|testdog65 (testdog65) wrote in qaf_challenges,|
@ 2006-12-31 18:48:00
Original poster: _alicesprings
Title: Hope for the Holidays
Written By: ley_rae
Timeline: Season 3, post-Heifetz, pre-Harrisburg Symphony
Warnings: Ethan is featured, but don't worry - it's really about B/J
Summary: Justin receives an unexpected gift, and loses his Christmas spirit.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to my beta, flamencanyc for the title, grammatical assistance, and wet-blanket removal.
Justin pulls the straps from his sagging portfolio up on his shoulder, tucks his head against the wind, and continues slogging down the poorly-lit street on his way to Ethan's apartment. Well, technically, his and Ethan's apartment although he has a hard time thinking of it that way. His feet are freezing, and he knows his nose is probably red from the cold, but pulling up his scarf seems like too much of an effort right now. He's almost there.
Through the unlocked front door with its cracked window, Justin decides to bypass the pile of mail on the floor in the hope that Ethan has retrieved anything important already. He hauls his tired ass up the narrow stairs to the top floor, and wonders if maybe using orange instead of red will improve the painting he's working on for Oil Technique, Part 2. He rounds the corner to the apartment and is startled to see a largish package, wrapped in heavy silver paper with an understated black fabric ribbon. He picks up the heavy parchment gift tag and reads, "For Justin - B." He glances around the small landing hopefully, and realizes it's a futile search. There's no room for Brian to hide here. He picks up the package reverently, balancing it carefully between his elbow and hip, and struggles with the three locks to get inside the apartment.
Justin glances at the clock, sees that he has about fifteen minutes before Ethan's due home, and decides to open the package. Inside, he finds the most amazing midnight blue cashmere throw he's ever seen. He takes in the cat hair tumbleweeds in his current place of residence and decides to stand up from the couch in order to wrap it around his shoulders. It's feather light and very warm, and he takes a moment to bask in the sensuous softness against his skin. Then he hears footsteps on the stairs, along with a tell-tale whistling, and he tries to come up with someplace to hide the blanket. Ethan the starving artiste with his lofty ideals would never welcome such an expensive item into his home.
First, he grabs the paper and ribbon, throwing it into his "potential art project" pile in the corner of the apartment. He grabs the gift tag, folds the throw somewhat haphazardly, and squishes them between some drawings and other papers in his big portfolio. He'll come up with somewhere else for the throw to live later. As he finishes zipping the portfolio, Ethan sweeps through the doorway announcing, "Honey, I'm home!" in a way that Justin wishes were sarcastic.
Two nights later, Justin can't sleep. Ethan is sleeping soundly on the futon, arms wrapped around Justin in a way that makes it hard for him to breathe. They've just returned from New York and the Heifetz, and the possibility of a record deal. Justin feels like he should be more excited, happier for Ethan, but there's something about the whole thing that makes him uneasy. He moves Ethan's arms gently, and slowly makes his way to his duffel bag at the bottom of the closet. He gently pulls the throw that Brian left out of the bag, and wraps it around his shoulders. He walks to the bay window and looks out on the darkened street.
This is love, he thinks, I should feel something more than this. I should be more excited for Ethan. He wonders what's wrong with him, maybe it's jealousy. Maybe it's because Ethan is achieving things with his gift, while Justin's still struggling to gain recognition. He vaguely registers the feather-light throw around his shoulders, hears the echo of Brian's words, "The only thing worth celebrating is achievement," and remembers the first time he saw Ethan. The intensity of his concentration, the way he moved his bow. It was the first time Justin had felt that intrigued, that drawn to someone since he'd met Brian. The memory brings a warmth to his chest and a smile to his lips. He folds the blanket and places it back in its place, at the bottom of the closet, out of sight and out of mind. He joins his lover on their lumpy futon and reminds himself that he's happy.
A few days pass, and Ethan decides to take the record deal, parroting back Brian's words in a way that makes Justin feel nauseous. This is not Ethan, this is not his sweet street busker. Words that Justin expects, in fact has heard, out of Brian's mouth sound false and crass coming from Ethan. Justin gets so angry about the turn of events, in fact, that he barges into the backroom of Babylon, tells Brian's trick to fuck off, and confronts Brian. The end result is unsatisfying, though, and Justin ends up angry with both Brian and Ethan.
He and Ethan talk and talk, in an attempt to work out the problem between them. They each keep saying the same thing and Justin has more than one moment when he wonders if this is what lesbians mean by 'processing'. As the days tick by in a flurry of end-of-semester projects and exams, Justin finds he is slowly resigning himself to being Ethan's supportive "friend" and looks forward to winter break. A little less togetherness might be exactly what their relationship needs.
The day Ethan is to return to Philly for the holidays, he serenades Justin awake with the piece that he played their first night together so many months ago. They exchange small gifts -- Ethan buys Justin a hat that "reminds me of your eyes," and Justin gives him a charcoal of the two of them together, entwined in a passionate embrace. Justin borrows Daphne's car and takes Ethan to the train station, where they have a sweet good-bye that leaves Justin feeling sad, wishing he felt as much for Ethan as Ethan apparently feels for him.
At Thanksgiving, Justin had accepted his mother's invitation to spend the week around Christmas with her at her townhouse. It's not home and never will be, but it's strangely comforting nonetheless. The place smells familiar. And somehow acting like a normal college kid, hanging out in sweatpants for the better part of the day and doing laundry at his mother's house, makes Justin feel less weary.
Justin spends three days doing mostly nothing before Jennifer starts harassing him about going to Debbie's for Christmas Eve. There's a lot of pleading, and references to spending the holiday with family, but Justin is still pissed at Brian for interfering in his and Ethan's business, and doesn't want to deal with Michael either. Jennifer is persistent in her attempts to get him to accompany her to Debbie's Winter Wonderland until, at 5:30 the night of the party, Justin tells her to back off, that he doesn't want to deal with Brian right now. After a few seconds of staring at Justin with motherly concern, Jennifer says, "Okay, honey" in a very soft voice and puts on her coat.
Justin hears the soft shut of the front door, the car starting after a few attempts in the freezing driveway. Jennifer slowly glides away in her trusty American-made mid-sized sedan, and Justin tries to tap into his Christmas spirit. It's got to be here somewhere, he thinks. Mostly, he feels restless. Memories of Christmases past start making him feel like some sort of fucked-up Hallmark "Very Special Presentation." He remembers feeling warm and happy as a boy, the disappointment last year when Brian didn't get him anything -- replaced later that winter by the promise of a trip to Vermont. That, too, fell short but Justin now realizes the importance of the gesture.
Justin is missing Debbie's with an intensity that surprises him, and has a vague nagging sense that something else is supposed to be missing. Realizes it's Ethan, that Ethan is gone and he doesn't feel a hole at all. Doesn't feel like a piece of him is gone, doesn't feel an aching need like the one that follows him around in the shape of a thirty-something Irish guy all day long. Prior to the Rage party, Justin felt like he was going through the motions with Brian. That their relationship was a farce, that they weren't going anywhere. His needs weren't being met. And now he's with Ethan, who says all the right words, and he has never felt lonelier. He and Ethan share a creative spark, but they don't share a life. They don't share a family in the way he and Brian did.
He trudges upstairs and grabs the throw from its footlocker hiding place, then returns to the living room. He sits on the sofa and gazes at the tree until the lights start to get soft and sparkly from lack of focus. Makes himself a little more comfortable, hunkering down into the soft cushions, building a cocoon of cashmere, and lets himself drift... He's midway through remembering last year's "Ho Ho Hoes" celebration at Babylon and the many ways Brian punished him for being on the naughty list, when he hears a knock on the door. He moves to the door, hoping it's not some misguided, off-key carolers here to make his membership in the Scrooge club official. Although in the Hallmark special, he's sure that it would be his lover, returned from Christmas break because he couldn't wait to share that he'd decided not to sell his soul. And possibly some attractive, multicultural singing children.
With a final squaring of his shoulders, Justin flings open the door without first consulting the peephole, and is shocked at what he finds on his mother's front step: Brian, looking impossibly handsome in a black leather jacket Justin doesn't remember, holding a bottle of Jim Beam. Justin mentally chastises himself for not looking before he opened the door.
"Hi," he offers.
"You weren't at Deb's. And when your mother started describing in detail how she felt certain you'd lost the Christmas spirit, I thought I ought to make sure you weren't sitting on the couch, watching Lifetime movies and crying into your herbal tea." Brian shudders.
"Your concern is touching."
"I know, now get your ass out of the doorway and invite your guest in." Brian offers that quick, smarmy smile that Justin always loved, and he steps aside.
"Where are the glasses in this suburban, hetero hell? We need to drink!" Brian throws his coat on the chair in the front hall like he's been to visit a hundred times before. But that's Brian, walks in like he owns the place even if the truth is he's never crossed the threshold before. Justin leads him to the kitchen, still startled at his presence. Suddenly, it dawns on him that the last words Brian said to him were not very complimentary, even if they did reference his "blond boy ass."
"Wait, I'm not speaking to you." Justin turns and puts his hand on Brian's chest, as if to stop his forward progress into Jennifer's home.
"I beg to differ," Brian says breezily, pushing past him and opening the cupboard with the glasses on the first try. He grabs two pint glasses Justin muses are meant for beer and pours a generous amount of the bourbon into them, offering one to Justin. "You've been speaking to me since I arrived. And I hadn't noticed your silence before, anyway." A slight flinch, a wavering of Brian's eyebrows, and Justin realizes... Brian did notice. Brian noticed, and this is his way of making up for the hurtful remark -- getting drunk in his mother's house on Christmas Eve.
They move to the living room, and as they go to sit down, Justin realizes that the throw is on the couch. Nothing has been said about it on either side, and he doesn't know if he's supposed to acknowledge the gift or not. He feels out of touch with his Kinney-speak, and is having a bit of a dilemma about the whole thing when Brian says, "I don't think it will bite. At least it shouldn't for what I paid for it."
Justin chuffs out a breath with a hint of laughter behind it, and sits down. "Thanks for this." He takes a sip of his bourbon.
"No problem. I saw it online after the whole thing with John," their eyes meet and Justin sees gratitude in the softness around Brian's lips, "So it's not a Christmas present or anything."
"Of course not." Justin notices that Brian's barely swallowing a grin. "So, did I miss much at Debbie's?"
"Same old, same old, with the exception that Emmett and Ted are now fucking." Brian takes a big drink at that.
Justin follows suit, "It just seems so..."
"I was going to say 'unlikely,' but disgusting is more accurate."
There's an ease here between them, and Justin feels himself relaxing. The silence doesn't feel anything but comfortable. He doesn't feel pressured to speak. He and Ethan haven't found this space yet, and he wonders idly if they ever will. Wonders how much longer Ethan will be in his life, then instantly feels guilty for the thought. He glances at Brian, who is looking relaxed on his mother's couch, and feels his cheeks flush like the seventeen year-old virgin he once was. Feels the warmth spreading to his chest, and blames it on the bourbon.
"So, no Ian this Christmas?" Brian asks in that practiced casual way that Justin knows is anything but.
"No, he's back in Philly celebrating Hanukkah with his family and getting ready to become a famous straight violinist." There's a bite to Justin's voice, an anger at both Brian and Ethan that doesn't have a definite direction at this moment.
"Well, I must say that I have a bit more respect for the man now. A buck is a buck."
"A fuck is a fuck, I know Brian. I don't need to hear any more of your mantras tonight, okay?" Justin takes an angry swallow and places the empty pint glass down on one of his mother's floral coasters with a clunk.
"It's possible that a few of them have been amended." Brian looks at Justin directly, all heavy-lidded eyes and soft, kissable lips, his meaning unmistakable. In that moment, Justin realizes that he could have him back. That all he'd have to do is ask. It doesn't solve anything, and it doesn't make anything easier. He's still in a relationship with Ethan, and he's not sure he's ready to give up on that yet. But knowing that Brian is still open to him makes him feel a little better. He has options.
"You need more liquor." Brian grabs the bottle and pours some more into Justin's glass. "So, is there an equivalent to The Yellow Submarine at Christmas? Is there some special you've watched eight thousand times?" Justin knows that Brian is feigning ignorance, because they'd watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer together last year, stoned and relaxed on the couch in the loft. As Justin goes to the TV to get the DVD, he hears a crinkling behind him and has to bite his tongue. Mentioning to Brian that they have a Christmas tradition would probably land him back on the couch alone, contemplating the source of his melancholy.
"So, do you think you can smoke up with me, or will your boyfriend be worried for your honor?"
"Brian, please stop talking about him. And who cares, anyway?" Justin grabs the bowl and lights it, inhaling deeply. He flops on the couch next to Brian as he slowly exhales.
"I've been saying that for years." Justin attempts to glare, but doesn't think he's managed it properly when Brian goes all soft-eyed again, then kisses him, fairly chastely, on the lips.
"Merry Christmas, Sunshine." He pulls the throw over their legs, and slings his arm over Justin's shoulder while reaching for the bowl.
Three hours later, Jennifer arrives home to find Justin curled into Brian's side, both of them sleeping soundly on her couch in the glow of the Christmas tree. She pulls up the blanket covering them, and quietly goes to bed.