THANKFUL

"A Queer As Folk USA Alternate Stream FanFic"

by Gaedhal

Parts 16-18

The other episodes in "The Angel Stream".

Part 16

Boston, November 2005

Justin was late, but that couldn't be helped.

He had decided that he wasn't going to go to the brunch the Duggans were having at their house the morning after the wedding, but Brian finally convinced him otherwise.

"This will be your last chance to see Denny and Carole before they leave on their honeymoon." Brian was sitting up in bed, sipping the herbal tea that Preston Wellington-Bradford had brought up to the room. Brian didn't want to admit it, but the tea wasn't half bad -- and it did help settle his churning stomach. "So you might as well go."

"I don't want to leave you alone," Justin insisted. He couldn't stop thinking of what Brian had said the night before when his fever was at its peak -- Don't leave me. "What if you need me?"

Brian rolled his eyes. "If I take a turn for the worse, I'll call you on my cell one final time to say farewell before I breathe my last!"

But Justin didn't laugh. "I don't think that's the least bit funny."

Brian tried to smirk, but his face hurt too much. In fact, everything hurt, but there was no way in hell he was going to admit that to the brat. "If I'm ever just about to croak, Sunshine, you'll be the one I'll call to give me one last blowjob for the road."

"Hardy har har," Justin sniffed.

"If you can't laugh, then all you can do is fucking cry. And I'm not about to cry!" Brian winced as he tried to make himself comfortable on the too-soft mattress the Wellington-Bradfords had provided for their guests. "Now go to that fucking brunch! I have my mug of lesbionic herbal tea and a copy of 'Martha Stewart Living,' both courtesy of Mr. and Mr. Wellington-Bradford, and an entire day to do nothing but watch 'Ellen,' 'Oprah,' 'All My Children,' and the Lifetime Network. What more could a sick fag want?"

"Someone to take care of him," Justin stated bluntly.

"I already have that," Brian said seriously. "But two hours isn't going to make any difference. There's nothing either of us can do but let this fucking thing run its course. So there's no reason you have to sit here watching like you're waiting for me to come to a boil. Again." Brian rubbed his hot, aching head.

"Your fever this morning was 101.6 degrees," Justin reminded him. The first thing Justin had done when he got up that morning was to knock on the Wellington-Bradfords' door and borrow a thermometer and a bottle of aspirin. "And you felt a lot cooler, too. That means it must have been much higher last night. A high fever like that can be dangerous."

"You don't know the kind of super-powers I have," Brian informed him. "I'm fucking invincible! It'll take more than a bug in my stomach to bring down Brian Kinney!"

Justin wasn't completely convinced, but in the end he left Brian under the watchful eye of Preston Wellington-Bradford. "I'm only going over there for about an hour. Then I'll come right back here to take care of you!"

"Just shoot me now," Brian groaned. The only thing worse than being sick, was being nursed to death. "Shoot me and get it over with!"

"Be good, Brian, and I'll bring you back another piece of wedding cake," said Justin as he went out the door.

"Wedding cake? Now I KNOW that twat wants to fucking kill me!" Brian muttered. Then he clicked on the television and dozed off watching 'The View.'


***

"I was wondering when you'd show up!" said Denny, greeting Justin at the door of the headquarters of the Duggan Clan. "Where's Brian?"

"Back at the guesthouse," Justin replied. "He's really sick, not hungover. Looks like the flu."

"No shit?" Denny shook his head. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine." He sniffed the air and grinned. "And starving! The guys at the guesthouse only give you tea and a croissant for breakfast. Do I smell sausages?"

Denny laughed. "Ma and the girls made sausages, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, waffles -- you name it! Come on! There's still plenty of food."

The Duggan house was overflowing with friends and relatives, most packed into the kitchen and dining room, where the food was heaped on two large tables. Marge Duggan and Carole saw Justin and immediately began preparing a dish for him.

"Here ya go, hon!" said Marge, handing over the piled plate. "You look a little peaked this morning. This oughta fix you up right!"

"What does Brian want?" asked Carole.

"He didn't come," said Justin, popping a strip of bacon into his mouth. "He's got the flu. He was throwing up all night."

"Poor guy!" said Carole, cradling her stomach. "I know what that feels like."

"Hey, Justin!" Pat called to him across the dining room. "Come over and have a beer!"

Justin hesitated. The last thing he wanted at 11:00 a.m. was a beer. And he was mad at Pat and Derrick. Yes, they had helped him with Brian the night before, but he wasn't certain that he liked their attitude. They had appropriated Brian when he was helpless and then treated Justin like he was some kid who didn't know shit.

"We've got a little hair of the dog!" said Pat as Justin carried his plate into the living room where the men had staked out their territory.

"Here, son," said Denny's father. Billy Duggan pushed a glass of black liquid at him. "This'll put some hair on your chest."

"No thanks." Justin made a face. "I don't like to drink before noon."

"This isn't drinkin'," insisted a red-haired man who looked like a Duggan cousin. "This is Guinness. It's like mothah's milk!" He guffawed and chugged down the dark, foamy ale.

"Denny says Brian's under the weather," said Billy. "Too bad you fellas had to leave so soon last night. After the reception we all came back here and the REAL party started!"

"We had to give Denny a true Southie send-off," said Pat.

"Pat and Derrick are driving me and Carole to the airport this evening," Denny told Justin. "I can hardly wait to get out of this cold and get onto that beach at Cancun!"

"I know you'll have a great honeymoon." Justin thought about the trip to the Virgin Islands that Brian had planned and then had to cancel the previous spring. Now, with Brian still on suspension from Vangard and money tight, it would probably be a long time until they got another chance to go on a romantic vacation.

"Yeah, once we get back we're moving right into the new house," Denny confided. "And getting ready for the baby, too."

"I can't believe it," Justin said. "You -- a father!"

"I know," Denny marveled. "I can't believe it either."

"Brian has a son," Justin said suddenly. He'd never told Denny that much about Brian's personal life. To be truthful, Justin hadn't wanted to share details about Brian with anyone, not even his straight roommate. "His name is Gus. He's five."

"A son?" Denny looked puzzled. "But I thought that...? Well, you know."

"Queers can have kids, too," Justin said pointedly. "Brian's friend Lindsay had Gus, and she and her partner are raising him. But we see him all the time. Sometimes he stays over at the loft."

"Then you probably know more about little kids than I do!" Denny laughed. "But that's the good thing about having such a large family -- we never have to worry about a baby sitter!" He leaned over and whispered in Justin's ear. "No one's supposed to know, but Carole found out she's having a girl."

"Wow," said Justin. He didn't know what else to say. He tried to imagine Denny with a baby in his arms, but it was difficult. Then he tried to picture himself with a baby in his own arms. His son. Or daughter. It seemed impossible.

"Yeah," Denny agreed. "Wow."

"Hey, Den," said Pat, sidling up to Justin. He was drinking Guinness and shots. "Your ma is looking for you. You haven't finished packing yet."

"Okay, Uncle Pat," Denny sighed. "I'll see you, Justin."

Justin nodded. "Good luck, Denny. Have a great trip." And he watched Denny make his way through the crowd and go upstairs.

"Too bad your partner got sick," said Pat. "He's a real beauty. But I'm sure you already know that."

"Of course I know it," said Justin, quietly. "I'm not an idiot. And a lot of other guys seem to notice it, too. All the time."

Pat laughed. "Don't worry, kid. I'm not after your man! I have my hands full with my own!"

"So you say." Justin set down his plate. It was time to get back to the guesthouse. Time to get back to Brian.

"I mean it." Pat put his hand on Justin's shoulder. "But you're a beauty, too, kid. Never forget that. Yes, guys are going to hit on your hot partner, but they're also going to hit on you. Make sure that Brian remembers that."

"We don't play those games." Justin gave Pat a chilly glance.

"You have a lot to learn, Justin," Pat returned. "But you might as well enjoy yourself while you're learning. I'm sure that Brian enjoyed himself plenty while he was coming up."

"I have to go." Justin looked around, trying to remember where he'd left his coat. He finally found it on a chair, under a pile of other coats.

"You and Brian should come out to Provincetown this summer," said Pat. "Derrick and I rent a house with a couple of other guys for the month of August. If you've never been to P-Town, you ought to give it a try. It's like Gay Disneyland -- if that's not redundant!"

"I'll keep it in mind," said Justin, while thinking, No way in hell! "Say goodbye to Denny and Carole for me."

"I'll do that."

Pat watched Justin go out the front door into the swirling November snow. And then he went to find Derrick so they could go home.

***

Part 17

Boston, November 2005

Preston Wellington-Bradford put down his book when he heard the young man come in the front door.

"Oh, Mr. Taylor?"

"Hello." Justin paused beneath the archway into the parlor, looking very serious. "How's Brian?"

"The last time I went up there he was rather listless." Preston frowned. "I tried to take his temperature, but he was... er... uncooperative."

Justin tried hard to keep from laughing at the thought of prissy Mr. Wellington-Bradford trying to nurse Brian. "I can imagine!"

"He had an indecent suggestion about what I could do with the thermometer," Preston informed Justin. "I'm certain he was only joking."

"I'm sure he was," said Justin. "Brian doesn't like being sick."

"Would you like me to bring up more tea?" Preston asked. "Or something for lunch? Does your partner like cucumber sandwiches?"

"No," said Justin. Cucumber sandwiches, huh? "I don't think Brian will feel like eating just yet."

"Will you be staying on for the weekend?" Preston wondered. "Mr. Kinney originally made his reservation for three days only -- that ends tomorrow."

Justin shrugged. "I don't know. I pretty sure Brian would like to go home as soon as possible, but I don't know if he's up to a long drive."

Preston shook his head in sympathy. "And you have to drive all the way to Philadelphia?"

"Pittsburgh," Justin corrected.

"Oh, my! That's even farther away!" Preston sighed. "Don't hesitate to let me know if you need anything."

"Thanks," Justin said sincerely. "I appreciate your concern."

He went up to the room and entered it quietly. The curtains were drawn, the television was turned off, and the fire was burning briskly. This is nice, Justin thought. Warm and homey. If poor Brian wasn't sick, this would be the perfect romantic getaway.

"You don't have to tiptoe," Brian mumbled. "I'm not asleep." He sat up and rubbed his eyes. His hair was sticking up straight in the back.

Justin sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed down Brian's hair. He loved Brian's unruly hair. It made him wonder what Brian had been like as a little boy, with his hair uncombed, his knees dirty, and mischief in his eyes.

"Thank God you're back," said Brian, leaning back on the big pillows. "That Preston guy wouldn't leave me the fuck alone! First he poured a ton of over-the-counter medicine into me -- that fucking Nyquil is stronger than Special-K! Then I had to listen to every detail of how he and his partner, What's His Name, found, bought, and renovated this 19th century monstrosity. And he told me the history of every old piece of shit in this room, including that fucking Nazi cuckoo clock on the mantle." Brian licked his dry lips and fumbled for the bottle of Evian water Preston had left on the nightstand. Justin took it and held it up to Brian's lips as he sipped. "What the fuck is it with queers and broken-down old crap?"

Justin set the water bottle back on the nightstand. "Maybe people who have been rejected themselves in one way or another can see the beauty in things other people have thrown away -- old houses, old furniture, old neighborhoods. Maybe it makes them happy to resurrect that beauty and show it off to the world."

Brian stared at Justin quizzically. "You're quite the philosopher, aren't you, Sunshine?"

"Don't mind me," said Justin. "I've been thinking about a lot of weird things lately. I guess watching Denny get married made me think about the future. Denny's married, he has a real job, and he and Carole are going to move into a house when they get back from their honeymoon. They're like real adults, living a real life."

"So what we're living isn't 'real life'?" Brian asked. "Maybe there's something else you want, instead? A life like Denny has, with wife and kids and the whole nine yards?"

"I don't know," Justin said truthfully. "That's how I grew up. It was a good life... except when I turned out to be a big queer."

"Yeah, thank God for that." Brian pulled Justin close to him. "I wouldn't be wasting my time with Denny or any other straight guy. I had a client once who wanted to fuck me. He owned a big company -- mucho bucks -- and had a wife and two kids at home. But on business trips he spent all his time in bars looking for dick. He dangled his account in front of me, but said that I'd only get it if I fucked him."

"Was he hot?" Justin asked.

"Are you fucking kidding?" Brian rolled his eyes. "If he'd been hot, I would have done him first thing, account or no account. This guy was the antithesis of hot. And he was also two things I can't stand -- a self-hating closet case and a bully. He tried to bully me into having sex with him, while pretending he was Mr. Family Man. My boss at the time, Marty Ryder, wanted that account badly, and he told me to do whatever it took to get it."

Brian paused and closed his eyes. He remembered standing in Marvin Telson's hotel room wearing nothing but his faded 501's. Remembered asking Telson if he wanted a show. Remembered feeling the sexual power he had over the older man. But he also remembered the feeling of being bought. Of not having a choice. Of being powerless and humiliated and scared. And knowing that he never wanted to feel that way again as long as he fucking lived!

"So, did... did you do it with him?" Justin couldn't look Brian in the face, afraid of what he might see.

"No," Brian breathed. "I was going to, but... I didn't. I've done a lot of shitty things in my life, but that wasn't one of them."

"I love you, Brian," Justin whispered.

Brian winced. "You're only saying that because I'm sick and a fucking mess and you feel sorry for me."

"Think again." Justin slipped off his shoes and his jeans and got under the covers. Brian's body still felt warm, but not the way it had the night before.

"I've been thinking," said Brian. "I want to sell the Vette."

"The Vette?" Justin blinked. "You can't! You love that car!"

"Maybe, but in the end it's only that -- a car," Brian stated glumly. "And I... I need the money, Justin. I have to be honest with you. I can't hold out against Gardner Vance much longer. The lawyer fees are killing me, let alone our daily expenses. If Vance doesn't settle with me soon, I'm not going to be able to continue fighting him. And he knows it. He's got the deep pockets and I have... well, I have nothing. I thought some of my best clients -- Remsen, Brown Athletics, Eyeconic Optics -- would pressure him to take me back, but it's not happening. And they won't leave Vance and take a chance with me on my own. And why should they? I don't have an office, I don't have a staff, I don't have shit! I can't even afford to hire Cynthia, let alone a creative staff to dazzle the clients. No one is going to take me seriously and that's the truth!"

"What about other agencies? Other cities?" Justin's heart was pounding. These were things that Justin knew had been preying on Brian's mind, but he had refused to discuss them.

"No luck so far," Brian admitted. "Gardner has done everything he can to poison the waters against me. And he has a lot of power in the business. He's convinced the other big agencies that I'm a loose cannon and not to be trusted. I may find a job somewhere -- but where? People may forget that stupid fucking incident with Lloyd Sutton -- but when? And what the fuck are we supposed to do until then?"

"We'll get by," Justin vowed. "I don't need to take any classes next semester. I'll quit the Watermark and get a better job -- an office job. We can live on my salary while you look for a better job -- or start your own agency! "

"Listen," said Brian. He burrowed his face into Justin's silky hair. It smelled like green tea shampoo. He tried to memorize the scent, just in case. "I don't want you to sacrifice your dream to prop me up. That's fucked! You have your whole fucking life ahead of you and you should have everything you want out of that life. You don't deserve anything less than everything you want. And... and I'm not sure I can give it to you. I know you look at Denny and see someone your own age who has his whole life mapped out, while you're still trying to figure it all out. Or maybe you look at Michael and Ben and think, 'Why can't I be like them? Why can't I have a house and a kid and a life theirs? Or a life like my parents have?' Instead of being tied to someone who... who can't give you those things. Or won't."

Justin grabbed Brian's chin and turned his face around, until they were nose to nose. "Don't put bullshit words in my mouth, Brian! If that's what you think I want, then you don't know shit! I have exactly what I want! Right here, in this bed! Or back in Pittsburgh, in the loft! Or in the Jeep or the Vette or hitchhiking by the side of the fucking road! Wherever YOU are -- that's where I want to be! So sell the Vette if you have to. Sell the Jeep. And sell the loft. None of it really matters. Only us. WE matter! That's what I want, Brian. It's all I've ever wanted."

"But I want you to know the score," Brian murmured. He felt very hot again. And very tired. "I stand to lose everything I have. And I want you to understand that you're always free to go -- no locks on our door. I never want you to feel that you owe me anything, because you don't."

"No," said Justin, holding Brian tightly. "Only my whole fucking life. Only everything that means anything to me. You might lose it all -- so what? It's only money. It's only stuff. But there's one thing you'll never lose. Ever."

Brian wasn't certain if it was the fever that was muddling his brain or all the Nyquil Mr. Wellington-Preston had plied him with, but he suddenly felt a kind of euphoria. Like he had been lifted out of his body and was floating somewhere very high, above the November clouds and the light snow and the noise of the city. And he wasn't alone up there. Someone else was there with him.

"Hello, Justin," he whispered as he closed his eyes.

"Hello, Brian," said Justin. "Go to sleep. I'm here. And everything is fine."

***

Part 18

Boston/Pittsburgh, November 2005

Very early Friday morning Justin packed up the Jeep, settled a well-bundled Brian into the passenger's seat, and set off for Pittsburgh.

He had originally planned to break up the trip by staying in Scranton for a night, but as he drove and as Brian tossed and mumbled in his seat, Justin was afraid that if they paused, they'd spend the rest of the weekend holed up in some crummy motel. And if Justin had to deal with a crabby patient, he'd much rather deal with him in the loft, surrounded by all their creature comforts, as well as an eager support system.

The journey was also prolonged by the number of stops he had to make because Brian urgently needed to use the john. Some were false alarms, but most were not. After each stop, Brian would emerge shaky and sweating, licking his dry lips and apologizing for being a fucking pain in the ass. Yes, Brian Kinney saying that he was sorry! Justin shook his head, knowing that for Brian being ill and dependent on Justin's care was far worse than feeling like his guts were being turned inside out.

Finally, well after midnight, Justin guided the Jeep into the garage behind their building. He was exhausted, having driven the last 200 miles with the window partly rolled down, the cold November air rushing over him to keep himself awake.

"Come on," Justin said, gently tugging Brian out of his seat. "Watch your step."

"Wha?" Brian's eyes were red and heavy.

"We're home," Justin replied simply.

"Jesus," Brian whispered. "I feel like we've been in this fucking Jeep for a week."

"I know." Justin gripped Brian's arm, hoping that he was strong enough to make it to the main entrance.

"What about the bags?" Brian asked as he steadied himself against Justin as they walked.

"I'll get them later. But first I want to get you into bed."

Brian laughed weakly. "Sounds like a plan. My dick needs some attention."

"Don't worry," Justin smiled. "I'll take care of your dick. And your head. And your stomach. And your ass, too."

"You stay away from my ass," Brian mumbled. "I'm a top! I don't need some twink taking advantage of me when I'm feeling slightly under the weather."

"Yeah," said Justin. He pressed the button to call the elevator. "I'll keep that under advisement."

Once they were inside the loft, Justin breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, they were home. That's what it felt like. Justin had been living in this space for five months, but for the first time it really, truly felt like home. Their home. His and Brian's.

Justin got Brian undressed and into bed, pulling an extra fleece throw over him to make certain he was warm enough. Then he turned up the heat and went down to bring up their bags.

***

"Justin?"

He heard Brian calling to him from the bedroom sometime before dawn.

"I'm here," he said, sitting on the edge of the bed. He felt Brian's forehead. It was warm. Very warm. He knew there was no thermometer in the loft. After all, Brian didn't believe in being sick. He'd have to call Debbie tomorrow and ask her to bring one over. And some chicken soup, too. "Have a little water." He held the bottle to Brian's lips as he sucked it down.

"I woke up and you're weren't here." Brian shifted restlessly, trying to get comfortable.

Justin straightened the covers and smoothed them down. "I was sleeping on the sofa. I didn't want to disturb you."

"Where the fuck were you?" Brian demanded vaguely. His voice was hoarse.

"I just told you -- I was on the sofa," Justin explained.

"You said you wouldn't leave," Brian whispered. His eyes were closed and his hair hung down on his forehead in dark, damp tendrils.

"I'm right here." Justin peeled back the duvet and climbed in beside Brian. His body felt hot again. If he's still like this in the morning, I'm going to call the doctor, Justin thought. "I promised -- and when I promise something, I mean it."

"That's what they all say." The words were almost too faint to be heard.

"Who?" Justin asked. "Who says that?"

"People." Brian's eyes were still shut. "They tell you things, but they never mean them. Your parents. Your friends. Your boss. Tricks. It's all bullshit."

"Well, I mean what I say," Justin replied. "I'm not other people, Brian."

"Gardner," Brian said. "He's a fucking liar. Sweet as honey when I'm making him money. But when I screw up he's the first to kick me to the curb like a fucking dog. Just like Stockwell. All those fucking promises! Never believe anyone." Brian voice trailed off. "Never..."

"Don't talk about that now," said Justin. "It's not important."

"My old man," Brian contined. "He thinks he's the shit. Thinks he's a ladies' man. Brags all about his rich, successful son. Wait until he sees me now. Wait until he finds out I'm fucked! Who'll he go to for a handout now? Huh? Who'll pay off the guys when he loses at poker? Who'll pay for his booze? Let's see him brag then, the fucker!"

Justin swallowed. He knew Brian's father was dead. Had been dead long before Justin ever came into Brian's life. Was Brian delirious? Should he call Michael and Ben for help? Or get Brian dressed and take him to the emergency room?

"Mom -- look at your perfect little boy!" Brian breathed. "I'm a faggot, Mom! That's the truth! Don't look at me like that! If you think I'm going to Hell, then fuck you! So I'm going to Hell. I don't give a fuck! There's nobody in Heaven I want to know anyway!"

"Your mother isn't here." Justin stroked Brian's damp face. "You're in the loft. It's okay!" But Brian didn't answer. "Brian? Who am I? Answer me!"

"Who are you?" Brian opened his eyes slowly. He fixed on Justin's face, but his eyes were unfocused. "Angel of mercy. I remember. You saved me once. Why did you do that? I'm not worth the trouble. Go save someone else."

"I'm Justin." He pressed himself against Brian ardently. "Put your arms around me. I won't let anything happen to you. I won't let anyone hurt you!"

"Too late," Brian muttered. "Too late."

"It's not." Justin lay his head against Brian's heart. "It's not too late."

"Justin," Brian sighed, wrapping his arms around his lover.

"That's my name," said Justin. "Never forget it, Brian. I won't let you forget it."

But Brian didn't answer.

©Gaedhal, February 2007.

Posted November 5, 2007.