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TRANSITIONS
Episode 301
by Phantom of QAF

Set up: Scene One: Begins exactly where the last show of the second season left off. At the Rage launch party where Justin has left with Ethan, and Brian begins to dance with another man, avoiding Michael.

Brian wasn't sure what time it was when he decided the party was over. At least it was over for him. The drugs and the alcohol combined to give him a fierce headache, and the warmth from so many overheated dancers made him nauseous. He was fucked out. He was tired. He'd gather Justin and get the fuck out of... oh yeah. There was no Justin to gather. Justin had been "gathered" by another man. Brian laughed at himself, fumbling the keys to his Jeep as he pulled them from his pocket. He was laughing out loud, now, suddenly finding everything very funny, including the looks he drew from others.

Watching Brian from the sidelines, Debbie corralled her son. "You can't let Brian drive in his present condition. Go take him home, the poor thing."

Michael glanced at his weaving friend, and knew she was right. "I'll get Ben to help me."

"And don't leave him alone. He's too out of it to be left on his own." Michael leaned over and kissed his mother's cheek. "What was that for?" She asked, as he smiled.

"For caring about Brian."

"Of course I care about Brian! Trust me, honey, he's gonna need all the friends he can get."

As Brian leaned over to collect his keys for the second time after they slipped from his fingers, Ben picked them up and held onto them. Brian grinned at him in the loopy unfocused manner of a man deeply within the embrace of too much alcohol boosted with too many chemicals. "Ben!" he beamed, circling Ben's neck with his arms. "Les' dance."

Ben smiled patiently and unwrapped Brian's arms, placing one of his own arms behind Brian's back to support him. "Not tonight, champ. We're going home."

"Why, Ben! What will Mikey say?" Brian joked as Michael came up and put an arm around his waist, helping Ben support him.

"I'd say you are beyond tweaked, Kinney," Michael said with a tolerant smile. "What did you take?"

"A little bit of this and a little bit of that and lots of Jim Beam."

As soon as they hit the cool night air, the contrast slammed Brian's ravaged body and he concentrated very carefully on walking. All he cared about was remaining upright as they entered the parking lot where his Jeep was parked. Michael supported Brian in the backseat as Ben drove. Brian seemed incredibly heavy to be so tall and slim. His body was a solid wall of lean muscle. Michael had to push back against the seat to keep steady as they rode towards Brian's loft. Brian was singing a bizarre version of The Itsy Bitsy Spider, forcing the poor arachnid to perform acts it would find impossible in nature. When he suddenly grew silent, Michael became worried. He looked down at Brian's profile that was resting against his chest. He saw that Brian was staring at the horizon with a fixed gaze. .

"Uh-oh. Pull over, Ben."

"What's wrong?"

"Trust me. Pull over!"

Ben obediently parked the Jeep at the curb and Michael dragged Brian out of the vehicle, holding tightly to him. Almost instantly, Brian choked and then heaved a quantity of the bothersome drugs and alcohol from the deepest recesses of his stomach. Ben grimaced, not leaving his seat, figuring Michael could handle this one on his own. Brian was sick again, leaving him weak and rubbery. Getting him back into the car was like threading a needle while wearing boxing gloves.

"How did you know?" Ben asked and Michael sighed.

"I've learned the various degrees of Brian's drunkenness. Mach 1, he's sexy and seductive. Mach 2, he's sad and morose. Mach 3, he's angry and combative. Mach 4, he's silly and sick."

"Is there a Mach 5?"

"I haven't seen it yet, but if I ever do, I think that's Emergency Room time."

At the building on Tremont, the two of them managed to get Brian upstairs and into his loft. While Michael undressed his friend's inert form, Ben found aspirin and filled a glass with water, bringing them both to the bed area. "See if you can get this down him," he suggested. "It'll cut his pain in the morning." Ben deliberately avoided admiring Brian's body that was mostly displayed in his brief, stylish underwear that left little to the imagination. He didn't want to be reminded of Brian's sensuality, and Brian was in no condition to inspire lust.

"We can't leave him, Ben. At least I can't. What if he gets sick and chokes on it? I have to stay," Michael said after forcing the aspirin down Brian's throat with all the finesse of feeding a pill to a cat. He let Brian drop against the sheets and then moved his legs so that they were parallel with the rest of his body. Michael covered him with the duvet.

"Turn him on his side. Never let a drunk sleep on his back. If they vomit, they can aspirate it into their lungs and die," Ben instructed him. "We'll both stay, Michael. You bunk with Brian and I'll make do with the chaise."

Michael smiled gratefully at his understanding lover. "There are blankets and pillows in the closet in the bathroom. You want something of his to wear?"

"No, I'm fine," he kissed Michael soundly, and then cast a gaze at Brian. "It's just starting for him, you know."

"I know. I'm worried."

"How do you think he'll react?"

"I have no idea. I've never been through this kind of crisis with Brian. He's never cared for anyone before. Not like he did for Justin."

"Michael, now is the time for you to tell me that I have nothing to worry about. That you love Brian as a friend, and have no plans to take Justin's place in his bed."

Michael smiled and moved into Ben's embrace. "Well, just for tonight, I'll be in his bed, but you can chaperone. Seriously, baby, I love Brian, but that stuff is not part of our relationship. I have my man. He'll have to find his own. I could kill that little twink for..."

Ben silenced him with a kiss. "Rule number one when a friend breaks up with his lover. Never berate the ex-lover, because you never know when they may get back together, and suddenly your words, which were meant to be supportive, come back to haunt you."

Michael nodded and climbed into the bed, throwing one arm over Brian's inert form as he quickly drifted into an exhausted sleep.

Scene Two: Ethan's Apartment

Justin left the bed quietly, careful not to disturb a sleeping Ethan. He pulled on his discarded cargo pants and sat on the sofa beside a cardboard box that once held bottles of Jim Beam, according to the label. Except for his computer, which was unhooked on a table, this box contained his life as Brian's lover. Everything that was his that had been stored at the loft could fit in this one box. After leaving the Rage party, he and Ethan went to the loft to collect his stuff before Brian returned. While Ethan walked around admiring the décor, Justin pulled an almost empty box from the pantry. He placed the two unopened bottles of Jim Beam on the shelf, and then he began tossing clothes and his other debris into the box.

He bogged down when he started going through CD's. Was this one his or Brian's? If they bought it together, to whom did it belong? If he picked it out and Brian paid for it, did it belong to Brian or to him?

There was a torchy song Justin once heard about lovers breaking up. The singer laments about where did one of them end and the other begin? It gets murky. He took only the CD's he felt were unquestionably his. His last act was to leave the keys to the loft on the kitchen counter. That was perhaps the hardest thing of all. He felt as if he were abandoning a puppy at the pound. He looked around, pretending to see if he was leaving anything behind, but really to cement all of his memories in place. This was where he lost his virginity, where he fell in love, where he learned how to love a man, where he felt comforted and safe, where he felt lonely and forgotten. His eyes clouded with tears, but he couldn't let them fall, couldn't let Ethan see his pain.

"Let's roll," he said, and closed the door which sealed with a resounding finality.

Now Justin was entering a new phase of his life. This apartment was shabby, especially compared to the loft, but he found comfort in that shabbiness. He fit in here. Not because he had even a passing familiarity with poverty. His own childhood had been spent in upper middle class indolence. But Ethan was careful to make Justin feel welcome here. Justin often felt like an intruder in Brian's loft. For it was always BRIAN'S loft. If he was messy, Brian scowled. If he was noisy, Brian quieted him. And he never knew when he might walk in on Brian and some trick. Not so with Ethan. Ethan wanted only him. Ethan told him what he felt, often and beautifully. Ethan was his PARTNER.

Justin tucked one leg under him as he absently twisted a strand of his pale blond hair around his index finger. What did Brian mean when he pulled off his mask at the party, after Justin kissed Ethan in front of everyone? The expression Brian offered him was so intense, so full of emotion, but what emotion was it? Anger? Amusement? Resignation? Revelation? Brian was such a master at hiding his feelings that Justin had no idea what that expression meant. Brian pulled off one mask to reveal another. That second mask was impenetrable.

Everyone had to have a first love, Justin realized with a sigh. He supposed in many ways he was lucky to have had Brian Kinney as his first lover. He learned more from Brian about making love than any ten men could teach him. He also learned more about isolation and emotional unavailability and rejection. But... there was more than that, to be fair. The quiet moments. The small concessions that loomed large for Brian. Brian often exhibited tenderness beneath his cool exterior. He was understanding about Justin's injuries. The progression in their lovemaking went from raw and one dimensional, to gentle and exploratory.

"What are you doing?" Ethan asked in a sleepy voice from the bed, and Justin sighed, called back to the present.

"Nothing."

"Come back to bed. I'm cold."

Justin nodded, dropping his pants on the way, forcing aside the nagging question at the base of his brain. It came back as he slid between the sheets. The question that plagued him while he was falling asleep in Ethan's embrace was, "How lonely is Brian tonight?" He wished he didn't care what the answer to that question might be.

Scene Three: Brian's Loft, the next day.

Brian didn't so much awake, as he rose from the dead. He tried to locate the railroad spikes being driven through his eye sockets into his brain, but he couldn't find them. He wondered if he could make it to the bathroom before he threw up, or should he aim for the waste paper basket? Instead, he opted to lie perfectly still. If he didn't move, surely all the bad things would go away. He could feel strange things happening to him. The rush of his blood through his veins. The roll of his stomach contents. The throb of his nerve endings.

Suddenly, the bed seemed to shift. That little bit of movement was excruciating, and he winced as Michael climbed out of bed and went to the bathroom. Michael was just starting the shower when Brian burst in, threw open the toilet lid and vomited. Afterwards, he sank to the tile floor beside it, his back propped up against the wall, the heels of his hands pressed tightly to his closed eyes. Michael smiled.

"Good morning to you, too," he stepped into the shower. Brian listened to the water fall, like needles being pierced through his temples and forehead. He wanted to make it stop, but he couldn't find the strength to stand up. "You were so wasted," Michael continued talking from inside the shower.

Shut up, shut up, shut up, Brian thought to himself, the sing-song sound of Michael's voice making him crazy.

"We were afraid to leave you alone in case you pulled a Jimi Hendrix on us," Michael said. Brian needed pain killers. He needed to get up and take some from his medicine cabinet. Two things: he couldn't get up. That was one. He also couldn't imagine SWALLOWING something. That was the other. Michael got out of the shower, drying off and wrapping a towel around his waist. "Why don't you take a shower? It may make you feel better."

"Why don't you shoot me? That would help more," Brian mumbled without looking up.

"I'll make some coffee."

"Wait. Help me up," Brian extended a hand to him and Michael hauled him to his feet. The nausea returned with a vengeance, but Brian fought it back and slipped off his underwear, turning the shower on again and adjusting the shower head to pulse. Michael left him there, under the spray, and went to the kitchen to find Ben had already started the coffee maker and was staring into the confines of the refrigerator. Michael wrapped his arms around him, and Ben turned to kiss him. Ben looked disheveled from his restless sleep, and perplexed.

"Ok," Ben said. "He has six bottles of Evian, a twelve pack of beer, imported of course, a stub of cheese, vials of god knows what drug, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of olives and a shriveled lime. Does he ever eat?"

"Not at home."

"Get dressed. Let's go to the diner. I think we can safely leave him now. He'll have to deal with his hangover on his own."

"What car do we drive to the diner?"

"His car, Michael. Then we'll get my car and I'll follow you back here to drop off the Jeep."

As Brian came out of the bathroom, wearing a robe, his hair wet and disheveled, he paused long enough to swig a cup of black coffee, wince at the impact on his stomach, and then lurch back to bed. Michael and Ben exchanged a look and smiled knowingly. Such were the wages of over-indulgence. As Michael dressed nearby, Brian rolled over on his side to squint at him.

"Where are you going?"

"You have no food in the house, Brian. Ben and I are going to the diner. You're welcome to join us, but I assume you...."

Brian winced at the idea of even smelling the food at the diner, much less eating it. "Go."

"We'll bring your Jeep back after we eat."

"My Jeep? Why are you driving my Jeep?"

"We drove you home in it."

"Isn't today Saturday?"

"Yeah, at least you don't have to try to go to work, feeling the way you do."

Brian raised himself on one elbow, forcing a level of understanding. "I need the Jeep, then. Justin has a therapy session and..." he stopped. Michael saw the revelatory look roll over Brian's handsome features like an impending thunderstorm. Brian's eyes closed and he laid back against the pillow, using his forearm to cover most of his face. Michael didn't know what to say. He sat beside him, gently resting his hand on Brian's shoulder. There was a long moment of silence between them. Finally, Michael spoke.

"I'm sorry."

Brian removed his arm from his face, his mask in place. Stony, formidable. "For what?"

"About Justin."

"Don't be."

"But..."

"I'm going to tell you this once, and then I don't plan to talk about it again. Understand?" Michael nodded, and Brian went on. "We wanted different things from our relationship, if you want to call it that. I was never going to be the person he wanted me to be. I want him to be happy. He's young, he should experience life. But Justin would never have the balls to leave me unless I gave him a push. He's loyal and he's confused. So I gave him a push. Now, he has what he thinks he wants, maybe what he DOES want. Everybody wins."

"Really?" Michael asked. "How do you win in this little scenario?"

Brian met his eyes, then looked away, fixing on a strip of light invading the slats of the blinds like a laser bar. He didn't know what to say. His usual glib responses about not doing relationships, and not believing in love seemed hollow right now. What was there to say? "I'll survive," he finally responded and Michael sighed and reached down to smooth Brian's disarrayed hair.

"I know you will. But I also know it hurts. I've been there. And I'm sorry."

Brian covered Michael's hand with his own and brought it down to his lips, kissing his fingertips gently in gratitude. There was nothing left to say. Michael finally stood up, informing Brian again about the return of his car.

"No rush, I'm not going anywhere," Brian said dully, turning on his side and closing his eyes, wanting only to sleep.

Scene 4: The Diner

Emmett and Ted were finishing their food when Michael and Ben entered the diner. They slid into the booth and Debbie came right over, staring at her son. "Well?"

"Well what?"

She smacked him on top of his head with her order pad. "Well how is he, you little shit?"

Emmett and Ted leaned in for the dis and Michael sighed. "He's hungover."

"Tell me something I don't know. I saw how blitzed he was last night. How is he handling the Justin thing?"

"He isn't, Mom. Not yet. He doesn't want to talk about it. He's going to do what he always does, act like it never mattered in the first place and let it tear him up privately. Your perfect little Sunshine is number one on my shit list."

"Michael..." Ben warned him, and Debbie frowned.

"Michael," she interrupted. "Don't do your usual thing and forgive Brian for everything and blame it all on someone else. You think Brian was a good partner? Fucking every boy that was still wiggling? Who needs..."

"Guys," Ben called out quietly, stopping the debate. "The worse thing we could do is polarize between the two of them. Brian wasn't absolutely right nor was he absolutely wrong. Same with Justin. If we want to try and stay friends with both of them, we need to stay in the middle. And these things sometimes turn out where the couple gets back together, and then the warring friends look pretty foolish."

Debbie beamed at him. "My son has such a smart boyfriend. What'll it be, Ben, honey?"

They ordered and after Debbie walked away, Emmett said, "Ok, Mr. Politically Erect, you made your point. Now tell us the real dis. How is he? Is he sad? Did he say anything? God, how often do we get to see someone like Brian dumped? Please let the rest of we mortals enjoy the moment, will you?"

Ted laughed. "I'm with Em. It's not that I wish Brian any ill will, but Emmett is right. It's a golden moment when Brian Kinney gets dumped by the first person he's ever had a second date with."

Michael glared at them. "Brian's my best friend. He's been your friend for a long time. We've been through a lot together. I think your attitude is just fucking cruel!"

Emmett's gaze shifted to the door as Justin and Ethan walked in, holding hands. "There's the happy couple now and aren't they just adorable together?"

Michael looked over his shoulder at Justin, glaring at him when he smiled and waved. Emmett and Ted waved back as Ben put a hand on Michael's arm and said, "Stay out of it, Michael."

"I'm not getting into anything," Michael said with a pout as Justin and Ethan occupied another booth.

"Did you see that look Michael just gave me?" Justin asked Ethan in the moment of quiet before Debbie came over to greet them.

"I saw. What do you expect? He's his best friend. Of course he'll take Brian's side," Ethan responded.

"It's awkward, Ethan. We work together on the Rage comic, for one thing."

"He'll get over it. Brian will be back to porking every trick and Michael will realize how little the whole thing meant to him, so he'll back down."

Justin frowned. "That's not true."

"What's not true?"

"That our relationship meant very little to Brian."

"He certainly acted like it meant very little to him. What am I missing?"

"Ethan, Brian loves me. The fact that he can't or won't say it doesn't mean he doesn't love me. He's proved that over and over again. He may not fit my image of how I want my lover to act, but he was my lover and he does care. I know this hurt him. He won't admit it, won't show it overtly, but he's in pain right now because of me, and I'm not happy about that."

Ethan reached across the table and took his hand. "Be happy about me. About us. The rest of it doesn't matter. It's history."

"I am happy about us," Justin said with a smile, then borrowed a brave line from Brian. "No regrets."

"Perfect. As for the geriatric bunch back there in that booth, let them sit around and watch their asses fall and brag about the good old days. We have each other and we'll develop our own group of friends. Guys our own age, not dinosaurs."

Justin nodded, finding it difficult to think of them as dinosaurs, and even more difficult to think of his life without them. Did his decision lose him not only Brian, but also Brian's friends? Brian's friends had become his friends. He briefly wondered why Brian wasn't among them, then realized he probably went home with a trick. Last night was not a night he would want to be alone. Who was it, Justin wondered? He stopped himself. He no longer needed to worry about the latest trick Brian fucked. What Brian did and with whom was no longer any of his business. Debbie came over, polite but, Justin believed, slightly distant. She always seemed a little remote around Ethan. They ordered, and Justin leaned back in the booth listening to Ethan enthuse about a song he had written. As he listened, he was missing his physical therapy session. Brian was always the one who was so well organized. Saturday sessions eluded Justin, but Brian never forgot. Without Brian there to remind him, the session would slip by, unattended.

The little things between two people, the small details one picked up when the other dropped it, were the poison darts that made a break up so painful. Justin would feel this dart later in the afternoon, and out of nowhere, tears would form in his eyes. Ethan would wonder why he looked sad so suddenly, but there would be no answer to that curiosity. It was just a little dart, that only two people could understand, and Ethan wasn't one of them.

Next week on Transitions:

Brian returns to work and to Babylon. Nothing's changed in his life, or has it? Justin and Michael have a confrontation over the break up. Brian and Justin cross paths. See you Sunday at TEN SHARP!

Transitions

Episode 302

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Beginning
July 25, 2004