It is hard to know that while your day ran safely and happily to order, that for someone you cared about it was a day they'll always remember as one of the worst of their lives.
We were eating, Robin making faces over the pasta in which he insisted he could taste the minced third of a courgette I'd used in the sauce, when the phone rang. He leaped up to grab it, obviously grateful for the chance to escape the table. I put my fork down and waited, wondering who was calling at eight pm on a Saturday evening.
"Hello?" Robin said cheerfully. "No- he lives here- he's eating dinner right now-"
I raised my eyebrows at him. He shrugged and passed the phone over.
"It's someone at the police station."
Puzzled, I took the receiver from him and pointed firmly at his plate. He pulled a face, but sat down again. Satisfied, I turned my attention back to the phone. "Hello?"
"Mr Maddox? This is the Shire police, I'm ringing on behalf of-" I could hear the man pause to check his notes. "- A Mr Mitchell, 105, the HighStreet in Sandy?"
Oh my God. The policeman sounded kind but detached.
"Mr Mitchell and his partner had a fire at their home this afternoon, it was necessary for them to be taken to the General Hospital- Mr Mitchell gave your name when asked if there was anyone he wanted notified."
"Thankyou." I said tightly. Robin's eyes were on me, wide and curious in the way that makes him look about twelve and as though his pockets should be full of frogs. I put the phone down, trying to sound matter of fact for his benefit.
"Damien asked them to call. They've had a house fire, I need to go over and see if they need any help."
"A fire?" Robin swore freely and vividly. "How bad? Are they ok? Were they hurt?"
"I don't know anything yet." I grabbed my jacket from the kitchen peg and hunted for my car keys. Robin was ahead of me, already opening the front door.
"I'll drive- where are they? Still at the house?"
"They've gone to the General- probably just to be checked over." I captured him before he reached the car and took the keys from him. "I want you to stay here. If they're having a crisis I'm going to make this as quick and discreet as possible, they're not going to want company. I'll call you if I'm going to be late back. Clear up from dinner before you put the tv on."
"I want to come!" Robin said hotly. "If they've had a fire-"
"They're going to be upset."
And God alone knew what state they were in. Much as I love my poor boy, he gets anxious and excited under pressure, and I seriously doubted Damien and Nick were in any condition to withstand an anxious Robin. Or that I'd be free to be of any use if Robin was with me and the scene we found was as bad as I was anticipating from the policeman's bland words. Much as he wanted to help, he was likely to end up needing as much support and reassurance as the actual victims of the fire.
"I want you to stay here," I told him again, as gently as I could, "I probably won't be that long. I'll phone you if there's anything you can do, I promise."
He kissed me with a definite pout but let me go. Once out of his sight I grabbed for the keys and drove as quickly as I dared, towards the General Hospital.
Damien has enough independence for several men his size: if he'd asked the police to call me, things were bad. I dreaded to think what had happened. The whole way to the hospital I went through various scenarios in increasing dread, all of which involved a fire and Nick and Damien in the path of it. There had been no mention as to if or which of them was hurt, and how badly.
Casualty was already swarming with the Saturday night rush when I finally found somewhere to park. My inquiries at the desk gained nothing more helpful than a 'please sit and wait'; there was no sign of Damien in the waiting room- nor, as I'd also dreaded, Nick, alone and petrified. Finally the receptionist waved me over and handed me a note. Third floor, Burlington ward. When I asked, she told me apologetically and very briefly, she had no idea who had been admitted or what their condition was. It took me a further twenty minutes to navigate the hospital maze and find the ward in question. The nurse I asked in the doorway there disappeared into his office for a moment, checked a list, then led me down a long corridor and opened the door into room six.
It was fairly dark in there: only one of the two beds was occupied and Damien was sitting in the semi dark, leaning with his elbows on his knees, his hands steepled in front of his face. He was still dressed in t shirt and jeans, despite the coolness of the evening. I could hear Nick wheezing from the doorway. Damien glanced up and I saw his face, very white, totally expressionless. I moved around the bed, took the chair next to his and put an arm around him, giving him as much of a hug as I could considering he didn't respond at all. I could still faintly smell smoke on his clothes and hair. He felt freezing where I touched his bare arm.
"Are you two ok? How's Nick?"
There were no bandages that I could see. Nick was wearing an oxygen mask but his eyes were closed and he didn't respond to our voices. Damien shrugged without taking his eyes off him.
"No one knows. Between smoke and shock he had a major asthma attack in the street and the paramedics insisted on bringing us in. They're worried now about what effect the smoke will have on him, they've been trying to page his consultant."
They weren't the only ones worried obviously. I kept an arm around his shoulders, talking softly for fear of disturbing Nick.
"What happened? Neither of you were hurt were you?"
"We just drove up and the house was on fire." Damien said tonelessly. "I managed to speak to one of the firemen, one of the neighbours saw the smoke and called them. They don't know where or how it started yet. Once it's out the fire investigation team will have a scout around and they'll phone me."
"Did it look bad?" I asked, not knowing how to put it more carefully. "Damien?"
"We could see flames. A lot of smoke. I was more worried about keeping Nick out of it at that point than finding out what was going on."
I gripped his shoulder with more sympathy than I could put words to.
"I'll sit with Nick, why don't you go and call, see what's happening?"
"Because I don't very much care right now." Damien said frankly.
Arg, as Nick would say. I draped my jacket over his shoulders and got up.
"Okay. I'm going to find you some tea and something to eat. Has anyone looked at you?"
"You're in shock for a start."
"Neither of us got close enough to get hurt. Or by anything more than smoke inhalation."
He sounded like an automaton.
"I'll be two minutes." I told him and headed into the corridor. The nurse at the office made me a cup of tea. From what he said, several of them had tried to give Damien the once over, without success. And as this was the ward Nick usually came on to when he was in hospital, they knew both him and Damien well. Probably too well: they were clearly in the habit of doing what Damien said. While the nurse made the tea I called Robin and told him as little as I could, just saying that Nick had had an asthma attack and that I'd stay with them until things were more settled. It didn't look to me like they were intending to discharge Nick tonight, and I had no doubt Damien was intending to stay the night with him. I sorted through enough small change to coax a bar of chocolate out of the machine in the hall. Not exactly nutritious, but I was sure Damien could do with the sugar right now.
He was still sitting where I'd left him when I put the tea into his hands. He didn't look around, but he did sip at it, eyes still on Nick. Who, from what I could see, hadn't moved.
"Is this just exhaustion from the asthma attack?" I asked, sitting down beside him. Damien nodded slowly.
"And they gave him some kind of tranquiliser when we first came in. Worried about stress aggravating the asthma. He was in shock, I couldn't get a word out of him."
They hadn't been having an easy few months anyway, I knew. I sat beside him, glad that he was at least drinking the tea, and we watched Nick breathe through the slowly clicking mask. In and out. In and out.
I found myself wondering vaguely what it must be like to have such a deep knowledge of someone's life force. I knew Robin's heart beat- it was something I associated with moments of closeness and stillness, a feel and a sound that with many others, meant my Robin. I'd known Damien to pick up on a change in Nick's breathing from the far side of a room. I'd never seen Nick have a full blown attack, just occasionally heard him wheeze which sounded bad enough- but I had plenty of times watched the two of them stand together, Damien's hand discreetly cupping the junction between Nick's neck and shoulder, watching him gulp from his inhalers. I realised now, probably for the first time, that that resting hand was more than a gesture of support and tenderness: Damien knew his breathing, knew his heart, knew his colour and knew any change in any of those things. I always knew when Robin was ill by something in his face- there was a certain colour, a certain look to his eyes that rang warning bells with me before there were any other symptoms to verify it. For Damien, those instincts moved far further.
A nurse came in and took Nick's temperature and blood pressure. Damien leaned on the edge of the bed, silently supporting Nick's head until she was done. Nick didn't stir.
"Is he that far out?" I asked when the nurse left. Damien shrugged, still expressionless.
"He's so used to this, I think he's just learned to switch off to it."
They were making 20 minute observations on Nick. The chart above the bed slowly filled up, Damien and I sat in silence. He wolfed the chocolate when I put it into his hand, I doubted he or Nick remembered their last meal. Robin called just after ten. I got up and headed for the hall as soon as my cell phone rang, silencing the alarm as quickly as possible which meant I had Robin's voice in my ear, starting to sound sarcastic which is a sure sign he's getting upset.
"Are you EVER coming home tonight? You've moved out haven't you, and you're just not telling me-"
"Robin, shhhhh." I reached the door, fumbling with the handle. "It's okay, I'm still at the hospital-"
"Then come HOME-"
"I will when I'm done sweetie. Get yourself ready for bed, don't forget to lock up downstairs. Did you get the kitchen cleared up?"
I found the doorhandle and Damien interrupted, behind me.
"Can I talk to him?"
I looked around. Damien held his hand out.
I hesitated for a moment: Robin fed up and whiney isn't easy, but that was the most conversation and the first sign of interest in anything but Nick that I'd got out of him since I arrived. I let Damien take the phone. He got up and went across to the window, his voice changing instantly to the tone I was most familiar with from him. Calm and easy going, as if nothing whatever was wrong.
"Hi sweetheart, it's Damien. I'm sorry I'm keeping Allen out late. No, it's fine love. Really. We're okay, we're just staying here for a few hours until we're sure Nick's over the attack, he's sleeping it off. What are you watching? Yes you are horror, I can hear it."
I watched him, animation slowly creeping back into his face to catch up with the voice.
Autopilot, turning back on, I thought cynically, and then corrected myself. It wasn't. It was nothing automatic or unthinking. He was genuinely fond of Robin I knew, and Robin, like Nick, reached a part of him I suspected Damien kept only for brats in the way some men have parts of them only their children ever know.
Robin adored him, he had done since he first started to work at Damien's firm. His first job, straight out of university, and he went into it just as rude, noisy and brash as he always is when he's terrified. From the first few days when he told me about the man in the next office who talked to him, took him to lunch and introduced him into other friendship groups in the business, kept an eye on his work and to my relief seemed to be able to put the brakes on when one of his less well thought out impulses hit and I wasn't there - I liked Damien a lot. They were talking shop now from what I could make of Damien's side of the conversation, and it was helping- almost to the extent where I wondered if I should have let Robin come with me. Finally Damien handed the phone back, looking considerably more alive.
"He wants you back."
I could imagine: 'waiting' is not a word in Robin's vocabulary. I took the phone, hoping he could read my appreciation and my pride in him through my voice.
"Hey gorgeous. Don't ring this phone again unless it's really urgent, it's getting late and people are sleeping. Get yourself to bed, I'll be home soon."
I could hear the faint pout. "Soon." I promised. "Don't wait for me."
"He's such a sweet kid." Damien said softly when I put the phone down.
"I agree with you." I said smiling. "Nick wouldn't."
"Nothing annoys a brat more than another brat being bratty." Damien gave me a half smile and pulled both hands over his face. "You should go home."
"I don't think you should be alone." I said bluntly. "Are you sure you're allright?"
Damien spread his hands, palms down in front of me. I could see the tremors shaking him and they didn't go with that self mocking half smile still on his face.
"No, I don't really think so."
I got up and started towards him, but the door opened and a nurse came in, heading for Nick with a thermometre in hand, and this time Nick stirred, twisting away with a mutter of distress that brought Damien instantly across the room, with a tone in his voice so private, it hurt to listen to it.
"It's allright baby. I'm here, everything's fine."
That was the end of my chance for getting any sense out of him.
The drug they'd given Nick had clearly been a heavy one. It took him a long time to come to, his eyes opened at intervals but they were rolling, he was limp and whatever dreams he was sinking in and out of clearly weren't peaceful. Damien more or less became oblivious to me. I sat by the window, not wanting to interfere, and Damien sat leaning on the edge of the bed, stroking Nick's hair and talking to him in an undertone I could hear although the words were indistinct. In many ways I felt very surplus to requirement. They'd had a hell of a day, they were now having one hell of a night and this was something very intimate, so personal I wasn't comfortable watching- but Damien had wanted me here. Even if it had been because the police had pressured him to accept someone here for support, he'd chosen me and he hadn't asked me to leave. I wasn't about to leave him.
At the next check the nurse gave a second glance to the thermometre reading and picked up the chart. She was deliberately unsensational about it but Damien and I both instantly picked up the change in her reaction.
"He's got a bit of a temperature. Probably a reaction to the drugs. I'll get him something to bring it down and he should settle."
"Did anyone manage to get hold of Dr McFall?" Damien asked without looking round.
"I'll check for you." the nurse replaced the chart. "I know there's no plans to discharge him tonight."
She came back a few minutes later with a medicine cup of some white, thick fluid and Damien held out a hand for it. "Want me to?"
She surrendered it and we both watched him lift Nick up against him. This time his eyes opened properly and he coughed, winding both arms fretfully around Damien's neck. Damien peeled him gently away.
"You need to take this darling, it'll cool you down."
Nick flinched immediately from the taste, turning his head away. The nurse muttered something about knowing they should have put a line into him, but Damien took no notice, talking quietly until Nick turned back and accepted another sip of the liquid. I filled a cup with water at the small sink in the corner and went to them, holding the cup for him to wash his mouth out after each sip and between the three of us, he got it down.
The nurse left and Nick's fogged brown eyes looked at me with so much bewilderment I longed to hug him.
"It is me." I said lightly. "Just came to see how you were doing."
Whatever sedation they'd given him must have been heavy; he clearly had no idea what was going on. Damien coaxed until he lay down again, his face against Damien's shoulder. Damien went on stroking his hair. Periodically he bent his head and kissed what he could reach of Nick's forehead, but his eyes stayed expressionless.
One o clock.
Nick woke at intervals, fairly coherent now as the drugs faded out of his system. His breathing was much quieter and he'd long since pushed the oxygen mask away. Damien didn't argue with him, but several times when Nick fell asleep I saw him reach for the mask, turn the dial and hold it by Nick's face.
At one thirty they took his temperature and blood pressure again, and he was awake enough to co operate while they did it. Not long after that, someone else came in with a tray and told us they'd come to put a cannula in. I had no real clue what that meant but it apparently made perfect sense to Damien and Nick. Nick just flatly shook his head, rolling back towards Damien. Damien gave the man a look I wouldn't have cared to stand under.
"It's half past one in the morning, he's been breathing well for hours now, I really don't see this is necessary."
The argument progressed quietly and politely for several minutes. The gist of it I got was that Nick's temperature was still variable, it was standard practice and should have been done earlier, and that it made any further necessary medication quicker and easier to administer, as well as less traumatic. Nick didn't look at all untraumatised to me. Damien looked appallingly grim but he finally put an arm around Nick to sit him up, voice calm.
"I think we're going to have to darling."
Nick didn't say anything but the expression in his eyes made me turn my back and look fixedly out of the window, trying very hard to pretend I wasn't there. I worked on not making out too much of the conversation that followed too, hoping to God I never needed to support Robin through anything similar. Another nurse came in and the conversation continued for a while, punctuated by a soft sound of pain from Nick that made me flinch. The conversation still continued. This seemed to be taking hours. Then Damien's voice interrupted, quiet and very decided.
"Allright, that's it. Leave it."
I looked around, shaken by his tone as much as the words.
Nick had his knees drawn up to his chest, apparently disowning the hand that Damien was holding. From the looks of things, he'd just taken it away from the two nurses who were gloved and starting to look nervous. I couldn't see any evidence of tubes or needles, just blood smeared across the back of it.
"I'm sorry," the nurse was saying, "Sometimes this takes a while and it's hard to find a vein. I need to-"
"For a start, you need to send someone who knows what they're doing." Damien said shortly. "He's had enough and it stops now."
"Please don't shout." One of the nurses said sternly. "It might be better if you left the room-"
Nick didn't say anything but he found Damien's free hand and gripped it. Damien gave the nurse a steady look and leaned over to turn the bright bedside light off.
"I am not shouting. I am not even raising my voice. I am however telling you, clearly, that we would like you to leave, and to send someone more experienced. I'm very happy to discuss this with your line manager if you think it would help. I also think that my partner is upset enough, so if you would like to discuss this any further, let's take it outside."
He looked at me and I went quickly across, prepared to take Nick from him if need be, but the nurses exchanged glances and left in silence, shutting the door behind them. Damien sat down on the edge of the bed, took a handful of tissues from the bedside table and put them over the blood on Nick's hand, holding it firmly and drawing Nick back against his chest. It was too dark to see Nick's face clearly but I saw him turn into Damien's arms with an open need that went straight to my heart. They were always discreet in front of me, always. Damien held him tightly, sounding absolutely, convincingly calm.
"It's allright darling. We'll wait for someone we know, and someone who can actually do it."
"I'm sorry." Nick said softly. It was the first time I'd heard him speak since I arrived.
"You've got nothing to be sorry for." Damien said into his hair.
Nick was turned away from me and it took a moment for me to realise he was crying, very quietly.
Someone else came after a while, in a different coloured uniform, indicated something from the doorway and Damien gently detached Nick, getting up.
"Stay with Allen, I'll be two minutes."
I suspected that if any of the medical team felt inclined for a battle this evening, Damien would be more than happy to give them one. I would not myself care to be stood beneath his pent up stress tonight.
I sat down on the edge of the bed and took Nick into my arms as though he'd been given to me to hold. In a way he had; I realised the gesture of trust this was on Damien's part. Nick frankly clung to me. He hadn't protested Damien's leaving. In many ways he looked as though he was trying to escape whoever wanted to discuss the situation in the corridor, but he was hot and shaking. Any hope I had that he didn't remember the fire or that he was too fogged with drugs to think about it, were forgotten as soon as I touched him, I could feel the stress radiating off him and now I could fully understand Damien's total preoccupation with him. I was aware too of how terribly vulnerable he must feel. Exhausted, weak and unwell, he had no defence against shock, no means of dealing with the day's events, no choice but total dependence. I folded my arms around him and held him tightly, rocking and feeling him shudder.
"It's okay sweetie. He'll sort it out, he knows exactly what they need to do for you, it'll be fine."
"I want to go home." Nick said very very quietly into my neck. I hugged him with no idea how to answer that. I didn't know how much of a home they had left and I very much doubted they'd be going back to it tonight.
"I know. It's okay. You two are going to be fine, you'll get this sorted out."
"He's NOT okay." Nick said tightly. "I KNOW he's not."
"Of course you do. And of course he isn't." I held him, wondering again how Damien managed to manoeuvre around someone as sensitive and as complex as Nick. In many ways I longed for my own, sweet natured and straight forward Robin. In this situation, without guilt or complication, he would simply need from me- comfort, reassurance, certainty, direction, and he'd accept it without reservation, his own need would dominate him entirely. Not that he didn't love or care about me, he did and I knew it and I understood it: his reactions in a crisis were no measure of that. But Nick, with all his perceptiveness, he was a minefield, and I was no Damien.
"He's got you, you're together, no one was hurt." I said gently. "And he's tough, Damien. He's a big, strong, tough, rugby playing thug of a man, this is not going to slow him down."
Nick frankly laughed at me, but it was an unhappy, despairing sound without much humour in it. And I deserved it, I knew. All I could do in all honesty was hold him and offer him that comfort without additional lies.
I put the tv on when he calmed a little, turning it down quietly, but it was sound and distraction, and he lay down with his eyes on the screen. Damien came back after ten minutes or so and Nick put a hand straight out to him. Damien sat on the edge of the bed and I watched their fingers interlock tightly.
"I found Steve on shift." He said calmly, sitting back against the bedhead where Nick could lean against him. "He'll do it."
I had no clue who Steve was but Nick appeared to know what he was talking about. He didn't make any answer. We stayed where we were in the dark while the tv chuntered quietly above us on the high shelf in the corner. My own stomach clenched when the door opened and I wasn't even involved. I took a seat on the empty bed and tried to be unobtrusive. The nurse who had entered wasn't young or good looking, but Nick and Damien clearly both knew him. And he turned the light on and sat down to put a tray on the bedside table. I saw him look at Nick's already bloodied hand and clean it before he commented that that hand had done its duty and he'd use the other. Nick then, and I couldn't blame him at all, lost his nerve. If it hadn't been that I didn't want to leave Damien unsupported- if he was even aware I was here- I would have fled into the corridor. As it was, I sat with a twisting stomach while the nurse and Damien talked to him, one voice light and easy, the other deep, very gentle and matter of fact. Through both of them I could still hear Nick in tears and the few fragments of pleading he could manage. After a minute, Damien pulled Nick into his arms and held him, putting the hand in question around his body out of Nick's line of sight and I could see the strength of his grip on the wrist. The nurse worked quickly and deftly and by the time I risked a look, there was a short length of plastic protruding from Nick's slim hand and the nurse was wrapping bandage over and around it. He then spoke to Nick about bringing medication that would help him sleep, which Nick passionately refused and which Damien just as quietly accepted. I folded my arms, aware my own hands were trembling. Nick's distress was horribly infectious. I knew if it was Robin on that bed, in my arms, making those appeals of me-
The nurse reappeared with a syringe and Damien sustained his grip on Nick's wrist, keeping it out of Nick's sight while the nurse shot the drug through the cannula. He left the door ajar behind him when he left and turned out the light, leaving us once more in darkness. Damien stayed where he was, sitting on the edge of the bed with Nick buried in his arms, murmuring things to him which I had no right to listen to. I withdrew to the window once more and concentrated on the lights of the city beyond the window.
I heard Damien move some time later. I glanced around and saw him lay Nick back with the ease of the long-practised, one hand cradling the back of his head. Nick was breathing deeply and a little noisily, but his eyes were closed and his face was finally peaceful. Damien got stiffly off the side of the bed and stretched, a long stretch that made his shoulders crack.
I came over to him and looked down at Nick for a moment, seeing - maybe something of what Damien saw- his white face, the slightness of his shape under the sheet, the reassurance it gave me to see the calmness once more in his face. Like watching a child sleep, that untroubled peacefulness reached and soothed me. I put a hand on Damien's shoulder and squeezed gently.
"Let's go get a coffee."
"I need to stay with him."
"Do you think he'll have another attack?" I said softly.
Damien shook his head, still watching Nick. "No. But he's vulnerable when he's sedated, he won't wake up if he starts an attack-"
"Do you think he'll have an attack?" I asked again. Damien hesitated. Then shook his head, looking tired.
"No. Not tonight."
"Then tell the nurses where we've gone, and lets go up to the restaurant and get a coffee. Come on."
Damien didn't move. I kept the hand on his shoulder and kept the same tone, grabbing at the window of his indecision.
"Damien. It's going to be a long night and tomorrow is going to be a hard day. He's going to need you, you've got to take an hour to look after yourself or you're going to have nothing left for him. Come on."
That reached him. I took his arm and he came with me.
The corridors through the hospital were quiet and brightly lit after the dimness of the ward. The restaurant was open and two sleepy staff were serving hot drinks and snacks. I sent Damien to find a seat and loaded a tray with coffee, orange juice and several packets of sandwiches, anything that looked easily digestible and even vaguely nutritious. He was sitting back from the table when I put the tray down, elbow propped on the table, hair tousled and untidy, eyes suspiciously red although he managed a faint smile at me. I pulled out the chair next to him, sat down and put an arm around his shoulders, and this time he put both arms around me, accepting and returning the hug. I could feel his shuddering, deeper than Nick's, much less pronounced, but I ached for him in much the same way.
"It's okay." I said several times, wondering what on earth I meant by it, other than a serious need to comfort him. "He's allright, you did what he needed you to do."
"He doesn't usually freak about needles." Damien said unsteadily when he let go. His eyes were considerably redder. I poured him a coffee and pushed it towards him, opening a packet of sandwiches.
"I don't blame him. I would have done."
"He goes through it so often, he's so used to it. Just having had that stupid woman poking and prodding around-"
"He's had one hell of a day. You both have."
"Seeing the blood was about the last straw." Damien knocked back the coffee in several deep gulps. "God, Allen. I thought I was going to walk into that corridor and thump somebody. Thank God Steve was on duty. I swear I wouldn't have let that woman touch him again."
Right now his instincts must be screaming. And I knew Damien, he had more caring instincts than any other man of my acquaintance: to watch someone reduce Nick to that level of distress, to see blood drawn, must have strained even his iron self control to the very limit. Deeply sympathetic, I poured him more coffee and tipped the orange juice into the glass.
"Get that down too. I doubt you'll get much breakfast."
"I hate it." Damien said flatly and viciously.
I knew he wasn't talking about the orange juice.
"I seriously don't know if I'd have the strength to talk Robin through that." I admitted.
"Yes, of course I would, I'd have to if it came to it," I added after a moment's reflection, "But thinking about it make my blood run cold. But you did what he needed you to do. You got him through it. And like you say, it's not that you made him do something terrible. He was reacting to more stress and anxiety than anyone should have to deal with in one day."
Damien hesitated over the coffee pot, then filled the cup again, spooning sugar into its depths.
"What the hell are we going to do Allen?"
"Did you get a chance to look at the house?" I asked compassionately. Damien shook his head.
"I wasn't really thinking about anything more than Nick. Major shocks like that always set him off. Once he realised about Anastasia- Christ." He shut his eyes and I could see the thought and reality hitting him. Everything he'd managed to tune out while he focused on Nick.
"She probably shot out into the garden at the first sign of trouble and she's hiding somewhere." I said firmly. "She'll be fine until morning. Did you talk to the fire crews?"
Damien pulled himself together with an effort.
"They called an ambulance when Nick started to really get bad. I really didn't pay much attention to the fire. Both storeys were involved, the flames were worse upstairs- it's going to a gutting job even if the house is still structurally sound. Jesus Chris Allen, what are we going to do? We were gone maybe three- four hours. That was all."
"For a start, you've got no idea how serious the damage really is." I told him, keeping my voice deliberately calm. "It may be way less than you're imagining. Secondly, the two of you HAVE got somewhere to go; Robin and I would have you like a shot. Or there's Nick's parents. When he's discharged in the morning, you're going to need somewhere safe to take him for a few days until you've time to get things sorted out."
"Thanks." Damien said softly. He was staring into his coffee, I could see him dazed with all the complexities and difficulties he saw there. So many and so huge that at this moment in time, they must seem insurmountable. I put a hand over his and gripped.
"You've told me before that Nick's parents aren't the most helpful when he's ill, and I'm home all day so I can stay with him. Come to us, at least until he's better."
And around us they need have no reservation, no public face at a time when they really needed each other. Damien gave me a quick glance of open appreciation that said much more than his quietly repeated,
"So that's tomorrow taken care of. And once he's settled you can start working out what the damage is and what your options are. So all you have to think about for tonight is getting you and Nick fit enough for him to be discharged. It's going to be fine."
I was sure right now it didn't seem that way, but Damien nodded slowly.
I gave his hand a squeeze and let go. "So eat. You're going to need the energy."
Damien managed a slightly more solid smile and picked up a sandwich.