A/N: Thanks so, so much for everyone who stuck with me and the boys through this until the end! I know I've been absolutely horrible at updating, but this is it, the final chapter of their story. I hope it ties up everything nicely and gives everyone the closure I tried to give Brian and Justin.
Thanks so much for reading, everyone!
Two Years Later
~. Justin .~
The image of JT being held in Rage's arms, both of them suspended slightly off the ground by Rage's powers of flight, was hardly a new one. It had been our trademark of sorts— it was the promotional image we used more than any other for anything Rage-related. Not only was it the main component of the cover for our very first issue, but it also made all the fags that read our comic swoon.
But I wasn't really looking at Rage and JT. I was looking past them, in the background. Zephyr (who was based on Michael and who we had a last decided on a good name for, despite Brian's insistence that 'super geek' was the most fitting) was on their left, looking tough and intimidating. To the right side of the page, the Life-Sapper— the very first villain and I Michael had ever created—glared at me.
About a year and a half ago, I'd finally given in to Michael's insistence that I do something with all my work. So we'd sat down together and gone through my multiple sketchbooks of drawings of my superhero characters. We'd kept some of the porn, but weeded out most of it, and moved our focus to what would make the best stories, because Michael said no one would buy a comic that only featured sex, even though Brian pointed out that the porn industry made billions every year.
Michael had done most of the dialogue, and together we'd shaped the stories into something befitting a comic book. I had to admit, it was really something amazing to see our work on the shelves of his store.
In our comic, the hot and powerful Rage (based on Brian, of course) and his best friend and sidekick, Zephyr, save JT (me) from several attackers just in the nick of time. This had been the hardest part for me to get over— publishing a comic that included an attempted rape in the beginning, but Michael had convinced me to do it in the end. In the comic, the main villain, the Life-Sapper, carries a baseball bat for a weapon and is the ringleader behind the attack on JT. Rage and Zephyr temporarily defeat the Life-Sapper, and Rage flies an unconscious JT back to his lair for the night.
But, when JT wakes, it is discovered that he has amnesia and can remember only the attack— not the rescue. So Rage explains that he and Zephyr saved him from the evil Life-Sapper, only he leaves out the part about his secret identity as a superhero.
JT, not remembering who he is or where he lives, stays with Rage while he slowly heals and regains his memory. While all this is happening, Rage and JT fall in love, though Rage is constantly growing more fearful that JT will remember the heroic rescue and discover his true identity.
In the end, Rage and Zephyr destroy the Life-Sapper and his cronies, with JT witnessing the entire scene without their knowledge. That is, until it comes time to destroy the bat, which not only has the power to cause temporary amnesia but is immune to super-powered destruction. With Rage and Zephyr at a loss as to how to destroy it, JT steps in and simply breaks it in half, rendering it useless and effectively bringing the Life-Sapper's reign of pain to a definitive end.
With JT now in on the secret of his superpowers, the last barrier between Rage and JT is broken down. Since he no longer has anything to hide, Rage uses his powers of levitation to have hot sex with JT in midair. (Brian happened to agree with me that this was the best part in the whole thing, though Michael was insisting before the issue was even published that I draw Zephyr a hunky, levitating boyfriend of his own.)
I couldn't ever remember feeling more proud of myself than the day our first issue had hit the shelves. If I ever started feeling broken down at all, I'd start looking through all our old comics and would feel better. Even though it was Brian and Michael's characters who had fought the Life-Sapper, I had fought Sapperstein, in a way; I'd triumphed over him, at least in fictional form. Though of course I possessed no superpowers in real life, it made me feel powerful in an entirely different way. Capable. Strong.
We were making pretty decent money off of it, too. I'd gone to work at the diner for a few months not long after the first issue was published, but after six months of selling comics I was making more money than I ever had in my life, so I'd quit at the diner so I could focus more on school.
"You're thinking again, aren't you?" came Brian's voice from behind me.
I smiled to myself and set the comic down on the counter. Before I could turn around, his arms encircled me from behind. I felt his chin on my shoulder, and knew he, too, was looking at the comic.
"Just a little. And don't say 'always a dangerous sign,'" I warned him.
"Wasn't going to."
I almost snorted. He was so predictable. Or maybe I just knew him that fucking well by this point.
"Haven't seen that one in a while." I could hear the worry in his tone, buried and disguised but still very much present.
I shook my head. He didn't need to worry. Not now. "I just needed to see it today."
He held me for a moment more, then kissed my cheek, and I knew he understood. "Ready to go?"
"Yeah. Just let me get my shoes."
I slid off my chair and left the comic on the kitchen counter. He slung an arm around my shoulders as we walked out the door.
Though Debbie had (in an uncharacteristically meek voice) assured me that I didn't have to come today if I didn't feel like it, she'd also said that if I did decide to come, she'd fix my favorite dessert for me. In the end, I'd decided to let her and everyone else offer their support. It wasn't like I could avoid them for long, and besides, I doubted shutting myself away from everyone would do me any good. I'd had enough of that for a lifetime.
So that night, mere hours after Gary Sapperstein's trial, I accompanied Brian to Debbie's house for dinner. As promised, she had my favorite dessert. I appreciated this simple gesture more than I could ever tell her.
Inevitably, the dinner conversation soon turned to the trial that had taken place that day. Most of them had been there anyway, but that didn't stop them recounting almost every minute of it.
"That asshole's smug face when they said he was guilty!" Debbie said gleefully.
"He wasn't expecting it, that's for sure," said Emmett with obvious relish.
"His lawyer probably told him not to worry about anything," said Melanie.
"Well, he didn't have you as his lawyer, Mel," I said, holding my drink up. Across the table, she clinked her glass against mine, then took a sip of her wine. She'd taken on my case pro bono and everything; I couldn't have asked for a better lawyer. Though I'd initially been hesitant to have someone I knew so well take on the case, mostly because she'd had to prepare me for the types of personal questions I'd be asked in court, I'd gotten over my awkwardness and just came to appreciate the hell out of her for everything she'd done.
"I always said rape should be punishable by castration," said Lindsay, twirling noodles around her fork. "I got a petition going for it and everything back in college. I got half the women on campus to sign, and a few of the men, too."
"Is this a return of the scary, political, college-dyke Lindsay?" asked Brian in full snark-mode, grinning at her.
"Need I remind you that you were one of the men who signed that petition, asshole?"
"You did?" I asked him, smiling.
He nodded, his arm going automatically around my shoulders as he sipped his own wine. "Mm-hm. Shame that law didn't pass."
I kissed him and tasted wine on his tongue.
"Let's have a toast!" said Debbie, holding her drink in the air. "To that bastard getting what he deserves!"
On her left, Emmett did the same. "To standing up for yourself." He winked at me.
"To justice," said Michael as he and Ben raised their glasses, too.
Next to me, Brian put his glass up, as well. He didn't take his eyes off me, and there was no doubt in my mind exactly what he was toasting. Or rather, who.
The others raised their glasses as well then lowered them to drink their wine as I did the same. I felt a bit like I was in the middle of a den of wild animals; it was something to watch them all come together in support of one of their own and pounce on anyone who preyed on one of the pack.
The exuberance of the pack was so great that, by the time Debbie brought out dessert, I was feeling quite cheerful myself. I'd been in a funny mood most of the day, wavering somewhere between joy and regret.
I ate my dessert quite happily, though, chatting with Michael about the next issue of Rage. By the time we were done eating, we each had several napkins worth of scribbled notes and rough sketches.
I caught Brian's eye across the living room. He was on the couch now, talking with Debbie, but he jerked his head in the direction of the back door when he saw me looking at him. I nodded, shoved my notes in my pocket, and told Michael I'd be back in a few minutes.
By the time I got away, deposited my plate in the kitchen, and got outside, Brian was already there, a lit cigarette in his mouth. He turned when he heard my footsteps. Wordlessly, he wrapped his arm around me. We stood there in silence for a few moments during which I plucked the cigarette from his hand and took a drag off of it myself.
"I'm sorry he didn't get convicted on your charges."
I didn't answer at first. What was I supposed to say? He offered me his cigarette again, and I took it, grateful to have something else to do with my mouth.
"It just seems like a waste," I said, shaking my head. "Everything I did, everything I went through, taking him to court...answering all those fucking questions..."
~. Brian .~
His voice was a dispiriting mixture of bitterness and dejection. I knew he was disappointed. I knew he was struggling with certain regrets.
But I also knew that it had taken a fucking lot, facing Sapperstein in court, and I didn't want him feeling like it hadn't been worth it. He may have lost the court case, but he'd won something, too.
"It wasn't a waste," I said, taking a slow, thoughtful drag off the cigarette we were sharing. "You stood up to him. You took something back from him."
He nodded. I knew it had been rough on him, seeing Sapperstein face to face again. He'd been having nightmares for the last few weeks with increasing intensity. We'd stopped seeing his therapist, Kathy, about four months before all this, so we couldn't even get his old sleep medication prescribed again.
He appeared to consider my point. "You think I did?"
I nodded. "You went after him for what he did to you—that took fucking balls. Everyone knows what a piece of shit he is now."
He smiled softly and took the cigarette back.
That had been one of the toughest things for him besides facing that asshole—answering questions about exactly what had happened that night. He'd had to go over every detail, not only about the party, but about events both before and after it, including his prior sexual experience with Gary, his recreational drug use, his mental state after the bashing, his therapy, his medications. Just as Melanie had warned him when she'd taken on his case, they'd asked him everything, whether it was relevant or not.
In the end, though, there was no proof that Justin had ever been raped by Gary Sapperstein or his friends. Sapperstein maintained that he hadn't even had sex with him at the party, consensual or otherwise. And as there was no proof to the contrary, the verdict had been 'not guilty.'
"And keep in mind," I continued, "he was convicted on two other charges, not to mention those old drug charges of his. He'll still be spending a good chunk of time in prison as someone's bitch."
Justin let out a tiny little laugh at that, which relieved me. He'd done better than I could have hoped with all of this, but it had been tough on both of us. Even though we hadn't gotten exactly the outcome we'd hoped for, it was still a victory, and it was over now. It was finally over.
"You think?" he asked, looking slightly more cheerful at this.
"One can hope." He leaned against me, his arm going around my waist. I kissed the top of his head. "I'm, uh—"
He turned to look up at me curiously. He raised an eyebrow expectantly, and I knew I had to deliver.
"I'm proud of you."
He practically beamed and pulled me down for a kiss. After a few moments, he pulled away. "Thank you. For everything."
I shrugged uncomfortably. "I didn't do any—"
"Yes, you did," he cut me off, his harshness taking me by surprise. "You did so much. You got me through so much—and it was because of you we even got a trial like that . . . ."
Which wasn't true, at least not the part about me getting him through so much. He'd done all that himself. He'd gotten through it all because of his own strength and bravery and whatever the fuck else. He was the most resilient fucker I knew, and I told him so.
He shook his head. "You helped me more than you know, Brian."
And okay, I supposed sticking by him during the whole painful ordeal had helped him, but it still wasn't like I was the reason he'd made it. The trial, I suppose, was at least partially my doing, I'd give him that. All my work had finally paid off. Matt, Babylon's old bartender and another of Sapperstein's victims, had testified against his attacker today, with Gary's old friend, Joe, as a witness. He'd been convicted on that charge, as well as one other—that which had been found on an old video tape kept by one of Sapperstein's other sick friends.
I'd found out through Carl that there had been four tapes in all. One was unusable, the assault depicted having taken place a solid fourteen years previously—two years past the statute of limitations for rape charges. I'd also asked him (I'd had to know, had to, even if I didn't want to) if there had been one of Justin.
There hadn't been, and I wasn't sure if I was relieved about that or not. The most recent tape had been from a party three years or so before Justin's assault, featuring Gary and several of his scumbag friends at some other party; according to Carl, the victim looked to be around high school age.
The victims from the other two tapes had been contacted. One hadn't wanted anything to do with the courts or a trial or anything. The other—a guy by the name of Lyle, who was now twenty-six—had pressed charges along with Matt and Justin. Though Sapperstein's lawyer had tried to make it out that the entire ordeal had been a fantasy of Lyle's and the whole thing had been consensual, the jury had ruled against him and Gary had been convicted on a second charge.
"So, Michael said something about Woody's later, and then the club. You up for it?" I asked.
He nodded, leaning his head against my shoulder and looking up at the starry expanse of sky.
I was hoping a night of dancing might serve to get his mind off things. The new gay club that had opened in Babylon's stead—Yang—had quickly become the new hot spot. Rumor was they were opening a lesbian club, Yin, a couple of blocks away, something I'd been sure to mention to the munchers whenever I saw them, pretending to shudder at the thought.
Justin and I even fucked in Yang's backroom sometimes. He did fine with crowds these days, and though we'd had plenty of trials where sex was concerned, things were basically the way they'd been before the party. It had been an adjustment for him going to a club like Yang, full of hulking, horny men, but I'd stayed practically glued to his side for the first three months after we'd started going there, and he handled it just fine now. And except for his very occasional requests to stop in the middle of sex, he was doing fucking great with that, too. Our sex life was pretty much every bit as great as it always had been. Without the constant burden of pain that we used to share, weighted down by the attacks of first Hobbes and then Sapperstein, things between us were easy and comfortable and, dare I say it, happy these days.
After all we'd been through, I thought we'd earned it. Maybe we were still dealing with some things— maybe we always would be— but we were doing better than I could have imagined at one point. We'd gone through a lot to be here. We more than deserved it. We deserved some peace, and some fun, and some joy. All things, incidentally, that he brought to my life.
We deserved, I thought, to do exactly what we were doing now: moving forward together.
~. Justin .~
Whatever bullshit Brian came out with about having next to nothing to do with how much better I was doing these days, I knew different. I knew better than that.
Mostly because of all this trial business, I'd been thinking about things I hadn't thought about in a while, things like our first time having sex after the rape, old issues of Rage that had been about the assault, and just a shitload of other things. Some were dark and unpleasant, like most of my therapy sessions, and my suicide attempt, and being diagnosed with an STD; some, though, made me feel warm and hopeful, like all the firsts after the attack: drawing Brian naked, him telling me he loved me, Daphne taking me to the movies, jerking off a guy that wasn't my boyfriend.
Mostly, I thought about Brian, because how could I not? He'd been there through everything; there really wasn't any part of this that didn't have something to do with him or his unwavering support. Sometimes it felt like he'd saved me, every part of me—I didn't know where I'd be, or even if I would be anything, without him. Would I still be alive? Would I still be in school? Would I be able to be with my friends and family with such ease? Would I be thriving the way I was now?
I didn't know for sure what would have happened, but somehow I did know that I wouldn't be nearly as okay if it weren't for him. Maybe I would have survived on my own, like he said, but he had made things easier than they would have been, there was no way even he could deny that. He'd been there while I'd put all my broken pieces back where they belonged, and he'd helped me do it no matter how many times we both shattered. He'd helped me through each day until I was finally in a place to do it for myself, and because of that, I was here, and smiling, and happy. We were happy.
He offered me the final drag off his cigarette, then stomped it out on the ground. He didn't say a word and neither did I, but he pulled me a little closer and kissed me deeply in that way that made my toes curl.
Somehow, with him, the tough shit didn't seem to matter as much. What had happened back then, and whatever happened in the future—it wasn't nearly as important as what was happening now. And he was right about Sapperstein, too: I'd fucking stood up to him today. I'd faced him and told everyone exactly what he'd done to me, and maybe he hadn't been convicted, but he knew and I knew and everyone else knew what he'd done. This time, it was him who would be suffering, and it was me who just didn't give a shit. He was going to prison for a very long time, and I was free to live my life. I wasn't going to let him define it, either, not when I had so many other things to focus on—things like Rage, and school, and my friends, and art, and Brian. The other shit just wasn't worth it. Life went on. . . and so did we.
I kissed Brian one more time, muttering a quiet I love you against his lips, which he returned.
Then I wrapped my arm more snugly around his waist, and together, we turned to go back inside.