The Hourglass Rolls Over (attn: Aishe)
Alex fidgeted with his cup as he sat in a corner booth in the little Chinese restaurant tucked back in one of the side streets on the Strip. Eiryk had shown him this place, a diamond in the rough really, the storefront looking like some kind of trashy dive but the interior clean, neat, sparkling, and the food some of the best the city had to offer.
He had gotten bad news a few weeks ago and bad had gotten progressively worse. He had to talk to someone and for some reason Aishe kept popping into his head. He knew why; he didn't want to burden Eiryk with his troubles - not yet. He knew he should, but ever since talking to Aishe about becoming a vampire a couple months ago he had felt a sense of kinship with her. She really seemed to understand what he was going through. She cared, she didn't judge, and she was friends with everyone involved but not so close that she couldn't see things from Alex's point of view.
She wasn't late - he was just early. He'd been out walking, and the sun had only just gone down. He knew she and Kem lived just outside the city limits in a little suburb so it would take her a little while to arrive. In the meantime, he ordered an appetizer of egg rolls.
She enjoyed spending time with Alex. He was like a brother to her somehow, always a little watchful, always a little protective, definitely reserved and cautious where Aishe could be brash and forward, attributes she had never thought she possessed before arriving in Nachton.
Parking her little Rabbit Aishe headed into the Chinese restaurant and saw Alex already there, picking at an appetizer. He looked up and saw her, smiled, and gave her a brief wave of his hand as she joined him. Aishe beamed at him and when she got to the booth leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. She could see right away that something was bothering him.
"Alex. How are you?"
Her eyes were serious; it wasn't a 'small talk' question. He obviously had something on his mind, they may as well cut to the chase.
"I've been better," he said, trying gamely to cover the watery sound of his voice but Aishe wasn't fooled. Her pretty green eyes snapped up to him from her menu.
"Alex," she said, her voice compassionate, almost pained. Suddenly, faster than he would have thought possible except, of course, that she wasn't human was she, Aishe dropped her menu and moved around to his side of the booth.
Her arm went around him, slim yet strong, and she tugged him close. Alex stopped fighting it then and just let out a soft, ragged sob. After a second he rested his head on her should and tried to get himself under control, or at least cry quietly. He was successful after a little while, but it felt good where he was, with the arm of a real friend around him, her fingers gently brushing his hair, her inhumanly slow heartbeat against his cheek.
"Sorry," he said when he regained some control. She didn't move away; he didn't either. Her arm tightened around him.
"What's wrong?" she asked softly, her voice a murmur close to his ear. "You've been keeping something inside for a while now. I can see it. What is it, Alex?"
There was no accusation in her tone. It was a statement of fact and he could hear the desire in her voice, a desire to help. He knew what he had kept inside would hurt his friends, all of them. That was the price of actually having friends. When you were alone and no one cared about you it was easy to face the hard things. No one but you could be hurt. But when you did have friends, things that affected you didn't only affect you. They affected your friends too.
Alex supposed he could have gone to Rowan, or Cris. But what he had to say would hurt them too. Not that it wouldn't hurt Aishe but... Alex didn't know what the 'but' was. Just that she had been one of his first friends here in Nachton, even before he'd met Eiryk, and he was glad she was there now.
Drawing in a shaky breath he said, "Yeah. I've known for a month or two. I just wasn't sure how bad or... what was going to happen. You know the problems I've been having with my knee?"
It had been swollen for a while now, hurting him on and off, and he'd finally gone to see a doctor about it a couple months back. He'd thought he had just strained something, pulled a tendon, a ligament, something like that. He felt Aishe nod.
"I have cancer."
It was the first time he'd said it out loud and it was more of a relief than anything. Alex sat up, finally, swiping his hand across his eyes, looking at Aishe's shocked expression.
"What?" she said softly. Alex? Cancer? It made no sense. He was so... so healthy.
He looked back at her, nodding miserably. She blinked. Alex. Alex was a health food junkie. He owned an outdoor equipment store. Taught yoga. He wasn't a factory of rippling muscle but he was slim, toned, energetic, active, gorgeous really. The way a man his age should be, not soft at all but strengthened by his constant use of his body.
"I don't understand," she whispered. "How did that happen?"
Alex gave a watery chuckle and began to pick at his egg roll again. The waitress, who had wisely stayed away, now approached a little tentatively. Alex's face was flushed and Aishe knew he was embarrassed to have been seen crying but they ordered anyway and then Alex took a deep breath and began to explain.
Aishe was watching him, nodding her understanding. She didn't interrupt. Alex continued.
"A few months ago when I first went to the doctor, they took an x-ray and found the mass. He took a biopsy then, and we got the results back a little while ago."
Aishe's hand was still on his shoulder. He felt it move as she took his hand in hers.
"I'm so sorry Alex," she said. "What are we going to do?"
We. The word almost made him break down again. How many times had he heard that phrase in his life? His parents had whispered it to each other frequently. Alexander was cooking again today. Alexander was watching that girl's show today. What are we going to do? It was always implied. 'What are we going to do... about Alexander?'
This was the first time anyone had used it this way. What are we going to do, together, about this situation you're in?
Somehow it made him feel stronger. A little more in control when everything was fast tumbling downhill.
Alex shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I'm just trying to take it one step at a time, really. I was hoping you might help me."
Aishe nodded. "Of course. Anything you need."
Alex looked up at her. "Would you lie for me?"
She hesitated and then nodded. Alex smiled, a tense, unhappy sort of expression. "The doctor wants to do a course of chemotherapy to try to shrink it, then remove it, and then do chemotherapy to get rid of any remaining cells so it won't spread. If that doesn't work..." he blanched. "If that doesn't work he was talking about taking my leg off."
That was almost a fate worse than death, to Alex. He didn't want to lose his leg. Or his life, really. But it didn't seem like fate was handing him much of a choice. He swallowed.
"I have to go have a procedure to put a catheter in for the chemo. It's scheduled for next weekend."
When he asked her to lie for him and then immediately explained, Aishe understood. "You want me to cover for you?"
He nodded. "How long will you be gone?"
Alex sighed, maybe in relief, maybe in frustration. "I think just overnight," he said, "They want start chemo the same day."
"And what are you going to tell Eiryk?"
Alex immediately looked guilty and contrite. "That I'm going to go redo my teaching certification. I can't do it anywhere in Nachton."
Aishe nodded. "And after that? When are you going to tell him about all of this? How long are you going to wait? Don't you think he'll notice all of this?"
She knew by Alex's face that he didn't plan to say anything. She didn't let him speak. "What about Rowan? Cris? They'll be hurt if you don't say anything at all."
No one would be unmoved by it. Eiryk was Alex's boyfriend, for crying out loud. He was madly in love with Alex. But he was terrified at the prospect of losing him and learning that it could happen sooner - well, perhaps Alex was right to be cautious about this with Eiryk. For now.
But Rowan... Rowan's medical knowledge was vast. He had centuries of it under his belt and he cared deeply for Alex, not just because Eiryk was so happy with him but because they too had become friends. And Cris, who until recently had led such a solitary life. Aishe knew Cris felt strongly about Alex as well; they seemed very close. Aishe knew it was Cris who was largely responsible for Alex's easy assimilation into Evenhet as well as the fact that he now had a very good benefit package. She didn't think even Alex knew how instrumental Cris had been there. This news would hurt them.
And they would all try to do something to help. So why come to her? Was she any less inclined to help? She looked at Alex's face and saw the answers there.
"I don't want them to worry unless they have to," he said. "I mean, it's a short little bit of therapy, he said. I might not get all that sick."
Aishe lifted her brows, like dark wings over her sharp green eyes. "So you're just going to fake your way through that with no help? Chemo? I've never met anyone who wasn't sick as a dog, Alex. You can't stay away and some things you can't do alone."
He felt himself tremble. The prospect of surgery and chemotherapy terrified him. "I know," he finally said. "I'm just afraid if I tell them all, they'll want to..."
"Turn you?" Aishe finished quietly for him.
Alex nodded miserably. She tilted her head. "I thought you were reconsidering it."
"I was," Alex said. "I really was. And then all of this happened and..." he shrugged.
Aishe translated. "You wanted it on your terms. And now you might not get that," she guessed.
"Yeah. Something like that. I guess I just wasn't quite ready to have my mind made up for me."
"Any of them would do it if you asked," Aishe said. "It's not a foregone conclusion though. If you don't want it, your friends will respect your wishes."
Alex looked down, gripping Aishe's hand still. "But it'll hurt them, whatever happens."
Aishe smiled, shaking her head sadly. "Hurt happens, Alex. They won't love you any less."
Alex bit his lip. Then he glanced up at Aishe. Giving another shaky sigh he looked back down. "I'm so fucking scared," he whispered.
Her arms went around him once more and he clung to her. "Nothing's going the way I thought it would," he moaned softly. "I didn't want any of this."
"I know," she murmured to him, and her voice was soothing.
"I want to tell them, and I don't."
Aishe nodded against his hair. Alex closed his eyes. "What do I do, Aishe? What the hell do I do?"
She leaned away from him so she could look at him. "Whatever you decide," she said, "I'll be here to help you. If you want my opinion, though, I think your friends should know. You need their support. And they'll give it to you."
Alex chewed on his lip again. "I want to try and beat this thing on my own," he finally said. "I can. I know I can. I want to be able to choose my life. Do what I want when I'm ready for it."
"Let me get through this catheter thing," he finally said with resolve. "Maybe the chemo will get it all and that will be the end of it. If not, we can tell everyone what's going on."
She didn't like that either, but it wasn't her choice. "And if something happens during?"
Alex's tanned face grew pale and he shook his head. "Why did you have to bring that up?"
"Because it could happen," Aishe said as gently as she could. "It's a possibility."
She could sense his fear even without empathy. Anyone would have been able to. She could feel him shaking, and she smoothed her hands down his back. Poor Alex. All he wanted was a relatively normal life, and it seemed like all he ever got was an emotional roller coaster. She knew he would have eventually decided to become one of them, but he immediately dug his heels in at the idea of it being made necessary by an illness. But he was right. That was a worst-case scenario. If he could beat this disease by himself, he could indeed return to his own life and make those other decisions in his own time. She could help him there.
"I know it might happen," Alec finally said, "but I want to try this on my own. Will you help me out?"
Aishe nodded without hesitation, feeling her cheek brush against his soft hair. "Of course I will Alex," she said. "I just wish you would let us all be around you. I don't like you being alone when every one of us wants to be here to help."
The waitress arrived with their food and Alex sat up; Aishe let go of him reluctantly. She knew she had to say goodbye to her family and friends eventually. That was how they were. But in Alex's case, he didn't ever have to go and had mostly made his mind up not to. To watch him risk his life now hurt her too. She couldn't make choices for him though.
She picked her chopsticks up and gingerly picked through her lo mein. Alex was staring at his vegetable stir fry so she nudge him with her elbow. "Eat," she directed. "If we're going to do this thing you're going to need your strength."
Setting a good example, she took a big bite and chewed, full of resolve. Alex smiled tiredly at her, his eyes red, and followed her example. They left the topic there, chatting about idle unimportant things through dinner. Aishe watched Alex eat, making sure he did so with at least some enthusiasm. He ate somewhat mechanically, but he did eat. They nibbled at his egg roll together, both declining dessert.
Alex paid the bill, and they stood to leave. On the sidewalk outside the restaurant Aishe tucked her hands into her coat pockets and said, "What time do you have to be there on Saturday?"
"6 am," Alex said. "They said they'd probably be done by noon."
Of course. Too early for her to drive him there, or be there when he woke. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
He looked surprised. "You don't have to."
"I will," she said firmly. Alex might not want to tell Eiryk about this, or any of their other friends, but for his sake and for Eiryk's she wasn't going to leave him by himself.
"Do you want a ride home?" It was dark out by now, and a little chilly.
Alexander shook his head, a humorless smile on his lips. "I think I'd like to walk as much as I can this week," he said.
Aishe closed the distance between them quickly and hugged him tightly. "You're a brave man Alex," she said. "Brave and stupid and stubborn and completely wrong about how you're doing this but I'll help you as much as I can."
Alex chuckled dryly. "Thank you. For your help. I know I need to tell them. I know I do. But I've never had the power to hurt someone like this. It isn't just me. It's Eiryk. And Cris and Rowan and Kem and... and you."
Aishe laid her gloved hand gently on Alex's cheek, wishing she could feel his warmth. "I know," she said, "but sometimes the pain is worth it, Alex. You're worth it. You have to remember that. Think about it, please. You have a few days still. You should tell Eiryk, at least. Just tell me you'll reconsider. He might not be 'up' on the care and feeding of humans but he's never going to believe you're just having a tough time with the flu this year."
Alex nodded and Aishe let him go. "I will," he promised.
He turned to go and Aishe watched him walk away, trying hard not to limp on his leg. With a sigh she walked to her car. She didn't like his lying, but she suspected he might actually change his mind about telling his boyfriend and their friends what was going on. At least he'd promised to think about it, and she couldn't ask for much more.
((ooc: Both out))