l o n g   d i s t a n c e

They see each other, occasionally. On business trips, holidays, pseudo-illicit meetings in five star hotel rooms. On the first such occasion, Justin asked Brian if he was going home to his wife upon their parting. Standing in the doorway, wearing a towelling robe and a shit eating grin.

Brian doesn’t have a wife - or any sort of equivalent - to go home to. Neither does Justin, but they both have their jobs and their lives, in separate cities. They didn’t plan it that way, and sometimes the distance hurts, hurts like nothing else ever has before, but somehow, they survive. They’re not a couple. They don’t have an agreement or rules or an explicit commitment. Each meeting unravels with the knowledge that either of them could walk away at any time, but neither of them want to.

Brian has Gus and Mikey and a cascade of faceless, nameless tricks. They’re never blonde, never bright, never sunny and charming, because he gave up trying to replace Justin long ago. He takes what he can get of his lover - the only lover he has ever really had - and lives the rest of his life in lazy amusement, occasionally thinking of Justin, pulling out his cell phone, deliberating over that long-remembered number, and then snapping it shut and stuffing it in his pocket. If he went running to Justin every time he wanted to, they’d never be able to live their lives.

That is the point of their whole fucked up system. They want to live their lives. Brian wants Justin to be everything he can be, and that includes going to New York, going to Paris, going to London. That includes galleries and long hours in the studio, arguments with agents, finding just the right shade of red to complement the sounds of Autumn.

It’s not that Brian doesn’t want to be a part of that. It’s that he’s got his own responsibilities. Gus is getting bigger and bigger, wanting his father around more and more. Gus is ten years old and awkward, too smart for the kids his own age and too weird for those his senior. He looks up to his father, who he feels is cool in a way he himself shall never be. Gus needs Brian around, around almost all the time, and not in New York and Paris and London.

Justin tried to stay, but Brian couldn’t bear the thought.

“It’s a big fucking world, Sunshine. And you have the potential to be a real part of it. If you think I’m going to let you stay here and be a fucking stay at home wife - “

Sometimes Brian wishes he’d let Justin stay. He wakes up on Sundays and remembers the smell of Justin’s minty lip ointment, the taste of his flesh, the slide of his skin. Justin used to wear cotton sweats around all morning, the soft, worn fabric floating over that fantastic ass and driving Brian crazy.

Justin is successful. Brian hangs his paintings in the foyer of his agency with pride, impressing the ever growing clientele. “I know the artist,” he says with a secretive smile when asked about the works. Beautiful liquid colour rolling and grinding through motion, black streaks, eyes in the darkness, that feeling of indescribable joy and freedom. Those paintings remind him of Justin’s smile.

Their meetings are not a secret, but they are private, somehow sacred - though Brian would never admit it. When Justin walks through the door, he switches off his phone, hangs up a Do Not Disturb sign, and the two of them laze and fuck and talk alone together in the thick intimacy of the afternoon.

For two people who meet four or five times a year, they know each other remarkably well. They don’t talk on the phone - Justin’s rule - or write emails. They know each other by instinct and experience. When they argue, it is out of frustration. The mysteries which once plagued their relationship are lessened, now. They have accepted the unspoken truths which once hung black and terrifying in the heavy air of the loft. Justin knows what Brian feels for him, now. He knows what to expect.

Justin has had several minor romances over the years, but he always breaks it off when he feels the relationship should progress beyond friendly fucking and the occasional Sunday brunch. It is not that he is not ready for commitment, as Terry patiently accepted, or that he is a fuckin’ heartless prick, as Logan screamed and railed in a little bar in Britanny. It’s that Justin can’t imagine - just flat out can not picture - building a life with anyone but Brian. After all, he already HAS a boyfriend, in his heart, in his way. The commitment Justin feels towards Brian is not one of obligation, but one born from Justin’s own nature, from the peace he feels lying in Brian’s arms. His relationship with Brian - weird and inexplicable as life - just is. Neither Brian nor Justin have the power to negate it. They both stopped trying long ago.

--

A year and a half after Justin moved out, after Brian stood in the airport lounge and watched that plane take off, he comes home to a message waiting for him, the light on the answering machine blinking bright red in the darkness of the loft.

Justin’s voice sounds the same as always, and it makes Brian’s stomach bottom out.

“Bri? It’s me. I sent you an invitation, but I just wanted to tell you in person ‘cos I’m so excited and, well - you know. My first solo show! It’s only a small gallery, but it’s something, right? If you can come - I want you to come, okay? I want you to be there, Brian. Please try. I love you.”

Brian hadn’t received the invitation yet, and for one absurd moment before Justin mentioned the show and the gallery, he was absolutely sure that the little shit was going off to Vermont to get married, and calling to tell Brian all about it ‘in person’ as some kind of consolation prize. Brian knew even as the thought shattered into his brain that it was ludicrous, but he still breathed a sigh of relief - and no small amount of pride - when the truth was revealed.

Brian always knew his kid was fuckin’ brilliant.

He was the only one of the family to attend the opening. The others had made arrangements to come throughout the next month, in twos and threes here and there, and Brian was glad. He didn’t need them hanging around, making demands on Justin’s time and attention.

He sidled up behind Justin, who stood talking to a pair of Bohemian looking women, dreadlocks and coloured shirts and pierced lips. He slid his arms around Justin’s waist from behind, felt him jump and then relax. Smelled the clean shampoo smell of the younger man’s hair.

“Brian?” Justin’s hands went to the arms encircling his waist, felt for the cowry shell bracelet which encircled one wrist. “Brian!”

When Justin turned, his smile was blinding, and he threw his arms around his lover‘s shoulders, a messy pile of bones and flesh and needing to get closer. “Hey,” Brian murmured against his neck. No-one else was as warm and tasty as Justin.

Justin pulled back to study Brian’s face, look for changes or marks of the passing of time. Besides the pinkness of a healing shaving cut, there was nothing. “I wasn’t sure you’d come, you know.”

Brian smiled lazily. “Achievement is the only thing worth celebrating. Wanna show me around?”

He followed Justin around all night, meeting the people that wandered in and out of the gallery doors. He played the dutiful partner, smiling and being charming, quietly expressing his satisfaction when he thought Justin wasn’t listening.

A lot of the works on the wall were new, so new that Brian had seen barely a quarter of them, but he recognised various faces staring back at him, including his own. They were good, fucking good, and Brian felt glad that he’d shoved Justin out into this world kicking and screaming, because he clearly belonged here, at least for the time being.

Justin held his hand and Brian let him, just to see the look on the artist’s face as he beamed at him between rounds with potential buyers. “What do you think?” he asked uncertainly, watching Brian’s face as he studied the paintings on the wall.

Brian glanced at his lover. “Stop fishing for compliments. You know what I think.”

Justin’s cheeks turned pink and he buried himself against Brian’s side. Felt the slide of Brian’s cotton shirt against his arm. Felt Brian’s heartbeat against his cheek, the twisting of Brian’s fingers beneath his own. Listened to the sounds his lover made. Wondered if he really had to stay in New York after all, because as amazing as this show was, it couldn’t compete with feeling Brian all around him once again.

“I miss you,” Justin sighed. He waited for Brian to turn cold, stiff, unresponsive, but he didn’t.

“I know.”

Justin thought maybe Brian missed him too.

- -

Occasionally, Justin allows himself the pleasure of verbally expressing his love. Usually, it’s when Brian is asleep or distracted or in a relaxed, happy mood. The kind of mood that is all too infrequent. It no longer bothers Justin that Brian does not return the phrase; he knows Brian, he knows when Brian is thinking it and trying not to. He doesn’t wonder if Brian loves him. The answer is obvious in every moment, every touch, every flicker of Brian’s eyes over his skin.

--

Five years after Justin moved out, he lets himself into the loft and gazes around at the hardwood floors, the moonlight streaming through the windows. The place is achingly familiar, even now, even with bits and piece of strange furniture, new artwork on the walls - Justin notices with warmth that some of the pieces are his own - and the sound of an unknown voice echoing in the vastness.

It doesn’t bother him - much - that Brian has company.

The voice is warm and manly and too comfortable for Justin’s liking. Although he doesn’t mind Brian’s tricks, the thought of anyone else being at home in this place, in Brian’s place, floors him. His skin breaks out in goosebumps, his right hand throbs momentarily, and an unseen fist grabs his heart so fast and tight he’s sure it’s going to burst.

And then he relaxes, because he knows how Brian really feels.

“Brii-an,” he calls out, listening to the bounce of his voice against walls and windows. He loves this place. He goes straight to the fridge, grabs a bottle of water. It was a long flight.

His lover appears - shirtless - at the top of the stairs, his gaze alive with smiles and surprise. Justin grins up at him. He can’t think of anything to say, because it’s so unbelievably good to be standing here speechless, Evian in his hand and Brian six feet away.

“Hey,” he says finally. He puts down his water, leans against the counter. The stainless steel bench top is cool against his fingers.

“Hey, yourself.” Brian steps down, moves towards him. They kiss over the kitchen counter as if they do this every day. As if Justin wasn’t in Rome just yesterday morning.

“If I’d known we’d have company, I would have dressed up.” Justin is smiling wryly. To Brian, he looks amazing. Soft royal blue t-shirt, dark jeans, that hair, that smile. Those blue eyes, twinkling at him. Amused beyond his years.

“If I’d known you were coming, I wouldn’t have had company.”

“I know.” Justin kisses him again. Brian tastes that peppermint lip ointment and has to smile.

“He’s just -”

“Brian,” Justin rolls his eyes. “After all these years, you really think it matters?”

“Did it matter to begin with?” Brian is already moving back towards the bedroom, ready to toss out the trick that rolled lazily between his sheets. It was moments like these that Brian had to reluctantly admit that Justin had him right where he wanted him.

--

“How long you here for?” Brian asked, his fingers skimming and swimming in Justin’s blonde locks. “I’m already dying to get rid of you.”

Justin rolls his eyes, kisses the other man’s jaw. “Uh-huh. You totally seem like you want to get rid of me - what with the raging hard on and all.”

“I don’t have a hard on.”

“You did before.”

“Exactly. Now it’s gone. That’s your cue to leave, remember?”

“I’ve never been very good at following a script.”

“Too many big words for that little blonde brain. Seriously, how long?”

There is silence for a moment, and Brian feels a strangeness in the air. He feels a crackle of hesitation, the kind of static electricity hum of indecisiveness.

“Jus?”

“I’m gonna stay here a while.” Justin says finally. “Get my head sorted. Get some of my inspiration back.”

Brian is silent, torn between absurd, ecstatic joy and stubborn worry. Justin has rarely suffered from a lack of inspiration, that he knows of. Justin has been known to be hours late for dinner because the glimmer of a stainless steel bus stop was calling his inner artist’s name.

“You’ve been having trouble?”

Justin shrugs, lays his head against Brian’s shoulder. “Just tired. And a little homesick, I think. I keep having dreams about Deb’s cannelloni and the bar tenders at Woody’s.”

“Homesick for the Pitts. That’s pretty pathetic.”

“Not just for the Pitts,” his voice is quiet, the gaze he lays upon Brian meaningful.

“I know.” Hazel eyes smile, chin butts into Justin’s shoulder. “It’s still pretty pathetic.”

“I know.”

They kiss, and Brian tries not to think about how easy it will be to get used to Justin’s presence once more. The knowledge that it isn’t permanent, might never be permanent, hovers on the outskirts of his mind, but he ignores it, pushing Justin into the mattress. The younger man laughs and squirms as they fuck.

It’s not a happy ending, because nothing is ending. It’s just a pleasant interlude.

--

Justin hangs around for a year, and they try to live a quiet, simple life together. At times, Brian is disgusted by how domestic they’ve become, at others, he would stay home and knit in front of the fire as long as Justin would stay. They go to Babylon and dance, but there is less talk of threesomes, less drugs, and more smiles, more laughter. Brian takes a break from his habitual cynicism to indulge in Justin’s presence - and makes up for it for being a cranky old bastard the minute Justin leaves.

The looks of pity on the faces of those around him are nauseating, so he throws himself back into his new clients, his new campaign, the tight ass of the new bouncer at Babylon. He resents the implication that he’s some kind of lovelorn, pathetic loser, stuck in an endless cycle of loneliness and despair.

He’s not. He’s just living his life, the way it has to be.

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