Cowardice

Gradiva

Warnings: Length, angst, some violence, schmoop, 2nd person POV, un-beta-ed.
Disclaimer: not my boys

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Being poor changes things… it really isn’t like having a brick house come crashing down on you, more like someone walking in your shadow and beating you on the head with a fat book from time to time. Like when you find dark strands of hair in the sink that never were there before, dark, heavy circles around the eyes that the $23 gel used to take care of, a roughness in your hands and calluses and blemishes that appear like a disease. Poverty makes you ugly, and you can no longer walk around like a king in his pink regal unconcernedness… because someone would notice that you’re nothing more than little Tom Canty dressed up as Edward Tudor.

People say that you start to feel the little miracles, that you still have food, or manage to get your laundry done, or some shit like that. Well, it’s no miracle. It’s Justin and his penny-pinching college-kid wisdom that manages to keep food on the table and support at least the shell of your former existence on his income from the diner. At least there’s one thing good that has come of this debacle – Justin is fucking famous. PIFA practically begged him to come back and gave him a free ride for the rest of his education, and the newspapers that had covered the anti-Stockwell posters now look into the rest of the repertoire of the ‘budding young artiste.’ He flits gracefully among the clouds, and then comes down to earth to secretly pay your bills. Your days, however, are eventless, a mundane struggle to get past the initial difficulties of setting up your own consulting service… the debts and the insecurities and the painful hypocritical networking and the sheer hours of work that go into getting a new venture off the ground.

Dinner is every Sunday at Debbie’s – a charity disguised as family, because every single person in this room has claimed to be your friend, or more, but has betrayed you nonetheless, from Debbie who was so sure you loved Justin but blamed you for everything nevertheless, Lindsay who insisted you’d make a good father but gave Mikey the rights she denied you, Mikey who took the rights and plays disgusting games with Melanie’s swelling belly, Emmett who never forgets to mention you’re an asshole even though you saved Ted once, Vic who should have taken you in and replaced Jack but didn’t… and Justin. The only ones here who haven’t betrayed you are Ben who should hate you, and Melanie who does. It makes for a wonderful family, really.

You’ve perfected the art of distancing yourself from things, of spiriting yourself away when blows landed, either the ones of Jack Kinney or the other, worse, ones like Justin walking off with the fiddler, accusing you of betrayal with shining blue eyes. And it’s easy to do the same thing now, at this dinner, to light up a joint and pull Gus into your lap, taking in his mop of brown hair and wondering if he’ll grow up anything like you and hoping he doesn’t. In the background Justin runs around the kitchen helpfully, washing dishes and smiling and laughing and wiping his hands on his jeans, not missing the opportunity to trip Hunter and make him stumble as he enters the kitchen. That earns him a shout from Michael, and a smirk from Hunter, and Debbie restores the peace by kissing both him and Hunter on the head. In the pot-filled haze you envision them shoving at each other, Debbie loves me more, no she doesn’t, yes she does, I’m cuter, I’m younger, nyah, nyah, nyah. It makes you smile.

Ben leaves the room to take a piss and Mikey invites everyone to a surprise party next Friday for the professor’s birthday. When the ruckus dies down, Melanie asks you, eyes narrowed in what you attribute to pregnant-woman-hormonal-spite, what you’re planning for Justin’s birthday. All eyes are upon you, like snakes waiting to strike, poised and ready with venomous attacks on your personality.

“Oh, he’s taking me to dinner at Pierre Jourdan,” Justin says, with the perfect combination of nonchalance and excitement as you stare at him. What-the-fuck would be an understatement.

“Oh my God, Brian!” Lindsay says blissfully, “That’s so sweet!” Debbie pats you on the head, and says, “You did good for once, kid.” Melanie laughs, yes laughs, and Emmett hugs Justin and kisses the little fucker. When nobody’s looking you squirm and give Justin the finger, accompanied with a menacing look. He shrugs and sticks his tongue out.

“That place is so snooty and expensive! How are you going to afford it?” Mikey asks worriedly and gets a thunk on the head from his mother.

“Pulled in a favour.” Isn’t it amazing how Justin has all the answers?

When dinner is over the two of you head to Babylon in silence… you know you’ve got to take him to that dinner or be an even bigger cad for cancelling. You ask finally, “How’d you get reservations?”

“Pulled in a favour,” he repeats airily.

“We can’t afford it.”

“It’s my birthday present to me. I’m paying for it. All you have to do is show up and pretend to have fun.”

“One of these days your hair is gonna grow in brown and nobody’s going to fall for your angelic shit anymore.”

He still needs to be punished… later that night, you make him watch you take a twink younger than him to the backroom. When you’re done with the admittedly less-than-mediocre twink you dance with Justin, getting him hard and flustered, and then fuck one of the bartenders. He doesn’t complain when you drop him off at Daphne’s without fucking him.

You wake up on Monday, hung over and irritated that Justin isn’t around to give you a morning blowjob even though it’s your own fault for sending him home last night. The phone rings, and you pick it up and bark hello to hear Daphne at the other end, sounding nervous.

“I’m at the Baskin Robbins at the end of your street. Do you think you can be here in 15 minutes?” That’s all she says. You’re there in ten. She’s sitting in one of the pink high chairs, legs in tight socks swinging and tapping restlessly. Her hat is too big for her head and her scarf is a melee of the most garish colours imaginable. She looks adorable.

Daphne is one of the few people for whom you’d consent to sit at a Baskin Robbins.

She hems and haws for a while, stuttering and then says, “Okay, you know I’m really glad that you and Justin got back together… but, uh – do you think he’s okay?”

You shrug, trying to be antagonistic. “I don’t know. Is he?”

“I think something’s wrong with him.”

You sigh in frustration. “We have a deal. He’s upset about something he tells me. And this is ridiculous – he whines to you until you come to me and I’m supposed to stop being mean old Brian and pay attention to his self-pitying bellyaching?”

She insists, “You don’t know him like I do. Yeah, he’s cocky and self-assured… most of the time, but he never forgives himself for his mistakes. I know he’ll never get over what he did to you.”

You shrug. This is why you hate women. Guilt trips. Men are supposed to be simpler. A beer, a fuck, a sandwich, and they’re supposed to be happy.

“When he was with Ethan…” she says hesitantly, and you almost get up and leave. Almost. But Justin hasn’t told you anything about what happened with the fiddler and it just might be something you need to know. She continues, “One night Ethan wanted it a little rough but Justin had to stop him – he couldn’t take it, and he didn’t want to be the aggressor. They had a bit of a falling out and Justin came over and spent the night at my place. I heard him on the phone with Ethan, apologizing… fuck, I never thought I’d hear that… you’re still the only one with whom…” She blushes, realizing that she’s not supposed to know about your sex life. “When they broke up, most of the time he was all Ethan’s a sucking piece of shit, but sometimes, like when he was drunk, he’d say he didn’t blame Ethan for what he did… said it must have been hard for him, difficult to love someone like Justin who couldn’t give him everything.”

“He’s a self-pitying princess,” you admonish gently, “You’re just falling for his theatrics.”

She blushes again, this time in anger, then looks at you squarely. “I know he’s manipulative… a lot like you. But I know things you don’t, like sometimes there’s more behind the drama. And this time, it’s different. I – I think he’s having nightmares again.” You must have appeared disbelieving because she persists, “He hasn’t slept at your place in nearly two weeks.”

A hint of doubt creeps in like the first cold rush when they shoot saline into your veins, chilling and paralyzing and painful. She looks around nervously then says, “Yesterday we were shopping for groceries and as we rounded the corner there was this really big guy who nearly rammed into us with a cart. Justin wasn’t just startled, he was really fucking scared. And he kept looking around to see if that guy was coming back for us or something.”

You clear your throat and say, “If I notice something I’ll look into it. No promises.”

“Thanks,” she says, relieved.

“Does he know you’re here?” you ask suddenly.

“No.”

“He’s really going to be pissed if he finds out.”

“I don’t care. I owe you more than I owe him.”

You furrow your brows questioningly. She picks up her purse and stands up for a dramatic exit. “You saved his life, in more ways than one. And… I saw you that night,” she says quietly as she walks out of the parlour. “I know your secret.”

Good exit. Fucking bitch.

The next time you see Justin is on Wednesday night because he works ridiculous hours at the diner. He’s bouncy and excited on the ride to Babylon. A few minutes later he’s high on E and leaning into you on the dance floor with his shirt off. You wonder for a distracted moment if he notices how much rougher your hands are on his skin, but then he rubs against you with a moan and whispers things into your ear that make you forget everything but the quiet sing-song voice that begs and whimpers for you and whines about the few days you’ve spent apart. His arms flail wildly as he’s dragged to the backroom, his body shining with glitter and sweat as you pull down his pants. He faces you, kissing you and moaning into your mouth as you finger him.

From somewhere on the right a man comes up to the two of you and fists his cock. He’s a gorgeous hulk, pecs and abs glistening and Mediterranean green eyes looking out of a dark, shapely face. He wants a threesome, and you pull your fingers away from Justin to catch his attention and point your chin at the hulk. Justin turns to check out the trick, and despite his drug-induced haze you see an unmistakable flicker of fear pass through his eyes. Then he smiles and turns to you and says, “You go for it. I’ll catch up with you later.”

You frown at him and ask, “You sure you don’t want to share?”

He smiles again, pulling up his pants and buttoning up. “Yeah… go ahead. I’m gonna have a drink.”

It’s extremely unusual, not in small part because you’ve spent two days apart and… and it just isn’t like Justin. Anger burns into you, rage and frustration and inadequacy, and you fuck Mediterranean hulk’s brains out carelessly until he crumbles on the floor and moans a worshipful thanks. You find Justin at the bar, down two shots of Beam quickly and tell him it’s time to go home.

It starts in the car, when you ask him with studied nonchalance, “How come you didn’t want in on that piece of ass?”

“Wasn’t my type,” he says promptly. He’s rehearsed his lines.

“Yeah, good-looking, toned men aren’t your type… what are you, straight?”

He doesn’t answer.

“Wait… you prefer the slender, autistic type… sorry, artistic.” He’s smirking quietly.

You pull into the garage and get out of the car. “There’s something… primal about slam-fucking a man like that… it’s about more than sex. It’s about power. He thinks he’s big enough to dominate, but power isn’t about size. I’ve fucked some really big guys…” you look at him from time to time but he appears not to be listening. “Fought with them, wrestled them down, tied them up and then fucked them hard until they screamed and came. Some of them cried afterwards.” You laugh at the memory. He doesn’t say anything. You enter the loft and he takes off his jacket.

“Like this guy… his muscles rippled against mine… even though he was bottoming, he was fucking clenching his gleuts… and his back… my God, it was like some jungle cat. I shoved him against the wall and when I shoved my cock up his ass he…”

“Christ! Shut up!” And he scores.

“You don’t like when I talk about what I did with tricks? What I’m gonna do to you? It used to make you hot. Remember?”

He pinches his eyebrows in frustration, then says, “Look… I’m just tired. If you wanna fuck, let’s get to it, otherwise I’m going to head home.”

You look at your watch, then say, “It’s late… I don’t want to drop you off, so you can stay here.”

“I’ll take a bus… or walk. It’s not that late, and this area’s safe.”

“It’s three in the fucking morning. And…” you snicker, “you’re fucking high, remember?”

“I’ll be fine.”

Fuck. It’s time to go for broke. “I know you’re having nightmares again.”

He doesn’t call the bluff. Just shrugs, slips into his jacket slowly and reaches for his keys.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s just a fucking nightmare. I’m not six.”

“Why now?”

He hesitates… then drops the keys on the counter and takes off his jacket. “The night after the election… you were at the baths. I was feeling a little depressed – it was all just starting to sink in – and I came over. I let myself in and had a couple of drinks and was sort of lying half-asleep in bed. The doorbell rang and I thought it was you, which was kind of stupid since why would you ring the bell, but… I opened the door. It was Stockwell. I tried to shut the door immediately but he tried to force open the door and we struggled a bit until I bit his knuckle and he let go and I shut the door. He was… I think he might have been high, but he was definitely drunk… he yelled a lot about how he was going to make us both pay, and called us names and said he’d destroy us. Eventually he left, and I went to bed.”

Now it’s your turn to pinch your eyebrows in frustration. “You didn’t think this was important enough to tell me?”

“I didn’t know how you’d react. You might have gone and gotten in a brawl with him or something. I just went to Mel and asked if I could get a restraining order… but before anything came of it they announced on TV that he’d left town.”

“And this is what the nightmares are about.”

He hesitates, then says, “Yeah.”

Rage simmering just at the base of your neck, waiting to boil over. “You’re such a fucking twat, you know that? What was this, some kind of test?” You add in a high whiny voice, “How long does it take for Brian to notice? Is he paying attention to me?”

He looks at you warily, then says, “Maybe it had nothing to do with you. Maybe I was sick and tired of being fragile little Justin… it was hard enough doing it once… okay?”

You snort derisively. His voice becomes angry and loud, “When I came here after the bashing, I was fucking miserable…” You turn away from him. The one thing you know for certain is that you don’t want to hear this. He yells at your back, “You don’t know what it was like… not being able to touch you the way I wanted, not even able to jerk you off properly. Always wondering whether you were fucking me out of pity, or guilt… every time you went out tricking, feeling like they were better than me.”

“Yeah, your life is so fucking difficult.” After all, Justin, you watched your lover almost die, were covered in his blood, spent an eternity in hell waiting to find out if you’d killed him, and then came back to spend another eternity watching him suffer through nightmares and the setback of not being able to draw... Oh wait, no, that wasn’t you, sorry. Sneering, you say, “I’m surprised you didn’t feel the need to slit your wrists to draw attention to yourself.”

He doesn’t answer, just reaches for his jacket. For some reason Daphne comes to mind – Daphne insisting that there are things you don’t know, maybe never will, about the places in Justin’s head that frighten the hell out of her, Daphne’s face when you looked up from where you’d buried your face in Justin’s neck, looked up, covered in blood and tears at the little girl in the golden dress with her dainty little hand covering her open mouth and you screamed, “It wasn’t my fault! It wasn’t my fault!” She was the one who gave the details to the paramedics, let them allow you to go in the ambulance even though you weren’t immediate family. She was the one who explained to Mikey when you just held the phone silently like it was a lifeline, she called Jennifer Taylor and explained that it wasn’t your fault, just like you said. She was wrong – she doesn’t owe you, you owe her.

Suddenly it’s imperative that Justin not leave. You reach out and grab his hand, and when he tries to pull away you grab his shoulders and say gruffly, “Tell me what the nightmares are about.”

“No. Fucking let me go!” he yells, his anger covering a multitude of things you want to know.

You struggle again and this time he pulls your fingers backward and you yell in pain before shoving him away. He hits the wall hard. “What the fuck are you doing?” you yell at him, “You’re going to get hurt!”

He laughs mirthlessly, “So what else is new? We always do.”

You grit your teeth and bite your lip, then say slowly, furiously, “Tell me what the fucking nightmares are about.”

“Fuck. You.”

You pull him by his collar and shake him slightly, fighting the urge to make his teeth rattle in his head. He looks at you strangely, then says, “You’ll never say you love me… but do you think I could make you say you hate me?”

You let go of him in shock and he continues, voice measured, eyes dry.

“I know you think I’m a silly faggot, a fucking coward. And I am. I snuck around behind your back because I was too fucking scared to tell you what was going on. I got in way over my head with the Sap… but I bet you already know that. You’re always picking up after me. D’you remember back during Pride, when I ran into Chris Hobbes? I almost wet my pants… never told you that, did I? That Emmett had to come and get me from the bathroom where I was crying and shaking like a fucking baby.”

“Justin…”

“Say you hate me. Tell me I’m a fucking twat.”

“What are the nightmares about?” you ask as gently as you can with the bile burning the back of your throat.

“None of your fucking business. Oh… another thing. When I woke up in the hospital…”

You grab him and start wrestling again to make him shut up, try to clamp your hand over his mouth but he bites it and struggles, still talking, “they didn’t know how to tell me what had happened, and I didn’t remember. So they waited three days before telling me with a psychiatrist present. But they decided to tell me right away that I’d lost some use of my right hand. And… they had the fucking nerve to tell me that it was minor and I should be grateful to be alive. You know…”

You press him against the wall shouting “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” and try to reach his mouth but he fights you off, “Daphne knew… and later she came to my room and caught me staring at the pain killers and told me all about the dance… that we were amazing… that you loved me. She said I was a coward and a spoiled brat to even think…”

You can’t hear the end of that sentence. You just know it. You kick out his legs from under him and the two of you fall to the floor and you hold him down. He knocks his head against the floor and that suddenly seems to bring both of you back to your senses.

“Justin!”

“I’m fine,” he says, wincing slightly. “I have a surprisingly hard head.”

“Justin…”

He sighs and turns to his side. “In my dream, he kills you… him or another cop or a friend or the fucker that killed Jason Kemp even though he’s dead… and I can’t stop it.” He looks defeated. Suddenly, he laughs sarcastically. “And not because I can’t get to you in time. That’s the real kicker. It’s because I’m just fucking standing there. I can’t speak… or move… and I just have to watch it happen… again and again.”

He turns to look at you, the anger gone, the expression on his face one of overwhelming guilt and shame. “I’m so sorry…” he whispers, his voice breaking. “I’m such a fucking coward… I’m sorry I’m so fucked up.”

It’s simply not fair. You haven’t a clue how to fix this. You stare at him for a while until he turns to the side, his hands falling limp on the floor. The dust particles dance about in strands of sunlight and the silence accentuates the smallest noises of the clock-tick and your heart beats asynchronously returning to normal.

Finally, you get up and pull him to his feet, drag him to the bed and climb in. You pull him closer, wrap your arms and legs around him from behind, bury your face in his neck and listen to the hitching breath against your chin. Some time later, he pulls away, and says uncertainly, “I – I should go home.” The fact that you come home to him and he doesn’t yet consider this home is almost as painful as the defeated slump of his shoulders. But you just pull him back, saying “Saves us on the heat bill if you stay here. You’re warm.”

He snorts, but comes back to bed. You’ve barely fallen asleep when you feel the tremors start, and you wake up, instantly alert, and whisper into his ear, “I’m here, I’m fine… you’re dreaming” and it hurts almost as much as the memory of telling him, “You’re here, you’re fine… you’re dreaming.” After an intolerable minute he opens his eyes, his breathing raspy.

“Sorry,” he says, and gets up.

“Where are you going?”

“It’s uh… it’s gonna be a while before I fall asleep again… I think I’ll sit here and watch some TV or something for a little bit.”

“That cereal box isn’t even the most rudimentary imitation of a television set,” you protest, but he goes and sits down on the ratty old sofa that his mom donated along with the cereal box that doesn’t even have cable. Despite burning eyes and throbbing head, you get up and take the duvet to the sofa and sit down, covering him with it. You’ve barely put your head back and closed your eyes when Justin clambers on top of you and sits across your lap with his arms around you and his head on your chest. You’ve half a mind to get up, toppling him, because goddamnit you don’t cuddle, and he’s not a child to be falling asleep in your lap. But he’s warm. And you’ll topple him off when he falls asleep, in a few minutes.

Morning finds you still on the sofa, and him still on your lap. You wake up with a horrible pain in your neck, while Justin looks well-rested and content. You get up from the sofa, throwing him on the floor and waking him up rudely. He rubs his eyes open and looks at you curiously, trying to gauge your mood. The events of the night before come crashing down, and you swallow, saying with a voice that sounds like sandpaper, “Make me breakfast.”

Rushing into the bathroom, you repeat to yourself, don’t treat him like he’s broken. It’s something you overheard when you were a kid, a very sweet counsellor trying to tell Debbie how to take care of you. When you come out you sniff the air disapprovingly, and say, “Where the fuck is my coffee?”

He’s wearing his shoes and jacket, moving around slowly like someone still in shock, looking for his keys. You brace yourself for the best fucking acting you’ve ever had to do.

“Where the fuck are you going?”

“I’m sorry about last night…” You know, if there’s one thing you’d like him to do, it’s to stop apologizing. “After what happened…”

You sneer at him. “The only thing that happened last night was that you were being a fucking drama princess. You queened out, I indulged you, end of story. The likelihood that I’d ever think of you as a coward is about the same as my believing you started the second world war… which, since it started in 1939 and so, almost half a century before you were born, is highly unlikely. Now get over yourself and make me some food.”

He doesn’t move to make breakfast but he doesn’t leave to go to the door either. You roll your eyes at him dramatically. “What? This isn’t over until I acknowledge your feelings or some shit?” You move to the kitchen and start the coffee. “And if you suddenly start feeling like God lives inside that cereal box of a television, I’m supposed to be all sympathetic and say, yes Justin, I respect your desire to worship the TV?”

He smiles a little then, and your heart races. You walk up to him and hug him gently. He puts his arms around your neck and his breath sends hot waves through your shirt. “Justin…” you say softly, and press your lips to his head and hold him close as he leans into the touch. “I’m really fucking hungry.”

He snorts a laugh and then pulls away, saying “Well, how am I gonna make you your lunch if you keep clinging to me?” But it takes him a few seconds to let go of your hand.

Late that night you exact your retribution, because really, how fucking dare the little shit take away so much precious time from your own self-flagellation? The opportunity arises when he comes into the shower, shivering, offering through chattering teeth, “Fuck me… hard. I want to feel you inside me for days. I want you to fuck me like you fucked that guy yesterday.”

The first time, he bends over and takes it in fifteen hard, brutal strokes. The second comes right after, his back pressed against the wall, your nails digging into his palms as you suck on his neck to draw the blood to the surface, bite his lips and nipples till he screams, then shove him to his knees and fuck his face and his red, red mouth till his eyes roll to the back of his head. The third time he fights back, shoving against you in the tiny enclosed space, and you turn up the heat of the water and slap his ass until the skin turns bright red before you fuck him again, this time with his face pressed against the glass wall. The fourth time the hot water has attenuated his attacks, and he flails helplessly, his mouth open, as you fuck him, your hands clamping down on his throat to cut off some of his air supply. His eyes fluttering, his mouth open to your tongue and fingers as you maul his lips and pinch his cheeks, he comes in streams and then loses consciousness, trembling and collapsing into your arms.

By Friday things seem to have gone back to normal, thank fucking God because it’s his birthday and it doesn’t need your help to get fucked up. You bitch and moan while getting dressed for his dinner.

“You so don’t deserve this, you know.”

“I know,” he says, and offers, “I’ll give you blow jobs.”

“You could be my slave for a week. Or permanently, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Kinky. No.”

“Why not? It’s not like anything would change. Except you would call me Master.”

“Ha-ha. The whole Mr. Kinney phase was bad enough.”

The restaurant has the greenish-black tinge of haute couture, the small oil lamps and chandeliers and abstract painting.

“Reservation for two, name of Kinney?”

It’s a nice place, the appetizers that can’t be pronounced, followed by the food that can’t be identified. Then again, considering that Justin picked out the place, you’re lucky you’re not at Pizza Hut.

When you’ve been shown to your seats he grins, then gets up and leans in for a long, sensuous kiss. “Thanks…” he says, fidgeting like a kid, “for letting me do this.”

You’re such a fucking coward.

The head waiter comes up, but it’s not to take your order. He says softly, “I’m sorry sirs, but there’s been a mistake in your reservation.”

Fuck, fuck, fucking… a year ago you’d have been able to walk out of this place, destroy its reputation and finagle a seat at a much better restaurant. Now you just have to walk out.

“Really?” you ask, cold as ice.

“I believe your reservation was for yesterday.”

“No, it was for today, and the fellow at the door just checked it. Everything’s to order.” Justin says, equally icy.

“Well, actually, it’s just that some of the customers have complained about your uh… obscene display.”

You laugh mirthlessly and say, “Fuck. You.”

“Brian!” Justin says in a scolding voice. He turns to the waiter and says apologetically, “I apologize for my… friend here.”

“Accepted…” How gracious. “Now if you don’t mind leaving…”

You stare at Justin in shock. Friend? He continues, in the same apologetic tone, “Of course not… but, would you mind telling me which customers found our behaviour offensive? I’d like to apologize personally.”

The asshole falters, then says, “I’ll convey your message, sir.”

“Oh, no.” Justin insists gently, “It wouldn’t be right. I should like to do it myself. And not just to the customers, but to the manager… Monsieur Jourdan, if he’s available?”

“That’s quite unnecessary.” At this point you’re just enjoying the ride.

“Oh, but it’s very necessary!” And damn if he doesn’t sound French. “Monsieur Jourdan is a very good and respected friend. He’s been gracious enough to hang my artwork at this restaurant… my name’s Justin Taylor?”

The man visibly blanches, and Justin smiles reassuringly, “Please do call Monsieur Jourdan. I shall have to let him know about my mistake, and ask if he would still like to hang my paintings here.”

The man stammers something and then leaves. You reach for Justin’s right hand with your left, and he blushes, and you hold on to it really fucking tight, and you keep holding it even after you’ve placed your orders and even after the food arrives, and even after Pierre Jourdan himself comes up and introduces himself as one of Justin’s former tricks, and offers to fire the head waiter and Justin simply says that a little stewing in bad graces would suffice, and even after the leftovers are taken away and the head waiter says with a shaky smile that the meal is on the house you still hold his hand. What? The kid said he was ambidextrous.

A week later Justin tells you that Pierre has commissioned him to do six more pieces for him, requested that they be pieces that make him feel like he’s at home or in a comfortable place. He paints four of them at the loft, one at Daphne’s, and one at Debbie’s.

It’s a warm night, six months after Justin turned twenty, and you’d planned to wait till he turned twenty-one, but that would be just fucking stupid and you don’t believe in birthdays anyway. He knows something is up but knows better than to ask, eyes you suspiciously as you look anywhere but at him and open the door to the loft, almost closing your eyes in your anxiousness. Almost.

He walks around, taking in the pieces that now adorn your formerly bare walls, the easel and brushes transported here magically from Daphne’s, and looks at you for an explanation. You swallow and then say, “Looks like I have an artist living here, huh?”

He smiles, a little sadly. “If you did, it would be a lot messier. Artists are very fucked up people.”

“Haven’t met anyone who wasn’t fucked up.” You add softly, looking out the window instead of at him, “You shouldn’t have to leave here to go home.”

He gives a blinding smile then, and asks, “How’d you afford this… I knew you were doing well, but there’s still the debt, and…”

“Well, it turns out someone’s been accidentally depositing large sums of money in my account,” you say, tongue-in-cheek. “And funny thing… when Pierre told me what he paid you I was fucking shocked. But I bought one piece for $5,000 dollars, and a week later, someone put $5,000 dollars into my account. It happened with all six of them.”

He chuckles, and you laugh too. He says condescendingly, “The way you bemoaned Ted’s thing, I didn’t think you knew how to manage your accounts.”

“I have an MBA you fuckhead.”

“Whatever.”

You shrug, “I think you need to buy me a couch to replace rat-skin there. I’ll pick it out, but I’m letting you buy it. Be grateful.”

He walks up to you and kisses you on the cheek and says, in a voice that melts your knees, “I am.”

The End