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BRIAN, BRIAN, BURNING BRIGHT

I'm back. Vacation was great, but trip home was the usual travel hell. Here's my first fan fic in some time. Sorry it's not more cheerful, but it's a subject I've wanted to write. Catching up today, saw VF,and yes, he is so damned GORGEOUS and the pix with Randy were so hot, too. Will try to catch up to LJ too. Had a WONDERFUL time! Here's the story, it's unbetaed, so blame only me. Sort of long. Sorry about that. It takes place the morning after the last episode of last season.

Justin was alone in Brian's loft. After a long night spent celebrating Stockwell's defeat, he slept in with Brian. When he finally awoke, it was mid-afternoon and Brian was pacing the loft while he talked to someone on his mobile, deliberately keeping his voice low to avoid waking his lover. Justin eavesdropped when he realized that the "someone" was his own mother, Jennifer.

"I know what it's worth, but I need a quick sale. No, even quicker. Frankly, it would be nice to have a buyer before my next mortgage payment comes due," he noticed Justin was awake, and said, "Can I call you back? Thanks." He ended the call and cut a glare in Justin's direction as Justin wandered into the room. "Your Mom says hi."

"Are you dumping the loft?"

"Unless you can afford the monthly hump, yeah. What choice do I have?"

Justin slipped his arms around Brian's lean frame, but Brian edged away from him mistaking comfort for pity. "It's not tragic. Even at a discount, I'll make enough money to get another place, although it'll be less fabulous."

"But you love the loft, Brian."

"It's just bricks and glass and wood, Sunshine. People flip houses all the time. I have to go out for awhile. I have an appointment. Go back to bed if you want."

"How do you plan to get there? Mikey has your car," Justin restrained his desire to inquire about this "appointment". He sensed that Brian needed some space. Reading Brian's moods and not over-personalizing the reasons behind his moodiness was a key to their success as a couple. That success, Justin had realized, was the main key to his own happiness.

Brian cursed, having momentarily forgotten about that aspect of the previous night's events. "I don't have far to walk. The exercise will do me good. I've been neglecting my workout regimen."

Justin looked up to receive Brian's lukewarm goodbye kiss. It was obvious that now that the elation over Stockwell's defeat was over, Brian was realizing the enormity of what he had given up for the cause. Justin had never felt more proud of Brian, but he knew how important appearances were to his lover and how naked he must feel right now. He reluctantly gave him the space Brian was silently demanding and crawled back to bed, still feeling a little hungover and headachey. His ass was sore from a relentless night of fucking until Brian finally had enough and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Less than thirty minutes after Brian left, there was a knock at the door. Justin had slipped into a doze, so he was disoriented as he rolled out of bed and slid open the metal door. Wearing only his sweat pants, Justin felt the chill of a wintry morning as the weather came in from the hallway. He found himself facing a boy who reminded him a lot of Brian. He had Brian's hazel eyes, slim frame and chestnut hair. Justin had never seen anyone other than Gus who reminded him of Brian, and this was definitely not Gus. The kid was probably nine years old, and his fair skin was chapped from being out too long in the cold. His lips had a bluish tinge, and he stared at Justin, confused.

"Who are you?" The kid asked and Justin frowned.

"Who are you?" He answered, wondering if Brian had some long lost son he knew nothing about. This kid even had Brian's perfect nose.

"Where's my uncle Brian?"

Justin exhaled slowly. So he must be Claire's younger one, the brother of the bad seed who filed the false report on Brian earlier in the year. Unlike his older brother, this boy was very much a Kinney in appearance, and luckily for him, he took after the more attractive Kinney sibling. As much as he despised the older nephew, Justin had no reason to resent this one. "Your uncle is out. Did he know you were stopping by?"

The kid shook his head. "Can I use the bathroom?"Justin hesitated, unsure of where Brian stood on his family issues. The kid's nervous movement from foot to foot suggested urgency as he added, "Please?"

Justin decided Brian wouldn't appreciate a puddle of piss in his doorway, so he waved him in. There wasn't much left to steal, if the kid had that in mind. Justin directed him to the bathroom and then pulled on Brian's oversized sweatshirt and a pair of socks. He was in the kitchen, making coffee, when the kid came out, having removed his coat, hat and gloves, obviously planning to stay. "What's your name? I'm Justin."

"Peter," he looked around at the empty loft. "Did my uncle get robbed?"

`Other than by your brother?' Justin wanted to ask, but he controlled himself. "No, he sold everything."

"Why?"

"To pay for something he believes in."

"Even his television?"

"Yeah, even that. Shouldn't you be in school, Peter?"

The kid looked stricken. "You can't make me go!"

Justin held up his hands to avoid a confrontation. "Don't have a cow. I'm not your truant officer. Just asking. Want something to eat? Not a lot in Mizz Hubbard's cupboard, but I could make you a grilled cheese sandwich."

"Okay," the kid brightened at that prospect, obviously starving. "Who are you?"

Justin frowned, setting up a sandwich for each of them as the pan pre- heated on the stove. How did he explain who he was to a little kid? "I'm a friend of Brian's. Does your mom know you're here?"

"No. Don't tell her. She'll get mad."

"I promise," Justin said with a smirk. As if he would tell Claire anything. They ate their sandwiches and Justin had a Coke with his coffee, a double hit of caffeine, while the kid just had a Coke. They were cleaning up the kitchen when Brian walked in. It had begun to snow, and his cheeks were flushed from the walk. Melting flakes clung to his hair and veiled his black leather jacket in lace.

"It's colder than..." he paused when he saw his nephew in the kitchen with his lover. "What the fuck?"

"You have a visitor," Justin said tensely.

"Was Claire here?" Brian asked, clouding up with anger. Justin soothed him by pressing his palms to his chest.

"He showed up on his own and she doesn't know he's here. Something's up, Brian. I'll disappear so you two can talk."

"Don't you dare. I won't be alone with her kids, not after what his fucking brother did to me."

Justin sighed. He didn't even think of that, but Brian was right. It was too dangerous. Brian put a hand on his nephew's shoulder and Justin was again struck by how similar they were in appearance. Did Brian see it too?

"What are you doing here, Petey?"

"I was cold and I had to go to the bathroom."

"I hear that, but you don't live anywhere near me."

"My school is close to your house."

"So you came from school?" he pictured the parish school a few blocks east of Tremont. A red brick monstrosity full of nuns and the religious bullshit Brian never missed when he left the parochial school system for a whole other set of problems in the secular schools.

Peter looked away from Brian's intense gaze as he nodded. "Don't tell mama."

"It's too early for the day to end, isn't it?"

Peter nodded.

"So you just left? On your own?"

He nodded again. A big crystal tear formed and rolled down his smooth cheek when he blinked. Brian lifted the kid's chin on his fingertips and stared down at him. "You want to tell me what's wrong?"

Peter shook his head, and Brian sighed. "I think you do, or you wouldn't be here. Come on, sit down." He led him to the bed and they sat on the edge of it since there was no other furniture on which to sit. "So what's the problem, Petey?" Brian asked as Justin used stealth to slip the condoms and lube into a drawer, out of the kid's sight.

"Johnny says you hate us now," Peter said, referring to his hateful older brother.

"I'm not real fond of your brother or your mother right now, but that has nothing to do with you, kid. You hungry?"

"Justin fed me."

Brian shot his lover a grateful look and Justin smiled, enjoying the gentle side of Brian that often came out around children. "I had some days I didn't want to go to school too, Petey. But I learned if I skipped school, I'd never get into college and if I didn't go to college, I'd never get a decent job. Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do in order to achieve a goal." Brian winced as he heard himself pontificate like a fucking guidance counselor. "Is someone giving you a hard time at school?"

Peter nodded, not looking up, suddenly fascinated by his battered tennis shoes. His gaze was fixed firmly on his toes. "Uncle Brian, is that your baby in that photograph over there?" He motioned to the framed photo of Brian holding Gus when Gus was less than a month old.

Brian allowed him to deflect. "Yeah, that's Gus. My son. But he's a lot bigger than that now. He'll be three."

"Is he my cousin?"

"Yeah, I guess he is your cousin, Petey."

"Mama never told me you had a baby."

"Your mother has her own view of me. I'm not exactly the person she probably tells you I am."

Peter looked over at him. "I know. I like you. You're funny."

Brian smiled as Justin chuckled at that remark. "I am, huh? Interesting."

"I know Johnny said a very bad thing about you, Uncle Brian. I knew it was a lie and I felt bad about it. I told him it was wrong and I told Mama not to believe him but she never listens to me."

"Don't worry about that, Pete. The truth came out, didn't it?"

"Yes," he hesitated, then asked. "Who is your baby's mama?"

"A friend of mine. Her name is Lindsay. He lives with her."

"You got a divorce?" Peter was a child of a messy and contentious divorce. His father was absentee. Brian presumed that was a predictable question.

"No, Petey, we were never married. We're just good friends. We still are."

"Oh, because Mama says you're gay."

"I am gay. So what?" Brian responded tensely while Justin winced.

"Doesn't that mean you like boys instead of girls?"

"I like girls just fine, but I don't date girls. I date boys."

Justin enjoyed Brian's stretch of the word, "date". Peter glanced at Justin. "Is Justin your boyfriend?"

"In an unconventional, undefined way, yes."

Justin laughed as Peter looked confused. "What does that mean?"

"It means `yes', I'm his boyfriend," Justin clarified it for him and for Brian, who smirked at the blond, but didn't correct him.

"Yes, he's my boyfriend," Brian confirmed.

Peter was quiet for a minute, and then he said, "I don't like that stuff."

"What stuff?"

"That sex stuff."

Brian laughed. "How old are you now? Nine?"

Peter nodded and Brian continued. "Give it a couple years. I didn't like it at your age either."

Justin felt a glimmer of concern. What did this kid know about that `sex stuff' as he put it? How did he know enough not to like it? Was something going on in his young life, something he couldn't control, something that terrified him? At nine, sex had been completely abstract to Justin. Sure, it felt good to handle his own prick, and he was curious about all the hype, but it was a low priority until the hormones kicked in at puberty.

"Brian..." Justin motioned him over, and Brian walked with him, letting him lead him over to the window, out of Peter's earshot. Justin put a hand on Brian's waist and spoke softly to him. "I think maybe something's happened to Peter. Maybe at school, or with someone at the school. Something sexual."

Brian looked confused. "He's too young for that. Even for a Kinney."

"It doesn't mean he was a willing accomplice. Maybe he was molested. Something's bothering him, and why would he say that about not liking sex?"

"It's probably just bullies or bitchy nuns who ran him out of school. Don't immediately jump to conclusions that he was fondled or something. That sounds like his brother, when he accused me of something I didn't do."

"Just because his brother is a thief and a liar doesn't mean this kid isn't vulnerable to an attack by a predator."

Brian met Justin's gaze with an expression that varied between fear and fury. "I..I can't deal with that. He needs to tell his mother if it's true."

"Would you confide in Claire? Especially after he saw what happened when Johnny falsely accused you. I'm sure he fears he won't be believed. I could be wrong, Brian, but....the kid came to you."

Brian sighed and returned to Peter, who looked apprehensive. "I guess I should go," Peter said, but Brian shook his head.

"Not yet. You want to tell me what's going on? Are people at school giving you a hard time?"

Peter shrugged, "Kind of."

"Other kids?"

He shook his head.

"The nuns?"

Again, he shook his head.

"Who, then?"

"No one, I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay," Brian let him back up a step. "You still playing soccer? I remember you're a good soccer player."

Peter looked up at him with those Brian eyes and said, "I quit the team."

"Why?"

Peter shrugged. "I just don't want to do it anymore."

"Since when? I thought you loved it." Soccer was the one topic of conversation he could revert to whenever he had been around his nephew.

"I don't have to play if I don't want to!" Peter exploded angrily.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Brian said calmly. "I loved to play when I was your age."

"What do you care? You never came to any of my games!"

"I never knew when you were playing, Petey," Brian was surprised by the kid's obvious disappointment in the fact that he hadn't watched him play. He was sure Peter's father didn't bother to go to games. He had a new wife now and a baby on the way. Except for paying child support, usually late and often not at all, he had disappeared from the lives of his two sons. Brian never understood how anyone could marry Claire, much less breed with her, but he resented his former brother-in-law's abdication of his parental responsibilities. And he remembered his own bitter disappointment when Jack Kinney was always "too busy" to watch Brian play.

"Did you ask when I was playing?" Peter wouldn't let it go.

Brian didn't feel he was the one who should take delivery on this perceived neglect. "Well, uh, I'm not sure your Mom would want me there."

"What about me? What about what I want?"

"What do you want, Peter?" he asked. The boy stood up and gathered his coat and hat.

"I can go home now. It's late enough."

"Not so fast, cowboy," Brian took his arm and led Peter back to the bed, sitting him down. "It's snowing hard out there, now. You're not walking all the way home in this storm."

"Will you give me a ride in your Corvette?" Peter asked hopefully and Brian laughed.

"Sorry kid, the Vette is being borrowed by a friend. But I'll get you home safely. Should you call your Mom and let her know you're okay?"

"Why? She's at work. I don't see her until dinnertime anyway."

"You stay home alone after school?"

"I have a key. And Johnny is usually there."

"That's a comfort," Brian said wryly. "Tell you what, why don't you let Justin show you some games on his computer and I'll order us a pizza. That sound good?"

Peter brightened up at that prospect, and Justin led him over to the computer as Brian picked up the portable phone and dialed a number. He asked for his sister when he reached the switchboard, and Claire finally came on the line, sounding harried. She was in customer service for the electric utility, and he imagined any snowstorm increased her workload.

"Claire, it's Brian." Those were the first words he had spoken to his sister since the debacle following John's false report. She was stunned by the identity of her caller.

"Brian? What do you want? I'm very busy."

"Peter is at my place. He skipped school, apparently."

"What? Peter is a model student! He's never caused me any trouble at all! Why would he leave school and how would he end up at your place?"

"He knows where I live, Claire.You've brought him over here yourself. I'm close to his school. I guess he just wanted to come in out of the cold."

"Send him home! I'll deal with him later."

"In this storm?"

"Well then drive him to my house! Is that too big a deal for you?"

"My car's not available."

"God, Brian, you are such a pain! I'm buried in work! I'll come get him on my way home, but it may be later than usual. I think I'll be putting in some overtime today."

"Whenever. Call when you're on your way. And Claire, something is really bothering him. I don't know what it is, but he's very troubled."

"What do you know about kids, Brian? I'm sure it's the usual kid crap. I should have problems that small."

"How do you know how small it is when you don't even know what it is?"

"Shut up, Brian! I have to go." She hung up and he swallowed a curse as he pushed speed dial to connect with their favorite pizza place.

II.

By the time Claire called to say the intensity of the snowstorm would prevent her from retrieving her son, Peter was already asleep in the middle of Brian's bed. She also informed her brother that Peter's school was cancelled tomorrow due to weather, so she would probably have to leave him with Brian one more day. Brian would have protested more rigorously if not for the fact the snowstorm was also preempting his own plans for the following day. At least Justin was trapped there with them.

After ensuring Peter was still sleeping soundly, Brian used a down comforter and pillows to make a bed for Justin and him on the floor of the main room. They opened the drapes to watch the snow fall as they made love in a stealthy way that increased their pleasure by adding an element of potential discovery and danger. A shared exhibitionist trait was one of the bindings that kept them close, only that night neither of them wanted to be observed by their intruder. After the sex, they huddled together more for the warmth than for the potential for another round.

"Should I have gone to his soccer games?" Brian asked, and Justin sighed.

"Whatever's bothering him, don't let him drag you into his nightmare, Bri. He's not really angry with you. He's just hurting."

"Man, that shrink visit paid off for you, didn't it?" Brian teased, and Justin chuckled.

"I like Peter. He looks so much like what you must have looked like at that age."

Brian shrugged. "That's what they tell me, and I guess I can see it. But I was nothing like Peter. He's a quiet kid, kind of shy, and I was a smart ass. It sounds like he's fucking off in school and I made good grades from the beginning. God, I can't imagine what it's like living with that whack job, Claire. I thought I had it bad, but shit. She's never had her head on straight. And that moron she married is a total loser. No wonder her kids are fucked up."

"Maybe, but I think this is something outside of Claire's influence."

Before Brian could respond, Peter startled them both by screaming. He was sitting up in bed, his eyes wide open and his face contorted in terror as he screamed as if he were being devoured. The Calvin Klein t-shirt belonging to Brian that was doubling as Peter's nightshirt had slipped from one shoulder, making him appear even smaller and more vulnerable.

Justin turned on the light as Brian ran over to the bed, sitting beside the boy, unsure of what to do. "Peter..." he reached for him and the boy shrank from him as he yelled,

"Don't touch me!"

"Petey, it's me...your uncle Brian. It's okay, you had a bad dream, but you're safe now."

The boy scrambled out of the bed and flattened himself against the far wall, staring at Brian in sheer terror as he shook from both the cold and a deeper terror. Justin walked over to Brian and spread his arm across his shoulders, as he said to the boy, "Peter, you're safe. It's Brian and Justin. You're at your uncle's place. Remember?"

"Where's my mom?"

"The storm closed off the streets, Peter," Brian reminded him. "School's closed tomorrow. That's cool, right?"

"I'm cold."

"Come on, kid. Get under the blankets."

Peter walked back to the bed and let them tuck him in, but grabbed Brian's wrist as he turned to walk away. "Will you sleep with me, Uncle Brian? I don't want to be alone."

Brian glanced at Justin and sighed. "I don't think I should, Peter. Your, uh, your mom may not like it." He resented the fact that being gay made him a bigger target than a straight man for claims that he was being a pervert with a male child. Even though statistics proved that most pedophiles were heterosexual, gay men were still reviled as corruptors out to conscript children into their way of life. After Johnny's accusations, Brian felt understandably resistant to giving this child the comfort he needed at the risk of his own freedom.

"Please?" Peter pleaded and Brian looked to Justin, who nodded, encouraging him.

"We both will," Justin said. "A regular pajama party."

Peter looked up at Brian with such unguarded pleading that Brian sighed and slipped in on one side of the kid while Justin stretched out on the other and ultimately all three managed an uneasy sleep.

III.

Claire had no time to spend with her brother and no interest in hearing his opinions on what was wrong with her youngest son when she came by to pick him up the next day. As she bundled Peter up in a heavier, weatherproof coat, she glared at Brian. "Look, thanks for keeping him, but you know nothing about kids, raising kids or what shit kids make up to stay out of trouble."

Brian frowned. "Really? I think I know a little about it, Claire. Your other son was real good at making shit up."

She frowned. "I guess you'll never let that go."

"No, I guess I won't."

"Well I'm not interested in your child psychology," she was directing Peter towards the door, but he paused and ran into Brian's arms. Brian was startled by his impulsive gesture, but he hugged him in an awkward embrace.

"Thanks, Uncle Brian," he said and Brian sighed.

"I may just show up at your next game if you let me know when it is. I like indoor soccer, it's comfortable."

"I told you, I quit soccer!"

"Oh don't be so dramatic, Pete," his mother insisted. "Coach Markham called and he's willing to let you back on the team despite your dramatics and missing those practices."

"I don't want back on the team, Mom!"

"Coach Markham says the discipline and teamwork is exactly what a kid like you needs and I think he's right. If he's kind enough to take you back on the team, then you're playing! And don't tell him you'll go to his game when you and I both know you won't, Brian. Remember how you felt when Daddy said he would go to your games and then he never did? Don't do that to Pete. His own father is a big enough creep without having you add to his disappointment."

Brian glanced at Peter, who was staring at the floor, suddenly chalk pale and silent. He frowned at his sister. "If I say I'll go, I'll go. Call and tell me when and where."

She glanced around the loft as if noticing for the first time how empty it was. "What happened here?"

"Long story, Claire. Don't worry about it. Bye, Petey."

His nephew waved without looking up, following his mother out the door.

"Now you have to go to the game, Brian," Justin said and Brian sighed and nodded, believing it was one more worry on his overloaded plate.

IV.

Two days later, the storm had passed into the record books and Brian found himself spending a late afternoon at an indoor soccer arena, watching his younger nephew play ball. He noticed neither Claire nor the kid's father had bothered to attend. He made sure Peter saw him, acknowledging his searching gaze with a nod. Peter smiled slightly and waved back. Brian wondered if he could sneak out now that he had been seen, but he became enthralled in the game as soon as it started. They were too young to play with finesse, but Peter was obviously one of the better players. He was fast and as aggressive on the field as he seemed passive in other aspects of his life. Brian found himself rooting for him with as much energy as the soccer moms surrounding him rooted for their own progeny. He remembered what it was like to play this game, and how much he loved it before the pressure removed the fun from the sport.

Brian had been a stopper, charged with preventing goals by the other team, while Peter was a shooter, the nemesis of Brian's former position. The coach was a young guy, probably close to Brian's age, and apparently very fit and energetic. He was an enthusiastic supporter when his team played well, but didn't seem overly critical when they slipped. The game ended in a tie, and Peter scored the goal that saved his team from a loss.

As Brian made his way down to the field to congratulate Peter on his playing, the coach was talking to the boy, his hand clamped firmly to his shoulder as if to hold his attention. Peter was doing his looking down routine, although he acknowledged what the coach was saying with an occasional nod of his head.

"So we'll work on your penalty shot for a few and then I'll take you home after we finish," the coach was telling the boy. The man looked suspiciously at Brian as he walked up and Peter ran to him, throwing his arms around Brian as if they were as close as paper and paste. The coach shot Brian a suspicious glare as Brian told Peter he played a good game.

"I'm sorry, do I know you?" The coach said to Brian, who was unmoved by the question.

"No, you don't. I'm Brian Kinney, Peter's uncle."

The man narrowed his eyes at Brian, taking in the physical similarity between them and the boy's obvious affection for his uncle. Was that rivalry Brian saw in the coach's ice blue eyes? Were they competing for the adoration of a fatherless child? The coach shook Brian's hand in a vice-like grip that Brian returned with less force. He wasn't into proving his manhood via his handshake.

"I see. Claire's brother?"

"Yeah. Hey Petey, what do you say I hang around while the coach works with you on your penalty shot, and then we'll get some ice cream and I'll take you home. I got my Vette back from my friend."

"Cool!" Peter said with genuine enthusiasm, but the coach looked tense.

"I'm sorry, but I can't allow that. You see, Claire and I have an understanding. I drive Pete home because he lives on the way to my house. I couldn't let him leave with someone I don't know, especially when Claire never mentioned you might be coming here. You understand, Mr. Kinney. We have to be so careful nowadays with our little ones. I know you're his uncle and I'm sure it's fine, but..."

"No!" Peter complained, his voice shaking with emotion. "I want to go with my Uncle Brian!"

"Now Pete," his coach kept his voice low and reasonable. "Don't be a big baby in front of your uncle. He understands my predicament, don't you, Mr. Kinney?"

"Easily fixed," Brian said, gently prying himself free of Peter's death grip. He pulled out a mobile phone and dialed Claire's work number. When he had her on the line, he explained the situation to his sister, and then handed the phone to the coach. "Claire wants to talk to you," he said, giving Peter a conspiratorial wink as the other man's lips drew into a thin, angry line. They talked briefly and then he handed the call back to Brian. Brian said goodbye to his sister and the coach said,

"It's late, Pete. We'll work on your penalty shots another time. Nice to meet you Mr. Kinney."

"You too," Brian said warily as he led an ebullient Peter from the field. Peter was not accustomed to having adults stand up for him. In the Corvette, he chattered on about the game, the car, even the ice cream, more vocal and enthusiastic than Brian could remember. Being reprieved from working on penalty shots and getting a double scoop of chocolate monkey ice cream shouldn't have been this mood altering. Brian instinctively wondered what was up.

"You know the coach was just looking out for you, right, Petey? He shouldn't let you leave with some guy claiming to be your uncle, not without confirming it with your mom. So don't be mad about that. I'm not."

"You don't get it."

"What don't I get?"

"Nuttin'."

Brian cast him a long gaze. "Coach have a kid on your team?"

"No."

"Does he work at your school?"

Peter nodded, beginning to fidget. Brian went on. "What does he do at your school?"

"Teaches gym."

"Not a priest, is he?"

"No. He's married. His wife is having a baby."

"That's nice."

Peter shrugged, expressing no opinion. Brian continued. "He seems to take a special interest in you, Petey."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Peter snapped and Brian shrugged.

"It means he must see something in your game. Are the other guys hard on you because he favors you? I mean do they think you're teacher's pet or something?"

Peter shrugged, staring down at his hands that were balled into tight fists against his thighs. Brian sighed. "You know, in the long run, if he has faith in your game, he can help you get on a good high school team and maybe even earn an athletic scholarship to college. Sometimes being teacher's pet isn't all bad." Brian thought of his own coach when he was fourteen. He was his first lover, and Brian still remembered that event with fond lust. It was amazing how much difference there was between Peter, at nine, and how Brian was at fourteen. He knew that the people who bitched about the plague of men who preferred boys would consider fourteen too young, and Brian supposed it was. But he was almost six feet tall by then with a surplus of hormones and a curiosity that needed satisfaction. Peter, at nine, was still a kid, still innocent.

"I hate him!" Peter said vehemently, tears streaking his cheeks. "I wish he would die!"

Brian pulled the car over to the curb and parked, letting Peter cry for a minute before he offered him a handkerchief. He told him to keep it after the boy filled it with tears and mucus. "What's going on, Peter? What's happening?"

"You don't care," Peter said glumly and Brian sighed.

"Don't be a drama princess. I wouldn't ask if I didn't care."

"You can't tell anyone."

"I can't promise that, Petey, when I don't know what it is, but I will promise that I'll protect you. Now what is it? Is the coach mistreating you in some way?"

"You won't believe me."

"Try me."

Peter took a long ragged breath and then he said the very words Brian didn't want to hear. "He touches me," he said softly. "He touches me where he's not supposed to touch me and he does other stuff too."

Brian exhaled slowly. He was hit by a sudden wall of rage that made him want to turn the car around, confront that iron-fisted cocksucker and beat him senseless. He wanted to show him what happens to people who molest little boys, especially boys in the Kinney family. He wanted to make him bleed. But instead, he just listened and tried not to give away any emotion that Peter may misinterpret as a personal judgment against him.

By the time they reached Claire's home, Peter was calm and quiet. Brian had done his best to reassure him. He wasn't good at that sort of thing, but he did the best he could with what tools he had. When he saw his mother's car in Claire's driveway, he tensed for a confrontation. He walked Peter inside and Claire seized on the boy's demeanor as Brian's mother glared at him, her focus slightly skewed by two many glasses of wine. Brian had no contact with his mother since he said "fuck you" to her over her reaction to Johnny's false accusation. Johnny ran upstairs the minute Brian came into the house, still terrified of his uncle after the trouble he caused.

"What's wrong, Petey?" Claire insisted as she helped him out of his coat. "Have you been crying?"

"What did you do to him?" Brian's mother demanded and Brian turned on her, holding up a single finger, and not a digit of first choice, as he silently warned her not to go where she was headed.

"It's not Brian!" Peter said miserably and Brian smiled at him.

"Go to your room, Peter. I want to talk to your mom."

"You don't give my son orders in my home, Brian," Claire said testily and he motioned for Peter to go. Peter ran over to hug Brian, impulsively, then obeyed him and disappeared upstairs. "Brian, I'm warning you...." Claire began and he frowned.

"Shut the fuck up, Claire."

"How dare you bring that foul language into your sister's home!" His mother said and Brian glared at her.

"You either keep your mouth closed, old lady, or get the hell out of here. This has fuck all to do with you. Sit down, Claire, we need to talk. It's important." Claire was not immune to the suddenly softer, more caring tone Brian was using as he led her over to the sofa, and she sat next to him, nervously twisting Peter's coat in her hands. "What is it, Brian?" She said and he sighed, trying to find the best way to tell a mother that her young son had been sexually victimized. Realizing there was no good way to share that information, he put his hand over hers to stop her from torquing the fabric and said, "Peter's been sexually molested by his coach."

The silence in the room was shattering, filled with pain, betrayal and a ghostly hope that there had been a mistake.

V.

Justin had been more than a little worried. Brian was not only way late, but he had turned off his mobile, so he had no way of reaching him. Was he tricking? Drinking? Tweaking? Where the fuck was he? When he finally walked in, looking bedraggled and exhausted, Justin's anger faded as he went into nurturing mode. He made Brian sit down. He poured him a Jim Beam and took his coat. He then sat beside him, massaging the back of his neck. He asked no questions. In his own time, Brian poured out the whole sordid mess, and Justin listened without interruption. When Brian stopped talking, Justin said, "I was so afraid of that. I'm sorry, Bri. How's Peter?"

"Peter is scared. He's ashamed. He believes this was all due to something wrong with him that incited this kind of behavior in that fucking pervert. Peter has all the classic symptoms of a molested child including anger, fear and misdirected acting out. I told Claire I would go with her tomorrow to have Peter examined by a medical doctor and then we would file a police report."

"Brian, do you have any idea of how popular you are at Police Headquarters right now? Not only did you work to defeat Stockwell, but you outed one of their own as a faggot and a killer."

"Unfortunately, they're still the police, Justin. And it's either go to them for help or go over to that pervert's house and beat the shit out of him myself. Which way do you vote?"

Justin sighed and kissed Brian on the cheek. "I know, I just have a bad feeling about it."

"So do I, Sunshine, so do I. I think my mother's convinced I did it, despite what Peter says. She so wants to paint me as a perv."

"Fuck her!"

"No thanks, then I would be a perv. And straight."

They laughed, but it was hollow laughter, the kind that merely diffuses tension. Justin knew there was very little he could do here. Support Brian, be around for Peter, but otherwise this was something too big and too private for him to butt into. "Feed me," Brian said with a sigh, and Justin smiled and went into the kitchen, pleased to have a task he could perform.

VI.

Brian couldn't think of a time he had been more uncomfortable than when he sat in this pediatrician's office with his sister and listened to the incontrovertible medical evidence that his nephew had been sodomized. Peter was bruised and torn in such a way that his injury was only consistent with sexual abuse. The only good news they got was that there was no sign that he had been given an STD nor did he appear to be HIV positive.

"Are you happy now, Brian? Are you satisfied that your gay rights crap has freed men like that to rape and brutalize my child?" Claire exploded at her brother.

Brian sighed. "He's not gay, Claire. He's married with a pregnant wife. He's a fucking pedophile, not a faggot!"

"It's true that there's no link between homosexuality and pedophilia, Claire," the doctor backed up Brian. "The important thing is to treat Peter. His physical issues aren't severe, assuming all the tests are negative. But he's been severely traumatized by this experience. He'll require extensive psychiatric care and the police will need to be informed. I'm required to report this instance, and we have to get that man away from kids. He committed a crime, and if something isn't done, he'll submit to that compulsion again."

Claire began to cry, but Brian wondered if her tears were for her son's suffering or for her own discomfort and embarrassment. Peter was waiting for them in another room where a nurse had been entertaining him with comic books, trying to keep his mind off the horror he had been through.

"Get a grip. You can't let him see you this way," Brian reprimanded his sister, who glared at him.

"What does this have to do with you?"

He glared at her. "Nothing. You're right, Claire. This is not my fight."

"Uncle Brian?" Peter came from the examination room, staring at his uncle with an expression of fear. "You aren't leaving are you?"

Brian looked down at the kid's face, a face so like his own had once been, and his rage over what happened to this kid returned with a rush of emotion. It was his fight, after all. It didn't get much more personal than this. He placed a hand on Peter's shoulder. "I'm not going anywhere, Peter. We're in this together."

"Do I have to keep playing soccer?" Peter asked anxiously and Brian sighed, amazed by the child's inability to comprehend how big a deal this was going to become.

"Let's worry about that later, Petey. Certainly not as long as your coach is involved."

"He said he would hurt Mom if I told. He said he would follow her to work and beat her up. He said he might even kill her. You won't let him hurt my mom, will you, Uncle Brian?"

"No one is hurting anyone, Peter," Brian said as Claire began to weep. "The hurting is over."

VII.

Justin rested his hand on Brian's arm as they sat in the Corvette parked in the lot adjacent to the police station. He couldn't let Brian go alone, and he was surprised when Brian accepted his offer to come along. "Are you alright?" Justin asked. It was night, and the police station was busy with people going in and out of the front doors as if they were conducting a white sale within.

Brian looked at his lover and shrugged. "Not really, but it has to be done. I wouldn't put Peter through it and Claire is useless. Who does that leave?"

"I know. Sorry."

"I realized something about Claire today, Justin. Beneath the anger and the hurt and the self-hatred, she's afraid. She's alone with two kids and a marginal job. That's scary. She said today that as much as her ex-husband was a creep and a loser, she wished they were still together right now so she wouldn't have to go through this alone. She said that was our fate, as the children of Joan and Jack Kinney. We were pre-destined to go through life alone, because neither of us has a clue about how to have a relationship with another person. She said she tells herself she's better off without her ex, just as I tell myself I don't believe in love, but its all bluff and bullshit. We both know we can't be in a relationship so we make sure we aren't. Because we're both terrified of ending up like Joanie and Jack."

"Do you feel that way, Brian?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe. I do know that I damned sure don't want to end up like my parents, living in a battlefield."

Justin slipped his hand over Brian's. "I don't want that either. Don't worry about this right now, Brian. Just focus on what has to be done for Peter."

"Right," Brian said, relieved that Justin knew enough to refrain from pushing the issue. "Come on, let's get this over with."

Brian and Justin felt the looks they got from the cops they passed on their way to Horvath's office burn through them like lighted spear tips. Obviously, their reputation preceded them. Horvath shut the door to his office and crossed his arms over his chest like the palace eunuch as he glared at the two young men. "You have a hell of a nerve coming here so soon after you cost Stockwell the election and humiliated the entire force with that expose on the queer killer."

Brian glared at him. "Look, Carl, this isn't personal. A crime has been committed against a child. Something has to be done before other children get hurt."

"What are you talking about?"

"My nephew was...he was molested."

Horvath shook his head. "That little skank who accused you of diddling him is probably lying again. Why should I care?"

"It isn't John. It's his younger brother, Peter."

"He probably got the idea from his brother. How do I know they aren't in this together, setting up some other poor sucker?"

Brian handed him an envelope containing the doctor's report. Horvath read it, then frowned. "He's nine years old?"

Brian nodded.

"And some asshole is slipping it to him?"

"That's right."

"Not saying it's you this time, is he, Kinney? You like them young." He glanced at Justin, who frowned. Brian was glacial.

"If that's supposed to be funny, it isn't. We know who did it. It's his soccer coach, a guy named Markham."

"Look, this isn't my area. I'm in homicide. You need the special victims unit."

"Please Carl. I know how hated I am around here. Don't let some innocent kid pay for my politics. Make this happen, okay?"

"Is the kid here?"

"No, but I'm prepared to swear out a complaint since he's a minor, and the doctor said Peter should be questioned in the presence of a child psychiatrist, not alone."

"I won't be doing that part of it. But I will make sure the paperwork gets handled rather than conveniently lost. If I didn't, it would be. You can count on that. You reap what you sow, Kinney."

"Fine, but this isn't about me, Carl. This is about a kid and a perv who will do it to other kids if you don't stop him."

Horvath sighed and motioned for them to sit down as he began the process.

VIII.

That night, at the loft, Justin was acutely aware of Brian's silence. He realized Brian was sliding into a dark, Irish funk and Justin wanted to stop him before he went too deep. He reverted to the old standby, seduction, and soon he had Brian in bed and the two of them momentarily put aside their worries to lose themselves in familiar flames. Afterwards, spent and quiet, the blue meanies returned.

"What are you thinking, Bri?" Justin asked, raising himself up on one elbow to stare down at his lover. He smoothed ever-decreasing circles around Brian's nipple, causing him to shudder. Finally Brian covered his hand to stop him. Becoming aroused was not what he needed at that moment.

"I wonder how this will fuck up the rest of Petey's life. It's funny how the dumb shit that happens to you when you're a kid can have such huge aftershocks, and this was no dumb thing. This is very big."

"You're doing all you can to help minimize it, Brian. The shrink, getting Peter away from that perv, getting that perv off the street. Bad things happen to all of us. We just have to deal."

Brian reached up and touched the scar on Justin's scalp. He was right. He had taken his lumps despite the fact he looked so golden and untouched. Brian's scars were internal, but just as deep and perhaps even more debilitating. "I feel so bad for him, and yes, I do feel a certain amount of guilt."

"Over what?"

"Over the fact he was sodomized, Justin. He was treated like some perv's bitch and whether the man is gay or straight, what he did to Petey is what I have been doing since I was fourteen and have boldly slammed the fact of it in everyone's face. I know my sister and my mother are thinking just that. That this horror that Peter went through is exactly what Brian does for fun."

"Bullshit!" Justin protested. "You don't go around raping little boys and don't even look at me that way, Kinney. I was seventeen and I wanted it. I picked you up, despite what you like to tell yourself. It's not even close. Your analogy is stupid, as well as wrong."

Brian smirked at him, loving it when Justin got fired up. "Care to explain why I'm so dumb, Professor?"

"Because if you follow that thought, then any man who rapes a nine year old girl is the same as a heterosexual man who has consensual sex with women. Rape is rape and molestation is molestation, Brian. It has nothing to do with what we do for fun. We aren't pervs."

Brian reached over and cuffed Justin's chin. "You're a tough little shit, aren't you?"

"To put up with you? Duh."

Brian rolled Justin under him, kissing him on the mouth before he whispered, "Show me again what we do for fun."

"Hold onto your hat, or onto something, anyway," Justin said with a leer and Brian laughed and reached for the `something' he liked best to hold in his fist.

IX.

Brian wasn't included, nor did he expect to be, in the consultation with the shrink or with the questioning that took place in the shrink's office. He made a point of calling Peter every day, just to chat and let him know he was around. Three days later, Brian was alone in the loft when he responded to a knock to find Peter on the other side of the door. It was a school day, bitterly cold, and the boy was chapped by the wind, his red face streaked with tears and snot. He had been crying hard enough to still have a hitch in his voice as he said, "You're a big fat liar! You're just like all the other people, you lie and I hate you!"

Brian sighed. Another generation of Kinney drama queens. "Come inside, Petey."

"No!"

"Don't be a pain," he closed his hand over Peter's shoulder and shoved him inside the loft, slamming the door shut. He produced a towel and wiped the kid's face. The sudden warmth of the loft caused the boy to tremble as he thawed out. Brian microwaved some of Justin's instant hot cocoa and handed the mug to his nephew.

The chocolate and the warmth seemed to help Peter's mood, but he refused to meet Brian's eyes and he was still crying a little. Brian went down on one knee to bring the kid into view. "What terrible thing did I do, Petey?"

"You promised me I'd be safe," the boy said softly. "You said you'd protect me."

Brian felt a chill. "What do you mean? Has something happened?"

"Mr. Markham is back at school today! He's back! He saw me in the hall and I just ran away and came over here. Why did they let him come back, Uncle Brian?"

Brian was shocked by that revelation. "Maybe he was just picking up his things, Petey. Maybe he's on bail, and he picked up his stuff from school." If so, the school should be closed for stupidity. A pedophile wandering the halls is not a good thing.

"No! He was dressed for gym class and had on his whistle and everything! He's back and now I'm toast!"

"There has to be some mistake, kid. Go play computer games while I make some calls. And don't even think about leaving." The first person Brian called was his sister. Her chilly reception spoke volumes.

"They let him out, Brian," she said in a flat monotone. "They took him in for questioning, but the police are saying they have no hard evidence against him. They don't think they have a case. They let him go. They said they are continuing to investigate, but they haven't charged him."

"Excuse me? They have a doctor's report showing that Peter was raped and they have his word that it was Markham who did it! What more do they want? An eye witness?"

"There's no direct physical evidence linking Markham to Peter's injury, only Peter's accusation. They're using John's false accusation against you to say Peter learned he could use this kind of threat to get his revenge on someone he didn't like. They say Markham is an upstanding citizen with a pregnant wife and no priors and he goes to church and has been working with children since he got out of college ten years ago. Never had a single complaint. They believe Peter was molested, they just don't feel strongly that it was Markham who did it."

"Then who is Peter protecting? Why would he lie? Do they have a theory for that?"

"Yes, Brian, they do. They said maybe he's protecting you."

Brian felt his stomach turn and his blood freeze as she went on. "They say most of these cases happen with relatives or people close to the children. They talk about when Peter stayed over at your place, implying that maybe..."

"Stop. Stop," he ran his fingers through his hair, noticing they were shaking. "Does Peter support that theory?"

"No, not at all."

"And you, Claire? Is that what you think?"

She paused and then said, "Brian, I think they're out to get you because of whatever you did to the police chief. No, I don't think you hurt Peter, but I do worry that your political enemies may let a child molester go free just to smear your name."

Brian sighed, grateful for her belated support. Maybe they all learned something from the experience with Johnny. Except now the police had a perfect framework for their revenge. More than worry about what it might mean for him personally, Brian feared what it meant for Peter. Not only did he have the humiliation of the rape, but he was left vulnerable to a pervert whom he had publicly accused.

"Okay," Brian said with forced calm, nodding at Justin as he entered the loft, carrying a bag of groceries. "Let me handle this." He hung up and greeted Justin's questioning gesture towards Peter with a shake of his head. "I have to go out. Don't let him leave. Feed him, show him more games, but keep him here."

"Brian, what's going on?"

"Later. I have to fix a few things," he grabbed his jacket and car keys. He paused just long enough to kiss Justin hello and goodbye, and then he was gone.

X.

Stockwell looked up from his desk as Brian breezed past his assistant and entered his office. The police chief was in conference with two other men, who regarded Brian warily.

"Should I call security?" His assistant asked nervously and Stockwell frowned.

"No, I can handle him. Gentlemen, will you excuse us? We can finish this later."

The others left and Brian closed the door behind them. He turned to face Stockwell, struggling to retain his cool. "What the fuck do you want, Kinney?"

"I want justice, Jim. I want you to put aside your complaints against me long enough to do what you're sworn to do, and that's to protect the innocents in this city. Especially the kids."

Stockwell looked confused. "What shit are you talking? What's this about?"

"It's about a nine year old kid who was raped and brutalized by a pervert disguised as a role model. A monster your troops want to let loose so he can continue to work with kids and ruin more young lives."

"Am I supposed to know what the fuck you're talking about?"

Brian paused. Was it possible he didn't know? Could his troops be taking out a revenge he didn't direct? "I'm talking about my nephew. He's nine years old, Jim, the same age as your youngest. He was raped by his soccer coach, a fine, upstanding, churchgoing, married straight man, such as yourself. Active in kid's sports, just as you are. Teaches at a parochial school. Only problem is, he's a fucking pedophile, Jim. He molests little boys and my nephew is one of his victims, but I'm betting not the only one."

Stockwell stared at him for a moment, and then said, "Sit down. Start at the beginning."

The two special victims unit investigators looked sheepish when Stockwell called them to his office and asked about their investigation of the matter involving Brian's nephew. "We picked up the possible perp, Chief."

"And then?"

"We questioned him. He denied everything and said the kid has `emotional problems', broken home, absentee father, overworked mother, older brother who's a trouble maker. This guy is squeaky clean, has no priors, no complaints."

"Are you telling me the boy could have made this up?" Brian started to speak, but refrained as one of the investigators responded,

"No sir. Unlike his brother, who filed a false report against Mr.Kinney here, later withdrawn, this kid has medical evidence of forcible sexual contact. But there's no forensic evidence linking Markham to the deed. No jizz, no blood, nothing but the kid's word against Markham's."

"Will he take a polygraph?" Stockwell asked and the cops shrugged.

"Haven't asked that. But no other boy on the team has complained, sir, and we know the kid was exposed to other, uh, potential perps." They both looked at Brian who glared back at them.

"You boys better learn the law of defamation," Brian said through clenched teeth. "Because you're dancing with it right now."

"Enough," Stockwell held up a hand to stop the exchange. "We're talking about a child molester, gentlemen. There's nothing lower. You will continue to investigate Markham until there is no doubt in my mind, one way or the other. And if you think others could have been involved then I suggest you investigate those leads as well. I want a collar in this case, and I want it to stick. Do we understand each other?"

"Yes sir."

"Are you satisfied, Mr. Kinney?"

Brian stood. "I'll be satisfied when that creep is behind bars."

"Understood. Will you excuse me? I have something I want to say to my men," Stockwell said, and Brian left, assuming as ass-chewing was underway. Once Brian left the room, Stockwell peered ominously at the two men, and then broke into a smile.

"You guys were good. The big question is, can you make a case against Kinney that will hold up if the kid never corroborates it?"

"It may be tough, boss. Kinney's a slut in the gay world, and he has a young boyfriend, but there's no suggestion that he chases underage dick."

Yeah," the other investigator said. "And there's something about this Markham guy that creeps me out. I think he could be dirty. What if he fucks up some other kid and we let him walk?"

"He'll be so scared for awhile that he won't even jerk off," Stockwell insisted. "And if he goes nuts a couple years from now and puts it to some boy, we'll bust him on that charge. The damage to Kinney will already be done. No one will put the two together. The public has a short memory,"

The two investigators exchanged a look, but neither of them were interested in incurring the wrath of their ultimate boss.

XI.

The priest who was the chief administrator of Peter's school regarded Brian with that disapproving glare he knew so well from priests involved in the Catholic school system. It was as if his permanent record from school listing all his misdeeds as a parish school boy were tattooed on his forehead.

"Mr. Kinney, you have to understand. What we have now is a bald accusation from a single student contrasted with a complete denial from a man who has over seven years of faithful service in this school. How can we condemn the man when he hasn't even been charged?"

"Explain something to me, Father. Why is it your church condemns gays, and pre-marital straight sex and yet you protect and shield pedophiles? Where is it written in the good book that children are fair game for your devoted followers?"

"We do no such thing!"

"Of course you do. Even a cursory glance at recent history will support that truth. Lawsuit after lawsuit, outrage following outrage, and yet you continue to hide the horror from the world, even while placing children at risk. Let me say this in terms you boys should fully understand nowadays. You have been told that you have a teacher on staff at this school who molested one of your students. When he does it again, because he will, his kind always does, he will do it with your tacit approval, because you didn't even try to protect your kids. That's gross negligence in lawyer speak, and the damages will shut you down."

"Are you threatening me?"

"Why do you have to ask? I thought I was being pretty explicit. I'm going to tell my sister she has no choice but to withdraw Peter from your school, and I'll help find another for him. Because he's too terrified to come here and face the man who raped him. But even after we remove Peter from the mix, Markham will only find some other kid. And you're letting him do it, you sanctimonious, hypocritical piece of shit."

Brian left the man sitting there, stunned into silence. As he walked down the hall towards the exit, he saw Markham and Markham saw Brian. The coach quickly altered his course to walk away from Brian, but Brian pursued him. "Coach, hey Coach, wait up! Where you going? What are you running from?"

Markham stopped when he realized Brian was too fast for him, and he turned to face the taller man, glaring at him in defensive anger. "What do you want?"

"What do I want?" Brian took the clipboard out of Markham's hands and tossed it to the floor, where it clattered and came open, spilling his papers. "What do I want? I'll tell you what I want, Coach. I want Peter's innocence back, the way he was before you raped him. Before you took advantage of your position of trust in his life to gratify your own perversion. Can you give me that?"

The coach looked around as if to confirm there was no one around to observe this verbal attack. "You're crazy."

"Yes, I am a little crazy, I admit it. Men who damage children make me a little crazy. I want your lying sack of shit body drawn and quartered and fed to the hounds, that's what I want. You're the lowest of the low, the sickest of the sick, and when you get caught, you can't even be a man and face up to it, you have to lie and perpetuate the harm you caused. Of course, how can anyone who fucks children be considered a man?"

The coach bristled under Brian's attack. "You'd better watch who you're accusing of being sick, you fucking faggot! You think I don't know about you? I know. You're a god damned rump wrangler, Kinney. Your whole family is twisted. And you accuse me of being sick? Fuck you!"

"Yeah, I'm gay, Coach, but at least the rumps I'm wrangling are connected to brains old enough to be able to consent within the law. My sex partners are willing accomplices. Yours are innocent children."

"You have no proof of anything, so get the hell out of my face."

"I have a doctor's report that verifies Peter was sexually assaulted."

"Fine, but it doesn't say by whom, now does it? And I can't think of a better candidate than you."

"Really? What about him?" Brian grabbed the coach and turned him around, slamming his face into the man's own reflection in the glass front of a trophy case. He twisted Markham's right arm high against his shoulder blades, stretching it to the breaking point as he used his weight to press him against the glass. "What about that face? That fucking, venal, child molesting, piece of shit face? What about him? Admit it you scum sucking dirtbag! Admit what you did to my nephew!"

The glass broke under the pressure of Brian's assault, slicing open the coach's cheek and covering his face with blood as the shards showered onto the floor. Brian threw him down, amid the broken glass that cut into the man's hands and knees as he struggled to regain his footing.

"Don't do it," Brian warned him. "Don't fucking get up or I swear to God, I'll make sure you can never get up again!"

The coach stared up at Brian's furious face and decided not to challenge him. A couple nuns had come out of their classrooms, staring in horror at the two men. "Stay the fuck away from my family, you hear me? Stay the fuck away!" Brian said, and left him there in the glass and the blood as he walked out of the building to his car.

XII.

Justin saw the blood on Brian's shirt and fists and winced. "What the hell?"

Brian held a finger up to his lips and asked where Peter was by a gesture. Justin motioned to the bed where Peter slept soundly with an afghan thrown over him for warmth. Brian pulled Justin into the bathroom with him and closed the door. He sat down heavily on the closed toilet seat as Justin dampened a towel and began cleaning the blood from Brian's hands. He noticed there were no abrasions, suggesting the blood came from someone else.

"I haven't lost it like that in...Christ, I'm not sure I've ever lost it like that. But I just went nuts on him, Justin. I saw his smug face, and I thought of Peter and something went blank in me."

"You attacked Stockwell?"

Brian looked up at him and laughed, but there was no humor in his laughter. "No, Sunshine, not Stockwell. Markham, that fucking pervert. I went to the school to try and talk sense to them, but of course that was impossible. As I was leaving, I saw that fucking Markham walking down the hall as if he owned the place. I confronted him."

"And then?"

Brian removed his bloodied shirt as he told his lover of the fight, and Justin threw the shirt in the hamper. Brian turned on the shower and removed the rest of his clothes. He stepped under the warm, streaming water and let it roll over him. Justin watched him through the glass and was reminded of a poem he read in school. "Tyger, tyger, burning bright, in the forest of the night..." Brian was like that tiger. Fiercely protective, having no concern for his own well- being and unapologetic for responding to his basic nature. Justin wanted to climb under that water with him and fuck him, but he was mindful of Peter sleeping in the next room, so he refrained.

When Brian got out of the shower, Justin dried his back for him, licking a rivulet of water as it curved down his shoulder blade, and Brian shuddered under that caress. The sound of the door buzzer interrupted them and Brian tied on his robe as Justin said he would answer it.

"That will be the police," Brian said with a sigh. "I'm sure the weasel has reported my so-called assault."

"What do we do?" Justin asked, suddenly terrified, and Brian smiled.

"We answer the door."

XIII.

Claire, not the police, was at the door. She was uncomfortable with Justin, who seemed so young, but who was also the one who revealed her older son as a liar. When Brian came into the room, wet from a shower and wearing only a robe, his sister glared at him.

"Where's Peter?" She asked and Brian nodded towards the bed.

"He fell asleep. We need to talk."

"Yes, Brian, we do. The school called me. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"With me? I think you've got the wrong culprit, Claire. They let that pervert come back to the school as if nothing's wrong. Don't they understand how reckless that is?"

"You told them I was pulling Peter out of the school. Where do you think he'll go? I can't afford most private schools! I get a break on the tuition there because of the church. And the public schools in our district are war zones."

"Claire, you can't send Peter to school with the man who molested him! He showed up here today absolutely terrified because he had seen Markham at the school."

"But don't you think he's safer than ever? Markham wouldn't dare touch him with this cloud hanging over his head."

"So what if he doesn't? Peter still has the terror of seeing the bastard every day. You can't seriously put him through such a nightmare."

"What do I do, Brian? He has to go to school."

"But he's not going to school now, is he? He keeps escaping. I'll help you with the tuition."

She looked around. "You don't have a job, Brian. You don't even have any furniture. How are you going to help me?"

He frowned, momentarily forgetting his current financial straits. "I can always make money, Claire. Let me worry about that."

"They told me Peter could come back and that Markham won't file charges against you on the condition you never set foot on that campus again."

"Now I'm the criminal? If you make Peter go back to that school, you're as bad as they are, Claire. You're enabling it. You're putting your own child in the path of a predator."

She sighed and threw her arms in the air in a defeated gesture. "What the hell am I supposed to do?"

"What about that useless ex-husband of yours? Can't he be forced to contribute to the tuition?"

"He doesn't even pay child support half the time. He won't give me a dime. And mother requires every penny of Daddy's pension to support herself."

"She could knock off a case of wine a week and back off her tithing to the fucking church," Brian complained. His sister sighed and shook her head.

"I work too much overtime to get a second job."

Brian saw how defeated she looked, how old, how hassled. He understood Claire a little better now. The burden she carried was huge, and she carried it alone. He glanced at Justin, who was politely keeping his distance as the Kinney siblings debated. At least he had Justin to share the emotional burdens, and to provide him with nurturing when he most needed it. Who did Claire have? And with her faded looks and usurped free time, she was not likely to find someone to fill that gap in her life. He realized all she really had was her brother, and like it or not, he had to step up to the plate. "I'll get the money, Claire. You find the school, I'll come up with the money."

Claire looked at Brian and smiled slightly. She was reminded of when they were children and they found solace and protection in each other when Jack was on a rampage or Joan was the icy, drunk disciplinarian. Brian was always a tough little kid. While he looked so much like Peter, he was ten times tougher than her younger son, refusing to show his vulnerability to anyone. She wondered if he showed a different face to his young boyfriend? Was he the one who was finally able to get past Brian's impenetrable fašade to the bundle of insecurity who cowered inside of him? "Brian, I haven't said this before, but I will now. I'm sorry about what Johnny did. I'm sorry I jumped to the conclusion that you did it. I should have known better. It was so unlike my image of you. But the whole gay thing is such a mystery to me. If someone told me my brother was going to grow up to be gay, I'd say they were nuts. You were so tough, so athletic, and all the girls were crazy about you. I don't understand how it happened and I guess I really don't even understand what it means."

Brian chuckled at that admission, secretly touched by her apology. "What it means, Claire, is that I have sex with men instead of women. In every other way, I'm the same as anyone else. I work, I have friends, I have...a lover," he glanced at Justin who smiled, and then went on. "I have a son. Being gay doesn't make me a Martian, and no one really knows why some people are gay. The best information is that at least ten per cent of any given population is queer, has always been queer from the beginning of time, and it's as immutable as heterosexual orientation is in the bulk of the population. It's really not all that mysterious."

She stared at her handsome brother and sighed. "You could have had any girl in your school, Brian."

"I did have a few of them. I didn't like it much. I'm happy with who I am, Claire. I'm perfectly content with being queer. It's not important to me that the straight world understand it, so long as I'm content."

"I'll start looking at schools this afternoon. Can Peter stay with you while I do so? I'll pick him up this evening."

"Sure, he's sound asleep, anyway."

"Brian, do you think this incident with Markham will cause Peter to be...I mean the fact that he's been molested by a man, will he...?"

Brian smiled. "Grow up to be a faggot? Look, Claire, if Peter grows up to be a faggot, it's because Peter was wired to be a faggot from the beginning. I don't know which way he's wired yet, and he probably doesn't either, but which ever way he turns out, I doubt if it has anything to do with Markham. Nor did Markham key on some latent tendency in Peter. Pedophiles don't have much care about gender, it's the innocence they want, and they choose kids with an emotional vulnerability. So they can manipulate them. What we need to worry about with Peter is not his sexual orientation, that's set, one way or the other. We need to worry about what every rape victim, male or female, suffers. Self-loathing, fear, and displaced guilt and anger. That's why he sees the shrink."

She nodded and impulsively reached out to pat Brian's arm, as close as they could come to a hug. After she left, Justin walked over to Brian and pulled him into his arms.

"What's this all about?" Brian murmured against Justin's hair and Justin smiled up at him.

"You really are a big softie, sometimes. You know that?"

"Shut the fuck up. Who are you calling soft?" Brian teased, thrusting his crotch against Justin, who laughed.

"Brian, Brian, burning bright, in the forest of the night...."

Brian laughed. "What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"Never mind, tiger. It means something to me."

Peter walked up to the couple, squinting his sleepy eyes as he said, "I'm hungry."

"Of course you are," Brian said with a sigh, reluctantly releasing Justin from his arms. "You're a bottomless pit."

Peter grinned at him in that goofy, Kinney way. "I know you are, but what am I?"

"I'm rubber and you're glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you," Brian retorted, pulling out an old playground insult while Justin giggled and picked up the phone.

"I'm calling for a pizza before you two start with the sticks and stones analogy."

"Good plan," Brian agreed and Peter seconded that as Brian went into the bedroom to dress.

XIV.

Six weeks passed. Brian secured spec advertising work with the new city government he helped install, and some old contacts, enough to not only help pay for Peter's tuition at a secular private school, but he also got his sofa out of hock. The police were unable to make a case against Brian stick, despite pressure from Stockwell. The boy's psychiatrist insisted they were way off base, and that he believed Peter when he said his violator had been his coach. They still refused to pursue Markham and the Coach continued to work at the school and to coach boy's soccer, although in a different league than the one in which Peter participated.

Brian and Justin were attending Peter's game, cheering him on as he performed with a certain skill that set him apart from his teammates. Brian spoke briefly to the new coach after the game. The man agreed that Peter was showing enough promise to have a shot at scholarship play later in his career if he kept working at it. Given Claire's limited financial status, Brian saw that as Peter's best shot at a college degree. As Justin talked quietly with Peter about his performance, learning about the game from the boy, Brian noticed the coach for one of the teams following this game the moment he walked out onto the sidelines of the pitch.

"Take Peter to the car," he said to his lover. "I'll be there in a minute."

Justin didn't question him, recognizing Brian's resolute expression. He led Peter away and Brian walked past the entering teams and into the stands. He saw the coach he spotted talking to his players. Brian focused on the fresh-faced kid the coach was centering on, and then winced. He glanced around the bleachers and located his target.

Stockwell looked up at him with a furious expression. "What the hell do you want? What are you doing here?"

"Are you coming to watch your son's game, Jim?"

"That's right. What's it to you? Why are you here?"

"I was watching my nephew play in the game before this one. His team won. He's good. He's really trying to get his life back after what happened to him. Brave kid."

Stockwell said nothing, and Brian looked out at the field. "New coach?"

"Yes. He's good, too. He's turned the team around and he tells me my boy has a lot of skill."

"Ah, well, long line of jocks and all that."

"Do you mind, Kinney?"

"No, I was just going. Oh, Jim, one thing."

Stockwell rested a flinty gaze on Brian's handsome face. "What?"

"You know who your new coach is, don't you?"

"Of course I know him."

"I know him too. I'm the one who gave him that scar on his face. You see, he's the man who raped my nephew, the one your boys wouldn't charge. I guess you don't need to lose any sleep over his coaching your kid, Chief. After all, you don't view him as a threat to society. Enjoy the game, and Jim....you might want to be sure to drive your son home yourself."

Brian walked away as Stockwell stared after him in horror, and then slowly reached into his pocket and withdrew his mobile phone. Brian retreated to the Corvette and announced to the two occupants that they were going to celebrate with ice cream.

"Why are you so happy, Uncle Brian?" Peter teased and Brian shrugged.

"I'm just happy that you played so well," he said, winking at Justin's questioning glance. Justin wasn't sure what mischief Brian had gotten into after they left the patch, but he knew him well enough to read the signs. He would get the details later, but for now, he could only remember the poem about the tiger. He reached over and patted his jungle cat's sinewy thigh, causing a sound to come from deep within Brian's soul, a grumbling purr from a satisfied tiger, on his way to buy ice cream for his boys.

END

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July 25, 2004