Neither man had any idea how long they had remained in each other’s embrace, but eventually Steve got himself under control, and with a final quick clench, he released his partner and Mike laid back against the pillows.
His eyes closed, his face etched in pain, Mike’s breath was coming in shallow gasps. Suddenly more than a little concerned, Steve scrambled for the oxygen mask. “Here, let’s get this back on,” he said quickly as he slipped the elastic over Mike’s head.
When Mike still didn’t open his eyes, Steve crossed to the door. A quick glance towards the nurse’s station told him that his colleagues were still in attendance, but Steve’s attention was focused on the nurses. When one looked his way, he called quietly, “Could you ask Dr. Peters to come in, please?”, closed the door and returned to the bed.
Mike still hadn’t moved or opened his eyes, and a worried Steve sat on the side of the bed, stroking his partner’s arm. The door slammed open and Peters strode towards the bed, removing the stethoscope from around his neck. He glanced at Steve, who scrambled to his feet. “What happened?”
Steve took a step back to allow Peters better access. “Ah, we, ah, we had a bit of a rough time,” he stammered, reluctant to admit what really took place. But he saw in Peters’ eyes that the young doctor had noted his tear-stained face and red eyes, had figured it out and had then allowed himself a tiny smile.
Peters glanced at the heart monitor then, as he put the eartips of the stethoscope in his ears, said encouragingly, “He’ll be okay.” He undid the buttons on Mike’s pajama top and opened it, placing the chestpiece on the middle of his ribcage on the left side. Peters listened for several seconds, then moved the chestpiece closer to the sternum near the mid-line, and then once more a little higher.
Satisfied, Peters straightened up, removed a blood-pressure cuff from his pocket and, sliding Mike’s left sleeve up, strapped on the cuff and inflated it.
Steve didn’t take his eyes from his partner’s face, still concerned that the older man was showing no signs of consciousness. Abstractedly, he reached out, laid a hand on Mike’s leg and squeezed.
Peters released the air pressure on the cuff, watching the readings. With an affirming nod, he unstrapped the cuff and stuffed it back in his pocket then took off the stethoscope and draped it over his neck. Turning to Steve, he smiled. “He’s fine. I think he’s just exhausted and in pain. Don’t forget, his lung and the muscles in his chest are still healing.”
As if on cue, Mike gasped audibly and opened his eyes, looking from Peters to Steve and smiling self-consciously. He reached out for Steve’s hand and grabbed it as best he could. “Sorry about that, the pain was just too intense, I couldn’t move,” he said quietly and carefully.
With an accusatory but humour-laced sigh, Peters shook his head. “You are going to send me to an early grave,” he chuckled. He smiled at Steve. “I’ll leave you two alone.” At the door he turned back. “Are you guys hungry? I know of a bunch of cops who are standing around doing nothing right now – I’m sure you could convince one of them to make a food run for you.”
Steve glanced at Mike, raising his eyebrows. Mike looked back. “I could eat.”
Steve looked at Peters. “We’ll let them know. Thanks.”
With a grin and a nod, Peters left the room. Steve turned slowly back to his partner, his own smile fading as the reality of their situation returned to his thoughts. He crossed to the chair and sat heavily. “What are we gonna do, Mike?” he asked joylessly.
Mike stared solemnly at his young friend for several long seconds. He thought about saying, ‘I don’t know’, but changed his mind. He knew Steve was looking to him right now for reassurance and wisdom, and he had none to give.
Mike slipped the oxygen mask off and took a tentative deep breath. “I wish I knew, buddy boy, I wish I knew. But I’m gonna try and get better so I can get the hell out of here – and you, you’re gonna have to start believing that there was nothing more you could have done this morning. You did the best you could, better than the best. You were there for your friend Jack when he needed you the most, and there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Steve started to pull away, shaking his head in denial. Mike grabbed his hand and held him still. “This is not going to go away overnight, we both know that. But you have nothing to beat yourself up over this. Jack’s decision was made a long time ago, maybe even from the second Charlie died; nothing you could have done or said would have changed his mind.”
Mike paused, wincing. Talking for so long was painful and draining, but he wasn’t about to stop. “What everyone has to do now is make absolutely sure that this kid that Jack killed actually was one of the shooters. That’s the best thing we can do for Jack, and Charlie, and Derek and Allan. Right?”
When Steve didn’t look at him right away, Mike shook his hand. “Right?” he repeated, more forcefully.
Reluctantly Steve faced him and with a slight nod whispered, “Right.” They sat in companionable silence for a several minutes, Steve trying to quell the voices in his mind, Mike allowing the ache in his chest to subside.
Another shake of Mike’s hand brought Steve’s head up. Mike was looking at him with a slight smile. “I don’t know about you but I’m hungry. Let’s take advantage of our friends and send someone out to get us some dinner, because I am not eating hospital food. What do you say?”
Steve sat silently at first, unmoving, his eyes dark and troubled. Then he smiled slightly and his eyes lit up a bit. “What do you want?”
# # # # #
Mike woke up with a start and instantly regretted it as a stabbing pain on the left side of his chest brought him up short. His yelp of pain woke the occupant of the cot a few feet away, and Steve’s head came up quickly. Though it was still dark outside and the overhead lights were off, he could see Mike in the glow of the heart monitor.
“Yeah,” Mike hissed through clenched teeth, trying to relax. “I will be so glad when this is all over.”
Steve sat up and swung his feet to the floor. “What woke you up so fast?”
Mike looked over at him. “What day is it?”
“What day is it?” Mike asked again, impatiently.
Steve thought for a bit, perplexed, then looked at his watch. “Sunday.”
Mike sighed. “Great. Didn’t miss it.”
The perplexed look didn’t go away. “Didn’t miss what…? Oh, right, Jeannie.” Steve’s look turned to one of skepticism. “I somehow don’t think Peters is going to let you out of here just to answer a phone call. He said you weren’t being released until at least tomorrow.”
Mike slumped, momentarily defeated. “You’re probably right.”
“I know I’m right.” They both thought for a minute, then Steve said simply, “Well, the only thing we can do is, I go to your place and take the call and tell Jeannie you’re in an emergency meeting with the mayor and the chief and you couldn’t get out of it.”
Mike nodded, eyebrows raised. “That could work.”
“Good. Go back to sleep,” Steve said through a yawn as he laid back down on the cot.
# # # # #
“Hello…Yes, I will…. Hello? Hey, Jeannie! Hi, yeah, Mike’s not here tonight. We’re at a really important point in the investigation of that shooting a couple of weeks ago? Yeah, that one. Well, Mike had to go to an emergency meeting tonight with the mayor, the chief and a bunch of others…. Yeah, he’s the lucky one… Right…So, where are you? France?!”
Steve relaxed; Jeannie bought the story without much cross-examination. Now he could concentrate on the conversation.
They talked for almost three quarters of an hour, her vibrant young voice and contagious enthusiasm going a long way in starting to heal his wounded soul. When he finally hung up, sitting in the Stone kitchen, he was once more in awe of how this small family had come to mean so much to him. He had no idea if he could live without them.
# # # # #
It was almost 9:30 when Steve walked into the hospital room. He was pleasantly surprised to see Mike, glasses on, reading a newspaper. The older man turned to him anxiously, putting the paper down.
“So, did she believe you?” he asked without preamble.
Steve feigned annoyance as he took off his jacket, tossed it on the cot, and sat in the chair. “What, you doubt my expertise?”
“In lying to women? Why would I? I’ve seen you in action,” Mike chuckled, making Steve smile. The banter felt good to them both; it seemed so long since they’d had that opportunity.
“Hook, line and sinker.”
“Well done, my boy, well done. So, what did you talk about?”
Steve raised his eyebrows and smiled slyly as he reached for his jacket and pulled his police issue notebook out of a pocket. As he settled back in the chair and crossed his legs, he flipped it open.
“You took notes?” Mike asked incredulously.
“I knew you’d want all the details and I didn’t want to miss a thing.” He looked up at his partner and smiled like the Cheshire cat. “She’s great, by the way, and having a wonderful time. She’s in France right now…”
With his own contented grin, Mike settled back against the pillows, listening to the sound of his best friend’s voice, hearing about the adventures of his beloved daughter. The days ahead would be filled with more pain and grief, he knew, but for now, in this little fragile bubble of time, he could relax and enjoy the togetherness.