Chapter 4: Partly Shattered Men

The first two days were a blur for the boys. Each time Mike would wake for a few moments, struggling for air that seemed to be in short supply, they'd try with varying degrees of success to get food, water and medicine into him before fever and exhaustion overtook him again.

On the evening of the third day, Mike again awoke coughing and gasping.

"Easy Mike…just breathe…." Micky urged gently, sitting his friend up against him and patting his back.

Peter poured a glass of ice water, sloshing some upon the floor in his haste, and offered it to Mike while Davy went for the inhalers for him. Mike waved them off, his expression one of complete confusion as he struggled to get himself under control. "What..." he began, only to be overcome by another wave of coughs. "Why's everyone in here?" he finally managed. Looking from one of his friends to another, noting the matching worry in each of their eyes Mike frowned, certain he'd missed something important.

"Babysitting?" Micky offered, glancing at the other two and shrugging helplessly.

Mike only looked more confused at that. "What time is it?" he asked, deciding to let it go.

"6:30," Peter answered, still holding out the water to him.

Mike closed his eyes, swearing softly as he made to rise. "We're late…" he groaned. The movement set him coughing painfully, but he tried to push through it, his sense of responsibility to the others prodding him on.

"Hey, no…Mr. Antonelli isn't expecting one of us to show up until ten," Micky hastily assured him, placing his hands on Mike's shoulders in an attempt to keep him from getting up.

"Please Mike, just relax, okay. We've got Antonelli's covered, I promise." Davy added, moving to help keep him down, a task which had been a real challenge for the last two days, at times taking all three of them together to accomplish. As Mike's coughing stilled, Davy added, "You're not supposed to get out of bed, remember?" pressing him backwards determinedly.

Mike shook his head, but surprised them all by settling back again, now looking completely lost. He felt weak, winded, dizzy and honestly more than a little sick to his stomach, but he didn't want to let on to the others, figuring they seemed worried enough without having to listen to him whine. More than anything, he wished he could figure out what exactly had happened and, he supposed, how deeply he'd stepped in it for them to all keep looking at him like that. He finally took the water from Peter, if only because the blonde seemed so determined that he should have it. His hands shook so badly, though, that Peter had to help him hold the cup. He sipped it a moment, coughed and sipped again, trying to gather his thoughts and, hopefully, get a handle on what the others were talking about. Failing, he finally sighed and shook his head again.

"What's the last thing you do remember?" Micky asked, deciding it might be better to start at the beginning, though they'd tried this already a few times over the last two days with no success as Mike hadn't really been thinking clearly enough to answer questions or follow explanations just yet.

Mike thought a long moment then answered, "Headin' up here to get your laundry, I guess."

Micky flinched again at that answer. "Yeah, well, you kind of didn't make it…" he told him quietly. He was glad Mike was able to remember and answer this time, though he'd hoped he had, perhaps, been heading up to bed instead of still been trying to clean up their messes.

"Sorry 'bout that," Mike replied, reaching up to rub his temple, swallowing hard as his stomach lurched. He needed to move, if only to get somewhere he wasn't being looked at the way his three friends were looking at him just then, with that odd mixture of worry and guilt and something he couldn't quite identify yet.

"No, that's okay, Mike. It's just…do you know about what time that was?" Micky replied quickly, feeling all the more guilty for Mike's apology. He also needed to know for himself how long Mike had been out cold on the floor while they were out playing and visiting.

"Um…" Mike thought hard and shrugged. "'bout 2, I guess. What happened?"

"You got worse," Pete blurted as he passed the cup to Davy and knelt beside Mike, continuing breathlessly. "We came home from Lucy's and you were on the floor, out cold. Except you weren't cold you were burning up and we called the doctor and he said to keep you in bed and give you medicine and food and water and make sure you rested. Only we couldn't get you to eat and you didn't want the medicine so we kind of had to make you take it and drink water and broth and stuff and you scared us, Mike. I thought you were going to… you might…" Tears threatened in Peter's eyes as he struggled to find the words to describe his fears.

"Ah man…I'm sorry Pete…come on, now, don't cry…" Mike placed a hand on Peter's shoulder only to have the blonde throw his arms around him, sobbing. Unsure what else to do, Mike put his arms around Peter, rubbing small circles on his back in an effort to calm him. "look…I'm fine now, okay?"

Davy put a hand on Mike's forehead and shook his head. "Uh uh. Better, maybe, but still not fine." He disagreed. "But now that you seem to be thinking more like yourself maybe we can actually get you to do what the doc said so you can stop scaring us, okay? Please?"

Mike looked from one face to another, noticing how tired and haggard they all appeared. That won't do. He thought. They shouldn't any of them ever look like this. "I'm thinkin' y'all might need to be layin' here more than I do," he drawled at last.

"Yes, well, we haven't slept much the last couple of days," Davy admitted, making another attempt at handing him the inhalers the doctor had left for him.

"Days?" Mike repeated, sounding stunned. "Wait….days? How long was I out?"

"It's Wednesday, Mike," Micky replied, looking closely, trying to make sure Mike wasn't getting too overwhelmed.

"Wednesday….," Mike repeated in disbelief. "Wednesday?"

All three nodded.

"Three days?" Mike clarified.

They nodded again.

"And you been sittin' here worryin' over me that whole time?" Mike closed his eyes, "Geez, I'm sorry guys."

"No, we're sorry," Davy argued vehemently, placing a hand on the much taller boy's arm, as much to reassure himself that they hadn't lost him as to comfort him. "If we hadn't made you take care of everything you could have slowed down and taken care of yourself."

"I'm sorry, Mike." Micky agreed. "I should have been doing my own laundry."

"…and I can clean our bathroom," Peter intoned softly.

"Hold on, now. Wait a minute. None of you made me do anything. I chose to do those things," Mike tried to reassure them all. "I'm supposed to take care of you guys."

"No," Davy interrupted, looking sadly at Mike. "We're supposed to take care of each other. Only you were the only one doing it. But that ends now."

Peter nodded, "That's right."

"I'm with them, Mike," Micky concurred. "You're going to have to get used to the idea that it's our job to take care of you, too."

Mike looked as if he might still argue, but held his peace after seeing how determined the other three were. "So how long am I supposed to just lay around here doin' nothin'?" he asked instead, really hoping they could get off the other topic entirely, as he never managed to quite get comfortable with that whole idea of being taken care of by someone else but really didn't feel like arguing. Besides, it wasn't as if he wouldn't do whatever it was that needed doing regardless if it came to it no matter what anyone else decided. What choice did he really have? He couldn't let the other guys down even if that seemed to be what they were asking for.

"The doctor will be back on Friday evening," Davy replied, not ready to trust Mike's apparent surrender just yet. He knew his lanky friend better than that. "Until then, you're staying right there."

Mike sighed. "Can I at least have my guitar and some paper? And a pencil, maybe?"

"After you eat, maybe," Davy smiled, pleased despite still being somewhat suspicious of Mike's graceful surrender. "And use those already." He added, gesturing to the inhalers Mike had just absently set aside the moment they'd been pressed into his hands. Mike rolled his eyes and used them as instructed, if only to ease the worry of the others. Davy, noting how badly his friend's hands were still shaking, wasn't so sure that handing Mike his prize possession when he couldn't even hold his own water glass was a great idea, but he wasn't about to point that out just yet.

"Do you think you could hold something more than broth down or is your stomach still sick?" Peter asked. He realized by the surprised looks on the faces of the other two that he had divulged something he hadn't intended to. "I'm sorry, Mike. I mean…I know you said it was just nerves that night and not to worry, and I said I wouldn't say anything …"

"It's all right, Shotgun. Not much sense in holdin' out details now" Mike reassured him, bracing himself for the reaction of the other two.

"Sick to your….no wonder you …"Micky sputtered. "I thought you weren't bringing home food for yourself because you were eating at Antonelli's, but you weren't, were you?"

" Couldn't hold it down," Mike admitted reluctantly, avoiding their gazes. He wasn't sure he could stand the expressions he'd find in them no matter what direction they were leaning.

"For how long?" Davy asked quietly, pondering the revelation. He was supposed to be Mike's best friend. How had he missed that?

Mike shrugged. "A few days, I guess." He admitted at last.

"Mike I picked you up and carried you in my arms and brought you in here. I did. Without help." Micky informed him, unsure whether to be angry or just sad that his friend hadn't told them he was that sick. "That doesn't happen over just a few days, and there's no way you should ever be that thin, man. You should have told us so we could take care of you when it first started getting like that. All you had to do was tell us what to do. We'd have listened. You're our leader. More importantly, you're our friend. Of course we'd have listened."

"And don't say we aren't supposed to take care of you." Davy said quickly, preempting Mike's reply. " We've been over that. You're outvoted."

Uncertain how to respond to that, Mike chose to remain silent, though he did force himself to look up at them again. Instead, he sipped some more of the water Peter now held for him again and accepted the medication Micky offered him, taking it for the first time since he'd fallen without a struggle, willing to do just about anything to see that frightened look leave their eyes.

Meanwhile, Davy tried to steer the conversation back on course. "The next thing we definitely need to do, then, is get you eating. So, how about some homemade chicken noodle soup?"

"Homemade by who?" Mike asked, knowing full well how his roommates cooked, or rather didn't cook. Micky was the only one of the three who came close to cooking something edible with any regularity. Davy just sort of heated up whatever was in the refrigerator and hoped that would work, though he could put together a mean sandwich when called upon, and with Peter you were most likely to get something like cream of root beer soup.

"Maria made it for you. Apparently Lucy made her promise when she noticed you weren't feeling well," Davy replied.

"Aw, man. Lucy!" Mike groaned, making to rise again, only to be halted by three sets of hands. The movement set off another bout of painful sounding coughing, causing all three of his friends to worry once again. Three sets of hands pressed him gently but firmly back into the bed, tucking him in tightly and doing their best to hold him there as they patted his shoulder and did what little they could to sooth him.

"Don't do that." Micky warned him once he could breathe again. "I really will have Pete sit on you if I have to."

"And I'll do it, too." Pete assured him, nodding for emphasis.

"She was fine when I went over there earlier. Just worried about you." Davy assured their fallen leader, keeping his hands on Mike's shoulders a moment longer, just to be sure Mike wasn't going to try that again. " We've been taking turns going to see her and Micky promised to bring her over here to see you as soon as you were feeling up to visitors."

"Thanks, guys." Mike sighed, closing his eyes, abruptly very tired again.

"Sure thing. Now let's get some of that soup into you before you fall asleep again," Micky answered gently, exiting quickly to get it only to place it on the bedside table with a sigh when he returned to find Mike already out again.