Honestly, this first chapter just came to me after reading the prompt and I have no idea where the hell I'm going with the rest of this, so chapters might be a little while in coming up while I think of a plot.
Justin heard a knock at the door and wondered who it was. Most of his friends had keys, and so they'd just unlock the door and wander in, no matter what or who he was doing. And the mail guys never made the trek up to his tenth-floor apartment. He got up, stubbing out his cigarette on the way, and went to answer the door. He opened the door and blinked rapidly, frowning, trying to process the person standing in front of him. He and Brian hadn't spoken in nearly three years, and now a miniature version of his ex-lover was standing on his doorstep.
"Hi, Justin." Gus pushed his way inside. Always confident and straightforward, just like his father. Justin allowed a rueful smile on his face for a moment before turning around to look at the boy.
"Hi, Gus. What are you doing here?" Justin was really confused. "Shouldn't you be with your moms in Toronto?"
"Uh, we moved back to Pittsburgh, like, practically two years ago." Gus's voice was petulant. For a thirteen year old kid, he sounded old. Justin wondered fleetingly if Brian had sounded like this when he was Gus's age. He'd probably been worse.
"Oh." He blinked again. He realized that he really hadn't checked in on the old gang at all. The only person he really kept in contact with was Daphne, and she was in Massachusetts. "So, uh…."
"Why am I here." Justin nodded. "Hmm, well, let's see. One day, my mom convinced your boyfriend to jack off in a cup and…" he trailed off, grinning. Justin rolled his eyes and ignored the impulse to tell him that Brian was not his boyfriend. Gus was definitely Brian's son. The boy's face grew more serious, his eyes darkened in a way that Justin was all too familiar with. "It's Dad. Brian. He….the…" Gus looked up, away. He voice grew quieter, darker. "The cancer came back. They caught it in its early stages, before any major damage, but….We don't think he's going to go through radiation. He's distancing himself from everyone. We never see him at the diner, apparently he doesn't go to Babylon much any more, and he hardly ever comes to the family dinners. He spends so much of his time in his loft or at work, alone. Cynthia says that after you left for good, it was like he had nothing left to live for. She said he's different than he used to be. I don't really remember him in any way but the way he is now, but everyone says it's like he's crumbled. They all say he seems broken."
"Gus, I don't-"
"I know. I know you haven't seen any of them in years. But, they talk about you all the time. Gramma Debbie keeps every article written about you and sticks them in a scrapbook or on the fridge. Uncle Mikey has all these ideas for his comic that he keeps hidden behind his desk at Red Cape. I found them once. I learned a lot about you from them. But Dad…Dad won't talk about you. When the family mentions your name, he walks out of the room. They're real careful not to talk about you when he's around."
Justin looked down. He still thought about Brian all the time. Many of his pieces were still about Brian. He knew the pain that Brian was going through. He hated to talk about him, because that just made him want to hop on a plane and go home to Pittsburgh and he knew he couldn't do that, not anymore, even if he was a success. Justin shuffled his feet. He had no idea how he could feel uncomfortable under the gaze of this boy seventeen years his junior. He decided that maybe it was okay to confide in Gus.
"I don't know if I can go back. If I go to Pittsburgh, I'll have to stay. Once I'm back there, I won't be able to leave."
"So? You're a success here, right?"
Justin paused. "Yeah."
"And you could paint from anywhere, right?"
"Yeah." God, he sounded just like his father.
"And you still love Brian, right?"
"So come home. Please. Maybe you can talk some sense in to him, or something."
Justin shrugged. "Gus, we didn't exactly part on the best of terms." He was glad that Gus was a mini version of Brian, older and more knowledgeable than most kids his age. It meant he could talk to him like an adult.
"Justin, please. He still loves you. I know it. You can convince him not to let himself waste away."
"When your dad puts his mind to something, you can't exactly force him to change it."
"I can't. They can't. But you can. They all said it worked before. They say you changed everything. I know he still loves you. Because the only time I've ever heard him talk about you willingly was when he told me that you named me on the night you guys met. And his face, his eyes, when he talks about you…."
"I know." Justin could imagine the soft expression that Brian used to wear often. He knew what Gus was talking about. He'd seen Brian wear it around Gus when he was still in diapers, he'd seen it in the weeks before he left.
"Will you come back? Please? You can always come back to New York afterward."
Justin sighed and shoved a hand through his hair. He had the money. He had just finished an exhibition, and had nothing lined up right now. He was using his free time to do his own stuff. But going back…..going back would open up so many healed wounds, would bring back so many happy memories. It had been six years since he'd been back. He didn't know. Justin wandered into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of Jim Beam that was sitting on the counter next to the fridge.
Gus gave a little grin. "He's rubbed off on you, I see."
"I lived with him for five years. He's rubbed off on me in a lot of ways, Gus."
"You mean like that?" He pointed to a painting on the wall of the kitchen near the window, where the light was good. It was a slashing, swirling abstract of green and brown and black and amber and gold. "Don't think I don't know what that is. I've seen it many times. It's in my genes."
"God, Gus." Justin shook his head in disbelief. "You are just like him."
Gus gave him a shit-eating grin, a clone of his father's. "I know. That's what everybody says. So will you come?"
Justin rubbed a hand over his face and glanced around. What was here in New York for him, anyway? He had friends here but no real family like the one in the Pitts, he wasn't attached to this apartment, and he'd managed to suck every bit of inspiration from this city. And it wasn't like he'd had a relationship in the last few years. He really could paint from anywhere. Maybe it was time to go home. But, Christ, it would be hard. It would bring up things he'd tried to push down, away, forget about. He sighed and nodded.
"Yeah, I guess I'll come. I won't promise to stay, but I'll go back for a little while. But give me a little while, okay? I have to pack and call a few people and buy a plane ticket."
"Oh, don't bother with the ticket. I already have yours." Justin stared at him. "I was pretty sure you'd come. Uncle Ben said you love him enough. Gramma Debbie thought you'd come down in a heartbeat. And Uncle Mikey made some joke about you two being like magnets."
Justin wasn't surprised at that. For some reason, his family had the utmost optimism when it came to the fucked up relationship he and Brian had had. "Okay. Well, let me get my stuff in order."
Gus dropped down on his couch and put his feet up on the glass coffee table, grabbing the remote and turning on the television. Justin winced at the incredible familiarity of the actions, then sighed. He'd have to get used to this all over again in order to see Brian. He'd have to get used to feeling the pain in his gut all over again.
Justin packed slowly, wondering when it would truly catch up with him that he was actually going back to Pittsburgh. Back home. He found it funny that he still thought of it as "home," when he hadn't been back there in six years. He packed randomly, just picking up clothes and shoving them in his duffle. He stopped for a moment and looked at the black bag. It was just one of the many things he still had that held such a history. It was the black duffel that his mother had given Brian the first time he'd moved in with him. It was the black duffle he'd taken with him each time he'd moved out, each time he'd left. It depressed him to realize that he could actually say "each time."
Gus poked his head in. "Come on. Let's go. We don't have all fucking day."
"You have you're father's mouth, you know that?"
"Actually, it's him and Mel." Justin snorted. Figures.
He zipped up his black duffle and grabbed his cell, following Gus outside and hailing a cab. He called work, the gallery, his agent, told them he was going away for a little while, family troubles. They understood.
Justin sat on the plane, staring out the window beside him at the dark ground below. Gus had tuned him out, putting headphones on and blocking out the world around him. Justin wished he could do that, too.
With quiet resignation, he let his thoughts drift back to that night three years ago, when he'd left for good.
Brian had been visiting for the weekend. Justin had stopped altogether his visits to Pittsburgh after the second year. He just didn't have enough time or money. So Brian was the one flying back and forth, and though Justin's invitations for him to come up were become less and less frequent, neither of them mentioned it.
Brian was packing up to fly home. They had fought a little earlier in the day about Justin coming home for his mother's birthday. Justin said he wasn't coming back to Pittsburgh, not anymore. Now Brian looked up as if to say something, his mouth set in a grim line. Justin knew by his expression what it would be.
"Justin…" Justin didn't want to hear it. He fought the urge to run a weary hand over his face. Brian stared at him, hard, hazel eyes boring into his skin, expectant, also weary, as if he knew what was coming, and was trying so hard to will it away, to deny it.
"Brian, I belong here. And….this, this thing with you flying back and forth every few months to see me for a weekend, it just….it doesn't work. I…" Justin had long ago realized that he'd lost or forgotten parts of the Brian Kinney Operating Manual, even before he'd left. He couldn't push as hard. He didn't know Brian as well as he used to. It hurt not to be able to read him any longer. "I don't want to deal with it any more. It hurts to….see you. Because I don't know you, not any more."
"You know me. You've known me for ten years."
Justin sighed, exasperated, pained. He could feel Brian's walls pulling up around him, and couldn't remember how to knock them down any more. "I know you, Brian, but I don't know you."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"Remember when we first met? How persistent I was? Remember how I knew you without knowing you?"
"Vaguely." There was the sarcasm, the Kinney defense mechanism.
"I can't do that anymore. I don't know how to read you anymore. It's…it's not because I don't love you. God, I love you. But I'm not with you. I'm not around you. I don't knowyou. So I can't go back. And….well, I think it's best if you stopped coming up here. Because it hurts to see you once, and barely know you. It hurts to touch you for such a short time and have to reacquaint myself with your body every few months. It just…I can't do this any more, and I can't go back. So I think we should just…..stop."
"So you're leaving then? For good?" He could hear the shock and pain Brian was trying so hard to hide.
Justin turned his back to Brian, his head dropping to his chest, a weary sigh falling from his lips. He couldn't look at him, not right now, not like that. "Yes."
There was nothing Brian could say to that. So Justin took a breath and decided to deliver his last painful blow, knowing it wouldn't end well, but there was nothing else he could do. He swallowed past the bitter words in his mouth. "And I think we should stop calling and talking and things. Just quit everything. It's easier that way."
"Easier." Brian's voice was flat. "It's not fucking easier, Justin. It feels fucking unnatural not to wake up next to you. I keep expecting to see you at Babylon every night. Coming up here gives me a break from all the bullshit at home and I actually get to enjoy something for once." Taking in a shaking breath, he shoved a hand through his hair and seemed to decide something. "It's not fucking easier," he spat. "But if it's what you want, fine. Anything for you, Sunshine." He said the nickname raw, like someone was tearing out his heart and taunting him with a red flag at the same time. Then he picked up his suitcase jerkily and walked out, not looking back.
Justin sank down onto the couch and stared at the wall. He didn't move for a long time.
Leaning forward toward the seat in front of him, Justin gave up trying to hold back and just let the realization that he was going back home hit him full force. He put his head in his hands. He wanted to scream. He wanted to cry. He wanted to jump up and down with elation and slam his hands into something in frustration. He wanted to freeze up and then turn around and run back to New York. All these pent up emotions and memories hurt so much. He took a long, slow breath and tried to sort them out.
They followed the flow of people off the plane. Gus tugged at his arm.
"Come on! We have to go get your luggage."
"Okay, Gus, okay." He followed the boy to baggage claim and stood there, waiting for the belt to start circling. Abruptly, he turned to the boy, frowning.
"Gus?" Gus looked at him. "Gus, who knows about your little plan? Who knows I'm coming?"
"Mom, Gramma Debbie and Uncle Ben. I think Gramma Jen might know too, but I'm not sure. Gramma Debbie might have told her."
Justin sighed. Shit. This was going to be an interesting experience he'd be wishing he'd never had. He watched Gus rush through the throng of people sardined around the metal loop of the luggage belt to grab their bags. Smiling gratefully at the fact that he wouldn't have to push through all those bodies, he took his bag from Gus and started toward the exit. They hailed a cab and were soon on their way home.
Justin stared out the window at the world outside as it flew by. He'd once known these places so well, now they were all different and unfamiliar.
He remembered his first year in New York, his shitty little apartment he'd shared with four other people that Brian had taken one look at and decided they were going to a hotel. He spent so much of that first year just trying to keep a job, get a showing or an agent, that he'd barely had time to see Brian. He spent nights on his tiny foldaway futon bed, not sleeping. He'd wrap himself in a sheet the way he'd done when he lived with Brian and stand at the window. He often wondered what Brian was doing, whether he was feeling the same stinging loss and the grey emptiness Justin was feeling. He would get to sleep late after staring out the window, sketching Brian by the light of the lamp on his desk, its shade moldy and its light getting ready to sputter out. He woke up in the morning clutching at his pillow, his face buried in it as if it were Brian.
After a little while in New York, the stress of his jobs and his need for a gallery or something to recognize his work, started getting to him. The nightmares from so long ago began again. Night after night, he woke up yelling, frantic and breathing hard. His roommates would shake him awake or he'd wake up himself, but he could never go back to sleep and he'd tell his roommates not to touch him, because the only who could ever make the phantoms in his head disappear was Brian. He wished time after time for blue light. He wondered if Brian felt the same crippling static of loss. He wondered if Brian experienced the same sweaty fear he felt at being alone, without a body beside him in the dark, that he did each night.
Whenever Brian visited, Justin would cling to his skin, to his smell, to his rough voice, trying to store it away for when he left again, to own it so he could cover himself from his nightmares like a child covered himself from a monster with his blanket. And Brian would cling to him as well. They wouldn't leave Brian's hotel hardly at all for the weekend, preferring instead to just allow the other's tingling presence to wash over them for a while. And then Brian would go home to Pittsburgh again, and Justin was left with a sense of time flying by, of things growing weary, of the fact that maybe what Brian had told him the night he left, that thing about time, really was a lie.
It was that slow, creeping realization that had convinced him not to go home any more. He allowed Brian the luxury of coming to New York, because he still needed Brian's presence, his solidness, as reassurance that the last few years weren't just an elaborate dream, but soon he knew that things would change. And that hurt. He tried hard to push that away, to cling to the idea that it really was only time, and not the feeling that he was being rubbed raw by the minutes passing by.
A pothole in the road jolted Justin back into the present. He turned to Gus.
"Hey, um, Gus? Where are we going?"
Justin shook his head. "No, no. I know that. Which home? You and I have about four."
"Oh. I don't know. I thought you'd want to go to Brian's." At Justin's violent shake of his head, Gus shrugged. "Gramma Debbie's?"
Justin let out a breath and shrugged a little in agreement. He wasn't sure how ready he was to face any of his family. He could feel the nerves in his stomach, uncertainty filling his gut. He'd changed, everyone had, but he hadn't kept in touch. He hadn't asked for updates on their lives. He hadn't really even paid much attention to anything Daphne told him about them, while they kept a fucking scrapbook of his accomplishments. Suddenly, he felt like such a shit. He wished he could take back his stupid ignorance.
Sighing, he leaned his head against the window again, and closed his eyes, letting his mind drift to wherever it wanted, and fell asleep. He was awakened later by Gus shoving violently at his shoulder.
"Justin. Wake up. We're almost at Gramma Debbies."
Justin groaned and sat up in time to see the very end of Liberty Avenue fly past. He felt it's pull at the pit of his stomach, a slow burning need for things to be the way they used to, for the thumpa thumpa to go on.
"He rebuilt Babylon, you know." Gus interrupted his thoughts. "A little under three years ago. He never said why."
"Here you are." The cabbie pulled to a stop, not allowing Justin time to dwell on Gus' revealing little statement. Justin paid the driver and got out, tugging his suitcase with him.
Gus unlocked the door to Debbie's house and ushered him inside. He looked around. It was still the same bright, loud, delicious-smelling Novotny household he had left. Gus pulled his suitcase upstairs, vanishing up to put his stuff in the hallway, probably. From the kitchen, Justin could hear Debbie laughing loudly at something Carl's soft, gruffly gentle voice was saying, and Michael making a screechy, sarcastic comment. For a moment he just stood there, memories from years ago hitting him in the face. It made him want to fall over, or vomit. He stood there, rocking slightly in the entryway, overwhelmed by the flurry of the past.
Suddenly, the noise from the kitchen ceased, and Justin could feel three pairs of eyes boring into him. He made a feeble gesture of greeting with his hands, tried to smile. It came out nervous and too light. "Um, hi."