Sunday, February 14, 2010

Puff



"Do you want a corner to look at?" Allen said warningly. 
"Ooh, yes please," Robin said sourly.

Title: Puff.
Warnings: Silliness ahead Kisses: R and L, with thanks for everlasting patience and Encouragement Apologies: Shrewkate- I couldn't work in a robotic hoover! Fascinated by the idea though and dying to........ I think my maine coon would kill it.


PUFF

Damien looked knackered behind his desk. Which was staggering, I didn't think Lizzie Dripping had it in him to knacker out a dead haddock. I threw a pencil at him to get his attention which he caught automatically and filed in the overflowing pot on his desk. Which is why I'm forever having to swipe pencils from his office.

"Good weekend was it?"

"Not especially." Damien leaned back in his chair and gave me the have-you-done-any- work-yet look. I sat on his desk and knocked the little multiple magnetised ball thingy so it swung and clacked.

"Do you want to go to the Blue Boar for lunch?"

"I can't today, I've got things to do. And so have you."

He gave me a firm push off his desk and I stood up, pulling a face. "I'm BORED with the Davis account, all the interesting bits are done-"

"I still want it by Wednesday." Damien said heartlessly. "Go and do some work."

"I will if you play noughts and crosses on MSN with me?" I wheedled. Damien shook his head.

"Do an hour's work and I'll think about it. Go on."

"What are you doing at lunchtime?" I paused in the doorway of his office and leaned on the frame, watching him go back to reading through the file on his desk. "Your office timetable said you were in all week, I checked."

"You're nosy."

I didn't deny it. "Where ARE you going?"

"Nick's in hospital for a few days, I need to take him a few things over." Damien said mildly without looking up. "Go and do some work."

"Why?"

"Because you're getting paid for it."

I snorted at him. "Why is he in hospital? Asthma?"

OH what a surprise…… Damien shut his file and got up.

"Yes. Work."

I got up off the doorframe grudgingly, since he was clearly about to shut his door. Which he does sometimes, despite my complaining about it.

"Is he ok?"

"Not bad." Damien gave me a faint smile, taking firm hold of the door. "Work."

He did shut the door on me.

I went across the main office to my desk, perched on it and picked up the phone to call Allen.


Allen was Allenish and rang me back at lunchtime, having rung the hospital to ask after Nick, and having told me to stop bothering Damien.

"If he wants to tell you he'll tell you, leave him alone." he said when I reminded him that we liked to know the current news.

I hadn't bothered Damien. His door had remained shut and he'd only responded to two invitations to play on MSN, plus a threat to block me if I didn't stop trying to chat too.

"How IS Gwynneth?" I asked Allen. "Did they tell you?"

"They said he was comfortable, although he's on the high dependency unit. It sounds like it was quite a bad attack."

"You'd think they'd be used to it by now." I pointed out.

"It can't get any less nerve wracking. I'll cook early this afternoon and take some over for Damien, it might be nice if you make sure he's got milk and what have you at the office. He probably isn't getting much time to shop."

I like it when he gets all domestic and caring about people. He's really good at things like that. I can never think of anything useful to do for anyone.


Damien didn't come back to work that afternoon. I dropped the Davis file completed on his desk before I left and went home to find Allen clipping the hedge. He smiled at me when I parked the car, shirt sleeves rolled back, clippings all over the pavement and drive. I left him there and went up to have a bath.

I could hear him sweeping the path for some time while the sunshine went from bright afternoon to the gold type evening colour, like a Debenhams restaurant picture. Eventually he came upstairs and sat on the side of the bath with his hair all tousled from being outside.

"Want to tell me what's wrong?"

"Nothing." I said grumpily, turning over in the bath so the water slopped in all directions. Allen tickled down my back and rubbed my neck.

"Nothing but?"

This is a familiar game, we play it a lot.

"Nothing but nothing."

"Do you want a corner to look at?" Allen said warningly.

"Ooh yes please." I said sourly, and like an idiot found myself looking at the bathroom one, wrapped in a towel, while he changed his clothes. Normal people must catch on at some point. Man Trap Ahead. Corner Imminent. Incoming.

"Come here." Allen said eventually, sitting on the bed. I skulked across to him, keeping a scowl in place just to make sure he didn't think I'd been subdued in any way, and he pulled me down into his lap as if I was six.

Never quite got used to that.

Not that I don't like it mind you, but came as a bit of a shock the first time he did it. Wasn't expecting a boyfriend- well, boyfriend was a bit of an odd term considering how much older he was than me and my other boyfriends at the time WERE boys- but not expecting a guy to do that.

I still wasn't much good at it.

He pulled me close as if I wasn't being awkward and eventually, sulkily, I did put my arms around his neck and leaned against him.

"What's the matter?" he said in my ear. I took a deep breath and let it out in an exasperated sigh. He's a total pain like this. No knowledge is sacred.

"Damien wouldn't talk to me this morning."

"I thought he told you about Nick?"

"In about two sentences. He played two lousy games on line and then sodded off out of the office and didn't come back."

Allen nodded, unrattled. "He probably went to see Nick."

"Of COURSE he went to see Nick." I said irritably. "I'm not thick."

"Just grumpy." Allen said untactfully. I tried, unsuccessfully to get off his lap.

"I am not. He ignored me this morning, he wouldn't tell me anything about what was happening, if he doesn't want me to know that's fine. I don't care anyway."

Allen didn't answer.

"Nick shut me in that bloody coach at Halloween anyway." I said after a while, still more sourly. "And he said I fed their rotten cat sherry at Christmas and Damien believed him. He's HORRIBLE to me, he's ALWAYS horrible to me, and you like him better than me."

"Where did you get that idea from?"

Look, SAYING it doesn't mean I have to defend it logically. People SAY things all the time.

"I DIDN'T feed the cat sherry." I said, ignoring that question with superb indifference.

"Yes you did." Allen said calmly. "We sorted that one out months ago."

"And he got me in to trouble AGAIN." This time I managed to get out of his grip and stormed across to the window, the exit spoiled only by having to clutch to keep my loosened towel in place. Allen followed me and folded both arms around my neck from behind, pulling me back against his chest and putting his face against mine.

"He will be allright." He said eventually, into my ear. "They deal with this every time, they're good at it, they know what to do. Nick's tougher than he looks."

Like I said, he's a total pain like this. I took a deep breath which shook a bit and he kissed my cheek. And went on holding me.

**********************************************

Damien didn't come into work on Tuesday.

The carpark outside the hospital was fairly empty for mid evening, and there were only a few people on the stairs, carrying flowers and the occasional couple with a new baby and balloons and toys as we got close to the signs for the neonatal unit. We hadn't brought anything with us: Allen knew the rules for the unit and said they were strict about anything likely to carry germs or hold dust. The signs led on for miles through the hospital, and ended up in a sweltering and mostly blue area through double doors where two beds were in each bay and enough equipment was around each one to look like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. I got my hand out of my coat pocket and took hold of Allen's. He paused at the doorway, looking down the list of names. Nicholas Hayes, name number four in red, with a whole lot of comments and names beside it that made no sense whatsoever. I trailed Allen slowly down the central corridor to the second bay, and across to the second bed. Damien was sitting there, his folded arms propped on the bed, and his tie hanging loose several inches below his opened collar. He looked up and smiled when he saw us. A normal type smile, like everything was fine.

Why, I didn't know. Nick looked awful.

There wasn't anything better to say about it, he had tubes coming out of his wrists, a thing on his hand, an oxygen mask over his face, he was sitting bolt upright against several thousand pillows with his eyes shut and he looked bloody awful. Screens all over the place clicked and beeped and it was so hot that I was finding it hard to breathe, never mind him. Clipboards hung everywhere, covered in gibberish. Damien got up and edged around all the equipment to kiss Allen and to give me a hug, although I couldn't take my eyes off the Queen of the Daleks in the bed.

"Hi. It's nice of you to come over. They keep chairs out in the corridor for visitors-"

"I'll get them, it's ok." Allen went to get chairs. Damien kept an arm around me, shaking gently to make me look at him.

"He's only asleep, he's always shattered after an attack like this. This is all precautionary, it looks a lot worse than it is."

I swallowed. "I put the Davis file on your desk last night. I bet you haven't even seen it."

"I rang in this morning, Jodie said you'd got it finished early." Damien said warmly. "It's gone in to be typed up, she thought it looked great."

"You'll probably hate it."

Allen brought chairs back and put them around the bed. I didn't want to sit down. It looked too much like waiting for something to happen. Damien sat down again though and leaned on the bed, picking up one of Nick's hands as though it wasn't leaking tubes in all directions. Allen pulled on the tail of my coat until I sat down beside him and tried to find something safe to look at.

"How is he doing?"

"Very well." Damien said cheerfully, which sounded totally ridiculous in the circumstances. Hey, you're not dead Nick! Full marks!

"They've got him on a Bricanyl drip which is doing a good job and the oxygen makes a big difference, he's been feeling a lot better today."

I gave him a look of disbelief and he smiled.

"When he's awake. The physios are doing some checks in the morning and if his chest is relatively clear he can go up to a normal ward."

"That's good news." Allen said warmly. "How long are they likely to keep him in for?"

"They want to get him off the drip onto twice daily slow release doses of the Bricanyl, instead of the one he was on before. They're actually talking about us trying an injectable form at home instead of the pills. I'm not quite sure about that."

My ears started to sing at that point.

Nurses came in and out every couple of minutes, shunting us out of the way while they tugged at the monitors and poked Nick who didn't react. He looked like he'd been stuffed.  After about fifteen minutes, while Damien and Allen talked and periodically one of them asked me something which I answered in monosyllables, a man came in and actually started to take blood out of the valve thing in Nick's hand. As if we weren't even there. THAT was too much. I hastily got up, clutching at Allen's sleeve.

"We need to go."

Allen looked at me. I shifted weight from foot to foot, looking hard at him and NOT at the chief vampire who carried on oblivious.

"It's too hot in here, it's making me feel sick…."

"It is hot." Damien said sympathetically. Allen gave me a glare, but I was already towing him backwards, very glad to be moving towards the door. Allen surrendered and paused, bracing against me long enough to give Damien a hug.

"Ring if you need any shopping doing, or there's anything we can help with. Take care of yourself."

"We will, thanks. Thanks for coming." Damien gave me a smile which I couldn't return. I bolted out of the ward as fast as I could, leaving Allen to follow. He caught me up at the foot of the stairs that led into the A&E department, put a hand through my arm and radiated quiet censure at me.

I hate that.

"It was too hot, I've got a headache." I told him. Allen walked me through to the carpark, sounding quietly disapproving.

"And Damien needs the company, that was rude."

Rude or not, I did NOT want to be sitting there looking at the stuffed tube dripper. It didn't even LOOK like Nick, I had no idea how Damien could sit there staring at him all day. And Allen thought he was sitting there a lot of the night too, although it looked to me like Nick was past noticing who was there or not.


I didn't say much for the rest of the evening, although Allen tried a lot. Eventually he sent me up to bed and came too, and we lay watched tv together in the dark.

On the way to work in the morning I took a detour, hovered in the carpark for a while, then slowly headed up the stairs and through the rabbit warren of green and cream corridors.

Damien was standing at the end of the bed with a cup of tea in his hand, and a newspaper in the other, and he looked up in surprise. I hovered where I was, shrugging a little with no idea what it was I actually doing there. Still more to my surprise, risking a look at the bed, Nick's eyes were open and fixed on me. He had oxygen tubes in his nose this morning but no mask, and he pulled himself upright, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees quite calmly, as though he hadn't looked like a taxidermised rabbit the night before.

"Good morning."

His voice was a little husky but perfectly normal.

I stared at him blankly. Damien folded the newspaper and dropped it on the bed, putting a hand on my shoulder as he passed me.

"Sit down Robin, I'll get you a cup of tea."

****************************************

I got into trouble on Friday evening for stamping in Tescos and muttering at the girl on the till who seemed to be working in slow motion. Why do they always put the slowest possible girl on the express checkout??

I pointed that out to Allen who wasn't interested, which made me still more annoyed, which I also pointed out, and ended up in bed at nine pm having completed the lines he'd insisted on being written. The girl on the till should be writing lines too.

'I will try to move at a speed that will get people out of the shop before Christmas. And NOT wear a tongue bar which makes customers want to vomit.'

I told Allen that later, and explained to him he ought to be glad I only got my eyebrow pierced. He said he was glad enough that it had healed without a scar once he'd made me take the ring out and confiscated it.

Mean.

Although actually I realised while it was getting done that I was making a ghastly mistake. Trendy architect image… not.

"Damien's hoping that Nick'll be discharged home tomorrow afternoon." Allen said when he came up to bed. I rolled over to watch him undress, rocking a bit on the water bed which I love and he puts up with because I love it. I keep telling him it'll grow on him.

"If he is, I'll go over and help, there's a lot of things they need to bring back."

"There isn't THAT much, only Nick's clothes and stuff." I said unsympathetically. "We were supposed to be going out with James and Alec tomorrow-"

"We still can." Allen turned the light out and lay down, bracing himself until the waves moved from stormy to the tide going out. "It won't take more than an hour to give them a hand. Damien said the hospital are sending oxygen home with them when they go, those cylinders weigh a ton and there'll be equipment to -"

"OXYGEN?" I said in horror.

Allen had the yes, it's fine, ignore the ceiling falling voice on.

"It's apparently very common for people with brittle asthma to keep oxygen at home."

Rubbish, that wasn't normal AT ALL. WHO did he know with oxygen at home?!

"Damien said they wanted to work on keeping his blood oxygen levels even over the winter. Easy for them to check the levels and for him to have an hour on oxygen at home if he needs to top it up. Should keep him fitter."

"And how does NICK feel about this?" I demanded. Allen didn't change his tone.

"I'd think he'll be relieved if it's going to reduce the chances of him having another of these bad attacks."

NO way. I knew very well how I'd feel if anyone even thought about introducing that kind of equipment into my home and my life. Nick was a drip, but even drips have rights. I couldn't believe Damien would actually agree to this.

********************************

"I don't know what you're so upset about." Allen said firmly, hanging onto my hand to stop me storming down the corridor ahead of him. "It's NOT you, you don't even know what they think about it- most likely they'll be happy to do anything likely to keep him more comfortable."

The ward was miles from the high dependency unit. Allen pulled me back at the doorway, put me against the wall and Looked at me, eyebrows raised, eyes warning. I scowled in anticipation.

"What?"

"DON'T ask them about it."

He has no concept of the thinking man's right to know.

"WHY?" I said hotly.

"NO." Allen said just as firmly.

He never uses that tone with Nick.

"I mean it Robin. One word and I'll spank you."

"For doing what?!" I demanded in outrage. Allen didn't take his eyes off mine.

"For asking personal and intrusive questions when they've been through enough already. I mean it."

Damien was packing the contents of the bedside cabinet into an open sports bag and Nick was sitting on the end of the bed, scowling. I had a good peer at the contents of the sports bag: mostly books, a sketch pad, a CD headset and several talking books. Miss Marple was one of the names on the case. God does Miss Hayes need a life. The sociopolitical connotations of the word 'gay' seem to have passed him by entirely, he isn't marching for anything, he's curling up with a mug of cocoa and his AA Milne poetry in Marks and Spencers pyjamas. I have no clue what Damien sees in him, he could probably have the same amount of fun with a cabbage patch doll.

"Any news?" Allen said cheerfully. Nick leaned past Damien and gave him a hug. I never like the way he hugs Allen, a brief sideways type squeeze would be fine, he doesn't have to be that enthusiastic.

"Yes. Maybe some time next week if we're lucky."

"They want some blood test results back first." Damien said, zipping the bag shut and sitting down beside Nick. He draped an arm over his shoulder, an absent gesture that Nick just as absently leaned into, still scowling. Which REALLY got on my wick. I found Allen and leaned against him myself, scowling back at Nick although he naturally was taking no notice whatever of me.

"What tests?"

"Final confirmation of how the Bricanyl is doing."

"Are you doing the home injections?" I demanded. Allen gave me a hard glare. Nick gave me a shrug.

"Trialing them."

"You're insane."

"Robin." Allen said quietly but with great meaning. I glared right back.

"Well you are, that's disgusting."

Allen's eyebrows were virtually tangling up in the middle of his forehead. Nick gave me an acid look.

"No one's asking you to watch, do feel free to go home at any time."

"It's worth a try if it's going to help." Damien said mildly. "And it's very kind of you both to come, I'm sorry it looks like we're going to be waiting a while."

"That's no problem, how long does it look like being?" Allen took a seat and indicated to me to sit too. I ignored him, fixing my eyes on the oxygen equipment around the bed.

"I'm afraid we really don't know." Damien said apologetically. "They did an arterial blood sample this morning-"

"Do we HAVE to know the details?" I demanded.

"- and it's a case of waiting for the results and then checking with the consultant. So if you've got other things to do-"

"We don't mind waiting." Allen said calmly. I thought about standing on his foot, but he moved at the last moment and took my hand firmly.

"Robin sit down, we're not in any hurry."

Grrrr.

I struggled to find something- anything- safe to look at while they talked. Nick didn't say much, he still sounded fairly breathless and he was leaning against Damien like a chunk of wet lettuce, but he chipped in at intervals and the three of them yattered on together like they always do. Garden plants, international affairs, Allen's current researches which they always know more about than I do, it's like being trapped in the middle of a round of University Challenge.

Allen tried several times to talk to me but I was so livid by then that I answered in monosyllables and wouldn't look at him. I finally caught the glare Nick was giving me and jerked to my feet, wrenching my hand out of Allen's. You ARE the weakest link, goodbye….

"I'm going to find a coffee. Something that might actually keep me awake."

Allen followed me into the corridor with a slow, purposeful tread that made me head still faster for the drinks machine, deliberately not looking at him. His hand landed on my shoulder before I got there.

"Let's find the gents please."

"I only wanted a coffee!"

He didn't answer, and he looked far too grim. I hung back where I was, eyes starting to sting in spite of myself.

"I didn't do anything!"

He stopped, keeping hold of my arm, and looked at me. His stern look is horrible, it's rare and it doesn't suit him, and it always makes me start babbling, my voice getting higher and louder and less steady.

"I didn't! I don't know what anyone's talking about anyway and I HATE sitting there with all that stuff around and he hates me anyway-"

"Stop, now."

He was still looking at me. I swallowed and stopped. That kind of freak out always used to work on everyone- house masters, social workers, my grandparents- not Allen. He saw through it the second time I did it, and I got the same look then that I was getting now.

"You're going to spank me." I said, almost in appeal.

The proper answer is, 'no of course I'm not, I understand you're upset and having a difficult hour.'

"Yes." He said simply. And waited.

He NEVER gets this right. Damien needs to teach him about sympathy and understanding, he is nothing like this mean with Miss Hayes. Although Miss Hayes probably dissolves into tears if he's told off.

There wasn't much I could say in answer, I just trailed with him and he steered me down the hallway and into the disabled loo, hanging back as much as I could.

"Not here," I pleaded, fidgeting while he locked the door. Allen let go of me and put his hands on his hips, giving me a steady look that I really didn't like.

"What did I tell you about asking questions?"

"He was being-" I began. Allen shook his head.

"What did I tell you?"

"Not to." I admitted quietly.

"Right." Allen agreed. "I did. Take your jeans down."

That took a while. I unbuttoned them very slowly, stomach churning, eyes prickling, trying to sound dignified instead of pleading.

"Someone's going to hear-"

"I'm waiting." Allen said firmly. I unzipped the flies and unsteadily eased the jeans down just onto my thighs. Allen put an arm around me then, drew me against him and bent me over his hip, pulling the jeans further down and my shorts followed. I clung to his belt and jeans and my eyes started to sting in earnest as he swatted, hard and accurately, moving from side to side with enough speed and dispatch that I couldn't get my breath or stand still. He held tighter when I started to squirm and swatted still harder, and he didn't stop either until I couldn't keep my breathing quiet any more and a few sobs started to escape. I clutched for my backside and rubbed when he let me straighten up, leaned hard against him and admittedly sniveled for a minute. He leaned to pull up my shorts and jeans, buttoned them for me and then wrapped his arms around me, holding me silently and warmly while I pulled myself together.

"I don't want to hear another question or comment about oxygen or medication, is that clear?" he said into my ear.

I nodded emphatically. He bent his head and kissed me, cheek and forehead.

"Good. Let's go and keep them company."

"They're not talking to me," I protested, aware I sounded pitiful. "Can't we just go home-"

"No, we can't. And you're feeling left out because you work very hard at BEING left out, we've all spoken to you and you've blanked us. Listen to what's being said and stop sulking, and it's not going to be nearly so hard."

His tone took all the sting out of his words. I nodded, sniffing, and he handed me a tissue, watching me mop my face. Then took my hand and pulled me close, wrapping an arm around me.

"Come on then baby."

Damien met us in the corridor, looking hassled. I saw his eyes sweep over me and ducked behind Allen, not at all wanting him to see my red eyes or any other evidence.

"I'm going to have to go home, they're delivering the oxygen now and they need me there while they set it up and do the safety checks- would you mind staying with Nick? It should only be half an hour or so and then if you need to move on we'll be fine."

"Yes, no problem." Allen said at once. "Will you need help?"

Damien shook his head.

"No, it won't take long. If you can stop Nick pacing that would be a great help, I'll be as quick as I can. Thankyou, we both really appreciate this."

"Ok, don't worry." Allen said reassuringly. Damien smiled and headed back onto the ward ahead of us, picking his jacket up from the end of the bed and stooping to kiss Nick.

"I won't be long, don't agitate."

"Do I look like I'm agitating?" Nick demanded. Damien cupped a hand around the back of his head and this time Nick stopped scowling long enough to lift his face and kiss him again, more thoroughly.

"Ok ok I won't. Drive carefully, the traffic'll be mad in town."

If I said that to Allen I'd sound like I'd escaped from some cheesy sitcom. NICK says it and everyone goes ahhhhhhhh like he's never locked himself in their car or chucked his briefcase across the road. He has, I've seen him do it.

I went and sat on the windowsill as fast as possible with the intent of getting out of sight and then winced as I made contact with the hard surface. Damien pulled the keys out of his pocket and headed down the ward with that long stride that always reminds me of the ten league boots in some story I remember the house master reading us at prep school. Eight of us in pyjamas sitting on his hearthrug and drinking truly disgusting cocoa. Most of mine was fed to his yucca plant over the years which it seemed hardened to, but he read a good story.

We spent the next ten minutes doing a crossword puzzle on the back of Damien's abandoned newspaper, which I sucked at and freely said so, then Nick spotted some piece of paper on the side cabinet and grabbed it up like it was the answer to life, the universe and everything.

"DAMN- that's the consent form, he's forgotten it-"

"What is?" Allen took the paper from him. Nick got up, looking agitated despite, I noted, Damien's CLEAR instructions to him not to.

"It's for the oxygen, I'm supposed to sign for it on delivery since it's being prescribed for me, we had to get the form to say I agreed to Damien signing on my behalf."

"Is there a chance they'll let him sign anyway?" Allen asked. Nick shook his head.

"I don't think so, it's something to do with the risks involved, it being potentially explosive and all the rest of it-"

I sat back and thought, with some interest, about Damien agreeing to Nick having something potentially explosive in the house.

"So I'll take it straight over," Allen said reassuringly, getting up. "I'll phone Damien on the way, don't worry, I can't be more than a few minutes behind him and they won't have to wait long. Robin."

I looked at him. Allen gave me a somewhat impatient nod.

"Come on."

"I'm fine here." I explained. Nick rolled his eyes. Discreetly, but I saw. Allen's expression was rapidly becoming grim.

"Now please."

"Someone needs to stay here." I pointed out. "What if he agitates?"

"I'm sure he'll be fine." Allen said grimly. "Come on please, we need to get going."

I shook my head, not moving.

"I don't want to sit in the car, I'll wait here."

I didn't want to sit in the car. It wasn't going to be any more comfortable than the windowsill. I was staggered when Nick chimed in.

"It's ok, I don't mind and it won't be for long."

Ha.

Allen hesitated for a long moment, then glanced down at the paper in his hand. Then between us and I was glad to see his Look hit Nick as much as me.

"If there is ANY bickering, shouting, arguing, quarrelling, or ANY other form of conflict, I'll spank you both. And then I'll tell Damien. Is that clear?"

I nodded hurriedly in spite of myself, not at all keen on risking being spanked again and more thoroughly today. Nick's expression suggested that he didn't take that threat too seriously.

"Behave." Allen said sternly. And headed out of the door. I listened to him go, then raised an eyebrow at Nick.

"Wanting the company?"

He gave me a sarcastic smile. I got up, essentially to get off my sore backside, and wandered, poking at the oxygen machine.

"Are you really going to have this stuff at home?"

I saw his "hello?" expression and added to it, scowling, before he could comment.

"I meant are you ok about it. Tubes and cylinders and all that stuff, I didn't think you were THAT ill."

"I'm not." Nick said shortly. "It's a standard thing. There was some research came out last summer about brittle asthma and oxygen, a lot of people are trialing it at home to see if it helps."

"Helps do what?"

He looked skywards and recited as though giving information to the terminally stupid.

"You don't die of asthma in an asthma attack, you die from lack of oxygen. If you've got oxygen at home and you use it straight away the chances are that an attack won't cause too much difficulty. And my blood oxygen levels are lousy over the winter anyway, we're supposed to try keeping them higher which should reduce the attacks."

"Going to make the house look like an intensive flipping care unit." I said pointedly. "Not the sexiest thing to have in the bedroom."

Nick gave me a flat look that made my stomach jolt.

"Tell me about it. Give Damien and my consultant another six months and they'll have a ventilator in the kitchen and a home cremation kit in the shed for when I finally do snuff it. Happy now?"

I stared at him, horribly guilty. Nick stared down at his hands for a moment, then pushed up off the bed. He was dressed, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, although his feet were bare and his hair still in his eyes. He ran a hand through it to shake it back and picked up his bag on the bed, sorting through it.

"What do you want?" I said eventually when he carried on sorting. He didn't look up.

"My phone."

"Why?"

"I want to check that form with Damien. And let him know Allen's on his way."

"Allen said he'd phone him."

"I want to check too." Nick grabbed neatly folded clothes out of the bag and dropped them on the bed. "They said they might need to phone for verbal confirmation with me before he could sign for it, and we weren't sure we had it filled in right."

"It's not the end of the world-"

"If it isn't delivered today I'm stuck here until Monday." Nick said exasperatedly. "It's not much fun Robin, trust me. WHERE THE HELL IS MY PHONE?"

I felt in my pockets and shook my head.

"I haven't got mine, we only take one out with us when we're together and Allen picked up his this morning."

"I've probably lost the damned thing." Nick sat down on the side of the bed and glared into space. "I had it on Friday at work… came home, we went out to shop, I started wheezing on the way back…."

"Coat pocket? Briefcase? Your car?"

"Damien's car." Nick said, wincing. "That isn't going to be a lot of use. I'd better ring Damien and let him know I haven't got it here."

"Where? Is there a ward phone?" I asked, trailing him. He was heading out of the double doors at the end of the corridor.

"Payphones somewhere around, I heard one of the nurses telling someone yesterday."

The corridors were swarming with people on trolleys, in wheelchairs, visitors and small children. Nick, barefoot and scruffy, was determinedly edging through them towards the main stairwell. I quickened my pace, trying to think where I'd seen pay phones.

"There's probably some down by casualty?"

Nick paused in front of a large sign listing departments.

"Radiology, phlebotomy, maternity unit, A&E- ground floor, this way."

"Have you got any change?" I demanded. Nick dug a hand in his pocket and waved silver at me, still ploughing down the stairs.

He really hacked me off sometimes.

We stopped three floors down in between a crossroad of corridors. Nick glanced down both, frowning.

"It said on this level. Let's try this one."

I followed him, glancing around for signs. "You probably shouldn't be wandering around."

"I've been waiting all day to be discharged, I'm fine." Nick said over his shoulder. "There HAS to be a sign around here somewhere."

I couldn't justify what I did later when Allen asked me. It was an impulse, it was just the right moment and the right place and I did it without thinking, stifling a grin as I propped my back to the wall and nodded left down the corridor. Looking earnest.

"I think it's that way, that's the front of the hospital and the A&E's visible from the road."

Nick took me at my word and I tried not to laugh as he headed down the corridor in a good imitation of Damien's stride, and I took my shoulders off the sign labelled 'Morgue'.

That ought to stop Little Miss Muffet here looking quite so assertive and organised.

We actually got a good way down the corridor, Nick some way ahead of me, when someone with a deep voice and a good line in barking, yelled

"Where do you think you're going?"

I froze and turned around. A man in a security uniform came the last few steps to me and grabbed my elbows, barking again down to Nick.

"HEY. What do you think you're doing? Come here!"

Nick looked as thunderstruck as I felt. The man lifted his radio to his mouth, let me go and started down the corridor towards him.

"Control, I've got two intruders in the morgue-"

I saw the word hit Nick like a ton of bricks, and make him look around at the doors leading off the hallway. Then two more security guards appeared at the far end of the corridor at a jog, and my nerve slipped. I admit, I turned and ran for it.


It took me hours to find my way back up to the ward, and when I got there I sat on the edge of Nick's bed and tried to stop trembling, or looking like I'd just done anything stupid. I had no clue where Nick was or what was happening to him, I didn't imagine it would take them long to get him back to the ward once they realised he was a patient. And with luck he'd be back and we'd both be looking innocent when Allen and Damien got back.

I sat and fidgeted for a good twenty minutes, the ward seemed to be incredibly quiet, and then one of the nurses passing the door caught sight of me and hurried over. To my horror she was sniffling, her eyes red. My first thought was something awful had happened somewhere else on the ward, but she straight away asked,

"Are you a friend of Nick's? Did you come to see Nick?"

"Yes," I said warily, "I just popped in to see how he was doing-"

She cleared her throat but put a hand on my arm, steering me with her into the corridor.

"I'm going to have to ask a huge favour of you, we've been looking for his partner everywhere,"

Oh God. Nick had panicked. He'd had a major attack. He'd probably died and it was my fault for some stupid spur of the moment joke-

"WHAT?" I said helplessly. She hustled me into the lift.

"Security called the police, he's up on the roof."

"The roof??" I said blankly.

Her eyes filled again. "It looks like he's thinking of jumping- we get told to watch them and look out for any signs but he seemed so calm, he was going home today-"

I blinked at her in pure horror.

"NICK? NICK going to jump?"

"We were looking for anyone he might know who'd talk to the police, just while we try to find his partner."

The lift was going up and up, presumably towards the roof and my hands were shaking, I felt ready to throw up.

"Nick wouldn't! He really wouldn't!"

"It happens sometimes," the nurse said unsteadily, "He's had a medication change, equipment going home, it's a big stress- sometimes you don't see the signs… he always seems such a gentle boy when he's here-"

The lift plinged and the nurse opened it on to a corridor FULL of policemen. I stared at them in horror. One came rapidly across to us and the nurse pushed me forward.

"This is a friend of Nick's-"

"Robin Porter." I said in a daze. This couldn't be happening. The corridor had a short staircase, leading, I was sure, to the roof. The policeman nodded and took my arm, giving me a very kind look.

"You know Nick well? It's a bit of a shock this, I'm sure. What we need is someone who can give us a bit of background information."

"You need to call his partner!" I said horrified. "Damien Mitchell, he's at home, I know he is!"

"Yes, we tracked him down. A squad car has gone over to pick him up in case he can help and we've got negotiators on their way over." The man said soothingly. "In most cases the jumper comes down lad, don't you worry. We'll just keep him talking, nice and calm while we have time to get people here who need to be here."

Nick. I couldn't believe it. I'd been ragging him and being spiteful about the medications and all the time he was… boiling up to do something this stupid. Damien was going to go berserk. He'd be devastated. My knees were shaking as well as my hands as I was steered up the short staircase and out of a fire door onto the roof. There were more police up there. I could see a group of them near the door, two more some way off- and beyond them, at a good distance and near the edge of the roof, Nick. With his arms folded, his hair blowing in the breeze, standing uncertainly with his eyes on the carpark below. Nick. It was really Nick, I couldn't believe it.

The policeman steered me gently with him to the group of coppers who were gathered with radios. One of them gave me a reassuring smile as the policeman nodded to them.

"Robin Porter, he's a friend."

Yep. And with friends like me, who needed enemies.

"Good." The policeman said calmly. "We've had a quick talk to the medical staff lad, they said he's had some drug changes which might have upset him- do you know of anything else?"

"You need his partner." I repeated, shaking. "Damien'll sort it out-"

"Yes, he's on his way, but it's not always a good idea to get family involved." The man told me. "Unpredictable, we don't want to risk Nick doing anything silly if he gets upset."

Another policeman joined the group and looked over my head to the man talking to me.

"Checks done sir, negotiator is on his way. It IS a fatal drop and the fire chief is worried, says there's a lot of stuff down there he can fall on."

"Better cordon it off then and see what we can move." The policeman said calmly, "Discreetly, let's not rattle him any more than he already is. He's saying nothing, I think he's serious, doesn't want to talk to us at all."

"He's probably scared!" I said hotly. "You need Damien up here!"

The man gave me a steady look. "Do you know if they've had any arguments? Any domestic problems? Family or financial problems that might be on his mind? The staff here say he's very quiet, not easy to tell what he's thinking."

Probably thinking about how horrible I was to him.

"It's my fault," I blurted out, "I was teasing him downstairs, he wanted a payphone and I tricked him into wandering around by the morgue-"

The man put a kind hand on my shoulder.

"I don't think that would have done it son. It might have been the last straw but he's clearly been in this frame of mind for a while, security were following him and they said he came straight up here and over to the edge, no messing around or threats like attention seekers do."

"He WON'T jump." I said helplessly. "Nick wouldn't! He really wouldn't! Nothing's THAT bad-"

Except I'd been telling him, loudly, how much it sucked to have oxygen at home and just how much that was going to add to his sex life.

I ought to be the one jumping. I folded my arms, trying not to scream or do anything else stupid, the police were clearly terrified of spooking Nick further.

"Can I talk to him? Please? I won't upset him, I swear I won't upset him."

The police hesitated. The senior one put a hand on my shoulder, kind but firm.

"I'm sorry lad. You'll understand, we can't risk ANYTHING that might tip the scales for him. The negotiator'll be here as soon as he can, it's his job to see if he can talk him back to us. Until then we'll just have to-"

"NICHOLAS MARTIN HAYES GET AWAY FROM THAT EDGE RIGHT NOW."


I hadn't actually known Damien could shout that loud.

Even at this height I could pick him out, storming across the carpark with several policemen in hot pursuit, tall, jacketed, and an expression on his face that reached me even this high up.

"Get him out of there!" One of the policemen said furiously. But on the other side of the roof to my joy, Nick backed up, fast, clearly not about to give Damien any kind of impression that he was going to argue. I didn't blame him. Several police were converging on Damien at a run, one appeared to be trying to reason with him and from the Look he got Damien was not impressed with his point of view. One of the policemen near Nick said soothingly,

"It's allright mate, we'll deal with him- you always get some nutter mouthing off-"

"It's allright," I interrupted, "That's his partner."

The man looked at me blankly, but Nick turned around and gave him a sympathetic look.

"Boyfriend? Husband?"

I caught his eye. He gave me a faint and harried smile.

The policeman wasn't looking much more with it. To my flooding relief Damien suddenly appeared in the doorway behind me, still with the policeman from below although the man no longer looked like he was trying to shoo Damien back. I never have thought Damien was shooable. He put me out of the way, stormed straight past and held out a hand.

"Nicholas come here. RIGHT now."

"Please," one of the police said in what sounded near panic, "Let's try not to upset him, or I really WILL have to ask you to-"

"NOW." Damien snapped, sharply enough that all the policemen flinched.

Nick moved on the word. Straight back from the edge and across to him, nodding politely to the two policemen as he passed them. Damien's hand closed on his arm as soon as he came into reach and pulled him close, holding him tightly. Everyone on the roof visibly relaxed. My knees started to tremble and abruptly gave way, and I sat down on the tarmacked roof top. The policeman in charge gave Nick a look of real relief and took a deep, slow breath.

"I'm so glad you listened to that lad. Are you allright? I think we need to go inside and we need to have a chat, let's find somewhere quiet eh?"

"What's the matter?" Damien said firmly to Nick, not moving. Nick looked up, standing against him with a vaguely harassed expression.

"My cell phone's in your car."

Damien ran a hand down his back, rubbing, his voice quite calm.

"Ok, I'll get it."

The police officer looked as bewildered as I felt.


Allen was in the corridor beyond the roof, they hadn't let him come up. They hadn't intended to let Damien up either apparently, but he hadn't waited to discuss it. They weren't letting Nick out of their sight, it was a minute or two before I could get around the crowd of police onto the stairs and Allen grabbed me. By then I didn't feel good for much at all. I admit despite the audience I grabbed him back and had a quiet fit while the police got the roof cleared.

All hell was breaking loose in the corridor. Medics were mixed up with police and Damien, an arm firmly around Nick, was talking calmly and with great charm and diplomacy, explaining that no a psychiatrist wasn't needed at this moment in time, Nick was fine, the best thing for everyone to do was to calm down, get Nick back to the ward and then he and the police supervisor could sort this out properly.

"I don't know how he does it." Allen said in my ear. "Are you allright? Rob? Are you sure? What happened? A squad car came screeching up and they told us Nick was up on the roof threatening to jump!"

"He was!" I said frantically, "It's all my fault-"

"What's all your fault?" Allen said calmly. "Look at me, it's ok. What's your fault honey? Did you two have a fight?"

"I was horrible," I ducked through his arms and buried my face in his shoulder, not wanting to look at or listen to the crowd around us. Allen didn't say anything for a minute, then manhandled me back through the doorway to the stairwell, let it close behind us on the racket and sat down on the steps, sitting me beside him.

"Ok." He said when I could hear him, still holding me. "Tell me about it. All of it and from the beginning."

**************************************

Nick was lying on the bed when Allen towed me onto the ward. More or less by force, what I wanted at the moment was a dark hole I never had to come out of again. Damien was going to kill me. He and Nick would hate me. Nick already hated me and with good cause. I'd explained all this several times and Allen still wasn't listening. He seemed to believe I was going to feel better when I'd been subjected to the ultimate humiliation of having to face them again.

Nick had oxygen tubes on but otherwise looked fine for someone who tried to commit suicide half an hour ago. Damien, sitting in his shirtsleeves on the side of the bed, didn't look any more rattled. The senior policeman, a cup of tea in his hands, was sitting on the other side of the bed, looking bemused. Damien's face changed at the sight of us and he would have got up if I hadn't retreated behind Allen. I admit, despite all previously held convictions and standards, I was whimpering like a kicked dog and my eyes were swollen to the point where everything looked fairly blurred. I know, I know. Arrest me now, before I become a stereotype. :p

Allen pulled me around him and held on to me, both arms wrapped so I couldn't actually get away.

"We came to see how Nick was doing. And to compare stories, Robin's very upset that he might have caused this."

Damien, Nick and the policeman gave us equally blank looks.

"You caused it?" Damien said gently. "Robin?"

"I was.." I stopped and pulled myself together with a huge effort of will. Might as well bite the bullet and get this over with. Then Allen might let me go away and die in peace. "I was picking at him about the oxygen- and I stood against the sign downstairs so he went into the morgue-"

There was a moment's silence, probably in respect for my imminent demise. Then Nick suddenly got up and came to put his arms around me. He's taller than I am, even if it is like trying to hug a stick insect. Skin, bone and aftershave.

"I didn't even realise there WAS a sign," he said remorsefully, "I thought we just ended up in there by accident- and you didn't upset me about anything- no more than I was fed up already-"

"I didn't REALISE how upset you were!" I choked out. "If I HAD-"

"Robin," Damien said gently, "There was never any question of Nick feeling suicidal, he ended up on the roof by mistake. He didn't have any intention of jumping, it's just been a bit of a -"

"Misunderstanding." The policeman said, chuckling. Nick flushed as he let me go, but kept his eyes on me.

"I'm so sorry, I didn't think about how scared you'd be-"

"You can explain it." Damien said dryly, "It was your fiasco."

"It wasn't!" Nick protested, sitting back on the bed, still very red faced. "The security guards saw us in the morgue area, and they CHASED me- so I went up the fire escape and kept ON going up and they kept ON chasing, and I was too breathless anyway to explain- and when we got up to the top I went onto the roof because there was nowhere else go and then they did finally stop and they left me alone. I was looking for the way down when the place suddenly exploded with policemen and everyone kept saying stand still, stand still and don't do anything silly, so I stood still and just hoped to God someone would go and phone Damien! I never once said anything about jumping!"

"The fire escape from the morgue corridor is the ONE direct route up to the roof," the Damien said serenely, "And the ward had notified security that Nick had gone AWOL for no apparent reason, as he didn't see fit to tell anyone where he was going. So everyone assumed he'd headed down there deliberately."

"I needed to tell you about my phone!" Nick protested to Damien.

The policeman at that point started to laugh and put his cup and saucer down.

"I don't think I'm needed here. I'm very glad too, I was afraid this afternoon was going to have a very grim conclusion. Thankyou for your help sir."

He shook hands with Damien who got up and went with him to the door of the ward. Allen took a seat beside the bed, pulled me down into his lap and hugged me, looking at Nick with bewilderment.

"You know Damien wasn't at all panicked from the start- he said the whole way here that you'd have a perfectly good reason."

"He did." Damien came back to the bed, put both hands around Nick's throat and shook him gently. Nick squirmed away.

"It was NOT my fault."

"Yes well we'll talk about that, amongst other things." Damien said cordially. "You'll be staggered to know you're NOT being discharged this evening my lad, they want you under observation tonight- and it's no good you pulling faces either, that's the least of what you deserve. You're VERY lucky you're not being charged for wasting police time and resources."

"I think we'll make a move." Allen said, putting me on my feet. "If there's anything we can do tomorrow give us a ring."

"Thankyou for your help. And I'm sorry that you both got frightened out of your wits." Damien said dryly. Nick gave Allen a grimace and a hug.

"Sorry. It wasn't intentional, it really wasn't."

"You take care of yourself." Allen straightened up and waited for me. I hovered, giving Nick an offhand shrug.

"I'm sorry you've got to stay another night."

"I'm REALLY sorry I scared you." Nick said sincerely. He has ridiculously long lashes for a guy, big brown eyes and an apologetic look that could put Bambi out of business. He wasn't fooling me for a minute, I could do that look too. And better. But I did stoop and kiss his cheek, roughly.

"I'm sorry I was a sod. Take care."

*********************************

Allen grabbed my hand in the carpark, put his back to the car and rested his hands on my hips to look at me. Then ran his fingers through my hair, pushing it back off my face.

"Are you ok honey?"

I nodded, eyes still sore but feeling a lot calmer. Allen looked at me for a minute more, then got up and kissed me. It's not something he often does in public and it was nice.

"Let's get a takeaway and a video hmm? I don't feel much like going out. Would you mind?"

I shook my head. I used to live in clubs before we met while he was happy at home with his books and films: we ended up compromising to find some common ground. The thought of a quiet evening with him actually sounded very nice tonight, I wanted a cuddle and not much else. I got into the car and Allen slipped the keys into the ignition, looking across at me.

"What do you feel like? Chinese, Indian, Italian?"

"I'm horrible to him." I said honestly. Allen put a hand out and touched my face, eyes soft. He has the gentlest face.

"No you're not love."

"I went on and on at him and you said not to-"

Allen nodded, not criticising. "Why did you go on at him?"

I shrugged, looking at my hands. "I don't know. The oxygen's a horrible idea."

"Because you feel bad for him about it? Did you ask how he felt about it?"

I shook my head.

"Did you tell him you were upset for him about it?"

I shook my head again. "It never comes out right."

Allen ran his fingers down my cheek, making me look at him. "You only need practice honey."

"He's always going to hate me." I said softly. Allen shook his head.

"No he won't."

"And the morgue thing WAS just a joke."

"We'll talk about that." Allen said comfortingly, starting the car. "Chinese, Indian or Italian?"

~ The End~

Copyright Ranger 2010

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Todas las historias son geniales

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.





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