Steve Keller was standing at the foot of the bed, staring somberly at its occupant.
Mike Stone was back in ICU, but he looked much different. The oxygen mask, IV and heart monitor were still in place but the chest tube had been removed, and he was now dressed in a light blue hospital gown. His left arm was strapped across his chest. The bed was raised slightly and his head rested on a couple of pillows.
And for the first time since the shooting, Steve actually believed that their partnership was indeed not over.
“See, I told you,” came a voice from behind and he glanced over as Doctor Peters moved past him and closer to the head of the bed. “He looks better, doesn’t he?”
Steve laughed slightly. “Yeah, he sure does. Thank you.”
“Oh, don’t thank me,” said Peters as gave his patient a once-over. “I just provided the means, he did all the heavy lifting,” he joked with a nod at Mike. “So, we’re gonna push back on the sedatives so he comes to, and then we’ll manage his meds here for the next 24 hours; he’s gonna be very, very sore so we’ll keep him as comfortable as we can. Tomorrow we’ll pull back on the meds again, move him upstairs and keep an eye on him till Thursday morning, and then he’s all yours.”
“How long will it take till he starts to come around?”
“Well, everyone’s different. I wouldn’t think we’ll see any reaction for at least an hour or so, but he could surprise us. The best I can say is, if you’re gonna go someplace, don’t go for too long; you never know.”
Steve shook his head as he headed for the chair. “I’m not going anywhere. I want to make sure I’m the first thing he sees.”
# # # # #
Fifty minutes later Steve felt the first slight tremor in Mike’s right fingers. He sat up straighter. “Mike…Mike, it’s me, I’m here.”
There was a little stronger movement in the fingers but nothing registered on his face. “Take your time,” Steve kept his voice low and soothing, “there’s no rush…”
He continued to talk, quietly, comfortingly, as the older man struggled to regain consciousness. Peters came in at one point, studied his patient, then told Steve that Mike was doing great and everything was fine.
Eventually Mike’s eyelids started to flutter slightly. It was another few minutes before his eyes finally opened. Steve stood and leaned over the bed so he was in his partner’s field of vision. “Hi,” he said simply when Mike’s eyes eventually started to focus.
Under the oxygen mask, Steve could see a very slight smile, and he grinned himself, suddenly, overwhelmingly relieved.
It took another 20 minutes for Mike to come around enough to turn his head and meet Steve’s eyes evenly. The younger man was leaning on the bed, holding Mike’s right hand, and grinning from ear to ear.
Mike closed his eyes for a second, tried to take a deep breath, winced, and looked at his partner in confusion. Though his voice was muffled by the oxygen mask, Steve heard him ask, “What happened?”
“You got shot. In the parking garage. Do you remember?”
Mike seemed to think for a moment then shook his head slightly. “No.”
“You got hit in the chest. It collapsed your left lung but that’s all it did. You were really lucky. You’re in a lot of pain because they had to put a chest tube in between your ribs, but you’re going to be fine.”
Mike winced again. “It hurts to breathe.”
“Yeah, it’s going to be like that for awhile,” Steve told him apologetically then smiled. “But they’re going to put you on some cool drugs for the next little while to help with the pain.”
Mike smiled under the mask. “Good.” Steve could see him try to stave off a wave of discomfort. “When did it happen?”
“Yesterday,” Steve told him, unable to keep the amazement from his voice.
“Yesterday?” Mike repeated weakly, sounding awed.
Steve nodded, eyebrows raised. Mike closed his eyes, and Steve could tell he was losing strength. He patted Mike’s hand. “I’ll be right back, I’m going to get the doctor.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth when Doctor Peters strode briskly into the room and up to the bed. “Ah ha, he’s awake.”
Mike turned slowly towards the new voice and opened his eyes.
“Lieutenant Stone, I presume? I’m Doctor Peters. I’ve been looking after you for the past 24 hours,” he announced lightly.
“Mike, call me Mike.”
“Then Mike it is.” Peters smiled down at his patient and then briefly over at Steve. He slipped the oxygen mask off. “Let’s take this off so you can talk to me easier. So how are you feeling?”
Mike hesitated, as if taking stock of his body. “My chest hurts like hell, and I have a headache, but I think everything else is okay,” he said slowly and carefully.
“That’s what I wanted to hear. Now we can give you something for the headache and we’re going to increase your meds so you don’t have so much trouble breathing.” He nodded towards Steve. “Has he told you what going to happen in the next couple of days?”
Both Mike and Steve shook their heads.
“Okay, well, we’re going to give you some pretty good drugs so you’re more comfortable and keep you here in the ICU until tomorrow, then we’re going to ship you upstairs to a regular room and keep an eye on you for the another 24 hours after that. And then, if everything is okay, sometime on Thursday morning, you get to go home.” He finished with a smile.
Mike seemed a little overwhelmed by all the information, but he managed a small smile of his own. “That sounds great.”
“Good. Well, I’m going to go arrange for those meds; I’ll be right back.”
Peters started for the door. Steve stood up quickly and patted Mike’s hand. “I’ll be right back.” He caught Peters just outside the door. “Doctor Peters,” he called sotto voce, and the physician turned back to him.
“Um, I don’t want to tell him about the others yet – I don’t think it’s the right time. So I just want to make sure that…” His voice trailed off.
Peters was nodding. “Completely understood. I’ll tell the staff. Don’t worry, we can be very discreet.” Peters started to leave and then turned back. “I’ve been meaning to ask, how long have you two been partners?”
“Just over five years,” Steve said with quiet pride.
Peters nodded. “Well, you can stop worrying about him, he’s doing great.” He crossed to the nurse’s station as Steve made his way back into the room.
Mike turned his head and opened his eyes when Steve sat back down, and they looked at each other in silence. Finally Mike said, “You’ve been here all night, right?” The younger man nodded. “Go home, for me, please. I’m not going anywhere.”
Steve smiled. “I’ll go home for a bit once you go to sleep, I promise.”
Mike tightened his grip on Steve’s hand as much as he could.
“Close your eyes,” Steve said gently, and Mike did as he was told.