Brian hadn’t anticipated just how bound together they were. They were bound by the past, by bloody white scarves, by sticky ice cream kisses, by radiation induced vomit, by stoned sex in an empty loft, by bruises left by grasping fingers and by a hand that couldn’t grip.
He never anticipated how these memories weaved between them despite the distance and time. And those memories, and those ties, some thick and twisted as rope, some fragile and shining like a thread of silk, those ties kept them together, and the new memories worked and built up between them.
They were bound together by the mugging. Justin walked down the alley virtually every day. It was just an ordinary short cut between two streets that smelt of urine and grease from the burger bar. He was walking down it on an ordinary, rainy, Tuesday afternoon and he barely registered the steps echoing behind him, he only realised something was wrong when a shadow detached itself from the wall and began walking towards him. Black balaclava, black clothes, and holy fuck a black gun he was pulling out of his pocket.
Justin stopped, the footsteps behind him kept coming and then stopped too. The figure in front of him, brought the gun up. His mouth tasted of metal and he could hear his breath and his heart as he stared down the barrel.
“Empty your pockets.”
His hands seemed to move too slowly, like he was pushing them through molasses, and his fingers fumbled on his wallet. There were only two, and if it wasn’t for the gun he could possibly take them, the Pink Posse might have left bruises but it had also left him some damn good moves, but he couldn’t risk the gun. His eyes didn’t leave it, as the man said,
“Give it to him.”
The other man came round from behind and took it, they nearly fumbled it, Justin couldn’t seem to make his hand work right, and the other guy was wearing gloves. He managed to grip his ipod with his left hand and shove it over, and then his mobile phone. The man pocketed them and then moved towards him, he tensed and jerked back but the man with gun said harshly,
“Stand still, he’s going to frisk you.”
It felt horrible, the strange hands slapping his hips and sides, looking for fuck knows what. Justin breathed out and watched as the guy grabbed his backpack and started going through it, throwing sketch books and paint brushes onto the street. He watched a drawing of Brian tumble through the air and fall into a puddle, the ink running and distorting Brian’s face so the features bled away.
The guy took his CDs and a box of condoms and shoved the bag back at him.
“Nothing else in there.”
He saw the gun coming, Cody had left him with pretty good reflexes and he managed to duck in time that so that the barrel caught his cheek rather than the centre of his face. The force of it still sent him reeling and the pain was sudden and shocking. As he turned a foot came and caught his stomach so he fell to the floor with all the breath knocked out of him, his face landed in a puddle and he inhaled oily, dirty water.
He couldn’t move for a few moments, just lay there chocking, gasping for air and clutching at his stomach. It fucking ached, and his throat was raw. He pushed himself to his knees and saw the alley was empty. He reached for the picture of Brian, but it was a soggy mess, and ridiculous though it was that seemed like the most awful thing of all.
He got to the end of the alley when he heard someone call his name, and he spun, his arms raised as though to defend himself.
“Justin? Oh my god Justin what happened to you?”
Elly, who worked at the diner down the road, was staring at him. She reached a hand to his cheek, but he whipped his head back and the world spun.
“Whoa, careful Justin. Are you ok.”
“I got mugged.”
“Oh fuck no! Ok, um, we have to go to the police. Are you alright, did they hurt you badly?”
He wasn’t clear on the next few minutes, he was bundled into a taxi and then escorted by Elly up the steps to the police station.
Inside it was packed, there were two large women having a screaming argument in vicious Italian, their arms gesturing madly and a police officer who was standing between them kept having to duck, a drunk was singing show tunes at the top of his voice and there was a teenage boy hugging himself as he sat staring at the floor. It seemed terribly noisy, and for a moment his head spun again both he managed to push over to the receptionist.
The whole thing was pointless. Unless they got caught for something else with his stuff on them they wouldn’t be caught. The policeman seemed to think he got off lightly, and he supposed he had. The coffee at the station was bitter and sharp and he concentrated on sipping it and breathing in and out. His stomach ached, and his cheek throbbed and it was all so pointless.
He drifted back down the steps with Elly staring at him anxiously.
“I’ll get you home.”
When he got into the apartment he was stuck, call Brian or not? He’d still be at work, it was only five o’clock, and this wasn’t that big a deal. The phone and ipod wouldn’t be too cheap to replace, but it wasn’t the end of the world. His cards were cancelled, and he wasn’t really hurt, just bruised with a cut on his face. It was nothing like the bashing, any bashing, he could have been gay, straight, male, female… It wasn’t like that.
His hands trembled as he reached for the phone and dialled Brian’s number, he sat down and listened to the ring, still not really sure why his hands were shaking, and why he didn’t really feel anything apart from an ache and uncontrollably shaking hands.
“I’m on my way to a meeting, so can I call you back?”
“Sure.” His voice caught and he felt disconnected, he wasn’t sure why talking was so difficult.
“I got mugged.”
The words tumbled out involuntarily, and down the lines of wires and cables he heard Brian’s harsh gasp and pictured him suddenly standing still.
“Are you alright?”
“Just a bit bruised. They didn’t really hurt me.”
“Fuck, look I can be on the next flight.”
“It really doesn’t matter.” He pressed the phone against his face in case his hands couldn’t hold it.
“Fuck you it doesn’t matter, I’ll be there ok, soon as possible. Cynthia! Have you been to the hospital? Cynthia!”
“Don’t need to, they just threatened me.”
The words didn’t work, and he suddenly remembered how they felt, how it felt to carry a gun, how they must have felt, invisible and able to terrify others, and…
He barely made it to the sink, just dropped the phone and threw up. His eyes ran and his throat burned and he couldn’t do anything other than cough up the foul stuff in his throat.
He straightened up and blinked the water out of his eyes, there was a sound on the edge of his hearing, that slowly resolved itself into Brian’s tinny voice shouting out of the phone.
“I’m here.” His voice sounded wrong to his own ears.
“I’m on my way.”
He couldn’t have got through it all without Brian. It was the horror of someone’s intrusive hands on him, that he hadn’t asked for and hadn’t wanted. There was the snarled anger that someone would do that to him that had him slashing red paint across his canvases and Brian just quiet in the background or telling him not join one of those “Fucked up angel vigilante groups.”
But there was his own guilt, the memories of his fist slamming into someone’s stomach, and the memory of how heavy a gun is in his hand. It was Brian that talked him out of the nightmares and combed his fingers through his hair. He couldn’t take away what Justin was feeling, but it made it better somehow for one person in the world to not ask how he felt, and come up with platitudes about how it wasn’t his fault. Brian would just shrug, kiss his temple and tell him he would have never fired the gun. He would close his eyes at that, not convinced, but Brian’s belief became enough for both of them.
The whole incident changed the post leaving for New York them. Before it they’d been drifting, not entirely together, but not broken up either. After the nightmares dropped in frequency, the shakes stopped and Justin could meet his eyes in the mirror again he no longer wondered where they stood. He knew, knew it with his body and his heart and it felt good to know. He felt loved again, and this knowledge gave his art a luminescence that made the critics rave, the patrons swoon and Brian’s eyes shine with something too beautiful for Justin to ever capture on canvas.
They were bound together by sex. It was the one thing Brian was sure that Justin wouldn’t be able to find in New York that he found in Pittsburgh. Oh sure, he could find random fucks, he’d have men tripping over themselves to suck his cock and fuck him, and once he’d convinced them that he wasn’t just a pretty twink to let him fuck them, but he was a person who needed something a bit more from his fucks than that.
Brian knew down to his gut, to his soul if he had one, how to handle Justin in bed. Justin might think that he needed soft kisses and love making, he might enjoy staring into his lover’s eyes, but what he really needed was to be fucked so hard he couldn’t see. They couldn’t break off from each other completely because no one knew how Justin loved to be bruised during sex but not really hurt.
Anyone else would fuck up the delicate balance of submission and power they had when they played. Justin wasn’t naturally submissive, frankly he was a cocky little shit, but he got off on the fear and out of control feeling sex with handcuffs and leather could have. But it was a delicate balance and Brian was proud that with all the things they’d done the only time Justin had to use the safe word was when he’d had a cold and hadn’t been able to breath and suck cock at the same time.
Other people wouldn’t know when Justin fighting back was just to hot it up, and when it was genuine. Other people might mistake that blond hair, big smile and slight figure as someone sweet and submissive in bed, they wouldn’t be prepared for the man who wanted to ride cock so hard that the lines between pain and pleasure blurred into something so hot Brian felt like he wasn’t able to breath. Other people might think that making love to Justin when it was soft and romantic was all it would take to keep him happy and not realise that his rough, nasty, fucking in a backroom streak was burning under the surface.
They left marks on each other that they carried with them around their respective cities. Brian would touch the bruise on his wrist in a meeting. He’d sit there as some guy from the art department would present the various options for a logo and stroke the blue finger mark on his wrist. He’d press it harder as they discussed year end accounts and remember Justin grabbing at it frantically as he rode him, pinning his arms above his head, and remember the feel of Justin’s body on his cock. Justin would wear polo shirts after Brian flew back to Pittsburgh, but in the toilets at the gallery where he worked part time, or in the diner down his road, he’d pull the collar down and stare into the mirror at the dark red marks on his neck and smile because it proved it was real. They saw the scratch marks and the lost buttons and the photographs and it was real, it reminded them of what they were on the nights when the other was just too far away to be anything more than a memory.
Brian had never realised that the advantage to being fucked by the same person for years was that no one else would know your body as well and therefore be a lame comparison. And in the dark nights that he would never admit to, before he moved to New York, when he woke up too hot from too much booze and watched the dawn creep into the sky, he was fucking glad that no one would be able to fuck Justin like he could, it made that dreaded phone call less likely to come.
Watching his boss get married Justin couldn’t help but think the wedding vows were kind of stupid. It seemed an odd promise to make, how can anyone really know if they will stick through the bad times? How can anyone really make that promise considering how bad times can get, how does anyone know themselves so well to make that promise. Or if you really have been there through the bad times, through the sickness, then the promise is kind of superfluous.
He thinks back to this when he’s sitting in the hospital waiting room. He’s sitting up very straight, his back rigid in the uncomfortable chair. The walls are beige, with some offensively bland flower print hanging up, the rain streams down the window, like a veil cutting the hospital off from the real world. Outside people walk around, go about their daily lives. Inside people wait, for the news, for the results, for the operation, the normal rules don’t apply within these walls that are painted in cheap paint and smell of disinfectant.
He can’t move, can’t even draw, and his mind is filled with static. He just sits and waits for Brian to come in and tell him it's all fine, that he’s fine, because the other options aren’t allowed. Someone’s pager goes off down the corridor, and a trolley squeaks past. The world is reduced to this room and the wait to find out that Brian is going to be fine.
It all started a few days ago, lying in their massive bed, with sheets that Justin isn’t allowed to know the price of because he’d completely queen out. It had been raining then as well, and the rain had cast shadows over Brian’s body, stretched out and arching into Justin’s mouth. It had been hot and intimate, they’d both been insanely busy and there hadn’t been much time for this, so it had been even better than normal. Brian had been thick and hard in his mouth, and Justin had been staring up at him, at all that gorgeous skin and muscle. And then his hand had been stealing round, rolling Brian’s balls in his hand, and Brian had suddenly flinched. The jump caused his dick to catch on Justin’s teeth and he sat up, looking pissed off.
“What the fuck are you doing down there?”
Justin scowled up,
“I didn’t do anything, you nearly chocked me just then.”
“You nearly bit off my dick!”
“Yeah well, if I hadn’t lost my gag reflex several years ago that would have been fucking messy, and your fault..”
He slid his hand under Brian’s balls again, not really thinking, but annoyed at the wrecked mood, and this time, just before Brian flinched again, he felt it.
“Brian hold still.”
There was something wrong with his voice, it sounded harsh, and he pressed his fingers against Brian’s balls again and felt the lump.
“What is it?”
Brian’s voice hadn’t sounded right either.
“You have a… You have a lump.”
The words had felt foul in his mouth. He hadn’t been able to meet Brian’s eyes, just stared at his crotch, and tried to stop the panic rising up through his throat like bile. He felt Brian slide his fingers through his and rub the lump.
That night they didn’t speak, just lay pressed against each other, their legs tangled together, their heads so close they were breathing each other’s air. Justin didn’t cry, although it was hard not to think about the nights when Brian had been asleep already and he’d lie there staring at him and trying not to let the noise escape. He kissed Brian’s chest and neck and didn’t say a word but in his mind he was shouting.
“I promise, I promise, I promise, I promise…”
The door to the waiting room opens and his head snaps round, he stands up and Brian smiles, relieved and he doesn’t need to say anything else. Justin is across the room, his arms are round Brian’s neck and the tears are welling up in his eyes. Brian is murmuring stuff, how it’s a cyst, they can drain out the fluid, just a cyst, anyone can get them, no problem… And Justin nods and kisses Brian’s cheeks till Brian starts kissing him back, and the kiss tastes of the salt from Justin’s tears.
They’re bound by sunlight and holidays. By the weeks spent in Europe, and the villa in Tuscany, with vineyards and olive groves spilling down the hills below them, yellow villages scattered all around, and Chianti on their breath. It mingles in their kisses as Brian rolls them over, and Justin pushes him away so he can rescue one of the several hundred sketches he’s down of the David statue since he saw it. Brian enjoyed seeing the statue, Michelangelo had good taste in men, but seeing Justin study it had been another experience altogether.
There were summers in the Hamptons, with sun cream and salt and sand. Gus would join them for a few weeks and play on the beach. Sand would stick to their skin, and they would taste of coconut sun cream. Justin’s skin would burn and Brian would tease him about the peeling whilst growing more and more brown himself. There would be business meetings in the evening, with cold cocktails in stuffy bars that Brian would hate because they couldn’t be more straight or boring. He would race home to find Justin sitting on the decking, legs tucked beneath him, and using pastels to try and capture the sun setting on the sea. They’d sit in silence then, just drinking wine or whisky, and Justin’s hands would get covered in pink and blue chalk dust, later the dust would transfer itself onto Brian’s skin, mingle with his sweat and rub itself into their messy sheets.
The almost car crash adds another thread between them. Gus is eight years old and visiting New York. The rain is streaming down, and Brian’s walking to meet Gus and Justin by the café they’ve found and made their second home. He jumps over the puddles, trying not to get his designer shoes wet, and hurrying to meet them and get out of the rain.
He sees them across the road, and Justin waves, and Gus jumps and runs. Just leaps out into the road, and Justin leaps straight after him, calling his name in a voice that is high and terrified, and he sees the car coming at them, hears the screeching breaks on the wet tarmac, and he’s running too, but there’s no way in hell he’ll get across the street in time, and the bright yellow cab is sliding towards his son and his lover, and Justin is pulling Gus backwards but there’s not going to be time…
The car stops inches from them, and Justin falls on his back, clutching Gus to his chest. Brian collapses on his knees beside them, gasping, and pulling Gus out of Justin’s arms. He clings to the boy so tight it must hurt, and his other hand reaches out for Justin who clutches him so tight it does hurt. He raises his head from Gus’s hair and stares at Justin who’s pulling himself onto his knees, and wraps his arm round him too, pulling them into a huddle. The sounds of New York have gone and he can only hear the rapid breath coming from all three of them, his own pounding heart, and the noise as Gus begins to cry.
“Are you ok? Did I hit you? I saw you fall, but you’re alright?” He looks up at the taxi driver, and the gathering crowd of people and manages to nod. He stands up, still clinging to Gus, and Justin manages to lever himself up too.
“We’re, we’re fine. I think.”
Justin nods and Gus, seems to be trying to stop crying, but he can’t and buries his head in Brian’s coat.
They stagger into the café, and at that moment, fear turns to anger. He thinks he’ll be seeing the cab sliding towards Gus and Justin until the day he dies and he turns to Gus and starts screaming,
“What the fuck did you think you were doing? You could have been killed! You could have killed Justin! You never, ever, ever run into the road. Not to see me, or your Mom, or that fucking clown fish! You never, ever, do anything as stupid as that again, do you understand me?”
Gus just nods, still crying, and he sinks down to his knees and pulls Gus’s small, fragile, oh so fucking fragile, body back into his arms and rocks him.
He just nods and Justin sighs softly and says,
“We know Gus, but you can’t, you just can’t do something like that.”
Later that night, with Gus finally asleep after a long phone call to Lindsey and Mel, and The Lion King followed by Finding Nemo, Brian lies in bed with his arms round Justin and breaths in the smell of him, safe and dry and here. He knows he should speak, say something to Justin for probably saving his son’s life but it doesn’t come out. Thank you is so utterly insufficient for dashing out into the traffic without a second thought, with a cab screaming towards you.
“I didn’t think you know. I just didn’t think. I saw you, and then he went, and it was pure, blind terror.”
Brian looks down, startled by Justin’s words.
“I love him you know. He might, genetically, not be my son. But I do love him a lot. And I would, if anything ever happened to you, or Lindsay and Mel, I would do anything for him.”
Brian just dropped his head down and kissed Justin’s face, kissed his cheeks and eyes, because there weren’t words for this feeling. He loved Justin, but this went beyond that, once it would have terrified him, but now he just thought his heart might break from it.
“No need to thank me. He’s easy to love.”
“I love you.”
They cling together for the rest of the night, making love quietly but with an edge of desperation and they scratch each other’s backs and bite each other’s skin to keep quiet so Gus won’t hear.
They’re bound by laughter. One of Justin’s friends goes to Europe and comes back with a bottle of raki from Greece. Brian’s late home and Justin’s already started drinking it when he gets back. Brian has never seen him giggle like this, and it amazes him. He bends Justin’s body into any shape he wants that night, and the other man is just like putty beneath his hands. It’s not the best sex they’ve ever had, mostly because Justin can’t stop laughing, but it’s fun. It’s fun to tip the bottle against Justin’s lips and see him lick at the rim, and then giggle at the over the top innuendo. It’s fun to have Justin so undone and useless and willing, and it’s wonderful afterward to know that he’s going to be able to mock him for weeks about this.
The next morning Brian is woken by the sound of Justin throwing up and he’s pleased by that fact that they might be getting older, but they are still inherently irresponsible, and that Justin’s going to be around to be laughed at for a long time to come.
A.N: The title is a spin on a line from Hour by Carol Ann Duffy, “Time hates love, wants love poor, but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.”