A/N: I know! Something new!
I have no idea if this is a one shot or part of something more. There is more in my head, whether or not I'll ever find time to write it is something else entirely.
Credit to my darling Darkira who prodded me into the concept of this story, which I started writing, ooh, months ago. Maybe more. I've got a lot of Justin/Brian love in me right now, so I thought I'd share. I hope you enjoy.
I didn't dream in Technicolor.
My dreams weren't vivid, or crisply clear, or even soft and ethereal and fuzzy. I dreamed in suggestions, in tiny, unimportant details that would almost be throwaway memories if they weren't memories of Brian.
I dreamed of his breath on the back of my neck.
Of his hand on my hip or the small of my back.
His fingers in my hair as he washed out his stupid expensive shampoo.
The look in his eye when he passed me a mug of coffee, too early in the morning for either of us to hold a conversation, but still knowing how to show that we cared.
The feeling of my heart dropping to my stomach when he looked at me and smiled.
That was how I dreamed. I dreamed in shades of him.
"Taylor!" someone yelled. I jumped, my head jerking up to search for my verbal attackers.
"Yeah?" I called back.
"We're going for a drink," Allie, my roommate said. She was already changed out of her paint-spattered clothes and holding hands with Elliot. Hm. That was a new development.
I looked down at the painting I was working on. It was nearing completion, a few more hours work and I would be able to put it aside, mark it off as done. Chewing my bottom lip, I looked back up at them.
"Come on," Allie whined. "One drink. It'll still be there in the morning."
"Okay," I agreed, although reluctantly. "Let me just get cleaned up."
"Cool. Bennie's. Meet you down there?"
I nodded and started to clear up my brushes.
The studio space was a godsend even if I did have to share it with eight other artists. The company was great, sometimes; there were other people around to bounce ideas off and all sorts of shit pinned to the walls for inspiration. But in accepting that, I also had to tolerate the constant noise from radios or personal stereos, people talking or whistling or humming under their breath.
There was little doubt I missed my little shithole apartment back in Pittsburgh. I missed the light and the solitude and the calm that was sorely lacking here. I did a lot of work back at the house I shared with Allie and a few other artists I'd met through the studio. After living with Daphne's cousin for a few months sleeping on the sofa I knew I needed to get out and find a place of my own. I'd ended up in Brooklyn, close to the studio, close to a few bars and stuff, miles away from any gay scene.
I took my losses and accepted them.
The guys at the house – there were five of us living in a four bedroom house – helped me out when it came to tracking down work. New York was expensive. Really fucking expensive. I worked three mornings a week teaching art classes to senior citizens and a couple of nights a week at a local bar. It brought in enough money to fund my art supplies and not a lot more.
The Catch 22 was that my art was actually selling. Really selling, and mostly thanks to Lindsay's help. She'd taken the show from Pittsburgh and transferred it to a gallery in Toronto, drumming up more support across the border, then sent it down to an old college friend who worked at a gallery in Manhattan. It was small, and insignificant, and completely above and beyond what anyone had ever done for me before. She wouldn't accept my thanks, saying that she wanted to do it because she believed in me. It was nice to know someone did.
The response to the shows was an interest in my work that couldn't be bought, although the paintings could. From the kid who couldn't hold a pencil steady to a serious painter, I'd developed more, and in a direction that I'd never anticipated before. I was often found stuck in the difficult position of having to decide whether to sell off pieces from my collection which depleted the stock I had to send to more galleries. They seemed to think I was being coy, not selling on purpose to increase the desirability of what I did have. That was just a side benefit. The large scale works that I was creating could take a couple of weeks each to complete, sometimes as much as a month and if I wanted to work to show then people needed to let me make it.
Which was why, sometimes, I got frustrated when people dragged me away from the acrylics and towards the beer.
It only took a few minutes to wash out my brushes and I stored them carefully to let them dry. I was the last one out of the studio, not for the first time, so I locked up tight behind me, setting the alarms that linked directly to the local precinct. Our insurance costs were… high. Another expense.
Bennie's was a little place only a block or so from the studio; it would have reminded me of Woody's if it weren't for all the heterosexuals that frequented it. I slipped through the crowd and picked up a beer, then made my way to the booth at the back where a group of people were sat.
They were my friends, I supposed, in a way that general acquaintances become over time. There wasn't a New York version of Emmett, loud and colorful and wild and free. Or Michael, or Ben, or Ted. There certainly wasn't a New York Brian. I soon found that the problem with spending so many years with friends that were at least ten years older than me was that when forced to socialize with people of my own age, I fell flat. I had Daphne, of course, but she was different. She was a confidante who I'd grown up with. She was a friend of necessity, one that was always there, that would never go away. I hadn't chosen her. We had gravitated towards each other, loved each other the way you do when you grow up with someone.
These people, all in their early twenties, like me, talked of theater and discussed art and went to the MOMA weekly. They sat around in hip little café's and wrote poetry in leather bound notebooks to pass the time. They didn't get high on a variety of drugs and dance then fuck until dawn. They were thinkers. They were artists.
And they were straight.
I didn't want to alienate myself from the people who had accepted me and introduced me to New York, the people who I lived with and worked with and shared my studio space with, so I accepted my fate as the one thing I never thought I'd be – the token gay guy in the group.
That's not to say they didn't try to set me up – they did – all the time. When they started throwing a new name around I would just smile blandly and nod. I didn't need anyone else. I still had him.
After I left, I had no idea what would happen to the 'us' that I had defined myself by for nearly five years. Lindsay was convinced that we would find our way back together. During one drunk (both of us), middle of the night (two am) phone conversation she told me that Brian wouldn't dare allow himself to love anyone else ever again. That I had a piece of his heart that was nonrefundable, no exchanges, no credit notes.
The conversation flowed around me at the table; they didn't really need me there but my presence made them feel better about themselves. They'd dragged me out of the house. Away from my computer, away from my paints, away from my sketchpad filled with drawings of him. All from my memories.
We hadn't seen each other in six months.
My room was in the attic of the house. It was all low, exposed beams which meant no one could stand up properly; I spent most of my time sat on my bed or at the desk. The location made me antisocial. I didn't like or want people in my space. My mom thought I was depressed and she was probably right; I was living my dream but without the one person I wanted to share it all with, any success felt empty.
The only thing I could say with any great conviction was that my art never suffered from the separation. I took the pain and hurt and transformed it into purple and yellow, hard lines of color that clashed and the rich blue that soothed it back together again. I drew for him, drew cartoons of him on beer mats in sharpies and sketches on grocery lists so that even though my housemates had never met Brian Kinney they knew him. Almost intimately.
Going home wasn't an option. Not yet.
I had music playing softly in the background as I worked at the computer, a new piece had come into my head that afternoon, taking form and shape and distracting me from the main painting that I'd been working on for a few days. I'd sat and sketched until my hand gave out completely and I was forced to down all tools and walk down to the Starbucks on the corner to give myself a rest.
As usual, when I worked time ceased to mean anything to me, so when my phone beeped to remind me to go and eat I was surprised at the amount of time I'd been sat in front of the machine. I stretched, rotating my neck to work out the cramp and pulled on a pair of sweatpants to wear while I cooked.
I ate later in the day to my housemates, woke up later too, a routine born from late nights at Babylon and not being forced to be at work at nine the next morning. Even though I was a good enough cook I made myself an omelet and ate it from my knees in the den, making small talk with Allie while the others watched some teen soap drama on TV. She followed me back into the kitchen – 70's chic, rocking the retro look in 2006 – and sat on the counter next to me as I washed up.
"So, we were thinking of going dancing on the weekend," she said, swinging her long legs back and forth.
"Yeah?" I said, forcing interest into my voice.
"Yeah. I want to go down to the East Village. There's a couple of clubs over there that sound really cool, and Margarita reckons she can get us on the guest list."
"That would be good," I said noncommittally.
"Think about it, Justin," she said, punching my shoulder gently. "It would be good for you to get out and let your hair down for a few hours."
"If only you knew," I said, laughing as I threw the wet dishcloth in the washer. I hopped up onto the counter opposite her and wrapped my fingers around the edge of the Formica.
"I would know, if you told me," she said, teasing but I could sense the serious edge to her words. I'd been living with her for months and no one here knew me. Not in the way my friends at home did. If there was anyone I was going to confide in it would be Allie; she was a tall redhead with striking blue eyes that she hid behind thick glasses. She was a sculptor and had told me that she needed to feel her art, not just see it.
"Okay," I said. My bare feet bounced against the cabinets as I thought of where to start. "Umm… I met Brian when I was seventeen and he was twenty nine-"
"Wow," she said. I frowned at her interrupting me and she mimed zipping her lips.
"I was a one night stand to him," I said, laughing at the memory. "But he was so much more than that to me. Always has been, I suppose."
"You're in love with him?" she asked hesitantly.
"Mm," I agreed. "And he loves me too."
"So… why aren't you together?"
I shrugged. "He has a couple of businesses. He owns an advertising company and a bar, that takes a lot of his time. He can't just drop everything and move to New York to be with me."
Allie dropped to her feet and pushed her hair back over her shoulder. "It'll work out, Justin."
"Thanks," I said before returning to my room. Alone.
It was nearly three in the morning when my phone rang.
"Hello?" I answered, my voice scratchy from sleep.
There was a long pause, then he said, "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you up."
"No, I don't mind," I said, rolling over to find the warm spot again. "Did you just get in?"
"Been to Babylon?"
"Do you miss me?" I prompted.
Another long pause. "You know I do."
"Come up to New York," I said in a rush. "You can stay here."
"I can't, Justin," he said, real pain lacing his words. "I just wanted to hear your voice before I went to bed. I need to be at the office early… I should go."
"Okay," I said, already resigned. "I'll talk to you later."
"Later," he said.
"I love you," I told him, but the line was already dead.
I fucked him out of my system that weekend in a club that I promptly forgot the name of, with a guy whose name I never knew in the first place. It was dark and dank and dirty, just what I was looking for. I'd left the club where the others were still drinking while it was still early and followed the street names until I came to the right address. There wasn't a back room in the club, the whole club was one big back room. That suited my needs just fine.
Someone offered me a bump of something which I took, not giving a fuck what it was or what it was laced with. Sometimes you take your chances. I spotted what I was looking for pretty quickly; about the same height as me, toned, tanned, blond and blue. Not tall, not dark, not lean and tight. Nothing I could confuse with him.
It was simple, in and out with the minimum amount of fuss and the maximum amount of pleasure. Just as he'd taught me how. No kisses, no promises. No possible chance of heartbreak. More satisfying than self- satisfaction.
On the subway ride home, I hated myself.
It wasn't enough. Anything less than him would never be enough.
Lindsay had set me up with an art agent in New York who she'd worked with in the past and trusted implicitly. He had already shown interest in my work, which was a huge advantage, and was convinced my pieces would sell. I was cautious about signing up to have someone represent me until she set up a meeting with him. The guy's name was Chance. Chance Rawlings. It seemed like a nice twist of fate, that a guy called Chance was going to take me on, so I signed a six month contract with him on the agreement that I could cancel after that period if I wasn't happy with his representation. Needless to say, Melanie drew up the documents.
It was only my second major show since I'd been in New York but one of Chance's specialties was drumming up support from the online community and selling work over the internet. So even though my work wasn't being shown in a gallery, things were still being sold.
In the weeks leading up to the show I was a mess. In previous shows I had had other people backing me up, or they hadn't mattered, not as much as this one. This time I wouldn't just be letting myself down, or Lindsay; there was a big world of people who were going to be looking at my stuff, criticizing it, judging me. It had to be the best work I'd ever created.
When it came down to the wire, I think it probably was. I had twelve paintings hung in a space shared by people I had a huge amount of admiration and respect for; I got the positive feedback that, at that point, I so desperately needed. When it was over I slept for nearly a whole weekend and woke up to a pile of missed calls and messages.
The first one I returned was to Chance.
"Taylor," he said when he answered the phone. "Where the fuck have you been? I've been calling you all weekend."
"Sorry," I said, rolling my neck from side to side to ease the strain in my neck. "I've been asleep."
"Well, wake the fuck up," he said. I could hear him drawing on a cigarette and craved on myself. "I've sold two of your pieces."
"One went for thirteen K."
My mind tried to process his words, which didn't make sense to me. "Wait, what?"
"Thirteen thousand dollars, big boy. Welcome to the art world."
"Are you fucking kidding me?"
He laughed loudly. "No, I'm not. Got some Savile Row kid from London in, convinced him that you're the next big thing. I asked him to make a bid and it came in last night."
"What did the other one sell for?" I asked, not daring to hope.
"Oh, two and a half grand, not so much," Chance said. He was teasing me. I had to sit down, my heart was thumping so hard I was scared I was going to pass out. The most any of my paintings had sold for in the past was a couple of hundred and he knew it.
"Thanks," I said.
"No problem, kid. I already called it in to Lindsay, I hope you don't mind."
"No, no that's fine," I said. "I'm gonna make a few calls. Thanks, Chance."
"See you next week. You can stop by Thursday to pick up the check."
I stayed sat on the floor, wearing only pajama shorts and a tank top but the inspiration to move seemed to have abandoned me. After a few moments I keyed in the speed dial for Brian's office.
"Hey, Cynthia, it's Justin," I said.
"Oh, hey, Justin. He's in a meeting," she said, sounding apologetic. "I'll just see if I can get him for you. Do you mind holding?"
"I'll call back later," I said, not wanting to disturb him.
"If I don't put you through, he'll fire me," she said. I could hear the laughter in her voice. "Hold on."
His hold music wasn't generic elevator muzak, something that had amused me greatly the first time I'd heard it. No, for Brian Kinney's company, the hold music was loud, German techno beats that suited him just perfectly. It was a clear message to his clients – if you don't like it, get off the fucking phone and stop wasting my time.
"Justin," he said after a really short amount of time.
"Hi," I said. I was hesitant, not sure how to approach him since Cynthia had said he was busy… "I got some good news this morning."
I smiled to myself at his usual brief, unemotional tone. "One of my paintings sold, from the show the other day."
"For thirteen grand."
I laughed, then. "Yeah."
"That's awesome, Justin."
"Yeah. Well, sorry to disturb your meeting. I just wanted to tell you."
"Disturb me whenever the fuck you like," he muttered. "The bastards aren't listening to me anyway. I told them you were another client. Keeps them on their toes, they think they're less important now."
I had a mental image of him leaning back in his leather desk chair, his feet up on his workstation as he cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder. I still got a little thrill whenever I thought of him and the new Kinnetic headquarters, the old Turkish Baths. Good memories.
"Nice strategy," I said. "Good luck with the rest of your meeting."
He huffed. "I don't need luck. Oh, Justin?"
"I'm really proud of you."
I hugged my phone to my chest. He didn't do it very often, but his odd displays of affection made me feel seventeen all over again.
Over the years I'd come to accept the fact that I had lost my father due to my sexuality. After the Stockwell issue I'd sort of stopped caring. Not stopped caring altogether, but I'd earned several replacements for the post of father figure in pseudo-mother figures. Lindsay was so maternal just in everything she did that I suppose it was natural that she took me under her wing. There was no way my career would have moved in the direction it had without her help. We talked about once a week:
"How's Gus? And JR?"
"Gus is doing fine," she said. "He's doing really well at his preschool. And JR is a little drama queen." Lindsay laughed and I could hear her moving about the house. "You should come up soon, Justin. We miss you."
"I miss you too," I admitted. "I've just got so much work to do…"
"I know you do. But a break would do you good."
I left it at a noncommittal hum. It wasn't that I didn't want to go and visit them, I did, a lot, but I was scared of abandoning my work. "Have you spoken to Brian recently?"
"He and Michael were up last weekend," she said. "He didn't tell you?"
"We haven't talked in a while," I admitted. "Not since my last show."
She huffed in annoyance. "They spent three days up here. Practically kicked Mel and I out of the house."
"Must have been nice," I said. "All the peace and quiet."
"With Brian here?" she laughed. "No chance. He gave me back a child so high on sugar it took me a week to get him down again. Gus was crawling on the ceiling."
I smiled at the image and turned my pencil to a new corner of my sketchpad, doodling a small cartoon of SuperGus.
"So he's okay, then?"
Lindsay was quiet for long moments. "Yeah. He's fine, Justin."
Mel, too, called me to catch up, if not quite as much as Lindsay did. Her calls were usually more practical; she'd call me when Lindsay had the kids in the bath or when she had downtime at work. She had set herself up in a new law practice in Toronto, although working less cases than she had back home. I relied on her more than I ever thought I would - success came with the unexpected side effects of people writing about me and asking for work in advance of it being completed. Her advice was invaluable.
"How's Brian?" was a question I asked her frequently. Unlike Linds, who would sugar coat everything for me, Mel would give me the straight line, no fuss. At least, that's what I thought.
"Fine," she said blandly.
"What? What do you mean, 'fine'?" I demanded.
"What do you mean, what do I mean?" Mel threw my words back at me confusingly. Lawyer technique, my brain helpfully supplied.
"Don't bullshit me, Mel," I told her. "Since when have you ever described Brian as fine? Oh god, what's wrong? Is it the cancer? Is it back?"
"Oh for fuck's sake," she sighed. "He's fine, Justin, fine. No cancer. Everything's okay."
"Don't scare me like that then," I snapped.
Then I called Debbie who obviously considered me as one of her kids, almost in the same way she thought of Brian. I was her Sunshine and no one was going to tell her any different if they wanted to keep their balls attached to their body.
"Now I don't want you to worry, Sunshine, but I don't think Brian is doing so good."
"What do you mean?" I demanded, sitting up in bed too quickly and smacking my head against a beam. "Motherfuck."
"Language," she chastised. "He's… sad without you."
"Yeah, well, so am I," I muttered as I rubbed my head. "What's going on with him, Debbie? No one will tell me."
"Well, he won't tell anyone else, Sunshine. It's hard to get much out of him at all these days. He's in one hell of a funk."
I laughed softly at that. "He sounds okay when I talk to him."
"Yes. That's because when you're talking to him, he's talking to you. So he's happy. Happier," she corrected.
Her statement loomed over me for days, influencing my work and pushing me down into the same funk of depression that Brian was allegedly wallowing in in my absence. I needed a change of pace, a change of scenery and the opportunity to do just that came up in a conversation with my real mom.
It was her birthday, something that for years she had ignored or just brushed aside with a family dinner but now, with Tucker on the scene, he wanted to make something special of the occasion. Tucker had contacted me and asked if I was free to come home for the weekend just when I was contemplating throwing my computer out of the window. I did a quick survey of my budget and winced, even with a couple of big sales I didn't have a lot of expendable income after I'd paid for art supplies and rent and food.
"I'll buy your tickets," Tucker insisted as I sat on the front step of the house, smoking.
"You don't have to do that," I said.
"I know I don't. But if I do, then you'll have some cash left over to actually get your mom a present."
I sighed, knowing reasonably that I couldn't afford to do both. "Okay," I agreed.
"Great," Tucker said. "I'll give you a call to confirm the flights."
"Flights? I can get a bus, it's fine," I told him.
"Flying is quicker. And easier," he said. "Just… let me do this, okay, Justin? I want your mom's birthday to be special."
I couldn't argue with that without sounding like a real brat, which left me being gracious in my acceptance. That really stuck in my craw. I could accept his relationship with my mom… it didn't mean I had to like it.
"Oh, Justin?" Tucker asked before I rung off.
"Can I get Brian's number?"
"What do you want it for?" I asked, only half joking.
"To invite him," he said. "He and your mom go out for coffee a couple of times a month."
"I didn't know that," I said. I stubbed my cigarette out and frowned. He made some sort of noncommittal grunt. "Okay, but don't tell him I'm coming home. I want to surprise him."
I reeled off Brian's number and was left to ponder the strange relationship between my mother and boyfriend.
It was easier to just pack a carry- on bag and leave any real luggage behind to save time at the airport each end. Since no one other than Tucker knew I was coming home, and because I wanted to surprise Brian, I called in a favor from Ben who agreed he could disappear for a couple of hours to come and get me and drive me back into the city.
The little things, like arranging a ride back home and figuring out the best route to the airport without having to pay for a cab, kept my mind occupied and off the constant concern tumbling over in my mind about the impending reunion with Brian. I wanted him. I wanted him to still want me. I wanted for nothing to have changed… only everything had changed.
If he wasn't doing so well without me, well, hell, I wasn't doing so well without him. I never had. I wanted it to be perfect, going back to the time when things between us just were. When everything wasn't so much of an effort, when we could be together with no other agendas. Without the pressure of his friends and my family and the invariable overlap between the two.
At least Ben couldn't be considered Brian's friend. Or mine, really. He was a neutral third party… until Brian did something stupid and self- obsessed that hurt Michael that annoyed Ben, who then blamed me for not keeping Brian on a shorter leash in the first place.
But he had a car.
And enough self awareness not to act like a dick when I was clearly having a nervous breakdown in the passenger seat next to him.
"Would you calm down?" Ben asked as I fidgeted and chewed on my nails.
He sighed. "Have you brought any work back to do this weekend?"
I knew he was trying to distract me; we'd already had discussions about my art, Hunter, the gallery, his job, the comic store, Debbie and the diner. Which had taken no more than twenty minutes.
"I've always got stuff to do," I said. "Especially at the moment."
"That's good," he said. "I've learned that over the years, that being busy denotes some sort of success. It's when no one wants to talk to you that you've got a problem."
That statement hung heavy in the air for a few seconds.
Then I caved. "Tell me about him," I begged.
"Justin," he sighed.
"I want to know what I'm about to walk into," I said.
"He's not the man you left behind."
I shook my head. "Neither am I."
"Well then," Ben said and I suddenly realized we were on Liberty Avenue. Ben pulled up outside Woody's and popped the trunk so I could grab my bag. "There's only one way to fix it."
My heart was pounding as I muttered my thanks, walked round the car and shouldered my duffle and walked up the familiar steps. This was it.