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I think I'd rather be anywhere else in the known universe than a hospital. There's something about the sickly green walls and the gray linoleum and the weird sounds and smells that makes my skin crawl. Even though my mom eventually passed away in her own bed where she could overlook the creek, I have always associated death with these places. That smell… it's not one of recovery or good health. It's of death. I smelled it everywhere around me and it still churns my stomach, even now.

I know it was selfish. I shouldn't have been thinking about myself. I should've been hoping and praying for my friend in that room down the corridor. The one fighting for his life for a reason I cannot fathom. Why was it him? There were hundreds of people there, why him?

We were all waiting to hear. Maybe it wasn't too bad. Maybe the doctors could perform one of those miracles I see on ER every week. Maybe we're all worried for nothing…

I looked down the corridor to his waiting friends and family and I knew that wasn't true. There was so much blood. We all knew how grave his injuries were. I just didn't want to think about them. And I'm sure they didn't either… Jen, Andie, Tobey,… and Dawson. We're all waiting to hear that Jack wouldn't be taken from us. I couldn't believe that any god could be so cruel as to take Jack from us.

They were all sitting in the waiting area, but I couldn't stay with them. I couldn't listen to Andie's murmurings that everything was going to be all right, couldn't stand to see her rocking in her father's arms to try and block out reality. I couldn't sit there and listen to Jen's sobs or look at Tobey's stony visage. Mrs Ryan prayed silently by the window, and I wondered if she was at all comforted by her god. From the look on her face I could see that even she was having difficulty believing this one.

Dawson walked towards me slowly, his face haunted. We didn't say anything to each other. What words could we use to describe the situation? How could we comfort each other when neither of us knew what the outcome would be? Instead he stood beside me as I looked out over the hospital grounds. It was still light out, a perfect summer afternoon. I didn't know what time it was. Time had no meaning anymore. We just waited in silence.

Every now and then a nurse would crash through doors leading to operating room. I jumped every time I heard that noise. They were just going about their usual work, but there was nothing usual about this day. Not for me, not for any of us. Dawson saw me shiver at the thought and placed an arm around my shoulder. His skin was warm against mine and I cradled myself against him, seeking comfort and solace. Peace. I heard his heartbeat through his thin shirt and focused on the rhythmic sound instead.

* * *

It had been hours. Maybe four. Maybe only two. We still hadn't heard anything. Dawson and I kept our distance from the others. He seemed to understand my need to stay apart from them… away from everyone but him. Dawson was different because he understood me better than anyone. He knew about my phobia of hospitals and my past loss. He held my hand and didn't try to get me to talk. I don't think I had ever been more grateful to him in my life.

Someone else entered the corridor noisily, this time from the other end. I didn't bother to look up until I heard footsteps running towards us. My throat tightened as I thought maybe there was news… but the thought disappeared as soon as I saw Pacey.

I had never seen him so frightened. His face was white as he skidded to a halt, staring at me with wide eyes. He didn't stop to catch his breath before he crossed the distance between us in a few strides and hugged me tightly. Crushed me is a more fitting description, he held me as if I wasn't real but merely an apparition he had imagined.

After my initial shock of seeing him, I hugged him back. I couldn't believe he was there… he was supposed to be on his way to Miami. I didn't stop to think about how or why he had returned, I only thought about how much I loved him and was relieved he was there.

He pulled away from me abruptly and held my face between his coarse hands, studying my face intently. His eyes were full of tears, his brow creased with worry. It took me a moment to realize it was for me.

"Are you all right?" he whispered roughly, his voice catching in his throat.

My own voice alluded me and I just nodded. Pacey didn't seem to believe me and continued to stare into my eyes until he could convince himself of the truth.

"I thought…" His trailed off into silence, not daring to finish.

"I'm okay," I managed to murmur before he hugged me again.

With one arm around my waist and the other cradling the back of my head, he held me a few seconds longer. I felt him press his lips against my temple.

Dawson stepped closer to us then, and he and Pacey stared silently at one another. I looked up to see Pacey nod at him, acknowledging his relief that Dawson was safe as well. I followed Pacey's gaze to the others at the end of the corridor. He swallowed hard.

"Jack?" Pacey asked in a whisper.

"They're operating now," Dawson said numbly. "He was hit in the chest."

"I went to the school. They told me it wasn't serious…"

Dawson looked away, and I lowered my eyes. Pacey's arm was still around me and he quickly glanced at me for an explanation. I didn't have one.

Pacey's gaze returned to our friends, stopping on Andie curled up on the hard plastic chairs next to her father. I felt his embrace tighten slightly around my waist and he looked at me again, this time for approval. I nodded without hesitation, without even understanding what he was asking. He left my side then and made his way over to her. His tall frame was hesitant as he slowed in front of her, then he crouched down and took her into his arms. She started crying for the first time since we arrived at the hospital.

Dawson took my hand again. I don't know if he was just trying comfort me or if he thought I'd feel a pang of jealousy over Pacey and Andie. It didn't even enter my mind. Not much was. I still couldn't believe he was there. Before I even had a chance to consider how I felt about any of it, a lone figure emerged through the doors to the operating room.

It wasn't a bustling nurse this time, it was a doctor dressed in bright blue scrubs, a surgical mask still draped from his neck. Finally some news. I felt a flood of relief until I saw his face. It was solemn… serious… and exhausted. He made a beeline for Mr McPhee, before taking a moment to acknowledge everyone else who was waiting. The doctor sat down slowly beside Andie and her father, while Pacey stood up from his crouched position and backed away. I would have done the same thing had I seen the doctor up close. There was something so final in his slumped shoulders and the v-shaped sweat mark that darkened the scrubs over his chest.

I didn't hear what he said. He murmured intently to Mr McPhee while Andie just shook her head. Her face eventually crumbled in misery, her mouth open in a silent scream that was still deafening. Jen's hands flew immediately to her mouth before she was enveloped in her grandmother's arms. Tobey's expression did not change, he simply rose from his chair and walked away.

I couldn't feel Dawson's hand around mine anymore. I couldn't feel anything. Pacey turned to look at me, and I saw tears on his cheeks. It struck me how I had never really seen Pacey cry openly. After all that we had been through together, he played everything so tightly to his chest. I concentrated on the unfamiliar sight of his tears rather than thinking about what had happened. I decided that was something I could not and would not deal with yet.

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