What a Pain! - Chapter Twenty-Five

"Boy, now I really don't know if I want to go in," Chet wondered. "What if he's really upset?"

"What's that supposed to mean, Chet?" Marco growled, "if he's upset, we should be here for him, don't you think?"

"Well, yeah..." Chet replied, "I'm just sayin' I don't know what to say to him, that's all. I mean, Mikey never gives anybody grief and you saw how torqued off that nurse was. I wonder why he wouldn't eat anything? If that was Gage not eating, we'd have to check for a pulse, but that's still weird for Stoker to skip a meal..." he continued his rant until Marco interrupted.

"Maybe he's not hungry, Chet! He's been through hell in the last twenty-four hours, man, maybe he just doesn't feel like eating yet," Marco countered.

Roy only sighed; he didn't feel the need or have the energy to jump in this debate. Walking right between Chet and Marco, he said, "C'mon, you guys, let's go in."

Despite DeSoto's best efforts toward being quiet, the door to Mike's room squeaked obnoxiously as it was opened. Roy grimaced in annoyance and made a mental note to tell the nurse about it. Roy entered, followed by Marco and then Chet. They paused and observed their friend, not speaking at first.

Mike lay in the bed, his head turned toward the wall and his eyes closed. His friends noticed the wound on the side of Mike's head bore a fresh bandage. The heart monitor beeped rhythmically, he had oxygen through a nasal cannula, and his chest rose and fell evenly, giving Roy the impression that Mike might be sleeping. Then Roy noticed Mike's hands. His left hand had the IV, which Roy presumed had blood pressure meds added to it, but his right hand held tightly to the bed sheet, twisting and crushing it. His feet twitched a little, and as Roy got closer, he could see Mike's lips moving soundlessly. Apparently, Mike hadn't noticed the squeaking door, or his three friends entering the room, as he didn't acknowledge them at all. Or, perhaps he just didn't want them there.

"Uh, Mike? Hey, uh, it's Roy...and Marco...and Chet," Roy announced quietly, "okay if we come in?"

Mike neither moved, nor opened his eyes. He just sighed and continued twisting the sheet. Chet and Marco looked around the small room, taking note of the equipment and machines. Chet shifted nervously from one foot to the other and looked down to watch them. Marco cleared his throat a little and idly thumbed through a pamphlet on high blood pressure that he found lying on the roll-away bed table. Roy moved around to the side of the bed that Mike faced, trying to get him to make eye contact.

"Mike? You okay?" Roy asked. Roy thought Stoker looked pale and depleted, and as strong as Mike once was, he now appeared almost...frail. "Hey," Roy said softly, placing his hand to still Mike's agitated movements, "you gonna look at us?"

At first, there was no response from the despondent Engineer, save for him taking his hand out from under Roy's and resuming the stranglehold he had on the corner of the sheet. Then Roy barely heard, "Still diiizzy...feel sick."

"Are the meds helping, Mike?" Marco asked. "We can call Doc Early if you want."

Mike just breathed out a "No" and lay still.

At a loss for what to say or do, Roy stammered, "Well, we, uh, we wont stay long. We just wanted to tell you we saw Cap and Johnny...they're gonna be okay. Cap'll be out in a few more days, probably, and John's gonna be out soon too, so, uh, you know, we just thought you'd like to know. If you need anything, we'll all be here to help out."

Chet joined in, "Yeah, Mike, if you want us to bring you anything...um, clothes or, or some real food maybe..."

Never opening his eyes, Mike's adam's-apple bobbed as he swallowed hard and said in a tired, hoarse voice, "No. Nnnothing. Just...go h-home, guys."

Now Marco approached Mike's bed and placed his hand on Mike's, and held it there firmly, not allowing Mike to pull away. "Mike, you are our friend, our amigo, you know? We don't want you to feel so badly. Listen to me...Cap's going to be fine, and Johnny...well, he'll be alright too. Now you have to get better and get out of here, man."

Mike only mumbled, "I c-can't."

"You can't?" Marco gently scoffed, "What does that mean, 'you can't'?"

Mike opened his eyes slightly and turned his head to look up at Roy and Marco, squinting as he rode out the wave of nausea he felt. "C-cap almmmost died...rrright there... next to me...be-cause...he was helping me. Johnny...al-mmmost died...in my back y-yard...be-cause of protecting me..." His eyes reddened as he gulped and fought back tears, his voice shaking with grief, "another mmman did die... a police-man... trying to save me. This...all hap-pened because...I-I screwed up. I should nnnever have...gone into th-that house. Nnnone of this...would have hap-pened. I...I can't...help anyone anymore...es-pecially mmmyself."

They were stunned. They had never heard such talk coming from their friend. Mike Stoker always had an unflappable air about him that Chet could try to emulate, but never quite achieve. He was envious of the engineer and his "strong, silent aura" yet always admired him too. This was unnerving to say the least.

Chet felt compelled to add his two cents in and approached the bed, "Stoker, man, we're a team, right? Station 51 is the best crew in L.A. County and...and we didn't get that way by givin' up. I'm tellin' you, the only thing you can't do, man, is- is give up."

Roy worked a half-smile. "Ya' know, Stoker, I never thought I'd ever say this, but...Chet Kelley is right." He put his hand on top of Marco's which was still resting on Mike's.

Chet moved closer and placed his hand on top of Roy's. "So, uh, we're not exactly the Three Muskateers, but hey, all for one and one for all, right?"

Mike blinked and looked up at his friends, not quite knowing what to do. Ever since finding out about the extent of Cap's and Johnny's injuries, he'd been doing nothing more than torment himself for what had happened; all too willing to place the blame squarely on his own shoulders. In his tortured mind, he was certain that his crew would abandon him. Now, he was mystified; after everything that had gone wrong, after so much pain and worry...they still came...they still wanted to help.

His eyes crinkled with a watery smile and he croaked out, "O-kay."

"Now, that's more like it!" Marco announced, "51s will be back together in no time at all!"

At Mike's home, Sir Pain-in-the-Butt woke, stretched and jumped down from Mike's bed. He strolled through the now quiet house and went out to the garage to take care of his business. Stepping lightly over and between the clutter that was strewn all over the garage floor, he reached his destination...the litter box. When that was done, he wandered back into the house, fully expecting there to be breakfast waiting in his bowls by the patio doors. Finding none, he observed his surroundings for a moment, then meandered through the house, meowing for his friend.

When Mike was there, the man would call back to the cat to let him know where to find him. Sometimes, if Mike were sitting in the chair or on the sofa, he would pat the cushions to invite Sir Pain up to his lap. Other times, Mike might toss the catnip mousie or the jingle ball that Sir Pain had taken a liking to. Now, once again, Mike wasn't there and knowing something had happened, Sir Pain was confused.

The cat detected and sniffed at the scents left behind by the commotion of the night before. Scents of blood on the entryway floor, of gunpowder and splintered wood, of sweat and mud and strangers. He was perplexed, hungry and curious. Sir Pain wandered back through the house, into the garage and upon finding the rear door slightly ajar, pushed out to the back yard.

Still, his friend could not be found, so Sir Pain leaped to the top of the wooden fence and looked behind him to the scrub tree he had perched in, the garden he dug in, and the hammock where he and his human would nap. He sat there for a minute, then silently, he jumped to the ground outside the fence. Deciding to go searching for his friend, the cat ambled away down the sidewalk, to places as yet unexplored.