THANKFUL

"A Queer As Folk USA Alternate Stream FanFic"

by Gaedhal

Parts 19-21

The other episodes in "The Angel Stream".

Part 19

Pittsburgh, November 2005

Michael shuddered as he rushed into the Emergency Room of Allegheny General Hospital.

He had nothing but bad memories connected with this place. It had been the site of Ben's hospitalizations, where Hunter had ended up after he collapsed on the street, and also where the ambulance had rushed Uncle Vic after Michael and Emmett found him in his chair, the television turned to the E! Network.

In other words, the place was bad news. Fucking bad news!

"Calm down," said Ben, placing a soothing hand on Michael's shoulder. "I'm sure it's nothing. You know what a drama queen Brian is. And Justin isn't too far behind him. It's probably only a false alarm."

"You don't know Brian," Michael insisted. "He'll never admit he's sick! For him to go to the hospital... well, something must really be wrong!"

"Don't panic until we find out what's going on." Ben walked purposefully to the Triage Desk. "Excuse me? Can you tell me if Brian Kinney is here?"

The woman behind the desk glanced up from her paperwork and frowned. "Please fill out these forms and take a seat. You'll have to wait your turn to see a doctor."

"No," said Ben, patiently. "I don't need to fill out a form, ma'am. I need to know if our friend is here in the ER. His partner called us on his cellphone and told us to meet him here."

The woman rolled her eyes. "I don't have that information, sir. Please take a seat."

"Look," Michael burst out. "All we want to know is if our friend is here! Is that too fucking much to ask?"

The woman stared at the two men impassively. She was used to dealing with upset and often unreasonable people every day -- two more didn't faze her at all. "Please take a seat, sir."

"Michael, let's sit down." Ben coaxed his partner over to a row of plastic chairs and settled him down. "Justin must be here somewhere. I'd call his cell, but it's not allowed inside the hospital building."

"I'm sorry," Michael said, leaning against Ben's broad shoulder. "What if there's something Justin isn't telling us? What if Brian overdosed? Or what if it's... something worse? What if his cancer's come back?"

"I told you not to panic," Ben ordered. "Jumping to conclusions before we know what's going on doesn't help the situation."

They had been waiting for what seemed to Michael an eternity, but was in actuality only about 20 minutes, when Justin came out through the double doors of the Triage Unit. His long hair was uncombed, his face was covered with blond stubble, and his clothes looked like he'd thrown them on hurriedly -- even his socks were mismatched.

"Justin!" Michael leaped to his feet. "Where's Brian?"

Justin walked over and slumped in the plastic seat next to Michael. "The doctor's examining him now. They told me to wait out here until they called for me."

"What happened?" asked Ben. The last he and Michael had heard before the call from the hospital was that Brian and Justin had gone to Justin's roommate's wedding in Massachusetts.

"He got sick at the reception," Justin replied. "I thought he was just drunk, but it was more than that. He had a high fever and was puking like crazy. Then he started having the runs, too. He was really miserable. I thought it would be better to get him home rather than stay in a strange guesthouse until he got better. We drove all yesterday -- all the way from Boston. We had to stop about a million times for him to be sick or take a shit, but we eventually got back home around 1:00 a.m."

"Jesus," breathed Michael. "Poor Brian!"

"He slept a few hours and then he woke up and started talking all this weird stuff. About Gardner Vance. And about his parents." Justin leaned over and pressed the heels of his hands against his red eyes. "He was talking like his dad was still alive. And he said a bunch of other crazy things, too. It was like he was delirious. I got scared, so I got him into his sweats and drove him here. I was afraid we'd have to wait for hours to see a doctor, but he pretty much fell over the minute we walked in the door. They took him directly into Triage."

"Sounds like dehydration," Ben pronounced. "Was he exposed to anyone who had the flu? And how do you feel, Justin?"

Justin shrugged. "I feel fine. But I had a flu shot about a month ago. They made everyone at the restaurant get one. But who knows what Brian's been exposed to? Since he was suspended from Vangard he sometimes spends hours just wandering around the city while I'm at work or at class. Who the fuck knows where he goes?" Justin licked his lips. "Or who he's been with?"

Michael and Ben exchanged knowing looks. "It's possible that he picked something up from Gus," Ben pointed out. "Small children are like virus incubators."

"It's possible," Justin sighed. "But Lindsay hasn't said anything about Gus or J.R. being sick. I don't know. I don't really give a damn how he got it! I only want Brian to be okay!"

"That's what we all want," said Michael. He hesitated for a moment, then took Justin's hand and squeezed it. He had very mixed feelings about Justin and his relationship -- or whatever it was -- with Brian. But he couldn't deny that Justin really loved his friend. "He's going to be fine. You'll see. Tomorrow he'll be screaming to come home -- and then we'll all go nutty trying to nurse him!"

Justin managed to work up a small smile. "He's not the easiest patient, is he?"

Michael guffawed. "That's the biggest fucking understatement of all time!"

"Is there anyone here with Kinney?"

The three men looked up. A nurse holding a clipboard was standing at the entrance to the Triage Unit.

"I am!" Michael and Justin said in unison as they stood up.

"Would you come this way?" She turned and pushed back through the double doors.

And Justin, Michael, and Ben followed her into the inner sanctum of the ER.

***

Part 20

Pittsburgh, November 2005

"I'm Dr. Banerjee," said the tall resident, holding out his right hand. "You are here for Mr. Kinney?"

"I'm his partner," Justin said resolutely. He stepped forward and firmly shook the doctor's hand. He didn't think the hospital would prohibit him from seeing Brian, but you never knew. This was still Mayor Stockwell's Pittsburgh, after all -- a place where queers had few rights, but especially not the right to claim each other as family. "Justin Taylor."

A flicker of doubt crossed the doctor's face. "And these gentleman are?"

Justin looked over at Michael and Ben. Michael's face was pale with anxiety. "This is... um... Brian's brother, Michael. And his partner, Professor Bruckner. How is Brian? Can we see him now?"

"Your friend was very severely dehydrated, but he should be resting comfortably soon," the doctor said. "Dehydration can be quite dangerous, even for an adult. He's being taken up to a room at this time. As soon as he's settled you may go up and see him. But first I'd like to ask you a few questions, if I may? Mr. Kinney was not terribly informative."

"Of course." Justin swallowed. The smell of the hospital made him nervous. It was all antiseptic and blood and apprehension. "I'll answer as best I can."

The doctor took a silver fountain pen out of the pocket of his white coat. "When was the onset of the illness?"

That Justin could answer easily. "Wednesday night. We were at a wedding in Boston. It was during the reception. Brian had a little too much to drink and I thought he was just feeling the effects. But when we got back to our room, he seemed worse, not better."

"Vomiting? Yes? Any stomach cramps?" the doctor asked.

"He was throwing up a lot, but he didn't say anything about cramps. And then he started to have diarrhea. And a fever, too. That's when I knew he wasn't simply hung over."

The doctor wrote something down on Brian's chart. And then something else. Justin wished that he knew what the doctor was writing. What kinds of judgments he was making about Brian -- if any. Stop it, Taylor, he thought, you're just being paranoid.

"And those symptoms continued the next day?"

Justin nodded. "He seemed better in the morning, but he was very listless and he still had a temperature. And he couldn't keep much food down. Only a little soup and tea."

Dr. Banerjee made another note on his clipboard. "You say you were in Boston. How did you get back to Pittsburgh?"

"I drove." Justin had the sinking feeling that, in retrospect, that might have been the wrong thing to do. "All day. Brian was still sick and I thought that if I got him home, he'd feel better. But last night he seemed worse. He was... saying things."

"Was he delirious?" the doctor asked.

"I don't know," said Justin, running his fingers through his hair in desperation. "He knew who I was and everything... but it worried me. That's when I brought him here."

"Hm," the doctor made a few more notes. "What did he eat that night? Anything unusual?"

Justin shook his head. "Wedding reception food. Some roast beef and potatoes. Salad. A piece of wedding cake. The night before he had sushi, but he was fine afterwards. I don't think anyone else got sick from the food at the reception. My friend Denny -- he was the groom -- would have told me about it if they had."

"You say he had a lot to drink," said Dr. Banerjee. "How much is a lot?"

Justin paused to think. "A few glasses of Guinness. Shots of whiskey -- I don't know how many. Bailey's. And a mixture of all three. They call them Irish Car Bombs. Unfortunately, they exploded on Brian." Justin knew it sounded bad. Like Brian was an alcoholic or something. And that was far from the case. This doctor had to understand that! "Most of the men at the reception were drinking at least as much as he did. And Brian is used to alcohol."

"Brian's always been able to hold his liquor," Michael chimed in. "He has a pretty high tolerance."

Dr. Banerjee frowned. "His head may have a high tolerance, but his stomach might well be a different story."

"What do you think is the matter with him, Doctor?" asked Ben, using his serious professor voice.

"It doesn't sound like food poisoning," said the doctor. "It could be influenza -- he has a fever with vomiting and diarrhea -- but I doubt it. More likely it's gastroenteritis. That is often mistaken for flu but is a different virus altogether. It is also possible that he has the beginnings of an ulcer, which would make the symptoms much more severe. Has he been under stress lately? How has he been eating?"

"He lost his job!" Michael exclaimed. "And his eating habits are lousy, Doc! I'm always telling him that he should take better care of himself, but he never listens!"

"Michael, please!" Justin pleaded. "You're making it sound like it's Brian's fault that he got sick! We don't know that he really has an ulcer. And even if he does, he's not to blame!" Justin turned to the doctor. "He's in excellent physical condition, Doctor, really he is. He works out all the time and he takes vitamins. Ever since..." Justin paused. It hit him suddenly. Something he had never considered. "He had cancer two years ago."

"Is that so?" The doctor made yet another note on Brian's chart. "What kind of cancer?"

"Testicular," Michael interjected. "And he had radiation. That wiped him out, let me tell you! But they told him he was all clear."

"I'm sure he is," Dr. Banerjee replied. "However, cancer treatments are very stressful. Just knowing you have cancer is a strain on the body and the psyche. Radiation does take a lot out of a person. And you say he has recently lost his job? His immune system could well be under siege." He gazed at the three men and pursed his lips. "Has he been tested for HIV?"

"He gets tested every six months," said Justin, rubbing his eyes. The lights in the hallway were way too bright. "The last time was in September. We got tested together. We were both negative."

"That's good to know." The doctor looked up at Justin and smiled slightly. "I'll need the name of his primary physician, as well as some other details. The nurse will get that information from you when you go up to his room, as well as checking his insurance and other things. But I think we're finished here."

"Does that mean we can see him?" Justin said, relief flooding through him. "Now?"

"Two floors up," said Dr. Banerjee, pointing down the hall to the main elevator. "Ask at the Nurses' Station. He is on an IV to rehydrate, so he'll have to stay here overnight. But unless something comes up in his tests, I don't see why he shouldn't be able to go home tomorrow morning -- as long as he gets some rest and follows strict instructions."

"We'll make sure he does everything he's supposed to!" Michael grabbed the doctor's hand and pumped it. "Thanks, Doc!"

"Yes, thank you, Dr. Banerjee," said Justin. He looked up into the doctor's dark eyes. Wondering if there was anything he was holding back. But Justin saw nothing hidden there. Only friendly concern. "And thanks for letting us see Brian. I've heard stories... I mean, at some places they won't let you in to see your partner. I was afraid that... that Brian would be here all alone. And I promised never to leave him alone."

"His brother would be allowed, regardless," said the doctor, nodding at Michael. "But if anyone gives you any difficulty, young man, have them call me. I'll make certain that you are not prevented from seeing your friend." The doctors patted Justin's shoulder.

"Thanks again," Justin whispered.

And the three men headed for the elevator to go up to the Third Floor.

***

Part 21

Pittsburgh, November 2005

Tired.

That's how he felt.

Like all the energy had been leeched out of him.

"How's that, my darlin'?"

Brian opened his eyes and winced. There was a bright light shining right in his face.

"Shit," he muttered.

"Put your hand right here, darlin'. Hold steady while I put in the IV. That's a good boy."

The nurse was trying to be gentle, but Brian hated needles. No matter how delicate she was trying to be, nothing about sticking a needle and then a tube into his left hand was going to feel good.

"Now you stay still, my darlin'. You don't want to pull at that." The nurse taped the area around the IV. "This'll fix you up just fine. You'll feel much better when we get some liquid into you."

"Can't I go home?" It felt like something hard was sticking into his back. Like an iron bar. A hospital bed must be the most uncomfortable fucking thing ever designed by man.

"Maybe tomorrow. Depends on what the doctor says." The nurse smiled as she disposed of the IV remnants. "We'll take care of everything. You just lay back and relax. Think of this as a nice little vacation."

Brian sighed. She must be fucking kidding! "A vacation is the White Party in South Beach. A vacation is Ibiza. The Virgin Islands. London. P-Town in August. It's not a fucking torture bed in Allegheny General with a fucking tube stuck in your fucking hand!"

"Language!" the nurse admonished. "I know you're feeling a bit cranky, but you'll be much better this evening. If the doctor says it's all right, we'll bring you a nice dinner later. Something that will soothe your poor stomach. You must be hungry, aren't you, my darlin'?"

"No," Brian sniffed. "I doubt that I'll ever eat again. And with this fucking tube in me, I won't have to."

The nurse laughed. "I can see you and me are going to get along just fine." She patted Brian's arm. "If you need to go to the bathroom, you press this little button and I'll come and help you. I don't want to see you trying to get up by yourself." She pointed to the metal pole next to the bed that held the bag of saline solution, which was slowly dribbling into his body. "You don't want to knock this over. All right?"

"All right." Brian hated the thought of this woman having to help him to the bathroom, but since he was hooked up to this fucking IV drip, he didn't have much choice. At least he didn't have a tube up his dick. That had been the biggest nightmare of his stay at Johns Hopkins for his ball-ectomy -- the fucking catheter in his cock.

"You want me to turn on the TV? Or do you want to have a little rest?"

"No! Please, no fucking television!" Brian swallowed. His throat was so fucking dry. "Can I have something to drink?"

"Certainly." The nurse held a plastic cup with a straw to his lips. When he was finished, she set it on the table next to the bed. "I'm going to leave this right here in case you get thirsty again."

"Where's Justin?" Brian asked, suddenly. He knew Justin had brought him to the hospital, but then he disappeared. "Is he here?"

"Who's that, my darlin'?"

"He's my..." Brian's voice trailed off. He didn't want to say the wrong thing and fuck it up. They might not let Justin in to see him if they thought they were a couple of queers. "My friend. He brought me here."

"I'm sure he must be waiting for you." The nurse picked up his chart and looked at it. "But we had to get you settled down before you can have visitors, you know?"

Brian turned his head away. There was a white curtain drawn between him and the patient in the next bed, but he could hear someone coughing. And the sound of a television playing some football game. Great. He wouldn't be able to sleep at all tonight with some sick guy who was obsessed with football in the next bed.

The nurse left the room and Brian lay there, feeling sorry for himself. Everything was going wrong lately, like the world was conspiring against him. He was a fatalist by nature, but this was fucking ridiculous!

Tired. So fucking tired.

Brian closed his eyes. His head felt light, like he was falling backwards.

"Brian."

A cool hand touched his, tentatively. Wrapped itself around his right hand. Squeezed.

"Justin."

Blue eyes. Looking down at him.

"How are you feeling?"

"Dandy. Just dandy."

That grin. "Liar."

"Holy shit, Brian! You look terrible!" Another voice broke into his head.

"Thank you, Mikey. I'll fire my stylist first chance I get."

"Michael, do you mind?" Justin's voice was sharp.

"Sorry." Michael's brow was furrowed. "I was so worried about you!" He stepped back, leaning against Ben. "I hate hospitals."

"Welcome to the fucking club." Brian tried to sit up.

"Careful." Justin reached for Brian's pillows and adjusted them. "Is that better?"

"Thanks." Brian settled back slowly. "It's hard to do shit with this fucking thing stuck in my hand."

"We talked to your doctor," said Justin. "Dr. Banerjee. He said you can go home tomorrow."

"Tomorrow." Brian shook his head. "Goddamn. Can't you wrap me in a sheet and carry me out like the laundry?"

Justin smiled. "I don't think so." He leaned over and brushed Brian's hair back from his forehead. "You were dehydrated. They're just making sure you're okay."

"Tell me something I don't fucking know." Brian licked his lips as Justin stroked his hair. He hated being fussed over. Hated feeling helpless and vulnerable. But he also remembered how desolate it had felt to be alone and in pain at Johns Hopkins, surrounded by strangers. "I... I'm glad you're here. I don't mean to sound like a shit."

"You're not a shit," Justin said fondly. "But I was so fucking scared last night. That's why I brought you here. I thought you were really sick and I didn't know what else to do. I know this isn't your favorite place to be, Brian, but tomorrow you'll come home and everything really will be dandy. Right?"

"Right." Brian began to relax -- a little.

"And next week you'll be good as new!" Michael exclaimed. "You wouldn't want to miss Thanksgiving at Ma's, would you?"

Brian rolled his eyes. "That's all my fucking stomach needs -- to be stuffed like a turkey WITH Deb's super-duper dried-out turkey and all the over-cooked trimmings. If she makes that Jello salad with the fucking fruit in it this year, I'll leave the table!"

"Hey!" cried Michael. "Asshole! I love that Jello mold with the fruit in it! It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it!"

"Jello what?" Justin frowned. "What's that?"

"Some recipe Deb got out of 'Ladies' Home Journal' circa 1974," Brian grumbled. "Jello in the shape of a fucking turkey, with canned cherries and grapes floating inside it. She serves it every year. It's truly disgusting."

"It is not!" Michael returned. "It's good!"

Justin laughed at the two of them bickering. "Sounds intense!"

He felt Brian's fingers tighten around his. He also noted that Brian was smirking slightly as he bitched at Michael. Smirking and complaining. The surest sign that he was getting back to normal.

And that made Justin say a silent prayer of thanks. Just a little one.

©Gaedhal, February 2007.

Posted November 5, 2007.