I woke up groaning. My shoulders and back were killing me. I also had a throbbing itch in one of my legs, but I was so caught up in trying to move my upper body without moving my head that I couldn’t tell which one it was. I also couldn’t seem to get my eyes to open. They felt like they were crusted together. I tried to lift my hands to my face to wipe them away, but someone grabbed my hand before I could more than half lift them.
“Yeah, hold on. We had to tie you to the bunk last night so you’d finally get some rest.”
A few hazy images of stumbling around a makeshift operating room until I had to be propped up by one of my assistants wandered to the front of my mind, but they were immediately banished by the memory of why. “Shit.”
“You can be angry as you want, Cap, but you gotta direct it at me because not even Camille was willing to try to stop you. I had to carry you out of there.” Lucas rustled over me for a minute and then I felt the tension on my chest and shoulders lessen. Before I could move, he also pressed a warm, damp cloth into my hands.
“No, not that.” I gingerly lifted my hands to my face and wiped away the built up gunk around my eyes. “Jonathan.”
“Oh.” My first sight, after opening my grimy-feeling eyes, was Lucas looking off toward the door of the bunkroom. “Yeah.”
“Did…” I looked down at my hands and twisted the damp rag until moisture beaded on its surface. “Did anyone make it?”
Lucas nodded. “You managed to save a few lives, Mar. You couldn’t save everyone, but none of them would have had a chance if you hadn’t tried. No one else was able to save anyone, though.”
I nodded, swallowing past the lump in my throat as I remembered trying to find the bullet in Jonathan, only a couple of minutes after he’d been carted away, and feeling his heart spot as I frantically tried to remember what to do about his damaged lung. “Shit, Lucas.”
Lucas turned back to me, wiping at his misty eyes. “We haven’t buried anyone yet. We were waiting for you to wake up while we tended to the minor injurious and prepared everyone for burial. Once you’re ready, we can start.”
I nodded and tried to haul myself to my feet. Only after I’d put weight on my throbbing leg did I remember my shrapnel wounds from the night before. “Double-shit. I need someone to pull some metal out of my leg.”
“What?” Lucas had hauled himself to his feet and pulled a makeshift crutch out from beneath his chair, so his spin to look at me knocked over his chair and the bunk I’d been sitting on. “What’re you talking about?”
“I got hit in the leg and just taped over it.” I gestured to the swath of silver coating my leg. “I need someone to pull the bits out and clean the wounds before they get infected.”
“Right. You’re two doors down from your operating room, so just head there and I’ll send someone over to do that.” Lucas gently pushed the chair out of his way and then hobbled off toward the door. “Glad you’re alright, Mar.”
“You too, Lucas.”
“Want me to send Nat in with Cam, to make the picking and report more palatable?”
“If she can be spared.”
“Of course.” Lucas nodded and, as he turned to leave, muttered “given the shape we’re in, we’re not going anywhere soon.”
I sighed and, after a deep breath that made my head throb, limped down the hall to my trashed operating room. All of the blood had been cleaned up and someone had taken away all the used tools to be sanitized, but there were still piles of bandages in the corner, covered by a giant wad of the sanitary paper mats we used to ensure our people were at least resting on something clean. I spread a new one on the table and settled myself on it to wait for someone with steadier hands. While I waiting, I carefully cut the tape and my pants away from my leg and checked the wound for signs of infection.
Natalie was the first in the door and would have rushed over to me immediately if I wasn’t in the process of poking at one of the sharp metal bits that was actually sticking out of my leg. I was still too tired to feel anything but the pain in my head and the knot in my back, so I was doing my best to check the depth of some of them before it started hurting enough to break through my mental fog. Instead, she walked around behind me, kissed me on the back of the head, and started gently pulling on my shoulders.
“Marshall, leave that alone.”
I did as she said and leaned back against her. “Hi, Natalie.”
“I’m glad you’re okay.”
“How are you? You looked pretty beaten up the last time I saw you.”
Natalie gently patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry. It wasn’t anything a good night’s sleep and a shower couldn’t fix. Jonathan and I were trying to play them while we waited for Cam to bust us out.” I felt Natalie stiffen a bit. “It worked pretty well, for the most part.”
I bobbed my head up and down. “I wish I could have saved him.”
“I know. You did your best and you did more than anyone could have hoped. Three people will get to live who probably wouldn’t have without your help.”
“Jonathan could have saved them all. Hell, even Tristan could have. None of them were particularly complicated or difficult for someone who knows-”
I considered letting my mouth ramble on for a while, but I trusted Natalie’s opinions. After a moment, she went back to absently patting my shoulder. I leaned back into her for a moment longer before sitting up again. “If no one else gets here soon, I’m going to start pulling shrapnel out on my own”
“Cam will be along in a minute and she’s probably in the best shape to clean you up anyway. She made it through unharmed again, aside from some bruised knuckles.”
“Luckiest woman alive, she is.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Natalie leaned around and kissed me on the side of my jaw that wasn’t bruised. “I think she’s got some competition for that title.”
I was about to turn my head for a proper kiss, tension-be-damned, when the door bounced open and Camille walked in. I sighed and settled for leaning back against Natalie again. “Patch me up, doc.”
“Sure thing. Take two of these and you won’t feel a thing.” Camille handed me a couple of tablets that I popped. “You look like shit, Cap.”
“And you look like you got everything you wanted for Christmas.”
Camille smirked as she grabbed the clean forceps off the table. “I killed a bunch of assholes and, despite being entirely captured, most of us are still alive. We lost a lot of good people, but everyone still alive at this point should stay that way unless I totally botch this.”
“That’s not a status report.” I frowned at Camille who was smiling evilly at me.
Camille’s smile flickered for a moment. “No, I’m waiting until the pain meds start to kick in before I give you that. It’ll make it easier to do if you’re mostly out.”
“There are a dozen Wayfinders in good health and three more who are still at risk. You did a good job of keeping them alive, but there’s still a chance they might not make it. We have seven Nomad children, only five of which still have both parents. Three of the male Nomads are still alive, as are eight of the Nomad women which includes that badass grandma who killed almost as many bandit shitheads as most of us Wayfinders did. We’ve captured nine Laborers, but it looks like only six will survive their wounds without medical care which I’ve refused to waste on those traitors.
“Let me know if this hurts at all.” Camille bent over my leg and started pulling shards of metal out, slowly and carefully. It twinged a little, but I barely felt it. “We’ve got thirteen bandits who surrendered immediately and about that many who will survive their injuries. Give or take a few. Some of the injured ones tried to escape, and I would be surprised if they survived their additional wounds.”
Natalie pulled out the wing of the table and pressed me down against it. “That would be a small blessing. We’ve only got our original supplies plus maybe another couple of days’ worth. One of the last things the resisting bandits did was burn their larders. Our stuff only survived because it’s still sitting outside to stay cold or in a storeroom in the eastern wing.”
“How’s that going…” I shook my head a little to clear the thickening fog. “Are we going to be alright if we wait here to heal?”
“Only if we are ready to leave in three weeks.” Natalie sighed. “Which isn’t enough time but that’s the maximum time we can stay if we’re going to make it to any of the supply depots I remember. Jonathan had the full list, and I know there are some closer, but I can’t remember exactly where.”
I closed my eyes and nodded, fighting back another pointless wave of guilt. “Got it.”
“And even that is only if we used the healthy bandits and laborers to gather the local supplies I found and then almost immediately send them away.”
Camille looked up at Natalie, her face shifting from concentration to frustration. “We don’t have enough healthy people to monitor a group like that. I’d need at least five people for the twenty-ish people who would include and we’ve only got two other uninjured people.”
“There are a few others who are lightly injured. By the morning, they should be well enough to help out.”
Camille frowned and went back to working on the last couple holes. “I guess. I don’t like it.”
“It’ll only be one trip.” Natalie patted my hand when I grimaced at the sensation of Camille digging around in my leg.
“I guess that’s alright.” I yawned. “I think all the pain was the only thing keeping me–” I yawned again, “–awake.”
“Then sleep. Your face looks like a nightmare.” Camille waved a hand at my face. “Sleep. I’ll take care of turning the prisoners into pack mules before sending them on their way. We’ll take care of the burials tomorrow evening, after I’ve finished with them.”
“Alright.” I gingerly wiped at my eyes. “I love you, Natalie.”
“I love you too, Marshall.” Natalie leaned down and gingerly kissed me on the lips. I felt my face pull into a slightly painful smile as I let myself drift off.