after.midnight // v.naked
Title: One Step Behind
Summary: Life for Brian just isn’t the same without Justin.
Disclaimer: The boys aren’t mine. They belong to Cowlip.

= = = = = = = =

For the first time ever, Brian was glad Justin wasn’t living in the loft.

He was sitting on Justin’s bed in his tiny little apartment, watching him pack up his stuff. There were clothes everywhere, t-shirts and jeans and sweaters in separate piles all over. There’s a stack of sketchbooks in the center of the room, piled so high that adding one more will send them all toppling onto the floor, beside it are boxes of pencils and charcoals, paints and brushes, three or four rolls of canvas.

It’s a total mess and looking at it was driving him a little crazy. It’s a little like watching him pack for California, only different because then there was the knowledge that Justin was coming back, even if eighty-five percent of the time he forced himself to act as if he wasn’t. Now he knows this is it, once Justin leaves this apartment he’ll never come back. Soon New York will be home and Pittsburgh will be the place he visits four or five times a year and every other Christmas.

He hated thinking that way, hated it so much he shoved the thought out of his head and willed his brain to think about something, anything else.

“You know, if your mom hadn’t spent so much time cleaning your room and doing your laundry when you were a kid, she would have had time to teach you about organization,” he said as he watched Justin trip over a wayward shoe, the same dingy white sneaker he’d been looking for an hour ago.

Justin glared at him, tossing the shoe into the shoe pile. “Shut up,” he said and there was annoyance in his tone. “If you’re just going to sit there making snide remarks, you can go home.”

He smiled. “And miss you packing your life away into a thousand cardboard boxes? I wouldn’t dream of it. This is the most fun I’ve had all day.”

Justin ignored him, choosing instead to tape up the full box on the floor beside the bed. “Are you sure I don’t have anything at the loft?”

He leaned back against the pillows and nodded. “You don’t have anything at the loft,” he replied dutifully for the fifth time in the last hour. “And if you do, I’ll just ship it to you later.”

Justin chuckled. “You’re going to make pillowcases out of my t-shirts, aren’t you?” he asked teasingly as he stretched out beside him on the bed. Justin propped himself up on an elbow, fingers undoing the buttons on Brian’s shirt. “And you’ll keep one of my sketch pads in the drawer beside the bed. You’ll look at it every night before you go to bed, missing me and wishing I was there.”

He rolled his eyes, threading his fingers through Justin’s hair and pulling him closer so their lips weren’t so far away. “Please,” he scoffed as they kissed. “I can’t wait until you leave. I’ve got an orgy planned thirty minutes after your plane takes off.”

Justin smiled, arching his neck as Brian’s lips skimmed his jaw. “Always fucking away your pain,” he remarked, moaning aloud as Brian licked his collarbone.
“So true,” he murmured in agreement. He gets Justin’s jeans off, snaked his hand beneath the cotton of his boxer briefs, and wrapped his fingers around Justin’s cock. “And I’m going to start right now.”

For the next couple of hours he concentrated on the feel of Justin beneath him, the sounds he made when he was inside him, and the way he looked when he came. Concentrated on everything but the thought that he was leaving.

= = = = = = = =

Something settled inside him the first time he told Justin he loved him.

For years he’d been denying it, telling himself over and over that he didn’t believe in it, didn’t feel it, didn’t need it. And then Babylon had exploded and the only thing his mind could process was JustinJustinJustin. He imagined a hundred different scenarios, all of them worse than the one before, but the one constant thought in his head was that losing Justin, really losing Justin, would kill him. Justin was the reason he did most of the things he did, including getting up in the morning, and if Justin wasn’t there, walking and talking and living and breathing, he wasn’t quite sure how he’d function. He’d spend the rest of his life going through the motions, existing but not really living.

Finally laying eyes on him that night, after frantically searching for him for what felt like hours, he felt crying and laughing and rejoicing all at once. He knew at that moment, holding Justin in his arms, that he loved him, that he always had and he always would. And telling Justin that he loved him had been the easiest thing he’d ever done, easier than all the times before when he hadn’t.

When he woke up the next morning, everything was exactly the same and yet completely different. He woke Justin up with a blowjob, fucked him in the shower. He had breakfast at the diner, taking his time as he watched Justin serving plates of food to customers and filling cups of coffee. He went to work, wowed clients and signed a few paychecks. He came back home and had take out with Justin, and they had sex on the couch and then again on the floor before moving to the bed. It was just like any other day, only he felt lighter, freer, and happier than he had the day before.

The feeling didn’t last nearly as long as it should have, as long as he expected. Because after came this intense need to make Justin happy, to give him his love and his commitment, and all the other things he’d never given Justin before. And now there was this, letting Justin go and making sure they both understood that this was not the end of them. That, after everything else they’d been through, they weren’t going to let a couple hundred miles tear them apart. Justin loved him and they both knew that he loved Justin and that was enough.

Eighty percent of the time, he absolutely believed it. It was that twenty percent he was having trouble with.

= = = = = = = = =

It was eight days after Justin left town and he couldn’t sleep.

He’d mostly gotten used to the fact that Justin was gone. He didn’t particularly like it, but he knew wishing things were different wouldn’t change anything. He’d always wanted what was best for Justin, even if what was best for Justin wasn’t what was best for him. There was no way that Justin could be what he was destined to be in Pittsburgh and there was no way that Brian could be there with him for every step of the journey his life was taking him on, not now. The best he could do was visit often and support him always.

And he was okay with his new role in Justin’s life, because this time he got it. He wasn’t under the illusion that Justin would leave him, wasn’t just biding his time until Justin found someone newer and younger and there. They were partners, they were together, a fact that wasn’t changed by distance.

But the fact of the matter was, even after all this time, he and Justin did their best communicating with actions and not words. And frankly, no matter how much he loved Justin, the thought that he might actually have to tell him that, if not frequently but fairly often, was keeping him awake. He’d gotten used to the fact that, if he wanted Justin to know how he felt about him, all he really had to do was roll over and fuck him senseless. He’d gotten even more used to the fact that Justin had learned to interpret the “I’m incredibly horny” fucks from the “I really care about you” fucks. Sometimes, Justin made things incredibly easy for him that way.

And although it was three in the morning, he picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number. Justin answered on the fifth ring, voice husky with sleep and annoyance. It’s the best sound he’d heard in days and he spent forty minutes alternately putting Justin to sleep and pissing him off just to hear it more.

When he got off the phone, an hour and ten bucks later, he was finally able to sleep.

= = = = = = = =

Nine weeks later, Justin calls him at the office. He’s busy on his cell, trying to reassure a client, so Ted answers the phone. Brian’s off the phone in ten minutes, but Ted and Justin talk for twenty, and the conversation must be a good one because Ted doesn’t stop smiling and laughing the entire time. Ted and Justin bonded during his cancer scare, the two of them keeping each other updated on his condition, so he knows they’ve become actual friends and not merely acquaintances, but he’s still little surprised when his name isn’t mentioned, Ted doesn’t even dart sly, uncomfortable glances in direction. He hears them making plans to get together soon, which amuses him, and then Ted says goodbye and hangs up the phone, which isn’t nearly as humorous.

“I could have sworn that phone call was for me,” he drawled, though he’s sure Ted hears the steel in his tone.

But Ted simply shrugs. “He had to go. He said he’d call you later.”

It’s the seventh call from Justin that week that he’s missed and it’s only Wednesday. There are two messages on the answering machine at the loft, and four more on his voicemail, and he’s pretty sure there at least three messages from him on Justin’s phones. They haven’t spoken in weeks, their timing completely out of sync, and it’s driving him crazy.

He tries not to let it get to him, because he knows that Justin is busy getting settled and finding his way, but it bugs the shit out of him, nonetheless. He doesn’t have time to think about it much, though, because he has a meeting with his staff in fifteen minutes, a presentation in Chicago he has to make in two days.

He stands up, hands Ted the papers he’d needed signed, and follows Cynthia out the door. He’ll think about Justin later.

= = = = = = = =

Saturday night in Babylon is when he has the revelation.

He’s leaning against the bar, drink in hand, eyes surveying the crowd. It’s a theme night, though he can’t remember what the theme is. The lights are bright and the dancers are dressed in rainbow colored Speedos. Occasionally, there’s a fall of water raining down from the ceiling, making the go-go boys all wet and slick and steamy as cool water hits hot skin. It’s one of his better ideas and extremely popular, if the groups of guys fucking in shadowed corners, too horny to travel those extra steps to the backroom, is anything to go by. The dance floor is packed, there isn’t an unoccupied space at the bar, and he’s spotted at least six guys he hasn’t ever fucked before. Everywhere he looks there are happy smiles and excited eyes, all of them having a ball.

He has never been more bored in his life.

Everything is boring these days. Babylon, Woody’s, last night’s trick. The only time he has any fun anymore is when he’s pitching some idea to a client, and even then the rush only lasts as long as it takes the ink to dry on the contract. His days are monotonous, he wakes up, he goes to work, and he spends a few hours at Babylon, keeping an eye on his investment. Every once in a while he stops in at the diner and lets Deb call him names and sneak lemon bars into his take out bag and once a week he stops in at the comic book shop and listens to Michael go on and on and on about Ben and Hunter and how happy his life is. Sometimes he has lunch with Emmett and he has dinner with Lindsay, keeps Gus every other weekend. They all ask him endless questions about Justin and how he’s doing or what he’s doing or with whom he’s going it.

He can’t decide if it’s amusing or just pathetic that the only person he can stand to be around for more five minutes is Ted.

Lindsay thinks he’s depressed. Mikey thinks he just needs to get out more. They’re both wrong. He knows he’s just lonely. He hates staying at home because, even after six months, Justin’s smell still lingers and the bed still feels half empty. Going out isn’t any better because it just makes him wonder if Justin’s doing the same thing in New York, only having more fun while he does it. He’s so busy thinking about what Justin’s doing he can barely think about anything else.

The thought of Justin is always there in his head, no matter what he’s doing or who he’s fucking. He wonders if this is how he’ll spend the rest of his life, bored and lonely and missing Justin. It’s a depressing thought and he knows if he wants to change it, he’s going to have to do something. It doesn’t take him long to decide what he wants to do, and he isn’t really surprised that it’s the easiest decision he’s ever made. He finishes his drink, tells Ted to meet him at the office bright and early tomorrow morning, and walks out of the club.

"Hey," Justin answers sleepily.

It's only been about five minutes since he made his decision, so he hasn't really had time to think about how he's going to tell Justin. He doesn't want to come right out and say it, it's not his style, even if the words are waiting impatiently to burst forth. But it's one-thirty in the morning and he's waited long enough. He doesn't want to wait anymore.

"I'm thinking of coming to New York," he announces, finally deciding on a direction.

He hears the rustle of sheets and imagines Justin sitting up in bed, suddenly awake and alert. "Yeah?" he asks and Brian can hear a smile in his voice.

"Yeah," he repeats with a smile of his own.

There's another pause before Justin asks, "Any reason why?"

"Yeah, I’m moving there, but I don’t have a place to stay yet," he tells him. "Think you could help me out?"

Justin doesn't immediately answer and Brian tries not to panic. He knows he's just made an extremely major decision and sprung it on Justin with absolutely no warning whatsoever. He knows Justin isn't going to tell him no, knows that he'll be just as happy and excited about Brian moving to New York as Brian is himself. Justin just needs time to process.

But when one minute turns into three, Brian can't help but panic just a little.

Then Justin softly replies, "Yeah, I think I could help you out," and Brian breathes a bit easier.

It's going to take him a few weeks to work things out, to decide what to do about Kinnetik, and though he trusts Cynthia and Ted not to run his baby into the ground, he'll probably have to divide his time between New York and the Pits for a while. He's going to have to tell the gang, which will cause more drama than he really wants to deal with, and see if he can convince Lindsay that summers in New York are just the thing an intelligent and inquisitive almost-six year old boy needs. He’s not sure what the reaction will be, though he’s pretty sure Deb will be excited and happy for him even as she berates him for leaving the only home he’s ever known and all his family behind.

It's not going to be easy, especially in the beginning, but it’s a chance he has to take, something he has to do for himself, to make himself happy. Pittsburgh just doesn’t feel like home anymore.

= = = = = = =

Justin's apartment is a shithole, not that he expected anything different. He's just not used to living in a shithole, one with crappy plumbing, zero closet space, nosy neighbors, and a landlady who liked to grab his ass. He finds at least three different things he hates about the place each day, has an entire list of them saved on his computer under a file called "Justin's Shitty Apartment".

If he was still denying he loved Justin when he followed his ass to New York, he's pretty sure he would have admitted defeat when he agreed to live with Justin's secondhand, flea market furniture.

There's this great place in SoHo he's been drooling over for months, with excellent plumbing and closet space out the ass, owned by a guy who, five years later, is still so hungry for his cock he's willing to sell it to him for half of what it's worth. It's perfect, in his price range (even without the discount) and two blocks away from the art gallery where Justin works.

He wants to move, but Justin's become extremely attached to his little hovel and he refuses to leave before his lease is up. And since he didn't move to New York just to live by himself, he tolerates the landlady's wandering hands and the shithole's complete lack of water pressure and Justin's drag queen neighbor’s constant attempts to get in his pants. Still, as soon as Justin's lease is up, and he has a calendar tacked to the fridge counting down the days, he's moving them the fuck out of there.

But, as much as he complains about Justin's place, and he does, at least twice a week, he knows it doesn't really matter where they live as long as they're together.

As long as they're together, everything else is just fine.