Critique or advice appreciated immensely. Pre 3.7.
It's like some sort of cosmic joke that she just doesn't get. Sure, Daph, we'll meet for dinner. Same as old times. No, not busy. Yeah, I'll be there this time, I promise.
Promises are cheap, she gets that, but it doesn't make it any easier to stand outside Liberty Diner alone at nine at night, an hour of waiting that ends with a forced smile and a five dollar bill to pay for the six coffees she drank under Debbie's pitying eyes. Yeah, she guesses she's not the only one Justin's forgetting.
She could have--God, done anything. Gone out with her friends, or studied, or hell, just watched old movies and drown in some Sean Connery, but no, he'd called, contrite and hopeful, and she rolls over for Justin because she always has and maybe always will. When he's so sweet on the phone and says he misses her and why doesn't she visit when they both damn well know why she doesn't.
Someone knocks into her--automatically, she grabs for the wall, hissing more in surprise than pain, a bloom of heat on her ungloved hand telling her she'd scraped the brick. "Fuck, watch where you're going!"
A look up, and her night's like this, of course it is, because Brian's looking back at her with raised eyebrows and a supercilious smile in place. Like it's some kind of fucking honor to be rammed into a wall, and maybe that shit works in the backroom of Babylon but thank you, no, not here and not now. Fucking smug *bastard*, and irrational anger floods her head.
Brian's never scared her, even at the beginning when she was completely getting Justin's attraction but not seeing why Brian bothered. Tall, Jesus *Christ* drop dead gorgeous, and about as friendly as a heat rash under jeans in summer.
He gives her his sweetest smile, the one he uses when he's feeling particularly in need of target practice. Just to keep that biting sarcasm sharp and at the ready. "Bad date?"
She pushes off the wall. Her mouth opens all on its own, and she's not up to Brian, no one is, no one *could* be, but hell if she's running off like a wounded puppy (like Justin). The ring of the phone at her hip breaks her momentum, though, and she reaches down, jerking it up and turning away, dismissing Brian from her mind. She recognizes the voice instantly.
The background sounds of a shitty apartment and Ethan's violin. I'm sorry, he says, and sure, she believes that. Got hung up on a project. Ethan's cock? Couldn't get away. You don't want to. I'm really sorry. Lunch this week okay? Why not? She has plenty of time to screw away waiting for him. But her mouth says all the right things, her head bobbling along behind, and finally, thank God, Ethan stops playing and Justin gets off the phone so fast she's left with echoes of goodbye ringing in her ears.
She lowers the phone slowly, fingers numb. She should have worn gloves. It's cold tonight. She shivers beneath her coat.
When she turns around, Brian's still standing there, and she feels the flush start in her cheeks and spread downward. "What?"
He shrugs, reaching for the door, and she turns away, turning her phone off and pushing it into the pocket of her coat. It's a short drive back to her apartment, so she doesn't cry until she gets home.
She hates Ethan for a lot of reasons, and the stand-ups are only the tip of the iceberg She hates him for the time he took from her, when Justin played at two lives, and the thousand broken lunches and dinners, trips to the mall, the night of her break-up when Justin never showed with ice cream and The Lion King. A midnight message on her answering machine with an apology in giggles. He'd been drunk or fucking. She doesn't care which. She doesn't want to know.
They had dinner, the three of them, this relentless need for Justin to erase that other life, when he'd bring take-out and bitch about Brian, and she'd been tired of them both long before the night was over. Ethan had called her 'Daph' and asked about her boyfriend, and Justin had blinked over a pint of cherry-vanilla ice cream and looked away.
Thanks, she'd thought, staring at the back of his head. Thanks a fucking lot.
So she hates Ethan for a lot of reasons. Most of them are stupid.
Stupid like a week later, she's in the same place, but this time she wore gloves and had a cigarette, and this time, Brian doesn't trip over her getting to the door.
She doesn't see him anymore, any of them, except times like this, when she's waiting or she's leaving. She's not Justin, can't push herself into lives that don't want her, make them accommodate her, make herself as necessary as air and water. She's never been to anyone (to Justin) what Justin is to them all, and that's what hurts most. And he proves that to her a little more every day.
"Cut him some slack, Daphne," and wonder of wonders, Brian lights a cigarette, looking down at her with wry amusement. Leaning into the wall a foot away, like it's normal that they talk when she can't remember exchanging more than ten words at a time. Justin's the glue that makes them acquaintances, and with him gone, she doesn't belong here.
It cuts like the cold, no coat can guard against that. She doesn't belong here. Not at Debbie's diner and not on this street. Maybe not in Justin's life anymore, either.
"He's in love." And Brian makes it sound faintly unpleasant, like something that should be talked in whispers by sickbeds. Something not altogether respectable, and that's kind of a laugh when you pair it with Brian's name, but she hasn't been in the mood to laugh in a long time. She's remembering words like 'his career is important for him' and 'if I go with you, it'll be okay' and 'thanks, Daph, you're the best'. She's remembering being in bed with a gay guy who fucked her once and thinks now that he's fucking her all over again.
Once upon a time, she wanted Justin so badly she ached with it, and now it's coming back to kick her in the ass. Every. Fucking. Day.
"Whatever." She stubs out the cigarette and remembers listening to Ethan play, soft chords of music that scratched like sandpaper against her nerves and Justin beside her, playing another role like a born liar, hand in hers and she'd wanted so badly to pull away. She's been his best friend and confidante and lover. She's become his excuse and his retreat and his living, breathing lie. "See you."
She gets two steps before she stops, breathing in. She took a taxi. They were going to go to a movie. She'd have to wait. This time of night, cabs are a bitch. Shit.
Turning around, Brian's still there, and she doesn't understand at all. Eyes fixed and disinterested, looking at her like they've never met. Never spent a nightmarish two days in a hospital only a foot apart, where she learned he drank his coffee black and took his heroin white. Never worked together, because Justin was the kind of glue that could bind any two people in the world, even them, and without him, they're less than strangers.
"Don't take it so personally." Brian's voice is low, and in another world, she'd call it sympathy.
"Why not? It's personal." She sounds like the girl who thought if she just loved him enough, he'd be what she wanted. She sounds like the boy who thought if love was real, it had to be spoken. She wonders what that makes him now, with every spoken lie. "I gotta get out of here."
But there's a quiet street and Brian, who shifts with a creak of leather and then the waft of expensive aftershave when he touches her shoulder with gloved fingers, like she's glass that he doesn't want to smear. "Stop being such a twat."
She doesn't get it, why Brian does what he does now, pulling her unresistingly into the coffee shop, familiar warmth with an unfamiliar man. She was here with Justin when he was growing up and then when he was falling apart, and the booth is like coming home, except this isn't her home without him. Brian drapes himself across from her, a peremptory order for coffee with a look at a passing waiter that's obeyed without question.
She drinks coffee with too much cream and sugar, like Justin taught her, and Brian drinks it with sugar only, and she watches the little empty packets form a drift like snow between them, the movement of the diner shifting them this way and that. Long, elegant fingers forever restless beneath her eyes--a spoon this second, a napkin the next--and Daphne remembers her crush, the best kind, the hopeless kind, the kind you get on boybands and movie stars and fictional characters, impossible and fantastical, because God, it's Brian, and no one's immune, even when they think they are.
"I don't want to talk about it." And God, such a stupid thing to say, because she'd sooner expect Justin to go straight than Brian give advice. He's the kind that watches you fuck up and gets a kick out of it, too, but if you're Justin, scoop you up after, brush you off, and send you back on your way. But only if you're Justin.
"You're being too hard on him."
Her eyebrows slide up, she can feel them disappear beneath her hair, but Brian's studying the various viscosity changes that sugar gives coffee when it's poured, and somewhere, Deb's eyes are fixed on them, even though she's pretending not to.
"He wasn't like this with--" The words gets stuck between her teeth; she'll need dental floss to get them out. "Before." Before Ethan, he'd drop by and they'd talk, have popcorn, bitch about their lives, eat cheap take-out from down the block and fall asleep tangled on the couch. After, she was the excuse he never needed, because Brian would never do something cheap like check up and trace a lie. Just say I was over there, Justin would tell her, and she'd wondered if he'd really thought she could lie to Brian Kinney and be believed. After, she was this--this girl who sat around waiting and waiting and God help her, this won't be the last time, no matter what she says or thinks or does, this time next week she'll be here again and Justin will have another excuse and she'll be alone.
Taking a drink, she surveys Brian over her glass. Dinner meeting, maybe, flawless and glossy and altogether unreal, magazine-cover, movie-screen distant, and he's worked for this, honed it, this ability to be a foot in front of you and farther away than the closest star. She's fallen asleep on his couch with Justin on her lap, watched him throw tantrums like a two year old, and once, she saw him crack and fall into so many pieces that he's still struggling to pull them back together. But that's a distant thing that doesn't match what she sees. He's still a stranger.
"He's--not him." She stares at the cup in her hands, warm against her palms. "I want him back." Her best friend, not the thing that's been playing with her and using her and asking her to be something she's not, twisting himself into unfamiliar shapes and becoming something she never thought he could be. And it scares her, that what he's becoming could be what he *is*, that the energy he'd once turned on being Justin is making him-- "He's--he's lying about what he is." He's lying to me. And worse, he's lying to himself. Like it didn't mean anything. Like a three day coma and six seizures and the blood that had soaked her dress, that she smelled for months, that two sleepless nights and endless bleak days in hospital corridors, was just some fucking *mistake*. How *could* he? He wouldn't for his father or his mother or for his life, he'd fought the very idea of being something else, and now--Jesus, now, he's living it.
It's what Ethan needs, he'd told her, and he loves me and I can do this, and she'd wanted to ask, what fucking kind of love asks for that? And he just kept rubbing his palm into his knee the entire time, fingers jerking with involuntary spasms, rubbing and rubbing until she thought the skin would peel away and leave nothing but air in his place. You understand, don't you? You're the best, Daph. I love you.
What kind of love, she wanted to say, but she'd caught it between her teeth and hated even more. What kind of love would *ask* that?
"Give it time." She looks up and Brian's playing with an empty packet, eyes on her. Watching other people make mistakes, right, that's Brian, he lets you hang yourself with all the rope in the world, but only Justin makes him cut the rope before serious damage is done.
If I do, she wants to tell him, there won't be anything left of him, but she doesn't say anything at all. Stares at her cup and wishes Brian would go away and stop this awkward, uncomfortable little chat, that had to be as unwelcome to him as it was to her. What the hell do you know, anyway? You fucking let him go. You packed his bags and pushed him out the door before he knew what you were doing. He thinks he chose it all and he did, but why the fuck didn't you cut the rope this time? Why the fuck don't you do it now? "I gotta go."
She's only a step away from freedom when she hears his voice. "Where you headed?"
She stops, turning to look at him, and it's one of those times, when he sees her as more than this extra appendage of Justin along for the ride, the girl-bit that he ignores when it suits him and mocks when it doesn't. The one that kissed her at the prom and made Justin light up like a nova, brilliant, hot, reckless, and willing to do anything at all. The one that coaxed him back into life and loved him and hated him and drove him out and made this entire fucking nightmare a reality.
"Nowhere special." Something flashes in memory--Justin's voice on a ledge, dreamy and bright and alive, like he'd never been before, like he'd been sleeping all his life and had just woken up. She feels herself flush, hot and surprised, but Brian only smiles, and it's the most real thing she's seen in weeks. Like he knows everything Justin ever told her, about them, and hell, he probably does. He moves like he's on stage, like he's the center of the universe, Jesus, get out of his way or get knocked aside, he'll never notice the difference, and he walks by her with a brush of wool and warmth. He doesn't even turn around to see if she follows. She can't imagine doing anything else.
"I can change that."
She believes him.
Heavy beat club music plays in the background, and he sits on the other side of the coffee table, cross-legged on the floor, and they play Scrabble. Tie discarded somewhere, shoes a pile on the floor by the desk, and he's staring at the board like it has the answers to every question the universe has ever asked. And such stupid words, it's like playing against a dictionary, fuck the eight hundred on the SATs, she can't keep up, but she's never quite learned how to give up either. It's kind of grim and kind of funny, because for every three letter word, they have to take a shot, and maybe that's not fair, because Brian's tolerance is better than hers, and because all his words seem to have five letters or more.
"You're cheating," she tells him, and he gives her a mocking look before picking up the last three tiles. Both sleeves are rolled up, and the top two buttons of his shirt are undone. She's had a lot of dreams that started with that, but the Scrabble sort of spoils it. "I don't know how, but you are."
"I thought you made eight hundred on the vocab," he says, and she pushes her hair out of her face, remembers Justin bragging in the diner, remembers how he eclipsed everyone else without even trying. Sunshine, Debbie calls him, and she'd called it right and didn't even know it.
"That was almost two years ago," she says, staring at her tiles. All consonants, no vowels, another shot is in her future with that little 'a' just sitting there on the board, and it's not even a triple word. Fuck. "Fine." She takes the shot and he matches her because, well, it's alcohol, but his tolerance is still higher than hers. She's surprised he doesn't have to mainline everclear to get a buzz.
Conversation is minimal--there's never been any common ground except for Justin, and she doesn't think either of them are up to that. The leather sofa against her back is too comfortable, and it's too easy just to lean back and go with the flow.
Scrabble leads to pot, because his final triumph was somehow getting marijuana on the board, it's a common noun, he'd argued, and she'd believed him and believed it even more when she took a hit. This was where Justin got all his good shit, she'd thought wryly, remembering Ethan's wide-eyed disapproval when she'd laughed with Justin over the first time they got high together. And oh, she'd thought, that explains a lot.
It really doesn't, but sometimes, she needs something to make sense of this, even if it's stupid shit.
"Why aren't you out fucking?" she asks after six rounds, because for some reason, it sounds like a logical question. Brian's stretched out on the couch just above her, and she has to tilt her head upside down to see him. The loft's dark, but the window lets in enough ambient light to see the smoke hanging in the air around them. He looks at her with his sweetest smile, the one that she learned is dangerous and kinda hot, because Brian can make being a total asshole very, very hot.
"Why aren't you?"
Because she's lousy at picking up guys and even lousier at keeping them around. She gets why Brian likes his fucks anonymous and one-time-only. It's easier without the emotion--colder, too, but she'd settle for a little cold if it made the hurting stop. Sex is dangerous, that's what they teach you in school, that's what all the lectures mean. It's messy and deadly and leads to pregnancy and suicide and poverty and sometimes all three (she wonders which they think is worst) and it leads to your name on the bathroom wall and dirty things said behind your back.
She wonders what Brian would say about that, and then wonders if his name's written up in Babylon's bathroom wall. And wonders if he wrote it there himself.
"I don't do that." Though maybe she should, so that instead of being Justin's pretend, she can be someone's real. If only for a little while.
Because she's never learned how to separate her body and her mind, and the only person she's ever fucked is also the only man she loved (loves) with all her heart. "It's different for girls."
"Bullshit." He takes another hit and she scrabbles onto her knees and takes it when he hands it over, taking a long drag, sweet, harsh smoke filling her lungs. Justin taught her how to hold it, draw it out, make her *feel* it in every nerve and pulse in her blood. "It's not different anywhere except your head."
He's right and he's not. He's a guy, leave the gay aside, and they don't hear what women hear when the safe-sex lectures are given. Men hear, sex is dangerous (hot), but the consequences are all for the girls, and it's drilled into them with every lecture, dirty, nasty, failure, slut, wrong. "Men always say that." Except Justin, who had to learn, who learned it from this man. Justin, who fucked who he liked when he liked, who learned that sex and love aren't the same thing and then hadn't taught her how to do that, even when he fucked her. Closing her eyes, she lets out the smoke and lays her head on her arm, floating with the feeling. "You showed him how to do it."
The filter's off between mind and mouth. Distantly, she thinks she should worry, that she's bringing Justin in this room now, but Jesus, she's mellow and it's all so far away. "Do what?"
She keeps her eyes closed. It's easier to pretend when she closes her eyes--that is one thing she did learn from Justin. His eyes are closed a lot these days. "How to fuck."
"He did ask."
That makes her straighten, force her eyes open. Embarrassment's a distant thing. "When he--when he and I--"
Brian's grinning and God, he looks sixteen and too young to be the jaded man she knows, the suit that polished him before no longer fitting. She twists to burn this memory into her mind, remember it. "Yeah."
Jesus. She stares back, mouth open, feeling so *stupid*. Of course he asked. "How the hell would you know?"
Brian snickers, rolling on his side, tucking one arm beneath his head. "Know how to fuck or how to fuck a woman?"
"You never--" Brian snorts and something in her head clicks. "Lindsay?"
"Smart girl." He grins, huge and un-Brian, and she wonders what else he took tonight. Daphne tries to imagine it and can't, and she'd think maybe that it shouldn't be so hard, but Brian. And a girl. "In college?" He nods solemnly and Daphne thinks of Gus and Lindsay and what Justin told her about Mel, and okay, wow, does this clear things up a little. A lot. Not at all. "Wow. Did you like it?"
Brian considers the question, tongue pushed into his cheek. "It was different."
Daphne thinks of everything Justin's told her about sex with Brian. Huh. "I didn't think--" What did he do, close his eyes and imagine--but--she shakes her head. It won't compute. Lindsay's drop dead gorgeous, but she's a *lesbian*, and it's just--weird. Vaguely wrong, like being told that blue is orange, or something. "College is really a time for experimentation, huh?"
Brian laughs, and this--like something's loosening in him, and she made him do that, and she doesn't even know how, and God help her, she wants to do it again. Because this is a thousand miles away from the man she knows, and so close she can see the echoes of both. This is what Justin sees, she realizes, like dawn after an impossibly bleak night, like stars coming out after a storm. This is what he *sees*, what he saw, and what he stopped being able to see at all.
Echoes, and she thinks she knows why she's here, even if she didn't before. You miss him, she thinks, watching Brian roll onto his back to stare at the ceiling with this huge smile, like he's remembering something wonderful. You really miss him.
Cut the rope, she wants to say, and he'll get it, he'll understand, he could do it now, he could have done it any time. Justin wants romance, he wants fairy tales and all the shit that goes with it, but there's nothing he's ever wanted like he wants you and he always will. I know and God, you have to know that, too.
But she doesn't. "I can't see it."
Brian snickers and looks down at her, soft hazy eyes and warm mouth that looks so touchable, and it's like being seventeen again and with the crush of a lifetime. "Lindsay would say otherwise."
"Different," she muses, mind skittering. Like if she took a girl to bed--and God knows, she's had opportunity after opportunity. A kiss behind Babylon one night before Justin dragged her away, sweet with daiquiri, and she'd carried the taste of cherries in her mind if not her mouth for days. The way the body had fit, unfamiliar, and soft in the places she was. Silky skin and girl-taste and long hair that twisted in her fingers. Eyes closed, it was amazing.
After had been the kicker. She wonders if Justin felt that, the first time Brian kissed him, the dissonance, the *different*, or if it felt--
"Was it weird?" she whispers, eyes still closed. Everything she knows about sex she learned from Justin, and he knew too much and not enough. Those hands on her had *known*. They'd known so much, and she'd wondered, and then it had been over.
"It's just sex," Brian answers indifferently. "Different equipment, same idea."
She snorts. "You'd be fucking anyone if that were true." Brian's quiet, and she opens her eyes to see him considering the question. Ten billion years of human civilization hadn't figured the rules of attraction out, but Brian Kinney might just think he can figure it out on a high. "Give me some."
He's not stupid--she can see the knowing in his eyes. "What you took."
Like a magician, he smiles again, and she sees the little white pill between his teeth, and she saw him use that trick on Justin once, and God, that had been hot. Eyebrows raising, she reaches out a hand, but he looks back at her like she's the biggest idiot ever.
She's unsteady from more than the drugs, more falling on the side of the couch than anything like sitting, but his hands steady her, light and impersonal, and she's shaky and too mellow to care. His lips are as soft as they look, though, tongue pushing the pill into her mouth and she swallows, gasping as his tongue that touches hers. Brian's anything but awkward, uses her inexperience to instruct, and the memory of Justin's kisses are echoes of this, too.
She remembers cherries and touches that knew her, promised her things she didn't know she wanted, and then it's over, and Brian looks up at her, lazy warmth and amusement. "Like I said. It's just sex."
Just sex, and she nods, licking her lips, and she can taste the cherries. "This girl at Babylon." Her voice is breathless. "One night. She. I liked it."
"You're hot. I'd fuck you." Lazy hands in her hair, and she closes her eyes at the slow strokes. Lindsay had fucked him once, she thinks, and she wants to ask questions, but they wouldn't give her answers. She's not here for answers, anyway. "Stop overthinking it."
'That's easy for you to say." He's been fucking for almost as long as she's been alive. Another strange, disconnected thought, and she touches her mouth and sighs. "Justin wasn't--it was weird."
She wonders if Brian has ever questioned Justin's tricks before tonight. "Yeah, just--not what I expected." Though she hadn't known what to expect, and she had known, too. Dissonance again. "It was like taking a test, and orgasm meant an A."
Brian laughs, hard enough to startle her, and she grins because she can't help it. "Yeah. He thinks too much."
Not with you. If he had, he wouldn't have stayed and never, ever would have left. She shakes her head, clearing away the thoughts, aware of a kind of itch just beneath the surface of her skin. Warmth like heated wax, spreading slowly through her, and the touch in her hair is unbearably hot, making her pull away, making her want to move closer, bury herself against warm skin, makes her want to move and sit still and just--- "Oh God."
"Feel it?" Brian's hand cups her face and she looks down at him. Vivid and hyperreal, sharp cheekbones and dilated eyes and God, how could anyone breathe, think with him this close? "Yeah. There we go."
"Wow." She's never felt anything close. The joint's forgotten as she gets to her feet, and it's like her entire body is all-new, and she's never felt anything close. Music fills up her mind like light and air, thought itself is shoved to the side. High isn't this, hasn't been before, she doesn't *think* differently except she does, and energy rushes through her like electricity and there's nothing to ground her. "This is amazing. What--"
"Don't you know your alphabet, Daphne?" He's so fucking amused, but she doesn't care, does it even *matter*, how can anything matter when you can feel this good? Her own skin's this amazing thing that sends sparks off wherever she touches it, and she's stripping her sweater, pulling her shirt up enough for her nails to draw lines that crackle and make her shiver.
"God." E. He gave her e. "Yes."
Rhythm that she doesn't even know she's following, but then she is, head bent back, eyes closed, and she, God, doesn't want this to end. She's a shitty dancer, Justin always says so, but she doesn't give a damn. She has to *move*. Just move, release, she hears herself talking, stupid shit about what she feels, but he's got to know, has to feel it, too. She turns, trying to focus, seeing Brian still in that indecent sprawl, watching her.
"Good for you?" His voice is lazy, and God, how can he just lay there? She can feel the current from here, how it's charging his skin and making him shiver with every brush of the leather against him. She's pushing the coffee table aside, scattering Scrabble on the floor like broken glass. Reaching for his hand, pulling until he lets her, and Justin says Brian's a shitty dancer, too, but who the fuck could care about that? He's warm and tall and reaches under her shirt to run his nails down her back, grinning at her arch and gasp. "It gets better."
It can't get better, but it does, and she rides the high, not stumbling once, bare feet sliding on polished wood, and Brian's telling her things, dirty things about what he and Lindsay did and what he and Justin did and what he does with tricks, and it's all hot and close. She tells him about the girl at Babylon who turned her on and how Justin fucked her like she would shatter, how gentle he'd been, how her nails had cut up his back and how he'd laughed at her worry. She tells him about the time she went to the backroom and watched for seconds that seemed like hours. How she got herself off thinking of Justin's mouth, and that girl, and that room.
They stop for shots and bottles of water, sweat soaking into her hairline and the back of her turtleneck until she peels it off, leaving it on the floor like a shed skin. Brian lets her touch him and she thinks she'll never be able to stop, buttons falling from clumsy fingers to lose themselves on the floor. She giggles against his chest when he tells her that she's drunk, because, God, he is, too. Licks sweaty skin because she can, and Brian's fingers undo the front of her jeans so casually, she almost forgets she's nearly naked when she steps out of them, kicks them away. Forgets completely when she raises on her toes and kisses him, and this is Brian, this is impossible, and it's good, and it's better than good.
He touches her like spun glass, pretty and fragile and-and-and she *wants*, Jesus, she wants, it's burning in her fingertips and her lips, her breasts and between her legs, bright and sharp and aching. She digs her nails into his back and pulls in. "I won't break." Punctuates with a bite, and this isn't her, she's never been like this, never just reaching for what she wants, take it. Brian traces her sides with his palms when he kisses her back, then clench on her hips, lifting her up, and the flash of *want* *now* *take* *have* makes her shake. "It's just sex."
It's just sex that spreads her on the floor, wood cool and hard and grounding beneath her shoulders when she arches, and she keeps her eyes open on him.
She wants to remember everything. Or maybe just forget.