He Chose Life
This was the last place she knew to search for him. Having no knowledge of where to look next, if he wasn't here, only emphasized what she had already come to suspect. This man she thought she knew and would gladly lay down her life for was nearly a stranger to her. Was that his fault or hers or both?
Alex stepped into the front entry of her home and turned on the light beside the door. To her relief she found Tony in her sitting room staring from the chair he usually occupied when their work together brought about long nights.
"I knew you would come." His voice was strained.
"Of course I would. We're in this together."
Tony reached out his hand, needing to touch her. "Where's Ben?"
"He's with my sister. He's staying a few extra days to visit with his grandfather and cousins." She turned on the lamp near the sofa on the other side of the room and knelt down beside him, taking the hand he held out to her. "I'm so sorry. You have no idea how sorry. If I had only been there I would have been able to stop him from doing this to you. I should have been there to stop him."
"If you had been there he would have slowly killed you in front of me and then left me to live with the aftermath. He wouldn't need to kill me in that scenario; he could just leave me to my own devices. That would have been a stroke of genius on his part. Something to really get his juices flowing. No, it was better that you weren't there."
The side of his face nearest her was covered by a swollen, sickening purple and red bruise. His neck showed the telltale signs of strangulation. The broken blood vessels in his eyes were more evidence of the same. It was clear from the way he was having difficulty speaking that the damage to his throat went deeper than the surface bruising.
She gave him a discreet once over and realized he had come straight from the crime scene to her home seeking comfort. The suit he wore to her mother's funeral earlier in the day, was torn in several places and his new dress shirt showed spots where the blood from his wounds had seeped through.
"Tony..." She brushed back his unruly from his face and lightly kissed the bruise on his cheek. "I can tell you haven't been to see a doctor. You should have taken the ride to hospital Paula offered you." The stitch worthy cut on his lip validated her assessment. "I won't force you go, but if you feel there's a head trauma involved or an internal injury of some sort, we'll need to go now."
"Honestly, Alex. There's nothing about my injuries that you can't see for yourself. I'll be fine now you're here." He rubbed her hand against his other cheek and then held it to him for a time before she cradled his hand in her own.
"If you'll let me, I'll help you clean yourself up and then attend to the cuts and abrasions. You'll feel better afterward and hopefully you'll be better able to sleep once we're finished."
He stammered at first, embarrassed by the thought of Alex touching his battered body as she tended to him. He had fallen asleep many nights imagining what her hands would feel like as they left warm trails over the skin of his chest and stomach. Somehow he envisioned much different circumstances leading up to her touching him.
"I… I don't have anything to change into once I'm clean." He thought it a poor excuse, but a valid excuse none the less.
"It's alright. I'm sure I can find a tee and some athletic shorts you can wear until we can get you to your place to pack a bag."
"Not Gabriel's, are they?"
"No, they're not Gabriel's. I don't have anything of his he could lay claim to, except my son." She hadn't thought it would matter to him to whom the clothing had belonged. "They'll be the workout clothes the precinct hands out at the yearly team building conference. I never wear them because they're always sized for men. But they should fit you just fine."
"Wait. Did you say 'pack a bag'?"
"Yes. In the morning, if you're up to it, I'll take you to your flat to pack a bag."
He held a look to his face which led her to believe he hadn't expected to spend one night, let alone several. "You didn't think I was going to let you stay in your flat by yourself, did you? You need medical care and since I know you won't go to A&E to get it, you'll have to stay here with me for a few days so I can tend to you properly." She let go of his hand and made her way toward the hall leading to her bedroom. "I'll find the clothes and run the water. You come in when you're ready and I'll help you get out of those filthy clothes and into the bath."
Tony wandered down the hall past Ben's room and the bathroom the boy shared with visitors, wincing from the pain and stiffness consuming his body. He reluctantly stuck his head inside what he believed to be Alex's room and discovered the flat included a master bedroom suite. The place looked much too small from the street to include such a thing.
"Are you ready then?" she tossed the newly covered pillows onto the clean bed sheets and pulled the duvet over them. "You'll find a clean set of towels on the counter and shampoo and body wash on the side of the tub. You'll have to settle for smelling clean, but a bit like a fruit salad until we get what you need from your place. Sorry, it's all I have." She came close and began helping him remove his suit jacket. "I put plenty of bubbles in the bath so that if you find you can't wash yourself, I can help you without compromising your modesty." Alex smiled and then looked back to his jacket.
His modesty was the only thing on his mind at the moment besides her. What was worrying him was the physically stirring he felt as she started removing his clothing. He was convinced she would find his reaction inappropriate if she knew. Men found their comfort in physical intimacy. He was a man and he was no different. Though his was a normal reaction not only to her and the emotional and physical state he found himself suffering under, he didn't want their first act of intimacy to be driven by his need to reconcile his humanity.
She was so close he could smell her, which made it difficult for him to think of anything else. The closeness of her body to his only served to emphasis his physical need for her. He forced himself to focus on the latest heart wrenching loss which removed Newcastle United from the Premier League, but it wasn't very helpful in silencing his body's response to her.
"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Alex tossed the jacket into the seat of the chair in the corner of her room and started unbuttoning his dress shirt. Once she began removing the garment she realized there were torn button holes and rips in the fabric which rendered the new shirt useless. She reached for the end of his sleeves and unbuttoned what was left of the cuffs encircling his battered hands. If his hands were any indication of the struggle he put up against Michael, he had made a commendable showing.
"I'm going to slide the shirt off your shoulders so you don't have to raise your arms to remove it." Alex opened the body of the shirt and found a large discolored area claiming the left side of his ribcage. She ran her hand over the extent of it and he shuddered beneath the contact. She looked up at him. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."
"You didn't. It's just…well… it's been a very long time since I've been touched like that, and naturally my body reacted. No worries. It won't happen again."
A knowing smile crossed her lips as she asked him to breathe deep. "Are you finding it painful to take in a cleansing breath?"
"Not any more painful than what I'm already experiencing."
"That's good. I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary under the discoloration, so I think we're dealing with badly bruised ribs. You let me know if breathing becomes difficult."
"Of course. As soon as there's a change, you'll be the first to know."
Alex slid the shirt off his shoulders and threw it on top of the suit jacket. With the shirt gone, she could see the full extent of the battle his body waged for his life. Scrapes, cuts and punctures covered the majority of his torso. The sight of him made her want to cry. Alex closed her eyes to push back the tears and said, "Let me have a look at the punctures so I know which ones will need attention." There were only a few she would doctor. The rest of his wounds would be fine once they were clean and some antibiotic ointment was applied. She began to focus her attention on the belt holding up his trousers when Tony's hands reached for hers.
"I'm fairly certain I can remove my trousers and pants myself."
"I'm sorry, of course you can. Sit here on the side of the bed and I'll take off your shoes and socks so you can finish undressing in the bathroom."She stuffed the dirty socks into the scuffed shoes and helped him up from the bed. "I'll be out here if you need me. Take your time. Soak a bit if you think it will help with the pain and stiffness."
"Alex, I don't know what to say."
"Hush, now. Just agree you'll be willing to do as I ask until you're well enough to be on your own again."
He shook his head, glad for the opportunity to be under the care and protection of the woman he fought death so desperately to see again.