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Picture Perfect


Timeline: Post-220
Rating: NC-17
Genre: Angst, romance
Author's Note: Justin and Brian are confronted with a physical reminder of prom.

Four – Frame of Reference

A slight rippling of the mattress and a peculiar scratching sound brought Brian back to the realm of consciousness. Blinking rapidly, the hazel eyes took note of how the shadows in the room had darkened from red to a purplish-blue, and he could feel on his skin the slight heaviness indicative of the evening air. Apparently, his “two-minute” plan had stretched into more like two hours, as a quick glance at the clock on the nightstand confirmed. Oh, well. No harm, no foul. It never took him long to shake off the cobwebs of sleep – a holdover, he supposed, from the days of his youth. Back then, he learned to sleep lightly to give himself a fighting chance to get up and away before his father could stumble upon him while in one of his drunken rages. It did, however, take him a few seconds to realize that he’d woken up to . . . nothing. Was staring at . . . nothing. Was holding . . . nothing. No one.  And that for damn sure had not been part of the plan.
Justin. Fully awake now, Brian experienced a moment of panic at the emptiness in his arms. Odd how he’d woken up exactly in that state for two months with few problems, yet after two hours being with Justin, his muscle memory was reactivated, and waking up alone made him feel as if he was missing a limb. Where . . . what the fuck . . .
Then the scratching noises came again – louder, closer, sharper. The dread that had gripped him melted away, and Brian’s smile was equal parts relief and approval. Relaxing now, Brian stretched the kinks out of his legs, letting the sound of pencil scraping on paper fill his ears before rolling over to confront an all-too-familiar sight.
And there it was – there he was. Justin sitting up, knees drawn nearly to his chest, back flush against a cluster of pillows, and a sketchpad balanced on his thighs. In that pose, the blond looked much like a work of art himself.  Brian marveled at the intense look of concentration on the youthful face, and how still Justin’s body  was – not even a hair seemed to stir – save for his right hand, which was moving in arcs and swoops and short strokes  across the page.
Brian settled back quietly, resting his head on an arm. This had always been fun, watching Justin in the act of creation. Brian could practically see the ideas whirling in the blond’s mind, flowing down to his hand, driving it to fill a blank page or canvas or computer screen with lines and circles and squares and ovals that would somehow fit together and be transformed  into the portrait of a child or a dog or the always-popular bowl of fruit. Or a penis. His own twitched at that moment, as if in reminder that it was still present and still very much interested in reacquainting itself with certain areas of Justin. Forget it, buddy. He’s working. Grimacing, Brian mentally wrestled his anatomy into a more manageable state.
Blue eyes swung onto Brian like searchlights, startling him. The hand didn’t cease its movement. “You’re up.”
“You could say that.” He ran a hand over his hair. “Why didn’t you wake me? It’s past seven.”
“I didn’t notice.” Justin glanced over at him, smiling. “Besides . . . I like watching you sleep.”
It was a simple answer. And Brian found himself simply blown away by it. Taking some time to gather his wits and place them where he could find him, he decided to stay in that vein and keep his next question simple.  “You sleep okay?”
“Oh, yeah.” Brian was only slightly surprised to note that Justin’s patented Sunshine smile was no less dazzling when seen in profile. “You?”
“You could say that. I haven’t fallen asleep in the middle of the afternoon since Vance stopped holding those bullshit brainstorming meetings.” Brian rose in an attempt to glimpse the sketchpad. “A few hours in bed with me, and you’re back to your old tricks.”
“You could say that.” Justin angled away from him, covering his work with his forearm.  “Don’t  . . .  it’s nothing really worth looking at.”
Which meant, Brian knew, that it was on its way to becoming a minor masterpiece. With each sketch, Justin seemed to take another step on the path that led out of the Pitts to much greener pastures. The older man’s first thought was that it might be something for school, but then remembered that the sketches Justin were particularly reluctant to show him were invariably the ones in which he – or parts of his anatomy – were prominent.
“Nothing worth looking at, huh?” Brian swallowed back a yawn. “So I guess it’s not me you’re drawing.”
Laughing, Justin shook his head. “The scary thing about how conceited you are is that it’s totally justified.”  The look the blond shot him zinged Brian right in the groin. “That’s not what I meant, anyway. It’s a concept sketch – just a lot of scribbling, jotting down some ideas . . .” He frowned down at his work, cocking his head to one side. Taking his pencil and making a few slanted movements, he studied the page a little more, then smiled a little. “Not too bad.”
“So can I see now?” Brian knew the answer would be no, but he wanted those eyes on him, wanted that sweet, slightly self-effacing smile again . . . and he got his wish. Staring up into the glittering blue depths, Brian saw only a hint of the earlier tears, though his cheeks and lips held the same rose flush that usually followed laughing jags or long bouts of crying. “When then?”
“When it looks like something.” Justin stroked the paper, then closed the pad. “I haven’t seen this sketchbook in a long time. I’d forgotten about it.” He glanced at Brian. “I found it in the kitchen. In one of the counters above the sink.”
“Uh-huh . . .” Brian pulled himself into a seated position, keeping his tone casual. Arriving home one night three days after the Rage party, the loft’s emptiness had, well, annoyed him, for lack of a better word. The first two days after the fiasco, he’d burned the midnight oil to a crisp, coming to the loft too tired to anything except fall asleep – sometimes fully clothed. But the third day, he’d arrived relatively conscious, the fumes he’d been running on to sustain himself those first days post-Justin having run out. And there he stood in the middle of the loft, which seemed almost ostentatious in its emptiness and silence, growing more and more unnerved. Months of coming in to find clutter, to find sketches everywhere, to smell food cooking, to hear the radio blaring . . . and now there was this nothingness . . . it seemed foreign . . . unnatural.
Something in the ad exec snapped then, and he spent the rest of the night going through every corner of the loft, pulling out shelves, opening drawers, peeking under things in what he told himself was an attempt to make sure Justin had “gotten all his shit” out of the loft. On some level, however, he was aware that he was searching for some indication that the teen had been there, that for some months, his loft actually seemed like a home, not just a pit stop where he fucked and showered, and occasionally slept and did work. And after hours of searching, he’d found that something in the kitchen, appropriately enough in a cupboard – a sketchbook, lightly used. There had only been a few drawings in it, the last of which was one of him sitting at his desk, papers and files piled up around him. Brian could picture Justin drawing the portrait . . . imagined the teen leaning over the breakfast bar sketching away while in the middle of fixing some impossibly fattening thing that Brian always ended up eating anyway, stowing the sketchbook in the cabinet after he was done. And that’s where Brian had returned the book, feeling the loft’s bareness was much more tolerable for its being there.
“Best place for it . . . cool and dry.” Brian’s stomach rumbled suddenly, this talk of kitchens and cabinets igniting his appetite. “You hungry?”
“I was. That’s why I went into the kitchen . . .”
“And you expected to find food there? Poor, misguided Sunshine.” Brian’s hand brushed a bundle of papers, and he pulled the menus into view, dropping them into Justin’s lap. “You’re the guest, Sonnyboy. You get to choose how much saturated fat I ingest tonight.”
“Oooh, power.” Justin grinned, fingering the menus. “You know, with the money you spend on take-out you could hire a cook or something.” Brian jumped slightly when the teen ran a hand up his shirt and gently caressed his side, tracing the outline of his ribs. “Don’t you eat at all? You’re getting way too thin.”
“I was thinking about ordering those Zone meal things . . . they deliver food right to you. Every day.” His skin tingled where Justin had touched him, and he was distracted a moment. “Problem is, they put eggs in every fucking thing, and I hate eggs.”
“Don’t waste your money. My mom tried that for a month and she said everything tasted like Styrofoam.” Justin said. “You should at least go to the market sometimes . . . get frozen stuff . . . fruit . . . easy stuff. I could help you if you want. Make out a list of things I know you’d like . . .”
Brian grinned at what he often referred to as Justin’s ‘blond, suburban housewife gene’ kicking in. He personally found the idea of shopping for more than just a night’s meal tedious . . . especially if all he was doing was eating alone. He could order out just as easily and avoid the silly, simpering cashiers who made eyes at him while chirping about the benefits of signing up for the Giant Eagle Super Savers Card. It had been different when Justin lived in the loft. They’d gone grocery shopping together; Justin waving around coupons and spouting wisdom about the best way to choose a cantaloupe.  Brian would be left to push the cart and stare in barely concealed awe and amusement as Justin filled the cart with meats and cheeses and fresh produce and grains. And the boy actually had a Giant Eagle Super Savers Card.
“I just may take you up on that. Later.” Brian swung his legs off the bed. “Right now, I want something hot, quick and without MSG. There are checkmarks in all of the menus . . . that’s the stuff I like. Stick with those, and I’ll be okay. Get whatever you want – as much as you want. Wherever you order from, tell ‘em to charge it to account BK106. And to include the tip.” He stood then, giving his underarms a surreptitious sniff. “Fuck. I reek. Get comfortable. I’m gonna shower.”
“Okay.” Justin was studying a bright blue menu from a popular Indian place. “I probably should, too. I didn’t get a chance to at Daph’s; I hate going into girl’s bathrooms . . . totally weird.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Brian looked down at him, wondering if he should extend an invitation to join him in the shower. His cock registered definite approval of that plan, and Brian reddened at the memory of their last shared shower . . . it had been hot, steamy, explosive . . . over much too soon. And then, soon after, they’d been over.  Brian’s half-smile faded. There would come a time in which those ghosts would be banished and the shower . . re-inaugurated . . . but now was not the time. Talking . . . this was all about talking. Communication – the thing they didn’t have in their first go-round. And talking would not get done with the two of them showering together. He had first-hand – hell, first-mouth – experience on that. Brian bit his lip, backing away when the situation in his pants threatened to get out of them.
“We could have Italian.” Justin didn’t look up as he started flipping through another menu. “I haven’t had chicken parmigiana in forever.”
“Yeah. Whatever.” Brian did an about-face with almost military precision, stalking off to the bathroom as best as he could in his state of protrusion. He closed the door with just a hair more force than was necessary and leaned his forehead against the solid wood, barely suppressing the urge to ram his head through it. If this was the road to getting things back to normal, then it was going to be a long, bumpy trip.
But he wondered, as he shed his clothes, if there had ever been a normal where he and Justin were concerned? There had been nothing normal in the way they began, nor in the 10 months between the time they met and the bashing, during which time Justin ensconced himself into his life. There had definitely been no normal in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Their living together and the circumstances that had brought that about had been far from normal. Their non-relationship, marked by the “rules,” had been nowhere near normal. Their ending had definitely not been normal . . .
Fuck normal. Stepping in under the moderately hot spray, Brian wondered why the words seemed so strange to him . . . he’d been saying those – or a variation – words for a very long time now. People with upbringings like his, families like his, tended to do that . . . say that . . . think that. Fuck normal. It was boring . . . and more often than not, it was a fucking lie. What the hell was normal, anyway? Never existed for him . . . never would, probably. And he was just fine with that . . . always had been.
But maybe for Justin . . . normal was an issue. He’d had the Rockwellian upbringing, after all, swaddled in suburban care until age 17. He believed in dinner time . . . in the “four major food groups”  . . . in taking drugs prescribed only by a reputable pharmacist . . . in romance and love and monogamy. All witheringly regular WASP values. Brian massaged shampoo through his hair, scrubbing at his scalp. No wonder no one believed it would work between them. Why should it . . . the age thing, the background thing . . . in just about every way, they were different. And screw the “opposites attract” garbage. Brian slowly lathered up a loofah, moving it in circles on his abdomen. He was attracted to all types – not just bubble-assed, blond twink-types with private-school educations and asshole fathers with mean left jabs. And, if the Fiddler was any indication, Justin’s repertoire wasn’t limited to men in the “sophisticated, established, (moderately) older” mold.
Brian shook his hair, sending droplets of water everywhere. Their differences shouldn’t have been a factor, either positively or negatively . . . still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that if their differences hadn’t brought them together in the first place, they’d definitely had a part in breaking them up . . . Sure, none of that had mattered in the old days – maybe they’d been too busy plowing each other into the mattress to notice.
The exec turned, and while the water pelted his back, he recalled the old days – the pre-rules, pre-bashing, pre-all-gone-to-shit days. Those halcyon days in which they seemed to understand each other better  . . . Justin seemed able to “read” him better – almost to the extent to which Brian wondered if Mikey’s enthused commentary about superpowers didn’t have the ring of truth, for the teen certainly seemed able to read his mind. The shower would be a perfect example: in the old days, he wouldn’t even have had to wonder if he should ask the blond if he wanted to join him . . . Justin would have already have been in the stall waiting, lathering up, putting on a damned good show behind the shower glass –
Brian’s eyes popped open at the same time the shower door did, and he paused in the act of turning to reach for the soap when he felt a rush of heat at his back and Justin’s voice, even and clear, washing over him.
“Last week, Daph and I signed this petition going around CMU. I think it was Greenpeace, maybe. Something about keeping the environment from going to shit. So I thought I’d do my part and help conserve water.”
There was a clicking sound that Brian recognized as the shower door’s shutting, and he felt his cock jump two levels of hardness, hovering somewhere around glass-cutter stage. He turned slowly, flinging wet hair out of his eyes so the blond would get the full effect of his no-way-is-this-awkward stare. And he was sure it would have had some effect, too, had Justin been looking into his eyes. But the blond’s gaze dipped low as soon as Brian had completely turned. “ . . . And I thought maybe you could use a hand.” Justin’s stare was steady, and when he swiped his bottom lip with his tongue, Brian felt himself take another unconscious step – forward this time.
But then some odd – and strangely rational – voice within gave Brian pause, dampening his ardor. He still hadn’t finished his thought processes . . . and fucking Justin now might throw him completely off-track. He’d brought the boy there to talk, after all – just talk. He’d promised. And dammit, that’s what they were going to do for now . . . his dick be damned. Brian blinked at that, the lyrics from The Impossible Dream looping through his mind somewhat irrelevantly. Must’ve been more than just cinnamon in that fucking hot chocolate.
Turning his attention to the still-leering Justin, he noted that affairs below the blond’s belly button were progressing rather nicely. Mouth watering, Brian nevertheless steeled his resolve. “You were right, Sonnyboy. There’s something you could do for me . . .”
Justin looked up at that, his grin flashed briefly, dazzling against the pale skin. “I figured . . .”
He began to lower himself into a kneeling position before Brian, heeding the alarm bells in his mind, grabbed his shoulder, preventing his descent. “I didn’t mean that.”  Cataloguing the disappointment on Justin’s face, the older man debated asking the teen to leave . . . it was just too tempting to keep focus with Justin right there. And naked. And willing. And more than able. After a second or two of deliberation, Brian decided he’d be all right – this wouldn’t take long. Just a simple shower. In, out and done. In and out . . . Brian clamped down on some unsavory images prompted by the words. Get a fucking grip, Kinney . . . and not on him.
“It’s been awhile . . . guess I’ve forgotten what you like,” Justin murmured. “What do you want then?”
His dick standing as a testament to how untrue that statement was, Brian quirked an eyebrow at the boy, unconsciously putting some more space between them. “How about I show you?”  Calmly, Brian took the teen’s hand and brought it to his chest. The exec battled hard not to quake at the blond’s touch as the hand started its downward progression. Down went the fingers . . . Justin’s smile widening as Brian guided the hand over water-slick pecs . . . over the torso . . . down . . . to his side . . . then his hip . . .
And that’s where Brian stopped it . . . pressing the loofah into the blond’s hand. Smiling placidly at Justin’s puzzled look, Brian turned, again presenting his back to the teen. “Wash my back, would you, Sunshine?”
There was a pause that was made longer by the apparent lack of breathing on Brian’s part. “Uhm . . . sure . . .” Justin’s voice was a blend of hesitation and what the fuck. Justin recovered himself well, though, and dutifully began moving the scratchy object in long swoops.  “Is that okay?”
Brian grunted his approval, letting his head tilt forward. He wasn’t letting his guard down – not really – but Justin’s gentle ministrations and the pulsing warm water felt amazing. The blond’s hand was resting on his hip, and Brian could feel the tip of the blond’s cock brush against his ass intermittently. None of this was doing much for his own aroused state, but he was conscious that his dick had its own “muscle memory,” and that even if Justin weren’t touching him, the combination of the shower plus a naked, wet Justin in close proximity would have him continually erect. “What time’s the food getting here?”  Nice plan of action, there – distract himself from one type of appetite and focus on another.
“I haven’t ordered yet.” Justin focused his attention on Brian’s left shoulder blade. “There was this one menu that didn’t have any checkmarks . . .”
“Mmmm.” Brian tensed when Justin’s hand inched over his hip, moving closer to his thigh. He angled his hips a little, moving certain bits out of easy grabbing range. “Could you do the middle a little more?” He waited, and was only slightly relieved when Justin complied, his hands retreating from more sensitive areas. “No checkmarks means I’ve never ordered from there before.”
“That’s what I thought. I thought we’d try it together.”  Justin rested his chin on Brian’s shoulder, kissing it briefly. “They have a sampler platter that sounds really good. It’ll be an adventure.”
Adventure?  Brian wondered just how much Alka Seltzer he had on hand. “It’s dinner, not a safari. What – shit!” Brian rocked on his heels when he felt Justin’s hand grabbing a bit desperately at his dick. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Sorry . . . I lost my balance.” Justin was panting a little. “I forgot how slippery it can get in here.” The boy wound his arms around the exec’s middle, pressing himself against Brian’s back. “This isn’t how it usually goes . . . you’re usually the one in back of me. Remember?”
Brian did. All too well. Turning, he gave the boy a carnivorous smile and grasped his shoulders. Spun him around and pressed him into “position” against the shower glass.
“Better?” Brian growled into his ear, ignoring for the moment the tugging sensations in his dick . . . as if his flesh was being drawn magnetically to a certain orifice. He felt disturbing quakes in the calm demeanor he’d managed to muster.
“Getting there,” Justin murmured, gently rubbing his hand on Brian’s ass. “Now this is the type of shower I remember.”
Brian’s dick leapt in silent agreement. His had somehow found its way into the crevice just above where the soft curve rounded into perfectly formed cheeks . . . the most amazing ass he’d ever had the pleasure of knowing. For one dark, raw second, Brian thought about just plunging in. No lube, no condom . . . just skin and desire slicking the path for him – for them. Eradicating the past . . .
Swallowing hard, he beat down the impulse. No. No fucking way would he ever do that to Justin . . . not now, not ever, no matter how much he wanted him. He stepped away from the blond, taking a few moments to get himself together. If Justin had stayed put, he could have simply jerked off and taken the edge off. Now that wasn’t possible, and his level of horniness was rising exponentially. And this couldn’t happen here or now. Not until they’d talked more. Not until he knew where he stood with the teen. Not until –
“Brian?” Justin looked over his shoulder, worry lines creasing his forehead. “What’s the matter?”
Not until he stops being able to read my fucking mind.  “Hot water’s about to run out.” Brian grabbed the loofah and began hurriedly rubbing Justin’s back. The less skin-on-skin contact they had, the better. “Don’t know about you, but a cold shower’s not in my plans.” Though, he conceded,  that it might not be a bad idea, considering.
“Mmm, no. That would kind of suck.” Justin leaned back, twisting this way and that to get the full benefit of Brian’s attentions. “Could you go a little lower please?”
Warily, Brian brought his hand down, pretending not to notice Justin’s wiggling ass. “So what is this place we’re gonna try, Sonnyboy? Thai? Barbecue fusion?”
“Erm . . . Middle Eastern, I think. I saw stuffed grape leaves on the menu.” The boy tugged at Brian’s hand. “A little lower . . . there’s this spot I can’t ever seem to get . . .”
Brian’s eyes narrowed, hand pausing on the small of Justin’s back. “Here?”
“Almost there . . .”
Hearing the grin in the teen’s voice, Brian gritted his teeth, then quickly squatted down. Placed the loofah on the back of Justin’s thigh, resolutely avoiding staring at the teen’s ass. “This low enough for you?”
“Not exactly what I had in mind. But I like where this is going.” Before Brian had a chance to react, Justin had turned to face him again, and the exec found himself face-to-face with a bobbing hard-on. Dimly aware of the beginnings of an ache in his knees, Brian stared at the stiff flesh . . . contemplating it. Sizing it up. Water – or, at least what looked like it – beaded at the reddish-purple tip, dripping to the porcelain below. It seemed fluid in its rigidity, jiggling with every breath Justin took, jutting out in contrast to the silken, blond pubes. And so, so close. Close enough to be able to just stick his tongue out a little and be able to taste the slightly salted skin . . . be able to lave the head entirely, painting delicate circles around the slit before taking the head entirely into his mouth . . . . that close.  He was that close . . . to losing complete control.
Brian dared to look upward, stomach tightening when he saw Justin staring down at him through heavy-lidded eyes, his steady gaze boring into him in soundless expectation. The water raining down on them both was cooling even as Brian felt the area above his upper thighs heat to the point of melting. He felt something inside him crumbling, and after a few moments of dry-mouthed staring, he recognized it as his vaunted resolve.
He wanted him. He wanted his mouth on Justin’s cock as much – more even – than Justin himself. Wanted to sate himself on the boy’s taste, feel the familiar sensation of sweetly slick flesh sliding over his tongue. He was never one who found himself in the position of giving blowjobs, but he’d always enjoyed going down on Justin. Not only was the blond’s vocal appreciation of his skills a turn on, but it just felt good to him, too. He liked the taste of the teen, the feel of him. He liked tonguing the sensitive area beneath the head of his cock, loved feeling Justin jump when he traced a path down the vein on the underside of the shaft. He enjoyed feeling Justin’s hands in his hair – not guiding him, which the exec hated – but stroking him . . . urging him on. Tender. Gentle. He loved kissing Justin’s balls, dragging his tongue over the delicate skin of his sac, jiggling the orbs with the very tip of his tongue . . . taking one and then the other into his mouth --
“Brian . . . please . . .”
It was part plea, part command, sincere and tinged with urgency. That, paired with Justin’s fingers twining in his hair, pulling him closer, was Brian’s breaking point. With a defiant, internal not yet that resonated to the soles of his feet, Brian popped to his feet as if he’d been propelled on a rocket launcher and nearly slid and fell on his ass turning the water off and swinging the shower door open.
“Bath time’s over.” He kept his back to the teen, knocking around the small space to find towels for the both of them, he made as much noise as he needed to drown out the hammering of his heart. That had been entirely too close . . . and he couldn’t promise himself that he’d be able to rein in his desire if Justin pressed him much more.
“Here.” Brian thrust a towel in Justin’s general direction and quickly wrapped one around himself, chuckling silently and humorlessly at the tenting out of the towel. It all seemed so utterly ridiculous to be walking around in his own home with a hard-on and blue balls when there was such a willing – and beautiful – participant at hand to relieve him, but the one small area of his being that wasn’t piqued at his holding back was assuring him that his “sacrifice” would pay dividends at a future date. Now the trick was getting to said future date without imploding . . .
Brian had one foot out the door when he realized that he hadn’t heard a word from Justin, hadn’t even heard him step out of the shower stall. Glancing over his shoulder, he did a double take at what he saw. Justin was standing in front of the sink area, unmoving, a towel wrapped loosely around his still damp body, his face turned to the floor. Brian backtracked, waiting for Justin to look up at his approach and made sure to color his words in neutral tones. “There a problem, Sunshine?”
He saw the boy swallow, then look up into the mirror, the glass reflecting the apprehension and dejection in Justin’s eyes. “I don’t know. Is there?” Justin stared at him steadily by way of the mirror. “Why didn’t you . . . it’s like . . . didn’t want to touch me . . . didn’t want me to touch you . . .”
“Is that what you wanted? For me to touch you? For me to blow you? Fuck you, maybe?” His voice sharpened with every word. “I thought you wanted to just talk.”
Justin blinked owlishly into the glass. “We’d always fool around in the shower.” Something resembling a smile made a brief appearance on the teen’s face. “It was always fun. And hot. And you didn’t tell me to get out, so I thought that you’d want to do things like before . . .” His voice trailed off, and went to studying the marble basin.
Before. Feeling something within him ‘ping’ at that word, he scowled, securing his towel tighter around his hips. “Like before? You mean like saying we’re gonna talk and then fuck instead? Breaking promises to each other? Lying? Acting like everything’s okay and then fuck some more?” He met Justin’s questioning gaze steadily, recalling their last days together, how they’d misled each other with every thrust, every kiss. “’Cause that was Before. That’s all the shit we did Before. You and me.” His voice became as steely as the memories of pissing on Rage, the chiding of the Munchers on Justin’s birthday, the Vermont fiasco, the Fiddler, among other things, presented themselves in his brain in a full-color montage.
Before shot everything to crap. Before was one fucked-up situation after another. Before isn’t gonna fix things, Sunshine, because before was a fucking farce. Before hurt. It hurt you . . . and it . . . it didn’t do much for me, either.” Brian looked away then, his voice drifting into a whisper. “You want that again? You want it like Before?” He waited a beat. “Can you seriously say that you want to do things the old way? If you do, tell me now so you can get dressed and get the fuck out . . . because I don’t fucking want it, and I’m not gonna do it.”
Brian stepped back and waited for the boy to brush past him, get dressed and sail out the door and his life again without looking back. Because what he was asking wasn’t fair – not to Justin. The barrel of a bat obliterated Justin’s frame of reference as it pertained to the two of them, leaving only what had happened after the bashing – the dreaded Before –  as the blond’s guidepost into what had been their “relationship.” He’d had precious little to fall back on other than what had come in the time between Justin’s moving in with him again and the seconds right before he walked out of Babylon with Ethan. And now he was telling him that they couldn’t go back there . . . telling him all that had happened was to be treated as if it was a mistake – because most of it had been. And that he had to shelve all of what had happened there and trust that he wouldn’t get hurt again . . . that wherever they went now – whatever they did, it would not beget the same pain and anger and heartache that had come Before. He was asking Justin to trust him not to hurt him again. Of course he was aware that implicit in that was his own unspoken plea for the same from the blond – that meant no Fiddlers, no blind-sided attacks from lesbians, no thinking everything was okay, but finding out through veiled glances, veiled hints, and the aroma of another man’s cum, that everything was decidedly not okay.
It was a good thing, Brian thought idly, that Mel wasn’t within spitting distance of this conversation. Or Linds, for that matter. One or both of them would surely chide him for having the “gall” to make any demands. He imagined the Munchers’ outrage: how could he stand and look the teen in the eye and see the jagged scar on Justin’s right temple and ask him to put enough faith in him – again – to ensure that he was kept healthy and whole in both mind and body? He’d managed to nicely fuck it all up before . . . why should Justin give him a chance to do it again? He couldn’t give himself a good reason as to why the teen should – he didn’t think he would, if he were Justin – but he knew one thing: he was right. Going back into the tried-and-fucked routine they’d had before would make things a hell of a lot worse. Better to let Justin go back to the beautiful violinist for a second movement in the Concerto for Two Teen Homos than regress to their rules, curfew, and talking-around-each-other stage.
“Listen . . . you think I don’t want to fuck you?” Brian had calmed down by degrees, warmth creeping back into his tone to counter the look of dejection he saw on Justin’s face. “Look at me, Sonnyboy.” Brian waited until Justin turned from the mirror and faced him. “What do you see?”
Brian watched Justin’s eyes flick down and then up to his face again. “You. In a towel.”
“And I’m hard . . . aren’t I?” Brian held himself very still as the eyes did another downward progression and stayed below for some moments.
“Yeah.” Brian could hear the wistful timbre in the teen’s voice. “You are.”
“And I was hard in there,” he nodded toward the shower. “Wasn’t I?”
Justin nodded, chewing his lower lip. That, and the way his hair was plastered to his forehead made the artist look all of thirteen, Brian thought, making the serious expression on the youthful face seem out of place.
“I was hard in bed, with you . . . when we were talking . . . when we were sleeping.” Brian moved closer. “I was hard when we came into the loft. I was hard at that fucking hole in the wall “café”, drinking the damned chocolate.” He brightened at Justin’s brief grin. “I was hard this morning, when I picked up the phone and heard your voice . . . I want to fuck you, Justin. I always want to fuck you. But fucking’s not gonna fix things.” Brian fell  silent a minute, appropriately awed by his epiphanic moment. “It never did Before. Did it?”
A slight exhalation of breath and a gentle nod served as answer. “You’re right. It sucked before. It would probably be best to just forget about it . . .”
“Uh-uh, Sunshine. We’re not gonna just forget it.” Brian refused to set that trap for himself . . . attempt to bury the last few months of their relationship as if it’d just been some fucked-up dream. He’d tried that with the prom . . . and look where that had gotten them. “We’re just not gonna repeat it.”
Justin nodded again, the tense lines on his forehead smoothing away. “I can deal with that. Only . . .” He chewed on his lip and spoke almost shyly. “Um . . . does this mean we're never gonna shower together again? It was one of our favorite places –” He checked himself hastily, staring down at the floor.
“No . . . that’s not what I meant.” Brian bent his knees a little so that he was on a level to look into Justin’s eyes, leaning in until their foreheads touched. “You wanted – we wanted – to talk. That’s why we’re here . . . and that’s what we’re gonna do. For now, fucking stays on the backburner.”
Justin’s expression perked up, and judging by the movement of the towel, it wasn’t the only thing. “For now? So maybe later? . . .” Justin made a fumbling movement at his waist, and a minute later, the teen’s towel whispered to floor, puddling around his ankles.
“Oops,” Justin murmured insincerely, smiling up at Brian through golden lashes. “Lost my grip.”
“Nice try, Sunshine. Out. Now.” Spinning Justin around by the shoulder, he gave him a quick, but gentle, shove out the door, but not before draping the discarded towel over the wet, blond head.  “No dripping on the duvet.” His eyes followed Justin to the bed, watching as he flopped across the mattress. Brian swallowed down the impulse to follow and catapult himself atop the naked teen. Thankfully, his stomach chose that moment to give him an audible reminder of his other hunger. “Order already, Sonnyboy. The quicker we get some food, the quicker we can start talking again, and then –”
He stopped when he heard Justin on the phone, hurriedly imparting their order to a person who Brian could only hope could decipher Justin’s speed-speak. Watching the teen arrange himself on the bed, the corners of Brian’s mouth eased into a grin. Well fuck me. He’s sticking around. Kid has confidence in me. His smile wilted a little, a touch of bitterness at the edges. Guess that makes one of us. Slightly subdued, but buoyed by the sound of Justin’s voice just on the other side of the door, Brian began the hunt for something suitable to wear.

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