Flashes of scenery kept searing through my barely conscious mind. Nothing made sense.
Someone must have called the police because all I could hear was sirens over and over and over, like a heartbeat.
The only thing I could remember clearly was Harriet leaving Max's house. After that was blurry and inconsistent.
Right, Briony, concentrate. Breathe.
The awareness that I was actually in a very quiet room with no sirens was somewhat comforting, but it did nothing for stopping the sound of them.
"... not stable enough yet. I'd strongly recommend waiting-"
"I don't care what you recommend!"
"Max, he's right. You need to calm down..."
The voices ebbed away.
The next time I regained consciousness, I was woken by the scraping of a chair and opened my eyes.
"Oh, sorry. Go back to sleep."
I flicked my eyes over to where his voice came from, absently amused by his strained efforts to sound comforting. He was looking at me intently, leaning forward on his knees with his hands clasped above his top lip. His brow was furrowed in something a little more than worry and his eyes...
"Have you been crying?" I asked, my voice quiet and raspy.
"No," he muttered, but made no effort to conceal the lie. I started to move but he extended an arm to touch my shoulder. "I wouldn't try that yet."
And then I remembered everything. The fight, the gunshot, the pain that tore open my side before my whole body went numb.
"Can you still hear the sirens?" He asked. I sighed. "Yeah, me too. Your friend rang the police. Boss isn't happy."
I examined his face again as he searched mine right back. He shoved a hand through his hair, causing my to notice the heavy bruising on his knuckles. It took me several minutes to come to a logical conclusion about that and wondered if we'd lost our jobs because of this.
"Max... when the doctor said someone wasn't stable enough yet, who did he mean?"
Max chuckled and smiled for a second, shaking his head. "Both of us."
"Well," he said slowly, casting his eyes away from me for the first time since I woke up. "Let's just say I let my anger get the best of me. I doubt Joe," he spat the name as if it didn't deserve to be said, "Will be speaking for a while."
"He shot you, Briony. Whether he meant to or not. I wish it had hit me. I doubt I'd be alive at that close range but at least you wouldn't be injured like this. I was asking for it. You didn't even intend to shoot him, did you? Not once. Everyone knew it. And it wasn't even your last bullet when you threatened Harriet, I checked. You were just trying to avoid anyone getting shot. You're the last person who deserves to be in here. I can't believe I let it happen. Goddammit."
He'd got himself worked up and burst into tears halfway through his speech, and now he stood up and went to the window beside my bed to rest his head against the glass.
I was quiet as I processed what he'd said. It was a lot to take in and I didn't know what to say. I had never seen him get like this before. Definitely not so quickly. I didn't understand.
"I'm glad it was me," I said eventually. "Better me hospitalised than you..."
"Dead? Yeah. Right."
"... I'll heal."
He sighed. "Sorry, that was insensitive. I just... I..."
I reached out and brushed his fingers lightly and he turned to look at me very quickly. "Listen, don't stress about it. It's done now, there's nothing you can do. Just calm down and let's just have a moment of peace. Please. That's all I ask."
Max returned my gaze warmly and slowly, and slightly hesitantly, held my hand against his lips. "Yeah. Okay. Okay then."