"Grief is the price we pay for love." Elizabeth II

The First Time

Justin ran into Chris Hobbes while waiting for Brian to get off work.

The Prom was two months in their past. Two months, and Justin could still remember turning, seeing Brian's face, so incredibly open, so incredibly scared (and Brian Kinney doesn't do scared. He's the biggest whore in Pittsburgh. The most successful, too. Scared is not in his vocabulary…until it is. Until there is a bat coming right for Justin's head.)

Just the sight of his attacker makes Justin feel dizzy, sick, as if the world has narrowed to just the two of them, and he's helpless in the face of the one who had so obviously, so ignorantly, wanted him dead – and had gotten off scot-free for it.

For a moment, he thought of running, of leaving his post in front of Brian's building despite the fact that he'd spent most of his morning planning for the expression on Brian's face when he came out of the office and saw Justin waiting for him, a whole night of romance – exactly what Brian professed to hating, exactly what he needed every once in a while – ready to go. But Brian's voice was in his head, in his ear, seductive and angry, that quiet rage that came through in his every action. "Fuck them." The voice said. And Justin stood his ground.

Hobbes was making a beeline for him, sickly sweet smile too large on his face. And there were his cronies, trailing behind. And suddenly Justin thought of those Animal Planet programs he used to watch with his sister, when the wounded gazelle was stalked on the Serengeti by a while pride of lions, all hell-bent on killing it. Justin took a deep breath, clutched his bag to him, a lifeline. He bit his lip and stared at the huge glass building, praying that Brian would come out…

But it was already too late.

"Look what we have here, boys." Hobbes drawled, and Justin backed into Brian's car, determined not to hyperventilate right here on a crowded street. Still, his traitorous hand shook. He stuffed it in his pocket. "This fag's the reason I can't play summer league. Gotta spend by time at that old folk's home with all the queers that got what was coming to them."

"Get a life, Hobbes." Justin growled. He could feel that old panic well inside of him, and suddenly in was a month ago and he was freaking out when Brian kissed his collarbone, his neck, his lips. He would not go back to that, not after all this progress. Not after Brian had done so much for him.

"I should get a life?" Hobbes's snort of laughter was cue for the rest of his cronies to chuckle manically. "What are you doing outside of Liberty Avenue? Waiting for your boyfriend?"

"Yes." Justin said, sticking his chin out defiantly. "Why? Jealous?"

And suddenly Hobbes's hand was closing around his throat and he was being slammed into Brian's car. It wasn't deserted – there were people who probably could have seen the fight from the street, but Justin had realized long ago that adults had a senseless distrust, almost fear, of teenagers. They would not interfere in this, only pass by and shake their heads, wondering what was becoming of this violent generation.

A blade was at his throat, disguised by a long sleeve, so out of place in this August weather, and Justin realized that he could be killed right here in front of Brian's building. And he'd just wanted to see his boyfriend.

Hands grabbed his flailing arms, pressed against his stomach, pinning him to the car. Hobbes's sweaty palm muffled his scream and Justin bit down on it savagely. A homophobes' blood poured into his mouth and Hobbes yelled, slugged him.

"Just get it over with, Chris!" One of the guys shouted. They were in the parking lot, but that doesn't mean that people couldn't have been looking out windows, that someone couldn't enter at the wrong moment and see five guys killing a defenseless fag.

The blade cut through skin and Justin closed his eyes. You don't see your whole life when you're about to die, he realized at that moment. Just the things you love. Right now, with his eyes closed, Hobbes's hand over his mouth, the henchmen bruising his torso and wrists with their meaty hands…right then he saw Brian. Brian sitting at the Liberty Diner, eyes dancing as he pinched Justin's ass as he whisked by. Brian leaning over him as he drew, distracting him (and distractions from Brian are always welcome.) Brian at Babylon, dancing. Brain in bed, his strong hands gripping Justin by the shoulders as he entered him…

And suddenly the blade was gone and Justin could breathe. The hands at his wrists were pried away one by one and he collapsed against the car, choking, hand to his throat, trying to stop the blood that was already staining his shirt, spreading like ink, like coffee, like something that was not his life essence.

He didn't look up, couldn't catch his breath in time, couldn't reconcile the fact that he was alive when a minute ago he'd been sure that he would be another statistic on another list, another young gay dead. He wouldn't have even made the papers…

If Justin had looked up, he would have seen Brian's face as he punched one guy, whirled and hit another on the back, kneed another in the balls (it turns out all those hours at the gym had been for more than just picking up another good piece of ass.) He would have seen Brian as the hero he would draw him months later, as Rage, defending his young admirer JT. He would have seen Brian exacting his revenge on Hobbes for putting him in the hospital, on the world not letting them have some goddamn peace once in a while.

When all the guys had gone, melting away into the dingy streets of Pittsburgh…that's when Brian reached down and roughly brought Justin to his feet. He was shaking him. "Alright? Are you okay? Justin?"

"Stop shaking me." Justin said, one hand still to his throat. It was still bleeding. "Brian, please."

And then Brian's hands were gone. He'd whirled, stalked away a few feet, and let out a scream. Justin could only watch. He could still feel blood pumping in his ears.

Brian knelt and started stuffing Justin's papers back into his bag, but the drawings had been scattered all over the parking lot. He'd brought it because it was some of his best work, because he'd wanted to show off to Brian over dinner. Now he could care less about the drawings. Let the wind have them.

Brian's hand was shaking as he tossed the bag back towards Justin, who made a feeble attempt to catch it and failed miserably. The bag landed with a soft thump, a loud sound in an empty lot.

"I'm sorry," Justin said miserably, because Brian was still standing away from him, not holding him, comforting him, not even trying to stem the bleeding. And Justin didn't blame him. How many times would Brian Kinney have to save his life? "They must have been following me, but I didn't see…and then I didn't run because I was waiting for you. I'm sorry…"

He looked at the ground, blinking tears away. He suddenly felt very tired and very, very scared. The adrenaline was working its way out of his system, no doubt, but it just made him feel more vulnerable than being trapped under Chris Hobbes's sharp knife.

Strong arms wrapped around him, and Brian was burying his face in Justin's hair, holding him as he sobbed like a child sobs, with heaving shoulders and hitched breathing. "Shh…" Brian said, his voice muffled by Justin's hair, "It's over, it's okay. It's over. I'm here."

Justin clutched at him, and blood glued them together. Sometime later, Brian would rip the sleeve off his jacket to use as a bandage before he drove like a maniac to the hospital, where Justin would wait for two hours before getting eleven stitches and being told by three different doctors that it was frankly amazing that none of his vocal chords had been severed.

Sometime later, Justin would pull Brian on top of him, ignoring the older man when he said that, perhaps, Justin shouldn't exert himself tonight. Justin just wanted to feel close to somebody. He wanted to remember why it was that he'd ever left the safety of the closet. He wanted someone to assure him he'd made the right choice.

Sometime later, Justin would fall asleep and Brian would stare at the way his hair seemed to stand out even in a dark room, would stare at the white, white bandage on his throat, the black and blue rings around his wrists that Emmett and Ted would proclaim were positively kinky. And Brian would remember how he felt, seeing Justin being attacked for a second time right in front of him.

But that was sometime later, sometime in the future that came after the here and now, with Justin, shaking, bleeding, crying on the hot pavement and Brian holding him, because that was all he could do, because he was watching his young lover break in front of him all over again.

And he swore on that hot day, with Justin's blood making a puddle on his shirt like a hole over his heart, that he would always be there. Danger seemed to follow Justin at every turn, so Brian would just always have to be there to save him.

.***.

This is our old favorite show, and watching the whole series through again (thank you, internet) made us realize how important this thing was. So, if there's anyone out there who still likes Queer as Folk...well, please review.