This is a gapfiller- takes place immediately following 409.
For SDV, who had bronchitis five or ten years ago, and wanted a gap filler. Sorry it took so long :x
Thanks to Laura for reading, helping, and knowing Brian so well.
Before Justin got bashed in the head, he had a recurring fantasy about becoming desperately ill. He was never able to decide on a specific ailment. It had to be something potentially life threatening- something that would force him to languish in a hospital bed for weeks, maybe months- but nothing that would require the insertion of tubes or needles of any kind. Nothing that would make him look ugly. That was very important.
In his fantasy, people would come to visit him. His father would come to apologize, with watery eyes, for his queer hating ways. He would tell Justin that art school sounded like a great idea, and maybe Brian could come over for Christmas dinner this year. "As long as you're okay, son," he would say. "That's all that matters."
His mother and Debbie would come with cookies and presents. Michael would come to let him know that Brian would die himself if Justin didn't make it. To say that he realized now, how important Justin was in Brian's life.
And Brian himself would be there every day. Every minute. He would look exhausted, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but still totally hot. He would hold Justin's hand, and try to be strong, but occasionally he would break down and weep. He would say, "I love you," and, "Please don't die."
And, of course, Justin wouldn't die. His recovery would be miraculous, and there would be a party. Everyone at the party would make speeches about how much they loved Justin.
Even at the time, Justin realized this was a very juvenile fantasy. It was embarrassing. But only after the bashing did he realize how utterly ridiculous it really was.
On the rare occasions when he would allow himself to imagine Brian contracting an illness, it was never anything particularly serious. Fantasy Brian would most often succumb to a cold, or bronchitis, or a tummy ache- anything that would force him to stay home for a few days, and allow Justin to care for him. Fantasy Brian would be a docile and gracious patient. He would thank Justin for cleaning up his snot rags. He would thank Justin for being there at all.
In retrospect, this fantasy was even more absurd than the Lifetime Movie Leukemia fantasies he had about himself.
Justin never fantasized about having to throw Brian to the ground to get him to eat a bowl of chicken soup. He never fantasized about feeling this powerless and frustrated and afraid. He's never been so afraid. And so fucking angry.
He sits beside the bed, unblinking and expressionless, staring at Brian as he eats. He can tell that Brian is uncomfortable, and he's glad.
When the soup is gone, Justin asks him if he wants another bowl.
"I didn't want this one," Brian tells him, and hands him the empty dish.
"Then why'd you eat it?"
"I thought it would make you go away."
Before Justin can respond to that, Brian's hobbling out of bed, making a gimpy race for the bathroom. He doesn't quite make it.
Justin watches him puke all over the floor with a strange fascination. He looks so weak, so out of control, and there's something beautiful about how scary it is.
Once it's all out, Brian starts limping and wobbling around again, looking like he's going to try and clean it up.
"Don't," Justin says. "I'll get it."
He grabs Brian's arm and tries to lead him back to the bed. There's another perfunctory struggle and some cursing, but Brian can barely hold himself up let alone fight Justin off, so soon enough he's on the mattress, flat on his back.
"Fuck you," he groans, and then falls asleep.
There are undigested noodles floating in Brian's vomit. Maybe soup wasn't the best idea after all.
Justin goes to sleep next to Brian, and wakes up alone. He pulls on some sweatpants and follows the sound of clanking dishes into the kitchen, where he finds Brian sitting at the counter in near darkness, eating another bowl of soup. It's two o'clock in the morning.
Justin gets the ginger ale from the refrigerator and pours them both a glass.
"Here, maybe if you drink this the soup won't end up on the floor this time."
"Fuck you," Brian says, then takes a sip.
"Are you feeling any better?"
Brian just shrugs.
"Have you asked your doctor about the nausea?" Justin asks. "I was reading that they can usually give you a prescription for that, if you tell them it's bothering you."
"Don't need it."
"No, of course not," Justin sighs. "You'd rather be miserable."
Brian sniffs. He lifts the bowl to his lips and noisily slurps down the rest of his soup
"Well if you don't ask next time, I'm going to," Justin tells him.
Brian slams the dish onto the counter, and Justin should probably be startled or disturbed by how angry he's suddenly become, but he's not really. He's just tired.
"You are not coming with me!"
"Yes, I am."
"I'm not a fucking child," Brian snarls at him, and Justin has to agree. Having a child would probably be a lot easier than this. "I can go to the goddamn doctor on my own!"
"Well, good for you," Justin says. "I'm coming anyway."
"What, does this make you feel important or something?" Brian asks, his lips curling cruelly. "What the fuck do you even know about any of this?"
Maybe Justin should be grateful. Maybe it's a good thing that Brian is acting this way. Maybe it's better. Better to want to kill him than to actually think about him dying. Better to let the anger overtake the fear.
"You wanna know what I know about it? Fine, I'll show you." Justin stalks over to the couch and retrieves the cancer notebook from his messenger bag. "This, this is what I know," he says, shoving the thing at Brian. "This is ALL I know, because you won't fucking tell me anything else!"
Brian grabs the notebook from him and starts flipping through the pages. It's probably too dark for him to actually read any of it, but Justin feels strangely nervous about him looking. If he found an error somewhere, all the sleepless nights Justin has spent researching would seem like a waste somehow.
After a few minutes, Brian puts the book down on the counter and turns away from Justin, pinching his brow. "You don't have to do this," he says. "This doesn't have to be your problem."
Justin thinks this might be the stupidest thing he’s ever heard.
“How can you think that?” he asks. “What if I had cancer? Would you feel like it wasn’t your problem?”
Brian’s shoulders tense up, and he shakes his head.
“Would you leave me?”
“Don‘t be stupid.”
“The difference is, I don’t need anyone to take care of me.”
Justin doesn’t know which implication to latch onto as the most offensive in that statement. The one that Justin does need someone to take care of him, or the one that Brian would only stay with him for that purpose, or the one that Justin is only here out of some sense of duty or pity.
“So you think I’m weak?” Justin asks, deciding on the first.
“No, I think you’re a drama queen,” Brian tells him. “I’ve gotta get out of here.” He gets off the stool and starts wobbling towards the coat closet.
“Where the fuck are you going? It’s three in the morning.”
“We’re out of water.”
Brian pulls on his jacket and starts fishing around the pockets. Justin doesn’t dare suggest that Brian drink from the tap for one goddamn night of his life.
“I’ll go,” he says.
“Where the fuck are my keys?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Justin says. “I told you, I’ll go.”
“You stole them, didn’t you. You stole my fucking keys, you little fucking shit.”
Justin doesn’t bother giving him an answer- just grabs a sweater and his own coat and walks out the door.
The 7-11 closest to the loft seems to get robbed on a semi-weekly basis, so Justin decides to take a fifteen minute detour and go to the Mobile mini-mart near PIFA. Predictably, the place is full of intoxicated students buying soda and Fritos and shriveled up hot dogs. Justin wonders if any of their boyfriends have cancer. He suddenly feels incredibly old.
He wonders if this is the sort of life Brian wants for him- the life of a carefree college student with friends his own age, a party every weekend. A boyfriend who doesn’t require an instruction manual. Is this what Brian thinks he would have if they weren’t together? Does he think Justin would be normal? He must know that it’s too late for that. Like, twenty years too late.
Still, it’s maybe another reason. Another insane reason for the insane things that Brian does. Justin likes knowing the reasons. If there are reasons then he doesn’t have to take it personally when Brian threatens him with a restraining order.
In line behind two girls with blue streaks in their hair and armfuls of junk food, Justin tries to imagine what his life would be like if he’d never met Brian at all. He sees nothing. White noise. An empty ache where something should be, but isn’t.
He doesn’t see himself feeling like less of an alien. If anything, he thinks he’d feel it more.
His hand is shaking when he reaches the checkout, and he doesn’t even know why anymore.
When he gets back to the loft, Brian is lying on the floor amongst a pile of pillows and blankets. Justin puts a bottle of water next to his head. Brian grabs his ankle.
“You were gone a long time,” he says. “I thought maybe you weren’t coming back.”
His voice and eyes are soft. He was afraid Justin wasn’t coming back. That’s great, but Justin isn’t sure he’s ready to stop being mad yet.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” he snaps, deliberately misunderstanding, and tries to wrench his foot away. Brian won’t let go. He runs his thumb down under Justin’s sock.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m an asshole.”
“Yeah,” Justin says. “You really are.”
Brian sits up and drinks his water. Justin thinks he’s drinking it too fast. It’ll probably come up again soon. He sits down next to Brian and starts eating the snack he bought for himself.
“You’re right, though. In a way,” he tells him between bites. “I don’t know what you’re going through. I probably wouldn’t be handling it any better.”
Brian shakes his head.
“You would. Trust me.”
Justin shrugs. And wonders. Remembers nights in this loft when he lashed out at Brian for trying to help him, nights when things were broken.
“Why are you eating that disgusting convenience store hot dog?” Brian asks.
“I dunno. Seemed like the thing to do.”
Brian sighs and rests his head on Justin’s shoulder. “Thanks for the water,” he says. Justin hears thanks for coming back and allows himself a smile.
After a few minutes of quiet, Brian asks him, “You really wanna stick around here with this decaying geezer? It’s only gonna get worse you know.”
“You’re not a geezer, Brian. And I don’t just love you for your perfect body you know.”
Brian grunts, non-committal. Justin wonders if he’ll ever really know that. If he’ll ever believe that there’s anything else worthwhile to him.
“What would you do if I died?” Brian asks.
“You’re not gonna die.”
“Not this time. But someday. Probably before you. What would you do?”
“Jesus, Brian, I don’t know. What the fuck kind of question is that?”
“You must’ve thought about it.”
He has. He’s tried not to, but he has. Impossible not to, these past few weeks, since he found out. There's a new place where his life splits in two now- before cancer and after. Before cancer it didn't seem possible that Brian could die. He never thought to wonder what it would be like, because it seemed as likely as finding a unicorn corpse in the backyard. It seems possible now, but still unimagineable. It’s like the other thing, when he tries to imagine never having met Brian. Paralyzing blankness.
He doesn’t know what kind of answer Brian is looking for, if he wants to hear about grief-laden hysterics, suicide attempts. Does he want to know that Justin would throw himself on the coffin and beg them to bury him too? Or does he want to know that Justin would be okay, that he’d carry on heroically and live to see another brilliant day?
“I don’t know, Brian. I probably wouldn’t do anything at all.”
“Well, try not to get married or anything,” Brian says. “Cause I’m gonna come back if I can.”
“Back? What, like a zombie?”
“No, like a ghost. Zombies are ugly.”
Justin can’t tell if he’s joking. His lips are quirking, but his eyes are serious.
“You’re gonna haunt me?”
Brian nods, and then he kisses him, soft and sweet and for the first time in what feels like a really really long time.
Justin isn’t sure he believes in ghosts. He thinks he believes in reincarnation, if anything. It seems to make the most sense, and he’s always felt like his soul has been around for awhile- like he’s had another, forgotten existence. In his more histrionic moments, he’s imagined past lives shared with Brian. Nevertheless, there’s something comforting about the thought of Brian’s ghost watching over him. Knowing Brian, he’d probably figure out a way to have ghost sex.
And the kiss. The kiss is really nice. He’s not angry anymore, and he’s not scared. He loves Brian so much in that moment, he thinks his insides might explode.
“Think you can sleep now?” he asks, when Brian pulls back.
“Dunno,” Brian says. “Let’s just lay here a while.”
They lean back in the pillows together, and Justin curls up on Brian’s chest, inhales his scent and presses against his flesh and bone. Alive he thinks. Alive Alive Alive.
Eventually Justin drifts off to sleep that way and dreams that he and Brian are reincarnated as cats. They spend every day sitting on someone’s porch, licking each others fur. They don't get sick. They don't keep secrets. It’s a lot simpler than this life- a lot less frightening- but not half as interesting.