They’d been walking at least a couple of hours when he stopped, his hand coming out to halt her as well. “Is that a building?” He squinted into the woods.
She looked in that direction and finally spotted the structure, well hidden in the trees. She nodded. “Yes, I think so. Does that mean there’s a road?”
“Let’s find out.”
Some innate caution caused him to slow, and she didn’t argue, going quiet herself as they approached the building. There was no sign of life or recent activity. The door was padlocked but the lock itself looked old and rusted. He motioned for her to wait while he checked closer and for the first time she shook her head. “You go left, I’ll go right,” she whispered.
He didn’t like it, but nodded. “Be careful.”
She gave him a quick smile of . . . gratitude, and slipped away, silently. After an instant, he moved off as well. They met on the other side shortly. “Anything?” he asked.
“No, the structure seems sound enough but no one’s here or has been recently that I can tell. You?”
“There’s an outhouse in the back, and a well with a pump,” he grinned, “but you’re right, no trace of a car or truck coming in recently.”
“Why build this place and then not use it?” she asked rhetorically.
He shrugged and moved with her back to the front. He glanced over at the front door. “I’ll get a rock. I don’t think that lock will be too much trouble.”
She nodded and stepped onto the porch to look closer. “I think it’s already broken,” she said over her shoulder and tried the door. The sound of the gun going off paralyzed him for an instant, then he was racing to her as she lay on the weathered wood of the porch.
“Red? Red! Talk to me!” He was checking for her pulse before his knees hit the floor. Blood was coming from her shoulder and she was unconscious. She was breathing and her heartbeat, though rapid, seemed strong.
He had no weapon, though he realized his hand had reached for one automatically. He’d think about that later, but now he had to get her under cover. Then he realized there was no further activity from inside. He stayed low, and pushed the door open with his free hand.
The gun had been set as a booby-trap. Opening the door had pulled the trigger. Not very sophisticated, but it had worked, damn it. Still low, he checked out the inside. No other booby-traps that he could see. He had to get her inside and check her out. First, he crawled to the gun and took it in his hand; a full clip, only one bullet expended and he knew where that one was. No wires crisscrossed on the floor. Damn it, why hadn’t he gone first?
Securing the one room didn’t take long and he was back at her side. “Red?”
Still no response, so he carefully lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bed at the far side of the cabin. It was an old-fashioned iron frame with a double bed mattress. The quilt over it had been colorful at one time but was well faded now.
He laid her gently on the bed and, when she didn’t stir, he turned to see what kind of supplies he could find.
There was a short stack of towels under the washbasin. As he’d suspected, no running water, but he did locate a tin box with a red cross drawn on it, on a shelf in what was obviously the ‘kitchen’ corner. He was loathed to leave her even for an instant, but he needed some water to clean her wound and their bottles were nearly empty. She was still out, so he took the chance, taking both bottles and the enamel washbasin from the stand and headed out to the well.
He was back quickly and took a seat beside her on the bed. “Red? Wake up, please.” He pressed the cleanest looking of the towels to her wound and touched the cool water to her face with his other hand. She opened her eyes and tried to move away from him.
“Don’t try to move. It’s okay, you’re okay.”
“What . . . “
“The place was booby-trapped. You were shot.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Shot?” She looked down at her shoulder. She saw that the towel he had pressed against her wound was rapidly turning red. Her face paled even further.
“Don’t, Red, don’t faint on me again. I need you to talk to me.”
He realized immediately she was asking about the gunshot. “I guess it’s their burglar alarm. Damn effective too. I’m sorry, I - “
“You didn’t shoot me,” she said quietly, seeing the anguish in his face.
He blinked at that, but after a moment nodded. “I, I think the bleeding’s slowing down. How do you feel?”
“Like I should have stayed on the train.” She closed her eyes for a moment.
“Red?” he asked anxiously.
“I’m okay, I mean, I’m not going to faint again. It hurts.”
“I need to check it out.”
She nodded slightly.
“I need to take off your top.”
She opened her eyes then. He was right. In order to see her wound, he would have to remove her t-shirt. “I don’t have anything else.” But she met his eyes and nodded.
“I’ll try not to hurt you.”
“I know,” she said faintly.
He started with her good arm, moving her like a delicate piece of china, holding it over her head and finally slipping the shirt down her wounded arm and off. Her forehead had broken out in a sweat, but she hadn’t cried out.
“How are you doing?” he asked once the shirt was off her.
“I’ve been better,” she said, closing her eyes.
“I don’t want you to go into shock. Let me . . . “ He moved the quilt from beneath her and covered her, leaving only her shoulder exposed.
“Did it go through?”
He shook his head. “It’s still in there. It was only a .22.”
He nodded sadly. “Thank goodness.”
Using extreme care, he washed off her wound. It still looked bad, but not nearly as life threatening now that most of the blood was washed away.
“You know you have to get it out.” She met his eyes and saw his face go as pale as hers probably already was.
“I don’t know nuthin’ about no doctorin’” he tried for a light note.
“Then you’re going to get on-the-job training.”
“Red, I don’t - “
“It has to be done.”
Looking away his eyes landed on the first aid kit. “There’s not much here in the way of supplies.” He opened the tin box and to his relief saw a bottle of rubbing alcohol and bandages, a tin of aspirin and at the bottom a small pair of scissors. He dismissed the rest as fishing equipment.
“You’re going to have to find something to probe the site.”
His head shot up and he looked at her. She just looked back, not saying anything. Silently he turned back to the box and looked around in it. In a moment, he came up with a large needle and a pair of what looked like needle nose pliers.
“I must not be the only one that’s been shot around here,” she said dryly.
“There’re wire cutters too. Wonder if the fishing is good around here.”
She looked up at him puzzled.
“For removing fish hooks from body parts.”
“You are a true font of information.”
“Except what we need,” he responded, checking out her wound again.
“You need to sterilize those things. Go ahead, Ren.” He glanced up, startled at the name, but still made no move to begin the operation. “You have to.”
“I know.” He emptied the basin of the bloody water and poured some of the alcohol into it and over his hands. He put the instruments in to soak, then looked back at her. The pain was obviously still intense, and there was still little color in her face. After a moment, she nodded and he reluctantly fished out the needle. Slowly he took it and entered the wound, probing gently. Her gasp let him know when he had touched it. “Sorry.”
She only nodded, though her good hand came out to grasp the iron bar of the headboard.
“Are you - “
“Please, hurry.” Her voice was shaky now. He needed to get this finished. The bullet itself wasn’t that deep; he idly wondered if the powder had gotten wet or something, losing some of the force that could have hit her. Hit her, just thinking the words sent a pang of fear through him, but he hid it as best he could. He had to do this.
She nodded and closed her eyes. He took a deep breath and picked up the needle-nose instrument. Her hand squeezed tighter around the wrought iron and she bit her lips. A moan escaped as he pulled out the bullet. He winced and dropped the bullet into the basin.
“It’s out. Can you hear me?”
She gave a slight nod. “Dis-disinfect . . . “
He picked up the bottle of alcohol and dribbled a little bit into her wound. She gasped, then arched in pain.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
It took her a minute to get her breath, then she lay limply in the bed. “No, it’s good. You, uh, you need to bandage . . . “
His own breath was shallow in sympathy, but he reached for one of the pads still in the sterile packet. He gently covered the wound and taped it down, then wrapped gauze around her shoulder to secure it.
“How’re you doing?”
“Better than you, I think.” She managed a small smile, though she still sounded breathless.
He looked away and she saw that he was blinking back tears. She released her grip on the bed and took his hand. He squeezed it, but still didn’t look at her.
“Ren, you did good.”
He bit his lip and took a shaky breath. “Yeah, right. What can I get you?”
She closed her eyes and shook her head.
“You should eat something.”
“Not now.” She didn’t open her eyes.
“Listen, there’s aspirin in here and some other pills I don’t recognize.”
She forced her eyes open. “Let me see.” She didn’t attempt to take them from him. “I’m not . . . I better take a couple of the aspirin.”
He nodded and poured two into his hand. He carefully raised her head. She tensed but took the pills from him, then took the water and swallowed them. He gently returned her to the pillow. “Rest now. I’m going to clean this stuff up.”
She didn’t respond, trying to get comfortable. He finally rose and took the instruments and trash away. He stepped out on the porch when he was through and took several deep breaths. It didn’t stop his hands from shaking, but it didn’t matter now.
When he felt more in control, he returned inside and seeing that she was asleep, began quietly exploring their shelter.
The kitchen area yielded the most, now that he was taking the time to really look. There were foodstuffs for a while anyway. Cans of soup, stew, tuna, and corned beef hash filled the shelf, along with plastic containers of rice and noodles. It certainly beat power bars. There was a small camp stove and three canisters of fuel in addition to the one already hooked up. The lantern was full and there were extra mantels and fuel stored beside it. Somebody obviously used this place on occasion.
The utensils were older and mismatched, laid out in a plastic bin. There were dishes standing in a drainer under a dishtowel. On the shelf under the table was dishwashing soap, paper towels and disinfectant wipes.
On the other side of the room was a pot bellied stove flanked by two mismatched overstuffed chairs. Stacked beside one of the chairs were a few battered paperback books. In the corner behind that was fishing equipment. Past the door were wall hooks. One held a heavy jacket but he could see no other clothes.
The rickety table that held the washbasin had a few towels folded on the shelf underneath it. A little electricity and running water would be nice, but they could stay here for a couple of days. Then maybe she could travel, or he’d feel comfortable leaving her for a few hours to scout around. That felt like it was a long time away.
He took a seat in one of the chairs and watched her sleep.
When she stirred, he was on his feet immediately and approached the bed. She opened her eyes, blinking and seemed to relax slightly when she spotted him. “How do you feel?”
“Okay I guess.” She started to rise and he gently held her down.
“What do you need?”
“Didn’t you say there was an outhouse in the back?”
“Then you need to let me up.”
”I’ll take you.” Her eyebrow rose as she just looked at him. “I mean I’ll carry you out there.”
“I can walk, I think.”
At that, he helped her to sit up. She couldn’t hide the wince but made it to her feet. He caught her as she swayed and lifted her into his arms. “Let me handle it this time.” He glanced down at her bra. “Uh, maybe you should wear this.”
He sat her on the side of the bed and pulled off his t-shirt. “It might have taken on my ‘essence’.” He grinned.
“That’s not a problem.” She let him pull it down over her head and slipped her good arm into the sleeve. It came down nearly to her knees. She looked up and grinned, then her eyes fell on his shoulder. “You . . . “
“What?” he glanced down at his shoulder. He spotted the old wound and looked up to meet her eyes.
“We’ll have matching scars,” she said quietly. “And I’d like to hear the story of that scar sometime,” She sighed. “There go any strapless dresses.”
He winced, then changed the subject. “Can you handle everything else, I mean, one-handed?”
“I’ll figure it out,” she said dryly, but relaxed when he lifted her again into his arms. It was already getting dusk. “I didn’t think I’d slept so long.”
“You needed it,” he said simply and carefully set her on her feet at the door to the outhouse. “Call me when you’re ready to head back.”
She nodded. Inside the light was even dimmer, but she smiled at the sight of a real toilet seat and even better, toilet paper.
He was there immediately when she opened the door and took her back into his arms. “I could try to walk.”
“Next time.” He carried her back and settled her in the bed. “You should eat something.”
“A power bar?”
“No, we have gourmet fixings here. How about some tomato soup and rice.”
Her eyes widened. “Are you kidding?”
He grinned at her expression. “Relax. I’ll get it ready. I have to take the camp stove outside. You stay in bed. Falling won’t help.”
“Yes, sir.” She knew he had a point and she didn’t really feel much like moving around. Her shoulder hurt more than she wanted to admit. To distract herself she brought the collar of the t-shirt she now wore up over her nose and breathed in his scent.
It wasn’t long before he returned with her dinner. At the scent of the hot soup, her eyes closed and she breathed it in. He couldn’t help but smile. He sat beside her and lifted the spoon.
“I can feed - “
“Not one-handed; and it’s hot.”
She looked into his eyes then. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I - “
“What’s wrong?” she repeated.
He looked away then, “I . . . I should never have let you go in first. I should have - “
“Thank God you didn’t.”
“What?” he looked back at her quickly.
“Ren, look at the difference in our heights. Look where the bullet would have struck you.” Her hand came to rest over his heart. “It would have been a kill shot on you.” Later she would wonder at that phrase, but it was true.
He blinked at that. “You have nothing to feel guilty about. There’s no way we could have known there was a gun pointed at the door. And if I hadn’t been turned to look at you, it could have been much worse.”
He tensed, his hand shaking slightly.
“You’ve taken very good care of me.” He didn’t seem to hear that, but she touched his arm, pulling him back to her. “Let me go ahead and eat, then I’ll take some more aspirin and look at those other pills again. I’m a little clearer now.”
He nodded mutely and lifted a spoonful of soup to her lips. She was able to eat most of the bowl, then he brought her the medication he had found. She took two more of the aspirin and looked closely at the others. “This is penicillin.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” She took the bottle of water and swallowed two of them. “You need to eat too.”
After a moment, he nodded and fixed himself a bowl. At her insistence, he sat beside her as he ate. When he was through, he lit the lantern and washed up their dishes.
“I should check your bandage.”
She nodded. “You know I’m going to be okay. Tomorrow morning we can pack up some of this food and get going again.”
“No. You can’t walk any distance tomorrow, and probably not the next day - “
“Ren - “
“Let’s see how it goes. I’m heading out back. Don’t try to get up.”
“Yes, Dad,” she glared at him, but didn’t disagree. He reached into the pile of books by the chair and handed her a paperback copy of Slan by A. E. van Vogt.
She mock glared at him but once he was gone, the loneliness and the pain seemed to grow to fill the cabin. When he returned he found her sitting there, not having moved. “Red? Are you okay?”
He eyed her, obviously not believing that. “Do, uh, do you want to go out again?”
“No, I’m fine.”
He nodded and took a seat in one of the overstuffed chairs.
“Are you not coming to bed?”
“I, uh, I thought I’d sleep over here. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t hurt me.”
“I - “
“Put out the light and come to bed.”
He still hesitated, but she pulled the covers down and waited. After a moment, he nodded and put out the lantern, then joined her in the bed. She took a deep breath relaxing against him.
“Do you mind?”
“Mind?” he asked quickly.
“I . . . I feel safer this way.”
He mused on that for moment. “Go on to sleep, Red.”
She was quiet for so long, he thought she had fallen asleep, then he felt her hand come up and her finger outlined the old scar on his shoulder. “Don’t you think this is . . . strange?”
“Maybe I’m not a very nice guy and someone - “
“I don’t believe that. Since we first woke up, you’ve looked after me.”
“And done a great job, right?” he huffed.
“I’m not complaining.”
“Go to sleep.”
She relaxed against him and closed her eyes.