Alfred can’t stop pacing. He can’t. Because if he stops, he might think, and if he thinks, he knows it’ll only be about one thing. The one thing that can’t happen, that he can’t handle happening.
Matty, please. Please be okay.
The words go from a mantra in his head to whispers on trembling lips; his body won’t stop shaking, hasn’t stopped since Matthew’s scream had pierced through his slumber, garbled, wordless, terrified. It pulled him upright, out of his bed and toward Matt's before he could even focus his eyes.
He rubs them now, wishing for the comfort of his glasses, of proper vision. Everything is blurry except for the image of his brother behind his eyelids — screaming, panicking, choking; then silent, limp. Bursting through the emergency room doors with Matthew pliant in his arms
(come on Matty, let's go; I got you; please be okay; we're almost there, okay? it's only a little more; just hang on, no, no)
he had begged the first person he saw to please, help — my brother — he's —
Swallowing down the desperate wail welling in his throat, Alfred turns to the closed door of the ICU room. It's too quiet inside, dangerously quiet, and the curtains are drawn, blocking him even from the slightest glimpse of what's going on. Chewing on his lip, Al turns on his heel, resuming his pacing down the sterile hospital hall. He can't shake the feeling of Matthew's grip on his shirt, can't forget the way it slackened just as they arrived.
Just don't think about it, he tells himself, hugging his bare arms closer to his body. Don't.
Minutes tick by. The knot of tension in his belly has crept up into his throat and lodged there; he can barely breathe around it, wonders if this how Matt feels every day. Every day, living somewhere just shy of complete suffocation. There isn't a inch of Al that doesn't ache at the realization as a new layer of understanding sinks deep under his skin.
Alfred's thoughts narrow to a single thing when hears the door of Matthew's room open from down the hall. Heart thumping anxiously, he sprints back toward it, nearly bumping into a stray equipment cart on the way. The doctor that comes out is short, dark, and bald. Middle-aged. Al glimpses his nameplate -- Harris -- as the man shuts the door closed behind himself.
"Is he?" Is all that Al can get out as he skids to stop, sneakers squeaking, trying to sound calmer than he feels.
Harris must see something on Al's face; his own expression melts into one of sympathy. It serves to make Alfred panic more, and he opens his mouth, only to realize that words are accompanying the doctor's look.
"—through. You made it just in time. I was told you carried him in." A pause. "Did you run here?"
Relief floods through Alfred so quickly he feels nauseous with it and he doubles over to take a deep breath, clutching his mouth and stomach in unison.
Several deep breaths.
He's okay. Matty's okay.
When Alfred's finally sure he's not going to vomit all over the shiny linoleum, he pulls himself back upright and nods. His voice shakes, but it's okay; it's okay, because Matt is okay. "We don't live far."
Doctor Harris makes a noise of understanding, then clasps Al's shoulder warmly. "Luck was definitely on your side tonight, son."
"Thanks," Al says awkwardly, not knowing how else to respond. He doesn't want to think about how close he came to never seeing Matthew again. He looks at the closed door of Matt's room, then back to Harris. "Can I see him?"
"Yes," Harris replies, "but he may still sleep for some time yet. That was a very close call."
That was a very close call.
Al bites his lip against a surge of uneasiness. "Thank you," he says again.
Later, Alfred wakes with his face buried in his arms, bent over the edge of Matthew's bed. There's a familiar touch near the crown of his head, rubbing gently across his scalp. He looks up, bleary-eyed from sleep and— oh, still no glasses. And yet, despite the double handicap, he can see Matthew's soft smile aimed solely at him.
"Hey," Alfred says with a wobbly grin, settling his chin on his forearms.
Matt's fingers go from his hair to his face, tracing a trail of dried tears. "Such a baby."
Matt's voice is raspy, thick with fatigue and Al can hear how much it hurts him to talk. He shifts to take his brother's hand into his own and presses his cheek to it.
"Oh shut up," he replies, with all of the adoration and affection he can muster.