February 12, 2001
Kai’s screaming woke Jon. It was a panicked, desperate scream, the scream of someone in intense pain. Kai lay partially on his side, partially on his stomach, supported by pillows; an unusual sleeping position for him but one he may have defaulted to if his back had been hurting him as much as Jon suspected. Kai was panting, one arm bent over his head, both clenching the sheets so tightly his hands were pale from lack of blood.
Jon couldn't ignore his brother’s pain, even if it was only a nightmare, and he didn't like how Kai’s breathing seemed to cut out more and more between each scream. So Jon knelt on the mattress beside Kai and gently laid a hand on his brother’s back, trying to shake him awake.
Kai’s screaming immediately died and he stiffened. Held his breath. Almost like he was poised, waiting for what would happen next. But his eyes were still closed, and it was obvious he was still asleep. Jon’s presence was leaking into Kai’s dream, and Jon suspected not in a good way, either.
Suddenly, Kai pushed against the mattress with all his strength, heaving Jon’s arm off him as if it had been something far heavier. The movement was so violent it threw Kai onto his back and nearly caused him to tumble off the bed. Without thinking, Jon reached across to support Kai’s shoulders in order to help pull him back toward the center of the mattress, Jon’s left hand going under Kai’s body near where his arm pressed against the bed, and his other near Kai’s lower back.
Jon let out a grunt as he shifted his brother to safety, but a sudden sharp pain in his left arm made him pull it back immediately in reflex. “Motherfucker!” Jon swore as he massaged his arm, brushing a thumb over the broken skin where Kai had bitten him.
Jon’s gaze flew to his brother, who was still dreaming, protecting his face now with his arms, cringing and sobbing quietly.
Half of Jon still instinctively wanted to protect and soothe his brother, but his sympathy was tempered by the throbbing in his arm. Jon hadn’t been bitten in years, and that was by a scared, hurting little boy he’d treated in the ER when he was still in his fellowship. But when Kai was dreaming, was he really much different?
Jon checked the wound; Kai had managed to draw blood, but it was relatively superficial. Still, it was probably best at this point to clean and bandage it and let Kai wake on his own.
Before Kai even opened his eyes, he felt the pain. Particularly in his shoulders and back, muscles screaming with even the slightest movement. His arms burned where he’d cut yesterday, and he could smell the faintest hint of copper suggesting he’d reopened some of them. He was lying in a strange position, his hips twisted in relation to his spine, like he’d been sleeping on his side and shifted but hadn’t woken up enough to guide his legs to follow. His stomach churned with nausea and his throat felt swollen and shredded. Fuck. Another screaming nightmare. He couldn’t remember this one, only that he knew it wasn’t one of his usuals. Not even a repeat of Allan Ohlsen. No. All he knew was the lingering terror he’d felt, the hopelessness so strong it still clung to him. And pain. Searing pain. Although that could have been his actual physical state leaking into his dream.
Kai was loathe to open his eyes, to move, but the last thing he wanted was to fall asleep again and straight back into whatever terror he’d narrowly escaped from. Kai swallowed with some difficulty and finally opened his eyes. Jon was sitting on his own bed, facing Kai, just watching him. He looked tired, but there was more to it that Kai couldn’t quite make out. Maybe when he woke up a bit more. Jon was still in his PJs, flannel pants borrowed from Kai and a faded T-shirt that revealed Jon’s more muscular arms and shoulders. He’d been working out daily: mostly sit-ups and push ups and that kind of thing, but on Jon’s thin frame his progress was evident. It made Kai even more ashamed of how much he’d let himself go by comparison. He was so tired all the time--from not eating and not sleeping and the depression that sat on his chest like a huge, monstrous beast--that all too often it was easier to only do half his normal workout regimen, to put off going to the pool, to lie in bed for hours half caught between wanting to sleep forever and being afraid of the nightmares that would find him if he did.
Jon crossed his arms on his chest, and now Kai noticed a bandage wrapped around one forearm, something he must have gotten from Kai’s cutting kit. He seemed impatient, even angry, and for a moment Kai’s stomach fell. Was Kai forgetting something that had happened between them? Had he said or done something horrible to Jon and blacked out? No matter what Jon said, he hated their mother with such intensity Kai knew that the more he became like her the more Jon would come to hate him, too. Why couldn’t Kai remember? The last thing that came to mind was Jon saying something about being bullied in school, and that was somehow connected to how he’d learned Spanish, but that was all hazy, like Kai was trying to remember a dream days afterward. Had Kai suggested that he’d had it worse? Had they fought? Physically, fought? Could that explain the bandage on Jon’s arm and how much pain Kai was in? He could feel the edge of panic, that strange, hard-to-describe floaty, disembodied feeling that sometimes swept over him. Moments in which reality suddenly seemed less . . . real. Especially when it happened shortly after waking, Kai couldn’t always be sure if he was really awake or still dreaming. Dr. Miller had explained that it was another form of dissociation, a way the mind protected itself in stressful situations. She called it depersonalization or derealization, and once a week they’d work on exercises that helped Kai recall moments throughout his life when he’d experienced these episodes so he could learn how to recognize them and combat them. It sounded easy enough, but it was almost like being high without the euphoria. Like being a ghost trying to reunite with his physical body. At least some of the time Kai could recognize these moments, but knowing he was dissociating was far easier than breaking out of an episode.
Kai was still fighting to breathe, and at the same time push through the idea that this was a dream and the nightmare was actually reality, that the darkness--the Darkness--was going to swallow him, dig its pointed fingers into his skin, and devour him whole.
Jon’s face softened, and he leaned forward, almost like he was studying Kai to see if he was really awake.
Kai shifted to get his hips aligned with his shoulders. Pain surged through the muscles that linked his lower back to his pelvis. Kai cried out, holding himself very still, not even breathing as he rode out the pain and tried not to puke. At least that helped snap him firmly in reality.
“What year is it?”
Kai didn’t want to move, even to speak, and his throat hurt like he’d been intubated for weeks. “2001,” he croaked.
Jon frowned, even though Kai was certain that was the right answer. “Where are we?” That question confused Kai, and it was only then that he started to fully realize that they weren’t home. Surprisingly, that didn’t make Kai panic. It just added to the murk that was churning away in his brain and had been since he woke up. Maybe he really was still sleeping?
“Not home?” Kai said with a shake of his head and a single sign that pulled at his aching shoulders and made a sharp pain form in his arm.
Jon’s frown grew deeper. He didn’t try to hide his irritation.
But Kai wasn’t being a smart ass. He was desperately trying to emerge from the chaotic jungle of his confused half-awake state, his body was screaming at him in a million different ways, and his depression was stamping on his ability to care if he answered correctly. He tried to convey all that with just a look.
But Jon either didn’t get it or didn’t care. He pushed his hand through his hair in a tight, irritated way as if he were furious and trying to contain it. “I need to know you’re awake and aware,” Jon signed stiffly, almost professionally, as if Kai were his patient instead of his brother.
Kai was becoming increasingly afraid that Jon was so angry at Kai that he was going to abandon him here; maybe a crew from Harbinger was already on their way and Jon was just priming him for their arrival. Kai’s heart began to race, his breathing become more rapid, and he knew he should flee but he didn’t have the energy or strength to push through the pain and stiffness do to so, which frightened him even more. He wrestled with himself and realized he hadn’t answered his brother, didn’t even remember what the question was. “Please. I’m sorry,” Kai signed, two signs that were almost the same and didn’t require too much movement. His eyes pleaded with Jon.
Some of Jon’s anger left as he exhaled. His eyebrows dipped, although Kai couldn’t tell if it was pity, concern, or weariness. Probably a blend of all three. “Do you know where we are?” Jon asked with more patience this time.
Oh. Kai let out a tight breath. “Omaha,” Kai said and hoped his voice was loud enough for Jon to hear.
Jon seemed to relax a fraction. He brushed his thumb over the bandage on his arm. Seemed to hesitate, study Kai for a moment. “Do you remember what you dreamed about?”
Kai didn’t understand why Jon was asking, but it felt like this was a test Kai wasn’t prepared for, and if he replied wrong something horrible would happen. Breathing was so hard. It was all he could think about. That, and how Jon hated him. The feelings of failure, of knowing that he’d lost his brother and it was all his fault wrapped around him like an invisible anaconda squeezing his life away. His chest heaved as he struggled to breathe, gasping. He needed to sit up; it would help. But moving seemed impossible, and although Kai kept fighting for air, a voice in the depth of his mind urged him to give in, to let himself die because it would make everyone’s lives better. He couldn’t destroy anything anymore if he were dead.
Jon was angry, his features tight, and yet he moved, pulling Kai up, letting him lean against him for support like he had when they were kids. He put one hand on Kai’s chest to wordlessly urge him to take deep, slow breaths.
Kai struggled to follow, coughing. Was Jon helping him because he cared or because his doctor training was kicking in? Kai had clearly injured him, and it seemed far more than physical. What was the point of fighting anymore if Jon hated him?
“Dammit, Kai, breathe,” Jon shouted in his ear.
Kai’s heart raced and his chest burned and the world spun and it would be so easy to give in and let himself go.
But Jon wouldn’t have it. He slipped out from behind Kai, still supporting him, propping him up against the headboard. Kai had lost so much weight and Jon was much stronger than ever, or maybe Kai was already half gone, because it felt like the movement was effortless.
Kai sucked at the air, using his shoulders and neck to help pull it in, but that just made the pain worse, which made him dizzy. He coughed some more. It felt like something was stuck in his throat he couldn’t get out, and suddenly it seemed as if Kai were trapped in one of his nightmares. Like the buried alive ones, or the ones in which he was paralyzed but something was stuck in his throat and the Darkness was hovering over him, and he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn't breathe! Panic took over, and Kai settled for little gulps that weren’t close to enough. His head swam. He was so tired.
Jon tapped Kai’s cheek to get him to open his eyes. Jon waved an inhaler. “Count of three. Breathe deep and hold it. OK? Look at me.”
Kai kept closing his eyes and Jon kept forcing him to open them again. It would be good to die like this. Then Kai wouldn’t hurt anyone, but he could still let them all free of the burden he was.
“Stay with me. Focus. Deep breath. Ready?” Jon put the inhaler in Kai’s mouth. With his other hand, he counted down to three, then nodded as he pressed to release the medicine.
Kai inhaled and tried to hold it, but it made him cough and the panic surged: he was dying. He wasn’t getting enough air and he was tired and he was going to die.
“Again,” Jon said, remaining calm and in control, guiding Kai through using his inhaler a few more times. “Keep breathing. I know you’re tired. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.” Jon’s hand was back on Kai’s chest, guiding him, and his arm supported Kai, helping him stay upright and leaned forward a little to open his chest up.
After a few minutes, Kai’s breaths came easier, like more oxygen had suddenly been added to the air and he didn’t have to fight for it. Half of him was relieved and the other was disappointed.
Jon kissed Kai’s forehead and helped him down onto his side. “You need to cough. I’ll help you. Keep breathing,” Jon spoke into Kai’s ear. Then he pounded Kai’s back, and even with the jarring, Kai was so exhausted he felt himself slipping into sleep.
Jon was afraid Kai’s depression was affecting his self-care. It was bad enough he’d gone to that bar Friday night; the exposure to the cigarette smoke probably hadn’t helped his breathing. And now Jon suspected Kai wasn’t coughing himself like he was supposed to, and it was finally catching up with him. It scared Jon how Kai had seemed willing to give up this morning, like his normal fighting spirit had been sapped. More than once Jon had worried Kai would stop breathing.
But Kai was OK now. Jon had helped him cough up a significant amount of mucus, and he was sleeping hard, that fatigue that only came after an attack. It could take weeks for an asthma patient to recover from a bad attack; those with FS took even longer to bounce back. Increasingly, Jon was concerned that Dr. Johnsen had been right all along. The transplant wasn’t the cure they’d hoped for. Sure, it had given Kai a second chance, but it wasn’t the totally fresh start they’d both hoped it would be.
Jon sighed. Smoothed Kai’s hair and tucked him in a little more. It was still early, hours before checkout, and Jon was exhausted, too. As a precaution, he called down to the front desk for a wake-up call, then lay beside his brother. He’d watch him, Make sure he was still breathing OK, but it was all right to give himself permission to sleep. He needed to be awake for the drive home.
Talking it out to himself helped, but Jon couldn’t help wondering if he didn’t force Kai back into the hospital he was being irresponsible. If something bad would happen to Kai if he didn’t get some serious help soon.
Jon woke before his wake-up call. Kai was still sleeping. Jon eased out of bed so as not to disturb him and quickly checked his blood sugar. Fuck. It was sky high. Lately, he couldn’t seem to get his blood sugar regulated. Either it was dangerously high or low; he rarely got it in that sweet spot he liked between 120-200. He got his syringes out of the safe and injected himself. He’d test again in thirty minutes, and hopefully it’d be somewhere south of the stratosphere. He hadn't felt well in weeks, the past few days especially, and he prayed it was just stress and not that he was coming down with something, because as close quarters as he and Kai had kept lately, that last thing Kai needed right now was to get sick.
Jon had just put his insulin back in the fridge when his cell phone rang. He rushed to get it, not wanting it to wake Kai, and only after he realized Kai may not have been able to hear it anyway.
“Were you sleeping?” Vicky’s voice felt like a warm embrace, especially with how stressed Jon felt right now.
Jon wandered to the far end of the room, cradling the phone to his ear. “No. But Kai is.” Jon sighed. “I miss you. How are you? How is baby?”
Despite Jon’s best attempts to hide his worry and fatigue, Vicky, perceptive as ever, saw through him. “Did you get any sleep last night?”
Jon leaned against the wall. “Yes,” he said, even though he felt like he needed a week of solid rest to catch up.
Vicky let out a low noise that suggested she didn’t believe him. “What was your blood sugar this morning?”
Jon knew if he lied she’d be able to tell. Reluctantly, he said, “336.”
“Jon,” Vicky said in a disappointed and castigatory tone.
“I know. I know. I promise if my blood sugar doesn't stabilize in the next couple days I’ll go see an endocrinologist.”
“Promise.” Jon shoved his hair off his face. He hadn’t seen a doctor since he could legally prescribe himself his own insulin, because he’d been a diabetic almost his entire life and he didn’t feel there was anything a specialist could tell him about his disease he didn't already know. But if it would reassure Vicky and cause less stress for her and the baby, then he’d do it. “So are you all right?”
Vicky didn’t reply immediately. When she did, her voice had less confidence than earlier. “I don’t feel him moving hardly at all. Roni says I’m crazy, but I think something’s wrong.”
“I’m sure everything is fine. But call tomorrow and make an appointment for your OB-GYN if you’re concerned. It’s still early in the pregnancy. He may be too small for you to feel anything yet.”
“Did your mom know something was wrong with Kai? Is that why he was born early?”
Jon sucked in a breath. He’d told Vicky Kai’s birth was traumatic, but he’d never told anyone other than Dr. Miller that Ann had tried to kill herself and Kai, and that had prompted an emergency C-section to try to save both her life and Kai’s. He also didn’t think Vicky needed to hear right now how Ann had complained often that Kai wasn't kicking like Jon had and Bryan had shot her down, blaming the fact that she was off her meds for the pregnancy and seeing the worst of everything.
“You know every pregnancy is different,” Jon finally said to reassure her, because that’s what he did, didn’t he? Helped everyone around him feel better and forced himself to push whatever he was dealing with aside in order to do so. “The doctor already said the baby’s doing fine. Everything will be OK.”
Vicky finally dropped the subject. “How’s Kai?”
Jon let out a long breath and almost wished they were still talking about the pregnancy. “Bad.” Jon stared hard at his bandaged arm. “I’m not sure if he’ll agree to go back into the hospital, and it would kill me to get a court order, because Kai might never forgive me if I had him committed against his will.” Jon knew he could do it, too. Kai had previous history--for example, after his transplant or while he was sick with his fever--of being deemed mentally incompetent, and those wounds on his arm were serious, probably enough that with Dr. Miller’s testimony and his own they could convince a judge he was a danger to himself. But that would be a betrayal in Kai’s eyes. Jon just had to decide if it was worth losing his brother’s trust if it meant not losing him completely.
“He didn’t like the hospital?”
Jon shook his head as if Vicky could see. “It’s complicated. Look, I should go check my sugar again and probably eat something. We should be home around two. I love you.”
Jon and Vicky exchanged kisses and goodbyes, and Jon hurried to test his blood again. Now it was too low, so he had to eat something. The hotel didn’t have room service, but they did have a continental breakfast and it was early enough it would still be going on. Jon didn’t want to leave Kai alone, but if he didn’t eat soon he’d be in no condition to drive. He’d just run downstairs, grab a quick bite to eat in the room, and hopefully be back before Kai even woke up.
Jon was relieved to find Kai still asleep, just as he’d left him. He dumped his arm-load of food on the table, pulled a couple bottles of juice out of his pockets, and downed one in a gulp. He needed sugar that would enter his bloodstream quickly, because he felt ready to pass out. And if he felt it, since he’d been a diabetic so long, it meant he was probably dangerously hypoglycemic. But Vicky definitely didn’t need to know that. Once he was sure he wasn’t going to collapse, he abandoned the rest of the food to check on Kai.
It worried Jon how close to giving up Kai had seemed this morning when he was struggling to breathe, and it reminded Jon of what his brother had confessed Friday night. How he felt like it was inevitable that his mental illness would overwhelm him, and sometimes it felt like it would be easier to surrender to it than keep up a fight he could never win. Jon smoothed Kai’s hair and fixed the blankets, watching his brother sleep for a few minutes. Why had Kai really not gone to the ASL class? Had he purposefully driven to that biker bar, intending to rile them up, hoping that if he was killed in a fight it would be less upsetting to everyone than if he committed suicide?
Had Kai been doing drugs? Is that why he’d wandered off? Had that contributed to his blackout? Increasingly, Jon was beginning to worry that all his greatest fears for his brother were true, that the abuse Kai suffered was even worse than he’d imagined. Too many pieces were falling into place. The GI who’d managed Kai’s case while he was sick back in December had asked Jon if Kai had ever had any bowel or rectal surgery, and Jon had dismissed it as a routine question. But why would Kai have assumed that Jon only wanted him for . . . Jon cringed to even think it . . . sex if he hadn’t been used that way before? It made Jon physically ill and also furious. And deeply sad, because either Kai didn’t fully remember what had happened, or, as Jon suspected, he worried that if anyone knew what he’d really gone through he’d be even more unloveable than he already saw himself as.
Kai was on his stomach, his head turned toward Jon, his hands gripping the sheets tightly. Suddenly he began to cry. No. Not cry, sob. He fisted the sheets so tight the cords stood out in his arms.
Jon wasn’t sure if his brother was awake or not, so he gently smoothed his back. “Shh. Easy. Easy. You’re safe.”
Kai sobbed harder. “Please,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “Please. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll be better. Please.”
Each time Jon smoothed his brother’s back, Kai would tense and cry harder. It made his heart break even if he didn’t know what Kai was dreaming. He finally decided he’d pull Kai out of this nightmare somehow. He rose, went back to his food stash, grabbed the other bottle of juice (which had been kept chilled in an ice bath downstairs), and pressed the cold bottle to Kai’s bare neck.
Kai stiffened and let out a harsh breath. But then his breathing patterns changed. His body relaxed, and a moment later, Kai’s eyes opened.
Kai’s eyes were unfocused, and he blinked a few times as if he were still waking up. He stared up at Jon almost surprised. Maybe the dream had seemed so real that reality felt like it was, instead, the dream. Kai groaned. “Very bad,” he said in his hoarse voice. Kai placed his hands in front of his shoulders and started to push like he was going to roll over as the first step of getting up, but he groaned, his face went pale, and he gave up, letting himself fall back. Instead, he wiped his face with one hand. “Fuck. Was I crying in my sleep?”
Jon frowned but quickly hid it. He nodded.
Kai’s shoulders seemed to sink even more, and he practically melted into the mattress. Jon had seen Kai surrender like this after his illness, when his depression had combined with weeks of being very sick and made him decide moving from his bed wasn’t worth the effort.
They had a couple hours before they had to check out, but Jon suspected it might take that long to get Kai out of bed, and Jon might have to physically pull his brother up and put him into his chair, something David had done numerous times back in December and January. Jon was stronger now than he ever had been in his life, but he honestly wasn’t sure if he had the ability to move Kai against his will, even with all the weight his brother had lost.
“I brought some breakfast. You can take your pick. You should eat.”
Kai blinked wearily but didn’t move.
Jon sat there awkwardly for a moment, unsure what to do. Maybe he’d given Kai too much freedom and that was why his blackout had happened, but at the same time, Vicky was right. Kai was an adult, Jon wasn’t his father, and Jon had to stop acting like he was. He wanted desperately to ask Kai to tell him more about his nightmares, about what had happened to him so that Jon could . . . fix it somehow. It was insane, but Jon hated feeling powerless. He hated seeing his brother scream and cry in his sleep, to see him looking so desolate and not be able to do a single thing about it. And despite what Dr. Miller said, guilt gnawed his stomach, and a voice in his head told him that all of this was his fault.
“Let me help,” Jon said finally. It was vague and would leave the door open for Kai to ask for as much or as little help as he wanted.
“When do they come?” Kai asked, his voice so worn that Jon wasn’t entirely sure if he’d heard right.
“The men from Harbinger. Or do we have to stop off at court first?”
“What are you talking about?”
Kai’s eyes closed, and for a moment Jon wasn’t sure Kai was going to explain. “No way you’re letting me go back home after what happened Friday night. I won’t stay on my own, so . . .” Kai shrugged. “Or do you not have to do that, since you’re my proxy? Or does that not count since we’re in Nebraska now. I don’t know if the laws are different here or if those things cross state lines.” Kai was mumbling, his accent strong and his words indistinct and blurring together, and with how hoarse he was, he was barely comprehensible.
“Let me help you up so you can sign. I’m not understanding you.”
Kai laughed, perplexing Jon, but soon the chuckles turned to tears. “Please don’t leave me here.”
Jon’s heart broke. Did Kai think that Jon was going to force him into the hospital? Without even talking to him first? “Kai,” Jon said, smoothing Kai’s back like he had when his brother had sobbed in his sleep only moments earlier.
Kai buried his face and cried harder, so forcefully he shook the bed.
Jon knew that Kai wouldn’t be able to hear him, and he couldn’t sign to him like this, so he just let Kai know he was there and he wasn’t going anywhere until his brother could get his emotions under control.
That took a long time. Finally, Kai looked at Jon again and put a hand out.
Jon took it, held it tight. How did he get Kai to believe that Jon loved him and wouldn’t abandon him? “Let me help you sit up so we can talk.”
Kai took in a shaky breath, but he nodded. “I walked too much yesterday.”
“I’ll help you. Like when you were sick, OK?” Jon wasn’t sure how much of that time Kai remembered, but Kai didn’t complain, so Jon pulled the covers off Kai, then crossed his legs at the ankles. Jon could feel how tense his brother was. It was clearly not just his depression that was preventing him from moving. Jon moved up to Kai’s waist. He rubbed his brother’s back hoping that Kai would let Jon help him stretch, too. Normally Kai always preferred to do things on his own, and it concerned Jon that Kai wasn’t only letting Jon help, but was defeated.
“It’ll be ‘K, K,” Jon said, doing the little sign that he used to when Kai was little, hoping he could at least get a small smile out of his brother.
Kai didn’t react for a long moment, and Jon was convinced he wouldn’t, but he said, “Thank you for being patient with me. I know I don’t deserve anything you’ve done for me.”
Jon sighed. No way he was going to argue that now. He’d get Kai up and then they could have a proper conversation. He put one hand on Kai’s hip and the other on the opposite shoulder, and with some of Kai’s help, they rolled him onto his back. Kai grunted. It was clear he was in pain, and Jon knew his back was tight. “Almost finished,” Jon encouraged. He sat on the edge of the bed, facing toward the headboard, and encouraged Kai to wrap his arms around him.
But Kai shook his head. Instead, he bent one arm, ready to push off the mattress, and encouraged Jon to take the other. Jon accepted, placing Kai’s free arm around his neck and sliding a hand under Kai’s back on the opposite side.
“One, two, three.” Together, they heaved Kai up.
Jon was incredibly impressed with himself at how much stronger he’d become, even if he was increasingly worried about how Kai’s depression was seriously impacting his physical health.
Kai leaned against Jon for a long moment, resting, and then, without Jon’s help, he managed to shift, slowly, little by little, so he his back was against the headboard. Kai leaned against it, clearly tired and in pain, though how much of that was physical and how much was mental was impossible to say. “I’m sorry. I hurt, and I slept like shit, and I just feel so . . . hopeless. Like it’s inevitable that I’ll end up forgotten in a white padded cell somewhere, if I don’t kill myself first. Shit. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”
Jon shook his head. “I already told you, please don’t feel like you can’t talk to me. I want you to. I’m worried about you.” Jon cracked a smile. “More than my normal worry.”
Kai nodded. “I’m worried, too.”
Jon had told Kai this already a dozen times, but it seemed like Kai wouldn’t believe it. Or maybe his phobia of being abandoned and forgotten was so strong that it overrode any logic. “I promise I will stay with you every night you’re in the hospital. And if I can’t, Renee or David will. I will make sure that we get the paperwork signed so that I will be consulted whenever they make a medication change on you--”
“And that’s all great until I go batshit and they don’t have time to wait for your approval. They’ll just fill me with as much drugs as they can, because that’s how it works.”
Jon sighed softly but kept his irritation off his face. “We’ll agree to a sedation protocol ahead of time. And if they want to do anything outside of that, they need my approval. That way we won’t have a repeat of last time, and you can feel safe, because I will protect you.”
Kai had ended up taking a pretty large dose of Valium to help relax his tense muscles, and had slept the entire way back to Jonesville. Jon and Kai had agreed that Kai wouldn’t be left unsupervised too long, and any time he was, he had to check in with Jon and David every thirty minutes, unless he was in class or with Dr. Miller. Kai would wrap things up with his classes on Monday, inform his teachers that he would be missing for health reasons (perhaps be more specific if he was comfortable with that), have Valentine’s Day with Renee, and the next day he and Jon would return to Omaha and he would voluntarily check himself in to Harbinger. Jon had made Kai write it down and sign it so if he forgot or became obstinate and tried to act like he’d forgotten, Jon could produce the page. Jon had reluctantly explained to Kai that if Kai went back on this agreement, he would go through the process of committing Kai against his will, because Kai’s safety was the most important thing.
Kai’s depression was thick today. Jon could see it, could tell it was more than pain and the lingering effect of the Valium in the way Kai moved so slowly. Jon had to catch himself more than once “hovering,” as Kai put it, and force himself to give Kai space.
“I’ll be OK,” Kai reassured Jon as they entered the apartment. “Renee’s coming over later so I’m going to shower.” Kai must have seen something in Jon’s face, because as tired as he looked, he offered a slim smile. “I’m OK. Really. Renee loves me, but I think she’ll love me more if I don’t stink like sweat and three hours in the car with you.” Kai’s smile broadened a bit to show he was teasing. “Thanks for taking care of me,” Kai added, his face betraying how he didn’t feel he deserved it, even if he didn’t say that. Without giving Jon a chance to respond, he turned and pushed toward his room.
Despite taking enough Valium to subdue an elephant, Kai’s anxiety pushed against the borders of his mind, struggling to break free, to take control, even if logically Kai knew he had no reason to feel nervous. He was home. He and Jon had a very reasonable plan. Renee was coming over. So why was it so fucking hard to breathe? Kai just had to hold it together a couple more days, and then . . . then he would get better. Kai didn’t honestly believe that, but Dr. Miller urged him to constantly challenge his negative and cynical viewpoints for something more positive. So Kai tried that now. He closed his eyes and focused. He’d get better. He’d be the man Renee deserved. He’d finish school, and become a teacher, and do something he loved every day that made a difference in kids’ lives. He’d make the lungs, the second chance, that Allen Ohlsen had given him matter. He could do it. He would do it. It wouldn’t be quick. Or easy. But nothing in life was either of those, and if it was, it meant you just hadn’t paid the full price yet.
Stop, Kai told himself. The cynicism was creeping in around the edges. God, he was so fucking horny sometimes it was all he could think about. Sex. Rough, violent sex, but half the time now he couldn’t even get fully hard when he tried to jack off. Thoughts swirled around in his head, feelings of rage and fury blended in with immense sorrow and failure. The urge to destroy mingled with wanting to scream and sob at the same time. Like he was physically being ripped apart. Like his thoughts were dozens of tiny bugs flying around his brain, biting it, picking it, tearing at it, and just when he thought he’d caught one, it’d escape and dozen more would take its place. Yet at the same time he just sat there, as if any movement was like crawling through razor-filled Jello. On his stomach.
Who was he kidding? He’d never make it . . . how many days was it? He tried to think, to count first in his head and then on his fingers, but he’d only get a few days before he’d forget where he was or his thoughts would seize him and distract him and he actually screamed in frustration before he shoved his fist in his mouth to mute it. Maybe it was the Zoloft making him crazy instead of helping. Lately he felt . . . like he couldn’t move and yet he needed to. He’d thought it was his anxiety, but maybe it was the meds? They’d drugged him so much as a kid, and at first he’d obediently taken the pills, but they’d made him feel . . . not like himself. Weird. So he’d stopped. That had been bad, and he’d learned he had to slowly stop them instead of stopping all at once. It had meant a lot for him to accept the drugs Dr. Miller had prescribed, to actually take them and keep taking them. He had faith in her that she would help him, so he had to believe the drugs would help him, because something had to help, something had to, something had to.
Kai gave in and sobbed, covering his mouth to mute the sound so Jon wouldn’t hear. Maybe he should stop. Maybe he wasn’t getting worse, maybe the drugs were making him that way. He knew that certain meds made some of his symptoms worse, so couldn’t it be possible they all did? Maybe he wasn’t even that crazy, it was just all these fucking drugs messing with his head and making him cry and scream and so horny he was almost ready to grab any breathing thing to fuck just to finally fucking come already.
Kai was breathing heavily, almost vibrating. He found his inner strength, the stuff Jon believed he had so much of, and used it to focus as well as he could on his breathing and only his breathing. If a thought tried to pull him away, he told himself, I’m having a thought. It is intrusive and I do not need to follow it. I’m breathing. In and out. In and out. It wasn’t easy, and he had to restart several times, but eventually, Kai escaped some of the fog of his mind, and he was calmer. He’d shower. A long, cool shower, and that would help. He’d see Renee, and that would help. And then he’d put his best acting skills to work and be the charming man Frankie’s parents expected him to be. And then tonight, when he was supposed to take his meds . . . maybe he wouldn’t swallow them all. And that would help.
Renee hugged herself, shifting from foot to foot, trying to stay warm. It was particularly cold today, and no one was answering the door. Finally, it opened, and Renee smiled, though it fell when she realized it was Jon, and not Kai.
Something in her face must have changed, because Jon’s became reassuring as he welcomed her in. “Kai’s fine. He’s in the shower. He can’t hear the doorbell anymore and I forget sometimes.” Jon was dressed in sweats and an old, faded T-shirt she would have expected to be Kai’s, but it said, Columbia Medical School in cracked lettering and he’d cut off the arms--it had apparently been a long-sleeved shirt at one time--so they ended at his elbows. It was tight across his shoulders and biceps, and either it was because Renee always saw him dressed for work, or in Kai’s clothes, or he’d been working out.
Renee shivered as she stripped off her coat and gloves.
“Can I get you some coffee?” Jon had always seemed like this almost mythical figure. He was a doctor and he was so much older than her, and he was essentially Kai’s father. Or maybe it was because Kai spoke of Jon as if he were perfect, almost unhuman, and right now Jon felt very much just like Kai’s older brother and nothing more.
Renee nodded and followed Jon into the kitchen. He didn’t speak except to ask how she liked her coffee, moving efficiently and almost gracefully despite his lanky frame. He was so alike Kai and yet so totally not, it was almost unnerving. Finally, Renee accepted the mug from him and asked, “How is he? Really.” She dropped her gaze to the coffee as she sipped to avoid meeting Jon’s eyes.
Jon sighed. He pushed his fingers through his hair a few times. “Kai and I agreed that he would check himself into Harbinger in a couple days. He wanted time to process, settle things at school, and have Valentine’s Day with you.”
Renee read into Jon's hesitation. “But you think he’ll change his mind?”
Jon didn't immediately respond. He leaned against the counter, hands braced on the top in a way so much like his brother it was amazing; the only difference that he bent one leg and pressed his foot against the cabinet to support himself. Renee didn't think Kai could do that, or if he could, the weight of his braces would probably make the position uncomfortable. “Harbinger is . . . amazing. Better in a thousand ways than what I expected. But . . . Kai doesn't . . . trust it.” Jon winced, looked up and hoped she was following him.
Renee knew Kai had his reservations, but she figured that was due to how bad of an experience his last stay had been, since he'd been cagey on the phone. “Trust it?” Renee asked when Jon didn't elaborate.
“Because of the life Kai’s lived, he has trouble accepting . . . good things.” Jon was struggling to get his point across. “Something good happens and all he can see is the bad side, the price.” Jon raised his eyebrows and leaned his head forward, the way one did in ASL to indicate an inferred question, like, “Understand?”
Kai had confessed to Renee that while he trusted her on one level, he still believed she would ultimately grow tired of him or be scared off. She knew he could be very cynical and pessimistic, but she'd chalked a lot of that up to his depression. Jon’s usage of the word “price” confused her, though.
Jon sighed. He scratched his cheek, and Renee realized how tired he looked. He hadn't shaved, for one. His facial hair was even paler than Kai’s, and unless the light hit him right, it was almost invisible. Jon glanced toward Kai’s bedroom, then stared hard, pleading with her. And it hit her that Jon was holding back, clearly unsure how much Renee knew and respecting his brother’s fragile trust.
Renee wanted to be careful, too. She didn't know if Jon was aware of how bad Kai’s previous hospitalization really was. “Kai is skeptical this hospital is as nice as it seems?” Renee hazarded a guess.
Jon nodded, relieved Renee finally seemed to get what he was trying to say as they both danced this strange waltz of guarding Kai’s privacy, secrets and feelings he didn't freely share and would be deeply wounded if his faith had been betrayed. “He cares about you, and I know you feel the same about him. You must persuade him that he needs Harbinger, despite his reservations. The hospital allows overnight guests and I've promised Kai he will never spend a night alone. That David, or I, or you,” Jon said hopefully, “would stay with him every single night he's an inpatient.”
“Of course,” Renee said hardly before Jon had finished. She loved Kai so much it was painful sometimes. It would be difficult to manage visiting him during the week, especially overnight, but Kai’s safety and comfort was far more important than any class. She could use the summers, or even push her degree back a semester or two if she had to. Kai’s life couldn't be made up like history or drafting could.
Jon looked in desperate need of a hug and a long nap. But Midwesterners were generally far less touchy-feely than those in the South. Renee decided Jon would probably be more stressed than relieved if she hugged him, so instead she offered him a reassuring smile, which Jon returned with a relieved one of his own. He visibly relaxed, as if a physical weight had been lifted. “I need to run to the store,” he said, pulling his fingers through his hair anxiously. “You'll be OK?” he asked, his eyes darting toward Kai’s room again.
Renee suddenly remembered Wednesday night, the hyper, strange mood that had preceded Kai’s breakdown, the way he'd grabbed her and wouldn't let go. Was Jon asking whether she felt safe being alone with Kai? Or, more likely, he was worried about leaving Kai unsupervised? “Of course.”
Jon dropped his leg and pushed away from the counter, as if to leave, but he still hesitated.
“He’ll be OK,” Renee said in a way that meant, “I'll keep him safe.”
Continue to February 11, 2001 - Part II ------>