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Of Butterflies

Chapter Text

1.

For a moment everything is quiet, and I drop on one of the empty beds, face down, clutching the tattered sheets with a shudder of complete exhaustion. I'm not trying to fall asleep; I know it would be too risky. I just want to keep my eyes closed and rest my aching back for a few minutes.  I've had so much work today, tending the wounded, with hardly any time to think or grieve properly for what has befallen us.

'Kasabi?'

Esma suddenly sits up, breathless, peering into the darkness, looking around in panic – as though she has woken up from one nightmare to find herself, inexplicably, in another.

'Kasabi – Commander – What is going on? Where is everybody? Why are there so few of us here? Why is the hospital deserted?'

Her breathing is ragged and I can tell from her voice that she is shivering. I touch her burning forehead.

'Hush. Calm down. You're running a fever.'

The other four have asked me the same, at various points during the day when they were awake. I kept evading their questions, knowing I shouldn't upset them while their condition was critical. At my insistence, Esma lies back in bed and I wipe her forehead with a wet cloth. Gradually, she relaxes. I have already given her the medicaments Corin prescribed, and done all I could to clean her infected wound. Now there's nothing to do but wait, and hope there will be some improvement by morning.

'Commander... are we still safe here?' she mutters as she's drifting off to sleep. 'Yes. Yes, we are safe,' I reply, though the words tug at my heart. She doesn't even realize what she has asked me. But I am reminded right away – of the reason why this place is still safe, of who is keeping it safe, and at what terrible cost.