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All The Effects Of Love (ch.10)

Title: All The Effects Of Love (10/15)
Author: honestys_easy
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with any of them, and in no way responsible for creating the awesome that is Brace. I don’t even live in New York anymore so I can’t even claim that!
Summary: Through the years of first glances, first kisses, first loves, Brandon Rogers and Ace Young had the perfect relationship. But when tragedy strikes, the couple discovers how much they truly mean to one another.
Author’s Notes: This is the sequel to my Chris/Blake New York AU Smile A Smile For Me, telling the story of Brace’s relationship that was a side story just dying to be expanded. The first story doesn’t have to be read to understand this one, but there are recurring characters and relationships among them in both. I hope you like reading this as much as I’ve loved writing it: I haven’t put this much into two characters and a storyline perhaps ever.
Huge thanks and much love to my beta, dreamerren, for the ideas and the planning and the squee and for “Duh!” nine months ago that brought all of this to life. ♥



          Chapter Ten

          May 2005


"It's so big."

Brandon didn't think he had ever been this happy without it directly involving his boyfriend, but to be completely fair Ace couldn't attempt to compare to this thing's sheer size.

He could hear Ace walking through the other rooms, analyzing the quality of plaster and testing each electrical socket with his cell phone charger, happily scoping out their most recent acquisition. He should have really joined him, making sure the apartment was structurally sound and that there wasn't a hidden nest of termites or rats or another of the many unpleasant species of New York nuisances living in the walls. But Brandon couldn't bring himself to step out of this place, a vast space he never thought he would have the privilege of calling his own.

"You say something, hon?" came the familiar voice from the kitchen, but Brandon didn't answer him, he didn't have to. They were both still getting used to the space, deciding on living decor and determining how thick and sound-resistant their new walls were, but it was still small enough for one of the men to know where his loving counterpart was in the apartment without having to send out a search party or play a twisted game of Marco Polo. Besides, Brandon had been enchanted since they had first seen the apartment weeks ago; there was only one place that Ace needed to look at all.

"I think I'm in love," replied Brandon dreamily as Ace stepped into the room they designated would be the bedroom. Brandon wasn't in this room, either, nor was he in the bathroom off of that room; his voice didn't resonate as if it bounced off tile but Ace had an inkling where his boyfriend may have been.

There weren't any lights where Brandon stood but the bright sunlight streamed in through the bedroom windows, unfettered by window coverings or blinds the couple hadn't yet strung up. He felt strong, loving arms wrap around his midsection, the familiar smell of his lover's shampoo mingling with his natural scent, both rising above the unpleasant odor of fresh coats of paint. Brandon melted into the embrace, leaning back against Ace's chest, reveling in the feel of being in love with this man, here, in the place they were about to call a home of their own.

Ace pressed a tender kiss to Brandon's temple, his grin wide as Fifth Avenue at his lover's delight. "So you're no longer in love with me?" he teased, fingers dipping underneath Brandon's shirt and traveling over the well-known pathways of his skin. "You planning on leaving me for your wild, passionate affair with a walk-in closet?"

Brandon answered by passionately capturing Ace's lips with his own, craning his neck to kiss above and behind him, giving Ace all the response he needed. He could never love a closet more than he loved Ace, not by a long shot, though it was true that the law student - no, law school graduate, Brandon reminded himself - definitely couldn't hold as many pairs of shoes as this closet.

It had been something that was on the forefront of their minds all throughout Ace's last year in law school - and, if Brandon was being honest, was a splendid pipe dream of his even before he met Ace Young: to move out of Brandon's studio apartment and find a place of their own. Although Brandon had never minded being close to Ace in any way possible, the cramped apartment could easily go from cozy to unbearable, but while Ace had been in school it was all they could afford on Brandon's meager salary. But just two weeks ago Ace had completed law school, and with that achievement came a salaried position at Davis, Fuller, & Lythgoe, the contract law firm where he had been fetching coffee and making copies for what seemed like an eternity. With his more than decent paycheck for a job he had been training for years for, Ace was in the position to search for an apartment slightly larger than the trunk space in a Volkswagon - and, without question, he was taking Brandon along with him for the ride.

Which, for Brandon, was more than he could have ever dreamed: despite having barely enough room to think for oneself in their old apartment, Brandon could have been content living in a cardboard box so long as Ace was by his side. He had always seen his life staying static, rooted in a simmering complacency, working in mediocre jobs below his level, living in the tiny studio the Chelsea House had found him when he needed a place to stay. He never even considered entertaining the thought of moving into an apartment in TriBeCa, with central air conditioning and new, clean appliances, where he didn't have to keep his mattress in the livingroom or leap over his desk to reach the kitchen.

He hadn't realized how much his life could change the moment he met Ace; he had just known it was going to change forever.

"I think," he said, as Ace broke their kiss to nuzzle into the flesh at Brandon's neck, "That this closet is even bigger than our last apartment."

Ace laughed into Brandon's skin, sending pleasant tickles of breath through the older man's body. "It may be," he joked, squeezing Brandon tightly around the middle, bringing him closer in a brief moment of pure bliss. "You might even be able to fit your whole wardrobe in here."

He couldn't help but laugh at his own expense; even in his most meager years living on his own, Brandon always made a point to look stylish, rationalizing that a week of eating canned soup was worth saving enough to buy a pair of leather boots. He had amassed a rather hefty wardrobe that left his old closet close to bursting, and adding Ace's clothes to the heap hadn't helped with the crowded atmosphere of the old apartment. Ace never let an opportunity pass where he could playfully tease his boyfriend over the number of tailored shirts or pairs of jeans spilling out of dresser drawers - and with the older man's free-spirited attitude over tidiness, there were times where the sentiment was literal.

The new closet space in the apartment was a dealmaker for the couple: for Brandon it was like Cinderella stepping into the glass slipper - a perfect fit, though he would only ever admit to making that comparison to his lover. For Ace, it meant a spacious closet for both of their wardrobes, Brandon with his endless parade of business casual both for work and for play, and Ace's paradoxical wardrobe of faded t-shirts and jeans mixed with tailored suits for the firm would finally have some room to breathe. He couldn't begrudge Brandon's mountain of clothes, however; they always made him look damn good, and the pair of jeans Brandon was wearing fit the curves of his body all too well for Ace to complain.

"I could buy even more shoes," Brandon replied excitedly with a chuckle. Even with their clothing and living habits the two men complemented each other in ways they never imagined: Brandon, having always believed life was too short for the mundane, let his clothes lay where he left them, while Ace took his mother's teachings to heart and tidied not only his own clothes but his boyfriend's as well. Ace made a mock-exasperated groaning sound against the skin of Brandon's neck at the prospect of straightening up more of Brandon's stuff.

It was so comforting, so natural to the both of them, to be like this, joking and teasing as freely and easily as the most tender of touches, the most beautiful words of love spoken between them. Brandon never thought being in love could possibly feel this amazing, or be this effortless with Ace. "Our new place," he said softly, after a few moments of the two men standing in the walk-in closet in silence, simply holding each other and reveling in the feeling. Sure, the old apartment had also been their place, had been the cramped yet lovable space they called home for over three years. But that was more a home of necessity than convenience: they had to live there, whereas this apartment was chosen, selected equally by the two men, the both of them sure this was where they wanted to build their lives together.

He felt a shiver course through Ace's body as he pressed a lingering kiss to Brandon's cheek. "You don't know how happy this makes me," he said, his voice full of emotions that weren't all saintly love. Brandon felt the familiar pressure of his lover's groin behind him as Ace pulled him in closer, his breath hot on Brandon's neck. A devilish smile spread across Brandon's face, fully enjoying the feeling.

"I bet I could take a guess," he replied slyly, arching his back and rolling his hips into Ace, sighing as he felt the other man's half-hard cock respond even through all the fabric between them. This feeling never got old, the pressure of Ace against him, hot and willing, the thrill of not knowing whether a caress between them would be innocent, playful, or something delightfully more.

The hands that had been idly trailing along the skin underneath Brandon's shirt now pressed with more insistence, running up against the flesh of his chest, brushing against a nipple in the exact way Ace knew Brandon loved it. Ace felt Brandon turn to face him, take some control and touch Ace the way Ace was touching him, but with a lustful growl Ace held firm, holding Brandon's backside to him. It was certainly a good position to be in. "You know what we need to do?" he mumbled into his lover's ear, then playfully making a sweep of its shell with the tip of his tongue.

Brandon's eyes closed involuntarily, shuddering at the sensation. He only moaned in response as Ace's hands traveled lower on his body to the waistband of his jeans, expertly unbuttoning them with one hand while the other ducked lower into the elastic of his boxers. He had wanted to turn around, make Ace feel as amazing as he knew he could, but leaving Ace in control and calling the shots was hot in innumerable and disturbing levels. They were going to have to do this a bit more often.

He could hear the amusement in Ace's voice, underneath the lust, as he took hold of Brandon's cock, already hard from Ace's ministrations, and stroked it in time with the thrusts of his hips. "If we're going to call this place ours, it really ought to be christened first."

A particularly sharp thrust sent both Brandon and Ace pitching forward, Brandon reaching his arms out instinctively and bracing the weight of the two on the wall of the closet. The older man wasn't complaining at all, Ace's enthusiasm for Brandon's body was always welcome and well reciprocated, and as Ace wasted no time in pulling Brandon's jeans and boxers down to his knees, he wasn't sure if he should laugh at his eagerness or moan from his passion. "We don't even have furniture yet!" he chuckled, his skin searing at the touch of Ace's hands on the backs of his bare thighs, saliva-slick fingers dipping into the curves of his ass. Damn, he thought, using the wall to push himself closer to the touch. When did he get the time to do that?

"Don't need furniture," Ace's words were clipped and rough as he rose to his feet, his cock pressing against Brandon's cleft now unfettered by pesky clothing. He certainly worked fast when he knew exactly what he wanted - which, on most occasions, he wanted Brandon over trivial things like food, sleep or shelter - but when it was most important he knew just how to draw it out to the fullest. His breath was hot on the back of Brandon's neck, the feel of Ace's fingers grabbing him, circling his hole, and then oh, inside of him...Brandon thought he could never tire of that sensation, of how much he loved and wanted him. "Just need you."

One slender finger inside, then two, reaching deep and scissoring until Brandon was thrusting back against the pressure, leaning his forehead against the wall, loving every moment of it. He loved giving himself over to the pleasure Ace's body could give him, loved it when Ace did the same for him, his fate put wholly in the hands of his boyfriend, trusting him completely. He knew that at the slightest indication of pain or discomfort Ace would stop, would turn Brandon around to apologize profusely and search his eyes for forgiveness, knowing he would find it there. But as Ace's fingers retreated and were replaced with the thick head of his cock, glistening with sweat and precum, Brandon knew he wouldn't ever dare stop.

"Oh God, you feel so good," Brandon moaned into the wall, his fingers digging into the plaster at the tight, tense sensation of being filled, deeply fucked by Ace. His lover pushed back with more force, sliding in all the way to the hilt and holding there, his chest pressed to Brandon's back like two joined pieces to a mold. His hips started a smooth, slow rhythm, reveling in the tight heat of Brandon's body, the heaven he had known for years was exclusively his. His home was here, inside of Brandon, and in this apartment he meant to make their home.

Ace trailed a line of kisses up from Brandon's collarbone to his neck, whispering "I love you" into the skin there as he felt Brandon tremble from the inside out. He never felt more complete than when he was with Brandon, whether laughing with him in the sunshine of a summer morning, holding him close on cold winter nights, or buried deep inside him like he was right now. His hands gripped at Brandon's hips, fingers digging into the flesh he'd memorized every inch of by then, adored every curve and pore.

With a surge of energy and passion Brandon twisted his waist to turn around as much as he could without moving his legs; he didn't dare, didn't want disrupt any of what Ace was doing because he might have killed him if he stopped. He kissed Ace fiercely, panting deep and nearly losing his breath from the effort. The air in the closet was heating up to the point of stifling but Brandon didn't care, it wasn't as important as the way Ace was making him feel. Only until he tasted the salty beads of sweat dripping from their brows in their kisses did either man realize that, however spacious, a walk-in closet was no place to have good sex.

"We've got to get these off," Brandon said, hastily turning back around to pull his polo over his head, nearly tearing it in the process. He reached behind him to make contact again with Ace, and his fingers met with hot, tanned skin against a toned chest; apparently Ace had the same idea, and his t-shirt had already joined Brandon's on the floor. It wasn't Ace's normal practice to leave sweaty, dirty laundry on the floor of the closet, but these were not normal circumstances.

"You're so fucking hot," Ace groaned, holding Brandon closer, running his palms over the older man's chest. It didn't matter where they were to him - in a walk-in closet, the bed in their new apartment, or even the dressing room at Macy's on one occasion - so long as they were together. Ace didn't think he'd ever get tired of the sound of Brandon's voice, or the warmth of his body in their bed beside him, and his soft pants, growing increasingly labored and audible as Ace thrust in deeper, faster, would never get old.

"What's hot," laughed Brandon, and by God, he couldn't imagine how his brain was functioning enough to laugh when there was so much other stimuli he'd rather pay attention to. "Is this closet."

He felt the grin spreading on Ace's face and throughout his body before he heard the playful laugh behind him; he knew it meant Ace was up to something. Ace slipped out of him with a reluctant groan; at first Brandon thought he had done so to reposition the couple, work their bodies in a way that he knew would give them both the most pleasure. He arched his back, searching blindly for that fulfilling sensation once more but finding no relief; his brow furrowed in confusion, the unexpected absence of his lover near painful to him. Brandon whimpered, neck craned back towards Ace for some kind of explanation. What his eyes found were two playful green eyes staring back at him, glinting with desire and mischief.

"Care to come out of the closet with me?" Ace asked, beaming from his own joke, his arm snaking down that of his lover's until he reached Brandon's hand, entwining fingers with his own. He gave a tender tug, indicating to follow him, but Brandon stayed firm, desiring to see where this was going first. Besides, he had just fallen in love with this closet; he wasn't prepared to leave it any time soon.

But Ace was slowly retreating away from Brandon's heated body, the devilish look in his eyes only intensifying with the distance while Brandon was quickly unraveling from the disconnection. "What-" he questioned, his mind staggering to transition from thoughts that were purely physical to thoughts that involved, well, thinking. It wasn't as easy as it seemed, he realized, especially when his mind had to make such a drastic switch. He wanted to ask what Ace was thinking, what he wanted Brandon to do, but Ace interrupted him before any of that could come out.

Ace pulled in one last time, crushing his lips against Brandon's too briefly for the older man to fully react but too passionately to resist it. "Follow me to the kitchen," he suggested slyly, anticipating Brandon's question. "And you'll find out." With that Ace gave a wink and trotted off to the kitchen, which, Brandon knew, was as empty as the rest of the apartment save for the appliances they managed to get thrown in with the security deposit.

Brandon Rogers's stubbornness was epic but his curiosity as to his boyfriend's plot and his body's base desire to return to that blissful state of intercourse won out. He exited the closet but by that time Ace was out of the bedroom entirely, a pathway of light from the bare bulbs on the ceiling displaying the way to the kitchen. Brandon doubted any of this was Ace's plan from the start - though he could easily be wrong, their anniversary was coming up in the next month and Ace had a way of surprising him with romantic and utterly outrageous gifts every year. He rounded the corner out of the bedroom, past the living room - and dear God, he hoped their friends didn't decide now was the time to give the couple a housewarming visit - and into the kitchen, where he saw the gleaming new appliances, the pale ivory countertops contrasting beautifully with the espresso finish on the cabinets...but no Ace.

With a frown on his face and a yearning need for his lover in his gut, Brandon closed the kitchen door behind him. The apartment was considerably larger than their last but it was no labyrinth, and Brandon didn't think it was quite spacious enough to hide a six-foot tall grown man, completely naked and aching for amazing sex. As his mind quickly fell on the disappointment of not finding Ace, strong arms surprised him from behind, wrapping themselves around Brandon's waist and chest, the warmth of the other man's body guiding him towards the counter.

Ace emerged from behind the door, the only place, possibly, that Brandon hadn't thought of because it was too simple. "When I said I wanted to christen the apartment, love," His voice was as playful as it was lustful, already repositioning himself behind Brandon, desperate to find the heat of his body again. Brandon's hands shot out along the edge of the counter to steady himself, give himself something to grip until his muscles ached because he knew he would need it. "I meant...I want you everywhere."

And on that Sunday afternoon, when the burnt orange of the setting sun danced like blazing fire against the naked cream walls of their new home, Ace did indeed get his desires, making love to Brandon on the kitchen countertop, against the slick porcelain in the bathroom, and testing the acoustics of the living room with their moans of pleasure. They ended their exploits in the bedroom, atop the plush ivory-colored carpet Brandon had fretted would get too dirty, but he couldn't say no to Ace, not about carpet color or about when and where he would passionately take him. Brandon didn't think he could ever say no to this man.

"God, I'm so close," Ace's breath was labored, his body covered in a sheen of sweat, the intensity of holding himself off this long when he knew just how easy it was to lose himself in the heat of Brandon's body. He was seated on the carpet in the exact place they had planned to position the bed once it was delivered, leaning back slightly as Brandon straddled him, pressing himself down with muscular, trained thighs. Ace had wanted to hold him from behind, wanted to be the one giving Brandon pleasure instead of the other way around, but they could find no other position that did not involve a harsh case of rugburn for the couple, and besides, as Ace watched Brandon roll his eyes back and moan, this was a much better view than the back of his boyfriend's head.

His hands cupped Brandon's ass, supporting him and kneading in time with Brandon's ministrations. He didn't know what his eyes should focus on, between the hungry, lustful look in Brandon's eyes to the sweat across his forehead, tempting Ace to touch, to lick, and the cock in Brandon's rapidly moving fist, so hard and so close to release he could see it tremble with each upstroke. A thick, clear pool of precum dribbled from its head, and Ace felt wholly disappointed in himself that he could not be more flexible and curve his body enough to taste the liquid with his tongue.

The sound of Brandon's voice, not just the irresistible sounds he made when they made love, brought Ace's attention back to Brandon's face. "Fuck, do it," his tone was nearly begging for it, the shine in his eyes sincere. Just that look alone could have sent Ace over the edge. "I want to feel you. Oh God, Ace -"

Brandon's words were cut off by his own cries rising out of his throat, his cock jerking in his fist, coating his fingers and Ace's stomach. The younger man couldn't control himself much longer after that, moving his hands from Brandon's ass to the muscles of his back, palming them hard to get more leverage as he thrust in deep, his lover's name on his lips. He often had friends who told him how they couldn't understand being with the same person for so long, how it must have been boring and mundane by now, but Ace knew better, especially when every time he was with Brandon, from every second he looked into his eyes to when they made love, felt as amazing as this.

Panting and sated, Ace shifted his weight over to the side to let Brandon disentangle himself from their position. A bemused and strangled noise came from his boyfriend's mouth; he wasn't expecting that, and as he turned his gaze back to Brandon's face, he saw a deep frown. "You're going to mess up the carpet!" Brandon tutted, his fingers sliding along Ace's stomach in the mess they had made. It had been Ace's idea to buy the light-colored carpet but Brandon would be damned if they got it sullied before they even had any furniture in here.

Grinning, Ace moved his hands over Brandon's body with lazy, lingering touches, expecting nothing sexual, but merely to touch. "Then get a towel," he groaned, his limbs still numb and heavy from his orgasm, and wishing Brandon wouldn't be such a stickler for a stretch of carpet that would probably lie unseen underneath their bed in three days' time.

"We don't have any towels," retorted Brandon, though his voice was softer than before, enjoying the playfulness of Ace's smile and the nimbleness of his fingers.

"Then use your shirt." Ace tweaked at a nipple, garnering a yelp and a happy, satisfied laugh from the man atop him.

The older man gave him a playful smack on the belly, making a sticky, splashing noise. "Why my shirt?" he challenged.

"Well, it's your cum!"

Neither man could hold it in any longer and they burst into happy laughter as they held one another, a sound that would reverberate off the walls of that apartment for years to come.

------------------------------


          May 2008

It was a few minutes before either man spoke inside the chapel, Elliott finished with his own silent prayer but watching Brandon's face for an indication he was done. There was no way he planned to interrupt him and take him away from his thoughts, not when Brandon was in such a state of shock and turmoil over Ace that he questioned their faith in one another. He carefully looked on with sympathy as Brandon's brow furrowed with worry, perhaps dwelling on a thought or a memory too close to his heart to let go. Elliott had known Ace for years and was undoubtedly the social worker's best friend, but the uncertainty he felt couldn't even compare to what Brandon must have been going through.

When the strained creases in Brandon's forehead softened and he sat back once again on the wooden pew, Elliott put a reassuring arm over his shoulders, letting Brandon know he wasn't alone, in the chapel and otherwise. "You ready?" he asked, though willing to stay in the chapel for as long as Brandon needed the peace.

Taking in a deep and shaky breath, Brandon closed his eyes, shutting out the warm glow of the chapel's devotional candles, the sight of the welcoming room in such contrast to the waiting room downstairs. Was he ready...ready for more waiting? Ready to bear the ridiculed looks of the hospital staff and the rejection by the head nurse for any tiny piece of information on Ace? Ready to wait for news that might tear his world apart, news that may not come for hours still? Brandon wanted to stay in this calming place, where time seemed to stand still and he found at least some respite from his fear.

Sensing the other man's hesitation, Elliott added optimistically, "There might be some news," and although his tone was encouraging his heart wasn't behind the words, and neither was Brandon's. He wanted more than anything for there to be news, for that veil of enforced ignorance to be lifted and he could know about, and maybe even see, the love of his life. But the chances of that seemed slim when he had left the emergency room, and he doubted the hospital's patient privacy policy would have changed in the past hour, or that the head nurse would have had a sudden change of heart.

Still, he didn't want to give up the hope that something miraculous could happen, that he could head down to the ER and be greeted with the news that Ace was awake, healing and asking for him. If he started giving up hope...then he gave up everything.

"I'm ready," he replied, and though he didn't think he ever could be ready for a day like this, it was still one he had to face.

The walk seemed quicker back to the emergency room than it had taken Brandon to get there; it may have been Elliott's presence next to him, silent yet understanding, or perhaps now Brandon knew where he was going, what he searched for, instead of letting his wandering mind and jittery legs do the walking. When they arrived back to the waiting room - Brandon noted immediately the sky outside the tinted reinforced windows had darkened to an inky black, spotted with orange bursts of color from passing headlights - his friends were in a bustling mood, their spirits lifted into action from some unknown force. David noticed the pair's arrival first, and he jumped up to greet them, his face full of an optimism Brandon didn't understand.

"Great! You're here," he greeted them both, his attentions on Brandon, but for what purpose, Brandon couldn't yet fathom. Surely there couldn't have been any news... "We've been looking all over for you. Well," David grinned, correcting himself, "I sent Danny out to look for you. Hope he's not terrorizing the burn ward or anything."

A jolt of excitement shot through Brandon's limbs at David's light-heartedness, his breath hitched in his throat at the hope his presumptions might be true. "You've heard something?" A moment ago the concept had been doubtful but that moment felt like an eternity ago to Brandon, especially if there was new information, or - his heart raced at the thought - Ace had woken up.

The optimistic grin on David's face fell; he mistakenly led Brandon to believe there was more behind his mood than there actually was. "No, there's...there's been nothing," he replied, in a sobered voice. "I'm sorry."

And just as quickly as his spirits had been lifted they fell, crashing deep into the pit of his stomach, his heart worse for the wear. He cursed himself that he let himself get so excited so quickly, only to have his hopes dashed. His mind was such a mess of hope and fear, doubt and love; he needed to clear the jumble, see a break in the clouds that this day would be over with a happy ending. He needed Ace.

"But there is something." Brandon perked up again, bringing his attention back to David and off of the burning hole left in his heart. David motioned for the pair to follow him back to a row of naugahyde seats their friends had commandeered as their center while waiting for any news on Ace's condition. Daughtry was waiting there, keeping a close eye on the seats but preferring to stand and occasionally pace, and so was Blake, slouched in one of the chairs with his gaze trained on the nurses' station and a scowl on his face. "You might be able to get in to see Ace."

"Really?!" shouted Brandon, his heart leaping into his throat, soaring, just at the mention of seeing his love. There had seemed to be no way before to even get acknowledged as Ace's lover, let alone go in to see him. But at this point, with his emotions running high and tense enough to snap, he was ready to hold onto any kind of hope he could get.

David immediately shot out his hand to quiet the other man. "We're working on it," he said with a wink. "Actually, the whole thing was my idea..."

"Don't be so full of shit, David," Blake muttered from his perch, his legs pulled in close to the rest of his body, eyes still staring over the horizon of his knees at the figures standing around the nurses' station. He threw a thumb in Daughtry's direction. "He thought of the plan."

"We all came up with it," Daughtry said in a rare act of calm and diplomacy. David rolled his eyes, pouting, and went to sit next to Blake, leaving Daughtry to explain to Brandon and Elliott just what had been plotted in their absence. He pointed over to the nurses' station - Blake gave out a surly noise of displeasure from this - and said in a low voice, "What do you see there?"

Elliott and Brandon looked over towards the large desk, where hours ago Brandon felt the anguish and humiliation of being turned away by the emergency room head nurse because he had no legal documents backing up what he felt in his heart, that Ace Young was his family. The lump forming in his throat at the memory made him unable to speak; Elliott, who had not seen or been through any such injustice, didn't have the same reaction. "Are we looking at the nurses?" he asked, confused, watching the hospital staff who dressed nothing like the busty girls dressed as nurses last Halloween.

Daughtry shook his head; that was only half his point. "More importantly," he said, "What do you not see there?"

Brandon's eyes widened as he noticed what was missing; his friends' plan was becoming clearer now, as stark as the maroon of the scrubs worn by the woman behind the desk and the navy of the uniform of the man beside her. "She's gone," he said; had it been any other day Brandon would have smiled at the lightening feeling in his bones.

"Nurse Jones," Daughtry said with a satisfied smile and a nod, "is on her well-deserved break." Daughtry had noticed it first in the waiting room, his eyes always glowering at the stern woman at the desk who fiercely shot daggers right back. While it was a relief to Brandon to know that he was escaping the scrutinizing eye of the head nurse for at least an hour while they waited for news, he didn't know why it garnered such an enthusiastic response from everyone else.

His eyes focused more clearly on the figures currently at the front desk, a short, petite black woman whose shoulders barely came up to the rim of the formica desktop as she stood beside it, her smile bright and animated, a complete opposite of the foreboding, no-nonsense Lakisha Jones. Her feathered hair bounced around, framing her head as she talked - Brandon could tell it was a wig but he knew better than to say anything, if his mother had ever taught him anything useful. But more significantly than the new nurse was with whom she was talking and laughing, a tall man built solidly and swathed in heavy navy, leaning against the desk to minimize the height difference between them. The clothes and their accoutrements were new, but Brandon knew that buzzed hair and smiling, slightly bashful face well by now.

"When did Chris get here?" he asked, instantly recognizing the chatty officer as Chris Richardson, and found it very odd that he seemed to prefer talking with the relief nurse than sitting with his visibly upset boyfriend Blake.

"About an hour ago," Daughtry replied, giving an approving nod over towards the other officer. "I think I know a guy who was in the Academy with him. Seems cool."

Another offended snort popped up from Blake; Brandon had known him enough years to differentiate each disapproving noise, each passive-aggressive shrug of the shoulders. The journalist sunk deeper into his seat as David put a reassuring arm around him, knowing that Blake was not the friend who truly needed the sympathy tonight. "He's part of the plan," David explained, patting Blake on the shoulder encouragingly. "And Blake isn't very happy about it."

"I don't see why," Blake mumbled petulantly, "My boyfriend has to be the one paraded in front of some nurse like Virginia ham on a stick, and I have to sit here and watch it. If she calls him 'husband' one more time, lady’s gonna lose that wig."

The friendly arm around Blake's shoulders tightened into a menacing grip, or as menacing as David Hernandez could possibly be. "Suck it up," he muttered into Blake's ear, sobering the journalist's complaints. "This isn't about you. This is for Brandon."

"He wanted to see if he could get any information out of the new nurse," Daughtry explained; he was going to ask her himself, but the other men in the waiting room had put it to unanimous vote that Daughtry and his current surly, sour mood not be anywhere near the new nurse. "Then we thought, why don't we try for more than just that?"

Brandon furrowed his brow, confused as to what Daughtry meant by more than simply getting information on Ace - what could this other nurse do besides that? And what would happen once Nurse Jones got back from her break? That could be at any moment now, and Brandon didn't like those odds, didn't like the thought of his hopes sinking once more. "Danny came up with that part," David chimed in, shaking his head at the enthusiasm he had seen from their mentoring charge. "Leave it to him to think up something brilliant and illegal. While Chris is over there distracting the nurse, you can sneak in past the desk to find Ace."

A bit too shocked to speak, Brandon's mind wanted to hammer out the flaws in logic and execution in his friends' plan, but all he could focus his mindpower on was the thought of seeing Ace, of being able to know that he was okay. And even if he wasn't, just to be there to hold Ace's hand, and let him know Brandon was there for him through whatever hell they might face...that thought was so desirable to Brandon it was intoxicating, and to hell with whatever mistakes may be in their methods.

Elliott was the one to speak up on the practicality of the plan. "There's no guaranteeing you won't get caught once you get by the nurses' station," he said, the sympathetic frown on his face telling Brandon that while he had to be the pessimist in the group, in his heart he wanted the plan to work flawlessly. Brandon nodded in understanding; Elliott knew that nothing he said mattered to Brandon, if there was even the slightest chance that he could get in to see Ace he would take it regardless of any other dangers in the way.

Turning to the rest of the group, Brandon looked hopeful, already knowing he would take this chance, but he had to let the rest of them know he was also being realistic. "I might not find out anything," he said uneasily; his and Ace's friends could have gone through all the trouble of this plan and at the end their minds might still not be at rest.

"That doesn't matter." It came from Blake, who had torn his gaze away from his boyfriend's undesirable duty to address Brandon, his eyes sincere, happy he could finally do something for his friend. "What matters is that you get to see him." He took a deep breath, saying what was on everyone's mind but no one had dared to say aloud. "What they're doing...it isn't right. You need him...and he needs you."

A surge of emotion swelled in Brandon's heart; that his friends, Ace's friends, were going through all this time and trouble to set this plan in motion without any personal payoff for themselves, only to help reunite Brandon with the love of his life. He wanted to thank each and every one of them, tell them how much their efforts meant to him and that he knew it would mean the world to Ace as well, but the look of relieved gratitude on his face was all the other men needed. "Thank you," he said, his voice choked with emotion and anticipation.

It didn't matter what stood in his way now; he was determined to see Ace, at any cost.

Blake jutted out his chin towards the large, heavy swinging doors beside the nurses' station: doctors and staff bustled in and out of the doors without notice to others passing through the gates, and now that the head nurse was away no one was to watch the door with hawk-like precision. "Get a move on," he encouraged Brandon towards those doors, towards Ace. "My boyfriend can't make chit-chat for you forever."

Brandon gave a quick look around to the excited, hopeful faces around him, and his spirit felt lifted in a way it hadn't been ever since he saw Ace's abandoned suit in their bedroom so many hours before. Blake was right, though: he wouldn't have much time to sneak out of the waiting room and into the emergency center, let alone get enough time to locate Ace. He had to move quickly; he wasn't going to let this opportunity go to waste.

With silent, light steps he worked his way over towards the doors, the nurse still engrossed in her conversation with Chris, her back turned towards him. He gave Chris the slightest of nods with the weight of a thousand words of gratitude behind it, knowing that at the end of this ordeal he owed so much to his friends for this, at the very least a round at the Cake Shop on his tab.

One glance back into the waiting room, and one deep, steeling breath later, and Brandon pushed the doors open and slipped inside, the only thought on his mind his determination to find his love.

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