The road was dark, there was no illumination at all. Only the dim light of the dashboard provided enough light not to not become disoriented.
Unconsciously squinting her eyes, the blonde had clenched her hands around the steering wheel so tightly, her bloodless knuckles turnedwhite. Leaning forward, she strained the muscles in her back, but stubbornly she ignored the cramping pain. She had driven for hours, but felt like she had not gone far. It was so hard to estimate any distance in the pitch-dark night. Hours ago, the moon had disappeared behind the clouds and she had not seen it since.
Suddenly the car rocked and, involuntarily, the blonde yelped, tightening her grip on the steering wheel. She could not see the surface she was driving on, but she could feel it had become rockier. It was hard to keep the vehicle straight every time one of the wheels hit a pothole. Her arms became more painful and tired and her eyes started to tear up. She knew she had to pull over and stop soon, in order to be able to finish her journey.
She frowned. What was her journey again? Where was she going? A sudden feeling of panic took her breath away and she blindly reached out to feel the passenger's seat. Hadn't she had a map, or something? Maybe a note, with some directions?
"Oh, God, no!!" she whispered in horror when she realized she would be lost without her notes. "I can't do this by myself. I can't."
Her right hand reached up to find the light switch on the car's ceiling, but when she flipped it, nothing happened. She tried again, and again, but there was no escape from the darkness that seemed to become thicker and thicker.
All of a sudden, the car hit a big, solid object and her body jerked. The seatbelt prevented her from flying forward when it locked in place and trapped her in her seat. Strangely enough, it didn't hurt.
She let out a shuddering breath when she realized the car had come to a stop and, with trembling hands, she wiped her clammy forehead. Her eyes traveled from left to right and back again, desperately trying to penetrate the surrounding darkness. She knew she could not stay where she was. She needed to keep moving.
The engine was still making a comforting, humming sound, but when she put her foot on the pedal, nothing happened. While her heart was pounding in her chest, she pumped the pedal a few times, but other than revving the engine, the car did not respond.
"Hannah," a voice suddenly called out and the blonde looked up; startled. She could still see nothing but darkness .
"Hannah," the voice sounded again and tilting her head to the side, the blonde listened intently. Where had she heard that voice before? It sounded so familiar.
"Hannah, what have you done?"
"What? What did I do?" she whispered, confused.
"You could have had it all, but you didn't want it. You killed it. You killed me."
"Who are you?" the blonde asked with a trembling voice.
"Don't you remember me? I remember you! I've watched you for such a long time. You were my angel."
The blonde tried to unlock the seatbelt, but no matter how many times she pressed the red button, nothing happened. Her breathing became fast and labored; she was trapped.
"Who are you?" she tried again.
"Don't you recognize me, Hannah? Are you sure? You make me sad."
"You're not...her. You don't sound like...her."
"Like who?" the voice sounded closer now and more threatening, but the blonde could still see nothing.
"Like Rachel," she whispered.
Suddenly the car rocked, and it sounded like a big fist had been slammed on the roof. The blonde cringed and again tried to push the pedal, but to no avail.
"Don't you EVER mentioned that name again. Ever!" the voice bellowed, close to her ear this time.
"Who ARE you?" the blonde yelled, while tears streamed down her face. "WHERE are you?"
"I'm right here, where I've always been. I'll always be close to you."
The sound of a hand tapping against the window made her jump in her seat and she quickly looked aside. What she saw made her blood chill in her veins. She recognized the face that was almost pressed against the glass, but the look in the eyes was something she had never seen before.
"Open up, Hannah."
"No," she whispered.
"Open the door, Hannah," it sounded a lot more forceful this time.
"No," the blonde shook her head vigorously. "I can't. I won't."
"Open the door, Hannah," anger and trauma had distorted the face and Hannah tried to get away from it as far as she could. But the seatbelt was relentless; she could not move.
"Open the door.
"No," Hannah yelled. "Go away, Nathan. You're dead. Go away."
"OPEN THE DOOR!!"
A hand started to pound on the window and Hannah sobbed in frustration.
"If I can't have you, no one will. Especially, not HER."
"Oh, God, help me. Help me," Hannah cried, when the door slowly, but surely opened. "What have I done? Rachel, where are you? Rachel. RACHEL!!"
Bathed in sweat, Hannah woke up. She was gasping for breath, while her eyes were wide in fear and desperation. Her heart pounded in her chest and tears were rolling down her cheeks while she was still whispering Rachel's name.
With trembling fingers, she flipped the switch of the lamp on the night stand and only when she realized she was in her own bed, in her own bedroom, didher breathing slowly became normal again.
"Oh, God, what a nightmare," she whispered, raking her fingers through her unruly, damp hair. "Where did all that come from?"
Feeling sick to her stomach, the blonde pushed back the covers and slowly crawled out of bed. On unsteady legs, she walked towards the bathroom, where she let the cold water run for a few moments before scooping up some of the cold liquid and splashing it in her face. It made her shiver, but she needed to shock her system to snap out of the feeling of horror the nightmare had created.
Patting her face with a fluffy towel, Hannah softly groaned and fought the feeling to grab her phone and call Rachel. Deep down inside, she felt that if she only could hear the Doctor's voice, it would chase the lingering demons away. It always had, she remembered. On the rare occasions she had experienced a bad dream during the time they had been together, Rachel had always managed to make her feel better. Of course, it had not only been the soft, velvety voice that had whispered soothing, sweet nothings in her ear, it had also been the arms that had held her close, a circle of warmth and safety. And the soft lips that had planted kisses on her forehead and cheeks.
Forget it, Hannah. Don't think about it. It's over. It's in the past.
"Is it, really?" Hannah whispered, glancing at her reflection in the mirror. Her face was pale, making her blue eyes look so much darker than they really were. With a sigh she tossed the towel on the rack, switched off the light and returned to her bedroom. A glance at the alarm showed her it was two-thirty in the morning and, with a frustrated groan, Hannah let herself fall back into the pillows.
There was a feeling, deep down inside, that tried to catch her attention. It was like a gentle, emotional tap on the shoulder and Hannah knew that, if she would turn around, she would see something very unexpected and very scary. Just the thought of giving it the attention it was asking for, was enough to make her tremble inside. She really wanted to ignore it, but it had been growing in strength and she knew she wold have to confront it soon.
"Soon," Hannah whispered. "Not now. It's too early."
Again, like they had done before, her eyes traveled to the photos of her parents and of Rachel. Just looking at those familiar faces made her feel a little better. Her parents' smile warmed her inside and Hannah managed to muster up a small smile of her own.
"Thanks, Mom, thanks, Dad," she whispered, slipping back underneath the covers. Her eyes lingered on Rachel's photo and she took a deep breath.
"Sweetheart, I don't want to make your Monday harder than it already is, but you look like you're not feeling well," Gertrude greeted her granddaughter when she stepped into the kitchen.
"I don't," Hannah sighed. "I've got a huge headache and just the thought of food makes me want to throw up."
Gertrude's clear, blue eyes were worried when she glanced at the young woman who had taken a seat opposite her. There were dark circles underneath Hannah's eyes that looked sunken and dull. Her face was pale and even her hair had lost its youthful, healthy bounce.
"Maybe you should call in sick," Gertrude suggested.
"I can't," Hannah replied softly. "We' re very short-staffed today and Mondays are usually crazy."
"They' re always short-staffed, sweetie," Gertrude argued in a gentle voice. "When you're sick, you're sick."
"I guess I'm just PMS' ing," Hannah shrugged. "Once I start my period, I'll feel better."
Gertrude smiled and gently patted Hannah's hand.
"You can't fool me, Hannah Jensen, I know you too well. I've seen you PMS'ing and this is not it. If you don't want to talk about it, I'll respect that, but..." Gertrude hesitated, but then continued anyway. "Is it Rachel?"
"No," Hannah answered, too fast. "I haven't seen her since...since last Sunday."
"Exactly,' Gertrude nodded.
Hannah glanced up and sent her grandmother a dark look. Part of her wanted to jump up and run away from those piercing blue eyes but the other part wanted to stay right where she was, close to her grandmother, and let the elderly lady comfort her when she poured out her heart.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hannah sighed moodily.
"It means that, in my humble, elderly opinion, you're miserable because you haven't seen Rachel in a week."
Hannah cast down her eyes and stared at her finger that was drawing invisible lines on the table cloth.
"You think?" she asked in a small voice.
"I think," Gertrude smiled. "I also think you' re coming down with something. I even think you might have a fever. I know how responsible you are, but even you get sick once in a blue moon, Hannah. It will be Christmas next week and I'd hate for you to be sick then."
"I don't want to be sick either," Hannah mumbled. "But I...I really need to go to work."
All of a sudden, Gertrude realized why Hannah was so intent on ignoring her body's need for rest and healing. It was Rachel. Gertrude was not known for beating around the bush and again, she was about to remind her granddaughter about that.
"I understand," she nodded. "Why don't you crawl back into bed, call in sick and then call Rachel. She does have a phone, you know. You really don't have to go to work, feeling as miserable as you do, just in the hope of running into the good Doctor."
Hannah's head jerked up and a blush crept up her cheeks when she looked at her grandmother in shock.
"I'm sorry, honey," she said gently. "But I can't sit here and say nothing, while you jeopardize your health. I love you way too much for that."
"Oh, that's slick," Hannah mumbled, but there was a hint of amusement in her eyes. "You're playing the love card now."
"Did it work?" Gertrude asked, smiling when Hannah chuckled. The soft chuckle was followed by a deep, rumbling cough and Gertrude winced.
"I know what you' re going to say next," Hannah continued in a hoarse voice. "You don't want me to spread all those germs around my patients."
"Something like that," Gertrude replied dryly. "But, you're a big girl and I trust you know what to do."
"Do you, really?"
"Um, no," Gertrude grinned, making Hannah smile.
"Alright, Granny, I give in. I'll call in sick and then I'll go back to bed," Hannah mumbled, knowing her grandmother had been right all along. It was irresponsible to go to work the way she was feeling, but she had not seen Rachel in more than a week. Not since she had babysat Nicky. Work had been crazy and she knew Rachel must have been swamped, down in the ER. She could not help wondering how the Doctor was doing.
Admit it, Hannah, you just want to hear her voice and see her face. And her eyes, they still...
"Huh, what?" Hannah stammered, her thoughts interrupted by Gertrude's voice.
"I wondered when you'll let Gary and Jake know whether you'll be at the party next week."
"I don't know, Granny," Hannah sighed, rubbing her aching head. "Right now, I don't even want to think about it."
"They've invited me as well," Gertrude smiled, while her eyes were twinkling.
"Really?" Hannah asked, somehow having no trouble at all picturing her grandmother at a gay Christmas party.
"I might even get lucky," Gertrude winked, which elicited a groan from her granddaughter.
She laughed and slowly got to her feet. She gave Hannah a quick hug and dropped a kiss on the unruly blond hair.
"Go back to bed, sweetie. I'll bring you a nice cup of hot tea."
"Thanks, Granny. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Rachel skillfully avoided a man on crutches, who clumsily tried to make his way out of the ER, as she headed for the nursing station. She had a pile of charts to finish and not enough time to do it. She had been working the weekend and it had been crazy. The first serious frost had descended on Oklahoma City and it had been like every homeless person had made his or her way to the ER with complaints of abdominal pain, in the hope of finding a warm place to stay for a night, maybe two. On top of that, reckless driving on the slick roads had contributed to numerous accidents and she had seen patients until the early hours of the morning.
With a sigh, Rachel picked up a stack of charts and headed to the dictation room. If she was allowed to work undisturbed, maybe she could leave in time. As she sat down and opened the first chart, she glanced at the clock and muttered a curse. It was almost seven and she knew she had missed Hannah. Again.
Unwilling to call the blonde, she had tried to meet her on the floor, but every day she had been too late. Whenever she had arrived at her unit, Hannah had already gone. Gary had helpfully provided her with the nurse's phone number, but she was hesitant to call. She did not want Hannah to think she was pushing. From experience, she knew the blonde needed time to think things over and get emotionally accustomed to the new situation. It had been that way when they had started dating. Hannah had been so cautious it had sometimes driven Rachel insane.
"I'm sorry, Rachel," Hannah had once said. "I know I'm slow, but I needed to be absolutely sure about us. Just think of it this way: you had to wait a while, but at least you'll have me forever!"
Involuntarily, Rachel smiled. When Hannah had set her mind to something, she went for it and usually gave one hundred percent.
"Oh, Hannah," she whispered, staring at the page in front of her. "I'm sorry I didn't have the chance to see you after that one Sunday. I really wanted to."
Reluctantly, Rachel started the task of going through the charts and after a while she was so absorbed in what she was doing, she almost jumped when her cell phone started ringing.
A quick glance on the display showed her 'H.J.' and her heart skipped a beat. This couldn't be, could it? Was Hannah actually calling her?
With trembling fingers, Rachel pushed the green button and brought the device to her ear.
"This is Rachel," she announced, a little out of breath.
"Rachel, it's Gertrude."
"Oh...hi, Mrs...I mean, hi, Gertrude," she stammered confused.
"Rachel, sweetheart, I know you would have liked Hannah to call you, but you also know how incredibly stubborn she can be. Anyway, the reason that I'm calling you is that I need some....advice."
"Sure," Rachel nodded, having regained her composure. "What can I do for you, Gertrude?"
"It's Hannah," Gertrude sighed. "She's sick and I..."
"What?" Rachel interrupted, shooting up straight in her chair. All of a sudden, her heart hammered in her chest and her palms had become sweaty. How bad would it be for Gertrude to call her? "What's wrong?"
"Well, that's something I'd like to know, but I'm no Doctor and Hannah refuses to see one. I threatened to take her to the ER, but she knows I'm physically not capable of doing that. Otherwise, I would."
"I know," Rachel nodded. "What are her symptoms?"
"She has a fever, a terrible cough, she wheezes and she refuses to eat. I'm afraid she's developing pneumonia and I...Phil died of pneumonia, you know. I...I..."
"I'll be there as soon as I'm done here," Rachel promised.
"Oh, but Rachel, sweetie, I didn't mean for you to..."
"I know you didn't, but I need to see her. Maybe she'll let me examine her."
"If not, I'll whack her with a frying pan," Gertrude mumbled. "Thank you, Rachel, thank you so much."
"Don't mention it, Gertrude. I'll be there soon."
"Do you have the address?" Gertrude asked, a little surprised.
"Gary gave it to me," Rachel confessed in a small voice and Gertrude smiled.
"Great! Thanks, Rachel."
Rachel disconnected the call and tried not to think about all the things Hannah could be suffering from. Instead, she tried to focus on her work and within thirty minutes she was completely done with her notes and dictations. She quickly changed into her street clothes, grabbed her bag, checked its contents and made a beeline for the exit.
Twenty minutes later, Doctor Kendrick parked her car on Gertrude Jensen's driveway. On the way over, images of Hannah had wreaked havoc with her mind and her eyes were worried and dark in her strained face when she knocked on the storm door.
"Rachel! I'm so happy to see you," Gertrude exclaimed, giving the Doctor a heartfelt hug. "You look tired."
"It has been a rough week," Rachel smiled, genuinely happy to see Gertrude Jensen. She had always had a soft spot for Hannah's grandmother. "I came as fast as I could."
"Thank you, sweetie, I so appreciate that. I hope I didn't inconvenience you. Hannah told me you have a little girl."
"Nicky," Rachel nodded with a smile. "She's with my brother and sister-in-law at the moment. I'll pick her up later."
"Hopefully, I won't keep you that long. It's just that...I'm worried," Gertrude confessed.
"That's okay, Gertrude, I understand. I'm worried as well." Rachel looked around, not really seeing the tastefully decorated living room. "Where is she?"
"In bed," Gertrude sighed. "That was the only thing I could convince her to do; stay in bed. Follow me."
Gertrude slowly walked through the hallway toward the end of the house, where Hannah's bedroom was.
"Don't feel bad, Gertrude," Rachel soothed, putting a hand on the elderly lady's shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. "She always did this to me as well."
"Nurses!" Gertrude mumbled.
"Doctors can be worse," Rachel smiled, eying a familiar picture on the wall. She remembered taking it, on Hannah's parents' twentieth anniversary. Times had been so happy and carefree back then. Sometimes she wished, she could go back in time and correct all the mistakes she had made. Maybe that would give her back what she had always held closest to her heart.
"This is her room," Gertrude spoke, gesturing towards a closed door. "Last time I checked, she was asleep, but she looked like she had a fever."
Rachel hesitated and glanced from the closed door to Gertrude and back again.
"You sure it's okay, if I...?"
"It's fine, sweetie," Gertrude spoke, demonstrating her words by opening the door. "I know for a certainty that she won't be angry."
"Alright, if you say so," Rachel grimaced, pushing the door open and stepping inside the room. If she had any doubts left after Gertrude's intervention, they disappeared when her eyes took in the woman in the bed.
Hannah's face had unnatural red blotches and her hair was sticking to her damp forehead. Even from across the room, Rachel could hear her wheeze and without thinking twice, she stepped inside and walked towards the bed. She opened up her bag and pulled out a stethoscope. Gently pulling back the cover, she placed the instrument against Hannah's chest and listened intently. With a frown she pulled back again and gently cupped Hannah's face.
"Hannah! Wake up, Hannah," she urged. "I need you to sit up for me."
Hannah mumbled something unintelligible and grabbed the hand that was touching her face, pressing it against her chest.
"Hannah, sweetie, wake up," Rachel continued, using her free hand to smooth the unruly hair that was spilling over the blonde's forehead.
"R...Rachel?" Hannah finally responded in a hoarse voice. "What...?"
"You' re sick and I need you to sit up for me for a little while, alright?"
"Am I in the ER?"
"No, honey, you' re not," Rachel smiled, knowing how mortally embarrassed Hannah would have been had she been at the hospital. "But I need to listen to your lungs."
"Oh," Hannah mumbled, trying to push herself up. With dazed eyes, she looked at the Doctor and she slowly shook her head.
"I'm dreaming," she concluded in a thin voice. "It's finally happened, I'm losing my mind completely."
"No, you' re not," Rachel answered, supporting the struggling woman by wrapping an arm around her shoulder and steadying her. "Hold on to me, okay? I need to listen to your lungs."
While Hannah obediently grabbed Rachel's upper arms, the Doctor proceeded to listen to Hannah's lungs, trying to ignore how the closeness to the blonde threatened to rob her of all her senses. But it was hard, especially when the other woman put her head against her shoulder and let out a soft sigh.
"Alright, that's it. Thanks, Hannah," Rachel mumbled after a little while. "Now, lie back and let me take your temperature."
Before Hannah could respond, Rachel had pulled a tympanic thermometer out of her bag and stuck it in Hannah's ear.
"Did you take it from the hospital?" Hannah asked with closed eyes. For some reason the light of the room turned into a bright beam, hurting her head every time she opened her eyes.
"No, I use it for Nicky," Rachel smiled, her brown eyes instantly worried when she read the tiny display. "You' re having a pretty bad fever," she concluded.
"I always wanted a little girl like Nicky," Hannah mumbled feverishly. "A girl who would look like you...with your eyes....your smile...that cute little dimple in your cheek," she continued, barely audible. "I know I have a fever, I just talked to Mom and Dad...they said to stay home..."
Rachel's eyes were dark with worry when she turned around and shot a look at Gertrude, who had been waiting at the door.
"If I write some prescriptions, do you have somebody who could get them filled?" she asked. "I need to give her a shot, to clear her lungs, but she needs some antibiotics as well and some decongestant."
"I'll call Jake," Gertrude promised, stepping inside the room to head for Hannah's phone. It would be so much faster to use her granddaughter's than to walk all the way back to the living room.
"Mom. Dad," Hannah's voice sounded sad and Rachel noticed a tear rolling down the blonde's cheek. "I didn't mean to...I really wanted to come..."
Rachel felt helpless, watching the blonde fight her demons in a fever-induced dream. She could tell Hannah was dreaming about her parents, but it was hard to understand what she said, because most of the time she just mumbled and moaned. In the background, she could hear Gertrude talking on the phone, but she didn't realize the elderly woman was finished, until she gently squeezed her shoulder.
"Jake's on his way," she spoke softly. "Did she tell you?"
"About Gregory and Brenda?" Rachel asked. "Yes, she did, last Sunday. I should have been here, Gertrude," she added in a whisper, grabbing one of Hannah's hands and pressing it against her chest. "Her world fell apart, several times, and I wasn't here. She ought to hate me."
"But she doesn't," Gertrude replied, wrapping an arm around Rachel's shoulders and smiling when the Doctor leaned into the embrace. "That's not who my Hannah is."
"I know," Rachel whispered. "Did she tell you? Why I left, I mean?"
"Not really," Gertrude answered, shaking her head. "I know she will, eventually. She just needs the time to process things and come to terms with them. She's so much like her father and grandfather." Gertrude gave Rachel a loving squeeze and saw how the Doctor quickly wiped away a tear. "I do know she had a nightmare, that night after she had talked to you. She denied it, but I heard her scream. It worried me."
"I'm sorry," Rachel whispered, stroking Hannah's cheek with the back of her hand. "About everything."
"I know, sweetie," Gertrude sighed. "Whatever happened, four years ago, I'm sure you and Hannah will learn how to deal with it. She might not admit it just yet, but she needs you, Doctor Kendrick."
Rachel smiled and felt her heart warm after Gertrude's words. The fact that the elderly woman had embraced her as a lost daughter, instead of a heartbreaking villain, was raising her hopes. Maybe, just maybe, Hannah and she would be given a second chance.
"I need her, too," she admitted, feeling the truth settle around her soul like a warm blanket. "I've always needed her."
Hardly an hour later, Rachel had given an oblivious Hannah a shot and with some help from Gertrude, she had managed to make the nurse drink some tea, so she could take her medications.
"All she needs to do right now, is sleep," Rachel had sighed, forcing herself not to check Hannah's temperature every five minutes. She knew the blonde had a fever, but she also knew she needed to give the medication the chance to work.
"Have you eaten anything at all?" Gertrude whispered, when Rachel had tip-toed out of the room to make a phone call to her brother, Joe.
"Um...not really," Rachel had answered with an apologetic smile. "But I'll be fine, Gertrude, don't worry about me."
"But I do," Gertrude had mumbled. "I don't want you to come down with a bronchitis as well. You need to take care of yourself, Rachel."
"Yes, ma' am," Rachel had mumbled, hoping her stomach would not choose that moment to growl. She was beyond hungry, but she was reluctant to leave Hannah's side for more than a few minutes.
"Jake is getting us something to eat. How does fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and honey-kissed biscuits sound to you?"
"God, Gertrude," Rachel had stammered, pressing her hands against her stomach. "Are you trying to kill me?"
"I take it you like the idea," Gertrude had smiled. "Go wash up. I can't let you go back to your daughter like a starving wolf."
"Nicky's taken care of for the night," Rachel had answered, obediently washing her hands in the kitchen sink. "I'll pick her up from Joe and Melissa's in the morning. I'll stay here tonight."
Gertrude had opened her mouth to make a remark, but the determined look in a pair of dark-brown eyes, made her change her mind.
"I feel torn," Rachel had explained. "But I know Nicky's being cared for and...Hannah...I don't..." her eyes had gone wide and she had been quick to explain herself. "I don't imply Hannah's not taken care of, it's just that...I want to be around to...to see how she'll do and....and see if the fever will break. If her temperature doesn't go down soon, I might have to take her to the hospital."
"You' re welcome to stay, Rachel," Gertrude had smiled, inwardly pumping her fist in triumph. Maybe they didn't need Jake's and Gary's Christmas party after all. Her old eyes had seen how Rachel cared for her granddaughter and if Hannah felt the same way for the Doctor....Gertrude smiled; things were looking up.
That had been hours ago. It was almost eleven now and Rachel was comfortably snuggled in Hannah's recliner. Gertrude had given her a pair of Hannah's clean sweats and after she had enjoyed a quick, but relaxing hot shower, she had reclined the chair and covered herself with a warm fleece blanket. Her body was ready to go to sleep, but Rachel's mind was still busy.
With a look of wonder, her eyes took in the sleeping form of the blonde, who was turned on her right side, facing the room and who was peacefully asleep. To Rachel's relief, the fever had broken and while she still had to keep an eye on the nurse's temperature, she knew Hannah was already doing a lot better. Her breathing was slow and regular and even the wheezing had diminished noticeably.
"You look so young and vulnerable," she whispered. "And so incredibly familiar."
Rachel smiled a sad smile, aware of the pain that had settled in her chest. How many times had she watched Hannah sleep like that, turned on her side, with one hand tucked under her chin? How many times had she spooned up against her, reveling in the feel of the other woman's body in her arms? Enjoying the warmth and peaceful slumber. Would she ever experience it again?
Rachel's eyes traveled to the wall, where she studied her own face, framed by an intricately cut wooden frame. She had bought it for Hannah at the annual art festival, in the same year the picture had been made. She had joked about it and said that, at least the frame was something worth looking at. Hannah had disagreed with her and, in a protective gesture, had pressed the photo against her chest.
"She kept it," Rachel sighed, her whispered words full of awe and wonder. "Like I kept hers."
Snuggling closer into the soft, comfortable chair, Rachel closed her eyes, just for a minute she promised herself, but after only a few moments, the dark-haired woman was fast asleep, while a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.
Hannah did not know what exactly had awakened her. It could have been the sound of the wind, howling around the house, or the rain that was sent crashing into the windows, quickly filling up the gutter until it spilled over.
Maybe it was the dream she just had, a strange concoction of sounds and images, that made no sense to her at all. It had left her confused and tired.
Maybe it was her aching body, that felt warm and cold at the same time, and so incredibly heavy, as if an unseen force tried to pin her down to the mattress.
With a small sigh, Hannah opened her eyes, surprised to see the small light on the night stand had been turned on. A tall glass of water was standing underneath it and all of a sudden Hannah realized how thirsty she was. She reached out and grabbed it, bringing it to her mouth and starting to drink it greedily.
"Don't inhale it," a familiar voice suddenly sounded and, taken by surprise, Hannah put down the glass and raised herself up to a sitting position. It was amazing how much strength that took, though, and she fought the dizziness that suddenly threatened to take her breath away.
Rachel was at her side within the blink of an eye and a strong arm was wrapped around her shoulder, while the Doctor gently guided her back into the pillows.
"That was a bad idea," Hannah swallowed.
"You' re pretty sick, Hannah," Rachel explained. "Although I'm happy to see the fever broke."
"Did Granny send for you?" the blonde asked with closed eyes. Rachel was just too close. She didn't want to make a fool of herself in her vulnerable state and Hannah knew that closing her eyes for a few moments might give her the distance she so desperately needed.
"Yes, Gertrude called me this afternoon," Rachel explained, feeling Hannah's forehead. "She was worried about you."
"Is it bronchitis?" the blonde asked with a cough.
"Yes, it is," Rachel nodded.
"Sucks," Hannah groaned. "I make a lousy patient."
"That remains to be seen," Rachel smiled. "Until now you've been pretty quiet and cooperative."
"Granny and you probably just knocked me out with some drugs," Hannah mumbled.
"You needed them," Rachel answered calmly. "But, yes, that's what we did."
Hannah nodded and cautiously stretched her stiff and aching body. She felt like she had been sleeping in the same position for days. Suddenly her eyes flew open.
"What time is it?" she asked, alarmed at the silence in the house.
"About one-thirty," Rachel answered. "In the morning," she added for good measure, not sure how dazed the drugs had made Hannah feel.
"What are you still doing here? And where's Nicky?" Hannah suddenly sounded a lot more awake and, inwardly, Rachel sighed. She hoped the blonde would not give her a hard time about her staying.
"Nicky is with Joe and Melissa and she's fine and I'm here because I needed to keep an eye on you. It was either that or take you to the hospital," she said, hoping that mentioning the hospital would be enough to convince the nurse.
"Oh," was the only response and, inwardly, Rachel cheered. She was too tired to fight with Hannah about her good intentions.
"Alright, you win," Hannah mumbled, wondering why she still felt tired and sleepy. "How's the chair?"
"I've had worse," Rachel smiled.
"Hop in," Hannah croaked, turning on her side, facing away from Rachel, before she could change her mind.
"W...what?" the Doctor asked, not trusting her ears.
"Hop in the bed, Rachel," Hannah sighed. "I might be sick, but I'm not entirely drugged out of my mind. You need to go to work in the morning. You need a good rest. This bed is big enough for two."
Besides, it's not like we've never slept in the same bed before...
"Or do you want me to sic Granny on you?"
"No, not really," Rachel answered, feeling her heart pound in her chest. "Um...alright...I guess."
Slowly, as if she was afraid even to touch Hannah, Rachel crawled into bed beside her and in spite of the unexpected, strange situation, her body seemed to sigh in relief. The chair had been comfortable, but the bed was so much better.
Lying on her back, Rachel stared at the ceiling, waiting for her heart beat to return to normal. It took a while, but when it finally did, it was a little easier to relax.
"Tell me this isn't better than the chair," Hannah's sleepy voice sounded, as if she had been reading Rachel's mind, and the Doctor nodded.
"You were right," she answered softly.
It was silent for a while and Rachel shifted into a more comfortable position, thinking the blonde had fallen asleep again. Her eyes stared at the back of Hannah's head and she could almost touch the blonde's hair with her fingertips.
"What's happening?" she mused. "This is so...frighteningly soothing. I wonder if Hannah knew what she was asking. Maybe it's better to wake up before she does and get up, before she realizes I spent the night in her bed. I don't want her to freak out."
"Rachel?" a sleepy, hoarse voice suddenly sounded and the Doctor jerked.
"Yes?" she breathed.
"Thank you for looking after me."
"Thank you for letting me," Rachel answered softly. "It must be hard for you."
Hannah shifted and half-turned so she could look at Rachel, who thought she had never looked more adorable with her tousled hair and sleepy blue eyes.
"It's not," Hannah confessed, barely audible. "I've missed you."
To be continued in part 8
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