Title: days were slipping past
Fandom: Wizards of Waverly Place
Summary: "I can show you exactly why this is a bad idea." Justin centric two shot. Future-fic.
hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to
~ David Russel
Charolettsville, Virginia; 2010
Here comes trouble.
On Justin's first day of college, his English professor had set the class to a task; find one commonly used phrase to describe yourself.
He doesn't even remember the phrase he chose for himself. Something from Shakespeare he thinks-there had been a near desperate wanting to prove himself, to impress, as he sat writing in his small dorm room. Leaving behind everything that had been Justin Russo for the last 18 years had been the goal.
On day 2, the task grew. Chose someone in your life, the first person to come to mind, and do the same for them. Then explain your reasons in essay form.
Here comes trouble. It suited his sister to a tee, always.
His roommate-a tall, beefy guy named Ross from Ohio-had been particularly chatty and asked him several times why, when he could chose anyone in the world, he was writing about his sister. "You guys close?"
Close? They share a secret that they have to keep from the rest of the word, them and their family. Other than that…she's his little sister and they have little to nothing in common.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina; 2018
On the morning of Justin's 27th birthday, he gets a phone call from his brother.
Max, for all his whimsy and lack of focus during his youth, grew into a very serious young man. Justin takes a lot of the blame for that. Among other things.
"I took some time off work," Max tells him, his tone very deliberate. "And I was wondering if I could come down and visit for a few days."
"Sure." His response is out before his brain even has the time to fully process the question. The only thing that makes it through his muddled head is that his brother wants to come see him-his brother whom he hasn't seen in over 5 years. "I mean," he backtracks, hoping to erase some of the desperation in his tone, "I have to work, but there's a lot to do down here while I'm in class."
Max assures him that it'll be fine, and asks about the local music scene. A few minutes of idle chit-chat follows before Justin realizes he's about to be late for work. When they say goodbye, he tells Max to pass along his greetings to their parents. His brother agrees, and his voice has lost the casualness it had during their music talk. Justin's stomach drops.
Sighing, he hangs up and goes about the tasks of leaving for the day. The second nature of unplugging the coffee pot, checking the locks, turning off the television, are not usually something he's conscious of. He knows he does them, knows they're necessary, but doesn't really think about it beyond the moment.
Truth be told, there's been a lot of that in Justin's life lately, a lot of predictable routine that you could set your watch by. No muss, no fuss…no fun.
And if he's being entirely honest with himself, he knows exactly why.
New York; 2012
There's something different about Alex, Justin sees it the minute she picks him up at the airport.
At first, Justin almost walks right by his sister. It isn't until she calls out to him that he recognizes her.
The picture of Alex that Justin carries around in his head is a lot different than the girl standing in front of him. To him, she's a teenager draped head to toe in a dozen different colors, one as bright as the next, walk accompanied by the ever present clinking of jewelry, and long hair trailing out behind her. The young woman who walks toward him with that Alex air of purpose and confidence barely resembles his sister in her white tee shirt, brown motorcycle jacket, and her hair piled haphazardly on top of her head.
Maybe, Justin thinks, just maybe, she's finally growing up.
They don't hug which he never would have noticed before, but he does now. Instead, she cocks her head at his chin and asks, "What's with the scruff?"
"Its been a long semester," he answers and hitches his bag higher up on his shoulder as they make their way to the street, fighting the urge to run a hand over the stubble covering his jaw line.
Chapel Hill; 2018
Justin paces nervously back in front of the gate where Max's flight is set to land. Two women standing at the nearby coffee machine send glances his way. Maybe it's because he's making a bit of a spectacle of himself, maybe it's something else. Something he's not looking for.
Then the gate opens and the people start pouring out and then Max is there, looking more like their father than Justin would ever have imagined.
God, he thinks, Max is a grown up.
Intellectually, he already knew this. His little brother is 23 years old, has been running his own garage since he was barely 19. But seeing it is completely different. Seeing that the little boy that used to pull pranks on him with Alex is taller, and more broad in the shoulders, than he is hits the point home. The last time Justin saw Max was the summer before his senior year of high school, when Justin still had at least two inches and twenty pounds on him. He'd still been a kid.
Justin thinks maybe he should hug him. The sense of longing for a connection that's been running under his skin for the last 260 weeks (and counting) kicks in full tilt, so hard it makes him itch.
His feet make the decision for him and he's almost within arms reach of his brother when he notices that Max's left hand is connected, entwined, with the right hand of a tiny young woman with pale blonde ringlets tumbling over her shoulders. Justin freezes; unsure of how to react when suddenly Max reaches him and throws his arms around his older brother's neck.
A thousand memories flood Justin's head, from the first time he saw Max through the nursery window at Bellevue Hospital, to that last explosive argument when everything had gone up in flames. There are so many thoughts of magic and toys and playing cowboys and Indians in the sub shop that he has to pull away. Remembering happy times is too hard. Max has Alex's smile, Theresa's smile, and it just hurts.
If Max notices Justin's reaction, he doesn't say so. His hand goes out behind him and he pulls the girl up to tuck under his arm. She smiles shyly at Justin, gray eyes shiny and happy and they tug at his heart. "Justin," Max says and his smile so big a coat hanger could fit in his mouth, "this is Annaleigh." The name suits her; cute and sweet, girly. A pink flush colors her cheeks when Max says her name, and she looks up at Justin through her thick lashes like a little kid waiting for approval.
When he says hi and extends his hand to her, its like she just transforms into somebody else and she wraps him in a hug as if they've known each other for years.
Max beams with pride. Justin can see it about to burst forth from his brother in waves that could illuminate the entire city. "We came down here to tell you we're getting married this summer, and we want you there."
New York, 2012
One year at FIT and his sister has become obsessed with 80's music.
Half an hour into the summer and he hears Billie Jean blaring through the wall, and then the entire Thriller album. She then moves on to Slippery When Wet and he decides he's had enough.
Justin walks into Alex's room (the door was open) expecting to see her bopping around like she used to do whatever Top 40 song was playing. What he finds instead is Alex surrounded by dozens of colored pencils, sketching on her bed.
"Wow." He peers down at her sketchbook, impressed beyond words. He had no idea Alex was so talented. "That's really great, Alex."
Modesty has never suited her, but the faint flush across her cheeks when she smiles up at him does, and he grins at the pride shinning in her eyes and stretches out across the foot of her bed. "Thanks. There's this internship that starts in January, but I have to complete an entire collection by the first day of the new semester if I want to qualify."
Justin is even more impressed. An internship is a big deal. Who knew Alex was so ambitious.
The various papers littered about on her bed are all sketches as well. Bright swirly dresses, flowy tops, huge bags, all the type of things he could never see his sister wearing. Well, the sister he'd known a year ago. Maybe the girl he was watching draw while she hummed Dead or Alive under her breath would.
Chapel Hill, 2018
It takes less than an hour for Justin to understand exactly why Max is so enamored with Annaleigh.
On the rare nights that Justin goes out, he likes a small diner just down the beach from his house. He offers to take them out to somewhere a little nicer-there are great places in Chapel Hill he's heard-but Max insists that he wants a burger and Justin can attest how delicious they are at the diner.
And Annaleigh, bless her heart, never stops talking. She tells the story of meeting Max in elaborate detail, hands illustrating her tale, in a thick Savannah accent that Justin finds charming. They met at Max's garage, two years ago, when the Greyhound bus her drama class had driven up from Georgia overheated right in front of NYU and the driver walked to the nearest garage he could find and begged him for a tow.
"It was love at first site," she gushes, wrapping her hands around Max's, smiling fondly. And Max smiles in return, red all the way to his ears. "I moved to New York the next summer, because let's face it-long distance is a killer, and we've been inseparable ever since."
She's been working at the sub shop, doing a lot of the cooking, and his parents adore her, Max says. In fact, the first two months she lived in New York, she had stayed in Justin's old room, since Max had his own place in the East Village and his mother thought it was only polite.
Now they've moved to an old brownstone in Brooklyn that Max is fixing up and are planning for a late June wedding date. Theresa has thrown herself head first into planning, so much so that Annaleigh doesn't really have to do much but show up for her dress fittings. All in all, it sounds like everything is going swimmingly in New York.
"You can come, right?" she asks eagerly, and he would feel like a puppy kicker if he turned her down.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Annaleigh claps her hands together in glee, making a soft squeaking sound under her breath. Both Justin and Max laugh at her enthusiasm. It's hard not to feel good around someone so happy. His brother is really lucky Justin decides.
And then she lets the air of his tires when she says absentmindedly while stirring her iced tea, "I hope Alex is as excited as you are. I'm kind of nervous about meeting her."
Justin's eyes shoot to his brother only to find that Max has his gazed trained intently on his coffee cup like the answer to all the great questions of the universe lay inside.
"You guys are gonna go see Alex?" He can't help the gulp. The lump in his throat is so big it's necessary if he wants to get the words out and not some indistinguishable garble noise.
"Yeah." Annaleigh bobs her head like a jack in the box. "We're stopping off on our way back to New York. I've never been to DC and I can't wait to see her studio."
Alex's studio, which Justin's heard about in small detail but never actually seen. He thinks back to when she began helping Harper sew her creations and started designing her own, to the sheer joy on her face when she was excepted into the Fashion Institute. As far as Justin knows, she hasn't designed any clothes since her sophomore year, when she dropped out and moved to Washington with some girl from her dorm.
"Yeah," Justin whispers. "I bet it's something."
New York, 2012
The 4th of July is sticky and humid, too hot to do much of anything really.
It's always like this in New York in the summer. Justin got used to his friends taking off for less congested areas from June till September a long time ago, and this year it seems as if Alex is doing the same. Max had lucked into a job working on cars at the Sunshine Cab Company (who would still do anything for his family), and Alex seems content being the only Russo kid around the house.
He finds her around noon on the balcony, feet up on the railing, doing watercolors of the street fair going on in the streets below.
"What happened to the hippie dresses?"
Rolling her eyes, Alex dips her brush into the blue and adds a layer to the banners in her picture. "They're not hippieish," she retorts, "They're bohemian."
"And the difference is…"
"My clothes aren't a zillion years old and full of moth holes."
He could make a comment about the top she's wearing being a little bit on the hippie side with the laces and thin cotton straps, but doesn't. He does pluck at the fabric on her leg and say, "I was wondering where those were." Alex shrugs. She doesn't care that he might have some objection to her stealing his UVA boxers and wearing them right in front of him. Not that he's surprised of course.
"They look better on me," she says with all the assurance of someone who's never seen him wear them. "What are up to today?"
Jerry and Theresa had gone uptown, wanting to see what celebration the rest of Manhattan has cooked up, and invited him, but he'd woken up in a strange mood and really just wanted to hang out around the house.
"You're looking at it," he tells her and takes a sip of her lemonade sitting on the small table between them. "You?"
Grinning smugly, she parrots his own words back at him. "You're looking at it."
That's how they spend their holiday: on their loft balcony, talking and listening to Alex's hair band play list while she paints and tells him about her classes in fabric and he tries to describe what it's like to live in Virginia, how different the South is from New York, until the fireworks begin to break over their heads against the inky Manhattan sky.
"Wow," Alex breathes absolute wonder on her face. Justin finds himself watching Alex more than the festivities-the way the colors flow over her features and make her eyes twinkle in shade of blue and red.
Chapel Hill, 2018
There's a wrap around porch on the small beach front cottage Justin rented when he first moved to North Carolina for Grad school. It's his favorite place to sit at night and think as he listens to the waves crashing along the shoreline. There's a peace in the ocean that Justin has never known growing up a city boy.
Both Max and Annaleigh love it right away and the three of them stay out there in Justin's weather beaten patio furniture until 2 o'clock when Annaleigh dozes off and her head lolls over onto Max's shoulder.
"So…" Justin isn't entirely sure how to broach the subject, which is a little unnerving; not knowing how to talk to his own brother. "She's great, Max. I'm really happy for you."
Max glances down at the girl asleep beside him, face full of love. "Thanks." He brushes a stray curl away from her face. His brother can't help but watch the way he's so, so careful with her. Like she's the most delicate thing he's ever been in contact with. "I can see why you love it here," the younger man says. "It's beautiful. And I remember you telling me how much you loved the South when you were in Virginia."
"You ever think of leaving New York?"
Mindful of the blonde head resting against him, Max rolls his free shoulder in a shrug. "Not really. My business is there, and Dad's already talking about giving magic lessons to his grandkids."
"Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that." Making sure Annaleigh is truly asleep is Justin's first priority before he says anything else about the real Russo heritage. "I just didn't know how to bring it up…Max-"
"Justin, I know what you're gonna say-" Max begins, his voice no longer soft and easy.
But his older brother holds up a hand to cut him off. It has to be said. "Has anyone from the wizarding world told you what to expect? You know you can't keep your powers if you marry a mortal. And I'm only assuming that Annaleigh's a mortal-and that she knows you're not."
"She knows," Max answers. "And she is. But I don't care. They can take my powers."
Justin shoots out of his chair, his fists clenched at his side so hard his knuckles hurt. He wants to scream at his brother, to rail against his decision, but knows he can't.
It's all his fault that Max is even in this situation to begin with. "Max…what's going to happen when you lose your powers? Alex and I can't take them."
"So what's going to happen?"
Max turns his head away, staring out over the dark waters glinting under a full Carolina moon. "Well, that's kind of why I'm here."
When Max was a kid, he was hopeless at hiding things from their parents. Unlike his sister, Max was bone with nary a deceitful bone in his body. Sure, he had inherited the same mischievous streak as Alex, but he wasn't sneaky the way she was. All it took was one look in his eyes to know that there was more to the story than what he was really saying.
A heavy sigh, like one would expect from a world weary old man emerges from Max, and Justin feels it like a punch to the gut, this burden he's placed on his little brother through his own selfishness.
"Crumbs came to see me last week," Max tells him, "the day before I called you. I guess they thought that since he was the one who gave us the first decision it would be easier coming from him."
"Justin, I never really expected to be the one to keep my powers. You were smarter, and more prepared. Alex wanted it so bad. I barely use them still. What does a mechanic really need magical powers for anyway? To reach a far away wrench?" He forces a smile. "It wasn't fair that you and Alex had your powers stripped away when you were both better wizards than I could ever be."
"We knew better, Max. We just…" He struggles for the words, any words, to try and explain what had happened back when Max was too full of fury to listen to his botched grasping at straws for a reason.
"Crumbs said one of you could have your powers back," Max blurts out before Justin can finish. It seems like he still doesn't want to know the details. "But the two of you have to decide which one. I came down here…" Max scrunches up his eyes, expression pained, before glancing down at Annaleigh. It seems to Justin that he needs to remind himself that he has a reason for doing this, that she gives him the strength to say what he needs to say. "I came down here to ask you to some to DC with me, to talk to Alex."
It takes until dawn for Max to talk his brother into going to Washington, but he does it.
Still, there is that niggling thought that he's doing it more because he misses Alex than he is for Max is in both of their heads, unvoiced.
The flight is set to leave the next evening at 5:15.
New York, 2012
Nobody likes to talk about why Justin's home for the summer and not working at the engineering lab as a Clerk like he had the previous two summers, but it's always there in the back of their minds. Jerry ties up all of Max's free time from the garage with the remainder of magic lessons, winding up everything that they have left before August when Max turns 17 and the battle is finally upon them.
Though he'd never actually say it out loud, Justin is pretty confident that the Russo child that's going to win and go on to be an adult wizard is him. He has 2 years of putting his skills to practice over his sister and her reckless disregard for the rules, 4 over Max's sometimes clumsy methods. He's more focused, skilled, and disciplined than both of them.
And he'd be lying if he said the remaining weeks until Max's birthday weren't going to be more than a little terrifying.
Mid July Alex begins to get cabin fever from working non stop on her collection and stalks into his room with fabric swatches over her arm and offers up a solution.
"Some friends of mine from school are going salsa dancing tonight. You want to go?"
He wouldn't have been more surprised if she asked him to teach her the schematics of the robotic arm he's planning for his senior project.
"Please Justin…I just need to get out of this apartment. If I stick myself with one more needle I may throw myself off the terrace."
He lets her drag him along, grumbling about how he's going to stick out like a sore thumb in the shirt she makes him wear. "You look fine; I do know what looks good on guys after all."
The last time Justin saw his sister in high heels was at her Quinceañera-and that lasted all of 2 seconds before she took them off and shoved them into his hands. But she seems to have no qualms about them now, stepping gracefully along the trash littering the streets of Soho in her 4 inch shoes. She gets more than one appreciative stare from guys along the way in the short red dress from the all important collection. She probably shouldn't wear it dancing, but it certainly looks salsa-esque and makes her tan skin seem to glow.
Before he left for college, the idea that these random strangers on the street were throwing looks of respect and admiration his way because he's with a girl who looks like Alex would have bothered him. They would have no way of knowing she's his sister, but she is and he should be bothered.
Then she takes his hand and pulls him across Avenue A to where a group of people dressed in overly hip clothes are waiting, and he ceases to care what anyone else thinks.
Alex introduces him simply as Justin. He doesn't add to it, letting the confidence that surely she's told her friends about him prevent him from being that Justin-the one she mocked on a continual basis.
Turns out they come here a lot when school gets to be too much. So often that the staff knows them by name and they have a regular table. Their waitress, a sultry older woman named Rosanna, asks Alex if her boy will be dropping by before winking at Justin and walking away.
"What boy?" he asks.
"Oh she didn't tell you?" Paige is from Connecticut, and drove into the city for the weekend. She has that bland New England WASP kind of beauty, all classic features and blonde hair, hidden under layers of black eyeliner and leather pants. "Alex has her own number one fan right under her own roof."
They mean Jack, the 17 year old waiter from the sub station who stutters and falls over his own feet whenever Alex walks into the restaurant. He shows up when he knows she and her friends are going to be there.
"Honestly, Alex," Paige says, "I don't see why you don't just tell him to buzz off. You're letting the poor kid waste his time and you obviously can do so much better." She too throws a wink in Justin's direction and he feels his stomach drop out from under him.
"I need to talk to you." Alex stiffens as he hisses the words in his ear, but lets him yank her by her wrist out of the booth towards the bathroom.
He doesn't even know where to begin. "Alex…you realize that your friends all think I'm your date, don't you?"
"Oh please, they do not."
"No? Then why don't you tell them I'm your brother and see what they say."
Her chin juts out-classic Alex defiance-simultaneously with her hands flying to her hips. This is the girl he remembers.
"Justin, just relax. They know you're my brother. Paige is just easy."
Does he believe her? Maybe? But these are her friends and he doesn't want to embarrass her by acting uptight and high-strung. He feels himself deflate and apologizes only to have her grab his hand when one of the guys with them yells from the dance floor for them to come join in and yanks him out onto the floor.
Alex collapses in giggles against Justin, finger pressed to her lips. He rolls his eyes at her. He's not the one who's drunk and knocking into things in the shop in the too tall shoes.
"A-Alex!" Okay, so he's a little tipsy himself, but not as bad as she is. "If Mom and Dad find out I let you get dr-drunk, they'll kill me."
"Wah, wah. I'm hungry."
He follows her into the kitchen, sitting on a stool while she makes herself a sandwich. He props his chin in his hands and regards her.
"Did you have fun tonight?" She kicks her shoes off and hops onto the counter by the sink.
"Yeah. I'm not the best dancer…"
He goes on. "But it was fun. Your friends are pretty cool." After a beat, "And anything beats the best of Def Leppard."
"Hey!" She stumbles in her haste to jump down in indignation against her musical taste. Justin takes hold of her arm and rights her. "I'll have you know that I don't just like hair metal."
"Oh right," he nods, "I forgot about Madonna."
"Come on." Alex leaves her half eaten sandwich on the counter and drags him into the lair. "Sit." She sits him down on the small couch and points her wand (that she left laying on the table) at the stereo. A song begins immediately and he chuckles.
"Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?" Justin props his feet up on the table in front of him, watching her eyes fall shut as she sways to the Cure in the room where they've had so many arguments.
"I've grown up."
"I see that."
He doesn't mean that the way it comes out. But he's so relaxed at the moment that it somehow comes out a little…suggestive. Alex stops, and her eyes open slowly. She looks at him, face devoid of expression. It makes him seriously uncomfortable.
The music stops and starts up again with a new song. Whatever moment they'd been having is over, so he stands up and goes to leave.
He chooses to focus on the door in front of him, and not the fact that Alex's hand on his wrist all of a sudden feels different.
"Justin, tonight, when you said that my friends thought you were my date…that upset you, didn't it?"
"It should upset you, too." He can't even look at her.
Going out with Alex and her friends is the most fun Justin has had in a long time. He recalls the feeling of her tiny hand in his when she showed him how to salsa earlier, a skill she'd picked up from their mother while he was away. Letting Alex teach him something for a change, something she obviously loved and was good at, was liberating in a way he hadn't known was possible.
There was light in her eyes there, amidst the pounding music and swirling colors of the other people floating around them. There was happiness.
There was magic.
Now, with a decades old love song playing in the background, and Alex's warm palm against his pounding pulse, the hours out fall under the wash of innuendo. And God help him, he thinks he's a fool for not seeing it sooner.
"I know." Alex's voice is tiny even though she's moving closer to him, bringing her body into line directly behind his. "But…it didn't."
Justin turns. There are certain things in life you have to face head on. "Are you sure you want to go here?"
Justin began wearing the St. Christopher medal his grandfather gave him for First Communion when he left home. It helped to know that he had someone up there looking out for him, helping to find whatever it was that was lacking in his life and sending it his direction.
When Alex's fingers find their way to the medal, wrapping around it, the pieces of the puzzle finally align and the truth snaps into focus before his eyes.
All her life, Alex has been pulling him along in her wake, making his actions a counterpoint to her own. Action and reaction. He'd seen it, the way anybody living under the guise of denial sees the facts and choose to believe their own rationalizations. 3 years away from that pattern and he falls back into as easily as if he'd never left it.
Justin Russo thought he had found himself in college, hundreds of miles away from his family, in a new city, studying a subject he's loved his whole life.
And all it takes to prove him wrong is the feeling of "Oh, yeah. So this is it." that jumps to life in his subconscious when Alex pulls the chain just enough to lower his head down to hers.
I'll stop the world and melt with you.
Title comes from a lyrics from 'Lost' by Michael Bublé.