by >>Jae

Justin is naked when Chris climbs the stairs, naked and sprawled across the bed, looking out the window. Chris should have expected that, would have expected it if he'd thought about it. Justin wants to make sure he gets what he wants, and he has never been scrupulous about the way he gets it. He has never been subtle, either.

Justin doesn't move when Chris shuts the door behind him. He lies on his stomach, elbows on the mattress. His mouth is covered by the palms of his hands, clasped as if in some private prayer. His back rises gently, loosely, with every breath, and Chris catches himself breathing in time, inhalations stretching out as Justin does, exhalations slackening Chris' own muscles. This is how people get hypnotized, Chris thinks, and coughs harshly and gulps in air until he feels dizzy. Justin doesn't laugh, doesn't even turn around.

Chris knows what he's supposed to do. Lean over the bed, run a hand along that sleek inviting span of skin until Justin twists under him, moving slowly, sinuously. When Chris' fingers reach Justin's shoulder, Justin will turn and smile at him, a smile wide and sly enough for Chris to sink into.

Chris keeps his hands at his sides.

He leans against the wall and looks out the window. Below them there are rocks and clay as orange as sunset, the sun striking gold and red and brown streaks where the land was broken long ago. He drops his eyes to where Justin is spread out over amber sheets, sunlight slanting over him, painting his skin gold and red and brown.

Chris keeps his hands at his sides.

"You can't hide out here forever," he says, half to break the silence, to dispel the late afternoon languor of the room. But only half. There is something that needs to be said, and Chris has come to say it.

Justin looks back over his shoulder and Chris is ashamed of what he's been thinking. There's hunger in Justin's eyes, and hope, but what goes straight to Chris' heart and lodges there like a bullet is the naked relief. Justin wasn't sure Chris would come. Then Justin smiles, a pinup perfect heartbreaker of a smile, a valentine, and Chris is only half ashamed. He lets his fingers drift over Justin's hip, along his side, and Justin sighs softly. It's a lovely sound, beautiful as a concerto, and just as practiced. Chris' fingers slide higher and Justin shivers and arches and opens underneath them. It's calculated, of course it is, it's Justin, but there's something else there, something dark and wild and raw as rain. It's Justin, of course it is, and when Chris' hand reaches Justin's shoulder Justin turns and the smile fades from his face and he says, "Chris - "

There is something that needs to be said, but the sound of his name turns in Chris like a key, and he covers Justin's mouth with his own. He falls onto the bed and lets Justin sink into him.

"Hold onto me," Justin whispers, after, in a voice worn so ragged Chris knows he's said it during, and maybe even before. Chris heard nothing over the pounding of his own heart, roaring in his ears like the ocean this land hasn't seen in a million years. "Hold onto me," Justin whispers, and Chris does, weaving his fingers through Justin's hair, wrapping a hand around Justin's waist. In his sleep Justin starts to slide away, the weight of his dreams pulling him toward the edge of the mattress, and Chris clutches him close. When Justin whimpers and twitches against Chris' hands, Chris lets go. Justin slips through his fingers like silk.

Chris wakes to shafts of moonlight quivering through the room. In the pale clear glow Justin's skin looks sheer. Chris thinks he can see through it, inside it, into the center of Justin.

All he sees is light.

It's not the hard thin shimmer of the moon or the wide scorching sprawl of the sun. It's a bright focused shock of light, a glare that hits like a spotlight, just as blinding and just as irresistible. It's strange and beautiful and frightening, of course it is, it's Justin. Chris wishes, not for the first time, for protection.

A wish, Chris thinks, is almost like a prayer, a letter without an address. A wish, a prayer, a chant, an incantation. Holy words. Chris coils his body around Justin's like a snake and whispers the holiest word he can think of, the most secret word he knows, over and over again. A wish, a prayer, a chant, an incantation.

Chris wakes to dazzling brightness. Justin looks down at him from where he stands at the foot of the bed. "I love you," Justin says, running his hands along the sides of his jeans, and Chris should have expected that, would have expected that. Justin believes in love, believes in it simply and completely, with something deeper than desperation. He reads books that tell him how to conjure up love, how to grow it, how to bind it, and he follows their instructions to the letter. When their advice fails, Justin believes it's because he left out one crucial ingredient, one simple step. The books are never wrong, of course they're not. It's Justin.

Chris doesn't believe in anything. He gets the same results, and he doesn't have to read any books.

"I think we're having this conversation backwards," Chris says. Justin's mouth lifts awkwardly at the corners and a door opens that Chris thought was locked up tight.

"I didn't think you'd find me," Justin says.

"Baaap," Chris says softly. "Wrong answer. Try again."

Justin's lips curve crookedly again, and Chris turns away a little. Sunlight is pouring in through the big window. "I don't…" Justin says.

"You didn't think I'd find you so fast," Chris says.

Justin laughs. "No," he says. "How did you … was it the credit cards?"

Chris had known from the first moment that he'd leave this room bleeding, but he'd thought it would be from something else. "No," he says finally. "No, I just … I remembered how you loved it here, before."

Justin sits on the windowsill, the sun flaring around him so brightly Chris is blinded. He doesn't have to see to know what Justin will do. Run a hand through his hair until it catches in the curls at the base of his neck, look down at the floor, chew nervously at his lip. He knows what it looks like, of course he does, it's Justin. A tiny crack in his lower lip will bloom into blood, one drop trembling like dew on a leaf, but never falling. It's never had a chance to. Chris always catches it with his tongue.

Chris looks away and blinks until the spots blocking his vision dissolve. He stares at the whitewashed wall across from him. He'll never understand how people can live in places like this. The unsparing sunlight reveals every uneven texture on the surface of the wall, every flaw in the paint job. It's terrible, the light up here. You can see everything.

"Chris," Justin says, and Chris' head jerks toward him before he can stop it. "I don't want to go back," he says. He's still looking down at the floor. There's blood on his mouth.

"Baaap," Chris says softly. "Wrong answer. Try again."

"I don't!" Justin says. He stands up and swipes a hand over his lip. He looks at the streak of red as if he's not sure what it is, then puts his finger in his mouth and sucks it clean. He looks surprised at the taste. "Why do you think I came here?"

Chris just looks at him. "I wanted to get away from it," Justin says. "I wanted to leave. I knew… I knew you'd come after me." He holds his hand out, palm open, to Chris, and Chris takes it. Justin pulls, but Chris doesn't rise. He holds tight to Justin's hand. "I love you," Justin says, his mouth shaping the words easily, leaning on them like they're magic. They're not, Chris knows. They're said too often, to too many people. There's some spell that brings Chris here, every time, but it's not those words.

Chris' fingers dig into Justin's hand, and Justin winces. Chris lets go. He always does then.

His hand is free and the sudden weight of it sinks Chris back into the mattress. Justin stands over him and looks down. The morning light is so strong it looks like it's shining through him. "I'm doing stupid things," Justin says. His voice is thick with grief. It's calculated, of course it is, but oh, it's Justin. "I'm doing things I hate to impress people I can't stand."

"Baaap," Chris says softly. "Wrong answer. Try again."

Justin looks down at him. Chris doesn't look away. "I'm doing things I love," Justin says slowly, "to impress people I like." Chris should have expected that. Justin learns quickly. No one has ever said Justin isn't bright. "I want," he says. "I want to go back."

"I know," Chris says.

"But Chris," Justin says, and Chris' name, in that voice, and it's, of course it is, but oh, Justin. "I wish I didn't."

Chris doesn't say anything. Justin works his lip sore again and again blood blossoms. Chris lifts his hand and wipes it away. His thumb sinks into Justin's mouth. He can feel Justin's teeth against his skin, scratching like thorn. His hand drops back onto the bed.

"Chris," Justin says, and Chris closes his eyes against the light and waits. He's always heard that the third time is the charm. It's quiet for a long time.

"You're right," Justin says. Chris doesn't move. "I can't hide out here forever."

When Chris opens his eyes again, night has fallen over him. Alone in the shadows, he whispers a magic word, a word so holy the shape of it bruises his mouth, so secret it echoes in the room, in his ears. A wish, a prayer, a chant, an incantation.


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