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Cold

Reply to Gale

Posted to the RoswellSlash mailing list January 16, 2001

TITLE: Cold
AUTHOR: Gale Dumont
EMAIL: iphignia939@yahoo.com
RATING: R, for imagery that some might find disturbing, including...implications.
SUMMARY: In the hospital, Alex has some visitors.
DISCLAIMER: If I owned them, things would most assuredly be different.
ARCHIVE: RSA; anywhere else, please ask
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Plasmatic fic. Kinda. Sorta. *Not* explicit.
SOUNDTRACK: Anything on Toad the Wet Sprocket's "Dulcinea", especially "Again" and "Reincarnation Song". It just seemed...fitting.



Hospitals had always held a vast source of amusement for Alex. There was something infinitely entertaining about the cool, pristine elegance of all that white. As if all the ills and terrors of the world and its peoples could be defeated simply by being the most antiseptic place you could be. And somehow, that logic never really applied itself to the smell. Hospitals always smelled like floor polish, disinfectant, and something...else. Not corpses, or illness -- but close. Very, very close.

He didn't think any of those thoughts as he looked up at the ceiling. He just counted the tiles, and waited to fall asleep again.

The doctors had been in, of course, and his parents. His mother had stared at him with large, wet eyes, hanging raptly on every word the doctor -- a tall, attractive blonde woman (and what was it with him and tall blondes? Did God really hate him *that* much?) named Hunter -- told her; how many stitches he'd gotten, for example, or how many more days they wanted to keep him for observation, or the name of a nearby psychiatrist.

His father hadn't said a word. That was for the best. There would be time for words when he returned home. Not loud ones, but painful nonetheless.

And then they'd gone, and he'd slept, for a while.

====

The others had been by, of course. After lights out, appearing like human-shaped goblins through his window. He'd never questioned how they managed to get up the smooth side of a building three stories up.

He didn't question a lot of things anymore.

And somewhere along the line, without asking him, they'd decided that he needed to be watched, For His Own Good. Probably Liz's idea. One of these days, someone was going to slip out beneath her radar, and he didn't want to be there when it happened.

Three hour shifts, like clockwork. The others just went away quietly, though not home. One of the unexpected surprises: being away from even one of the others for a short period of time was...uncomfortable. Not painful, not deadly, but annoying. College was going to kill them, he suspected.

He'd drifted off again during Michael's watch, a silent shape in the darkness. He halfway wished Michael had spoken; the two could compare scars, or talk about fifteenth-century methods of torture. Amazing, what two people had in common.

But no. Michael had stayed on the other side of the room, just watching him.

And eventually, Alex had gone back to sleep.

====

When he woke up, Max was in Michael's place. He had -- apparently -- dragged the chair over to Alex's bedside, and was sitting there calmly, legs pulled up against his chest and headphones on his ears. He noticed Alex was awake immediately, though he didn't speak.

Not quite a staring contest. No formal rules had been laid down, no victories set. But still disconcerting.

Alex broke the silence first. "Aren't you going to ask me why I did it?"

"No," Max said, removing the headphones. "If you want to tell me, you will. If you don't, you won't."

Logical. Completely impersonal. The least he could do was respond. "Ah."

He jerked his arm away when the other man reached for it. "No."

An oddly emotionless stare, with its ever-present partner, Unspoken Question.

"I'd...rather you didn't." Alex shrugged a little, helplessly, and rubbed his arm. Feeling their rough edges, counterpoint to the smoothness of his flesh. "To remember, if nothing else."

Still more silence.

"Jesus, I don't know how Liz does it. You *do* talk, right?"

*That* got a sound out of him. A smile, even. Liz would have been impressed. "Sue me. I don't really see the point in meaningless conversation."

"Oh, so talking to me is meaningless. Well, thanks. Highly complimentary, Alf." Alex fired off a little salute and returned the smile.

And just that quick, the smile was gone, replaced by -- what? Hurt? Pity? Consternation? It all looked the same, sometimes, on that face. "That's not what I meant," Max said quietly.

"I know. It's just easier to be a smart-ass. Sorry."

Another long silence. Apparently, Diane and Phillip had told their adopted son about meaningful silences. Alex made a mental note to talk to them about that the next time he saw them.

"Can I ask you something?"

Alex shrugged again, this time not as helpless. "Go ahead."

"Are you cold?"

The rightness of it hit Alex hard in the chest. "What?" he said, mindless, thoughts racing.

"Are you cold?" Max repeated, sitting forward just a little. He fixed him with Those Eyes. Exactly three people Alex had met in his entire life had Those Eyes. One saw him as just a friend (and oh, Isabel had made that perfectly clear on more than one occasion -- needlessly cruel, because he'd gotten it on the first run-through, thanks), the other saw him as just a friend (however oddly it had begun, they *were* becoming friends, and if he saw something else in Michael's eyes, well, he chose to ignore it just now) --

-- and the other was an enigma, currently wrapped in jeans and a leather jacket. Unutterably beautiful. Indisputably owned.

So, just as he usually did, Alex fell back on innocence. Best cover ever. "No, not really. It's actually pretty temperate in here --"

"That's not what I meant."

" -- no, of course it's not," he finished, and sighed. "Because you get to see inside everyone's heads. *You* get to know us all better than we know ourselves. You're frigging *Batman*, Max, all right? Great. Yes, I'm cold. I'm freezing. I'm dying from the inside out. Happy now?"

"Why?"

Ah, the age-old question. Which answer do I pick? There are so many.

Because I love, and I'm not loved in return, and it hurts too much to go on.

No. Cliched beyond words, and the pain wasn't that bad. Getting better every second, all told.

Because I'm losing hold of my parents in favor of a family that ignores me nine times out of ten, and it hurts too much.

No. True, and painful, but not the whole truth.

Because I'm obsessed with getting you to drop that fucking *mask* you always wear. I feel like I have glass flowing through my veins, and if I see you look at her like *that* one more time I'm going to kill the two of you and tonguefuck your corpse.

No. Not an option.

Because I'm jealous of my best friend --

No. Not entirely true, and there was no way in hell he would admit it even if it was.

Which left only one option, and that was the one he said aloud.

"Because," he said, his voice sounding raspy and tired even to his own ears. "I feel like I've been treading water for my entire life, and I've forgotten how to swim, and somewhere along the line someone snuck up under me and attached lead weights to my legs. I'm sinking, and I'm drowning, and I don't know what's going to happen if I live long enough to reach the bottom." A harsh sound broke his lips, not quite a laugh or a sob. "If I'm really lucky, I'll get eaten on the way down.

"And I don't know what I meant, going out there tonight. I don't know what I meant by any of it, except that I wanted to stop hurting, and I didn't know how, and I *couldn't* stop, because that just left me with nothing. So I went out there, and -- he --"

"And the cops found you out there, in Soccorro, and transferred you here," Max said softly, tightening his hold on him (when had he done that? He should have remembered, wanted to remember) just enough. "There was some tearing and bruising, in case you're interested, but no permanent scars. Some of the bites on your -- your flanks -- are going to take a while to heal, and they've got stitches in your shoulder, but that's all." A hand stroked his shoulderblades, eternally gentle. "You could have told us. We would have understood."

"No you wouldn't."

The pause wasn't as long this time. "No, we wouldn't have," the other man admitted. "But we would have tried to."

They stayed that way for a long time, Alex's head pressed into Max's chest, trying to memorize his scent, knowing he'd never get another chance like this.

Eventually, though, he lifted his head and straightened his shoulders, throwing the hand off of them. "I should get some rest," he said, suddenly feeling terribly awkward. "Someone's got to be coming to relieve you soon."

Max looked at the clock. "Another ten minutes. It's Maria's turn."

Alex smiled at that. Endless chatter about nothing, meant to reassure him that everything was fine. Who knew? Maybe it was.

Or, if not fine, getting there.

"You can go now, if you want," Alex offered, leaning his head back against the pillow, taking small comfort in its softness. A comfortable hospital pillow. Truly, O Lord, we are grateful. "I promise I won't try anything else."

Max just shook his head. "I'll stay. I'd never hear the end of it, otherwise."

"Right, right. The old ball and chain."

"Something like that," Max agreed, and -- was it? -- there was a flash of something very much like agreement in his eyes.

Alex wondered, not for the first time, what sort of hell it was to love someone for your entire life. And if it was possible to love someone else at the same time.

He didn't dare ask Max, though. Max might tell him, and he wasn't ready for that just yet.

So he turned over to face the window, and fell into sleep, and did not dream.

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