..."You didn't just see what happened when Sarah began to lose herself," Jarred pressed. He couldn't believe he was entertaining such an outlandish explanation. But somehow he knew he was right. "You...felt what happened to your twin, didn't you? Like you felt that patient's injuries this morning."
Maddie's fingers slid from his arms. Her body fell slack as she withdrew into that mind he wanted—needed—to understand.
"Somehow," he added, "you survived what happened to your family. You thrived. Excelled, after a trauma that should have devastated you. But something happened along the way. At some point over the last year, you stopped being able to deal with people and their feelings. With the patients and doctors constantly streaming in and out of the ER. And..." It was difficult to believe. "...No matter how much you've resisted my help or Yates', I think you've known what's been happening since it started. Because...you felt the same thing happen before—to Sarah."
He let Maddie slide from beneath him.
"I c-c-can't do this." She trembled as she stood. Instead of bolting for the door again she slowly headed for the kitchen, her expression a devastating blank. "I tried. I thought I could take the control back. Focus. Get better so I could get back to work... But I can't. I...need... I need to..."
Jarred could hear her teeth chattering. But nothing showed on her face when she turned toward him. That degree of internalization could rip a mind apart.
"Stop trying to handle this on your own." He reached his feet, too, but he didn't shadow her this time. He'd already pushed too hard. Too much. Be her doctor, man. Keep her safe. Nothing else matters right now. "Whatever condition you and your twin share, it's better to face it than keep hiding. Once we're sure what we're dealing with, we can figure out a solution."
"Together," he promised.
Jarred had no business promising her anything—not when it was clear that his involvement was part of what was terrifying Maddie. He should leave and transfer her case to another doctor who would monitor and manage it more professionally. He'd almost convinced himself to do just that, screw his selfish compulsion to keep this woman close, when Maddie drew a revolver from the drawer of the cabinet she'd stopped beside.
"Temple..." He breathed her name calmly, while he mentally kicked his own ass for not hospitalizing her when he'd had the chance. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I don't want to..." She stared at the gun, gone from him.
He felt it, as if she were someone else, somewhere else, and the nightmarish image before him was just a dream. She didn't see him slide closer as she lifted the deadly monster. Turned it. Pointed it at her head.
"I can't m-make it s-s-stop," she said. "I-I have to—"
He grabbed her hand and pulled the gun away from her head.
"No!" She fought him.
"Drop it!" He yanked her arm down. Pried her fingers back until he could rip the weapon away.
"You're smarter than this, Maddie. You're a fighter. You battled for that father's life today. What the hell are you doing trying to throw yours away!"
"Like you care." Her voice was deeper. Not her own. "Like any of you fuckers care. Just let me die, before—-"
He shoved her away and opened the revolver's chamber. The God damned thing was full. The safety was off. He dumped the bullets into his palm and flung the gun across the room.
"Oh, I care," he snapped, terrified for her. "For some reason, I've gotten myself attached to a woman with a death wish who keeps a loaded gun in her house. Which makes me more of a head case than you are, I suppose. Because here I am. Still. Convinced I can help you."
"I..." Clarity returned to Maddie's expression. Tears surged. She was back, the Maddie he knew, staring at the gun that had landed near the window sheers. "I've never seen that before in my life..."
Her gaze begged Jarred to believe her.
And for some inexplicable reason, he did. Just like he'd accepted every other crazy thing that had happened that day. The question was, what did he do next? Call an ambulance? Commit her to an indefinite psych hold, the way he would anyone else? But he couldn't abandon her that way. Not Maddie.
He was certifiable.
"How did the gun get into your kitchen?" he asked.
"I...I have no idea..." She scraped her nails up and down her arms.
He drew her hands to her side.
"Just let you die," he repeated, "before what?"
Maddie putting a gun to her head hadn't been a cry for help. There'd been determination in her eyes. Conviction. And he was certain she hadn't been aware of what she was doing.
"I...I don't...remember," she answered.
"You don't remember what?"
She jerked and focused on him as if she'd just realized who she was talking to.
"Let me help you." He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand, trying to soothe his own panic and fear as much as hers. "Technically, I have an obligation to admit you for observation. You just tried to kill yourself. But returning to the hospital's not the answer for you, is it? Not tonight. Not any night until we can find a way to keep what other people are feeling from hurting you." He might as well put it all on the line. The impossible, implausible thoughts that had been rambling around his mind since Maddie left the hospital. "That's what happened in the ER, wasn't it? When you got sick after diagnosing your patient and dealing with Britton's outburst. All of it...gets inside you somehow."
A small nod was her only response.
"But... Being around me doesn't hurt as much, right?" He relaxed a bit after her next reluctant nod. "Then let me help take care of you until we know more. Or are you trying to wind up in a padded cell next to your sister's across town?"
From "Dark Legacy." Copyright Anna DeStefano, 2009.