JC was all the way home before he realized that what he was feeling was anger, not sadness or guilt.  He’d been so taken aback by Jamie’s reaction that he didn’t know what to do or say at first.  Yes, he thought, Jamie had been right.  But who was he to tell JC anything about his relationship?

            JC changed his clothes, listened to his voice mail and ate a piece of cold pizza before he headed back to the hospital to prove Jamie wrong.  He may not be able to be there at the very second Carter called, but he could be there when it mattered.

            Visiting hours were over by the time JC got there but he breezed by the nurse’s station and went straight to Fiona’s door.  The second bed in the room was still empty, so JC paused then gently tapped his fingers on the doorframe so not to startle Carter.  “Hey.”  He whispered into the darkness of the room.  The only lights illuminating the bed were the pale fluorescent ones over Fiona’s headboard and the bright green glow of her monitors.

            “H-hey.” Carter cleared his throat as he looked up.  “You uh… you’re done working?”  He blushed quickly and looked at the doorframe above JC’s hand, avoiding his eyes.

            “I was done a couple hours ago.”  JC leaned against the doorway and nodded towards the hall.  “Can I talk to you?”

            “Go ahead.”  Carter turned back to face Fiona and straightened his back.

            “In the hall?”  JC whispered.

            “I’m fine right here.” Carter refused to look back at him as he took a deep breath.  He’d been by Fiona’s side all day and even the nurses knew he wouldn’t leave until she was strong enough to tell him to go.  They’d unfortunately spent quite a bit of time in that part of the hospital so the nurses knew how they were.

            “Carter…” JC sighed softly.

            “I’m not leaving, but you can come in if you want.”

            JC took a few tentative steps into the room and dropped his jacket across the back of the chair Carter was sitting in.  “I… I came by when I got done in the studio this afternoon and I talked to your friend Jamie.”

            “I know.”  Carter set his jaw.  Jamie had recounted their conversation back and Carter honestly didn’t think he’d be seeing JC again.

            “He kind of… I mean… that kid’s got a mouth on him.  He doesn’t hold anything back, does he?”  He scoffed under his breath.

            “He’s not a kid.  He’s older than you.”

            “Carter…” JC sighed.

            “I know he has a mouth on him.  That’s just how he is though.  He says what’s on his mind.  It’s what I like about him.”  Carter sounded more defensive than JC expected.

            “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I just… it’s hard for me to hear someone I don’t know tell me what I’m doing wrong in my relationship, you know?”

            “He was saying it as my friend.”

            “I know that.  But he’s not my friend; I don’t know him.”  JC sighed; this wasn’t at all what he wanted to be saying.  “Listen.  That’s not the point.  What I’m trying to say is that Jamie was harsh about saying it, but he was right.”  The room was silent as they both waited for the other to say something.  JC broke the silence a minute later, “He told me that you needed me today and I wasn’t here.  I… I know you did.  And I know I wasn’t here… but Carter… you know that I would have been if there was a way.  If I had known.”

            “You had work.”  Carter shrugged.  The wall of defenses he’d put up after hearing that JC left was flimsy, but still intact.

            JC continued, “He told me that if I couldn’t be there for you then I should just walk back out those doors and not come back.”

            “I’m fine.”

            “You need me.”

            “No.  I don’t.”  Carter’s voice was below a whisper as he shook his head and fought back tears.

            JC nodded and ignored him.  “You needed me and I wasn’t here.  I’m sorry about that.” He placed his hand on Carter’s back between his shoulder blades where the stress from the day sat.  “I was mad at Jamie today… for telling me about my relationship with you as though he had any clue.  But Carter, Jamie was right… and this afternoon I left here thinking I was doing what was best for you because you do need someone who can be here for you anytime you call and sometimes that just can’t be me.”

            “Then why are you here?”

            “Because I care about you and I care about Fiona.  And I realized that even if I can’t always be there the second you call, I can still be here for you.”

            “I’m fine.”  Carter said again.

            “I know you are.”  JC’s hand slid from Carter's back to his small and rounded shoulder as JC kneeled to embrace him with one arm.  He rested his head on Carter’s shoulder and sighed before kissing his cheek.  “I know you are Carter, but I still want to be here for you if you need it.”

            Carter didn’t say anything he just laid his head on the edge of the bed facing the wall instead of JC.  “I didn’t think you were coming back.”

            “Neither did I.”  JC answered honestly.

            “You didn’t have to.”

            “Yeah I did.”

            “No you didn’t.  I’d be fine.”

            “Carter.”  JC laughed softly.  “I know you’d be fine.  You’re one of the strongest people I know.  But you’re human and sometimes you… well sometimes you just don’t realize that I think.”

            Carter paused again; his mind was blurry from lack of sleep and food as well as emotional overload.  “I… all of this… with Fiona… it’s just…” He took a deep breath.  “All I’ve ever wanted was someone who could be there with me through the good and the bad.  Being there through the good is easy, when it gets bad is when people tend to split.  You won’t be the first to leave because it got bad.”

            JC bit his lip.  He understood Carter a thousand times more than Carter knew.  “I’d like to think I’m not like most people.”

            Carter turned to face him and shrugged again, unable to answer as his lower lip quivered.  “Well…?”

            “I’m not going.”  JC shook his head as he sighed deeply.  “Not in the way you’re thinking.”  Without fully realizing it, JC was taking a huge step that he’d only ever taken once before.  “I love you, Carter.  I’m not going anywhere until you tell me to.”  He leaned forward and kissed Carter’s lips softly.  “Now… fill me in.  What’s going on here?”

            Over the next half hour Carter retold the events of the day leaving nothing out and explaining the medical jargon that went over JC’s head.  “She will probably be here for a few days.”

            “Okay.”

            “So I probably will be too.”

            “What about work?”  JC asked.  Carter answered with a half shrug and a yawn.  “Do you have vacation time?”

            “I’ve got it covered.”  Carter answered, without really answering.  He yawned again and sat up straight to crack his back.       

            "You should go home."

            "Nah, I'm okay."  Carter insisted.

            "You need your sleep too."  JC explained as they both watched Fiona's sleeping figure.  "She's just going to sleep anyway."

            "I know, but…” Carter pursed his lips and looked up at JC.  "I… we have this promise."  He paused, waiting for JC to respond.  When he didn't, Carter continued.  "If at all possible, we won't let the other one spend the night in the hospital alone.  There's nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night with no one else around.  Especially in a hospital."

            "She'll be asleep all night."

            Carter sighed and rested his chin on his hands at the edge of Fiona's bed.  "They'll bring in a cot for me.  I'll sleep."

            "On a cot?"

            "It's not that bad."  He turned to offer JC a half smile and right then JC knew that any argument would be lost on Carter.

            "Okay."  JC resigned with a small sigh.  "Well then I'm going to head home.  It's getting late."

            "Okay."

            "Will… do you think she'll be up for visitors tomorrow?"

            "I don't know.  Probably.  You know Fi…” Carter forced a small smile as he fought another yawn.

            "I'll call."

            "Are you working?"

            "I'm in the studio in the morning but I'll swing by here as soon as I'm done."  JC nodded and put his hands in his pockets.  "Or by your house.  Wherever you are."

            "Okay."

            "If you need me to come by in the morning though, call."

            "What time are you going in?"  Carter asked.

            "If you need me, call.  I don't care what time it is."

            Carter paused and took a deep breath.  "Thank you."

            "Anytime."  JC hugged Carter gently and placed a kiss on the corner of his mouth.  "I’m sorry."  He whispered softly, his breath troubling the hair behind Carter’s ear.  “I love you.”

            "I love you too."  Carter's voice dropped to a shallow whisper and he forced himself not to let the tears fall until after JC left the room.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            It was almost ten in the morning by the time Fiona finished what little breakfast she could manage and fell back to sleep.  Carter took that rare opportunity to slip out to the waiting room to call and check their voice mail.  Having been neglected for a few days, he had seven new messages to listen to.  The first four were essentially junk mail, and then there was a message from Jamie, just checking in at one in the morning.  The next was from Fiona’s salon confirming her hair appointment for the next day and the last message was from Wes.

            Carter scribbled down the number he left then sat in the shiny orange chair.  He pursed his lips and frowned at the number in his hand, unsure of what to do.  Part of him wanted to ignore the message and part of him wanted to make sure Wes was updated.  If Wes was going to be Fiona’s friend, he could start right then and there.

            After calling the salon to cancel Fiona’s hair appointment, Carter anxiously called Wes.  “Hello?”  He answered softly.

            “Hey Wes, this is Carter.”

            “Hey, what’s up?”

            “Not much, I was just calling to uh… you know, check in.  To uh, let you know how Fiona is doing.”

            “Okay.”

            Carter bit his lip.  “Well she’s pretty much the same.  They’re doing blood work and all that.   Did you… I mean, if you want to talk to her you can call her room.”

            “Oh.  Okay.”

            “Or I can have her call you.”

            “Yeah… well I’m on my way to class right now.  I’ll give her a call a little later.”

            “Or you can come by.”  Carter suggested as he closed his eyes and tried not to be angry at Wes.

            There was a short pause on the other end of the phone as Wes contemplated that.  “I’ll give her a call a little later.”  He said once more.

            “Okay.”  Carter nodded slowly, then said goodbye.  That was the best he was going to get out of Wes.   Carter was just glad that Fiona hadn’t asked about him yet.

            He hit the gift shop near the entrance of the hospital and picked up the latest issue of InStyle magazine.  Carter wasn’t particularly interested in style per se, but it gave him something to look at without having to think.  When he returned to Fiona’s room he took the familiar chair to the window and sighed.  He had a lot of sitting and waiting to do.

 

            When Fiona woke in the afternoon for her course of blood work and a light lunch, Carter yawned and leaned on the bed.  "Feel better?”  He asked as he rolled his shoulders.

            “Not really.”  Fiona licked Jell-O off her lips and pushed the half-eaten tray away.  “Where are my flowers?  You promised me flowers.”  Fiona pretended to pout as her breaths came in short spurts.

            Carter shook his head slowly. “You know the rules.  No real flowers.  Not when you’re sick like this.”

            “They’d make me feel better.”  Fiona’s lower lip quivered.

            “Sorry hun.  I’ll get some fake ones, how about that?”  Fiona shook her head and wiped at her eyes.  Being in the hospital always made her more emotional than usual.  “Balloons?”  She shook her head again.  “Stuffed teddy bears?”

            “Carter.”  Fiona tried to sigh but ended up coughing.  When she was done she wiped a tear from her eye though he couldn’t tell if it was from her over abundant emotions or from the pain of coughing.  “I don’t want anything but real flowers.”

            “When you go home we’ll get you a room full, I promise.”

            “Daisies and roses?”

            “Daisies and roses?  That’s an odd combo.”

            “Yeah.  That’s what I want.”  Her voice squeaked.

            Carter nodded; he was willing to agree to anything.  “A house full.  You just concentrate on getting better; we’ll worry about the flowers later.”

            “I’m ready to go home.”

            “You’ve barely been here a day.”

            “I’m ready.”  She wheezed into a cough and cringed.

            “I know you are, honey.  We’ll get you home as soon as we can.”  He carefully brushed her hair out of her eyes and tried to smile.  “Do you have a hair tie?”  She shook her head and wiped at her eyes.  “Okay, I’ll run downstairs and get one for you.  Your hair is a mess; it’d be better if you pulled it back to keep from getting –” He stopped; she didn’t care what her hair looked like.  “Anyway, rest.  I’ll be right back.”

            Carter slid out of the room and went back to the gift shop.  On the way back he played with the hair tie and wore it as a bracelet.  “Mister…?”  A nurse called after him as he passed the station.

            “Carter.  Hi.”  He stopped and smiled.

            “Mr. Carter.”  She smiled back.  “The doctor is in there with Miss Garrett right now.”

            “What happened?”  Carter’s hands clenched into fists on the cool countertop.

            “Her blood oxygen has been consistently lower than we’d like to see it.”

            “Well yeah, she has pneumonia.”

            “They are upping her oxygen.  She’s fine.”  The nurse paused as if testing Carter’s sense of humor.  “She’s… she’s a little more feisty than most of our other patients.”

            Carter laughed lightly and nodded.  “Yes, she is.”

            “You can go in in a minute.  But she does need her rest.”

            He nodded in response; he knew better than almost anyone just how important rest was for her.  Fiona’s body was being tortured from the inside and the only thing that would help her fight off the infection was to let her body do all the work and not have to worry about little things such as moving and eating.

 

            They spent the rest of the day hanging out and watching Court TV off and on between naps and coughing fits.  JC stopped by in the evening with dinner for Carter and a Get Well card for Fiona.  “Well, it’s not a ticket out of here, but it’ll do.”  Fiona attempted to joke as her eyelids drooped.  “Thank you JC.”

            “You’re welcome.”  He took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.  “I’m gonna to get going.  You look pretty tired and Carter doesn’t look much better.”

            “Okay.”  Fiona yawned and Carter rolled his eyes.

            “I’m fine.”  Carter protested.

            “They’ll be checking you in next.”  JC sighed, but smiled to show that he wasn’t upset.  “Take care of yourself, Fi.  Make sure this fool here gets some sleep too, okay?”

            “I’ll try.”  Fiona nodded and leaned into the unyielding hospital mattress.

            “I’ll be right back.”  Carter followed JC out into the hall and stopped at the elevators.  “I’m fine, JC.”

            “I know you are.”  JC put his hands in his pockets.  “I just… I’m worried about you.”

            “Be worried about Fiona, she’s the sick one.”

            “I am worried about Fiona.  But the doctors are taking care of her… who’s taking care of you?”

            “I’m fine.”

            “You’ve got bags under your eyes.”

            Carter sighed and shrugged, “I’ll sleep more tonight.”

            “Listen.”  JC bit his lip and frowned at Carter.  “I understand why you’re staying here, and to be honest if it were you I’d do the same thing.  But you can't let it affect your health.  If you’re sick and worn out who will take care of Fiona?”

            “You.”  Carter tried to smile.

            “You know what I mean.”

            “I know what you mean.”  Carter nodded.  “This will be over soon and then we’ll all sleep a lot better.”

            “Will you promise me that you’ll go home tonight – “

            “No.”

            “Or tomorrow.”  JC finished.  “To get a good nap.  Some real sleep?”

            “Jace…”

            “It’s just for a few hours.  I’ll come by tomorrow and take you myself.  We can coordinate with Jamie to make sure someone will be here.”  JC removed his hands from his pockets and put them on Carter’s shoulders.  “I won’t take no for an answer.  I’m sure Fiona would agree.”

            “Only for an hour.”

            “Promise me that.”  JC smiled, knowing that once Carter fell asleep it’d be more than an hour.

            “I promise.  Tomorrow I’ll go home for an hour.”

            “Okay.  Good enough.”  JC kissed Carter’s lips quickly.  “I’ll swing by after my meeting tomorrow, say… one?  I’ll bring lunch.”

            “Okay.”

            “Get some sleep tonight, if you can.”  He rested his forehead against Carter’s.

            “I will.”

            “Love you.”

            “Love you too.”  Carter whispered, then kissed JC’s cheek.  “Good night.”

            “G’night.”  JC stepped onto the elevator and waved once more before the doors closed.

            Carter returned to Fiona’s room where she was sound asleep and stared at the rock hard cot.  With a heavy sigh Carter peeled his shoes off and sat on the cot with his head in his hands.  As much as he wanted to stay with Fiona, he was secretly looking forward to his own bed, even if just for an hour.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            JC arrived right on time to pick Carter up the next day.  He brought lunch as promised and they sat together at the little roll away table Fiona had in her room.  Fi woke up long enough to smile and wave at JC, then she went right back to sleep wheezing lightly into her pillow.

            “She’s getting better?”  JC asked softly as he and Carter crossed the parking lot an hour later.

            Carter shrugged and squinted into the bright Sun he hadn’t seen in what felt like weeks.  “Yeah.  I mean, she’s got a long way to go.”

            “Will she be home this week?”

            “I…” Carter sighed.  “I hope so.  I think so.”  He nodded and smiled as he rested his hand on top of JC’s car.  “Last time she was in for about a week and a half.”

            “Oh.”

            “But last time was worse.”

            “Okay…?”

            “So if I had to guess I’d say she’ll be home this week.  Maybe in a day or two.  But you never know what can happen.”

            “Think positive, right?”  JC kissed Carter’s forehead quickly as he unlocked the car and opened the door for him.

            “Right.”  Carter yawned and slid into the passenger seat.  “Thank you JC.  I think I need this.”

            “I know you do.”

            “Are you going to stay with me?”

            JC started the car and raised his eyebrow at Carter.  “You need to sleep.”

            Carter laughed and leaned his head back on the headrest.  “I know.”

            “So sleep for a bit then we’ll talk.”

            “I’m going back to the hospital.”

            “Of course.”

            “After a couple hours.”

            “A couple?”

            Carter closed his eyes.  “One or two.”

            JC smiled smugly at the windshield and headed for Carter’s house.  “Good enough.”  They drove home and Carter unlocked the front door.  “I was going to take you to my house but I thought you’d want to go through your mail and stuff like that.”

            “Oh man, I didn’t even think of the mail.”  Carter cringed and turned to head for the mailbox.

            “I brought it in.  It’s all on the kitchen table.”

            “You brought it in?”

            “You gave me a key.”  JC looked at Carter sideways.

            “Oh.”

            “There’s something else.”  JC smiled and held the door open for Carter.  They walked in and the first thing Carter saw was a large assortment of the ugliest flowers he had ever seen.

            “What the hell?”

            “They’re from Justin and Chris.”

            “They’re hideous.”  Carter laughed and shook his head as he fingered a hot pink rose.

            “But they’re silk so she can have them, right?”

            Carter contemplated the flowers, “Sure.”  Fiona would hate the flowers but she would have them.

            “Okay.  Bed time.”  JC put his hands on Carter’s shoulders and steered him toward his bedroom.

            “What about the mail and voice mail and stuff?”

            “It’ll be there when you wake up.”

            “Will you come with me?”  Carter looked over his shoulder as JC pushed him into the bedroom.

            “I’ll stay till you fall asleep.”  JC nodded and kissed Carter’s neck.

            “Thank you.”  Carter’s knees hit the bed and he fell forward.  He shimmied up to the pillow and slid his hands under the cool cotton.  His eyes shut as his cheek hit the pillow and he barely felt the bed shift under JC’s added weight.

            JC put his arms around Carter’s waist as the younger man started to snore.  With a smile he put his forehead against the small concave between Carter’s shoulder blades and breathed deeply.  The deep sleep that found Carter consumed him completely and he didn’t rise again until the Sun began to set.

            Carter rolled over in the large bed to find it empty and JC’s voice coming from the kitchen.  He stumbled out to the dining room and yawned, “I need to get back to the hospital.”

            JC nodded and tasted the spaghetti sauce cooking on the stovetop.  “Yep.  As soon as you eat I’ll take you back.”  He nodded at the plate on the table and smiled.

            “I need to call.”

            “I just got off the phone with her.  Fiona said for you to bring her walkman and her purple thing of CDs.”

            “I… you talked to her?”

            “Yes, I did.”  JC took a plate and sat beside Carter.  “She sounded good.”

            “Good.”  Carter nodded and took another bite.  “This is amazing.”

            “Thanks.”   JC smiled proudly and they ate in silence.  “Did you sleep well?”

            “Better than ever.”  Carter nodded and for once didn’t feel like yawning.

            As soon as they were done eating, Carter rinsed the dishes then JC forced him to take a shower and change his clothes before he would take him back to the hospital.  Once cleaned up, they drove to the hospital with the large arrangement of flowers on Carter’s lap.

            JC pulled up at the entrance and sighed, “I have to go back to the studio for a bit.”

            “Oh, okay.”

            “Tell Fi I said hi.”

            “I will.”

            “Give me a call tomorrow, or later tonight.  Whenever.”

            “I will.”  Carter leaned over the emergency brake and kissed JC, lingering to make up for the time they’d missed.  “I needed this today.”

            “I know you did.”  JC smiled against Carter’s lips, then kissed him again.

            “I’ll call you.”

            “Okay.”  JC nodded and watched Carter run through the automatic doors as the lights in the parking lot came on.  He drove away knowing that he’d done the best he could for Carter, and that was all he could do.

 

 

            “Those are ugly.”  Fiona shook her head as she saw the gaudy arrangement of silk flowers Carter carried into her room.  She tried to frown but the corners of her mouth turned up slightly.

            “Yes, they are.  But they are all for you.”

            “I don’t want them.”

            “Well I think maybe you should read the card before you go tossing a perfectly repulsive bunch of flowers out the window.”  Carter set the collection of silk roses in three different colors, sunflowers, ivy, mums and daffodils on the little table.

            “What’d you write?”

            “Me?  Oh come on now.  I have much better taste than this.”  Carter crinkled his nose and turned them so that their best side, or their not so ugly side, was facing the bed.  “Read the card.”

            Fiona tried to sigh but ended up coughing brutally into her hand.  She wiped the resulting phlegm onto an every-handy kleenex then swiped at her eyes.  “Ugh, I hate that.”  She mumbled under her breath as she opened the small card.  “Dear Fiona, We hope you feel better soon!  JC said you couldn’t have real flowers so for now these will have to do. Love – Justin and Chris.”

            “No way.”  Fiona whispered and re-read the card.

            “Yes way.”

            “No.  Way.”

            “Yes.  Way.”  Carter laughed.

            “Is this for real or are you and Jamie being pricks?”

            “In case you’ve forgotten, Miss Fiona deary, I happen to be having intimate relations with a particular member of that there boyband and he may have access to the other guys.”  Carter rolled his eyes and squinted at the flowers.  “They were sent to the house, but they uglied up the kitchen so I brought them in here for you."

            “Thank you.”  Fiona read the card one last time then tucked it back in the little envelope.  “That was nice of them.”

            “They’re good guys.  JC said they wanted to send you chocolates and stuff like that.”

            “I love chocolates.”

            “You can’t have chocolate.”  Carter bit his lip and sat down.  “You know that.”

            “You suck.  All you do is sit there telling me – “ She stopped and coughed hard enough to bring tears to her eyes.  She hit the call nurse button in the middle of her coughing fit, then said, “Telling me what I can and can’t have.”

            Carter stared at her for a full minute. “You’re about a hundred times crazier this time than you were last time.”

            “Can I help you?”  A nurse asked as she poked her head into the room.

            “I need more medicine or whatever.  I’m coughing up half a lung every time I cough and at the rate I’m going I’ll be lungless in an hour.”

            “I’ll see what I can do.”

            “Can’t I get one of those – “ She stopped and involuntarily demonstrated her coughing ability for the nurse.  “One of those self administered morphine drips?”

            “I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”  She smiled sweetly and took a step backwards.  “I’ll send Dr. Crabtree in to take a look though.  Are you doing okay other than that?”

            “Other than dying?  Yeah.”  Fiona rolled her eyes and the nurse left.

            “You’re being a brat.”  Carter shook his head and for a moment wished he was on the way to the studio with JC.

            “I’m just miserable.”  Fiona said softly.

            “I know you are.”

            “I missed you today.”

            “You missed me telling you what you can and can’t have?”  Carter kidded.

            “Yes.”

            “Well, I went home and slept for a bit and I took a shower so I don’t stink and JC made some dinner.”

            “It was better than my slop I bet.”

            “You haven’t eaten in like, three days.  I doubt my being away had anything to do with you not eating tonight.”  Carter wasn’t going to play into her games tonight.

            Fiona scowled and turned her TV on.  “I know.  I’m just saying.”

            “I’m back now.  I’ll be here all night and all day tomorrow.”  He crawled onto the bed beside her and lay on his side, taking up the only empty six inches left.  They watched a few sitcoms before Fiona fell asleep and Carter was left alone in the half dark hospital room listening to a game show and the humming sound of the monitors on the other side of the bed.

 

            For the next three days Fiona stayed in the hospital getting better and Carter stayed with her.  JC stopped by when he could and rescued Carter every chance he got.  Wes called a few times to chat and touch base, but the conversations were tense and awkward.  Fiona tried to ignore it and blame the distance on the fact that she was in the hospital and that had to be uncomfortable for him.  Honestly, she was glad to just talk with him; they’d left things a little uneasy and she didn’t want to try to restart anything with her looking like something the cat dragged in.

When the doctor finally gave her the okay to go home, she was beyond ready.  Without hesitation she sent Carter home to get her some clean clothes of her own then forced herself to walk across the room to her bathroom.

            When she made it back to her bed, she positioned her IV stand beside the bed and pulled the sheets up to her waist.  Her door creaked open a few inches and JC poked his head in cautiously.  “Hey you. You’re awake?"

            "Yep, for now."  Fiona smiled slowly from her bed.  The empty bed by the door was wrinkled from where Carter had spent the night on top of the covers and seeing that made JC smile back.

            "Feel like having a visitor?"

            "Is it just you?"

            "Yeah."

            "Then sure."  She patted the bed by her hip and scooted over an inch.

            "Who else would it be?"

            "Well I didn't know if you'd bring your entourage or your 'boys' or whatever you call them."

            "The guys?"

            "Yeah."

            "No, I wouldn't bring them here."  JC shook his head and sat at her side.  "I wouldn't put you through that torture.  They say hi though."

            "Cool.  Pop stars saying hi to me."  She giggled like a teen and bounced her feet under the blankets.  "See, maybe they should all come visit me.  I'd be popular and it'd look good for you guys too."

            "Don't think we haven't thought about that." JC laughed as they kidded each other.  "Here, I brought you my latest mix CD."

            "Ooooo!"  Fiona's eyes widened as she took the clear green CD jewel case.  "What's on it?"

            "I don't know.  Justin sent it to me the other day and I haven't heard it yet.  But I know you've liked the other CD's he's put together so… well I thought you'd get more use out of this than I would."

            "Thank you."  She wheezed slightly and set the CD aside.

            "You get to go home today?"

            "Uh huh."  She nodded and tried not to cough but ended up with her hand over her mouth.  When she finished she wiped at her eyes and said, "Carter ran home to get me some clean clothes."  Fiona paused to pick at her dry cuticle.  "I wonder what he'll pick out."

            "Something practical and pretty."  JC smiled and pulled his bag around to his front so that he could dig in it.  He came out with a little bottle of lotion and squirt a small amount into his hands.  "Here…” He said softly as he rubbed his hands together then took hers between his to rub the lotion into her dry skin.  JC was careful of the IV still taped to her hand and focused mainly on her fingers.

            "Thanks.  Mmmm, that smells good.  What is that?"  Fiona let her eyes drift closed as JC's hands massaged her slender fingers.

            "Cool citrus basil, from Bath and Body Works."  JC smiled and inhaled deeply.  "Carter hates it… but…” He shrugged and laughed softly.

            "He's not like us."  Fiona whispered as though they were in a conspiracy together.

            "That's for sure."  They laughed like old friends as JC finished rubbing the lotion in.  "There you go.  Good as new."

            "Or close enough."  Fiona coughed lightly again.

            JC smiled and tilted his head to the side; "I have to get going but I uh… I wanted to drop by and say hi and give you the CD."

            "Thanks."

            He crinkled his nose, "I've gotta go back to work."

            "Eww, have fun."

            "I will."  He smiled and stood up as he patted her hand.  "Feel better okay?  And have Carter call me tonight."

            "Sure thing."  Fiona smiled and waved weakly as he headed for the door.

            She was alone for only five minutes when there was another knock on her door, "Are you decent?"  A familiar voice asked with a hint of anxiety.

            "Come on in."  She adjusted the blanket across her lap, though she doubted there was anyone in the hospital that hadn't seen everything she had to offer already.

            "Hey, beautiful."  Wes smiled as he pulled the thin curtain aside.

            "Oh man, what are you doing here?"

            "Carter said you were here."  Wes took a step into her room.

            "Ugh.  Go away."  Fiona smiled and covered her face with her hands.  "I look like hell."

            "You look fine."

            "You're a horrible and mean liar."  She laughed from behind her hands.  "I look awful, you can't sit there and tell me straight out lies like that, Wes."

            "Okay, you look awful." He pulled the chair from the wall to the side of her bed.  "But you're smiling so that's a good sign."

            "I'm only smiling because if I didn't I'd cry."

            "That'd be okay to."  Wes said softly.

            "I know."

            "How are you feeling though?"

            "I'm okay."

            "Yeah?"

            "Eh."  Fiona shrugged and coughed as she tried to take a deep breath.  "Okay, I've felt better.  But this isn't the worst I've felt in my life."

            "That's good."

            "Yeah."  Fiona nodded and looked at Wes for any signs of him being grossed out.  "I get to go home today."

            "Yeah that's what Carter said.  Do… is he coming to get you?  Or do you need a ride?"

            "No, he just ran home to get me some clothes."

            "You mean they won't let you take that trendy gown home with you?"

            "Nope.  Unfortunately I have to leave this stylish thing here."  She tugged at the huge arm of her pale blue gown.

            "Darn.  We'll have to see if we can smuggle one out or something."  Wes curled the end of her blanket around his finger.  "So…"

            "So."

            "You'll be home tonight then?"

            "Yeah."

            "Okay."

            "Why?"  Fiona brushed her hair out of her eyes and wished that her IV didn't get in the way of everything.

            "Well I wanted to uh, come by and uh, but I see that maybe you'll be too tired."

            "For what?"

            "Nothing." He said quickly, then forced a smile.

            "What?"  She reached for his hand but he didn’t move to grab it.

            "I've been thinking."  Wes' eyes nervously flitted to the end of Fiona's bed.

            "Uh oh."

            "No… I uh..."  He smiled quickly and me her eye.  "I just…"

            "It's okay."  Fiona's heart skipped a beat; she knew what was coming.

            "You don't even know what I was going to say."

            "Sure I do."  She took a deep breath.  "You thought you could do this, but you can't.  Me being sick is a lot to deal with and you're at the age where you want to start thinking about your future and planning your kids and your white picket fence and there's no way that I can actually be a part of that so you want to be friends.  Good friends."  She paused for a breath, "How'm I doing so far?"

            "I… really good."  Wes blushed with a confused look on his face; was he that easy to predict?  Carter.  “Ahh, did Carter talk to you?”

            “Carter?  What, about this?  No, why?”

            Wes looked completely flustered as he shook his head, “No, nothing.”

            “Did you talk to Carter about this?”

            He could do nothing to hide the sheepish look on his face, “A couple days ago.”

            Fiona sighed and rolled her eyes, “Lovely.”

            “I like you a lot Fiona."

            "I know."

            "But… I mean, you have to admit that this is kind of…"

            "No.  I know."  Fiona breathed through her nose and tried not to get emotional.

            Wes paused and debated his next move.  "I can be your friend Fi.  I want to be your friend.  That hasn't changed."

            "You just don't want to date me?"

            "It's a small distinction, but…"

            "I understand."  She nodded, and she did.

            "I'm sorry."  He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the bed just like JC had done a few minutes earlier.

            "Don't be."

            "Alright kid, I got you your pink sweats.  I know you hate them but they make you look fabulous and… no offense honey, but you need all the help you can get."  Carter chuckled as he came through the door with her clothes in his hand.  "Oh hey Wes, how's it going?"

            "All right.  You?"

            "I'm great.  And Miss Fiona here?  She's going to be even better than great when we get her home.  Are you coming over?"

            "I… no.  Not tonight."  Wes backed toward the door to give Carter room to put down the bags in his hands.

            "That's probably a good idea.  Tonight she needs to rest."  Carter said as he began pulling hair products out of one of the smaller bags.

            "Carter, what is all of this?"

            "You said you wanted to feel human when you left."

            "By wearing clean clothes, not doing up my hair and make up."  Fiona sighed and looked at Wes.  "Does the offer for the ride still stand?"  She made no mention of their previous conversation, as far as she was concerned it was settled.

            Wes laughed and held up his hands, "I'm not gonna stand in his way here."

            "Smart man."  Carter smiled over his shoulder as Wes took a step out of the door.

            "Fi, I'll… I'll call you tomorrow."

            "Okay."  She nodded and waited until he was safely out of earshot before she smacked Carter.  "You're a bitch."

            "Me?  What'd I do?"

            "Wes broke up with me… but with you… a couple days ago?"

            "Dude.  If you're well enough to hit me, you're well enough to find your own ride home."  Carter raised his eyebrow, then sighed in resignation.  "Okay yes, he did.  He talked to you?"

            "Just now."

            Carter's hand flew to his mouth.  "Did I interrupt?"

            "We were done."  She shook her head.

            "So?"

            "So what?"

            "So what's going on?"

            "We'll try to be friends I guess."  She sighed and averted her eyes to the window.  "I should have known this was too good to be true.  Dammit.  If I wasn't sick, like, sick… not HIV… things would be fine."

            "Don’t blame yourself for this."

            "I'm not."  She sighed.  "Just… take me home.  I'm ready to go."

            Carter kissed her cheek and placed his hand on her shoulder, "Honey, you're amazing."

            "I know."  She blushed and lowered her eyes.

            "I'll go get the nurse to get that thing out of your arm, then we'll head home."

            "Okay."

            "If you're feeling up to it, we can even stop and get In & Out."

            Fiona made a face as her stomach turned, "How about Wendy's?  I want a milkshake."

            "Anything you want, doll."  He kissed her again, then pranced out of the room to start the process of sending Fiona home.

 

            With her IV removed and a stern talking to about the do’s and don’ts of life after PCP, they headed home together.  Fiona’s doctor had taken her completely off of her medication and that made both Fiona and Carter more than a little nervous.  Anxious stomach or not though, Fiona wanted Wendy’s so they drove through the one closest to the hospital.  Fiona sipped at her milkshake but tossed it out after only a minute.  “It tastes weird.”  She said as she crinkled her nose.

            “Then don’t drink it.”

            “Can I have your soda?”

            Carter looked at his drink.  “You want my soda?”  Fiona nodded.  “I asked if you wanted a soda when we were at the drive thru.”

            “I know.”

            “You said soda tasted like piss and insisted that you wanted a shake.”

            Fiona sighed and reached for his cup.  “I know.”

            “So wait now you want my soda?”  Carter stopped her hand.

            “If I don’t drink something to get this shake taste from my mouth I’ll puke.”  She said softly.  One look at her pale skin and sleepy eyes and Carter realized he had just lost his drink.

            “Fine.”  He sighed then turned his attention back to the road.  The sooner they were home, the sooner they could get back to normal.

 

 

            When they got home Carter grabbed her bags and let her carry the drink, or what as left of it.  Fiona walked into the entryway and dropped her overflowing hospital bag on the floor.  “Hey.”

            “What?”  Carter lugged her duffel bag into the house and set the arrangement of silk flowers on the table.  “Fi, dude, don’t just stop right inside the door.”

            “Carter.”

            “What?”  His voice was tinged with annoyance from his lack of sleep and her overall foul attitude.

            She pointedly looked around the small living room and dining room.  “You promised me flowers.”

            Carter sighed and rolled his eyes as he gently nudged her into the living room.  “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been at the hospital with a certain sick-o.”

            “Well yeah but.”

            “Well yeah but nothing.”  Carter carried all of her bags to her room then came out a minute later.  “I asked the nurse about it and she said it wouldn’t be a good idea just yet because you t-cell count was – “

            “Blah, blah, blah.”  Fiona waved her hand around and coughed.  “I can have stupid flowers, Carter.  It’s not like they’re covered in germs.  It’s not like they’re any more cootie infested than…” she looked around and decided on her target, “than you.”

            Carter met her eye and squinted.  “Thank you.”

            “Carter.”  She sighed and looked tired all of a sudden.  “You promised.”

            “Well then I suck.  I’m the worst friend in the world because I stayed with you in the hospital for like, a hundred days.  Because I brought you just about anything you wanted and held your hair when you barfed and fed you ice chips.  You’re right Fi.  I’m a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad friend for not getting you flowers on top of it all.”  He rolled his eyes as the sarcasm dripped from his lips.

            “You really are.”  Fiona said the words without malice.  “I’m going to go lay down.”

            Carter nodded and bit his lower lip.  “As soon as you’re back to a hundred percent I’ll get you your stupid flowers.  Real ones.”

            “Mm hmm.”  She brushed past him and went to her room.  The door shut loudly behind her and Carter heard the springs of her bed squeak.

            They’d been through the same routine several times before but her attitude was never easy to swallow.  He went to the kitchen to get himself some water and held the cool glass against his forehead.  It was going to be a long week, if his memory served.

 

            They lasted two hours at home before Fiona yelled at Carter for not knocking when he came to bring her a glass of water, which caused her to start coughing which only made her more upset.  Carter shook his head and strode out of the room, slamming the door behind him as he went.  That’s when the music started behind the closed door and Carter resigned himself to being alone all week.

 

            The first two days were like a marital fight with a lot of whining and door slamming going on, so by the third day Carter was lunging at the phone every time it rang.  “Hello?”  He asked as the same song started over again in Fiona’s room.

            “Hey.”  JC’s smiled brightened the room from mile away.

            “Hey.  Where are you?”

            “I am in my car on the way out of my driveway.”

            “Going somewhere?”  Carter raised his eyebrow and fell onto the couch.

            “I was thinking about it.”  Flirting was still fun with Carter.

            “Thinking of coming over here?”

            “Possibly.”  JC laughed.

            “Well you know, if you come over here you’ll be around the she-wolf.”

            “That bad huh?”

            “Eh.”  Carter shrugged.  He’d heard “Don’t fear the reaper” more times than he’d care to count and he blamed it all on JC.  “That little CD you gave her is really going over well.”

            “Cool, that’s good.”  JC missed the sarcasm.  “So how is she?  Is she feeling better now that she’s home?”  JC asked.

            “Well…” Carter thought for a moment.  “It’s hard to tell.”  He pursed his lips.  “They took her off all of her meds and this is… I think this is the first time she’s ever not had a dozen and a half pills to take every day.”

            “Really?”

            Carter paused, “I think maybe she’s not as okay with it as she seems.”  He shrugged and moved the phone to his other ear.  He tried to tune out the music coming from Fiona’s room but the well-known chorus played clearly.

            “Anything I can do?”

            After thinking for a moment, nothing came to mind.  “Not really.  We… she just has to mentally fix herself.  It could take a couple days… but I think she’s on the mend.”  Carter walked out to the front yard to put more space between him and the music.

            “What about you?”

            “I’m hanging in there.”

            “Did you go to work today?”

            “Nope.”  Carter sighed; he didn’t want to have this conversation again.  “I’m going in for a half day tomorrow.  I’ll be back full time on Monday.”

            “Promise?”

            “Why are you worried about me going to work?”

            JC smiled widely and laughed.  “Because I don’t want you to start thinking I’m your sugar daddy or something.”

            Carter smiled, “You mean you aren’t?”

            “Please.”  He rolled his eyes.

            “Hmm.  We’ll see.”

            “So you’re doing okay?”

            Carter placed his hand over his rumbling stomach.  “Well…I’ve eaten nothing but cereal for a day and a half.”  Carter complained.

            “Ouch.  Okay, I’ll bring you something.”

            “I’ll be your best friend forever if you would.”

            “What will I get in return?”  JC smirked devilishly.

            “Anything you want.”

            “Anything?”

            Anything.”  Carter smiled.

            “I’ll be there before you know it.”  JC hung up the phone without saying goodbye and Carter laughed.

            With a quick sniff of his underarms, Carter bolted to the bathroom and took a five-minute power shower.  He was mostly dry and dressed when JC let himself in.

            "The fuck?"  JC frowned as he walked through the living room, setting the take out Italian food and box of donuts on the kitchen table.

            "Lovely huh?"  Carter raised his eyebrow at JC and sighed.  He'd grown used to the music so the volume didn't bother him anymore.  Carter crossed his arms over his chest as the chorus came around again, the chorus he now knew by heart.

            "Real nice song… considering…” JC looked around the living room.  "Considering she's been sick."  He shook his head then walked to her door where he rapped his knuckles on the thin wood frame.   Carter watched from the living room as JC waited for the answer that never came.  "Is she okay in there?"  JC looked over his shoulder with a furrowed brow.

            "Yeah.  She turned it off for a few minutes a little while ago to call Jamie."

            "Hey Fi, I brought Krispy Kreme and Italian food if you're hungry." JC shouted through the door.  "Seriously man, that's a fucked up song." He said in a normal voice to Carter.

            "You gave it to her, genius."  Carter rolled his eyes as he took a donut from the box and stuck half of it in his mouth at once.

            JC watched as Carter devoured another donut then took the box away and handed him a container of ravioli.  “Eat something real.”

            “Fine.”  Carter licked a flake of icing off his lower lip and went to the kitchen for a fork.  They sat together at the table and ate in silence.

            “Can Fiona eat this stuff?”

            “She hasn’t eaten much of anything really.  I think her stomach is upset.”

            “The meds?”

            “The lack of them, actually.  She’s been so used to taking so many I don’t think her stomach knows what to do without them.  I’ll give it another day or two before I really start to worry.”

            “Yeah?”

            “Hey, if she’s feeling okay enough to listen to that song on repeat all freaking day, she’s okay enough to come out and ask for some food.”  Carter shook his fork in the direction of Fiona’s room.

            “True.”  JC shrugged, but looked toward her door anyway.  “But still.”

            “I take food to her at least twice a day.  It’s there if she wants it.”  Carter sighed and took another large bite. “My God, this is good.”

            “Good, I’m glad you like it.”  JC’s attention switched from Fiona’s door to Carter’s eyes.  “There’s a matter of ‘anything’ that still needs to be addressed.”

            “Anything?”

            “You’d do anything for real food?”  JC raised one eyebrow at Carter and smirked.

            “Ah, yeah.  That.”

            “That.”

            “Hmm.”

            “So Fiona has food and is well enough to eat it herself?”

            “Um, yeah.”

            “What about the bathroom?”

            “She’s been going on her own.”

            “Perfect.  Then you’re mine tonight.”

            “I don’t think you should st – “

            “Oh I’m not staying here.  I’m taking you to my house.”

            “JC… I don’t – “

            “You said anything.”  JC pointed his fork at Carter.  “That’s what I want.  You.  At my house.”

            “All night?”

            “At least until sunrise.”  JC licked red sauce from his lips and smiled.  “You up for it?”

            “Absolutely.”  Carter mumbled into his dinner.  “Anytime.”

            “All righty then.”  JC smirked and finished his dinner.

            They finished in record time and left a full plate in the fridge for Fiona in case she decided to venture out of her room for real food.  Carter tapped on her bedroom door and waited for the music to be turned down a notch.  “I’m going over to JC’s, there’s dinner in the fridge.”  He paused.  “Fiona, did you hear me?”  The music stopped and the TV clicked on.

            Carter heard the theme song for “Trading Spaces” and Fiona grumbled, “I heard you.”

            “Okay.  I’ll be home later.”  He waited for a response but got nothing.  He sighed then followed JC out to his car, locking the front door behind him.  If he felt at all guilty for leaving Fiona home alone so newly home from the hospital, it disappeared as soon as they pulled into JC’s driveway.  He’d spent so long caring for Fiona, when he finally got around to taking care of himself he remembered what that felt like, and he liked it.

            The front door of JC’s house shut behind them and Carter let his mind go blank to focus only on JC and the short trip to the bedroom.

 

 

 

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Copyright © 2003, 2004  Amy Lynn