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I have been working on this fic since the 22nd of June, 2004. On and off. At
the time, I'd wanted to have it done for erinface's
birthday, but clearly that idea was a complete joke. Sorry Rinny. Ive been sending
it to her in snippets ever since, and I don't think I'd ever have been able
to finish it without her encouragement. I'm not good with long things.
I think this is the longest thing I've ever written for this fandom. It might not seem that long to other people, but to me this is War and Fucking Peace.
"In a year, probably not even that long, you won't even remember my name. Oh, what happened to that kid who wouldn't leave me alone? Who thought he was in love with me. If you fucking think of me at all."
Justin can’t remember the last time he saw the stars. Just rows and rows of
window- lights, streetlamps, car headlights, neon signs. Just gigantic TV screens
and backlit billboards. Millions of fucking people consumed by the city. Faces
smooth and featureless beneath the glare, like science fiction androids.
He snorts and draws deeper on his joint, pressing his forehead against the glass to look way down at the city street. He gets fucked up when he’s high, lately. Gets fucked up, desperate thoughts, standing alone in his shitty apartment. Or worse, lying naked against some guy he’s just fucked or sucked. Some guy whose face he won’t remember in the morning.
He wants to remember a fucking guy’s face in the morning.
Next apartment over, there’s a woman that talks constantly, on the phone, to the TV, to her stupid, ugly cats. Her voice slides through Justin’s porous walls. He wears headphones to block her out at night. He’s only met her once. He passed her on the stair and recognized the voice that ground against her cell phone. Daily, he hopes she will be evicted. Replaced by some considerate mute.
There’s a canvas in the corner. Empty chair, empty table, the shadows of concrete in the background. He thinks it’s maudlin and trite, the kind of thing he’ll never show his agent. Some dour, amused part of himself wants to paint in a sad clown and make the best of the cliché. He stares at it critically, and thinks: Good technique. Good use of color. The line of the table is a little heavy handed, and the balance of the piece is all off. New York lights reflect off the wet paint, and when it is dry, he shall put it in the little cemetery in his closet, where shitty paintings go to die.
He falls asleep on the couch three hours later, ashtray full of half-smoked cigarettes and burned out joints at his side. Sketches litter the space around him, faces and places he’ll only half remember scratching out when he wakes.
He’s been going to the same club practically every night since he moved here. Three years of the same bar, the same floor, the same DJ every Thursday. Members only, so practically the same guys every time he comes. They move around him as a mass, and almost every night for the past three fucking years, he’s had his pick, and now he’s done. Nights like this, they remind him: he’s such a fucking slut. Not one guy here that he wants but hasn’t had. Not one guy he wants at all, now. Even though he can’t remember their faces, he knows from the way they move, the way they talk, the way they look at him. He knows he’s had them all before, or they’ve had him, or some combination of the two.
He has to find a new fucking club.
The thing he’s learned is that all clubs look the same when you’ve had enough E, but the guys just get hotter. He leans against the bar, freshly blown and shimmering from the dance floor, watching this new world of men stretching out before him. He’s had ten, maybe twelve of these guys. Random encounters in bookstores and galleries, salons, Central Park, a local pet store. Maybe a couple in other clubs, other bars. One or two, probably, that found him online.
He’s done ten or twelve, but there are a couple hundred others to choose from. All muscles moving in disarray before him. He feels the bass like hands sliding messy through his hair, grinding through his bones, shivering through his cock. He feels concrete trembling beneath his feet.
”Justin Taylor,” a voice says, that voice so weirdly familiar. Smug and sweet, tumbling into the open air.
Justin glances to his left, and he’s so not surprised. “Brian Fucking Kinney,” he says. It feels somehow bizarre that they haven’t run into one another before now, even in a city of millions.
Brian raises the long neck of his beer in greeting, tosses back a mouthful. Justin watches the line of his neck, the sharp relief of his jaw. Brian is, as expected, still the most beautiful motherfucker Justin has ever seen. Six years older – Christ, he must be thirty-six already – but still all tight skin and hooded eyes and that sultry, lazy smirk.
Justin looks back at the dance floor. Ten, maybe twelve of these guys. Thirteen, now, though he supposes he’d never really had Brian. Not the way he’d wanted to. He remembers him fondly, now, though with some bemusement. It’s weird to remember being that young.
”Is it bizarre that I’m not surprised to see you?” Justin asks, leaning both elbows against the bar, feeling steel press into his back.
Brian snorts and lights a cigarette, offers the deck to Justin. “Why the fuck would you be?”
"This is a city of eleven million people,” Justin comments. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches the graceful rise of wrist to mouth, the stretch of skin over Brian’s perfect bones. He still draws him, sometimes.
”I’m one of them,” Brian replies shortly. His eyes flicker over Justin’s face, the clean lines of his body. “Look at you, all grown up. You’re hot.”
”I always was,” Justin grins, smug. Brian grunts, and they turn back to watch the crowd. Justin remembers Babylon, smaller than this place, less elaborate. He still goes there whenever he’s in Pittsburgh.
“Look at him,” Justin says, nodding towards a guy in tight black jeans. “Great ass.”
“Had him,” Brian says, absently gesturing to the bartender for another round. ”He talked dirty the whole time I fucked him.” Brian hands Justin a beer, barely suppressing the grimace on his face. “Badly.”
“Oh, baby, fuck my man pussy,” Justin recites, already casting his eye elsewhere. There’s a guy by the stairs that looks like a virgin. He’s got moist pink lips and glittering skin. Could be interesting.
“I see the two of you have met,” Brian observes dryly. “There was something about my engorged meathammer, did he pull that on you too?”
“I just know the type.” Justin does. He knows most types, now. He knows gentle and rough and sly. He knows guys that will try to stay in the morning, guys that will take off right after. Guys that will try to see him again, guys that will say I love you, guys that won’t say anything at all. He likes the last type best.
Lights overhead turn blue then white, and Justin thinks of Brian’s loft, Brian’s sheets, Brian’s shower, Brian’s door. He’d called that place home for a while. Called Brian’s bed heaven, like some kind of retarded pre-teen girl. The Face of God, he remembers. Fuck.
He stands with Brian for twenty minutes, pointing out guys they’ve fucked, guys they want to fuck, guys they wouldn’t fuck if somebody fucking paid them. Brian is different than Justin remembers, but he’s not sure how, except that way back when Brian never would have taken time away from the hunt to hang out with him. He’d have fucked some guy first and come back later, and that is what Justin is used to, what Justin expects.
It’s Justin that leaves first, this time. Spots a black guy covered in shining silver glitter and fucks him in the backroom. It’s hot back there, and crowded. Men pressing in from every angle, hot and damp and buzzing with energy. Justin pounds his trick against the wall, tastes the glitter from his neck, and remembers little of it later.
Brian is gone when he gets back.
Next night, same club. Same men stretching bronze and gold across the floor. Justin smokes a steady stream of cigarettes, watches a group of young guys dancing around their fag hag, and misses Daphne. He talked to her a couple days ago. She’s got a new boyfriend again, but he thinks that really, she misses Dave and should just give it the fuck up.
Justin hasn’t had a boyfriend in three years. Doesn’t want one anymore, not like he did when he was seventeen and thought Brian was going to be the love of his fucking life. Actually, Brian probably is the love of Justin’s fucking life, but that didn’t mean it had to last. Justin doesn’t think he can feel that way again. Justin thinks that Brian was right, whatever his fucking slogan was back then. Something about fucking instead of love, something Justin didn’t buy for a very long time after.
He may as well have a t-shirt, now.
After Brian, there was one solid year of mourning, of hoping and wishing and making sad fucking eyes at couples in the diner. After Brian, he didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t miss out on a single fucking cliché. He drew endless pictures and listened to stupid, schmoopy songs. The day Brian left, he stayed at home crying in his bed when he was supposed to take Daph to the Prom. Daph went with some friend from another school instead, and said it was boring as shit.
Brian emailed three days later. In New York, he said. Apartment fucking tiny. Go to class. Drink water when you take E. Don’t fuck guys in leather, they’ll bruise. Be a good boy. B.
That was the last Justin heard from him. Directly, anyway. He heard things through Lindsay or Deb, and from Michael after his grand return from Portland. Heard things and held on to them desperately for the first year or so, but then that got too pathetic and he tried to stop caring. Tapered off and moved on, and when Brian came to the Pitts for Christmas when Justin was twenty, he managed to barely care at all. Justin stayed by his boyfriend’s side most of the night, ignoring the lazily interested stares Brian occasionally sent their way.
He only really spoke to Brian once, alone in the backyard. Justin remembers that they used to hang out in Deb’s backyard a lot, smoking joints and avoiding the family. Justin remembers being seventeen, Brian giving him a blowjob against the side of the house, where nobody could see. The first time Brian had blown him publicly, if that could really count as public. The second time, Brian had been off his head on some little blue pill, and had fallen to his knees in the men’s room at Woody’s. Ted had walked in halfway through and mumbled an apology, but not before he’d extensively ogled Justin’s semi-bare stomach and the muscles leading down to his cock. Justin had been seventeen and out of his mind in love. Brian had been twenty-nine and mostly just out of his mind.
At twenty, Justin was cautious and quiet, watching Brian from beneath long blonde bangs, drawing absently on his cigarette. Brian leaned against the railing, brazenly examining Justin’s face, his body, the way he moved his hands.
”Linds says you’re doing great at school,” Brian said finally.
”I am,” Justin said tightly. Mad. So fucking mad when he thought about it, because what fucking right did Brian have to stand here and talk to him about his education, as if he was some long forgotten fucking uncle, absentee father, random godparent that just wanted to appear to be keeping tabs on his young fucking ward? Justin would have been happier had Brian ignored him altogether. Probably. Or, at least, if Brian had picked something less lame to talk about than Justin’s unsurprising academic achievements.
Brian must have sensed Justin’s irritation, because next thing he was leaning on the railing close to Justin’s body, passing him a burning joint and saying, “Please tell me you’re fucking around with something a little hotter than that pretentious asshole you brought here tonight.”
”Ethan is okay,” Justin said. Ethan was great, actually, for reasons Justin was too intelligent to articulate to Brian. Ethan was sweet and romantic and loving, brought Justin chocolates and coffee in bed, wrote him love songs and read him the newspaper in the evenings. Ethan said ‘I love you’ every day.
”He’s boring,” Brian replied, watching Justin’s lips tug at the paper of the immaculately rolled joint. Justin exhaled, and white-colored smoke filled the air between them.
”Don’t insult my boyfriend,” Justin said, coughing a little. When he smoked these days, it was bargain basement cut price shit, barely strong enough to make his head tingle. He’d forgotten that with Brian, it was always the best, the strongest, the most intense high.
Brian snorted and threw an arm over Justin’s shoulder, squeezing him tightly with something that felt very close to affection. “I’m out of my mind with jealousy,” he said dryly. “This is the only way I can communicate my pain.”
Justin felt a wave of irritation buzz against his skin, but he was already getting high, and the feeling was too vague and shapeless to grab a hold of. He elbowed Brian in the side half-heartedly, felt the answering press of Brian’s fingers through his thick winter coat.
They stood in silence for a few minutes, passing the joint back and forth. Brian was warm, and he smelled good, and for a little while, Justin allowed himself to miss what they used to be.
When Justin’s skin was tingling so hard it was like he had a blanket case of pins and needles, Brian said quietly, “You looking after yourself?”
”Sure,” Justin replied absently. Brian was quiet, and Justin, sensing the seriousness of Brian’s enquiry, repeated himself. “Sure.”
Brian nodded, as if there was nothing much at all behind the question. Slowly, he relinquished his arm from around Justin’s shoulder, and Justin imagined the snow moving in between their bodies. Brian leaned over and pressed a kiss to Justin’s cheek, the inner curve of his lip warm and melting against Justin’s skin.
”Later,” Brian said, and went inside.
”Later,” Justin said, and sat on the stair. He watched the snow making patterns on Debbie’s lawn, and didn’t speak to Brian again until three years later, in a crowded, sweaty club in New York.
The fourth night, Brian shows up again, and Justin notes the shimmering skin on his arms, the curl of his hair across his forehead. They lean together against the bar, watching the pretty boys. Brian is quiet and caustic as usual, and Justin feels an immense shifting of time, as if all those stupid little years he’s spent being a grown up never really happened at all, and he’s still seventeen and standing there and listening to Brian’s amused assessment of this twink or that bear, this top, that bottom, this guy’s awkward, fumbling blow job.
Justin has responses, now. When Brian says, “I fucked that guy at my gym three weeks ago,” Justin can say, “I had him in the bathroom at McDonalds.”
When Brian says, “That blonde one, he’s got a tongue ring. He gives the most amazing blowjob,” Justin can grab the guy by his shirtfront and drag him out back to be tested.
When Brian wanders off with a tall brunette around two in the morning, Justin can honestly say that he does not give a shit. Justin can say, “Hey, let me know if he’s worth it,” and not feel a tremor of nausea settling in his gut.
Justin isn’t seventeen anymore. He watches Brian, the angle of his jaw, the rhythm of his hips, and he doesn’t even want to be. He’s something else entirely, now. He supposes that means he’s nothing to Brian, and Brian is nothing to him.
He supposes that, but of course, he’s completely full of shit.
For the past year or so, Justin has managed to live almost entirely off his art. He sells paintings in smug New York galleries that fetch him tidy sums upwards of a couple thousand dollars. He does commission pieces for fat grandmothers that want lasting mementos of their spoiled, sugar-junkie grandkids. He illustrates for some books and magazines, sells paintings under a pseudonym in a local artist’s market. He’s been approached about working on a comic book. He’s been approached about a lot of things. Mostly, he thinks of all this as luck. The people around him think of it as his talent, his drive. His genius.
The first show he’d featured in, Ethan had been really pissed off. Jealous and angry and saying stupid, hurtful things. Asking if Justin was going to get too big and famous for him. Asking if Justin really wanted to leave him behind. Not believing the answers Justin had given him.
Ethan had just lost the Heifitz. A month and a half later, he lost Justin too, to a New York gallery that wanted to feature him amongst a line of up and coming new artists. Lost him to the power of the life Justin should be living. One day, they broke up wild and angry on the phone, and Justin hasn’t spoken to him since. Hasn’t wanted to, barely thinks about him.
Justin is virtually indifferent to his separation with Ethan, and it is the first time he really thinks that love does not exist. If he should love anyone, it should be Ethan, who held him tightly, listened to his stories, asked him questions, gave him flowers and doodles, hugs, kisses. Ethan who tried so hard to love him, even though Justin never really loved him back.
Justin thought, still thinks, that if love really exists, then of all people, he should love Ethan.
The next time Justin sees Brian is in the middle of the day, outside a café on a busy city street. Brian is wearing his work clothes, long body rising triumphant in a charcoal suit that Justin knows is Gucci or Prada or something equally expensive, equally beautifully designed. Justin has forgotten that Brian looks equally beautiful under warm golden light as he does under disco blue, and his muscles pulse at the sight.
Justin falls into step beside Brian, narrowly avoiding collision with a Japanese woman that appears to be about four thousand years old.
“Where’d you come from?” Brian says, slowing his brisk pace a little. Justin can’t see his eyes behind dark glasses.
“I just had lunch with my agent,” Justin replies. “I’m eating this month.”
“Some months you don’t?” Brian offers Justin the bag of fat green grapes he’s eating, as if there really is some fear that Justin will waste away to nothing.
“I am a starving artiste,” Justin tells him grandly, shoving the paper bag away with the back of his hand. “Some months I just eat instant noodles. The kind with chicken flavoring.”
“And here I thought you were the new It Girl.” Brian tosses his grapes in the trash and digs through his pocket for a lighter. “The way Lindz made it sound, you’re already on your way to your first million.”
“I am,” Justin says easily. “I’m sort of in limbo. Like, sometimes I could dine on caviar and champagne, others it seems like I’ll barely make the rent. It depends on the market.” He swerves to avoid a wayward child, a frantic mother. “Things have been pretty good the past eight months or so.”
“Living like a king,” Brian comments, and reaches out a hand to steady Justin as he’s left wobbling in the mother’s wake.
“Not living like a parasite, at least.” They’ve stopped in front of some obscenely tall building, long cement slabs casting shadows on their faces. Justin cranes his neck to see a flash of blue sky. “This is you?”
“The office,” Brian grunts, and herds Justin closer to the doors, away from the steady stream of pedestrians. “I have a view of the park.”
“I see you’re on your way to your first million too.”
“No,” Brian says with a smirk. “I’m well past.”
Justin knows. He knows that the loft sold for close to that, just a little under, actually. He knows because he had attended the auction with Lindsay, standing with crossed arms and a tense jaw. Watching this place that could have been home get sold out from under him. Some fat old queen battled for the place, emerged triumphant. It still makes Justin a little sad to think of that guy fucking in Brian’s bedroom, Brian’s shower. Screwing flabby, pale-assed men in the House that Brian Kinney Built. It just doesn’t seem right, somehow.
Brian checks his watch. He never used to wear one. “I have a presentation,” he says. Brian used to love presentations, but Justin sees a boredom around his eyes that says he feels otherwise now. “Don’t bother with Market tonight, they’re running some shitty blackout gimmick. The guys that show are always desperate as fuck.”
Justin has been to blackout nights before, and the guys had been no less hot than usual. He remembers the way Brian gets these weird ideas in his head, though, so he just arches his eyebrow and says, “Did you have something else in mind?”
Brian stares at him blankly for a minute, as if surprised that Justin would ask. “No.”
”You’re just going to stay at home with a good book?” Justin laughs. “You loser.”
“Fuck you.” They’re standing a foot from each other, and a few years ago Justin would have closed the distance, felt Brian’s fingers settle in his belt loops. Brian sighs. “There’s an opening, some queer bar in Chelsea. We’re handling the PR. I’ll put your name on the list.”
“Is this a date?” Justin asks, unimpressed. Brian’s brows rise simultaneously, and the words ‘I don’t do dates’ hang unacknowledged in the air.
“I don’t even know if I’ll be there,” he says, his voice a tumbling bass line, rolling low and amused over the words. “If I am, it certainly won’t be with you.”
“Good,” Justin nods. “I’m not like I used to be.”
“I’m not some kid who wants to be your boyfriend.”
“Thank fucking god.”
“And I don’t want to fuck you.”
“What?” A double take, mouth falling open with a chuff of surprised laughter. “Why the fuck not?”
Justin shrugs and grins. “I’ve had you.”
Brian only let Justin top once. Sprawled out against blue sheets, guiding his every movement, shuddering and gasping with every thrust. Stretching muscles, murmuring, groaning in response to Justin’s every gasp. When it was over, he said Justin was amazing, and the next day he left for New York.
Justin suspects Brian has never been very good with goodbyes.
Brian remembers, Justin can tell. There’s a sudden focus in his eyes, like the way he used to look at Justin mid-fuck, and Justin wants to stumble back with the realization that maybe he does want to fuck Brian after all. Refuses to do it, though, because he’s not seventeen anymore but he’s sure he’s quite capable of behaving like a lovesick schoolgirl, and he’d just as well avoid the whole fucking mess.
“I might see you tonight,” Justin says, hitching his portfolio higher up on his shoulder.
Brian shrugs, the picture of non-committal indifference, but his eyes are still trained on Justin in that long forgotten way. “Yeah,” he says. “Later.”
Justin doesn’t go to the opening. He plans to, but a hot guy stops him by the door, and Justin ends up getting a fantastic blow job in the backseat of a speeding taxi, and an unbelievable fuck on the living room floor of a Park Avenue apartment. The guy – Joe – tries to give Justin his number, tries to see him again, but Justin has already lost interest.
He wonders if this is what it is like to be Brian Kinney.
A few weeks pass, and the more Justin sees Brian, the more he remembers: this is what it is like to have friends. Brian apparently doesn’t have any friends either, because he seems quite happy to make his way over to wherever Justin is standing and drape himself there until the evening’s likely conquest makes his self known. They talk little over the unearthly buzz of the music, but every now and again Brian will nudge Justin with one gentle elbow, nod toward some guy, lean in close, and comment.
He smells the same as he used to.
One night, Brian is stumbling into the backroom as Justin is stumbling out. Justin flashes a gigantic, shit-eating grin, buzz-drunk and cock tingling from the aftermath. As he’s walking past, Brian’s shoulder collides with his.
Brian, eyes bright and smirk twisting that beautiful face. Brian says, “Hey. Stick around twenty minutes, I’m hungry.”
Justin lets a tall guy with an eyebrow piercing buy him a few shots of top shelf whiskey. Downs them and watches the lights bubble and spit against the mirrored columns, feels the guy’s hand sliding on his shoulder with little more than passing interest. Feels the sweat hanging humid in the air, until Brian comes out of the backroom. Brian slings an arm around his shoulder and drags him out of the club, the way he used to do to Michael, only Mikey rarely left some hot guy behind.
They go to a midnight diner with shitty coffee and worse food, but Brian seems to like the waitress.
“The sandwiches are good,” Brian says. “Never eat their bacon, I think it was processed in a bathhouse.”
His face is serious over his black t-shirt, as if he worries something horrible will befall Justin if he consumes their pork products. This is what Brian is like with his friends, Justin remembers. The ones he actually gives a shit about. He’ll guide them to an early grave, but never admit he cares.
Justin watches as Brian shakes out sugar in his coffee, three packets like a thirteen year old girl. He stirs his soda with a straw, feeling heavy and warm, his right arm tingling the way it sometimes does when he’s been dinking. His chest feels liquid, like the hangover is already setting in, and he rubs at it with the ball of his palm.
“Hey,” some guy says. Red hair, blue shirt. Blue eyes. Justin fucked him a few weeks ago in the backroom of a Chelsea gallery. The guy gave a shitty blowjob, but had a tight ass and beautiful eyes and an eagerness that Justin hasn’t possessed since his youth. Those eyes are twinkling at Justin hopefully. Eagerly. “You forgot to get my number.”
Justin hates this part. The guy is holding his business card between two outstretched fingers. Pretty smile beneath his freckles.
Justin glances at Brian. “Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t think my boyfriend would like it.”
While he’s been speaking, Brian’s eyebrow has been slowly inching further towards his hairline, and he turns his face towards the trick.
“Fuck off,” Brian says. Bored already, his face settles back into blankness. Justin wants to push his facial muscles around with the ball of his thumb.
Justin smiles tightly. “He gets so jealous, you know.”
The guy – Jeremy, Justin thinks, or something with a J – backs away with wide eyes. “Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t know.”
Justin waves as he walks through the door.
“I hate doing that,” Justin sighs. “I wish I was obviously an asshole. Like you.”
Brian half heartedly gives him the finger, but he’s smiling a little.
“I always figured you for the marrying kind,” he comments. A plate of fries has arrived, and Brian nudges it into the centre of the table.
Justin plucks a fry from the plate, considering. “It’s not like you.”
“What?” Brian’s fry hangs mid-air, suspended from between two long fingers.
“I’m not standing on my principles or anything,” Justin says dryly. “It’s not a rule. I’m just too much of a prick to be interested in anyone beyond the first fuck.”
“It is the same as me, then,” Brian grins.
“I’ve dated a couple guys since Ethan. No-one special.” Justin tries to remember them, the guys he fucked around with inexclusively for a month of so at a time, but comes up with a few names, a phone number, a half-remembered song from a club, and the taste of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. “Not that memorable either, apparently.”
Brian snorts. “I can only name a handful of guys I’ve fucked that were memorable, but a thousand memorable fucks.” He’s lighting a cigarette, and Justin wonders if it is really okay to smoke in here. He takes Brian’s cigarette anyway, draws on it long and hard. Brian stares at him with a vaguely irritated expression before lighting up another.
“I don’t usually remember their faces in the morning,” Justin says. “Just … parts.”
“Just his cock?” Brian smirks, that impossible little smirk Justin used to love so much. He could love it again, he thinks. Probably already does.
“Sometimes,” he says. Pulls back hard on his smoke, feeling the heat bloom within his lungs. He smokes too much, lately. Absently, he thinks he should quit. “Or sometimes they’ll have a piercing or something. Birthmark, tattoo. Scar. Great eyes. You know.”
“Perfect hands,” Brian says lazily. Drags his index finger around the rim of his mug. “Thighs of death.”
Justin laughs, “Right.” He watches Brian’s face across the table. There’s a softness there, now. An ease. It makes Justin wonder. “I suppose you’ve got yourself some timid housewife type at home,” he drawls. He doesn’t really know what Brian’s been doing all these years. “I bet he cooks and reads, and you have a dog. I bet you’ve got a ring in your pocket.”
Brian stares at him incredulously, and Justin laughs. “I didn’t think so.”
Justin’s cell phone is sitting on the table, and Brian picks it up and flips it open. Justin watches, fascinated, as Brian’s long fingers work the keys. Later, when he looks, there’ll be a new entry in his contacts.
BK, it’ll say. Home, mobile, office. Justin wonders when Brian got so easy.
Justin is given a commission for a rush job on a portrait, and barely leaves the studio for weeks. The portrait is of an ugly, fat old banker who tells obnoxious jokes with a thick New York nose. He wants this, he wants that, and Justin is starting to remember why he hates this kind of job, even though the pay is fantastic. He spends close to two weeks pulling long hours at the studio, and then he gets an email from Michael.
Brian said he’d been seeing you around a bit, but then you totally disappeared, Michael says. Ma thinks you’re like dead or something, you’re not answering your calls! She’s driving us all crazy! Give someone a call, would you?
He doesn’t talk to Michael often, usually just relaying messages back and forth for Deb. Sometimes Justin will send him news of celebrity sightings, or illustration commissions he thinks he would be interested in. When he was commissioned to work on a one off comic for a respected crime novelist, Justin had a copy signed and sent to Michael, express. Things are better between them, now. Without Brian as a constant presence, a constant territory to battle over. Things are almost easy.
He writes back, Sorry, Mom.Working on a portrait for some boring old breeder. Tell Deb to relax. I’m in the studio a lot, I haven’t been checking my messages. I think the machine is broken. I’ll be done in a couple days. I can’t wait, and then he calls Brian.
“I’m not dead,” he says when Brian picks up. “I don’t know what you said to Michael.”
“Hey, hold on,” Brian says, and Justin hears him dismissing some guy named Steve from the office. “He just asked how you were, I said I didn’t know. It’s not my fucking fault Deb lost her shit.”
Brian could have predicted Deb would lose her shit, Justin knows, and he wants to chastise him for knowing that and freaking her out anyway. Doesn’t seem worth the effort, though, so he just dumps a load of bright-colored brushes by the sink and lights a smoke. “I’ve been in the studio, working on a commission.”
“Fuck,” Brian says. His voice pitches a high, quasi-sentimental falsetto. “It seems like only yesterday we were buying you that Crayola set.”
Brian did buy Justin crayons once, though Justin doubts he remembers. Back in that brief period before Justin moved in with Debbie, when he spent every night for a month in Brian’s bed. He’d come home from Daphne’s one night and found a 36 pack of fat wax colors sitting on top of his school bag, and never figured out if it was the result of shopping under the influence of E, a touching gesture, or a barely veiled jab at his age and immaturity. He doesn’t mention it to Brian, but he thinks he might still have a couple of the crayons amongst his kit.
He sometimes has these moments where he doesn’t know what to say to Brian, with the memory of all he once meant to Justin. Some part of Justin still loves him, some huge part that worries and gnaws and reminds Justin of just how easy it would be to fall for him again. To be in love with him, instead of just loving him. To love him madly again. It’s not something Justin really wants to happen. Not just because Brian would laugh and call him pathetic, though that’s a lot of it. He’s not sure what the other part is. Just something that makes him glad to be Brian’s friend and no more.
When he thinks of how they used to be, he almost feels cowardly, and that’s when he doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know what to say anyway, because how do you approach a friendship with someone you once called the Face of God? He wants it, wants it badly. He’s got no friends here. No-one real, anyway, and he knows it’s the same for Brian.
“Bring me dinner,” Justin says suddenly. He remembers what it is to be brave. He remembers being seventeen and crazy, being seventeen and sure that he and Brian had a love that would last forever. Being a total fucking nutcase, but never backing down. “I’ll email you directions.”
Brian is silent, and Justin can’t tell if he’s surprised or contemplative or anything. “Around seven,” Brian affirms finally. “Later.”
They eat, and it doesn’t feel like a date. It feels like Brian is bringing him Chinese food and they’re eating it on the shitty wooden table Justin keeps here in this studio. Brian is making fun of the portrait Justin is painting, asking if Justin has fucked the subject. Justin tells him that his rendering is kind, that the man is older and balder and fatter even than he appears in his portrait. Brian can scarcely believe it. He brings out a joint and tells Justin long stories about the dirty old men that tried to fuck him in his youth, the bored middle-aged housewife that tried to adopt Brian as her toy boy in his senior year of college. Justin laughs more than he has in forever, and finds new light and angles in the world outside his window, in the sleek lines of buildings beyond the glass.
Seven weeks later, Brian drags Justin to the movies at two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s some stupid science fiction film with a barely attractive male lead and a token female with gigantic breasts, but Brian doesn’t seem to be paying attention anyway. He slouches down in his seat, long legs and huge feet propped up on the chair in front. His eyes are trained on the screen, but he reacts to neither the screams of the heroine nor the long, gleaming phallus the director passes off as a spacecraft.
Brian has been quiet for a couple days, tired. Grumpy. Grumbling at Justin about the shitty coffee he keeps in his apartment, but drinking three cups of it anyway. Bitching about the lack of desirable male company, but fucking five guys in three days. Getting drunk and pushing Justin against the door like he maybe wants to kiss him, but then just leaving instead. Sitting here stone-faced and silent in this movie neither of them wanted to see anyway.
Justin lifts the armrest between them and slides closer to Brian, slings his arm around his shoulder. Brian’s cheek falls to rest against Justin’s arm, and Justin squeezes, just for a minute.
“What’s up?” Justin murmurs to him. Voice quiet next to Brian’s ear, words almost lost to the warble of the soundtrack. “You seem –“ He doesn’t want to say sad. “Tired.”
Brian rubs his cheek against the rough fabric of Justin’s sweater, rubs his hand once on Justin’s knee. Justin can feel him breathing. Finally, he shrugs, but doesn’t answer, just goes on staring at the cinema screen.
Two days later, Justin calls his office, and Brian’s personal assistant Martin answers. “Sorry,” Martin says, in that not-quite-lispy voice of his. “Brian had a check up today, he’s out of the office. He’ll probably call as soon as he gets in.”
A check up. Justin wonders when Brian started looking after himself. “Okay, Martin. Thanks.”
Brian doesn’t call back, but shows up at Justin’s door that night with a few tabs of E and a smile, and insists they go dancing at some club Justin’s never heard of. They dance under colored lights, Brian laughing and sliding his hands occasionally over Justin’s skin, pointing out guys that are checking Justin out, as if that is some rare and extraordinary occurrence.
When Brian finally picks his trick for the night, he gives Justin a friendly kiss goodbye, lips sliding warm and bourbon-sweet against Justin’s own. Justin feels a comfortable tendril of warmth coiling in his stomach, drawing up tight against his lungs, and it explodes in a smile as Brian walks away.
Justin’s theory that Brian had no real friends in New York had been proven early in their re-acquaintance, when Brian seemed to call Justin out of boredom every other day or so. It had been further reinforced when they took to calling each other every day, sometimes a couple times a day, and Justin thinks his seventeen year old self might have died to be in this position.
Brian calls with updates on accounts, stories of conquests, to tell Justin that the female CEO of Barnaby Toys Inc. tried to jump his bones in the cloak room at some five hundred dollar a head benefit.
“She smelled like the perfume counter at the Big Q,” Brian complains into Justin’s answering machine. Justin is sketching and doesn’t pick up, but that doesn’t seem to bother Brian. Justin remembers the days when he would have begged for Brian to talk to him, and takes some satisfaction this new equality.
Justin etches a ballpoint pen against lined scrap paper, watches as the face of a thirty-third street busker blooms in blue behind his fingers. He had to give up his studio, this month. Sacrificed it to the finance gods because of rising rent and falling income, no decent commissions on the horizon. A slow month. Ramen noodles and a sandwich for dinner, cheap wine. A postponed trip to Miami with Daphne. The return of last year’s winter coat because he shouldn’t dip into his savings for a new one.
He hasn’t told Brian about the studio yet. Brian would probably try to help, he thinks, and although Brian can afford it, the thought makes Justin uneasy. Not so much the idea of Brian helping him – Brian helps him constantly, pays for things, even stupid little things like cover charge or tequila shots, and always has, since way back when Justin was seventeen and basically stalking him – but more the idea that if he lets Brian start helping now, he’ll never know if he could have done it on his own.
When he’s so broke he’s in danger of becoming homeless and malnourished, like the street kids of modern independent cinema, then he’ll let Brian get out his platinum card. As it is, he has some money in the bank, some form of income, a roof over his head, shitty food in his fridge. As it is, he’s doing pretty fucking good, for a 23 year old artist, anyway. Pretty fucking good and next month will be even fucking better.
“I know you’re there,” Brian says, finally exhausted on the topic of Mimi Macahn and her cheap perfume. Justin wonders if Brian would have been less disgusted had the woman been more attractive. “I’m coming over.”
Brian means to come over right away, Justin is sure, but he ends up stumbling through Justin’s door just after four am, weaving and cursing his way to a graceful coma in Justin’s bed. He smells like sex and cigarettes, men’s cologne, a seedy fog settling heavy against Justin’s sheets.
In the morning, over coffee, Justin finds out that Brian stopped at a nearby supermarket for cigarettes and ended up fucking the manager behind the dairy case; the guy had a tattoo on his ass and a tarnished gold wedding band, but no wife or kids in the apartment he eventually brought Brian back to, the apartment Brian refused to stay the night in.
“Why didn’t you just go home?” Justin asks, amused.
Brian shrugs and sniffs at Justin’s suspect milk. “Dunno.”
Brian showers in Justin’s shitty bathroom and goes to work in yesterday’s clothes, though Justin knows he keeps a closet of fresh suits in his gigantic Madison Avenue office. Still, the idea of the partner of New York’s most prestigious ad agency greeting the doorman in a crumpled Versace suit that smells like yesterday’s ass makes Justin smirk as Brian walks out the door and into the dank-lit stairwell.
Justin has to have dinner with some other artists and a pretentious Parisian gallery owner. At eight o clock on a Thursday evening, he showers, shaves, brushes his teeth. Styles his hair like Astro Boy, but flattens the bit at the back. Looks at himself in the mirror and thinks of all the ways he can not look like an idiot tonight.
Brian is stretched out on his elbows on Justin’s bed, long legs sprawling gracelessly to the floor. Justin is absurdly reminded of being eight years old and watching his mother get ready for a party; putting on her earrings, applying her perfume. He watches Brian in the mirror.
“Your shirt is ugly,” Brian says. He kicks his toes, making patterns in the worn carpet. Justin slides his hand down the fabric and considers changing, but he doesn’t really care enough. He shrugs and pulls on a worn leather blazer. He learned a long time ago that image is everything, but it’s not his clothes they’re interested in.
He sprawls out on the bed beside Brian, staring up at his off-white ceiling. He wonders idly if Brian has any pot, thinks that maybe this whole thing will be a lot less boring if he gets a little buzzed first.
He can’t remember the last time he hung out with someone who wasn’t Brian.
“How come you have no friends?”
Brian grunts. “I guess I’m not a people person.”
“You had friends in Pittsburgh.”
A snort, and Justin watches as Brian rummages through his pockets in search of a light. “Mikey had friends in Pittsburgh.”
“Right,” Justin says. He hands Brian a book of matches from the bedside table. The name of a club is scrawled in silver on the back. “Seriously, though.”
“I had to work pretty hard when I got here. Didn’t have the time nor the inclination to make nice with new neighbors.”
“Weren’t you lonely?”
“Sometimes,” Justin says. He lights his own cigarette and counts the shadows on the ceiling. “I don’t think I realized it, though.”
Brian is silent.
“But I’m not a people person either, I guess.” Justin sits up to retrieve an ashtray. Rests it on Brian’s chest, sits cross legged at his side. “When I first moved here, I used to hang out with this guy Brad. I think he’ll be there tonight.”
Brian taps his cigarette against the side of the green ceramic ashtray. “Why’d you stop talking to him?”
If Justin still talked to Brad with any frequency, Brian would know about it, and Justin wonders when that happened.
“I think he was a little in love with me,” Justin says. “He used to look at me, you know. Buy me things, even though he barely had any fucking money himself. Never made a move, though. What a fuckin’ pussy.”
“He loved you so you stopped returning his calls?”
“I loved you so you moved to New York.”
“You loving me wasn’t the problem,” Brian says. Justin isn’t sure what he means by that. He’s thought for years that Brian left because of him, at least in part. Thought that Brian maybe noticed how close they’d been a little too late.
“If you’d stayed,” Justin says, “You probably would have loved me.”
Brian turns his head to stare at Justin, and for a minute, says nothing. Draws hard on his cigarette, stubs it out in the ashtray. Justin watches his hand twisting around the cigarette, and thinks he needs to learn to shut the fuck up.
Brian turns his gaze to the ceiling, and stares up at it, unblinking.
“I know,” he says.