Two--Sanity's really, *really* overrated.
The Snail Collective
Justin dreams of killer bees chasing him through the edges of Liberty Avenue, and disturbingly, they seem to be carrying small spiked dildos.
Less than twenty-four hours without sex can do this to a person.
He wakes up to his cellphone ringing hard enough to bruise his hip and a promise to himself that his espresso intake is going to be severely limited. Eyes closed, he forces one hand clumsily into his pocket and pulls the phone out blind, sneezing from the dusty couch before flicking it on and lifting it to his ear. "Hello?"
"Where on earth are you, Sunshine?"
Emmett. Justin blinks to full wakefulness. "Ah. Sleeping."
"That didn't answer the question, sweetie." Background noise. Liberty. Did they have plans? No, because Emmett's been doing his isolation-and-silent-misery thing and Justin's been--well, what *has* he been doing, anyway? Yawning, he sits up, scooting back enough to lean into the arm of the couch. The apartment's warmer, though he's not really tempted to take off his jacket.
"Around. What's up?" Settling back down, he grabs the duvet he stole off Brian's bed and pulls it to his chin. He's okay with this level of weird, falling asleep in his--boyfriend?--okay, go with that, his boyfriend's apartment when the man's out of town. It's not like he steals Brian's underwear anymore.
At least, not recently. He upgraded to jeans, after all.
"The night, honey. Get something pretty on and come out to play."
Justin considers his current state. He's tired. He's kind of freaked out over James. No, he's really freaked out over James, and a part of him thinks for sure that just maybe, he should really have considered spending some time last night going over a few plans. Except he doesn't have a damn thing. It's not like he can break into Debbie's and steal the thing from under their noses without them being aware he's around.
And at this time of night, it's a long drive, and he didn't put gas in the car. Too freaked out and too tired and a lot of other 'too's' that aren't quite registering right now because Brian thinks it is a very, very bad idea that the shop's books be left to James perusal.
And by now, surely, the man has read them and found out whatever it is that he shouldn't, or maybe photocopied everything to take to Stockwell. He's going to wake up tomorrow and find out Michael's been found and taken into custody and fucking James Evans is going to be given some kind of award while the rest of them are hauled into jail on charges of aiding and abetting a kidnapping. Mom will try and take out a second mortgage on the condo for Justin's legal defense fund and Debbie will yell really loud, so loud that it'll get through the prison walls and even that escape will be denied him. Justin wonders if they feed you enough in prison, and if there's any chance he can get a cell with Brian. Well, no, because Brian will collapse and die the second he realizes that the color scheme is all orange. He'll get a roommate from Arkansas named Bubba with a lot of tattoos who will like little blond artists.
He, Justin, will be responsible for the early, untimely death of his lover, not to mention the fact that God alone knows what those police will do with an impounded corvette. Probably icky straight-guy things.
No. More. Espresso.
"Swing by the loft." The words slip out before he even realizes what he's saying, and on the other end of the line, Justin hears Emmett's breath release.
"The loft? I thought you said Brian--"
"I say so many things, you really have no idea. Just come by. And um--you have Ted's old car still, right?"
"Gassed up? I swear, I'll explain when you get here."
The silence on the other end is Emmett, wondering if Justin's finally given up that entire claim on sanity. Come on, Emmett, coddle the insane. That's what all the books say. Go with it. Be one with pop psychology.
"I'll be there in ten minutes."
"I love you so *much*, Emmett."
Emmett makes a weird sound on the other end of the line. Like he's choking to death, but as long as he can drive okay, Justin's not too worried. "Uh huh."
"See you when you're here."
Hanging up before Emmett can think any better of the situation, Justin pushes off the cover and gropes for his shoes.
And to think, Brian thought he was the only one who could plan out cool investigative things. Not that this is investigative, and Justin pulls the boots on and pauses. This is actually, if anyone really wanted to get super technical, a kind of breaking and entering deal, except, well, Debbie's house was his home, right? That doesn't count as breaking and entering. If Michael were to go by and have to get in for some reason in a way that wasn't completely orthodox, surely no one could really say, that is so a felony.
And there's always the fact that Justin, for one, looks really *good* in orange.
Emmett keeps giving him weird looks from the corner of his eye.
"You've lost your mind, sweetie."
He sounds so--disapproving. Justin shifts in the seat, pulling up the ten thousand reasons why this is the best idea in the world, but Emmett hadn't even let him get to the orange jumpsuit thing before telling him to get in the car and checking his pupils for dilation.
"Look, what would you do?"
"What do you *mean*, what would I do? Justin, whatever the hell Brian told you--"
Rubbing a hand across his face, Justin's vaguely aware of the beginnings of a caffeine withdrawal headache spreading spider-web fine lines over his forehead and down his cheekbones. No more espressos, like, ever. "Brian isn't overreacting."
Emmett snorts his thoughts on *that* one, and well, okay, Mikey-ex, not exactly a place he can say Brian's absolutely blameless. Which sucks on a variety of levels right now. "I'm not saying he's being deliberately--"
"I'm saying, I'm going to trust that he knows what he's talking about." And that's damn little actual information, come to think. Stupid not to ask for a little clarification.
"Let's assume you and Brian haven't been smoking some extra special mushrooms. What could James possibly get out of Michael's account book, for Christ's sake?"
"The accounts Michael's pulling money from for his little cross-country adventure."
"And that is bad why?"
What, is Justin supposed to know everything? "I don't know! He just shouldn't know. I--look, Brian's right. Michael left with the idea of *not being found*, 'kay? This James finding him would totally blow that out of the water, wouldn't it? We should respect Michael's wishes."
Emmett's silent for a long moment. "What if he's in trouble and can't contact us?"
Justin refuses to think about that. "He's got Hunter with him. If anyone can get out of a bad sitch, Hunter's the one to do it." And he's talking up Hunter. It's like swallow your pride day all over the place. "Emmett, listen to what I'm saying. Do you think, seriously, that'd I'd even consider this if I wasn't sure something was really wrong?"
"I'm not saying that." A sharp right turn nails Justin to the door briefly. Competing instincts. They're friends, more or less. That counts for a lot. Justin's not sure, however, that a little breaking and entering is really something that comes up often when friends ask friends to help. "I'm saying, I think you're jumping to conclusions. Bad ones. Brian has no judgement on Michael's boyfriends, you know that--"
"He likes Ben."
That stops Emmett cold. "And one out of--"
"And when is the last time you saw Brian freak out over someone like this?"
Emmett seems to be mulling a reply, and Justin watches his forehead crease in thought. This combination of regret and worry. "Ethan."
Well, he asked, didn't he? "No, he didn't." Emmett snorts softly, and Justin half-turns on the seat to look at him. "Emmett." This isn't the time to be curious. This just--isn't. At all. And it doesn't matter.
"You weren't there, baby."
Thank you for the news flash. But--now is not the time. Now is the very opposite of not the time. "Leaving that aside--look, trust my judgement. Please. I--"
"Whatever Brian's told you, James is a great guy. Debbie told us about--"
"He--I don't like him." Staring directly out the windshield, Justin focuses his eyes on the bright lights of incoming traffic. Silence, with the sounds of tires over asphalt and the honking of disgruntled drivers
"Sweetie?" Emmett's voice is strained.
"We saw each other, in the diner. Something--" Justin bites back a sigh. Even to himself, he sounds like an irrational twelve year old girl. "I don't know. It's stupid. Before I knew who he was. Before we saw him at Debbie's. I saw him come in and--it was weird. I don't know, I don't *care* how stupid it sounds. I don't like him. I don't like the way he looks at me."
"Like he wants to fuck you?" Trust Emmett to screw tact. "A lot of men look at you like that, honey. Brian looks at you like that."
Justin shivers involuntarily, body memory of the way those eyes felt studying him. "Brian looks like he wants to fuck me. James looks like he wants to break me while he does it. I know the difference."
Emmett lets out a slow breath beside him. "You don't think--maybe--that this is something left from the--" His mouth freezes over the word.
Like in the end, everything comes back to that. And in some ways, he thinks it does. There's a lot of befores and afters in Justin's life, but that's the one that everything spins around to for everyone in the end. Before, he was someone he knew. After, he became someone else. He's at the middle ground finally, the place where his skin fits again, but he thinks, sometimes, that he lost a lot more than a few hours of memory that night. The effortless use of his hand.
Brian would say bullshit, but Brian first fell in love with someone who died in the middle of a deserted parking lot.
He's never told Brian that and never will. He thinks, just maybe, that Brian wouldn't understand.
Justin watches the traffic. "Do you think you all were around all the time? You don't know everything--none of you were around all the time when I first used to--when I wanted to see stuff. Not--nothing happened, but I'm not stupid, I learned not to be. He bothers me and that's all I need. That's what I trust. I trust Brian and I trust myself. I don't know why he's here and maybe I'm being completely unfair, but I don't care. This is Mikey we're talking about. You really want to balance Mikey's life against the intentions of a guy we don't even know?"
"Debbie trusts him."
"Debbie liked David." Justin stops short, hearing the edge in his voice. "Debbie liked Ethan, too."
Emmett sucks a breath through his teeth. Instinct and reason. One or the other. And Emmett's not stupid, he gets instinct. None of them are Jason Kemp. "Okay. I think you're out of your mind, but okay. You're that sure, we'll do this."
Justin hadn't even known how tense he'd been until his muscles went liquid and he finds himself sinking into the seat, eyes closed. "You don't have to do anything. Just get me there and then drive me home."
Emmett laughs. It's a weird, almost foreign sound--he hasn't heard Emmett laugh in way too long, and it's edgeless, and it's amused as hell, and it's Emmett all over again. Justin's mouth curves up in an unwilling smile. "Sit and watch my pretty little ass, honey. I do this, I go all the way. Now, what's the plan?"
Justin takes out his key, looking at the deadbolt and the lock on the back kitchen door. There's a chain inside, but Debbie always forgets it. If Vic locked up, they're going to have a problem.
"We just go in, get the book, and leave. Piece of cake."
From behind him, Justin thinks he can actually *hear* Emmett grinding his teeth.
"And what if Mr. Man took it to bed with him, did you think of that?"
"Kinky. And kind of disturbing, if he still has that much of a hard-on for Mikey." He's really trying not to think about that part. Because that goes seriously freaky places Justin's not sure he's up to. But.
"We'll just go upstairs and get it." Because, right, it's going to be that simple. His voice is all that's breezily confident, and he's really proud of that, considering at the mention of James and a bed of any kind, his hand starts shaking, and when the fuck did any key in the history of the planet ever have such a problem getting into a lock? It's like the first time he topped all over again, and Justin flushes in memory of *that* particular exercise. Thank God the guy had been so drunk he was making up his own porn memories all on his own at that point.
Not that sufficient lube is going to help in a situation like this, just some serious hand-eye coordination, and Justin swallows the hysterical giggle. He'd needed more of *that* on that night, too.
"I don't believe I'm going along with this. I really don't." Behind him, Emmett's started pacing. Justin tunes him out, pushing the key in finally and the doorknob, snap, good to go. Deadlock next. Okay, now the real test. Pressing one hand into the wood, Justin turns the knob and mutters a short prayer that he's sure his Sunday school teacher never, ever meant to be used in a situation like this.
It's a Debbie night, not a Vic, and Justin watches in surprise as the door swings open. The kitchen gapes, dark and unfamiliar, in front of him, like he didn't eat an endless amount of meals here. Or dance in here with Deb and Vic. Or, during a particularly memorable occasion, blow Brian in that corner of the kitchen counter while Deb and company chatted loudly in the living room.
A memory that still makes him hard, and this is *so* not the time.
"I don't believe this."
Emmett and this entire doom thing are getting really old really fast. "Shh. You wanted to be a part of it, so be a part. Come on." Stepping inside, Justin fights the instinctive need to duck, because--why? It's Debbie's kitchen. A perfectly ordinary, quiet kitchen. And no one is down here, because they are normal people who go to bed at a decent hour and don't club into three in the morning.
Or break into random houses on the basis of something as insubstantial as instinct.
Emmett closes the door behind them, with a click that sounds like a gunshot at close range, and Justin's sure *sure* that everyone had to have heard that and freezes in place, just waiting for Deb to come down in robe and ask, what the fuck are you doing, Sunshine? Right before she skins him alive. Right here in this kitchen. And visions of past blowjobs aren't nearly enough to get him through that. Even if it's the one and only time he can remember Brian begging.
The freshly mopped linoleum floor squeaks with every step, and Justin wishes he'd though to take off his shoes before coming in. And maybe brought a flashlight--okay, what the hell? He lived here. He knows where everything is. He could walk it blind, drunk, high, and pre-orgasmic. Everything is going to go just fine.
Emmett's voice is like a gong. Justin winces, freezing, but there's no sound from upstairs. "Shhh!"
"You check the kitchen. I'll do the living room."
"This is a *plan*?"
Well, he sure as hell didn't see Emmett offering up any brilliant ideas on the way over, and hell, yes, this is a plan. He's good at this. His logic scores in high school were always through the roof.
This may be why you usually see burglars working alone. Next time, no partner. Check.
"Just *do* it."
Emmett's close enough to feel the cool air wafting off his coat. "Okay, where exactly am I supposed to be looking?"
This is probably not the time to roll his eyes, but what the hell, it's not like Emmett can't see him. "Table. Fridge. Counter. The floor. Think surfaces. You watch TV, don't you? Go with it."
With an offended huff of air that tickles the back of his throat, Emmett turns away, and Justin crosses the invisible demarcation line between the kitchen and the living room. Okay. He knows this place. It's all in his head. Absolutely not a problem in--
Debbie obviously moved the couch. No other explanation for the fact his stomach is currently being invaded by an armrest.
Emmett forget his indoor voice? "Shh! I'm fine!"
Climbing carefully onto the couch, Justin feels along it on the off-chance that the account book is somehow laying on it. No luck. Leaning over the side, Justin checks immediate floor space, though surely they have enough respect for an account book to *not* leave it on the floor for just anyone to stumble over. The coffee table is a jumble of everything under the sun *but* anything that resembles a book. There are soft, careful sounds from the kitchen that tell him that Emmett's doing his best, but--
But if Justin were an account book, where would he be?
That's *it*. He's going cold turkey on the espresso.
Using the couch as center, Justin does a slow search of the living room. He really *should* have brought a flashlight. Matches. Even a lighter at this point.
Justin spins at the close sound of Emmett's voice and ends up drowning in faux fur and sequins that dig into his cheek. Emmett's quick, have to give him that, as strong arms close around him, holding them both on toe before they topple over.
"You find anything?"
Justin blinks, making out the vague outline of Emmett's worried face above him. "Nope. Okay. So it's not down here."
That doesn't leave a lot of places, now does it? Taking a breath, Justin gets his balance back, straightening carefully. Emmett's hands tighten on his arms. Thinking probably the exact same damn thing.
"We can't. Justin, come on. We came, we saw, we didn't get caught. Let's get *out* now."
"I know Michael's room." He doesn't even know why he's saying this. He's not seriously thinking of--he just *isn't*.
"Have you lost your *mind*?"
Probably. "I'm Brian Kinney's significant other, Emmett. What do *you* think?" Right, remember who you're talking to, Emmett. Surreptitiously, Justin wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans. "And anyway, I think I have an idea."
"Does it involve leaving?"
"I really, really don't like how you said that."
Justin grins up at Emmett. It's dark, unfortunately, so the sheer power of his smile isn't going to really be appreciated, but Justin thinks it's the thought that counts. "Trust me."