I lay awake with Thom’s arms around my waist, watching as the sky went from a flat slab of sullen blue-black to a twisting mass of navy and slate gray as the sun struggling to rise on the eastern horizon. There had been no rain last night, for the first time in days, but I held out no hope that the day would be more of the same. The constantly moving clouds above promised some sort of precipitation. It was only going to get worse for a while before it got better.
At least, that’s what Matt had told me quietly at dinner. My instincts said he was probably right.
There were only thirty-five of us now, with three more slipped away the day after I’d woken up screaming. I already knew we’d never see them again. Our numbers were growing smaller day by day. How were we going to survive?
I knew we would, though. Somehow, we would.
Thom pressed a kiss to the back of my neck through my hair, mumbling, “Is it time for that logistics meeting yet?”
“I don’t think it’s time yet,” I whispered back, running my hands along his arms before twining my fingers with his. “Why are you awake?”
“Just am.” He kissed my neck again, gave me a squeeze, then started sitting up. It was still an ordeal; his ribs still bothered him more than he’d admitted to me and his torso was a mass of purple-black bruises. He tried to hide how much pain he was in and he succeeded in large part with everyone except for J.T. and I. We both knew him a little too well for that.
I sat up, too, blankets slipping away from both of us. I shivered a little in the chill of the morning, feeling more like it was October than August. My arm was still sore from where the grays had clipped me, but the mark they’d left was slowly fading. We hadn’t fought since that day. It was almost a relief—almost, because I knew the respite wouldn’t last, but for the moment, I’d take it because it was all I was going to get. At least he believed me about what I could see. That was a victory, at least.
“Who’s on the watch?” Thom asked as he grasped my shoulder for extra leverage. He got himself fully into a sitting position with a wince, one hand unconsciously going to his ribcage.
I tried not to shake my head at him. “Do you want Jay or Jac or Leah to tape those later?”
He glared at me sidelong and shook his head slightly. “It’s not that bad.” I glared back at him and he sagged. “Okay, fine. They hurt, but taping them isn’t going to help.” He squeezed my shoulder and let go. I stared at him for a long moment, trying to decide whether or not I should believe him, then nodded.
“Jac gave you some pills, though, right? Do me a favor and take a couple.”
Thom made a face, watching me as I got up, lit our small camping lantern, and started getting dressed. “Toss me a clean shirt, please.”
I found one and tossed it to him, watching him as he shrugged out of the shirt he’d slept in and into the fresh one. He balled the sleeping shirt up and shoved it beneath our pillows. I took a deep breath. “Are you going to take something?”
He paused. “I really don’t want to, Mar.”
“Thom.” Gods of heaven and earth, don’t be stubborn. Please.
He shook his head. “I know what you’re going to say, but just listen, will you? There’s going to come a time when we won’t have the luxury of pills. Better get used to dealing with pain now rather than later.”
I gave him a long look, trying to choose my words carefully. Calling him galactically stupid came to mind. “Thom, we need you focused on something other than how much you’re hurting for this. Just take the pills. Please?” The look on his face told me he was going to be stubborn. I came back over to the mattress and knelt down next to him, taking his hands. “It’s not a headache or sprain we’re talking about here, Thom, and you know it. Your ankle is broken. I don’t know if your ribs are, but I know they hurt a lot.” He opened his mouth to argue and I shook my head. “Please don’t. I know you well enough to know that they hurt like a bitch and you didn’t want to tell me.” I’m not sure why you didn’t want to tell me, but it’s either good or really stupid, so it’s probably good I don’t know why. “I won’t tell anyone. Just take the pills and feel a little better for a little while, okay?”
His nostrils flared, expression going hard for a moment, then went slack. He looked away from me, taking a deep breath with a wince. “All right,” he whispered. “Just this once.”
Thank the powers that be for small favors. I squeezed his hands and got up to finish getting dressed. He got up a few moments later, hobbling around with his crutch under one arm and keeping his weight off his ankle. The swelling had begun to subside again, though it hardly looked normal.
“Who had the watch this morning?” He asked quietly, tapping two pain pills out into his palm and swallowing them in one go. He grasped my arm as he started to pull on a pair of jeans.
We’d started setting watches almost from day one, three shifts a night, two volunteers a shift. The first shift was always the easiest, since most of us still lingered around the campfires until at least halfway through it. J.T. and Rory had taken most of the graveyard shifts during the darkest parts of the night, though they couldn’t keep doing that forever. Stasia Lane had been taking the early morning shifts since we’d found the livestock, since she went to tend them in the other tent as soon as someone else got up in the morning.
“Stasia and Jack,” I said, holding still until he was finished getting dressed. “I’ll wake the fires and get some hot water going.” I watched him as he reclaimed his crutch and hobbled over to where he’d stashed his drafting supplies. “It’s too dark, still, for you to be drawing, Thom.”
“I know, but when you get the fire going and we get those lamps up for the meeting, it’ll be bright enough to see and not everyone’s seen these plans yet.”
I nodded a little, turning down the lamp before I picked it up. The sky wasn’t much lighter than it was fifteen minutes ago, but as we headed toward the nearest fire, I could see red starting to tinge the clouds in the east, a warning of piss-poor weather to come.
Red sky at morning means bad things coming on within the next couple hours. I tried not to wince. Thom followed my gaze and grimaced.
“Looks like we’ll be battening down the hatches before this pow-wow, huh?”
“Looks like,” I agreed with a frown. I caught his free hand with mine and squeezed it. “Go sit by the fire. I’m going to wake my brother. Jack and I can’t get those walls up alone, and Stasia’s going to need to see to the animals before the storm hits.”
“Wake Brandon, too,” Thom suggested, fingers tightening around mine before letting go.
I blinked at him. “Why Brandon?”
“He can help with the animals.” I must have been giving him a very strange look because he just shook his head. “Call it a hunch, Mar. Wake him. He’ll be happy to feel useful, anyway.”
A hunch, huh, Thom? I nodded. “All right. Try not to fall into the fire while you’re poking it back to life, huh?”
Thom grinned. “Am I that predictable?”
“Only with me.” I smiled at him and we parted ways, he to wake the fire and get some water going, me to start rousing some of the camp. Something was telling me this storm was going to be unpleasant, and we’d need quite a few hands on deck to be up to its challenge.
Want to help support Awakenings?
Want to chip in to support Awakenings? Buy Erin a coffee through ko-fi and fuel her creativity with a little caffeine.
Want to help support all of Erin’s writing endeavors?
Thank you to my supporters!
Thank you to all of my supporters at Patreon, especially Karen L. Klitzke and Brandon!
Where we’re listed