“-nd fuel prices continue to rise as-”
“-t your bad romance! Rah, rah, ah, a-”
“-ou’re pulling the trigger! Pulling the trigger all wro-”
Altair slammed a hand down on Kadar’s, ignoring the younger male’s yelp of surprise as he mashed the hand he held captive against the buttons of his car stereo. Well, Malik’s car stereo. Thankfully, Kadar’s palm pressed down on the volume button, quickly muting the ramblings of the BBC1 Radio Station.
“Pick a station. And stick with it.” Altair warned, looking away from the road to glare at Kadar in the backseat. The younger man offered up a sheepish grin just as Malik, who was in the passenger seat, boldly reached out to forcibly turn the tawny-eyed man’s face back towards the front of the car.
“Keep your eyes on the damn road,” Malik snapped, pulling his hand back just as he directed his own glare on Kadar. “And you put your seatbelt on.”
“Altair doesn’t have his seatbelt on,” Kadar pointed out, prodding at the stereo again. The volume was returned to the quiet murmur, and the dark haired man circled through the music stations once more.
“That’s because Altair’s an idiot who thinks he’s invincible.” Malik snorted. “He can fly through the windshield if he wants to when he crashes, but I hold some responsibility over you Kadar.”
“You make it sound like it’s inevitable that I’ll crash.” Altair muttered irritably.
“With how you drive…” Malik began.
“The chance that Altair’ll crash is low,” Kadar dismissed, settling back in his seat. The younger man stretched over the backseat, resting his shoulder against the car door while his feet pressed against the opposite door. “Otherwise you wouldn’t let him drive your car.”
“I’m only letting him drive because I wasn’t going to leave it at the mercies of drunken students. This is the lesser evil.”
“Translation; he was too cheap for a taxi.” Altair sniggered as they drove onto a roundabout. “You want to stop by the garage or what, anyway?”
Malik said “no” just as Kadar let out an enthusiastic “yes!”
“We’re not stopping by the garage,” Malik elaborated grumpily. “Kadar takes an age to choose what he wants to pig out on.”
“You should drink more,” Altair drawled. “You’re so nice and cheerful to everyone around you. Alright.” He turned off the roundabout towards the service station. “Garage it is.”
“Yeah!” Kadar punched the air in triumph, and hissed in pain when he hit the roof of the car. “Ow! Fucker!”
Malik grunted, obviously displeased but not enough to argue over the issue. “You’re the worst designated driver ever.”
“I’m a responsible one.” Altair corrected. “Some food will sober Kadar up so he isn’t bouncing off the seat. And maybe it’ll make you less of a grumpy asshole.”
Malik retaliated by shoving at Altair’s shoulder, which caused a mini-scuffle between them both until Altair almost swerved off the road. They missed the turning to the garage in the process as well.
“Well damn.” Altair said blandly, rubbing his shoulder with his hand as he turned the steering wheel with one hand. “Looks like no expensive garage food for you, Kadar.”
“You can loop around, right?” Kadar said, leaning in between the two front seats, trying to peer past Altair and out of his car door window. “I mean, isn’t there a road-”
“That’ll take fifteen minutes,” Malik sighed. “There’s food at home, Kadar.”
“Yeah, but, I’m really craving tic-tacs right now.”
Malik opened the glovebox and proceeded to thrust a roll of peppermints under Kadar’s nose. “Go wild.”
“These aren’t tic-tacs,” Kadar observed glumly, but he took them anyway and tore at the foil wrappings.
“Do you have to do that right in my ear?” Altair grumbled, looking at Kadar from the corner of his eye.
“The road, Altair.”
“The road’s empty.” But Altair looked back at the road anyway. “You’re paranoid about nothing.”
“I’m paranoid enough,” Malik sighed, rubbing at his forehead in an exasperated manner. “You’re not psychic, Altair. You can’t possibly know where all the cars are without looking.”
“I can, and I have quick reflexes, so even if a car did pop out of nowhere, I could swerve out of the way in time.” Altair argued.
“Yeah, because he has skills,” Kadar agreed, leaning back in his seat as he took up his supine position on the backseat again. “Remember when that asshole almost rammed into us a year ago?”
“Yes. Altair crashed into a bush immediately afterwards, if I remember correctly.” Malik muttered.
“Better a bush than that giant SUV.” Altair smirked, glancing away from the road again to look at his friend smugly. “Admit it. I am a good driver.”
Malik rolled his eyes and looked out of the car door window. “Only in that arrogant head of yours.”
Altair laughed as his gaze returned to the road. The noise quickly cut short, however, by a sharp curse, and Malik looked over at the tawny-eyed man in time to feel the car sharply jolt to a stop at an intersection as a red car tore down the road in front of them. Kadar yelped as he almost fell off the backseat, and Altair shuffled back where he almost slipped off his own seat.
“That stupid ass-” Altair began, but he never finished the word.
Their car was suddenly thrown forwards as the truck behind them – that Altair never noticed – smashed into the bumper. Malik cried out when the back of his head smacked against the headrest, hearing the others echo his noise of surprise when they were snapped back from the force of the collision.
Then Malik felt himself snap forwards, his seatbelt cutting into his stomach when their car smashed into the Volkswagen coming down the intersection. There was a yell, and then Altair was thrown from his seat and through the windshield, sending sharp shards of glass flying through the air. Malik could only stare in a dazed sort of horror as he watched Altair tumble over the back of the car they crashed into, bounce on the hard tarmac, and roll to a stop on the side of the road in a motionless heap.
Malik’s attention was drawn from Altair by the harsh gasping of Kadar behind him, and he felt his brother’s hand clutch at his arm, his fingers shaking. “M-Malik, I…I think I broke-”
Kadar’s pained, breathless voice was cut off by a low moan of horror, and Malik, his ears ringing and throat tight from horrified, sick terror, heard the blare of a horn. He turned to stare out of Altair’s car door window, a flood of light blinding him as the lorry bore down on them like a metal beast.
The force of the lorry smashing into Malik’s less impressive VW crumpled the driver’s side with pitiful ease. Kadar was screaming, and Malik must’ve been screaming too, because suddenly there was blinding pain when the car crumpled more and more as the lorry pushed it down the road. There was a jumble of fear, light, noise and pain before everything went deathly still, and Malik was left clinging to consciousness by his fingertips.
It took a few minutes, or hours, for Malik to force himself to speak. The pain was debilitating and encompassed his whole body – he wasn’t sure if he had broken every bone in his body or not, it certainly felt like it. “K-Kadar…?” He rasped, trying to turn his head from where it was pressed against the cracked window. He couldn’t move.
And there was no reply.
“Ka…” Malik tried, choking on the word as the pain almost made him vomit. He must’ve passed out briefly as well, because he found himself trying to struggle out of a mire of blackness a second later. “Kadar!” He cried.
Silence greeted him again, and Malik let out a noise like a dying animal, turning his unfocused gaze at where Altair had been sitting. The driver’s side was gone; it was a mess of twisted metal and shredded leather, and Malik felt a hysterical bubble of amusement that it was a lack of seatbelt that had probably saved Altair’s life – if he survived his journey through the windshield and collision onto the road at breakneck speed.
Malik tried to squint through the shattered mess that was once the windshield, but the lights from the lorry were still beaming directly into the car, and the brightness hurt his eyes too much to focus. He closed his eyes, a violent shudder spasming his body, forcing a cry of pain from his throat at the agony.
He was sliding into that darkness again, and no matter how hard he fought against it, wanting to know if Kadar or even that idiot Altair was alive, it slowly sucked him down until he felt and thought nothing.
Altair woke up in a bush.
He was confused, because he was certain that he had been driving a car not five minutes ago, but instead he was sprawled out amongst the snapped twigs of a shrubbery bush, with sharp jabbing pains assaulting him. He probably tripped and fell into the bush, and maybe knocked his head, if he was just waking up. The jabbing pains were probably twigs poking him.
Altair still wasn’t sure how he tripped and fell into a bush, if he had been driving a car, but he found himself not really concerned with this. He tried to push himself up, but his left arm wasn’t obeying him and he heard a weird crunching noise whenever he tried to put weight on it. He used his right instead, which also made a weird crunching noise, but it didn’t hurt as much.
Standing up felt strange, like his knees had turned into jelly, and whenever he inhaled, his ribs didn’t move like they should. The left side constricted when he inhaled, instead of expanding, making breathing incredibly painful and difficult. Altair coughed as he staggered out of the bush, and he tasted copper on his tongue, blood bubbling at the corner of his mouth.
Altair spotted Malik’s car, several yards away, and he wobbled towards it. What was it doing, parked in front of a lorry like that? In the middle of the road even? That was so dangerous.
It took an age to walk towards the car, because of his jelly-knees and the fact that his body seemed to have forgotten how to walk. His legs would buckle, and he would sway to the side, and lights and black spots would dance across his vision, blinding him and making it hard to know if he was walking forwards, backwards, up, down, left or right. He reached the car though, and he stared at how the front of the lorry seemed to be melded into the side of Malik’s car.
The VW was crumpled, like a stomped on can of coke, and steam seemed to be rising from the bonnet. Altair’s unfocused eyes slid from the lorry to the interior of the car, which was brightly lit from the powerful headlights of the lorry.
Altair’s detached daze quickly evaporated when he comprehended the grisly scene before him.
“Oh-” Altair swallowed on the curse, lunging forwards on his trembling legs. He collapsed on the crumpled bonnet, feeling the broken glass scattered on the surface cutting into his fingers. His knees buckled, and it was only because he was slumped over the bonnet that he remained in a semi-standing position.
Malik was pinned against the car door, slumped against it and looking unconscious (or dead) . The man’s white shirt, normally crisp and clean, was stained scarlet from where a chunk of metal had impaled deep into the dark haired man’s shoulder. Left shoulder. The heart was on the left side, wasn’t it?
Altair was moving before he had even realised it. He was wheezing, his gasps of air painfully loud to his ears as his fingernails scrabbled against the car door. He couldn’t open it. Where was the damn door handle? Malik was dying why wouldn’t this door open?!
“Shit!” Altair found the door handle, but no matter how much he wrenched at it, the door wouldn’t budge. The car was so crumpled and warped, that the door was most likely wedged shut. Only the Jaws of Life could open it now.
Altair wanted to scream, but he barely had enough air to breathe properly, let alone howl in frustration. He rested a hand against the car door, but his arm buckled and his shoulder struck against the cracked window. He cried out in pain, knees collapsing from under him, and in a blaze of white hot agony, he was sprawled out on the road again, retching violently.
He came to after his body stopped spasming, tasting bitter copper in his mouth. He pushed himself back up, his entire body shivering, and spat out some blood to try and get rid of the vile taste. He pawed at the wrecked VW, pulling himself up with difficulty, and looked about him in desperation. Shouldn’t there be an ambulance now? Police? The Fire Brigade?
But there was only an eerie silence, from the quiet road and the three wrecked vehicles. The truck that initially crashed into them was just behind the lorry, having been clipped by the larger vehicle, its entire front end folded up. The driver was most likely dead. The car he vaguely remembered crashing into was off the road, having swerved into the low ditch. Altair didn’t know what happened to the driver.
The lorry was quiet, its engine still thrumming, but no sign of its driver as well. Maybe they’d been knocked out…or something.
And Malik was unconscious (notdeadnotdead) with a heavily bleeding injury, with himself injured from being thrown from the car. Heavily injured. He could barely stand without everything hurting, and Altair could see, somewhat fuzzily, that his prized white hoodie had been unfortunately dyed crimson.
A horrible colour.
Sick terror rose up in Altair again, as well as shame (how could he forget about Kadar?), and he slowly moved from Malik’s cracked window to try and peer into the backseat. It was a mess of bent metal, and the bright light from the lorry’s headlight cast everything inside in a silhouette, but Altair saw Kadar, his body twisted awkwardly, on the back seat.
Altair could see that Kadar’s neck was bent at a strange angle. Altair could see that a strip of metal had been jammed into Kadar’s chest. Altair could see Kadar’s blank eyes staring at him.
Altair staggered backwards, and, as he heard the wail of sirens pierce the air – so someone was watching them – he doubled over and threw up on his shoes.
The left side of Altair’s ribcage had collapsed (or as the doctor called it, he suffered from a flail chest), and a broken splint of a rib had come dangerously close to puncturing his lung. His left arm and wrist had been broken, as well as having stress fractures between the breaks, and his right arm had suffered a sprain at the elbow joint. Aside suffering from a moderate concussion, and several cuts along his arms, face and neck, Altair had been very lucky considering his circumstances.
That’s what the doctors told him, when he came to at the hospital. You had been very lucky.
Altair didn’t feel lucky. He was stuck in a too white room, on a too white bed, every breath feeling like agony, unable to move both of his arms, and bandaged up like a mummy with a migraine from hell. Altair felt incredibly unlucky.
And he was currently on painkillers. Powerful painkillers. And he still felt like he was dying.
Time was strange, during his stay. He faded in and out, in a drug induced doze, and with no clock in the room, and unable to really tell light from darkness, Altair could’ve stayed there for months for all he knew. The stupor helped, though, from thinking about what happened to put him in this state. He knew Kadar was dead, but his drugged brain was unable to think about why Kadar was dead.
If Altair had been looking at the road like Malik told him to…
And Malik was a whole different story. Altair lacked the current coherency to ask about his friend, whether he was alive or dead, and the doctors and nurses that tended to him hadn’t said a word about it. He assumed the worse.
Well, until he woke up from one of his dozes to see Malik’s unusually pale and drawn face scowling down at him.
“…” Altair couldn’t say much, but he did make a quiet noise of surprise at the unexpected sight of his friend. The fuzzy and blurred sight of his friend. Altair was practically cross-eyed from the painkillers, so it was a miracle that he even recognised Malik let alone able to decipher the tight expression on the dark-haired man’s face.
“Kadar’s dead.” Malik said shortly after a long silence.
Altair tried to reply, but a lump clogged his throat. Nausea rolled in his stomach as he remembered Kadar, twisted like a ragdoll, with his bent neck and staring, blank eyes. He let out a choppy, uneven breath through his nose, and he was unable to look at Malik, feeling the cold fury in those dark eyes. He looked at his shoulder, and did a double take at seeing how the slope of his friend’s left shoulder tapered off into a bandaged stump.
Malik followed his line of sight. “It…had to be amputated.” He said stiffly, his hand rising as if to touch the soft looking gauze, but he paused and lowered it onto his lap again. “It was apparently beyond repair.”
The sickness in Altair’s stomach only grew worse at that. Kadar dead and Malik crippled. What had Altair lost? The doctors said that after plenty of bed rest, Altair would heal without any lasting damage. Because he had been very lucky.
And foolish. And arrogant. Because he kept looking away from the road and not paying attention to his surroundings.
“Do you remember what happened?” Malik asked quietly. “The doctors say you’ve been drifting in and out, so they’re not sure what’s happened up there.” He scoffed bitterly. “I know you’re fine. Your hard head could smash through concrete easily enough.”
Altair kept his gaze on the IV sticking into his hand. That was answer enough for both of them.
Malik’s jaw clenched and unclenched. “They said it was nobody’s fault. That it was just an unfortunate accident.”
Even Altair wanted to flinch at that wording. “Nnh…” He tried to speak, but the lump was still blocking his throat, and his jaw and lips wouldn’t move correctly.
“I thought you said you had “quick reflexes”?” Malik hissed, and the fury in his gaze burned Altair. “That you were a “good driver”?! You kept looking away from the damned road and now-!” He cut himself off, breathing as heavily as a charging bull.
Altair didn’t bother trying to speak again. Nothing he would say would fix this anyway.
“Am I even talking to you?” Malik murmured, the anger leached from his voice. “For all I know, you’re some brain-damaged idiot now.” The dark-haired man hunched over, clutching at his hair with his sole hand. “Say something, dammit…”
Altair remained silent. In fact, his eyes slid close of their own violation, and he was drifting off into a painless, thoughtless doze again. A small part of him was screaming, wanting to leap from the bed and tell Malik all the half-sane apologies and thoughts ricocheting through his head. But the blanket of apathy from the painkillers smothered it beneath a layer of drowsy darkness.
Kadar was dead. But at least Malik was still alive…
“You got a new car.”
It was said as more of a statement, than a question, but Malik still gave him an acidic look. “Well. The other one was totalled.” He said stiffly, rubbing his thumb over the sharp teeth of the car key. Altair looked away, feeling guilt gnaw at him, and tugged his white hood down a bit more.
It had been eight weeks since the car crash. It had been hard to talk to Malik after the meeting in the hospital room, since Altair had either been asleep, drugged, and unable to walk around, unlike Malik. It didn’t help that the dark haired man had avoided him like the plague, and wouldn’t visit him after his rehabilitation sessions, no matter how much Altair had asked after him. It took Altair to stagger out of bed after three weeks, and miraculously accost Malik in the hallway, to speak to him again. What followed had been an explosive fight (the first one Altair had lost), and an extra fortnight added to the healing of his broken arm.
But Malik had visited him every so often after that.
Things weren’t as they used to be, though. Malik was harsher, bitter, and sometimes Altair couldn’t even look at the man without guilt chewing through his gut. Their conversations ended in fights, usually, and there was always a frosty air hanging between them. It got even worse when Kadar was mentioned, or anything relating to his death.
“How are you going to drive it?” Altair teased with a hint of hesitancy in his tone. “Unless you turn in very large circles…”
“I still have my license.” Malik interrupted. “The university is within walking distance anyway.”
Altair wanted to ask why Malik would bother to shell out for a new car then, but held his tongue. Instead he let out a low grunt, and stared at the car. It was a VW, like the last car, but was blue instead of grey. It was also second-hand. Really, it looked like the old car but with a change in colour. “Am I trusted to drive it?” He asked without thinking.
Malik stilled his fidgeting. Altair tensed his shoulders, and suddenly had an urge to blurt out an apology. He remained silent, holding his breath in expectation of a cutting insult, or Malik simply chasing him away, locking him out of the dorm room for the rest of the day (again).
“It depends,” Malik said curtly, his fingers curling over the car key and clenching tightly. He said no more, and Altair didn’t push him.
Malik had always been a night owl, but since Kadar’s death, it had reached a new, extreme level. He gained an aversion to sleep, unable to close his eyes without seeing that night. True, he remembered it as nothing but a horrifying blur, but he could still remember Kadar’s pained filled voice before the lorry smashed into them, the noise of crumpling metal and…he also remembered how Altair was flung from the car like a ragdoll, saved from death by his own arrogance.
Altair. They were friends. Vitriolic best buddies, Kadar had called them once, but Malik was…he was twisted up over Altair. After the amputation, after the crash, he had been ready to storm into Altair’s hospital room, to scream and blame him for being an /idiot/ and getting Kadar killed. But Altair hadn’t escaped unscathed, and the sight of him – the man who hid any vulnerability behind that stupid hoodie of his, who would snipe and smirk with arrogance – pale faced, bandaged and unconscious on the hospital bed, had taken the wind out of most of his anger.
Altair had looked very small on that hospital bed, and those eyes that had stared up at him…they hadn’t been the self-confident, smug eyes of a bastard. They had been confused and a little frightened.
Malik had left that room feeling dissatisfied and disgusted.
He scoffed at himself and shook his head, focusing on pouring the hot water into his mug without spilling it everywhere. Why did he spend every night thinking about Altair? The man was an ass; he was responsible for Kadar’s death, and /why/ he hadn’t demanded to transfer to a different dorm room he didn’t know…
But he knew the reason. Because Altair wasn’t the cocky bastard he once was anymore. Since the ‘accident’, he had become even more introverted, quiet, and very cautious in how he even spoke to Malik. Oh, the occasional playful insult came out, but then Altair would clam up and slink away before Malik could even think up a response, avoiding him for the rest of the day. The severe change in character did niggle concern in Malik, but even so, he was still too hurt and angry at the man to bring it to attention.
Malik set down the kettle, a faint frown furrowing his brow. Here he was, still thinking about Altair. If he was going to be an insomniac, he may as well spend his extra time on more productive things. Like wor-
There was movement by the door to Altair’s bedroom, and Malik almost leapt a foot in the air when he spotted the object of his thoughts loitering in the darkness. Altair looked hesitant, and upon realising that he had been spotted, stiffened and made as if to back into his bedroom.
“W-What are you doing?” Malik snapped, wincing at how his voice wavered a little from his surprise. “Lurking there like some…assassin? What do you want?”
Altair muttered something too low for Malik’s ears, but shuffled into the kitchenette. Without the hood hiding a large portion of his face, Malik could see Altair intentionally avoiding his gaze. The brown haired man was staring at the kettle, his golden eyes a little dull and blurred from tiredness. There were bruises smudged underneath his eyes as well, and Malik wondered if it was only him that wasn’t able to sleep.
Malik stood there, stiff as a bored, watching Altair like a hawk as the other man stopped right next to him. He was clad only in his pyjama bottoms, so he obviously only just rolled out of bed, but it allowed Malik to see the pinkish, fresh scars running along the underside of Altair’s ribs, and the bandages wrapped tightly around his previously broken arm. The pins had recently been taken out…
Altair picked up the kettle, and took a mug off the draining board. Malik hurriedly stared down into his own coffee, the silence too stifling, too awkward, and only broken by the chink of metal on ceramic as Altair made his hot drink. Whatever it was. Tea, probably. Altair had a disgusting habit of making a sickly sweet tea when he got up in the middle of the night.
After a few minutes, Malik heard Altair’s bare feet pad lightly from the kitchenette. The man abruptly paused, and Malik looked up in surprise, only able to see the silhouette of the brunet. “What?” He grunted.
The light from the lamppost outside caught Altair’s strange gold eyes, and they immediately flickered away when they caught Malik’s gaze. “…good night.” He muttered, and swiftly returned to his room as if he expected to have something thrown at him. Malik was half-tempted to.
Damn that Altair. It would have been easier if he continued to act like the smug asshole he used to be. It would be easier to blame him, to hate him, but this pathetic, timid creature… it left a foul taste in Malik’s mouth. How could he rain hatred on someone who looked so defeated already?
Malik sipped his coffee and almost gagged. It was too bitter.