I clearly have issues coming up with standalone stories for flash fics… I’ve gone back to one of my boys… You could read this on its own but if you’d like to take a gander at the other stories in this world:
This one is another peek into Justin’s head… A similar, and yet very different, spot than we last saw him in “Never Gone”.
Justin walked toward the kitchen, navigating in the dark, not wanting to wake his guest. Someone he hadn’t seen in years—takeout and booze in hand, wanting a visit and a place to sleep for the night. Justin had a slight pang of guilt that he’d hadn’t had a bed to offer, not in the tiny one-bedroom he currently lived in. He’d tried to give up his own bed and take the couch himself, but had just received a smack upside the head for his trouble. Oh well, at least his couch was fucking comfortable. And after the amount of alcohol they’d downed the night before, he figured the other man likely had no problem falling asleep.
Neither had Justin. Falling asleep was never the issue. Staying asleep, however…
He sighed as he opened the fridge. He should be used to it. He hadn’t had a solid night’s sleep in the last fucking three years. Not since…
He cursed, shoving aside that train of thought, and grabbed a bottle of water.
“Wanna grab me one while you’re in there?”
“Fuck!” Justin fumbled and barely stopped the bottle from dropping to the floor. He withdrew another water and, shutting the door, walked into the living room. “Sorry, boss. Didn’t mean to wake you.”
A soft huff of laughter, and in small amount of light from the streetlamps coming in through the window, he saw Liam—his former boss—shake his head. But he didn’t correct Justin. He’d stopped doing that about an hour after arriving.
“Didn’t wake me.” He held his hand out for the water and motioned for Justin to sit next to him.
“Okay, but I don’t want to keep you up.”
“Shut up and sit down.”
“Yes, boss.” He plopped on the cushion, as ordered, but looked everywhere but at the other man.
After a few minutes of silence, a hand came to rest on his shoulder. “Sometimes, it helps to talk about it.”
“About what?” he asked flatly.
Liam’s fingers tightened. “The nightmares.”
Justin jerked his head around and stared at the older man. “How did you know?”
“That you had nightmares? How could you not?”
Liam tilted his head to the side and stared intently. Justin fought not to squirm. Damn, it’d been a long time since he’d been under the full force of that stare. And fuck him, he kind of missed it.
“Justin,” Liam sighed. “The things we see, the things we face, doing what we do, nightmares are par for the course. But having to face the…horrors, knowing that your brother did those things? Bound to screw with your head.”
Leaning forward, Justin set his water on the scarred surface of the coffee table then scrubbed his palms over his face. He didn’t want to think, let alone talk, about the nightmares. Of course his stupid fucking brain circled back to the one that had woken him less than half an hour before.
Starring his brother, Jonah, of course. He’d been standing over Justin, who had been strapped down on a table. Just like all of Jonah’s victims had been. He’d known it was Jonah from the start, even though he hadn’t been recognizable. His face hadn’t been human. It had been covered in metal and gears and…stuff. But it hadn’t been a mask—it was his face. His face was just…not human.
Justin rolled his eyes. It didn’t take a fucking shrink to figure the meaning of that, did it? Three years ago, he’d discovered his brother wasn’t human. He was a monster. This was just Justin’s brain’s way of illustrating that.
The dream was starting to fade, blur around the edges as dreams often do, and Justin couldn’t even bring the particulars into focus anymore. But Jonah’s eyes… Those were still vivid. Cold, assessing, emotionless—no sign of caring or love. No sign of a brother in those fathomless pale eyes. Only the monster he’d been. The monster Justin hadn’t seen until it was too late.
Liam’s low hoarse voice brought him out of his mind and back into his dark living room.
“You need to stop wallowing in your guilt. You blame yourself and that isn’t going to lead you anywhere good. Trust me on that. You ran away, isolated yourself, wrapped yourself in the weight of that guilt, and it’s suffocating you. You haven’t even given yourself time, or permission, to grieve.”
Justin sat back and gaped at the older man. One, because that was the most words he’d heard his boss string together in one go. Two, because his uncanny ability to see what Justin tried to hide from everyone. From himself. Though he shouldn’t be surprised—Liam had always had that talent—but time had made Justin forget.
“Grieve?” he croaked. “I am not the one who needs to grieve. That falls on the families who lost someone they loved. My brother was not a victim, Liam. He was a monster who tortured and killed at least a dozen men. A psychopath unable to even feel love.”
“Ah, but that’s the thing, isn’t it? He can’t feel love. But you can. You did.” Liam cupped Justin’s cheek a moment then patted it. “You, just like those families, lost a loved one. Lost a brother. And you are allowed to grieve., Justin.
Justin forced a laugh. “Didn’t take you for the touch-feely type, boss.”
“I’m not. Never have been. But you’re family. And family looks after its own—even when they don’t want looking after. Or think they don’t deserve it.”
“Boss…don’t,” he pleaded, heart hammering, throat tight, eyes stinging.
“You may have left the team—hell, I left the team—but you did not leave your family.” He shook his head. “Can’t. Not possible.”
Justin thought of who he’d left behind. The man in front of him—the boss, the man he’d looked up to so fucking much. Adam—SIC, a second boss, really, but the one who had taken Justin under his wing from day one. Scott and Sarah—the agents who razed and supported him in equal measure. And Harris—Justin didn’t exactly know where he fit in the “family” Liam spoke of. Harris had been attached to the team during the investigation that lead to Jonah. Hell, Harris had taken Justin’s place when he’d left. He didn’t really know the kid.
His breath stalled as pale sweat-damp skin, dark eyes and tousled hair flashed through his mind.
“It’s time to come home, Justin.”
He was thankful to be pulled away from memories of what he regretted—regretted leaving behind, not having done. Because he couldn’t bring himself to regret that one night. No matter that he probably should.
“I don’t know if I can,” he whispered. “I always said I would—when I got past all of it. But I’m not sure that it’ll ever be over. Not for me.” He cringed as his voice broke and cleared his throat. “I don’t know that I can come back to the Bureau, boss.”
“It’s time to come home,” Liam repeated. “Don’t give a shit whether you go back to the job. Come back to your family. Let us help you though this. Help you grieve. Because until you do, it won’t be over.”
Justin sniffed and swiped angrily at the dampness now coating his cheeks. He froze when Liam’s arms came around him.
“You are allowed, you know? Grieving the loss of your brother isn’t a betrayal. It doesn’t lessen what you feel for those families.”
Hearing the thoughts that needled at him constantly voiced—and damn him, how does he do that?—Justin felt something deep in his chest give way. A sob forced its way up, up, up until it pushed past his lips. Liam’s embrace tightened, and Justin let himself lean into the other man. To take the comfort for the first time in three years.