"She was powerful, not because she wasn't scared, but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear."
Will hadn't been joking.
Within half an hour, guards swarmed the hospital, standing outside every possible entrance, inside and outside the building. Helicopters patrolled above, snipers observed carefully from the roof, and police cruised the streets, searching for the culprit behind Annalise's attack.
It created hell for everyone else coming to the hospital to see my sister. Everly had to call Will from the entrance so she and the others could enter. Had she not been so worried about Annalise, I think she would've flown off the handle and chewed Will out.
"I'm so sorry we're late!" Everly exclaimed, wrapping me in a hug. Mark stood behind her with Reid in his arms. "How's she doing? Any word?"
I shook my head, unable to reply. A knot decided to permanently lodge itself in my throat, making it impossible to talk. James, thankfully, spoke for me. "Anna's still in surgery. We don't know if any of the bullets are still lodged in her, but they hit some organs."
Mark paled, and I sidled up beside him, slipping my arm around him. He returned the gesture, squeezing me tightly.
"Oh goodness," Patty gasped, collapsing into a chair. Walt sat next to her, rubbing her back in an effort to comfort his wife. The Stewarts and Wallaces had much of the same reaction.
"How long have you been waiting?" Everly asked.
"About forty-five minutes," James said. "Will got here not much longer after we did, and we've been waiting to hear about her ever since."
"Oh god, I need to sit down…"
"I think we all do," Mark agreed, taking a seat in the chair closest to him. The rest of us standing followed in suit. I rested my head on James's shoulder, alleviating some of the strain in my neck. All my stress had pooled there, and now I had a splitting headache that encased my entire head. Between crying and the terrific distress, the word 'stress' barely covered the depth of what I felt.
Ten minutes passed.
Then an hour.
Finally, five and a half hours after Annalise was admitted, Dr. Madej entered the guest room. Everyone simultaneously standing up startled him, but he regained his composure quickly. "I assume you're all here for Miss Stark?"
"Yes, sir," Will said. "Is she going to be okay?"
The doctor grimaced. "We were able to remove the bullet from her stomach. The three other shots seemed to have passed through her cleanly. It's a miracle none of them hit her spine. Otherwise, she'd be paralyzed. We repaired the damaged organs and stitched up her shoulder. She'll require some physical therapy to get it back in working order. However-"
I gripped James's hand, dreading what I was about to hear because no good sentence ever started with 'however' when it came to doctors. Not in my experience.
"- before we performed surgery, Miss Stark went into cardiac arrest from the blood loss. We gave her a blood transfusion during the surgery, and we gave her another one after to replenish the blood she lost. She is currently in a coma, but we're keeping a careful watch on her and will do everything in our power to make sure she lives. The next few days will be critical, and we may have to do more transfusions."
"Can any of us donate?" Will asked. "I don't know if I'm a match, but-"
"We have plenty of donations that will suit her, but in the event we need a donation, I'll let you know. Since the transfusion is done, I'll allow you all to see Miss Stark, but please-" sympathy flickered across Dr. Madej's face- "prepare yourselves. What she went through was traumatic, and it shows. I've had many family members faint when they see their loved ones in such a state. It's difficult for them."
"We understand," I said.
Dr. Madej nodded. "Very well. Follow me."
He led us down the hallway to an ICU room, where I could hear a myriad of machines all beeping and reporting my sister's vitals. Annalise was hidden behind a curtain to avoid anyone passing by from observing her. All the better for them. Seeing Annalise hooked up to the machines and a tube down her throat made me deathly nauseous. Covering my mouth, I slowly approached my sister's side, unable to believe my eyes. White gauze on her shoulder peeked out from underneath her hospital gown. I shuddered to think what her stomach looked like after being shot three times.
"Anna," Mark croaked, sinking to his knees next to her bedside. He gingerly took one of her hands in his, tears welling in her eyes. "I'm so sorry... I'm so sorry..."
Everly placed a hand on his shoulder, weeping at the sight of her best friend unconscious and barely hanging onto life. Glancing around at the rest of my adopted family, I realized everyone was crying in some shape or form.
Except for Will.
Like me, his hand covered his mouth, and no color remained in his face. Shock had wholly overtaken him, allowing no other emotion to surface. Will appeared to be taking the situation almost as hard as me, if not worse. Then I reminded myself he lost his dad hardly three months ago. Speaking from experience, I knew you didn't get over the death of a parent that quickly; seeing Annalise in her condition must've dredged up any semblance of togetherness Will had formed since King George's passing.
Patty, noticing I wasn't looking at Anna, followed my line of sight and realized the same thing I did. "Will-"
He waved a dismissive hand at her, slowly backing out of the room. Unable to look at Annalise any longer myself, I followed him to a bathroom. Not hearing the lock click in place, I cautiously poked my head in. Will leaned over the trash can, hurling the contents of his stomach into it.
"Are you okay?" I asked softly.
Will shook his head. "This is all my fault, Mia. I am… I am so sorry. If I had caught this guy ahead of time, or assigned more guards, or made finding him a top priority before now, this wouldn't have happened. I have put you and Annalise through so much shit, and she told me I was wrong in keeping these things from all of you, and she was right, as usual. I should've listened to her. I should've listened to her from the very beginning," he rambled, standing up and facing me with the most depressed expression I'd ever seen on a person. "I don't know why I'm burdening you with all this because that's your sister in there, and I should be comforting you, not the other way around. Whatever I can do to help you, I will. Just name it, and I'll do it."
I hunched my shoulders as my vulnerability bubbled up. "Can I have a hug?"
Although perplexed by my request, Will enveloped me in his arms. I buried my face in his chest, and he cradled my head, whispering apology after apology. He didn't need to. Voice muffled, I said, "This isn't your fault. Annalise would tell you the same thing if she could right now. And you don't need to apologize. I know why you're so upset. You just lost your dad, and you love Annalise as much as I do. You just got her back, and now you're at risk of losing her again. I get it, Will."
"Mia, you are literally a cinnamon roll too pure for this world," Will replied, chuckling slightly through his tears. "I don't deserve you or your sister, and after everything I've done, I sure as hell don't deserve your forgiveness, but you're right. About everything."
"I know I am." I pulled away. "You're already doing the only thing I need you to do. You're searching for the man that did this to her. I know you'll succeed, Will. I have total faith in you."
"I'm glad one of us does…" He trailed off, staring at his shoes before saying, "Since your apartment is a crime scene right now, I want you to stay at the palace until it's safe for you to return. James too. You two could be on this man's hit list as well, and I won't risk your safety any more than I already have."
"I'd ask about the 'as well' part, but I know you hired guards to trail us. I noticed it after Everly's apartment fire. You became extremely paranoid. I don't think Annalise knew, but she was always so busy running around and working, that she wouldn't notice if you were on a knee proposing to her."
"Anna knew," Will said, his face contorting into pain. "We were arguing earlier, and she discovered the truth. It's another reason I'm so upset. I told her I had to keep her at a distance for her safety. She told me I was wrong. Turns out, she was right like always. It's been the hardest damn thing having her so close but having to stay away. I thought I was doing the right thing, but it wasn't. That seems to be all I'm doing now."
Will ran a hand through his hair and frowned before shaking his head. "Mia, I'm so sorry. I'm ranting about my problems again when I should be taking care of you. Whenever you're ready, I'll take you back to the palace, and I'll get some fresh clothes for you."
I glanced down at my blood-stained dress. The sight brought back the memory of earlier, and the knot returned to my throat. "A change of clothes would be nice…"
Will held out his hand for me. "Do you want to go see her again?"
Shakily, I nodded and let Will lead me back to my sister's bedside. Annalise, despite her paleness and injuries, her expression was strangely peaceful. Slowly, I approached her, taking her hand in mine. It was cold to the touch.
"I read in class that some people in a coma can still hear what's going on around them. Know we're all here for you: James, Mark, Everly, Will, Patty, Walt, Ellen, Frank, Larry, Jane, Reid, and me. Please fight to come back to us, okay? I can't lose you too. I can't lose my big sister. I can't lose my rock." My voice hitched, and everything blurred together. Someone placed their hand on my shoulder, and it gave me enough resolve to lean over and kiss Annalise on the head. "I love you so, so much, Anna."
I retreated away from her bedside and staggered backward into James. He caught me, kissing the top of my head and promising me it'd be all right. I prayed he was right.