Here it is guys! As always, thanks to Alan, Roz, Jen and Pfyre, for making look better than I am! Enjoy. Ran
Cynthia was sitting across the booth from Brian in the crowded pizza joint on Bleeker Street when she noticed something about him. Outside, the weather was emerging from the last tendrils of winter to embrace early spring, and the rains had momentarily stopped. Brian wore a gray ribbed poor boy t-shirt over jeans, very casual, but...there was something different.
"Why are you staring at me?" He was typically perceptive. She felt her face redden to have been caught.
"Is it possible you look even more handsome than usual?"
He smirked at her. "My ego is not so low that I require smoke to be blown up my ass at regular intervals, Cyn."
"I'm serious. You look...I don't know what it is."
"Maybe I'm pregnant and glowing from my little surprise."
She laughed. "You know what it is? Despite everything that's happening, you look relaxed, and it's obvious that you've been working out."
"And you look lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver," he teased.
She giggled. "But your personality certainly hasn't improved."
"How are things at the funny farm? I guess these are the last few days I remain on their payroll."
"Your letter shook things up. Legal is running around like headless chickens and the partners are all whispering behind closed doors."
Brian laughed, picturing the chaos. "Have you seen it?"
"The letter? Yes, Betty, Walt's secretary, is a friend, and she shot me a surreptitious copy of it. I can't pretend to understand all those references to laws, but I loved it."
"I didn't fully understand it either, but Mick is so good. She knows that shit. They've called her, want to set up a meeting."
"To do what?"
"Mick says they'll make me some kind of low-ball settlement offer, which we'll reject. Nuisance value."
"That should be an interesting meeting."
"More than you know. She's making them come to us so we're meeting in her office which is located above a hard core gay bar. Can you see Walt and Felix walking through that bar?"
They both laughed at the image.
"Won't you just want to smack Felix when you see him?"
"I intend to. In the pocket."
"How are you coping? You seem good."
"I have Lydia to deal with the blue meanies and then there's..."he hesitated, flinched. Cynthia laughed.
"You can say it: Justin. I know you love him."
"Whatever the hell that is."
"You know exactly what it is."
He met her gaze and sighed. "I suppose I do. He's been wonderful through this."
"Because he adores you too. Brian, did you ever work on any of the Boston International accounts?"
"No, why? Those were handled strictly by Felix and his little core team of senior partners. They really weren't my kind of accounts, anyway. Very mid-America. I do better with the edgy stuff."
"It's probably just buzz, but there's a rumor going around that you were fired because you fucked up a BI account and you know how important they are to the agency."
"I never worked on a BI account, so that's bullshit. And I don't fuck up accounts. Did you bring me what I asked for?"
She pulled an envelope from her purse and passed it to him with a glance from side to side, as if they were completing a drug transaction. "Mo says to tell you she loves you and misses you."
"Mo? She hates me."
"Not anymore. You're her new hero."
Brian looked confused. "Thank her for this. Thank you, too." He slipped it in his pocket without opening it. "You know, Mo, uh, Maureen, is such a dyke. She never liked me."
"The letter changed all that. You're speaking up for all the gays in the firm now."
"Swell. Now I'll become a dyke magnet. I remind them of how happy they are that they date women instead of men. I represent everything they hate about men, in one package. They'll appreciate the reminder."
"You do NOT," Cynthia said with a laugh. "Brian, why would you want that particular document? Of all the things you'd want, why that?"
He offered her an enigmatic smile as he responded, "All will be revealed."
Shea was sitting on the steps of the Center, smoking, when Justin walked up to him. He pushed his running shoe with the toe of his own running shoe and Shea glared up at him.
"What do you want?"
"A drag off that cigarette would be nice, I'm out."
Shea narrowed his eyes at him. "Aren't you afraid of getting AIDS cooties?"
"Yeah, right," Justin wiggled his fingers at him and Shea gave him the cigarette. Justin inhaled deeply and then handed it back. He dropped down on the stoop beside Shea. His simple act of smoking the cigarette he took from Shea's lips melted some of the mistrust and misguided resentment Shea felt towards Brian's healthy young lover.
"Why are you sitting out here? Just soaking up the first sunshine in a millennium?"
"Just getting away from the geeks. Aren't you supposed to be working?"
"I am working. I dropped off some stuff for Leo at his Chelsea gallery and took a walk past here to see how you're doing."
"What do you care?"
"I can't care?"
"You don't care. You just want to look good for your boyfriend. So you can say you stopped by to check on the freak."
Justin laughed. "Man, you really don't know Brian, do you?" He glanced at Shea's handsome, gaunt profile. "It's okay, Shea. Every gay boy who meets Brian gets a crush on him. I'm used to it."
"I don't have a crush on him. I don't even like him. He's the reason I'm here. He's the one who made me find out that I'm sick. Now I have nowhere to go."
Justin sighed. "He did it to help you, Shea, not to hurt you. Look, you want to go do something? Brian's not going to be home this afternoon and I can spare some time from my high-powered gofer job. We could see a movie or something."
"I don't have any money."
"My treat. Look, I'm gonna go anyway. You coming?"
Shea shrugged and struggled to his feet, walking with him towards the subway, his loose, lanky gait reminding Justin of his lover. They stopped at a newsstand to buy a newspaper and check what their choices were, determining their destination by making that decision.
Brian feigned cool as he waited in a small dingy room of the correctional facility. He was seated on a stiff-backed vinyl chair staring through a glass partition at an identical chair on the other side of the glass. Behind that empty chair was a yellow tiled wall, unforgiving fluorescent lights turning the color acidic. Brian shifted his weight uncomfortably, feeling more than a little queasy. He thought of all the old movies where the bad guy and the mother or the girlfriend or some other key player talked through the glass using the heavy bakelite phone receivers hanging on the partition, but it was hard to smile at that moment.
There was a slight commotion on the other side, and then he appeared.
He wore a bright orange zip-up jumpsuit, hardly the fashions Brian was used to seeing Jeffrey sport. He was pale, and his hair needed cutting, but he still looked fit and handsome. He was able to retain the persona of the patrician doctor who was miscast in the role of a criminal. He smiled broadly at Brian and pressed his palm to the glass in greeting. Brian didn't return the gesture, his entrails turning to ice. Jeffrey slowly let his hand drop and picked up the receiver motioning for Brian to do the same.
"You look so beautiful," Jeffrey said immediately. "God, I'd almost forgotten how beautiful you are."
"Stop it," Brian cut him off. "I don't want to hear that shit from you."
Jeffrey smiled. That white, crocodile grin that used to be so appealing to Brian, now just increased his chill. "Why're you here? I'm sure our attorneys wouldn't appreciate it. Did you get my letter?"
"Yes. I tore it up."
"Brian, Brian, how juvenile. I was hoping it might mend some fences between us."
"There aren't fences between us, Jeffrey. There are walls, countries, continents, we couldn't be any farther apart if you were on Mars. If your idea of love is what you did to me, I don't even want to know what your idea of hate is."
"You never will. I adore you."
Brian felt a shudder begin at the base of his spine and travel up his body, cascading trembles as it went. Each ripple tightened his bowels and left him feeling even sicker. "Don't! Don't love me, don't adore me, don't even think about me. I don't exist for you, and neither does anyone I care about!"
"Don't be so dramatic, baby. I know you're mad at me now, but..."
"'Baby'? ‘Mad at you'? You're even crazier than I thought! I despise you, Jeffrey. I despise you for what you did to Justin, to Molly and to me. Most of all I despise you for having this brilliant talent and a great mind while wasting them on your own selfish, twisted passions."
Jeffrey's infuriating smile stayed in place, but his eyes were turning cold. "How is little Molly?"
"Don't even speak her name to me."
"Send me her file, and I'll give you a free consult on how her health is being monitored. This post-transplant period is so important. I hope they're doing all the right things to prevent recurrence."
"Shut up. I just came here to tell you that you can write me a thousand letters, but I'll never open another one. I'll turn them over to the D.A., still sealed. Nothing you say or do will stop me from testifying against you. I want to see you in jail for a long time."
"Selfish boy," Jeffrey said with a chuckle. "Let all those babies die so you can exact your pound of flesh, and for what? Pursuing you a little too heatedly? Don't even act like you didn't want it, Brian. We both know you did. Who followed whom to that remote cabin in the woods where this all got started?"
Brian winced, having regretted that rash move on his part almost from the day he did it. Jeffrey was right. Brian knew he wasn't innocent in this nightmare. But neither did he cross criminal boundaries, stalk Jeffrey, blackmail him, endanger or threaten to endanger the treatment of a critically ill child, or use drugs to lower Jeffrey's resistance to him. And there was no other lover, no Justin, in Jeffrey's life to pay a price. "I've said what I came here to say, Jeffrey. If you ever cared about me, back off now and get some help. Maybe it's not too late for you."
"Brian, after ruining my career, humiliating my family and me, and having me locked up like an animal, with animals, what more do you want from me? How much do I have to bleed to satisfy your thirst for revenge?"
Brian sighed and met his eyes. "There's no evidence that you're the least bit contrite about any of the pain you've caused, Jeffrey. I think that's because you don't know how to feel pain the way normal people do. You only know how to inflict it. If you can't take responsibility for what you did, and see the error of your actions, then you can sit and rot for awhile."
Jeffrey leaned in, pressing his palm to the glass again. "You're wrong. I feel pain, beautiful. I feel pain looking at you and not being able to touch you. I feel pain hearing your voice and not feeling your breath on my face as you speak. I feel pain knowing you are wasting your life with someone who will never deserve you. I feel pain at my inability to make clear how much you mean to me."
"You're one sick motherfucker," Brian said quietly, but before he could hang up, Jeffrey motioned for him to hold onto the receiver for another moment.
"Brian, how goes the job?"
Brian met his cold stare as another chill rocked his body. "What do you mean?" How could he know?
"Still the Master of the Universe you once were? Still holding Madison Avenue by the balls? Or is Madison Avenue squeezing your balls in it's greedy little fist?"
"Tough market for an out of work ad man, isn't it, baby?"
"Who told you that?"
Jeffrey winked at Brian and gave him a small salute. "I keep you in my sights, Brian. Always in my sights." Jeffrey made a kissing motion and blew it in Brian's direction, then hung up the receiver and walked away.
Brian sat there for a moment, waiting for his heart to stop racing and his stomach to stop rolling. He finally stood, shakily, and then lurched over to the waste basket and tossed up his lunch. A nasty surprise to leave some poor cleaning person, but he couldn't stop it. Jeffrey Walker scared the shit out of him. His legs felt rubbery as he walked down the hall towards the exit, and he was sweating through his clothes. By the time he reached the sidewalk, his face was burning up and he realized it was more than nerves that gave him the heaves. For the first time in years, Brian was sick.
As soon as he walked into the loft, Justin knew something was wrong. No music, no fire, no sign of Gus. Brian's clothes trailed from the living room to the bedroom and Justin picked them up squeezing them tightly as his heart began to pound. He had been here so often before. Usually there was music, and he would follow the trail to find Brian fucking some trick in the bed they shared. With great trepidation, he opened the door and found the blue lights were on, the bed was rumpled, but Brian was not there. A sound drew him to the bathroom. Expecting the worst, a shower scene or other water sports underway, he threw open the door to find Brian propped up beside the toilet on the floor, a pillow from the bed supporting his head against the wall, and the duvet cover wrapped over him to keep him warm.
Justin dropped Brian's clothes and knelt beside him, ignoring the slight stench of sickness that lingered in the room. "What the fuck?" He pressed his hand to Brian's forehead. He was burning up, his skin clammy and hair plastered to his face. His flesh was the color of bone.
Brian opened his eyes and squinted at him. "Sick," he said through parched and cracked lips.
"What are you doing on the floor?"
"I got tired of running to the bathroom to puke every five minutes, and once I didn't make it and I don't feel like cleaning that up again."
"You need to be in bed. Come on. Let me help you up."
"Don't wanna move."
"You're too big to carry. Come on." He helped him stand, Brian hesitated, then leaned over the bowl, heaving, nothing left to spew but clear liquid and not much of that. Still, the heaves rolled through him as he kept trying to eject food that wasn't there. Justin stroked his back gently and then helped him into the bedroom. He covered him up, fluffed the pillow and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a large mixing bowl and a bottle of water. Brian eyed him suspiciously.
"You have to drink or you'll get dehydrated. If it comes back up, just use this bowl, don't try to get up."
"I won't make you do that, Justin, empty a barf bucket for me."
"Shut up. I've had my tongue halfway up your asshole, you think this is that much more intimate?"
"Don't make me laugh, I hurt too much."
"Who's your doctor here? You're never sick."
"I don't have one, other than Lydia. She made me get a physical when I first started seeing her. His name is in my PDA under doctors." He took a sip of the water, winced, and promptly threw it up in the bowl. He put the water bottle down and laid back, covering his eyes with his forearm. Justin took the bowl, emptied it, rinsed it and gave it back, thrusting a digital thermometer under Brian's tongue. When it beeped, he read it. 102. He frowned.
"I made her go stay with Mick. I don't want either Gus or her getting sick. You either. Go stay with Leo."
"As if. I'm calling Bill, Leo's lover. He's a doctor."
"He's an anesthesiologist."
"So? They go to medical school."
"Good, maybe he can put me to sleep. For good."
Justin smiled at him. "Drama queen."
Justin left the room to make the call, his humor masking his concern for his lover.
After examining Brian, Bill joined Justin in the main room of the loft, accepting his offer of a drink. "This is the first house call I've ever made," he said with a smile. "Not too much call for a gas passer to drop in on someone in their home for treatment."
Justin looked worried as he handed him a neat scotch and they sat before the fire. "Is it serious?"
"There's a stomach virus going around and he has all the classic symptoms. Several at the hospital have had it. He's strong and otherwise healthy, give it twenty-four to forty-eight hours and he'll be feeling better. I gave him a shot to stop the nausea and I've written out a scrip for some suppositories if it gets bad again," he grinned at Justin. "Serious medicine, not for play. He can take Advil for the muscle pain and fever, once he can hold them down. When you go to the store to get his scrip filled, pick up a few jugs of Pedialyte in the baby section. We give it to infants when they have stomach problems because they dehydrate so quickly. It comes in flavors and does much of what Gatorade does, stabilizes the electrolytes and replenishes fluids, but with less sodium and its easier to tolerate. Over crushed ice, it's tolerable. Make sure he keeps drinking fluids, the shot should help him keep them down. As he feels up to it, slowly introduce food, clear liquids and BRAT...bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Nothing spicy or fried or tomato based. After about four days he should be eating normally."
"Any danger signs to look for?"
"If he can't hold down fluids, call me and we may have to put him on IV. If his fever goes up over 103, call me. If he has localized pain or if he can't urinate, call me. It's the stomach flu. Don't look so tragic, honey. It happens to the best of us."
"Brian never gets sick."
"He's been under a lot of stress. Stress is killer. He has to deal with it. I'll tell Leo you're taking off tomorrow. You really should stay home with him. Wash your hands frequently with that antibacterial soap I left you to minimize the risk of your getting it. He needs to sleep, and try to keep stress away from him while he's down with this. It'll impede his progress. I'd better get home. Talk about stress, Leo is a maniac this close to his opening," he leaned over to kiss Justin's cheek. "You're a good boyfriend."
"I try to be."
"You succeed. Take care, kiddo."
Justin checked on Brian, found him asleep, then rushed to the drug store to purchase the prescription and the Pedialyte and Advil, stopping at the market to find the BRAT items. He rushed home to find Shea sitting on his stoop, oddly deja vú from the afternoon. He looked up at Justin. "No one answered the buzzer."
"Brian's asleep. He's sick. What are you doing here? How did you get this address?"
"Brian wrote it on the form."
"Shea, this is a bad time. Brian is really sick. He's also contagious, and with your immune system being low..."
"My immune system is fine. Please, Justin. Just let me hang over here for awhile. I'll watch television, stay out of your way. I don't want to spend time with those geeks tonight. Just one night."
Justin sighed. It was against his better instincts, but he couldn't say no. Shea was so lost, so desperate. "Okay, but stay away from Brian. You don't want this."
He shrugged, taking a bag from Justin and helping him carry the loot upstairs.
Brian awoke late that night. He was soaking wet, his body sweating through his pajamas as well as the sheets. He sat up, then quickly went back down, too weak and dizzy to do more.
"Justin," he said softly, then with more vigor. "JUSTIN!"
Justin groaned and raised himself on one elbow to look at him, illuminated by the blue lights. "You okay?"
"I'm soaking wet."
"You peed in the bed?"
Brian had to smile. "No, that would be Gus. I broke the fever and sweated out. The sheets are drenched. Will you help me? I'm sorry, but I'm so fucking weak..."
Justin reached over, felt the wet linens and winced. "Let's get you under a warm shower and I'll change the sheets." He helped him into the bathroom and out of his pajamas, running the water and seeing that Brian was in before he completed his task. He then went back for Brian, helped him dry off and dress in sweats. He then escorted him back to the bed and handed him a tall glass of grape Pedialyte.
Brian winced. "It makes me piss!"
"Exactly. You lost a lot of fluid in that sweat. Drink all of it."
"Yes Nurse Ratchet," he complained with false irritation and Justin smiled, watching him finish the liquid. He then tucked him in, kissed the damp top of his head and crawled in on his side of the bed. Brian watched him under the lights and felt overwhelmed with a sudden rush of emotion. He placed a hand on Justin's back, letting his fingers filter through his hair. "No one has ever taken care of me the way you do, Justin. I get weird when I think of how close I came to losing you."
"Don't think of it. You aren't losing me. And you take care of me too. It's what partners do."
"Is it? Well, it's what we do, and that's what matters." Brian snuggled close to his body, resting his forehead against the back of Justin's head. "I love you."
"I love you too, Brian. Now go to sleep, you're supposed to be resting."
Brian closed his eyes, shutting out his horrific thoughts about the visit with Jeffrey as he comforted himself in the close proximity of his lover.
Brian awoke the next morning to find that demons had entered the room during the night and stole all of his strength, leaving him a mass of rubbery, oversized limbs and a hollowed out shell of a body. His head swam, his mouth tasted like a day-old panty liner and he was starving and queasy at the same time. In short, Brian was in a bitch of a mood.
He stumbled into the bathroom, and pissed out the rest of his Pedialyte. Then he brushed his teeth and gargled to rid himself of the foul taste that lingered in his mouth. Finally, he wrapped a robe over his sweats, because he was still bone-chilling cold, and went into the kitchen. He wanted something, he wasn't sure what. To his surprise, he found that Justin was still home and he wasn't alone. He was heaping two plates with scrambled eggs and shingles of toast, handing one off to Shea.
"You should be in bed," Justin scolded him. "What do you want? I'll bring it to you."
Brian was shocked to find individual servings of applesauce in the fridge, which had some appeal. He picked one up and fetched a spoon. "I can feed myself Clara Barton. Hi, Shea. Come see me when you're through eating, Justin." He trudged back to bed, this little bit of exertion more than he could tolerate. He was scraping the bottom of the container with the spoon, strangely satisfied by the applesauce, when Justin entered the bedroom and shut the door.
"Shouldn't you be at work?"
Justin handed him a plate containing dry toast and a sliced banana. "I took the day off. Eat this. Bill said you can tolerate it."
"I just ate."
"Try," he sat beside him on the bed, feeding him a banana slice. Brian ate it, then glared at him.
"What is Shea doing here?"
"He was on the stoop when I got back from the drugstore last night. Speaking of which, want to take some Advil?"
"No. How does he know where we live?"
"Apparently you wrote it down on some form."
Brian groaned, recalling that moment of weakness. "He stayed the night? Has he been kicked out of the Center?"
"I don't think so. I think he just wanted a break."
"He can't stay here. I'm not running Father Flannigan's home for wayward hustler boys."
"I know, but it was just for the night. We went to see a movie yesterday afternoon. I think he just wanted a friend. But you were sick and...I tried to get rid of him, Brian. It was just too awkward."
Brian sighed. "Okay, but the night is over. He goes back to the Center today."
Justin nodded solemnly. "Alright, Brian."
"Do you disagree? This is your home too."
"Not really, but I do feel sorry for him. He's so unhappy and scared."
"So do I, but we didn't take him on to raise, Justin. He's got problems we can't handle, and we have big problems of our own."
"I know. I'll take care of it. You get some sleep, but first you need to drink more Pedialyte."
"Can you just hook up a length of rubber tubing to my dick and run it into the toilet? That's how fast that stuff goes through me."
Justin grinned at him. "That sounds kinky."
"Don't be a perv when I'm too sick to play."
Justin watched him down the Pedialyte and pick at his toast and bananas, then he turned on his side and quickly fell into a deep sleep. Justin watched him for a moment, then sighed and went back out to handle his other problem of the day.
Late that afternoon, Brian awoke to find the demons had returned some of his strength. He could feel the bone in his limbs again, some of the rubber was gone, and even a taste of nutrition, held down, had fueled his flagging energy. He wasn't so inalterably cold anymore, and he was even feeling a little...hungry?
"Justin?" He called out as he left the bedroom, and the answering voice was not what he expected.
"He's not here," Shea was stretched out on the chaise, trolling through the channels on the flat screen. Brian sighed, wishing he were gone.
"Where is he?"
"He said he had some errands. You need something?"
"I can get it." He paused at a note on the refrigerator, written in Justin's big, childlike printing style. It read: "B, You can only eat bananas, rice, applesauce and toast (dry). I made some rice, it's in a container and you can nuke it. Drink a bottle of Pedialyte too. I'll be back soon. Love, J." Brian suppressed a smile. He wanted to be angry at this bossing around, but he couldn't be. There was something incredibly sweet about it. He warmed up some rice, and peeled a banana, standing at the counter to eat it as Shea wandered over.
"Have you guys always been like this?"
"Been like what?"
Brian winced. "We're not married."
"What's the difference?"
"The difference is we're together because we want to be, not because a sheet of paper tells us we have to be, and because we're not dykes."
"You like it?"
"I like it with Justin. I can't imagine playing house with anyone else. I was very promiscuous before we met, and after we met, too. I believed in fucking, not love, and pursued that belief with a vengeance."
"Now I believe in love with Justin. I don't believe in love as a remote concept, but I was lucky enough to find the one person in the universe who can tolerate me for who I am. We broke up for a period of time, and I was very unhappy without him. Through therapy, I've learned that everything is a trade off. I like to fuck strangers in back rooms, but do I like that more than I like having Justin in my life? No. So, it's a trade off. If we weren't together, I'd probably go right back to fucking strangers in backrooms rather than try to find another partner. I struggled against the partner concept for as long as I could, and then I finally forgot why I was fighting, so I gave in to it. Sometimes you stumble into the right decision."
"I guess I'll never know."
Brian smiled at him. "Don't be so tragic. At your age, not only would I have agreed with that sentiment, but I would've run from it if I saw it coming. Give yourself a few years, things fall into different perspective."
"I don't have a few years, Brian."
"Stop it. Just because you're HIV positive doesn't mean you're going to die young. People live for years and years now that they know how to combat so many issues that used to take people out early. The cocktail has changed the deathscape. My best friend's uncle..."
"I don't just have HIV positive reactor, Brian. I have AIDS."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean just that. I have AIDS."
Their eyes met and then Shea looked down, his shoulders shaking slightly as he began to cry silent tears. Brian hesitated, then went over to him, pulling him into his arms and holding him gently, his eyes closing as he struggled against his unexpected emotional response to this news.
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July 25, 2004