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Guys, here it is, EARLY. I've been out of town and will be out most of today and all of this evening, so I wanted to go ahead and post. The site will be updated when the gang gets time to do so, since I sprang this on them. I want to thank my team, Pfyre, Roz, Jen and Alan for getting this out there for me, and also a special thanks to a list sib, Mamadoc, who is a physician, and who was nice enough to read an advance copy and give me all kinds of pointers to ensure my research was correct. I really appreciate her kind assistance. Thanks, enjoy, Ran

Reconstructing Brian

Chapter 20

Justin ran down the hospital corridor, leaving Lindsay behind. When he found Cynthia, her pale, buttery yellow linen suit was stained with blood. Brian's blood. It had streaked her stockings and even her buff colored shoes. She seemed unaware of it, in shock, her skin pale and her expression strangely vacant.

"Where is he?" Justin demanded.

"He was just standing there, Justin. Just standing there and then he collapsed. I had no idea. I heard a funny sound, but…"

Justin gripped her arms tightly in his fists and gave her a little shake. "Where is he, Cynthia? I have to see him!"

"Justin," Lindsay pressed her hand to his back, trying to calm him. She could see in one look how traumatized Cynthia was, and this confrontation wasn't going to help get information from her. "Cyn, come and sit down with us. Come on," Lindsay put an arm around her, leading her towards some vinyl chairs in a waiting room in the surgical wing. Justin walked with them, but didn't sit down, scanning the corridor for someone who would talk with him, tell him where Brian was, how bad it was.

"I didn't understand what happened," Cynthia was saying to Lindsay. "So much blood, I've never seen so much blood!"

Cynthia was shaking so hard, Lindsay feared for her well being. As worried as she was about Brian, it was clear he was not the only victim. "Where IS he?" Justin demanded, unable to be mindful of Cynthia's condition when his lover could be dying or dead.

"They took him into the operating room the moment we arrived," Cynthia said softly. "He's still in there."

Mick joined them, summoned by Lindsay, who walked into her open arms and held tightly to her. A doctor in green scrubs joined them, and they all became very quiet as they tried to read something in his expression.

"Are you Mrs. Kinney?" he said to the blood-stained blonde.

"I'm Mrs. Kinney," Justin said grimly, and the doctor gave him a glance then nodded. "I'm Justin Taylor."

"Are you his partner?"

"Yes, how is he?"

"Please sit down. I'm Dr. Boyd. I'm his surgeon." They clustered around him in the sitting area, with Lindsay holding hands with both Cynthia and Mick while Justin deliberately sat apart from them, so coiled with fear and tension, he didn't want any kindness to shake his thin control.

"What happened to him?" Justin demanded and the doctor directed his comments to the young man.

"He was shot at close range with an automatic weapon. He was in shock from the trauma and suffered a significant blood loss by the time he arrived in ER. The bullet entered his body here," he indicated a site on his mid abdomen and passed just below his right kidney, miraculously missing that organ and his spine, then ricocheted off his eleventh rib, shattering the bone and entered his small intestines, finally exiting here," he touched a site in his lower back. "We performed what is called a laparotomy, which is exploratory surgery to determine the extent of damage from gunshot trauma. Because he had lost so much blood it would have been dangerous to attempt a prolonged surgery at this time. Therefore we do what we call `damage control' surgery."

"What does that mean?" Justin asked and the doctor went on.

"We go in and get a clear view of what trauma he suffered and take temporary measures to stop the bleeding and make instant repairs. In his case, the bullet tore through his abdominal cavity as it made its trajectory through his body. It nicked his Iliac artery, which had to be repaired immediately. We temporarily patched some wounds in his bowel to prevent further contamination of his abdomen with fecal matter. We then cleaned out his abdominal cavity to prevent peritonitis, and we left open the surgical cut by using a kind of pressure bandage called a Bogata bag that temporarily covers the open wound without closing it so we can go in later without cutting him again. We've inserted drains to keep his abdomen clear, and he's being administered blood products as well as strong antibiotics."

"What happens next?" Justin inquired, trying to take it all in, picturing Brian connected to tubes and drains, his abdomen torn open and covered with some weird device, his life hanging in the balance.

"We'll now try to stabilize him in the Intensive Care Unit, ICU. Assuming he stabilizes in twenty-four to forty-eight hours, we'll go back in and remove the packs and dead tissue and definitively treat the injuries we've identified. Because the intestines curls in on itself, when the bullet tore into that organ, it left a series of holes, like swiss cheese. Each tear has to be patched and where the bowel was torn free from the rest of the intestines, it has to be reattached. By doing so, we can restore his intestinal continuity. Right now the end of his undamaged bowel is at the surface of his skin and connected to a colostomy bag. Hopefully once the surgery is complete, his intestines will perform normally and the bag can be removed. Once we accomplish that repair work, we'll permanently close up his abdominal wall."

"Why didn't you do all that now? Why do you have to open him up again?" Justin thought it would be less strain for Brian to undergo one rather than two major operations, and the doctor nodded.

"We've found that when a patient is as unstable as Mr. Kinney was when he was admitted, if we attempt prolonged reconstructive surgery immediately, the chance for survival is decreased. In shorthand, his body was too traumatized to survive several hours on the table."

"Then why open him up at all?"

"A laparotomy is the only way to definitively assess a gunshot wound to the abdomen. We have to see what's hit and we have to stop the bleeding and clean contaminates out of his abdominal cavity, or he'd surely die from blood loss and/or peritonitis and sepsis. This way, we patch him up to literally stop the bleeding, and then we go in later, when he's stronger, to fix what we found."

"What are you doing to him now?"

"As I said, he's in the ICU where he's being stabilized. He's on a ventilator to take the stress off his heart and lungs and keep his breathing regulated. We'll work with various fluids and drugs to restore more normal biochemistry and to keep him hydrated. We inject saline solutions because these injuries create a dreadful thirst in the victim. He'll be transfused and his vital signs will be constantly monitored for signs of decline in his condition and also to monitor what we hope will be an increased improvement. He couldn't be in better hands. Our trauma unit is top of the line."

"How bad is it?" Justin finally said and the doctor met his gaze as if gauging the strength of the young blond. The doctor finally responded.

"He's in critical condition. It could go either way. He's young, he's in phenomenal physical condition, he was immediately treated. All of these things are important marks in his favor. He survived the initial laparotomy. Another important milestone. But I won't sugarcoat it, Mr. Taylor. He's fighting for his life."

For the first time, the doctor saw a sign of weakness cross the beautiful face of the younger man. His lower lip trembled and his ruddy skin went pale. The doctor covered Justin's hand with his own. The doctor's hand was cool and incredibly soft. Justin tried not to think about that hand being inside Brian's body, mending shattered organs. "His family should be contacted."

"I want to see him," Justin said softly and the doctor nodded.

"When he's stabilized, one person can go in every hour for five minutes, unless the staff decides the stress on the patient is too much. He's not conscious, nor will he be. We're deliberately keeping him lightly anesthetized so that he won't fight the ventilator or experience stress over the pain. He may be able to hear you, but he won't be able to respond. He's not in a coma, this is a deliberate drug induced state. He'll appear unnaturally pale to you which is caused by the acute anemia brought about by a sudden, massive loss of blood."

"I don't care about any of that. I just want to see him."

"Hear me out, Mr. Taylor. He'll be hooked to a wide variety of tubes and bags, each of which performs an important function. He'll be restrained so that any involuntary muscle movement won't disturb these catheters and because his abdomen has to remain motionless since it's not fully closed. There may be some edema, or swelling, in his face and limbs because of all the fluids he's being given. His body can't process them out fast enough, but he has to have them. I don't want you to be surprised by his appearance. If you don't think you can handle it, don't go in. The last thing he needs right now is to hear tension and fear from his loved ones."

"I can handle it," Justin said firmly. "I want to see him. Now."

"When he's stable, Mr. Taylor. Not before. It could be several hours, it could be fifteen minutes. I need to go speak with his gastroenterologist now, but I'll be available."

"Dr. Boyd," Justin said softly. "Thanks. Thanks for saving his life and thanks for treating me the way you have."

The doctor stood and smiled at the younger man. "Don't thank me now, let's see how it goes. As for the rest of it, you're his partner, I respect that. I'll speak with you later."

Justin watched him walk away, and then looked over at the women. "Will you call Michael and Brian's mom and…Debbie…and my mom… and…who else should we call? Will you do it? And tell them? And I'll call Bill, Leo's lover, and see if there's anything else that should be done for Brian, since Bill's a doctor. I…I'm going to go have a cigarette while we wait. I'll be back."

"Justin, I'll go with you," Lindsay offered, but he shook his head, wanting desperately to be alone.

Justin stayed apart from the others as people continued to gather at the hospital. Bill, Leo, Frankie, even Shea's mother, were there. Soon, the people coming in from Pittsburgh would start arriving: Michael, Debbie, Jennifer and Joan Kinney. The police were questioning Cynthia who had changed into clean clothes brought by a friend. Bill had given her something to calm her, so she was able to discuss the event with less emotion. Mick was talking quietly to Jim Jacobi, the Assistant District Attorney. Justin just wanted to go to bed, sleep, wake up and find it had been a nightmare. Brian would be sleeping next to him, his arm flung across his body.

But sleep was impossible, and the nightmare never ended. He hadn't even been permitted to see Brian. They called a Code Blue on Brian once, causing medical personnel to run to ICU from various posts. It meant that Brian had flatlined, but the doctor later assured them he pulled through it and wasn't compromised long enough for any permanent damage to have occurred. Every second of that five minute ordeal was a lifetime for Justin, who refused to let anyone comfort him, pulling even deeper into his own world.

Finally, the medical team decided Brian was stable enough for one visitor, and Justin felt the others watch him in respectful silence as he walked towards the automatic doors leading to ICU. It had been five hours since Brian was admitted, and Justin's legs felt like rubber as he followed a nurse into an area that resembled a flight deck on a movie version of a space ship. It was in the round, with the patient rooms circling the nucleus of the medical station. The lights were low instead of fluorescently bright, and the machines that monitored the lives of the patients hummed and beeped from multiple screens.

When she left him alone with Brian, he started to tell her she took him to the wrong place. This wasn't his lover. But then he saw the name on his hospital bracelet: Brian Kinney. The victim in the bed had Brian's perfect nose, and Brian's hair, but where was the rest of him? He looked twenty pounds heavier, his face and neck swollen, as were his hands. Each slender, tapered finger looked as hard-packed as a sausage, while tubes and bags continued to pump fluids into him.

Beneath a thin white blanket, his abdomen appeared enormous, as if he were nine months into a pregnancy. Justin remembered the doctor saying they didn't even close Brian's abdomen after the surgery. Instead they covered the gaping wound with a clear plastic Bogata bag that served as a pressure bandage to hold his guts in place. The bag was packed around a series of drainage tubes and the resultant mound caused a large bulge where he was previously so flat. His skin was chalk white, his face partially concealed by the ventilator. Justin was afraid to touch him, not sure what he might accidentally dislodge. Finally he reached out and combed his fingers through Brian's hair, whispering, "I'm here. I love you. You're going to be fine."

He expected no response and he got none. But they told him Brian might hear more than he appeared to understand, so he thought of what Brian would want to know, if he could ask. Justin forced his voice to be matter of fact as he said, "Cynthia is fine. She wasn't hurt. You were shot, Brian. The bullet damaged your intestines and some veins or vessels or something, so you lost a lot of blood. They went in to see what was wrong and did some quick repairs to stop the bleeding and make sure your wounds were closed. As soon as the transfusion and antibiotics stabilize you, they'll take you in again and do the real repair work. The bullet missed all your other vital organs and your spine, so once they get you through this, you'll be fine. They have you on a ventilator, not because you can't breathe, but because they don't want you to breathe on your own, they want to take all the stress away from your organs. You aren't in a coma, they induced this state to keep you calm and let your body heal."

Justin carefully wrapped his hand over Brian's bicep, which was free of tubing. "You have to fight back, Brian. I know you always fight back, but you can't stop now. You have to have the right mind set to get well. I love you and I need you and…" he stopped as his voice choked with emotion. He continued stroking Brian's arm as he forced his tears to subside. "Anyway, I'll be here. We're all here. They won't let us visit but a few minutes every hour. You need to rest. I can't do this without you, Brian Kinney. We're a partnership. You owe me, god damn it. You'd better pay up by hanging around another fifty years or so. I need you."

The nurse was already back to shoo him away, and Justin leaned over to kiss Brian's clammy forehead, before taking one last look and allowing her to lead him out of the area. When he walked into the waiting room, his mother had arrived and she rushed over to him. He allowed her to embrace him, holding tightly to her as he finally permitted himself to cry.

Brian's mind would not stop churning.

Why can't I open my eyes? Why can't I move anything at all?

Ok,ok, I'm in the hospital. I can tell by the noises, I'm in the hospital. But why?

That guy in the park. The jogger. He hit me with something. He hit me real hard, and I went down. How bad can it be?

I feel no pain whatsoever. I'm not paralyzed, I can feel my limbs, but I can't make them move.

My stomach feels as if there's an elephant lying on it.

Why am I so fucking thirsty?

Why can't I wake up? Am I in a coma?

Am I dying? Is this what it's like to die? But why am I dying? What happened to me?

Where is everyone? Am I here all alone? Why isn't Justin with me?

I'm cold. Can't they cover me up or something?

This is crazy, I have to wake up!

I must be hooked to machines, because when I started to resist, I heard the beeping of my heart monitor go up. A nurse came in, and gave me something that feels like smack. It's almost worth it for drugs this good. I'm not in a panic anymore.

Is it the same day as when we met with Edmond? Is Cyn okay?

Why can't I open my eyes?

"I'm here, I love you, you're going to be fine." Justin! I hear his voice. I feel his fingers drift through my hair and touch my arm. I want to respond, but there's some fucking tube down my throat. Either that or I'm giving someone the longest blow job in history. I listen to what he says. His touch soothes me like no drug can do. He says exactly what I would want him to say. He tells me about Cynthia.

He tells me what happened to me.

Shot! That was a bullet? It felt like a punch! The fucker SHOT me?

He tells me what they did to me in the operating room and what they plan to do.

He explains I'm not in a coma, this is some deliberate drugging. I need to hear all of this. It helps me relax a little, put some parameters around it.

Too soon, they are making him leave. No! I need him to stay, why can't he stay? Let him stay…

I can hear the tears in his voice. He's crying. Don't cry, baby. He tells me he loves me. I love him too. He tells me we're partners and I'd better stick around. I can't think of anything I'd rather do.

"I need you," he says, and I need him too. More than he'll ever know. I feel him kiss my forehead. Don't go!

Justin, please, don't go!

They are giving me something…can't think anymore….

Michael sat down beside Justin in the small enclosed courtyard where stone benches beckoned smokers escaping from the hospital. Justin took a last puff off his cigarette and put it out. Dawn was breaking and he should be exhausted, but he was too numb to be tired.

"How are you holding up?" Michael said and Justin shrugged. Michael went on. "I remember holding Brian together when you were in the hospital. I never saw Brian cry like that. I've seen him cry a few times, but not like that. He was so scared."

Justin glanced at his profile. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I told Brian I just knew you'd pull through. I never doubted it for a minute, and I was right. I know Brian will pull through this too, Justin. I just know it. He's so tough, it'll take more than a bullet to stop him, even a silver bullet."

"He's not Rage, Mikey. He's just a guy."

Michael smiled. "Are you sure? I'm not. Seriously, when I saw him on that last visit, I think he looked better. The swelling's gone down a little. He seemed to be resting more easily and his temperature was 99. I could read it on the screen. The nurse told me he was in phenomenal shape, and that helped. All of his narcissism may pay off after all."

Justin looked at the pink horizon, trying to pull some comfort out of the fact Brian survived the night. "I can't do it without him, Mikey. I don't want to do it. For all the pain and craziness living with Brian Kinney can cause, the good so far outweighs the bad that there's no contest."

"You won't have to worry about it, Justin. He'll be fine."

"What if he isn't?"

Michael reached over and squeezed his hand gently. "He will be."

"Is Brian going to die?" A voice intruded and they both turned as a shadowy figure stepped out of the fringes, finally materializing as Shea. Justin sighed.

"Where have you been?"

"With some friends. Is Brian going to die?"

"No, Brian's not going to die!" Michael insisted angrily. "What kind of fucking question is that?"

"It's okay, Mikey," Justin quieted him. "Do you mind if I talk to Shea alone?"

"Ok, but you can see Brian in ten minutes. Don't be late. We don't want to give his mother another chance."

"I know the time and I won't miss a chance to see Brian," Justin said softly. "And thanks, Michael."

"See you upstairs."

Shea took Michael's abandoned spot and Justin glared at him. "Are you on your meds?"

"Yes, I still have meds, Justin. I'm fine. What happened? I mean I heard what happened but…is he going to be alright?"

"I hope so. I think so. You can't see him, Shea, I'm sorry. You've been ill with an infectious respiratory infection recently, and they don't want anyone who could be carrying visiting him."

"I don't care. I just want to be sure that he's okay."

"We don't know yet. If he holds up, he still has one more operation."

"It's that guy in Boston, isn't it?"

"What guy?" Justin said cautiously and Shea smiled.

"You guys think I don't listen, or don't comprehend, but I hear a lot and I get it. Jeffrey Walker, Senior. He's trying to shut Brian up. You think he did this?"

"Yes, Shea, I do."

"Me too. Let me guess. The cops don't give a shit."

"No, the ADA, Jim Jacobi, is very interested, but we can't know which way it will go. They're investigating."

"They'll blow it off. Walker is a rich white straight guy and Brian is just a faggot. They don't care."

"We'll see. Coming upstairs with me?"

"No, I know my mom is there, Justin. I'm not going near her."

"How do you know that?"

"I just do."

"Want to go to the loft?"

"No, but thanks. I'll call you on your mobile. I want to know."

"Okay, but where will you go, Shea?"

"I'll be around. Later. Be strong, dude."

"You too," Justin said, watching him slink away wondering at Shea's compassion for Brian when his own situation was so dire. He went back up, and entered the waiting room just as the surgeon from the previous night joined them. He had showered and shaved, but Justin didn't know if he had slept. He spoke to Justin, but they all listened intently.

"Mr.Kinney's condition has improved. He's been stable for several hours. His hemocrit, which measures the condition of his blood supply, has steadily trended upwards. We think the wise thing to do is to operate later today, so long as he remains stable. I'll go in and reattach his intestines after making repairs and cutting out any dead tissue that remains. The good news about a gut wound is that the body had enough intestines that you can lose a few feet and still function normally. The key is in the reattachment. At the same time, we'll clean out his abdominal cavity again to ensure any fecal or other contaminant has been removed. We'll retest his other organs in the vicinity of the damage to ensure no injury has been overlooked."

"It sounds like a lot to put him through. Can't it wait? He seems so fragile to me," Justin said nervously and the doctor smiled reassuringly at him.

"No, the sooner the better and we wouldn't get started if we didn't think he was strong enough to endure it. There are some bone chips from his shattered rib and some metal fragments from the bullet that I'll need to remove to prevent future complications. Following that, we'll close the abdomen. Because his abdominal muscle wall is so hard, I have a strong hope that he'll heal without our having to put steel mesh netting between his abdominal wall and his internal organs. I think he has enough strength to provide his own barrier. The forty-eight hour period following this surgery is critical. The surgery will impose a grave shock to his system and the anesthesia is always a risk, complicated by his weakened condition. But there's every reason to have hope. I'll let you know when we have an operating room, and you can see him for a few minutes before pre-op begins. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

Justin nodded.

"Do you have any questions?"

"My son is Catholic," Joan Kinney intervened. "Should we call a priest."

"No," Justin said firmly. "Brian is a lapsed Catholic, at best, Mrs. Kinney, and if he really can hear and if he hears a priest talking to him, it would stress him out completely. He'd think he was dying. No priest."

"I'll go to the chapel with you, Joan," Shea's mother offered and Joan Kinney smiled gratefully at her.

"You really don't want to let anything happen to that kid," Debbie insisted, dabbing at her eyes. "I'm tired and grumpy and scared and you so do NOT want to piss me off!"

The doctor smiled at her. "I'll do my best."

He left and Justin looked around for Lindsay. "Where's Linds?"

"I made her take a nap," Mick insisted. "With the baby and all, she needs to watch her own health. They were kind enough to make a family room available for her. But don't worry, Justin. I'll get her up to date when she wakes up."

"Baby?" Michael and Debbie said in unison, and Justin sighed.

"Yeah, Linds is pregnant. It's Brian's baby. I've got to go in to see him now." Justin left them alone to sort through that news without him.

It wasn't until six o'clock that evening that Bill came from the operating room, where he was allowed to observe the surgery. He was often the anesthesiologist for Dr. Boyd's surgeries, so it wasn't difficult to be granted this dispensation. Dressed in scrubs, he sat down beside his lover, Leo, his mask dangling at his neck. He took off the cap, scrubbing his fingers through his gray hair.

"I'll let the surgeon fill you in on the details, but Brian is out of surgery and in recovery now. No one can see him. I think he tolerated it very well. His blood pressure and heart rate stayed relatively normal and his biochemistry looks good, suggesting no infection has started. They closed him up without incident and no screen was needed. From where I stood, it looked like a perfect re-sectioning and they found no damage to adjacent organs. He's still critical, this is an important time, but let's be grateful for the fact he made it through this very big step."

Justin stood up, then sat down quickly. "I feel funny."

Bill sighed and spread a hand on his knee. "Of course you do. You haven't eaten or slept for over twenty-four hours. You need some nourishment and some shut eye. You can only live on adrenaline for so long. I think you know we'll come get you as soon as he can have a visitor, or if there is any change. The surgeon will be out soon, but after his report, promise me you'll crash."

"I'll see to it," Jennifer said firmly and Justin just nodded, waiting for the surgeon to confirm Bill's report.

Justin napped in the bed Lindsay had used earlier, after eating a light meal that Jennifer and Debbie brought to him. He didn't think he would be able to sleep, but as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was out. When his mobile rang, he wasn't sure how much time had passed, but it was dark outside the windows. He pushed the button to activate the call and Shea's voice penetrated his fog.

"Any news?" he asked.

Justin shared the surgeon's report and Shea was quiet for a moment. "When will you know if he's out of danger?"

"Not for awhile."


"Shea, where are you? There's so much noise."

"Later, dude. I'll call." Shea hung up and Justin sighed, splashed some water in his face and returned to the surreal world of the waiting room.

Brian made a vow to himself: he would never get drunk/tweaked again, because this was the mother of all hangovers. His head pounded, his stomach rolled, he was in serious pain. He felt as if his mouth and throat were lined in sandpaper and he was so weak, he couldn't lift his hand from the bed. Opening his eyes seemed equally impossible.

"Mr. Kinney? You're waking up. Brian. Can you open your eyes?" A female voice, amid strange mechanical noises. It was all starting to come back to him. Hospital, surgery, Justin's voice, and did he even hear his mother once? And was that Mikey or did he dream it? "Brian, open your eyes for me."

He dutifully squinted his eyes open and was grateful to be in a dimly lit area, looking up at the round, jolly face of a nurse dressed in raspberry scrubs. She was rubbing his arm gently, shifting her gaze to the monitors that broadcasted his vitality, or lack thereof.

"Thirsty," he managed to croak, his lips dry and cracked.

"Wake up a little bit more for me and we'll give you some crushed ice."


"We'll increase your pain meds as soon as you wake up for us. Do you feel nauseous?"

He nodded slightly. She added something to his IV and it seemed to instantly settle his queasy stomach. "Want Justin."

"Your little blond friend? He's right out there in the waiting room. But Dr. Boyd will be here in a minute. He'll decide about that. Do you know where you are and why, Brian?"

"Hospital. Cunt shot me."

She smiled. "That about sums it up. Here's Dr. Boyd now."

Brian shifted his gaze to green scrubs on a diminutive, balding man. "Welcome back," he said, reading a chart and then scanning Brian's monitor and jotting down notes. "I'm Dr. Boyd, your surgeon." With the nurse's assistance, he rolled back the warming blanket and raised Brian's gown to examine the packing and drains covering his abdomen. He then covered him up again and rested his hand on Brian's arm. "You've just survived five hours of surgery, Brian. You tolerated it very well. The fact that you're in excellent shape is a factor. Your wound is clean, the bullet and bone fragments have been removed. Your bowel was re-sectioned in several places. The bullet tore through multiple areas, each of which had to be cut, dead tissue removed, sutured, and then reconnected to the whole. There was no other damage."

Brian squinted at him. "Sounds bad."

"It wasn't good. You lost a great deal of blood. But it could have been much, much worse. Your kidneys, spleen and liver were spared, as was your urinary system. We got to you quickly, which reduces the risk of infection. But that's the key for the next forty-eight hours. We watch to ensure no infection is present and that you continue to heal. You have a series of drains protruding from your abdomen. They siphon off peritoneal fluid and lost blood. We check this fluid to ensure it's infection-free. Soon, we'll remove the drains and close those small cuts. You have a hard abdominal wall, which will aid in healing and which made it easier to firmly close your surgical incision."


The doctor smiled. "I'm pretty proud of my handiwork, minimizing the incision, but yes, Brian, you will have a scar. You can tell people it was a Caesarian," he joked and Brian flinched.

"Hurt, thirsty."

"We'll give you some pain medication, and a spoonful of crushed ice. Just suck it, don't chew it."

Brian tried to smile. "Know all about that."

The reference went over the doctor's head. "I'll check on you later, Brian."

"Throat's sore."

"You were hooked to a ventilator. It abraded your throat, but that should pass soon."




The doctor smiled. "Soon," he said and left Brian in the capable hands of his nurse.

When Justin entered post-op ICU, he thought Brian was still out of it, even though the doctor told him he was conscious. He leaned over to kiss his lover's forehead and Brian whispered, "Dr. Boyd, I told you, I'm taken."

Justin stood up, shocked by the fact he could not only respond, but joke. "Baby?"

"Do NOT call me `baby'," Brian chided him, opening one eye in a squint to focus on Justin, surprised by the feeling of peace and pleasure that it gave him, just to see that face, even when it was tired and in need of a shave. Justin smiled and threaded his fingers through Brian's hair, unable to speak for a moment. "I think I'm paralyzed," Brian said, and Justin had to laugh.

"You are not paralyzed, drama queen."

"I'm pretty damned numb from the neck down."

"That's the morphine. Enjoy it while you have it," he whipped a small pot of Carmex from his pocket and smoothed a sheen of it over Brian's parched lips. The relief it gave him surprised Brian, it seemed such a small but sweet gesture.

"Are you okay?" Brian asked and Justin smiled, holding onto Brian's hand, mindful of the tubes.

"I wasn't the one who was shot."

"I know. But I've stood in your shoes, when you were hurt, and it's almost as bad."

Justin nodded, squeezing his eyes shut as tears threatened. He pressed his free hand to his face, stifling a sudden sob and Brian added pressure to the hand he was holding. "I know, Sunshine. It's scary. But I'm going to be okay."

Justin took a couple moments to regain control, and then wiped his tears on the sleeve of his shirt and said, "I'm sorry. I'm supposed to be reassuring you. I know you'll be okay, Brian, but I was so scared and I realized again how much I love you and need you."

"I'm here. Battered, scarred, but here."

"I'll take you anyway I can get you, so long as you're still breathing. Nothing matters but being alive and healthy and together, Brian. Not your job, or Jeffrey Walker, or his father, or money, or any of that shit. All that matters is that we have each other and we're healthy."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Brian teased. "Pretty soon we're going to look like two old scarred up prizefighters, the way we draw crimes."

"You'll always be beautiful to me," Justin said and Brian smiled.


The nurse told Justin he would have to leave, and that when Brian was taken to a room, they would have more time to visit, but for now, he had to rest. Justin leaned over to touch his lips to Brian's, smoothing the residual Carmex over his own lips as he withdrew. "I love you."

"You too. Go home, get some rest."

"No way. I'll be right outside."


He paused and looked back at his lover. Brian went on. "Be careful. They tried to kill me, for chrissakes. Tell Lindsay to be careful with Gus. I'm scared."

"She knows. The cops have been told. I'm being careful. Don't be scared, Brian. Not for me, or for yourself. I'm not scared anymore."

"No? What are you?"

"Mad," Justin said bluntly, then smiled at Brian and left him alone to heal.

Go to Chapter 21

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July 25, 2004