*sighs* I'm too tired to actually be ashamed of myself, but it'll happen soon.
He doesn't know how Brian got around Daphne, only knows the receipt when he sees it on Cynthia's desk, tuition paid in full for another semester. A list beside it, short and to the point--numbers of people with instant access to Brian at all times. Justin doesn't see Emmett's name or Ted's name, and Michael's fourth from the top now. Priorities change. Daphne, Lindsay, and an unknown doctor have top clearance.
Priorities change, he thinks, turning quickly before anyone sees him here. This is the end of his first day at the agency and he still can't explain why he's doing this.
It's half-masochism, half the absolute fact that a recommendation from Gardner is as good as gold. Experience is good, and this was encouraged by his advisor with so much enthusiasm that Justin had almost backed out, and computer design is the future. He was the one that argued it, right?
He can be stupid like that.
Quick trip down the elevator, he tucks his badge in his pack and goes out, thinking about luck and the fact he started on a day Brian took off, and maybe it was fate being decent for once, considering how it had fucked him over before, but the reason for the absence cuts.
He turns too fast, knows he does, stumbles and feels like an idiot, but who the hell could blame him? Daphne's feet away, looking a little better than he'd seen her last, and maybe she's gained weight, but her coat's hiding it. Maybe it says something that he wants to know, see how far this has gone.
"Hey." His voice is too high and not at all casual, and her eyes won't meet his, skittering toward the pavement and then back up, looking for something, anything, that isn't him. He didn't think anyone could be more uncomfortable than he is, but now he's got to wonder. "Um. How's it going?"
"Um. Pretty good, I guess." It's like walking on landmines. There's no such thing as safe conversation; everything's going to hit a nerve. "You?"
"Great." And if he looks at it abstractly, it is. The apartment he found is better than he ever could have expected and his roommate's a IFA art major, painting, and good for a casual fuck every so often. He's closer to campus than he was before. Tips have been going really well, and the internship was the result of beating out seventy-two other candidates, some upperclassmen. That's heady stuff. He blew away the art director here and already has a project to work on.
In abstract, his life looks fucking fantastic.
"Really great." She's shuffling her feet. She always does that when she's nervous. "I--um. Got an internship."
She smiles, honestly happy for him, and he wishes he could feel the same. "That's great. Where?"
No safe conversation. "Nothing special, just experience." This would be the time to ask her for coffee, except maybe she can't have caffeine now? It flickers through his mind and he pushes it away, watching her shift again uncomfortable, worried, but she keeps trying, and he almost wishes he felt like doing the same. That the instinct to run wasn't moving through his body like electricity. "So what are you doing here?"
The flush is sudden and it's kind of obvious, isn't it? Except he didn't think and he's already trying to figure out a way to avoid her answer, because there's only one reason she'd be here and that's the one answer he can't stand to hear.
"He--Brian--got a call. From his assistant. I get--elevators make me kind of nauseous, so I stayed down here." Nausea, yeah. Lindsay had mentioned they'd been working on Daphne's--sickness. Her.
Just say it, morning sickness. He can be such a pussy.
"Better now?" He doesn't want to hear this. God, he'd do anything not to.
"Yeah." She breathes it out, like even making the wrong sound will set her off. "But--my doctor said it shouldn't last much longer."
"Did you get tested?"
For a second, he knows she has no idea what he's talking about. Then the flush again, brighter, and he bites his lip and wishes he hadn't asked, because there's no reason he needs to know.
This is why I can't see her, Lindsay. You have to get this. I can't see her because it hurts and I'll say the wrong thing, and you know what? I'll mean to.
She finally meets his eyes, and it must take a lot out of her, because her entire body's stiff. The look on her face reminds him of the time a condom broke, a trick so long ago he barely remembers. Remembered fear. "Yes. I'm clean." She pauses, looking away. "It all--all the tests came back fine."
You won't know for sure on one test, he almost says, but doesn't, bites it back. She knows that. She knows a lot of things he isn't saying, and they're on her face, too. That she betrayed him and has no idea how to fix it and that it's just not fixable, and that she knows he's angry and doesn't blame him, and that she knows that it hurts him to look at her. She knows, because she knows him, and she takes a step back, head turning to the doorway like she's hoping something saves them both and ends this before everything she knows becomes things that he doesn't want to say, but might anyway.
Like it's at her call, the door opens, and Justin bites his lip, thinks that maybe he tastes blood as Brian comes out, Cynthia a step behind him, arguing some point with sharp gestures, and he looks too good, too flawless, makes everyone else seem monochrome and boring. He always does. Both stop, Brian turning, flare of coat, saying something that makes Cynthia pause mid-word, then laugh. Her eyes flicker over the street as Brian takes the papers from her, and he knows the second she sees him by the way her gaze fixes.
Sees him, sees *them*, and he backs off a step, wonders if he looks dumb, but he really doesn't care. Another step, because Brian just needs to look up and see what Cynthia's looking at, just needs to look up and find Daphne, just look up and it'd be easy and quick and they haven't seen each other since Lindsay's that day and Justin's not near ready.
He's already saying something stupid, how he has to get somewhere, take care, the crap you tell acquaintances, people you don't know, anyone that isn't (wasn't) your (former) best friend, and he almost does it, is almost fast enough, but then Brian looks up, because that's instinct. Brian always finds him, always, in a crowded club or on a dim city street. And maybe he lied to himself, because he doesn't look away, not when the hazel eyes catch his and he feels it through his entire body.
Then he's walking away, and he knows Brian is watching.
"She doesn't really have anyone else."
Lindsay's cutting up potatoes for stew, and it's funny that Melanie's kind of at the same stage as Daphne right now, food a careful navigation. Eyebrows twisted together, she glances at him briefly before dumping the contents of the cutting board into the pot.
"She has lots of people." He counts it up to prove it, but the number suddenly isn't that big. He wonders, suddenly and inexplicably, what she told her friends, and what the hell can she tell them, anyway? I fucked my best friend's sort-of ex and well, things happen. Oops, that wasn't good.
"She needs people who understand." Picking up a spoon, Lindsay stirs slowly. "What's bothering you?"
So damn much. "You have to ask?"
Lindsay rolls her eyes and looks at him for a moment. "You know what I mean."
Yeah, he does, and he's not answering. "I--was he like this with you?" Justin waves a hand, trying to find the right words. "Doing stuff for you?"
"You mean, driving me to my appointments? He didn't even know I *had* appointments." Lindsay's mouth curves up in remembered amusement. "Though I remember when he called after I left a message after the ultrasound. He pretended he wasn't interested. It was funny. But sometimes, yes. He was responsible for my ice cream intake, since Mel was usually too exhausted to wake up at one and Brian was out anyway and didn't mind stopping."
Justin snorts. "So what--now he's Mr. Responsibility?" Picking up the bouillon wrappers scattered on the counter, Justin takes them to the trash, pretending his hand isn't shaking.
"He can be when he wants to be." Her voice has a lot of things in it that he doesn't want to read. "You and Gus taught him a lot."
Justin freezes, the last wrapper clinging to his fingers. Something shifts in his stomach, but he's not sure what it is. It's not comfortable. "I guess carting me to the doctor last year was great practice."
Turning around, Justin sees Lindsay watching him with a peculiar expression he can't quite define. "That's what's bothering you."
Justin doesn't like that note in her voice. "Don't start."
"Just don't. I don't need a fucking psychologist." Though maybe he does, and wouldn't that be a great therapy session? Like something that should be on daytime television. Shit like this is what bored housewives live to see.
He thinks of that paper on Cynthia's desk, and it makes him wonder what it looked like a year ago. Justin, his doctors, his mom, his therapist. Or did Brian even have one? He'd never had a problem calling in and maybe that was why. But these days, he doesn't even make the top ten list.
There's no reason why he should, why he should want to. None at all. "I gotta go."
"Things change," Lindsay says calmly, and she's stirring the stew again, like this is any day in her kitchen, and considering how often he visits these days, it very well might be. "People change. Life does that. Expecting everything to stay static is setting yourself up for disappointment."
"I know that." But some things shouldn't. Brian shouldn't change, hadn't ever, not for Justin. Not for anything Justin could do or say, and God, he'd done everything he could think of and then some, would have done more if he'd known what, and what the hell had that gotten him? But Brian fucks up one night and suddenly, he's shifting and Justin doesn't get it.
I couldn't do a damn thing, I couldn't even make him admit I was more than a regular fuck, but he'll change for this. Fuck this.
"I'll see you later." Grabbing his jacket, Justin waves at Lindsay before she can say something else, going outside into the evening air and thinking that God, he needs a cigarette.
Justin flies under the Brian radar at Vangard for a full four days before he's caught. Upsets over some account are the reason, and they're also the reason he's discovered, when one of the guys grabs him and pulls him front and center one hectic morning, right into Brian's line of sight when he comes down to bitch.
It's a double take that's almost funny, would be even funnier if Justin had been prepared, but he goes with it, surprised he can even move when he extends his arm to shake hands, more surprised to see Brian's split-second hesitation before doing the same thing.
Funnier much later, when he gets the message to come by Brian's office, and he has no idea what to expect. He just doesn't think this is going to be easy. But with Brian, he supposes it never is.
One of the junior execs is kind of hot, and Justin doesn't have any problem with finding him and the bathroom during break. There's a no-fraternization policy thanks to Kip and common sense, but Justin supposes that it only applies if you get caught. He's not Brian. He isn't stupid enough to fuck someone who can use it against him.
There's a kind of weird fascination with it, though, that he really doesn't want to examine. The man's older than him but seems so much younger, and he's nothing like any trick Justin's had, uptight and scared to death, but so fucking eager. Too-neat hair that Justin messes with casual fingers when those soft lips close over his cock, and Justin imagines the man in a meeting this afternoon, still tasting Justin in his mouth, listening to Brian drone on about projections and the state of the department. Imagines *Brian* knowing, every time he looks across the conference room table, that Justin's fucked this guy and might be fucking other ones, too, right here in his place of work.
Just the thought of it is enough to make him come, fingers digging into the dark hair and eyes fixed on the stall wall, every nerve trembling. It's amazing.
We didn't *have* a relationship, Justin thinks at the mirror after he pushes the guy out of the bathroom, leaving Justin alone. Leaning on the sink, Justin thinks about what Brian didn't say, thinks what Brian doesn't say now but does, and for someone that's not him. We never had a relationship. We didn't have anything at all.
Debbie's trying to feed Daphne into a calm stomach, or at least, that's what it's starting to look like, and now, Justin can see she's definitely gained weight and the image of not-Gus takes over for just a second when he's wiping down tables. He took this shift by accident, and everyone's been just terrific about Not Upsetting Justin, but maybe Daphne didn't get the notice, because she only hesitates for a second before finding a booth in a far corner and hiding behind a menu.
Debbie brings her pancakes, because apparently, Daphne's just fine on those, then sits down while there's a lull in the crowd, her voice loud and pleased as she tells Daphne about carrying Michael and how restless he was. He sees Daphne stiffen, dropping her fork, and he's already moving to the phone, instinct, 911, something's gone wrong, but then she looks up and her eyes are huge.
"I think--" She stops, frowning, hand on her stomach, and that scrunched forehead, the way her nose crinkles up--he stops moving, hand on the phone. "Debbie, it feels--"
Debbie's smile is like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. "Feels weird, huh, honey?"
"Yeah." Justin watches her palm skim her stomach, pressing, and the books all say this is the right time, so it shouldn't be a surprise. "I--wow."
Debbie leans into the table, a wistful expression crossing her face. "Honey, can I--"
"Yeah." Daphne turns in the seat, and Debbie comes over, crouching down to stare at Daphne's stomach like there's writing there she has to read. "Here. Um. Right--" One slim hand closes over Debbie's wrist and pulls her the right place. "There."
Nothing for a few seconds, then Debbie blinks, smile widening, and you wouldn't think that was possible, but it is. "Strong little fucker, isn't he?"
Daphne giggles, a little strained, but she's staring down like this is some sort of miracle, and it's not, it's just a baby.
Not-Gus, with a scrunched forehead, Brian's eyes, Daphne's smile. Justin feels the cloth he was cleaning with drop to the floor, and then the bell on the diner door rings, and Justin turns, has to, get away from the image, but it intensifies when Brian walks in, a little windblown, a little mussed from the wind, and looking like he'd rather be doing anything or anyone than be here.
Debbie's voice cuts across the diner like a bullhorn. "Brian! Get your ass over here."
Brian pauses, making a long-suffering sound like someone who has been through a major war and only duty could force him one inch farther. And he's not interested in duty. "Whatever it is, I don't care."
"Shut the fuck up and get over here."
Brian rolls his eyes, but it's Debbie, so he obeys, because conditioning is conditioning and even Justin's not immune to that note in her voice. He nods a hello to Daphne, then stares down at Debbie. "What the fuck are you doing?"
Debbie grins up at him. "Your kid seems a little restless today."
From this angle, Justin can't see Brian's face, and he's almost sure he doesn't want to. But he sees how still Brian becomes, long fingers tensing at his sides, the subtle tilt of his head. Daphne, looking up, nods slowly to something she sees, biting her lip and looking away quickly when Debbie laughs. "Thought that might get your attention."
"Sure it isn't indigestion?" He gets a swat to the thigh for that, and Daphne chokes out an unsteady laugh. "How are you feeling?"
"I won't throw up on your shoes again, if that's what you're asking." One hand flattens itself on the table, and Justin sees her take a deep breath. Bracing herself. He knows that feeling. "Um. If you want to--" She stops, because there's really no good way to ask Brian to be a lesbian, after all, and why the hell would he be interested? She waits a beat. "It feels weird."
Brian crouches beside Debbie. "You ever tell anyone, I'll deny it." It's surreal, impossible, and Justin feels his throat close over when Brian does exactly what no one expects, except maybe Debbie, who can sometimes know things that no one else does. A few long seconds, then Daphne takes her courage in her hands and moves Brian's hand just a little, and Justin can see the second it registers in the way Brian shivers--subtle, nothing anyone that didn't know him inside and out would see.
It lasts a long time, and Justin only moves when Brian does, turning away to grab the cloth off the floor and go behind the counter, disappearing into the back before he's seen, breath a hard lump in his throat. Not that he thinks Brian will notice, or Debbie, or Daphne. They apparently have more important things to do.