Brian hadn't waited to come home. He'd called Cynthia and gotten on the first flight back to Pittsburgh. The client he was seeing could be rescheduled. He needed to be home with Justin and Max. The entire trip, Brian's mind was filled with fear and anger. How could anyone believe that they would ever do anything to hurt Max? It was insane. Sure they were different from most couples—even most gay couples—but neither of them would do anything to put Max in harm's way. They would never abuse or neglect him. They loved their son.
Brian had time to really think about everything that Justin had said over the phone and he came to a startling conclusion. Whoever had reported them had to be close enough to them to know certain things that a stranger wouldn't. While it was a well-known fact that the two of them often tricked together at Babylon, the accusation had included mention of the fact that Brian had been accused of sexual harassment. Not even the employees at Ryder had known about that. Marty had been adamant about keeping everything quiet and there was a gag order placed on everyone involved. Only Kip, his lawyer, Marty, Cynthia, and Brian's closest friends knew about that awful time in his life.
Brian thought Kip could have been spiteful enough, but the man had long since gotten a job at a firm in LA and was actually doing pretty well for himself. There was no way he'd know enough about Brian's current life to do something like this. And Marty Ryder had retired when he sold the agency, so there was no reason, personal or business related, for him to try and sabotage Brian. Marty had always liked Brian, anyway.
Which left his friends.
Brian knew that some of their friends had never really accepted Justin and him, nor had they approved of the way they had decided to raise their son, but to do something like this… this was unforgivable. They could lose Max.
Brian refused to think about that possibility. He would not let Max be taken away from them. If it meant never fucking another trick again, he would make sure that Max stayed with them. He'd called his lawyer while he was waiting for the plane to board and he knew that Jason was already making inquiries. They would not lose Max.
Brian wondered how long it would take for Justin to figure out that it had to have been one of their friends who made the accusation.
"How could anyone think that you and Brian aren't fit parents?" Jennifer demanded as she paced the length of the living room. She was angry. No, she was more than angry; she was livid. "You both love that boy more than anything. I know everyone had doubts about Brian, but I would have thought the way he doted on you through the pregnancy and the way he is with Max would have ended any doubts."
Justin had told her his suspicions about it being one of their friends. He was almost sorry he had now. "The social worker assigned to our case will likely be coming to speak with you at some point. Try not to be too angry with her. She's a very nice lady and she's just doing her job."
Jennifer sighed and sat beside Justin on the sofa. "How can you be so calm about this?"
"I'm not," Justin said with a tired sigh. "I just… I have to believe that they'll see how much we love him and this will all just go away. I can't lose him, mom."
"We aren't going to lose him," Brian said from the doorway, startling both occupants of the room. "We're going to get through this and we're going to keep our son."
"Brian!" Justin breathed out in relief. He rushed over to where Brian was and was grateful to have Brian's arms wrap around him. "I'm so glad you're home. I'm not sure I would have slept a wink tonight."
"There was no way I would have been able to deal with the meeting tomorrow when my mind was on this shit," Brian said. "I needed to come home. Cynthia's already got Jake Myers on a flight to Chicago first thing in the morning. He can finish the pitch."
"I'm glad you're home," Jennifer said with a smile. "I should go and let you two talk." She hugged Justin and said, "Let me know how tomorrow goes. And I'll let you know if I hear anything from the case worker."
"Thanks, Mom," Justin said. "For everything."
Once Jen was gone, Brian and Justin sat down on the sofa with a bourbon each and talked through everything that had happened that day. Brian told Justin about the lawyer and Justin shared his suspicions about who had made the anonymous report.
"It had to be either Michael or Melanie," Justin said. "Everyone else has either supported us all along or has shown that they do now. I can't imagine any of them doing this."
"I can't imagine Mikey doing this either, but I'm pretty sure he's probably behind this," Brian said tiredly.
"Not Melanie?" Justin asked. He had been leaning towards Michael too, but he had expected Brian think it was Melanie. Their mutual animosity was notorious.
Brian shook his head. "If she'd done it, she would have said something. She wouldn't hide her identity. She'd want me to know that she was the one who was fucking up my life. But I don't think she would do this to you. She cares too much about you. And honestly, I think she knows that there's not much that the state can do. Jason said that even if we both have a different sex partner every day, as long as we aren't having sex in front of Max, there's no legal reason we should lose him. This is more an annoyance than anything else."
"That's the impression that I got from Jodi today too," Justin said. "Even so, the fact that the state could take our son away from us… God, Brian, that scares me."
"If Mikey did this," Brian said darkly, "he's going to regret it."
Justin huffed. "If he did it, Debbie's gonna kill him."
By the time Jodi came back the next afternoon, she had spoken to almost all of their friends. One by one, they got calls from their friends and family letting them know that the woman had been to see them. Even Cynthia got a brief interview. The only person who didn't call was Michael. It seemed pretty obvious to Brian and Justin both that he was the one behind all of this.
"I almost expected you to have your lawyer here waiting," Jodi said with a smile once the introductions had been made and tea had been served.
"We don't want there to be any question about our willingness to cooperate with your investigation," Brian said. "Jason will only show up if this goes farther."
Jodi's smile widened. "My colleague said that he's already been bugging my supervisor for information. Serves her right; she's a pain in the ass."
Brian chuckled. "Okay, so what questions do you have for me?"
"Well, I spoke to Justin yesterday and I was able to speak with most of your friends and family either yesterday evening or today," Jodi said. "And Carlos gave his interview over the phone. That poor boy sounds like he needs a week of rest and a few prescriptions."
"I told him he needs to see the doctor," Justin said wryly. "He's almost as stubborn as Brian when it comes to these things, it seems."
"Well, I have to say that everything that I have been told corroborates what you told me yesterday," Jodi said. "Basically, I have almost everything I need. The only thing left to ask is about the sexual harassment suit that was mentioned in the report."
Brian nodded. "Justin—and the others, I'm sure—have told you that I have always been very sexually active. There was a time when that included the workplace. Kip changed that. He sought me out because of my reputation and my position in the agency I then worked for. Afterward, he pressured me to promote him because of our brief liaisons. When I refused, he brought the suit."
"He dropped the case, didn't he?" Jodi asked. "Miss Marcus said that she handled that case and that there was no reason given."
Brian shrugged. "I don't know why he dropped it. I know that he left Ryder a few months later for a position in LA. He's moved up pretty fast there. I have no idea if he did the same out there that he did to me."
Jodi nodded and made a notation in her notebook. "Okay. Just one last question then. Both of you have been very up front with your chosen lifestyle and your reasons for your behavior. If it came down to a choice between your evenings out with other men and keeping your son, which would you choose?"
Brian snorted. "There's no question. I'd choose my family. I'd choose Justin and Max and Gus over any trick any day."
"The same goes for me," Justin said. "The tricks are only a small part of our relationship, a means of relaxation. If that was no longer an option, we would find another outlet for stress. It's as simple as that."
Jodi nodded and smiled at them. "I'm going to finish up my report and go over my findings with my supervisor tomorrow. We'll get back to you then. If she thinks it's necessary, would you voluntarily submit to drug testing?"
Brain and Justin both nodded and Brian said, "I know that drugs are a big part of the club scene, and we've both partaken in the past, but Justin hasn't touched anything since our first year together and I haven't touched that shit since I was diagnosed with cancer a couple years ago. These days, we rarely even have more than one or two drinks when we go out."
"Good to know," Jodi said. "I'll be in touch tomorrow."
Justin showed her out and then they both sat back on the sofa with a sigh of relief.
The call came the next day and, while the supervisor decided that she wanted the drug testing done, Jodi told them that as long as they came back negative, the case would be closed. So Brian and Justin had taken an hour to go in for the drug testing and one more day passed before the investigation was officially over and their case closed. Justin invited everyone over to celebrate.
Well, he invited almost everyone over to celebrate.
Of course, Michael decided to show up anyway. It wasn't all that surprising that he began to whine the moment Brian opened the door. "You guys are having a party? Why wasn't I invited?"
Brian frowned at Mikey and didn't let him pass when the smaller man tried to enter the house. "You weren't invited because this is a party to celebrate the fact that our son wasn't taken away from us. We didn't figure you would like to celebrate that."
Mikey gave Brian a confused look. "Why wouldn't I want to celebrate that?"
Brian snorted with disgust. "Perhaps because you've never once supported us being parents? Or better yet, because you were the one who fucking set the goddamn state on us in the first place. Why Mikey? Why would you do that? Do you have any idea what it would have done to Justin—what it would have done to me—if we'd lost him? Do you have any fucking clue what you did?"
"I didn't…" Mikey was going to try to lie but Brian's face was completely implacable. "Fine, I did it. But it's not right the way you are raising him! You have a kid at home and you are both still out there whoring yourselves!"
"Good thing it isn't you who gets to decide who's fit to be a parent," Brian muttered. "Get out of my house and don't you ever fucking come here again."
Mikey's bleating was loud enough to attract the attention of the rest of the party, but Debbie was the only one who came over to the entry. "What's going on?"
"Ma, tell Brian he can't kick me out," Mikey said, like they were kids arguing over a shared toy and not grown men in Brian's home.
"I don't think I can do that," Debbie said uncertainly. "Brian?"
"Tell her what you did Mikey," Brian said coldly. Michael glared at him but refused to speak. "Tell her or I will."
Michael glared for another minute before crumbling. "Fine. I called child protective services."
"You what!" Debbie demanded. She didn't wait for her son to answer before swatting him upside the head. "How could you do something so stupid? Why would you do that!"
"Because!" Michael fumed. "They're horrible parents! They shouldn't be allowed to have a kid together!"
"They are wonderful parents," Debbie said in a voice that brooked no argument. "So what's the real fucking reason?"
Michael looked desperate to get out of there, but there was no place to go, and all of the people present were looking at him like he was a monster. There would be no help from them. Not even Melanie looked like she understood. "This is all Justin's fault. He trapped Brian with this pregnancy. Brian doesn't want to be a parent! He wants to be the Stud of Liberty Avenue, just like he always was. You can see it when he goes out to Babylon! He wants that life back!
"So I decided that if Max was gone, Brian wouldn't have any reason not to be the man he always was," Michael said angrily. "He'd see that Justin is still the same old trumped up twink he's always been and drop him." He turned to Brian. "Don't you see? I did it for you!"
"You're an idiot," Brian growled. "I'm with Justin because I want to be with Justin. I'm a parent because I love my kids, both of them. And you're a fool if you think otherwise."
"You… you…" Debbie had no words for her son just then. She shook her head sadly. "You need to leave Michael. Brian's right. There's no place for you here."
Debbie shook her head again. "You're my son and I love you, but right now, I can't stand the sight of you. Go, Michael."
Brian turned away from him and held the door open. "You aren't welcome here."
Michael stared at his once best friend and thought that maybe he didn't know this man at all. "I did it for you." No one replied and Michael had choice but to leave. He looked back one last time to find Brian staring at him. Before he could get his hopes up, Brian closed the door.
The party was a bit of a bust after Michael's visit. Everyone was saddened by Michael's actions and weren't quite sure what to do, so they simply went home. Carl had taken a tearful Debbie home after she had sobbed on Brian's shoulder for a good twenty minutes, apologizing profusely for her son. Melanie actually looked apologetic as she told Brian about the lunches she'd had with Michael recently, but she claimed that she hadn't realized that he was serious about acting out. Lindsay had dragged her away before Brian could truly lay into her. Ted and Blake had left silently. Emmett had gone with Carlos to his apartment, where the queen spent many an evening of late.
Eventually it was just Jennifer, Brian and Justin left. "I suppose I should go too. I have to pick up Molly."
"I'm glad you came," Justin told her as he hugged her tightly.
"Me too," Jennifer said. "I'm just so happy that everything worked out."
Justin nodded, though he wasn't sure what would happen now. Yes, the problem with the state had been cleared up, but Brian had just lost his best friend. It was not a good thing.
Jennifer hugged Brian and the tall brunet not only endured it but returned it, a sure sign that he was hurting. "You are a great father, a wonderful partner and an amazing friend. Don't let Michael make you doubt that."
Brian swallowed hard and nodded. He hadn't really said a word to anyone since Michael's departure, but he appreciated that she cared enough to say something like that. They had come a long way since the days when Jennifer had dumped Justin's belongings on his desk at Ryder.
Justin was cleaning up when Brian returned from locking up. "Leave that. The cleaning lady will be in tomorrow."
Justin sighed and set the dish rag down. He was emotionally and physically exhausted. He was just glad that Max had slept through everything.
"Let's go to bed."
Michael made attempts to contact Brian, but the brunet ignored each and every call over the next months. It didn't matter to him that Michael was sorry. What he had done was unforgivable. And for once, no one in the group was willing to overlook Michael's actions. Only Debbie still spoke to him and there was definitely tension in the air each time they were together.
Ben had been shocked by Michael's actions and it had taken weeks for him to work through everything. In the end, he decided that the Michael who loved him and the Mikey who loved Brian were two completely different people. Mikey would do things that Michael would never dream of doing. Ben decided that Michael was probably better off without Brian in his life; not because of Brian but because of Mikey. He said as much to Brian over lunch one afternoon.
Brian snorted. "Not like I'm going to let him anywhere near Justin or Max." He shook his head in disgust. "I've always known he had some warped vision of who I am—who he wants me to be. He used to lecture me all the time about how I needed to clean up my life and when I do, he pretends that I haven't because it doesn't fit the picture in his head. He's always had it out for Justin, but Justin could take care of himself. But now he's targeting Max. I can't accept that."
"I know," Ben said. "When Hunter's mom came after him… well, let's just say that neither of us was exactly rational at the time. I know what it feels like to want to protect your child." Ben took a sip of his wine and continued. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to sit down and talk with you. I've been offered a job as the dean of the gender studies department at a university in Minnesota. I'm going to take it. I think I've convinced Michael that it's for the best for everyone. I thought you should know."
Brian nodded. "Thanks." He paused for a minute and then asked, "He still doesn't comprehend what he did, does he?"
Ben smiled sadly. "He still insists that he was doing it for your benefit."
After his lunch with Ben, Brian didn't feel like going back to Kinnetik, so he headed home instead. When he parked the car, he could hear laughter coming from the courtyard, so he went to the iron gate and unlocked it. Stepping into their private refuge, Brian was instantly hit by the scene before him. Justin was sitting on the family swing with Max in his arms while Gus ran back and forth between pushing Justin and Max and pushing JR, who was on one of the regular swings. It was exactly like he had imagined the first time he had seen the place.
"Daddy's home! Gus yelled before running over to hug Brian. JR followed close behind, shouting "Uncle Brian!" and soon Brian had his arms filled with two giggling kids. Justin walked over and kissed Brian before lifting Max up so he could get a kiss as well.
"You're home early. Everything okay?" Justin asked.
Brian nodded and grinned. "Everything is just perfect."
Justin smiled back at his partner and together the five of them went inside. They were together as a family and that was all that mattered.
A/N: Well, that's it for this little story. I hope you have enjoyed it. I know that I have been awful about responding to reviews this time around. RL has been a real bitch lately. But you should know that I appreciate every review that I get.
As an FYI, I finally got a twitter account. My user name is julesmonster451. Hope to see a few of you on there. I'll probably post updates about my stories there.
Thanks again! Jules