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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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qaffic: sesto's aria, 4/4
children of dune - leto 1
seperis

Gay Pittsburgh is too small.

He forgot that, building up these idealized memories of his apartment, school, home, wrapped up in soft-focus, picture-perfect visions of life before he left the first time, when Justin changed his world, became his world.

He's not five hours into the day before he hears more than he ever wanted to know about what had gone on in his absence--a mayoral race, a homophobic candidate, Justin the junior activist, and Brian. Brian, Brian, Brian, like it's not enough Ethan hears that name in his dreams, his reality reflects it, too.

A second class coffee shop reminds him of Justin, the stale biscotti and cheap syrups they used for flavor, right off campus, where all the students gather, and it should be the safest place but it's not. In hours, Ethan knows everything there is to know about suspensions and non-apologies, fucking the boss, the mess of the internship program. Justin's name is constant, traded from table to table like a street hustler, Justin this, Justin that, Justin, Justin, Justin....

They don't notice him, and he likes that, though he can't explain why, hunched down in yesterday's clothes beneath his coat, watching his coffee like it has the answers to every question he didn't ask. Conversation is a slow ebb and flow around him while he wraps his fingers around the mug and tries to tune it all out.

He sorts through the mail with one hand, spreading out months of computer paid bill receipts, junk mail, IFA information, fan letters that somehow found his home address. A few named to Justin that make his fingers shake--that subscription to Architectural Digest, an invoice for dry cleaning, the internet bill. A thin envelope with the cancellation of a flower delivery, and Ethan's throat tightens. Canceled the night Justin left, fuck the deposit, and Ethan crumples it between two fingers, wondering if he'll ever smell roses again and not get sick.

He hasn't made it up to the apartment yet to find out.

A body drops in the seat across from him, and Ethan looks up, sharp words already on his tongue, but they freeze before they can find air, because it's Justin, looking at him from behind a fall of too-long hair and completely unreadable eyes.

Justin, who's so easy to read he's like a book, broadcasting everything he feels in every look, in every touch, but there's nothing to see but the kind of cool evaluation Ethan gets from critics and his manager, the one that would throw a fit if he knew how Ethan had spent his first night in the city.

But. Justin. He's here.

"Hey." Ethan take a short drink of too-hot coffee, trying not to choke as he swallows it down. It's bitter - the kind of bitter that supposedly puts hair on chests - but the counter staff have become accustomed to filling his mug only halfway full so that he can temper the bitterness with sugar and cream, himself. Sure, he could always order something that wasn't as strong, but then he wouldn't have the rich taste of the coffee underneath the sugar and cream; a small, infinitely simple pleasure. Like fresh, clean, white sheets against skin nearly as pale... a lithe, firm body awaiting him in bed.

Justin always hated this place. Though considering how much coffee he drinks at the diner, he's really not in a position to judge, now is he? "I -- I wasn't expecting you." Wanted, yes, but Ethan remembers the look on Justin's face last night.

"I guess not." Justin glances down at the plethora of envelopes, like artifacts from a different life. Faintly aware of his connection to them but not caring enough to find out why. "I didn't know you were back in the city."

Ethan's not sure what to say to that. "Yeah. Taking a break. Too many hotels." Cocking his head, he watches Justin study the letters, making no move to reach for the ones with his name. Justin was looking for him? It feels like it. Ethan's stupid enough to hope. He's stupid a lot these days. "You okay?"

Both eyebrows arch, a single glance around the room, and Ethan takes in the quiet with surprise. Conversation dropped to the level of whispers. Feeling the looks. Oh. "Pretty good, thanks." Justin rests both elbows on the table, long fingers twining casually together, and if he's nervous, if he gives a shit about what he has to know everyone says, his body doesn't show it.

"I didn't mean to surprise you like that," Ethan says slowly, when that's exactly what he meant to do. Justin's neutral expression isn't encouraging, but it's not hostile, either, which is more than he should have expected. He can't be blamed for wanting more, though. "It's just--I wanted to see you. See how you were doing." If you missed me like I missed you.

Justin leans back in the seat, and the evaluative look is back, sharp and thoughtful. It's strange, to look at someone you shared your bed with, read every emotion on his face, knew every word that would come out of his mouth, and be faced with this. Like more time than a few months has passed. Justin's not a stranger, he could never be that, but it's somehow worse.

He doesn't like it--hates it, suddenly and inexplicably. This is Justin, and Justin isn't a random fuck at a concert, he's--God, he's fucking everything. "You landed on your feet. I knew you would."

Something flickers in his eyes, but the voice, if anything, betrays a hint of irony. "I usually do. Tour going okay, then?"

Ethan nods slowly, thinking of long nights in hotels, when even the bodies sharing his bed never quite dispelled the feeling of being alone. His manager's completely undisguised relief when he understood that Justin wasn't in Ethan's life anymore. The checks that he stared at, blank and unmoving, thinking of all the ways this was supposed to assure their future together, Justin's future. In his mind, he was the one paying Justin's tuition bills, paying for his art supplies, making up his home and his world, and how the hell had that changed? Why the hell had that changed? "It's good."

Justin nods absently, but Ethan can see the long fingers tighten, and whatever Justin came here to say, Ethan's suddenly isn't sure he wants to hear it. "I--."

"Why were you at Babylon last night?" It's a new habit, that calm stare, like he's searching Ethan for his answers, trying to work them out by sheer will before Ethan says a word. That look was there the first time Justin asked him about the guy at the concert, and only now, Ethan understands what it means.

He doesn't try to prevaricate. "I wanted--I needed to see you."

"That's what phones are for."

Ethan almost laughs. Like that would have worked. "If I'd wanted to see you? And, anyway, would you have called me back if I had?"

Justin shrugs in acknowledgement. "Probably not."

They look at each other over the space of a scarred linoleum-slick table like there are miles between them, not just time. Too much time or too little, Ethan's not sure. "I'm sorry if it..."

"It surprised me." The ironic edge makes Ethan wince. "Ted said you were pretty plastered. What on earth could you have to say to me? Besides to come pick up my mail, that is."

It's not hostile--at least, Ethan doesn't think it is, and that's--God, that's something. Leaning forward, Ethan shoves his cup aside. He doesn't know how not to try. "I miss you. I--God, Justin, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry for what happened, I just -- I never had the chance to explain, to tell you --."

Justin squints a little. "You did explain. If you need forgiveness or closure or whatever, you got it. But that's all I can do. You get that, right?"

"Because of Brian?"

The frown is so slight that Ethan would have missed it if he wasn't tuned to every one of Justin's moods. The restless artist who couldn't be disturbed, the hyperactive kid, the thoughtful student, the thousand different shades of personality that made up Justin Taylor in whole, but this part is completely new and Ethan's not sure what to make of it. "Brian doesn't have anything to do with it."

That's such a complete and total pile of bullshit that Ethan can't believe Justin even bothered to say it. "You're kidding me, right?"

"No." Justin frowns a little more, just that sharp line between his eyebrows, before a fall of glossy blond hair covers it. "I don't think we really have anything to say to each other anymore. I'm glad tour is going so great and I'm glad you're a success. I'll always be happy for you. Can we just leave it at that?"

The calm, reasoned tones raise something in him--Ethan's not sure what, or if he can blame the traces of Beam left in his system, or hell, maybe it's the crappy coffee or something that's short-circuiting rational thought, because there's no other explanation for what comes out of his mouth. "Glad I'm a success, huh. Yeah, thanks. I guess I finally have one up on good ol' Brian."

Ethan shuts his mouth in shock, tasting bitterness like hard liquor over the too-sweet caramel coffee. No. That's not what he meant to say at all.

Justin's expression doesn't change--where did he learn that, who did he learn it from?--but the table is miles across and Justin might not even be on the same planet anymore. Ethan's mind runs like a hamster in a cage, looking for something--anything--to cover that, explain it, but it just sits there between them, all the ways that Ethan's fucked up on display.

"You don't know shit." Justin shifts in the booth, his mind probably out the door already, because when Justin decides something, it's decided and to hell with everything else. He's already tuned Ethan out, like a bad recording, like a fuzzy radio station, like a memory he doesn't want or need. Ethan's been relegated to Justin's uncomfortable past and that's where Justin wants him to stay, tucked in with every other bad decision of his life, and Jesus, they were *more* than that. He wasn't just Justin's mistake, part of Justin's learning curve, Justin's--God, Justin's back-up. He wasn't. He *wasn't*. "I gotta go--"

"How long?" The words snap out, not checking in at his head, and this is going all wrong. When they met again, Ethan had words prepared, speeches--about love and forgiveness and how losing Justin ripped him apart, and how sorry he is, but for some reason, none of it's making the cut. "How long did it take for you to run back to him? Days? Weeks?" A rough husk of a laugh, humorless, sharp. "Hours? Did you walk out on me and go back to him that same night or did you make him wait a while? What difference would a few more hours make, a few more days, when you knew you were going to be reunited with your true love?"

Christ, it's like he's gone completely crazy, and Ethan's never heard himself sound like that before. Bitterness he hadn't even known was there, bubbling up from the bottom of his mind, thick and ugly and sick, and nowhere in his head had he ever thought he'd ever say these things to *Justin*.

"Maybe it wasn't like that," Justin says, and his voice is so low that Ethan has to strain to hear it. "Maybe I never stopped. Maybe I was fucking him all along. Every time I told you that I had to work late, I was getting fucked in the bathroom of the diner. Every time I was at Michael's working on the comic, I had Brian's cock in my mouth. When I didn't answer my cell, I was getting my ass reamed out and couldn't hear it over my screaming. Maybe it was all a lie. Maybe that was how it was."

There's no words now, not even angry ones--this blank space where everything Justin said twists and roars and magnifies, and he can remember, suddenly and painfully, every late day from work, every early morning with Justin going to the comic store, every evening he tried to call Justin's cell phone and didn't get an answer. An ugly, poisoned layer over every memory, and Ethan thinks he can't breathe, chest tight; it feels like a small animal is trying to claw its way out, sharp claws and sharper teeth.

"Or I just made that up. Which one do you believe?" Justin pauses, and Ethan watches through a red haze as he buttons his coat, standing up. "When you look back, do you wonder now? Because I did. I wondered about everything."

Son of a *bitch*. Ethan takes a slow breath, face hot. Guilt never goes out of style. "Did you enjoy that?"

Justin slowly shakes his head. "Ted wanted me to make sure you were okay. Done that. I think that's all I really have to say. Just... please... stay the hell away from me." Justin turns on his heel, walking past the whispering students, like he has no idea he's the center of all attention, like half the damn place didn't hear them talking, going out the door with a jaunty sound of the bell.

Ethan stares at the chilling cup of coffee and doesn't turn around again.


I'm too tired right now for good feedback right now, but that was very cool.

thanks so much!

learning ethan-niceness is jainieg's goal for me. Educational, even. *g*

"When you look back, do you wonder now? Because I did. I wondered about everything."

Ooohhh, I loved this. Justin is so righteous here.
The Brian and Justin scenes were hot and sad and just all around wonderful.
It's too late to be totally coherent at the moment. But I really enjoyed this and can't wait for more.

Oops! One more thing- Ethan was freaking me out with his possessive, stalkeresque behavior and fantasies.
Should I be nervous about this? Or am I just a drama queen?

(Deleted comment)
You evil duo! How could you keep this up your sleeve? This is great stuff. So many bits that I'll go back and savour, like a fine wine...

"Or I just made that up. Which one do you believe?" Justin pauses, and Ethan watches through a red haze as he buttons his coat, standing up. "When you look back, do you wonder now? Because I did. I wondered about everything."
Fantastic, just so perfect.

And great to see Ethan's reaction to Brian and Justin together - for him to see how the dynamics of their respective relationships are so diametrically opposed. And intriguing but so *right* that he would feel a little protective of Justin, especially in the alley scene.

I notice you called this Part 1. There will be more?? I ain't too proud to beg...

And great to see Ethan's reaction to Brian and Justin together - for him to see how the dynamics of their respective relationships are so diametrically opposed. And intriguing but so *right* that he would feel a little protective of Justin, especially in the alley scene

Hee. I wondered how Ethan would react to the Justin of the rest of the third season--so damn differnt from the kid he was playing with at the end of season two and early season three.

And yeah, Jainieg and I are contemplating funness with the characters. *g*

Thanks!

Oh man, all my post S2 rage is returning. Much as I think Ethan is full of shit and frankly sucks at life, I think Justin is being a shit for being all righteous and high-horsy about it because Ethan didn't bloody force him to cheat on Brian. -.-!!! That said, it is totally IC for Justin to put all the blame on Ethan and selfishly try to destroy all the memories for Ethan because he wants to forget that part of his life so badly. So very well handled. :D

Justin to put all the blame on Ethan and selfishly try to destroy all the memories for Ethan because he wants to forget that part of his life so badly.

I was going to get high-horsy too and disagree, I thought Ethan had that commeuppance coming, but now I think you're right. Justin's motivation isn't about getting back at Ethan as much as it's about making himself feel better.

high-horsy *loves*

I am in love.

This is amazing, there are too many good lines to quote... I especially loved your characterization.

I love how you showed that not only Justin was in love with the idea of Ethan, but that also Ethan was in love with the idea of Justin...

The Justin he loved wasn't the "real" Justin, the one who actually couldn't stand Ethan's friends
"No, I've got a pretty big cock as well, and I give one hell of a blowjob, right Ethan?",

the one who couldn't forget all the things he fought for to live a life made of lies
"So you sacrificed everything?" "Sometimes you have to for what you believe in",

the one who loves sex, everywhere every time and who's so horny and hard and guilty to push Brian into an alley to suck his cock
"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",

he doesn't love that Justin, he probably doesn't even know him...

I also loved your Justin, the way he just want to erase the past to forget not just his life with Ethan, but his life without Brian...

I loved how Brian reacted to Ethan and later to Justin's drunken guilt: hot comforting sex is Brian's "canon" answer...

And yes, I loved your post rehab Ted too...

*Worships*


Hee. It just felt like all of them needed to have a nice little sit down chat. Which right, can't see Brian doing that, but Ethan and Justin very much should. Though Justin being out for blood I didn't expect at all....

*G*

e doesn't love that Justin, he probably doesn't even know him...

I get the feeling Justin didn't ever get around to showing him everything about himself. *grins*

Thanks for the feedback! I enjoyed your comments immensely! *hugs*

*rubs hands together with glee* This is only part 1 right? :))

Loved the B/J scenes, especially the one when they got back to the loft from Babylon/Woody's. You make me want to sympathize with Ethan, but I think I'll reread it a few more times to think that through.

Very glad to see something new from you!!

*grins* Yeah. Jainieg and I have been playing with this for a while.

You make me want to sympathize with Ethan, but I think I'll reread it a few more times to think that through.

*laughs* I was starting to feel bad for poor, lonely Ethan. All forced to watch Justin with someone else. *pets*

Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying the story!

Excellent. I love how clueless they are about each other. They were both in love with an idea, not each other. Justin seems to have figured that out (or is close to figuring that out), Ethan hasn't got a whisper of it yet though.

More please?

*nod* They really *were*, these idealized images of what each other was. You have to get over that eventually. Which Justin mostly may be doing. Ethan? Not so much yet.

Thanks!

I thought this was good when I read parts of it before, and I still think it's good now. The Brian/Justin hangover scene is a masterpiece of domesticity, and I saw a couple minor revisions to the Justin/Ethan confrontation that I think really add a lot.

Domestic!QaF makes me incredibly nervous to write. I'm so much happier when everyone is in some kind of angst. They're *easier* that way.

Thanks for the comments. I'm contemplating all the weird manifestations of my boredom. Writing Ethan, for God's sake.

*grins*

Awwwww, sniffly. Actually made me feel vaguely sorry for Ethan.

He's a romantic in the depths of despair. He's sooo Byron. Except not off fighting wars in Greece.

Though he *would*. Poking people with his violin--er, bayonet.

I haven't slept much in the last three days, but now I'm giggling at the images.

...*small voice* am i the only one who thinks justin was not selfish when he bitched at ethan like that? ^^;;;

maybe it's because i'm a vengeful little bitch, but i was cheering justin on when he fucked with ethan's head like that. huh. i think yeah, justin was to blame for the break-up, and yeah, he's a little drama princess. But he was expecting something from ethan-- it's like he said, ethan broke his promises, and brian never gave promises in the first place. so yeah, ethan didn't force justin to cheat on brian, but justin was expecting something different from ethan, but ethan broke that. heh-- maybe i'm just immature. but i think, in a way, justin can be allowed to be like this-- until he can just let go everything. oh, and besides, ethan started it! *behs* I'm a 5-year-old.

i love this justin. he's bitter and wonderful and oh-so-cool. I also have to say I like the way you characterized ethan-- I could hear his voice. I don't hate Ethan. *shrugs* I just don't like what he stood for, but I can deal.

Lovely, lovely writing. Please write more. It's such a wondrous treat.

*snickers* I got rid of a *lot* of Ethan-angst writing this so far.

I am *so* a five year old too. *offers plate* Cookies?

Love this!

I'm just another non-Ian fan lurking in the fandom world and I love how the Brian and Justin relationship is tearing him up inside. He deserves to be trudging through muck.

Then again, he is right in saying that Justin never fell out of love with Brian -- he's Brian's soulmate damnit!

I know, not constructive criticism but I am a simple, simple girl.

*laughs* He's trudging. A *lot*.

But I let him shower after. Though it wasn't until after I realized he had no clean clothes for the next day! *pets Ethan*

Thanks for the comments!

you guys did a lovely job with this! i'd quote, but there'd be a lot to quote. wonderful!!! :)

Awww, thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Justin shifts in the booth, his mind probably out the door already, because when Justin decides something, it's decided and to hell with everything else.

God, this is so very JUSTIN. You've got him pinned down so well in this fic -- the voice, the new mannerisms.

(And am I sick to be enjoying Ethan in pain? Because I really, really am. ahahaha.)

Wow, thanks!

*loves Justin muchly*

(And am I sick to be enjoying Ethan in pain? Because I really, really am. ahahaha.)

*snickers*

*small voice*

I got rid of *so* much Ethan-angst. Oh so much.

"The hand on his elbow pulls again, and Ethan stumbles up the next stair, Justin's smile burning into his mind, and God, he hates it here, *hates* it here, this fucking church of the one night stand with its high priest feeling up his most willing, most fucking eager sacrifice."

I really liked this line. "fucking church of the one night stand". Doesn't that just describe it to a "T".

The entire thing was so wonderful. I thought that bit about Ethan imaging himself giving Brian the blow job was masterful.

That's all Jainieg. She's got a much better handle on Ethan than I do. *hugs Jainieg*

Thank you for the feedback, honey! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Oooh, I still like. And the Ethan perspective on the B/J relationship is so damn interesting, and I don't think he will ever quite get that Justin chooses that, because he's right, it's not him, and he can't conceive that it is Justin. It's one of the things I like about the story, that you're presenting Ethan as is, not white-washed and not vilified, and letting the readers decide how to interpret his actions.

Speaking of reader interpretation, I'm fully behind Justin in his confrontation with Ethan (I'm not touching the selfish comments, since saying a character is selfish on QaF is about as revealing as saying he's human). It's harsh, but I also feel it's justified. He's making a point, a point I don't think Ethan would get otherwise, because Ethan is that determined romantic, which gives him some big blind spots. Unless Justin made him feel that doubt that he made Justin feel, he never would have gotten it. And Justin knows that. He did live with the guy for however many months, after all, and he's not unobservant. You've nailed those aspects of the characters, I think. Both Ethan's skewed view of their relationship and Justin's awareness of and response to that view.

Also? The B/J smut remains so very, very hot. I melt with the hotness. Yum.


It's one of the things I like about the story, that you're presenting Ethan as is, not white-washed and not vilified, and letting the readers decide how to interpret his actions.

Reader interpretation, to me, is everything.

He's making a point, a point I don't think Ethan would get otherwise, because Ethan is that determined romantic, which gives him some big blind spots. Unless Justin made him feel that doubt that he made Justin feel, he never would have gotten it. And Justin knows that. He did live with the guy for however many months, after all, and he's not unobservant. You've nailed those aspects of the characters, I think. Both Ethan's skewed view of their relationship and Justin's awareness of and response to that view.

Yeahh. I don't entirely think Ethan understood what happened when he cheated, because that hit Justin literally out of nowhere, and *how* infidelity hits you when you don't expect it.

*grins* I'm glad the B/J worked. God, this fandom makes me *hide* from writing smut. *sighs* Stupid weird muses.

Thanks, sweetie! *hugs hard*