"This is utter bullshit." Justin looked at the clips for hours in his apartment. Curled up on the couch, watching Brian's art, the way he makes something impossible sell, give Stockwell something he just didn't have before. Prostitution of talent, and Justin gets that the point of advertising is to sell the product, but there's a taint here that's impossible to ignore.
Brian glances up from his desk, like Justin barging in is just the most obvious thing in the world and nothing worth paying any attention to. "Are you finished?"
Justin has no idea. Impulse control's always been a problem when he's with Brian. That's why he spent so much of age eighteen on his back. "You're really selling this ass, aren't you?"
He doesn't even put down the fucking pencil. Justin grinds his teeth and waits Brian out. It's an exercise in patience, but Brian's existence on the planet is just that. "That's my job, Taylor."
Fuck this. Half crumpled copy in one hand, Justin wonders what the hell Brian is thinking. If he even is. "He's a homophobe."
The pencil goes down. It's rare he gets Brian's full attention, and he really doesn't have it now. But damned if he's not going to try. "He's a politician."
"Bullshit. You know better." And he's sure Brian does--he's never one not to know who and what he's dealing with. "Brian. Think about what you're doing here. That guy gets in charge, say good-bye to your exhibitionist sex life. Get *really* used to being second class on your own street. It all goes downhill from here."
Brian watches him from behind a completely unreadable expression, but Justin's learning, like a kid in his first reading class. Slow, painful combination of vowels and consonants, watch for those freaky silent e's and mysterious qu, but it's not impossible anymore, because Brian's never been impossible, just tricky as hell. The letters will all come together soon enough, he just has to have patience and time to practice. These days, he's all about both.
"You're overreacting." Brian's mouth telegraphs a tight line of slow anger, but Justin hasn't been thrown out, and frankly, he's been waiting for that from the second he was let in.
"And so is Deb and Emmett and Michael and oh, every fucking person with sense but you?" It's a risk, but hell, he tried the passive aggressive thing and man, had that blown up in his face in more ways than Justin can even begin to count. So. He thinks Brian is just lucky right now that he's coasting on all that pre-baby love going on, or Deb would already have his head on a plate. "Brian. I'm not pulling this out of my ass. I know what I'm talking about."
"You don't know shit about advertising."
"I lived with this exec for almost a year. You think I didn't pick up some tips?" It's true. Osmosis and boredom on long working nights left their mark. Justin hadn't realized how much he'd actually absorbed until he realized how few of the other interns could follow along with a damn thing going on down in the art department. Of course, it could be a tactical mistake to bring up anything regarding the not-them, but then again, Brian set the ground rules. No relationship? Fine. He can damn well chew on it. "This isn't about business. It's about common sense."
What scares him is how personally Brian is taking all of this. Stockwell scares Justin on a political level but also hits a place a lot closer to home. Brian isn't friends with his clients, but good old Jim is the exception to every rule Brian ever made. All kinds of undercurrents that Justin doesn't have the context to work out in every conversation. It makes him nervous in a completely different way.
"Tell me about the posters, Sunshine."
That throws him. But not too much. Brian's not stupid, just occasionally distracted. "The ones around Liberty?"
Brian leans back in his chair, studying Justin like a recalcitrant piece of copy that won't come out right. "Yes. Those."
Justin shrugs casually, right hand locked against his thigh to keep it from twitching. "They're good. A little crude, though. I would have gone for something a little more subtle."
He's not stupid either. Brian's not buying a word of it. Proof is something else entirely, though. And he doesn't think Brian will take a chance and push it when they're on such fine ice. He'll want evidence. And Justin has no intention of giving it to him.
"Are you done?"
Yeah. It's not that he thought a head-on confrontation would work. "If you are. Sir."
Brian picks up his pencil, dismissing Justin from attention as easily as he does an unsuitable trick. It's annoying as shit, and Justin suspects it's deliberate.
Turning, he tries to think of some good exit line, but he's just not feeling that dramatic. The entire storming-in thing took up way too much energy. Passive aggressive and direct confrontation are out. Brian's not listening, and he won't listen, because he's seeing exactly what he wants to see.
And what the *hell* is he seeing in Stockwell anyway? Justin doesn't get it. Yes, money's good, and for Brian right now, money might actually be a primary concern. Second semester tuition was paid up for both him and Daphne; Brian's become a one man scholarship committee for his former unconventional tricks. Justin knows from Lindsay that Brian was paying half of Daphne's rent, at least until Jamie moved in--and short term Justin's ass, if he's any judge of infatuation, and he is. And then there's the corvette, and Justin refuses to spend any amount of time thinking how hot the car is when he thinks about the payment schedule Brian has going on. And Gus. And God knows what else.
But. Money aside, Stockwell's the anti-Brian in every way that counts, and Justin isn't even thinking sexuality. This isn't selling a homophobe's shitty alcohol. Brian's putting a guy in a position of power that has all the earmarks of a fanatic. And he doesn't even seem to care.
Jeremy, one of the junior execs, meets him in the hall. Justin takes in the dark hair, the way his eyes slide down his body furtively. One of his first tricks here and he pulls up a slow, amused smile that he learned from Brian an eon ago. It's never as effortless as it should be. He learned everything that Brian was willing to teach him, but could never master the art of cold seduction without regret.
Justin thinks of Brian, cool sophistication and glossy perfection, watching him from behind the expanse of a desk like it was miles that separated them, not months. Son of a bitch. I'm not allowed to forget, you aren't either.
"Sure." Leaning into the wall, Justin considers the open door of Brian's office and the fact that Brian's a lot better at pretending not to pay attention than he is at actually following through. "Long day."
"Want to grab some lunch?" There's a bouncy sort of energy to the invitation that tells Justin he'll be spending lunch in a closet, trying desperately not to make too much noise, but that sounds just great right now. He runs his palm absently over the crease in his pants, watching the dark eyes fix and hold on his crotch, then pushes off the wall.
Nothing makes him forget, but sometimes, he can at least not remember quite so damn much.
"Yeah. Let's go."
Later, he'll think it was probably something on the order of a last straw. Information from Chicago piled up in his desk, where he hid it like porn mags and bad pictures, faintly ashamed and not sure why. He's being a pussy about it, but Debbie's words stung in places he had no idea he was vulnerable. He stares at the pictures hungrily, thinking of a life so much simpler, but she's right. The scene might change, but everything else will remain the same, including himself.
Ronny greeted him at the door when he came in from Vanguard, energetic and demanding attention like a puppy, but at least it was the kind of attention that Justin could handle. He was up against the door with Ronny's lips wrapped around his cock before he could say hello.
That hasn't been the pattern of the last few days, but the novelty's too much to resist. Justin closes his eyes and breathes.
Strange, mirror-image of the stuff he'd pulled on Brian once-upon-a-time dance in his memory, when life was simpler and sometimes just about as unhappy, but with better orgasms, so on balance, it evened out. Ronny goes down like a pro, like Justin taught him, like Brian taught *him*, this genealogy of sex that makes him smile when he thinks about it. It's faster than Brian would ever allow, though, because nineteen-almost-twenty is still teen and Justin's just not very good at delayed gratification. Comes with a start of surprise when Ronny deep throats after a short, hard suck that makes all the blood in Justin's body drain straight to his dick, and Justin breaks a nail gripping the door.
Ronny sits back on his heels, and Justin recognizes the expression on his face, smug and hopeful combined; it's exquisitely hot to know you can do that to someone, make them want like that, make them need like that, and an ache that begins deep inside.
I'm not Brian, Justin thinks in a kind of slow resignation, the kind that comes when you've gone as far as you can and just can't take another step. I'm not Brian. Brian never did this to me. "Ronny."
The dark head tilts inquisitively, and Justin reaches down, pulling Ronny to his feet. Ronny's inches taller and has thirty pounds on him, a year older, but a lifetime younger. This--this *kid*, who fucks him and cares about him and has fallen in love with him. Jamie's expression, his own, Ethan's, all reflected in that flawless face that stares back at him and asks for so damn little. That's asking right now, don't say it. Just let it go. Just be with me. Just let *him* go.
Justin bites his lip. I don't know *how*. Debbie's right. I never give up. "I can't do this anymore, Ronny."
There's still shock, though God knows, it can't be unexpected. Justin's seen the paintings Ronny hides, and then chose not to see anything at all. Easier to keep the illusion of convenient fucks and roommates with serious privileges, not proto-relationship with a guy who had him as his first lover. "What?" And God, he sounds so damn *young*.
"No." Ronny's head shakes slowly, taking a step back, ripping his arm free of Justin's numb hand. "Justin, don't--"
"I'm in love with someone else."
Ronny's expression doesn't change. "Ethan. I know. I do. It's too soon. But--"
Jesus Christ, it would be kinder to let it go there. Anyone could get away with that. Anyone would understand that. "No." He's taken the easy way long enough.
Ronny blinks, tongue slicking wet lips nervously. "What?"
Justin draws in a slow breath, forcing himself to meet Ronny's eyes. "His name is Brian."
He'd never explained Brian to anyone well enough for them to get it. Ronny might, though, and that's the killer.
"Brian?" He sounds lost. Justin watches as his mind skips backward, and then the second of startled recognition. A meeting that Justin wouldn't have known about if he hadn't skulked in the shadows like an intruder in his own life. "I met--this guy. He said he was your ex. Brian."
Ronny hasn't been in gay Pittsburgh near long enough. "Brian Kinney."
Not everyone knows everything. But Ronny's been around enough for name recognition. Nothing for an endless second, then Ronny turns away. "Your--ex-boyfriend."
And all the ways that still did weird things to Justin's head. He used to think it, far back in the corner of his mind that obsesses about impossible things, like endless springtime love and commitment ceremonies and houses with dogs and long breakfasts in bed.
Ethan would have. Ronny would. Justin can see it in Ronny's face, in the lines of his body, in their shared past. Ronny would do all of those things, be all of those things that Justin's always wanted, and he'd do it because he loves Justin and do it because he *wants* to.
Justin doesn't even breathe. This is what I chose not to have, not to take. This is because I have to, because I won't lie to you and I'll never lie to myself again. "I love him. And I don't know how to stop."
Ronny's back is a ruler straight line that melts at the words, head turned away. Helpless need to comfort, but Justin doesn't know how. Brian would say something sharp and sarcastic or wrap around him like the safest, warmest blanket ever made, shutting the world out, filling Justin's mind with nothing but himself. This thing that Brian gives to no one else, because no one else has ever needed that from him, even Michael. Justin doesn't know how because no one's ever needed that from him.
So he watches as Ronny slowly sits down. "I don't care."
But I do. "I can't. Not with you, not with anyone right now." And God, the cliches about how it's not you, it's me, when the truth is, it's both of us. I don't give up and you aren't him. And neither of us can change that, no matter how much we might want to. And I don't even know if I want to anymore. "Ronny--I'll move out. Just give me a week, okay?"
There's no denial and he didn't expect it. Grabbing the jacket he lost on the floor, he turns to the door.
"Justin--" The choked voice almost makes him turn, but he doesn't want to know. God, he doesn't want to *see*. "I'll--I'll be here when you get back. We'll--we'll talk."
Justin opens the door and goes out before he can say something he regrets.
It's not running. It's just choosing.