(Pittsburgh, June 2016 - present)
Justin didn't even realize tears were running down his face until the therapist handed him a box of tissues. And at that moment, a harsh reality hit him like a well-aimed punch. He suddenly realized what had just happened - he was reliving the worst day of his life. He found himself once again in that fiery hell that marked him forever, both physically and mentally. He could feel himself shaking and almost like he couldn't breathe. His throat was tightened... just like that day... except this time it was all in his head. He was already on the verge of losing it and he hadn't even gotten to the worst part yet.
"Justin?" the therapist said carefully.
"Uhm, yeah?" Justin looked at her, wiping away his tears.
"I can see this is really hard for you, so do you want to stop? You can come tomorrow and we'll pick up where we left off."
"I'm not sure I'll be able to continue tomorrow if I leave now... I just need a moment."
"Alright then. We'll take a 15 minute break. If that's enough for you?"
Justin nodded, then got up from his chair and left the doctor's office. He needed to get some fresh air and just walk around for a bit to clear his mind, which was even harder than it seemed. But most of all he needed to light a cigarette to calm his nerves. At first it seemed almost impossible with his shaking hands, but eventually he succeeded. He'd never been much of a smoker, sure, he'd light a cigarette here and there, but it wasn't something that was part of his daily life. But ever since that day, he found that little thing to be more useful than he ever imagined. Which was probably odd considering he almost died in a fire. But in most cases it was the only thing that could calm him down and he wasn't willing to give it up.
He checked his phone and found that he had several missed calls from Michael and even one from Ben. He really appreciated everything they had done for him and that they cared, but... sometimes he felt like they were just waiting for him to finally completely fall apart and it was driving him crazy. Although he knew very well that their fears were justified. But right now, he just needed a moment without feeling like they were suffocating him, even though he felt guilty for even thinking that.
He therefore texted Michael that he was fine and not to worry about him. Then he finished his cigarette, took a deep breath and headed back to the doctor's office.
"So how are you feeling?" Dr. Brown asked as Justin sat down.
"Um, I… I don't even know. Confused… scared… but also relieved to finally be able to talk about it, but at the same time it's so hard… it still feels like yesterday… "
"What you're feeling is completely normal. You're reliving the trauma that's been holding you back for the last 3 years and now you're finally taking control of your life again... so the relief makes sense, as does the confusion and fear. But you're really making progress, Justin."
"Yeah, I... I guess."
"I know it doesn't seem like it now, but baby steps are more important than you think… when you first came here I didn't get a word out of you… so the fact that you're finally talking about it is quite an achievement."
"I know, I just wish it was easier... because right now I feel like I'm dying inside..."
"It just takes time, but trust me when I say it will get better."
Justin nodded, really hoping she knew what she was talking about and that she was right.
"So… are you ready to continue?"
"Yeah, I think I am."
"Okay. In that case, tell me what happened after you got out of the house… what happened to Brian…"
Justin took a deep breath, immediately having flashbacks of that night and knew his heart was about to break all over again...
(Pittsburgh, Saturday, May 25, 2013 - past)
Justin was immediately loaded into the ambulance and Brian's persistence ensured that both he and Gus could ride with him and not in the other ambulance. All three were then given an oxygen mask, though thankfully Gus didn't seem to need one. Then the ambulance finally started rushing to the hospital. And even though Brian's burned hands were in extreme pain, he couldn't help but hold Justin's hand as tightly as possible so that Justin knew he was with him and he wasn't going anywhere.
And as the adrenaline started to wear off, Justin was now exposed to how much he was actually hurt and it was excruciating. All he could do was cry desperately and repeat how much he wanted the pain to stop. Brian couldn't bear to see him like this and hated that he couldn't do anything to help him, but he tried his best to calm him down.
"Justin, come on… just hold on... please… you're going to be okay, I promise. They'll fix you up and everything will be fine," his voice broke but he did his best to hold it together. "And then we're going to go on some great vacation for at least a month, because after what we just went through, we fucking deserve it," Brian managed to crack a tiny smile even though his lips were quivering.
"And we're going to fuck our brains out," Justin tried to laugh through the tears and pain, but immediately squeezed his eyes shut in response.
"Yeah, you bet," Brian stroked his hair covered in ash, then turned to the paramedic on his right and whispered through gritted teeth, "Could you just give him something for the pain already?"
"I already gave him morphine," Brian didn't take that for an answer and glared murderously at the man. "I'll give him another dose."
Brian nodded and looked back at Justin, whose face soon began to relax a little.
"Oh, that's much better," Justin almost sighed in relief, though it was obvious he was still in a lot of pain, but it was more manageable now. "I can't believe we just almost died, Brian. I just don't understand what happened..."
"Hey, don't think about that right now, okay? Just focus on getting better."
Justin's blue eyes met Brian's hazel ones, both filled with tears, pain and fear. "I was so scared, Brian."
"I know, I know… me too," Brian squeezed his hand even tighter.
And within a few minutes, they finally stopped at the hospital, where many doctors were already waiting for them. And before Brian could say anything, they started rushing Justin in and even though he tried to follow them, keeping Gus close to him, a nurse finally stopped him and asked him to go to the waiting room.
"Dad, where did they take Uncle Justin?" Gus asked in a frightened voice.
"Well, somewhere where they can help him, you know."
"Is he badly hurt?"
"Um, yeah… he… he is…" Brian didn't want to say it, but after seeing Justin in the state he was in, he couldn't just pretend he wasn't. "But he'll be okay, Gus, don't worry," he added when he saw how sad his son looked.
Gus looked at him with his teary eyes, and even though Brian knew he shouldn't promise him what he didn't know, he refused to accept the possibility that Justin wouldn't be okay, so he replied, "I promise."
Gus smiled, but then looked down at Brian's burned hands. "And you're going to be okay too?"
"You mean this? That's nothing," Brian smiled, not wanting to worry his son even more but he couldn't deny that the pain was killing him almost as much as the strange feeling in his chest.
"It's not nothing, Dad. You're hurt. You should see a doctor."
"Alright, smartass," Brian chuckled. "We'll find one. And for you too, just to be sure, okay? And hopefully by then someone will give us an update on Uncle Justin."
"Ok," Gus nodded with a smile and they immediately headed to the ER.
"Your vitals seem fine and the swelling in your throat is minor, which one might call a miracle considering how long you've been in there."
"What can I say? I am simply invincible," Brian grinned.
"Well, you took in a lot of smoke and your heart rate is a little elevated, so we're going to run some tests just to be sure."
"Oh, that sounds like fun…" Brian huffed a laugh, trying to be sarcastically charming as always.
"Now show me your hands, please," Brian did as he was told, praying the doctor would finally give him something for the pain, but of course he was trying to look tough. "Looks like second degree burns."
"It sure as hell feels like it," Brian chewed on his lip as the doctor touched the wounds.
"I'll give you some pain killers."
"Music to my ears."
"It should heal within two to three weeks. And you shouldn't have any scars."
"I hope not. Do you even know how expensive those hand creams are that make your skin look younger? I wouldn't want it to go to waste."
The doctor wasn't far from rolling his eyes, he couldn't believe that the guy in front of him had saved two people from a burning house while his hands were on fire and he was acting like the scars were the worst thing that could happen to him. But he didn't know Brian, he didn't know that this was his way of dealing with it or that he was currently losing his mind because he didn't know if Justin was okay.
"Well, you're going to apply this cream every 12 hours, okay?"
"Sure doc, every 12..." Brian was unable to finish the sentence as he was suddenly surprised by a violent cough.
"That doesn't sound too good. How's your breathing?"
"Surprisingly good. I mean, it could be better, but I'm not complaining."
"Do you feel any chest pain? Or dizziness?"
"Just a little, but I'm fine, don't worry about me, doc," he gave him his charming smile, but then started coughing again.
"We'll see how the tests go, but I'll definitely want to keep you here overnight for observation. The nurse will take you to your room."
"Thanks, but no."
"Sorry?" the doctor arched his brows.
And Brian looked over the doctor's shoulder to see Gus with a nurse who had apparently said something that made him laugh out loud and Brian had never felt more grateful. He was so close to losing his son.
He then looked back at the doctor with determination on his face. "My son needs me right now."
"I understand, but Mr. Kinney you took in a tremendous amount of smoke and we need to keep an eye on you."
"I just need to call someone to pick him up and be with him until then, but then you can do whatever you want with me."
It was obvious the doctor didn't like it, but he knew he couldn't force Brian to do anything if he didn't want to. "Okay, but please don't leave the hospital."
"Don't worry, I have a reason to stay," he said, immediately thinking of Justin. He then got up and walked over to Gus. "Let's go, sonny boy."
"Where are we going, Dad?"
"Find some phone."
After finding the nearest phone, Brian was suddenly faced with the question of who to call. He really didn't know. Michael? Because Mikey was the closest thing he had to a brother, and he sure as hell needed him right now. Debbie, who was practically his mother and someone who would absolutely do anything in her power to comfort Gus. Or Lindsay and Melanie, who had every right to know what happened, and most importantly, that their son was safe and unharmed. But deep down, Brian knew there was definitely someone he should call first, but he was afraid to even dial the number. So he closed his eyes, calmed his breathing, and counted to twenty before he finally did what was necessary.