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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Captive Hearts
By Aurora


Part 5

Claudia doggedly walked in through the ER lobby, bypassing the empty front desk and heading straight into the unit. It was as quiet as she expected it to be so early in the morning, with not a single person in sight. The only patient seemed to be in the end box, sleeping happily. A glance at the shift board above the roundabout declared that Cruz was supposed to be on duty with a nurse Claudia had never met before but neither were in sight.

It was when her eyes scanned over the inpatient board to ascertain the identity of the old man in the end box that Claudia's expression suddenly became alert. Maca's name had been written into the slot provided for box three and Claudia looked over, seeing nothing but ruffled bed sheets and a drip stand with empty IV bags on it.

She absently dropped her shoulder bag to the floor and began scanning the active medical files that had been left on the counter. There were a fair few scattered about the roundabout and it wasn't until she reached the last folder, becoming frustrated with her lack of success, that she found something. Maca's name and details were clearly printed on the opening sheet and according to the records she'd only been admitted yesterday evening.

Claudia glanced up at bed three again in confusion. Surely if Maca had only been admitted last night, she should still be there?

Concern growing, Claudia leafed through the history, reading through the preliminary report with bated breath. According to the account, Maca had stumbled into the ER, bleeding slightly from her hands and knees, drunk and in an unstable emotional state. Cruz had put her in box three with two litres of fluids and ordered blood sampling done.

Claudia immediately flipped the page to find the tests, eyes widening as she read off the information on the result sheets. Her fingers went to her mouth as she read, a small gasp trapped in her throat. These results couldn't possibly be Maca's… But they were, their severity simply frightening. Her alcohol levels were so high that it was a wonder she had walked into the ER and not been hefted in on a gurney. Her creatinine levels were worryingly above normal, suggesting the beginnings of kidney failure, which hopefully, Claudia prayed to God, would return to normal if Maca stopped drinking. The blood work also suggested liver failure and tissue necrosis, all of which were typical of alcohol abuse.

Claudia knew that Maca was suffering but she'd had no idea, until now, just how deep it ran…

"I don't know what to do." Cruz admitted, suddenly appearing from nowhere and making Claudia jump with fright. The ER director was leant heavily over the roundabout, her face resting in her hands.

"Where is she?" Claudia asked, wondering if Maca had been moved to a renal unit for observation after the test results had come through.

"I sent her upstairs to take a shower." Cruz explained, brushing a weary hand through her hair. She was silent for long moments as her eyes focused on faraway thoughts. "She never said anything…" She whispered, more to herself than to Claudia. And then Cruz laughed at her own words, finding them in no way humorous as she came to the realisation that Maca wouldn't have come to her for help anyways. "She never says anything."

Claudia tried to think back, worried she too had let Maca's decline slip by her attention; she was only somewhat relieved to have noticed nothing, as Cruz hadn't. Ironically, the only one that may have noticed Maca's change in demeanour would have been Esther and she was the last person likely to improve the situation.

"She's a Wilson." Claudia said, trying to alleviate some of the guilt they were both feeling, but the little jibe at Maca's heritage didn't bring a smile to either woman's face. Maca's pride hadn't caused this; it certainly didn't help, but it wasn't the cause.

Cruz glanced at her watch. "I should go up and see how she is. She's been up there almost an hour now."

"Let me go." Claudia said gently, lightly holding onto Cruz's coat as she made to move away. "You look as though you need a minute…"

"I just… Did I miss something?" Cruz drew a juddering breath. "She's my friend, a good friend, and I didn't see any of this. I haven't been there; I don't think I've even asked her how she's been doing…" She continued, gesturing to the open file in front of Claudia. "Although, it's fairly obvious how she's been fairing, really."

Claudia didn't know what she was supposed to say to that. She hadn't been working at the Central long and her relationship with Cruz really hadn't extended past a casual 'Hello' as they passed one another in the halls. She also didn't know what kind of friendship she had with Maca. These factors combined put her in a poor position to be offering condolences, much as she would have liked to.

Right now, she'd be better at trying to get Maca to open up and talk about what had been going on, rather than attempting anything with Cruz. "I think Maca hides her pain well, Cruz, and she would never admit to anyone she was hurting like this." She reasoned. "Let me go speak to her…"

Cruz relented without further encouragement, instead slumping miserably into a chair at the roundabout. Claudia had brushed a soothing hand over Cruz's dark hair as she passed, the movement somewhat awkward as it was unfamiliar, but it was heartfelt and hopefully conveyed a small comfort. She'd then made her way to the change rooms, trepidation building with every step.

What if Maca didn't want to be helped? What if the damage was already done and complete, with no way to pull her free from the wreckage? What if Esther wouldn't take her back after seeing her fall apart in such a way? These thoughts and many others just as dire spun round in Claudia's head as her walk became quicker, fuelled by her own paranoid fears.

When she finally reached the changing rooms, flustered and out of breath, falling through the wooden door after using her shoulder to barrel it open, Claudia frantically scanned the room for Maca. All she could see were her clothes neatly folded on the bench with an empty satchel. And for a terrifying moment she thought Maca had just left without telling anyone; off to drink herself to death.

The sound of shower water still spraying against ceramic tiles could be heard from the doorway and Claudia called out to Maca hesitantly, wanting to give the woman warning if she was still washing. But there was no answer, even as her entreaties became louder and more urgent. In the end Claudia couldn't have cared less about Maca's state of undress and she came round into the shower block.

She found Maca in the end stall, naked, huddled in the corner, shivering and coming in and out of consciousness.

Claudia gasped as she jumped under the shower water, a glacial chill hitting her body and penetrating the flimsy clothes she was wearing. It cascaded down her body quickly, soaking her right through, clothes sticking to her body like a wintry second skin. She was shivering in seconds, her breaths coming in short, uneven gasps of shock as she struggled to adjust to the extreme temperature change. She couldn't believe how cold the water was, like ice as it cut through her skin. She tried to coordinate her body toward Maca but her limbs felt painful and stiff, protesting to the sudden cold and disorientation.

Claudia gasped again as her fingers clutched Maca's shoulders, her body frigid beneath her hands. She moaned in pain as Claudia lifted her with difficulty, the both of them cold and wet, shivering and struggling to keep conscious thought going under the hostile cold. As Maca came to rest against her, her bare skin flush against her own damp clothes, Claudia became terrifyingly aware of how cold Maca really was.

It took some effort to pull Maca away from the shower stalls and through to the changing rooms. She was barely mobile, her joints no doubt cold and seized even though she was becoming more cognisant with every moment out of the shower.

In the end Claudia stood in the middle of the changing rooms, wet as though she'd ventured into a rain storm and holding a trembling Maca within her arms. There was no towel laid out on the bench and Maca seemed unwilling to move anymore so all she could do was attempt to share some of her heat as they both dripped and shivered.

"What's happened to you, Maca?" Claudia whispered, trailing a hand through Maca's hair and continuing to hold the other woman close, despite her nakedness.

Maca didn't answer, instead just shivering and barely restraining her tears as she buried her head into the crook of Claudia's neck. She didn't know what was happening to her anymore. Her body ached all over and she was stiff and cold, shivering badly as the cool air prickled at her wet skin. It didn't occur to her to be concerned about the fact she was still naked, instead just groping for some kind of comfort in Claudia's arms.

"Can you stand, Maca?" Claudia asked hesitantly, leaning back a little so she wasn't supporting quite so much of Maca's weight any longer. She wobbled ever so slightly as she stepped away but managed to remain upright for the most part, her arms uselessly at her sides as she continued to tremble dry. "I have a towel in my locker." Claudia explained, hoping Maca didn't think she was leaving her.

Maca felt as though she was going to be sick with cold. Every muscle in her body jerked and tensed sporadically, making her limbs almost uncontrollable. She watched as Claudia rummaged through her locker for a towel.

"I'm sorry." Maca mumbled, though the words came out somewhat inaudible as her teeth continued to chatter.

Claudia turned from her locker, towel in hand. "What for?" She asked sincerely, not understanding what on earth she could possibly be sorry for.

"I'm an idiot drunk. I-."

Claudia suddenly stepped right into Maca again, her wet clothes brushing against Maca's cold skin. Her fingers were immediately pressed to Maca's lips, a low 'shh' floating over the small distance between them. "You're human…" Claudia whispered, her thumb gently grazing over Maca's jaw.

Maca looked up then, Claudia's fingers still trailing over her lips and jaw, and for a moment her vision was overtaken by the image of this woman in front of her. Unshed tears shimmered in her eyes, threatening to fall down her cheeks once again. "It's okay to hurt." Claudia added, closing the small bit of distance between them in the span of a heartbeat…

To Be Continued

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