l i k e   i n c e s t

The first time he notices it’s late at night and the bed smells like Brian.

The sheets rustle beneath Justin’s arms as he sketches it out, the twist of muscles, the long, hard black lines of Rage’s cock. His pen cruising along the maps Michael’s words create. It’s nice to let Michael drive for a while.

The bed smells like Brian, but he hasn’t been there in weeks. Packed up and flew out for meetings in Tokyo three weeks ago and has yet to make it back. He calls every few days with stories about the city that make Justin sick with jealousy. Everywhere he looks in Pittsburgh, everything is brown.

He took the tabs at Woody’s forty minutes before Michael called to reschedule their morning meeting. This isn’t the first time he’s brainstormed for Rage while fucked up on E. Considering the subject matter, it almost seems to help the creative process.

Sometimes, while they’re working, Michael touches his shoulder or his arm when he’s lit up from the inside by his ideas. No-one has touched Justin warmly in a while, maybe not since Brian left. It makes him hard.

The magic of ecstacy, Justin thinks. Everyone looks good.

--

He begins to become conscious of the possibility of Michael as a sexual being. Before, Michael was all heart and no cock, no ass, no breathless, needy gasping. Suddenly, it’s a lot easier to draw Zephyr’s sex scenes, and a lot harder to look Michael in the eye. It’s like being seven years old and figuring out the difference between boys and girls all over again. Back then, he hadn’t been able to talk to Daphne for a week. The idea of her girl parts haunted him.

Michael’s hands and mouth, the idea that he gives and receives blowjobs. The thought of Michael on his knees. That’s what haunts Justin now.

The knowledge disturbs him. He does not sleep.

--

After the initial bouts of nausea have begun to fade, he begins to watch. Covertly, slowly drawing pieces of the real Michael to focus. He is a comic book spy. He plans to sell Michael’s secrets to Russia.

Michael comes under constant surveillance.

--

Justin dreams of them at fifteen. Michael and Brian, their eighties clothes, Brian’s jeans tight against his cock. Sixteen. Seventeen. Justin suddenly has an intense appreciation of Michael’s frustration in those early years. Brian’s hand fumbling against Michael’s dick, Patrick Swayze spread out in front of them, a glossy offering. The nastiness of it. The heat.

In waking hours, he imagines: Michael in that tiny room at night, a thousand tiny racers speeding across the paper walls, behind Michael’s eyes as he jerks off. Alone and so fucking frustrated. Friends with Brian, Michael must have had blue balls his entire adolescent life.

He imagines Michael coming with a muffled shout; burying it in clean pillows in the middle of the night. The boxes of tissues. The dreams.

These are the things Justin can appreciate now.

--

He resents Michael’s intrusion into his brain. Michael is like the horror movie he can’t forget, each bloody frame playing out over and over behind his eyes. It’s a sick fascination, a car that crashes every morning in his head.

It’s not like he wants to be thinking about Michael’s cock. It’s not like he likes it. Really, the whole thing grosses him out unbelievably, like that one time Brian practically forced him to watch hetero porn.

He tries to forget.

--

Brian has been gone five weeks when Justin catches Michael and Ben fucking at the store. In the store room, just past ten o’clock at night. Justin didn’t even expect Michael to be there. He let himself in using his key, didn’t turn on the lights. After years of working on Rage, Justin knows the way by touch. He just needs to pick up his forgotten USB drive.

The rumble of deep laughter stops him by the register, and for a single, retarded second Justin thinks there’s been a break in.

The laughter is matched, though, by a moan, a grunt, and that’s when Justin discerns Ben’s voice, Michael’s. Their voices speaking sex, mellow in the silence. Justin moves forward cautiously, and then he can see them. Long figures in the dim light.


Michael is small in the way that Justin is, but Ben is huge in a way that Brian isn’t. When Ben lurches over Michael’s body, Justin wonders if it hurts. He looks at Ben’s hulking muscles, and he feels crowded.

Michael doesn’t seem to mind, and that in and of itself is the most terrifying thing. Michael’s jeans at his knees, Ben’s hands on his hips, and holy shit, Justin needs to get out of there.

He leaves without the disk, and has disturbing dreams for days.

--

Brian laughs when Justin tells him, and Justin has never felt so slighted. Slighted isn’t even the word, really. Neglected. He feels like Brian should be tending to him as if he were ill. With chicken soup and prescription drugs. It’s only fucking fair.

“I keep seeing them every time I shut my eyes,” Justin says. “I feel like I caught my parents, or something.”

“I thought Ben was the hottest guy you’d ever seen,” Brian replies. His voice rises to a falsetto over the words, betraying his general displeasure at the diversion of Justin’s attention. Brian must have been stewing on that for years.

“Oh god. That was then. This is now.”

Truth is, at the moment Ben seems vaguely threatening, like a man lurking outside their windows. He’s not sure if Ben’s sudden villainy or Michael’s lily white ass freaks out him out more.

Ass. Gross. Justin will never have sex again.

When Justin was fourteen, he really did catch his parents having sex in their en suite. He couldn’t speak to his father for a week. There’s something entirely creepy about the similarity of his reactions.

“Jesus. Even Mikey has been known to get laid on occasion.”

He knows that, because he’s been thinking about it so much lately. He can’t tell Brian that, because Brian would either freak out or never stop teasing him about it, and Justin doesn’t know why it’s happening anyway. Thinking about Michael doesn’t get him hard, it doesn’t make his pulse race. He doesn’t understand the purpose of the whole obsession, if not to eventually get around to fucking. This curiosity is futile. The stupidity of it frustrates him.

--

In his dream they fuck but don’t fit together right. Their teeth smash together and draw blood, their bodies suddenly covered in childhood bruises. They climb trees and crash bicycles in bed. There are posters of Rage on the walls.

In his dream Debbie makes them pancakes in the morning, and sends them off to school with sandwiches in brown paper bags.

--

He has dinner with Michael at the loft, and it occurs to him to just ask the questions he’s had for weeks. It’s not two years ago. Michael will just tell him, now. Sometimes he forgets that they’re actually friends.

Michael lost his virginity when he was nineteen to a guy Brian hated on sight. It felt rebellious, Michael said. That’s part of what made it hot. One of the only things, apparently, because the rest was fumbling and clumsy and terrible, and Michael smirks as he tells the story.

It feels weirdly adult to be discussing this, in a way that doesn’t usually apply to Justin’s conversations with Michael. He has fun with Michael, but it’s usually Rage and movies and making fun of Brian, or commiserating about Brian. It’s Captain Astro and Spiderman and Clark Fucking Kent, all of Michael’s heroes standing between them. He thought those heroes told him almost everything he needed to know.

Sketches for Rage are spread out around them and Justin’s head is full with red wine. Halfway through the second bottle he abandons Zephyr and starts drawing Michael’s face, the mischievous twist of his smirk as he tells Justin about the few times he’s counteracted Brian’s direct command. It’s the first time he’s ever drawn Michael on his own.

He feels a genuine burst of affection like a warm towel against his neck. He almost calls him Mikey, and feels sick and traitorous. If Justin stole Mikey away, Brian would never forgive him.

In the short term, the idea is hilarious. Just one move in a long campaign to drive Brian fucking crazy.

In the long term, Justin still wants to get fucked next year.

They drink too much, and Michael calls Ben and says he’s not coming home. Michael passes out in the giant bed, legs twisted in the sheets. Justin looks at him for five minutes and decides to sleep on the couch.

--

It occurs to Justin now that maybe he’s been subconsciously attracted to Michael all along. The thought feels wrong in his head and even worse in his mouth, like something an awkward fourteen year old boy is trying to say to some pretty little girl. Some fourteen year old kid in the closet.

Again, Michael comes under surveillance. At the store, at the diner, at Woody’s, at Babylon. Justin’s searching for something. Some key to just what the fuck is going on.

Justin is testing himself.

--

After a week of watching and wondering just what the fuck is going on, Justin decides there’s only one way to find out. He invites Michael over, spends all night sketching Rage and getting them both stoned, and then gropes Michael up against the fridge.

Justin never really thought he’d be standing in the loft with his hand down Michael’s pants, but what the fuck, here he is.

Justin pulls it out stares at Michael’s cock in his hand. It feels warm and soft and not even remotely like sex. It feels embarrassing and awkward, though, and Michael is staring at him with huge confused eyes. His mouth hanging open like he can’t remember words.

“What the fuck, Justin!” Michael says, wrenching away, hitching his pants up much too high. He stares at Justin indignantly.

Justin starts to laugh. He can’t help it, the whole situation seems hilarious now. “Thank god,” he says. Thank god it’s all just part of some fucked up drug epiphany, one of those moments of clarity that don’t ultimately mean anything.

He’s not sure this is something he’ll ever be able to explain to Michael, but he understands them better now. He understands this thing that lives between them.

“What the fuck is going on?!” Michael is still clutching his jeans up high around his waist, like he thinks Justin is going to molest him at any minute. Justin is still giddy with relief.

“I thought I might be attracted to you,” Justin says. As if that explains everything. “God. Thank god I was wrong. Thank god. Gross.”

“Jesus,” Michael says. He’s slowly letting go of the deathgrip he has on his denim. “When does Brian get home? You need to get laid.

That is so fucking true.

--

They don’t see each other for a few weeks, and that’s good. After the initial hilarity has passed, Justin’s embarrassment grows. He can think of Michael fucking Ben now without a frisson of nausea curdling his blood, can think of Michael’s cock and Michael’s desire without being revolted. He just wishes he didn’t have to have Michael’s cock resting harmlessly in his hand to feel that way.

He feels like he just went through puberty.

This is the awkward phase between them, their bones too big and stretching their flesh, the old skin of their relationship too small to house what they now mean to each other. Watching Mikey felt like incest, Justin thinks. Like a violation of sacred law.

Michael forgives him quietly.

At some point their friendship stopped being about Brian and located itself somewhere else, the roots of their history tangling and twisting and creating something new. This is Justin’s new family, Justin thinks. He feels like Michael should be blood.

He wishes he hadn’t confused that for something else. Where he wishes Michael was blood, Brian is bone and muscle, brain, intestines, cum and piss and shit. Tricks are something else, something external like oxygen. A cock ring. A condom.

He wishes he wouldn’t do such stupid things.

--

When Brian comes home, there’s a huge family dinner at Deb’s. Justin sits in the warm corner of Brian’s arm, and things start to feel normal again. When they walked in Michael kissed Brian and put an affectionate hand on Justin’s shoulder. Justin almost expected him to ruffle his hair. He’s about to decide to fucking punch him if he does, when Michael just shakes his head and rolls his eyes and moves on to greet Ted and Emmett who have arrived behind them.

He thinks the whole thing will be a brotherly secret between them. He trusts Michael that much, even if he doesn’t trust him a fucking second with the anime DVDs Brian brought home from Tokyo.

He never wanted an older brother when he was growing up. He almost wishes he didn’t have to start now, but it’s kind of too late for that. He looks around and this is his nuclear family, in the sense that they’re his nuclear fallout family, skewed by radiation. Bound together by something other than DNA.

A bunch of mutants that he loves to a certain death.

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