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Convalescent Contemplation

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It started with a slight gurgle shortly after takeoff.

Brian didn’t think too much of it; the wind was stronger than usual, bringing with it more turbulence than was typical of a flight between New York and Toronto, so his body was probably just reacting. The two fingers of Chivas Regal he’d had in the airport lounge probably weren’t helping his cause either. At least, that’s what he assumed.

By the time he arrived at Pearson, however, it was becoming more and more clear that this was definitely something to be a bit more concerned about, and as he sat in the back of the hired sedan that was intended to drive him the hour-or-so to his hotel, trouble really started to set in -- in the form of undeniable nausea.

Leaning back against the leather headrest, Brian let out a shaky breath, already feeling sweaty and a little disoriented. He realized he had two choices here, both potentially impacting his dignity in a major way. As much as he wanted to try to tough it out the additional half hour, to endure whatever happened next in the comfort of a Four Seasons Hotel suite, the reality of the situation was that Lindsay and Melanie’s neighborhood was much closer. And it was absolutely inevitable that Brian's body was going to revolt sooner than later.

Well, fuck.

With as much control as he could muster, and in as few words as he could manage, Brian requested that the driver redirect their route. Looking at his phone was a challenge, but he managed to tap out a text to Justin:

Major motion sickness, detour to Munchers. Call later. The vomiting emoji finished out his message. Blessedly, in less than ten minutes, they pulled up in front of the Marcus-Peterson residence, before its implication could come to fruition.

As the driver unloaded his luggage from the trunk, Brian said a silent prayer of gratitude that the car service allowed him to pre-pay everything, so all he had to do was manage to get himself to the front door. It was only about thirty feet away, but Brian was beginning to worry that every inch that separated him from a bathroom was going to become critical in the very near future.

Like an answer to Brian’s unspoken prayers, the door swung open when he was only a couple of paces from it, revealing Melanie standing in the foyer. Mel wasn’t exactly Brian’s first choice of people to interact with at that moment because she was the last person he wanted to humiliate himself in front of, but he wasn’t really in a position to be choosy about who let him in, because he needed a bathroom, and he needed one immediately.

Melanie barely managed to step back out of the way as Brian stumbled through the front door and down the hallway toward the first-floor powder room. Thankfully, he made it in time. However, his body quickly decided to complicate matters by forcing him to decide which urge he could hold while he took care of the other -- a choice no one ever really wanted to make, because if you chose wrong, well…

Over the next several minutes, Brian felt like every single thing he’d eaten or drank in the last five years was being expelled from his body via one orifice or the other, and it was not pleasant, to say the least. He hadn’t been that sick in a long time. Hell, he wasn’t even sure that the radiation poisoning when he’d had cancer had been this bad. But Brian refused to let himself believe that it was anything but an extreme reaction to the flight turbulence. He didn’t have time to be sick. He was in Toronto to spend a few days with his son -- not to spend quality time in the bathroom at the Munchers’ house.

When he finally felt like he could leave the bathroom, Brian found Melanie hovering outside the door, looking concerned.

“I don’t need you to mother me,” Brian said, in as defiant a tone as he could force, given how shitty he felt. “So don’t even think about it. It’s just motion sickness. I’ll be fine.”

“That didn’t sound like ‘just motion sickness.’” Melanie crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall.

Brian wanted to argue, but it was taking all of his concentration just to stand upright. He gripped the door frame, holding himself up on legs that felt weak and shaky, as a cold sweat started to break out across his forehead.

Melanie took a step toward him just as his knees started to give, wrapping an arm around his torso and supporting him as she led him toward the living room. While Brian and Melanie had certainly reached a sort of understanding over the years, she was still not the person he would have preferred to have with him at that moment. Lindsay had seen him sick before, thanks to their many college escapades, so, despite the lapse in years, this would be nothing new for the two of them. Justin had been there for most of the not-so-pleasant parts of cancer treatment, and besides that, after sharing a bathroom for the better part of sixteen years, it stood to reason that they’d seen or heard the other puke or shit at various points in time and didn’t think much of it by now. But for Brian and Melanie, it was uncharted territory.

“Here, why don’t you sit down for a few minutes?” Melanie said, quickly moving the pillows out of the way so Brian would have room to lie down if that was what he needed. He sank heavily onto the couch, leaning his head back and closing his eyes as he tried to will the world to stop spinning around him.

“Where’s Linds?” he managed to mumble, after more than a few unsteady breaths.

“She went to the store with Gus and J.R. We weren’t expecting you for a couple of hours yet, since you usually go to your hotel first.”

“Well, that was my intention, but my body had other plans.” Brian groaned as a painful cramp took hold in his abdomen, his hands involuntarily coming up to clutch his stomach. “Fuck.”

“Yeah, I think you have food poisoning.”

Brian didn’t want to believe her, but he was starting to think she might be right. Motion sickness didn’t make him feel like this, and neither did too much alcohol. His eyelids suddenly felt very heavy, and holding them open seemed like more effort than he could afford to exert, so he let them close. Vaguely, he thought he heard Melanie talking on the phone to someone, although he couldn’t make his brain work enough to figure out who she was talking to. It briefly occurred to him that he hadn't asked how she'd known to expect him when she'd first opened the door, but as the present faded out, he tried to make a mental note to ask that later.

When he opened his eyes again, he realized he must have nodded off, because Lindsay was standing in front of him. As soon as she came fully into focus, he realized the room was spinning again. And that she was holding a basin that she placed in his lap as soon as they made eye contact.

And then he promptly vomited.

Lindsay made sure he had enough control of the situation for her to leave the room, so she gave him as much privacy as she could, knowing that Brian’s dignity was more important to him than he’d ever care to admit. Once it seemed like he was finished, she walked back in, wrapping a cool cloth around the back of his neck as he continued to breathe heavily over the basin, his eyes watering and nose running.

“How did you know?” he managed to ask, his voice gravelly.

Lindsay gave him a sympathetic smile and sat down next to him, gently rubbing his back. “We have two children. It becomes like a reflex after the first time you have to change someone’s sheets three times during the night.”

Brian grimaced. “Let’s hope I don’t have to resort to that,” he groaned. “I won’t be able to look housekeeping in the eye.”

“Oh,” Lindsay said, standing up again. “About that.”

“What?”

She gently maneuvered the basin away from him, seeming surprisingly unaffected by its contents. Apparently the motherly instincts ran deep. Or Lindsay had some weird kinks, but Brian figured it was far more likely on the former. As she walked back toward the bathroom to clean up, she called, “I cancelled your reservation. You’ll be staying here.”

Lacking the strength to argue, Brian just leaned back against the sofa cushion and moaned.

He heard the toilet flush and the water in the sink run before Lindsay returned to the room with an empty basin that she placed nearby in case he needed it again. “I understand why you want your space when you come with Justin, but since you can barely stand up yourself, and you clearly won’t be having sex in the near future, I don’t see why our accommodations won’t be perfectly adequate for you.”

Brian opened his mouth to respond, if only to counter that it was too late to cancel without penalty, and he’d already spent a fucking boatload on the hotel, but Lindsay seemed to have thought of that already.

“I explained that you were having a health emergency, and seeing as you’re a regular there, they were more than willing to accommodate. They wish you well and look forward to seeing you on your next visit.”

“Kill me now.”

Lindsay chuckled lightly. “Why, because you have to stay here? Or because your body is playing Civil War in our living room?”

Brian snorted. “I wish the south would secede,” he joked weakly, his eyes closed.

She sat down next to him again and patted his leg. “Well, when you feel like you can get up without incident, I’ll help you to the guest room. I have a feeling this isn’t over yet, but at least you can rest comfortably until round three.”

“Where’s Gus?” Brian mumbled.

“Mel took the kids out for dinner. We had planned to cook, but she figured the smell of food might not help your situation right now.”

Brian pressed his lips together, oddly touched by Melanie’s thoughtfulness. “What about you?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Lindsay assured him. “They’re going to bring me a salad.”

“Ugh,” Brian groaned. “I don't want to talk about food, either.” The sheer thought was enough to put his stomach in knots, even though at this point he had no idea how there was even anything left in there to expel.

“Sorry. I've been there, believe me. Got ahold of some bad chicken at a restaurant a couple of years ago. I don't think I've ever been so sick in my life.”

“No food talk.” Brian grimaced as he leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and putting his head down. He swallowed hard, hoping to calm down the queasiness that was making him feel like a ticking time bomb.

“Do you think you’d be okay to walk to the guest room so you can lie down?”

Brian nodded weakly, then pushed off with his hands to stand up, finding the task much more difficult than it should have been. Luckily, Lindsay was right there, with her arm around his waist, taking on most of his weight as they left the living room and walked toward the staircase. The stairs may as well have been Mount Everest, for all of the effort it took Brian to climb them. By the time they reached the top, he was out of breath and ready to collapse, but he did manage to make it down the hallway to the Munchers’ guest bedroom, where he fell face-first onto the bed, panting and sweating, then forced himself to roll onto his back.

Lindsay started taking his shoes off, and he wanted to protest, but he knew there was no way he could sit up to do it himself at the moment. Afterward, she rearranged the pillows, asking him to lift his head up so she could put one under it -- that small action alone seeming like a gargantuan task.

“Do you want a blanket?” Lindsay asked, as she finished fluffing the last of the pillows.

Brian gave a small shake of his head -- the upper limit of how much he could move it without feeling like he was going to throw up in the bed. He felt like he was burning up again, and started to slowly unbutton his shirt, which was an interesting task, to say the least, while lying down and barely able to move. Once he got it unbuttoned, Lindsay helped him slide it off, so that all he had on was his jeans and the t-shirt he’d had on underneath the button-up. He could feel it was damp -- already soaked with his sweat. Whatever this illness was, it sure wasn’t fucking around.

She set the basin down on the bedside table, making sure it was within his reach, and gently patted his shoulder.

“Can I get you anything else?”

Brian would have laughed if he’d had the energy to do it. That was Lindsay -- always the consummate hostess, even when her guest was sick as a fucking dog.

Lindsay ignored his non-response and kept right on talking. “I’ll go get your suitcase. I hope you brought some pajamas. If you didn’t, I can have Mel stop by a store and get you something suitable.”

Before Brian could protest the idea of Melanie picking out clothes for him, Lindsay was gone, and he could hear her soft footsteps going back down the stairs. A few minutes later, she was back with his suitcase, going on about something he couldn’t process because he was too fucking tired. He let her voice fade into the background as he allowed himself to drift back to sleep and into the blessed relief of unconsciousness.

When he woke up again, it took him a moment to orient himself, taking in the unfamiliar decorations and evening light patterns on the walls. He realized that it was actually probably the first time he’d ever been in Lindsay’s guest room, always having opted for hotel suites on his previous Toronto trips. If not for his general distaste for shared space and the omnipresent churning in various areas of his digestive system, or maybe even just under ordinary circumstances, he would have found it a comfortable space -- welcoming even. But the continuing threat of his innards ready to erupt out of one of his major orifices at any given moment made it difficult to focus on anything remotely enjoyable right now.

He noticed that sometime during his sleep, Lindsay had left a glass of water and a bottle of gatorade on his night table, as well as a sleeve of saltine crackers, but the thought of anything entering his body anytime in the near future was enough to make him cringe.

Thank god I’m not a bottom, he thought sarcastically. Really, that applied in numerous ways right now, though.

His phone vibrated somewhere near him on the bed, so he felt around for it, locating it near his left hip, and picked it up. Justin had texted several times, mainly just asking how he was feeling, though Brian suspected that Lindsay was keeping him in the loop as well. He cleared his throat, gauging how raw it felt, and decided he might be able to try talking enough to reach out to his husband. At the very least, it might garner him a bit of sympathy from the one person he’d allow to provide it.

He held the phone up in front of his face and hit the necessary keys to activate FaceTime. Unsurprisingly, Justin answered on the second ring, his concerned face studying Brian carefully as soon as he came into view.

“Hey,” Brian said weakly, trying not to focus on his own image in the upper right corner of the screen. He could see just how awful he looked, even in the room’s dim light. He figured he was probably going to have to turn on a lamp soon.

Justin was at home, sitting on the couch, and the glow on his face indicated that he’d been watching TV. “Hey. How are you feeling?” he asked gently, knowing far better than to comment on anything related to Brian’s appearance.

“Shittier than shit,” Brian admitted, feeling slightly comforted by his husband’s presence. At the very least, seeing Justin made him feel a little less anxious, which toned down his queasiness by a very slight notch.

“I’m sorry.” Justin frowned. “I won’t ask for specifics while you’re still going through them. But Linds said you probably have food poisoning?”

Brian started to nod but had to force himself to stop when the slight movement of his head started the room in motion again. “Fuck,” he moaned.

“It sounds like it’s not over yet.”

Brian sighed. “Probably not.”

“Well, I won’t make you talk much, but I’m glad you called. I’ve been worried.”

“Wanted to see you,” Brian murmured, then winced as his lower abdominal region cramped angrily. “Fuck.”

“At least you’re close to the bathroom,” Justin pointed out. “It’s right across the hall from their guest room.”

Brian realized he hadn’t actually known that information, and wondered how Justin did, but nevertheless, he was grateful for it. Especially because he had a feeling that he would be needing to pay it a visit in the very near future. “Great,” he whispered.

“Listen,” Justin continued, keeping his voice in a soothing tone that would have made Brian hard under nearly any other circumstance. “Go do what you need to do, and I’ll talk to you later. I love you.”

“Love you,” Brian managed to reply, and then ended the call, tossing his phone back to the bed and realizing that if he was going to make it to the bathroom, he needed to go now.

When he got into the bathroom -- not without extreme effort -- he was almost grateful that the other end of his body seemed to be taking its turn, so at the very least, he could sit. As he waited for the inevitable, he noticed that Lindsay had left a note on the sink informing him that the kids would be sharing her and Melanie’s bathroom while Brian wasn’t feeling well, so he would be assured privacy. It was possible he’d never been more grateful for her than in that moment. Especially given what came next.

What happened once he let things go was something Brian had never experienced before -- and it was not a pleasant feeling. Suddenly, the gatorade Linds had placed on the nightstand seemed a lot more critical. He was going to need to find a way to keep something down soon if he didn’t want to get dehydrated. He definitely didn’t want that to happen, because the last place he wanted to be when he was supposed to be spending time with his son was the hospital emergency room, taking in IV fluids.

However, the thought of drinking or eating anything was still enough to make Brian’s stomach cramp in protest.

What the hell had he eaten that had made him so sick? Airport food could often be questionable, but he didn’t really think it would have affected him so quickly. Besides, all he’d had was a turkey sandwich and the whiskey, which both seemed innocuous enough. In any case, he guessed it didn't really matter how it happened -- it had, and now he was suffering the consequences.

By the time Brian was done, the cool surface of the granite countertop was looking really inviting, and he’d nearly leaned over to lay his head down on it as he sat, just so he wouldn’t have to hold it up. But he didn’t. He toughed it out, and after what seemed like an eternity, finally felt safe enough to clean up and try to return to bed.

He found that he was now so weak that he had to hold onto some sort of surface just to stay upright -- the counter, the wall, the door frames -- as he painstakingly made his way out of the room and back across the hall. That, he had experienced before, thanks to the joys of cancer treatment. It hadn’t been something he’d ever wanted to experience again but, alas, here he was. At least this time, he could count on it being temporary, and not something he had to endure for two full weeks while trying to act like everything was normal in front of everyone except a handful of people.

This time, he didn’t need to put on any false pretenses -- he was free to be and look as sick as he actually was, which was a good thing, because he had exactly zero energy left to put into trying to act like nothing was wrong. Something was clearly very, very wrong. At this point, he just had to hope that it would resolve on its own, and that it wasn’t something more serious.

Wouldn’t that just be his luck, though? Coming down with fucking e coli or something while he was in another country and supposed to be spending quality time with his son -- something he didn’t get nearly enough of. He refused to consider it.

Usually, Justin would have come with him to Toronto, but he had a show opening that he couldn’t miss, and he’d insisted that Brian go anyway. So he’d come alone. And now, he couldn’t deny that he was wishing he had Justin with him, to take care of him. Lindsay was doing fine -- just as she’d done in their college days, long before Brian met Justin -- but he wanted his husband. And although he was glad they’d talked briefly, the phone call had only made Brian miss Justin more.

Christ, why was he getting all sentimental? Must be the illness, he thought. He was out of his fucking head. That was it. Delirium.

Before he settled back into bed, he switched on the small table lamp, then took advantage of being upright and stripped down to his boxer briefs. The cool sheets felt good on his clammy skin as he settled back in and eyed the bottle of gatorade on the table, weighing the options. Did he want to try to drink some and risk it coming right back up, or did he forego it for now and hope he wasn’t yet in the danger zone for dehydration?

His phone buzzed next to him on the bed, and he picked it up and unlocked it to reveal a new text message from Justin -- this one a string of kissy-faced and heart-eyed emojis, followed by a simple message: “I love you. I’m really sorry you feel so shitty (no pun intended). I know you were looking forward to spending time with Gus.”

He still was looking forward to it, although not like this. Hopefully this would just be a small bump in the road, and he’d still be able to salvage most of the trip. Once he could spend more than an hour both awake and out of the bathroom, that was.

Brian let the phone drop back to the bed and closed his eyes, not quite sure he was ready to take the gamble with the gatorade. Might as well sleep some more, he thought, since sleeping was about the only effective relief he got from the constant churning and cramping in his abdomen.

He was just about to doze off when he heard shuffling at the door and Lindsay poked her head in, frowning slightly, which Brian figured didn’t bode well for however he looked.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” she said softly.

“I wasn’t asleep,” he said. “You can come in.”

Lindsay smiled and stepped into the room fully, closing the door behind her. “How are you feeling?”

Brian groaned in response then said, “I literally haven’t felt this sick to my stomach since I had to do radiation treatments.”

The mattress dipped as Lindsay sat down next to him and hummed sympathetically. She brushed his hair back from his forehead, though whether it was to check for a fever, or a gesture of comfort, Brian wasn’t sure; he supposed it served as both. “I still wish you would have told me about that when you were going through it. I could’ve helped you then too.”

Brian shrugged. “Too many people already knew at the time. There really wasn’t much else anyone could’ve done.”

Lindsay frowned, making a sound of disagreement in her throat. “I don’t think it was about that,” she said. “I’m sure you could’ve used some support, at the very least. No one should have to go through something like that alone.”

A few seconds passed as Brian shifted uncomfortably, partly from his cramping stomach, and partly because he still hated this topic, even more than a decade later.

“Well,” he said finally, “you were a little preoccupied at the time too, if I remember correctly.”

“I was?” Lindsay furrowed her brow, giving him a confused look. Brian almost felt bad bringing up the topic, but he knew it was at least one surefire way to change the subject.

“Yeah, you know,” he began, nudging her with his elbow. When she looked over, he held his left hand in an O-formation and rapidly moved his opposite index finger in and out of the hole.

Lindsay’s mouth fell open in an astonished gasp, though the disbelief in her features was tinged with a little amusement as well. “You bastard, I cannot believe you would bring that up!” she exclaimed, lightly slapping at and shoving his arm.

Brian started to laugh, but quickly realized what a mistake it was, as he felt the rumbling in the back of his throat and tensed immediately. Fortunately, Lindsay realized what was happening and sobered, quickly reaching for the basin on the table. After a second, Brian held up his hand to stop her and took a deep breath.

“False alarm.”

“Do you need anything?” Lindsay asked, once she was sure he wasn’t going to be sick.

He snorted. “I need about twelve hours back so I can undo whatever the fuck I did that caused this shitshow.”

Lindsay laughed lightly, her fingernails gently tracing a soothing path on his arm. “Hopefully the worst is just about over… I suspect you’ll need at least a day or two of rest to fully regain your strength, though.”

Brian nodded, knowing she was right; he was not going to bounce back from this easily. He cleared his throat. “Is Mel pissed that I ended up crashing your humble abode?”

“What? No, Brian, of course not. Melanie feels terribly that you’re so sick. Gus does too. He wanted to come check on you, but we told both of the kids to let you rest until you’re feeling up for company.”

“Tell Sonny Boy I’m sorry.”

Lindsay patted his hand, starting to stand up from the bed. “You shouldn’t be sorry for anything. Just focus on feeling better and you’ll be able to spend time together later. Try to get some liquids in your system. It’ll help.”

“Or just make my puke more interesting to look at,” Brian said sarcastically, noting the blue gatorade sitting to his left. Lindsay shook her head.

 

“Just do what you can. I’ll be just down the hall. Text if you need me during the night.” She pressed a kiss to Brian’s cheek and then left the room.

Sleep didn’t come as easily for Brian this time, despite how close he’d been to dozing off only a few minutes before. He ended up lying awake for almost two hours, scrolling through news stories on his phone and texting back and forth with Justin. Surprisingly, just before midnight, he realized he actually felt a little thirsty, probably from the dehydration. If everything had finally moved south, maybe he’d be able to handle some liquids and a few crackers just to calm the gurgling in his stomach. Once he put down what he could, he sent Justin a goodnight message and hoped he could make it through the night.

He didn’t make it thirty minutes.

Fortunately, he had enough warning this time to make it across the hall, despite that he was only in his underwear, but he had more pressing matters than modesty for the time being, and he cursed himself as he heaved over the toilet bowl after emptying the few contents of his stomach. Clearly his body had not been ready to move on, and now the queasiness lingered. Brian briefly considered his options, including the possibility of curling up on the bathroom floor for the sake of convenience, but eventually, when he made it fifteen solid minutes without further incident, he dragged himself up off the floor and back to his room where he finally, blessedly, fell into slumber that lasted into the early morning.

Brian’s throat felt like it had been raked with a pitchfork, and the sheets were damp, but he actually felt somewhat better, and figured that meant his fever had broken. He cleared his throat, trying to relieve some of the scratchiness, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

A few minutes later, there was a light knock on the door, and this time, Melanie poked her head in, seeming a little hesitant. However, when she saw Brian was awake, she offered him a tentative smile. “Morning.”

Brian simply raised a hand in response, not trusting his voice to work properly.

Mel pushed the door open further, revealing that she was dressed for a morning run, but also holding a mug and plate in her hands. “I don’t know if you’ll feel up to it, but I brought you some ginger tea and dry toast. Would you like me to leave it?”

“Thanks,” Brian whispered, but even the slight sound felt like swallowing shards of glass.

Melanie seemed to understand, though. “Don’t talk. I’ll just leave this here.” She set everything down on the table next to his bed and moved the basin Lindsay had left to the floor. “Gus is dying to see you,” she continued, “so I wouldn’t be surprised if he attempts to visit after he wakes up. If you’d prefer not, I can leave him a note to wait.”

Brian shook his head, hoping Melanie would interpret it as he intended. He couldn’t believe he’d been in Toronto for as long as he had, circumstances aside, and not yet seen his son. Even if he could barely speak, he was looking forward to Gus’ company. At least he was someone around whom Brian didn’t need to maintain a certain presence. He knew Gus would love him the same whether he was parading him around the latest NYC attractions, or half-dressed and disheveled from half a day of GI issues in his mothers’ spare room. Fortunately, Mel offered another small smile and nodded before heading back out to the hallway, closing the door behind her.

What a fucking twilight zone, Brian thought to himself. He never dreamed of seeing a day where he willingly allowed Melanie Marcus to take care of him -- or where she even wanted to. Apparently wonders never ceased.

This time, Mel’s toast and tea seemed to be acceptable to Brian’s stomach, and a little grumbling aside, everything seemed to settle as it should, and he actually managed to doze off for another hour or two, woken this time by distinct voices outside his bedroom door.

“Just knock!”

“Ima said he was sleeping.”

“So what? He’s been sleeping for, like, a whole day.”

“If you want to see him so bad, why don’t you open the door?”

“He’s not my dad.”

Clearly Gus and Jenny Rebecca were awake, and Brian couldn’t help but smile as he overheard their conversation.

The door opened a crack and Brian quickly snapped his eyes closed, not wanting to give himself away.

“See? He’s sleeping.” Gus’ voice was more of a whisper now.

“Oh my god, is he naked?” J.R. put far less effort into containing hers, and Brian had to fight a smirk from breaking out on his lips. Michael’s daughter, indeed.

“You are such a dork,” Gus shot back, sounding irritated. “Even if he is, it’s not like you’re gonna see anything. Go away.”

“What?” J.R. said innocently. “He's cute.”

“That's my dad you're talking about, as you literally just pointed out. Jesus.”

“Too bad you didn't get your looks from him.”

“F--screw you.” Gus started to curse, but apparently stopped himself, which made Brian have to stifle a laugh. “Everyone else says I look just like him. Besides, I definitely don't look like Mom. People never believe I’m hers.”

At that moment, Brian lost the battle to feign sleep, as the smile he'd been fighting spread across his lips. “Hey, Sonny Boy,” he whispered, barely making any sound at all.

“Hey, Dad,” Gus said timidly, before turning to J.R. and hissing, “Nice going, you woke him up.”

Brian chose not to reveal he’d already been awake, mostly because talking hurt, so the fewer words he had to say, the better. Gus stepped into the room and took a seat on the edge of the bed, while J.R. lingered in the doorway, staring at Brian with her big, brown puppy dog eyes that she had definitely inherited from Michael. Not that he was much of a sight to behold at this point, he was sure.

“Well, you’ve seen him, now go downstairs,” Gus said, shooing his sister away.

But J.R. continued to gawk, her eyes wide and her cheeks taking on a slight flush in that way Michael’s always did whenever he was embarrassed.

J.R.,” Gus hissed, eyeing his sister with clear disdain as he tilted his head in the direction of the stairs, urging her to leave.

J.R. sighed and trudged down the hallway and down the stairs, obviously pouting. Yes, that girl was half Michael for sure.

Gus turned his attention back to Brian and rolled his eyes. “She has a huge crush on you. I already told her it’s weird, but she doesn’t care.”

“Must be genetic,” Brian rasped, wincing at how raw his throat felt.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Brian sat up a little and reached for the glass of water on the nightstand, wanting to gulp it because his mouth and throat were so dry, but pacing himself because the digestive pyrotechnics of the night before had him more than a little gun shy. So far, so good with the ginger tea and toast, though, so hopefully the worst of whatever this was, was over.

“Anyway, are you better?” Gus asked, his concern clear on his face and in his eyes.

“A little.” Short sentences seemed to be the ticket, although not talking at all would probably be even better. Still, Brian wanted to be with his son -- talk to him, catch up with life. He didn’t want to be lying in bed, hardly able to speak. This illness was already testing his patience -- a virtue he’d never had much of -- because it was cutting into the limited time he had to spend with Gus. But he’d been here before -- although it had been a long time -- and he knew that even though the most revolting parts of the illness were over, he still had a ways to go before he was back to one-hundred percent.

“Do you even know what caused it?”

Before Brian could figure out a non-verbal response to offer his son, his phone buzzed, so he picked it up and glanced at it. Surprisingly, it was a text from Cynthia.

Never ordering from that Thai place again. Ever. Followed by three vomiting emojis, and suddenly, Brian remembered the helping of shrimp pad thai he’d sneaked from her order in between meetings the day before. Bingo! Well, at least that mystery was solved. Served him right, he supposed.

He held up the phone for Gus to read the message and the younger man grimaced. “Ugh, that’s the worst.”

Brian nodded, sending a quick text back to Cynthia, indicating his own situation. When he looked back up, Gus was eyeing him carefully. “What?” he mouthed.

“So, like… you’re not actually naked, right?” Gus asked, tilting his head toward his dad’s bare midsection.

Brian smirked, pulling the sheets back just far enough to show the waistband of his Emporio Armani boxer briefs, and Gus nodded in satisfaction.

“I mean, not like I care,” Gus explained quickly. “It’s just, Jenny can be stupid sneaky, and you probably don’t want to have to explain it to Ima if she announces that she saw your dick.”

Brian rolled his eyes and offered an amused smile. “Your sister is too much,” he whispered, though he realized there was probably some truth in what Gus was saying. So far, things between Brian and Melanie had been surprisingly amicable, and he preferred to keep it that way, so long as they had to share a roof, or, at least so long as he was too weak to defend himself, be it verbally or otherwise.

“So listen,” Gus continued, leaning back on his elbows so he could look at his dad better. “I can tell it hurts for you to talk, so I don’t wanna make you do that, but I was kinda hoping we were gonna spend today together so… do you think we could?”

Brian shrugged as if to say, “I don’t see why not,” and patted the opposite, unoccupied side of the bed, suggesting Gus might consider joining him. Unfortunately, with the way his body felt, he didn’t anticipate getting much further for awhile; not until he was able to get some real food and hydration into his body and build up his strength. Besides that, he felt like he’d done the ab workout of a century, and his back muscles were aching something fierce. Food poisoning was no joke, that was for sure.

Gus nodded, understanding Brian’s request. “So, Mom and Ima don’t have a TV in here, obviously, but I could get my iPad and we could watch Netflix or something?”

Brian smiled and nodded, grateful that he’d still get to spend time with Gus, and hoped that within a couple of hours, he’d be able to use his voice again so he could actually communicate at a level above neanderthal.

The rest of the morning was actually unexpectedly pleasant, all things considered. Lindsay brought both Brian and Gus breakfast “in bed,” keeping in mind Brian’s still-delicate system and sticking with more toast and ginger tea for him, along with a banana and some sparkling water that felt surprisingly good on his throat. J.R. had only attempted to barge in one other time, which Brian left Gus to handle, holding up his hands in mock-surrender, and gesturing to his useless vocal cords. J.R. didn’t look thrilled, but with Brian actually awake enough to observe her actions, she went without too much of a fight. Brian figured he should probably do something with her at some point to make up for it later. He did love her, and appreciated her for who she was, along with the DNA she shared with his lifelong best friend, but just as Michael had his annoying moments when Brian was feeling under the weather, it was clear that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Lying in bed and watching Netflix with his son was much more low-key than Brian was used to, given that he and Gus normally spent most of their time away from the house during Brian’s visits. But Brian found that he really enjoyed it. It was nice to just spend time with Gus, no matter how they did it. And honestly, it was nice to spend that time totally free of distractions. He kind of wished they could have more of those moments -- just quiet times at home, with no pretenses or expectations, enjoying each other’s company. So long as he wouldn’t have to be violently ill to make it happen, of course.

Unfortunately, for now, Brian still felt like the last 24 hours had drained every last drop of energy out of him -- both literally and figuratively. It was still all he could do to get up and walk across the hall to the bathroom, even though it was no longer the emergency situation it had been the night before. And when he did make it back to bed, after also throwing on some lounge pants and a fresh t-shirt, he felt like he’d run a marathon. So he was thankful that Gus was okay spending the day chilling out. At least Brian no longer felt like his legs were about to give way underneath him every time he stood up, so that was progress.

Lindsay came in around lunchtime, to check and see if Brian felt up to trying to eat something else besides toast and a banana, but he wasn’t quite sure he was brave enough for that yet. Gus got up to go downstairs and grab a sandwich, leaving Brian and Lindsay alone in the guest room.

She eyed the still-more-than-half-full bottle of gatorade on the side table. “You really need to drink that,” she said. “You don’t want to get dehydrated.”

There were a lot of things Brian wanted to say, but all of them consisted of more words than he was willing to have pass through his still-raw throat. So he settled for rolling his eyes and mouthing, “Yes, mother.”

Lindsay sat down on the side of the bed and sighed. “I know, I know,” she said. “You don’t like to be coddled. You never have.”

Brian looked at Lindsay, wondering where this was going, as she gazed at him with a wistful look in her eye.

“I haven’t taken care of you like that since college, when you came down with mono.”

Brian groaned. Though not as bad as the cancer, that was certainly not a pleasant memory either. He had no idea who he’d caught it from, but he clearly remembered wanting to kill them, if only he’d had the energy to do it. He and Lindsay weren’t ‘together’ anymore at the time -- having long since abandoned their attempt at playing straight -- but they’d remained friends, and she’d practically taken up residence in his private dorm room for a couple of weeks, spending every hour that she wasn’t in class bringing him food and water and keeping him company. It had been before Lindsay met Melanie, of course, otherwise it never would have been allowed to happen.

He’d tried to act annoyed at the whole thing, but really, some teeny-tiny part of him kind of liked feeling cared for. Maybe that was what happened when your childhood was full of the exact opposite. So no, he didn’t like to be coddled, but he really wasn’t completely opposed to being taken care of. However, it did matter who was doing the caring, given that his list of people who were allowed to see him in a vulnerable position was very short indeed. And there was absolutely no fucking way he would ever admit to liking it, because that would mean giving up control, and control was not something Brian Kinney would ever relinquish willingly.

“Anyhow, I’m glad you’re feeling at least a little better.” Lindsay reached out and patted his hand, giving him a small smile. “I could make you some soup later for dinner, if you think you’ll be up to it.”

Brian shrugged as Lindsay stood up and smoothed out the seemingly non-existent wrinkles in her pants. Sometimes Brian wondered if that move was more reflexive for her, given her country club, upper crust upbringing.

“Maybe I’ll make it anyhow, and then you can decide if you want some later. You need to get some vitamins back in your system.”

Brian knew Lindsay was right. With as sick as he’d been the day before, he was sure his body was totally depleted -- and the extra shitty way he still felt was likely a direct result of that. The faster he got some nutrition and hydration into his body, the faster he would feel better and be able to resume his regularly scheduled activities with Gus.

“Text me if you need anything,” Lindsay said, as she turned to leave. “I’ll be downstairs working on a few things I didn’t manage to get wrapped up at the gallery yesterday.” She was almost out the door when she turned and looked over her shoulder, adding, “And drink that gatorade.”

Brian grunted as he reached over toward the bedside table, picking up the bottle of gatorade and unscrewing the cap. Tentatively, he tasted it, testing how it felt on his throat and finding that it wasn’t half bad. Prior to the night before, he hadn’t drank that stuff in years -- probably not since Justin had practically poured it down his throat when he was going through cancer treatment.

That had been one time when Brian definitely didn’t want to admit to needing help, though in the end, he’d had no choice but to acquiesce. He’d managed to rebuke Michael’s attempt at doing his grocery shopping and his laundry and intimidated him into going home to his wife and kid, but Justin had been a totally different story. By then, Justin had made up his mind that he wasn’t taking no for an answer, and his actions had been particularly well-timed, because Ted had been right -- Brian was absolutely exhausted. Justin had won because Brian simply didn’t have the energy to fight. But in the end, that first day and the weeks that followed had shown Brian just how much he meant to Justin, and if he was being honest, how much Justin meant to him.

Having drank about as much as he felt he could stomach with one-hundred percent safety, Brian set the bottle down on the table and relaxed back into the pillows, allowing his eyes to drift closed. God, he was so fucking tired, and it was barely past noon. But he really didn’t want to sleep the entire day away if he could help it.

“Are you asleep?” Gus’ voice cut through the silence, sounding hesitant, and possibly a little disappointed.

Brian opened his eyes. “No, I’m just resting, waiting for you.”

Gus smiled, moving from the doorway and resuming his position on the far side of the bed. “What do you want to watch?” he asked, picking up his iPad from the bedside table, already starting to scroll through screens.

Brian shrugged, knowing that even though he and Gus were a lot alike in many ways, taste in television shows wasn’t necessarily one of the things they shared. In fact, Brian wasn’t very big on watching television at all, other than watching old movies from far before his time, mostly starring James Dean -- the man who had led his life much in the way Brian once wanted to. Gus had changed a lot of that, though, and cancer and a bomb had changed the rest.

“You pick,” he whispered, finding that his throat felt marginally better than it had earlier that morning, though talking was still fairly uncomfortable.

Gus chose The Big Bang Theory, and nearly made Brian regret his decision to let Gus pick. The show wasn’t exactly terrible, but it definitely wasn’t Brian’s taste, and he found he couldn’t have cared less about Sheldon’s Meemaw or Leonard and Penny’s upcoming nuptials. Not to mention the fact that laughing hurt his still-very-sore abdominal muscles. But he endured it, choosing to focus on how much Gus was enjoying it, and how much he enjoyed seeing his son smile and laugh. Sixteen years ago, Brian would have told anyone they were crazy for even remotely suggesting that seeing joy on his son’s face would actually bring him joy, too, even on a day when he felt like death warmed over.

Brian tolerated a few hours and nearly an entire season of what was apparently Gus’ favorite show, before Lindsay showed up at the door with a tray in-hand and informed Gus it was dinner time. Gus reluctantly got up and left the room, on the promise that he and Brian would continue their binge once he'd eaten.

“I made you chicken soup,” Lindsay said. “Debbie's recipe. It's Gus’ favorite when he's sick.”

“Doesn't anybody fucking know a different recipe?” Brian rasped, his voice still hoarse although it was no longer quite as painful to speak.

“I've tried to make Melanie's grandmother's recipe, but she always says it's wrong. So I stuck with Deb's, since it seems to be a crowd pleaser.”

Brian refrained from making a comment questioning the sanity of said crowd, because if he was being honest, he actually did like the soup. He was just resistant to it because it often popped up when he'd been forced into a particularly vulnerable position through no fault of his own -- mono, cancer, and now food poisoning, just to name a few.

Lindsay crossed the room and set the tray, which bore a steaming bowl of soup and a plate of saltines, on the nightstand. She'd also brought Brian a large bottle of water and a second bottle of gatorade that he supposed she would be making him drink.

“Just give the soup a try,” she said. “You've been alright for more than 12 hours now, so hopefully things have settled down a bit.”

Brian sure as fuck hoped so, because he was long over feeling like shit.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Lindsay said, as she turned and left the room.

Brian was no more than a couple of bites into his soup when his phone rang with a call from Justin, which thankfully was not a video call this time. He'd seen what he looked like the last time he'd been in the bathroom, and it made the way he'd looked the night before seem good.

“Hey,” Brian said softly, trying not to push his luck with his voice.

“You sound awful,” Justin said, clearly concerned.

“Thanks a lot.”

“Are you feeling any better?”

“Some. Attempting dinner now. Lindsay made me Deb's chicken soup. What the fuck is it with this recipe?”

“Well, when Debbie gave it to me, she said it was her magic recipe, guaranteed to cure all ills.”

It certainly hadn't cured Brian's cancer, but he did have to admit that, in a way, it had brought Justin back to him -- cured the mistake he'd made in pushing Justin away.

“You okay?” Justin asked, after several seconds without a response from Brian.

“Yeah, my throat's just really fucking raw. Last night was a bad night.”

“I know. Linds told me.”

Brian gave a noncommittal grunt, not so sure he liked the fact that his husband and his current caregiver had apparently been exchanging information.

“What?” Justin said, sounding slightly defensive. “I was worried. You looked really sick last night.”

“I was. But you probably already know that.”

Brian could practically hear Justin rolling his eyes, even before he said, “Brian…” in that exasperated tone he always used whenever he thought Brian was being ridiculous. “Just let her take care of you. Since I can't be there, let her do it. Or do you need me to tell you to get your ass back in bed and eat some fucking chicken soup?”

Brian smiled a little at the memory, which hadn’t been pleasant at the time, but had become much fonder over the years because it was a bit of a turning point in his and Justin’s relationship -- when Justin stood up to him and refused to be pushed off the Kinney cliff.

On the phone, he chuckled a little, and then said, “You know, Sunshine, my ass is in my bed. The one missing is yours.”

Justin laughed too, but then sighed lightly. “I wish I was there, you know. Maybe I could come up--”

Brian cut him off. “You’re exactly where you need to be, and I’m on the mend, or at least I better fucking be. You can make up for it next week when I get back. Don’t make plans.”

Justin laughed again. “Okay, I won’t. I promise. And I’ll let you get back to your chicken soup. I know it’s your favorite.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Now it was Brian’s turn to roll his eyes.

“I love you. Try not to give Lindsay too much trouble.”

“You too. And I can’t make any promises.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less. Later.”

“Later.”

Brian hung up the phone and finished the bowl of soup and most of the crackers, noticing that all of it seemed to be settling fairly well, which was a good sign. He’d just set the tray aside when Gus came back upstairs, apparently ready to settle back in for a few more hours of binge-watching with his dad.

Not sure he could stand much more of the sitcom, even while trying to distract himself by mostly paying attention to Gus, Brian bargained with him, insisting that it was his turn to pick. He chose Rebel Without a Cause, figuring that it was time to introduce his son to the legend that was James Dean -- forever young and unspoiled by time.

Gus seemed interested enough in the film initially; Brian knew it by heart, having watched it dozens of times throughout his life. However, as the plot wound into its second hour, Brian glanced over at Gus and found him sound asleep on his side of the bed. Smiling softly to himself, Brian pulled up a throw that had been folded at the foot of the bed and gently draped it over his son’s long and lanky body, hoping not to wake him, and then finished the remaining forty minutes of the movie.

When the film credits started to roll, Brian paused it and closed Gus’ iPad cover, setting the device on the side table, so it didn’t fall or get rolled on by either of them. In the dim light of the bedroom, he studied his son again, this time without concern for whether or not he’d be caught.

Fuck, Brian thought to himself. He’s so goddamn beautiful.

It wasn’t an attempt to pat himself on the back, since Gus’ genetics were half his, but more an observation of his son as a whole. Gus was sixteen years old now, just a few short years from adulthood, and Brian found himself wondering where the time had gone. It felt like only seconds before, he’d been running into a hospital room to see Lindsay cradling a dark-haired bundle that would forever change his life. He’d learned so much in his decade and a half as a dad, most of which he’d never expected -- and most surprisingly, the capacity with which he could love another human being.

Now, the overwhelming sense of love that certain people created was a more familiar concept to Brian, having spent nearly a decade married to the undisputable love of his life, but it had started with Gus, and that was an experience that Brian would never forget.

As he continued to watch his son sleep peacefully and reflect on moments of the past and his pride in the young man Gus had become, Brian felt something wet hit his hand, and when he glanced down, he realized it had fallen from his own eye. Quickly, he moved to wipe his cheek, but it was in that same moment that the door was pushed open a few inches and Melanie poked her head in. She looked at Brian, whose head had snapped up guiltily, then her eyes shifted slightly to his side, seeing Gus asleep next to him, and her expression softened

“I came in to see if you were doing okay,” she began softly in her light rasp, “and I’m not sure that you are.”

Brian gave a small smile, willingly conceding that he’d been caught. “I’m fine, actually,” he said, his voice the strongest it’d been so far that day, despite that now it was thick with the emotion he was feeling. He looked back over at his son. “Better than fine.”

“Mind if I come in?” Melanie asked hesitantly.

Brian shrugged, smirking a little, though there was no malice in his tone. “It’s your house.”

She nodded, stepping inside the room, and after glancing around with uncertainty, Brian gestured at the unoccupied space on his side of the bed, and she sat down.

“He wasn’t into my choice in movies,” Brian said, by way of explanation for why their son was in his current position.

Melanie laughed lightly. “I think he’s probably just tired. Linds said he was up most of the night trying to keep a close ear on you, in case you needed anything. He’s been worried.”

Brian looked down at his lap, pressing his lips together to suppress any type of emotional sound that might otherwise escape. He loved that kid so fucking much.

“He’s a great kid,” Melanie continued, echoing Brian’s thoughts. He looked back up at her and saw that her eyes had a slight sheen to them too. “This whole situation has been… rather unconventional, the last day or so. Honestly, though, while I’m sorry it was because you weren’t feeling well--”

Brian snorted lightly. That was the understatement of the year.

“--I know it meant a lot to Lindsay and Gus to have you here. You never stay with us when you visit, and I think that bothers them sometimes.”

Brian opened his mouth to respond, but Melanie held up a hand to stop him, the look in her eyes pleading with him to understand that she had something important to say and needed to get through it. He closed his mouth and nodded at her to continue.

“I guess I’ve always just assumed it’s because there’s a lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed, and our home is nowhere within that standard of living.” Melanie looked away and closed her eyes for a moment, letting out a deep breath before she looked back at Brian and started speaking again. “What I’ve realized in the last day or two, though, is that a lot of your hesitance to stay here, and be closer to your -- our son -- and your best friend -- my wife -- is probably because of me.”

Brian felt like this was the point where he was supposed to say something, but in the moment, he honestly felt a bit dumbstruck by this revelation. Was that why he’d never opted to stay with the Munchers when he was visiting Toronto? He’d always just sort of assumed that he wasn’t terribly welcome to spend more time than he absolutely had to in their home, and there was also some truth to Melanie’s comment regarding his affinity for ridiculous thread counts and 24/7 room service, but the truth was, the trips were all about his time with Gus, and Lindsay too. If he’d felt able to maximize his time by staying with them, would he? Justin would have no problem with it, he was sure of that. He loved both Mel and Linds, and of course Gus, but even J.R. clearly felt more comfortable with him. Brian had been the one who really had an issue with the situation -- and the more he thought about it, he realized that he probably contributed to the outcome just as much as Melanie had.

“Well,” he said finally, cursing that his voice came out sounding like a prepubescent teenage boy. He cleared his throat and tried again, grateful that Melanie had only given him a tiny smile, but actually seemed a little anxious about whatever he was going to say. “I’ve always just assumed that you sort of hate me, and only really tolerate my presence because of Lindsay and Gus. I mean, I don’t think it’s been as much of an issue the last several years, but you and I have always had our issues as long as we’ve known each other.”

Melanie nodded. “We certainly have. And for a lot of that time, I have thought you were a stubborn asshole who only cared about himself. Lindsay spent a lot of time defending you and trying to convince me that you were this person I absolutely couldn’t see for myself. You were just this cocky son of a bitch who spent all his time fucking everything that moved--”

Brian blanched. “Please, tell me how you really feel.”

“I promise, I’m going somewhere with this,” Melanie promised, giving him a rueful smile before continuing. “My bubbe had this saying she always used to repeat to us. ‘Al tistakel baqanqan, ela bemah shebetokho.’ It means, ‘Don’t look at the jar, but at what’s inside it.’ As I’ve gotten to know you, and have seen you around Gus -- particularly in the past couple of years, but even what you did for him when he was just a baby, which I probably didn’t recognize properly at the time -- I realize I haven’t given you due credit for who you are. And I realize now that there’s a lot of truth to what Linds has said about you.”

Brian nodded, again at a loss for what to say. “Thank you,” was what he managed for the time being. His head felt like it was spinning again, but fortunately, this time it wasn’t from nausea. “It wasn't all you, you know,” he admitted. “I was to blame too. Sometimes I did act like a dick. Most of the time, it was on purpose.”

“We egged each other on. But don't think I've forgotten who saved our wedding, when it seemed like everything was going wrong. You made it look like it was everyone else, and you tried to act like you didn't give a shit, but we knew who pulled it all together. You were the one who made it happen.”

Brian shrugged and looked down. “I wanted it to happen for Lindsay. She deserved it. I wanted her to be happy, because I…” Brian let his voice fade out, still not sure he should say the words that were on the tip of his tongue, even in the face of his and Melanie's newfound understanding.

“You love her,” Melanie finished. “I know.”

Brian nodded, thankful that Melanie had said it for him, because those words were still hard for him to say after all these years. “She means a lot to me. I know people don't always get that, or believe it, but she does. She did a lot for me a long time ago.” Brian picked idly at his fingers, a little bit uncomfortable with broaching this topic, but as long as Mel was being honest, maybe he could too. “She understood… things… that no one else did. Our families were… I mean, mine was blue collar, and hers was rich as shit, mine was physically abusive, and hers was more emotionally manipulative… but they were kind of the same. Neither of them would have wanted people to find out that they had a gay kid. It just didn't fit their agenda.”

“I get that, now.” Melanie nodded sympathetically. “But when Linds and I first got together, I really just thought she wasn't over you. That I was just another rebound girl, who was never going to measure up to the Great Kinney.”

Brian let out a soft snort. “I'm not sure she was over me. But you never had anything to worry about from me. I'm not straight, and I can't play straight either. She knew that. That's why we decided to just be friends. But she had a hard time letting go. And the reason I was such a dick wasn't because I was still in love with her. I don't think I ever was. It was because I was afraid I was going to lose her to you -- that you wouldn't let her see me anymore. And I…” Brian’s voice was steadily getting softer, though not due to his throat, but because of his reluctance to bare all, particularly to Melanie Marcus. “I didn't have a lot of people in my corner back then.”

“I know. And I know that was probably why you did a lot of the things you did -- because you wanted people to think you didn’t care. But you did. You do. I see that now. And the way that you care for Gus, I can see how important he is to you. He’s just as important to me, and he wouldn’t exist without you. Don’t think I don’t know that, either. I’m forever grateful that you helped us bring Gus into this world, even though I wished at the time that Lindsay would have picked any other man in the world to be the donor. But he wouldn’t be who he is, without you. He’s so much like you -- not just in looks, but in how loyal he is to his friends and how deeply he cares for them. And once he makes up his mind that he wants something, heaven help anyone who tries to get in his way.”

The corners of Brian’s mouth quirked upward into the tiniest smile at Melanie’s assessment of their son, and a breathy laugh escaped from his lips as he looked fondly at Gus’ sleeping form. “Why Melanie,” he said wryly, “was that a compliment?”

“Don’t push your luck. Anyhow, we’ve truly got the best kid in the world,” Melanie continued. “And by we, I mean all of us. We’re family. I know I haven’t always treated you like family, though, and I’m sorry for that.”

Brian shrugged and pulled his lips into his mouth, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable as the conversation turned serious once again. He wasn’t good at mushy stuff. Justin was the one who was good at talking about his feelings; Brian was still shit at it, even after eight years of marriage and sixteen years ‘together’ in one way or another. All he managed to say was a mumbled, “It’s okay,” said while avoiding eye contact.

“No, it’s not. I want you to feel welcome when you’re here. I want you to feel like you’re part of the family, because you are. Michael, too. And Justin, and Ben, and Hunter. We’re all family. Bonded forever.”

“Lesbians once removed,” Brian chuckled.

“What?”

“Nothing. Just an old joke from a long time ago.”

“Anyway, I think seeing all of the qualities Gus got from you has helped me see more of you, too. That there’s a lot more to you than that persona you show to most of the world.”

“Don’t be giving away all my secrets.” Brian smirked, tongue firmly planted in his cheek. “Can’t have everybody knowing that Brian Kinney has a heart, after all.”

“What a tragedy that would be, huh? If the whole world knew you were human.”

“I do have a reputation to uphold.”

“That you do. Well, I’m glad you came here, and decided to stay.”

“I didn’t really have a choice.”

“Point taken. But I’m still glad you’re here. And I hope that maybe next time, you’ll plan to stay here. You and Justin both, if he comes along.”

“He will. He wanted to be here this time, but the show--”

“I know.” Melanie cut him off with a wave of her hand. “I’m married to the manager of an art gallery -- believe me, I know. The art show must go on, or something like that.”

“If we stay here, will we be allowed to fuck?” Brian raised an eyebrow, his question half-serious, half-snarky.

“Do you think Lindsay and I don’t?”

“Touché. And I know from experience that your wife is definitely not quiet.”

“Ew, god, I don’t want to think about you two ever…” Melanie made a disgusted sound and shook her head. “Do whatever the fuck you want, just don’t come on the sheets. And no tricks.”

“Justin’s the one you’d have to worry about when it comes to protecting your inferior thread-count sheets. And your last point is… no longer an issue.”

Now it was Melanie’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Oh really? Since when?”

“Since none of your fucking business." Brian smirked at Melanie, jokingly daring her to question him any further.

Melanie simply smiled. “Well, good for you. Wonders never cease.”

Wasn’t that the fucking truth, Brian thought to himself as she bid him goodnight and headed to her own bedroom. His world had been turned slightly on his side that evening, but not in a bad way. And as he finally drifted off to sleep a little while later, his son still snoring lightly beside him, he realized that he was actually feeling much better -- and he suspected very little had to do with finally being over a bad case of food poisoning.

***

When Brian woke up the next morning, he noticed two things. First, Gus was gone, though the blankets were disheveled, indicating that he’d likely stayed through the full night and made himself comfortable. The thought made Brian smile. Second, he felt almost back to normal. When he tried clearing his throat, it didn’t feel like sandpaper, so he took that as a good sign, and stretching didn’t result in feeling like he’d overdone it at the gym. All in all, things were looking up.

His first order of business was taking a long, hot shower, as he realized he hadn’t properly cleaned himself since the morning he left New York. He thought back wistfully to that last shower and how he’d managed to talk Justin into joining him, despite that Justin had already showered for the day. Brian figured he had enough plausible deniability when it came to accusations of being sentimental, but it wouldn’t have been entirely inaccurate to say that he had really just wanted to hold and feel his husband in the most intimate way possible one more time before spending nearly a week apart. This next shower wasn’t going to be nearly as satisfying. That much was for sure.

Once he took the final step toward feeling mostly like himself again -- and much fresher -- Brian dressed quickly and headed downstairs, actually feeling hungry. Even on his best days, breakfast wasn’t usually too heavily on his radar, so he rarely put down more than a protein shake and copious amounts of coffee unless Justin was around to coax him into something more substantial. This morning however, walking into the kitchen and seeing Lindsay stirring what appeared to be a pan of scrambled eggs made his stomach growl appreciatively.

“You’re up!” she chirped brightly upon noticing his entrance. “How are you feeling?”

“Practically human,” he said, walking closer to inspect what she was making.

“I was making these for the kids to have with toast. I can make you some egg whites if you’d like,” Lindsay offered. “We have some fresh fruit as well.”

“Sure,” Brian agreed. “That sounds good.”

“I’m sure you’ve probably had your fill of toast in the past day,” Lindsay continued, “but we have plenty of bread if you’d like to have that as well. I might even have some--”

“This is fine, thanks,” Brian cut her off before she could work her way through the entire contents of her refrigerator, like the good hostess she was.

They were chatting about some of the things Gus might want to do in Toronto during the remainder of Brian’s visit when Gus himself wandered into the kitchen, dressed in running clothes.

“Good run, sweetheart?” Lindsay asked, smiling at him and admiring how much he resembled the man sitting just a few feet over.

“The wind was rough today,” Gus replied, still sounding a little out of breath from exertion, his face flushed. “Ima and I took the shorter route back.”

“Five miles?” Brian asked, feeling proud of his son for being so committed to his soccer conditioning. Brian had always enjoyed running himself, though he did it far less these days. Back when he’d been Gus’ age, and even into his twenties and early thirties, a good run always invigorated him. He was impressed that Melanie still did a lot of Gus’ runs with him and decided that one of these days, he might give it a try himself. It had been awhile since he’d run much more than about 3 miles at a time, but he never tired of a challenge.

“Yup,” Gus nodded, taking a bottle of gatorade from the fridge and downing about half of it.

“Your breakfast is about ready,” Lindsay told him. “Eat then shower?”

“Then a day with your old man?” Brian added, mentally cringing at the moniker he’d inadvertently ascribed to himself. He always tried so carefully to avoid that one -- partly because he pretended to be in denial about his age, but also because it reminded him too much of his own old man. And Jack Kinney was hardly a person Brian strived to emulate in his parenting.

Fortunately, Gus was none the wiser, and simply grinned at Brian, his lips donning a pale blue hue from his drink. “That’d be great. You’re feeling better?”

“Much,” Brian said, hoping that the sentiment would hold once he got some real food in his body. “So, what do you want to do?”

“Well, I’d been hoping we could check out the go-karts down at Centennial Park--”

“Gus,” Lindsay cut him off as she spooned the scrambled eggs out of the skillet and onto plates. “Your dad’s been very ill. I’m not sure go-kart racing is a good idea.”

“I’ll be fine,” Brian insisted. “Sounds good, Sonny Boy.”

Once her skillet was empty, Lindsay opened the refrigerator and pulled out two more eggs, which she cracked and separated. The look on her face told Brian that she still didn’t think Gus’ chosen activity would be the best one for Brian, but she also probably knew better than to argue with him about it, because it would only be a waste of her breath. The only thing she said was, “I’ve got some veggies if you want me to make you an omelet.”

Brian shrugged, knowing that it would be a waste of his breath to argue with Lindsay when it came to the breakfast she was preparing for her guest, because she wouldn’t be satisfied until she’d served him a practically restaurant quality meal.

Rolling her eyes, Lindsay grabbed a container of chopped peppers and onions out of the refrigerator. “You haven’t changed a bit, have you? I never could get you to just tell me what you wanted to eat. You’d just shrug your shoulders and pretend you didn’t care, and then complain the entire time.”

Gus looked back and forth between his parents, really not wanting to hear about whatever time the two of them were referring to -- he’d already heard enough about his parents’ college escapades during a very awkward conversation he’d had with his dads in New York a couple of months back. Instead he chose to focus on his eggs and toast, and looking forward to having fun with his dad later.

Once they’d finished breakfast and Gus had showered and changed, father and son headed to the go-kart track, where the highly competitive streak each of them possessed came out in full force. Being that it was a Friday morning -- not historically the busiest time for a go-kart track -- they were the only two people racing. Brian won the first race, and Gus the second, and they were a handful of laps into the final match of their “best two out of three” when Brian started to feel like his breakfast might like to make an encore. He swallowed hard and tried to make the turns with as much finesse as possible in an attempt to calm the quickly escalating nausea as he tried to make it through the final couple of laps. Maybe Lindsay had been right and this wasn’t such a great idea -- not that Brian would ever admit to that.

Because Brian spent the entire final lap trying not to create a biohazard on the track, Gus ended up winning, but his good-natured bragging was short lived when he saw the odd pallor of his dad’s skin and the beads of sweat beginning to form on his forehead as he staggered toward a bench and sank heavily onto it. He put his head in his hands, breathing harder than he probably should have been considering that he’d only been driving a go-kart.

“Dad?” Gus asked, his brow furrowed in concern as he followed his dad over to the bench and sat down beside him. “Are you okay?”

Brian held up a hand, afraid to open his mouth for fear that something other than words might come out. He felt like the entire park was spinning around him, and closing his eyes did absolutely nothing to quell the dizziness. After a few minutes of sitting with his head down, Brian had recovered enough to be able to look up at his son, whose worry was written all over his face.

“Maybe we should go home,” Gus suggested, his voice sounding slightly unsure.

Brian started to shake his head, then thought better of it, choosing to give Gus a verbal response instead. “No, I’m okay. Looks like maybe driving in circles wasn’t the best idea,” Brian chuckled. “Just don’t tell your mom she was right.”

“I’m sorry.” Gus immediately felt guilty for even suggesting this particular activity, especially in light of how sick he knew his dad had been the day before.

“No worries, Sonny Boy.” Brian tried to smile, although he wasn’t sure how sincere it looked, given that he was still more than a little bit queasy, but he managed to stand up and keep himself upright, so he figured he’d count that as a win.

Electing to continue their day together with a less strenuous activity, they spent some time walking through the park, catching up on what had been going on in their lives for the last several weeks, and even taking a stroll through the conservatory. After a couple hours though, Gus could tell by his dad’s sluggish movements and the fact that he was leaning against something at every opportunity, that he was getting tired. Every time Gus tried to suggest that they go home, though, Brian would insist that he was fine and that they should keep on going.

Eventually, Gus had to make an excuse that he’d forgotten to take something to a friend that said friend supposedly really, really needed, in order to get his dad to agree to go back to the house. Of course, that meant Gus actually had to leave for a little while, pretending to “deliver” said item to his friend who lived a couple of streets away, but it was worth it if it meant he could get his dad to go home and rest. The remainder of the afternoon and evening were much more low-key, spent mostly on the couch, while Brian conserved his energy.

J.R., of course, spent the entire afternoon and evening no more than a few feet from Brian at all times, if she could help it, no matter how many times Gus shot her a dirty look. And most of the time, when Brian glanced over at her, she was practically staring at him, with this goofy, star-struck look on her face. It was kind of funny, honestly, because it reminded Brian so much of Michael, especially in their younger years.

By dinner, Brian was finally feeling mostly back to normal -- thank god. But after spending several hours with the whole Marcus-Peterson clan, Brian was ready to retire to his room to call Justin and find out how his show opening had gone. Justin had been on his mind all night -- and not just because Brian was missing him physically. Justin kept insisting that this show was “just another show,” no big deal, but Brian didn’t really see any of Justin’s shows that way. To Brian, they were all important, because they meant his husband was the big, fat, fucking success that he’d always known he would be.

The first time Brian tried calling, Justin’s phone rang through to voicemail. By all accounts, he should’ve been home by then, but Brian figured perhaps someone had offered to take him out for celebratory drinks; he certainly deserved it. While he waited for more time to pass, he showered, and stomached one more episode of The Big Bang Theory when Gus came knocking with his iPad, wanting just a little more “Dad” time without any of the females in his life present. Just as the show was wrapping up, Brian’s phone lit up with Justin’s face.

“Can I answer it, Dad?” Gus asked. Brian nodded, sure Justin would be happy with the surprise.

From the sounds of things on Gus’ end of the conversation, Justin had had a great night, and Brian couldn’t wait to ask him about it. Finally, Gus said, “Yeah, I hope so too… Okay, see you soon,” and held the phone out to Brian. “I’ll see myself out,” he added, smirking. Brian threw a pillow at him that hit the door instead as it closed. Gus’ laughter echoed beyond it.

“Little shit,” Brian muttered, moving the phone to his ear. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Justin replied, and the sound of his voice alone made Brian itch to have him close. As happy as he was to have three more days in Toronto with Gus, being away from Justin was harder than usual -- and, Brian thought cheekily to himself, not in a positive, life-affirming way.

“So tell me how brilliant you were.”

Justin shuffled something, sounding like he was switching the phone to the other ear. Brian hoped it was because he was getting comfortable in bed so they could engage each other in at least a little fun, despite their distance. Getting off without Justin’s actual presence wasn’t his first choice, but if he could at least come with the sound of Justin’s voice guiding him, it would be enough for now.

“I didn’t do much. The only painting I had in the show was the one I debuted at the Spring show we did. The blue and green geometric abstract that you’ve already seen. I promised Margo that I’d have three more for the one we’re doing next month.”

“I know that’s all you had in it -- that’s why I didn’t feel too bad missing it. You know I’d have been there if you were showing something new.”

There was a clunk, as if Justin had dropped the phone, but he came back on the line quickly, laughing a little. “I know. Sorry.”

“What are you doing?” Brian asked. His hand had been resting near the button of his fly, waiting for Justin to indicate that he was ready to go, but he let it flop down to the bed, realizing that he was probably a little ahead of himself.

“Oh, just putting some things away,” Justin replied. “I just put you on speakerphone so I can use both my hands.”

Brian grinned. “Kinky. Why don’t we FaceTime so I can watch?”

“I am one-hundred percent clothed right now, and moving around the room, so I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“If you’re busy, we can talk later. Or tomorrow.” Brian knew he was probably starting to sound irritated, and he really didn’t mean to -- the night was supposed to be about Justin. But they almost always celebrated his successes with spectacular bedroom sessions, and Brian had hoped that he’d be able to offer Justin some sort of reward, as well as get himself off in the process -- especially since it had been over 48 hours since his last orgasm. Honestly, he couldn’t remember the last time that had happened, making it yet another thing about this trip that harkened back to his days of radiation treatment.

“Sorry,” Justin said again. “I’ve just been so busy getting ready for the show that I didn’t have a chance to catch up on some things I needed to do here.”

Brian sighed. “It’s fine. I just… I really miss you. And I’m so fucking horny hearing your voice. And I hate that you can’t be here to do something about it.”

“I miss you too,” Justin said, then paused thoughtfully. “How about this. If you can stick it out ‘til tomorrow morning, I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”

Brian considered the offer. Truth be told, he was barely hard now, so there wasn’t much he could do for himself, and the thought of having Justin on a FaceTime call so they could actually watch each other was enough for him to be willing to agree. “Fine. But just be warned, J.R. is a fucking piranha when it comes to stalking me. So there’s a good chance we’ll get interrupted.”

Justin laughed loudly. “Oh my god. She really is Michael’s daughter.”

“That’s what I keep thinking,” Brian agreed.

“Well get some sleep. I’m glad you’re feeling better, at least.”

“I almost lost my breakfast on a go-kart track earlier,” Brian admitted, “but other than that, all systems go. I think I should be back to normal by tomorrow.”

“Good!” Justin chirped brightly. “Then I’ll look forward to it.”

“Me too.”

“Love you,” Justin said, and Brian echoed the sentiment quietly before they said goodnight.

Brian laid his phone on the nightstand and reached up to switch off the lamp, then spent a few minutes just lying there in the dark, thinking about Justin and wondering when he’d become such a sap who couldn’t stand to spend a couple of days away from his husband. But at least he had the promise of a lewd phone call to look forward to in the morning, even if they couldn’t physically be together.

After he rolled over onto his side and pulled the blankets up, settling into the fresh, clean-smelling sheets that Lindsay must have changed earlier in the day, bless her, it didn’t take Brian long to fall asleep. The sounds of movement and voices coming from downstairs -- mostly Gus arguing with J.R., it sounded like -- woke him up a little after 8 a.m., and he found himself wondering if Justin was awake yet or if he’d slept in, as he was prone to do after a late night of schmoozing after a show.

Brian got up and sneaked into the bathroom to take a piss, hoping and praying J.R. wouldn’t hear he was up and come running upstairs to spy on him, then tiptoed back across the hall to the guest room and slid back between the sheets to await Justin’s call.

Nearly an hour passed while Brian did everything he possibly could to try to distract himself and make the time go by faster. After he’d checked his email a half-dozen times, refreshed the feeds on his various social media accounts more than once, and even spent a few minutes playing one of those stupid, time-wasting games Justin had loaded on his phone expressly for the purpose of sending himself “lives” for his own account, his stomach let out a loud growl, indicating it was ready for food.

Brian sighed and dragged himself back out of bed, pulling on a pair of old, faded sweatpants and a t-shirt -- not exactly his sexiest getup, but hopefully it would keep J.R. from being too big of a pain in the ass, at least for the time being. He walked downstairs, already feeling like he had a lot more energy than he had the day before -- thank god, because he really didn’t want this whole trip to be a struggle just to get out and do things with Gus.

Lindsay was standing in front of the stove again, just as she had been the day before, only this time she was frying bacon, and Brian had to admit that it smelled really, really good. On the counter next to her was a plate piled high with fluffy, golden pancakes -- another thing Brian typically would never admit to putting in his body, but they sure did look delicious. Melanie must have been out for her run, because she wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

“Morning,” Lindsay said brightly, smiling at Brian as she carefully turned each slice of bacon in the skillet. “Did you sleep well?”

Brian shrugged. He’d slept well enough, but he would have slept better if Justin had been willing to engage in a little bit of salacious conversation. Now, he was more than a little bit grumpy because Justin hadn’t yet called.

The conversation between J.R. and Gus had stopped completely the moment Brian stepped into the kitchen, but when Brian turned to look at them, J.R. quickly looked away, a slight flush of embarrassment creeping across her cheeks.

Gus rolled his eyes and let out a loud sigh. “Would you just stop? You’re crushing on my dad! Do you have any idea how creepy that is?”

J.R. turned redder, but didn’t say anything.

“Gus, be nice to your sister,” Lindsay admonished, as she laid slices of bacon in a neat row on a paper towel.

“Tell her to leave Dad alone then,” Gus grumbled.

Lindsay had just opened her mouth to say something else to Gus when the doorbell rang. “Brian, dear,” she said sweetly, “could you go get that for me, so I don’t burn the rest of the bacon?”

Brian raised an eyebrow at her and gestured toward Gus and J.R. “Isn’t that why you had kids? So you’d never have to answer the door again?”

Now it was Lindsay’s turn to roll her eyes. “Well, I figured since you’re still standing up, it would be easier, but if you’d rather--”

“Nevermind,” Brian interrupted her, really not wanting to hear the rest of whatever Lindsay was about to say. It would be easier to just answer the damn door.

As Brian approached the front door, he paused and squinted, because through the frosted pane of glass, though obscured by the pattern in the door, he could see someone who looked a whole hell of a lot like Justin. Brian shook his head. He must be really losing it now if he was starting to imagine he was seeing his husband in completely different countries. He had to pull it together before he greeted some poor, unsuspecting delivery person by flashing a boner in his flimsy sweatpants.

When he opened the door, he froze in place. “What the fuck?”

He was greeted with a full-wattage Sunshine grin as Justin looked up at him, literally beaming. “Surprise!”

Brian stepped back on reflex, giving Justin enough clearance to enter the foyer, and the two just stood and looked at each other for several seconds, Brian still unable to react properly. He felt like he was still not entirely sure that what he was seeing was real, but then Justin moved toward him, and instinctively, Brian leaned down for a kiss. The second their lips met and started to move, all doubt was removed. Justin was most definitely in Toronto, in his arms, and kissing him like he knew it was the one thing he needed most in the world at that very second.

After what was probably unacceptably long to be making out in plain sight, in someone else’s home, they were brought back to reality by a voice from the kitchen doorway.

“Did they even come up for air once?”

“Jenny Rebecca,” Lindsay chided gently, but even she sounded amused.

Brian looked up and smirked, catching Lindsay’s knowing expression. “You fu--” he paused, glancing at J.R., who looked equal parts intrigued and dejected by the display, “you knew he was coming!”

“I did.” Lindsay shrugged.

“I did too,” Gus admitted, smiling sheepishly at his dad.

“Since when?” Brian demanded, narrowing his eyes at his son.

“Since yesterday morning when he called Mom to coordinate it.”

Now Brian shifted his stare to Justin, who just grinned back impishly. “I told you. Surprise!”

Brian shook his head as Justin made his way around the room, distributing greetings and hugs to everyone else. Somewhere in the mix, Melanie returned from her run and greeted Justin as well, making it clear that everyone in the house but Brian had been in on the secret. As much as he wasn’t actually a huge fan of surprises, he was touched that they’d all orchestrated it for him, especially given how badly he’d wanted Justin to be there.

He was about to suggest that Justin take his bags upstairs, which would give Brian at least a few minutes completely alone with him, to welcome him properly, but Lindsay effectively put an end to that by announcing that breakfast was ready. Justin, who had never met a meal he could refuse, and was likely hungry after his early morning travel, immediately headed into the kitchen, leaving Brian standing alone in the foyer again, trying to figure out the best way to conceal the remnants of his hopeful erection. Sweatpants had been a horrible idea, it turned out.

Not particularly wanting to give J.R. anything else to stare at or to ask her mothers about, Brian elected to go upstairs and change into a pair of jeans that might serve as better camouflage for how turned on he was at the moment, though he still wished he would have had an opportunity to convince Justin to delay his breakfast by just a few minutes so he could service his poor, sex-starved husband. But, since he hadn’t, he figured he might as well go back downstairs and have some breakfast himself.

By the time Brian got back to the kitchen, everyone was already serving themselves.

“Would you like me to make you an omelet?” Lindsay asked, already pushing back her chair and starting to stand up.

Brian shook his head and grabbed a plate off the stack that was sitting on the counter and started to plate up some pancakes and bacon for himself, which earned him a confused look from Lindsay and a teasing grin from Justin.

“That must have been some food poisoning,” Justin commented. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright? I think it’s addled your brain.”

“Shut up,” Brian muttered, shoving Justin’s shoulder gently as he took a seat next to him at the table. As much as he loved Justin, and as thrilled as he was to have him in Toronto, he wasn’t particularly in the mood to entertain Justin’s good-natured teasing about his eating habits. Not when he was trying to conceal a semi and eat breakfast at the same time. Two days of not eating very much and throwing up most of what he did eat had left Brian’s jeans hanging off of his already slender frame, so he figured he had room for a few slices of bacon and a couple of pancakes, and he didn’t particularly want any comments from the peanut gallery.

Luckily, Justin didn’t mention it again, and no one else at the table brought it up either. He did eat some fruit, too -- so he wasn’t just eating carbs and fatty meat -- but he had to admit the bacon and the pancakes were a hell of a lot more satisfying than the light breakfast fare he normally ate in an effort to maintain his physique. Even though he wasn’t going out and picking up tricks anymore, he still wanted to look good -- he was still Brian Kinney after all, despite being at an age he really didn’t want to think about. He knew he had nothing to worry about -- it wasn’t like Justin was going to leave him -- but it made him feel good to know that he still made heads turn at the club. Thank god the dim lighting hid the few gray hairs he kept pretending not to see sprouting at his temples.

Most of the breakfast conversation centered around Justin’s show and the recent developments in his art career, and Brian couldn’t help but notice how interested J.R. seemed to be in that particular discussion. Perhaps she’d somehow picked up a love of real art from Lindsay, instead of inheriting Michael’s penchant for comic books. Nevertheless, it gave Justin and J.R. something to bond over that somehow, Brian hadn’t been previously aware of.

Once they’d all had their fill of pancakes and bacon and nearly emptied the platters Lindsay had filled earlier in the morning, Lindsay and Mel set to cleaning up the kitchen, while Brian, Justin, and Gus discussed plans for the day. J.R. appeared to be stuck somewhere in the middle, not quite sure if she should be helping her moms clean up, or if she’d be included in the plans Gus, Justin, and Brian were making.

“Since it’s so beautiful outside,” Justin said, gesturing toward the window, where the morning sun was already streaming in, “I thought it might be nice to just walk around the city and check out some of the street art, and from there we’ll just see what sounds good to us.”

Justin’s plan sounded good to Brian, except for the fact that it was going to significantly delay the less-than-family-friendly activities he wanted to do with his husband. But, since everyone was awake and active, he supposed there wasn’t going to be much he could do about that until much, much later, so he might as well make the best of it and try to enjoy the day.

“I found this map,” Justin continued, as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and brought up a website. “It shows the location of a lot of the different murals there are around the city. I know we’ve seen some before when we’ve been out walking around, but we’ve never gone out looking for them. And some of them change, so… anyway, I thought it might be cool to check out.”

“I didn’t know you were still into street art,” Brian quirked his eyebrow upward as he looked at his husband, thinking about the days of Justin sneaking out in the middle of the night to put up anti-Stockwell posters all over Pittsburgh.

Justin grinned. “I’m always looking for inspiration. Sometimes you find it in unexpected places.”

Gus, meanwhile, looked a little confused, and J.R. seemed more intrigued.

“Ooooh, were you a graffiti artist?” she asked.

“Not exactly.” Justin shrugged. “Let’s just say I was making a statement.”

“Oh, you were making a statement, alright.” Brian leaned in and kissed Justin, fondly remembering the night they’d gone out together, and Justin had given Brian a blowjob in the alley, then proceeded to demonstrate exactly what he thought of Chief Stockwell. Although that thought wasn’t really helping Brian’s cause when it came to getting through the day without jumping his husband’s bones, so he tried to push it out of his mind and focus on the task at hand. “Sounds good to me if it sounds good to you, Sonny Boy.”

“Sure,” Gus agreed, although Brian knew from past experience that Gus wasn’t picky when it came to spending time with his dads. He’d agree to just about anything, and, as he’d demonstrated over the last couple of days, he was even content to just stay home and hang out -- a trait he’d inherited more from Lindsay than from Brian.

“Can I go?” J.R. cut in, her big, brown eyes wide and hopeful. “Please?”

Gus let out a loud sigh. “Why, so you can stare at Dad?”

“Gus,” Lindsay said in a warning tone, without even looking up from the dishwasher.

“No,” J.R. said defensively. “I like art.”

“I don’t have a problem with it if your moms are okay with it,” Justin said, ever the diplomat.

“I think it sounds like a great idea,” Lindsay said. “You have my blessing.”

“Can you act like a normal human being?” Gus grumbled.

“Yes,” J.R. said, her tone more smug this time. “Which is more than I can say for you, like ever.”

“Shut up,” Gus groaned. “God, you’re annoying.”

“Gus,” came Lindsay’s voice again.

“What? She started it.”

“I don’t care who started it; you’re both ending it, right now,” Lindsay said, turning around with her hands on her hips in that no-nonsense, mom-like sort of way. “You’ll have a lot more fun with your dads if the two of you aren’t fighting.”

A little more than an hour later, they were exploring near downtown, relatively peacefully, using Justin’s phone to guide them as they took in a diverse variety of murals on their way to Graffiti Alley, which was just about the mecca of street art in Toronto, showcasing many different styles and colors. It was over a half-mile long, and every square inch was covered in art of some kind. Brian saw more of Michael in J.R. as she looked around in wonder, her mouth hanging open, occasionally uttering things like, “Wow, this is so cool.”

She did manage to keep her promise to act like a normal human being, and had stopped staring at Brian, thank god. For the time being, she seemed more focused on talking to Justin about art than on whatever pre-teen fantasy she was entertaining about Brian. Meanwhile, the only fantasy Brian was entertaining was one about Justin, and all of the things he was going to do to him whenever they were finally alone.

Of course, since Graffiti Alley was in the fashion district, that meant Brian had to do some shopping, but he managed not to do too much damage -- only because Justin kept reminding him that whatever he purchased did need to fit in his suitcase for the return trip to New York. Although, seriously, what harm would there be in picking up some new luggage as well? In any case, he did listen to Justin, even if just because he didn’t want to hear any more comments about how he already had two walk-in closets full of clothes at home in New York.

By the time they headed back to the house in the early evening, Brian was more than ready to drag Justin upstairs and have his way with him, but this time it was Lindsay who was serving as the cockblock, because she’d prepared a dinner that was fitting of a fucking Norman Rockwell painting. And by the look she gave Brian when he glanced hopefully at Justin and then the staircase, it was clear that she obviously expected everyone to sit down and enjoy, given that she’d apparently spent the whole damn afternoon slaving over a hot stove.

“I hope everyone’s hungry!” she chirped, arranging potatoes and vegetables around a perfectly roast chicken on a platter.

“The only thing I want to eat right now is your ass,” Brian murmured in Justin’s ear, pressing a hand into his hip suggestively. Justin snorted and shushed him, though he followed up with a sympathetic smile that indicated he was having similar feelings by this point in the day. Though their time with Gus and J.R. had been enjoyable, they were both looking forward to some unsupervised adult fun, especially after several days without.

“C’mon everyone, let's eat while the meat’s hot,” Lindsay continued.

Justin cast Brian a warning look that said, Don't you fucking dare comment. Brian simply shrugged innocently and gave his husband his best angelic smile.

Dinner was fortunately not as long and drawn out as Brian had feared it would be, though he hadn't anticipated that there would also be after-dinner festivities that he was expected to attend. Since Melanie and Lindsay hadn't joined the daytime activities, they had planned a family night, complete with board games and a movie, by the end of which even Justin was having a hard time containing himself due to being pressed against Brian’s side for two hours, but unable to touch him in a non-PG-rated manner.

More than once, Brian noticed the slight tenting in his husband’s jeans and cursed that they hadn't thought of grabbing a blanket to grant themselves some privacy so they could at least enjoy some discreet hand action. But, he figured, for one, Justin and quiet didn't really go hand-in-hand when it came to sex, and two, having not properly gotten off since their last morning together, Brian figured it would be worth the wait to come when he and Justin could be truly devoted to the task at hand.

Finally, as it neared ten o’clock, Gus was yawning from his position on Brian’s right side, and J.R. was barely staying awake where she’d curled up with a pillow on the floor, so Lindsay and Melanie suggested they head to bed, not entirely missing the hungry looks Brian and Justin had been shooting each other for the better part of the evening.

“I think we’ll head to bed too,” Justin said after the kids had gone upstairs, trying to sound inconspicuous, and feigning a yawn for good measure.

“Yeah, I’m beat,” Brian added.

Lindsay nodded. “I’m sure you are, after the long day you’ve had.” She continued, now in sotto-voce, “Just try not to sleep too loudly.”

“Yeah,” Melanie added, amusement sparkling in her eyes. “And if you sleep too much, change the sheets in the morning.”

Justin had the decency to blush, but Brian simply smirked and flipped her off.

When they finally made it to Lindsay and Melanie’s guest room and had the door closed and locked behind them, they turned to each other almost as if unsure what to do.

“Alone at last,” Brian offered, spreading his arms to emphasize the empty space.

Justin smiled. “I almost feel like it’s my wedding night and I’m about to lose my virginity. I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated sex this much, and it’s only been three days. It just wasn’t the same, especially knowing you weren’t feeling well.”

Brian eyed him speculatively. “Did you come without me?” His voice had taken on a lower, more seductive tone that made Justin’s dick react.

“Only in the shower a few times,” Justin admitted. “I thought of you each time, though.”

Brian nodded, taking a step closer to Justin and licking his lips. “I haven’t come at all. Not once since the last time you put those pretty lips around my cock during our last shower at home.”

Justin’s moaned involuntarily in response and his eyes slipped closed. Brian closed the distance between them and finally kissed Justin in the way he’d been craving all day, taking what he wanted and giving it back tenfold.

“I want you inside me,” Justin whispered when they separated briefly. “I want to feel it when you come for the first time tonight.”

Brian grinned, raising an eyebrow. “First time?”

Justin shrugged, his fingers already working at the buttons of Brian’s shirt. “I don’t think once will be enough.”

“Say no more.”

Brian made short work of Justin’s clothes, before removing most of the rest of his own, until they were making out and grinding against each other, both only clad in boxer briefs. The two thin layers of fabric were all that separated the heat of their matching arousals, and the friction somehow made the anticipation even more intense than if they’d immediately gone straight for full skin-on-skin contact.

“Do you know how much I’ve wanted you?” Brian murmured, finally lowering Justin down to the bed. He didn’t wait for Justin’s response before he started licking trails up and down Justin’s neck and chest, pausing to give attention to each of his nipples, dipping into his navel, and then tracing a line near Justin’s hip bones, along the waistband of his underwear before moving past it entirely and nipping at Justin’s inner thighs. “I’ve wanted every inch of your body,” he continued, proving just that.

Justin moaned again, trying desperately to maintain their promise to Lindsay and Melanie to keep it down, but his husband was in rare form. Brian was rarely about the foreplay, though he enjoyed making sex fun and pleasurable for both of them. When he led, he tended to focus more on actions that expedited things toward the main event, and then put his energy into fucking Justin senseless. Justin was the one who was typically the more tender lover when he was in control, making sure he paid attention to all of Brian’s erotic zones before sucking or riding his cock. This time however, Brian was pulling out all the stops, and Justin was loving it. It was definitely one of the benefits of having the same lover for over a decade and a half -- Brian knew Justin’s body as well as his own, and even though he didn’t normally resort to such lavish attention, he certainly knew where to go and what drove Justin wild.

By the time Brian had Justin fully exposed, his moans had turned into much quieter, but even more desperate whimpers that continued as Brian painstakingly opened him up with both fingers and tongue. He didn’t dare attempt to touch Justin’s cock at this point, realizing that he was so turned on that even the slightest disruption could set him off, effectively ending their intended mission. Instead, he made sure Justin was prepared as quickly as he could before removing his own briefs and sinking inside his husband in one swift motion, both of them letting out groans that they quickly regretted.

“Fuck,” Brian grumbled, partly from finally getting what he’d been wanting for days, and partly from hoping he hadn’t managed to permanently scar his son via thin bedroom walls. As much as Gus had some awareness of the frequency of his dads’ sex lives, a practical demonstration was far from anything he needed to have on his brain.

“And I’m the one who needs to stay quiet?” Justin teased, though he was quickly challenged as Brian pulled out almost entirely and pushed back in, eliciting another, fortunately quieter, moan as Brian’s cock hit his prostate directly and sent tingles through his entire body. This was the kind of sex he lived for, where Brian made every nerve ending feel alive, and from the way Brian was reacting as he pumped his hips in and out, clinging to Justin’s body and kissing him until their lips felt like they might bruise, Justin knew he felt similarly.

It became clear that Brian was getting close when he finally reached for Justin’s cock, stroking it firmly in time with his thrusts, wanting Justin to come first. Justin obliged, pressing the back of his hand to his mouth to muffle his voice as he cried out, the intensity taking him by surprise as he spasmed around Brian’s cock and shot all over his own chest.

Brian anchored himself, his hands maintaining a vice-like grip on Justin’s hips as he sought his own release, grunting as it happened and stars filled his vision. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a more satisfying orgasm, and he leaned down to kiss Justin again, this time much more gently, in a gesture of thanks.

They stayed lying together quietly for several minutes, both content and coming down from post-orgasmic bliss, before Justin snagged a few tissues from the bedside table to wipe his own come off his chest, and then ran across the hall to the bathroom to take care of Brian’s before it could get anywhere it shouldn’t. He wasn’t sure they’d managed to stay quiet enough to deny their activities to anyone else in the household, but at the very least, he could keep their promise to not mess up the sheets too badly.

When he came back in, he half-expected Brian to be raring to go for round two, but surprisingly, he found his husband tucked into bed, with the covers on Justin’s side pulled back in an inviting fashion. He raised a questioning eyebrow, but Brian simply shrugged.

“I just missed being with you.”

Justin smiled and crawled underneath the blankets, then reached over to turn off the lamp on the nightstand. When he snuggled against Brian, he realized that his husband was still naked, but he was surprisingly soft, and didn’t seem to be housing any ulterior motives beyond full body contact. Justin didn’t dare broach the term “cuddling,” but as he felt Brian’s arms fold around him and pull him close in the dark, he knew he didn’t have to.

***

When Justin woke up, he was still in Brian’s arms, although there was an extra element now that hadn’t been there the night before -- Brian’s hard cock pressing into his hip. Justin looked over his shoulder and grinned at his husband, who was already awake.

“Good morning to you too,” Justin said in a low voice, before rolling over to kiss Brian, enjoying the feel of Brian’s erection pressing against him, which was quickly making him hard as well. Their lips moved together, and Justin felt himself becoming more aroused as he pulled away, briefly sucking at Brian’s bottom lip before tracing a path down Brian’s chin, neck, and torso with a combination of soft kisses, licks, and nibbles that he knew would drive Brian crazy. Brian was already biting back moans before Justin’s mouth even reached its destination, and once it got there, Justin did everything he could to draw out the pleasure for his partner, before orgasm overcame him and he shuddered and shot into Justin’s mouth.

Brian returned the favor, figuring this was a substantially less messy way for them to both get off so they could hopefully get through the day a little more easily, without constantly having to fight the urge to find a bathroom to go fuck in.

Once they were both sated, they reluctantly climbed out of bed and threw on some clothing before heading down the stairs, where they just caught the tail end of what sounded like a very interesting conversation.

“But I’ll use my allowance to buy the paint. And Jessica is going with me -- she’s starting high school in the fall, so she’s practically an adult.” J.R.’s insistent, pleading voice reminded Brian of when Michael used to try to talk Debbie into letting the two of them do something that was particularly ill-advised.

“No, Jessica is not an adult,” came Melanie’s voice, sounding every bit like the lawyer she was. “And I don’t care who’s going with you, you are not going out to paint graffiti. That’s illegal.”

Clearly J.R. also possessed Melanie’s rebellious streak, Brian thought to himself, suppressing a laugh as he reached the bottom step and turned to grin at Justin over his shoulder.

“Not if we do it in the right place!” J.R. argued.

“It doesn’t work that way. You still have to have permission from the building owner, otherwise it's vandalism. And I said no. Period, the end.”

“But Ma,” J.R. whined, right at the moment Brian and Justin walked into the kitchen.

“Your mom’s right,” Justin said diplomatically. “You can’t just go paint wherever you want. But I did read about a contest being sponsored by a business owner who has a big, blank wall that could use a little beautifying. Artists can submit proposals, and they’ll post them all on Facebook for people to vote, then the winner gets to bring their creation to life. I was going to enter, but I don’t think I’d have time, plus I’m not up here that often. I could help you with your proposal, though… and Jessica, if you want to do it together. Does that sound like something you’d like to do?”

The words were barely out of Justin’s mouth before J.R. was nodding excitedly and begging Melanie to let her do it. Melanie relented, clearly still not thrilled at her daughter’s choice of hobby, although with the stories Brian had heard about Melanie’s teen years, he wasn’t surprised that J.R. had a fondness for pushing the limits. Brian also couldn’t deny how much he loved watching Justin be parental -- so much so that he had a hard time getting through breakfast before he was practically pushing Justin up the stairs and into the bathroom for a shared shower.

Justin had tried to argue that it would be painfully obvious what they were doing if they both disappeared into the bathroom together, but Brian, quite frankly, was too horny to care, choosing to shut down Justin’s objections with an intense, lengthy makeout session that soon had them both stripping their clothes off and stepping into the spray together, unable to keep their hands off of each other.

“You’re so hot when you parent,” Brian growled, preparing Justin as quickly as he could before pushing into him, not wanting the hot water to run out and turn their hot sex into a cold shower. Justin pressed his forehead against the tile and bit his lip to keep his moans of pleasure as quiet as possible as Brian’s hips rocked back and forth against him with well-practiced finesse, until they’d both reached climax for the second time that morning.

Once they’d cleaned themselves up and got dressed, Brian pulled the door open and was surprised to see J.R. leaning against the opposite wall. Her arms were crossed, and her facial expression was definitely one of curiosity and intrigue.

Shit, Brian thought to himself. That was all he needed was for J.R. to have been standing outside the bathroom the entire time they were fucking, because, to be honest, he wasn’t even sure what kind of sounds he’d made while he’d been pounding into his husband.

But all she did was shrug and smile a little, the slightest tinge of pink present in her full cheeks, and step into the bathroom the moment he and Justin had cleared the door.

“See?” Justin hissed, shoving Brian into the guest room and closing the door behind them. “I told you that was a bad idea.”

Brian simply shrugged and said, “She has to find out about sex sometime, doesn’t she?”

“Not from us though. From her mothers. Or Michael.”

Brian laughed. “Do you really think they’re going to send her to Michael to find out about sex? God, I hope not.”

“Well, no, but still, she shouldn’t be hearing any of it from us!”

“Calm down, you don’t even know if she heard anything.” Brian rolled his eyes. “And besides, we had permission.”

“I’m not sure that permission extended to fucking at all hours in front of the children.” Justin smirked.

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to fuck you into the mattress later tonight after everyone’s asleep, then.” Brian leaned in and kissed Justin again, giving him something to look forward to.

So maybe Justin was right and the shower sex hadn’t been Brian’s best idea, but really, he kind of hoped that J.R. had heard or seen whatever it was she wanted to hear or see, so she could finally leave him alone.

Thankfully, she did seem to give up on her stalking activities for most of the day, after she called Jessica to come over and the two girls spent the entire afternoon in Lindsay’s studio with Justin, working on their proposal for the mural painting contest. Meanwhile, Gus and Brian spent the afternoon in the backyard, running soccer drills. Brian was more than a little rusty -- he hadn’t done this with Gus since the previous summer -- but it came back to him quickly. He really enjoyed having soccer as a common interest with his son, especially now that things were starting to get serious, and the idea of college scholarships was being floated around. Secretly, Brian hoped Gus would choose a college in New York, so he’d be closer. But they still had a couple of years to go, and in the meantime, Brian was planning to take every chance he got to come up and visit, or to have Gus come to New York.

Since they were flying back the next evening, Brian and Justin took everyone out for their last dinner together. Brian chose a steakhouse near the harbor that exceeded all their expectations -- especially with their famous Baked Alaska that J.R. couldn’t believe was actually set on fire. Justin had snapped a photo of the wonder in her eyes as the soft glow of the flame lit up her face. Brian had a feeling it would end up as a gift to Melanie at some point in time.

After the kids went up to bed, the adults enjoyed a round of cocktails before retiring to their respective bedrooms for the night. Fortunately, this time, neither of the girls made any suggestive comments to Brian or Justin, but Brian suspected that, from the way Lindsay had suddenly become giggly as the alcohol set in, they weren’t going to have much room to talk.

Under much more normal circumstances than the hormone-driven frenzy they’d experienced the night before, Brian and Justin took their time with each other, using their hands and mouths to get each other prepared before, as promised, Brian fucked Justin long and slow into the mattress, their bodies pressed flush against each other as they moved together. They managed to be much quieter than the night before, but as Justin returned from using the bathroom after they finished and heard an unmistakable cry of pleasure from the master bedroom, he didn’t feel too bad about any prior indiscretions. Besides that, the next night, they’d be back in their own bed (or, really, anywhere in their apartment, if he was being honest) and able to make as much noise as they wanted. It would still be a few years before Lindsay and Melanie could truly know that luxury again.

The next morning, Brian was a little surprised to not find Lindsay making breakfast, as she had the last few mornings. Instead, she suggested they all go check out a diner that wasn’t too far from their house -- one that reminded Brian a heck of a lot of the Liberty Diner and, although he’d never admit it, made him just a tiny bit homesick for the Pitts (or maybe just for one of Debbie’s motherly hugs). J.R. seemed to have made it through the most intense part of her infatuation with Brian, moving more into the admiration phase instead, which Brian could live with, because it meant she actually participated in conversation with others instead of spending most of her time with her gaze fixed on him.

When they returned to the house, J.R. immediately called her friend Jessica, who came over to help finish up their mural design. Although the two girls kept going back and forth to seek Justin’s advice, for the most part, the three men in the house had the afternoon to themselves, and Gus chose to spend it in the finished basement of the Marcus-Peterson house, playing video games with his dads. Brian mostly kept grumbling about how the controller was “too damn complicated” and all you really needed was two buttons and a directional pad, or maybe a joystick, while Gus rolled his eyes and Justin teased Brian about showing his age, choosing to withhold any crude comments about joysticks for the time being.

Even though Brian was getting his ass kicked at Final Fantasy whatever-the-fuck-it-was-now, the time still went by much too quickly, and before he and Justin knew it, it was time to get their ride to the airport. The trip had definitely not gone the way Brian had originally intended it to go, but he had to admit that it hadn’t turned out to be bad at all. It had actually been a pretty great visit, save for the first 24 hours, of course, during which having Melanie and Lindsay around had been vital -- perhaps more vital than he’d ever willfully admit, given how absolutely miserable he’d felt. Even so, he did know that they certainly deserved some thanks for all they’d done -- especially Lindsay, who had even gone so far as to clean up his puke, and did it without batting an eyelash.

Brian, not being much of one for grand gestures of gratitude, took the goodbye hugs they shared on the front sidewalk as his opportunity to say a quiet “thanks” to Mel and Linds for their hospitality, as the car Brian had hired to take them back to the airport idled at the curb. Lindsay gave him a kiss and told him to “be well,” while Melanie gave him a knowing smile -- probably the sincerest one he’d ever seen directed at him from her -- and told him he was welcome there anytime and the next time he said the word, she’d get his room ready.

J.R. thanked Justin for helping her and Jessica with their mural design, then promptly turned beet red when her mothers prompted her to say goodbye to Brian. Perhaps she wasn’t completely over her crush after all.

“So, Sonny Boy,” Brian said as he hugged his son tightly, trying not to get too caught up in the mix of emotions he always felt whenever they went their separate ways at the end of a visit, “see you in New York next month?”

“Where else would I be?” Gus grinned. “I can’t wait.”

As Justin and Brian settled into the back seat of the car and it pulled away from the curb, headed toward the airport, Brian found himself hoping that Gus would always feel that way, even as he crept closer and closer to adulthood. That he’d always save a little time for his old man. Now, Brian was starting to understand all of those people who’d told Lindsay when Gus was young to savor those years because they go by much too quickly -- and he was also beginning to feel a strong desire to somehow stop time so he could enjoy his son’s teenage years before they ran out. But he couldn’t stop time. Gus was growing up, and Brian couldn’t have been prouder of the man his son was becoming. He also couldn’t wait to see what was next for him.

Justin reached across the seat and laced his fingers through Brian’s, giving him a reassuring smile that made it seem like Justin could read his thoughts. Maybe, after so many years together, he could.

“You’re a really great dad,” Justin said, tightening his fingers around his husband’s.

“Why do I feel like you’re always telling me that?”

“Because it’s true. And I know you need to hear it, because it’s still hard for you to believe it. But you are.”

Brian sighed and looked out the window, giving Justin’s words a moment to sink in. Justin wasn’t wrong -- it was still hard for Brian to believe that he could be a good father to Gus, although he was trying his dead-level best. That was all he could do though -- just try. The rest was up to the universe, and to Gus. But Brian did know one thing for sure -- he was going to take the advice that had been offered to Lindsay all of those years ago and savor the time he did have, because it wouldn’t be long before Gus was going off to college, maybe getting married, and having kids of his own.

But they weren’t there yet. They still had time, and Brian was going to enjoy every minute he had to spend with his son -- even the ones that didn’t quite go as planned.

And on top of all of that, he realized that he’d learned a lot from this trip -- not just about the risks associated with filching Thai food from Cynthia (though he was never fucking doing that again), but about some of the people in his life -- his family. He and Melanie would certainly never be best friends, but there was a newfound understanding and respect between them, and he appreciated that more than he ever thought he would.

And Lindsay -- the person in his life who knew him better than almost anyone, save for Justin and Michael. Despite the air he often tried to portray for everyone else, he appreciated the reminder that he never had to be something he wasn’t with her -- whether that was dealing with a dying father, trying to not admit that he was falling in love with a blond-haired boy, believing that he could handle this whole fatherhood thing, or, apparently, emptying his stomach many times over on her living room couch. Lindsay was one in a million, and aside from being the mother of his son, she was one of the best people he could ever hope to have in his court.

The trip had also made him appreciate his husband more than he ever had before -- realizing how much Justin’s companionship and support had meant to him, and it gave him a renewed appreciation for their physical relationship as well. That part never really faltered, if he was being honest, but having that additional emotional component made their lovemaking (did he really just think that?) so much more intense and satisfying.

And then there was Gus. His sweet, perfect, funny, smart, caring Sonny Boy. Every visit they spent together made Brian realize how lucky he was, and the ways he wanted to try to be better. He’d always thought Gus got his nature from Lindsay, and was grateful for it, but Melanie had opened his eyes to something new. If he’d given Gus any part of who he was, aside from the biting sarcasm, which he was happy to own as well, he was both honored and humbled.

Maybe Justin was right. Maybe he wasn’t so bad at this fatherhood thing. Maybe it wasn’t as complicated as his fears and insecurities had made it out to be. Maybe all it took was just being there -- spending time, caring, and taking each moment as it came.

And as he reflected back on the past week, and everything new that he’d gained, he realized that, surprisingly, he was okay with that.