QaF: 1.22 gapfiller
I'm still having a torrid love affair with my season one DVDs. And angst. Which, combined with listening to Ani all week, really explains a lot about this fic, coughcough.
Michael remembers when his best friend had superpowers.
Brian's hands on his waist and upper arm, pulling him upwards from harm. Captain Astro saving Galaxy Lad. Superman saving Lois Lane. Those are the first real impressions Michael has of Brian. He knows there had to have been more before that moment, more happening that he wasn't aware of.
But, really, that's to be expected. Michael's head was being held under several inches of janitor-maintained toilet bowl water at the time. And he doesn't know anyone who would be concerned about how many bullies are trying to crowd into the stall to see the action, when the one with his blunt fingers digging into your neck is enough to make you regret not taking those swimming lessons last summer on holding your breath a whole lot more seriously.
That school didn't agree with Michael was to put it lightly, and it had only gotten worse in junior high. There were only so many times a guy could get his head dunked in a toilet or his Batman backpack used as the quad kickball before he started to consider the fact that maybe his school career wasn't going to be immortalized in the corridor trophy case.
A hero bursting onto the scene, that was Brian that day, the new kid in school suddenly standing there in an old leather jacket and jeans, not seeming to care the knuckles on his right hand were bleeding or that, upon coming up for air so fast, Michael had evidently splashed wet the front of his The Cure t-shirt.
"You all right?" Frowning, Brian used the back of his hand to swipe Michael's drippy bangs from his forehead. "Well, you look all right to me. Let me guess... this happens a lot? Shitheads."
Michael could only nod and take his backpack from Brian's outstretched hand. More water slid down his nose. His forehead tingled; it felt warm with Brian's echoing touch. A fleeting thought that he was missing Social Studies occured to him and then was disregarded. What better opportunity to study being social?
"You like Batman?" Brian glanced at the backpack, digging in his back pocket for something wrapped up in a napkin, and Michael smiled widely before his survival instinct could utter a warning to shut the fuck up. In the past, admitting his devotion to the comic book adventures of his heroes had led to more than one fruit cup down his pants at lunch.
Next he knew, they were in a stall with the door closed and Michael was smoking his first joint before he even had the sense to ask for his savior's name. And when he finally did, he was coughing so hard around the thick smoke in his lungs that Brian took to slapping his back as he answered, "Brian. Jesus, I told you not to inhale so deeply." The other boy's amusement had Michael feeling higher than their current mood-altering drug of choice.
Michael just gave him a smile he really hoped was cool but suspected was more likely reenforcing his geekiness for things like being in charge of the film projector and handing out extra credit quizzes. "I'm Michael Novotny."
"Nice to meet you, Michael Novotny," Brian answered, his mouth enjoying the irony of pleasantries by the way it smirked its way through the words. He gave the joint an expert toke, then offered it back to Michael with a challenging raised eyebrow for another try.
Holding the small roll between his thumb and forefinger, Michael did his best to emulate his apparent new ally, but still ended up with watery eyes and a coughing jag that at one point had him whacking his head on the hard metal of the stall door. God, at this rate, Michael thought dizzily, Brian was going to dunk his head back in the toilet if he didn't quit being a total retard.
But Brian was just considering him thoughtfully. He had great eyes, Michael concluded. Light brown with flecks of green, like Kryptonite swimming around. They looked dangerous. And sad. And--
"Let's try this, preferably before you croak of smoke inhalation," was all the amused warning Michael got before a strong hand on his neck pulled him closer and he was being shotgunned with the joint held between Brian's teeth. The sweet odor of the weed mixed with Brian's warm breath as they shared the smoke.
Michael didn't cough. Just blinked a few times, too preoccupied with blood red lips in such close smirking proximity to his. He swayed a little, feeling lightheaded and wondering if this was being stoned or just in love, barely hearing Brian's low chuckle of being pathetic as strong fingers gripped his forearm to steady him.
Michael simply smiled at him through the smoky haze, his entire body and mind at ease in the other boy's hold. He didn't know how Brian could have fought off all those boys by himself. It had to be superpowers.
Because that's the way Michael's brain works to this day. Mathmaticians think of the world in terms of numbers, politicians look out their office windows and see only votes.
And lonely, geeky adolescent boys who never knew their fathers and always feel out of place--except when reading a comic book--grow up thinking in terms of heroes and rescues and superpowers.
Good vs. Evil.
And in walked Brian Kinney, practically trailing a cape behind him.
So, Brian and those bullies?
It had to have been superpowers.
The cab driver keeps looking at him in the rearview mirror as the Pittsburgh airport gets left behind and they head into the city, but Michael doesn't notice. He's too focused on hitting redial on his cell phone, cussing and muttering for Brian to fucking turn his back on already.
This is so bad.
"I need you, Mikey. Justin's... f-fuck. St. Francis Medical Center. I..."
That's all Brian had said. The words were wet, far away. Then the cell went dead.
"Can't you drive any faster?" Michael demands, leaning forward on the front seat, his terror and desperation making him bolder than he is. "This is a fucking emergency!"
"You got it, buddy," comes the bored reply.
The cab jolts him back into the seat and Michael looks out the window, thinking he should be seeing this scenery from an airplane window, not the ground. He can't think about David right now, waiting for him in Oregon. He should feel some guilt over that. After all, David is his boyfriend. The man he's supposed to built a future with. But Brian is... the man who holds his past and Michael still being on Pittsburgh ground testifies to which he values more. And that's something he really doesn't want to think about.
The cab driver slows for a red light.
"Run it," Michael demands in a hard voice he doesn't recognize. Were he to think about it, he'd know it was because he temporarily stole that you-will-do-as-I-say tone from Brian.
"You got it, buddy."
Michael has to hurry. Something tells him Brian is the one drowning this time.
"Shut up. Captain Astro could sooo take Spiderman."
"No way. Spidey would have his ass tied up in web restraints before the Captain ever knew what hit him. Then he'd show Captain Ass-tro a good Spidey time, I bet."
Michael snickered. "And then Superman joins them! And he tears off his own uniform and they look down and all gasp and stare!"
"They don't call him 'super' for nothing!" both boys declared as an anthem, then Michael dissolved into more snickers.
Brian was quiet, but definitely smirking. Michael could feel it without looking. But he suspected that his best friend, since sneaking in the room and crawling into bed with him, had been hoping Michael would go back to sleep quickly.
Debbie was already sleeping and the house was dark, quiet, safe; polar opposite to Brian's own warzone. The Novotny front door was rarely locked, but it didn't really matter--they'd both made sure years ago that Brian knew about the spare key hidden up the gnome's ass.
That Brian had shown up tonight told Michael things he didn't want to ask. But that didn't mean he could turn over and go to sleep, either. He couldn't pretend he hadn't heard Brian grit his teeth while leaning over to shed his shoes and jeans, or gasp when he tried to slide under the covers nonchalantly.
"One day, I'm going to write my own comic book," Michael announced.
"I know. You told me." Michael had spoken about little else the entire week.
"So?" Michael pressed. "What do you think?"
"What's it matter what I think? You want it. That's what matters. Don't ever let other people tell you what you want or what to feel, Mikey. Not even me."
Michael stared up at the ceiling, thinking that over. He thought over everything Brian said, all the time. "You're right."
"I know I am. I'm a frigging genius," Brian said tiredly. "Now go back to sleep."
"Okay. Goodnight, Brian."
Heavy sigh, but no real surprise at the whisper in the dark. "What?"
"Does it hurt much?"
Only when he breathed. Brian forced his voice to pass beyond the sudden lump in his throat. "Nah."
"Are you sure?"
"Go to sleep, Michael. I'm tired."
The street lamp outside his window provided enough of a soft glow through the falling snow for Michael to see Brian in the darkness. On his back, his left arm thrown over his eyes. It was familiar, the way Brian always had to lay to fall asleep. Michael didn't like to think of the whys. How that arm hid tears and protected his face from a flying fist at the same time. How fast the hand laying across his stomach could dart out to fend away a boot or could be used to protectively roll his whole body to the side, or up and to his feet before Michael's muscles even got the bed covers slid off.
At sixteen, Michael knew Brian protected him. Had been for two years now, and not just at school. But bullies and history essays were the least of Michael's concerns on days like this. Days when an unexpected hug from him made Brian suck in a gasp, or a concerned note from the school nurse for his parents about his latest black eye was crumpled up and thrown away on the walk home.
Brian's ribs hurt. Michael knew that, too. Could pick out from memory the angry colors they would turn in the next few days, should he catch a glimpse. But something in him had wanted Brian's assurance that it didn't. That just being with Michael made the pain go away, even a little bit.
Because as much as Brian protected Michael, Michael wanted to protect Brian even more. But he was always too late, it seemed. A failed sidekick. So, he did what he could. He held Brian's pieces together. The ones Jack Kinney seemed hell bent on shattering in his son.
To say winter in the Pitts was cold was a laughable understatement. Add an old house with a cranky heater and an overprotective mother and it made sense that the pile of blankets on Michael's twin bed weighed a ton. Turning on his side and inching closer to Brian was a minor effort, but Michael did it. Sharing the one pillow, he took a moment to look at what he could see of the covered face so near his own, his first thought as always, So beautiful.
Brian, awake behind his closed eyes, made no move to stop him. And, for Michael, that made the rest as easy as it was familiar. Covering the hand over Brian's stomach with his own, laying his head on Brian's chest, mindful of his bad side when he curled around the taller frame, and simply offered warm comfort, Michael proving that touch from another human being wasn't meant to leave bruises.
Michael's last thought before drifting off came with a grateful sigh.
Brian had survived another day.
It had to be superpowers.
Three nights after first running into the hospital to be at Brian's side, Michael finds himself standing on a roof ledge not much wider than his tennis shoes and holding out his hand to his best friend.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Reminding Brian of when something good--a newborn son by the butch name of Gus--had happened in this same hospital. It wasn't all bat-wielding homophobic assholes and blood-covered clothes and comas and possible brain damage and unbearable waiting and being rendered invisible by Justin's mother. There could be hope and happy endings. Michael could return a fifteen year favor and lift Brian from harm, if only for a few minutes.
Now, looking down on Brian, he can see he may have misjudged. Even as he sees the flicker of recognition, of memory, in Brian's eyes, Michael can see the tall body before him tighten. The slumped shoulders and unfocused eyes from not having slept in over 72 hours has vanished. Brian has gone stony still.
"Get down." The cigarette he'd been smoking before Michael found him up here is in danger of being scissored in two between his fingers.
"No, you'll have to come get me," Michael challenges him with a goofy grin. Keeping to the year old script. Having taken a jump already into this plan and the forward momentum keeps him going.
"Michael, I mean it. Get the fuck down."
"I'll jump!" Michael holds out his hand toward Brian again, doing his best to ignore that he really doesn't like heights and, oh yeah, he happens to be a good six stories above good ole terra firma.
When the jerk to his arm comes, Michael isn't prepared for it. He didn't even see Brian move, for Pete's sake, but suddenly he's off the ledge and in Brian's crushing embrace. Still not sure how he didn't fall flat on his face coming down so fast off the foot between the ledge and the ground.
Doesn't matter. Brian is what matters.
Michael holds him close, feeling the man's heartbeat between their bodies. It's wild, erratic, and Michael has a flood of regret. He honestly didn't mean to scare Brian, he didn't. He just wanted to... But Michael doesn't even know anymore. Or maybe he does. He's holding Brian together now, in more ways than one. Michael has always had strong arms.
"I knew you'd save me," Michael grins against his neck, wanting more than anything for Brian to smile back. To believe him, know everything will be all right, it will. But Brian doesn't smile. He growls and his eyes snap with sudden fury.
"Fucker!" Brian screams at him, face red with an anger that's been brewing for days. "Are you fucking crazy? You could have been killed!" Flat palms shove at Michael's chest, tossing him off balance; Michael stumbles back several steps but doesn't fall and Brian keeps advancing.
"I can't protect you, you little shit! I told you, you only have yourself to depend on! Weren't you listening? No! You never listen! I told you! I'm nothing special! I'm not your goddamned hero! I can't do ANYTHING now!
"Don't you ever fucking do that again, do you hear me? Do you hear me! I won't lose you, I fucking won't!" By now, he has fistfuls of his best friend's shirt in his grasp, but Michael knows Brian's no longer really talking to him. The pain in his eyes is all for Justin, a teenaged boy two floors down.
It's the most Brian has said for three days.
Michael wants to ask what Brian thought he was trying to prove, going to that prom. He wants to deny the kid means anything to Brian, but hasn't been able to do that for the last year, so it seems just ridiculous--no, pathetic--to try now, when Brian wears Justin's blood under his nails like punishment.
That first night at the hospital, Brian had stood eerily acquiesant--eyes closed and breathing shallow like he was restraining himself from flying apart--while Michael ran a damp paper towel over his friend's face; cheeks, forehead, lips, neck, even his hair. The smell of blood stronger in that small bathroom as the water ran across it, rehydrating it, almost making it live again. But Brian had resolutely pulled his hands away when Michael tried to guide the bloody fingers under the restroom faucet.
The same with the once-white scarf. Just days ago it had been all there was between Brian simply hanging from the ceiling rafters like some morbid modern art showing versus chasing after the best, most desperate orgasm of his life. After untying Brian to get him down, Michael had never wanted to see that scarf again.
But there it had been that night Michael rushed down the hospital corridor to where Brian sat in shock. Once again looped around Brian's neck, this time the scarf annointed in blood. Justin's blood. He kept his eyes on Brian's tear-stained face, his hand on his neck and in his hair, and he didn't look down at the blood that so easily could have been Brian's.
Later in that bathroom, the silk was being pulled out of Michael's well-intentioned hands with a resolute whisper from Brian, "No." Michael had just nodded, not really understanding but unwilling to push his friend, and kissed Brian's lips. He wondered when he'd stop tasting Justin's blood there.
It took both him and Lindsay to convince Brian on the second day to change out of the bloody tux and into a clean pair of jeans and a sweatshirt Lindsay'd brought from the loft. The scarf still hangs from Brian's neck and, more often than not, Michael has found him fingering the fringed edges and murmuring. What he first thought was Brian praying, he's come to discover--but not understand--is Brian softly singing the lyrics to an old Drifters song.
There is an inevitability Michael has been trying to outrun for too long: Justin has changed Brian. In ways Michael never quite could and the thought makes him sigh and slow down. Because Brian may have superpowers all his own, but Justin... He's this phone booth Brian willingly walked into one night, Brian not really knowing what he was opening himself up to, and now, months later, he's standing on a roof, exposed and vulnerable.
Just like everyone else.
"I hear you," Michael answers his best friend so softly now. He lays his hands on the ones still fisted into his shirt, the Chinese symbol for peace that's printed on his blue tee ironically misshapened by Brian's grip.
"I couldn't save him, Mikey," he hears whispered and broken into his shoulder; confession where Michael sees no sin.
"You did save him, you did," he pulls away just enough to lean their foreheads together, to see the wet eyes. "Just like you've been saving me all these years. You're our hero, Brian, don't you know that?"
The look of defeat he gets in answer is so painful that, instead of waiting to hear what Brian will say, Michael presses their mouths together in a kiss. It's soft and desperate and he just wants to take away all of Brian's hurt. He wants them to be kids again.
They both turn when the heavy door behind them opens. Brian lets out a ragged breath and turns away. Michael suspects the cause is not solely Lindsay but rather her bright blonde head. There is someone else with that same shade of hair that they'd all rather see standing there, healthy and whole.
"The doctor just talked to us," Lindsay tells them and Michael holds his breath. Trying to read her face, but he's too tired, too drained. He reaches behind him, finding Brian's arm without having to look. And while Brian stands resolutely with his back to them, he doesn't pull away from the connection. He just stops breathing.
"The operation went smoothly," Lindsay is saying and sounds so relieved and Michael wants to hug her, thank her for taking care of their circle of friends while he's concentrated on Brian. "The pressure in his brain has been relieved and they're very optimistic. He's in ICU now, but he'll probably be moved to a regular room tomorrow and we can see him then. Brian? He's going to be all right. He's strong, you know that, and the doctors say not to be too worried about the coma, it's practically normal after a head injury like this. He'll be fine. Brian? Can you hear me? Justin's going to live..."
That's when Brian starts to breathe again. Michael can feel it as the other man shifts his weight just enough against him that Michael knows his own legs are the only things really holding the both of them up. Turning to take Brian into his arms, Michael sighs his relief into the night sky.
Brian has survived another day.
It has to be Justin.