Seasons Challenge #1: Reflection Title: Reflection Author:xie_xie_xie Timeline: Post-513 Author's notes: Thank you to _alicesprings for the midnight beta... and I think this is probably the only fic ever written in this fandom about this particular winter holiday.
The diner was warm, noisy and bright – which Justin thought was a nice change from the shitty, rainy, dark, cold November day outside.
"Sunshine!" Debbie gestured toward the back with a full coffee pot. "They're waiting for you."
Brian didn't look up when Justin got to the booth, just moved down enough for him to slide in, but not enough that their legs weren't pressing together. Justin saw Brian's lip twitch against a smile when he slid his hand onto Brian's thigh.
Justin turned his coffee cup over, and looked around for Deb or Betty or anyone with coffee. A girl he didn't know appeared, the ends of her headscarf trailing over her shoulders, coffee pot in her hand.
She took his order, and the whole time, no one said a word. And they didn't start talking again until a few seconds after she was gone. "She's new," Justin said, blowing across the hot surface of the coffee.
That unleashed Emmett's tongue. "Everyone's talking about Debbie hiring her," he said, his voice lowered. "It's just too weird to see someone wearing a burka in the Liberty Diner."
"It's not a burka," Ben said, "It's a hijab." He sipped his tea. "She's wearing jeans."
Brian snorted. "You know, Honeycutt, it wasn't all that long ago you came in here with a clear plastic t-shirt and little orange plastic circles pasted over your nipples."
Michael was frowning, and Justin raised an eyebrow at him.
"She lives next door to my mom," he said. "Her aunt told Ma her brother got into some kind of political trouble in Iran, and the whole family had to leave the country, and now they're all living in different cities and no one knows what happened to her brother."
Brian's hand snaked out and took one of Justin's fries. "Who gives a fuck what people wear on their heads?" He popped it in his mouth. "Just look at Debbie."
"Watch it," Michael warned, and everyone laughed.
A couple of weeks later was Thanksgiving. Justin opened the door to Debbie's, arms cradling two pumpkin pies he'd made in what he now realized was an irrational fit of domesticity. The last thing Debbie would need was more food.
"Happy Thanksgiving!" Michael said, trying to give him a hug without dislodging the pies. "Where's Brian?"
Justin nodded toward the curb. "He's extracting the wine bottles from their protective cocoon. He'll be right…"
It happened fast. A loud noise, a flash of light, something like a wave made of sound and air.
The pies slid out of Justin's arms, and he ran out to the sidewalk. Brian was racing toward the house next door, where flames were licking up the ivy-covered siding. Justin caught up with him and grabbed his arm, stopping him from going in. "This way," he said, raising his voice above the sound of the flames.
The house was too close to its neighbors to risk going down the side alleys, so they ran through Debbie's to the back. Carl was there, talking into his cell phone, and Ben and Michael were on the house's back porch, peering in the window. Sirens were sounding in the distance.
"There's someone inside," Ben said. "Stand back."
He lifted his leg and smashed the door open.
They found a body lying across the doorway to the kitchen, and Ben slid his arms carefully under her back and shoulders while Brian lifted her under her knees.
Justin and Michael were standing on the porch, and moved aside so Brian and Ben could get past with the girl. They started to go inside to see if there was anyone else who had been hurt, when a there was another explosion, a smaller one. "Get out," Brian said, slamming Justin with his hip. "Go!"
The sound of sirens was everywhere, but it was all fire engines, no ambulance yet, no cops except Carl.
Brian and Ben carried the girl into Debbie's house, and when they got inside, they heard someone banging on the front door, louder than even the sirens.
It was a fireman, telling them they had to get out.
"We got a hurt girl in here," Debbie yelled.
They stood down the street behind a barricade, and watched the ambulance take the girl away. "Do you know where her aunt and uncle are?" Carl asked, his cell phone still clutched to his ear.
Debbie shook her head, then grabbed his arm. "Their cell phone numbers might be on her job application at the diner…"
"I'll go," Michael said, and took off toward Liberty Avenue.
Brian had his arm over Justin's shoulder. "I'd offer to drive us all somewhere if my car wasn't trapped by all these fire engines." He shook his head. "Civil servants today really don't care who they inconvenience, do they?"
"Who exactly could you fit in that car besides Sunshine?" Debbie said, earrings swinging as she turned her head.
Brian nodded. "Exactly."
Justin jabbed him with an elbow. "It's Thanksgiving. And they've got the fire out, it looks like. They'll let us back in soon."
Carl had gone back to the scene, where a lone police officer was taking notes. They walked to the far side of the house, and Carl pointed at something.
Debbie shook her head. "I bet it was that… what do you call it? Where she made those sculptures or whatever they were."
"Pottery," Ben said. "It was a kiln."
"She had a kiln in there?" Justin asked. "Do kilns explode?" He'd worked with kilns at PIFA, and remembered a few glass objects shattering in unfortunate ways, and signs everywhere warning the students to wear safety gear, but he didn't remember any of them blowing up.
"It wasn't the kiln," Carl said, walking back to the barricade line.
"Well, what was it?" Debbie asked.
Justin could feel Brian's arm tighten on his shoulder.
"There's…" Carl hesitated… "hate speech sprayed on the side of the house."
"Hate speech?" Debbie said. "Like what."
"I don't like to say," Carl said. "Just trust me, it wasn't the kiln."
They didn't let anyone back in, but Carl snuck into the house and packed an overnight bag for him and Debbie. Then he had a squad car drop Brian and Justin at the loft and another one take everyone else to Ben and Michael's house.
Brian disappeared into the bathroom, and Justin turned on the television. The local news was on, and the anchor said there had been a series of anti-Muslim incidents throughout Pittsburgh. "The attacks are thought to be related to the month-long Ramadan celebration, which began tonight," she said, professional concern etched on her face.
Then they went to live footage, and while they'd blurred the shot, Justin could see what was painted on the siding on the house next door to Debbie's.
"'Sand niggers'?" He asked Brian when he came out. "Who the fuck calls Arab people 'sand niggers'?"
Brian sat down next to him, and took the remote control away. "The same kind of disturbed assholes who throw bombs into houses, or blow up clubs for hosting political benefits." He turned off the television. "Or hit a kid in the head with a bat for being a fag."
Justin felt like standing up, or turning the television back on, or just about anything other than sitting there letting those words hang in the air. But Brian's arm was behind his back, his fingers trailing over the skin on his neck. So he just sighed. "Yeah. I'd forgotten for ten minutes."
"The world," Brian said, pulling Justin closer, "is a dangerous and hate-filled place. That's why I have grave reservations about ever leaving the loft again."
Justin smiled and let Brian finish pulling him all the way against him. "Good thing the Thai places deliver."
Justin stopped by Red Cape a few days later, to show Michael some drawings he'd made that he thought might work in the next issue of Rage. It was late, and they closed the shop and walked to the diner.
They were meeting Brian, but he wasn't there yet. Michael spread the drawings out on the table and looked at them.
"Is this the next issue?" Debbie asked, setting her coffee pot precariously down among the drawings.
Michael and Justin scrambled to get them into neat piles. "No," Justin said. "Just some ideas I had."
Debbie was holding one of them up; two hunched-over skinheads running away from a burning house, hate-filled graffiti on the wall behind them.
Debbie sat down next to Justin. "Sunshine… do you have to take every ugly thing you see and put it into this fucking comic?"
Justin took the drawing away from her. "I guess I do, Debbie."
"How is she, Ma?" Michael asked.
"Zahra? She's still in the hospital. I went and visited her yesterday."
Debbie and Michael kept talking, and Justin put his drawings back in order. He had the familiar feeling of wanting to get up and leave, but he fought it down. It's not like running away ever fixed anything.
"Hey." Brian slid into the booth, making Justin move toward the window. "What's this?"
He flipped through the drawings, but didn't say anything.
After dinner, they walked home with Debbie. It was dark, but Justin could see the boarded windows on the burned house, the piles of debris on the front lawn. "Where did they go?" he asked.
Debbie glanced toward at him. "They're staying with friends from their church."
"Mosque," Brian said. "She's Muslim. They belong to a mosque, not a church."
"What are you," Debbie said, "The religion police?"
Brian laughed. "Right. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Emmett's fairy faggots… it's all right out of the Brothers Grimm. But if people are going to burn down a house over the difference between a mosque and a church, the least a well-meaning liberal like you can do is keep them straight." He paused. "So to speak."
They didn't stay long, and Brian grabbed Justin's hand and held it while they walked back to where he'd left his car. Brian almost never held his hand.
"So, what's Rage going to do to fix hatred of Muslims in America, I mean, Gayopolis?"
Justin shrugged. "I don't know. Ask Michael." He kicked at the sidewalk. "I don't know if we'll even use it. I just felt like I wanted to…" His voice trailed off.
Brian squeezed his hand and let it go. "I know. The world's full of hate. We had this conversation."
"I'm sick of it," Justin said, stopping and facing Brian. "It's not funny, it's not okay, and it's not getting any fucking better, is it? They keep passing laws that gay people can't even fucking visit each other in the hospital, and the states that make us equal turn around and take it way… and no one gives a fuck, as long as it just happens to Arabs and queers."
Brian looked at him for a long time, then slid his hands under Justin's collar, letting his fingers curl around his neck. "You're right. But you're wrong."
Justin snorted, but he let one of his hands rest on Brian's wrist. "That doesn't make any sense."
Brian pressed his forehead against Justin's. "They get angry because they see us. They see us because we don't hide as much. Queers, Arabs, one day it's going to be like some fucking soft drink commercial, where you have to have one representative of every oppressed minority and ethnic sub-group in every shot… they'll be holding casting calls for gay-rabs. Mark my words."
Justin had to laugh. "Gay-rabs? Jesus, Brian."
He smirked. "It got you to laugh."
They started walking toward the car again. When they got back to the loft, Justin sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed, his drawings spread out around him. "Should I just forget about this?"
Brian twisted the top off a bottle of beer, and took a swallow. "That's your call."
Justin stacked them up and put them on the bedside table, then got up on his knees and crawled under the duvet. "I don't fucking know."
Brian put the beer down and got under the covers with him. "Forget about it." He grabbed Justin's hand. "Just for now."
Justin let Brian push him back against the pillows. "Tomorrow we're back in the world of hate, though."
Brian brushed his lips across Justin's. "But not tonight." And then he kissed him.