Now it's Saturday morning, and we get to see some Kai-Jon bonding time, as well as learning a bit more about each man's backstory...
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August 26, 2000
It was nearly seven in the morning, and Jon was dressed, showered, and ready to work. He'd hoped to take the day off, as Jo had suggested, to spend some time with Kai, celebrate his first full week of classes, but Jon had had too many appointments. Many of Jon's outpatients came from out of town, some as far as states away, and so Jon always made himself available on Saturdays, and sometimes even Sundays, to accommodate them. It meant many weeks he didn't have a full day off, but if he could send a kid back home able to breathe just that much better, it was worth it. But now he had Kai to worry about, and Jon knew he should cut back his hours. He'd start next week, he thought to himself, as he rinsed his plate and mug in the sink.
He'd already made the resolution to try to take better care of himself, if not for his sake, then for Kai's, and had forced himself to eat breakfast, check his sugar, and inject himself as necessary before preparing to head out. His first patient wasn't until nine, but he always liked to get there a little early to catch up on his inpatients and any other work he might have had left over from the night before.
Before heading out the door, though, Jon decided to check on Kai. He knew Kai didn't need to be reminded to take his medicine, but his brother had come in relatively late the night before and he didn't want him to sleep in and forget. Crossing to his brother's nearly closed bedroom door, Jon knocked softly. No response. He listened for a moment; he could just hear Kai's breathing, although it wasn't the low, even respiration of sleep. Was his brother awake?
"Kai?" Jon asked in a whisper, easing the door open gently.
The room was dark except for the bedside lamp, and as Jon poked his head in, he could see Kai stretched out in bed, supine, his right forearm across his eyes. At some point, Kai had pushed the sheets aside, so Jon could see his brother wore the faded tee and cotton pants he'd slept in.
"Kai?" Jon tried again, drawing a bit closer. He was beginning to think Kai was sleeping, and he debated about whether he should wake him or leave him. Kai was a grown man, after all, and he wasn't irresponsible. Jon turned to go, when something finally clicked. Looking back for a moment, he saw what his ears had already realized; Kai's chest rising and falling in hesitant, quick, shallow breaths: he was tachypneic.
Instinctive panic began to rise in Jon, and he rushed closer. "Kai?!"
Kai didn't shift at all, but he did respond. "I'm fine," he said, but his words were clipped, as if said through gritted teeth.
Jon felt the adrenaline coursing through him as he took a few more steps toward his brother, where he could see Kai's left hand gripped the sheets tightly. Frustrated, Jon threaded his fingers through his hair, pulling up and grasping the locks before letting them fall back down. He sucked in a breath. Kai continued to pant, but otherwise was still.
"You pushed yourself too hard, didn't you," Jon said. It wasn't a question.
The air was thick with the near silence as Jon waited for an answer. Kai continued his measured breathing, alternating flexing and clenching the fist of his right hand, squeezing his fingers tight enough to pale the skin. Several minutes passed until finally Kai responded.
"Jon, please," Kai said, his voice nearly a whisper. Jon couldn't determine if it was a plea for help or a demand that Jon leave him alone.
For the second time, Jon debated what to do, noticing Kai's left hand grip tighter on the sheets, his breath hitched. Glancing down at Kai's legs, Jon could see Kai's right foot had pointed, arched, fixed in plantarflexion. Kai's knees trembled, shaking with spasms as the muscles of his legs contracted discordantly. That made Jon's mind up, and he disappeared into the adjoining bathroom, finding the bottle of water Kai'd left from the night before, and the prescription vial he needed, tapping two pills into his palm and returning to the bedroom.
Whether by choice or spasm, Kai had his left leg partially pulled up, his knee bent and hip slightly rotated, his spasms no longer visible except in the subtle twitch of his right toes, the foot still locked in point. Kai's arm remained draped over his eyes; his breaths had grown shallower. Carefully, Jon sat on the edge of the bed near Kai's shoulder, nudging his brother's elbow with the bottle. Kai didn't move immediately, finally dropping his arm to his side. Jon could see Kai's eyes were damp and slightly red, and when he blinked, Jon saw the glaze of pain in his brother's irises, their color deep blue. Kai's gaze followed Jon's outstretched hand, and he nodded, a subtle gesture just enough to convey the meaning.
Jon shifted, watching as Kai tried to pull himself up, pressing his palms against the mattress. But when Kai got to thirty degrees, his face paled, his face contorting, and he fell back, breathing heavily. Frowning, Jon pressed the pills to Kai's mouth, slipping them onto his tongue once Kai opened for him. Then he removed the cap on the water and eased a hand under his brother's head, lifting him enough to let him drink. Once he saw Kai swallow, Jon carefully lowered his brother's head.
"Thanks," Kai signed.
Jon squeezed Kai's wrist. "I can call Troy."
"I'll be OK," Kai signed with the same hand.
Jon sighed, reminded Kai had that Taylor stubbornness, too, even if he no longer had the name. "Let me help, then."
Jon didn't wait for an answer, shifting off the bed and laying one hand on Kai's hip, the other gripping the back of Kai's thigh, gently testing the joint to see how tight it was. Jon kept his eyes fixed on Kai's face as he tried to very slowly to relax his brother's leg.
"Kai, if I'm hurting more than I'm helping, you need to tell me, OK?"
Kai nodded, and Jon readjusted his grip, then sucked in a breath.
"OK. Deep breath."
Jon carefully rotated the joint, slowly easing Kai's leg straight, pausing to massage the tiny muscles in the junction of Kai's leg. Jon stopped instantly when he heard Kai moan, the first sound of pain allowed to slip his lips.
"I'm OK. . . . Keep going." Kai held his right hand tented over his eyes.
It took several slow minutes, but Jon finally was able to stretch Kai's leg fully. Then, Jon turned to feeling the muscles of his brother's calves on each side to see how bad the myotonia was. It was worst in Kai's right foot and calf, so much that even a touch was painful. Jon frowned.
"Do you want me to try to massage you loose, or just wait for the meds?"
Kai didn't respond, so Jon leaned in a bit, forming his right hand into the ASL "K," touching his index finger to his nose, twisting his wrist, then touching it to Kai's nose.
"It'll be 'K, K," Jon said.
Kai dropped his hand and opened his eyes, smiling faintly. "God, you haven't done that since I was a little kid," Kai said, and Jon was relieved to hear only a faint edge of pain in his brother's words.
The gesture was one Jon had invented when they were children, back when Kai was very young and they both only knew a few signs and the alphabet. It had always been Jon's way of ensuring Kai that everything would be OK, that Jon would take care of him.
Jon sat on the end of the bed, taking Kai's right foot and gently massaging his arch to try to release the muscles.
"You always told me . . . it'd be OK. . . . And I always believed you."
Jon sighed, but didn't stop massaging; he could feel the fibers relaxing slightly, slowly. "You were little; of course you did."
Kai shook his head. "No. Because you always did . . . make it OK . . . if only for a little while." Jon was relieved to hear Kai's voice growing more normal; his breathing was easing, and Jon hoped it wouldn't be much longer until Kai felt the full effects of the muscle relaxant.
Jon moved up to Kai's lower legs to try to loosen the muscles there.
"Do you remember . . . after our parents died . . . and we were separated from Sara . . . that temporary boys' home they sent us to?"
"Yes," Jon said, working his thumb into the side of Kai's right gastrocnemis. "The room they put us in was like a prison cell. Long and narrow, barely wide enough for the two bunk beds." Jon remembered the room well; he'd returned to it often enough in nightmares when he was younger.
"And it smelled really strong of . . . something . . . paint?"
Jon nodded and focused on his work, grateful he'd had Troy teach him some techniques. "Disinfectant. Ammonia."
Kai inhaled a stiff breath. "It triggered an attack."
Jon swallowed, his voice sad when he spoke. "All I had was your rescue inhaler. You did so much better with the nebulizer." Jon hesitated, took a few breaths, trying to keep his voice level. "I wanted to get help, but I was so afraid. . . . Afraid if they took you away I'd never see you again." The echoes of his brother's strained breathing reverberating in that cell were as loud in Jon's memory as if his ears were hearing it now.
Kai slid his hand down until his fingertips touched Jon's. Jon took the hint and let his hand slip into his brother's, enjoying the brief squeeze of encouragement Kai offered before they drew apart again. "You held me, like you always did, and told me it'd be ''K, K,' and the next day they took me to the hospital."
Jon could feel Kai's muscles relaxing, even as his own tensed at the memory.
"They let you go with me because I was hysterical without you." Kai's voice trailed off a bit, and Jon shifted to see if Kai had fallen asleep. Part of him hoped so, because it meant Kai was out of pain and Jon could force the rest of the memory out of his mind. Unfortunately, Kai continued, a bit lazily; the meds were obviously beginning to kick in. "Then I guess I lost consciousness, or maybe they put me under to intubate me . . . because I woke up, my throat sore, and you were gone."
"Kai--" Jon's voice broke despite his best efforts.
"I thought you were gone forever, like Mom, Dad, and Sara."
"I'm so fucking sorry," Jon said, barely letting Kai finish. "I tried. I tried to stay with you. It took three men and a sedative to tear me away," Jon said almost in a whisper.
Kai surprised Jon with laughter. "You seemed so big then, but I know what I weighed at 14; you couldn't have been more than 125 pounds." Kai's smile faded, and he muttered, "Everything fuck-fuck," as if he were speaking in ASL: everything's so fucked. Then Kai closed his eyes, seemingly on the cusp of sleep.
Jon frowned, smoothed his hands on Kai's shins; the gesture had always comforted Kai as a child when his muscles ached. "It'll be 'K, K," Jon said, almost to himself. "Sleep."
Kai mumbled something unintelligible, and he relaxed into unconsciousness at last. Jon closed his eyes briefly. He and Kai had avoided talking about the past as much as possible, and neither of them had mentioned that day. Jon gripped his hair, trying not to remember how he'd screamed himself hoarse, fought and kicked and flailed as hard as he could until he'd felt a sharp pain, and minutes later, the veil of unconsciousness had closed on him. He'd woken hours later, sore and groggy, back in the narrow room, the smell of ammonia thick in his nostrils. His first thought had been of Kai, but he'd never heard anything. For all Jon knew, Kai had died. In fact, he'd convinced himself that Kai was gone; it was the only explanation his fourteen-year-old mind could conceive to explain why they wouldn't tell him anything about Kai, why they wouldn't let him go to him, why he never saw him again. Jon had spent ten years racked with guilt, wondering if he could have done more to help his brother, that blasted room returning again and again to push him awake.
Sleep had never come easily to Jon, even before, but that day was the beginning of his clinical insomnia. It was easier to avoid sleep than have the same nightmare return, night after night, twisted so that it always ended with Kai dying in his arms in that fucking prison cell.
Jon pushed himself up, knowing he had to cancel his appointments. Kai's MLS attacks often came in multiples, and although Kai had dealt with them on his own for more than ten years, he didn't have to anymore.
Kai woke several hours later. He felt heavy, like gravity had somehow magnified. His brain was foggy, and his vision blurry; it took several blinks and rubbing of eyes before it cleared. Multiple minutes of slow breathing before his mind came back to him as well, spurred on by a throbbing ache in his hips, followed by the wave of general soreness in his legs. A subtle pain between his neck and shoulder on each side. He let out a bit of a groan as he remembered. The party, Nikki, getting home late, waking up with his muscles spasming, Jon easing him through it as if they were still kids.
Kai sighed and decided to take inventory, seeing which muscles were willing to obey him post-attack, and which were still stiff. Nothing until his hips, which complained angrily as he pushed himself up, supporting himself with his hands. He glanced over and noticed Jon'd done him the courtesy of leaving his chair within easy reach, so Kai sucked in a breath and shifted his body toward the edge of the bed, using his hands to ease his stubborn legs over the lip, ignoring the pain in his hips.
One hand on the bed, another on his chair, he transferred, thinking how good a hot bath would feel right now, but knowing he still had his meds to take and probably should eat something, too. Then probably should do his range of motion exercises, see if he could stave off a second round. Man, he was tired. Probably the combination of only a few hours' sleep, the lingering effects of the MR, and the attack itself.
Kai pushed into the bathroom in a sigh, wondering how long it'd take him to recover from this. Part of it would depend on whether he had another attack, but even if he didn't, it was hard to say. His MLS had gotten so unpredictable lately. Kai knew it was unlikely he'd be fully back on his feet by Monday, which meant he'd have to skip class, go in his chair, or. . . . He sighed and pulled out his pillcase, checking the pills before popping them in his mouth and washing them down quickly with some tap water. If his right leg was strong enough, he could manage with one locked KAFO on his left, and while it wasn't ideal, and would make his limp far more pronounced. . . . Kai stared at his reflection. Who was he kidding? Even if he'd managed to chuck the chains of his FS, his MLS wasn't going anywhere. It was only getting worse. He'd already lost voluntary movement in his left ankle and foot. It was only a matter of time before the muscles of his legs, both, from ankle to hip, stopped responding as well. But he didn't have to think of that, he thought, as he grabbed his Amphotericin inhaler, instead, letting his mind turn to the night before. What was I thinking? Kai thought. I wasn't.
After taking two puffs, frowning at the taste he still wasn't used to, Kai pulled off his tee, staring at his reflection, smoothing his fingers over the bandages. He pulled each off, a quick tug, and examined the scabs, fingering the marks with his fingertips, resisting the urge to reopen the wounds. Physical pain was always so much easier. You clenched your teeth. You bared it. You took a pill. And if worst came to worse, you passed out for a while.
Approximately thirty minutes later, after taking his meds and adding more disinfectant with fresh bandages to the bites on his shoulder, Kai rolled himself out of his bedroom slowly, surprised when the smell of garlic and pasta sauce met his nose. Pushing himself further toward the kitchen, his chagrin increased when he saw Jon seated at the kitchen table, reclined in one chair and his feet propped up on another. Kai had to shake his head as if he were trying to wake from a dream as he realized Jon wasn't dressed for work, as he had been earlier, but instead had slipped on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Who knew Jon even had casual clothes? Thankfully, the world hadn't completely spun off its axis, because Kai could clearly see now what Jon was reading: the latest issue of the medical journal CHEST.
Jon dropped the magazine and stared at Kai for a moment before smiling faintly. "How are you feeling?"
Kai shrugged, pushed himself closer, nudging one of the chairs out of the way so he could pull into the table. "Fine," Kai responded with the ease that comes from years of down-playing his feelings. In reality, he was sore, groggy, and grumpy, wondering how long till the hypotonia passed, and whether or not it'd come on the heels of a second attack.
Jon frowned, staring at Kai, skeptical.
"Jon. I'll live," Kai said, shooting his brother a look that said, Just leave it.
Jon nodded, reluctant. "I made a vegetarian lasagna. It's ready, just warming, if you're hungry." Kai's eyes narrowed, one eyebrow arched, and Jon added, "I ate this morning. But I figured you'd be hungry by the time you woke up."
"Thanks. Yeah, I could probably eat," Kai said. He felt a faint pang of hunger, but mostly his mind still felt a little fuzzy, hungover from the muscle relaxant.
Jon pushed himself up. "OK, you relax and I'll make us a couple plates. Then maybe we can just chill and watch a movie?"
Kai couldn't help but look at Jon, confused. Maybe it was his drug-addled brain, but was Jon actually taking the day off?
Jon's voice carried as he went to the kitchen. "Don't look at me like that. You know I've been meaning to spend more time with you."
Kai frowned, fishing for the journal with one hand to slide it over on the table. Jon had mentioned for months how he meant to take a day off a week so they could make up for lost ground, but so far something always came up to change their plans. Kai was used to be alone, and he knew Jon's work was important, so he tried not to let it bother him. Still, it made him . . . uneasy wasn't quite the word for it. Unsettled? That it took a moderate MLS attack for Jon to finally live up to his previously empty promises.
Still, even though he would have been fine without Jon, it had been nice to have his brother help ease the locked muscles in his feet and calves, and waking up to food wasn't bad either. Jon wasn't much of a chef, but the fact that he made any effort was still touching. Kai flipped through the journal absently, lost in thought.
"There's an interesting article in there about pneumococcal pneumonia," Jon said, as if Kai were really reading it, setting a plate and silverware off to one side before sinking into his seat opposite.
Kai frowned and closed the magazine, setting it aside. "This looks good," Kai said, pulling the plate closer and cutting it with the side of his fork.
Jon shrugged, taking a forkful himself. "I don't think anyone's been killed by my cooking yet, but there's always a first time for everything."
Kai found himself laughing. Jon didn't often joke; it wasn't even that it was that funny, but it was nice, the two of them, sharing a meal together, relaxed. Kai tasted the food. It wasn't winning any awards, but it was good. The spinach especially. Jon had read an article a few months previously that suggested a correlation between a vegetarian diet and reduced exacerbations of MLS. So far Kai wasn't sure if it worked or not, but he was walking more, needing his motility aids less, so maybe it did help.
They ate for a while in silence, the only sound the scrape of fork against plate. Jon got up at one point to get them each something to drink, and when he sat back down, Kai felt the need to speak up.
"Listen . . . I'm sorry for earlier."
Jon looked up, a quick jerk of his head that tossed some hair into his face. "What?"
Kai shook his head, knowing Jon had misunderstood. "What I said this morning. You know. About that day."
They both returned to their food, picking at it; Kai focused on pulling a leaf of spinach out with one tine of his fork, although he did glance up to check his brother's face.
"It's OK," Jon said after a moment with a slight shrug, not looking up.
It's not, Kai thought. The past is past and should stay there. "I just don't want you to think that I hated you or blamed you or anything for leaving me," Kai finally said, the words rushing out. It was partially a lie, but Kai said what he knew Jon needed to hear.
At six, Kai had struggled to really understand what had happened to their parents, and then Sara was taken from them, then Jon from him. Initially, Kai had been convinced it was something he'd done, that it was his fault somehow that they'd all left him. Then he met David.
Because Kai spoke only in ASL, once he'd recovered from the ammonia-induced attack, he'd been sent to County House and put in a room with David, profoundly deaf since birth and a bit of a troublemaker. David's parents had divorced when he was barely a toddler, and his mother had died not long after that. David's father had agreed to take him at first, but quickly found dealing with a "retarded" three-year-old was too difficult, surrendering him to the state. After bouncing through several foster homes, David finally landed at CH not long before Kai.
Because of his rocky road through the system, David had believed that CH was a place to dump the kids no one wanted. David convinced Kai that his parents and siblings didn't want an abnormal kid, and so had gotten rid of him. David's theory was lent credence by the fact that Sara's birth had completely changed the Taylor family dynamic. Naturally, another child alters the relationships among a family; the youngest is no longer so, but it was more than that. Sara had been beautiful and healthy from birth, unlike Kai; a relief to his mother's guilt-addled mind. Sara was their mother's clear favorite, so it wasn't difficult for Kai to believe they'd want to cast him aside. But Jon? Jon had taken care of him his whole life, especially after Sara was born when his parents had other worries. It had bewildered and wounded Kai deeply to think that Jon had abandoned him as well.
For at least a year, Kai had still held out hope that Jon would come for him, finally having to resolve himself that CH would most likely be his home for ten more years. Once he'd grown, Kai of course knew what David had told him wasn't true, and he realized that Jon had been as much a victim of the system as Kai had. So when he'd finally reunited with Jon, Kai was happy to see his brother and held no bitterness for him personally. But Kai never told Jon any of this, and he wasn't about to start now. Even if it was the misguided misunderstandings of a six-year-old, Kai knew how much that knowledge would hurt his brother.
"It'd be understandable," Jon began, piling their plates and silverware together and standing to take them to the sink, "if you did blame me. For abandoning you." His face was sad, but he quickly retreated to the kitchen, obviously to avoid having to meet Kai's eyes.
Kai sighed and followed him, staring up at his brother's back while Jon rinsed the dishes. "Jon."
Jon ignored him, scrubbing the plates, and Kai sighed, crossing to the drawer where they kept the foil and pulling out the roll, laying it in his lap before going to the counter where the rest of the lasagna stood in its casserole dish.
"I'm sorry," Kai said again, testing the dish to see how hot it was before tearing off some foil to cover it. "I know we both had an unspoken agreement, but I always get a bit wonky on that stuff . . ."
Jon stopped what he was doing, but he didn't turn around. "Jenny called."
Kai's hands froze on the edge of the dish, where he'd been closing the foil. "What?"
"While you were sleeping. Apparently she got offered a position at Loyola in Chicago. She's moving."
Kai abandoned the lasagna on the counter and pushed closer to Jon, laying a hand on his brother's back. Jon turned slowly, looking down, but not at Kai, his hands on either side of him, gripping the counter.
"She called because she claims she has some of my stuff she wanted to give back before she goes." Jon sighed heavily, stepped around Kai and grabbed the lasagna with one hand, opening the fridge and shoving it in. "I know I shouldn't have agreed to meet her. I mean, if I haven't missed the stuff in two years, then it's probably not important, but . . ."
Kai rolled backward a bit, hands on his rims, head tilted, struggling to find his brother's eyes. "Maybe it's a ruse. Maybe she wants you back."
Jon laughed, lifting his head and shaking it before carding his fingers through his hair. "I doubt it."
"Well, if she did . . . would you go with her? To Chicago?"
"What?" Jon pushed out of the kitchen toward the table, where he leaned on it, palms spread on its surface.
Again, Kai followed his brother. "You could go if you wanted."
"My research is here," Jon said, shaking his head. "My patients. You." Jon turned, perched on the tabletop. "We spent ten years apart, I'm not--"
Kai interrupted, his voice genuine. "Jon. Putting everything aside, if Jenny wanted you back, would you go?"
Jon sighed, swept his hand over his face, then through his hair again before shaking his head. "No. That ship's sailed. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe it never would have worked to begin with." Jon sighed again, his fingers pulling at the strands of hair between his fingers, his eyes downcast.
"OK," Kai said, although he didn't fully believe Jon. If Jon was really, completely past Jenny, then why agree to meet her? Kai didn't have long to think on this, though, because Jon soon turned the tables.
"What about you?" Jon asked, dropping his hands to his thighs.
Kai laughed. "I think Jenny's a little old for me. Plus, I don't think I could ever date a doctor. Too creepy." Kai smirked.
Jon frowned, but there was a hint of a smile hidden in it. "I mean Becca. You guys never officially ended things, but . . ."
Kai sighed and let his shoulders sink. "I don't know." Kai shook his head, frowning sadly. He hesitated before speaking softly. "Some days I pray she'll call, apologize, tell me she's changed her mind, that she was wrong. . . . Then there are others when I remember what she did, how much she hurt me, and . . . I mean, I don't blame her." Kai's dug his heel into his left thigh, his eyes down, avoiding meeting his brother's gaze. "Can't really blame her for how she acted."
Jon slammed a hand against the table and pushed himself up, anger visible in the tension of his body. "You were dying and she cheated on you!" Jon spat, face red.
Kai let the words hang in the air for a moment, reaching back and smoothing his hand on the back of his neck. When he spoke, his words were quiet and small. "I'm sorry, Jon. For Jenny."
Jon shook his head. "I made my choice. If I could go back and chose all over again--her or you--don't think I wouldn't pick you again in a heartbeat." Jon glowered at Kai until his brother reluctantly met his eyes. "Don't you dare blame yourself for what happened between me and her. And don't blame yourself for Becca, either." Jon's hands formed into fists at his side. "Because--I'm sorry--but that bitch would have cheated on you anyway."
Kai pushed to the table, draped his arms across it, and rested his forehead on them. "Maybe," Kai said, not very convincingly, his voice muffled. And part of him prayed his MLS would flare again, because that pain he could deal with.
Oooh so much drama! Stay tuned next week, when we see how Jon and Renee spend their Sunday! Will Jon meet Jenny after all? What'll happen?...
Continue to August 27, 2000 ---->