Albert returned and found them lying together. Devin relaxed when told he was all right.
“Albert stopped Shyla,” Kane explained. “I asked him to keep an eye on you while I was gone.”
“Actually,” Albert corrected, “you asked me to keep Shyla away from the upstairs. I heard her on the stairs and followed her.”
Kane waved it off as the top of the hospital bed rose to a sitting position. “Whatever. The point is that if you can’t get me for whatever reason, you can trust Albert, all right?”
He accepted the hamburger. When he was finished he started to pick at the IV tape.
“No, Devin. Leave that alone. It’s giving you medicine so you can get better faster.”
“Oh. O-okay. I’m sorry.”
The door opened again, letting in the two doctors from before. Devin shrank into Kane while he talked to the newcomers.
“…series of scans for the sake of completeness, test for the extent of the damage…”
“We’re eating.” Kane pointed out.
“If we can get this done today, you should be able to check out tomorrow. School will have to be delayed by a week to ensure full recovery, but still…”
Kane wanted to take Devin home, or at least out of this place. Would they even be sent back to where they’d been?
“Devin, the doctors need to check you, see how much you’ve healed. I’ll be there. I won’t leave you alone, I swear. But the sooner they do this, the sooner we can leave. I know you’re scared and if we didn’t have to, I wouldn’t make you. We have to, Devi. We have to be sure everything’s been fixed.”
“Y…you…you w-won’t leave?”
“Be there every step.”
The nurse came around the bed and injected something into the IV. Devin felt dizzy.
Unconscious, Devin was heavy. Kane lowered him to the mattress.
“You could’ve said something first. Or did you forget basic manners when you went to college? That not part of the curriculum?”
“Kane,” Albert started.
“No! They’ve got no right to treat him like an object! He’s a scared little boy, dammit, and should be treated like one!”
The three had the decency to look ashamed. He lay down with his arms folded across his chest. “All right, let’s get this over with.”
“Um…you can’t come,” the male doctor, Nelson, said after a moment.
“Hell I can’t,” Kane snarled back. “I can’t go in the damned machine, but I can go as far as the room. And I’m going to! I promised to be there and I’m going to be!”
The doctors looked at Albert,who was professionally blank, for help. Seeing it was not forthcoming, the female, Porter, shrugged. She nodded at the nurse, who moved the tray they had been eating from. She snapped the side rails into place.
“A transporter will be along in a moment,” Nelson told Kane. “We’ll see you again once the scans are complete.” Porter and the nurse left.
Nelson hesitated at the doorway. Kane watched him impassively until he spoke. “I want to talk to you; that’s why I said you couldn’t come.”
“So talk to me downstairs while he’s having the scan,” Kane returned. He liked Nelson better than Porter. Not that that was saying a lot. “I promised.”
After a moment Nelson nodded, then left the room. Kane commented that the place was weird. Albert responded that hospitals tended to be. Before Kane could ask how many hospitals Albert had been in, a heavyset black man entered the room, checked the chart, and beamed.
“Name’s Charles.” He indicated his ID. “I’m gonna take you for a ride down to Radiology so Sleeping Beauty here can get his scans.”
He transferred the IV to the pole attached to the bed. While he worked he kept up a congenial monologue, sometimes addressing the trailing Albert, other times Kane. He was, Kane decided, the most decent person he’d run into yet. His smile was genuine, unlike the doctors and nurses, and he wasn’t talking to them like they were idiots.
“Here we go. MRI,” Charles announced. “Let me…never mind, here they come.”
“They” were two smiling people – a dark haired female and a lighter haired male – dressed in scrubs.
“Jamie, Andrew,” Charles handed over the chart. “I brought you a nice young man – didn’t give me a lick of trouble the whole way! But,” he whispered as he leaned in and looked around, “you gotta watch out for the one sleeping. Bit of a troublemaker, he is.”
Kane scowled, but they laughed.
“Oh yeah,” the male said, approaching the stretcher. “I see how wild he is. I hope he stays still for the scan.” He put down one of the rails. “Hey,” he went on in his gentle voice, “I’m Andrew. Don’t worry; he’s going to be fine.”
“Charles means to be funny with that stuff,” the female went on, bringing over a different stretcher. “He’s trying to make it less scary. We need you to get up, hon. We can’t take this stretcher into the room. Too much metal.”
Kane got down, patting Devin, and stood next to Albert. Devin was shifted over to the new bed. Andrew and Jamie wheeled the bed into the room where Kane saw a giant machine before the heavy wooden door was shut. Albert placed a hand on his shoulder.
A minute later the door opened and the two attendants returned with the now-empty stretcher.
“C’mere a minute.” Andrew held out a hand. Kane took it. “You, too, Albert.” He took them into the dark room.
It was narrow and cramped, one wall covered in shelves with bandages and stuff that were hard to see in the dim light, and the other wall with three computers. There was a large window looking into the room they’d taken Devin. Kane could see the machine and a small white lump he figured was Devin.
“The scanner isn’t as loud as they used to be,” Andrew said while Jamie worked one of the computers, “but it’s still loud, so we gave him earplugs even though he’s asleep. Nothing in the machine will touch him; it’s going to spin around him really fast. The images will show up on our screen here, and we’ll make adjustments for the clearest, most accurate scans we can get.”
“After the first series,” Jamie said, pushing a button that sent the bed into the tube, “we’ll inject a special dye that will show if there are any problem areas we didn’t see the first time. It won’t hurt him and will flush out of his system pretty quick. We’ll run the scan a second time with the dye and he’ll be done. A full body scan like this takes about thirty minutes.”
“Can I sit in there with him?”
“No, sweetie, I’m afraid not.” And both did seem to be sorry that he couldn’t. Why couldn’t the doctors be as nice as the transporter and these people? “We’re not supposed to bring you in here, but we thought you’d feel a bit better knowing what your brother is going through.”
“There’s a waiting room down the hall,” Andrew went on. “I can take you there, or you can wait back up in the room…”
“Dr. Nelson said he wished to speak with us,” Albert said. “Is there someplace…”
Dr. Nelson walked into the room. He glanced at the screen, nodded at what he saw, told Andrew and Jamie to pay very close attention to the something-or-other medical term and ushered Albert and Kane out of the room.
“They’re the best MRI techs we’ve got–the best in the whole region. If there’s any abnormality, even one the size of a pinprick, they’ll find it. That’s why I ordered the scan done now instead of waiting. The evening guy is good, but not on par with them.”
He led them into another small room, gesturing them onto an old sofa and taking a stiff looking stool.
“First, I have a couple of questions for you, and then we can talk. Kane, you are aware you are part of an experiment, correct? Did you tell Devin?”
“Yeah.” He explained what he had told the other boy. Dr. Nelson nodded, made notes on a small pad. “Have you noticed any changes in Devin since what happened? Speech, attitude, behavior, anything? I know he hasn’t been awake long, but you would know him best.”
“He is more openly afraid of people,” Albert answered. “He knows me and still reacted with fear to my presence. I have given him no reason to fear me,” he went on in a stiff tone.
“He expects everybody to hurt him–says he was born to be hurt,” Kane reminded him. “It’s nothing personal.” He looked back at Dr. Nelson. “He always spooks around people, but Albert’s right. Its more obvious. And he’s cuddlier. With me.” He fidgeted under the man’s scrutiny. “He’d hide behind me, yeah, but now he…latches on. You saw, when you came in. He never would’ve done that before.”
“I don’t – his voice. It’s different, but I can’t say how. He never talked a lot.” He thought another second, looking at Albert. “That’s all I noticed.” Albert agreed.
“So, his voice is different, he’s more openly afraid, and it sounds like he’s more openly trusting of you. Does that sound about right?” It did. “And Dr. Porter notes that he cannot make conscious choices, like what he wants for lunch when given options. Also correct?”
“Yeah. And he couldn’t remember his last name or years. Nothing with numbers except his birthday, and he didn’t know the year. But he knows he’s twelve.”
Dr. Nelson made more notes, not speaking. Kane grew more and more uneasy as the silence lengthened, the steady thump from the next room a welcome distraction. Finally Dr. Nelson looked up.
“We don’t know much about the brain. A lot more than we did, but not nearly enough. I can tell you that the damage to Devin’s brain appears to be minor and localized. In fact, I would hazard to guess that we have already seen the extent of the damage. I cannot, unfortunately, say that for certain.”
“Brain injuries can take a long time to heal. So, it is possible that, given time, Devin will return to normal function. Until and unless that happens, though, you will be making Devin’s choices for him. Either until he completely heals or for the rest of your lives. As well as protecting him from anybody who might hurt him. It won’t be easy; in fact, it will be quite annoying. Especially if you’re in a hurry and the decision is something you consider simple. You may even think at times that he’s doing it on purpose.”
Yeah, he could see that. Hell, he felt that way about most people. It would be easy to lash out at Devin, but he didn’t do things the easy way. And he’d promised. And gotten Albert’s promise not to let him hurt Devin. It was all he could do. He looked steadily at the doctor.
“I don’t want to hurt him. Ever. I’m not stupid. I know it’s not gonna be easy, that I’m gonna get pissed off. That doesn’t mean I’m gonna hurt him or leave him to be hurt.”
“No, it doesn’t. But you are inclined towards violence, Kane. Especially when you get upset. You wouldn’t be in this program if that weren’t so.”
“Kane has instructed me to intercede if it appears that he may put Devin at risk,” Albert interrupted. Kane was glad for the silent, unobtrusive man’s presence. He probably would have said something to make things worse.
“So you have thought about it.” Dr. Nelson sounded relieved. “That is all I wanted. to make you think about the possibility and figure out ways to avoid it. If more people would do that…” He trailed off, shaking his head.
“Well. If everything scans as I anticipate, Devin will be ready to leave tomorrow. Dr. Porter will need to conduct the cognitive testing again. He will also be checked for gross and fine motor skills. The rest of the testing can be done in your room, which should make it less stressful for you both.”
Getting to his feet, he shook hands with them both before leaving. Kane and Albert looked at each other, uncertain what they were supposed to do. Finally Kane shrugged.
“What’d you find out about the bed?”
They had been back in their room for perhaps twenty minutes when Devin blinked awake.
“Right here.” He squeezed the hand he was holding and got to his feet. He hadn’t gotten back into the bed with Devin when they’d returned. He put the book he was reading in his seat. It was weird to have an actual book. He leaned on the mattress. “How are you feeling?”
“I gotta pee.”
He helped Devin sit up. Using the remote, he lowered the bed as far as it would go. Devin swung his legs around and put his feet on the floor. Kane steadied him on his feet when he wobbled. Devin moved as if he had to think about every move he was making. After the first few steps, everything seemed to fall into place, the actions getting smoother.
Kane waited outside the bathroom while Devin took care of business. He was relieved he hadn’t had to be of more help. The more Devin could do for himself, the better. For both of them. The bathroom door opened and Devin came out, face clearing into relief on seeing Kane waiting.
“I’m here, Devi. I’m here.”
They stood that way for a few minutes before Kane eased Devin back into the bed. Kane got into the bed as well, putting it into a sitting position and switching on the television.
“D-do…do we live here now?”
“No. We’re here until the doctors say you’re all healed up. Then we’ll be going home.” He assumed they’d go back to the big house. Albert hadn’t left, at any rate.
“Oh.” He was quiet for a moment, working up the nerve to ask him something else. “Kane?”
“I-is…is it okay? Me…hugging you and stuff? ”
“You’re fine, Devi. I’d tell you if I didn’t like it.”
“I don’t hurt.”
“My…my bruises and stuff are gone.” He looked up at Kane. “Did you do that?”
“I told them to, yeah. Get my boy all fixed up for me. I didn’t like seeing you all messed up like that. It won’t happen again.”
“I know. You won’t let it.”
“That’s right. Now let’s watch cartoons a bit, okay? They’re gonna come ask you more questions and stuff later, so let’s relax now.”
Dr. Porter came in soon after that. “Hello again, Devin,” she said with her professional smile. “Do you remember me?”
Devin nodded, shrinking back as she got closer. When she circled to his side of the bed he ran to Kane, who assured him it was all right.
Dr. Porter watched all this, making notes on her clipboard but not trying to intercede. It took a few minutes for Devin to relax.
“Can you tell me my name?” Dr. Porter asked.
Devin gulped, turning toward her.
She smiled that fake smile people always wore. “That’s right. like before, I’m going to ask you questions. I’m not going to touch or hurt you in any way.”
“Kane won’t let you.”
“No, he won’t. And the oath I took as a doctor won’t let me, either.”
“Oath?” Devin frowned. “It never stopped them before.”
“Never stopped who before?”
“The…the other doctors.”
“Other doctors hurt you?”
“Everybody hurts me. Everybody but Kane.”
Dr. Porter took an involuntary step toward the bed. Devin shrank. Kane came forward to wrap him up, glaring at her.
“I’m sorry, Devin. Doctors take an oath not to hurt people. I’m sorry you had to meet some who didn’t keep that promise.” She held up the clipboard and forced another smile. “Like I said, though, I’m here to ask questions. You ready?”
Kane sat back next to Devin. As he relaxed, Devin followed suit.
“Okay, then. Your full name?”
“Date of birth?”
“How old are you?”
So it went. The questions were not quite identical to the last set, but very similar. He answered with more assurance. There were still questions he couldn’t answer, questions he knew he should be able to answer, and the ones that had no answers at all.
“Devin, it’s all right,” Dr. Porter said after awhile, seeing his rising frustration. “You hit your head, and your brain was hurt. That’s why some of the questions seem so hard.”
“My stupid now?”
“No, not at all. There’s a small part of your brain that doesn’t work quite right now. The part that deals with certain numbers. You are not stupid. We wouldn’t be able to talk to you if you were.” She could see he wasn’t satisfied.
“I wish I could tell you it will get better, Devin, but I can’t. Sometimes the brain heals itself and sometimes it doesn’t. I have no way of knowing which will happen, and I don’t want to lie to you. I can tell you that you are very lucky that the damage is as slight as it is. It could have left you non-functioning, dependent on others or machines, unable to move or speak or anything on your own. As it is,” she shrugged, “you only have a hard time with large numbers.”
“Kane, I’d like to talk to you out in the hall, if you don’t mind.”
Kane nodded and she left. When she got to the hallway she waited, listening to the interaction between them.
“I’ll be in the hall. If you need me I’ll be right here. You’ve done real good, Devi. Close your eyes and rest ’til I get back.”
Even though anybody going in would have to go past him, he kept an eye on the foot of the bed. He looked grimly up at the doctor. She’d been better with Devin this time. He still didn’t like her.
“Don’t look like that. It isn’t as bad as it could be. He has trouble with numbers, and his self-awareness is skewed.”
“And he can’t make his own decisions,” Kane added. “He’s terrified of people and loud noises, and the way he talks is different.” He looked up at her tiredly. Why didn’t they understand? Were adults really that stupid? Or did they not care?
“He’s a sweet little kid who’s been beat on his whole life and told that’s why he was born. To be beat on. And when he had a shot at things getting better, this had to happen. He’s my boy. They said I can have him, take care of him, and I’m gonna. But, dammit, it’s not fair! He deserved a chance!”
“He still has one, Kane.” She pointed at him. “You. You are his chance. He’s going to need you more than ever. He is a sweet kid, and unless I miss my guess, he always will be. Sweet, I mean.”
She hesitated. Kane waited to see what she was going to say, although he was pretty sure he already knew. Remind him of his “options,” the ones that he didn’t really have.
“You can still choose to end this, you know. Terminate your agreement.”
Kane sneered at her. “You mean have him terminated. Hell no. He’s mine. This ain’t fair, but it ain’t his fault. I made a promise. To him, to me, and I’m gonna keep it.” He raised his head in defiance. He knew full well he was a lot of things. A killer wasn’t one of them.
To his surprise, Dr. Porter was smiling. “Good. I wanted to make certain you understand you still have the option.” She patted his shoulder. “I think Devin got very lucky being paired with you. You two may make it.”