More Daphne!Crack fic, aka Stumble and Fall.
It wasn't on purpose, he thinks, though he'll wonder later, wonder when he walks in the door and Lindsay comes from the kitchen to greet him with a smile and both hands on his arm before he can think to wonder why. Wonder when she drags him to the back door and pushes it open, murmuring that the weather was unseasonably warm and she hadn't expected him so early from class.
He tells her that he cut class, but he doesn't tell her why. The model had been hot and Justin had been idly sketching him, thinking about seeing what he was doing when the job was up. Thinking how his hair was a little long and he should get a haircut, though, and then he'd looked down and broke his pencil when he put it through the paper, involuntary shake of his hand that had brought his teacher over at the loud sound of tearing paper and he'd ripped the sketch off and crumpled it in one fist, grabbing his bag and throwing it in. They'd chalk it up to hand-issues, poor little Justin, bad hand and bad head, and he'd walked out the door before a question could be asked.
He couldn't help spreading it out at the bus stop, though, smoothing it on one knee with trembling fingers, a familiar body and familiar face.
He'd thought he was over this, and he's sick and helpless and seventeen again, looking into the face of the first man he'd ever loved. Only, maybe, if he's honest.
He's on the back porch before he's aware how he's been maneuvered, and he sees Debbie first, bright hair and presence like a bonfire among candles, loud and rich and as warm as summer. Her head turns when Lindsay goes down the stairs and she smiles at him, motioning him over. He can't help grinning, taking the stairs two at a time, looking up just before his foot touches the ground.
A glimpse of dark hair and overpriced jeans. Brian. The responsible adult talking to Michael and someone Justin doesn't recognize, and Justin flashes on the sketch and thinks again how nothing on paper can ever capture everything Brian is.
Nothing's static, he thinks, watching Brian roll his eyes, finishing the bottle in a single drink before turning away to get another. Paper is static, a captured image in time, preserved memory that never moves. Life is never static. Neither is Brian.
"Sweetie?" Lindsay backtracks gracefully, hand on his arm, and he looks up and sees now the way her smile seems tight. "Listen, I--"
Somehow, he knows, before she says a word. He knows because it's fate and it's destiny or it's just his horrible, horrible luck, and his eyes cut through the crowd of people he recognizes and people he doesn't, a glimpse of Emmett looking tense and Ted being weird, and then Melanie's voice low and amused when she asks, please, would someone get her some fucking water already? People move like liquid at the sound of her voice. A glimpse of familiar worn boots that they'd shopped for together a lifetime ago, and Justin follows them up, sees Daphne, bright and laughing on Melanie's left side, a paper plate balanced on her knees.
"They're here." A 'they', a 'them' that still doesn't sound right, no matter how many times it's repeated in his head. "You didn't tell me."
"I didn't know you'd be coming." Lindsay's voice is quiet, and Justin blinks, feeling the stretch of time like bubble gum between his fingers, sticking on memory. It's not--he *knows* it's not, has to know--that this isn't a mirror of another day like this one when he brought Ethan to Lindsay's. No one thinks like that, least of all Brian. But it doesn't change the feeling, the tightness in his chest and the people that blur into nothing but color and sound.
He knows that it's different, but he knows the feeling is the same.
Daphne's caught up in something someone beside her says, stretching a little awkwardly to reach her drink. Taking a sip, she leans back in her chair, and Justin think she looks older. Hair in some loose twist at the back of her neck, the day's just warm enough to be coatless, and the dark sweater makes her glow. Maybe more than just the sweater.
He can't hear from here, but he can see plenty--Melanie leaning over just enough to say something to Daphne, who shakes her head.
"Why...." His mouth is dry; desperately, he licks his lips, trying to find something that sounds like his voice. "Why--why are they here?"
"I invited Daphne," Lindsay says steadily, hand still clamped on his arm, and he remembers Lindsay only seems fragile. She's so much stronger than she looks. "And I invited Brian. Just like I invited the rest of the family and friends."
He nods blankly. It was a stupid question, childish, and he knows it. That doesn't change the feeling. "I--have to go."
"Or you can stay." She pulls, and people come between him and Daphne and him and Brian, lost to sight, plunking him down in a chair. "Let me get you something to drink."
He looks up helplessly, mouth open to deny, but she's disappearing from view, dodging people gracefully, a natural hostess, like her parents had maybe meant her to be before she chose a different way. Brian catches her arm on the way, murmuring something into her ear with a calculating smile before heading into the house. Michael smirks, turning away, and Justin watches him take the chair beside Melanie and pick up his bottle.
Being an observer is his life's calling, but it gets painful when he realizes his exclusion from this is so real they might as well be in different worlds. And he can't even entirely say it's their fault, because he chose it.
Standing up, Justin maneuvers his way toward the fence, the gate in view. No one will notice if he leaves. Hell, no one really noticed he arrived.
"Sunshine!" It's almost bellowed, and Justin sometimes thinks Debbie's voice is like a bullhorn, breaking conversation and getting way too much attention, and Justin freezes. That close to getting out. From the corner of his eye, and he hadn't been watching, he *hadn't*, Brian freezes on the porch steps.
Debbie's a force of nature, barreling toward him with no consideration for the groups between, armed with a plastic cup of punch and a determined smile. Yes. Great. Just fucking *great*.
"Get over here, kiddo." Her hand loops around his arm like iron, and what, do the women of Liberty Avenue do their workouts together or something? No wonder Michael knows to stay out of range. Justin's pulled, and it would look just idiotic to fight this now, follows because he can't really do anything else. Emmett's smiling at him, and Justin wonders what put that particular shadow in his eyes, but then Emmett's talking about some dinner party he's organizing and Justin's trapped in decoration-conversation with a cup of punch stuck firmly in his hand by an enterprising Lindsay.
From here, he can't see Daphne or Melanie or Daphne, which is fine, maybe better than fine. Half his mind's devoted to ignoring the feeling of being watched, while the rest engages in throwing out affirmative sounds whenever Emmett pauses for breath. Ted disappears sometime between Lindsay introducing him to one of her fellow teachers, a sculptor with amazing cheekbones, and Emmett going in search of more punch.
His name's Damien and he's hot, though he has Lindsay's fashion sense, which is a little worrisome, but no one's perfect. Hornrimmed glasses. Tall and dark and older, mobile mouth, and Justin sees the way the dark eyes fix on his mouth with some satisfaction. Justin stands a little close and touches a little unnecessarily and he'd almost forgotten what it was like to just flirt. Just for fun. This isn't Babylon or a backroom. Just two guys getting to know each other at a garden party. Freaksomely normal. The same feeling he'd had with Ethan just before he left, before everything fell apart. Like this was what life was supposed to be like, no drama.
Glancing up, Justin sees Daphne's standing up a little awkwardly, hand on the arm of her chair, blinking a little, the tiniest sway that makes him tense. And like magic, Brian's there, hand under her elbow. Justin doesn't remember when Debbie left him and Damien alone, but she's there, too, touching Daphne's forehead with the back of her hand like a practiced mom.
"I'm *fine*," Daphne is saying, and her voice is just loud enough and they're just close enough to hear. Damien's still talking about some experience he had in Nepal last year involving meditation and mountains, but Justin's lost the thread of conversation.
"You look like shit." Brian's mouth is curved in an amused smile. "Time for good little girls to get some rest."
"Oh Jesus." Daphne tries a step and blinks when she sways again. "Crap. I just got up too fast, that's all."
"At your current size, you can't even talk fast," Brian answers, tongue in cheek, and Debbie swats him irritably. "Come on."
Daphne sets her mouth stubbornly, and Justin recognizes that look too well. "This is the first time I've been anywhere but school, home, and the doctor for a month."
"Right. Being dragged to two fucking stores so you can find the ultimate bassinet with Lindsay doesn't count?" Brian's perfectly capable of moving her without her even knowing. He's sneaky like that. Deb's just behind, acting as back-up in case Daphne makes a run for it. Waddle for it. She really isn't that big yet, though, but Justin think she will be soon. "Be good and we'll stop for that shitty ice cream you like so much."
Daphne looks up. "Double chocolate brownie fudge? The one you think makes you gain weight just by looking at it?"
Brian shivers and shakes his head, and they're at the stairs. "If that's what it takes to keep your mouth shut."
"Let me drive?" She looks surprised when she takes a step upward, glancing down, like she has no idea how she got here. Like he said, Brian's sneaky like that. Melanie and Lindsay comes out of the house just as Daphne looks back up, mouth open to say something else about not-leaving and not being tired, but it's obvious even to Justin that she is.
"When hell freezes. Mel, Lindz. Say goodnight to the little drama queen."
Mel rolls her eyes, but a smile curves her mouth. "Don't forget dinner this week. I want to see the pictures."
Pictures? Daphne nods and Brian looks like he has indigestion to a startling degree. "I'll remember. It was a lovely party. Thanks for inviting me."
Lindsay, arm around Melanie, just grins back, and it's just surreal, Mel and Lindz and Brian and--Daphne. Justin blinks it away, nodding to something Damien says, barely noticing the hand on his arm. "Family doesn't need invitations, honey. Get some rest."
Lindz and Mel come back down the stairs, Debbie following, but Justin's eyes fix on Brian, who is saying something to Daphne so softly that Justin can't hear a word. She hesitates briefly, then nods, and Brian slides an absent arm around her shoulders, squeezing a little in a way that's achingly familiar, raising pain out of places Justin hadn't known could still hurt.
Debbie barrels up to the crowd behind them, and Justin hears Michael's voice, clear and light, worried. "She okay?"
"She's fine, just drained. Brian wasn't sure she'd be up to much today. Jesus, I remember what that's like."
Justin almost grins at the low, denying sound Michael makes. "You aren't sharing pregnancy stories with her--"
Justin can almost see Debbie's grin, imagine her patting his cheek. "Only the embarrassing ones, sweetie."
Damien's hand on his arm brings Justin back to reality. Tall, dark hair, a quizzical smile. Justin smiles lazily, practiced, and watches the dark eyes fix. He doesn't want to be here. That doesn't mean he won't get something decent out of it. "You want to go grab a drink?"
Damien nods, eyes glazing a little. Justin's so good at this that it's almost boring, almost rote, but there's a special kind of thrill in picking up someone even older than Brian, just as successful, one of Lindsay's friends. And Jesus, he's hot. Turning, Justin doesn't touch, but only because he knows Damien wants him to, heading toward the porch steps and taking them two at a time, making Damien keep up. In the kitchen's a different story. Damien's a good kisser, pushed back into the counter, hard and warm under his hands. So much better than Ronny, who just found his inner homosexual and always gets weird after they have sex, like he's not sure that if he's supposed to be declaring unending love since they're roommates. Damien's falling into the pureness of experience and age and everything that goes with it. Expertise.
"...the hell did they say this time?"
Justin freezes at the sound of Brian's voice, hard and cool and unlike anything Justin has heard in a long time.
"Why do you think--"
"Because they're the only ones that do this to you. So fucking spill. You will anyway, so might as well be now so you can eat that crappy ice cream without making yourself sick."
"It's not important."
"How did they find your new phone number?" Pause. "Of course. You told them. Christ, masochism isn't the new fucking black."
Daphne's voice is watery and sinks flatly, tiredly. She's tired of fighting. Justin knows all about that. "They're my parents."
"That's a cop-out." Justin remembers that, too. "Your parents are being assholes. They're so freaked out about their social standing when their daughter has a kid? Let them fucking deal. It doesn't have anything to do with you. Not your problem."
Daphne doesn't say anything, and Justin listens hard, ignoring Damien's mouth on his throat, the sharp bite of teeth that seem distant and not entirely real. "I disappointed them."
"Everyone disappoints each other. Nothing new in that. They love you, they get over it. If they don't, they aren't worth the effort of keeping around."
There's something in Brian's voice that Justin doesn't recognize, maybe doesn't want to, but Damien's pulling away, asking if he wants to go upstairs, but Brian and Daphne are in the way.
The voices are quieter, but Justin recognizes Brian's tone. The soft one, the one Brian only uses for Gus, and once upon a time, for Justin. The one that melted him and made him shiver and he'd loved every rare time he heard it.
"...you have an appointment?" Still watery, but firmer.
"He'll keep." Brian sounds amused. Justin thinks he can see Brian's smirk.
"What, you think he'll be waiting around the door of the loft for you to get home?"
"Probably your door."
Pause. "Oh God, Jamie? The hot one two doors down? The one that keeps bringing me food? I *knew* it was to get to you. He kept bringing that Thai shit you love."
"Yes, now let's go before you ruin my sex life for good."
"Looks like I'm letting you open all new fields of sexual decadence. Jamie thinks it's so cute that you're living the American dream. Two kids and all. All you need is an SUV."
Dead silence, and Justin strains for a second, wondering about the expression on Brian's face, trying not to laugh himself, because *God*, that's scarily true.
Then his eyes close, because Brian laughs, and there's nothing on earth like it. Low and soft and as rare as a blue moon, and Justin remembers every time he heard Brian laugh like that and how he felt when he made him.
"Let's get out of here," Brian says, in that voice, the happy one, the one that's Brian when he forgets his image and forgets himself and just *is*.
"Upstairs," Damien murmurs in his ear, and Justin follows the pull blindly, arriving in the living room just in time to watch them disappear out the front door.
Ronny's waiting up for him in the living room, looking pissed, and Justin sways against the doorway, trying to figure out how he got home. Fucked Damien in Mel and Lindz's spare room, and man, that had been incredible. Babylon later, no Brian in sight, off playing heterosexual pseudo-boyfriend and whatever else the fuck he thinks he's doing. Blew Damien in the back room and had too many shots. Justin remembers Damien asking him to come back to his hotel with him, and that must have been when Justin called a cab. No. No, Damien had stormed off in the middle of some song *after* that, and then--Emmett had called a cab. Right.
It's rising dawn, and Justin's eyes are caught by the sunrise cutting through the window, pooling pink and gold on the floor like liquid. He marks the image in his mind, wondering if he could recreate it with pastels, the flow of pure light on cheap vinyl, making it look otherworldly and amazing.
"Glad to see you got home in one piece." Ronny has the telephone in his lap. Emmett must have called.
Tossing his jacket on the floor, Justin shuts the door with his heel, going to the refrigerator to get some water. Metal-taste, it's the cheap bottled shit he can't stand. Leaning into the counter, Justin watches Ronny watching him.
"Who were you with?"
Justin snorts. "We're not dating, Ronny, so get the fuck over it." Justin can feel the crinkle in his jeans, the phone numbers he'd gotten tonight.
"We're still friends." But Ronny looks too hurt for this to be just a friend thing, and Justin thinks he can see himself in the steady, angry gaze, the quiver in that soft mouth. A jarring double image that makes him clench his teeth, because yes, he had been that stupid once upon a time. "You said you'd be home after Lindsay's party."
"And then I decided to go out. I didn't know I needed permission." Guilt ripples through him at the look on Ronny's face. Hurt and anger and disappointment. And a willingness to forgive that doesn't ask for much at all. It's such a simple thing, and when did Justin forget how to be a good person anyway?
"I gotta shower for class." Walking by Ronnie, there's a mean kind of satisfaction in seeing his face, cut with the kind of guilt people join monasteries to do penance for. Stripping filthy clothes, Justin kicks them toward the cracked plastic hamper and turns on the shower. Cold water, but he almost doesn't care, ducking inside, letting the physical distract him from the emotional. Cold razor streams that cut into his skin and make him shiver, groping blindly for soap and the sponge above his head. Ruthlessly attacking his skin, scrubbing Damien's fingerprints and skin and semen off, the taste and smells of a night alone surrounded by people.
It's not fair. He shouldn't have gone to Lindsay's today. He doesn't need them. He doesn't even want them anymore. It's a big city with a lot of people. With a little effort, with no effort, really, he can avoid them all, and that would, God, would be perfect.
Hell, there are other places to *be*. He doesn't have to be here. He can go anywhere.
Slamming out of the bathroom, towel a trailing afterthought, Justin goes to his computer. Ronny's gone from the living room--sulking in his room, probably, and that's good, because Justin's not up to the drama right now.
A flip of the mouse, and he opens up a page and starts typing.
He could go anywhere. Anywhere at all.