Summary: A glimpse into Brian’s new reality. Slight gapfiller and spoilers for 409.
Disclaimer: Cowlip, not I.
Much love to my faces for various readthroughs at various times, and extra special love to juteux and erinface.
He wakes up only an hour after Justin has put him to bed and fed him soup like a fucking invalid. His stomach is roiling with nausea and he knows what’s coming, but the bathroom is so fucking far away.
He’s alone in the bedroom, faint cleaning-up sounds coming from the kitchen, and Brian knows he’ll never make it. So he lies there silently, lips pressed together and taking deep breaths through his nose that do nothing to quell the queasiness. He listens to the noise in the other room and prays.
But no, his body has other plans. Brian manages to croak out “Justin,” through dry lips, and there’s no way Justin could have heard him, he’s banging pots around in the kitchen and Brian barely spoke above a whisper, but then Justin is there.
He holds the basin with one hand and rests the other one soothingly on Brian’s shoulder, not saying a word while Brian pukes up his dinner. Justin rubs small circles on the back of Brian’s neck and waits for the retching to pass.
Sick and exhausted, Brian falls back to the pillow and closes his eyes, too embarrassed to look at Justin and too tired to say anything at all. He feels the bed move as Justin rises and then the sound of running water comes from the bathroom. Brian wishes he were sweaty like he was a minute ago, because now he’s just cold and can’t control the shivering.
The bed dips again and then Justin is fixing his pillow, smoothing the tangled covers, and he smells of the light aftershave he favors. It’s the only smell Brian thinks he could probably stand right now, and he breathes deeply of it as Justin reaches over him. Then a sure hand is brushing his sweat-tangled bangs off his forehead, and a cool washcloth rests against his skin. “Want water?” Justin murmurs.
Brian manages a shake of his head, careful not to upset the delicate balance of his stomach.
“You have to drink some later,” Justin says, and Brian opens his eyes at the suspicious catch in Justin’s voice.
“What the fuck,” Brian says, motioning toward Justin’s wet eyes.
“Nothing,” Justin says hurriedly, and wipes his tears with the back of his wrist. “I was just worried, is all. I’m getting you water.” He leaves the bedroom and Brian watches him go. Justin squares his shoulders in the doorway and the small gesture makes something inside of Brian wrench.
* * *
Brian manages to hold it together even though he’s still puking past midnight. By now he has nothing left, although Justin insists he drink at least eight ounces of water so his system can possibly absorb some of it. The water keeps coming back up.
Justin doesn’t say a word any one of the ten times Brian wakes him up during the night. He just places a gentle hand on Brian’s back or neck and waits for the retching to stop, and then gets up to wash out the basin. Brian tries to joke with him once. “Just stick me in the shower,” he says, “and cover me with a blanket. I’ll puke in there and all you have to do is turn the water on.”
Justin turns on him with ferocity. “Shut up,” he hisses, “don’t even fucking think about it. Just shut the fuck up, Brian.”
Brian shuts up.
But now the digital clock reads close to four in the morning and Brian’s never been so tired or sick in his life. He tries to be as silent as possible, conscious of the fact that Justin has finally fallen into a fitful sleep, and leans over the side of the bed. Brian dry-heaves for a while, aware that it’s really sort of impossible to do that quietly, but when the yellow bile starts coming up it’s too much.
Worn out and suffering, Brian eases back down to the pillow and closes his eyes against his worst nightmare. He tries to keep them back, tries so fucking hard not to let the hated tears win, but they hover there at the back of his throat anyway. They sting like a bitch, his throat already raw from vomiting, and Brian swallows three times in an effort to make them go away.
A hand on his arm then, not grabbing or searching, just resting lightly, and Brian looks to his right. Justin is awake; his eyes clear and calm, offering the only comfort he knows how to give. Brian blinks and a hot, defiant tear slides from the corner of his eye into his hair. Justin traces its path with his gaze but says nothing. He reaches out and brushes the wetness away with his thumb.
The tear lets something loose in Brian, and he sleeps.
* * *
Brian’s second week of radiation leaves him weaker than the first. By the time he has to go get his third treatment, the inevitable fight occurs.
“I’m off today,” Justin says, watching Brian in the bathroom mirror.
Brian grunts a response and pulls the sheet over his face.
“So I can take you,” Justin continues, and Brian remains under the sheet, listening to the sounds of Justin shaving.
“Take me where.” He watches the sheet move slightly with his breath.
“To radiation.” Justin says it carefully and succinctly, as if to show Brian just how okay he is with it.
Brian isn’t okay with it at all. He finds more and more that he’s not okay with other people being okay with it. In fact, Brian thinks, he might be the only one in the whole fucking world that’s not okay with him having cancer.
He throws the sheet off and watches Justin warily as he sits on the edge of the bed to tug on socks. “I don’t need you to take me.”
“I know,” Justin replies patiently. “I want to.”
“I don’t want you to take me,” Brian says loudly, and gets up. “I want to go by myself.” He’s aware he sounds petulant but doesn’t care. Fucking people with fucking cancer deserve to sound petulant once in a while.
“Brian,” Justin says quietly, and immediately Brian loathes the reasonableness in Justin’s voice.
“No.” Brian is firm, and it works. Justin sets his jaw and goes into the other room to watch television.
He goes alone, but finds himself gasping for Justin that night as he lies puking on the bathroom floor. The irony does not escape him.
* * *
The following Wednesday, Brian goes to get in the car and finds Justin already in the driver’s seat with a mutinous look on his face.
“Can you just not fucking argue, please.”
And Brian’s really too tired to argue anyway, and wishing he were going anywhere else on fucking earth except back to the doctor’s office. He gets in the car.
The table is cold against his back and the damn gown is too small like always. Brian lies there and stares at a crack in the ceiling while Justin leafs through a magazine and pretends not to care that Brian is getting his remaining ball nuked like popcorn, but Brian catches every furtive glance Justin throws his way.
Somehow, he feels better that Justin is uncomfortable.
Justin puts dinner in front of him, even though both of them know it’ll be making its second appearance sooner or later. But Brian figures puking up something is better than puking up nothing, so he eats the teriyaki chicken and wild rice in silence.
They watch movies and the queasiness starts later than usual. Brian thinks he might escape it, just this one time. Then he laughs at himself when he stumbles to the bathroom at midnight, and realizes that he’s not going to escape it, ever.
* * *
Their days start to follow a pattern. Brian doesn’t know if he likes it or not, but he gets used to it, and that’s something.
Once a week to the doctor’s office, with Justin driving the ‘vette. Then Justin drops him off at Kinnetik, and Brian pretends he’s going to last the entire day at work, despite Ted’s worried glances and Cynthia’s suspicious looks. It gets to the point where Brian doesn’t even need to call Justin’s cell around noon or one o’clock anymore, since Justin usually makes an appearance around then and simply holds Brian’s coat out to him with a wry expression.
They don’t have sex at all.
Justin doesn’t seem to mind; Brian assumes he’s getting his dick at the clubs every night, and doesn’t ask. He tells himself this is because he already knows the answer, not because he doesn’t want to hear about Justin’s conquests. He doesn’t give a shit about Justin’s conquests. He hasn’t in the past, why start now?
He catches Justin jerking in the shower once and finishes him off, but when Justin goes to return the favor, Brian mumbles about being tired. He wonders how long he can actually use that excuse, and then realizes that Justin didn’t believe it the first time so he’s sure as hell not going to believe it the tenth.
When Brian manages to sustain an erection for more than ten seconds, he goes to Babylon to get sucked. He doesn’t trust himself to fuck anyone, not yet, not with his sac still aching just from normal movement.
But a blowjob feels like heaven.
He purposely doesn’t think about how much better Justin can blow him, because that would mean serious introspection, and Brian’s really doing his damndest to avoid that altogether.
But two nights later, when Justin catches him in the back room, Brian feels something suspiciously like guilt. Or maybe remorse, he’s not really familiar with either emotion. Whatever it is, it makes him look away from Justin’s accusing expression when he finds Brian letting a stranger suck him off.
Justin doesn’t say anything about it; not that night or the next, but on the third night, he makes a half-hearted attempt to stick his hand down Brian’s boxers. Brian stops him midstream. “Don’t.”
“Okay,” Justin says tiredly. Brian sees the strain around his mouth, and there it is again, the fucking niggling sensation of guilt.
He gives Justin some phenomenal head, enough to leave him limp and gasping, and feels marginally better.
* * *
Brian doesn’t know why he didn’t think of marijuana’s medicinal qualities earlier.
He and Justin light up one night, and Brian spends the next few hours in a pleasant, nausea-free haze. Justin giggles at him.
“What’s funny,” Brian demands.
“You’re funny,” he slurs, and lolls his head into Brian’s lap. “You have a goofy grin on your face.”
“I’m not goofy. Nothing about me is goofy.” It suddenly becomes imperative, in a unique, drug-induced way, that Justin not think him silly.
“Okay,” Justin replies easily, and laughs at the ceiling some more. “You’re not goofy. You have cancer. People with cancer aren’t goofy.”
“Right,” Brian nods, and wonders if that will make as much sense when he’s sober.
They get drunk after the next treatment, and Brian drinks more than usual in an effort to fool himself into thinking he has a hangover, rather than side effects of radioactivity in his body. He discovers it feels pretty much the same, and that makes it easier to handle.
He lets Justin blow him, but when Justin stretches out on his stomach and looks invitingly at Brian over his shoulder, Brian shakes his head.
“Come on,” Justin wheedles, the Beam making his eyes bright and blue.
“Can’t,” Brian says brusquely.
“Yeah, you can. Come on, Brian, you know you want it.” Justin shakes his ass and Brian swallows tightly. “You can’t rile me up and then leave me all wanting and stuff,” he continues, and rolls his hips. “Do it. Just fuck m--”
“I can’t!” Brian shouts at him, startling them both. “I physically can’t, Justin, all right? It’s all I can do to come once a night! Now back the fuck off!”
The guilt on Justin’s face is too much for him to look at, so he gets dressed and goes to the diner. He sulks in a corner booth until midnight.
* * *
Brian’s doctor thinks that the last three rounds of treatment should be increased to achieve maximum effectiveness. Sure, Brian thinks on the table the next morning, sure. Increase it all the fuck you want. It’s not your puke you have to clean up. Maybe I’ll come and throw up in that shiny new Mercedes of yours.
His bout of nausea that night is the worst yet, and he is secretly glad that Justin didn’t go out. Brian realizes that sleeping on the bathroom floor isn’t that bad, really. He’s glad he picked out such nice tile when he moved in.
Justin starts to hold the trash can for him when he can’t lever himself upward enough to even get to the toilet, and Brian wants to be disgusted or angry or something other than tired and sick. He tries valiantly.
“Just leave it,” he rasps, when the bottle of water Justin places by his head tips over and soaks them both. “Just fucking leave it, and me. I can puke by myself, thanks.”
“Mmhm,” Justin murmurs, and hands him a wet washcloth to wipe his face.
Brian starts to snap something else at him, but his stomach rebels instead and he grabs for the garbage can, holding Justin’s wrist. It happens then, so quickly that neither of them understand until the can is lying on its side, Brian’s second-hand dinner leaking out of it and Justin scrambling to clean it up with mumbled apologies and a red face.
“What the hell…?” Brian asks, pushing himself to a sitting position against the wall.
“Shit, oh shit, sorry Brian, goddammit,” Justin mutters under his breath, grabbing towels to mop up the mess, and Brian sees that Justin refuses to look his way.
Brian reaches out and snags Justin’s right forearm, drawing him effectively closer and holding Justin’s hand out for his own inspection. They both see it shake and tremble before Justin manages to draw his fingers into a fist and wrench his arm away. “It’s fine,” he says, turning his back to Brian and continuing to clean. “Just tired.”
“Tired,” Brian repeats dully. “Did you draw today?”
“I had to. Keller wants a sample of twenty-five panels, and Michael wouldn’t let me leave until it was done.” The apology in his voice needles its way into Brian’s blanket of self-righteousness.
“And then you worked,” Brian thinks out loud, “for the dinner shift. Five fucking hours.”
Justin shrugs it off and throws the soiled towels into the righted trash can. “I’ll wash those later. Are you feeling better? You want a shower?”
Brian looks at him for a long time across the bathroom floor, and Justin looks back guilelessly.
“Yeah,” Brian says finally. “I need a shower.”
* * *
He thinks sometimes that every illness should be able to be cured by being clean. Brian stares at his haggard face in the bathroom mirror while he combs his wet hair, and marvels at how much better he can feel just by washing away the sweat and vomit. He thinks briefly of Ben and reminds himself to ask Michael’s boyfriend sometime if he also found medicinal properties just by taking a shower.
Justin is in bed when he gets out, a light blue cotton t-shirt making his eyes clear like glass. He holds the covers up for Brian to slide under. “You want the trash can over there?” Justin asks him. “Or you think you’re done for the night?”
Brian rolls over and props himself up on his elbows. “I’m done barfing,” he nods. “I think. But done for the night? Not yet.”
“Oh!” Justin says, and makes a move to get up. “You’re right, I didn’t get your water for you, or your vitamin that the doctor said you should take, sorry, hang on a sec and I’ll get it.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Brian sighs. “You’re so fucking dense. Get the fuck back in bed.”
Justin eyes him warily. “Why?”
“Because, you idiot. I’m horny.” Brian rolls to his hip and glances down at his erection, then back up at Justin meaningfully.
“Oh,” Justin says, then, “Ohhhhh! Okay.” He giggles a little and slides himself into the circle of Brian’s arms. “Well, y’know, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it.” Justin brings a hand down to wrap around his cock and Brian draws a breath.
He brings his own hand down to lace their fingers, and draws Justin’s right hand back up to his mouth while Justin watches him curiously. “I’m sorry,” Brian murmurs against his fingers. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
Justin doesn’t feign ignorance. “Brian, I didn’t have cancer, but I still get it. I get you, you know?”
“My hand was just tired today, it’s not like that all the time.”
“Do you?” Justin searches his face with eyes too old for Brian to look into.
“Yes, Justin, I fucking know.”
“Then show me you know, you goddamned asshole.” He doesn’t hide his smirk and Brian doesn’t want him to, because Justin smirking at him is normal and Brian wants things to be normal again more than anything he’s ever wanted in his entire fucking life.
So he lets Justin feel the scar near his groin, because that’s Brian’s new normal and he better get fucking used to it. He lets Justin examine it, tracing the raised skin with gentle fingers and a serious expression. “It still hurts a lot?” Justin whispers against his chest, cupping his sac lightly.
“Yeah,” Brian says grudgingly, knowing that to lie and pretend everything’s all better is futile. “But not all the time.”
“Okay,” Justin nods. “Good to know.”
He flips Justin then, pressing him flat against the bed and stretching out on top, feeling Justin’s warm skin against his chest. His balls push against Justin’s ass and the wound aches a little, but that’s okay with Brian.
It’s a reminder of the new normal.
He straddles Justin’s narrow hips, letting his cock rest in the crack of Justin’s ass while Brian draws patterns with his tongue in between his shoulderblades. The tiny hairs on the back of Justin’s neck rise, and Brian smiles in satisfaction.
A long, wet line down his back while Justin shudders beneath him, Brian drags his tongue to the soft spot between his thighs and sucks a red brand into the tender skin. Justin moves his legs apart in invitation, and Brian takes him up on it, sucking at Justin’s balls and painting patterns around his hole with a sure tongue.
He keeps it up lazily, darting in and out and making Justin slick with his saliva, and when Justin starts groaning in earnest and thrusting against the sheets, Brian figures he better get it while the getting’s good.
Rip and spit and the condom’s sliding on, familiar and tight and normal, and Brian preps him with two fingers before starting to tremble slightly with his own want. Up and over, covering Justin and threading their fingers together, and Brian slides in with barely a push.
Normal. More than normal.
Slight sting from his balls, but small enough to ignore because, Jesus Christ, he might come right now, and Brian wonders how he could have ever not wanted this, even for a second. It’s Justin, and he always wants Justin, and he stopped puzzling about that a long time ago.
“Brian,” Justin murmurs beneath him, arching back and then rubbing against the bed. “Brian, you have to move, please, my God,” and it’s the most beautiful thing Brian’s ever heard. He thrusts, and Justin’s answering groan is music.
He wants to fuck him till they both pass out, till there’s nothing left for either of them but this, because this is real to Brian and he wants it to be real for Justin too. Brian’s new reality consists of a scar and a blond-headed twink, and that’s just fine by him.
Justin lies flushed and beautiful under him, sweaty and panting, and Brian closes his eyes and puts his head down for leverage. “I’m gonna shoot on the bed,” Justin grinds out.
“Don’t care,” Brian pants. One thrust, then two, and Brian tries to stop the orgasm but is helpless against it after so long, and can only ride it out while Justin shudders and grips the bedsheets on either side of his head.
He lies atop Justin and listens to their breathing for a long time.
* * *
Michael brings Debbie’s baked ziti and a bottle of good red wine to the loft the next night. The three of them stuff themselves with the pasta and drink enough wine to bring a flush to their cheeks.
Justin gets up to clear the plates and trails a hand through Brian’s hair on his way to the kitchen. “Love you,” he says casually, and busies himself at the sink.
Michael tilts his head. “Does he say that a lot now?”
Brian drains his wineglass and looks over his shoulder at the boy doing dishes. “Yeah,” he tells Michael. “That’s pretty normal.”