Disclaimer: I WISH I owned Brian and Justin... but I don't.

~~~INTERNAL COMPASS~~~

I.

You wake up at about five-thirty in the morning, jolting upright and clutching the sheets in your hands. After you're sure it wasn't real, you let your fingers slacken and your breathing resume, a hand pressed to your chest to soothe the pounding of your heart.

Fuck.

It's the fourth or fifth time you've had the dream, and it gets worse every time. The most awful thing about it, though, is the fact that once you wake up, you feel wrung and small and lonely. The worst thing is that you desperately want to feel fingers sliding between yours, and a soft midnight kiss on your temple, and the tickle of blond hair brushing past your ear.

You get out of bed and grab the phone. Holding it to your ear, you amble towards the loft's large window and gaze out at the lights. Tall buildings loom all around, like walls.

"Mikey?"

"…Brian? Is that you?"

"Yeah."

"Fuck, Brian, what time is it?"

"I don't know. Three, three-thirty, something."

"Why're you calling in the middle of the night?" Michael's voice grows concerned. "Is everything all right?"

"It's all okay, Mikey. I just –" you shake your head, feeling foolish. "I had a bad dream."

"A bad dream?" laughs Michael.

"Yeah," You say uncomfortably. "Uh, you know what, go back to bed, Mikey. I'll just –"

"Wait! Brian!"

"Mmm?"

"Do you wanna talk about it?"

"I –" You want to say no, I'm fine, it was just my stupid subconscious, but the dream is something you think Mikey might understand. And fuck it, yes. Yes, you want to talk about it. "I was fourteen again. And Jack was hitting me. And – and –" You clench the fist not holding the phone, feeling stupid and vulnerable. "And he started to choke me. And I couldn't breathe, I stopped breathing, I was gonna pass out – and then I woke up. "

"Oh Brian," says Michael, not sounding amused anymore. "Oh. I'm sorry. God. You should, you should try drinking some warm milk. That'll put you to sleep in a second. If you really need it, take something, some sleeping pill, I'm sure you have something. If you don't, maybe buy some tomorrow?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll do that. Thanks, Mikey."

You hang the phone up, remembering the time you were being punched by Jack, and you'd run away to Michael's, and no one had been home. You'd banged and banged on their door and no one had answered, and Jack had sent Claire out to look for you. You knew you'd be beaten black and blue if she found you and brought you back that night, and you remember crying with frustration, wondering where to hide. You'd banged and banged on their door until finally, when you knew for sure that no one was there to save you, you'd squared your shoulders and walked back home.

You'd had to call in sick at school the next day.

II.

The next morning, you call Ted and tell him you won't be in. Instead, you drive impulsively out to the country with your camera. Reaching Britin, you let yourself in, and moving with a sense of purpose, you start capturing floors and corners and ceilings and doorways, examining walls and sills and staircases.

You drive back into town and stop at three or four of your favorite furniture stores. You buy what you like, and place orders for anything you can't find.

The next few weeks are busy. Cynthia wrangles Kinnetik a couple of big accounts, and you fly up to Toronto for a day and a night for Gus's birthday. All your free time you spend getting Britin cleaned, carpeted, furnished, curtained and landscaped. You feel purposeful – it's been a while since you've had a real project that wasn't some hopelessly easy advertising campaign. In three weeks, it's ready.

Then you realize that you don't know what you've made it ready for.

You don't want sympathy, or concern, or, worst of all, advice. You don't want someone to pat your back and be there for you, and you don't want to focus your energies on being a father, because you don't want your relationship with your son to be born out of your own need for distraction. So when Linds suggests getting a pet, and when Mikey offers misguided suggestions like "chicken soup" and "a holiday," you tell them no. You spend your evenings in front of a crackling fire and wonder when your life became so directionless. You gaze around at the lush carpeting, oaken walls and beautiful furnishings and wonder when you became homeless. Then you scoff and remind yourself that you never did really have a home. You usually drink half a bottle of scotch and fall asleep on the sofa. Often, you jerk awake gasping for breath and gazing around in fear.

Ted and Cynthia gang up on you and command you to take a vacation. You decline until they tell you that your dark circles are becoming more and more prominent every day, and if you're not careful, you may develop permanent bags under your eyes. It's still enough to get you to forsake work for a week.

Of course, this simply leads to more sitting around in a huge, empty house, or lounging on a solitary deckchair next to a calm blue pool, gazing at clouds, or lying on the lawn and examining individual blades of grass. You bring out your camera again, and focus on things like a gauzy dragonfly wing lying abandoned on the tiles, or a trail in the soil left by an earthworm, or a stubborn moth repeatedly flying into a candle until its wings start to burn. You take blurred pictures of rainy skies when the heavy clouds are maroon, and of the moon reflected in a puddle. You drive out into wilder country at night, taking pictures of vines and trash and processions of ants on the asphalt. Ants always seem to know where to go – even the ones that get separated from their comrades. Even the lost, confused, fucked up ants seem to know which direction they're supposed to move in, and they never let anything stop them. Afterwards, you go back to Britin, imbibe copious amounts of Beam, and fall asleep on the rug with your shoes still on.

III.

When it's time to go back to work, the skin around your eyes is back to normal. You throw yourself into your accounts, thinking out of the box, wowing your clients and generally being your usual dynamic self. You meet Michael at Woody's for some drinks and pool.

"Still having nightmares?" Michael asks you.

"Jack's dead," you say. "And before he died, he was a pathetic old fucker who mooched off my money. He hasn't hit me since I was seventeen."

"So… no nightmares?" asks Michael, looking confused.

"Oh, there's nightmares," you say. "But I don't think they have anything to do with Jack."

Michael looks as though he wants to inquire further, but you hurriedly win the game, kiss him goodbye and drive back out to Britin. You haven't told anyone that you've been living there, and you don't know if you will. What does it matter where you're living, anyway? Whether you move or not, it's not like you can leave your fucking problems behind – no, they just come with you, and manifest themselves in your subconscious using disturbing images from your past.

You continue going out at night and driving for miles, and your trips grow longer and longer every time. After a month, you realize that there's no point in turning back. You're like an ant. If you go back to the loft and to your life the way it's been for the past year, you're just going to find yourself driving down this road at some unspecified time in the future. Even if you try to resist, like you used to; even if you place rocks and boulders in your path, sooner or later you're going to follow the path your instinct wants you to follow, even if there's every risk of getting stepped on.

IV.

When you get to New York, it's five a.m. and you grab a few winks of sleep in the car. In the morning, you find yourself getting out at the gallery Lindsay mentioned once, when she was telling you that Justin had finally had a few paintings displayed. There are three of Justin's paintings hanging up in the gallery, and you recognize his style in an instant. The one in the middle is composed of layered brushstrokes in black, white and blue. If you squint, you can see that it's actually two hands interlaced with one another. It would look great in Britin's living room, you muse contemplatively. Maybe above the fireplace. You go to the desk and ask to buy the painting.

"Sir," says the man at the desk, "That one's not for sale. But the ones on either side are by the same artist, so if I can interest you –"

"Is there any way I can talk about it to the artist himself?" you ask.

"He will come in at about three p.m., sir," the man tells him.

"Thank you," you say. You leave the gallery and go to get yourself something to eat. You wander around town for some hours, drifting from one place to another until it's time for you to go back to the gallery. You feel inexplicably nervous as you get closer, afraid you might do something ridiculous like cry or something. Or maybe – and your stomach clenches at the thought – maybe Justin won't want to see you. Won't want you.

You distract yourself by glancing at your surroundings and thinking about frames and backdrops and lighting. If you allow yourself to think about what you're doing, you're afraid that you'll – well, pull a Brian, and run away again. You're setting yourself up for a world of pain, really. Making yourself all kinds of vulnerable, prostrating yourself on the floor, handing the key to your happiness to someone else on a platter, admitting to having feelings

– but when you see Justin, it all melts away. Because you can see the vivid blue of Justin's eyes, and you know – know that Justin already knows that you have feelings, and he's already had the key to your happiness years ago, that he will hold your hand and hoist you up off the floor, because, goddamn it, you trust Justin, trust him enough to know that he won't take advantage of your vulnerability. You trust him with the knowledge of your own faults and weaknesses and fears, because Justin would never, never abuse that knowledge.

V.

"Hey," says Justin softly, his eyes wide and shocked. "How come – what – what are you doing here?"

"I wanted to buy a painting," you say, gesturing. "But I was told that that one's not for sale."

"It's not," says Justin, the ghost of a smile grazing his lips.

"I was hoping I could change your mind," you say, smiling winningly. "It would look really great above my fireplace."

Justin's eyes widen. "Fireplace…?" he whispers, looking questioningly at you. So you hold out a hand, your heart thudding. Justin looks at it in shock. Blinking back moisture, you say: "Come home with me, Justin," and wait, your hand hanging in the air, a question, a plea, a symbol of trust.

Then Justin looks back up at you, and, raising his hand, laces his fingers through yours.

"Yes," he breathes.

Justin doesn't have much to pack, since he's sharing an apartment with a friend of Daphne's, and none of the furniture is his. You pace in the sitting room while Justin shoves his stuff into a couple of bags, bids his roommate an apologetic goodbye with rent money for the next two months – ample time to find a new roommate – and hands you about four half-finished paintings to carry. You have to make three trips to and from the apartment to get canvases of varying size down to the car, and then you have to fit an easel into the boot, which refuses to shut completely over it. Eventually, you say: "We'll buy a better easel!" and Justin nods quickly, and you trash it in the nearest dumpster and dive into the car as though you have a train to catch.

Once you've driven out of the city, you finally allow yourself to relax, and Justin starts talking.

"I liked New York, I really did, Brian, but after I left and we made a clean break and you didn't call, I just wasn't happy, and Jacob was cool but he kept bringing home all these women, and they left their bras behind and it was totally gross, and at first nobody wanted my art and I was miserable and uninspired, and I fucking missed you all the time, and then finally a couple of galleries showed some interest, but really at the rate I'm going, I could be doing the same stuff in Pittsburgh, and not be so fucking unhappy all the time – but then I thought I'd left it too late and you were probably realizing why you loved being single, and discovering anew the joys of bringing someone new home every night –"

"I can't fucking believe you just said 'discovering anew'," you snigger, and then you're both laughing, and you feel weight roll off your shoulders with each fresh wave of laughter.

You stop at the first diner you see, and fuck in the men's room. It's fast, dirty, sweaty, passionate and desperate, and you claw at each other, can't get enough of the other's smell and taste and sweat and skin. You press Justin up against the inside of the stall door, and mouth the back and sides of his neck while pumping frenziedly into him, and Justin arches his neck back, and tongues your temple and the rim of your ear, and when he comes, you wrap your arms tightly around him, bury your face into the side of his neck and come with him.

VI.

Justin insinutes himself into Britin like he never left, and soon you can only wonder what it used to be like without the sound of Justin's loud painting-music rattling the wondows, and Justin's clothes lying randomly on the floor of the master bedroom, and Justin's loose sketches turning up in odd locations.

Michael calls the day after you return from New York, wanting to know where you've been.

"Out in the country," you tell him. "Getting some fresh air, some sunshine."

"Do you want to hang out at Woody's tonight?" Michael asks, "I haven't seen you in weeks."

"Okay, but not Woody's," you say. "The diner. When it's Deb's shift. And bring Emmett and Theodore."

"Okay," Michael says, and you forgive him, as usual, for not always being home, for having a life of his own, and for not always knowing what you need or how to give it to you. Mikey's your best friend and always will be, but sometimes the only person that can bail you out is yourself, and sometimes you just can't be bailed out, you just have to face things head-on.

You go upstairs to the sunlit room Justin has claimed as his studio. Leaning in the doorway for a few seconds, you watch Justin apply enthusiastic brushstrokes onto his canvas and think about photographs of blades of grass, and grains of soil, and of the moon and clouds. Then Justin turns to you and smiles, and you think dazedly about how you can't photograph the sun, because a mere photograph cannot capture it's ability to blind you if you look at it directly.

"Hey," says Justin, giving you a quick kiss.

"Hey," you say. "Okay, listen, I wanted to ask you something."

"What?" asks Justin, turning towards his painting and swirling some blue onto his paintbrush.

"I don't care how we do it," you tell him. "I honestly don't give a shit. But we seem to have really fucking bad luck, so I was thinking we should just do it. Reallyfuckingquick. And then it'll be, you know, done."

"Brian, what are you talking about?" Justin asks patiently.

"I'm talking about us getting married," you say. Justin turns towards you and smiles widely, and you catch your breath and think ridiculous thoughts about waking up to the sunrise every morning, and about how before the compass was invented, people on ships would use the sun to determine which direction to go in. With you, it's simple. You're the moth, and Justin's the flame – the biggest, brightest flame you've ever seen. And if your wings get burnt, so fucking be it.

"Do you still have the rings?" Justin asks, and you nod wordlessly and fish in your pocket for the little box.

"Here," you say, handing it to him. Justin opens the box and picks up one of the gold bands lying inside. He looks up at you, his blue eyes shining.

"Brian Kinney," he says, his face lighting up. "I love you. I'm pretty sure that I've loved you since I met you, and I'm even surer that that I'm going to love you for the rest of my life." Gently raising your hand to the level of his chest, he slips the band around your ring finger. Then he looks at you expectantly, and you take the other ring out of the box and look into Justin's face.

"Justin Taylor," you say, fervently hoping that your voice doesn't crack. "After a certain amount of both voluntary and involuntary experimentation, I've come to the conclusion that my life would be pointless and decidedly not worth living without you in it. Ergo, in the interest of my well-being, and the well-being, in turn, of those that depend on me, it is imperative that I spend the rest of my life with you." You smirk. "Also, I'm so ridiculously in love with you, it almost warps my brain just thinking about it." You ease the ring onto Justin's finger, trying not to be dazzled by the expression on Justin's face, and then find yourself enwrapped in Justin's limbs. "And you have a great ass," you mumble into Justin's hair, your hands already burrowing into the the soft flesh.

"So do you," Justin says breathlessly before he sticks his tongue in your mouth.

VII.

"SUNSHINE!" yells Debbie, dumping everything on somebody's table and rushing over to hug Justin.

"Hey, Deb," says Justin in a muffled voice from somewhere within her embrace.

"Why didn't you call and tell us you were visiting?" says Deb happily, letting go of him.

"Um, because, I'm not really visiting," Justin says. Emmett gasps loudly, and then points at your and Justin's rings. Trust him to be the first to notice, you think as Michael and Deb exclaim loudly and clutch at your hands. Then you catch sight of Ted's satisfied face and realize that maybe Ted was the first one to notice anything – probably even before you did.

"Did you get married?" Michael says in hushed tones.

"Without inviting us?" says Debbie, looking crestfallen.

"In a manner of speaking," Justin says hastily. "It was just me and Brian. Nobody officiated, because firstly it's not legal, and secondly, neither of us is religious. We just made spur-of-the-moment vows and put the rings on, that's all." His hand finds yours under the table.

"So you'll have the real ceremony later?" Debbie says, perking up.

"No, no," says Justin, glancing at you. "We're not going to have a ceremony. We don't need a ceremony or a party or anything, Deb." Debbie doesn't seem satisfied, but she leaves it alone.

Later at night, when you're back home, Justin puts his arms around your neck, and says: "Hey."

"Mmm?" you say, raising an eyebrow.

"Just because we're wearing rings now…" says Justin earnestly. "Well, I don't want you to think that I demand pure monogamy or anything, okay? You can still fuck whoever you want, and so can I. I won't turn into your lesbian wife just because we got married, all right? I know you love me, and that's really all I ever wanted from you."

"I know," you say, nudging Justin's nose with your own. You don't say anything else, although you have to wonder whether sex with anyone else will ever be satisfying ever again, considering it just gets better and better with Justin. "So, you wanna fuck?" Justin laughs and nods, and you throw yourselves upon your bed.

You lie on top of Justin and suckle on the back of his neck while probing his ass with a leisurely finger, drawing intense, shuddering moans from him. Then you slowly breach him, and then it's all limbs and tongues and moistened fingertips. Justin's hand reaches behind to tug on your hair, and soon you're coming with groans and thrusts and shudders.

Afterwards, with Justin's head buried in your neck and his slow breathing pushing his chest into your side rhythmically, you think about deep breaths and expanding lungs and a windpipe devoid of constriction. Somehow, you don't think that you'll be having those nightmares anymore.

A week later, a crate is delivered to Britin, and Justin drags it upstairs into his studio. When you get home from work, you see that there's a brand new painting hanging above the fireplace. It's mostly black, white and blue, and looks abstract unless you squint, and then you can see the fingers of two hands intertwining. If you really squint, you can see that they're both wearing rings.

VIII.

"You look great!" Lindsay says with a hug, kissing you soundly on the mouth. She doesn't look bad either, you notice. Her cheeks are flushed and she looks healthy, and happy.

"I'm just glad you managed you tear yourself away from all the butch female Mounties for five minutes," you tell her, dragging her into the gallery, where she's greeted and hugged and kissed by the rest of the family.

"Are you kidding?" laughs Linds. "I wouldn't have missed this show for anything. I've been waiting for it to happen since I was twenty!"

"I don't know how I let Justin talk me into this," you sigh, and Linds giggles.

"Justin could talk you into shaving your head and changing your name to Spike," she says, and you glare at her. She grins impishly and nudges you, and you nudge her back, until you're engaged in a full-blown scuffle, just like back in college. You've realized over time that some things stay the same. Some people move in the same direction, all together, and even if they somehow diverge from the group during the course of the journey, their instinct reminds them what direction they're supposed to head in. So when you complete the journey, you find that you've all reached the same destination, the same anthill. Even if you took different routes to get here, you've all reached the same home.

"Brian, these are beautiful," breathes Linds from beside you, gazing at the photographs. "So many different things – trash, leaves, insects – and yet somehow you've managed to weave in a theme that makes them all connect to each other."

"I'm amazing," you shrug, and she smiles weakly at you. You notice that she has tears in her eyes. She gazes at the picture of the moth, it's wings blurry, charring itself in the heart of a candle-flame, and the picture of the moon's reflection, like the Lady of Shallott, locked up in a grand tower, gazing longingly down at the people of Camelot. Sometimes you wonder if the moon ever hopes that if it moves quickly enough, it'll catch up with the sun, and be engulfed by its light.

END

A/N: If you liked it, leave a review :)