First Page: The Farther I Fall
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“Stay with me, stay with me.” Acrid smoke burns in her throat, the crackle of flames from the explosion echoing the crackle of small-arms fire, with the occasional boom of something larger. Pressure point, she has to find the pressure point.
She puts all her weight on the wound and the woman beneath her groans in pain. So much blood. Blood everywhere. Bleeding too much, bleeding out.
She’s screaming, and then she can’t breathe. Turner’s face, pale and still, is the last thing she sees.
Swim up from blackness. “Sergeant? Stay with me. Come on. Look at me.”
More distant, urgent, “Where’s the fucking evac?”
Gwen jerked out of a broken sleep, gritting her teeth against the pain in her shoulder. Her physical therapist said the
pain would eventually go away completely. The scarring never would. When they’d first taken off the dressings, she’d asked for a mirror. Sam had been there, trying to be reassuring. Gwen had smiled and said, “Well, I won’t have to worry about bikini season for a while, anyway.” The exit wound was the worst, a red-purple starburst nearly the size of
Gwen’s palm just to the left of her collarbone. The nurse holding the mirror said something about the scar fading, about possible plastic surgery. Gwen looked at it and thought, I survived you, you bastard.
She swung her legs around the edge of the narrow bed in her sister Sam’s guest room, looking at the time. Not like that mattered. Not like she had anywhere to be. She scrubbed at her face and looked at the clock. 4:30 AM. It was already afternoon in London, and her body’s clock hadn’t adjusted yet. If she showered now, she’d wake up Sam. Instead, she lay back down with one arm across her forehead. Out of the corner of her eye, the Royal Army Medical Corps tattoo on her upper arm, Aesculapius’s staff with a wreath and crown with the words “In Arduis Fidelis” inked underneath, seemed to mock her. She turned her face away.
When she went before the Medical Board, Major Woolston had declared her unfit for duty thanks to her injuries and the results of her psych evaluation and gave her extended medical leave. He’d pulled her aside afterwards.
“Take some time to recover,” he’d said. “After that, well, even if you’re discharged, we could still use you and your skills, Tennison. The TA can always use instructors of your caliber.”
“As a civilian,” she’d said. Training weekend warriors.
Woolston had nodded. “Think about it. You have my number.”
That was when she knew this leave was just the precursor to a medical discharge. The Territorial Army wouldn’t be enough. Nothing would be enough. She wouldn’t even properly be part of the TA, either, just another civilian working for the Crown. Thirty-four years old and the one career she’d wanted more than anything was over.
But she was alive. Turner would still be alive too, if Gwen had been just a little faster, if the gunman had been just a little slower. Janet, whose kids would never see their mother again, who used to try to set Gwen up with her brother-in-law. Janet had been looking forward to going home. She’d had a reason to leave the service.
Damn it. Gwen pushed herself up off the bed with more force than strictly necessary and pulled the nearest pair of jeans and t-shirt on. Even though it was still dark outside, she couldn’t bear to lie there anymore. It would do her some good to go for a walk anyway.
And if she was really lucky, someone might try to mug her. Punching something sounded like just what the doctor ordered.