Chapter 3

Jim called Simon, relayed what Blair had said and passed on Blair’s recommendation about Terry Wyman. A tall, willowy dark-haired nurse whom Jim vaguely recognized from previous visits came in to check Blair’s condition and change his catheter bag; Jim gasped when he saw the quantity of blood in the urine, and the nurse smiled at him reassuringly.

"It’s okay, Detective – is it Ellison?" the nurse, whose name tag proclaimed her to be Linda Riggs, RN, said softly. "His kidneys are bruised and so is his bladder. There’s going to be blood in his urine and stools for a couple of weeks at best. Don’t worry, they didn’t find any permanent damage. He’s going to be fine."

Jim closed his eyes briefly, taking a deep breath to calm himself. Nurse Riggs made some notes in her chart and emptied the bag in the room’s toilet. When she washed her hands and came out, she patted Jim’s shoulder sympathetically.

"He’s going to be all right," she said gently. "He’s a fighter, I can tell. Are you two together?"

Involuntarily Jim stiffened slightly.

"He’s my – " Then he hesitated. He’s my what? Partner, roommate, best friend, Guide?

The other half of my soul?

"Yeah," he said slowly. "Yeah, we’re together."

Nurse Riggs squeezed his shoulder again.

"This is unofficial," she said softly, "and I should really wait for Dr. Atherton to tell you, but he’s on rounds and won’t be in for a while. Blair’s own HIV test came back negative. We don’t have enough of a sample of the blood from around his mouth to test for HIV, but the typing’s back, and it wasn’t his, nor did it match any of the semen. We don’t have the full workup back on those, but we have isolated two separate types."

Jim closed his eyes again.

"Oh, God."

"Try to hang in there," Nurse Riggs said gently. "Blair’s going to need you so badly. Listen, I’m going off shift now, but I’ll be back in twelve hours. I’ll talk to the orderlies before I go, tell them to move a rollaway in here for you. There’s an old Mr. Coffee in the break room closet, and I’ll have that brought in here too. Normally we don’t let visitors use the room bathrooms to shower and shave and so on, but I think in your case there’s no reason not to, all right?"

A wave of gratitude left Jim almost weak.

"Thanks," he said quietly. "I mean it."

"Well, you two supply us so much business that you deserve a little special treatment," Nurse Riggs grinned. "I’ll get that bed in here right away, and then I really suggest you take a nap. He’s not going to do much but sleep for a while, and when he does wake up, he’ll need you alert and on top of things."

When the bed arrived, Jim gratefully slept, to his own surprise. Generally speaking, hospitals simply weren’t a good place for a Sentinel – too many noises, too much light, too many strange smells. Still, a cop with a military background was well used to getting by on what sleep he could snatch between crises; besides, the soothing rhythms of Blair’s heartbeat and breathing seemed to drown out the night noises of the hospital, and his scent couldn’t be smothered even under the odors of antiseptic and cleaners, and by the time Blair began to stir, Jim felt rested. When Blair opened his eyes again, Jim was there, holding his hand and managing a smile despite the ache in his heart at Blair’s grimace of pain.

"Hey, Chief," he said softly. "It’s good to see you back."

Blair swallowed several times, and his eyes finally focused.

"Water?" he rasped.

"Sure thing." Jim had it ready, a cup with a curved straw so that Blair could drink easily without moving. "Just a sip at first, Chief, let your workings get started up again."

Blair sipped, swallowed, waited and sipped again, then grimaced faintly.

"Mouth tastes awful," he muttered.

Jim realized that it probably did; he certainly hadn’t been able to brush his teeth, and Jim didn’t want to speculate what those tastes must be. But he couldn’t smell blood or semen on Blair’s breath, just a heavy antiseptic odor.

"I think they rinsed your mouth out with some antiseptic stuff," he said. "I don’t have the okay to give you anything but water yet, but the nurse promised to ask the doctor about a sports drink."

"Tea?" Blair said hopefully.

"She said no, but I forgot to tell her I meant herbal tea," Jim said, grimacing. "I’ll find out. She probably thought the caffeine wouldn’t mix with your meds." Jim stifled a sigh. Erica Parker, the present nurse on duty, wasn’t anywhere near as agreeable as Linda Riggs, and Jim was counting the minutes until the shift change.

Blair started to raise his head slightly, then groaned and stopped.

"Hurts," he said.

"What?" Jim said gently. "Something in particular, or just everywhere?"

"Well, I think my left big toe is okay," Blair quipped hoarsely, "but other than that – "

"Yeah, I get it," Jim said wryly, delighted to hear Blair joking even that much. "I think you’d better just stay down flat, okay?"

Blair turned his head minutely toward Jim.

"How bad?" he asked, no humor in his eyes now.

"Nothing permanent," Jim said immediately. "The worst is a couple of cracked ribs and your nose, a hairline fracture in your tailbone and a little crack in your pelvis; that’s it for the bones. Most of the rest is bruising of your internal organs and a concussion." He hesitated. "And some stitches in your mouth and, you know, inside."

"Yeah. I figured." Blair closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again, and Jim was dismayed to see the fear there. "Have they got blood tests from – I mean, they didn’t use anything. Condoms."

"Your blood test was negative," Jim said. "Simon got blood samples from Edgewood, Kinzer and Wyman, and the HIV tests are negative, but they haven’t caught Frain yet."

"You can forget Terry Wyman," Blair said. "He didn’t do anything but – but help hold me. He didn’t want to do even that." Blair’s voice trailed off.

"That checks out with Wyman’s story," Jim said, nodding. "You were right. He turned over on the others right away."

Jim hesitated, then decided.

"All the sperm samples taken match Kinzer and Edgewood," he said quietly. "But the blood sample around your mouth doesn’t match any of them, or you."

Blair nodded ever so slightly, closing his eyes again.

"That was Frain," he said. "He only fucked my mouth." He smiled ever so slightly. "I must’ve bit it halfway off."

"Good for you, Chief," Jim grinned. "I thought it might be something like that. Just in case, Simon’s had bulletins at all the hospitals and clinics in the city, especially those around the university."

"Yeah, well, maybe not so good," Blair sighed. "That’s when he grabbed the pipe."

Jim hesitated again.

"You in any shape to give me a statement, Chief?" he said softly. "I’ve got a tape recorder with me. I know it’s probably the last thing you need right now, but if you can get it over with on tape, we won’t have to go through it again for a while. Or we can wait, if you’re not up to it yet."

Blair nodded slightly.

"No, let’s do it while my memory’s fresh," he said tiredly. "More water?"

"Sure." Jim held the cup as long as Blair wanted to drink; then a thought occurred to him. "Chief, maybe it’s cheating just a little, but I’ve got mint mouthwash in my kit. Want me to swab your mouth out with it?"

"Oh, God, yes," Blair sighed. "Man, please."

Jim fetched a clean washcloth from the bathroom and wet it with the mouthwash, then carefully swabbed the inside of Blair’s mouth and his tongue, giving Blair another drink of water afterwards.

"Oh, man, that is so much better," Blair said fervently. "I keep thinking of Frain and – " He stopped.

"Anytime you want, Chief," Jim said softly. He pulled out his tape recorder. "Ready?"

"Yeah. Let’s do it." Blair closed his eyes.

Jim turned on the tape recorder and dictated the requisite specifics – time, date, his and Blair’s name. Even as he did so, he began monitoring Blair’s heartbeat, finding to his mild surprise that he was already attuned to the slightly rapid beat. If Blair became too upset, fuck the statement.

"Go on, Chief," he said. "Just tell me what happened in your own words."

Blair licked his swollen lips.

"I knew you were picking me up at nine," he said. "But I finished packing up early, about seven-thirty, so I grabbed some papers to look through and went to the lounge in the student union building basement to have some coffee and wait. Most of the hockey team was down there getting snacks after practice, so I, uh, kind of picked a back corner. I mean, I was never real popular with the jocks because I wouldn’t float them an easy grade in my classes, and I didn’t want any trouble, especially after, you know, getting fired. I could see them looking at me and talking and laughing, and I figured they were talking about me getting fired, but there were a lot of other students down there and nobody made any trouble. So anyway, I got kind of wrapped up in the papers I was looking over, and time kind of got away from me. I looked at my watch and it was 9:15, and I knew I was running late."

"Is 9:15 an approximate?" Jim asked.

"No, it was 9:15 by my watch," Blair said. "I was real surprised, and I looked at the clock to check my watch. My watch was about a minute ahead of the clock. So I grabbed my stuff and shoved it in my backpack. That probably took me about a minute. Anyway, since I was late, I decided to take the shortcut between the back of the union building and the shop building instead of going around the front, even though it’s dark back there. I heard some other students coming out of the building behind me, but I didn’t think anything about it. It took me about four minutes, probably, to get back upstairs and out the back door, and that’s when they grabbed me."

"They?" Jim prompted.

"Tim Frain, Sean Edgewood, Mark Kinzer and Terry Wyman," Blair said. "They’re all members of the hockey team, and they were all in the vending area when I came in there."

"Where were they when you first saw them outside?" Jim asked.

"Close behind me," Blair said. "They followed me to the area between the cafeteria and the shop building and then they just jumped on me. One of them – no, it was definitely Frain – yelled, ‘Gotcha, Fagburg!’, but it was the other three that actually grabbed me. I think I said something, like ‘What the hell are you doing?’ or something like that, and I struggled with them. I lost my backpack and my glasses about that point. Then somebody hit me in the back of the head with something, I don’t know what. I didn’t completely black out, but I was pretty much stunned."

"Do you have any idea who hit you?" Jim asked.

"It had to be Frain," Blair said. "Mark Kinzer had ahold of my left arm and Sean Edgewood had my right arm. Terry Wyman was in front of me trying to grab my legs, ‘cause I’d already kicked him twice while we were struggling, and I know Frain was right behind me because that’s where his voice came from."

"What happened then?" Jim asked.

"Things got real blurry for a few minutes," Blair said. "I felt myself being picked up and carried, and I heard somebody say, ‘Take him to the auto shop’, but I’m not sure who that was. I was just too fuzzy then. I heard a key in a lock and a door opening – "

"You’re sure you heard a key being used?"

"Uh-huh. There had to be other keys on the chain, too, because I heard them clinking against each other. The sound seemed really loud because my head was hurting so bad. Then I heard the keys go into something, probably somebody’s pocket, and the door opened. I was carried through the door, and I was coming around by that time. I saw Kinzer closing the door behind me and locking it – it had one of those push-in locks – and I saw that we were in one of the auto shop repair bays."

Jim nodded. So far Blair’s story was consistent with Terry Wyman’s recounting of the event. Kinzer was a student assistant in the auto shop and had a key, and his prints had been found on the doorknob. A significant bloodstain on the floor had matched Blair’s type, and smaller splatters matched the sample from Blair’s mouth.

"So then they dropped me on the floor – and I mean dropped," Blair said wryly. "My head hit the concrete and I grayed out again. I heard Frain say, ‘Hey, Fagburg, time for a little private tutoring!’ and then somebody kicked me a few times. I don’t know who it was, but I don’t think it was Terry, because I heard him back near the door saying ‘Hey, guys, watch it, don’t,’ or something like that."

Jim nodded again. According to Wyman, the kicker had been Frain.

"Things got kind of fuzzy," Blair said, shaking his head slightly. "The next thing I’m sure of was feeling somebody trying to pull my pants down, and then I really started fighting. I don’t know what anybody was saying or doing at that point – I was panicking and I couldn’t see so good, my head was really pounding and I was dizzy and sick as hell. I know I got kicked and punched several times during that, I don’t know by whom, and then Sean Edgewood smashed me in the mouth."

"You’re sure it was Edgewood?"

"Yeah. He had a class ring that he always wore, and that was what chipped my teeth. None of the other guys wore rings except Kinzer, and his was a little silver Celtic knot thing he’d probably exchanged with his girlfriend."

"Go on."

"Anyway, that pretty much knocked the fight out of me," Blair said softly. "The next thing I knew, Kinzer and Wyman were holding me over one of the workbenches. Somebody behind me was yanking my pants down, I didn’t know who at first, but it had to be Edgewood because I heard Frain off to the left saying ‘Go on, Sean, do it, do it, plow the little fag.’"

Blair’s voice broke then, and Jim hurriedly turned off the tape recorder. Blair’s heart was beating like a triphammer, and Jim could see a vein throbbing in Blair’s temple; he didn’t need Blair’s little grimace to realize that Blair was developing a pounding headache, and if his head hurt, he could hurt elsewhere.

"Chief, maybe this isn’t a good – "

"Turn it on," Blair said faintly, his eyes still closed. "Please. I want to get this over with while I – while I can get the words out."

Jim silently turned the tape recorder on.

"I don’t think Terry really thought they’d go through with it," Blair said softly, "because as he was holding me, suddenly he said ‘Jesus, Sean, you’re not really going to fuck him, are you?’ and his grip loosened a little. It was enough that I pulled away from him, and I grabbed something off the bench, probably a wrench or something. I didn’t get any hits in, though. They pulled me down on the floor and then Frain helped Kinzer hold me, and he said something to Terry like, ‘Get with the plan, you little chickenshit, or we’re all going to put it around this was your idea.’ And then I felt – " Blair swallowed. "Sean Edgewood just pushed into me and – and – " His voice broke again. "How detailed do I have to get?"

"I think we get the idea, Chief," Jim said gently. "Can you go on?"

Blair nodded weakly.

"When he was finished, he held one of my arms and Terry held the other," he said. "And Kinzer fucked me. I don’t think he was hard at first. It took him a while to be able to – you know, get it in. And then he was finished, and I heard Kinzer say, ‘Hey, Tim, this was your idea, aren’t you going to have a go?’

"And Frain kind of laughed and said, ‘Jesus, you guys think I want his fairy ass, especially after the mess you’ve made? Nah, I’m gonna have his mouth.’ He must have thought all the fight was gone out of me, because after a while I’d – I’d – stopped struggling," Blair said faintly. "It – it hurt too much. Anyway, Frain pried my mouth open and stuck his dick in, and I just bit down as hard as I could. Really hard. I heard him scream and his blood was in my mouth. And the others were so shocked that they let go of me, but it didn’t matter because Frain whacked me on the side of the head. He had something in his hand, maybe this piece of pipe he picked up, because it was hard enough to almost knock me out.

"Anyway, he screamed something, I think it was ‘I’m going to kill you, you crazy faggot!’ and he – he – " Blair choked slightly. "I felt something shoved inside me. I don’t know what it was. It was big and hard and – and cold. I think it was the pipe."

Jim fought back nausea. Terry had said it was a piece of exhaust pipe, which had been recovered from the scene. The blood on it had type-matched Blair’s. The doctor had agreed that the tearing in Blair’s rectum was consistent with such an assault.

"Then he hit me several times with the pipe," Blair said faintly. "At first I was too – too stunned to do anything, and I felt my ribs crack. So I tried to curl up, and he hit me several times on my back, and then I passed out. When I came to, nobody was there and the door was open. I crawled out the door and then got up to my feet, and I was able to make it around the side of the building. And then you found me, and I guess you know the rest."

Jim nodded.

"Chief, are you absolutely positive of the things you’ve told me here?" he said.

"Oh, yeah," Blair said bitterly. "Believe me, it’s engraved on my memory."

"Can you think of anything else that might be helpful to us?"

Blair was silent for a long moment.

"Wait a minute," he said. "I think – when Edgewood and Kinzer were raping me, I think maybe Tim Frain was, you know, masturbating. I think he came on – yeah, I still had my shirt on. I think he might have come on it."

Jim felt excitement swell up in his throat. YES – a semen sample to cross with the blood! Wyman hadn’t recalled that detail, possibly because his focus may have been on holding Blair or watching the rape. They had Blair’s shirt in the evidence bag.

"Hang on a minute, Chief," Jim said. "Just rest, okay? This concludes your statement."

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Simon, who answered immediately.

"I think we’ve got a break here," he said. "I’ve got a statement from Blair that corroborates just about everything Wyman said, but he also says Frain may have come on his shirt. Can you get that down to forensics to check for semen?"

"ALL RIGHT!" Simon almost bellowed. "I’m on it this minute, Jim."

Jim winced, holding the phone away from his ear before disconnecting. He started to dial the forensics lab.

"Excuse me."

Jim glanced up, startled to see Nurse Riggs standing in the doorway.

"I didn’t want to interrupt his statement," she said quietly.

Jim glanced at the clock confusedly.

"We’re shorthanded," she said. "I came in early. You know, you really should have called for his doctor when he woke up."

"Oh." Jim felt profoundly ashamed that in his eagerness to punish the criminals, he’d put Blair’s official statement ahead of his welfare. "I’m sorry."

"It’s all right," Nurse Riggs said softly. "Dr. Atherton’s in surgery. He’ll be here in about a half hour." She stepped to the bedside. "Hi, Blair. I’m sorry to see you again."

"I know you," Blair said slowly. "Um – Linda, right?"

"Linda Riggs," the nurse said, nodding. "I was on duty when you came in OD’d on Golden. And I helped stitch up a gunshot wound once on Detective Ellison, and you were here then." She smiled. "You guys don’t get frequent flier miles here, you know, although we might consider keeping a room on standby."

"Well, no offense, but recidivism sucks," Blair said tiredly.

"Well, let me get you charted here and then I’ll see what I can do to make you more comfortable," Linda said sympathetically. She noted Blair’s vital signs. "Your blood pressure’s up just a bit, but considering the statement you were just giving, I’m not surprised. I’ll make a note so the doctor will know too."

She flipped through the chart.

"I see you’re due for your pain meds in half an hour, but excessive stress can make them wear off sooner, and I think that’s happening," she said. "What I think I’ll do, Blair, is give you half now. Dr. Atherton’s going to want to check your injuries, so I’ll just give you some of your medication to help you through it. I’d give you the whole dose except that the doctor’s going to want you awake to answer his questions. Is that okay with you?"

"Yeah, thanks," Blair said softly.

"How’s your pain doing?" Linda said as she filled the needle. "On a scale of zero to ten – "

"Zero being nothing and ten being the worst pain I’ve ever felt, I know," Blair sighed. "Right now about a seven."

"Ouch." Linda shook her head and injected the medication into the port in Blair’s IV. "Given your injuries, I hate to think what a ten is."

Blair didn’t hesitate.

"Getting a piece of metal pipe rammed up my ass," he said tonelessly.

"Yep, I guess that would do it," Linda said softly. "Well, you should start getting some relief pretty quickly. Is there anything else I can do for you while we’re waiting for the doctor? Barring food, mobility, baths and the like, I mean; you have to wait for Dr. Atherton for those."

"Jim swabbed out my mouth with mouthwash," Blair confessed for Jim. "But is there any chance of a toothbrush?"

"This we can do," Linda said cheerfully. "Uh-uh, no hands, bruise boy. I’m doing all the work here." She exited the room and reappeared with a little paper cup, and a couple of strange little white plastic things that looked like thimbles, one of which she fit over her gloved forefinger, and Jim realized that one side had short bristles on it.

"You’re going to brush my teeth with that?" Blair said dubiously.

"Uh-huh," Linda said. "Unfortunately I’m going to have to do it with mouthwash, since you can safely swallow that, namely since you can’t sit up to spit. Now open your mouth and try to relax, and I’ll try not to hurt, but you’ve got cuts and stitches in your mouth."

Blair grimaced several times while Linda scrubbed away with her forefinger, but sighed with relief after he rinsed his mouth.

"I didn’t know brushing teeth was an RN’s job," Blair admitted.

"It’s not," Linda chuckled. "Generally you’d have to wait for an aide. Enjoy the special treatment."

Jim squirmed uneasily in the chair. Dear God, Blair was half dead and still making conquests from his hospital bed – that after confessing his love and desire to Jim, to Jim’s great discomfort.

"Morphine kicking in yet?" Linda asked as she held the cup for Blair again.

"Uh-huh. Some." Blair had relaxed a little. Then he blushed furiously. "Um. There is one other little problem."

"As in?" Linda asked.

"As in," Jim said gently, having smelled the ‘little problem’ several minutes before, "Blair needs a little bit of cleanup."

"Oh, that kind of problem," Linda said with an absolutely straight face. "This we can do. Jim, I’m glad you’re here, because this is going to be a bit of a team effort."

"Uh – " Blair said hesitantly, glancing at Jim and blushing furiously. "Maybe – "

"That’s fine," Jim said firmly. "Just tell me what to do."

"Since Blair’s broken ribs are inconveniently on my side of the bed," Linda said, peeling back the blankets, "what we need to do is roll him on his side toward you. Now, this is going to be a bit tricky, because I don’t want him to do any of the work, and we need to roll his entire body simultaneously or he’s going to hurt a lot. Unfortunately there’s only so many places we can use for leverage without hurting him or pulling his catheter loose. So, I’m going to put my hands on his shoulder and his spine from this side, and I want your hands just below his waist and his upper thigh – yeah, that’s right. Blair, just relax, don’t do anything yet. But when we get you on your side, I want you to put your left hand on the bedrail and help Jim keep you in position. I won’t lie, it’s still going to hurt, but I’ll get you cleaned up as quickly as I can."

Blair nodded slightly, but Jim could hear Blair’s heart racing again.

"Count of three and then go, nice and slow," Linda said. "One, two, three, go."

As carefully and gently as they coordinated their efforts, Blair couldn’t suppress a groan of pain as they carefully rolled him on his side. Linda worked quickly and gently, but at one point Blair went white, and Jim wished fervently and helplessly that it was he lying in the bed instead of his Guide. But at last the ordeal was over and they carefully rolled Blair back to his back. Jim was agonized to see the tears winding silently down from Blair’s eyes.

"It’s okay, Chief, you did fine," Jim said softly when Linda was gone, stroking the hair out of Blair’s face. Blair was covered in cold, rank sweat and his heart was still pounding.

Blair bit his lip, causing a drop of blood to well up from the split, and he held out a moment longer; then an almost silent sob choked up from his throat.

"Sorry," he choked. "It just – it hurts – so – much – "

Jim felt his heart being torn in two.

"I know, Blair, baby, I know," he whispered, leaning down. He wanted to hold Blair so badly that it hurt, but he was afraid of causing Blair more pain. He settled for stroking Blair’s cheek and softly kissing his temple, taking Blair’s hand again and squeezing his fingers gently.

Blair’s breath sucked in sharply, and when Jim drew back slightly, he found Blair gazing up at him with an amazed uncertainty.

"J-Jim?" he whispered.

"Hang in there, Chief," Jim said quietly but firmly. "I’m with you every step of the way. We’re going to beat this, you got it?"

"Uh – yeah," Blair said hesitantly, his eyes still searching Jim’s doubtfully. He might have said more, but at that moment Dr. Atherton walked into the room, Linda behind him.

"They told me you were awake, Blair," Dr. Atherton smiled. "I’ve got the latest x-rays and CAT scans, so let’s just have a look at you and see how you’re doing. Detective Ellison, if you’d just give us a few minutes."

"I’d rather stay here," Jim said uncertainly.

"Detective, can I talk to you for just a minute?" Linda said gently. "In the hall."

After a reluctant glance at Blair, Jim followed Linda outside.

"Detective – "

"Jim," Jim said absently.

"Jim," Linda corrected. "Jim, what happened to Blair was horrible and traumatic and painful and humiliating, and drugs or not, this examination isn’t going to be a pleasant experience. Nonetheless it has to be done. You don’t want to see it, and Blair doesn’t want you to either. So what you should do is go downstairs to the cafeteria, grab yourself some lunch, and while you’re there get Blair some clear broth and some applesauce – I have it on good authority that he’ll be able to have that, and it’s still a couple hours till dinner. And then come back up and hold his hand and help him put himself back together, okay?"

Jim hesitated for a long moment.

"All right," he said at last.

Jim dashed downstairs, bought lunch, bought broth and applesauce, grabbed a sports drink just in case, and dashed back upstairs. He arrived just as Dr. Atherton retracted the curtain around Blair’s bed. Dr. Atherton smiled at Jim as he stepped out of Blair’s room.

"Ah, there you are," Dr. Atherton said. "I take it you want the full rundown?"

Jim nodded tersely.

"Right. The short version is that Blair’s in surprisingly good shape, or at least as good as he can be following such an assault," Dr. Atherton said. "The ribs are in place, his vitals are good, he’s in no more pain than I’d expect given his condition – which is a lot of pain, don’t get me wrong. The intracranial swelling has subsided far faster than I’d have expected, and I can’t find any signs of neurological damage, which is consistent with his CAT scan and MRI. I’m authorizing soft, easily digestible foods and beverages, but it’ll be a couple days before he’s going to be able to get up and move around, and I still predict a long and uncomfortable recovery. Despite the broken ribs and internal swelling, his injuries are more painful than they are dangerous, and most of his future treatment is simply going to be geared to keeping him as comfortable as possible while his soft tissue injuries heal."

Dr. Atherton paused.

"Blair mentioned that he’s not insured," he said. "I imagine the hospital is going to suggest moving him to a convalescent facility, and there’s really no medical reason to refuse. He doesn’t actually require skilled care, just 24-hour attention. You might help him pick out – "

"Convalescent facility?" Jim growled. "Forget it. If he doesn’t need to be here, he’s coming home. I’ll take care of him."

Dr. Atherton’s eyebrows shot up.

"Detective, I gave Blair a few suggestions, and he seemed very receptive to the idea of – "

Jim turned his back on the doctor and strode quickly into the room. Linda was sitting in the corner writing something in a notebook.

"Blair, what’s this convalescent facility shit?"

Blair flushed.

"Look, don’t get mad, Jim," he said. "It’s a lot cheaper than the hospital, and they set up like payment plans and – "

"And I suppose you’d rather have complete strangers taking care of you than your best friend, right?" Jim demanded.

Blair’s jaw dropped; then he swallowed heavily.

"Uh, Jim, you know, they’re saying I’m going to be pretty much a basket case for a few days," he said tentatively. "I mean, I’ll be a lot of trouble and – uh – some of it’s likely to be kind of – uh – disgusting, you know?"

Jim pulled out his cell phone and dialed furiously.

"Simon? I’ve got eight weeks of vacation racked up. I want to take three weeks immediately, and after that we’ll see . . . yeah. Right. Exactly. Really? Sure, see what you can do. Thanks, Simon."

He hung up the phone and turned back to Dr. Atherton.

"So when can he go home?"

"Well . . . " Dr. Atherton frowned. "Tomorrow, providing his tests show that he’s ready to be moved. But you have to understand, Detective, that Blair needs certain equipment, supplies – "

"I’ll rent a hospital bed," Jim said. "Tell me what he needs, I’ll get it."

"Jim!" Blair protested.

"Here you go," Linda said quietly, placing a list in Jim’s hand.

"Thanks," Jim said, mollified. Dr. Atherton shot him a puzzled look and left, shaking his head.

"Jim, you can’t do this," Blair protested wearily. "I can’t let you."

"It’s a done deal, Chief," Jim said stonily. "You never answered my question, though."

"What question?" Blair said warily. The medicine had to be kicking in; he looked distinctly confused and sleepy. Too bad for the food; Blair wasn’t going to be awake long enough to eat it.

"Can you look me in the eye and tell me you’d rather have perfect strangers taking care of you?" Jim asked quietly.

"Well – no, but – " Blair was fighting to keep his eyes open now.

"Just let it go, Chief," Jim said softly. "Sleep now. I’ll take care of you. I’ll take care of everything."

Blair yawned broadly.

"Well – "

"Sleep," Jim insisted.

Blair slept.