AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't even know what this is. I came out of Infinity War with so many feelings, and I just had to write something. I kept wondering, if there is anything next for Loki, what is it? I really hope you enjoy!
Six months after half of humanity disappeared in what later came to be known as "The Snap," the victims of that bizarre event suddenly reappeared. It happened just as the world was finally beginning to right itself from that traumatic event—just as people began to accept that those who were missing were truly gone. Not that anyone could ever truly recover from something like that. Families torn in half, children lost, friends, colleagues, regular faces about town. Half the world's heads of states, half of its business executives, half of its doctors, half of its everything—all gone. The world would never be the same, but it had finally begun to reach some kind of functioning state again when just as inexplicably as they had left the earth, all of the missing people returned.
The hospital was very busy that day. Thankfully, people reappeared in mostly sensible places. Nobody materialized thousands of feet in the air, or directly in front of oncoming traffic, or anything like that. Still, the reappearances were abrupt and disorienting, and sometimes led to mishaps directly afterwards. One way or another, a decent number of the returned ended up in the hospital, where nurses like Alice Wakefield helped them get sorted out.
For Alice that day had been filled with taking peoples' names and information, trying to find empty beds or chairs, contacting family members, and sorting out the people who actually needed urgent medical attention from those who were just looking for a place to regroup. For several weeks the hospital was in chaos, having accidentally become the primary meeting place for families seeking out their missing loved ones.
Some people were ready to get back into the swing of things just as soon as they rematerialized. Esther Diaz, another nurse and Alice's supervisor, headed right back to the hospital the same day she returned, the saintly woman recognizing immediately that the hospital would be overburdened. Other people took longer to readjust. Whatever had happened to them had been harrowing, and some patients wouldn't tell the nurses their personal information, or couldn't even bring themselves to speak, for days after the event.
Michael was one of those people who took longer to recover. Michael probably wasn't his real name, but Alice called him that because his slicked-back dark hair reminded her of Michael Corleone, and the name stuck. From the time a paramedic team brought him into the hospital, Michael hadn't spoken a single word, to anybody. And while other patients gradually opened up, or were found by their families, Michael stayed in his hospital room, silent and haunted.
Two months after the return, the hospital had mostly returned to normal. That is to say, most of the people who had disappeared during The Snap had now found their way back to their homes. Obviously no one on earth was quite the same as they were pre-Snap. Alice made her rounds, and for the first time in weeks, the majority of her patients were people brought in for routine medical assistance. She helped with some stitches, a bad flu, a broken leg, and one small child who had accidentally stapled their finger before she went to check on Michael.
"Good morning, Mikey, how's it going?" Alice said, using her best chipper nurse voice. He didn't respond, of course.
Alice walked over to his bedside and checked his chart. Everything seemed normal. She turned her head over towards Mike and sighed. He looked just like he always did: wan and tired, his sunken features highlighting his high cheekbones. His eyes were open, but did not focus on anything. His stringy, shoulder-length black hair was cut in a style that needed attention to look good, and he certainly hadn't put any effort into maintaining it. In a spurt of dark humor, Alice thought to herself that he rather looked like a vampire, or perhaps a well-preserved zombie.
"Let's go for a walk, huh?" she said, moving to the other side of the bed and pulling the covers back. With a little encouragement, he moved his long legs off the bed and set his feet on the floor. Alice put her shoulder under his arm, and helped him up. Michael's responsiveness to instructions and physical queues was about the limit of his interactions, but at least it meant he was relatively easy to move around.
Alice led Michael out of his room and into the hallway, where they often did laps around the ward to help Michael get a little bit of activity into his day. Today, though, Alice led him outside of the ward to a terrace on the third floor, where they could get some sunshine and privacy. It was a lovely spring day, and some of the trees on the hospital grounds below had already started flowering. Alice made sure Michael was steady on his feet before moving out from under his shoulder and standing in front of him.
"Michael," she said, and his eyes, which had been staring off into the distance, flicked towards her. That was a good sign.
"Now, I know Michael probably isn't your real name, unless I got really lucky with my nickname. Do you want to tell me your real name?" Alice said.
He just kept staring, his thin lips showing no sign of movement.
"It would be really helpful for us to know your name, Michael. I feel bad using this fake name all the time."
More silence. His light blue eyes seemed to bore into hers, and despite the hospital gown he somehow managed to exude an aura of cool authority. It was a little intimidating, to be honest.
"What about family? Do you have any family? Anyone we can let know you're here?"
At that, the corner of his mouth twitched. At least, Alice thought it did—it had been the tiniest of movements. Still, it was the most anybody had gotten out of him in months.
"Yeah? You must have some family. Maybe nearby? How about… How about you write down their names?" she said, pulling a notepad and pen out of her scrubs, "Or an address? Or phone number?"
She held the notepad and pen out to Michael, but he made no motion to grab them. His eyes didn't even focus on them. His pale blue eyes continued to look at her, until they gradually started to slide away again. She was losing him.
Alice took him by the hand and led him over to a bench on the far side of the terrace. She sat down next to him, then angled herself so she could face him.
"Look, Michael. You've been here for two months already. Physically, you're fine. As a hospital, there's not much more we can do for you here. Because of the… event, we've been allowing people to stay here longer than usual, but we can't keep you here indefinitely. My superiors said they will have to discharge you by the end of the week," Alice said, willing him to understand his predicament.
Michael looked at her for a long moment, then turned his head back towards the hospital grounds.
"If you don't want to talk, you can just nod yes or no, how about that?" Alice said, hearing the desperation build in her voice. She had tried all of these tactics—pen and paper, nodding and shaking, etc—before, but she refused to give up. She did not want to imagine what would happen to Michael if he were left on his own.
"Do you remember your name?" she asked. She waited a generous amount of time for him to shake or nod his head, but he kept looking straight forward.
"Do you have family? ...Do you know where you're from? ...We're in New York right now, do you know where that is?"
Nothing. Defeated, Alice hung her head and she forced the water she could already feel building behind her eyes to halt, absolutely refusing to cry. She knew the tears weren't just about her current predicament. Everyone had been pushed to their emotional limits lately, and it wasn't uncommon for people in the hospital to break down. In general, people were understanding of these kinds of breakdowns. What did you expect when half of the world suddenly went missing? Still, Alice hadn't lost as much as most people, and she didn't want Michael to see her frustration.
Alice decided to focus on something productive instead of the roadblocks. She wracked her brain for any clues they might have as to Michael's identity.
When he'd arrived at the hospital, he'd been wearing an odd dark blue leather jacket of sorts, with matching pants. The shoulders and arms of the jacket were padded, and Alice figured they were probably for riding a motorcycle, although he hadn't had a helmet with him. He'd also had a yellow-blue blanket. It almost looked like a cape, but Alice figured it couldn't possible have been a cape, unless he'd just escaped from a movie set or convention. Other than the jacket, pants, blanket, and a pair of shiny black boots, he'd had nothing. No wallet, no cellphone, no money, no form of identification. Perhaps he'd been a courier, perhaps he'd been a professional racer, perhaps he'd just owned a motorcycle as a hobby. There was no way of knowing, and virtually no other clues. He looked like he might be in his mid-thirties, but he also had the kind of face that could be a lot older, so Alice didn't even have a good sense of his age. He was a mystery that refused to be solved.
Michael waited as she stewed, his features betraying no impatience or frustration or any emotion at all. Eventually, they stood and walked around the terrace a little more before Alice took Michael back to his room. Esther caught her eye as she helped him into his room.
"Any luck?" Esther asked.
Alice just shook her head, and Esther raised her eyebrows with a sad half-smile. They were both worried about their mystery patient. It wasn't uncommon for homeless people to end up in the hospital, and it was always difficult discharging them knowing they had no place to go, but somehow this felt different. Michael had been disintegrated, then brought back to life, and it seemed no one cared.
The next day, Alice decided not to question him any more. She just talked. She'd been using Michale as a sounding board for her problems for some time now, because her shift was stressful and all most patients wanted to do was ask her questions. There were two other beds besides Michael's in his room, but right now they were empty, leaving only Michael. It was a relief to Alice to have a place where she could let all of the things she was thinking seep out of her. If nothing else, Michael was an excellent listener.
Today, she must have been feeling morose, because she started talking about The Snap.
"After it happened, a lot of people said it was the Second Coming. You know, how in Revelations the good Christians are supposed to be disappeared into Heaven? But I always knew that couldn't be it. And I'm not just saying that because I didn't disappear!" she said with a laugh.
"It's just that too many bad people disappeared. The Snap didn't differentiate. It took rich people and poor people, the saints along with the truly awful. I knew it wasn't the Second Coming from the start," she said, as she encouraged him to take one last bite of his yogurt.
Although he was physically perfectly capable, Michael didn't do anything without some kind of prompting or encouragement, which was why Alice was helping him eat his dinner. That chore accomplished, Alice took the tray away for him and started to take his blood pressure, still chattering away.
"Of course, I can't blame people for seeking out the explanation that makes the most sense to them. When you lose someone you love it's nice to think that it's because they were such a good person, and that they're in Heaven now. I can't judge, because I wasn't affected as much as most people."
Michael sat up in bed, hands crossed in his lap, and listened. At least, Alice thought he was most likely listening. She was probably in his room a little longer than she needed to be, given that he didn't really need much medical attention, but she was having a long shift and needed a little brain break.
Rob, one of the nurse assistants in the ward, popped his head in the door.
"Hey there, Alice. How's Mike doing today? Is he ready for his walk?" he asked.
"Yep, everything looks normal. See if you can get him to walk a little longer today, on his own if possible," Alice said, and Rob nodded in understanding. Everyone knew he was going to be discharged soon.
Alice just hoped he'd be able to make it on his own.
On Friday night, Alice arrived to her empty apartment at fifteen minutes to midnight. Her apartment was further from the hospital than she'd like, and demolished way too high a percent of her paycheck, but she'd never been able to bring herself to move. She knew she didn't need the extra bedroom anymore, but moving felt too much like admitting defeat, so she swallowed the hefty rent check each month and kept going. She threw her keys on the counter of her small kitchen, and almost walked right past the phone with its blinking messages light blaring in her face.
Alice only knew of one person who left messages on her landline anymore. She took a deep breath, reminded herself of her social responsibilities, and played the messages.
"Alice, it's Barb. Just wanted to check up on you. Have you seen Carrie and Jim yet? You should go visit them! Maybe just take a month off! Call me back."
"Alice, it's Barb. I've been seeing on the news how things are getting so much better in New York! I was wondering how things are the hospital. Call me back, please!"
"Alice, it's Barb. Call me back."
"Alice, it's Barb. Just calling to hear how you're doing. I bought a bunch of oranges on sale at the market yesterday, and wanted to drop by this weekend to drop some off. Hope to see you soon!"
Alice deleted the messages one by one. Her mother-in-law was nothing if not persistent. Alice appreciated her concern, although sometimes she wished Barb would give her some more space.
It wasn't that Alice didn't want company. She just didn't want to have to answer any questions. She thought of the friends she'd had when she was in college—the ones who knew when to ask her about her problems and when to distract her with something else. She'd lost contact with her college friends long ago, and they mostly lived back on the West Coast, where Alice had gone to school. Still, maybe she could reach out to them. It would be nice to have that again.
Saturday was the day Michael was slated for discharge. Alice arrived at the hospital feeling wrung out and exhausted. She'd had a difficult time sleeping the night before, her mind going back to Michael over and over again, looking for some puzzle piece that would make all the other pieces fit together. She wondered if maybe she should take some time off, like Barb had suggested. Nursing was a taxing profession, both mentally and physically, and her overinvestment in Michael was probably a sign that she was burning out. She couldn't afford to be so affected by one patient.
She went about her shift as normal, forcing her mind away from Michael any time it ventured his direction. Eventually, though, the time came to discharge him, and she could avoid him no longer.
Alice, Esther, and Dr. Minwari met up in Michael's room to explain the process to him.
"Hello, Michael! Long time no see!" Dr. Minwari said. She hadn't seen Michael in a while, because he hadn't truly needed medical attention for quite some time.
"I've just gone over your charts and talked about your situation with Esther, and it looks like you have a clean bill of health! We're going to discharge you today, which means you can go home. How does that sound?" Dr. Minwari said.
Predictably, Michael did not respond. An awkward air filled the room.
"Michael…" Esther began with some hesitation, "you no longer need to stay in the hospital. Are you sure you don't have a friend or family member who can come pick you up? You can even stay a couple of days longer if we know someone is on their way to come get you."
Michael simply remained in his customary pose: sat up in his bed, face forward, hands crossed in his lap.
"Alice," Esther said, huffing in frustration. "Are you sure he hasn't mentioned anyone? We really don't have anyone we can contact?"
"I don't… nobody's…. He's just…" Alice stuttered, trying to get the words out.
There isn't anybody. He's on his own. I have no idea who he is. Why is that so hard to say?
"-Actually someone called last night," Alice found herself saying.
Esther and Dr. Minwari turned to her in surprise.
"Really?" Esther said, "who was it?"
"Um… I think.. He said he was Michael's brother. Er.. yeah, that's the crazy thing. His name really is Michael. I guess that's why he's so good at responding to it," Alice said with a nervous laugh, just as interested in and uncertain of what she was going to say next as Dr. Minwari and Esther.
"Well, that's unexpected," said Dr. Minwari.
"Yeah, totally. So, uh, I talked to the brother. His name is Fredo… Fred," she quickly corrected, thinking that too much The Godfather would be overly suspicious. "Anyway, Fred lives in Los Angeles, and he said he won't be able to get here for at least a week. So I offered to take care of Michael until Fred arrives."
Esther's eyebrows shot up.
"You offered to take care of him?" Esther said incredulously.
I offered to take care of him? Oh shit, I think I did.
"Yes. Um, I know it's unusual, but I don't think we can keep him another week, and he doesn't have a place to stay."
Dr. Minwari's eyebrows furrowed, a look of dissatisfaction shadowing her face.
"This is highly unusual. I know that we've been giving patients returned from The Snap special treatment, and bending some of the rules around here, but this seems a little over the top," Dr. Minwari said.
"I know that. But… But once he's discharged, Michael can do as he pleases. And I don't think the hospital has much business telling me who I can and cannot allow into my home," Alice said, surprised at her own audaciousness, and a little worried about what kind of trouble she might soon find herself in.
Esther's eyebrows raised even higher.
"Alice, we're not trying to threaten you or anything. If this is what you've decided to do, you can do it. Just, you know, make sure it doesn't interfere with your work." Esther said.
"Alright. Great," Alice said, some of the adrenaline starting to bleed from her body. "So… I'll come pick him up at the end of my shift."
They worked through the details of the discharge, and Dr. Minwari talked at Michael a little more, summarizing his symptoms (inactivity, muteness), any required medications (none), and any necessary follow-up treatment (perhaps psychological counselling). Alice assured them that she would pass on the information to "Fred." The entire time, Michael showed no reaction to any discussion of his future, apparently content to let the women talk at him without any input. Once they finally left his room, Alice turned back to get one more look at the stranger she had just saddled herself with. It might have been a trick of the light, but she could swear she saw his irises flick from her back to staring straight ahead.
Alice went about the rest of her shift in a daze, still not quite believing what she had done. She had just volunteered to take care of this mute, non-responsive patient, possibly for the rest of her life. There was no "Fred." No one else was taking responsibility for him. What if she found she didn't have the time or means to take care of him? What would she do? Would she kick him out? Take him back to the hospital? Would she need to pay for his medical bills? Even more worrisome, what if he was some kind of crazy person? Clearly, he was working through some mental issues, but what if he was dangerous?
Alice knew what she was doing didn't make sense. She knew it was stupid. She told herself a million times to just admit that she had lied, or even just tell her superiors that Fred had called back and wasn't going to take Michael in any more. There were ways to get out of this, and she knew she needed to take them.
And yet, when Esther pulled Alice aside to ask her if she was sure she knew what she was doing, Alice simply said "Yes."
"Alice," Esther said, pulling her a little closer and lowering her voice, "I know there's no Fred. Ok? You're not a very good liar. The thing is, if you want to take him in and take care of him… That's a noble, charitable thing. If you're sure that's what you want to do, I won't stop you. But… Just be careful, ok?"
Alice didn't admit to anything, not wanting to incriminate herself. She just reassured her friend that she knew what she was doing, even as her brain screamed that she had no idea what she was doing.
"Thank you, Esther. I'll be fine. I promise."
Alice knew she could make no such promises.
Despite all her internal protestations, at the end of her shift, Alice found herself marching over to Michael's room. Another nurse had brought his clothes up for him, and she helped him dress. Thankfully, with some prompting he was able to manage most of that on his own. He didn't have any other possessions to collect, so Alice signed some paperwork, tucked his cape-blanket under her arm, and led Michael out of the hospital, ignoring the whispers of her colleagues as she passed by.
Normally, Alice took the bus to and from work, but she worried that it might be difficult to get Michael up and down the stairs, as well as pay for his fare. She couldn't handle any more stress today, so she called a cab, and they spent the thirty-minute drive back to her apartment in silence. Alice had no idea what might be passing through Michael's mind, but the trip home for her was mostly spent trying not to hyperventilate.
Once they reached her home, Alice helped Michael out of the car, and walked him slowly up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. It was dark already, and she fumbled at the door for her keys, the odd thought crossing through her mind that she hadn't come home with anyone in years. Michael's blank expression did not change as she showed him around her apartment: the living room, the kitchen with its little breakfast nook, the bathroom, her bedroom, and finally his. While he made no response, she could see his eyes roving around his new living space, and she imagined she saw some measure of curiosity in them.
"And this will be your room," she said, showing him to the smaller bedroom at the end of the hall. "I'll be right down the hall if you need me. When I have work you'll be left to your own devices, but when I'm home I can make sure you get exercise and food, and hopefully you'll improve. Eventually, we'll be able to figure out who you are."
Alice had kept the room prepared for any visitors for years, so thankfully it was already equipped with a bed, sheets, covers, and a nice, solid dresser. She walked Michael further into the room, and motioned for him to lie down. He started for the bed, then turned back towards Alice, startling it her. It was the first indication he'd ever given of movement prompted by his own impulses. Michael reached for her hand, then slowly lifted it to his mouth, pressing a quick kiss to it before letting it drop. Alice's eyes widened, and she turned to leave before even checking to make sure he was able to get into bed.
"Goodnight, Michael," she said, then fled.