Walk With Me - Part 2
For the first time in his life, Alex Adams was in love.
In the time since he had arrived at Holby City Hospital, there had been three women in his life: Victoria, sweet and naive and, ultimately, so tragic; Jess - not a good choice. She was bright and feisty, but it had all been too sudden, too much on the rebound. And Sam: beautiful, passionate, treacherous and, so he had recently discovered, vindictive as all hell. He had enjoyed them all, but he had loved none of them. Could not then, nor would he ever. The part of him that was capable of that kind of love was already bound up in someone else, someone with the power to tame him and hold him and make him forget the lure of warm, scented female softness. A man, unlike any other he had known before, who was strong and decisive, arrogant and skilled, a perfectionist in himself and others and yet loyal to a fault. He was everything Alex had ever wanted, and the one thing he could never have, and now he was leaving, and nothing would ever be the same again...
The sun was setting as he travelled up through the park and as he watched the play of amber light through the branches of summer-weary trees, he found himself wondering if he would ever get the chance to find out what autumn was like in Michigan. Would it be wet and dreary, like Holby, or glorious with the reds and golds and coppers, like New England? He could only hope that first hand experience would soon be his.
But that hope began to falter as he paid off the taxi outside the building where his mentor, Anton Meyer, kept an apartment for, looking up, he found the place in darkness. Dusk was falling and in all of the other windows the soft glow of lamps could be seen, but the three windows to the extreme right of the third floor continued to stare blindly out over the city.
Surprise quickly blossomed into concern, and concern into fear. Had he arrived too late? Had Meyer already packed his bags and moved on or, worse, returned to the family home, to his wife and daughter? Maybe at that very moment they were all sitting around the dining table, making plans for their new life, one from which Alex would be excluded, regardless of whether or not his application for the post of Meyer's research assistant was successful.
All of which made him wonder why he had even bothered coming here. Meyer had made it perfectly clear that his family would be making the move to Michigan with him and Alex' own track record over the past year or so had certainly done nothing to advance him in that man's estimation. From the moment he had climbed into Victoria's bed, right up to Sam Kennedy's dramatic exit from his life just a day or two ago, Alex had been riding a roller coaster to disaster, ignoring everyone who tried to make him apply the brakes. Friends had warned him, Meyer himself had given him an ultimatum - the job or the girl - but he had disregarded them all convinced, in his arrogance, that it was his life, he knew what was best and he was perfectly capable of handling the situation.
Like being suspected of Victoria's murder.
Like Sam spiking his drink and causing him to kill an innocent child.
Like sleeping with Ric's daughter and leaving her pregnant.
He could deal with it all, no problem...
Each time he tried and each time he failed: and each time Anton Meyer was there to pick up the pieces. He was well aware that he should have been thrown off Meyer's team and out of the hospital long ago for the way he had conducted his personal life and yet he had been allowed, even encouraged, to stay and see it through, pull himself back on track. At the time Meyer would rant and threaten, call him ten kinds of a fool for letting himself get involved where he should not and putting at risk all he had achieved, but when he had spoken his mind he would, in some small way, let Alex know that his continued presence at Holby was a matter of personal importance to him. That in itself had been a lifeline to Alex during his darkest hours.
And now that lifeline was being severed. Meyer had resigned from Holby, cleared his office and was heading out to a new life on the other side of the Atlantic, leaving Alex cast adrift and wondering what the future would hold without him.
Hands stuffed into pockets, he leaned against the shuttered facade of a small florist shop directly across the street from the redbrick, ex-local authority conversion that housed Meyer's flat. Part of him wanted to run away, as far and as fast as he could, and forget all about his feelings for Anton; but the other part of him, the part that had been owned by Meyer since the day he had arrived at Holby City Hospital, wanted to cross the road, ring the bell and make sure his mentor carried the knowledge of those feelings with him into his new life. He might have done it, too, if he had been able to find the right words to say what he needed to say, but how could he, a mere surgical registrar, explain to one of the country's foremost cardio-thoracic surgeons, that he had been stupid, and arrogant, and insensitive, and juvenile - and those were just the adjectives that came readily to mind.
How could he confess that everything he had done, since the first time he slept with Victoria Merrick, had been done in a puerile attempt to deny, to bury, his desires and to forget for a while the need that burned whenever he was close to Meyer? That the air of distraction that had so often sparked Meyer's anger in the operating room had been caused not by Sam Kennedy's presence beside him, but by the most casual brush of Meyer's hand against his, or the way those amazing eyes sometimes looked at him from above the face mask, or the unexpected word of praise aimed his way. How could he explain that each time Meyer voiced his interest in something Alex had done, or offered support, or concern, it was enough to rob the younger man of the ability to think?
How could he admit to any of those things and still hope to preserve what little remained between them?
It was the worst moment imaginable for his mobile phone to ring and he growled in frustration as he yanked it from his pocket and thumbed the button, snarling his name in greeting as he silently cursed whoever had the audacity to ring him at such an inconvenient time.
"I see your mood has not improved," drawled the familiar voice, causing Alex to almost choke on his astonishment.
"Mr - Meyer?"
"I suggest you come up... Before the police are summoned to arrest you for loitering."
Alex looked up, searching the lozenges of darkened glass and - there! - saw a faint pale movement that might, or might not, have been a face. So, Meyer had been inside all along...
He had one last chance to back out of this, to admit the mistake and go on his way, and never see Anton Meyer again. Common sense told him that would be the most prudent thing to do, but common sense and desire seldom went hand in hand and when, in the next moment, he heard himself ask how to get into the building, he knew his heart had made the decision for him.
Meyer buzzed him in a moment later and he took the lift to the third floor, turned left when he stepped out and walked the few feet to the front door of Meyer's flat. It was already standing part-way open, as if in invitation: he pushed it wide and stepped into darkness that was relieved only by the dying glow of the sun as it filtered through the windows.
He was turning to close the door behind him when a light snapped on - and there was Meyer, watching him, an enigmatic smile teasing at his lips. He was dressed as Alex had never seen him before, in well-worn jeans and a dark top, perhaps black or navy blue, with the long sleeves pushed up to his elbows and his feet, surprisingly, were bare. He looked ten years younger and far less forbidding than he did around the hospital and that, in itself, Alex found unnerving. He was used to battling the demon of Darwin Ward, but this gentle-looking man was almost a stranger.
"Good evening, Mr Adams." Even his voice was lower and richer than Alex had ever heard it, making his skin prickle with goose bumps.
"Mr Meyer..." he acknowledged, his well-rehearsed speech fading like a bad dream on a summer morning. "I-I didn't think you were in."
Meyer did that little thing with his shoulders, a gesture that was not quite a shrug, not quite a roll of his head. "Might it not have been more expedient to ring the doorbell and find out?"
Alex felt the heat begin to climb into his face. "I wasn't sure I'd be welcome."
"And yet you've been hanging around outside for at least half an hour. Such indecision is not one of the more desirable qualities for a surgical registrar."
Alex heard the subtle admonishment and felt his resolve begin to waver - and yet, that smile was still dancing around Anton's lips, and that made him wonder what might be counted as desirable qualities.
"Why are you here, Mr Adams?"
He wanted to beg him "Please call me Alex", but instead he said only "I needed to speak with you."
"The fact that you've come to my home, at this hour, and not seen fit to wait until tomorrow, would seem to suggest a matter of some importance. Am I correct?"
Shifting anxiously from one foot to the other and crossing his arms defensively, Alex nodded. "It's important to me, yes."
"I see. Then you had better sit down."
Gratified that he had not been dismissed out of hand, Alex settled himself on the edge of one of the black leather armchairs.
"I'd offer you a drink," remarked Meyer, "but all that's left is a rather dubious supermarket scotch."
"I'm fine," Alex responded, not sure that he could cope with the debilitating effects of even a supermarket scotch.
"I do, however, have tea and coffee, if that would be sufficient."
For a moment their glances met, and something as yet indefinable flashed between them. It was enough to allay some of Alex's anxiety, however temporarily, and so he nodded and said "Tea, then. Thank you."
While Meyer clattered around what looked, from the little he could see through the open doorway, to be a very small kitchen, Alex took the opportunity to survey his surroundings. The flat was exactly what he would have expected of Anton Meyer, the private world of a very private man. The furnishings were simple yet contemporary, the colours muted, the lighting soft. In all, a cocoon of tranquillity, of absolute calm and order in a turbulent world. Even the packing cases had been stacked neatly against the far wall according to the instructions 'Ship' or 'Store' stencilled boldly on their sides. Beside them stood two more that were open and part full, and he realised then that Meyer must have been in the process of packing when he arrived. So, his departure was that imminent. Maybe it was a good thing after all that Alex had come tonight.
Two denim-clad legs, a mug of tea and a bowl of sugar appeared in front of him, forcing him to look up and to meet the odd expression in his host's eyes - a look that was quickly shuttered, leaving Alex wondering if it had not just been a figment of his imagination. He took the mug with a murmur of thanks, declining the offer of sugar, and watched as Meyer crossed the floor and sat down in the other armchair, setting his own mug on the small table at his side.
"I didn't mean to interrupt your packing," Alex told him, with a gesture to the boxes, needing to break the grid locked silence permeating the room.
"On the contrary, I welcome the interruption. One can sometimes become engrossed in a task to the detriment of all else."
Or in a person, Alex acknowledged silently, all too uncomfortably aware of how engrossed he had been in Sam Kennedy of late, to the detriment of his relationship with Meyer.
"When do you leave?" he asked.
"On the fourth. The Board have arranged accommodation in Monarch's Wood for me until I can find something more - permanent."
Permanent. The word sliced through Alex, a finely honed scalpel aiming at his heart, and he was suddenly, painfully conscious of the fact that when he left this flat, he might never see Anton again.
"So," he said. "This is it. You're not coming back."
"To England? Perhaps, one day. But I shall not be returning to Holby."
"What about your family?" The question slipped from his lips before he could prevent it and once again Meyer made that little dismissive gesture with shoulders and head.
"I doubt that they will have any difficulty in making the adjustment," Meyer replied succinctly. Then, quite casually, he commented, "I understand I'm not the only one who is about to move on."
The curse of the hospital grapevine, guaranteed to spread the word - whether it was wanted or not. Alex had hoped to be able to tell Meyer himself, before the rumours started. "Oh... You heard then."
"A concerned friend thought that I should be told. May I ask if it's true?"
"That I resigned?" Alex nodded slowly. "Yes, it is." To his surprise, his answer was met with a sigh from the older man. "You don't approve?"
"My approval, or disapproval, is not an issue. However, I would question whether it was the wisest course of action at this time. While I'm aware of your enthusiasm to join me in Michigan - and you have my assurances that I intend to endorse your application - the final decision does not rest solely with me. If it should go against you..." He spread his hands, dismissing the rest of the caution as understood.
And Alex did understand - just, not in the way Meyer thought he did. He understood that this was perhaps his last chance to voice his feelings, that Meyer had unconsciously opened a door to him and that, with Meyer all but on the plane to Detroit, he really had nothing more to lose.
His hands were cold with fear and he wrapped them around the mug of tea, seeking to absorb something of its warmth. Meeting Meyer's gaze was impossible at that point and so instead, he sat forward and fixed his gaze on the man's feet, subconsciously noting how pale and compact they were. Not the most beautiful of feet, but certainly not ugly.
"Whether or not my application is successful, I've decided it's time to move on. There's nothing left for me at Holby."
"Of course. Since Dr Kennedy's departure, I can --"
"This has nothing to do with Sam," Alex interrupted, annoyed that he would even think it, even though he knew that it was his own past actions that were to blame. "But it does have everything to do with - you."
Alex saw it then, the flicker of uncertainly in Meyer's eyes the instant before that eye contact was broken and Meyer looked away, the suggestion that maybe Anton had not been as immune to Alex as Alex had always imagined.
"If you are trying to suggest that I am in some way to blame--"
"Don't." The note of command in Alex' voice startled them both. "Don't patronise me," he continued, "and don't pretend that you don't understand. You're the most intelligent, insightful man I know, Mr Meyer, so don't try to tell me you don't know what I'm talking about." With each statement made his courage increased, until he could set the defensive barrier of the cup aside and lean forward, looking intently at Meyer.
"Did you never wonder why I refused to give up when everything started to go wrong? When you were shot -" The image rose up, starkly clear in his mind, and he felt again the surge of panic, the terrifying feeling of impending loss that still had to power to wake him in a cold sweat at night. His voice, when next he spoke, had lost a little of its force. "W-when Alistair Taylor took over... It was like being thrown into hell. I hated knowing you weren't there, and that you might never be coming back."
"I was under the impression you had more confidence in your own abilities."
"Damn you!" A surge of anger and frustration hurled him from the chair, needing suddenly to move and disperse some of the nervous energy building inside him. "I'm not talking about my self-confidence. I'm talking about what I feel for you."
Meyer remained where he was, sitting as if turned to stone, staring straight ahead at the armchair Alex had just vacated. Only his hands, curled over the arms of the chair, showed any sign of a change in him as his fingers, those long, talented digits, gripped so tightly that they bit into the leather.
At last Alex paused in his frantic pacing. He stopped at the window, the same one from which Meyer had watched him a short while ago and his troubled gaze turned involuntarily to the view beyond the glass, of a city transformed by night.
"You have no idea, do you," he stated softly, almost as if speaking to himself. "How could I have been so - stupid?"
"I thought... You really don't know what I'm talking about, do you?"
"Mr Adams, I really think-"
"This was a mistake," Alex' voice cut across the surgeon's, his tone flat as he recognised the reality for perhaps the first time. "I should never have come here." Meyer tried to say I'm glad that you did, but Alex was past hearing him. "I'll go," he said. "Leave you to your packing."
As he crossed the room he passed Meyer's chair and was peripherally aware of the man rising to his feet, but he kept on going, until he reached the front door. He was about to open it when the casual enquiry from behind him stopped him in his tracks.
"Have you had dinner yet?" Meyer asked calmly. Alex stared at him. "I ask, because I was about to make something for myself and I wondered if you would care to join me."
Alex turned then, unable to hide his astonishment. Meyer, on the other hand, appeared outwardly calm and stood, hands resting lightly on his hips, his head tilted in expectation of a reply.
"You're - inviting me to dinner?"
Meyer shrugged. "I'm not sure that what's left in the refrigerator would qualify as 'dinner', but you're welcome to share it with me."
Even as he allowed his hand to drop from the doorknob, even as he returned to the middle of the room, stopping just a foot or so away from Meyer, Alex wondered if he was doing the right thing. Surely the longer he delayed the parting, the more difficult it would be to take his leave. Or was that what Meyer was counting on?
Before he could ask, Meyer reached out with one hand, quick as lightening, and gave Alex' arm a quick squeeze. "We need to talk," he said earnestly, "before it's too late."
"Mr Meyer..." he began, only to be silenced by a gesture of that same hand.
"Dinner first," his host suggested, moving away towards the kitchen, clearly expecting Alex to follow. In the doorway he paused, looked back. A glance at Alex, the tiniest of smiles that held a whisper of smugness about it.
"One more thing..." he said, in the same direct and businesslike tone he used in theatre, when explaining a surgical procedure.
"For future reference, my name is Anton."