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All The Effects Of Love (ch.9)

Title: All The Effects Of Love (9/15)
Author: honestys_easy
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with any of them, and in no way responsible for creating the awesome that is Brace. I don’t even live in New York anymore so I can’t even claim that!
Summary: Through the years of first glances, first kisses, first loves, Brandon Rogers and Ace Young had the perfect relationship. But when tragedy strikes, the couple discovers how much they truly mean to one another.
Author’s Notes: This is the sequel to my Chris/Blake New York AU Smile A Smile For Me, telling the story of Brace’s relationship that was a side story just dying to be expanded. The first story doesn’t have to be read to understand this one, but there are recurring characters and relationships among them in both. I hope you like reading this as much as I’ve loved writing it: I haven’t put this much into two characters and a storyline perhaps ever.
Huge thanks and much love to my beta, dreamerren, for the ideas and the planning and the squee and for “Duh!” nine months ago that brought all of this to life. ♥

          Chapter Nine

          October 2003

Elliott was forty five minutes late, and even for Elliott, who in college had considered a 9:00 class meant to wake up at 8:59, he was damn late.

"There's always traffic," Brandon reminded his boyfriend, watching Ace burn a hole in his wristwatch with his eyes with the intensity of his stare.

Ace dismissed this thought quickly, a slight tinge of impatience in his voice. He had waited for Elliott Yamin for too many years already; it was time to give that boy an alarm clock. "Elliott takes the train," he said, knowing that his old college roommate wouldn't be caught dead paying for a taxi from Harlem to Chelsea.

His new girlfriend, on the other hand, may have had a different view on public transportation. It was what they had been waiting for from the start: Elliott couldn't stop raving over his new girlfriend, the one he bumped into - literally - outside of a Starbucks when he had been running late for a class in his MSW program at Columbia. Leggy, with cascading brown hair, bow-tie lips and a face that turned heads from Broadway to Brooklyn. Certainly Elliott's type, Ace had joked to him when he first told him about this new woman who crashed into his life, and the miraculous thing was she seemed to be genuinely interested in the shy, shaggy-haired Virginian as well. If she had been Jewish, it would have been too good to be true.

Neither Ace nor Brandon had met Elliott's new flame since he had started seeing her nearly six weeks ago, something nearly unheard of in the couple's circle of friends. In the grand scheme of things they hadn't been together very long - Ace always reminded Brandon that the Youngs had been happily married for over thirty years, and Brandon would reply lovingly that they had a lot of catching up to do - but it was almost customary now for their friends to bring around new boyfriends or girlfriends for the couple's scrutiny and approval. Rarely did their observations have any bearing on the relationship at hand, but they did find that their friends liked to gauge their feelings for someone against the near instant love and attraction Brandon and Ace had for each other right from the start. It was a tall order to be that perfect couple in their friends' eyes, Brandon thought as he watched Ace, hint of a smile on his lips because he felt lucky enough just to look at him, but one they could easily attain.

Which was why Ace was excited to meet the new woman in Elliott's life, the one Elliott dreamily boasted made him feel like he walked on clouds when he was with her; made him feel like Ace had when he first met Brandon.

But if they were any later good ol' Elliott would have to get his own damn reservation for the Corner Bistro, because although Ace loved Elliott like a brother, he loved a perfectly cooked Alpine swiss burger more.

"Five more minutes," Ace was giving Elliott; Brandon looked up at the wall clock in their apartment and noticed they were already unforgivably late for their dinner reservation.

Seeing the tension in his lover's body transition from friendly irritation to a genuine annoyance, Brandon reached out a hand towards Ace, bringing the wristwatch gently away from his gaze and brushing his thumb against the back of Ace's hand. Immediately he felt the other man's strain soften, his attentions taken from his chronically late friend to the surge of emotion swelling through his heart. "Relax, love," he soothed, pressing a kiss to the sensitive skin behind Ace's ear; a brief kiss, for Brandon knew anything longer would result in them being the late ones. "He'll be here soon. You know this is important to him."

Almost on cue the doorbell rang: it was Elliott, red in the cheeks from rushing his way to their apartment from the A train, apologizing with gasping breaths over his unfashionable lateness. But what Ace and Brandon noticed more than anything else, was that Elliott conspicuously arrived alone.

"What, did Kat finally come to her senses and dump your ass?" Ace ribbed, his hunger and impatience forgotten once Elliott stepped into the room and sat down at the apartment's lone desk to catch his breath. But his lightheartedness faltered when he saw the look on Elliott's face, telling him without words that his joke wasn't too far from the truth.

"It's fine," Elliott waved off the look of concern on his former roommate's face, though his eyes were trained on the floor; a tell-tale sign, Ace knew, that his old friend was lying through his teeth. "Just...can we not go to some romantic kind of restaurant tonight?" He tried to laugh it off but the sound that came out was more of a pathetic cough; Brandon didn't see much of Elliott's sensitive side but it was obvious to him the other man didn't typically keep his emotions inside well. "Not really feeling like being surrounded by happy couples right now."

Elliott was downplaying his emotions, that was clear enough, and Brandon had seen enough bouts of heartbreak from Blake and his other friends for his instincts to kick in almost immediately. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked sympathetically, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

Ace shot his boyfriend a stern look; he couldn't read his mind but he knew his actions well enough to predict the thoughts running through his head. Elliott wasn't Blake, and he certainly wasn't David Hernandez: Brandon might have mastered dealing with break-ups with mugs of soothing hot tea and emergency ego-bolstering trips to the closest gay nightclub, but when it came to handling Elliott Yamin's broken heart Ace earned his stripes many times over. "What El needs," he said from experience, "Are good friends, ridiculous amounts of alcohol, and the J. Guiles Band on repeat." He beamed at Elliott, hoping he had correctly listed the magical formula to expedite his good friend's heartache, but Elliott only gave a weak smile in response.

"This wasn't Melissa McGhee," Elliott said, sobering Ace's confidence and reminding them both of the Alpha Phi sorority girl in junior year of college who cheated on Elliott with a good number of the members of the Columbia swimming & diving team. He shrugged his shoulders, the invisible weight of the thoughts in his head heavy upon them. "I just...I told her it didn't feel right."

"You broke up with her?" Ace was genuinely shocked; he hadn't met Katharine but hearing Elliott rave about her nonstop made him feel like he knew her for years. Plus, he had spied photos of the fledgling couple in Elliott's apartment; it was an understatement to say Elliott had upgraded from Melissa McGhee. Now he was concerned, but more than that, intrigued. Elliott didn't often make the move to end a relationship, especially when all signs pointed to infatuation. "I thought you two were doing well. What brought this on?"

Another shrug from Elliott, reluctant to talk about events that obviously had just occurred; had it happened any other time than immediately before the social worker would have given Ace and Brandon a heads-up that the reason for the dinner itself would no longer be in attendance. "I told Kat we were meeting you guys here. She...asked about you."

"What do you mean, she asked about us?" said a confused Ace, but Brandon reached out his hand quickly to touch Ace's and silence the question. He looked up at Ace, thumb brushing against the younger man's knuckles, honesty in his eyes that hit Ace so hard and sudden he almost stumbled backwards from the realization. This was what Kat had asked about, this feeling Ace had when Brandon touched his skin, like the dawn cresting over the horizon of a new morning. Brandon understood Elliott's meaning quickly, sadness creeping in that the love he shared with Ace had to be explained; qualified.

Elliott caught sight of the two, Ace's hand instinctively curving around to press his fingertips against Brandon's skin; they didn't even have to think about touching one another, the casual physical connection always present, always so strong. "Kat said some things about you two...I think she might have thought they were funny. They weren't." Brandon had gotten used to unpleasant, ignorant, and sometimes painful remarks about his sexuality; even in the most open, liberal city in the nation he knew all too well about the prejudice and hate he faced. He was forced to grow a thick skin about it over the years, but the comments always hit Ace harder, and deeper, than the couple expected. His grip tightened on Brandon's hand, and he set his jaw, almost thankful now that Elliott hadn't brought the girl along.

Elliott spared the details of his conversation with his short-lived girlfriend, how she laughed off a relationship Elliott had watched flourish and grow over the past few years to be something to be admired, not mocked. He wouldn't dare repeat what she had said afterwards, words he never expected to hear from the mouth of a lady, much less one who a few moments before was head over heels for him. He didn't believe those details would do the three of them any good.

"So I broke it off right there; told her not to even bother coming, and not to call me back." It was then Ace noticed how different this was from Elliott's breakups of yesteryear, how he didn't act despondent and heartbroken over another girl dumping him. This had been a girl who outshone the moon in Elliott's eyes, yet he didn't look that fazed at all. From what his good friend was recounting, though, Ace was getting a pretty clear idea of why.

"I thought you really liked her, though," he said, hoping that his relationship wasn't the only deciding factor in the fate of Elliott's relationship.

Elliott shrugged again; Brandon had a feeling this was how a lot of the former roommates' conversations went. "But you're my best friend," he replied, as if the logic behind his actions was self-explanatory. "Bros before hos, you know?" Brandon couldn't help but snicker at the phrase coming from Elliott Yamin's mouth; the other man noticed, gave a sheepish grin, and corrected himself. "Or, bros before...bros, sometimes."

"You are so not allowed to say 'bros,'" Brandon mocked, but this was all beside the point.

After a quick chuckle Elliott quickly became more subdued; there was something else on his mind that he hadn't said yet, something he had been reluctant to tell his best friend, until now. "You guys...I've seen your relationship from the beginning. How it's grown. How you're made for each other." Brandon found himself smiling wide at Elliott's words, too humble to verbally agree with him yet the words were too right to refute them. He felt a strong arm wrap itself around his shoulders: Ace, still standing, listening to Elliott speak about their love over the past few years, needed just that small connection with his boyfriend, yearned for it. Brandon raised a hand to cover the one atop his shoulder, his heart swelling with emotion. "And I...I always wanted that."

"You always wanted a boyfriend?" Ace joked, cocking an eyebrow. "Something you're not telling me, El?"

Elliott shot him a playful, exasperated look, and continued. "I want that feeling," he said, remembering the way Ace looked like he could walk across the Hudson River barefoot the day after he met Brandon, like the Earth was turning just for them. He wanted to love someone more than he ever thought was possible; he wanted to find someone who thought he was worthy of that love. "And if Kat can't understand how my best friend could find that with another man..." Elliott's gaze rested on the couple's hands, joined together like they were fashioned from the same mold. How anyone could begin to think that the love he watched flourish was wrong, he couldn't even fathom. "Then we weren't right together to begin with."

They ended up forgetting about the dinner reservations - Ace lamented over his lost Alpine swiss burger but Brandon convinced him they'd never accept the trio's tardiness - and heading to an all-hours diner on 9th Avenue Brandon liked to frequent, with chrome-covered walls and sleek glass pie displays, where the buxom waitress called everyone "sugar" and Elliott ordered enough cheesecake to send him into a diabetic coma. And afterwards, when they had settled into a booth at a dimly-lit bar away from the stretch of underaged NYU hotspots, Ace played the part of the perfect wingman, and Brandon caught the drinks tab as the couple left Elliott and called it an early night, to thank the other man for reminding him just how lucky he was to have found his soulmate.


          May 2008

Brandon's mind and his heart were restless but they were nothing compared to his legs. He had needed more than just fresh air when he stepped out of the emergency waiting room at the hospital: he needed to get away from the paralysis he felt sitting in that naugahyde chair, unable to go forward and find Ace, to comfort him when he most needed it but also unable to go back and stop this nightmare from ever happening. He needed to bust away from the head nurse whose watchful eye always seemed to be scrutinizing him, judging him; he wondered if she ever took even a coffee break. He just wanted to be able to do something, instead of just waiting for his world to fall apart.

He allowed his feet to do the wandering for his mind; if he let his mind wander too far into the dark places of doubt and memory, of the worst things that could still happen that day, he found it so overwhelming he could hardly breathe. He went back into the hospital but didn't stop inside the ER, not to wait for more news that would never come. Ace's parents were in the air by now, and the hospital had made it tragically clear that they weren't going to give any information to anyone but them. At least they had the comfort of knowing that the moment they stepped into that hospital they'd find out everything about their son. Brandon yearned for that feeling, was desperate for it, but it couldn't be his.

He was finally starting to realize there might have been something to Ace's marriage proposal, that love meant so much more to the law when a lisence was involved.

Without taking heed of his steps Brandon found himself down a well-worn corridor of the hospital, somewhere away from the frustrating noise and clamor of the emergency room, to a more peaceful setting quite unlike any other hospital Brandon ever knew. Although the exterior of St. Vincent's was made from sleek glass and modern architecture fleetingly popular in the seventies, its history ran deeper than the subway lines coursing underneath the city streets like arteries, deeper than the foundations of earth Brandon stood upon. Inside the glass casing and state-of-the-art facilities was the old hospital, standing in this place over a century, when the level of medical care one received depended upon the faith in their heart and the gold in their pockets. The old structure acted as the heart of the hospital now, with its Elizabeth Ann Seton Chapel at the core of its soul. Brandon could see the lights flicker within the chapel from its exterior doors, the warmth of liturgical candlelight a jarring contrast from the cold, harsh fluorescent bulbs of the waiting room; it was too soothing, too tempting not to go inside.

Walking near the old center of the hospital was like stepping through time, but the chapel itself felt like an entirely different world: high-vaulted ceilings housed elaborate chandeliers and frescoes of saints painstakingly crafted, and the pale limestone walls dotted with columns and stained glass were far more inviting than the whitewashed drywall of the emergency room. At the head of the chapel stood an altar, tucked in snugly to the curve of the far wall, delicately lit and currently empty, waiting for the sacred host for the next liturgical ceremony - whether it be a Mass, a baptism, or funeral.

Or a marriage, Brandon thought, but that was a bit presumtive. It reminded him of the church of his youth, though starkly different in decoration and purpose: his church on Sundays, filled with ridiculous wide-brimmed hats and yards of purple satin choir robes, was always reminiscent of a living, breathing entity, a house of God brought to life by His people. The Catholic chapel - as well as any Catholic church he visited, aside from St. Patrick's Cathedral where Blake insisted there was magic on its steps - always felt like a testament to history, a temple of gold and marble but not of soul. A church not to celebrate life, but to sanctify death.

If there was one thing Brandon didn't want to think of that day, it was death.

But it was better than the empty, dispassionate feeling lingering in the emergency waiting room, where the staff didn't even pretend to care about basic human emotion over hospital protocol. It was different from the churches he remembered as a boy, the ones he hadn't been to in years, but it was still a calming, familiar place for him; it still felt comforting in a place that had only made him feel pushed aside and unwelcome. He walked slowly up through the empty pews, the candlelight from prayer votives dancing shadows across the walls, making it seem like the spirits revered there filled the old chapel. It was only until he reached the first pew and his eyes adjusted to the dim light of the chapel did he realize he wasn't alone.

"Elliott?" he asked in a hushed voice. He recognized the other man right away, with shaggy brown hair and the makings of a full beard that Ace and his genes always envied. He was seated in the pew in the center of the chapel, his head down and his hands clasped together, deep in thought, not even noticing another man had stepped into the room until he heard his name called. He raised his head, his eyes that landed on Brandon darkened with worry.

"Brandon." His voice echoed off the hallowed walls of the chapel, though they were uttered only loud enough for Brandon to hear. He first looked at the other man with expectancy, with hope, but the frightened, fragile look on Brandon's face told him there was nothing to be expectant about. "You have no news." He said it as a statement rather than a question, already knowing the answer, and for this reason it soothed Brandon slightly with the knowledge that he didn't have to explain to yet another person that he had been shut out of the most crucial moments of his lover's life.

He felt a sudden wave of shame crest over him, causing him to bow his head and train his gaze to the floor. He hated the fact that he had no news, that what Ace may have wanted and their feelings for one another meant nothing in the eyes of the law here, and he hated himself for not taking the pains to make sure it did. Elliott saw this, saw how the passion and determination in Brandon when it came to Ace was turning tragically into defeat. He knew Brandon wanted to be strong but there was only so much a man could take at one time; he had to remember there would be an end to this day, and hopefully it would end with Ace by his side. "Come sit," he suggested kindly, patting the worn wood of the pew next to him. "You look like you need to take a load off."

"Didn't expect to see you in a place like this," commented Brandon as he rested down in the pew. Already he felt a sense of calm here that he hadn't felt anywhere else in the hospital, an abatement of the frantic feeling that was only encouraged by the fast-paced trauma center.

Elliott leaned against the back of the pew, his curls coiling underneath the wood. It sure wasn't what he was familiar with, but it was close enough, and certainly not hard on the eyes. Those Catholics sure did know the definition of flashy. "It doesn't matter where it is you talk to Him," he said, closing his eyes and contemplating the prayers he made only minutes ago. "Just that you know He's listening."

Another blow to Brandon's psyche that Elliott didn't even know he made; he ducked down his head, staring at the hands clasped tightly between his knees, refusing to look up at the accoutrements made to this God Elliott said was always listening. He had been raised to trust in this God, to read His words and believe in the church, but that had all come into question when his family had used that same God and His words to condemn him and the life he finally realized was his own. Once he met Ace his perspective changed again, questioning the very validity of his black-and-white moral upbringing, for how could something so beautiful and perfect as his love for Ace be fundamentally damnable?

But this...the aching in his heart, the terrifying feeling like something had been ripped from his chest; maybe there was something to the fire and brimstone sworn against love like his and Ace's. If there was a God who allowed there to be such a complete love as Brandon held for Ace, then how could He let something like this happen - especially to Ace, a man Brandon knew to only ever have love in his heart. If God was really always listening like Elliott claimed, was He also there to watch as Ace's body was pulled underneath the tires of that bus?

"He couldn't be," Brandon thought to himself, not even noticing that he said the words aloud. He closed his eyes, fearful that he might let tears leak through, his hands clenched together so tightly they were shaking.

Elliott's head perked up, a concerned look on his face. "Brandon?" he asked; there was a chance he misheard the other man, but his instincts overruled his bad ear. "Couldn't what?"

The other man wasn't listening; he heard Elliott all right but the words didn't register in his brain, his thoughts too concentrated now on the God he remembered his mother invoking fanatically as she pushed him out the door of the only home he had known. For years he believed it had only been fearmongering, that what he felt in his heart had to be right in the world, but now he was beginning to doubt. "He's a good man," Brandon choked out, the very least he could say about his lover. "If God is always listening...why did He let this happen?" He held back a sob; he wasn't going to cry, not here, where the echo of his voice above a near whisper would shatter him. "Unless..."

He shook his head, trying to rattle out the ideas penetrating his rational thoughts, the foundations by which he had lived for over a decade. "Are...are we wrong?" His voice was barely audible, his hands now held above his heart, fingers digging into the fabric of his shirt. Had his family been right all along? Had it all been too good to be true, and now it was all going to come crashing down? "Is all this happening...because we're wrong?"

Through vision blurred by unshed tears he turned to face Elliott, searching for an answer in his eyes. Elliott was shocked at first by Brandon's words but then grew stern, his face unapologetic, his words hard. "Stop it." This wasn't the Brandon he knew, the one almost seven years before fell for Elliott's roommate with just one glance, and it unhinged him as much as it irritated him. "Don't start saying those kinds of things; don't even start thinking them. You can't."

In Brandon's state, with his emotions close to boiling over and his mind wholly unobservant, he didn't notice the urgency in Elliott's voice but it was there, the hint that Elliott wasn't only saying this for Brandon; only the walls of the chapel heard it and knew of its cause. "Elliott-" Brandon started, but the other man swiftly cut him off.

"If you start questioning what you and Ace have, in any way," he stressed, "Then you've given up. You lose." Elliott took in a deep breath; he had never seen Brandon look so vulnerable, never saw him without the light in his eyes that pronounced he was luckiest man in the world to love and be loved by Ace Young. "And if there's one thing I know about you, Brandon, is that you've never given up on Ace. And he'd never give up on you."

Brandon bowed his head down, unable to respond, unable to speak, because he knew Elliott's words to be true. Ace had said to him once, when he needed to hear it the most, that he would never throw Brandon away. That he would never give up on their love. And that - not the sermons preached to Brandon as a child, not the damnable words shouted to him by his family when they disowned him - was what really mattered. But it was so hard to feel that way - so hard to feel anything but the stone in his stomach and the ache in his heart - and as much as he needed to keep positive thoughts and know in his heart everything would be okay, he didn't know if he could do this on his own. Brandon wasn't the strong one in the relationship, but now he needed to be; there was no one else to fall back on but himself.

"I've known you, what, almost seven years now?" Elliott asked; Brandon nodded his head once but couldn't look him in the eye. "I still remember the first night Ace met you. He wanted me to go to that play with him, but I never had a head for Shakespeare. Now I know it was a good idea I stayed behind." Elliott's words brought Brandon back to that day, that near-summer dusk when he caught sight of Ace and knew the Shakespeare play wasn't the only masterpiece in the ampitheater that night. A flash of memory almost made him want to cry out but he whimpered instead at the reminiscence of Ace's eyes on him, his smile; he might have fallen in love with him right at that moment.

Elliott continued, a soft smile on his face at remembering the morning he discovered his good friend's life had turned around. "I had a Sociology lecture that morning; I was running late." Even in the most dire of moods Brandon had to smile at this; Elliott was perpetually late, for as long as he knew the man, except for this day when it really mattered. "Ace came back to the dorm from God knows where, out all night and grinning like an idiot. I thought he had hooked up with someone -" that had been an unspoken agreement between Ace and Elliott since their freshman year: Ace would come back at any hour of the night, cheeks flushed, hair disheveled, and Elliott would know he had been with a man but would never ask, and Ace would never tell. "- but he gave me this smile, like he was about to burst at the seams 'cause he was so happy, and told me he met you."

The older man couldn't help but smile, remembering his own joy that swelled in his heart at meeting Ace so randomly that night, the tension he was feeling in his limbs slackening. He had known deep within him that it was to be a special night in the long story of his life, but he never asked in detail if Ace had felt the same; he had always just known it to be true. "I ended up skipping that lecture," said Elliott, the sentimental grin on his face growing wider as he watched Brandon's emotional barriers begin to fade. "Ace looked so excited to tell someone about the great night he had, and I just had to know what was making him giddy as a 12-year-old. He didn't know it then - and neither did you, probably - but after knowing Ace for so long, I had a guess that meeting you would change his life."

Changed his life...Brandon's mind fell bitterly on the thought, the irony not lost on him that if he had never let his gaze fall to the handsome man in the theater that night, if he had never met Ace, the other man wouldn't be fighting for his life at that very moment. But then other thoughts flashed through his mind, images of the two of them holding each other so close only the stark contrast of their skin could tell them apart; Ace's eyes, vivid green and sparkling in moonlight, like they were the most valuable treasure Brandon could ever grasp. The feel of strong arms around him and a low, familiar voice in his ear asking him to marry him. These were the moments that had truly changed their lives; these were the memories neither man would trade a lifetime for. Finding each other and falling in love had brought them to this place, to Ace alone and hurting and Brandon lost, frustrated, but every second of the time in between made up for this heartache.

"For as long as I've known you two, you've been so in love." Elliott had watched their relationship flourish for years now, was the cruel witness to one of their more amorous moments in the dorm room; gave one of the graduation tickets he wouldn't be using so Brandon could see Ace dressed in cap and gown. "But more than that, you respect each other. You understand each other so well, sometimes it's tough to remember you haven't always been in love. It's all I'd ever want in a relationship; it's all anyone would want."

He placed a hand above Brandon's clasped hands supportively; the hands still held their tight grip on one another but they were no longer shaking, the frantic emotions within Brandon cooling before they could boil over. "And I don't know," Elliott said sincerely, "how anyone can say what you have is wrong."

It jolted Brandon, took his thoughts away from the dangerous doubts that had crept in and brought his mind to where it needed to be, on Ace, on his love. But it left him in a vulnerable position, his mind too focused on his emotions and how all of it, the life he had built with Ace, could be taken away in a moment and he would never even know. He looked up at the altar of the chapel, the morbidly accurate crucifix with its open arms almost encouraging Brandon to release his emotions; then back at Elliott, knowing what the other man said to be true. "I'm scared." His voice was strange even to his own ears, quiet but not to escape the echo in the vast chapel. He wasn't the strong, sensible one in the relationship; he didn't know what to do to make any of this better. He didn't know if he could make this better without Ace.

The other man's whisper was clearly an understatement, Brandon nearly couldn't stop shaking since he sat down in the pew, but it was more than Elliott thought he was going to confess. The other friends Brandon had left in the waiting room - Daughtry and his seething outrage, Blake and his neurotic doting, and David and Danny and their empty words - they all tried to reassure him, in some way, that everything would be okay. It fired Brandon up inside to hear those words because none of them could guarantee them, none of his friends could honestly say they weren't telling him this to make him feel better when the reality was so very close to it not being okay. But Elliott just smiled at him, hand on Brandon's shoulder, saying nothing of the sort: he knew things could take a turn for the worse, and that he may never see his friend again.

Brandon didn't need to be told everything would be okay when it might never be okay for him again. So Elliott gave him the only advice he believed would matter.

"Then pray," he said simply, squeezing Brandon's shoulder in support before turning back to face the altar, eyes closed, his own mind the only house of God he needed. Brandon hadn't prayed in years, barring the times he would have worshipped Voodoo dolls if they got the Knicks into the playoffs, but at that moment he would pray to any deity that would listen to bring Ace safely back to him. He found himself closing his eyes, resting his forehead on his clasped hands and slowing his breaths to as close to calm as he could reach. Religion had always been a comfort to Elliott, a constant light that shone true in the good and bad times of his life, and he embraced it like the history of his fathers before him. As the other man muttered in an ancient language the hospital's chapel had probably never heard within its walls, Brandon let his fearful thoughts turn into pleas, prayers not to a particular God but to the ether, to fate, the words from his heart on loop in his mind.

Please, let him be okay, he thought, wishing he could only see his love and know for certain. Please don't let him die.

Author's notes:

I absolutely adore Elliott in this story and I hope that you do, too. Much like Ace, Elliott continued his education at Columbia University, though he worked on a masters degree in social work while Ace went to the School of Law. Elliott was always meant to be a social worker in this world - call it my obsession to track every facet of the New York City social justice system, ha - who still has that idealistic feeling that he can make a difference. He is employed by the Human Resources Administration in New York City, which takes care of a number of social issues in all five boroughs, though he particularly likes to work on cases with troubled youth instead of setting someone up for Meals on Wheels. This will come to be quite important and interesting in the stories to come.

The Corner Bistro is considered to be one of the best burgers in New York City. It's not so much a reservation-only restaurant as it is a "get in line for an hour and get your burger on a paper plate" place, but since it is in the relative area of Chelsea I couldn't resist sending them there. For those of you interested in a different kind of tribute to the 20-something's New York City, it is also the place most recommended by people to Marshall in How I Met Your Mother as the best burger in New York - but you, me, and Regis Philbin all know it's totally not. ;-)

Ace, of course, is referring to Love Stinks by the J. Guiles Band, an album infamous for mopey breakups. (Elliott, apparently, goes through a spectrum of music tastes during his breakup akin to the stages of grief: J. Guiles Band is anger, and then he'll move onto R.E.M. for depression, The Players for bargaining, and, oddly enough, Jewel's Pieces of You rules his denial stage.)

They eventually end up going to the now-defunct Cheyenne Diner, a hole-in-the-wall old style diner overlooking the main post office and the train yards on the West Side. I only ate there once or twice and the food was not spectacular, but it was the atmosphere everyone went there for. Allegedly the body of the diner will be moving to Red Hook, Brooklyn, while assuredly the old space will be filled with high-rise condos and a Bank of America on the ground floor.

St. Vincent's Medical Center in Greenwich Village has been around for over 150 years, and at the center of the hospital is the Elizabeth Ann Seton chapel, a Catholic chapel set in the hospital as a place of refuge. Here's a shot of the chapel; the only one I could find online. It makes me want to go visit so darn badly, but I don't think they'll just let me walk in and gape. There are prayer and consultation services for members of other faiths in the building, but I gloss over them so that Elliott could be found in the chapel instead.


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