Brian and Justin flew to Des Moines and rented a car for the drive to Keokuk. Before they arrived, a call from Mary Hennessey re-directed them to Burlington where there was a larger hospital where Shea had been transported by ambulance. Exhausted from the ricochet travel, they finally found the boy's mother in the ICU waiting room. She was with two younger men, who were each accompanied by a woman. Because the men resembled heavier, healthier, older versions of Shea, Brian presumed they were his brothers, together with their wives or girlfriends. Mary Hennessey hugged both Brian and Justin and then hastily introduced them to her sons. The brothers were gruff, but polite, as if suspicious that these invaders were somehow responsible for Shea's struggle.
Mary went in search of the family care coordinator assigned to Shea, a courtesy many hospitals offered to the families of patients hovering between life and death. This person was supposed to coordinate the family's needs and help them understand their options and translating complex medical information into plain English, since the family was obviously stressed and finding it difficult to function. The coordinators were medically trained with an emphasis in grief counseling. Mary wanted their coordinator to explain Shea's predicament to Brian and Justin, since she found the whole scenario overwhelming.
"We're here because of our Ma, not because of him," one of Shea's brothers made plain to the visitors. "He made his own trouble."
Justin placed a hand on Brian's forearm as he felt his lover tense, but Brian spoke calmly. "You think a seventeen-year old kid deserves this?"
"I think a seventeen-year old kid who decides to fuck faggots deserves whatever he gets. He asked for it."
"Your compassion towards your brother is admirable," Brian said dryly. "Maybe if you'd been there for him when he had nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help, he wouldn't be where he is now."
"You want to take it outside, pretty boy?"
"Not really, and thanks for noticing, but I'm not available." Brian squeezed Justin's hand as one brother restrained the other.
"Brendan Hennessey, stop it now! Have you no respect at all?" His mother returned, snapping at the burly young man who glowered at Brian as he returned to his chair. "She's on her way, Brian. She wanted to stop and get the latest information on Shea."
"What happened, Mary?" He asked as he kept Justin's hand firmly clasped in his own. Shea's mother dabbed at her eyes with a wilted tissue.
"It happened very quickly. He's been feeling lousy, weak, no appetite, food just runs through him. But all of a sudden, he developed a problem with his left hand. He couldn't hold things. He said his fingers didn't seem to work. He had terrible headaches. I thought he may have had a stroke. I took him to the doctor and he had a seizure in the man's office. It was horrifying. They took him to the hospital in an ambulance, and once there he had an MRI, and then a spinal tap."
The coordinator walked up to them and greeted Mary with a small hug. Mary introduced her as "Christy" and she smiled gently at the visitors. "The tests Mary mentioned confirmed that Shea is suffering from Progressive Multifocal Leucoencephalopathy or PML."
"What the hell is that?" Justin demanded.
Christy went on to explain, "PML is a serious viral infection of the white matter in the brain. It's caused by something called the JC virus. All of us have been exposed to this virus, but our immune systems battle it and therefore it never becomes active. In AIDS patients with seriously low T-cell counts, and Shea's count is under 100, the virus can trigger."
"If it's a virus, can't it be treated?" Justin asked.
"He is being treated, but as the doctors have told Mary, the virus is fatal in ninety per-cent of the cases. PML patients average about six months once they are diagnosed with the virus."
"What are they doing for him?" Brian asked and she directed her attention to him.
"Because of what is known as the 'blood brain barrier', the vessels around the brain that protect it from toxic substances, it's very difficult to get antibiotics or other medications past that barrier. There's no known cure. AZT can pass the blood barrier because it's fat, not water, soluble and has been known to help slow the disease in some cases. They're administering high doses of AZT combined with other antivirals. Some of the drugs they've tried have included beta interferon and heparin. PML progresses very rapidly. Shea's in a wasted condition, which makes it more difficult to treat him because these antivirals are so toxic."
"Is he in pain?"
"They're remediating the pain, but he's very ill, and very uncomfortable."
"He can look forward to six months of this?"
"He can look forward to six months only if he stabilizes."
Brian met her eyes with a nod. He could decipher that code. "Is he conscious? Can we see him?"
"He's in and out. But of course you can see him, but you'll have to wear sterile garb to protect him from the possibility of airborne contaminants."
Brian and Justin exchanged a look, reminded of Molly's bone marrow ordeal. "We can handle that."
Justin clutched Brian's arm tightly through his mint green scrubs as they went into Shea's ICU cubicle. The patient was incredibly thin and pale against the white sheets, his spindly arms threaded with tubes, his body functions monitored, while bags of fluid and medication were being dripped into him just to keep him alive. It was too soon after Brian's brush with death for Justin, and he felt a little dizzy, increasing his grip on Brian's arm. Brian winced and helped him sit down. He then went over to Shea and smoothed the boy's hair off his forehead. His skin felt warm and damp.
"Hi, kid. It's Brian. Justin's here too. Can you hear me?"
Shea's eyes fluttered open. The blue irises were dull, almost opaque, with no light to spark them from within. He tried to smile as he looked up at Brian's masked face. His effort was more of a grimace. "Hi," he whispered.
"You look like shit," Brian informed him bluntly.
"Feel like shit."
"Sorry. I'm really sorry, Shea."
"Me too. Did you win? Trial?"
"Still going on," Brian responded, not wanting to go into those details. Instead he started talking about the agency, the work they were doing. He made his settlement offer from Felix even more humorous than it was, and played up their successes. Justin joined in, and Shea seemed involved and interested until his eyes closed and he slipped back into a deep, heavily drugged sleep. They stayed with him a few minutes longer, and then left.
"He's dying," Justin declared as they deposited their scrubs in a hamper on the way out of ICU. "He's so young, but there's nothing there."
"It makes me so sad, Brian."
"Me too," he pulled Justin into his arms and held him tightly. "I'm sick of hospitals," he said against Justin's pale hair. "I'm sick of life and death struggles, yours, Molly's, my own and now Shea's. I'm tired of the pain and suffering and the fear of dying or of losing someone you love. I'm over the whole fucking thing. I want sun and sand and ocean and sex and life. I want life, Justin. I want to feel alive again."
Justin tightened his grip on his lover, sharing in his desperation.
Brian sat across from Jeffrey in a small holding cell with a guard standing by. Jeffrey looked exhausted, but Brian had no sympathy for him. He used up all his sympathy on the people who deserved it, in Iowa. He decided to rent a car and drive back to New York, principally so he and Justin could have the time alone to decompress, but also because he felt a strong desire to visit with his old friends. The stopover to see Jeffrey was machinated by the lawyers. Brian was ice, impervious to any threat from Jeffrey. But Jeffrey was strangely unthreatening, rather he was almost cowed.
"Let's not put either of us through this again, Brian. You can't want it anymore than I do," he pleaded and Brian shrugged.
"I don't know, Jeff. I got raped by you, and then I got raped in that courtroom in New York. What's one more forcible fuck?"
"What would it take to make you stop?"
Brian laughed. "Are you bribing me? If so, forget it. That's just sad."
"An apology? A public statement to you and your friends? Just tell me. I have to get out of here, Brian. We both know you'll never sell a jury on a rape charge. Even if they can't let in testimony of your past, look at you. You're a big strong guy. It's just not feasible. Please!"
Brian leaned back, dying for a cigarette, but they took them away from him along with almost everything in his pockets. "What's this all about, Jeff? Why the sudden desperation?"
"They put me in with the population here, Brian. Do you know what that's like? Not only do they hate me for being white and rich and a doctor, but add to that a faggot. What do you think life is like for me in here? It's a death sentence! AIDS is rampant in prison, and safe sex is about as big an option as consensual sex. It'll be a miracle if I get out of this without becoming infected. I can't even tell you what I've been forced to do, the names they call me, the threats and physical attacks."
Brian frowned. This wasn't part of the plan. He never intended for Jeffrey to be sexually assaulted or exposed to HIV disease. He didn't arrange for this incarceration to make it a death sentence for his nemesis. "Why doesn't your lawyer do something about it? Isolate you? They must do something to protect gay men in prison."
"What grade are you in? This is real life, Brian! A side of life neither of us thought we would ever know. The whites hate the blacks and vice versa, but they both hate fags, so I have no protectors. Money is no barrier, because we're all in communal hell. It's a pestilent shithole! You've had your revenge, Brian, ten times over. Please, please get me out of here."
Brian leaned back in his chair, staring at Jeffrey's face and realizing how much older he looked. Thinner. Ragged, even. "I have to go."
"Brian, please! I'll do anything."
"Anything?" Brian said over his shoulder as he waited for the guard to unlock the door.
With that tantalizing offer, Brian left the jail.
Michael put the closed sign up on the door to his comic book store so he could be alone with Brian. They'd catch up and smoke dope and giggle like the adolescents they often became when no one was around to observe them. The dope was smoked, but there was no giggling, and the solemnity had no relation to giddy adolescence.
"It scares me so much to hear that about Shea," Michael said softly. "I can't help but think of Ben."
"I know, Mikey," Brian stretched an arm across his friend's shoulders as they sprawled on the sofa. "But their cases aren't even comparable. Shea has full-blown AIDS, Ben's still showing very little evidence of HIV disease."
"Yeah, but all that can change in a heartbeat. His viral load goes up, he develops a sensitivity to the toxic drugs, he just gets a bad secondary infection. Suddenly he's completely out of balance."
"Yeah, and you walk out that door into the path of a Mack truck. Life is uncertain. Get used to it."
"You always were Mary Sunshine."
"Don't call me Mary or Sunshine," Brian said with a smile and Michael laughed.
"Yeah, that's a whole other person. Speaking of which, where is the little brat?"
"If you mean Gus, he's in New York with his Mom. If you mean Justin, can we agree that he's past the brat stage? He's shown courage under fire like no one I've ever known, Mikey. So let's drop that shit, okay?"
Michael sighed, hating it when Brian defended Justin against him. "Okay, okay, Christ, can't you take a joke?"
"Not when he's the brunt of it and he's not even here to defend himself."
"So where is he?"
"Visiting Daphne. We're taking his Mom and Molly out for dinner tonight, and then we leave in the morning. I have work to do."
"When do you come back for the trial?"
"If there is a trial."
"What do you mean, 'if'? I thought he lost those motions to get out of jail. That's what the paper said, anyway."
"He did," Brian launched into his conversation with Jeffrey at the jail. Afterwards, Michael was pensive. Finally, he spoke.
"What are you thinking of doing?"
Brian met Michael's inquisitive brown eyes with a shrug. "I don't know. I don't think his mother bargained for this. I think her idea of tough love just went to the Freddy Krueger extreme. I don't relish the thought of getting up on that stand and telling intimate details of my life to a room full of strangers, either. Been there, done that. Maybe I should just walk away."
"That'll be a first. Brian Kinney walks away from a fight."
"Brian Kinney has had a hell of a year. He went through a reconciliation with Justin, the debacle with Jeffrey, Molly's illness, the threats, an attempted murder, the kidnapping of his son, the conception of a new baby, being fired, being broke, starting over, and suing the world. Not to mention the impending death of a kid he took under his wing. Brian Kinney is fucking tired."
Michael smiled sympathetically and rested his head against Brian's shoulder in a gesture of support and understanding.
Following dinner with Molly and Jennifer, Brian was quiet as he drove Justin back to their hotel. He lit a cigarette and Justin watched his lover's handsome profile in the hazy light from the dashboard dials.
"Want to go to Babylon?" Brian asked. Justin shrugged.
"Me either. We're leaving early in the morning. Why don't we just skip it?"
"Molly looks good, don't you think? She's really going into that adolescent thing now, looking a lot less like a kid."
"I noticed. She'll be a pretty girl. Like her mom."
"Yeah, I guess. Of course beauty runs in the family," Justin said with a chuckle as Brian cut him a glare.
"Right, on the female side, anyway."
"You know it. Unlike my family, where only the men got the looks."
"Based on what I've seen of your sister, I'd have to agree with that," Justin responded and they shared a laugh at Claire's expense. "Brian, do you feel guilty leaving with Shea so ill?"
"Yeah, in a way. But to be blunt, he could die tomorrow or he could die in several months. No one knows. We can't live in the waiting room in Burlington, Iowa until the Grim Reaper shows up. I have a business to run. And nothing we do can prevent the Reaper from doing his job. So...we have to go on with our lives and stay in touch with Mary. But yes, I do feel guilty. I feel guilty for being alive when that kid has no chance. I feel guilty for being healthy despite my promiscuous ways. But guilt sucks. It changes nothing, so let it go."
"I'm glad you're alive and healthy, Brian. Where would I be if you weren't?"
"Don't even joke about that."
"Don't get maudlin on me. Come on, we're here. Our home away from home."
In the elevator, Justin reached for Brian and kissed him. Brian responded, pulling Justin's body tightly against his own. The doors opened and they separated as a middle-aged couple entered the enclosure. The man glared at the other two passengers, and then made a limp-wristed gesture to his wife, who smirked at his little joke. Infuriated by that dismissive exchange, Brian grabbed Justin and kissed him again, even more passionately. Justin responded with equal ardor and the other couple stared straight ahead, shocked by their boldness. As the doors opened at their floor, Brian and Justin stepped off and Brian said to the remaining occupants, "Eat your hearts out." Justin giggled, and pulled on Brian's hand, leading him towards their room.
Once they were alone, they undressed each other and took a shared shower first, wanting to wash away much of the day before they lost themselves together.
"Should we feel guilty about doing this?" Justin asked as he reached around to soap slow, wide circles into Brian's firm ass while Brian nibbled at Justin's throat.
"Guilt sucks," Brian responded. "And if Shea was well enough to give a shit, do you honestly think he would be mad because we're still fucking each other? Come on, it makes no sense."
"I know it doesn't, logically, but it just creeps into my head."
"Well, maybe I should fill your head with something else," Brian said with an evil leer, hoisting his lengthening cock on the palm of his hand to give Justin a hint at what he had in mind. Justin laughed and reached down to enclose Brian's dick in a soapy fist.
"I kind of had another place in mind for this thing."
"Yeah? Well, why don't you drop that soap and maybe you'll give me an idea."
Justin giggled and braced his back against the tiles, resting one foot on the ledge of the bathtub while Brian lifted him up slightly and then lowered him onto his waiting erection. As their passion increased with each thrust, Justin pulled too hard on the shower curtain and the hooks pinged as they came open and fell on the floor. The curtain rustled around against their bodies like an unwelcome third lover until Brian managed to fling it off of them with such vigor that it landed on the counter housing the sink. Water from the shower careened off their bodies, unrestrained by the curtain, to douse the room in moisture.
Justin took his foot from the ledge to wrap it over Brian's back and Brian lifted him off the ground, supporting his weight completely as he hammered them both into a shared orgasm.
"Heavy," Brian complained between gasps, slowly lowering his lover to earth, Justin laughed and switched off the shower, surveying the disaster that was their bathroom.
"It looks like some 1960's rock band stayed here."
"How would you know? You weren't even an egg then."
"Neither were you."
"Come on, just step over it. By the time the maids find it, we'll have made a clean getaway."
"Doesn't seem fair to them."
"I'll leave a generous tip. Are you coming?" Brian held out his hand to Justin, who took it, and walked with him to the bedroom, shutting the debris out of his mind.
"I thought you two were hitting the road early," Debbie paused at the booth occupied by Brian and Justin, early in her morning shift. They sat on the same side of the table, never quite able to keep from touching each other.
"I have a meeting with the District Attorney," Brian said, deliberately avoiding Justin's gaze.
"Talking strategy?" Debbie asked, filling their mugs with fresh brew.
"He's chickening out," Justin said with a sigh and Brian glared at him.
"Shut the fuck up. I'm not chickening out. I just want this shit to end. He's been through enough."
"The fuck he has!" Debbie proclaimed, filling a third mug for herself and settling into the empty side of the booth. "Maybe after he's served a few years in the pen and had his medical license lifted, maybe then. But not until."
"Debbie, you have no idea what it's like to be a fag in prison. He's been beaten up, he's been sexually molested, I think the point has been made. He's probably been exposed to HIV and may even have it now. I never intended for that to happen."
"What are you smoking?"
"A Marlboro. Want one?"
"It's an expression, Kinney. It means what is wrong with you? Who is filling your head with that bullshit? Molested? Beaten up?"
Brian looked confused. "I met with Jeff."
"Christ, when will you learn to stay away from him?"
"He begged me to talk to him."
"I hear that," Justin grumbled, ignoring Brian's glare.
"He's being held in isolation, Brian. His attorneys made a case to keep him out of the population on some horseshit theory about his open homosexuality and the notoriety of his family. He has his own room, probably nicer than half the places I've lived in. He has a television, access to books and computers, and visiting privileges. If he's been beat up, it's because he's banging his own head against the walls. Give me your mobile."
"Why?" Brian asked warily, his stomach clenching with anger over the possibility that he'd been played for a fool once again. Debbie answered by wiggling her fingers and he handed it to her. She punched in a number. Her expression went from frustrated to sweet as a voice answered.
"Hi honey. I'm at the diner. It's Brian's phone, that's why. Sweetie, can you tell me whether Jeffrey Walker has any exposure to the general population at the jail? None at all? Are you sure? Has he been injured in any way? Uh-huh. I see. No, no, just proving a point. Don't forget to bring the dessert tonight, and none of that sugar free crap. Love means never having to say you're dieting." She made a kissing sound, that brought a grimace from her audience and then she handed the phone back to Brian, who switched it off.
"Well?" He insisted as she beamed at him.
"Just like I said. He's being held in isolation. "
"So he lied to me."
"There's a surprise," Justin grumbled and Brian sighed.
"I'm an idiot."
His two companions agreed with his opinion, and he leaned back heavily against the booth, tapping a spoon to the rim of his mug. "Of course, if he's convicted, it won't be a lie, will it? He will be returned to the population. He will be victimized, sexually assaulted, exposed to HIV and other lovely diseases."
"My guess is he has the kind of criminal mind that will have him running that fucking pen within a month," Justin countered. "I don't see Jeffrey Walker as a victim. I see him victimizing other people. People in pain and turmoil. People like my sister, my lover, even my mother. That's how I see Jeffrey Walker, Brian. He's a monster."
Brian looked at the delicate blond and smiled slightly. "You have balls of steel, Sunshine."
"That's not what you said this morning."
"Not in front of mama," Brian teased, leaning over to kiss him on the lips. Debbie beamed at them, completely taken in by their unlikely love story.
"You still meeting with that district attorney, Brian?" she persisted, and he shrugged.
"Withdrawing your complaint?"
Debbie held up her palm for a high five, and all three shared in a self-congratulatory slap.
Jeffrey looked up as Brian walked into the visiting room. This was an unexpected visit.
"They told me it was my lawyer."
"They lied. You look better today, Jeff."
"I, I slept. You know how it is. Sometimes you just collapse."
"I can see that. So, have you been to the infirmary or whatever they call it here? Have you complained about your treatment? Have you had HIV testing? What are you doing to protect yourself?"
"What can I do? It's hopeless. The only thing I can do is get out of here, Brian. Haven't you had your pound of flesh yet?"
"I thought maybe I had, Jeff. I thought maybe I got enough revenge, thinking of you being abused by the other inmates."
Jeffrey's handsome face looked almost beatific in the light, his smile radiant. "I knew you were compassionate."
"You're right, I am compassionate, Jeff. I really am. I hate to see anyone suffer, I'm just a big pussy underneath this gruff exterior, but then you knew that, didn't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You knew I'd be sympathetic to the fag-in-distress thing. Right? Comrades. After all, it could be me in prison. I would get the same treatment, wouldn't I? But then I thought wait a second, Brian. You won't be in prison, because you're not a fucking lowlife criminal. You aren't so interested in your own needs and your own prizes that fuck anyone who gets in the way and do it at any cost. My ego isn't quite that big."
"Oh, your ego is plenty big, Brian, don't kid yourself."
"Sure, plenty big, but not that big. You lied to me, Jeff. You aren't in the population at all. You have a private room all to yourself, spoiled little rich boy that you are. You don't even take meals with the other prisoners. So someone would need to have a mighty long dick to reach between your bars, Doc. You made a real big mistake by lying to me. I was sick of all this, and not looking forward to being on that stand again. But now? Nothing will keep me off that stand. Nothing."
"Brian, something might."
"What's that, Jeff?"
Jeffrey made a gun out of his thumb and forefinger and aimed it at Brian's head. Brian leaned back and smirked at him. "Is that a threat? Are you threatening me?"
"Not just you, Brian. You, that blond of yours, that brat you call your son...I may be behind bars, but I have friends on the outside."
Brian stood up and smiled down at Jeffrey's face that had assumed a hard mask of hatred. "You so crazy, Jeff. Look up there. That's a camera. And this entire room is wired for sound. Everything every prisoner and visitor says is recorded and filmed. How can anyone so smart be so stupid? And now you've threatened my life to keep me from testifying. Along with the lives of my lover and my son." Brian banged the palm of his hand against the table and then said, "That's the sound of the final nail, Jeff. You just sank the eight ball. It's over."
With that, Brian left the room while Jeffrey stared after him.
|Disclaimer: The television show Queer As Folk and its characters are the property of Showtime and CowLip Productions. No money is being made. Stories and discussion are intended purely for the entertainment of fans of Queer as Folk, the Brian and Justin characters, and Randall's writings.
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July 25, 2004