"Who the hell are you?" It's an accident slip of the tongue, automatic and unthinking, and Justin regrets it the second he says it.
"Jamie. And you?"
Jamie's nothing like Justin expected when he answered the door, if he'd ever expected anything at all. In fact, considering this was Daphne's apartment, Jamie being here at all was a shock. Blond hair and very blue eyes. A little taller than Justin, but not by much. Slimmer build, lighter, like a gymnast or a natural athlete.
"Jamie, who is it?"
Just freezes at the sound of Daphne's voice. The smells of Thai and heavy soy permeate the air and push against Justin's nose like they're trying to burrow inside and take up residence. He's two seconds from a sneeze.
"Will you shut the fucking door?" And Justin freezes, he knows that voice, and it's no surprise now when Brian pulls it open more. Jamie's still staring at Justin like he's an intruder, but not like he doesn't recognize him.
"It's one of your--friends, Daph." Jamie takes a step back when Brian comes up, ducking under his arm to disappear back into the apartment, and Justin faces Brian without a single excuse between them.
"What are you doing here?" Brian's voice is low enough so there's no way Daphne can hear them.
"I could ask you the same question." Justin waits for a answer, but Brian shrugs, like it should be perfectly obvious why he's there and the question on Justin's motives is still up for debate. He doesn't move immediately, body blocking the view into the apartment, and Justin can hear Daphne giggling in the background, then the sounds of the TV.
"Brian, they got to the best part. You've got to see this."
Brian's mouth quirks unconsciously, softening, and Justin takes a step forward. Brian's body halts him from taking a step farther. "I can't see an old friend? You decide who she sees now?"
Of course he does, and it shows on Brian's face. Justin remembers the thousand times Brian ran interference when Justin wasn't up to dealing with people. Poor fragile Justin Taylor, poor baby. Now apparently one of the group To Be Screened. When had that happened? "I just want to say hi and see how she's doing."
"Brian." Scrabbling, then Jamie makes a strangled sound. Stomping over the floor, and Daphne's head emerges just under Brian's arm, huge smile and still half-laughing. "Who--oh, Justin." The range of her expressions is amazing. He'd be sketching decades to get all of that on paper. "Um. Come in. We're just watching educational television. Lindz and Mel sent it over."
"Better than a safe-sex lecture," Jamie comments from somewhere inside. "I saw this in eighth grade. Completely unsurprising I'm gay now, after that. We could totally use this as a method of recruitment. I'm pausing it, because you really, really don't want to miss this."
Brian doesn't move for a second, still studying Justin, but Daphne's faster. She grabs Brian's arm and pulls, careless of wrinkles left in Armani coal wool blend, smiling so bright that Justin thinks her mouth must hurt. She's nervous. "Justin, come on in and close the door."
Brian backs off when Daphne pulls, and Justin slowly closes the door behind him. He didn't have a lot of options, he tells himself, as he follows them back into the living room. Jamie's sacked out across the couch like he owns it, a beautiful, lean body and pretty face, sitting up only when Daphne comes back in, reaching out to help her sit. God, she's getting bigger. That--the baby is growing. There, under the taut skin of her stomach. Without comment, Jamie leans over and pulls her feet into his lap, fingers rubbing gently at the instep. Daphne looks like she's having an orgasm. "God. That's good. Keep *doing* that."
Gingerly, Justin takes a chair to the side, the TV just in view. Can't help glances back, watching Brian take another chair with immense, careless dignity, getting control of the remote and hitting play.
*"Natural childbirth, however, requires full understanding and commitment from both partners on what this entails. Modern medicine can offer a wide variety of anesthetics to ease the discomfort of labor, and you and your partner should be aware of all your options.*"
Justin blinks. "You're watching--"
"The Natural Childbirth in Peace and Tranquility," Daphne offers, pushing her feet into Jamie's hands more urgently.
"Discomfort my ass," Brian murmurs, picking up a bottle of water from the floor and taking a sardonic drink, as if to underline how utterly ridiculous this is. "Ask Deb and Lindz what constitutes 'discomfort'."
"It's an option. Jamie said he'd be my coach for the birth if I wanted to try it." Daphne sticks out her tongue at Brian's raised eyebrows. "Don't worry, I didn't expect you to get a passion for that part of the process. I just thought you might want to know." Daphne rubs absently at her stomach. "And anyway--"
Jamie looks up at the sound of her voice, then gives Justin an indescribable look that he can't read at all. Daphne shifts up when Jamie stands, looking confused, then a sudden dawning of understanding.
Silently, Jamie goes to the VCR and stops it, picking up an unmarked DVD from the floor and sliding it in. Tossing the remote to Brian, who catches it effortlessly, he gives Justin another one of those indecipherable looks, like Justin should instinctively know what to do here, when he really has no idea.
"Justin--Justin, right? Can you help me with something? In the kitchen?"
Brian looks at them, suspicion crawling over his face by degrees, then looks at Daphne, who is bright red and twisting her hands together in her lap.
Brian stands up, trying to catch Jamie's eye, but suddenly, the cabinet holds the secrets to endless wealth and eternal life, or Jamie's going to be looking in there until he finds them. A glance at Justin, somehow manhandled to the kitchen table, then back to Daphne. There's a flare of something unrecognizable in his face.
"Is this--" Brian is never panicky, but this could be some new version created just for him. God knows, the rest of the world bends to his every whim, so why shouldn't emotions do the same thing?
Daphne shrugs a little, looking anywhere but at him. "Lindz sent it. Um. Surprise!" Staring at her feet, she picks at some lint on her skirt. "The--the doctor taped it, so it's not like you haven't seen it before. Just. Um. Lindz said you might want to see it again. Without a lot of people around."
"Yes, because half of the fucking family showed up to watch. Jesus, you'd think someone was offering free drinks." But Brian's staring at the remote, slowly dropping to the couch. Justin watches his hesitation, the expressionless that meant Brian was thinking hard, then the finger went down and Brian's eyes fixed on the screen.
Neither spoke, and no sound came from the TV but a low, vaguely familiar buzz. Hospitaly-sounding. Pulling away from the kitchen counter, Justin ignores Jamie's hiss and goes back into the living room. His feet freeze when he gets the view.
Like some mutant shrimp surrounded in uneven black. Justin's mind flips to Anatomy in high school, remembered pictures like this. That's a head and those are tiny hands that are still developing proper fingers. Long feet. Curved spine. Swimming happily in amniotic fluid, it's--real.
That's Brian and Daphne's baby. *Their* baby.
"I wanted to know the sex," Daphne says softly. "Do you want to know?"
"I think I can tell from the view." Brian's voice is dry. "He's a boy."
There's something in Brian's voice that Justin's never heard before. A stab like an ache, doubled when he looks at the picture on the screen, little diagrams on the sides, a pen appearing and circling key spots. "Yes. Definitely a boy."
Silence. Jamie joins him after a few seconds and a dirty look, but Justin doesn't care. He's been working on the theory of *real baby* so long, but it's nothing compared to this. Maybe he'll have Brian's bodylines--no kid could ask for better than that. Both their intelligence. Both their drive.
But whatever he'll have, he *is* now. Proof on thirty-two inches of television screen. That's the result of *them*. Justin's not sure he'll ever breathe again.
Looking at Brian, Justin reads everything in the intense focus, excluding all others and everything else. Like there's no world outside this moment, this second, and this picture. He gets like that in sex, sometimes. When he's working. And now for this.
Jamie walks back over to the couch, picking up Daphne's feet again, and she glances over with a grin. "You totally use me to get to Brian."
Brian snorts something but doesn't look away from the television
"Damn straight. Straight girls are really boring and kids are weird."
"Except your nephew."
Jamie flashes a brilliant smile, like a room lighting up after total dark. Even Justin's blinded by it. "He's not a kid. He's Johnny. Completely different."
"Whatever. My kid will be amazing and you'll only *wish* Johnny was this great."
Surreal surreal surreal. Brian's leaning back as the video ends, hitting stop, one hand loosening his tie and throwing it on the couch carelessly before picking up one of the boxes of Thai on the coffee table. "Shut up, children."
Jamie snickers, leaning a hand on Daphne's knees and fixing Brian with lowered eyelids and a slow smile. "I know a way you could shut me up, Brian."
"Been there, done that." Brian sounds bored but not actively hostile. "And when exactly did you move in with Daphne?"
"A week ago, Mr. Doesn't Notice Shit Even When It's Just Under His Nose." Leaning back, Jamie continues the massage with talented fingers. Daphne looks like she's blissing out. "Masters programs aren't cheap and neither is rent. Daph and I decided to give into our mutual need and also, inevitability."
Daphne looks at Justin then, the soft smile still lingering on her lips. "Jamie's an architect. Won the design contest for the new Federal building they're putting up downtown."
Justin looks at Jamie again, trying to see it. An artist, too.
"...you feel better knowing someone is around to watch her twenty-four seven?" Jamie is saying, having shifted to sit between Brian and Daphne. Jamie's infatuated, no question, looking up at Brian like he's seeing God in action right now. Twenty-one, maybe? Twenty-two. But can still look like that, Brian can still do that to people. Going up on his knees, Jamie faces Brian from inches away, sharing breath. "Convenient, isn't it?"
Brian's mouth twitches. Like he's trying hard not to smile. Taking another bite of Thai, he chews slowly and deliberately. "That's a word for it."
"Take me to Babylon."
Jesus, this guy's amazing. Justin wants to slap him.
"You want to."
"No." Brushing off Jamie, Brian stands up, taking the carton to the kitchen. Justin feels Brian's eyes on him, the surprise, like he forgot Justin was there. Coming back in, Brian looks down at Daphne, and Justin can see his smile. "You. Bed. Now."
"It's not that late. And Justin's here." She flashes a hopeful look at Justin, eyes pleading. "Take Jamie and make him leave for a while. I--want some time."
Brian reads the message and sighs, looking at Jamie, who's almost bouncing. "Five minutes and I'm leaving, with or without you."
"I only need two." And Jamie disappears. Justin blinks, then realizes he's alone in a room with Daphne and Brian.
And there really aren't any conversations good for this moment. At least, none that he can think of.
"How's it been going?" Daphne asks, voice a little strained as she leans into the back of the couch. Her hands are twisting in her skirt.
"Pretty good. GLC is showcasing some of my work. I've been pretty busy with that."
Daphne glows. "That's great. I mean, really great."
Justin takes a deep breath. "And--I was--I got the attention of this Chicago art critic. He thinks that I should think about transferring to Chicago to get my degree. More exposure."
Daphne straightens, eyes widening. "You're moving to Chicago?"
His application was sent off two days ago. He's not sure at all. "Yes."
He's watching Brian when he says it, can't even explain to himself why, because he shouldn't care, but he does. He remembers a car ride a long time ago and the sound of Brian's voice when he thought Justin might be going out of state. The way Brian could be unreadable all the time, so those times he wasn't were like writing in neon lights ten feet high. And maybe there's a flicker, though he can't be sure--he's just not the Brian-translator he used to be. For a long time now, come to think.
"Chicago's as good a place as any," Brian finally says, and Justin frowns at the cool disinterest, frowns more at the something that's squirming beneath the surface.
Jamie bounces out, and God, you can say a lot about him, but no one can say he doesn't have fashion sense. Blue to match his eyes, hair a studied mess, and painfully hot. Fuckable. Justin wonders if Brian might break his rule and do it more than once.
"I, um, gotta run." There were other things he knows he'd wanted to say--try to talk to Daphne, try to--well, just try, anyway, but all the desire's gone. And God, he looks like the biggest ass in creation, coming over to drop a bomb like this and just run out, when that's not what he'd meant to do or anything like it. Jamie is standing there just behind and to the side of Brian, looking around curiously at them all, before accusing blue settles on him. "You have a nice night and all, okay?" He's to the door without even a thought. There's a painful/sharp/welcome second where he thinks Brian is going to follow him, but then the slim body shifts and Brian sits on the arm of the couch, head turned away.
"What's going on?" Jamie asks, frowning between them, but Justin's out the door before he can hear Brian's answer.