be you tonight
And you're laughing out loud at the thought of being alive
"What the fuck?" Trace said. "Don't lie all over me all hunched in like that. You're gonna make your back hurt."
"It's fine," Justin said, but he rolled over so he wasn't touching Trace anymore. He didn't stretch out though, but kept his knees bent and sticking up high, his heels dug into the sheet. His arms were crossed over his chest with his shoulders tucked in tight. Trace didn't really see the point of acting like you were trying to sleep in coach class when you were actually lying in a bed that was about two sizes up from king, but he didn't bother asking Justin what he thought he was doing. If Justin wanted to be asked - or more to the point, if Justin wanted to tell - Trace would know it.
"You're going to turn yourself into a humpback," Trace said. He sat up and leaned an elbow on Justin's knee, pressing down steadily. Justin resisted for about half a second and then let both his legs fall straight out in front of him. "We'll have to get you a church bell to ring."
"Hunchback," Justin said. He smiled at Trace, who had collapsed on top of Justin's legs, but his mind was clearly elsewhere. "Cause he's all hunched over. What do you know about hunchbacks, anyway?"
"Plenty - I saw the cartoon." Justin's smile didn't budge, and Trace knew he wasn't listening. He sighed, because he'd been almost asleep when he'd realized that Justin was doing whatever the opposite of yoga was in bed next to him. He sat up against the headboard and whacked Justin on the arm so he'd sit up too.
Justin crawled up to the top of the bed but he didn't quite sit up. He lay with his neck propped against the headboard, in a way Trace knew had to be at least a little painful.
"So what are we doing here?" Trace said. "Did somebody pack your shoes wrong side up and now you've got to curl up like a turtle and recite all the words to Gone backwards or else the next time you wear those shoes your single will fail and you'll be hit by lightning?"
Usually Justin made a point, when you teased him about something like that, of pretending he had a sense of humor about himself and teasing back. Tonight, though, Justin snapped, "Fuck you then," with a sharp edge of resentment that Trace had heard before, but never directed at himself. It was the way Justin sounded when he thought someone was taking advantage, or being ungrateful. Trace sat up a little higher.
Justin slumped a little more, sloppily, one of his arms catching Trace's hip. Trace looked down right as Justin was looking up, and Trace didn't know if he was looking more carefully because of that edge in Justin's voice, or if it was just that Justin was as transparent as usual, but suddenly Trace wasn't sure whether to bust out laughing or punch Justin in the head. He settled on laughing, because that was what he mostly wanted to do, although Justin probably deserved the punch more. Justin would have preferred it, too, judging from the sour look on his face.
"Fuck me is right," Trace said. "Come on. I can't believe you're serious. This is what you're freaking out about?"
"What," Justin mumbled, but he looked guilty, like Trace had known he would. Once he was caught out in something ridiculous, Justin always realized how ridiculous it was. It didn't seem to stop him from being even more ridiculous later, but in the moment he always regretted it.
"Just for curiosity's sake," Trace said, "just how small did you think you were going to have to ball yourself up before I forgot I was short? And what the hell were you going to do when we got up in the morning? Were you going to walk around on your knees all day, or have somebody dig a trench next to me for you to stand in, like in that Martin Short movie?"
"What Martin Short movie?" Justin said, but it wasn't even half-hearted. Trace tapped him on the top of the head, not lightly, and Justin's whole body uncoiled and shook out, like a spring had been suddenly released.
"I don't know," Trace said. "Man, what the fuck is wrong with you? Do you think I care? You can't - but apparently you do."
"I know," Justin said. "I know you heard that guy, and it was just - he was rude, and I thought. Anyway. It was stupid." He rolled over and pushed his head against Trace. "I know."
"It so was," Trace said.
Justin rolled back over. "Well, it wasn't all that stupid. I know that it kind of bothers you a little when -"
"No, you don't," Trace said. "You think you know that, but you don't, because it doesn't bother me."
"I mean subconsciously it bothers you."
"No, it doesn't."
"The whole point of subconscious is that you wouldn't know it was bothering you because it was, like, buried deep in your subconscious."
"My subconscious ain't that deep." Before Justin could protest Trace put his hand over his mouth. "It isn't. Yours is like the fucking Atlantic Ocean, we're all well aware, but mine's the kiddie pool. I can see the bottom, and I'm telling you, there's absolutely nothing swimming around in there."
"I know it bothered you," Justin said stubbornly.
"Your whole problem," Trace said, "is that you can never figure out how somebody else feels when it's different from how you feel. You always think about how you would feel if you were in that person's shoes, instead of how that person feels being in them."
There was a moment of complete silence. Trace deliberately didn't break it. Then Justin sat up and grabbed the T-shirt he'd left next to the bed. He pulled it on and stood up, then he looked down at Trace.
"I'm not saying you're selfish," Trace said a split second before Justin said, "I'm not selfish." A smile broke though on Justin's face, slow and reluctant, and he didn't sit down but he didn't step away either.
"Look, you're misunderstanding," Trace said. He reached out for a fistful of Justin's T-shirt but didn't pull. Justin swayed toward him a little. "I wasn't saying - you're not selfish, I don't mean that. You just don't - look. Your reality is not like anyone else's, you know? You say that yourself. So you can't know what it's like to be - it's not like other people really know what it's like being you, either. They don't know your reality, so they don't know how you feel."
"You know," Justin said.
"Yeah, well, I've known you a long time."
"I've known you just as long."
"I know," Trace said. "Look, it's no big deal. Hell, maybe it was kind of bothering me a little."
"It wasn't," Justin said. "I can tell. Now, I can tell."
"It's all right," Trace said. He pulled Justin closer, his hand still bunched in Justin's shirt. "You were just trying to be nice to me."
"Yeah, I was," Justin said. Trace thought he sounded a little off, but before he thought about it any more Justin smiled at him and knelt down. "Let me be even nicer to you."
Trace wasn't going to argue with that. He let Justin slide his legs apart and then press between them, his mouth warm and just a little slow as it eased down Trace's cock. Trace kept one hand on Justin's shirt and spread the other out on the back of Justin's head. Justin opened one cool palm against Trace's thigh but didn't squeeze, even when Trace pulled his head close and tight. Trace looked down at Justin's shoulders hunched beneath his shirt, at his bare ass and his legs splayed out. Below them the floor creaked a little as Justin's bare feet arched and flexed against it.
Trace tried to keep hold of Justin's shirt but his hand slipped loose when Justin stood up. He reached out again to drag Justin back into bed, but his hand closed on air as Justin stepped back. "Water," Justin mumbled, or something like it, and headed for the bathroom. He was smiling, though, so Trace let him go.
"Clifford," Justin said when he climbed back into bed. He'd lost the shirt somewhere on his way back from the bathroom. He stretched out on his belly, easy, one leg thrown over both of Trace's. "The name of the -"
"The movie, right," Trace said. Justin's hand was lying just next to his, open, too close to be anything but asking. He slipped his fingers through Justin's.
"You remembered the name, too?"
"No," Trace said, "but I knew you would."
Trace had been on the phone for an hour trying to fix some fucked-up travel plans when a bottle of water materialized on the corner of the table, just within his reach but out of the way of the papers he had spread out across the table. He looked at it suspiciously. It wasn't like he didn't know how it had gotten there. For three days stuff had been appearing just when Trace was about to need it. Nothing too elaborate for the most part, a pen when he needed to write down a number, his cell phone charger plugged in next to the bed without Trace having to dig it out of his bag, that kind of thing. Small shit mostly, but Trace was surprised at how comforting he found it.
And it wasn't only small shit, either. Two nights ago he'd mentioned having a taste for ribs from Dose's, just in passing, it wasn't like it was a test or anything, but by lunchtime the next day he was eating the special with a side of corn on the cob. Trace couldn't help calculating the phone calls it must have taken to get his lunch delivered across the country, and he knew it wasn't small shit.
He reached out to take a swig from the bottle of water and nearly drowned all his careful notes. Of course the bottle cap had been pre-loosened for him.
"Okay," Trace said. It was time to talk to Justin.
It wasn't like it was hard to find him. For three days Justin had spent a lot of time leaning against the wall of whatever room Trace was in, watching. Of course, he'd have to pay some attention to figure out whatever Trace was just about to need, but in Trace's opinion he'd gone a little overboard. Trace made a point of only watching Justin about ten percent more than a normal person would watch someone he was crazy about, which meant he watched Justin about sixty percent less intensely than pretty much every other person in Justin's life. Naturally it was hard for Justin to tell the difference; for him, it was probably like trying to feel an individual raindrop when he was already soaked to the skin. Trace was used to staying dry, though, which was why the whole thing was driving him crazy.
Trace stood up and found Justin - where else? - leaning against the wall, watching him. He almost groaned. Justin was wearing Trace's Playboy shirt, which was a little small on Trace and so was almost ripping at the seams like Justin was about to go all Hulk, and one of Trace's hats, which fit Justin perfectly but still looked kind of stupid. This was exactly the type of thing that gave Trace doubts about the whole acting idea.
Justin smiled at him, and Trace couldn't help smiling back. That was the type of thing that made Trace know he was stupid to have any doubts about anything Justin decided to do. Justin might usher in a whole new school of acting based on working very hard and looking very sincere and probably wearing a special in-character hat, but Justin would make it work.
He leaned against the wall next to Justin. Before Trace could say anything Justin slid his hand across the wall and twisted his fingers under Trace's shirt, letting his knuckles rest just above Trace's hip, a warm careful pressure. It should have felt familiar. After all, Trace had known this gesture from the opposite side about a million times. But it felt strange to him, like maybe Justin had picked up some dust from the wall or something. It felt like there was something between Justin's skin and his own.
"You're doing it wrong," Trace said. He was watching and he saw Justin flinch, but Justin's hand was steady on his waist.
"I am not," Justin said. "I'm not doing anything, anyway."
"Oh, good answer," Trace said. He pushed Justin's hand away from his waist, gently, and turned it over in his own. There was nothing on Justin's knuckles.
"What was wrong?" Justin said, his voice low.
"It's okay -"
"What did I do wrong?" Justin said.
Trace didn't look up from Justin's hand. "It's not - that's not what it feels like."
"It does -"
"No," Trace said. "You've got it backwards. You're thinking about what it feels like to you, not what - not what it feels like to make it feel like that to you."
"It's not what it feels like to you," Justin said.
"No," Trace said. He let Justin's hand slip out of his own when Justin pulled. "Listen, J," he said. "You don't have to -"
"I just wanted to do something for you the way you do for me," Justin said quietly.
"I know," Trace said. "But you don't have to. I don't want you to."
"Look," Trace said, "what I said the other night - I wasn't trying to make you change or anything. I was just - it's just a fact, OK? It wasn't like some sort of hidden signal or something. I wasn't trying to improve you. I don't want you improved."
"You sure?" Justin said.
"I don't know exactly how to break this to you," Trace said, "but I've got pretty much the rockingest life on the planet. I'm not looking to upgrade."
"You sure?" Justin said again. "There's nothing you want?"
"Well, I wouldn't turn down a sandwich right now," Trace said. He took Justin's hand and put it on his belt. "Or a blowjob, for that matter."
"Don't try to change the subject," Justin said, but he didn't move his hand. "You're telling me that I just can't get what it's like to be you on the same level you get me, and you think I can just make that up to you with some sex?"
"Absolutely positively," Trace said.
"Seriously, J," Trace said, "the thing is, there's not a whole lot of levels to be getting here. I'm not that complicated. I know how to get what I want, and I know how to give you what you want, and that's about a million times more than I ever dreamed of wanting before. It feels pretty fucking good to be me."
The first thing Trace thought when Justin swung into the room was, I wonder what we won? It wasn't the right time for awards, though, and Trace was about to ask what had happened when he caught sight of the look on Justin's face. He didn't see that look often, not when Justin wasn't onstage. That was how Justin was moving, too, fast and confident, like he was onstage. A million times Trace had watched Justin walk right up to the edge of the stage and look out at the crowd, look out and smile at them and just for a moment he wouldn't do anything else, and he wouldn't need to. Now Justin was walking right up to Trace and looking down at him and for a moment he just stood there, looking. Trace was still figuring out what was going on when Justin leaned down and kissed him.
It took him by surprise, and just for a moment he let Justin kiss him and then he was kissing back, and that took him by surprise too, because he hadn't been planning to. He'd meant to ask Justin what was going on, and he started to pull away but Justin held on. "Come on," Justin said, "come on, let me, I know," and Trace didn't know if it was what Justin said or the way he said it, like he knew what he was talking about, but suddenly Trace knew what was going on. He started to laugh, he couldn't help it, and Justin laughed too, his open mouth against Trace's and then they were laughing together.
They were laughing together, and Justin got one knee on the bed next to Trace and pushed him back. Trace wouldn't go easily, though, and pulled Justin with him, rolling until Justin was lying underneath him. For a moment Justin was still. Trace could feel him considering his next move. He'd probably expected Trace to give way like Justin always did. But Trace knew what it felt like to be Justin, at least as much as any regular human could, and not even for one second did he want to be anyone other than himself. And he really wanted to see what Justin would do.
What Justin did was give way, falling back easily onto the bed. He stretched out and let his fingers trail warm and delicate over Trace's stomach before they hooked in Trace's belt, but he didn't pull. And it wasn't like it was a disappointment, after all. It wasn't like it was some chore to be who they always had been. Trace bent down and kissed Justin, carefully this time, thoroughly, the way he knew Justin liked it. When Justin was holding hard onto the back on Trace's head, Trace slipped his hand down and went to work on Justin's zipper.
Suddenly Trace was on his back, Justin laughing over him and holding his wrists above his head. "You fucker," Trace said. "You tricked me!"
"I was lying in wait," Justin said.
Trace pushed hard again, pulling his wrists free and rolling to the side. Justin rolled with him and they both flew off the bed and hit the floor, knocking their heads together. For a moment they just lay there, laughing breathlessly, and then Justin kissed him again. Trace wouldn't let himself be distracted this time, though. Justin's pants were half off from all the rolling around, and Trace eased them off the rest of the way. He wrapped a hand around Justin's cock and said, "Come on, come on, let me," and Justin laughed again but it sounded different this time.
"You always think," he said, "you always think you know what you want. You always think you know what I want."
"Don't I?" Trace said. He licked at Justin's throat and then ran his hand down the length of Justin's cock, down and then up again, slowly, just the way Justin liked it. "Don't I?"
"Sure," Justin said breathlessly, "sure. But then I'm easy."
"You said it, not me."
"Not tonight, though," Justin said, and pushed Trace's hand away. He turned away a little. "Tonight I'm not -" and Trace followed him and kissed him quickly, before he could finish. By the time Trace was done kissing him his hand was back around Justin's cock and Justin wasn't turned away anymore. But when Trace dipped his head down to Justin's chest Justin said, "Tonight I'm not easy."
"Okay," Trace said, and kissed him quiet again.
Something was different, though. It wasn't like Justin was acting like he didn't want it. He was right there, right with Trace, his cock hard in Trace's hand and he was panting, lips hot and wet against Trace's throat. He rolled with Trace across the floor, he moved with him but Justin was right. Tonight Justin wasn't like he usually was. He was usually easy. Trace had always been able to read him, could tell just from the way Justin's hips bucked up against his exactly what Justin wanted, how he wanted it, what he needed. He didn't even need that to tell, usually, with Justin warm and open against him, chin tipped up for Trace's mouth, low eager sounds spilling from him so Trace could hear just how much he liked it.
Justin wasn't making noise now, and his head wasn't thrown back, but it wasn't like that was how it was every time anyway. Now Justin was looking right at him, he was right there with Trace, his body right there, his skin, and it was the same as always but something felt different.
Trace slowed things down, kissed Justin long and gently, rubbed a hand just as gently along his waist. It wasn't like it was always the same with them, anyway. It wasn't like they didn't play sometimes, tease. Sometimes Trace would slow down just to see how long Justin could take it.
There was still something different, and it wasn't like - There'd been some nights, there always had been, when Justin was quiet and pulled into himself, when Trace had to get right up close to him, their bodies touching all over with nothing between them, breathing into each other. He was that close now, so close he could smell Justin, his new soap, ginger and almond, Trace bought it and Trace packed it, which was how he knew what it was, the new soap and a little sweat crisp behind it. Trace had been this close before, so many times he'd gotten as close as he could and once he was there he took his time, took his time and fucked Justin as slow as he could, holding himself back, waiting until Justin was gasping and clutching at him. Trace could make him do that, always, he could make him and Justin let him, let Trace drag him back into himself. Some nights it had taken a while but Justin never fought it. It had been what he wanted. It had been easy.
Tonight Justin wasn't fighting it, Trace couldn't say that because Justin wasn't. Still there was something Justin was holding back, or maybe not holding back but holding up. It seemed like he was holding something high out of Trace's grasp, like he used to do every once in a while when they were kids. It hadn't mattered then what Justin was holding over him, a basketball or a video game, because even if Trace hadn't really wanted it he'd always felt like he had to fight for it, clumsily, banging against Justin until finally Justin would give in. Trace felt like that now, awkward and young and it was pissing him off and he was tired of playing around.
Trace shoved one of Justin's legs up and Justin laughed, not like he did before. It was low this time. He wasn't laughing at Trace but Trace wasn't sure Justin was laughing with him either. It sounded private.
"Yeah?" Trace said, and Justin said, "Come on," and he was still smiling.
Trace pushed in hard, and it wasn't like it had never been like this before. It wasn't like Justin never wanted it rough but Trace wasn't being too careful this time, Justin could say something if he didn't like it. Justin didn't say anything, though. He was moving with Trace, pushing back and it wasn't like Trace had anything to complain about but still, somehow, it felt like there was something he was just missing, something he couldn't quite reach.
Justin was breathing hard through his open mouth, and Trace slammed in again and Justin put a hand over his own lips. Trace saw him bite down hard on the soft skin between his index finger and his thumb. He leaned down and licked Justin's hand there, his tongue right against Justin's lips, and Justin dropped his head back slowly. Trace sucked at Justin's hand. He'd thought he might taste blood there, but there was none.
"Do it." Justin's voice was hard, somewhere between a taunt and a dare. "Go ahead, go ahead, do it."
Trace bit down and this time there was blood. Justin hissed and lifted his head back up, looking right at Trace. "I know what you need," Justin said, and there was something in his voice. It was like he'd just won something he'd wanted but hadn't known how much until he got it, something he almost hadn't let himself want but he did and he got it and now he had it, now he knew. He sounded triumphant.
"I know," Justin said, and Trace came, Justin's hand still in his mouth.
When Trace slid off Justin, Justin rolled away a little, onto his side. Trace reached for his cock but Justin pushed him away and jerked himself off, staring hard at Trace the whole time. Trace couldn't look away until Justin did. Then he lay on his back with his eyes closed.
When he looked up again Justin was still lying on his side, looking at his hand. "Do you think I need a tetanus shot?"
Trace sat up and grabbed at his hand. Justin laughed. "I was kidding. There's not even any blood, just barely at the hinge where it bends."
Trace didn't let go of his hand. "Is that what it's like?" he said.
Justin stopped laughing. "You tell me," he said, and he sounded like Justin again, like he didn't know the answer and he wanted to.
Trace lay back on the bed, Justin' hand still caught in his. He closed his eyes and then opened them. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, that's what it feels like."
"Yeah?" Justin said. He lay down next to Trace and looked at him. He slid his hand away from Trace's and then back under again. "I'm really fucking glad," Justin said.
Written for the [More Than You Think You Are Challenge]