It all happened too quickly.
One second, Thom was negotiating with the band’s leader, the next he was on the ground. I didn’t even see Phelan draw and fire the first shot, though I saw the head raider sprout an arrow through his chest, watched a pistol tumble from his hand as he dropped to his knees.
“If one of you so much as twitches for a weapon, you’ll be next.”
I didn’t stay where Thom told me to stay. My heart trying to hammer its way clear of my chest, I marched forward, toward the spot where J.T., Matt, and a few others filled the gap between the walls.
Thom was on the ground, blood flowing from his side.
“Shoot them!” someone behind the lead raider shouted.
Phelan loosed another arrow just as Paul whipped his shotgun up and fired. A moment later, all I could hear was the sound of shotguns and automatic weapons.
I wedged myself between J.T. and Matt and joined the firing line, though my gaze kept straying to Thom. He wasn’t moving. I couldn’t tell if he was breathing.
Don’t you dare leave me now, Thomas. Don’t you dare.
J.T. stumbled back from my side with a grunt, blood spattering my face abruptly. I glanced sidelong. He was clutching his arm, but whatever it was didn’t look that serious.
At least, I hoped it wasn’t.
In the field, without cover to hide behind, the raiders were going down—some wounded, others dead.
By the time the smoke cleared, more of theirs had gone down than ours. J.T. and Jack were both walking wounded.
“Drop your weapons,” I barked. “And keep your hands where I can see them or I’ll blow your balls off.”
The half dozen that were still standing took one look at me and did as they were told, tossing their weapons on the ground and putting their hands up.
I strode out into the killing fields, waving for Paul and my brother to back me.
Phelan, for once, had avoided so much as a scratch and bounded down from his perch as quickly as he could at the sound of voices shouting that they surrendered out in the field. I would’ve rather he kept his perch, but if he felt his place was at my back—or at Thom’s side, which I hoped was more likely—I would take it. Carolyn scuttled out behind us, heading toward Thom.
Thanks, Care. I walked toward the crumbled body of the leader. He’d fallen completely over, all the life gone from his eyes as I looked down at him. My gaze scythed across the field, finally landing on the six men still standing.
I pointed at the weapons on the ground. “Paul. Matt. Start gathering these up.” I kept on staring at the six men. “We’re burning the bodies tonight by the road.”
Two of the six men exchanged nervous glances. A third swallowed hard, shifting from one foot to the other.
I let them stew for a moment longer. “You six can take a week’s worth of food from your supplies. You don’t get any weapons, you don’t get any ammunition, but you get your lives, which is far more than you deserve.” I raised my voice. “Rory, Drew!”
They materialized a few moments later nearby, Greg and Kellin trailing a few steps behind them. Greg ducked past us toward the five prisoners in the wagons. The six men kept their hands up, still looking nervous—probably because we still had people on the walls aiming weapons at them.
I jerked my chin toward the six. “Watch them while they get their supplies. Then pick four other people and walk them to the far end of campus. I don’t want to see them here ever again.”
Rory nodded. “We’ve got them.”
I nodded and turned back, moving toward where Thom lay. Carolyn’s hands were slick with blood as she pressed both of them against the side of Thom’s chest.
“How bad?” I asked, crouching down. I reached toward his face, brushing my hand along his cheek and jaw. His skin was cool, but not frigid, and he was still breathing.
She shook her head. “I’m not sure. It hasn’t stopped bleeding, though, but I think it pinged a rib. He’s not going to be happy when he wakes up.” She looked past me. “Where’s Jay?”
“Probably finding Jac so he can worry about seeing to his own shoulder while she deals with this.” I pressed my fingers into the hollow near the corner of Thom’s jaw, feeling for a pulse.
There it is. Slow and steady, but it’s there.
For the first time since the fighting started, my heart began to beat normally again.
“You don’t think you were a little harsh?” Kellin asked softly as she came up behind me.
I stared at Thom’s pale face for a moment before I shook my head.
“Nope. Not at all.”
Winter – Chapter 20 – 01
It all happened too quickly.