They were somewhere over New Zealand before Jon finally got his meal. Alex had jumped in the shower to freshen up, after several hours of passionate love making. She had joined the mile high club in style. The only way to go Jon had assured her. It had proved to be a very effective distraction from her worries, but now, with home so very close, the weight of those worries was rapidly crashing in.
Her body began to tremble, and it wasn't from the cold. The spray of water she was under was just shy of scorching. She braced her hands against the wall to hold herself upright, and when that didn't work, she slid down the smooth panel and curled up into herself under the scalding rain.
Jon returned to the bedroom to find that Ali was still absent. He knocked on the bathroom door gently and let himself in. Through a cloud of thick steam he could just make out a crumpled figure in the base of the shower. He moved to it quickly and pulled the door wide. More steam billowed out and Alex was revealed. She sat dazedly on the shower cubicle floor. Hot water steamed over her, turning her flesh an alarming shade of pink, but she paid it no mind.
Jon leaned in and flicked the tap closed. "Ali, baby, what are you doing?"
She stared at him for a long moment before she answered, "I have to get clean before I see daddy. I can't see him like this. Not like this." She gestured to herself.
He wrapped her in one of the large plush white towels, speaking to her gently as he led her to the bed. "Alex, you are not dirty. Do you hear me? You are fine. Better than fine, you're beautiful."
Alex shook her head violently. "How could I do that Jon? How could I make love to you like that when daddy is..." she paused momentarily, taking a deep breath, as she struggled to reign in the hysteria that was threatening to erupt, "Daddy might be dying...might even be dead, and all I could think about was...."
"Alex, we didn't do anything wrong. You didn't do anything wrong. You sought comfort in the arms of someone who loves you, in a time of high stress, that's all. It's not like we could do anything for your dad while we were in the air anyway. Laying alone and letting your concern for him fester will not make him feel any better." Jon had resisted taking Alex in his arms until this point, fearing her stability, but now he drew her in close. She sat there stiffly, neither reciprocating nor resisting his embrace. But that was ok....it would all be ok. For the next couple of hours that was his mantra. He didn't know who he wanted to convince more.
It was a good hour before Alex felt stable enough to get up, and get herself dressed. Jon had carried her back to the bed after her mini meltdown and then, at her request, had left her alone with her thoughts. She knew in her heart, that her response to what had happened was irrational...like Jon had pointed out, she hadn't done anything wrong. That, however, did nothing to assuage the terrible guilt her brain battered her with. It was debilitating, and right now, it was the last thing she needed.
Once dressed, Alex joined Jon in the main cabin, sitting next to him but avoiding eye contact. He studied her intently, his face cautiously blank. It was the mask he wore when he was trying not to show his concern.
"Better?" He asked hesitantly.
Alex tried for a smile, but when that failed she just took his hand and squeezed reassuringly. After a few seconds of continued staring from him, she nodded stiffly.
As the sun set over Sydney the plane finally bumped and bounced onto the runway. It taxied for what, to Alex, seemed like forever. As it slowed and come to a full stop the anxiety in her settled, and in its place an eerie calm descended.
The second the door was open Alex was on the steel steps descending to the asphalt. Jon was right behind her. They were led by airport officials through customs. Their minimal luggage, and a few well placed phone calls prior to leaving, proved advantageous and they were on their way to the hospital within minutes.
The cab pulled up in front of the Emergency entrance. It was a hive of frenetic activity. Two ambulances were in bays immediately in front of wide sliding glass doors that led to a triage area. A medical team worked frantically to get a young man covered in blood and thrashing wildly out of one vehicle and into the ER. In the silence after his departure, the loud metallic clang caused by the wheels of a second stretcher - containing an elderly woman wearing an oxygen mask - hitting the ground, and locking into place caused Alex to visibly startle. Jon took her elbow to steady her.
"OK babe?" He smoothed back a lock of hair that had escaped the lose ponytail she had tied at the nape of her neck.
She looked up at him, and saw the concern shadowing his beautiful blue eyes. He had removed the customary sunglasses, but kept his shoulder length hair hidden beneath a well worn Giants baseball cap. She reached up and laid a hand on his stubble roughened cheek, in a gesture of reassurance.
"Yep." It was the first word she had spoken to him since he'd left her in the bedroom of the plane. "Let's go." Drawing in a deep breath, she stepped forward into the mayhem of an inner city emergency room.
Inside was worse than out. People in various states of ill health and distress, crowded the cavernous space. Across from the entry door, several staff members sat behind a counter topped with a glass petition that extended up to the ceiling. When Alex approached the kindly looking woman in the centre, she raised weary eyes and glared blankly through the glass.
"Can I help you?" her voice was a bored monotone. She had clearly seen too much in this horrible place to show any enthusiasm for the job.
Alex disclosed her father's details and was promptly handed a slip containing his location within the hospital. When they arrived at the bank of elevators as directed, she hesitated for only a second before glancing around. Obviously spotting what she was seeking, Alex headed for an unobtrusive door just a few feet away. She rushed into the stairwell and bounded up the cement stairs, taking them two at a time, leaving Jon to trail after her. She burst through the door on the fourth floor, and came to an abrupt halt, causing Jon to barge right into her.
"Alex?" he questioned, as his arms wrapped around her waist from behind. It was a motion meant to comfort her as much as it was meant to steady them both after their impact
She stood there staring down the long, sterile, fluorescent lit corridor, absolutely motionless except for her heaving chest, as she was transported to another corridor in another hospital not all that long ago. As he held her firmly against him, the strength from his body leeched into hers, and gave her the ability to speak. "I'm okay. It's just....the last time I was in a hospital...it was..." her hands moved protectively across her stomach, "...and now, daddy..."
"Baby...I am soo sorry. You shouldn't have had to do that alone. But I am here for you now. This we are going to do together," he assured her.
With that, Alex disentangled herself from Jon's arms, took his hand and headed for her father.
The Intensive Care Unit was jarringly quite. The only noise was that of the assorted machines that simulated or monitored life. The monotonous, regular beep, beep, beep of a heart monitor was music to the ears here.
A nurse approached Jon and Alex as soon as they breeched the doors. "Can I help you?"
"I'm here to see Gino Belle." Alex replied quietly.
"Are you a relative?" The nurse asked. She was severe in looks and stern in nature, and Alex knew it wouldn't be good to be on her bad side.
Alex didn't even get the opportunity to answer. Sophia stepped out of a nearby doorway, and Alex threw herself into her mother's arms. The nurse turned quietly back to her duties.
"Oh baby...I'm so glad you're here. He's been asking for you." Sophia said, embracing her only child with a strength that belied her age.
"How is he?" Alex asked, drawing back so she could study her mother's face.
"Stable. That's the most they'll give me at this stage." Sophia looked at Alex for a long moment then drew her back into her embrace. It was only then that she noticed the unobtrusive man, standing just a few feet away.
Sophia stepped away from Alex and moved over to Jon, her hand extended. "Thank you so much for bringing her home. It means more to me than you can imagine." Her demeanour wasn't exactly welcoming despite her kind words. Jon had the distinct feeling that, had Alex not been immediately behind her, he would have been summarily dismissed. He took her hand and shook it gently. Her grip was firm, and just like her tone held a hint of indifference.
"Glad to be of service Mrs. Belle. There is no way I could let Alex do this alone." Jon said.
"You've done well to deliver her here safely...now she has her family for support...and I am sure you have to get back to your own." Sophia's tone was gentle, but cool nevertheless.
Jon opened his mouth to reply but didn't get the chance. He wondered what he would have said if he did.
"Mother!" Alex scolded, "Jon has just flown half way around the world to support me. Do you think you could be gracious enough to let him do so without judgement?"
"I wasn't...I...I just thought he might like to get back to his own family, now that you're here with yours." Sophia replied, suitably chastened. Now wasn't the time for the discussion that was very obviously necessary.
"Alex," Jon spoke up, "It's fine...your mom is under a lot of stress right now. Don't worry about me. Go to your dad. I'll wait for you out in the visitors lounge."
"No!" Alex replied, clutching at his shirt. The vehemence behind the word was shocking to Sophia. She had thought that her daughter's reliance on this man was long over. She was very obviously wrong. "I want you by my side." Then, a little quieter Alex added, "I need you by my side."
"Well that's where I'll be." Jon looked upon Alex with total devotion. The love in his gaze was palpable. With a little apologetic smile in Sophia's direction, Jon took her daughters hand, and together the pair entered her ailing husband's hospital room.