Ever since Mitchell had come home from the hospital, all Annie wanted to do was watch him breathe. She sat, curled up in a chair by his bed, watching his chest rise and fall in the moonlight. His breathing was slow, especially when he was sleeping. No slower than normal, but, without fail, every couple of minutes she would become convinced that his breathing had stopped, and she'd panic for a moment until his chest rose again. When it was light out, she would try and distract herself, flip through one of his books, but she was also convinced that if she looked away, he really would stop. Especially at night.
She stared, transfixed. It wasn't boring. Boring was being left alone in the house. But it was more than a little stressful.
Oh, God, she thought, he's stopped breathing. She jumped up and hovered her hand over his face just as he exhaled. "OK," she whispered. "OK..."
She paced lightly for a few minutes before glancing at the clock. 3am. How can George sleep? Just... sleep?
She sat anxiously on the chair again. When she was sure he'd stopped breathing again, she perched herself on the edge of the bed, careful not to touch him, as he exhaled again. She stretched out next to him, watching. She counted the seconds between breaths. Sometimes it was five seconds, sometimes, and this was when she panicked, it was ten. When she got to twelve, she couldn't take it anymore. She reached out and shook his shoulder.
He awoke with a start and tried to sit up, disoriented. "No, no, lie back," she whispered, pushing him back gently.
He looked up at her and moaned. "Oh, Annie, what are you doing?"
"Nothing." She shook her head. "Well, you stopped breathing, and -"
"I didn't stop breathing," he sighed.
"I know. I'm sorry." But she wasn't, really. She was relieved that he was awake. When he was awake, she worried less.
"You have to stop doing that, seriously."
"It's sweet that you're so concerned, but, I swear, no vampire has ever died peacefully in his sleep."
"Well," she said, "you don't know that."
"It's never happened, I promise."
"What if there are still... splinters in there?"
"There are no splinters," he said. "Annie, you're going to drive yourself insane."
She sat up. "I can't help it."
"I'm here, and I'm fine," He said sleepily. He looked up at her. "And I'm glad you're still here to take care of me."
She smiled. "I'm glad I'm still here, too," she said. "I didn't want to go."
They sat in silence for a few minutes. She glanced over to see if he was still awake. He blinked, lost in thought, a sure sign that he was.
"It's weird," he said, finally. "We almost properly died at the same time."
"Poor George," Annie said. "Can you imagine?"
He closed his eyes and shook his head. "I can't."
She placed her hand to his chest. He opened his eyes and looked at her.
"Oh, does that hurt?"
He shook his head slowly. "No. It's fine." He tried to read her in the dark, the light from the moon bathing her curls. Her eyes were down, her brows furrowed in concentration. She was checking his heartbeat, nothing more. Her hand was cold, but not uncomfortable. Almost as if there was a warmth there that he could only sense. He liked their little moments of intimacy, but never knew what to make of them. He'd never fully understood ghosts. So real, yet so intangible. He'd imagined her coming into his room in the dark, leaning over him, just like she was doing in that moment. But when he imagined it, her intentions were less maternal, and she was always whole and warm and corporeal. When he thought about her body rotting away in the ground, it took his breath away.
"So, do I have a heartbeat?"
She shrugged. "I can't feel it, to be honest," she admitted.
"Well," he said, "It helps anyway." He smiled at her and brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. "I'm really glad you're here."
She smiled and looked out at the waxing moon through the window. It wouldn't be long until it was full. She'd come to appreciate the beauty of a nice crescent moon.
"Mitchell," she said softly, still looking at the moon, "where would you have gone if he had killed you?"
After a few moments of silence, she looked at him. He was sleeping soundly, with a hint of a smile, looking as peaceful as she'd ever seen him. She couldn't feel his heartbeat, but she could feel his chest rise and fall with each breath.
"This works," she said to herself softly, with a shrug.