I knew the moment Clara pulled me through the portal that I was dangerously far from Aretha. I could feel the shift before I could hear my own thoughts. That in and of itself was enough to slowly force me awake. The first thing I noticed were all the heartbeats. Trip's and Adra's- and by the sound of it, he'd nearly died- and Zafira's. She was concerned, presumably kneeling beside me. But by far the most striking was the absence of Aretha's. It took me several agonizing minutes of doing absolutely nothing before I had the energy to start to recover.
"Where is Aretha?" I asked Zafira, masking my anxiety as I pushed myself into a sitting position. I knew at that moment she was far weaker than I, and I knew she had enemies in that other universe. If they find her, and I'm not there... I quickly discontinued that line of thought.
"She's... She's still over there." Adra was the first to acknowledge the question.
"She's in the other universe. Clara went back to get her. And you are NOT going to look for her. Clara will get her. You're staying here." Zafira's response. If I was not so preoccupied with Aretha, I likely would've been angry with her. As it was, I nearly laughed, simply out of spite. "I'm sorry. Rest. You'll need your strength now more than ever," She continued a few moments later, and fell asleep on my leg. Are you, really? I marveled for a moment at how cold I could become in defense of another, even without the influence of my more sadistic names, though I suppose that is simply what love does.
"Zafira. Telling me to sit here idly while she..." She may be dying, but I can hardly bring myself to think it, let alone say it aloud... "She is no better than I, if not worse, I am certain. And Clara has not returned. They're likely stuck for whatever reason. I'm not leaving them." And I left her there.
At another time, it would have occurred to me to return her to her home rather than simply leaving her in the dirt, but under the circumstances I could barely think beyond Aretha. You may call me obsessive, yet before you do, consider that Mevolent was out to kill her, and several others as well, and I had last seen her bound and unconscious in the dim lighting of the room I had adopted as a study. Consider, also, that there is nothing in this world I value more than her.
I spent the rest of the night working my way through the cells of an underground terrorist group. Mevolent was a member. I released those who were on their native Earth, and returned those few who weren't, quickly dealing with anyone who crossed my path, until I came across Aretha. Since I could not leave her as she was in either universe, I carried her with me as I continued, searching in as many places as I could reach for anyone out of place. By and by, morning came, and despite the fair number of people I'd repatriated, I had yet to find Clara.
It was remarkably fortunate, in a relative sense, that I happened to be transporting a group of people to my universe directly outside of Adra's laboratory, at the same moment as she ran into the parallel version of herself. I was close enough to the situation to hear a few stray thoughts, and suddenly I realized exactly what the parallel version of myself was sure to do. I made it through the portal to my world just in time to see it shatter behind me, and brought Aretha to the only place she called home. I sent a copy of myself to assist the others while I myself remained with her, balancing the flow of her magic until she recovered enough to fall into a healthy sleep. I swore there would never be a faster way to spend an hour than to listen to her steady beating heart.