BETWEEN THE SESSIONS
Thanks to Darren, editor extradonaire! In case you are wondering, I know so much about leukemia because a good friend of mine is going through it with his nephew. This storyline is dedicated to that kid and all kids suffering from this awful disease in hopes of a speedy and complete recovery. R.
Justin was soaking in the bathtub, covered by a skim of bubbles, his eyes closed. He listened to the conversation going on beyond the open door to the bathroom. Brian and Jeffrey were seated in the main room of Brian's hotel suite, discussing bone marrow transplants. He felt as if they were discussing the fate of a total stranger, instead of his little sister. It was the only way he could keep from screaming.
"Bone marrow transplants are called BMTs in the business," Jeffrey was explaining. "It's an expensive procedure, as much as a quarter of a million, but luckily her insurance doesn't consider it 'experimental' the way some do. Her costs should be covered."
"Is it experimental?" Brian sounded uneasy.
"No, Brian. It's been proven effective in appropriate cases. The alternative protocol is long term chemo, a program of two and a half years of intensive chemotherapy and frequent hospitalization. But in order to be eligible for a BMT, the patient has to be in remission. Molly is not yet there."
"What is remission again?"
"Remission is when the patient exhibits normal blood levels."
"Why isn't that a cure?"
"Because remissions come and go, typically."
"But what if she doesn't go into remission?"
"Then the long term chemo protocol is her only hope. The survival rate for that protocol is one in four. Not as great."
"One in four is not good enough, Jeff." Justin could hear the steel enter Brian's voice.
"I'm aware of that, Brian. We're working on it."
"I mean it, three kids for every one that lives? Bullshit!" When he felt passionate about something, he was a bulldog on the subject. Justin admired that about Brian. His passion in life was almost as strong as his passion in bed.
"It used to be a hell of a lot worse than that. Look, no reason to go to that bad place. I firmly anticipate Molly will go into remission and then a BMT is the way to go. I don't accept the theory that one protocol is as effective as the other. Of course, the key is the match."
"What's the magic there?" Brian asked. Justin listened, trying not to feel uncomfortable about Brian's conversational ease with Jeffrey.
"An allogenic BMT is bone marrow transplanted from a donor, not from the patient's own body. Typically it is donated by a sibling. There are six markers we look for in determining a match. Doctors call them leukocyte antigens. They're present in the white blood count. Six markers are a match. The most likely donor is a same gender sibling. An identical twin is, of course, perfect. Failing that, a sibling with a different gender. Failing that, a parent. But even a parent with five out of six markers is preferable to a stranger with six out of six. It's hard to explain, but the patient seems to have less rejection issues with related marrow."
"What about a stranger? What are the chances?" Brian was still intent on donating to Molly himself.
"Best case, one in ten thousand. Worst case, one in twenty thousand."
"Shit. I don't like those odds."
Justin came into the room, wrapped in a towel. "What are the odds for a sibling match?"
"Three or four patients out of ten have a sibling or parent who can provide a match," Jeffrey responded as Brian retrieved the hotel's terrycloth robe and placed it around Justin's body, informing him that his contracting pneumonia was a bad idea.
"Three or four out of ten? Those odds aren't so bad," Justin said, sitting down beside Brian on the sofa. He stretched one calf across Brian's thighs. Brian absently stroked his leg, unaware of how intimate this pose appeared to Jeffrey.
"Brian, the chances are very slim that you would be accepted as an unrelated bone marrow donor," Jeffrey informed him.
"Why? I'm healthy."
"You're a sexually active homosexual."
"The AIDS prejudice. The Red Cross won't even take your blood."
"I practice safe sex and I get tested regularly. I'm negative."
"I know. But it doesn't matter. There's too big a fear of contamination."
"Wait a minute," Justin stopped them. "I'm gay, too. Are you telling me they won't accept my donation if I match?"
Jeffrey shrugged. "Because you're her sibling, and the family is completely informed of the risks, and because her chances for long term survival are not good without the BMT, it's likely they would let you donate. But only to Molly. Not to a bank."
Brian shook his head. "This is bullshit. AIDS is spreading more rapidly in the straight community now than in the gay community. Minorities are also experiencing high rates of infection. This is absolute prejudice."
Jeffrey sighed. "Possibly. But you have to understand how grueling this is, Brian. It can easily take six months for a person to get a match from a bank. Sometimes, often, in fact, six months is too long. The risks associated with BMT, for the patient, are not insignificant. You have to maximize your chances for health."
"How does it work?" Justin asked, unsure he understood the process.
"Really, it's easiest to think of BMT not as a cure, but as the restorative phase following chemo. High doses of chemo combined with radiation can be administered to the patient, resulting in the severe damage or even eradication of the bone marrow present in the child's body. By destroying the good, you have a better chance that you also got rid of all of the bad. But that leaves the patient so debilitated that even a slight infection could prove fatal. So we provide them with healthy bone marrow from a donor with the hope that the patient's body will accept it and it will produce healthy cells to fight off infection and repair the body. It also produces red and white blood cells and platelets. Without a BMT, the patient can't survive such high doses of chemo and radiation. Thus, the prolonged chemo protocol as an alternative."
"We had our blood taken for the tests. When will we know if we match?" Justin asked and Jeffrey shrugged.
"Any time now. It doesn't take long to mark the blood."
"If I was a match, where would they cut me?"
Brian winced, tightening his grip on Justin's calf. He couldn't bear the thought of that happening to Justin. "There's no cutting," Jeffrey reassured him. "They put you out, usually, and the marrow is removed through a long needle and syringe. Stand up, let me show you."
Justin left Brian's lap and stood before Jeffrey's chair. Jeffrey turned him around and spread his hand on his back, below the small of his spine and just above the rise of his buttocks. Brian leaned over to see where he was indicating. "This heavy bone is called the iliac crest. The surgeons will insert a long needle into this bone several times, in several locations, and withdraw syringes full of marrow."
Brian groaned, feeling a little sick. He motioned for Justin to come back, pulling him onto his lap. Justin seemed more interested than frightened. "How much do you pull out?"
"One to two quarts," Jeffrey responded.
"Christ! He wouldn't have any bone marrow left! You know how big a quart is?" Brian exclaimed as held his hands apart, causing Justin to laugh. "Exaggerating, like when you talk about how big your dick is."
Brian smirked at him. "You couldn't handle it if my dick were any bigger."
Justin smiled. "I'd like to try. So, bone marrow is liquid? I thought it was spongy stuff."
"It's a thick, red liquid," Jeffrey responded. "Two quarts is only about two per cent of your total marrow quantity, Brian. Your body will replace it in about four weeks. It's not a big deal."
Justin looked back just in time to see the admiration on Brian's face as he took in the depth of Jeffrey's knowledge. Justin couldn't complain. On this point, he admired the bastard too. "How painful is it?"
"Not much worse than a hard kick in the ass. You would usually spend a night at the hospital, and then take it easy for a couple weeks. After that, you should be fine. By you, I mean any donor in good general health."
"Will it be that easy for Molly too?"
"The actual transplantation is nothing for the recipient. There's no surgery, it's just introduced into her body the same way we give her blood products and other medication, through an IV or a shunt. But...to be honest, the preparation phase known as 'conditioning' is brutal. There's no sense in sugarcoating it."
Justin felt Brian tense, an arm suddenly snaking around Justin's waist and squeezing him tightly. "How brutal?"
Jeffrey sighed. "First, she'll be subjected to chemo and radiation much more powerful than what she has had so far. Unfortunately, she'll be sick as a dog. It's like the worst flu you can imagine, doubled. Nausea, vomiting, high fevers, muscular aches and pains, bone pain, it will be a very difficult time for her."
"Why does it have to be that way?" Brian asked with a hint of anger.
"Because we have to eradicate her bone marrow, Brian, which leaves her with no immune system, completely open to infections and disease. But it's the only way to rid her body of the bad cells, unfortunately. Once she's clear, she gets the transplant."
"And then she's ok?" Justin asked hopefully, slipping his fingers under Brian's arm to loosen his grip a little.
"What happens is the marrow migrates to her large bones and begins to engraft or attach. The first two weeks are critical and difficult. Because she has no immunity, she's kept in a sterile environment. Infections are common, as is excessive bleeding. So she'll be given huge infusions of antibiotics and blood products. Platelets are also given to slow the bleeding. She'll be subject to GVHD, or graft versus host disease, a rejection issue, which is life threatening. We'll medicate against that. Her battle continues."
"Will we be able to see her?"
"Visitors will be restricted because she'll have no immunity. Protective clothing must be worn, and her room will have special filtering equipment to prevent airborne bacteria from traveling to her. It takes weeks for the marrow to engraft and her blood levels to return to normal. Only then, may she go home."
"Are we to the happily ever after part now?" Brian asked impatiently.
"For months she'll still be very weak, and susceptible to viral and bacterial infection. She'll wear a mask and gloves when outside the home, and will be instructed to avoid crowded places. Usually after six months or so, she can begin to live a relatively normal life, and within the first year, we should know if the transplant was successful on all counts."
"Now is the happy part?" Brian persisted.
"Jeffrey, what if she rejects it?" Justin was the one to splash reality on them. Brian winced as Jeffrey responded.
"I recommend that while she is in her first remission we harvest bone marrow from her body and freeze it. Then, if the engraftment fails, we can use her own bone marrow to try and duplicate the process. This is called an autologous BMT."
"And put her through that whole damn routine again?" Brian demanded as Jeffrey nodded.
"Get up," Brian boosted Justin off his lap and went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Jeffrey and Justin looked at each other when they heard the unmistakable sound of Brian being sick. Jeffrey stood.
"I'll see to him."
"Sit down, Jeff," Justin commanded. "It's not medical care he needs right now." He started in, but Brian emerged, looking pale and agitated.
"I'm going out for awhile. I need some air."
"Let me get dressed and go..." Justin was saying, but Brian interrupted.
"No. I want to be alone. I'll be back. I just need to...get a cab to the hospital. There's some money on the table by the bed. I'll see you over there."
He left and Jeffrey sighed. "He can't control the outcome of this disease, Justin. That's a bitter pill for a control freak to swallow. He feels helpless and angry and frightened. Brian seems to handle those emotions by withdrawing."
"You don't have to explain Brian to me, Jeff. I think I know him better than you ever will. I really appreciate all you've done for Molly, but when it comes to Brian, I think you're the same predatory asshole you were in New York. That hasn't changed."
"I see. Well, I guess you told me." Jeffrey stood and stretched, walking towards the door. "Since we're being so honest, my intentions towards Brian haven't changed either, Justin. I want him to be happy and secure and with a partner he deserves. In my opinion, that's not you. But our little conflict over Brian will never interfere with my treatment of Molly. I would move heaven and earth to cure her."
"I believe you. Which makes it very difficult for me to hate you."
"Ah, sweet irony," Jeffrey said with a sly smile and left the room, closing the door quietly as he went.
Brian entered Woody's, surprised to find it so well populated when it was only late afternoon. He walked straight over to a handsome man at a back table, and clamped his hand on his shoulder. "Hi. Sorry I couldn't get with you before now. Things have been crazy."
Ben smiled and nodded as Brian slipped into a chair beside his. He ordered a beer, noticing Ben was drinking hot tea. "On the wagon?"
"Funny thing about pancreatitis. Once you have it, they tell you that alcohol can cause a recurrence. I'll gladly give it up to avoid that pain. I was never much of a drinker. How are you holding up?"
Brian shrugged. "I'm not the one to worry about. Justin is suffering, but mostly it's his sister. She's gone through more than any person should be asked to bear and it's just starting."
"Poor little thing. We hear regular updates through Deb."
Brian studied Ben's handsome profile, wondering what prompted this request for a meeting. Finally he spoke. "Is something up with Mikey?"
Ben smiled. "Something is always up with Mikey. I just wanted to let you know that I'm appalled by this determination among some of your friends, my lover included, to butt into your love life. I tried to talk them out of that intervention, but I had no luck. Then I tried to call and warn you, but you weren't in your hotel room. I don't know Jeff well enough to have called him. Anyway, I regret it, Brian. You have enough on your mind right now."
Brian nodded and lit a cigarette. "I've avoided them since that happened, because I'm so fucking mad about it. I'm not sure what I'd say. The fact that they think it was for my own good is cold comfort. I'm 32 years old. I don't need that kind of protection, not that I did when I was 22, either. They don't understand my friendship with Jeff and I don't feel compelled to explain it to them."
"I understand that, Brian. Please believe I'm not asking, nor am I gathering information to take back to the yentas."
Brian smiled. "How are you feeling, by the way?"
"Great. Back on the cocktail. All my signs are favorable."
"Brian, do you ever worry about the fact that we had sex after I was infected? I want you to understand that I didn't know. It was right before I tested positive. And you and I were scrupulous about condoms."
Brian met his eyes and smiled. "Ben, when I think back to that weekend, worrying about AIDS is not part of the memory. I've tested negative several times since we were together. If I ever got the damn disease, it wouldn't be because of you or because I take risks, sexually. It would be because of some stupid accidental reason, the way an eighty year old celibate nun might bump into it. I'm that careful. And frankly, since Justin came back, I haven't been tricking." He thought of Jeffrey, but didn't consider him a trick, and had no intention of sharing that intimacy with Ben.
"Good. Had I known, I would have told you before we did it."
"It's not a problem. It would be a problem if you infected my friend, however. So I do appreciate the fact you're scrupulous about it."
Ben nodded. "The one thing I can do about this fucking disease is make sure it stops with me. I have no intention of sharing the wealth." Their eyes met, and Brian quickly looked away. Ben reached across the table and spread his hand on his forearm. "What's wrong?"
"It's this whole Molly thing. It's getting to me."
"You've been there for Justin. That's the most important thing."
"No, Ben," Brian said softly. "The most important thing is for Molly to get well."
Brian leaned back, contemplating, and then looked over at Ben. "You ever think about it?"
Ben smiled. "One of my all time favorite stroke fantasies. It's the best sex I've ever had. Do you?"
Brian nodded. "Sometimes. It wasn't half bad, that's for sure. No apologies, no regrets."
"Right." Ben grew pensive for a moment, and then said, "Can I tell you a secret?"
"So long as it doesn't involve ropes or other restraints," Brian joked, referring to their bondage games together.
"Nothing like that. When I got offered the post at Carnegie Mellon, one of the draws for me was the fact that I knew you lived here."
"Why was that a draw?"
"Because I wanted to look you up. Even though you told me you didn't do relationships, I didn't completely believe you."
"Underneath all the sexuality and the heat is a very interesting and complex man. Men like you aren't meant to fly solo forever."
Brian looked pensive. "How could you conclude that after only forty- eight hours together?"
"While it may seem that way in retrospect, we didn't spend all of our time fucking. We talked, we ate, and we laughed. I found you to be charming, intelligent and funny. I believed you were someone I would like to know better."
Brian smiled slightly, admittedly flattered by that description. "So why didn't you look me up?"
"I did. One problem. You were with Justin by then."
"When was that?"
"After mid-term, last year. I went to Babylon, and I saw you almost immediately. You were dancing with this gorgeous young blond. Justin. As I watched the two of you together, I realized it was hopeless."
"But we weren't exclusive."
"I don't care what arrangement you two had. I wasn't looking for a quick fuck. You guys were a couple; anyone who looked at you could see that. There was no room for me in that, no matter how I might feel about you."
Brian frowned as he drained his beer and decided not to order another. His stomach was still queasy. "We were fucking, yeah, but... not a couple."
Ben reached over and tightened his hand around Brian's wrist. "Don't do that, Brian. It's not necessary with me. I saw how you looked at him. How you still look at him. That's not a look that leaves room for an interloper. Even if I could have lured you away, why would I? I can't build my happiness on Justin's unhappiness."
Brian's brows knitted together in consternation. Something Ben said touched a chord in him, but he wasn't sure what it was. A nagging doubt, a flicker of reality. Some realization he was not quite able to pull into focus. Finally he made a joke of it, his frequent defense. "Well, it all worked out for Mikey, I guess." He wondered if his life may have turned out differently if Ben did persist.
"I'm glad you feel that way. You two are so protective of each other; I wouldn't want to be the boyfriend you don't like."
Brian smiled. "Like Dr. Dave?"
"What did you dislike about him?"
"He was a sanctimonious control freak. He didn't want Mikey. He wanted his image of what Mikey COULD be, a spoiled, snotty little brat. With no friends of his own and no discernable opinions. If anything, you're too good for Mikey, Ben," he said with a smile. "Which means you're way too good for me!"
Ben threw his head back and laughed. "You're a good man, Brian Kinney. Don't let anyone tell you differently."
"Thanks," Brian said quietly, surprisingly moved by that declaration. "I never got a chance to tell you how much that little engraving you sent meant to me. It was just the right time to receive it. After Justin left me, after I hit bottom, when I was trying to crawl back into the light. I've wanted to thank you before, but frankly, it just was too emotional an issue. I've memorized it, and I think of it often. 'However great the ills a man may have to bear, he but adds to them when he allows himself to give way to despair.' It was perfect for the time. It still is, really."
Ben nodded. "Confucius. One of the great thinkers. I rely a lot on that one myself. May I share another with you?"
"Sure, Kung Fu Charlie," Brian teased and Ben laughed.
"Ok, I'll just say this and shut up. Ready? 'Have no friends who are not equal to yourself."
Brian took that in, and then smiled. "Well, that's just about everyone, isn't it?"
Ben stood. "I have a class, got to go. Good seeing you, Brian." He paused and leaned over and kissed Brian gently on the lips. "I think about you a lot. You're one of my favorite people. Take care of yourself."
"You too," Brian said quietly, watching him go and thinking Michael had finally done well for himself. He sat back and thought about several things Ben had said to him, trying to make sense of his own reactions.
Craig Taylor entered his daughter's room to find a stranger seated by her bed. The woman was elegant, in her fifties; her graying hair cut short, her demeanor composed as she knitted something soft and teal blue. Molly slept the deep slumber of morphine, and Craig glanced at the woman. "Where's her mother?"
"Who are you?" Joan Kinney asked coolly, and he introduced himself as Molly's father.
"I'm sitting with Molly while Jennifer went down to the cafeteria to get a bite to eat."
Craig put his palm on Molly's forehead, noticing how hot she felt. He frowned. "We're supposed to get the results of the bone marrow typing today. I thought they would be here."
"They will be."
"He went to the hotel to shower and change."
"What hotel? He's not staying with his mother?"
Joan met his eyes with the icy calm of a woman with too many years of experience handling the volatility of an angry man. She immediately saw those traits in Craig Taylor. "I believe he's visiting his friend."
"Friend? Brian Kinney?"
"That pedophile! Ought to be locked up."
Joan glanced at Molly's still profile to ensure she was still sleeping soundly. "What did you just say?"
"I said Brian Kinney is a filthy pedophile who should be locked up."
"He is nothing of the kind."
"It's really none of your business."
"On the contrary. It's very much my business. Brian is my son."
Craig stared at her in wonder, and then winced. "What is it with women like you and Jennifer? Why do you want your sons to be faggots? Why are you proud that they're freaks of nature? Is it so no other girl can have them?"
Joan smiled slightly. "Mr. Taylor, you're stressed and frightened and worried. I understand that. There could be no other explanation for why you are being so outrageously rude and insulting."
"The reason is your son took my boy, an innocent kid, into his home and fucked him when he was underage and incapable of making those decisions. I should have had him arrested. He's an animal."
Brian walked in, carrying a teddy bear dressed like an angel, and looked from his mother to Craig, and then at Molly. "So, the in-laws finally meet," he said, putting the bear in Molly's bed, before he walked past Craig to kiss his mother on the cheek. "Is Justin here yet?"
His mother shook her head and Brian ducked down to be directly in her line of vision. "What's wrong, Mom? What did he say?"
She said nothing, as Craig glared at him. "I told her she should be proud of her perverted son who took in young boys and deflowered them. Who wouldn't be?"
Brian nodded. "Excuse us, Mom," Brian said as he took Craig's arm, propelling him towards the door. When he tried to resist, Brian made his grip painfully tight and he practically threw him out of the room. Once in the hallway, he slammed Craig's back against the opposing wall and held so firmly to his shirt, he had him on tiptoes. Brian's fury was fed not only by the man's latest folly, but also by the time he rammed his car into the back of Brian's jeep, and the time he sucker punched him on the street, not to mention the way he treated his own son. Old demons flared. Memories of his own abusive father fed his fury. Craig was confronted for the first time with just how big Brian Kinney was, how fit, how strong and how dangerous. His old prejudices about pushover fags faded as he believed himself to be in some real potential trouble. Taking sexual orientation out of it, Craig knew this was not a man he could best in a fight.
"I've had enough of your shit, you fucking bastard!" Brian seethed at him. "If you can't behave like a human being for your ex-wife and your son, you damned well better do it for your daughter! I don't give a flying fuck what you think of me, but if you talk to my mother like that again, I'm going to show you what a mad faggot can do to your fancy dental work!"
Justin was walking up the hall at a leisurely pace until he saw the unlikely sight of his lover pinning his father to the wall. Brian had never looked more like his comic alter ego, Rage, and while he was frightened by what might happen, a small corner of his ego was pleased by Brian's aggression. He ran up to them, placing his hand on Brian's arm, feeling the coiled steel of his biceps. Brian easily shook him off, never taking his blazing gaze off of Craig's face. "Stop," Justin said, a little shaken by the expression of terror on his father's features.
It took another voice to make Brian back off, like a determined guard dog reluctantly releasing his trainer's padded arm from his jaws upon command. "Brian Aidan Padraig Kinney!" Brian froze at the sound of his mother calling his complete name. Justin stared at her in wonder, never knowing what the initial A in his name stood for, and having no idea that he had an extra name in honor of a saint. "Stop that right now! Let him go!" Brian shot a glare across his shoulder at her and she held firm. "What are you trying to do? Imitate your father?"
That did it. Brian released Craig, holding his hands out in a non- threatening gesture as he backed away from him, glancing at Justin before he sprinted down the hall towards the exit. Justin looked helplessly at Brian's mother who smiled.
"Go after him."
"But..." he said uncertainly, looking at his father who still appeared stunned. Joan nodded.
"He needs you now. Go. I can handle this one."
Justin nodded, smiled, then impulsively kissed her cheek before he started after Brian. He felt certain any woman who could defuse an infuriated Brian Aidan Padraig Kinney could handle a white bread like Craig Taylor.
|Disclaimer: The television show Queer As Folk and its characters are the property of Showtime and CowLip Productions. No money is being made. Stories and discussion are intended purely for the entertainment of fans of Queer as Folk, the Brian and Justin characters, and Randall's writings.
Contact Site Admin with questions or technical problems.
July 25, 2004