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breathing's just a rhythm

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Stephen hates hospitals.

It's not the doctors, or the smell, or the stickiness of the air. It's because hospitals mean someone he cares about is sick, and he hates the reminder of his friends', his family's, his own mortality.

He's backed himself into a corner of the room, as far as he can get from Keith's bed and the terrifying medical equipment keeping him alive. He's even put Jon between himself and the hospital bed, but it isn't helping. The sound of Keith's respirator has Stephen's hands cold and clammy; it's making him sweat. Every artificial breath reminds him how close Keith is to death.

Rachel hasn't left Keith's side since he came out of the recovery room. She's been sitting there in that hard plastic chair, looking dazed and sick as she clutches Keith's hand. Her left arm is in a sling; for hours now, she's been reaching across her body to hold onto him. After the first hour, Jon tried to get her to let go, just for a minute, just long enough to move the chair, but she looked right through him.

Stephen isn't sure she's all there. Her face is cut, bruised, burned from the impact of the airbag, and Stephen wants to find a doctor, a nurse, someone he can ask if Rachel is really okay.

Jon checks the time on his cellphone. "He should be here," Jon mutters, stuffing the phone back into his pocket. He runs a hand through his hair and stares down at his feet. "If he landed an hour ago, if the network sent a car, then he--"

Stephen touches Jon's arm, shushing him. Anderson is standing in the doorway, ashen and still. His widened eyes are fixed on Keith, and Stephen doubts Anderson even knows he or Jon or Rachel is there.

Rachel knows, though. She turns toward Anderson, looking more frightened, more vulnerable, than she has all night. Her lips press together, part, and Stephen watches her chest expand as she fills her lungs with air.

"Anderson," she tries, her voice dry and breaking, and it startles Anderson from his trance and propels him forward. Little clumps of dirt fall from the treads of his boots as he crosses the floor and steps up to the side of Keith's bed.

He doesn't touch Keith. He reaches out like he wants to, his hand hovering unsteadily over Keith's shin before he jerks it back. His fingers curl into a shaking, white-knuckled fist that he pushes into the mattress.

"Anderson," Rachel tries again, staring at the floor. "Anderson, I didn't mean--I am so--"

Anderson's head snaps around. "Shut up."

"Andy," Stephen says, shocked, as Jon barks, "Hey."

None of them have ever talked to Rachel like that. None of them ever expected her to take it.

"Get out." Anderson says it to Rachel, but he means all of them. He takes a shaky, whistling breath as he looks back down at the bed.

Stephen's gaze flicks over to Jon's, and he sees no protest there, only worry that matches his own. He nods slightly, and when Jon turns toward the door, Stephen follows.

He hesitates just beyond the doorway to watch Rachel slowly get to her feet. She has barely turned her back, barely released Keith's hand, before Anderson is reaching for it and collapsing into that hard plastic seat.