Status: Active.

Little Hand Grenade

Chapter 9

Hopeless cancelled the rest of the tour minutes after Jack arrived at the hospital. The nurses immediately called a doctor who dropped everything he was doing to go into surgery. It was all I could do to contain Alex's hysteria when they made him wait in the lobby. I thought things couldn't get more out of control until the hospital chaplain invited him to pray and prepare for the worst.

"Alex, you have to breathe and relax, she's only doing her job," I said quickly, shooing the chaplain before he did anything rash. We looked awful. Jack's blood stained my hands, jeans, shirt and arms. One of the orderlies found a scrub top for Alex, but he still held his t-shirt. I held a hand to his forehead and prompted him to breathe with me. "Quicker exhale as slow and long as you can, good. Do that four more times." For once, he listened to me.

"What is that? Military ju-ju?" He still shook from nervousness, but he was less manic.

"No, it's called pranayama," I corrected, and half smirked as I looked away. "The breathing practice in yoga." He scoffed and shook his head.

"This is my fault," he said, his already puffy and red eyes welling up again. "If I hadn't been arguing with you, you would have seen her--"

"We don't know that," I said, my voice softer than it's been in years. Tears dripped straight from his eyes to his knees and ran down his arms, leaving clean trails through the red. "It's in the past; forget about what could have happened. Jack needs you with him here, in the present."

"Look, I'm not one of your soldiers, alright? I'll think about whatever I fucking want to," he retorted, and moved one chair away from me. "He might just be another dead comrade to you, but he's my best friend."

"It doesn't change anything," I replied, feeling all too familiar with this situation. "Did you suddenly discover time travel while dwelling on all the things you could have done differently to save him? I doubt it. Go ahead. Yell at me all you want. Your language is nowhere near as colorful as an infantryman's." I put on my stoniest expression and waited. He looked ready to unleash a wave of fury on me, but one of the nurses approached us with a clipboard.

"Is he okay?" Only an hour had passed, but it must have been the longest hour in Alex's life.

"Better than we hoped," she said, but her brow still furrowed. "The bullet is out, but he's lost a lot of blood. We've already given him a quart and it's not enough. This hospital is short on O positive--"

"Take mine," I said immediately. "That's my blood type, and I have a donor card. As much you need, just take it."

"Vanessa, don't--"

"Alex," I began seriously, "you can blame this on yourself as much as you'd like, but it was my job to protect all of you. Besides, I probably weigh more than you anyway." He followed the nurse and I to a room designated for donations. In a few short minutes, I was relaxing on a chair while a needle harvested blood from arm.

"They could have sent for more blood from another hospital," he muttered, watching the tube as it carried my blood to the bag.

"We didn't have enough time," I said, smirking and shaking my head at him. "They can only take so much. I'll still be able to fire a gun."

"It's the concept," he said lamely, and sat quietly for a moment.

"You can go get a coffee or something," I said. His silence made me feel awkward, as if he was in here because he was worried about me now. The nurse returned before he could answer, bringing news that this last bag of blood would be enough for Jack to recover on his own as long as he stays in his bed after they release him from the hospital.

"Oh, don't you worry," Alex promised her, and accepted the cold rag she handed him.

"Put it on her forehead," the nurse instructed, and left the room with the bag. The missing blood hit me quickly; I felt dizzy and suddenly nauseous, which was normal if you donated blood on an empty stomach and no sleep.

"Can you uh, lower this thing? I'm just gonna...pass..." Black.

* * *

"You think you're so tough," I said wryly to Vanessa's passed out form. I shook my head as I placed the cold cloth on her forehead. Despite everything, I couldn't stay angry at her. She wanted to help Jack as much as I did. If she had to, she would have gladly given her life for any one of us. Must be another one of her military things.

No. It wasn't. That's who Vanessa was. Only a few short weeks taught me that, and now when I looked at her unconscious body, I saw her differently. This is probably the most relaxed she's been in her whole life, I thought, and chuckled to myself. Even in this state, her hand rested on her gun holster. The hospital security made her unload it and put it in a tamper-evident bag.

I took advantage of her current state of awareness. Her arms were defined, and looked more like a normal girl's if that girl was flexing. Now that her facial features were relaxed, I could see more of how Vanessa used to be. Not uptight, serious or angry. The rest of her body spoke of strength despite her size. And you know what? Even though she could throw me around, lift me and choke me out...I liked her. I don't know how much, but I definitely liked her. A good half hour passed before someone interrupted my thoughts.

"Alex Gaskarth?" I turned my head to see a different nurse with the same clipboard in the doorway. "We've moved Jack into a recovery room. He'll be asleep for a while, but he's going to be just fine." I would have leaped up and kissed her, but she walked away too fast. A huge boulder rolled off of my chest and I felt like I could breathe again. Jack was going to make it and all because Vanessa happened to have the same blood type.

"Vanessa! Wake up, Jack is going to be okay!" I shook her vigorously until her eyes blinked open, and the first thing she did was lock my neck in the crook of her elbow. Now, instead of panicking, I could have smiled to have an excuse to be close enough to her to smell the perfume Jack made her wear.

"After I string you up like a piece of meat I'm gonna--"

"Air...!" I was able to keep her arm away from the veins in my neck, but blacking out didn't diminish her strength at all. After realizing who I was, she let go and lied back down on the reclined chair. Her eyelids closed again and rubbed her temples with her first two fingers. The chances of catching her with her eyes closed again? Slim. Before she could stop me and before I could change my mind, I leaned down and kissed her.

Honestly, I expected to be in some kind of pain seconds after our lips touched, but nothing happened. Except that she kissed me back.

* * *

The only reason I took Alex's face and pushed it away was because I heard footsteps come into the room. Not that we fooled Rian and Zack at all, but it was worth the try. My cheeks flushed red when he didn't look away.

"I'm going to go get coffee...from the cafeteria...alone," I said slowly, sitting up and rolling my shoulders. A knowing look shone on Zack and Rian's faces, and at the very last moment I couldn't help myself from cracking a smile. I would miss them all when it was time for me to go.

In the cafeteria after I ordered my coffee, I ran into Joe, the rep from Hopeless Records. He looked frazzled, and after he had a coffee of his own in his hands, I waved him over to join me at my table.

"This is awful," he said, shaking his head. "I've never had anything like this happen to one of our artists before."

"This is bigger than we thought," I said seriously. "Alex isn't the only one at stake anymore. It's everyone close to him. I stood in that hallway to see their line of fire, and Alex wasn't in it and Jack was, so that's who she shot. Plus, the shooters end up being one of Alex's ex-girlfriends."

"I don't know what to do."

"I do," I said. "If you still want me around, that is. I'll need special permission, and maybe a federal agent on board with my plan." He looked up at me after sipping his coffee, and smiled.

"You thought I was here to fire you."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, as long as you can keep any of them from being shot again, the position is yours," he said, and leaned a little further over the table to speak quieter. "No restrictions. If you need authorization for something, you have it. Get to the bottom of this, and I can promise you that you'll never be out of work again."

"I want to interrogate Jenna. She isn't going anywhere for awhile."

"Done." Joe grinned widely as he shook my hand. Oh, the look on her face when she sees me. It gave me the chills just thinking about it.
♠ ♠ ♠
This one felt weird, I dunno.