The entirety up to now can be found at http://seperis.illuminatedtext.com/other/stumbleandfall.html.
Daphne stares at him from the doorway. Jamie's out, he knows, he saw him, fucking himself unconscious in the backroom. Brian was somewhere back there, because Justin suspects that particular performance was specific and aimed. No one looks that good in orgasm unless they're performing for someone.
"I want to talk about it."
Her hand shakes on the door and Justin can see the slight protuberance of her stomach beneath her sweater, the pale thinness of her face. Fragile and soft and scared in a way that he never thought anyone could be, not of him.
"Justin." She hesitates, he can read it in every muscle of her body. "Come in." Stepping back, she lets him in, and Justin passes by her into the living room that saw him last in a last ditch attempt to run again. If he goes this time, it'll be on his own terms. "Justin, I--"
"We didn't talk about it." Which is classic, because Justin loves to talk, but only when he knows his ground, only when the advantage is his. This is entirely new territory. "I'm sorry about running out that night." In so many ways. He's not sorry that he left, though. Nothing and no one on earth could have kept him in that apartment. Just the way he chose to leave.
"It was an accident." She's still standing by the now closed door, hands hanging loosely at her sides. "Justin, I know--"
"I don't have the right to be pissed, I get that." Not yet. Just shut up, Daphne. Let me get this out. "You and Brian--it's not like I had a--that I had any right to be angry. I know that. You both had the right to fuck whoever you wanted." Brian's had that philosophy for years. "I just--I didn't expect it." Because you can expect anything from Brian, anything at all, but a pregnant girl turning up that isn't the equivalent of a lesbian sister was never, ever in the running. Justin would have expected Brian to take up life in a monastery first. And Daphne.... "I just--I need to know why. I don't care if that's stupid, it's just there. I need to know."
Slowly, she crosses the room, eyeing him with worry, and God, what the *hell*? Ronny and Daphne, who shouldn't ever look at him like this but they do. She takes the chair corner from him, hands twisting in her lap. She's halfway through this, and Justin still feels the unreality of it, every time he looks at her.
"I'm sorry, Justin." Her voice is low, so soft he'd never have heard her but for the stillness. That feeling again, like the GLC, and Justin thinks he smells ozone on the air. "It--it was a bad night. A bad time. We didn't--I didn't. Think about it. Because nothing like that could ever happen."
The thin fingers are white with pressure. "Bad time?" Justin flicks through his memories, trying to remember, but it all comes up Ethan. Ethan and his contract. Ethan and his closet. Ethan and his one lie that was just the culmination of a lot of unpalatable truths. "Did something happen to you? Did--"
Her eyes are fixed on her hands. "No. Nothing happened."
"You--never said anything. Then." Nothing. His mind's a blank, and it occurs to him to wonder why. "You never said anything was going on. You never told me--"
Her mouth sets, straight line, thin and unhappy. "You weren't there to tell."
Justin feels something freeze--he's already moving from the couch, and all those resolutions about not-running, settling his accounts, come crashing into dust, and maybe he should think about forgiving Ethan, because it's a lot easier to promise something than to see it through. Could be why Brian never makes them.
"Stop! Fuck it, Justin, don't do this. You can't--" Her voice breaks and he turns to see her push herself from the chair, standing a little hesitantly, like she's not entirely sure her feet will keep her in place. Nineteen, his best friend, *pregnant*. It's brand new every time he thinks it, like the day he found out. "You have to listen. Don't just---let me fucking *talk*, okay? You can hate me all you want after, but--it wasn't like that. I wasn't trying to--to get back at you or anything. You should know that."
He should, and six months ago, he would have, but everything changes. Daphne got pregnant, Brian fucked a girl, and if they've changed, so has he. It scares him. He doesn't *know*.
"I mean--no one knew. God, Brian probably showered his way into raw skin after--" her lips quirk up affectionately, like she knows Brian, like she knows all those anal-retentive mannerisms and tics that only those close could ever know. She does, he realizes a little numbly. It wasn't the sex that did it. It was this. He almost walks out, but his feet don't move, thank God some part of him paid attention to the lecture. Just do this. Just listen. Just fucking *deal* already. "I tried--I mean, what are the chances? One fucked up condom and one night. I left almost as soon as I woke up. It was just--this weird night. I can't explain it."
Justin breathes out, prying his fingers off the doorknob. "Why were you there at all?"
Her hands twist in the hem of her sweater again, and she licks her lips. Nervous. Unsure. Then she looks at him and there's something in her face that makes him wonder if he should have left after all. "It's easier to be lonely with someone that understands."
Justin leans back into the door. "I was--I don't--"
"You loved Ethan, I get that. It was a new relationship and you were all about him, and I knew, I knew it was stupid to be mad at you, but--I couldn't help it. At least--at least when you fell for Brian, it was like, I still had my friend around. With Ethan, it was like you disappeared. Like you were someone else."
I was, Justin almost says, but he doesn't. The shaking starts inside and moves outward, and he locks his right hand against his thigh, fisting until the muscles almost cramp from the strain. "I didn't leave you out."
Daphne's smile is slow and hurts. "You never meant to. I knew it then and I know it now. It's hard, though, to lose someone you love. It's--easier when you can share it. When someone else understands, when they feel like that. Just knowing, you know?"
"Brian--" Brian. Christ.
Daphne looks away. "I--he--I don't think he took it like everyone thought." Her face says other things that make his stomach clench. No one told him anything. No one ever does. They'll tell when he's fucking having an affair, but the important shit? No. "I--I mean, I still--I still knew you'd be around again, if I waited, if I didn't screw it up and act like a jealous girlfriend. I had something. Brian--didn't have that."
Justin nods. He doesn't know. He never knew. He never wanted to, if he's honest.
"I didn't--it happened, and then it was over and we forgot about it until we--couldn't anymore. It was an accident and we were high and I went home and six weeks later, I went back and had to tell him. That's all."
That's all. Covering one night and one mistake and Daphne is looking at him now, expecting--something.
"I--" I don't understand. I don't *want* to understand. "You--of anyone, of everyone--" This was a bad idea, he knew it, and God, he feels guilty for coming over here and saying all this, like it's all her fault that everything's such a fucking mess. "I love him."
Daphne mouth trembles, dropping back in the chair like her legs won't hold her anymore. "I'm sorry, Justin." Swiping a hand over her eyes, she stares at the floor. "You're--were my best friend. I never would have wanted to hurt you like that."
But she had. Par for the course, because it's a choice. She chose to fuck Brian. He can hate her or he can forgive her. One or the other. That's a choice, too. This in-between crap isn't good for any of them. It's not working, and it hasn't for a while.
He has an apartment to find and a future to decide, a soon to be ex-roommate to apologize to, but right now, nothing seems more important than this moment. Like whatever he does now will change everything.
If he walks out now, it won't be running away. It'll be a choice.
"You need something to drink?" He doesn't even recognize his own voice, raw and scratchy like he's been chainsmoking for days, and she stares at him like he's grown horns. "I'll make some tea. We can--talk a little more. If you're up to it."
Daphne nods dumbly, mouth a little agape, and Justin turns to the kitchen and lets body memory tell him where everything is these days.
It wouldn't be running away, if he left this time. But it also wouldn't be what he wants.