Justin opened his eyes and saw the hint of the rising sun peeking in through the hospital room window. Sighing, he took Brian’s hand and gave it a light squeeze before looking at the clock. Wow. He had gotten a full forty-five minutes. It was actually impressive. With Brian in pain and vomiting throughout the rest of the night after his surgery, only to finally fall into a restless sleep, Justin had been plagued with everything that had happened in the past twelve hours. The bombing, everything up in the air with Michael, the smell of smoke on his clothes, the images of carnage in his brain, but most of all…
Justin rubbed a hand over his face and looked down at Brian. He was pretty sure, despite Brian’s bandages and guards over his eyes, the news hadn’t hit him yet. When the doctor came out to tell him, he could feel his mother rubbing his back, heard her let out a shocked, sad gasp; he heard Debbie say that if she couldn’t see her son yet, then to at least let her see her son’s best friend; he heard Lindsay crying, fuck, he heard Mel crying. When Justin had glanced up, he saw that Emmett was too shocked to say anything, Drew had a strong hand on the man’s shoulder, and Ben was too lost in his own thoughts that Justin wasn’t even sure that the man heard the news.
And Justin? He hadn’t known what to feel. Everything, EVERYTHING, had happened so quickly. First, he and Brian were broken up, yet Brian came in and risked his life to find him only for this to happen. If they hadn’t been broken up, if one thing could have been changed to prevent this…
He couldn’t think of that right now. Because, as shocked and as in denial he was about this, as soon as Brian woke up, Justin’s inability to fully comprehend how things were going to be now would be miniscule to Brian’s feelings. Last he heard, Brian was convinced the doctor was wrong. And as hesitantly hopeful the doctor said he was about Brian’s left eye, the man had taken a different tone when he had announced it to him.
It is very unlikely that Mr. Kinney will regain more than the ability to see a blur of colors in his left eye. But there’s always a chance we can be wrong on this. The only way to judge his full vision acuity is to let that eye heal and regularly test his vision over the next two months.
Justin was snapped back into the present when Brian let out a sharp gasp and a whimper. Justin brushed away his hair from his forehead and whispered, “Brian. Brian, are you awake?”
“Justin,” Brian mumbled, “Justin, where are you?”
“I’m right here,” Justin murmured into his ear, “It’s okay. I’m right here.”
But Brian didn’t really react and that’s when Justin realized Brian wasn’t awake - he was having a nightmare.
“Hey, come on. Wake up. It’s just a dream.”
Brian let out a groan before taking a steadying breath.
“You back with me?” Justin asked him hesitantly, rubbing his arm.
“...Yeah. Yeah. What happened? Why is it so fucking dark?”
Justin felt himself freeze, “Y-You...You don’t remember?”
It took a second but Brian’s whole body stiffened as an angry scowl appeared on his face, “Of course I fucking remember. Hard to forget that you’re never going to be able to see again, isn’t it?”
Justin flinched at Brian’s scathing tone and bit his lip when Brian obviously was trying to pull his arm away from him and would have succeeded if it weren’t for the restraints. Justin obeyed his wishes though and let go.
Brian stayed silent for a few moments. It felt like ages to Justin. All he wanted to know, all he ever wanted to know, was what was going through Brian’s head.
“I’m sorry,” Brian said, so softly that if Justin hadn’t been listening for something, he could have missed it.
“It’s okay,” Justin told him, starting to reach for him but thinking better of it, “I...You’re upset. I understand. You’re allowed to be.”
Brian didn’t say anything in return, just laid there still and silent.
“You know I meant what I said, right?” Justin brought up carefully, “I’m going to be there for you every step of the way.”
Justin felt his heart skip a beat, “What?”
“We...We were broken up, Justin. You broke up with me for a reason-”
“And you came running back to try to save me from a fucking bomb, Brian. That said more than enough.”
“I’m never going to be the same. You’re going to regret it.”
“Stop it,” Justin hissed, grabbing onto Brian’s shoulder a little too tightly, “I’m not leaving. You can’t make me.”
Brian shook his head a little and let out a sigh.
“I’m not leaving, Brian. I won’t-”
“I heard you,” Brian interrupted, “But I want you to leave. At least to get a goddamn shower and fresh clothes. Christ, have you smelled yourself?”
“How do you know it’s not you?” Justin asked him, a little offended.
“At least I get complimentary sponge baths. You need to take care of your stench yourself. Now go.”
Justin studied him for a few moments, wondering if there was a catch. If Brian was planning on doing something stupid once no one was in the room. If he’d come back and find that he had somehow wandered out or did something worse. It was stupid. He KNEW it was stupid. Brian couldn’t see. He was still physically not up for making a run for it anyway. He was even strapped down.
But if he left Brian alone with his thoughts, who knows-
“Would you just go already?” Brian growled out, “I may not be able to see you, but I can still smell you.”
Justin had to roll his eyes at that, but didn’t make a move.
“I’ll go. But I want someone to come sit with you first,” Justin eventually compromised.
“Damn it, Justin. I’m not a fucking infant.”
Justin sighed, “Be that as it may-”
“I’m not going to do anything stupid while you’re gone, if that’s what you’re worried about… I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”
“Be that as it may,” Justin reiterated firmly, “You are strapped down to this bed and might need a drink or for someone to get the nurse if you drop your button or if you have to go number 2 and there’s no one around-”
“Number 2?” Brian interrupted, disbelievingly, “I’ve known you for close to five fucking years and I learn that’s what you call taking a shit?”
“And besides, I don’t WANT you there to help me shit. I don’t want anyone there. And if I do end up needing help, my mouth still works and I will yell as loud as I fucking want to.”
Justin pursed his lips
“And I can wipe my own fucking ass.”
“Okay, I get it!” Justin gave in, a little too loudly, “I’ll go, but I won’t be long.”
“But I am still having someone come by to sit with you. It would make me feel more comfortable, okay?”
Brian’s face twisted with annoyance. “For fuck sake, Justin. You’re really testing my nerves right now.”
“Well, you’re testing mine,” he bit back.
Brian took a couple of deep breaths, “Who are you thinking of bringing in? Debbie? I can’t deal with her right now.”
Justin let out a sigh. Fuck.
“Debbie would be my first choice but...I don’t know, she’s still stressed out and upset about Michael.”
Brian froze and went rigid, “...How...How is Michael?”
Justin paused, not even knowing what to say.
“Fuck, Justin. Is… he’s not… he’s not dead, is he? Tell me he’s not dead!”
Brian started to struggle against the straps and the machines monitoring his blood pressure started beeping loudly. Justin rushed to put his hands over Brian’s shoulders to restrain his movements.
“Brian, Brian. Listen to me. Are you listening?”
“Fuck, Mikey...” Brian sobbed out, wheezing in and out and definitely not listening.
“He’s not dead. He’s not dead, Brian. Shhhh…” Justin reassured him soothingly, stroking his face now, “It was...things were up in the air. He hasn’t woken up yet. He’s not out of the woods but he’s more stable than he was last night. It was scary but they’re starting to think he’ll be okay.”
“He’s not dead?” Brian asked desperately, having not heard a word of what Justin had just said.
“Shhh, he’s okay.” Justin told him. He didn’t know if it was completely true. Hell, he knew it wasn’t. But it was what Brian needed to hear right now.
“He’s okay,” Brian repeated, more for himself, as he finally started to calm down.
Brian nodded his head, let out a shaky breath, then muttered out, “I...I didn’t mean to freak out. Sor-”
“Don’t finish that apology,” Justin warned him, “It’s unnecessary and frankly out of character.”
Brian smiled weakly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I meant with the apologizing…”
Justin actually let himself huff out a small laugh at that point before running his fingers through Brian’s hair. Brian leaned into the touch, almost as if he needed the contact as well, before gently pulling away and clearing his throat.
“You should go,” Brian said, quietly and gruffly.
“No offense, but I like the idea of leaving you in here even less now.”
“Invite whoever you want to relieve you. Just go back to the loft, take a shower, take a nap, and pack a bag for me so I have some clothes to wear and something to do besides sit here in the fucking d-dark.”
Brian’s breath hitched on the last word and Justin felt his heart twitch at the sound but decided not to push the matter.
“Any preferences?” Justin asked, getting his phone out of his pocket.
“I don’t know. Debbie, Michael, and Ben are all out of the question. Lindsay and Mel need to be with the kids. Ted’s probably sorting out everything with my business fucking exploding and all, knowing him. Emmett would blubber all over me. Whatever, they’re all bad options. Just pick one.”
Nathan felt himself shaking as he left his father’s bedroom, made his way to the bathroom, and vomited against the dirty porcelain bowl that his father never cleaned. Nathan used to clean after his mom died. It had kept him busy, both his mind and his body, and he thought it might make his dad see that he was useful for something other than a punching bag and a sex toy. But apparently that was all he was good for. He wiped the tears from his eyes and stared at the yellowed, peeling wallpaper in the bathroom. The other rooms in the house weren’t any better. The sink in the kitchen was piled with a week’s worth of dirty dishes, the living room stunk of cigarette smoke and ashes, his bedroom was tiny and windowless. Maybe he did deserve this. He probably did.
Nathan flushed the toilet and got up off the cold tile floor, then started to wash out his mouth and brush his teeth. He’d probably be limping for the next day or two and he was a mess, but school was better than here. Anywhere was better than here.
School was a blur of people and voices and sounds that passed by him but rarely actually collided with him completely. He stayed under the radar, trying not to draw attention, trying to make sure no one knew. He did his work, made As and Bs, and kept to himself. He wasn’t stupid. He knew it didn’t sound like a great high school experience. He didn’t know how to fake laughter and horseplay and being a great friend. But he did know how to be quiet.
“Is this Mr. Young’s class?” he heard a girl ask.
Nathan waited for someone to answer but then felt someone poke his shoulder.
“Hi, sorry,” the girl said, biting her lip, “Is this Mr. Young’s class? I’m new and it’s my first day-”
“Yeah, it’s his class,” he interrupted her, “He’s always at least ten minutes late.”
“So that’s why no one’s here yet,” she answered conversationally, before sitting down in the seat next to him, “What happens if he gets here on time and the kids are still just doddling around in the halls?”
Nathan studied her for a second, brow furrowed.
“Oh my god, sorry. I am so rude. I’m Kathy. Born and raised by four families in Tennessee, and now I’m on my third family in Pennsylvania. What’s your name?”
“Well, Eye Eye Uh Nathan, I am pleased to meet you,” Kathy smiled sweetly.
“No, it’s just Nathan.”
“Okay, Just Nathan.”
“Where is everyone?”
Nathan glanced toward the front of the class as Mr. Young walked in, looking frazzled and as rushed as always. Kathy sat up straight in her desk.
“And who are you?” Mr. Young asked Kathy, almost suspicious.
“I’m new. Kathy Henderson. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Shall I come up and introduce myself to the class?”
“Where is my damn class? Ash! Where is everyone?”
Nathan just shrugged. Kathy gave him a glance, before sighing and leaning her head against her palm.
“You’re the strong, silent type, aren’t you? I like that.”
“What the fuck kind of book is this?” Brian blurted out, only his restraints keeping him from throwing his hands up in the air, “The kid was raped by his gross father, it’s implied that the dad might have killed the mom, and it was depressing as fuck but now it has turned into some romantic comedy with a weird ass female lead.”
“Vogue said, “‘Maree Elizabeth Veltri gives us some of the greatest literature twists and turns of the year in The Lost and the Damned. Stephen King said, ‘I wish I had the balls to write a story like this. I couldn’t put it down. It made me cry, it made me laugh, and then it flat out terrified me.’ The New York Times gave it four stars and said, ‘One of the most original stories of the year. Flawlessly transcends being boxed into one genre and combines Drama, Tragedy, Comedy, Horror, and Romance without losing its flow.’”
Once Brian got over the shock, he started to laugh.
“I might burst your bubble, Mother Taylor, but it definitely lost its flow.”
Jennifer sighed and Brian felt her pat his leg, “Would you like me to read something else? I brought one other book. It’s called Babyville by Jane Green. It’s about three women struggling with pregnancy, relationships, and motherhood. It’s supposed to be a light chic lit read. I thought you would enjoy The Lost and The Damned more but if you would like me to switch-”
“No, don’t switch.” Brian told her, shuddering, “But just so you know, you’re shit at picking out books.”
Jennifer actually let out a surprised laugh at that.
“I was in a hurry when Justin called! I wanted to get your mind off things and I grabbed these two from my stack of library books. I’ll look for books that might appeal to you more next time. Any suggestions?”
Brian went quiet, then shrugged, “I don’t know...I like Jack Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury.”
“Very serious and angst-ridden,” Jennifer observed, “I don’t know why, but that actually makes sense.”
“Not that it matters now,” Brian gritted out, “Won’t be able to read anymore, will I? That’s over and done with. The doctor said I might regain some vision back in my left eye but I’m not stupid. I heard his voice. His sympathy and pity.”
Brian had to bite his lip to keep himself from saying more, to keep himself from doing something embarrassing like crying. He had already done that once today and doing it in front of Justin was embarrassing enough. Besides, crying now made his eyes hurt like a bitch.
Jennifer must had known he was worked up though, because she started petting his hair and holding onto his hand and fuck if that didn’t almost break him too.
“Justin told me that you told your doctor he was wrong last night.”
“I was drugged up and stupid,” Brian sniffled, “I had a feeling he was wrong, but today I feel different.”
He heard Jennifer let out a sad sound and felt her move closer.
“Just take it one day at a time. One minute at a time even,” Jennifer rasped out softly, “Thinking about everything too far ahead is just going to overwhelm you right now. Fact is, you don’t know either way how that eye is going to heal. But we’re all going to be here for you regardless. We’re not going to look at you any differently. You’re still going to be the man who loved my son and saved him more than once.”
The two of them stayed silent for several minutes and Brian found himself gently holding onto her fingers in return. Turning his head towards her as she gently kept massaging his scalp, he felt himself drift off and fall asleep.