Friends and Lovers
It was shortly after nine when Brian reached the loft. Glancing around the empty space, he thought Justin was out. It was the sound of the shower running that brought a smile to his lips. He would never admit it aloud, but he liked coming home to someone at the end of the day. Asking Justin to move back in was one of the best decisions he'd ever made. He dropped his briefcase off at his desk and headed toward the bedroom, just in time to hear the running water stop. His suit jacket was hung up and he was loosening his tie when a towel-clad Justin emerged from the bathroom.
"Jesus, Brian," he exclaimed on a breath. "You scared the shit out of me."
He felt a little bad about that, knowing that he could have called out a greeting to make his presence known. "Sorry," he offered, closing the distance between them to slip his arms around the warm, damp body of his lover. "A couple more minutes and I could have joined you."
Justin smiled, returned the embrace and offered his partner a proper welcome home kiss. "Mmm," he murmured once they parted. "I'll keep that in mind for later."
"You'd better," Brian said, depositing a playful swat on the cotton-covered ass before turning away to finish changing his clothes.
"Everything OK with Lindsay?"
He nodded. "She's moving into a new place and wanted me to go with her to look at it."
"That's it?" he asked, somewhat surprised.
"You were hoping for something more serious?"
"Of course not. I'm just surprised she'd suddenly want your opinion. You hated her last apartment and that didn't seem to matter to her."
"Yeah, well, she could afford that one herself. I guess she figured since I'd be footing half the bill for the new one, I should at least see what I'm paying for."
"And how did things go with Henderson?" Justin asked, flopping down on the bed and watching the other man change.
Brian flashed him a crooked smile over his shoulder. "Weren't you the one who told me it was in the bag?"
Justin sat up quickly, his grin wide. "You got it?"
"You doubted it?" A teasing smirk.
He was on his feet again, wrapping his arms around the other man's waist from behind. "Not for a second," he admitted, kissing a bare shoulder. "But it's still great news."
Brian turned to face him, shirt in hand, and kissed him lightly. "Yeah, it is, but it's going to mean a shitload of work for the next month or so."
"Anything I can help with?"
He was silent for a moment. "It's all under control," he finally said.
"While we're on the subject of good news, I may have some of my own," Justin announced with a smile. "Are you familiar with Artex Designs?"
Brian frowned slightly. "Dwight Matherson."
"You know him?"
"I know enough," Brian replied. "So, on with the news."
"I went to drop off a resume and he was in the office talking to the receptionist. Not only did I get a chance to meet him, but when he heard I was looking for a job, he invited me right into his office for an interview."
Brian snorted. "I'll bet he did."
The smile faded from Justin's features. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He shook his head lightly. "Nothing. Go on."
While he did continue, it was with a modicum of wariness. "One of the guys in his art department had a heart attack. He'll be out for a few months and Dwight's looking for someone who can fill in for a while. Isn't that great? It's in my field, and it's only temporary so I'll be done by the time classes start."
"Really," Brian said skeptically. "And what if this guy never comes back? What if the stress is too much for him and he decides to go into another line of work or just retire altogether?"
Justin shrugged. "What if he does?"
"Matherson's not stupid, Justin. He's bound to see what a value you'd be to his business and he's going to do everything in his power to keep you there."
"First, I don't even have the job yet," Justin reminded him, "He's still looking at resumes but he said I'd know for sure by the end of next week. And second, I <i>am</i> going back to school. I made it perfectly clear that I wouldn't be able to work past Christmas, no matter what happens with this other guy."
"Let's hope you still feel that way at Christmas," Brian intoned, moving away and pulling on his shirt. "Is there any dinner left?"
Justin was silent for a moment as he contemplated the change in his lover's mood. "Daphne and I went out for pizza." He had to smile a little at the look of distaste Brian threw his way. "But I brought you home a chicken salad."
Nodding his appreciation, Brian headed to the fridge and retrieved the food and two bottles of beer. He handed one to Justin as he passed him on the way to the table.
Justin waited until he was seated and had begun to eat before he ventured toward the table, taking the seat opposite. "I get the impression you're less than thrilled with the idea."
Brian's gaze rose to hold Justin's for a moment before dropping back to the food before him. "I can't tell you what to do."
"No," Justin agreed, drawing the word out slowly, "but you're my partner. If there's something bothering you, I'd like to hear it."
He sighed inwardly. How could he possibly explain how he was feeling when he couldn't really rationalize it to himself? He didn't really know Dwight Matherson, after all. He'd been at the Kinnetik opening, as had many of the city's prominent businessmen, but Brian hadn't really talked to him except for the necessary business small talk. He had, however, caught him checking Justin out on more than one occasion during the course of the evening. He'd found it rather amusing at the time, knowing Matherson didn't stand a snowball's chance in Hell.
It didn't seem quite so funny now.
If he told Justin, he might think Brian was questioning whether he'd been offered the opportunity based on his artistic merits. Matherson's firm was highly successful; he obviously knew talent when he saw it. Maybe he didn't even remember Justin from the opening. Of course, if he'd been attracted then
He pulled himself from his thoughts with a small frown. "Just be careful."
"It's a job, not a tour of duty."
He put his fork down and leaned back in the chair, his gaze fixed steadily on the man across from him. "Matherson didn't get where he is by being stupid," he said. "He knows you're talented, but he also knows you never finished school. He probably thinks he can get away with paying you less than he would someone with a degree."
"I won't accept it unless it's fair," Justin tried to placate him. "Working at Kinnetik taught me the value of my work." He paused with a teasing smile. "Unless, of course, you were paying me more than it's worth because of my other talents."
Brian rolled his eyes but couldn't hide a small smile of his own. "Trust me, I pay for those other talents of yours in many ways, but monetarily isn't one of them."
He smiled, glad that the mood seemed to be lightening somewhat. "And I promise, I'll go over all the particulars with you before I accept the job."
Brian considered that for a moment before nodding once. "And school?"
"Winter term starts after the Christmas break. I'll be there front and centre, ready to take the world of academia by storm."
"If you were working at Kinnetik, I'd be able to fire your ass and make sure you had a good reason to go back."
"But it wouldn't feel like my own money," Justin repeated. "I was thinking, maybe we could open a joint account. I'll put in half of my pay each week and you can match it. Then, we can pay all the monthly household bills out of there."
"Are you serious?" Brian asked with a bit of a grimace.
"Why not?" He frowned. "I want to contribute, Brian. We live here together, remember? I want to pay my own way."
"What about when you start back to school? Who picks up the tab then?"
He shrugged slightly. "If I put the money I made working on Rage in there, then it should cover my share until I'm done school."
"That's your money, Justin. I don't want to use it to pay for the fucking electricity."
Justin could tell that he was getting annoyed, but wasn't about to give in. "But it's OK to use yours? That's fucked, Brian."
"I make more," he said without hesitation. "It only makes sense."
"Not to me. Just because I don't make as much doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to contribute what I can."
Brian rubbed a hand over his face and exhaled wearily. "Look, the bills are set up to come out of the general account every month. It'll be a pain in the ass to switch them over, so let's just leave things as they are. You can contribute other ways."
Justin's eyes narrowed slightly. "Such as?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Pay for the fucking groceries or something."
Justin scoffed. "Yeah, right. You eat like, what, five dollars worth of food a week?"
"So, that should make it even easier," Brian smirked, trying to lighten the mood.
"I don't want easy, Brian. If I did, I sure as Hell wouldn't be here. What I want is for us to be equal partners."
"Bullshit. You're still paying all the bills, running the whole show."
"I'm not trying to run anything. The bills are already taken care of; it just makes more sense..."
"Yeah, I get it. It makes more sense to leave things as they are. Maybe it would have made more sense if I'd stayed living at Daphne's. Then you wouldn't have to deal with me at all. You could just call me over when you wanted to fuck."
With that, he pushed his chair back from the table and stormed into the bathroom.
"Fuck," Brian breathed, running a hand irritably through his hair. He didn't need this right now. Pushing the plate of food away from him, he got up and followed his angry lover. "Look," he began, standing in the doorway. "You know I wouldn't have asked you to move in if it wasn't what I wanted."
Justin turned with a tired sigh. "I know," he admitted.
Brian opened his arms and waited until Justin stepped into the embrace. "I'm so used to looking after everything myself that I didn't stop to think how that might make you feel. If you want a joint bank account to pay the household bills, we'll set one up."
He looked up with a hopeful expression. "Really?"
He shrugged. "It's still going to be a pain in the ass to change everything over, but if that's what it takes to make you feel like an equal partner in this..."
"Relationship," Justin teased.
"Relationship." Brian feigned a put-upon sigh. "Then that's what we'll do."
He reached up and placed a soft kiss on his lover's lips. "Thank you."
"You can thank me later," Brian replied with a smirk. "Right now, I'd like to finish my dinner. That is, if the floor show is over."
They returned to the table and Brian resumed his dinner. Silence reigned for a few moments while Justin watched him eat. "Does this mean you've changed your mind about not wanting me to take this job?"
He bit back a tired sigh. "I never said I didn't want you to take the job,"
"You didn't have to. It's been pretty obvious to me since I first mentioned it."
He finished what he wanted and put his fork down, pushing the plate away. "What do you want me to say, Justin?"
"I want you to tell me why."
"The obtuse act isn't as charming as you might think." He was getting annoyed again. "If it's not the idea of me getting a job in general, then what? This particular job? The fact that I'd be working for someone other than you? Talk to me, Brian."
He sighed. "Do we really have to do this now? I have enough shit to deal with at the moment."
Justin frowned. "I didn't realize my life was shit."
"Don't put words in my mouth, Justin. That's not what I meant and you know it."
He sighed in mild irritation. "Ok, fine. Tell me about this shit you have to deal with."
Brian wished he'd kept his mouth shut. "It doesn't concern you."
"You're the one who brought it into our conversation."
"And now I'm taking it out."
"Too late. It's not like I don't know something's been bothering you."
"Then you should know enough to leave it alone."
"It's Michael, isn't it? You've been acting weird since he showed up here the day we got home and he's been acting like an asshole around me. Why can't you just tell me what's going on?"
"Because, I can't," Brian said hotly. "So just fucking drop it, will you?"
Justin looked at him for a long moment. There was a hint of warning in the hazel eyes he knew so well. "Consider it dropped," he finally said dully. Without another word he got up from the table and disappeared into the bedroom.
A few minutes later he heard the distinct sounds of Brian leaving the loft. "Fuck," he muttered, flopping wearily onto the bed.
Brian exited the building and stood there for a moment. He knew it wasn't fair to tell Justin to back off, especially since he knew it was obvious to his lover that there was something on his mind, but he'd promised Mikey he wouldn't tell. He glanced back at the door, part of him wanting to go back up but an even greater part knowing that, if he did, he'd either be faced with Justin's cold silence or relentless questioning. Both had the potential to lead to an argument that he just wasn't up to dealing with at the moment. Neither was he even remotely interested in losing himself in the sea of warm, willing bodies at Babylon, a fact which surprised him somewhat. Michael was out of the question. Lindsay would be as unrelenting in her questions as Justin.
There was only one place he could think of where he'd be allowed the luxury of being alone with his thoughts. With a sigh, he headed for the car, glad that he'd chosen the sofa in his office for comfort as well as its aesthetic appeal.
No doubt his leaving would generate the sort of argument he was presently trying to avoid, but that was something he'd be able to deal with another time.
Just not at the moment.
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