Justin slumped against the now closed loft door and let the duffel bag fall to the floor with a tired sigh.
The fucking New York commute was killing him, and it had only been six months. The seats on the plane were uncomfortable to say the least. The armrest on this trip had dug into his side, no doubt leaving a bruise if the pain he was feeling was any indication. All because the passenger on the other side smelled so ripe that Justin's nose hair had been scorched, and he had pressed himself as far away from the man as possible. Then, as everybody was finally leaving the plane, a girl swung her bag over her shoulder and hit Justin square in the face, leaving him with a sore left cheekbone.
Sighing again, Justin shuffled towards the fridge to get some water. It was still before noon, so Brian was at Kinnetik. Thank God! Justin didn't feel up to getting the usual earful. No! He did not want to spend Brian's money and travel first class. Thank you very much! He was the one to leave, so Brian should not have to pay.
Leaning against the open fridge as he drank his water with closed eyes, he contemplated the situation. Justin had finally admitted the truth, albeit only to himself at the moment, that he simply couldn't paint when Brian wasn't there with him. He painted when he visited the Pitts, or when Brian visited him, much to Brian's exasperation and his own regret. He should really be doing something else when they were finally together. Brian had actually cancelled the last trip, and the most recent time he had been in New York, he had seemed a bit preoccupied. Justin was getting the distinct feeling that something was up.
So as far as Justin was concerned, this New York business was fast coming to an end. Justin could honestly say he had given it his best, and that he was on his way. He had gotten an agent, who oddly enough was based in the Pitts, and his art was selling big time online. Who knew the Internet could be used for something other than porn? He had not broached the subject of moving back to town with Brian yet, or anybody else for that matter, mostly because he wanted to be sure that it was what he really wanted, without letting someone else influence him for once. The decision was made now. He really didn't feel at home in the city, and wanted to come home to the Pitts and Brian.
As he closed the fridge door, his eyes fell upon some large, cardboard boxes stacked under the Ugly Naked Guy. They had his name written on them with a black Sharpie. Justin scrunched up his nose in confusion. Why had Brian boxed up some of his things?
Then the swing of the "J," and the tilt of the "T" registered, and Justin realized that the writing was his mother's. At that moment the loft door rolled open.
"What the hell, Justin?" Brian swore as he stumbled over the duffel bag. "Pick up your shit…One of these days you'll manage to kill me with all your crap lying around," he grumbled before dropping his briefcase and striding over to hug Justin from behind, kissing the blond mop. "You're here early…That's good. We have plans tonight…soooooo there's time for a fuck and a nap… perfect timing," he commented as he continued to play with Justin's hair.
Justin hadn't turned around while Brian chatted away, mulling over why his mother kept heaping his stuff at Brian. It had to be a mental illness, he decided with a wry smile.
"Why are you boring holes into those boxes?" Brian finally asked, while letting one hand drift down Justin's front to snake under his hoodie and caress the flat stomach. Justin turned around and smiled brightly, brushing his lips over Brian's. Close contact with Brian never failed to make him feel safe. Even that first night under the lamp post, he knew that Brian would never hurt him. The flight from hell forgotten, Justin started to kiss and lick his way up Brian's jaw.
"I was just wondering why my mom keeps bothering you with my crap. When did she drop off these two?" he mumbled between kisses. Justin felt himself flinch when Brian's warm, possessive hands foraged over his sore side.
Brian pulled away, cradled Justin's face, and studied him for a moment as a concerned look crept into his eyes.
"What happened to your face and…?" Brian asked while lifting up Justin's hoodie to reveal a nasty bruise on his side.
"What the fuck, Justin!? …. You back with the Pink Posse?" Brian asked mockingly, but the soft look in his eyes belied the harshness in his tone.
"No! Of course not…just a bad flight. And I don't want to talk about it right now," Justin admitted tiredly, pushing the hoodie back down.
Shrugging, Brian explained that the boxes had been stored in the basement since Jennifer had sold the house and moved into a condo.
"I was clearing out the storage room, getting the loft ready for sale," Brian clarified while moving to the bedroom to get out of his work clothes. Justin followed, staring at Brian's back, and not only because he was getting naked. Selling the loft! What was going on?
"Are you moving to Britin?" Justin asked, hating the little tremor in his voice. Was Brian moving on without him?
"Britin…! Fuck, no! I sold that mausoleum from our misguided voyage into hetro-normative life two weeks ago." Brian turned around with a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. That look…that meant Brian was on to him, and thought he was cute. Not that he would ever voice it. Justin felt all tension leave his body, and a responding smile emerged on his face, even though he felt a bit silly.
"The loft is getting a bit small with Gus spending vacations here, and…I thought we could get a place together in New York, maybe?" the last thing was added under his breath while turning away again. Justin's heart stopped beating just like the first and only time Brian had told him I Love you. This was just as good. This was Brian saying it all over again.
"I can commute and move some of Kinnetik's business to New York," he continued still with his back to Justin, completely naked while he rummaged through the closet. Justin was frozen to the floor and speechless. He tried to answer, only his mouth was completely dry, and he was feeling a bit dizzy.
"No!" The word escaped before he could censor himself, and he saw Brian flinch and walls being erected, shoulders rigid. And before he could elaborate, Brian turned around with a sardonic smile and steely eyes.
"So little Sunshine doesn't want his style cramped in the big city…. No wonder we're always holed up in your studio…." The vitriol was almost visibly dripping from his lips.
"No, you asshole! I don't want to get a place in New York together, because I don't want to live in fucking New York. I want to stay here! I can't paint without you there in that hell hole…. That's why we're cramped up in that fucking studio every time you visit," Justin added, slumping down onto the bed and turning away from Brian, now utterly exhausted. "I'm not going back…everything is packed and shipped off," Justin explained with a sigh.
He felt the bed dip and arms coming round his shoulders. Brian leaned his head against Justin's temple. "How do we fucking put up with each other?" He lamented with a chuckle.
"Yeah, we're a fucking disaster," Justin admitted, turning his head and with a tired smile looking into Brian's now completely open face.
"I'm taking a shower…so are you coming or going? Or coming and staying…?" Brian asked with a lifted brow, echoing a past conversation that was etched into Justin's memory, and apparently into Brian's as well, Justin realized, following Brian into the bathroom with a brightened, happy smile plastered on his face.
After a rather heated shower, both men were left physically relaxed. They went to bed for a nap before they planned to meet up with Emmett and Ted at Woody's. Brian fell asleep practically straightaway as he had worked almost constantly since they had last seen each other – selling Britin, getting the loft ready for sale, and looking into moving some of Kinnetik's business had taken its toll. Justin's exhaustion had reached a point where it had the opposite effect; his eyes were wide open and he felt edgy and wanted to do something. So he wormed his way out from under Brian's arm and leg, deciding to look into the boxes and decide what to keep and what to scrap.
Only wearing his briefs, Justin blew the dust off the lid and opened the top box. Having already anticipated a vast amount of junk, he had pulled out some garbage bags.
There was a baby blanket neatly folded on top of the box. The blanket didn't ring a bell and smelled dingy, so it ended up in a garbage bag. Next were some school rewards and prizes for diligence; they were all from St. James Academy, and gave Justin a bitter taste in his mouth, so they followed the blanket. Then there was a big folder containing some pictures that Justin had taken with his camera around the age of 11. They were a far cry from good, but they were fun. A lot of the pictures were of Daphne, and he loved the way they somehow captured how he felt about the curly-haired girl, so they ended up in the newly-formed keep pile.
On the bottom of the box was a grocery bag wrapped around something. Looking inside, he couldn't help but loudly exclaim:
"What the fuck? Gus? That asshole!" Justin sat down with a loud thump on the hard wood floor, staring into the plastic bag.
Two seconds after he hit the floor, Brian flew through the doors from the bedroom, looking bewildered and a bit scared. "What the…?" Brian sputtered, choking on the rest of his words as he looked at Justin's grim face. Taking a deep breath, he managed to go on. "What's wrong with Gus?"
Justin didn't answer, but just kept looking into the plastic bag.
"You are scaring the shit out of me, Sunshine…tell me!" Brian demanded, unable to keep from raising his voice.
Brian's words finally registered as Justin looked up, not completely understanding why Brian was flipping out. Then it registered. Gus. He thinks this has something to do with Gus…
"Not YOUR Gus, thank God…this Gus!" he explained, pulling out a teddy bear from the plastic bag before peering up rather sheepishly at Brian for scaring him.
Brian made a face at the bear and sat down bare assed next to Justin, rolling his lips inward. "Oh, you missed your wittle teddy…" he mocked, apparently still feeling the sting of the scare. Justin didn't blame him. It was rather embarrassing that he had reacted that strongly. And he really should not be surprised at all.
Since the whole incident with Craig throwing him out for being gay, he had proven to be a much different man than the father Justin had remembered from his childhood. This just proved that Craig had always been a bastard, and Justin had been wearing rose-tinted glasses where his childhood was concerned. Thinking he owed Brian some kind of explanation, Justin told him, "When I was around five, Craig told me that I had misplaced Gus due to my neglectful behavior, and that boys my age did not have teddy bears anyway…I blamed myself for weeks and weeks…" Justin shuddered, trying to get rid of the feeling of betrayal as he rubbed his face.
Brian's arms came round him, squeezing slightly.
"He's a prick…forget about him." Brian gazed at the well-loved stuffed animal. "So this is the shabby bear you thought fit to name my son after?" Brian picked the bear out of Justin's hands and made Gus wave at Justin. Justin felt a smile creep onto his face at the sight of a naked Brian sitting on the hard wood floor, waving a teddy paw, and saw a corresponding one on Brian's lips. He leaned in for a brief kiss before getting up.
"Well, looking through that shit made me even more tired. I'm going to try to take a nap…feel free to throw out the rest of that crap…" He gestured towards the last box, not willing to let potentially hurtful discoveries ruin the rest of his day.
Justin woke up later to the smell of pot wafting around his nose; turning around, he discovered a still-naked Brian smoking next to him with a sketch book open in his lap.
"What have you been doing?" Justin asked, stretching languidly before sitting up and reaching for the cigarette as he propped his back against the headboard. Watching Justin taking the first hit, Brian left the sketch book face up and bent over the side of the bed to pull up a stack of additional sketch books.
"I had an interesting look into the mind of young Sunshine…" he drawled, handing over the stack of sketch books. Apparently that's what was in the bottom box.
"Some of it is rather disturbing..." he continued, with a raised brow and amusement in his eyes.
Justin had a quick look through. The stack consisted of six sketch books, ranging from almost the time he started to sketch obsessively, to around the age of fifteen or sixteen. Glancing up at Brian, Justin noticed Brian had rolled his tongue into his cheek: a sure sign he was somewhat disturbed by something.
Justin flipped through the six books once more to try to identify the unsettling matter.
"Disturbing?" Justin finally asked, handing the toke back to Brian. He failed to identify any distressing sketches, albeit some of them were rather embarrassing for Justin. There were a lot of drawings of good-looking boys.
Brian took a hit and tilted his head back for a moment, exhaling the smoke slowly. Looking back down, he grabbed the sketch book in his lap and turned it around, passing it to Justin.
Looking at the open page, Justin saw a child's sketch of a boy, maybe around sixteen or seventeen years old, sitting at a picnic table with his back against the surface, bracing himself on his elbows. Justin immediately recognized his own style, even though he must have been very young. The boy looked a lot like a younger version of Brian. Wait a minute…That IS Brian! Justin was momentarily stunned.
He looked over at Brian, certain that disbelief was reflected on his face.
"It's you…isn't it? What the fuck?" Justin found his voice. Now he understood Brian's need to get high.
Brian poked the inside of his cheek with his tongue before a resigned smile flickered over his face.
"Yeah, I remember it…meeting you. It was just before I went to college…" His voice trailed off before taking another hit and finishing the toke. Stubbing it out in the ashtray on the floor, he made to rise from the bed, but Justin – still feeling shaken to the core – held him back.
"I don't remember any of it. But, of course, I was only around five or so." He paused for a moment before asking, "Brian, are we okay?" Justin was getting a little worried. This sort of thing would have had Brian blow up in a major way a few years ago.
"…like a fucking imprinted duckling," Brian pressed out between compressed lips.
"I'm not a duck," Justin retorted, getting annoyed. He thought they were past Brian calling him his stalker, but apparently not.
"Who said the duck was you?" Brian said, letting his head fall back on the headboard with a wry smile, and pulling Justin toward him for a one-armed hug.
Imprinting is when ducklings hatch and subsequently learn to recognize their parent-or the first moving object that they consider to be their parent. Ducklings, who leave the nest soon after hatching, have the instincts to socially bond and stick close to a parent for protection. These hatchlings are more likely to survive and reproduce in the long run-an evolutionary benefit.