Part 24

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I woke to swearing, then a heavy thump accompanied by more swearing. I opened my eyes and looked automatically at Caitlin's bed beside me. It was empty.

I stood up quickly, close to panic, before I saw her bandaged hand rise into view and clutch ineffectually at the sheets. They slithered off the bed as I watched, taking the blanket with them. The swearing intensified but it was somewhat muffled. I realised I knew the angry voice and I'd never been so relieved to hear it.

"What's wrong?" I asked as I walked around the bed to where I could see Caitlin, thinking that she'd probably just fallen out of bed. Instead, she lay face down, her feet closest to the bed, as she struggled to get up with her damaged hands. It looked like she'd tripped and fallen flat on her face, before she'd pulled the bed linen down on top of herself.

I knelt down to pull the blanket away from her head, thanking whatever helpful deity had made the linen fall so that it covered most of her.

Caitlin was both angry and frustrated. "I can't walk and I can't get up."

"Here, let me help you." I made good use of the blanket and sheet to keep some separation between her body and mine, tucking the whole mess around her as I picked her up.

"Thank you," she said quickly, biting her lip, still looking a little flustered.

"What happened?"

She hesitated a moment before she spoke. "I got out of bed, tried to take a step and it hurt. Then I fell." She frowned. "I can't walk if it hurts that much."

"Perhaps you should stay in bed and rest then," I suggested.

"But I needed...I was trying to get to the bathroom." She wouldn't look at me as she said it.

Understanding her embarrassment, I offered casually, "I can carry you in there, if you like."

"Thank you." Her gratitude was fervent.

I looked from her to the bathroom. Oh, shit. This time I'll have to do it with just her and the skimpy nightie. She'll scream for sure.

I lifted her up and quickly carried her to the toilet in the ensuite bathroom, conscious of the hospital-issue nightdress she still wore and the amount of skin it didn't cover. I couldn't put her down fast enough, praying with every step that she wouldn't scream.

I almost shuddered with relief when I let go of her, but I tried to control myself so she wouldn't see my reaction and take it the wrong way. Even injured, Caitlin was still one hell of a temptation – pretty in all the right ways. Wrong ways, I told myself as I turned my back and walked to the bathroom doorway to give her some privacy. She's damn fine in all the wrong ways and it'd be really great if she had some clothes to cover up so I won't be tempted any more than I have been already.

After a moment's thought, I called back over my shoulder, "If you want, I could ask my sister to drop by your house the next time she comes in to see me and she could pick up some of your own clothes for you to wear." Please say yes, please say yes…

She was silent for a moment before she replied, "Thank you, but I think with all the dressings and stuff, plus the trouble I'd have putting on or taking off clothes, I'm better off with hospital issue."

Shit. "Fair enough." I nodded, trying not to think of her wearing a backless nightdress with no underwear. Especially once the dressings came off. I'm just going to have to control my thoughts better. That's it. Not difficult at all. Hesitantly, I added, "Let me know when you're done and need my help again."

"I...I'm not done, but I may need your help." Her voice faded to a mortified whisper. I glanced over my shoulder and saw her pawing uselessly at the toilet paper dispenser, unable to grasp anything with her bandaged hands. She bit down hard on her lip in an effort to stop herself from crying. Oh, fuck. This is just painful to watch.

"Did you know," I asked her as I crossed the bathroom quickly, ripping a wad of toilet paper out of the dispenser and pressing it into her upturned hand, "that you looked just like a kitten batting at a new toy just now? It was very cute." I smiled gently, my eyes on her face to gauge her reaction to my poor attempt at a joke. And not look at what she's doing with the toilet paper.

For a second, she looked hurt, then she looked up and met my eyes. A small smile slowly spread across her face. "Meow," she said, holding up her 'paws'. "I feel about as weak as a kitten, so the comparison is probably right." She sighed. "Now, I would appreciate your help one more time, because I think you're right. I need to rest in bed a bit longer."

"At your service." I took a deep breath and braced myself. I carried her back to bed and attempted to tuck the sheets around her again. I'd never been so relieved to see a girl covered up. Casually, I mentioned that she could ask the nurses for help when she needed it – after all, that was why she was in hospital. I prayed she'd take the hint and let other women help her. Anyone but me.

She looked down at her lap, not meeting my eyes. "I know, but I feel uncomfortable asking some random stranger to help me with something so personal...and I don't... like...anyone touching me at the moment." She shuddered.

Shit. I'm on bathroom duty indefinitely. Is there any chance I can ask for her to be catheterised so I don't have to…fuck, that's not something I should think about, either.

I took a breath and let it out. She didn't need me to make her feel worse. She felt bad enough as it was. I tried to be funny. "And the last time you asked a random stranger for help, you ended up in hospital with him and now you can't get rid of him – he even followed you into the bathroom." I smiled, attempting to make light of it.

She looked up but didn't smile. "After you saved my life, got shot and even helped me wipe my…" She blushed, unable to finish. "I don't think you qualify as a random stranger any more. I'd like to think you're a very good friend, even if I don't know you very well."

"And here I thought you were going to call me an arse wipe." I shook my head in mock sadness, feeling nothing but uneasy relief. 

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