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If one more person stopped by the room to "see how he was doing", John
was going to scream, he just knew it. It was bad enough that his
doctors also happened to be his colleagues, poking and prodding at
him, looking at body parts that John usually reserved for more
intimate settings. But to have almost the entire hospital dropping in
on a daily basis was wearing John down. And of course, it didn't help
matters any by the fact that the people fell into two camps - those
who wanted him to talk about Lucy and the stabbing in general and
those who seemed uncomfortable just saying Lucy's name.

Then there had been his family and their concern. No, not as in
concerned enough to come to see him, although his Gamma had come by a
few days earlier, and then both she and his grandfather had been by
that morning. No, his family thought that phone calls were good
enough. His parents were in Tokyo and unable to get away, or so they
said, and they called every day. While they had seemed relieved that
he'd survived the stabbing, they hadn't seemed too anxious to see him,
so John had felt pressed to tell them that it was okay, that he was
okay, even though that was a lie. It seemed to John that he'd been
doing a lot of lying since the stabbing. He lied to Lucy's mother
about it not hurting to be stabbed, he lied to his friends when they
asked how he was doing, he lied to his parents that he was okay. He'd
even lied to his grandmother, although John didn't think she believed him.

Everybody else seemed to believe him, especially Dave. Dave would ask
how John was feeling, John would tell him that he was okay and Dave
would nod and then smile before settling in to tell him stories from
the ER. It seemed important to Dave that John be feeling okay, so
even on days when John felt like shit warmed over, he still lied and
told Dave what he seemed to want to hear.

And now those days of having to lie were over, or so John hoped. Dr.
Anspaugh had told him that once he was competently using a walker,
then he'd be going home. It had been hard work, John thought as he
slowly made his way down the hallway toward his room, but worth it.
Even though Harry from PT was at his side, John knew that he didn't
need any assistance. He'd been over the whole floor, and while he was
tired and glad to be getting back to his room, John was also happy
that he hadn't floundered even once.

John eyed the hallway clock, already counting down the hours until Dr.
Anspauh's afternoon visit. Dr. Anspaugh would be pleased with his
progress, and while John was packing to go home, Dr. Anspaugh would
take care of the discharge papers. John would be sleeping in his own
bed that night, and right then he couldn't think of any place that
he'd rather be.

"You're doing great," Harry said, and John beamed at him.

"Thanks. I'm looking forward to taking this thing on a spin around my
place," John joked. Yes, he could finally joke now that his time in
the hospital was coming to an end. It felt...good. And it also felt
odd. It had been a while since John had truly felt happy, and it was
a feeling that he'd missed.

Hours later found John looking at Dr. Anspaugh in disbelief. "Say
that again?" John said, hoping that he'd misheard what the older man
had said.

Dr. Anspaugh looked uncomfortable, which John felt didn't bode well
for his hopes that he'd heard wrong. "Dr. Carter...John, I can't
release you unless I know that someone will be home with you. You've
made a lot of progress with walking and I'm confident that you'll
continue to improve. However, sending you home alone right now is not
in your best interest."

Okay, so John hadn't heard wrong. His heart sank as his hopes for
escaping the prison County had become were dashed. His mind raced,
searching for an answer that both he and Dr. Anspaugh could live with.
"What about a nurse? I can call some agency or something and have
someone there every day."

Dr. Anspaugh shook his head. "I'm sorry, but that won't be enough.
You need someone there all of the time, John. A nurse is good for the
daytime, but you who'll be there with you at night? You can't
guarantee that you won't wake up in the middle of the night and get
out of bed without remembering to use the walker."

Dr. Anspaugh looked a bit sad as he looked at John, and John knew the
man was thinking about what he'd left unsaid - how John had already
fallen twice under the very circumstances that Dr. Anspaugh described.
But, home was different than the hospital, and John was pretty
confident that he'd remember his limitations.

"You promised me that I could go home once I was able to use the
walker and didn't need the wheelchair any longer. We both know that
I'm strong enough to go home," John said. Damn, but if he had to use
guilt to get his way, he would.

There was a flicker of guilt in Dr. Anspaugh's eyes, and for a moment
John felt guilty over causing it. But, dammitt, the man had promised him!

The moment of guilt ended as Dr. Anspaugh shook his head. "I'm sorry,
John, I really am. But there's no way that you're going to be going
home today."

"When then?" John snapped, no longer able to hold his emotions at bay.
"What hoops do I have to jump through before you decide that I can
get out of here?"

"It will happen when you're stronger, John. I know this is
frustrating for you, but it's for your own safety and well-being."
Dr. Anspaugh looked down at his hands, then back at John. "What about
your grandparents? I understand that they've been by to see you.
Maybe you could stay with them?"

John shook his head. While it was nice that his grandparents were
once more speaking to him, John didn't think that they - or himself -
were ready for 24/7 togetherness. "They're going away," John said,
lying because it was easier than explaining the truth. It was bad
enough that Dr. Anspaugh knew that John's parents hadn't bothered to
come, and John didn't want to garner any more of the man's pity.

"That's too bad," Dr. Anspaugh said. He then stood a little bit more
at attention, checking his watch. "If you get twenty-four
companionship, then I'll be more than happy to sign your discharge
papers. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get to the OR."

Dr. Anspaugh was turning to leave even as John nodded, and then he was
gone, leaving John alone with his disappointment. John slumped back
in the chair, wincing against the pains that shot through his back and
thigh and pulled at his belly. He'd already had his PT session for
the day, but John wondered if he could manage a walk alone out in the
hallway? Yes, he was tired, but not so tired that he couldn't get in
a bit more exercise. Besides, if he could handle it on his own then
that would be one more argument for getting discharged.

John reached for the walker and glanced up at the clock. The lunch
trays would be coming around soon, and the nurses didn't like it when
he didn't eat, which meant that he couldn't miss lunch, or overdo
things and be too tired to eat. So it would be a short walk, John
thought. And then once he had lunch, he could take a longer walk.
Grimacing, John used the wheelchair as leverage and got to his feet.
He knew that he'd have to ignore the growing pain - his next round of
pain meds was due at lunch, and the current dose had all but worn off.
So be it, John thought. Pain was a small price to pay if it meant
getting well enough to go home that day.

Dave came out of the stairwell wondering if this was going to be his
last hospital visit to see Carter. He knew that Carter was anxious
about getting out, and Dave wanted that, too. But, Dave couldn't deny
that he'd miss their visits. Even though Carter was a patient, it had
often seemed as if their visits were special treats - times when they
could have each other's undivided attention. Many of the visits would
be around mealtimes, and Dave would bring his lunch or dinner so they
could eat together. Once Carter was on solid food again, Dave would
bring him milkshakes from Magoo's, or cheeseburgers, just to give him
a break from hospital food.

If Dr. Anspaugh went on and discharged Carter today, then all of that
would be gone, Dave thought. Yes, he'd still see Carter at his
apartment, but it wouldn't be as convenient. He couldn't get to
Carter's place and back in thirty minutes. As soon as Dave thought
that, he felt guilty over it. Carter wasn't in the hospital for
Dave's convenience, and if anyone deserved the familiarity and
comforts of home, it was Carter. Be even nicer if that home included
Carter's parents, Dave thought. Carter obviously thought he was doing
a great job of covering up how hurt he was over their absence, but
Dave had seen right through that act. Hell, the hurt was ever there,
looking out from Carter's eyes, and mingling with all of the other
hurts that the guy had accumulated over the years. Some of them Dave
had put there, and he was doing what he could to erase those hurts,
but the others, the ones that came from Carter's family - Dave didn't
see any sign that they were fading. Sure, it was nice that Carter's
grandmother had come by, and then his grandfather. But it would have
been even nicer if they'd been there sooner. The woman had waited a
week before coming. A week. As if she had to be sure that Carter was
going to live after all, or something. Or as if he had something
contagious. Where the hell had the bitch been the night that Carter
had been stabbed, or the day after? Carter said she'd called, just
like his parents had called. Big fucking deal, Dave thought. So
they'd called and talked with Carter while he was out of it on pain
meds. Yeah, that was definitely reassuring. But, he'd kept quiet for
once, and hadn't said anything to Carter about his feelings on the
subject. Carter probably felt all of that himself, and Dave didn't
need to add anything else to the feelings that Carter was dealing with
right then.

And speaking of Carter, Dave came to a stop in the hallway as he saw
Carter up ahead, out on the walker, his head watching the floor with
every step he took. Dave estimated that Carter was about ten steps
away from his room, and then he wondered just why Carter was in the
hallway alone. If things were on schedule, and they were always on
schedule, Carter would have had the PT and been in his bed right now,
having just taken his pain meds and waiting for his lunch tray to be
delivered. Dave could smell the aroma of the food, and knew that the
trays were being delivered. So what was Carter doing out on his own?

Dave frowned as he walked up to Carter and fell into step behind him.
"Nice day for a walk," he said. "Although, I thought you'd had your
morning walk already."

Carter glanced sideways at him, then returned his attention to the
floor as he moved the walker along. "I've had PT. I just wanted to
do some more walking. The sooner I'm on crutches, the better."

"Maybe," Dave cautiously replied. "As long as getting to the point of
using crutches doesn't do more harm than good." That remark was met
with silence, and Dave didn't really feel like pressing the issue
right then. So, he decided to find out if this really was his last visit.

"Has Anspaugh been by yet?" Dave asked, hoping he had injected enough
happiness and hopefulness into his voice so that Carter wouldn't
realize how he really felt about Carter going home.

"I don't want to talk about that," Carter replied.

Dave watched his lover inch along the hallway, and then looked up as a
nurse passed them by, Carter's lunch tray in her hands. "Looks like
lunch is served," Dave said. "Want me to grab you a wheelchair so you
can get in there and eat it while it's hot?"

"No. I need to do the walking, Dave," Carter replied, and Dave could
have sworn that his voice was sounding shaky, which meant he was
pushing himself too hard. "I want to go home."

Dave took the time in the ensuing silence to put two and two together.
If Carter didn't want to talk about Anspaugh's visit and was out
pushing himself to walk because he wanted to go home, then that meant
that Carter wasn't being released. The brief spark of relief that
Dave felt over that realization fizzled out as he then came to
understand just how much going home had meant to Carter. The guy was
really upset about it, or else he wouldn't be out in the hallway about
to keel over from exhaustion from pushing himself. Anspaugh had said
that Carter could go home when he was able to competently use the
walker. So, yeah, Carter was slow with it, and he still couldn't put
his left leg fully on the ground without it giving way under him, but
it seemed to Dave that Carter had control of things. Definitely
competent when it came to using the walker. So that meant one of two
things - either Anspaugh had lied, or there was some other reason why
Carter wasn't going home.

"So why can't you go home?" Dave asked, figuring the direct approach
would work best right then.

"There's no one else there," Carter replied, and this time he glanced
over at Dave as he spoke. "Anspaugh's afraid that if I don't have
someone there 24/7, then I'll fall or something at night, or some bull
like that."

Carter took another step, then looked at Dave again. "I suggested
hiring a nurse, but he didn't think that would work, since a lot of
the agencies don't have people who work at night, and that's the time
he's worried about."

"I see," Dave said. And he did see. Carter didn't know that he knew,
but Dave had found out about the times he'd fallen at night, and he
could understand Anspaugh's concern. However, the answer seemed
pretty simple to him. "I can come and stay with you. If I talk to
the Chief, I'm sure she'll set up my hours so that I can be with you
when the nurse can't be." The more Dave thought about it, the better
the idea sounded. He'd be seeing Carter a lot more, and able to know
that he was all right. And yeah, he'd be there for when Carter was
feeling well enough for sex, and that was definitely a plus.

Carter shook his head. "I can't ask that of you, Dave. Thanks for
offering, but..."

"You didn't ask, Hoss. I offered, and you know the Chief won't have a
problem with the scheduling. Everyone wants you to get better so you
can haul your butt back to work, and they'd be willing to switch
shifts around if it helps you get outta this place." They were
finally at the door of Carter's room, and not a minute too soon, Dave
thought as he noted how tired Carter looked.

"I don't want people making sacrifices for me," Carter said, and his
voice sounded a bid sad. "I'm not their problem."

"Of course not," Dave said, his brow furrowed as he wondered why
Carter would think he was a problem. "You're a co-worker, and, in
some cases, a friend. Look," Dave added, deciding that he needed to
play the ace card. "A lot of 'em feel bad because Lucy died. And we
all feel bad because you two got stabbed while we were partying and we
never heard a thing. Being able to do that for you, well, it'll make
a lot of 'em feel better." Dave hated using the guilt angle, but he
was pretty sure that it was an argument that Carter wouldn't dismiss.
The guy practically fed off of guilt, yet another thing that Dave was
determined to put an end to, given enough time. And if he were
staying with Carter, then that would definitely give him more time to
repair the damage he and the others had done and then some.

There was no answer from Carter, and Dave took that to be a sign that
Carter was giving the matter some serious thought. Or else he was too
tired and hurting to speak. His brow furrowed with worry, Dave
hovered close as Carter made his way over to the bed. It was almost
painful to watch Carter as he slowly maneuvered the walker around so
that he could use it as a support for getting onto the bed, and Dave
was ready to help if asked, only he was pretty sure that Carter
wouldn't ask. He never asked for help, never wanted to admit that he
might need assistance. And Dave couldn't blame him for feeling that
way, because he knew that if their places were reversed, he wouldn't
be asking for help, either. He just hoped that Carter wasn't viewing
his offer to stay as Dave thinking that Carter needed help, and turned
it down out of pride.

"You just say the word, Hoss, and I'll be in Anspaugh's office in two
seconds and have you outta here," Dave said as Carter curled up on the
bed and pulled the covers up over himself.

Carter's eyes closed, his eyelashes dark against his paler than normal
skin, and Dave was starting to think that Carter's answer would be no,
and that he was doing his best to send Dave away without saying
anything. And then it happened, a slight nod of Carter's head.

"That a yes?" Dave asked as he stepped closer to the bed.

"Yeah," Carter replied, his voice rough with tiredness and pain. "Get
me out of here, Dave. But Anspaugh's in surgery, I think. When he
left here, he said he was going to the OR."

Dave nodded. "Okay. I'll go see the Chief first, and then I'll hunt
down Anspaugh. We'll have you home by dinnertime, Hoss." Dave leaned
down and placed a quick kiss on Carter's cheek, knowing he was taking
a risk by doing that with the door open, but not really caring. He
was going to be taking Carter home, and the joy of that thought chased
away any worries that someone might see them and know that they were a
couple. "I'll tell the nurse to put your lunch on hold so you can get
some rest, okay?"

Carter nodded. "Thanks," he said, and this time he opened his eyes,
looking up at Dave. "For everything."

Dave smiled brightly at Carter. "You're welcome, Hoss. I'll be back
as soon as I can."

Dave waited until Carter had closed his eyes again, and then he
quietly left the room. He was practically walking on air as he
approached the nurse's station to let them know that Carter was asleep
and asking for them to put his lunch in their refrigerator so he could
have it once he woke up. He also told them that they needed to get
Carter's things ready so he could go home, and then he headed back to
the ER to talk with the Chief about getting his shifts arranged so
he'd be home every night with Carter. And to think that he'd been
dreading having Carter go home, Dave thought. That had been selfish
and stupid, he chided himself. The way things were working out were
so much better than having Carter in the hospital, and Dave wondered
why he hadn't thought before about offering to stay with Carter while
he recuperated at home. It was such a perfect answer, and Dave knew
it would be good for each of them, and Dave knew it would only get
better as Carter healed.

To be continued...
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