AJ dully stared at his hands, sighing in resignation.
He’d thought that it would be better once he was relieved of his burden. He’d thought it would feel better, knowing his friend’s fate wasn’t entirely in his hands anymore.
Honestly, this felt so much worse.
He’d taken the ride to the hospital with Kevin. They hadn’t spoken the entire trip. AJ resented the fact that the oldest of their group had consented to amputation in a heartbeat. Had all his efforts in that Godforsaken field been for nothing then? He’d found a rock, damnit! He would’ve gotten Brian free, if only…
He shook his head, glancing at the blinded trauma room.
He wasn’t able to see what they were doing in there, but that didn’t keep him from staring like a hawk.
He only looked up slightly when Nick collapsed in the seat next to him. He sighed dramatically and planted his long legs on the seat opposite from him, “I think Howie is going crazy.”
AJ only nodded as he kept his eyes on the closed doors.
He didn’t feel like having a conversation at the particular moment. He’d seen Nick and Howie come in fifteen minutes before, but hadn’t paid them much attention. After entering the hospital, he and Kevin had immediately parted. Kevin was in his own, private room with people fussing over the burn on his shoulder, while AJ was send to the waiting room after just ten minutes.
“They tell you anything? At all?” Nick asked quietly.
AJ shook his head slightly, feeling tears closing up his throat. Had he not cried enough for one night? He remembered how he’d felt back in the farm field, only about an hour ago, when all seemed to come to a crashing halt. But at least then, he’d known what was happening. Now, he had no idea.
“He’ll be okay,” Nick muttered, his voice thick. It was like he not only tried to convince AJ, but himself as well.
AJ scoffed incredulously, “How could you possibly know that? You weren’t even there. You have no idea what it was like.” His voice sounded calm.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there, okay?” Nick said softly.
The older man just shrugged, continuing to stare. Nick leaned his head back against the wall, sighing deeply again. “This is gonna take forever, isn’t it?”
AJ didn’t answer. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut and took a shuddering breath, “I wasn’t supposed to let him fall asleep.”
“It’s what Howie said,” AJ continued, his voice flooding with emotion, “He was too cold, he wasn’t supposed to fall asleep.”
“I failed, Nick,” AJ said, feeling like he couldn’t stop, even if he wanted too, “I let him slip away. I couldn’t keep him awake.”
“I’m sure you did everything you could,” Nick mumbled quietly, nodding to himself.
“You don’t know that!” AJ stated, a bit louder than he intended, “You weren’t there Nick! I should have tried harder! I should have done something… anything…”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“Like he’s dead. He’s not dead,” Nick said, clenching his jaw. “He’s not dead.”
“You’re right,” AJ whispered, “But I would never forgive myself if… you know…”
“Shut up,” The youngest answered, “We should be calling people. Let them know what’s happening. Lauren has been clogging my voicemail with messages.” He retrieved his cell phone from his pocket, skimming through his message box. “You know, when I didn’t know where you guys were, I kinda called everybody to ask if they knew. They must be worried out of their shit by now.”
“You only thinking of that now?” AJ questioned.
“Well, yeah. I was kinda busy finding you guys before,” Nick muttered, suddenly sucking in a breath through clenched teeth, “Oh God. Jen has been calling like crazy. She seems sorta pissed that we didn’t show up at the appointment.”
“Too bad for her.”
“I’ll call Lauren. I’ll be right back, okay?”
“You should call Leighanne first,” AJ stated sulkily.
“You kidding me?” Nick protested, “I ain’t calling Leighanne!”
“She should know.”
“Yeah? And what do I tell her? I don’t even know! Nobody knows a damn thing, because nobody is telling us a damn thing! Kevin should call her! He’s the one that let them cut it off in the first place!”
AJ rubbed his temples wearily, trying to ease the pain in his pounding head. “Fine,” he muttered, “Be that way. Call your wife. Don’t worry about the rest.”
Nick stared at him for a couple of seconds, and then stood up without a word. AJ watched him leave, his mouth twisting in anger.
Just when he’d let himself sink back into his sullen reverie, the doors suddenly smashed open, a flood of activity rushing the hallway. AJ jumped up with wide eyes, trying to take in all that was flooding past him in a matter of seconds. They were fast; he had to give them that. White coats swarming around a stretcher in the middle. AJ had little chance of catching an actual glimpse of the man on it, but he heard the urgent yelling and saw the grim faces as they ran past. He couldn’t pretend he hadn’t seen the guy sitting on top on his knees, who was constantly pressing his palms into Brian’s chest, his face a mask of pure concentration.
AJ stared into the hallway, not moving. He couldn’t hear anything besides his own pounding heartbeat, his own shallow, panicked breathing. He stiffened considerably when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you alright?” A man, unmistakably a doctor, asked.
AJ shook his head slightly, not trusting his voice enough to speak.
“Come, sit down, you seem exhausted, boy,” the man said, guiding him back into his former seat.
“I’m not having a very good day,” AJ mumbled, almost smiling maniacally at the understatement.
The man nodded. He seemed to be somewhere in his sixties, with a friendly, but serious face. “Were you in that bus accident?”
AJ shrugged, “You Brian’s doctor?”
“For the next ten hours, yes I am,” the man spoke softly, “Doctor Jonah Ferris.”
He stuck out his hand and AJ studied him for a moment, before asking, “Is he gonna die?”
Ferris looked back at him, thoughtfully, “You are not his immediate family, are you?”
AJ scoffed and narrowed his eyes, trying to keep his voice steady, “Not officially, no. But practically, he’s my brother. I was… I was in the field… with him.”
A few feet away, Nick shot him a look, almost dropping his phone when he saw AJ talking to a doctor. AJ ignored him. “Just tell me what’s gonna happen, please?”
Doctor Ferris nodded, sighing as he took the seat next to AJ, “It’s not good news.”
AJ bit his lip. He’d known he was a fool for hoping that lying under a broken bus in the snow for six hours wouldn’t cause any serious damage. He’d wanted to believe it though, cause the alternative seemed… hopeless. He kept on ignoring Nick as the younger singer quietly shuffled in and sank into an unclaimed plastic chair. Ferris raised his eyebrows, questioningly looking at AJ, who rolled his eyes.
“He’s with me,” he nodded reluctantly.
The doctor looked at the younger man for a moment before nodding, “Okay. You have to understand that when your friend arrived at the hospital, his temperature was very low.”
AJ nodded wordlessly. No surprises there. He’d sat behind Brian for two hours, noticing the older man get colder and colder by the second. Hearing the doctor confirm it seemed nothing more than a formality.
“When we tried to re-warm him in the ER, his heart stopped,” the doctor continued softly, sighing when he saw the alarm on AJ’s face, “when your core temperature drops below a certain point, it’s not uncommon for cardiac arrest to occur. We were able to bring him back after ten minutes, but he coded again five minutes ago.”
AJ gradually found the air around him getting thinner and thinner. He heard the blood rushing through his ears as he squeezed his eyes shut. A few moments later, he heard Nick clear his throat. “W-What does that mean? What are you gonna do now? Why aren’t you working on him?”
Ferris’ face softened, ‘We are going to try to warm him up by putting him on a bypass. It will regulate circulation, warming his blood. Basically, it takes over heart and lung functions.”
AJ barely heard it. He wanted to scream and run, but at the same time, he felt an incredible sense of exhaustion weighing down on him like a… like a freakin’ piece of bus’ debris. Next to him, Nick sighed, relaxing just a tiny bit, “Well, then… he’ll just have to warm up again, right? Can’t be that hard…”
“I’m afraid there’s a bit more to it than just that, son,” Ferris said quietly, “Severe hypothermia usually comes with a range of complications. He’s already showing signs of liver and heart failure and there’s a considerable amount of fluid in his lungs. Even if he makes it through the next few hours, it’s not likely that he will make a full recovery. There is a chance, but it’s not usual.”
“No…” Nick scoffed incredulously, “You’re wrong. He’ll be fine. He will.”
“I’m very sorry.”
“C-can… can we… God… can we see him?” AJ stammered, his voice breaking.
“In a little while, yes. I’m sorry, I have to go to him now.”
AJ nodded stupidly, numbly watching the doctor leave.
Maybe, if Nick had decided to leave the hotel that night half an hour earlier, the paramedics would have been on time. Maybe, if AJ had found a bigger rock, Brian could have been freed and warmed by the fire. Maybe, if Howie and Kevin hadn’t left, they could have helped him keeping Brian awake.
And maybe, in the end, it would have mattered.