Thanks to the team, especially to Alan for helping me through a perplexing plot point. But I truly love the illustration Jen put together, one of my favorites, and it couldn't be done without Roz and Pfyre, so thanks to everyone. It's an intense chapter. Everyone take a Valium and then read...I am going out just in case anyone comes looking for me with a WIRE!!! LOL! Ran
A week after his last surgery, Brian stared balefully at the wheelchair Justin rolled into his room at the hospital.
"I'm not getting in that thing."
"It's a rule. Just until you get out of the hospital. They make you."
Brian sat on the edge of the bed, wincing as his jeans bit into a small sutured site where a tube had been removed. His entire abdomen was a minefield of painful traps, with the main redzone being the major incision that began a couple inches below his navel and ended at his pubes. The staples that once held the skin closed had been removed. In their place was a long straight cut with a series of puncture wounds on either side of it, marking where the staples had penetrated. He was told the puncture wounds would fade away without a trace, but the main scar was there for life. There were other smaller sutured sites that would dissolve on their own and eventually disappear, each marking where a drainage tube had been inserted and removed. The opening where his temporary colostomy bag had been attached was already healing.
He felt as patched together as the Frankenstein monster. The backs of his hands were black and blue from the IV lines, and he had lost at least ten pounds, bringing his bone structure into sharp relief, after all the swelling receded. The skin under his eyes was tinged with mauve. Justin believed Brian had never been more beautiful. He was going to recover fully, and that was all that mattered to Justin. His standard for judging Brian's beauty had undergone a major sea change.
"Brian, remember that talk we had last night?"
"The one where you said you wouldn't blow me because you didn't feel secure that the nurse wouldn't walk in? And so I suggested we go in the bathroom, but you argued that there was no lock on the bathroom door? Then I asked you to jerk me off, and you agreed, but she DID walk in during the middle of it and you were too traumatized to finish the job until I whined like a little girl and you finally took pity on me? That conversation?"
Justin glared at him. "I was thinking about the VERBAL conversation we had, after that embarrassing moment, when you promised me you would do absolutely everything they told you to do, and you wouldn't argue with me about anything related to your care if they let you leave the hospital ahead of schedule."
"Oh yeah, that. Justin, I've had my body poked and prodded, inside and out. My shit has been collected like Incan gold and measured by the gram to make sure everything is working. I even had a nurse congratulate me the first time I could do it because it meant all the works were back in place and operational. I've had my body sponged off from head to toe by a three-hundred pound grandmother from the Bronx, with a nursing degree from the Abrasion and Sandpaper School of Nursing, and who referred to my dick as ‘Mr. Winky'. I want my dignity back, starting now. I'll walk out of this hospital under my own steam."
Justin met his eyes. "Mr. Winky?"
Brian glared at him. "If you ever repeat that to me again, I'll make you look at those pictures they took of my intestines."
"You win. You can walk, but I'll carry your bag."
"I can live with that. I got my final bill today, by the way. You can now thank me for making sure I kept up the COBRA payments that you thought were so outrageous. Remember when you said that we shouldn't pay the premiums? Well, this bill was in the deep five figures."
"Yeah, silly me for not being able to predict some rich son of a bitch in Boston would hire a hit man to shoot you in the gut at close range while you strolled through Central Park!"
"Shut up. I could've walked off the curb in front of a moving van. You can't risk it."
"You da man, Brian. Let's go. I never want to spend another minute here."
Brian stood, compressing his lips into a thin line. He was determined not to show any pain or weakness, despite the fact everything hurt and he didn't think he could walk three feet without stopping to catch his breath. His disability was frightening to him. After listening to everyone tell him how remarkable his recovery had been, he expected to be just like he was before the incident. Instead, he was so debilitated he wondered if he'd ever be restored to his former condition. Justin slipped an arm around his waist, as he said, "Lean on me. Don't be the Iron Man, Brian. Let me help you."
Brian met his lover's steely blue eyes and smiled slightly. He nodded and leaned his weight on Justin's smaller, but surprisingly strong body. They slowly made their way out of the hospital to a waiting cab. Brian was reminded of when Justin got out of the hospital following the bashing, and Brian had helped him recover his mobility by tossing a ball to him. He had also helped Justin overcome his fear of being out in a crowd by walking with him and forcing him to walk on his own. Maybe this was what being in a relationship was all about. It was one partner being strong when the other needed a hand. He had to admit, it wasn't the most unpleasant sensation in the world. Being alone right now seemed sadder to him than being hurt.
By the time Brian rode home in the cab and took the elevator up to his loft, he was utterly exhausted. Justin carried Brian's bag while Brian unlocked the door, dismayed to find the place crowded with visitors. The construction had been temporarily halted, on Justin's instructions, since he was convinced Brian needed calm in which to recover. Lindsay had said something about dropping off some food, and Cynthia was there every day to keep the work under control. The Pittsburgh people had gone home after it was clear that Brian would survive, but Leo and Bill had dropped in with DVDs they thought Brian would enjoy. Edmond put his expert chef skills to work and delivered several of Brian's favorite dishes, prepared for the freezer.
"Mark and his wife brought the flowers," Lindsay explained, motioning to the huge bouquets of fragrant summer flowers arranged on the mantle and on the bedside table.
"Daddy!" Gus ran over to greet him, his arms outstretched to be picked up, but it was Justin who swung him up and held him close enough to kiss Brian's cheek. "Daddy can't hold you, Gus. He hurt himself."
"Daddy fall down and go boom?" Gus asked and Brian snickered.
"Daddy went boom and then fell down. And daddy is gonna fall down, again, if I don't get off my feet pretty soon."
Justin handed Gus to Mick, who motioned to Brian that she needed to talk to him. He nodded before following Justin into the bedroom. Once there, Justin helped him out of his clothes and into his pajamas. Brian stretched out on the bed. His exhaustion crashed in on him with a physical force. "Pain med," he requested and Justin glanced at his watch.
"Not for another two hours."
"Oh come on, Marquis de Sade, be a little flexible. I hurt."
"I know, and I'm sorry. Turn on your side and I'll rub your back. Maybe you can sleep."
"You know what would help me sleep?"
"Brian, you're the only man in the world who can not only think about sex, but actually have sex when you're still so weak."
"Just lucky I guess."
"I feel funny about it. The doctor never really said we could do it."
"He didn't say we couldn't do it, other than the fact you aren't supposed to top me for awhile."
"I don't think he thinks it could even happen, not anytime soon, not as sick as you've been."
"Then he'll have an interesting tidbit for his scholarly paper on Brian Kinney's small intestines and what makes him tick when he finds out."
"We have a house full of people, including your son," Justin
scolded gently as he reached under Brian's pajama top and rubbed soothing circles
into his back and shoulders. He noticed again how thin his lover felt, his bones
so close to the skin. Justin soon realized that Brian had fallen asleep. Justin
leaned over to kiss Brian's cheek and covered him with the comforter. He quietly
closed the door before he rejoined the others.
Jeffrey Walker, Senior watched the tennis match with little enthusiasm from the terrace of his country club. His wife leaned over and touched his arm, bringing him out of his funk. They had just won a doubles game against another couple. They always won, but then they always chose opponents his wife knew they could beat, because living with her husband if he lost a competition wasn't an easy thing to do. For the last couple of weeks, he had been even moodier than usual. She had no idea what was bothering him, and he wasn't forthcoming with a reason. It couldn't be their son's trial, because the date had been set back due to the unavailability of Brian Kinney, his principal accuser. She wasn't sure about the details, but apparently Kinney was mugged in Central Park and seriously injured. As scared as she was for her son's fate, she was horrified to hear that his accuser was struggling for his life.
"Jay, have you heard how Brian Kinney is doing?" She suddenly asked over a cold plate of cottage cheese and fresh fruit.
He cut a harsh glare in her direction. "Why ask about him?"
"I just wondered. I know he was badly hurt, and hospitalized. Is he recovering?"
"Yes, apparently the bastard in the park failed to do the job properly and he'll be fine."
"You don't mean that."
"Of course I mean that, Karen! Do you know how much better off we would all be if Kinney died?"
"He's a young man. He has a child. No matter what his role may be in Jeffrey's troubles, we can't wish him a tragic fate. That kind of thinking boomerangs."
"Don't be so damned superstitious." He grimaced as he rubbed his forearm lightly. His wife sighed and pushed back the sleeve of his white sweater. She examined the angry red scratch that marked three or so inches of his flesh. It was a deep cut, and the skin was just now closing, despite the fact it had happened a few days ago. She remembered when he came home from a walk with their dog, her husband's arm was bleeding profusely.
"I still think you should see the doctor about that scratch, honey."
"Don't be ridiculous. It's healing. I called and verified that I have a current tetanus shot. There's nothing to be done. It's just an annoyance."
"I'm still not clear how it happened."
"It was just clumsiness," he said, unwilling to describe the incident, even to her. He had been walking along the cobblestone streets, pausing occasionally to greet his neighbors on Louisburg Square. Suddenly, a thin, badly dressed teenager approached. Walker had long ago learned that even the scions of families rich enough to live in this pricey enclave often looked like drug addicts and street dwellers. They seemed to costume themselves to look the opposite of their natural privileges. Some form of ridiculous adolescent rebellion, he supposed. Walker presumed this was one of those costumed rich boys, not an invader into their closed community. The kid was pleasant enough, despite his gaunt demeanor, as he paused to stroke Walker's golden retriever, who was as sweet as he was dumb.
"Nice dog," the kid said, then raised blue eyes to look at Walker. "Are you Jeffrey Walker?"
"Yes," Walker responded with forced politesse. "Do I know your family?"
"Doubt it, but I have something for you, Mr. Walker." The kid winced as he drug an ice pick out from under the cuff of his sleeve, and then jabbed it into Walker's forearm, left bare by his Polo shirt. The pick didn't go far beneath the skin since it was driven with little force, but when Walker pulled back, the pick scratched his arm and clattered to the pavement. He cried out with surprise and pain, and took a grab at the boy. His assailant's hand was covered in the kid's own blood, which flowed down his arm from a wound he opened with the pick when he extracted it from his sleeve to jab it into Walker.
The boy ran off before Walker could stop him. He made no attempt to rob him of his money, or demand his platinum Patek watch. His motive for the assault was opaque to his victim, who ultimately just marked it off as the act of a crazy person. Walker went home to wash and bandage his wound, too embarrassed to have been waylaid by a kid to make an issue of it. Besides, the connection to Kinney after what happened in Central Park was still too fresh. He couldn't help but wonder if there was a connection, since every other explanation failed.
The whole incident was ridiculous. If the kid was sent by Brian Kinney in retaliation, Kinney had fucked it up. If the kid was supposed to kill him, his aim was abysmal. If he was supposed to inflict severe injury, his skill was minimal. Why hire a child to do a man's job? But then, after all, Walker's pro had failed him, too. His only fear was an infection from the slight puncture, and a call to his doctor verified that his shots were up to date. While still painful, the wound was healing, and probably wouldn't even scar.
Smugly satisfied over Kinney's failure, if in fact, that was what it was, and not just a random psycho with an icepick, Walker enjoyed the rest of his lunch with his wife. Meanwhile, deep within his body, changes were taking place. Viruses, coded with specific contaminants, were attaching to his cells. His body met this threat by manufacturing antibodies to resist the attack. The battle waged, invisible and painless, as Walker went from being a man who condemned the weak and the perverted for making themselves vulnerable to AIDS, to being a member of that community, united to those he mocked by the fact he was fast becoming HIV positive. Since he had long ago lost interest in slipping it to his wife occasionally, she would be saved from a similar fate.
Shea's work was done.
It was late evening, and the loft was quiet except for some reggae playing on the sound system while Brian soaked in the tub, lit by a score of candles Justin strategically placed around the bathroom. Justin sat on the edge of the oversized tub, sharing a joint with his lover. They had already shared one of Edmond's perfectly prepared meals, and they were feeling good.
"Get in with me," Brian invited as Justin reached down and gently stroked Brian's penis. Once again, he was amazed how the stress of injury, surgery and the numbing effect of pain medication did little to reduce Brian's phenomenal sex drive. Justin stood to remove his robe, when the door buzzer intruded.
"Be right back," he said with a sigh and Brian nodded, watching him go. Justin re-tied the sash of his robe as he opened the door to find Shea standing on the other side. The kid looked bad and smelled a little ripe. Justin ushered him in and offered him a Coke. Shea agreed, sitting down heavily on the couch.
"He's getting there. He's taking a bath. How are you?"
"Tired." Shea took the Coke from Justin, who noticed how grimy the kid's hands were. "Is he going to make it?"
"Yes, Shea. Complete recovery. He was lucky."
"Yeah, getting shot is real lucky."
"Surviving it is, especially if there are no lasting effects from it."
"Will they try again?"
"The police tell us no, that they're confident it was either a one-off mugging or it was a hit gone bad, and most people won't risk hiring a hit man a second time, especially after they get questioned on the first attack. Besides, they preserved Brian's testimony when he was in the hospital so that even if he'd died, they'd have the goods on Jeffrey. It's called a dying declaration or something. Jeffrey's attorney knows all about it. One way or another, Brian will nail that bastard."
"Are you still on meds?"
"You don't look good, Shea."
"I'm alright. Did my mom leave?"
"Mick got her a job at a women's shelter. She also gets room and board there. She refused to leave the city until she had some word on you."
Shea sighed. "Can I use the shower in the guest room?"
"Sure. I'll get you some clothes. You can probably wear Brian's sweats, you're too tall for my wardrobe."
When Shea emerged from the guest suite, dressed in Brian's sweats, that hung loosely on his thin frame, he found Brian sitting in the remnants of the living room that was fast undergoing a metamorphosis into office space. Shea hesitated, then went over to give him an awkward hug. Brian hugged him back and Shea sat down next to him on the sofa. "You look good," Shea said and Brian laughed.
"Liar. Want to see my scars?"
He opened his robe and Shea winced as he looked at the fading scars where the tubes had been inserted, and the main suture line that disappeared beneath the drawstring of Brian's silk pajama bottoms. "Ow. Does it hurt?"
"A little tender," Brian said, re-tying his robe. "But bearable. How are you?"
"Been better. Where's Justin?"
"He went down to the corner to get you a burger. He'll be back."
"He didn't have to do that."
"He knows what you like. Where have you been, Shea?"
He shrugged. "Around."
"More specific. Have you been hustling?"
"Just enough to pay my way. Just blow jobs, I'm not endangering anyone."
"You know you have to stop, right? You have to stop," Brian said firmly.
"So what are you going to do?"
Shea sighed. "Go home with my mom, I guess."
"Just like that?" Brian was suspicious of this turn of events.
"I guess I have to, now. I can't be seen hanging around with you after what I did. They may catch me and if they do, I guess it could even get you in trouble."
"What do you mean by that? What did you do?"
"Oh no you don't. What did you mean?"
"Nothing, Brian. I don't even know what I'm saying. My head is killing me." He massaged his temples with his fingertips. "I've had the worst headache for days now. I can't think." He wanted to tell Brian what he did, mainly to demonstrate how deeply he cared for him, that he cared enough to kill for him. But he knew confession would make Brian vulnerable, maybe even an accessory to his crime, and that was the last result he wanted to achieve with what he viewed as a selfless act of love. "I'll miss you. And Justin," he quickly corrected himself.
"We'll miss you too, kid," Brian responded, still suspicious of Shea's abrupt decision to go home. "You're doing the right thing. You'll have insurance to provide you with the best care, and you'll be with people who love you rather than staying at a shelter. Your Mom has a list of doctors in your area with experience in treating AIDS. Since I got hurt, I found out it really does matter if you're around people who care about you when you're feeling down."
Shea smirked at him. "What complete bullshit."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean it's crap. You know how horrible my Dad is, and my Mom can be sweet but he dominates her and she has this religious thing going on. There's no gay community in Keokuk. I'll just be waiting to die. I only hope it happens soon."
"Don't say that, Shea."
"Say what, Brian? I have full-blown AIDS. It's inevitable now. I'm not your muscle-bound friend who is HIV-positive. I have AIDS. I'm dying. Face it."
Brian winced and opened his arms to Shea, standing to hug him in a tight embrace. "Sometimes unexpectedly good things happen to people, Shea. I dodged a fatal bullet, maybe you will too."
"Your bullet missed the important parts. Mine hit home."
"I'm so sorry, kid."
"I know. I—I love you, Brian."
Brian smiled gently. "I care about you, too."
"No, I mean I LOVE you. I've never loved anyone before, but I love you. I know you belong to Justin and I never had a chance, but that's the way I feel and I wanted to tell you that before I disappear. I wish I could do more to make your life better. I want you to have everything, Brian. Everything. You deserve it."
Brian sighed, letting his fingers drift through Shea's damp hair. "You aren't in love with me, Shea. I was kind to you, and you turned those feelings of gratitude into something else. Don't worry for a minute about me. I'll be fine. Concentrate on getting better. Maybe you'll meet someone you can love and who's free to love you back. It's worth living for, I found out."
"I did meet someone I can love. You. I just can't have you."
Justin walked in, observed the embrace, and heard Shea's declaration. It didn't tell him something new, he suspected Shea was hung up on Brian from the beginning. Why wouldn't he be? Brian was the handsome, romantic figure who swept in to help Shea when he was in a crisis. Of course the lonely boy would fall in love with him. Justin was just his age when Brian changed his own life forever.
"Am I interrupting something?" Justin said softly and Shea looked guilty as he stepped out of Brian's embrace. He took the sack of food from Justin as he answered,
Brian gave Justin an almost imperceptible shake of his head, as if to say, "Not now." Justin read his signal and didn't push it. What was there to say, really? The crush was revealed. Justin sat down beside Brian as Shea devoured his hamburger.
"When do you go home?" Justin asked and Shea sighed.
"Tomorrow. One thing is for sure. No one will ever find me in Keokuk."
"Who's looking for you?" Justin asked, half in jest, and Shea met his inquiry with a solemn stare.
"Maybe no one, maybe everyone."
"That's a very Sherlock Holmes thing to say," Brian interjected some levity into the conversation and Shea smiled, offering him no more information. Brian went on. "Go home with your Mom and live quietly and get better. Once all these legal matters are behind me and my business is going, you can meet up with Justin and me on some beautiful beach somewhere warm and lazy, and drink sissy drinks as we beckon skin cancer." He wanted to take away the horrors this kid was facing, give him something to look forward to. Shea smiled sadly.
"Ok, Brian. Promise me something."
"When you and Justin are sitting on that beach somewhere warm and lazy drinking sissy drinks, look out at the perfect sunset over the water and offer a prayer for my soul that will be burning in hell with all the other mortal sinners."
Brian walked over and pulled Shea into his arms, holding tightly to him. "There is no hell, Shea. Only peace. And you'll be on that beach with us, kid, enjoying the same sunset we'll be seeing."
Shea said nothing as he clung to Brian as if clutching at a
last chance for life.
Two weeks later, Jeffrey Walker, Senior picked up the telephone in his office overlooking Boston Harbor with a gruff, "What is it, Tom?"
His doctor, who was also a personal friend, sounded uncharacteristically nervous, "Jay, I got the results back on your tests."
Walker had just undergone his annual physical required for key man insurance for his corporation. It was an annoyance, but his health was always exceptional, so he never worried about it. "So?"
"I, uh, we need to talk. Can you come by my office this afternoon?"
"Of course not, Tom! I have a full schedule. What is it? Don't be so mysterious. Is my cholesterol high again? I've been on that fucking low fat diet you recommended."
"No, but....Jay, I have to ask you something. Have you had unprotected sex with someone other than your wife?"
"And you expect me to answer that question?"
"It's not prurient. I have a legitimate concern."
"What the hell are you angling towards, Tom? Just tell me, god damn it!"
"Jay, your blood test shows you are HIV-positive. It could be a false positive, but we ran two failsafe tests and they both came back positive as well."
"Well then run a third one, you idiot! Of course it's a false positive! I haven't had sex with anyone in an eon, it's not important to me anymore. And I damn straight wouldn't have sex with some faggot!"
"Women are positive too, Jay."
"I don't give a damn. I'm not fucking anyone. Nor am I taking drugs, or using needles or getting blood transfusions. It's not possible. The only faggot I spend any time with is my idiot son, and I don't get that close to him. He's negative anyway. So it's impossible."
"The virus can be undetectable in your system for months, Jay. This encounter could have been as long as six months ago."
"I'm telling you I haven't fucked anyone or had any sex with anyone at all for over a year!"
"Because I'm an old man and I don't have to indulge that nonsense anymore, that's why not. I have better things to do with my energy."
"Jay, you're HIV-positive. I'll run another test if you come in, but I'm convinced. Have you had dental work or an accident or..."
"Wait," Walker's stomach flipped as he recalled the incident with the skinny kid and the icepick. The kid had been bleeding. The icepick was bloody. The kid looked as if he could be a drug addict, he was so thin. What if...."Tom, if someone had a sharp instrument and they were HIV positive and they cut themselves with that instrument and then immediately cut you with it, could you get it that way?"
"If the cut breaks your skin and the instrument goes beneath the surface and contacts your bloodstream, yes. That's how it's done with needles. Very potent."
"Jesus Christ." Walker felt his heart sink as dread began to set in. "I'll be over there in fifteen minutes."
"Fifteen minutes, Tom." Walker hung up, and rolled up his shirtsleeve to reveal the faded track of the cut opened by the boy wielding the icepick. He wondered if it were possible that such a small wound could effectively end his life. If so, match-point to Brian Kinney, a result Jeffrey Walker couldn't tolerate almost as much as he couldn't comprehend his own fate.
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July 25, 2004