Okay, I'm trying this one first. Reader interpretation is a huge part of what I do--bigger than I realized before now. But this one was recent, I have AIM convos to remember with.
Stories Out of Childhood by jenn, QaF, Justin/Brian, Justin/Gus
Once upon a time...and isn't that how the best stories start? Like the ones his mother told him when he was a kid and buried under defensive covers to protect from the monsters hidden in the closet and lurking beneath the bed.
This isn't one of my better beginnings--I picked up a habit for wanting something powerful for a first line, and these days, I rarely write anything that lets me do that. This is a throwback to my taste for bitter nostalgia--not necessarily what you regret losing, but what you regret giving up. Quiet in Voyager and Only Sometimes in Smallville, all have that edge of choice gone wrong--not necessarily that it was the wrong choice in the abstract, but that living with it is always so much harder.
I'm a big fan of people having to live with their decisions. Sometimes, I want to fix it for them. Sometimes, I don't.
But, once upon a time, not here and not now, but long ago and far away, he woke up in a hospital bed alone and his mother cried, and he hadn't seen her cry in years. The sterile smell of the air in his lungs and rough feel of the sheets against his skin were overwhelming, curiously important, and he winced, because he thought that he'd never felt anything so uncomfortable. His body was thick and leaden and the covers didn't protected him from a damn thing, even himself.
Remembers this rage that came out of nowhere and everywhere when she came to his bed to touch his face, and how his hand tried to fist and couldn't.
His body knew what his head didn't, what his memory refused to show and tell.
Once upon a time, he fell asleep before prom and woke up at a hospital, and they can tell him anything they want to, about last dances and long kisses and a baseball bat, but it's not any more real than any other fairy tale. He believes his hand, that cramps up when he works too long; he believes the scar, faded and uneven in the mirror; and he believes the anger he never learned to outgrow, only to hide.
He believes his body, after he stopped believing in anything else.
Justin spent the beginning of the second season with his mind betraying him at every turn. It wasn't just Hobbes and his bat--it was the memories he lost, the panic attacks, the fear that felt irrational to him because he couldn't remember the why. He came out on the other side not recognizing himself, from the raging temper to the blank terror of people and touch, leading to insecurity not only in himself, but in what he thought and felt. It shows throughout the season, how he stopped believing in anything he couldn't *see* and touch and hear, that he couldn't verify with his senses. His body knew he'd been attacked, but his mind gave him contradictions at every turn. No real wonder that he trusts it, with the open disability of his hand, than what his head told him. It lied when he needed it most.
It hurts to think like that. Serial monogamy and tricking have a lot in common. The difference is that only one requires making promises to break.
There's a huge chasm between physical and emotional fidelity. Justin doesn't trust his emotions, they come from his head, and his head lies. It's easier to make a physical commitment, because that's something he can control. He calls it love when he commits his body, because that's concrete, something definable, never quite acknowledging that the emotional connection he doesn't trust anymore is what makes a relationship work.
Live inside his skin and in this moment, fuck gallery openings and fuck Bobby for thinking he was something he wasn't. The trick behind him follows like a puppy, fingers wrapped in the waist of Justin's jeans.
It's all about his body right now--he can trust it to be honest. If he wants something, it'll tell him. If it doesn't, he can walk away. He left Bobby because he didn't have that emotional tie to keep him wanting to stay. It's still a form of tricking, just tricking with one person, not many.
Another faceless kid in the crowd who dances for shit, but the circle around him is wide and obvious, especially in a Friday crowd, the entire opposite of being shunned, because they're watching. Hypnotic movements and grace, no sense of rhythm to speak of, but the kid doesn't seem to care. It's like he's performing, Justin knows the look, but only for himself.
Long, lean body, bordering on too-thin, too far away to see his face, but Justin likes the height and the way he uses it. Energy like something palpable wrapped around him. High as shit if Justin's any judge, and he is. He remembers seventeen, after all.
Sometimes, though, he doesn't quite get *why* it wants something. His first view of Gus is all physical--beauty and awkwardness. His body likes. The kid's pretty, and Justin appreciates that.
Justin takes a breath, readying something light and cutting--he doesn't like twinks, boring, annoying, think they know everything and know shit. It's the smile that kills the words, slow and thick and rich and almost something Justin can taste, and he shivers when the kid looks him over, God, dark like a moonless night, and no one sane could look away, no one would even want to.
"Hey," Justin hears himself say, mouth dry, staring at the fall of too-long hair, red and brown and gold, making his fingers itch to touch, itch to *draw*. He's so stupid. It's just a kid, out too late, too fucking young to know what he can do when he looks like that. Like he's thinking of everything he could do to Justin and Justin could do to him, all in the space of a single breath, and Justin hasn't felt fucked before he's even been touched, not like this.
He's a hot kid, and Justin's fine with attraction, but he starts falling down when he's faced with more than pretty. His body was trained to be turned on by this, it responds because it's Brian all over again. His mind knows instinctively why, but he doesn't listen to his mind.
He shrugs, strangely thoughtful, putting the bottle on the bar, hand sliding up its length slow and easy. Every little trick in the book, like a student called upon to perform, and God, does he ever. It's entrancing, and Justin feels the pull of memory and shoves it away. This is too good to fuck up with thinking.
And again, the hints that he should pay attention, but he likes what he sees too much to ask himself why. He likes how he feels with this kid too much to let his head get in the way and screw things up, like it always seems to do.
Once upon a time, he thinks, and stops, remembering a night and a circle of light and the beginning of everything that really mattered, and then the kid jerks once, hard, pulling him close enough to bruise.
Vague, image-shapes of Babylon and seventeen, when touching was still something that made him as high as drugs, the looks he'd get, the way he'd feel. Years since he felt so easy and a little high, because the kid's attention is so fucking focused, like a weight all its own, bearing down, promising things Justin doesn't think about anymore.
Reminds him of--
He's responding all over the place, like he always has, and it's familiar and he refuses to question it. His body says, this is something that we know and want, and he believes it because it never lies to him. 'Why' doesn't have any place here.
"You have no idea what you're doing, do you?" And this time, Justin does draw back, though it hurts to lose that touch, withdrawal like an ache, and the kid lets him go, just watches. "Go home."
A grin, still provoking in all that innocent confidence, it's got to be innocence. "I always know what I'm doing. If it's not you, it'll be someone else."
"Someone else is fine." He's lying. He knows it when he says it, hates how he knows he'll wonder if this was all some kind of fucked up dream tomorrow, the way memory will layer it and blur it and change it until he'll never be sure of the reality again.
"I'll let you fuck me."
Justin stops. Images flicker through his mind that he can't control, but who wouldn't want him? All that golden skin stretched out on his bed--his bed?--spill of dark hair and too-old eyes watching him. He can see it like he's doing it. He can feel it like he's done it before.
All about the body remembering and wanting. His head wants to walk away, and walk away *now*, it's been screaming this is something he knows and needs to think about, stop and *think*, but he doesn't listen because he chooses not to. Like he chose not to believe that Brian loved him because it wasn't something he could touch and hear and taste and see, he doesn't listen now, because nothing in those senses are telling him *no*. They all say *yes*.
The dark helps, though, only the track lighting by the easel, mellowing the room, a contrast to the harsh overhead fluorescents he never uses. Makes it warmer, somehow. Less like rented space; gives the illusion of security and belonging, peace.
Things he chooses not to have. That's emotional security he's looking for, and denies at every turn. It all comes back to that trust in himself that's gone, that he has never figured out quite how to get back.
Justin pauses, jarred. *Dad*. "He know what you're up to?" God, what a stupid question. Reminding him of the fact that this is a *kid*, pretty and cocky though he might be, a fucking *kid* and he doesn't *do* this.
The snicker is unmistakable. "I'd be really surprised if he didn't."
Wandering with whispers of air here and there and everywhere, stringing Justin's nerves tighter by the second. Turning with two bottles, Justin opens his mouth, and for some reason, he actually thinks he might say that he'll drive the kid back to wherever he's staying.
He knows by now that the unease has a reason for being there--he's looking for reasons to get away, concrete reasons he can live with, not just emotional and instinctual recognition that he won't acknowledge. He couldn't pull it off in the club., with all those physical distractions around him, but alone with Gus now, everything is telling him that he knows this and he should stop *now*.
Personal space forgotten, the kid's so close Justin can feel warm breath against his lips. A brush that could be mistaken for air, such soft lips, and he closes his eyes and gives in without even thinking about it. Silky hair catching between his fingers, the taste of sweat and beer, something chemical and bitter, and that taste, that he thinks he's been looking for forever. Makes him arch up and hold on, one hand moving beneath the sweat-damp shirt, turning them to press him into the counter and just *take*.
His body wants, though. It knows what it feels, the instinctive draw to Gus, to what Gus represents to him.
"How old were you?" the kid asks, like he wants a story. A bedtime story for Justin taking him to bed as he reaches for the waist of Justin's jeans, unbuttoning them with a degree of experience that makes Justin even harder.
"Old?" His mind won't make sense of the words, twisting themselves in old memories, fluttering too close to the surface of his mind to ignore. "How--"
"First time." Long fingers are working inside his jeans, slipping them off his hips. A deliberate brush against his cock before they're pulled down further, making Justin catch his breath and move into it. Bending the kid backward on the counter, soft mouth and long throat, so fucking gorgeous it almost hurts to look at him. Justin's pants are puddling ridiculously around his ankles and he doesn't even care. "Your first time."
Justin nips lightly at his collar. "Seventeen." It's an answer, not a story. He's a lifetime away from believing fairy tales, even the ones he created. Maybe especially those. Stepping back, he kicks the jeans away, sliding an arm around the kid's waist, drawing him out of the kitchen. "You coming?"
I've never really thought about how deliberate this is, but it is.
Gus grew up without Justin, but never without the ghost of him--in his father, in the memories of his parents, his family. He wants Justin, his father's fairy tale, but also wants the acknowledgement of the connection that's there, even if it's by proxy. From the first touch, he's given Justin every clue, from mannerisms to learned habits, and he can see Justin respond to everything he's learned from his father, but Brian's son wouldn't want that connection. It's Lindsay in him, the romantic, that wants the connection to be felt by them both.
"Fifteen," the kid murmurs, back arching, head tilted back, so fucking sexy. "I was fifteen."
He wants that personal connection with Justin--not just a trick, not the unacknowledged ghost of his father between them. Though he's using his father to get here, he wants something that's just for him and Justin, something that doesn't have to be shared.
He gets even harder at the sound of that voice, saying his name like that, like there's never been anyone else that made him feel like this. Like being alone with the entire universe focused just on you. "Yes, Bri--"
He doesn't trust his emotions, his instincts, his reasoning, or his memory. They're not tangible, they lie and tell him that nothing happened to him at the prom, they gave him nightmares and insecurity and pretty much screwed up his life for a while. But he trusts what he can hear and feel and see and say.
Words are meaningless, he learned that, learned it the same way he learned his name, learned his abc's, learned to fuck. It's all repetition and stupid stories that he believed until he learned better, and it's accident and it's not, because Justin looks up into hazel eyes with the word still clinging to his tongue, a name he hasn't spoken in longer than he can remember, and....
It's like drowning, like air too solid to breathe, like every first time rolled into a single, endless second. He believes it because his body tells him, has been telling him, and he believes his body. He knows.
His body doesn't do that. It just tells him, and he tells himself what he already knew.
"Go slow," he hears himself say, and he sounds like a kid on a bed in a different city, he would have run for the door, he never would have stayed. If he'd had his choice, he never would have left.
He wants this kid to remember, wants him to never forget it, never let anyone else fuck him and not know--
Not *remember*, and Jesus, the words are in his head like he heard them only seconds before, not more years and more men than he can ever hope to count. And it's true, it's always been true, even when he didn't know it.
He can't escape what he's doing--his body's conditioned to want this, and his mind has been looking for this since he left Pittsburgh. Physical fidelity substituted for emotional connection never quite cut it.
"You knew." It should be an accusation, but he's exhausted and floating and high as hell. Somewhere, sometime, it's going to hit like a freight train, but that's not here and that's not now.
Now that he knows what he's looking at, believes what he's feeling, it seems really damn obvious--not only who Gus is, but what he really did. Justin's not stupid, just chose to be deliberately blind.
Justin nods blindly, fixing the scene in his mind like it's something he's seen. Beside him, the kid sits up, fingers never leaving his body. "Artist." He can see Lindsay and Gus on the floor like it was this morning, tiny fingers wrapped around a crayon. Scribbles that made it to Brian's fridge by mysterious means that Justin had never discovered.
It's that combination that makes Gus so attractive and frightening. This is one place that Gus can connect to Justin independent of Brian, through Lindsay, through their shared talent. Gus gets what he wanted most here--a place that Brian hasn't ever touched in Justin.
The kid's not stupid. He's his father's son. Falling back on the bed in an indecent sprawl of long limbs, impossibly hot, one hand curls up beneath his head. As comfortable as his own bed. The hazel eyes drift shut. "Know?" A tiny smile curls up one corner of his mouth, and it could be fourteen years ago, and it could be Brian in the loft, all angles and dark corners and surprising light. "I remember."
"You can't possibly."
The smile widens, lashes still lowered. "Pictures are memories, too." The slim body shifts, sinking into the mattress like he's always been there. "Newspaper clipping. Conversations. Life."
He makes it sound so obvious, like this is something Justin should just fucking *know*. This--boy, this kid, this too-pretty, too-confident, too-jaded *child* is rewriting it by inches, making it all brand new.
Of course Gus knew. This was his fairy tale, he wanted to know. Hell, Brian and Justin were Liberty Avenue's fairy tale, and his family might never have told him, but he grew up surrounded by it, soaked in it. This is the man who was present at his birth and chose his name, the single most powerful influence in his father's life for years, an integral part of his family before he left. Over Gus' life, he must have heard a thousand stories that he wasn't supposed to hear. The very fact that no one talked about it made it that much more attractive, more mysterious, something he had to know.
"Gus." A whisper, and Gus slowly smiles, an answer. "And--" Brian's in town. Brian is here, in the city. Jesus Christ. He's going to be sick. "Fuck. We shouldn't have done this."
"Why?" Gus looks curious, and Justin looks for the baby he left and finds nothing. "If it's about you and Dad--I mean, if I restricted myself only to people Dad hasn't fucked, I wouldn't have any social life at all."
He's still his father's son, though. Sex is sex is sex. He came into it with a lot of motives, but just fucking was high on the list.
"Because I'm going to go back to the hotel and tell him." The sarcasm makes Justin wince. Groping across the floor, he grabs his jeans, jerking them on, almost falling over when his foot gets caught halfway down. Fuck. *Fuck*. "Besides, I should be the one to worry. Dad doesn't like sharing unless it's on his terms."
The romance is what attracted him, and it's also what makes it dangerous. Gus knows, and Justin knows, too, that fucking isn't the problem. Emotional betrayal is Brian's biggest weakness. No matter how many years it's been, no matter how far they are apart, Gus knows Brian. If it was just fucking, it wouldn't mean a thing, but it wasn't and couldn't ever be, not for Gus and Justin. There's too much emotional baggage wrapped in them and why the did it.
"Justin." It's a question and answer all at once, and Justin watches the way the dark eyes narrow, familiar way his mouth tightens, disappearing inside himself like Brian so many times before, and those times had been because of Justin, too. "Oh."
Gus used his father to do this, but it doesn't change the fact he wanted it for himself as well, even if he couldn't quite admit it.
*Sixteen*. "You mean--'Brian'."
Gus glances up from beneath his bangs, and Justin catches the edge of a smile that makes him ache. He knows that look from the mirror, but it's never been on Brian's face, never colored his skin with a flush like that.
And Justin, until now, didn't quite want to acknowledge the why, though he had to know the answer. Gus didn't say it, and it's not real until it's spoken, Justin believes that. But he remembers being in love with Brian, remembers how it felt to have that look on his face, and even if Gus didn't say it, Justin can see it. Gus was infatuated with a mystery and a not-quite-memory, in love with a fantasy. It wasn't just about wanting, not for Gus, not for Justin.
Though now, I can see why it was read as an admission of incest, though the first time my betas mentioned it, I thought they were on crack. I keep getting squicky and alluring urges to go back and read this from that point of view, because it changes Gus' motive and doesn't change them that much at all. Hmm.
"No apologies." The kid looks away--Gus, God, it's Gus, and he can't wrap his mind around it, even though he knows. His chest hurts and his throat feels thick, God, the *air* feels thick, because he's taken something away from this kid, told him there is no 'ever after'. There isn't even a 'now'. "Bye."
He did to Gus, what Brian did to him. Took something that meant so much and made it something less important, less romantic, cheap, right back to tricking, but even less than that. Gus wasn't there for Justin at all, just a way Justin's body could remember and his mind could finally find emotional peace. And Justin let him see that. Brian's son understands that, but Lindsay's son won't forgive or forget it.
It's going to hit like a freight train, he can feel it, any minute now, and it's never going to stop.
I like this last line and how I used it before, but in retrospect, I should have gone with the baseball bat analogy throughout.