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Growing Up

Gradiva

B/J Post-Season 3

So, there were some stylistic/grammatical 'guidelines' or challenges that I followed when writing the fic below. Three, to be exact.

1. The fic must flit back and forth from past to present but not be segmented (no sections, but continuous).

2. Only 'Justin' is ever the subject of the main clause of a sentence. i.e. there will be no "Daphne said..." or "Brian looked at him..." There will be no authorial insight into the actions of anyone but Justin. i.e. Lines such as "Brian kissed him tenderly." must never occur. At the most "They" is allowed as a subject.

3. Despite Rule 2, the fic must have Brian-angst as well as Justin-angst. Brian-angst must be conveyed solely through dialogue.

Obviously, I am insane.

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He can cull the days months years and pack them into moments, peel off long periods of work and monotony like a skin and pluck out the short rages and fights like bitter seeds in a sweet fruit, and then think of what he is left with - nights spent on the sofa, watching movies late into the night before falling asleep on one another; mornings in the shower with fingers eagerly exploring skin as if new; countless games of Memory that almost always end in teasing about approaching old age and Brian stomping off to the bedroom; arguments about movies, politicians, songs and Christmas presents; days spent chasing after an energetic Gus that were a perfectly-executed choreography of food-sleep-diaper-play rhythm, and turned into an exhausted snore-filled sleep locked in a sexless embrace.

Even if Brian still refuses to hold his hand when they walk down the street, it is almost customary that their fingers weave into each other each time they have sex, and even if earlier it was to counter one's desperation with another's reassurance, now it is about something else entirely that neither is willing to name. If love-songs or romantic music never make an appearance in their home or their lives, they have made their own songs, invented their own language - expressive eyes and lips speak things that only the other understands, and so a whispered obscenity often translates into a term of endearment.

Mostly Justin remembers this condensed time as filled with laughter, him giggling and being chased around the loft, Brian at his dorkiest, guffawing loudly and tickling him into the sofa; stupid jokes and unexpected belches and snarky comments about each other that result in exciting punishments; nights spent flying high on E when even Bob Saget seemed funny. And there was that one Saturday morning when Justin woke up unusually early, needing very badly to take a piss and finding himself locked out of the bathroom while the shower ran... he yelled at Brian to open the door, complaining that there wasn't a single piece of Brian's anatomy he wasn't intimately acquainted with and he really needed to go goddamnit, and when the door finally opened and the occupant stormed off defiantly he hopped in, shouting a stream of curses until he noticed a pair of discoloured latex gloves in the trash, covered hastily with a piece of toilet paper, and then covered his mouth and fought the urge to snicker, deciding to save this piece of tasty information for the next time he found himself losing an argument.

He still does argue with Brian, sometimes in flashes of annoyance and frustration, occasionally in bitter silences and angry looks. They'd never lie, either to themselves or to each other, and claim that vestiges of the past don't still haunt them. There's the night the two of them end up in Babylon, and Brian is cruised by a man about as old as Justin. Justin smirks and leaves his lover alone to his devices, wondering why the man looked so familiar. A while later he feels arms encircle his waist from behind and asks casually, "How was he?"

"He had a really nice ass." The words make Justin tense as the memory catches up to him... fags will say anything to fuck a nice ass. His words ring in his ear and he understands the triumphant, somewhat baleful look the trick gave him just before he left. He blinks away the onslaught of thoughts, turns and says, "Let's go home." He's silent in the car, and in the elevator. He pulls off his clothes tiredly and goes into the bathroom to brush his teeth. As he does, he steps away from the large mirror and looks at his own ass speculatively.

He walks out of the bathroom to find Brian lying in bed, one knee raised, the other leg on the bed, stroking himself and staring at him lasciviously. He grins, walks up to Brian and kisses him, sighs as he clambers into bed. They start kissing harder, and Justin closes his eyes, glad that he doesn't taste anyone else on those perfect lips. His eyes roll back and the lids nearly shut, and his jaw drops. As the thrusts begin he holds Brian's face in his hands and says, "The guy you fucked tonight, what was his name?"

"Didn't ask. Why? You want him?"

"No, just wanted to know." He holds Brian's gaze as the thrusts become faster, wondering if he can see the muted despair in his eyes. His nails dig into Brian's shoulder-blades and he leans in and bites Brian's neck, kisses him until he loses his breath and his head falls backward weakly. He cries out Brian's name as he comes, yells it in a half-sob, and then clutches his lover to him and clenches. When they are lucid again, he feels Brian raising himself off of him and pulls him close, whispers fervently, "Stay inside me. Please? For just a little longer."

He closes his eyes, smiles, and enjoys the weight on him, the fullness inside him, for a few minutes, and when it ends he turns his head away to hide the utter loneliness that crushes him, the emptiness that makes his head spin.

"You gonna tell me what's wrong?"

He isn't even surprised that Brian knows something is up. He breathes a sigh. Talking about these things makes his chest tight, makes his palms tingle with nervousness... and sometimes he simply can't find the courage to say things exactly as they are in his head.

"It's silly," he says dismissively, but Brian's raised eyebrow tells him that he needs to continue, so he does, attempting a facetious tone, "If you ever decide you wanna throw me out and take in someone with a nicer ass... just break it to me gently, okay?" His voice shakes on the okay and he starts blinking rapidly so he turns away. His own voice rings in his ear, a boyish indignation of many years ago, do you even know how pathetic you sound? He knows it's pathetic, knows that the self-pity and the quivering lip make him unattractive, but sometimes he can't help it. He's said he doesn't do boyfriends, but he's a very unconvincing liar. The shocked, somewhat guilty gaze above him burns into his face and he starts to blush. His fists clench slightly.

"You expect me to train another spoiled brat to make my coffee and suck my dick when I can just get you cosmetic surgery?"

It's more than he expected, and he turns in surprise and laughs in spite of himself. He touches his forehead to Brian's, grinning deliriously, then kisses him. Their kisses start off teasing, smile rubbing against smile, then turn fevered and desperate, possessive and rough.

A week later, Justin comes home late, beaming proudly, and hands Brian a cheque for five hundred dollars. It's from his first paycheck at his new job, and it's the first instalment of the thirty-thousand odd dollars he still owes Brian for tuition. On the way home he calculated how long it would take him, at seven-hundred and fifty dollars a month, to repay the entire sum... he's quite surprised at Brian's lack of enthusiasm.

"I thought you'd be proud."

"Don't you need the money? You're just starting out."

"You're still recovering from the..." Justin knows as soon as he starts along the path that it's the wrong one.

"I don't need it. And it's meaningless anyway. You don't owe me anything."

He sits down on the couch beside Brian and pulls close to him, puts his arms around his neck. "I owe you everything. I want to do something for you. Let me do this." He kisses Brian on the cheek, closing his eyes too soon to see Brian swallow.

He's wanted to do this for too long - he's watched Brian pay every bill, refuse help from anybody even in the difficult year when he lost his job. He still remembers Brian taking him in when his own father rejected him; he can't forget the painful months after the bashing, when Brian massaged his hand if it cramped, calmed him after nightmares, bought him a computer to give him back the one thing most important to him, gave him the computer and paid his tuition even after.... He shakes his head to clear those unwelcome thoughts, the memory of his own stupidity and the betrayal he'll never forgive himself for.

When he gets into bed, Brian is already there, lying on his stomach and facing away from him. He puts his arms around Brian's waist and kisses his shoulder.

"If I take the money, are we even?"

He sits up, confusion clouding his face for a second before understanding dawns. He attempts levity, "Nope. You'll still owe me five blow-jobs for taking out the trash last week." He waits for laughter that never comes. "Brian?"

"Go to sleep."

"We're not gonna fuck?"

He feels Brian slide out from under him; a second later, a condom is placed in his hand. He huffs in frustration at the face buried in a pillow, pulls up the duvet to cover himself and tries to sleep.

His sudden rise to popularity and riches surprises him more than anybody else. When he is praised in local newspapers he catches Brian's I-told-you-so smirk and blushes. The GLC and the newly elected mayor made much ado over his agit-prop artwork, the newspapers wrote articles about them, and suddenly he was a hero among the gay community and a talked-about artist even among the faculty of PIFA. He is one of only five artists selected to compete for a prestigious scholarship and a showing at the New York public library.

But his success has thrown a couple of wrenches into his relationship with Brian. They don't spend as much time together, and Justin's new claque - a set of young, romantic, talented artists who hang at his every word - doesn't sit too well with Brian.

And now there's Keith... Keith Davis, a handsome young man about six years younger than Brian, the judge of the contest for the New York showing - his father set up the scholarship - who seems to take a personal interest in Justin. At the very least, they've had lunch a few times and chatter constantly on anything and everything, from the structure of charyatids to ways to prolong an orgasm.

Finally, one day, after lunch, the non-topic is broached. "I've made my decision, you know, about the New York thing."

Justin frowns, says, "Okay." He has to admit that he had thought Kevin's interest in him meant that he was the one chosen.

"I've decided to go with Andrea."

Justin's been trained well by his mother - he smiles politely. Under the table his hands clench. Finally he finds his voice. "May I ask why?"

"Why Andrea or why not you?"

"Both."

"What d'you think about her work - don't you think she's talented?"

Justin admits, "She's very good. I mean, it's pleasant-looking stuff. I never really paid much attention to her work. It's, you know, family portraits, fun, witty stuff, occasionally she does a little erotic stuff. I just didn't think it served much purpose, you know?"

"Because, you want your work to mean something?"

"Well, yeah. It has to say something important, either about the artist or about the world, or show a new technique, or... something. What's the point of painting pictures of... you know, happy, shiny people holding hands?"

"Andrea is a survivor of domestic sexual abuse." Even if Keith's words are lightly spoken, they fall like anvils. He listens, feeling like he's falling into a void. "Her father. Her paintings are about a loss of innocence and a rebirth of hope. You're right, every work of art has to say something important. Hers says that it's possible to go through something like that and still love your family, still like sex."

"Oh."

"Justin?"

"Yeah?"

"If I was straight, and I told you this, would you think I chose her because I wanted to get into her pants or because I was homophobic?"

He's honest, even when it isn't very flattering to be honest. "A bit of both, I guess."

" I think that the popularity of your more political work has clouded your progress a little. Your art is so... angry. That doesn't help further understanding as much as it separates people, mobilizes and antagonizes them." Justin closes his eyes and feels a hand close on his and squeeze. "You need to grow up a little, kid. Find a way to channel your anger into something more useful. There's a huge difference between seeing yourself as a victim and seeing yourself as a survivor."

That night he comes home and pulls out some of the pictures he's done recently. He sees the same angry red and black hues that coloured the very first pictures he ever did for Rage, sees the same turbulence, dissatisfaction. He can see traces of hate seeping in insidiously in lines pencilled in a little too hard, in shadows that are darker shades than necessary, and it terrifies him, makes his heart pound as he tears the pictures to pieces.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

He doesn't answer, merely pulls out more pictures from old portfolios and stares at them, wiping beads of sweat from the curve of his upper lip. As he moves to rip these pictures apart they are pulled from his grasp. He sighs and says, "I lost the contest. Keith chose Andrea."

"So?"

"He said... a lot of things... about why he didn't choose me."

"Since when do you care what others think about you?"

"He was right," Justin says defeatedly. "Now, every time I see these... I keep seeing what's wrong with them."

"Give them to me then."

"What for?"

"Look, you never have to see them again. Why do you care?"

Justin's shoulders slump slightly, but he gets up and shrugs. "Fine."

That night, lying in bed, he leans backward into Brian's chest, covers Brian's hands on his waist with his own. Suddenly he asks, "D'you still hate your father?"

The answer is a little late in coming, but the voice is sure. "He's dead... it's a waste of time to hate a dead person."

"Your mother?"

"No. Not really."

"I want to stop hating Hobbes." As soon as he says it he knows it's true. He also knows from the tightened hold around his waist that he isn't the only one that needs to do this. He tries to explain, "I need to... let go of the hate, the anger... move on. But..." his voice trails off as he thinks about the stolen not-memories that Daphne and Brian have told him about. Mouths were dropping... his moment of triumph against the school that rejected him. You kissed me? In front of everybody? He plots a different course of events, in which he knew that the man he loved was in love with him. The weeks of loneliness, doubt and terror never happened; he was never at the hospital wondering what had happened in the lost moments, why Brian had deserted him, whether he would ever draw again; he never felt that tightness in his chest wondering whether he was mistaking pity, obligation or habit for love.

In this different world, he never would have abandoned Brian. They wouldn't be wandering in the tortuous maze of guilt, self-loathing and doubt, each needing to feel close to the other, neither daring to ask. He can see Brian's doubt in the slightly narrowed eyes, in the half-fearful half-disdainful glance he receives every time he mentions Keith, but he can't just come out and declare his innocence because his words are worth nothing. He told Daphne a few days ago, "He thinks I'm cheating on him." And did a double-take at her retort, "Are you?" He looked at her in righteous indignation that melted into shame and resignation under her scrutiny.

Hobbes stole more than a few minutes in time... "He's stolen too much from us," he says, his voice a single hushed breath. "I can't... sometimes, I feel like he really did kill me, like I'm dead inside." It feels a little melodramatic but he remembers the angry pencil streaks, the crimson stains, the bleak grayness that have come to characterize his art, and winces.

"Lindsay used to say that we know we're alive because of how other people need us. Like Gus needs her... and that's how she knows she's alive."

"Gus needs you too," Justin says absently. It's become second nature to him, walking after Brian with a first-aid kit, cleaning up the stab wounds everyone else leaves. He waits a minute, closing his eyes and imagining an I need you, Justin. He smiles because he knows it wouldn't happen like that. It'll come maybe tomorrow or the next week, a casual Where the fuck do you think you're going? I need my morning blow-job! Or maybe it's already arrived. Words whispered against his cheek - I want you safe. I want you around for a long time.

He turns to face Brian, who opens his eyes and looks at him quizzically. He wriggles up so they're at eye-level, then runs his fingers down Brian's cheeks. "I need you," he says pensively, trying to figure out how to say just enough. "You don't ever have to give me things, or remember my birthday, or any of that." He stares into the darkening eyes below him and speaks the words in a single exhale. "I just need you to keep loving me."

Afraid of what Brian might say, he ends the conversation with a fierce kiss. He wonders if he's said enough, and hears his name whispered feverishly against his cheek, ear and neck, "Justin." The word wafts gently into the long strands that lace his ear, and he smiles.

He pulls away making Brian gasp, and uses his trump card with a mischievous grin. "And to maybe use a darker shade the next time you dye your hair."

A short shocked silence is followed by squealing and yelping that turn into grunts of pleasure.

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