When Justin first hears it, he almost laughs. He's certain that it's got to be some kind of mistake. He opens his mouth to call out Brian's name, to tell him about the freak fluke that has allowed someone, a Dr. Rabinowitz, from the Johns Hopkins Oncology Centre to have called the wrong Kinney. His mind is racing, the words are already taking shape in his mouth.
Isn't it great, he is going to say, that we're healthy, that we can laugh at this horrible misalignment of the fates? Because, somewhere out there, there's someone who can't.
And then when he realises that there has been no mistake, his manic mind comes lurching and shuddering to a stop. He stands rooted to the ground in front of the answering machine, unable to move, unable to think anything at all, except:
Brian has cancer.
He has to tell him. Dear God, he has to tell him. He doesn't know how he is going to be the one to put it into words. He moves quickly, not quickly enough, and he reaches the stairs into the bedroom before the hairs stand up on the back of his neck and a realisation strikes him:
He doesn't have to tell him.
Brian already knows.
There is nothing more that Justin wants at this moment than to drop to his knees and cry. He doesn't know how long it will be before Brian hears the horrible sound of his heart breaking but he knows that he will eventually. He's not deaf. When he comes to investigate the horrible keening sound that is coming from the broken body on the ground, he will pull himself together and rise from his ashes. He will get angry at him. He will shout and rant in his general direction because he knows that he can't exactly yell at his piece of shit boyfriend who has cancer.
Why didn't you tell me?
What's your diagnosis?
How long have you known?
And then, because he loves him and he has to know, the most insulting of all:
Are you okay?
Brian will answer him in the cold detached voice he reserves for the times when Justin is emotional enough for both of them and then, when he knows everything that there is to know for the moment being, he will start to cry anew—he never really stopped—because now he's really scared—the words will surely sound so much worse coming from Brian's mouth—and still devastated over the fact that his boyfriend has cancer and has been going through it alone because he didn't know how to tell him.
Justin is on his way to the floor when another realisation strikes him:
Brian doesn't want him to know.
He is running down the stairwell and his lungs are craving the cold night air when he feels it. He is going to be sick. Thankfully, there is a garbage can in the lobby of the building and steadies himself as he leans into the wall behind it, and retches. He continues until he feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. He doesn't have to look at the display to know that it is Brian. He is sure to have finished his shower and found that he is alone in the loft, wondering where he has gone.
The three years that he has known Brian have not taught him nothing. Wiping his hand across the back of his mouth, he pulls out his phone and sees that he was right. He texts him back. It's a lie, but he knows that he will believe it:
He's gone for milk, he'll be back soon.
After an appropriate period of time has passed, Justin finally returns to the loft with the milk that they don't need. When he goes to the fridge, he takes the mostly full carton that he had purchased earlier in the week and pours the milk down the drain, tossing it disinterestedly in the recycling.
Brian is asleep. The lights are still on, so he goes around and turns them off. When he gets to the bedroom, he sees that Brian has indeed gone to bed—or, more accurately, has passed out half on and half under the covers right in the middle. He's wearing the saggy grey shorts again, that make Justin wince when he remembers the surgery that Dr. Rabinowitz had referred to and the way he'd mocked them earlier. He can't remember the last time he saw him sleep with clothes on.
Justin had called information from the grocery store. Dr. Levi Rabinowitz, he had learned from the woman at Johns Hopkins, was an oncologist. When he had pressed her further, she had told him that he was one of the foremost specialists on the East coast in testicular cancer. Upon hearing this, Justin had snapped his phone closed. He had not needed to hear anymore. He had understood immediately why Brian had not told him.
Justin's heart twists painfully in his chest as he climbs into bed on Brian's side. Brian's already snoring so he turns into his body and wraps his arms around him, resting his head next to Brian's on his pillow. He closes his eyes against their blurring bedroom, squeezing them shut against the exhaustion that is etched in the way that Brian is sprawled on his back. He knows that if he starts to cry, he won't be able to stop. So he doesn't, and instead buries his nose in Brian's chest and breathes the scent of his body wash and his skin until the urge to hyperventilate passes and he, too, falls asleep.
When Justin wakes up in the morning, Brian is already sliding gingerly to the side of the bed.
"Christ," he groans at him, "couldn't you have slept on your own side?"
Even though he has slept close to eleven hours, he still looks exhausted—jet lagged, Justin remembers. "You look like shit," he tells him.
Brian starts to regurgitate his excuse about jet lag again.
"I know," Justin cuts him off and rolls over so that he is on his elbows beside him. "Why don't you take the day off? Stay home and sleep."
For a brief moment, Brian looks like he is considering it. He shakes his head and decides against it. "Can't. I have a meeting with my talented art department who have collectively done a wonderful job fucking over the mock-up for the Brown Athletics campaign while I was away."
"Couldn't Cynthia or Ted look after that?" Justin is fishing now.
"Sunshine," Brian gives him a condescending look. "I know that your pretty little head isn't made for business, but I want you to say this with me. Cynthia is my assistant. Theodore is my accountant. That means that they are either under qualified or poorly equipped to deal with the half-retarded monkeys that make up my art department."
"I still think that you should stay home," he tells him stubbornly.
"I appreciate your concern. I just choose to ignore it."
Justin sticks out his tongue.
Brian looks down at him for a moment before leaning in and brushing his lips across Justin's forehead. "I'll see you tonight."
Brett Keller is perfectly gracious when Justin calls him up to tell him about the death of Brian's pet. He tells Justin that he is sorry for his loss and of course they can cancel their meeting at Babylon. He asks him without a hint of sarcasm in his voice to please pass his condolences along to Brian.
Michael, on the other hand, isn't nearly so understanding when he calls Justin about an hour later.
"Why the fuck did you tell Brett Keller that Brian's cat Muffy died? Brian doesn't even have a fucking cat!" Michael's voice is shouting at him through his cell phone.
"Michael? I'm still in class right now. I'll call you back."
"Don't you hang up on me, you little shit! You owe me an explanation!"
Justin sighs. It is obvious, from the confused and annoyed looks that he is receiving from his classmates, that Michael's voice is carrying. He rises to his feet and leaves the room.
"Michael," Justin starts before he gets cut off, "he's really jet lagged—"
"He went to Ibiza, Justin! Of course he's jet lagged. That's what? A six hour time difference? Not to mention the fact that he probably hasn't slept since he left because he was too busy fucking everything that moved while he was there. I hate to break it to you, but he's done it before and he'll probably do it again. He'll be fine."
Justin tries again. "Michael."
"—What the hell were you thinking?" Michael interrupts him. "Do you not get how important this is to Rage?"
Of course he does. He's outside now, leaning against the lockers behind him. He needs a fucking smoke. "Brett said that it wasn't a big deal. He understands."
"Of course you don't," Michael acts like he hasn't spoken. ""I know that Rage is just a comic book to you. Whatever. That's fine. But it means more than that to me."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Michael doesn't miss a beat. "You've never had to work a day in your life."
Justin fights the urge to make a comment about Deb. Is he insinuating that his mother has never worked a day in her life, either?
"Mommy and Daddy gave you everything—" Michael continues, "—and then, lo and behold, who was it that came along but Brian. He pays for your food, he pays for your clothes, he pays for your school, he pays for the roof over your ungrateful head—"
"Are you fucking serious?" Justin cannot believe this.
"—so why would anyone ever assume that you had any idea what it was like to make your own living or provide for a family? You don't even provide for yourself." Michael asks him, not giving him enough time to answer before he disconnects the call.
If there was anything else to be said about the conversation besides the fact that Michael Novotny was a douche bag, it was that Justin now knew without doubt that Brian had not told Michael about his cancer.
Brian is already home when Justin returns to the loft after class.
"You're home early."
He grunts at him from the couch where he is laying on his back with an arm thrown over his eyes. He looks a little less tired and Justin pretends not to notice as he stuffs the bottle of painkillers into his pocket.
"What do you feel like for dinner? Are you hungry?"
Brian yawns and sits up. "Anything. I'm starving."
Justin starts rifling through the fridge, pulling out ingredients and setting them on the counter. He is chopping some vegetables when he remembers. "How did your meeting with the art department go?" he calls out.
A sound of disgust comes from the couch. "They're incompetent and talentless morons."
"Worse." Brian has gotten up from the couch and is walking towards him. His gait is still awkward, but it looks a little less painful than it did that morning.
"Gone are the days," Justin muses, as Brian settles himself carefully on one of the bar stools, "in which you had me in your art department. I was good."
"You were adequate. It was the office sex and calling me 'Mr. Kinney' that pushed you into the exceptional bracket. Had it not been for that," he pauses for effect and regards him quite seriously, "you wouldn't have lasted a week."
Justin smiles at him, mostly genuine but a little sad. It's devastating to watch him try this hard.
"I forgot to tell you. Brett's assistant left me a message on my phone. They have to fly back to LA sooner than expected."
Brian is looking at him expectantly. "So..."
"So, you're off the hook."
"Thank Christ for that." His whole body relaxes. "I still need to get caught up on some paper work. From Ibiza."
Also known as the hideous medical forms that he accidentally left under his day planner next to the computer.
"Yeah," Justin nods. "From Ibiza."
Emmett is the first to say something, but he is by no means the last. He comes into the diner alone while Justin is working and sits down at the counter in front of him. He is studying him curiously, stirring his coffee absently with one hand.
"Is everything okay?"
Justin sends him a smile. "Yeah, why wouldn't it be?"
"You're looking a little frazzled, baby. Did something...did something happen with Brian?"
Justin almost drops the coffee pot he is carrying onto the counter.
"No," he tells him, very careful to make just the right amount of eye contact, keep his face pleasant and relaxed. "Why would you think that?"
He is well on his way to becoming a most accomplished liar.
Justin actually knows before walking into the loft a dozen or so days later that Brian has started his treatment. The horrible retching noises that are coming from inside are unlike any that he has ever heard in his life. As are the miserable sounding moans that punctuate them and hit Justin squarely in the gut.
He stands at the door for a minute contemplating. He isn't sure exactly what awaits him inside, but he's seen Brian sick before. He can do this, it'll be okay. When the door slides open, there's no going back. He steps inside and tries to act normally. The noises, the coughing and the puking, continue, of course. Those are involuntary. It's the despondent moaning, that would be beyond the control of the overwhelming majority of the world's population, which cuts off abruptly.
In spite of having mentally readied himself, Justin is ill equipped for the scene that he finds in the bathroom. Brian had clearly started off on his knees but has long since slumped to the side and is now draped across the toilet bowl. He isn't even trying to hold himself up anymore, just lying there against the cool porcelain dry heaving.
Brian lifts his head at the sound of his own name and Justin just stands there for a few seconds staring at the sheen of sweat masking his pallid, waxen complexion. Very purposeful deep breaths seem to steady him because he is able to get himself under control. He is still in his suit, Justin notes dejectedly, and there is a great deal of shame in his sunken eyes. He has never seen him like this before. Angry, frustrated resentful? Always. But never ever shameful.
"Jesus, Brian. What the hell did you eat?" He's rubbing his back and closes his eyes for a second against the grating, fake sound of his voice. It has to be food poisoning. Are you sick is not something that he is prepared to ask him. He's not that good of a liar.
Brian is looking at him wordlessly. He looks so fucking tired that it makes Justin's bones ache.
"You must have food poisoning."
He just looks so relieved—so grateful for the lie—that Justin can't think.
He clears his throat. "Jesus. Let me get you some water." He gets to his feet and fills the glass next to the sink, presses it into Brian's clammy hands. "Don't drink it too quickly."
Brian is glaring at him weakly so he says what he does not mean:
"I'm serious, I don't want to clean up after you."
The puking only happens on the really bad days. Most days, Brian is bone-achingly tired when he gets home, he's distant, and Justin tries to give him his space. It doesn't always work. Sometimes it's his fault, but sometimes, a lot more of the time than Justin would have guessed, it's Brian who reaches out. Justin never ever thought that he would see the day when Brian Kinney would fall asleep on his lap, and he hasn't, not yet, but today he comes close. Justin is sitting up next to him in bed and he has turned into the length of Justin's thigh in sleep. His face is relaxed now and it's the calmest that Justin has seen him look in what now, in retrospect, in weeks.
There are times when Justin thinks that Brian knows that he knows. Most of the time he is able to check his overwhelming need to take care of him, he is able to strip the fear and sadness from his features and hide them in a place that Brian never goes, but not always. But no matter what he does, no matter how hard he tries, it's always there, if Brian would ever care to notice, sometimes in his eyes but usually in his touch, and from time to time Brian regards him with curious eyes, angry eyes, even though he never actually says anything.
Quite frankly, Justin is surprised that it goes on as long as it does. It's a particularly bad day when his little charade ends. He's already at the loft waiting when Brian comes home from what he can only assume is one of his treatments.
"How long have you known?" Brian asks him after he has wordlessly helped him into bed. He barely made it in the door before he collapsed.
Justin isn't sure how to go about this. "Known what?"
"Don't insult me by playing the dew-eyed innocent, Justin. How long have you known?"
There isn't any point in lying, it'll only make it worse.
"Ten days," he tells him.
"There was a message on your machine." The words are out of his mouth before he even thinks them. The second that he hears them, he knows that he has gone too far. He knows what will happen next as surely as he knows Brian. "Brian, how could you not tell me?"
Because he doesn't want him to know.
It's none of his business.
Even though Justin knows that they're just words, that they don't really mean anything, that Brian really doesn't mean them, they make him sick because he is his partner.
He loves him.
He wants him to get the fuck out.
They are just words, but they are horrible, horrible words and Justin hates that it's not the first time he's heard them so ultimately, in the end, he leaves.
When he first leaves him, it's with the understanding that Brian needs time. Time to calm down, time to come to terms. Time to realise that cancer matters and, even though it technically is his problem, four years is a long time and their problems kind of belong to both of them. It's not a thing to go through alone. And so it surprises him, hours later, when he realises that he isn't sure if he can go back.
He goes to Debbie's, knowing full well that she will have to leave. Her shift is starting soon, but she tells him he can stay. He goes upstairs and flops onto his back on his old bed—Michael's old bed in Michael's old room. There is a picture of the two of them—Michael and Brian—on Michael's nightstand. They're so young.
I'll always be young and I'll always be beautiful.
Fighting the urge to vomit, Justin turns it over.
He is just so goddamn angry.
It always happens like this.
People assume that there are rules in how to deal with Brian Kinney and they're partly right. There are rules. But what people don't realise—and what Justin is the only one who does—is that there are actually two sets. The Kinney Operating Manual, as Michael calls it, is for other people. Justin knows it pretty well—probably better than Michael himself—but, what Justin also knows is that there is a second set. They do not have a name, they're not written down, but they are there and they are the standards by which Brian judges himself. Quite frankly, they are a hell of a lot stranger than the ones in the Kinney Operating Manuel. They are not rational and they do not make any real sense and Justin isn't even sure if Brian knows about them.
Most of the time, Justin feels like he understands Brian a little better than most people do—a lot better, actually, since most people don't understand him at all. Even better than Michael, he thinks. Michael loves him too much. Justin loves him, too, but in a way that it very different than the way that comes from growing up with someone, even from being the same age. Michael loves Brian like a brother and Justin knows from experience that the way you love your family is different from the love of a lover. There is a degree of choice, he thinks, that he and Brian have that Brian and Michael do not.
Brian knows this.
And when I come home, I'll also be doing exactly what I want to do. Coming home to you.
It's why he didn't really care about any of the times that Justin broke the rules. It's because he assumed, at the end of the night, that when he came home it was because he didn't want to be with anyone else.
But they didn't really apply to both of them.
Just like the other ones don't, either.
It was fine for Brian to lie to him when he got bashed. (And it still was; he lied to him again.) It was fine for him to visit every single night when he was sleeping. (He didn't even bother telling him, he didn't want him to know.) It was fine for him to wrap that stupid fucking scarf around his neck as penance for his actions, to remind him of his guilt. (He told him it wasn't his problem.) It was fine for him to take Justin in and teach him how to walk down the street again without fear. (He wouldn't let him help him, he told him to leave.) In short, it was fine for him to do whatever the hell he pleased, the consequences be damned. He's never awarded Justin that same luxury.
So, yes. Even though his boyfriend has cancer and it is breaking his heart, he's fucking furious and there are times when he wants nothing more than to tell Brian to go to hell and stay there.
But he doesn't.
He tells himself that he could never really leave his boyfriend who has cancer—not when he loves him like he does—but once he leaves, it becomes increasingly more difficult to go back. He is worried sick almost all of the time, but even that feels better, he imagines, than how he knows it will feel to see him again. It's not going to be easy. It quite possibly might be harder than anything Justin's ever done, because Brian is a stubborn son of a bitch, because he thinks he doesn't want him. After a great deal of consideration, he decides that it isn't often that Brian does know what he wants and so he decides to ambush him at work.
Work feels safer than the loft does. He knows that Brian is going to be furious and he rationalises that, if it's at the office, at least he won't strangle him.
He expects the yelling. It's the calling security and threatening to have him thrown out that knock him on his ass.
That arrogant, self-serving bastard.
Justin doesn't even wait for Brian to address him when he opens the loft door. He pushes right past him and marches inside. It might be the first time that he's ever been one hundred percent honest with him without fearing the fall out. He just doesn't really care anymore. The incredulity in his voice is making Brian uncomfortable. "How the hell could you push me away?"
Brian opens his mouth to say something, but Justin doesn't really care. He cuts him off and he tells him about how thinking that it would be okay not to tell him was the stupidest thing he's ever done in his life which, as they both knew, was really fucking saying something. (He knows, he's sorry.) He tells him a lot of things. How he shouldn't even bother answering from here on out because there isn't anything he can say that would excuse his horribly shitty behaviour. How having cancer wasn't an excuse for cutting him out and pushing him away as if it were he who were the malignant one. How losing a ball—how being anything less than perfect—had absolutely fucking nothing to do with anything that even approached the things that mattered.
"Brian," he has never been as frustrated as he is in this moment and he has to refrain from using bodily force. "listen to me. I am only going to say this to you once: I love you and I'm not going to leave you so you can just toss that idea right out of your head right this instant. And if you ever—ever—try anything half that stupid ever again, so help me God, I will plaster Liberty Avenue with the pictures I found in Michael's bedroom."
Brian is looking at him blankly.
Justin is tired of not touching him at this point, so he wraps his arms around him. His lips move against his collarbone which he knows for a fact is somewhat sharper than it used to be. "Pictures of you in Chemistry club."
"Anything else?" Brian is sulking like a petulant child, but Justin knows that he's happy to have him back because, in spite of being a suicidal asshole, he's never stopped loving him. His arms have come up around Justin's neck and they are knotted in his hair.
" Yeah," Justin looks up at him sadistically, "you look like shit."
A/N: Not mine.
I always found it really weird that Justin went to Michael about Brian. I know that he wanted to get mad at him because he genuinely thought that Michael knew, but I feel that it would have been more Justin for Justin to have dealt with it himself. This is my take on how things might have played out had he in fact done so.
However, I digress.
Just another oneshot, I hope you enjoyed :)