Jack burst through the doors of the hospital and ran down the hallway in the direction of the screaming. As he slid around the corner, he was stopped by Dr. MacMillanーeyes brimming with unshed tears and her lab coat covered in blood.
“Mac?” His voice was barely above a whisper. Each breath a struggle.
She squeezed his arm and quickly stated, “It’s not Phryne.”
He nearly stumbled backward as relief flooded his body. The phone call had been vague and brought back too many memories and feelings of similar calls. There was no getting used to the fear that gripped his heart when he thought she was in danger. Or dead.
“Who?” His eyes darted to the door at the end of the hall.
A tear escaped and rolled down her cheek as she shook her head. “Dot.”
“No.” He pushed past the doctor and ran toward the hysterical sobs he heard. Swinging open the door, he almost tripped over the discarded hat and coat on the floor, but he came short at the site before him. She was draped over the still formー shoulders shaking. Between the sobs and ragged breaths, there were breathless pleas that she not be dead. His heart broke.
He heard the door close behind him as Mac came to stand beside him. “Where’s Collins?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I had them call you. But I also needed your help with Phryne. She won’t let go and I...”
“I’ll take care of her, and I’ll get someone to locate Collins.”
He slowly walked up to the bed. The sight and smell of the blood making his stomach turn.
“Phryne.” He tried to take her arm but she pushed him away.
“No! I won’t leave her.” Her fingers gripped the bed sheets and the front of Dot’s dress. “She can’t be dead. How could this happen? She’s too young!”
He leaned downーlips close to her earーhis hand resting near her shoulder blade. “Come on, Phryne.”
“I won’t leave her alone.”
“She won’t be alone. Mac will be with her.”
“I can’t leave her. Not like Janey.”
There it was. He had no doubt that she was overwrought with shock and grief for Dot, but connecting it to the loss of her sister had only increased the pain.
“Phryne look at me. Please.”
She fought against himーthe sobs hardly allowing her to breathe.
“Mac, do you have something you could use to calm her?”
~ * ~ * ~
A buzz of noise surrounded her as she struggled to open her eyesーswollen eyelids fluttering against the bright lights. Rough fabric beneath her fingers, the smell of blood, a cry of a baby. It was all just on the edge of her senses. A haze. Distant. Limbs trying to shift under an unseen weight pressing against her, but they wouldn’t move. She felt numb. Cold.
Was this a dream?
A movement beside her and the touch of a hand broke through the hazeーher surroundings suddenly becoming clear. The onslaught of tears hit like a wave as the memory of what happened washed over her.
No. This wasn’t a dream.
His voice, soft and questioning, only made it harder to control her breathing, and even with her eyes squeezed shut, there was no stopping the tears.
It was a statementーnot requiring a response. She just needed to say it out loud even if she choked on the words. Dot had become more than a companion. She had grown into a wonderful assistant, friend, andー
Her eyes flew open and she tried to sit up, but her body still would not do what she asked. “Hugh. Did someone get Hugh?”
The hand holding hers gripped more tightly and another touched her shoulder.
“Yes. Mac is taking care of him.”
More tears streamed down her cheeks, and her hand finally obeyed, coming up to cover her face. As if her heart wasn’t hurting enoughーshe now mourned for his loss as well. This wasn’t how their return home was supposed to be.
“Phryne. I’m sorry.”
Fingers entwined with hers, and she felt his lips against her cold skin. Her first instinct was to push him away. She didn’t want to be comforted. The warmth from his kiss tingled its way up her armーfeeling coming back. It hurt so much. She didn’t want to get hurt by another person she cared for. She just wanted to be left alone.
She wished the numbness would come back. It was easier to deal with that.
Shaking the hand that was intertwined with his, she tried to pull free, but he wouldn’t let go.
A ragged breath shook her chest. Warmth continued to spread and his lips pressed another kiss to her hand. How could two simple words bring such peace? After far too many months apart, they had spent the last few engaging in all sorts of adventures. Unlike the other men who had passed through her life, Jack was still here. He had been through it all with her, and he was still here. He was always there. And now that she had gotten used to that, she didn't want to lose it.
Squeezing his hand, she finally turned to look at him. A few more tears rolling down her cheek. His eyes were red as if he had been crying too. The warmth spreading through her body finally reached her heart as she saw her small pale hand enveloped in both of his. Her first instinct was overridden by how much she cared for this man. She didn’t really want to be alone, and for the first time in her life, she knew that she could rely on someone. She didn’t have to do this alone.
“I love you.”
His hands tightened around hers as tears welled up in his eyes. He knew how she felt, but she had never said those words.
“I love you, too."
"I won't. We’ll get through this. Together.”