Chapter 5

The following weekend, the Helders family are supposed to go to a birthday party somewhere near Leeds. Though Mrs Helders insists that Alex should come along with them, ignoring the fact that he obviously isn’t part of the invitation, Alex politely declines. It isn’t hard for Miles to see why the idea would make him uncomfortable; when you’ve lost something as significant as your parents, the last thing you would want to do is surround yourself by someone else’s entire family. You don’t want to be reminded of what you don’t have.

Miles’s Mum tells Miles to invite Alex over as soon as she hears.

“That poor boy can’t spend the whole weekend on his own,” she announces at the dinner table, and even Miles’s Dad agrees, “loneliness can trigger awful things in people who’ve lost someone they love. I hate to imagine what could happen to him if no one’s there to watch over him.

“Are you saying that he would harm himself?” Miles asks her, overwhelmed by sudden fear. The idea of Alex wanting to hurt himself physically in order to deal with his grief is beyond terrifying to him.

“You never know in these situations,” his Mum tells him bluntly, “there might be subtle cries for help that people overlook completely. And then suddenly, when you think the whole world has abandoned you, you become desperate and take drastic measures…”

“Pauline,” Miles’s Dad interrupts her uncomfortably, “I’m not sure we ought to be talking about this in front of…”

“No,” she insists, “it needs to be said. I want to teach my Miles how to look out for the warning signs. God forbid he should ever wind up in Alex’s shoes…”

“Pauline!” Miles’s Dad objects again.

“I’m just saying, it happens,” she continues, unbothered by the sudden tension, “if Miles should suddenly become an orphan…”

“Mum, please don’t call Alex an orphan,” Miles pleads.

“Why?” Pauline looks at him with surprise. “That’s exactly what he’s become, isn’t it?


Though Miles wants to remain supportive and understanding, he can’t help but to feel a small twinge of disappointment when, much against his expectations, Alex doesn’t seem keen on spending the weekend at his house. He gets that it must be frustrating to be tossed around from one family to another, always having to rely on other people to look after him when all he really wants is his parents back. But Miles had thought and hoped that, perhaps, Alex would find some sort of comfort in spending some time alone with Miles. The two of them are supposed to be close, aren’t they? They are supposed to be able to connect with one another and God damn it, Miles has waited so long to finally be able to do something good for Alex.

Miles doesn’t understand what the problem is until, in the end, Alex is persuaded to come to their house Friday evening. Then he sees it. The neighbouring house right next to his own. The empty, dark number 13. The former home of the Turners – a family that is no more.

When they are settling down in Miles’s room that night, Miles can still feel the tension building up inside Alex, simply from knowing that he’s so close to his old house without being home at all. Miles tries to divert his attention. He even closes the curtains so that Alex won’t be able to peer into his now abandoned bedroom. It doesn’t do him any good. When they both get ready for bed that night, Alex is silent and withdrawn.

“Would you like a cigarette before bed?” Miles offers stupidly, knowing that this is, indeed, a very shallow gesture. “My parents won’t mind it as long as we open a window.

“Hm? Oh, no thanks. I’m good.

He’s not good.

Alex begins to unpack the few items he’s been able to bring with him. A spare pillow he’s been given by Mrs Helders, the duvet he’s borrowed from Miles’s Mum. He’s getting ready to settle down on the floor, next to the cheap sleeping pad that Miles’s Dad was able to find in their garage. Miles wasn’t exactly used to having friends sleeping over when he was younger.

“What are you doing?” Miles asks him incredulously. “You’re not sleeping on the floor tonight.

“Oh,” Alex says in an almost ghostly voice, “I thought…”

“Nah, mate, I’ll sleep on the floor,” Miles tells him, “you’ll be sleeping in my bed.

“Miles, it’s your bed,” Alex points out to him slightly awkwardly, “I don’t mind sleeping on the floor.

“I know you don’t,” Miles says, because he knows for a fact that Alex doesn’t mind much these days, “but I’d be a pretty rotten friend if I offered you a sleeping pad, especially since you’ve hurt your spine and you’ve got a broken arm. It’s basically a piece of cardboard, you know, there’s no comfort in it.

“Then I don’t want you to sleep on it, either,” Alex insists and just like that, Miles realises that they might have a problem.

“What are you suggesting, then?” Miles questions carefully, not wanting to dismiss Alex altogether.

“I dunno,” Alex hesitates for a moment. “I mean, your bed seems big enough for two, I guess.

Miles has no idea if Alex is suggesting this out of politeness or if he’s actually feeling the need to be close to someone. But all he can do, of course, is accept Alex’s request, hoping that it is sincere. That night, Alex seems perfectly calm as the two of them lie down next to one another, wrapped up in each their own duvets. All Miles can think about is how he’s always dreamed of sharing a bed with the other. He tries his best not to observe Alex’s small, slender frame by his side, tries not to imagine what it would feel like to wrap his arms around him and spoon Alex from behind. Perhaps smell his beautiful hair, too.

“Are you comfortable?” Miles asks him foolishly, offering himself an excuse to look over at the other. “I mean, is the mattress alright for your back?

Alex can’t help but to grin slightly. “Yeah, Miles, I’m really comfy,” he says, “cheers.

“Do you want me to leave the lights on or off?

“Bloody hell, Miles, I’m not eight years old.” For the first time in a long time, Alex smiles at him genuinely and produces the sweetest, most charming, little giggle. “Sleeping in the dark is fine by me, thanks.

Miles feels instantly relieved and can’t help but to laugh at himself.

“Sorry about that,” he says, “when I was younger, people never used to sleep at my house.

“I can tell,” Alex chuckles teasingly.

For a moment, it feels like having his old Alex back and much to his own surprise, Miles is close to tearing up as a result. He’s never longed to touch and to hold Alex in his arms as much as he does now. It takes him several moments to collect himself and to get over it. Then, when he’s finally able to take a deep breath and turn around to face Alex once again, Miles sees that the other has already closed his eyes and readied himself to sleep.


Miles can’t remember what he’s been dreaming when, a few hours later, he’s awoken by what feels like an elbow to his ribs. He jerks awake with a grunt and blinks in confusion. Then, as he becomes aware, he hears a loud, desperate whimpering, which forces him to wonder how he could have slept through these noises in the first place.

“Alex!” He exclaims, sitting upright in the bed. “Alex, wake up!

The other doesn’t hear him. Alex is too busy twisting and turning in the bed and kicking off the covers in despair. He cries and pleads almost manically, throwing his one good arm about and nudging Miles once again by accident. It’s like he’s defending himself against something. The way Alex is acting, you would think it was a matter of life or death.

“Alex!” Miles says a little louder, shaking his friend carefully by the shoulder. “You’re having a nightmare – wake up!

Miles’s touching him only seems to drive Alex over the edge.

“No,” he cries loudly and suddenly, forcing Miles to jerk and take his hands off him, “no, no, stop…”

Alex is thrashing even more violently now. If Miles doesn’t find a way to make him calm down soon, he’s going to injure himself. Quickly, Miles turns on the lights and rolls out of the bed, running over to Alex’s side.

“Al,” he begs him once again, placing both hands on the other’s shoulders, pressing him down against the matrass in an attempt to make him lie still, “Alex, it’s me. It’s Miles. Everything’s okay, it’s just a dream…”

Finally, Alex snaps out of it. He produces a small yelp and presses against Miles’s hands with his chest in an attempt to sit up, but Miles makes sure to keep him in place. Alex’s eyes spring open and he gasps for air a couple of times, his entire chest heaving painfully underneath Miles’s hands. He’s shaking badly.

“Al,” Miles breathes, aiming to talk to him as soothingly as he possibly can, “you’re alright. It was just a bad dream. Do you remember where you are?

Alex moves his head upwards, locking eyes with Miles unexpectedly. His eyes are widened and rounded by fear. He reminds Miles of a toddler who’s just woken up from a bad dream, only to find himself in a stranger’s bed. Miles is practically expecting Alex to cry for his parents any minute now.

“M-Miles?” Alex finally speaks, his voice trembling even worse than his body.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Miles forces a sad smile, letting go of Alex’s chest slowly as he doesn’t want to come across as oppressive, “you’re alright. It was just a nightmare.

Before Miles can do anything further to appease his friend, Alex bursts into tears.


Ten minutes later, Alex is still sobbing inconsolably and Miles has resolved to sitting in the middle of the bed with his arms wrapped around him protectively. Alex is shaking and gasping like it’s hard for him to breathe. He’s leaning against Miles, like it would be impossible for him to remain seated otherwise. Miles has become his rock; everything that he can depend on and trust.

“Alex, are you sure you’re okay?” Miles asks him for the tenth time. “Have you hurt your arm? You were moving about quite a lot, is all.

“No, I’m fine,” Alex manages to tell him as he wipes his eyes with the back of his hand, “I’m sorry. We can go back to bed now if you want.

“What? No – Alex, we need to talk about this. You need to talk about it.

“I’m fine, Miles,” he says again, removing himself from the other carefully, “it’s fine – I’m sure it won’t happen again. I usually don’t have nightmares…”

Miles can’t help but to confront the other; he knows that Alex is trying to deny the graveness of the situation.

“Matt says that it’s been happening quite a lot recently,” he bursts out, forgetting that he shouldn’t manipulate Alex into talking about things if he doesn’t want to, “it sounds to me like it’s the same sort of nightmare you’re having over and over again. So it doesn’t seem to me like you’re fine.

Alex freezes and the look on his face soon has Miles regretting his own thoughtlessness.

“I didn’t realise Matt would tell anyone about that,” is all Alex whispers.

“Alex, I’m sorry,” Miles sighs, “I shouldn’t have said that. But come on, you can’t keep doing this to yourself. You need to tell someone about it. You can talk to me – you know that, right? I’m here for you.

“I know you are,” Alex mutters quietly, laying himself down against the mattress, “but I don’t want to talk about it.

“You can’t keep everything bottled up inside like that,” Miles warns him one final time, “you’re not doing yourself any favours.

“Miles, please – just let it go, will you?

But only a few moments later, as they’ve both rearranged themselves and prepared to go back to sleep, Alex breaks into another round of crying.


The following morning, Miles wakes up to an empty bed and is on the verge of panicking until he realises that Alex hasn’t left. He’s sitting quietly by the window, looking out at what can only be his parents’ house. The home, in which Penny would usually spend her Saturday mornings cooking eggs and bacon with David sitting at the table with a glass of orange juice and a newspaper in his hands, is now completely silent and deserted. Alex is never again going to wake up at eleven o’clock in his old bedroom only to walk downstairs and be greeted by his parents, then bullocked slightly for sleeping his day away. His mother is never again going to ask him how he wants his eggs done, or if he’s taken his laundry basket with him downstairs. His father will never be able to look up at him again and laugh: “How much did you drink last night, lad?

“Alex?” Miles sits up in the bed and looks over at him worriedly. Alex doesn’t turn around to face him. “How long have you been up for?

At this, Alex merely shrugs his shoulders.

“M’not sure,” he whispers. “Maybe a couple of hours.

“A couple of hours?” Miles rubs at his eyes. “Why didn’t you wake me up?

At this, Alex chuckles lightly. “I’ve already woken you up enough, don’t you think? Besides, you looked so peaceful…”

Miles feels his cheeks go red instantly. He has always imagined himself waking up to watch Alex sleep, but he’s never imagined the scenario the other way around.

“I wouldn’t have minded,” Miles tells him hesitantly. However, as he removes the duvet and gets out of the bed, he has a feeling that Alex is no longer listening to him. He begins to walk across the room, joining Alex by the windowsill. “Alex?” He asks the other carefully, noticing how he’s staring out through the window almost as though he’s in a trance.

“I want to go back,” Alex says suddenly, taking Miles by surprise.


“I want to go back. To the house, I mean. My parents’ house.” Alex bites his lip and finally tears his gaze away from the familiar scene in front of him which is everything that he longs for. “Before you say anything, Miles – I know. I know it sounds stupid. I know it’s probably not what I need right now. But I still want to do it.

“Hey,” Miles corrects him, “it’s not for me to say what you need or don’t need right now. I get it, Alex, I mean – it’s your home for crying out loud. But how? How are you going to go back?

“It hasn’t been cleared yet,” Alex tells him, “all the furniture is still there. All my stuff… And I’ve still got the key.” Alex pauses for a moment. “I want to do it tonight, Miles. I want to sleep in my old bed tonight.


Even though he doesn’t say it, it seems obvious to Miles that Alex wants him to come with. They don’t speak a word about it to Miles’s parents that night, believing that, perhaps, they would try to persuade them that it’s a bad idea. Consequently, they wait around until they are certain that Mr and Mrs Kane are asleep before they make their move.

“It feels weird creeping out of my own house in the middle of the night,” Miles whispers as the two of them are heading downstairs, desperately trying not to make a sound.

“I know,” Alex tells him, “it feels even weirder sneaking into my parents’ house in secret. Like I’m a burglar or summat.

However, despite the paranoia that follows with in the act of breaking an unwritten rule, they both succeed in doing exactly that. Alex shows Miles around to the backside of the house, where they unlock the door to the kitchen and step inside. Miles’s first instinct is to reach for the light switch as he can’t see a thing, but Alex stops him last second.

“People aren’t supposed to know that anyone’s here,” he reminds him.

“How are we supposed to make it upstairs?” Miles asks. “I can’t even see my own hand in front of me.

“Use the light from your phone,” Alex suggests, “just follow my steps, I know every inch of this place.

Miles does as he’s told and follows closely after Alex. Somehow he manages to make his way upstairs and into the other’s bedroom without falling down and breaking his neck. Even though it would have been ten times easier with the lights on, Miles has a small suspicion that Alex is secretly grateful to find himself in the dark. As if it isn’t hard enough to be back home after everything that he’s been through, at least Alex is able to spare himself from the pain of watching the family pictures in the hallway, reminding him so cruelly that only a third of the smiling family being portrayed together is still here today.

Alex closes the door behind them as soon as he can, as though he’s trying to keep the ghosts of this haunted house out from the bedroom that seems to have become his only sanctuary.

“Okay, Miles,” he breathes, “I think we can turn the lights on now.


Alex spends a long time just sitting on top of his bed that night, staring into empty air, then looking around him as though he can barely recognise the room he grew up in, or as though he can no longer tell what is real and what is not.

“Are you okay?” Miles questions after a while, when he figures it’ll be alright for them to talk again. Alex has gone rather pale and yet at the same time, there is something in his posture which makes him seem more relaxed, more at ease.

“I think so,” Alex mutters tiredly. “It’s weird – it feels almost good to be back. I mean… This is my room. My bed. For once I’m not sleeping on other people’s sofas. For once, I’m not a guest.

Miles smiles sadly at this. “The Helders think of you as more than just a guest,” Miles tells him. “But I think I understand.

Alex nods pensively. “I don’t mean to be ungrateful to everyone who’s taken me in. It’s just… not the same.

“I know.

Then, after another moment, Alex smirks. “It’s funny – I can still smell my Mum’s special soap in the bedsheets. I mean, the one she’d use for laundry and stuff. It’s – it’s almost as though she’s still here.

That night, Alex falls asleep easily and comfortably because for the first time in a long time, he’s home in familiar surroundings. He’s busy reliving all the old familiar smells and senses, feeling free and secure in knowing that he’s come back to where he belongs, where no one has taken him in out of pity or sympathy, but where he has a name, a history, a free space of his own. He looks so relieved and calm as he relaxes into his old bed, Miles feels heartbroken to remind himself that Alex’s bliss cannot last for longer than a single night. Though Alex makes space for Miles under the covers, he falls asleep before he’s able to realise that Miles has decided to stay up, just for a while longer, so that he can watch Alex sleep undisturbed and uncrowded for once, without being burdened by grief, without waking up screaming because he’s been caught in a horrendous nightmare.

For one night only, everything has gone back to how it was before.

The grief only reappears on his face the morning after when, sadly, Alex wakes up and announces:

“I wish I didn’t have to go. I wish I could just stay here for the rest of my life.

The Turners’ house has become a monument, a marker of everything that was and will never be again. But more importantly: For now, as Alex lingers where time stands still and memory still is, he is able to hide away from the inevitable future, from change, from loneliness, and from people getting on with their lives mercilessly.

“We really should be going,” Miles tells him eventually, though it pains him, “my parents might already know we’re missing.


Sunday afternoon, just a few hours before the Helders are supposed to return from Leeds, Alex announces that he would like to go visit his mother in the hospital. Though Miles’s parents offer to drive him there, Alex insists that he’ll take a bus. It seems easier for everyone. However, as he gets ready to pack his things and walk out of Park Lane, Miles makes a spontaneous decision and asks if he can join him.

“You wanna see my Mum in the hospital?” Alex questions with bewilderment as he wraps his coat around his shoulders, unable to fit his broken arm into the sleeve.

“I…” Miles falters at first, realising that Alex’s mother is hooked up to a machine in the ICU, unresponsive and unable to ever wake up again. The hospital staff probably won’t allow anyone who isn’t family to see her. “I just don’t want you to be alone,” Miles finally admits.

Alex looks slightly dumbfounded. Then he quietly nods, though Miles never learns the truth; if Alex would, in reality, have preferred to be on his own for some time. “Of course you can come,” his answer is. His eyes are all empty-looking again, but at the very least, Miles is happy to not be pushed away.

They make their way there, arriving just before four o’clock in the afternoon. Alex seems to get gradually tenser as they talk to the staff in reception and get a nurse to follow them both to Penny’s bedside. The nurse is a middle-aged woman who appears to recognise Alex immediately. She hugs him tightly and ruffles his hair in an almost maternal fashion, which has Miles feeling awkwardly out of place.

“How is the concussion these days?” She asks and looks Alex over thoroughly, instructing him to look up so that she can have a look at the scar by his jaw. “Still healing slowly, I see,” she notes, grasping his shoulder, “you’re not in any pain, are you?

“No, I’m better now,” Alex tells her with an emotionless smile, though Miles can tell that he relaxes more evidently around her, “looking forward to getting the cast off, though.

“I bet,” she nods, “it’ll probably be another few weeks if I remember correctly. Are people looking after you alright, dear?

“Yeah,” Alex tells her genuinely, “everyone’s been really great.

She pulls him close once again, though only for a moment. Alex is now lowering his gaze slightly, his eyes threatening to spill over.

“It’s good to see that you’re coping alright,” she sighs, keeping her arm around his shoulders, “it’s right this way, dear, but you know that.” Then she pauses and looks over at Miles, smiling uncertainly. “Is your friend here coming with?

“Yeah,” Alex says, “he knew my mother, too.

“Oh. I’m very sorry.


Alex doesn’t let the tears spill before they’ve been led to Penny’s room. He’s been holding everything back bravely – though, when the nurse rubs his back and tells him that she will be back in half an hour, Alex is shaking too painfully to respond. As soon as he and Miles are alone, Alex bites his lip and breaks into a quiet sob as he steps closer to the bed, bends over and presses a kiss to Penny’s forehead.

“Hi, Mum,” he whispers brokenly, “I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you in a few days.

He is too choked up to continue. Miles’s mouth falls open in shock as he looks down at the woman in the bed whom he used to know in life as Mrs Turner – a beautiful, charming, sweet woman with brown, short hair and a kind smile, not unlike Alex. Now, all he sees is the body of a woman who is somehow caught between life and death, trapped in a body that shouldn’t belong to her. Her face is messed up pretty bad; she’s got bruises and red marks covering her face even though it’s been weeks since the accident. She’s battered, black and blue. One of her cheeks is so badly swollen, you can barely see her left eye. Miles gulps stupidly, feeling sick in his stomach. Even though he knows that the accident must have been violent, it looks so much worse than he could have possibly imagined. If he was ever to see his own mother like this, so beaten and broken, and lifeless, he would never be able to get over it.

Alex’s sniffles are enough to force Miles back into reality. He’s now holding his mother’s hand silently as the tears continue to stream down both his cheeks.

“I’m sorry, Miles,” he mutters excruciatingly, his voice gone all raspy, “you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.

Miles feels mortified at the idea that Alex is able to detect his discomfort.

“What? No, Alex, of course I want to stay,” Miles says quickly, clearing his voice nervously, “here, why don’t you have a seat?

Miles pulls out two chairs, dragging them over to the very bedside. When Alex doesn’t move, Miles merely brings the chair up behind him, guiding Alex by pressing his shoulder downwards. When the other finally sits down, without letting go of his mother’s hand, Miles’s sighs:

“Alex, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling…”

Miles lets his hand linger by the other’s shoulder, though Alex is too wound up to notice his touch.

“I just – I just don’t like the idea of leaving her all by herself,” Alex sobs, “I mean, I know that she isn’t really there – not anymore, but… Someone should still be with her.

“I know, I know,” Miles comforts him as he takes a seat in the chair next to him, “but it’s not like you’ve let her down in any way, Al. I hope you know that. You’ve done all you can to be there for her. There’s nothing more that you, or anyone, can do for her that hasn’t been done.

Alex doesn’t answer to that.

“I just can’t get it out of my head,” he chokes and gasps, on the brink of losing himself completely in front of Miles, “the moment it happened – the crash…”

Alex sobs even louder this time. His shoulders are tensing and quivering for Miles to feel. Miles widens his eyes in response to Alex’s reaction. He hasn’t expected it, not here, not now, but suddenly it seems that, after all this time, Alex is finally opening up and talking about what happened that night.

“I-is that what your nightmares are about?” Miles ventures carefully, looking straight into the other’s pain-stricken eyes. “The crash?

“There was blood everywhere,” Alex merely weeps, “I couldn’t tell if it was my parents’ blood or my own… I just remember my Mum screaming at my Dad right before we collided with that other car… Then we got knocked over and started rolling around and I couldn’t hear anything else after that…”

Alex drops his mother’s hand in order to cover his eyes with his own. He’s breathing in quick, short pants. He’s beginning to sound like he’s panicking.

“Oh God,” Miles whispers, feeling as though someone’s been punching all the air out of his stomach, “Alex, I had no idea…”

“I didn’t want to survive it,” he then cries frantically, forcing Miles to wrap his arms around him in order to keep him from saying such awful things, “my parents didn’t survive it, the guy in the other car didn’t survive it… I wish I had died instead of them!

“No – no, Alex, don’t say that,” Miles begs him, holding on to him with all the force he can muster, “they would want you to survive. I know it. They would do anything to make sure that you were okay, they would put you first – any parent would.” Miles then says something, which Alex has probably heard from others before, but that Miles has never spoken with such sincerity before in his life: “I’m so grateful that you made it out. I mean, after all, you were the only survivor. You – you could have died.” Miles nearly adds ‘I could have lost you forever’, but he hesitates. This isn’t about him.

Alex seems less moved by this reality.

“It should have been me,” he insists fiercely, “I should have suffered a heart attack instead of my Dad. And I should have banged my head against the cockpit instead of my Mum… How come they had to suffer, but I came out fine?

Miles has heard of survivor’s guilt before, but he’s never actually understood it until now.

“I have nothing to live for,” Alex continues to whimper, “my life’s in fucking pieces… They would be able to live on without me, but I don’t know how to live on without them!

“Alex!” Miles gasps, grabbing his friend’s cheeks with both hands and forcing the other to look back at him. “Alex, look at me – you are not alone. Do you hear me? You have people around you. People care for you. People love you. Matt loves you. Jamie loves you, Nick loves you. I love you… I’ll always be here for you, Alex, do you understand? I’m never leaving you behind. Not in a million years.

And on that bombshell, Miles leans in and presses a kiss to Alex’s forehead, lingering there tenderly until, slowly, the crying subsides.


Miles doesn’t assume they’ll talk about it any time soon. However, when they get on the bus back an hour later, Alex takes in a deep breath and looks over at him. He’s utterly pale, to the point where he’s starting to look a bit feeble. His eyes are red and sore from crying and the devastation is still painted all over his face.

“Miles…” He begins, though he’s slightly lost for words. “What you said earlier-“

“Alex,” Miles cuts him off abruptly, suddenly fearing Alex’s reaction to his revelation, “you don’t need to tell me anything. It’s okay. I know you’ve got other things on your mind.

“Yeah, but-“

“This is not about me,” Miles reminds him, “I don’t want to make any of this about myself.

“But you must have said it for a reason,” Alex tells him.

Miles opens his mouth and closes it again a couple of times. “I just wanted to remind you that – you do have people to live for.” Miles tenses and looks away as soon as he’s said it. He isn’t expecting Alex to comment on it, or thank him, or to even find comfort in his words. Miles kissed Alex’s forehead. He actually pressed his lips against the other’s skin. And Alex must be wondering what his intentions were. Whether they were romantic or simply amicable. But then again, Alex knows how Miles feels about him. Miles knows that he knows, and has known for a long time.

“Miles,” Alex whispers, and just like that, Miles has run out of places, in which he can continue to hide from the truth, “you know that I – care – about you, too. I mean, you know how I feel. Right? I’m just… not ready to take things further. I mean, not right now…”

“Alex, you don’t need to explain yourself,” Miles assures him with a kind, only slightly disappointed smile, “I’m not expecting you to be ready for anything like that. I would never pressure you into things. You know that, right?

“Right.” Alex hangs his head, like he’s uncomfortable, or tired, or miserable, or everything all at once. “I just want you to know that – I will be ready. One day.

Miles cocks an eyebrow and studies the other closer than he probably should, given the circumstances.

“Take all the time you need,” Miles assures him, “because like I said, I won’t go anywhere. I will be here any time you need me.

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