Chapter 15

Danica had assumed everyone would be asleep by the time they returned, but the house was brightly lit. Every light in the house seemed to be on. It seemed that when their own were in danger, no one was comfortable. It was oddly comforting to see the lights.

Tyrus and Rainey walked on either side of Malachi, who had trouble walking on his own. Danica followed closely behind, covered in blood and crying.

"Ginger!" Rainey shouted. "Put some towels down in the kitchen floor. And get me a washcloth, a pan of water, and a pair of scissors. Hurry!"

Ginger darted into the house ahead of them, Bug following to help her get the stuff. The three men started up the porch steps, walking slow for Malachi. He stumbled on the last step, falling to his hands and knees with a sharp cry. Rainey and Tyrus pulled him to his feet, ignoring his groan of protest. Ginger had left the front door open for them, so that posed no obstacle.

The other rebels had gathered downstairs, waiting anxiously to see who had been injured. When Malachi staggered in, they gathered, exchanging glances with those around them with fear in their eyes, and helped them get him into the kitchen.

Ginger and Bug already had everything waiting. Three towels were spread out on the floor, and they eased Malachi onto them carefully, making sure to avoid his many cuts and scrapes.

"I'll need help," Rainey said. "The bullet is deep. Tyrus, if you'll…hold his legs. Danica—can you take his head?"

Eyes wide, she nodded. She sat down on her knees at his head, staring down at his pale, blood-smeared face. Tyrus placed his knees against Mal's thighs, holding him down. To her surprise, Malachi grimaced and slowly raised his arms.

"You should probably make sure I can't hit him," he explained. "Put your knees…ugh…on my arms here." He gestured with his shoulder and chin where she should sit. She put her knees on his upper arms, and he gripped her ankles in his hands. He rested his head in her lap, where she stroked his hair soothingly.

Rainey used the scissors to cut away the shirt and pull it away from his work space. Then, he used the wet washcloth to wipe away some of the blood so he could better see the gash. He exchanged a quick glance with Tyrus and Danica, and then his fingers delved inside Malachi's abdomen, moving quickly and roughly to get it over as fast as possible.

Malachi's back arched, blood dripping off his side. A choked scream escaped his lips, making more tears spring to Danica's bloodshot eyes. She bit her lip, pressing against his chest to lower him back down. His arms jerked against her weight, hands tightening around her ankles.

"Damn it," Rainey hissed. "I can't find it." His elbow twisted, and Danica could only imagine what his fingers had done inside Malachi's body to cause the scream that issued from his lips.

The other rebels in the room watched in utter silence. Some had their hands over their mouths. Ginger had buried her face in Bug's shoulder. But everyone was present, supporting their injured comrade and praying that he made it through.

Malachi's hips bucked in response to the pain, his body doing whatever necessary to force the source of discomfort out. Tyrus's hands shot out like snakes and shoved his hips back down. Malachi turned his face into Danica's thigh. She could feel the dampness of tears there, feel his hot breath through her jeans.

"Please, Rainey, please…" He whimpered.

"I'm trying, Malachi."

His breath caught in his throat, and he strained to keep it at bay. It came out in a pleading, wordless cry. His shoulders jerked beneath her, trying to free himself. Danica used one hand to force his eyes up to hers. Her other hand went to his bare chest, palm flat against his clammy skin.

"Malachi, look at me," she said softly.

To everyone's surprise, his struggles almost entirely stopped and he stared up at her.

"I want you to nod if it helps, okay?" She instructed. She closed her eyes, trying desperately to focus her entire mind on her hand at his chest. She remembered finding him in the bathroom that first night, how she'd wanted nothing more than to return the kindness he'd shown her. She focused on that now, on her desire for nothing more than to end his pain.

She felt him nod against her leg. She opened her eyes, keeping her mind on the idea of helping him to help her stay concentrated. His eyes were closed, a light frown on his face, but he was amazingly calm. She smiled, stroking his cheek with her free hand.

"Thank you," Rainey said.

"Please hurry. My concentration tends to wander, whether I want it to or not." She didn't dare take her eyes from Malachi's face even as she spoke. She wouldn't risk causing him more pain. She saw Rainey nod out of the corner of her eye.

Malachi opened his eyes, dark chocolate meeting light blue. His breathing was still slightly uneven, and she knew that was because she wasn't perfect at this yet. She couldn't take away all of his pain. He wasn't out of the forest, yet. He turned his face toward her hand and kissed her palm.

He gritted his teeth suddenly, body jerking in surprise and snarling through his teeth. Danica's eyes turned toward Rainey, who was pulling his fingers away. His hand was slick with bright red blood, but pinched between his forefinger and thumb was the shiny bullet.

Malachi's entire body went lax with relief.

"Thank the stars," Ginger whispered.

Eyes closed, Malachi turned his face into her thigh again, trying to calm his breathing and his tense muscles.

"Collin," Rainey said softly, staring at Malachi's exhausted countenance. "Go get me that medical kit from the bathroom upstairs."

"Son of a bitch," Malachi whispered.

"You need stitches, Malachi, or this will never heal correctly. Not to mention it's still bleeding. And I need to check the cuts on your right side to make sure you don't have any glass stuck in them."

He nodded. "I do. I can feel it."

"Then we'll need the tools to dig them out."

Mal sighed, not bothering to reply. His fingers relaxed around her ankles, and she carefully moved her knees from his arms, allowing him to move freely. He kept his head in her lap, and his right hand wrapped around hers on his chest.

"…So tired," he whispered.

"Don't fall asleep," she said, squeezing his hand. "It's still too dangerous."

He nodded. "Okay…"

Collin tripped as he hit the bottom of the stairs, startling everyone. He didn't crash to the linoleum, which Danica thought was a step up from his usual gracefulness. He placed the kit beside Rainey, who opened it up professionally and prepared the needle.

Malachi didn't even grimace when the curved needle pierced his skin. His breathing became a little lighter so he wouldn't move his stomach so much, but other than that he gave no indication that he felt it at all. Danica continued to run her fingers through his hair, concentrating on numbing the pain. She poked him every other minute to make sure he was still awake, and he would respond by patting her hand.

"All done," Rainey said, sitting back on his heels. "Can you get your arm out of your coat, Mal?"

Malachi rolled slightly onto his left side, wincing, and pulled his hand gingerly from his sleeve with minor help from Danica. Rainey moved to see the cuts there, pulling the pan of water with him. He gently dabbed at the wounds with the washcloth, clearing away the dried blood.

The coat had sustained most of the window's wrath. It was tattered and torn to bits. Malachi's arm, however, had few deep scratches. There was a particularly nasty gash in his upper arm that had a shard of glass protruding from it, which Danica knew would need stitches without having any medical training at all. Rainey took the shard carefully between forefinger and thumb and pulled it out slowly. Malachi growled but didn't move. Three stitches sealed up that minor danger. Tweezers did the job for the rest of his arm, pulling out the tiny slivers of shiny glass whenever Malachi would flex his arm and show him where he could feel them.

When the stitched wounds were covered with gauze and taped to his skin, Rainey finally announced, "All done." He sat back and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I fell out a four-story window and onto a car," Malachi muttered, eyes closed. His sarcasm lacked its usual bite, like he was too tired to put any emotion into it.

"Really? How ironic," Rainey replied, not missing a beat. "Can you walk? We'll take you up to your room to rest."

"Am I allowed to sleep?"

"I think we can allow that, yeah."

"Okay. I'll give it a shot."

He had to roll over first to his hands and knees and sit up that way. Tyrus and Rainey took their place at his sides and helped pull him to his feet. Danica followed closely behind. He stumbled a few times on his way up the stairs, but the others were always there to catch him.

They deposited him on the bed, and Rainey brought a chair from another room in and placed it by the bed.

"I'll be in to check on him later," he explained to Danica. "Look out for him, okay? If anything seems amiss, come get me."

She nodded. "Thank you, Rainey."

He smiled sympathetically and followed Tyrus out the door. Danica turned to see Malachi staring at her, though every time he closed his eyes it looked like a small struggle took place to reopen them. She crawled under the blankets and helped him get under them as well, pulling them up to cover his bare chest.

She didn't speak, and neither did he. She just listened to his breath finally even out, indicating he was asleep—or unconscious. She watched his face for some sign of discomfort in rest, but he seemed serene now that his mind was away from the pain.

Danica leaned back against the headboard, letting her eyes fall closed. What a horrible night this had turned into.