Out From Under

Written by Shell




I've been waiting here since 8:30. I came last night, too, just in case. Nothing last night, nothing tonight, and now it's after 4. I know, because I've been looking at the clock every 30 seconds.

I was a good boy, let Bartlett know I was coming up here to pick up some more runaways. He wanted to send some agents up here with me, but he said Tim's reports made him think it would be safer not to do anything that might attract any more attention. Then he wanted to send an agent in my place. I said no way. I know that's a fucking idiotic thing to do, but I also know the kids will be expecting me, not some FBI agent. If they find someone else waiting for them, they might do something stupid like try to run on their own.

I look out the window again, and this time I see two small figures approaching, moving slowly. I open the door and gesture them inside. The older girl is pale, and she's trembling; she looks to be about 13 or 14, like Susanna. The younger girl is obviously fighting to stay awake, and just as obviously worried about her companion.

"You kids all right?" I'm starting the jeep as I say this--it's time to get the fuck out of Dodge.

"Yes, thank you, Mr. Boisy. But listen, you're a friend of Timothy, right? Because I think he's not okay. I heard some of the elders talking, saying he was a deviant, and I think they're going to do something to him.

What? FUCK. "Okay, look, I'm going to take you down the road to Big Water, you'll be safe there for a little while, and I've got to make a phone call, and then I'm going back. While we're driving, I need you to tell me everything you can about where he might be, how I can get him out. He's--he's in a lot of danger, and it's going to take some time for anyone else to get out here to help."

I can't believe this. This is not fucking happening. And the girls, they look relieved, grateful. Tim means something to them, too.

It takes me too fucking long to get through to Bartlett, and once I do he's not exactly thrilled to be hearing this from me. He wants details, and he wants me to sit tight in Big Water, or better yet head to Page, but I think I manage to get it through his head that there is no fucking way I'm going anywhere but back to the Canyon. Yeah, they'll be coming, as fast as they can, but we both know it will take them too fucking long to get up here from Flagstaff, and the Page Police are no match for Eisen's thugs.

So by the time I get back into my car and head onto the dirt road behind Big Water, forty-some fucking minutes have already gone by. Yeah, I'm back on that road again, looking for the creek, trying to figure out a way to sneak in to Church Canyon. Sarah says I might be able to get in by climbing the fence in the back. She says there are supposed to be guards, but a lot of times they neglect their duties, go back into town, when there's going to be a stoning. So they can help out.

A stoning. They have Tim, they think he's gay, or something, maybe his cover's blown. And they're going to stone him to death like some fucking Shirley Jackson story.

I can't stop shaking. She's not sure, but she thinks that's what they'll do--it's what they do to women who commit adultery, try to escape, question their husbands, or look at a church elder cross-eyed.

I try to drive carefully, lights off, slow speed, keep the noise down of tires on gravel, but can't help pounding my fists against the wheel, cursing under my breath. I turn off by the creek, hide the car among the few trees, and walk quickly towards the town, breaking into a run now and then when I'm reasonably sure no one from the town can see me, or when I can't stand walking anymore. The moon's getting ready to set soon, but it still provides all the light I need.

I see the fence up ahead, but no guards, so I climb up and over. Cut my hands a little, catch my jacket on the barbed wire at the top, but I hardly notice. If Sarah's right, they have him in the church, in the basement. Shouldn't be too hard to find, seeing as it's the biggest building in a town of mostly trailers and pre-form housing. I don't see anyone around--women and children are inside at this hour, but Sarah warned me about dogs and guards. So far so good.

I get to the church okay and start looking for a door, a window, something, preferably not in the open. I spy a window and drop down onto my belly and look inside.

There are a bunch of men standing in a half circle, facing the wall. Tim's up against the wall. Fuck. He's pale, and thin. They've stripped him down to his boxers, and they've beaten on him some. Has a black eye, split lip, but otherwise he looks okay. The grey in his hair's more noticeable with it that short, or maybe his time here has aged him. He actually looks his age, all 42 years, even older.

Behind the men--fuck, behind the men there's a large pile of rocks. A lot of them look like something has stained them, dark streaks on the red, and I'm no geologist but I don't think it's mineral deposits. And they're yelling at him, I think, but I can't hear what they're saying through the reinforced glass--place is built like a fucking bunker. He just stands there, so vulnerable, hands cuffed behind his back, and I want to tear the place down with my bare hands.

So I get up onto my feet, stay crouched down, and try to make my way around to the front of the building. There's only the one door-- don't know how the fuck I'm going to get in there, but I'll figure something out. This is like something out of Alphaville, or that Heinlein story, or 1984. The category is dystopias, Alex.

There are two men--boys, really, look about 17 or so, but well-built--standing in front of the door. They're carrying what to my admittedly uneducated eye look like AK-47s. Some sort of machine gun. Tim would know. So I crouch there, trying to think, hoping they'll decide to take a break or something. No such luck.

"Don't move, maggot." Shit. Something cold presses up against the back of my skull, no doubt another fucking machine gun. Well, the problem of getting in is solved, but it doesn't do shit to get us back out again. I'm just going to have to find some way to keep us alive until the troops arrive. Better hope they learned something from fucking Waco, Billiam, whispers Joe in my head.

They frisk me, pull off my jacket, and cuff my hands behind me. Then they drag me up by the wrists. I'll take bad action movies for 400. Next thing I know, Sylvester Stallone's going to show up to save the day. The gun nudges me towards the door, and then they lead me downstairs.

They open up a steel door, and I hear a sound reminiscent of playing catch with my dad on one of those rare days he acted like a father, sounds like the ball hitting the glove. Then I hear a soft grunt and realize what I'm hearing is the sound of stone on flesh. They've started. Shit, Tim, hold on. I take a deep breath, try to get some control. There's a faint odor of decaying flesh, and I think again of the stains on the rocks and almost puke. Jesus fucking christ, let that SWAT team come soon.

"Elders, excuse me for interrupting your business, but I found this intruder sneaking around outside." Gun man shoves me forward, but I manage to keep my balance. Barely. Then I see Tim again. He's kneeling on the floor, bruised and bloody, breathing hard. He doesn't look up.

"Well, what have we here? If I'm not mistaken, this is quite an honor. Gentlemen, I believe we have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Billy Tallent, guitarist for the heathen rock band Jenifur." The speaker--must be that fuckhead Eisen--is tall, muscular, handsome, charismatic. His eyes are colder than Joe's were on that sidewalk in Edmonton.

"I go by Bill Boisy now," I say in as calm and quiet a voice as I can. Tim gasps and looks up, meets my eyes with the one of his that's still open, then schools his face back into quiet courage. I can't fuck this up. I can't make this worse, what the fuck can I do to get us out of this? Eisen slaps me, hard, across the face, and I realize I'd stopped paying attention the minute Tim saw me.

"I don't give a fuck what your name is, boy, what I want to know is what a godless sonofawhore like you is doing here!"

"I was vacationing over at Wahweap, and I was driving around, and I got lost. I saw the town lights and thought I might find a phone here. Guess I was wrong." Now Joe, maybe he could've come up with a better story, but it was the best I could do.

"Now just how stupid do you think we are, here, boy? You want us to believe you climbed over a fence just looking for a phone?" Psycho Cult Leader comes closer, then closer still. I can smell alcohol on his breath, see how bloodshot his eyes are. Those eyes are truly crazy, Charlie Manson crazy, and his white robe has dark stains on the cuffs and along the bottom, and I think I know what they are, too.

"Now I happen to know that your evil influence has been felt in this town, among our dear children. Your muuusssiiic, Mr. Boisy, so-called, has been found among our youth, and it has led some to stray from our Heavenly Mission. That has got to stop, Mr. Boisy. How convenient that you happened to show up tonight, how coincidental that Sarah and Ruth are missing, and here you are."

"Whoever Sarah and Ruth are, I'm sure they're better off somewhere else, but I don't know what that has to do with me." I hope they're safe, on their way to Page, to the police there.

All of a sudden I'm on my knees, head spinning, blood dripping down my ear. Gun Man hit me from behind, hit me with the fucking rifle, the same rifle that's up against my skull again.

"We have rules here, maggot, and one of them is, don't speak to our Holy Father without permission. Don't break that rule again, understood?" I nod, slowly. I'm on the same level as Tim now, and he meets my eyes again, briefly, intensely. This time I have to look away, afraid my face will betray both of us. "Now that we have you here, Mr. Godless Demon, maker of the Devil's music, I think we're gonna have to make some sort of example of you, make sure our youth stray no more. The question is, what sort of example? Should we do for you as we're doing for Mr. Godless Homosexual here, and leave your bodies out for the crows and coyotes, or should we try something else? I need to think on that. Elders, what do you say?"

"Stone them both, Holy Father!"

"Stone them both!"

"Stone them both, but stone them on the town square!"

"Yes, Holy Father, let all the town witness!"

The voices are hushed, reverent, and fucking insane. These Elders, the youngest in his forties, the oldest perhaps 90, are wearing black robes that match Psycho Cult Leader's white one. I expect Lord Foul to show up looking for his white gold wedding ring any time now. The ones who didn't speak are nodding, agreeing as one now--the stoning of godless heathens, e.g. Tim and Bill, should take place in the open air for all to see.

There might be hope, then, maybe. Don't know how long it takes to stone someone to death (depends on what they're aiming at, Billy Boy). I guess I should be grateful they're not just the take Šem out the back and shoot Šem types. Figure it'll take at least a little time to round up the townspeople, even if there are only a few hundred of them. It was close to five when I left Big WaterÓ We might still make it, hang on until the cavalry arrives. And at least I should get a chance to touch him again, hopefully tell him how sorry I am.

They drag us both to our feet and push us up the stairs, side by side. Tim manages to brush my fingers with his, a quick caress. His fingers are cold, and I press my arm and side up against him as much as I can without drawing their attention. He starts to shiver when they open the door.

I need to find some way to let him know I tried, I didn't just rush in here without trying to get help, but I can't figure out how to do that without alerting these psycho fuckheads. So as we start down the stairs in front of the church, I fake a stumble and brush a kiss against his shoulder, hoping that's somehow enough.

******

For the second time in my life, I resigned myself to dying. Almost wish I had, the first time--gunshot hurt like a sonofabitch, but then it was over. This--who knows how long this is going to last, before they're done playing with me.

Kinda funny they've decided I'm gay. It's just something Jessica made up to explain why I wouldn't sleep with her; even she doesn't believe it, vindictive bitch. And they haven't said anything about Sarah. No, they don't know any of my real secrets--the FBI, Billy, Luke Ryland. Although I suspect they'd have no problem with that last one.

It does make a sort of biblical sense, I suppose--belated punishment for taking a life. Did they use to stone murderers? Of course the executioners were always absolved, back in the old days, before legal loopholes and over-worked prosecutors.

I've done a lot of thinking about Ryland while I've been holed up in this horrible place. Thinking about shooting him, how good it felt, just for an instant, and how I'd puked my guts up afterwards, one more thing to clean up, can't leave a trace behind. Then I got myself over to the squadroom and cleaned out my desk, that is, after I told that little prick Danvers I was sorry for what I'd done.

Thing was, I wasn't sorry, not then. I was numb. Had been numb for awhile, ever since I found out I was a hell of a lot better cop than I was a Buddist. Don't get me wrong, I still believe, at least part of me does. Try to live in the moment. It's the only way to make it through the day sometimes. Despite Sarah's cooking, I've lost a lot of weight. Being a vegetarian in Church Canyon is not an easy thing.

But Buddism--I'd been to a couple services with Chris, thought it was interesting, but I never really got into it until I got out of Shock Trauma and faced the months of rehab before I could get back to work. With no Frank to talk to, I was rudderless--everything was grey, not even different shades, and I needed to find a new moral compass. So I became a Buddist, and it helped, it really did. I thought I'd finally found a way to be. But when it came right down to it, I sacrificed my beliefs to save my life. When that gun was pointed at my face, I forgot all about Buddism and did the cop thing. And everyone told me it was a good shoot, which is was, but no one got that it killed something in me as well.

And Ryland, outing me like that, using my website to stage his internet murder, that was bad enough, but having Gee tell me I had to delete it, that I hadn't expected. Lieutenant Al Giardello, the best Lieutenant in the whole Baltimore City Force, the man I'd looked up to almost as much as I looked up to Frank, let me down. Let me down again when he ordered me to apologize to Danvers. No one had looked at me the same way once I became that gay cop over in Homicide, but I'd thought Gee was different. Guess I was wrong.

So shooting Ryland, it felt good, for just a second, because for once I had somewhere to put all my hate. That was what I'd needed absolution for. I knew I was saving lives by putting him away--he was ready to head off to New Orleans and start all over again, and you know he'd be harder to find this time, having learned from his prior mistakes. I couldn't let that happen, and both my heart and my head were in agreement on that one. The problem was, as usual, that it wasn't just black and white--it wasn't just an execution, it was revenge, revenge against everyone who'd ever hurt and betrayed me, from my father to Frank.

That's why I asked Frank for absolution. But he refused, said he couldn't, yelled at me for putting this on him. Maybe he knew there was more to the story than I was telling him, knew I didn't mean it when I told him I'd eat my gun. He always knew things about me before I did, used that keen brain of his on me as often as he used it on a case.

We both knew he'd never put me in Jessup. And that meant I'd never see him again, because he'd heard one too many confessions, and now he needed absolution too, for watching me write Ryland's name in blue under Meldrick's cases and then walking out the door. I've always wondered what happened when Meldrick saw that on the board. Did he think it was a joke? He obviously never did anything about it, and neither did Stivers.

So maybe this is payback. All of a sudden I feel free of a weight I've carried for years. Payback, punishment, absolution, suddenly none of it matters, because they may kill me, but I've finally sent enough evidence down to Flagstaff that these crazy cultists will go down, no legal loophole large enough for them to escape, and maybe that's absolution enough, for all of it, even Ryland. Maybe that's enough to let me die with some peace.

So I stand up, shoulders back, and face the circle of men in front of me. Eisen throws the first stone, a glancing blow on my belly, and I think, maybe this won't be so bad, dying. At least I had that one night with Billy. Then more of the men start throwing, and I realize it's going to be worse than bad, dying will be the easy part, if I ever get there, and I try to concentrate on breathing, on staying upright, but before I know it I'm on my knees, grunting as each stone --rocks, really, red and fucking sharp--contacts a different part of my body. I find myself wishing one would hit my head, hard, and end it, but it seems they want to play with me awhile.

A minute passes without any blows, then another. I don't know why they stopped, don't really care, just stay here on my knees trying to catch my breath. Then Holy Fucking Father Eisen is saying something, and it's Billy's name, and I hear his voice, achingly familiar. It says he goes by Bill Boisy now, and I look up with my one open, near-sighted eye (the other one's been swollen shut since they first grabbed me, hours ago), and he's standing there in front of me.

Billy's here. Why is Billy here? How the fuck? Sarah must have said something, and of all the stupid, idiotic, dumb-ass things to do, what the fuck does he think he's doing? He's here, and he's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, and he's going to get himself killed, same as me, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. But even near-sighted and one-eyed, I can see the fire in him, and I know why he came. He came because I was here, and he was nearby, no one else was. That gives me the courage to look away, before anyone notices the current running between us, because maybe there's still a chance they'll let Billy go.

Eisen's really on his holy father kick now, going on and on about how evil Billy is. They knock him down, and our eyes meet again, and this time he has to look away to hide the pain he's feeling. They've apparently decided to hold a special kind of town meeting, with the two of us as the star attraction. Eisen's really lost it, then--he's always been so careful to keep some things under wraps, here in the church basement, so people in the town could safely pretend not to know.

Before I know it, we're heading up the stairs, too soon, but at least we're close enough that I manage to brush his hands with mine. His fingers are warm, and he leans closer to me so I can feel the heat coming off his wiry body. Even so, I'm shivering now that the door is open. I'm a little ahead of him as we go down the steps. I hear him stumble a little, then feel warm lips against my shoulder, wordlessly telling me to hold on, and I feel a little stronger.

When I first saw all the sand out here, I wondered why everyone, even the kids, wore hiking boots or sandals instead of going barefoot. I quickly learned the reason: nasty seed pods called goats heads, with evil spikes that latch on to everything. The few times they'd gotten me before, they'd left a burning and tingling behind as well, no doubt some sort of irritant protection for the seeds, as if the spikes weren't bad enough. I wince and stumble as we walk to the town square--must hit at least five or six of the suckers--but Billy's there again, somehow managing to get his shoulder in front of me, keeping me from falling.

They've finally got us where they want us, I guess, because they're unfastening one cuff on each of us and transferring it to the other person. So our hands are cuffed together, and we're standing back to back. Billy steps back, and I lean into the warmth of his shoulders. It's hard to do much with our hands, but our pinkies manage to find each other.

Joseph Eisen binds our ankles together with duct tape, then moves away. Billy leans his head back and breathes into my ear, "It's good to see you, Tim."

I bite back a startled laugh, then feel his breath again, warm and soft, lips almost touching my ear.

"Tim, fuck, I'm sorry. I knew it would take too long for them to get their SWAT asses in gear, and I thought maybe I could do something. When the girls told me what they were going to do to you, shit, I couldn't just let it happen. There was no way I was going to sit by again while someone I cared about died. There's still a chance, maybe they'll get here before it's all over, but either way, they're coming, and they're taking Psycho Cult Leader down."

If I lean back, just right, and rest the back of my head against his shoulder, I can see a little of Billy's face. One eye, black in the moonlight; his nose, his temple, his cheek. I can't tell if Joseph or anyone else can see what I'm doing--the eye on that side of my head is the one that's swollen shut--but right now I really don't care. I turn my head and kiss Billy's temple.

"Thank you, Mr. Boisy, for everything. I hope--I hope I'll have an opportunity to make it up to you."

I can't see very much, but I couldn't miss that quick smile.

"I'm going to hold you to that, Secret Agent Man," and suddenly we're both shaking with quiet laughter.

"Tim, I think the sun will be up soon; it's getting pink over there. That's got to be worth something, the sun coming up." A quick brush of lips against my ear, then a nudge to straighten up--the crowd is beginning to gather, men bringing rocks up from the church basement, and young boys collecting small, sharp, pieces of gravel. It's just like the movie of The Lottery they made us watch in junior high, the one that gave me nightmares for a week.

At least Sarah and Ruthie won't have to watch, won't be participating. Bill talked to them, so they're safe, they've got to be.

I shiver again, and Bill presses up against me, warmth radiating through the thin shirt behind me. One way or another, it can't be much longer.

"Welcome, brothers and sisters in God." Eisen's voice is behind me, probably from the church steps. "Our usual judgement happens in the privacy of our inner sanctum, but this morning will be different. You all know Timothy Rawls, consecrated husband to Jessica, Sarah, and Ruth. Last night, Jessica came to me, in righteous anger, and told me the horrifying truth about this deviant. Timothy Rawls, my brothers and sisters, has never consummated his holy marriages! You may ask why, as I did, as Jessica did. The answer, my family, is that Timothy Rawls is an abomination. He is a ho-mo-sex-u-al, my family, and we shall not suffer him to live and pollute God's earth any longer!"

So it was Jessica, and not Joseph. I wonder why he never told anyone Sarah was a virgin when he raped her.

I'm shivering again, and this time I can't stop. Eisen just keeps on, shouting out like an old time revivalist preacher, preaching hatefully about Billy, the satanic influence who poisoned their youth. I close my eye, focus on my breathing, try to center myself. Surprisingly, it works, better than it ever did when I tried to meditate for hours. Bill's breathing slows with mine, but he's shivering now too, and Eisen just keeps whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

"We have a holy duty, my brothers and sisters! We must not suffer these evil men to live! Our brethren have gathered the stones, friends. Let us cleanse this town with sinners' blood!"

I hear Eisen grunt, and then Bill grunts in answer, rocking back against me with the force of the blow. That's how it starts, blow after blow, some sharp and glancing, some that so hard I can't breathe. Bill leans and shifts, manages to escape some of the throws, but I can't see well enough to avoid any but the weakest ones.

Suddenly my right knee explodes in pain; I hear bones popping and can't help crying out. And people notice that, oh yes they do, because there aren't many more random blows. They're focusing on my right leg, my right knee, using bigger stones, throwing hard, and I buckle and almost fall, trying desperately to stay upright, to keep quiet. I can't help the tears running down my cheeks, burning the cuts on my face, but I manage not to make any more noise. But I keep hearing and feeling the sickening cracking and popping, and I don't know how much longer I can last. "Fuck, Tim, hold on. Lean on me, damn it, hold on. Stay with me, Tim, stay with me."

Billy's supporting most of my weight now, somehow keeping me standing. I've stopped shivering, actually feel kind of warm, and very tired. Hypothermia, shock, whatever, I really don't care. I remember this feeling, this place, and I know what comes next. I listen to Bill's voice, soothing despite the desperation, and concentrate on staying upright a little longer.

Then I'm on the ground, on top of Billy; he's pulled me down on top of him, and it feels like there's a tornado going on. He rolls us on our sides and yells in my ear.

"They're here, Tim, hold on, we're gonna make it."

I try not to, I really do, for Billy, but I just can't keep my eyes open anymore, and I surrender to the lethargy, the blackness, that washes over me.

I'm fucking sick and tired of the hospital run-around, made worse by scores of FBI agents who want to tie me down and squeeze out every detail of every conversation I've ever had with Tim, Sarah, or anyone else even remotely connected to this "unfortunate situation." Unfortunate situation, my ass. Eventually they get it--they're not going to get anything out of me until I know Tim's okay. They leave me alone after that. Except for the agent who is always watching me, "for my protection." Guess they haven't rounded up all of Eisen's thugs yet.

Tim passed out on me before any of the fuckheads realized their agent was handcuffed to the guy on the ground screaming his head off to get the fuck over here. Fortunately Bartlett was there, and he figured it out, and once that happened, they got us unhooked and on stretchers faster than I thought possible. They tried to take Tim on the helicopter without me, but I shoved my way on. Since I was injured, too, they gave in. Good thing, because I was going on that helicopter no matter what.

They transported us to Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. The medics on the helicopter are fucking amazing. By the time we've been in the air five minutes, they've covered Tim with a warming blanket, got two IVs running, put him on some sort of monitor, put oxygen on, and they've put some sort of pressure dressing on his leg. Me, they pretty much ignore, but I don't give a shit, since we all know Tim's the one who--the one who could die.

It's fucking loud in the helicopter, worse than a concert, but they give me some headphones to wear, and that helps. As soon as they seem somewhat confident Tim wasn't going to die right then, one of them comes to check me over. She puts a blood pressure cuff on me, something on my finger, pads on my chest attached to another monitor, and sticks oxygen on my face, too. Then she wraps another blanket around me, smiles, and gives me the okay sign. I hate to admit it, but that simple kindness almost makes me cry.

Tim doesn't open his eye until we're on the track between the helicopter pad and the ER. I grab his hand, try to smile at him. Once we get inside, I realize he's trying to say something, but I can't hear what it is. We stop in front of an elevator--they're going to take him right up to surgery--and I lean down to his face, because they're about to take him away from me.

"Bill--call my mom, Frank, tell them--" Then some fucker bumps a cart full of equipment into the side of the stretcher, and Tim gasps in pain. I don't want to think of the glimpses I caught of his leg before they covered it up. The pressure dressing is soaking through with blood. I don't want to think about that either.

"Don't worry, Tim, I'll call them, and I'll be there when you get out of surgery, okay?"

I lean over again and kiss his forehead, right above his eye, practically the only visible area not bruised or bleeding. I don't give a fuck who saw me. I stroke his cheek softly, he squeezes my hand, and then they load him onto the elevator. As the door's closing, a nurse calls out, "He'll be on the fifth floor after surgery. Someone will be down to talk to you."

Then I wait. That was three and a half hours ago. Someone came down to talk to me and Bartlett a little while after they took him up. He's got multiple compound fractures of his femur, patella, tibia, basically every bone in his right leg. They're not sure they'll be able to save the leg--depends on what they find when they open him up. Even if they do save it, he may never walk again, for sure will never walk without a cane. He may need a knee replacement, if he keeps his leg, but only after enough bone has healed that they have something to graft it onto. He also has a punctured lung and internal bleeding, and may have other complications as well. But they think he'll probably live, thanks to the three units of blood the medics gave him on the helicopter. Probably.

I'm ready to kick Bartlett in the head for letting this happen, but then I see his face. He comes up to me, thanks me for all my help, tells me they're going to keep Tim's involvement in the case quiet for now, for his protection. Then I finally let the ER folks examine me--just a couple cracked ribs, a few stitches. I've had much worse.

Bartlett calls Mrs. Bayliss. And then I call information and get the number for Frank Pembleton in Baltimore, Maryland.

A man answers on the third ring.

"Hello." Fuck, the guy's hello is arrogant.

"Hello, is this Frank Pembleton?" "Yes, who is this?"

"Detective Pembleton, my name is Bill Boisy--"

"I'm not a detective anymore. What's this about? I don't have time--"

I interrupt the arrogant son of a bitch.

"Listen, Pembleton, Tim wanted me to call, but if you fucking don't have time to hear that he's in surgery and may, if he's fucking lucky, walk with a cane for the rest of his life, then that's no skin off my back."

"Wait, wait--Tim? Tim Bayliss? What the hell happened to Tim?"

I take a deep breath, try to get some control. It doesn't work very well.

"Yeah, you want to know what happened to your friend, your partner, who you care so much about that you haven't spoken with him in two fucking years. Well listen up, Pembleton. Tim is in bad shape. He wasn't shot again, but they beat him up very badly, and his knee and leg are basically shattered and hanging on by a thread. So I know you don't do hospitals--never even visited him after he took a bullet for you--but maybe your wife might want to send a card to Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Fifth floor. From what Tim's told me, she's paid him more attention than you have."

"Who did this? I can be out there on the next plane, I can help the investigation, what the fuck was he doing in Arizona?"

"Rest assured that the folks here have the situation well in hand, Frank. The people who did this are either dead or in federal custody, and no one here needs any help from the almighty Frank Pembleton."

With that, I slam the phone down and walk away. Fucking asshole; fucking arrogant, self-important, pig. Well, I did my part--I called him. I walk back to the chair I've been sitting in, sit back down. I want a cigarette, but I'm not leaving this chair. I don't want to be somewhere else whenever they decide to let me know how Tim is.

I sit there another half hour at least. I've got my head in my hands when I feel a touch on my shoulder. I look up, and a woman in colorful scrubs is standing there, looking at me with warm brown eyes.

"Mr. Boisy?"

I jump to my feet, wincing a little, and nod. "Call me Bill."

"All right, Bill. My name is Marilyn Ortiz, and I've been assigned as Agent Bayliss' primary nurse."

"Is he out of surgery? When can I see him? How is he?"

"He's in recovery now, Bill, but he's still unconscious, probably will be for a little while longer. The recovery nurses will beep me when he wakes up," she says, pointing to a cell phone at her waist. "Why don't you come upstairs with me--you can wait in his room until he's awake. That will give us some time--I wanted to talk to you about what's going on."

"Upstairs? He's not going to be on this floor?"

"No, we'll be moving him up to a private room on the seventh floor. They're going to keep him under surveillance, you know, and the set-up on seven is really the best place for both him and the FBI who'll be watching him."

I nod again, follow her to the elevators. We ride up in silence. The doors open to a well-lit, spacious nurses station. We walk down a long, carpeted hallway, past several rooms and a several FBI agents. They all nod at me, and some of them reach out and shake my hand, thank me for what I did. It shocks the hell out of me.

We stop at room 7010, which is at the end of the hallway. There's a separate, small nurses station just outside the room, complete with a computer and large flat screen monitor. There's a bank of windows that show the inside of the room clearly. There's a hospital bed, lots of discreet but sophisticated looking equipment. The bed's turned down, a cloth pad in the middle, and there's a large metal frame running over it like some sort of erector set.

We go inside, and I'm surprised by how large, open, and airy it is. There's a kitchenette off to the right, a sofa bed in the back of the room, underneath tinted windows with a view of stark red mountains, gleaming in the sun. The sofa bed's made up as well, and there are a couple comfortable chairs and a table next to it. Off to the left, between the hospital bed and the living area, there's a large bathroom, complete with a sizeable jacuzzi.

"This was originally designed as a birthing suite a few years ago, but then we built a new birthing center down the street. The rooms are so nice, the bosses decided to keep them as they were rather than go to the expense of redesigning the whole floor. This is also the pilot floor for a project called Planetree, which we're hoping to bring to the rest of the hospital next year."

"I didn't know they made hospital rooms like this."

She smiles, then shows me to the table and chairs. We sit down.

"Bill, I spoke briefly with Tim before he went into surgery--I introduced myself, basically, and told him just a little about Planetree. One of the key concepts of Planetree, one I very much believe in, is the concept of a care partner. I don't know how much they've told you about what the next few months are going to be like for Tim, but they're going to be very difficult. He'll be in traction for at least a month, possibly longer, and he'll have at least one more surgery--quite probably two or three. He's going to be in a great deal of pain, and he's going to be stuck in this hospital for a long time. He's going to be completely dependent, especially while he's in traction--he's going to need a lot of care and attention."

She's looking at me, waiting for me to respond, so I nod, a little puzzled.

"Care partners are people who commit to helping a patient heal in whatever way they can. They're usually a family member, a spouse, or a close friend. If a patient has no one nearby who is willing, we have volunteers. Everyone gets a care partner, even someone who's only admitted for overnight observation. But it's people like Tim who really need that extra help and support.

"Before Tim went to surgery, I asked him who he thought might be a good match, someone he thought might be willing to make that kind of commitment. He mentioned his mother, but said he'd be more comfortable with you. How would you feel about that?"

"Anything he needs, Marilyn, I'm there." Try to keep me away, then you'll have a problem.

"I'm glad to hear you say that, Bill, but I want to make a few things clear. This is not going to be easy, not for you or Tim. It's going to be up to you to determine just how involved you want to be. Some care partners just make a commitment to visit once a day. Others, especially down on Pediatrics, stay with the patient practically 24 hours a day, learning from the nurses and the aids how to help care for their child. That's why the sofa bed is made up, in case you want to stay tonight, or any night, and meals are provided, if you want, or you can use the kitchen."

I can stay with him. They're not going to kick me out.

"Any commitment you want to make is good, but we're going to rely on you to keep it, so think carefully about how involved you want to be, okay? It's not a decision you need to make right now. Take the next couple days to get used to the routine here, to see what all is involved, before you commit to anything more than just those regular visits."

I nod. I don't need to think about it. "Okay, I get that. Is there a phone I could borrow? I need to call some folks, let them know I'm not going to be home for awhile, take care of some business."

"You can use the one in the room--just dial 9 for an outside line, and use your calling card if it's long distance. I'm glad you're going to do this, Bill. I can tell Tim cares for you a great deal."

"Thanks, Marilyn. You'll let me know when I can see him?"

"Right away, Bill. It'll probably be another 20 minutes or so, so you'll have time to make your calls." She squeezes my shoulder and leaves the room.

I call Mary first. I tell her I'm going to be in Phoenix for at least a month, helping a friend, and I give her the phone number on the bedside phone. Then I get a chance to talk to Billie for a minute before she goes to bed.

"Hey there lovebug, how are you? How was school today?"

"It was fine, Dad--how are you? Mom said you had a sick friend."

"That's right, Billie--my friend Tim. His leg is broken, and I'm going to stay here for awhile and help him out. Maybe your mom can bring you down for a couple days over your winter break, and you can meet him. I'd sure love to see you. I miss you, Billie."

"I miss you too, Dad--I had a great time with you last month."

"Me too, sweetie. I love you lots and lots, but I've got to go now--I've got to call Chelle and Kat before they bring Tim back from surgery, okay? I'll call you tomorrow--sleep well, okay?"

"You too, Dad--I love you lots and lots too. Bye."

"Bye, Billie."

Mary gets back on the phone then. "Bill, what exactly is going on? You sound awful, and Billie's worried."

"It's complicated, Mary, and I can't really talk about it right now. I've got to call Chelle before they bring Tim back from surgery, and I haven't slept in days, and my ribs are killing me--"

"You were hurt too? Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's just a couple cracked ribs, Mary, and some bruises, a couple stitches. No big deal. Look, there's a lot I just can't tell you tonight, especially not over the phone, but I promise, the next time I see you, I'll explain everything."

"You're sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, Mary, really. I'm just tired, and worried about Tim. But I've really got to call Chelle now, okay?"

"Okay. Take care, Bill."

"You too, Mary."

I dial Chelle and Kat's number quickly. I want to get these conversations over with so I can concentrate on Tim. Chelle picks up on the first ring.

"Billy, is that you?"

"Yeah, Chelle, it's me."

"Where the fuck are you? I've been trying to call you since yesterday afternoon--I've left a ton of messages, but you never called back. Mark hasn't heard from you--I even called Mary, but she was clueless, too. Kat and I have been worried sick--you promised you'd call us, Billy!"

"Sorry--I've had the cell phone off, never thought to check messages, and I can't turn it on again inside the hospital--"

"Billy, what's wrong? Why are you in the hospital?"

"I'm fine, Chelle, just a couple cracked ribs, but a friend of mine, he's in pretty bad shape, and I'm going to stay here in Phoenix for awhile to help him out."

"Bill. What happened to your friend--which friend? Is it Oxenburger? Did he freak out again? Is that why the full moon was important?"

"No, John's fine, it's not him. You remember last spring, when we helped out that runaway?"

"Vaguely."

"Tim Rawls, the guy from SafeTeens, he's the friend, and he got beat up, really beat up, he's not going to die, at least they don't think so, but his leg--shit, Chelle--"

"Where are you, Billy? What hospital?"

"Good Samaritan in Phoenix, seventh floor."

"Kat and I will be on the next plane. Where are you staying?"

"Chelle, really, I'm fine, there's no need for you to come flying out here to rescue me. I'm staying here with Tim, they've got a sofabed in the room."

"Fuck that, Billy. That's not buddies. You're hurt, and someone you obviously care about, even though you've never so much as mentioned him, is in bad shape. You need someone there to support you. That's what buddies do, Billy."

"Fuck--Chelle--you're right. That's buddies. And it would be good to see you guys."

I give Chelle the phone and room numbers, tell her to make sure she and Kat bring ID with them, because Tim's under police protection. I tell her not to let anyone know I'm here. So far they've managed to keep my involvement in this whole thing quiet, but I know that won't last. Maybe I'll figure out how to handle it once they get here; right now I don't give a fuck about any of it. I can tell she's pissed at me for not telling her everything, but I think she understands there is still a lot I can't tell her about.

After I hand up, I go stand over by the windows for a minute. The sun's starting to set--days getting shorter--and it suddenly hits me that this is the same sun I watched rise this morning in Church Canyon. I start to shake, have to sit down on the sofa bed. I'm still sitting there a minute later when Marilyn enters the room.

She comes over to me immediately, before I can even stand up, and sits down next to me. She puts her arm over my shoulder.

"Bill--he's on his way up. He'll be here in a few minutes. He's awake, and he's asking about you, wants to make sure you're all right. He made it through the surgery just wonderfully, and the orthopods are pretty optimistic about his leg--most of the major vessels and nerves are intact. They'll be up to talk to both of you later. Bill, when's the last time you had anything to eat or drink?"

"What? I don't know--I think they gave me some juice in the ER, and I've had some coffee." To tell the truth, I think the last real meal I had was lunch in Page two days ago.

"Okay, Bill. You sit here, and I'm going to get you some food and some juice. You have to remember to eat. Someone should have gotten you a tray--I'll have them send one up, but that will take awhile, so you're going to eat something now, okay?"

"But Tim's--"

"Tim won't mind. You're not going to do him much good if you pass out on him, right? You can sit by his bed and eat--here you go."

Before I know it, I'm sitting at the bedside table, eating crackers and an apple. There's a big glass of juice in front of me, and soon she brings over some soup she's heated up in the microwave. I start to eat mechanically, but it tastes amazing, and after two bites I'm shoving it down my throat as fast as I can.

Then I hear voices in the hallway, and I drop the apple onto the table and rush out the door, wincing a little from moving too quickly. Marilyn comes with me, guides me out of the path of the gurney, IV poles, oxygen tank, and a bunch of other pieces of equipment. There are two men pushing the gurney and at least four other people following with other equipment, not counting the two FBI agents who assume their post outside the door.

Tim is propped up a little, pale and bruised. The swelling's gone down a little around his eye. He reaches out to touch my hand as they wheel him by. I start to follow him into the room, but Marilyn holds me back.

"Give them a minute to set up the traction, okay? You can go in, but try to stay out of their way--it'll just be a few minutes, and then you can get as close as you want. I'll go over the equipment with you, too, so you'll know what's what."

I don't really hear anything after "you can go in," but I nod and go in. Marilyn won't let me do anything stupid, anyway.

The erector set around the bed looks even more like a construction site, or some sort of weird combination of torture device and exercise machine, because there are pins and circles of metal all over and through Tim's leg, and they're attaching various bits and pieces, elevating his leg, examining all the angles, pulleys, bars, and weights. They're being careful, I can tell, but even so, every time they move something even the slightest bit, Tim's eyes widen in pain.

Marilyn and some other nurses are plugging in the IV pumps, switching the tube at Tim's nose to an oxygen source on the wall, hooking him up to blood pressure cuffs and monitors. Besides the tube at his nose, there's a bag at the foot of the bed, filling up with blood-tinged urine. There's another tube leading from his chest to a box on the floor that's making bubbling noises; there's blood in the bottom of that box, too. Tim's in there, among all those tubes, face as pale as the pillow case, but I'm afraid to go to him now, scared I'll fuck something up.

Finally all the extra people have left, and it's just me, Marilyn, and Tim, and I'm still standing off to the side, afraid to get any closer. Marilyn comes over and puts her arm around my shoulder again, brings me over to the bed. Tim grabs my hand, squeezes hard, and I see for the first time that he's as scared as I am, so I try to smile at him.

And then Marilyn does something magical. She starts at the head of the bed, where the oxygen is bubbling out of the wall, and she goes over every inch of tubing, every centimeter of Tim's body, explaining to both of us exactly what everything is, what it means, why it's important.

I find out that the box on the floor is for his chest tube, there to keep Tim's lung from collapsing again. She tells me which IV is his fluids, which is for something called TPN, because he won't be able to eat for a couple days, where the button is for him to push when he needs some more morphine from his PCA. She tells us that the foley catheter will hopefully come out by the day after tomorrow. She shows me his heart beating on the monitor, how to tell that he's getting enough oxygen in his blood. She tells us all about why he's in traction, and how he's on a special bed to prevent bedsores from being immobile for as long as he will be. She explains the funky white panty-hose on his left leg is to prevent blood clots, and that he's on a blood thinner for the same reason.

And while she does this, she's examining him, listening to his heart and lungs and belly, checking his dressings for bleeding, checking the drains in his leg, the amount of fluid in his chest tube, the position of his pillows. She touches him as she examines him, showing me that it's okay to touch him, pretty much everywhere. She talks to us, telling us his lungs sound clear, his heart sounds good, his belly's not making any noises yet but that's what she expects right now. And I find myself reaching out to him, touching him where she's touched him, listening to her voice reassuring me, reassuring both of us, that yes, he's here, he's alive, he's going to get better. And his skin is warm, soft where it's not scabbed over. Tim puts his hand over mine, resting on his belly, and runs his thumb over my knuckles, like he needs the same reassurance I do. Don't worry, Tim. I'm not going anywhere.

Finally, Marilyn finishes, writes some notes in the computer at the bedside, shows us where the call-light is. She tells me to eat, that she'll bring that tray in as soon as it comes up from the kitchen. She tells us she'll be right outside, that she'll be able to monitor his heart and his breathing from the computer outside. She squeezes Tim's hand, gives me a hug, and leaves us alone.

I pull a chair up close to the head of the bed and take a quick drink of juice, then take Tim's hand.

"How are you feeling? And don't lie to me, Tim, all right?"

"Okay. They've got the morphine going in pretty well, so the pain's not too bad, but I'm pretty out of it--don't be offended if I fall asleep on you. I'm--I'm really glad to see you, Bill. Are you all right?"

"Just a couple cracked ribs and a few stitches. I'm a little sore, but they gave me a couple percocets in the ER. Once I take them, I think I'll be down for the count, too, but I wanted to wait, make sure you were okay."

"Marilyn told me you're going to stay--I really appreciate that, appreciate--fuck, Bill--you saved my life, and Šappreciate' just doesn't cover it."

Our eyes are locked together, and I'm horrified to realize that mine are filling with tears, and I'm shaking again. "Tim--I wasn't going to--I--" and I can't say any more, I'm shaking too hard, and I'm crying, sobbing, only the second time I've cried like this since the day my dad beat up Joe, the first time I've cried at all since Joe's funeral, and I can't seem to stop.

Tim reaches out and puts his hand on the back of my neck, rubbing gently, and I hitch my chair closer and just fall onto his bandaged chest, letting the hospital gown soak up my tears as I fucking sob away, so relieved he's here with me, safe, alive, here. Tim wraps his arms around me, strokes my hair, tells me it's okay, Bill, it's okay.

It takes quite awhile before I can slow down, sit up, and reach for the kleenex box next to the bed. I see that he's been crying, too.

"Sorry, buddy--didn't mean to lose it like that--I'm supposed to be helping you--"

"Bill, it's all right. After all, it's not as if I haven't done the same to you, last spring, remember?"

"Yeah, that's right, you got snot all over my furniture, I got snot all over your lovely pajamas. We're some pair, Mr. Secret Agent Man."

"We sure are, Mr. Hollywood Rock Star."

We sit there for awhile, Tim and I trading the kleenexes back and forth, getting our feelings back under some semblance of control.

"Tim, I'm sorry--I know it was stupid, going into town like that, but I was so scared the SWAT team wouldn't get there in time."

"Bill, if you hadn't gotten there when you did, it wouldn't have mattered when the SWAT team arrived. It would have been over. I've never been so relieved, and so pissed off, as I was when I heard your voice. What the fuck were you thinking? They would've killed you, too!"

"They didn't, Tim. They didn't kill me, and they didn't kill you, and the posse arrived in time, and you don't ever have to be Timothy Rawls again."

"Thank god--I was really starting to hate that prick." He smiles.

"Yeah, me too--I'm glad Tim Bayliss is back for good. I missed him. I missed him a lot."

"I missed you, Bill Boisy. There were so many nights I wished I'd never left that hotel room, that I'd stayed with you and never left."

"I don't know, Tim, you might end up pretty sick of me in the next couple months. I don't plan on leaving you alone again. That sofa over there--that's my bed. I'll pick up some clothes and stuff tomorrow, and get Chelle to send some more. No one's leaving you alone in a hospital again, not this time."

Tim looks at me searchingly. "You talked to Frank?"

"Yeah, I talked to Frank. Arrogant son of a bitch. He was ready to descend from heaven to tell the folks here how to find the assholes who hurt you. I told him that wasn't necessary."

"Bill, he's really not that bad, once you get to know him--he really does care, he just, the only way he can cope is to work the case."

"Well, there's no case to work, so if he really cares, he'd better get his butt down here and see how you are. If he does that, maybe I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe."

"If that happens, I'll be surprised. I'm glad you're going to stay with me, Billy. I'm really glad you're here."

"Me too, Tim."

"Bill, are Sarah and Ruthie okay?"

"The girls I picked up? Yeah, Bartlett said they're safe and sound, no worries." Something occurs to me then, something Eisen said. "Wait a minute, Tim--they're your wives?"

He looks at me for a second, puzzled, then laughs out loud, holding his chest.

"No need for jealousy, there, Bill," he teases, then adds more seriously, "According to Eisen, yes, they were my wives. But Ruthie and Sarah were the ones sharing a bedroom--I think Sarah thought of Ruthie as a kind of teddy bear. They're just kids, and I wanted to protect them, and marrying them was the only way I knew how. But it didn't work--I couldn't protect Sarah from Joseph."

"That's the older one, right? What is she, about 13?"

"14. And Joseph Eisen raped her last week on her way home from a friend's house. That's when I wrote you that letter. I had to get them out before Joseph did the same thing to Ruth."

"Jesus."

He squeezes my hand again. "It's okay. She's safe now. Just--just don't be surprised if I talk in my sleep, okay?"

"Tim, if we both don't have nightmares after this I'd think there was something seriously wrong with us."

He nods. "I guess you're right."

There's a knock at the door then, and Marilyn brings in a tray of hospital food that's actually pretty good. Or maybe it's just because suddenly I'm completely ravenous. After a little while I slow down guiltily, because here I am eating in front of Tim, who can't even have fucking ice chips, and I look over at him. He's asleep.

I finish my food, and just sit there, watching Tim sleep, until I can't keep my eyes open. I go out to tell Marilyn I'm going to take a quick shower and get into that sofa bed, and she promises to wake me if Tim needs anything. She tells me to hold on a minute, then comes back with a set of scrubs, shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, and some towels. I realize I'm still wearing the dirty, bloody jeans and shirt I put on what, 36 hours ago. I stink. I spend a long time in the shower, trying to wash every trace of this morning off my body, and I throw my clothes into a plastic bag and into the trash.

After I get out, she helps me wrap my chest and encourages me to take some pain medication. The scrubs are soft, just like pajamas. I swallow the percocets, watch Tim sleep for another couple minutes, kiss his forehead as softly as I can, and lay down on the sofa bed and sleep for something like 15 hours.

******

I don't have any nightmares, not really, thanks to the morphine, I think. I wake up a few times during the night--when a nurse comes to check on me, or when the pain wakes me. I remember having a PCA when I was at Shock Trauma, but I don't remember waking up like this, needing it, needing to push the button, my leg on fire, the taste of my own sweat on my lips. The pain is unbelievable.

Once the stuff hits my bloodstream, I can breathe again, can look over and see Billy's sleeping form over by the window. Marilyn comes in just before her shift ends, at 11, and I ask her to make sure no one wakes him up during the night. She tells me she will, but that he made her promise to wake him if I needed him. I tell her it's enough that he's there--let him sleep.

I barely notice the other people who come in and out during the night, changing my IVs, emptying my foley--such a joy to have one of those again; I can't wait until they pull it. Some anesthesiology resident comes in at 8 am, looks at the monitors, reads my chart, and apparently orders the nurses to lower the dose on my PCA. She's not happy about it--I don't think she likes him--but she does it, and within a half hour I'm laying as still as I can, because even the motion of breathing causes an amazing amount of pain in my leg. I push the button every thirty seconds, even though I know there's a ten-minute lock-out on it, just in case it's time for another dose.

I'm just about to give into temptation and ask Cheryl, the day shift nurse, to wake Billy, when he sits up and looks at me, rumpled from sleep. I smile at him, tell him I was starting to wonder if he was ever going to wake up. He smiles back, then frowns and comes over to the bed.

"Hey, Tim--you don't look so great. What's wrong? Why didn't you wake me?"

"They've cut back my PCA a little, I guess, or maybe it's just that the last of the anesthetic has worn off. Hurts like a sonofabitch."

"Where's Marilyn? Who can get you something for this pain?"

"Marilyn works 3 to 11. The nurse here now is Lisa, and she's out at the nurse's station."

"I'll be right back, Tim." His voice is quiet, calm, and furious.

I hear raised voices outside the door--he's reading Lisa the riot act. She's trying to tell him about the anesthesiologist, I think--it's hard to tell, because he's not letting her talk. He finally realizes it's not really her fault and starts demanding to talk to the anesthesiologist, telling her to call him so he can tell him just what the fuck he can do with his fucking medical degree. They walk down the hall, but five minutes later, Lisa comes back into the room and adjusts my dose back up, gives me an extra bolus, and apologizes.

"I didn't realize how much pain you were in, Agent Bayliss--I'm so sorry, I should have called the attending and gotten the order changed."

"Fuck yes, you should have, and if you ever let that asshole in this room again, you're not gonna like what's gonna happen," says Billy fiercely. "Fucking idiot. Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta take a piss."

Then the bolus hits and I can breathe again. Lisa's looking at the bathroom door, then at me, and I can tell she has no idea how to react to what just happened. She looks like she's all of 18--she can't have been a nurse for long.

"Lisa, don't let Billy get to you--he's just worried about me."

"He was right, though, Agent Bayliss. I knew when Dr. Patel gave me the order that it wasn't right, but I didn't say anything. He wouldn't have listened, anyway, but I should have called the attending right then."

"Call me Tim, okay?"

"Okay." She smiles a little, and then Bill comes out of the bathroom.

"Listen, Lisa, I'm sorry I went off on you like that. I know it wasn't your fault. My mouth gets the best of me sometimes--don't take it personally, okay?"

"It's okay, Mr. Tallent. You were right. I won't let it happen again."

"Thanks, Lisa. And call me Bill."

He sure can be charming when he wants to be. Five minutes later she's eating out of his hand, and I'm just enjoying the show. Until I fall asleep, that is, which is in about five minutes and thirty seconds. Just before I'm out for the count, I feel Bill's fingers on my cheek.

I wake up, who knows when, to a familiar voice saying my name. It's my mom, and she's crying a little. I open my eyes.

"Mom, it's okay."

"It's just so hard to see you here like this, Tim, in a hospital again, all these tubes and wires--what happened?"

"It's a long story, Mom, but the important thing is, it's over, and I'm okay."

"But they said--your leg, Tim, what about your leg?"

"Mom, it'll be okay. I'll be laid up for awhile, yeah, and I'm not going to be chasing any more criminals down the street, but I'd think you'd be happy about that."

"There's no need to snap at me, Tim. I'm your mother, and I'm worried about you, that's all. Maybe we should move you back to Baltimore, to the hospital there, so I can help take care of you."

"No!" That comes out more forcefully than I intended, and she looks hurt. "Listen, Mom, I'll be fine here. My friend, Bill--did you meet him? He's going to help out, stay with me awhile."

"Yes, I met your friend. Tim, he looks like some sort of hooligan --how do you know him? If you're insisting on staying here, I suppose I could stay, too."

"Mom, Bill saved my life. He looks that way because he's a famous rock guitarist, and that's the way rock stars look. He's my friend, he saved my life, and he's willing to help me, and quite frankly, I feel more comfortable with another man than I would with you here. I'm going to be in this bed for at least a month, and Bill's willing to do bedpan duty and help out with my leg. I think you probably would be a little uncomfortable doing that, and I know I don't want you doing it. I'm sorry, Mom, but that's the way it's going to be."

I can tell she doesn't know how to respond to that. She can't deny that she couldn't handle helping me with bodily functions--she couldn't even look at the urinal hanging from the bedrail in my room at Shock Trauma without turning six shades of red. But it offends her sense of self-importance to think that I don't need her here.

"Tim--I'm sorry, too. I'm glad your friend is willing to help you, and more grateful than I can say that he saved your life. I know I haven't always been the kind of mother you wanted or needed, and I'm sorry for that as well. But, Tim, I hope you know how much I love you, how proud I am of all you've accomplished, how much I want you to be safe and happy."

"Yeah, Mom, I know that. And I love you too, I really do. So I hope you understand that it's not about that--it's just that Bill, he can be here for me in a way you can't. And I think it's--good--that he can do that, that he wants to do that."

"You seem to care about him a lot. And he--he seems to care about you, too. He's a good friend?"

"A very good friend, Mom. And we do care about each other, very much." And that's as much as either of us feel comfortable talking about, so she nods, absently straightening up Bill's lunch tray on the bedside table, and gets ready to go.

"I came straight from the airport to make sure you were all right, but I think I'll go check in to the hotel now, get settled. I'll be back to see you later on tonight, all right?"

"All right, Mom. I love you."

"I love you too, Tim."

"Mom? Could you send Bill in, if he's out there?"

"Of course, Tim. I'll see you later."

And it may make me a bad son, but I feel a whole lot better when she walks out the door.

******

"Billy?" Chelle's voice is a welcome distraction. Virginia Bayliss, a formidable woman, came in this afternoon, shook my hand brusquely, walked into the room and shut the door behind her. I've been standing out here for the last few minutes trying to get up the guts to go in there myself. I was just minding my business, shooting the shit with Lisa while Tim was asleep, and all of a sudden I felt like a kid turned away from a movie he was too young to see. And Chelle's voice feels like a rescue.

I turn around and am positively enveloped in hugs from Chelle and Kat. They make lots of worried chick noises about my bruises and scrapes, and I have to admit I kind of enjoy the fuss they make over me. So we sit down, and I start to tell them a little of what I couldn't tell them before--who Tim really is, where he's been, how I got involved. I don't get very specific, and I can tell that Kat, in particular, is practically dying to make me give it up and spill the whole truth.

I'm saved from telling them anything more when Tim's mom comes back out of the room. She comes up to us, so I introduce her.

"Mrs. Bayliss, this is Chelle, and Kat--they're in a band with me, that is, we're in a band, I play guitar, we write songs--"

"It's okay, Mr. Boisy. Tim told me you're a guitarist. And he told me what you're doing for him. I'm not sure I understand what all this is about, but I'm glad he has a friend he can rely on. I'll be here as long as I can, but I'm relieved you'll stay with him--it was hard on him when Frank never visited when he was in the hospital in Baltimore. Did you talk to Detective Pembleton?"

"Yeah, I called him yesterday, so he knows."

"Maybe he'll show up and visit this time. I hope he does--it would mean so much to Tim--he's always idolized Frank, God knows why."

"I've never met the man, Mrs. Bayliss, but based on how he let Tim down, even when Tim took a bullet for him, I'm not sorry if I never do."

"Call me Virginia, Mr. Boisy. May I call you Bill? I have a feeling we're going to be getting to know each other pretty well, so we may as well start off on the right foot."

"Bill is great, Virginia. Mr. Boisy always sounds weird to me."

"Bill it is. Nice to meet you, Chelle, Kat. Tim's asking for you, Bill--I think he wants to make sure I didn't scare you off. Go on in, bring the girls in with you, it'll cheer him up. I came here straight from the airport, but now that I see he's in good hands, I'm going to go get settled at the hotel."

Tim seems pleased to see Chelle and Kat again. I tell them to call him Secret Agent Man, which they do, even breaking into the song for a minute. We all laugh at that, but I can see that Tim's fading fast. The women and I head off to the couch to talk a little more, mostly about the fact that the label has finally agreed to let us fire Doug and hire a new bassist. The next time I look over at Tim, he's sleeping peacefully, and I'm blown away again by how wonderful it is to see him there and know he's safe.

When I turn back around, Kat and Chelle are watching me, identical mushy smiles on their faces. Yeah, I'm busted, no question. So I don't have any problem giving him a little kiss on the cheek when I wake him up to tell him we're going out to dinner, but I'll be back afterwards. One of the FBI agents follows the three of us out.

Stop by the nurses station to see Marilyn, introduce her. Turns out her daughter, aged 12, is a big fan of Jenifur, so we promise to spend some time with her on Marilyn's next day off. I give her my cell phone number, make her promise to call if Tim so much as sneezes funny, and she recommends a decent restaurant nearby, tells the women to make sure I get enough to eat.

Kat and Chelle regale me with tales of auditioning bass players during dinner, all of us laughing and smiling. It's the first time I've been this relaxed in at least seven months, and it feels really good to be hanging out with them like this. We talk some more about the new album, which songs we're going to put on it. Then, after they share the dessert they insisted I order, I get the question I've been waiting for all evening.

"Bill, not to pry or anything, but Chelle and I are more than a little curious about Tim. When did the two of you get so close?"

"And how close are you, Billy?" Chelle adds.

"Chelle, jesus--give me a chance to warm him up before you spring that on him!" Kat sputters.

"It's okay, guys, I don't mind talking about it, not with you. But I'm not really sure how to answer the question. Tim--I haven't really spent that much time with him, for one thing. But yeah, to answer your question, Chelle, we're close. I feel--I don't know, from the moment I met him, that night in Vegas, I've felt a, a connection to him, a connection that seems to just keep getting stronger."

I pause, take a sip of coffee. "The thing is, this is all really new to me. I don't really know what's going to happen now. But he means a lot to me, and I'm going to do anything I can to help him through this, even if nothing else ever happens between us."

"Bill, I saw the way he looked at you. It was the same way you look at him. He's crazy about you, just like you're crazy about him, and it's about damn time you had someone in your life besides us and Billie!" Chelle leans over and gives me a hug.

"He's a lucky man, Bill. And if he hurts you the way Joe did, I'll kick his ass." I look at Kat, shocked. Then she adds, "Did you think we didn't know how much you loved that asshole, Billy? What he did to you, jesus, if he came back to life I think I'd shoot him myself."

"Wow, Kat, Chelle. Thanks, I think. Yeah, thanks. I'm really glad you came."

"We're buddies, Bill. That's what buddies do. And don't worry about anything. We'll come up with something to tell Mark and the label, tell Šem we have to keep looking for a bass player, and you're too banged up to play for awhile, from getting hurt helping out. We'll have the band's publicist put out the story that you were helping an agent with getting some runaways out and got caught in the crossfire, but we'll leave your relationship out of it. Too bad we can't keep it completely quiet, but too many people notice when Billy Tallent gets life-flighted somewhere. Anything you need, you call us." Chelle's nodding, Kat's talking, and they've each got one of my hands.

"Well, actually, as you can see by my outfit, I'm a little lacking in the wardrobe department." I'm still wearing the scrubs I slept in last night.

"See, I told you!" Kat chortles.

"Well, it's a good thing I listened, then, isn't it. Bill, we stopped off at your house and picked up some things before we left. We'll bring them up with you when we drop you off."

My cell rings, and I freeze, then fumble to answer it. The FBI agent, watching from a nearby table, goes on high alert. What, does he think my cellphone's a bomb? I'm worried it's Marilyn with bad news, but then I hear Tim and remember to breathe.

"Hey, Bill, it's bedtime--you gonna come tuck me in?" he wheedles.

I laugh in relief. "You scared the shit out of me, Tim. I'll be there in just a bit, buddy."

"Good. I miss you."

"Back at you, Tim. Let me get these women moving and I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Good--I want to actually talk for a minute before I fall asleep this time, so get over here, okay?"

"On my way, Impatient Man."

Kat and Chelle managed to pay the check while I was on the phone, so after I give them a token hard time, we head back to their car, pick up my things. They insist on carrying my shit--"you've got broken ribs, Billy, don't get your panties in a twist!"--and I'm touched when I realize one of the bags they're carrying up is the case for my acoustic. Chelle notices what I'm looking at, teases me a little--"we figured we'd better leave the Strat--those patients have to sleep, you know!"

They come into the room with me and kiss first Tim, then me, good night, promising to come back tomorrow and put on a concert for the pediatric patients--"and you better be there, too, Billy!"

"They're quite fond of you, aren't they?" Tim asks after they leave. I sit down next to him, hold his hand. It's nice.

"Yeah. I think I'm only starting to realize how much they care about me. Hey, did your mom come back?"

"Yeah, she left half an hour ago. Hey, you know, it's pretty easy to do that--care about you, I mean."

"I don't know about that, Tim--I've done some pretty fucked up things in my life."

"We all have, Bill. It's what makes us human. You're the one who told me that, remember?" He pauses a minute, brings my hand up to his lips, puts it back on the bed.

"Listen, Bill--I think we need to talk about this, about caring, you know? Because I care about you a great deal, very much, and I want you to know that. That night in your hotel--that was the most amazing sex I've ever had in my life, and I want that again, as soon as I'm able, but I want more, too, and I need to know how you feel about that."

"Tim, fuck--I want that too, all of it. But I don't know if I'm even capable of that. I've never--the deepest relationship I've ever had in my life was with Joe, and it was fucked up. I loved him, I really did, but I also hated him, and he loved and hated me. It was all about anger, and power, and control, and sex too, but it wasn't like what you and I did, it was--that was--well, not to sound like a wimpy sensitive putz again, especially after I cried all over you already last night, but I guess that was making love. It was amazing, and it scared me shitless, Tim."

"I'm scared too, you know."

That may be true, but he has more balls than I ever will. I'm sitting there, shaking again, too terrified to admit, even to myself, how much I want this. I can't want this--I'll just fuck it up. I don't know how to do this.

"What did he do to you? I mean, I know what he did at the end, but I got the feeling before, in the hotel, that he did something else. What did Joe Dick do to you?"

I guess that's what made him such a good detective--that incredible perceptiveness of his, that way he can just cut right to the point of the whole damned thing. I take a deep breath. I'm not sure I can tell him. I've never told anyone except my lawyer and my therapist. No one else knows, except for John, who heard us fighting, and Mary, and the judge. No one else knows, but I think maybe I can tell Tim.

"Bill, look, if you can't talk about it, it's okay. I know how hard it is--I never told anyone about Uncle George until Frank, and you're the only other person. I know that if and when you're ready, you'll tell me, and that's good enough--I didn't mean to push you. Sometimes that Murder Police in me takes over and I don't stop to realize I don't need to interrogate someone."

"No, I want to tell you. You need to know, I think. I want you to know." And it's true, I do. Because--because he cares about me, and he wants more than just sex, and so do I. And maybe with him, it's actually possible to have that. But the only way is if he knows everything.

"Right before we broke up as a band, back in '91, Joe and I--well, we'd always fooled around a bit, ever since we were teenagers, but usually it was just the two of us and a groupie, you know. I think we both wanted more, but neither one of us had any idea how to handle that. So in '90, Š91, we started doing more, hand jobs mostly, sometimes I'd blow him, but for the first time without a groupie there for cover. Joe always had to be in control, though. He used to say, about the band, that he was number one, I was number two, Pipe was three and John was four, and he'd always add that one and two were basically equal, but it was bullshit and we both knew it. He had to be number one.

"Anyway, things went on like this, and we were close to actually signing with a major label, but Joe couldn't handle it. He couldn't handle what it would mean to actually sign with a label, have a real contract, not just fuck around in clubs and stay in band houses. And he started pushing me around when we were having sex, always talking about fucking my skinny little ass, and that just wasn't something I wanted, for him to have that over me along with everything else. We'd always had a rough relationship, lots of punches and slaps, but it started getting rougher. And he kept trying to get me agree to let him fuck me. Maybe if things had been different, more real, if he'd been able to really love me the way I wanted him to, it would have been different, but even though I was strung out on booze and coke and living in the Hard Core Logo Family, I knew enough to tell him no, I didn't want that. And he kept pushing, and pushing, and I kept telling him no, and the fucking around we did left more and more of a nasty fucking taste in my mouth.

"And then one night, after I'd already gotten him off and passed out, I woke up and he had me pinned down, and he did what he wanted, and I was too drunk to do anything about it."

"Jesus, Bill--I didn't realize--I guess I should have--"

"How could you have known, Tim? At the time, I barely knew what had happened myself, thought maybe it was a nightmare until I was sore the next day, bleeding when I went to the can. And then I blew up, I was ready to kill him, because if things had been different, maybe it would have been all right, but the way he did it just pissed me off."

I can't look at him, but I know he's there, watching me, and I can feel his hand on mine.

"And it wasn't until years, years later, after he blew his brains out, that I told anyone. John knew, see, he heard us fighting that day, and he told Mary, and she tried to use that as a reason I shouldn't get to see my daughter. But my lawyer, she listened when I told her the story, and she sat me down and asked me, didn't I realize I'd been raped? And I got so fucking pissed at her, yelled at her up and down, and she just sat there and let me yell, and when I'd yelled myself out, she told me what the legal definition of sexual assault was, and suggested a counselor. I didn't go at first, but later I did, and it took a long fucking time, but I finally started to believe it wasn't my fault."

"It wasn't, Billy."

I finally look at him, and the concern I see in his face pisses me off, because he doesn't seem to realize just how fucked up I am.

"Yeah, but don't you see, Tim, that's the extent of my relationship experience, that and Mary, and I think the fact that she preferred me to Joe was most of the attraction there--and maybe Joe's jealousy of her, maybe that was part of what Joe did, too. But that's all I know, Tim, and I honestly don't know if I'm capable of anything more. And you--you deserve more than a fuck-up like me, Tim."

"BillÓ That's bullshit, Bill. I'm certainly no expert in the relationship department either, and I've fucked up some things pretty badly in my life. How I feel about you, how to be with you--hell, I'm feeling my way here, same as you. But I think, no, I'm sure, that neither one of us is going to get any better at this if we don't even try, you know? So can we try? I want to try, don't you, Bill?"

"Yeah, Tim. Yeah, I want to try."

I don't think either one of us know what else to say right now, so we sit there silently for a few minutes. I'm definitely feeling freaked out by the conversation, by the strength of the feelings I have for him. I get up, busy myself unpacking some of my stuff, opening up my guitar case so I can see Billie's picture, fluffing the pillows on the sofa bed.

And then I move back to the bed and take Tim's hand again. "What do we do now, Secret Agent Man?" I ask him softly.

"I'm not sure, Rock Star, but I think it's about damned time you kissed me."

And so I do, a slow, sweet kiss, trying to let him know what I can't speak--that I'm falling in love with him. I think he understands, think (hope) maybe he feels the same. For now, that's enough.

I've been here three weeks now, stuck in this bed, and awful as much of it is, I'm still amazed at the difference between this longer, much more physically painful hospitalization and the shorter one at Shock Trauma. From what they told me, the gunshot was more severe, more life-threatening than this, but the pain and the length of stay were much shorter. Even so, the week and a half I spent at Baltimore Shock Trauma (well, the week and a half I was aware of--I guess I was there a few days before that, days it's probably just as well I can't remember) was harder by far than the past three weeks have been.

A large part of it is the incredible nursing staff here, and a hospital environment that seems to understand and support them. Contrary to what you see on television, nurses, not physicians, are the stars of the show in the hospital, at least in my experience. I never knew that until I became a patient myself. At Shock Trauma, as at most hospitals, the nurses are over-worked, underpaid, and under-appreciated, even abused, by the physicians they work with. There's little of that in evidence up here on the seventh floor.

Most of the care, if you could call it that, I received in Maryland was given by aides who were even more poorly paid and over-worked than the nurses who supervised them. Some of them were wonderful people, kind and gentle, but others complained their way through rough and haphazard care, unaware or indifferent to how embarrassing it was for me to be bathed, have my sheets changed, my every bodily function measured.

Here on seven, there are few aides, and those that are here are as dedicated and competent as the nurses. I determine my daily routine, and the staff works closely with me and Billy, walking us through every procedure, every treatment. Bill helps me with my baths now, which is embarrassing in a completely different way, but much more comfortable than the alternative. They're teaching him, and he seems eager to learn, every aspect of their care for me; often the only times I need the nurses are for their assessments and my medications.

Bill's simply there for me, whenever or however I need him, and it amazes me every single day what he does for me. He's learned to clean around the pins in my legs with peroxide. He held my hand when they pulled the chest tube, something I'd remembered with dread from Shock Trauma that turned out to be completely tolerable with him there. He completely unselfconsciously cleans me up when the antibiotics I'm on give me diarrhea, and each night he just as unselfconsciously tucks me in and kisses me good night. He plays word games with me, plays his guitar and sings to me, wakes up each morning and smiles when he sees me. I love him more each day, but I haven't told him, not in words. I think he knows, though. I hope he knows.

I've had a lot of other visitors as well. Mom was here for a week, but neither one of us was very comfortable with each other. I have no idea what she really thinks about Bill, and I have no intention of ever asking her. I love her, know she loves me, but I think a part of me will never forgive her for not seeing, not protecting me, not ever acknowledging what happened under her nose throughout my childhood. I'm relieved she's gone home.

Munch, Kay, Lewis, and Stivers came up the first week I was here, caught me up on the latest. Gharty's retired, and Kay replaced him as Lieutenant ("Gee would be proud, huh? ŠCourse I could never fill his shoes." "That's bullshit, Kay, you're doin' great, ain't she, Munchkin?" "That she is, Meldrick, that she is."). That's good news, really good news. Munch seems as happy as Munch ever is, working SVU in New York. Meldrick and Terri have finally consummated the flirtation they started way back in the Luther Mahoney days, and it seems to be working for them. I'm not sure I've ever seen Meldrick happy before--it's a good look for him.

There was some other news, not as good. Stan died, six months ago, while I was under cover. Gaffney's still around, ensconced in his captain's chair, fucking with everyone. Kellerman lost his PI business--too much drinking. And Renee Sheppard quit the force and went, of all things, off to medical school. Terri said she claimed she couldn't handle any more dead bodies, wanted to work on saving them instead of catching their killers.

Before they left, Meldrick apologized for some of the things he'd said, the way he'd acted, when Gee was shot. He brought out a check for my share of the Waterfront, said he'd be happy to keep me on as a silent partner, but wanted to give me the option to let him buy me out. I took the check and shook his hand. He's the sole owner now, and he's thinking of retiring soon to manage the bar full-time. And he wrangled a signed photo of Billy for the bar, made me promise to bring him there when I get back to Baltimore.

The next day, Julianna showed up, explaining she was in Phoenix for a coroner's conference. Bill was fascinated as she spun tales of pathologic ledgermain. While she was getting some coffee, Bill said, "You slept with her? Shit, Tim, she's a hell of a lot hotter than I am!" We were laughing hysterically when she came back in demanding to know what the joke was.

Brodie came by, too, a couple weeks ago. He brought a copy of the documentary and the three of us watched it together. Bill was fascinated again, started calling me Murder Police and Detective Bayliss, Homicide Hero, until I threatened to throw the bedpan at him. Brodie actually put the tape on pause when he got to the scene with me in my bathrobe, put it on pause and explained his flawed hero theory in excruciating detail, while I tried to bury myself under the covers in embarrassment.

Last week Zoe finally brought the girls by. It was so good to see them, healthy and happy, for the most part, at least. Ruthie was full of stories about the rescue of Georgia the cat, who apparently survived the siege of Church Canyon not only intact, but pregnant. She had four kittens, all girls. Sarah, thankfully, is not pregnant, and despite the fact that she's a little paler, a little thinner, she seems to be healing from the rape. I haven't seen anyone else from the town, but Eli phones frequently, and I've gotten a couple letters from Dan and Gordon, and cards from Susanna, Elizabeth, and little Cassie.

Bartlett comes by occasionally, updates us on the grand jury proceedings. We talked a little about my future--he told me there will always be a job for me with the feds, if I want it, even though it would have to be a desk job. I think we both know I'll never go back.

Bill's had his share of visitors, too. Chelle and Kat come out every weekend, jamming with Billy in the room. They've instituted weekly concerts in various parts of the hospital, calling it "Jenifur Unplugged." Watching the three of them together, writing songs, is just as fascinating to me as hearing about my life as a cop seems to be to Bill.

John Oxenburger also came to visit once, driving out from Texas. He's surprisingly articulate and together--Bill says he's a different person now, they've finally found the right combination of lithium and antipsychotics to manage his illness. He wants to write a book, memoirs of his time with Hard Core Logo, his original breakdown, the reunion, everything, but he wanted to get Bill's okay. I like John. There's a warmth in his eyes, and I can tell he genuinely cares for Bill.

And this past weekend, Mary brought her daughter, Billie. Bill glowed when he saw her, grinned that amazing grin of his and enveloped her in his arms. Mary stayed out of the room, going shopping each day while Billie stayed with her dad. The two of them seemed content to stay with me, although they did take one side trip to the desert so Billie could see the Saguaros up close. When it was time to leave, Billie had hopped right up and gave me a hug and a kiss, and the pride and joy in Bill's eyes had been something to see. "My dad's taking good care of you, isn't he?"

"The best, Billie, the best."

"Yeah, he's a good guy. A little weird, but a good guy."

"I think so too."

"I can tell, Tim. I'm glad he's got a friend like you. Are you going to go back to California with him?"

"Yeah, lovebug, he is," Bill interjected.

"I am?"

"If you know what's good for you, Detective Bayliss."

And I stared at him, and we both started blushing, Billie looking from one of us to the other and giggling, until she finally had to remind Bill that Mary was waiting for them in the lobby. Bill remains the constant in my life. Now that I'm feeling better, not as helpless, not in as much pain, it's gotten difficult to deal with the incredible attraction between us. I'm erect each morning when he helps me bathe, and his hands will linger on my chest, on my groin, and I'll catch him gazing at my erection with longing, the same longing I feel for his touch. Then he'll catch himself with a jerk and meet my eyes with an apology.

We're both frustrated by the fact that we could be interrupted at any time, by anyone from a housekeeper to a physician. One day, only a few days after my catheter was removed, a nurse walked in, Chelle and Kat behind her, when I was relieving myself, not an easy thing to do discreetly when you're in traction. Chelle took one look at my horrified face, grabbed Kat and the nurse, and marched them out of the room. Then there's the fact that there are two FBI agents outside my door, 24 hours a day, alert for any suspicious noise or activity.

I finally made a few discreet comments to Marilyn the other night. She's working night shift now, and she often chats with me awhile when she comes in at 3 am to give me my pain meds. She noticed I wasn't sleeping well, and I decided to bite the bullet and let her know why. She wasn't shocked--just said she'd arrange for us to be alone the next time she worked, and warned me about muscle spasms, said she'd bring me a muscle relaxer.

She's scheduled to work again tonight, and I've been irritable all day. It's not the first time I've had a bad day, and Bill's borne the brunt of them without complaint, but I feel worse than usual when I can't help but snap at him. To make matters worse, the day shift nurse, Lisa, is the same one that came in that day without knocking, so I don't feel comfortable saying anything to Bill about what's really going on with me.

******

I'm twiddling around on my acoustic, trying to tease him out of his funk, but that just seems to make Tim more annoyed. He's been pissy to everyone all day. Yeah, he's usually a little irritable after physical therapy, but there's something else going on today, and I wish he'd just get over it. Then I hear him mutter something under his breath.

"What was that, Murder Police?"

"I said I'm sick of being treated like an invalid, Bill. I'm not your fucking child, and I'm not in the mood to be jollied out of being pissed off, okay?"

And I guess I'm irritable, too, because I just blow up at him. "You think I'm not sick of this too, Tim? You think I enjoy seeing you in pain every day and not being able to do a fucking thing about it? How the fuck do you think I feel about the fact that we're under 24 hour surveillance because some psycho out there may try to finish what Eisen started? You and I both know there are a couple folks who were out of town that night that have gone into hiding, and even though they've been able to keep your name out of the paper so far, it wouldn't be that hard to figure out where you are."

Tim opens his mouth to apologize, but I cut him off. "No, don't bother, Tim. It's been a rough couple days, we're both on edge, and I think I need to just get out of here for awhile, escape this place, take a walk, do something. I know that's not fair, because you can't escape, but right now I just have to do it or I'm gonna fucking explode, okay? I'll be back by dinner, I promise, and we'll talk then, but I just have to get the fuck out of here for awhile." And I grab my jacket and cigarettes and leave, followed by my ever-present FBI buddy.

I walk around Phoenix, smoking like a chimney, for I'm not sure how long. I don't know why I grabbed my jacket--it's November, sure, but it's also Phoenix, so I start sweating the minute I leave the air-conditioned lobby of the hospital. Not for the first time, I'm relieved that no one from the media seems to be paying much attention to the fact that Billy Tallent has been on vacation in Phoenix for awhile, and that his bandmates have come out to see him every week. I've been recognized on the street a few times, but the FBI hasn't released any information about Tim or what really happened in Church Canyon, and the hospital staff know not to speak to anyone from the media.

Then I realize that it's November, mid-November. Last week was six years since Joe's death, and tomorrow's my 41st birthday. And I don't give a flying fuck about any of it, and that's fucking amazing.

I find a coffee shop, get some iced coffee, sit down and smoke another cigarette. I'm feeling a serious buzz from the nicotine --what with being in a hospital 24-7, I haven't smoked much lately. Haven't smoked at all in a week. Haven't missed it, not much, anyway. And that nasty Joe voice, telling me all the time what a cunt I am, mooning over Tim--haven't heard that much lately, either, and I've missed that even less.

Jesus. I start to laugh after a minute, then have to stop because I'm coughing from all the smoke. Yeah, I have it bad, I really do. Maybe I'm finally turning into a grown-up, or something. Or maybe I'm just in love, and for the first time with someone who's capable of loving me back.

It's been difficult for both of us lately. He's feeling so much better, and he's so fucking beautiful, and I want him, ache to make love to him. I can at least go into the bathroom for to jack off in privacy, but he's always on display in that damned fishbowl of a room, can't even pee without some nurse coming in. And I can see how much he hates it, hates that he can't take care of himself, never has a moment of complete privacy. I see how much he wants me, just as badly as I want him, and how it tears him up inside that neither one of us can do a damned thing about it.

Fuck it. I get up, start walking back to the hospital. I don't give a shit anymore--I'm not going to wait another six weeks to show him how much I care. The whole fucking FBI can come into the room tonight if they want, but they're not going to stop me from giving us both what we've needed, what we've missed, ever since that night in Las Vegas eight months ago.

******

A few minutes after Bill leaves, Lisa knocks, then comes in. "Tim, is everything okay? Bill seemed pretty upset just now, and you don't look too happy either. Is there anything I can do?"

"No, Lisa, thanks. I think we're just both going a little stir crazy, and it's hard on Bill. He's really been there for me, but I think all this just got to him, got to both of us I guess, and he just needed to get away for a bit." I hope that's all it is.

"Okay, if you say so, Tim. But you let me know if you need anything, all right?"

"I will, Lisa, thanks, but I think right now I just want some privacy, some time to think, okay?"

"Sure, Tim. Just give me a buzz if you need anything, otherwise I'll leave you alone--I know it sucks being stuck here, with us coming in and out all the time. I'll talk to you before I get off at 7, make sure you're okay, but I'll leave you alone until then, all right?"

I sigh with relief when she leaves. Someone must have said something to her--probably Bill, in no uncertain terms. She's a good nurse, caring and knowledgeable, but new to this floor, new to nursing, and still stuck in the routines they taught her in nursing school. Seems like she's learning some new ones now.

The itching in my leg lately is almost worse than the pain. I fight off the urge to scratch, barely. Maybe meditation will help. I take off my glasses, close my eyes, breathe. I'm asleep before I know it.

I wake up to the sound of the shower running. I grab my glasses and read the note stuck to the trapeze I use to maneuver around in bed.

"Came back & you were asleep, and I stunk (hot outside today). Taking a shower. Sorry I yelled. űB."

I smile as I read it. For a punk, a rock star, Bill's awfully fastidious about his personal hygiene. His clothes are often faded, always wrinkled, sometimes torn, but he never wears the same outfit twice without washing it, and he brushes his teeth religiously after every meal. When Marilyn first gave him the dry shampoo they usually use for bed-bound patients, he snorted in disgust and worked out a method with regular shampoo that only occasionally soaks the entire bed.

I've never told him how much I love it when he washes my hair, although I think he can tell. Feeling those long fingers gently working on my scalp is incredibly relaxing--and incredibly sensual. I'm perfectly capable of washing it myself now, with a little help with set-up and rinsing, but we're both content for him to keep doing it every other morning. My hair's grown out a little now, and I love it when he runs his fingers through it absently while we're talking.

The shower stops, and Billy comes out a minute later. My breath catches in my throat as I look at him. Apparently he no longer needs his ribs wrapped, because he comes out, toweling his hair, wearing nothing but the grey sweatpants he wore that night in Las Vegas. The bruises are faded from his whipcord body, with just a few pink scars remaining from the ordeal in Church Canyon. He is incredibly beautiful.

He looks up, sees that I'm staring at him. He grins slowly, a grin full of sensual promise, and I gasp, almost moan, blood rushing to my groin, my cock lifting and jerking as it fills. He saunters over to the bed and casually tosses the towel on the chair, then sits down on the mattress next to me.

"You're looking a little peaked, there, Detective Bayliss--what's going on?" His voice is soft, deep, and husky.

"Uh, I--oh, fuck, Bill, do you know what you do to me?" I groan, reaching up to touch his face, his lips.

"That tent in your blankets is giving me a pretty good idea," he says, then leans in for a soft kiss. "And believe me, beautiful man, the feeling is entirely mutual. I just need to figure out how to do something about it in this damned fishbowl."

There's a knock at the door, and I growl in frustration. Billy quickly shifts the bedside table over my torso to cover my erection, then stands close to the bed to hide his own.

"Yes, who is it?" I ask, managing to sound at least relatively civil, although I have to glare at Billy to keep him from laughing. The door opens and Marilyn steps in, dressed in street clothes and carrying a grocery bag that smells amazing.

"Hello Tim, Bill--hope I'm not interrupting anything here, but I thought we should celebrate. The docs are liking the way you're healing, Tim, and they want to do an x-ray tomorrow to evaluate whether they can remove some of the pins, and when they can take you off traction."

"Really? Fuck, Marilyn, that's great news!" Bill says.

"That's--that would be so great, when would I be able to get in a wheelchair and get outside?" I realize as I say it just how very much I want to leave this room.

"Hold on, Tim, don't get your hopes up too high yet. The first step is removing some of the pins, and maybe modifying the traction a little, but you'll probably be stuck in it for at least another week or two. Once you're out of traction, you'll be a little bit more mobile, but your leg will stay in external fixators for probably another month after that. Depending on what's going on by then, you may need another operation, maybe a knee replacement, but hopefully after the external fixation we'll be able to get you up in a wheelchair. This is going to take time, guys, and I know it's been really hard, but we're hopefully at least halfway through dealing with the traction."

"Thanks, Marilyn--you know, I don't know what we'd have done without you--you've been great, really, you and Billy, I can't tell you how much your care and concern for both of us means to me." I realize this is the first time I've told her how great she's been, and I resolve to tell her more often in the future.

"That goes for me, too, Marilyn--I wake up at night sometimes and hear you guys whispering, and it, well, it eases my mind that you're there for him too." I look at Bill, a little surprised--I didn't realize he ever heard us.

"You guys, you're making me blush! No, seriously, and I really mean this, the two of you are amazing. I'm going to sound all gushy here, but it's really beautiful to watch the two of you together. It's an honor and a privilege to know you, and I'll never forget either one of you. I know things have been really hard for you, and you haven't even known each other that long, but I don't think most people ever have anything close to what you guys have. So when you have days like today--and yes, Lisa called me and told me she thought you had a fight--just try to remember that, okay?"

"Yeah, we will," I murmur, a little overwhelmed by this open, ringing endorsement of our relationship. Billy nods, holds my hand tightly in his.

"Okay. So, no more gushing, on to more practical matters. I've brought you two a home-cooked meal, even added a couple slices of pumpkin pie. I'm on at 7, and as you know, visiting hours end at 8. Enjoy your meal, and I'll be back around 7:30 to do my assessment, take vitals, and bring you a muscle relaxer and your pain meds, Tim. I've spoken with the agents here tonight, Steve and Chloe, and they're going to come in and make a quick sweep just after 8, and then they're under my orders not to disturb you the rest of the night, even if they hear some strange noises. I'll be in at 3 as usual, Tim, to check on your pain, and I won't be paying any attention to anything or anyone else I find in the bed."

We both stare at her, speechless, as she pats the mattress. "Tim, you've got our extra large bed here, since you're so tall, with that nice air mattress. It's designed to hold up to 600 pounds. Even with the traction set up, it's plenty roomy, although of course you'll have to watch your head, Bill. And Bill, as I've told Tim, he may experience some muscle spasms. I'll be giving him the medication to try to prevent that, but if it happens, same as usual --no massage on that right leg, just help him with his breathing, and call me if you can't get it to stop."

"Just what exactly were the two of you talking about Monday night, Tim?" demands Billy, laughing. "I mean, Marilyn, not that I'm not grateful for your assistance here, but I have the feeling I've been set up. I've never been pimped by a nurse before!"

"I did set you up, Billy, both of you. Tim dropped a few hints, but I took it from there. I was ashamed it hadn't occurred to me earlier. It's not exactly something I can put on a nursing care plan, but this isn't the first time I've helped set something like this up, and it sure won't be the last. It's a little more complicated with 24 hour FBI surveillance, but no less important."

"Marilyn, you're amazing."

"Just doing my job, Tim. Now eat, you two, before it gets cold, okay?" And with that, Marilyn leaves, closing the door behind her.

We eat a stupendous amount of Marilyn's home cooking, laughing the whole time, and then Bill goes into the bathroom "to perform my evening ablutions" while I do the same. We have the routine down by now, with Bill rinsing and drying the stuff I used and putting it away. I can't help but notice that we both shaved.

Chelle calls, then Mark, Jenifur's manager. Bill calls Billie, also part of our routine, to wish her sweet dreams. Bartlett calls to talk about the videotape testimony I'll be giving in a few days, and gives Bill the date he'll appear before the grand jury. He also tells me that Zoe's been promoted and will be posted in Albuquerque.

Then we try to watch some tv. I try to read. Bill tries to work on a new song. Both of us are watching the clock, and I think we're both a little self-conscious when Marilyn comes in at 7:30 to do her assessment. As usual, her calm, professional attitude puts us back at ease, but the minute she leaves the room, Bill's at my side, stroking my hair, taking my glasses off, both of us practically quivering with tension until the switchboard operator comes on and announces the end of visiting hours. Bill's pacing around the room until Steve and Chloe come in, make their sweep, and leave.

As soon as they do, he goes over to the windows and makes sure the curtains are completely closed. Then he skins off his sweats and gets into the bed next to me, into my waiting arms. We lay there for a few minutes, just appreciating how wonderful it feels to hold each other without fear of interruption. I run my hands up and down Bill's spine, caressing, while he slowly unbuttons my shirt.

"Sure is good to have you here, Bill," I say, and then we kiss, a slow, sweet exploration of lips and teeth and tongues. Bill gently pulls my shirt off, then eases back next to me, one arm and one leg embracing me, the hard length of his erection at my hip.

"It sure is good to be here, Tim. I think it's where I belong." He kisses my neck, suckling gently. I run my hands down his back again, down to his ass, cupping, squeezing. He moans, rocking into me, and that alone almost brings me off, my hips bucking, but I manage to hold on, barely.

"Jesus, Bill, want you so much."

"Beautiful, beautiful man, hold on, not yet, not yet." Bill pulls back slightly and captures my face in his hands, running his long, callused fingers over my cheekbones.

"God, Tim, you were so thin that night, it scared me, and then you just got thinner here, but it's so much better now." He kisses my cheeks, my chin, then strokes, nibbles, and licks his way down to my collarbone. I lean my head back and moan, pull him tightly to me.

"I've been waiting so long, Bill, you feel so good." Bill's skin is like silk, warm and soft, so sweet. We hold each other tightly, breathing hard, hearts pounding, and I can hardly tell where I end and he begins, where he ends and I begin.

Bill holds me tightly, both of us breathing hard, hearts pounding. Then he rises up and kneels on the mattress. He runs his hands from my chest down to my toes on my left side, massaging my leg and foot, kissing each toe.

"Don't want you to get any muscle spasms, Tim," he tells me, smiling, and I'm overwhelmed by the love I feel for him.

He kisses the toes on my right foot then, strokes my foot, then works his way up my right leg. He kisses every inch of skin he can reach, in between the pins and wires, oh so gently stroking and massaging. For weeks my right leg has been something I've tried to forget, a source of horrible pain, a source of worry. Bill's lips and fingers remind me that it is still a part of my body, still capable of feeling pleasure, not just pain. It is an incredible gift he has given me, this piece of myself, and there are tears in my eyes as he works his way back up my chest.

"Tim, fuck, did I hurt you?" he asks, brushing away the tears, concern in his voice. I shake my head, unable to speak, pull him back for another kiss, deep and wild, trying to let him know what he's done for me, what he does to me. He meets my intensity with his own, tongue plunging into my mouth, erection rocking against my hip, and then he reaches down and those long fingers are around my weeping cock. He strokes down once, then up, then runs a callused thumb over the top, and that's all it takes for me to explode, muffling a scream into his shoulder as waves of ecstasy go on and on. As he milks the last drops from me, moaning in his own arousal, I gasp out the words at last, unable to keep my feelings silent any longer.

"Love you, Bill, love you so much."

"God, Tim!" Bill groans, stiffens against me, then comes in shuddering bursts that splash warmly against my hip and chest. He clutches me tightly, stifling his own cries against my neck, and I treasure each thrust, each grunt, kissing the top of his head, holding him close, not knowing how he'll react to my declaration, fearing he'll pull away from me.

But he's still holding me like his life depends on it, both of us breathing hard, both of us shaking with emotion and release. I loosen my grip a little, stroke his soft, spiky hair as our hearts slow, our breathing eases. Gradually, the tension in Bill's arms begins to relax, the shaking subsides, and he speaks.

"You know, Secret Agent Man, all this time I was thinking that night in Vegas couldn't possibly have been as amazing as I remembered it. Nothing could have been that amazing. Well, fuck, Tim, I hereby stand corrected. Or lay corrected, or whatever. That was--I don't quite know what that was, but I think it nearly killed me."

"You and me both, Rock Star," I reply, relieved, kissing him.

"Any muscle spasms?"

I laugh. "Not any more, no, and any spasms I had were far from painful, believe me." I pause as he sits up, then add, "You know, I haven't felt this good in a long time--I think we're going to have to initiate a new regimen of regular physical therapy."

"Isn't that what care partners are for, Tim?" He's laughing too, and I relax a little. Whatever his reaction is, he's not going to leave.

I sit back up and help Bill clean us both up, lifting my hips for him as he changes the pad underneath me.

"Can't have any wet spots, Timmy, don't want to get any pressure sores, or Marilyn might not let us do this again. Let's get you scooted over a little--this may be an extra large hospital bed, but between you and that contraption, there's still not a lot of room left over. And if it's okay with you, I'm not planning on spending any more nights on that shitty sofabed."

"That's more than okay, Bill." I watch, bemused, as Bill strips the sofa bed of its pillows and blanket. He raises the bedrails, then pads each side, and I look at him curiously.

"I know you're hooked up there, Tim, but I don't want to turn over and fall out if I can help it."

Then he turns out the lights and somehow manages to climb back into the bed from the foot, carefully avoiding the weights that hang there. He pulls the sheet and blanket over us and curls himself back around me, legs and arms, his head tucked into my neck, his chin resting on my shoulder. "This okay, Tim?"

"You have no idea." I turn and kiss his hair. A companionable silence descends, broken only by our breathing. The Bill speaks softly. "Threw me for a minute, Tim."

"I didn't--"

Long fingers cover my lips. "Fuck, Tim--telling Billie I love her, that's easy--" he breaks off, starts again. "Like I told you before, I don't know how to do this, and admitting how much I love you--it scares the shit out of me. I could never tell Joe, unless it was some sort of joke, part of the games we never stopped playing with each other."

"It's all right, Bill. You don't have to say it, not out loud. You tell me every day, just not in words." That's nothing less than the truth, and realizing it warms me.

"That's not buddies, Tim. There is a difference when you say it, you and I both know that." Bill pauses. "Maybe if I could have said it to Joe, for real, and he said it to me, things might have been different." He takes a deep breath and pulls himself up so that we're eye to eye.

"I do love you, Timothy Bayliss."

"I love you, William Boisy."

"Good. Now you're not going to get up in a minute and tell me you have to leave on FBI business, are you?"

The only answer I can think of is to wrap my arms around him, kiss him softly, and promise that this time I'll be with him all night.

******

I wake to the murmur of Tim's and Marilyn's voices, clearer and louder than usual. Then I remember why that is, and I open my eyes to see Marilyn handing Tim his medication. She sees I'm awake and smiles at me.

"Hi, Bill."

"Um, hi, Marilyn. Hi, Tim."

"I can see I'm going to have to tell housekeeping they don't have to keep making up that sofa bed."

"Is it all right, Marilyn? I mean, I know it's okay with you, but will the other nurses have a problem with it?" Tim's looking concerned here, so I butt in.

"I don't give a fuck what the other nurses think, Tim, I told you I'm not sleeping on that sofa any more."

Tim glares at me, and I glare right back. We're both pretty practiced at this--me from Joe, him from intimidating suspects--but Marilyn just laughs. "It's perfectly all right, guys, so don't get fussy, okay? It's not as if we don't all know how you two feel about each other. So relax. Just be discreet--I'm not sure how well Cheryl could handle seeing any more of Bill than she already has, if you know what I mean."

"Now that's a pretty picture, Marilyn, thanks for sharing that."

"Don't worry, Marilyn, I'll make sure I'm the only one who gets to see Bill naked," Tim says, then adds, "and I happen to think it's a very pretty picture."

I stare at him a minute, then I, well, I guess the word I'm looking for is guffaw. In a second, all three of us are laughing so loudly that Steve sticks his head in and asks what was so funny, which only makes us laugh harder. He shakes his head and goes back out.

Marilyn leaves, and it's just the two of us. I'm suddenly hard again. Tim's breathing speeds up, and our lips meet; I reach down and find he's just as hard.

"I thought she'd never leave," he says, kissing me, and it takes my breath away. When my brain starts working again, I distract him with a tongue in his ear (he likes that, oh yes) while I consider logistics. Things are a lot more complicated with the medieval torture device, but I think this may work.

I sit up on my knees, then nudge his left leg. "Move this over a little, and bend your knee up, okay?"

He does it, looking at me curiously. His right leg's still a problem, but with some maneuvering I manage to straddle his left, still on my knees, banging my head on the damned trapeze. That's all he needs to figure this out, and he grabs hold of it to pull himself up and into my arms.

We're chest to chest now, and it's so good to have him straight in front of me, arms around my back, in the full embrace we haven't been able to achieve since that day by Wahweap Creek. He dives for my nipples, licking and sucking, and I moan, so damned good, Tim. I go for his ear again, the other one this time. I decide his neck has been sorely neglected, and so has his back, so I get to work massaging them, digging in my fingers and working the muscles. He had physical therapy today, so he's sore. He groans in pleasure, running his hands up and down my back and ass.

I sit back a little on his left thigh, careful of his bad leg, and he leans forward and smacks his head on the trapeze. "I hate this damned thing," he growls.

"I don't know, Tim," I say, "having you at my mercy has a certain appeal." And with that I latch on to his collarbone with my mouth, sucking and biting a little, marking him. His head arches back, long throat exposed, and even in the dark I can see the pulse beating there. I back up a little and push him back down into the bed so I can kiss every scar on that poor battered chest and belly, make sure each one gets the proper attention.

That's gotten his attention for sure, because one hand is in my hair and the other is at the back of my neck, urging me lower. I resist at first, because I have to explore his belly a little more, introduce my tongue to his navel. He's moaning now, especially when my chin brushes the top of his cock. I can't make myself wait any more, so I back up, kneeling between his legs, and take a good, long, lick.

I've seen his cock several times a day for a month now, had it in my hands a few times, too, but this is the first time I've seen it up close in all its glory. Just like the rest of him, it's beautiful. I pause a minute to admire the view, but Tim's hands are clutching at my neck, in my hair, so I take the plunge and swallow him whole.

He gasps--bet no one's ever done this for him--and bucks up into me. I concentrate on remembering every technique from the best blow jobs I've ever given or received, licking, sucking, swallowing, all around going to town. With his left leg bent like that I have access to that gorgeous ass, so while Mr. Mouth's busy with his cock, my hands are fondling his balls. He grabs one hand and brings it up to his mouth, sucking three fingers down, matching my rhythm. Perfect. He lets go reluctantly, and I slide one wet finger back to the puckered opening in his ass.

He bucks again as I circle it, then push my finger in, all the while sucking his dick down so far his hair tickles my nose. Hey, they don't call me Billy Tallent just for my guitar playing--I'm a multitasking kinda guy. He grunts then, and comes hard, spurting so much I almost can't swallow it all.

I'd sucked the Dick more times than I can count, but it never meant what this does. Because as soon as his breathing slows, he's reaching for me, kissing me, murmuring how much he loves me, how he can't wait until he can reciprocate what I've done. The only thing Joe ever reciprocated was a mind fuck.

Tim reaches down, and I feel his fingers close around me, but I'm thinking logistics again, and I break off the kiss and bring his hands up to my mouth.

"What exactly did you mean by reciprocate, Tim? Because that wasn't my hand on your dick just now, you know."

"What?" He hasn't a clue what I'm talking about.

I kiss him again, then motion him back down flat.

"Scoot down a little, if you can, okay? Hold on, let me get this pillow out. Mmm, yeah, I think this is going to work."

His eyes widen as he realizes where I'm going, as I move up, straddling his chest, and lean over him. There's a little more awkward maneuvering for both of us, but eventually we're set. It's not the best position, but it'll do.

And Tim reciprocates. I keep popping out of his mouth, because the angle's all wrong, and I have to stay up on my knees a little, so he can breathe okay, and I keep banging into the wall, but it's sweeter than any deep-throated groupie could ever be, and I come so hard I practically fall off the bed.

Afterwards, I watch him sleeping, quiet and content in my arms. No, he's not going anywhere, not this time. Not if I have anything to say about it. And I'm not going anywhere either.

END


Notes: Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix is part of the same network that manages Page Hospital. When I left Page in 1997, the hospital was in the process of joining Planetree, which is a real organization that does have a lot of great ideas like Care Partners. Page was supposed to be the pilot hospital for Planetree within the Samaritan system; I don't know how far that process has gone.

I have done some research on skeletal traction and orthopedic nursing, including talking to a friend who works on the orthopedic floor at a local hospital. I have tried to be as accurate as I can, but I am a midwife, not an orthopod. Any errors are my own.