“We have to get to Alex.” Maria whispered as she helped Michael sit up.
She watched as he rubbed his head and winced in sympathy. Taking an axe to the head was far from fun, but at least he was alive in front of her right now. The last she had heard of Alex was his pained scream.
“There’s a gun in my truck.” Michael blinked in an attempt to clear the fuzziness from his vision and pushed himself up off the floor. “It’s this way, come on.”
He grabbed her hand and led the way as they ran through the cornfield. Maria stumbled a few times as she tried to keep up, making sure to keep an eye on the darkness behind her should Travis decide to appear, but she trusted that Michael knew how to get out of the looming maze.
Every intersection looked the same with its towering leaves and its moonlit dirt paths, but two lefts and a right later and they could see their trucks dead ahead.
Michael wasted no time in unlocking the door and jumping into the front seat to grab his gun from the glove compartment. He double checked the weapon for the bullets that he already knew were there and hopped back out.
“He was in the trailer when I last saw him,” Maria told him, chewing her bottom lip
Michael glanced at the trailer and could see that the door was closed and the lights on - though that didn’t really tell him anything about who was inside or what state they were in. He took a deep breath as he tried to calculate what their next move should be. They had to find Alex - that much was obvious - but he didn’t want them to be sitting ducks for the axe wielding maniac if they all ended up trapped inside together.
He turned to Maria and grabbed her hand, pressing his keys into her palm. “Get in the truck and keep your head down.”
“Like hell I will.” Maria snatched her hand away, narrowing her eyes.
“Maria.” He pleaded, his voice tinging on desperate, but she wasn’t going to change her mind.
“Alex is my best friend, I’m not just gonna hide here while you look for him.”
Michael ran his hand through his hair as he gave her an almost imperceivable nod. Discussion very quickly over, they stalked towards the trailer, their footsteps echoing in the evening’s silence.
Michael placed himself in front of Maria as he reached for the door handle, reaffirming his grip on the cool metal handle of the gun. He didn’t know what to expect on the other side of the door, but the familiar feeling of his forefinger resting over the trigger helped to quell the anxious feeling bubbling inside of him just a fraction.
He edged the door open slowly and poked his head inside to check for any immediate threats but any intentions of being stealthy flew out the window as soon as he got a proper look inside.
“Oh my god,” he let out in a quiet breath as he allowed the door swing open fully.
Sitting upright against the desk, with the front of his t-shirt covered in blood, was Alex. The airman jumped defensively at the sudden sound of Michael and Maria barging into the room but kept his hand pressed against his chest, his glassy eyes scanning their bodies for any possible wounds.
He let out a small huff of laughter in his relief, “You're okay.”
Michael rushed over to Alex and dropped to his knees beside him.
“Yeah Alex, we’re fine,” he confirmed as his wide eyes took in all the blood that was still soaking into Alex’s shirt, “what happened?”
“The son of a bitch stabbed me.” He groaned as he gestured to the sharp boot making tool that was on the floor beside them - its point still tinged with red.
Michael gently lifted Alex’s bloody hand from the wound and pulled down his shirt collar to try and get a look at what was going on. He was no expert but he’d seen enough bar fights and glass sticking out of people to get a gist of whether a wound was serious or not.
He could barely see the cut with the amount of blood that was still oozing out of it.
“We need to call an ambulance.”
“There’s no signal,” Maria commented, already looking at her phone, “and we can’t stay here, Travis could come back any second.”
Alex gave them a reassuring smile as he attempted to stand, “I’ll be fine.”
“Alex, this is a lot of blood.” Michael argued as he helped him to his feet and pulled one arm over his shoulders.
“It’ll be fine,” Alex assured them again, trying his best to ignore the sudden dizziness that made his knees feel weak now that he was standing.
Michael decided not to mention how quickly the remaining colour had drained from Alex’s face, turning its usually olive tone to a ghastly pale. He just readjusted his grip on Alex’s hip and started walking.
Their trucks weren’t parked far from the trailer, but it felt like miles away with how slow Alex was shuffling.
“I’m sorry, Maria,” he muttered as he bumped into Michael for the third time. His voice was quiet but it was hard to miss over the stillness of their surroundings.
Maria looked at him confused, “What? Sorry for what?”
“I should have stopped him. I shouldn’t have let him go after you.” Alex swallowed hard.
“You are joking, right?” Maria glanced over the Michael to confirm that she had just heard correctly. “He stabbed you and you’re apologising to me?”
“I should have helped.”
“Hey, your scream was enough of a warning for me. Besides I’m a total badass, remember? I can deal with one crazy guy by myself.” Maria winked at him with a reassuring smile.
“Yeah, she knocked him out with his own axe and everything.” Michael joined in.
Alex smiled in disbelief, his hand slipping from where it was pressed against his chest as he stumbled again.
They wordlessly passed Maria’s truck, all three of them far too aware that the flat tire was a lost cause at this point. It didn’t help that Michael’s truck also only had two seats, but they would have to make it work.
Michael dug his hand into his pocket for his keys before throwing them to Maria. “You drive. I’ll get into the back with Alex to help stop the bleeding.”
Maria didn’t argue as she pulled down the tailgate for them, then moved to the front of the truck and jumped in behind the wheel.
Michael gently sat Alex down on the edge of the truck and watched as he shuffled all the way to the back. It was clumsy and painful but he was soon resting against the back window.
Michael effortlessly jumped up after him, closing the tailgate and making sure it was secure. He thanked his past self for the blankets that still lay in a pile in the corner as he picked one up and quickly shook off the dust.
“Here, lean forward.” He said as he wrapped the blanket around Alex’s back. It wasn’t cold out but once they started driving they were definitely going to feel a chill.
Michael then grabbed another blanket and sat down to the right of Alex, gesturing for him to hold it against his wound.
He tapped on the window and gave Maria a quick thumbs up before turning his attention back to the man bleeding out beside him.
Alex’s breath hitched as the truck spluttered to life beneath them but he quickly closed his eyes and tried to calm his breathing.
“How are you feeling?” Michael asked, placing his hand on top of Alex’s to help keep the pressure on.
Alex kept his eyes closed, trying so hard not to be surprised by the feel of Michael’s gentle touch. “I’ll be fine.”
“Alex, I’m serious.” Michael gave him an exasperated glare despite the other man not being able to see it, “How bad is it?”
“Not as bad as when I lost a leg.” Alex looked at him with a cheeky glint in his eye, wanting nothing more than to just play this off as nothing to worry about, but if anything, his answer made Michael’s gaze even more concerned.
Alex knew it was bad. The mere fact that the bleeding was showing no signs of stopping was bad enough, but he could feel himself getting more lightheaded and his chest was aching more and more with every breath. He also felt really cold, much more than any blanket would fix, like there was a fateful iciness settling in his bones.
“I’m a bit dizzy and it’s kinda getting harder to breathe.” He admitted, his breath stuttering once more as if trying to prove a point.
Michael nodded, struggling to find the words to respond. It was times like this that he wished he had Max’s power. There was nothing he could do right now but feel as Alex shivered beneath his touch, occasionally letting out a pained groan each time they went over a bump in the road.
“I’m glad you two are talking again.” Alex spoke up after a few minutes of silence. “I mean all it took was a flat tire and some creepy guy from the internet, but still, I’m happy for you two.”
“You are?” Michael kept his gaze on the passing scenery, noting how Alex’s words were slurring ever so slightly.
“She just needed some time to accept everything.”
Michael turned to reply but was caught off guard by the paleness of Alex’s skin and his half closed eye lids. Even in the moonlight it was obvious how much blood was continuing to stain the blanket.
He leant over with his free hand to feel for Alex’s pulse against his neck. It was much weaker than he liked and the clamminess of his friend’s skin made his own blood run cold.
“You keep saying that. I think it’s become a reflex with you.” Michael shook his head. Alex wasn’t exactly an open book on the best of days, but sometimes it was so infuriating how closed off he could be. “The bleeding’s not stopping.”
“I’ve survived worse.” Alex replied, involuntarily leaning further into Michael’s side as he felt his strength waning. A part of Michael knew that he wasn’t just referring to his time at war.
With his hand on Alex’s chest he could feel how erratic his breathing was.
“You never talk about what happened with your leg.” Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the best subject to bring up, but Michael hoped it would keep Alex awake and talking.
“It’s not exactly a fun story.”
“When is war ever a fun story? I still want to hear it, if you’ll tell me?”
Alex considered the request for a moment. He hadn’t exactly divulged the fact that he wore a prosthetic to many people, so he hadn’t had to tell the story all that often - and if he was completely honest he was surprised that Michael hadn’t asked about it sooner.
“We were sent on a mission to gather intel.”
Michael nodded encouragingly as he pulled the blanket tighter around Alex’s shoulders.
“They tracked down the location that they thought could hold some answers and a group of us were sent to see what we could find. The building was a good few hours from the base, so it’s not like they were expecting us back quickly, but I guess it would have been nice if they had wondered what was taking us so long just a bit sooner.”
Michael smiled at the sarcastic tone. Despite everything that had happened, he was glad that Alex still had his sassy side. “What happened?”
“It was a trap. We got there and found the place rigged to explode.” Alex could feel his eyes start to water as he tried to put his thoughts into order, but he blinked back the tears. “I don’t really know what happened, but the building came down on us and I know at one point I woke up and there was just so much dust in my eyes and my ears were ringing and I could barely feel anything, I was pinned under so much.”
Alex squeezed his eyes shut. “It was bad. Apparently we were trapped for hours until a rescue team was sent for us, but I don’t really remember any of it. They tried to save my leg but it was completely crushed, there was no saving it and…” He trailed off as he gave a slight shrug. “I um-, I was lucky though. At least I came out of it alive.”
Michael felt his own eyes watering and for once he was at a loss for words. He knew it was a bad injury, that much was obvious, but he had never truly thought about exactly what could have caused it. Or maybe he just didn’t want to consider it. Maybe, during the ten years that Alex was away, Michael had come up with enough horror stories about him being injured or killed, that finding out that something had indeed happened to him was enough to make him feel sick - he didn’t want to add a backstory to the injury as well.
They were silent for a while, Michael watching as the many cornfields slowly blurred into civilisation. He could feel how much Maria was pushing his truck to drive as fast as possible, but it still didn’t feel fast enough.
Alex was watching the stars.
Michael felt the moment that Alex stopped holding any of his own weight as his head rolled against Michael’s shoulder.
“Hey, keep those eyes open.”
“I’m tired.” Alex answered breathlessly, doing his best to focus his vision.
“I know. I know you are. But I need you to stay awake, okay?”
Alex made a small affirmative noise, but his eyes began to close again nonetheless.
Michael gave him a light shake, “Talk to me.”
“About what?” Alex blinked rapidly.
“Anything.” Michael encouraged.
After a moment Alex swallowed, his tongue poking out between his lips as he felt how dry his mouth was. “I’ve been writing.”
Alex hummed in response.
“What kind of music? Is it a love song?”
Alex gave him the best cheekiest smile he could muster. “It’s more heartbreak than love.”
“Oh yeah?” Michael felt his own heart break just a little at hearing that, “But you’re enjoying it, though? Writing again?”
He put more pressure on the wound when he noticed Alex slipping again, hating to put him in more pain, but desperate to keep him talking.
“Yeah.” Alex groaned before continuing in a quiet voice. His words were slurring more now but Michael could still make out what he was saying. “Makes me feel like myself again. Like I can forget about all the bad that I’m tangled up in. Everything just goes quiet.”
Alex’s answer had no right to give Michael the rush of nostalgia that it did. Their seventeen year old selves were so far from the people they were now and yet they could never truly escape them it seemed. “Like your entropy changes.”
Alex gave a small huff of laughter, all too familiar with the memory that Michael was pulling from, regardless of how muddled his brain felt right now.
“I’m sorry I left.” He coughed as he tried to get the words out, finding it harder to breathe.
Michael shook his head. This was a conversation they had often avoided at the best of times, so he definitely didn’t want to be hearing it now.
“Maria thinks you were pushing me away. But I should have stayed. I should have at least said goodbye.”
Michael squeezed his eyes shut. Yep, this was definitely not the conversation he wanted to be having.
“Alex don’t. Don’t apologise. Look, a lot happened back then but none of that matters anymore, we’re different people now.”
“Maybe it was for the best. At least you’re happy now.” Alex whispered, his eyelids fluttering.
Michael helped to ease Alex’s head back after it rolled off his shoulder once more.
“But are you?” He asked, feeling his whole body jolt as the truck ran over another pothole.
When Alex took a bit too long to respond, Michael turned to look at him, to see if he could work out what was going on in the man’s mind.
Deep down he knew that his own happiness with Maria meant that Alex was being left in the dust and so honestly, he wasn’t sure which answer he would prefer to hear.
Did he want Alex to tell him that he was happy? That he was moving on with his life. That he had his job, his music, his friends. He had a purpose. He didn’t need Michael.
Or did he want to hear that, no, Alex wasn’t happy? That those things would never be enough because Michael wasn’t at his side to share his accomplishments. That seeing Michael move on broke his heart a hundred times over and that he’d never get over the romance that they both once thought they would have.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to find out that he was loved if it was at the expense of Alex’s happiness.
Or was that just wishful thinking? That someone could love him as much as he believed that Alex once had?
Or maybe he wouldn’t get the chance to find out because when Michael looked at Alex he could practically feel his heart stuttering at the sight of the man’s closed eyes and lax features.
“Alex?” Michael frowned when the man didn’t open his eyes. “Alex, wake up!”
He shook his shoulder gently but all it achieved was to make Alex’s head roll lifelessly so that his chin now rested against his chest.
“No, no, no, you’re not doing this, not now.” Michael frantically felt for a pulse and could have cried when he felt it skipping weakly beneath his fingertips.
With a hand on either side, he gently lifted Alex’s face and begged him to open his eyes, not missing how the hand that Alex had been using to hold his chest feel limply into his lap now that Michael’s hand was no longer helping to press it against the wound.
He vaguely registered through the window that Maria was turning back to look at him, trying to get his attention whilst also keeping an eye on the road, but he couldn’t bring himself to shift his focus from the agonising picture in front of him.
The bright red of the blood that Michael had now smeared onto Alex’s cheek was a stark contrast to the greyness of his skin and if he wasn’t close enough to hear the soft, shallow huffs of breath, he wouldn’t have thought that Alex was breathing at all.
The shrill tone of his mobile was enough to make him jump. He would have been fully prepared to ignore it had it not been accompanied by a knocking on the window from Maria who was wildly gesturing for him to pick it up.
And sure enough the caller ID showed Maria’s name.
Michael put one hand back over Alex’s wound, all too aware of how much more wet it felt now that Alex’s hand wasn’t blocking most of the blood, and used his other to swipe the answer button.
Maria didn’t give Michael a second to speak before frantically demanding answers. “What’s going on? Is Alex okay?”
“I think he’s still bleeding and now he’s not waking up.” Michael could feel the words getting stuck in his throat.
“Shit. Do you think he can hold on a bit longer? We’re almost there and I’m driving as fast as I can.”
Michael watched Alex’s motionless face as Maria spoke. He had no idea how much longer Alex could last. He had always believed that Alex was strong and he’d even said it himself, he had survived so much worse. But realistically Alex could die in the next two minutes, right here in the back of Michael’s old truck, cold and pale and covered in blood, and there was nothing they would be able to do to stop it from happening.
“Guerin!” Maria snapped him out of his spiral, the truck jolting underneath him again for good measure.
“Just keep driving.”
Michael wasn’t sure how much longer it had taken to get to the hospital but Maria had been true to her word. She had pushed the truck well beyond it’s limit of speed for the remainder of the journey, only slowing abruptly when other cars decided to get in their way.
Michael, however, hadn’t taken his eyes off of Alex, checking practically every minute that he was still breathing and his heart still beating, noting how his skin seemed to be more cold and clammy every time he checked.
Another bump in the road had jostled Alex so much that Michael had made the immediate decision to reposition himself so that he could cradle Alex against his chest. He told himself that it was for Alex’s benefit, to keep him warm or to pressure on his wound better, but found that he couldn’t even lie to himself convincingly.
Alex was dying. He couldn’t pretend that that wasn’t the case. So if this really was it, Michael would do anything to make sure that Alex knew that he wasn’t alone.
When he felt the truck shudder to a stop beneath him Michael looked up, terrified that they’d run out of gas or had gotten caught in a traffic jam at the worst possible moment, but when he saw the three most beautiful words lit up for the world to see, he let himself feel a tiny sliver of hope.
Roswell Community Medical.
He watched as Maria jumped out from behind the wheel and slammed the door shut. She leant over the side of the truck and was about to speak when her eyes widened and her mouth fell open.
Michael watched her breath hitch as she took in the sight before her. The sight of her best friend covered in blood and not moving.
Before Michael had a chance to speak, she looked at him, put her brave face back on, quickly blurted out that she was going to get some help and ran off into the building.
But Michael couldn’t wait that long. He shifted Alex so that he was leaning against the back of the truck again and rushed to lower the tailgate, the heavy metal banging as it dropped into its horizontal position. He bent down and gathered Alex into his arms, letting the blanket fall to the floor with a soft thud, and gently lowered himself off the truck.
Alex’s head hung back limply and his limbs swung gently as Michael bore his weight all the way to the glass doors. He vaguely registered passing the shocked face of Kyle Valenti as he entered the building but his only focus was getting Alex onto the gurney being wheeled towards him by various medical staff, with Maria leading the way.
He carefully placed Alex onto the bed, putting his legs down first before lowering his upper body and guiding his head down gently. He looked even more pale under the harsh fluorescent lights and Michael didn’t have a chance to check for the rise and fall of Alex’s chest as they wheeled him away.
Michael followed for as far as he could until they reached the doors that he was not allowed to enter. He immediately moved towards the window looking into the room and watched as the doctors and nurses got to work. They hastily cut away Alex’s blood drenched clothes and set up various machines to get a clear picture of how bad the situation was.
He felt Maria slip her hand into his and squeeze it tight, whether its intention was to comfort him or herself, Michael wasn’t sure, but he was just glad not to be alone.
But still not that desperate for company that the voice of Kyle Valenti speaking up from behind him didn’t immediately grate on his nerves.
“What happened?” The man asked, his worried frown made less convincing by the sparkly gems stuck to his face.
Michael listened as Maria began to explain the events of the evening but his attention was quickly preoccupied by shouts from inside the room as one nurse pushed up her sleeves and began CPR.
It was as though all the air left the room in that moment, Maria’s rambling trailed off as her mouth hung open in disbelief and Kyle subconsciously edged closer to door, itching to run inside and help. Michael pressed his free hand against the cool glass, every chest compression performed on Alex’s prone body feeling like another stab to his own heart.
Time stood still as the doctors and nurses worked to get the precious organ beating again and as soon as they found a pulse they were out of the room in seconds, wheeling the bed with practiced swiftness and ease.
“Kate, what’s going on?” Kyle asked, following the group at a close proximity, to which one of the nurses broke away from the formation and came to a stop in front of him. It was clear from her sympathetic gaze that she had immediately recognised Kyle’s question as coming from a worried acquaintance as opposed to the highly experienced Doctor Valenti.
“We’re taking him to theatre. We’ll come find you when we’re done.” She smiled, nodding reassuringly.
Michael stood by Kyle’s side and watched her go, running back to the group as they wheeled Alex through the operating room doors.
Alex ended up being in surgery for several hours and Michael felt like he was on high alert the entire time, just waiting for someone to come and tell him that the worst had happened.
Kyle had led them all to the relatives waiting room where they could sit down and watch the time tick by slowly together - something Michael had promptly refused to do as he paced the length of the room for the first hour, practically determined to wear a hole in the linoleum.
It was only as Maria reached for his hand to encourage him to take a seat that he noticed the state he was in. He wasn’t sure how his mind had blocked out the sight and smell of the tacky blood that had dried on his shirt and on his palms and under his fingernails, but now it was the only thing he could feel.
Quietly excusing himself, he bolted to the closest set of toilets and let the door slam shut behind him as he rushed over to the sink, desperate to get the blood - Alex’s blood - off his hands. He watched as the red tinted water ran down the drain amongst the soap suds, scrubbing hard at his knuckles where the blood didn’t want to leave. There was just so much of it. Too much.
Alex had joked once that Michael’s hands always seemed to be dirty, always covered in grease and grime - much like the rest of his body after a long day fixing cars - and that half the time no-one even knew where it came from.
But come the end of the day, when he’s finished on the final car and put away his tools, he would wash his hands and the grime would run straight off. Any stress from the job could be washed away and forgotten for another day.
But not today. He continued to scrub but it was like his hands didn’t want to be clean - they didn’t want him to be able to forget that easily. The remnants of blood stood out on his skin despite how red he was making them and the pink suds clung to the sink around the drain, refusing to be washed away.
Michael turned off the tap and gripped the sides of the sink, hanging his head as he squeezed his eyes shut. He tried to stay calm, to take deep breaths and ignore the smell of blood still lingering in the air, but he couldn’t stop the sob from bursting out of him.
And once the floodgates were open there was no going back.
His breath hitched and he could already feel the tears streaming down his face, running into his mouth and dripping off his chin. He clasped a hand over his mouth in an attempt to quieten the cries but it didn’t stop them from coming.
He shouldn’t be this upset. He really shouldn’t. He loved Maria. He loved Maria so much that he had ended things with Alex. Several times in fact - just to really make it clear that whatever the little thing they’d had going was, it was over.
He had no right to be this upset at the thought of losing him.
But he also couldn’t lie to himself. Whether he and Alex were in a relationship or not, he was always going to care about him. A piece of his heart was always going to belong to him whether he liked it or not and tonight he had felt that piece break a million times over.
Slowly the sobs turned to quiet whimpers and the tears dried on his face and when enough time had passed he took a deep breath, composed himself, ran his hand through his mess of curls and headed back to the waiting room.
Maria and Kyle were sitting in the same place as when he left them, eyeing him cautiously as he closed the door behind him.
“Are you okay?” Maria asked gently, as if trying not to spook him and, grunting a yes in return, he took the seat next to her.
“Thought you might want to change.” Kyle leaned his arm around Maria and handed him a blue scrub top that looked very much like the man’s usual uniform. Michael took it gratefully, noting that Valenti’s face was now lacking the sparkling additions that he was sporting earlier. He wasted no time in changing where he sat and dumped his stained shirt on the seat two chairs over from him.
Not much else was said whilst they waited. No conversation felt appropriate or worth their time.
At one point Kyle had gotten coffees for Michael and Maria and some water for his now rather sober self before returning to the quiet room to continue staring at the door, practically begging someone to open it and tell them what was going on.
When his wish finally came true, Michael almost cracked a smile at how high Kyle jumped in his seat at the abrupt disruption to the stillness of the room.
“Kyle, can you…” The doctor gestured for Valenti to step outside with him. His face didn’t give away whether it was good or bad news as he held the door open wider for Kyle to pass through. Michael and Maria watched through the window as the doctor talked and Kyle listened, noting with a heavy heart how the doctor squeezed Kyle’s shoulder reassuringly before he walked away.
Kyle re-entered the room with a small smile on his face.
“He’s okay?” Maria guessed, shooting up from her seat to meet him at the door.
Kyle grinned, running a hand through his quiff in relief. “He’s okay.”
Michael could feel his heart pounding as he rested his elbows on his knees and pressed his forehead into his clasped palms. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry from the rush of emotion that was suddenly itching to burst out of him.
Alex was alive.
Alex was okay.
He listened as Kyle explained to them both what the doctor had said, but he didn’t dare try standing up for fear of falling over. Even sitting down he was aware how shaky his legs felt as a strange mix of relief and exhaustion washed over him. It had been a long and emotional night and this whole situation was leaving him thoroughly drained.
“He was lucky. The blade nicked a few major vessels, but managed to miss both his heart and lungs.”
Even without looking, Michael could hear the ‘doctor tone’ in his voice. The professional, articulate words that included enough medical jargon to sound authentic, but not too much that you needed a PhD to decrypt it. It was most likely just a reflex, an automatic action from years of updating family members of how their loved ones were doing, but right now it was unnerving. Like he was easing them in gently before dropping the bad news.
“There were a few complications because of the huge amount of blood loss that he suffered. He actually flatlined once on the table but they got him back and managed to close the wound.”
Michael’s head shot up, his brows furrowing in confusion as his brain tried to process what Kyle had just said.
Alex had died.
He’d actually died.
The three of them had just been sitting here whilst in a room just down the hall Alex’s heart had stopped beating. Whether it had stopped for mere seconds or entire minutes, Alex had suffered so much that he had died, alone, on a cold metal table, with none of his friends by his side.
And Michael could have lost him forever.
As if Maria could sense his internal spiral, she spoke up and asked the question that he needed the answer to.
“But he’s gonna be okay, right? Now that they’ve fixed everything?”
They both watched as Kyle hesitated before nodding reassuringly. “He should make a full recovery, but with a wound like his nothing is for certain so it’s more of a ‘wait and see’ situation. They’ll be moving him to a room soon, so they’ll let us know when we can see him.”
They’d had to wait another hour before being allowed to see Alex, though thankfully this one was much less agonising.
Maria had debated calling Liz, certain that her friend wouldn’t want to be left out of the loop, but looking at the clock once more she decided against it. She had been so focused on waiting for Alex to come out of surgery that it hadn’t even crossed her mind to call Liz earlier, but now it was past midnight and considering that Alex was out of danger, there was no real need to wake her and have her rush over. She’d call her in the morning at a more acceptable hour.
She had also tried to talk to Michael during this time, tried to initiate a conversation or even just get him to look at her for more than five seconds, but the cowboy had continued to answer any questions with distracted grunts, pushing his fingers through his messy hair every time she or Kyle so much as looked at him.
When the doctor finally returned, the three of them jumped out of their seats so fast like it was a competition who could greet him at the door the quickest. He led them down the corridor and through parts of the hospital that Kyle was clearly familiar with, stopping outside one of the rooms. The wooden door with the small square window had been left slightly ajar but the group stopped just before reaching it, leaving the trio unable to see what was on the other side.
“Like I said before,” the doctor began, nodding towards Kyle as a reminder of their previous conversation, “I see no reason why he shouldn’t make a full recovery from this but we’re going to need to keep him in for a few days at least. He lost a lot of blood and that will definitely have taken its toll on his internal organs, so you’re very welcome to sit with him for as long as you like but please do keep the atmosphere calm, we don’t want to put him through any more stress than need be. His body has been through a lot, he’ll wake up in his own time.”
The doctor smiled once more before departing down the narrow corridor, leaving them standing on the wrong side of the door.
Kyle led the way, followed by Maria, then Michael who had taken a few extra seconds to compose himself. He knew what it was like to see people he cared about in hospital. He had seen Isobel in pain and coughing up blood after taking Liz’s serum, hell he’d seen Max dying on an operating table during a literal heart transplant.
But he’d never been here with Alex before.
Since first hearing about Alex’s leg injury, he had refused to think about what could have caused the injury, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t pictured what the airman might have looked like in the hospital. It often played out like a little home movie just for him. It starts with Alex, covered in blood, screaming in pain and begging for help. Sometimes the lower half of his limb is still there, though often a gruesome mess of ripped flesh and blood is where his precious right leg should be.
Then it would cut to the aftermath, to Alex pale and still on the bed, connected to a whole host of machines and tubes and equipment, all of it crowded around his bed like they had come to visit. Because God knows if Alex had actually had any visitors when he had gotten hurt or if he had been so painfully, heartbreakingly alone.
His brain was always coming up with new horrifying details of what might have happened, always adding to the image in his head. Sometimes Alex doesn’t wake up for weeks, his body too broken, too weak to face the horrors of the real world.
Sometimes Alex doesn’t wake up at all.
But none of that was real. He could come up with a million variations but a small part of him always rejoiced at the fact that he would never truly know just how bad it had looked.
But this, right now, was real. And whatever image he saw on the other side of that door was probably going to set up shop in his brain forever and he wasn’t sure if he was ready to give his imagination an actual template to work from.
Though on the other hand, now was his chance to be there for Alex. To be there, with his friends, when Alex woke up. To make sure that he wasn’t alone. Taking a step forward, he pushed the door open fully from where it had swung partially closed behind Maria.
Inside, it was hard to miss the subject of his thoughts lying on the bed. Eyes closed and mouth parted slightly, Alex looked so unnaturally still.
There were wires snaking from under his hospital gown leading to the nearby monitors that were displaying his heart rate and blood pressure. Other tubes were attached to his inner elbow and the back of one of his hands and a nasal cannula sat under his nose.
There was still a slight paleness to his skin, but nowhere near as translucent as when he had been bleeding out in Michael’s arms. There were fresh, white bandages visibly poking out from the top of his gown that showed no signs of blood and for a few seconds Michael forgot how much of a close call the situation had been earlier.
His eyes were drawn to the other end of the bed where he couldn’t help but notice that somewhere under the blanket one leg didn’t quite reach the length of the other and he felt his heart clench as it brought everything back into focus once more.
Maria and Kyle had taken the two chairs on one side of the bed, leaving Michael to take the chair on the other. He pulled it back slightly before taking a seat, wincing as it scraped across the floor.
It was silent in the room, the only notable noise coming from the hallway outside, and Michael felt like he needed to do something, anything to hide how much it hurt to see Alex so quiet and unmoving. He wanted to say something or ask about the readings on the monitors, or take a look at Alex’s notes despite knowing that he wouldn’t understand a word of it.
He wanted to take Alex’s hand in his and never let go, to brush the hair that he had been letting grow out off his forehead, to rearrange the blanket to make sure that he wasn’t getting cold.
He leant forward with the sudden need to touch him, to hold him and feel that he was still alive, but he stopped himself at the last second, remembering all too suddenly that Maria was sitting opposite. He didn’t want her to get the wrong idea.
He looked up at Maria to see if she had noticed, but it was clear that she only had eyes for one man at the moment. Michael had the decency to feel a pang of guilt at the sight. Alex was one of her best friends and this entire time he hadn’t even given that fact a second thought.
He’d been so wrapped up in his own head, scared that he was going to lose Alex that he had completely ignored the fact that there had been two other people beside him who also cared about him.
“Do you know how long it will take for him to wake up?” Maria broke the silence with a whisper, turning to look at Kyle for his infinite doctor wisdom.
Michael watched as he took a breath, taking a moment to think about his answer.
“It’ll probably be a few hours at least, the sedatives are most likely still in his system and then after that it’s just a case of his body deciding when it wants to wake up. He’s been through a lot but he’s strong, so I reckon it won’t be too long” Kyle replied and the answer appeared to be all Maria needed to hear.
She turned back to face Alex and settled further into her chair, making it clear that she wouldn’t be going anywhere until Alex opened his eyes.
“Now that you mention it, I’m just gonna ask his doctor about something quickly.” Kyle said as he peered up at the monitor with a furrowed brow.
Michael felt his heart jump into his throat. “Why what’s wrong.”
“Nothing, everything’s fine,” Kyle placated him as he rose from his seat, “just professional curiosity. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Michael was sure that he was going to cause himself problems with the number of times his heart had been sent racing in the past few hours, but he took a calming breath and nodded as Valenti walked past.
The door clicked shut behind him and then it was just the three of them.
Michael knew that he should say something to comfort Maria, to reassure her that her best friend was going to be okay, but he couldn’t seem to find the words.
He was too focused on the gentle rise and fall of Alex’s chest and of how his dark eyelashes were not yet showing any signs of fluttering open.
He felt bad. Or at least, he knew that he should feel bad, that his current girlfriend was sitting right there but instead all of his thoughts and feelings were being taken up by his ex-something.
He watched as Maria leant forward in her chair and gently covered Alex’s hand with her own.
“He’s really good at defending you, you know?” She said after a moment and Michael could only imagine how confused he looked at that statement. She gave him a small smile before looking back at Alex, her thumb lightly stroking the back of his hand.
“When we were in the car this morning we ended up talking about you and every time I tried to make you the bad guy, Alex instantly had a comeback for why I should forgive you.”
He was quite surprised to hear that. Alex had no obligation to defend him - by all rights he should be the one complaining about Michael’s actions.
“I know you only kept everything a secret from me to protect me. I think I knew that from the minute I found out, but I just needed some time to process it. But I forgive you.”
“You do?” Michael asked.
Maria nodded, glancing back up at Michael, “If tonight’s taught me anything, it’s that the people you care about can be taken from you at any second, so there’s no point spending your life pushing people away.”
Michael opened his mouth as if to speak, but he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He had been giving Maria space ever since she had discovered the truth, hoping that with time she would come to forgive him. It had been a huge shock to her - not only that aliens existed and Rosa was alive, but that she had been left out of this big secret that all of her friends seemed to be in on - so of course she needed some time.
So now, he should be happy that he had gotten her back.
No, he was happy. Of course he was.
But for some reason Maria’s words were now stuck in his head. It was almost like he could visualise them, bright red writing, underlined three times with about ten exclamation points. There’s no point spending your life pushing people away.
Talk about the story of his life. He was practically the king of pushing people away. He’d pushed away foster parents whilst growing up, he pushed Maria away when they first started dating, he couldn’t even count the number of times he’d pushed Isobel and Max away throughout their lives.
But right now none of those people came to mind. Stolen hub caps, that’s what came to mind.
He should never have pushed Alex away all those years ago. Yeah, the man was going to be leaving for the Air Force anyway, but if Michael had just been there to say goodbye, to tell him to come home safe and that he’d be waiting. Well, maybe it would have all turned out differently. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a cosmic mess that he just couldn’t seem to untangle himself from.
He could try to hide it as much as possible, from Maria, from Isobel, from Max, from Alex. But he couldn’t hide it from himself, not really, not anymore. Alex had almost died tonight and his heart hurt just from the thought of it because as much as he tried to block it out or push it down, he loved him. Michael loved him and if tonight had taught him anything it was that that feeling was never going to leave, as much as he tried to get rid of it.
Oblivious to his internal plight, Maria watched as he leant forward and took Alex’s other hand in his own, being mindful of the IV.
“Hey, he’ll be okay.” She whispered, reassuringly. “I can’t even imagine what it was like for you in the back of the truck this evening, it must have been terrifying trying to keep him from bleeding out.”
Yep, terrifying is one word for it.
“But you kept him alive and soon he’s gonna wake up and brush this is all off and make a joke about how it was only a little scratch and we’re worrying over nothing.”
Michael let out a breath of laughter, his eyes never leaving Alex’s face.
“But he’s gonna be okay. We’re all gonna be okay.”
Michael felt a lump form in the back of his throat. He really hoped Maria’s words were true. That in a few hours time, Alex would open his eyes and everything would be okay and back to normal again. That Alex would be alive and on the mend and Michael would be able to happily get back together with Maria. Because that’s what normal was, right?
Or was this whole thing going to be a reset switch? Michael had had so many confusing thoughts and feelings go through his brain in the past few hours and maybe this was some overly dramatic sign from the universe. Maybe it was the kick up the backside that him and Alex needed to get them both on the same page and force them to have a proper conversation that didn’t end like some weird kind of breakup.
Either way, Michael wasn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon. He was going to stay exactly where he was, holding Alex’s hand, watching over him as he healed.
He was going to stay exactly where Alex needed him to be.