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Home Health Care

bylill_street_writer©

The blue screen of death was never quite so welcome as when Zach stared at his computer that Friday afternoon. It meant that his laptop proved itself, yet again, to be the biggest and most cursed piece of crap in the entire hospital. Since his arrival nearly two years before, his computer, and by extension, his computer skills had been a laughable subject in the Physical Therapy department. One of his colleagues swore that Zach could just wish for his computer to explode and the vile thing would start to smoke and grunt in compliance. It wasn't, Zach insisted, that he hated computers; he just had little use for them. If he'd had his way, the whole world would go back to paper calendars and actually talking to one another. And the prospect of talking to one person in particular is what had Zach grinning while gleefully staring at the screen of his demented laptop.

Zach pulled out his phone, leaned back in his chair and pushed the speed-dial number he'd had precious little reason to use lately. His malevolent computer had been behaving itself in recent weeks, giving him little opportunity to check in with his favorite IT nerd. It had been so long since he had called IT that he had wondered if somehow Daniel had really fixed his joke of a laptop. The fact that Zach had Daniel's office extension on speed-dial should have clued Zach into the fact that he was a little too eager to have a bum piece of equipment as an excuse to perv on the object of his desire. When Daniel Travers's voicemail picked up, Zach was annoyed, but left a message and hit the prompt that would alert Daniel's cell-phone that he had a new message. At least, he thought, he had something to look forward to on an otherwise cold and incredibly depressing almost-Spring day.

Later, Zach was unable to say exactly when Daniel had slipped into the PT area and started to work on reviving Zach's computer. He could have been there five minutes or as much as forty-five. All Zach knew was that when he was finally done with Mrs. Cement's session, Daniel was seated at Zach's desk, with his back turned and his own laptop opened nearby. He was furiously typing into the healthy laptop, talking on his cell phone and shaking his head. Zach distractedly wished his client a good weekend and began walking over to his desk.

"I swear to God, Marion, I am not making it up." Zach overheard this and chuckled to himself a little. "Okay, I'll be back as soon as I can. Unless you want this kind of fun instead of me? . . . Yeah, lucky me. See you soon." Daniel flipped his phone closed and looked up to meet Zach's eyes.

"Hey Daniel, I'm not getting you in trouble am I?" Zach decided to admit to eavesdropping.

"No, but I am pretty sure this is the last time you can sabotage your computer just to get me down here to hang out with you." Daniel turned and looked at Zach more fully. His eyes were tired and his hair was a little long, but he looked far better than he had the last time Zach had seen him weeks before. In truth, Zach was a little disturbed by how good the young man did look to him. Daniel was just under six feet tall, lean with dark, dark brown hair and naturally pale skin. His looks would be natural for either a young goth or a computer nerd. Since Daniel didn't even feign an interest in the undead, he looked every bit the computer nerd he was.

"I'm pretty transparent, aren't I?" Zach breathed a sigh of relief as he and Daniel fell back into their familiar quasi-flirtatious banter. While neither man had come out to the other, Zach was nearly certain that Daniel was gay. Zach had never made any secret of his preferences and was sure that Daniel had figured out that, while Zach liked women fine, that he didn't actually attend that church. Sometimes during their occasional lunches, the joking and flirting started to get a little too suggestive. As if they sensed a boundary they were not willing to tackle, both men would back away verbally and change to a more neutral subject. Though he had never stated it outright, Daniel had given Zach the idea the he was in a relationship and wasn't available. Since Zach wasn't interested in relationships, this seemed a good arrangement. At least for a while.

A few weeks earlier, in the midst of his computer's last attack, Daniel was so depressed and sullen, Zach had seriously worried for his acquaintance. After that, Zach had called on Daniel's supervisor, Marion to make sure things were all right with the young man. It had taken a little engineering on his part, but Zach had managed to 'bump into' Marion at lunch and had taken the opportunity to check-up on Daniel. After swift preliminaries, Zach charged ahead, not caring what Marion thought of him.

"Daniel was up at PT a few days ago to work on the computer-from-hell, and he looked pretty rough around the edges." Zach left it there, and took a big bite of his sandwich. He hoped she would open up to him otherwise he might have to confront Daniel directly.

"Is everything working now? He said he was able to get that lemon up and running again." Did she choose to answer the wrong non-question, Zach wondered.

"No, it's fine. Actually, I couldn't care less if the thing exploded into shards, as long as I wasn't around when it happened." This got a laugh from Marion and she met his gaze finally. Maybe she could see the concern in his own eyes for a young man she realized they both cared about, though in increasingly different ways.

"He's going to be fine, Zach." Marion reached across the table and patted Zach's hand, just like his mother might do, if she had ever done such a thing. "We all have to go through it; he's just taking it hard since it's never happened to him before. He'll get over it and be all right."

"But what's wrong?" Zach was surprised at his own sense of concern. What had started as nearly casual concern had started to feel like an emergency: had someone died, was he ill? What had turned the sparkling man Zach knew into this sad, slope-shouldered being?

Marion eyed Zach carefully and weighed her next words. "He had been seeing someone for some time." Zach nodded. He had his own theories there, but kept them private. "Well, now they're not together and I'm pretty sure the breakup wasn't Daniel's idea. It's been a painful transition for him." Zach kept his gaze on the woman, waiting for more information. She continued, "I asked him if he would like to take some of the vacation time he has saved up, but he said he was better off working as long as I could stand him." Marion shook her head at this and looked down at her lunch, barley touched. "I told him that as long as he cared to drag his morose self into the office, I would be thrilled to have him."

"Marion, you are a truly kind woman. Most bosses wouldn't care at all, as long as he put on a cheerful façade and didn't cause any disturbance." Zach was amazed at the kindness and honesty of this slightly hard-edged woman. Many in the hospital had few tender words for the woman, but Zach felt she was a woman who stated her mind and had little patience for those who didn't. "Is there anything I can do right now?"

At this, Marion looked down with a frown of concentration and picked at her salad. Finally, she looked up and met his eyes with a glint in her eyes that would have had him taking a step back, if he could have. "Listen Zach, mostly he needs a little time to himself right now. Losing someone is painful, and I don't think he needs to be confused right now by extra attentions."

"Marion, you are earning your reputation, if I you're saying what I think you are."

"I'm saying exactly that, young man. Daniel is mixed-up right now and he needs some time to deal with this. It's been two weeks and I think he is already starting to come out of his funk a little bit. But he is vulnerable right now and I don't want to see him hurt again so soon."

"And you think I could hurt him?" Zach was amazed that anyone thought he could have that kind of effect, that kind of power over anyone. He had spent years avoiding relationships that could lead to any sort of entanglement. Now, he was accused of being able to emotionally damage a young man he barely knew.

"Let's just say that I don't want to see him hurt." Marion held Zach's eyes a beat longer than polite to make sure that he understood her meaning. When he nodded his agreement, she joked a little. "His work suffers and I'm too old to run around fixing your laptop."

Zach wandered away from that meeting with Marion in a confused fog. While initially he thought he had arranged to talk with her, it seemed Marion had a few things she had needed to tell him. It was apparent that she saw Zach's feelings towards Daniel as more than those of a casual friend and Zach was left wondering who was mistaken. Was it possible that Marion understood more about Zach's feelings for Daniel than Zach perceived, himself. Probably, Zach admitted to himself, as even he knew he wasn't the most self-reflective person in the world.

With that, Zach vowed to give Daniel some time to heal, and possibly give himself to figure what he wanted from a friendship with Daniel. It had been hard at first. What with thinking about the younger man, it would have been natural for the usually-impulsive Zach to call Daniel and suggest lunch in the hospital restaurant. It wouldn't be strange for the pair to have lunch or coffee a couple of times a month. But now, Zach hesitated and re-examined his motives. And what he found surprised him -- he was positive that he was interested in pursuing a deeper relationship with Daniel. He just hoped that Daniel would one day feel the same.

**

That had been weeks before and now the stupid computer had finally decided to act like Fate and die on him, causing him to open his phone and call a number he was a little embarrassed to admit to himself, that he knew by heart. By heart? That he had memorized. And now Daniel was here and Zach felt irrationally elated that his 'crush' was near and it seemed that they were back to normal, mostly. Yes, Daniel was quiet and reserved, but no longer had that haunted look, like a man who might go looking for a bridge. Zach wanted to hug him, twirl him around the room, but contented himself with admitting that maybe it was time to do something about his feelings, instead of just lusting after the younger man. But was he ready? And how would Daniel react? Zach's track record hadn't been stellar lately and he was reluctant to have another emotional smackdown right now.

Daniel's smooth, slightly deep voice interrupted these completely un-work-related musings, "Zach, I don't know what you've been doing to this machine, but it may be time to say any last words. I don't think the patient is going to make it." Daniel's eyes held a laugh.

"Well, it was only a matter of time, and I guess it's better that the pain is over. What do you do now? Can I drop it from the top of the building?" Zach rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

"I'll take it home this weekend and see if I can recover any data, initialize it, and reload an operating system. But don't worry; I'll put in a requisition for you to get a new laptop next week. I think your work here is done," Daniel said gesturing to the lump of technology on the desk. Daniel looked at the clock and began to pack up. "Do you have the case for this beast? It's time I get going."

"What, it's only 4pm? What kind of easy life do you all have in IT?"

"Well, I was here before 8am to man the help desk, fix problems and deal with cranky administrators. Does that count for anything?" Daniel stood and had a hand on his hip in mock attitude.

"God yes. I wasn't even awake that early. Go on then, have a good weekend and enjoy resurrecting that piece of crap." Zach almost asked if Daniel had any free time, but nixed that idea just as the man left the room. Daniel waved over his shoulder as he walked away, and Zach gave himself a mental slap for doing nothing except talk computers with him.

***

"Take it easy on yourself Daniel. Have some fun this weekend, all right?" Marion called to her favorite employee as he left for the day a few minutes later.

"Oh, I have big plans, not to worry. Good bye." Daniel shouldered two laptops, clutched a lunch cooler and his thermal coffee mug and pushed his way out into the hallway to leave the hospital building.

The past week had been normal, nothing special, and that alone was something worth cheering. No tears, no dragging sadness and feeling like his life had already passed him by. He was still alone, but not that much more alone than he had been before Brady made their split final a few weeks ago. That had hurt like a stab, even though he knew it had been looming. The two men had never been on the path to a permanent relationship and it was some sort of miracle that they had lasted two years. Now, Daniel was free, and he was inclined to think of this as a gift instead of a sentence. He might even be able to indulge in his fantasies of Zach, guilt-free. More than likely though, he would pick up a movie and some decent beer.

With a smile on his face, Daniel headed down the back stairs that would take him to the 'sneaky door' which was closer to the parking garage. Once inside the stairwell, he pushed autostart so his car would be toasty warm when he got there. This late in February, the weather was still distinctly wintery and Daniel felt sufficiently wimpy to want to minimize his exposure to the elements, so he liked to use this seldom-used exit and scoot quickly to the warm sanctuary of his car.

He pushed open the outside door, took two steps and the whole world spun around. His vision exploded with bright lights.

**

"Listen, I don't care if I am at the hospital, I need and EMT by the North door. Now!" Marion had no time to deal with idiots right now. "No, I can't go find one. And if I don't get action here in three minutes, I will make sure you never work again. I have a man down and blood all over the place. So I better have a response team here, to the North door by the parking garage immediately and I will stay on the line until I do. Is that understood?"

God almighty, what a mess. She had followed Daniel out only a minute later, to remind him that she was had the early shift Monday, and that he could sleep in. But he wasn't at his car, though it was warming up for him. So she looked back at the building toward the side and noticed that one door was open slightly. As she got nearer, she could see a bundle of dark and red spilling down the steps. She tried to run, but found the icy pathway so treacherous, she almost became the next victim. Now she cradled Daniel's head while she squabbled with a moron and wished she knew if he was going to be okay.

Noises of people moving and doors opening made her aware that her intimidation tactics had succeeded. "Over here," she called, though her voice seemed so soft to her own ears that she was surprised anyone heard her at all. The response team was there, and Dr. Jameson was asking questions to which she had precious few answers. But with the doctor and EMT's there, she was relieved that she was no longer in charge. And for that she was grateful, since all she felt she could do now was pray.

**

Hours later, Zach stood next to the gurney bed, in recovery, holding Daniel's hand and gazing at his face. It was too much to take in. One minute Daniel was fine and the next he's leaving the building only to take an awful fall down some icy steps and land himself in surgery.

Pins and plates went into Daniel's right, lower leg. A simple cast was on his left wrist for a straight forward fracture. And twelve stitches along his hairline closed the gash that bleed so profusely, but was actually the least worrying of all the injuries. It was the leg injury that would cause the most difficulty, Zach knew from his extensive experience.

When his boss, Cynthia told him what had happened, Zach had just stared at her, sure that she was pulling his leg, making up some story. He had waited for the punch line, but it never came. She had said, "I know you are friends, sort-of, so I thought you should know. Marion called me from the waiting room; I just found out. He should be getting out of surgery soon. Why don't you head down and see if you can help out?" And with that, Zach practically ran all the way.

After listening to the doctors and translating the details to Marion, Zach walked back to the recovery area as if he had every right to be there. He held Daniel's slack hand in a streetwise grip and looked at the resting face and it's almost delicate features. This is not how he had ever wanted to see Daniel at rest.

Just when he had decided that he might try to engage with Daniel in a real friendship (and maybe more), the young man had almost been ripped from his life. Zach's head swam with emotions; fear, anxiety, anger, sympathy, need. And then he felt the other hand clench his own.

"Brady," Daniel croaked out, barely audible. "Brady, it hurts."

Zach gripped Daniel's hand harder to reassure and shushed him a little. "It's okay, baby. The doctors will be back in a minute. I'll get them to give you something. Just lie still." He smoothed Daniels dark hair back from his forehead with a gentle touch, and made soft, shushing noises.

Daniel nodded his head but still had his eyes closed. "Don't go, Brady. Stay with me?"

"I will, I will." Zach felt a lump in his throat and had to remind himself to breathe.

The next days were a blur of standard operating hospital procedures. Daniel was moved to a room up on the orthopedic ward and Zach stayed with him whenever he could. Since he and Marion were hospital employees, they were fortunately exempt, it seemed, from regular visiting rules. He and Marion set up a regular rotation, one of them always present through that first night. Neither of them wanted Daniel to wake up and find himself alone, confused and scared.

Daniel came fully to his senses in the middle of the night and was a little amused to see Marion sitting straight as a stick in the side chair, her head nodding and bouncing in sleep. He pressed the call button to summon the nurse, and hushed her when she came in so as not to wake Marion.

With his supervisor and protector there, he felt cared-for and comforted. Marion had accomplished her goal without even having to be fully awake. After a little bustling by the nurse, Marion woke to find Daniel smiling at her, and they share a friendly chuckle. Without drama or histrionics, Marion told Daniel everything she knew about the injury and his current state but deferred to the doctors and Zach for the details.

When she had run out of facts, Marion sat holding his hand and just looked into Daniel's eyes. "Your clothes are gone, honey. I'm sorry, but there was no saving them."

"Did they have to cut them off? It was that bad?" Daniel could see emotion in the older woman's eyes he couldn't quite place. Was she upset about the clothes?

"Well, they didn't cut all of them off, no." Marion took a deep breath. "There was a lot of blood, so much. I thought it would be hard to get out, so I told them to get rid of the clothes."

"Marion, I am so sorry. I'm okay now. Are you all right?" Daniel could see that she was shaken by having to rescue him, seeing him injured and feeling helpless to help.

She sniffed and rubbed a finger near the corner of her eye. "You are not allowed to do that again. Do you hear me young man? You scared to wits out of me."

Daniel looked into her blue eyes, now shining with tears held at bay, and tide of gratitude for her friendship and caring washed over him, causing him to tear up as well. "Yes ma'am. I promise."

"Besides, I think if you ever get hurt again, Zach Johnson will probably finish the job." She smiled weakly at him.

"Zach? Was he there?" Daniel was surprised at this. His brain was muddled from the anesthesia and pain. Someone had been with him at some point, he'd sensed it. But Zach?

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