Alex's heart is pounding so heavily in her chest that she can hear it echoing in her ears like so many gunshots. The prospect of losing Tony is still a searing fire that rushes through her whole body but now it's mixed with something like elation that started bubbling up in her the moment she heard him cough and take that first gasping breath in response to her pounding on his chest.
Alex knew she had grown to love Tony. But lying here on the floor of his bathroom she's taken aback by the realization of just how much. Panic doesn't begin to describe the emotion that gripped her when she saw Matthew outside Tony's flat. It's the closest thing she's felt to the sheer terror that filled her when Ben was taken.
Her brain and her mouth can't seem to form the words to tell Tony any of this. She's not sure she wants to tell him. Instead she reaches over and grasps his hand tightly. His sharp intake of breath in response leads her to wonder if her touch doesn't somehow give away the weight of her feelings.
After a moment, she gains enough equilibrium to realize he must be freezing and uncomfortable. When she begins to move her hand from his, Tony's fingers grasp hers tightly in protest.
"I'm not going anywhere. I'm just going to get something to make you more comfortable." The hollow, raw sound of her own voice shocks her. Tony hesitates but eventually loosens his grip enough for her to pull her hand away.
She finds a towel hanging on the rack by the sink, picks it up, folds it, and lifts Tony's head gently to place the towel between his head and the hard tile of the bathroom floor. Then she unzips her coat and covers Tony with it, tucking the edges tightly around his shoulders, before once again lying down next to him and taking his hand in her own.
Time stretches on around them. Even when the paramedics show up, she doesn't move until prompted, her fingers not separating from his until absolutely necessary.
Tony, of course, protests that he is fine. He seems put out by the attention he's receiving from the paramedics but when Alex reaches out to trail her fingers lightly over the gash on his forehead - it's simple concern she tells herself but it's also the need to feel his warming skin against her own, a contrast to the ice cold feel of him when she dragged him out of the water - he leans into her touch and lets a weary sigh escape his mouth.
She rides with him in the ambulance. His eyes drift closed often but every time they open she sees the panic written clearly on his face until he manages to focus on her. Only when he sees her face does he relax enough to close his eyes again.
At the hospital, the doctor forces Alex out of the exam room despite her spirited protests. Kevin and Paula are waiting for her in the hallway. Who called them? Alex can't remember if it was her. Her eyes never leave the door of the room where the doctor is checking Tony over even when Kevin and Paula are speaking to her, asking her questions about Tony and about Matthew.
Knowing how to compartmentalize is a necessity as a detective, especially a female detective. Even when she's overwhelmed by the horrors around her, she can get her job done with no one the wiser. So she answers Kevin and Paula on autopilot and even manages to rattle off a few orders but her thoughts are with Tony. The panic is too fresh in her mind, the thought of losing him too recent. She wills the door to open. She needs to see him, needs the reminder that he's living and breathing once again.
When they first met, Alex felt she was constantly circling Tony. One of them was always a few steps ahead with the other trailing behind, a never-ending game of catch up. But, more often now, she feels he's the only one who manages to stand beside her in the dizzying chaos their lives often become. The thought of losing that, of losing him, has her shaken beyond her expectations.
(She's not ready to love Tony this much.)
She insists on bringing him home with her once the doctor gives him the okay to leave the hospital.
He protests, of course. Sometimes she's certain he does things just to be difficult and she doesn't hesitate to share that viewpoint with him. Last month he practically badgered her until she let him stay over while he was having trouble with his neighbor. Now, when she's actually inviting him, he's suddenly shy about accepting.
"You need someone to check on you," she insists.
"I'm fine, Alex." The weariness in his voice contradicts his words.
"I swear, if you say you're fine once more." Even as she says it, she feels badly for the edge of annoyance in her voice. It's not him she's angry with. She's the one who was so focused on not letting him become a target that she didn't realize he already was. She'll not forgive herself easily for that lapse in judgment.
Tony probably knows that. He's probably psychoanalyzing her right now. (She won't let herself dwell on that thought. It will only to serve to make her angrier.) Whatever Tony's thoughts, he remains silent.
"You're not fine and your flat is a crime scene," she finally says. "You're staying with me and Ben." Her voice is firm and leaves no room for argument. She takes Tony's continued silence as agreement.
"Damnit!" she shouts as she slams on the brakes and narrowly avoids hitting another car for the second time on their drive home. Her eyes have been on Tony, not the road. The bruises and cuts on his face are highlighted against his still too pale skin. She can't get the image of him in that tub out of her head, can't forget how still he was, how long it took him to breathe.
Ben has been long asleep by the time they get home. Alex thanks the sitter profusely for staying late yet again. She finds Tony an old pair of pajamas her brother left on one of his visits and lets him change. Then she gets him settled in her bed with plenty of extra blankets and instructions to yell for her if he needs anything.
Once she's made sure Tony is as comfortable as possible, Alex doesn't know what to do with herself. Until now, she's been able to focus on looking after him. (It's a calming routine; she's gotten used to taking care of him these past few years. Lately she's begun to recognize the subtle ways he takes care of her in return.) Now that she's still, the reality of the past several hours is settling firmly on her shoulders.
Lying there in her bed surrounded by the pillows and blankets she's piled around him he looks lost, more than the everyday Tony lost. His eyes are open but not focused on anything she can see. And Alex wonders, not for the first time, if she'll always be able to find him.
She's told him she'll sleep on the couch but she lingers in the doorway so long that he eventually turns his head to look at her and pats the mattress next to him in invitation. Before the gesture, she wasn't sure he was even aware of her presence.
Alex smiles but shakes her head. "You need your rest. I'd only disturb you. Besides, Ben could wake. I don't want him to think..." She trails off, unsure of how to finish the thought.
"That you're taking advantage of me in my weakened state?" Tony offers. He waggles his eyebrows suggestively.
The gesture is so ridiculously out of place given the night they've had that Alex can't help the loud burst of laughter that escapes her. She quickly slaps a hand over her mouth and looks in the direction of Ben's room for any indication that the noise has awakened him. Seeing none, she returns her attention to Tony. "You wish," she quips.
"Come on." He pats the mattress yet again. "I nearly died tonight. Give me a bit of a thrill."
Any trace of amusement drains from her at the reminder. "Don't joke," she says. Her voice catches on the words and, by the change in Tony's demeanor, it's obvious he's picked up on her mood.
Making her way over to the bed, she sits down gingerly on the edge of the mattress opposite where Tony is laying. She keeps her back to him. If she looks at him right now, he'll be able to read every thought that's going through her head. Maybe he already has. She's not ready for that. Sometimes she wishes she could hide things from him as easily as she does others.
"Tony, I'm sorry. I should have realized he'd come after you." A simple apology. Entirely inadequate, she thinks.
"Alex. You couldn't know. You thought he'd take the bait and go after Kevin." His voice is calm and reassuring. Somehow it makes her feel worse.
She feels his hand come to rest lightly on her back. The rarity of such physical gestures from him makes the simple touch seem strikingly intimate. Keeping her back to him, she allows herself to lie down on the edge of the mattress. His hand does not move from its resting place on the small of her back. She wonders if he finds the contact as comforting as she does and feels a small glimmer of elation fill her at the thought.
"How are you feeling?" she asks. His whole body must be aching, judging by the bruises she's spotted on nearly every inch of uncovered skin.
His voice is rough and weary when he answers. "Better. Always better when you're here, Alex."
It's almost exactly what he said to her a few days ago after his arrest but the added "always" makes her heart beat just a little bit faster. She doesn't reply for fear any answer would give away the depth of her emotion. They lay in silence until eventually she feels his hand slip from her back. Seconds later a soft snore tells her he's fallen asleep. Still, she mourns the loss of contact.
Eventually, she does force herself up and out of the bed but she doesn't make it all the way downstairs to the couch. Instead she settles for grabbing a spare blanket and getting as comfortable as possible in the small armchair that sits in the corner of her bedroom. She tells herself it's for Tony's benefit, in case he wakes up and feels ill or needs anything in the night, and not because she still can't bear the thought of letting him out of her sight.
(She's not ready to love Tony this much. But she does.)
She wakes in a strange position on the chair with a throbbing neck and one arm asleep. Ben is looking quizzically at her from the doorway.
"Mum," he whispers. "Why are you sleeping in the chair and what's Tony doing in your bed?"
She puts her finger to her mouth indicating he should save further questions until they're out of the room. She extricates herself from the chair and gives Tony a quick look to make sure he's still asleep before she takes Ben's hand and leads him downstairs toward the kitchen.
"Tony had to go to hospital last night. I brought him here so we could make sure he's alright," she says as she pulls out a chair and motions for Ben to have a seat at the kitchen table. A quick glance through the cupboards assures her she has all she needs to make pancakes and she begins assembling the ingredients on the counter.
"Is he going to be okay?" Ben asks, the concern evident in his voice.
Alex turns her full attention to her son; she knows how attached he's become to Tony. "Yeah, he's going to be fine but we should be extra quiet so we don't wake him. He needs to rest." She makes her way to the refrigerator and pulls out a carton of orange juice. She pours two glasses and keeps one for herself and hands the other to Ben. Her hand shakes as she lifts the glass to her lips.
Tony is going to be fine, she tells herself. He's alive. He's alive. He's alive. She repeats the phrase in her head like a mantra. If she stops reminding herself, she's afraid the image of him cold and lifeless in the water will run in a constant loop in her head during her waking hours just as it did in her dreams last night.
She's snapped out of her thoughts by a question from Ben. "Mum, is Tony your boyfriend?"
She almost spits out her juice. So much for not confusing things by sleeping in her bed with Tony. "No," she says. She means for it to come out calm and definitive but, to her ears, it sounds more like a question than an answer. Alex hopes Ben finds it more convincing than she does.
"Why not?" Ben asks.
Alex concentrates on mixing the batter as she attempts to formulate a response. Before she has a chance, she hears Tony's voice, "I'm not boyfriend material."
Alex turns to see Tony leaning against the wall in the entryway to the kitchen. His hair is sticking up in every direction and the bruises and cuts are still evident on his skin but she is relieved to see that his color is nearly back to normal.
"What does that mean?" Ben asks curiously.
"I don't know but several women have mentioned it. Must be true." Tony's self-deprecating grin is one Alex has seen many times. The familiarity of the expression plus the fact that Tony's alive and standing in her kitchen fills her with warmth.
"Have a seat. I'm making pancakes." Alex gestures toward the table.
"Ah, Alex. I don't want to put you out any more than I already have. I've gathered up my things. I'm sure they've finished with my flat by now."
"I've already mixed enough for three. You'll only put me out if you don't stay."
Tony remains still in the doorway looking as if he's completely torn between heading for the door and accepting her invitation to breakfast.
"Sit," she commands, pointing first at him and then at the chair next to Ben.
"Yes, ma'am," he replies with mock formality. Alex is certain she hears Tony mutter "bossy" under his breath but the smile on his face indicates he's not really put out by her insistence. His movements are stiff as he walks to the table and sits down.
Her voice softens as she asks, "Alright?"
"Just a little sore but I'm sure I'll be back to my usual spry self in no time," he replies. "You can't be much better. I woke last night to see you in quite an unnatural position in that chair of yours. I thought you were going to sleep on the couch." Tony's looking at her now, head tilted slightly sideways, like he's trying to figure something out and he's just on the verge of making a discovery.
"You caught me," she says lightly in an attempt to cut off any further questions. Alex hopes she's not blushing. Just in case, she turns away and returns her attention to preparing breakfast.
"I'm sorry you got hurt, Tony," she hears Ben say. Silently, Alex thanks her son for the distraction.
"Thank you, Ben, but I'm okay now. Your Mum has taken very good care of me." She recalls Tony's words from last night, 'You saved me.' He's alive because of her. If she believed in God, Alex would be thanking him right now for whatever instinct drove her to Tony's flat last night.
A few minutes later, they're settled comfortably around the table. Tony is eating like someone who has been starved for days. Alex is pretty sure he's somehow managed to get maple syrup in his hair.
Ben's telling Tony all about his football team and Tony's nodding and giving all the right responses even though Alex is fairly certain he's got no interest in sports whatsoever. It all feels so natural and it occurs to her that any outsider looking in might see this scene and think them a typical family enjoying a lazy Saturday morning. She's surprised how happy the thought makes her.
When they're done with breakfast, Tony rises abruptly from the table announcing, "I really should get out of your hair now."
His attempts to not annoy her are becoming genuinely annoying but, out of respect for the trauma he's just been through, Alex exercises what she thinks is a great deal of restraint and refrains from telling him so. Instead, she settles for saying, "Tony, if you wait a bit, I'll give you a lift."
Ignoring her protest, Tony walks out of the kitchen and up to her bedroom. She hears him shuffling around upstairs and then his feet on the stairs and her front door opening and closing. Alex stops herself from shouting out to remind him that he's leaving the house in pajamas. He won't get very far. She counts to five in her head and, as expected, her front door opens again. A few seconds later, Tony is back in the kitchen.
"Alex," he says, sounding slightly put out. "I haven't got a car here."
She directs her eyes toward the ceiling and doesn't even attempt to cover the smile she can't stop from brightening her face. "I know," she says. "I have to drop Ben at football practice in an hour. I'll give you a lift then. Why don't you two go find some cartoons on the television while I clean up here?"
Given permission, Ben and Tony turn in perfect unison and rush for the living room.
(She's not ready to love Tony this much. But she does. She'll tell him someday.)
An hour and a half later, they've dropped Ben at practice and Alex's car is parked in front of Tony's flat.
"I'll ring you later tonight to check in," she says before he has a chance to get out of the car.
"Alex," he begins.
She doesn't give him time to continue. "Don't tell me you're fine and not to bother, Tony."
He looks offended at the suggestion. "I was going to say thank you," he protests.
She grins brightly. "No you weren't."
So many moments with Tony feel like she's on the edge of some sort of precipice and this is one of them. She knows she's heading off a more serious conversation with her light reply, subtly nudging the two of them away from the edge they're constantly in danger of tumbling over. But, she doesn't think either of them is in the state of mind for a serious discussion about their relationship today.
Soon, though. Last night was a brutal reminder of how quickly he could slip away, how easily they could slip away. She's not willing to let that happen.
"Okay, maybe I wasn't." His words are careful, deliberate. She's certain he's picked up on her hesitation and is simply playing along for now. For all his impatience in other areas, Tony is always patient with her in their personal relationship.
"You sure you don't want me to come up and help you get settled?" she asks. He looks much better but his color is still a bit off, his movements a bit slower than normal.
"No. I'm probably just going to go right to sleep anyway." He punctuates the statement with a loud yawn.
"Good. Get some more rest today. And, tomorrow, if you're up for it, Ben and I will stop by. Call if I can do anything before then." Already she's making a list in her head of things he might need.
He nods in response. "Alright, then." His hand is on the door handle but he pauses before opening the car door and asks, "Where you off to now?"
"Shopping," she says, her voice slipping into a teasing tone.
"Shopping?" he questions.
"I need new eyeliner and lip liner. I know a lot has happened but you do remember scribbling all over a prison cell wall with my Tawny Rose, yeah?" The lightness in her voice takes away any accusation the words might have held.
He chuckles and she knows it's genuine amusement by the way his eyes crinkle up at the corners. She's proud that she's finally learning his tells the way he's known hers since day one.
"Yeah, I suppose I do remember that. Shopping, then." He shoots her a suspicious look. "Are those things really twenty quid each or were you just winding me up?"
Alex just laughs in response as Tony exits the car and walks to his building, turning to give her a small wave before opening the door and walking inside.
(She's not ready to love Tony this much. But she does. She'll tell him someday. Maybe, if she's right, he feels the same.)