Blake's behind the wheel and Ted is with Ethan in the back seat, one arm around his shoulders and the other resting on his forearm. It's not a comfortable position, considering where they are, and it shouldn't be comforting - considering the fact that Ethan barely knows this man, either of these men - but it is.
"I'm sorry you had to see that," Ted says quietly.
"Why? It's not like it's your fault," Ethan says. As soon as he gets home, he's got to brush his teeth, to get the bitter bile taste out of his mouth, off of his tongue.
"I know, but... it was cruel."
"I deserved it."
"How can you say that? No one deserves that," Ted says and finally, he's there and he's alive and solid and real. No more sick-eyed rehab ghost with its arm draped around his shoulders.
I might, Ethan thinks, remembering a garden party long ago and far away. Brian's not like anyone else, Brian likes to play, Justin had told him once, but Ethan hadn't quite gotten it, not until now. Like a disease, a fucking psychosis, his mind rewinds it over and over like some horrible dream that won't end. That's not Justin, he thinks, Justin would never, Justin had never, Justin isn't and can't be--and then he wonders if that's true at all.
Brian Kinney moves like a cobra in his head, dancing under Technicolor lights flashing like a heartbeat, swaying slowly from side to side, hypnotizing Justin and holding him in thrall. He can feel himself falling under that same spell and when he closes his eyes and sees himself there - in the circle of Brian's arms, on his knees at Brian's feet on the cold cement, he's dizzier and not quite as dizzy all at the same time.
"Fuck," he grates out, pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead, hard, trying to force the thoughts out of his head. Christ, he's beautiful...
"Hey." Ted's hand tightens. "Just breathe, okay?"
Ethan almost laughs, because his chest feels tight and his throat aches. He'll never breathe again.
"I need an address," Blake says neutrally from the front seat, and Ethan buries his head in his hands. Go back, see the place that was home with Justin, see Justin everywhere, but see him like he was tonight. Brian Kinney's pretty fuck toy. Not Ethan's. Never Ethan's again. "Fuck."
"Just--a hotel. Or something." Side of the road is fine. Ethan doesn't even care.
Ted's quiet for a few minutes. "You sure?"
"I don't know." He sucks in a deep breath and squeezes his eyes shut tight when it refuses to come out again.
"Okay, hang on. Okay? Just hang on. Blake?" Ted's hand leaves his forearm and rests on the back of the driver's seat. "There's a gas station at the corner, can you pull in there for a minute?"
"Sure." Ethan can hear the confusion in Blake's voice, and shares it, but is too busy trying not to let the images in his head sink into his lungs and suffocate him.
He can feel the car lurching to a stop, the ticking of the turn signal, and they turn into the gas station parking lot. "I'll be right back," Ted says, slipping out of the car inch by inch - a foot, calf, leg, torso, and lastly that one arm holding him together. "Just wait here. I'll be back."
A hand wraps around his wrist and coaxes him out of the car a few minutes later. "Here." The plastic mouth of a bottle of water kisses his lips and he opens his mouth, letting the coolness in. He spits and they repeat the maneuver several times, until he can finally swallow and breathe again. "Better?"
Actually, yes. "Thanks," he whispers, and his voice is still raw, but at least he sounds human again. He can't possibly have a headache from the liquor already, but there's a sharp pain spreading over his forehead, and he rubs uncertainly, opening his eyes enough to see Ted watching him with wide, worried eyes.
"You sure you don't want to go home?'
Home? Where the fuck is that? The apartment he avoids, the hotels he hates? Jesus. "No. Not there."
Ted looks down at him carefully, like he isn't sure how to say what he's thinking. "I have a very comfortable couch."
The offer is oddly worded and coaxes an unexpected laugh from Ethan. Ted looks embarrassed, sorry that he offered, maybe even sorry that he woke up this morning and found he was still breathing. Ethan quiets and turns it over in his mind for a moment. Emmett saw him leave with Ted. People saw him leave with Ted. And God, what's the worst that could happen? Finding Brian and Justin fucking in Ted's bed, and that seems pretty fucking unlikely. Leaning back against the car, he clears his throat, schools his features. He takes another drink and nods his head. "Okay."
"Good," Ted smiles and looks pleased, if a bit bashful.
"Everything okay?" Blake asks, peering at them over the hood of the car.
"Yeah," Ted says, nodding. "We're getting there."
"So where to?" He twirls the key ring around on his index finger, keys jingling.
"Ethan will be staying at my place tonight."
"Careful, Sonny Boy." Brian catches him when he stumbles, almost hitting the wall, and he's way too high and way too drunk and way, way too damn distracted to even know where he's going, which is why the door looks amazingly difficult to unlock. He's propped up against it like a doll while Brian shows disgusting amounts of motor coordination and disables the alarm, getting the door open and Justin inside in one way too smooth move.
Justin would be a lot more pissed if he didn't pretty much depend on Brian to keep him from collapsing on the floor in a sodden heap of denim. "God, I can't be this drunk."
"You didn't count your shots, did you?" And fuck the bastard, he just sounds amused. "Keep moving and don't you fucking dare throw up on my floor."
Brian lets go, stepping away, and Justin's listing dangerously to port. Right. He's not okay. He is very, very, very drunk.
Before he and the floor become any closer, Brian slides an arm around him again. Isn't this his job? Get Brian home in one piece? The one he inherited from Michael by brute persistence? But no, he's the one being led to the bed, dropped unceremoniously over the side and left for dead while Brian wanders off to do whatever sacred-Brian rituals commence after a night of semi-debauchery.
Eyes closed, Justin considers the state of his body. He's not sick, just utterly without anything close to sobriety, and God, Ethan's here, he really, really should have drank a lot more.
A few long seconds pass, then a weight lowers itself onto the bed beside him. Justin's body follows the depression of the mattress, rolling into a warm, bare hip and damp skin. "Sit up."
An arm slides behind his shoulders, arching him up, and Justin opens his eyes to watch in bemusement as a bottle of water appears in his line of sight. Right. Water. His arms don't want to move, but his choices are to take it or have it dumped all over him, and it's just not that warm in the loft.
A half a bottle later, Brian pulls away and Justin collapses back into the mattress, eyes closed. "My life sucks."
Brian can move like a cat when he wants to, so it's no real surprise that Justin can't hear a damn thing, though he sometimes wonders how Brian learned it. It's the dumbest game ever, but he's too drunk to do much else, so Justin lies still and just listens. Faint brush of fabric against itself. The lights being turned off. The open and close of the refrigerator door. Then silence, silence all around, before the bed shifts, Brian stretching out beside him, long legs dangling over the side like a kid's. Kicking his feet like Gus does when he's restless. Brian might be a little drunk, too.
Someone might mistake the warmth in his voice for concern. Justin smiles, turning his head to bring Brian into view. Tousled dark hair and sharp hazel eyes. High still, coasting on the afterglow of whatever he took, and close enough to touch if Justin shifts just a little. Like a tease, to be so close, feel the warmth of his body, and not head toward it like a compass pointing north. Or a lemming for a cliff.
It's a long way down, but Justin's not afraid of jumping anymore. "Everything is still, anyway."
Brian slides a lazy hand over his stomach, sliding stealthily beneath his shirt, fingers idly tracing sweat-slick skin. Brian likes touch, anyone, everyone, but especially here, especially now, especially Justin, and Justin appreciates that. Appreciates it even more when he's more sober, but it's good now. Stretching his arms over his head, Justin tilts his head back, eyes closing, feeling like a sleepy cat being stroked just right. Muscles go liquid and pliant beneath the slow, steady movements of magical fingers.
"Any reason you're so tense?"
Well, he'd been coming down from that until *now*. Justin doesn't open his eyes. Brian won't give him a clue, anyway, even if he does look. "Long night." Don't say Ethan. Though honestly, he'd as soon expect Brian to bring up Ethan as the sun to rise in the west. They don't talk about it. They *never* talk about it. Justin knows his Brian, and hell, he knows himself. He's all for openness of communication, but you don't, you just *don't*, talk about the ex in bed with the current. That's just common sense.
Of course, he's very drunk, and common sense is really overrated when life looks like this. It could get dangerous.
"Mm-hm." The stroking doesn't stop, but somehow, it's mixed in with clothing removal, and Justin didn't even feel Brian move. His shirt is skinned off so easily Justin barely feels the change in angle before he's back down on the mattress. Pants next, sliding down his legs, socks and shoes falling onto the floor with soft plops after. Justin shivers at the cool brush of the bedspread on bare skin, feeling goose bumps rise everywhere. "Roll over."
Justin grins, eyes still closed. "What, no kiss?"
He can almost see Brian roll his eyes, giggles to himself as he's pushed over, but Brian doesn't do much more than pull himself up further on the bed, stretching out beside him. It's like being felt up in the slowest way, sensitizing every inch of skin. Justin breathes a sigh, rubbing his cheek into the blanket. "That's good."
Brian chuckles, and he's doing all that wonderful stroking again, and all of Justin's skin is aching. Fuck me, he mouths into the blanket, eyes closed at the brush of fingers through his hair. He's been hard since Babylon, hard in the alley he pushed Brian into, hard through a game of pool like foreplay and three shots at Woody's, hard coming home, and he's hard now. Brian's taste coats his mouth over whatever pink shit Emmett was drinking, and that makes him hard, too.
He keeps his eyes closed and doesn't think of the way Brian looked at him in the alley, before Justin's mouth covered his cock and he stopped thinking altogether. He knows Brian. Sex is amnesia and Novocain both. At least for a little while.
"You're so fucking drunk," Brian murmurs, and Justin grins into the blanket, reaching blindly for the pillow beside him before pulling it under his chest. Shivering at every lingering, thoughtful touch. Brian's slow now, like he's moving through honey, and it shows in the open-mouth kiss to the back of his neck, the fingers twining in his hair, the press of a hard cock against his hip. Brian's slow and careful and thinking, and Justin wishes Brian thought less. "You never get this drunk."
Justin closes his mouth. If he could figure out what to say, he'd say it. It wasn't Ethan, it was me. How the hell do you deal with the person you used to be with him when you don't ever want to remember? He still loves me and I don't love him and it scares me that maybe I never did. I don't know what to do. I don't want to do anything at all. "Fuck me."
Fingers follow the line of his spine, tongue chasing wet and heavy, and Justin moans softly, pressing his cock into the blanket, just a little friction, just to make it good, make it better. Down to his ass, and Justin arches into the fingers that press inside him, pushing back on them, trying to get more. Brian has this amazing tongue that moves into corners and pushes out sensation where Justin never knew it could exist. He's biting into the pillow when Brian opens him up and licks inside. "God. God, yes."
Pulls himself on his knees and tries not to buck into it, cock hard and painful, nothing to grind against, brushing his stomach with every panted breath. Justin can come like this, just from this, wet tongue chasing warmth and feeling like it knows everything that Justin's body's ever been.
But not tonight. Brian pulls away and Justin catches his breath on a whine, God, touch me, fuck me, I don't care, just do *something*, and maybe he says it out loud and maybe he doesn't, but he doesn't care. He rocks back when he feels the chill of the lube on long fingers that push inside again, and then finally, finally, the tear of a condom wrapper and Brian's cock pressed against his ass. "*Yes*." Yes, yes, please yes, anything, just yes.
Ted's apartment is small, quietly furnished, reflections of someone who maybe once lived in Ted's skin. Taking his jacket off, he stands uncertainly in the center of the living room, eyes darting between the shelves with their neatly arranged pictures, short shots of a life in progress. An older woman who has to be his mother. Ted and Michael somewhere in the city in different times, grinning at the camera. A group shot from the diner, and Ethan's mouth tightens as his eyes skim over Ted and Emmett smiling from stools, to Brian with his arm around Justin. An older picture--younger, brighter face, shorter hair, an apron just glimpsed before Michael's body blocks the scene. High school, maybe. An older woman on his other side, Debbie. Without even meaning to, Ethan reaches out to touch the smile--that bright one, that lights up a room, that makes Ethan ache, the smile that he'd always thought was just for him, but it never was.
Sunshine, Ethan thought, eyes blurring. That wasn't mine either, was it?'
"I have clean towels, if you want a shower..." Ted trails off, eyes flickering from Ethan to the picture, and Ethan jerks his fingers away as if he's done something wrong. It feels like he did. "You want something to eat?"
Ethan shakes his head quickly, nausea rising at the thought of food. "No. Um. Not hungry." He left the airport tonight, his bags sent to the apartment, and went straight to Babylon. Justin, his mind on constant refrain, Justin, Justin, Justin, because somehow, he'd imagined--something else entirely. So *stupid*. "And yeah. A shower--a shower would be great. Thanks." Wash the feel of Babylon and Brian's smile off his skin, the sour smells of Beam and vomit. Most of all, wash Justin away, Justin's smiles and Justin's pretty blond beauty and Justin's eyes when they looked at him, like he was an embarrassment, something to be hidden and lied about and ignored.
And it figures, Ethan thinks as Ted nods quietly, following the man down a short hall, into a tiny, immaculate bathroom. I was always your dirty secret, wasn't I?
Ted opens a small cabinet, stepping back to avoid being hit by the door, taking out two towels and a washcloth so neatly folded Ethan almost regrets having to destroy the crisp lines. New, he thinks, touching the top one. Never even used. "Thanks."
"No problem." Ted frowns, like he means to say something else, but then just smiles, walking out and quietly shutting the door behind him. Ethan watches for a few long seconds, then strips off his shirt. Spots of vomit and spills of Beam and sweat. He skins the jeans faster, then underwear, dropping them in a pile by the sink. It's only a short step to the tub, and Ethan pulls back the opaque plastic shower curtain, stepping inside. Brand new bar of soap, never used. Containers of shampoo that have been used once. Ted's just out, finding the world again, maybe.
Ethan leans his head into the wall. The world post-Justin feels a lot like that.
The plastic shower curtain closes him into a compartment of steam and water and silence and Ethan leans against the tiled wall under the spray, letting it beat down onto him. His cheek presses against the cold tiles and he lets the water pelt his scalp, plastering his hair on his skull. He can't remember the last time he'd actually taken a shower outside hotels. The pipes and fixtures in his building were so ancient, the best his modest apartment could offer was a claw-footed bathtub that had been put in when the tenement had been built.
He could remember cuddling with Justin amidst bubbles and warm water, with candlelight and sometimes a book. He'd pick up a razor and shave the nearly invisible blond stubble from Justin's chin while Justin laughed.
He could also remember being more nervous than he could ever recall as he reached for a small jewelry box one night. He took the rings out and showed them to Justin, suddenly feeling silly and sappy, but Justin had been delighted and had let Ethan slip the ring on his finger.
Ethan tipped his head up and opened his mouth wide, letting the hot water spray in and rinse out the taste of Beam and vomit, and tried to pretend that he hadn't kept those rings. Had kept both of them, and placed them back in the box, where they still sat in his suitcase, traveling with him everywhere he went, as a reminder.
No matter where he went, the rings always went with him. If he was on the road, they were in his suitcase. If he was back home in Pittsburgh, they went with him in his jacket pocket. Right there, where he could feel the velvet of the case against the whorls of the pads of his fingers. Burning and condemning. He could always sense where they were in a room on the rare occasion the box wasn't in his hands... could feel them and their distance.
They went with him everywhere. Always. A ghost clinging to him, pressed against his back, whispering poison into his ear to the tune of 'but he never promised me anything... you did'.