More snippets. It's like an addiction. Snip or die.
*hugs to jaymalea, ranalore and ragingpixie for encouragement and also, telling me yes, this is very, very weird.
He sees Brian first.
Everything's accident or fate, take your pick. Justin's dizzy from trying to decide, exhausted from even thinking about it. He's been good, kept away, but it's like karma, some punishment for a crime he didn't even commit, that it's a sidewalk fair, something that Brian would never, ever lower himself to attend, but he's here, sophisticated and bored to death in a black wool coat and slightly glazed sneer, like he forgot what he was mocking. Lindsay, Gus in tow, seems like an afterthought, and she's talking, he can see that over the edge of the booth, picking up something wooden and artsy, like the people that sell shit here have a clue what art is.
"...oh shut up, Brian."
Brian smirks, brought back to the here and now, leaning over her shoulder to take whatever the hell it is that she's looking at. "This is boring. Come on."
Frozen by the GLC booth, Justin watches Lindsay pull away, rolling her eyes as she lifts the stroller over the curb, pausing to glance at a point somewhere behind her. "Did you want to look at the cakes?"
"Jesus, Lindsay, don't. Mentioning food sets her off."
"Fuck you." Daphne's head emerges, and his first thought is, she looks *thinner*, and that somehow isn't right. Gloved hands tucked up under her arms, she steps off the curb, coming up beside the stroller. "It's getting late--"
"It's only five. You need to get out more." Lindsay tilts her head, both gloved hands pushing the stroller. "Have you eaten anything today?"
Daphne nods her head quickly, but Justin thinks she pales. "I had some crackers earlier."
"It's amazing how much of a cliche you are." Brian walks by them both, glancing around the street, and Justin, feeling like the biggest idiot ever, ducks behind the booth. "Are we done yet, or is this little excursion for the good of the gay community still ruining my day?"
"Brian, you aren't helping."
Brian's smile is slow and pleased. "Can I go?"
"No." With a flick of her coat, Lindsay's off, Daphne in tow, her expression grimly pleased. She likes winning just as much as Brian does. She just tends to hide it better. "I want to pick up some of that pottery we saw earlier. How did the check-up go?"
Daphne's head goes down, and Justin knows she says something, because Lindsay nods and smiles encouraging. A bit of breeze picks up the edge of the cloth roof of the booth, and Justin almost curses. He's a stalker. He's always been a stalker. Now he's just a pathetic stalker, ducking onto the other side of the booth to get a clearer view and still be able to keep out of sight. Because he's sickeningly interested and this is a good place to watch.
And get much better reception. "Fuck that."
Oh. Something's happened.
"Brian." Lindsay sounds warning, but she doesn't look happy either. "Daphne, I understand that you feel--"
"I can't--look, it's just for the spring semester." Hunched shoulders and dark hair hide her face, but he can hear her just fine, and her voice says it all. "I--it'll give me a break."
"Try again." Brian sounds very, very bored. Justin could tell Daphne that he's at his most dangerous when he sounds like that. "You're quitting school because--"
"Jesus, I'm not quitting!" Daphne pushes her hair from her face impatiently. "I just--I want time to think. I need to put things in perspective."
Justin doesn't believe a word. Neither does Brian. "Does this have anything to do with that little visit home yesterday?"
Silence. Oh damn. Justin knows Daphne's parents. And he hadn't even thought about it. "They made some points--"
"They cut you off."
Justin's breath catches in his throat, and he hurts for Daphne, who just stares straight ahead, like she has nothing to do with this conversation at all. Small in her big coat and with her hair floating around her face. Fragile, in a way that he's never imagined her before. "They gave me a choice."
Silence. Justin's feet are going numb and his hands are twitching in his pockets. The world just stops. He thinks of all the things Daphne could have told them, every what and how and why, and knows exactly what she told them and exactly why.
Jesus. He'd almost forgotten Brian was there. "Doesn't matter."
"I'll take care of it."
Daphne closes her eyes, leaning into the arm Lindsay offers. "My parents--look, this isn't your problem, it's mine. I'll take care of it."
"Because you certainly have the skills to go out and get gainful employment." Brian takes a careful step toward her, pausing only a few feet away, head cocked in that way that says that he has no idea why everyone just doesn't obey him instantly because he's always, always right. "You don't. You can barely balance a check book."
How would Brian know that?
"I don't need you controlling my life!"
"Jesus Christ, save me from drama queens." Brian turns on a heel, coat this dramatic dark swirl of wool. He has to know how good he looks when he does that. "I'll be back in an hour. Talk some sense into her."
Lindsay nods over Daphne's head, a sad smile curling up the corners of her mouth before she steps back. "Come on. Let's go sit down while Brian finds someone else to make miserable. Something to eat?"
Daphne shudders. "God, no. I've bonded enough with the toilet as is."
Lindsay frowns, leaning down a little to peer into Daphne's face. "You don't look well."
"I'm just tired. I--how long does this *last*?" There's an edge of utter exhaustion that Justin recognizes, remembers from midterms and finals in high school. Daphne could burn for days with almost no sleep if she had to, but the results were never pretty and never easy.
"Usually only the first few weeks." Arm through Daphne's, Lindsay steers Gus toward the picnic tables. "Mel used to make this shake for me--I'll find the recipe. It'll help."
Daphne shrugs absently, and Justin hates that look on her face. Stubbornness warring with an unhappiness so deep he can feel it from here. "Lindsay, I don't want him to--"
"He likes it."
Daphne drops on a bench, looking up with wide eyes. Justin feels himself beginning to lean dangerously off-balance, but Lindsay's voice has dropped and he wants to hear this.
Lindsay shrugs, easing down beside Daphne. "He likes being needed. And--no, look at me--it's perfectly okay to need help. And to take it when it's offered."
Justin wonders if Daphne really gets what Brian will do when he feels sufficiently motivated, and Jesus, is this ever motivation. He remembers what Brian's like when he someone drops into his life that needs him. There's nothing more addictive to the man who lives for his addictions, whether he realizes it or not.
Daphne stares at Lindsay like she's grown a second head. No, she doesn't know yet. "Lindsay, I--this isn't--"
"He wouldn't offer if he didn't mean it. He's--trying. Not to make the same mistakes." Lindsay frowns a little, shaking her head, and Justin wonders what she's thinking about. "It was all--very theoretical to Brian, when I was pregnant with Gus. I had Mel. I didn't need him. He never thought Gus would need him. It never occurred to him that it was--well, real. Not until after Gus was born." Lindsay grins as if to herself, snickering softly. "Come on. You need to eat and relax a little. We'll swing by that booth with all the scarves that you liked."
"I'm not backing down on this, Lindsay." But Daphne gets up because Lindsay's from the Brian Kinney school of moving people--start moving yourself and drag them along by sheer will if necessary. It works. Really well.
"Just listen to him before you decide to get stubborn. I'm not sure how he'd take it if you decided dancing on bars was a legitimate source of income."
Justin feels himself flush even as Daphne begins to giggle, hand raised to her mouth as if she'd had no idea she could make that sound. "Not the way I'll be looking in a few months."
"There's something to be said for pregnancy," Lindsay says thoughtfully, arm sliding through Daphne's as they walk. "You can eat whatever you want whenever you want and no one blinks an eye."
"That's assuming I can ever keep food down again."
"You haven't let me cook for you yet. We'll find something."
The words trickle away as they vanish down the street.
Later, Justin won't admit he saw Brian join them somewhere near the baked goods, looking like he wanted to be anywhere else while Daphne turned an interesting shade of green, steadying her when she began to sway. He'll never admit that he heard Lindsay laugh when she left Gus with Brian and took Daphne to find somewhere private to get sick. Can't admit that he watched Brian cradling Gus and felt a shock when that image split again, another child with Brian's eyes, and still he couldn't look away.
He watched as Lindsay sweetly forced food into Daphne, until Lindsay bundled Daphne and Gus into Brian's car and they disappeared down the street, and if he felt anything, well, he wouldn't admit that either.
But if he had, it would have said it hurt.
He's not there to hear Mel's reaction, or Debbie's, or anyone's really, though he sees it in Lindsay's face, the crease of her forehead when she drops by with some literature for the GLC's latest show, the circles under her eyes. He sees it later in a glimpse of Daphne's bowed shoulders coming out of her apartment with Brian herding her efficiently into the car on the way to another appointment. He sees it in Debbie's frown that doesn't last long, because it's a baby and it's Brian's baby and hell if anything is going to get in the way of pseudo-grandmotherly instincts. He sees it in Michael's wide-eyed shock in the diner, the way he twists the napkin when Brian sits him down. Justin doesn't hear what Michael says, but he doesn't need to. He sees it in the way Brian leans back, casual and slow, then gets up and walks away without a word.
Little, strange events pop up at the diner, like the fact that Debbie always sends extra food home with Lindsay or Brian, but he pretends he doesn't notice and pretends he doesn't know why. He pretends a lot.
That's why it takes a while for him to find out she moved.
"She was too far from school." Lindsay efficiently re-diapers Gus and hands him over to Justin to hold while she cleans up. She knows why he visits so much these days. "Brian found her a place that's closer."
Justin lifts Gus against his shoulder, catching him before a small hand can tangle in his hair. "She has a car." Lindsay busies herself cleaning something, looking at anyone but him. "She did have a car--what--she didn't have an accident, did she?" Horrified visions of Daphne in a wreck make him sick--hospital corridors and people who won't answer questions and the fucking silence that never ends. He's turning toward the door when she stops him.
"No." A beat. "Her parents withdrew payments."
Justin looks at Lindsay, letting her take Gus from him and holding him against her chest, a gentle cradle that doubles without warning. Daphne's baby will be like that, bright and sweet and a warm, sleepy weight when he's held. "Fuck them."
Lindsay's smile is crooked. "That's what Brian told them when he called them afterward."
Oh Jesus. Justin leans his head into the wall. "I suppose she never mentioned how much like my dad they are."
Lindsay gives him an amused look. "I'm not sure he listened."
Yeah. What a surprise. "Is--she okay?"
Lindsay gives him a look from the corner of her eyes. "You could ask her, if you want to know."
Justin doesn't answer, picking up the neatly wrapped diaper and carrying it to the kitchen to toss in the trash. Leaning into the counter, he closes his eyes, listening to Lindsay take Gus upstairs for his nap, the sound of her feet coming back down the stairs.
"Mel still being a bitch about it?"
Lindsay frowns, as if to say, well, you're not taking it that well either, but Justin ignores it. "She's--unhappy, yes." Probably the understatement of the year, no matter how diplomatically Lindsay phrases it. Justin curls his fingers around the edge of the counter, digging in.
He hadn't seen Mel's initial reaction, but he heard it days later. Catch-up at the diner, when she'd come in for coffee before work. Justin doesn't remember what she said, just remembers the way his hand had started shaking when she asked if he was okay. The way she'd said Brian's name, like it was dirty.
The way she'd talked about this, like it was--like it was--
"She--hasn't been saying anything to Daphne, has she?" He can imagine what she said to Brian, no matter how hard he tries not to.
Lindsay freezes, just for a second, eyes fixed on the counter, and the breath catches in Justin's throat. "Only once."
--like it was something nasty and degrading and wrong, like Daphne didn't have a mind of her own, like Brian had--had just raped her or something. Like everyone should be appalled and sickened and not getting kind of excited about another child in the family.
He remembers that, remembers thinking that he couldn't listen to this, he just couldn't, and then he remembers looking up and opening his mouth and words came out that he couldn't have meant, except he had.
That worried about losing a cut of Brian's life insurance?
"Yeah," Justin breathes, looking at the floor. "Daph fought back?" Because Brian wouldn't even try. He never really does.
Lindsay glances up, fighting a reluctant smile. "Yes. She fought back."
Justin closes his eyes, warmed to think of Daphne defending Brian. "That's my girl."