Ventures and Investments

16.

There was something in Tony's gaze. He was staring at Justin with half-lidded eyes, his fingers still suspended under Justin's chin with a feather-light touch. Blinking, Justin swallowed. It was warmth. There was just a subtle drop of warmth in those ice-blue eyes. It made Justin sick.

"You're messing with me," Justin said, his tongue rubbing like sandpaper against the roof of his mouth. "Teasing me." He couldn't believe it.

Tony's expression remained the same for a moment, and then, as Justin watched with a growing sense of nausea, it broke and Tony snorted. "Well, Justin," he said, "You were overreacting."

He had said this with a light shrug, all previous dangerous atmosphere gone. Dropping his hand to the nape of Justin's neck, he squeezed— in what Justin was pretty sure was supposed to be a reassuring way —and shook his head. "Scared of me?" he said, chuckling a little bit, quirking his eyebrow, "Come on."

With that, he patted Justin on the back, and then stepped away to button his jacket. "Anyway, I'm sure you can miss the first day of class," he said, "It's probably just introductory busy work." He was half distracted as he spoke, straightening his sleeves out and brushing his front off.

Justin watched, mouth open, and couldn't quite string together— no, he could! He said, with a determined voice, "It's not a class, it's a seminar."

Tony looked up at him with raised eyebrows, expression clearly stating that he didn't give one shit what it was. When he saw Justin's face, he sighed and crossed his arms. Before he could say anything, Justin started shaking his head. "That's not the point," Justin said, pushing shaky fingers through his hair, "You're not listening to me, I don't want to go anywhere with you. You scare me, Tony!"

His voice had risen with each word, his fingers curling into his palms. As the words died out, he felt a faint blush warm his cheeks. He had sounded so childish, but it was the truth, and Tony was just brushing it aside as if it were nothing. He was looking at Justin with cold appraisal, his arms crossed, fingers tapping against his bicep.

"Don't do this, Justin." he said. "You sound ridiculous."

Justin breathed out, feeling the already loose grip he had on the belief that he was right slipping away. Was he being ridiculous? He had just called Tony scary, Tony who was just standing there looking efficient in his crisp suit , his face set in a mild expression.

Justin swallowed. "What?" he managed to say.

"What?" Tony repeated, eyebrows rising, his cold smile returning. "That's my question, Justin. What have I ever done to scare you?"

Stepping forward, he slid his artful fingers under Justin's tie, and started fixing the loose knot which Justin had haphazardly tied that morning. Justin tried not to focus too much on the knuckles brushing against his chest, or Tony's face looking down at him. It felt like such an intimate gesture, as Tony gently pushed the knot into place.

Justin sucked in a breath, however, when Tony cemented the moment as intimate by pressing his lips against Justin's forehead. "What have I always done?" Justin heard him whisper, the words rumbling deeply from his chest. There was a pause, and then Justin felt his stomach twist because he had immediately known what Tony wanted him to say.

"Taken care of me," he said, slowly and quietly.

"Taken care of you," Tony affirmed. He slid his hands down to Justin's arms, circling his fingers around Justin's wrists. With deliberate calm, he pulled Justin towards him, and wrapped Justin's arms around his waist so that it was Justin hugging Tony. Justin linked his fingers without even thinking, wondering where all his willpower went as he bowed his head against Tony's chest.

"I'm not … " Justin choked out, "I'm not strong enough— "

He wondered who he was talking to, Tony or himself? When had Tony made the decision to go full-tilt into this? Only a few weeks ago, he acted as if he hated Justin. And now, now it felt like Tony was striking just as Justin was starting to pull himself together. It was too soon. Justin was shaking, the fibers of his resolve crumbling, and Tony was the only anchor there. Tony was the only thing Justin could see.

There was a hand on his head, sliding back gently, combing through his hair. "I'll tell you what," Tony murmured, "Go ahead and go to the photography seminar." Everything about his tone was placating and soft. "And when it gets to be too much, come back to me."

"Gets to be too much?" Justin replied, his cheek still pressed against Tony's chest.

When Tony didn't answer, Justin looked up. He was paralyzed by the look in Tony's eyes, they were laser focused on Justin, bright and smart and calculating. Justin felt hands press against his back, pushing him more into Tony's chest, even when there wasn't any 'more' to move into. Tony's lips were parted and he just stared quietly at Justin for a beat more.

"Are you going to answer me?" Justin asked, and then gasped. Tony had dug his fingers into Justin's back, roughly dragging them down and back up. Justin could feel Tony's heart thudding solidly against his chest. "Tony," he breathed, "What— "

"Gets to be too much," Tony said suddenly, "The first time someone critiques your photo, or the first time you get frustrated using the camera, or … " His voice trailed off for a moment, and then with a slight curve of his lip, he said, "Or when someone comes along who's better than you."

Suddenly, he dragged his fingers back up, forcing Justin arch into him. "When one of those things happen—and it will—you come back to me, and I will make you feel all better again, Justin." he said.

"No," Justin breathed without thinking, his cheeks flushing, "No!" He shoved his arms in between them, prying Tony away from him. "Fuck off," he said when all Tony did was chuckle and pull him in again. Justin kept trying, kept pushing and squirming, tears pricking at his eyes from the exertion.

Tony leaned forward, and Justin turned his head to the side, grimacing when he felt Tony lightly kiss his temple. "I should have just done this from the beginning," Tony muttered, kissing Justin again.

Justin blanched, his eyebrows creasing together. "Are you even listening to me?"

"About what?" Tony replied, nuzzling his face against Justin's cheek. His breath was hot on Justin's skin.

Justin stilled completely. He thought that maybe Tony finally comprehended something was wrong, because he loosened his hold somewhat, and leaned back to give Justin room. He tilted his head, staring at Justin. "What did you want to say?" he asked, his voice a low rumble.

"I— " Justin said, his voice dying out. He was unprepared for the sudden, unfettered attention Tony was giving him, staring at Justin in complete silence. "I don't like to be insulted."

He closed his eyes. The first thing he should have done was demand for Tony to let go of him, but Tony's words about the photography class were burning in his ears, hurting his pride. When Tony didn't say anything, he opened his eyes again, and quickly looked to the side when he saw that Tony was still staring at him.

"I wasn't insulting you," Tony said finally. Justin looked back up at him. "But I know that you're … sensitive. About people judging you." There was a pause. "You're bound to quit, and when you do, you'll be upset." He brushed a strand of hair away from Justin's eyes. "I think after that, you'll give up."

Justin narrowed his eyes. "Give up?"

"Yes," Tony replied. He let out an amused breath. "Ten years, and so much struggling, but, yes, you'll finally give up."

The almost triumphant smile on his face was disconcerting. Justin was thrown for a moment, but slowly Tony's words and their implication started to sink in, and Justin hunched slightly as his stomach clenched. "You're waiting for me to fail," he said, covering his mouth with his hand.

"No," came the firm reply, and then Tony was palming Justin's cheek, making him look up at Tony again. "Not waiting anymore, Justin." His thumb brushed along Justin's cheekbone, "I'm telling you. Go do this photography thing now, get it out of your system."

Justin was trying to shake his head, but Tony wouldn't let him move. "We're not— you don't get a vote— " Justin said.

The hand on his face tightened, and Tony's eyes went hard. After a second he relaxed again, and seemed to force a smile. "You're right," he said, "You're absolutely right." He began to stroke Justin's cheek even more, pushing his hand back, his thumb curling over the ridge of Justin's ear. "But you're not listening to me."

Wanting to scoff at the irony, Justin pressed his lips together instead.

"I want you to do this, Justin," Tony said, "You think it's your dream, and that's fine. All I'm saying is, when photography falls apart too, and you have nothing left, I'll be there to— " Pausing, he seemed to go heady with the thought of what he was about to say next, but then he closed his eyes, and shook his head.

" … I'll give you everything, Justin." he said finally.

That wasn't what he was going to say, Justin thought. He felt slightly sick. "What were you going to say?" he asked, his voice tight.

Tony's eyes widened slightly, and then then his lip curled. "You know me too well."

Justin didn't say anything in return, just stared at Tony as he waited for a reply. Tony sighed, and dropped his head slightly. "I was trying to moderate myself for your sake, Justin."

His smile turned rueful. "Do you really want to hear— well," he said, and then there was that look again, the look that told Justin that Tony was almost high on what he was thinking. He dropped his hands to Justin's hips, and just held them there, held Justin steady, his fingers fanning out to dig into Justin's ass. "It's important that you don't have any hope left," he said, and for once it seemed like Tony was the one who couldn't make eye contact.

Justin gnawed on his lip, rage twisting in his stomach. "What?" he hissed, struggling against Tony's hold. What was Tony trying to do, force Justin into himself? His arms had moved to encircle Justin in a tight grip, and it felt as if Justin's bones had to bend to accommodate the crush. He was breathing with tight, short bursts, and his head was swimming. "Please, Tony," he whined, trying to push away.

"Your pride, Justin," Tony said, ignoring him, "It has to be broken completely, I understand that."

Those words sliced through Justin's panic and, gritting his teeth, he lifted his leg and stomped down on Tony's foot as hard as he could. He heard Tony suck in air and curse, and he quickly elbowed away. Justin stumbled back a few steps, but then regained his balance, and turned to run. When he hit the door, he grasped for the handle, and jerked it open.

Turning around, he saw Tony only a foot away from him, hand outstretched, face flushed. But then his eyes moved beyond Justin— to the hallway and his secretary, and he slowly retracted his arm. He looked at Justin, and Justin was faintly surprised that Tony looked hurt.

"You don't need to have the door open like some virgin princess— "

"Shut up."

Justin was hunched, glaring, with his hands curled into fists. "Words won't stop you," he said through gritted teeth, "Pushing won't stop you," He paused, breathing heavily. "I cannot stop you, Tony."

"I know," Tony replied, "So why are you even trying?"

Careening back, Justin used the door to hold himself upright. The look in Tony's eyes as he had said that was terrifying. He was staring at Justin, his mouth set in a small frown, but it was as if his eyes were on fire.

Justin panicked. He couldn't help it. "When did you get like this?" he said, forcing out the most choked, ugly laugh he could manage. "It's pathetic, Tony. I don't want you. I could never want you. Don't you see how sad you are, trying to get me like this?"

And then, because he was on a roll, he touched his chest and said with a wavering voice, "Me, Justin Plank."

What ever Justin meant for that to do, it backfired. Tony's expression smoothed out— softened almost, and he squared his shoulders. Stray strands of blond hair had started to fall over his face. After a second, he let out a weary sigh. "I know what I've said here sounds horrible, but it's the truth, Justin. You won't accept me until you have nothing left. This photography thing is the last hope you've been holding onto."

He held out a placating hand. "So, I got a little excited. Knowing how close we are to the end of this."

Justin's mouth was hanging open, and all he could do was look comically back and forth between Tony and the secretary, who was staring at them with a barely contained grin. When Tony noticed what Justin was glancing at, he snorted lightly and shook his head. "They all know I want to fuck you, Justin. Everyone always has."

"That's," Justin spluttered, "That's— " He licked his lips as he searched for something to say. " — Sexual harassment!"

Tony cocked an eyebrow. "Which part?"

"Jesus," Justin said, pushing his hair back with his hands. His fingers were trembling. "When did … " Stopping, he looked over his shoulder again at the secretary, who had finally had the grace to look back down at her desk. He didn't want to close the door, but he did step closer to Tony, and lowered his voice. "Are you saying you want to be in a relationship with me?"

Studying Justin for a moment, Tony's smile turned wane. "That's putting it mildly."

Justin felt his stomach drop. He suddenly had to look anywhere other than Tony, and he backed up towards the door again. "That's funny," he said, and could feel himself receding as that old cheesy grin plastered itself on his face. "Good one, Toroda." He started shaking his finger, "But you have a girlfriend, and I know. I know that it must be fun messing with skeezy Justin Plank, but this is too much."

"Justin," Tony said, with a warning tone.

"Ah, ah, ah," Justin replied, waving his finger at Tony. He could sense a headache forming, his eyes glazing over with wetness. He couldn't let those tears fall. "I have to go, I have to get to my seminar. " His back hit the open door, and he choked. "God, Tony," he said, scrunching his eyes shut.

"I can do this," he said. "You're wrong about me."

And then he ran.

'''''

For all the dramatics he and Tony went through that morning, it really was just a free seminar at Justin's local community center— set up to give people a preview of what the actual class would entail. Justin had been attracted to the lack of commitment needed in that.

His fingers were curled around the old Rebel camera as he sat on an uncomfortable metal folding chair. The florescent lights were flickering overhead, and the sticky tiles at Justin's feet made interesting sounds as he lifted a foot to cross his legs. He looked to the side to see a man— most likely in his 80's —fiddling with a tiny digital point-and-shoot.

He, the old man, and a couple of housewives were the only people in the room.

There was a clatter in the hallway, and suddenly a woman wearing a muumuu burst into the room, wheeling a rolly case behind her. She got to the podium, spent several moments fighting with the projection screen until it finally decided to stay down, and then she turned to stare at the group and sighed. "Welcome," she said, smiling.

There was a flash, and everyone blinked. "Sorry," the old man said.

Justin's hands were vibrating. He felt nauseous. What was he doing here? This could never possibly amount—

"So, photography," the woman said, cutting over Justin's thoughts. "Showing the world through your eyes, your vision." Pausing, she tilted her head. "Well, actually, I'm a professional ceramicist, but I have been teaching this class for ten years."

There were a couple of blank stares, but Justin focused. "Ceramicist?" he said without thinking.

"Yes," the woman replied, her tone not defensive at all. She sounded used to the question. "Sometimes we need to do things to support our passion that we may not care so much about." She laughed. "Not that I don't care about photography."

Justin nodded, his eyes to the side. This wasn't what he wanted to hear. This wasn't what he wanted to see. An old man and a couple of bored housewives? They were just there to pass the time! As a hobby! How could Justin ever think that he could do this? Tony was right—

Swallowing, Justin shut his eyes. He told himself to stop thinking, even as a cold sweat broke out on his forehead.

"Anyway," the teacher said, "I asked all of you to bring along your cameras. What I thought we could do is walk outside for a bit, and take some shots. We'll talk about some basics and objectivity with art."

There was rustling as everyone stood up. Justin hesitated for a moment before jogging to catch up with the teacher, falling in step with her. She smiled at him, and he smiled in return. "I didn't mean to, uh … sound rude," he said, and winced. He heard her chuckle, and licked his lips.

"Don't worry," she said, her muumuu flowing around her as she took long strides. "I know what you were thinking, and you have every right to think it. However, as it stands, I could make a solid bet that I know much more about photography than you do." She looked at him with an amused expression.

"Sorry," he mumbled again, blushing.

He felt a reassuring pat on his shoulder. "Tell me why you're here."

"I— " he began, "hobby."

"I see."

By that time, they had reached the exit doors to the building, and stepped out into the warm LA air. Justin squinted for a moment from the sun, and then looked around. "What did you …"

"Anything you like," the teacher replied, to all of them. "Take whatever you want."

He watched the other people spread out, taking pictures of flowers and trashcans. He looked down at his camera, and slowly clicked the cap off. Then he stared stupidly at the cap. Finally, he slipped into the back pocket of his jeans. He stood there. Should he take a picture of a trashcan?

"Something wrong?"

He looked up at the teacher. "What should I take pictures of?" he blurted out. He closed his eyes, his camera dropping a little.

"Oh, honey," the teacher replied, "Anything. Like I said, anything you want."

"But what will make money?"

There was a pause, and he ventured a glance at her. She was staring at him with a bemused expression, her arms crossed. Looking down at the ground, he swallowed, and reached into his back pocket for the lens cap.

"Hold on," she said, and he paused. "Tell me the whole story, ok?"

Justin blinked. "Well," he said slowly, "I want— need to support myself on photography."

The slight tilt to the teacher's head had Justin reaching for the lens cap again. "I don't know what I'm doing," he said, "I really don't." His hand was shaking as he tried to put the cap on. "I'm sorry that I'm wasting your time."

"Darling, crying? Are you crying?"

He couldn't even answer her. It was so stupid. He was stupid. How could he possibly think this would work? Professional photographers had degrees, they didn't go to the local community arts programs and pay 45 bucks for a five week course. There were definitely tears sliding down his face, though.

"Kid? Come on, this doesn't look so good to the other students, you know?" she said with a comforting laugh. "What's wrong?"

"I just— " he said, wiping at the tears, "I think I just lost."

''''

Should he ring the bell? Humidity was making him slow, and he kept wiping at his brow while staring at the number pad on the door. Every once in awhile, someone would leave or enter the building without so much as a glance at Justin. The sun was starting to set.

He leaned against the entrance, his stomach twisting with self-hate. But all through that seminar, Tony's words about taking care of him echoed in his head. And those words sounded so definite. They felt so much more clear and strong than Justin's belief that he could make it on his own.

A buzzing in his pocket made him jump. He pulled his cell out with a clammy hand, and stared at the screen. It was a text from Tony. Sliding the lock, he nervously opened the text.

031584

A number? His eyebrows creased together. Then, the phone buzzed again.

It's my passcode.

Justin breathed lightly through his nose, biting his lip. That number … Those numbers. They were Justin's birth date. He covered his mouth with the palm of his hand. He should leave. Scratching the back of his neck, his eyes lingered on the screen on his phone. He should leave. His gaze moved to the number pad.

He should leave.

… what would happen if he went up there? This could still be some sort of revenge thing. It probably was, actually. Tony wanted to break Justin down to the point of crawling to Tony on his knees, and then he would laugh in Justin's face. He should definitely leave. He turned, and then froze.

"Justin."

He had turned to find Tony leaning against a car, arms crossed over his crisp suit. He was looking at Justin with raised eyebrows. "You … " Tony said slowly, his lip curling, "Gonna go up?"

"No," Justin immediately replied, flushing.

Tony huffed with amusement. "I could carry you over my shoulder, if you don't want it to look like you're giving up yet."

Face burning, Justin jerked back. "You're an asshole," he said, and moved to step past Tony, only to bite his tongue when a hand grabbed his arm and pulled him backwards.

"Hey, now," Tony said, his voice low. He pushed Justin gently against the car, resting his wrists on the hood with Justin caught in between. "Don't leave," he said, lowering his head to look in Justin's eyes, "I was just teasing." He brushed Justin's lip. "Come up with me, ok?" he said, "Yes? You're ok, Justin, yes?"

"Stop talking to me like I'm a baby," Justin growled, but his indignant tone was wavering.

Tony smiled at him. "You can't fault me for that," he said, "People baby talk with their partners all the time." He waited for a response, but all Justin could do was stare back at him in horror. Partner, he had said? Partner? Tony observed Justin's expression, and sighed. "Ok," he said, "I've committed it to memory. No baby talk."

And then he was kissing Justin. Justin tucked his chin down a little to escape the kiss, but even he knew he wasn't fighting that hard. Why not? Why not just let Tony do what he wanted? He had obviously been directing this entire farce from the beginning. Besides, his lips were warm and they made it very easy for Justin not to think. But, then Tony pulled away.

Tony stared at him with ice-blue eyes. "So, I'll talk to you like you're a grown ass man, Justin," he said, his voice serious. "Are you here because you've given up?"

There were at least five seconds that Justin was able to hold out, but then his face crumpled. Apparently this was enough for Tony, who wrapped his arm around Justin's waist, and herded him towards the building entrance without another word. He didn't let go of Justin from the lobby, to the elevator, all the way down his hallway, and finally into the apartment. As they walked through the door, he pressed a kiss into Justin's neck, and Justin shivered.

"Just sit down for a moment," Tony murmured.

He directed Justin to the living room, and pushed him down on the couch. Justin sat rigid for a moment, staring up at Tony, but then slowly sank back. Tony stood over Justin for, just studying him quietly, and then brought his hand up to his neck to undo his tie. Justin felt his heart rate pick up slightly at the whispery sound the tie made as it slid out of Tony's collar.

"I'm going to go change," Tony said, his voice soft. "Don't— leave."

Watching Tony disappear down the hallway, Justin wiped nervously at his brow. He glanced jerkily around the room, saw a couple mini bottles of vodka on the bookshelf, god those vodka bottles! His hands were shaking, and he was suddenly freezing. He was scared. He was so scared. And then he heard Tony walk back into the room, and he jumped to his feet. "Tony!" he breathed.

Tony stared at him, taken aback by the outburst.

"Tony," Justin repeated, "Just tell me the truth. This is to get back at me, right? You want me to completely fall apart, right? For my life to be ruined?" His eyebrows creased together as he babbled. "Please. Please tell me that's what's happening."

Lips parting, Tony finally seemed speechless. After a beat, he closed the distance between him and Justin, taking Justin's arms in his iron grip. Justin was breathing in rapid bursts, but he was fixated on the look in Tony's eyes. "Justin," Tony said, his voice rough, "You— " Pausing, he closed his eyes, his fingers curling into Justin's arms. "Yes. Fine. That's what I wanted."

Justin felt relief wash over him. "Yeah, because … " he said, hysteric smile on his face. Because there was no way Tony could love him, not now. If he did, it would be wrong, right? Whatever thing he could possibly love about Justin wasn't there. Justin was just … not someone who could be loved.

"It's not enough."

Justin choked. "What?"

"It's not enough," Tony repeated, his hold on Justin still firm. "Maybe it's true that I wanted your life to fall apart for what you did, Justin, but that was some childish response to being stabbed in the back. I've always known I would find some way to keep you with me."

Justin couldn't contain himself any longer. "But why?" he burst out in a low, needy whine, and he reached up to claw at Tony's arms. Tony accepted this, embracing Justin tightly, pulling him down on the couch. Justin realized he was being cradled in Tony's lap, and he sobbed, nuzzling his face in the crook of Tony's neck. His breath hitched as Tony started gently petting his back.

"Justin … " Tony murmured, "I have lasagna in the fridge, I have wine. Or do you want take-out? I could go buy you a sundae from that diner. I could make you something, anything you want." He kissed the top of Justin's head. "My bed is really nice, Justin, do you want to take a nap?"

Justin was finding it difficult to breath. He had felt the slight tremors in Tony's hand as Tony rubbed his back. It didn't make sense to Justin, but this was easiest, wasn't it? He rested his head against Tony's shoulder, and they sat in silence for a moment as Justin slowly calmed down.

When he was breathing normally, he felt Tony place another kiss on his head. "How was the photography seminar?" There was no maliciousness in his tone, he sounded purely curious. He was twirling a lock of Justin's hair around his finger while holding Justin against his chest. Justin was curled up, nestled there in Tony's lap. He was very warm.

"I don't know … " Justin said, his voice childlike and trailing off.

"You can tell me."

"Mmm," Justin replied, keeping his face pressed into Tony's neck, "I actually asked the teacher what I should take pictures of."

He heard Tony breath out with amusement.

"There was this old man there, and he was just taking pictures of random shit, but at least he was taking pictures."

There was silence for a moment, and Justin suddenly flushed, embarrassed that he was whining and whimpering while clinging on to Tony. He started to pull away when Tony's arms cinched in tighter around him. "Well— " Tony said, his voice hesitant, as if he was forcing himself to speak, "It's … you haven't tried for a long time. You were probably nervous."

"Ah," Justin said, gritting his teeth. He let out a shuddering breath, and then, before he could stop them, more tears dripped down his face, making the wet skin of his cheek stick to Tony's neck. "I just really wanted to do this, Tony," he said quietly, "but maybe I built it up too much."

He rose slightly as Tony drew in a long, slow breath and then sighed. "After we get you moved over here and settled, we can take a look at enrolling you somewhere better."

Justin knew better than to tense, but his stomach prickled at about everything Tony had just said. Was this what Justin was signing up for? It was almost as if Tony was being indulging by using the word 'we' rather than 'I' in that last remark. Or maybe he was just trying to be supportive … Justin couldn't even tell anymore, he couldn't tell which way was up anymore, everything was just dizzying, but Tony seemed to know what he was doing.

Tony would tell Justin what to do.

"Ok," Justin said. "Yeah." His lips thinned when Tony patted him affectionately.

"Let's call the movers, Justin," Tony whispered into his ear. He was sliding his hand up Justin's thigh.

Movers. Tony was serious about this. He wanted Justin to just … move in with him. Just like that. What happened after? Was Justin supposed to sit around and do nothing, or go back to work at Toroda People? Or maybe he would be allowed to take photography classes. And what about—

This time he actually did tense.

"Tony," he said, "You still have a girlfriend."

"So?"

Fuck this. Just, fuck it. Justin started scrambling out of Tony's lap, only to curse as he was shoved down on the couch. Tony loomed over him, hand pressing down on Justin's chest. He was breathing heavily, and there was a faint tinge to his cheeks. "Justin," he said, "Are you actually mad that I have a girlfriend?"

Justin glared up at him. "Are you fucking kidding me?" he hissed, "Of course I am."

"Are you jealous?"

"Jeal— " Justin stuttered, biting his tongue. He narrowed his eyes, and circled his hands around Tony's wrist. "Jealous?"

Tony's face was flat, but there was a flicker of frustration. "Is that really asking too much?" he breathed suddenly, his voice hoarse. He leaned back, still straddling Justin, and slowly rubbed Justin's chest. "Is it?"

"Are you … " Justin replied, "If you're just using her to, I mean, that's not right— "

Tony's fingers dug into Justin's chest. "I did break up with her."

Feeling cold swell in the pit of his stomach, Justin swallowed. He just stared at Tony, wondering if he heard right. "What?"

"I did break up with her. Just like I promised." Tony said, and he tilted his head. "You were the one who jumped to conclusions when she showed up at my office."

There was a faint buzzing in the back of Justin's mind, but he didn't register it. He felt like he wasn't even in his own body as his fist rocketed up and hit Tony square on the jaw. Clambering away, he fell off the couch and quickly scrambled to his feet, backing away from Tony. Tony was sitting back on his haunches, rubbing his jaw.

"Fuck you," he said, "You … " He folded his arms over his chest, grasping at his biceps. Had he gone mad? He was just about to admit defeat to Tony, to submit and give up and just lose every ounce of dignity he had managed to drum up in the past few months. He looked up, and kept his gaze steady when he found Tony staring at him. "You don't care about me."

Tony's face lowered dangerously. "What?"

Smiling coldly, Justin shook his head. "You've been manipulating this entire thing right from the start," he said, "and somehow you got it twisted that you wanted to be with me, Tony. But you hate me. You want me to hate myself. Why else would you play disgusting games like that, making me think we had an affair?"

Tony stared at him for a moment, and then slowly rose from the couch. Justin felt a twinge of apprehension, and quickly distanced himself until his back hit the wall. He grimaced, but he squared his shoulders.

"I don't care about you?" Tony asked with a low voice. Justin watched him nervously, but he didn't come any closer. "I don't— " Tony started to say again, and then let out a rough laugh. "Justin, I am the only one who cares about you. I will be here every time you fucking mess up, you just need to come to me." He held his hand to his chest. "That's always been the case, I've always been the one who cares about you. Not anyone else, not even your fucking father, who treated you like shit, who would sooner believe his own son was a traitor than— "

He stopped, his eyes going wide.

Justin just stared, and slowly Tony's words started to filter through his fear-addled brain. He looked down at the ground. "What … did …. " he said slowly, "He knew?"

"Justin … "

"Then, if he didn't … " Justin said, "Even though I made it look like you did it. He still thought it was me."

He hadn't even noticed when Tony closed the distance between them, but he breathed in when he felt hands close around his arms. He blinked up into Tony's eyes. "Don't back out now, Justin," Tony growled, "I'm sorry. I had planned to take that to the grave. I never … " He paused, looking disgusted with himself as he glanced down.

"You had planned to take it to the grave?" Justin replied, "That I had set you up to look like a rat, and then my father still trusted you more than me?" He laughed. "That's dumb, Tony, you should have used it against me from the beginning."

Tony appraised him quietly. "Is that so?" he said, finally. "Just really hit the nail in the coffin, make it entirely impossible for you to ever … " He was gritting his teeth. "Your stupid, blind need for his approval ruined everything, Justin. God, I should have just— Every single fucking day, I really just wanted to punch that asshole in the face and make you come with me, but it was impossible. I thought that if … since I could be the best, and he listened to what I wanted, I told him you had to be with me no matter what … "

He looked up at Justin. "But then you pulled that stunt, Justin. I never even knew how much you hated me. Isn't that too naive? I never even knew."

Justin hadn't even heard the last part. "You— " he said, seething, "You asked him to make me your secretary?"

"I demanded it," Tony replied, "but I thought that would convince you to finally quit and do photography. And that your father didn't care, and that I did, and I would support you … "

Shoving away from him, Justin headed for the hallway. His vision tunneled as he saw the door, and reached out for the handle, but he should have known better. Tony collided into him, shoving him chest-first against the door, and grabbed his arms, holding them tightly folded against his back. "No," Tony said, "No."

Justin had his cheek pressed against the door, and he shut his eyes. "What are you doing, Tony?"

"Waiting for you to calm down."

Justin let out a wheezy laugh. "I am calm, Tony. You're the one restraining me against my will."

"I won't let you run."

Staying still, Justin counted his breaths until his heartbeat slowed down. "Don't you see how wrong this is, Tony?" he said, "Neither of us are happy right now. We're both angry." There was some slack to Tony's grip, and Justin started to shift. "I can't stay here," he said, "I wasn't lying, Tony, you scare me."

"You think I'm angry?"

Justin sighed. "I think this has been twisted so much that neither of us are making the right decisions." His arms were dropped suddenly, and he looked around. Tony was standing there, a hand running through his blond hair.

"I'm going," Justin said quietly, reaching for the door handle, and turning it. He opened the door, still watching Tony.

Finally Tony looked up at him and nodded. "That's fine," he said, sounding resigned. Justin nodded in return, his eyes darting to the ground. He stepped outside.

As he was closing the door, Justin thought he heard Tony say, "I need time to fix some things anyway."

But he wasn't sure.

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(a/n)

We're close to the finish line, folks :)

Thanks to Round About Parker for beta'ing!

P.s. Thanks for trusting me with Justin so far. I know it's been a bumpy road.