I kept walking toward Thom and J.T. A few people paused in digging to wave as I passed, and I waved back, not quite seeing who they were. I was too focused on my quarry.
“So is he going to live?” I asked, forcing a smile at J.T., who turned as I approached and gave me a brief smile. Thom came upright as soon as he heard my voice, then leaned back again, putting a hand to his side and hissing softly. I winced right along with him and reached for his free hand as I came close enough. His fingers slid into mine, cool and strong, and he squeezed my hand for a moment.
“How long have you been awake?” he asked.
“He’s been a pain in the ass without your moderating influence,” J.T. said, giving me a wink and a smile. I laughed even though it made my ribs ache a little.
“Not long,” I said, shifting my weight to my steadier leg. “Enough time for Matt to bring me shoes and give me a quick overview of everything I missed.” I looked at J.T., irrationally needing further confirmation of what Matt had already told me. “Everyone’s going to be okay?”
“As long as they all stop pulling stupid stunts, yeah.” He crouched to start unwrapping Thom’s ankle, making quick work of it.
“It did seem maybe a little stupid,” Thom murmured, looking up at me and away from his purpled, swollen ankle. “But I did what I had to do. What felt right.” His fingers laced more tightly through mine, as if he was afraid I’d disappear if he didn’t hold on with all his strength. “I couldn’t lose you,” he whispered. “I was afraid I was going to. So I just moved.”
“Yeah, well, you’re stuck with me,” I said with a grin, trying to make light of it. I really could have been killed by that thing, and I knew it, but he was already scared enough as it was. “Now stop doing stupid shit.”
“Succeed,” I told him, still grinning a grin I didn’t really feel, one that faded as I caught sight of Carolyn. She was coming toward the three of us, a look of relief mingled with worry on her face.
“You’re awake! I’m glad.” She hugged me tightly, then rocked back against her heels, holding me at arms’ length. “How do you feel?”
“Well enough. What’s wrong?”
She smiled sheepishly. “It’s all over my face, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, a little bit,” I said quietly. Thom squeezed my fingers before I let go. “Going to tell me?”
She gave Thom a quick look, then took me by the arm and led me away from him, away from the digging and the tents, toward the ward lines. She kept her voice low as we walked.
“All the wards are completely destroyed. I’ve tried to put them back together and get them set—Drew and Rory helped—but I’m really no good at this. I don’t have any idea what I’m doing. Someone had to do something, though.”
I felt a nervous little flutter in the pit of my stomach. “Has anything happened since that day? Since the fight?”
She shook her head. “No. But I went out as soon as I could to have a look at everything. Drew came, too, and he tried to help me but neither of us are very sure how effective we were, y’know? Rory went out with the both of us later for a second look. Drew said it’s been a long time since he tried to ward anything like this. It’s a lot of ground to cover.”
“I don’t know how much better I’ll be able to do,” I said quietly. Nervousness continued to bubble up inside my belly, making me feel a little nauseous. I tried to tamp it down. “I’ve never been able to do a whole lot with that kind of thing—not without Kel’s help.”
“She’s still out,” Carolyn murmured mournfully. “I’m starting to really, really worry Mar. The scar and what Jac did and I…I don’t know what to make of it. She’s got to wake up.”
“She will,” I whispered. I’ve seen too much to believe she won’t. She will, and I know she will.
“But when? She needs to eat. Real food. We’ve gotten some water into her and some broth but that’s it.” Carolyn sighed. “It’s terrible,” she said softly. “I just don’t know what to do.”
I shook my head quickly. “You don’t have to know, Care. None of us know! We’re all flying by the seat of our pants. Working together, though, that’s going to get us through.”
“Sometimes I’m not so sure.”
I smiled wryly. “Sometimes I’m not sure, either. But we’ll make it. That much I know for sure.” I gave her a squeeze. “C’mon, let’s have a look at the wards. Then I can eat something. I’m starving.” My stomach growled to punctuate my words.
We both laughed and kept on walking. The sooner I had a look at those wards, the better—and not just for my stomach’s sake.
For all our sakes.
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