Walking After You
Summary: Sometimes, you think it would be easier if he hadn't come back at all.
Warnings: Post 513.
Notes: Gift!fic for mclachlan. She helped me out with an article that I wrote for the Journalism Thing (tm) (still there, by the way) and I promised her something halfway decent when I returned. I have some downtime now, though, so I thought I'd give it a go. I hope you like it, RC.
Sometimes, you think it would be easier if he hadn’t come back at all.
There’s something different about him now. It’s kind of like New York pulled a vital piece of him out, stole it away in retribution for his leaving, and Justin doesn’t even realize it’s gone. He goes through the motions of your lives just like he had before that gap of years that’s hazy in your mind and really just identified as the time that he wasn’t here, but it’s not the same.
If you’re pissed off at him enough about it, and he’s not too tired to argue with you, he snaps, “Of course it’s not the same. How could it be?”
More often than not, though, his answer is always, “What do you want from me, Brian?” with this long-suffering look of pure exhaustion that makes your longest workday seem like ten minutes in comparison.
You’re not really sure what took the bounce out of his step and the youth out of his smile. You could make a case that he hadn’t had either of those since he’d been bashed, and no one would fight you on it, but you don’t believe in that. He wasn’t himself for a long time after that – this is true. But, after a while, his scattered pieces slipped back into a formation mostly resembling the one before. He’d stopped being afraid of crowded streets, he’d put back on his slutty club clothes, and he’d fused himself to you tighter than ever before.
The moment after you’d kissed in the airport when you picked him up for the last time, though, you’d seen something settle over him. Resignation, maybe – he was home for good, back in Pittsburgh, away from the excitement of New York but never far from the memory of it.
All he’d talked about for years was getting to come back to his home, getting to come back to you. The moment that he had, it seemed like that was the last thing he’d wanted to do.
There is no distance between you physically. In that aspect, he hasn’t changed. You fuck just as often as you used to, with just as much fervor as you used to, for just as long as you used to. You kiss him and it feels like nothing has changed. You dance at Babylon, closer than air, and it could easily be any of those times when he was seventeen and eighteen and nineteen and twenty.
The distance between the two of you emotionally is the same length, but has a different cause. He blocks himself in the way you had when you first met him, building tall walls that are impossible to see over and that, eventually, no one cares to. You were lucky, you realize now, because out of all of the people you surrounded yourself with back then that were jaded and acquiescent to your behavior, he knew there was something else there.
He looked over your walls, no matter how much you didn’t want him to. He made you better.
You’re flipping through channels on the huge, paper-thin TV you bought for yourself a couple of weeks ago, and he leans against you, watching the flickering images without blinking and without talking. Your arm is around his shoulders, and he’s relaxed against you (you always were able to make him feel safe, even when you didn’t know how), but his hands are still in his lap.
He doesn’t really sketch much anymore.
Impulsively, you snatch a pad with notes from a client on it off the coffee table and thrust it at him. His head lifts slowly off from where it was resting against your arm, and he looks at you quizzically, like he’d forgotten you were there.
“What’s this?” he asks, thumbing through your hastily scrawled figures and buzzwords.
“East of Eden’s on. I’m going to watch it,” you say with what you hope is studied disinterest and focus on the screen.
“Alright.” Justin sets the pad aside and resettles against you.
You turn to him sharply. “You hate East of Eden,” you remind him.
He shrugs. “So I’ll fall asleep to it. Just don’t wake me up when you come all over yourself when James Dean walks on the screen like you always do.”
“Draw something,” you say, and you refuse to think of it as a command, which is what it comes out like.
“I don’t want to,” he mutters, and pushes your arm off of him so that he can get up and stalk into the bedroom.
Only what would have been a stalk for the old Justin, the Justin that didn’t leave you the hell alone and who would have jumped at the slightest opportunity to please you, is just a shuffle. Even the Justin that didn’t give a shit what you said and went out canvassing against asshole politicians anyway, or the one that you helped pick out a tuxedo for a wedding that didn’t happen, would have been better than the one you’ve got now.
“The fuck is your problem?” you shout suddenly, slamming the TV off and storming up the steps to the bedroom. He’s turning down his side of the bed, and he looks up at you warily when you approach him, like he’s afraid you’ll hit him.
And that is so wrong, because when the hell have you ever touched him in a way that he didn’t want, ask for, beg for?
“What do you want from me, Brian?” he repeats for the tenth time in the ninety days he’s been home.
“I want to know what the fuck happened to you there that now you don’t draw and you –“ You want to say and you don’t smile and you don’t look happy to see me and the one thing you said you wanted is now the one thing that you obviously don’t, but words aren’t your strong suit, they never have been, and you just can’t ask those questions. “What’s wrong with you?” you finally finish.
“Nothing,” he says miserably, and he might as well not have said anything at all. He sinks slowly down so that he’s sitting on the edge of the bed with his hands dangling between his legs. “I don’t know,” he amends.
“Like hell you don’t,” you practically yell.
You remember when this tone of voice made him cringe and shy away from you like a kicked dog. You remember when this tone of voice made him run away to New York, and when it cancelled trips to Vermont and kicked him out of the very place you’re standing in right now.
Now, all this tone of voice does is make him take a deep breath and let it out, slow and steady.
“I can’t draw anymore,” he confesses quietly.
This is not the answer you were expecting. You’re not sure exactly what you had been expecting, but it wasn’t this.
He continues, saying, “I had to pump out so many drawings there. At first it was easy, because I was getting paid to do what I loved, and I was getting exposure, but after a while I started running out of ideas. I couldn’t keep up with how fast they wanted me to work. I fell so far behind…”
He trails off, and then looks up at you curiously. “Do you remember when you told me to apologize to the Dean at the IFA after the Stockwell posters? When you asked me if I wanted to have the freedom to create art, whatever art, I wanted?”
“Yeah,” you say. “You said yes, and I said that meant you cared about the money.”
“I should have done what you said.” Justin closes his eyes and tips his head back, and it amazes you that he still looks as young now as he did back then. You feel like you gain more wrinkles and fine lines on your face with every passing day, but he hasn’t aged a bit since that first night. “I should have stayed in school, gotten the stupid degree. Maybe they would have taught me how to keep up with everything. Maybe I would have learned not to burn out.”
You’re not really sure what to say for a minute. Then you get pissed.
“You’re not a fucking machine, Justin. These people can’t pop quarters in you and make great art come out. Why didn’t you say anything about this? How come I just thought you were coming back here because –“
“Because it’s both,” Justin says quietly. “When I was younger and I filled up whole notebooks with sketches, they were of the people I loved. Mostly of you. I couldn’t sketch in New York, I couldn’t – I don’t know. At first it didn’t bother me, but two years, three years, and I knew that was the problem.”
“And so I’m just supposed to fix all of your problems? That’s what you came back here for?” You can’t help being angry and childish. You’re older and wiser and you can admit to yourself that you love him (you’ve even told him a couple of times now), but the emotions you know best are still the harsh ones, the hurt ones.
“You don’t have to try!” Justin shouts so abruptly that you’re taken aback, speechless, for several long seconds. He repeats it again when he realizes how much he’s surprised you, and the words are softer. “You don’t have to try. Just being here makes it better. You make it better.”
You cross the room and don’t realize it, and you’re sitting beside him and you don’t realize it. Your shoulders bump casually, as if you were acquaintances that happened to be sitting on the same bed.
“So, what? As soon as you draw my cock enough times, you’re going back?” you can’t help but asking. Your voice sounds awkwardly scraped from yelling at him.
“I should have listened to you about school,” he starts, “but not about New York. I’m sorry, Brian. I wasted a lot of time.”
You say it just because he expects you to.
“No apologies. No regrets.”
“You’ve always made it better,” he tells you, but you know that. Whether you knew how to or not, whether you tried or not, somehow, you always made him better, secure, welcome, the best homosexual he could possibly be. Whatever it was, you fixed it as best you could.
But he fixed you, too. And you owe him, because that’s what the two of you do: you fix each other. It’s who you are, and it’s who you always will be.
You’ll make him better. You’ll watch him settle back into himself, just the way he did after the bashing. You’ll watch him tentatively pick up a pad again for the first time in months, watch the first few rough lines that take shape on the pages. You’ll watch his smiles reappear and his energy, and you’ll feel better than you have since before the time that he wasn’t here, because you’ve missed this.
You’ve missed him, and all of the problems that come along with him.
Sometimes, you think it would be easier if he hadn’t come back at all.
But you can’t explain how happy you are that he did.