Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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qaffic: stumble and fall, continuing, 9

The soap opera continues. At this rate, no one will ever take me seriously again. I'm okay with that.

Hell, I'm *high* on that. Could be the snow, though.

"This place sucks."

Justin snorts as Lindsay sets up his easel by the only decent window, with a view of the tenement next door that's just depressing enough to get some serious angry imagery out of him. Black moldy brick and bare windows like blank, unseeing eyes. It's creepy. Justin thinks he'll install some blinds soon.

"You're really helping," he answers, setting down the last box and leaning into it. "God, my back hurts." Rubbing at tense muscles in the small of his back, he watches Lindsay scout the two rooms curiously. It's better than he really could have expected on short notice, but that doesn't mean much. "It's not like you had to come."

"Who else would you ask?" Her voice is all sweet reason, pushing messy blonde hair from her forehead, and Justin grins as she drops onto the floor in a careless sprawl, like the teenager she hasn't been in years. Right now, she looks too young to be the mother of a two year old, a respected professional adult woman, the harsh fluorescents overhead only emphasizing the way that even time has no power over perfect bones. "What?"

"Nothing." He remembers his first view of her at the hospital, exhausted, sweaty, too-thin face, but incandescent, the way only a new mother can be. "Did you use the drugs? I mean, when Gus was born?"

Her eyebrows go up, but she only nods. "I was shot up the second we got to the hospital. I'd been in labor for a few hours by then." She grins, leaning an elbow on the box beside. "Au naturale has never been my style."

Restless, Justin paces the cheap vinyl floor, aware of how damned thin the walls are. This isn't any kind of real improvement over Ethan's, and he thinks of Ronny's snug two bedroom with a longing so sharp it almost aches. Painted walls, big windows, decent view. On the other hand, this place is much closer to campus. And if he ever feels the urge to take up prostitution as a career choice, at least he won't have to go any farther than his front door. He remembers the way Lindsay's nose wrinkled when they came in. Surely, he'd get used to the smell. Surely.

"Everything okay?" She doesn't say anything about Daphne, though he thinks she knows they talked, because Lindsay figures out things like that.

"Okay. It's only a six month lease." He can get some scented candles until then. Chicago is looking better, at least as far as rooming is concerned. Dropping on the floor across from her, he thinks about the piles of information about Chicago, its own box in what will be his bedcorner.

"Still thinking about Chicago?"

Justin glances up. No make-up, the pink of her lips, flush of exertion on her cheeks, and the studied curiosity in her face. She's still one of his favorite subjects. She's so many people all at once. "Yes." Constantly, like an itch that never goes away because he can't scratch it, and he wants someone else to do it for him. Just say, go. Stay. Stop acting like he's some kind of adult capable of making reasoned, intelligent decisions, because dammit, he's not even twenty yet and he should have a few more years to be a kid.

Should have, but he gave that up, and he doesn't regret it, not in any way that matters.

"Was it hard? To--" Justin stops, thinking of Daphne in that quiet apartment, with Jamie, with a new baby, and right, like Jamie's gonna be around to help her through *that*. It worries him. "To do everything. After Gus was born."

Lindsay's eyelids lower, hiding the expression inside. She gives a lot away with her eyes, when everything else is still. "Hard enough, and I had Mel. Daphne's going to have her work cut out for her."

Justin doesn't answer, watching her mouth quirk at his silence, like she's reading him. Pretty, fragile, upper-class artist, playing at lower class in sweatshirt and jeans. It's so completely deceiving. "She won't be alone."

Lindsay shakes her head. "You mean Brian, or Jamie?"

Ah, so she's met him. The twist of her mouth is suddenly really comforting. "Right. Jamie's in it for Brian, not for her."

She's trying not to giggle. Justin doesn't bother hiding his grin at the look on her face.
"You should have been around for Deb's reaction when he came by the diner one day when you were off."

Justin hears himself snicker unsteadily through the hot flash of unreasonable anger. The asshole was in his *diner*? "Did she try to feed him?"

"Asked Brian if his latest client was into cloning."

Justin laughs, letting himself sprawl back on the floor. Even through coat and sweater, it's cold. Staring up at the ceiling, he thinks about Jamie in the backroom, Jamie in Daph's apartment, Daphne's phone call a few days ago, out of the blue, and from the sound of her voice, she'd been working up the nerve to do it for awhile. It'd been easy to talk, like breathing, and he hadn't expected that at all.

"The show went well," Lindsay says out of nowhere, and Justin nods absently. "You sold several pieces, didn't you?"

"Yeah." The entire reason he had the deposit for this place. The diner will just barely cover rent and food. Maybe a regular phone if he's lucky, not just his cell. Very, very lucky. "I--" He stops, rolling onto his side to stare blankly at the bare wall. "I'm tired."

Peripheral vision shows the shift of her foot against the vinyl, and he listens to her crawl across the floor to collapse beside him. The light floral scent of her hair surrounds him, musky with sweat. He can feel the warmth of her body. "It's been a long day, sweetie."

Not just the day. "Yeah," he murmurs, and God, he misses Daphne, who would have understood instinctively, would have wrapped him in girl-scent and told him how dumb it was to whine about what you couldn't change, then tell him they should get stoned and watch old movies. Microwave popcorn. Beer from the fridge. Giggling at everything. Falling asleep on the couch tangled together, comfortable the way only best friends can be who have known each other forever, closer than a sister or a lover. He misses it, suddenly and powerfully, an ache that he's hidden from himself for so long that it's like it's brand new.

"Justin," Lindsay whispers, and gentle fingers brush tentatively through his hair. Just that. Just his name, sweet and sad and maybe getting how he feels, how much it hurts.

"I thought I'd feel better if I talked to her."

Beside him, Lindsay nods, and Justin keeps his eyes closed, rolling onto his back. Long line of warm body against his, and Justin wonders if this is how Brian feels with Lindsay, why he can give to her, anything she wants, everything she wants, even a child.

"I didn't say it'd be easy, honey," she whispers, still stroking his hair. "It won't be. But it'll be better. It'll get better."

"How do you know?"

Blonde hair brushes his face. "Just call it women's intuition."

He thinks about that, mouth tightening. Daphne hadn't talked about the baby. Anything and everything--school, professors, grades, the weather, Christ, the traffic downtown, but nothing that touched on anything that could hurt. Anything that could break the scab wide open, because she's as scared as he is. And maybe they're even scared of the same thing.

"What if I hate the baby?"

Half-formed, frightening thought that's slinked along the edges of his mind and comes roaring out like a lion now, made real and concrete when clothed in words. He shivers at the cool sound of his voice, the calm in it, the reasonable tones that convey something he knows he's never quite admitted to himself. It's not just Daphne, it's not just Brian, it's not just what they did. It's the proof growing in Daphne's body, day by day, the reminder and the warning both. The proof that's nine months in the making and a lifetime in the reminding.

What kind of person *is* he?

But Lindsay doesn't draw away, and he's surprised. "Do you think you will?"

Justin shivers, moving closer to her. Lindsay's a mother. She can't understand. "It's a baby. It's their baby. It should be--God, it's a no brainer. But what if I don't? What if every time I look at it, I see--" Being hurt. Being betrayed. Another person that's more important than Justin, that will always be more important. Another piece of evidence that Brian won't ever care enough.

"You mean, like Mel sees Brian in Gus?"

Justin blinks. "Does she?"

Lindsay shrugs. "I know she worried about that. She never said, but--when I decided, it was the subtext behind every argument. If she could love a child created out of someone she disliked so much."

Justin frowns, watching Lindsay raise herself on one elbow, looking down at him with understanding eyes. "I don't hate Daphne or Brian." And I have no idea what slot you're putting me into and I don't want to know. "Why did you take the risk?"

Lindsay frowns a little, eyes growing distant. "It wasn't a risk. Not like you think. Mel wanted a baby. I wanted a baby. Anyone else being the father wasn't acceptable."

"An anonymous donor would have been--" A hell of a lot less risky.

"It wasn't that kind of choice," Lindsay murmurs, and Justin watches her face soften. "Mel didn't understand. I don't think Brian understood. I didn't need them to. In a way, it's the same reason that Mel chose Michael--"

"She's not in love with Michael."

Lindsay leans close, forehead against his, warm and soft. Justin draws in an unsteady breath, body memory reacting thoughtlessly, an echo of warmth and safety, what Brian would always be to him. This is where Brian learned that, who he learned it from. "I'm not in love with Brian, just like you're not in love with Daphne."

Ouch. "You don't make things easy."

"Who says it would be easy? It's a baby." Grinning, she slides back down, eyes half-closing. "Pieces of the two people you love most, all wound up together, and it doesn't matter why or how, because it *is*. Don't be so scared of yourself."

He wishes he had her faith in him. Turning his head, he looks into the clear blue eyes and sighs. "Who says I give a shit about either of them?" He doesn't even try to sound convincing.

"Chicago. A line of tricks a mile long. The way you look right now." He chokes, thinking of Deb's sad eyes, but Lindsay only smiles. "Come on, let's go get some dinner. Mel's working late and Brian is on Gus-watch until eight. What are you in the mood for?"

Justin stares up at her, wondering what exactly just happened. "Um. Greek?"

"Lead the way."


Daphne's gaining weight, and it keeps surprising Justin, every time. Even her coat doesn't cover it completely, but it does make it easier to pretend. He dreads summer for a lot of reasons these days.

She's also eating twice her weight in food, and for the first time, Justin watches in shock as Daphne outlasts him at the seven dollar Chinese buffet. She's still eyeing his one remaining eggroll with an acquisitive look on her face. He's not completely stupid. He pushes the plate across the table and soaks up her smile like the sun.

He's missed it, he realizes, that smile, free and clear and as old as their friendship, nothing sharp behind it to wound.

"What are you going to name him?"

Daphne's smile vanishes like the eggroll, and Justin wonders when he lost his mind.

"I--uh. Don't know." Her voice trickles off like a water spout turning off, leaving dribbles of shock behind. It's almost funny--no, it *is* funny, and he can't help the smile that forces its way across his face at the look on her face. Like she's not entirely sure what he said, or whether she heard him right at all. "I, uh--"

"Brian have any suggestions?"

She flushes. "Dick."

He can't help laughing. An elbow on the table, he stares across the vinyl tablecloth and hears himself like a stranger, someone he hasn't been in so long he'd almost forgotten him--someone who can laugh like this and not be hurt. "God--what did you say?"

The smile comes back, peeking out from the corners of her mouth. "I offered up Clarence and he dropped it."

It hurts--a little, a quick spike of pure pain--but it doesn't last long and he can ignore it, bathing in the feeling of something closer to peace than he's had in longer than he can remember.

"So," he says, skidding his fork across a puddle of soy sauce. "What else is going on?"

Tags: fic: queer as folk, qaf: stumble and fall
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