Say it with me.
You really need to get out more, chica.
I will! You know, when I have my Saturdays free again. Apparently, and this is just speculation, bosses sort of frown upon their employees coming in Saturday morning in less than relatively good condition. Strange, strange people.
For amusement value, those four or five who are reading this little, idiotic, won't-fucking-get-to-the-point story that refuses to do anything....
I. Hate. This. Story. The sheer amount of melodrama I'm contemplating scares me badly. But in a fiendishly evil way, not a run for cover way, because well, I just looked at the line up for fall, and there are three, count 'em, three shows I want to watch. That's just sad.
For those interested, because I always forget to memory these things, all earlier parts can be found here.
It moves like a snail. The runt snail. The snail so slow the other snails mock him. All the time.
Six and a half hours, one storeroom quickie, and a bag of peanut butter cups later, Justin shut down the store and breathed out in relief. There's still stuff he needs to do--look over the account books, do some inventory to see what's missing, start unpacking those endless numbers of boxes multiplying like speed-addled rabbits in the back of the storeroom--but hell if he's staying in there for one more *second* if he can help it.
Justin Taylor, artist, former IFA student, gay rights activist, and surely an absolute bastion of coolness--a comic book geek. Not just any kind, but the one that rules them all, the proud supplier of the masses.
My God, thinking like this will get him no where fast. Pulling his coat closer, he looks up to see Brian leaning casually into the side of his rental--all slick leather, black silk turtleneck, and radiating sex like a beacon for gay men everywhere to come worship. Ultrafocused, like the entire street's this blurry place of not quite reality. Flipping through--of all Godforsaken things--Superman 226.
He looks bored and also, like he has no idea what he's reading, but he's Michael's best friend, which should, in a fair world, raise his geekiness quotient, since he actually *does* know comics. But then, Brian could probably make geekery sexy, and Justin leans into the door, wondering if Brian even knows he's here.
"How was your day, honey?" Brian looks up with a smirk, the low, mocking drawl like warm honey being poured on Justin's skin, and he draws in a breath, wondering if Brian knows how easy it is for him to turn Justin on. A look, a smile, a few words, breathing....
"A nightmare. I can't believe I'm doing this." That's not true. He knows he's doing this. Reality had descended when Justin caught himself snarling at a sticky-fingers preadolescent trying to remove The Authority issue four from its smooth protective cover, and the words that had spilled out of his mouth had been Michael's.
*Michael's*. The whine had been unmistakable. Justin shivers to remember it.
They stare at each other for a long moment--Justin feels his breath catch a little, the exhaustion dripping away by degrees.
"Everyone came to see me today. Did you tell them?"
Brian's smirk widens. "I might have mentioned to Debbie what a selfless, sweet thing you were doing for her only chick and child...."
"Son of a bitch." Lindsay and Mel with Gus in tow. Emmett, looking pounds lighter but mentioning fuschia curtains to liven the place up. Vic and Debbie both this afternoon, pretending all kinds of surprise to see him there, like they hadn't had a clue. God, even Daphne, hiding her grin and saying without words that you really, really had to be more careful what you wished for these days, especially with Brian around to listen. Ben to check up and look so eternally grateful that Justin had felt guilty for kicking that box of comics when it refused to move on it's own after he tripped over it the third time. "Deb wants a family dinner tonight."
Brian nods, flicking imaginary lint off his arm before tucked the comic into a recess of his jacket. Carefully, Justin notes, with a flicker of amusement. "I was informed. Hop in, geekboy."
Justin pushes off the door, tucking the keys in his pocket. Strange, surreal plans are already forming in his mind--the inventory he has to do in the morning, the rearrangement of some of the shelf space, dusting out the bargain bins, reorganizing the original Batman space and calling up suppliers that Michael hadn't had a chance to do before he left. Painstaking, handwritten notes in the account book--God, Michael was anal, had to-do lists that covered the next *year*, but if it made Justin' s life easier, he was going to bless it until the day he died.
He's not even aware he'd stopped moving until a tug at his shirt jerks him off-balance, a warm body pressed up against his, and Brian looks into his eyes from less than a centimeter away. Cool, butter-soft leather for his cold fingers to touch. Leather-slick hand in his hair, tilting his head up, and Justin closes his eyes to the kiss, warm lips, soft tongue, exploratory more than anything else.
Tension melts away like snow in spring, and God, Brian's so warm--silk under the coat when he works his hands inside, smooth skin beneath. That place just at the small of his back that makes Brian shiver when he digs his nails in just a little. Familiar line of a spine to slide his fingers up and down.
It's nearing dusk and they're on a public sidewalk in the middle of Pittsburgh, but Justin could really care less. He gave up--God, did he give up--everything for this. Touch and taste and the freedom to do both wherever he wants.
"Brian," he breathes at the bite to his neck, sharp and reminding him of everything they could be doing *right now* if it wasn't pre-dusk and there wasn't a major street less than a foot away. "Dinner can wait." It can. He *deserves* this. He wants to be taken somewhere warm and given hot chocolate and told how very, very selfless he's being while being fucked through the mattress. And he never, ever wants to think about comic books again.
Brain pulls back with a wet sound, and Justin digs his nails in, fingers wrapped around the back of Brian's neck. Forehead pressed to his, Brian chuckles. "I promised to get you there on time."
And this is important why? "Whatever. Let's--" Fuck in the rental. Brian chose it for more than its looks. Lots of space there. Lots.
"--eat?" Brian pushes him away with another grin, stepping away to open the car door, and did Brian just turn down sex? Justin stares at him for a few long seconds. He's running a comic book store. Michael's a fugitive. Ted--*Ted* is in rehab. Emmett wore earthtones today. And Brian just turned down sex.
"This is a huge conspiracy to drive me crazy, right?"
Brian gives him a puzzled look. "Are you on something?"
Justin's beginning to wonder that, too. "I could ask you the same thing."
The warm light of Debbie's house--not to mention the sprinkle of cars--tell Justin they ware already late, and he doesn't want to concede that Brian had a point on the no-sex thing, but still.... He's tired and he runs a comic book store. People go postal for a lot less than this.
Brian's his usual silent self, but there's an edge of thoughtfulness that makes Justin nervous. Brian had spent the last few days before election day like this--like most of his attention was turned completely inward, focusing on something he couldn't or wouldn't share. All those tiny, subtle differences that only a friend or lover would recognize.
It's--not feeling shut out, exactly. More like forgotten. And Justin's not entirely sure that this is any better than the more deliberate ways they've found to ignore each other in the past.
"Brian, is something going on?"
Brian snaps back into focus with almost a physical wrench, and Justin blinks as he stomps his feet into the ground, wishing he'd worn thicker socks. His toes are freezing, what with all this standing around in the cold speculating when he could be inside, warm and surrounded by food.
"Nothing important." Right. Like Justin ever believed that. But again--this is Brian. Until something explodes, he's not getting more information than this. Almost sighing, he follows Brian up the stairs, feeling vaguely guilty, remembering the pictures he stole--borrowed, Justin, borrowed--and did Debbie notice anything with that box? Like maybe the tape was all ripped off?
Oh man, he really doesn't want to think about this.
Hands in his pockets, Justin takes a breath to see if he can figure out dinner by smell. Heavy spice makes him sneeze and always preludes Debbie's experimental jumps in cuisine. Fridays mean fish, but not that either. There's a light touch of something in the beef family, and Justin smiles as he opens his eyes as Brian knocks on the door.
It's a long wait, and Justin frowns, looking up at Brian, but he's back in wherever in his head he's been spending so much damn time--no help at all. There's the sound of rustling, voices near the door, then Debbie appears, strangely flushed, looking at them with an absolutely genuine smile and something that Justin doesn't recognize at all.
"I didn't expect you for another hour!" she says, grinning, but she steps back slowly from the doorway, and this day has gone well beyond bizarre, because Debbie's never uncertain.
"I'd think you weren't happy to see us," Brian answers sardonically, letting Debbie lean up to kiss him, and Brian rarely does that. Opening the door completely, she steps aside so reluctantly that something has to be up. Is Michael home? Hiding from the cops?
It's official--his life is beyond a melodrama.
"Just early is all. I--I guess you remember James, Brian."
Brian comes to a stop so short that Justin's left hanging on the edge of the doorway, and he reaches out to balance himself against Brian's shoulder. Stupid too-tall Brian in his way, and there's no way to see around him, either. Justin would almost think it was deliberate.
"Of course." It may be cold outside, but Brian managed to drop the temperature to arctic, and Justin really has *got* to see who this is that gets that kind of response. "What the fuck is he doing here, Deb?"
Fucking *hell*, this is totally unfair. He can't see a damned thing.
"He came because of Michael."
This is getting ridiculous and hell if Justin's going to start kicking at this point, but man, it's tempting. Just to the side, Justin can catch the expression on Debbie's face--frustration and worry evident in every line on her face, and right now, she looks ten years older and so tired. This entire year's taken a lot out of her.
"Brian--" Justin says, shaking the hand on his shoulder. Brian doesn't so much as twitch. "Brian, I can't--"
"We're leaving." Brian turns on his heel, looking down at Justin like he just remembered he was there. Behind him, Justin can see Debbie close her eyes, like a bid for patience, but he doesn't miss the way her hands are twisting in her bright apron.
"Brian, what's going on?" There's enough space now just to squeeze between Brian and the doorway, and Justin catches glimpses of worried, unhappy faces. Mel but not Lindsay, Emmett, Vic, and Ben in the living room, and another man, and Justin catches his breath, because there are people that are impossible to forget and this man is one of them. A slow, even smile at him, just for him, and Justin takes an uncertain step back, then another, only stopping with the hand on his arm that jerks him back into the cold night on the porch.
James, the man in the diner, the man in the picture, and fuck coincidence, this can't be one.
"Did you call him?" Brian's voice is rougher than Justin's ever heard it aimed at Debbie. "Tell me you didn't fucking call him, Deb."
Debbie glanced back at her guests, trying out a hostess' calm smile with mixed results, before grabbing the door and stepping outside, pulling it closed behind her.
"Don't pull this shit, Brian. I don't need it." All the color's drained from her face.
"And you need him? What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Mouth pinched, Debbie glares up at Brian. "Trying to find my son."
"He doesn't want to be found. Considering the circumstances--"
"To help him, Brian. You've heard of that, right?"
"And you need that fucker--"
Debbie takes a hard step forward, glaring up, and Justin's glad, God, so glad, that he's never had that look turned on him. "Don't fuck with me, Brian. He's the best there is and we both know it."
They both ignore him. Completely not a surprise.
"Pittsburgh's full of private detectives if that's what you wanted. Instead, you import one. Fuck. You think Michael would want this?"
Debbie's eyes shine, and Justin forces himself to look away from the pain on her face. "He's not here to ask, is he?"
There's nothing to hear but the soft wisp of far-off cars driving over salted roads, the sound of the wind moving through the trees. Something turns over in Justin's stomach as he watches them--more when he thinks of the people inside, listening. Neither Brian nor Debbie ever considered lowering their voices.
A shiver when he sees James in his mind, smiling at him from Vic's easy chair, as comfortably at home in Debbie's house as any of them. James. James, Michael's ex, and not a surprise at all that Brian doesn't like him, Brian never liked Michael's boyfriends. But still....
Without another word, Brian lets go of Justin's arm, turning on his heel to stalk the porch and taking the steps two at a time. A belated glance back, as if he just remembered Justin was there.
He doesn't resent it. He won't resent it. He'll be philosophical about it, even if his hands are shaking in his pockets. "Justin. You coming?"
Don't put me in the middle of this, he wants to say, but then again, he deserves it. There's a stretch of months where Debbie and everyone else were hung between Justin and Brian like this, and it makes him sick to remember it.
Looking at Deb, he feels something shiver inside. God, this was nightmarish. He can't just--
Brian's footsteps in the snow, though, snap him back, and he hugs her awkwardly, feeling the resigned cling of her arms before he turns around. Brian's already starting the car. If he's back in not-noticing mode, Justin could be left standing in the middle of the driveway and really feeling like an idiot.
Brian waits, though--eyes turned inward, hands clenched on the steering wheel, and Justin weighs the pros and cons of asking as he slides inside, jerking the car door closed behind him. The gas is hit with enough energy to make Justin worry for the transmission, then they're off, gone, and Justin is so glad he remembered his seat belt or he would have been thrown into the dashboard.
"Brian--" He has no idea how to frame the question.
Sinking back in the seat, Justin watches the houses go by. A wrong turn coming up, and Justin opens his mouth to tell Brian that Daphne's apartment's the other way, but shuts it tight again.
"I saw him at the diner this morning."
The car skids a little, and Justin stares straight ahead, taking slow breaths. The seconds trickle by almost painfully, and Jesus, it's years until they pull up to the loft and he's following Brian inside. Brian, who doesn't say a damn word but radiates something vaguely threatening and alarmed at the same time. At and to who, Justin doesn't have a clue.
It's warm inside--warm and safe and he was wrong. Deb's house might be home, but here is, too, closing familiar and comfortable as a glove around him, and Justin breathes out, aware he hasn't taken a full breath since seeing the man in at Deb's. Slowly, he takes off his coat, laying it on the couch while perching on the arm. Brian's rooting through the alcohol supply like his life depends on it.
He knows--*knows*--that Brian wants to yell, why didn't you tell me? But logic would tell him, how was Justin supposed to know to tell? Logic, of course, isn't aware of the bulletin board in his room, and Justin bites down to keep from spilling that out.
"You met him?"
"Saw him." No one sane would draw a comparison between Justin being freaked out at the diner and James.
Then again, Brian's never been accused of being sane. "That's why you were upset?"
No reason to lie about it. At least, not any good reason, and Justin looks for one for a minute before giving up. He's not going to win this one. "He--I don't know. It was weird."
Brian snorts something that sounds suspiciously uncomplimentary, though of who, Justin's not sure. "He has that effect on people."
It should be comforting, but it's not. Running his hands over his thighs, Justin watches Brian cross the room, brushing by him to drop on the couch. He looks exhausted. That entire not-sleeping thing catching up, maybe. Turning, Justin wisely keeps his feet off the cushions. "Tell now or do I have to drag it out word by word?"
A pause, then Brian shrugs. "He's Michael's ex." Like that's an explanation. Normally, it would be--that's like a no-brainer equation to anyone who had any acquaintance with either of them. Michael plus boyfriend equals pissy Brian. There you are. But this isn't normally, if they've ever come close to the word in their lives, and Justin leans one elbow on his knee and stares at the man on the couch. This isn't the first time he's wished for telepathy. That, or a sledgehammer. Either would do.
Brian rolls his eyes. Really eloquent, and not going to get him out of this. "I don't like him. What--"
"And the entire drama queen routine on the porch?" Because frankly? He'd hated David, but there was no way Brian would have reacted like that about him. "Please. What'd he do?"
Brian shifts a little, a sure sign of discomfort, taking another drink of the bottle, like maybe that will be inspiring or something. He won't lie, Justin knows that, but he can and does minimalize the truth.
"A shit." Another shrug. "And it had to be fucking *now*..." He trails off, taking another drink, and Justin feels the first frisson of alarm when Brian's eyes skim by his. Something else is wrong. "Stay away from him."
"Trust me, I'm not cruising him or anything." Or willingly be in the same room, for that matter, and isn't this just going to be fun? "What--"
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
Justin sucks a breath between his teeth, feeling himself rock a little on the arm of the chair. "Where?" There's a temptation to reach for Brian's bottle now. Sliding down onto the seat of the couch, Justin watches Brian's eyes flick away from his.
"New York for a couple of days."
Brian blinks. "Why do you think?" Stupid question. That job thing. That stupid fucking election, and that entire reputation fucked over, and Jesus Christ, he hates this. Even if he should have seen it coming. He has to have. He's not stupid. He's not seventeen. He's not-- "Okay."
Brian raises an eyebrow and shifts on the couch, offering the bottle, and Justin almost laughs as he takes it. God dammit, their lives suck. Just suck. Justin takes a long drink, closing his eyes against the slow burn. "Take-out?"