Douglas sipped his tonic water and lime, scanning the room. The music was loud, as it often was in American pubs (bars, he reminded himself, they’re called bars here) but the other patrons overcame this by shouting even louder. To his left, three men gave a raucous cheer as something happened on one of the many large television screens arrayed around the walls. Douglas eyed the game; American football. He understood it well enough to gather which side was winning but it didn’t hold his interest. He sighed and took another small sip of his drink. Even the non-alcoholic drinks were expensive, but that was New York for you.
A woman across the room smiled at him, and he shot her a sly sky-god grin, tipping his drink in her direction. She tipped her own drink in return, slopping a little on her hand. Her other hand clutched the edge of the table, and even with that support she wobbled in her seat, swaying back and forth. He recognized the glazed look in her eyes and the dozy way her head nodded all too well. Heavily drunk, and long past the point of decent conversation. Still, she was pretty enough, and clearly willing. Douglas tapped his thumb against the side of his glass and considered it. He was a free man, divorce finalized months ago; why not?
When he looked up again, she was making her way over, grabbing at passing chairs and people for support. Douglas suppressed a wince as she nearly tripped over a table leg. She looked about forty; well past the time when a skirt that short would have been advisable, but he wasn’t getting any younger either.
“Hi,” she said, sliding onto a bar stool beside him. She propped one elbow on the bar and held out a wavering hand for him to shake. “I’m Candy. What’s your name, handsome?”
“Douglas,” he replied, taking her hand. It was faintly sticky with whatever she’d spilled on it, and his first urge was to wipe his palm with a napkin when he let go. (When he remembered the conversation later, he would pinpoint this moment as when he decided an evening alone in the hotel was preferable to anything Candy had to offer.) “And how are you this evening?” he asked, pointedly not offering to buy her another drink.
She made a gleeful squeal. “Oh, you’re British! I just love that accent, it’s so sexy.”
“Thank you,” Douglas said.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
He waited a beat. “Britain.”
Candy blinked at him, and then brayed laughter, one hand gripping his forearm. “Of course! Cause of the, you know, the accent, right? Dumb question, huh?”
Douglas didn’t reply. He turned his arm, attempting to escape her grasp, but she only dug her fingers in tighter. “So, um,” she slurred, “What brings you to New York? You on vacation?”
“Work,” he said. “I’m a pilot.”
“Ohhhhh, a pilot!” She beamed at him, then drained the rest of her drink. “That’s, that’s… glamorous, isn’t it? Flying all over the world. I bet you’ve got great stories.”
“Not as many as you’d think,” Douglas said.
“Nah, of course you do,” she insisted. “Tell you what, Doug, how about we get a couple more drinks and you tell me all about it.” She leaned forward, wafting liquor fumes in his direction, and her hand landed on his knee.
“Ah, well, actually,” he said, “I do have an early flight. I should probably…”
“No, come on, stay,” she wheedled. Her long nails pinched his arm through his sleeve.
Douglas pulled his arm away, dodging her attempt to catch it again. “My apologies, Candy,” he said smoothly. He cast about for a believable excuse and smiled in relief when his mobile rang loudly in his pocket. “Pardon me,” he said, pulling it out. “Hello?”
There was a pause, and the distant sound of someone breathing roughly. He could hear a faint voice but the music was too loud to make anything out.
Douglas offered the lady a thin smile. “Really must take this. Good evening.” He stepped nimbly out of her reach and strode away, glad to escape to the relative quiet of the street. He pressed the phone closer to his ear. “Hello? Are you still there? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”
There was quiet for so long that he took the phone away and looked at the screen, thinking the call was gone, but it said he was still connected. He even recognized the number. “Martin?”
“Douglas.” Martin’s voice was soft, tremulous. “Um, I… can you…”
“Can I what?”
“I… never mind, I’m sorry.”
Douglas sighed. “Martin, through no planning of your own, your call came at rather a fortuitous time, and I am therefore going to generously ignore your halfhearted protests and insist you tell me why you called.”
“Oh, well, it’s just… could you maybe pick me up? I sort of can’t make it back to the hotel. On my own, that is. I mean, I probably could, if I took the, uh, they call it the subway here, right? Not the tube? Except I’m fairly sure that requires money. And I know a cab would, and I’d walk but it’s rather far and I’m sort of… not up for walking, exactly.”
Douglas rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Did Carolyn not give you an expense allowance?”
“It’s gone,” Martin said. “Look, this was a bad idea; I’ll just figure something else out.”
“Tell me where you are,” Douglas said.
“Yes, really,” he replied. “Honestly, Martin, I’m not so heartless that I would strand you somewhere in this hideous city. Besides, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s always useful to have someone owe you a favour and by this point you owe me quite a few.”
“Right,” Martin said quietly. “I know.” He rattled off an address; Douglas was already waving at a passing cab.
“Got it,” Douglas said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“Okay,” Martin said. “Thank you.”
He saw Martin’s mop of ginger curls first; the man was sitting at a bus stop, elbows propped on his knees, staring at the ground. Douglas got out of the cab and it sped away. He walked up and tapped Martin on the shoulder, startled when he gasped and flinched back. When he looked up at Douglas, wide-eyed and pale, the livid bruise on his cheekbone stood out in sharp contrast. “Oh,” he said. “Douglas, good, you’re here, that’s… yes, good.” He offered a wavering smile.
“Good lord, Martin.” Douglas sat beside him and lifted his chin with one hand, angling his face into the streetlight. There was another scrape along his jaw, tacky with dried blood. “What happened?”
Martin shrugged. “I sort of got mugged.”
Douglas raised an eyebrow. “Sort of?”
“Well, yes, okay, I did get mugged,” Martin sighed. “Only I barely had any cash, and what I did have was in pounds, not dollars, and I guess he wasn’t too pleased with that so he roughed me up a bit. I’m fine. He even left me my phone.”
“That’s because your mobile is a classic late 90’s plastic brick,” Douglas said. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Fine,” Martin said. “Bit of a headache. But I’m fine.”
“That’s three ‘fines’ within a minute,” Douglas pointed out. “Very convincing.”
Martin hunched his shoulders and said nothing. After a moment, Douglas nodded. “All right then,” he said. “I suppose you know best.” He slipped a hand under Martin’s elbow and guided him to his feet. Martin hissed in pain and his legs wobbled; Douglas could feel him shudder.
“It’s fine,” Martin said before he could ask. “Let’s just get back to the hotel.”
Douglas gave him a stern look. “Let me see.”
Martin huffed in protest, but obeyed, tugging up the hem of his thin tee. Underneath, his ribs stood out under taut, pale skin. His stomach was concave and the faint jut of his hips was visible above the waist of his trousers. Ugly purple bruises wrapped around his chest and back; Douglas could make out the shape of a large boot on at least three of them. He sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Martin,” he murmured.
“It’s, um… not as bad as it looks?” Martin glanced down at himself and winced.
“I’m taking you to hospital,” Douglas said.
“Douglas, no.” Martin squeezed his arm and gave him a pleading look. “Really, they’re just bruises. I’ll live.”
“You could have broken ribs,” Douglas replied firmly. “Internal bleeding or concussion. You’re certainly in no shape to fly tomorrow.”
“No, listen,” Martin argued earnestly. “I promise, I’m fit to fly. Come on, you know me, do you really think I’d try if it wasn’t safe? Besides, you’ll be on the flight deck with me, you can take over if I… if I’m not doing so well. It’s not that long a flight back to Fitton.”
“Do you know the affect altitude and changes in air pressure can have on internal injuries?”
Martin frowned. “Well. No. But neither do you; one year as a medical student does not qualify you to decide whether I’m fit to fly.”
“Indeed it does not,” Douglas said. “Which is why I’m taking you to hospital.”
“No!” Martin’s voice cracked over the word, and Douglas gave him a long, careful look. “No,” Martin repeated, quieter. “I’ll go in Fitton, I promise. You can take the entire flight there. I won’t touch the controls. Please, Douglas.”
“Why don’t you want treatment here?”
Martin spread his arms; it was meant to be an exasperated gesture but he froze halfway through, flinching as the movement jarred his chest. “Do you know what medical care in America costs? There’s no NHS here, you know. I can’t possibly afford it.”
“They’ll still treat you,” Douglas said. “They’re not going to turn you away.”
“I know,” Martin replied. “And then I’ll spend the rest of my life paying for it. I can’t, don’t you see? And… and I don’t want to go to hospital here. What if they keep me? What if they say I can’t fly back? Carolyn’s not going to wait for me and then what will I do? I can’t buy a ticket to get back myself.”
Douglas stared at him. “Do you seriously think we’d just leave without you?”
Martin blinked and shifted uneasily. “Um. I mean. Wouldn’t you?”
Douglas took a deep, measured breath. He put a hand on Martin’s shoulder, feeling the thin curve of bone under his palm. “No,” he said evenly. “No, we wouldn’t. I, personally, would not stand for it even if Carolyn tried, and she wouldn’t leave you behind any more than she’d leave Arthur.”
“Oh,” Martin said. He ducked his head, and Douglas heard him swallow hard.
“Now, if there are no more objections…”
“Yes, okay,” Martin murmured. He leaned against Douglas as the older man hailed a cab. His whispered, “Thank you,” was so soft Douglas could barely hear it. He squeezed Martin’s shoulder in response, letting his hand linger there until a cab pulled up beside them.
Martin did not look any better in the harsh fluorescent glare of the emergency room. Fortunately, New Yorkers seemed to have perfected the art of ignoring anything that wasn’t directly in their way, and the two of them did not draw any undue attention in the crowded room. Douglas settled him in one of the green plastic chairs and went to the front to gather the appropriate forms. By the time he sat back down, Martin had curled as well as he could and was shivering in the air conditioning. Douglas handed him his jacket without a word. Martin took it with a grateful smile and huddled into the material; it was huge on him, making him look like a small boy playing dress up in his father’s clothes.
Douglas filled out the forms, asking Martin for occasional details about his address and allergies, leaving the insurance information for last. Then he called Carolyn.
Her voice was icy when she answered. “Douglas, I presume you have an excellent reason for calling me in the middle of the night.”
“I’m afraid so,” he replied. “I’m with Martin at the hospital. He was mugged.”
He heard a swift indrawn breath, and her voice softened. “Is he all right?”
“He says he’s fine,” Douglas replied. There was a pause that managed to be dubious on both sides of the conversation. “We’re waiting to be seen by a doctor. We may need to delay the return flight, depending on what they say.”
“Right,” Carolyn said. “Listen, I’ve got travelers insurance on both of you, but it’s a bit tricky.”
Douglas raised his eyebrows. “You do? That’s… uncharacteristically generous of you.”
“It’s legally required,” she said. “But, as I said, a bit tricky. You see, they offer a lower premium for families and couples. I got a group rate for myself and Arthur as family. And for you and Martin as… well, as a couple.”
Douglas glanced over at Martin, but he was dozing, sunk into the jacket so far only his nose and the messy tufts of his hair were visible. “Carolyn, has it perhaps escaped your notice that I was a married man when I began working for you?”
“And now you’re not,” she replied tartly. “So, on paper, Martin is your domestic partner.” There was a rustling sound, and then she read off the insurance carrier and number. “Make sure you mention that on the forms. Fortunately New York is one of those states that recognizes such things.”
“I’m fairly sure that’s insurance fraud,” Douglas pointed out, but he filled in the insurance information dutifully.
“And I’m fairly sure your little ‘gifts’ are smuggling,” she said. “It’s a perfectly valid policy. It doesn’t require proof of partnership so let’s not quibble over details. Now, do you expect to be there overnight? Arthur and I will come visit if you’re staying.”
“I’m not sure yet. They may just check him over and release us. I’ll let you know,” Douglas promised. He lifted his head as a nurse called Martin’s name. “Got to go, they’re ready for us.”
He hung up and roused Martin, helping him to his feet again. Martin groaned at the movement but his eyes were clear and he was reasonably steady as they followed the nurse into another, smaller room. Douglas was reassured to see that he didn’t seem dizzy and managed to walk under his own power. He handed over the forms, and then they settled in to wait longer.
“How are you feeling?” Douglas asked.
Martin lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Cold, sore, and tired. And I still don’t know how I’m going to pay for this.”
“Ah, good news on that front, actually,” Douglas said. “It turns out Carolyn has traveler’s health insurance on all of us, so you’re covered.”
Martin brightened visibly, a startled smile spreading across his face. “Really?”
“Yes, although there is a catch.”
“Of course there is,” Martin muttered.
“Carolyn, in her infinite wisdom, saved some money on insurance premiums by insuring us as a couple.”
Martin gave him an incredulous look. “A… couple. Us.”
“Yes, dear,” Douglas said with a wry grin. “So if anyone asks, you’re the wife.”
“I’m the captain,” Martin replied primly. “So clearly, you are the wife.” He managed a touch of his best haughty tone, but his cheeks were rather obviously pink.
Douglas chuckled. He heard footsteps approaching in the hall, and spoke in a quiet undertone. “Here we go. Let me do the talking.”
Martin nodded as the doctor entered the room. She was a small, stocky woman with graying brown hair tucked into a neat bun. She glanced at both of them, then at the clipboard in her hands. “Martin Crieff?”
“That’s me,” Martin said.
The doctor looked at Douglas. “And you are?”
“I’m his partner,” Douglas said smoothly. “Douglas Richardson.”
She nodded. “So what happened?”
With a glance at Martin to remind him to be quiet, Douglas began. “He was mugged. He called me right away, of course, and I brought him in. We’re flying back home tomorrow and I wanted to make sure he would be safe to fly.” He carefully didn’t mention that they were the pilots; he already planned to handle the flight alone and saw no reason to borrow trouble.
“I see,” the doctor replied. “All right, Mr. Crieff, I’ll need you to change into the hospital gown, please. I’ll give you a few minutes.” She stepped back and tugged a curtain around the bed, leaving the two of them inside. The door closed with a click behind her.
Martin turned a deeper red as he held up the flimsy gown. “Don’t look,” he said.
“Darling,” Douglas replied in an affronted tone. “After all we’ve been through together…”
Martin rolled his eyes. “I mean it, step outside the curtain.”
Douglas sighed. “Much as I’d prefer that, if we’re going to maintain our cover I’d better stay with you. I’ll turn around, how’s that?”
“Fine,” Martin muttered. Douglas turned obediently, listening to the rustling and occasional bitten off sounds of pain Martin made as he struggled out of his clothes. “All right,” Martin said eventually.
Douglas turned back, and a slow smile spread across his face.
“Shut up,” Martin said grumpily.
“Oh my,” Douglas replied. “This is better than I dared hope.” He held up his phone, taking a picture. Martin’s head jerked up at the sound of the simulated shutter click, and he scowled. The gown was too big for him and the collar slipped to one side, exposing a bony, freckled shoulder. His legs stuck out from the bottom, pale and skinny, with reddened scrapes on the knees. The overall look was scrawny and stork-like, topped by the bright ginger curls of his hair.
“Stop it, Douglas,” Martin said. “It’s not funny.”
“Sir sells himself short,” Douglas replied. He snapped another picture, and Martin made an outraged squeak.
“You and Carolyn going to have a good laugh over those, then?” he asked. “So I got mugged in New York, so what? It happens every day. It wasn’t my fault.”
Douglas lowered the phone, his smile fading. Martin stared straight ahead, hands tangled in the thin sheet, jaw set. He was shivering again, Douglas’ jacket set on top of his other clothes beside the bed. “Of course it wasn’t your fault,” he said.
Martin bit his lip. “Wouldn’t have happened to you though, would it?”
Douglas frowned, not sure what to say. He slipped his phone guiltily into his pocket. He’d only been trying to lighten the mood a little; to ease back into their usual banter.
There was a knock at the door and the doctor came back in. “Ready?” she called from outside the curtain.
“Yes,” Martin replied in a thin, strained voice.
She tugged the curtain aside, then looked between them quickly, obviously picking up on the tense atmosphere. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s have a look.”
Douglas stood back as she examined Martin. Her mouth tightened into a grim line as she opened the gown to the waist, exposing his battered torso. She pressed gloved fingers to his ribs and Martin hissed. “Any sharp or stabbing pains?” she asked. When Martin shook his head, she added, “Any difficulty taking a deep breath?”
Martin inhaled on command. His skin stretched more sharply against his ribs as his lungs filled. His arms were corded with wiry muscle; from his work as a man with a van, Douglas assumed. His shoulders were narrow, though, and his collarbone stood out. The doctor pressed around the edges of one of the darker bruises and Martin made a soft sound in his throat. His hands went tighter on the edges of the thin mattress, and he shivered hard enough for his teeth to chatter before he clenched his jaw to make them stop.
“You’re cold?” she asked.
Martin nodded. “It’s freezing in here.”
She gave him a considering look. “You don’t have a fever. Are you often cold?”
He shrugged and looked at Douglas, then down at his lap. “Sometimes? Why?”
The doctor also looked at Douglas. “Mr. Richardson, I’m going to ask you to step outside now.”
Douglas felt a flicker of disquiet; the expression on the doctor’s face was entirely unfriendly. “All right,” he replied. “I’ll be right outside,” he added to Martin, who nodded and offered a weak smile.
He stood out in the hallway, hands in his pockets, staring at the floor. Douglas had excellent instincts and right now they were telling him something was wrong. It could have been nothing, of course; he wasn’t that well up on American medical rules but maybe this was just procedure. He didn’t think so, though. Perhaps he could have convinced himself this was normal, except for the way the doctor had looked at him. Suspicion, and open hostility.
Was their ‘couple’ act not going to fly? He could have played it up more, he supposed. Sat by Martin, held his hand, and showed more concern. At the very least he could have refrained from teasing him for the way he looked in a hospital gown.
Douglas sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. Yes, that might have been a touch too far.
Eventually, the doctor stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her. She gave Douglas a hard look. “Mr. Richardson,” she said. “Please come with me.”
“Is Martin all right?”
“He’s going for X-rays,” she replied. “I’d like a word with you.” She walked down the hall, and he fell into step beside her. They wound up in a small, cluttered office, the desk stacked high with files. She settled into a chair behind the desk, and he took the one in front of it. They stared at each other for a long moment. Douglas stayed quiet and kept his face neutral; he’d been stared at the same way by customs agents, security guards, and, memorably, by his old boss at Air England just before he’d been dismissed.
“How long have you been in a relationship with Mr. Crieff?” she asked after a minute.
“Not long,” Douglas said, wondering what Martin had told her. They really should have gotten their story straight before going into this.
“Are you aware that he’s severely underweight?”
Douglas shifted in his chair. “Severely is a strong word.”
“And an accurate one,” she replied.
They stared at each other for another long moment. Douglas remained resolutely silent.
“How was he injured?” she asked.
Douglas frowned. “He told you, he was mugged.”
“This kind of malnutrition does not happen in one evening,” the doctor said sharply. “How long has this been going on?”
“You…” Douglas gaped at her. “You think I did this to him? You think I hit him? That I starve him? Is that what you’re suggesting?”
She regarded him coolly. “Give me an alternative explanation.”
Douglas took a deep breath. “We haven’t been together very long. I didn’t realise he was that badly underweight. He’s thin, I know, but… well, I need to pay more attention. I see that now. I absolutely did not hurt him, nor would I ever do such a thing.”
The doctor looked skeptical, but she softened a little. “Is it possible that he has an eating disorder? Please understand that I do have to ask about this if I believe he’s at risk for self-harm.”
Douglas was already shaking his head. “Nothing like that. He… he’s had some money problems. I didn’t know it was this bad. I’ll make sure he eats better.”
She nodded. “He should gain at least twenty pounds. I recommend consulting a nutritionist when you return to England to get an appropriate diet plan. He’s also showing signs of several vitamin deficiencies and the malnutrition is going to slow his recovery from the physical trauma.”
“He is going to recover, though? Was anything broken?” Douglas asked. “Or is that not something you can tell me?”
“He has listed you as his emergency contact and given consent to share medical information with you,” she said. “So I can tell you that the ultrasound revealed no internal injuries. The X-ray will tell us for sure, but I believe he has a couple cracked ribs. He’s going to be quite sore for some time and should do regular deep breathing exercises to ward off pneumonia and infections, but with proper rest and nutrition he’ll make a full recovery.”
Douglas felt tension drain from his back and shoulders; he was a little surprised to realise how worried he’d been. “Good,” he said. “That’s good. Can I take him home? Is he safe to fly?”
“He’ll be uncomfortable sitting in one place for a long time; if there’s any way he can lie down during the flight, that would be better. I’ll also prescribe some painkillers for him.”
“Right,” Douglas said. He allowed himself to be led back into the small exam room, and settled into the chair beside the empty bed, lost in thought. His luck had held; the doctor had believed him. At least, she’d believed that he wasn’t physically abusing Martin. She’d all but accused him of neglect, though, and he had to admit she had a point. He didn’t have to live with Martin or be in a relationship with him to see that the boy was painfully thin. It shouldn’t have taken a doctor to point out that his friend was in trouble.
He looked up when the door opened. Martin was in a wheelchair, and looking none too pleased about it. A nurse pushed him into the room, but allowed him to get out of the chair and back onto the bed without help. Martin gritted his teeth and caught his breath when he tried to move too fast, but he remained quiet.
“Martin,” Douglas said, and took his hand. Martin shot him a sharp look.
“The doctor will be back with you shortly,” the nurse told them. “She just needs to take a look at the X-rays.”
Douglas did not let Martin’s hand go when the nurse stepped out. “Are you all right?” Douglas began.
Martin spoke at the same time. “What did the doctor ask you? She kept asking me about you and how long we’d been together and sort of, you know, hinting around that I could tell her anything I needed to and it would be totally confidential and I think she could tell I was nervous because of the whole fake couple thing and she seemed really suspicious and, and… oh god I’m going to go to prison for insurance fraud, aren’t I?”
Douglas squeezed his hand. “Martin. Breathe.”
Martin took a deep breath, wincing as his ribs pulled. “Is that what she asked you about?”
“She asked me if I was beating you.”
Martin stared at him. “What? Seriously?”
“She didn’t come right out and say it, but yes, that was what she suspected,” Douglas replied. “It was a natural concern; she’d already decided I was neglectful and deliberately starving you, so going from there to beating was a fairly easy leap.”
“But… that’s not…” Martin shook his head. “You’re not starving me, that’s ridiculous. What, does she think I’m not capable of feeding myself?”
“If you were capable of feeding yourself, you wouldn’t be twenty pounds underweight,” Douglas shot back. “Martin, why didn’t you say something?”
Martin glared at him, then looked down and shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not going to beg for handouts. The van business has been a little slow, but it’ll pick up. I’ll be fine.”
“There is a line between being self-sufficient and being stupidly stubborn,” Douglas said. “You seem to have lost track of where that line is.”
Martin bristled. “You see me most days,” he said. “We’ve shared hotel rooms; you’ve seen me without a shirt more than once. You could have spoken up any time. I notice you weren’t exactly falling all over yourself with concern until a doctor made you feel guilty about it.”
Douglas sat up straight and bit back his first instinctive reply. He sighed slowly. “You’re right. I could have said something. I should have—and I didn’t. I’ve not been a good friend. I’m sorry.”
Martin blinked. His hand tightened around Douglas’ palm. “Douglas…”
He fell silent as the door opened and the doctor came in. She pinned the X-ray films up against a light board and stood back, looking at them. “As I thought,” she said over her shoulder, “two cracked ribs. No full breaks, you’re lucky there, especially given how frail your bones are. You really need to improve your calcium intake.”
“You’ll be getting my half of the cheese tray for the foreseeable future,” Douglas murmured. Martin quirked a small smile at him.
“You should go for a follow up check when you’re home. The fractures are fairly minor, but you’ve got several factors that will slow your healing progress and it’s likely to take four to six weeks. I’m going to prescribe a painkiller for you; do you have allergies to any medication?”
“No,” Martin said. “I’m a pilot, though. Can you give me something mild enough that I can still safely fly while taking it?”
She pursed her lips and gave him a dubious look. “I think you’re underestimating how much pain a broken rib can cause.”
Martin shifted and winced. “I’m really not. But I need to be able to fly.”
“I’ll lower the dosage a little,” she said. “But you need to commit to regular breathing exercises; take the deepest breath you can at least once per hour. You also need extra rest. No heavy lifting, no strenuous exercise. Your diet needs to drastically improve. You’re borderline anemic and showing signs of several vitamin deficiencies. If you don’t gain some weight you’re going to risk heart problems.”
Martin squeezed Douglas’ hand and bit his lip. “Oh,” he said. “I, um…”
“I assume you’ll be staying with your partner for the duration of your recovery?” she asked. “It would be best if you were not alone.”
“Yes, he will,” Douglas answered. He ignored Martin’s startled glance. “I’ll also take your advice about a nutritionist as soon as we get home.”
She nodded. “That’s good. You can get dressed now, I’m releasing you. Stop by the pharmacy on your way out and they’ll have your prescription for you, as well as discharge instructions.”
With that, she bustled out, drawing the curtain around the bed again. Martin looked down at their joined hands, and then up at Douglas. “Was that just for show? I mean, of course it was, that’s… I’m not actually going to live with you, I know that.”
“Ah, and that is where you are wrong,” Douglas replied. “You are indeed going to live with me. I’ve seen your flat, Martin, if you can call it that. I’ve seen your well beaten futon. I’ve seen the four flights of stairs it takes to get up there. I, on the other hand, have a lovely guest room, a fridge full of food, and absolutely no stairs.”
Martin nodded. “I’ll pay you back.” His voice had gone very soft, and he wouldn’t meet Douglas’ eyes. “I’m not sure how, since I can’t work if I can’t lift things, but I promise, I will. If, if you just give me time. I’ll, um, I’ll do the washing up. And cooking, I can cook. I mean, not good things, but I could learn to cook good things. I’ve just never had good ingredients but if I can make dinner from two slices of bread, an onion, and a spoonful of mustard then I’m sure I could learn to…” He trailed off and took a ragged breath.
Douglas put a hand on the back of his neck. He could feel Martin trembling. “Get dressed, dear. Let’s go home.”