21 Decem, 5249 PD
“’Lana? Can you hear me?”
Alana groaned as consciousness slowly returned. She burned and froze with each heartbeat. Even breathing hurt. Was this what Brendan had been dealing with after he’d stabbed himself in the implant? If it was, she decided that she owed him a lot more credit than she’d ever given him. The room’s dim light felt too bright, even with the shadow hanging over her.
She cracked an eye open and stared at the shadow, swallowing twice before her throat was lubricated enough to speak. “Lindsay?”
Lindsay smiled, nodding. “Yeah. Glad you’re awake.”
“Glad you’re alive,” Alana murmured, then coughed. The movement jarred her arm, setting it to throbbing with each heartbeat. She groaned, squeezing her eyes shut. “I’d gotten to worrying down here.”
Alana opened her eyes again, gaze drifting around the room, taking in the familiar wood paneling, the exposed dark beams of the ceiling with white plaster between them. “What the hell?” she whispered. “Did I dream that?” Was it fever? Something else? Did I dream that I was down in some kind of raid shelter with Ezra? How the hell did I get home?
“It was getting crowded at Ezra’s clinic,” Lindsay said quietly. “He said that you’d need some quiet. I’m trying to stay out of sight with all the excitement going on, so I said I’d come over and keep an eye on you while he’s working. Brendan’s asleep on your couch. I hope you don’t mind.”
“What the hell happened?” Alana winced and tried to push herself up on her good elbow. All it did was make her bad arm hurt worse and unsettle her stomach. The room spun and she dropped flat against her pillows again with a moan.
Lindsay put a mercifully cold hand on her forehead. “Settle down. I’ll tell you what happened if you promise to stay in bed.”
“Better be a good story,” Alana muttered, swallowing bile and trying to master her gut before it could betray her completely.
She lay quietly in her bed as Lindsay told her about the attack two days before, about the black ships and the unknown enemy that had come with the clear intent of terrifying the population into submission—and, failing that, murdering them all so they could be supplanted. It all sounded too achingly familiar to Alana, who’d read the accounts of the attacks on Mimir, heard the stories. Her good hand fisted in her blankets as Lindsay spoke in low tones about the casualties and the damage done.
“Who was it?” Alana finally whispered as Lindsay finished. “Do we know yet?”
“No one’s taking credit for it,” Lindsay said, only a bare trace of bitterness in her voice. “Not yet, anyway. There hasn’t been a return visit, though, either, so I’m guessing we can count ourselves as lucky.”
“Lucky,” Alana whispered. “I guess that’s one way to put it.” She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment. “The Inspector…will he make it?”
“Ezra’s been working hard to make sure he will. That was part of the reason Brendan and I wanted to get you out of the clinic beyond the space issue.”
A bitter laugh escaped her lips. “He was worried about me.”
“Too worried,” Lindsay said. “He was distracted every time you so much as coughed. You’ve got the fever from hell, but it’s nothing some antivirals, painkillers, and sleep won’t fix.”
“I feel like hell,” Alana admitted. “When we were down in that shelter, I started to push myself too hard and I went down hard. Fever started spiking again. It’s my fault.”
“You’ll be okay,” Lindsay said. She stretched, leaning back in the chair she’d drawn up to Alana’s bedside. From the other room, they could hear the faint sound of Brendan snoring. Alana’s nose wrinkled.
“He doesn’t usually do that.”
“Too much gunk from when that bomber crashed almost on top of him. It’s better than it was a couple days ago. His sinuses are still clogged up.” She smiled weakly. “Ezra said he’d be fine and I told him that if he was telling me lies, I’d tie his balls in a knot. Sorry. I’m pretty sure you like those.”
Alana couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled up from somewhere she’d kept long hidden from the world. She half curled onto her side, ignoring the pain in her arm, gasping out her laughter as tears gathered in her eyes. “Oh god,” she wheezed. “Lindsay, you didn’t actually say that, did you?”
“Oh, I absolutely did,” Lindsay said, her voice thick with gravitas. “Better yet, he believed me.”
“Is Brendan okay?”
“He seems like it—not any different than he was when you guys first got back from rescuing my parents, anyway, not by much. He’s mobile and talking and seems pretty okay, but I know his ribs hurt like hell and he’s been getting pretty nasty headaches the past couple of days. Ezra did some scans, though, and he said that his skull’s not broken or anything and he doesn’t show any new neurological trauma. We just have to wait it out and see what happens.”
Alana reached a tentative hand toward Lindsay’s belly, still flat and showing no sign of her pregnancy. “And you?”
Lindsay caught her fingers and squeezed. “I’m fine,” she whispered to her cousin and longtime protector. “I’ll be even better when you guys are back to normal. Until then…it is what it is and I’ll do what I can to help where I can. Right now, I o that by keeping an eye on the two of you and staying the hell out of the way an mostly out of sight.”
“That can’t be easy.”
Lindsay shrugged. “It’s a lot easier than you’d think it would be. There’s so much going on, no one’s really noticing that I’m only turning up for Council meetings and checking up on things happening in Ezra’s clinic.”
“You think everything’s going to be okay?”
Her eyes focused on something distant at Alana’s question and she seemed to consider that long and hard—long enough and hard enough that Alana started to regret asking the question.
“Eventually,” Lindsay whispered. “Eventually, everything’s going to be okay. There’s a storm we’ll have to make it through first, though, and that storm’s still brewing.
“It’s coming. It’s just not here yet.”
Alana shivered at the certainty of the younger woman’s words and not for the first time thanked her lucky stars that she didn’t have to live with Ryland LeSarte’s gift.
She just had to safeguard the woman who did.