Fandom: Queer as Folk US
Pairing: Justin Taylor/Michael Novotny
Author: Silvia Kundera
Spoilers: it's a love for all seasons, baby. S1-5.
Email: kundera_silvia [@] ureach.com
Notes: kyleschick made ze awesome colorbar. go her!
"And that's when it happened. When HE came along."
- Michael, 1x1
"What they're sharing is the most intense form of intimacy there is. Nothing, not the hottest fuck in the world, can come close."
- Ben, 2x15
Queer as Folk, and more specifically Queer as Folk US, is a whole lot of things -- depending on who you talk to.
If you listen to the hype, to our snazzy narrative introduction, "The thing you need to know is: It's all about sex."
And I would like to respectfully disagree. The thing you need to know is: Queer as Folk US is about people. About how being queer causes one to construct artificial, social families. And these bonds are both as strong as blood, and just as painful at times to navigate.
But the pain is worth it, because all of the bending and breaking and coming back together, and apart, is how you grow -- how you learn who you really are.
This story is a story about a group of gay and lesbian friends in Pittsburgh, who are somehow going through the same tender growing pains in their thirties as an aimless teenage boy. It is also a coming out story. It is also a story about following your dreams, and learning to be yourself. It is also the story of a gay ad executive, who almost pathologically fears growing old and letting anyone in, and the story of his best friend, who has to learn how much to let him go, and the story of his teenage boyfriend, who's trying to figure out what he wants and who he is from beneath that massive shadow. It is a story of unconditional love. A story of the complex nature of friendship.
Ect. Ect. Ect.
But what I'd really like to postulate is: this is not just the story of Brian & Michael, or Brian & Justin.
That Michael and Justin have the potential for a beautiful love story - even if it hasn't quite happened yet, even if they've never had sex.
The Main Characters
"He's my boyfriend."
"And my best friend"
Ah, Brian. "The center of everyone's universe". Pretty much the foundation character for the QaF 'verse, Brian must come first because though there are several different characters in the series - each with their own character arc and evolving subplots - his journey is undeniably at the heart of the story wheel.
And he is definitely both the catalyst for the Michael/Justin relationship, and its biggest obstacle.
The Michael/Brian/Justin relationship is a mesh of complicated, interlocking parts, and one of the obvious reasons that it's just. that. complicated is, well, Brian makes it that way. He's certainly not an easy man to love.
Stoic, cold hearted ad exec by day, defender of gay metropolis by night? Well, he certainly has hidden depths. While undeniably a regular asshole when he chooses to be, Brian certainly doth protest too much. Deep down he's an absolute marshmallow, and wants only the best for his loved ones. Though, problematically, he often has rather backward and dysfunctional ways of showing it.
"How about a drink, while our boyfriends are cheating on us?"
From Season 2 to the end of the series, Ben is Michael's sole love interest. They date, and eventually marry, but not without a few significant roadblocks along the way. Though "Zen Ben" is often the low toned, rational member of the group he's also experienced some seriously dark periods due to his HIV positive status and insecurities. When something's wrong in Ben Land, he's as far as you can get from calm, objective, and collected.
Sharing in Michael's tendency towards domesticity, the Ben & Michael unit never fails to rile Brian up and cause Justin visible envy.
"We need to get something straight.
"You don't do boyfriends."
"Oh, Mikey's been talking to you."
Comic book geek by day, best friend to one of the biggest club whores in Pittsburgh by night. When I talk about Michael, one of the main things I always come back to is his desire and yet often inability to be the man he'd like to be. Michael is forever putting his foot in his mouth, being steamrolled over, saying not exactly what he means, or saying far far too much in the heat of the moment. He has nearly the same potential to be strikingly hurtful as Brian, though it comes far less regularly. His wrath is in short bursts.
It should be no mystery that he has almost the same amount of difficulty with human communication as his notorious best friend - not surprising, considering the type of individual he's typically attempting to communicate with.
Emmett and Ted, though sweet and unwaveringly loyal, are the best kind of shallow, and their complacency and Brian's tendency towards emotional avoidance have unknowingly enabled Michael's non-growth up until the point at which our series starts.
Lusting after his beautiful and unattainable best friend, and working up to a career at Wallmart, Michael is more than ready for a dramatic life change.
And he's just about to get one.
"I'm just sorry I ruined your friendship."
Oh, oh my Tiny Brave Justin(tm)! The cutest little stalker you ever did meet.
Our show starts on the night that Brian picks up two babies - one, a newly birthed son, the second a high school student who rapidly looses any shyness and all lingering naivete.
Justin's first outing that becomes, er, an outing, ends up thrusting him directly and permanently in the path of Brian and his group of friends, because of a few equal and opposite reactions to Brian's careless choice of trick. Justin is promptly infatuated, alienated from his homophobic father, gay bashed to coma-land, and wakes with the knowlege that his ability to create art (his first & truest love) may now be irrevocably changed.
Like Michael, Justin is all about frustrated desires. Justin is also desperately searching for a place to call home -- a search that takes him to and from Brian, back and forth, and starts stopping little by little, over time, to lean on Michael for support.
"Justin. His name is Justin. If I can remember it and I didn't even fuck him, why can't you?"
M:"I told you, it's a dumb idea. I never should have brought it up."
J: "I think it's a great idea."
M: "... you do?"
The show initially sets us up for a rather simple love triangle. Michael has lusted after his best friend Brian since they were teenagers, and while they are now touching, and then settling into, their thirties, Brian is still clinging to youth and fucking anything that moves. Everything but Michael, that is. And Michael has to make a decision - if he's going to keep running on The Hampster Wheel O' Brian, or set out to make his own life. To grow up on his own. And how the fuck is he going to manage this alongside their very special balancing act of codependency?
At the same time, enter Justin. Seventeen, and newly devirginized & outed - courtsey of Mr. Brian Kinney. And while Michael has been pining from, well, close and hellishly personal, Justin skates right in and not only gets a second fuck with Brian... but a fourth, a fifth... and pretty soon we're getting into double and triple digits. But fucking doesn't mean belonging - and very quickly Justin is at sea without anchor and without the pure childish trust he once had in family. He has a build a new family, and it seems that he's set his sights on Michael's.
Boy meets Boy meets Boy.
And yet somehow along the way, what we see stops being the typical love triangle. More like a circle; a rotating loop. We see that maybe the only way to deal with loving Brian Kinney is figuring out how to love someone else who loves him too -- who can help you translate the insanity, and maybe save you from yourself.
When Justin arrives, everything changes. Michael admits this himself. But it's not only Brian who undergoes a transformation. Justin forces him out of his rut, and eventually forces himself into Michael's life and under his skin. And by the end of the series it's not Brian he's eternally protecting, it's Justin and himself he's going to bat for. Not because he no longer loves, deeply cares for Brian, but because he's learned to value himself and his needs. The most beautiful growth I've seen in him is the realization that Justin deserves everything he's always demanded.
By learning to love Justin, Michael is learning to love himself.
And by Michael learning to love him, Justin finds a support system that understands a hell of a lot about what he's going through, and a person who allows him to still be a kid sometimes, who can dream fantastical dreams -- be maybe younger than he's let himself be for quite some time.
Not that it's all hearts and flowers.
One of the best things about this pairing, in my opinion, is the vast swings from dark to light. Yes, they are giggly bouncy fun. But there's a world of disillusionment and raw hurt that's always lingering in the doorway, ready to pour in.
The more they care, the more potential they have to wound each other. And it hurts deeper, harder coming from each other than it ever could from Brian - because they expect that from him.
But by half way through the series they seem to always know, on some level, that they've got to work together, because they'll never be able to be who they want to be on their own.
And yet, one of the things that makes this relationship so interesting to me, is how much the rivalry is one sided. All Justin has ever wanted from Michael is acceptance of his place in their lives, and though he often doesn't let on how much Michael's resentment stings, he makes it perfectly clear on several occasions just how aware he is of Michael's conflicted feelings. It's the way Justin is - he puts himself out there, makes himself vulnerable again and again, damn the consequences.
And it's the way Michael is, that even when every atom in his being seems to be praying that this kid get up and gone, he can't help feeling a sense of responsiblity and compassion. And in the most unlikely moments, he begins to find more and more common ground with him.
Michael never even knew he had a line that could be crossed with Brian, until he met this foolhardy, stubborn kid.
Melanie: Thank you very much, and who the hell are you?
Brian: His name's J... [long beat]
Michael: What about him?
Ted : What *about* him?
Michael: Well, we can't just leave him here.
Ted: It's not our problem.
Michael: He's mine?
Season 1 starts the groundwork on this very unlikely friendship. Justin has been introduced to a sparkly new world, and he wants it. He wants it desperately, more than the world doesn't want him to have it -- and thus a series-long battle of wills is born.
And Michael, well... He doesn't know what exactly to make of all of this. Suddenly he's jockeying for the prime position with his own life-long best friend, and yet then finding himself turned around completely to be protective of the very person who's been causing all this uncertainty and chaos. It's hysterical, really, and you just kind of want to hug him a bit.
There are four main phases of the Justin & Michael relationship. The first begins in episodes 10 and 12. In episode 10, Justin has inadvertantly allowed for Brian's loft to be robbed, and is prompty kicked out onto the streets - and so hightails it to New York. The infamous Novotny protectiveness kicks up full swing in this episode, as he clearly sees Justin as more than that annoying fly just buzzing around and begging to be swatted. During Brian's kick out rant, Michael is visibly concerned, and his body language clearly aligns him with Justin's side of the discussion. He seems to be almost stopping himself from reaching out and touching Justin in comfort. "Just take it easy." When Brian refuses to chase Justin to New York, Michael speaks up, "...Look. I'll go with you." And he's again the voice of reason when his friends are distracted by the sights.
Emmett: "...it's like a porn star convention."
Michael:"You're SUPPOSED TO BE LOOKING FOR JUSTIN."
And of course, Michael is brought to regret every single one of these actions, because the end result brings Justin closer into his life than ever before. He's now living in Michael's old bedroom - having made his intrusion into Michael's privacy absolute and complete. And all with an adorable smile on this face. Ah, that scene. They so reduce each other to the mental age of five.
Justin: "Don't worry. I promise I'll take care of it."
Michael: "You better. Because. I'm going to be doing unscheduled checks."
In episode 12, Brian and Michael's friendship has completely fractured -- and it's Justin who steps in to mend the pieces.
Justin: "It means he misses Michael."
Daphne: "Why don't you talk to him?"
Daphne: "I thought you loved Brian, and you're staying in Michael's bedroom. Which makes you, like, the missing link."
Michael: "What are you doing here?"
Justin: "Looking for you."
It turns out that Daphne is improbably right. Justin's selfless actions are a success, and begin a pattern of Justin and Michael turning to each other over complications with Brian.
Justin: "We should stop him."
Michael: "Stop Brian. Right. Next we can take on Starbucks."
Michael: "I need you to do me a favor."
Justin: "What, disappear?"
Michael: "I gave up all hope of that happening a long time ago."
Brian:"Finally you boys will have something in common besides me. What a relief, not to be the center of everyone's universe."
Season 2 begins with Justin and Michael as Season 1 left off -- Michael has resigned himself to Justin being in their lives, and has mentally included Justin into their little family. Justin, on the other hand, has been left shaken by the bashing, and with several lingering trust issues.
This is a Michael who is certain that Justin shouldn't, can't expect more of Brian, and yet turns around to glare at Brian in exasperation. It's abundantly clear where his loyalties lies, and yet Justin means far from nothing to him at the same time.
M: "I thought I'd see Justin. ... How's he doing?"
B: "How should I know?"
M: "Well, you would if you went to see him. How about you come with me?"
B: "What for?"
M:"It might make him happy."
"Justin. It's me, Michael."
"Are you just gonna fucking stand there?"
The second phase of the Justin and Michael relationship kicks off in episode 2x15. This, of course, is one of the most squee worthy episodes for Michael/Justin shippers. We get giggles, late night phone calls, and even the boys curled up like puppies in a bed together all. night. long.
Ben: "Something tells me we've been stood up."
Brian: "Over a comic book."
Ben: "More than just a comic book."
2x15 introduces the lasting future of the Justin and Michael relationship. "Do you mind? I'm trying to have a conversation with your boyfriend." They're seeing each other for the first time as much more than links or support beams, but also as a person who can supply real understanding, empathy, and enthusiasm for their interests. Though Brian and Ben both offer praise to their partners, they can't give them what Justin and Michael give each other. The autobiographical nature of the comic book makes this process even more intimate -- here is a way that they can share and interpret their self-images, hopes, and fears.
The sheer joy we get to see, that is Justin and Michael amped up and together, has to be readily familar to any online fanboy or fangirl. Picture your very favorite fandom squee partner. Now imagine if you were both attractive gay men. How can epic sex together be a bad idea?
Ben: "There's nothing as sexual as the act of creation.
Unfortunately, this fresh bond is put to the test when Michael discovers Justin going elsewhere to get what he can't have from Brian, and they are both forced to confront the nature and depth of this new friendship. Does Michael even have a choice of how to respond? And if he pauses, even if only for an internal small moment, what does that mean?
When Michael marches decisively to Brian's side, without taking Justin's reasons or feelings into account, it appears that something may be permanently broken between them.
"I'm so glad you boys kissed and made up."
"He deserves to know."
Season 3 starts up with Michael and Justin at the worst place they've been yet in the series.
A definite step backward even from the earliest days of Season 1, Michael rages and tells everyone within earshot that he wants nothing but to see Justin disappear into thin air. And, in a distinct change from previous seasons, he's not the only one who's furious and resentful. In my read of the text, a certain percentage of the hurt and anger both of them feel stems not from any connection to Brian, but to how they both precieve the other quickly making work of their friendship in the service of some more important relationship. Michael doesn't understand why Justin had to go and screw everything up, change everything and wreck the great life everyone had going on, and Justin feels abandoned. ""You betrayed me." He's emotionally exhausted, and has basically given up.
Their conversations in the first few episodes of the season are painful to watch. They're just shredding each other.
Justin:"I don't want to talk about it."
Michael: "Of course not. It's onto the next. You got what you wanted."'
Justin: "So did you. From the first night we met, and he took me home and fucked me, you have wanted me gone. Well Mikey, you finally got your wish."
Surprisingly, it's Brian who sees that Michael and Justin shouldn't break up just because he and Justin have. Taking a page from Justin in 1x12, he cajoles and nags until the boys agree to at least work together in an artistic capacity.
Justin: "What, are you saying we should work together?"
Michael: "We don't have to like each other. But we did make a commitment."
I've placed Seasons 3 and 4 together, because I think these seasons serve as a transition period for many of the character in the series. We see many of the most important relationships and characters on the show severed and then rebuilt back stronger and better than ever. And so it is with Michael and Justin, who have a tentative rebuilding process ahead of them, and yet when are confronted with the next big crisis, manage to wade through it together this time, instead of allowing it to destroy their friendship. This period would be phrase three of The Michael and Justin Show.
The thing about the Cancer!Brian storyline that just kills me when it comes to Justin and Michael, is that when Justin finds out, his very first thought after realizing exactly what is wrong with Brian, and all that that entails, seems to be, "Did Michael know?" When he comes in, solemnly, to Michael's store you can feel it buzzing under his skin. All of the raw emotions from 3x1 and 3x2 have come rushing back to the forefront, and if he's talking so softly at first, and so firmly, it's only because that's all that's keeping him from screaming. And gawd, Justin needs to know so BADLY. So badly it hurts me to watch. These writers may not always get their plotting or dialogue right all the time, but damn if they don't know their human relationships. Justin asks, and asks again, and when it's revealed that this wasn't something that Michael had known and was hiding from him, the immediate reaction is, "what are we going to do?"
The second most important aspect of the situation to Justin right then is that Michael had been honest with him, and then they make the decision of how they'll both react together -- these things tell a hell of a lot about how far Michael and Justin's friendship has come.
And, of course, then everything goes to hell, and it's hurt and Justin storming off with Michael standing helpless yet again. (And you have to feel for Michael here, because he never means to.) But something has irrevocably changed, because now it's Michael storming over to give Brian a piece of his mind. He's firm on it -- Brian is being an ass, Justin deserves to know. Justin deserved better.
"Think you can kick me out of here the way you did Justin?"
"--And sick or not, that's a fucking shitty way to treat him."
And Michael keeps chasing Justin this time until he's talked some sense into him. Replaying 1x12 yet again, but this time he himself playing Justin. Yes, he screwed up. But he works to heal the breech that he made.
The adventure to cure Brian's broken penis, and the excitement that Michael and Justin share about the possiblitiy of commercial success with Rage is beyond adorable, and it's nice to see them so happy together. We leave Season 4 with them in a very good place.
"At least we have the comic. Our comic."
Brian: Congratulations. You won."
And thus we enter the final stage of the Michael and Justin relationship. Season 5 finds Justin returned from Hollywood, his fling with the flim industry a failure, Michael newly married, and Brian & Justin attempting yet again to make their unique brand of commitment work.
It's an increasingly discontent Justin, and a Michael who finds himself no longer so accepting of Brian's caustic displays and Peter Pan syndrome. He's lost any romantic stars covering his eyes in relation to Brian, has moved on with his partner Ben, and takes a very different view on Justin's Brian-Troubles this time around.
When Brian and Justin break up this season, it's Michael and Brian's relationship that may not survive as a result.
M: "He says I infected [Justin]."
Michael loves his life, and he believes Justin deserves to share something like it. Season 5 Michael & Justin does not have Michael turning on Justin for disrupting their lives and demanding more, but turning on Brian instead.
Brian "He was perfectly happy!"
Michael: "He was NEVER perfectly happy."
Brian: "That's Not. Who. I. Am."
Michael: "Don't we all know!"
And there's Justin, at the top of the stairs, hearing this.
It's a moment, that, if I were back in the midst of watching Season 1 and you told me it was going to happen someday, I would have said you were totally bugshit CRAZY -- and yet it does happen, and it's fantastic, and it took them 5 Seasons to earn this moment.
Brian feels that Michael "infected" Justin, and maybe having a support system did give Justin more strength, but the show and Justin are very clear that it's not about that.
Justin: "You've done enough"
Michael: "I'm sure Brian would agree with you -- heretical ideas of marriage, monogamy, a house and kids."
Justin: "You had nothing to do with it. There are things I've wanted for a long time that I could never have if I'd stayed with him."
And Michael's breaking point is not only about Justin.
Debbie: "You've been friends, brothers, since you were kids."
Michael: "He disrespects every choice I make."
I find it all the more powerful, that it's about who they are, and not just about their friendship, because it displays again just why they've developed a connection. They are very similiar people, deep down inside, with similar desires, dreams, and weaknesses, and that's why they both can enjoy each other's company so much, and why when they fight they tear off bloody strips.
Moving Forward: The Future of Michael & Justin
'cause I wanna learn
is it really true?
can you save yourself
for someone who
loves you for you?
- Sense field
Queer as Folk ends with Justin and Brian breaking their engagement, Justin deciding to follow artistic possibilities to New York, and Michael and Brian patching up their friendship. Justin's in another state and Michael is happily married. So where exactly does this leave them?
Frankly, I think their story is just beginning. Their lives won't change so much that they won't still need what they are to each other. Justin's going to need someone who can be silly, inspired, and joyous with him, to counteract all of the New York pretension. And Michael needs someone who understands the fanboy side of him - who doesn't just accept it, and support it, but shares in it. Fandom's no fun all by yourself, no matter how kind your family is about your obsession(s).
As much as Brian and Justin love each other, it's very possible that they can't make it work together. To be hopelessly cliche, 'Sometimes love ain't enough.' And to be impossibly morbid, it's rather unlikely that Ben will live to a ripe old age. And it's very possible he'll leave before that point, to spare Michael the pain.
A Michael/Justin romantic entanglement couldn't not be interesting, with all of that history, and past resentment, and mended back trust. Angry!sex, Makeup!Sex, Playful!Sex... Cuddling on a bed strewn with drawings and scribbles. Justin painting with morning light as their store opens, while Michael brags to a customer about how his boyfriend's being shown all over The Big Apple. Emmett would stop by, holding take out from the diner under his arm, and Michael would sneak over to announce him by pouncing on Justin's back -- earning himself a face full of paintbrush and deep, burnt orange as a result.
It could work.
Trio by kyleschick
Constructed reality; Trailer
"Brian lives a wonderful life but is unaware that his boyfriend and best friend are secretly enamored with each other."
The One by kyleschick
Save Yourself by Meghan
Falling Is Like This by Silvia Kundera
Michael& Justin, S1-2
(copy into browser, por favor)
[Non-Sexay/Gen: They're Complicated]
Outside by Katy Zapatka
2x1, between scenes/AU-ish
"No need to worry, though, because it's Michael who comes walking into the kitchen. Well, not -no- need to worry. Just a need to worry about something else."
Once and Again by Jenn
3x9, 3x10 ish
"Justin takes a breath, like he's been running all day and hasn't ever stopped. Like he's been running his whole life and needs to rest. Like whatever Michael says now will let him."
The Errand by Silvia Kundera
"The thing that Justin had forgotten about Michael until they weren't talking, and weren't talking, and then were kind of talking, was that he got these IDEAS into his head.
Like Incest by pulsefic
Too NC-17 to be gen, but still kind of. um. Gen. Ah, well! S4-ish?
"He begins to become conscious of the possibility of Michael as a sexual being."
more not-gen!Gen. also S4 ish?
"Inhaling, Justin held his breath and counted to ten, and then exhaled. 'You know, I just had an idea.'"
the way it is by PrettyFlowers
death fic, future fic, friendship!fic
"Michael is speechless and just shakes his head in a way Justin hasn’t figured out yet, he wants to know though, a part of him is eager to see what all these years Brian saw in Michael."
[Not So Gen: Theirloveissoforbidden]
Colder in My Skin by Jenn
Crazy, awesome yes/not vampire sex&violence Michael/Justin/Brian AU dark-fic thing
"'Justin?' Michael whispers, and you shudder at warm breath against the scratch on your neck and think that you hate him a little."
The Switcher by Geekwriter
mid-S2 ish; Michael and Justin alone in the loft. actual sEx. omg!
"'Arrogance combined with heartlessness. Good. J.T. takes two hot muscle gods back to Rage's lair and spends the entire night ravaging them while Rage, brokenhearted, retreats to the bathroom to cry in secret.'
Michael looked up at Justin, who was working intently on a sketch of Rage on his knees with flowers in his hand, J.T. looking at him with an annoyed stare. 'Does he make you do that?'
'What?' Justin asked, not looking up.
Comfort by gypsy
Deathfic; H/C; AU
"God, Michael..." I breathe. "He loved you. He loved you so much..."
Fates Intertwined: Part I and Part II
(Brian/Justin, Michael/Brian, Michael/Justin) Post S1 AU; unfinished
"But he couldn't have known how much a part of their lives Justin would become."
Finding Each Other by Ethan
General S1 ish, maybe, it seems.
"Justin seemed different here to Michael. It must be the setting, Michael thought. This being Brian's place"
never asked to be your mountain by Silvia Kundera
late season 2
He wants it so bad that he smiles too hard and touches Justin's elbow, clutches tight around Justin's hot, just his size fingers, and tugs.
Permancy, And The Impossiblity Of by Silvia Kundera
mid season 3
Unless, apparently, they're you, and just weren't getting enough angst from one unattainable beautiful person that loves to be looked at but won't let you touch.
The Mo(u)rning After by Silvia Kundera
"Wrong. And it was only a second, a moment, but he *won't forget*, and he knows which side he's on."
Teenage Dreams by Water Papillion
And how I wanted to hate the blond teenager, and how I wanted to hate my Sex God of a best friend. But how I couldn't. They were the epitome of those fantasies under the blanket with mom pacing around underneath on the stairs, hearing me and pretending not to except when she was really pissed.
Enough of Reason by xof
Michael/Brian/Justin threesome p0rn
"When Michael tried to reach up and flatten it down, Justin encircled Michael's waist - trapping the man's arms with his own. "Oh no you don't. Give it a chance." He leaned in, resting his chin on Michael's shoulder."
Thanks For The Misery by argyletheme
post-S5, death fic, sex, angst
"So what are we supposed to do? Sit here and reminisce?"
Together, Life in Sfumato, and Entangled by Ficklemuse
"and in the morning Justin was twined just as tightly around Michael as Michael was around him. Entangled in each other, snares and all."
Express Ticket by pulsefic
Michael and Justin run away together. kind of. Crack!fic
""Your mind is an absolutely fascinating place, Michael."
"It's actually sorta messy still. I haven't had time to tidy up."
"I see. More vodka?"
[General Fandom Links]
Queer as Folk Webring
Across The Pond: Queer as Folk Archive
Inspiration: A Randy Harrison fansite
Sparksfan.com: A Hal Sparks fansite
major_bottoms: M/J LJ Community