Title: Stronger ~ Part 3
Rating: Hard R/NC 17 depending on the chapter.
Genre: Angst. teh Love. More Angst. I hate fic warnings with a passion. But more than that, I hate the thought that I might inadvertently cause pain to an unsuspecting reader. So I'm compromising and putting a gentle warning behind a spoiler. Read if you must.[Spoiler (click to open)]If you've read this far (and if I've done my job), then you already realize that this is indeed a cancer!fic. The only way I could write it is to commit to portraying it as accurately and respectfully as I can. I feel I owe that to those who have fought this loathsome disease, and to those who have fought along side someone they love. I'm not a health-care professional in any way, but I have researched as thoroughly as I possibly could. I have taken dramatic license when absolutely necessary, and all mistakes are mine.
Characters: Brian, Justin & their non-defined, non-conventional family.
Disclaimer: I own nothing except my thoughts, and even then sometimes, I rent.
Timeline: Post-513 All canon assumed.
Summary: That which does not kill us...
Author's Note: This is a work in progress. I am a slow writer - there's no getting around that - but I promise that it will be completed. Comments feed the muse. Just sayin'. My heartfelt thanks to my friend pet0511 for her patience, wisdom, and invaluable help, and to camelhaircoat for new-found friendship and a fresh ear. :-)
Links to previous parts...
Parts 1 | 2 *note: Part 3 is too long for LJ, so it is posted in two parts. Link to continue is at the bottom of the page.
* * * * * * * * *
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
- - Corrie ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook
Pittsburgh, August 2008
“One more, Mr. Kinney,” the nurse says, and I feel the slight pressure of her pushing another vial into place on the needle in my arm. The touch of a cotton ball against my skin as she removes the needle lets me know she’s finished, but I only look after I’ve automatically covered it with my finger and bent my elbow. I know the drill too well; I sat in this chair every three months for three goddamn years. I still can’t watch it though. I fucking hate needles.
She writes whatever it is they write on the label and scoops up the other two along with it, smiling far too brightly as she assures me they’ll put a rush on the results. One thing about cancer - once you’ve had it, there is no screwing around when it comes to tests. Shit gets done. Having someone like Marvin Keppler as your oncologist doesn’t hurt either.
Radiology is next. I don’t like to think about how much radiation I’ve soaked up since I was diagnosed. Way too fucking much. Radiotherapy, X-rays, CT scans - I’m surprised I don’t glow in the goddamn dark by now. But all the studies say the benefit of diligent surveillance far outweighs the risk, so I do it. When I passed the three year window, Justin and I celebrated with a trip to Sydney. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.
It also meant I graduated to six-month check-ups. This past March marked year four – one more to go and then, home free. All this would be a bad memory. That was five months and twelve days ago.
“Arms relaxed at your side, Mr. Kinney. That’s it, deep breath now.”
The technician comes back out from behind his window and turns me to the side, positions my arms above my head, then disappears again.
“Big breath in, and hold it please.”
Yeah, right. I nearly laugh. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for two days now. I feel like I’ve forgotten how the fuck to exhale. I’m not even sure how I got through Abby’s procedure without screaming at them to stop. Or how I let Justin get on the plane this morning without telling him that the... That I might...
“Okay, Mr. Kinney, you’re finished.”
This time I do have to laugh. Or cry. Or scream. I may never use another double entendre again.
An ultrasound on my remaining ball, and now, I wait. A couple hours. Keppler told me to go have some lunch, come back in a couple of hours and he would have the results. It was probably a mistake, he said, a mix up. The lab the fertility clinic uses doesn’t specialize in cancer markers like they do here at Hillman. Seems to me this is a shitload of tests for a ‘mix up’ though. Still… I was never the information hound that Justin is when it comes to this shit, but I did make a point of at least knowing the fundamentals of my disease, and the numbers they’d returned just couldn’t be right. My physical exam was fine; I feel fucking great. It has to be a mistake. Has to be.
Even if I didn’t check my one good ball on a regular basis, Justin does. Oh, he tries to be casual about it, but I know he does. And he knows I know, too. We’ve never talked about it, not even after he came back and force-fed me his fucking chicken soup. But I saw the history in his web browser; I know he knows more about my type of cancer than any healthy twenty-five year old should. I know he worries about me, and he knows I can’t let him. So we compromise by neither of us acknowledging the fact that every so often when we’re in the shower, he’ll linger just a little too long on one side, squeezing and rolling and weighing it in his hand, in an entirely different positive, life-affirming way.
But even if the cancer did come back, the odds of it being in my other ball are slim. Since I chose to have the radiation, the chances of it recurring at all are less than five percent, and that goes down with every passing year. At this point I have a bigger risk of getting struck by lightning. Yet here I am.
I sit and wait in the reception area of Keppler’s office, because I don’t trust myself to get in the car and drive. I’m not sure I would stop if I did.
“Mr. Kinney?” Grace has been Dr. Keppler’s clinical nurse since I’ve been coming here. She is impossible to read, a complete professional, but the light squeeze she gives my shoulder to get my attention makes my stomach clench just a little. I’ve probably spoken more with her than with the doctor himself over the years, since she’s the one who’s always called me with the all-clears after my check-ups. Now she’s telling me the doctor is ready to see me and something in her tone makes my stomach crawl all the way up to my throat. My legs are a little shaky when I stand up, and I curse myself for being ridiculous as I walk into his office. Only, he’s not so impossible to read. And I am not so ridiculous to be afraid. Not fucking ridiculous at all.
* * *
New York City, September 2008
I am fabuloso, señor.
I’m not sure I heard him right. I couldn’t have heard him right. Please, God, don’t let me have heard him right.
“What?” I try, I really fucking try not to squeak the word, but I know that’s how it comes out.
He just stares at me for the longest time. Tears drip off his jaw, leaving small, dark circles where they land on the soft cotton t-shirt he’s wearing. His nose runs, too, as red-rimmed as his eyes, yet he doesn’t actually seem to be crying. He just seems... wrecked. Broken in some profound way that I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around.
I’ve still got him by the arms - something I only remember when he winces and I realize my fingers are buried in the soft leather of his jacket, my knuckles white from clenching so hard. I let him go and he sways slightly, pulling his lips into his teeth and rolling his shoulders in a slow-motion shrug. I don’t really trust myself to speak, but I ask him again, working hard not to let the panic I feel gnawing at my gut take over.
“Brian, what the fuck is going on?”
His jaw works some, and I think maybe, maybe he’s actually going to talk to me. But then he shakes his head and just lets out a quick puff of air, dragging the back of his hand across his face.
“I need a drink.”
The Jim Beam is still sitting on the sideboard where I left it. Despite his condition he zeroes in on it like a fucking bloodhound. For a moment I’m too surprised to do more than watch him stumble past me and grab the bourbon, unscrewing the cap as he sprawls, loose-limbed on the couch.
“Sláinte,” he mutters, with a chilling little laugh, tipping the bottle in my direction before bringing it to his lips. He sucks down what must be three or four good shots before I can get to him. I reach for the bottle, but he twists away.
“That’s enough, Brian.”
He draws the bottle away from his mouth, just far enough for a little more of that cold, bitter laugh to escape before he takes another swallow. “Have I taught you nothing, sonny boy?”
“Give it to me.”
He tilts it back again and I make another try for it, but this time he grabs my wrist and yanks it away, hard, nearly pulling me off my feet in the process.
I gasp. I can’t help it. Partly from pain, mostly from shock. No matter what, Brian is always so careful with me, especially of my hand. His fingers bite into my skin and I yelp again as I try to pull out of his grip. The sound seems to penetrate where nothing else has and he releases my wrist as though it was hot. I automatically draw it back, protecting it out of sheer instinct, and when I look down at him, the utter devastation on his face breaks my heart. The bottle of Beam falls from his grasp, spilling unnoticed onto the floor, his gaze pinned only on my hand as he takes it in his.
“Fuck... fuck... fuck...” he whispers hoarsely, petting at my wrist. “I didn’t mean to...”
“It’s all right, I’m okay,” I murmur, but I know he’s not hearing me.
“I didn’t mean it.” He chants the words over and over, oblivious to everything but the angry red imprints of his fingers on my skin.
I sink down onto the couch beside him and ease my hand free, taking hold of his face. “Look at me, Brian. I’m all right. You didn’t hurt me.” He searches my eyes anxiously. I know he can see the truth in them -- he always could -- but I repeat it, just the same. “You didn’t hurt me.”
He nods, finally, and then I can see the truth in his, too. The details don’t matter - they will come soon enough. In his eyes, I see that I didn’t mishear or misunderstand him. What I feared, what we both feared more than anything else in the world is true. I have the strangest urge to laugh as I realize I do know what’s at the corner of 53rd and 3rd after all, what takes up most of the block, in fact.
It’s too much. Too big. I don’t know what to do and I feel like I might just fly the fuck apart. But I can’t.
I slide my arms around him and for a moment he’s rigid, unyielding, wound so tightly I’m afraid of what might happen when he unravels. But then slowly, almost reluctantly, his arms slip around my waist and he presses his face into my neck. I feel the swell of his chest, the small, sharp breaths he takes as he fights for control, and the deep shudder that passes through him when he lets go. His shoulders quake, hot tears soak my skin, but beyond that he is silent. He gathers me in, pulling me closer, crushing me to him until I can hardly breathe, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure I want to anyway.
It’s a long time before he stills, before sleep takes him and his body goes slack in my arms. I know I should get up, get him undressed and into bed, or at least let him stretch out here on the couch, but I can’t do it. His head rests on my chest, my nose buried in his soft, dark hair. He smells of smoke and whiskey and desperation and fear and love and I can’t let him go. Maybe I can’t ever let him go again.
* * *
“Justin?” His voice is low and husky in my ear. It’s the sound I most love to wake up to because I know what will follow. A flick of his tongue, supple lips on my neck, sharp teeth nipping at my shoulder until I roll over and offer him what he really wants – my mouth, pliant and eager for his. I wait for it, but it doesn’t come. I can feel the heat of his body against my back, hear his breath quicken, but still no warm hand slipping between my legs, no wet kisses pressed into my spine. Only my name again. Whispery soft. Needful. Fucker is starting without me!
“Hey, no fair...” I whine, rolling over, and the complaint freezes in my throat. He’s lying beside me, but it’s not our bed. His face is pale against stark, white sheets, save the two bright spots of color that stain his cheeks. His eyes are closed, and he’s drenched in sweat - fever, not desire. I take his hand, tears filling my eyes at how thin it feels in mine, how frail. How wrong.
“Brian? Drink this.” I sit down on the edge of the bed and wrap his trembling fingers around the steaming mug.
“Will it make me small?”
I cover his hands with mine, choking back a sob at the absolute trust in his eyes as he sips at the awful concoction. No. No.
“I don’t want to be small, Justin.”
Even as he says the words, he begins to fade. The mug crashes to the floor as his hands disappear beneath mine and I’m left with nothing but my own two clenched fists. Helpless to do anything but watch it happen. Watch him disappear. The sound of my name on his lips grows fainter with each shallow, painful sounding breath he takes. “Justin...”
And suddenly there are others, people in gowns and masks and gloves, pulling me away, telling me there is nothing more they can do. Telling me it’s time. You have to let go now, Justin.
“No! No... Brian! NO!”
I sit up, so quickly I nearly fall off the couch, gasping for air myself. My heart feels like it’s going to pound right out of my chest and it takes a few, terrifying seconds to get my bearings, to realize it was a dream. Christ. Only a dream. Brian is... Brian is... Oh. Fuck me.
I press the heels of my palms into my eyes and try to rub the grit out of them. I don’t remember falling asleep; I know it can’t have been for very long, because the sun is still low in the sky and it was already nearly dawn when Brian... shit. Where is he? I look around at the empty room and my heart starts racing again until I hear it - the shower.
My insides are still shaking as I walk into the bedroom, stripping my t-shirt off and tossing it towards the laundry hamper before I push my sweats down and kick them off in the same general direction. I smile despite myself as I notice Brian’s jacket draped over the back of the chair in the corner, his jeans and t-shirt laid out neatly across the seat, his boots set precisely underneath. I know without even looking that his socks and underwear are already in the hamper. I wonder briefly where his bag is, where he’s been staying. How long has he been here? How long has he known? How the fuck could he not tell me? Again. But I force the thoughts out of my head. There will be time enough for questions. So fucking many questions. Right now, I just need to see him.
Clouds of steam billow up from the top of the curtain surrounding the old-fashioned claw-foot tub that takes up most of my tiny bathroom. Brian hates it because there is no beveled glass door or imported Italian tile to push me up against while he fucks me senseless. But what it lacks in hard, vertical surfaces, it makes up for with its deep soaker tub and the endless supply of hot water that he loves. And contrary to popular belief, a hand-held massaging shower head isn’t only a girl’s best friend. An involuntary, full body shiver runs through me at the memory of that particular discovery. Brian was definitely not complaining that day. I’m just saying.
I watch him for a moment, his silhouette tall and slender through the not-quite opaque curtain. He’s rinsing shampoo from his hair, his fingers carding through it as the sudsy water runs down his long, lean body. He’s so fucking beautiful. Too beautiful to be sick. My eyes drift down, drawn inexorably to the spot just above the crease of his thigh. I can’t see it through the curtain, but I know exactly where it is, the thin red scar that marks his otherwise flawless torso. Goddamnit, he just can’t be sick again. I mean, I check him all the time, even when I don’t think I’m doing it. I missed it once. I couldn’t possibly have missed it again. Jesus Christ.
He hasn’t turned on the fan and the room is like a steam bath, the air moist and heavy with his scent. My skin is already damp from it, but I still have to brace myself against that first, sharp sting of brutally hot water. His eyes are closed as I slip quietly into the tub behind him, but he knows I’m there. He always knows. He doesn’t even flinch as I run my hands up his arms and lean into him to share the spray. I lay my cheek on his back while I adjust to the almost unbearable heat, and when I can breathe again, I press a kiss between his shoulder blades.
His skin is like hot, wet silk against my lips, the taut muscles rippling at my touch. My arms slip around him, hands slowly trailing over his ribs to lie flat against his belly as I cover his back with wet, open-mouthed kisses. He feels so warm, so solid, so… Brian. God, I need him so fucking much.
I lick a path up his spine, my cock filling just from the sound he makes as I bite gently at the curve of his shoulder. I smile against his skin when his stance widens, as I knew it would, his knees bending slightly to give me access to his neck. After eight years, our bodies are in tune, each of us responding intuitively to the other, not out of anything so mundane as habit, but from the innate desire to give and receive the maximum amount of pleasure. It’s funny how he once believed that was the opposite of love.
My right hand skims over the smooth expanse of his chest, while my left drifts lower, following the well-defined trail down his abs. I feel as much as hear the hitch in his breath as I my fingers drift over his scar and when they brush through the wiry curls and drift toward his balls, he tenses, blocking my hand. I nuzzle his ear, nipping at the lobe and reach for him again.
“Don’t.” He says it quietly enough that I might have thought I imagined it, except this time he shrugs me off completely. Shit.
“Hey.” I pull gently at his waist, but he twists away from me, reaching down to turn off the water.
“I said don’t.” His voice is soft, almost plaintive, but it hits me like a slap in the face. Oh, hell no. Echoes of much more devastating words, of slamming doors and threatened restraining orders resound in my head. No fucking way. We will not do this again. I know how messed up this is, how scared he must be, but we will not do this again. Not this time. I tug on his arm.
For a long moment he just stands there, the tension rolling off him in waves and then just when I’m certain he won’t, he turns around. The set of his jaw and the deep furrow that creases his brow speak far louder than his softly whispered demand. I’m torn between my need to reassure him, protect him, and an deep, burning desire to choke the living shit out of him. He averts his eyes, rolls his lips in, refuses to look at me. Damnit!
“You listen to me, Brian Kinney.” I take him by the shoulders, give him a little shake. “Are you listening?”
It takes a minute, but he nods, almost imperceptibly.
“Don’t even think about shutting me out again,” I say, with far more confidence than I feel. Reaching down, I cup him with one hand and give a firm squeeze. “You can’t possibly still believe this is all you are to me. I love you.” This earns me a raised eyebrow, but he still won’t meet my eyes. “Do you hear me? I love you, you asshole. We will get through this.” I realize even as the words leave my mouth that I have no fucking idea what ‘this’ actually is, but I don’t care.
“You have no idea,” he says quietly, apparently reading my mind. But he finally looks at me, really looks at me, a ghost of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, and his face softens in that way of his that nearly brings me to my knees. One hand slips around back of my neck, pulling me towards him until our foreheads are touching - Kinney sign language for ‘I love you, too.’
“It doesn’t matter, Brian. If you... if we can’t...” Christ, I can’t even say it. How am I supposed to convince him?
He lets out a skeptical little snort and reaches down for my hand. I half-expect him to push me away again, so I’m surprised when I feel his long fingers close around mine instead.
“Don’t worry, Sunshine. The family jewel is safe,” he huffs, sliding our joined hands slowly up his body. But the glib words are belied by the raw emotion in his voice.
“Then what...” I start to ask, but the question dies on my tongue as I look up at him, his gaze so intense that I barely register the soft hiss he makes as he splays my fingers out between his firm pecs. All the doubt, all the need, all the love that he has such a hard time putting into words is right there in his dark, smoldering eyes. It’s pure and powerful and it takes my breath away, buzzing through my veins like a hit of the best E, or a shot of adrenalin right to the heart; a feeling only someone who has been on the receiving end of that stare could understand.
His grip on my neck tightens, his breath warm on my face as he pulls me closer and brushes his mouth against mine. It’s soft, barely a kiss, but it fuels my need for him like gasoline on a fire. Some part of me knows I should stop him, that we can’t fuck this away, but I don’t. I can’t. Despite everything, I moan low in my throat when his tongue parts my lips.
He answers with one of his own as the kiss deepens, one hand twisting up into my hair, while his other arm wraps low around my waist. My feet barely touch the porcelain floor of the tub as he gathers me in, crushing me to him, practically devouring me as he grows hard against my belly. He tilts my head back, licking my jaw and nipping at my throat, and oh fuck me, that feels good... and for a few precious seconds I almost forget...
But my hand is still caught between us, palm flat against his chest, and this time there is no missing the sharp breath he takes as my fingers curl into the sleek muscle beneath them. His mouth stills on my throat and he winces when I push back to see what’s wrong. His whole body tenses as my eyes are drawn instinctively to the small, red wound, just below the pad of my thumb, the smooth skin around it swollen, slightly bruised.
“What is this?” The question draws the inevitable arched eyebrow, because what it is, is quite obvious. And yet it makes no sense to me, because what it is, right there in the middle of his perfect, beautiful pecs, is a fucking needle mark. “I... I don’t understand...”
Instantly, the mask slips back into place, his lips thin and tight again as I reach out to him. He flinches as my fingertip grazes the tiny wound but somehow, I know it isn’t physical pain that makes him draw back from me. He stares at me for a few seconds longer and then pushes open the shower curtain and steps out of the tub.
“No, you really don’t.”
He doesn’t even bother with a towel, just walks, dripping wet, into the bedroom. By the time I get myself together enough to get out and follow him, he’s sitting on the edge of the bed with a cigarette in one hand and his vintage silver Zippo in the other. He seems oblivious to me, just twirls the unlit cigarette in his fingers, puts it between his lips, takes it out again, stares at it, as if in some silent debate with himself before throwing both the cigarette and his antique lighter across the room. He drops his head into his hands, cursing raggedly beneath his breath.
I step in between his legs and drop down in front of him. Appropriate that I should be on my knees I guess, because I’m praying, literally fucking praying that he’ll let me in, that he won’t shut down on me. I wrap my hands around his forearms and gently pull them apart, willing him to look at me. To my surprise, he does, and I ask him, practically beg him, “Then help me. For God’s sake, help me understand. Tell me what’s going on.”
You know that old chestnut about being careful what you wish for? Well, clichés become cliché for a reason, and right now, I wish I’d just kept my big mouth shut. Because Brian’s answer, spoken far too calmly, in a voice I barely recognize, just about kills me.
* * *
Pittsburgh, August 2008
Keppler glances at me over his glasses as I take a seat, barely acknowledging me before he goes back to reading the file open on his desk. He has never been particularly gregarious -- a quality I generally appreciate in a person -- but everything about his posture screams bad news. Only seconds pass, I know, but I swear I can hear them ticking away like a time bomb in some ridiculous B-movie. Even the soft click of the door closing behind Grace sounds ominous in the lingering silence.
“So it’s back then.” I’m not sure why I say it, except, it seems like someone has to. Somehow it feels like it will be easier this way. I know the second he looks up at me that it’s true, so to say his answer throws me is somewhat of an understatement.
“Well, yes. And no,” he says, almost distractedly. He pushes his glasses up onto his forehead as he leans in for a closer look at something on his monitor, then back to the reports again. Fuck me.
“Care to explain that, Doc?”
He runs his hand back through his thick, gray hair, scratching absently at his crown. “I’m not entirely sure I can.”
Christ. I’m sitting here with the preeminent medical oncologist in Pittsburgh, a doctor with a whole fucking alphabet’s worth of letters after his name, and he is literally scratching his head at the file in front of him. My file. Seriously, fuck me.
continue reading pt 3...