October came through like a hailstorm from the East.  The weather was the worst LA had seen in years and drove almost everyone indoors, including JC and Carter.  Fiona, however, insisted on running every morning rain or shine, so Carter would wait anxiously by the door until she returned.

            “Hey babe?”  JC grunted from Carter’s bedroom.  “What’re you doing?”

            “Waiting.”

            The bed springs squeaked as JC planted his feet on the floor.  “For what?”  He yawned and ran his hands over his scratchy cheeks.

            “Fiona.”

            JC sighed loudly and padded into the living room.  He yawned and rolled his shoulders, “She’s gone out running every morning for a week.”

            “Three weeks.”

            “Three weeks, fine.”  JC shook his head and sat on the couch.  “You’re worse than a father sometimes.”

            “She shouldn’t be out in this weather.”

            “It’s not raining.”

            “Still…” Carter sighed and crossed his arms as he leaned to look out the front window.

            “She hasn’t been sick in weeks, not so much as the sniffles.”

            “I know.”

            “And you know that being outside won’t make her sick, getting sick comes from a virus or a germ, not from rainy weather.”

            “Thank you Doctor Chasez.”  Carter rolled his eyes, but left his spot by the window to sit on the couch beside JC.  “It’s just… with her off her meds it’s just… I don’t know.”

            “I know.”

            “I just wish they’d give her sugar pills or something.”  Carter sighed and rested his head against the back of the couch.  “It’d make me feel better if I felt like I was doing something for her.”

            “You do so much for her.”

            “I know.  But…” Carter bit his lip.  JC tried so hard to understand, but Carter wasn’t sure if he’d ever really be able to.

            “C’mere.”  JC pulled Carter closer and nuzzled his neck.  “You wanna come over tonight?”  He asked softly.

            “Yes.”  Carter’s mood brightened with those five small words.

            “We can grab some of that Rizzoli’s pasta on the way and just hang out.”

            “Alone?”

            “Completely.  No phone calls, no friends stopping by.”

            “Sounds great.”  Carter smiled and hoped that Fiona wouldn’t suddenly become sick.  The thought of leaving her alone at all made Carter’s stomach do flip-flops, but if she was sick, forget it.

            “Perfect.  Should we leave now and get a head start?”  JC flicked his tongue behind Carter’s ear.

            “Rizzoli’s isn’t open.”

            “Maybe they deliver.”  JC pulled Carter onto his lap.  Just as Carter turned his head to kiss away the fire between them the front door blew open and Fiona stepped in mid-sentence.

            “ - can’t curb their damn dog they shouldn’t – oh hey guys.”  She smiled and peeled her shoes off, tossing them outside.  “Am I interrupting?”

            “Yes.”  JC said into the hollow of Carter’s mouth.  The boys laughed and sighed softly.

            “Dude, don’t let me slow down the action.  Just let me get a Kleenex and a glass of water.”

            “Are you sick?”

            “Relax.  I sneezed on the way up the walk because my hair went up my nose.  Don’t ask.”  Fiona smiled and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge.  “Go have sex with your boyfriend.  And don’t forget to mail out the bills, they’ve been sitting under your keys for three days now.”  She didn’t miss a step as she walked by and messed Carter’s hair on the way to her room.

            JC looked after her and blinked.  “She uh… she looks okay.”

            “Yeah.”  Carter reluctantly pushed himself off of JC and stood up.

            “Let’s leave while we can.”  JC jumped up and grabbed Carter’s hand, dragging him toward the front door.

            “I’m not dressed!”  Carter screeched.

            JC looked him over and smirked, “Like that matters.”  He pulled Carter out of the house and out to his car, pausing only to drop the bills in the mailbox and pull the red flag up.  Carter needed no convincing once the door was shut.  They headed to JC’s to start their evening date at eight thirty in the morning.

 

            Carter and JC spent a much needed day and night together.  Fiona had the house to herself and spent the day catching up on the movies she’d been meaning to watch and the gossip from Jamie who called her from work and chatted for an hour or so.

            For the next few weeks Fiona felt great and Carter let his guard down enough to agree to a weekend trip with JC to Florida to see his home there.  They were gone for a total of four days, and though he called home to Fiona at least twice a day, Carter was relieved to be home.  Life was getting back to normal and even JC seemed to forget that Fiona was sick.

            JC talked to Joey often and was secretly planning a “reunion” trip of sorts for Joey’s last show on Broadway.  He already bought tickets for himself, Carter and Fiona and was trying to coordinate the night with the other guys.  It was going to be an early Christmas gift for Carter and Fiona, one he could hardly wait to give them.  A week in the city with all the bells and whistles.

 

            For Halloween Fiona demanded to go out to gay clubs in style.  She wanted to get dolled up as a guy in drag, which no one really understood but they played along anyway.  With a little help from JC, Carter finally agreed to make a party out of it.   JC and Carter dressed as Batman and Robin, the ultimate superhero pair in tights.  They called in a small group of friends, Jamie and two guys JC knew from the studio, and partied until sunrise the next day.

            They partied and danced at all the coolest clubs, then went back to JC’s for a little more of the same.  Fiona and Jamie fell asleep curled together in a ball on JC’s deep leather couch and woke up after noon the next afternoon.  No one in the house had ever felt worse after a night of drinking, but they all agreed over a breakfast of cold cereal that they would all do it again in a heartbeat.  JC loved Halloween because it was one of the only times he could go out and truly be anonymous.  As much as he wanted the night to last all week, he wasn’t as excited about the hangover.

 

            Less than a week later they were all shoved back into the reality that they’d suspended for the past few weeks.  JC went to Carter’s and lounged on the couch while Fiona ran out to get some Tylenol since they’d run out.  “What’s on your mind?”  JC asked when carter finally sat beside him.   “You think really loud.  I can hear you all the way over here.”

            "Her nose is running."  Carter frowned.

            "So?"

            "So she's sick."

            JC shook his head, "It's a runny nose."

            "Yeah but with her…"

            "Carter, it's just a runny nose.  You can't freak out over every little sniffle.  You'll go nuts."

            "I am nuts."

            "You know what I mean."

            "I know what you mean, but I can't not worry about every little sniffle.  It's that little runny nose or whatever that turns into a little cough, then before you know it she's got a lung full of infection and an abscess in her brain the size of Milwaukee."

            "You don't think you're over reacting just a little?"  JC asked.  He'd seen Fiona sick before, but she really did look and act fine.

            "Jace… listen.  I know that you know about AIDS and everything, but until you've seen someone die from a little splinter in their heel… you can't possibly know how dangerous it can be."  Carter licked his lips, preparing for a lecture on HIV and AIDS.  "When you get a paper cut and you don't wash it out or anything what happens?"  JC shrugged, knowing that Carter didn't really expect an answer, he was on a roll.  "It gets a little red maybe, and itchy.  But in a few days its better and you didn't have to put anything on it or anything.  That's because your body fixed it.  If you had a cold and got a paper cut, same thing.  Your body is strong enough to handle a cold and a paper cut.  Hell, it could probably handle three or four more things on top of that as well."

            "Well…"

            "But Fiona's can't.  When you have HIV, your immune system is broken.  Sometimes a paper cut or a runny nose will be just that.  Sometimes her immune system is running along like it should be.  But it only takes one little virus.  One little infection to totally knock it to the floor.  When she was in the hospital last time her T-cell count was below 100.  Yours, when you have the worst flu you could possibly imagine on top of a head cold and bronchitis, is probably up around 800.  When you're healthy, right now, you're probably at like… 1,000 or even as high as 2,000.  Fiona constantly hovers around 200."

            "I – “ JC started but Carter interrupted.

            "So this little runny nose may be nothing, but it may also be that one little bug that takes down the empire, you know?"

            "I know."  JC said softly.  "I'm sorry."

 

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

 

            As Carter feared, Fiona’s runny nose rapidly turned into a full-blown sinus infection.  Which wasn’t uncommon in the fall and almost everyone he ran into had some sort of nose thing going on, but with Fiona he knew it was drastically different.  Carter was tired of being the bad guy all the time so he decided to wait.  When she finally complained, he would take her to the doctors.

            Carter let Fiona bask in her horrible sounding cold for a week before he put his foot down.  She’d spent two days coughing loud enough to wake the dead and lying around on the couch and Carter was tired of it. 

            “Get dressed.”  Carter tossed a pair of jeans on her bed.

            “Stop it.”  Fiona grumbled as she crossed her arms over her chest.

            “What?”

            “Stop throwing things at me.”

            “I threw things at the bed, not at you.”  Carter sighed and pulled her UCLA sweatshirt off of the hanger and dropped it on top of the jeans.  Fiona huffed and sulked by the door.  “Princess, you need to get dressed.”

            “I’m dressed.”

            Carter sighed heavily and looked at her in gym shorts and a t-shirt, the sound of pounding rain filled the room.  “I’m not going to fight with you.”

            “Good.”

            “Get dressed.”  He stomped out of the room and went to the kitchen phone.  Carter dialed Jamie’s cell number and waited by the sink for him to answer.

            “Helloooo?”  Jamie answered, a bright smile in his voice.

            “Hey.”

            “Hey.  What’s wrong?”  Jamie asked, realizing who it was.

            “We’re going to the doctors today and she’s being a bitch.  I wanted to give you a heads up in case I kill her.”

            “Stop it.”

            “I’m serious.”  Carter pressed his hand to his forehead.  “She’s acting like she doesn’t even care if she gets sick.”

            “Maybe she doesn’t.”

            “You’re not helping.”

            “Carter, darling, she knows it’s not going to be good news.  Would you be in a hurry to hear it?”

            “I… I’m not.”

            “Okay then.  Give her time.”

            “But…”

            “Getting there ten minutes earlier won’t help her viral load.”  Jamie dropped his voice.

            “I’m hanging up now.”  Carter breathed through his nose as he hit ‘end’.  He pressed his lips together and frowned deeply, he wanted someone to tell him what he wanted to hear.  Without thinking twice he dialed JC’s number.  “You’d better be getting dressed in there!”  He shouted towards Fiona’s room as it rang in his ear.

            “Hey you.”  JC smiled.

            “Hey, I’m trying to take Fiona to the doctors and she’d not cooperating.”  Carter sighed.

            “Good thanks, how are you?”  JC laughed.

            “I’m serious.”

            “I know you are.  Fiona’s a big girl.  If she doesn’t want to go don’t make her.”

            “Jesus!  You too?”

            “Me too what?”

            “You and Jamie are all like ‘well let her get sick then’.  I swear.”

            “Carter…” JC pulled at a lock of hair behind his ear.  “Does she know the possible outcome?”

            “Of course.”

            “And does she know that you are willing to take her?”

            “Yes.”  Carter hated JC being rational.

            “And does she know that if she doesn’t go to the doctor and get this checked out soon that it could get worse?”

            “Yes.”

            “Then let her decide.”

            “She’s not in the right frame of mind!”  Carter tried to force his opinion on JC.

            “Fuck you!”  Fiona yelled from the hallway.  “I’m in the exactly right frame of mind, asshole.  I don’t need a fucking caretaker, Carter.  Fuck you.”

            Carter turned quickly and caught sight of her in her jeans and sweatshirt.  “I’d say she sounds okay to me.”  JC said.

            “I’ll call you later.”  Carter hung up and hastily grabbed his coat from the back of the chair.  “Lets go.”

            “You know what Carter?  I can decide when to go on my own.  I can even take myself, you know.”  Fiona complained as she followed him out into the rain.  She waited until they were in the car shaking the droplets of water out of their hair.  “I don’t need a father.  I know when I’m – “

            “You don’t need a father?  You think I’m trying to be your dad?”  Carter shot at her as he backed out of the driveway.

            “Slow down.”

            “I’m not trying to be your father, Fi.  I’m trying to make sure that you’re not like him.”

            Fiona set her jaw and stared out the window.  “Pull over.”

            Carter blanched, “That’s not what I meant.”

            “Pull over.”

            “I’m not pulling over.  Fiona, that’s not what I meant.  You know that.”

            “Carter, pull the fucking car over.  I’m going to be sick.”

            Carter weighed his options.  Risk having her jump out and run versus throw up in his car.  Fiona paled and put her hand to her mouth and the decision was made.  He swerved toward the curb and screeched to a halt.  Fiona threw the door open and vomited into the gutter.

            Rain soaked her head and the car seat as she leaned out into the storm.  When she was done she wiped her mouth with her bare, shaking hand.

            “Here.”  Carter dug in his glove box for a napkin.  “I’m sorry.”

            “Thank you.”  Fiona wiped her hands and shut the door, shivering and wet.  “I’m just nervous.”

            “I’m sorry.”  He said again.

            Fiona nodded in response as they drove the rest of the way in silence.

 

            Once inside Carter assumed his position in the waiting room as Fiona was given a dry gown and a towel for her hair.  It was over an hour later when the nurse came to get him at Fiona’s request.  He’d never been left like that and was more than a little stung.   “Hey.”  He nodded at Fiona as he sat beside her in the familiar office.  “What’s up?”

            Dr. Simon looked at Fiona and gave her a tight-lipped smile.  It was up to Fiona to tell Carter whatever news she had.  She cleared her throat and spoke with her eyes glued to a crystal paperweight on the doctor’s desk.  “My viral load is up over 150,000 and my CD4 count is below 70.”

            Carter’s heart literally skipped a beat.  Numbers like that were not bad, they were worse than bad.  When he finally breathed again it came out as a rushed burst of air.  “O-okay.”  He looked at the doctor expectantly.  “So are you going to work a new cocktail up for her?”

            “No.”  The answer came from Fiona, not the doctor.

            “N-no?”  Carter looked at her, forcing her to look at him.  “What does that mean?”

            “Dr. Simon?”  Fiona looked at him desperately.

            “It means that Fiona has elected not to put her body through that.”

            “Whoa.  Wait.  What’s going on here?”

            “If I take another cocktail, the side effects are going to kick my ass.”  Fiona said softly.  “With as long as I was on the other meds, they’re pretty sure I’ve built up a resistance to them.”

            “So you start the cocktail slow, wean onto it.”

            Fiona bit her lip and shook her head.  “Carter, I feel fine.  Other than the nose thing and a little throat thing.”

            “Throat?”

            “I have thrush again.”  She winced as she swallowed.  “Other than that though, I feel okay.  We’re going to wing it.”

            Carter turned to the doctor.  “And this is okay with you?”

            Dr. Simon put his fist under his chin and nodded slightly.  “I’ve left it up to Fiona.  If she would like to start a new course of medicine and accept the side effects, I can have a course ready for her tomorrow.”

            “Since when do doctors let their patients decide?”  Carter scowled.

            “This is what I want, Carter.”

            “You’re giving up?”  Carter choked on his words.

            “No.”  Fiona sighed and rolled her eyes.  “I just don’t want to spend whatever time I have left, days, weeks, months, years… whatever, hugging the toilet, vomiting blood, hocking up green smurfs, none of that.”

            “Fi…”

            “No, listen.  I’m going to keep going without and if I start to get sick, really sick, again… we’ll go from there.”

            “But then it’ll be too late.”  Carter said, keeping amazingly calm.

            “Not necessarily.”  Dr. Simon chimed in.

            “With all due respect Dr. Simon, yes necessarily.  If her T-cell count is that low and she gets CMV or PCP, that’ll be that.”

            “Why don’t we cross that bridge when we get there?”

            “Until then?”  Carter asked, though he knew the answer.

            “Treat the symptoms.”  Three voices answered in unison.

            Carter nodded and looked at Fiona.  “So that’s it?”  She nodded and made a small sound of agreement.  “Okay, so that’s it.”  He slapped his hands on his knees then stood up.  “Thank you Dr. Simon.”  Carter extended his hand to shake the older gentleman’s.

            “Any time, Carter.”  He shook his hand and turned to Fiona.  “You know how to reach me.”

            “Yeah.”

            “You’re going to do well, Fiona.”

            “Thanks.”  She nodded slightly, then she and Carter ducked out of the office.  They picked up a prescription for Fiona’s seemingly never ending thrush then skulked out to the car and waited until they were on the road home before they spoke at the same time.

            “What the fuck?”  Carter asked.

            “Did you want to stop – “ Fiona said at the same time.  She paused when she heard Carter’s comment.  “ – at Dairy Queen?”  She finished her question.

            “Not really.”

            “Please?”

            “Now I’m doing you favors?”

            Fiona paused and bit her lip.  “I just wanted a milkshake.”

            Carter breathed deep through his nose and didn’t say a word, but drove across town to the Dairy Queen anyway.  She got out and went in alone, leaving Carter in the car to try to gain composure before she came back.  Like a good friend she brought one for Carter as well, but his sat in the cup holder and melted on the way home.

            When they got home Fiona took his dripping milkshake and dropped it in the trash with her empty cup.  They hadn’t spoken a word since they first got in the car and it didn’t look like they would as Carter stomped up the front steps and forced his way through the front door.

            Fiona stared after him for a moment then followed him into the house, dropping her purse on the kitchen table.  Something inside her wanted to make Carter sit down so she could explain to him why she’d made the decisions she’d made.  She wanted to talk it out and make him okay with what was going on, but deep inside she knew that it wouldn’t work.  Carter knew exactly why; he’d been there for her father’s ordeal, as well as his partner Greg.  No amount of talking would ever make it okay for him.

            For the first time in her life she felt like she couldn’t talk to Carter.  They needed each other so much at that moment but neither of them was emotionally ready to deal with the other.  For the first time she felt truly alone and forced to grow up completely on her own.

            She sat on the couch as tears hovered in the corners of her eyes.  Before they could overflow and release what she was sure would be a torrential downpour, she turned the TV on and switched to MTV where someone’s ride was getting pimped.

            Carter joined her on the couch a little while later but kept to the far corner, tucking his knees up under his chin.  “What kind of car is that?”  He asked softly, not caring at all.

            “Mustang.  Sixty-seven I think.”  Fiona answered, knowing that that meant nothing to either of them.

            “Hmm.”  Carter leaned forward and grabbed the TV guide.  He flipped through while glancing at the TV every few seconds.  He waited until the Mustang was painted bright blue and decked out with a DVD player and coffee maker before he sighed and flipped the page in the TV guide.  “I’m going over to JC’s.”  Carter said without looking up from the TV guide in his hand.

            “Okay.”  Fiona kept her eyes on the TV.  The girl on the TV was jumping up and down screeching, causing the silence of the house to be even more pronounced.

            “You’ll be okay?”

            “Yes.”

            Carter set his jaw and stood up.   “M’kay.  I’ll see you later then.”  He dropped the magazine on the couch and left quietly.  He locked the door behind him and took a deep shaky breath.  He’d held it together in front of Fiona for her sake, but he knew that as soon as the door shut she’d cry too.  He only wished that they could comfort each other right then, but inside he knew that they couldn’t.  They were breaking.

            His car seemed on autopilot as he drove toward JC’s house.  Before he turned up the street he called JC’s cell phone to make sure he was home.  “I was just thinking about you.”  JC answered with a smile.  “Hey, I’m on my way to your house, want me to pick up something to eat?”

            “I’m at your house.”

            “You… you’re what?”  JC asked as his voice cut in and out.

            “I’m at your house.  Or well, I will be in a minute.”

            “Is everything okay?”

            “Can you come home?”

            “I… yeah.  Is everything okay?”

            “Yeah.”  Carter nodded though the warble in his voice gave him away.

            JC pulled into a side street to make a u-turn.  “Okay, I’ll be there in a bit.  Go ahead and let yourself in.”

            “I… how?”

            “Oh, the gate.  The code is 4498.  I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”  JC said.  “Are you sure you’re okay?”

            “Yeah.  Yeah I’m okay.”  Carter pulled up to JC’s gate and entered the code.  He drove up the driveway and parked under the floodlight.

            “You sure?”

            “Yeah.”  Carter bit his lip and wiped his eyes.  “I’ll see you when you get here.”  He clicked his phone off and took a deep breath.

            JC hurried home and was relieved to see Carter’s car in his parking spot when he got there.  He stepped out of his car and approached Carter’s as the younger man got out.  “Hey.”  Carter tried to smile.

            “Hey, what’s going on?”  JC pulled Carter in for a hug and held him a little longer than needed.  Carter didn’t say a word, he just fell into JC and tried not to shake.  “Whoa… babe what’s wrong?”

            “It’s Fiona.”  Carter sniffed into JC’s shoulder.

            “Wait, what happened?  Is she okay?”  JC put his hands on Carter’s shoulders and pushed him away to look him in the face.  “Carter?”

            “No, yeah she’s okay.  I mean, she’s not… but.”

            “Where is she?”

            “She’s at home.”  Carter rolled his eyes then wiped them.

            “Then what’s the problem?”

            “They took her off her meds.”  Tears started new as Carter lowered his chin to his chest.

            “Why?”

            “Because…” Carter sighed.  “Can we go inside?”

            “Yeah, yeah of course.”  JC let them in the house and sat on the couch.  Carter came and curled up next to him.  “Okay… now what’s going on?”

            “Fiona is stopping her meds.  All of them.”

            “Wasn’t she already off of them?”

            “It’s a long story.”

            “Okay…?”  JC pulled Carter against his chest and wrapped his arms and legs around him.  “So fill me in.”

            “She got sick again you know so I took her to the doctors and instead of starting her on a new cocktail like they were supposed to they decided to just treat the symptoms.”

            “Can they do that?”

            “It was Fiona’s decision.”

            “So does that mean…?”

            “Yes.”  Carter whispered.

            “I don’t understand.”

            “Neither do I.”

            “Do you want to talk about it?”  JC asked softly as the setting sun cast an orange glow to the room.

            Carter thought for a moment.  He wanted to talk about it, to figure it out, to make Fiona understand… to find a way to make himself understand.  He wanted to talk and talk and talk until something made sense.  His mind knew why Fiona decided to stop it all, but his heart couldn’t accept the fact.  Having sat beside her while her father and Greg did the same thing, she had to know how much it was killing him.

            “Not really.”  He finally answered.

            “Okay.”  JC kissed Carter’s temple and gave him a squeeze.  “Wanna watch TV?”

            “Something stupid.”

            “Stupid I can do.”  JC clicked the TV on and found the Cartoon Network.  They stayed tangled together on the couch for hours sitting in silence.  All the while Carter swiped at his eyes trying to stop himself from sobbing, though he knew that Fiona was probably doing the same.

 

            Carter knew Fiona better than he expected.  She was, at that moment, tangled in a quilt on the couch watching the same TV show weeping softly into the warm, worn fabric.  She knew that she’d made the right decision for her, as hard as it would be for Carter to accept.  And she knew how hard that would be; she went through the exact same thing just a few short years before.

            Fiona closed her eyes, pinching the last of her tears past her eyelashes.  She was ready to face whatever came her way, she just hoped that Carter would find his way back soon; she couldn’t do it alone.

 

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

 

            Carter called the next morning, but didn’t come home until two days later.  He talked to Jamie and a counselor from his work.  JC did what he could to help, but with no past experience to go on it was hard for him to comprehend.  Before heading home Carter dropped JC at the airport to send him to Florida to finish up the details on his album.  They kissed goodbye in the car, then Carter watched until JC was inside the terminal with his bodyguard at his side.

            He headed home and faced Fiona.  She met him at the door with a huge hug and a quick kiss.  “I’m sorry.  No more of this not talking stuff, okay?”  The words fell from her lips faster than she expected.  “I missed you.”

            “I was gone like, one day.”  Carter laughed, but inside he was pleased.  He pulled her in for another hug and kissed her ear, “I love you, kid.”

            “I love you too.”  She sighed into his hair.

            When he stepped back he tried to look in her mouth inconspicuously.  White spots were apparent, and he didn’t have to look hard.  “Have you been taking your meds?”

            “Carter come on, you just walked in.”  She tried to hold her smile.

            “Do I have to play bad cop as soon as I walk in?”

            “No.”  Fiona sighed and stepped back.  “Give me one day of being happy with you.”

            “Do your mouth wash stuff.”

            “I did.”  She mumbled without meeting his eye.

            “Fi…”

            “I did.”  She insisted.  “It takes a few days to work.  A week.  You know that.”  Carter didn’t want to argue right away so he let it slide for the rest of the day.  After that he was back in full on forceful mode.

 

            When JC returned five days later he called from the airport hoping to share some good news with Carter.  While in Florida he’s made all of the arrangements for their trip to New York and he wanted to get information from Carter about helping him and Fiona get time off of work, without telling him why.

            “I have missed you.”  JC said as soon as Carter answered the phone.

            Carter sighed deeply as he closed his eyes, meaning his next words more than JC could know, “I’ve missed you too.”

            “I can be there in an hour.  You busy?”

            “Not… not exactly.”  Carter looked over his shoulder at Fiona’s door, scared by the silence within.  “Fiona is being a brat.”

            “Sounds like fun.”

            “Ha.”

            “So can I come over?”

            “You can come over, of course… but it’s bad.”

            “What’s bad?”  JC asked, stifling his laughter as something crashed on Carter’s end of the phone.

            “Hang on.”  Carter mumbled, then yelled away from the phone, “You’d better fucking hope that missed.”  He sighed then lowered his voice.  “This tough love thing, it’s bad.”

            “Sounds like it.”

            “I’ve got to child proof her room.  She’s turning into a damn three year old with her tantrums.”  Carter didn’t find any of it amusing, but smiled when JC snorted softly.  “It’s not funny.”

            “No, I know it isn’t.”

            “Stop laughing.”

            “I can’t.”  JC laughed out loud.  “I’m sorry, it’s just… you guys.”  He shook his head.  “Listen, I’ll come over, we can order a pizza and chill out or something.”

            “Fi can’t have pizza.”

            “You can though.”

            “Well, yeah.”

            “Okay then.  I’ll be over in like, an hour.”

            Carter checked his watch and cringed as he saw that it was getting close to her next round of meds, and he wasn’t looking forward to that.  “Okay, I’ll see you then.”

            “I love you, man… take it easy.”

            “I love you too.”  Carter sighed and hung up before storming back into Fiona’s room.  Without a word to her he righted her lamp and picked up the shards of broken light bulb.  “Grow up.”  He mumbled finally before leaving her alone in the dark.

            “You.”  She retorted in true toddler fashion.

            Carter paused at the door but bit back the smart reply he had on the tip of his tongue.  Instead, he shut the door and went to the kitchen for a huge glass of ice water and a few deep breaths.   When he was calm enough not to go back into Fiona’s room and kill her himself, he called the pizza place and ordered two large pizzas.  He and JC couldn’t finish them by themselves, but if today was anything to judge by, he’d be eating left overs for a few days anyway.

 

            A half-hour later JC arrived and let himself in with the spare key under the planter.  “Hey.”  Carter jumped when he rounded the corner to find JC in the kitchen.  “You scared me.”

            “You’ve really got to stop leaving the key under the planter.”  JC smiled and dropped the key on the table.

            “I am so glad to see you.”  Carter practically fell into JC’s arms.  “Take me away from here.”  He playfully whined into JC’s shoulder.

            “Just say the magic word and we’ll be on the next flight out of here.”

            “Abracadabra.”  Carter whispered, then looked up to kiss JC hello.

            “How’s the missus?”

            Carter rolled his eyes and dropped his head back to JC’s shoulder.  “You don’t want to know.”

            “Is she up?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Can I go say hi?”

            “If you’re feeling brave.”  Carter kissed JC again then stepped away.

            JC walked down the short hall to Fiona’s door and knocked, “Hey Fi?  It’s me.  Are you decent?”

            “Yeah, come on in.”  She said from the far side of the door.

            “Oh give me a break.”  Carter grumbled under his breath.  She’d been an absolute demon all day and JC shows up and she has manners?  He shook his head then went to the kitchen to get her medicine from the refrigerator.

            “You look great.”  JC smiled as he leaned on the doorframe.

            “Aww, so do you.”  Fiona’s dark eyes were ringed with dark circles, but she smiled nonetheless.

            “It’s kinda dark in here…?”  JC looked around and saw that the only source of light was from her open closet beside her bed.

            “Yeah, we had an accident.”  She had the gall to look innocent.

            “Medicine time.”  Carter shook a little brown bottle with a devilish smile from the door.

            “Not till six thirty.”

            “It’s six twenty eight.”

            “I have two minutes.”  Fiona stuck her spotted tongue out at Carter, then doubled over in a back breaking cough.

            “Fiona, come on.”  Carter sat at the foot of her bed and roughly pulled the blankets back.  JC’s brow twitched, he’d never seen Carter even come close to snipping at Fiona.  “I know you hate this, but the sooner you take it the sooner it’ll be over and the sooner you will be better.”

            Fiona shot him the look of death and pursed her lips, causing her nostrils to flare with strained breaths.  JC cleared his throat and stepped out into the hall, “I’ll just wait out here.”

            “Can you shut the door please?  This won’t be pretty.”  Carter said softly.

            “Uh, sure.”  JC carefully shut the door to Fiona’s room and sat down on the couch.  Of the three remotes on the coffee table none of them actually worked to turn the TV on so he sat in anxious silence hearing an argument, punctuated by bouts of coughing, in the other room.

            The doorbell chimed a moment later cracking the stillness of the room.  JC stood up and raised his hand to knock on Fiona’s door.  Dammit, knock it off.”  Carter said from the inside.

            JC lowered his hand as the doorbell rang again.  He bit his lip carefully and went to the front door.  Looking through the peephole he saw Jamie decked out in a sheer black form-fitting shirt with a gelled faux Mohawk.  He shook his head then opened the door.

            "Oh.  Whoa, hey.  Hi."  Jamie said as he took a step back from the door.  "Hi."

            "H-hi." JC said as he looked back toward Fiona's room.  "Carter?"

            "Yeah, the check is on the counter by the coffee maker."  Carter shouted back.

            "It's not the pizza guy." JC shouted back.  "Um… come on in."  JC held the door open.

            "There's a coupon too."  Carter shouted, apparently not hearing what JC said.

            "Thanks."  Jamie stepped around JC and stood in front of the couch.  "So they're…?"

            "Yeah, he's helping her with her medicine and uh… getting her changed I think."  JC nodded with his hands in his pockets.  "We're just waiting for dinner."

            "Ahh."

            "So…"

            "So."  Jamie pursed his lips and sat down.  JC sat at the far end of the couch and placed his hands on his knees.

            "Did… do you want me to go get Carter?"  JC offered with a quick look toward Fiona's door.  Whatever argument they were having was muffled behind the closed door.

            "Oh, no that's okay.  She needs him in there, I can wait."  Jamie leaned back on the couch and got comfortable, while not taking his eyes off of JC.

            "Okay."  JC leaned on the arm of the couch and cleared his throat.

            "So hey… can I ask you something?"   Jamie asked after a minute of uncomfortable silence.

            "Sure."  JC shrugged, not sure of what to expect from Jamie.

            "You don't have to answer if you don't want, but I mean, if anyone would know you would and you're here so I might as well ask, right?  I mean, worst case scenario I'm completely out of line and you can hate me and I'll never have to see you again, right?"

            "Is that what you wanted to ask?"  JC craned his neck to look back at Jamie.

            "No."  Jamie smiled and sat forward.  "First, let me say that it's cool that you're with Carter.  We’ve talked, Carter and me I mean, and he’s… well he’s a good kid and he's completely happy with you and… and well it's been a long time coming, so that's really awesome.  And I'm thrilled that you're the one to make him happy.  He deserves to be happy."  Jamie paused for a breath, “And forget what I said before because I was being stupid and Carter is right and I’m wrong, end of story.”

            “I… okay.  Thank you.”  JC nodded politely.  Jamie could talk more than anyone he had ever met before, and that was saying something.

            "Okay.  Lance…” Jamie looked up at JC with a half smile.  "Is he?"

            "Gay?"  JC tried not to laugh.  "No… no Lance isn't gay.  He uh… he's happily straight I think.  I haven't asked recently, but last I checked."  He shrugged.

            "Shit.  Really?"

            "Yeah."

            "Damn."

            "Sorry."  JC shrugged, that was easy enough.

            "What about Justin?"

            "Straight."

            "Shit.  Joey?"

            JC paused.  He didn't know this guy from any random guy on the street and that was Joey's business.  Suddenly he didn't feel so comfortable.  "Umm… well…"

            "Okay, dude.  Say no more.  I know he's got a kid and everything so maybe he's just curious or bi."

            "I… he's… yeah I think that'd be a fair description."  JC blushed.  "But he's with Kelly now and they're raising their daughter together."

            "Right.  That's cool.  He seems like he'd be a cool dad."  Jamie nodded.  "And Chris… Chris is straight."  Jamie stated as fact.

            "Yeah."  JC nodded.  "He is."

            "Of course he is.  He's cool though.  Seriously, I'd love to just play video games with him all day."

            "You'd kick his ass."

            "Ha, don't bet on that.  I suck at video games." Jamie shook his head and they both seemed to relax.  "What about Nick?"

            "Nick?"

            "Nick Carter.  Pretty blonde youngster?  Fellow Floridian?"  Jamie raised his eyebrow and tried not to laugh.

            "Oh."  JC blushed again and looked toward Fiona's door, wishing that Carter would just be done already.  "That's really not my business."  JC mumbled, meaning that it was none of Jamie's.

            "Ah, but you've got to know."

            "Hmm."  JC frowned and made a sound in his throat.

            "Dude, just tell me if I'm right.  Three out of five?"  Jamie actually looked excited as he leaned forward onto his knees.

            "I…"

            "Hey, are you keeping it all - “ Carter walked out of Fiona's room and stopped short at the sight of JC on the couch with Jamie.  "Hey…?"

            "Hey."  Jamie smiled as JC stood up.

            "The pizza guy hasn't come yet."  JC explained.

            "Yeah, I see that."  Carter smiled.  "Ugh, she's such a baby when it comes to her medicine."

            "Is that the Nysa-whatever stuff?"  Jamie asked.

            "Nystatin, yeah."

            "Dude.  That shit tastes nasty."  Jamie made a face and stood up.

            "How would you know?"

            "Last time she had it I got some on my hand and licked it.  Nasty stuff.  Seriously.  They should call it Nasty-tin."  He cringed and followed Carter into the kitchen where he was rinsing off the spoon and syringe from Fiona's medicine.

            “Well it serves you right.”  Carter grumbled.

            “Meow.  You’re in a mood tonight.”

            “Yeah.  Well.”  Carter continued to scowl as he rinsed the spoon and set it on a towel.  “I’m hungry.  I haven’t eaten anything since like, breakfast.”

            “So go get something.”  Jamie rolled his eyes.

            “Did you come by to give me a hard time?”

            “No.”  Jamie pursed his lips, then smiled.  “I came by to check on the princess and to see what you were up to this weekend because there’s a thing on Saturday.”

            “A thing?”

            “You know, a thing.”  Jamie cast a sideways glance at JC then widened his eyes at Carter who just sighed in response.

            “I think I’ll pass this time.”

            “You sure?”

            “I’m sure.”

            “You could bring… a date.”  Jamie looked at JC again and winked.

            “We’ll pass.  Maybe next time.”  Carter shook his head as the doorbell rang.  “You staying for pizza?”

            “Can’t.”  Jamie shook his head and spun towards the door.  He opened it and took the pizza from the kid on the porch.

            Carter came from behind and gave him the check, then shut the door.  “Hot date?”

            “Ha.”  Jamie rolled his eyes and set the pizza on the table.  “I am going back over to Mario’s.”

            Carter didn’t have a clue who he was talking about, but nodded and opened the pizza box.  “Oh man.”

            “So I’ll catch you later?”  Jamie asked.

            “Uh huh.”  Carter took a steaming piece of pizza and sniffed it.

            “I’ll call you.”

            “Okay.”  He didn’t pay attention as Jamie opened the front door and turned around.  “So?”  Jamie looked past Carter to where JC was leaning against the back of the couch.  "Was I right?"

            JC laughed lightly and shook his head as he remembered Jamie’s last question.  "Um, two and a half."  He nodded.

            "Shit yeah!  I knew it.  Dude, that half counts."  He pointed at JC as if he were keeping score.  "Fuckin' Nick… can't commit to anything."  Jamie shook his head and walked out to his car with a new bounce in his step.

            "What was that all about?"

            "The Backstreet Boys."  JC shrugged.

            "Oh shit, he asked you?"

            "Yeah."  JC laughed.

            "And you told him?"

            "Well yeah.  I mean, really.  If he knows about me and hasn't said anything, why would he say anything about them?  And honestly?  Who'd believe him?"

            "Very true."  Carter smiled, then shut the door and went to the dining room where he opened the top pizza.  "Oh man, smell that.  That's heaven."

            JC inhaled deeply.  "That does smell good… but that's gonna kill Fiona.  She loves pizza."

            "I know.  So we'd better eat it fast."

 

            They ate their pizza and talked about their individual days.  JC spent his on the phone with “the guys” in Florida while Carter spent his trying to clean the house and force-feed Fiona.  All in all, Carter would have gladly switched places with JC.  “How about tomorrow I kick back on your couch and call people in Florida all day long and you come over here and deal with her?”

            “How about if you spend all tomorrow laying in my bed and I spend all day catering to you?”  JC asked as he swiped his greasy napkin over his lips, sounding sexy and silly all at the same time.

            “Ugh.”  Carter closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair.  “You’re killing me.”

            “You can come over if you want to.”  JC stood to take the left over pizza to the kitchen.

            “I have to work.”

            “You’re going to work tomorrow?”  JC frowned slightly.  “Really?”

            “Unfortunately the bills won’t pay themselves.”

            “I can help you if – “

            “I’ve got it covered.”  Carter interrupted him.  “But thank you.  Besides, like you’ve told me a dozen times, I need to get out of here.”

            JC shrugged and cleared the table.  “Well the offer still stands.  Anytime, not just tomorrow.”

            “I know.  And one of these days I’m going to take you up on it.”

            “I hope so.”  JC sighed then bent to kiss Carter’s upturned lips as he leaned in his chair.  “Saturday night, you busy?”

            “Um…” Carter pretended to think.  “I don’t know, am I?”

            “Yes.”  JC smiled and righted Carter’s chair.  “We’re going out.”

            “On a date?”

            “Eh, kind of.  I’m in the mood to really go out.  Dancing I mean.”

            “Dancing?”

            “At The Edge.”  JC’s eyes danced as he waggled his eyebrows.  “It’ll be fun.”

            “I… okay.”

            “If Fiona is feeling better she can come too.”

            “Ha.  No.”  Carter laughed and stood up.  “And uh hey… about that.  Kinda.  I uh…” He cleared his throat and shuffled his feet.  He’d been thinking about this all week and was just now getting the courage to say anything.  “I need to show you something.”

            JC looked suspicious, “What?”

            “In here.”  Carter stepped toward his room.

            “Oh really?”

            “Yeah I uh… it’s… it’s uh, in here.”  Carter went into his room and flipped the light on.  JC followed and wrapped his arms around Carter’s waist from behind.

            “Really?”  JC asked as he nipped at Carter’s neck.

            “No, I…” Carter removed JC’s hands; he would never be able to say what he needed to say with JC pressed against him like that.  “I need to show you this.”

            "Hmm?"  JC watched as Carter went to his closet and pulled the thin door open.

            "I just… I wanted to show you this.  Just in case."  Carter held open a fire safe box in his closet.

            "What is it?"

            "It's a safe."

            "Okay?"  JC crossed the room to look into the closet with his hands on his hips, completely lost.

            Carter cleared his throat and said, "God, this is weird."  He lowered his eyes as he shut the lid softly and sighed.  "Okay… it’s just… if anything happens, all of our information is in here."

            JC's breath froze on his exhale.  "What do you mean?"

            "I mean if anything happens to either me or Fiona, all of the information is in here.  You know, who to call and… everything.  There are folders with our names – "

            "Carter."  JC closed his eyes and shook his head.  "Nothing's going to happen."  He wasn't sure if he was trying to convince himself or Carter, though he was sure neither of them believed it.

            "I'm saying just in case."  Carter blushed.  "I need to know that someone else knows where this is."

            "What about Jamie?"

            "Jamie knows."  He nodded.  "But you're here more often than he is.  And he has a tendency to be…” He tried to think of the right word.  “Flighty."  He paused then added, “And emotional.”

            "Carter, I…"

            "It's just to make me feel better.  I feel better knowing that you know where this is.  You won't need it, but, " Carter took a deep breath, "but just in case."

            "Okay."  JC licked his lips.  "Okay, it’s in the closet."

            "Right."

            "Where's the key?"

            "It's not locked."

            "It's not locked?  It's a safe."

            "It's fire proof.  That way if there's a fire we won't lose all the documents."  Carter explained as he shut the closet door.

            "Okay."

            "So yeah.  If anything happens, everything you'll need is in there.  Or if, you know, something happens to one of us and the other one can't… well you'll know where the stuff is and who to call."

            "Shit Carter."  JC put his hands in his pockets; the full weight of what had just taken place settled on his shoulders.

            "It's for me Jace.  I just need to know that you know."

            JC pursed his lips and paused.  "I know."

            "Thank you."

            "Mm hmm."  JC exhaled through his nose and turned to leave the room.

            “JC?”

            He stopped with his hand on the doorframe, but didn’t turn around.  “Yeah?”

            “Thank you.”  Carter said again.

            JC nodded and faced Carter, “You’re welcome.”  He knew that their relationship had just taken another unexpected and unusual turn.  Never before had he been given the so-called key to someone else’s life, which is exactly what he felt like Carter had just given him.

            He had never felt responsible for someone else like he did right then.  Any other time JC was sure he would have bolted, he would have found a reason to leave and not return.  But somehow Carter had this hold on him that only made JC want to hang on tighter, to fix everything… if he could.

 

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

 

            The rest of the week continued with much the same.  Carter took a reprieve from his duties at home and escaped to work during the week, giving himself the much-needed time away.  Fiona was left to her own devices to take care of herself and was doing a bang-up job with it.  Her meds, when taken, weren’t cleaned up and the dishes from what little food she ate were almost always piled in the sink when Carter got home.

            Carter checked in with her each night and spent time catching up on the latest news from Oprah and Maury, as well as anything new Fiona had to relay about her day.  She came down with a cough that cleared up almost too fast, but everything else seemed to linger.  JC stayed away due to a nasty head cold, but he called often and took Carter out as often as possible.

 

            By Saturday evening Carter was dangling close to the end of his rope when JC called from his cell phone.  Tears of relief welled up in Carter’s eyes when he saw the number on his caller ID.  “Hey you.”

            “Hey.”  JC smiled, hoping he could pass some of his good mood on to Carter.  “How was your day?”

            “Well, it’s not over yet.  It can still get better, right?”

            “You bet it can.”  JC held his smiled, though he wasn’t sure if it made it to his voice.  “How's Fiona?"  He asked as he left his manager’s office with his phone pressed against his ear.

            "She's uh… not doing great.  I mean she's not coughing anymore, so that's good.  Her chest has cleared up but she's got intestinal things going on and she's been complaining of black spots."

            "Black spots?  What, like freckles or something?"

            "No… in her vision."

            "Her vision?  Is that…?"

            "Yeah, that's pretty common I think." Carter nodded.  "Her dad was almost completely blind when..."

            "Shit.  Is there anything they can do?"

            “She has an appointment tomorrow.”  Carter shrugged and took a deep breath.  "But it's not that bad really.  She's more worried about missing work right now, which is just dumb because she's got all kinds of vacation that she hasn't used."

            "So is she using that?"

            "Yeah."

            "Okay.  If you guys need anything, let me know." JC offered for the thousandth time.  They never took anything, but he liked them to know the offer was there.  "Do you want me to bring dinner over or something?"

            "Actually…” Carter paused and pursed his lips.  "Do you think we can go out or something?  I need to get out of the house.  I know that sounds bad… but I do."

            "Yeah.  No, I understand.  That's fine.  I'm leaving the office right now, do you want me to come and get you?"

            "You're at the office?  On a Saturday?"

            "Last minute stuff."

            "Oh."

            "So I'll be there in a half hour?"  JC asked.

            "Yeah.  Come get me and we'll…just go do something."

            "Cool."  JC smiled.  "And we'll bring home take out for Fi."

            "She's got that thrush stuff still, so I think she'll just stick to eating the Jell-O and fruit cocktail stuff."  Carter made a face and shook his head.

            "Oh… okay.  Are you sure?"

            "I'll ask, but I'm pretty sure she won't want anything."

            "Okay.  I'll see you in a few."

            "Yeah."  Carter smiled and blew a kiss into the phone. JC laughed and blew one back, then they both disconnected.

            After checking on a still sleeping and snoring Fiona, Carter went to his room to change into something he could wear out in public and waited for JC.  “Where to?”  Were the first words out of JC’s mouth after Carter finished kissing him ‘hello’.

            “Anywhere.”

            “You wanna let Fi know you’re leaving?”  JC looked toward the hall.

            “She’s asleep.  I left a note in the kitchen.”  Carter took JC’s hand and lead him right back out the open front door.  “Come on.”

            “Are you in a hurry?”

            “I need to get out of here.”  Carter said with an exasperated sigh.

            JC paused and looked at Carter.  His eyes looked tired and for the first time JC could remember, Carter looked old.  Much older than his age.  Creases in his forehead seemed permanent, slight bags under his eyes, overgrown hair and slouched shoulders.  “Okay.  Let’s go.”  JC said softly.  They headed out and drove for an hour before deciding on a fast food joint near JC’s house.

            They ate in the car in the dark parking lot then drove to JC’s house where the only thing lighting the way was the flood light on the garage door.  “You didn’t leave house lights on?”  Carter asked, as if that were something important.

            JC shrugged and opened the door.  They stepped into the house, but JC didn’t turn the lights on.  “You want something to drink?”  He asked, ever the polite host.  Carter shook his head.  “Hot cocoa?”  Carter refused again before swaying on his feet.  “Okay then.”  JC wrapped his arm around Carter’s middle and lead him to the nearest bedroom, a guest room he’d never had the chance to use.

            Without argument JC managed to lay Carter in the bed and spoon up behind him.  “Can I stay here?”  Carter asked, already half asleep.

            JC laughed softly and kissed the back of Carter’s neck.  “Of course.”

            Within minutes Carter was sound asleep and JC was left alone in the dark with the digital clock telling him it was too early even for the news to be on TV.  He brushed Carter’s unkept hair out of his eyes then continued the motion, smoothing Carter’s hair as his own mother did when he was a child.

            He thought to himself, “What would I be doing right now if it weren’t for Carter?”  JC tried to imagine, but couldn’t.  Who he was when he first met Carter only a few short months ago, and who he was then were two completely different people.  Somehow this kid, and Carter was a kid to JC, had shown JC just how much growing up he still had to do.  The changes were small, but needed and noticed.  He hoped that he’d done the same for Carter.  That somehow Carter felt the change as well, and that together they would grow to know each other better than they knew themselves.

            JC smiled and stared at the shadows on the ceiling as he put all thoughts from his mind and focused on the man in his arms and the weight on that man’s shoulders.  He slid his hand from Carter’s hair to his shoulders and massaged the invisible burden away as well as he could.

 

 

 

 

 

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Copyright © 2003, 2004  Amy Lynn