Which meant I had four days to solidify Tage’s care plan. He’d thrown a blood clot after surgery, and after a near-miss with a pulmonary embolism yesterday, we’d be here at least until tomorrow while he was under observation.
“You’re such a killjoy,” Tage said with a pained smile as he leaned back against his pillow. He put on a brave face when the nurses came, but it was worse when his teammates were here. They were good guys—I even knew a few of them, but Tage acted like the pain was nothing until I watched his face drain of color and exhaustion sweep over him from the effort of acting okay. Then I kicked the guys out so Tage would take his meds and give his body the rest it needed.
“Eat,” I ordered again, reaching for the book I’d brought with me so he wouldn’t feel like he had to entertain me. “You need the calories, and if your mouth is full, I don’t have to listen to your whining.”
That earned me a solid laugh. “You’re a pain in my ass, Axel, but I’m glad you’re here.” His head rolled toward me, and my heart clenched with the struggle I saw in his eyes.
I reached over and took his hand, giving it a squeeze. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
“But you should be.” He nodded at the copy of ESPN magazine on the table next to me. The copy I happened to be on the cover of. “Your team needs you.”
I hadn’t told him what the doc had confided in me this morning—he would walk again, probably even run. But it wouldn’t be without pain. The likelihood was high that Tage had played his last professional game.
“You’re my team,” I told him. “You and me first, remember? That was always the deal.”
He swallowed, turning to look up at the ceiling. “The Reaper contract was the first you signed that didn’t have an entire section about me in it.”
“Eh.” I didn’t let go of his hand, mostly because he had a death grip on it. “Even this contract has a clause about kids, or at least that’s what the owner emailed about a couple of days ago.”
“You’ve given up too much for me,” he muttered.
I immediately stood to hover over him. “I exist because of you. I didn’t shrivel up and die with Mom and Dad because of you. I had purpose because of you. I have family alive because of you. Any perceived sacrifice is nothing compared to those four facts. So don’t ever say that bullshit again.” I sat back by his bedside as a lone tear escaped the corner of his eye and tracked down the side of his face.
“And what if I can’t play again?” he whispered, looking so much younger than his nearly-nineteen years.
“Then you’ll have to learn to hold on so I can strap you to my back like when we were kids.”
He choked out a laugh but met my eyes before turning his attention back to his elevated legs.
“Now eat something before I have to feed you like we’re still kids.”
He flipped me off, but he ate.
“So you’re saying he can’t fly?” I asked the doctor the next day as we stood in the hallway just outside Tage’s room.
“Not for six weeks,” he confirmed, looking at me apologetically.
I folded my arms across my chest and wracked my brain to come up with any kind of solution. “I can’t stay.”
“I understand, Mr. Nyström. I’m amazed your team has allowed you to be here this long,” he said softly.
My eyebrows rose, and a flush of red crept up his neck. “I know who you are, and who your brother is. He was our most promising young player.”
“He still is,” I answered automatically, knowing that if anyone could come back from this kind of injury, it was Tage.
“Right, of course.” He handed me a pamphlet. “We can move him to a rehab facility for the next couple of weeks, or if he’d like to go home, we have a team of excellent home aids. He should be able to start walking in about three weeks. It’s tricky since both knees needed to be repaired.”
I looked over the information, but none of it sank in. “I’ll talk to him about it, and we’ll come to a decision.” I was down to three days, and without the clearance to fly to the States, he’d be here on his own.
It dawned on me in the sterile hallway, that this was the first time I’d regretted signing with the Reapers. The first time I felt like it had cost more than I’d gained.
I parted ways with the doctor and sat in the empty family room, taking in the absolute stillness. What the fuck was I going to do? My thumb swiped open my phone, and Langley’s face filled my home screen. She’d been laughing at something I’d said, her head thrown back in a moment of uncommon abandon. She was beautiful.