Disclaimer: I don't own QAF.

A/N: So, I'm back with another one-shot. Technically it's Brian/Justin, although it might be more of a Brian centered fic. And it also shows a little Brian/Michael bonding. I have no idea where this came from. I just started writing about cigarettes, since I think it's sexy as hell when Brian Kinney smokes and for some reason this is what came from it. I hope you'll enjoy it a little.

Summary: Post 5x13. Michael stumbles upon a depressed Brian. It turns into conversation about cigarettes. Or is it about Justin? "You need that cigarette. But you don't realize it until you're forced to quit and that cigarette isn't within reach anymore."

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CIGARETTE

Brian Kinney lit his cigarette and inhaled the sharp, bitter smoke. He was very conscious of the action, even though it was an act he repeated numerous times a day, week after week, month after month and had done so ever since his thirteenth birthday. It had become as natural as breathing. Most of the time he didn't even think about it; it was instinct. His hand would reach out to the pack, retrieve it from his pocket, the table or the counter top and his fingers would blindly find the familiar shaped source of his addiction once he opened the pack. Without even realizing, he'd roll the cigarette between his fingers the same way every single time, before effortlessly bringing it to his lips while his newly freed fingers scrambled around to find a lighter, eventually resulting into his current state of inhaling and exhaling the grey smoke. Most days he couldn't even remember how many cigarettes he'd smoked, the answer only being revealed when glancing at the full ashtray. Most of the time the act didn't even give him satisfaction. He rarely experienced the need for nicotine, always making sure he was one step ahead of that. Sure, sometimes the simple act of smoking did give him a certain relief. The first cigarette after sex, the cigarette after a good meal, the first cigarette after waking up, the last one before going to sleep; they were all pleasant in their own way, but he couldn't say that it was a habit that made him feel particularly good. Or bad for that matter. It was just that; a habit. Or so he told himself.

This time he was painfully aware of what he was doing though. He could almost feel the smoke spreading through his lungs and with every exhale he watched the smoke go up towards the ceiling. And while this cigarette didn't make him feel better, like none of them ever really did, he needed this cigarette more than anything. It wasn't his first of the day and it surely wouldn't be his last, but God, he fucking needed it. It didn't need logic, it didn't need to be explained, but it was a truth he just couldn't deny.

From the corner of his eye he saw how the door of the loft opened and a familiar figure appeared. He didn't react, feeling too out of it to acknowledge the presence, as if he was smoking something else than regular tobacco. He simply settled back into the couch even more, turning his head away from the door. It took him a little effort to move his right arm to the left and use the ashtray for what it was intended. It took him a little less effort to then bring the cigarette back to his lips. After all, when you really wanted something, even the most difficult task became that much easier.

"You look like shit." Michael spoke, towering over Brian, casting a shadow on the left side of his face. It caused him to look up for a second, his gaze distracted at first, before finally settling on his best friend.

"Very perceptive, Mikey. Nothing gets by you." He murmured, before his eyes focused on the little piece of heaven between his fingers again.

"What's wrong with you?" Michael sighed, seating himself next to Brian on the couch. "Are you drunk? High?"

"Unpleasantly sober."

"I tried to call you. You were supposed to meet me at the diner an hour ago."

"Must've slipped my mind. I was busy."

"Doing what?" His best friend asked skeptically.

Brian raised his right arm to show off the still burning cigarette. It was getting dangerously close to the filter now and he instantly brought the cigarette to his lips, determined to take a last drag, before it was too late. Before even exhaling he tossed the cigarette in the direction of the ashtray, his aim a little off, but the cigarette still landing perfectly in the middle of the tray after bouncing off the edge. He didn't bother to put it out, causing Michael to sigh in annoyance, before leaning over Brian to do it for him.

"What's going on?"

"Jesus Christ, Mikey. Nothing's going on! Just because I missed one pathetic appointment to have one fucking meal with you in a pathetic diner, doesn't mean that anything is fucking wrong."

"No, but you yelling at me for no reason is."

"You're interrupting me."

"You were smoking a damn cigarette! I was unaware of the fact that people needed peace and quiet to accomplish that."

"I was busy trying to prove a point. That's what you interrupted, since I don't remember inviting you over."

"I'm checking on my best friend who just stood me up for no good reason."

"Boo-hoo. Poor Mikey. I don't give you my undivided attention for two seconds and you're crying like a little faggot."

"Excuse me?" Michael spoke up, genuinely offended by the words. "I come in here to fucking yell at you for not even bothering to remember that we were supposed to meet and I think I have every right to do so and instead you use that as an opportunity to pick a fight with me? You don't have the right to be angry with me today. I am angry with you! And you know what? I'm leaving. If you want to wallow in pathetic self-pity then you can do that without using me as a puppy for you to kick around."

Michael got up from the couch to back up his words.

"Ah, look at you. Comparing yourself to a sweet, little puppy. You're severely overestimating yourself, Mikey. And you're right. I would prefer to wallow in my pathetic self-pity by myself. So get out. " Brian spoke, reaching out to the pillow on the couch and throwing it at Michael's face. He easily caught it and tossed it back. Then he shook his head in that typical Michael Novotny way that always did the trick, although Brian would never admit it.

"You're pathetic, Brian." He eventually spoke, looking down on the shadow of a man sitting on the couch. It caused the shadow to look up and raise one eyebrow in a first sign of piqued interest. "Yeah, that's right. I'm calling you pathetic. Because you are."

Brian didn't have the strength or the energy to object to the words, mainly because for once he actually agreed with them. He was pathetic. And it made him loathe himself. That was new. He simply watched how Michael seemed to hesitate for just a second, but then turned around and determinedly headed for the door. As usual, determination only lasted a few seconds with Michael and he turned around before even reaching it.

"Okay. Let's just start over. Forget what just happened. What's going on with you?" He spoke, looking at Brian.

"So much for standing up for yourself." Brian chuckled, but there was no amusement to be read from his face. "I was impressed for a second."

"Just cut the crap, Brian. Something is obviously wrong and I want to know what it is. As your friend."

"As the cute, little puppy I can kick around?"

Michael sighed. "Yes. You can kick me around all you want."

"And you'll still come back to me." Brian concluded almost poetically.

"Do we really need to have this conversation? Isn't that kind of the story of our friendship? I put up with all of your bullshit and you take me for granted every step of the way?" Michael asked, unable to hide his frustration.

"Hey!" Brian spoke up. "I've been good to you. Sometimes. I've gotten your ass out of a lot of trouble more times I can count. I have your back, Mikey. When it counts, I have your back."

"Yeah, that's true." Michael reluctantly admitted as he wandered back over to the couch, this time standing still behind it.

"And I don't take you for granted."

"No. Sometimes you just need a puppy to kick."

"Well, you know how it is." Brian shrugged. "What's life without a little puppy kicking? And even I'm not enough of an asshole to use an actual puppy for that."

"Enter Michael Notvoty."

"You do pull off the puppy act like a pro. I've seen you walk away with your tail between your legs more times than an actual puppy would be comfortable with."

Michael involuntarily chuckled and the two friends exchanged a quick smile that said everything that had to be said. They got it. They got each other, as usual. Michael placed his hand on Brian's shoulder who was still crawled up on the couch as if he'd just run a marathon and didn't intend to get up for the next few days.

"Now tell me what's wrong." Michael decided. "You mentioned proving a point?"

Brian nodded. "It involved a cigarette."

"That much was clear. Want to talk about it?"

"Not really."

"Why not?"

"Because you'll fucking laugh in my face, that's why."

Michael nodded, taking back his arm as he took a look around the loft, checking for clues that might give away what was actually going on with his best friend. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then his gaze settled upon the glass coffee table in front of the couch. He saw the phone and it suddenly clicked in his head.

"Justin." He stated, relief shining through his voice.

Brian's head shot up. "What did you just say?"

Michael walked over to the other end of the couch and smiled a little. "This is about Justin. You just got off the phone with him and he said something that upset you."

Brian didn't react, but the fact that he didn't object to the words told Michael all he needed to know.

"I don't know what the connection is to the cigarette, but I do know this is about Justin." He concluded.

"You want your golden star now or can you wait until later?" Brian scoffed, pretending not be impressed or affected.

Michael ignored the words and dropped himself back on the couch again. He turned to his friend, gently rubbing his knee.

"So the legendary Brian Kinney is experiencing a little heartache, huh?"

He had trouble to hold back a smile as he spoke the words. Brian noticed and shot him a look.

"It's not heartache." He objected.

"Then what is it?"

He shrugged.

"You miss him." Michael stated.

"I don't miss him."

"Yes, you do."

Brian didn't object this time. Instead his hand reached out to the pack of cigarettes next to the phone. Once again he made it a point to be aware of his movements. He took a cigarette between his fingers and rolled it around in the familiar manner.

"This is going to turn into an analogy with cigarettes, isn't it? Just so you don't have to use the words in relation to Justin. It's easier to use them in relation to smoking. That's the point you were trying to prove to yourself. That the cigarette analogy holds up."

"You think you have me all figured out, don't you?"

"Well, don't I have you all figured out?"

Brian sighed as he brought the cigarette to his lips and his hand reached out to the lighter. "Maybe." He eventually admitted without taking the cigarette out of his mouth and he lit it.

"Go ahead. Hit me with your insightful cigarette analogy."

"I can't. It's fucking pathetic." Brian revealed, blowing out the first smoke and watching it up go up.

"Yes, it is. But it's in your head. You might as well say it out loud."

"I can't." He repeated, defeat shining through his voice and it startled Michael a little. He now realized there really wasn't anything amusing about this. Brian really was depressed. And things were starting to make more sense now. He cleared his throat and sat up a little, turning to his best friend.

"Then I'll do it for you." He offered. "It's about what smoking means to you. It means virtually nothing to you in everyday life. It's just there. You don't think about it too much, you just take it whenever you feel like it. Maybe even when you don't feel like it. Maybe it's just something you do. A habit. One that's really bad for your health."

"Got that right." Brian murmured.

"But every now and then you do stop and think." Michael continued. "You realize that it means more to you than you even know. Maybe not at first, but over the years it's become comforting and reassuring. Something that's always there when you need it. And you don't really want it. Sometimes you wish you'd never started it in the first place. In fact, there have been times when you tried to quit, but you always come back to it. Or it manages to find you. And most of the time you don't even mind. You like it. Love it, even. But you forget that sometimes. Sometimes you smoke and you forget to feel. Because it's so easy to take it for granted. Those cigarettes make you happy, but over the years you've gotten so used to them being there that you don't even always realize it. And then you go on to wonder: what if those cigarettes weren't nearby? What if I couldn't just smoke one whenever I feel like it? Maybe then you'd realize what they really mean to you. And it's not that you couldn't live without them, but it's so damn hard to quit. You need them. Not always, not all the time, but sometimes you stop in the middle of the day and that cigarette is all you want and all you need. Smoking that cigarette is the only thing that keeps you going at that moment. But you don't realize it until he…it, the cigarette, is gone. Until you are forced to quit. It makes you go through major withdrawal. And it sucks when those cigarettes aren't within reach to fix it."

Brian stared ahead of him, obviously deep in thought, every now and then taking a drag from his cigarette.

"Did I get that right?" Michael eventually asked.

"Quit smoking, huh? Sounds like a bitch." Brian spoke, eyes now focused on the cigarette as he deliberately avoided his best friend's piercing gaze.

"I know. But one day you might be forced to quit. And you know what? You'll live. It's going to suck for a while, but… it gets better. "

"I know."

They both watched how Brian finally sat up and reached for the ashtray. It was almost symbolic to see the cigarette go out and be reduced to nothing but a meaningless, burnt up butt that belonged in the trash. They both watched the ashtray for a little too long, until they were interrupted by a beeping sound. Brian reached out to his phone and read the text message he'd apparently just received. Michael watched him, truly feeling sorry for his best friend. The man who had never dared to love, finally loved anyway and now that love was out of reach. He was startled when Brian all of a sudden got to his feet and turned to him.

"I'm hungry, Mikey. Let's go eat."

Michael frowned as he saw the sudden change in Brian's body language and facial expression. Getting up from the couch was more movement in one action than he'd displayed in the entire time Michael had been here.

"Who was that text message from?" He asked, suspiciously.

"Not important." Brian shrugged. "Can we just go now? Not smoking might not kill me, but not eating eventually will."

"It was Justin, wasn't it?"

"Does it matter?"

"Yes, it matters." Michael spoke up, getting up too. "A minute ago you were depressed as hell, crawled up on the couch like a dead bird. And now…"

"And now I'm hungry." Brian interrupted, impatiently.

"What did the text message say?" Michael pressed.

"I don't see what difference it makes."

"Well, it must've been good news. Is he visiting soon?"

"Yeah, he's coming here for the weekend. That's what he just texted. He didn't think he was going to make it, but he's coming after all. I don't see what the big deal is." Brian shrugged, looking at his best friend.

Michael smiled and instantly noticed that something resembling just that threatened to appear on Brian's face, no matter how hard he was trying to hold it back. The emptiness in his eyes that Michael had noticed the second he'd walked into the loft was now gone and instead there was the playfulness that was so typical for Brian. The twosome looked at each other for a few seconds, then Michael leaned over to the coffee table. He grabbed the pack of cigarettes.

"Let's go eat." He started, shoving the pack of cigarettes in Brian's hands. "Don't forget these. I think you need them."

Brian took the cigarettes and looked at them for a second.

"I think I do, too."

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Author's Note: I'd really love to get some feedback on this. I'm still new to this fandom and I need encouragement every step of the way. ;-) Thanks in advance!