Author's Notes: I like Ashley-Amber, or at least I like the cute sisterly relationship that she has with Brittany. I also think that Brian is an interesting character to explore, since his rather disturbing issues have to have come from somewhere. Doing a fic about them both just sort of made sense to me.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy, and happy Mother's Day!


Age Five

Eleven-year-old Brittany sniffled, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "But Mom said she would be here for Mother's Day! I had the whole day planned out and everything!"

Steve Taylor grimaced as he straightened his tie, not bothering to turn toward his daughter. "I know, pumpkin, but you know how flighty your mother can be." In a lower voice he added "Probably doesn't have enough brain cells to keep track of a holiday that changes every year."

Tears began to form in Brittany's eyes again. "But—she—promised!" She suddenly broke out into a fresh burst of sobs.

Across the room Brian lowered his handheld video game, watching to see how his father would react. Steve grimaced, didn't yell; instead he seemed rack his brain for something that could appease his howling daughter.

"Tell you what, Britt," Steve said, raising his voice enough to be heard over his daughter's whining. "Since your mom flaked out on you, how 'bout I take you to the mall and get you something special? Okay?"

Brittany's wails shrunk down into a softer, whining wheeze. "Like what?" she croaked.

"Whatever you want. Within a certain price range, of course! Ha-ha. Now run upstairs and get your shoes on, okay?"

Brittany nodded weakly, still puffy-eyed, and trudged up to her room. Brian hid behind his game again, scowling; their father never seemed to yell at Brittany no matter how many tantrums she threw.

Steve sighed. "Well, there goes my day at the tee," he murmured. "Hmm…I'll have to get Dominga to watch the boy while we're gone…"

He walked off, apparently not realizing his son was in the room as he spoke. Brian had gone back to his game. He barely looked up when his father and sister left, and he didn't move when their current housekeeper, Dominga, went off to clean. Normally this would be the perfect time to raid the fridge for snacks or mess around in his father's room, but Brian remained in his seat, smashing buttons on his game instead.

He felt, for some reason he couldn't quite explain, quite angry, like he wanted to break something or kick someone in the face. But at the same time, he felt…bored, or tired. Listless, really, though that wasn't really the sort of emotion a five-year-old knew how to verbalize.

Eventually he grew bored of his game and threw it across the room (nearly hitting a six-hundred-dollar vase in the process), then flopped himself down into a laying position. He closed his eyes, hearing nothing but the distant sound of the vacuum upstairs. He thought about his mom and the canceled Mother's Day celebration, which made his heart quicken just the slightest bit.

Brian sometimes felt strange even remembering that he had a mother, since he only knew that on other people's word. He often suspected that they were lying to him, and that while Brittany had a mom Brian only had a dad. He knew Brittany had a mom because of the pictures, most of which showed a blonde woman playing with a baby dressed in pink. Brian had once asked where the pictures were that showed his so-called mom holding him as a baby. Brittany had just looked confused.

"She left right after you were born. I don't think we had time to take any pictures."

That pissed Brian off. If he did have a mom, she could have at least stayed long enough to take a few lousy pictures with him, instead of just leaving a million with Brittany.

Brian wasn't sure if he wanted to see his mom, but somehow her canceling made him angrier still. But he didn't throw a fit about it, like Brittany. It was no fair. Brittany was a total crybaby, but Dad always gave her whatever she wanted.

Brian didn't think he had lain there for very long, but suddenly the door burst open again. Brian jumped just as Brittany ran into the room, holding something in her arms and twirling excitedly. Steve followed her in, his arms laden with a box and numerous shopping bags.

"And this is your new home, Whiskers!" Brittany sang, coming to a stop and beaming around the room. A large gray housecat was held helpless in her grasp. "I'm sure you're gonna love it here—we can set up your litter box in this room and your bed in my room, and you can use Daddy's stuffed tiger as a scratching post and—"

"Now, hon, slow down. I think you're strangling that thing. Let 'er down on the floor so she can get used to the place."

"Okay!" Brittany obediently dropped the cat on the floor; it landed on its feet and darted a few steps away, then hesitated, sniffing around at the floor.

"So do you feel better now, pumpkin?"

"Ah-huh," Brittany said, head bobbing. "Lots better."

"Okay, good. Now come on; let's go set all this stuff up in your room." Brittany nodded again and ran off, calling for Dominga to hear the good news. Steve hefted the pet supplies and turned, apparently noticing his son for the first time. "Brian, watch the cat for a minute. Just make sure it doesn't scratch the furniture or anything."

He headed upstairs without waiting for an answer. Brian sat up, watching the new animal curiously. It had crawled up to the chair and began batting its upholstery with its paw. Brian grimaced and got up, prodding it away with his foot.

"No. Go away, kitty."

The cat crawled over his foot and started to attack the chair again.

"No, kitty!"

Brian got down on his knees and tried to push the cat away. It meowed in annoyance and went right back to the chair.

"Stop it, ki—OW!"

Whiskers' claws suddenly slashed through Brian's skin, leaving three bright red lines across his forearm. Brian felt hot tears swelling behind his eyelids; with a sudden cry he kicked with all his might, hitting the cat in its side and sending it flying half a foot across the room. It let out an anguished cry and ran under the couch, cowering in the darkness.

Brian's lips twisted with grim pleasure, then returned to a pained scowl as he gingerly touched his bleeding arm. He glared back at the cat again, feeling a surge of hate for everything about it—for hurting him and for being a stupid color and for being a present for Brittany when he didn't get a present and because their stupid mom didn't come or leave him any stupid pictures and—

"What's going on down here? Where's that lousy cat?" Steve said, reappearing with his arms now free.

Brian spun around. "It hurt me!" he accused, holding up his injured arm while pointing angrily with the other. "Punish it!"

Steve took a cursory glance at his son's arm. "Ah, don't be a crybaby, son, it's just a scratch. Go run it under some cold water for a minute and it'll be fine."

Brian growled and stomped the ground, then stormed out of the room, making sure to bump into the chair and startle the stupid cat hiding underneath.

He hated Mother's Day.


Age Nine

Ashley-Amber didn't seem particularly different from Steve's other girlfriends—young, blonde, pretty and stupid. (Though to be fair, Brian thought everyone was stupid.) She used to work in beer commercials or something. At first, Brian found her presence around the house merely annoying. However, their engagement announcement somehow made him feel inexplicably angry.

Brittany, however, was thrilled.

"Oh my gosh! This is great!" she squeaked, pulling Ashley-Amber into a hug. "Now we'll be, like, family! You'll be my mother-in-law!"

"Step-mother," Steve corrected, but Brittany was too excited to hear.

"I can't wait for the wedding!" She gasped. "Can I be a bridesmaid?"

"Of course!" Ashley-Amber cheered. "And maybe Brian can be the ring-bearer!"

She turned to her soon-to-be-stepson and smiled. Brian instantly scowled. "I don't want to be the ring-bearer," he said, loudly. "That's a baby job."

"You'll be what we tell you to be and like it," his father snapped, giving him a look.

"I don't want to be the ring-bearer! I don't!"

Brian kicked the wall, hard. His father quickly tried to pull him away, but Brian dodged him and ran up the stairs, stomping with each step.

"Get back here, you little turd!"

Brian slowed only when he reached the top of the stairs, pausing to listen; his father was not following. Brian went back to stomping on his way to his room; the family's newest cat (Muffin II) quickly darted through Brittany's door as he passed.

Stupid Ashley-Amber. Stupid Dad and Brittany. He didn't want to be ring-bearer in their stupid wedding; he didn't want a wedding at all, they're the ones who wanted it, but nobody ever cared what he thought. Instead they would just make him be the ring-bearer and act like they were doing something nice. Brittany always got what she wanted, like Dad marrying Ashley-Amber and getting to be a bridesmaid, while Brian got what people gave him and was supposed to pretend that he liked it.

Brian decided that he hated Ashley-Amber. He hated her just as much as he hated his father, Brittany and his real mom living in California.

He didn't like the family he had anyway. Why the hell would he want any more?


Age Ten

"Alright, class, I have a special art project planned for today! Since Sunday is Mother's Day, I want you all to make a special card for you mom, or similar maternal guardian. Supplies are at the front of the class and…oh, yes, Tricia?"

Tricia Gupty put her hand down. "My family doesn't celebrate Mother's Day. It was commercialized to such an extent that even its own founder, Anna Jarvis, spent the end of her life campaigning for its abolition."

"Oh. Then, um…draw a picture of a rainbow."

Tricia smiled. "Okay!"

Brian dragged himself to the front of the class, wishing that he knew words big enough to get out of stupid assignments. He got some construction paper, scissors and glue, but once back at his desk just sat there, glaring bitterly at the supplies.

He looked around at his classmates, all of whom were cutting, coloring or exchanging ideas. The girl next to him, Julia Hanlon, was bent over her paper as her pigtails bobbed around her head. Brian grinned and took his scissors, wondering if he could snip one of those pigtails before she noticed. It didn't work; Julia quickly scooted away, raising her hand and calling for the teacher's attention.

"Brian Taylor, you better not be causing trouble!" the teacher snapped as Brain quickly put the scissors down. "Get to work!"

She walked away, leaving Brian to scowl. He got out his colored pencils and began to draw, mostly to keep the stupid teacher off of his back. He drew some cats, because he liked cats (by his own odd definition of "like"). Then he scribbled Happy Mother Day at the top so that it could pass as a card if the teacher came to inspect it. (Teachers always inspected his work, even if they didn't check anybody else's.)

There was no need to put much effort into the card. It's not like he had anybody to give it to anyway.


Brian came in through the front door and threw his backpack across the room, knocking over the elephant-foot umbrella stand. He stalked past it into the kitchen, where Ashley-Amber was sitting at the table with a shopping catalogue. She looked up as he entered.

"Hi, Bri'," she said, grinning at her own cleverness. "How was school?"

"It sucked!" Brian snapped, kicking at the nearest chair leg. Then, without missing a beat, "I want a snack."

"Naomi made some cookies earlier," Ashley-Amber said, pointing to a plate on the counter. "You can have as many as you want; Brittany and I are both dieting. But I had one anyway," she whispered, as if this was some juicy gossip that she was eager to share.

Brian crammed his pockets with about ten cookies, stuffing another in his mouth as he went back into the living room. His eyes roved around for something to do. His gaze landed on the cat ("No Name Given"), which was lounging asleep on the throw rug. Brian's lips curled into a grin. He began to tiptoe toward it.

"Here, kitty-kitty-kitty," he whispered. "Here, kitty-kit—HEY!"

The cat, with that keen animalistic ability to sense upcoming disaster, jumped to its feet and darted away. Brian let out a snarl and chased after it, jumping onto the nearest chair. The cat let out a yelp and turned, causing Brian to spin around as it raced toward the front door.

Brian leapt after it on pure instinct. It didn't occur to him to look where he was going. It certainly didn't occur to him that he should have picked up the umbrellas that he had knocked over two minutes before.

"Whoa—!"

CRASH!

SNAP!

"AGH, DAMMIT! Oww, oww…"

"What's going on out here?" Ashley-Amber said, appearing in the doorway; the cat darted between her legs and disappeared into the kitchen. She saw Brian lying on the floor by the umbrella stand, hissing with pain as he clutched his left elbow. She blinked, then hurried over, kneeling over her stepson.

"Brian? Are you alright, honey?"

"No!" he snapped. "I hurt my arm!"

"Oh." From her tone this seemed to be a revelation to Ashley-Amber. "Well, here, let me help you up—"

"AGH! Don't touch it!"

Ashley-Amber had tried to help Brian to his feet, only for him to fall back in pain. It took almost a minute before she could get him up and have him hobble the short distance to the couch; he carried his arm at a strange angle as if unwilling to move it.

"There you go," she said soothingly. "How do you feel?"

"My arm hurts," Brian repeated, glaring as if it were her fault.

"Well, try putting it down, silly. It'll get sore if you—"

"AGH!"

Brian cried out again as soon as Ashley-Amber tried to ease his arm into another position. She frowned. "I guess it's hurt really bad," she said, a note of worry in her voice. She bit her lip, unsure of what to do. "I'll call Steve." It was her default answer whenever there was a problem with one of the kids.

It took about five minutes to get Steve on the phone, and he sounded annoyed to be called away from his meeting. "I'm sure he's fine, honey. You know how whiny Brian can be. Just keep him from running around and I'm sure his arm'll feel better in a few minutes."

"Alright. Thanks, sweetie." They hung up and Ashley-Amber went back into the living room; Brian was still on the couch, his arm held gingerly at his side. His face was red and sweaty. Ashley-Amber came over and sat beside him.

"How's your arm feel?"

"It hurts." Brian was getting annoyed with her inability to grasp that point. "And it hurts more whenever I move it."

"Are you sure? Let me see—"

"AGH! STOP DOING THAT!"

Brian scooted away from her, blinking back tears of pain. Ashley-Amber's frown deepened.

Dimly she realized that this was the first real dilemma of her step-parenthood, even more than that time she and Brittany had mixed up their favorite sweaters. She thought hard. On the one hand, Brian seemed really hurt. But Steve said he was probably fine. And Steve knew a lot more about these sorts of things than Ashley-Amber. Didn't he?

"Well," she said slowly, climbing to her feet, "if your arm hurts that much, maybe I should take you to see a doctor or something?"

Brian made a face. "I don't want to see a doctor. I—AGH!"

He had bumped against the arm rest ever so slightly; there was no way that could have hurt unless his arm was really, really bad. Ashley-Amber's resolve strengthened. "Come on," she said, taking his good hand and helping him to his feet. "And don't worry—doctors are really nice. Sometimes they give you a lollipop!"

Brian glowered at her, but didn't resist as she led him out the front door.


When Brian woke up the next morning he was confused, unable to remember why he felt so tired or why his arm was hurting so badly.

Then he noticed the cast.

Oh, yeah. Dammit.

Someone was knocking on the door; he realized that must have been what woke him. "Go away!" he snapped automatically, but the door opened anyway.

His father entered the room, followed by Ashley-Amber, who was carefully carrying a tray of food. "Good morning, sweetie," she said, placing it on Brian's bedside. "I had Naomi make chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. That's your favorite, right?"

Brian looked away and remained silent, mostly because he couldn't think of any sort of reply to that. (Or at least replies that didn't sound stupid.)

"Your stepmom tells me you got that cast because you were jumping around the house like a crazy person," Steve said testily. "Almost broke my $300 umbrella stand in the process."

"So what?!" Brian snapped, stabbing into his pancakes with more force than was necessary.

"So now I guess you'll have to learn not to act like a little brat! Can't really go running around like a maniac with your arm busted, can you?"

Of course, bringing up that topic immediately set Brian off. "I want to go outside!" he declared, trying to climb out of bed.

His father pushed him back down. "I don't think so."

"I wanna go! I wanna go! I wanna go!"

"Brian," Ashley-Amber said suddenly, "the doctor said you should try to take it easy. You should stay in bed today and rest."

"I don't want to!"

"Please?" she said sweetly. "We don't want you to hurt your arm any more."

Brian looked seething, but after a moment he sat back down in bed, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. Ashley-Amber smiled.

Steve quirked an eyebrow, looking from his wife to his son with mild confusion. Ashley-Amber never really took any part in disciplining the kids—mostly because she was too soft for it. It was an even bigger surprise that Brian was actually listening to her—he couldn't remember the last time he obeyed an adult without being threatened with either military school or the police.

"Well…good," he said finally, giving Brian a look. "You stay put. And call for us if you need anything," he added, not quite sure what else to say.

"Feel better," Ashley-Amber added, flashing him a dopey smile before the two left the room.


There was nothing to do.

Brian couldn't play video games with one hand. He probably couldn't "play" with the cat, either (despite his intense desire to pay it back for his injury). There was nothing good on TV. He had a few books he could read, but they were all stupid and that wasn't his idea of fun anyway.

He lay on his bed, fuming, occasionally kicking the wall just for something to do, listening to Brittany's pop music blaring through the other one. Eventually (and thankfully) it stopped, to be replaced with his sister's high-pitched whine.

"But I was really looking forward to going Rollerblading! We had the whole day planned out and everything!"

"I know," Ashley-Amber said, and she sounded disappointed herself. "But it just wouldn't be fair for us to go and leave Brian."

"Why not?" Brittany said, sounding honestly confused. "He doesn't even like Rollerblading."

Ashley-Amber seemed to hesitate a little. "But your dad has to meet some clients for golf tomorrow, and it seems mean to leave Brian all alone when his arm's hurt. But we can go skating next week, right?"

"I guess…you promise we can go next week"

"Sure! And maybe we can go to the mall, too. I think Cashman's is having a sale on Saturday."

"Oh, yeah! And the other day I saw this dress that would look really good on you…"

Brian stopped listening and turned on his side, carefully adjusting his broken arm. Brittany and Ashley-Amber loved to go skating together, but Brian had been dreading their plan to drag him along for Mother's Day festivities. (Especially since they would just spend the whole time talking about clothes and looking at boys. Blech.) Still, it seemed…weird…that they would cancel their own plans just because he couldn't come along. Dad never hesitated to give Brittany something just to spare Brian's feelings.

It felt…nice, for some reason. Brian usually liked when Brittany was being deprived of something, but this felt different. Brittany wasn't really sad, so that wasn't why he felt happy. He was happy because…his brow furrowed, trying to interpret his own foreign emotions.

…because Ashley-Amber was going to stay home? Because she felt she had to?

Brian, not usually one for self-reflection, lay quietly thinking about that for a long, long time.


"Happy Mother's Day!"

"Oh, wow! Thank you!" Ashley-Amber said, as Brittany brought breakfast in bed on the same tray that Brian had used the day before. ("I made the muffins all by myself! And don't worry, I'm pretty sure I picked all the eggshells out.") Steve, flashing an oily grin, had presented his wife with flowers and was now trying to get the instant camera to work, cursing under his breath. Brian hovered near the back of the group, not looking at anyone. His injured arm was held in a sling while his good one was hidden behind his back.

"Ah, forget this stupid thing," Steve said finally, throwing the camera onto the end of the bed. "Brit, just give Ashley-Amber your present."

"Okay!" Brittany handed over her gift for Ashley-Amber to unwrap. "It's the new Guys 2 Guys CD!" she blurted before the paper was even off.

"That's great!" Ashley-Amber cheered. "Now I won't have to borrow yours all the time!"

"Yeah! And you can put yours on in your room and I can put mine on in my room, and then we'll be able to hear it from wherever we are in the house!"

"That's a…great idea, sweetheart," Steve said, looking away. He checked his watch. "Anyway, I got half an hour before tee-time, so if we're done here—"

"I have something."

"—then I'll—hyeh?"

Steve turned to his son, who glared back defiantly. He shuffled over to Ashley-Amber, shoving Brittany out of the way. She gave him a dirty look before wandering away, picking up the old camera and tinkering with it experimentally.

Brian took his good hand out from behind his back. He was holding a handmade card, badly drawn and crumpled from his backpack. "Here," he said awkwardly, thrusting it toward Ashley-Amber without actually looking at her.

Ashley-Amber accepting the card and examining it closely. "Ooh, kitties! I love kitties!"

Brian mumbled something indistinct in response. Then, to his surprise, Ashley-Amber bent down, smoothed his hair out of his face and gave him a kiss on the top of his head.

SNAP! BZZZT…

"Oh! Daddy, I fixed the camera!" Brittany said.

"Figures it'd start working right when we were done, the piece of…"

Steve took the camera from his daughter, pulling out the picture and tossing it cavalierly on the bed. "Well, happy Mother's Day, honey."

"Thanks! And good luck on your golf game…"

Steve bent down to kiss Ashley-Amber as Brittany gathered up the torn wrapping paper; Brian, however, was already slipping out of the room. He paused only for a moment to snatch the photo off of the bed, stopping to glance at it only when he was safely hidden in the hallway.

Brittany had snapped it at the exact right second to preserve Ashley-Amber's kiss for posterity. It was mushy-looking as hell. He was getting kissed by his stepmom, after all. Plus he was making some weird face that made him look like an idiot or something.

But suddenly Brian didn't care how many pictures Brittany had with their mom, or even how many there were of Brittany and Ashley-Amber skating or whatever. Instead he just slipped the picture in his pocket and went to hide it somewhere in his room.