It had taken them quite some time, but they made it up to Alex’s apartment without any added injuries. As they stood in front of a closed door, Alex cursed under her breath, mumbling something about keys. Steph couldn’t help but snicker as she bent down to lift a corner of the doormat, revealing a spare key.
When Alex gave Steph a questioning look, she chuckled. “Gabe told me he kept a spare key there, because it happened way too often that he’d lose his keys.”
Alex snorted as she shook her head, but her lips formed a small smile. “I can honestly see him do that.”
“All the damn time,” Steph replied as she unlocked and opened the door for them.
Once Steph had made sure Alex was carefully sitting down on the bed, she went to the bathroom to wash her hands quickly. She looked at her left hand’s pinkie finger, the discoloration was pretty obvious and the pain hadn’t gotten any less. She gritted her teeth as she shook her head, there was no time to worry about it.
When that was out of the way she went to the drawer where Alex kept her clothes and grabbed some random items. As she turned around to ask Alex if the things she grabbed were okay, her heart nearly stopped.
“Fuck!” Steph got to the bed and checked Alex’s breathing, simultaneously putting her fingers to the side of Alex’s neck to feel for a heartbeat. “Alex, don’t you fucking dare!” Steph felt her own breathing quickening at a rapid pace, burning in her chest. She wasn’t very far from having a full blown panic attack, until she felt a pulse. It was slow, but it was there.
Steph collapsed onto the floor in front of the bed, tears streaming down her face. She was relieved, but at the same time she was hit with the aftermath of this morning’s adventure. Only now it seemed like her body really processed what happened and caught up with her. The exhaustion was undeniable now, making her body feel extremely heavy. Which made her realize that probably was what had just happened to Alex. The poor woman had undoubtedly been running on fumes.
Despite the urge to rush and get Alex downstairs to get to Charlotte, who’d drive them to the hospital, she allowed herself a few minutes to catch her breath. She leaned to the side, resting against the bed with a heavy sigh. Her body screamed at her, begging for sleep, but Steph couldn’t give in, not yet.
It took her more effort than she dared to admit to get up again and grab the bag that was hanging over the chair in front of the desk. Without checking what was in the bag, Steph started to stuff the clothing she had grabbed into it. Just to be sure, she grabbed Alex’s denim jacket and stuffed it into the bag as well.
Steph turned around to see if she needed to pack anything else for Alex, then her eyes fell on the stuffed animal on the bed. She couldn’t quite make out what it was, but her best guess was a mouse of some sorts. Steph smiled as she carefully took the stuffed animal and put it on top of the clothes in the bag before zipping it shut. She swung the bag’s shoulder straps onto her shoulders and took a deep breath to try and calm the last of her earlier panic.
As Steph looked at Alex, who was still unconscious on the bed, she felt kinda bad for having to disturb her sleep. Maybe Alex wouldn’t wake up, she desperately needed the rest. Steph made sure to be as careful and as gentle as possible while picking Alex up from the bed and into her arms, once again carrying her bridal style.
When Steph had made it out of the apartment and even managed to lock the door behind her, she felt pretty proud of herself. The key went into one of her jeans’ back pockets and Steph made her way to the stairs. With a deep breath Steph carefully stepped down sideways, watching Alex’s head and feet as she walked down the steps.
Once she made it downstairs, she refused to look to the right and instead kept looking at Alex’s face. We’re gonna get you looked at, Alex. This nightmare’s over now. Steph stopped when she got to the door and tried to open it, without much success.
“Please, Stephanie, allow me.” Steph whipped her head around to see Duckie standing beside her with a sad but kind smile, his hand pointed at the door handle.
“Thank you, Duckie,” Steph replied gratefully as she stepped aside to offer Duckie the necessary space to open the door for her.
“No, Stephanie. Thank you for finding Alex. Who knows what would have happened if you had not. Now go.” Duckie stayed behind and watched them until they were out of view.
When Steph got to the other side of The Black Lantern, at the road, Charlotte came running over with a clearly worried expression.
“Unconscious,” Steph interjected, seeing Charlotte letting out a breath of relief. “Yeah, she kind of sent me into a panic attack…”
“Shit, Steph… Are you okay?”
“Alive and kicking,” Steph replied, “barely, but just enough. Where’s your car at?” Steph didn’t want to linger on her panic attack, as it wasn’t as important as getting Alex to the hospital right now.
“Right, it’s right around the corner. I left the engine running,” Charlotte said and walked ahead, leading the way. Every now and then she would look over her shoulder, as if to check Steph was still there. It was comforting in a way.
With Charlotte’s help Steph and Alex made it safely into the backseat of the car, with Alex’s head resting against Steph’s chest. The bag was tossed into the trunk, then as Charlotte got into the driver’s seat and fastened her seatbelt, she looked in the rearview mirror.
“Ready,” Steph replied with a nod and the car started moving. She looked down at Alex and watched Alex’s chest rising and falling consistently with every breath she took.
“I’m sorry,” Charlotte said, not looking in the rearview mirror as she turned a corner. Steph noticed Charlotte’s knuckles were pale, indicating her grip on the steering wheel was quite firm.
“What? Sorry, not sure I follow,” Steph responded, she looked in the rearview mirror, but Charlotte wouldn’t meet her eyes. “What are you sorry for?” Steph only grew more confused when Charlotte chuckled, then let out a sigh.
“Guess Alex didn’t tell you, then.” They finally got onto the main road, leading out of Haven Springs. There was very little traffic, which Steph was grateful for, it meant the ride to the hospital wouldn’t take too much time.
“Tell me what? Was there something she should’ve told me about?”
Charlotte shrugged and looked like she was considering something, deep in thought. Steph brushed some hair out of Alex’s face with shaky hands, the fatigue was really starting to get to her.
“She came to see me, after the LARP.”
Steph looked up again, she remembered it clearly, because that was also when they looked into the files on the USB stick.
Steph grabbed the foosball trophy off the coffee table and held it in her hands, playing with it as Ryan hit the laptop’s spacebar and the recording started to play.
“Yeah, okay. Just listen. I need you to call off the explosion. Ethan’s in the blast radius.” Steph looked at Ryan as they listened to the recording of Gabe’s call to Typhon, when they had been looking for Ethan.
“He snuck off! We’re up here right now, trying to find him. Mac, please!”
As the recording played, Steph swallowed hard. She laid down on the floor, facing the ceiling, putting her feet up on the edge of the couch beside Ryan. It was so odd to hear Gabe’s voice again, especially because he sounded so worried, which was understandable due to the circumstances when that call had taken place.
“So Typhon denied ever getting a call, despite the proof being right here.” Ryan let out a heavy, frustrated sigh. “What is going on?”
Steph shrugged, as she wasn’t quite sure either. “Wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some fucking brainwashing going on or something.”
“Okay, but if that were the case… Why?” Ryan asked in response. “I mean, you have a fair point there, because Mac kept claiming he never received the call to begin with. And we just heard that he answered the call, why would he lie for Typhon?”
Steph thought, turning the bottle in her hands around and around as she did so. The fact that Mac lied for Typhon and Diane had this USB stick with a bunch of evidence, hidden behind encryption and passwords, meant there was something big Typhon was hiding. But they couldn’t just go ahead and look through the files, they had to wait until Alex got back.
“Well, they’re definitely hiding something big…” Steph thought out loud, her eyes on the bottle but vision out of focus. Suddenly a thought popped into her head, and despite it being absurdly ridiculous she decided to just go with it. “Okay, okay, hear me out… Is Typhon run by the Illuminati?”
Ryan hummed in thought, considering the idea. “That would explain the conspicuously triangle-shaped logo.”
“Boom,” Steph said, “finally cracked it.” As she saw something in the corner of her eye, Steph turned her head to the right a bit. Alex had returned, but the expression on her face didn’t look very promising.
“Alex,” Ryan replied and sat up straight, turning to face Alex.
Steph pushed herself up with her arms, taking her feet off the couch and set the foosball trophy back on the coffee table again. She scooted back a little bit, pulling up her knees in order to offer Alex the needed space to get to the couch.
“So, how did things go with Charlotte?” Ryan asked, beating Steph to it.
Alex let out a soft sigh before answering. “Honestly, I think she’d want me to keep what happened just between us. Sorry.”
“Of course,” Ryan replied, holding his hands up in surrender. “Don’t apologize.”
If Alex felt that way, it must have been something rather personal, Steph figured. They had to respect that, if Charlotte ever felt the need to share whatever it was with them as well, they’d be there for her to listen.
“Yeah,” Steph mumbled as she remembered when Alex had just gotten back to the apartment after visiting Charlotte. “Alex said she felt like you’d want her to keep whatever you two discussed between the two of you.”
“Fuck, pothole!” Charlotte warned, causing Steph to brace herself and lift Alex’s head a little bit. “Sorry about that, I saw it too late.”
“Hate when that happens,” Steph muttered with a chuckle, although there was no mirth to it.
“Alex was right and I really appreciate it that she didn’t share it with anyone else,” Charlotte said. She fell quiet for a moment as they came to a large intersection, yielding to a large truck that had to make a u-turn. Once the intersection was free once more, Charlotte started driving again. “But I’ve known you for quite a while now, Steph.” Steph nodded in confirmation. “I’m still processing everything and honestly still struggling. When Alex came to visit me after the LARP, I was working on a project, a large one. She was being so kind… And I—I lashed out at her…”
Steph remained quiet, combing her fingers through Alex’s hair repeatedly. Hoping that it would keep bad dreams at bay, although it was also to keep her hands busy.
“I apologized to her at the festival, after your guys’ performance, I apologized for having been so horrible to her and—” Charlotte let out a chuckle that sounded more tired than anything. “Alex said I hadn’t been horrible, which I still don’t understand… Because I had tried to be…”
Although Steph was confused about why Charlotte had wanted to be horrible to Alex, she decided not to say anything and listen to the whole story before responding. Charlotte wasn’t someone who was intentionally mean to people, as far as she was aware.
“I’ve been feeling so… Angry, since Gabe died. I’ve never felt so much anger before and it scares me… I lashed out at Alex, when she was simply trying to help. Logically I don’t know anyone but Typhon’s to blame, but…” The sigh Charlotte let out was a deep and heavy one, which caused Steph to subconsciously tense up a little bit. “I’m a terrible mom, Steph… I—I hate my son…”
Steph was quiet, her hand stopped moving and her heartbeat slowed. A couple dozen different thoughts were racing in her mind simultaneously, nearly making her dizzy. She can’t hate Ethan… Right? He couldn’t have known—
“Yeah, I know. As I said, I’m a terrible mom… But Alex said my feelings matter too and she just—Fuck!” Steph heard Charlotte take a very deep breath, then slowly exhale before clearing her throat. “I said I could deal with hating Ryan, or Alex, or even Gabe, but Ethan?”
They got onto the exit towards the hospital, requiring Charlotte to focus. Luckily it wasn’t very far and soon enough the car stopped as Charlotte parked it as close to the entrance as possible.
“At the festival I apologized and Alex told me that everyone grieves differently, and it’ll just take time for me to accept the fact that Gabe’s—You know.” Steph nodded, Charlotte didn’t need to finish the sentence. “Alex said there was still time for us to become good friends, but then… All this happened and I realize it could’ve ended very differently.” Charlotte shut off the engine and took the keys out of the ignition, but didn’t move otherwise. “Fuck Typhon.”
Steph grinned at that, agreeing wholeheartedly with Charlotte. “Yeah, fuck Typhon.”
“Sorry for just dumping all this on you, Steph. Fuck, I didn’t even ask if you were in the right headspace to deal with my bullshit—”
“Come on, Char. I’ve told you before you can talk to me about anything,” Steph interrupted. “Plus, you do realize Alex is right, yeah?”
“Everyone grieves differently. I may not fully understand your way of grieving, but that doesn’t invalidate it. We all have to go through the grieving process at our own pace, in our own way.”
It was quiet in the car for a few moments, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. Steph realized how ironic it was that she’d just said that, as she’d struggled with her own grieving process after the storm that took place in Arcadia Bay and took her mom away from her. As well as when she found out about Rachel Amber’s death, it literally took Mikey to come to her to get her life back on the rails.
“Thanks, Steph.” Charlotte met Steph’s eyes through the rearview mirror and Steph managed to form a small smile. “Well, let’s get Alex inside and looked at by a doctor.”
“Yeah, sounds like a plan.” Steph got one arm underneath the back of Alex’s knees, the other one under Alex’s back and left arm.
“I’ve got the bag,” said Charlotte as she opened the door for Steph to get out of the car, holding it open until Steph managed to get out without too many issues. “Can you carry her all the way?”
Steph shrugged, it wasn’t like she had a choice. “I carried her most of the way through the mine and back to Haven, so this small distance shouldn’t be much of a problem.”
“Fuck, you carried her all the way down to Haven?” Steph nodded to confirm. “Have you been working out or something?” Charlotte smiled, genuinely smiled at Steph.
“I mean, if you count carrying boxes full of records and merch, then yeah?” Steph said with a grin. It was nice to see Charlotte smile again, it felt like it had been ages since she last saw one on the woman.
“Do you still have the cardboard standee with the duck?”
“You mean laser duck?” Charlotte nodded. “Damn right I do, it’s in the back, but I wouldn’t even think of tossing that out. It’s a masterpiece, Char!” Steph laughed as she visualized the cardboard cutout in her mind, before and after Charlotte’s addition of the duck drawing. “I love that thing, you have no idea!”
“Took you a while to figure out who did it, though.”
“To be honest, I didn’t take you for the kind of person to do something like that,” Steph admitted.
“Oh, you thought I’d be some Mary Sue or something?” Charlotte joked, gently bumping Steph in the shoulder.
“Well, no—I mean—Like—” Steph threw her head back with a groan in frustration at the disability of verbalizing her thoughts. “Not a Mary Sue—”
“Steph, I’m just messing with you,” Charlotte reassured with a chuckle, Steph simply huffed in response.
As soon as they got inside and made it to the reception desk, someone was sent to fetch a wheelchair for Alex.
“What happened to her?” the receptionist asked while eyeing Alex.
“Her name is Alex Chen; she was shot last night and she fell down a mine shaft. I found her this morning and managed to carry her back home. I cleaned up the wound on her temple the best I could. Not sure what’s with her leg, but it’s definitely injured. Pretty sure she broke some ribs on her right side,” Steph rushed, taking a deep breath once she finished speaking. The receptionist stared at her with widened eyes and jaw slacked.
“How long has she been unconscious?”
“When I was grabbing her some clean clothes…” Steph looked at Charlotte, seeing her already checking her watch.
“That was about forty five minutes ago,” Charlotte said, to which the receptionist nodded.
“Alright, there’s some paperwork that needs to filled out—”
“Yeah, I’ll get to that,” Charlotte said before Steph could say anything. “You need rest, Steph.”
“Hey, I can—!”
“Steph, I’m serious. You look like you’re about to collapse right here.” Charlotte’s tone made it clear there was no discussion to be had about it.
Just when Steph was about to quietly complain about it, a nurse came to them with a wheelchair.
“Alright, I’ll take it from here. We’re going to take a look at Miss Chen and take good care of her.”
Steph carefully set Alex down in the wheelchair, worrying her lip anxiously. When the nurse was about to wheel Alex away, Steph stopped them. “Wait!” She gently placed her hands on Alex’s cheeks and pressed a kiss on Alex’s forehead. “I’ll be waiting for you, Alex. No matter how long…” Letting go was harder than she thought it would be, but the nurse assured her they’d be careful with Alex and inform Charlotte and Steph with any news.
As Charlotte filled out the paperwork, Steph couldn’t help but peek at the form Charlotte was currently writing on. When she saw how much Charlotte had already filled in, Steph raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“Gabe told me about their mother,” Charlotte said without looking up, “passed away due to cancer. They were both still pretty young.”
“Alex told me about her mom’s passing, but I had no idea it was because of cancer…” Steph shifted in the chair, unable to find a comfortable position.
“Yeah, Gabe didn’t like talking about it, which I totally understand.” Charlotte checked the form again and signed it before clipping the pen on the top.
Steph glanced at the clipboard holding the paperwork again and one thing in particular caught her eye. She leaned forward in order to be able to properly read it, her eyes widening before looking at Charlotte. “Char?”
“You wrote my name under ‘emergency contact’…”
“Yeah, why’s that so surprising?” Charlotte asked with a small shrug.
“Well,” Steph started, rubbing her neck as she let out a nervous chuckle. “I mean—I just—” Her cheeks got warm and her palms grew clammy.
“Oh, c’mon, Steph. You think I don’t realize what’s going on between the two of you?” Steph nearly choked on her own saliva, feeling the urge to hide her face and crawl under a blanket if she had one. “I’ve seen the way you look at Alex, you know. I have eyes, if you weren’t aware yet.”
“Well, yeah, but I’m not sure if Alex—”
“Steph, please tell me you’re joking,” Charlotte interjected with an exasperated expression. “Don’t think I haven’t heard about that marriage proposal during the LARP.”
If there was a hole for Steph to crawl through right now, she would do so in a heartbeat. Her face felt hot enough to melt off, her mind a jumbled, chaotic mess. “Y-you did?”
“Ethan told me,” Charlotte replied with a smug grin, “he also told me you were a stuttering mess. Kind of like right now,” she teased and bumped her shoulder into Steph’s playfully.
“Am not!” Steph said, a little louder than intended, which only intensified her embarrassment.
Charlotte snorted while shaking her head. “You can’t fool me, Steph. Besides, I think you two would be really cute together. You deserve it.” Steph looked at Charlotte and saw her smile. “Anyway, I’m gonna hand this over,” Charlotte said as she lifted up the clipboard in clarification, “and ask for someone to look at you as well.”
“Char, I don’t—!” But Charlotte was already on her way to the desk. Steph let out a sigh as she rolled her eyes, trying again to find a comfortable position. Once more she failed to find any and settled for the least uncomfortable position, which was barely a sitting position to begin with. Her butt was balancing on the very edge of the seat, head leaning against the backrest and her chin against her chest. It only took her a minute to decide the position wasn’t comfortable enough either.
“Steph Gingrich?” a nurse with a wheelchair asked after appearing from around the corner. Steph shot Charlotte a disgruntled look, which Charlotte ignored. “Take a seat,” the nurse said.
“I don’t need a wheel—”
“Steph, please sit down in the wheelchair.” Again, Charlotte’s tone indicated there wasn’t any room for an argument.
Steph let out a dramatically deep sigh as she sat down in the wheelchair and crossed her arms over her chest with a scowl.
“See you in a bit, Steph. I’ll be here when you get back.” Steph blew Charlotte a raspberry, which was answered with a stuck out tongue.
“Considering what you put your body through, you’ve been really lucky.” The doctor rolled away from Steph on the saddle stool and typed something on the computer.
“So… What’s the verdict?” Steph asked curiously, although it came out more monotone than intended purely due to fatigue.
“Well, obviously fatigue. But also pretty sure you broke your pinkie finger,” the doctor said after turning around to face Steph again. “So we’re gonna take some x-rays just to make sure.”
Steph blinked several times in amazement, as she hadn’t even realized her pinkie finger could be broken. She followed the doctor’s instructions and before she knew it, the x-rays had been taken.
“Definitely broken.” The doctor was still looking at the x-ray of Steph’s left hand, and they pointed out the break to Steph. “Right here.”
“So… What now?” Steph asked as she stared at her left hand while suppressing a yawn. When the doctor chuckled in response, Steph apologized.
“Don’t be silly, no need to apologize for yawning. Your body’s been through a lot, it makes sense that you’re tired. That’s why I’ll also be prescribing you mandatory bedrest when you get back home for the rest of the day.
“Now, as for your finger. We’re going to splint it, using your ring finger for that. We’ll also put a soft cast around it, just to be sure.”
“Whatever you say, doc.” Steph failed to suppress another yawn as she felt her body truly succumb to the fatigue.
“Welcome back, Steph,” Charlotte said with a smile when Steph returned to the waiting area. Steph replied with a sluggish wave and sat down next to her.
“That one got a splint for the broken pinkie finger & prescribed mandatory bed rest for the rest of the day, tomorrow should also be a rest day,” the doctor said to Charlotte while they nodded at Steph.
“Thank you, doctor. Will make sure the advice is going to be followed.”
“Alright, have a good rest of your day, ma’am.” The doctor said something to the receptionist, then turned around and disappeared around the corner again.
“So,” Charlotte said with a smug grin, “a broken pinkie finger, huh?”
“Oh, shush,” Steph huffed, yawning once more. “Did you hear anything about Alex yet?” When Charlotte nodded, Steph sat up a little straighter. “What did they say?” she asked anxiously.
“Well,” Charlotte started, looking at Steph with an unreadable expression, “she’s a fighter, that’s for sure.” The smile Charlotte flashed Steph put her at ease quite a bit. “She’s got two broken ribs, a fractured leg, a concussion and the wound on her temple. Which, by the way, they said you did a pretty good job at cleaning and bandaging.” Charlotte handed Steph a bottle of water and a candybar, which Steph stared at with confusion. “For you, dummy. You need to stay hydrated and eat something. Sorry, this is the best the vending machine had to offer.”
“Oh, thanks Char. I left my wallet at home, but I—”
“Won’t be worried about it because I’m paying? Yeah, you’re right.” Steph just stared, Charlotte stared back. “Steph, put away that damn pride of yours for a moment and take it. Don’t make me make you.”
“Yes, Char,” Steph groaned as she rolled her eyes and took the bottle of water and candybar from Charlotte. Begrudgingly she opened the bottle and drank about two mouthfuls before putting it aside. After eyeing the candybar suspiciously, not entirely happy with the lack of choice, she gave in and unwrapped it. Before Charlotte could stop her, Steph stuffed the entire thing in her mouth and started chewing. Almost instantly she regretted her decision, but there was no turning back now, and so she chewed with great difficulty.
Charlotte rested her head in her hands with an exasperated sigh, but didn’t say anything. Which meant Steph had won, in her eyes.
“Miss Chen is doing alright.” Steph nearly jumped up when the doctor approached them, only stopped from doing so by Charlotte. “She will be able to go home with you, but she will need to be checked on every few hours. Her leg is in a cast and will have to remain in it for six to eight weeks, there will be prescription painkillers for her at the in-house pharmacy. However, she isn’t quite conscious yet.”
“Can I see her?” Steph asked, or rather pleaded.
The doctor looked at her, then at Charlotte who nodded. “You’re Steph Gingrich?” they asked while looking at the clipboard in their hands.
“Ah, yes. Come with me.”
Charlotte handed Steph the bag with a smile and took one of the magazines from the side table. Steph followed the doctor with her heart in her throat, not entirely sure why she was so nervous.
When she entered the small room and the doctor left Steph alone with Alex, she felt a little better. There was a thin blanket beside Alex, crumpled up which indicated to Steph it had slid off. Alex’s left lower leg was in a cast and her jeans were gone, leaving Alex exposed in her underwear. Steph felt heat rise to her cheeks and turned away her eyes, it felt wrong to look at Alex without her knowledge or consent. Steph blindly grabbed the blanket and laid it over Alex, covering her exposed legs.
Steph sat down on the chair beside the makeshift bed, considering if it was alright for her to touch Alex. With some hesitation Steph finally took Alex’s hand in her own and started rubbing the back of Alex’s hand with her thumb.
“Steph?” Alex’s voice was hoarse and groggy, but Steph loved the sound.
“Alex, you’re awake!” Steph moved the chair closer and couldn’t help but smile, relief washing over her. Alex’s temple had been patched up, face and neck free from any traces of blood that had been there earlier. “Sorry about your jeans, by the way.”
“What about my jeans—? Oh,” Alex said as she lifted up the blanket and looked down at her left leg. “Guess I’ll get new jeans at some point.” She chuckled, which ended up into a coughing fit.
“Here, drink some water,” Steph said as she handed Alex the cup of water that stood on the table beside her. Once Alex was done drinking, Steph took the paper cup and tossed it into the trash bin. “How are you feeling?” she asked, worrying her lip.
“Tired.” Steph rolled her eyes, causing Alex to chuckle again. “Other than that… Not too bad, all things considered?” Alex sat up a bit more, which took a bit of effort. “Although my ribs hurt like a bitch.”
“Yeah, you got two broken ribs, so that’s not surprising.”
“Wait, what did you do?” When Steph gave Alex a confused look, Alex pointed at her left hand. “It’s in a cast?”
“Oh, that,” Steph replied nonchalantly. “Turns out I broke my pinkie finger.” There was silence as Alex looked at Steph, then at the cast around Steph’s pinkie and ring finger, and back at Steph again. “Yup, don’t ask me how, because I’ve got no idea.”
“I need to commission Charlotte,” Alex said decisively, earning an even more puzzled look from Steph in response. “To make you a badge or something that says ‘disaster lesbian’.”
There was another silence as Steph stared at Alex, gauging whether Alex was joking or not. “Oh, you’re serious?”
Steph burst into laughter, until tears were rolling down her cheeks and she was gasping for air. After a few moments Alex started laughing too, joining her.
“Was it really that funny?” Alex asked as she wiped away some tears from her face.
“Dude, I don’t even know. I think my brain is shutting off, I can’t even remember what you just said.” As if to emphasize, Steph yawned again. “And needed oxygen, apparently.”
Alex flashed her a grin, “You and me both, Steph,” she said, sounding tired. “Did the doctor tell you anything?”
“Yeah, you have a concussion, two broken ribs and a fractured leg. We’re both prescribed mandatory bed rest for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Oh, and they prescribed you drugs.”
“Yeah, pain meds.” Steph grinned when Alex shook her head with an exasperated expression.
The door opened and both of them looked up to see who it was, the doctor that had brought Steph to the room earlier walked inside, a clipboard still in hand.
“Ah, Miss Chen is awake!” They got to the side of the makeshift bed opposite Steph and held out a hand. Alex reached out and shook their hand with a small smile. “Did she already inform you about your injuries?” Alex nodded. “Excellent! How are you feeling?”
Alex shrugged, “Really tired, hungry, and in pain.”
“That’s not surprising, I prescribed you painkillers for the pain. The fatigue and hunger is something I unfortunately can’t help you with.”
“No worries, I’ll make sure she eats and sleeps once we get back home,” Steph promised, squeezing Alex’s hand tenderly.
“Good, that leaves me to check your heart, blood pressure and if all that is alright you can go home as far as I’m concerned.”
“Thank you,” Alex said and sat up a little more upright. “I can’t wait to sleep in a proper bed.”
“I can only imagine, you’ve been through a lot, from what I’ve heard.” The doctor took the stethoscope from their neck and put it on, placing the earplugs in their ears and the resonator against Alex’s chest through the collar of Alex’s sweatshirt. “Take a deep breath.” Alex inhaled deeply and exhaled again when asked to. “Okay, that sounds good.” They moved the resonator and listened while looking at their watch. “Sounds the way it should,” the doctor said with a smile, put the stethoscope around their neck again and stepped back. They grabbed the blood pressure monitor from a cabinet behind them and put the cuff around Alex’s upper arm.
“Alright, all good!” the doctor said as they removed the cuff from Alex’s arm and put the monitor away again. “Take your time with getting up and getting dressed. Oh, and apologies for the jeans, I hope it wasn’t your favorite pair.”
Alex let out a chuckle as she shook her head. “No, it wasn’t.”
“Alright, I wish you two a speedy recovery. Just make sure to make an appointment for a check up in about two weeks, for both of you.”
“Thanks doctor,” Alex and Steph said simultaneously, bursting into laughter once the doctor closed the door behind them after exiting the room.
“Good thing I grabbed a pair of sweatpants for you,” Steph said as she opened the bag. “Oh, I also brought this little buddy.” She handed Alex the stuffed animal, smiling at Alex’s surprised expression.
“You brought Shu-Shu…” Alex took the stuffed animal from Steph and held it in her hands, smiling gratefully. “Thanks, Steph. Shu-Shu’s always been there for me, through everything.”
Steph watched as Alex hugged Shu-Shu and felt her heart squeeze, all she wanted was for Alex to feel comfortable. And if Shu-Shu helped with that, she was glad she brought it along. “What kind of animal is Shu-Shu anyway?”
Alex looked up with a grin and showed the stuffed animal to Steph. “You can’t tell they’re a mouse?”
“I wasn’t entirely sure, could’ve just as well been a pika.”
At this, Alex looked down at Shu-Shu and gave them a closer inspection. “Fair point,” she replied and put Shu-Shu down.
There was a bit of silence as Steph handed Alex the clean hoodie, facing away as to give Alex some privacy. Alex raised a brow as she took the hooded sweater from Steph, only to see Steph turn around all the way.
“Steph, are you alright?” Alex asked.
“You turned around?”
“So you can change into the hoodie,” Steph replied, still facing the other way. Her hands were somewhat clammy and her breathing slightly uneven as she desperately tried to get the image of a topless Alex out of her head. This wasn’t the place or the time.
Alex leaned forward a little bit and reached out, putting her hand on Steph’s shoulder, only to wince in pain as her ribs complained at the movement. “Steph, you don’t have to turn around. I’m still wearing a bra and a tank top underneath.”
“Oh.” Steph turned back around but didn’t quite look at Alex still, fidgeting with her hands nervously. Judging by the sounds Alex was taking off the bloodied sweatshirt, groaning and wincing in the process. “D-do you need… Uh… Help?” Steph asked, still not looking at Alex directly.
“If you’re okay with that,” Alex answered with a soft chuckle, causing Steph’s cheeks to grow even warmer. “Because my ribs are not being very cooperative.”
Steph got up and reluctantly looked at Alex, still blushing as she grabbed the hem of the sweatshirt. It was halfway Alex’s mid-section and Steph did her best to keep her fingers from touching Alex’s body as much as she could.
“Hey,” Alex whispered softly, putting a hand on top of Steph’s. “I’m not made of porcelain, Steph. It’s okay if you touch me, you carried me for who knows how long, this isn’t much different.”
After letting out a sigh, Steph finally met Alex’s eyes with a guilty expression. “Sorry, I just… Don’t want to cross any boundaries or whatever.”
“I know, Steph. And I really appreciate that, it means a lot.” Alex’s eyes had a soft expression to them, leaving Steph breathless for a moment. “But I’m telling you now, it’s okay. If anyone’s allowed to touch me, it’s you.”
It took quite a bit of effort to swallow the lump in her throat, Steph noticed her hands were trembling from the nerves, her breath shaky.
“Especially after all this bullshit… I feel comfortable with you, Steph. You make me feel safe. ” The corners of Alex’s lips curled up, forming a small smile. “I trust you.”
Instead of saying anything, as Steph was sure nothing coherent would come out anyway, she nodded and proceeded to slowly and carefully pull up the sweatshirt. To make it easier on Alex, Steph paused when the shirt was up to Alex’s upper chest, gesturing for Alex to remove her right arm from the sleeve, then the left one. Once her arms were free, Steph carefully stretched the collar and moved it over Alex’s head. Still holding onto the bloodied sweatshirt, Steph was frozen in place as Alex’s eyes met her own. They were captivating, pulling her in, causing her mind to go completely blank.
Steph felt her heart hammering in her chest, a light feeling in her head that was nearly making her dizzy as their faces got closer. It was like her body had taken control and moved on its own accord, but Alex was definitely moving closer too.
When Alex put the palm of her hand against Steph’s cheek tenderly, Steph felt like she was going to faint. Her heart was beating at such a rapid pace that it should be worrisome. Steph felt her knees tremble when she felt Alex’s breath against her lips, a gentle shock going through her body as their lips brushed against each other.
Perhaps it was silly to feel so nervous, considering that they’d kissed before. Despite the fact that it had only been the previous night, it felt like it had been weeks. Steph had completely forgotten about how tired she was, feeling very awake as their eyes closed and lips softly brushed against each other.
Finally Alex was the one to close the last bit of distance between them, pressing her lips against Steph’s while cupping Steph’s face with her hands.
As soon as Alex’s lips were fully against her own, Steph involuntarily dropped the sweatshirt. It landed on the floor with a dull ‘plop’, which fell completely on deaf ears. Her hands found support on either side of Alex’s body, her back protesting at the position of leaning over, which Steph ignored. Kissing Alex was more than worth an aching back.
There was a fluttery sensation in Steph’s chest and abdomen, her heart nearly buzzing as her skin tingled. The feeling only intensified when Alex leaned in even more and Steph felt Alex’s lips parting, which led to her mirroring the action. As she felt Alex’s tongue against her own, she was surprised her knees didn’t give out.
The kiss was soft and slow, but so wonderful. Steph sucked in a breath when Alex leaned back, breaking the contact. Once her eyes fluttered open, she just stared into Alex’s with a goopy smile on her face, warmth spread throughout her body.
“Don’t think I’ll ever get enough of seeing that aura on you,” Alex sighed with a loving smile. “You’re so gorgeous, Steph…”
Her lips were moving, but nothing came out, like a fish out of the water. You should see yourself, Alex. You’re beautiful… Wow, I’m really fucking sappy.
“I like it,” Alex said and winked, “it’s cute.”
You’re cute, Chen. I bet you’d look even cuter on— Steph stopped her thought and made a futile attempt to hide her face behind her hair as she felt her cheeks once again grow unbearably warm. Although she loved the sound of Alex’s laugh that it elicited.