Ok, here is the next chapter. Thanks to ALan for a very rapid turnaround on the beta and to Jen for the graphics and to Roz and Pfyre for making it all work. Hope you like it! Ran
Brian and Justin sat in uncomfortable vinyl chairs in the cramped waiting room outside Intensive Care until a harried looking resident came out to talk to them. He was Asian-American, his green scrubs rumpled from an endless shift. "You related to him?" He asked after they confirmed they were there for Shea Hennessey.
"Friends," Brian said simply, and the doctor nodded.
"Do you know how to reach his family?"
"Not really. I...why? Is it bad?"
"He's gravely ill. He was brought in with a temperature of almost 105. He was convulsing, dehydrated. What probably began as a simple stomach virus has migrated into a secondary infection that isn't responding well to drug therapy. He's septic, has periodic renal failure, and his heart and lung activity are being impacted. He just doesn't have any reserves left that he can use to battle this back. It's touch and go. If you know how to contact his family, you should."
Justin saw the look on Brian's face and went over to him, spreading his arm across his shoulders. He knew Brian was blaming himself. It started as a simple stomach virus, one that Brian brought home. Brian reached up to squeeze Justin's hand tightly as Justin asked, "Can we see him?"
"He's sedated. He wouldn't know that you were there."
"How do you know what he knows?" Brian snapped.
The doctor sighed. "He can have two visitors on the hour for ten minutes. Don't try to wake him. Right now, he needs to be out in order to reduce the stress on his body."
"How did they know to call me?" Brian said and the doctor shrugged.
"You'd have to talk to someone in admissions. I have to get back to the patients. Call his family."
He left them alone. They had fifteen minutes until the hour and Justin went outside with Brian to smoke. "It's not your fault," he huddled in his hooded sweatsuit jacket as Brian seemed impervious to the late night chill.
"I gave it to him."
"Bullshit, Brian, and even if you did, it wasn't a planned gift, now was it? You had no idea."
"He could die because of me."
"No, he could die because he has AIDS, and can't battle a simple virus."
Once again, they had traded which one of them was to be the strong one in this relationship. Brian took solace in that trade-off. Sometimes he wanted to be able to rely on his lover for support. Being the stoic got old. Justin embraced him and Brian allowed himself to be held. They stood that way for several minutes, just breathing in the comfort of the other. Finally, Brian glanced at his watch. "We need to go in. It's time."
The staff required them to place sterile wraps over their clothes and wear masks, not for their protection, but to avoid passing any germs to the patient. They even had to wear latex gloves. The patient rooms in ICU were in a circle around the central nurse's station. Brian thought it looked like the control center for NASA with all the screens monitoring the vital signs of the critically ill. Shea looked impossibly thin and pale against the sheets, his stick arms threaded with tubes. Other ominous lines ended somewhere under the blanket, draining his urine into a bag and feeding medication into a chest shunt. Only his black hair and smooth skin suggested he was young, otherwise, he could be an eighty year old man.
Justin hung back slightly, alarmed, as the roles shifted again. Brian took one of Shea's hands, careful of the tubing and tape attached to the back of it. "Hi kid. It's Brian and Justin's with me. You're going to be okay. You just have to rest and let your body fight this thing."
Justin finally walked over, running his hand down Shea's shin. To Justin, Shea's shinbone felt as sharp as the blade of a knife. "Get well so we can go see the second part of that new Jet Li trilogy. Brian won't go with me."
They got no response, but they kept talking to him. Just before they had to leave, Brian felt a slight pressure against his palm. He supposed it could be some autonomic reaction from the boy's beleaguered nervous system, but he chose to believe it was something more.
Justin napped on the short vinyl sofa while Brian paced and talked on his cell phone. There were a surprising number of Hennessey's in Keokuk Iowa, and so far not one who admitted to having a son named Shea. All seemed to be in general agreement about what Brian could do to himself for having called at this hour. A call to Seamus Hennessey at daybreak in New York yielded a different response.
"Do you have a son named Shea?" Brian asked flatly, expecting nothing and the man answered.
"Why? Is he dead?"
Brian was shocked. "Uh..."
"I ain't responsible for nothing that kid does. He's no son of mine."
"He's gravely ill," Brian said softly. "In City Hospital in New York City. He may not make it."
A pause. "So?"
A tingle of rage, fed by his own memories of an unfeeling father, rippled through Brian, building into a gale of emotion. "What do you mean, ‘so'? He's a seventeen year old kid dying alone in a strange city! What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Justin sat up, alerted from his light doze by Brian's raised voice. Brian waved him back as the man responded, "He's been dead to me for two years. They can put him in the ground now, he's starting to stink." He hung up and Brian stared at his phone as if it could fix this situation. He sat down beside Justin, shaking his head in wonder.
"He hung up on me. He doesn't even care."
"Brian..."Justin stroked his back gently and they both jumped when Brian's phone rang. He pushed the talk button and held it up to his ear. "Yeah?"
A woman's voice, soft and deliberately subdued, as if to avoid being overheard. "Did you just call Seamus Hennessey?"
"Your number was on the phone. I'm Shea's mother. What's this about?"
Brian filled her in. She was silent, but he could hear the tears in her voice when she finally spoke. "What's your name?"
"Are you his...friend?" The way she asked it told Brian that they knew he was gay and that fact was probably what drove Shea away from home.
"I can't come there, my husband would never stand for it, but please tell him I love him and that I'm praying for him. Will you call me and let me know how he is? But call between seven and six, that's when his father is at work. He works Sauturdays too."
"What am I supposed to do if he dies?" Brian said bluntly, and she cried softly for a minute, then said,
"See that he gets the last sacraments and that he's given a Christian burial. I have to hang up before he finds me talking to you. Kiss him for me." She hung up. Brian stared at the phone for a moment before pressing end.
Michael looked up at Brian and Justin as they entered the loft. Ben was watching a soccer game on television as Michael prepared sandwiches in the kitchen. "I'm going to rack for awhile," Justin said, kissing Brian on the way to the bedroom. Brian took one of the sandwiches Michael had prepared and bit into it, prompting Michael to make another.
"Well?" Michael said and Brian shrugged.
"He's improved slightly. He's not out of the woods, but the doctor said he at least had a chance to survive."
Ben muted the sound and walked over to them. "What is it?"
"Started off with the same stomach thing Justin and I had, but he couldn't fight it off and it turned ugly. He looks like death."
"Is there anyone you can call?"
"I already have. His family doesn't give a crap. Frankie will mobilize the various AIDS support groups he can interest, and I told them to call me if there was any major change."
Ben put his strong arms around Brian and hugged him tightly as Michael watched with a pleased smile to see the two people who meant so much to him in an embrace. "You're a good person, Brian."
"Yeah," Brian said softly against Ben's shoulder. "Just like Typhoid Mary."
Ben and Justin had gone to see "Hairspray" on Broadway that evening while Michael, who hated musicals, and Brian, who wasn't interested, hung out. They had a quick meal at the diner on the corner, and then climbed the stairs to the roof of the loft building, where a flagstone patio had been set up for tenants, complete with comfortable all-weather furniture and low lights. The weather had turned mild enough for light jackets to keep them comfortable, and they smoked joints and drank beer as they stared out at the low rooftops immediately around them and beyond that, the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
"This is the life," Michael said dreamily, leaning his head on Brian's thigh as he stretched out on a redwood bench and smoked. Brian glanced down at him and laughed.
"Yeah, too bad I can't afford it anymore. The view from our government housing project in the Bronx won't be nearly this nice."
"Are you scared?" Michael asked, sitting up to light another joint.
"I'm angry. And yes, I'm scared. I'm not brave about being poor. I don't want to be poor."
"You still have your degree and your awards and your experience, Brian. You'll get another job."
"Not one that pays like this. Not for awhile. And I did nothing wrong, Mikey. That's the shit of it. I didn't fuck anything up. It's a mystery to me. Why would you fire someone who makes you big bucks and brings in new clients and wins prestigious awards? Even if I did fuck up, they would try to rehabilitate me, not just say adios."
Mikey stared up at his friend's face. "Is there more to it? Did you fuck someone?"
"Literally or figuratively?"
"No, neither. There's no hidden motive that I know of. Unless it's truly the gay thing."
"Why would they care if you're gay?"
Brian gave him a withering smile. "The same reason all straight people care. They don't understand it and are threatened by it."
"What happens next?"
"Tomorrow I meet with them and their lawyers. I guess I'll get an idea of how they feel about my threats."
"What if they fight it?"
"Then I'll fight back."
"You're so brave," Michael let his hand drift up Brian's firm thigh and Brian stopped it at the top, covering his hand with his own. Sometimes Michael forgot, and tried to get a little too intimate. Dreams die hard. Brian brought his hand up to his lips and kissed it.
"I'm scared shitless, but I don't want Justin to know."
"Oh for chrissakes, Brian! He's had the benefit of all you could give him, at least let him share in the hard times."
"He is sharing in the hard times, Mikey, and he always has. I haven't told him yet, but instead of shipping back the bikes I bought while we were in Italy, I sold them. I had to take a write-down, but at least it's some cash. I hated to do it, it was my dream bike and we had a lot of fun riding them and a lot of plans for riding them over here."
"Gee, he has to give up his fancy-ass Italian motorcycle. How will he survive?"
"Quit being a cunt, Mikey. Justin's been great through this whole thing. I don't know what I would have done without him."
Michael just scowled, never reconciled to the fact the unreachable heart of Brian had been reached and captured by this...this...KID. "Brian, do you still think we'll end up as two old queens living together in Miami when we get old?"
"I'm not getting old. I don't know about you."
"I hate it when you say shit like that. It's crap, but it scares me."
"Crap?" Brian stood up, causing Mikey's head to fall back on the bench. He went over to the edge of the building and hoisted himself up to the ledge. Michael groaned, experiencing a sense of deja vue from the night Gus was born.
"Get down from there. Quit showing off."
"All it takes is one false step, and you are permanently young."
"Too late, Bri. You left young behind when you turned thirty. You would only be permanently over thirty."
The door to the stairwell opened, throwing a pie slice of light onto the flagstones and Ben and Justin walked out. Justin stared at Brian in horror, taking in the pungent scent of grass. "Get down," he said firmly, and Brian grinned at him.
"Asshole," Justin turned and went back inside. Brian watched him go, then jumped down and followed him as Ben took a toke off Michael's joint.
"What was that all about?" Ben asked and Michael sighed.
"Just Brian being Peter Pan."
"Well I hope he remembers he can't fly. Not even on this stuff."
"He's never believed it before," Michael said with a sigh, his fears for Brian flickering into being yet again.
In the loft, Justin was sitting before the television, listlessly trolling through stations with the remote. He ignored Brian when he called out to him, and Brian finally took the remote from his hands and cut it off. Justin glared at him as he sat next to him on the couch.
"Talk to me," Brian said and Justin shook his head.
"So? I can still talk."
"How could you do that, Brian?"
"Jump up on that ledge while you're ripped and fuck around like that? Do you know how easily you could have fallen?"
"Ended a lot of our problems. I still have my insurance in force, and it goes to you and Gus."
"Is that supposed to be funny? Because it's not."
Brian reached for him, and Justin pushed him away, standing up. "Fuck you."
"You're not funny. I'm very angry at you. I'm going to bed. And if you come after me, don't try anything. I'm not in the mood."
Brian followed him into the bedroom and tried to put his arms around him as he undressed. Justin struggled free of his embrace and turned to glare at him. "I just told you, leave me alone! Go find Mikey and act like stupid teenagers together."
Brian stared at him for a long moment, then assumed that glacial look that Justin knew so well. The patented Brian Kinney "I don't give a fuck about you" look of derision and removal. He turned away, went to the closet, retrieved his leather bomber and took a pack of cigarettes from a dresser drawer.
"Where are you going?" Justin asked impatiently and Brian shot him a glare.
"What do you care?"
"Don't be a child, Brian."
"Fuck you too."
Brian fled the loft and Justin sat down heavily on the bed with a sigh, trying desperately to remember the joys of Italy.
"Hey, Brian, long time," the young man was a model. He had worked with Brian on an ad campaign before Justin moved to New York, and they became occasional lovers. The model had wanted more than Brian was capable of giving, so it hadn't lasted beyond a few fucks, but he did break his one-trick, one-fuck rule. The club was noisy, and Brian was having problems hearing him above the din. They were at the bar and Brian was on his second whisky.
"Hey, Blaine. You look good." Redundant. He modeled for Calvin Klein Underwear. Of course he looked good.
"So do you."
Brian bought him a drink. Blaine smiled at him, standing close enough to brush his shoulder. "I hear you're married now."
Brian glanced over at him and winced. "Who told you that?"
"It's the buzz."
"Well, the buzz is..." he hesitated. "Not exactly right. I...I'm in a relationship, that much is true."
"You told me you don't believe in relationships."
"How different can it be? We're all sporting the same basic equipment, it's just that some of us throw it together a little better than others," he preened and Brian smirked at him.
"Moving right along."
"So where's the wife?"
"At home. Can we drop it?"
"Oooo, dark clouds on the nuptial horizon. What a surprise. Two fags living under one roof who can't get along. Wonder if that's ever happened before?"
Brian shook his head, realizing Blaine's snarkiness was one of the things he liked about him. He was a pretty face and great body with a snide mind. Familiar combo. "Let's dance. At least the music will drown you out."
Blaine smiled, slipping a well-toned arm around Brian's waist as they left the bar for the dance floor.
Justin was making coffee when Brian entered the loft. He heard him, but refused to turn around and look at him. He was in such pain, was so angry, he didn't trust himself to say or do anything. Brian's leather jacket hit the table with a smack and then he was close enough that Justin could catch his scent: cigarettes, sweat, scotch...sex? He couldn't be sure about the sex part. No telltale scent of someone else's soap or after shave, no raw stench of semen. But then, his nose wasn't as acute as Brian's for sussing out cheating through the olfactory senses.
Brian opened the refrigerator, sucked down a bottle of water and then stared at the contents as if looking for something to eat. "Can I have a cup of that?" he asked as Justin poured out the first mug.
"Suit yourself," Justin said stiffly, walking past him, but Brian grabbed his arm to stop him. Justin pulled free, glaring angrily at him. "How could you stay out all night? We have one fight and you revert to your old habits? How could you, Brian?" His eyes filled with angry tears and Brian sighed.
"Put away the melodrama, Little Nell. Nothing happened."
"And by nothing you mean...?"
"I mean I didn't fuck, suck, fondle, jerk, lick, tongue kiss, or exchange any bodily fluids with anyone."
A great relief flowed through Justin, even though he let nothing show. "Then where were you all night?"
"I went to the Angel..."
"Had a couple drinks, danced..."
"Are you listening to me? I said nothing happened. And it could have happened. I ran into Blaine."
"Swell. The underwear model, Mr. Perfect."
"Far from perfect. But he is hot. He flirted with me. I could have tricked with him."
"So why didn't you?"
Brian took the mug of hot coffee from Justin's hand and placed it on the counter before encircling him in his arms. He felt Justin tense, but he didn't try to pull free. "Because it wasn't worth it to me."
"Meaning the few minutes of pleasure were not going to cancel out making you miserable and making myself feel like a cunt for cheating on you. I didn't want it that bad. I love you."
Justin sighed. Whenever Brian said those three little words, he was lost. "I love you too. So what did you do until dawn?"
"I went over to the hospital and sat with Shea. He was awake for a little while, we talked a bit."
"He's in a room now, out of ICU. His fever broke and his condition stabilized."
"That's good!" He poured some coffee for Brian and they drank it on the way to the bedroom, where Brian began to undress between sips.
"He's not completely out of danger, but they think he turned a corner. He's still pretty out of it, but he's disappointed that he recovered, Justin. He wishes he just died. Not the way we said we wanted to be dead when we felt sick. He means it."
"Poor kid. What do we do?"
"I'm trying to convince Frankie to take him back at the center when they release him, but he thinks he'll be too sick. He's looking for alternative placement, but I want him at the center unless he's totally debilitated."
"Frankie will do anything for you."
Brian, naked, held out his arms while smirking. "True, but at what cost? Think I have to give him all this?"
Justin smiled and walked over to him, flattening his hands on Brian's pecs. "He couldn't handle all this, and if he tried, I would have to kick his scrawny faggoty ass."
"Jealous bitch," Brian teased, reaching down to cup Justin's package in his hand. "Make it worth my while to save myself for you."
Justin pushed him back on the bed with a strong shove, and stripped quickly before straddling him. He leaned down to kiss him hotly as he reached behind him to fondle Brian's growing erection. Brian closed his eyes and surrendered to the heat, confirming that his decision to walk away from Blaine was correct. Sex was good, almost always, but sex with Justin was something more, endlessly exciting and fueled by emotions no other man could arouse in him. He rolled his lover under him, covering him with his body, his tongue plunging deeper into his mouth as he ground against his pelvis, letting the flames burn both of them with unrelenting power.
Sunday afternoon, Brian and Justin awoke close to the same time, made love, took a shower together, made love again, dressed in robes and left the bedroom. They found Michael and Ben hard at work in the kitchen making brunch, while Diana Krall played on the sound system. Brian smirked at that musical choice, knowing Ben had chosen the artist, since Michael's musical tastes hadn't changed since high school. Rock, metal, and more rock.
"We were going to wake your lazy asses up," Michael said, wistfully taking in the sight of Brian standing behind Justin, his arms firmly around his waist, his chin resting on Justin's shoulder. They were so much in love, it hurt him to look at them together. He never thought Brian could be like that with anyone. Rather than feeling happy his best friend had found such a match, he couldn't help but regret it wasn't himself wrapped in those long arms. As much as he loved Ben, he couldn't completely give up his dream.
Over poached eggs with hollandaise and fresh coffee, the two couples enjoyed a leisurely afternoon together and then agreed to do some lazy window shopping in the neighborhood. Ben wanted to see the exhibition at the Frick and that meant Michael was trapped into going, especially after Brian insisted a little culture wouldn't kill him. Brian and Justin had seen it, and used the time to visit Shea. The four met for dinner at the Café des Artistes, not far from the museum.
Amid murals of beautiful, 1930's-styled naked women and fragranced by enormous flower arrangements that were strategically placed in the small, elegant restaurant, Michael blanched at the prices on the menu. Brian sighed. "It's my treat. Get what you want, Mikey."
"No, let us," Ben started to say, but Brian interrupted him.
"I can afford dinner, Ben. Case closed."
Justin bit his tongue, knowing how Brian would react to a budget reminder. They relaxed into the meal, and while having brandy after the last course, a noisy, fashionable crowd entered and Justin watched Brian's face grow tense as he stared at them. He met eyes with a beautiful ice blond man who separated himself from the crowd and came over to their table. Justin recognized him as a model and his expression hardened as Brian stood to greet him and they shared a European embrace with a kiss on both cheeks. Brian introduced him to the others as Freddie, pronounced "Freedy", and the blond flashed a dazzling smile at them and hugged Brian again.
"He is my hero," he said with a strong German accent. "He brought down that psychopath, Jeffrey. Such courage. I can only imagine what price you are paying with that filthy rich family behind him, finding ways to repay you."
Brian looked confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I know his father would never let this happen to his boy without retribution. I'm sure he's made your life a living hell. If there's anything I can do for you, call me, darling. All of us who suffered at Jeffrey's hand owe you greatly. You have my number." He kissed Brian on the lips and left them to rejoin his party.
Justin focused on Brian as his lover sat down again. Freddie's comment about Jeffrey's family wasn't lost on him. He always suspected there was some unknown link between Walker and Brian's current troubles. He just didn't know what it was. As he contemplated Freddie's warning, Justin made a mental note to speak to Brian about his theories when they were finally alone.
On Monday morning, Brian waited with Mick for the arrival of his former boss and the man's attorney. He had deliberately dressed down in jeans and a starched white shirt over a black wifebeater. He was chain-smoking along with Mick as they discussed strategy. When Felix Kimbrough arrived, he was accompanied not only by Walt, his general counsel, but also by a partner in a silk-stockings law firm. All three men wore expensive suits and ties. Introductions were exchanged and Brian thought they all looked as if they wanted to put toilet seat protectors down on the chairs before they sat.
The patrician law firm partner was the mouthpiece for the group as he opened with, "I think this is probably not the appropriate forum to debate the issues raised by the letter you wrote, Ms. Donovan. We're here to see if we can amicably resolve a dispute while admitting absolutely no liability. My clients are more than prepared to defend any litigation to the utmost extent of the law, but we'd all like to avoid that expense and consumption of time if possible."
"Well, Harvey..." Mick said, glancing at his business card and emphasizing his first name. "You should know my client is equally willing to prosecute that litigation and since he has an airtight claim, let's not wade through three acres of bullshit to get to the cow's ass. You're here to make an offer of settlement to make Brian go away. So make it."
Brian suppressed a smile at her blunt way of getting to the heart of the matter and the other lawyer looked as if he were smelling that bullshit as he drew back and said, "As you know there is very little case law on discrimination based on sexual orientation. It's not a popular cause of action, since most juries consist of straight people. Add to that, you have the problem of an unsympathetic plaintiff who was recently embroiled in a scandal involving drugs and some kind of master/slave sexual relationship despite his so-called ‘relationship' with a partner."
Mick tapped her pen on her desk and then smiled slightly as Brian bristled. "What you mean is a plaintiff who was so heroic that he risked his own well- being and the love of his life to see that said love's sister received critical medical care as she lingered between life and death, only to find out his heartless employer fired him for doing everything he could to help save this little girl's life. Is that what you mean?"
"You say po-tate-o, I say po-taht-o," Harvey responded and Mick laughed.
"As long as the damage award says six zeroes you can say whatever you want, Harvey."
"We're willing to offer fifty thousand dollars in exchange for a full release and settlement. This is no way to be construed as an admission of..."
Mick held up a hand to stop him. "Good afternoon, gentlemen, and thanks for coming by."
Harvey glanced at Felix who nodded. "Alright, I'm authorized to go up to a hundred grand...plus reasonable attorney's fees for any time you expended on this case and..."
Brian shook his head, smiling at Felix. "You're kidding, right?"
"You'd better take it or you'll spend every penny you have on fighting this matter only to lose in the end," Felix shot back at him, and Brian shrugged.
"The publicity alone will be worth it."
"Take it or leave it," Harvey said stiffly and Brian smiled.
"Kiss my ass."
"You're making a big mistake, Brian," Felix warned and he shrugged.
"Won't be the first time. The first time was when I listened to you about what a great opportunity I had with your firm and how tolerant you were, and how I had a home with you."
"You let me down."
"Cry me a river."
The men stood and left the office. Mick glanced at Brian when they were alone and he shrugged. "Bye-bye a hundred thou'."
"It's bullshit money, Brian."
"I know, but any money looks good to me now."
"You'll be fine, man. This was good. They'll be back."
"Okay, well, let's talk about something else. I have a proposal for you."
"A proposal? Thanks, but I've been married."
He laughed. "That'll keep me from wanting sex the rest of the day. No, I'm serious." He opened his briefcase and took out a file, opening it on her desk and preparing to go through it a page at a time.
In the limo, Felix glared at his lawyers. "That was a waste of time."
"We didn't expect him to bite our first offer, Felix," Harvey assured him. "I told you the case was a quarter of a million dollar claim, and that's what we'll buy it for, but after he spends some bucks on this case and after his money dwindles even further than it has. Be patient."
"I just want this behind me," Kimbrough said, staring out the window, watching the "gay" part of town slip into the more "normal" sights of Manhattan.
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July 25, 2004