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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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qaffic: how it's gonna be, 11 (WAS lalala sunday mornings)
snail power
seperis
Yesterday ended up being--very weird. On a variety of levels.

Went to work, wrote out appointment letters, found out two of my coworkers watch QaF. Discussion ensued. Kind of shocky. Scared all the guys into hiding. Quite funny.

Gathering of some of the LJ QaF contingent on AIM last night, which was incredibly fun.

AU snippet by josselin and a continuation by soundczech The premise? What would have happened if Brian had walked in on Emmett and Justin.

I always keep my promises. Snail power!

I really should have thought through this snail as mascot thing more carefully.



"I forgot the alarm."

"No, you really didn't." To anyone who happened to be watching them, they'd look like any two teens in the world, out for a stroll in the morning. Okay, so maybe not quite fitting in exactly, since Justin had an arm slung over Daphne's shoulder, but still, nothing to really see here. He certainly doesn't look like he belongs in a hospital and he's *not* wincing with every step.

That is called will. This is called control. This is called, ten Advil, and his stomach is never, ever going to forgive him.

The short walk between the parking lot and the diner isn't the agony it could have been--Daphne keeps their strides short and slow, smiling brightly at anyone who sees them with this kind of disturbingly challenging thing going on--like, hi, this isn't what it looks like, we're totally *not* a couple, but I totally dare you to comment on the weird straightness of this because I will totally explain this is my gay best friend I'm cuddling, and for no particular reason, too. Go away.

Sometimes, Justin thinks he may really overanalyze stuff.

"I feel sick." He sounds whiney. He sounds--like Michael. It's kind of sad. "Daph--"

"Now you're just doing it for attention. We're almost to the door. Straighten up." Pausing, she waits patiently as he draws his left arm from her shoulder and takes a slow breath. The hand on his back lingers for a few long seconds, then gently pulls away. Miraculously, at least to Justin, he doesn't hit the ground, and it looks like his own two feet are going to hold him up just fine.

Right hand stuffed in his coat pocket, he winces at the feeling of the band-aided finger hitting his hip. He lost a lot of fingernail there.

"You ready?"

To see Deb and the freaky guy? No, not at all. Drawing in a deep breath, Justin nods. "Sure. Right. I feel sick."

"You just need food in you," Daphne answers with a sincere lack of sympathy. "Come on, we'll get something in your stomach and you'll feel loads better."

"Deb's going to try and hug me."

Daphne pauses, hand on the diner door. "Good point. Dash for a booth the second you get in."

*Dash*? Has she lost her mind? "I don't--" Well, okay, stop. He has to go in. He has to ask about the account book and look really, really surprised that Deb doesn't have it. Should he do self-righteous and demand it be found? Play it cool? Freak out? God, how *do* you react when account books vanish out of perfectly normal houses in the middle of the night? Especially when you're not supposed to know they vanished?

Then the door is opening and Daphne's hand is subtle on his back, pressing him inside, an unassailable mead of warmth and comfort, except today, it's like going to the executioner and God, he wishes he was in bed.

"Sunshine!"

Dash. For a booth. Dash. But he can't move that fast, every muscle in his body is saying that *loudly*, but what are his choices? He knows Deb's hugs. He might just fall over and die if it happens. Somehow--and he has no idea how, never will, doesn't even *care*--he's sitting at the booth with Daphne covering his flank and looking up with one of her huge, bright, utterly charming smiles. "Deb! Hey, what's the special?"

Debbie is staring at them. "Sunshine, you don't look so good. Too much partying?"

Justin whips out a smile and pastes it across his mouth. From the look on Daphne's face, it probably isn't the most comforting thing ever seen. "No. Early night. I slept wrong."

Debbie snickers softly. "Uh huh. So--" She stops short, and Justin watches in fascination as she shifts in place, reaching for her order pad, then putting it back, and generally being all that is guilty and nervous. Justin's sure he'd feel a lot more guilty if the entire sitting-upright thing wasn't making him wish he were dead. "Okay, Sunshine, we have a problem."

"Oh?" Justin searches for the right response. Play dumb? Look shocked? Throw a fit? Or-- "What happened?"

"I can't find Michael's account book." She watches his face closely, but whatever she sees seems to be satisfactory. "Don't worry, it's somewhere in the house, sweetie. I'll find it when I get off-shift." Her eyes flicker down, fixing on him with that disturbing mom-radar that she seems to have tuned on him at some point. "You okay, Sunshine? Ben said you're having some trouble with your hand."

Justin sometimes thinks the Liberty grapevine is the best thing ever invented. Okay, not ever before now, actually, but he's a huge fan of less explanations. Untucking his hand, Justin slowly flattens it on the table, and he doesn't even have to fake a wince. He does, however, have to fake the fact that he wants to drip under the table and lay prone instead of sitting upright like any good customer. "I overdid some drawing last night."

"New project?"

Wouldn't you be surprised? "A real challenge to my ingenuity," Justin answers honestly, and if Daphne laughs, he's going to pour the water glass that the busboy just placed in front of her right on top of her head.

"You should go and see your doctor." Debbie's eyes fix on his hand, and right, it's all about The Hand of Doom again, the Evil Hand, if you will, and he remembers these looks from last year and hated them then, too. Poor Justin and his crippled hand and his crippled mind and his--no. Stop. This is, again, not the time.

"I'm fine. I'll just have to take it easy for a few days." Flexing his fingers, he takes a breath and lets it out like he was taught. Easy and slow. It's been worse. He's done worse to it when he pushed himself too far on a project. At least, he thinks so.

Debbie plays with her pen for a second, still watching him carefully, before smiling again. "What would you two like to order?"

And if Justin didn't know better, he'd think Deb was being awfully quick to get off the subject of the missing account book. Perhaps even a little--diversionary? Offering food instead of explanations? This curious lack of interest in where it could have gone? The--

--the fact he needs food, because now he's just being freaky. Picking up the menu out of habit, Justin scans without actually reading. It's not like he doesn't have it memorized. "Pancakes. Extra bacon. Coffee." He sounds surly, but well, he's almost-twenty. Surly is pretty much a state of being at his age.

"And you, Daphne?"

"Toast and coffee, non diary creamer, and the fruit plate, please." Taking his menu from him, Daphne hands both back to Deb.

"Coming right up." Deb pauses. "Where's Brian, anyway?"

"Sleeping," Justin answers firmly. "He--um."

Debbie's grin stretches into something very, very scary. "Wear him out, Sunshine?"

He's way too old to blush. For that matter, he's had way too much sex with Brian to blush. And in public, too. It's--it's--but this is *Deb*. Ducking his head, he stares at his bandaged fingernail, then gingerly puts his hand into his lap, ignoring the random spasms of muscles that right now, hate him so very much for making them do anything at all.

"I have a question," Daphne asks softly, when Debbie is out of range. "Why aren't you saying where Brian is?"

Justin would like to know that, too. "I needed an excuse to get out of Debbie's last night," Justin answers, skidding his left hand across the smooth, slightly greasy surface of the table. Just for the hell of it. "And now I'm sort of stuck." That's not the only reason, but Justin can't explain the other one. The one that says, James knowing Brian isn't in town is just a bad idea. Then again, these days, he's all about the jumping to far reaching conclusions without a single bit of evidence in sight. "Speaking of which--"

"Morning morning!"

Emmett looks way too cheerful for someone who slept in sequins last night. Jerking his head around, Justin watches in a kind of fascination as Emmett smiles brightly around the diner, all in shades of winter white and who knew Emmett even owned that color? Blinking at the sight of a snow-colored Emmett, complete with little white tufted hat, Justin opens his mouth to make some comment, but Emmett's chatting with Debbie.

Justin thinks he can actually *feel* Emmett looking him over before dropping into the seat across from them, and there's a flash of unhappy nostalgia in the clear eyes. Justin shares it--the four of Ted, Michael, Emmett, and Brian are reduced to Emmett and Brian's twink and the twink's buddy. That has got to be a mood killer. The short-term fade of the smile lasts only seconds, though, and Emmett takes the menu Debbie offers with a smile and orders juice.

"How you feeling, sweetie?" Emmett asks, eyebrows leaping in dramatically-hidden worry. "You look terrible."

Like he doesn't know. Justin's eyes narrow. It's unreasonable, but he's in serious amounts of pain, and also, he's hungry. "Thanks for the update."

"Poor baby." Emmett reaches across the table, petting him like a favorite dog, and okay, stop now. No, really. "Too bad Tall, Dark, and Bitchy isn't around to kiss your boo-boos--"

Justin straightens and regrets it bitterly. Ouch. And *fucking* ouch. "Yeah, Emmett, listen--" Why on earth didn't he tell Emmett last night?

"Here you go." Emmett's juice and their coffee is on the table. "You taking something up to Brian, honey?"

Emmett's eyes fix instantly in that suspicious way that Justin tiredly decides he is never going to live down. "Toast and coffee. You know how he is in the mornings."

Be quiet, Emmett, be quiet, Emmett, please don't say a word, Emmett....

Deb grins. "Don't I know it. I'll have it when you're ready to go." Wandering off, Deb strikes up conversation with one of the other customers, leaving Justin alone with Emmett's gaze fixed on him like a spotlight of pure, unrelenting interrogation.

"Justin--"

"Don't. Not now." It's gritted through his teeth. "I just--I'll explain later. It's complex. It's--"

"Mind if I join you?"

Justin looks up slowly, because there's always hope that this is a hallucination and he's actually still in bed, dreaming all of this up. But no--it's James, who drops down beside Emmett with a wide, too-white, too-perfect grin, and takes up massive amounts of airspace and oxygen. Justin can actually feel the levels of carbon dioxide rise alarmingly as the man sucks out all the oxygen from the area around the table.

Or, Justin could be imagining it. He really could. Taking a deep breath, Justin smiles lightheadedly. "Hey." And that sounded so pathetic he's almost ashamed of himself. "How's it going?"

James studies him, small smile playing across his lips, and Justin feels like a bug on a slide, about to be peeled into layers for careful, thorough, hideously painful examination. "Not so bad. Yourself?"

Justin pulls out his best, most brilliant, most shit-eating and death-defying smile, and when Emmett winces, really, really wishes he hadn't. "Okay." Picking up his coffee, Justin takes a careful sip, keeping his eye on James. "Deb told me you lost Mikey's account book."

From the way everyone at the table stiffens, he might have started out this conversation wrong. But what the hell. It's not like there's anything else he and James have to chat about. And Justin is all about being proactive.

"Strange thing," James answers without missing a beat, picking up Daphne's glass of water and taking a sip, like it's his complete right to drink any and all water in his immediate vicinity, and here Justin thought he couldn't dislike the man more. "I had it put up last night, but when I looked, it was gone." Another deliberate drink that Justin matches, and somewhere, Justin is sure a tumbleweed rolls slowly down Liberty Avenue.

"That happens to me all the time," Emmett bursts out, and Justin blinks in surprise. "I mean, my keys, my shoes--why, Teddy said I couldn't keep up with my head if it wasn't attached to my neck. Here, baby, you want some sugar?" Three packets of sugar are aggressively shoved across the table without warning.

"I've noticed that having specific areas assigned for specific items helps," Daphne says, dropping her voice to convey how very, very serious this discussion is. "My mother was all about everything having a place, you know?"

"Yes," Emmett answers with a spastic nod of his head, and the tiny fluff at the top of his hat jerks around hypnotically. Justin realizes it's almost impossible to look away. "That's it, exactly."

Surreal, pre-breakfast conversation. On balance, really not that much weirder than the usual, except no one's admitting they dropped acid the night before. Picking up his cup, Justin takes another sip, belatedly aware that he really doesn't *like* coffee without cream and sugar. "So, besides that, did you have a good night, James?" Justin asks off-handedly. "Out on Liberty?"

James' gaze fixes on Justin again, and he really, really wishes he hadn't said anything. "I haven't had a chance to check it out, actually."

A plate materializes on the table, and Justin blinks upward to see Debbie smiling at them. "The boys here can show you around, can't you? It's been a while since you were in Pittsburgh, James."

Debbie didn't just--

"Years," James confirms, smiling up at Debbie, and Justin swallows hard, reaching clumsily for his fork. It's been a long time since he had to eat with his left hand, and he's out of practice.

Emmett jumps a little. "Ah--of course. I mean, no one knows better, right? How about you, Justin?" The clear eyes flicker down to Justin's hand, hidden beneath the table. "Though you know, maybe you shouldn't--"

"A little young, aren't you?" James says off-handedly, picking up the cup of coffee Debbie just put in front of him. And it's so *stupid*, but Justin stiffens.

"Not our little Sunshine," Debbie says, and if he could possibly feel any younger and more stupid, it could only happen if Deb ruffles his hair. She's about five seconds from doing just that. "Why--"

"Justin and I have a study date tonight," Daphne injects, spearing a peach slice aggressively.

James' eyebrows raise. "I thought you were expelled."

Justin winces at the sound of his fork skidding across his plate, launching a ragged triangle of pancake midair. Conversation seems to cease as all eyes watch it begin to drool syrup onto the table in a slowly growing puddle.

"For my art history paper," Daphne adds, and the length of her hair hides her blush. "Overview of agitprop in modern American civilization. With a few local examples for color."

Sometimes, he really loves her.

"It'll be a snap." James' gaze doesn't change, and Justin wonders why the hell Debbie doesn't *feel* how weird this is. Straightening carefully, he casually spears another piece of pancake.

James turns a wide smile on Emmett, leaning in conspiratorially. "Then I guess it's just you and me, Emmett."

Alarm bells go off--no, wait, that's the diner bell, actually, but that doesn't change the fact that Emmett looks--way too pleased. Too flattered. Too--

--too still-upset about Ted and Ted's behavior and he's been alone too much. And right, Justin hasn't been around for him that much, but--well. Brian.

"After work?" Emmett suggests, and Justin really, really doesn't like the way Emmett's smiling now. Things have gone bad, bad places when Emmett looks like that. "We can meet up at Woody's--"

"About seven?" Justin hears himself say, and Daphne's toe connects with his ankle, assuring that there is no part of his body that isn't in pain. Thank you. Both men's eyes fix on him, and Justin leans his elbow onto the table, wincing at the sound of his mother's voice in his head scolding about his table manners. "I'll be done by then."

Emmett's mouth opens to add something--oh God, don't *say* anything, please--and Justin spears another piece of pancake and chews aggressively. Waits while James watches him, and he doesn't like what he sees. "Works for me. I'd better get going," he says, turning to Debbie, standing up to pull her into a hug. "Relax, Deb. I'll find him."

Justin looks away from the way her eyes fill, concentrating on the bacon that doesn't look nearly as appetizing as it should, ignoring Daphne's tension beside him. As Debbie and James walk toward the door, her head turns, looking at him in disbelief. "You can't go out like that."

Justin shakes his head quickly, putting down the fork and fumbling for his wallet. "Not now."

"Justin--" Emmett sounds really unhappy, and Justin likes that least of all. He likes them young and stupid, Brian had said, but Justin wonders if he also likes them damaged and still hurting. Somehow, he gets a twenty out, dropping it on the table and nudging Daphne with his hip to stand up, letting him out.

"At seven. Don't go without me. Promise."

The look of disbelief is priceless, and so is the grin. It'd be cute if it were any other time in the world but now. "Honey, are you trying to protect me?"

"I--just promise me?" And he won't even try for explanations anymore, because they all sound more psychotic than the one before. Leaning his left hand on the back of the booth for support, Justin holds Emmett's gaze. "Promise."

For a second, it looks like Emmett is going to say no, and Justin braces himself to argue. Or worst case scenario, go out on his own and find them, and won't that be a special kind of hell to walk all of Liberty Avenue like this? Straightening, Justin takes a slow breath. Stiff muscles loosening up from the shower and activity. He'll be okay. He'll be careful.

"All right, Sunshine."

Justin hadn't even realized he wasn't breathing until it escapes in a soft sigh. Okay, that's done. Looking over at Daphne, he sighs. "Okay, we'll go to my doctor--just to see if we can get something to help out."

"Imagine that." Grabbing her coat, she pulls it on with jerky movements. She's not happy, and God, is he gonna hear about this for a while "Come on, let's get out of here."


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Poor Baby!!! Get Justin to the doctor! I'm aching for him!!

& love the tension you captured for the diner breakfast- with all the underlying omissions, lies & mystery! & love how quick on her toes & protective Daphne is!!

& had great fun talking QAF last night!! or was that early this morning?!! lol.

Ooh, *hurts James*. Think our Justin's too young, do we? Hmph. (as someone more or less Justin's age, it's an annoying subject. Because what's with America and their stupid 21 thing? 18 is legal here. I can go anywhere. At 21, you're an old timer.)

You neeeeed to post moooooore. I'm all tense. Love the character's interaction. Love Daphne.

I wanted to say thanks after I read this last night, but one thing or another interupted me and I forgot. But, seriously - thank you for this.

And especially thank you for this:

Another deliberate drink that Justin matches, and somewhere, Justin is sure a tumbleweed rolls slowly down Liberty Avenue.


Oh god - he just can't get any more precious. I want to pick him up and put him in my pocket and gee, I should stop now?


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