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Author:[ profile] guavejuice
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"If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else?" ~RuPaul Charles
Justin's journey to self-acceptance and personal transition is long and winding. Will he learn to love himself as others love him?
A/N:I started writing this series back in December 2015. It's my first WIP. This story is now complete but please wait patiently between updates.
Click Here for previous chapters
Disclaimer:I own nothing but this story.
Comments are love.

~ A week later, Allegheny Medical Center, Pittsburgh ~
Brian's POV

"Guys, this is Brian," Justin introduced me to his friends as I followed him inside the clinic on the day of his surgery. I didn't want to admit it out loud, but clinics and hospitals still gave me the chills after everything I’d been through years ago, but I kinda wanted to face that fear and conquer it. Not to mention, I felt I needed to be there for Justin; not just for him, but for ME.

"Oh, so you're the CIS," a slender guy wearing a tank top and cropped cargo pants addressed me.

"Brian, this is Cody. Cody, this is Brian," Justin introduced us, just like that without any labels or titles. The guy shook my hand strongly, and I swear I never would have believed he hadn’t been born a male if Justin hadn't told me all about it beforehand.

"Hey, wait! I thought I was the resident CIS,” a young woman protested playfully, shaking her long, curly hair.

"Brian, this is Daphne, my friend, roommate, and the other CIS," Justin informed me. He then went on to introduce his other friend, Blake, to me, before we all just sat there, chatting away like we were sitting casually at a restaurant and not a hospital waiting room.

Just as I was speaking to Blake – letting him know how much I admired the work he'd done on Justin's tattoo – suddenly the small space of the pre-op waiting area fell silent. Justin rose to his feet, his face pale as if he'd seen a ghost.

"What are YOU two doing here?" he eventually hissed towards a blonde, elegant-looking woman who had just walked in with a younger, strawberry-blond version of her in tow.

"Molly told me what was going on, so I just had to be here," the woman explained as she approached him, her face etched with worry.

I had no idea who this woman was, but the expression on Justin's face clearly indicated he wasn't comfortable, nor was she welcome here.

"Why'd you have to tell her, Molly? I thought I asked you NOT to," Justin growled as he turned to the younger woman, clearly frustrated.

"After you called me on the phone and told me what was going on, I just couldn't keep this from Mom, especially since she and Dad have filed for a divorce," the young woman - apparently, his sister – replied, struggling to hide her tears.

"Can't we patch things up? It's been way too long. Please, Justi…" his mom paused to stop herself as Justin glared at her, daring her to address her SON by his chosen name and pronoun and not by his birth name.

Justin seemed quite shaken. I couldn't stand seeing him like that. Cody and Blake shook their heads in disbelief, while Daphne put her hand over her mouth. I stood up and wrapped my arm around Justin’s shoulder, noticing how tense he'd become. I wanted to say something, but I couldn't. I thought back to one similar encounter between myself, my mom – good, old St. Joan – and my bitch of a sister Claire when they both had had the nerve to barge into my life after they literally disowned me when I had come out to them as a fifteen-year-old. Just like Justin’s family, they also had had the audacity to try and ‘patch things up' with me. The real reason, however, was to ask me for money, since my dad had passed away, leaving them with nothing but his drinking and gambling debt. But I was a 30-year-old man, and I steadfastly refused to take responsibility for my dad's actions.

I've had to deal with a shitty family – there's no doubt about that – but I couldn't even imagine what was going through Justin’s mind at that moment.

"I think I'm going to have to ask you to leave now, Molly, and take Mom with you," Justin eventually spoke, his voice cold and harsh. "I'm sorry…but I can't deal with either of you right now," he continued, just as a nurse walked in and asked him to join her to meet with Dr. Schmidt for a last pre-op briefing.

"Want me to join you?" I asked him. He seemed as though he needed someone there for emotional support. Justin opened his lips, about to speak, before he was interrupted by his mother.

"Who are you?" she asked indignantly.

"This is Brian, and that's all you need to know; now excuse me, I have to leave," Justin told her stiffly. By that point the nurse had asked Justin if he wanted anyone else with him during his pre-op, and he just pointed at me.

I turned to glance over at his friends – feeling a little awkward that he had chosen me over them – but they nodded at me as if they understood Justin’s wishes, and I nodded back at them gratefully, feeling a strong need to be with him.

Leaving his mother and sister in the lobby, we followed the nurse through a set of double doors leading to a hallway as she led us to another smaller waiting room located next to Dr. Schmidt's office; after the nurse left us alone, I pulled him into my arms, hugged him, and kissed him on the lips, wishing him good luck and promising him I would be there waiting for him when he was done.

Soon afterward, we reluctantly had to say goodbye before I headed back out into the main waiting area where his friends sat. I could literally feel my heart beating anxiously as I walked up to them and sat down next to Cody on one of the sofas, silently grateful that Justin’s mother and sister had followed his wishes and left.

"I know exactly what he's going through right now," Cody told me softly, remembering his own personal journey.

"Yeah…me, too. He'll be fine, though; I know he will," Blake added firmly as Cody and Daphne both nodded in agreement.

We all sat there in silence for the next hour-and-a-half, none of us mentioning Justin’s encounter with his mother and sister, until finally a nurse came out and told us that Justin was already in post-op recovery as they waited for him to come out of his anesthesia. We all let out a sigh of relief. I stood up and asked if I could see him. The nurse asked me if I was a family member, which made me pause briefly, but then Cody and Blake joined me and told the nurse that we were ALL Justin's family. To my relief, she didn't ask too many questions; she just smiled reassuringly and said she might be able to let us all in to see Justin as long as we didn’t try to see him all at the same time.
We had to sit there a little while longer, and I just couldn't wait to see him.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

~ The Next Day, Afternoon, Brian's Loft ~

Justin's POV

"You okay?" Brian asked me, staring at me from his work space while I was lying on the sofa in the living room area.

"I've been better, but I'll be okay," I answered with a soft groan. I lifted myself slightly, aiming to grab the tall glass of Perrier Brian had previously placed in front of me on the coffee table.

"Hey, what the fuck are you doing?" He jumped off his computer chair and literally ran towards the living room.

"Trying to get a drink of water," I replied, wincing at the pain.

"Didn't you hear what the doctor told you? You're not supposed to lift anything, including your arms, for the next twenty-four hours," Brian reprimanded me. "Here, let me get that for you.” He took the glass from the table and handed it over to me, then sat beside me on his large, Italian sofa.

"I heard what the doctor said, but I'm okay; don't fuss," I told him firmly. I smiled at my ‘mother hen’ before adding softly, “By the way, thanks again for letting me stay here.”

Brian shrugged. "Don't mention it. I mean…there was no way you could have stayed in your apartment all day while Daphne's at work…" he explained, pulling his lips inward. He looked so adorkable that I wished I could have hugged him and never let him go, but I couldn't, because I didn't want my stitches to burst open.

"Well, my mom could have taken care of me, you know," I mentioned sarcastically with a snort.

Brian gazed thoughtfully into my eyes before he replied, "I know it must be so fucking hard for you, but don't think about it now; focus on yourself.” Just then someone banged on the front metal door and then slid it open, walking right in without even waiting for either of us to react.

"Well, well… look who's here," Brian greeted the visitor with a grin.

"Who is it?" I asked, feeling a bit apprehensive. I had no idea who had just walked in, because I was lounging on the sofa with my back to the door. I wasn't really ready to receive any visitors other than my close friends.

"Don't mind me," the person said with a hearty laugh as I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Debbie, so great to see you," I greeted her with a smile as she came into my view.

"Nice to see you, too, baby,” she returned my greeting, her hands clutched around a large tray holding some covered dishes. “I made some homecooked vegan dishes for you. You’ve got to eat and get stronger, so you can finally go out into the world as your authentic self," she commanded. Touched by her thoughtfulness, I looked up at her, sniffing hard so she wouldn't notice my tears.

I liked what she had said as I nodded. "My authentic self. I love that. Thanks, Debbie.”

She looked at me again and smiled. "You're so brave, Justin. You deserve all the support you can get. I wish your mom knew what she was missing," she added solemnly.

I swallowed the lump in my throat before managing to say, "No wonder Brian loves you so much."

"Everybody loves me," she told me teasingly as she turned to Brian. " Okay, I've got to go now. Take good care of him, kiddo," she told Brian before she looked back over at me. "And as for you, Sunshine, just remember: mourn the losses, because they are many, but more importantly, celebrate the victories, because they are few and far more precious." Handing the dishes to Brian, she patted me softly on the top of my head –something my own mom had never done. She then kissed Brian on his cheek and turned to the door. "It's okay, boys; don't get up, I'll see myself out," she smirked, laughing over her pun as she closed the door behind her.

I felt as if I was floating on air, and not just because of all the pain killers I had consumed. But then something less euphoric troubled me. "I think I need to take a shower, Brian," I told him as I began to attempt to rise to my feet, but Brian stopped me.

"Not today; you heard what the doctor said," he reminded me.

"I can't wait to take these bandages off," I huffed in frustration.

"I can't wait for it, either," Brian said, his voice low and husky.

I stopped trying to move as I asked, "Do you really mean that?"

"Never meant anything more," he whispered softly, the intense look he was giving me making me unexpectedly blush.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

~ Two Weeks Later, Early Morning, Brian's Loft ~

Justin's POV

"You look great," Brian remarked with a smile as he entered his spacious bathroom and gently wrapped his arms around me from behind.

I stood there, staring at my reflection in the large mirror. I was two weeks’ post-op, but just as Dr. Schmidt had promised, there were barely any scars across my chest, since my body type suited the keyhole method that didn’t leave much scarring.

"I can't believe this," I murmured as I stared in wonder at my flat chest. "I just can’t believe it. It almost seems unreal. It's ME; it's how I always wanted to be." Even with my naturally 'petite' frame, and after all the pre-op workouts I’d done to get a flat chest without having to bind it, it still looked so much better to me now; so…right. It's not that I hadn’t worn tank tops before – or had even taken my shirt off every now and then. But THIS was still a whole new experience. THIS was what I've always wanted my body to look like. It was here to stay; it was not just a fantasy.

"Can you feel this?" Brian whispered in my ear, gently touching my nipple. In my last pre-op appointment with Dr. Schmidt, he had informed me that in some cases people won't always regain the sensation in their nipple area after surgery, which was something I had felt quite anxious about. I told Brian about it the day that I checked out of the hospital when he drove me back to my place. I wasn’t sure he had remembered what I had said, though, because I was too high on pain killers to notice anything myself, but he apparently had paid attention to that one piece of information after all.

I could feel his strong, smooth fingers as they skimmed over my chest, but I couldn't quite feel the sensation of his finger pad stroking my nipple, which made me panic. He obviously noticed it, since he asked me if I wanted him to stop.

I shook my head. "No, it's okay; go on," I answered. I took a deep breath and tried to stand still. Then – as I kept staring at both of our reflections in the bathroom mirror while we stood shirtless, bare skin on bare skin – I could actually feel a tingling around my left nipple while Brian's fingers gently teasing the nub and surrounding skin. He smiled as he heard me gasp in reaction. "Better now?" he asked in a deep, velvety voice, feeling how my body trembled with pleasure just by his touch.

My lips broke into a radiant, relieved smile as I almost laughed in joy. "Much better," I managed to reply breathlessly, turning in his arms to face him.

"Good," he smiled, brushing his fingers across my beard stubble.

"VERY good," I answered, brushing my fingers around his jawline and then almost reverently over his lips.
"I'm thrilled to know you're doing better, Sunshine,” he responded with his unique nickname for me. “But it's been a while since I've been to Kinnetik, and I have to take care of some important business there that can’t wait any longer," he explained reluctantly, kissing me softly on my lips before turning toward his massive, walk-in closet to get dressed.

"It's okay; you don't have to stay here all day babysitting me. You've done so much already," I said. "In fact, I think it's about time for me to return to my apartment," I added after a slight pause, knowing I had no other excuse to stay here at Brian’s loft, other than how badly I wanted to. The thought of leaving made me very sad; I had gotten quite used to waking up in Brian’s arms each morning now, and I was already mourning the thought of not having that pleasure again tomorrow morning.

Brian exited the closet to peer over at me. "Did I say that?" He asked with a raised eyebrow; he walked over next to me barefoot, clad in a slate-colored dress shirt and a dark blue pair of skinny, designer, denim jeans. "Surely you know you're always welcome to stay here as long as you want. I mean, I've always thought this place was only big enough for one person – and that person was me – but now that you're here I don't see any reason for you NOT to stay," he concluded almost shyly, pulling his lips inwards again in that adorkable gesture he has.

"Don't think for a minute that I don't appreciate your generous offer," I hastily replied, looking right in his eyes. "But it's been two weeks since the surgery, and it's time for me to leave. I split the rent with Daphne, you know; not to mention the school year is coming up, so I'd better get my lame ass into it."

"There's no reason why ‘your ass’ can't stay here," Brian insisted. "And by the way, your ass is anything but ‘lame,’ if I do say so myself," he noted as he stared down at my butt, making my face warm at the leering expression on his face.

"Attention, trigger warning," I let him know playfully. At this point I felt comfortable enough to let him know when things became a bit too triggering for me during our everyday conversation – or while we were in bed, for that matter – to the point where it might get too dysphoric for me. When I hung out with Cody and Blake and a few other trans friends, we used lots of those trigger warning alerts between us so we could cope better with the issues that troubled us, instead of letting those issues restrict us. Once I felt I could actually trust Brian, and once he realized that, I started to use those trigger warnings with him more freely, and it seemed to work. It's not that I expected him to choose his words every single time we teased each other and exchanged some bantering, but it was important for me to let him know that there were some words or situations that could potentially trigger some anxiety for me unexpectedly. Anyway, I couldn’t deny that I wasn't flattered whenever he complimented me on my ass. It wasn't perfect, but it was part of me, and I kinda liked it.

"So noted," he responded, accepting my warning as he leaned into me and planted a soft kiss behind my ear, knowing full well it's one of my most sensitive spots. I could smell his toothpaste and the distinctive, sharp, deep, sweet sandalwood scent of his aftershave –which I LOVED smelling on myself for at least an hour after we've broken off a kiss.

"So what do you say?" he whispered, his warm breath washing over my ear and making me moan softly at the sensation. "Should I make more room in my drawers for your drawers?'

“But Daphne…” I struggled to say as his fingers began to caress my shoulders.

“So you pay your half until she finds another roommate,” Brian sensibly offered. “Next objection?”

I knew I was quickly losing this battle. "Well…let's just say that IF I did accept your offer, you’d have to make room in your ‘drawers’ for more than just MY drawers. There would be my T-shots, my STP's, my packers, and my secret stash of goodies to put in there as well. Are you sure you would you be up for that, Mr. Kinney?" I asked him playfully, moved by his kindness and persistence, as well as excited at the prospect of waking up to him every morning, and going to bed with him every night.

"Is that a yes?" he flashed his crooked smile at me, a hopeful expression on his face.

"Maybe," I answered coyly, my heart doing somersaults inside at the thought.

"Well, in that case I think I might have to start looking for a larger house," he exclaimed unexpectedly.
"You don't really mean that , do you?'" I looked at him in dismay, feeling guilty that he would even consider that because of me.

"I do, I mean it. Fervently," he answered.

"I can't let you do that. I mean…I have my apartment, you have this place; I'm starting school soon, not to mention I'm up to my ass in medical bills. And there's no way in hell I would be able to afford to help pay rent on a bigger place." I took a breather before I continued. "Sorry, Brian, but as much as I would LOVE to live with you, I'm afraid we can't do it just now; It's too much for me to handle." I swallowed hard as I tried to calm down. I wanted so badly to be with him all the time, but I just didn’t see how that was possible right now.

"So…this is IT?" He asked after a tense pause; I thought I could hear disappointment in his voice.

"No, of course not," I reassured him, kissing him on his chin. "I'm still here, and I'll be around. I could come over to your place, and you could drop by mine whenever Daphne works the night shift. Hell, you could even come hang out with my friends if you feel like it, but please understand that I just can't deal with too many major changes right now. I've got too much emotional baggage as it is," I whispered to him.

"Who doesn't?" he countered as if it were the most natural thing in the world; I wished my chest wasn't still sore, so I could hug him hard and never let go. I took another deep breath before I continued. "Don't think that I don't appreciate everything you've done for me, Brian. And don't think for a moment that I’ve stopped loving you,” I told him softly before I lost my nerve. “Because I do. God, I'm so fucking in love with you, Brian, that I sometime think my heart might explode. But I just can't move in with you, that’s all; at least not yet, anyway.”

He looked at me with those deep, rich, green-golden eyes, and I had to stop to compose myself. It was actually the first time I had told him I was in love with him. I hadn’t really intended on telling him just yet; the mere thought of it had scared the hell out of me. But once the words had escaped my lips, I found that it felt great to finally express the depth of my feelings for him.

I grabbed the back of his head and pulled him closer to me. Being a lot shorter than he, I literally had to stand on my tip toes to reach his face, which was rather challenging, but I managed it anyway.

He cupped each side of my face with his strong hands and we stood there for what felt like forever, bonded by a deep, warm kiss.

"Hey, I'm not going out of state or anything; I'm just going back to my apartment," I tried to joke when we eventually broke off the kiss.

"For what it's worth…just know that my offer still stands, Justin," he told me softly, flashing a tender, crooked smile at me.

"I know, and I can't tell you how much it means to me. But…don't contact any real estate agents just yet," I joked, smiling back at him.

"See you when I get back from work this afternoon?” he asked me softly as he lightly held me in his arms. “There's a new vegan place downtown I thought you might like to try," he suggested.

I smiled. "That would be great. I think it's about time I get out again; it's been too long," I answered. "But…there's something I need to do first.”

He gazed down into my eyes. “Anything wrong? Something I can do to help?”

I shook my head, reaching up to peck him on the lips reassuringly. “No, everything’s fine. Just something I need to take care of, but I’ll be back later, okay?”

Brian nodded. “I’m going to hold you to that, Justin Taylor.”

I smiled again as I nodded. “Later, then.”
Brian smiled back at me as I headed toward the door. “Later.”

__ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

~ Later That Day – Blake's Studio ~

Justin's POV

"Hey, man! What brings you out here? You look amazing, by the way," Blake commented as he greeted me with a huge smile when I walked inside.

"Thanks!” I replied with a smile of my own as we shook hands. “It’s taken me a while, but I'm getting there and it feels good," I answered. "In fact, there was something I wanted to ask you," I continued.

“Sure! Have a seat,” Blake urged me as we sat down on his studio sofa next to each other. “Coffee? Tea?”

“No, thanks,” I told him as he nodded. “No…what I’d like to do is add another tattoo right HERE," I explained, lifting the hem of my tank top up and pointing at the lower left side of my body just under my treasure trail. "I'd like to have Brian's name there," I explained, my face reddening as Blake gave me a knowing smirk. "And don't worry; I spoke with Dr. Schmidt, and he said there's no medical reason why I can’t do it, since it’s been two weeks since my surgery.”

"Okay, if that's what you want," Blake replied. "When would you like to start?"

"How about now?" I replied sheepishly, knowing I sounded almost desperate, but I didn’t care. "I know how I want it to look; I actually drew the font myself," I told Blake, pulling my sketchpad out of my backpack to show it to him; he scooted a little closer to take a better look at it and study it.
"It's beautiful, Justin; I'd love to do that for you," Blake told me as I gave him a pleased smile. “I'll just have to notify Leda that you're having an appointment today."

"Leda? But I thought you two weren’t…” I stopped in confusion.

“Yeah, I know. But I wasn't going to give up on her that easily, so we talked it over and decided to meet each other halfway. She agreed to come back to work for me…and she’s moved back in with me. We’re taking it one day at a time, but so far so good. I’m learning that it’s not always a bad thing to compromise; in fact, a lot of good can come out of it," Blake explained with a smile.

“Yeah…Yeah, I think you’re right,” I told him as I considered his words thoughtfully. “I’m happy for you; both of you.”

He smiled at me. “Thanks." He rubbed his denim-clad thighs. “Okay, then; let's get started,” he told me as he rose to his feet and waited for me to join him. He peered over at me as I stood up before stating, “I hope Brian appreciates what you're doing for him.” He paused for a moment before adding, “Wow, you must really love him.” He smiled. “I’m happy for you, Justin.”

“Thanks,” I replied softly with a smile of my own. I nodded. “And yeah. I DO love him, Blake. And I want him to know it. But I’m not just doing it for him; I'm doing it for ME," I told him. “Does that make sense?”

Blake nodded as I sat down on the tattoo chair a minute later, and he gathered what he needed to get started. “Yeah,” he told me with a smile. “I understand completely.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

~ Six Months Later, Justin's Apartment ~

Brian's POV

"Is that all? " I asked Justin for the third time in the last twenty minutes.

"Don't worry; I'm all packed," he replied with a wink, making sure I understood his double entendre.
I snorted as he grinned back at me. "Okay, let's get a move on, then; we have about an hour-and-a-half drive to get to West Virginia, remember?" I reminded him.

"Let me remind you that it was YOUR idea," Justin replied, hands on hips as he took one last look around the place to make sure he wasn’t leaving anything behind.

"Yeah, I guess I never thought I'd be living in West Virginia, but then it's safe to say that we both knew we just had to have that house the moment we saw it, don't you agree?" I asked, turning to him as he flashed a beaming smile my way and nodded.

It took quite a while, but when we both finally decided it was the right time for both of us to move in together, we knew that finding a place to live wouldn't be an easy one. But once we saw this particular place, we knew it was the right one. I guess more than anything we knew it wouldn't just be a house; it would be a HOME. I never thought I would feel this way about any place other than my loft, but once I saw the house I knew it would be the right place for Justin and me.

"Okay, this is it, then," Justin eventually announced. "I'm ready." He walked towards the hallway to grab the keys.

"Hey, wait, what's that?" I said, suddenly noticing two, large blank sheets of paper in the corner.

"Must be something Daphne left behind before she moved out," Justin said matter-of-factly, but I still wasn't convinced. I grabbed the two blank papers, but when I flipped them over I noticed they were NOT just any papers. They were drawings. Justin's own drawings, most likely. The drawings depicted two naked figures lying in bed. One had a rather impressive lower body and a massive, half-hard dick, and the other man sported a more boyish but lightly toned figure that sported a much smaller pin that reminded me of what you would see on those great, antique, classic nude sculptures.



"It's just a few sketches that I made for school," Justin explained shyly. "It was way back when we had our first art show. They’re not very good, so I decided to leave them behind," he said.

I shook my head in disagreement as I stared at them. "These are brilliant, Justin! You have an incredible feel for the human form," I noted. "Especially this one," I commented as I pointed to the first drawing. "When did you draw this?" I asked.

"One night, when you were sleeping," he answered, blushing. "Can we go now?" he asked impatiently, trying to change the subject.

"Not so fast, Picasso," I responded, eying the other sketch intently. "Who's he?" I pointed to the other drawing.

He stood still for a moment, fidgeting with the keys. "It's ME, I guess,” he finally answered softly, his voice hitching. “Or at least how I wish I could be.”

I looked back at him as he stood there in the empty apartment and then it hit me. I suddenly understood that despite the fact that Justin and I were practically living together at this point, and I saw him as who he WAS, free of any label or tags – simply the man that I loved – it was Justin who was still wrapped up in his own insecurities, still striving to complete his transition and become whole, knowing he might never be able to achieve this one last goal, no matter how much he might try. I KNEW I would never allow him to feel unloved, underestimated, or anxious ever again; not if I had anything to do about it.

"I wanna help you, Justin," I said, my voice low but determined.

"With what?'' he said, sounding a bit confused.

"I want to help you conclude your transition. Let me help you. Kinnetik made money hand-over-fist with new accounts this last quarter. I can afford to help you financially, or any other way that you need," I told him.

"What?! Brian! Why now?" He asked in shock, seemingly overwhelmed by my offer.

"Because I’ve realized that it's something I want to do," I answered simply.

"You really don't have to do that for me, Brian. Yes, it's something I want, and I will not lose hope of ever getting there. But I really don't feel I could go through it right now; not with us just moving to a new house and everything," he explained.

"Not right away," I told him. "I mean…you would obviously have to go through certain appointments and everything, but I'll be there for you; I'll be there WITH you," I promised him, overcome slightly with emotion over how true that statement was.

"I really can't expect you to do this for me, Brian," Justin murmured, extremely touched by my generous gesture, both monetarily and emotionally.

"I'm not just doing it for you; I'm doing this for ME," I answered him, pulling him into my arms with a deep, long, hard kiss.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

~ Seven Months Later ~

~ Justin's POV ~

- December 1st, 2015, Pittsburgh –

The room is white. So white. Why is everything so white? Where am I?

I know I must feel at least SOMETHING. But first things first. First I have to figure out where I am, and how to get out of here.

My head is pounding, which is good, I guess, because it means I'm alive. But what comes next?

I flutter my eyes open. My eyelids are heavy, but I know I must keep myself awake.
My attempt to lift my head fails miserably after a sharp pain stings my groin area.
Ironically enough, I feel a desperate need to pee, but I can't seem to move the lower part of my body. I try to wiggle my toes, but they feel numb. Okay, now I'm really freaking out.
And why is everything so white and feeling so foggy around me?

"Are you okay?" A velvety rich voice penetrates through the heavy blanket that surrounds me.

As I'm eventually able to bring myself to lift my head just enough so I could fix my gaze on the person that is speaking to me, I finally realize where I am. I try to crack a smile, but all I can do is blink my eyes at him. Every part of my body that's not numb is aching like crazy, and I feel dizzy as fuck when I try to lie flat on my back again. But a huge sense of relief fills me as I come to realize what has happened to me, and why I ended up here. I close my eyes again, breathing through the pain this simple, mundane task brings. But then the pain subsides at once when a strong, warm hand ever so slightly caresses my face. I smile through the tears and drift into a much-needed sleep.

~ Later That Afternoon, Same Place ~

Brian's POV

"Briaaan," I hear him calling my name, and I'm finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. This was by far one of the most challenging experiences I've gone through; almost as challenging as my own surgery years ago, but this one is for HIM.

"I'm here," I whisper to him softly and reassuringly as I stroke his hair. "How are you feeling?"

"I've been better," he hoarsely responds as he smiles weakly at me. "But I'll survive."

"You bet you will," I tell him, gently planting a small kiss on his cheek. God, he looks so fucking beautiful trying to breathe through the pain.

A doctor steps into the room, apparently preparing to check on Justin's lower half post surgery.
"Dr. Schmidt," Justin greets him, looking relieved to see him.

"Hi, Justin," he responds, a thoughtful expression on his face as he approaches his bed. "I just dropped by to see if everything is okay," he explains as he peers down at him.

"I think it is; I can't feel anything yet, though," Justin replies with a frown. For someone who just went through a bottom surgery, though, he seems pretty okay to me. I mean, back when I had to have my testicular surgery, I hadn’t been half as confident when I had awakened as Justin is being, but that had been an entirely different scenario.

"Okay…let’s have a look,” the doctor states, carefully pulling the hospital sheet away from Justin's lower body. He turns to look over at me as if he were seeing me for the first time as he asks politely, "Are you a family member?"

"Yes, he IS," Justin says, his voice still muffled and distorted, but very firm.

"Well, then, Mr.…" Dr. Schmidt begins.

"Kinney," I answer him, my voice almost cracking.

"Would you please wait outside, Mr. Kinney? You can come back to see Justin in a little while," the doctor explains kindly.

Just before I turn on my heels to step outside, I notice Justin lifting his head from his hospital bed and ever so slightly mouthing, "Thank you.”

"Don't mention it," I whisper at him, trying to maintain my composure. “I’ll be right outside.” I walk to the door, but in a split second before I walk out I turn back to him and mouth an almost silent “I love you.” He smiles weakly, but I can see the twinkle in his eyes. My heart is beating fast, but I take a deep breath and whisper the same thing again a little louder this time. Damn, it feels good.

I step outside to the corridor and close the door behind me. Fuck, I wish I could have a smoke, but then I know it's not possible.

I keep standing outside the room, my back leaning against the wall. He's in there and I'm out here, but I can't stop thinking about him. This brave young man, the man who I've only known and referred to as Justin from the moment I've seen him, the beautiful guy I see every day before I go to sleep, and the first amazing vision I see in the morning when I wake up. This smart, talented, beautiful man who kept persevering through this long and winding journey, but who has never looked back. This young man who was filled with so much doubt and anxiety and a distorted self-image, but who kept on going, because he knew there was no other way for him to be who he wanted to be. The guy who beamed with pride and joy a month ago when he finally held his brand new ID card and driver’s license in his hand that read 'Justin Taylor, Gender: Male’ on it; the man who never really had any support or love from his own 'nuclear' family, but has so much love to give to the people who care about him. This young man who took me on his journey, no questions asked, who trusted me with his most guarded secrets; this beautiful man who allowed me to touch him – and let ME be touched – like I've never touched any other man before or since. This man who taught ME more than I could ever have known about what it means to be in love with another human being.

I know the next few weeks – months, even – will take a lot of getting used to, but I'm ready and willing to embark on the next stage of our mutual life journey. I know now that I never would have been able to forgive myself if I hadn't offered to help him reach the final goal of his transition, because there’s nothing more heartbreaking than losing the person you think you might be in love with, and damn, I am so in love with him.

I know we can now go on with our lives as we were then, as we are now, and as we'll ALWAYS be. Together.


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