I love you.
You've only been waiting to hear it for the last five years. You thought that you'd imagined every possible situation under which he'd say it. A bomb was never a part of any of them. You pull away and stare at him disbelievingly. He's actually said it. There isn't really anything for you to say. This is a huge deal for him and you don't want to scare him by saying it back. You've said it before and you know that he's understood every single time that you meant it.
I love you, he says again and this time there isn't anything for you to do except kiss him desperately. You've always known that he loves you but for him to have finally admitted it to himself and to you—out loud—is astonishing. It's kind of funny in a sick and twisted way that it only took a bomb for him to do so. You stay like that, wrapped in each other's arms, for a very long time in the midst of all of the wreckage, the emergency personnel milling around you frantically, but less so than they had been earlier. You commit his smell and feel to memory. It's not that you don't remember what he feels and smells like, it's that he suddenly feels and smells differently than he has in all the five years that you have known him.
After a long while, he asks you what you want. Everyone is with Michael at the hospital, he explains, but there isn't a lot that anyone can do there. They're not allowing any visitors.
When you finally pull away, it's to tell him that you want to go home.
When he leads you to the car, he helps you in. You barely notice that he buckles your seatbelt for you. When he walks around the outside of the car to get in the driver's side, you realise that it's the first time he's relinquished his grip on you since he got back. As you drive away from what used to be Babylon—you still can't believe that it's gone because, even though the structure is still there, it will never be the same, never be Babylon again—he doesn't ask you where you want to go, to which home you want to go, and you're grateful that he understands, at least, that there is only one place you want to be. You do not want to be alone tonight and you're certain that, even if you did, there is no way that he would have let you.
The drive back to the loft is silent. His right hand grips your left in the space between your seats. With your right one, you finger the soft leather of his jacket. You'd insisted on returning the jacket to the paramedic who leant it to you before leaving. No sooner had you handed it over, Brian had shrugged out of his and was wrapping it around you. It smells good. The heady scent of leather and his cologne and his body is soothing.
You drift off a little bit on the drive back to the loft and it isn't until you can feel him loosening his grip on your hand and then pulling you out of the car that you open your eyes. His arm is around your waist, under the jacket and your untucked shirt, as if he is unable to stand the extra distance between your skin. His hand is warm on your back which you can tell is cold as much from the exposed air as a lifetime of poor circulation. You're always cold.
You slump against him during the elevator ride that somehow takes longer than it has ever taken before. You are completely drained and cannot ever remember having been so exhausted in your life. It finally stops in front of the loft door and you get off together. You dig in the pockets of his jacket for his keys, before remembering that he has them. He had to take them to drive.
He guides you inside, taking you to the bathroom and leaving you standing there stupidly as he goes to turn on the shower. It doesn't take long before he and his touch are back. He undresses you slowly, reverently, running his beautiful hands all over your body.
You know what he's doing and you're half-surprised that he doesn't stop to count your toes and fingers. They're all there, you want to tell him, you're not hurt. But you know that he knows this in theory, so you stand there patiently and unmoving and let him take inventory of the scrapes and bruises that are already starting to mark your skin.
When he decides that you are, in fact, going to be just fine, he pulls you to him and grips you as tightly as he did when he first found you. His jeans and shirt are rough against your naked skin and you stay like that until the steam from the shower clouds the air and he tells you that the hot water is going to run out.
You don't argue with him. You're absolutely filthy and cannot wait to wash the smell of a night that you simultaneously never want to think about again but never ever forget from your pores. You work together to undress him and he leads you under the hot spray.
The moisture in the air makes you cough and hack and you are somewhat disgusted by the dirt that is coming out of your lungs. He doesn't say anything, but stands there and rubs your back until you're finished. He stands behind you in the shower and massages your scalp, working the shampoo in your hair into a ridiculous lather. He leaves it in and moves his hands in great looping circles as he washes the dirt and grime from your body. The water circling the drain is sooty and you can't believe the amount of ash that must have been on you. At long last, he tilts your head back into the streaming water and lets the water wash the shampoo from your hair.
His timing is good because you can tell that you are on the last of the hot water. You exit the shower and walk into the towel that he is holding out. You smile when you realise that it's not a clean one. You can smell the scent of his skin and the fragrance of his body wash on it. When you're sufficient dried, he knots it around your hips—which you know from experience is much more difficult to do on another person than it looks—grabbing one off of the floor for himself and takes you by the hand into the bedroom. He leaves you at the foot of the bed and starts rifling through his dresser. He hands you a t-shirt and a pair of his boxers, leaving you to dress yourself. You're relieved—you're tired of being treated like you're going to break.
He's climbed into bed and turned down your side for you in the time that it takes for you to pull on his clothes.
Standing there in your clothes, he looks even younger than usual. Your t-shirt is too wide on his narrow shoulders and he has rolled down the waistband on your boxers so that they look less—but only in comparison—ridiculous on him. His face is quiet and his eyes are wide and tired and blue. You resist the urge to drag him into bed and wait instead. His eyes don't leave your face when he steps up onto the wooden platform surrounding the bed and then right onto the mattress itself as he drops unceremoniously down beside you. You're in the middle of the bed and there are extra feet of wasted space on either side of you but it doesn't really matter right now.
He doesn't tuck himself into you like he usually does. Instead, he turns himself onto his side, worming his cold feet between yours until your legs are alternated one on top of the other from the knee down, so that his face is pressed up against your bare chest and the bottom half of your face is buried into his damp hair. It smells like him from the half-empty bottle of his shampoo you used. It is still in your shower. He left it behind and you never got rid of it, unable to see the point. You knew he'd be back and then you'd just have to buy more.
You can't believe that you said it. You hadn't meant to—certainly hadn't planned on it—but you hadn't been able to find him. The few moments that you'd thought he was dead had stretched into an eternity and what had started out as a possibility had condemned you. You had seen very clearly what your life would be without him in it—not just apart from you but gone—and it was like you'd lost a limb. You would have survived but the phantom pain would have lingered and you'd known then as surely as you knew your own name that this was a thing from which you would never fully recover. This is what you were thinking when you were stumbling through the debris inside of Babylon and then you saw him and it was like a freight train had slammed into you because he was more alive and more beautiful than you'd ever thought possible—than you'd ever dared to hope.
You'd had to leave. Michael is your best friend and you love him, too, but Justin was never far from your thoughts and you left the hospital as soon as you knew that he was going to be alright. It was much easier to find him the second time around and then, without warning, he was in your arms and you were telling him all of the things that you never wanted him to hear. You were so fucking scared. Eyes drifted closed against the red and blue flickering lights. You love him. You've known it forever but you never ever wanted to tell him. Words are one thing while they're in your head, it's when they're out in the open that they become quite another. It's the degree of agency that you award them by the act of setting them free—of saying them out loud—that permits them to come back to bite you in the ass.
His eyes are half-closed and you tell him to go to sleep. The last time you saw a clock—which was a long time ago—it was well after midnight. He pries his tired red-rimmed eyes open and you can tell from the look on his face that he doesn't want to. He's going to fight it as long as he can. He feels so small and unsubstantial in your arms and you marvel once again at how you have watched him grow. You wonder if he knows that he has long since become the best homosexual that he could be.
Just as his eyelashes flutter closed for the very last time, you whisper it into his hair again. You've already said it twice, you rationalise, you're already fucked and he might not remember it in the morning. I love you.
A/N: Just something that's been floating around in my head for awhile. One-shot. A study in second-person narrative.
Queer as Folk isn't mine, but I love it like it was.