Charmed Life
by eleveninches


One: Dreamt a Mile.

It all started the day Gardner Vance walked into the Liberty Diner wearing a long black trenchcoat and black sunglasses that Sydney Bristow would have killed for.

No, it had actually started the day Deekins won the election, but Brian didn't know that. All he knew was that Stockwell had lost, that Deekins, the ungrateful bastard, had won, and that being unemployed sucked. There was no other word for it: it just sucked. Justin probably would have used the multi-syllabic vocabulary his brain had packed away for the SATs back in high school, but for Brian the word 'sucked' worked nicely. Unable to find a job, he had settled on a daily routine that involved sleeping late, bugging Justin at work, smoking cheap pot, annoying Michael at work, avoiding Hunter the hustler, and sex. It was like someone had extended the two-day weekend to six long, boring, empty weeks.

He was trying to figure out if he could use his spoon as a slingshot and bombard Justin's ass with peas when Vance slid into the booth across from him. He was so startled he dropped the spoon onto the table, and several of the patrons turned to look at them.

"Nothing to see here, folks," Vance said loudly. "Just two, uh, homosexuals sitting together eating lunch. Go back to your business."

"That was really smooth," Brian said.

He noticed Justin set his serving tray down and look over at them worriedly. Brian shook his head slightly. It wasn't like Vance could do anything to him in a public place, especially not in one that obviously rattled him.

"Can we talk? Alone? I need to speak with you about your job." Vance pushed his sunglasses up onto his bald scalp and glanced around nervously.

"You couldn't have called me?" Brian demanded.

"I can't let anyone know we're speaking," Vance hissed, leaning forward. His face was very serious. "It's important, Brian."

With a sigh, Brian led him out onto the noisy street. He shielded his eyes from the sun, and Vance scrambled to pull his sunglasses down. Despite the crisp winter day the Avenue was still as crowded as ever, and people made their way down, shopping and laughing. Brian shoved his hands into his coat pockets as Vance cautiously studied the other pedestrians, as if making sure he didn't recognise anyone. Somehow Brian doubted Vance's social circle hung out on Liberty Avenue, but never let it be said he didn't appreciate a good bout of paranoia.

Finally, Vance finished his examination and turned back to Brian, who coolly raised an eyebrow. "Okay," Brian began, "what's--?"

Vance reached out and plucked a hair from Brian's head.

Brian startled. "What the fuck?"

Vance gingerly wrapped the hair in a tissue. "Well, I've got what I need. See you later." He spun around and began walking down the sidewalk.

Brian stared. His mouth finally caught up with him, and he shouted at Vance's back: "W-what about my job?"

Vance glanced over his shoulder, smirking. "Oh, right. You're still fired."

He wasn't sure if he should chase after Vance and demand his hair back, or what; it wasn't like this sort of thing had happened to him before. People had stolen his underwear, his socks, and some fucker had once even taken a loofa from his shower, but no one had ever taken something that was still attached to his body. But he lost his chance when Vance's figure was swallowed by the crowd, leaving Brian alone on the sidewalk.

Dazed, he walked back into the diner and took his seat. Debbie bumbled over, eagerly waving her coffee pot. "What's wrong, honey? Did he offer you your job back?"

"No, he took some of my hair," Brian said.

Debbie popped her gum noisily, blinking. She finished pouring his coffee and pushed the mug in front of him. "Jesus, people's kinks just keep getting weirder and weirder."

*

"Did you hear me? He took some of my hair."

Justin lowered the book he was reading. "Maybe he's making a voodoo doll," he said sarcastically.

It wasn't until the afterglow of dinner (take-away Chinese) and sex (on the plastic lawn chair they had stolen from Ted) that Brian had mentioned Vance's eerie visit. Justin didn't seem particularly perturbed; Brian was beginning to suspect he was the only person weirded out by the whole situation. Maybe Vance just had very odd sexual habits. Who knew how straight men got off.

"Why the fuck are you reading?" he asked, nudging Justin with his elbow. It wasn't like Justin to read in bed.

"I'm expanding my mind." Cheeky little twat. Justin sighed. "I don't want to be behind when they finally let me back into PIFA."

Brian didn't know quite what to say to that. Luckily, he was saved by the phone ringing. He snatched it up as Justin turned back to his book. "Yeah?"

"Brian." It was Vance.

"What, do you want a sperm sample next?" Brian demanded.

There was a pause, and Brian thought he heard papers shuffling in the background. "Actually... Is Mr Taylor there?"

"You want to talk to Justin?" Brian asked, incredulous. Justin's head snapped up.

"I was told by his flatmate to call you. He's there, isn't he?"

Justin looked at Brian, eyebrows raised, but Brian couldn't do anything more than pass the phone to him. "Hello?" Justin asked Vance hesitantly. His expression became unreadable as he listened to Vance. Brian strained to hear what was being said. "If I recall correctly, I was fired for fucking the boss. Oh, and that whole Stockwell thing, but who's keeping track?" There was another long silence, and finally Justin said coolly, "I'll think about it," and he hit the 'off' button.

"What did he want?" Brian asked.

Justin cringed. "He asked me back. To Vanguard. Full time."

"Oh," Brian said.

"I'm not going to take it," Justin added quickly.

Brian placed the phone back in its cradle, grabbed the bottle of vodka on the nightstand, and sat heavily on the steps in front of the bedroom. He didn't know whether to be proud Vance had liked Justin's work enough to ask him back, or horrified at the idea of being passed over for his boyfriend at his own job.

"Maybe you should," he said slowly.

Justin trotted down to the lower level, the sheet wrapped around his waist. "No, it's obvious he only asked me back to hurt you."

Brian took a swing of the vodka, wincing at the familiar burn. "It's a job," he choked.

Justin stubbornly shook his head. "It's not what I want. I can work somewhere else. So can you," he added.

A pessimistic, "Hmm," was all Brian could manage.

*

The next morning his car was stolen.

Brian stood in the middle of the garage, staring at his now-empty parking space. Normally, he would have just assumed Justin had borrowed it without asking, walked to the diner and snuck the keys out of Justin's pocket during a nice groping session, and driven the 'vette home, waiting for Justin to get back and complain about having to walk five whole blocks. But since he had the keys in his hand, he was pretty sure it had been nicked, which was just fantastic.

Pissed off, he pulled out his cell phone and dialled a familiar number.

"It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Red Cape Comics! We're super, thanks for asking! How can I help you today, citizen?"

"Oh my God," Brian said. "Did you come up with that on your own?"

"Hunter helped. We had this really cool idea between, like, Ohio and Iowa--"

That last thing he wanted to hear was another tale of Mikey and Hunter on the road. They all had suffered through enough of those when the two had arrived back from running from the law, and once more when Hunter had explained to the courts why living with Michael and Ben was better than living with his hell beast of a mother. "That's great, but three guesses whose car's been stolen, and the first two don't count," Brian cut in.

There was a burst of static, then a high-pitched, "Someone stole your car? You're fucking kidding! Are you sure Justin didn't take it again?"

He noisily dangled his keys in front of the mouthpiece. "It's definitely stolen."

"Are you going to go to the police?"

"I don't really have much of a choice, do I," he muttered. "Goddamn it, I have a fucking interview tomorrow."

He managed to find enough change in his pockets to take the bus down to the police station. Naturally, some old perv leered at him and some teenager tried to pick his pockets. The second he stepped off the bus the clouds parted and it started pouring rain. Things weren't looking up.

"My car was stolen," he told the officer at the desk. "I need to file a report."

The man reached under the desk and brought out a blank form on a clipboard. He uncapped his pen and shoved everything at Brian. "Fill this out and bring it back," he said blandly.

It took Brian about ten minutes to complete, then he had to wait behind a wailing prostitute for an hour before the officer would see him again.

"Your name's Kinney?" the cop asked sharply.

"Yeah," Brian said slowly.

"Ah."

He didn't like that "ah." That was definitely a bad "ah." The officer met his gaze evenly. "You can go now. We'll take care of it."

Brian knew he'd never see his 'vette again.

*

A man knows when to ask for help, he had told Justin last year. He stared at the phone, trying to work up the courage to pick it up and dial. This was absurd; he was an adult, and he needed help. He had no car, no money, and no furniture. His friends wouldn't look down on him. They might mock him until the end of his days, but they'd never look down on him. Squaring his shoulders, he hit the speed dial before he changed his mind.

A chipper, "Hello!" answered.

"Emmett," Brian said with some difficulty.

"Brian? Why... you never call me. Is something wrong?"

"Someone stole the 'vette."

Emmett gasped. "Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry. You loved that car."

"Yeah, thanks for the reminder." Irritated, Brian rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I have a job interview this afternoon. Can you drive me?"

"Of course I can, honey. I'll be right over."

That had proved to be a bad idea when Em decided to spend the entire trip lamenting on his failed relationship with Ted, and something about Ted's new boyfriend, who happened to be his old boyfriend, and when Em got to the part about their sex lives Brian wanted to just throw himself from the car.

"So how are you and Justin?" Emmett asked him knowingly. Brian really should have asked Lindsey to drive him.

"Oh, look, we're here," Brian said, relieved.

The first interview Brian had in weeks was at an agency called Impressionist Pictures. It was a small business that did above average printing work, and while it wasn't the first, second, or even third place Brian would have thought of, he was feeling somewhat desperate. Soon he would to start having to look for jobs outside of the Pitts. He left Emmett in front of the small office building and went inside, where he was ushered into an empty office.

When Craig Taylor walked into the room Brian decided in his past life he must have been a serial killer, because there was just no other explanation.

"I didn't know you were in advertising," Brian said weakly.

Craig looked at him sourly. "I recently changed fields."

He sat down at the large desk, pulling out a heavy binder. Brian wasn't sure if he should make a run for it. Craig flipped to a page at the back, and said, "So you're here about the executive position?"

"You're going to interview me?" Brian asked, shocked.

"We are going to conduct this as if it's any normal job application," Craig said stiffly. He folded his hands in front of him. Brian started to relax; he wouldn't get the job, but he wasn't in any danger. Justin would have probably been upset if either his father or his boyfriend died at the hands of the other. "First question, Mr Kinney: Are you still seeing my son?"

Well, so much for that. "Well, uh, yeah, but--"

"Second question: Is it true that from him you stole his virginity, his youth, his innocence, and his soul?"

"Don't be silly," Brian said. "I have no use for souls."

Craig stared at him for a long moment. "I'm going to put that down as a 'yes.'"

*

Justin was already at the loft when Brian arrived home from the interview from hell. He was just sitting on the floor, staring at the blank walls, as Brian tugged up his shirtsleeves and tossed his tie in the direction of the bedroom. He nudged Justin with his foot, and Justin tilted his head and glared fiercely.

"Get naked. You won't believe what happened to me today."

"I don't care," said Justin.

"Your father just interviewed me for a job," he said anyway. He grabbed the last beer from the refrigerator. "For some odd reason he wanted details of our sex life. He also wanted to let me know that I'm the biggest shit who ever lived."

"Maybe he's right," Justin muttered darkly.

Brian took a gulp of lager. "What's your problem, Sunshine?"

Justin looked away hastily. "Nothing," he grumbled.

The lights flickered and died.

"I-I should probably mention I couldn't pay the bills this month," Brian said dryly.

Justin threw his hands in the air. "That's it. I have to get the fuck out of here."

He marched into the bedroom. Brian could hear the wardrobe's drawers slamming, and the sound of things being shoved into a bag. Worried, he peeked in. "Uh, what're you doing?"

Even in the dim evening light he could tell Justin's face was flushed with anger. "What does it look like I'm doing?" he snapped.

"It looks like you're taking all your shit."

He pulled a pair of shoes out from the under the bed Brian had never realised were there. It really bothered him to know that they had been. Shoes were meant for the closet. "Brilliant observation," Justin sneered.

Brian tried to grab his arm, but he wrenched away frantically. "What the fuck? Justin?"

"You have no direction, Brian. You have no job, no money, no sense of responsibility, no nothing. You're blaming all your own mistakes on bad luck, which is bullshit." Brian opened and closed his mouth a few times, speechless. Justin pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes, hard. His voice was muffled. "I don't know why I'm even here anymore. I just need to get out."

But instead of moving, he just sat heavily on the bed, still rubbing his eyes. Instincts Brian had developed last year after the bashing kicked in, and he went to the kitchen and grabbed some pills and a glass of water. Justin took them easily. "My head hurts," he muttered.

"Why don't you take a nap?" Brian asked quietly. Blurry eyed, Justin nodded. A few minutes later, he was asleep, leaving Brian to sit there and wonder what the hell was going on.

*

Justin only dozed for about half an hour. Brian was still sitting on the bed when he turned and nuzzled his cheek against Brian's thigh, smiling up at him like nothing had happened. If you want to leave me I'll understand, he wanted to say. Except he couldn't, because it was a lie, and he didn't want to lose Justin like he had the last time. He had thought after the fiddler things were fine -- no, better than fine, great -- between them. He hadn't expected Justin to completely lose it like he had. Of course, he also hadn't expected Craig to be his interviewer, his car to be stolen, or Vance to offer his job to Justin, but Justin, at least, was not usually prone to irrational behaviour.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Justin asked, chuckling.

Brian's eyebrows shot up. "You don't remember?"

"No..." He raised his head. "What the hell happened to my stuff?" His eyes widened, and Brian knew he wasn't feigning shock. "Are you... are you breaking up with me?"

Brian needed a cigarette. "No, you fucktard, you tried to break up with me."

"I think I would remember... Hey, I haven't seen those shoes in forever."

"You said I had no direction," Brian told him.

"Since when do I care about direction?" Justin asked, pushing himself up to a seated position. "No, really, where were those shoes? Because I could've sworn I lost them."

"You found them. They were under the bed."

"Did you hide them from me?"

"Why would you think I'd hide your clothes from you?" Brian scoffed.

Justin raised one blond brow. "Do I really have to answer that, Brian?"

"So about the dumping thing," he said quickly.

"Well, we can't break up if we're not in a relationship," Justin pointed out, batting his eyes.

Brian cringed. He patted his pockets for a cigarette, and scowled when he came up empty. He shuffled his feet. "We're... in a... relationship," he bit out. Justin beamed, as if this was some new revelation. "And... maybe you were right about my life going nowhere. Maybe I'm cursed. Maybe I just have bad karma. Maybe I really did steal your soul. But... My life might be shitty right now, but it would be a hundred times worse without you. So if you left now I'd be really..." He struggled for the right word. "Annoyed." He studied his nails, not daring to look up. "And your dad says hi, by the way."

Justin touched his shoulder gingerly. "Brian, that was very sweet, but what the fuck are you talking about?"

Brian scowled. He was trying to make a verbal declaration of his feelings and Justin was lost. Typical. "I'm trying to grow as a person here."

"Oh. Continue then."

"Now I don't want to," he said sullenly.

Justin's eyes narrowed. Then he blinked and looked around the darkened loft. "Why are all the lights off?"

*

Woodys, as usual, hummed with chatter and techno music. Brian leered at the pool table, the toilets, and the usual tables, but no one even glanced in his direction. Which was strange, because he knew he looked very hot tonight.

He slid into the seat next to a hot guy at the bar. The man made an exaggerated eyeroll and looked away. Bemused, Brian started, "Hey, why don't we--"

Before he could finish, the guy simply got up and walked away, leaving Brian gaping behind him. Confused, he spotted his friends drinking at their own table, and he pulled up a chair. "Am I invisible?" he asked them.

"Unfortunately not," Emmett said cheerfully.

"Why, did someone just turn you down?" Ted asked dryly. When Brian didn't answer, he exclaimed, "Someone did! Is the all-mighty Kinney losing his touch?"

Brian eyed him. "When the hell did you get out of rehab?"

"Last week, asshole," Ted replied.

"Hmm," Brian grunted. He grinned at Michael. "Where's the professor?"

"Punishing Hunter for skipping class, and if you make that into a sex joke I swear to God I'll kill you," Michael said.

"Where's Justin?" Em asked.

"He and Daphne are having a girl's night," Brian replied.

In the end, someone bought Emmett a drink, Michael spoke eagerly about the next chapter of Rage, Ted glowered into his gin and tonic, and no one hit on Brian. Naturally, he pretended like he wasn't looking for a trick, but his friends probably knew better. After a few hours of nothing they decided to head home. Brian was ready to catch the bus over to Daphne's and talk Justin into a quick fuck when Michael stopped them on the stairwell and pointed.

"Hey, isn't that your car?"

Brian craned his neck, and, sure enough, it was his car parked on the street. A man was climbing--

"Holy shit," Brian said, "I fucked that guy a few months ago. After the Carnival. He was admiring the 'vette."

"Mm, that's sure ironic," Emmett drawled, as Ted cackled.

"I'm going to kill that fucker," Brian seethed.

Michael grabbed his shoulder before he could move. "Wait, did you fuck him at the loft?"

"No, I fucked him at-- shit! He's getting away."

"Do you remember where he lives?"

Brian frowned, thinking. It had been some skeevy place near the end of the gay ghetto. Pretty close to Michael's and Ben's, actually. "Yeah," he said slowly. "Yeah, I do."

*

It was a good thing he owned a lot of black, or else the rescue mission could have ended horribly. It did end horribly, in fact, but at least his clothing wasn't to blame.

Brian peered around the corner. The fucker had parked the Corvette on the side of the street, like it was some ordinary car. He might as well have spray painted 'steal me' on the hood. If someone had to have stolen his car, it could have at least been someone who appreciated it. He checked to make sure the street was empty before jogging over, pulling from his coat a clothes hanger he had bent into a long hook.

He slipped the wire under the hood, popping it open successfully. He reached inside to cross the--

The alarm went off. Headlights began flashing. "STEP AWAY FROM THE VEHICLE," a booming voice called.

"Shit!" Brian hissed. He shoved the wire under his coat and ran for his life.


Two, He Fed Me Fine Food.

"Maybe you're cursed," Justin said as they were walking back to the loft after a leisurely breakfast at the diner. Brian had spent an uncomfortable night on Michael's and Ben's couch after he had decided it took too much effort to walk all the way home, and instead of sleeping he had mostly worried about Hunter sneaking up on him. Four cups of coffee and an orange later, he still felt slightly ill.

"People don't get cursed in real life, Justin," he snapped tiredly.

"How do you explain Melanie's and Lindsey's wedding? Mercury was in retrograde, or whatever the fuck."

"That was just bad luck," Brian said.

"Well, I think it's possible," Justin muttered, pushing his hands into his pockets like a petulant child.

Brian sighed heavily. "You watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and read Michael's comics and talk about how cool it would be to be an Elf from Lord of the Rings."

"Come on, they're cool," Justin insisted. "They've got, like, pointed ears and live forever. And you're avoiding the subject. If this is just bad luck, how come it's been one disaster after another? How come I don't remember trying to break up with you?"

"Fine," Brian said. He crossed his arms over his chest, glaring. "If I really am cursed, then Ian Gold--"

"Ethan" Justin amended.

"--Is going to walk around the corner."

They both waited.

Ethan Gold came walking around the corner.

Brian closed his eyes, resigned. "Okay. Okay, I'm cursed. How do I become un-cursed?"

"Well, in Harry Potter you perform a counter-spell," Justin offered. Brian opened his eyes and raised an eyebrow. Justin coughed. "Not that I would know."

Ethan looked like he was going to head in their direction, so Brian shoved Justin into the comic shop. "I don't even know how to lift this thing," he admitted, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the store. "Do I just go the library and check out all the books on voodoo?"

Justin frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe we can find Mysterious Marilyn. She can do tarot, but I don't know about witchcraft."

"Did I hear someone say witchcraft?" Hunter asked from the counter. He held a duster in one hand and a Superman action figure in the other.

"No," Brian replied, just as Justin said, "Someone put a curse on Brian."

The kid's face brightened. "Yeah? Dude, I can fix that."

"You've been reading too many of Mikey's comics," Brian said.

"I've done some magic in my time," Hunter sniffed.

Justin's brow furrowed. "Tell me you're joking."

"Magic is nothing to joke about," Hunter said seriously.

"You're a sixteen year-old rentboy," Justin said. "What the fuck do you know about magic?"

"Excuse you, I have a library card. And not fucking old pervs has totally freed up my evenings."

"How exactly can you help me?" Brian cut in, rubbing his pounding forehead.

Hunter propped his chin up on one hand. "First I need to know what you can do for me," he leered.

"I won't fuck your shit up, that's what," Justin said prickily.

He was about as threatening as a kitten, but it seemed to work. Brian pretended not to be amused when Hunter backed down. "Fine," Hunter said dejectedly. "You need to find out what kind of spell he's doing. Then we can do a counter spell."

"See, a counter spell," Justin exclaimed. "And you doubted me."

Down to his last option, Brian pulled out his phone.

*

With a few well-placed calls Brian eventually got an appointment with Gardner Vance, under an assumed name. Vance's secretary had always thought he was hot, so she had been pleased to see him, and she even brought him a coffee. "I was so upset when I heard what happened," she gushed, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "I mean, who would believe you'd sabotage your own client?"

"I did," Brian said, smiling thinly.

Her mouth dropped open. "Er. Um." She tensely shuffled a few papers. "Mr Vance will see you now."

"Oh, it's you," Vance acknowledged coldly as he stepped into the office.

"Hey, Gardner," Brian said casually, shutting the door. "Remember that day you plucked a hair from my head?"

"Hmm, the day I plucked a hair from your head..." Vance rolled his eyes towards the ceiling, making a big show of thinking back. Brian gritted his teeth. "Why, yes, I vaguely recall that."

"Do you mind telling me what the fuck you did with it?"

"I gave it to Jim Stockwell."

Brian blinked. "To Stockwell. You gave my hair to Stockwell."

"Yes. I daresay he hasn't been taking this failure well. He promised to give me the names of his backers if I got a bit of your DNA, for some sort of experiment."

"Why are you telling me this?" Brian questioned suspiciously.

Vance leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. It was a familiar scene, and for a second Brian's chest ached. But Vance's smirk was downright evil, and Brian wondered why he had never noticed that before. "Why not?" Vance said airily. "I've got his supporters, and by now Stockwell's done whatever he was going to do to you. I think I came out pretty well, don't you think?"

"If I live through this I am so going to turn you into a frog," Brian hissed.

"You know," said Vance thoughtfully, "I think this is the longest conversation we've ever had."

*

Brian dramatically pushed open both doors and once and stepped into Stockwell's office. Everything was still the same, from the encyclopaedias on the wall bookshelf to the sturdy oak desk to Stockwell in his bland blue suit and tie. The only thing new was the cloth doll sitting at Stockwell's right hand. It had a note that said 'Brian Kinney' held to its chest with a long pin.

"Oh, you fucker," Brian muttered.

Stockwell smiled. He reached over and petted the doll's head. Brian felt like someone had just stuck a cap on him. He resisted the urge to scratch his own head. "Hello, Brian. How are you?"

"Cursed," Brian drawled. "You?"

"Just peachy."

"I wouldn't have bet on you being the kind for magic," said Brian. He gestured to the doll.

Still smiling, Stockwell replied, "It runs in the family. Actually, my uncle Marty -- well, he's actually now my aunt Marilyn -- is a gypsy, and he-- er, she--"

Brian's head hurt. "Great. So I cost you the election and you decide to pull voodoo on me?"

"What?" Stockwell stared at him stonily. "No, no, this isn't voodoo. I won't touch that stuff. It's much too powerful. This is just simple magic."

"And yet my life is a living hell," Brian said hotly.

Stockwell seemed pleased. He stood and sat on the corner of his desk. "It's a great spell, isn't it. It projects my hatred into a single, controlling force. In this case, the force is extremely bad luck."

Rage bubbled up inside Brian, and he looked away, jaw working. It was because of this asshole he couldn't get a job. It was because of Stockwell Justin had almost left again.

"Does anyone ever ask why you carry a doll around?" he managed.

"No, my staff pretty much thinks I'm insane," Stockwell replied.

Brian smiled thinly. "I can't imagine why."

*

Brian slammed the comic shop's door, scaring the three skinny geeks drooling over a Catwoman life-size cutout. Pushing his sunglasses up onto his forehead, he glared at them until they hurried out. Michael whined, "Brian! They were going to buy that!" Emmett and Ted were also behind the counter, and Ben and Justin were busy arranging the shelves.

"Why the fuck is everyone here?" He held up a hand. "No, no, on second thought, I don't want to know."

Hunter poked his head out from the storage room. "Brian?"

Brian spun on his heel. Hunter's expression changed from earnest to uneasy in a matter of seconds. "Stockwell has a fucking doll of me," he spat.

Justin gaped. "I so called it! Didn't I tell you it was for a voodoo doll?"

"He has a doll of you?" Ted asked.

"He said it-- it forces his hate into bad luck for me," Brian continued. "That's why everything's been happening one after another."

Hunter disappeared for a second, then came out with a huge hardback book. He slammed it on the counter and flipped to a marked page. "That's what I thought it was," he murmured. "It's called a infelicitas spell. First there's a series of events to break your spirit. Then the wizard, ah, 'ascends to the next level,' whatever the fuck that means, and then you die."

There was a long silence. Brian felt cold.

"What's going on?" Michael demanded shrilly.

"Stockwell's put a curse on Brian," Justin said briskly. He looked at Hunter like this was his fault. "How can we stop Brian from dying?"

"You're a wizard?" Michael asked Hunter, incredulous.

"The term is warlock," Hunter said curtly.

Everyone started talking at once. Ben and Michael yelled at Hunter, Justin shouted at Brian, Ted cracked a joke, and Emmett insisted he be told everything from the beginning.

"Does anyone have a cauldron?" Hunter asked loudly.

The room fell silent. Everyone just stopped and shuffled about nervously, glancing at each other. Finally, Michael timidly raised his hand. "Actually, I think I might."

"You have a cauldron," Brian repeatedly flatly.

"Why?" Ben asked. "Why would you have a cauldron?"

"In case of emergencies," Michael admitted.

"What sort of emergency constitutes a cauldron?"

"I'm just a little bit cursed," Brian pointed out.

Ben frowned. "Well-- yes. But this sort of thing doesn't usually happen." He paused, then looked at them suspiciously. "It doesn't usually happen to you guys, right?"

"All the time," Ted said.

"It does not," Michael snapped. "Ben, you haven't been cursed once since you met me."

Brian made a dramatic gesture in Hunter's direction. Ben's frown deepened.

"Hey," Hunter scoffed, "I am wonderful." He turned back to his book. "I need to make a potion and say some words, and then you need to get it on Stockwell somehow. Then, poof, the spell is broken and Stockwell's magic is gone. The world is once more safe for ordinary citizens. Piece of cake."

"This is not Buffy," Brian growled.

Hunter glared. "Fuck you, of course this isn't Buffy. I'm hotter than Angel, for one thing."

"Whatever, no one's hotter than Angel," Justin piped up.

"Dude, he got fat."

"He's not fat, he just built more muscle," Justin sputtered angrily.

"I actually prefer Xander," Ben said from the corner. When the room fell silent, he asked, "What, I'm not allowed to have hobbies?"

"I'm still cursed," Brian shouted.

*

He gave Hunter a day to find everything he needed and put it together. If he couldn't, then Brian had claimed he would find a real wizard -- not like he knew where to look for one, but it seemed to work on the kid, because the next morning Michael ushered everyone back to the shop, claiming Hunter was nearly there. If Brian didn't know any better he'd swear Michael was actually proud of his hustler-cum-son's new hobby.

"He knew all the right herbs and stuff," Michael told him, clearly chuffed. "We had to go to all these natural food stores. Ben thinks maybe Hunter has a future as one of those natural herb doctors, or whatever."

A bright light and a puff of smoke came from Hunter's direction. The kid whooped. "Alright! Finished! Let's go kick some bad guy ass!"

Relieved, Brian drawled, "Swell, now I can find a way to accidentally dump it on Stockwell."

"There might be a problem with that," Ted said. He smoothed out the newspaper and held it up for everyone to see. "Stockwell's dead."

"Dead?" Emmett asked, as Michael and Justin gasped.

The headline read, 'Former Police Chief Stockwell Commits Suicide.' Brian's stomach dropped. He snatched the paper from Ted's hands and read: 'Chief Jim Stockwell was found in his garage last night at 8:03pm. His death is ruled a suicide, due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The note that accompanied him stated he could not handle his defeat in the recent local election...'

Blood thundered in his ears. Stockwell had done it last night, after they had spoken. Distantly, he heard Justin ask, "Does this mean the curse is lifted?"

"Maybe," Hunter said. "But I might have to run some tests."

Brian couldn't be bothered to be disgusted by Hunter's leer. "Hey," Michael said, "are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he said dully.


Three, He Gave Me Shiny Things.

The funeral announcement had been in the local papers. Justin had slipped the clipping over to him at breakfast, and that evening, before the actual event, they snuck in through the back doors.

Brian gazed down at Stockwell's body, curling his fingers over the rim of the coffin. It didn't seem right somehow, for him to be dead. He had a wife and kids and a career, and he liked to build bottle ships and play raquetball-- Brian looked away, swallowing thickly.

Justin rubbed his arm. "It's not your fault," he said softly.

Reikert had killed himself too.

"He wasn't a good person, but I'm sorry he's dead," Justin said.

"He wasn't all bad," said Brian slowly, remembering the way Stockwell had trusted him so implicitly. "He just got a little... lost somewhere."

"He was a fag-bashing homophobe who put a curse on you and carried a doll of you around," Justin reminded him.

He frowned. "Well, no man is perfect."

The door rattled. Brian tapped Justin's arm, and they crept back out into the hall. Brian tossed one last glance over his shoulder before he left, gazing at the unsettling stillness of Stockwell's chest.

*

Eight days after Stockwell's funeral the curse still hadn't lifted. Since then Brian hadn't been able to pick up a trick -- some fucker had even thrown his drink in Brian's face -- and someone kept stealing his mail. He was still unemployed. At this rate he was going to be homeless and living on Lindsey's and Mel's couch, or worse, Michael's. Perhaps he should just resign himself to being molested by Hunter. Even Justin had gotten tired of his depression; Stockwell's death rested like a weight on his chest, and he couldn't shake it off.

He was about to light a joint when the door slid open. Michael stood there, frowning at a piece of paper in his hand. "Um, Brian?"

"Mikey?" Brian asked sarcastically. He slouched in the plastic armchair.

Michael still seemed perplexed. "Hypothetically, if Justin was, say, kidnapped by someone we thought was dead, would you freak out?"

Brian stared at him. "Well, hypothetically, I'd have to say... huh?"

Michael walked over and handed him the paper. It was an ordinary blank page covered in a messy scrawl. 'If you want Taylor back, meet me at 11pm in the Old Memorial Cemetery,' it read. It was Stockwell's handwriting; Brian recognised it from his advertising days. But instead of frightened or frantic, Brian just felt very, very pissed off.

"Can you go to the police?" Michael asked worriedly.

"A dead guy kidnapped my boyfriend," Brian sneered. He grabbed Michael's arm in one hand and his coat in another, dragging his friend out the door. "We're making a call to your kid."

*

"Maybe he's a mutant," Hunter said excitedly. "Like on Smallville."

"Is this what you do instead of your homework, watch TV?" Ben asked, sitting on the arm of the couch.

"I also have cybersex."

"After you defeat evil you are so grounded," Ben said. He shook his head slowly, then turned away, muttering to himself, "That still sounds weird."

"So Stockwell's a zombie?" Michael asked.

"No, zombies eat brains," Hunter said. "Duh."

"Yeah, Michael, keep up," Brian said.

The four of them conducted a pow-wow in Michael's and Ben's living room. Michael was starting to panic, which was, frankly, starting to eat away at Brian's nerves. Justin had been taken by a dead guy, who was no doubt disgusting and starting to rot, and Justin had really bad allergies. Not to mention he would probably be scarred for life. Brian felt sick at the thought of Justin being alone and frightened in some underground crypt. If they made it out alive he swore not to yell at him for at least a week.

"So what do we do?" Ben asked hopefully.

Brian bit his lip. "I need to get the potion on Stockwell."

"I'll go with you," Hunter offered.

"No," the three adults said simultaneously.

"Why the hell not?" Hunter yelled. "I'll be okay."

"No, you won't," said Michael sternly. "Have you learned nothing? The kid sidekicks are always caught."

"Plus it's a school night," Ben said.

*

That night Brian found himself walking through the freezing Old Memorial Cemetery, searching for an undead Stockwell and a hopefully unhurt Justin. This was the weirdest situation he had ever been in. His life had never been normal, but this was outrageous even for him. He could have been anywhere, getting a fabulous blowjob, but no, he was freezing his balls off in a cemetery in the dead of night.

"This could only happen to me," he muttered.

Something cracked behind him: a branch being stepped on. He waited until the sounds came closer before whipping out his homemade stake and swinging around, arm poised. He had almost aimed for his target when he realised it was Hunter, dressed head to toe in black.

"Shit!" he exclaimed, staggering backwards.

"Dude, you're carrying a stake," Hunter said.

Brian tucked it back into the waistline of his jeans. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Helping you," Hunter intoned. He tapped his forehead. "I've got the spell all up here."

"I'm doomed," Brian sighed.

Hunter looked like he was going to protest, but instead he nodded over Brian's shoulder. "What's that?"

When Brian turned he saw a fire against one of the sepulchres in the distance. His stomach tightened. "You stay here," he warned.

"No fucking way," Hunter sputtered.

He didn't have time for this. "Then stay the fuck out of sight," he hissed.

They both made their way silently to the tomb. Brian ducked behind a gravestone; it was definitely Stockwell standing here, gazing out into the blackened cemetery. He didn't look dead, exactly, just odd; his skin was grey and rather shiny, and his cheekbones were more hollow than they had been two weeks ago. The suit he had been wearing at the funeral was torn in a few places. Vaguely, Brian wondered if he had climbed out of his grave.

"So, Jim," Brian said, stepping out into the circle. "What's it like being dead?"

He got a perverse glee when Stockwell startled. "Brian," he called, spreading his hands. "Being dead is, well... I have ascended to a higher plane, you understand."

"You're dead."

"Yes, a higher plane," Stockwell said, as if it was obvious.

Brian took a good look around. Justin was sitting on the ground, wide-eyed, a long red scratch on his cheek. Brian bit his lip, then nodded. He'd have to kill Stockwell for that. Again. "This is a little elaborate for revenge," he drawled.

"I've always been something of an over-achiever," Stockwell admitted.

Then he did something Brian wasn't prepared for: Stockwell punched him in the stomach.

He fell to the ground, the wind knocked out of him. Stockwell leaned over him, fists balled, but then he hesitated. Brian rolled onto his side, struggling to breathe. They always aimed for the ribs. He saw Stockwell slowly stand up tall, then peer over the grave behind him.

"Fuck," Brian choked. He struggled to stand.

Before Brian could stop him, Stockwell reached out and dragged Hunter out by the collar of his jacket. "What do we have here?" he growled.

"Oh, shit," Hunter moaned.

Brian launched himself at Stockwell, who raised an arm to block him. But Brian went underhand and aimed upwards, and then there was a sickening crunching noise, and he was shoved away.

Stockwell looked at the piece of wood sticking out of his chest. "You just staked me," he said flatly.

Brian gasped, open-mouthed. "My bad?"

"The potion," Hunter screeched.

Hands shaking, Brian pulled the test tube out of his pocket and tossed the formula in Stockwell's face, who screamed and raised his hands to his eyes. Hunter squirmed out of his grasp and crawled backwards, chanting, "Discedat pestem, discedat pestem, discedat pestem..."

Without seeing what was happening to Stockwell, Brian ran over to Justin. He tugged the binds off Justin's wrists and ripped the gag from his mouth. "You okay?" he whispered.

Justin clutched his arms and gazed up at him adoringly. "Oh Brian, you're way cooler than Angel."

"I'm throwing away all your DVDs," Brian said seriously. Then he kissed him, hard.

"Whoa," he heard Hunter say behind them, "Stockwell's, like, goo. That's so gross."

*

Somehow Brian couldn't make himself grieve for Stockwell's real death. That might have had something to do with Justin's broken arm ("I fell off my bike," Justin had told the hospital) and his own bruised ribs. It might have had something to do with the fact Ben was no longer speaking to him, on account of Hunter being attacked. Or it might have just been that Brian really hadn't been impressed with Stockwell trying to kill him. Whatever the case, he was just finally glad it was over. It meant he could get back to his usual life of sucking and fucking. After his ribs healed, of course.

At the Liberty Diner he cautiously eased himself into one of the booths, leaning against the cool wall.

"So what does it feel like to be a real superhero?" Michael asked, grinning. He slid into the seat across from Brian.

"Pretty much like regular Brian Kinney, only with a few more broken ribs," Brian replied.

Debbie wandered over, popped her gum. "So what's this I hear about you vanquishing evil?" she asked Brian, waggling her eyebrows.

He glared at Michael. "What?" Mike said. "It wasn't me this time."

Shaking her head, Debbie poured them both coffee. "Hunter and Sunshine seemed to be convinced you're some sort of superhero. Those boys need to lay off the hard drugs."

"Kids these days," Brian said dryly. Debbie playfully slapped his cheek and moved onto the next table.

"So what happens now?" Michael asked. "You defeated a super villain. Does life just go back to normal for Rage?"

Brian slowly stirred his coffee, wondering the same thing. Getting rid of Stockwell hadn't instantly improved his life, and he was pretty sure becoming a superhero involved a major lifestyle change that he just wasn't prepared to undertake. But when his cell went off he honestly wasn't surprised at the name on the display.

"Yeah?" he answered.

"Kinney," said Vance. The man hesitated. "I was thinking... How would you like your old job back?"

Brian smiled.


Disclaimer: None of the magic in here is meant to be real. I made it all up in my own head. Also, this story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Cowlip Productions and the Showtime Network. Buffy, Smallville, Lord of the Rings, and anything else mentioned belongs to their respective owners. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Chapter titles from PJ Harvey's 'Paper Bag.'

Kudos to Tinkerbell for the beta, Anna for the encouragement, and my sister for the Latin.

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