Growing Pains
by eleveninches

Rated R for implied sexual situations between an adult and a minor.


Chapter One

There was a line to be drawn somewhere. Unfortunately, Michael had crossed that line about two blowjobs and a fuck ago, and the sight of Gus Peterson-Marcus curled up in his bed was like seeing his name signed on a death warrant.

"Oh my God," he said. "I'm going to die."

Gus stirred. Michael goggled for a second at the long, tan, naked leg slipping out from under the flannel sheets. He clutched his crumpled jeans to his chest; this was just like when Alex Summers slept with Jean Grey, except he and Brian were not brothers, and Gus wasn't Brian's boyfriend, and either way this was completely fucked up. There was that one time he had written Rage fucking Zephyr's boyfriend, Ken, but obvious parallels aside, this really wasn't the same thing.

By the time Gus's eyes fluttered open Michael was dressed and scrambling to get all of Gus's shit together.

"What time is it?" Gus asked, yawning. His hair was sticking straight up in a very Brianish manner.

"Time for you to go," Michael said shrilly. He shoved Gus's clothes into his arms.

The kid stood and, throwing him a sour look, dropped the sheets. Michael cringed and looked away, suddenly feeling embarrassed. Just bcause they had sex last night it didn't mean he was comfortable with Gus stripping right in front of him. Especially since as his head was beginning to clear it was dawning on him he'd probably completely, utterly ruined Gus's life. He was just as bad as any child molestor.

When he ushered Gus downstairs he caught sight of a long wool coat draped over a kitchen chair. A briefcase sat on the table. "Holy shit," he hissed. Gus looked at him calmly, like this was no big deal. In one swift motion Michael grabbed Gus's jacket, handed him his shoes, and started to push him towards the door.

"Hey!" Gus exclaimed. "You just can't--"

"I can and I am," he whispered angrily.

Gus clutched the doorframe. "When can I see you again?"

Michael slammed the door shut.

Hunter walked out of the kitchen, munching on a bagel. They should never have given him an extra key; Hunter, in some act of childhood regression, liked to come over on weekends and loudly watch tv until Mike woke up and yelled at him to shut up and go to work, and he had his own house and his own life partner and his own food, for Christ's sake. Early Saturday morning fights were routine by now. "Was that Gus?" he asked.

"Uh, no," Michael lied. "I was just getting the paper. W-Why would you think Gus would be here so early?"

"I dunno, I just thought I heard his voice," Hunter replied, shrugging.

"Well, it wasn't him, alright?"

Hunter's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Whatever, I was just--"

The door opened again, and Gus poked his head in. He looked very young and innocent then, with his wool cap and messy brown hair. Michael knew he was a very bad man. "Can I have some money for the bus, Uncle Mike?"

Michael buried his face in his hands, horrified. He heard Hunter snicker, and then a rustling of paper. "Here, kiddo," Hunter said, "don't spend it all at once."

"Wow," Gus drawled sarcastically, "ten whole dollars. Now I can afford that car I've been saving up for."

"Fucking teenagers," Hunter grumbled.

It wasn't until the door closed that Michael lowered his hands. Hunter just stood there with raised eyebrows. "It's not what you think," Michael said hastily. "Okay, well, it is what you think, but I have a really good excuse."

Hunter's brow furrowed. "Huh?"

"If you say anything to Ben, you're grounded," Michael shrieked.

Hunter just stared at him. "First off," he said, "I'm twenty-seven years old. You can't ground me anymore. Second, what is there to tell? You're acting like you fucked him or something." He said it jokingly, but Michael's stomach clenched. He must have had a horrible expression on his face, because Hunter sputtered, "Oh my God!"

"Shut up!" Michael yelled. "Shut up!"

"Isn't he, like, twelve?" Hunter asked.

"Fourteen," Michael said defensively. "But that's not the point. The point is that you never saw anything, and I'm never going to do it again."

"Is this what you do when Ben goes out of town?" Hunter demanded. He looked at Michael with disgust. "God, how could you do this to him? That's a real assholish thing to do. He's going to shit when he finds out."

"He's not going to find out," Michael snapped.

Hunter's head snapped up, his mouth dropping open. "So you're not going to tell him?"

"There's nothing to tell."

"There's fourteen years and one hundred pounds to tell, Mike." He goggled. "What about Brian?"

Brian would kill Michael and dump his body in the river. "Brian's better off not knowing."

Hunter's jaw worked, but he didn't say anything for a few beats. Then: "Let me get this straight." Michael was instantly reminded of his boy as a teenager. Such a little bastard. "You wouldn't let Brian fuck me when I was sixteen, but hey, it's cool if you do it to his son."

"Brian never wanted to fuck you," Michael sputtered.

"My huge cock begs to differ." He raised an eyebrow as if challenging Mike to argue.

"Okay, gross! And my fucking Gus was totally not planned. It sort of just... happened."

"'Oops, I slipped and fell on his dick' happened, or, 'Oops, I seem to have gotten him drunk and horny' happened?'

"What? Neither!" He paused. This really wasn't something he wanted to go in to. "I was in a really weird mood, alright?"

Hunter gave him a look. "Tell me you're not blaming this on PMS."

He glanced away, feeling his face grow hot. He couldn't look at Hunter anymore. "We were watching Dirty Dancing," he mumbled.

"What the shit does that mean?"

"And--" He stared down at his feet, clearing his throat. He was so fucked. "Gus really looks a lot like Brian."

Silence.

"Oh. My. God. You fucked Gus while thinking of Brian and looking at Patrick Swayze." Mike looked back in time to see Hunter throw his hands in the air. "Well done, Michael. You're going to Hell. You're just going to Hell."

*

When Brian hit thirty-five he informed the group that Babylon was no longer available to them. After many long, loud arguments, they all came to the decision that Babylon was fine for Emmett and Justin, but not for Ted, Michael, Ben, or Brian, especially since Brian's stance was basically that everyone would look down on them for behaving like they were in their twenties, and if he wanted to fuck a kid he'd go to the orphanage, and, wow, that was ironic now. So instead they just stuck to Woodys, where, as Brian put it, they were allowed to be old without shame. Justin didn't hit the clubs as often as he had when all of them had gone together, although Em still spent a fair amount of time there. Times had changed, but they were all still best friends.

Until Michael ruined everything by fucking Brian's son, of course.

Michael was starting his first beer when Hunter showed. "What the fuck are you doing here?" Michael hissed, glancing around quickly to make sure none of their friends could overhear. "I thought you and Francois had your fancy schmancy bar. Get the hell out!"

Hunter leaned against the bar, smiling innocently. "I just thought I'd recall the glorious days of yester-year, Pop."

Michael's throat tightened. "You're going to try to tell Brian!"

Hunter smirked, but then Brian was there, passing Michael with a pat on the shoulder. "Tell me what?" he asked casually.

"Nothing," Michael muttered.

"Gus said he had a good time last night," Brian said, and Hunter choked loudly. "Why'd you make him take the bus?"

"Uh, I remembered I had some work to do at the store and didn't want to waste time."

"Oh, well, next time just drop him off at the diner." Next time. Right. Brian rolled his eyes. "He said some old fag hit on him."

For a horrifying split-second he thought Gus had told Brian, and Brian was only fucking with his head to get him to confess. But Brian's nonchalance was genuine, as far as he could tell.

"Would you believe the number of pervs out there?" Hunter drawled.

"Fourteen was when the balding old man at the corner store started giving me ninety per cent discounts on booze if I wore my tightest jeans," Brian replied wistfully.

"Just because you like being leered at by pervs doesn't make me one, okay?" Michael cried, sweating.

Brian stared. Hunter grinned. Panicking, Michael slammed his empty bottle on the bar and marched off before he said anything else stupid. From behind him he heard Brian ask, "What the fuck is his problem?" and Hunter reply with, "Mid-life crisis. You know how it is," to which Brian snapped, "I fucking well don't."

He was almost to the exit when Emmett grabbed him. "What's wrong, sweetie?"

"I'm heading home," Michael said. "Long day."

Emmett smiled sympathetically and patted his shoulder. "Missing your hunky professor?"

From his place at the bar Hunter looked right at Michael, scowling. If he didn't know any better he'd swear the kid had super hearing. "Uh, he'll be back Thursday," Michael told Em.

"You should call him," Emmett said brightly.

Yeah, that would go down well. He could imagine the conversation already: "Hey, Ben? You know Brian's kid, the one who calls me Uncle Mikey and lets us buy him ice cream and comics? I fucked him last night. Isn't that super?" Ben would leave him, Hunter would sell his story to the newspapers, and Brian would systematically destroy his life from the inside out -- if he was lucky. And there was that whole prison thing too.

"I'll... do that," he replied slowly.

As soon as Emmett became distracted by something bright and shiny at the bar, Michael fled.

That night Ben's framed bedside photo bore holes into his head. For half a second he almost got up and threw it across the room, but he already felt guilty enough for betraying Ben; throwing his photo wasn't going to help things. Michael reminded himself of that as he fell asleep staring at Ben's bright smile.

*

His mother always said the devil makes work for idle hands. Bright and early Sunday morning Michael went to the shop to take stock. He didn't traditionally work on Sundays, but comics had been his escape from reality in the past. He figured it would keep his mind off the wrecking ball that was his life.

The phone rang about mid-day. Caught up in the latest issue of Wolverine, he answered it carelessly: "Red Cape Comics."

It was the last person he wanted to hear from. "I want to see you again," Gus said huskily. Well, as huskily as a fourteen year old just over the puberty line could go.

"No way," Michael said.

"So you're just going to fuck me and never speak to me again?" Gus demanded.

"It's a cruel world, bucko," Michael replied, and he hit the off button. Next Sunday's family dinner was going to be a bitch. "Holden," he called to the kid he had hired a few months back, "put the new Supergirl--"

The phone rang again.

Irritated, he grabbed it and snapped, "Gus, I fucking said no, alright?"

"Gus called you?" Brian's voice.

He faltered. "He wanted me to take him to the zoo?"

"Get over here," Brian said.

Michael nearly dropped the phone. Holden looked at him strangely. "I didn't-- He-- What did I do?" Mike sputtered.

Brian paused. "I thought you should come over for dinner, since the professor's away. All work and no play makes Mikey go crazy."

He struggled to breathe again. "O-oh. Is it just going to be me and you?" he asked hopefully.

"Sure. And Justin and Gus and possibly Buffy, if Linds can convince Melanie I'm not going to poison her."

Mel didn't trust Brian with her daughter (Buffy Brianna Novotny Peterson-Marcus -- named by Hunter, naturally, much to Mel's chagrin) ever since that one time he went out of town in an emergency and left both her and Gus with Emmett, who dyed her hair pink in some sort of artistic endeavour. Even though it was Em who had directly applied the dye it was still Brian's fault in Mel's mind. Michael didn't quite get it, but he wasn't going to be the one to tell Mel to back off.

"Brian Kinney, the family man," Michael said jokingly.

Brian sighed dramatically. "Get your ass over here by eight or I'm giving your plate to Gus."

A weight lifted off his chest; perhaps things were going to be okay. If Gus hadn't told Brian by now chances are he never would. After a few weeks the paranoia and discomfort would surely go away, and as long as Brian and Ben didn't find out, he was in the green. Maybe he could convince Gus to tell Brian he was suicidal, or something, and then Michael could casually offer to pay for his therapy.

"Remember when you fucked Justin the first time?" Michael asked.

"No," Brian replied.

"Haha, very funny," he said. "Well, say there's this guy who has a crush on me--"

"Does Mikey have a secret admirer? It's Holden, isn't it. I knew that kid wasn't there for the comics."

Michael glanced suspiciously at Holden. He was busy drooling over an old issues of X-Men. "I need to know what you said to Justin trying to get him to back off. That way I can do the exact opposite and get rid of this kid."

Brian hung up.

Naturally, Hunter had to be at Brian's when he arrived at 7:58. Hunter smiled at him evilly, and Michael wondered if punching your twenty-seven year-old kid was still considered child abuse.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Michael demanded.

"He brought Gus home from soccer practice," Justin said dryly, accepting the cookies Michael had brought. "Lucky us. By the way, thanks for taking Gus this weekend, Michael."

"Haha," Michael said nervously.

Brian padded into the kitchen in jeans, t-shirt, and bare feet. "What do you want on your pizza?" he asked, waving his cell phone.

"You asshole, you said if I was late you'd give my dinner to Gus," Michael said angrily. Brian shrugged.

When the pizza arrived Gus clamoured to get the chair beside Michael. Gus was starting to remind him less of Brian and more like Hunter, which only made the whole situation worse. Halfway through the meal, as Justin rambled on about a movie he recently saw starring some guy he had gone to PIFA with, Gus rose up and reached for a napkin, his ass dangerously close to Michael's face. No one seemed to notice, but Michael sweated bullets anyway.

"Gus, there's something different about you," Hunter said sweetly as Justin's story ended. "More... mature."

Gus glanced at Michael briefly before smirking. "I got a haircut," he said, equally saccharine.

Michael swallowed thickly. "Brian, pass the garlic sauce. Oh, and I fucked Gus last night."

There was a long silence.

"Shit," Michael muttered.

Hunter stood abruptly. "Well," he said, and before Michael knew what was happening Hunter had fled, slamming the front door shut behind him.

Brian seemed frozen in place. Justin, looking horrified, put a hand on Gus's shoulder, as if protecting him from the evil pervert sitting at their table. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Justin demanded.

"You don't have any right to be complaining, Mr I've-Been-Going-to-Babylon-Since-I-Was-Seventeen," he yelled in defense.

"I can't believe you!"

Brian finally seemed to focus on them. He gazed around the table, blinking rapidly. "You're going to have to repeat that, Michael."

"He said he fucked your son," Justin said.

Maybe it was the fact Justin had said it, or maybe he just needed to hear it a second time, because Brian's face turned a rather frightening shade of red.

"Uh, I was kidding," Michael said weakly.

Brian stood abruptly, shaking his head. "God, I need a drink."

Michael sat at the table, unable to move, while Brian got up and made his way to the bar. He heard the clinking of glasses, and then Brian returned with two. One he kept, and the other he handed to a very disgusted Justin, who swallowed his in a few quick gulps. Michael smoothed down the front of the white tablecloth nervously.

"Did you enjoy it?" Brian asked Gus seriously.

"Brian!" Justin nearly shouted.

Gus tilted his head thoughtfully. "It was alright."

Michael decided this child was evil. "Brian--"

But Brian was still looking at Gus. "You're grounded," he said flatly.

"For three months," Justin snapped.

"God, my parents suck," Gus grumbled.

"Although apparently not as well as Mikey," Brian drawled.

This time Justin did shout, "BRIAN!" He turned to Michael quickly, and from the expression on his face Michael knew he had to run. "Get out."

Brian raised his eyebrows and waved. "See you later, Mike."

It wasn't until the door shut that Michael realised Brian hadn't actually gotten angry.

*

There was a large suitcase waiting on the front steps of their townhouse when he got home. He recognised it from that time Ben thought he was moving to Tibet. It was big enough to easily fit enough clothes for a month. Considering their neighbourhood Michael was surprised it hadn't been stolen.

"That's weird," he said.

He tried the door, but it was locked, despite Ben's bike in the rack.

"What the hell?" he muttered.

His key didn't work either.

A tapping noise got his attention. Standing in their window was Hunter, who waved and then flipped him the bird. Ben walked up behind Hunter and roughly pulled the curtains closed.

"Fuck," Michael groaned.


Chapter Two

The first thing Michael did was take his suitcase and high tail it out of there. The second thing he did, at the bus stop, was call Brian. Unfortunately, no one picked up, which left him only one option. Michael knew he'd hate himself forever for doing this, but he couldn't very well live on the street. Or with Ted and Emmett, who still lived together despite not actually being together.

He banged on the front door until Debbie answered. She seemed pleasantly surprised to see him.

"Can I stay here for a while?" he asked.

"Oh sweetie," she said, glancing at his suitcase, "of course you can."

He was ushered into the kitchen. She took his suitcase and sat him down at the table. She probably realised his being there wasn't a good sign, because she also set a plate of oatmeal cookies in front of him.

"I think Ben and I broke up," he said sadly. He knew he shouldn't be surprised, cheating with his best friend's son and all, but that didn't stop it from stinging. He loved Ben more than anything. Everything was so fucked up.

Debbie stroked his cheek. "Honey, I'm sure he'll forgive you."

He bristled. "Why do you automatically think it's my fault?" She simply gave him a look. Sheepishly, he muttered, "This really isn't something forgiveable, Ma."

She looked alarmed. "Jesus, what did you do?"

He cringed and told her.

When it was over she just stared as if she didn't recognise him.

"Ma?" he asked timidly.

"Jesus H. Christ on a cracker," she murmured, shaking her head. She waved a finger in his face. "Out of all the dumb things you've done this is the worst. You go to your room and think about what you've done, young man."

*

Brian was waiting for him outside the shop at seven o' clock the next morning. He wore his black leather jacket and sunglasses, and the way he casually smoked a cigarette normally would have made Michael's knees weak. But today he knew Brian wasn't there to make a social call.

They were both silent as Michael unlocked the store. Brian followed him inside, stubbing his cigarette out on the brick wall. His enraged expression made Michael gulp; hopefully Holden would call the cops before he did any serious damage.

"Brian," Michael squeaked.

"So I was talking to Justin," Brian said calmly. A cool bead of sweat slipped down Michael's back. "He was really mad I didn't care you fucked my kid."

"A-are you going to beat me up for Justin?" Michael asked, quickly glancing at the door. Holden was late again. He was a dead man.

Brian didn't seem to hear. He slowly tucked his sunglasses into his coat pocket. "And I was, you know, trying to tell him you two were just pulling our legs, but he said you weren't. And Gus was there, and he said you really did fuck. While watching Dirty Dancing."

"Oh God," Mike whimpered.

"Then Justin pointed out Gus looks a hell of a lot like me," Brian added. His gaze hardened. Maybe he could shove past Brian and run. Mexico was supposed to be nice this time of year. "So I was thinking that maybe you really did fuck my son, possibly while thinking of something -- or someone -- you really shouldn't have."

"Brian, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

Brian leaned in close. Once Michael would have said it was intimate; now it was simply frightening. "He's fourteen," Brian hissed.

"You slept with Justin when he was seventeen," Michael countered shrilly.

"For one thing, Justin has always been very mature for his age," Brian sniffed. "For another, he wasn't my best friend's son."

"Oh," Michael said. "Right."

Brian raised his brows and sent him a look that said, "Well?"

"I didn't mean to do it," Michael explained. "And-- and you fucked Ben!"

Brian blinked. "You did this because I fucked your husband fifteen years ago?"

"No, I just meant-- I forgave you for fucking Ben. So you should forgive me for fucking Gus." He tried to smile, but he suspected it was more like a wince.

Brain's disbelieving stare was enough for Michael to realise that had been the wrong thing to say. "Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth?"

"Most of them," Michael said.

Rather than punching him, Brian scrubbed his face with his hands. He hadn't seen Brian this distressed since Ted had stolen his corvette and sold it for drug money. Seeing Brian hurt only made him feel even worse.

"You know, this is the worst thing you've ever done. I could deal with your-- feelings--" Brian said the word like it was a vile, disgusting thing. "--When we were younger. Hell, I even liked it before--" Michael knew he stopped himself from saying Justin's name. "But when you do this to my kid it's just sick."

"I know," Michael said quietly. "I think Ben's left me."

"That bastard," Brian said sarcastically.

"Look," Michael said, irritated, "I'm sorry, alright?"

"'Sorry' doesn't change a fucking thing," Brian snapped. "I want you to stay away from Gus."

Relieved, Michael said, "Can you keep him from calling me too? It's getting really annoying."

*

Lindsay knew Brian really hated confrontation, so she let him ply her and Mel with drinks and thinly veiled insults until Mel looked ready to scream. Something was wrong -- this much was obvious from Brian's pleasantries and Justin's shifty behaviour -- but she couldn't put her finger on just what.

"Mel," Brian said smarmily, practically batting his eyes at her, "have you lost weight?"

Clearly disgusted, Mel set down her drink. Linds hid her smile behind her hand. "Cut to the chase, Kinney. I know we're not here because you were feeling sociable."

Justin nudged Brian with his elbow.

"Alright," Brian said soberly. "Justin has something to tell you."

Justin goggled. "What? Me?"

"You expect me to tell them?"

"He's your son!"

"They like you more than they like me."

"Someone had better tell us now," Mel growled.

Brian and Justin exchanged glances. "Michael fucked Gus," they said simultaneously.

"Consensually," Brian added, as if was an afterthought.

For a second Lindsay didn't feel anything. Then her blood rushed to her ears, and she went cold all over.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Mel asked flatly.

"Would I kid about something like this?" Brian replied.

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

"H-has he done anything to Buffy?" Linds asked, her throat filling with tears. Michael, molesting her baby. It wasn't possible.

"God, I hope not," Brian muttered, sounding disgusted. Justin scowled at him. "I mean, no. I don't think so."

"Wait," Mel said, voice rising, "you're saying you're serious about this?"

"I told him to stay away from Gus," Brian replied. "And me."

"Holy shit," Mel gasped. She clutched Lindsay's arm.

Linds wiped her eyes with her hands. Justin handed her a tissue, and Mel's clinging became hugging. "What are we going to do?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.

"We could have him arrested," Mel said tersely.

Brian's head snapped up. "That's kind of harsh," Justin said.

"A forty-three year old had sex with our fourteen year old son," Mel snapped.

"Maybe they're in love," Justin protested.

The room fell silent.

Justin sighed. "Pretend I didn't say that."

"If Michael and Gus are in love I'm the one who's going to need therapy," Brian said.

"Okay," Justin went on, "Michael's your -- our -- friend. He did something really bad, but I don't think he deserves prison for it. Look at all the times we've forgiven Ted. Sure, there are times I really miss my computer and the 'vette, and I'm sure Em blames him for what's-his-face's death, but the important thing is--" He stopped. "Uh, I forgot what I was saying."

"Michael's our friend," Brian reminded him.

"Right, he's our friend, and, um, prison is bad."

The four of them sat quietly. Lindsay wiped her eyes on a tissue, blotting away her mascara. Beside her Mel was tense, her body radiating rage. Even Brian was fidgety.

"I'm certain I could get a restraining order," Mel said finally.

"I have no problem with that," Linds replied.

*

It was probably suicide for Michael to be seen in Woodys right now, but being drunk considerably lessened the fear of imminent death. He had no friends, no lover, and no family, and, to top it off, his mother was barely speaking to him.

"My life is so incredibly fucked," he moaned.

Justin snorted. "You do the kid you do the time, Michael. You should feel lucky no one called the cops."

For some reason Justin had pulled a stool up to his table about half an hour ago. Initially Mike had been afraid Justin would punch him -- he knew from past experiences Justin and pent up anger was a lethal combination, Justin being brain damaged and all -- but then he decided he just didn't have the energy to care. Besides, it didn't make him an alcoholic if he drank with someone else.

"You're the only one talking to me." He narrowed his eyes. "Why?"

Justin studied his drink. "I've done some stupid things too, Michael, remember? Well, I never fucked Gus, but I did join a gang for a little while. Besides, I don't want Brian to lose his best friend."

"Maybe I should join a gang," Michael mused. "I can learn to bust caps in people's asses."

"Poor, young, innocent, blind Gus," Justin sighed.

"What about poor me?" Michael demanded. "It's not like he wasn't a willing participant. I was confused. He took advantage of me."

Justin raised a cool blond brow. "How exactly did he take advantage of you?" Michael worked his mouth, trying to come up with an answer, but Justin asked, "By looking like Brian did at his age?"

Michael looked away. Justin sighed again. "That's so--"

"Sick and wrong," Michael snapped. "Yeah, I know. I'm a horrible person. I just want things to go back to the way they were before."

"Did you ever think maybe you purposely sabotaged your relationship with Ben, and that's why you slept with Gus?" Justin asked.

"Who do I look like, Brian?" Michael scoffed. Justin scowled, and Michael hastily added, "Just kidding, sheesh."

"You can't make things go back to the way they were."

"What am I supposed to do?" he wailed.

"Well, you're not going to fix anything by sitting here and getting shit-faced, Michael," Justin said.

Justin was right. But there was no way Ben was going to see him. "How did you get Brian the first time? And the second time? And that time you--"

"What, you want my advice? This is a first."

"Nevermind," he seethed. "Just forget it. Forget it!"

Justin set his drink down and turned to him. "Listen, here's what you have to do: you have to let Ben know you're not going to let him cut you out of his life. You have to be aggressive. You have to put yourself out there. Don't let him move on."

"Are you telling me to stalk him?"

"Stalking is such an ugly word," Justin said sombrely. "I prefer the term courting."

"Courting," Michael scoffed. He rested his head against the cool surface of the bar. "I must be losing my mind, 'cause I'm actually considering doing this."

Justin smirked. "It worked for me."

"But-- but Ben isn't like Brian. He's not going to think me showing up everywhere he goes is 'sweet.' He's gonna think it's fucking creepy!"

"Fine," Justin said nonchalantly, "let him just kick you out of his life. You can spend the rest of your life waiting for a phone call from Hunter or a letter from Ben, until you die miserable and all alone." Justin snagged his drink and headed back to the bar.

Michael stared at the tabletop. "Shit," he muttered.

*

Michael carefully placed his clothes in the tiny, cramped closet of his old room. It was his new room now, he supposed, frowning at the row of jeans and sweaters. He could hear his mother in the kitchen downstairs, putting away dishes; he knew soon she'd walk to her room for bed, not bothering to stop and say goodnight like she used to. His childhood home had never felt big and empty until now.

He returned to the comic shop early the next morning, nursing a vodka-induced headache. Trying to focus on the fine print in the classifieds section of the newspaper was nearly impossible. He was grateful when the phone rang.

"Red Cape Comics."

"It's me."

"Ben," he breathed.

"I've left some of your things with Emmett."

Michael closed his eyes. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen," he said quietly.

"You didn't mean to fuck Gus or you didn't mean for me to find out?" Ben asked sharply. Michael couldn't reply. "Just tell me... why did you do it?"

"I really don't know," Michael confessed. The other end of the phone went quiet save for Ben's steady breathing. "I don't know, maybe it's a midlife crisis or something. We were watching Dirty Dancing, and Gus looked so much like Brian, and I thought-- I just thought, 'I can pretend I did this when I was fourteen.'"

"If you want to be with Brian--"

"I don't!" he interrupted. "And he doesn't want to be with me. It was just a mistake."

Ben sighed. Michael clutched the phone so hard his hands hurt.

"You're not fourteen," Ben said. "You can't spend one night pretending your life is different, and then spend the rest of it pretending that night didn't happen."

"I know," he whispered. He missed Ben so much it ached. "Believe me, I just want to take it back."

"But you can't. All you can do is fix what you did."

*

Less than a week after he'd made the biggest mistake of his life Michael returned to the diner. As soon as he walked in he saw the usual gang at their usual table; Ben, who was facing the door, met his eyes briefly before looking away. Michael straightened his shoulders and pressed onwards.

Conversation went still as he approached.

"Well, if it isn't Michael," Ted drawled.

"Hey, guys," he said.

Ben slid out of the booth, ignoring Michael completely. "I've got to run some errands. Later, everyone." He left without even a glance back, which stung.

"Oh!" said Emmett, looking at his watch with a melodramatic cry of surprise. "Ted, honey, we've got to leave now or else you'll be late for your group."

At least Em sent him a sympathetic look as they walked out past. "Try not to fuck any teenagers while we're gone," Ted whispered loudly, patting Michael on the shoulder. That left him and Brian; Brian didn't even acknowledge him as he took a seat.

They sat in a silence for a few minutes.

"Do you think stalking's romantic?" Michael asked.

Brian looked at him sourly. "You've been talking to Justin."

Michael started to deny it, but Brian pulled his newspaper over his face, dismissing him.

"Can I get a coffee?" he asked the passing waiter.

"Coffee for the perv at table seven," the waiter called to the counter.

Michael buried his face in his hands.


Chapter Three

Michael quietly shut his bedroom door. It felt like he was sixteen again, trying to call the guy he liked without his mom finding out. Not that she would have minded him seeing someone; when he was young he had always hated her giving advice and being so open about everything. He used to like to sneak around just to pretend he came from a normal family, or more like Brian, who had to hide everything from his parents and sister. Now Michael pulled out his cell and dialed a familiar number: his own.

After a few rings the machine picked up. "Hi, this is Ben--" "And this is Mike!" "Leave your name and number after the beep--" "And we'll get back to you!"

"Ben," he started, "it's me--"

The machine went dead. The dial tone rang in his ears.

"Dammit," he muttered.

Something tapped on his window. He whipped around, part of him expecting it to be Debbie. But it was Gus, trying to climb through.

"Oh my God," Michael groaned, opening the window. Gus clumsily struggled into the room. "What are you doing here? Do you know how much trouble I could get in?"

"I had to see you," Gus gushed, straightening his clothes.

"I'm your uncle!" Michael hissed.

"Not really," Gus pointed out. "Buffy and I aren't blood related."

Yeah, whose brilliant idea had that been? "It doesn't matter," he said. "I've still known you since the day you were born. I used to give you baths and change your diapers. Doesn't that gross you out?"

Gus frowned, looking very much like Brian. "You didn't have a problem with it that night."

Michael groaned. "That night was a mistake," he admitted. Gus flinched. "It should never have happened. You're fourteen! I'm lucky your moms and dads haven't pressed charges!"

"I get it," Gus snapped. He slammed his fist on the desk. Michael wondered if he'd just scarred the kid for life. Was he going to become another Brian, scorning love until it was almost too late, and then falling for some drama-prone underaged artist, just because Michael had turned him down? Was this how Brian had started out? And more important, did this mean Brian had slept with his uncle?

"You should find someone your own age," Michael said. "One that has absolutely no interest in sex. Maybe someone religious."

"Kids my age are morons," Gus sneered.

Oh God. Gus wasn't Brian, he was Justin. "I am so creeped out right now," Michael said.

"Fuck you," Gus shouted. He stormed to the window and loudly tried to scramble out.

"Could you be a little quieter?" Michael demanded. "My mom's gonna hear."

Gus slammed the window down so loudly the entire room shook. Michael waited for his mother to burst in asking what the hell was going on, but she never did.

*

"So my best friend's a child molester," Brian said. He swallowed his shot of scotch, barely wincing at the familiar burn.

"Remember when they used to call you that?" Justin asked thoughtfully, signaling the bartender.

Brian sighed. "Those were the days."

Emmett, the only one of the three probably still sober, eyed them. "I'm the only one of us still sane, aren't I." It wasn't a question.

"That depends," Brian said. "Has Ted relapsed again?"

He glanced over Emmett's shoulder. Sure enough, in the far corner Ted was bobbing away to the music in his own head. Groaning, Em went to go rescue him. Or lecture, whichever came first. In the past Brian had almost been amused by Ted the stoner, but after ten years it was just pathetic.

"I think you should forgive Michael," Justin added. Brian rolled his eyes. "Gus doesn't seem fucked up. Well, no more than any other teenage boy."

"I lost my virginity when I was fourteen," Brian muttered, frowning.

"Shit," Justin said, sitting up straighter, "Gus needs therapy."

*

Gus should have known something was up when both his father and Justin were home at three 'o' clock in the afternoon. "I'm just here to grab my stuff," he called. "I'm going to Kiernon's to do our science project."

"Not so fast," Dad said. "We're going to have a little talk."

Gus dropped his bookbag on the floor. "Uh, is this about Uncle Mike?" That was something he really didn't want to get into with his parents. Especially since Uncle Mikey had dumped him last night like that. Like he didn't even care.

"Yes," Dad said, as Justin replied, "No." "Sometimes," Dad started loudly, "when two men really like each other--"

"Oh God," Gus groaned.

"They want to fuck."

"Make love," Justin corrected.

"But you have to be prepared for the consequences of fucking. For instance, if you fuck at work, sometimes you get sued."

"I don't have a job," Gus said.

"This is why you never mix sex and work," Justin added.

"A lot of responsibility comes with fucking. Sometimes one night stands turn into fourteen years." His father's mouth dropped, and he looked away, blinking rapidly. "Oh my God, it's been fourteen years."

"Yeah, it's been a real party for me too," Justin said flatly.

Dad leaned closer, putting a hand on Gus's shoulder. "You have to be prepared, because sometimes all you want is a one night of hot sex, and the next thing you know he's showing up everywhere you go, and then you're at a high school prom, and then suddenly he's bashed in the head with a baseball bat, and then he's moving in with you, and then he leaves you for some disgusting, pussy-faced fiddler with poor hygiene--"

"Uh, Dad?" Gus cut in, uncomfortable.

"--And then magically you're back together before you realise what the fuck is going on, and then you lose your job, and then he joins a cult, and then you blink and you're letting him move in with you and give your company some stupid name you're too chicken shit to say you hate--"

"Hey," Justin protested, "Kinnetic is a fucking brilliant name."

"--And then you're practically married, and he wants you to have a commitment ceremony in front of your friends and God, God of all people--"

"I make one suggestion in the shower five years ago..." Justin sighed.

"--Suddenly you stop fucking redheads, and then you feel personally offended by green eyes--"

"Oh. Oh!" Justin exclaimed. "Is that why--?"

"I'm not talking to you," Gus's father said. He turned back to Gus. "And then you find yourself painting the toenails of some chick you barely know while watching Powerpuff Girls reruns on the floor of the place you bought together, even though you don't actually remember purchasing it, and you know you're watching reruns because you've seen them all with him, all because you were horny fourteen years ago."

The kitchen went silent, save for Justin loudly tapping his fingers on the counter.

"A-are you talking about Justin?" Gus asked. "'Cause he's right here, and, Dad, that's not cool."

Dad looked at Justin, who seemed annoyed. "You're hot when you're pissed off," Dad told Justin sweetly. But then he looked right back at Gus and said, "Oh yeah, and sometimes you get AIDS and die."

Justin buried his face in his hands. "Why do I bother?"

"I'm going to be late," Gus announced loudly.

"You're not fucking Kiernon are you?" Dad asked, brow furrowing.

Gus wrinkled his nose. "Ew, Dad, he's, like, a kid! Besides," he added bitterly, "Uncle Mike doesn't want to see me again. Apparently I'm too 'immature.'"

"What?" his dad demanded. "That shit!"

"Brian!" Justin hissed. "Don't encourage it!"

Rage rose in him. "You know, I'm not a stupid kid," he spat.

But his dad gently touched his arm. "No, sonny boy, you really are just a stupid kid. That's the point."

Gus was speechless.

*

The fifth time he rang Ben actually picked up the phone. "Michael," he growled, "I haven't been answering because I know it's been you. We have caller ID, remember?"

"Oh," Michael muttered.

Ben hung up.

*

Gus had just finished brushing his teeth when Ma peered into the bathroom. "Hey, kiddo, I hear you and your dads had a little talk today."

"Yeah, it was stupid."

She opened the door all the way. "They forgot to mention something," she muttered.

He put his toothbrush back in the holder. This should be fun. "Yeah, what's that? The part about sex leading to low self-esteem? I've had sex-ed, Ma, I'm not stupid."

"No, just that if you have sex again before you're married you're a dead man."

Somehow he believed her. "Oh. Um. Okay. Does this apply to Buffy too?"

She snorted. "Of course not. What do you think this is, the 50's?" She was halfway out the door before she paused. "Unless Uncle Mike wants to have sex with her. No sex with Uncle Mike. For anyone. Ever."

"Am I not allowed to see him anymore?" Not that Uncle Mikey wanted to see him again, but-- Gus still really liked him. Even if Uncle Mikey didn't see him in that way they could still hang out together. Mike was cooler than Dad, who paid too much attention to him, and Justin, who always had to turn something into some sort of after school special. "Now what did we learn from this experience?" Justin would ask. He was actually surprised the lecture had come from Dad.

"Not for a while," Ma said. "Honey, do you know what child molestation is?"

"I'm fourteen, not four," he replied angrily, throwing his toothbrush down.

She seemed surprised when he pushed past her.

*

Michael sent Ben a letter. Three days later it came back marked 'Return to sender.'

Maybe he needed to rethink this.

*

The first two times Michael showed up at Ben's lecture Ben had stared at him throughout the entire hour. The third time Ben had ignored him completely.

At the fourth lecture he was startled out of a daydream involving him, Captain Astro, and a spaceship by Ben standing over him. "Ben!" he exclaimed. Everyone around him was scribbling furiously.

Ben handed him a piece of paper, smiling.

"What's this?" Michael asked.

Ben's smile tightened. "Today's pop quiz."


Chapter Four

Patience had never been one of Michael's strong points. Two days after the pop quiz -- which he failed miserably -- he was walking out of the grocery store when it hit him that he was just sick of it all. He was sick of waiting, sick of being alone, and, most of all, sick of feeling guilty. He knew the guilt would never fade entirely, but he didn't think it should get in the way of his life. He'd make it up to Gus somehow.

Michael turned around, stalked back into the grocery store, and bought a bottle of wine Ben liked. Then he rode his bike all the way back to his old apartment.

He was relieved when Ben actually answered the door. He looked angry for a second, but before he could tell Michael to go away Michael blurted: "I love you. And I'm sorry."

Ben's expression softened slightly, but his voice remained firm. "What you did was inexcusable, Michael, to both me and to Gus."

Michael combed his fingers through his hair nervously. His bravo was fading. "I know, I know. That was probably the worst thing I've done in my entire life."

Ben sighed and shook his head. Michael's chest tightened. "I need to be sure you don't have any feelings for Brian."

"I don't," he replied honestly. It seemed like he had been in love with Brian an eternity ago. Ben had changed him into someone better; someone he was proud to be. Michael didn't want to lose him. "But I was for a long time, and I slipped. It doesn't make what I did right. I love you," he repeated.

He took a deep breath. Ben gazed at him evenly. "I don't know if I can trust you," Ben said bluntly.

That hurt. He hadn't really expected Ben to take him back just because he showed up at his doorstep, but it still hurt. Michael nodded and studied his shoes. "Okay. I had to try though."

He was already walking away when Ben called out: "I'm surprised Brian forgave you so easily, although I guess I shouldn't be."

Michael stopped to looked back. "Oh, I really haven't talked to Brian since he practically murdered me for touching Gus. He was next on the list. I needed to talk to you first."

"You came to me before Brian?" Ben asked, seeming shocked.

"Well, yeah," Michael said. "You're my life partner. We have a... we have Hunter together, and Buffy too. We're family."

This time he was at the end of the sidewalk when he heard, "Michael, wait."

*

Brian had always liked Ben. Not only was he perfect for Mikey, who needed someone to take care of him, he was also a really great guy (steroid abuse notwithstanding), which wasn't a quality Brian applied to many people. However, they didn't tend to spend a lot of time together, so when Ben asked him over he couldn't help but worry a little. Perhaps there was more to the Gus situation than Michael had let on.

Which is how he found himself on Ben's couch with a cup of herbel tea.

"You wanted to talk?" Brian asked. He set his tea on the coffee table without drinking.

Ben held up a finger, signaling him to wait. Brian stared as he turned to the surround sound stereo and fiddled with some buttons. Immediately pipe music and moaning floated through out the room. The little Buddhas on the mantle trembled.

"We can chat now," Ben said.

"What the shit is this?" Brian asked.

Another long moan pierced the woodwind melody.

"Whale songs," Ben said casually.

"I see," Brian said.

"I need to talk to you about Michael," Ben started. He put his hand on Brian's knee and sent him a very concerned look. The whales continued to sing. "I think you should forgive him."

Brian wondered if Ben was trying to drive him insane. "And why should I?" he asked.

"He's behaving very maturely about this."

"If he had been behaving maturely this wouldn't have happened," Brian pointed out, raising his eyebrows.

"Brian," Ben said, exasperated, "these last few weeks Michael's been trying to get me to talk to him. Yesterday was the first time I listened to what he had to say. He told me he came to me first, because we're a family-- he came to me, Brian, not you." Brian bit his lip thoughtfully. "I believe what he did was just a mistake, and I believe he won't do it again."

Brian looked around the room. Next to the little Buddhas were framed photos of Michael and Ben, Michael and Ben and Hunter, Michael and the whole family, and, on the very end, Michael and Brian. He did miss his best friend. Biting his lip, he said, "If I forgive him you have to promise me one thing."

"What?" Ben asked.

"Burn this CD."

The whales moaned.

*

No matter how many ups and downs Michael's life went through, Liberty Avenue would never change. Michael hummed to himself as he walked through the busy street. He was going to get take away from the diner and head home -- his real home with Ben, not his mom's. Things were looking up; having Ben back in his life made his lack of friends a bit more bearable. As much as he wanted them for forgive him, he knew he'd be able to live if they didn't.

Brian and Justin walked out of the diner just as Michael arrived. The three of them stood there looking at each other until Brian cleared his throat. "Going to Woodys tonight?"

"No," Michael said slowly, "I need to spend some time with Ben."

To his surprise, Brian smiled. "We'll see you later then."

He and Justin started to leave. Michael stared at Brian's back, wondering if this meant their fight was over.

"Wait," he called. "I need to say I'm sorry again."

"Sorry's bullshit," Brian replied, but he didn't sound mad.

"Are we friends again?" Michael asked. "You can sleep with Buffy when she gets older."

"Okay then," Brian said sarcastically.

"I'm really beginning to worry about your parental skills," Justin said.

*

A week later he was invited to the weekly family lunch at the munchers'. His arrival prompted hugs from Emmett, Ted, and even Em's new boyfriend John, who he'd actually never met before. Debbie had greeted him with her usual cheeriness, which made him think she'd been talking to Ben. He didn't really care, as long as she wasn't angry with him anymore. The whole lot of them sat at the table, and Michael was filled with a warmth at just how typical it all was.

"It's nice to be together again," Michael said cheerfully.

Mel nodded, tight-lipped. Lindsay played with her fork threateningly.

"Pass the mustard," Hunter said.

Michael sat between Ben and Brian. Across from him, Gus avoided meeting his gaze. Buffy was distracted by Francois, Hunter's boyfriend, making a puppet out of bread and olives, while Justin rolled his eyes. Michael felt ready to burst with joy.

"This is nice," Debbie said. "Gus, how are you, honey?"

Gus muttered something inaudible.

"What was that?" Mel asked.

"I have a girlfriend," Gus announced loudly. The whole room became silent. Brian dropped his fork. "Her name's Meredith."

"A girlfriend?" Brian demanded.

"A girlfriend!" Debbie cried. She beamed like this was the funniest thing she'd heard all year. "Isn't that something?"

"Brian Kinney's son a breeder," Emmett mused.

"Who saw that one coming?" Michael said.

"Watch your filthy mouth," Brian snapped at Em.

"She'd better be your age," Mel warned Gus. Gus gulped.

"That's it," Brian said, slamming his hands on the table. "Justin, we're not having any more kids."

Justin's eyebrows shot up. "Oh gosh, now what am I going to do with the booties I knitted?"

"Your next sperm donation's coming from Em," Brian told Lindsay.

Emmett beamed. "Really?"

"No," Mel and Linds said quickly.

And they lived happily ever after.


Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Cowlip Productions and the Showtime Network. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Kudos to Anna, Erinface, Cait, Sam, Tink, and Rachel Anton for their comments, suggestions, beta reading, and listening to my whinging.

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