
Category: Angst, Romance, WIP
Pairing: Michael/Brian, Ted/Emmett, and Michael/Ben and Brian/Justin mentioned.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. No revenue generated, that's for sure.
Summary: Michael has some news for Brian. Brian can't cope, and pushes Michael - and himself - too far.
Feedback: Of all kinds is greatly appreciated and craved.

Author Note: Title and story inspired by the song Downfall by Matchbox Twenty:

Wonder how you sleep
I wonder what you think of me
If I could go back
Would you have ever been with me
I want you to be unused
I want you to remember
I want you to believe in me
I want you on my side

Come on and lay it down
I've always been with you
Here and now
Give all that's within you
Be my savior
And I'll be your downfall
Mmm mmm mmm

Here we go again
Ashamed of being broken in
We're getting off track
I wanna get you back again
I want you to trouble me
I wanted you turning down
I want you to agree with me
I want so much so bad

Come on and lay it down
I've always been with you
Here and now
Give all that's within you
Be my savior
And I'll be your downfall
Mmm mmm mmm

Yeah, be my savior
(Only love can save us now)
(Don't lay me down)
(Only love can save us now)
I'll be your downfall
(I'll be your downfall)
(Ah, love can save us now)
(Don't save me now)

Now I'm back on my own
Hear my feet, they're made of stone
Man, I make you go where I go
Well hell, you, can I take you home
Well, I'm coming home on my back
Kissing me, your lips painted black
Let me be your downfall
Let me be your downfall, baby


Michael was blissfully adrift; cradled on a bed of soft, buoyant clouds. Or maybe it was the $500 Goose down featherbed. Or, better yet, maybe it was the cheap pot. He snorted ruefully at his pointless introspection, watching with glazed eyes as the smoke from the joint tucked between his fingers curled and drifted lazily towards the ceiling. Who the hell cared what it was? He hadn't a care in the whole fucking world. What was there left to care - fuck, how he hated that word, c.a.r.e. - about anyways? Everything, everybody, he ever cared about was either gone or just didn't give a damn anymore. So why should he? Why should he always be the one left behind with trampled feelings?

Hand behind his head, joint between his lips, ankles crossed, and in a state of drug induced ecstasy; that was exactly what he going to stop doing. Caring. Right here. Right now. In this very big, lonely bed. Everything around him seemed to persistently remind him that he was alone in every sense of the word - emotionally, physically, mentally. Hell, he didn't even know if he, Michael, was there anymore; because what happens when you strip away everything that makes a person who and what they are?

He laughed - with no mirth - at his inevitable introspection, his annoying little habit of over self-examination. He always did get this way when he was high, or at least, that's what he always said. Shit - don't go there, don't go there, don't fucking go there. You're going to stop caring, remember? This was going to take practice, after a whole life of inherent compassion and consideration.

As if testing him further, the ringing of the telephone rudely jostled his zoned out thoughts. He was oddly intrigued by the way the ringing pierced his addled brain, reverberated through his body...mocked him. Fucking telephone. No chance in hell was he going to answer it. The answering machine picked up - a simple beep, leave a message. He'd erased that warm family message that his supposedly happy family had recorded almost two years ago. It contained a voice he never wanted to hear again, as long as he lived, which he hoped wasn't too long.

"Sweetie, are you there? Michael?"

He closed his eyes at the sound of the gentle voice, grinding his teeth until his jaw ached. Pain seemed to be the only reminder of his dull existence.

"Honey, I'm just calling to check on you...make sure everything's okay....I haven't heard from you since, well, you know..." the slightly southern accented voice quavered a bit, unsure and brimming with worry. Michael knew if he could see his face, the sky blue eyes would be filled with compassion - caring. There was that fucking word again. He placed a hand on his pale forehead, squeezed his throbbing temple. Damn you, Emmett. Please...just... -

"If you need anything, I'm here. I'll always be here. Just 'cause I'm a married man now, doesn't mean you can't count on me - Old Reliable Em." The light, cheerful voice that was Emmett Honeycutt suddenly became very quiet, choked with barely contained emotion. "Please honey...take care of yourself. Bye, Michael."

Married....God, that one, simple word conjured up so many things that it wasn't even funny. It was how this whole fucking mess had started. Did Em have a way with words, or did he? There was no drug strong enough to remove the pain, to make him forget, to not care. He'd tried, to no avail. It was too deeply ingrained upon the raw interior of his soul. Many would say it was the most beautiful thing about him. Right now, it was the trait he despised most about himself.

He rolled over onto his stomach and squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to allow the onslaught of stinging tears their means of escape. But, like everything else, and like they always did; the hot tears rolled down his ivory skin against his will, memories surfaced unbidden, and he relived the real-life nightmare yet again. The same one that consumed his dreams every night, returning to stalk his consciousness in the light of day. He saw the same face - so real he was tempted to reach out and stroke a soft cheek - that he concurrently loved and hated. He heard the words, absorbed the touches, and felt the pain all over again - the pain that had eventually led to the hell he was existing in now. It always reached for him, seeking to pull him under, consume him with cold, greedy fingers - and he always gave in, knowing he could not win his own internal battle, pitched against the evil that resides in the darkest corners of even the most benevolent of people. He could not pull free; not without the source of his pain there to hold to him, tell him it would all be okay in the end. How fucked is that, was his last coherent thought as the darkness descended, and pulled him under.


"Mmmnnfff, that was goooood." Brian licked his fingers clean of the rich chocolate mousse, sucking loudly on each digit.

Michael snickered between bites, unable to resist the opportunity to poke fun at his best friend, even though at the moment they were both a little drunk, and his quick wit wasn't very, well, quick. Even when it wasn't that funny they still giggled like teenagers - although Brian Kinney would never admit that he did anything that even remotely resembled giggling. Michael knew the truth, however; and it was one of those things Brian only did in his presence, like so many other things.

"Really? You mean there is actually something besides sex that gives you pleasure?"

Brian laughed in fake amusement, took a swig of Beam, then handing it to Michael, passing a trademark Kinney smirk along with it.

"You give me pleasure. I've never had sex with you."

Michael raised his eyebrows, and would have outright laughed if his mouth wasn't full of chocolate mousse cake. Brian would kill him right there in the loft if even a speck of chocolate touched his beloved sofa.

"Thanks. Glad to be of some constructive use."

"You're saying sex isn't constructive?" Brian's hazel eyes widened in feigned shock.

"Not when your whole fucking world revolves around it," Michael said, his tone light and slightly muffled by the cake in his mouth. The effect was rather endearing.

Brian shrugged, spreading his arms palms upwards in a gesture of innocence. "My point exactly." He tossed Michael a toothy grin, nudging his thigh playfully with a bare foot.

Michael leaned a bit closer, squinting directly at Brian's pearly white teeth, then shrunk back. He couldn't resist teasing around with Brian, sharing jokes that only they understood the hilarity of. It had been way too long - and besides, he felt he needed to lighten the mood as much as possible, before he said what he came here to say. "I know what to get you for your B-day."

Brian raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow, briefly wondering if something was stuck in his teeth. "What? Life supply of condoms and lube?"

"No - some of that teeth whitening shit. If your gonna get grey hair, might as well have white teeth. Must be hard - turning 32, I mean." He instinctively dodged the pillow he knew was coming.

"Fuck you!" Brian smacked Michael with the nearest pillow, careful to avoid getting any food on the pristine cover. "You keep shoveling that chocolate cake like a pregnant lesbian and I'll have to roll your fat ass in and out of the loft."

Michael smiled - that smile - the one that had captured Brian's heart almost 20 years ago, the one he had been seeing too little of lately, but not because Michael didn't have reason to smile,(although that little recurring jealous, possessive streak in Brian liked to think he was the only one who had the power to make Michael smile like that) but because it seemed they didn't spend as much time together as they used to.

The smile turned boyishly mischievous as Michael lifted the bottom of his snug, solid black tee-shirt, exposing a tight, rippled abdomen and perfect pale skin.

Brian had to force himself to keep chewing, and swallow without choking. That was a very un-Michael like response. He knew Michael had changed in the last two years, in more ways than one and definitely in the positive sense; but it really wasn't sinking in until just recently. The Michael of two years ago wouldn't have responded as he did a few seconds prior to Brian's 'I've never had sex with you'; more than likely he would have been stung, covering it up by furtively changing the subject. This Michael had reacted with complete indifference. Sexy confidence. Fuck, Brian thought, slightly - okay, enormously - pissed with himself. This is still Mikey, he told himself firmly. He raised his eyes to those of his musings, not wanting to look at his, um, nicely displayed tummy for too long.

"Takes more than one session of ODing on chocolate to get a potbelly. Besides, you know I can eat practically anything I want and never gain an ounce. You on the other hand...." Michael mimicked Brian's earlier action, licking the mousse from each finger with a triumphant smile, but not before sticking a pink tongue out at Brian.

Brian's mouth had suddenly gone dry. "Okay, I get the point." He reached for his bottle of water. Anything to momentarily divert him from his best friend. "Looks as though the Professor's tutelage has some beneficial side effects."

"Mmmhmm. He really knows how to get a thorough workout....and in more ways than one, might I add." Michael wiggled his eyebrows suggestively as he used his tongue to clean his fork of any chocolate remnants.

Brian had a sudden, unexplainable urge to change the subject. "This is nice," he said, looking directly at Michael, giving him what he knew was a 'tender, thoughtful smile' - the smile he reserved for Michael, and Michael alone.

"Yeah. This recipe is definitely a keeper. Uncle Vic's gonna have to make one for Hunter and Ben - they'd love it."

Brian rolled his eyes and sighed. Somehow, everything these days always came back to Michael's happy little family home, and he wasn't too proud to admit - to himself, of course - that it made him just a little peeved. Whenever he and Michael spent time alone, he made a point to never talk about Justin, unless Michael asked - which he very rarely did - or unless he truthfully had a problem that he was willing to discuss with him. When he did get quality time with Michael, which these days - between their busy lives and respective partners - was not very often, the last thing he wanted to do was waste it on boyfriend discussion or turn it into a Dr.Phil episode. Didn't Michael feel the same?

"Not that, Captain Clueless. This. Just you and me." His voice was soft, encouraging. He wanted Michael to know he was sincere; too many times in the past he had failed to make clear. Michael wasn't the only one changing.

Michael moved from his spot across from Brian, who was sitting on the floor, back against the sofa, and positioned himself in front of Brian. He plopped down on his belly and rested his chin atop Brian's knee, gazing lovingly up into the intense hazel eyes. For a moment he wondered how many times they'd done this - ate a shitload of food, shared a bottle and a joint, joked, reminisced; always ending up sprawled peacefully in each others laps. Was it thousands? Didn't matter - he just fervently hoped it never stopped, no matter who they were with or what they they were doing. Some things should never change.

"Yeah. Just us. The Dynamic Duo. You know I was just wondering, about how many times we've times done this. How many times this same scene has played out, in this very loft, this very spot."

Brian shook his head at the sentimentality, and placed a hand on the back of Michael's neck. "Not even high and you still get all sentimental. Pathetic, Mikey."

"Hey - you started it. And don't tell me you didn't think about it when you put this place up for sale."

"Never gave it a single thought." There was more than a hint of sarcasm in his tone. He involuntarily stroked his fingers along the back of Michael's hair, his eyes and actions proving that Michael was, as usual, correct. He had thought about it. Almost as much as he thought about all the thousands of tricks he must've had in this place. The whole gay male population of Pittsburgh had probably walked beneath his doorway, to be fucked in his infamous bed. No small feat. But then, he thought haughtily, he was Brian Kinney, Stud of Liberty Avenue.

Michael gave him his patented 'yeah - right, I know you' look, and scooted up to sit on his knees and stare intently at Brian with a calculating gaze. Michael had a superpower - he just didn't realize it, although Brian did, and maybe one day he'd get around to telling him. He'd had it employed on his unsuspecting self countless occasions. Michael's round, amber eyes - when angered or concerned, specifically about the people he loved - could nearly burn a whole through you with their keenness. Hence, the reason Michael could pry things from Brian that no one else could touch.

"What? You gonna give me the third degree like everyone else for deciding to sell MY loft?"

"I'm not like everyone else. You know I support your decision - if not the reasoning behind it."

"That it's time to move on?" He said smoothly, knowing that wasn't exactly why - but his curiosity begged to see Michael's reaction.

Michael's eyebrows shot up. "I thought you were past the 'there's nothing here in the fucking Pitts' stage."

"''Stage'? Who am I, Gus?"

"Sometimes, your comparable. And don't avoid the subject."

"There's no subject to discuss. I haven't made any definite decision. I never said I was going anywhere; just that I needed to move on. Doesn't always constitute a physical 'moving on', you know."

Then why are you selling your loft, genius? Michael thought it but didn't say it. He didn't want to push the issue further, discerning that Brian did not want to talk about it, and to be honest, neither did he. He just wanted to enjoy the time they got together - alone, to momentarily forget their problems and shitty grown-up hassles and revert back to fifteen again. Young, wild....free.

Brian's thoughts mirrored Michael's. He would never tell anyone - why give them any reason to ever call him an emotional sap? - but being with Michael made him feel young. As fucking corny and trite as it sounded - he made him feel like a better person. It was as if Michael's boyish looks, youthful exuberance, and his innocent, childlike naivety permeated Brian's own cynical, cold-hearted outlook on life, somehow coupled and molded the two qualities together and created a perfect balance. Justin never made him feel like that. Sure, Justin used to make him feel youthful, but anymore he only succeeded in making him feel old. His constant geezer jokes were getting on the last of Brian's frayed nerves. Michael sometimes teased him about his age - but it was in an entirely different manner and only around Brian's birthday, like now. Similarly didn't feel the same with Justin as he initially had because he wasn't a wide-eyed, innocent kid anymore - some where along the way he had morphed into a sardonic, egotistical, miniature version of himself. And quite frankly it freaked him out - the fact that he saw so much of himself, that was never there before, in Justin.

Yeah, Justin had definitely lost that youthful sweetness, Brian thought caustically, remembering their little power play of a few nights back - an incident which Brian had chose to sweep under the rug - casually dismiss. For now. Brian guessed that Justin had surmised along the way, as he matured, that he would look down on or become disinterested in anyone who didn't share his tough shit, fuck or get fucked techniques. He snorted inwardly. Justin obviously hadn't learned anything about the man Brian kept closest to his heart. So the lad was not a genius - not in the common sense department. He still marveled at how Michael was 32 and had not lost his selfless, innocent heart - and probably never would. Brian would see to that...safeguard it. He felt like an idiot for thinking he could find the qualities he loved in Michael so easily in others, much less thinking if he did find them, they would actually last. He'd learnt several things from Justin, and one was that he'd never meet a another living human being like Michael, not that he wanted to - Michael was more than enough. But even though Justin was sometimes annoying as hell, especially as of late; the sex was still hot, and he still enjoyed his company for the most part. Besides, didn't everyone go through this sort of stage...he frowned at the word, mentally replacing it with phase - when they were 19?

He was brought from his reverie by a warm forehead touching his own. He leaned into the familiar sensation, his nose nuzzling against Michael's.

"Promise me." Michael's whisper lightly caressed his cheek. He had a niggling feeling, perhaps an element of what he liked to secretly call his 'Mikey induced' sixth sense, that Michael was about to tell him something, and was unsure of the reaction he would receive. And he had to admit, he was quite popular for his harsh sincerity. The insight, however, barely even flickered across his consciousness before it fleeted.

"Anything." Brian said, the solitary word flowing from his lips without the barest hint of hesitation. Any outsider privy to the words preceding his single statement would surely gasp in disbelief.

Michael laughed a little. "That's going to get you into trouble one of these days." All Brian could see were full pink lips and pointed cuspids - and the view was rather nice.

"You'd never abuse it." He playfully nudged Michael's forehead with his own, finally bringing his eyes up to search the brown irises of his best friend.

"Just promise me, Brian, that no matter what happens or how we progress...or 'move on' in our lives, that we'll always be there for one another. That we'll never pass each other up. That we won't let anything come between us - no boyfriends, er, significant others," Brian snorted at the hideous expression, "career choices, meddling mothers, or, God forbid, evil chiropractors."

The last two earned a good snicker from Brian, especially the last one, since he knew it was just added on to lighten the mood. Michael knew how profusely he loathed any shape, form or fashion of serious, heart to heart conversations that involved making commitments or asserting inner feelings. This was different, however. It was a reaffirmation of a long ago promise; one very close to the hearts of both men. And - that niggling feeling was back.

"Well, mothers should be singular, since mine doesn't give a shit."

"True, but then there's Justin's mom. She's over enough to qualify as a mother-in-law, don't you think?" Michael's grin was impish.

"Michael - don't make me hurl." Brian closed his eyes, shutting out the barrage of mental images that featured the dreadful drop-ins Jennifer had been gracing him with lately. Or the time she had came to his office and practically appointed him Justin's surrogate parent, telling him to make certain he took his vitamins, brushed his teeth, and had lights out by ten. She was a nice lady, but a tad overbearing at times. An involuntary shudder ran through him, and he opened his eyes, meeting Michael's serious gaze. Brian knew Michael didn't expect the words, which caused him to reflect on how Justin always wanted words. He was reminded of how nice it was to be with Michael and know that he knew the words were there, but that they were communicated through actions.

He nodded slightly, knowing Michael could feel it through their connected foreheads, and lifted his right hand to rest at the nape of Michael's neck.

"Why now?" He wanted to know what had caused Michael to need this sudden reassurance of a promise they'd made a very long time ago. Was Michael afraid he was going to move away? Was something going on with the Nutty Professor?

"Just 'cause." Michael worried at his bottom lip. "I mean...we both seem to be moving in different directions. You with Justin, me with Ben. Who knows what kind of job offer you'll get or where it could lead you, and for me - and Justin - there's Rage. Who knows what could come of the offer we've received. This is the first time in almost two weeks that we've actually spent some time together, had a conversation. I just like to know that even though our futures are uncertain, there is one thing that will always stay the same. Know what I mean?"

Oh, Brian knew - it was what kept him anchored, especially throughout the last few tumultuous months. He also realized that Michael was subtly saying 'let's not resent each other for having separate lives'. Because for a long time, they had been each other's lives, in every way but sexually. Michael was trying, in his ever selfless way, to reassure not only himself but more importantly Brian, that even though he had a boyfriend, a foster child, and had a baby on the way; things would never change between them.

"Yeah. Got ya." Brian put on his practiced air of indifference, knowing that the small kiss to Michael's nose and the gentle squeeze to the back of his neck said what he could not.

"So. Shouldn't we like, seal it somehow? You remember that blood-oath we took on your 18th birthday?" Michael face was alight with the fondness of old memories. So many memories...

Brian remembered, too. Very well, in fact. It was among one of the many times he'd almost given in and had sex with his best friend. "Christ, Mikey, don't you think we're a little ol--- never mind."

Michael's eyes sparkled. "Forever young and beautiful, right?"

"Forever." Brian leaned in, closing the inch of space between their moist lips, unable to resist the laughter and pure brilliance radiating from Michael's smile. He captured Michael's lips with his own, gently sucking, not letting go...but holding on, stretching it out longer than he usually allowed himself, or more precisely - trusted himself. His tongue slowly traced the inside of his lower lip, requesting entrance that he knew would eagerly be granted. He barely heard Michael's sharp inhale, blatantly startled from the intensity with which he kissed him.

It was a slow and gentle mesh of lips, underlined with barely constrained fervor. Brian was overcome the with the distinct taste of Michael mingled with chocolate - realizing that he'd never tasted Michael and chocolate before, or if he had, he didn't remember it being quite so erotic. It was usually Michael and pot or Michael and beer. He could easily become addicted to this sensation, this taste. Damn, he thought, and he didn't even like chocolate that fucking much.

Michael's hand had migrated to twine around the lush silk of his hair, while Brian's thumb caressed the delicate curve of Michael's jawline. He didn't know where his other hand had wandered too, and decided it didn't matter, as dawning realization coursed through his body, catching up with the white hot, piquent desire that had so violently flooded his veins. This was gonna have to stop - fuck!(indeed) but he didn't want it too! - or he was going to end up fucking his off-limits, best-friend-who-has-a-loving-boyfriend right here on the floor. He couldn't do this, couldn't balance out the sensible from the visceral.

Michael was his downfall, his weak seam....he just hoped he could be his savior, too.

But then, he always was, and always had been.

Michael was overwhelmed - he couldn't do this. Couldn't be kissing Brian like this, breathlessly immersed in his touch, his taste. His heart (or was it his dick?) was telling him it was exactly what he could do, wanted to do. But Christ - not when he was about to say that...that..dammit! Why did Brian always have to do this to him? Make him doubt everything he had developed with Ben?

They hadn't kissed with such passion in a long time. Too long. Michael had convinced himself, and others it seemed, that he was officially over Brian Kinney. The current situation was quickly sending that conviction to hell. He loved Ben. He loved Brian. But not in the same way. Which was it, though...he didn't love Brian in the same way he loved Ben, or he didn't love Ben in the same way he loved Brain? Anger flared briefly - at himself and Brian - over the fact that one kiss could send his heart into a such a frantic tailspin. Was he making a mistake? On both sides? Was there anything in his life he could be certain of? That you love Brian more than you'll ever love anyone...always have, alwa... SHUT UP!

Michael's inner battle was interrupted by the tingling sensation of Brian's cold hand making contact with the warm skin of his side. Brian had deftly slid a hand up the corner of his tee-shirt to lie on the soft, bare skin. He sometimes did that whenever a kiss between them turned frenzied, as if he needed the reassurance that Michael was there, that it was real.

Instinct took over, and Michael broke from the kiss, but kept his forehead against Brian's. They were both breathing heavily, each lost in the lingering pleasure of overloaded senses. Brian's eyes remained blissfully closed.

Mere seconds after his lips slipped from Brian's, Michael's brain floated back to him from wherever it had trotted off to. And he realized: of course - Brian had kissed him as a way of saying he would keep his promise, that it meant as much as it did to him as it did Michael. Communication without words - Brian's forte. It was a kiss of mutual recognition, of gratitude.

Brian had kissed him like that because he loved him, not because he was suddenly in love with him. Michael groaned inwardly at his panicked, illogical syllogisms of a few seconds ago. Sometimes he felt so mature.

He knew Brian loved Justin; was probably in love with him. He'd seen them together. Heard practically everyone he knew gush about how hopelessly in love they were - which grated his nerves, only because he knew Brian would not appreciate people defining his relationship so lavishly. Didn't help that Justin fueled the fire every chance he got.

He had no problem admitting that he had been jealous of Justin and Brian at one point and time. It was what happened when you were in love with your unattainable best friend, and suddenly a teenaged, recurring twink somehow wins him over. Now, 2 years on down the road, he could honestly admit that, even though it was the most fucked up relationship he'd ever seen in his life, he was happy for them. Wanted them to be happy. Besides, Justin seemed to take care of Brian - if no one else - and that's all Michael could really ask for. Brian didn't share with him the inner details of his and Justin's relationship - so Michael couldn't really tell whether or not they actually were happy. All outward appearances seemed to verify it, though.



"Your cell phone's ringin'."

"Oh. Probably Ma. Ben and I are supposed go over for dinner tonight." Reluctantly, Michael disentangled himself from Brian's warmth and scooted over to the opposite side of the coffee table, where he'd plopped down the food and his cell phone almost an hour ago. He glanced at the LCD screen.

"Ma." The word came out as a sigh. Christ, but the women just wouldn't leave him alone these days. Especially now. Michael threaded his hands together and tossed them behind his head, toppling over onto his back, knees up.

"Aren't you going to answer it?"

And get diverted again from my reason for coming over here? "No. It's the fifth time today that she's called."

"I thought you'd narrowed it down to three."

"Yeah, well, that was before...." Here goes.

"Before Vic moved out and she had someone else to harrow?"

"Ben asked me to marry him."

Brian went still, but the hazel eyes betrayed nothing. He reached for a joint, lit it, inhaling greedily. Minutes passed, but still he remained silent, his attention focused solely on the joint as if it were suddenly the most captivating thing he'd ever seen.

Michael sat up, Indian style, and studied his friend. There were very few times he could remember ever being unable to read Brian - this was one of those very few times.

"Well, I -"

"What do want me to do, Michael? Gush and fawn and go ape shit like some histrionic lesbian?"

Jesus. He wasn't expecting the snark. "No, my mother's filling that position nicely, thanks. And she's not even a lesbian."

Brian offered Michael a drag, making an effort to avoid quizzical brown eyes. Michael shook his head 'no' at the offer and watched as Brian shrugged, placed the joint between his kiss swollen lips and leaned his head back, exhaling a perfect smoke ring.

Mmmmmkay. This is going well. Michael wondered if there was any significance in the severe extremes of the two people he had known his whole life. One had hyperventilated, the other, passed it off as if Michael had told him he'd stepped in dog shit on his way over. He probably would have shown more enthusiasm for the latter.

Brian jerked his head down abruptly, looking directly at Michael for the first time since Michael's announcement.

"So. Did he ask you amidst the throes of orgasm or over a romantic, candlelight dinner?" Brian's voice was soft, inflected with mock sugary sweetness, and Michael smiled knowingly.

"Actually, neither. But you don't give a fuck about that - don't you want to know how I answered?"

Brian looked like he'd rather drown in his bottle of Beam - and proceeded to do just that, taking a long, agitated guzzle. Michael raised his eyebrows, seeking to prompt a response.

"I'm all ears. You, of course, are well aware of my ethical standings concerning 'marriage'. I know how you should answer. How every fag in his right mind should answer."

"I've already answered. I said yes. And I guess I'm just one fag out of his right mind, then."

Brian seemed to agree, if the disgusted expression was any indication. Relieving one hand of joint and the other of Beam, he shook his head plaintively, the movement freeing a shock of hair - almost russet-toned in the gentle streams of flaxen light that signaled approaching dusk - and Michael couldn't help but lift a soothing hand to sweep the gel curled locks from his forehead.

"Not everyone upholds your standards, you know."

Brian took Michael's hand from his forehead, placing his fingers atop Michael's and guiding the cool fingers lightly down the side of his face, to eventually clasp them firmly within his own shaky hand - and he prayed Michael wouldn't notice that little detail - and pulled Michael to him, resting his chin on Michael's shoulder and wreathing his arms around the complacent torso. This way, Michael couldn't see his eyes. And maybe, some of Michael's calm would leak into his own tremulous soul.

"I know. Your the only person I can think of that deserves that type of commitment, that could actually make it something real and not just a fuckin' meaningless piece of paper. And if it's what you want, well..."

Michael was taken aback by the drastic change of Brian's tone, finding himself grasping for the rights words to say, without engaging in a political debate that would serve only to camouflage the true issues at hand.

"I don't know."

He felt Brian's arms slightly tense around him - it was barely perceptible and he'd probably imagined it. He was slightly drunk by now after all, he supposed.

"I thought you said you said yes?"

"I did - but I'd hardly be human if I could say I don't have any doubts about it. You know - the kind you get after you've agreed to something and you've had some time to think about it."

"You mean dwell on it - and no, I never have those."

"Once again, not everyone is Brian Kinney."

"The wonderful thing about Kinney's is IIIIII'mmmm....the only one." He did such a good Tigger impersonation that Michael giggled, and Brian savored the way he could feel it vibrate through his own body.

"You've been watching Winnie the Pooh with Gus again, haven't you?"

"Yep. And I've come to the conclusive conclusion that Winnie the Pooh, ladies and gentlemen, is gay. I hear the next episode involves raunchy, sweaty, gratuitous bear sex."

Michael lifted the hand that wasn't knitted with Brian's and covered his eyes. "Must you corrupt everything?"

"It's my job." Brian turned his head ever so slightly and pressed a delicate kiss to the tender flesh of Michael's neck. Inhaling. Tasting...and internally breaking. Michael was slipping through his fingers like sand. Hardly any time spent together for months, and now...this.

Several minutes of companionable silence followed, each of them content to simply bask in the other's presence, digesting the words that had been spoken - Michael trying to discern just exactly what his friend really thought of the whole of the deal - whether or not he was hurt by the fact that Michael had made a decision without telling him first - and Brian trying to figure out why the fuck this was so hard - and not in the good sense of the word.

"Does he make you happy?"

Michael snorted. "Who, Pooh? Are you high?"

"No to both. Ben. Does he make you happy?" Brian's voice sounded almost desperate.

"Of course. I wouldn't still be with him if he didn't. He's the most amazing man I've ever been with, Brian, and I couldn't ask for more."

Brian knew Michael meant the words 'been with' in a sexual/relationship manner, but it still clawed at his heart. Almost as much as 'couldn't ask for more'.

"Then that's all that really matters. If he makes you happy, Mikey, then..." Fuck. As long as Mikey's happy. He couldn't fall back on the familiar maxim, because it was no longer true. He was happy as long as Mikey was happy but the catch was....with him. Brian Kinney. In love with him, not someone else; was with someone who was good to him, but who did not threaten their bond and was merely temporary.

"...then...it makes you happy? So your okay with it?" Michael's voice was tentative as he finished Brian's thought, peering up at him from his cozy position with pensive eyes.

"This isn't about me, asshole - it's about you. Don't put yourself in some fucked up hetero-bull shit if it's not worth it to you. 'Cause if you do, in the end, you'll come whining to me and I've got better things to do than say 'I told you so'."

He hadn't meant for his words to come out quite so harsh, but he couldn't risk Michael seeing behind his carefully guarded emotions if even for a second.

Right now, he just needed for Michael to be as far away from him as possible. So he could have a true Rage moment and drink and throw things and scream out the agony of his heart in solitude.

Because his suspicions - no, more than just fucking suspicions, he realized; his most horrifying, insanity inducing fear - had just been realized.

Michael wasn't in love with him anymore.

He'd moved on.

Stopped waiting.

And found something Brian could never give him, wasn't good enough to give him. Not like Ben was. Why wait for someone like Brian? Someone who supposedly detested love and all its subsequent attachments?

But it didn't make the ache any easier to bear, knowing that Michael had found contentment with Ben. It only made it worse.

"You're mad, aren't you?"

He unraveled himself from Michael, pretending to stretch. He couldn't be touching him right now. Couldn't be so close, yet so far.

"Now why the fuck would I be mad?" He made sure his tone was softer, less equivocal. It took every bit of his considerable acting talent he could muster. Michael was perceptive. But ironically so, not perceptive enough when it came to his best friend's true feelings about him. Brian mused that he couldn't hate that tired old adage any more than he did now - the 'love is blind' shit.

"That I didn't tell you first? That I told Em, Ma, Ted, Justin, Vic - practically everyone I know and even some people I don't - before I told you?"

JUSTIN? Justin knows? That little tidbit did piss him off, though he had no idea why it did - and he wasn't about to ask himself - he'd had enough Oprah for one day.

"Michael, what you do with your life and any decision you might make is entirely up to you. And you know how I feel - 'no apologies, no regrets'." Christ - he'd never hated his own tired old adage any more than he did now.

Because it was the perfect antithesis of the truth, and Brian Kinney loathed the concept of lying. How paradoxical that he'd been lying for 20 years.

"Nice to know some things never change." Michael flashed a smile, obviously pleased with Brian's response.

Brian had never been so pissed at himself in his life. For saying what he did, for feeling what he did, and for having abso-fucking-lutely no control over it. Brian Kinney was always in control. He was once again reminded, as he gracefully bounded to his feet, that Michael was his downfall.

He headed towards the the kitchen, to make sure there were plenty of drugs in the fridge. He'd need them later.

He flinched when he heard the shrill ring of Michael's cell phone, but smoothly covered it up by running a hand through his hair.

"Damn phone," Michael cursed, as he scooted on his belly the few inches to reach his phone. If his expression was any indication, it was most certainly Debbie.

Brian couldn't remember ever being so thankful for a complimentary Debbie interruption. He nabbed a beer, and watched Michael out of the corner of his eyes as he flipped his phone open. Michael didn't speak for a full minute.

"Ma...Ma...MA. Yes. No. I'm at Brian's, Ma. It's reeealllly none of your business, Ma." Michael had propped himself up on his elbows, watching from across the room as Brian stood with fridge door open for way too long, and made a 'jabber mouth' motion with his hand as soon as he caught Brian's eye. Brian wiggled his finger back and forth in a 'shame on you' pantomime as he popped the cap off his beer. He was finished with more than half by the time Michael ended his phone conversation.

"Yeah. We'll be there. Mmmhmm. His classes end at 5:30. YES. Bye Ma." Michael flipped his phone shut and collapsed face first into the carpet rug.

"My mom is driving me fucking nuts." His voice was muffled, but still carried across the loft.

"Don't be such a drama queen. I think its rather funny, actually."

Michael didn't raise his head, but gave Brian a good, solid finger - the middle one.

Brian studied the raven head. Wishing...not for the first time, that Michael didn't have to leave. That Justin didn''t have to come home. That he wasn't such a fucking coward. That he could, for once in his life, take the risk. Brian Kinney loved taking risks - the dirtier the better. Not true if it involved his Mikey.

Michael straightened up with a sigh, shoving his phone into the back pocket of his Levi's. He walked over to the kitchen, to Brian, who was pretending to be engrossed in some random papers that were strewn about the lower end of the counter. Some sort of art stuff of Justin's, he observed absently.

"Beer?" Brian didn't look up as spoke.

Michael placed a hand on Brian's shoulder. "Nah. I gotta get out of here. We have to be at my Ma's at 6:30. I have some things to do before then."

"Dress shopping with Emmett? Already?"

Michael leaned down to Brian's ear, a sly grin gracing his features, laughter filling his dark eyes. "Asshole," he whispered into the curve of Brian's ear, proceeding to give the lobe a quick little bite - his parting gesture.

Brian had to stop himself from leaning into the delectable pressure, encouraging more. But Michael's lips and teeth were gone before he could follow that dangerous thought to completion.

Michael's presence hadn't caused thoughts like these in a while.

Michael turned to leave, had his hand on the loft door when Brian's gentle voice pierced the silence, halting his thoughts.


He turned, meeting that beloved hazel gaze, feeling all of its warmth and unconditional love and something...something more that Michael couldn't quite pinpoint. He wasn't sure he wanted to.

Brian's eyes searched Michael's urgently. Nothing was spoken for several seconds, a hair too long for either of them to feel comfortable. The air was charged with a tangible electricity, crackling and sparking - but years of practice and better judgement caused both men to ignore the hot pink elephant in the room.

"I'm happy for you."

Brian didn't smile as he said it. Michael didn't smile as he heard it.

Why were they both unable to believe it?

And then Michael was gone, and Brian stared at the door. He stared at it until Justin came through, a giddy bounce in his youthful step.

"Hey. Met Michael on my way up. Did he tell you?"

Brian gritted his teeth. He did not want to discuss anything - particularly this - with Justin at the moment.

"Mmhm. Surprise, surprise."

Brian grinned for all the wrong reasons at the mental image his own words conjured up. Had he not held back, had he not been so fucking scared by the unaffordable risk of it all - that is, doing what his heart and body was telling him to do - Justin would have walked in to quite a surprise himself - him fucking Michael right there on the kitchen counter.

"Almost..." Justin dug around in his backpack, his grin never faltering, bolstered by his misinterpretation of Brian's lascivious smirk, "...as great a surprise as this."

Brian mentally rolled his eyeballs...Christ...if he pulled out another - fuck. Justin stuck his arm out to dangle a thick bundle of stapled notebook paper inches from Brian's face. A '95' was scrawled across the heading in bold, red ink.

Everytime he made a high grade on an essay, he would frolic to the loft and stuff it in Brian's face, like a third grader eager to show his good grade to daddy, anxious to receive a stout pat on the back, or, in this situation - a stout pat on the ass. Fact was, Justin was dangerously toeing the line of flagrant arrogance - not that he was anyone to talk, however, but it was not one of the qualities that had initially drawn him to the younger man.

Brian shuddered. He was not going to think about that, either. Or how the term 'sugar daddy' was going to haunt him for a while.

He snatched the papers out the air, replacing them with his face and leaning in close to Justin's.

"Then let's celebrate." He grabbed Justin's hand, dragging him towards the bedroom. Justin followed like the faithful aficionado that he was, stumbling along behind, grin still plastered in place.

"Didn't know you'd be this pleased."

Along with his modesty, Justin's perceptiveness seemed to have fell off the turnip truck as well. The lad may be able to score a 95 on a thesis and a hot trick in the backroom, but that was about the extent of his endeavors.

Brian figured he'd better stop thinking about it or else his dick would get soft. Right now he just wanted to fuck his brains out, and Justin was available, so time to commence in a session of good, strong pain management.

Although he doubted the pain would ever go away.

He had never felt pain such as this.