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The Haunted Palace

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Brian hears everything.

His footsteps echoing throughout the loft. The rasp in his throat that he settles with a cold glass of water, water that roars like the ocean as it pours forth from the faucet. The protests of the envelope’s individual fibers as Brian wrenches them apart, forever asunder, never to be whole again.

He feels no mercy.

The paper, stiff and crisp and unyielding, is covered in letters and numbers that blur in front of Brian’s eyes. He’s drawn only to two simple words, neatly centered on the page, a cutting reminder of everything he’s been trying to forget.

Justin Taylor.

The letters pulsate in front of him, expanding in size, in boldness. And even when he looks away, looks up at the ceiling and closes his eyes, they’re all he sees.

Justin Taylor.

Justin.

Just.

In.

And there it is. He should have known Justin would continue to invade his loft one way or another. The fact that he doesn’t live there had never stopped him before. Why should it now?

Justin, get my checkbook.

It doesn’t even occur to him not to pay the bill. A part of Brian feels that should surprise him. Nobody would be surprised if he refused to pay for Justin’s schooling out of spite, out of bitterness, out of resentment. But he feels none of those things, nor did he ever expect to. It’s hard to resent a day he foresaw coming from the very beginning.

Besides, the Kinney Scholarship for Talented Youth had never come with any strings attached, and Brian’s not about to change the terms of the deal now. Not when the reason for the scholarship is more pressing than ever.

I want you safe. I want you around for a long time.

Outside, he’s aware of a siren wailing, car horns blaring at each other in the evening rush hour. But the sound of his thumb pressing down on the top of his pen over and over, a steady click - click - click that leaves dozens of tiny black dots on the paper, is what cuts through the cacophony. It’s just one bill among the many he’ll pay this month, like his electric last week and his mortgage the next. It’s not even the largest check he’ll write this cycle. That honor goes to his AmEx -- the Mies van der Rohe cost a fucking fortune.

No. This bill is a mere pittance in the grand scheme of things.

I’ll give you five thousand dollars.

And yet…

Brian quickly fills out the check, in hopes that if he moves the pen across the paper fast enough the reverberant scratch of pen on paper won’t remind him of sandpaper rubbing against roughened wood, chanting raw, raw, raw -- an abrasive panacea that heals even as it condemns. There’s a smooth surface beneath, somewhere, but Brian prefers the splinters. They’re real. Honest.

He pauses only when he reaches the memo line. Brian may be able to ignore the rest of the check, may be able to pretend it’s just another bill, but there’s no escaping this reminder. Slowly, deliberately, his pen nearly slicing through the paper, he notes just for whom this check is intended.

In a year from now -- probably not even that long -- you won’t even remember my name.

If only he could be so lucky. Nearly three decades of building up the venerable House of Kinney stone by stone, and in barely two years, Justin had threatened to bring it crumbling down in his wake. But despite what Brian knows his friends might say, he’s still standing. And he intends to stay that way. Even if he can feel the fissure of whatever it was Justin was to him slicing through him like a knife, even if there are days when he can feel it widening so much he fears it’s going to somehow swallow him whole, that he’ll collapse in upon himself in a furious whirlwind of spurned possibilities and inescapable emotions.

Fortunately, his good friend Jim Beam serves as an adequate contractor, able to seal the cracks in his foundation, if only temporarily. The individual stones may be chipped, broken, and cracked, but he hasn’t fallen yet.

You’re going to need someone to help clean up this mess.

Beam’s been around for seven generations and likely would for seven more. Far longer than any trick. Far longer than… anyone in Brian’s bed. It makes for a far more trustworthy companion.

It’s only because it’s so new, Brian reasons with himself as he makes his way to his bedroom. He’s unaccustomed to rejection. He’d slipped in his habits, had grown comfortable with having somebody to come home to, had become accustomed to rules to follow that somehow felt less like rules and more like slipping into his favorite pair of jeans. In time, he’d return entirely to his usual self, the Brian Kinney he’s carefully curated over the years. Strong. Aloof. Independent.

Insouciant.

That’s what you are.

Fuck him, Brian thinks, stripping off his clothes and letting them fall to the floor. He opens a drawer, inspecting its contents, assessing his options. They roll around a bit, a low rumble like the echo of a demolition zone. He quickly grabs one and slams the drawer shut, leaving the others rattling about in rejection.

And when he lubes up his fingers and stretches himself, he doesn’t look at the dildo he selected, and he doesn’t think how it’s nearly the exact same size as Justin’s cock, doesn’t think how it has the same slight curve, doesn’t think how it’ll fill him just as Justin’s had the last time he’d fucked him.

His hiss as his fingers brush against his prostate distracts him from recalling how it had been the morning Justin had finally agreed to accept Brian’s money.

It’s a good thing one of us remembered.

His cock is hard before he even touches it. And when he grips it, it feels good, practiced, familiar.

It also feels entirely lacking.

Luckily, you can’t push me away. I’m onto you.

Impatient, Brian coats the dildo with lubricant and works it into his ass. He grunts; it’s been some time since he’s had anything more than a few fingers up his ass. Beads of sweat form on his back. He tastes salt on his lips. But he still keeps pressing it in.

It hurts. Does it always hurt?

That’s a part of it.

The toy is adequate enough; it gives Brian the penetration he’s craving. He knows just how to angle it to get him off most efficiently, knows exactly the rhythm that will make him lose himself every time. And that’s all he’s looking for now. A simple release. Something to take the edge off. Something so he can forget.

I won’t think of you.

But it’s impossible not to. Justin’s presence is infinitely stronger in his absence, and Brian feels him most in every place where he is not. With each thrust of the dildo, Brian’s reminded it’s a toy and not Justin’s dick pressing into him. As air brushes over his sweat-slicked skin, he’s reminded it’s not Justin’s hot breath against his neck. As he strokes his cock, he’s reminded it’s not Justin jerking him off. As he moans, he’s reminded Justin’s not there to swallow it with a kiss. And as he takes in the silence of the loft, the stillness all around him, the fucking solitude of it all, he’s reminded that Justin’s not whispering sweet words of love and encouragement in his ear, not moving against him, not holding him so tight there’ll be bruises the next day, not pressing his lips against his skin to soothe away aches Brian hadn’t even realized had pained him.

Yeah. You should’ve been there.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s never mattered before. Brian groans in frustration, tightens his grip, moves his hand faster up and down his shaft as he continues fucking himself.

It’s over, all right? Accept it.

The dildo hits his prostate on every thrust now. Brian’s pleasure is brutal, all glorious pain and twisted gratification. A sound emerges from his throat that’s nearly a growl, and it’s one he never would have allowed with a partner, but now it fills the room and Brian needs it, he needs anything, anything at all that will distract him from the fact that he’s being strangled by Justin’s absence, that it’s fucking smothering him, that Justin overtakes Brian’s every thought even when he’s most determined to fucking forget. His hand moves furiously over his cock, and he curses Justin, curses himself, curses the whole fucking universe, even as his balls tighten in that familiar way. Because he can already tell it’s a waste, that this climax will allow him to temporarily forget himself, but not even for the briefest of seconds will it allow him to forget the person he wants to the most.

So, what the fuck are you still doing here?

Brian throws his head back, blood pounding in his ears as he feels his release drawing ever closer.

I want you to remember this.

He slams the dildo in, out, in, out, and it’s hard and fast and absolutely nothing like the way --

So that no matter who you’re ever with.

There’s nothing tender about this, nothing loving, nothing warm or comforting, but fuck, Brian needs this. The surrender to the inevitable. The reminder. The promise Brian had made to Justin so long ago but in all his arrogance had never foreseen being turned back on him.

I’ll always be there.

“Justin!”

Brian sags onto the mattress, buries his head in the pillow. He draws a heaving, ragged breath, and it sounds uncomfortably like a sob.

Cold air tickles his back.

The clock ticks on the wall.

Justin’s laugh echoes in his mind.

Brian hears everything.