Author's Notes: So… I gave up watching TV for lent (WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?!) and as such am entertaining myself by writing for new old fandoms.

Also, midterms ended today, which means my life is now 100% better.

as it goes down

It's not Ethan that bothers her, Daphne decides, jiggling Brian's keys in her pocket as she steps into the lift. Ethan himself is sweet, attentive. Sincere. He's the kind of guy that Daphne would usually go for, the artsy musician with just a little bit of scruff. There's nothing wrong with Ethan.

It's Justin that's the problem.

The lift creaks as it rises, humming in that sweet low voice that reminds her of her grandfather. Daphne blows a breath out her nose. She's not sure how she got herself here. She's always stayed out of the soap opera that was Brian and Justin. But she swears to God, there is something bewitching about Justin Taylor; she's known him since the first grade, and he's still got some sort of power over her. It's the smile, probably — Deb's not wrong to call him Sunshine with the way he lights up. It's fucking unfair is what it is.

He and Ethan are going to a shooooow (and that's the way he said it now, drawing out the o like he was orgasming or something, going to a shooooooow, Daph, me and Ethan just loooooove to go to shooooows), and even though Daphne has three midterms this week he somehow managed to rope her into going back to Brian's loft to pick up the last threads of their relationship, the CDs and scattered halves of pencils (Justin always snaps them; he likes the way the ends feel when they're broken and rough) that he just has to have.

God forbid he just buys some new damn pencils, Daphne thinks, but that's Justin for you. Can't bear to part with things until they've worn completely away, until literally all that was left was the eraser.

Apt metaphor, she thinks dryly as she pulls the door back and fits the key into the lock. She wonders if she should knock, and then decides that there's no way Brian's home at eight-thirty on a Friday night, anyway. And if he is, well, Brian has always liked initiative.

The loft looks the same as the last time she was here, just a few months ago, a couple weeks before The Breakup. She hadn't really seen it coming; when Justin talked about Brian it was always either boiling or freezing, he's the one or I hope he gets run over by a bus. They were always breaking up at the end of the day and completely in love by morning. It made Daphne tired.

There are lights on, so Daphne drops Brian's keys into her pocket and calls out, "Hello?"

The glass partition between the living room and the loft folds open and Daphne looks quickly at her feet, the tangle of pink flesh and shock of dark hair that sticks everywhere bringing a flush to her face. She can't help it; she's not like Justin, who's so unflappable about this kind of crap that she could have a baby in front of him and he'd just smile and want to name it.

Brian's voice isn't breathy or tight or anything like hers is when she's having sex, but that probably shouldn't come as a surprise. Sex for Brian is like brushing your teeth, just something you do before the day is over. "Daphne," he greets, and she makes herself look at his face because she knows he'll think less of her for being embarrassed. "The fuck are you doing here?"

He doesn't sound mad, and his face is more curious than anything else, and Daphne can't help herself from wanting to impress him. Everyone always wants to impress Brian. "Justin can't live another day without his Coldplay CD," Daphne explains apologetically, and looks away. She's not sure how this kind of thing works for Brian, not sure if he gets upset when people bring up Justin or Ethan or the bored way he fucks people. So she makes a point to examine the painting of the naked man. He has nice arms. "And since I'm apparently the only person in Pittsburg not having sex, he figured I'd have time to pick it up for him."

Brian laughs, a little, and if it's not strained, it's not exactly amused, either. "Make yourself comfortable," he says, and reaches out to close the partition.

Daphne isn't sure what to do with herself, so she goes to the kitchen and pours a glass of guava juice. The whole situation is weird, Brian having sex in the next room, Justin and Ethan out striking poses at their show (like some horrible PIFA student painting, Still Life with Art Student, she thinks dryly), and Daphne here, drinking guava juice.

She doesn't even like fruit, really, but what else is she supposed to do with her hands?

She mentally curses Justin again and traces the design of the countertop with her finger. She's always liked Brian's loft; Mrs. Taylor calls it a fuckpad, and she's not wrong exactly, but Daphne's only ever been when things were good, which meant that Justin's hand was everywhere. It had always seemed sort of homey, to Daphne, though she can't imagine what Brian would say if he knew. He'd probably sneer and say something insulting about breeders and emotions in general.

The man Brian has picked up stumbles out of the room to the sound of the shower stuttering on. He smiles hazily at her, and Daphne realizes that he must be high on something or many somethings.

"Didn't realize it was a party," he slurs cheerfully as he reaches for the door. He peers closely at her, a look of astonishment on his face. "You look real," he compliments, and then stumbles into the hallway.

Daphne frowns, not sure why she's offended. "I am real!" she calls after him, and for some reason this is very important to her. People on drugs have always stressed her out, like their doubting her existence makes her doubt her own. It's why she never went with Justin to Babylon, though he always begged her. Once was enough.

"No arguments here," Brian said, swooping in behind her to kiss her cheek and steal the glass of guava juice out of her hand. "Who said you could have my juice? This shit is imported."

Daphne smiles and rolls her eyes. "Who imports juice?" she asks rhetorically, and turns around. Brian's just in a towel, which shouldn't surprise her but sort of does anyway. She keeps her eyes on his face. This is another important thing about Brian: looking anywhere but his face does weird things to people. You had to be careful to avoid the eyes, though, because they were as powerful as Justin's smile. The nose was usually safest.

Sometimes Daphne wondered how Justin and Brian didn't just stand around all day looking into one another's eyes and smiling, and then realized they probably did.

"So Sunshine wants his British pop music," Brian says, and his grin says he's not actually mad about the juice. Daphne tries not to feel relieved and does anyway. "God, what a queen."

He pours a shot of Beam into the juice, which Daphne thinks is the nastiest thing in the world, but when he pushes the glass back at her she takes it. He smirks when she drinks it and makes a face. Neither of them are talking about why Justin didn't come himself, and Daphne can't decide if she's glad she's here or wishes she hadn't come. She feels a flush of anger against Justin, against the way he's acting, like Brian wronged him somehow, and maybe he did but at least he never lied about it.

Justin didn't ask Daphne to come for the CD because he just had to go to his shooooow, he asked her to come because he's ashamed of lying and because he doesn't want to see Brian like this, like they all know he is even though he pretends not to be, eyes tight and tired around the corners and smile just a little harder than it used to be, a little less easy.

This is what Daphne means when she says she doesn't mind Ethan, exactly, because Ethan is smart and talented and even funny, sometimes. But he makes Justin into this desperately pretentious coward who can't face up to his own mistakes, so he ignores the past like it didn't happen. Justin's so busy trying to be perfect for Ethan that he's blocked out all the things he thinks make him weak or marred or strange—they don't talk about the bashing, though Justin's hand hurts him sometimes, and they don't talk about Babylon, and they don't talk about Brian. Justin is too busy being a martyr for Ethan to remember the good things, the way he used to teasingly call Brian the Big Easy, the way he keeps that dumb King of Babylon cowboy hat in his closet, the one and only time Daphne did E and spent the entire night curled up on Emmett's lap playing with the fringe on his vest because she thought they were caterpillars.

Daphne takes another drink. She doesn't pick sides in the never ending tug-o-war of Brian and Justin, but it's hard to feel bad for their Sunshine, with his shiny new violinist and black turtlenecks and elongated o sounds when Brian is in his loft alone (and even when he's with a trick, he's alone, everyone knows that, Justin knows that) drinking guava juice and Beam.

"I've tried to culture him," Daphne says around the sudden lump in her throat, and she won't cry now, she won't. She's not even sure why she's upset, but this is just more proof that she should avoid alcohol at all costs. "But the heart wants what it wants."

And those were the wrong words, almost certainly, because Brian looks sharply away, and Daphne has always been utter crap at all this.

Brian shrugs and disappears into the bedroom. When he emerges, he's got a trash can full of Justin's things, and Daphne wonders whether he thinks that makes it less sad, as if he could convince anyone that it was just a slow collection of random things he threw away. But she can't help but picture him going through the loft and picking out the things that Justin left, and her heart hurts.

Yeah. She needs to stay away from liqueur for the rest of her life. She should have eaten something earlier.

"So how is our little fiddler on the roof?" Brian asks ultra-casually, pouring himself another glass of whatever amber liquid he's got on the counter. "Still falling all over Ian making doe eyes?" He pulls a face, like this disgusts him, but Daphne's seen him make doe eyes of his own, so she swirls the juice around in her cup and shrugs.

"Annoying," she says honestly, although she feels guilty after. Justin is, after all, her best friend, even this new, post-Brian Justin, and she can't help the loyalty that comes with it. But she owes Brian something, she thinks, though she can't imagine what. "He had to go to some pretentious art crapfest tonight. They'll probably serve shrimp hors d'oeuvres and talking about how they just love painting to the sounds of Chopin or how Van Gogh makes them shit themselves with joy."

Brian laughs, really laughs, and Daphne feels victorious, like she's won a prize. Brian raises his glass to her and tips it back, shaking his head. "I always liked you, Daphne," he says seriously. "We should fuck sometime."

He's kidding, and she knows he's kidding, but the words shoot through her anyway and she blushes. He notices, smirks. Bastard. "I don't think my dick is big enough," she deadpans, and when he laughs again she smiles.

Now the trash can is between them, and Daphne is struck with the horrifying question of what to do with it, if she should take it or ask for plastic bags to put the stuff in, and then she wonders if this is really everything of Justin's, and the responsibility feels so heavy that she wants to throw up. She doesn't want to take everything of Justin out of this loft. She doesn't want to be the last one of the two of them to come here. She wants Justin to have a reason to come back, when he comes back, and by the way Brian is looking at her maybe he knows what she knows: this isn't over, Brian and Justin aren't over, but it will always be like this. The back and forth, in and out, start and stop.

There will be more Ethans, but the fact that this Ethan isn't the last Ethan makes her feel better, somehow.

"That looks kind of heavy," Daphne says, coming to a decision, and reaches in for the small stack of CDs that are resting on the top. Brian raises his eyebrows. "I'm not a donkey. If Justin wants to haul that shit back to his crappy flat he'll have to do it himself."

Brian looks for a second like he's impressed, or glad, or amused, Daphne can't tell which. Maybe all three. Maybe he really doesn't give a shit, who the fuck ever knows with him, but Daphne won't be the one who lets Justin erase everything he doesn't think that Ethan will like. If he wants to blur out this man, this man, he'll have to do it himself.

She puts the CDs in her purse and lets Brian walk her to the door. He smells like soap, and Daphne remembers Justin beaming at her as he said he said "I want to smell you. not soap." like it was some declaration of love. And who knows, with Brian, it probably was.

"Brian," she says as she gets on the lift, and he puts his foot in the doorway, waiting.

She isn't sure what to say, so she offers the only sort of apology she thinks he'll accept. "Ethan's boring," she says. "And he drinks orange juice. From Walgreens."

Brian's shoulders tighten and then relax, and he rolls his head up to smile at her before going back into the loft and tugging the door shut.

The lift sighs as it goes down, slowly.