The Mask
Chapter 17

A/N: Thanks go as always to my wonderful beta Sydney.



 There are some sights that are so horribly wrong that they freeze you in your tracks. You can’t cry out. You can’t do anything but clutch your chest and pray that you aren’t having a heart attack. It hits you like a ton of bricks. Your breath catches, and you can’t look away, the sight is just too appalling. And, if you looked away, you would have never believed it could look so terrible.


That was what Justin thought as he took in the so-small body of Brian’s son in the large, generically white hospital bed. He shook his head. It wasn’t right, no way in hell it could be right - seeing a child in a room he should not be in. Justin could only stand and silently watch as Brian pulled a chair close to the bed, and picked up his boy’s small hand, and held it. What in the world could he possibly say to comfort Brian?


Was it cowardly to want to flee the room?


Justin watched as Brian whispered something softly to his son that was too low for Justin to catch, but the emotions were clear. How could anyone doubt that Brian loved his son?


It took Justin a minute to realize that Brian was speaking to him now, but finally, tearing his eyes away from Gus lying so still and pale, Justin focused on what Brian was telling him.


“I never thought I would love him, you know.” Brian didn’t look up at Justin, just kept gazing at his boys face. “I was the sperm donor; I wasn’t supposed to be anything more than that. In and out – a favor for a friend, but then I held him for the first time…”


Brian did look up this time and meet Justin’s watery blue eyes, and the hurt in those hazel eyes almost undid Justin.


“’Heart of stone’ she said.” Brian gave a harsh laugh. “As much as I loved him, he scared the shit out of me. Me! Brian Kinney scared to death of a small pissing and pooping machine who couldn’t even hold up his own head yet!“


Justin took a step forward. “Brian,” he whispered.


“No!” Brian held up a hand as if he could stop anything else from smacking him in the face. He looked almost pleadingly at Justin. “I know I’m a for shit father. Hell, look at the example I had, but he doesn’t deserve this!”


Justin ignored the ‘do not touch’ vibes and crossed the room. Taking Brian’s upraised hand, he brought it to his lips where he tenderly kissed it before firmly taking Brian’s hand between his own. Brian seemed to settle after that gesture; his attention returned to the body of his still son.



“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – admitting that I’m too much of a fucking coward to be a real father to my own son.” Brian whispered his confession, and the hand that gripped Justin’s trembled.


Justin didn’t say anything; there was nothing that would ease the grief or the guilt Brian. He wanted to tell him that it wasn’t too late, but he knew Brian wasn’t ready to hear that optimism. Leaning over, he pressed a gentle kiss to the top of the auburn head.


“I’m going to give you guys some time alone, and get us some coffee.” He felt Brian briefly squeeze his fingers before letting go. Justin turned back for one more glance before he softly shut the hospital door behind him.  


Once in the hall, Justin leaned back against the door and closed his eyes. Justin had known that this trip might bring some things to light that he hadn’t planned or even imagined, but he’d never expected this! He wanted to be there for his partner, share in his life, and know everything there was to know about Brian, but now, Justin wasn’t so sure he could help the hurting man he had just left alone in the too quite hospital room.


These people, this town, weren’t at all what Justin expected. He knew realistically that Brian had a history; the man was in his 30’s. However, never in Justin’s wildest scenarios had he pictured something this painful.


It had taken Justin less than 24 hours of being in the Pitts to completely understand why Brian left this place and why he hated coming back.


He escaped down to the cafeteria before the two women could spot him, but his luck ran out on his return. Lindsay’s voice stopped him.


“Hum – Justin isn’t it?”


Justin turned to face the other blonde. He didn’t smile. “That’s right, Justin Taylor.”


She attempted a smile, though it was strained. “Why don’t you come have a seat with me, give Brian some time alone with his son.”


Justin started to point out that he was out here, with her, for that very reason. Instead, he followed her to the waiting room, taking a seat next to her. Justin looked around.


“Where’s Melanie, it is Melanie, right?” he asked. Justin wasn’t sure he had gotten the name right, but he was also surprised that the woman wasn’t there waiting for them to come out of the room. Her hostility has been that scorching.


Lindsay smiled and nodded her head briefly. “She went to call the office. Mel was supposed to be in court this morning, but had another attorney cover for her.”


Justin nodded and looked around the mostly empty room. An awkward silence fell between them. Then with a clearing of her throat, Lindsay spoke.


“So, how long have you known Brian?”


Justin kept his face turned away so that she wouldn’t see his amusement. He had decided sometime during the morning ride to the hospital that amusement was the way to deal with these people in Brian’s life. Last night he’d been angry, furious actually, but that had only resulted in more anger at the sheer blindness and arrogance of the individuals he had met who thought they knew Brian. Being amused at them seemed a much happier and less stressful plan.


He gave her a well-mannered smile. “Almost a year now.”


She looked away from Justin towards the hospital room. The silence built between them for a few minutes before Justin broke it with his own question. “So, Brian said that you guys have been friends since college?”


Lindsay turned back around and smiled. “Yes, we’ve known each other since freshman year. He’s my best friend.”


Justin frowned briefly and tried not to make the rebuff he felt fill his voice. “Brian is my best friend also, but then I firmly believe that ones partner should be ones best friend.”


He went on before Lindsay could formulate a response. “But it’s a real achievement and testament to your bond that you guys are still friends. I mean most close friends in college seem to lose that bond as they grow older and apart. I know what I think and feel now won’t be what I think or feel, say, when I’m thirty.”


Now it was Lindsay’s face that wore the frown. Justin could see the wheels turning. “So I guess he’s told you all about Gus?” she asked.


Her tone was almost snappish, but Justin ignored it; he didn’t want to piss off any more of Brian’s friends, and the woman’s son was in the hospital that made him cut her a little slack.


Justin nodded. “He has. Brian loves Gus very much. Anyone who catches a glimpse of them together can see that.” Brian may not have shared much of his life here in Pittsburgh with Justin before last night, but his feelings for Gus were something shared from their first meeting.



Lindsay looked back towards the closed hospital door.


“I just wish he were around more. I’ve tried and tried to get him more involved in Gus’ life, but he continues to be just a drop-in-dad.”


Justin bit his lip and fought to control the temper that threatened to erupt. Jesus! These people were blind! If you spent your entire childhood with the worst examples of parenting that Justin could ever imagine, of course you would doubt your own abilities to be a parent. It didn’t take a genius to figure this out, and these people were the ones who claimed to know Brian best.


But, perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps all they saw or were willing to see, was the mask Brian showed them; never bothering to see what’s behind it, or to notice when it cracked.


Could Justin make Lindsay see that? Should he even try? He didn’t know the answer to that. He wouldn’t share confidences that Brian had entrusted him with. Justin didn’t give a damn that these people thought they knew his partner best, but Lindsay was the mother of Brian’s son, a son that Justin had every intention of getting to know and love.


“My father was a great dad, for the first 17 years of my life anyway. We spent a lot of time together, and I always thought he’d be there for me. When I told him I was gay, he threw me out of the house, even thought I had nowhere to go. I haven’t spoken to my father since that night.” Justin met Lindsay’s gaze, letting her see a little of the pain that still existed and always would.


“I think about someday when I might have a child. I tell myself all the things that I will do right, all the mistakes that I would avoid. But still inside of me is a small knot of doubt. What if I’m no better than my dad?” Justin shrugged his shoulders and looked away.


Did she get it? He didn’t know, and frankly Justin didn’t care. He wanted to go to Brian and be held and in return hold his partner. Justin almost wished he had stayed in Chicago, but that thought quickly vanished as the hospital door opened and Brian stepped out, his gaze immediately searching for and finding Justin.



The relief was enormous. He was still here. Logically Brian had known Justin would be, but every time he stepped back into this town it seemed his old fears tried to take hold again. He watched Justin rise from his seat beside Lindsay, smiling softly and somewhat sadly at him like Justin knew what Brian had been thinking.


Brian couldn’t let this place or his demons do that to the blond. He refused to hurt Justin or have any part of this place effect what they had together. So he smiled a real smile that so few got to see and opened his arms, needing to give and even more receive the embrace that would make all this worth it. And Justin came without a word or a question.


They stood tightly wrapped together, oblivious to the sad gaze of one woman and the envious eyes of others. Brian took a deep breath and opened his eyes, meeting Lindsay’s gaze he softly spoke, the happiness very clear in his voice.


“Gus is awake and asking for his mommy.”


Justin kept his arm wrapped tightly around Brian’s waist as they started for the elevators. Neither noticed as Lindsay paused once to look back at them before she opened Gus’ door and disappeared into the room.