This Time
by Suz

Timeline: Set after 401. Could be considered AUish.
Rating: R, for language.
Warnings: Well, it's hurt/comfort, so there's some angst. Nothing too heavy.
Summary: Not again.
Author's Notes: Thank you to my wonderful beta!


Phone's ringing at the ass-crack of dawn - okay, Brian conceded as he glanced at the alarm clock, 7:02am - were never an auspicious start to the day.

Muttering, Brian blindly fumbled around for the phone before finally locating it, thumbing the talk button, and pressing it to the side of his face. "What?" Predictably, Justin mumbled something next to him and rolled his lazy ass further away.


His tired brain nonetheless quickly deciphered the voice on the phone - Debbie, worried, calling at the ass-crack of dawn. He sat up. "What happened?"

"There..." she sniffed, although it sounded less like tears and more like anger." There was a bashing last night."

He closed his eyes. Fuck.


"Who and how bad?" he bit out. It was probably someone they knew if Deb'd seen fit to call him, but if it'd been someone they knew well like Mikey or Emmett, she would've called at 2am.

"Darren," Deb continued. "Shanda. After he left the benefit last night...someone..." She took a breath. "Not dead, thank fuck, but one of his legs is fucked, his right arm, his face looks like someone's been using it for a pinata. Fuck knows how long it'll be until he can get back up on stage again."

Brian barely knew the guy, but Darren and Justin were more than passing acquaintances - and he had worked for free at that fucking benefit for Concerned Citizens for the Truth. Fuck was worth repeating. Running his free hand over his face, Brian sighed. "They know who did it?"

"No," she replied, huffing her frustration. "He's been resting a lot, of course, but he gave the police a description. It's just fucking unbelievable. Right on Liberty Avenue - the one place we're supposed to be fucking safe!"

Brian smiled faintly, despite himself. Deb would always see herself first and foremost as an honorary queer.

"I just..." she sighed, before continuing. "I didn't want Justin just...hearing. Being caught off guard." Her voice changed; quieter. Knowing. Things had changed in the last couple of years. "The same goes for you."

Deb had all the subtlety of a stampeding elephant, but he figured it probably had been better to hear it from her rather than seeing it in the paper or overhearing it somewhere else.

And fuck knew he didn't want Justin hearing it from anyone else but him - not that he was looking forward to that conversation, either. "Yeah. Okay." Was he supposed to say thank you? "I'll let him know."

She shared a few more details before hanging up, and Brian ran a hand over his face again as he put the phone back. Fuck, fuck, fuck.


Christ, he needed a drink, but even Brian didn't drink alcohol this early in the day. Caffeine and cigarettes would have to suffice.

Climbing out of bed, he didn't bother getting dressed, heading straight for the coffee maker. Within a matter of minutes he had a large mug of coffee sitting on the counter and was part way through his second cigarette.

Ignoring the freshly brewed coffee entirely, Brian smoked and played with his lighter and leant against the counter, staring at the bedroom.



The smell of coffee and cigarette smoke greeted Justin when he woke up. They were an oddly welcoming part of his life - they meant Brian was awake - and he smiled before he even opened his eyes.

Taking a few minutes to really wake up - fuck, he loved days when he didn't have the early shift - he yawned and stretched out in bed before rolling over.

Last night had been a particularly good night. Brian actually accepting their help; celebrating the fact that he didn't have to sell the loft. Realistically, Justin knew it could still come to that at some point, but that point sure as hell wasn't now.

Shit, things'd been good, really good, between them for a while now. Brian may have lost his job and Justin may have been kicked out of school, but right now none of it really seemed to matter. They were more together than they'd ever been.

Amusing himself with the image of Brian's face if he happened to voice those thoughts, Justin pushed himself up until he was sitting in bed - and it was only then that his brain really noticed and analysed the familiar sound it'd been hearing ever since he'd woken up.

The chink of metal again metal.

Brian fiddling with his lighter.

Something he only ever did when something was bothering him.

Smile quickly replaced with a frown, Justin threw back the covers and got out of bed. After finding some underwear and pulling them on, he left the bedroom and stepped down towards the kitchen.

Justin would never say as much to Brian, but every time he walked into the loft or left the bedroom, he was still shocked by the distinct feeling of emptiness. He'd had years to get used to Brian's expensive taste in furniture, and a little over a week really wasn't about to erase those memories.

When he saw Brian on the other side of the free-standing counter, all thought of furniture fled.

It was something bad.

"What happened?"

Brian stared right back at him, and didn't hold anything back. Justin loved him for it.

"There was a bashing last night," he said, and even as Justin's shocked thoughts spun off in a thousand different directions - who? where? how bad? - Brian was already answering. "It was Darren. Shanda Lear. He'll live, but it seems a leg and an arm are fucked. They don't know if he'll be able to perform again." Finished, he started playing with his lighter again, staring at it intently.

Dumbstruck, Justin sat down heavily on a stool, mind racing. He hadn't really had time to think of what the bad news could've been, but a bashing would have never crossed his mind. Car accident, heart attack, shit, a fucking fire - all of that would've come first. He never would've expected a bashing, which was really fucking ironic but the truth just the same.

"How'd you find out?" he asked inanely, because that really wasn't important but it gave him something to do.

"Deb called," Brian answered, stubbing out his cigarette and picking up another one. "You slept through it, as per usual."

Justin's ability to sleep through just about anything had been a bone of contention from time to time - Brian had never let him forget about the night they'd been about to fuck and Justin had nodded off.

Not knowing what the fuck to think or say or do, Justin stood up as quickly as he'd sat down. "I'm taking a shower," he announced decisively because at least it was something, but it was only when he turned the water on that he realised he hadn't taken his underwear off. Cursing silently, he stripped off the soggy material before opening the shower door and throwing it onto the bathroom floor with a wet splat. Brian could bitch at him about it later if he really wanted to.

Turning the water temperature up higher, hotter than was comfortable but not enough to scald, Justin started scrubbing at his body even as he fought the ridiculous urge to cry. And it was ridiculous because yeah, he'd been bashed himself, but it wasn't like this bashing had happened to a close friend. He knew Darren to talk to him but it wasn't like they hung out together.

Shit, who the fuck did he think he was kidding? He'd never dealt with the bashing, just tried to forget about it. A few years ago he might have called himself a pathetic little faggot for wanting to cry, but he knew better now.

Of course, right now, that really didn't make him feel better.

When Brian's hand touched his shoulder he jumped, and Justin hated it, he fucking hated it because he hadn't been jumpy in over a year. But Brian didn't look at him strangely or act like he was some freak; he just held tighter and gently pushed him backwards until Justin was pressed against the wall. Closing his eyes and letting out a deep breath, Justin slumped forward, wrapping both arms around Brian.

The water sluiced down as they held on silently, and Justin realised just how tightly Brian was holding on.

"I'm okay," he said over the rush of water, and Brian's arms tightened imperceptibly. "I'm okay."

It wasn't a lie. He wasn't good and he'd probably cry or queen out at some point, but he was okay.

They ended up not fucking. Eventually they got out of the shower, dried off, and got dressed. Without saying a word, Brian drove him to the hospital.


Brian didn't stay at the hospital himself. Dropping Justin off, he told him to call when he wanted to be picked up.

He tried to enjoy driving for the sake of driving - despite the fact that he'd given it up willingly, Brian'd missed the 'vette a surprising amount when he no longer had it - but his thoughts kept returning to Justin and Darren and that night nearly three years ago.

Instead, he sequestered himself away in the loft, working on and outlining a business plan to get Kinnetik off the ground. Soon he'd have to go out and start selling himself but doing it properly meant having a realistic plan in place. It'd need room for surprises of course, but more than anything it needed a strong backbone. Something to fall back on if things fell apart.

Brian locked the door and ignored every phone call - four from Mikey, two from Linds - until Jennifer called. Snatching the phone up immediately, he spoke as soon as it was pressed against his ear. At least he could pay the fucking phone bill.

"He's fine. He's at the hospital."

"I know," Jennifer replied firmly, and it surprised Brian how hesitant she wasn't. When had that changed? "He called from the hospital to check in. That really wasn't the kind of news I was expecting to hear this morning. I can't believe something like this could happen again," she continued, "and to someone that Justin knows! Even with all that's happened, sometimes I forget how shitty the world can be."

Brian didn't say anything about that. He knew extremely well how fucking shitty life could be. "So why'd you call?" And...yeah. He may have spoken harsher, meaner than he had to her in a while. But right now he didn't give a fuck.

"I wanted to see how you were doing," she said carefully, in that tone of voice that always made Brian wince. "It may have taken me a while to see it, but Justin wasn't the only one hurt that night."

Closing his eyes, Brian sighed. "I'm fine."

"Brian, you-"

"I may not exactly be brimming with joy," he interrupted, not wanting anyone's fucking pity, "but I'm fine. I'll be fine. Now I need to get back to work."

Jennifer sighed audibly, before letting him change the subject. "Justin tells me you're thinking of starting your own agency."


"If there's anything I can do..."

"I'll let you know," he retorted. "I'll probably need office space soon."

"I'll keep my eyes open for you," she promised, and then she did hesitate. "See you soon, Brian."

"Jennifer," he replied, and ended the call.

He didn't answer any calls for the rest of the day, until Justin called to be picked up from the hospital and taken to work.

"Deb said I could skip my shift today," Justin explained when he got in the car, "but fuck that. I don't need anyone treating me any differently."

Brian didn't say anything, and simply drove him to the diner.


Justin had just finished giving a table their order when he saw Daphne standing a few feet away from him, looking awkward.

Blinking in surprise, he smiled at her faintly. "Mom call you?" He'd asked her to when he'd spoken to her earlier.

"Yeah," she nodded.

Scratching at his ear, Justin felt weirdly awkward himself. "I'm sorry I didn't call, but-"

"It's okay," she interrupted, almost too enthusiastically. "I get it." Stopping, she wrung her hands together. "So..."

"So..." he paused. "I can join you in a minute, if you want." Daph knew his shifts well enough by now to know that his break would be soon - she'd probably arrived now for that very reason.

After a few more minutes - in which he received a hefty tip from a drag queen - Justin carried them over both a cup of coffee and sat across from her.

"So," she began, wrapping both hands around her drink, "this is weird."

"One way of putting it," he said wryly. At least he wasn't the only one who thought so.

"Are you okay?" she asked seriously, then winced. "Sorry, you're probably sick of people asking that."

"Actually, I'm not," Justin replied, shrugging. "So far only Mom and Deb have asked that."

"And me."

"And you," he smiled, before hesitating. "I...don't know how I'm doing to be honest. Still kind of...processing?" She nodded her understanding. "It hasn't even been a day. But I also keep thinking how self-involved it is, making it all about me when Darren's the one who's been hurt."

Shaking her head, Daph leant closer. "Maybe it is self-involved, but you were bashed too, you know. Of course we're going to be thinking about you. And no offense to Darren - who I'm sure is a great guy and didn't even slightly deserve what happened - but he's not my best friend. And he wasn't in a coma for two weeks, either. I'm not belittling what he went through, but I think it's perfectly normal that you-"

"Daph," he cut in, because he'd had to deal with her when she was like this on more than one occasion. "Can you stop with the self-righteous crusade? Please? It's too early for me to deal with it."

She frowned. "It's 7pm."

"Exactly my point."

Sticking her tongue out at him - Justin was glad some things didn't change - she then sighed and relaxed back in her seat. "How's Brian taking it?"

That was another question entirely. "He's Brian," Justin retorted, and they shared a knowing look. "He was the one who had to tell me about it, actually. Drove me to the hospital."

"That must have been weird," she murmured, finally lifting her drink up and taking a sip. "For both of you," she added, lowering the cup. "So you're sleeping at his place tonight, right?"

Truthfully, it was getting to that time of the week when he really should spend a night at his own actual place again - hold up the pretense that he did spend just as much time at Daph's as he did at Brian's - but given what'd happened... "As long as you don't mind-"

"For one, you're an adult, and you can do whatever the hell you want," she grinned, clearly amused by the idea of Justin as an adult. "And I want you where you'll be safest tonight," she told him, "dumb as that may sound. And we both know where that is. Besides," she took another slow sip, "though he probably won't say it, we both know he'll need you around tonight." Lowering her cup to the table, she stared down at it. "When we were trying to help you...remember...fuck, even then it was clear what a mess he was." Lifting her head back up, she met his gaze. "He needs you."

Justin appreciated the sentiment, but it really wasn't something he didn't already know.

Daph left, eventually, giving him a big hug. Deb turned up, giving him just the same, along with the latest update on Darren's condition. Justin still didn't know how she found time to do everything she did.

They worked together for a few hours before Justin said goodbye to everyone, grabbed his jacket and walked out the door.

Sometimes when Justin worked the late shift, Brian picked him up in the car. More often than not he didn't, especially if they'd made plans to go to Babylon afterward - Justin would just leave work and walk the few blocks to his destination.

He appreciated the hell out of the fact that Brian didn't try to baby him, didn't think he couldn't make his own way back to the loft, or Daphne's.

But sometimes Brian was waiting outside the diner and Justin couldn't honestly say that he didn't appreciate that, either, especially after having been on his feet for hours.

Like right now.

He knew exactly why the 'vette was outside the diner when he finished work, and it didn't bother him for a single second.

Climbing into the passenger seat, he pulled the door shut and smiled gratefully at Brian. "Thanks. I really needed a lift today." He was long used to working a shift at the diner, but the visit to the hospital had been emotionally draining. Frankly, he wanted to do nothing more than go to the loft and collapse into bed.

And he would definitely be going back to the loft. He knew he had to, he wanted to, Daph would kill him if he didn't - and as Brian started driving, it was clear they were heading for Tremont anyway.

Today that didn't bother him either.

Justin expected to be jumped the moment they got inside the building - maybe even before - but it didn't happen. They rode up quietly in the elevator - not touching each other - and by the time Brian was in the bedroom, getting undressed, Justin was frowning heavily. They'd gone through too much to let this kind of shit happen again.

"Stop doing this," he said seriously, stepping up into the bedroom just as Brian was stepping out of his jeans. "I know it's horrible. Fucking horrible. You don't like it, I don't like it. It's a shitty situation. I know you don't like talking about it, Brian, and though I can't say I wouldn't like to talk about it properly one day, I can deal with that - we usually manage to get across what we mean to say, anyway." Brian stared back at him silently. Justin took another step closer. "But don't act like I'm invisible, okay? Because I know that's bullshit. I know how you feel about me and I know that's how you think you have to deal, but we both had a fucking shitty day, Brian." He paused, eyes burning as he tried to hold back tears. This, apparently, was the expected queen out. He was physically tired and emotionally exhausted and Brian exhibiting less than perfect behaviour right now wasn't in any way a good thing. "You could have at least said something in the car - a single word - or touched me, just fucking touched me, just once, I know you were there this morning but I've been dealing with the fact that I was bashed and someone got bashed all fucking-"

And just as Justin was completely fucking losing it, Brian finally moved.


He fucking hated it when Justin cried. Thankfully it didn't happen often - Justin was a strong little fucker - but when it did at least he knew what to do now. For a while when it happened he'd just felt helpless, hesitantly putting a hand on Justin's shoulder before slowly pulling him into a hug.

That, or he'd just ignore the fact that Justin was crying at all.

But things'd changed. A lot of fucking things had changed. He had the bashing to 'thank' for knowing what to do when Justin started crying (there'd been the nightmares, so many fucking nightmares, Justin yelling and screaming and crying his fucking eyes out as Brian tried helplessly to calm him down, feeling like he was living through the fucking bashing all over again), and he used that knowledge now, pulling Justin down on the bed, holding him tightly and murmuring nonsense, words that didn't make any fucking sense but calmed Justin down, just the same.

Justin didn't stop crying but he did calm down, holding Brian just as tightly as Brian was holding him.

When he'd finally made it down to a few hitching breaths, Brian decided it was safe to speak. "You been keeping that one in all day, huh?"

Snorting, Justin sniffed and burrowed even closer. "Shut up."

Justin's reaction to being 'handled' the way he just had been by Brian could vary, these days. He used to love it, probably seeing it as proof that Brian cared about him. But as Justin got older he got more independent, and sometimes it seemed to frustrate him that he wanted or needed Brian around to deal with shit like that.

Today he didn't seem to mind.

"How was work?" Brian asked, hoping they could avoid the fucking mammoth in the room.

"Okay," Justin sniffed. "Daph came to see me, to see how I was doing." Pausing, he loosened his hold and pulled back - he really needed to wash his face - to look at Brian. "What about you?"

"I started planning a bunch of shit for Kinnetik; make sure I'm ready when I go out to pitch to new-" Justin gave him a poke, and not in a fun way, "-and I only talked to your mom. Mikey and Linds called, but I ignored them."

Justin stared at him. "They're your friends, you know. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to talk to them abou-"

"I don't fucking talk to anyone about it." And fuck, wasn't that the truth? Justin knew that better than anyone else. He closed his eyes briefly, mostly because it wasn't exactly fun looking at Justin's puffy, frustrated face. "If I fucking could, I-" He stopped, because he just didn't say shit like that.

"I know," Justin said anyway. Calmly. When he'd been crying his fucking eyes out just a minute ago.

Frustrated, Brian rolled away, lying on his back. He couldn't talk about it, per se, but maybe he could give Justin something.

"I hate it," he said quietly. "I fucking hate it."

It didn't explain everything. Didn't verbalise how much he fucking hated that it'd happened, that some days he literally wanted to kill Hobbs, and - fuck - that sometimes it actually frustrated the fuck out of him that he couldn't give Justin everything he wanted.

But it was something.

One of Justin's hands slid into his, fingers squeezing together.

And that was something, too.

Letting out a breath, Brian rolled back, his mouth finding Justin's. Kissing him back willingly, Justin made satisfied noises and when they broke away he smiled up at Brian broadly.

"See, this is how I know you love me," Justin said happily.

There weren't many responses Brian was about to dignify that with, so instead he went with a raised eyebrow and a simple, "Oh?" Such a response could be interpreted many ways, none of them being a confirmation that Brian actually did love him, while not completely ignoring the idea, either.

"You're kissing my snotty, soggy face. If that's not love, I don't know what is."

Actually laughing - quietly, of course - Brian pursed his lips together as he regarded Justin with amusement. "Maybe I have a mucus fetish."

"Gross," Justin wrinkled his nose.

"Right," Brian responded, "I've had my tongue up your ass and it's *mucus* that's gross."

Apparently agreeing - or just deciding not to argue for once - Justin lifted his arms up and wrapped them around Brian's neck. "Kiss me again."

That was one request Brian was always happy to help with.

"I meant it, you know," Justin told him later. "What I said this morning. I may have bad days or cry my eyes out or just be a snotty little bitch-"

"Sounds familiar," Brian interrupted, smirking.

Justin whacked him lightly on the chest. "The point is, I'll be okay. And so will you."

Brian stared at him, resting a hand against Justin's naked body. "You certainly sound confident."

"Sure," he smiled. "We've made it this far, haven't we?"

And for once, Brian had no argument.


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