Things that Alex Claremont-Diaz knows for a fact:
One: It’s snowing outside. The big window to the left of his bed tells him so, revealing a cold, gray D.C. afternoon. His room is too high in the building and his bed too far from the window to see much more than the snow clouds from this vantage point. It’s objectively very ugly, and reflects his current mood ironically well.
Two: Henry is fucking exhausted. He’s slumped in the chair on the opposite side of the bed from the window, blond hair windswept and bordering on greasy. It’s the only part of Henry that Alex is able to see from the pillow that Henry’s made of his arms on the surface of the bed. He’s wearing one of Alex’s Georgetown crew necks, the one with holes in the cuffs from Alex’s stress rubbing with his thumbs.
Alex really wants to run his fingers through Henry’s hair because knows it would relax him more than any of the drugs they’ve got running through his IV right now; but Alex also knows it would wake Henry up, and his boyfriend is still fucking exhausted. So, he doesn’t.
He’s considerate like that sometimes.
Three: Alex is bored.
His family has yet to return any and all electronic devices to him since the.... incident. They tell him he doesn’t need the distractions; he needs to rest, his phone will just stress him out, god just take a nap, you bloody idiot, etc. Alex thinks it’s a whole bunch of bullshit; none of them seem to realize being kept out of the loop now is even more stressful to Alex, who spends most of his life catastrophizing mentally in order to be prepared for any situation.
[Still didn’t prepare him for this. However, that is a worry for another day, when Henry’s hair is once again available for stress-relief brushing.]
A Charlie Brown Christmas had been playing on the television set on the wall in front of him before he fell asleep. Now, he’s awake again and someone (Henry) obviously turned the TV off and hid the remote, and Alex hasn’t been able to find it since he woke up.
What an asshole.
A beautiful, kind, perfectly wonderful but terribly annoying asshole.
Four: The president is avoiding him.
And Alex...Alex doesn’t really want to think about that right now.
So, he doesn’t. Instead, Alex finally gives into the temptation and runs his fingers through Henry’s thick, silky, slightly greasy but not that gross hair, and begins to calm down with the familiar motion.
Henry startles after just a few seconds, sitting up immediately, his blue eyes wide.
And scared. His eyes are very, very frightened.
Alex’s heart breaks just a bit more than it already has, because he knows he’s the one who put that fear there.
“Sorry,” Alex croaks out, and Henry mouth rises in a small, tired grin. Alex has been having trouble doing more than whisper lately; coming off a vent is a whole bunch of painful bullshit, and Alex very much never in his life wants to do it again.
[He made the mistake four days ago, in a moment before the next dose of drugs started working and everything just fucking burned, of saying he should sign a DNR when this is all over in case something like this ever happens again, because living wasn’t worth all this pain.
Henry had hooked a finger under his chin and informed him not long after, in that quiet, thoughtful voice, the one that makes Alex google ridiculous things like ‘obtaining British citizenship fast’ and ‘cost of surrogates/egg donation’, that both Leo and Dad had left his room to go cry in the hall after his outburst, and ‘yes, I know it hurts, my love, and I’m so very sorry, but you’d best apologize when they come back and promise never to do or say such a horrid thing ever again in your sure to be very long life, you bloody nitwit.’]
With love. It's all always said with love.
“It’s all right,” Henry says around a yawn, slapping a hand to his mouth in a failed attempted to stifle it. He uses his other hand to grip Alex’s tightly. “It’s nice to see you awake.”
“What did I miss this time?”
Henry grins ruefully. “Charlie Brown found the true spirit of Christmas, the Little Drummer boy rocked on for the Christ-child's first birthday party, and June stopped by at lunch; she showed me a delightful channel called Hallmark, which repeats the same story every hour after they swap one round of white, straight, small-town conventionally beautiful actors for another. It was entertaining.”
“June and I used to play a drinking game with those. Take a shot every time someone goes ice skating, sledding, or leaves the big city for their tiny hometown.”
“Good lord, you must’ve been sloshed in the first ten minutes.”
And Alex laughs, then he groans because fuck his chest hurts, and Henry squeezes his hand while he grabs immediately for the call button.
“No,” Alex says through a wince, pawing at Henry’s hand on the button. “I’m fine. Don’t--,”
“Seriously, H, don’t.” Henry sighs deeply.
“Fine. But you must tell me if it gets worse. Don’t be an idiot about this, you are allowed to ask for help.”
Alex nods, before closing his eyes and take a few long breaths of his own.
He’s so tired of this.
“I know, my darling,” Henry says quietly, and Alex realizes he’s whispered the thought aloud. He picks up Alex’s hand again and places a sweet kiss on the inside of his veiny, painfully pale, wrist.
A lump blocks Alex’s throat for a minute, and he looks back out the window to the gray, snowy D.C. afternoon, blinking quickly.
“What did June say?” Alex asks quietly. Henry’s begun tracing the lines along Alex’s palm, blue eyes intent on the task.
“Your father is staying over tonight.”
The ‘to babysit you’ part is left unsaid, but circumstantially implied. Alex rolls his eyes.
“You guys do realize there are literally secret service agents outside the door, down the hall, and scattered in plainclothes throughout the whole hospital? Amy comes in and knits on the couch most nights anyway. I don’t need somebody here twenty-four hours straight, all I do is sleep and watch shitty Christmas movies.”
“I’ll not hear a word against The Christmas Train,” Henry says immediately. “It’s truly a modern masterpiece. Some of Dermot Mulroney’s best work.”
“Stop deflecting.” Alex mutters. Henry sighs again.
“It’s for our peace of mind, love. We almost lost you. I--,” Henry swallows thickly, his eyes bright. “I almost lost you.” The lump in Alex’s throat is back. “It’s easier to function outside of this room when I know someone who loves you as much as I do is holding your hand.” Henry picks up Alex’s hand again, tracing the lines on his palm with the feather-light touch of his long pinky. They both sit quietly for a moment.
“What’s it say?” Alex finally croaks; Henry grins at him, eyes soft.
“Very long life line.” Henry’s pinky goes up, tracing the line beside his thumb. “A long and deep love line,” his pinky cuts across the middle of Alex’s palm.
“Wonder when I’ll meet them.”
“You are a menace.”
“Yet you love me.”
Henry’s eyes go dark as he kisses the lines on Alex’s palm. “Yes. I do.”
Things Alex Claremont Diaz hates:
The next time Alex wakes up, he’s breathing too fast, sweat dripping down uncomfortably from his temples. He tries immediately to sit up, only to let out a hissing breath through his teeth. Someone grabs his shoulder tightly.
“It’s okay, mijo,” Dad shushes softly. “It’s okay, you’re fine. Everything is fine, baby.” He brushes back Alex’s sweaty hair gently. “Go back to sleep.”
“Are you sure?” Alex’s voice cracks.
Dad takes a shuddering breath before moving the IV pole out of the way and gingerly climbing into the hospital bed with him. He wraps his arms around Alex and holds him more tightly than anyone’s dared since he woke up the first time, and presses a kiss into his hair.
“I won’t let anyone touch you, mijo.” Dad promises.
Alex closes his eyes and remembers one of Henry’s old stories; Princess Catherine had once promised her child the same thing.
Alex misses his mom. He loves his dad, he trusts his dad, but in that second, the only person he wants is his mother. He wants her to hold him close and stroke his hair and promise that nobody will ever, ever hurt him again, because if she says it, he might actually, finally feel safe.
Alex wants to pretend he's seven again, and sick with the flu, when Mom stayed home from work, kicked off her heels and cuddled up to him under the blankets. When she gave him ginger ale and saltines while they watched the Grinch on repeat all day long as a rare Austin snow fell out the window.
He almost asks. He comes so, so close to whispering into the dark of the twilit ward for Dad to call her. Dad wouldn’t be offended, he’d do it, no matter how late it is, and Mom would come.
Well, maybe. She’s been busy lately, managing the fallout from this mess. They may joke about Mom pulling off her presidential face, but it’s not true, not at the end of the day. Ellen Claremont is president, and she’ll hold that office for another three years.
Presidents don’t truly get days off.
Not even when their sons get shot.
Two: Learning your parents cannot protect you from the world, no matter how hard they try.
Things Alex Claremont Diaz desperately wants:
One: He wants to eat something out of one of the seventeen beautiful and increasingly outrageous gift baskets Pez has sent to his room. He receives one promptly at eight each morning and evening, and a nurse places them on the slowly diminishing space on the windowsill, the table, and finally yesterday on the floor next to the bed. They’re filled with chocolates, teas, oranges, coffees, Christmas candies and muffins, all lovely and expensive delicacies from across the globe.
And every day, the doctors remind him that he’s not allowed to ingest any of it.
His family has taken to removing the food immediately, eating it themselves in the hallway or giving away perishables to other patients in the hospital. They leave the balloons, the stuffed animals and flowers and singing Christmas cards to give the blank hospital room a bit of cheer.
Every day, Alex asks Henry to send Pez a thank you text, because Alex still hasn’t been given his phone.
Two: Alex wants to take a shower. A real, honest to God, so hot his skin turns red, shower. He’s fucking disgusting, and sponge baths are an indignity he’s now too aware to properly handle.
His hair is a curly, greasy mess, he smells like Purell dumped straight into a garbage can, and he can feel his skin breaking out in a line under the nasal cannula they still won’t let him take off.
Henry calls Alex an extraordinarily hot mess, emphasis on hot. Nora calls him a zombie raccoon.
It’s not difficult to guess which one of them is right.
Three: Alex wants to go home.
“A big get well to our knight in shining armor and lots of love to his handsome prince,” June reads from the massive stack of cards on his bedside table, “Merry Christmas from the LGBTQ youth club of South Bend, Indiana. Awww,” June croons at the end, turning the card to show Alex. “They sent a picture of their group! Look at all these cuties with Mayor Pete.”
Alex smiles thinly. He feels brittle today, like he’s going to burst into dust if something good doesn’t happen soon. June frowns slightly at him as she picks up a new card.
Mom hasn’t visited him in four days.
“Oh, this one is heav—oh, holy shit. It’s from the queen! Dear Alexander—I'm getting big Hamilton vibes right now--,” June quips, and she proceeds to read the long, dry and eloquent prose most likely written from his mother’s matching Resolute desk.
“I pray every night for your swift recovery, and I wish you and your family a happy Christmas. May God bless you, Mary Catherine R.” June finishes, placing the fancy heavy cardstock on table with a flourish. “That was kind of her.”
Alex snorts. “What a load of shit. She’s probably still bummed I actually made it. Would have solved a whole lot of her problems if I died,” He looks up, laughing, to see June staring at him open-mouthed, her eyes full of tears.
“Don’t say stuff like that,” June swallows and looks at the snow falling out the window. “Don’t--you can’t talk like that. You don’t understand how bad it was--,”
“Don’t I? I’m the one still stuck in here, I’m the one left to deal with all this crap--,”
“Zahra was planning your funeral,” June interrupts, her voice a whisper.
That shuts Alex right the fuck up.
“It’d been three days, and you weren’t stabilizing, and Mom and Dad were just—God, they were fucking wrecks, Alex. Complete and utter wrecks. And Henry’s plane got delayed a fourth time because of the snow, he just kept calling and crying and finally we had to start sending Shaan all the updates on you, because he couldn’t handle it anymore. And the doctor came out, told us he didn’t expect you to make it through the night, and Abuelo and Abuela brought in a priest and he said your last rites, and we sat there, everyone holding hands and praying, even Leo, our atheist stepfather Leo started praying for you, Alex. He prayed for you.
“When it was over, I walked out to the vending machines and found Zahra curled up in a ball, her head in her hands and phone on the ground. She was sitting next to a clipboard; the paper on top had half the items crossed off. Next one on the list was ordering your coffin.” June sniffs and looks up at the ceiling, then straight into Alex’s eyes. “She was sobbing, Alex. Zahra was sobbing.”
“June,” Alex whispers. She closes her eyes.
“Don’t joke about it. It’s not funny. It will never, ever be funny. Do you understand?”
She opens her eyes, and reaches up to wipe away the tears Alex hadn’t noticed falling down his cheeks. He nods.
“Good.” She grips his hand tightly, and leans forward to kiss his forehead. Then, she picks up the next card on the stack from the bedside table.
“The Georgetown University Alumni association made a thirty-thousand-dollar donation to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in your name...”
People Alex Claremont Diaz hasn’t seen in a while:
One: His mother.
Two: his friends at NYU (and his professors, he’s missed finals for the semester, but honestly, at this point he should really be exempt. Maybe that’s one of the thousands of emails likely building up in his unreachable inbox right now.)
“Where’s Cash?” Alex asks Amy tiredly, watching her through the fog of drugs as she knits what looks to be a new scarf; the colors of her yarn match the bisexual flag.
Amy sucks in her top lip, and the soothing clack of her knitting needles stops. “He went home for Christmas.”
“Already?” Alex asks, leaning over as far as he dares to see the newspaper on his bedside table. December 17th, 2021, the corner reads. Alex squints and blinks, his eyes taking longer than usual to adjust. He needs his glasses.
Amy shrugs. “Took some time off to cool after...everything.”
Alex hums. “Wish I could’ve said goodbye. I didn’t even give him his Christmas present.”
Amy huffs out a laugh. “I’m sure he’ll forgive you, considering the circumstances.”
They sit in silence for a bit, and the clacking of Amy’s knitting needles resumes, until: "He's okay, right? Like, Cash didn’t die and nobody’s told me yet because they don’t want to stress me out or some stupid shit like that, right? Amy, is he--,”
“Cash is fine, kiddo. He’s at home in Oregon with family, okay? I talked to him yesterday.”
Alex sighs in relief and slumps backward in his mound of pillows. “Good. That’s, that’s good. When’s he coming back?”
The drugs must finally pull Alex into sleep sometime right after he asks, because for the life of him, Alex can’t remember Amy’s response.
“Hey dipshit,” Nora announces as she sashays into the room. Alex waves hello from the bed, where Ellie the cool nurse is taking his vitals. “I made you a fucking awesome ‘congrats you didn’t die’ Spotify playlist.”
“If Gloria Gaynor is on there, I’m taking you off my approved visitors list.” Cool nurse Ellie snorts next to him.
“Babe, I’m high-key offended you think I’d be so cliché,” Nora responds, vaguely affronted. Alex smiles for the first time that day; at least one person can treat him normally, he’s not fucking glass.
He watches as Nora pulls out her phone, before she frowns. “God damnit, I forgot my speaker in the car. I’ll be back in a minute,” she leans down and kisses the top of his head as Alex pouts.
“Can’t I just have your phone while you go? Why do I have to wait to listen? I’m so bored, Nora. So. Bored. Please let me listen, please please please--,”
“God, stop looking at me like a kicked puppy with Sarah McLachlan background music. Do you do this to Henry all the time? That’s gotta be some kind of abuse, I’m looking it up after this,” and Nora dumps her unlocked phone and airpods into Alex’s waiting hand. “I’ll be back in ten. I hope you do a blood draw!”
“I am,” Ellie replies, snapping on her rubber gloves, and Alex groans theatrically.
Then, Nora leaves the room, and Ellie does too a few minutes later, once she’s sated her bloodlust.
And Alex is alone, finally, free to browse the internet for the first time in almost two weeks.
Things that Alex Claremont-Diaz learns on Nora’s semi-illicitly procured iPhone:
One: most of the world is convinced that Alex is (still) on his deathbed.
The last official update from the White House was released three days ago, announcing that Alex was in stable condition, and not much else. None of the nitty gritty about where he was shot and what kind of damage it did has been disclosed, leading most to believe it’s way worse than the White House is letting on.
The picture circulated most online is the priest leaving the hospital with Abuela and Abuelo a week ago, after he said Alex’s last rites. He shivers a bit, and remembers the old saying about someone walking over your grave before he continues scrolling.
There are a few idiotic conspiracy theories about Tecumseh’s curse and many awful listicles about the shockingly high number of presidents who have lost children.
"The White House is sad and still, for its joy and light have fled with little Willie. He was a very bright child, remarkably precocious for his age, and had endeared himself to everyone who knew him." Alex grimaces as he reads the quote from Willie Lincoln’s funeral and clicks to the next page.
Alex thinks it’s a bit mean, letting everyone stew in the doubt about him, especially so close to Christmas when he’s very much alive and recovering. Then, he gets worried; is there something his parents aren’t telling him? Is there something the doctors aren’t telling him? Jesus Christ, does he have to have another surgery, he might shoot himself if he has to go under again, is this why Mom...
Alex is beginning to understand why his family didn’t give him his phone back.
Two: The man who shot him was actually two men, and they were aiming for his mother.
Alex had accompanied his mom to the Natural History Smithsonian for the opening of a new exhibit on endangered species. One man, dressed as a museum docent, had started throwing ancient knives and arrowheads at the president, and when Secret Service rushed her and Alex out of the exhibit, they were met with gunfire at the back door.
Two agents died. Aiden Meyer and Jeffrey Brookes. Alex hadn’t interacted much with either of them, but he knew them. His mother knew them well. Meyer had twin daughters who were four. Brookes showed anyone and everyone pictures of his golden retriever, Mopsy, and always flipped peppermints to Alex when they passed each other in the halls.
And now, they were dead.
Three: there’s a video of it. All of it. And it puts the Zapruder film to fucking shame.
[“C’mon, baby, eyes up. Look at me. Alex, Alex...sweetheart, keep breathing, in and out .... good, good job baby boy. Good job.”
“I know, kiddo...I know.... Just in and out, keep going--THUMP THUMP THUMP—Get us fucking OUT OF HERE!”
“Not clear yet, ma’am--,”
“I don’t give a flying fuck about all clear, my child needs a hospital--,”
“Shhhh, shhh, baby it’s okay, it’s fine, Alex, I promise it’s fine.”
“Yeah, honey. I know. Just squeeze my hand, that’s it, honey, that’s real good there—THUMP THUMP—Fucking OPEN THE DOOR CASH! IF MY BABY DIES BECAUSE YOU WON’T OPEN THE DOOR, SO HELP ME GOD--,”
“Love you, Mom.”
“Alex, hey, hey, you’re fine, baby you’re fine—eyes up Diaz, eyes up, in and out and—Alex, Alex...ALEX!” ]
When Henry walks into the room, he finds Alex curled up in a ball on his side, Nora’s phone held up to his chest, one earbud resting against his neck. With gentle fingers, Henry takes the phone and wipes Alex’s tears away with his thumb.
Without a word, Henry walks around to the other side of the bed, climbs up, and wraps his arms around Alex from behind, his shoulders covering every inch of Alex’s, just the way he likes best.
Alex can’t hold back the tears after that. “Is she okay?” he asks quietly, “Will she be okay?”
Henry digs his nose lightly into the side of Alex’s neck. “I think,” Henry begins slowly, voice light. “Your mum is feeling a bit laid bare right now.”
“Is that why she won’t come see me?” Alex hates the way his voice cracks. Henry inhales tightly, then gently, so, so gently, turns Alex over to face him.
“I don’t know why exactly, love. June, Leo and your father have all had words with her about it, but she’s been holed up in her office, in meetings from sunup to sundown and—and,” Henry pauses for a moment, choosing his words carefully. “I think your mother believes if she lets herself sit down and actually think about what happened, if she allows herself to feel it, she’ll break in half. And she can’t break in half, because she’s the first female president of the United States.”
“So, she is avoiding me.” Henry nods, touching their foreheads together gently. He grins sadly.
“I believe June’s words to your mother were, ‘Alex takes a fucking bullet for you, and you, what, sent him a fruit basket? Mother of the year right there, Madam President.’”
Henry hums in agreement.
“I don’t--,” Alex begins quietly, eyes half-closed as he attempts to sort through his memories of that fateful day, trying and failing to match the remembered fear, that had turned to piercing pain, that had finally dulled to a gray haze more frightening than anything he’d ever experienced, to what he just watched on Nora’s iPhone.
He doesn’t remember Mom holding him close, his head in her lap as she stuffed her ironically pink Chanel blazer against the new hole in his heart. He doesn’t remember being trapped in the stuffy curator’s office, his blood seeping into the Persian rug while Mom begged Cash to let them out.
He doesn’t remember Mom crying, doesn’t remember her pleading for someone to save her baby.
Doesn’t remember her starting compressions when his eyes closed and his heart stopped.
Laid bare indeed.
“I don’t remember Cash being there,” Alex finally says. Henry grimaces.
“He was,” Henry finally says, voice grim. It makes Alex’s stomach turn.
“Is Cash okay? Amy told me he wasn’t hurt, that he just went home for Christmas, was she lying? Oh my god--,”
Henry runs his fingers idly through Alex’s messy, greasy, gross beyond words curls, scratching his scalp in a way that makes Alex’s toes curl; he shuts up.
“Cash is physically fine, darling. It’s just—well, your mother fired him, Alex. Right after it happened, once they got you to the hospital, your mother told Cash to get out of her sight, and had him taken off rotation. He’s gone.”