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To Know the Difference

Burnitbackwards & Susanderavish


Rating: NC-17
Summary: The part you can change has always been yourself.
Notes: Spoilers through 414. Much, much thanks to eleveninches and ragingpixie for fast and excellent betas; throughadoor and mcpofife for general audiencing and encouragement; and, of course, to susanderavish, who announced to me one night that she wanted me to write this, gave me all the best ideas, held my hand every step of the way, and then took me out and got me drunk. there are no words for my love, bff :X:X:X!!!!

Part 1

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.



The first night you come here, it's with a bag of Chinese take-out and an urge you can't quite explain just to exist in the same space as Justin, even for a little while. He's been gone a lot lately; so much, in fact, that the loft has started to feel -- big, in a way that it hasn't been in a long time, not even during the seven and a half months that he just spent in LA. Then, at least, there was hot late-night phone sex, and hastily-scrawled postcards featuring the Hollywood Sign or Venice Beach, and the few short but intense visits. Now, there's just empty space filled up with Justin's things, and it's not really good enough.

You rest the food on one hip and dig through your pocket for the key Justin gave you, careful not to let anything drip on your pants. They're just jeans, but they're fucking expensive jeans, and you'll still be royally pissed if they end up covered in duck sauce.

You take the stairs by twos, hollow metal echoing through the empty staircase with a clang, and you open the door to his studio without knocking. He doesn't seem at all surprised to see you, just cocks his head a little, offering a half-smile and a "hi."

There's crap on every available surface -- the wooden table in the corner, the long desk on the far wall, so you set the bag on the floor and move to stand behind him as he steps back to evaluate his work.

"It looks good," you say, resting your chin on his shoulder and wrapping one arm around his chest, the other reaching down so that your hand is in his front pants pocket.

His answer is a smug grin against your cheek and a playful nudge of your head with his own, so you kiss him quickly on the side of the mouth, muttering something about artist's conceit and the inability to properly accept a compliment.

"Just a few more minutes, okay? I want to finish this little bit." He points with the brush still in his hand to a spot on the edge of the canvas that spans the wall in front of you.

You walk over to the desk, if you can even call it that -- it's more of a receptacle for all of Justin's art shit and everything else that makes it here and never makes it home, from fat bundles of colored pencils to paint-splattered t-shirts to a worn copy of Naked Lunch.

There are pencil drawings everywhere, some taped to the walls in neat rows, others spread carelessly across the desk. He only keeps one sketchbook at the loft now, claiming that it's easier to keep "the archives," as you call them, with everything else here. You thumb through the sketches, and of course, there are a lot of you. Most of them you don't remember Justin doing. Some are from times and places you can't even remember being, but they're all so fucking beautiful. You wonder, for a minute, if this is what everyone sees when they see you, but it's a stupid thought because even you know that Brian Kinney through the eyes of Justin Taylor is the most beautiful you that there is. You're still staring intently at a drawing of you staring intently at your computer screen when he slides up behind you and asks, "Ready to eat?"

The only chair is at Justin's desk, so you spread the food out on the floor, pushing the dropcloth back to expose the wood. When the cartons are empty and fortunes have been read (yours: Don't count your chickens before they hatch.; his: Try another delicious fortune cookie.), you lie back against the floor, one arm stretched behind your neck and his head on your chest.

You feel heavy and sated, the buzz of MSG making your cheeks flush and your lips tingle, so you really can't be held responsible for trying to make conversation.

"When are you going to tell me what this painting's of?"

"You'll see."

You chuckle, and his head rises with your chest. "I see bodies, there at the right, but I can't tell what they're doing."

"Well then," he says, turning on his side to face you, "You'll just have to keep looking."

You're still for a minute, quiet, and then: "It's my dick, isn't it?"

"Huh?"

"Your painting," you say slowly. "My dick. In all its glory, for all the world to see. Honestly, Sunshine. It's not fair to torment them like that."

"Please," he scoffs. "It's not like a good third of the world hasn't seen it already. And really, if I wanted to show the entire Vic Grassi House your cock, you could just go over there and whip it out, and I could save myself all this time and energy."

You smile, and he smiles back, and then you kiss him and he kisses you back. At some point, between the time that your lips first meet his and when your palm slides down to cup his erection, he decides that he really doesn't need to work anymore right now. He tosses the leftovers in the trash on the way out and fumbles with the lock while you continue to grope him, slipping your fingers through the holes between the buttons on his jeans.

You're not exactly sure how, but you make it back to the loft and up the stairs and into the bedroom, and then he's naked, spread out against the sheets with his knees open wide in invitation. Looking at him, you marvel at how, even after four years, he can take you from zero to sixty in just a few seconds, while no one else has ever held your interest beyond a single night.

This wasn't quite what you imagined when you told him that he'd always remember getting fucked by you, but his ass is just as tight and hot as the first time, and he still makes those little whimpering noises and looks at you like you're the sexiest thing he's ever seen, so you can't really bring yourself to care.

----------

"You should paint naked," you tell him later, lying in bed. "Let me watch."

He laughs and shakes his head. "No way, Brian."

"Don't tell me you've never done it before. All artists work naked. Michelangelo, Boticelli, Rembrandt... Picasso painted naked, and look how great he turned out to be."

"Whatever," he says dramatically, rolling his eyes at you. "You totally made that up. Anyway, Picasso wasn't a fag, and he didn't have his hot voyeur boyfriend watching him attempt to paint with a boner."

"Mmm," you concede, drawing your lips in between your teeth, then lean over him to grab a lighter and a cigarette from the pack on the nightstand. He skims his hand down your ribs, then back up to wrap around your neck, pulling you down on your side to face him.

"Tell me about the first thing you ever drew," you mumble around the cigarette in your mouth, flicking the lighter.

"You can't expect me to remember that," he says, smiling like this is something you should have already known. "I've been drawing since -- since forever."

"Make something up, then."

"Brian! Come on, be serious." He smacks you against the chest, and you catch his palm in yours and thread your fingers together, bringing them both to your lips to grasp the cigarette. He pulls it away from you, snubbing it out in the ashtray beside him, and you scowl.

"Fine. Fine," you say, falling back against the pillow and throwing your hands up. "Tell me about the first thing you ever drew that you knew was good."

He pushes up on one elbow and looks at you curiously. "You really want to know?"

"I asked, didn't I?"

"I was twelve," he begins, and reaches a hand out to turn your face towards his. "I'd-- I don't remember now, had a bad day or something. Somebody probably called me a faggot, I have no idea. I um, I came home from school and I remember just being so pissed off, you know? I didn't even have a sketchbook then; I just drew on whatever was around. So I grabbed this huge stack of paper from the printer, ran up to my room and locked the door. And I just started drawing. It was so weird: I could feel all of the anger pouring out of me, like in waves, and going onto the paper. I don't even remember making any conscious decision of what to draw, you know? I just did it. And then I felt better, and I knew I was finished. And I um -- this is kind of crazy."

You raise an eyebrow, and he grins at you, this big toothy grin.

"I looked at the paper, and it was like I was seeing what I'd drawn for the first time. Seriously. It was just this -- this sketch of a huge pile of dirty clothes I had on my floor, and shoes and school books and whatever, but I remember thinking, 'God, that's really fucking good'. And I was so proud of myself, because I felt like a real artist." He laughs, and it's deep and rich and completely joyful. "A real artist, drawing my twelve year-old dirty underwear."

You know you're staring at him, not reacting, not even blinking, and he regards you strangely.

"What?" he asks.

You scoot in closer, pulling him down until your noses are touching, and he slings a leg over your thigh when your fingers begin to rake through his hair.

"You are a real artist," you tell him. "You're a fucking top-notch, brilliant artist."

He beams, and you think you'd probably tell him anything he wants to hear if he'd keep looking at you just like he is now. This, though, is true; the kid's a total genius.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," you nod solemnly, tilting your chin up to meet his lips. You kiss him, and he tastes sweet and clean and a lot like something you want more of, so you slide your tongue inside his mouth and he moans in response, then pulls back from you suddenly.

"You helped, you know."

"No, I didn't," you say; it was supposed to sound annoyed, condescending even, but instead it comes out quiet and earnest.

"Oh my God, yes you did. You so did," he argues, sitting up cross-legged. "Brian, there have been so many times that I've wanted to just give up on my art. It was too hard or I was too pissed off or frustrated or whatever. And you just kept encouraging me, every time, even when you didn't know you were doing it."

You smile, slightly embarrassed.

"That," he says somberly, but his eyes glitter with unvoiced laughter, "and you let me draw you naked for hours at a time. You're not a very good subject, you know."

"I'm the best goddamn subject you've ever had." You pound your fist against the bedspread and sit up to face him, and now he does start laughing.

He shakes his head. "No, you squirm too much."

"You squirm too much," you tell him. "Every time you draw me, you squirm all the way from your paper straight over to my dick. I would hardly say that that's my fault."

He lunges at you, grinning, and you both fall back against the bed. Then, without warning, the grin falls from his face. "I missed you so much when I was gone," he says, tucking his head under your chin. "I mean, more than I thought I would, even. I wished you were there all the time. I tried to draw you, and every time, I felt like I'd forget what you looked like. Stupid, isn't it?"

He looks at up you now, questioning and unsure, a lot more like the kid he used to be than the adult you usually see these days.

"It's not stupid," you say, and you mean it. "Of course you missed me. I'm fucking amazing." A beat, then, "I missed you too, you know." It gets easier every time, these confessions of emotion. Not easy, exactly. But not as difficult, either.

He rolls off of you, burrowing against your side, and tells you stories about Los Angeles, about movies and movie stars and all of the questions people asked about you on the set. Does he really have such a bad temper? (Yes.) Did he really save you after a gay bashing? (Yes.) Is his cock really that big? (Yes, yes, definitely yes.)

You'd argue about the temper thing, but he's lulling you to sleep now, talking about his encounter with Nicole Kidman at a party. You wonder if he told her how great your dick is; even if he didn't, you'll pretend that he did.

----------

You climb the stairs quietly the second time you come over; he's always been kind of funny about letting you watch him work. Sometimes, it's like he's putting on a show for you-- his pencil strokes hard and precise, the way he jerks you off in the shower on Monday mornings; his fingers smudging charcoal, the way they smooth across your cheekbones before he kisses you; his paintbrush, thick and flat and wet, painting lines on the paper like his tongue on the small of your back. Other times, he stops completely when you walk in the room, like you've interrupted something that's too private for even you to see.

You want to watch him, though, and he must have some sort of Extra-Sensory Brian Perception, because when you reach the door to his studio, it's already open. You stand unmoving in the doorway, still wearing your suit and tie from work, and observe: he's pulled out the tall ladder, turning it sideways so that it comes up between his knees. His left hand is braced on the wall above the canvas, and he leans in close, his face barely inches away from the spot he's painting, a woman's smiling face.

He stops for a second, laying the brush on the top rung of the ladder, and lifts his shirt over his head with paint-covered hands. You hold your breath, feeling caught, but then he picks up the brush again and goes back to work, and now you can't tell whether he knows you're here or not, whether that was meant for you or just because.

When he finishes the spot he's been painting, he moves down, sitting on the top of the A-frame ladder to get access to a lower part of the canvas. His legs hang, flanking the sides of the ladder, and when he leans toward the painting, his pants slide down lower. You're granted a view of the entire expanse of his back, from the top vertebra in his neck down to his tailbone; the late afternoon sunlight illuminates the curve of each tiny bump, and you're struck by a sense of deja vu.

The loft. It's Saturday afternoon, and Justin has spent the day finishing the final project for his painting class. He walks in, exhausted, and throws himself bonelessly onto the bed.

"Had a hard day?" you ask, crawling over him to cover his body with yours.

"Mmm," he grunts, as you strip him of his clothes, leaving him naked against the duvet.

"Anything I can do to help?"

He raises his ass against your cock in response, and when he arches, the light from the window streams across his back; it's beautiful -- breathtaking, even -- and you press your mouth to the first knot of his spine, kissing downward until he's a mewling mess beneath you, begging for your tongue in his hole.


You snap back to this, to now, and inhale sharply. And that's when it hits you: the paint. It's the smell of a thousand different chemicals and a thousand different times that Justin's come home, drunk on fumes and adrenaline, itching to tell you about his latest piece. The smell of Justin's hair, his skin, the places on his body like his hands and that one spot below his right shoulder that he always, always gets paint on, no matter what. The smell of Justin the Artist, Justin the fucking genius artist, who's drawn you and painted you and known you in ways that nobody else has, ever.

You've read somewhere that scent is the only sense that's directly related to specific memories in the brain, and it must be true, because you're feeling bombarded right now, so fucking turned on that you can barely stand it. And if you've never thought of paint as an aphrodisiac, before you stood and watched the fluid motions of lean sinew, the dangerously low slide of Justin's pants over his his hips, then you sure as hell do now.

Then, he stops painting. He sits unmoving at the top of the ladder for a few minutes, throws his leg over the top rung, and climbs down, brush in hand. He looks like he's heading over towards the sink, but then he jerks his head slightly to the side and spins around to face you.

"You've been watching me," he gasps, with a hint of admonishment, and you can only nod.

"How long have you been standing here?" He grins, and it's slightly predatorial and makes your pants feel even tighter.

"Awhile," is your quiet response, and you're going for nonchalance, which he's clearly not buying in the least, because he crosses the floor in a few long strides and drops to his knees in front of you.

"Undo your pants," he orders. When you raise an eyebrow, he shows you his palms and explains: "Paint."

You unhook your belt, then make quick work of the button and zipper on your slacks, letting them settle around your knees; when you reach for your briefs, though, he puts out a hand to stop you.

"Leave them on," he says in this quiet, husky voice that makes your balls tighten, and you start to make some comment about keeping his dirty hands off your expensive clothes. But now it doesn't matter; it doesn't matter a single fucking bit, because as soon as you've pulled out your cock, his lips close around the head and his hands slide up your bare thighs to grasp your hips.

The smell of the paint combined with the heat of his mouth makes you feel heady, dizzy with lust and pleasure. Despite all of your best efforts, you know this won't last long, especially when he flattens his tongue against the underside of your cock and moans, taking you all the way into his throat. The vibrations are enough to undo you, and you smack your palms flat against the wall, coming hard with a shout.

When your jackhammering heart slows to just a heavy thump, he lets you slip from his mouth, and you collapse, lowering yourself down until you're face-to-face. "That," you say between heaves of breath, "was fucking hot. I should indulge your exhibitionism kink more often."

He laughs. "I don't think it was my kink, Brian."

"And yet you were the one who couldn't wait to get on your knees to suck me off."

"Yeah," he agrees. "What's up with that? I should have been the one with my dick down your throat."

You nod and push him back with a hand against his chest, so that he's lying on the floor, knees up. "I think we can take care of that."

----------

He stays late at the studio, and you go home alone. The loft is quiet, and you're exhausted, but not enough to get in your bed covered with sweat and come, so you head for the bathroom. It's not until you step into the shower that you see them: paint blotches, asymmetrical but still present on each side, in the places where Justin held you down while you fucked his wet, eager mouth. They're not handprints, exactly, but you can see clearly the circles where Justin's thumbs pressed into your hips, where his palms rested on the outsides of your thighs.

You wonder if he did it on purpose, some romantic, artistic attempt at marking you. You briefly consider not washing it off, then roll your eyes at your own sentimentality; it's just paint, after all, and God only knows what kind of poisonous skin-rotting chemicals it probably contains. You have to scrub to get it all, though, and when you lie in bed later, you can still feel the spots where your skin is red and raw. You think maybe that he's marked you whether he meant to or not.

----------

One morning, Justin comes to the loft at six am with paint in his hair and criss-crossed indentions pressed into the side of his face.

"What the fuck happened to your head?" you groan when you catch sight of him, brushing his teeth in the bathroom.

"Baseball bat," he answers cheekily, and you throw a pillow at him.

"You know what I mean. Your face is all red and covered in -- marks. You look like you got fucked against a brick wall."

He strips off his clothes, then walks back into the bedroom and slides under the covers. "I fell asleep," he says. "On the dropcloth."

"You slept all night on the floor?"

"Not all night. I'm here, aren't I?"

"Six in the morning does not count as night," you say and bury your head under the remaining pillow.

He curls up close to you, and you want to tell him to go away, that he's dirty and his feet are goddamn cold, but then he starts tracing patterns on your back, long swirls and tiny circles; when he speaks, his voice is low and smooth: "You never complained when I called you in the middle of the night from LA."

You grumble in lieu of an honest answer. You fucking hated it when he called late, at five or six am, telling you how much he loved California, the weather, the tan and laid-back people with their perfect white teeth and expensive sunglasses. It always served as a sharp reminder, exactly the kind you tried to ignore, that he was there and you were here. Nights like that, you thought about doing things like packing up your shit and getting on the next plane out to LAX, but then it was always morning again, and there were things to take care of, another new account or Lindsay's latest domestic woes or Carl moving into Debbie's house.

And after a few hundred mornings, he came back; you can still feel the longing that he has for that place, but it's tempered now, and you think that maybe the two of you can still be happy here, in the fabulous fucking Pitts.

----------

After work, you're fucking tired, and you blame this on Justin's interruption of your sleep schedule instead of the fact that Cynthia's been out with the flu all week and Allison in the art department lost three of the storyboards for the Jacobs Building Supplies account half an hour before your meeting with Mr. Jacobs.

Justin, always the dutiful boyfriend, doesn't even ask how your day was when you come in, just hands you a glass of wine and sets the table for dinner. You eat in silence, and when he says he's going over to the studio to work, you throw your fork down on the table and walk to the computer to check your e-mail.

"I'm leaving," he calls to you after a few minutes. "Don't wait up."

You snort in annoyance, offering a flippant hand wave in place of a goodbye.

By midnight, you've checked your watch probably ten times. By two, you've finished an entire weekend's worth of work for Jacobs, and by three thirty, you've smoked fourteen cigarettes and are starting to feel the symptoms of utter exhaustion, but you refuse to sleep. You're not going to let that little twat wake you up again with his "I slept on the floor, woe is me" story.

At three thirty-four, you take two shots of Beam, put on your coat, and walk to the studio to fetch Justin and bring him home. It's really, really dark outside, and you're struck by how dangerous it actually is to walk around alone this late, especially for someone like Justin who really doesn't have shit for street smarts, despite his short tenure as a hetero-bashing vigilante.

The door to the studio is ajar, and this only incites you further. You slam your hand against it, and it flies open hard enough to bang loudly into the wall. Justin jumps and reels around, clearly startled.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" you yell, and his eyes open wide in surprise.

"Um, what?"

"You know better than to leave the fucking door open in the middle of the night. How did you know it wasn't a crazy axe murderer coming up here to hack you open? Jesus, Justin."

He opens his mouth like he's going to say something, but you're not finished yet.

"For someone who thinks he's so smart, you sure act pretty fucking stupid. Just don't expect me to be the one to explain to Jennifer Taylor that her son's dead in a dumpster because he couldn't remember to lock the door like a big boy."

"Brian--"

"What," you bark at him, and his eyebrows knit together in concern. He lets his brush drop to the floor, then crosses the space between you until you're only inches apart. You're practically vibrating with anger, and usually, any attempt on his part to placate you would piss you off more; now, though, you feel calmer just by proximity, and all of the righteous indignation just -- bleeds out.

"I'm sorry I woke you up last night," he says, dragging his fingers across your cheek, and you look down, away from him. "And I'm sorry I made you worry."

Jesus. When he's right...

You sigh and finally meet his eyes. "Don't stay here tonight."

"Give me fifteen minutes, okay?"

You nod, kissing the side of his mouth, and he gives you a little smile before walking back towards the painting, so you busy yourself by rifling through the stuff on his desk. You sift through his drawings with half-interest, looking for anything new, but don't find many that you haven't seen before. There's one, though, that catches your eye: a color sketch of everyone, sitting around Debbie's kitchen table. Deb's standing over all of you and holding a huge dish of pasta, even though the table's already covered in food. Emmett's hands are raised to his face, and you imagine that he's probably regaling everyone with some story about Hazelhurst and overcoming insurmountable obstacles to become the fabulous faggot he is today. Everyone's watching him, faces warm with laughter and wine, if the empty glasses are any indication.

You have half a mind to fold up the drawing and slip it into your pocket, but Justin will probably want to blow you later, which will almost definitely lead to his finding the sketch and crowing about how deep and abiding your love for him is. It'll almost definitely make you lose your hard-on, and that would just be tragic; so, you leave it where it is.

Still, you can't help but feel proud, and maybe a little amazed, at how easily Justin seems to have captured everyone so perfectly. You've known these people at least twice as long as he has, Mikey and Deb even longer than that, and yet you recognize with an almost painful awareness that he's seen them all, in just a few years, in ways that you never have before. In ways that you probably wouldn't ever have, had you not found this.

He sees Ben and Michael's quiet domesticity and the way that the haunted, trapped look has finally left Hunter's eyes.

He sees Deb's joy at having all of her children together, and the way Vic watched all of you with some cross between amusement and pride.

The way that Emmett and Theodore can't stay away from each other, no matter how hard they try, and that even though Emmett's story is for everyone, Ted's the one he's watching.

Lindsay and Melanie, just -- existing in your lives, the way it sometimes feels that they do, skirting the periphery yet still managing a solid presence.

And the two of you: the slight lean of Justin's body towards yours, the careless weight of your arm around the back of his chair, it all adds up to something you're not sure you've ever really acknowledged, maybe something you still can't acknowledge, but you know that what you're seeing is the truth, whether you accept it or not.

When Justin's finished working and rinsed out his paintbrushes, he takes your hand as you walk back to the loft, and you let him. It's dark enough outside that you can pretend no one's watching, that the stud Brian Kinney isn't walking down Liberty Avenue hand-in-hand with his pretty blond twink. And who knows, maybe you're not. Maybe it's not like that at all.

----------

"Some guys brought those by today," he says as soon as you walk into the studio, pointing with his brush to the long, flat boxes against the wall.

"And you didn't open them?"

"Nah." He shakes his head. "I assumed you'd had them sent over, and I didn't want to get paint on -- whatever it is. I figured you could open them up when you got here."

You raise an eyebrow in question, but he's already turned back to the canvas. You hadn't even told him that you were coming by tonight. In fact, you hadn't planned on it at all, had made plans to go to Babylon with Michael and Emmett, but when Mikey called you to ask what time you'd pick him up, you gave him some excuse about an early meeting and a headache and shitloads of work left to do, and then you walked here.

"Got a knife?" you ask, and he nods towards the desk.

"I'm not looking through all that shit to find some little knife, Justin."

He turns, peering towards the desk, then says, "It's right there on the top, on the third from the left stack of papers, next to the box of oil sticks."

You chuckle, shaking your head, but he's right: there's a bright yellow Exact-o exactly where he said it was, next to the oil sticks and a bunch of weird silvery tubes with brightly-colored writing on them.

"What're these?" you ask, your curiosity piqued.

"Oh my god," he says excitedly, "I totally forgot those were there! Throw me one."

You toss one at him, and somehow he manages to catch it with one hand. He rips it open hurriedly, dropping the package on the floor, along with a curly strip of clear plastic, leaving a neon-blue square that Justin twists around his finger then bites off half of.

To say that you're puzzled at this bizarre display would be akin to saying that Deb's hair is red, or that Michael kind of likes you.

"What the fucking fuck is that thing, Justin?"

He works his jaw open, and you can hear whatever the thing is moving around stickily in his mouth.

"It's a fruit roll-up," he says, waving it at you, and you can sense the "duh" implicit in his tone.

"That's fucking disgusting."

"It's not disgusting," he replies, taking another bite. "It's fruit." He smiles, and his teeth are tinted blue.

"You're a fruit." You throw another one of the fruit-things at his head, and he ducks, then walks over to you and kisses you sloppily. He tastes like sugar and artificial flavoring, but not in the least like any food that actually grew on a tree.

"Christ," you say when he pulls away. "There must be a million calories in one of those things. I'm going to get fat just from your spit."

"There's no calories if you eat it from someone else's mouth. And anyway," he adds with a smirk, "I eat them all the time, and I'm still thin and hot."

"That's only because you get so much exercise riding my cock."

"Mmm," he nods. "In that case, I'd be happy to help you get some exercise of your own, if you're worried about developing a weight problem."

"You'd better watch your mouth, little boy." You flick out the blade of the knife, and he jumps back.

"Jesus Brian, watch where you point that thing." He shoves the rest of his not-fruit-plastic-thing in his mouth and moves back towards the canvas; he studies it for a minute, picking up his brush, then locates the place where he left off and starts to paint.

You're vaguely annoyed that he doesn't seem interested in what you've bought; there was a time not too long ago when he lapped up any kind of gift from you like one of those little motherless monkeys.

"Ta-da," you announce, only a little sarcastically, when you've cut away the boxes and dropped the futon cushions unceremoniously onto the floor.

He glances over his shoulder, then continues painting. "You bought me a bed?"

"A bed, no. Somewhere to sleep other than that dropcloth, yes. Besides, you're covered in bruises from getting fucked on the floor. You're starting to look like you have scurvy, Sunshine."

"Mmm," he nods, but he doesn't look at you again, so you grab some blank paper and a pen, stretch out on the cushions, and try to brainstorm some ideas for the new account you're trying to land. There's really no way for paper plates not to be boring as fuck, but you'll be damned if you won't die trying to find a way to prove otherwise.

At some point, you must have fallen asleep, because the next thing you're aware of is Justin, straddling your knees and pulling your shirt over your head. He's switched off all the lamps, and the only light in the room comes through the windows; the moon is full and white, and his body glows as he moves, pushing your work to the floor and unzipping your jeans. He stands up to shed his own clothes, and he looks so pale, almost translucent, that you imagine his skin's as cold as the nighttime air blowing through the open windows.

"It's fucking freezing in here," you say, and when he slides under the covers next to you, you want to move away from him. You're too slow, though, or maybe he's too quick, and when he presses his back against your chest, he's as hot as a furnace. You curl into him without really meaning to, slinging an arm around his waist, and you'd swear that you can feel the warmth seeping under your skin, into your blood, and spreading through your body.

"In LA," he whispers, "I'd go out at night, and when I left, it would be like, eighty or eighty-five degrees outside."

You have to fight to keep your eyes open, but you want to hear this. He always talks about his months in Los Angeles with underlying notes of excitement and nostalgia, and you find yourself trying to pick them out of each story.

"And by the middle of the night, when I'd come out of the restaurant or club or whatever, it was always freezing. Like, sixty degrees."

"That's not freezing," you breathe against his neck. "The Pitts in February. That's freezing. Sixty degrees is fucking tropical in comparison."

He laughs quietly through his nose. "It didn't bother me that much unless I'd been dancing or something; then I thought my sweat might freeze to my skin."

"Poor Sunshine," you jibe teasingly, tightening your arm around him when he elbows you lightly in the ribs. "So delicate."

"Everything was just different there, I guess." He pauses. "I liked it a lot."

Your stomach clenches a little, but you don't say anything, and neither does he, just lies against you for several minutes, his breaths becoming deeper. You're almost asleep when you hear his voice, drowsy and thick, but firm, too: "Next time, you'll come with me."

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