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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Captive Hearts
By Aurora


Part 2

Out on the streets and still spitting curses under her breath, Maca valiantly struggled to keep herself upright and walking. She wanted nothing more than to fall to her knees, just give up and let the world wash over her, dragging her down into sweet oblivion where she would neither have to think or feel again. The hurt, anger and betrayal were so fierce as to be unbearable, rushing in her blood with ever increasing intensity. And it wasn't without a sense of bitter irony that she realised only Esther had ever been able to relieve her worries.

What was left of her rational self knew she'd drink herself to death if she continued on this path. But there was nothing to stop her from falling deeper and deeper. Esther had destroyed whatever trust Maca had managed to build up in people. Azucena had killed her faith years ago and Maca had been convinced she would never love again, simply because it always ended in heartbreak.

But she'd recovered from that first blow to the heart, slowly and painfully, somehow drawing herself together and finding the will to love again; to want to love again. It had been a long and hard recovery, sometimes feeling so insurmountable that it would drive her down again and she'd have to heal all over. Through it all, emerging from the other side, Maca had learned to be strong again and trust her heart with other people.

Esther had been the first test of that newfound trust…

Maca found herself walking toward the hospital, to the one last safe haven she had. The hospital was the only place her life made sense, although now it held mixed memories for her. The hospital had been where she'd met Esther. Maca's love for this woman had almost spiralled out of control, helplessly drawn in by the smile that was sunshine itself, Esther's deep eyes and vivacious personality. Esther was everything that Maca never knew she wanted. The memories of their times together - secret kisses in the locker rooms, subtle glances and shy touches as they passed in the halls and the moments where they had just cuddled up together and talked, enjoying a brief moment of respite - they were all tainted now, soiled by what had happened.

When Maca lurched into the ER she hoped that tonight she would be able to sleep again, not haunted by recent events but guarded by the better memories this home away from home had for her.

There was no one around but a handful of patients, all sleeping restlessly on the hard plastic chairs whilst they waited for a doctor. She walked passed them with comical silence, lifting her feet ridiculously high from the floor and placing them down again with the utmost care.

While Maca was creeping passed the patients, Cruz came across her. The ER director looked on in disbelief for a few moments, noting all the obvious signs of drunkenness even though she was sure it couldn't be Maca. Cruz had always thought Maca to be almost indefatigable. Maca was human of course, but she seemed to carry herself with an air of invincibility. Most often, her character was an asset to her work but her stubborn nature had gotten her heart into trouble more than once and Cruz suspected this was another of those occasions.

From across the lobby she could see the bloodshot whites of Maca's eyes, the wildness of her hair and the slur of her words as she mumbled to herself and the sleeping patients. Her body moved as though she waded through water, heavy and uncoordinated and obviously drunk. The skin of her face was also flushed red and rubbed raw, no doubt by endless tears that Maca just couldn't control. The picture was one of misery and Cruz's heart lurched in sympathy.

She approached Maca carefully from across the room, her hands open and empty, medical training awakening as she assessed her colleague's level of inebriation. The preliminary examination said that Maca was well over the legal limit but blood tests, which Cruz thought entirely necessary, would reveal if her friend was in any real danger. She highly doubted this was the first night Maca had drunk herself into oblivion and it would be doing her more damage than it was providing relief.

"Maca?" She called softly, careful not only to keep Maca calm but not to disturb the other patients that would perhaps provide a too eager audience to the debacle that was her paediatrician.

Maca dazedly looked up at Cruz, her emotional distress becoming more apparent in her tortured features. "Cruz?" She asked, as if unsure she was actually seeing what she thought she was. "Here?" She continued, her foggy brain somehow getting to grips with the fact that Cruz didn't usually work the nightshift.

"I'm covering." Cruz stepped close enough to Maca so she could brace her shoulder as she wobbled slightly, noting the grazed marks on Maca's hands and wondering exactly how many times she'd fallen on the way here. Her nose crinkled as the stench of alcohol assailed her nostrils. "Maca, is this the first time you've come here like this?"

Maca shook her head like a small child being chastised.

Cruz nodded sadly. "Esther…"

There was no reply needed. There was nothing else in the world that could shake Maca's foundations so completely. Cruz knew there was nothing she could do or say that would help Maca when she was in her present condition, so instead she bore the other woman's weight as they walked into the unit, taking it slow as Maca moved uneasy to an available resting place. ER was virtually empty, with only one bed occupied by a patient and the rest vacant.

The roundabout in the middle of the ER unit where numerous computers were stationed, fax machines and scanners were all silent. The masses of paper that were usually a fixed presence throughout daytime shifts had all been cleared away or tidied into neat piles. Where people used to run back and forth there were only a few office chairs and a lonely coffee cup. The inpatient board was also blank but for a few scribbles on it.

During the day ER was a maelstrom of activity with gurneys being hurried this way and that, partitions emptying and filling, nurses and doctors alike yelling to one another over the clamour. The unit at night however had the feel of a ghost town; the cream interior was too bright and noticeable in the quiet, the deserted patient cots were bizarrely unsettling behind their open green curtains and the hospital itself felt as though it was in a state of limbo, waiting for the day to start anew.

Cruz led Maca into one of the empty partitions, helping her up onto the bed in her stupor. For the most part she capitulated without a fuss; slight murmurings about Esther and tequila were her only comments as Maca followed Cruz's guiding hands and fell asleep within seconds.

Cruz applied a digit clip to Maca's finger and watched the heart monitor begin to pick up the slow but steady heartbeat. The sound was a small reassurance that Maca was okay for now. She then inserted an IV-line into Maca's arm and withdrew a blood sample before hooking up a two litres of IV fluid. An oxygen mask would no doubt help in the morning when the hangover set in, but for now Cruz didn't want to take the risk that Maca might vomit into it and end up choking.

When everything was set up, with almost motherly care, Cruz pulled the blankets up over Maca's body and brushed a few bedraggled strands of hair from her face. "We'll figure this out." She whispered as Maca slept on. "Somehow."

Cruz labelled and bagged the blood sample and left the partition, drawing the heavy curtain behind her so that her patient had a little privacy. If anything started to go wrong, she would be able to hear it over the monitor. She handed the sample to a passing nurse and then moved back to the roundabout where she was mulling through one of the remaining stacks of paperwork.

About to settle, Cruz realised she should call Esther. No matter what Maca thought her wife felt about her, Cruz knew that the love between them, on Esther's side for sure, had not lessened. If anything, Esther's realisation of just how much she was in love with Maca had only become stronger.

With a deep sigh and heavy sense of foreboding, Cruz picked up the phone handset and dialled in Maca's number, reasoning that even though highly drunk, Maca wouldn't leave her son alone and Esther was most likely to be there caring for him.

If the speed at which the receiver was picked up was any indication of Esther's worry – it being snatched up before the end of the first ring – she was about to give herself a panic attack.

"Maca?" Esther asked over the line, so much hope contained in that one word that Cruz felt guilty for not being Maca.

"It's Cruz." She answered, feeling even more guilty when an audible exhale of disappointment could be heard over the phone.

"I can't come in." Esther responded, all the hope she had felt moments before evaporating.

"No, no." Cruz assured, listening to the weariness in Esther's voice increase. "It's about Maca."

"Is she alright?" And suddenly that weariness was replaced by panic again and Esther sounded as though she was already half-way out the door, ready to come charging into the hospital to stand by Maca. "Cruz, what happened? Was she hurt!? Where is she!?"

Cruz had to pull the receiver away from her ear as Esther's voice elevated in her panic. "Esther, honey, relax! She's fine. She's here, sleeping. She came in about twenty minutes ago and she's absolutely fine."

"I'll be right there." Esther said, already scrabbling for the car keys hung on the wall above her head.

"Esther, no." Cruz silenced Esther's protest as she tried to cut in again with a sharp reprimand, brooking no argument. "It's best if you just let her sleep it off. She's had a lot to drink and if you come in here, she's liable to do something you both might regret."

"But Cruz-"

"No, Esther. You can see her when you come in for your shift... I'll take care of her till then. You need to stay home and look after Pedro."

Esther sighed again and Cruz could hear the initial juddering breaths that hailed coming tears. "What have I done, Cruz?" She whimpered. "I was such an idiot and now I've lost her…"

Cruz knew Esther could go on for hours about how Maca had touched her so deeply that there would never be anyone else, and how the world would lose its meaning if Maca were not around to hold it all together for her. But they were both human and made mistakes, and that was something they were going to have to come to terms with. The question would be whether they would be able restore the trust between them after this mistake.

"You have to give her time…" Cruz tried to reason. "You owe her that, Esther."

"I'd give her anything!" She cried, tears now running freely down her cheeks. "But if I don't hold on, she'll slip away completely and I'll lose her!"

"If you hold her too tightly, you'll kill her." Cruz said quietly, letting her words sink in through the layers of tears and anguish. And it was more than just a euphemism for their love and marriage; Esther could quite literally drive Maca to the bottle, to the grave, if she didn't let things give a little.

There was a moment of silence on the phone that almost seemed endless. Cruz counted Esther's breaths as they slowed and became quiet. She gave her nurse a moment to collect her thoughts before she continued, and to her utter relief, Esther had calmed somewhat. She simply said, "I'll see you in the morning." To which there was only a sigh as a response, the phone going dead moments after.

Cruz found herself torn between wanting to help Maca recover and allowing Esther to help. The only thing she knew was that any balance to be achieved between them wasn't going to be easy. In the end she just hoped that something would work out where both of them were at least no longer in pain. And with this thought, Cruz turned back to her paperwork, occasionally glancing up to make sure Maca's curtain was still closed and the beating of her heart was continuous over the monitor.

Part 3

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