told Eli I love him.” His cheeks feel awfully warm when he looks up and meets Eli’s
eyes. “I’ve never… never told anyone that.”
never wanted to, not until Eli, but even then he missed his chance to say it.
Or at least, he thought he had.
takes the mug from Calden’s hands, and sets it and his own on the floor. Then,
he shifts a little closer, and slides a hand to the back of Calden’s neck. He’s
never done it before as far as Calden can recall, and yet it feels oddly
familiar. Comfortable, even.
said it plenty of times,” Eli says. “Heard it just as often. But because you’re
a lucky bastard, you get to hear it again like it’s brand new. Ready?”
throat tightens, and he nods. Eli leans a little closer still, until he can
murmur right against Calden’s lips.
are a complete as
hole,” Eli said as he stormed into Calden’s
. “Do you
even realize that? Is that something you can comprehend?”
took him no time to find Calden, sprawled on the sofa in his
dressing gown, an arm curled over his face like a swooning regency heroine, his
dark hair untamed and wild.
don’t know if I comprehend,” Ca
den said, his voice muffled by his elbow, “but I’ve
been told often enough. What did I do this time?”
bit back a curse and stood by the sofa. His glaring was completely lost on Ca
den, who still
hid behind his arm.
well what you did!” he exploded. “You’ve been hounding me to meet at
the café for lunch for a week instead of just eating in the hospital cafeteria.
I took time off especially for that—”
in an argument with my husband about it when I told him
but that part
he only said in his mind.
waited for you for an hour before ordering, with
giving me the stink eye the
entire time because
he’s still convinced I dumped you and you can’t be
bothered to tell
friends. And the entire time you’re just here,
lounging in your robe like…”
awful suspicion rose inside Eli. Taking hold of Ca
den’s wrist, he
pushed the sleeve up, exposing the inside of his arm. Nothing there,
he was relieved to see.
den protested, trying to tug his arm free, but Eli wasn’t done.
in close, he sniffed Ca
den’s breath. No alcohol. Unless…
he asked, too annoyed to even make it a proper question.
another weak tug on his arm, and Eli finally let go, watching him cover his
den muttered. “It’d mean there was at least something pleasant before
this. To the risk of being boring, I’m sober in every sense of the word. I just
have the most
was trying to hold on to his annoyance—if Ca
den wasn’t feeling well, he could at least have
him by peeking from under his arm and mumbling, “Sorry about lunch. If I’d
realized it was so late, I’d have told you I wasn’t up for it.”
eyes were bloodshot, his pupils contracted. Headache severe enough that
but he was also
. What else? Was that a cold
sore at the corner of his mouth?
you have a fever?” Eli asked,
into doctor mode. He reached
den’s arm to press
a hand to his forehead. “Pain anywhere else? Did you take anything for it?”
yes. No other pain. Out of
shifted his head into Eli’s hand, maximizing contact. He definitely felt too
warm, and not just because Eli’s hand was cool. And of course he was out.
Medical supplies, even something as basic as aspirin,
were hard to come by. The city was, after all, officially under siege
Eli said wryly, pulling his hand free. “I’m going to downgrade you from
hole to big baby who can’t take care of a little
headache. And you owe me lunch when you’re better.”
something, but Eli, on his way to the kitchen, did not understand.
did you say?” he called out as he ran a
under cold water before wringing out the excess.
it’s a big headache,” Ca
den said, slurring the words a little.
course it is
Drop your arm. There you go. Does that feel nice?”
forehead and eyes covered by the cool
hummed something that might have
been a thank you.
got aspirin at my apartment
,” Eli said,
den’s shoulder once. “I won’t be long, all right?”
den made a vaguely
and climbed into his car, a little voice that sounded
awfully like Bryce’s whispered in his ear.
taking advantage of you. Like he always does
hadn’t asked for anything, Eli replied to the little voice. In fact, he hadn’t
asked Eli for his usual favors since Bryce had confronted him about taking
advantage of Eli three weeks ago. Ca
den had stormed off then, and he hadn’t said a word to
Eli at the hospital for days, until he’d asked to meet over lunch. He’d said he
had something to tell Eli.
knew better than to expect an apology.
years they’d known each other, Calden couldn’t possibly have uttered
the word ‘sorry’ more than a couple of times, despite having cause far more
that. Still, Eli had vaguely
hoped for an acknowledgment from Ca
den that, yes, he’d been overly needy in the past
, both at
out of it. Something was up with him, but Eli couldn’t figure out what it was.
was Eli’s word. Bryce called Ca
den’s behavior obnoxious. He couldn’t understand why Eli
tolerated it from Ca
den when he’d have called anyone else on it. Eli had tried
to explain that
he’d been Calden’s
before they started working together at the hospital, and that he was used to
his antics. Calden couldn’t be bothered to keep to his schedule, and he always tried
to trade patients he considered uninteresting for more challenging cases, but
the truth of it all was that he was the best surgeon the town had. Eli knew
that firsthand and owed him, if not his life, at least his right arm. Whether Calden
was needy and obnoxious or not, they needed him
. Bryce had glared daggers at Eli when he’d said that.
familiar as Ca
den’s behavior was, Bryce’s response had taken Eli by
Others complained about Calden,
doctors and nurses alike, but after seeing what he could do with a scalpel or
needle, they grew more tolerant. Bryce, on the other hand, simply couldn’t
stand him, and he didn’t even work with them directly, instead driving one of
the ambulances that ran back and forth from the hospital to the walls that had
been built to protect the city every time the demons attacked.
had told Eli to ask Bryce about his ex-husband, that
it’d explain why he was so suspicious. Eli had managed to hide from Ca
den that he
hadn’t known Bryce had been married before. He had yet to ask Bryce if it was
true. It probably was; Calden had a knack for discovering things about people.
wasn’t far. In ten minutes, Eli
was there and back. Coming back into
, Eli hung his jacket and stepped
into the kitchen. He popped a pill from the bottle, filled a glass with cold
water, and took both to Ca
den, who apparently hadn’t moved since Eli had left.
I’m back. Sit up for a bit.”
had to shake Ca
den’s shoulder before his body jerked, the
off his face. He blinked repeatedly, frowning up at Eli.
he said drowsily. “What are you doing here?”
like I said. Sit up.”
den did sit up,
and he took the glass and pill Eli was handing him, but he sounded—and looked—downright
confused. “Like you said? What? When?”
frowned. “When I was here earlier. Don’t you remember? I called you an as
hole and a big
den was beyond
confused now and well into mystified territory. “
You called me what?” he swallowed the pill, chasing it down with the
glass of water. “
God, but my—”
body froze, his mouth becoming slack, the empty glass sliding from his grasp
and onto the cushion next to him.
eyes widened. He had to fight his instinct to shake Ca
den by the
shoulders and grabbed his wrist instead. He took his pulse while leaning in
close enough to watch his pupils; they weren’t dilated to the same degree, one
a small dot in an ocean, the other wide enough to swallow most of the blue.
den! Can you
den said, blinking once, then again when he realized how close Eli was.
just had an absence seizure,” Eli said, releasing his wrist. “I’m taking you to
the hospital. Don’t even think about arguing with me.”
fact that Ca
den did not try to argue only added to Eli’s worry. Ca
den hated being
in a hospital as a patient and would do or say anything to avoid that
situation. His passivity now was disturbing, and he barely said a word when Eli
went to find some clothes up in his bedroom and helped him into them.
Calden had another absence seizure in the car, Eli drove a little faster,
beginning to regret not having called an ambulance. The city wasn’t under
attack at the moment, which meant that the streets were busy, small electric
cars like Eli’s weaving around each other in near silence and making the ride
to the hospital that much longer. There were talks of restricting traffic to
preserve resources now that the demon attacks were becoming more frequent and
making the supply roads unsafe.
parking his car by the emergency entrance, Eli told Calden to wait in the car
while he went to get a wheelchair. The fact that Calden actually listened to him
didn’t bode well. As he wheeled Calden inside, Eli mentally reviewed the staff
schedule. Being in charge of it, he knew who was on duty at the moment.
Bonneville was their neurologist, but she only had a few years of experience.
Doctor Samford, an emergency doctor and surgeon, had been practicing longer
than anyone else and still had the steadiest hands in the hospital, except for
Calden. There was also the fact that she was one of the few people Calden
didn’t try to antagonize on sight.
nurse at the admission desk tried to insist they fill in the obligatory
paperwork, but Eli gave her an icy look and found a room for Calden himself.
minutes, Samford was coming down to the ER from her office upstairs. Her eyes
widened in surprise when she saw Calden was her patient, but she recovered
quickly and listened to Eli’s description of Calden’s symptoms.
was complaining about a headache yesterday,” she said thoughtfully as she took
Calden’s vitals. “I thought he was trying to get out of a routine appendectomy.
You know how he is. But maybe it was more than that.”
eyes were open, and he appeared to be listening, but he didn’t react in the
slightest to Samford’s quiet words; Eli’s worry climbed higher.
do you think?” Eli asked, although he knew it was much too early for her to
have a definite diagnosis.
refused to say what she had in mind. Instead, with a gentle smile, she took
Eli’s good arm and guided him out of the room, relegating
him to the waiting room
. She’d have let a colleague stay if he hadn’t known their patient, but
he was there as Calden’s friend, so she kicked him out with a reminder that
he’d need family permission to get access to records.
Still, she couldn’t hide from him what kind of tests
she was performing. MRI. CT scan. Lumbar puncture. She suspected encephalitis,
Eli realized with a pang.