Less melodrama. More drugs. They make everything better. I should apply this to my life. I swear, I'd be much happier, if less well-adjusted.
Earlier sections can be found at http://seperis.illuminatedtext.com/other/how.html
"Percocet." Daphne picks up the bag and places it on the counter, glancing at Justin from the corner of her eye. "No allergies?"
"Not to this one." The loft's warm again--he's trying not to think of the heating bills at all. Slowly taking out the bottles, Justin lines them up neatly on the edge of the counter. "Just bruising, the doctor said. No biggie." Though he's not going to forget the doctor's admonishment anytime soon about possible cracked ribs and broken blood vessels. The stuff they rubbed in at the office has muted everything to a dull roar and the percocet's making him a little lightheaded. He can deal with that. "Okay, so--"
"So...you still think you're going to go party all night?"
Justin sighs. She's making this complex. "I wouldn't call this partying, Daph." Command performance, maybe. "Just drop it. It's not like I have a choice here."
"A choice?" Her face is blank. "Justin--"
They both stop, glaring at each other, but Daphne's the first to look away. "I don't think this is a good idea."
"I--don't want Emmett alone with him." It's so weak it's pathetic and he knows it, and the look on Daphne's face tells him she knows it, too. "Daphne, this guy is trouble."
"And Emmett can take care of himself. Which he's been doing for a lot of years before you were around."
"Emmett's been walking an edge for months," Justin answers, leaning into the counter. Seeing Daphne's frozen expression, he looks away. "We--weren't there for him as much as we should have been. And now, with Ted gone, with Michael gone, he's alone."
"Brian said James--"
"If Brian said the sun rose in the north, you'd believe him." Justin looks up, but Daphne's opening the fridge, pulling out the half full container of juice from the top shelf. He can't read her at all. "Look, I actually get why just maybe, this guy snooping around Michael is a bad idea. But this is getting ridiculous. If you're that worried, tell Brian and Debbie--"
"Tell them what? Brian says he's trouble, Debbie thinks he's not, and it'd be a total waste of time."
"And I'm sure Brian would be thrilled to find out you're breaking and entering because--"
"If it's to protect Michael, he'll understand."
Daphne snorts softly. "And I have a beach in Arizona I want you to buy." Opening the dishwasher, Daphne takes out two glasses. "I--" She stops, frowning, and Justin watches her carefully pour the juice into the glasses. "I think you're having a bad effect on me." She pushes the glass across the counter. "Take your meds."
He has no problem with that. Picking up a bottle, Justin watches her play with her glass. "Bad effect?"
Mouth tight, Daphne looks at her glass. "It may be a bad idea for Emmett to be alone with him all night, but it--it's like, it might be worse if you were there, too."
Something about the way she says it makes him straighten. "You said he reminded you of someone."
Her eyes still won't meet his. "He does." She turns away, putting away the juice, closing the dishwasher, looking everywhere but at him. "He reminds me of one of my exes."
"Really?" This is news. "Which one?"
Daphne shifts. "You--you never met him. It was--well." Taking a breath, she leans an elbow into the counter. "Last year, after--after what happened to you? I--it was hard to really--connect with anyone. I'd go to school and go out and I'd meet people and then the first thing I'd think wasn't, hey, he's hot, or, I wonder if he'd want to go out, but, if I tell him about my gay best friend, is he going to flip out?"
Justin feels his breath catch, but Daphne's already moving beyond. "If--I mean, Chris seemed pretty normal, didn't he? Like, okay, totally homophobic, but homicidal wasn't in the running, but then he did it and it was like--anyone could be like that. We both knew Chris for four years, but neither of us could have seen that one coming."
Justin nods, throat tightening. "I know."
She nods slowly, fingers slipping in the tiny pool of condensation forming around the base of her glass. "Yeah, you do. I know. And so--I met Andy, and it was like, he *got* it. I mean, no one else did, even my friends, but he completely understood, and he was so cool about everything, and he was so great about--about letting me talk about it."
Because I wouldn't, Justin doesn't say, and he's sure there's no reproof in her voice, but it still hurts. "Daph--"
"Let me finish. We spent all this time together, and he--he'd tell me, it was perfectly okay not to trust people, but I could trust him and he'd prove it to me, and he--it's like, he knew all the right things to say." Her hand clenches slowly. "He knew exactly what to say."
Justin nods, keeping his mouth shut.
"And--after a while, it was just--all my friends kept saying that I was being distant and asked me why I didn't want to hang out. And he was always around and he liked it best when it was just him and me, so I'd send them away and after awhile--they stopped coming." Her chin comes up, and for the first time, their eyes meet. "You did, too."
He's not denying that one. "I--was kind of having a rough time."
"I know. I really do, but then--I didn't. You didn't talk to me, and Andy was--he never wanted me out of his sphere, you know? Like, he'd get weird if I was late from class or I stopped to eat dinner out instead of coming right back to my dorm to wait for him. After a while, I stopped--I guess stopped really noticing, but then he wanted us to live together, and he said that--that if I didn't trust him by now, then we'd better just end it." Daphne's eyes close slowly. "And by then? There wasn't anyone else. My friends thought he was creepy and I'd thrown them out anyway, you were involved with Ethan and Brian and--" Her voice cracks. "It was so stupid, but I did it anyway, knowing it was a mistake, and then--"
Justin feels himself tense. "What?"
She looks up. "He had me right where he wanted me. I couldn't afford the rent without him, I didn't have a dorm anymore, and I didn't have anyone else to turn to. Mom and Dad hated him, and that just made it harder. I--" She stops, and Justin watches her flush.
"What did he do to you?" A hundred horrifying possibilities flash through his mind. "Did he--" Jesus Christ. While he was playing two lovers against each other, his best friend was being--was being--
"All the hitting he did was with words." she answers shortly. "Look, this--that's the feeling I get off of James. And you're--well, okay, you can be really bizarre sometimes, but put those two together, and I'm going to go with what I feel and it's that he's not good news. I'll go with that."
The way she turns away tells him this is all he's going to get on the subject, and can he even blame her? He blamed her (never to her face, though, never) for being MIA when his life was falling apart, but it hadn't occurred to him that he hadn't been much better. Finger tracing the countertop, Justin takes a breath. "I'm sorry."
"It wasn't your fault. You had shit to deal with, I had shit to deal with." Turning back to him, she frowns, pushing her hair from her face. "So I get it--I do get it. It's just--you're acting like this is some huge X-Files conspiracy you have to unravel all alone. You're not Mulder and he's not flukeboy, 'kay? James freaks me out, too, but he's just a guy who happens to be here right now. And Deb called him in--it's not like he's been waiting decades, cackling in the background, waiting to, I don't know, pull off some long-term revenge for losing Michael or something."
He's apparently infected her with his love of gothic romance. "Well--"
"But right. Emmett's all in his vulnerableness, and you're a friend and you want to be there for him. So okay, I see your point about going out and everything. But--look, be careful around him, okay? He feels wrong."
At least someone agrees with him. "Okay."
Nodding, Daphne steps away from the counter, grabbing her coat from a stool. "Okay, I gotta get some studying done. Call me if anything comes up. And get some rest for the rest of the day if you're going to go out tonight."
Licking his lips, Justin considers. "Would you look up something for me?"
"Brian says he's an investigator--that's why Deb hired him, to find Michael. See if you can find anything on him--like, where he works."
Shrugging into her coat, Daphne gives him a curious look. "Where?"
"New York. Like, what exactly he specializes in and all that. Whatever." God, he wishes he had something better to go on. "And yeah, I'm going to bed."
After letting Daphne out, Justin turns around, surprised how much easier it is now than it was earlier today. No breaks, the doctor had said, giving him a completely professional smile that hid the curiosity. Just deep muscle bruising. He'd been lucky, what had he been doing?
There are spots of blood on the sheets from his fingernail--he hadn't been careful. Slowly, Justin strips them, tossing them in the corner, briefly considering the concept of laundry before just dropping and pulling the duvet over his head. He could sleep forever--that's the other reason he'd been against painkillers. They put him to sleep *fast*.
The vibrating at his hip, however, isn't quite letting that happen. Jesus, can't he just *rest* for a few minutes? Sighing, he reaches down and grabs the phone, then pulls the blanket down and buries his head in a stripped pillow. "Yeah?"
"I had the most interesting voicemail this morning."
Brian. Of course. "Can you call back when I'm awake?" Yawning, Justin slowly rolls over, hissing a little. Okay, maybe not completely pain-free, but hey, a hell of a lot better than in the diner. "Or better yet, come back yourself?"
Of course, Brian ignores him. "It lasted three and a half minutes. The voicemail."
"Voice mail sex?"
"I wish. No." Brian seems--a little odd. Closing his eyes, Justin concentrates on the sounds behind him. A silly game of where-is-he-now. Cars, but muted. Inside somewhere, then. Warm, probably. In bed, near a window, maybe. Justin likes that idea. "This voicemail, which is the first thing I heard this morning--I was wondering if you'd know anything about it."
"How would I?" Justin stifles a yawn. Yeah, he's going to be out like a light any minute now. God, what he wouldn't give to have Brian here right now. "Is this some kind of bizarre twenty questions game? Because seriously, the first time we played, I had motivation going on. But you're not here and there's no sex involved, so really, what--"
Okay, he's awake. So very awake. "What?"
"Emmett wanted me to know you are in pristine condition. Mint. Out of the box. Nothing whatsoever is wrong with you, and no, he's only seen you once, fully dressed, while I was gone, but he's sure you're just fine. And he's way too busy to be doing anything at all but work, work, and more work. And that you're doing just great."
Well, fuck. "Huh."
"Yes, that's what I said." Right. Justin rolls over and buries his face in the pillows. "Then I called him."
Oh fucking *hell*. "Oh?"
Justin does the math. Brian on the phone, Emmett on the phone. So should have not left the diner without clarifying a few things. Oh God. "Okay, look, Emmett dramatizes everything." There's this slight chance Emmett didn't--"
"Do the words 'breaking and entering' mean anything to you?"
Okay, so he knows Emmett better than that. Crap. "How much did he tell?"
"If there's more than a felony involved, he kept his mouth shut."
So that would be everything. Again, this is why crime with partners just doesn't pay. "I'm fine. I had a little fall--"
"Little is tripping over a stool. I think a thirteen foot drop qualifies as big."
That's what he'd thought. Ten feet his *ass*. "You said that James shouldn't have that account book."
The silence is unnerving. Bad things always happen when Brian thinks too much. He always thinks he's being logical and methodical, but the truth is, Brian's just *not*. "Yet I don't remember saying, Justin, go *rob Debbie* to get it."
Not in so many words, no. "Okay, now you're sort of dramatizing. I had a key. I lived there. I just--"
"You went into the man's room and took Michael's account book." There's all this shock in his voice that would be funny if it were, oh, any other time and any other day. And this coming from Mr. I-Am-An-Amateur-Homicide-Detective is just surreal. "Then jumped off a roof. I'd normally chalk this up to Emmett doing a few too many hits in the backroom, but since he's still pining for old Teddy--well. Let's ask ourselves, when did this get out of hand."
"You said--" He's got to stop with the whining. Grabbing the duvet, Justin pulls it over his head. "I hurt."
"You deserve it. What the fuck were you *thinking*?"
That you'd be worried about Michael and hell, maybe I'm a little worried too. "It seemed like a really good idea at the time." Of course, that covers a lot of seriously stupid things he's done in his life.
"Look, fine, it was stupid, I'm being punished. I have bruises on places I had no idea had blood vessels. I wish I were dead. Trust me, the amount of regret going on here is amazing."
More silence. Curling up, Justin pushes the phone against his ear. "Look, I know you'd love to spend a few more hours reaming out my ass, but I've got to get some sleep, I gotta be up to--" No, wait. Does he want to talk about this?
Too late. "Where are you going?" And imagine that, Brian can actually pull off being even more intimidating on the phone than in person.
It's got to be the drugs' fault. "Out." Don't be weird. Be--casual. Be normal. "I--you know, out. To hang out with Emmett. And stuff. Do stuff. Dance, drink. Drugs. Lots of them. Just for fun."
"Mmm. Not because you suddenly feel this urge to follow Evans around, hmm?"
That's it. Emmett's place as Justin's partner in crime is *so* over. "What did you *do* to Emmett, anyway?"
"Persuaded him that honesty was really the best policy."
Justin doesn't even want to know. "I don't like him. That guy."
"So stalking him is your idea of avoiding him?"
"Don't fucking start. Emmett's--you know what he's like. And that guy--I just don't think he should be, well, hanging around him while he's still upset about Ted." And the drugs are catching up with him. "Why is he here?"
"Fuck if I know." Brian sounds--tired. "Don't worry about it. Just stop."
Justin sighs softly. "I'm not doing anything but watching out for a friend. You'd do the same thing." And Brian *would*, in a much less subtle, a lot more scary, possibly traumatizing way. Really, on balance, it's good that he's handling this. God knows what mess Brian would make of it. "When are you coming home? You said just a couple of days."
"It's taking longer than I expected." Brian's voice softens. "How bad?"
Justin knows what he's talking about. "I went to the doctor and everything is fine. Just some bruising, that's all." Snorting softly, he pulls the blanket tighter. It smells like Brian. "I--" He stops. "I better get some sleep."
"What a brilliant idea. Try not to kill yourself before I get back?"
"You miss me," Justin murmurs into the phone. His eyes refuse to even try to open. "You miss me soo much. You're--"
"So bored with this conversation. Jesus, you're stoned, aren't you?"
Justin grins. "Percocet."
"Amazing." The soft chuckle warms him to his toes: better than a blanket. He's slipping already. Good drugs. Nice drugs. Wonderful, wonderful drugs. "Get to sleep."
"Then let me go."
There's a soft catch of breath on the other end. "Never again."
Justin drifts off.