Title: The Difference Between Being and Belonging

Pairing: Brian Kinney/Justin Taylor

Rating: PG-13 (language)

Summary: Post Episode 308. Brian and Justin are back together, but things just aren't like they used to be. Justin misses the easiness of before, and to make things even more miserable, Justin's nightmares are back, worse than ever.

Brian doesn't often ask you to stay the night, hardly ever really. He's made it clear. You don't live there. Not anymore. You live with Daphne. He doesn't so much ask you to leave, as nudge you in that direction after the sweat has cooled and you've both regained your breath.

Sometimes it's something subtle, groaning mentions of an early appointment at work, and a need for sleep. Sometimes, if you finish earlier in the evening, it's a pressing matter that needs his attention, or plans with the guys down at Woody's. And if he's feeling particularly frisky (and a touch vengeful) you're pushed out the door by his need to fuck someone else, a pre-planned trick dropping by the loft. He doesn't even offer to let you stay for a threesome.

You can't really blame him. You know you hurt him when you left him to be with Ethan. That his pride had been hurt as much as his heart had been. But it hurts you to know you aren't welcome to stay. That sleeping beside him has become a privilege that you are now, more often than not, denied.

Getting to stay and getting to have him more than once, those were the two things that set you apart from everyone else. It makes you feel horrible to know you've lost half of that. The half you'd always had, right from the very first night.

It is, however, how you are able to keep them from him for so long... the nightmares. He can't find out they're back if he's not lying beside you when they happen. And they happen a lot.

Nearly every night, you wake up covered in a cold sweat, shaking and crying, and wanting to hurl. Sometimes you call out, sometimes you scream, sometimes you wake with your jaw clenched so tightly shut your teeth hurt in the morning. Most of the time you're alone. But sometimes you wake up to Daphne sitting beside you, fear on her face, hair mussed with sleep, the feel of her hand on your arm making you flinch away from her.

Daphne worries. Of course she does.

"Have you told Brian?" she asks you over breakfast one morning after a particularly bad night. You shake your head, digging into your second bowl of cereal.

"No. Besides there's nothing he could do," you say, glancing up at her. You look away at the concerned expression on her face.

"He helped you get rid of them before. Why not this time?" she asks, sipping her coffee and picking at her toaster waffle. You shake your head.

"Things were different before."

"Well you're back together. Why can't things go back to how they were before you temporarily lost your freakin' mind?" she asks. "Not that I don't love having you for a roommate," she adds quickly. You smirk at her over the rim of your glass of orange juice.

"Things are different now. Everything is different now. It can't just go back to how it was before. As if I never left him for Ethan, like we didn't spend all those months apart." She frowns at you.

"Why? Is he punishing you? Because that's not very mature, Justin." You sigh in response.

"I hurt him, Daph. Betrayed him. Lied to him. Cheated on him. And it takes a lot to cheat on someone you're not even monogamous with. It's going to take time to rebuild that trust. For him to fully forgive me. Besides, I don't think it's punishment. I think," you pause. "I think it's a defense mechanism. He doesn't want to get hurt again. So he's keeping me at a distance for now. Hopefully things will change. But either way this is something I have to deal with on my own. I can't keep expecting Brian to fix it every time something goes wrong with me." You stand up from your seat at the dinette and go to dump the last of your soggy cereal down the drain. "I'll be fine. You'll see." Daphne looks doubtful.

You try sleepaids. All they do is keep you locked in the nightmare unable to wake for an extended period of time. You use them once before tossing out the remainder of the bottle. You don't ever want another night like that again.

You give up caffeine. The lack of coffee and soda making you grouchy in the morning, and sleepy in the evening. No change. So you try home-remedies. Warm Milk. Chamomile Tea. Visualization. Even Celtic chant music. You still wake up more often than not with your heart racing, and a churning in your stomach.

The nightmares have evolved. It's not just Chris Hobbes and the bat. Pain, a bloody scarf, and waking up alone. Instead it's all that only so much worse. It's violin music that sounds like it's from a horror movie. It's Brian walking away. It's you walking away but when you turn back Brian's face fades from view like he's evaporated into thin air. It's taunting voices, your own guilt you think, repeating back to you every mistake you've made in the past few months. You don't have to be a psychotherapist to know where the nightmares stem from. It's fairly obvious.

Daphne thinks that Brian could make them go away. "Like he did before, Justin." Only Daphne doesn't realize how impossible that is now. Brian hadn't so much made the nightmares go away, as held you in their aftermath, calming and reassuring you. Brian had made you feel safe, secure, and cared for. The nightmares had been soothed away slowly over time, until they'd finally stopped. But Brian doesn't want you there in his bed now, and he certainly wouldn't want to spend practically every night like he had a year before, waking you up from a vicious nightmare, sometimes, when you are in rare form, more than one a night. You can't bring himself to even consider asking him too.

But of course, things can't go on like that forever. And sometimes he does let you stay. You've been lucky that so far on the nights where you both pass out right after and he doesn't have some reason to get you to leave, that the nightmares have been kept at bay. Your heart says it's because Brian is there. But your head reasons that it's a combination of things. Dropping off right after orgasm has to be doing good things to your entire neurological system right before sleep. Your brain is warm and fuzzy, nothing but pleasantness going on just then. And physically you're comfortable. You know Brian's loft. The way it smells, sounds, and feels at night. You know the perfect firmness of the bed, the sounds of traffic, of the elevator, of the AC kicking on. You know Brian's snores, and warmth, and feel. It had been home once. Before. At least for a few months, so it makes sense that you would be comfortable there. Sleep well there. Unfortunately, even all of that can't hold off the nightmares forever.

You're rushing down a hallway lined with doors, and no matter what door you open it reveals another horror. You open one, a bat swinging at your head. Another: a bloody scarf hanging in midair like a noose. Another: the cacophony of a thousand violins all playing off key and out of tune. Another: it's a birds-eye view of a parking garage, your body lying crumpled on the concrete Brian cradling your head while screaming himself hoarse. Another: Brian staring after you as you walk away. Another: Brian walking past you like you mean nothing, are nothing. Your funeral. His funeral. The trial where you were blamed for everything. The slamming of the metal door to Brian's loft sliding closed between you and him, Brian's sneering face the last thing you see.

You sit up in bed. Brian's bed. You're sweating, fighting for breath. You gasp quietly, sitting up and turning to sit on the side of the bed. You take deep breaths, your right hand trembling in your naked lap. You close your eyes, rubbing your left thumb into your right palm. It's curled up painfully toward your wrist, and it takes a concentrated effort to get your hand to relax. Then you lean forward balancing your head in your palm, elbow pressing into your knee. You sigh, as softly as you can manage and reach down to pull on your discarded jeans.

"How long have they been back?" Brian's voice makes you jump, and you turn to look at him over your shoulder. He's watching you, eyes intense, and you look away, shrugging your shoulders.

"A while," you answer, tugging the denim up to your knees, before lifting up to finish pulling them on.

"How often?" he asks. You hear the flick of his lighter, and the familiar scent of his cigarettes fills the air. You pause, standing up and reaching for your discarded t-shirt, which has been tossed near the end of the bed.

"Often," he reply. You don't want to get into this right now. Internally you're pissed, but not at him. You weren't supposed to have them here. Not when he is with you, pressed against you, keeping you warm and safe and content. You don't want him to know. Not about this. You tug the t-shirt on, locating one shoe under the corner of the bed, and bending to search out the other. You hear movement behind you. Brian sitting up, leaning back against the wall behind the top of the bed, face serious, eyes shuttered.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks. You fight the urge to shrug again.

"What would you have done?" you ask, looking up at him and meeting his eyes, before turning away again. You finally spy your sneaker. You snatch it out of the corner of the closet, hoping like mad it hasn't scuffed the Prada loafers you know reside in that exact spot on the shelf. You wait for an answer, but receive none.

"Do you want to talk about it? That used to help," he says, voice calm, quiet. You feel emotion well in your throat and you shake your head, turning your back to him. You pull on one sneaker after the other. Your socks are here somewhere but you have absolutely no idea where, and in this moment you don't care.

"No, it's ok," you stand up again, checking your pockets, and not looking his way. "You didn't sign on to play therapist." You glance at him again, and he's frowning, eyes fixed on you intently. You force a smile. "I'm fine, Brian. It was just a bad dream." He watches you carefully, but you hide behind a calm mature front, hoping he doesn't look hard enough to see right through it. You turn, leaning across the bed, your left hand braced by his hip. You lean in pressing your mouth to his in a warm kiss. It's simple, this kiss, meant to reassure. But when you pull back his eyes are focused on you rather intently, and he grips your wrist keeping you from moving away.

"That wasn't just a bad dream, Justin. It was practically a fucking night terror," he says and you pull back quickly, standing from the bed, his hand falling back to rest on the bed.

"It's nothing. Jesus, Brian. I'm an adult. I had a bad dream. A nightmare even. I don't need the fucking third degree at 4 in the morning." You turn away, heading toward the living room. And you don't need a mirror or eyes in the back of your head to know he's followed you. He stands naked on the top step, watching as you walk to the fridge. You grab a bottle of water, sucking back half of it with deep pulls, gulping it down. The bottle crackles in your hand and you set it down on the counter. That's where you'd left your cellphone earlier, and you scoop it up, checking it for missed calls. Two. Both from Daphne, time-stamped hours ago.

"You don't have to go," he says. You look up to watch him walk across the loft completely comfortable in nothing but his skin. You look away.

"I have class in the morning, and work in the afternoon. I need to go," you say, shoving the cellphone into your pocket, and heading for the door.

"The buses don't run this late at night, Sunshine. What are you going to do? Walk? It's three miles to Daphne's apartment." You swing back around to face him.

"Hasn't stopped you from asking me to go the three other times this week when I didn't stay. The busses stop at 2am. I've been doing a lot of walking, Brian." You watch something come over his face. But it's gone just as quickly as it appeared and within a second it's vanished, his expression strangely blank.

"Just come back to bed. I'm not sending you home on foot at four in the morning." He turns and walks away, returning to the darkness of the bedroom. You grit your teeth. Home. He's just called the apartment 'home.' He's never done that before. He's called it 'Daphne's place.' He's called it 'the apartment.' He's even called it 'that crappy little shit-hole.' But he'd never once referred to it as your home. It hits you suddenly that for what feels like the millionth time in your life you once again don't have a home. Not a real one anyway. You don't say a word as you open the loft door and leave. He doesn't come after you. To appease him you call a cab to take you back, and 10 minutes later you're climbing inside. He still hasn't come after you. You tilt your head back against the faded cracked leather of the cab's backseat and close your eyes. Of course he hadn't come after you. Brian Kinney doesn't chase anyone. Not even you, the guy he fucks more than once.

By the time you get back to the apartment it's close to five. With your 9am class there's little point in going to bed. You let yourself in, take as quiet a shower as you can manage and then curl up with your art history text. You have three chapters to read by the next afternoon, and you're not sleeping anymore this morning anyway. Daphne is up at 7am. She's always been an annoyingly chipper morning person. She looks at you oddly as she comes out of her room to make coffee.

"Do you have a test to study for or something?" she asks. You shake your head no, turning back to your textbook. "Fuck. Tell me you didn't fight with Brian again!" she says, leaning back against the counter and staring you down. You roll your eyes.

"I didn't fight with Brian again," you reply, voice flat.

"Are you just telling me that because it's what I want to hear or is it the truth?" she asks, and you laugh in answer.

"It's the truth. Mostly." You set the book aside, watching her pour two cups of coffee, bringing them over to rest on the crowded coffee table.

"Spill," she says, blowing on her mug to cool it.

"I had a nightmare last night. He asked how long they'd been back. I told him a while. He asked me why I didn't tell him," you trail off.

"And?" she asks. "What did you say?"

"I asked him what he would have done if he'd known. He didn't have an answer. Because there is nothing he can do," you reply. Now it's Daphne's turn to roll her eyes.

"God! Why can't you just let him help you!? You're so stubborn," she says. You sigh.

"It doesn't matter, Daphne. Everything is so fucked up. It's almost like before prom. Where I was just convenient. If something better comes along he takes it over me. He sends me home almost every time like he doesn't want me there, in his space, for any longer than necessary."

"What time did you even get back last night? I didn't hear you come in."

"Quarter to 5?" you shrug your shoulders.

"Justin, tell me you didn't walk back here at 4:30 in the morning!" she protests.

"Christ! You sound like Brian. It finally occurred to him last night that the busses don't run 'til all hours. He asked me to stay. It surprised me. I half expected him to all me a cab; which is what I ended up doing." You get up and go into the kitchen, suddenly ravenous. Her eyes follow you as you scrounge around in the fridge looking for something to eat. Her brow furrows.

"You think he didn't realize what was happening? That doesn't sound like Brian. He always seems to realize exactly what he's doing when he's doing it." You lean out of the fridge to answer her.

"Brian's not exactly up to date on the schedules for the various forms of public transportation," you say sardonically and Daphne's answering laugh makes you smile.

"Maybe things will change now?" she offers. You shrug. You're too tired to devote anymore brain power to this topic.

"Did you finish studying for your Biology test?" you ask. And Daphne is off, successfully diverted.

You go to class, spend a couple of hours in your studio working on a midterm project, and then head back downtown to Liberty Avenue. You have a shift at the Diner. Debbie eyes you strangely, obviously concerned, for most of your shift. It's the dinner shift. 3-11pm. By 9:30 you're starting to lag, your lack of good sleep catching up to you quickly. She ends up sending you to a corner to sit down, and brings you a plate of carbs and fat that would have sent a prissier queen running. You dig in like it's the first meal you've had in ages. You're halfway through the plate when Debbie plops down across from you.

"Ok Sunshine, spill it. What did he do this time?" she asks. You eye her across from you, unsure how to reply.

"What makes you think Brian did something?" you ask. You don't have to ask who she means by 'he,' you have no doubt to whom she is referring. She frowns, her usually bubbly personality turned worried and serious.

"You're exhausted, but it's not you-were-up-all-night-fucking exhausted. You're pleasant to the customers, but not your usual bright and sunshiney self. So you're clearly upset about something and with you Honey, nine times out of ten it is Brian making you that way. So tell Debbie all about it," she orders. You glance around the diner, and find that most of the customers have already moved on to Woody's, or gone home to get changed into more appropriately inappropriate clubbing attire. You shrug your shoulders, meeting her eyes.

"Brian is Brian. He hasn't done anything, Deb. And I'm fine. I just haven't been sleeping well," you watch her squint at you, as if searching for deception in your face.

"You're working too hard, that's part of the problem. How's school?" she asks. You smirk.

"School is fine. Midterms are approaching. The internship is going fine too. It's only a couple of days a week. I'm really ok, I'm just tired," you explain. She nods.

"It's after 10, why don't you head on home then? Try and get some extra sleep. It's dead in here. Things won't pick up again for hours." She stands up out of the booth and you watch her fix her vest, straightening the rainbow colored fabric, and adjusting her buttons. "If it's not work, or school that's making you so tired, it must be too much fucking. So why not head on home early and go to bed alone for a change?" she says, a grin lighting up her face. You look away, a blush filling your cheeks, making your ears burn. She laughs, turning and leaving. You shake your head, reaching for the last of your French fries as you watch her walk away.

The bus isn't due for another 10 minutes, so you slump down on the bench at the bus stop to wait for it to arrive. You tilt your head back, taking slow deep breaths of the cool autumn air, listening to the sounds of Liberty Avenue coming slowly alive.

You sense his presence, even before he clears his throat. You blink your heavy eyes open and he's standing there. He's beautiful, you think, even more so than usual. Which is strange, you decide, because Brian's wearing his typical 'going out to get laid' ensemble: a perfectly fitted black button up, open at the collar, un-tucked, black jeans, black leather jacket. His hair is styled perfectly, but un-gelled, and looking so soft that you desperately want to run your fingers through it.

"Sleeping at bus stops, now, are we?" he asks, hands stuffed into the pockets of his jacket. You twitch your lips at him but don't smile.

"Just waiting for the 10:35," you explain. He stares at you.

"Heading home to go to bed?" he asks. You frown, but nod.

"Yep," you reply. He chews his lip.

"My place is closer. And there's much less of a likelihood that you'll get mugged in my bed than on a bus at this time of night," he says. "Especially in your present state. You look like if you stood up right now unassisted you'd fall on your ass."

"You said it yourself, Brian. I need sleep. Not a fuck," you explain, rolling your head in his direction, and raising one inquiring eyebrow.

"Now, Sunshine, did I say anything at all about fucking?" he asks, smirking at you. You study his face, his outstretched hand, and you give in, accepting the offered help and letting him tug you to your feet.

He steers you through the door of the loft with one hand on your shoulder. You're grateful for it, because the press of his hand is encouraging a forward momentum you do not think you'd be achieving otherwise. He doesn't bother with the door, just guides you up into the bedroom. He tugs your jacket off, stripping you of your t-shirt and pressing you back to lay across what you had once come to think of as your side of the bed. He takes your shoes off, and by then you're half unconscious you're so tired. He leaves and you are vaguely aware of him closing and locking the loft door, turning out lights and setting the alarm. Time skips and you're suddenly sans jeans, and he's shuffling you around to lay with your head on the pillow. You blink at him dazedly as he pulls the blanket up your chest, his arm sliding around your middle, as his body presses up against yours from behind. And then you're asleep.

But you don't stay that way.

You wake suddenly, pulling away from him, yanking yourself out of his arms around 3am. You're sweat soaked and panting, your throat raw and sore. And you're 95% sure that you've been screaming.

"Justin," he says your name softly, gently, like he's trying to calm a startled animal. You turn to look at him, blinking and trying to push back tears. You aren't going to cry. Not over a nightmare. Not in front of Brian of all people. When he sees you fully alert, he moves closer, his arm sliding around your shoulders. "Come on, lie back down," he says. He coaxes you into doing so, then gets up to get you a bottle of water. You're lying there with your eyes squeezed closed, one hand pressed to your forehead, when he gets back. "Here, drink something," he hands you the bottle and you dutifully sit up and sip some. It soothes your raw throat. "You want to talk about it?" he asks. He'd asked the same thing the night before, and you'd blown him off. You don't want to do that again, but you also don't want to discuss it. So instead you divert.

"Talking about it won't help," you say. He stares you down, unwilling to accept that response. You sigh, looking away. "It's different every time. But some things stay the same. It's not just the stuff from before." You don't say Hobbs' name. Not here, in this bed. But you can see his eyes darken with old anger, and old pain. He knows what you're talking about. His lips thin, but he keeps his mouth shut, waiting for you to continue. "It's..." you close your eyes. You don't want to tell him. Don't want to be accused of manipulation or of bringing shit up just to cause a fight. You've spent the last few weeks tip-toeing around the issue, because you know it still pisses Brian off to have Ethan mentioned.

"Will you just tell me? We both need to get some sleep, the sooner the better," he says and you stop yourself from rolling your eyes.

"It's you, and it's Ethan, and it's me being a fucking idiot," you explain. You watch his face, looking for a reaction. A crease forms between his brows.

"That's all in the past. Why are you still letting it bother you?" he asks. You want to smack him in that moment, but you don't.

"It doesn't always feel like it's in the past," you whisper. "Why did you bring me here last night? Why not let me take the bus back to the apartment?" This time it is Brian's turn to sigh.

"Why do I do anything? Because I wanted too," he replies, eyes trained on the exposed beams in the loft's ceiling. You close your eyes, swallowing past the lump in your throat. You sit up, turning to get out of bed, but his arms slides around your waist, stopping you. He yanks you back, pulling you up against his chest. "Where are you going?" he asks, voice low in your ear.

"You wanted me to talk. But you won't reciprocate," you reply, eyes staring straight ahead.

"I'm not the one having nightmares, Sunshine," he replies, lips grazing the side of your neck. You tilt your head to the side without conscious thought, giving him more room to touch.

"It's part of the problem though," you say. You feel his mouth still where it's pressed to your jugular. He pulls back, but not fully away. You turn in his arms to look at him. "You don't want me here. Not like before," you say. And then rush on so you won't be misunderstood. "And I know things aren't like they were before. They might never be the same. And I know that it's my fault. I'm the one who left. I'm the one you cheated. And you took me back, Brian. But I don't always feel like you really want me here."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" he asks and while the words are harsh, his voice just sounds tired, confused.

"You send me away," you say, and you watch understanding spark in his eyes. "You rarely ever let me stay the night. You spend time with me. You fuck me. But I'm not in any other part of your life."

"Bullshit. I see you at work. I see you at the diner. You babysit my son on a weekly fucking basis. You go to Babylon and Woody's. You're fucking everywhere, Justin." You shake your head.

"What do we do when I'm here?" you ask. He stares at you but doesn't answer. "We fuck. And then you usually send me away. We don't talk. We don't watch TV, or have fun together. We don't talk about our days, or plans for the weekend. We don't go to sleep together. And if we do it's usually in silence and I almost always get up later and leave, because I know you don't want me here in the morning. We used to spend our mornings together. Showering and spending time just the two of us before the day even begins. We don't do any of that. I come over. We fuck. I leave. If you have something better to do I walk out the door without even a shower feeling like just another trick and I… I thought I was more than that."

"Are we really going to have this conversation, again?" he asks, and his eyes are averted, like he doesn't want to look at you just then.

"I'm not asking for romance, Brian. I'm not asking for I love you's or monogamy or even dating. I'm not asking to move back in. But I want to be more than the guy you fuck more than once." He doesn't respond, and you start to lose hope. You close your eyes, moving back to the side of the bed. "If you don't want this tell me so. If you don't want me to be here, not just in your bed, but as a part of your life, then tell me." It sounds like a plea.

You feel him shift on the bed behind you, and you hold your breath. His arms slide around you and he pulls you backward into the center of the bed, his body fitting to yours perfectly in all the right places. His limbs enfold you and you feel such sudden relief that you sink back against his chest, your breath hitching out of your lungs with a gasp as his legs pull your ass back into the v of his thighs.

"If I didn't want you here, I wouldn't have you here. Haven't you learned anything by now?" he asks, and you close your eyes. You're not going to get any better from him. You press back against him, enjoying how his arms tighten around you. "Now go back to sleep," he orders, pulling you back down to lay beside him on the bed.

"Thanks, Brian," you whisper. He stays wrapped around you, and you can feel the puffs of air he lets out with each exhale against the back of your neck and the side of your face.

"I know. I'm so selfless. You can thank me with a good morning blow job," he suggests, and you let out a laugh, that shakes your body and his. You can feel the curving of his lips where they're pressed to the side of your neck, and the way his legs move forward to slot into place behind yours.

You sleep the whole night through.