12 Chapter 22 Last of the Fallen
Cameron had no doubt that the cane next to the chair was going to be necessary if he wanted to make it to the bathroom. It would take at least a few months while his numerous wounds healed. First degree burns, stitches, a taped ankle and knee on the same leg. Walking was going to be hell for at least a month, and running impossible for at least two months. But he had not moved in the past hour, the embodiment of a stone statue.
The war had been over for a few short hours, the evacuation from Shasta Lake City without incident. But for the medical personnel in Redding their war had begun when the survivors returned, bloodied from battle with injuries to varying degrees. Silence reigned over the floor currently occupied by Cameron and Jaira, one of the few occupied rooms in the recovery ward that occupied the entire floor.
His mind wandered in a number of directions before coming back to how people would view what had happened, and then why it had happened. The Blessed Redeemers were the second greatest threat to mankind, a pack of animals with human intelligence that took what it wanted and killed all who stood against them. Humans like them were animals by nature, and would have sooner or later attacked Redding to do what they had done to countless other communities including Sparta months before. The white hand and red star standard of the Blessed Redeemers forever burned in to his mind.
From the final fifty odd men and women that had participated in the final assault against the mansion that had ended in an mass execution, there were twenty three walking wounded, and of the other twenty seven, there was no telling how many would ultimately survive, but already Cameron knew that fourteen would not make it through the two days Battlefield triage was that simply dehumanizing, but the most important casualty would not last far past dawn.
Peter Sanchez, man, commander, leader, soldier, hero, the first to engage the enemy, the last one to climb aboard a vehicle to return home. Peter had made sure that the remains of all their fallen were brought back to Redding. "Semper Fidelis," two words and the reason all of the fallen were brought home. It meant always faithful to corps and country, "The dead will be buried with the honor they deserve. The fallen would be honored once they knew how many resting places were required.
Cameron had suffered no fatal wound, no suffered from a disease that could have killed him, but suffered from the things that had broken stronger and lesser men: Despair. Cameron found that he could not care about the dead, the wounded or the dying. None of them mattered, none of it mattered. Not now. To him only the only thing, only one woman still mattered.
There were no monitors or machines, not even the most basic for pulse, and heartbeat. Nothing but a bed and chairs in the room. Every single medical machine was in use downstairs. But Cameron didn't know how to care about any of the medicine. Jaira was warm and her heart kept beating as her chest rose and fell in time with her breaths. His wounds had been attended to, and then, after they had done everything they could for her, the same unfortunate doctor who had treated Natalie, was once again the bearer of bad news, "We've done everything we can," she had said, "But one of the bullets fragmented and those fragments are in her bloodstream, making their way to her heart," he didn't have to ask, "Six to twelve hours."
It was just before dusk when they had reached Redding, Cameron having ridden back by her side. They had been separated for perhaps half an hour so that his wounds could be attended to. Nastia had known better than to try and separate her patient from Jaira.
He had kept a vigil by her bedside for the past hour and a half and had not moved in over an hour, living an existence of torture as he waited for her next breath, wondering if it would be the one where she opened her eyes and spoke to him or her last before she slipped away from him in silence. Terror filled his heart that the motion of her chest rising and falling would stop. Some would say he was lucky, blessed or both to find the same kind of love more than once in a lifetime. Cameron felt that he was cursed, having found but was also going to lose such love twice in a lifetime. That hit him harder than anything he ever could have imagined, the guilt and pain was akin to that of the first loss, only multiplied a hundred fold. He sat there helpless and forced to watch, knowing what was to come, and unable to prevent anyone's pain in the coming hours.
There could have been a knock but it was unheard, the light footsteps equally unheard. Cameron's eyes were closed hands holding one of hers, and if one had listened they would have heard the hoarse words of a prayer. It wasn't a sign of faith in a higher power, but a sign of the desperation in Cameron Hunter. It was strange how long a minute could and then not last as Robert gently and carefully grasped the shoulder of his… friend, "Any change?"
Cameron's eyes were bloodshot, and framed by dark, raccoon like circles. He didn't speak only shook his head slowly, "You don't look too good yourself," Robert added quietly. Cameron just shrugged, and inhaled sharply as the sudden motion irritated his numerous wounds. Nastia stepped out from behind Robert and Cameron took the offered cup of coffee with a brief, near invisible nod of thanks before gesturing to the pair of chairs. They joined him but said nothing. There was nothing they could say to lessen the pain or to make the fear any less terrifying. But the thought that had crossed his mind more than once, reemerged as time marched on: Should they say good bye or should they wait in case Jaira woke?
When Jaira took a breath and her fingers, wrapped in Cameron's hand tightened he was out of his chair in a blink, and nearly collapsed – he would have had he not managed to grasp the armrest of the chair, steadying himself before sitting himself on the bed next to her. Her eyelids fluttered like the wings of a butterfly before meeting his, "Hiya stranger," she whispered.
"Hiya back," he replied. He wondered how to tell her, whether he should even tell her, "I have to tell you something," he hesitated not sure how to phrase his next words finally settling on the classic blunt and direct approach that he was famous for, and then hesitated again, "How much do you remember?" She smiled, and caressed his check bringing back memories of their first night as a couple, when she'd done almost the same thing. That first night was a few short months ago. She nodded, and her eyes told him that she knew and remembered everything, "You took two shots to the back…we managed to get one out, but the second one…it fragmented and your bloodstream is carrying it…to your heart." He trailed off, uncertain how to continue.
She smiled at him, "I know. There's this pain in my chest and it won't go away," It was the same smile that he'd found attractive the first time they had met in his apartment building in Portland. The same smile that used to get his blood and his heart racing. Now it was a smile of acceptance. Her eyes drifted lazily to the doorway. Word had spread quickly and people had gathered. She nodded, understanding, "Let them in," she whispered. As much as he just wanted to keep her for himself, he couldn't deny her, not now. It was hard for him to watch, as he knew what they were saying, even though no words were physically spoken. He realized that words in themselves never said goodbye, but it was the actions that accompanied those words. Actions spoke a thousand words, every hug, handshake, a smile, and kiss to the forehead were unique goodbyes.
Finally, only the three closest to her were left and they gathered close around the bed, talking in soft but animated tones, sharing memories, dreams, of what they had seen and lived through. For a while, it seemed like an ordinary day as the sun rose on a distant horizon, and they pulled back the curtains to welcome another day. But the warmth of the sun stopped at the windows unable to enter the room, occupied out of necessity instead of choice. He didn't know what time it was, but the darkest hour of his life when she asked them to leave. They said goodbye, and left with tears in their eyes.
The door had barely shut when he slid in to the narrow bed, and had her in his arms before he realized that he didn't know what to say, what to do, what could make a difference. He had fallen for her, so damn hard, for all the little things that you don't notice unless you have the right reasons to notice. Things like her cat like hiss when irritated with some mechanical problem. She'd been determined enough to look past the frost armor he'd built to see a person dying a slow death and done everything she could to help him live again. Only now, he found his grip tightening, unwilling to let go of the most precious thing in his life that he did not own. The minutes drifted by, and there was nothing either of them could say, that the other didn't already know, until she finally spoke.
"I'm tired," she whispered. He knew what it meant and the tears that he had fought against for so long finally overwhelmed the dam he'd built against them, "I think," she hesitated trying to find the words to soften the blow, "Its time."
He pulled her in to a tighter embrace, tears carving trails down his cheeks; as he struggled between open sobs to get the words out, "Just a little bit longer." He didn't have to add a plea - anyone could have heard that in his voice.
She ran her hand down his cheek, wiping away the tears, cradling his head against her, "We always want just a little bit longer," she said, "But there are just some things, no matter how much we want, we will never get."
"It's not fair," he mumbled, pushing a stray lock of her hair out of her face, "All we had was a few damn months. We should have had so much more, more than a few months!" He bristled with anger at the unfairness of it all for a moment, "We should have had years!" He blinked his tears aside, "We had a few months and spent them trying to save a world that won't remember or thank us."
She smiled at him, "Four months and seventeen days together," she winced briefly, "One hundred and thirty nine days. I was grateful for every single day we had, every moment we spent together, fighting, talking, on guard duty, teaching you how to cook, making love….I have had more with you in these one hundred and thirty nine days, than I have ever had in any relationship. I'm just glad that we got all the time we had."
He shook his head, completely unable to understand her, one of the things that he'd found so intriguing, loveable and admittedly at times frustrating about her, and he was honest enough to admit it, "I… I'm confused," those two words brought a smile to her face, "How can you not be…." He searched for the word and found that there was no word in any human language that could adequately describe what he was trying to say.
"Sad? Bitter? Disappointed?" she said, "I don't want anything like that to be the last thing that I feel," she smiled that enigmatic smile as her fingers traced his lips, "Dying is always easy. Living," she paused "never is." She took a breath that clearly hurt, "The first time you saw me, what was your first thought?" she asked. His answer was direct and honest but whispered, meant only for her to know. It drew a smile and a laugh that in turn brought the shadowy ghost of a smile from him that disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Seeing her laugh, the sound full of vibrant life, of energy, was a sight that he would always treasure, "I don't know if there is a heaven…" she began.
"If there is a heaven," he looked in to her eyes, one final time, his breath choking him, "All you have to do is wait for me," his fingers caressed her lips, "When I've lived my life, I'll meet you there." His hand found hers, as their fingers encircled and entwined seeking to transfer a lifetimes worth of love, tenderness, and happiness in the few remaining moments they could share, and how thankful he was that she had taken an interest in him and in more ways than he could count saved him from himself.
She nodded, and Cameron leaned in, taking a moment to make sure that this one last kiss would be everything that it was supposed to be. Her arms wrapped around his neck, his around her waist was soft and gentle, filled with love ensuring that it would be the last thing she would feel was his love for her. He felt her already uneven heartbeat slow and falter, the sound of the love they shared dying, with each fainter uneven beat.
In that moment Cameron understood the fundamental difference between the fear of a nightmare, and the true horrifying nature of fear as he cradled her and let his tears finally fall free without restraint, the stillness of the room encapsulating him in a tomb of death and silence, the sun shining on the first day of the rest of his life without her.