DISCLAIMER: I don't own QAF, the characters…blah blah blah. You know the drill. If I had any right over these characters, the finale would have never have happened.
NOTE: Any resemblance to Xrifree's 'Nice boys don't play rock n roll' is entirely my fault, because this story is hugely inspired that one. And by hugely, I mean ENORMOUSLY.
BACKGROUND: I've played very fast and very loose with the background and setting, because this is the only way I can make it work. It's fairly easy to follow, but here are the points that are not obvious:
Brian grew up in Georgia, and moved to Pittsburgh when he was 19, when he started college. He met Lindsay in college; he shared an apartment with Michael at the same time. His family still sucks.
Ted works with Brian at Vanguard after getting fired from Wertschafter and he runs jerk work on the side.
Justin's back story will unfold itself gradually, but bear in mind that he is only 4 years younger to Brian here.
Michael already owns the comic book store, but Ben is just being introduced.
Gus is still young, and when I figure out exactly how old I want him to be, you'll find out!
The story will mostly be told through Justin, Lindsay, Brian and Melanie's POVs.
One morning, at the Liberty Diner
Lindsay was giddy with excitement. She knew she shouldn't build things up too much, because there was a chance for disappointment, but still…Melanie was still talking on her mobile phone, a short distance away. Mel understood, and was being as supportive as possible. Lindsay looked around, and caught Brian's eye. He seemed to stifle a yawn. Brian seemed to be getting a little bored; he kept fiddling with his phone, and wasn't paying the least bit of attention to the conversation around him.
"Brian! Jeez, can you at least pretend to listen?" Lindsay could actually hear Michael scowl before she saw it.
"Baby, just let him be. Brian wouldn't be Brian if he actually paid attention to people other than himself now, would he? Besides, I want to hear all about this delicious professor Teddy told me about." Lindsay hadn't noticed Emmet, who had somehow managed to squeeze himself into the already cramped booth.
"Professor? What professor? How come Ted knows and your own mother doesn't?"
"Now the circus is complete" Brian said, earning himself a glare from Debbie.
"He's just some guy…"Michael mumbled, clearly unwilling to share. Ted, however, had different ideas on the subject.
"This Professor from Carnegie Mellon walked into the store yesterday, and he asked Michael to do a lecture for his students on homosexual something or the other in comics, and while Michael was picking his jaw up from the floor, he asked Michael out on a date as well. I translated Michael's mumble to the good professor, and accepted the dinner invite on his behalf…the Professor was HOT! Possibly hotter than even you, Brian." Ted cheekily added. "But then, when we did some cursory background work on the guy, turns out that he's positive, as in HIV, and our little Mikey is all hot and bothered about it now, without even having gone on the date."
"Weeelll," Brian drawled "Now we're all up to date."
Lindsay noticed that for once, Debbie had nothing to offer in the way conversation, and she mumbled something about a lemon bar. Lindsay was wondering exactly how long the silence would hold, when Melanie finally walked over to their booth, and gave her a quick kiss.
"Honey, are you sure you want this audience? I mean, you don't want to scare him off, do you?"
All eyes turned to Melanie.
"Him? What 'him'? How come nobody tells me anything anymore?" Debbie was clearly not pleased with how things were going this morning.
"Well, if it's any consolation, I'm as clueless as you are." Emmett said. "Do tell, Mel, who is this mystery man that Lindsay has a date with…is she finally crossing over to the dark side?" Emmet laughed at his own joke, though all he managed to get out of Melanie was an eye roll.
Oh well, Lindsay thought. Might as well tell them all at once. They'll all be off to work soon at any rate, so she wouldn't have to suffer for too long. Lindsay took a deep breath, and started to speak.
"Well…Melanie and I had decided that I would eventually go back to work, but somehow, teaching isn't really inspiring me right now…and the gallery wants to wait till they're in a new financial year before taking on new staff permanently. So I'm just doing two days a week at the gallery…I think I mentioned this to you guys at various points…so…well…ummm…being around Gus has inspired me though, to do something creative, and different. I want to write some children's stories. I have a few ideas already, especially to introduce concepts of family that we don't see in regular children's books."
Lindsay could see Brian openly smirking now, but she pressed on anyways. She knew she had his support; they had in fact discussed this at length for weeks. Lindsay also knew that Brian would never allow his humanity to show to an audience this size. She almost smirked to herself at the thought.
"So, in my spare time, I've decided to work on a series of children's stories." Lindsay hurriedly concluded.
Everyone was predictably excited, and oohed and aahed and asked a dozen questions at once, and Lindsay didn't know whose to answer first. Michael was strangely quiet though, and Lindsay got the distinct impression that he wasn't exactly happy for her. But…why wouldn't Michael be happy for her?
Then Emmett grabbed her attention away from Michael. "Everybody, be quiet now! So is this guy you're meeting the publisher? Is he hot? Is he gay?"
Brian laughed out loud. "Emmy Lou, doesn't she need a book before she finds herself a publisher?"
Michael finally decided to speak, and judging by Brian's expression, Lindsay knew that the catch in his voice wasn't just in her imagination.
"Brian's right. You don't have a book, so what would you need a publisher for? Is this guy you're meeting related at all to your new…ah…project, or is he the new babysitter?"
Melanie answered for her, and Lindsay couldn't make out if she didn't catch on to Michael's ever darkening mood, or whether Mel was simply ignoring it.
"Well, he certainly could be a viable candidate for babysitting duties. Lindz and I met him over the weekend, and Gus really took to him. He seemed very capable as well." She added, with a pointed look at Brian, "It isn't easy to find a good babysitter these days, you know. But in answer to your question, Justin isn't the new babysitter. He's probably going to be Lindsay's illustrator."
"Illustrator? What's that, like a painter" Debbie's expression mirrored that of Emmett's.
"Where'd you find an illustrator from? The Yellow Pages?" Michael asked at the same time.
Lindsay sighed. "Deb, I have the story ideas, but I really can't translate that into pictures, and what use is a children's book without pictures? So I was looking for an artist who would be willing to do the drawings. I can't afford to pay right now, so I was looking for someone willing to collaborate on a profit sharing basis. I asked around, and Sidney, from the gallery, knows some people at PIFA. He recommended a new student – Justin Taylor. He's transferring from the Pratt Institute in New York…well, Brooklyn, technically. You must've heard of it, Brian. Very prestigious."
"If it's so prestigious, why on earth is he moving to the Pitts?" Michael's voice had regained its normal tone, but Lindsay wasn't fooled.
"Well, I didn't ask for details. He was sick for sometime it seems, and took time off school. He's from Pittsburgh, so he has relocated back here, I'm guessing due to his health."
"He mentioned that his mother lives here" Melanie chipped in.
"I didn't ask, I really didn't want to pry. It's none of my business, actually. Mel and I met him on Saturday, and I saw some of his work, which I was very impressed with. He also seemed very nice…unfortunately, his things were still on its way here, so I couldn't really see too much of his work. He's rented a studio a few blocks from here, so he asked me to come over today to see more of his work, and he also said that he'd do a few sketches for me based on what we discussed, so that I can get an idea of the kind of illustrations that he would do for me. I'm meeting him here in a few minutes, and then we're going to go to his studio."
Lindsay hoped that Michael's grilling was finally over. He was just starting to mutter something about hiring sick people, when Brian spoke, almost to himself. He had a strange look on his face, one that Lindsay had never seen.
"I went to school with a Justin. Not Taylor, though. Justin…Griffith. That was his name."
Michael's eyes nearly popped out of his face. "What? I don't remember a Justin...or a Griffith…and since when do you remember people you went to school with?"
Now it was Brian's turn to sigh, and he looked like he regretted ever opening his mouth. "Mikey, this was before you…when I was in Georgia. Justin was…he was…this ridiculously…this…"Brian paused, and suddenly changed track. "Who cares what he was, I remember him only because he was the only guy with a decent ass in the whole state of Georgia."
Lindsay thought she had never sighed as much in her whole life as she did in that half hour. Michael was acting weird, and Brian was acting…weirder. And women were supposed to be difficult. Ha!
"Speak of the devil," Melanie said. "Hey, Justin, over here!"
Justin Taylor: one-time boy wonder, high school freak, president of the lonely hearts club, family black sheep, budding artist, gay violence victim, gay vigilante…and now he could add professional stalker to that list.
He had watched Brian Kinney exit his apartment building that morning, watched as Brian walked towards his car, briefcase in tow. It had been 10 years, and Brian had changed. Changed in a good way. No. He had changed in a deadly way. He looked even better, his clothes had improved exponentially and his body…his body was to die for. Not that Justin could see much of Brian's body underneath that suit, but Justin had got an eyeful at the gym, when he pretended to have a look at the place as a 'prospective new member'. From what Justin had heard, brian had changed from the inside as well. Brian Kinney was the ultimate homosexual. Well well well Brian, we've come a long way from Georgia, haven't we? Try as he might, Justin could not keep the bitterness out.
Brian Kinney had not been the reason that Justin moved back to Pittsburgh. Justin moved to Pittsburgh, in all honesty, to get away from the chaos his life was descending into. The first time he came running here was after the nightmare that Georgia turned into. His mother had brought him to Pittsburgh, where she was from. And Justin had managed to regain some semblance of a normal life to the point that he thought he could manage well enough to be somewhere else again. So he left for Brooklyn…and ended up meeting Chris Hobbs again, which was shit, and being introduced to his baseball bat, which was triple shit with raisins. Could've done without that introduction, Justin thought grimly. After many sessions of physiotherapy, guns and vigilante justice, it struck Justin that he needed to reboot, to heal again, from the inside out. Pittsburgh pulled it off once; Justin had hoped it would do an encore.
And then he saw Brian. It was quite by accident the first time. His mother had wanted to take him out for a nice lunch, to celebrate his home coming. When Jennifer Taylor said nice, she had meant fancy. That had been over two weeks ago. While Justin and his mother were waiting to be seated, they had overheard a rather loud conversation between a waiter and the maître d' about a table for a Brian Kinney. Loud enough for Jennifer to actually look concerned, and Justin had almost laughed out loud. "There must be three thousand Brian Kinneys between here and Georgia, mom" he had said.
Turns out that out of that three thousand Brian Kinneys, it was his Brian Kinney that turned up for the reservation. He had changed, but there was no way that Justin could be mistaken. Or could he? Was he finally losing his mind?
Justin didn't let on to his mother, but the first thing he did when he got back to Daphne's was go through all the listings for Brian Kinneys. He found five, and he struck gold on his third attempt. An attempted personal delivery of a 'gift' to his apartment after the phone went unanswered had a helpful neighbor direct Justin to the gym. Further surreptitious stalking at Babylon had informed Justin all there was to know about Brian. Ah, Cody, you taught me well, Justin thought.
Justin couldn't really explain the stalking. He had come to Pittsburgh to heal, and here he was, stalking Brian Kinney instead. As if what Chris Hobbs did wasn't enough. You got your head bashed in, Justin told himself, do you want what's left of your heart crushed to nothing as well?
This was therapy, Justin argued with himself. Now you've seen him, you've heard about him, you know what he is. He isn't what you thought he'd be, but he is still Brian, and he will only turn the knife that's still jutting out of your back if given the chance. I'll have all the time in the world to learn to accept the idea of what Brian is. As long as I stay away from Babylon, thought Justin, there is no way I will ever run into Brian.
And then he laughed. Out loud, long and hard. Who cares if I run into Brian? There was no way Brian would recognize him – Craig wouldn't even recognize him. The hair was short now, well, shorter than the ponytail it used to be, and it was blonde, the way it always should have been. No more hideous corrective glasses either. His physique was finally something to be proud of, and the stint with Cody had helped too. He dressed with style. His voice was that of an adult. He was…
Justin wasn't quite sure what he was trying to convince himself of – that Brian wouldn't know him, or that he was finally something not to be ashamed of.
Justin walked towards the diner, glad to have something to distract him from Brian. Lindsay & Melanie had seemed like such a nice couple, and the illustrating job would be the perfect distraction. Children's books weren't exactly his style, but it would broaden his horizons at least. Justin was pretty sure that if he put in some effort, he could pull it off. Gus was adorable too, and Justin fell in love with him at first sight. He was looking forward to seeing that kid again.
Justin wanted Lindsay to see his work, he wanted her to appreciate it before he told her that he frequently used the computer. Hell, maybe she already knew, and didn't care, because of PIFA, but Justin didn't want to really risk it. Some people could still get weird about it
Justin saw Brian before he even spotted Lindsay. Every curse he knew ran through his mind in a matter of nanoseconds. There was no way those two were strangers. Just my fucking luck, Justin thought. It seemed like the whole universe was colluding against him. Maybe this is my punishment for turning into a stalker. Or maybe you are losing your mind, a voice inside his head said (sounding suspiciously like Chris Hobbs).
Okay, time for Plan B. Wait, what's plan A? (The voice sounded like Daphne this time). Justin ignored the voice. He took a deep breath. I'm perfect, he told himself. I'm Justin Taylor. I don't know a Justin Griffith. I'm from Pittsburgh. And Brian Kinney can suck his own dick. Another deep breath.
"Hey, Justin, over here!"