Suite For Violin And Justin Taylor
by Hth


This is where it begins.

His hand is slack and unresisting. His grandfather shows him how to bend bones and slide wires through the tips of his fingers, and afterwards his hands ache.

He remembers that most of all. That the first time he played, it hurt. He remembers running and hiding in the attic afterward, small and ashamed, because he doesn't understand when his grandfather speaks in German, because he can't play the violin, because his father made him give his word that he would show respect for Grandfather, and Ethan thinks he's broken a promise because of the way nothing remotely like music came out of the miniature violin that was Grandfather's gift to him on his birthday.

His fifth birthday.

He falls asleep in the attic, and when he wakes up, there's a note in his head. The one note that he played smoothly, purely. Even now, Ethan knows the difference between a pure note and one that is only correct -- knows it genetically, maybe, or knows it like a gift from God. There was one note, one good one. An E. He remembers it, and he doesn't realize that the rest of his life is now tuned to that sound, that sense of righteousness and clarity.

Grandfather finds him in the attic, and sits Ethan on his lap. He smells like cigarettes and peanut brittle and something that Ethan doesn't yet recognize as rosin. He presses his cheek with stubble like tiny splinters against Ethan's forehead and talks in German and English, and soon Ethan realizes that things are not what they appeared to be.

He doesn't yet know that he is a prodigy. But he knows, by nightfall on his fifth birthday, that he is a musician. It was nothing anyone told him, that he can remember. It's only that after his fears are soothed, there's nothing left but the gift, and the sound.


This is what it becomes.

He lives alone, on the eighth floor, and some nights it feels like he's going to have to pull himself up those last two flights of stairs by his fingernails, or sleep like a wino on the landing. There's an elevator in his building, but it's been out of service since the second month he moved in, a year and a half ago. He'd phone the fire department about it, or someone, if he didn't think the whole place would get condemned, and it's a good apartment, actually. Big, for what he pays. Possibly because nothing works.

It's what he can afford, after tuition and upkeep on his car and studio expenses. Okay, honestly -- it's mostly the studio expenses. But that's what he can't give up. Ethan knows there's every chance in the world that by his last months of school he'll be living in a laundry hamper somewhere on Liberty Avenue with nothing but his violin and a stack of his own CDs.

They make it real, though. With one of them in his hands, he has a career and a future, and when the heat's not on and all his socks have holes in them and he's cutting off the ends of his hot dogs for Wolfram because he can't afford cat food and his insurance has lapsed again and the neighbors are pounding on the wall while he plays, he needs that. He needs to know that this isn't forever.

Sometimes he gets a little crazy, trying to play while wrapped up in blankets, seven hours past his last bowl of Cream of Wheat, a little bit stoned and a little bit lonely. He wonders if this is it, if this is the rest of his life, and he's flared up and flamed out early. He pictures decades of shilling for dollar bills on the street, giving lessons to the children of irritating yuppies who read a book about the positive effects of playing an instrument on cognitive development, year after year of shopping at thrift stores and bulk groceries, talking to his fifteen cats about how nobody understands the true nature of music anymore.

At least he'll be able to play his CDs. And there he'll be on the cover, young and brash and proud and handsome. He'll relive these years; he'll look back on them as his best.

Because it's always better to be at the beginning than the end. Even happy endings are closed and inert -- dead things. Everything begins with a thousand chances, and ends with the one thing that really happened, the one thing you'll live with forever.

He wants to be a star. He wants the music to be pure, and to flow through him. Wanting that has brought him here, to this, but he can't help it. Still, it's all he hopes for.



This is where it begins.

He flies from Helsinki to Detroit, and Detroit to Los Angeles, and he is home, or at least he's back in the United States. Maybe a part of him wants to see Albany again, really be home for a little while, but a schedule is a schedule, and he flies in from his European tour and starts his freshman year of high school in the same week. It's an art academy, but there are sports teams and a cafeteria and there's detention if you screw up, and it's almost normal. He boards with a married couple; the wife used to take violin lessons from his grandfather, thirty years ago. His parents are planning to move to California, but his father's transfer will bring him closer to the Bay area than to LA, so Ethan is still on his own for now, which is fine.

He has friends at school, and they hang out together at a vegetarian restaurant near the school, when they're not rehearsing or auditioning. Everyone's favorite waiter is a college guy named Austin. He's six-foot-four with one hazel eye and one brown. His hair is dyed a black-cherry red, and he has a stud in his tongue, and he's funny and strangely intense and gorgeous, in the lanky, strong-featured, Jewish way that Ethan likes. He knows from his first bowl of humus that he wants Austin.

Ethan is nothing if not disciplined. He waits; he wears Austin down. It's three years of vegetarian food twice a week and never saying anything about love or need or stay, but in the end, Ethan gets him.

By then Austin is working for a civil engineering firm and making pretty good money. They go out constantly, spending on drinks and weekend trips and designer drugs. They're always together, and rarely alone together, and Ethan doesn't care. It doesn't matter who else is dancing with them, snorting with them, fucking with them. In his eyes, Austin is always the only other man in the room.

Little by little, it begins. First black bean polenta and exactly fifteen percent for a tip. Then blowjobs in the front seat of Austin's red Thunderbird. Then mornings waking up together, parties thrown jointly at Austin's new apartment in Silverlake. Austin is still funny and intense and gorgeous -- and caustic and demanding and selfish, but Ethan doesn't care about that. He should, and he tries, but he just doesn't. He's in love and it won't go away.

There's a commencement ceremony when Ethan graduates. Commencement means beginning, and he takes it seriously. This is his life; he knows it's time to start taking what he wants. He spends the summer planning. He hires on to play for some theater companies, at some country club parties, makes up the rest of his income playing on the street. He moves into his own apartment. By the fall, he's ready for the hardest beginning of all, the only one that scares him.

He stops by Austin's office to take him to lunch, and he drops it into conversation that he'll be out of town for a few days. Austin asks where he's going, and that's an extremely good sign. His parents' house, he explains, for Rosh Hashanah. He invites Austin to come with him. Very casually.

Austin looks at him for a long time, nibbling on the tines of his fork. "I'm not observant," he says.

"I know. Look, I don't expect you to go. I was just being polite."

Austin raises one pierced eyebrow in amusement and says, "Hang on, I haven't even answered you yet. I'm just saying, I go to Cruz more times in a week than I've been to synagogue my whole life, so if there's a big Jew quiz, I'm going to flunk it in front of your mom and dad, you know."

"There's no big Jew quiz. You're thinking of Passover."

"Then okay," Austin says, also casually. "Sure."

Later that night, while Ethan is sucking on the pale skin of Austin's stomach, Austin says, "You never asked me about stuff like that before. You go to that fag synagogue-- "

"Okay, it's Beth Chayim Chadashim. You're not actually supposed to call it 'that fag synagogue.'"

"Whatever, but you never invited me before."

"You'd have laughed in my face."

"I do that anyway."

"You can come with me anywhere," he says, and Austin's big hands curl and stroke along the back of his skull. Boyfriend, Ethan thinks contentedly, as he takes Austin's cock into his mouth.


This is what it becomes.

After a year, he's ready to go back to school, if only to be around other musicians more of the time, like he was in high school. He has options, opportunities.

He threatens to go to Pittsburgh. It's not phrased as a threat, but he and Austin both know that's what it is. Austin is hung-over and bad-tempered, eating dry cornflakes and Dr. Pepper for breakfast, and Ethan tells him all about the Pittsburgh Art Institute, and how good it could be for him. "What's wrong with LA?" Austin growls, and Ethan says nothing's wrong with LA, but it's a big city, and the school in Pittsburgh is the better option in a lot of ways because you can get a level of personal attention there that won't ever happen in Los Angeles.

Austin stares at him a moment with his lovely, mismatched eyes, and Ethan has to look away. "Won't that be nice for you?" he finally says, and Ethan can't even tell himself that they're talking about two different things, because they're not.

After that, it's go to Pittsburgh or admit that the whole thing was a bluff, and pride sends Ethan to Pennsylvania. Until the moment they start boarding his flight, he's still treasuring a masochistic hope that there will be a call from Austin, that Austin will say don't go. Not even I'm sorry, not even things can be different, not even I love you. Just order Ethan not to leave him. It's sick, but that would be enough. But he has to turn off his cell phone when he boards, and that's the end that gets to him, even though everything really ended ages ago. That's what makes it real.

In spite of his friends' dire warnings, there actually is a scene in Pittsburgh, but Ethan is ruined for it all now, for the bars and the tricking and most of all for pretending that it's all so exciting. It's not exciting. It's functional. It's the most basic, rote, minimalist form of closeness and connectivity known to man, a bare-bones skeleton of relationships.

He flirts because it's easy. Sometimes he picks up guys because he can. That's just it -- it's all so easy, because it's always the same as last time. Every young musician hates the first years of playing, all the scales and exercises, all the technical foundation that's so important for survival and so unfulfilling for the soul.

He's staggered, now that he's observing it all for the first time, by how the men who come back to Liberty Avenue night after night are more ignorant than a seven-year-old violin student. They can't even see that they're just playing scales, over and over, year after year. Ethan expects that many of them don't even know what music should sound like.

Austin was a whoring bastard, and an emotional cripple, and Ethan knows he's better off without him. But at the time, Ethan loved him, loved him for his mind and his spirit, his generosity and confidence and honesty, and he didn't leave Austin behind and come all the way to Pittsburgh just to have less than he did before.

He wants to be with someone he loves. He wants there to be a melody between bodies, not just notes. Wanting that has brought him here, to this, but he can't help it. Still, it's all he hopes for.



This is where it begins.

He's playing a recital, which is a departmental requirement, but more importantly, a chance to shill his new CD. And there's this guy.

He's young and blonde and bored, scribbling on the program, and for a few moments, Ethan is thrown out of the music by his annoyance. Who made this kid come to his fucking recital, anyway? He should go home, if he's so desperate for something to do other than listen to Ethan play.

Then he looks up. Ethan sees his eyes, and he knows that he was wrong. There's nowhere on earth that boy would rather be right now, and so Ethan plays just to him, the way he always secretly hopes he's being played to when he's the one in the audience.

And he's cute, too. Very. Ethan catches his mind wandering, speculating on who he could be, what brought him here, whether or not he's alone. There's a woman on his left and one on his right, but they both look too old to be his date and too young to be his mother, so maybe he is here alone. Maybe he will--

It's just a recital, but this is all still totally unprofessional, and Ethan forces himself to think about the music again. He doesn't let himself wonder if they'll meet at the reception afterwards, if they'll ever share anything more than this strange fascination, caught up in the music and in each other's imaginations.

They do.


This is what it becomes.

Justin slips in and out of his life, as elusive as a ghost. He's never really gone, but hardly ever here. It's maddening. It's intoxicating.

He's in love, and it's worse now than it ever was with Austin. He can't eat and he can't sleep. He's constantly waiting for the soft knock on his door; nothing else seems important to him. Even playing has become almost rote, like breathing, and he practices just as much as ever, but he really hasn't the first clue whether he's getting better or just holding ground. He doesn't even hear himself when he plays. He only imagines what Justin's face would look like if he were here listening.

It's like he's only alive with Justin. It's like everything else is an intermission.

He's mooning. He doesn't seem to have the energy for anything. Even Wolfram's piece of string lies abandoned on the floor when Justin's not here to dangle it for him. Ethan plays, and he waits, and he writes endless movie scripts in his head that all revolve around saving Justin, redeeming him. It's horrible. Nobody should live this way.

He even tries to compose again. He's working on a nocturne. He hates it, just like he hates all the music he writes, but since he's already dedicated an album to Justin, he doesn't know what else to do.

He wants Justin to understand that he's the absolute center and soul of Ethan's life now. He wants Justin back every single second that he's away. Wanting that has brought him here, to this, but he can't help it. Still, it's all he hopes for.



This is where it begins.

After one sentence, Ethan understands two very important things. The first is that Justin has a boyfriend already, and the second is that Justin's boyfriend is more of an asshole than Austin was on his worst days.

Seriously, what kind of person doesn't approve of birthdays?

Soon, he has an entire mental list of things that Justin's boyfriend doesn't approve of. Birthdays and pets, flowers and wasting time and classical music. Apparently, joy. Essentially, Justin.

He could write a fucking manual. The Book of Brian Kinney. And every chapter would begin with something like my boyfriend doesn't or my boyfriend wouldn't or my boyfriend isn't. And there's nothing that Ethan can do except take notes.

Well, not nothing. He can give Justin someplace to escape to, and he does. When Justin walks through the door, Ethan can almost see him change, the stress and the sadness dissipating, the life coming back into his eyes. Sometimes when Ethan kisses him hello and whispers "How are you? God, it's good to see you" against Justin's lips, his breath hitches and he closes his eyes like he's about to cry. Ethan strokes his back and waits it out.

Fucking Brian Kinney. He's the one who does this to Justin. There should be a way to prosecute guys like him. Ethan can't really remember hating anyone before, but he hates Brian. And they've never even met.


This is what it becomes.

His grandfather was right: once you learn to hate, you can't contain it. It gets into everything. It infects everything.

At first it's frustration. He can't stop himself from pushing, asking for things that Justin has very clearly stated aren't his to give. It just seems so wrong to accept that, like he's abandoning Justin. Even if he knew Justin would never be his, Ethan still wouldn't feel right about ignoring the fact that this bright, sweet, sensitive, giving person is having the life and the passion slowly crushed out of him by the one person he should be able to trust to support him. It's wrong, it's so wrong, and like Austin used to say, Ethan could never resist a worthy cause.

The world being what it is, worthy cause usually means lost cause. Ethan tries not to think about that, but sometimes he has to.

Frustration becomes anger. Anger at Brian, of course, for being such a callous bastard, for having a precious gift like Justin Taylor and all of his loyal devotion and for treating it like worse than nothing, like an obstacle to his perfect life of freedom.

And anger at Justin, too. Because he's the only person on God's green earth who can't see that Brian Kinney isn't his boyfriend. For being stupid enough to stand by the very person who's making him miserable, while it's entirely within his power to walk out the fucking door and straight into the arms of someone who knows how much he's worth, who's capable of praising him and cherishing him and sharing everything with him.

What is wrong with Justin Taylor? What makes him capable of keeping Ethan like this, trapped in amber for more than half his life while he waits patiently for Justin to choose whatever will make him happiest, but not capable of telling Brian where he can shove his rules and his demands and his control issues and his power trips and his self-aggrandizing philosophies of life?

Sometimes while he's being the safe haven, the patient listener, he wants to tighten his arms around Justin and shake him and yell at him. He wants to say, So leave him! If you're so miserable with him, fucking break up already!

And sometimes when he's alone, he suspects that he's being used. He thinks that Justin has no intention of leaving Brian, not now and not ever. Ethan is just a trick on the side, only instead of providing Justin with extra sexual release, he's providing attention and compliments and reinforcing Justin's belief that he is an innocent martyr to cruel love.

Tendrils of hate creep in, as he wonders whether this will end when the thrill of secrecy wears off, or when Justin has bled everything out of Ethan until he has nothing left to give.

Ethan is hard-pressed to find anything to admire in himself when he's like that. How is it possible that Justin can make him so happy, and so bitter? So much more than he was alone, and so much less?

He wants Justin to wake the hell up. He wants Justin to admit that he's unhappy because he lets himself be unhappy, and that it will all end the moment Justin wants it to end. Wanting that has brought him here, to this, but he can't help it. Still, it's all he hopes for.



This is where it begins.

Every look that passes between them is a kiss, and the first time they kiss, Ethan can't bear to touch him, can't bear not to. It's so intense that it feels like his flesh is being stripped away from bone, like Justin is shredding him.

It's so good. He doesn't ever want to be whole again.

Everything about Justin Taylor makes him hard. The way he lifts his chin up when he's being stubborn, the way he ducks his head down when he's being sweet. His silent laugh, mouth open and eyes shining. When he tries to hide his yawns. When he sticks his little finger in the holes of the couch while he's talking and twists it there. Everything. Ethan wants him all the time.

It's so good.

Justin knows exactly what he likes, and he's bold in the sweetest, least self-conscious way. He takes Ethan's hands and he bends them at the bone, and it's so pure. Ethan does everything Justin prompts him to do, and he's never seen it go through anyone like it goes through Justin. He's tranced, blissed, rapturous, while Ethan is making love to him. He seems to ascend to some other state of being, and if that sounds vaguely religious, maybe it is. Jacob's ladder, Moses's fire, angels and prophets, the lion of Judah and the voice of God, and Justin when he's thrown back in a curving bridge and crying out Ethan's name.

He used to think that good sex was like good music. Now he knows that the right lover doesn't just make you an artist, but a mystic.

The amazing thing, though, is that sex is just an extension of what they are when they're not in bed. Wherever they are, they tell secrets, they laugh, they look each other in the eye. Whatever they're doing, they savor it, they do it with respect and gratitude and delight, because they know that it didn't have to be this way. For a hundred reasons, they could have missed all of this: Justin could have stayed faithful to his Satanic boyfriend, Ethan could have written Justin off from the beginning because he was a rich WASP who knew absolutely fuck-all about music that doesn't happen at eighty beats per minute. Justin might not have gone to the recital, Ethan might not have come to Pittsburgh.

Instead, here they are, reveling in each other. They are so different, and so alike. Everything they do with hands and words and lips and eyes is an adventure, a journey into one another.


This is what it becomes.

There are no brakes on this, no controls, and there's certainly no safety net. They got here through choices, Ethan knows they must have, but he can't remember any of them. He can't remember what it felt like to have a choice.

Justin makes him miserable. Justin makes him lonely, depressed, bitter, reckless. But only when he's gone. When he comes back, there's no pain, just the taste of Justin's skin and the high, soft noise of Justin's needy cries.

Ethan is addicted, and he knows that. He's seen it happen to other people, where it begins as a pleasure -- coke or smack or crystal meth -- and then slowly gains in significance, until it's not adding pleasure to your life, but sucking the happiness out of everything that you do while you're not high. It becomes something that saves you from the hells that it creates itself, and that's Justin, pitch-perfect.

He knows the right thing to do is to get out, but on a level deeper than knowing, he doesn't want to. That's what addiction means.

Ethan has never been weak before. He's always found a way to get what he wants, but when it comes to Justin, he's the victim of his own desires, not guided by them.

All the things that Ethan knows are true cease to exist when Justin gives him that wide smile that promises the world. Everything he might say or do to preserve himself becomes impossible, when Justin nuzzles his face into the fragile column of his throat, or wraps his nimble tongue around Ethan's dick, or kneads his fingertips deep into the muscles at the small of Ethan's back.

It doesn't matter if the touches are empty, if he's only receiving what's left over when Brian Kinney has taken what he wants. It doesn't matter if everything is a lie, and Justin was never his and one perfect E will never turn into a perfect concerto, no matter how hard Ethan works for it or how badly he wants it.

It doesn't matter. He takes what he can get. He never says no, I can't when Justin says, oh, please, please fuck me, any more than he ever says no, you aren't when Justin says, I'm so sorry, Ethan, I wish it wasn't all so fucked up, but I'm just really sorry.

He wants Justin to come for him. He wants Justin to come to him. He wants to get his reward for following all the rules and letting Justin always do all the asking. Wanting that has brought him here, to this, but he can't help it. Still, it's all he hopes for.



This is where it begins.

He is a genius. It's a gift, and it's in his blood, and it was always there. His hands were too small even for the miniature child's violin in the beginning, and there weren't protective calluses on his fingers yet, but even then, there was an E that he's never forgotten.

The whole world will remember Ethan's perfect note. They'll hear it in everything he plays, and he plans to have a very long career.

All his life, people have told him to be careful. Take nothing for granted. Focus on the long term, his future. It's always been about the future.

Ethan hardly remembers a time when he wasn't on the threshold. Waiting for the thing that's bigger than this, for whatever is one valuable step beyond.

There's something thrilling about beginnings. Anything is possible, especially for him.


This is what it comes to.

It's all thrilling, in the beginning. Anything is possible, and everything is dangerous. It's a forbidden flirtation, adagio in the shadows. He doesn't know how much he'll ever really get out of Justin Taylor, but it's right there in his eyes, how much he wants to give. If he'll let himself. If he can't help himself.

Anything could happen.

But soon it's not the beginning anymore. Soon there's no threshold; he's in the center of it, and there's nothing approaching, no transition to fix his sights on. Things could stay like this. Things will stay like this, as long as Ethan allows them to.

This is his truth. His name is Ethan Gold, and he's a struggling young violinist, very talented, even a genius, but he barely makes the rent. He's halfway to a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pittsburgh Art Institute, which means he lives in Pittsburgh, which is a lot colder than Los Angeles and not half so nice to look at as Europe, but you can't get lost there if you try, and that can be nice, too. He is Jewish, German on his father's side and Russian on his mother's; he has a grandfather who spent the war in Auschwitz, and a great-grandmother who was a radical socialist in the 1920s. Prison runs in your blood, his mother likes to joke, so watch yourself. He was raised Conservative, but except when he's visiting his parents, he only goes to Reconstructionist synagogues because the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation has an official policy opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and he's queer. He used to play the great concert halls of Europe and study with the world's most renowned violinists, but that was a long time ago. He used to make a whole different kind of music from one end of West Hollywood to the other, fucks and coke and cars, allegro and fortissimo. That was a long time ago, too. Now he studies, and he perfects his technique, and he pines, piano, for a boy who's exactly the boy he should never have gotten involved with. This boy is a blonde gentile, he's smart and featherheaded at the same time, bold and inexperienced at the same time, and like the violin, anyone who tries can learn to coax music out of him, but most people are too stupid and lazy to know it, or to care. He has the most beautiful mouth in the world, and rings in his nipples, and universes in his eyes, and he lets Ethan kiss him and come inside him and play for him and swear for him that this is real, this is love, but he isn't Ethan's boyfriend. He isn't Ethan's anything, really, except his obsession and his weakness. His name is Justin Taylor, and he already has a boyfriend, who doesn't love him.

All of this comprises what Ethan would consider his identity, and he doesn't foresee any of it changing.

This could be what the end feels like.

He wants to be happy. He wants to be in love, and to make music, and to spend the rest of his life on the brink of something beautiful. He wants to believe that all of these things are possible. Wanting that has brought him here, to this, but he doesn't care. Still, it's all he hopes for.


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