Don't Blink (Or You'll Miss It)
Author Notes: Again, josselin's idea, my execution, and frankly, I should have just let her write this entire damn thing. Will need some familiarity with Stumble and Fall and Steps for this to make any kind of sense.
Brian watches the block drop from Lindsay's fingers, hitting the rug soundlessly. Gus hand shoots out, groping across the floor, and Brian obligingly shifts it closer, tiny fingers closing tight and pulling it close.
Brian doesn't look up.
"I'm going to be a father." Again.
It still sounds strange, even though the words come easily, and he wonders what Lindsay hears in his voice. The long leg stretched on the carpet pulls up, heel digging into the rug as she pulls inside herself, and he picks up another block.
"You--donated to someone else?" Careful. She's Lindsay and she knows him. It sounds as impossible as the truth.
Lindsay draws a short breath, and Brian looks up, watching her face. She's his real test. Everyone else is pretty predictable, as reactions go. Everyone but her.
Blonde eyebrows draw sharp over blue eyes. Their son might have his eye color, but the shape and expression are all Lindz. He thinks about things like that, has been, more than ever. Simple games of genetic mix and match and dominant traits. He hadn't thought of it before Gus. The last few days, he hasn't thought of anything else.
Brian pushes another block toward Gus. "Daphne."
"Christ." She's on her feet, and Brian rolls onto his stomach, concentrating on Gus, who doesn't know or care that he's going to have a sibling in eight months time, doesn't care that his mother's pacing the living room, and doesn't care that his father just fucked up in a way that's irrevocable. "Justin's friend?"
"Christ." Her voice is breathless, and he can feel the anger beneath it, but she pulls herself under control, that tight lid that used to annoy the shit out of him, but she taught him that same trick, and he can't be sorry for that. It's what keeps his gaze on his son, who's trying to stack blocks in tiny towers that collapse before they even get a chance to build.
It's so rare he's done anything he can't fix eventually. Reaching over, he steadies one of Gus' towers with his fingers, watching Gus frown in concentration as he adds the next block.
Brian smiles at Gus, who coos back. He likes attention as much as his parents. "Like we did it, but a lot more high."
"What the fuck were you thinking?"
Rolling over, Brian stares up at her. "What the hell do you think I was thinking?" He's curious, because he doesn't have an answer for that himself. One minute one thing, the next waking up with a hangover from hell and the memory of a slim girl and a lot of things he hasn't done since college. Even thought about. "It was an accident."
"An accident is--I don't know, falling down the stairs. Not falling and fucking Daphne. Jesus, Brian. That--" Her mind's having problems wrapping around it, and he donut's blame her. He has that same problem himself. "You don't even--you don't--"
A part of him wants her to complete the sentence, but most of him doesn't. He knows all of it already. Pushing himself up, he watches her hands dig into her own thighs. "I know."
She looks back down at him, mouth tight. "What are you going to do?"
"Daphne wants to--" Brian knows words. Words and images and how they mix to create the right effect, make the biggest punch, sell the idea, but it's hard right now. Jesus. "She wants to have the baby. I said I'd do whatever she needed for as long as she needed it."
Lindsay nods slowly, and Brian feels something inside him relax. Friends will forgive you almost anything, God knows he's tested that, but Lindsay's not just a friend. "Right. I. Okay. Have you--have you talked to Justin?"
Despite Brian's hold on the tower, he looked away for too long. Blocks collapse around his fingers, and Gus lets out a frustrated wail. "No."
Lindsay pauses. "Are you going to?"
"Not my responsibility." That's a lie, and he doesn't even try to hide it. Justin moved into Daphne's apartment three days ago. Something's going to give. He saw it on Daphne's face at the diner with Justin last night.
"Brian." Her voice is careful, and he can feel her trying to put the right words together, the ones that will convince him that this is something he's supposed to do, that he owes it to Justin, maybe to Daphne. Hell, maybe even to himself. It's not that he doesn't agree. He does.
"No." No regrets. One fuck up too many, and he might owe it, anyone would, anyone who knew what value Justin placed on friendship, but he can't get it ground from between his teeth. He could be apologizing until the day he dies for this, and he knows it. And it won't mean a goddamn thing. "Do you think it would matter?"
Lindsay stops short, hands clenching on his lap. She'll say a lot of things, about being a responsible adult and owning up to his mistake, and Jesus, he's doing just that, sitting in a fucking waiting room while a doctor tells Daphne she's doing just fine. Catching her when she passes out on the stairs outside, shock or dehydration setting in, God, is he supposed to know this shit by instinct?
"He's still--you still--"
Gus' block stack reaches a record of four. Brian carefully presses his fingers into the side so Gus can add the fifth, murmuring reassurance as Gus places the block on top. Red on blue on green on yellow on red. "No. Daphne needs someone to talk to." It's not going to be Justin, he almost says, but doesn't. She knows that. "You up for it?"
Her nod's slight and beside him, Gus adds another block.
"Yeah. I can--talk to her." He can see it in her face. Eyes wide and unseeing, thinking of Gus, of her own pregnancy. "A baby. You're--are you sure that you're the--"
"Yes." He doesn't doubt it at all. It scared him when he realized that, standing in the kitchen with the words still hanging in the air between them. Denial comes from rejection. He hadn't even *wanted* to.
Gus wails when the seventh block tumbles down, and Brian picks him up, looking into the tiny face screwed up to scream again. Lindsay looks at him from over the top of Gus' head. Slipping back down onto the floor, her fingers brushing Gus' head as she stares into his eyes. "No regrets," she breathes. It isn't a question.
Brian stares back, unblinking. "No regrets."
"Christ, Brian, have you lost your fucking mind? That's Sunshine's best friend you fucked around with. What the hell were you thinking? How the hell--how the *fuck* could this happen?"
He waits her out, because Debbie is happiest when she gets to say her piece uninterrupted. He's known that for years. Across the living room, Vic looks at him thoughtfully, eyes measuring. He's always been found wanting by Debbie's brother and he knows it. Someday, he might stop caring.
"What the hell do you have to say for yourself?"
Brian tilts his head back and gives her his sweetest smile. "What do you think of the name Dick?"
Her hand hits the back of his head, no surprise, and Brian doesn't even bother rubbing away the sting. Her pace around the living room is as predictable as the rising of the sun. He knows the script. He just has to figure out the sell. It won't be hard.
"Be serious, you little shit. Jesus, I can't believe this is happening." She drops on the chair opposite, hand against her face like she's in danger of passing out. Michael and Justin came by their drama queen instincts honestly, at least. What didn't come from genetics came from exposure. He remembers seeing Justin look just like that once upon a time.
It's easy to ignore, but not so easy to forget. Brian's learning, though, and Justin's replaced with a layout from Vance he owes by Monday.
"What do you plan to do about it, hotshot? Huh? You thought that far?"
Brian pushes his tongue into his cheek and assembles the words carefully. "Marry her and move into suburbia, of course." She actually goes pale. He hadn't expected it to be quite this much fun, to be honest. Funny how that works out. "Fuck, what do you think I'm going to do?"
"I don't know. That's why I'm asking." She looks relieved, at least. Brian thinks sometimes that people have far too many expectation on what he will and will not do. "She keeping it?"
"She says she wants to." Brian wonders if he pushed her on that. He wants to say no, but he knows better. He's in advertising, he knows how to make a sell, the instinct that pushes buttons in just the right way. Maybe he'll always wonder what she would have chosen if he had reacted differently.
Brian looks her straight in the eye. "Aren't you going to congratulate me? I'm going to be a father." Again. This time, though, Brian thinks it's going to be a little different. Maybe a lot.
Debbie's mouth is tight and she's thinking hard. Trying to work out what he means against what she knows. Slowly, her mouth softens, glancing at Vic before turning her full attention back to him. "Another baby, huh? You." She bites her lip, but he can see the smile start, the way her eyes change when she remembers her own son's pending fatherhood, grandchildren, little clothes, Jesus, enough to make him vaguely nauseous, but whatever works. He knows a sell where the customer does all the work for him. "And what are you gonna do for her, huh? You going to actually be around this time?"
Brian smiles. Fuck you, Deb. She knows he will be. "Yes."
Michael comes around, like Brian knew he would, getting disquietingly enthusiastic when he realizes that his kid and Brian's will be only weeks apart. Luckily, it doesn't take much to pacify Michael. Brian's not sure he could have made that sell with a straight face.
"So how did it happen?"
Brian frowns, glancing down at the sidewalk. Everyone asks that. He shouldn't be surprised. He asks himself that a lot. "E and tequila don't mix." He may never drink it again.
"Right. That's not an answer." Michael elbows him, probably trying to fit this into his Brian Worldview, and Brian would prefer he didn't. It won't ever fit. He doesn't want it to. Michael's nose wrinkles in morbid curiosity. "What was it like?"
"I don't remember." He does, broken vision-dream shapes that come together in a kind of frightening sense if he spends too much time thinking about it, but hell if he's going to explain the bizarre shit that went through his head that night. Knowing something's just wrong on a simple instinctual level and doing it anyway. Kinky, in that way heterosexual sex can only be when you've done it a total of twice in your life and didn't much care for it then. He supposes telling Lindsay that she proved his own suspicions about his unbending homosexuality had probably been a mistake at the time--that punch had hurt. He'd been smarter to keep his mouth shut with Daphne. She'd been a lot less emotionally stable the only time they'd come close to discussing it. And also, throwing up. He'd lost two pairs of shoes to her already. He wasn't risking a third pair. "Can we talk about something else now?"
"Brian, this is huge." Brian worries that Michael is going to start bouncing. Yes, he'd anticipated the excitement this time around. That's why they're in the park. Luckily, no one they know is around. Not that half of Liberty Avenue doesn't have a clue by now. Tucking his hands in his pockets, Brian tries to think of something to distract Michael. Bright. Shiny. Anything, Christ, just off this subject. "I guess Justin didn't take it too well. He moved out of Daphne's. I guess that's why, huh?"
And that wasn't what Brian had in mind.
Brian shrugs his answer. It's fucking hard work prying information out of Daphne. He gets appointment times and if she's feeling really exhausted, he gets to find her strange ice cream combinations. That's why he has Lindsay. She's good at translating. Daphne was a week out of being evicted before he found out just what constituted the full extent of the words 'cut off'. Left to her own devices, she'd be on turning tricks on a fucking street corner for food. Not on his fucking watch.
"Have you talked to him about it?"
Brian stops to stare at Michael. Of all the questions. "Why?"
Michael will never be president of the Justin Taylor Fan Club, and that's kind of the only real comfort he has. He gets these looks from everyone else. He doesn't need them from Michael, too.
"Maybe because fucking with the best friend is kind of a no-no." Michael rolls his eyes. "Sorry, forgot who I'm talking to here. God, another kid, Brian." He bounces a little, grinning like he 's having just the best day. Brian would do anything for a drink. Anything. Now. "No apologies, no regrets, right?"
Brian looks straight back. "Right."
"Give me the fucking phone."
He has a key, because it's kind of obvious someone's got to watch out for her. She has all of the survival instincts of Justin at his most annoyingly innocent. Brian's still surprised Justin survived his first month at Babylon.
From the look of her, she's been crying for hours, eyes almost swollen shut and face dull red. He remembers Lindsay on the phone with her parents, after Girlfriend A, the one that Brian had spotted from sixteen paces playing at College Lesbianism that would evaporate the second she got her degree. Stumbled explanations and apologies, and Lindsay's parents were closeminded fuckers, but they'd never put that look on Lindsay's face.
Justin's father had. Every fucking time.
"Just--I know--just a second, someone--someone's here--" She pries the phone from her ear, and how can people do this to themselves? How do they do this to their kids? Jesus Christ, Justin cried himself sick in the shower after they'd gotten back to the loft that day, shaking and throwing up, locked door and protestations of being fine in a voice edging on hysterical, and Brian remembers fifteen minutes of leaning against the door, eyes closed, pretending he didn't hear shit but unable to move. Finally breaking the lock and coaxing Justin out, unable to believe he was doing this, unable to even imagine why. Remembers thinking he'd promise Justin anything he wanted, anything at all, if he'd just stop looking like his life had ended.
And like Daphne, he just went back for more. Like it was some kind of unending duty to see if they could break themselves into pieces to please people who held them so lightly. Like genetics could possibly make a parent worth having.
"Brian, not now--"
"Give me the phone." He has to be careful around her. Not Lindsay, she doesn't know him that well. Like Justin early on, maybe, but that had all been instinct and this is fucking hard work. Justin hadn't been so fucking afraid. He doesn't understand her, maybe never will, but they're pretty much stuck together for this and she'd better just start dealing with how he did things. Pulling fucking *teeth* to find out a fucking thing, and what the hell did they take from her now? Her family, her car, her life, tried to take her future because she was too damn much like Justin. She didn't know how to bend. She didn't have a clue how to give up. She just kept trying.
"I can--handle this." She gulps back a choked sound that hurts to hear. "They just--they don't understand--"
Right. That's one way of putting it. "Either give me the phone or hang the fuck up. Your choice."
She knows he means it, and her hand shakes as she lifts the phone to her ear, mumbling something broken and desperate, and maybe he's a better motivator than he thought, because she gets the phone down in record time. Her entire body is stiff and she's trying to hold back until he leaves. He's seen her throwing up and held her hair while doing it, he's fucked her for God's sake, but she gets the shittiest ideas about what he should and shouldn't see.
"Go wash your face." It comes out like an order, but she listens anyway, which is a step up from Justin, who would have argued him down for no better reason than he could. Watching her walk to the bathroom, he stares down at the phone.
The sharp ring doesn't surprise him at all.
Glancing at the bathroom door, he can just hear the water running. It's not his responsibility and it's sure as hell not his place. Sitting on the arm of the couch, he glances down and sees at the catalogue he remembers Lindsay getting from some idiotic store for children, rife with furniture and clothes and other shit he'd never known went into the maintenance of something so utterly small. Remembers God alone knows how many trips with Lindsay when Mel had the good sense to duck out and he was too hungover to fight very hard. Lindz had been so excited, hopping through every damn aisle like some tweaked out twink and dragging him behind her. Beside the catalogue was a permanent marker, obviously dropped, bleeding black into the carpet. She'd been going through it. Picking it up, Brian looks down at the scrawls along the margins. This in blue. That bed. This changing table. She has good taste.
Brian picks up the phone, marking the page with one finger.
Silence. Brian flips a page, Daphne's scrawled notes throughout.
"Who the hell--" Male voice, sharp, angry.
"Who the hell do you think?" Brian draws a breath. Thinks of Justin's father, who God, what wouldn't he give to get that bastard alone. It's an easy visual to make, and a comparison that works. No kid should face this.
"Are you the--father?" Somehow, the man's voice raises even more loudly, and Brian almost pulls away from the phone. "Who the fuck do you think you--"
"The guy that knocked your daughter up. I'll only say this once." She sat here with this book in her lap and let them rip her to pieces, for no fucking better reason than because they could. "Leave her the fuck alone. Don't call back." Dropping the receiver, Brian leans over and unplugs the cord. Answering machine, and that's five messages she listened to. He erases them all. She probably fucking called them back. Nothing says family like shared misery.
Thinking of Jennifer Taylor, Debbie, Brian revises that, turning as Daphne makes a soft sound from the door. He wonders how long she listened.
She doesn't look much better, red washing out to a sallow pale that makes him hurt for her. You and Justin, he thinks, you never learn, do you? And I didn't either. I've just learned how to avoid it.
"Get changed." She blinks, staring at him. "Do whatever you have to do. We're going out."
Her eyes widen, taking him in. "You--it looks like you're going out tonight."
Priorities change. "I am. With you. Get dressed."
Brian shrugs, flipping a page. A boy. Everything in blue. She's a traditionalist. "Pick something. You have ten minutes."
She doesn't move, wiping absently at her eyes, like anything short of ice will bring down the swelling before the next millenium or so. "You don't have to--I mean, I don't want--"
"You can go how you look right now or you can get changed. Your choice."
Her mouth sets. "I don't need your pity."
Brian almost smiles. Sometimes, he hates how much she reminds him of Justin, but sometimes, he doesn't. "No, you need something that isn't these four walls. You also need to be fucked, but you turned down the last two that looked even vaguely interested. So. This is what you get."
She almost smiles, fingers on her mouth, like she's surprised she can still do it. "I was planning on staying in."
"Then aren't you thrilled I stopped by to save you from a night of shitty movies and stale popcorn?" He waves the catalogue at her. "Go. I'd like to eat before morning."
The smile widens, and it's just like Justin, Jesus Christ, and she turns away, going down the short hall to her room. Still holding the catalogue, Brian follows her halfway, then pushes open the other door, flipping the light on to an empty room. Leaning into the door, he fishes out his cellphone, thumbing the speed dial and holding it to his ear. "Mikey? Change of plans. Won't be coming tonight." Another flip of the page, and this girl has expensive taste. "No. Something came up. Gotta go." Flipping the phone closed on Michael's protest, Brian takes a step inside, considering the layout of the room.
Maybe he'll let Lindsay persuade him to go shopping with them tomorrow.