Here and Now

Author's Note: I can't deal with a cliffhanger like that for the next two months, so this is my way of coping. Might be a one-shot, might have a few more chapters if I can swindle together some kind of plot.

I could hear her next to me, the sounds of her slow, shallow breaths mingling with the soft beeps and gentle hums of the hospital machines. They had had to drug her to achieve such calmness. As we waited in front of the ER for news on Caleb, her mother had suggested that she stretch out and get some rest. It had been a mistake. Emily had laid down as directed, and had even started to doze off on the stiff, uncomfortable hospital bench. It was only a few minutes before she had started to flail and groan, and eventually cry out while swinging her closed fists at her poor mother who had tried to comfort her. A passing doctor had noticed and offered an open room and a sedative to help her get some sleep, and of course Pam had taken him up on it.

I had refused the same offer. Not that I wasn't completely exhausted at this point, but I knew I'd never be able to live with myself if something happened to Emily while I slept. Not after tonight.

So here I sat, just watching her sleep, her right hand held tightly in mine. We were a little over two hours into our wait for Caleb. The other girls were in and out, floating between here and the waiting room in hopes of any news. Emily and Hanna's mothers, or Pam and Ashley as they had insisted I call them, were curled up in two uncomfortable hospital armchairs near the door keeping a watchful eye on all of us.

"Paige, honey. If you need to get up and stretch or anything, we'll be right here. She'll be okay," Ms. Marin called over. It was sweet how quickly they had adopted me as a member of their daughters' clique, or, as they probably saw it, another little duckling to look after.

I shook my head. The ache in my legs that were tangled up underneath me could hardly compare to the ache that would fill the rest of my body if I had to leave her. My mind couldn't fathom the possibility of leaving her side ever again, not until all of this A business was behind us.

Minutes ticked by and turned into another hour. Through the large windows at the front of the room, I watched nurses bustling through the halls, orderlies pushing wheelchairs. It seemed like the world was continuing to turn while everything in this room stood still. Mrs. Fields stood up and stretched briefly, offering to go on a quick coffee run. She moved for the door, her eyes lingering on Emily for a moment before locking with mine. She gave a quick nod and turned out the door.

Ms. Marin was drifting in and out of sleep, her head periodically falling and then snapping back up before she could fall forward. As much as I was craving it, I knew I wouldn't be falling asleep so easily for a long time.

Beep…beep…beep…beep. The heart rate monitor suddenly sped up, increasing from what had been a steady drone for the last few hours. Emily's hand jerked in mine, but not hard enough to pull free. Her other arm flailed outward, striking the metal railing on the side of the bed as her head turned side to side. Another bad dream.

I stood up, stepping to her bedside as I stroked her hand reassuringly. Her long, dark locks were fanned out on the pillow under her head, and her forehead was dotted with sweat. She was still the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on.

"Emily," I whispered softly. The doctor had hoped that the drugs would last through the night. She might need something stronger for the next few days. I caressed her hand, leaning down to press a quick kiss against her knuckles. "It's okay, baby. I'm here. You're safe."

The words rang hollow in my throat, and I knew it would be some time before they would begin to sound true to me again. I wanted to protect her. I had tried to and well…here we were. Her brow was furrowed, and her expression was forlorn. And then, she was very suddenly awake.

Emily looked up at me, eyes wide open and clearly terrified. Her mouth opened as if to speak, but no sound came out. As she processed her surroundings her breathing settled, though her eyes never left mine. We stood in silence for several minutes, her eyes holding me in place. Without warning she rolled over onto her side, her back to the railing. Her beautiful brown eyes stared up at me, begging me to understand what she was asking for without words.

I struggled with the metal rail for a moment before it dropped down into place along the side of the bed, and then I clambered up beside her. Lying on my side, I pulled her against me, letting one hand wrap around her back to hold her close while the other tangled in her hair. She tucked her head under my chin and pressed her ear against my chest. I guess we both wanted the reassurance of hearing the other's heartbeat. And that was how we stayed, each of us wrapped up in the other.

I couldn't see the clock anymore, and I'm not sure how many minutes passed as we laid there in silence. Her face was turned away, I didn't know if she had managed to fall back asleep or not. I took a deep breath, willing my body to at least relax if it was unable to sleep. I felt my breaths slow down and my eyes force themselves closed as I lightly grazed the top of her head with my lips.

"I love you," I murmured softly to her. Her body gave no signs that she had heard me, no increase to her heartbeat or breathing. She must have fallen back asleep. I could feel my body starting to head in the same direction, the last remnants of the adrenaline from earlier finally leaving my system. It would be futile to fight it at this point. At least I was holding her and I'd feel it if she woke up again.

As my eyelids closed to sleep and my limbs became heavy, I could swear I heard her whisper back, "I love you, too."