"I talked to Anthony this afternoon," Brian told Justin in bed a few days later. "He finally met with Webster's lawyer. We were right; the lawyer didn't know anything about the abuse and is advising Webster to drop the suit."
"Did his lawyer say why Tom is suddenly so hard up for cash?" Justin asked curiously.
"No, but Anthony did a bit of digging," Brian said. "It seems Webster made a few bad investments with other people's money. A few of those people are not very happy with him, and they aren't the type of people you want to be angry with you."
Justin nodded against Brian's chest. Tom had associated with more than one shady character. It didn't really surprise him that the man might be in trouble now. His thoughts on their lawyer, Justin asked, "Did Anthony say anything about the custody papers?"
Brian sighed. "He and Mel have been meeting to go over the issue. Because Gus is my biological son, and because I have given financial support to him over the years despite the original agreement, Anthony and Mel have agreed that if she gets custody from Lindsey that I should be given partial custody. That way, if anything ever happens to Mel, Gus will come to us rather than Lindsey."
"That's good," Justin said.
"It would pretty much be the same as it is now, but legal. It's the same arrangement she and Michael have for JR," Brian added.
"What about the twins?"
Brian hesitated and Justin felt him tense up. Justin sat up and looked down at his lover with concern. Brian looked away when he spoke. "They both have suggested I petition to adopt the twins."
Justin's heart stopped for a full minute, afraid to hope. "And?"
Brian finally looked at Justin. "Would that be okay with you?"
Justin smiled at Brian's insecurity. "I think it would be great. You are already their daddy, you just didn't know it."
Brian swallowed hard and nodded. "Then yeah, I'd like that."
Justin leaned down and kissed Brian. Things were just getting interesting when they both were pulled from their passion by the sound of one of the twins through the monitor.
"You're on, Daddy," Justin smiled wickedly. "Go get your son."
Brian grumbled as he grabbed his robe, but stopped and smiled as a second cry joined the first. "You too, Papa."
Justin groaned, but quickly grabbed his own robe to join Brian.
They had a small welcome home party for Lindsey two weeks later. The small house Mel had found for her and the kids was cozy and warm and filled their friends and family. There was laughter and smiles, but under it all, there was a tension felt only by those closest to the situation. When the guests had left and the kids were put to bed, the twins in a portable crib in Mel's room, Brian, Justin, Mel and Lindsey sat in the small living room drinking coffee.
"I've made a decision," Lindsey suddenly announced, almost making Justin jump. Brian wrapped his arm around his partner to lend him strength and comfort. "I can't keep doing this. I can't be the person I was before all of this happened. I'm very grateful to each of you for all that you've done for me, but I need to make some changes in my life."
"What sort of changes?" Brian asked. Justin had told him about Mel's suspicions, and they had prepared for what might come, but even though he went along with all the preparations, he'd never actually believed that Lindsey, his Wendy, could actually walk away from her children, from Mel, from him.
Lindsey closed her eyes and took a deep breath before opening her eyes and looking directly at Brian. "My mother offered me a house and a trust to support myself while I paint. I'm going to take her up on it."
"What the fuck, Linz?" Brian asked scathingly. "You hate that bitch! And what about your children?"
"She's promised to leave me alone," Lindsey said quietly.
"In return for leaving your lover and children behind," Mel said coolly.
Lindsey looked hurt. "It's not like that. I need… I need to take care of myself. I was so busy taking care of everyone else that I got lost. I can't do that again. Next time…"
They didn't need her to finish that sentence. Next time she might actually take her own life.
"And you think being alone will make things better?" Justin asked. He was torn. A part of him wanted her gone, still angry at her and afraid that she might take his babies away. Another part, however, loved her and knew how much she was hurting. "I was alone, Lindsey. For two years, I was alone. I wouldn't give up a minute of time with the twins for that. Being alone doesn't make things better. It makes things worse."
Lindsey shook her head. "You don't understand. I can't do it anymore. I've made up my mind. I know Mel suspected this was coming. I'm sure she's prepared the legal papers we'll need. I'll sign over my parental rights however you all work it out. The kids will be fine. They've done just fine without me these past months."
Brian was angry and hurt. Justin could feel his whole body thrum with emotions. He tried to lend Brian comfort, but there wasn't really anything he could do. "I can't believe you're going to do this. They told me, and I went along with the arrangements they were making, but I never believed you could be this selfish. Christ Lindsey!" Brian restlessly got to his feet and began to pace. "When? How long before you disappear?"
"Two days," Lindsey whispered. "Long enough to pack my personal things, make the kids understand what's happening, and sign whatever documents you need me to sign. My sister will pick me up first thing on Monday morning."
"Where will you go?" Mel asked, speaking for the first time.
"My father's sister found a house for me in New Mexico," Lindsey said. "It's in an artist's colony. I did a bit of research online and it sounds really nice."
"If you do this, don't expect to come back to open arms when it all falls apart," Brian warned. "I forgave you for taking my son to another country. I forgave you for almost screwing up my relationship with Justin. I even forgave you for lying to all of us about the twins. But this…this I'm not sure I can forgive. You are hurting our children, whether you want to believe that or not."
Lindsey looked at Mel, silently asking if she agreed with Brian. Mel gave her a sad nod. There would be no turning back this time. "It wouldn't be fair to the kids to have you coming and going in and out of their lives on your whims."
"I understand," Lindsey said with a slight tremor in her voice. She swallowed hard and nodded. "I understand."
After that, there wasn't much to say.
"She didn't even hold the twins once," Justin said when they were alone in bed that night.
"Maybe she's already distanced herself from them," Brian said quietly.
"How can she do that?" Justin asked angrily. "How can she just leave her babies behind, like they never existed?"
"I don't know," Brian said quietly. "I just don't know."
Lindsey left on Monday morning as promised. Gus refused to come out of his room, but Justin spied him peeking out of the window, his face screwed up in anger. They would all need to help him through this. JR and the babies were still young enough not to be as affected by Lindsey's departure. JR gave Lindsey a hug and kiss goodbye, just as she had done each time she had visited her mommy at the hospital, but she didn't feel the same loss that Gus did. Lindsey didn't even look at the twins in their stroller. She gave Mel a hug, and despite the pain and anger that Mel must have been feeling, she returned the hug and clung to Lindsey for long minutes. Brian, very much Gus' father, wouldn't even look at Lindsey.
"Take care of yourself," Justin said quietly when Lindsey turned to him. He didn't offer a hug, nor did Lindsey try to give him one.
"I will," Lindsey said. "I'll write once I get settled."
"I'll send photos, if you want," Justin offered.
Lindsey looked hopeful for a minute but then shook her head. "No, it's probably best if you don't."
Justin nodded. "If you change your mind…"
"Thank you," Lindsey said.
"Let's go, Lindsey," the sister called. The bitch hadn't even bothered to get out of the car.
"Well, I guess this is it," Lindsey said. She took a step back and gave a watery smile to each of them. She looked up at Gus' window and blew him a kiss. Justin looked up in time to see the curtains close. Lindsey's tears began to flow freely then. "Goodbye."
Moments later, she was gone.
Justin took the twins and JR inside while Brian held Mel, who was now crying like her heart would never mend.
Lindsey hadn't been gone a week before Brian got a call from Michael. Ben was back in the hospital. Two days later, he was gone.
Brian spent a lot of time with Michael in the weeks after Ben's death. Justin understood, though he missed having Brian around. He knew that Michael needed his best friend. The twins missed their daddy, but Justin did his best to make it up to them. He also spent a lot of time with Gus and JR. Gus took being a big brother very seriously, wanting to help as much as he was able. Mel assured Justin that the family therapist they were seeing said it was a natural reaction to the separation with his mother. Gus knew he was loved by his other parents, but he was hurting. Instead of dwelling on his own pain, he was doing his best to protect his siblings from that sort of pain.
Justin worked through his pain and confusion through his art. He spent hours every day allowing his heart to bleed out on the canvases. The result was some of the best work he had done and he had an offer for a local show because of them.
One Friday evening, when Justin was preparing another meal for just him and the twins, he was surprised to hear Brian come in. He looked up at his partner in the doorway and felt like he was looking at a mirage.
"I thought you were having dinner with Michael," Justin said breathlessly, suddenly filled with inexplicable anxiety.
"He's going to dinner with Emmett," Brian smirked. "And your mother will be here in half an hour to watch the twins tonight. You and I are going to dinner."
"We are?" Justin smiled as relief flooded through him.
Brian nodded and took two steps towards Justin. "And then we are going dancing."
Brian nodded and took another two steps. "We are." Another step and he had Justin in his arms. "I missed you."
Justin suddenly had a lump in his throat. "Me too." He clung to Brian like he would disappear if he loosened his grip at all. "What brought this on?"
"Michael," Brian said. "And Mel. They are both mourning for their lost partners. And I have my partner right here, but felt like I had lost you too. I don't ever want to regret a second that could have been spent together. If I ever take you for granted again, you need to tell me."
"Michael needed you too," Justin shrugged.
"He's not my partner," Brian said. "You are. And he has other friends and family who want to help him. So I'm going to let them. And I'm going to give you the attention you've been missing."
"I'm glad," Justin smiled and finally kissed Brian. No sooner had their lips met than Eli began crying for his dinner. Soon Sam had joined in the chorus.
"I swear they do that on purpose," Brian snorted. "Go on upstairs and get ready to go. I'll feed these two starving beasts."
They had dinner at a nice restaurant that Brian often used to entertain clients before heading to Woody's for a few drinks. Justin enjoyed being with Brian with no distractions and no responsibilities for a change. It wasn't long before they ended up at Babylon. Despite time and the changes in their lives, both Brian and Justin turned many heads as they took to the dance floor. The freedom and joy that lived in the thumpa-thumpa had soon permeated the sadness and disappointments of life that weighed them down.
For hours, they moved together, ignoring the come-ons and suggestive glances thrown their way… mostly. They drank and danced like they were the same carefree people who had met under a streetlight so many years ago.
When the music changed, there were slight groans from some of the people around them, but Justin's face lit up.
"I can't believe they're playing this!"
"There are some perks to owning the place," Brian smirked. "Shall we?"
The crowd began to part as Brian and Justin began to dance just like they had at his prom. As they circled the floor, Justin looked into Brian's eyes and read the promise there. Some dreams came true, some didn't, but whatever might happen in the future Brian would be there, and Justin would always save the last dance for Brian.