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Stuck on the Puzzle

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Doctor Miles Kane was on duty in the Emergency Room that morning. It had been relatively quiet so far; a man had come in bleeding all over the floor after cutting his own thumb, but as the wound had been stitched up there wasn’t much drama. A little girl had been rolled in with a broken leg, but another doctor had taken over the case as they needed to take a scan of her leg before they began to work on anything.

It was a Wednesday morning, just before eleven o’clock. Dr Kane felt secretly bored. He hated the shifts in the ER, it was either too chaotic or too quiet. There seemed to be no middle ground. It was always either three cases of cardiac arrest, one gunshot wound incident and four victims of car accidents all at once, or it was stitching up some old man’s thumb. Like today.

The hours couldn’t possibly go any slower than this. Dr Kane longed for his shift to end. He would much rather be on clinic duty. At least that meant that you could take your time with each patient and engage in conversation. No stress, so chaos, no blood sputtering all over the floors.

The clock was nearing twelve and his shift would finish in only ten minutes. Dr Kane put on his lab coat as he thought that there would be no more patients before noon. That was when the inevitable happened.

The sound of an ambulance parking right outside the hospital reached the ER. Before Kane had finished putting on a fresh pair of medical gloves, the doors swung open as a patient was rushed inside the ER on a stretcher.

Kane ran towards the paramedics as the patient was carried off the stretcher and placed on one of the hospital beds instead.

“What’s the situation?” Kane asked them as he called for a nurse to bring him his devices and instruments over to the bed.

“23-year-old male, sudden loss of consciousness, completely unresponsive. We fear that he might have hit his head when he collapsed.” A female paramedic was now looking up at the doctor. “He’s stable though. He suffers no breathing difficulties.”

Kane noticed a young man standing behind the paramedics. He looked about the patient’s age. His eyes were wide with fear and confusion.

“You,” Kane waved him closer to the bed, “were you with him when it happened? What’s your name?”

“I-I’m M-Matt. Matt Helders,” the young man stuttered, apparently overcome with concern, “we were playing tennis. I-I don’t know what happened to him. I guess it was kinda hot outside, but not that hot. He seemed fine, really. Then all of a sudden he just fainted and we couldn’t wake him up…”

“What’s the patient’s name?” Kane questioned as he dug out his stethoscope.

“A-Alex,” Matt stammered.

“Alex what?”

“Alex Turner, sir.”

Dr Kane looked down and took in the young man on the bed. He wore a white t-shirt and white tennis shorts. His pale skin seemed nearly as white as his clothing. Kane fixed on the boy’s sleeping features. He was rather handsome, truth be told. Pretty, even. A little too skinny, perhaps, but that was common in young boys, wasn’t it?

“Mr Turner,” Kane spoke as he placed the resonator of the stethoscope unto his patient’s chest, “Mr Turner, can you hear me?”

No response.

Kane paused to listen to the young man’s heartbeat. Nothing unusual there.

“He’s probably dehydrated,” Kane told the friend, Matt, who had followed with in the ambulance. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious, however, it’s concerning me that he’s still unconscious. We are going to need to run a few tests and examine his head, too.”

As he spoke the words, Kane did a quick examination. As he held up the patient’s head carefully, he found traces of fresh blood in the long, brown hair.

“We’ve got a small wound to the head here,” Kane said directed to the nurse, “it looks superficial, but it’s still bleeding. He could have suffered a concussion.”

“Is he going to be okay?” Matt’s gaze shifted between Doctor Kane and the nurse.

Instead of answering the young man, Kane raised Matt with a series of questions that he found more pressing:

“Has he ever fainted before?”

“I-I don’t know,” Matt bit his lip as he struggled to think, “I think that maybe… Maybe there was an incident a few months ago. He didn’t faint as such, but he said he felt dizzy. Like the room was spinning before his eyes or summat. I think I heard him throwing up in the toilet that day, although he insisted that he was fine.”

“Could it have been a stomach flu?” Kane suggested.

“I dunno,” Matt shook his head, “we could barely get him to talk about it. I thought that maybe he was just hungover.”

“Does he get drunk often?”

“Mate, I mean, sir – doctor Kane, sorry,” Matt faltered, “we’re in a band. We have just started touring. We all drink, that’s just what you do after a gig.”

“Any drugs that you know of?”

“What?” Matt’s eyebrows knitted in confusion.

“Do you know if he does drugs of any sort?”

“No way, he doesn’t do drugs. Never.” Matt shrugged. “I mean, we’ve all smoked a bit of weed every now and then, but that doesn’t count. Right?”

“Is he under a lot of stress at the moment, then?” Kane looked straight into Matt’s eyes, craving more specific answers from him.

“Look, I told you, we’re in a band. And we’re touring at the moment. So yeah, it’s stressful, but it’s just what we do. Alex is used to it. He’s a performer – our lead singer actually. We’ve been doing this for years now.”

Interesting.

“Alright,” Kane said as he turned his attention back on the nurse, “we’re going to do an IV. And then we are going to make sure that he hasn’t suffered any further trauma to his head.”

 

*

 

Dr Kane found his way into Alex’s private hospital room a few hours later, delighted to see that his patient had finally woken up.

His friend, Matt, had stayed behind to look after him, and Matt was now sitting on the edge of his hospital bed as the two of them were talking and laughing together enthusiastically.

Kane saw a wide smile on the young boy’s face. Alex was still rather pale-looking, slightly sweaty, too, but he seemed to fare alright. (Kane did not fail to appreciate the way the boy’s eyes lit up beautifully. His eyes were big and impossibly brown. Innocent. His smile was rather contagious, too).

“Ah, Mr Turner,” Kane offered the boys a smile as he entered the door, “I’m glad to see that you’re finally with us. You gave your friend here quite a scare. How are you feeling?”

Alex turned his head and looked up at the doctor Matt had been telling him about. A rather attractive man, as it turned out, with short hair, kind eyes and a slightly dangerous grin on his face. The white lab coat he was wearing made him appear rather tall and fit.

“Uh, I think I’m OK now. Thanks.” Alex cleared his throat slightly, and Matt moved a glass of water towards his face. Alex took a small sip, although it felt weird to have Matt holding the glass for him. His own hands were shaking quite a bit, but he didn’t think Matt had noticed.

“I’m glad to hear that – you are looking better too, I must say.” Kane began to skim through his own notes from earlier and completely missed the way his words had the young boy blushing for a moment. “I assume the nurse has been in here to check up on you? When did you wake up?”

“Uh… M’not entirely sure.” Alex admitted. He was quick to look over at Matt as a way of asking for his assistance.

“Maybe half an hour ago, I would say.” Matt clasped an encouraging hand on Alex’s shoulder. “A nurse was here to take his blood pressure just ten minutes ago.”

“Ah yes,” Kane smiled as he looked down at the medical journal in his hands, “I see that she wrote down your numbers here. Well, Mr Turner, the good news is that you’ve only got a small concussion. You hit your head at the time you lost consciousness. You were bleeding a bit from a wound to your head, but luckily, you didn’t need any stitches. Now, let’s talk about what made you lose consciousness in the first place.”

Dr Kane observed Alex’s faltering smile skilfully at those words. His friend, Matt, didn’t seem to suspect anything.

“Your friend told me that you were playing tennis when you suddenly fainted,” Kane neared the bed slowly, watching Alex’s eyes growing slightly big with something similar to panic, “do you remember what happened? Did you feel sick? Exhausted?”

“Well, uh,” Alex bit the insides of his cheeks, his eyes darting around the room in order to avoid the doctor’s piercing stare, “I’m not exactly sure. Maybe I was just a bit dehydrated. It’s never really happened to me before.”

“Your results indicated that you were indeed slightly dehydrated,” Kane once again read from the journal, “but you were not that dehydrated if you know what I mean. I would be surprised if that’s what caused you to black out.”

Kane paused and waited patiently. He was offering the young boy a chance to get the truth off his chest. But Alex simply kept avoiding his gaze, pretending not to know. When the lad kept silent, the doctor added:

“Your friend here, Mr Helders, was kind enough to inform me that you’ve been feeling faint in the past. Can you tell me more about that? Do you faint often?”

“No.” Alex pronounced the word a little too stridently. “No, I mean, this is the first time. But I feel a lot better now. Really, I do.”

Matt smiled at him and Alex reciprocated it. Kane, however, continued to stare at the young man in disbelief.

“Did you eat before your game of tennis?” Kane let the words slip out almost casually, but he had anticipated the nervous reaction that he received from his patient.

“S-sorry?” Alex stammered, pretending not to have heard the question.

“Did you eat breakfast today?” Kane asked him loud and clear. Not to taunt to poor boy, but to get an answer out of him.

Alex began to fiddle with his hands in order to keep them busy. He pulled at the covers he had been wrapped in.

“Uh, well, yeah, sure. I think I did. Almost certain.” His words were a blur. He had lowered his voice in an act of avoidance.

“You don’t remember if you had breakfast or not, Mr Turner?” Kane cocked an eyebrow.

“Mate, come to think of it,” Matt intervened, “you weren’t there at the breakfast buffet. I was down for breakfast at nine o’clock with Jamie and Nick, but you weren’t there.” When the doctor looked at them both in slight suspicion, Matt explained: “We’re staying at this hotel downtown at the moment. Things have been a little hectic the last couple of days, we’ve been travelling a lot. We just came back from a European tour, and in about a month’s time we’ll be touring in the UK, too.”

“I see.” Kane nodded politely.

“Oh, right, I remember now,” Alex chuckled nervously, hoping that neither men would notice, “I meant to be down for breakfast before our game of tennis, but I overslept. I thought I could just eat after the game, but – as you know…”

The young lad shrugged almost as though he had expected the doctor to laugh at his misstep. But Kane’s smile remained tight, unamused.

“Alright, well then, Mr Turner, I guess we have our answer right there,” Kane announced in a pretend-voice, “however, if you wouldn’t mind, I would still like to have a little chat with you while I adjust your IV. Perhaps in private, if you don’t mind?”

Dr Kane was looking at Matt this time.

“Oh right,” Matt said as he picked up on the doctor’s hint, “of course. I’ll go get a coffee or summat, but I’ll be right back. Can I get you anything whilst I’m out, mate?”

Alex smiled uncomfortably and shook his head slightly. “Thanks, but I’m good.”

“Some breakfast perhaps?” Kane interjected knowing that he was pushing it.

“Oh yeah, sure,” Matt laughed as he couldn’t decide whether or not Dr Kane had been joking, “well, I guess I can buy you a croissant or summat, eh, Al?”

Alex had to force a grin and he found himself nodding, even as he was curling his toes in frustration under the covers. Bloody hell, were all doctors this intrusive?

Matt was still laughing as he grabbed his coat and left the room. As soon as he’d gone, Dr Kane straightened his back and went to take a seat right next to the hospital bed. As he sat down, he startled his patient slightly by moving the chair even closer to the bed.

“Right,” he spoke candidly, “now that your friend has left and it’s just you and me, Mr Turner, perhaps we could start our conversation over.”

“W-what do you mean?” Alex felt himself trying to inch further back against the pillow in his back, but the doctor was still awfully close to him.

He didn’t like the serious look that the older man had in his eyes.

“Well, for instance,” Kane leaned in to study Alex’s face close, “you could start by answering my questions truthfully this time. My first question being, of course: For how long have you been making yourself throw up, and how did it begin?”

Alex’s jaw dropped. How the fuck did he know?! He couldn’t believe that the other man had actually said that out loud. He felt utterly stunned.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Alex pouted in offense as he glanced over at the doctor. “I’m not making myself throw up. That’s crazy! Why would I even do that?”

“You tell me.” Kane wasn’t gloating when he looked his young patient in the eyes. He was expressing deep sympathy. He had seen other young girls and boys like him with eating disorders, and it was never pretty. It always started with the patient being in deep denial and pain, unable to express it to anyone.

Alex’s hands were trembling again, making it harder for him to keep up his act. Even his mouth was beginning to tremble. He couldn’t hold his pout, nor a smile. There was only fear and surprise painted all over his face.

“I… There’s nothing to tell.” Alex tried again, his voice sounding less and less convincing. “I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“No?” Dr Kane hesitated before he leaned in and took a hold of the lad’s right hand. Alex jumped in surprise and tried to pull his hand back, but Kane was as persistent as he was gentle. “Look, Alex. Sorry, may I call you Alex? If we’re going to have a talk about this, just the two of us, I would prefer to use your first name. It sounds more sincere, doesn’t it? You can call me Miles in return, if you wish.”

“Miles?” Alex wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He was fairly certain that his mother, if she was here, would tell him off for addressing his doctor in such manner. “Well, I dunno… I guess it wouldn’t hurt.”

Alex felt like the doctor had somehow tricked him into indirectly admitting that there was something to talk about.

“Good, perfect.” Dr Kane smiled at him and it seemed so genuine, like he wasn’t trying to trick him after all. “Listen to me, Alex. I’m not trying to corner you. I don’t wish to make you feel uncomfortable. But do you see right here?” He lifted up Alex’s thin hand. “Right there on the back of your index finger and middle finger. Do you see how it looks like you have a light rash? It almost looks like flesh wounds. On your knuckles, too. That’s caused by the stomach acid spilling over your fingers every time you throw up. I assume you use your index and middle finger to make yourself gag? Most bulimics do. But every time you stick these two fingers down your throat, it leaves a certain trail. It was the first thing I looked for when you avoided my questions about eating breakfast.”

Kane paused to take a look at the younger man. He was dreadfully pale and it was apparent that Kane’s words had upset him. Alex’s big, brown eyes were watering slightly and his hand shook in the doctor’s grip.

“I… I don’t know what to say.” Alex sniffled discretely and tried to blink the tears away. “I thought you wouldn’t find out. I-I didn’t realise that it was so obvious.”

“Well, it’s probably not obvious to the people around you. But we doctors know which warning signs to look for.”

Alex bit his lip in embarrassment. His cheeks had turned slightly red. It was obvious that he was feeling ashamed of himself.

“M’sorry, Dr Kane. I mean, Miles… I just – I dunno, I didn’t mean to lie to you, but… I just can’t have Matt and the lads finding out about this.”

Kane had almost forgotten that he was still holding on to the young man’s hand. As soon as he remembered, he let go of him in subtle mortification. Alex didn’t seem to notice.

“Are you saying that you haven’t told anyone at all?” Kane’s eyebrows knitted in concern. “Not even your parents? A girlfriend perhaps?”

Alex snorted at that. “No, I haven’t told anyone yet. And – not that it matters – but I don’t exactly have a girlfriend. I came out of the closet a few years ago, if you know what I mean.”

Kane had no idea why he found himself paying extra attention to this detail.

“I see. Was it difficult coming out? I mean, did your sexuality trigger some sort of fear in you?” Kane asked him.

“If you’re suggesting that I developed an eating disorder because I’m gay, you’re wrong.” Alex chuckled, though none too cheerfully. “Everyone around me knew I was gay before I did. No one gave me a hard time over it, not even my parents.”

“Well, I’m at least happy to hear that. At least you didn’t have to deal with a disappointed, Christian mother like I did.” Kane had said this as an encouragement for the lad, but now he found himself questioning whether or not this statement was even appropriate.

“You’re – you’re gay, too?” Alex blinked a few times, mentally telling himself to snap out of it. This was his doctor he was talking to. What did it matter to him if his doctor was gay or straight?

“I am – I’m sorry, though, I have no idea why I said that.” Kane cleared his throat in sudden awkwardness. “We’re here to talk about you after all. Bulimia is a serious disorder, Alex. It’s dangerous if you lose control of your eating habits. You really shouldn’t keep something like that to yourself. What would you have done if you had been alone when you fainted and no one was there to call an ambulance?”

Alex felt himself getting all embarrassed again. “Well, actually… I couldn’t say this with Matt in the room, but… it has sort of happened to me before. Just once, a couple of weeks ago. But it wasn’t so bad. I was in my bedroom when it happened and I didn’t injure myself.”

“So you were lucky – but what about today?” Kane said nothing when the lad just shrugged. “This time, Alex, you fainted and collided with the ground head first. If you hadn’t been with your friends or anyone else, you might still be lying there, unable to help yourself up. Concussions are dangerous if not treated, you know.”

“I know, I know – but I’m always careful when I’m alone. I was really straining myself at tennis, and well, I usually know better than that.”

“Have your friends not noticed your lack of strength and energy?” Kane observed as the lad grew tense again. “You’re pale as a ghost, Alex. You have a haunted look on your face like you’re still about to collapse. Surely people must have seen a change in you?”

Alex wrapped his thin arms around himself before answering Dr Kane. “Well, we had a few bad reviews in the newspapers recently,” he admitted. “Some wanker journalists suggested that I have started doing drugs, but they don’t know shit. They said I looked like a zombie on stage. That was probably true, though. But Matt and the others are just too nice to bring it up. I think maybe they fear that perhaps it’s true – that I’ve started doing drugs.”

Alex snorted again and drew his knees up against his chest. The more they talked about it, the wearier he felt.

“Is that what you want, then, Alex?” Kane challenged him. “Do you want people to think that you are doing drugs when, in reality, you have a serious illness?”

Alex furrowed his brow as though he disagreed with that statement. “But is it really that serious? I mean – I’m not even certain that I’m a full-blown bulimic. It’s not like I’m dying or starving or anything.”

“Are you saying that you have to be dying to be a full-blown bulimic?” Kane squinted his eyes, which seemed to unnerve his patient even further.

“No, but…” Alex struggled to think of something to say. “But I just don’t think that what I do is that dangerous. I mean, I feel fine. Most days at least. And I’m already feeling a lot better right now.”

“Your face tells me otherwise.” Kane sighed slightly. He had found it so refreshing when the young man had been willing to admit to his eating disorder, but now it felt like they were both relapsing. Alex was still in deep denial, even after having been brought to the hospital in an ambulance. “Look, Alex, we agreed to an honest conversation since it’s just you and me in the room, didn’t we? Can you tell me when you first made yourself throw up? And do you know what triggered it?”

“Well, I…” Alex was beginning to think that perhaps he had been a little too honest with this doctor. The questions kept on coming, and he hadn’t dodged them particularly well. “I think it started when I was twenty.”

“So three years ago,” Kane confirmed.

“Yeah, summat like that. We had just released our first album, you see. And we were doing all these gigs in front of huge crowds of people when we weren’t used to it yet.” Alex closed his eyes momentarily as though he was caught in some sort of flashback. “I never wanted to be the singer actually. People have always told me that I’m quite shy. I don’t like it when people watch me.”

Kane was beginning to feel like he had adapted the role of a psychiatrist rather than a doctor.

“Did it make you feel nervous?” He asked.

“Yeah.” Alex gulped as his mouth had gone dry. “People would shout things to us at stage. And everyone was taking all these pictures as well. I began to feel like I wasn’t good enough for all that attention. I’ve never understood what people like in me. I can see why people would like our band, but I never wanted any extra attention. I sometimes feel too… too ugly to be on stage.”

“The attention you get on stage makes you feel ugly?” Kane questioned in surprise. “So please tell me something, Alex. You’re doing really well, by the way. Go back to the very first time you stuck two fingers down your throat and made yourself gag. Do you remember what you felt in the moment?”

Silent tears were starting to roll down the lad’s cheeks. “I felt ugly. Stupid. Useless. Like I wasn’t doing anyone in the world any good.”

“So when you decided to make yourself throw up, did you do it in order to punish yourself? Or was it part of a nervous reaction? I imagine you must have been under a lot of stress.”

Alex closed his eyes, making even more tears spill. “It was both.” He took in a shaky breath. “I mean, it was a nervous reaction, but it was also self-punishment. I felt like I deserved it. I still feel that way. Sometimes I joost… wanna make myself hurt. And if I make myself hurt enough, it eventually feels good.”

Alex gasped in surprise at his own admission. He had never confessed this to anyone before. He now looked up at Dr Kane in terror. How the bloody hell had this stranger made him talk like this?

Kane, too, had fallen silent. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. He now understood that Alex was in a much more dangerous state of mind than he had first assumed. If he took pleasure in hurting himself, it was only a matter of time before he would spin out of control.

“You look like you were shocked by your own words there,” Kane noted, “perhaps you’ve never really realised that this was how you felt?”

Alex felt overwhelmed by a sudden nausea. He began to breathe heavily as his heart was pounding nervously.

“I – I don’t wanna talk about this anymore…” He stammered.

“You said you didn’t consider what you do dangerous. How many times do you make yourself throw up, Alex? Is it every week? A couple of times a week?” Kane paused poignantly. “Every day? Several times a day?”

“I said I don’t wanna talk about this anymore,” Alex whimpered slightly. To his own horror, he was still crying evidently.

“So when is the last time you ate any food that stayed down?” Kane prodded him. “Has it been a day? Several days? A week?”

“Stop it,” Alex then pleaded, bringing his hands up to wipe his eyes desperately, “please stop asking me about this…”

But Kane went on mercilessly: “You ARE starving yourself, Alex, can’t you see? I didn’t mention this in front of your mate, but your vitals suggest that you’re not healthy. We ran a few tests while you were unconscious, your body is showing signs of serious malnourishment. You are underweight, you are suffering from low blood pressure, a weak pulse, and you are showing signs of anaemia. Every time you make yourself throw up, you are throwing your electrolytes out of balance, resulting in low levels of potassium, magnesium and sodium. Do you have any idea how this affects your heart? It weakens your heart muscle dangerously, Alex. You could suffer from a heart failure if you keep going like this. So please, for Heaven’s sake, answer me this: How often do you make yourself vomit? Every week or every day?”

Alex was shaking all over when he sniffled and looked up at the doctor through red, teary eyes. “A-at the moment, it’s at least twice a day,” he sobbed.

Kane felt a sudden sting of fear for his young patient. His condition was even more serious than his vitals had suggested.

“Did you make yourself vomit this morning?” Kane asked gently this time. “Before your tennis match?”

“Y-yes.” Alex had covered both eyes with his hands, rocking himself back and forth a few times. “I’m sorry, Miles, I’m sorry – alright? I’m sorry, I just didn’t want anyone to find out…”

He was sobbing loudly this time. Kane had felt a pinch in his heart when the lad had used his first name and now he found himself touching his narrow shoulder.

“Alex, hey, easy now – easy.” Kane squeezed the shoulder tightly. “It’s OK, just calm down. The good news is, it’s not too late to turn things around. There are ways that I can help you.”

Alex continued to whimper and cry as though he was in great pain. Kane knew that his body must have been exhausted by this point.

“Does it even matter?” Alex tightened his fists into his soft strands of brown hair, pulling it in desperation. “I mean, who says I’m supposed to change?”

Kane froze in worry. “Are you saying that you don’t want any help? Alex, this is your life we’re talking about…”

“I don’t know,” the poor lad snivelled, “I don’t know, alright? I just thought… Maybe I am supposed to do this. I can’t gain weight, Miles, I just can’t… Not now. People would be laughing at me, pointing their fingers at me…”

“Alex, bulimia is a psychological illness. You need to realise the danger you’re putting yourself in. You’ve been denying that making yourself throw up is wrong, but I need you to calm down and think about this. If you don’t let me help you, I can’t guarantee that you will live to see your twenty-fifth birthday, do you hear me?”

“Maybe I don’t care,” he simply cried, “maybe I want to die…”

At those words, Kane realised that there was nothing else that he could do or say until his patient had calmed down and gathered himself. He pulled back and allowed the younger man to lie back in his bed and cry for another five minutes. It was only when Alex felt too exhausted and sick that he forced himself to stop.

“Alex, you don’t want to die,” Kane spoke again when he knew that the lad was listening. “I can see it in your eyes. I saw it when you were talking to your friend, Matt. You’ve got good people around you, people that you care about. You don’t want to give up and leave all that behind, I know so.”

“But…” Alex sighed with fatigue. “But where do I even start? It all seems so hard… I-I don’t think I’m strong enough to – to change…”

“First of all, you need a break from what is stressing you out. From what it is that makes you nervous.” Kane looked at him, but when Alex carried an expression of not knowing what he was referring to, the doctor added: “Your tour. You have to cancel the tour with your band. It is too risky. You’re not strong enough for it at the moment. I fear that you would only suffer a nervous breakdown.”

Alex raised himself to his elbows. “But – I can’t do that!” He gasped. “Matt and the others depend on me. I can’t just blow them off – not to mention all the people who have already bought their tickets to go see us!”

“But there must be a way around that,” Kane insisted, “after all, your health must come first. Even the biggest bands have cancelled tours before, and for less.”

“But we have only just started making money,” Alex quivered, “if we cancel this tour, we’ll be ruined! And all the newspapers would turn against us and do fake articles about all the drugs that I’ve been doing – it would be the end of the band. I just can’t do that to them. They’re my childhood friends, I can’t be the one to ruin everything we’ve ever worked for. They would resent me for it for all eternity – everyone would hate me!”

Kane looked up at the monitor; he could tell from the lad’s increasing heart-rate that he was panicking.

“Alright, alright,” Kane attempted to appease him by talking in a soft, soothing voice, “let’s not go there. If the tour can’t be cancelled, we have to take other measures. Do you understand, Alex? I can’t let you continue to spiral down this road; you are practically on a suicide mission. We have to do something to help you. We need to make you a diet plan. And I’m going to need you to come back in the hospital regularly so that we can monitor your vitals and keep an eye on your weight and blood pressure…”

Alex began to shake his head frantically. “No – no, I mean… I can’t do that!”

“Alex, you are only going to get worse from here…”

“No, I mean,” Alex looked around the hospital room as though he was expecting to find cameras watching him, “I can’t be going to the hospital on a regular basis. The media would find out, Miles. Someone would take pictures of me. They would make up all these stories about me. I don’t – I don’t want people to see me anywhere near the hospital.”

Kane paused to think. He had never had to deal with anything like this before. He would have suggested that Alex sought out a private clinic instead, but in a sense, he didn’t want to let go of this patient. Alex was his patient now, wasn’t he? If he sent him elsewhere, there was no one to watch him. Alex would lie and tell him that he was going to seek help elsewhere, but he would end up never actually doing it. Kane couldn’t trust Alex to look after himself; he was completely at risk of self-harm.

If Kane let Alex go now, he would only be reading about his premature death in the papers in a couple of years’ time. And he wasn’t sure if he could live with himself after that.

“If I can’t make you come to the hospital, Alex, then perhaps I can make you come to me instead?”

Alex looked over at the doctor in confusion. “How is that any different? You work here, in the hospital.”

“No, see, I meant,” Kane offered him a patient smile, “you should come to my private address. I live here in the city, you see. If we met up regularly, I could make a diet plan with you and check up on your condition. There would be certain things that I would expect from you of course. First of all, I think that it would be good for you to see a psychiatrist. I would also need your permission to observe your weight, but we can always talk about that.”

“Would you really do that for me?” Alex’s eyes widened in silent awe. This man was unlike any other doctor he’d ever met. “Why?”

“I’m your doctor, Alex. Believe it or not, but I do take an interest in whether you live or die.”

Kane was smiling at him, but remained serious at the same time. Alex couldn’t help but to smile shyly at the older man. It was strange. It no longer felt like he was stuck in a dreadful conversation with some unsympathetic doctor who didn’t understand what it all felt like. This man actually listened and cared. Alex had never before taken such a liking to someone he’d just met.

“Thanks, doctor Kane – uhm, Miles. I probably will accept your offer, you know. I mean…” Alex coughed and felt his cheeks turning slightly hot. “M’sorry for what I said earlier. It was stupid. You were right – I don’t wanna die. I joost can’t remember what it was like before… When I didn’t obsess about food and my weight and stuff like that. I just don’t know how to go back to my old self.”

“You don’t have to go back to your old self, Alex. A lot of things have changed in your life. From the sounds of it, you’re a famous musician now. A lot of pressure comes with that. But perhaps, if we work together, you can transform into a new and happier version of yourself.”

Kane’s suggestion had Alex smiling again. Kane bit his lip and tried to ignore the joy that he was secretly feeling; this young lad had such an endearing smile. The doctor would do anything possible in order to keep that smile in place.

“I would like that.” Alex’s eyes met the doctor’s and they both hesitated for a moment. “Miles?”

“Yes, Alex?”

“Have you ever offered this help to another patient before? Letting people come to your house, I mean.”

“Uh, well…” Kane was completely taken aback by this question. The answer was no, and he had never wanted to either. In fact, inviting a patient to your home in order to treat them in secret was certainly something you could get fired for. So why had Kane actually gone to such a length for this boy? Even now, he wasn’t regretting the offer the slightest. “Well, no, Alex, but I’ve never had to in the past. I’ve never treated someone famous before. But I get that you don’t want the newspapers to follow you on your way to the hospital every week. The media wouldn’t think to look for you at my place, would they now?”

Kane grinned, realising to his horror that he had been on the borderline of flirting with the younger man. Alex laughed and looked up at him with that same light in his eyes from earlier. Kane could barely bring himself to look away.

“No, I guess they wouldn’t,” the lad giggled. “Thanks again, Miles, I appreciate it. I just hope I won’t get you in trouble for this?”

“Oh no, don’t be silly,” Kane faked another laugh – anything to keep that young man happy and at ease, “who would find out after all?”

Kane had wanted to ask the young man more questions. However, he suddenly noticed a face through the small window in the door; Alex’s friend, Matt, had returned. He stood waiting outside.

It seemed that Alex had seen him as well.

“Matt,” he said in a lowered voice, “he’s going to want more answers. Look, Miles, I still appreciate what you’re doing for me. But is there any way you can promise me that you won’t tell him what’s going on? I – I don’t want him to worry about me, is all.”

Kane detected a sense of guilt in those big, brown eyes.

“Ever heard of patient confidentiality, Alex?” Kane shrugged, perhaps feeling slightly defeated. “Even though I think you are wrong to keep it from your friends, I can’t do anything about it. My job is to be honest with you, my patient. Not him.”

“So…” Alex scratched his neck with one hand almost nervously. “You won’t tell him about my, eh – you know… My eating habits?”

“No, not if you don’t want me to.” Kane assured him, although he secretly wished that his hands weren’t tied. Alex needed people to know what was wrong. He needed people to look after him when Kane himself couldn’t be there.

“Thank you.”

Kane raised himself from the chair. “I’m going to let him know that we are keeping you in hospital overnight for observation. Just to keep an eye on your concussion and – that. Your friend is welcome to stay for another few hours if he likes, but you need to rest, Alex. You’re still too pale and don’t think I haven’t noticed your hands shaking. Get some sleep, can you promise me that? I’ll be back to check up on you later.”

Alex nodded, struggling to supress a yawn that had been building up in his throat.

“Right,” Kane looked back over his shoulder one last time before he went to open the door to the hallway, “I’ll see you later, Mr Turner.”

Alex leaned back in his bed and watched the small window in the door. He could see Dr Kane and Matt talking briefly. Matt looked calm and unconcerned as Kane told him the lies that Alex had requested.

But Alex preferred it that way. Matt was like a brother to him. He would never want to upset him.

When Dr Kane left, Matt entered the room and jumped back on top of Alex’s bed, ruffling the smaller lad’s hair with a big grin on his face.

“Your doctor told me you’re staying overnight, you lucky bugger. Consider it a holiday, eh, Al? TV, sleep and free meals, that ain’t so bad. When I get back to Jamie and Nick, we’re just gonna be working. I’d rather be in your shoes, mate.”

“Yeah, I know,” Alex laughed up at his friend, “I’m pretty lucky, me.”

 

*

 

It was nearing eight o’clock in the evening when Alex awoke from his much needed sleep. Matt had left him a few hours ago, promising him to be back in the morning in order to pick him up from the hospital. Alex had to admit that, after all, it was pretty sweet to have all this time to himself so that he could relax for once. He wasn’t used to sleeping in and watching telly these days; most days were hectic and chaotic for him. Normally, he was always around people.

It felt good to be alone again. It was like it was easier to breathe inside this quiet room of his. He sometimes missed the simple life before making it with the band. He missed the anonymity.

Alex sat up in his bed. He noticed that he was no longer hooked up to an IV or any machines whatsoever. He moved his arms freely, savouring the relief. He turned himself over and swung himself out of bed, gently. Standing on his feet again, he immediately grew dizzy and had to support himself against the foot of the bed. His stomach was giving him stark shooting pains, forcing him to double over.

It was the pain of leaving his stomach completely empty for so long. His throat was burning and his eyes blurring. But it was nothing he hadn’t been through before.

Alex was heading towards the private bathroom when he spotted a large plate of food that had been left for him on top of the nightstand, presumably by a nurse. As soon as he laid eyes on the food and allowed the rich, savoury aroma to reach his nostrils, he knew that there was little he could do to ignore it.

His stomach began to growl desperately, his mouth watering slightly with want. With shaky hands, he reached out to pull the plate closer to him. They had given him a large cod fillet, served with a stack of fatty, greasy chips and garden peas. Was this a fucking joke?! Did they actually expect him to eat all of this? Or were they trying to tell him something?

Alex lowered the plate onto the bed and wrapped his arms around his own tiny frame as his entire body shook again. It was like an addiction. Eating was an addiction, wasn’t it? His organs, his mouth, his tongue, were all screaming at him to eat the food. Devour it, consume it utterly and completely. He felt an itching in his fingertips. He tried to make it go away by raising his knuckles to his mouth, biting down on his own skin in order to make it sting. But the growling emptiness of his stomach was simply ringing in his ears.

Were the doctors doing this to test him? Were they watching him? Had Miles been part of this?

Alex broke down slightly, whimpering at his own weakness. He felt disgusting for wanting the food. What the fuck was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he stop thinking about food, or eating? He felt like a greedy animal. Surely this couldn’t be normal. It couldn’t be normal to want food this badly. It was an obsession. A battle that he felt himself losing time after time.

He was so bloody weak. Why had they given him all this food, though? The plate was practically spilling over. Did they really serve this preposterous amount of food to every patient in here? Alex thought that the nurses could have done it to laugh at him. Their message was pretty clear: He was an absolute pig for wanting to eat all of this, and here was the evidence.

Alex let the tears spill as he sat down on the bed, next to his plate. He felt so disappointed in himself. As he practically dived into his plate and began to pick up the chips using his fingers, he forced his eyes shut as he stuffed himself full. He was quick to shove it all directly into his mouth, wanting it to be over as soon as possible. Without bothering to cut out the fish using his knife and fork, Alex picked it up whole and began to bite from it greedily. The grease from it was spilling everywhere, even running down his chin. For a moment, Alex didn’t care. He chewed and gulped and swallowed at an impressive pace. He brought the plate up to his mouth and shovelled the rolling peas into his mouth, desperate to munch them down, too. When it was all gone, he nearly licked his plate clean.

The food was filling his stomach up; it was sickening and delicious at the same time.

Alex picked up his glass and staggered towards the bathroom, still feeling faint. Turning the tap on, he drank nearly three glasses of water, gulping them down like they were only small shots. He then washed his hands manically, spraying the water onto his own face in order to get rid of all the grease. He didn’t want to smell of the food. He didn’t want other people to know what an embarrassment he was.

He then sat down on the bathroom floor, waiting and breathing heavily for five minutes as usual. He wanted to savour the feeling of a full stomach before it was all gone. His body was beginning to relax, happily digesting what he’d eaten. But his mind was racing, denying him any sort of pleasure.

After five minutes, Alex lifted up the toilet seat and knelt down in front of the toilet. He coughed and took in a deep breath before inserting two fingers into the very back of his mouth. He gagged and retched a few times before vomiting once. It usually took him three, maybe four times before he had emptied his stomach completely.

By the time Alex retched and vomited for the second time, Dr Kane had entered the hospital room as he had wanted to check up on his newest patient before ending his shift. When Kane found the bed empty, along with a dinner plate that had been cleared completely, he automatically looked towards the bathroom and saw that the light escaping from underneath the door.

Not long after that, Kane heard his patient gagging and coughing loudly from the other side of the door.

There was no doubt in his mind as to what Alex was doing.

Kane felt his own stomach drop with both disappointment and realisation. What had he expected? This young man was a bulimic. Alex wasn’t going to change and feel better after just one conversation. It was going to take time and hard work. Kane began to fear that, perhaps, he wasn’t suited for this after all. Though he had seen other patients with similar eating disorders, he had never been solely in charge of a case like this before. He realised that, in a sense, Alex’s life and well-being were in his hands now. The young man was his responsibility, and if he screwed up, the consequences could be serious for Alex.

Kane sat down on the empty bed and waited until the gagging noises subsided from the bathroom. Alex finally flushed the toilet as he had emptied his stomach completely and had stopped vomiting. After another minute or two, the bathroom door opened. Alex walked out of there slowly, with a hand clasped over his stomach in pain. He looked up and gasped when he realised that Kane was there.

Kane cringed at the sudden shame and dread in the young man’s tired, miserable eyes.

“You – you heard me?” Alex stammered in embarrassment, assuming that Dr Kane would be furious with him.

“I did.” Kane stood up and went to lend a hand to his struggling patient. “Here. I’ll walk you to the bed, Alex.”

Kane grabbed Alex’s arm and supported him by the shoulder. Alex wasn’t unable to walk by himself, but it still felt good to have the doctor to lean against for a moment. Alex noted Kane’s subtle smell of cologne. He liked it.

“Thanks.” Alex’s voice was rough from the burning sensation in his throat. He had made sure to rinse his mouth with water from the tap, but the stomach acid was still everywhere. “Why aren’t you saying anything?”

Kane moved the dinner plate and allowed Alex to sit down on the bed.

“What do you want me to say, Alex?” Kane looked at him with eyes that were difficult to interpret. But Alex felt certain that the doctor seemed disappointed with him. “I’ve told you already about the danger you’re putting yourself in. But your treatment hasn’t officially started yet, so I don’t want to be preaching to you.”

Alex felt cold all of a sudden when Kane was no longer holding on to him. His stomach was comfortably numb for now, but the shooting pains would return to him later. He had broken a sweat, however, and the exhaustion was overpowering.

“M’sorry, Dr Kane.” Alex feared more than anything that the doctor would take back his offer to help him if he was to grow tired of incidents like this one.

“Alex, I can’t expect you to make any changes when you haven’t received any help yet. I can’t blame you for what just happened. You’re ill. That’s why you’re here.” Kane forced a sympathetic smile. “And please, you can still call me Miles if you want.”

“Thanks, Miles.” Alex wanted to smile up at the man, but he felt so incredibly tired.

“Go back to sleep,” Kane insisted as he gestured for the lad to lie down, “I’ll discharge you in the morning, but only if you’re fully rested by then. And don’t watch too much telly, it’s not great for your concussion. Goodnight, Alex.”

“’Night, Miles…”

Alex fell asleep immediately, missing the sound of the door closing as Dr Kane left and went home for the day.

 

*

 

Matt arrived next morning like he’d promised.

Dr Kane had given Alex his home address and set up a meeting with him. As he discharged the young man and allowed his friend Matt to escort him out of the hospital building, he couldn’t help but to feel nervous. What if his colleagues were to find out about this? Kane had never before felt so unprofessional. He seemed a little too invested in this case, and in Alex. It wasn’t like him to get carried away like this. It couldn’t be explained, but Kane just found himself thinking about the lad constantly. There was something about him. He was unusual. Delightful. Mysterious.

Kane felt like he wanted to know everything there was to know about this Alex Turner. He felt more than drawn to him. It was as though there had been some sort of magnetism between the two of them; a mutual interest. Perhaps even an attraction, but Kane knew that he could never allow himself to start anything with a patient of his. He was a good doctor. He knew better than that.

As he watched from the window on the fifth floor of the building, he could see Matt Helders leading Alex towards his car. People had gathered in the carpark. There were a few members of the paparazzi gathered down there, taking picture after picture of Alex leaving the hospital.

Alex hadn’t been lying when he’d said that it would be difficult for him to return to the hospital. These vultures appeared to be following him, harassing him with questions. Matt rolled down his car window and flipped them all off before driving him and Alex out of there.

It was strange. Kane knew that it was under bad circumstances, but he suddenly couldn’t wait to see Alex again.

Alex had become his mission, a puzzle for him to solve, and he swore that he wouldn’t fail him. That poor boy needed help and Dr Miles Kane was dying to provide it for him.

Chapter Text

Matt had taken Alex straight back to the hotel where they were told at the reception that Jamie and Nick had been waiting for them just ten minutes ago, but that they had then decided to go to the pool instead. As they went looking for them, Matt decided to swing by his room first in order to get his swim trunks and a towel out.

“Do you want us to go get yours as well?” He had suggested, believing that Alex would benefit from some swimming.

“Eh, I better not,” Alex said, scratching his neck, “my concussion, you know… I don’t wanna take any chances.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Matt slapped his back, “sorry, I didn’t think. They won’t let patients with concussions do anything, will they? Not even reading or watching some bloody telly… They just want you to sleep all day long.”

Alex giggled at that. “Yeah, pretty much. How boring is that?”

The two of them went down to the indoor pool together. From the looks of it, no one else was using the pool besides from Jamie and Nick. Matt called out their names as they entered. Soon, they were both out of the water and sprinted over to welcome back their fourth member of the family.

“Al, you’re back!” Jamie bumped shoulders with him before deciding to draw him in for a hug instead. He left Alex’s shirt completely wet. “How are you, mate?”

“Thanks, Jameh, I’m alright,” Alex laughed as he tried to pull out of the blond man’s dripping wet grip, “do you mind?”

Jamie just laughed at him. As soon as he let go, Nick went to embrace Alex from behind, just to ensure that there would be no dry spot left on his t-shirt. When Alex complained again, Nick ruffled his hair, his wet fingers working as gel pulling Alex’s hair back.

“Nick,” Matt laughed as he began to dress down to his trunks, “he’s got a concussion, you might want to be careful.”

“You don’t say?” Nick wrapped his arm around Alex’s shoulders, almost protectively. “That was quite a fall you took yesterday, mate. I barely saw what the fuck happened. One minute you were getting ready to serve, then suddenly you were just out cold. We had to call an ambulance and everything. We couldn’t wake you up.”

Alex’s stomach dropped as he was taken back to yesterday’s events. While he tried not to reveal it facially, it was slightly upsetting to know that he had been so unresponsive that they had had to rush him to the hospital in an ambulance. Alex used to think that ambulances were for dying people only and had never thought that he himself would end up in one. He looked over and saw a serious and reflective expression on Matt’s face, too.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Alex forced a smile, “I’m such an attention-seeker, aren’t I?”

Jamie cackled and shook him by the shoulder slightly. It seemed that both him and Nick were only able to express their feelings through physical contact. But Alex knew that every pat, every embrace meant that they were happy that he was OK.

“So did the doctors find out why you fainted?” Jamie quizzed him. “You’re not coming down with something, I hope? I mean, with the tour and all…”

“What? Oh, no, don’t worry. It’s nothing like that,” Alex felt a small shiver running down his spine, “I’ll be ready for the tour. I was just dehydrated, as it turns out.”

“You also hadn’t eaten before tennis,” Matt added almost poignantly.

Alex looked over at Matt in surprise. Was he on to him?? Why had he felt the need to add that?

“You’re not dieting, are you, Al?” Nick was suddenly giving him a weird look. “I mean, it’s not like you need to.”

“Ah, he’s just making sure to stay slim for the tour,” Jamie joked, “you wouldn’t want to disappoint your fans with a dad bod, would you Alex?”

Before Alex could even dodge, Jamie had moved his hand down his flank. There it lingered, allowing Jamie to pinch Alex’s flesh tauntingly, as though he was demonstrating a point.

Alex froze, utterly mortified at what Jamie had just done. He had managed to find the one spot that had become Alex’s greatest insecurity of all. In his troubled mind, Alex had always confused the small, natural curve of his flanks and hips to be the source of great shame. He absolutely hated the feeling of his love handles. They were nothing but rolls to him; excess weight, ugly, hideous flab.

He instantly felt exposed by Jamie. Humiliated. Surely, the collective attention of his friends was now drawn to what he had tried to hide from them so desperately. His ugliness had been bared and displayed.

Unfortunately, they were all too busy to notice the shock on Alex’s face. Matt had immediately thrown himself at Jamie, pinching and prodding his flanks in a similar manner, repeating the words:

“What about yourself, tough guy? What about yourself, huh?”

Unlike Alex, Jamie merely found this amusing. Soon, they decided to continue their mischiefs back in the pool. Nick and Jamie dived straight back into the water. Matt followed them after dipping a toe first in order to feel the temperature.

“Alex,” Nick called as Alex placed himself in one of the loungers by the pool, “join us, why don’t you? Seeing as we got ya wet already!”

Alex shook his head with a cautious grin. “I need to nurse my concussion, lads. Another time.”

Alex watched them in silence for about fifteen minutes, the grin having died on his lips. He felt a panic building and rising in his chest, making it harder for him to breathe. He would never allow his mates to see him shirtless again. Not after this. Bloody hell, if only he knew what they all thought of him now… Had a lead singer ever been kicked out of a band before for being too fat? Alex didn’t know, but he sure as hell wouldn’t like to be the first one. He had to pull himself together. No more excuses. He never again wanted to give anyone an excuse to pinch his love handles and laugh at him. He didn’t want to be a sheer laughingstock to the world.

He watched as Nick began to swim lanes skilfully while Matt and Jamie were busier splashing water in each other’s’ faces. He got up from the white, plastic lounger without letting any of them know that he was going to go back to his room to rest. After all, they knew how to get in touch with him and he could certainly do with some privacy.

Back in the room, Alex sprawled himself out on top of his bed. He felt exhausted and his stomach had begun to growl again, clearly demanding him to eat. He felt at war with himself. How could he achieve his goals and follow Dr Kane’s instructions at the same time? Had Dr Kane – no, Miles – not been able to see that Alex had little choice in what he was doing? Had he no idea how show business worked? It was a brutal institution. You often weren’t allowed to commit more than a single mistake. Then you were out of the game for good.

And Alex didn’t want his mistake to be his weight.

After giving it all some extra consideration, Alex decided to go downstairs to have a browse in the hotel cafeteria. Thankfully, it wasn’t too busy at this hour. Alex felt his mouth watering again as he laid eyes on all the foods that he’d been depriving himself of for quite some time now. He barely cared what he ate at this point, he just needed it so bad.

He grabbed a plate and began to fill it up carefully. He chose a tuna sandwich. A crumpet. An orange. Some grapes. Then some mixed salad, only a small portion. Bringing his plate up to the counter and getting ready to pay for it all, he suddenly looked across the room.

At one of the tables in the back, two women had taken their phones out. They giggled and smiled widely for every picture they took of him right there in the queue, with a plate full of food in his hands. Alex paled with horror. He immediately imagined a scenario in which these women tried to sell their pictures to the paparazzi so that the whole world could gasp at the obscene amount of food that Alex Turner was going to buy for himself.

Alex felt the breath hitch in his throat once again. When he was then first in line, he looked up at the man behind the counter and asked if he would be able to take the food to go. Clearly annoyed by this request, the man began to arrange the food into a takeaway tray. As soon as Alex had made the payment and had received his – somewhat – concealed food, he immediately fled the room and ran up the stairs, praying that he could make it back to his room without bumping into more people. It was only when he reached that safe space of his and had locked the door behind him that he was no longer nervous. There was no one in here to watch and judge him. Yet, due to what had happened downstairs, Alex now couldn’t look at the food without feeling that his powerful desire for it had to be a sin. There were now pictures of him on some strangers’ phones, clearly exposing his gluttony to the world.

If he ate all the food now, he would be proving them all right.

With a disappointed sigh, Alex binned his sandwich and his crumpet, though that was the bit he’d looked forward to the most. However, out of sheer desperation, he did decide that he should allow himself to eat the fruit and the salad. It wouldn’t be enough to fill him up, anyway. Hence, it would be less tempting for him to vomit.

(He was saving the vomiting for later).

Alex peeled his orange and ate it slowly, trying to savour the pleasure of eating for as long as possible. The same with his grapes and the salad. When there was nothing left, Alex groaned in frustration and threw himself down on his back in the middle of the bed. He always felt like a pig for wanting more food. It was like his body was never satisfied.

He felt so lucky that no one could see him like this.

Alex began to blink drowsily. Perhaps if he fell asleep, his mind and his body would forget about the hunger.

As he nodded off, he thought of Miles walking in on him like this. Would he praise him for getting rid of the sandwich and for not vomiting this morning? Or would he carry that disappointed look again, the one from last night when he’d heard Alex emptying his stomach in the bathroom?

Alex remembered the sensation of Miles’s supporting hand on his shoulder. There had been so much warmth in his touch – a warmth that Alex was still longing for now. As he drifted off, Alex sought to rediscover that mysterious warmth somewhere in his dreams.

 

*

 

Alex was woken up a few hours later by a knocking on his door.

“Alex!” It was Matt’s voice. “You still asleep?”

Alex jumped awake and looked around him in confusion. It was dark outside. He turned on the lights in his room before walking towards the door.

“Sorry – be right there!”

As he worked the lock and opened the door, Matt immediately pushed past him and walked in the room without an invitation.

“Bloody hell, Alex, have you been sleeping all this time?” Matt laughed. “Oh yeah, I suppose that’s what you need when you’ve got a concussion. Have you been taking the painkillers your doctor gave you?”

“Hm? Oh yeah, I’ve got them right there on the nightstand. My head’s not too bad, though.”

Truth be told, Alex had been much more concerned with killing his hunger. He was barely bothered by the headaches he’d been having since his accident yesterday.

“Good,” Matt grinned, “because guess what? We are going out for dinner tonight. All four of us!”

Alex tried to imitate Matt’s smile, but in reality, this notion only filled him with dread. He had to think of a way to get out of this one!

“Oh, well, I don’t know…”

But before Alex could speak another word, Matt had him cut off:

“There is no getting out of this one, Al,” he smirked as to let Alex know that he could read his mind perfectly well, “we’ve been invited by Homme. He called the reception just an hour ago to let us know. He got us a table at a nice restaurant in the city. He’s bringing James Ford and Richard Hawley with him, too. You know we all have to be there now, don’t you?”

“Yeah, sure. Uhm, sounds nice.” Alex knew that his smile was anything but convincing. “So when are we going?”

“Homme is picking us up in about half an hour. That’s why I came to let you know straight away. We all need to get changed, obviously, although it’s not a suit and tie kind of thing. I guess I just wanted to make sure that – that everything’s actually alright with you, mate.”

Alex paused at those words.

“What do you mean, Matt?”

“I don’t know, it’s just that… You’ve been acting a little different lately. You’ve been a lot more distant than usual. Sorry, no offense. You just look so… down… sometimes. Are you sure you’re OK?”

Matt offered him a sincere look, and Alex felt his mouth go completely dry. He felt disgusted with himself for lying to his own best friend.

“I’m fine,” Alex told him shakily, forcing another smile, “honestly, I am. I’ve just been a little – tired, is all. You know, touring really takes it out of me.”

Matt nodded, but something between them remained unresolved. Matt didn’t feel comfortable asking Alex again.

“Alright, well, if you’re sure… I’ll meet you downstairs in twenty minutes, yeah?”

“Sounds good.”

Alex was still smiling as Matt left his room. There had been something in Matt’s eyes that Alex had no idea how to handle. He felt like Matt knew more than he would lead him to believe. But what exactly did he know? And how much did he suspect?

Alex then decided that he had to be extra careful from now on. He didn’t want to throw people off by acting moody or distant; this all had to stop. He needed to be able to act his old self again, otherwise people were going to continue to confront him.

Alex had to remember how to laugh and smile. He needed tonight to be a success for once. If not for him, then for the others.

How hard could it be to pretend that everything was fine?

 

*

 

Alex had thrown on a white shirt and a pair of black skinny jeans before heading downstairs to join the group. Jamie and Nick bumped shoulders with him when they saw him again, and Alex wondered what that was about. It still felt like their subtle way of making sure that he was alright. However, Alex didn’t understand what they imagined his problem to be.

After all, none of them knew what he was going through, did they? They couldn’t know what he hadn’t told them.

Nevertheless, Alex was all about keeping up appearances tonight. As he joined the lads, it was all high spirits, shoulder-claps and laughter. Matt had ordered a bottle of champagne at the reception for them to share. When Homme arrived to pick them up in the huge, bloody American car of his, they brought the champagne with them to drink on the way.

Homme had heard about Alex’s accident and insisted that he took the front seat.

“I need to keep an eye on you, lad,” he joked as they were all seated in his car, “no more visits to the hospital under my supervision, I promise you that. Gotta look out for my little talent, don’t I?”

“Aren’t we all your little talents?” Jamie challenged him indignantly.

“Nah, Jameh, you’re the looker in this group, I’m the talent. Everyone knows that,” Alex joked and snatched the champagne bottle out of Nick’s hands only to take a sip from it.

His plan for tonight was to drink and talk his way out of all his concerns.

Homme laughed loudly. “See? That’s why you need a guy like him in the front. Alex, fill me up!”

“Homme, you’re the fookin’ driver!” Matt intervened.

“So? Who the fuck cares, Helders, this is England, innit? Alex, go ahead.”

Alex giggled and lifted the bottle to Homme’s lips, even as he was still driving. Homme slurped and gulped greedily, leaving everyone in laughter. Then the bottle was passed back to the lads in the back and they all continued to take turns until it was all gone.

Alex was smiling widely. The alcohol was working better than he thought it would. If only he made sure to keep it coming all night, he reckoned he would be fine.

 

*

 

They met up with James Ford and Richard Hawley at the restaurant where the atmosphere was even better. They had managed to get a table somewhere quiet, and thankfully, Alex hadn’t been alone in wanting to drink himself senseless. Numerous bottles of red wine arrived at their table before they had a chance to order any food.

Alex drank quickly, enjoying the extra and much needed courage he found at the bottom of his glass. Since he was practically drinking on an empty stomach, too, it just seemed to work so much faster on him. He felt excellent. Sat between Ford and Homme, Alex talked and chatted freely, the entire table joining in. He found himself laughing and giggling, almost like a ten-year-old. If this didn’t convince his mates that he was fine, then what could?

It wasn’t until the waiter came over to take their orders that Alex found himself tensing and chewing his lip. He had barely even looked at the menu; there were all these pictures of food that he didn’t want to look at. In an attempt to pretend that he was perfectly fine with eating whatever the others were eating, he ordered the lobster just because it had been Nick and Matt’s choice, too.

The conversation continued and Alex tried his very hardest to forget the fact that, in just a moment, he would be forced to eating an entire meal in front of his closest friends, like it was no big deal. He had almost forgotten how to eat a meal like a normal person instead of just shoving the food into his mouth in order to be done with it. When a pair of waiters brought the first plates in, Alex held his breath slightly and sipped his wine nervously.

A bloody huge plate was placed in front of him. His lobster came with chips, sauces and a salad, making the meal appear even larger and heartier. Alex found himself staring at it as though hypnotised. He knew he wanted it. He just didn’t want any of it inside his stomach. As the others began to dig in without hesitation, Alex found himself pouring more wine and chatting away instead. Picking up his knife and fork, Alex would pretend to be preparing his first bite. However, the food lingered on his fork as he used his words to distract himself and everyone else from the fact that he still wasn’t eating.

It was only when Matt suddenly looked up from his own meal and said to Alex that he had never seen him order lobster before that Alex found himself pausing mid-sentence.

“Do you even like lobster?” Jamie butted in.

Alex felt Richard looking over at him almost expectantly. Soon, even more eyes were watching him, waiting for him to make a move and eat that first bite.

“Of course I like lobster,” Alex snorted, feeling utterly close to panicking as the warmth rose to his cheeks, “I joost don’t have it very often.”

And with that, Alex forced himself to scoop that little ration he’d prepared into his mouth. He had had to. It was the only thing he could have done in order to make them stop watching him.

As he chewed on the food slowly and carefully, he found it necessary to wipe the sweat away from his forehead. It felt like he was burning up all of a sudden, but perhaps it had just been the embarrassment. He found himself dead-silent now that he had broken his fast. He felt too uncomfortable to talk. He suddenly didn’t know if he was eating too slowly or too quickly. Desperate not to do anything to make him stand out again, Alex shoved another few bites into his mouth just to keep himself occupied. How on earth was he supposed to work his way through all of this without giving anything away?

As the conversation continued, Alex’s struggles resumed. The idea of stuffing his mouth full in front of other people was absolutely terrifying to him. He no longer felt any hunger, and he possessed no desire for the food whatsoever. Consequently, for every bite he forced down, he could feel the nausea building up in his throat. Praying that he wouldn’t lose control of his own body, Alex forced a grin as he pretended to pay attention to what was said around him.

This went on for such a long time, it became downright painful. Alex practically sighed with relief when both Nick and Matt announced that they were too full to finish their meals. He followed their examples immediately, despite the fact that he had only eaten about half as much as them.

He had hoped that things would run smoothly from there. Then Homme opened his mouth and suggested that they all ordered desserts since they were here anyway. Like that was a great idea.

Homme went on to order the banoffee pie for everyone at the table.

“I’ve never had that here in the UK,” he explained, “but I hear it’s good.”

Alex once again tried his best to avoid the food by keeping the conversation going, getting them to talk about anything but food. He poured the wine again, not only filling up his own glass, but everyone else’s.

“We should go out for a drink afterwards,” Ford suggested, “Josh and I know a nice bar down the street, isn’t that right?”

The pies arrived, and Alex suddenly decided to stop messing around. Though he waited for everyone else to start eating theirs first, he made a choice to get it over with as quickly as he possibly could. Before the nausea had a chance to strike again, he cut out a large bite with his spoon and swallowed it rapidly with a sip of wine. He repeated this process without even blinking until, finally, he had managed to clear his plate altogether. Once it was all gone, Alex downed his glass of wine almost methodologically.

“Bloody hell, Alex, if you were that hungry, you should have finished your lobster,” Nick remarked.

However, this time, Alex was beyond caring.

“What? Oh no, that wasn’t… Will you excuse me for a moment?”

As he got up and left his seat to go to the restroom, he was aware of how strange that must have seemed. But the alcohol in his veins made it too difficult for him to worry now. All he could think about was kneeling down in front of a toilet bowl and letting it all out. Relieving himself.

Making sure that he was alone in the restroom, Alex chose the toilet stall at the very back. As he took in a deep breath and prepared himself for what was about to come, he convinced himself that he was doing the right thing. The world had once again done its best in order to tempt him, but he had persisted. Alex let his fingers reach the back of his throat and soon enough, the lobster that had been troubling him so was forced out of his stomach. Alex gagged and spat a few times before vomiting again and again.

Oh, Jesus, this felt good… A little too good, yes. But who cared?

Alex felt empowered by his own persistency. He felt strong. Like nothing in the world was mighty enough to break his willpower.

 

*

 

When Alex returned to the table, swaying and staggering slightly with impact, the obvious explanation seemed to be the alcohol. Even when it became obvious that his hands were trembling, the table erupted with laughter because he was drunk.

Alex merely smiled as he sat down. Though his body was once again weak and tired, his mood was elevated now that the hard part of the night was over.

“God, I’m full,” Ford would say a few times as he offered people more wine, “what better way to down it all with more alcohol, eh?”

 

*

 

They all went to a series of bars and pubs throughout the night before ending up at one in the area of the hotel. They had been drinking heavily, and Alex knew he had had way too much. Especially considering the fact that he was still on painkillers as well as the fact that he was now drinking on an empty stomach – again. He felt his fingers shaking around his little glass of gin – Jamie had convinced him and Nick to do another round of shots with him, while Matt stuck with drinking pints.

They tilted their heads back and emptied their glasses simultaneously. Alex coughed for a bit, however, this was brought on by the acid burning in his throat rather than the alcohol in itself – though it obviously wasn’t a sensible combination.

And yet, he was enjoying it too much to stop himself. Being drunk meant not giving a damn, and it was a change he welcomed with all his heart. He liked being out like this. He felt somewhat protected, shielded by his mates. For once, he didn’t feel watched. He didn’t feel like an utter fool in the limelight. Together with his friends, together with people like Josh Homme, he nearly felt brave enough to dance and laugh around like any other idiot.

It was in the company of good people that he almost forgot about feeling ugly. He almost forgot about feeling anxious. He almost forgot about feeling an overwhelming self-hatred, which was strong enough to keep him awake most nights, silently praying that he could have been someone else.

Yeah, tonight he almost forgot. And it felt fan-fucking-tastic.

Until-

“Alex, that bloke by the tables has been eyeing you for half an hour,” Matt waved Alex over, nodding subtly in a certain direction, “maybe you should do something about it, eh?”

“Oh.”

Alex froze, earning a louder grin from Matt. But in the end, Alex didn’t need to act on it at all. The bloke had apparently seen Matt’s gesture and now he was on his way over, gently pushing his way past all the people by the bar. Alex gasped slightly as he saw the stranger nearing him, holding his gaze with a kind, yet determined smile.

Alex realised he was far too drunk for this.

“Hey,” the stranger walked up close to Alex, and being a head taller than him, Alex found himself shrinking like a small boy in front of him, “care to dance?”

When Alex was too startled to respond, Matt merely pushed him into the arms of the tall guy.

“Sorreh, ‘e’s a bit shy,” Matt said, “he would love to dance with you.”

The guy had his arm around Alex’s shoulders before he could do or say anything, and he was led to the dancefloor in one swift movement. Alex found himself trying to look back over his shoulder, silently pleading one of his friends to intervene, but they had already busied themselves with more drinks.

When the tall bloke stopped and looked at Alex romantically as the two of them faced each other on the dancefloor, Alex knew that all of his drunken courage had disappeared.

“What’s your name, love?” The guy questioned as his hands found Alex’s waist.

“A-Alex.”

The bloke began to sway his body seductively to the music, but Alex remained stiff. Frozen with fear.

“I’m Jack – nice to meet you, Alex.”

His smile was genuine and friendly. He wasn’t acting like a predator at all, but there was still something about the situation which made Alex feel horrendously uncomfortable. Jack was tall and handsome. Why had he chosen to ask Alex for a dance when he could have had pretty much anyone in this room? Alex wasn’t special or good-looking. Surely, Jack could see that.

“You’re very cute,” said Jack all of a sudden, earning him a perplexed stare from the smaller man in his arms, “but I’m certain people have told you that before.”

Alex opened a closed his mouth a few times, soon feeling anything but cute.

In fact, he felt stupid. He felt hideous. He felt ashamed of himself.

“I don’t…” Alex had no idea what he was even going to say. The words had escaped him completely. Jack’s smile broadened as though he was in awe when he glanced down at Alex again.

Alex knew he wasn’t worthy of that bloke’s smile.

“You’re as cute as you are shy,” Jack praised him before moving his hands even further down Alex’s body, finding the tiny curve of his love handles.

Alex’s eyes widened in utter panic.

He was about to apologise to the guy – apologise for being so fucking fat and for trying to hide it by wearing a slightly loose shirt – when Jack simply pulled him closer and kissed him on the lips. The kiss deepened slowly, and Jack was quick to mistaken Alex’s passivity for approval. However, when he pulled away, there were hints of tears in the smaller lad’s eyes, and Jack let go as if burnt.

“Oh my God – Alex, I’m so sorry!” Jack took a step backwards as he was suddenly worried that he had been coming on too strong. “Did I – did I do something wrong? Did I hurt you, love?”

“What? Oh no, it’s not you. It’s me – I’m sorry,” Alex blinked the tears away manically, and then, he couldn’t stop himself from repeating the words pathetically: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

After all, Alex was the idiot, wasn’t he? Jack hadn’t done anything wrong. It wasn’t his fault that he had tried his way with someone as useless and rubbish as Alex. It was just that Alex didn’t believe it when the bloke had called him cute. And he didn’t believe it when he had actually wanted to kiss him. Jack could find someone better, funnier, handsomer.

Jack could find someone skinnier, too. Someone who didn’t end up in the hospital after one shitty game of tennis.

Alex backed away from the dancefloor, leaving Jack utterly puzzled.

“I’m sorry,” Alex said one last time, and Jack seemed to realise that he wasn’t supposed to follow after him, “I really didn’t mean to ruin your night.”

Alex was too embarrassed to walk back to his friends. Instead, he staggered towards the toilets. Spraying his face with cold water in order to wash the hot tears away, Alex looked himself long and hard in the mirror. He absolutely hated everything about his own face. He hated how pale he looked. He hated how miserable and tired he looked. All of a sudden, he didn’t think he looked healthy at all.

He didn’t look himself at all. Whoever that was.

And with that thought, the walls suddenly began to close in on him, and his chest ached in claustrophobia and panic. His social anxiety drove him out of the toilets and out of the bar altogether. He was lucky that he was able to leave without being spotted by Matt or any of the others. He felt so confused, he began to walk down the street without remembering in which direction the hotel was. He felt completely lost, and since he soon suspected everyone in the streets to be watching him and recognising him, Alex started to run, desperate to find some solitary space where he could relax.

He had been running for five minutes, when his body slowly gave up on him and forced him to rest and pant up against some cold brick wall. His head was spinning and he was still much too anxious to relax.

He felt like the stupidest person in the entire world. His friends probably hated him as much as he hated himself. Alex was extremely apologetic when he dug out his phone and texted Matt.

‘I’m really sorry… heading home now. Completely exhausted... Apologies again.’

Alex had sent the text before realising how stupid it all sounded and now he just wanted to scream and smash his phone to bits for allowing him to make such a fool of himself.

Alex was on the verge of crying again when he looked up at realised that he could see a Tesco’s just over the road.

That filled him with hope.

 

*

 

Arriving back in his hotel room, Alex unloaded two full shopping bags unto his bed, and they spilled over with content. Alex was forced to face his shame when he turned the bags upside down; bags of crisps and chocolate bars flew in one direction, bread rolls, cakes and biscuits in another.

It was all junk food – so terrible and disgusting that Alex felt represented by all of it. He felt so revolted with himself. Was this what he had become? A life centred on food and shame, with nothing in between the two.

Why couldn’t he just have taken the fucking compliment? Why couldn’t he just have let Jack kiss him? He could have gone home with a hot date tonight – now look where he was instead.

Alex found himself sobbing; he tried so hard to resist although he knew it had been too late from the moment he had taken out his money to pay for these items. There was no turning back now. There was no other cure.

Alex dominated his own misery and angst by crouching down by his bed, opening the different bags he’d surrounded himself with.

It always felt like a race against time. He was always forced to eat manically and desperately in order to finish before his body realised how stuffed he was.

In fact, he wasn’t eating at all. He was inhaling food, consuming it like some deadly drug. It was abuse and he knew it. This wasn’t something that he would find normal, healthy people doing. He was an addict. A fucking food junkie, and it felt like there was no greater shame. Alex only just managed to hold back the tears due to commitment and concentration. After all, this took skill. It wasn’t just chewing and swallowing food until his body couldn’t carry any more – it was force-feeding himself against his will. It was finding a way of convincing his brain to accept what his body had been fighting to eject and reject for so long now. The food was stuffed and pushed into his mouth by the same two fingers that were used to get it all out again afterwards.

It was only towards the end that Alex gave way to the tears. It was only when he felt too disgusting with grease around his mouth and melted chocolate on his fingers that he broke down and pressed his own face against the floor. The expansion of his belly was hurting him, tormenting him. He cried pitifully for what he had done yet again.

He cried, too, because it wasn’t over yet.

Alex went on to dominate his self-hatred by taking control in the bathroom. After drinking what felt like a litre of water, Alex found himself hovering over the toilet for the second time that night. It hurt badly when his fingers found his throat again, but it felt like a victimless pain for once. Alex closed his eyes shut very tightly and took in a deep breath before the first portion of food was forced back up from his throat.

The burden lessened already.

Alex groaned as soon as he was able to breathe. His stomach cramped painfully and he fought to not double over. His arms were shaking so badly, it almost felt impossible to stay on his knees like this. The pain had come way too early.

It wasn’t over yet.

Alex took a sip from his water bottle and positioned himself again. This time he had only just inserted his index finger to the back of his mouth before the nausea overpowered him and took him by surprise. He vomited vigorously and only took a short break in order to breathe in – without even having to gag first, he continued to throw up so immensely that he thought he was going to choke.

He only allowed himself to stop by the time he finished his water and retched again, only to find that there was no more food to get rid of. This time, only water and acid came up. Alex smiled weakly as he flushed the toilet with shaky hands. He had overcome another battle. He had overcome temptation once again. He felt strong. He felt in control.

Alex reached for his mouthwash. As he rinsed his mouth carefully and spat into the toilet, he felt a rush run through his thin body like a raging fever.

He reached his high by this point – and only by this point. The sensation of an empty stomach and a body drained of energy was something that made him feel almost drunk. Alex felt like he was floating. His body had become too light; he could barely feel it. His eyes were closing on him and it was hard to stay conscious. It was this emotion of an almost liquid reality that he enjoyed the most. His reality reformed and began to spill, like tiny drops of water that he couldn’t be bothered to pick up again.

Everything began to escape him. The room was dancing before his eyes and soon enough, Alex fell backwards against the bathroom tiles and couldn’t even pick himself up.

He closed his eyes and went to sleep right there on the floor.

He was comfortable as ever, except for the cramping of his intestines. But he was getting quite good at ignoring things like that.

 

*

 

Alex woke up to a body that was aching all over the next morning. Even after spending half an hour in the shower trying to catch some warmth to his stiff limbs, he continued to feel sick. He was in constant pain; his stomach was making strange, unhealthy noises and the painful emptiness of it left him in a feverish sweat.

He was looking absolutely dreadful. His body was a skinny, pale, shivering mess. His eyes were red and forever tired. His youthful smile was long gone. Alex stood shirtless in front of the mirror for a long time and looked through his own reflexion as though he was something hollow. His own mind couldn’t even be bothered to focus on him – there wasn’t much he could be bothered with these days. Alex traced a lazy finger down to his lean chest and followed an old scar, tracking it several inches downwards. He watched the scar in the mirror for a bit, remaining distant and disinterested with himself.

Back in the day he had been chasing his high through other methods. It was only when he had feared that he was too obvious about it that he had switched to this: Obsessing about his weight instead. Though, obviously, it wasn’t like he had simply chosen to become this chaotic mess, a ticking time-bomb. He had had very little choice when it came to the way he was forever punishing and hurting himself.

No one chooses to hate themselves after all, do they? It just sort of happens.

And continues.

Alex took a deep breath and found another old scar by his shoulder. He decided that he had been persistent enough for now. He desperately needed a break – otherwise his body would continue to threaten to shut down on him.

This morning, he needed to eat.

 

*

 

Alex has been sat on his own by the breakfast table for nearly forty minutes when, unexpectedly, he is joined by Jamie.

“Al, I didn’t expect to find you down here,” Jamie laughs and grabs the smaller boy by the shoulders, giving him an excited shake. He shakes him teasingly until Alex finally laughs and tells him to fuck off. “You disappeared from the bar last night,” Jamie then says.

Alex pauses.

“Yeah, about that…” He hears himself chuckle awkwardly and he hasn’t even thought of a cover story yet. Why does he always open his mouth before he thinks?

However, Jamie comes to his rescue without even realising it.

“Matt said you probably went home with that guy you were dancing with,” Jamie’s laugh once again became taunting, yet curious. “I’m guessin’ you haven’t had much sleep, then?”

Alex grins and pushes the blond lad further away from him. He dodges the question intentionally. He’s happy to let Jamie believe he’s been having rough sex with some stranger all night long. It beats the actual story.

“So where are the others?” Alex says in order to change the topic.

“Probably in bed, trying to recover from last night,” Jamie yawns, “it got kind of late.”

“So why are you up?” Alex prods Jamie with a smirk. “You usually don’t mind sleepin’ in, if I remember correctly.”

“Oh, please,” Jamie rolls his eyes as he gets up from his seat in order to have a browse by the breakfast buffet, “I’ve always been a morning person, Al.”

Jamie picks a grape off Alex’s plate as he leaves the table. Alex shouts at him to buy his own food. In reality, he hadn’t felt convinced that he was going to eat his grapes. He has already had a piece of toast and a banana, so he doesn’t want to push it. He is kind of relieved that Jamie only showed up after he’d finished eating. Though it hadn’t been much, Alex had taken forever working his way through his breakfast. Not because he hadn’t wanted the food, but because he wanted it to last him for as long as possible.

He never knows when he’ll be eating again.

 

*

 

It took him about an hour before he regretted having any breakfast at all, and he soon felt so guilty about it that he decided to spend the next thirty minutes in the gym. If he screwed up and started to gain weight now, his diet would only grow stricter from here and Alex was struggling enough as it was.

Pushing himself to his limit on the running machine, Alex only allowed himself to rest when he was so exhausted that his vision began to blur. Suddenly, it didn’t matter how much water he drank – the heaving in his chest wouldn’t go away and his legs wouldn’t stop shaking.

Yet, Alex forced himself back up on the machine and he was getting ready to try again when Nick appeared out of nowhere and pulled the plug on his machine.

“Alex!” Nick’s voice was raised in horror, but Alex could barely hear him over the pounding, the pulsating throbbing in his head. “Jesus Christ, mate, you’re not supposed to be running like that with a concussion! Al – do you hear me?”

Alex had placed a hand over his heart, suggesting that there was a tightening in his chest. When he grew utterly pale and forgot to respond, Nick grabbed him by the shoulders in sudden alarm.

“Alex, for fuck’s sake!” He shook the lithe body of his bandmate, practically forcing a reaction out of him. “Are you alright? Answer me!”

Alex let himself be shaken by the bigger lad for a moment before regaining his senses.

“Yes – yes, I’m fine. Sorry, Nick, I didn’t think…”

Alex blinked and just like that, he was utterly calm, acting as though nothing had happened. Nick couldn’t help but to stare at him in wonder and confusion.

“Are you sure everything’s OK? I mean…” Nick shook his head and sighed. Alex didn’t want to hear it and he didn’t want to say it. “Fine, just – go lie down or summat. God, you got me all worked up, Alex.”

“Sorry.” Alex was looking down at his own feet, but the deep, echoing vacancy remained in his brown eyes. “You’re right, I should probably go lie down for a bit.”

 

*

 

Alex is stood smoking outside of Dr Kane’s flat two days later. Kane sees him from his window almost immediately, but he allows the boy to stall and to take his time before their meeting. When, eventually, the doorbell rings, Kane can tell that his young patient is nervous.

Kane opens the door and Alex greets him with an almost anxious smile.

“Hey,” the lad says scratching his neck rather apologetically, “sorry if I’m late. I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to bring anything or not.”

“That’s alright,” Kane tells him with a small grin and gestures for him to come inside, “and the only thing I needed you to bring was yourself.” He leads Alex into his living room and tells him to take a seat. “I thought we could start by having a casual conversation. Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Yeah, sure – if you’re havin’ one.” Alex is now sat in the sofa, looking around him shyly.

“I will only be a minute.” Kane smiles at the lad as encouragingly as he can. “Make yourself at home, Alex.”

In the kitchen, Kane prepares the tea with a sudden pounding in his chest. He has been thinking about the lad ever since he released him from the hospital, much against his own will. It isn’t just the concern for Alex’s health; something else has captured Kane and fascinated him profoundly. There is something about Alex that he can’t get over. The lad seems special and exceptionally unique. He seems dangerous, yet completely innocent. Like he doesn’t know what people see in him at all. It’s in those big, brown eyes of his every time he looks up and averts his eyes like a small child who is too young and lost in this big world of cynicism – the wonder. The mystery.

There is no evil in Alex. There is only the cruelty which he puts himself through, though he doesn’t deserve it.

Kane feared that Alex would perhaps not show up for their first meeting, and that he would avoid any sort of treatment. But this is a good start. Though the lad seems uncomfortable and unsure of himself, he has taken a big step in the right direction by coming back to Kane.

Perhaps Alex has seen something in him, too? Although, Kane has no idea what would make him stand out from all the other doctors.

He brings out a tray and begins to serve the tea for them both.

“Do you take sugar? Milk?” Kane asks him politely.

“Just a bit of milk. Thanks.” Alex blushes slightly. He’s even more timid than Kane has deemed him to be.

“There you go,” Kane places his cup on a coaster in front of him before he tends to his own, “I always take mine with just a bit of sugar, you see. It’s a bad habit, really. I know.”

Alex just smiles at that. “Are you home alone?” He asks, slightly arbitrarily.

“I live alone,” Kane tells him.

“Oh. I thought, maybe, you lived with a boyfriend or – husband, or summat.”

Alex doesn’t manage to remain as casual as he would have liked to be. He avoids Kane’s gaze by looking down at his own hands warily.

Kane notices, but decides not to make it any harder for him.

“Nah, I’ve been single for a few years now,” Kane takes a deep breath, “being a doctor, you work so many hours. It seems like you barely have the time to go out and meet someone new.”

Alex nods sympathetically. “Would you like to?” He ventures.

Kane chuckles, then shrugs. “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been on a few dates in the past year. They didn’t turn out particularly well. At one of them, I was so tired from work that I actually fell asleep during a film. My date wasn’t exactly happy about that.”

Kane laughs, and so Alex joins in.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Alex takes a quick look at the doctor sitting beside him. He can’t get around how someone as nice and good-looking as him could be having such a hard time finding love. After all, he made time for Alex to see him, didn’t he? “How old are you?” He then finds himself asking. “Sorry – I don’t mean to be rude.”

“No worries,” Kane assures him, “I’m not easily offended, Alex. I guess it isn’t fair that I know so much about your background and medical history when you barely know anything about me in return. I’m 29, though I’m dangerously close to 30.”

“That’s quite young for a doctor, though,” Alex tells him with a sincere smile. He wants to tell Dr Kane that he doesn’t look like he’s anywhere near 30, but he doesn’t want to go too far.

“Maybe.” Kane beams at the younger man’s compliment. “Still, my old mother likes to remind me that I should have achieved more by this stage.”

“More?” Alex furrows his brow incredulously. “But you’re a doctor!”

“I’m also single and childless,” Kane shrugs, “not to mention homosexual. According to my mum, that’s enough to overshadow any other achievements that I’ve had.”

Alex feels outraged at this, but he knows better than to insult Dr Kane’s mother over this.

“But you save lives,” Alex insists, “you can’t dedicate your life to anything more noble than that.”

Alex looks up at him, and Kane feels like there is a sense of pure admiration to detect in the lad’s stare, though he doesn’t know if he deserves that. If Alex thinks he is noble for saving lives, does that mean that he will allow Kane to try and save his? Or does Alex not care too much about his own?

Kane smiles and touches the younger man’s shoulder in gratitude.

“Why don’t we talk about what’s really important here?” He suggests, and instantly, Alex’s smile disappears. “After all, we both know why you’re here, Alex.”

Alex’s face is suddenly serious. Pale. Anxious. He’s still kind on the eye. Adorable to behold. Attractive with his long, slightly curly hair, thin, pouty lips and those big, beautiful eyes. But he isn’t healthy-looking at all. Those cheeks seem hollow, his chin razor-sharp, and the rings under his eyes appear to be even darker now than when he was in hospital.

“What do you wanna know?” Alex begins to shift in his seat and he hugs his arms around his body nervously. “I – I had breakfast this morning, staying down and all.”

“That’s good,” Kane tells him cautiously, sensing that he is dangerously close to losing him already, “however, I was only going to start by asking you how you’ve been this week. I’m not trying to be nosy at all, Alex. You only need to tell me what you feel comfortable sharing with me.”

“Oh.” Alex takes a deep breath and relaxes evidently. “Sorry, I just - thought…”

“Don’t apologise,” Kane is touching his shoulder again, and Alex has to admit that he likes the touch of his warm, gentle hand, “this is supposed to be a safe space for you. Alright? I’m here to help you, not judge you. I promise you that. So tell me, Alex: How have you been this week? Were you glad to be released from the hospital?”

Alex nods, feeling rather awkward for struggling like this. “It was a relief to be out again, yeah. Although… It’s been hard having to explain it to people.”

“Are you still sticking with your… cover story?” Kane watches the younger man carefully.

“Yeah. Although – I fear that people might start to suspect that I’m hiding something.”

“That’s the thing with bulimia,” Kane explains, though he fears that Alex finds the topic too sensitive, “it’s less obvious than anorexia, per say. Bulimics find it easier to pretend that they are fine in front of people. It’s easier to hide. A bulimic will make people think that he or shy is alright by eating in the company of others. But of course, as soon as he or she is alone, no one is able to see what follows after. Vomiting can be kept a secret – fasting cannot. Though, I have to remind you, Alex, bulimia is still life-threatening, even if you’re the only one who knows about it.”

Alex nods; he hasn’t taken offense of Kane’s candidness. “I know. Ehm… Something happened a few days ago. I think I should tell you about it.”

Alex’s face pales further, and Dr Kane can’t help but to inch closer to the lad in concern.

“What happened, Alex?” He asks in a soft voice.

“I wasn’t in a good place,” Alex begins nervously, “I had had – a pretty rough night, if you know what I mean.” When the doctor remains silent, he elaborates: “I had had an episode that night. You know, binge-eating, then throwing up until I pretty much passed out. Well, the next morning…” Alex’s voice faltered slightly. “The next morning, I had breakfast. But I ended up feeling bad because of it. So I thought I should spend some time in the gym.”

“You thought – you thought you should exercise because you had allowed yourself to eat breakfast?” Kane attempts to hide his own disbelief, but Alex’s mind-set is truly scaring him.

“Yeah.” Alex averts his eyes again, clearly feeling ashamed. “So I spent some time on the running machine. I thought I was doing fine until, suddenly, it became difficult to breathe.”

Kane’s jaw drops slightly. He fails to conceal the fear in his own eyes and Alex detects it immediately, clearly upset by it.

“You couldn’t breathe?” Kane repeats, if anything because he doesn’t know what else to say. This is bad… Alex doesn’t even seem to realise how sick he is.

Alex shrugs. “Nah, I had like – a tightening in my chest for a moment. My friend Nick came in and had to talk me out of running again. Otherwise, I would have done it.”

“You would have kept running even though your chest hurt?” Kane challenges him. His voice is no longer free of judgment, he realises.

Alex’s cheeks are burning red. He feels like a small pupil being told off by his favourite teacher.

“I know – I’m really stupid sometimes,” Alex mutters. He’s not trying to make himself sound innocent, even though it comes off that way. “M’sorry, Dr Kane-“

“Miles.”

“Miles… I know what you must think. I was just not thinking clearly – not at the time being.”

“It’s a demonstration of your illness, Alex.” Kane sighs slightly. He refuses to guilt-trip his patient, though he certainly needs to warn him and make him understand how serious this is. “Remember, I told you that bulimia is an illness of a psychological nature. In the moment, you won’t be able to think logically about yourself or your health. You forget that you are putting yourself in danger – you only aim to achieve your goal. I assume that your goal would be to lose weight, or at least, to avoid gaining weight every time you allow yourself to eat. Am I right?”

Alex bites his lip and shifts in his seat again. “Yeah – that sounds about right.”

“However, even if you forget it at the time being,” Kane continues, “you do know that chest pains are dangerous and shouldn’t be ignored. Deep down, you do realise what chest pains can lead to. I’ve told you that some bulimics experience heart failures when their condition gets serious enough. Do you ever worry that you might have a heart failure, Alex?”

Alex suddenly lurches forward and begins to gulp down his tea in order to avoid the doctor’s questions. His hands are trembling slightly, forcing him to clutch the cup in between his fingers.

“You’re avoiding my question, Alex.” Dr Kane remarks gently.

“Yes, of course I worry,” Alex then snaps and runs a hand through his hair apprehensively, “I swear, I’m not trying to give myself a heart attack. I’m not trying to kill myself and I’m not trying to attract attention. I joost… I can’t help it, alright?” Alex closes his eyes exhaustedly. “When I’m in the moment, when I’m at my lowest, I just forget about all these things. I forget that I might die. I forget how stupid I’m being, because I just need to – I just need to do what I do so badly! When I’m eating, I’m dying to get rid of the food and, eventually, I don’t care how I get rid of it. I just need to… be in control of my own body.”

Alex puts his cup down and hides his eyes behind both hands. He’s not crying, he’s just wound up. Distressed. Kane looks at him passively at first, giving him time to calm down.

“I know, Alex. I’m sorry, alright? I know that bulimia is about some sort of desire to stay in control of your bodily functions. But as your doctor, I hope you understand that it is my job to warn you, and to point you in the right direction.”

Alex breathes heavily, then nods.

“I know.”

“Now, I am deeply concerned to hear that you’ve experienced chest pains…”

“It was just once,” Alex reminds him.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kane insists, “it is still once too many. You’re only 23, Alex. If you died of a heart attack tomorrow, you know I’ve failed you. We need to plan your treatment and we need to get started immediately. Are you still with me?”

“I am,” Alex agrees sincerely.

“Good. I’m curious, though: You said that you had an episode the night before in which you… binge-ate and threw up. Were you still feeling down because of this episode? Regretful?”

Alex shrugged. “I dunno… I was still feeling upset, but I don’t think I regretted it. I just… didn’t feel good about myself.”

“And do you have any idea what caused you to have this episode in the first place?” Kane quizzes him. “Did something happen? Were you alone or with people?”

“Well – it’s a little complicated…” Alex mentally revisits the evening in its entirety, unsure as to how many details he should reveal to the doctor. “It started when a couple of friends took us all out for dinner. At this fancy restaurant, you see… It would definitely have been rude to go there and not eat anything.” Alex’s cleared his throat hesitantly.

“So,” Kane encourages him on, “did you eat?”

“I did.” Alex confirms.

“And did you…?”

“Throw up afterwards? Yes. In the toilets.” Alex blushes yet again. “But that wasn’t why I became upset. Something happened a little later that night, when we were all out at this bar.”

Kane nods and prepares himself mentally. “Go on.”

“We were getting quite drunk,” Alex admits, “but it was nice. I felt good about it, you know. But then there is a guy who asks me to dance with him, and I don’t even want to do it, but I’m kind of pressured into it.”

“Why didn’t you want to dance with him?” Kane questions. Alex has got his full attention.

Once again, Alex shrugs like a small boy who is either too shy or too unaware to offer him the real explanation.

“I dunno… This guy was quite – attractive – I guess. I just didn’t feel like… Like I should be seen with someone like him.”

“Did it feel like you weren’t good enough for him?” Kane suggests, although he can’t imagine anyone being too good, or too handsome for a boy like Alex. The idea alone is preposterous to him.

“Yes, that’s precisely it,” Alex tells him. “I just knew that he was out of my league and that I would make a fool of myself. So I tried to avoid him altogether. Only… We ended up dancing. He was really nice and he – uhm – ended up kissing me. That was when I broke down in front of him.”

“Oh.” Kane tries to ignore a strange feeling of defeat in his guts when he pictures Alex being kissed by some pretty stranger. It should be irrelevant. He forces himself to move past it. “So you didn’t like him kissing you? When you say you broke down in front of him…”

“I started crying,” Alex admits, though obviously embarrassed, “and it wasn’t that I didn’t like it. But he was paying me all these compliments, he was quite gentle. I just didn’t respond well to his… praises. In fact, as soon as he complimented me, I began to detest myself more and more.”

“What were his praises?” Kane wants to know.

“Oh – uh – he called me cute,” Alex grimaces at the word, like he believes it to be an insult, “I know it shouldn’t be a massive deal. It’s quite easy to call someone cute in order to get to kiss them. But when he said it, I began to feel ugly. And foolish. And when he – ehm, touched my flanks, or love handles as I like to call them,” Alex blushes even harder, “I just panicked. I guess it’s joost… A sensitive spot. You know, the part of my body that I hate the most.”

Kane takes a moment to imagine how tiny (and absolutely adorable) Alex’s flanks must be underneath the loose t-shirt he’s wearing. Someone as skinny as him should not have to worry about growing ‘love handles.’

“Right.” Kane is momentarily lost for words. “So, the whole thing was obviously about your lacking self-confidence. From what I understand, you liked the guy, you liked the kiss. You just didn’t feel worthy of any of it.”

Alex simply nods. He has nothing to add to this statement.

“Could it also be,” Kane attempts, “that, in addition, this is another method for you to punish yourself?”

Alex stares back at him in wonder. This is something he hasn’t considered.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it seems to me,” Kane elaborates, “that you might be denying yourself what others offer you. Romance, for instance. Compliments. A harmless kiss on the dancefloor. Because that is another way of making yourself suffer. It’s not just food you’re depriving yourself of, is it? It’s also love. A feeling of self-worth.”

Kane locks eyes with Alex significantly, and Alex feels a pounding in his chest. It’s painless this time, although he feels a twinge of longing, too. But longing for what? He continues to stare at the doctor and he is once again overwhelmed by his warmth, his pleasantness. For some reason, Alex doesn’t feel like running away or hiding himself in shame when he’s around this man.

Dr Kane – Miles – sees him for what he is, doesn’t he? Alex doesn’t need to pretend when he’s around Miles.

“Miles…” Alex begins, though he’s not sure what he wants to tell him at this point. That he’s wrong? But he’s not. That he’s right, perhaps? But Miles knows this already. Alex’s words are superfluous.

“Don’t deny yourself to be loved, Alex,” the doctor then speaks, and for a moment, Alex thinks he is going to lean forward, “you do deserve to be loved. By others, but also by yourself. We all do.”

In the heat of the moment, Alex finds himself nodding, unable to break the spell that enchants him so thoroughly when Miles looks at him like this. Unwilling, and unable, to look away, Alex lingers. If Miles continues to lean forward, continues to approach him like this, Alex is not going to pull away from him. If Miles chooses to touch him – or perhaps more – it must be because Alex is worth it.

However, just when Alex thinks that Miles lowers his eyes in order to stare at his lips in enticement, the doctor leans back and avoids contact.

Alex turns his head quickly, trying to hide his blushing cheeks and disappointed gaze from the other man. He suddenly can’t believe that he actually expected him to… approach him like that. Of course, Miles would never just lean in and kiss him just because they were on the subject of love. Miles is his doctor. Doctors don’t flirt with their patient and they certainly don’t kiss them.

Alex must have been out of his mind.

Dr Kane clears his throat and smiles at Alex apologetically when he sees the embarrassment painted all over the lad’s face. What the hell has just happened between them, he wonders. It felt like something he almost couldn’t control and now he doesn’t know whether to feel scared or seduced by it.

But his hands are tied, aren’t they? It’s not even a choice of his. He is here to offer Alex professional help, and that is all.

“Anyway,” Kane chuckles quietly and solely out of awkwardness, “we agreed to plan your treatment right away, didn’t we? What do you say, Alex? Shall we get started?”

 

*

 

Alex finds himself in the situation he has feared the most. Dr Kane has led him to the weighing scale in his bathroom, explaining that – though he doesn’t wish for Alex to feel uncomfortable – it is important for both of them to keep an eye on and track his weight.

“It is no secret that I would like for you to gain weight, Alex,” Kane starts, “however, it is important that it happens according to your own will and pace. Do you understand?”

Alex nods. His guts are churning anxiously, though he can’t blame Dr Kane.

“Good. Now, I am going to leave you alone for a minute so you can prepare yourself. I suggest that you dress down a bit so we can measure your weight as accurately as possible. However, you should only strip down to what you’re comfortable with wearing in front of me. After all, it’s important for me – as your doctor – that you are able to relax around me.”

Kane smiles at him again before leaving the room and closing the door behind him. Alex takes in a deep breath and looks himself in the mirror above the sink. He hates what he sees and the idea of even stripping down the slightest in front of Dr Kane terrifies him. Nevertheless, he gathers enough courage to take off his trousers, shoes and socks. He realises that Kane probably expects him to take off his shirt as well, but that is out of the question. Alex looks himself in the mirror once again, now that he is only wearing a t-shirt and boxers. He wraps his arms around his small frame, shivering nervously. His arms and legs are slightly bony – unattractive. His skin is too pale. Surely, when Kane sees him like this, he is going to have no desire to see the rest of him.

Not that Alex thinks that the doctor ever desired him in the first place.

Then, a sudden impulse seizes him. Even though Dr Kane already knows his weight in rough numbers (since his measures were taken when he was in hospital), Alex begins to fear what the older man might think of him if his weight has changed over the past few days. Suddenly fearful of having lost additional weight, which could force Dr Kane to put him on a strict diet, Alex turns on the water tap by the sink and brings his mouth down to drink as quickly as possible. He knows that he’s being a horrible cliché, filling himself up with water right before facing the scale, but he just doesn’t want Dr Kane to make a fuss over his numbers.

Alex can’t think of anything more embarrassing than that.

He’s still gulping down water when, inevitably, Kane opens the door and enters the room, believing that he has given the lad more than enough time. Alex jumps in surprise and turns around. The water is dripping down his chin – a hard evidence of his crime. Kane stares at him in surprise, causing Alex’s stomach to drop.

“I’m sorry,” he pleads, clearly humiliated to have been caught doing something so stupid, so unnecessary, “I – I don’t know why I just did that.”

“I think I do.” Kane supresses a small sigh, not wanting Alex to believe he’s angry with him. “Don’t worry, Alex, whatever your weight is, I’m not going to judge you. I promise. Besides, I remember your numbers from when you were in hospital. This won’t be new to me.”

Kane somehow manages to convince the lad to relax and to step up onto the weighing scale.

“Is there a reason why you’re keeping your shirt on?” Kane finds himself asking before he is able to stop himself. He regrets the question immediately, especially when he receives a slightly suspicious look from his patient.

“You told me I should feel comfortable,” Alex mutters with a hint of indignation in his voice.

“Right. You’re right. Sorry.” Kane mentally kicks himself, but luckily, Alex appears to have forgiven him already. “OK – hold still now, please.” Kane digs out a small notebook from the pocket in his trousers. “I better write the numbers down. You’re alright with that? Good.”

Alex catches himself holding his breath, not sure if he wishes to weigh more or less than this. He can tell from Kane’s facial expression that he’s not satisfied with what he sees, though he tries to hide it.

“So that’s about… 53 kilos,” Dr Kane notes, keeping his eyes on his notebook as he writes it down.

He’s no longer smiling, Alex notices.

He’s disappointed.

Despite the fact that he’s been filling up with water, the numbers tell him that he’s lost nearly half a kilo since leaving the hospital. Alex is embarrassed and oddly proud at the same time.

He hasn’t gained weight… In a slightly twisted way, he’s achieved his goal for now.

“You’re awfully quiet all of a sudden,” Alex dares to say when Kane appears to spend a little too much time writing the numbers down in his book, “are you mad at me?”

Kane’s head bobs up instinctively, offering Alex a serious look. “Of course I’m not mad at you,” he tells his young patient, feeling guilty again, “I’ve told you, Alex, I’m not here to judge you. I’m just… trying to work out if I should deduct anything. You know, due to the water…”

“Oh. Right.” Alex feels mortified. Yes, he has definitely screwed up this time. He must promise himself never to do this again. He’s only making it harder on Dr Kane, isn’t he?

“Seriously, I’m not mad,” Kane forces himself to smile as to prove his point, “however, you must know that this is not good, Alex. I never expected you to progress on your own, before we’ve even started your treatment. But it does remind me that we need to do something about this right away. Being underweight makes your body vulnerable in numbers of ways. If you were to even catch the flu, you’re body could be struggling to recover.”

Alex steps down from the scale, suddenly feeling a little too exposed in his underwear. It’s cold in this room and he feels himself shivering.

“I see. So – what do you suggest we do next?” He asks a little timidly.

Kane clasps a hand on his shoulder. “You should get dressed first. Afterwards, I have a few topics for discussion in mind.”

Kane leaves the room once again in order to give the lad some privacy. He takes one last look at him before closing the door; the sight of Alex standing there in his boxers and an over-sized t-shirt is melting his heart in an unfamiliar manner. Though he’s a little too skinny for his own good, he looks gorgeous. His withdrawn and modest nature, the way he wraps his arms around himself like he’s trying to shy away, is nothing but endearing to the older doctor. Most guys Kane has dated in the past were all too loud and too sure of themselves. Alex, on the other hand, seems to be the real deal. A lad who, despite his success, has got both feet on the ground. Someone who never pretends to be what he’s not.

 

*

 

Alex exits the bathroom, fully dressed, and finds that Kane is waiting for him in his kitchen.

“Ah, there you are,” Kane smiles and gestures for the boy to take a seat across from him, “sit yourself down. I’ve got a few things to talk to you about.”

“Thanks.” Alex sits down, looking over at the doctor in anticipation.

“This is about the diet plan I’ve been mentioning to you before,” Kane begins carefully, “now, before you start to worry that I’m going to force you to eat this and that so many times per day, let me just make this clear: That is not how I wish to do things. Forcing you to eat isn’t going to do you any good, Alex. It wouldn’t be helpful to anyone, and certainly not to you.”

Alex cocks an eyebrow in surprise. This was not what he had expected to hear at all.

“Really?” The relief is evident in the young man’s voice. “But, Miles, I thought you said you wanted me to gain weight?”

“And it’s true, I do.” Kane opens up a slightly larger notebook that has been lying on the table, ready for use. “But we are not going to make that happen by forcing you to eat all sorts of things that you don’t feel comfortable eating, Alex. No. Instead,” Kane smiles reassuringly, “I would like you to start with foods that you do feel comfortable eating. Rather than focusing on how much you begin to eat each day, I think it would be beneficial for us to focus on how to make you feel comfortable eating anything at all. Does that make sense?”

Alex feels slightly speechless. He is used to doctors giving orders to do this and that, and not make suggestions for the patient to have an influence on like Dr Kane.

“I think I understand, yes.” Alex thinks it over for a moment. “You want me to learn how to eat without feeling guilty, right?”

“Yes,” Kane is beaming now that he sees that the lad is on board with his idea, “because only without the guilt, Alex, are you likely to stop wanting to punish yourself. In any way, that is. What do you think?”

Alex finds himself smiling genuinely. “I like that idea,” he grins, “I think, perhaps, this makes sense.”

“Brilliant.” Kane suddenly pushes the blank notebook over towards Alex, along with a pencil. “This is how we get started. I am going to ask you to write down five foods that you feel comfortable eating. And when I say comfortable, I mean foods that you can eat over and over again without feeling so guilty for eating them that you wish to make yourself sick. In other words, foods that make you feel happy.”

Alex accepts the notebook and the pencil. He stares down at the blank pieces of paper in awe. Dr Kane is allowing him to be in charge of this. He is allowing him to take control.

“Five foods?” Alex repeats, although he’s understood the doctor’s suggestion perfectly.

“Yes. Does this sound fair to you?”

Alex nods, offering the doctor a grateful smile. “It sounds great,” he says as he returns to the paper before him, “do you want me to write things down now?”

“If you know what you’re going to choose, you might as well,” Kane affirms with a chuffed expression.

It only takes Alex a moment to get started. He immediately writes down the first three foods. Apples, carrots, and pistachio nuts. He then pauses to think it over before adding avocados and wholegrain bread to the list. He hands the notebook back to Kane for him to see.

“Perfect,” Kane confirms as he reads through the listed items, “very basic and healthy foods, indeed, but it’s a great start. Now, Alex, these foods are supposed to be your safe options. You are supposed to be able to eat these foods without wanting to make yourself sick afterwards, do you understand? Do you think this is realistic for you?”

Alex nods in confidence after thinking it all over some more. “Yes, I’m pretty sure. I think I can eat all of these without – uh – regretting it afterwards.”

“Wonderful,” Kane praises him, “you’ve done well already. Now, I’ve got another proposition for you. Feel free to decline this if it doesn’t sound manageable to you, but hear me out first.” Kane makes eye contact with the younger man. “I know that eating makes you fear that you will gain weight. And although gaining weight is our goal for now, your body might try to fight against it. Repeatedly. However, what I’m concerned about more than anything, Alex, is the temptation of yours to lose weight through exercise.”

“Oh,” Alex is genuinely taken aback by this, “you mean – because of the experience I had with the running machine?”

“Exactly. I don’t want you to risk getting those aches in your chest again. Exhausting your body when you haven’t been eating is simply too dangerous. However,” Kane takes a deliberate pause, “we could make an agreement that you’re allowed to exercise every time you’ve gone three days without vomiting. Consider the legal exercise your reward for treating your body better.”

“Wait, three days?!” Alex doesn’t mean to oppose Dr Kane’s rationalism, but this is something he will truly struggle to achieve. “But I can’t remember the last time I went three days without vomiting!”

“I know,” Kane tells him, “it’s not going to be easy for you. But you need to have a goal, Alex. Something that encourages you to look after yourself. A reason not to make yourself sick so often.”

“I guess…” Alex hesitates. “I mean, I suppose I can give it a go. But what if I simply can’t do it? Go three days without vomiting, I mean.”

“Then I’m afraid your body won’t be strong enough to allow you to exercise,” Kane insists strongly, desperate to make Alex understand how serious this is, “and even if you do learn how to go three days without making yourself sick, you must still be careful if you exercise. Building up your bodily strength is good, but only if you’re not straining yourself. If you do get tired, and if you do have trouble breathing, I must insist that you stop exercising immediately. This is probably the condition that I feel most strongly about. Do you think you can agree to these terms, Alex?”

Alex has no honest clue. But as he looks over at Kane, the man who’s gone through so much trouble for him already, he realises that he shouldn’t agree to his treatment half-heartedly. He’s doing this to get better, not to fuck about and waste his and Kane’s time.

“I will do my best,” Alex promises him, “and if I can’t go three days without being sick, then I won’t try to run or exercise or anything. I mean – I would hate to die from a heart attack at the age of 23.”

Alex smiles awkwardly, but he is able to tell that Kane is relieved to hear him accepting his terms.

“I’m glad you feel that way,” Kane speaks as he begins to write something down in the notebook, “now, if you don’t mind, Alex, I’m going to write down our little agreement in here. As a reminder.”

“I see. Do you want my signature?” Alex jokes.

He is once again taken aback when Kane hands him over the book.

“Please,” he says.

Alex writes down his name hesitantly. He suddenly wishes to know to which extent this ‘contract’ is binding.

“Thank you,” Kane takes a deep breath and decides to lighten the mood a bit, “I can tell that you’re serious about trying your hardest for now, Alex. I do appreciate it. Do you remember what else I told you in the hospital? I recommended that you started seeing a psychiatrist …”

“Oh yeah, I do remember. Honestly, I have been thinking about it. I’d be willing to give it a go, if…”

“If?”

“If you helped me find one,” Alex says, scratching his neck from the habit of feeling self-conscious, “it’s just that, I have no idea how to find a good one. I wouldn’t know where to even look.”

Kane smiles warmly at this. In a sense, he finds it loveable that Alex trusts and relies on his judgment like this. More than he trusts and relies on his own judgment, it seems.

“Of course I’ll help you find a good one,” Kane agrees eagerly, “it might take a couple of weeks for us to set up an appointment with someone, but I will start the search first thing on Monday.”

“Thank you. Honestly, it means a lot what you’re doing for me, Miles.”

Alex lets his chain of thoughts wander as he locks eyes with the older, handsome man once again. Dr Miles Kane is wearing a tight, blue shirt which makes him appear rather fit. Strong, yet at the same time, svelte. He forces himself not to let his gaze travel below eye-level. But it’s hard to restrain himself.

Alex almost thinks that they are done planning the first steps of his treatment when, additionally, Kane makes one more suggestion:

“I don’t know how you would feel about this, Alex.” Kane clears his throat and Alex isn’t ready for what comes next: “I had this idea, you see. Let me know if it’s too much for you. If it’s out of your comfort-zone, I mean.”

“What is it?” Alex asks, his body tensing up involuntarily.

Why is Kane looking at him like that all of a sudden? Like he almost can’t bring himself to say what’s on his mind.

“Well, Alex, I know that I’m here to treat you medically. Not psychologically or even emotionally. That’s what we need a psychiatrist for. It’s just that… I thought maybe that it would make a difference if I learned to understand your – condition – a bit better.”

“Understand it?” Alex furrows his brows. “You’re not gonna try to make yourself sick to see what it feels like, are you?”

“No,” Kane giggles apologetically – uncomfortably, “after all, it’s not about me. However, I thought that, perhaps, with your permission that is, I could be present and… witness… one of your so-called episodes.”

Kane takes many pauses. He’s revealing his idea as slowly as possible; he’s waiting to see what Alex’s reaction will be.

“You want to witness me – throwing up?” Alex shivers compulsorily.

He’s never been sick in front of anyone else before. He’s never even thought about… having an audience.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Kane grimaces as he regrets bringing it up, “I know this is a lot to ask. Believe me. I understand if you wouldn’t feel right with this arrangement. I merely have a feeling that if I was there – just once – to actually see what happens to you when you go through one of your episodes of binge-eating and vomiting… Maybe then I could understand it better. Offer you more… personalised help, I suppose. But believe me, Alex, I would never force you to go through something like this if it’s too much for you. The decision is yours, and yours entirely.”

Alex feels petrified. Frozen in his seat. Dr Kane is looking at him full of sympathy and kindness. Compassion. Alex knows that this man would never do anything to exploit him or embarrass him. If Kane thinks that this is a good idea, then it must be for all the right reasons. However, Alex isn’t even sure how these episodes of his work. Would he even be able to binge-eat and vomit in front of another person? (A person that he’s grown to like so much).

And if he did, would Kane begin to look at him differently? Would Alex find him looking at him in disgust?

“I – I don’t know…” Alex breathes hesitantly. “I mean… It wouldn’t be pretty to watch, I hope you know.”

“No one would expect it to be pretty,” Kane reminds him sadly. “Besides, that’s not why I’m suggesting this. I told you before, Alex, nothing you do is for me to judge you on. But I would like to observe and to learn. If you think you could go through with it, that is.”

Alex is silent for another minute. He’s terrified of embarrassing himself in front of Miles, and yet… No one has ever offered to look after him like this before. It has to mean something, he decides. If Miles deems it a good idea to share his shame with him, it only encourages him to trust his doctor even more.

“OK,” Alex practically whispers.

“Alex, you only need to say yes if you really mean it,” Kane reminds him.

“I do mean it,” Alex offers him a tentative smile and he shrugs his shoulders, “I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it? You’re here to help me and I do trust you, Miles. I know it would be for the best.”

Kane is astonished by this. He really hadn’t expected Alex to agree to something so… intimate and private. (‘I do trust you, Miles.’)

For the first time, Kane feels like he truly understands the responsibility that rests upon him now. Alex Turner, the famous, unknown bulimic, has kept his secret hidden from the whole world. From everyone except him, Dr Miles Kane.

Why him? What makes him so special in the eyes of this young boy? Dr Kane hasn’t got a clue. But he realises once again, though now more than ever, that he can’t give up on this patient of his.

Alex needs him, and Alex trusts him.

And Kane feels the burning desire rising in his chest; the desire to come through for him, to save him and to hold him close to his own body, knowing that Alex is going to be OK, that he isn’t going to die or fade away or escape from him.

Kane wants this desire to come true more than he’s ever wanted anything else in his entire life.

Chapter Text

Before leaving Kane’s flat, Alex had been asked when he was most likely to develop his next ‘episode’. At this, Alex had blushed slightly and admitted that he usually had his episodes at night.

“Good,” Kane had told him, “that means I won’t be at work. Do you think you can give me a thirty minutes warning when you feel the next episode coming? I want to be there from the beginning, you see.”

“Would you – would you really come all the way down to where I’m staying?” Alex had asked incredulously. “I dunno if I can ask you to drop everything like that just to go see me.”

“You are not the one asking for this, Alex, I am,” Kane reminded him, “but yes, I think that it is important that I do. Making it to your hotel wouldn’t be a problem for me, but I need to see how your episodes of binge-eating and vomiting are… triggered. So you must promise me that you will ring me as soon as you feel the next one coming on. Can you do that for me?”

Kane had offered Alex a sincere smile. Alex soon learned that he was rendered unable to say no.

“Sure,” Alex nodded as he looked down at his own feet, “I can do that.”

 

*

 

It had been hours since Alex had left his flat, but that evening, Kane caught himself thinking about the younger man over and over again.

He felt like he didn’t understand. Alex seemed like a lad who had a lot of things going for him. A successful career, good friends, parents who had openly embraced his sexuality. Not to mention the fact that Alex was furthermore blessed with his intelligence, his charisma, his charm, his wit, his good looks.

Alex was the kind of person who ought to have a lot of love in his life. And Kane was sure that he did, but for some reason, it didn’t seem like it was enough.

Alex wasn’t happy. And his unhappiness wasn’t brought on by ungratefulness for what he had. It was something else. Alex didn’t like himself one bit. He didn’t seem to see the unique qualities that everyone else saw in him. The kid was blinded by self-hatred. And Kane had absolutely no idea why.

Feeling restless and confused, Kane decided to go for a walk in order to get some fresh air. He was hoping to get the image of Alex out of his head, too, although this would soon prove to be a difficult task.

He was walking down the street when, suddenly, he spotted something in one of the shop windows. A series of news articles had been put on display, picturing all sorts of front pages from the Guardian to the Sun. And one of these, from the Daily Mail, had Alex’s face on it, with the words reading: “Turner’s New Addiction: Will It Be the End of Arctic Monkeys?”

They had used a picture of Alex walking down the street without knowing he was having his picture taken. He was rather pale and thin looking and the rings around his eyes were a little too evident. He looked like he hadn’t slept for the past 48 hours. He looked troubled. Depressed. Unhealthy.

It was so easy for these people to convince the whole world that it was drugs, wasn’t it? It was so easy to point fingers, ridicule and accuse an innocent young man instead of lending him a fucking hand. Had it not occurred to any of these people to ask him how he was, ask him if he needed help?

Was Kane the only person in the world who could recognise a cry for help when he saw one?

He had clenched his fists without even realising it and his breath had become all hitched in his chest. Kane tore his own gaze away from Alex’s picture. He wouldn’t dignify that filthy headline with a second look. This shit was a bloody insult to everyone who knew Alex – Alex was not the kind of person who ought to end up on a front page like this. He was too good for these bastards and now they were trying to convince the world otherwise.

No wonder the kid had been too scared to tell anyone about his illness. The world seemed to be run by brutes who were all too quick to take advantage of the weaknesses of a smaller man.

 

*

 

Two days later, Kane wasn’t faring much better.

He had expected to hear from Alex almost immediately; he knew how frequently the younger man had his episodes. Perhaps he had changed his mind about wanting to share one of them with the doctor. Perhaps Kane had been pressing on a little too much, after all. It was easy to imagine a scenario in which Alex felt too embarrassed to let anyone see what he was actually doing to himself most nights.

Still, Kane convinced himself to keep on waiting. He needed to let his younger patient take the time he needed. Otherwise, Alex would lose all faith in Kane’s good intentions. His treatment would be for nothing.

Kane showed up at the hospital that morning, once again desperate to get Alex out of his head. He started the day out with working in the clinic; he received patient after patient while his mind would still return to the day when an unconscious Alex had been rolled into the emergency room. (Something that Kane had experienced hundreds of times with other patients, but for some reason, that case, Alex’s case, stood out from all the others).

His last patient before the end of his shift had been a pregnant woman who was in for a routine check. The hours in the clinic hadn’t been busy at all. Kane felt peaceful and relaxed when he left the clinic in order to take his lunch break. He swung by the emergency room in order to see if his friend and co-worker, Hannah, was ready to go to the cafeteria with him. Hannah saw him coming in and offered him a smile as she was easing herself out of her lab coat.

“Just a second, Dr Kane, we can go as soon as I’ve put my instruments away.”

Kane smiled politely and told her not to rush. He had plenty of time.

That was when, suddenly, he saw the doors to the emergency room swing open. Much like the time when Alex had been rushed inside, Kane now witnessed a similar scenario taking place. Four paramedics came running with a patient on a stretcher. Kane couldn’t quite see the patient’s face for the oxygen mask that was placed over his face, however, it looked like a young man. Not unlike Alex, he had long, dark hair. He had been stripped of his shirt, allowing Kane to notice his slight build and the paleness of his skin.

Could it be? No, surely not.

Hannah ran towards the paramedics in order to help receive the patient. That was when Kane saw it. There was blood everywhere – on the uniforms of the paramedics, on the floor they’d crossed in order to carry the young man to the nearest hospital bed. The blood kept on spilling; the patient’s hands were dark red and completely still.

He had slit both his wrists. This boy was bleeding out faster than the paramedics could carry him.

“We have a male patient,” one of the paramedics told Hannah, “23 years old, was found unconscious in his room after having cut his ulnar and radial arteries in both wrists…”

Kane felt himself freezing on the spot. No – oh God no, this couldn’t be…

Kane knew that he wasn’t thinking straight when he pushed in between the paramedics in order to try and get a closer look of the young man. Careful not to interfere with Hannah’s working hands, Kane inched his way closer and closer to the bed until he felt a male paramedic pushing him back.

“What’s the name of the patient?” Kane called in a sudden state of panic. When the paramedics began to push him backwards once again, Kane was forced to use all of his strength in order to stay in his position near the bed. “No, please, I just need to know – does anyone here know the name of this patient?!” Kane knew that he was practically yelling now.

“Dr Kane, what do you think you’re doing?” Hannah gave him a sharp look. Her face was sterner than he’d ever seen it. “Get out of the ER right now!”

“But, I… Han- I mean, Dr Ware, I must know… I must see his face…” The sad thing was, Kane knew that he was completely out of it when two paramedics had to grab an arm each and force him out of the room. He didn’t resist; he knew that Hannah needed space to work, he knew that she needed to act fast. Even though that kid in there was almost certain to die in his hospital bed, Kane knew that Hannah had to do her best to stop the bleeding.

The last thing any of them needed was for Kane to create distractions. To make things about him.

“Are we cool, doctor?” A male paramedic asked as they had led Kane out in the hallway. They let go of him and gestured for him to sit down in one of the chairs. The paramedic was only asking because he wanted to make sure that Kane wasn’t going to try and make it back into the emergency room.

“Yeah… We’re cool.” Kane promised, though he had to pull a grimace. His skin was burning slightly from the strong grip they’d had on his arms.

The paramedics nodded respectfully before leaving him again. Kane knew that he should be feeling mortified with his own outburst, his outrageous behaviour. He was a doctor, for crying out loud. The hospital was his place of professionalism. But he was too scared to care. He felt his own heart pounding madly inside his chest.

That young man could be Alex, couldn’t it? It could be Alex in there right now, all alone – bleeding to death… If Alex died like this, died from slitting his own wrists, Kane would never forgive himself. So much for playing the clever doctor who could offer him a way out that no one else could give him. So much for talking about diet plans and psychiatrists, so much for seeking to understand the binge-eating of young bulimic – so much for thinking that he was Jesus fucking Christ!

If Alex had just taken his own life, Kane knew that it was because he had failed him. Alex’s blood would forever be on his hands.

He had to know.

Thanking the Lord for having Alex’s number on his phone, Kane quickly escaped into the toilets in order to get some privacy. Ringing the number anxiously, Kane wanted nothing more than to hear the lad’s voice. (Alex’s young, innocent, heavily accented voice).

“Come on…” Kane found himself cursing when the phone continued to ring, unanswered. “Fuckin’ hell Alex, don’t you be doing this to me,” Kane muttered under his breath, “pick up the phone. Pick up, pick up, pick up, god dammit!”

 

*

 

Alex was in the middle of an interview when he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. Matt, who was sitting next to him, glanced as though he’d heard it, too, but it was ignored by them both.

The interviewer was a woman in her mid-twenties who kept looking at them both in an over-excited manner, the admiration evident in her broad smile.

“And, Alex, are you looking forward to start touring again?” She asked, and Alex found himself blinking in surprise when he realised that he hadn’t been paying attention.

“Er, yeah, that’s always fun, innit?” He told her lamely, blushing slightly when she wouldn’t stop staring at him. “You enjoy touring, don’t you, Maffew?”

Alex directed the microphone away from himself, pointing it towards Matt instead. Matt looked at him as though he understood just how uncomfortable he felt.

“Yeah,” Matt cleared his throat, trying to think of an elaborate answer, “we all like hitting the road. Definitely.”

Alex felt his phone vibrating yet again; whoever was calling him sure couldn’t have picked a worse time. God, he just wanted this interview to be over. Had this been a casual interview for a magazine or something, he would have felt more at ease. But now there were cameras on them and microphones being shoved in their faces. And they were getting all the same questions that they had already been asked a hundred times before.

“Which songs are you looking forward to playing the most? How would you describe your upcoming tour? How is it different from your last? People say that you’ve had a drastic change of style since your first two albums, what do you think to that? What was it like working with Josh Homme? What was it like filming your music video with Richard Ayoade?”

The questions kept on coming. Alex knew that he was taking longer and longer to reply to any of them. He hated the way he always had to overthink even the simplest topic; he often found that he was too caught up in his own thoughts to actually piece a sensible sentence together like a normal person. He preferred it when he was given time to think and to react how he wanted to. With the cameras rolling and the interviewer being paid by the hour, he realised that time was money. Everything was supposed to be quick in this business. Quick questions, quick answers, quick puns and jokes, quick commentaries, quick videos, quick views, quick hello’s and thank you’s and nice to meet you’s.

Alex found himself spacing out yet again, dangerously close to letting a yawn escape him. (He hadn’t had much sleep the night before, he had felt sick and feverish, and the thoughts had been racing in his mind, refusing to leave him alone). It was obvious to him that Matt was trying his hardest not to nudge him with his elbow. He blinked a few times, cringing at his own awkward behaviour.

“And, finally, I would like to ask you, Alex,” the woman sent him another warm and enthusiastic smile, “what do you think to the – rather unfair, I might add – reviews of your recent stage performances? A few critics seem to have decided that your presence on stage has become somewhat… vacant or, rather, that you have been acting slightly indifferent when you’re performing. I for one disagree and on behalf of the Arctic Monkeys, I would tell these critics to go to hell!”

She was looking straight into one of the cameras as she said this, pulling a wicked face. Alex and Matt exchanged looks for a moment. Was this supposed to be funny, or was she serious?

“Er…” Alex felt himself grow instantly tense as he had no clue what to say to this. “Thanks for the support, Linda. Now, I did read some headlines claiming that I have started doing drugs, so I’m guessing that might be part of my new public image.”

Alex had no idea where he was going with this. Was he trying to sound like a smart-ass? Was he being cheeky, or was he trying to be funny? But it wasn’t funny, was it? This was his reputation they were talking about. Why was he always trying to persuade everyone that he wasn’t bothered when, clearly, he felt himself dying on the inside time and again?

“And have you?” The interviewer, Linda, pressed on. “Started doing drugs, I mean.”

“Nah,” Alex forced himself to grin at this, “honestly, I’m too boring for that. It wouldn’t suit me, I think. Or what do you think, Maffew?”

Alex felt relieved when Matt joined him with a light laughter:

“I dunno, it might be an interesting sight,” Matt joked, though he only meant to show that he had Alex’s back, “rock n’ roll and all that, right? I reckon Alex might be rock n’ roll enough to do at least a spliff or two.”

“And what about yourself?” The interviewer laughed.

“Yeah, go on, I’d probably join him,” Matt smiled at her.

After the interview, Alex continued to feel both nervous and mortified over the way he’d had to dodge some of Linda’s questions; he completely forgot to check his phone.

“You alright, mate?” Matt asked him as the two of them were walking down the street together. “I mean, I think she could have skipped that question about the reviews, honestly. It’s bullshit anyway.”

Alex found himself shrugging. “I dunno, I mean… Maybe it’s true. Maybe I haven’t been too focused recently. I think I could do better.”

“Nah, screw that,” Matt insisted, mainly out of loyalty, “the critics always tell you to change and to adjust and to improve. And then when you do, they bullock you for not being the same as you were. Fuck them, what they say is not important.”

Alex couldn’t contain his smile. “Cheers, Maffew. Maybe you should start writing your own reviews, I reckon you’d be insightful enough.”

“Yeah, maybe I should,” Matt laughed. “Now, listen, why don’t we go for a drink on the way back to the hotel? The weather is great, innit? Would be nice to stay out.”

“Sounds good.”

Alex was happy to stay out and to avoid coming back to his hotel room, clouded by memories of vomiting, and of stomachaches, loneliness, anxiety, not to mention sleepless nights.

Unfortunately, he once again forgot all about checking his phone.

 

*

 

Dr Kane found himself sitting alone in the cafeteria, utterly silent, when he was suddenly joined by Hannah. He hadn’t had anything to eat. Instead, he had been staring into empty space, soundlessly wondering whether or not this could all be real.

“Dr Kane?” Hannah was approaching his table, noticing the vacant look in his eyes. “Miles?”

Kane finally gathered himself, looking up at her.

“Dr Ware…” He said, then paused. He was going to tell her that he was sorry. Sorry for being so bloody unprofessional, for embarrassing her in front of their colleagues. But he failed to utter these exact words.

“What the hell happened to you in there?” She questioned him harshly, though there was also a hint of concern in her voice. “I’ve never seen you act that way before.”

“I – I…” Kane struggled to determine whether or not to be honest with her. “I thought I knew the patient…” He then sighed in slight defeat. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh.” Hannah studied her friend closer as she sat down at the table. “Miles, I had no idea… Do you have a younger brother or something? My patient was, what, six years younger than you?”

Kane let out a small chuckle. “No, I don’t have a younger brother. I dunno, I just…” He shrugged his shoulders exhaustedly. “I’ve gotten to know this guy…”

“I see,” Hannah said, stroking his arm, “and perhaps you have started to care for this guy, too?”

“Maybe,” Kane brought a hand to rub at his forehead, “but that is no excuse, I know that. I was making a scene in there. I was distracting you…”

“I kicked you out of that room before you caused any real trouble, Miles.” Hannah offered him a smile. “For your own good, you know. But my point is, you don’t need to feel guilty.”

Kane sighed again, leaning back in his seat.

“Did he… Did he make it?” Kane heard the trembling in his own voice. He was struggling harder to contain himself, even now.

Hannah watched as her friend was practically shaking with fear. She bit her lip and averted her eyes.

“No. He didn’t even make it to the operating theatre. He had lost too much blood before the ambulance even arrived…”

Kane let out a pained groan, though he desperately tried to silence himself by biting into his own fist.

“What was his name?” Kane knew that he shouldn’t be asking her this. Even as she looked at him in sympathy, he knew that he was wrong to ask.

“His name was Daniel,” she said, rubbing his back gently with her hand, “is your guy named Daniel?”

“No,” Kane choked as the tears began to roll silently down his cheeks, “no, he’s not.”

 

*

 

Kane felt emotionally exhausted when he left the hospital that night. He had gone from feeling anxious to feeling desperate, then silly and foolish all in the matter of a few hours. And now, as he sat thinking inside his parked car, he was only feeling embarrassed with himself. For his assumptions. For his reactions.

He hadn’t even known Alex for that long, but here he was: Going mad with concern even though he was at work. Did Alex even think about him whenever they hadn’t scheduled for an appointment with each other? Would Alex even think twice about replacing him with a better doctor? Kane knew that he wasn’t the best in his field, but did Alex? Kane was young and unexperienced compared to most of his other colleagues. However, he did possess a quality in his professionalism, which he didn’t see in many other doctors who shared the same work-load as he. What he had always taken pride in saying, as a doctor, was the fact that he truly cared for his patients. They were real people to him, not just a series of numbers or profiles to keep the business running, the business being the hospital in itself.

The first time he’d seen one of his patients die, he’d cried. And this was truly controversial in the world of medicine; you weren’t supposed to get attached. You weren’t supposed to get involved emotionally. It would only distract you. It would influence your decisions and your treatment of the patient. It wasn’t professional.

But then, Kane couldn’t help but to think every now and again: Screw professionalism.

He was a doctor because he wanted to save lives. But on top of that, he also wanted to make his patients feel at ease with him. He wanted them to feel like they could trust him. He would take time for them, go that extra mile for them if needed.

However, he was beginning to wonder if, perhaps, he was going a few miles too far for Alex.

He had never felt this strongly about another patient of his in the past. He had never bonded with a patient the way he’d bonded with Alex. He had started to truly care for Alex, hadn’t he? Not just on a professional, doctor-patient level, but on a personal level, too.

Kane knew that, based on the frequency of how often he caught himself thinking about the young man, he would probably get fired, or at least suspended, from the hospital if they should ever find out about the private appointments he had offered him. Was Alex worth the risk of losing his job? What was Kane even hoping to benefit from getting to know him like this? If he could save Alex’s life, then yes, that would be the greatest reward of all. But why had Kane convinced himself that saving Alex should be all up to him? Why not a better, older, more experienced doctor?

Suddenly, he wondered if, perhaps, it was the other way around. He wondered if Alex had chosen him as a doctor rather than Kane having chosen Alex as his patient.

As if he was having his question answered, his phone starting buzzing in his pocket.

It was Alex.

Speaking of the devil…

“Hello?” Kane cringed at the roughness in his own voice. “Alex, is that you?”

“Miles?” There was a hint of surprise in the lad’s voice. “Oh, I forgot this was your number. Sorry, I had a few missed calls on my phone. Are they all from you?”

“Yes – yes, sorry about that,” Kane closed his eyes in mortification, “I tried to get in touch with you earlier, but I didn’t mean to – uh, disturb you like this.”

“That’s alright,” Alex laughed quietly and just like that, he sounded younger, more innocent than ever, “I was out all day, is all. Sorry about that. Is everything OK?”

Kane realised that he had had no valid reason to call Alex repeatedly, like it had been an emergency. While there had been an emergency, a rather terrible one even, it had turned out to not be about Alex in any sort of way. Kane couldn’t bring himself to admit his mistake to the younger man.

“Yes, everything is fine,” Kane took a deep breath and forced himself to smile, despite the fact that Alex wasn’t there to see him, “I was just – curious – to see how you were doing, I suppose. I haven’t heard back from you in a few days, is all. Are you still willing to, you know…”

“Call you before my next episode?” Alex ventured, slightly hesitantly. “Yeah, I mean, I promised you, didn’t I?” The lad took a long pause as though to brave himself. “Yes, I’m still willing to do it.”

Something had changed in the inflection of his voice. Alex’s voice had turned darker and more sombre in a way that didn’t suit his youthfulness at all. He had gone silent again.

“Alex? Are you sure you’re alright?” Kane pressed on. “You know you can be honest with me, don’t you? If you are having second thoughts…”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Alex tried to laugh, but it turned into a pained sigh in Kane’s ears, “it’s just that… I was wondering if tonight might be a good time? If you’re not busy later, is all.”

“Tonight?” Kane repeated. “You mean – you want me to come over tonight? Do you feel an episode coming on?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty much been building up all day,” Alex admitted with a small chuckle. “I mean, I joost thought I should let you know – cause I promised you and all. But if you’ve got plans…”

“No, I don’t have plans,” Kane insisted, “it’s alright, Alex, I’m free. I’ll come over, I think I’ve got the address of your hotel written down somewhere. What was your room number again?”

“505.”

“Great,” Kane told him, completely unaware when this earned him a sincere laugh from the other person:

“No, Miles, sorry – that was an old joke of mine. Sorry, I thought you’d get it, but I forget that you haven’t listened to our songs.”

The warm laughter from Alex had Miles blushing for a moment. (God, he had a lovely giggle).

“Oh – is 505 a song of yours, then?” Miles joined in, feeling completely uplifted by Alex’s efforts to be funny and cheer them both up.

“Yeah, but 311 is my actual room number. 505 sounds better, though, doesn’t it?”

“Admittedly, it does,” Miles snickered, his smile broadening once again. “But I think I can remember 311. Is it alright if I get there for 9pm? I just need to get home for a change of clothes and maybe some food. Do you think you can wait until then?”

“Yeah, I can contain myself until then I think,” Alex assured him, “thanks, Miles. I appreciate it.”

“Oh no, don’t mention it,” Kane kindly told him, “it’s my job, Alex, I’m happy to do it. See you then.”

 

*

 

Kane had rushed home to get a shower and to microwave some sorry leftovers of his dinner from two nights ago. Nothing fancy, but he didn’t care. All he could care about was getting to Alex’s room in time. Alex hadn’t sounded too good on the phone, despite his efforts to make a joke. And after everything that had happened today, after learning that the young man who’d come into the emergency room covered in blood had died, Kane was feeling particularly sensitive.

He was scared that, maybe, Alex wasn’t unlike the young Daniel who had slit his own wrists. He was scared of what could happen to Alex when he was left on his own during his so-called episodes, which were always triggered by some sort of self-hatred and feelings of unworthiness. If Alex was left on his own for too long, was it possible that he would feel inclined to harm himself just like Daniel had? There was no knowing if, one day, Alex would snap and do something similar. Out of desperation. Out of loneliness, perhaps.

Kane knew that he was winding himself up again, but he was desperate to see exactly what happened to Alex during his self-induced vomiting. Did Alex become a completely different person whenever it happened? Would he remain calm during his actions, like if he was in a trance, or would it be filled with tears and drama? The vomiting in itself was of course self-harm and Alex had already warned him that it wouldn’t be pretty. Kane had no idea how he was going to react to it. He just hoped that he would be strong enough to keep watching and to keep himself from trying to interfere with Alex’s process. If Kane tried the least to stop him, Alex might never trust him again.

He left his flat as soon as he was ready. Driving to the hotel in his car, he realised that he was about ten minutes early, which he didn’t mind. He liked the idea of showing Alex that he was a priority of his. He went inside and headed towards the reception. He told the staff there that he was visiting someone in room 311, a Mr Alex Turner.

“What’s your name, sir?” A female receptionist asked him with a polite, if not slightly posh, smile.

“Miles Kane,” he replied, leaving out his Doctor title.

“Ah, yes, Mr Turner has prepared us for your arrival,” she affirmed, “please feel free to use the lift and make sure it stops at third floor.”

“Thank you.”

Kane hadn’t expected to be given a key and he was glad not to have one on him as he went inside the lift and pressed the right button. He was fairly certain that Alex would prefer it if he knocked rather than locking himself in. Right before the doors to the lift closed, however, a young man called for him to hold it – as Kane placed his foot in between the sliding doors, holding the lift, the young man came running towards him.

“Thanks mate,” he grinned and stepped inside, “these bloody things get so busy, I could easily have had to wait five minutes down there.”

“No worries,” Kane told him, “which floor are you going to?”

“Third – I see you’ve already pressed that button.” Then the younger man paused and studied Kane closer. “Wait, haven’t I seen you before?” He asked, furrowing his brows.

Kane studied him casually and realised to his horror that the lad was right. It was Alex’s friend who had followed with him in the ambulance and who had later picked him up from the hospital. Matt Helders. The band mate. Before Kane could think of anything to say, Matt exclaimed:

“You’re Dr Kane, aren’t you? Alex’s doctor. I thought I recognised you. What are you doing here?” Matt’s eyes widened slightly. “Are you here to see Alex? Is he OK?!”

Kane gaped at the sudden escalation of their conversation.

“H-he’s fine,” Kane heard himself saying, “I mean, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s Matt, right?”

Matt completely ignored his question.

“But you are going to his room, aren’t you?” Matt pressed on with a hint of accusation in his tone. The lift stopped at the third floor and the doors opened. “Why are you going to see him in his room if he’s fine?”

In other words, Matt was telling him that he didn’t believe him. Kane stepped out from the lift and started walking down the hallway slowly. Matt followed behind him instantly.

“Look,” Kane sighed, “It’s confidential, alright? Even if I wanted to, I’m not allowed to discuss either current or former patients with anybody else and the same goes for your friend Alex. I was his doctor, I treated him when he was in hospital, and so, my lips are sealed.”

Matt looked at him with great indignation. “Fine!” He practically spat, storming past Kane. “I’ll ask Alex myself!”

Before Kane could stop him, Matt had made his way over to the door that read ‘311’.

“Alex!” Matt called, knocking on the door fiercely. “Alex, there’s someone here to see you!”

Kane found himself cringing – he knew that he had screwed this thing up for them both. He was beginning to feel like he was causing Alex more problems instead of solving them.

“Alex!” Matt yelled impatiently. “Get your tiny arse out here, mate! You’ve got some explaining to do!”

Matt was preparing to knock again, but in a moment of inattention, he failed to see the door opening. Consequently, he was too late to react when, instead, his fist collided with Alex’s face that appeared in the opening. Alex groaned as he fell against the wall beside him, clutching his nose.

“Oh shit!” Matt’s exclaimed, letting his mouth adapt the shape of a big ‘O’. For a moment he looked utterly terrified. Then he burst into laughter. “Al, mate, what are you colliding with my fist for?” Matt sputtered again, unable to contain himself. “You should see yourself right now.”

Alex’s eyes widened in outrage. When he removed his hand from his nose, he realised that he was bleeding. “What am I doing?” Alex mocked him. “What are you doing, breaking my door in? And what are you yelling for, anyway?”

Then Alex noticed Kane standing behind Matt, looking utterly stunned. Oh great.

Kane stepped forward when the two of them locked eyes with each other.

“Are you okay?” Kane asked with concern, gesturing to take a look at the younger man’s nose. “Let me get you a wet towel.”

But before he was able to let himself into the room, Matt stopped him by clutching a hand to his shoulder.

“Not so fast, doctor,” Matt told him seriously, “Alex, I need a word with you.”

“About what?” Alex rolled his eyes, feeling his aching nose gently. “Matt, have you lost your mind?”

“This is not about me, mate,” Matt complained, “this is about you. And your doctor here. Tell me what’s going on!”

“You want me to tell you what’s going on?” Alex snorted. “You just punched me in the fookin’ nose!”

“That was clearly an accident,” Matt defended himself, “but tell me this, Alex: What are you calling your doctor over for? Are you sick?”

“I’m not sick, I’m bleeding!” Alex went on, having another go at Matt’s conscience. “You may have broken my nose, you git.” He couldn’t help but to break character when he saw the look on Matt’s face and annoyingly, he found himself smiling slightly.

“This is not a joke, Alex, forget your bloody nose, it was already a little too prominent to begin with,” Matt hit him back, “I’m here because I ran into your doctor in the fookin’ lift. Why is he here? Did you faint again?”

“Do I look like I’ve fookin’ fainted?” Alex grunted when he wiped off some more blood with the back of his hand. “Look, can we talk about this later? I need to clean myself up.”

“No! We’re talking about it right now,” Matt insisted, “I don’t want you hiding stuff from me. If you are sick, Alex, if you need to go back to the hospital, you tell me. Right now. Don’t think you can just call a doctor behind my back.”

Matt’s words had Alex’s smile faltering. Kane noticed the trace of guilt appearing in the lad’s features.

“Look,” Kane intervened, believing that Alex had fallen speechless, “Matt, it’s not that he needs to go back to the hospital, but there’s something…”

“It’s not what you think.” Alex cut him off in a slightly anxious, yet determined voice. “I’m fine – really, Maffew, I am. M’not hiding anything from you. Dr Kane isn’t here as my doctor, he’s…”

“What?” Matt looked at Alex in anticipation. “He’s what, Alex?”

“He’s my date.” Alex looked over at Kane nervously as though he had expected the doctor to object. “I mean, Miles and I have started… seeing each other.”

Kane’s mouth fell open for a moment. Whilst he made sure not to give himself away, he was utterly taken aback by Alex’s words.

“Miles? Did you just call him Miles?” Matt repeated incredulously. What happened to ‘Dr Kane’? “You’re serious? So… You’re not here to take him back to the hospital?”

Matt said this turning his attention back on Kane, figuring that a doctor like him wouldn’t lie.

“Of course he’s not here to take me back to the hospital,” Alex spoke before Kane had a chance, “I told you, Matt, I’m fine. Now, can we get some privacy, please? I haven’t even had a chance to say hello to my… date.”

Pushing past Matt, Alex moved over to take Kane’s hand in his and to guide them both closer towards the room. In front of an astonished Matt, Alex reached up to place a quick kiss to Kane’s cheek.

“See you later, Maffew.” Alex spoke softly as they both went inside and closed the door behind them, leaving Matt to deal with his confusion on his own.

 

*

 

In the bathroom, Kane found himself touching his cheek absent-mindedly. Alex had kissed him. He could still feel the heat from Alex’s lips on his skin. He had actually kissed him.

Wringing up a wet towel for Alex to wash his face with, Kane struggled desperately to hide the fact that he was still blushing all over.

Alex was sat perched on the edge of the bathtub, groaning quietly in pain every time he touched his face.

“Are you sure that you’re OK?” Kane asked him for the tenth time as he moved away from the sink.

Alex offered him a wry smile. “I’ll be fine, thank you. It’s just that Matt used to be a boxer. He’s still got quite a powerful punch.”

“Well, the good news is that your nose isn’t broken,” Kane told him in sympathy, “although I bet it hurts like hell.” When he saw Alex struggling to clean himself with the drying blood all over his hands, he added: “Here. Let me.”

Alex held still as Kane squatted down in front of him in order to hold the wet towel against his burning face. Kane was particularly careful and gentle when he began to wash off the dried blood.

“Am I too rough?” Kane asked him when Alex cringed slightly.

“No – no, it’s fine.” Alex laughed tiredly. “Thanks for the help. God, I must seem like such a cry-baby.”

“Not at all. Besides, you did say he used to be a boxer, so I think you’re taking it rather well,” Kane smiled, “I’m just glad he didn’t knock you to the floor.”

“Me too,” Alex agreed, “imagine Matt’s reaction if I’d actually had to go back to the hospital!”

“He cares for you,” Kane said all of a sudden, “he’s just trying to be protective of you, Alex.”

Alex fell silent for a moment.

“Do you think I should have told him the truth, Miles?” Alex looked down at his own hands, seemingly hesitant. “I mean – I feel sort of guilty sometimes. For, you know… Lying to them all.”

Kane sighed. He knew that Alex was wrong to carry his burden alone, but at the same time, he found no pleasure in preaching to the younger man about his mistakes.

“Don’t feel guilty,” he told him, lowering the towel in order to look into Alex’s dough eyes, “after all, this is about you, not them. They have no idea what you are going through, but neither do they have any idea how difficult it is to admit your illness to other people. They can’t blame you when they don’t know what you’re dealing with, Alex.”

Alex nodded slowly. However, Kane saw that his eyes were getting teary. Alex suddenly looked a lot younger than he was; he resembled a small kid who was welling up because he was scared that he was losing his best friends. Alex caught the doctor staring at him and he shook his head apologetically.

“I’m tired of being this way,” he explained in a lowered voice, “I’m tired of being so weak all the time.”

“You’re not weak.” Kane used the towel again to wipe some blood off that had made it all the way down to Alex’s chin. “You just need help, Alex, and that’s why I’m going to make sure that you get it. Your illness doesn’t make you weak. In fact, it takes a lot of strength to confront the problems that you have.”

“Maybe, but… I couldn’t have started this without you.” Alex looked over at Kane before shying away. “I’m sorry for lying about us to Matt. I just didn’t want him to know the truth. If he knew that you’re here to watch me stick a finger down my throat…” Alex snorted and closed his eyes exhaustedly. “I hope I haven’t gotten you into trouble, Miles. I just couldn’t think of anything else at the time being.”

“So the only explanation you could think of was that I was here to date you?” Kane knew that he was being cheeky when he grinned widely. “That’s interesting… How your mind works under pressure, I mean.”

Alex felt his cheeks go red instantly. “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to jeopardise your reputation or anything.”

Kane shrugged. “Well, as long as your friend Matt doesn’t go yell it to the entire hospital that I’m dating a patient, I think I’ll be just fine.” Kane studied Alex, but he still didn’t look convinced. “Really, Alex, it’s fine. I don’t blame you for wanting a cover story.”

Kane’s hand moved to stroke (caress) the towel gently against Alex’s cheeks. Even as Kane took his time in order to do a thorough job, Alex kept watching him calmly without blinking. If Kane tried to return the lingering gaze, Alex averted his eyes immediately, acting like there was some sort of secret written deep within his pupils that he didn’t want the other man to read.

Nevertheless, Alex was an open book and he didn’t even realise it. The thought of it was tugging gently at Kane’s heartstrings. Kane suddenly wondered why Alex had made up the story about them dating each other. Granted, the kid had been under pressure. But perhaps there had been more to his chain of thoughts?

“You’ve got some blood on your – eh, chest.” Kane gestured carefully without glaring too obviously. “And on your t-shirt as well. If you take the shirt off, I can rinse it with some water before the blood dries.”

Alex was suddenly aware that Kane had turned his head the other way as though he was already expecting him to be taking it off right in front of him; the looking the other way was the doctor’s way of being polite.

“Oh,” Alex drew a heavy breath as he could feel a building panic in his chest, “no, that’s alright. It’s an old shirt, anyway. It didn’t cost much.”

“Don’t worry, it’s no bother,” Kane insisted, “you don’t want to bin a shirt that’s got blood stains on it, anyway. Not when you’re staying at a hotel,” Kane laughed, “the staff would think that you’re a killer or something.”

Alex turned even more nervous when Kane hadn’t accepted his no for an answer.

“I dunno…” Alex drawled. “I – I’d rather not…”

With these words, something had shifted between the two of them. Alex was no longer smiling, but looking at the doctor almost suspiciously. He was no longer calm and trusting.

“Alex…” Kane began carefully. “I understand that most bulimics don’t like the idea of showing their figure to other people. But you know you don’t have to worry about me, don’t you?”

“It’s not that I worry about looking fat,” Alex muttered in a slightly grumpy voice, “I mean, it’s not only that. I just don’t feel like it.”

“You’re hiding something from me.” Kane had said the words before he was able to stop himself. He knew he wasn’t supposed to push on like this, and yet now he was even staring Alex down like he was challenging him to brave up.

The accusation in his voice had the whole bathroom echoing with tension.

“I’m not.” Alex said stubbornly. The kid was frowning slightly, like he couldn’t understand why Kane was bothering him with this. “What the fuck would I be hiding under me bloody shirt?”

“Yeah… I wonder what.” Kane snorted. He knew he was being mean. Unfair. But perhaps it was time to show Alex that he wasn’t the perfect liar that he thought he was.

“Why are you like this?” Alex cried in a sudden outburst. “I’ve done everything else that you’ve asked so far. When you asked me to step unto your weighing scale, you told me I only had to wear what I felt comfortable with. Back then you didn’t try to force the shirt off me.”

Alex carried the resemblance of a wounded animal. It was nearly driving Kane insane, but he forced himself to stand by the point he was trying to make.

“Look, Alex, you either trust me or you don’t,” he sighed, adapting a slightly gentler tone: “I would never force you to do anything. You know that. All I can do is ask you to trust me. Stop hiding things from me. Please?”

Alex frowned with insult and it made him look about ten years old.

“Fine!” He exclaimed, clearly irritated. “Fookin’ fine, I’ll take it off!” He said this as he basically tore the t-shirt off his shoulders. “Are you happy now?”

Kane fell silent. At first, he had thought that he would be upset about the lean structure of Alex’s body; the protruding ribs, the flat belly, pale skin, the fact that he was simply much too skinny. But it was the scars that took the breath out of him. Alex’s torso was covered in them, some of them several inches long. Angry little markings and patterns, undoubtedly put there by a knife or some sort of blade, put there by Alex. If Alex hadn’t created them on his own, he wouldn’t have been acting so ashamed. Kane recognised the look of humiliation in the lad’s eyes. His cheeks were burning hot. He was grimacing, scowling. Breathing in quick, rapid breaths as though he was getting ready for another argument.

Alex had been harming himself all along. And not just by starving himself.

“You’re a cutter,” Kane uttered emotionlessly. He felt as though he’d been petrified. Hardened on the inside. Turned into stone.

Alex blinked, trying to keep his hot tears from spilling. “I was. But not anymore.” He whispered. He refused to apologise. He blamed Kane for forcing him to even admit this.

“Right.” Kane felt numb. When his stare remained fixated on Alex’s small torso, Alex wrapped his arms around himself protectively. “And you actually expect me to believe that you’re no longer doing it? You’ve quit? Just like that? Without any professional help?”

“Do you fookin’ see any fresh wounds?” Alex spat in anger. Kane had no right to judge him. He had promised that he wouldn’t. He had fucking promised. “Why do you think I started vomiting instead? I had to replace one thing with another, didn’t I?”

Kane frowned in confusion. “You started vomiting because you stopped cutting?” Kane shook his head. “What am I supposed to tell you, Alex? That you solved your problem? Because you didn’t. Instead, you starting doing something just as dangerous. Just as stupid.”

Kane stood up and walked out of the bathroom, leaving a shocked Alex behind.

 

*

 

“Miles!” Alex called, storming after him. “Are you leaving?”

Kane was now standing by the window with both hands folded behind his neck. He was forcing himself to breathe in deeply, to calm himself down before speaking again.

“Something happened today,” he spoke in a rough, dark voice. “When I was at work.”

Alex was standing in the doorway combining the bathroom with the rest of the room. He watched Kane as his ribcage expanded and contracted with each breath he took. He had never thought he should see the warm and gentle doctor this upset.

“What happened?” Alex asked him, desperate to understand what was going on. He didn’t understand all the feelings that were up in the air so suddenly, he didn’t understand why they had been released in the first place.

“At first, I didn’t want to tell you…” Kane drawled.

“Miles? Talk to me. Please.” Alex didn’t like hearing him like this. Kane was acting so tense. He looked like he was in pain.

“We had a patient today,” Kane started. “A young man. Your age. In fact, he was a lot like you. He even had your hair. Do you know what he was in for, Alex? He had slit both his wrists. He was bleeding profusely when they brought him into the emergency room. He died not long after that. He simply bled out. He was only 23…”

When Kane stalled, Alex took a step closer towards him. Then Kane spun around to face him.

“Do you know what I did, Alex?” Kane walked up to the younger man, as though to challenge him. “I panicked when I saw him. I panicked so that I interfered with my colleague, even as she was trying to save his life. I made a complete fool out of myself. I was scared out of my mind, and do you know why?”

Kane paused, demanding a response from the other.

“Why?” Alex simply asked, his voice threatening to break. He was still hugging himself, shivering slightly in his shirtless state.

“Because I thought it was you.” Kane admitted this without blinking. “I thought it was you, Alex, do you understand? I thought you had killed yourself. I thought I had lost you – that I had failed you and that you had died because I couldn’t save you.”

Kane’s face remained stern, even when Alex’s eyes widened and glassed over. Alex wasn’t sure that he had heard him right. He wasn’t sure if he understood what Kane was actually telling him.

“Don’t you understand?” Kane raised his voice, startling the younger man. “This is what happens when you’re in trouble and you don’t tell people! This is what happens when you’re self-harming without anyone there to talk you out of it. You could end up like the young man today, Alex, can’t you see that? How can I know that I won’t go to work tomorrow, suddenly finding you being rolled in with your wrists cut open? How can I know that you’re smarter than him? How can I know that you’re going to be alright when you keep things like this to yourself?”

Kane found himself heaving and sputtering in the heat of the moment. He could no longer contain himself or calm himself down; he had been bottling up his emotions and now he had to pour them all out at once.

“I don’t want you to die on my watch.” Kane whispered as he sat down on the edge of the double bed. He felt the sweat running from his forehead. He was burning hot. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Shaken by the raw emotion coming at him from the doctor’s mouth, Alex hesitated before he sat down next to Kane.

“Miles,” he whispered as he took the older man’s hand in his, “I’m so sorry, I had no idea you felt this way.”

Kane scared him again by yanking his hand back fiercely.

“Why didn’t you tell me before, Alex? Why?!” Kane hissed, caught between shouting and crying.

Alex felt himself trembling and shivering when Kane sought his eyes in great ferocity. He felt himself shrinking and cowering under his stare, though he knew he was stupid for feeling so scared.

“I…” Alex had to pause and clear his throat. “I didn’t want you to see the scars. I thought you would… think that I was hideous.”

Alex forced himself to break eye contact. The tears had started spilling from the doctor’s eyes.

“Alex!” Kane sighed with a hint of accusation. “Why do you care what I think? Why would I find you hideous, and what should it matter?”

Alex shrugged. He was beginning to feel much too vulnerable here, in front of a man like Miles Kane who seemed to see right through him. He knew too much about him already. He would start to use his knowledge against him, wouldn’t he? Alex longed to cover up again and had to fight the urge to fetch himself a shirt to wear.

“So what if I care what you think of me?” Alex huffed. “You just told me that you are scared that I would kill myself. You feel responsible for me, for some reason I don’t understand. How about we talk about that for a moment?”

Kane frowned. “I’m concerned for your safety, and you’re telling me that this is confusing to you?”

“No, just…” Alex took a deep breath. This conversation was beginning to tire him out. “Why do you care so much? About me, about my well-being? We haven’t even known each other for two weeks. And I’m sure you’ve got other patients to worry about. Why would you give me this special treatment, Miles?”

‘Miles’.

Alex’s pronunciation of his first name repeated sweetly in Kane’s ears as the younger man locked eyes with him again, his face seeming more innocent than ever. He wanted to brush the hair away from Alex’s forehead, he wanted to touch the lad’s cheek and tell him everything that he’d been feeling recently. But surely that was something he shouldn’t do…

“Just answer me one thing, Alex,” Kane spoke with determination, “and then I’ll tell you why I care so much.”

Alex’s eyes widened with anticipation. “Anything,” he whispered. “I’ll answer you anything.”

“Are you suicidal?” Kane took a hold of the younger man’s hand as though he was worried that his question would startle him and make him back out of the conversation. “Do I need to worry about finding you dead in your room one day? Because the thought alone drives me m-“

“No.” Alex cut him off. The sincerity was clear in his voice and he placed a second hand on top of Kane’s. “No, Miles, I don’t want to die. I never did. I don’t want to kill myself and I don’t want my illness to kill me either. I – I want you to save me.” Alex bit his lip nervously. “I don’t know how to get better without you.”

Kane found that he had been holding his breath, but now he released it.

“Good.” Kane nodded and offered Alex a smile of relief. “In that case, I don’t mind telling you why I care so much, Alex.” Kane watched the smaller man by his side. Everything about Alex was lovely, yet vulnerable. Even the sweet brown eyes that Kane felt so spell-bound by were mirroring all of the younger man’s fears and insecurities. Alex seemed so impossibly young. But despite his fragility, Kane would like to think that there was a spark in there as well, burning in Alex’s chest. A drive. A motivation. And that was the most beautiful thing of all.

“Miles?” Alex furrowed his brow when the other couldn’t seem to get his words out.

“I can’t stop caring about you, Alex,” Kane admitted with a small chuckle, “because you’re the most wonderful person I’ve met in a long time. Maybe ever. And I can’t stop thinking about you either. I know I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you don’t seem to think very highly of yourself, so I’m going to say it anyway because you need to hear it. You’re strong. You’re special. You’re beautiful. I think you’re amazing.”

Kane had expected that Alex would have loved for him to go on; to list more things about him that he absolutely adored. Instead, Alex cut him off – almost as though he didn’t want to hear any more praises – by wrapping his thin arms around his neck, pressing his lips against Kane’s in a sweet, grateful kiss.

Only, it wasn’t supposed to be a kiss of gratitude. There was much more to it than that. Reciprocation, passion – lust, even. Alex lingered, leaning himself closer against Kane’s body, only stalling when he waited for Kane to react or to respond to his gesture.

Kane stood up from the bed, forcing Alex to let go of him. The heart was pounding in his chest, the blood boiling in his veins. He couldn’t think straight. He knew that he was ignoring all the voices in his head as he paced the room, somehow ending up standing in front of Alex once again. Alex was looking up at him with nervous, pleading eyes. Although Kane knew that the younger man feared rejection more than anything, it wasn’t the idea of sparing Alex’s feelings that drove him to reach out and touch his face gently. He did it because he wanted to – not because Alex was asking for it.

Alex closed his eyes at the sensation of Kane stroking his cheek lovingly. Then, before he knew it, Kane had pushed him back on the bed, down on his back, placing himself on top of him. Alex gasped slightly with surprise, but he was quick to wrap his arms around Kane’s back in order to show how he welcomed this development. Staring up into Kane’s open face, Alex found the doctor looking back down at him, taking in his every feature, admiring every little flaw and imperfection of his.

Alex blinked and felt his cheeks go red once again. No one had ever looked at him with the same admiration as the one he saw in Kane’s eyes. How could Miles tell him that he was special? Strong? Beautiful? Miles could do so much better. He could choose any boy that he wanted…

“I know that look in your eyes,” Miles whispered all of a sudden, “stop it. You’re beautiful, Alex. You are.”

Alex hated himself for wanting to object to this. Then, before he was given the chance, Miles closed the distance between them, flattened himself out on top of the other, though he was careful not to hurt or crush the smaller man underneath him. He brought his lips down to Alex’s face, giving him quick kisses all over before finding his lips. He felt Alex shaking slightly in his arms, but as soon as their mouths touched and opened up to one another, Alex seemed to relax instantly. Miles let the kiss grow deeper. His tongue slid in between Alex’s teeth, tasting. Exploring. Alex let Miles stay in control, loving the feeling of his warm lips over his own. The kiss was hot, wet, slightly sticky. Miles was doing everything right. He began to touch Alex with his hands. He slipped an arm under Alex’s head in order to cushion his neck, bringing their faces even closer together simultaneously.

Alex began to heave for air. Miles released his mouth, only to move his kisses further down his chin, then down to his neck. Sucking and nibbling at his sensitive skin, Miles had Alex panting desperately.

“Miles…” He whispered, if only just to savour the name on his tongue ever so sweetly. He couldn’t get enough. He wanted Miles closer to him. He wanted to stay underneath Miles’s warm body for all eternity. It was the sweetest spot on Earth, he now knew for sure.

“You are beautiful,” Miles said again, in between the fierce kisses he placed and trailed down Alex’s throat, “you’re so gorgeous. I’ve never seen anyone as gorgeous as you.”

Miles was moving even further down his body. Raising himself to his knees, Miles wanted to make sure that he was able to take in the beautiful sight that was in front of him. Whilst Alex seemed to trust him enough in order to lie back and relax, Miles turned his attention on the skinny torso he was now straddling.

Alex caught Miles staring at his scars once again and the younger man recoiled slightly. When Miles recognised the look of embarrassment, he simply bowed down to press a kiss to one of them, the biggest one he could find, cut out right over Alex’s heart. Alex flinched momentarily, then relaxed. Miles smiled at him, repeating the process, aiming the next kiss at another scar by Alex’s shoulder. He did it over and over again, kissing a new scar each time as to acknowledge everything that Alex had put himself through in the past. Yet it was also for all the things that he was still going through.

Miles wanted his message to be clear.

“You are beautiful,” he said again, pressing a kiss in between Alex’s ribs. “Every inch of you is beautiful.”

Alex released a shaky breath. He appeared to have gone completely limp. He was silently watching Miles for a moment, taken aback by the sweetness in the older man’s gestures. The sensation of Miles’s warm lips on his naked skin was almost too much to bear. His breathing remained hitched and fastened.

“I am exposed,” Alex said in response to these never-ending praises, his voice soft and vulnerable, “you’re not.”

Miles sat back and looked down at him. He knew what Alex was trying to say.

“You’re right,” he smiled kindly, “that’s not fair on you, is it?”

Miles began to unbutton his shirt slowly. Alex raised himself to his elbows, admiring the handsome man straddling his hips. He had never fallen for anyone this quickly before. There was something about Miles that made him feel completely at ease. There was something in him, which made Alex trust him entirely. The way Miles was smiling down at him… there was more love in his eyes than he’d received in years.

Miles slipped out of his shirt, letting it fall to the floor. Alex found himself staring at the taut muscle of the other’s abdomen. Miles was bloody ripped. Strong. Tanned. Alex almost couldn’t look away.

“Now I’m the one feeling exposed,” Miles joked, reaching over to palm Alex’s cheek gently. Alex leaned into his touch.

“You look great.” Alex was blushing harder and harder. He was struggling to contain his own smile.

Miles grinned. “I go on about how beautiful and gorgeous you are, and all I get is ‘you look great’?” He laughed teasingly, ruffling Alex’s hair. “Not big on words, are you?”

“I’m very big on words,” Alex corrected him, pretending to take offence, “in fact, I’m great with words. I think you just want more attention.”

As he said this, Alex surprised Miles by pushing the bigger man off him. He then raised himself to his knees, aligning himself according to Miles. They were soon face to face.

“You’re beautiful, too.” Alex said, leaning in to kiss Miles’s closed mouth. “I noticed from the very moment you walked into my hospital room, wearing that white lab coat of yours.”

Alex smirked at his own admission. He kissed Miles’s cheeks slowly before trailing the kisses down to his neck, much like Miles had done with him. He didn’t notice it when Miles froze on the spot at the mention of his white lab coat.

Bloody hell. What was he thinking? Less than two weeks ago, Miles had received Alex in the emergency room. He had treated him. He was his doctor. Alex was his patient. A patient who was nowhere near recovery. Nowhere near being healthy.

How could he have lost control of himself this quickly? How could he possibly believe that what he was doing was acceptable?

He pulled back slightly when Alex aimed his kisses at Miles’s lips once again.

“What’s wrong?” Alex paused midway. Just like that, the fear had reappeared in his big, innocent eyes.

“I’m not thinking straight…” Miles drawled. He closed his eyes and groaned loudly. “Alex, I’m not sure if what I’m doing is right.”

Alex felt his own heart skipping a beat. “Oh.”

“No – I mean… I’m your doctor, aren’t I?” Kane frowned, rubbing a hand against his own forehead. “I’m not supposed to be doing this. My main responsibility is looking after you, not taking advantage of you.”

“You’re not taking advantage of me!” Alex protested. He wanted to plead with Miles by looking into his eyes sincerely, but the older man began to avoid him completely.

“Yes, I am,” Miles insisted, “and worse yet, I’m not doing my job. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m distracting the both of us in the middle of your treatment.”

“In the middle of my treatment?” Alex repeated. He didn’t understand. “Miles, calm down. I thought the point was to make me feel better? Which I do. I’m so happy now that you’re here.”

Alex reached for Miles’s hand, but Miles pulled back once again.

“Yes, Alex, that’s exactly my point,” Miles sighed, “you’re happy now, but what about when I leave you again? Will you still be happy when you’re on your own? Can’t you see, Alex, we’re not fixing your problem right now, we’re only diverting ourselves. We’re getting in the way of your progress, so yes, I am taking advantage of you.”

Miles jumped off the bed, turning his back on Alex. Alex began to feel extremely self-conscious as he was left to kneel on his own in the middle of the double bed.

“I – I thought you meant all the things you just said to me.” Alex said lamely. “I thought you wanted this.”

“I did – I do!” Miles exhaled noisily. “I meant everything I said to you, Alex. I meant it when I told you that I can’t stop thinking about you. But if I put my own feelings before your health, I would only be selfish.”

“What about my feelings then?” Alex questioned. “I don’t want to lose you, Miles. If you force me to ignore my feelings for you, I’m not just gonna get over it like that. We can’t just go back from this and pretend that it didn’t happen.”

Miles knew that he was right, though this reality was anything but convenient.

“What do you suggest we do, then?” Miles approached the bed slowly, though he remained out of Alex’s reach. “There is a reason why doctors are not allowed to date patients, Alex. As soon as there are personal feelings involved, it influences any medical decision there is for the doctor to make. And that can be dangerous for the patient. I don’t want to jeopardise your safety.”

Alex smiled wryly when he realised that Miles meant to protect him, not push him away.

“Stick with your original decisions, then.” Alex shrugged. “You planned the first steps of my treatment before we… started kissin’. Meaning that they are the steps we ought to stick to, because you weren’t influenced back then. If we follow that plan through, I don’t see how you could possibly jeopardise my safety. You’re a good doctor, Miles, I know you are. You know what you’re doing, so I trust you.”

Alex held his breath, awaiting Miles’s reply anxiously.

“Well,” Miles cleared his throat, hesitating, “in order for us to follow through with the original plan,” he explained, “I can’t offer you any special treatment, Alex, meaning that I can’t make any exceptions for you that I wouldn’t make for any other patient with bulimia. Do you understand what I’m saying? I need to be hard on you, even at the risk of hurting your feelings. I need to make sure that you follow your diet plan and everything else that I will be asking you to do. You can’t take offense if I – as your doctor – order you to work harder. That’s why personal feelings make everything so complicated.”

“But I won’t be asking you to make exceptions for me,” Alex insisted, “I want to get better, Miles. I don’t want to die. You can be as hard on me as you want. Just don’t… just don’t take back the words you said to me earlier.”

Miles was finally persuaded to sit back down on the bed. “I would never take those words back,” he promised, running a hand through Alex’s fluffy hair, “you know I meant what I said. You are both beautiful and special to me.”

Alex inched closer to the doctor, though he had to remind himself not to push it.

“I know what we need to do in order to follow through with your plan,” he then said.

“What?” Miles asked him.

“You need to observe one of my episodes,” Alex offered, though the thought of having to go through with it had him shivering slightly, “it’s what you came here for in the first place.”

Miles’s mouth opened and closed as few times. He hadn’t expected Alex to volunteer for this kind of thing. Not after all that had happened tonight.

“Are you sure you still want to do it?” He asked him with concern in his voice. “I know it must seem way too intimate for you…”

“It’s for the best,” Alex decided, “the more you know about my routines, the more you can do to help, right?”

“Right.” Miles admitted. “But are you even able to do it now? I mean – it’s not like you can do it on command, is it?”

Alex shrugged. “I can always force it. I’ve done that before.” For a moment, Alex’s eyes darkened and his smile vanished completely. “Like I said earlier, my emotions have been building up all day. I think I’m ready to act it out.”

Chapter Text

Alex is sat on the bed, facing Dr Kane who’s taken a seat in the chair by the fancy mahogany desk. Kane is waiting patiently for him to make the first move, but Alex only feels himself hesitate.

“I – I’ve got this secret stash in my wardrobe,” Alex explains sheepishly, “it’s a little embarrassing…”

“Don’t worry,” Kane smiles at him without displaying any judgement at all, “take your time.”

Alex takes a deep breath before getting up and moving himself over to his wardrobe. Knowing that Kane’s eyes are resting upon him, observing his every move, Alex feels nervous when he begins to unload a big shopping bag from one of the shelves.

“Would you mind listing the items for me?” Kane asks him suddenly, making Alex cringe slightly.

“Eh…” Alex pauses with his increasing mortification. “Sure.” He reaches into the bag and places the first item on the bed for the doctor to see. “Well, ‘ere’s some chocolate chip cookies.” He waits to see if Kane is going to ask him to elaborate, but this information seems to be sufficient. “And a packet of Belgian waffles,” Alex adds as he places them guiltily next to the cookies, “then I’ve got these crisps. And a couple of Cadbury bars. Two bananas. Four blueberry muffins – you couldn’t buy them individually, you see…” Alex bites his lip. His cheeks are burning with embarrassment and when he blinks, he realises that his eyes are dangerously close to spilling over. “There’s also a Scottish egg… And a sausage roll.”

Alex’s hands are trembling as he puts the listed items on display. Kane remains utterly calm, but it’s only throwing Alex even further off. He can’t read Miles’s expression and it terrifies him.

“Is that it?” Kane asks him. He’s kind enough to conceal any surprise or outrage that he must be feeling to see such a huge and disgusting pile of food in front of him.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Alex whispers.

He’s looking down at his own hands nervously. He’s gone from the high that it was for him to be kissed by Kane to the absolute low that it is for him now to expose the most repulsive and disturbing side of himself to the other man. It’s humiliating. It’s anything but romantic, anything but liberating. He’s forever going to wonder if Kane is disgusted with him after this. Who wouldn’t be?

“Alex…” Kane then breathes when he finds it impossible to ignore the younger man’s struggle. “It’s just me, remember? You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Alex nods compliantly, though he knows that this is just Kane’s attempt to sugarcoat the entire situation in order to make him feel better.

“I’m OK,” he lies as he exhales a little too stridently, “I just need a moment.”

Kane’s smile has turned slightly sad.

“Perhaps I can help you get started,” he suggests sympathetically, “I’ve got something to ask you. It’s about our conversation over the phone earlier.”

Alex finally looks up. “What about it?” He asks, sniffling discretely.

“You told me that you’d had a rough day,” Kane reminds him, “and that your next ‘episode’ has been building up all day. Did something happen to trigger this?”

“Oh.” Alex’s face falls slightly. “Yeah, I dunno… S’pose I had this interview. I mean, me and Maffew did.”

Alex sits himself down on the bed and begins to reach for the cookies without even noticing it. Kane does, however.

“And did the interview not go well?” Kane prods carefully.

“I hate interviews,” Alex sighs tiredly, shaking his head, “M’not good at them, you know. I don’t – I don’t like answering questions about meself.”

“Sounds like the other side of the coin to me,” Kane comments, then explains: “I mean, fame doesn’t come without a price, does it?”

He feels bad for Alex. He truly does. In a way, he’s always detested those phony Hollywood stars who are all busy promoting themselves, yet complaining endlessly about their lack of privacy. But Alex isn’t like that, he acknowledges. He isn’t a phony. He isn’t self-promoting. He’s never done anything to provoke the media into being either with him or against him. He’s just a guy in a band, living his dream. Or at least, that was how it used to be.

“It’s weird, I don’t think of meself as a celebrity,” Alex huffs. “Me and the lads, we were always talking about wanting to keep things real. We were so sure that we’d continue to take the mick out of everything, out of the press. We weren’t going to take any of it seriously. But it’s all so different now.”

“How so?”

Alex shrugs. He takes his first bite of one of the cookies, chewing quickly like it’s part of a routine for him.

“Some newspapers have started doin’ these stories about me,” Alex admitted, “claiming that I’ve started doing drugs and that’s why I’ve been acting… differently. But I think I’ve told you that before. Anyway, the interviewer brought it up and asked me about it. I felt like such an idiot. I didn’t know how to react.”

A tear is rolling down Alex’s cheek, but he’s soon too busy to realise. He’s finished the first cookie and now he reaches for another. Kane is careful not to interfere with his procedure.

“That does sound upsetting,” Kane tells him gently, “I think anyone would feel distraught to be brought in that situation.”

However, Kane learns that Alex has pretty much lost all interest in the conversation. He doesn’t want sympathy, not now. He doesn’t want to talk or get things off his chest. This is how he’s taught himself to deal with things. Alone. Swallowing it all down and then heaving it up again later. Momentary relief.

Kane suppresses his urge to ask another series of questions. Instead, he forces himself to sit back and simply observe what is happening to the younger man right in front of him. Alex appears to have changed into something or someone that he’s not seen before. Someone Kane doesn’t know. However, this is exactly the side to Alex that he needs to get to know. This is the side to Alex that needs help and treatment.

They both remain silent for what seems like ages. Then, out of nowhere, Alex chokes out the words:

“I’m sorry.” He barely pauses in between the portions of food that he’s munching down. “I’m really sorry about this.”

“Why are you apologising?” Kane frowns with surprise.

“Because I know how disgusting I am.” Alex doesn’t look up from the waffle that he’s started to break into smaller pieces, using his hands. He clenches his fingers around two little squares of waffle and shoves them both into his mouth, almost forcefully. He’s force-feeding himself and it’s painful and fascinating to watch at the same time. “I’m sorry you have to watch me be so gross.”

Kane opens his mouth to protest, but stops himself when he realises that Alex isn’t paying attention and isn’t expecting him to reply.

Alex is caught up in the moment, in the ritual he’s created for himself. It wouldn’t surprise Kane if Alex has forgotten that he’s got company.

Kane feels both saddened and captivated watching him.

He’s eating methodologically and almost rhythmically. He’s pacing himself, yet eating as quickly as he possibly can, trying to do so without thinking and without pausing. He’s following a system – a pattern. He’s taking even bigger bites of everything now. Bigger bites means fewer bites and Alex seems eager to reach his goal in record time. (Whatever his goal is). He’s about halfway through his so-called stash when he starts on the sausage roll. He holds a hand up to his mouth, pausing momentarily when he appears to be full. He swallows thickly and gasps breathlessly before picking up from where he left off. His eyes are closed in concentration, though he still sheds a tear every now and then. He forces himself to take bite after bite, though his body has clearly begun to protest.

Being full is not enough, it seems. He wants to be close to bursting. He needs to fill up that emptiness that he’s been carrying around inside him.

It’s hard not to interfere. It’s hard to accept that there is no talking sense into him. Not now and not this easily, at least. Kane recognises that he must be patient. It’s painful to think that Alex is doing this to himself because he’s hurting. It’s hard to believe that Alex has chosen to punish himself so severely.

Because it is truly self-punishment. Kane watches Alex’s face closely and there’s absolutely no trace of joy or pleasure. The food doesn’t bring him any satisfaction. It’s suffocating him slowly and painfully. Alex grows increasingly tense with every portion of food that enters his body. He seems to detest himself more and more. It’s upsetting him – tormenting him. But it’s what he’s chosen to do.

Alex finishes the sausage roll and shoves a handful of crisps into his mouth, chewing loudly and frantically, eager for it to be over. And yet, he can’t stop until the job is done. He goes on for at least another ten minutes, eating intensely and steadily. When he’s about to crumble and surrender, he forces one last handful into his mouth before it’s over.

He gulps it all down, then freezes. It’s like watching him waking up from a dream, or snapping out of trance. He blinks and releases a breath that he’s been holding for God knows how long. Then he wipes the sweat from his forehead and runs a hand through his hair.

He’s on edge. He’s anxious. Shaking.

It isn’t over yet.

“Is there anything I can do?” Kane offers. He knows he shouldn’t intervene, but Alex looks perplexed for a moment. Helpless.

Alex shakes his head. “No, it’s okay,” he mutters. He’s slowly returning to his old self, though this doesn’t make things easier. He’s clutching a hand over his stomach. At first, Kane believes that he’s in pain, but then he realises that Alex is ashamed. His stomach is more distinct now that he’s full. Though Alex is dead skinny, his belly is bulging slightly, making it look swollen.

The idea of a swollen stomach seems to make Alex feel sick. He’s paling fast as he lifts himself off the bed and picks up a full bottle of water by the nightstand. He drinks determinedly, loudly. When the bottle is half-empty, Alex turns around and stares towards the bathroom.

Kane tenses at the realisation of what comes next.

“Uhm… Are you sure you want to see it?” Alex’s voice is rough and tired.

Though Kane battles with his decision internally, he speaks willfully: “Yes, but don’t mind me, Alex. Forget I’m even here.”

He gets up from the chair and follows Alex into the bathroom. The bloody towel that Kane used earlier to wash Alex’s face with is still left discarded in the sink. Much against his will, he thinks back to the row that had caused them both to open up so suddenly, then to kiss and make up in the most literal sense. The aftermath of their argument and of their romantic confessions is something that Kane has yet to ponder and mull over. Though he knows that he’s overstepped his professional line, he can’t yet decide if he regrets kissing Alex.

The consequences of his own haste are yet to come. He doesn’t want to think about it right now.

Alex looks over at him nervously as though he’s been thinking the exact same thing.

“Forget I’m here,” Kane tells him again, smiling as calmly as he possibly can. “It’s alright. You’re doing great.”

Alex seems surprised to hear this. Nevertheless, he nears the toilet slowly and forces himself down to his knees. He then holds the water bottle close to his lips and empties what’s left, licking up every drop. His heavy breathing is giving him away; he’s uneasy about this. He’s never stuck a finger down his throat in front of anyone before, let alone someone he’s been romantically involved with. It seems like too much all at once and yet, he can’t stop what he’s already started.

Even Kane feels his own stomach growing heavy with tension and anticipation. Dread, too, probably.

Alex brushes the hair away from his forehead and leans in over the open toilet bowl. He can see his own reflection in the clear water below. He looks terrible. Sick. Disgusting. He’s been eating like a pig again and he knows it. Right in front of Miles, too. It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than this.

Kane rests against the sink and prepares himself for what is about to come. When he sees Alex’s finger enter the back of his mouth, he automatically holds his breath and stills himself.

There is a grim retching, followed by the obvious gagging and choking as Alex throws up into the toilet. Kane catches himself pulling a face even though he should know better than this. It’s not tactful, it’s not polite. Luckily, Alex is too busy to look his way. Kane’s reaction would only have hurt his feelings.

Alex coughs and spits a few times before inserting his index finger back in between his teeth. The retching continues so suddenly, Alex accidentally scrapes his finger against the sharp backside of his front teeth as he pulls his hand back and throws up into the water once more. Kane hadn’t been lying when he’d told Alex that bulimics can be distinguished by their fingers and knuckles alone. Alex’s eyes are clenched shut and he’s grasping the toilet seat with both hands, trying to steady himself.

His entire body seems to be shuddering painfully. Kane’s stomach drops as he recognises what this is doing to Alex, what he’s putting himself through.

Alex takes a break in order to steady his breathing. His forehead is beaming with sweat and his cheeks are white and colourless.

“Do you need anything?” Kane asks, even though he’s told Alex to forget about his presence in the room. “I can fill the water bottle up for you.”

“Thanks.” Alex accepts his offer and hands him the bottle gratefully. When Kane returns the full bottle, Alex drinks from it almost desperately. He’s going to need plenty of fluids in order to empty his stomach completely.

Kane retreats once again, though he’s beginning to wonder if, perhaps, he should hold Alex’s hair back or something. He feels useless and stupid all of a sudden. Alex must be sick of him being there, looking over his shoulder without doing him any good.

Before Kane can decide on what to do with himself, Alex has started vomiting again. The sounds coming from the younger man’s throat are even more horrific by this point. Alex is producing some obscene noises in order to force the remaining food out of his stomach. It’s truly beginning to sound like he’s choking; Alex retches powerfully a few times without anything coming up. Then he forces two fingers back into his throat, reaching as far back as he possibly can until he makes himself gag hideously – and then it’s enough for him to barf into the toilet bowl again.

But he’s struggling to recover this time. His shoulders are collapsing and Alex gasps and trembles evidently. He’s beginning to look so ill, it’s forcing Kane to practically run towards him.

“Hey, take it easy,” Kane orders him and wraps his arm around Alex’s middle, “you can barely hold yourself up.”

“I’m not finished,” Alex pants and chokes, “you promised… you wouldn’t s-stop me…”

“I know.” Kane closes his eyes, wishing he could kick himself. “I’m going to keep my promise, but Alex, you’ve got to let me help you. Alright?”

“Fine.” Alex doesn’t sound much like he appreciates this help. However, he allows it when Kane supports him by lifting him up from under both armpits, keeping him steadied.

“Are you sure you want to keep going?” Kane questions nervously. “You’re not looking so good.”

“This is what I go through… every time,” Alex coughs, “I’m used to it… You’re not.”

Kane forces himself to keep his mouth shut when Alex drinks from the water bottle and prepares himself again. When the smaller man retches one final time, Kane can practically feel the surge of its impact running through Alex’s skinny body, making him fall even weaker on the spot. This time, Alex is barely even able to catch his breath when it’s over. He keeps panting with exhaustion until it’s downright concerning.

“Right,” Kane finally intervenes, “is that it? You got it all up, haven’t you?”

“I think s-so.” Alex is quivering even worse when he reaches over to flush the toilet. He gives in when his arm is too weak, so Kane does it for him.

“Bloody hell,” Kane mumbles when the flushing water is finally ridding them of the fresh smell of vomit, “I can’t believe this is what you go through every day.”

Alex merely coughs and ignores his statement. He’s now looking over towards the sink and it seems as though he’s searching for something.

“Mouth…wash…” He whispers faintly when Kane eyes him worriedly. “Please?”

More or less shocked at Alex’s crumbling state, Kane continues to hold on to him even when he stretches himself in order to reach for the bottle of mouthwash with his fingertips. He takes off the lid and hands the bottle over to Alex who accepts it readily and takes in a big mouthful. Gurgling the blue fluid in an attempt to rinse his mouth, Alex spits it out into the toilet bowl and repeats the process. Then, when he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and decides that he’s had enough, he nearly drops the bottle when his hand appears to give up and go limp.

“Are you OK?” Kane asks and holds him even closer. He snatches the bottle away from him before its content is turned upside down and is spilled all over the floor.

“Yeah, sure,” Alex bluffs as he attempts to free himself from the doctor’s firm embrace, “let me just g-get up for a m-moment…”

Predictable as it is, Alex doubles over as soon as Kane lets go of him. He’s clutching his abdomen in pain and he groans helplessly when the hole inside his stomach pulls at his intestines and makes his insides burn with the acid he’s left with.

“Alex?” Kane catches the younger man before he falls to the floor. “Talk to me. Are you alright?”

“It… hurts…” Alex manages pathetically and the fact that he is once again reduced to a trembling mess in Miles’s arms is killing him. “My stomach h-hurts…”

“No wonder,” Kane tells him with a certain amount of attitude, even though this isn’t fair. He was the one who persuaded Alex to do this in front of him. “I’m sorry, Alex, I really am. I don’t like seeing you this way, love.”

Alex barely registers the name that Kane has used for him. He finds himself in an agonizing, feverish state that leaves him to sweat and to chatter his teeth as all warmth seems to be leaving his limbs. He feels sick, delusional, like he’s caught in a hallucination. It’s soon hard to tell if he’s dreaming or still awake. With the fever and his stomach aches getting worse by the second, Alex finally loses it and lets himself fall against Kane, the only thing in the world that is probably capable of holding him up at the moment.

“Alex? Alex, can you hear me?”

Miles’s voice is a distant whisper, a faded tone that drowns and stifles in Alex’s unconsciousness. Miles’s voice is a songbird, a gentle breeze that carries him off into a world of oblivion and release. Alex wants to smile and thank him, wants to tell Miles that he’s feeling safer with him than he has for a long time – however, he has yet to learn how to communicate this through one world of nothingness and into reality.

He’s not aware that he’s gone completely limp in Kane’s arms. He’s not aware that the doctor is scooping him off the floor and carrying him to bed.

He’s not yet aware that Kane stays in his room overnight to look after him.

 

*

 

Hours later, Alex wakes up in the middle of the night, surprised by the darkness that surrounds him. He can’t remember where he is or how he got here. For a moment, he can’t even remember what he’s been doing or what made him feel so weak so suddenly.

It only comes back to him when he rolls over and realises that he’s not alone in bed. Miles is with him.

Miles.

Alex lets a hand trail down his own body and to his relief, he finds that he is still wearing his trousers. Miles is fully clothed, although the doctor appears to be asleep. Here – in Alex’s bed.

Alex remembers what happened. Every humiliating bit is coming back to him. He then understands that he must have lost consciousness and that Miles must have decided to stay behind in order to make sure that he was alright. Perhaps Miles had been worried about him. The idea makes Alex feel guilty, yet flattered at the same time. But mainly guilty, surely. Miles has gone longer than an extra mile for him. Even as his patient, Alex knows that Miles is putting more time and effort into helping him than any reasonable doctor would. Miles has made Alex a special case. An exception.

Miles has admitted to care for him, though at this point, Alex barely knows what that means.

Alex watches Miles silently in the dark when, suddenly, Miles rolls over and judders awake as though he has been feeling the weight of Alex’s eyes resting upon him in his sleep.

“Alex!” Miles gasps slightly when he realises that the other is awake. “Jesus, you scared the hell out of me. And I don’t just mean now. How are you feeling?”

Alex finds himself shrugging, though he’s unable to look away from the doctor.

“I’m a little tired,” he admits, “but I’ll be fine.”

“Thank God.”

“Did you – carry me to bed?” Alex questions in the most innocent tone that Miles has ever heard.

“You passed out,” Miles told him, raising himself to his elbows, “I couldn’t just leave you there on the bathroom floor, could I?”

Even though it’s pitch dark, Alex is able to make out the outline of Miles’s gentle smile.

“Thank you,” he whispers, “I can’t believe you actually did that for me. I can’t believe you stayed. Don’t you have work in the morning?”

“Yeah, thanks for reminding me,” Miles groans slightly, “don’t worry, I’ve set my alarm. I’ll be leaving your room around 7 o’clock to catch a bus. I’ll try not to wake you up.”

“No, please do,” Alex objects immediately, “I want to see you before you go. I want to – talk to you…”

“About what?”

“About… things. Us.” Alex pauses awkwardly, sensing that Miles was hoping to dodge that subject for now. “I mean, things happened, right? I don’t want to ignore what we did – or said.”

“I know,” Miles tells him, “I don’t want to ignore that either. I don’t think I can.”

“I still meant what I said,” Alex continues, “as long as you don’t give me any special treatment, Miles, I think we can make this work. I mean, I would like to give this a chance. I’m willing to work as hard for it as I have to.” Alex pauses, only to find that Miles has fallen silent. “I don’t want to lose you, Miles,” he adds, almost pitifully.

“You won’t lose me,” Miles finally assures him, reaching out to stroke his cheek in the process, “but there are things to discuss, Alex. We need to make sure that we know what we’re doing first.”

“Now?”

“No, not now,” Miles laughs quietly, “I need to be up in less than four hours. And you need your rest, too, you looked terribly ill earlier. We’ll have the talk later. Soon, but later.”

“Right.” Alex hesitates, unsure if Miles has closed his eyes or not. “I can’t wait to talk to you about things, though,” he adds.

“Is that so?” Miles yawns patiently. “What would you like to talk about?”

“I dunno.” Alex blushes and is happy that Miles won’t be able to tell in the dark. “I mean… I kinda want to know everything about you. Get to know you better.”

He feels like a fool in love, but what does it matter? Miles is in his bed, being protective of him. He can’t ignore the feeling of belonging to the older man, though he hasn’t even known him for that long.

“Oh yeah?” Alex is relieved when he senses something cheerful in Miles’s voice. “What would you like to know about me?”

Alex thinks for a moment. “What’s your middle name?”

“Peter. What’s yours?”

“David.” Alex grins. “Dr Miles Peter Kane, eh?”

“Alexander David Turner,” Miles counters sleepily. “I like it.”

“Our names sound good together, don’t they?” Alex says lamely.

“You know what, they do,” Miles humours him. “What else would you like to know about me?”

“What’s your favourite colour?”

Miles shrugs. “I dunno… I like green. Orange. Black, even. Why do people always ask about favourite colours?” Miles laughs. “Does everyone have a favourite colour? Is that normal?”

“Of course it’s normal,” Alex shakes his head at him, “people always have a favourite colour.”

“What’s yours then?”

“Blue and white. The colours of Sheffield Wednesday.”

“Huh. I didn’t realise you were such a footie fan.” Miles smiles at the idea. “Did you use to play football, then?”

“Nah, not really. But my friend Jamie did.” Alex pauses, turning himself over to face Miles. “Why did you decide to become a doctor?” He asks, taking a huge jump in the conversation.

Miles’s silence suggests he’s baffled by the question.

“Erh…” Miles exhales slowly, trying to think of something to say. “Honestly? I’m not sure these days. I mean, I used to tell myself that it was to help people. And I have always taken a huge interest in modern medicine. But I dunno, sometimes I wonder if I studied medicine just to please my mother.”

“You mean your Christian mother?” Alex prods. “You’ve mentioned her before.”

Miles chuckled. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to talk her down. I mean, she’s my mother after all. We’ve just never been that close. I don’t think we understand each other at all. I thought that, maybe, if I chose a good career path, she’d finally approve of some of the life decisions I make.”

“Did she approve then?” Alex asks. “Is she proud that you’re a doctor?”

“If she is, she hides it very well,” Miles says with only a hint of resentment in his voice. “I’m not sure, we don’t talk to each other very often. Sometimes I think she’s given up on me.”

Alex widens his eyes in disbelief. “Given up on you? But she’s your mother. I’m sure she’d never do that.”

Miles finds himself snorting against his will. “You don’t know what she’s like, love.”

“Did you just call me love?” Alex finds it utterly difficult to contain the smile broadening fast on his lips.

“Is that OK?” Miles simply asks him.

“Of course it is. I like it. I mean, I like it when you say it.” Alex closes his eyes, savouring the moment. He knows that as soon as Miles leaves him in the morning, he’s going to miss having him in his bed. “I’m sorry for digging into your past like that,” he tells Miles after a while, “I realise it might be hard to talk about your mother.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Alex jumps slightly when, suddenly, he feels Miles’s arm wrapping itself across his abdomen, “it’s nice to be with someone who takes an interest in me for a change. I don’t mind answering your questions, Alex. But for know, I think it would be clever if we tried to go back to sleep.”

“Agreed.” Alex realises that, once again, Dr Miles Kane is holding him close. “I’ll see you in the morning… love.”

Miles laughs, breathing warm air into Alex’s ear.

“Sweet dreams, love. I hope you’ll feel better in the morning.”

“I will if you’re here,” Alex nearly replies, though he stops himself just in time.

Now is not the right time to become sappy and dependent.

 

*

 

At around half six in the morning, the alarm goes off on Kane’s phone.

He groans as he rolls over to turn it off, feeling anything but ready to get out of Alex’s warm bed and go to work.

He leans in and studies Alex’s sleeping face thoroughly. The early morning sun is brightening up the room enough for Kane to notice that the younger man is still rather pale-looking. Alex looks frail. Tired. Yet beautiful, Kane decides. Beautiful with his curly locks and thin, pouty lips.

He decides to leave him alone and let him sleep. After what happened last night, God knows how badly Alex needs all the rest he can get. Kane wouldn’t like to admit it, but the truth is that last night has left him feeling terrified and deeply concerned for the other. It has also left him feeling guilty. As a doctor, Kane feels like it was irresponsible of him to encourage someone as vulnerable as Alex to trigger an episode just for his entertainment. And now he can’t get the image of the young man falling to the bathroom floor, blacked out from the pain, out of his head.

He did that to him. Kane triggered one of Alex’s episodes, leaving him utterly exposed and helpless. And now he’s not even owning up to his own mistake, is he? Instead, he’s about to leave him behind, trusting Alex to be able to pick himself up this time.

Miles swallows hard and forces himself out of the bed before he has any second thoughts. Luckily, he’s still fully dressed from yesterday, though the covers have left his clothes wrinkly and creased. He plans to swing by his flat on his way to work in order to fetch himself a fresh outfit to wear. Wishing he had time for a shower, too, Kane quickly scans the room for stuff he needs to pack before he’s on his way. He finds Alex’s half-empty packet of Belgian waffles and decides that he wouldn’t mind if Kane used his leftovers for breakfast.

He walks himself into the bathroom to check his reflection in the mirror and to empty his bladder. However, he commits the mistake of flushing the toilet and only seconds later, he hears a groan coming from the bed:

“Miles? Is that you?”

Damn it. He’s woken up Alex.

“It’s alright,” Miles tells him as he zips his fly and tugs his shirt back into his trousers before returning to the bedroom. “I was just on my way out. You can go back to sleep, Alex.”

Alex sits up in the bed and rubs at his eyes sleepily.

“But I wanted to talk to you before you left,” he says, “I wanted to say… thank you… for last night, I mean. And for staying with me.”

Miles sits down at the edge of the bed, holding Alex’s gaze meaningfully.

“Alex, honestly – you have nothing to thank me for.” Miles bites his lip and watches the other’s puzzled expression. “I pressured you into doing… this. I allowed you to trigger another episode, even though it wasn’t the right thing to do. And look what happened to you.”

“But… I was going to do it anyway.” Alex looks down when Miles reaches for his hand, nuzzling his cold fingers in between his own. “The only difference was that you were there to watch it happen. You weren’t supposed to intervene, anyway - that was the agreement.”

“I know. But after seeing what it did to you,” Miles takes in a deep breath, “I realise that I was wrong to stay out of it. I should have stopped you. You were making yourself so ill, you could barely stay on your knees for long enough to finish what you were doing. Had I been a responsible doctor – a sensible person, even – I would have forced you to stop before you lost control of yourself.”

“I like the fact that you’re not too sensible after all,” Alex jokes with a grin, though he soon understands that Miles isn’t in the mood for that just yet, “look, it’s nothing I haven’t done to myself a hundred times before. At least you know what it looks like now. And now it’ll be easier for you to figure out how to prevent it from continuing like this. That was your plan all along, wasn’t it?”

“I guess.” Miles wonders how he could have been so cynical as to call Alex’s self-harming part of his plan. He feels sick with himself. He feels arrogant. “But you must understand, Alex, I can’t allow this to happen again. Not in front of me. Not when you’re with me. What you’re doing… It’s slowly killing you. You know that, right?”

Alex’s eyes shift and change into a darker shade of brown and Miles can only begin to imagine the darkness behind the younger man’s thoughts in that very instant.

“I know.” Alex manages to say this without his voice faltering. “It’s time to make it stop. I’ve told you already, I want to change.”

Miles nods. “I hadn’t actually expected you to faint,” he admits. “When you fell over like that, I’ve never been more shocked in my life.”

“I’m fine,” Alex tells him, a little too deliberately. “I’m well-rested now. I’ve regained my strength.”

“You’re lying,” Miles huffs and smiles sadly, “there’s nothing in your system right now to even give you back your strength, Alex. You’re not eating. You need food before you can even begin to feel fine again. You’ve got that exhausted look on your face. You don’t have to hide the truth from me.”

Alex shivers involuntarily. He feels like an idiot. Miles is a doctor, for fuck’s sake. He’s not going to fall for his explanations that easily.

“Alright,” Alex gives in, “but I promise you that I will eat breakfast this morning. Remember those foods you made me write down? I’ll even eat one of each if you want me to.”

Kane smirks as he identifies a sudden enthusiasm in the other’s voice. Alex means it when he says that he wants to change.

“That wouldn’t be a bad place to start,” he confesses. “Look, I really should get going, but I’ll phone you later. See how you’re doing. And if you feel yourself falling ill again – or if anything at all happens – I want you to call me right away. OK?”

“OK.” Alex knows that he isn’t likely to follow up on this request. He would hate to phone Miles at work. What if some patient of his had a heart attack and died while he was on the phone with him? No, he definitely wouldn’t like that. “When will I be seeing you again, though?”

“I don’t know. We could meet up tonight if you fancied. Your friends believe we’re dating anyway.”

Alex clears his throat, feeling uncomfortable. “Are we not? I mean… Those things we said to each other. Perhaps we are kind of like an item now. Aren’t we?”

Alex looks into Miles’s eyes, embarrassed to ask such questions that make him sound like he’s eight years old. He doesn’t feel any less nervous when Miles hesitates and seems to struggle with his words.

“Alex, look,” he begins and just like that, Alex knows that he’s made a fool of himself, “I think we should take things slow from here. Just to begin with, anyway. Do you understand what I mean?”

Miles feels awful with himself when Alex’s expression falters.

“I’m not sure,” Alex drawls, “if we’re not dating, then what are we?”

Miles shrugs guiltily. “We are two people who are fond of each other, I guess. But if I’m perfectly honest with you… I don’t think you’re ready for a relationship. You’ve got bigger things to worry about, love. And I want you to focus on what’s important here.”

“Oh.” Alex’s instincts tell him to nod and to pretend that Miles has made a valid point. However, he simply finds it all too confusing. “I assume you’re telling me to get better first, eh? Perhaps you don’t want to be dating a sick person. I understand.”

“You know that’s not what I meant,” Miles squeezes Alex’s hand, truly hoping to make him understand, “I need to put your health first, Alex. You are my patient first, my – friend – second. I need to see you make some progress before we can take things further. But then, when you do begin to feel better, perhaps we can allow things to… develop the way we want them to.”

Miles smiles suggestively and there’s no way that Alex can stay sulky.

“I think you’re just trying to persuade me to follow your orders,” Alex smiles wryly, “you better not be making me any promises you can’t keep.”

“Trust me, love. I want us to become an item just as much as you do. Let that be your motivation from now on. Hopefully that’ll inspire you to stick with your new diet plan.”

 

*

 

When Miles leaves him, Alex is too caught up in his thoughts to fall back asleep.

He feels reassured and disappointed at the same time. Like a small kid who’s just been told that he can’t have his pudding unless he finishes a mountain of broccoli first. But it isn’t as simple as chewing his way through a pile of broccoli, is it? Alex is in need of support – assistance. He needs to know that someone cares for him. He doesn’t feel strong enough to make the transformation that Miles wants him to make. Not on his own, that is.

He kicks the covers off and rolls himself out of bed. As soon as he raises himself to his feet, he begins to sway dangerously. He feels dizzy. Empty inside. His head is pounding and his stomach is growling painfully. He’s in desperate need of something. Food? Miles? Well, there’s only one of those things he can actually have.

Alex showers and changes into a pair of blue jeans and a grey t-shirt. As he gets ready to leave his room, he makes the mistake of looking himself in the mirror. Hating what he sees, he begins to wonder if Miles is feeling disgusted with him after what he witnessed last night. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want to date him.

Not until he’s changed. Transformed himself into something better – someone worthier.

Alex isn’t good enough for Miles at this point in history. And it isn’t hard to see why.

Alex puts on a brave face and disappears downstairs, eager to leave the large room behind, which now seems to be even emptier, even lonelier without Miles in it.

 

*

 

“How’s your nose, mate?” Matt laughs when he and Jamie join Alex at the breakfast table, slamming down their full trays right in front of him – trays which are spilling over with toast, jams, cereals, mueslis, yoghurts, fruits. Alex makes space for them, though he struggles to feel any excitement to see them. “I told Jamie what happened last night,” Matt elaborates, “he knows how I nearly knocked you out cold.”

“Very funny,” Alex says and pulls a face, “stop flattering yerself, will you? My nose is good as new.”

“I thought you might say something like that,” Jamie meddles in, “seeing as you spent all night with a certain doctor friend. Did he get to take a good look at you?”

They both burst into laughter and Alex falls silent.

“Oh yeah, I told Jamie about your nightly visitor as well,” Matt taunts, “we thought we’d all be having breakfast together. Did he leave you already? Or is he still asleep in your bed?”

Alex knows from generalised social norms that he’s supposed to laugh with them, but he just can’t bring himself to actually do so. He feels miserable. Exposed. Ridiculed. Lonely.

“What makes you think he even spent the night?” He hears himself saying, though there’s a lack of intention in his voice. They both see right through him.

“First of all, mate,” Jamie points out, “it looks like you’ve barely slept. You look all worn-out. Makes me wonder what on earth he’s been doing to you all night long.”

Feeling sickened by Jamie’s words, Alex doesn’t object when Matt counts:

“Did he shake you all night long, perhaps? Is that why you’re all roughed up, Al?”

Alex swallows and looks down at his humble breakfast, consisting of just an apple and two slices of wholegrain bread, unbuttered and unjammed. Then he says the only thing there’s left for him to say:

“You guys are just jealous ‘cause you haven’t been shagged in a while.” Alex forces a cheeky smirk and it’s working immediately. Matt and Jamie laugh even louder and appear to applaud him.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Matt exclaims. “That’s my boy, right there!”

Alex stares into empty space and wishes to God he’d never bothered to leave his room in the first place. No matter where he goes, he’s alone, it seems.

Chapter Text

Kane is surprised when he’s made it halfway through his shift without receiving a single message from Alex. Just when he thinks that Alex might still be asleep, he feels his phone vibrating in his pocket and he takes it out immediately to read the message:

‘Am I still seeing you tonight? Xx’

Kane breaks into a heartfelt smile as he imagines Alex’s self-aware and slightly shy nature making it difficult for him to decide whether or not to add the little kisses at the end of his message. He responds without hesitation:

‘Of course, love. I’ll pick you up at 7pm. XxX’

He feels giddy at the thought of taking Alex out for a meal. Then he remembers himself telling Alex that they shouldn’t be dating just yet, and the contradiction of his statement and his actions makes him feel guilty for a moment. He knows that his hesitation is confusing Alex and in all honestly, he’s confusing himself, too. He wants Alex, he knows as much. But he can’t claim him just yet. Not like this.

He has to find a compromise, which allows him and Alex to wait for each other while they continue to meet up and get to know each other better. They have to play their cards right, otherwise they risk waiting for each other in vain.

He’s still watching his phone with a dreamy smile on his face when, suddenly, Dr Ware walks up behind him and takes him by surprise:

“Dr Kane?”

He spins around, his eyes wide with shock, and he puts away his phone a little too urgently.

“Hannah!” He exclaims, blushing with embarrassment. “I mean, Dr Ware – I didn’t hear you coming.”

She eyes him suspiciously – then she breaks into a grin.

“What were you looking at?” She asks him, knowing that something is up. “Who were you texting?”

“No one,” Kane says, cringing at his inability to lie convincingly, “it was just a mate of mine.”

“A mate?” She repeats. “It must be one hell of a mate you’ve got. Your face has gone tomato red and your eyes are all dreamy,” she teases him.

Kane pauses at a sudden loss of words.

“I – I was just…” He takes in a deep breath, realising that she knows him too well. There is no way she is ever going to believe any of his excuses. “I was just making dinner plans for tonight,” he ends up saying.

“Dinner plans, you say?” Her face is full of amusement. “You mean you’ve got a date tonight? Is it the guy you’ve been telling me about? Have you started dating him?”

She seems happy and excited for him, but Kane only feels the panic building up inside his chest.

“No,” he says immediately, “no, it’s not a date. I mean – it’s not going to be a romantic thing. We’re only going out as friends. I mean, we’re just trying to get to know each other a little better. As friends.”

“I don’t believe you,” she laughs at him, “you wouldn’t blush like that over a friend. I know you, Miles.”

“I’m telling you, that’s the truth,” Kane takes a step away from her as he’s hoping to dodge any further questions, “I’m not even going to wear my cologne for tonight. That’s how chummy this thing is. Chummy and… not romantic.”

“But you told me you cared for him,” she points out, knowing that Kane is talking about the same guy he was so worried about only yesterday, “yesterday you were freaking out because you thought that he was the patient who had slit his wrists. You were crying, for heaven’s sake, which suggests that you have more than just – chummy – feelings for him.”

Kane feels petrified at the mention of yesterday’s patient. A young, sensitive boy (like Alex) who is now dead.

“You can care and worry about people who are merely friends of yours,” Kane mutters lamely, avoiding her eyes, “I’m telling you, we’re not dating.”

“And I’m telling you – I don’t believe it for a second,” she counters ruthlessly.

“Fine,” Kane sighs, feeling anxious as he is running out of ideas to persuade her with, “if you don’t believe me, come along tonight. Have dinner with the two of us. Then you’ll see, there won’t be any candlelight. I won’t even buy him flowers.”

 

XxX

 

Alex is in a meeting along with Matt, Jamie and Nick, going through a new schedule with their tour manager. New dates have been added to their UK tour. New ideas are on the table, but Alex isn’t listening. He’s checking his phone as discretely as he can. A second message has come in from Miles. It reads:

‘Sorry love. A friend of mine is coming along tonight. She’s on to us, so we have to be careful. No holding hands under the table if you know what I mean. I hope you’re OK.’

Alex frowns as soon as he’s read it. He wonders what Miles means by the last bit – ‘I hope you’re OK.’ He could have said ‘I hope you’re OK with the change of plans,’ but this is not how Alex reads the meaning of the words. Miles hopes he’s OK, full stop. He hopes he’s doing better. He hopes that Alex has pulled himself together, that he has showered, that he has put on some fresh clothes – that he’s not all sickly looking. He hopes that Alex won’t embarrass him in front of his female friend.

He hopes that Alex will be eating his dinner without causing a scene.

Alex’s stomach drops at the sudden feeling of expectation. He didn’t think he’d be meeting any of Miles’s friends this soon and the idea of doing something embarrassing is terrifying him. If he can’t act like a normal person, he might not get a second chance around any of Miles’s friends or family.

“Alex?” Their manager – an older man who’s both rude and greedy – looks at him impatiently. “Are you listening? Put the phone away, son.”

“Texting your little doctor friend, are you?” Jamie whispers into his ear with a grin. “Missing him already?”

Alex wants to blush and turn away from the eyes watching him, but the idea of seeing Miles later is enough for him to gather some courage and simply smile at Jamie’s remark.

“Anyway,” their manager continues as he stands up from the table they’re gathered around, “there’s no need for me to drag this talk out any further. You’ve heard my ideas for an extended tour, we’ve discussed the dates. Now you only need to decide whether or not this is something you want to do.”

“I’m in,” Nick says immediately, when their manager has barely finished his sentence, “I’m sick of being on stand-by if you know what I mean. I’m sick of staying at this hotel as well. I’m ready to get back on the road again.”

“I know,” Matt interjects, “but we’ve got a lot of dates ahead of us as it is. I’m worried it might be too much. We’ve only just finished our European tour, which was exhausting. What do you say, Al, don’t you technically still have a concussion?”

Alex is surprised when Matt offers him a concerned look. Last night he barely cared that he had punched him right on the nose, but now he’s readapted the role of the protective friend who followed Alex in the ambulance and who stayed with him in the hospital. Perhaps he’s been more worried than he’s been willing to let Alex know, but now it’s showing. Alex bets it’s because he looks terrible – pale, fatigued. Forever uncomfortable around other people.

“I-I’m fine,” Alex grins, though he appreciates Matt’s thoughtfulness, “I mean, I don’t get the headaches anymore.”

“Great,” Nick smiles broadly and clasps Alex’s shoulder, “what do you say then, Al? Are you ready to get back to work, mate?”

“Well, it’s not entirely up to me, is it?” Alex counters by patting Nick’s back, wishing he wouldn’t press on like this.

The truth is, he’s both unready and unwilling to start touring again this early. The first half of their tour rendered him a nervous mess; someone unstable, someone stressed and deeply unhealthy. He hadn’t been able to sleep at night, the constant travelling made him feel both lonely and vulnerable. He had begun to make himself sick up to three times a day, believing that this was what he needed in order to cope. In reality, of course, it had only made things worse. He is still suffering and in physical pain after everything he’s put his body through so frequently over the last couple of months. He hasn’t had enough time to recover and relax; he hasn’t had enough appointments with Miles, he hasn’t gotten used to his new diet plan yet. If he is to start travelling and working again nonstop, it could be a potential disaster for his own well-being. Miles wouldn’t like it, Miles would tell him he was insane…

Alex isn’t willing to travel from city to city without having Miles close. He isn’t ready to leave him behind, Miles is all that he has, Miles is everything which gives him hope and comfort. But how the fuck can he explain this to the boys?

Alex’s body tenses and he hangs his head in defeat when, much to his disappointment, Jamie sides with Nick and urges him and Matt to accept their manager’s new schedule for them. Matt is eyeing him again, awkwardly. Perhaps he is able to detect his hesitation and his inability to tell them the truth.

 

*

 

Kane is relieved when Dr Ware agrees to meet with them at the restaurant that night, which means that he will be able to get a moment alone with Alex when he picks him up. He’s been feeling anxious and guilty all day for inviting her along, but his determination to persuade Ware that nothing is going on between him and someone she might recognise as a former patient of his is far greater. Kane soon forgets about Alex and about where the two of them stand in their undefined and unlabelled relationship; all he can think about is how to get his female colleague off his back.

Alex is waiting for him outside the hotel, where Kane won’t be spotted again by Matthew Helders or any of the other mates. Grateful, Kane pulls his car over with a smile and gestures for Alex to get in.

“Hello, stranger,” Alex flirts and bites his lip as he opens the car door and grins at Miles, “you’re punctual as ever.”

“Funny,” Kane offers him a smirk, “I wasn’t very punctual this morning as I left your room. I had to run for nearly two blocks in order to catch the bus.”

He waves Alex inside and Alex places himself in the front seat. As he buckles himself up, he smiles excitedly at the older man who – for some reason – keeps his eyes on the road, even as the car remains parked with the engine off.

“I know it hasn’t been long,” Alex says, “but it’s good to see you again.”

He leans in, slowly. He is about to place a kiss to Miles’s face when, unexpectedly, the doctor pulls away from him with a more serious look.

“Alex…” Miles breathes almost nervously. “Not here, not tonight. I thought I told you over the phone…”

“Oh,” Alex pulls himself back immediately, feeling like an idiot. “I thought – I thought you meant we only had to be careful in front of your friend,” he admits with a tinge of confusion in his voice.

Miles pulls a face, which suggests that he’s feeling uncomfortable talking about it. “I’m sorry, I just don’t feel right – kissing, or even touching you – in public. I mean, we never know who might be watching us.”

Surprised at this, Alex’s lips part as he watches Miles as though he’s completely paranoid.

“Why would anyone be watching us?” He asks him calmly, though he feels much too impatient to remain calm.

Miles shrugs vaguely. “I don’t know, I mean… You’ve been followed around by photographers before, haven’t you? I saw them running after you the day when you were released from the hospital,” he then admits, continuing to look the other way.

“So – you were watching me that day?” Alex questions teasingly, clearly thrilled, though the older man hasn’t been trying to flatter him in any way. “I had no idea that you were so smitten by me, right from the beginning.”

The eager smile has returned on his lips, but for some reason, Miles seems almost determined to erase it.

“That’s not what I’m trying to say, Alex,” he sighs, very close to sounding annoyed, “my point is that you’ve been followed around before, so why not now? I’m sure there are plenty of depraved shutterbugs out there who would just love to snap a picture of you kissing some random bloke. We have to be careful.”

Miles starts the engine and begins to turn the car over, slowly. By looking into the rear mirror, he’s once again avoiding eye contact.

“First of all,” Alex tells him as he places a hand to Miles’s knee, “you’re not just some random bloke…”

He falters and forgets how to finish his sentence when Miles abruptly shoves his hand away – not forcefully, not angrily, but with enough determination to render Alex speechless for a moment.

Then he realises his own naivety.

He’s never been out in public with this man before. Dr Miles Kane has entered his life so suddenly and unexpectedly that, in a sense, they are both still strangers to one another. For every little thing that Alex knows about this man, there are at least ten things he doesn’t know. And now it seems that he has learned one crucial lesson about the other; that Miles doesn’t want to be seen with him in public. He’s scared of the fuss that could potentially follow with. He’s worried about the people, the questions, the rumours – all of those things which Alex has learned to put up with on a daily basis. Miles isn’t ready for people to associate the two of them with each other. And not only out of fear of losing his job – there seems to be more to it. Is he worried that someone is going to comment on what they see? Is he scared to find out what people might think of them?

Alex swallows a lump in is throat and tries his best to remain composed. Normally, the idea of rejection is something, which keeps him awake at night, but he knows Miles well enough to understand that he’s not cruel. Alex is probably being over-sensitive, and so, he must convince himself not to make a big deal out of the change of mood in the older man.

Miles bites his lip and groans when he realises how silent Alex has become.

“I’m sorry,” he says as he takes a deep breath, “I’m really sorry, love, that was unnecessary of me. I didn’t mean to – push you away like that.”

Feeling relieved that Miles is speaking to him again, Alex shrugs and says:

“Don’t worry about it. I think you’re just stressed. I mean, you seem tense.”

“Maybe I am a little tense,” Miles humours him, though he would rather not admit it, “I’m sorry, Alex. I’ll make it up to you later, but right now I’m just hoping to get through the dinner without any slip-ups.”

Alex nods in acceptance. “You really don’t want your friend to know about us, do you?”

“She’s my colleague,” Miles tells him apologetically, “I can’t risk it. I don’t know if she would tell the hospital on me, but she would definitely not approve of my unprofessionalism. I’m sorry for inviting her along, Alex. But now there’s only one thing for us to do, and that is to play it cool so that she’ll stop being so suspicious of me.”

Alex doesn’t object and so, Miles simply focuses on driving them both to the restaurant.

 

*

 

Alex is rather nervous as he and Miles are sat down at the table, waiting for Miles’s friend to arrive. He isn’t sure what is expected from him and he isn’t sure if he understands Miles’s masterplan. If Miles is worried that people might know about them, why on earth would he invite them along like this? If Miles’s friend is to ask Alex how he and Miles got to know each other, he has absolutely no idea what to tell her.

Miles looks over at him, suspecting his uneasiness.

“Are you OK?” He finally asks him, though Alex knows he can’t possibly answer this honestly. “Are you feeling better than you were this morning?” Miles elaborates: “I mean, last night was hard on you… I saw.”

Alex shrugs and forces a smirk.

“I’m fine,” he says automatically, because lately, this has become his constant answer to everything, “I even had breakfast this morning, just like I told you I would. It stayed down and everything.”

He smiles with sudden pride and it’s warming Miles’s heart.

“Well done,” he tells him with a genuine smile, “I knew you could do it, love. Did you feel better after eating, then?”

“A bit, yeah,” Alex replies, though he omits the fact that it made him feel guilty too, (guilty for liking it).

“Did you have anything for lunch?” Miles continues. He knows the answer when Alex’s smile disappears. “It’s OK, Alex – look at me. We’re out now, we’re here for a meal. You’ll be alright. Do you think you’ll be able to eat something?”

“Do you mean,” Alex blushes and lowers his voice, frightened that one of the waiters should hear him, “without getting sick later? I hope so, but… I can’t eat too much, Miles. It’s when I begin to feel full – that’s when I’m going to want to – you know…”

“Get rid of the food in your system,” Miles nods, “I think I understand. It’s something for us to work on, but for now: It’s better that you eat something, even if it’s just a little bit, than it is for you to eat a lot and then throw it all up again. You should only order the type of meal you’re comfortable with,” Miles finally looks into his eyes and the supportive smile on the older man’s lips is enough to fill Alex with hope, “and if you don’t want to finish your meal, you don’t need to. No one is going to force you.”

“Thanks, Miles.” Alex’s eyes light up and he can feel his own hand trying to reach for Miles’s. That is when Miles turns his head away from him and watches the entrance. Alex follows his gaze and then he understands. Miles’s friend has arrived.

 

*

 

Dr Hannah Ware is eyeing Alex from across the table with a broad smile on her face. Alex tries to ignore the fact that he knows that she is watching him; he feels too awkward looking back at her while they are not talking, and so, he ends up looking down at his own hands as a resolve.

“Did you say your name was Alex?” She utters very suddenly, catching Alex off-guard. “It’s funny – I feel like I recognise you from somewhere, but the only Alex I’ve ever known was a toddler I used to babysit five years ago. I know you’re young, darling, but not that young.” She laughs and Alex must admit that she seems nice. If Miles hadn’t told him that he was gay, he could very well have felt extremely jealous of Dr Ware.

“Oh – well, I’m not sure where we’d know each other from,” Alex admits with a shy laughter, “I don’t know too many doctors like yourself.”

Miles looks over at Alex, too, recognising his discomfort. Part of him almost expected the younger man to admit the fact that he’s a famous musician to most people and that this is probably why she recognises him. But Alex seems rather determined not to bring that up.

“Anyway,” Miles butts in, coming to Alex’s rescue, “have you guys had a look at the menus yet? I’m starving.”

“Oh, so am I,” Dr Ware laughs, and she reads up on her options once again before making up her mind, “right, enough with all this indecision. I’ll have the gourmet burger with melted cheese and chips. I’ll worry about the calories tomorrow – am I right?”

She laughs again and Alex can’t supress a small smile. He likes how funny and relaxed she is.

“Great, then I won’t feel bad about ordering a mixed grill,” Miles tells her, closing his menu card, “don’t mind us, Alex, we doctors eat like horses. We don’t have a lot of time for lunch breaks at work.”

“What would you like, darling?” Dr Ware asks him sweetly and for a moment, Alex feels as though he’s dining with his parents. “I’ll go up to the bar and handle our orders.”

“Uh,” Alex panics for a moment and goes through the menu for a tenth time, seeing a lot of meals that he would love, but simply can’t have, “I’ll have the… green salad, please.”

He smiles self-consciously when he puts the menu down. He realises that Dr Ware is eyeing him hesitantly and it feels like he’s said something wrong.

“Oh no,” she tells him as politely as she possibly can, “go on, love, have a proper meal. It’s on me. Don’t worry, I figured that you were a student when I saw you. I remember my time in medical school – I couldn’t afford anything, I don’t know how I even survived at times. Student life is so hard.”

“Actually,” Alex tells her with a polite grin, “I’m not a student. It’s OK, I can pay for meself. Thank you, though. It’s very kind of you, Dr Ware.”

“Oh please, love, call me, Hannah,” she laughs and looks over at Miles, “Kane, your friend is so well-mannered, it’s adorable. I want to give him a big hug.” Alex can’t tell if she’s joking or not when she continues to laugh. “So, Alex, my dear, what is it you do for a living – if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Not at all,” Alex finds himself saying, though he has absolutely no idea what to tell her, “well, you see, I’m sort of… a part-time musician, I guess.”

“A part-time musician?” She repeats with her eyebrows raised. “I knew it – I knew you were an artist when I saw you! Kane, why didn’t you tell me this? So, Alex, do you ever perform in front of people? Do you manage to play at pubs every now and then?”

Alex notices a sly smirk on Miles’s face, but he refrains from laughing.

“Actually, I played my first gig at a pub when I was… seventeen, I think. Summat like that. ‘Twas a pub in me hometown, Sheffield. But I haven’t done that kind of… gig… in a while now.”

“Oh wow, it sounds like you’re rather experienced then,” Hannah flatters him, unaware, “well, if you ever go back to performing live again, let me know. I love live music, you see. However, Alex, I’m sure that being a part-time musician doesn’t earn you a lot of money. Let me buy you a proper meal tonight, love, I can’t stand seeing a young man like you eating a small salad for dinner. You’re skinny enough as it is. And Kane, you lucky bastard, I’ll pay for your mixed grill as well, just to be on my best behaviour.”

She disappears towards the bar before Alex can stop her. Feeling guilty enough as it is that she’s paying for a meal that he’s more than capable of paying for himself, he now also has to deal with the fear of not knowing what she is going to get him.

“Miles,” he stammers anxiously, feeling like he’s on the verge of panicking, “what am I gonna do? I-I tried to order something s-sensible, but...”

“She wouldn’t listen,” Miles acknowledges, “I know, Alex.”

“But what do I do?” Alex presses on. “I-I can’t eat a whole meal. I mean, I can, but…”

“But what?” Miles frowns at him worriedly. “You can’t eat a whole meal without being sick? Eat half of it, then.”

“But I don’t want her to think I’m ungrateful,” Alex fusses, “I don’t want to be rude.”

“You’re not being rude, love,” Miles assures him, “she’s bringing you something you didn’t ask for.”

“But she’s paying for it on my behalf. She’s paying for my food.” Alex wraps his arms around himself, seemingly uncomfortable. “I would be acting like a spoiled brat if I didn’t eat it.”

Miles sighs, looking over his shoulder to watch Hannah talking to the bartender. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you, Alex. I still think our biggest concern ought to be your health. If you could eat as much or as little as you feel comfortable with without making yourself sick later, that should be our goal. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“I guess.” Alex doesn’t sound like he means it.

“I’m sorry for making things so difficult on you,” Miles continues, “I’m sure Hannah will understand it if you don’t finish your meal. You’ll be fine, love. Trust me on that.”

 

*

 

When the food is brought to them half an hour later, Alex is mortified to learn that Hannah has ordered him a plate full of barbeque chicken and roasted potatoes to go with his green salad. He eyes his full plate nervously and sceptically, but when Miles kicks his leg under the table, Alex remembers to look up and smile.

“Thanks, Hannah,” he utters uncomfortably, “you really didn’t have to pay for all of this.”

Dr Ware merely smiles at him as though he’s the cutest little boy she’s ever met. It makes him feel like he’s ten years old.

“Nonsense,” she tells him as she begins to work on her burger, “it isn’t too much for a young, hard-working man like you, Alex. Dig in, darling.”

Alex smiles dutifully as he begins to poke a roasted potato with his fork. He hesitates and hesitates, until the point when it’s becoming obvious and embarrassing for him. When Hannah looks up from her food and notices his reluctance, Miles kicks him again and Alex is quick to shove the full potato into his mouth in order to avoid making a scene. The potato is too big in his mouth and unfortunately, much too hot to be eaten in one go. As Alex forces himself to chew slowly, he burns his tongue and takes a sip from his water glass. Finally, he seems able to swallow and luckily, Hannah is no longer watching him suspiciously.

“Ooh, this is nice,” Miles says, chewing on a strip of bacon, “I forgot how great their food is here. The meat is grilled to perfection.”

“I know,” Hannah agrees, “I asked for my burger to be medium rare and it’s perfect. Most places they would serve it either raw or over-cooked, but this is spot-on. How is your chicken, love?”

Alex flinches when she turns her attention back on him and he forces himself to cut off a piece of his chicken. Scooping it into his mouth and chewing quickly, he nods as though he’s enjoying it and says:

“It’s great, thanks. Just… great.”

“Aw, I’m glad you like it, darling. Kane, that reminds me – do you remember the time when we went across the street, you know – from the south wing of the hospital – to buy our lunch at that new takeaway place? Do you remember how we both asked for club sandwiches?”

“Yes,” Miles laughs, “and I also remember how they served us the sandwiches without telling us that they had burned the chicken.”

“Yes,” Hannah takes a break from eating as she’s laughing even harder now, “and we went all the way back to the hospital with our food before we realised. Then you opened your sandwich and the chicken was-“

“Black as coal,” Miles finishes her sentence, “yes, I’ll never forget. I haven’t been back to that place since.”

“Me neither – we really should have asked for our money back.”

Miles and Hannah seem to be giggling and smiling at each other and suddenly, Alex feels a stab of jealousy in the pit of his stomach. He isn’t jealous of Hannah as such, he knows that there is nothing but friendship between the two of them and he genuinely likes her. But the two doctors seem to share so much with each other, so many stories and memories that Alex could never be part of. For a moment, it feels as though they have forgotten that he’s even here. Alex searches for Miles’s eyes, feeling both pathetic and slightly desperate for Miles to see him. A very childish part of Alex wants his attention so that he can point towards the food that he’s forcing himself to eat and say: ‘Look – this is what I make myself do in order not to embarrass you in front of your friend. I’m stuffing myself like a Christmas turkey and you don’t even notice.’

Miles refrains from looking at him and soon enough, Alex begins to wonder if Miles is avoiding him purposefully. Maybe he’s ignoring him because he doesn’t want Hannah to know that he cares. Maybe he’s ignoring him because they are in public and so, Miles is acting as cold and distant as an old relative.

Alex feels hurt and let down by him, even though it’s silly. Miles warned him that they would have to be careful, but it still feels like he’s doing too thorough a job dismissing him.

When the two older doctors share yet another story with each other, Alex finds himself awkwardly silent and there is only one thing left for him to do: ‘Be a good boy and eat up,’ he tells himself, ‘give Miles a reason to be proud of you later.’

And it isn’t hard to do as soon as he gets started. The food tastes great, even though it’s swimming in sticky, greasy, fatty barbeque sauce, which makes him feel sick and disgusted with himself, but also shamefully hungry. Alex begins to eat faster than the two doctors combined. Shovelling the food into his mouth, bit by bit until he’s basically clearing his plate, Alex’s brain shuts down and he refuses to think about the consequences until later in the evening.

 

*

 

“Alex,” Miles clears his throat and looks over at him nervously, knowing that Hannah is watching, “Alex, are you sure you want to eat all that?”

Miles feels awful with himself for asking him in front of a third person. He’s tried to kick Alex under the table once again, but Alex has stopped responding to it.

“Kane!” Hannah gasps dramatically. “What a horrible thing to say. He’s not eating more than you and I are and he’s clearly hungry, so I don’t see the problem. Go ahead, Alex, darling, eat all you want.”

Hannah smiles over at Alex and Alex takes childish pride in knowing that she has sided with him over Miles. He smiles back at her as he gathers the last piece of his chicken on his fork and wolves it down without hesitation.

“I know,” Miles exhales with mild irritation or perhaps frustration, “but Alex, you’re on some sort of… diet. Aren’t you? I just hope you won’t regret eating all this later.”

Miles is giving him a look of significance as though he’s asking Alex if he’s made himself clear. But Alex finds himself merely smirking at him – ‘too little too late, Kane’.

“Diet?” Hannah asks in confusion. “But Alex, love, you don’t need dieting. Surely you are not trying to lose weight?” Hannah seems genuinely worried at the thought. “Oh my, this is exactly what society puts every young girl and boy through, isn’t it? Everyone is pressured into losing weight and losing weight until the point when you’re only skin and bones. That’s supposed to be healthy, is it? I think not! Kane, as a doctor, surely you must know that Alex shouldn’t lose any weight. How can you even encourage someone as skinny as him to go on a diet?”

Miles is lost for words when she gives him a look of indignity. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, realising that he’s unable to explain himself truthfully.

“Yeah, Miles, how can you encourage someone as skinny as me to go on a diet?” Alex finally speaks up in a mock-tone. Without meaning to embarrass Hannah, he looks at Miles challengingly as though he’s daring him to come clean. “Nevermind, it doesn’t matter,” Alex chuckles darkly as he downs the rest of his water and gets up from the table, “thanks for a lovely meal, Dr Ware. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be going to the restroom.”

“Alex, wait!”

Hannah’s eyes widen with surprise when her colleague yells for the younger man to come back to the table. Kane seems both nervous and tense and she has no idea what is going on between the two of them. Kane calls for Alex once again. When he is ignored, Kane gets up from the table and storms after him.

 

*

 

Miles catches up with Alex in the restroom, just before he’s about to go inside one of the stalls. Pulling him back by the elbow, he forces Alex to turn around and face him.

“Alex, don’t you dare…”

“Let go of me!” Alex cries with a fierce anger that Miles has never seen in him before. He automatically lets go of him, fearing that someone might come in and get the wrong idea of what’s going on.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” Miles then lowers his voice to a hissing whisper, a sound that barely escapes from in between his clenched teeth. “Have you lost your mind all of a sudden?”

“Don’t fookin’ talk to me that way,” Alex spits, his beautiful eyes darkened by thunder and fury, “don’t fookin’ act like I’m crazy, like I’ve crossed the line.”

“You embarrassed me in front of my colleague,” Miles reminds him resentfully, “of course you’ve bloody crossed the line!”

Alex studies his face for a moment, trying to detect whether or not Miles is being serious. Then he merely huffs at him:

“The only thing I did was eating my fookin’ food. Now, if that embarrasses you…”

“You know what I’m talking about, for crying out loud!” Miles interrupts him. “Don’t pretend you don’t know.”

“You only have a problem with me because you told me to stop eating and I didn’t obey you!” Alex yells at him. “You think I’m bloody disgusting, don’t you? A fat, filthy pig! But guess what, there was nothing else for me to do but eat, because guess what? You’ve been big, fat, fookin’ ignoring me all night long!”

Alex turns his back on him again and heads for one of the stalls. Miles grips his shoulders and pulls him back before he is able to escape him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He cries whilst he struggles to hold the other back. “Do you really think you can just do the disappearing trick? Do you really think you can just go in there to make yourself sick and then return to the table as though nothing’s happened? Hannah is a doctor, for fuck’s sake, she’s not bloody stupid. She’s gonna figure you out straight away.”

“I don’t give a shit,” Alex shouts as he writhes and tussles in Miles’s arms, “you’re the one who’s got a problem with her knowing, not me! You’re the one who’s fookin’ embarrassed by me…”

“You think everything’s about you, don’t you?” Miles hits back. “You don’t give a shit about embarrassing other people in front of their friends, as long as you get some attention. I had no idea you were so selfish…”

That does it for him. Alex pushes himself back against Miles, ramming them both backwards against the wall. Miles is dangerously close to losing his balance and he is forced to let go of the younger man momentarily. Alex breaks free and eases his way out of Miles’s arms. He leaps for the toilet stall and tries to make his way inside to lock the door before Miles can stop him again, but he is out-paced by the other. Though Alex tries to close the door in Miles’s face, Miles is stronger and he forces his way into the stall, hauling Alex away from the toilet.

“You promised me you wouldn’t fucking puke!” Miles thunders. “You promised me you would make an effort, but now you’re just trying to get us both in trouble!”

“I didn’t promise you shit!” Alex scoffs, pushing Miles’s every button.

In a way, he feels like he’s asking for it when Miles simply loses his temper and tackles him to the floor. Alex lands hard on his stomach, taking a painful blow to his ribs and his chin. Ignoring the unexpected pain, he merely cries with fury when Miles straddles his back and pins him down further by holding his arms locked behind his back so that Alex is rendered unable to break free again.

“Let go of me!” He cries, kicking and twisting, but to no avail. “I didn’t fooking sign up for this! You are not my fooking bodyguard, Miles! You can’t tell me what I can or cannot do!”

Struggling to believe that any of this is really happening, Miles tries his best to remain calm. He tries to tell himself that he’s right and that Alex is in the wrong, that he’s only doing this for Alex’s own good and that he needs to make the younger man realise this before any of them do or say something they can never take back.

“Bloody hell, Alex, don’t you understand?” Miles yells as he’s suddenly fed up with the whole situation. “I’m doing this to help you! Why are you acting so hysterical all of a sudden? We fucking agreed that you need to stop doing this!”

“You’re only stoppin’ me because you don’t want Hannah to find out!” Alex fumes. “You don’t give a shit about me, not when you’re around better people!”

“That’s not true!” Miles shrieks, his fingernails digging into the flesh of Alex’s wrists. “I’m risking my bloody job for you, you ungrateful little brat! I’m risking my entire career just to save your sorry arse!”

Alex’s body begins to tremble underneath his own and Miles begins to worry if, in reality, he’s the one who’s crossed the line.

“Just let me be sick!” Alex begins to yell at him, pleadingly. He can’t see Alex’s face very well, but it sounds as though he’s on the verge of sobbing. “Just let me do it… I can’t – I can’t gain weight. You fucking know this about me, Miles.”

“Alex, I’m trying to save your fucking life!” The words leave Miles’s mouth instinctively, habitually. He doesn’t even have to think; it’s a truth that he’s known to be accurate since the day they met. “If you don’t stop making yourself sick, you are going to die! Don’t you understand? I don’t want you to die, God damn it. If you are not willing to make it stop, then I have to do it for you.”

Alex sniffles from underneath him and it seems obvious that he’s started crying by this point. “I ate a whole fookin’ chicken to make you proud of me,” he weeps quietly, his words muffled and difficult to interpret, “and you didn’t even want to look at me…”

Miles pauses, only realising the nature of his mistake now. Slowly, gently, he lets go of Alex’s arms and they slide down Alex’s flanks, falling limp. Alex lies still without putting up another fight. By this point, Miles almost wishes he would.

“Oh fuck,” Miles sighs, clenching his eyes shut and running a hand through his short hair, “what the fuck are we doing? Let’s get you off the floor, love. Here, take my hand.”

Miles dismounts Alex’s body and reaches out to help him back up again. Alex hesitates as he lets his pride get in the way. He wipes his eyes frantically, avoiding the older man’s gaze.

“Alex, I’m sorry,” Miles finally whispers, though it pains him to admit defeat, “I overreacted. I – I don’t know why I even pushed you to the floor. Forgive me, love. Come on, let me make it up to you.”

Only then, Alex accepts his hand and allows Miles to pull them both into a sitting position. Miles wraps an arm around Alex’s shoulders awkwardly. Alex doesn’t push him away, but neither does he seem to find comfort in his touch. Miles’s attempt to reconcile is too soon for him. Miles realises that even he is not yet willing to forget what was said between them, and so, he pulls back and pretends to be fine with Alex’s silence.

He thanks God that no one has yet walked into the restroom to find them like this.

“You hurt your chin,” Miles realises, though the words come out unemotionally, “I’ll… I’ll go get you some ice. You know, in case there’s swelling.”

Miles raises himself to his feet, feeling utterly dreadful about everything, when Alex tells him:

“You should go check up on Hannah. She has no idea what’s going on.”

“What?” Miles is taken aback by this. “No, Alex, don’t be daft. I’ll take care of you first. Wait here, OK? I’ll go get you some ice from the kitchen. Wait here for me – please?”

Miles doesn’t wait for an answer. The tension between them is too heavy, too uncomfortable and suffocating for him to endure. He leaves the restroom quickly without looking back. Even though he’s promised to concentrate on Alex first, he can’t fight a sudden impulse to have a word with Hannah. As he swings by their table, Hannah stands up from her seat as soon as she sees him.

“Kane, what on earth is going on?” She looks him over thoroughly and there is no doubt in Miles’s mind that she has noticed the folds in his shirt from taking a tumble to the floor, along with the sudden seriousness in his expression. “You and Alex have been gone for ages. Is everything alright?”

“Everything is fine, don’t worry,” he tells her with next to zero conviction in his voice, “Alex took a fall and hurt his chin, is all. I need to get him some ice.”

“He took a fall?” Hannah’s eyes narrow in disbelief. “Miles, just tell me what’s going on. Did the two of you have an argument?”

“Look, Hannah,” Miles looks around him, realising that a few people have turned their heads around to look at them, “I’ll tell you everything later, but I promised I would get him some ice. I better go and ask if I can get something from the kitchen.”

“Do you want me to check up on him in the meantime?” Hannah offers, sounding like a concerned mother. “You shouldn’t have left him on his own, you know.”

“No, don’t. He’s not feeling great at the moment, I would be careful not to overwhelm him if I were you. He’s fine, I promise, but I might have to take him home after this.”

Miles heads straight towards the kitchen and Hannah follows after, determined not to sit idly by if she can make herself useful instead. A tall chef offers Miles a bag of frozen peas and he accepts it with only a hint of embarrassment.

“Wait here,” he tells Hannah on their way back towards the restroom, “I don’t want him to feel like we’re crowding him.”

Miles enters the restroom on his own. He walks in there with a stomach that seems heavy with dread, because he’s expecting to find Alex inside one of the stalls, on his knees, vomiting away defiantly. But when he enters, all the stalls are free. Alex is no longer sitting on the floor, waiting for him. One of the windows have been left wide open and a cold breeze is occupying the entire room, creeping in upon Miles who, standing there on his own, is reminded that he is utterly powerless to transform what refuses to be changed and meddled with.

 

*

 

Hannah is sitting with Miles in the bar, watching her colleague with concern as he downs yet another glass of red wine.

“So… You really think Alex escaped through the window?” She shakes her head, struggling to make sense of it all. “Why would he run away from you like that?”

Miles shrugs, rubbing at his forehead tiredly. “What do I know?” He sighs. He’s beginning to sound drunk already. “Maybe because I yelled at him. Maybe because I told him that he’d embarrassed me tonight. Sometimes I forget how young and… sensitive… he is.”

“Kane.” Hannah looks her friend in the eyes seriously. “Tell me what is going on between the two of you. You can’t keep lying to me, I can tell that he’s more than just your… friend.”

Miles takes in a deep breath. He has no idea how he’s managed to screw up this evening so badly. It started out so well…

“Excuse me,” Miles waves a female bartender over and gestures towards his empty glass, “fill me up, please.”

“Kane,” Hannah says again, sharply, “quit stalling and tell me the truth.”

“Alright, alright – fine!” Miles exclaims a little too loudly. “Fine, for fuck’s sake. You’re right. Alex and I are more than just friends, but that doesn’t mean we’re in a relationship, because I swear we’re not. Happy now?”

“No, I’m not happy,” she tells him impatiently, “however the two of you define your relationship to each other, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that he’s run off because you said something to him. I thought you were acting strange during dinner, but I have no idea what the hell changed between the two of you. Alex seemed so happy to begin with…”

“Do you want to know what changed?” Miles sneers at her before he can stop himself. “You ordered him a meal he didn’t want and that was enough to trigger him. So don’t look at me like that, Hannah, like I’m responsible for everything evil in this world.”

Miles knows that he’s being unfair, but he doesn’t care. On a sudden impulse, he decides to leave the bar and Hannah behind, too. He gets up, leaving a £20 note by the counter, heading outside. As he digs out his cigarette pack, desperate for a smoke, he hears Hannah’s high heels clattering across the ground as she’s running after him. Feeling exhausted, he turns around to face her.

“I knew it,” she merely says, using a slightly softer voice in order to calm him down, “I knew it as soon as Alex hesitated with his food, but I thought it best not to say anything. He’s got an eating disorder, doesn’t he?”

She walks up to Miles and she doesn’t stop before they’re facing each other. He’s exhaling the cigarette smoke and it stings in her eyes, but she doesn’t care.

Miles hangs his head, but he knows that there’s no way she’ll believe another lie of his.

“Bulimia,” he says in a monotone, calm voice that fails to express the grief that’s been building up inside his chest ever since Alex admitted his illness to him for the first time.

Hannah holds her breath for a moment, visibly shaken and sorry to have been right.

“I’m sorry, Miles,” she whispers delicately, “that’s truly awful. I had a friend in high school who was bulimic. She survived it, but her battle lasted for nearly five years. It was dreadful to witness the pain that she put herself through… I can tell, you know. I can see it in your eyes. You’re in pain because Alex is.”

Miles’s eyes are watering slightly. In all honestly, he hates her for seeing right through him and for offering him an opportunity to be weak when he’d rather stay strong and keep the secret to himself. He doesn’t want to fall apart, not now, not in front of Hannah Ware from the hospital.

“I just…” Miles clears his throat and forces the tears back before they spill. “I just don’t know what to do,” he admits reluctantly. “I’m scared, you know. I – I don’t know how to help him.”

Hannah reaches out and touches his arm comfortingly.

“How bad is it?” She asks him carefully.

“Bad – very bad,” Miles shakes his head and blinks profusely, “when he was admitted in the hospital about two weeks ago and I met him for the first time, I told him that he might not live for another two years. Not unless he gets better, fast.”

Miles’s voice is shaking and Hannah’s attempt to comfort him is only making him choke up even worse.

“Miles, I had no idea…” She is suddenly pale, grave, ill at ease just like him. “I’m so sorry. Alex seems like such a nice kid. So perfectly charming and lovely – I can’t believe someone like him is going through something so – so… tragic, I suppose. Is he depressed? How did it all start?”

“I don’t know,” Miles tells her truthfully, “I’ve been trying to get him to see a psychiatrist, so that he can open up about his problems. But I haven’t made an appointment for him yet.”

“You say you’ve only known him for about two weeks? I find that extraordinary.” She furrows her brow just thinking about it. “Was Alex your – patient? At the hospital?”

She knows that she is on to something significant when Miles – utterly distraught – breaks into a mad laughter.

“Oh – yes,” he breathes loudly, forcing Hannah to believe that he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown, “that’s the best part of it all. I almost forgot… It’s like adding one big pile of shit on top of another and at the bottom, you have me,” Miles chuckles drunkenly, “I was Alex’s doctor when I decided to treat him in secret, outside the hospital. He’s a celebrity, you see, a famous musician, so he doesn’t want to run the risk of having the media following him to the hospital twice every week, snooping around in his private journals, dressing up as nurses just to get close to him and take their pictures of him, publishing story upon story about his illness… I felt sorry for him, so I offered to risk my job, my career, my good name just to help him. I offered to meet up with him in private, I offered to treat him off the record, just to keep him safe. Only, now I’m realising that I’ve failed. Because now that Alex thinks that I’m embarrassed by him, I’ve made him feel worse about himself when I ought to make him feel good. And – oh yeah, guess what else? Instead of doing the clever thing and staying away from him, I’ve gone and fallen in love with him,” Miles slaps his own forehead and laughs out loud, “I’ve completely screwed things up for us both with my incompetence. I knew I should have stayed away, that I should have left him alone, but now I find myself unable to stop thinking about him day and night… Fuck this shit! Fuck everything! Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

Miles is so out of it, Hannah has to sit him down by the nearest bench and force him to slow down and start over from the beginning. She wants to know everything there is to know about him and Alex.

 

*

 

Alex is only three blocks away from the hotel when, from out of nowhere, he’s caught up by a man holding a big camera up to his face, trying to snap a picture of him. Alex holds an arm across his eyes in a desperate attempt to avoid going blind as the flash from the camera attacks his sight like a series of small explosions, and so, he begins to run. Barely able to see where he’s going, Alex utters an awkward apology when he stumbles into a couple walking down the street with their dog in a leash. He pushes in between the two people and sprints down towards the end of the street, taking a short cut through a dark and narrow alleyway, hoping to get rid of the stalker-photographer.

He continues to run and run without looking back over his shoulder. He only learns that the photographer has continued to follow after him when, finally, he reaches the hotel and pushes his way in between two doormen guarding the entrance to the reception. The doormen step forward and catch the photographer before he can follow Alex inside. Alex ignores the complaining from the photographer as he escapes through the reception and upstairs where no one else will be able to torment him. Reaching the third floor, Alex finds himself knocking on the door to Jamie’s room. He struggles to calm down and catch his breath simultaneously.

“Al,” Jamie greets him casually as the door opens, “I thought you’d be out all night with your doctor-friend. You look a bit rough, are you OK?”

“I’m great,” Alex tells him, heaving with exhaustion, “are Matt and Nick still up?”

“I think so,” Jamie laughs at him and looks the other man over in confusion, “why? What’s happening?”

“Tell them to pack up,” Alex tells him without further explanation, “we’re doing it, Jamie. We’re leaving first thing in the morning. I’ve suddenly realised that I’m dying to start touring again.”

“Hey – that’s great!” Jamie offers him a broad grin and waves for Alex to come inside. “Here, take a seat, mate. Have you been running or something? You’re sweating all over. I’ll go get Matt and Nick, we should gather up and talk it over as a group.”

Jamie disappears and Alex practically falls down on top of his mate’s bed, clutching his chest. His lungs are heaving painfully, but it’s the ache in his chest that’s truly terrifying him. It reminds him of the gym-session he was forced to cut short when Nick pulled the plug on his machine. Alex wipes the sweat off his forehead and tries his best to steady his breath. When – terribly slowly – the pain subsides little by little, Alex feels so relieved, he longs to simply lie himself back and fall asleep, right there on top of Jamie’s bed.

 

*

 

Hannah and Miles are sat together in silence, struggling to move past everything that has been said and learned about Alex - and Miles’s relationship to him. She doesn’t usually smoke, but after all of this, Hannah has broken her rule and borrowed a cigarette from her male colleague. As she’s inhaling and exhaling quietly, she turns the story over in her head, again and again, struggling to come to that magical, sensible conclusion.

“Fucking hell,” she speaks after what seems to have been ten minutes of pure silence, “I can’t believe that your Alex is the Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys. I bloody love that band. And I’ve just had dinner with him without even realising. You’re a lucky bastard, Kane, do you know that? Your Alex is even better-looking in real life than he is in the music videos.”

Miles smiles gingerly at her words, shrugging his shoulders. “He’s not my Alex,” he says, looking down at the ground, “I told you what I told him. That we can’t be together. It wouldn’t be right. Not as long as I’m still treating him. And I’d rather treat him than date him, because if I don’t… He might die.”

Hannah looks at her friend in sympathy, though she can’t help but to feel like Miles is missing some of the most obvious points.

“You care about him,” she says meaningfully, “you’re in love with him. And I know for a fact that he’s in love with you, too. I could tell.”

“Really?” Miles wears a sceptic look on his face. “How could you tell?”

“It was the way he kept looking over at you, searching for your eyes. It’s not just that he depends on you and trusts you, Kane. He longs for you, I think. He longs to have you, to be with you. Both in private and in public.”

Miles feels a pang of guilt, especially as he remembers Alex’s words from earlier. He knows that Hannah is right. “I’ve been such a jerk to him,” Miles groans dejectedly, “I ignored him. I even lied to you about my relationship to him. He must feel more rejected than ever.”

“It’s not too late to make up for that,” Hannah reminds him, touching Miles’s knee soothingly, “if you apologised and explained yourself, Kane, I know that he will understand.”

“But that’s not my only problem,” Miles objects, “even if I apologise for my behaviour, I still can’t offer him what he wants the most. I still can’t be with him, not as long as I’m his doctor.”

“I know,” Hannah drawls slightly. “I’ve given it all some thought. I think that Alex has a much greater chance of beating his illness if you’re there to offer him not just your support, but your love, too. I know you’re his doctor and I know you have to act according to your professionalism, but think about it. You’ve broken the rules already, haven’t you?”

“I haven’t slept with him if that’s what you think,” Miles tells her truthfully.

“But you’ve kissed him, haven’t you? That’s a way of being intimate with him, too.” Hannah notices the way Miles’s cheeks turn slightly pink. “Look, I’m not telling you to keep breaking the rules if that’s what you think. It wouldn’t be right of me as a doctor, as your co-worker, to approve of your behaviour. Instead, I’m offering you a way out.”

Miles raises his head and eyes Hannah questioningly. “A way out? What makes you think that there even is a way out?” He asks her as though he’s already accepted defeat.

“I’ve just thought of one,” she tells him with a trace of smugness in her voice, “listen, Miles… I can offer you a solution if you’re willing to trust me. I can take over as Alex’s doctor. I will even agree to treat him in my own home, where the media won’t know about it. If we actually made this work, it would mean that you are no longer professionally responsible for him. You would be free to have a personal, not to mention romantic, relationship to him without having to deal with the guilt. The two of you would be free to see each other publically and have an official relationship.”

Hannah pauses when Miles falls silent. He’s looking at her like he almost can’t believe what he’s hearing.

“Would you… would you really do that for us?” Miles’s voice is thick, not only with emotion, but with amazement, too.

“Look,” Hannah smiles at him, “I liked Alex from the moment I laid eyes on him. And not just because he’s a celebrity who also happens to be cute. He seems both warm and kind, just the right sort of person for you. I think the two of you deserve to make each other happy. And oh, you know, with you being one of my closest friends in the world, Kane – how could I even deny you this?”

Hannah has barely finished her sentence before she finds herself being embraced by Miles, who is holding her close and burrowing his face deep into her shoulder.

“Thank you!” He croaks and rasps in an almost broken voice. “Oh god, thank you, thank you, thank you… How can I possibly repay you?”

Hannah wraps her arms around Miles’s back supportively, smiling sadly as she realises that her friend has started crying onto her shoulder.

“Just go to him,” she tells Miles comfortingly, “tell him how you feel and stop holding yourself back. If you want to help Alex recover, give yourself over to him and just be there for him. Then you’ll see, things will turn around for you both.”

 

*

 

It is about ten o’clock in the morning when Miles shows up at Alex’s hotel the following day. He’s taken a personal day, feeling both too hungover and emotional to be able to function at the hospital. He’s barely been able to sleep all night; he’s been twisting and turning, kicking off the covers as he’s been forced to convince himself at least a hundred times not to phone Alex. He and Hannah had both agreed that showing up in person would be for the best and for this reason, Miles is now finding himself inside the reception where he’s already asked for Alex’s room number once before.

“May I help you, sir?” The female receptionist doesn’t seem to recognise him.

“Uh, yes,” Miles drawls awkwardly, “I’m here to see a Mr Alex Turner in room 311. Please.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

Before she is given a chance to elaborate, Miles smiles at her pleadingly and says:

“Look, I know I don’t have an appointment with him, but I’ve been here before. I left this place only yesterday morning, don’t you remember me? Mr Turner knows me. If he doesn’t want me to come up, at least call him and tell him to meet me down here.”

The woman looks at Miles with annoyance.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she tells him once again, only with more determination this time, “I can’t do that for you.”

“And why is that?” Miles scowls at her.

“Mr Alex Turner checked out of this hotel two hours ago. So, as you may understand, sir, he’s not here.”

Miles’s jaw drops and his entire body goes limp on him. Through all the times he’s kept himself awake last night, thinking about Alex, he hasn’t given the scenario, in which Alex packs his things and leaves town, any consideration at all. Not even once has he thought this possible.

“That’s… that’s impo- I mean, are you sure? Can you please check again?” Miles struggles to even get the words out right. “It’s important.”

“Sir, there’s nothing for me to double-check– Mr Turner left this place this morning, along with his three associates. I was here when they all handed in their keys and left, taking all their luggage with them. There’s nothing I can do for you.”

“But, wait – hold on a second,” Miles persists desperately, “did he at least leave me a message? Did he leave any messages for a Miles Kane?”

“No, sir, he did not. There are no messages from him or any of his associates. Now, if you would please just step aside. I have customers to attend to.”

Miles feels numb with misery and defeat when, involuntarily, he steps away from the desk and turns around to leave the reception altogether. As he steps out into the noisy, heavily trafficked street and finds himself showered in the morning sunlight, he can’t help but to look up into the blue skies above him, wondering where on earth Alex has travelled or is travelling to at this very moment. He can’t for one moment believe that Alex would leave town without telling him, but at the realisation that this is exactly what has happened, Miles understands that he must have hurt Alex even worse than first anticipated for him to not even leave him with a phone call or a new address of where to find him.

Alex is gone and Miles didn’t even get to tell him how sorry he is; that he’s figured everything out for them and that everything is going to be alright.

He had convinced himself that waiting was the right thing to do and now he’s too late.

Chapter Text

Alex finds himself slumped against the wall in some restroom, too tired to even stand on his legs. He’s been rehearsing with Matt, Jamie and Nick all day long, and while his bandmates are still eager to continue, Alex is desperate for a break. He can feel his legs shaking from his blood sugar being so low and it’s making him dizzy. His stomach pains have returned crushingly and since he’s barely had any food staying down for two days straight, Alex is not surprised.

Everything that he’d promised Miles that he would do, he’s failed to accomplish. After everything, Alex is still not eating, still not resting enough, still not looking after himself properly. If Miles could see him now, he would think that he had wasted his time massively looking after him…

Miles. Oh God, Miles. Alex can’t stop thinking about everything that was said the last time he saw him. And Alex only made things worse for himself by running away from him, climbing out the window like some desperate lunatic. What mustn’t Miles think of that bullshit stunt he pulled? And his friend, Dr Ware? She must be assuming that Alex belongs in a mental institution. She’s probably already advised Miles to give up on him, to not let crazy people like Alex pull him down. And the worst part is, Alex can’t even blame her if that’s the case.

“Alex?” There’s a sudden knocking on the door. It’s Jamie. “Alex, are you still in there? Is everything OK?”

Alex closes his eyes exhaustedly and supresses a sigh. Great – just bloody great. Soon his friends will think he’s a bloody weirdo, too.

“I’m fine!” Alex shouts back at him. “I’m joost – answering a few messages.”

“In the toilet?” Jamie asks him with surprise. “Why?”

Before Alex is able to explain himself, Nick’s deeper voice sounds from the other side of the door:

“Is he for real? This is the fourth time he disappears on us this afternoon. Tell him to put that fucking phone of his away!”

Alex gulps slightly, uncertain if Nick realises that he’s able to hear him or not. From Jamie’s hesitation, Alex assumes that he’s wondering the same thing, too.

“Alex,” Jamie then tells him as soon as he’s gotten Nick out of the way, “just get out here, will you? Please? People are getting kind of eager to wrap things up.”

And so is Alex.

“Yeah, sure,” Alex assures him in his pretend, sing-song voice, “I’ll only be a moment.”

He catches himself cringing hard. Oh, this is dreadful. How the hell did he manage to put himself in this situation? No matter what he does next, he’s bound to lose. If he stays in here much longer, his bandmates might just lose their shit with him, but if he goes out to join them and forces a big smile on his lips again, he just might bring himself to puke all over the god damn place. And if that were to happen, the questions would never stop coming.

After a minute of realising that he’s got no other choice, Alex struggles to get back on his feet, getting ready to go back out there and do his part. It’s the only thing that will keep people from falling out with each other right now, and he feels like he owes his friends to try his hardest in order to make this work. Alex runs a hand through his hair and wipes at the sweat that’s been covering his face for the past hour or so. He’s far from alright, far from ready, but he goes out there, anyway. He has to.

“There you are!” Matt greets him a little too enthusiastically as he looks up in time to see Alex walking in the room. “Great – Jamie, go find Nick, tell him we’re ready to pick up from where we left off!”

Jamie exits without hesitation, whilst Alex looks over his shoulder, taking in the lack of their bassist.

“Nick left?” He asks with modest surprise. It appears that he’s stirred things up much worse than he realised before.

“No, no, don’t be daft,” Matt says with a shake of his head, “he’s right outside. He’s just, I don’t know, busy sulking.”

“Oh.” Alex feels a stab of guilt eating away at his conscience, though he knows that Matt isn’t trying to make him feel bad. “I’m sorry – I was gone for a while, wasn’t I? Should I go apologise or summat?”

“Nah, mate, he’ll be fine,” Matt picks up his Coca Cola can and takes a sip before he returns to his drum kit, “it’s just been a long day. And you know what Nick can be like. He hates interruptions.”

Alex nods, though he can’t help but to feel mortified. He never used to act this difficult and he certainly never used to piss people off without realising it.

“There won’t be any more interruptions this time,” Alex hears himself saying, though he isn’t actually sure if this is a promise that he is able to keep or not, “I’m good. Let’s keep going until we get it right.”

“Are you sure?” Matt studies him quietly and Alex doesn’t appreciate the look of doubt in his friend’s eyes. If Matt has something to say, he wish he’d just say it. “I mean, are you feeling OK, Al? You seem a bit… pale.”

“Hm? Oh – I just need a sip of water, is all,” Alex lies, heading for the venting machine by the wall, suddenly eager to turn away from Matt’s prying eyes. “It’s all good.”

“Were there any, you know, important messages that you needed to reply to?” Matt interrogates further, just when Alex had hoped that he had satisfied his curiosity. “Any messages from your doctor friend perchance?”

This has Alex’s spinning around instinctively.

“No! I mean, no I haven’t been talking to him. Why are you asking?”

“I just – well, I’ve noticed that you haven’t really been talking about him recently. I haven’t seen him around since we packed up and left the hotel in London. I was just wondering if,” Matt shrugs hesitantly, “if things are alright between you and him?”

Alex takes his wallet out and inserts a few coins in the machine, pressing the button for a bottle of water slowly.

“We’re great, thanks. It’s just… I dunno, Matt, you may not be seeing him again for a while. He’s busy with his job, obviously, and we’re going to be travelling a lot. Perhaps he and I will be taking some kind of… break from each other.”

“A break?” Matt is beginning to sound slightly worried, which is exactly what Alex had hoped to avoid. “Are you sure you want that, I mean… I thought you guys really liked each other.”

Alex takes in a deep breath, trying to drink from the bottle without letting Matt know how badly his hands are trembling.

“We do like each other, don’t worry. It’s not like I’ve dumped him, or like he’s dumped me. I guess things are just a bit complicated right now.”

Matt looks Alex over carefully, somehow sensing that he isn’t supposed to cross-examine him right now. It’s both the wrong place and the wrong time.

“Alright,” Matt nods, “but I trust you to tell me if you want to talk about it. Am I right, Al?”

Alex smiles tiredly, putting his bottle down.

“Of course,” he replies automatically, without even bothering to decide whether he means it or not. He’s simply telling Matt what he knows that he wants to hear. “Thanks, Maffew.”

Shortly after that, Nick and Jamie return to the set, both looking slightly more relaxed this time. Jamie’s has probably had to have a talk with Nick first in order to appease him, but Alex can’t be worrying about that now. He needs his energy for more important things.

“You guys ready?” Matt winks at them with a cheeky grin on his face. He’s obviously trying hard to ease the tension that’s been building up while Alex collapsed unto his knees inside the restroom, refusing to come out.

“Yeah,” Nick replies somewhat calmly, “yeah, why not?”

“Let’s keep going until 6pm,” Jamie suggests, “that’s how long we’ve got these rooms for, anyway.”

“Yeah, sounds good to me,” Alex lies, looking up at the clock on the wall. That means they’ll be going for another two hours and the reality of that is causing him to swallow a lump in his throat. Fuck this shit. Just fuck it.

 

*

 

The city of Glasgow is lit up beautifully at night.

Alex is watching silently from the window in his new hotel room. He’s left the lights switched off, sitting alone in the darkness so that he is able to watch the lights dance over the water of the river Clyde, watch the busy, happy people moving around down in the streets, going from pub to pub, or from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant, holding hands, laughing, enjoying themselves. Alex can’t remember the last time he felt so carefree with anyone. So unburdened, so ecstatic.

Lately he’s been trying to imagine what it might feel like to walk around like that together with Miles, publically, in the streets. What it might feel like if only Miles was able to commit, if their relationship wouldn’t leave his job in jeopardy, if Miles was willing to be seen with him, if Alex didn’t risk people recognising him, approaching him or harassing him out in the open. He imagines himself holding hands with Miles, how nice that would be. He imagines Miles smiling at him, holding him close, wrapping his arm around him as they pause by the riverside, looking up into the evening sky. He imagines the two of them drinking wine together somewhere, or having a meal at a candle-lit table where they would be able to look into each other’s eyes for hours without getting interrupted…

There are so many aspects of a normal life that Alex misses and would do anything to have again. For a long time now, he’s been telling himself that he would be able to lead a normal, peaceful life – like those people he’s looking at right now – if only he wasn’t a bloody musician, if only he wasn’t so damn uncertain of himself, if he didn’t have this god damn illness and could call himself mentally stable. But the odds have never been in his favour.

Miles has been ringing him every day since Alex abandoned him in London without a word. He hasn’t picked up the phone, not even once – nor has he read any of the texts that Miles has been sending him, up to five times per day. He simply doesn’t feel capable – he’s too embarrassed, too hurt after that episode in the restaurant. He wouldn’t even know what to say if he were to pick up the phone all of a sudden. Miles would probably expect him to apologise, to explain himself, even when Alex feels like he can’t. He doesn’t know if he’s truly sorry for leaving him or not. The way Alex sees it, he had no other choice. Sometimes he feels like being with Miles would cost him so dearly. He virtually can’t be with Miles without having to change himself, along with every sinful habit of his. And because of that, he can’t help but to feel that, perhaps, he doesn’t have the energy to fight for their relationship and fight for his life at the same time.

Unfortunately, Alex’s illness seems too strong. It just might overpower his desire to belong to the man of his dreams, Miles Kane. Because Alex can’t be healthy and happy at the same time. He simply doesn’t know how to.

Alex jerks slightly when there’s a knock by his door, tearing him away from his chain of thoughts.

“Alex? Mate, are you still awake?”

It’s Jamie. And it sounds like he’s come alone.

“Hold on,” Alex tells him, turning on the lamp by his desk as he doesn’t want Jamie to know that he’s been sitting alone in the dark, like some depressed loner. “I’ll be right there.”

Alex moves towards the door, clumsily. He’s gotten up too quickly, it seems, and it’s making him feel slightly dizzy.

“Alright, Jameh,” Alex smiles tiredly as he opens the door and lets his friend inside. “What’s up?”

“Alright, Al,” Jamie nods, laying a hand on Alex’s shoulder, “just thought I’d come up to, er, see how things are. You weren’t on your way to bed, were you?”

“Me? Oh no, I mean – it’s only ten o’clock, isn’t it?” Alex laughs, even though some sleep would actually do him good. “Are you on your way to bed?”

“Nah,” Jamie shrugs, “I don’t like those early nights much. Makes me feel like an old man. I was actually thinking about hitting town for a couple of hours. You know… maybe go out for a couple of drinks, have a look around. I have never seen Glasgow by night before.”

“Oh…” Alex pauses. He knows where Jamie’s going with this and that, soon enough, Alex will have no excuse to not join him. “Right, yeah, I hear good things about, you know, the night life in this city. Sounds nice.”

“Are you going to join me then?” Jamie’s face lights up and he smiles brightly, tapping Alex’s shoulder again. “Nick’s already in bed and Matt’s on the phone with someone from home. Come on, Al, what do you say – just you and me, eh?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Alex laughs sheepishly, knowing that the pressure is on, “alright, let’s do it. Just you and me, Jameh. It’s just that…”

“What?”

“I’ve been having some trouble with, uh, my digestion lately. So maybe I shouldn’t drink myself absolutely shitfaced tonight…”

“Oh come on, Al,” Jamie winks at him, laughing off Alex’s weak protests, “I’m sure you’ll be fine. We young and healthy, aren’t we? Besides, I can’t remember the last time we did something alone together, just us two. It’s going to be great.”

“Yeah,” Alex repeats stiffly, “great.”

“By the way, mate, before we head out – just thought I’d have to ask you something slightly personal.”

For fuck’s sake. Alex smiles skilfully, nodding to give Jamie permission.

“What is it?” He breathes nervously.

“It’s just that, well,” Jamie clears his throat almost awkwardly, “I’m getting the sense from you that you’ve been feeling a little… melancholy since we left London. Is everything alright with you, Alex?”

Oh no. Jamie’s doing exactly what Matt was doing to him earlier. Testing him, cornering him…

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Alex says, swallowing hard. “I’ve just been, I dunno, a little tired maybe. You know, travelling can be exhausting and all that.”

“Yeah, sure,” Jamie agrees, though with a frown, “I was just worried that maybe… you were feeling kind of lonely.”

“Lonely?” Alex says with surprise.

“You know,” Jamie shrugs, “because you had to leave your boyfriend behind.”

“Jameh,” Alex chuckles, “Dr Kane is not my boyfriend.”

“Aha! So you knew I was talking about the doctor!” Jamie teases him, pointing his finger at him with triumph. “I knew things were getting serious between you two!”

“You suck – you know that?” Alex can’t keep himself from chuckling, and as he reaches for his coat to get ready to go out, he nudges Jamie with his shoulder, pushing him aside with a grin. “Come on, Cookeh, you’re buying me a beer!”

 

*

 

Alex and Jamie are drunk enough by midnight, they’ve started walking around the streets with an arm around each other’s shoulders, singing, then laughing themselves silly because Jamie can’t hit a note for the life of him.

“Oh screw that!” Jamie curses, letting go of Alex. “Singing’s overrated, anyway. Singing is for birds!”

“Is not!” Alex laughs, shaking his head at him. “I mean, not just. You’re just embarrassed ‘cos you don’t know how to!”

“Fuck that,” Jamie smirks, stepping away from Alex in order to create some space around himself, “nobody wants to be the singer, anyway. Everybody wants to be the guitar hero – like me!”

Jamie starts to bend his knees and readies himself for an awesome round of some bad-arse air guitar. Cringing his face hard in concentration, Jamie begins to play his invisible instrument sensually and intensely, leaning himself backwards, throwing his head back, shaking it wildly.

“Oh yeah,” Jamie hums, playing with his fingers, moving them up and down as quickly as he can, “this is the shit. This is what everyone’s dying to see when they buy our tickets.”

“Is it now?” Alex giggles, trying his hardest not to slap his thighs with laughter. “Oh you are one tough Cookeh, Cook!”

“Shut up babeh, I know it!” Jamie replies coolly, shaking Alex’s comments off. “You may sing your pretty little songs, Turner, but this is the stuff that makes legends!”

“Oh yeah? Well, you forgot about one little thing, legend,” Alex says, moving over to stand in front of Jamie face to face, “you’re not the only fookin’ guitarist in this band!”

“Oh, but I’m the lead one,” Jamie smirks, sticking out his tongue provokingly.

“Doesn’t mean you’re the better one,” Alex winks tauntingly.

“Sounds like a challenge to me, Ally-boy,” Jamie huffs, taking a break from playing. “Perhaps I should dare you to come closer.”

“Perhaps I should be inclined to accept,” Alex hits him back, stepping up onto their imaginary podium. “What do you say to an old-fashioned duel, love?”

“I say, bring it on, bitch!” Jamie laughs like a madman, pushing his pelvis forwards. “Show me what you’ve got!”

They both take their positions swiftly, standing up against one another, shoulder to shoulder. As they both bend their knees in order to demonstrate flexibility, they start playing, moving their fingers manically, laughing like small boys when instead, they resolve to try and push each other over in order to claim victory. Jamie gives Alex a hard push, which nearly sends him tumbling, but as soon as he’s steadied himself, Alex leaps forward and tackles the blond man, roaring in order to feign danger.

“Oh, Turner, you’ve never fooled anyone,” Jamie teases, shoving Alex off him easily. “You’re no bigger than the girls I’ve dated in my past. You don’t stand a chance against me.”

“It’s not about size,” Alex retorts, “it’s about precision and skill.”

But instead of having one more go at attacking Jamie, Alex pauses when he spots a big red-and-yellow light somewhere behind them; a sign belonging to a pizza place that appears to be open.

“Hold on, I’m starving,” Alex utters suddenly, taking Jamie by surprise. “Can we go for some pizza?”

“What?” Jamie laughs, furrowing his brow. “Are you serious? Now?”

“Yes, now,” Alex grins. His stomach begins to growl loudly at the thought of buying himself a warm meal, and just like that, he knows that food is not only what he wants and needs right now, it’s what his body and mind crave. “Come on, Jameh, it’s just a takeaway – let’s go!”

Jamie chuckles when Alex begins to drag him along by his wrist, heading for the lit-up sign.

“You’re crazy, Turner,” he says to ridicule him, but Alex is barely paying attention to him, “alright, fine – pizza it is! But after that, we’re finding another bar.”

Ten minutes later, Alex and Jamie are sat on a bench by the river Clyde, munching down pizza slices and drinking beers. They’ve both bought a full pizza each, mainly because Alex was handling the orders, and now – halfway through his – Jamie stops eating, clutching his stomach.

“Fook me, I’m full,” he grunts, wiping off the pizza-sweat from his face, “I had a big meal earlier as well. I knew I shouldn’t have said yes to this.”

“Do you mind if I finish off yours, then?” Alex laughs, already stealing himself a slice from Jamie’s box. As he continues to eat it quickly, like his hunger is still as urgent as it was when they started, Jamie watches him with drunken amazement. “What?” Alex asks him with his mouth full.

“Bloody hell,” Jamie chuckles and takes a sip of his beer, “I’ve never seen anyone eat like you do. Where the hell does it all go, Alex? Someone as tiny as you should not be able to eat a pizza and a half all by himself.”

“Oh yeah?” Alex laughs. “Watch me.”

And Jamie does, though he’s so full, watching Alex stuffing himself is nearly making him feel nauseous. But Alex keeps his word and clears off both pizza boxes, even when Jamie thought he had only been joking.

“Shit,” Jamie snorts when it’s all over and he can’t seem decide if it was all part of his imagination or not, “do you still have room for drinks, then?”

“Of course,” Alex smiles at him, too drunk to care whether Jamie is disgusted with him or secretly impressed. “You pick the next place.”

However, as the two of them get rid of the empty boxes and continue walking down the street, Alex eyes a 24 hours convenience store before Jamie can identify any bars around them.

“Hold on a sec,” Alex says, forcing Jamie to stop in the middle of the street, “I’ll just go browsing for a snack real quick. I’ll be back in a tick.”

“What? Alex, hold on! Are you for real?”

But Alex is already heading inside before Jamie can stop him. Going straight to the section where all the meal deals are packed and ready, Alex grasps a packet of chicken wraps, a coke, and a packet of crisps to go with his meal. As he’s paying for his items by the self-checkout machines, he takes a look out through the window and sees that Jamie has lit a cigarette, pacing around, back and forth, eager to get a move on.

“Sorry about that,” Alex tells him as he catches up with him outside, “you can have my coke if you want.”

“What? No, Alex, I thought we were out to get smashed,” Jamie complains instantly, eyeing Alex’s food with disbelief, “what is this? A food orgy?”

“We’ll get smashed in a minute,” Alex promises him, though Jamie finds it hard to understand what he’s saying, seeing as he’s started stuffing himself again, “this is just a quick stop on the way.”

“Yeah, but how many stops are there going to be?” Jamie sighs, throwing his cigarette into the river grumpily. “I mean, you can’t still be hungry, can you? This is just a distraction now.”

“It’s not a distraction,” Alex chews noisily, rolling his eyes at him, “it’s just that drinking makes me hungry. I can’t drink on an empty stomach, Jameh, come on.”

“On an empty stomach? Why didn’t you join the rest of us for dinner earlier, then?” Jamie says with a raised eyebrow. “We did invite you. Are you really saying that you haven’t been eating all night?”

Try all day, Jamie…

“Look,” Alex says, ignoring his question and throwing the packaging away as he’s finished his wraps, “I’ll be ready to go in a minute. Just let me have a sip of my coke and my crisps. Stop pretending we're in a rush.”

“Aren’t you worried about your digestion?” Jamie then chuckles, teasing him. “Aren’t you worried you’re going to gain, like, five pounds after tonight?”

Only then does Alex freeze, forgetting about the food that he hasn’t eaten yet.

“I’m not going to let that happen,” he mutters under his breath, and it appears that Jamie doesn’t hear him.

Arriving at one of the busiest bars in the city centre, Jamie goes to the bar in order to buy their drinks while Alex heads straight to the loos. Jamie is halfway through his drink when Alex returns what feels like ages later, looking flushed and kind of hot. Perhaps a little unwell. However, Jamie’s been drinking too heavily to notice it and predictably, he furthermore fails to perceive the way that Alex keeps wiping at his mouth, checking his breath, gurgling his drink as though he’s using it to rinse his mouth. When Jamie asks him if the pizza was giving him trouble, Alex just laughs.

“In a sense,” he says cryptically, before regretting his answer, “nah, it was joost busy in there. Sorry about that.”

“Nevermind that,” Jamie shrugs, “you’re here now. Cheers, mate!”

“Cheers.”

They cling their beer bottles together, grinning stupidly. It’s weird being out when it’s just the two of them, seeing as they are usually a whole group doing these kind of things with each other, but in a sense, it’s nice to feel less crowded, less watched. Jamie laughs and orders Alex to drink faster, telling him to catch up so that he can buy the next round.

“If I didn’t know any better, Cookeh, I’d say you were trying to get me drunk. You naughty boy,” Alex winks at him jokingly. He knows that even though Jamie’s always been the straightest guy he knows, the blond man has never been uncomfortable with the idea of his best friend – his childhood bestie even – being gay. Alex can be himself around the other, without having to play macho, or try and make up for the fact that, unlike with their other mates, Jamie will never be able to talk to Alex about girls.

But none of that matters when you’ve known each other your whole lives, and you can talk to each other about everything else. Absolutely anything.

However, it’s this trust between them that gnaws away at Alex’s conscience sometimes. Even when Jamie and the lads open up to him about their private lives, Alex must remind himself that he’s less honest and less straightforward with them. Because there will always be that one little secret that he can’t bring himself to share with them, even in moments like this one, when there should be no barriers between Jamie and himself.

“Oh maybe I am trying to get you drunk, Ally-boy,” Jamie teases him back. “And with your tiny physique, it shouldn’t take me long, either.”

 

*

 

Jamie and Alex both wake up the next morning with a hangover, realising that they’ve overslept massively and that Matt and Nick will be waiting for them impatiently inside the rehearsing studio. The only difference between them is that when Nick phones Jamie to find out what’s taking him so long, Jamie wakes up immediately, answers his damn phone, apologises at least a hundred times whilst he’s jumping in the shower and searching for something to wear. Alex, on the other hand, doesn’t wake up that easily. Not even after Nick’s been ringing him ten times, and Matt five.

After saying goodnight to Jamie last night, Alex went back to his room, deciding to puke his guts out one final time, in case he hadn’t managed to get it all out of his system while they were out. Consequently, he stayed up for an hour extra, exhausting himself and punishing himself for having indulged himself to some food that he should have just stayed clear off from the beginning. So in a sense, it isn’t just the hangover that’s left him numb and semi-unconscious this morning. It’s everything else, too: His illness eating away at him, his nausea, his never-ending hunger, his complete lack of energy. Alex has fucked up majorly – again – and he knows it.

The only thing that could have made it easier for him to open his eyes and embrace reality, the only thing that could possibly persuade him to leave his warm bed at this stage, would be if Miles were here. To have Miles by his side, to be held by him, comforted by him. Miles used to make him feel so much better about this shitty situation that he’s in; Miles was the only one who acted like he understood and truly cared.

Until Alex fucked up that, too. And because of that, he’s now bound to wake up alone, every morning for the rest of his miserable life, it seems.

Alex hears his phone ringing again, but it’s not enough to make him open up his eyes. Somewhere, caught between dreaming and coming to his senses, he wonders if the calls are from Miles or if he’s finally decided to give up on him, like any sane person would do.

It’s not the phone calls that wake him up; it’s the sudden hammering on his door.

“Alex! Alex, for crying out loud – open the bloody door!”

It’s Jamie. And he sounds more terrified than angry.

“Hm?” Alex takes in a sudden breath, feeling himself turning over in the bed, slowly slipping out of his dream. “J-jamie?”

“Alex, come on!” Jamie keeps begging from the other side, hammering at the door persistently. “I know you’re in there. Get your arse out here before Nick orders someone to break in your door, mate.”

Alex cringes and remembers. Fuck. It must be in the middle of the day by now, though he and Jamie were supposed to meet Matt and Nick for rehearsals at 10am.

Shit!

“Jamie,” Alex calls, drawling as it’s taking him an awful amount of effort to even talk, “wait – wait right there. I’ll be right out…”

But even though he’s now awake, it somehow still takes Alex another five minutes to sit upright, to look down at himself and realise that he’s gone to bed wearing his clothes from yesterday.

“Jamie,” Alex pants with exhaustion as he reaches the door and unlocks it quickly, “I’m so sorry – so, so sorry… Please forgive me…”

He opens the door to find Jamie staring straight back at him, with his hair all wet and unstyled and a troubled look in his eyes.

“Don’t apologise to me, Al,” Jamie sighs jadedly, “I overslept, too. I’ve talked to Nick on the phone, however, and he’s pretty pissed off with us both. We need to go – now.”

“Jamie, I don’t think I can go…” Alex starts, feeling so pathetic and sick with himself that he could cry.

“What?” Jamie utters sharply. “Alex…”

“Look, I can barely stand on my feet,” Alex complains, though he realises that Jamie is hardly able to take him seriously, “I’m just… I’m just not feeling very well.”

“Come on, man, I drank a lot more than you did,” Jamie reminds him mercilessly, having decided that there’s no way he’s going to show up for rehearsals without the other, “if I can get my arse out of bed with the hangover I’m suffering, so can you! Please, Alex…”

Alex hangs his head, nodding. He would be a fool to think that the lads would accept either one of his excuses, or explanations, after everything he’s put them through already.

“You’re right,” Alex whispers, feeling so low and miserable that, perhaps, going to their rehearsal actually seems like a reasonable punishment for his recklessness, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to bail on you, I just… I’m sorry.”

“I know you weren’t,” Jamie tells him more kindly this time, “look, Al, I can give you five minutes to get ready, but that’s it. Nick’s been calling me like a thousand times already, ordering me to get you up. We really need to go.”

Alex nods silently, and it feels like admitting defeat.

“Of course,” is all he says.

 

*

 

The rehearsals are going even worse than ever.

Alex keeps losing focus, keeps losing his voice and missing all the right notes, even forgetting his own fucking lyrics. He feels awful for taking comfort in the fact that, at the very least, Jamie’s making some obvious mistakes, too, so that for once this time, he’s not receiving all of Nick’s criticism. Arriving at the place more than two hours late, it is not surprising for Alex and Jamie that they all got off at the wrong foot, feeling annoyed with one another from the very beginning of the rehearsal. Nick barely even spoke to them as they entered the room slowly and embarrassedly, knowing that they weren’t able to offer their mates a reasonable excuse for their tardiness. Matt had asked them a couple of questions about their delay, but when the answer appeared to involve the words ‘going on a bender,’ he seemed to take slight offense.

Where Jamie and Alex decided to take a night off, relaxing and having some fun that they probably didn’t deserve to have, Nick and Matt made sure to go to bed early so that they would be well rested.

“If we could just all agree to put some extra effort into this,” Nick speaks loudly when Alex forgets the words for the tenth time and is forced to start over from the top. Alex clears his throat painfully, trying to ignore the fact that he feels humiliated and put on the spot by his own friend. “All ready?” Nick checks with the others, not bothering to look over at Alex this time. “Alright, on three this time. One, two…”

Alex closes his eyes and tries his hardest to get it right this time. His voice is all rough and sounds horrible, threatening to break at any moment, and he’s struggling to keep up with Matt and Jamie’s rhythms every time the songs speed up. His fingers won’t move as smoothly and skilfully as usual; his mind won’t follow the beat, his guitar ends up sounding like it’s out of tune.

Their first gig is in five days only. This is awful. Just terribly, shamefully awful. Alex feels like he’s going to be sick. The sweat is pouring from his forehead, he feels feverish and queasy. He didn’t even have time to worry about not eating, or drinking anything this morning. He hasn’t even had time to have a cigarette or a cup of coffee, or anything else to keep his strength up. He’s running on zero energy, like a car that’s almost out of fuel and is threatening to break down in the middle of the road, any moment now.

Any moment at all.

He’s a ticking time bomb, ready to explode. He needs to get out of this place. He needs to sit down, he needs some fresh air, he needs an intake of some sort, no matter what it is. This isn’t going to work. He isn’t going to function, and they all see it. They just haven’t had the courage to admit it to him yet.

Alex falls out of rhythm again and his voice cracks humiliatingly. He steps away from his microphone, feeling his peripheral vision blur slightly on him. It won’t be long before the room starts to spin in front of him as well.

“I – I can’t do this,” he speaks suddenly, putting his guitar down. He hears the rhythms from the drums coming to a halt as Matt pulls away from the drum kit, eyeing him with disbelief. Looking away from Nick deliberately, Alex catches Jamie shaking his head as him, like he’s warning him not to go anywhere. They both know what’s going to happen if he does, but Alex knows there’s no other way. “I’m sorry,” he mutters brokenly, turning his back on them all.

“Alex!” Jamie shouts, but Alex ignores him as he walks across the room and towards the doors.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Nick exclaims irritably, “Alex, get back here! Where do you think you’re going?”

Alex slams the doors on his way out, and the band is left stunned.

“I’ll go talk to him,” Matt offers gently, but Nick is having none of that.

“No, I will,” he rages, tearing himself free from his bass. “You guys stay right put, don’t go anywhere. I’ll drag him back here in a second.”

“Nick…” Jamie objects with a sigh, cringing at the tension surrounding him. “Come on, man, don’t you think you’re a little hard on him? I mean, I’ve been making mistakes, too.”

“Yeah, but the difference is, Jamie, that Alex has been doing this to us over and over again all week,” Nick snorts, “I don’t even care about the hangover, it’s his lack of effort. You’re playing with a hangover, aren’t you? So why can’t he?”

Jamie and Matt fall silent as Nick runs after their fourth member, somehow caught between wanting to interfere and sensing that, in reality, they ought to stay out of it.

“Alex!” Nick shouts as he makes it outside where the others can no longer hear him. There is a small backyard behind the building, connected to the studio. Nick figures he must have gone in this direction, since he wouldn’t just leave the place without taking his stuff with him. “Alex, come on, mate – where are you?”

Nick finds him leaning against the railing, facing the small garden at the very back, turned away from him. The way Alex is slumped against the iron barrier, clinging on to it, like he can barely keep himself up, goes unnoticed by Nick. Instead, he takes Alex’s bending figure as a sign of laziness.

“Alex!” He calls again, daring his friend to turn around and face him. “What the hell is going on with you?”

Walking up to him impatiently, Nick doesn’t get a reaction from him until he reaches out to lay a hand on the other’s shoulder. This, however, does cause Alex to spin around and pull away from him indignantly.

“Look,” Alex responds, looking into the bassist’s eyes seriously, “I don’t know what to tell you, Nick. Alright? I just – I just suck! Is that what you want to hear? I’m really sorry, but I can’t do this. Not now…”

“Oh bullshit!” Nick snaps at him, refusing to accept his excuse. “Alex, for crying out loud, you can’t do this to us. I won’t let you. We’re only five days away from our first gig! You were the one who told us that you were ready, you fucking agreed to start the tour early…”

“I know!” Alex cries, raising a hand to his head as it starts pounding agonisingly. “I know, and I’m sorry! I thought I could handle it, but – I’ve just been feeling like shit ever since we came here.”

“Are you expecting me to feel sorry for you?” Nick laughs sarcastically. “Maybe if you didn’t go out and drink yourself silly with Jamie, you wouldn’t be feeling so rough. What the hell were you guys thinking? How much did you fucking drink? Look at you, Al – you look like you haven’t slept for a week! And to think that I actually expected you to care for the band just a little bit…”

“I do care for the band!” Alex objects, horrified that Nick would even suggest otherwise. “Bloody hell, Nick, I’ve known you guys since I was a kid. How could you even think that I’m doing this deliberately to piss you off?”

“I’m not saying you’re deliberately trying to piss us off,” Nick says with a roll of his eyes, “I’m saying that you’re being careless, and sloppy, and it’s pissing me off because you keep thinking that you can get away with it. Can’t you see what it’s doing to the band, Alex? Can’t you see that we’re struggling enough as it is? We can’t be babysitting you every step of the way.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me! I’m saying that you’ve been acting like a little kid recently – demanding to take a break every ten fucking minutes! But guess what, princess, we don’t have time for that! We’re all trying our hardest to keep going, except from you!”

Alex’s mouth falls open with shock. Nick has never spoken to him, or anyone, like this before. It’s beginning to feel awfully personal.

“Don’t call me ‘princess’,” Alex tells him, feeling hurt at the unnecessary insult, “come on, Nick, you know me. I’m not some spoiled brat – I’m not trying to take advantage of you! I am actually trying my hardest…”

“Rubbish!” Nick cuts him off, mercilessly. “If you were trying your hardest, Alex, we wouldn’t be standing here, would we? I’m starting to think that maybe you don’t have what it takes. Or maybe you’ve simply lost the will to keep working. But guess what, we don’t need that! If you wanna quit, the least you can do is come clean!”

“Quit?!” Alex spits, feeling himself getting genuinely angry. “Listen to me, Nick, I’m not fucking quitting. Don’t even talk to me about quitting, I’ve been in this band longer than you have!”

“Then stop wasting my fucking time, Turner!” Nick bellows so loudly, he’s forcing Alex to take a step back. “I’ve got people at home that I haven’t seen for months! I could have been home now to see my family, my friends, but instead, I’m here wasting my time because you are refusing to cooperate! And guess what? I’m getting really fucking sick of it!”

“Oh yeah?” Alex huffs at him, shaking his head. “Well, you don’t get it, do you? It’s easy for you to tell me to work harder, to pull myself together, isn’t it? You’re not the fucking frontman! You’re not the one who has to deal with all the god damn interviews all the time. You’re not the one who has to face people, you’re not the one who’s being photographed every time you go to Tesco’s for a packet of fucking cigarettes! You don’t even know what I’m dealing with, do you?”

“Oh, stop flattering yourself, will you?” Nick mocks him. “I’m so sick of this debate, Alex. Either you come back with me right now, or I’m telling Matt and Jamie that you’re out!”

“Fuck off,” Alex swears at him, “who are you to make me an ultimatum like that? Who made you my boss?”

“I’m not joking, Alex,” Nick tells him, suddenly seizing his arm and pulling him forwards roughly, “get back in there right now and do your job! I’ve had it with you!”

Nick yanks him forwards dangerously, taking Alex by surprise. He’s exhausted enough as it is, dizzy, dehydrated and malnourished, not to mention hungover; at the sudden tug from Nick who refuses to let go of him, Alex loses his balance and isn’t strong enough to keep himself up. He falls forward pitifully, landing hard on his hands and knees as Nick seems to drop him.

“Alex? What the fuck?” Nick looks down at Alex in surprise, watching him sway dangerously as though he’s about to faint, rather than getting himself up. “Alex! What’s happening? I barely touched you.”

“I don’t feel so good,” Alex mutters weakly, feeling the ground move underneath him, confusing him as to what is up and down, “Nick…”

“Alex! Come on, get up!” Nick clutches Alex’s shoulder, encouraging him to look up at him, but Alex can’t. He’s started hanging his head, his body suddenly weak. “Fucking hell, man – are you alright?”

Alex doesn’t reply. When Nick finally begins to feel scared for him, he moves his hands under both armpits and lifts him back up. Only, Alex can no longer stand on his feet. Falling against Nick’s body like a ragdoll, Nick catches him mid-air, stopping him from collapsing onto the ground altogether.

“Alex!” Nick shouts, laying his limp body down on the ground, slapping his cheek gently to provoke a response from him. “Alex, mate – can you hear me?”

Alex’s eyes roll back in his head and his head falls back and hits the ground. He’s now utterly lifeless.

“Jamie! Matt!” Nick shouts when he realises that he doesn’t have a clue what to do with him. “Get out here! It’s happened again!”

 

*

 

Alex wakes up in his hotel bed about an hour later, utterly unaware of what’s been going on. For all he knows, the part in which he was forced out of bed hungover this morning, could have been part of one long, complicated dream. What he doesn’t know is that the lads have been arguing with each other by his bedside ever since he collapsed.

“Jesus Christ, Nick, he’s completely out cold,” had been Jamie’s first reaction when he’d come running to see Alex lying on the ground, “what the hell happened?”

“Are you implying that I did something to him?” Nick asked with indignation, kneeling down by Alex’s side. “Do you think I punched him or what? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Of course not!” Matt had intervened in a slightly angered voice. “This has happened before, we all know that. Something must be wrong with him.”

“Oh, come on,” Jamie had argued, “he’s not sick, he’s just hungover. You guys should have seen him this morning. I nearly had to break down the door just to wake him up.”

“I’m not sure hangovers make people faint,” Matt pointed out with concern.

“Maybe it’s true what the rumours have been saying,” Nick added darkly, “maybe he is on drugs these days.”

“Nick!” Matt told him off sharply.

“What?” The dark-haired bassist burst out. “You’ve seen the way he’s been acting lately, Helders. He hasn’t been him fucking self, has he now?”

“He wasn’t on drugs last night, when I was with him,” Jamie insisted stubbornly, “I would have known. I would have fucking known.”

“Whatever,” Nick snorted, raising himself to his feet, “should we call a bloody ambulance or something?”

“I don’t know,” Matt drawled, looking around him to see if anyone was watching, “I’m not sure Alex wants to be taken to the hospital again. Last time, there was a lot of photographers running after us in the car park. I don’t want any of those wankers to think they have a story on him.”

“What do we do then?” Jamie questioned. “We have to do something.”

“Let’s just get him home,” Matt had decided, “we’ll get him back to the hotel, and then we’ll ring for a private doctor to come and see him. That way, no one will be able to take their rotten photos of him.”

The argument continues now that they are stood in his hotel room, Jamie sitting at Alex’s bedside, placing a wet flannel over his burning hot forehead, and Matt and Nick standing ready by the door for when the doctor arrives.

“Maybe he’s just got the flu,” Jamie suggests, studying Alex’s unconscious features. “Maybe that’s why his voice was so rough during rehearsal.”

Nick chuckles slightly at this.

“Yeah, well, I still think the doctor ought to take a blood sample when he gets here. So that he can test for drugs.”

“Oh, can it, Nick,” Matt tells him when he’s more than sick with his attitude, “just because you feel like he’s let you down today, you don’t have to be so butt-hurt over it. He’s obviously sick, so lay off him.”

“Whatever, mate, I’m out of here,” Nick mutters moodily, “after all, Alex doesn’t need three people to look over him, does he?”

It’s the slamming of the door that has Alex twitching for the first time.

“What a dickhead,” Matt utters, unaware that Alex can now hear him.

“Give him some time,” Jamie says, “I don’t know why he’s so upset, but we really can’t focus on him now.”

Alex turns his head to the side, blinking slowly in an attempt to open his eyes.

“J-Jameh?” He moans quietly, silenced by a lump in his throat.

“Alex!” Jamie exclaims, turning himself around to hover over him. “Matt, he’s waking up! Alex, mate, can you hear me? How’re you feeling?”

Matt comes running to the bed as well, bringing Alex a bottle of water that they’ve picked up for him in the reception.

“Bloody hell, mate, you’ve got to stop scaring us like this,” Matt jokes slightly nervously as he approaches the smaller man, “you’ve been out for over an hour now. No, don’t try to sit up, not yet – maybe you should keep still until the doctor gets here.”

Alex blinks with confusion, looking up at Matt, trying to focus on him though his vision is still kind of blurred. “The doctor? You’ve called for a doctor?”

“Of course we have, mate,” Jamie tells him, touching Alex’s shoulder reassuringly, “we can’t just keep letting this happen to you, can we? We need to figure out what’s wrong.”

Alex feels his heartrate increasing instantly as he begins to dread what this doctor might be able to tell people about his condition. He suddenly begins to struggle once more in order to sit himself up.

“That’s not necessary,” Alex tells them in a panicked voice, “I’m feeling a lot better…”

“Alex, I told you to keep still,” Matt warns him, pressing Alex back down against the mattress, “you shouldn’t be moving around just yet. Here – have some water, maybe you’re dehydrated again.”

Matt pours some of the water into a smaller plastic cup and holds it close to Alex’s lips.

“Man, you’re looking really pale, Alex,” Jamie comments a moment later, “I think I’ll go out and buy you some food. You haven’t even had time to eat since last night, have you?”

“No, Jameh, you really don’t have to do that,” Alex begs him weakly, but he’s too tired to be able to put up a proper resistance. “I’m not hungry,” he whimpers.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re hungry or not,” Jamie tells him, patting Alex’s head softly, “you need to keep your strength up, so I’ll go out and get you a sandwich or summat.”

“Good idea, Jameh,” Matt says.

Jamie leaves the room and Alex is left shivering painfully in his bed, feeling both unbelievably hot and cold at the same time. His stomach is aching devastatingly, his head pounding heavily, threatening to make him black out again at any moment.

“Don’t worry, Al, I’ll stay with you until the doctor gets here,” Matt promises, removing the wet flannel from the other’s forehead, “here, have some more water.”

 

*

 

While the doctor is seeing Alex, Matt and Jamie step out of his room in order to give them some privacy. When the visit seems to be taking a lot longer than they’d initially anticipated, they can’t help but to wonder if something had happened to Alex during their rehearsal without them noticing it. Knowing that Alex has been acting fatigued all week and has been asking for breaks that they haven’t really had the time for, they can’t confidently say that his behaviour today has been anything new.

When the doctor has been inside Alex’s room for about forty-five minutes without coming out to give them an update, Jamie says:

“Do you think there’s a chance that Nick might be right? I mean, since he’s been acting so strange lately – perhaps there is a chance that Alex has been taking certain… substances that we don’t know about.”

“For crying out loud, Jameh, not you too,” Matt sighs, “I’m telling you, there’s absolutely no way that Alex is on drugs. Besides, when I followed him to the hospital in London, they did all sorts of tests on him without finding anything. He doesn’t even party that much these days and he almost never gets high anymore. It’s not drugs.”

“You’re right,” Jamie says, biting his lip slightly shamefully, “I don’t mean to doubt him, I just can’t help but to feel like he’s been keeping something from us. You know?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Matt admits, though reluctantly. “But I can’t honestly imagine what he might be hiding from us. I mean, if he was sick, surely his friend – Dr Kane, or whatever has name was, would have him admitted. If Alex has been dating a doctor, he wouldn’t be able to hide any illnesses from him.”

“Maybe not. But if he’s not sick, what else can be wrong with him?” Jamie pauses. “Do you think he’ll even be ready for our first gig?”

“We’re not supposed to think about the gig,” Matt says, “we’re supposed to worry about his wellbeing above all.”

The doctor doesn’t come out from Alex’s room before it’s been a full hour. And even though Matt has paid him plenty for both his discretion and his qualified opinion, the older man doesn’t seem to be able to identify the problem.

“His blood pressure is way too low and his heartrate seems a little fast,” he tells them without further details as he steps outside, clutching his patient’s journal close against his chest, keeping Matt and Jamie from reading the notes that he’s been taking. “My guess is that your friend has been feeling stressed lately and that it’s causing him to not get enough sleep, and to not eat properly. He’s resting now, but I’m afraid the only thing I can tell you is to make sure that he gets his rest.”

“So…” Jamie looks the doctor over with bafflement. “That’s why he’s been fainting? Because he’s stressed? There’s nothing else wrong with him?”

“Well, it seems that his body temperature has risen over the last couple of hours,” he tells them further, “if you make sure to keep him hydrated, I’m sure he’s going to feel better soon.”

That’s all they’re left with. Matt eyes Jamie intentionally, feeling even more confused than before they had their update.

“Didn’t really tell us much, did he?” Jamie complains, crossing his arms. “Fuck’s sake, I was hoping that there would at least be some kind of medicine that we could give him, so that he would recover a lot faster. Right now I’m not even sure if he’s going to be able to perform on Friday or not.”

“Stress is harder to treat than illnesses,” Matt agrees, though he doesn’t even wish to think about their upcoming concerts. “Right, here’s what we’ll do. I’ll go back inside to make sure that he’s resting. You go find Nick, give him an update.”

“An update?” Jamie huffs. “What exactly am I going to tell him? We barely know anything ourselves.”

“Just tell him that Alex is going to be fine – no thanks to him,” Matt adds bitterly, though holding a grudge doesn’t do him any good.

Jamie disappears and Matt returns silently to his friend’s bedside. The smaller man has already fallen back asleep, looking just as small and poorly as before. It annoys Matt to admit that he, too, had hoped for better answers from the doctor. Alex looks so pale and exhausted, he hates seeing him like this. He is about to turn away from his sleeping bandmate, as he doesn’t want to wake him up, when Matt hears a vibrating from the mobile that’s been left on Alex’s nightstand. Stopping himself, Matt continues to stare down at the phone, reading the name that has been added as a contact.

‘Miles’.

 

*

 

When Alex is still feeling too sick by the time the lads are wanting to go out for a meal, Jamie drops by his room with a Subway sandwich on their way out. Feeling slightly guilty that there is nothing else they can do for him, Jamie then calls for a taxi for the three of them, taking them to an Indian restaurant just outside the city centre. Throughout the night, Matt and Jamie notice a slight change in Nick who’s now suddenly very quiet compared to earlier. The bassist appears to be frowning whilst picking at his food like his mind is completely elsewhere.

“Nick?” Matt asks him when he’s left half of his food untouched and the waitress is coming over to take away their plates. “Is everything OK? Are you not hungry?”

Nick looks up at Matt with a gloomy expression.

“You both think I’ve done Alex wrong, don’t you?” He speaks out of the blue, taking Matt and Jamie by surprise.

“Oh, come on now,” Jamie says as casually as he can, “let’s not think about that anymore.”

“So you do think I was in the wrong,” Nick grunts.

“I didn’t say that,” Jamie shakes his head, “what I meant was, I think we’ve had enough to deal with for one day. Let’s not think about what went down earlier, and more importantly, let’s not begin to blame each other for what happened. It was nobody’s fault.”

“Although,” Matt supplements with an awkward cough, “you were pushing him a little hard. Just saying.”

Nick has picked up his glass, but puts it back down again to glare at Matt accusingly.

“How come it’s my fault for driving him too hard, but not Alex’s own fault for not telling us that he was feeling ill? Hm?” Nick demands. “If he knew he was going to faint, he should have given us a bloody warning instead of – instead of making me look like a complete idiot.”

“Nick,” Jamie sighs, “you were not being an idiot. Really.”

“Can it, Jameh, I can see it in both your eyes,” Nick snorts, “I can tell that you’ve been judging me all day. I can tell that you are blaming me for what happened. But what the hell do you want me to do about it? I can’t go back in time and tell Alex to not get out of bed this morning, can I?”

“No, but you could apologise to him,” Matt mutters sombrely. “He probably thinks that you are mad at him, seeing as you haven’t been to see him in his room yet.”

Nick opens his mouth, looking absolutely outraged. Then, something causes him to simply shut up and instead get up from the table. Jamie and Matt watch him turn away from them and walk out of the restaurant, handing the waitress £50 on his way out, telling her to keep the change.

“Fookin’ hell,” Jamie breathes, feeling embarrassed at the idea of making a scene in a public restaurant. What if someone here were to recognise them? “What the hell is he thinking? Did he actually get upset? You were just telling him the truth.”

“I know,” Matt sighs, leaning back in his chair, “I think maybe he just doesn’t want us to know that he feels guilty.”

“Should we go after him?”

“No way,” Matt insists, “in fact, let’s stay here for a while longer, order an extra bottle of wine. If he wants to storm off like that, he’s on his own.”

But Nick didn’t storm off because he was offended, or because he wanted to make a big scene. In reality, Matt had him realising that the only thing there is left for him to do – if he truly wants to feel better with himself – is to find Alex and talk to him. Perhaps even apologise to him. Of course he never meant to hurt Alex’s feelings, or push him too hard. He hasn’t even been meaning to punish the younger man by not checking up on him yet; he’s simply been feeling too awkward. Alex ha collapsed at his feet – actually collapsed – after Nick tugged at his arm, trying to force him back inside the rehearsal studio. If anyone should be feeling angry over anything, it should be Alex being angry with Nick, not the other way around.

Nick has no idea if Alex would actually blame his collapse on him, even if it all seems a bit crazy, but Nick has decided to go and find out for himself. He doesn’t want to leave things unspoken between them any longer. Because he and Alex aren’t just supposed to get along as colleagues and professionals, but as close friends, too. Alex, Jamie and Matt are some of the best friends he’s ever had, and ever will have, and Nick would be an absolute fool to jeopardise his relationship with the lads.

As he arrives back in the hotel reception, the thoughts are running through his head as he recalls the conversation Alex had with him right before he fell over and blacked out. Nick wonders if, perhaps, Alex is right and that Nick has completely neglected and failed to appreciate all the things, which have been building up and forcing even more pressure on their lead singer. Thinking about it, Nick almost never has to deal with interviews, whereas Alex does. Equally, Nick is rarely chased down the streets, being photographed by strangers, even though he’s aware that it’s been happening to Alex more and more frequently since they starting touring in Europe.

Perhaps he simply doesn’t understand the strain that has been put on Alex, because Nick hasn’t been feeling it himself. Not to the same degree.

Nick stops in front of the door to Alex’s room, taking in a deep breath. He has no idea if Alex will be willing to listen to him, or to have another conversation while he’s feeling ill, but Nick realises that he has to give it a go. He’s not going to achieve any peace of mind before he makes things right again.

“Alex?” Nick knocks on the door, trying not to make too much noise. “Alex, it’s me. Nick. I – I was hoping we could talk for a moment?”

When there is no immediate response, Nick feels at the doorhandle, gently. He’s surprised when the door opens instantly as he thought it would have been locked. Jamie was the last person to go in Alex’s room earlier, so he must have forgotten to lock it after him. Carefully, and slightly hesitantly, Nick pushes the door open and slips inside as quietly as he can. If Alex is still asleep, he doesn’t want to wake him up.

The lights are on in his room, and his bed is left empty. On his nightstand is the paper that had come wrapped around his sandwich earlier, now empty as the food has been eaten.

“Alex?” Nick asks gingerly. “Where are-“

He stops himself at the sudden sound of retching coming from the bathroom. Nick cringes instantly, not realising that Alex had actually been feeling that sick. Turning away from the bathroom, Nick doesn’t want Alex to find him there, listening, as though to invade his privacy. He’s dealing with enough as it is. However, when the retching continues and intensifies, Nick finds himself pausing. He can’t help but to feel slightly worried.

There’s something about Alex’s retching that sounds… off.

Even though he feels utterly awkward for lingering, Nick holds his breath and listens once again. It doesn’t sound like Alex is simply being sick. There’s a lot of gagging, followed by a series of pained grunts and whimpers. Alex gags for about six or seven times before, finally, Nick can hear him vomiting heftily into the toilet bowl.

Is it even normal to gag like that, and for so many times? It’s beginning to sound almost… forced.

But surely, that can’t be right.

Nick jerks when, unexpectedly, the toilet is being flushed and Alex turns on the water tap by the sink. Hurrying out of the room and closing the door, hoping not to leave behind any evidence of him being there, Nick rushes back towards his own room, feeling utterly confused about what’s just happened. It feels like he’s just walked in on Alex making himself sick, which has now sent him away, fleeting and pretending not to know anything about this forbidden information.

But can Nick actually be certain that this is what’s happened? Why the fuck would Alex force himself to throw up? It’s got to be a mistake. He must have gotten the wrong impression, he decides. However, on the other hand, if he feels so certain that he must be wrong, why does he feel so guilty for what he’s just heard, and why are his guts churning at the idea of going back in there?

Nick sighs at his own cowardice. He can’t just run away like this without an answer. He has to know what’s going on in there. He needs to see Alex.

“Alex?” Nick calls a second time, knocking at the door loudly this time in other to give his friend a warning of his approaching. “Alex, can I – can I see you for a moment, please?”

This time, it appears that Alex hears him.

“Nick?” He hears Alex coughing a couple of times, though it sounds like he’s trying to muffle himself. “Yeah, sure – come on in.”

Nick opens the door slowly, swallowing a lump in his throat. As he walks into the room, he sees that Alex has crawled back under the covers, looking kind of small and fragile in that big bed of his. He’s wearing a grey t-shirt that seems to reveal a few stains of sweat around the neck and yet, Alex is shivering evidently, acting as though he’s freezing cold. His forehead is soaked with sweat, too, and his skin has turned deadly white while the skin under his eyes is almost black. He looks impossibly sick; Nick can’t help but to think that he’s made a mistake in coming back. Clearly, he’s not supposed to see Alex this way.

“Hey,” Nick begins awkwardly, noticing the way Alex attempts to hide himself away under the covers as though he doesn’t want to be seen, “I – I’ve come to, eh, see how you’re doing. I mean… You don’t look so good, Al.”

Surprised at Nick’s remark, Alex wipes at his forehead as casually as he can.

“Oh, I’m just a little tired,” he smiles politely, though he secretly wonders why Nick has come here, “I’ll be alright. Really.”

“Really?” Nick pauses, suddenly forgetting everything that he had come here to say in the first place. Now, the urgency has shifted to be about what he heard Alex do to himself, or at least, what he thinks that he’s heard. “You don’t feel, I dunno – nauseous or anything, do you?”

“Nauseous?” Alex repeats, looking into Nick’s eyes cautiously. “No – no, of course not. Why do you ask?”

Nick hesitates for a moment. “Oh, no reason,” he smiles slightly awkwardly, “I just assumed – because you look so pale…” He clears his throat uncomfortably. Alex is denying the obvious, it seems – pretending that he hasn’t been sick just a moment ago. Nick suddenly feels like prodding him for the truth, even though he feels mean for pressuring him. “So, you ate the food Jamie bought you? Must be a good sign that your appetite is back to normal.”

Alex nods skilfully, like the mentioning of his appetite doesn’t make him feel nervous.

“Yeah, that’s something,” Alex agrees easily, “it was nice of Jameh to bring me something. I would have gone out with you all to the restaurant, but you know, I’m trying to, uh, save my energy for tomorrow.”

“No worries,” Nick shrugs, feeling even more confused now. “Say, Alex, would you like me to bring you some extra food from downstairs? I think they’re still serving in the cafeteria. You know, so you can keep your strength up, mate.”

“Oh – oh, no, I’m fine,” Alex tells him, moving a hand to his stomach, “I’m actually really full – I couldn’t possibly make room for more. Thanks, though.”

“N-no worries.”

Nick feels like he’s just been slapped in the face by the truth – the obvious truth that he had hoped to prove wrong. He would like to think that it’s just him, that he’s just being paranoid or overly concerned, but the trouble is: If Alex is fine, and if Alex hasn’t forced himself to empty his guts only ten minutes ago, why is he pretending to be full? Why is he pretending to be fine, to not feel nauseous, when clearly, he’s sick as a parrot? Alex is hiding from him, but why? Is it because he knows that he’s been doing something wrong and that he’s hoping Nick won’t find out? Is it because he secretly has a problem that he hasn’t told anyone of yet? A serious problem, which has become more of an addiction, and which could easily be mistaken for a drug addiction in the eyes of other people…

Nick forgets himself for a moment and looks up to catch Alex studying him in confusion.

“Is everything OK?” Alex questions softly. He’s beginning to sound slightly worried, too. “I mean, was there something that you wanted us to talk about?”

“Uh,” Nick doesn’t have a clue what to say. He can’t have a proper conversation with Alex after what he’s just learned. Not now, not like this. He wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face. “No – no, I’m good. I just wanted to see how you were doing. Really.”

Alex furrows his brow. “So you don’t even want to talk about what happened earlier? You’re not – mad at me or anything?”

“What? No, of course not! Why would I be mad at you?”

“You know – because I’ve let you all down again,” Alex speaks forwardly, like it’s a fact acknowledged by them all. “I’ve wasted a lot of your time by – well, being in bed.”

“Yeah, but Alex, you can’t help that,” Nick sighs, getting increasingly anxious to leave the room. “Look, mate, don’t even worry about tomorrow. I just want you to focus on… not feeling sick anymore.”

“Really?” Alex’s eyes widen in disbelief.

“Yes, really,” Nick insists, “I want you to focus on, you know, good things. Like, treating yourself to some nice food, drinking enough fluids – that kind of thing. Just don’t think about work, or touring, or anything like that. Not now.”

Alex looks like he can hardly believe what he’s hearing.

“It sounds like you’ve just given me tomorrow off,” he jokes, but Nick doesn’t have it in him to laugh. “I’m sorry, though – honestly, Nick, I didn’t mean to fight with you earlier. I hope I didn’t offend you in any way.”

“No, no – of course you didn’t offend me.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Yeah, Alex, don’t worry about it,” Nick smiles at him tightly. “Anyway, I didn’t mean to impose on you. I should probably leave you alone to get some more rest.”

“Oh,” Alex bites his lip, sensing that something has happened between himself and Nick, without even realising what, “well – thanks for stopping by.”

“Anytime, mate,” Nick finds himself taking a step backwards, “anytime.”

Nick lets himself out as quickly as possible, disappearing back into his own room before Matt and Jamie return from the restaurant and go looking for him. He realises that he can’t ignore what has just gotten down between him and Alex; he feels responsible for doing something, for making sure that things are going to be OK, but at the same time, he doesn’t really want to inform the others about his suspicions. Though he is now feeling more than certain that Alex has been making himself vomit tonight, it could have been a one-time thing, and there would be no need to involve Matt and Jamie for that. However, the more he thinks about it, the more Nick suspects that this wasn’t Alex’s first time doing this. The gagging noises he heard coming from the toilet, they could not have represented someone who was trying it for the first time. Alex was too skilful about it, too unbothered about it afterwards. Plus, the way he had gone from puking multiple times to simply turning the water on afterwards, like it was part of his routine, didn’t go unnoticed by Nick either.

And the lying… The well-prepared, easy, instinctive lying...

Alex knew what he was doing. There’s no doubt about it in Nick’s mind. The question now, it seems, is what the vomiting is actually doing to Alex’s health. To his mental state, too. Could this really explain all of their failed gigs so far? Could this really explain Alex’s change of behaviour, his mood swings, his losses of consciousness, his trip to the hospital, his trouble during rehearsals, his lack of energy, his problems with the media?

If Nick is right about what he thinks he might know now, this must mean that Alex is in deeper trouble than either one of them has realised.

 

*

 

When Alex is feeling even worse the morning after, Matt stays by his bedside to look after him, threatening to call for an ambulance if there isn’t any sign of improvement soon. Alex insists that he doesn’t need to be seen, that he would only be wasting everyone’s time if the doctors were to admit him. He even insists that he’s beginning to regain his strength, even though it’s an obvious lie. He’s all feverish as he’s lying in bed, soaked in his own sweat, though he wraps the covers tightly around himself, claiming that his limbs are freezing cold. He keeps nodding off, then waking up ten minutes later, shivering as he’s been falling in and out of lucid dreams, playing tricks on his mind. He’s been living off water and is now refusing to eat any breakfast, though Matt tries his hardest to persuade him several times.

“This is it,” Matt tells the others outside Alex’s door when he’s had enough of watching without being able to help him, “if he’s refusing to eat, he’s never going to recover in time. Either we call for an ambulance or we might as well cancel our first few gigs.”

“Cancel our gigs? Because he’s refusing to eat breakfast?” Jamie huffs. “No way – you can’t be serious. What did you get him, anyway? A bowl of fruits and some yoghurt? Well, that should be easy. Can’t we just force him to eat it?”

“And how exactly are we going to force him to eat it?” Matt asks crossly, giving Jamie an angry stare. “We can’t just shove it down his throat.”

“Look, guys,” Nick interrupts them, taking the breakfast bowl out of Matt’s hands, “let’s take a moment before we do anything rash. Agreed? Let me try and have a word with him. Alone. If I can get him to eat, you will lay off him for a moment. Right, Matt?”

“Right…” Matt looks at Nick with suspicion. “Since when are you in favour of laying off him, Nick?”

Nick doesn’t reply. Instead, he gestures for Matt and Jamie to move out of the way and give him some space to work with as he re-enters Alex’s room on his own.

“Alex?” Nick’s voice is nothing but a whisper. He walks up to the bed to find Alex sleeping, just like he had expected he would. Alex is looking flushed in his fevered state and judging from his twisting and turning, his delirious dreams are beginning to torment him in his sleep. Rather than waking him up, Nick watches him carefully and silently as he begins to eat from the bowl. Though he isn’t big on yoghurt and fruits, Nick shovels it into his mouth in no time, eager to get rid of the evidence. “Look, Alex,” he whispers again, “this is what I do for you.”

Placing the empty bowl on Alex’s nightstand, he’s hoping that Matt will find it and assume that his plan to get Alex to eat something has paid off. Instead of worrying about Alex’s refrainment from eating, Nick feels more anxious about what is going to happen if someone catches him vomiting – again. For that reason, perhaps it’s better if there isn’t any food in Alex’s system until Nick finds out what the hell is going on.

“What the fuck am I going to do with you?” Nick whispers to himself, looking down at his friend’s sleeping face, which is anything but peaceful. “How am I supposed to help you if you won’t admit your problem to anyone?”

Then, from out of the blue, a vibrating sound rattles against the surface of the nightstand and bangs into the breakfast bowl, making an obscene amount of noise and causing Nick to jump. With his heart pounding in his chest, Nick looks down to see that there is an incoming call on Alex’s phone.

‘Miles’, it says.

It’s a bloody wonder how the vibrating noise hasn’t woken Alex up yet. Instinctively, Nick reaches for the phone and picks it up from the surface of the table, stopping it from making so much noise. Just as he assumes himself to have averted the disaster that it would have been for him to wake Alex up, Nick jumps a second time when the latter turns over in his bed and whimpers:

“Miles… Miles…”

Nick’s mouth falls open with astonishment. Alex is babbling in his sleep. His eyes are still shut, but his expression has grown troubled and his voice is on the cusp on pleading Dr Kane’s name painfully, like he’s suddenly part of his confused dreams.

Suddenly, Nick realises that he’s holding the answer in his hand.

Quickly, before the phone rings again and risks waking up Alex, Nick opens Alex’s phone to write the number of the missed caller down into his own phone. Now that he has Dr Kane’s number and is able to contact him, Nick knows what needs to be done.

 

*

 

At ten o’clock in the evening, Alex has just woken up from yet another deep sleep, which has left him feeling even worse; confused and unwell. Hungry, yet too nauseous to eat. Restless, yet too tired to get out of bed. His stomach has begun cramping agonisingly, but the real pain is having to hide it and pretend that he’s fine whilst Matt refuses to leave his bedside. Jamie has been dropping in and out of his room, too, while Nick has been plotting from afar, watching over Alex from a distance.

“Alex, you’re burning hot,” Matt tells him kind of condemningly, like he knows it’s his own fault, “I’m starting to think that we should phone for another doctor to see you. Maybe get a second opinion.”

“What?” Alex asks him. “Do you not trust the word of the first doctor you sent for? Come on, Matt, I’m too tired to be looked over again. It’s fine – I’m going to be fine. I probably just need another day’s rest.”

“But Alex, we’re running out of time,” Jamie intervenes from where he’s stood by the door to his room, “you’re not recovering quickly enough. If we don’t do something soon, we’re going to have to cancel our first gigs. And you know people won’t be happy about that.”

“Jameh, I’ve told you to stop mentioning that,” Matt tells him sharply, “now, Alex, forgive me, but he does have a point. You haven’t made any progress at all. If anything, you seem even weaker than yesterday when you collapsed.”

Alex gulps nervously. He doesn’t like to be reminded of his own embarrassment.

“But I’ve done everything I can,” Alex tries, his voice threatening to break, “I’ve been getting my sleep, I’ve done everything else to speed up the recovery.”

“Maybe you’re not eating enough,” Matt suggests seriously, “I haven’t really seen you eat anything all day, besides from that bowl of yoghurt you had for breakfast.”

“What bowl of yoghurt?” Alex utters with mystification.

“The one we left in your room this morning,” Matt says, furrowing his brow, “it came back empty, so you must have eaten it. Don’t you remember?”

In that moment, Nick appears behind Jamie, checking up on the situation.

“I – I don’t remember having anything for breakfast,” Alex insists, “not today, I mean.”

“What do you mean you don’t remember having breakfast?” Matt continues with concern. “You haven’t had another blackout, have you?”

“Alright, lads,” Nick says suddenly, stepping in to divert the situation before Matt suspects anything, “why don’t we continue this in the morning? Let’s allow Alex to relax and have an early night, shall we?”

“You’re right,” Jamie agrees, yawning discretely, “I’m actually getting a bit sleepy as well. I should probably get back to my room.”

“Fine,” Matt says, though he sounds less convinced, “but Alex, I’m going to continue to check up on you until you make any real progress. I will bring you your breakfast again tomorrow morning.”

Nick manages to get rid of them, but before he leaves the room last, he turns around to give Alex a cagey look.

“You know, Al,” he speaks in a lowered voice, checking to secure that Matt and Jamie aren’t listening from behind the door, “you’ve been really ill today and I just want you to know that – what I’ve done, whether you wanna call it a mistake or not, I’ve done it for you. For your own good, I mean.”

Before Alex is able to comprehend what on earth he’s talking about, Nick turns his back on him and exits without further explanation. Alex is then left on his own and the room is suddenly very quiet, big and empty with only him in it. Though it’s been difficult to keep up appearances around the lads, it’s still been nice just knowing that someone is looking after him and caring about his health. Even if they don’t understand what the problem is.

The nights are the worst part of his routine here in Glasgow. It’s always at night that Alex is reminded of his loneliness and so, his urge to lash out by harming his own body is so much stronger and harder to ignore.

Because there is no one around to stop him during these dark hours, is there?

Alex has laid himself down, trying to find a comfortable position. However, the covers suddenly feel harmful on top of his frail body; they are clinging on to his skin, strangling him, making him feel uncomfortably hot. His stomach cramps are forcing him to draw his knees to his chest, leaving him in a pathetic foetal position in order to be able to breathe through the pain. He knows that his guts are punishing him for not eating, but he just can’t get himself to leave his room in order to search for food. He feels so shabby and pitiful, he doesn’t want to be seen by the world outside.

All he wants to do is lie here, hugging his own body for comfort, hoping to get through the night as quickly as possible. He just wants it all to be over – he wants to be put out of his misery.

He’s only just closed his eyes shut when a knocking on his door causes him to jolt, then groan as an aching sting shoots through his body. Weakly, Alex raises his head from his pillow, though he’s too tired to sit up.

“Hello?” Alex calls faintly, squinting his eyes. “Matt? Is that you?”

No one answers. Instead, Alex hears the door handle being pressed down and the sudden idea of a stranger accessing his room has him feeling so terrified, he springs to life and pushes himself up from the mattress. Supporting himself by leaning against the headboard, Alex tenses and freezes as his door opens, slowly, and he realises that he’s too late in stopping whoever it is from walking in on him.

The door is pushed open, and a tall, coated man walks in. Gently, careful not to intimidate Alex who’s backing himself further up against the wall and eyeing him like he’s staring at a ghost, the uninvited visitor approaches the foot of the bed, only coming to a stop when his emotions are forcing him to inhale tenderly.

“Alex, it’s me,” he says in an unfamiliar voice that is slightly rough and raspy. He sounds agitated. Upset.

“Oh my God,” Alex breathes, “Mi – Miles?”

Alex attempts to jump out of the bed, but Miles is quicker than him. Sprinting to his bedside, Miles falls down to his knees and wraps his arms around him, pulling Alex close against his chest. Alex responds to the embrace by burrowing his face into Miles’s shirt, taking in that familiar smell of the man that he’s missed beyond belief and the reconciliation is bringing him to tears instantly.

“Miles!” He gasps, trying furiously to blink his own tears away. “What on earth are you doing here?”

Miles is busy pressing his face against Alex’s hair, smelling him, feeling him. He guides Alex’s head back by moving his fingers to the other’s chin, urging him to look up into his eyes.

“I – I heard you were sick,” Miles utters emotionally, stroking Alex’s cheek as he looks him over carefully, “Alex, you look – you look so pale. You look like you’ve lost weight. How are you feeling?”

“Oh, Miles,” Alex bursts out crying, leaning his forehead against the doctor’s shoulder, hiding his face away, “it’s all gone to hell since we came here. I – I’ve been so stupid. I’ve screwed everything up…”

“Hey, hey,” Miles shushes him, wrapping a protective arm around Alex’s back, “don’t say that. Now, listen to me. I can tell that you’re feeling a lot worse since the last time I saw you, but that doesn’t mean you’ve screwed things up. We can do this, Alex. We can help you get better again.”

“No,” Alex sobs, shaking his head, “that’s not what I was talking about. I mean with you, Miles. I’ve screwed up things with you. I’ve let you down completely. I’m so sorry. I can’t believe the way I’ve treated you…”

“What?” Miles asks with surprise. “No, Alex, look-“

“I’m so sorry,” Alex weeps frantically, digging his fingernails into the material of the older man’s coat, “I – I never should have left you like that. I never should have left London. I’ve been so stupid… I’ve ruined everything.”

“Alex, no. No, please, look at me. Look at me, love,” Miles breathes gently into the younger man’s ear, soothing him sweetly, “you need to stop blaming yourself. You ran away because I failed to communicate my feelings to you. You left because I was pushing you away, and that’s on me.”

Alex pulls back, sniffling miserably and wiping his cheeks, though the salt is causing his skin to itch.

“I missed you so much,” he whimpers brokenly, ashamed to look Miles in the eye, “I missed you the whole time – from the moment we came here. And you’ve been ringing me every day. You must be thinking I’m such a bitch for ignoring you…”

“No, Alex, no I don’t.”

“But I wanted to pick up,” Alex bawls, “I wanted to hear your voice so bad… I was just so scared that you would be mad at me. That you would maybe – refuse to ever see me again…”

“Refuse to ever see you again?” Miles pants with astonishment. “No, never – never, do you hear me? How could I ever cut you out of my life? Alex, I thought you would have more faith in me than that.”

“I’m sorry,” Alex whines, feeling utterly devastated, “I’ve been so confused… I can’t believe you’ve actually come here. How did you even find me? How could you possibly know where I was?”

“Well,” Miles pauses for a moment, searching for the right words to begin with, “let’s just say we have a lot to talk about. I was searching and searching for you, ever since I learned that you had left the city. I checked every newspaper, every online fan base for clues…”

“You checked what? An online fan base?” Alex sniffles incredulously.

“Yeah,” Miles chuckles self-consciously, “I mean… there are plenty of blogs out there, you know. Teenage fangirls who are dying to know where they might find you guys. But no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find a reliable source. I had no idea where you’d gone. For all I knew, you could have left the country. And in a sense, I guess you did.”

“I’m so sorry, Miles,” Alex says again, feeling himself tremble brokenly, “I wanted to come back to you, you have to believe me… I should have never agreed to any of this. I should never have told Matt and the others that I was ready for touring again… All I’ve done lately is to let people down. I’ve failed everyone.”

But then, Miles simply touches Alex’s cheek again, smiling at him warmly.

“How can you say that you’ve let people down, Alex,” he whispers, “when all you’ve done is make yourself sick in your attempt to please everyone around you?”

Miles leans in closer, revelling in the sensation of being able to touch the younger man’s skin again. Alex looks up at him, his innocent, doe eyes big with wonder.

“I can’t believe you’re not blaming me for what I did to you,” he utters disbelievingly.

“Just – just don’t ever leave me like that again,” Miles begs from the bottom of his heart, “never.”

He seizes Alex’s face and leans in to kiss him tenderly. Alex closes his eyes, losing himself in the moment and in the warmth coming from the doctor’s breath against his lips. He’s longed to kiss Miles again, more times than he could possibly recall, but for some reason, he had almost stopped believing that it would ever happen again. Now, Dr Miles Kane is holding him close in his arms, warming him, healing him, breathing new life into him. And suddenly Alex realises that he never wants to be apart from him again.

“You still haven’t told me how you found me,” Alex whispers with a small smile on his lips when they are forced to end their kiss in order to catch their breaths. “You must have had help. Someone must have told you which hotel we’re staying at.”

“Yeah, about that,” Miles nods, holding his breath in anticipation, “there’s something you need to know, love.”

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Alex touches Miles’s cheek with the tip of his fingers, caressing him lovingly – gratefully.

“I’m here because I got a phone call from your bandmate – Nick O’Malley. He – he’s the one who told me where to find you. He said I had to come as soon as I could.”

Alex’s smile disappears and is replaced by a confused frown.

“What? That… that doesn’t make any sense.”

“Alex,” Miles tells him with a small sigh, “Nick knows about your condition. He… He knows everything.”

Chapter Text

As soon as the words have left Miles’s mouth, Alex freezes with shock. As he turns paler, fast, Miles holds him closer, worried that his ex-patient is going to be sick.

“Alex?” Miles utters with concern, shaking Alex gently back to reality. “Love, are you OK?”

But Alex is still too stunned to snap out of his bewilderment.

“Nick knows?” He whispers in a slightly broken voice as he swallows hard. “About me? About… everything?”

Miles detects the upset in the smaller man’s gaze, the embarrassment, the mortification all evident in those frightened doe eyes. Alex is, without doubt, horrified and now, the doctor longs to comfort him again.

“Alex, listen,” he speaks as softly as he can, “you have nothing to be ashamed of. Perhaps it’s a good thing that one of your mates found out. You won’t have to go through this alone. Not anymore. I never wanted you to carry this burden on your own. It’s been tormenting you, love – I see that now.”

“But…” Alex pauses, trying his best to relax when he feels the warmth from Miles’s embrace overflow him. “But how did he even find out about me? I don’t understand…”

“Just take a look at yourself, love,” Miles sighs sadly, brushing the hair away from Alex’s sweaty forehead, “anyone can see you’re not well. You’re shivering and pale, you’ve got the darkest rings around your eyes I’ve ever seen and you’ve become even thinner than before…” Miles pauses, swallowing a lump in his throat. “You… You’ve been getting worse every day. Haven’t you?”

Alex doesn’t respond to this. Looking away, as if to avoid the doctor’s knowing eyes, he merely shrugs.

“I did everything possible to keep this a secret from the lads. What if he’s going to tell Matt and Jameh? What if he’s told them already?”

“Alex, you can’t worry about that now,” Miles sooths him, but the younger man is suddenly restless.

“I have to go find Nick,” Alex breathes frantically, struggling to release himself from the doctor’s embrace, “I have to talk to him.”

He makes a sudden effort to remove himself from the bed, however, as soon as he tries to carry his own weight, he falters miserably and Miles has to catch him around the middle and drag him back down against the mattress.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Miles gasps with worry, taking in the discomfort that now shows on Alex’s face, “you need to rest, do you hear me? You’re only going to hurt yourself if you don’t take it easy.”

“But,” Alex intervenes desperately, “but I have to stop him! Before he tells anyone else…”

Alex squirms, trying to work his way out of Miles’s grip, though the doctor is having none of that.

“Stop it,” Miles orders him, this time in a much graver tone, “Alex, I’m serious, you’re not leaving this room. You’re much too weak to be getting out of bed. You would barely be able to stand on your feet. You have to promise me that you’ll stay still, relax and let me handle the situation.”

“But, Miles…” Alex begs, a hint of fear evident in his strained voice. “What if he…”

“What if he what, love?” Miles shushes him, running his fingertips down his hot, tear-stained cheek. “Alex, I have not travelled all this way to upset you. But right now you have to take my word for it – you have to lie back down and forget about it. You’re sick. I – I worry about you.”

Miles’s skilled, gentle hands are now pushing, or rather guiding Alex’s frail body backwards, until the younger man feels the pillows supporting his back, urging his body to relax. Once Alex allows the doctor to instruct him and immobilise him, he takes in a deep breath, desperate for his anxious mind to give him a break. He can’t stop thinking about the potential consequences of Nick finding him out, of Nick knowing the deepest, darkest secret he’s ever had. Alex suddenly feels vulnerable; like an embarrassment, a laughing stock just waiting for the whole world to mock him or worse yet, judge him for his failing health. Like it’s all his own fault.

“Alex? Did you hear what I said?” Miles interrupts his troubled chain of thoughts. “I said I worry about you.”

The doctor is touching Alex’s face again, caressing him as though he’s trying to wipe away some invisible tear drops – tear drops that have already dried on pale, feeble skin. Instead, it’s Miles who is welling up this time. It’s Miles who’s fallen suddenly emotional, suddenly unable to conceal his fears. As he looks down at his former patient with both love and concern, he grieves the agony that he is able to detect in Alex. The lad, his lad, is both skinnier and more ashen since last he saw him. He’s in pain and in horrible distress, and Miles shudders at the thought of what Alex may have been putting himself through, how he must have been punishing himself while he was alone. He’s never seen the smaller man this ill, this exhausted before; not even the time when his best friend, Helders, had him rushed to the hospital after he’d collapsed at tennis.

Alex sees the affliction in Miles’s eyes and feels instantly guilty.

“Mi, I – I never meant to make you worried,” he apologises nervously, biting his lip in discomfort, “You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll get better, I promise!”

Alex’s eyes have become big and anxious as he maintains the older man’s apprehensive gaze. Miles is upset, he can absolutely tell by looking at him and now, Alex is beginning to realise that he’s not only hurt himself with his self-harm, but Miles, too. Mi – the kindest, most wonderful person who’s dropped everything he had to come help him. He owes Miles everything, his life included.

“I know you will, love,” Miles smiles through his tears, clearing his throat as he struggles to calm himself, “I’ll be here to make sure of it.” He bows down to press a soft kiss against the other’s warm forehead. “Now, stop worrying about me, and I’ll stop worrying about you,” he whispers before planting another kiss straight to Alex’s lips, “we would only be wasting our time if we continued like this. Let me know how I can make you feel at ease, Alex,” Miles suggests, deepening their kiss, “I can even go find Nick for you if it makes you feel any better.”

“That won’t be necessary,” a voice then interrupts, startling both the doctor and Alex as they break their kiss and pull away from each other hurriedly. When they both look over towards the door, they find Nick himself, standing there awkwardly as he blushes at the thought of having caught them in the middle of a tender, private moment. “I’m sorry,” Nick gasps slightly, “I didn’t mean to pry, I – I just saw that the door was open. And then I heard someone mention my name.”

Alex burrows under his duvet while Miles gets up from kneeling down at the floor, dragging a chair across the room to sit by Alex’s bedside instead. Nick wraps his arms around his body uncomfortably, still unsure whether he should really be here or not.

“I’m sorry, we were just…” Alex mutters in bemusement, uncertain where he’s even going with this. “I mean, uh…”

“It’s OK, Al,” Nick tells him with a polite smile, “I can come back later.”

“No, wait,” Alex then pleads, gathering the courage to speak up, “please stay. I mean – I really need to talk to you, Nick.”

“I’ll give the two of you some privacy,” Miles then decides, getting up from his chair, “don’t worry, love,” he adds when he catches Alex looking up at him with fear – fear that he’s going to have to do without him all over again, “I’ll be right back and then I’ll stay with you. I promise.”

He considers pressing another kiss to the younger man’s forehead, but stops himself when he senses that Nick is watching him curiously. Walking across the room slightly hesitantly, Miles nods in acknowledgement towards Nick and pats the shoulder of a man he barely even knows.

“Thank you, Dr Kane,” Nick tells him, not knowing what else to say.

“Keep it brief,” Miles smiles slightly awkwardly, giving both O’Malley and Alex a look, “Alex needs all the rest he can get.”

“Of course,” Nick replies, showing genuine understanding, “thanks again.”

 

*

 

Outside the door to Alex’s room, Dr Kane is resting himself up against the wall, closing his eyes for a short moment. As he’s taking in one deep breath after another, trying hard not to get upset, he finds himself feeling utterly helpless and remorseful. Ever since they’ve been apart, Alex has been wasting away, losing one pound after another, all vital in his battle for health, for survival. Kane finds himself feeling truly scared, even though his profession ought to make him feel properly equipped for cases like this. But Alex isn’t just any other patient who’s suffered under his nose. He’s special, he’s dear to the distraught doctor, and so, Kane begins to feel like he’s slowly forgetting everything that the textbooks have ever taught him.

Having left the door slightly ajar, Kane is now able to hear the words being exchanged between Alex and O’Malley. Listening quietly, Kane realises that he’s not the only one who’s now caught up in raw emotion and feelings of regret.

“Al, I can’t believe you kept something like this all to yourself,” he hears O’Malley utter in devastation, “you should have told us! I – I was horrible to you! I treated you so terribly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you hated my guts right now.”

“Of course I don’t hate you, Nick,” Alex’s gentle voice sounds, “you’re one of my best friends. You’ll always be.”

“I thought you were on drugs! I thought you were having a breakdown like some sort of diva rock star, I mean… I never actually thought that you were sick. This explains everything! No wonder you haven’t been able to play, or perform. No wonder you’ve been losing your voice and… collapsing. Bloody hell, Al – I am so sorry!”

“Nick, you have nothing to be sorry for. It’s my own fault. I should have asked for help years ago instead of waiting all this time. I have only made things worse for myself.”

“Alex, stop,” Nick cuts him off, “even if you didn’t tell anyone, I still should have known. I should have been able to figure it out on my own. I should have trusted you instead of blaming you, instead of assuming things that weren’t true. And for that, I will never forgive myself. I mean, for fuck’s sake, I’ve known you since we were small. I know that you would never act out on purpose.”

“I have been acting out, though,” Alex speaks ruefully, “I didn’t make it easy on any of you.”

“Listen to yourself, mate. You keep blaming yourself, but that needs to stop. You’re sick, Alex.” At that, Kane notices the pitch in O’Malley’s voice changing. He sounds like he’s on the verge of crying. “You’re sick, and none of this is your fault.”

“Nick…”

“I don’t want to lose you, Alex.” Finally, O’Malley produces a big sob. “I mean, we don’t want to lose you. Fuck – Matt and Jamie don’t even know about this…”

“You won’t lose me,” Alex insists as bravely as he can, “I’m going to fight this illness. Miles – I mean, Dr Kane is going to help me. As soon as I start eating again, things will get better. But Nick, you have to promise me you won’t tell Matthew and Jameh.”

O’Malley sniffles and sobs before he can even respond.

“I – I can’t keep this to myself, Alex. I mean, what if something happened to you and the others didn’t know about it? That would be on me. It would all be my fault for remaining passive.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me, not now that Dr Kane is here. Just… Please, Nick, I don’t want them to know. Then we would all be talking about it all the time and I can’t deal with that. Not yet. Besides, I don’t want to upset them. I don’t want them to worry about me.”

“If they find out that I knew and didn’t tell them, they would kill me, Alex.”

“No they won’t because I will stand up for you. And we both know that they won’t lay a finger on me.” Alex laughs quietly in an attempt to lighten the mood, and the sound of his rare, but genuine laughter is making Kane’s heart ache even worse. “Trust me, Nick. I will tell them when it’s time. You won’t get blamed for anything. I swear.”

“Just promise me one thing,” O’Malley weeps, after which he blows his nose into something rather loudly, “promise me you’ll start your treatment. Look after yourself, alright? I need you to get better, Alex, and not because we’ve got gigs, but because – well, we fucking need you, don’t we? You’re one of us. You might as well be my own brother.”

“I promise I’ll start my treatment,” Alex answers dutifully, though he’s beginning to sound kind of tired, hence filling Kane with concern. “I wouldn’t want to let my own brother down.”

“I’ll be there for you, mate. Every step of the way. If there’s anything you need, you can count on me.”

“Thanks, Nick. That means a lot.”

Kane gives the two of them another couple of minutes. Then he decides that Alex is exhausted enough as it is, and that his conversation with O’Malley has been going on for long enough. When the doctor re-enters the room to bring their conversation to an end, he sees that O’Malley is now hugging Alex caringly, holding him close just like a younger brother in need of protection. Though touched by this, Kane is also aware that Alex has been growing paler. It’s obvious that he’s been trying to hide the fact that he’s in pain.

“O’Malley, can I talk to you for a second?” He asks kindly, masking the fact that he actually wants this man to leave Alex’s room. “Out in the hallway, I mean.”

Nick speaks a few reassuring words to Alex before saying goodnight to him, following the doctor back outside. Now that he and Kane are stood facing each other, Kane notices that the younger man’s eyes are still red with tears.

“Is he… Is he going to be OK?” Nick snivels with concern, though he’s putting on a brave face in front of the doctor. “He seems so weak.”

“That’s because he is weak,” Kane confirms with a sad smile, patting the other’s shoulder once again for comfort, “but I promise you, I’m going to get him all the help I can.”

“H-how bad is it?” Nick inquires nervously. It becomes apparent to Kane that he’s still battling various emotions of both guilt and shock.

“I’m not sure yet,” Kane sighs, seeing as this is the truth, “I have yet to look him over. But he’s definitely doing worse since I saw him in London. A lot worse.”

“With all due respect, Dr Kane…” Nick hesitates. “Why did you let him go up here? He shouldn’t be touring. He should be in the hospital instead.”

“I can’t admit a patient against his will, O’Malley,” Kane retorts, omitting the fact that it’s more complicated than that. “Look, I never actually meant to get separated from him. The truth is, I’ve been stupid. I let him down, so Alex took off without telling me.”

“Huh. That explains the million lost calls he’s had from you,” Nick concludes. “I hope he’s not mad at me for giving you this address. I just knew he needed you, and I hardly even know you. I could just tell that he was feeling… alone. I figured I had to let you know what was happening to him.”

“You did the right thing,” Kane praises him, smiling genuinely. “I’m glad he has friends like you, O’Malley.”

Nick shrugs, avoiding Kane’s eyes.

“I haven’t always been a good friend to him,” he admits in a dark, regretful voice, “I yelled at him when things went wrong. When he was sick. I didn’t understand at all…”

“How could you possibly understand?” Kane reasons kindly. “You had no idea what was going on with him.”

“I know, but… I lost my temper when Matt and Jamie didn’t. In a sense, I wish it were Matt or Jamie who had found out about this instead of me. They would know what to do. I just feel so… useless.”

“If you want to make yourself helpful, O’Malley, although I must remind you that you’ve done well in getting me here,” Kane offers, “I do have a favour to ask you.”

“Anything.” Nick utters immediately, without hesitation. “What can I do?”

“If we want Alex to start eating again, we are going to need to bring him some foods that he feels comfortable with. If I make you a shopping list, could you pick up some items for me for tomorrow morning? That way, Alex can start the day with a breakfast that won’t make him feel sick.”

By the time Kane returns to Alex’s room, he discovers that the younger man is lying motionless in the bed. From his soft and slow rhythmic breathing, he can tell that he has already fallen asleep, too worn out, too poorly to await the doctor’s return. Turning off the lights and locking the door from the inside, Kane removes his shoes and jacket before crawling into bed next to him, trying his hardest not to awake him. For several minutes, or so it seems, Kane watches his beloved one sleep peacefully, feeling both thrilled to be reunited with him, yet crushed to witness Alex’s declining health. It pains him so much to see the younger man in agony when all he wants to do is heal him, restore his strength, his appetite for food and for life, and keep him happy.

“Oh, Alex,” he whispers quietly, sorrowfully, pressing a chaste kiss to the other’s hair, “I can’t stand to see you like this.”

When Kane moves himself under the covers and presses his body carefully against Alex’s, he accidentally wakes him up, though only for a moment.

“Miles!” Alex gasps, turning around to face him in the darkness. “Miles, is that you?”

“I’m here,” Kane swiftly comforts him, wrapping a protective arm around Alex’s middle, “I’m here, love, it’s OK. You’re OK.”

“You – you’re not leaving, are you?” Alex pleads in a sleepy, sensitive tone. “I don’t want you to leave.”

“Of course I’m not leaving,” Kane assures him by holding him close, pressing Alex’s head against his chest. “I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you.”

“Thanks, Mi…” Alex’s voice is still marked by fatigue and distress. He sounds so incredibly fragile, like all vigour has been drained from his body. “I missed you so much.”

“Missed you too, baby,” the doctor reciprocates truthfully, “I won’t be leaving you again.”

Within a mere second, Alex is back to sleeping heavily in the older man’s arms, and Kane is glad. God knows he needs some peace of mind.

 

*

 

The next morning, Matt and Jamie find Nick standing outside of Alex’s room, perfectly resembling some sort of bouncer or guard who’s there to chase away any unwanted visitors. Both surprised to see him here, considering the tensions he created yesterday and the days before that, claiming that Alex was on drugs and needed to be kicked out of the band, Matt and Jamie pause in front of him, unsure what to say.

“Nick?” Jamie then ventures, though with a feeling of unease. “Why are you standing here? H-have you been to see Al?”

“How’s he doing?” Matt asks anxiously, looking troubled and concerned. “You didn’t yell at him again, did you?”

Nick frowns as he looks both his friends over.

“Of course I didn’t yell at him! God, Helders, you make me sound like a monster sometimes, do you realise that?” He responds in offense, though he knows perfectly well that Matt has good reason to assume the worst, seeing as Nick has treated their fourth member absolutely horribly up until now. But that’s not going to happen ever again, Nick has decided. He’s already feeling guilty enough as it is. Now that he knows what Alex is going through, how much pain he’s been in and – fuck it – the fact that his life could be in danger, Nick never wishes to blame him for anything again. Instead, he wants to be there for his friend and help him through it all if possible. He feels heartbroken now that he knows about Alex’s condition and if, somehow, Alex didn’t make it, Nick would never forgive himself. He would never get over it. Alex is one of them and they can’t do without him. “There, uh… There has actually been a development since yesterday,” Nick then mutters, his gaze shifting between Jamie and Matt.

“A development?” Jamie repeats, unsure of what to make of it. “Fuckin’ hell, Nick, you’re sure you haven’t been fighting with him again?”

“Fuck off, Jamie!” Nick growls before he can even stop himself, sick and tired of being reminded of his guilt. “I mean… Just stop assuming the worst about me, will you? Alex and I have made up. I’ve… apologised to him.”

“You have?” This time, Matt butts in. “I mean, bloody hell, Nick – that’s great news.”

“What did Al say to your apology?” Jamie asks curiously. “Did he accept it? He wasn’t mad or anything?”

“No, he – he was really good about it,” Nick said as he lowered his head, remembering his emotional heart-to-heart with Alex last night. “There are no grudges. Like I said, we’re good. No, better than that actually, we’re great. I realise that I haven’t been as supportive as I should have been, but that’s all going to change now. Fuck the gigs. The important thing is that Al gets better.”

Matt then walks up to Nick, wrapping a forgiving arm around his shoulders.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, mate,” he smiles.

“Speaking of which,” Jamie says, clearing his throat, “how is he doing this morning? Have you been to see him?”

“I have,” Nick replies, reciprocating Matt’s smile, “he’s slightly better than last night actually. You can both go see him if you want. Although, there’s something you should know. Like I said, there’s been a development.”

“What is it?” Matt and Jamie ask in unison, once again worried that there is bad news.

“Alex has a visitor,” Nick tells them with a small grin, appeasing them after their nervous reaction, “before you ask me who it is, I suggest that you go have a look for yourselves.”

Alex is sat upright in his bed, a plate full of fruits, chopped up carrots and two slices of wholegrain bread balanced in his lap, when there is a knock on the door. The doctor is stood by the younger man’s side supportively, watching Alex eat slowly and cautiously, like he isn’t really sure if the food is going to harm him or not, but the important thing is that he has started eating again, without Kane having to pressure him or make him feel uncomfortable. When Alex has finished eating a whole apple, he looks up at the older man with a small smile, like he knows he’s doing well and should be praised for it.

“You’re doing great, love,” Kane smiles at him with genuine joy, bowing down to reward him with a kiss to his cheek, “I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks, Miles.”

When the two of them are interrupted by the knocking on the door, Alex hardly even seems worried at the prospect of having to deal with people. Before he gets the chance to tell his visitors to come on in, Nick opens the door for Matt and Jamie, and the two band mates enter Alex’s room hurriedly.

“Alex!” Matt exclaims, evidently happy to see him as he crosses the room hastily, heading straight towards the bed. Only when he sees the doctor standing by the bedside with his hands folded behind his back, watching them all with anticipation, does Matt still himself. “Doctor Kane?” He utters with great surprise. “I – I… When did you get here? I mean… I thought you and Al were on a break or summat. Because you were too busy with your work in London.”

As soon as the words have left Matt’s mouth, he cringes. He soon realises he’s been a bit too straightforward. When he sees Alex blushing and looking up at the doctor nervously, mortified at the idea of Kane finding out that he’s been telling his friends that they were on a break, Matt regrets his honesty and wishes he could take back his words.

“I’m sorry,” Matt quickly adds, “I know it’s none of my business. I didn’t mean it like that…”

In the meantime, Jamie has more or less ignored Dr Kane’s presence. Without speaking a single word, he’s moved over to stand by Alex’s bedside and now he simply bows down to give his best mate a hug.

“No need to apologise, Matt – can I call you Matt?” Kane smiles warmly at the drummer and Alex feels instantly relieved to see that he hasn’t taken offense even though it’s now obvious that Alex has been complaining to his friends about their failed relationship. “Alex was right. I have been really busy with my job. Too busy. And I regret that now. It’s time that I realised what’s really important here.” As he says this, he places a comforting hand on Alex’s shoulder in order to show the younger man that he knows he’s been wrong and that he wants to make things right again. “I came here last night after hearing that Alex hasn’t been feeling well,” Kane looks in Nick’s direction, smiling gratefully as he remembers the phone call, “and Alex’s wellbeing is more important to me than my job. So I’m here to look after him now.”

Though entangled in Jamie’s embrace, Alex continues to stare up at the doctor, secretly feeling both overwhelmed and lucky to have found someone who cares as much as Kane does.

“Wow,” Matt breathes, sounding impressed. “I had no idea you actually came here all the way from London. I mean – that’s great of you. Really.”

“Looks like your being here has already improved the situation, Dr Kane,” Jamie laughs almost cheekily as he gives Alex a closer inspection and even feels his friend’s forehead with his hand. “Alex, your fever has gone down a bit. You’re looking better, mate.”

Alex smirks at this and offers Jamie a sleepy smile. “Thanks, Jameh. I feel better, actually.”

“You must have brought some miracle medicine with you from London,” Matt says to Kane jokingly, “I’m telling you, we’ve been really worried about him.” Then he also crouches down by Alex’s bedside to give their lead singer a tight hug. “Glad you’re feeling better, Al. But please, take all the time you need. Me and the lads have already talked about this, and we all agree that our upcoming gigs don’t matter. We would rather want you to relax and get some rest. You’ve been under a lot of stress lately, haven’t you?”

“But Maffew,” Alex objects with a hint of uncertainty in his voice, “I don’t want to cancel our gigs. I think I can do it. I think I can recover just in time. I just – I just don’t want to let you guys down.”

“Alex, you won’t let us down,” Jamie assures him. “I’m sorry if we’ve been rushing you. We were wrong to do that.”

“Yeah,” Matt agrees, “It’s alright, mate. Really. Besides, our first gig is only three days away now.”

“I know, but,” Alex pauses, biting his lip, “I want us to keep rehearsing. Starting tomorrow. I know we don’t have much time, but with Miles here – I mean, Dr Kane – I feel like I can do it now.”

“Alex, are you sure about this?” Kane intervenes, giving his former patient a concerned look. Secretly, Kane had hoped that Alex would be reasonable enough to cancel, reasonable enough to look after himself instead of carrying on just to please the rest of the world. “I mean, you’ve been really sick. You need to put yourself first.”

“I’ve still got three days,” Alex reminds them all, “I – I think it’ll be fine. I-I think I’ll be OK.”

“Well, I mean… Only if you’re sure,” Jamie reasons, though it’s going to take more convincing than that. “Maybe you should think about it some more.”

“Yeah,” Matt concludes, “and if you still want to go through with this, we can start rehearsing again tomorrow. But only if you’re feeling better.”

 

*

 

Later in the day, after the lads have left Alex’s room and Alex has had time to shower and get changed, he finds himself sitting in his bed with Miles by his side. Smiling over at the older man who’s now holding his hand sweetly, intertwining their fingers and caressing Alex’s skin fondly, he can’t help but to comment:

“I can’t believe it, Miles. It’s been hours since I had breakfast and it’s all stayed down. I haven’t felt sick, even once.” Alex sighs with relief, revelling in the fact that he feels less hot, less exhausted here in the doctor’s arms. “Maybe Matt was on to something. Maybe you are my miracle medicine. Or at least my miracle something.”

Miles grins at that.

“Don’t give me all the credit, love,” he reminds the younger man, “you’ve done really well today. Maybe you would even like me to make you some lunch?”

Though Alex has had a good feeling in the pit of his stomach all morning, he doesn’t want to test his own luck.

“I – I’m not quite sure I’m ready for that just yet,” he admits, feeling slightly embarrassed. “I still need to get used to the idea of eating multiple meals, I guess.”

“I know, I know. Don’t worry, I wasn’t trying to pressure you.” Miles stares into Alex’s eyes, sensing that no harm is done. “We’ll sort out your treatment according to your tempo. If we change too much, too fast, you might end up feeling overwhelmed.”

Alex looks genuinely happy and content and at that, Miles feels truly blessed. When his friend Nick phoned Miles only yesterday, telling him that Alex had been vomiting and losing consciousness, that Alex had collapsed during rehearsals, Miles had felt anxious and scared beyond belief. Though he had been relieved to learn about Alex’s location, though it was a relief to hold him in his arms again and reunite with the smaller man who had so evidently stolen his heart on the day they met, Miles had felt absolutely shocked to find Alex in such a poor, delicate condition. Alex’s fever had been so high, he should have been hospitalised immediately; he had felt so weak, even as he tried to reciprocate Miles’s embrace, Miles’s kisses, Miles had secretly feared that he was going to collapse one more time. And worse yet, Alex’s weight loss is now something which still holds the potential to keep Miles awake at night. He still can’t believe that he actually let Alex run away in the first place. How could Miles have been so stupid as to yell at him, as to act like he was a burden, an embarrassment? How could he have pushed him away when, all Miles wants to do is kiss him and bestow to him the very key to his heart? If Miles hadn’t made the mistake to let him escape in the first place, Alex would never have relapsed so drastically. He would have continued his treatment, and he would probably be feeling a lot better already.

Though Alex seems stronger, happier, almost fever-free this morning, Miles knows that they still have a long way to go. And he isn’t sure that Alex can actually recover in only three days’ time.

“Miles,” Alex’s whispers pensively, pulling Miles away from his darkened thoughts, “about my treatment… There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“What is it, love?” Miles asks tenderly, palming Alex’s face when he detects a tinge of reluctance, or perhaps dread. “You know you can ask me anything.”

“I know,” Alex smiles hesitantly. “It’s just… I’ve been wondering. A-are you here as my doctor? Or are you here as my… you know… something more than that?”

Alex feels his cheeks grow hot and almost immediately, he has to look away in order to not give himself away. He feels absolutely mortified for asking the older man such a childish, juvenile question, especially considering the fact that Miles has already rejected his affections once before, but he simply has to know. Before he tries something again and makes an even bigger fool out of himself. Miles perceives his discomfiture and feels instantly guilty for confusing Alex, and for not having made it clear what his intentions were.

“I’m glad you ask,” Miles utters without thinking twice about his next move, “I’m hoping this will clear things up for you.”

Without further ado, he clutches unto the smaller man and presses himself against him, bringing his mouth to Alex’s lips. As he kisses Alex deeply and urgently, Miles closes his eyes, overcome with emotion when he realises how much he’s missed this, how only yesterday, he’d feared that he’d never get to do this again. He’d feared that Alex hated him, that he’d never get to hold him close one last time and tell him all the things that he’s been denying for weeks now. It feels so good to have him back, even if they’ve never actually had each other in the first place. Suddenly, Miles has no idea why he’s been resisting this development for so long. It doesn’t feel wrong in the slightest sense. It doesn’t feel like taking advantage, even if Alex is young and vulnerable, even if Miles is supposed to be professional and sensible. But he’s not being selfish, is he? It just so happens that what Alex wants from him is the same thing that Miles has wanted all his life.

Alex is too stunned to begin with so he lets Miles be in control of their kiss. Feeling the older man grasping a hold of his hair while he wraps his other arm around his back, supporting him, guiding him, enfolding him with his embrace, he gasps slightly, feeling his entire body quiver. Alex is trembling. However, it’s not the same kind of trembling he feels whenever he’s been kneeling down by the loo for an hour at a time, puking his guts out. No, this is the kind of trembling that makes him feel warm inside. Excited. Miles is evoking sensations in him that he had almost forgotten about, sensations that he never used to think that he deserved to have because he never used to feel good enough for anybody. But here he is, being courted, romanced and kissed by the most perfect, wonderful human being. The kindest, most brilliant man he’s ever known.

When Miles breaks apart a few moment later, Alex is soaring. He feels high. Elevated. He pants for air, though he doesn’t want to breathe. All he wants is to feel Miles’s warm mouth on him again.

“Did that answer your question?” Miles teases him with a small laugh, licking his lips. As he studies Alex with profound fascination, he can’t help but to think that a million butterflies must be fluttering their wings inside his stomach. With his heart racing in his chest, he feels like he’s become a bubbly, silly teenager all over again.

“I – I dunno,” Alex breathes heavily. “C-could you repeat your answer?”

In the blink of an eye, Alex is suddenly on his back, buried in pillows, as Miles has moved himself on top of him, pinning down both Alex’s wrists to the mattress playfully. The two of them snog each other fiercely and passionately, hungry for satisfaction and desperate to make up for lost time. Alex relaxes at the sensation of being touched, being held down and even slightly dominated. He’s spent so much time in this room, feeling alone and abandoned, but now, Miles is making him forget even the darkest parts of his past. Miles’s tongue is invading his mouth, probing and exploring, and Alex is more than willing to let him in. Sharing one wet, prolonged kiss after another, Miles and Alex continue to gasp and moan into each other’s open mouths, nibbling and biting at each other until their lips turn raw. Then, after a sweet moment, Miles moves his mouth down to suck and peck at Alex’s throat and neck. Kissing him gently all over, Miles keeps going until Alex’s toes are curling and his hands begging to be released. When Miles frees them, it’s only to allow himself to touch Alex more forwardly. Making the younger man squirm and writhe with pleasure, Miles grins smugly, biting down, gently, at the sensitive skin by Alex’s neck. Attacking his throat, his Adam’s apple with loving kisses, Miles moves his hand further down Alex’s slender body. Reaching underneath Alex’s shirt, pulling it up slightly by the hem, his fingers find their way to Alex’s naked torso. Caressing warm, delicate skin, feeling up protruding ribs and stroking a hardened nipple, Miles examines and cuddles Alex’s body until Alex nearly buckles under.

By the time Alex shivers all over and begins to moan Miles’s name out loud, Miles silences the lad with another breath-taking, overpowering and heartfelt kiss.

 

*

 

When Alex falls asleep that night, Miles watches him in awe. Lying next to him in bed, silently, he brushes the hair away from Alex’s forehead and admires his lover – because that’s what he must have become now, isn’t it? His lover. Even though he and Alex have yet to go all the way, seeing as Miles wouldn’t feel right having sex with someone who was still frail and sick, he definitely knows that the two of them could never go back to being just friends. Or more importantly; they can never go back to being merely each other’s doctor and patient. He has feelings for Alex that can no longer be denied. Every time he looks at the younger man, every time those beautiful, innocent doe eyes stare directly into Miles’s soul, he wants to melt into a puddle on the floor. He’s never in his life met someone who made him feel so ecstatic, so thrilled and in love.

Alex is beautiful. Alex is wonderful, precious, golden. He’s everything that is good in this world. And Miles sincerely wishes that the young musician could see it. He sincerely wishes that Alex would learn to stop hating and punishing himself. It remains a mystery still. A puzzle: Why oh why can Alex not love himself when the rest of the world seems smitten with him?

Miles appreciates Alex’s pretty features for another moment before he rolls out of bed, unable to sleep. Seeing as it’s not that late in the evening, he digs his phone out of the pocket in his jacket, hoping to make a call to offer himself some peace of mind. Locking himself in the bathroom to prevent Alex from hearing him and waking up, Miles takes in a deep breath and dials.

“Hello?”

Thank God. She isn’t asleep.

“Hannah…” Miles mutters under his breath, carefully trying to keep the noise down. “Hi, it’s me.”

“Miles?” The woman on the other end, Dr Ware, sounds genuinely surprised to hear from him. “Oh my God, what are you calling me at this hour for? Did something happen? Are you guys OK?”

“Everything’s fine, don’t worry,” Miles appeases her before giving it another thought. “Well, I guess Alex isn’t doing so good. That’s why I need to talk to you.”

“So you found him?” She gathers. “Did you apologise to him? What did he say? Did he take you back?”

“Well…” Miles can’t help himself. Smirking slightly, he tells her: “I’m in his bedroom right now. So I guess it went pretty well.”

“Miles!” She gasps accusingly, although she’s now laughing. She’s obviously happy for him. “Bloody hell, did you sleep with him? Already?”

“No, actually, I didn’t,” he responds truthfully, “although let’s just say we kissed and made up. He’s forgiven me. I’m so relieved.”

“I’m happy for you, darling,” Hannah replies kindly. “So how is he? Is he very ill?”

“Yeah…” Miles takes in a deep breath, trying to calm himself before he gets emotional. After all, it’s harder to say these things out loud, acknowledging the truth to someone else, than he thought it would be. “He’s very ill. It’s bad. It’s so bad, he ought to be in the hospital right now. And worse yet, he insists that the band should still perform their gigs. The first one is in only three days. He’s not strong enough for it, Hannah. H-he could even collapse on stage for all I know.”

“Fucking hell, Miles,” she utters, sounding terrified, “you have to tell him he can’t go. Even if he gets mad at you. The most important thing is his safety.”

“I can’t tell him not to do it,” Miles exhales tiredly. “I’m not his doctor anymore, Hannah. We’ve been over this. I can’t be both his doctor and his… boyfriend. So I’ve chosen to be the latter.”

“Aw, Miles. You’re such a romantic. You are totally in love with him, I know you are.”

“That’s beside the point,” Miles reminds her, even though he feels himself blushing, “Hannah, you promised me that you would be his doctor. Even if you’re not here to see him in person. So I figured that I should be the middleman and report to you. You’ll be responsible for him and you get to make all the decisions.”

“If you’re suggesting what I think you’re suggesting, you can forget about it,” she huffs suddenly.

“What?”

“You want me to call him and order him not to do the gigs, don’t you? Then I will be the bad guy, not you. Very clever of you, Kane.”

“No, Hannah, I…” Miles swallows hard. “This is serious. If you’re actually going to be his doctor, you have to treat him like you would treat any other patient. No special treatment.”

At this, his female colleague sighs in agreement. “I know, I know,” she acknowledges, “but before I can make any decisions for him, I need to know the details. How am I supposed to check his vitals when I’m not there, Kane? How are we going to measure his blood pressure and stuff like that when he can’t go into hospital?”

“Look, you don’t need all the numbers to know that he’s relapsing,” Miles argues. “He’s been vomiting multiple times a day, he’s been starving himself. He’s had a high fever and he’s barely been able to get out of bed for the past few days. He… he only weighs about 49 kilos now, Hannah.”

“Shit.” Dr Ware is silent for a moment. “Miles, are you sure that we’re doing the right thing here? Maybe… maybe we really should force him to be admitted. What if he suffers a heart failure for crying out loud?”

“If he’s admitted, the paparazzi would storm the hospital and take their nasty photos of him,” Miles grunts with hatred and disgust. “It would ruin his life. I – I don’t want to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do. He’s suffered enough.”

“Your love for him is preventing you from making the right decisions,” she reminds him. “I will lay off for now, but if I decide that he needs to be taken to the hospital, Kane, you better obey my orders. Otherwise I can no longer be his doctor.”

“I know.” Miles pauses. “Thanks, Hannah. For doing this.”

“Does he know about it?”

“Not yet, but I’m going to tell him. He’ll be happy that you’re his new doctor. He really likes you, you know.”

“And I love him. And you for that matter,” Dr Ware chuckles. “He’s a good kid, Miles. I’m glad you’re back together with him. I think you will make each other very happy.”

“Thanks. I just want to be there for him.”

“So when are you going to be back in London? How did you manage to get time off work, anyway? You didn’t quit your job, did you?”

“No, not yet anyway. I had two weeks of holiday last summer that I didn’t take. The hospital owes me some time off. But I don’t think they’re very happy with me.”

“You can say that again. It sounds like you just took off yesterday. You barely gave them any notice at all. They could fire you for this, I hope you realise.”

“I know. But if they find out that I’m dating my ex-patient now, my career will be over, anyway.”

 

*

 

The following day, Alex is back in the rehearsing studio with Matt, Nick and Jamie. Miles has insisted on tagging along, secretly intending to keep an eye on Alex and make sure that he doesn’t strain himself or worse. Sitting on a bench in the back of the room, watching and listening whilst trying not to interfere, Miles unpacks the food and the water that he’s brought, in case Alex gets dizzy and needs something to keep his strength up. His vitals must be impossibly out of balance by this point; his blood pressure and blood sugar both dangerously low and his heart rate anything but steady. When he sees Alex wearing the guitar around his shoulder, Miles nearly jumps to his feet and tells him he’ll carry it for him. Naturally, Miles is aware of the fact that he’s being ridiculous. It’s just that some part of him deeply regrets letting Alex get out of bed this morning. Even though Alex wants to be ready, he’s anything but.

Even Matt and the others seem worried at first. After asking Alex multiple times if he’s certain that he wants to do this, though, they seem to accept his answer and then it’s settled. The show must go on. They are in the rehearsing studio for hours, taking very few breaks and Alex is both singing and playing, using up vital strength and vigour that should have been saved for his recovery. Miles is so busy worrying, watching in fear every time Alex’s face turns pale, he fails to take in the charisma and energy of the band, and he fails to appreciate how well they all work together, how they’re producing sounds and harmonies that are utterly unique and rare. Alex’s voice is rusty at first, even uncertain at times. But once he’s warmed up, he’s delivering quick and clever lines like some sort of professional indie poet. While Miles continues to urge everyone to take a break, Matt, Jamie and Nick are smiling at each other: Finally, it seems they’ve got their frontman back.

Alex is having a ball, too. He’s giggling and waving at Miles, excited to be performing for the doctor who’s been oblivious to their music until now. He’s enjoying the support he’s getting from his band members who are no longer rushing him, but praising him instead.

“Way to go, Al,” Nick smiles as they stop for a few minutes to catch a drink and maybe a cigarette, “you’re looking even better than yesterday. Great job.”

“Aw, man,” Matt laughs in the background, “Nick’s become proper soft now.”

“Shut up, Helders,” Nick bites him off.

“Thanks, Nick,” Alex replies with a small chuckle, hugging the bassist briefly. “I couldn’t have done this without your help.”

When the lads have all left the room momentarily, Alex rushes over to Miles, placing himself in the older man’s lap as he steals a quick kiss from him.

“I think it’s really great that you came,” Alex flirts gleefully, wrapping his arms around Miles’s neck, “this is the first time you’ve heard our songs. What do you think?”

“Alex, your hands are shaking,” Miles speaks with concern, avoiding the other’s question. “Are you sure you should really be here? The shaking is probably a sign of exhaustion.”

“Or maybe it’s because for the first time in a while, I’m actually feeling excited,” Alex contradicts him, “come on, Miles, you said you were fine with this.”

“I am, but-“

“Just relax, why don’t you?” Alex kisses him again. “I promise I’ll stop if I feel sick.”

“You know, you should really eat something,” Miles mutters under his breath, “or at least drink something.”

“You never answered me,” Alex says, ignoring his comments, “what do you think about our songs?”

“They’re great,” Miles responds absent-mindedly, exposing himself in having paid very little attention to the music, “to be honest, love, I’ve been feeling a little too busy looking after you to actually listen.”

At this, Alex’s expression changes and he withdraws his arms from Miles’s neck.

“I thought you were here because you took an interest,” Alex then sulks, looking devastatingly disappointed, “if you’re only here to watch me, Miles, I don’t need it. You’re making me nervous.”

“Alex, please…”

“No,” Alex exhales, removing himself from Miles’s lap, “you’re the only person here telling me that I can’t do it. Everyone else believes in me. I believe in me. I know I can do the gigs.”

“I’m sorry, love,” Miles pleads, preventing Alex from leaving by reaching out for his hand, “I didn’t mean it like that. I believe in you – really, I do. I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Miles gets up from his seat, pulling Alex into a tight embrace. When Alex gives in and rests his head against the doctor’s chest, Miles feels relieved. The last thing the couple needs right now is starting a fight with one another.

“You know,” Miles offers as flatteringly as he can, “you look good when you wear that guitar, love. I can see why you’ve got fans all over the world screaming out your name.”

“Shut up,” Alex laughs, blushing slightly with embarrassment, “maybe you should try and wear my guitar some day. It might suit you. Maybe you should even join us on stage.”

“Maybe I should,” Miles chuckles. “You’re doing great, love. Sorry if I’ve been too negative.”

“It’s OK,” Alex tells him, “I know you’re just trying to protect me.”

The two of them share one more kiss before Matt re-enters the studio, catches them in each other’s arms and tells them to go get a room.

 

*

 

For another two days, Alex continues to work hard in order to get ready together with the band. Though he doesn’t seem to regain much strength, Miles does manage to make him eat two meals a day without getting sick; breakfast and a rather tiny and modest dinner. However, it still counts for something and it’s definitely enough to keep Alex’s fever down and give him back some colour in his cheeks. Anyone can tell that he looks increasingly happy and increasingly ready to begin their tour. Though – unfortunately – the night before their opening gig when there are no more distractions and no more jobs to keep him preoccupied, Alex finds himself in bed with Miles, nervous out of his mind and unable to sleep. He’s finally alone again with his mind, free to overthink even the smallest matter that wouldn’t normally concern him.

It’s the feeling of being nervous that usually gets to him first. It’s the panic building up inside his chest, the anxiety that triggers what he’s been trying so hard to supress with Miles’s help. At the thought of having to face thousands of people in only sixteen hours, all taking pictures of him, pointing at him, studying him with prying eyes and gossiping to each other about his changing body shape, Alex feels so desperately tense that he can’t even breathe.

Quickly, before he is able to change his mind, Alex jumps out of the bed and runs straight to the toilet.

Only ten minutes later, Miles awakes to the sound of retching and crying.

“What the…” Miles sits upright in the bed, rubbing his sleepy eyes. When he reaches for Alex with his hand, only to find that the other half of the bed is empty, his heart skips a beat. He instantly knows what’s going on. “Shit! Alex!” He shouts in desperation, though he’s not sure if he actually expects an answer. “Alex! What the hell are you doing?!”

Before even turning on the lights, Miles storms after him, fearing that it’s already too late. When he hears another round of gagging and retching, Miles kicks the door to the bathroom in, and since the door wasn’t locked in the first place, it now slams violently against the nearest wall, making the entire room quake. And there he finds him, with his hands clinging onto the toilet seat and his knees trembling hard against the tiled floor.

“Alex!” Miles exclaims in horror. “No! No, you can’t…”

Alex doesn’t even bother to turn around and face him. It’s happened already. Miles hasn’t been able to stop him this time.

“I’m sorry, Mi…” He sobs excruciatingly, his face plastered with tears and sweat. “I had to, I had to, I had to, I had to…”

“Hey, calm down,” the doctor sooths him, realising that Alex must be in shock, “Alex, look at me.”

He touches the smaller man’s shoulder, but Alex shakes him off furiously.

“No!” He protests, continuing to cling onto the toilet for dear life. “Miles, please… You have to understand. I had to do it…”

“I know you feel that way, but you should have talked to me instead of-“

“Please don’t be mad at me,” Alex cuts him off, crying even harder than before. “I couldn’t help it…”

“Alex, get up from the floor,” Miles negotiates worriedly, “then we can talk about it.”

“You don’t understand,” Alex weeps, his entire body shaking in pain, “it’s bad, Mi. It’s really bad this time.”

“What do you mean?” Suddenly, Miles can feel his heart all the way up in his throat. “Alex! What do you mean? Answer me.”

“I – I…”

But Alex doesn’t have the words to explain himself. Instead, he lets go of the toilet seat and lets himself fall down against the floor. Crumbling down into a complete mess, Alex draws his knees to his chest and curls himself up, wrapping his thin arms around himself. Crying violently and gasping for breath as a result, Alex leaves Miles to worry sick over this unfortunate development.

“Oh my God… Alex…”

As Miles leans in to carry his loved one off the floor by taking him into his arms, he pauses to stare into the messy toilet bowl.

“Alex!” Miles gasps. “What on earth have you done?”

Now he sees what has turned the younger man into a nervous wreck and at the horror of what he sees, Miles falls utterly speechless. Alex’s vomit is full of dark blood.