Can't Throw It Away
(sequel to Stolen Treasure)
"Brian, it's me. Could we talk?"
"…Words seem to be coming out of your mouth now. I haven't hung up yet. So, talk."
"Not on the phone. In person. And not just I talk and you make faces. You have to talk, too."
"Rethinking the hanging up."
"Brian, I mean it."
"You need a lesson in how to make a successful pitch, Sunshine. You don't go in with a list of demands."
"But you have to have confidence that you have what the client wants."
"And what is it you have that I supposedly want?"
"Fulfillment of your curiosity?"
"I'm not that curious. But that was a good try. I guess I'll reward your effort."
"Good. I'll be there in a half hour."
"Fuck, now? Maybe I was going out!"
"That can wait. If it couldn't, you wouldn't be talking to me."
"Here, at the loft?"
"Has to be."
"You're a demanding little shit, you know that?"
"…Fine, I'll be here. But I don't have anything to say."
"We'll see… Thanks, Brian."xxxxx
The loft was both the absolute worst place for them to talk and the only possible place. And it really should have seemed more surreal… the moment when Brian slid the door open and Justin walked inside… for both of them, than it did.
For a minute, they just stood there and stared at each other. Brian trying (failing) not to notice Justin's beauty. Justin drinking Brian's in like Prohibition just ended.
Brian gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders. "This is your show."
To which Justin nodded, went to the refrigerator and got a bottle of water, then marched himself to the sofa and sat down. Looking like he'd never left. Brian was torn between the urge to scream and the urge to chuckle. Instead, he stayed silent and joined Justin on the sofa… a safe(ish) distance away.
He wanted a glass of Beam to accompany whatever the fuck this was but decided not to risk the lowering of inhibitions, few though his might be.
Justin was just sort of looking at his hands, still not saying anything. Brian waited. He'd refused to let himself think at all in the last thirty minutes, so he had no clue what was going on. He was still pretending not to be in shock that Justin had called. The boy had acted like it was a bother to say more than two words to him for months. Brian had been friendly… nice even, he thought, while Justin had barely managed civil. Now he wanted to talk?
Brian was getting more and more uncomfortable, like he was waiting to be ambushed, and wondering why the fuck he'd agreed to this. Finally he had to speak up.
"Did Ian approve this little field trip?"
He waited again, this time for blue eyes to narrow, for the pointed correction of the name, for Justin's defense of his completely respectful and egalitarian romance with the fiddler.
It didn't come. Justin raised his head and looked at Brian, eyes open, even soft… yet determined. He bit his lip, only for a second, then spoke.
"I need to tell you something."
With those six words, a million possibilities burst into Brian's head, against his will, in every direction… from Justin being sick, to Justin marrying Ethan and leaving the country, to the seemingly least likely (but most imagined, "I want you back")… and they were all fucking terrifying in their own way. He kept his face carefully blank, making an impatient get on with it gesture with his hand.
"I don't know if you ever wondered what happened to the scarf… but I kept it."
That was one Brian never would have thought of.
He didn't have to ask what scarf. His brain went from overloaded with scenarios to just one scene, one smile, one sound… CRACK… one neverending stream of blood. Justin wanted to talk about that? Fuck no. Get him out of here. Get him out.
But Brian didn't tell Justin to leave. He didn't grab his arm and shove him towards the door. He stood and went for the whiskey, giving up being good, taking a couple of needed gulps. He sensed Justin wanting to stop him but deciding he couldn't deny him that bit of courage. Fucking right.
"I, uh… woke up and had to go to the bathroom and I stepped on it. Picked it up. I think I wanted you to not have to see it again, and I thought about just getting rid of it, but then, I don't know. I hid it in my stuff instead."
Brian didn't mean to say anything at all, but one word snuck out.
His voice was rough, trying to understand.
Justin was pretty sure Brian mostly meant why he kept the scarf, but maybe also a little bit why are you telling me this. He'd be as honest as he could and hopefully speak to both.
"I… guess I kept it… because you did. You kept it all those weeks, months. And when I took it off you that night, I'm not sure I really knew what it meant. But I knew it meant something… important. That I was important, to you."
Brian was glad he had his back turned. He could pretend Justin didn't know his eyes were closed and his breathing shallow. Didn't know this was affecting him.
"I mean, even if you only wore it out of some messed up guilt thing, I still figured you had to care a lot to feel so guilty. Was that all it was?"
Brian turned back around, steeled, doing his best fucking impression of casual. "Why does this matter now? You moved on from that." And me. "Right?"
"Maybe not as far as I'd thought."
"What does that mean?"
"…I've been having the nightmares again."
"Fuck." Brian walked back to the sofa, sitting next to Justin this time, finding himself giving several damns. "The really bad ones?"
"Yeah. Not all the time, not like then. Maybe once a week… or so. But, for a while." Since I left.
"You okay? You do look tired." The pad of Brian's thumb touched just under Justin's left eye for a second, sparking the skin, then the hand was gone.
"Want to lend me some of your concealer?" One corner of Justin's mouth quirked slightly.
"Hey, I do not wear makeup. It's just cream."
Justin smiled at the easy moment. "I'm all right. I- well, I had something that helped me get back to sleep… Sometimes I'd pull out the scarf and hold it. Or even put it on under my shirt for a minute, to feel it against my skin."
Brian would have thought he was being laughed at if not for how almost shy Justin's voice, giving this confession. How painfully sincere his face.
He pictured Justin… what he was describing… and his chest ached. "How the fuck did that help you?"
"You always helped me with the nightmares. And the scarf… was you. I could hear you in my head telling me to breathe. I could see your face when I took it off you and I'd know that someone else understood, and it made it better, and I felt…"
"What?" He didn't want to know. But he needed to.
"Not alone. And… like I had proof. That I'd been loved, even if it wasn't exactly how I wanted."
Justin had to practically sit on his hands to keep from reaching for Brian. The man looked like he'd been hit by a truck, at least to one who knew him well. He just wanted to hold his hand, touch his leg. Comfort and connect. But he didn't.
"So. I know why I wore it. Why did you?"
Brian unfroze after many seconds, cleared his throat. "Guilt was a hefty dose."
"How many times do I have to say, It wasn't your fault?"
"You'll lose your voice trying. But… I guess that wasn't all of it."
Brian never wanted to remember anything after the smile. Tried not to remember the before, either. Hurt almost as fucking much. But Justin's face was aimed at him again, blue eyes begging him to tell him. Give him this. So, he let the memories hit, and hurt.
"I had it on for three days, you know, sitting there. Not just the scarf but the fucking tux. Until they said you were going to live. I finally left, I got cleaned up and changed, but it felt… strange, wrong. Too clean. And I pick up the scarf and it's got your life all over it and I can't throw it away. When it was around my neck, you lived, so maybe if I kept it there…"
"You'd been wearing it since the prom?" That was, what, two and a half months?
"I took it off to shower. But yeah… I had must've had over a hundred tricks in that time. And I don't think I fucked one of them with my clothes all the way off. Always kept my shirt at least partly on, scarf underneath. One of them touched it. I almost broke his arm."
Justin just sat, blinking, silent, for about a minute. Again, Brian was giving him something he wasn't completely sure he understood. But Justin knew it was a gift. And he knew it made him want to fucking cry.
"Poor tricks. You can't blame them for wanting you to be in your full glory." Justin forced a small laugh to cover the waver in his voice. "Hundred, huh?"
"More, probably. More than ever. More of everything. More tricks, more booze, more drugs. Whatever it took to get numbed up enough to go see you-"
Brian tried to stop his sentence short but the words were already out.
"What?" Justin watched Brian feign fascination with his empty glass, turning it around and around in his hand, while he replayed what he'd just heard in his mind and tried to make sense of it. "Go see me when? In the hospital?… Beyond those first three days?"
Justin did touch Brian then, a hand on his knee. Brian jumped up like he'd been burned and made his way to refill his glass.
He picked up the bottle, tried to ignore.
"Brian, did you come see me in the hospital?"
Bottle shook a little as he poured, some Beam wasted over the sides.
"Brian, tell me!"
Slammed it down with a thunk. "YES! Every fucking night! All right?"
Everything was still and quiet and so loud. Heartbeats. Truth.
"You were asleep. I just… stayed. Couldn't do anything, couldn't help you. I watched you… toss and turn, mostly."
It was too much to process. Justin wanted to wrap his body around Brian and never let go and he wanted to hit him a little and he wanted to run out the door and disappear. Brian had been… Every night…
He couldn't breathe.
Then his hand was being held to Brian's chest, to feel the steady rise and fall and mimic it. Assuring circles were being rubbed on his back. And that voice, the voice that had been saving him all along, was in his ear.
"Breathe, Justin. You're all right… I-I'm sorry. Just breathe."
He wasn't quite present enough to marvel at the "sorry" when it came, but after a couple of minutes, Justin was okay. More than okay, because Brian's body was pressed all along his side. Before Brian could move away, Justin burrowed in under his arm, sinking them both back into the sofa. He squeezed the fingers that held his.
"God, I want to be mad at you, Brian."
Brian figured Justin would manage it, because he'd been mad at him for a long time. Disappointed, anyway, which was probably worse. And now Brian had given Justin a panic attack, and any moment he was going to pull away, so Brian was trying his damnedest not to let himself feel how fucking good Justin felt in his arms.
"I want to because you should have told me. I deserved to know. I deserved to know then."
Brian nodded slightly.
"But I guess I'm just too busy fucking loving you more than ever before."
With a loud sigh, Justin was across the room.
Brian leaned forward, elbows on knees, head in his hands, heart doing this spasm thing, trying to gather what the fuck was happening. He'd known Justin would pull away, but he hadn't been expecting…
Justin still loved him.
Justin actually admitted he still loved him.
Justin, who had just practically jumped out of his arms and run.
He was standing by the window, hair lit up with moonlight, like a vision Brian had had too many times since he'd left. But when Brian walked up behind him, touched him, he didn't fade. He turned around and fit himself, solidly, into Brian, arms tight around, top of his head in the curve of long neck, and held.
"When did you sleep?" Justin whispered against Brian's chest.
Oh… all those nights… Fuck. "I don't think I slept for about two months."
"Brian." Justin sounded pained.
"What? Lots of uppers. I was fine. I'm… fabulous."
Justin looked up then, and those lips were Brian's for the taking, and it was definitely time to kiss them and throw Justin down and fuck him before either of them could think rationally or kill the moment by saying something stupid…
"Don't you need to get home to your boyfriend?"
Like that. Brian kind of wanted to smack himself, but, fuck, it needed to be said. Justin was having nightmares and it was bringing up old memories of them, making him reach for familiar comforts. He would help him how he could, but he wasn't giving in to what he wanted and watching Justin leave him for the fiddler again.
Justin didn't pull away at those words. He smiled a knowing smile and tightened his grip a bit. "If you mean Ethan, no, I don't."
IF Brian meant Ethan?
"Shit, I just realized, I haven't even told you what I really came here to tell you yet."
Brian raised an eyebrow, waited. Once again tried not to look terrified.
"About the scarf… I don't have it anymore. Ethan found it and threw it away."
"He did what?"
"He went into my bag, thought it was just old, trash, I don't know… so he threw it out. I freaked out when I couldn't find it."
"What the fuck is wrong with that guy? He just goes through your things and gets rid of stuff? You should put his stupid fiddle in the fucking garbage, see how he likes it, the greasy little..." Brian tossed Justin a look that was not apologetic, but like he was still expecting Justin to defend Ethan.
"That's about what I said, minus the 'greasy.' "
Pleasantly surprised, Brian nodded. "How many times did I want to throw out your disgusting old sneakers? But I never did. Your shit is your shit."
Justin so wanted to nibble Brian's lip. "No, you never did. But this was… I just felt like I should tell you."
"You didn't need-"
"And tell you I broke up with him."
They stood there, still locked in this ridiculously neverending embrace. And now Justin was free…
"Fuck, you were angry."
"I was. But, what he did… that wasn't even the reason. More of a symptom that made it clear why I was really so upset."
"Because I couldn't be as angry as I wanted to be. Because there was no way he could understand. What the scarf meant, what the night meant, how I felt about any of it. I hid the scarf, I hid the nightmares. I didn't share it with him. I didn't let him in like that. And not just because I was trying to convince myself the bashing didn't affect my life anymore. It's a big part of who I am, I know that, and there's no escaping it. But I didn't feel like I could tell him. I didn't want to try, but if I had, he would have known… before I even said your name."
"What… would he have known?"
"Why I couldn't really be in love with him."
Justin curled a sure hand around the back of Brian's neck and pulled himself in, pushing his mouth to Brian's. Roughly, at first, fast, just wanting to be there again. Then easing back, softening, licking to find that taste again. Breathing the kiss and breathing Brian until they were both very out of breath.
"He might not… know it, but…"
With Brian's mouth now sucking small kisses, warm and wet, along Justin's jaw… one hand in his hair and one squeezing his ass… coaxing blood far away from his brain… Justin was only just barely capable of speech.
"…Ethan wasn't really… in love with me, either." Then Brian was focused on Justin's earlobe, biting, tonguing. "Nngh… because he didn't know… me, truly…" Justin's neck. "Part of me was… missing… without… fuuuuck…"
"I've been missing that, too."
Justin grinned dizzily at Brian's admission. "I love you."
Brian stopped, his face happy… caught… and a little afraid.
"I know you love me, Brian. It's okay."
Brian blinked, swallowed, looked down, thinking it shouldn't be this easy. Kept playing with Justin's hair, which he couldn't seem to stop.
"It really is okay." I know and I'll keep it safe and I won't throw it away this time. "The scarf's gone, but when I was looking for it, I found my old Art of Being On To Brian Kinney manual."
"You wrote it."
Spoken low, Justin almost didn't hear, but did. "I guess I misplaced it for a while. Forgot some pretty important stuff." He raised slightly on his toes, pressed his forehead to Brian's. Prayer of contrition for the hurt and lost time. "I'm sorry about that."
Brian looked up, and not even his eyes said bullshit. Just acceptance. Relief. Forgiveness and, yeah, love. Echoed by his mouth, with words and kiss.
"Don't do it again."
That night, watched over in sleep… something infinitely more healing than cold, mottled silk against warm, tired skin… nightmares did not come.