by Mei Kwong, Linda Rose Pierce, Maureen Wynn, and K. S. Gritten, with the NatPack
Time: Early evening
Place: NatPack HQ
Natalie slowly opened her eyes and immediately regretted it. Even though the lighting in the room was dim, it still hurt her eyes. For the past few weeks, she had drifted in and out of consciousness, slowly regaining her strength.
"Hey, Nat," a voice said softly. "How are you feeling?"
Her eyes began to focus, and she could make out two figures in the room, one stretched out in the chair next to her, the other standing at the foot of the bed.
"Better, thanks, Maureen," she addressed the woman farthest away who had spoken. She gave a sardonic smile. "Change of shift, huh?"
Maureen smiled, and sketched a crisp salute at her. "Ready to serve, Cap'n."
The woman who had been stretched out in the chair handed a glass of water to Natalie, then began checking her pulse and temperature. Nat eyed her critically for a moment, then said, "You look tired, GT."
"Yeah, well, you're no treat yourself," the Aussie joked back. Natalie smiled fondly — she owed a lot to GT who, with Linda Rose, had so faithfully and expertly saved her life that night.
She had talked about it with the NatPack, though at times it had only elicited ominous silence from her support group and caretakers.
"Get out of here, GT," Maureen ordered, interrupting Nat's reverie. "It's my shift."
"Give me a call if you need anything," GT responded, and Nat gave the woman's hand a grateful squeeze before she left.
Maureen started to sit down in the chair GT had vacated, when she saw a glass of soda on the nightstand that the doctor had left behind. She got up again to place it neatly on the tray with the rest of Natalie's dinner dishes. She then started to drift around the room, straightening a picture on the wall and piling the magazines and books more neatly. She asked, looking at Nat lying with half closed eyes on the bed, "So, are you really feeling better?"
Nat did a mental inventory, feeling the weakness from blood loss still pulling at her like a dull ache, her muscles limp from extended bed rest. Her neck still throbbing from—
"Actually," she said, "I am." She studied her companion for a moment. "Did you do something to your hair?"
Maureen made a face. "It's a long story. The Mercs kidnapped me. That's why I missed my last shift."
Nat frowned, trying to remember exactly when she had seen Maureen last. The weeks since That Night blended together in her memory: long hours of sleeping, recovering, talking to her NatPack companions about the past and the future.
"The last I clearly remember is Sharon being here. She said something about chasing a salt smuggler, and seeing some guy dressed like the Phantom on the Internet." Nat shook her head, trying to clear it — this sounded even more bizarre than some of her dreams involving Nick and a very large feather. "We talked about Nick for a while." Nat sighed. "I said some things that I shouldn't have...."
She trailed off as she watched Maureen neatly fold the blanket which had been lying rumpled on the bed, then start picking lint off of it. "Uh, Mo... I do remember asking you to clean up a little the last time you were here, but there's no need to get crazy." The words seemed to echo for a moment in the still room.
Maureen looked at her blankly for a second. "Huh?"
Nat shook her head over the — well, vacant was the only way to describe it — expression on her friend's face.
"Don't get crazy," Maureen continued in a monotone voice.
"Oh, never mind." She sighed at Maureen's equally blank look in response. Enunciating each word, she said, "Go ahead. Clean all you want."
Maureen smiled. "Clean all I want," she repeated. Then she blinked, and said in a more normal tone of voice, "So, do you want to play some cards?"
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