“I should fucking kill you, you son of a bitch,” he spits. His finger trembles on the trigger.
“Do it,” Grady snarls. “I’m dead anyway. I died the day Ella did.”
He looks up. Alexander lies a few feet away, huddled in Michael’s arms.
“James?” Alexander repeats. A police officer puts his hand on James’ shoulder. He flinches.
“Easy,” the officer says, holding out his hand while using the other one to point his gun and Grady. “Give me the gun. We’ve got it from here. We’ve got it.”
James looks around through his tear-soaked eyes. Several police officers are surrounding him now. All aiming their guns at Grady. He swallows and moves off Grady. Three officers pounce on Grady, restraining him and handcuffing him. One starts to read him his rights.
“Give me the gun,” the officer says again, holding out his hand further. James stares at the gun like he doesn’t know how it got there.
“James?” Alexander says again. James’ slow-motion brain finally kicks up to speed. He hands the gun to the officer and scrambles over to Alexander and Michael. “Alexander,” he sobs, reaching for him. “Oh God, Alexander.”
Alexander wiggles out of Michael’s hold and launches himself into James’ arms. James clings to him, burying his face in his neck and closing his eyes.
“Thank God,” he whispers. “Thank God.”
He opens his eyes and looks at Michael.
“Thank you,” he mumbles into Alexander’s hair. “Thank you.”
Michael smiles weakly.
The metallic scent of blood hangs in the air.
Michael’s head lolls to the side. His eyes are unfocused. A thin sheen of sweat coats his face. James’ eyes trail down Michael’s body.
And stop on the pool of blood expanding around him.
“Michael!” James screams, searching for the source of the blood. ‘Michael!!”
Sirens scream through the frosty air. Reinforcements have finally arrived. James runs his hands over Michael’s body, searching for the wound, desperate to staunch the flow before Michael bleeds out. Alexander still clings to him, not willing to let him go.
“I need help!” James screams. “I NEED HELP!!”
Two ambulance officers come tearing through, knocking James out of the way and working on Michael.
“I need a tourniquet!” one yells, pressing his hand against Michael’s thigh. “Quick! He’s punctured the femoral; we need to get this bleeding under control NOW!”
James stumbles backwards, moving out of their way. Warmth spreads over his stomach and the smell of urine fills the air. He clings Alexander to him, watching the ambulance officers work on Michael in quiet disbelief.
His brain can’t process much more.
“Sir?” someone says behind him. “Sir? We need to examine the boy. Sir? We need to examine your son.”
He turns around. A concerned-looking ambulance officer holds out her hands. “Let us make sure he is okay,” she says. “Let us check him.”
James shakes his head and tightens his hold on Alexander.
He is never letting him go.
“Sir?” The ambulance officer frowns and looks to her partner for support. “Please, sir. He has injuries. We need to take care of him, and you.”
He turns around. His mom stands behind him. The sun has just started to rise and she seems to glow in the morning haze, unmarred by blood and dirt like the rest of them. Her hand covers her mouth as she looks between him and Michael. She looks like he feels.
His voice is broken, too.
He turns to Michael. The ambulance officers are strapping his leg to a stiff board. His eyes are closed.
“Give me Alexander,” his mom says, reaching out for him. “Sweetheart, let me take him. Let the ambulance officers help him. Help you.”
Pain shoots through his chest. He gasps and stumbles backwards. He holds Alexander even tighter.
“James,” Elizabeth says. “Please. He needs help. You need help. Let me help you.”
James shakes his head. “I can’t let him go,” he whispers. “I can’t.”
“I know,” Elizabeth says. “I know it’s hard, sweetheart. Give him to me. I’ll keep him safe. I promise.”
I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. Ever.
His heart feels like it is burning inside him, set ablaze and turning to ash while he stands. He looks at his mom. She nods.
“It’s okay, honey. I’ll look after him.”
Every beat of his heart is agony. He knows he won’t make it much longer. He unhooks Alexander’s unwilling hands from around his neck and passes him to Elizabeth.
“No,” Alexander sobs. “Don’t let me go. Don’t go. Don’t leave me. DON’T LEAVE ME!!”
“I’m right here, buddy,” James says. His voice is strained. “I’ll never leave you.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his Astro Boy necklace. He slips it over Alexander’s head. “Just close your eyes,” he says, briefly kissing the top of Alexander’s head. “You’ll be alright. No-one can hurt you now.”
The ambulance officers swoop in, taking Alexander from Elizabeth and placing him on a gurney.
“Stay with him,” James yells to her, fighting to be heard over the ringing in his ears. “Stay with him! Don’t leave him! Don’t leave him!” A fresh round of flames tear through him. His heart crumbles into ash. “Don’t leave him. Don’t…”
He’s not sure if he’s talking to his mom or to himself.