A/N: Sorry for the massive delay again, everyone. If you've followed my blog, then you know my life has been a shit storm for a while. I can't even. But I'm still writing, and I have more time at my new job, so the chapters will be coming more frequently from now on. As always, check my livejournal or my twitter for my writing progress updates. Also, you should count how many times I use the word jealous in this chapter, lol. Please enjoy, and let me know if there's anything I need to fix or improve!
Disclaimer: Dear god, it's been nearly six months already. I still don't own WOWP.
Justin sits outside on the terrace in the warm breeze that helps to dry him off. Even after taking a shower, he still smells like the potion that changed him from a werewolf back into a human – well, a wizard. And he feels like crap. His grip tightens on the towel around his neck.
"I'm such an idiot," he mutters, angry with himself.
"You got that right."
Justin startles at Alex's voice when she sits in the lounge chair beside him. Dealing with her is the last thing he needs after his day with Isabella went horribly wrong.
"What do you want, Alex? Come here to make fun of me some more? I already feel horrible enough as it is, so save it."
She doesn't say anything for a long moment, and he refuses to look at her.
"Listen, Justin, I'm sorry things didn't turn out the way you wanted. But you have to admit it was pretty funny that you didn't know your date was a monster. Again."
"It's not funny, Alex. I know you love making me miserable, so you were just thrilled to figure it out, right?"
"Dude, relax. It's not like it was going to last because you said you loved her after only a few hours."
Justin stands and stares down at her, a wave of rage welling up inside him. "Yeah? And you couldn't stand to see me happy for a single day!"
Alex stands as well, pushing him out of her way. "Oh, please. You didn't want to be a werewolf, Justin. You should be grateful I even brought Mom and Dad to save you."
"Grateful? Sure, I'm grateful that my sister was too jealous to mind her own business." The sad thing is, beneath all the anger and humiliation of the day, that twisted part of him completely means it as he regards his sister.
"I was not jealous!" she says with more heat than he thinks is warranted. "God, Justin, you're being a real jerk lately. Forget I said anything."
It doesn't take long after Alex storms out for guilt to crawl up his back, settling as a heavy weight on his shoulders. Familiar after the past months of tortuous feelings. Justin knows he overreacted, knows he lashed out at Alex because he's angry with himself. He can't even do one thing right in his life.
He only wanted to find a girlfriend so he could stop thinking about Alex so much. He figured a girl from the Wizard World would work out better, but it was disastrous like every other attempt at dating Justin has made in the past year. He shouldn't be surprised when it goes bad, but he always is. He tries too hard, wants too much too soon, and eventually makes an undeniably big mistake.
And this time, Alex was the one helping Justin out of a problem he created. Instead of thanking her, he accused her of being jealous when really he's the one who's jealous of her ease with relationships and growing attraction to the bad boy of the school. Really, that isn't fair to Alex because she had a rough breakup with Riley not long ago, and seriously, he just needs to apologize to her.
Justin leans his hands on the terrace railing as he looks down at the street below. There are a young man and woman holding hands as they walk together, and Justin wants that kind of life so much. He just doesn't know if he will ever get it.
"What the hell am I doing?" he asks himself. "What is wrong with me?"
Beside the obvious. Justin rubs his face, suddenly feeling very tired. He goes inside, drops his towel in the laundry room, and heads upstairs. He pauses outside Alex's closed bedroom door, where he can hear her loud, angry music, though it's nowhere near as rough as Tears of Blood. He wants to apologize right then before the hurt can fester, but he figures it will be better if he and Alex take some time apart and maybe cool off.
At least, it will be better for him to put some distance between himself and this horrible evening. He finds stress relief in recounting the events in an e-mail to Mona, leaving out some of the major magical details, of course. He waits for a response, but when one doesn't come in the next two hours, Justin settles in to read the chapters for History that aren't even due until next week. It makes him feel productive in some part of his life.
In the morning, Mona still hasn't responded to him, and he's feeling a little lost without her advice and guidance. So he takes a hot shower and tries not to think about anything or anyone in particular as he gives himself a little more stress relief and pleasure. He feels good, relaxed, as he towels himself dry. Then he puts on the soft robe Alex bought him as a replacement and steps into the hall.
And of course, Alex chooses that moment to come out of her room in pajamas that Justin can only describe as a damn negligee, and he seriously has a problem. He blames the cool air for the eruption of goose bumps across his flesh.
"You better not have hogged all the hot water," she grumbles as she moves to pass him.
He gently grabs her arm to keep her beside him. "Listen, Alex, I want to apologize for last night. You know I wasn't really angry with you, and I shouldn't have yelled, so I'm sorry. I'm glad I'm not a werewolf, so thank you for helping me."
Alex cocks an eyebrow. "Yeah, well, you were being an idiot. And I guess I owed you one."
"One? Alex, you owe me like a hundred."
"No, I'm pretty sure we're even."
"Not even close. Do Mom and Dad know you're wearing a risqué lace nightgown that belongs in a Victoria's Secret catalogue?"
Her cheeks flush with color, the image going with the heat in his stomach. "You should know – you spend enough time looking at them."
Justin manages to not sputter. "Oh? Is that why you bought it, then?"
He gasps as soon as the words leave his mouth. Shit. He watches the color in her skin travel down her neck and chest before he snaps his eyes back to her face.
Alex pulls out of his grasp as she gestures her hands in a circle over his chest. "I'm not talking about this when you're naked."
Justin recovers from his mistake rather well, he thinks. "What? I'm wearing the robe you gave me."
She starts walking toward the bathroom before he finishes talking. He finds it in himself to laugh.
"You know, Alex, under clothes, everyone is naked."
"Gross!" she calls back over her shoulder.
And Justin most definitely isn't watching her ass before the bathroom door closes. Damn it. Apparently, he can no longer even trust his mouth to not say inappropriate things to his sister. Of course, he wants to believe Alex didn't understand the intention behind the words. He knows she isn't stupid, though, especially after her fantastic blush.
But he needs to pretend she didn't understand for his own sanity. Justin takes refuge in his room for nearly an hour, at least until he hears Alex go back in her room.
His silent freak out only gets worse when he sees Mona has responded to his e-mail:
Justin, I know you probably don't want to hear it, but from what you've told me, I think your sister was envious of your new relationship. This could perhaps be due to her not having a boyfriend at the moment. Or it could be due to her not wanting to lose you to another girl, someone who will take your attention away from her.
I'm sorry things didn't go well with the girl, Isabella, but I'm glad you tried to get yourself out there. How are you handling your feelings now, after last night?
Right now, he's really not handling anything. Justin can't decide if he should tell Mona about his slip-of-the-tongue and Alex's response. At this point, nothing is going to make him feel better or help him forget all the reasons why Alex might have been jealous of his girlfriend – reasons that Justin wants to be more than what they are. He's so damned messed up that he can only try to keep ignoring everything. That's a logical response, he's sure.
He types a quick response to Mona:
Thanks, I'm actually doing great right now.
It's a total lie, and she'll most likely see right through it, but for now, he just has to get out of his head for a while.
Justin goes downstairs to the basement, hits his head on the piping, and grumbles curses to the air as he starts moving the old junk away from the family's "home gym," which is really nothing more than a treadmill used as a makeshift laundry hanger. The treadmill is dusty, but it still runs well, considering its limited use.
It fills the basement with a loud hum that he at first finds annoying, but after a few minutes of walking on the moving strip, he appreciates the sounds as an almost soothing quality when the hum fills up his body. When he starts running, Justin puts on his headphones to listen to music with a fast, pulsing beat that keeps him in time like a techno metronome.
He focuses on his steady breathing, his firm footsteps against the track, feeling the burn in his muscles, so rarely used in exercise by him. He runs for five minutes before the music in his ears fades to the back of his mind as his consciousness brings up images from the previous day and only a couple hours ago.
At the thought of Alex's flushed chest in her revealing nightgown, his heart lurches, disrupting its racing pace. He gets lightheaded and realizes he stopped breathing. With a curse, he slows down to a walk and gulps in half a bottle of water.
Well, that didn't work.
Justin changes his music to an audio book, and he tries again. He jogs while he listens to the narrator's deep, rumbling voice, but after a few minutes, he only catches about half of what the guy says, and he's unable to forget about his own solicitous words to Alex. "Is that why you bought it, then?" The unspoken, "For me?" lingers in his mind. God damn it.
He slaps off the treadmill and hops down, sitting on the workbench to the side. He can't do this. Even exercise can't preoccupy his mind long enough to stop thinking about Alex. Maybe there isn't a distraction big enough after the past couple days. Great. Now what?
He decides to move on to the next item on his Distractions From Alex list: learning a new language. He goes back upstairs to his room, getting out an old book on Spanish grammar and vocabulary – the book Jerry clearly never used when Theresa wanted him to learn in order to make a better impression on her Spanish-speaking family. Being a wizard who gave up his magic to be with Theresa is the only thing that saved Jerry from actually having to use it.
Justin starts in on the first chapter, but after five pages, he can't stand to be in his damp, sticky skin and clothes for a minute more. He grabs his robe and a fresh towel from the hall closet, then heads to the bathroom. He stops outside Alex's bedroom to see she is lounging across the foot of her bed, reading a magazine.
She tips her head back over the side, blowing a pink bubble with her gum as she looks at him. Thank god she's wearing her usual layers of clothes now. The bubble pops, and she noisily, messily brings it back into her mouth with her tongue. Justin doesn't tell her there is a small piece stuck to her upper lip because he wants to take it off with his teeth. So he looks at her purple carpet instead.
"Ew, why are you all sweaty?" she asks.
"I was running."
Justin rolls his eyes, a smile tugging at his mouth. "On the treadmill."
"Seriously? You hate stuff like that."
"No, that's you. I think it feels pretty good to exercise sometimes."
"And you're the smart one?" She snorts, and he realizes he's been staring at her without his brain's knowledge or permission. He pulls his eyes away from her throat when she swallows. Damn hormones.
He shakes his head clear and turns to walk out. Justin is at least grateful that he and Alex are back to normal. Well, as normal as they can be with as not normal as they are. Which is saying something. He thinks.
For almost two weeks, Justin is able to keep himself occupied. He purchases a Spanish language audio lesson to listen to while he runs on the treadmill and lifts his new set of hand weights. He finds it helps to have the learning parts of his brain activated while his body burns with the now familiar amount of exercise. So with the added bonus of actually learning one of the languages of his family, Justin feels better as his body gets healthier.
He has always been lean, but after two weeks, he has already started noticing a difference in his muscle tone. His legs and hips have slimmed even with the added strength from running. His waist has narrowed slightly, making his shoulders appear a bit broader, while his arms have started bulking up around his biceps. It's an incredible feeling, and he takes pride in his body even if he's not exactly showing it off.
After school one Thursday afternoon, Justin is lifting weights for an hour before his homework when Alex and Harper come downstairs to the basement, both girls rubbing their foreheads in pain.
"You guys really need to do something about that pipe," Harper mutters before being stricken to the spot when her eyes take in Justin, who is sitting on the workbench, intently focused on curling his arms with the weight, not onAlex, who is also unabashedly starting at his arms flexing. He almost regrets wearing a tank top, but he expected to be alone, and he shouldn't be this self-conscious simply because of his sister and her friend.
"I thought you were joking with the whole exercise routine," Alex says.
Justin gently drops one of the small dumbbells on the floor to pluck out the ear buds playing Spanish sentences he hasn't been able to hear since Alex came into view. "Well, I'm not. As you can see."
Neither of the two girls will stop staring at him, and what the hell. He can hear his homework calling far from wherever Alex may be. That sounds like a good idea. He stands up and turns his back on them, feeling like he can breathe a little easier that way.
"So, what are you two doing down here?" he asks, bending down to collect his hand weights and organize them beneath the workbench.
The first response he hears sounds like a jumble of words that devolve into a strangled whine. He glances over his shoulder, wondering if one of them is having a seizure or something. Harper's face is red, her mouth slightly agape, and Justin realizes she is dazedly staring at his ass.
He is immediately uncomfortable at the attention, but when he risks looking at Alex, all of his breath leaves his lungs. Her gaze his hot, her brown eyes churning with some unfamiliar emotion as they flit up to meet his own shocked grey eyes. Justin straightens and turns to face the girls, his heart beating as fast as if he had been running instead of leisurely lifting weights.
"I was taking a look at Dad's old car," Alex says slowly. "I told Dean he could work on it if he wants."
"Oh." He stands there awkwardly, not knowing what to say or how to feel. He needs to get the hell out of there. He skirts around Alex, giving her more space than necessary as he heads up the stairs, ducking to avoid getting a headache from the low-running piping.
He doesn't grab a snack from the kitchen like usual after exercising, instead choosing to take a quick, cold shower. He lets the water cool down his heated body and rests his forehead against the smooth tile wall, the condensation slipping over his skin. He doesn't know what happened in the basement, but he can't think about it without recalling Alex's burning eyes, the image making his lower groin tighten in a desire that threatens to consume him entirely.
God damn it. He had been doing so well lately, too. Now it feels like all his progress has been a lie he was so eager to believe. He needs to talk to Mona.
In the relative privacy of his room, Justin dresses in comfortable sweats and a light t-shirt before he lie on his bed. He cradles his cell phone to his chest, debating what to do. He can't bring himself to tell Mona about these strange, intense moments with Alex, especially not in writing. What could he possibly say? That he feels like their intense attraction doesn't come from him alone? Because he can't honestly believe that. Whatever has been happening between them, Justin is simply twisting it to fit his own desires. Clearly, thinking to himself isn't helping him any.
Justin takes up his phone, but before he can call Mona, there is a knock on his door.
"Yeah?" he answers.
"Can I come in?" Really, Alex has the worst timing ever.
"Sure," he says quietly.
As she enters, he sits up against his headboard, crossing his legs in front of him. She shuffles in, standing in the middle of his room and looking down at her bare feet, where she toes at the carpet. She doesn't say anything, and he can't just sit there being strangled by the tension.
So he says, "If you're here for homework help, I've got a ton of my own to do."
Alex looks up at him, a question in her eyes. "No, I just…" Her full mouth presses into a line before she laughs, an amused sound at odds with her serious demeanor. "You almost gave Harper a heart attack today."
He finds it in himself to laugh. Just the barest chuckle because he really doesn't find the situation humorous despite imagining Harper's silly, gaping fish face.
"Is that what it was?" he asks, fiddling with the phone resting on his thigh.
"I don't know what was so surprising," he says, feigning ignorance of the nature of the girls' staring. "I know I don't exercise a lot, but now I do. It's normal. It's a normal thing to do. Well, maybe not in our family, but other people—" Justin cuts himself off after realizing he's starting to ramble.
He can see Alex shrug in his periphery. "I guess you were all sweaty in tight clothes, and she still totally has a crush on you, you know."
For a moment, he falters at her description of him, but then notices she is maybe trying to change the subject. He lets her, for his own sanity.
"So?" He regards her with steady grey eyes.
"So I thought maybe you were doing all this to try to impress her or something."
Justin huffs a laugh. "Alex, don't pretend you're not just as creeped out by Harper's crush as I am."
"Okay, yeah. Then someone else – like your girlfriend?"
It irks him that he knows who she means and she won't let it go. "I told you, she's not my girlfriend." His fingers idly rub over the smooth back of his phone, the sensation briefly distracting him. "Wait, are you saying I could impress a girl by doing all this? I thought you're always the first to tell me I'm going to end up alone because no girl will ever want me?"
"Well, duh. I didn't say you could, I said you would try. Big difference for a big dork."
"Okay, okay, I get it. Is that all you wanted? To remind me that I'm a loser with no game?"
Alex rolls her eyes at his word choice. "So why are you doing all this if not for a girl?"
Justin shrugs, then stands to face her. "I didn't say it wasn't for a girl. But it's mostly for myself. Why do you care so much?"
"I don't," she says too quickly. "I just—"
He watches her tug at the sleeve of her shirt in a way she hasn't for almost a year, a nervous habit. "Alex?"
"I guess I felt like you were avoiding me or something."
A chill of guilt runs down his spine. Of course he has been avoiding her more than usual, but he never expected her to care about, let alone even notice his absence. He remembers Mona suggesting Alex wanted to spend more time with him, and he should have guessed it earlier.
"I'm sorry," he says softly.
Something in Alex's brown eyes dims considerably. "So you have been avoiding me?"
"No, not particularly," he lies. "But I'm sorry you felt like I was. I've been focusing more on myself lately, and I guess I thought you'd be busy with Dean. Or something."
"Is that was this is about? You're jealous of me and Dean?"
Justin quickly averts his eyes to the floor, breathing deeply as he watches her toes scrunch in the carpet, and getting slightly distracted by the bright orange polish peeking from the bottom of her jeans.
"Maybe I am." He keeps his tone carefully neutral. "Okay?"
Alex is quiet for too long, and when Justin finally looks at her, she gives him a small, hesitant smile. "Well, if you'd actually take your girlfriend out on a date once in a while, you'd feel better."
He almost laughs, but gives her another eye-roll and a fond smile instead. "Alex."
She giggles. "Fine, at least ask a girl out, then."
She whirls around and is out of his room before he can say anything. He doesn't know how, but he narrowly missed messing things up again. And he had actually been honest, if vague. Feeling enlightened by this, Justin e-mails Mona and tells her about Alex's new boyfriend. He tells her that he is okay, dealing with it, and that he might be able to let go of everything if Alex is happy.
And that weekend, Justin is properly introduced to Dean. He is as handsome and dimwitted as Justin assumed. And the guy is nice. When Justin checks his grip as they shake hands, Dean doesn't do anything but flash him a happy, puppy dog grin. Justin kind of hates him.
"So, you're Alex's brother?" Dean asks.
"Of course. Didn't she tell you?"
"Nope. She only calls you Justin." He gives a bashful shrug. "I always thought you two were best friends or whatever. I mean, after Alex said she didn't have a boyfriend."
Justin doesn't really know what to say to that. "We have the same last name, you know."
"Huh. Didn't know that." Yeah, it must be Dean's good looks. Justin doesn't know what else Alex could see in the guy.
Then over the course of the day, he sees the way Dean looks at Alex with soft eyes, like she is special and he is lucky to have her. That makes Justin's heart ache because he wants to be able to take Dean's place, but he also can't help but be happy. Because Alex deserves someone who will appreciate and love her in the way Justin can't.
So he watches Alex awkwardly flirt with a boy who isn't him, and for the first time in a month, Justin feels like he didn't lie in his message to Mona. Alex is happy, and that is all that really matters.
Justin will eventually be fine with this because her happiness is enough. It has to be enough, he tells himself until he almost believes it. Almost, but never quite enough.