Sharon’s Note: Whoo. This has been an emotional trip. I said at the very beginning of this that this has been a form of therapy for me, and I think it’s helped. Not to say that I didn’t cry while writing this last bit (I did. Like a baby), but I talked about some things I usually don’t mention, and it felt good. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride as much as I have, and thanks for sticking with me. Warning: Some language, a little long, and one exposed heart.
My knees were starting to pop. Everytime I put pressure on them to haul myself up, the edge of the step dug into my shin before I rocked to move the weight forward. It was so slow. I’d put my case several steps above me, then slowly crawl my way up to it. Would it be better to rest a moment, or keep going?
I hauled myself up another step, and my knee hit something sharp. I yelped and jerked back. My feet twisted and I slid backwards down the stairs. Panic closed my throat as I tried to turn all the way and sit to stop my fall and my hands flailed for a grip. I kept trying to get a foot out to brace, but they just weren’t responding. There was a cracking noise, and something stabbed into my hip. I screamed.
By pure chance, a foot caught the stairs and my hand found a ballister. The stop was almost as jarring as the fall. My hands trembled as they clutched at the wood and splinters dug into my palms. My bladder released, and I was too tired to stop it. Tears of pain and fear and shame rained down my cheek. I’d pissed myself. I hadn’t done that in . . . no. No. I had to get it together. I couldn’t afford this. Brian and all the other people left alive down there couldn’t afford this. I could cry and hate myself later.
Pain radiated from my left buttock, so I pulled myself over to the other side and felt for the problem. A shard of wood protruded through my jeans. It was probably only a few inches long, but the dull wood jabbing into my flesh was excruciating. I yanked it out and tossed it away. Let the hospital worry about getting out all the splinters. I’d be having a nice long stay with them after this anyway.
The crying wouldn’t stop. That was okay. I could cry all I wanted as long as I didn’t scream again. Didn’t want to draw the wolf. The pain in my literal ass was sharp and persistent. That was fine. Focus on the sharp pain. Ignore all the other ones. And climb. Don’t stop, Just climb.
I reached my case, and kept going. I couldn’t feel below my knees and my hands shook every time I reached out to haul myself up, but I kept going. Time lost all importance. All that mattered was that I kept going.
Half way up, I looked out towards Brian and the protective circle. I froze. I had a clear shot. Higher would have been better, but I could see everything from here. I planted my butt and ignored the pain. It wasn’t helpful anymore.
I went slow. My hands were shaky, and I couldn’t afford to drop anything. With more diligence than I’d ever used before, I took my rifle out of the case. Loading took forever because I had to fight to keep my hands steady. I scooted so I was leaning against the tower. The recoil didn’t matter, but I needed to steady myself. I took the caps off the scope and layed the gun carefully across my lap before flicking on the coms.
“Oh, thank God you’re still there. This circle thing feels horrible. It feels like it’s draining faster than when I picked it up the first time.”
“It probably is, but that’s okay. You’ll only have to hold it for a couple of minutes longer.” My voice didn’t shake at all and I was so proud. “I need you to do one last thing for me. I’m on the observation tower to your right. No, don’t look for me, I don’t think you can see me from that angle. I need you to get the werewolf’s attention. I need him at the circle, with all his attention on you. Can you do that?”
“Yeah.” There was the unmistakable sound of wetting lips. “Yeah. I can do that.”
While he paused to gather his nerve, I took the moment to stop and breathe. I could do this. We could do this.
“Hey, asshole! Yeah, you! Over here! Come and get me you son of a bitch!” Brian’s taunts came distantly through the air as well as the radio.
The wolf had been feasting on a body nearby, but rushed the shield at the sound of challenge. He thrashed and clawed at what looked at empty air, enraged by the audacity of the human that was meeting his eyes. It was a beautiful shot.
I braced myself against the wall. Come on. One shot. I could stop shaking for one shot. Line up the sight. Freeze the muscles in place. Breathe in. Hold. Breath half way out. Squeeze.
The crack of the rifle by my unprotected ear was devastating, and for a second all I could hear was the ringing. The gun jumped from my hand, and I couldn’t stop it. My shoulder ached from being hammered against the wall. The rifle clattered down the stairs, but I didn’t bother to watch it go. All I needed to see was the fine red mist that was slowly raining down after the werewolf’s collapsing body. I closed my eyes and smiled, even as I slumped over.
“Um, Joy? The . . . the werewolf just exploded.”
“Oh, just his head.” I rested against the stairs and didn’t care that they were digging into my side hard enough to bruise. There was nothing else I needed to do, and that felt wonderful. “You can put the circle down now. The retrieval team will be here soon, so just rest.”
I had no idea when the retrieval team would get there. Dawn, probably, but I didn’t know how far that was away. Brian kept talking, but I was starting to drift. It was a sensation between falling asleep and fainting. I let it happen, because I’d done everything I needed to do.
I woke when someone picked me up. My vision was a little sleep blurred until I blinked it clear. It was a tall man I didn’t recognize with shaggy hair and a smile that was gentle and amused.
“I was wondering if you were going to wake up.” I recognized the voice. It was Bernard. He had come. “What are your injuries?”
“Nothing threatening, but I’ll need the hospital.” I squirmed, and my body didn’t want to move. That was okay. Bernard was carrying me like I was made of feathers instead of meat. I’d let him handle the moving for now. “What’s the status of everyone else.”
“Three living on your team, and four civilians. My team is rendering first aid until the medics get here. We’ll let clean up count the bodies.” He sounded oddly cheerful. I supposed finding anyone alive was more than he could hope for.
“Wait. I might not be thinking clearly, but three of my team? There were two in the circle.”
“And a third who they left at the cabins to stop any other civilians from wandering out into the night. His team leader had him sitting there with his coms off so that he couldn’t be talked into leaving.”
I rolled my head back with my eyes closed. “If Mike survives, I may kill him.”
Roland laughed. “He did save lives, but I still think I’m going to see that he’s removed from a leadership position.”
“That might be for the best.” I rested my head against Bernard’s chest, and it was nice. “I hope you don’t mind if I fall asleep again.”
“Feel free. You’ve more than earned it. I have to say, you’ve impressed me tonight. You’re quite the badass.” He smiled in a way that made me blush down to my toes. “I like badass girls.”
“Talk to me after I get out of the hospital,” I mumbled while staring at his shirt collar.
“I’d like to see you during, to, if you don’t mind.”
I had not been aware that I could blush harder. “Yeah. Sure.”
The journey that had taken me so long took no time at all with Bernard carrying me. One we were across the bridge where my car sat, still abandoned, he loaded me into a van where one of his team looked me over. Brian was there too.
He held my hand while the van bumped over the rough park trail. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry I let you believe that there was a team coming.”
“Hey, you saved my life. I am not going to complain. Well, I am, but it’s going to be to a therapist, and it’s going to be about my new crippling fear of the dark, forests, and dogs.”
I snorted as the world started to dim again. “I can recommend a good one. Anyway, I’m gonna pass ou’ now. ‘Night.”
I curled up on the side that hurt less and let myself drift off. I had a big day tomorrow, starting the climb back up to where I’d been before this. I’d need my sleep.