Author: Samantha (Sam)

Feedback: I greatly appreciate feedback.

Pairing: Br/M, of course, with initial B/J, Be/M overtones. T/E

Rating: R

Genre: Angst, Romance, WIP

Summary: Michael has some news for Brian. Brian can't cope, and pushes Michael - and himself - too far.

Special Thanks: To everyone who has sent, and continues to send, such lovely feedback, on and off-list.

Spoilers: Through Season 4

Warnings: AU (which constitutes the plot - NOT the characters), WIP. And - very angsty and dark - but with a happy ending.

Disclaimer: I'm just playing in Cowlip's sandbox. No profit is generated from this. QAF and Brian/Michael are not mine. But oh, if they were...evil grin

I thought love was just a mirage of the mind,
it's an illusion, it's fake, impossible to find.
But the day I met you, I began to see,
that love is real, and exists in me.

- Chris Farmer -


Chapter Ten

He was ascending a euphoric, spiraling staircase; the transitional barrier between sleep and waking, the time and place between dreams and reality -- an immuring shroud of liquid warmth and contentment that he was not particularly eager to shed. It was a slow, steady climb; heightened by the sensation of a bare body pressed up against him, radiating waves of soothing heat that served to pleasantly stave off the assiduous cold of his old room -- that is, if he was actually in his old room.

Wherever he was, Michael somehow knew that outside the fortification of his warm, fluffy Captain Astro comforter and the thermal wall of an anonymous body prevailed hellishly cold December air, and an even colder floor -- but there was carpet covering the floor of his old room, wasn't there? And he had fucked that trick in the backroom, hadn't he? Surely to God he hadn't allowed himself to get so shit-faced that he had actually taken that green-eyed stud home. If that were the case, then he fervently hoped -- as much as was humanly possible, given the brumous state of his frontal lobe -- that he was in his own apartment and NOT at his mother's house.

There was another oddity that demanded coherence for solvency. He was clothed, yet his companion was not. How did you fuck with clothes on?

An indeterminable mumble of sleepy complaint coupled with the feel of the comforter inching off his right shoulder brought Michael closer to the ill-favored summit of the winding staircase -- better known as waking. He was also becoming increasingly aware of how deliciously tight he was pressed along the toasty length of his companion, and how the slope and contours of their legs, hips, and mid-sections melted together so perfectly -- as if their bodies had been created with the principal intention of meshing together with paradisiacal congruity.

The body in question was breathing gently, sending warm, lulling exhalations rippling across the surface of his skin, tickling the curve of his ear. The rhythmic inhalations were underlined with a funny little wheeze, and a light snore -- the latter of which prompted a lazy smile to tug the corner of his lips. He couldn't wait to tell him that he was starting to snore. What ammunition.

Michael wiggled as the comforter was pulled past his shoulder, the pillowy fabric gradually sliding to bare his side, allowing the bitter cold to creep under the warm nest of tangled limbs and wrinkled linen.

With a frown, Michael hunkered down into the pillow, the movement causing his nose to brush against his companion's. Again, his subconscious niche was momentarily surprised by how close they were; but that was completely natural, yet not natural. Or so his sleep fuzzed brain deduced.

Smiling, he nuzzled at the nose, and blindly grabbed for a handful of comforter, pulled, and sighed his contentment as the fabric -- delightfully suffused with conjoint body heat -- fell back into place. It wasn't long, however, before it was irritably jerked back off, and further this time.

A voice thick with sleep rattled his eardrums. "Mmfhp. Fuck off. My covers."

Geez, he could be crabby in the morning -- but in a totally endearing way. Michael ran a bare foot up the inside of the long leg twisted about his own, tickling the faint dusting of soft hairs with a wriggle of his toes. The other man was fatally ticklish there, Michael knew, and he smirked triumphantly through his sleep when he earned a tiny laugh, and another nuzzle to his nose as a sluggish foot pitifully attempted to shove his tickling one away. Satisfied that the cover stealer was distracted, he pulled again, and this time he didn't let go when the comforter settled over him. "You fuck off. My covers."

His companion rumbled a short laugh of surrender, and decided to solve the conflict by sharing. He scooted closer, resting his cheek against Michael's and burrowing under the inviting den of shared heat. Not an inch separated them now, and the gratifying sensation drew forth from Michael a deep, contented exhalation. Every muscle and bone dissolved in liquid warmth.

The things he could do with the forbidden knowledge that Brian Kinney was -- albeit secretly -- a snuggler.

Michael jolted.

Wide brown eyes shot open in shocked revelation, and a body previously floating on air stiffened -- at least, the parts that weren't already stiff.

Holy Fuck. It hadn't been a dream.

This wasn't a dream.

Brian was with him, practically on his old bed, asleep with him, holding him...but had that kiss -- had that kiss been a dream? Or the way Brian had whispered his pet name with such raw, desperate emotion choking his typically disimpassioned voice? Probably.

As thoroughly as if someone had doused him with a bucket of ice water; Michael was at once wide awake and over-analyzing everything, as was his habit. His head spun. What had he said? And worse yet, what had he done? Drugs and grief didn't exactly make for a clear mind and laudable intentions.

He took a miniscule amount of consolation from the fact that Brian was not mad -- Brian never touched him when he was mad.

The source of Michael's broodings shifted a little, and the leg draped over Michael's hip squeezed almost cautiously, as if checking to make sure he was still there, fearing his absence.

Free from the inhibiting miasma of sleep, Michael was suddenly, acutely aware of Brian's cock pressing into his own. His eyelids fluttered shut and a simmering heat he was unable to stifle smoldered in the pit of his stomach. He could tell from the regular inhalations of Brian's breathing pattern that he was still very much asleep, and Michael reluctantly decided to seize the opportunity -- before the protective cloak of sleep was pulled away, before questions were asked and accusations were made.

Right now, he wanted only to hold and be held by the man he loved more than any other. He wanted to soak up the unremitting safety and comfort the other man always -- unconditionally -- gave to him.

Nestled against Brian's neck, Michael slowly turned his head, and planted the softest of kisses to Brian's warm cheek, savoring the prickly feel of his morning stubble and the lingering scent of aftershave. One touch -- one touch wrested so many emotions; churning and clenching his chest with almost painful intensity, threatening to boil over in a lake of hot, uncontrollable tears.

I'm not going to cry. I'm NOT going to cry.

He ached to see Brian's face, but it was hidden in the arch of his own neck. So he settled for what he could see and reach, which wasn't settling at all. Every inch of Brian's body was a feast for the senses, the epitome of perfection -- and the only body Michael ever truly thought of as perfect; but not necessarily because of the body itself, but because of the person to whom it belonged.

Slowly, he wound his arms around Brian's back, lifting a hand from beneath the covers to curl his index finger around a silky lock of honey hair, twirling and admiring it's glossy suppleness with contemplative absence. Brian had the most beautiful hair. He had missed touching it, admiring it.

His other hand traced feather-light patterns across the smooth expanse of Brian's back, skimming over the curvature of his shoulder blades and counting the faint ridges of his spine. His fingers glided over Brian's nude skin like an ice-cube on granite, leaving trails of melting heat.

He didn't want to move and he didn't want to stop, but more than anything, he wanted to believe that this meant something he knew it did not -- that Brian would wake, and they would falls into each other's arms, and live happily ever after -- like in all the mawkish Disney movies he watched with Gus.

Michael's smile was wistful as he allowed his to hand slip down the contour of Brian's side, fingertips whispering across warm, flawless skin -- pulsing with heat and life, reminding Michael that this was real. Still, he couldn't shake the unyielding impression of being lost in a dream as fingers normally not so bold continued their descent to outline the smooth ridges of perfectly defined abdominal muscles, trailing through every subtle groove until Brian's entire stomach was sketched into his memory, mapped to his touch. Then, with tingling fingertips, he started all over again.

Immeasurable moments later, Brian began to stir, arching into the touches of Michael's caressing fingers. He gently disentangled his legs from Michael's, toes bumping the foot of the tiny bed as he sensually stretched and straightened.

Slightly embarrassed, Michael began to withdraw his hand, but Brian caught his wrist.

"Don't stop."

Faces pressed close, neither moved. They could almost hear the beat of the other's pulse, the rush of blood filling their ears, suspending them in the moment with dreamlike essence.

Locked in place, Michael's hand rested on the center of Brian's stomach, and Brian's fingers remained wrapped around Michael's wrist, the accelerated thump of the veins beneath his fingertips mimicking the frenetic pounding of his own heart.

It seemed like hours, but after mere seconds; Brian sensed Michael's discomfort and pulled back, looking into Michael's eyes for the first time that morning.

Brian's expression shone of pleading and confusion -- maybe even tiny etches of fear. Michael merely stared back, his body rigid.

As usual, it was Michael who broke the spell. He pulled his hand away and turned over onto his back, staring at the ceiling with downcast eyes. Only a few inches separated them, but the distance felt like miles; like an impassable void complete with a bottomless pit of soul-singing flames -- a pit both would gladly fall into, if not deterred by unvoiced fears.

Brian felt the lose of closeness like a slap in the face.

His right hand rested beneath Michael's nape, trapped against the pillow. Michael hadn't moved, nor hardly blinked, and Brian solidly commanded himself to dismiss the creeping feeling of unease -- it was absurd. He had never felt uneasy around Michael.

But things were different now.

This wasn't how his dream had ended -- how he had envisioned their first morning together in three months. If his calculations were correct, they should be deep in the throes of the best orgasm of their respective lives about now. Brian started from his own thought. But Jesus...this is Mikey.

Unsure of what to do, what to say -- Brian flipped onto his back, mirroring Michael's action. He risked a sidelong gaze at the expressionless face of his best friend.

Michael looked severely uncomfortable.

The deafening silence was painfully awkward.

Brian felt a sharp prick of dread. Fuck. Had he groped Michael is his sleep, or done something that he normally told himself he should not do when he slept with his best friend? God, if he had, there was no telling what Michael would think of him...was thinking of him.

He tentatively broached the subject.

"Was I....?"

"Cuddling? Yeah."

Well, that wasn't exactly what he was talking about -- he felt no shame in cuddling with Michael -- but still, it wasn't in his manual to pass up such an opportune diversion.

"You won't - "

"Tell anyone?" Michael sniffed and turned to lay on his side, his back facing Brian. "I keep my promises."

Brian hesitated momentarily, and regarded the back of Michael's head with a furrowed brow, internally smarting from the sting of intentional words; words he knew held truth.

But he wasn't going to think about that right now.

"Promises? I don't make promises." It took tremendous effort to conjure a tone that was teasing and light, a tone that echoed back on a time when he had smugly declared, "boyfriend? I don't have a boyfriend". In other words, a tone of deliberate and completely cognizant self-refuting denial.

Michael, however, didn't catch the jest, and proved to be in no mood for for Brian's practiced art of word mincing.

"Y'know, all these years -- and I never realized what a good liar you are."

"Mikey..." said Brian softly, appeasably. He scooted on an elbow towards Michael's unresponsive form, and gently squeezed with the hand still resting at Michael's neck, feeling heightening tension in the cords of smooth muscle. He snuck his head around Michael's shoulder, leaning in for a kiss.

"Don't." Michael's clipped plea brought Brian's advance to a screeching halt.

"Why?" He refused to keep the hurt from his voice.

Something was always very wrong when Michael refused a kiss.

"Just don't, okay?"

Brian blinked hard. He was thankful Michael's eyes were stubbornly closed, that he couldn't see the conflicting emotions flit across his face. The physical closeness they had shared only moments ago seemed like years ago, and the emotional closeness was fleeting just as quickly.

He stared at Michael's face -- at the lips he wanted to kiss so badly -- for a fraction longer before turning away. His head fell to land heavily atop the untouched pillow teetering at the edge of the bed. He swallowed back his hurt, only to have it bubble to the surface when Michael wormed his head out from under his hand.

"What the hell is your problem?"

Michael turned, and met Brian's peevish gaze with large brown eyes, glimmering with unshed tears. It was a gaze Brian knew well, a gaze that asked, "don't you understand?"

Brian was immediately contrite, and reached out an apologetic hand to trace Michael's jaw. "Shit. I'm sorry, Mikey. C'mere."

Michael didn't protest when Brian pulled him into arms, clutching him to his chest and cradling his head with protective arms. Brian felt a warm pitpat of tears showering his chest.

"How is he?"

Brian mentally kicked himself. What a dumb question -- Michael had said he was dying.

Michael sniffed and drew a shaky breath. When he spoke, his voice was surprisingly strong. "His body is shutting down. He's...developed pneumonia...and his doctor...they said they can't do anything for him. Just a matter of time, they said."

Brian wanted to tell him that everything would be okay, that he wasn't going to die.

That would be a lie.

He could only hope his presence -- of which he wasn't entirely sure Michael wanted -- was enough.

He kissed the top of Michael's head, and whispered into his hair. "I'm sorry, Mikey." He paused, brushing his nose along the tips of mussed spikes. "How's your mom taking it?"

"As good as can be expected, I guess. She won't leave the hospital. She hardly talks."

"That's a bad sign."

Brian was surprised when Michael laughed a little, and the sound went straight to his heart. It felt so good -- beyond words, beyond the mundane pleasure of sex -- to be with Michael, to hold him, to hear his voice -- and he gave silent thanks that they were together three days sooner, even if the reason was tragic.

"I wanted to come home sooner."

This time, Michael's soft laugh was cold, brimming with disbelief. "Right."

"Fine, don't believe me. I've never lied to you before - "

" - I beg to differ - "

" - when? When the fuck have I ever lied to you?"

Michael pushed himself off Brian's chest and scooted backwards to lean against the headboard. "Brian, I don't want to talk about this right now."

"Who's avoiding the subject now?"

"I never said you were avoiding the subject."

"You're thinking it."

Annoyed, Michael quirked a doubtful brow. "Yeah? And what am I thinking now?"

Brian turned and rested his chin on the center of Michael's chest, staring up at him with what he hoped were dejected eyes.

"You're thinking about..." he squinted, scrunching up one side of his face.


"Shh. I'm thinking about what you're thinking. Tedious, you know."

Michael huffed and shoved him away. "Cut it out. I don't feel like joking."

Brian was abruptly serious. "You're thinking about how furious you are at me. You don't know whether to slap me or kiss me. You want to hate me for I what did, but you realize that you were wrong, too, and you're afraid that I'm mad at you. You're glad I'm here, but you wish I'd just go away."

Michael bit at his bottom lip and looked away.


Stubborn silence.

Brian grinned smugly, poking him in the ribs. "That's what you're thinking, isn't it?"

Michael batted the jabbing fingers away. "Fuck off. You missed one thing."

"Four out of five ain't too shabby." Brian braced his arms on either side of Michael's body, and slithered forward with serpentine lissomeness, slowly leaning in towards Michael's impassive face. He couldn't seem to tear his eyes from Michael's pouty lips, as they came closer, and closer.

"And what, pray tell, is the one thing I missed?" he whispered seductively, swiping suggestively at his own lips with the tip of a wet, pink tongue.

Michael's hand gently pushed at the center of his chest, startling him from his seduction. Brian inwardly groaned. Not again.

"You don't want to know."

Close enough to feel the heat of his lips, Brian let his gaze travel up Michael's face. He almost recoiled from the bitter mixture of betrayal and sadness that darkened Michael's expressive eyes.

"Yes, I do," he lied.

"I'm thinking about how you always do this to me when you and Justin break-up, or whatever the hell it is you two do. I'm thinking about how I just realized that someone has to be dying or dead for you to come back or feel any need to talk to me."

This time, he did recoil. "How could you say that?"

Michael merely gazed at him plaintively, hugging his arms around his mid-section, and Brian thought his frown might be one of shame. It should be.

He didn't care when his words came out a pained yell. "How the FUCK can you say that about me?!"

"It's kind of obvious, isn't it? You haven't even tried to call me. It's like after that night...I ceased to exist to you."

Michael's words triggered a dull shock inside his chest. Suddenly very cold, Brian draped the comforter around his shoulders.

He knew Michael. He knew him. Down to the very marrow of his bones.

And something was wrong.

Michael was never so harsh and judgmental, never one to unfairly assume the worst about the people he loved.

Especially him.

Something's happened. And it's not just Vic.

Brian took a moment to compose himself, gripping the thick comforter so tightly his bones ached and his knuckles grew numb. Or maybe it was just the inescapable cold.

"You will always exist to me, Mikey. In me. Of me." Michael averted his eyes. Dammit. He thinks I'm playing with him. He gripped Michael's leg, resting beside him beneath the covers. "I mean it, Michael."

"Then why? Why did you say those things? Why haven't you visited, or called, or...something?"

So much hurt...there was so much hurt in Michael's gentle eyes, so many old bruises hiding beneath a beguiling shield of indifference and stubborn tenacity.

Brian's stomach plummeted.

Because it was a hurt that had not been inflicted by him, a defense he had not prompted the construction of. Things had happened while he was away.

He shoved that disturbing notion aside -- for the moment -- and changed conversational gears. Time to say something he'd always wanted -- needed -- to say, but was too chicken shit.

"You always think you're the only one, Mikey."

Michael's eyes sharpened. "What?"

"The only one who has fears, the one who is easily hurt. But you know what, Mikey? You have always, always held the power to hurt me more than I could ever hurt you -- more than anything, or anyone, could ever hurt me. Because you are everything...the only one that matters. There is no one else."

Just saying it drained him -- in an oddly exonerating type of way. He decided at that moment to tell Michael exactly how he felt more often; for maybe, he considered, it would save them from ridiculous discussions like this; cut back the soul-searching lesbian bullshit and leave more time for the fun stuff. Brian and Mikey. The thought sent tiny waves of warmth coursing through him, and wanting to share the sensation, he snuggled and curled against Michael's side, rubbing his face against Michael's stomach.

He could almost hear Michael's soft smile, and it empowered him to continue.

"I was scared to call you. Afraid to hear your voice -- afraid that you would be happy, and even weirder-- afraid that you would forgive me. That you wouldn't be missing me as badly as I was missing you."

Brian eyes closed in bliss as Michael's fingers tenderly massaged his scalp.

"I was afraid you wouldn't need me anymore," he continued softly.

Michael tugged a strand of hair in playful admonishment. "You know that could never be."

"No. I don't. You've always been the strong one, Mikey. It's me that will always need you."

"Then why did you leave?"

Brian sighed in exasperation. And here he thought his efforts were getting them somewhere. "Haven't you been listening to anything I've said?"

"Yes, I have. You need your best friend. I'm sure it was tough going through your break-up with Justin alone."

Brian unconsciously winced. His heartfelt words had been mangled into something completely unrecognizable and thrust back in his face with deliberate intent. Why is he doing this to me? Christ, what the fuck am I whining for -- I deserve it. Everything he wants to twist around, everything cruel he wants to say to me -- I fucking deserve it.

"You think that's what this is about?"

"Isn't it always? I mean, it's always been your job, your dad, or's always about you. You said so yourself."

"Christ Michael, over-analyze, why don't you. When are you going to let go of the past?"

"When you learn from it -- and when you can accept the future."

Brian laughed derisively. "Doling out the daily helping of Professor Bruckner's fatidic bullshit, are we?"

Michael's eyes flared -- answering the question Brian didn't have to ask, validating the suspicion he didn't have to suspect. Remember, Mikey, I can see right through you.

Indignant, Michael started to rise, but Brian grabbed his arm, staring deeply -- sincerely -- into beloved brown eyes.

"Where's Ben?"

Tension emanated from Michael like currents of electricity.

"Why do you care?"

"Don't do that. You know why."

"New York."

"What for?"

"Because I told him to get away from me."

Michael's answer sent icy prickles down his spine. Sometimes he hated knowing Michael so well. Sometimes he hated himself for caring so much.

"Why? What happened?" he breathed, torn between elation and fear.

"Brian, I don't have time for this. I have to get to the hospital." Again, Michael made to rise. Again, Brian pulled him back down. Michael scowled.

"Dammit Michael, wait a second. Tell me what happened."

Michael jerked his arm away and growled through his teeth. "I. Don't. Have. Time. My mom is at the hospital by herself, and I want to spend time with my Uncle. Not sit here and argue with you."

"We're not arguing. I just want to know what happened. I thought - "

Michael interrupted him with an acerbic laugh. "Thought what? That we were oh so happy in wedded bliss? Well, Brian, it looks like you won the bet. We lasted a grand total of two months."

Brian studied Michael's face intently; so intently that Michael was eventually compelled to look away, fidgeting with the edge of the comforter.

"You're hiding something from me."

"Stop looking at me like that. What are you, some kind of physic now? All that California air must've went straight to your head. When are you going back, anyway?"

"I'm not. I'm staying here with you." Brian didn't think this was a good time discuss his job. It didn't matter right now.

Michael's chin raised defiantly. "I can handle this on my own."

"Sure." A deliberate pause. "Where were you last night, Michael, before I got here? At the hospital?"

Michael's mouth fell open. He promptly snapped it shut. "Jesus, you think you can just step into my life after two months of silence and start quizzing me like this? You have alot of nerve." For the third time, Michael tried to leave the bed. Brian gripped the sleeve of his shirt.

"Mikey, please. Stay. Tell me what's wrong."

Michael exploded. "Wrong?! I'll tell you what's wrong. The only father I've ever known is lying in a hospital, withering away to nothing. I just divorced the man who promised he'd never leave me, never hurt me. And" Michael's voice cracked and died. A tear leaked from the corner of his eye, snaking down his cheek. Brian surged from the bed and captured Michael's face between his hands, blinking back the sting in his own eyes -- a sting elicited from the mere sight of Michael's tears.

"Hey, it's okay Mikey, it's okay. I know." Michael melted into the solace of Brian's embrace, winding his arms tightly around the slender torso and burying his face in the strong, sweet smelling chest, watching as his futile tears trickled down Brian's tan skin.

"I missed you, Mikey. God I missed you. I had planned to come home three days from now, no matter what. I swear to you."

"I believe you, Brian. I'm sorry." He pressed a smattering of soft kisses to Brian's warm chest, savoring the feel of his arms around him, the taste of his skin, mingled with the saltiness of his own tears. "I missed you, too. So much."

Brian's arms tightened around him, and Michael absorbed the vibration of his chuckle. "I guess we're both just a couple of stubborn, selfish assholes, huh?"

Dumbfounded, Michael pulled back, searching Brian's face, and finding nothing less than what he had expected. A smug, self-satisfied smirk -- firmly in place. It pissed him off.

"How was I a 'stubborn, selfish asshole'? How is any of this my fault? You're the one who left without telling me!"

"You're the one who married Ben!"

"Fuck Brian, you practically told me too!"

"Do you always do what you're told?"

"Do you always get such a kick out of manipulating people? Lets not forget the little episode at Babylon!"

"Here you go again, Michael, living in the goddamn past!"

"Don't you dare talk to me about living in the past! You wrote the book!"

Brian wanted to throw something. Break something. And here, seconds ago, he had foolishly believed everything was solved between them.

Maybe he wasn't ready for a relationship with Michael. Maybe he was fooling himself.

With a challenge in his eyes, Michael stepped close to him, so close their noses almost touched. "Why did you leave like that, Brian? Or are you too afraid to tell me?"

Oh, good one, Mikey.

"Because you chose Ben over me." Brian's jaw snapped shut, as if stunned at the words he had spoken. He leaned in even closer, determined to match the jeering lilt of Michael's voice, the taunt in his eyes. "And because I was scared -- scared -- that you love him more than you love me. There. Are you fucking happy now?!"

Michael's smile was slow and decidedly cheeky, but Brian glimpsed veiled, utter joy -- a beautiful light of pure happiness -- shimmering behind guarded eyes. It triggered an odd type of explosion in his heart. And his groin.

"Yes. I am."

Brian couldn't seem to take his gaze from Michael's lips as they flexed to form those three words, and as if with mind of its own, gravity pulled them towards one another; even though Michael's foredoomed better judgment was screaming in denial, even though Brian knew this wasn't how it was supposed to happen.

"Good. Are you going to stop asking me that fucking question?"

"Which one?" Michael breathed.

Brian spared a hasty glance at Michael's eyes, and felt a synchronous quiver of satisfaction and relief -- Michael was having an equally tough time keeping his eyes away from his lips. A tiny shock wave of anticipation shallowed his breathing.

"The one about why I left like I did."

"Oh, yeah. I will. Only if you stop asking me the same fucking question."

"Yeah? Which one?" Brian purred, and he couldn't help himself; Michael was so beautifully entranced, his lips so provocatively close. He darted out his tongue to trace the fullness of Michael's pouty bottom lip, teasing the plump flesh, pulling away as quickly as he had licked. Michael's essence ran through the very blood of his veins, driving his pulse, muddling everything but an overwhelming sense of love, passion, and need -- all for the man before him. He had only ever felt this way with Michael, therefore it wasn't a completely new sensation; but he had never experienced it on such an intense level, such an emotional level.

It exhilarated him. It terrified him.

"The one about who I love most," Michael managed to croak. He looked thoroughly intoxicated -- his eyes were hooded, flickering in anxiety. It took great effort to keep them open, and even more to keep himself from mindlessly sinking into heat of Brian's gaze, into the temptation of the lips he thirsted for, so very close and warm.

"You never answered it."

At Brian's apathetic response, irritation flickered briefly in eyes emulsified by conflicted lust.

Brian was was having a conflict of his own. He was getting hard -- and he didn't know whether to be mortified or titillated. They weren't even touching -- almost, but not quite; just enough for a sheet of paper to slip between them, but after restless weeks of separation and emptiness, even mere proximity was painfully erotic.

Damn. What the fuck is happening.

"Mikey - "

"Shut up."

Hot, greedy lips closed over his own with staggering force, suckling and nibbling in hungry desperation. Propelled backwards by the intensity of Michael's attack, Brian groaned into the moist heat Michael's mouth, battling with the sinfully long tongue wrapping around his own. His hands gripped Michael's hips, anchoring himself against the surge of intensity, against the ignited flame Michael had become. He pushed against Michael's devouring lips, growling, wanting more, needing more. Doubts fled. The sexual drive was too deeply ingrained, the need for Michael too great, intensified by a two month drought.

Michael dragged Brian's swollen lower lip through his teeth, a glint in his eyes that sent shivers of pleasure rushing down Brian's spine. Michael pulled back, a thin trail of saliva stretching and breaking their connection.

"Does that answer your question?"

Chest heaving, Brian somehow, through the tingling numbness of his mouth and the consuming haze of his mind, found the ability to form a succinct response.


He jerked Michael's hips forward and ran a deft hand up the slope of his back, grasping the nape of his neck and pushing Michael's head forward, meshing their lips with crushing fury. It was not gentle, it was not tender -- is was pure, raw, animalistic hunger.

Michael grunts nearly sent him insane. It was a sound he had never heard from him before. And he wanted more.

Then a new sound pierced through his newfound aural addiction -- the sound of ceramic breaking. He had backed Michael into the nightstand, toppling it over.

Jarred from the mindless frenzy; they paused, locked together and staring down at the ruined lamp.


Michael grinned at the indifference of Brian's muttered assertion, and reversed their positions, flipping Brian against the wall with a thud. He grinned wolfishly, subconsciously wondering just when he had gotten so bold, then ducked his head, and without pretense, he bit and sucked at the prominent, pulsing vein running along the column of Brian's neck.

Brian released a strangled moan, thrashing against the wall.

"Does THAT answer your question?" Michael growled, gently lapping at the bitten flesh in apology.

"Hell no." Brian nuzzled his face against the side of Michael's bent head, and sucked the tip of his ear, nearly exploding when Michael hummed his appreciation against the sensitized skin of his neck.

"You still need convincing, huh?" Michael panted, dragging wet lips up the arch of Brian's neck to nibble on the corner of a kiss-swollen mouth.

"Yes," Brian groaned, fisting his hands in Michael's hair, "lots." Michael hiss was sharp as Brian lifted his leg to wrap around his naked thigh, holding it there, pressing their erections together. His weight now supported on one foot; Michael bucked against Brian's hips, and lost his balance, nearly succeeding in falling flat on his ass. But Brian held him tight, and for a split second, they were laughing together, and almost -- but not quite -- trapped in irrecoverable moment of awkwardness. It was enough to pull Michael from the swirling vortex of liquid flames, from the desperate intensity, kindled by twenty years of careful suppression and constraint.

But Brian had other plans. He wasn't quite ready to extinguish the flames. He had been burnt to many times before, and he was addicted. Self-control was singed.

Time slowed as they listened to the harsh breathing of the other, marveling that they were the sole ones responsible for it.

Michael nearly panicked when knuckles rasped across his belly, lifting the hem of his shirt with a cross-wise motion.

No. I'm not ready for this. He's not ready.

"Brian. Bri...oh God."

Brian was nibbling that spot -- right behind his ear. Frissons of pleasure shot all the way down to his bare toes, curling them.

His shirt was almost to his chest.


And Brian did, immediately.

"What? What is it?" he whispered in concern. Dammit, Michael thought, why does he always have to know something is wrong? Am I that damn invisible?

"Nothing...we just...we shouldn't be doing this. My mom needs me. I told her I'd be there at 6:30. It's six."

Brian was busy feasting on claimed territory, lewdly slurping on Michael's ear, his neck, his jaw. Michael couldn't pull himself away. This was all too surreal. It was heaven.

But it wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Not like this. Too many things remained unsaid, too many truths remained safely tucked away, cleverly deflected. Not to mention...just don't think about it, Novotny, Michael scolded himself, pushing the looming thought aside.

"Tell her something came up, you'll be late. Call Emmett and Ted. Have them stay with her until then."

Michael pushed away, looking into Brian's clouded eyes with disappointment.

"Jesus, Brian! My Uncle is dying! How can you think" Michael fumbled on the words, a blush creeping up his neck.

Brian sighed and rolled his eyes. "Sex?"

"- thank you....right now?"

Brian blinked brightening hazel eyes, and ducked his head in chagrin.

They both knew why.

To escape from reality. To avoid the blaring unfairness of life.

To hide in each other.

Wavering slightly, Michael swiped a hand across his forehead and exhaled a shaky gust of air. "Nevermind. Look, maybe you should go."

Brian straightened against the wall. "Why?"

Michael's mouth fell open in aggravation, and he moved to walk away, pivoting on his heel -- and spinning smack dab of a shard of ceramic lamp.

"OUCH! Fucking piece of shit!" He hobbled in place, cradling his abused foot and landing unceremoniously on the edge of the bed. Brian was immediately seated at his side, prying the deathgrip of Michael's fingers from the arch of his foot and chuckling as he inspected it for injury.

"It's not funny, asshole! OW! Quit poking on it!"

"You're fine, drama princess." Brian bent and tenderly kissed a small, swelling patch of skin on Michael's heel. "Now c'mon, let me stay."

"Give me one good reason. A REAL reason."

With index finger and thumb, Brain gripped Michael's chin and turned his head, forcing him to meet his eyes.

"Because you need me. I need you. We can't go through this alone, Mikey. It's all I'm asking for right now. Be here for me, and I'll be here for you. Like always." He leaned his forehead against Michael's temple, gazing at him from beneath long eyelashes and sticking out his lower lip for effect. "Please?"

Michael attempted to shove him away, but Brian was slumped against him in playful deadweight. "Okay, okay. I just...I don't know if I can do this. He's..."

Brian grabbed Michael's hand, and squeezed. "Like your father. He's like mine too, Mikey."

With watery eyes, Michael nodded gratefully, and kissed Brian's forehead.

"Thank you, Bri." He nuzzled against Brian's cheek in intimate thank you. They released simultaneous breaths of repressed passion and imminent grief, resting against each other for several moments, where they may have never moved, had Michael not broken the silence.

"Now - I've got to take a shower." Brian raised his eyebrows in mock astonishment, deliberating misinterpreting Michael's statement.

"Alone, silly.Michael smiled, and gave Brian a firm push, toppling him over onto the pillows.

"I don't know why I put up with you," Michael tossed over his shoulder, in a tone that was half-serious, half-joking.

Brian watched him leave, hugging a pillow to his chest and breathing in Michael's lingering scent, already enmeshed by a wash of loneliness -- and Michael hadn't even left the goddamn room.

"Because you love me," Brian whispered, as Michael disappeared around the corner.

And he was serious.

One hour later found them at Pittsburgh Memorial, traversing the suspended walkway that lead from the cafeteria to the intensive care unit. The enclosed bridge offered an unflattering view of downtown Pittsburgh, aberrantly calm and largely concealed in drifts of wet, dirty snow. The sky was markedly dark and dreary for the earliness of the morning; a morbid metaphor for that which faced the two somber men walking not quite side-by-side.

A weighty abeyance of quiescence had settled between them since the departure from Debbie's house, and neither knew the reason -- was it because of the impending visit with Vic? Or because of the unprecedented turn their supposedly platonic relationship had taken in the last two hours alone? Secretly, each man ambivalently decided that it was a healthy combination of both.

Michael took Brian's taciturnity in stride, yet he could not help but be puzzled by it, even though the answer to his own question lurked unconsciously in carefully sequestered regions of his mind -- regions that were best left undisturbed. They should have had so many things to talk to about, so many questions to ask. Since Brian's abscondment, so many things had changed and happened in their respective lives; things that they automatically made each other a part other, made each other's business. Two months of their lives had gone by without the other there to share in any of it. Thus, they should've have tons to 'catch up' on; but during the short, cold trip to the hospital, they drove in relative silence.

But it wasn't just silence. It was the most bizarre, most ridiculous sort of silence they had ever experienced.

It was akin to the silence shared between two lovesick teens embarking on that first, capricious date. When fingers brush and shy glances are shared and conversation is stilted and cumbrous; when inadvertent touches send fire coursing through every electrified nerve fiber. Which, Michael thought, was simply absurd. Best friends didn't find themselves in those kind of situations. Or with those kinds of feelings.

His mind replayed over the meager conversation.

"Are you cold?" Brian's eyes were hidden beneath the darkened lenses of aviator sunglasses. He fiddled with the air vents of the mediocre Dodge.

Michael rubbed his hands together, vaguely unsettled by Brian's solicitousness . "Not too bad." Puffs of warm breath emitted every word in a cloud of white fog. "I can drive, if you want. You must be tired from your flight."

Brian's smile was soft and lop-sided. "I'm fine. I slept better last night than I have in months."

Michael hesitantly swiveled his head to search Brian's gaze, but the other man's eyes were riveted to the slippery pavement as he pulled from the gravel driveway, the corners of his mouth turned down in a habitual frown.

Nothing more was said until they reached the first stop light.

"Do you want to get something to eat first?" Michael shot Brian an aporetic glance. "Just asking," Brian clarified, certain that Michael thought he was putting off an unpleasant visit -- as often times, Brian fairly admitted, he was prone to do.

"Not unless you want to. I'm not really hungry."

Brian glanced quickly at Michael. "Me neither."

The lull of a particularly lengthy traffic light punctuated the silence. It was nearly unbearable. Brian switched off the radio with discomfited briskness as the droning of a sappy love song filled the confines of the cramped Neon. Fuck it, he thought, this has to stop.

They both chose the same moment to speak.

"Mikey - "

"Brian - "

Michael smiled demurely. "You go first."

Brian shifted his grip on the steering wheel, eyes darting to the rear-view mirror. Anything to make him appear blasé. "That's okay, you can go first."

"No, I said you could go first."

"Dammit, Michael, I said you could go first."

Michael licked cold-reddened lips anxiously, looking at Brian patiently. Lovingly. Brian cursed himself as he squirmed in the seat. He could feel Michael's gaze. Burning into him. Burning through him. Could feel him chewing on his full lips, and he wanted to lean over and still the fidgety gnawing with a gentle kiss.

"Well?" He said, a little too sharply. The air in the car was suddenly and inexplicably sweltering.

Michael blinked slowly, still looking at him. "I was wondering...I wanted to tell you....I mean I wanted to ask you..." From the corner of his eye, Brian saw Michael turn his head and stare straight ahead, sagging a little in his seat. "...if you could turn up the heat."

Brian's pounding heart bled back to normal. His grip on the steering wheel lessened, and something sharp churned and clenched the bottom of his gut.

He blamed it on hunger pains.

Michael had felt Brian's eyes. Constantly on him. Gauging his mood, waiting for words of assurance that nothing had changed between them, that they were -- for lack of better word -- okay. Even amidst the frenetic rush of morning traffic, Michael could feel the corner of a hazel eye burning into him, willing him to speak. Years ago, maybe, he would've given in, spoken the words Brian needed to hear. But not now. Not today.

The ironic thing was -- Michael knew Brian didn't think he was he was being pretentious in his scrutiny. But Michael had read the Kinney Manual, and he had it all -- the annotations, the glossary, the footnotes, the bibliography. And he'd never had to read it more than once. Every word was written on his heart.

So when the visual audit was returned in kind, Michael had taken arcane conquest from the fact that Brian Kinney squirmed. He chewed on his perfect lips, or thrummed his fingers against the steering wheel, or pretended to scope the traffic with inordinate interest. Maybe, Michael suspected, he was afraid that the interrogation he wanted to initiate would be turned upon him like the proverbial double edged sword.

But that was not why Michael had stared at him.

Perhaps it was for a more shallow reason.

Sporting stylish sunglasses, perfectly coiffured hair, and a sleek, black leather jacket with a fashionably upturned collar -- he was beautiful. He exuded cool mischievousness, oozed irresistible charisma. He had 'rebel' written in every sensual line of his body and 'trouble' tattooed on his forehead.

But most of all -- he was sitting there beside him. Real. Tangible. Touchable. Not a fading effluvium of an esrtwhile dream. Michael found himself pinching his own arm, or brushing up against the warmth of Brian's baby soft skin -- just be sure that it was real, and just to alleviate the numbness prompted by the deprivation of his mere presence.

He'd come so dangerously close to breaking the glacial barrier standing between them -- and perhaps more. And just from simply looking at the man. Brian held a power over him that to this day, Michael could not explain. He wasn't sure he wanted to -- for it was part of their incomprehensible relationship, part of the dynamic duo.

It was their secret; their blissful sensation, and no one else's.

The tactile ache of Michael's heart vanquished whenever he looked at him, whenever he touched him; and consequently, Michael hated how needy he felt, how clingy and childish Brian unknowingly made him feel -- because if it were up to him -- Brian would never leave his sight again.

The other man had been in the Pitts a total of seven hours, and yet Michael was already swamped by unsubstantial fears, the most prevalent of all that Brian would finally get enough of the city he hated, the atmosphere he hated, the people he hated -- and run back to Justin, back to the sparkling lights of Sunset Boulevard and the limitless temptations of the flesh.

Justin. Michael wasn't entirely Brian was over him, if only for the fact the he was not yet over Ben. Michael knew far too well -- painfully well -- that long-term relationships did not simply dissolve over-night, nor did the emotional strings so strongly attached to them snap like brittle twigs. It was a complicated issue, with complicated emotions, and complicated consequences.

Just plain old fucking complicated.

Furthermore, the details of their separation were more than sketchy, and for all Michael knew, their purported break-up could be no more than one of the frequent "kick you out but come right back" type of arrangements they so monotonously indulged in. But he didn't want to think about that -- it hurt too much.

Michael knew one thing -- being that he sure as hell wasn't going to ask. Brian would have to tell him willingly, just as he would have to tell him willingly about Ben -- and THAT he never planned on doing.

But right now, in the sterile, repugnant halls of Pittsburgh Memorial; Michael's thoughts were largely consumed with his Uncle. Seeing him, talking to him -- and knowing that it could for the last time. Vic Grassi was a man who had been a father, a parent, in so many ways. A role model, a guide, a confidant -- so many things.

The shrill pitch of a female voice bellowed over the intercom, interrupting Michael's melancholy retrospection. He didn't feel Brian at his side, so he turned his head enough to discern the blur of Brian's form; enough for the other man to see the shadow of his profile.

"Why the hell are you walking all the way back there? I don't bite."

Brian harrumphed. "That's not what I recall."A tiny smirk blossomed on his face as Michael flushed an attractive shade of pink. "I'm enjoying the view."

Michael's head whipped around. "What view?"

Brian nodded out the plexiglass surrounding them in the narrow walkway. "Pittsburgh. Hasn't changed a bit."

"Did you expect it to?"

Brian laughed in his throat. "That would be wishful thinking. And you know I don't engage in wishful thinking."

Michael shoved his hands into his pockets. "Never?"

"Never. Well..." he drawled, in careless monotone, "maybe a few times."

Michael tried to appear flippant as they exited the bridge. "Uh huh." He stopped to gain his bearings. It had been a while since he'd been in this wing of the building -- not long enough. Brian suddenly appeared beside him, a look of disdain twisting his face.

"I fuckin' hate this place."

"Yeah. Me too."

With a grimace, Michael headed for the nurse's station, and this time, Brian walked at his shoulder, as if Michael could protect him from the onslaught of unwanted memories, from the incursion of the acrid sights and smells that evoked them.

"Have you seen him yet?"

"Seen who."

"Oh, I don't know -- Sadam Hussein, Jesus Christ, Howard Stern. Your Uncle for fuck's sake, Michael."


"Why not?"

"I dunno. Procrastination, I guess. And maybe because I didn't want to come alone." And maybe because I might have the same disease.

"Where's Beavis and Butthead?"

"Emmett and Ted are in Massachusetts."

"Whatever the fuck for?" But despite the offhanded query -- Brian knew.

"What do you think?" Michael snapped.

"Signing their death certificates? 'I solemnly swear to fuck you and only you for the rest of my miserable fucking life.' Losers."

"You know, not everyone is a rabid misogamist."

Brian's snort echoed in the dim hallway. "They should be."

"So everyone should be like you, huh?"

"Nah, that would be perfection overkill."

"More like nothing would ever get done in the world because we'd all be too busy fucking everything in sight. So what if Em and Ted want to get married. Couldn't you at least say something nice about it?"


"I don't get it. What's so terrible about the concept of marriage?"

Brian cracked his gum noisily, searching the ceiling with bored eyes. "You tell me. You're the one with the divorce."

Michael's felt his steps falter. Hated himself for it. Why couldn't he just let it roll off his back, like he always did, like Brian did? Yet he couldn't stop himself as he came to a halt in the midst of the deserted hallway, staring at Brian with wounded eyes and an open mouth.

Brian walked a few more steps, until he sensed Michael's absence at his side. He turned to look over his shoulder, chewing his gum casually. Like they had been discussing the weather.


"Fuck you! I can't believe you just said that to me. That was a low blow, even for you, Kinney."

"My low blows are better than that." He blew a pink bubble and popped it, arching his eyebrows suggestively.

Michael's face reddened. His eyes melted into simmering pools of brown heat. With furor, he grabbed the sleeve of Brian's jacket, pulling him to the nearest secluded corner and pressing him against a thrumming coke machine.

Miffed, Brian's eyebrows knitted together. "Hey, watch it! That's an armani you're jerking on!"

"Fuck you, and fuck your armani!" Michael hissed through clenched teeth, poking Brian in the chest. "I don't need your bullshit right now. You don't have the first idea what happened between Ben and I."

His back against the cold plastic of the coke machine, Brian leaned in towards Michael's face. "Maybe that's because you won't tell me. I asked you this morning, Michael. What do want me to do, beg?" Brian's laugh was scornful. "So you got married. It didn't work out. Big fucking deal. It happens everyday. Get over it."

Neither paid heed to the passing doctor, who eyed them with piqued interest as he sipped from a styrofoam cup.

"What the fuck do you know about it? You've never committed to anyone or anything in your entire life."

An almost imperceptible hurt flickered across hazel irises. "Yes I have."

"What, your dick?"


Michael blinked, his anger dissolving, displaced by outright surprise.

"So I didn't proclaim my eternal love on bended knee. So I didn't sign a piece of fucking paper or repeat some fucking mantra after some fucking priest. But I committed myself to you, Michael, eighteen years ago. Don't try to tell me I don't know what it's like."

They shared a long, meaningful look, sparks of understanding -- and maybe something more --flaring between them. Then, Michael looked down, shaking his head softly.

How absurd was this? How much weirder was his life going to get?

"Then why can't you have a little compassion?"

Brian firmly told himself that he was NOT disappointed by Michael's response.

He deflected the unwanted emotion with his usual route of diversion.

"If you're looking for compassion, you can find it in the dictionary between cock and cunt." Laughter glinting in his eyes, (after all, what else was one to do when they felt their heart would break?), he stared Michael down, his lips stretched thin as a full blown grin threatened to burst free. He watched as recognition slowly spread across Michael's furious expression, building to a gradual smile as the buried memory of the events surrounding an old high school joke resurfaced. Michael let out a short, breathless laugh, his head falling against Brian's chest in reluctant surrender.

"Fuck. We're like two sex deprived lesbians, aren't we?"

Brian mock shuddered. His fingers settled on the back of Michael's neck. "You maybe, not me -- after all, you were the one jumping all over my ass."

"It's not like your ass is innocent." Michael's smile turned sheepish. "Though I guess I'm a little over-sensitive right now."

Brian arched his eyebrows in agreement. "Pfft. You can say that again. You aren't pregnant, are you?"

"Shut up." Michael pinched Brian's stomach lightly.

"Not until you own-up. I want to know what's bothering you."

Michael was grateful for the emptiness of the hallway, and even more grateful for the emptiness of his stomach. Good thing he hadn't eaten breakfast.

He wrapped his arms around Brian's waist for a brief hug, closing his eyes against the pain. He wanted to tell him -- so badly. Wanted to tell him everything. Wanted to make him promise that he'd never leave again. Wanted to tell him he loved him, only him.

But all he could say was, "I will. When I'm ready. I promise."

"Wow, that should be around the year 2010."


"Mikey, you are so pathetic."

Michael drew back, straightening Brian's rumpled jacket, smiling affectionately. "Glad you think so."

"Yeah. Me too." They shared intimate smiles. Foreheads touched softly, then Brian was reaching for Michael's hand.

Together, they walked down the hall, perhaps more grateful than they'd ever been to have each other.

They stood silently, unmoving, watching from the doorway as Debbie bent to whisper in Vic's ear, patting his hand gently before she rose. Vic nodded, smiling at her words, but he did not open his eyes.

Deb walked towards Michael with heavy steps, a distinct droop in her proud posture. Light kindled in bleak eyes when she spotted Brian Kinney, standing behind her son with a protective arm draped about his shoulders.

Michael pulled his mother into a wordless hug, taking in the weary lines of her face, the mascara smudged cheeks and rumpled wig.

He held her for a long time, til she smoothly transferred her arms to Brian, standing quietly to the side. She stood on tiptoes to wrap her arms around his neck, inclining her head to whisper discreetly in his ear.

"Thank you, kiddo...and know that I'm sorry." She withdrew, and the reason she did not look at his face might have been that she feared his rejection; or simply because she did not possess the courage to look in his eyes. But if she had, she would have been relieved to have seen something resembling disquieted rapture in hazel depths. His mouth hung open a little.

In a voice raspy and full of sadness, she said, "He's sleeping, but he told me to wake him when you came. Rodney went home to take care of some things, so you have plenty of time to visit before he gets back."

Michael rubbed comforting hands along his mother's arms. "You need to go home. Take a shower, get some sleep. We'll take care of things here. Okay?"

"But I don't want - "

"Not buts. You're no good to anyone without some rest. We'll be here. Okay?"

With a tired inhalation, she relented. "Okay." She kissed Michael on the cheek, then reached out to softly pat Brian's. "It's good to see you, sweetheart."

"You too, Deb."

She smiled, then shuffled down the hall, pulling on pink, fuzzy mittens and buttoning up her coat.

"And Ma? Take the stairs. The elevator's about to quit again."

That was all he needed, thought Michael -- his claustrophobic mother stuck in an elevator. As he turned to walk in the room, Brian touched his shoulder, stopping him.

"Was that Debbie Novotny?"

Michael nodded his head in understanding. "Yeah. Me and her had a little talk."

Brian's eyes beamed with an inkling of admiration. "What the hell did you say to her?"

"We'd be here all day if I told you now. Another story for another time."

Before Brian could say anymore, Michael walked into the room, putting forth a bright and cheerful smile.

"Hey Uncle Vic! How are they treating you?" He squeezed Vic's hand, and bent to place a kiss on his weathered cheek.

Vic's eyes opened, a grin spreading across his face at the sight of his nephew. "Hey Michael. The male nurses are to die for -- literally." His slow wink took a little of the pain from his statement, but not for Michael, who realized then that Vic was at peace with dying. Michael was anything but.

"Brian, what a surprise! I must say I'm honored that you traveled all those miles to visit an old, dying queen."

Brian's expression was half smile, half grimace; though he reasoned that Vic's good-humored teasing was an attempt to put both he and Michael at ease. It did, and he was appreciative as he scooted up a chair to sit at Vic's side. "Not just any old queen. My favorite old queen."

Vic shook an accusing finger. "If you're trying to cajole me, boy, now's a helluva time. All those years, and now you make a pass at me." He winked again, then turned to Michael, seated on his opposite side.

"So how're things on the home front, Michael?"

Michael swallowed. "Fine, just fine. Rage is coming along slow, but sure. Hopefully Justin can start on the storyboards here soon. Gus is growing so fast -- he tackles me everytime I come through the door," Michael chuckled, his eyes unfocusing as his mind filled with the image of a hazel eyed toddler.

"Mmm. Just like his father."

Brian quirked a brow, but Michael continued, as if he'd hadn't heard the remark. "Mel is huge. I mean huge. You can feel the baby kicking sometimes. Her and Lindz play Scrabble with Gus before bed, and they use her stomach like a table. She told me the baby kicked the board off the other night."

Vic chuckled. "It's your's, alright. You kicked like nobodies business."

Brian couldn't take his eyes from his best friend. The way he kept his hand in Vic's, the way he somehow kept a brave, glowing smile in place; even though Brian knew that tears were on the verge of springing free. But more than anything, he was mesmerized by the light that sparkled in his eyes when he talked about Gus and the baby.

It was an indescribable feeling -- the way Michael talked about Gus as if he were his own son, and Brian liked the idea. Liked the feeling that came along with it. Family.

Yet, he felt like a bystander to a private conversation. Michael hadn't even tried to tell him these things, like he was so easily telling Vic. He should be hurt, but he wasn't. He was mad at himself.

For wasting two months he could've been spending with Michael, two months he could've been a part of. They were gone forever now.

Then he thought about Ben. Thought about the joy in Michael's eyes as he told him that Ben had proposed, and that he had accepted. Thought about them together, exchanging vows, sharing a tender kiss, a celebratory wedding night. He shoved the loathsome thoughts away. By now, he was getting quite good at willing them out of his mind's eye.

Vic's wistful voice snapped him back to the present.

"I wish I could be here when it's born, Michael, your son or your daughter."

Michael's eyes shimmered with unshed tears, and his brittle smile was painfully bittersweet.

"It's my only regret. But not my biggest."

Michael's eyebrows knit together in confusion. Brian ducked his head. He knew to what Vic was referring.

"What's your biggest regret, Uncle Vic?" asked Michael softly.

Vic took Michael's hand in his own, and Brian's hand in the other. "That I never got to see my boys get together. As I've always known you would."

Brian and Michael exchanged furtive glances. Color rose in Michael's cheeks, while Brian seemed fascinated with his jean clad knees.

"But that doesn't mean I won't be watching. And I swear to God, if you two screw it up, I'll haunt you both so bad you'll wish you'd never been born."

Michael shook his head. "Uncle Vic - "

"Listen to me, Michael -- you too, Brian. Take the advice of an old, dying queen. Don't let stupid, trivial little things come between you. Life is short, boys. Don't leave things unsaid. Don't take love for granted. What you two special. Very special. Don't let your fears throw it all away. Don't be one of those people who sit around and say 'I wonder'. Don't waste precious time with substitutes. There's nothing like the real thing -- and you two have the real thing. More real than I've ever seen. And the bastard that said live every day like it's your last? He was right."

Vic took the hands within his own, and joined them together.

"I don't have to tell you to love each other -- because you always will, and you always have. A love like yours is precious and rare, but it doesn't come without risk, without hurt and sacrifice. If I could beat that through both your concrete heads with a sledgehammer, I would. But those things are so damned heavy that I'm afraid it would be the end of me," Vic said, his chuckle ending in a sputtering cough.

The lines of his wizened face softened, as if a tremendous load had been lifted from his shoulders, from his very soul. His smile was keen as he took in the gentle smile the two men shared, the grip of their fingers. But he knew his mere words were not enough. They still had roads to travel before they reached one another, rivers to cross. Some they would travel together. Some alone. But at the end of the road, and on the other side of the river; there they would be, waiting for one another.

It was inevitable.

He had watched them grow together. Watched Brian love and protect Michael like he did no one else. Watched Michael glow with pure happiness as soon as he caught sight of Brian. He'd seen the kisses, the hugs, the embraces. He'd heard the words of promise between them.

Vic straightened his shoulders.

"Now. Michael, I need to talk to Brian. Alone."

Surprise skittered across Michael's face, but he nodded his head, reluctantly unlocking his hand from Brian's warm fingers.

"I love you, son."

"I love you too, Uncle Vic." Michael was at the doorway when Brian's voice halted him.

"Wait for me?" Brian did not see the knowing smile Vic aimed at the back of his turned head.

"Yeah. I'll be out here."

Only when Michael was gone from sight did Brian turn to meet Vic's calculating gaze.

"You want me to go cut you a switch from the maple tree out front?"

Vic laughed. "Would it do any good?"

"Probably not."

Vic smiled fondly. "I thought so. Besides, spanking is Deb's department. I'm just the witness."

"Yeah. I've seen Michael get his butt swatted a few times."

"Good ole Sis. I know I don't have to tell you to look out for her. I know Michael will, but he has alot on his plate right now. Too much. God bless him, he doesn't think I don't know about Ben. Doesn't want to trouble me. So I let it be."

Brian had to restrain himself from fishing for information like some gossipy old woman. Did Michael tell things to everyone but him nowadays?

A short pause settled over the room, filled by the steady beeping of monitors and the distant murmurs of nurses and doctors.

"You've waited long enough."

Brian looked at Vic blankly. "For what?"

"For him. You almost waited too long."

"Vic, Mikey and I - "

"Are in love. Always have been. Look me in the eyes, son, and tell me you're not in love with him, and I'll get off your case."

Hazel eyes locked onto watery blue. Vic studied the stubborn set of Brian's jaw, the silent battle in his eyes, holding and countering the defiant gaze with a contumacy of his own.

Finally, like in wise old parables and banal truisms; experience won out over youth. Brian sighed and looked away.

"I thought so. Tell him, Brian. Tell him what you can never say to Justin."

Brian's laugh was strained. "You and your sister are so different it's almost scary. But you shouldn't steal each other's lines, you know."

"And you know why she you pushed on that kid. Just as well as you know why you got involved with him in the first place."

Brian laced his fingers together like a seemingly well-behaved little boy who was secretly plotting a plan to plunder the cookie jar. His weak smile was noncommittal.

Vic inwardly smirked. "By the way, how is Sunshine? Why didn't he come with you?"

"He's good. He's going to be very successful one day. I'm proud of him. Once we got away from Pittsburgh..." Brian shrugged, crossing an ankle over his knee, "everything seemed to fall into perspective. We drifted apart. He got job offers, slews of admirers...and you know how Justin is. Loves attention, loves to be in the spotlight. He fell in love with Hollywood and all the glitter and shine. All the bullshit."

"And you hated it."

"Yeah. Justin's young." Brian shook his head with mild wonder. "Fuck, only nineteen. I remember what's it's like to be that age. I saw just how different our perspectives are once we got out of Liberty Avenue, away from the ordinary. He loves everything about LA. I, on the other hand, couldn't give a fuck about it -- and I'm not about to hold him back. So, we just...went our separate ways."

Vic nodded wordlessly, a thoughtful expression upon his face. "Good for him. You gonna go back?"

Brian ran a fingernail along the heel of his shoe. "I don't know."

"I'd be afraid to let him out of my sight, if I were you."

"Who, Justin?" Brian sniffed, smiling fondly. "He can take care of himself. He learnt from the best."

"Not Justin. Michael. You're playing with fire, Brian."

"I'm not playing with anything. Certainly not Michael."

Vic's laugh was disbelieving. "You've played with him for eigthteen years, Brian, and you've almost fucked it up."

Brian's eyes sharpened. "No, Vic, that is one thing I've tried very hard not to do." Something very dark and very painful moved across his face, through his voice. "If he ever left me..."

"Brian, son -- you know Michael better than that." Brian started to protest, but Vic held out a silencing hand. "Hold on, let me finish before you brow-beat me." Vic protracted the silence until Brian's head rose, an irritated frown in place. "Once you've had a taste of the forbidden fruit -- once you know him as a lover and take him as yours -- you could never be happy with anyone else. He'd be it, and the notion scares you, doesn't it."

Brian looked away, flustered. These weren't words he wanted to hear. He wanted to scream at Vic to get out of his head.

"Don't lose him, Brian. He loves you. But he will not wait forever."

No, thought Brian, that isn't true. Isn't true.

"I know you think you've been saving your friendship. Saving yourself. Because it wouldn't be 'just a fuck' with Michael, would it? It wouldn't be a meaningless act with a meaningless person."

Something was burning his eyes, so Brian shook the hair from his face. He needed a haircut.

He couldn't look Vic in the eyes. He couldn't. No one saw him this vulnerable. No one.

No one but Mikey.

The touch of cool fingers against his cheek did not raise his head.

"Son, playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you've ever done."

Lost in thought, Michael absently fiddled with the string of colorful paper animals adorning the ledge of the large window, gazing through the thick separation glass and watching the rhythmic rise and fall of a tiny bundle, wrapped in pink and white. Chubby cheeks and a tiny red nose were scrunched up in tranquil slumber, a pudgy jaw occasionally mimicking the movements of nursing.

There was something preeminently soothing about the visage of a sleeping baby, something uniquely pacifying.

Smiling, he let his clammy forehead fall against the cool surface of the glass barrier, watching in captivation as a tiny hand aimlessly stretched and grabbed for thin air, as pink toes curled and wriggled, kicking free from the neat wrap of her cocooning blanket. Eyes bluer than the clearest autumn sky opened and blinked, squinting against the harsh nursery light, studying her world -- so fresh and new. Her head, downy with a cap of fine red hairs, lolled to one side, taking in her silent observer with drowsy disinterest. It was only seconds later that sapphire orbs drifted closed, and her perfect face reposed once again in deep, innocent sleep.

So small, so innocuous. Michael wondered if people stopped to appreciate such tiny miracles anymore; wondered if people were so caught up in themselves that they failed to value the simple joys of life. It was humbling -- the realization that a brand new life slept before him. One day she would fall in love. One day she might have her heart broken. Michael wished, that like his Uncle, he could tell her to never be afraid to tell someone you love them, to never leave your feelings unspoken.

He nearly leapt from his skin when strong arms snaked around his waist, fingers meeting and clasping just above his navel. A chin rested atop his shoulder, soft brown hair brushed the side of his face, and a firm body pressed into his back, pulling him flush. The abrupt startle ebbed and faded just as quickly as it had come. He always knew Brian's touch, always recognized his presence; without ever seeing or hearing him. Always. Sometimes it frightened him.

"You want one?" Brian whispered breathily in his ear, as if afraid he would disturb the peacefully sleeping babies.

Michael laughed softy and nestled his head back into the crook of Brian's neck. "It's a little late to ask that question. I'm getting one."

"Mikey's gonna be a daddy," Brian quietly singsonged, hugging Michael tighter. "I can't wait. I've got so many stories to tell her."

Michael angled his head, studying Brian from the corner of a skeptical eye. "'Her?' What makes you think it's gonna be a her?"

Brian's shrug was dismissive as he watched a young nurse tuck a tiny, wriggling foot back into the warmth of a blanket. "A hunch."

Michael smirked knowingly at Brian's glib response. "Since when does Brian Kinney have hunches?"

Brian's answering grin was impish. "That depends upon just what kind of hunch you're referring too."

Michael turned his head in useless effort to hide his smile. "I don't wanna know. You're incorrigible, you know that?"

Brian nuzzled Michael's ear. "And you love it."

"Cut it out." Michael squirmed to free himself, aware of the audience on the opposite side of the glass, but the charmed nurse only smiled sweetly, and continued her rounds. "So what did you and Uncle Vic talk about?"

"That's classified information." Brian smiled at Michael's irritated sigh, enjoying his squirms of obvious discomfort. "Of course, I could tell you -- but then I'd have to kill you. Or lock you up and never you let go..." his lips caressed the smooth skin behind Michael's ear, "which might not...." kissed his neck, "be so bad..."

"Brian!" Michael hissed through his teeth, elbowing him in the ribs.

"Ouch. Is that any way to act in front of a mob of impressionable infants? Tsk tsk."

Rolling his eyes, Michael finally gave up on his effort to escape Brian's grasp, and leaned heavily back into Brian's frame. The deliberate action served as a comical pout. "Would you stop fooling around? Why did you follow me, anyway?" Brian effectively budged the compact body with a playful brush of fingers across Michael's ticklish rib cage. The sequence of actions was almost routine.

"I didn't have to follow you. I knew I'd find you here. Why didn't you wait for me?"

"I wanted to be alone."

"Fair enough." Brian abruptly extricated himself from Michael, and turned to leave, the corner of a lip caught between his teeth in affected detachment. But the latent disappointment was genuine.

Michael grabbed Brian's retreating wrist, unable to see the satisfied grin that spread across the taller man's features.

"No, wait."

"I thought you wanted to be alone?"

"That's just it. I thought I did. I don't." Michael pulled Brian to him. "Stay."

They stared into each other's eyes, losing all sense of time and place; until finally, Brian sighed passively, and shed his mask of unconcern as he turned Michael around, pulling him back against his chest and resuming their previous position. Michael rested his head on Brian's shoulder, and for several moments, they watched the sleeping newborns in companionable silence.

It was Brian who shattered the quietude.

"Stop trying to be mad at me."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. Stop trying to pretend you don't want me around."

"So now I'm pretending? Thanks Miss Cleo."

"Fuck you, I'm trying to be serious," said Brian tightly.

"Gee, and you're not even high."

"Yeah? How do I know I didn't waltz into the pharmacy, fuck the pharmacist, and concoct my own special blend?"

"Because you're still breathing? And because the pharmacist is eighty years-old?"

"Oh? And how would YOU know what the pharmacist looks like?"

Michael tensed in his arms. "Because I went there every month. To get Ben's meds."

"Oh," Brian muttered, tempted to press the subject of Ben further; but thinking back on earlier was more than enough reason to quickly discard the notion. Now wasn't the time. "But - how do you know I don't have a doob right here in my pocket?" Grinning, he held his hand in front of Michael's face, a joint magically appearing between his spread fingers.

"Brian! Put that back! We're in a fucking hospital, for Christ's sakes!"

"Calm down, no need to get your briefs in a bunch."

"You wanna spend the night in jail, be my guest, but I'd rather not get arrested right now, thank you very much."

"But you'd come slip my jiffies off the roaster, wouldn't you," he murmured huskily against Michael's neck, noticing the flustered set of Michael's jaw, delighting in the way he chewed at his lips -- infinitesimal little 'Mikey tendencies' that only he could decipher, mannerisms that only he would never admit just how much he had missed.

Michael's face tightened in annoyance. "No. I wouldn't. I have enough shit to deal with. Could you please not add to the glut?"

"Alright, alright -- no need to spaz." Brian stuffed the joint back into his pocket. "I'm saving it for later anyway. You care to join me?"

Before Michael could verbalize a response, a diminutive blonde emerged from the automatic doors, smoothing conscientious hands over the front of her smock and smiling warmly. Brian recognized her as the same nurse that had been attending the newborns.

"Is there any way I can help you gentleman?"

"Yeah, we'll take...that one," Brian quipped, nodding his head towards the nearest baby as if selecting a pastry from the deli case. He winked sidelong at the young nurse from beneath a fringe of unruly bangs. She giggled, blushing furiously and shuffling her feet.

Michael suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. "Don't mind him, ma'am, he suffers from a rare personality disorder."

Brows crinkling in feigned curiosity, Brian arced his head enough to see Michael's face. "Which one? The one where people are mysteriously drawn to abnormal amounts of good looks and charm?" Grinning, he smacked Michael's temple with an open-mouthed kiss.

The nurse's soft smile was almost a sigh as she took in their intimate stance. "You two make a beautiful couple. How long have you been together?"

Michael's eyes widened slightly, and he stammered to correct her, imagining the ruthless retort that was doubtlessly forming on the tip of Brian's tongue. "Oh, we're just - "

Brian raised his voice over Michael's. "Nineteen years exactly on August twenty-first." With a pleased smirk, he pecked a dumbfounded Michael on the cheek.

The nurse laid a hand over heart, batting her long eyelashes. "Oh, that's so lovely! I wish you many more wonderful years together."

Brian's grin turned sly. "You can count on it. Mikey's not going anywhere."

Blonde curls bounced as the nurse giggled yet again, hopelessly enchanted by Brian's roguish grins and blatant shows of affection for the smaller man in his arms.

Michael was flabbergasted. Mouth agape, he looked up at Brian, wondering what the fuck was going through his mind.

The blonde smiled shyly. "Well, it was nice talking to you. Bye now." Brian watched her dissappear around the corner, winking again as she tossed yet another surreptitious grin in their direction.

Though he couldn't see Michael's face, he could hear the look on it.

"Okay, so maybe you did raid the pharmacy. What the fuck did you do that for?"

Brian turned a bored gaze back to the row of wiggling babies, wincing when the nearest one released a shrill cry. "Do what?"

Michael's voice was subdued. "You know what I'm talking about."

"We have been together eighteen years."

"You know that's not what she meant."

"So what? I'm not going to pass you off as 'just my best friend'. Unlike some people."

Twisting in Brian's arms, Michael leaned back against the glass, his gaze intercepting the path of Brian's distant hazel eyes. "Isn't that what we are?" he asked softly.

Brian momentarily lost himself in pools of gentle brown. When the sensation of a blissful fall threatened to overcome him, he forced his eyes away, and stared thoughtfully over Michael's shoulder, chewing the inside of his cheek. Seconds passed. Michael folded his arms. Finally, when it was obvious Brian had no intention of answering, Michael turned away, leaning his head against the window with a weary sigh. The heat from where his back had been pressed against the warmth of Brian's front was leaking slowly away, chilling him from the inside out.

When he finally spoke, Michael's voice was nearly inaudible.

"Brian? What...what bed this this morning?"

"You mean...against the wall." Not a trace of his typical lechery laced the softly spoken correction. "I don't know," he continued, a tangible struggle upon his face.

Michael gently shook his head. "Me neither."

Brian allowed a pause to emphasize his rejoinder.

"But I liked it."

"Me too."

He ran a hand along the back of Michael's head, digging his fingers into the short, black hair. "You wanna get a bite?" A half smile quirked the corners of his mouth. "To eat, of course."

Michael turned. His grin was infectious.

"I thought you'd never ask."


Author's Note: Another long chapter. Seems I can never find a satisfying place for a chapter to end and another to begin, so I just write until I get that 'feel'. Many more chapters to come, because as you undoubtedly know; there are still many, many issues to be addressed.