Dusk falls, and the braziers are lit. The wind, howling like a starving dog, bites at exposed throats. Safiyah raises her lantern and watches the trickle of survivors pass through the Iron Lords' gates. Some are wounded. Some lie on makeshift stretchers. She gestures to a tent, its interior glowing with warm firelight.
"They will freeze out here," she says. "Take them inside, quickly."
Her hospital, such as it is, is humbled by the stone structures which surround it. But she had overseen its construction when she first arrived… stocked it, served it. It was all she could do.
The gates close behind the Iron Lords. Unhurt, alive. Zavala is among them. She knows him: the one stubborn enough to argue, but not stubborn enough to ignore her. He speaks to his companions.
"—coordinated attacks by the House of Devils. If we take this opportunity to retaliate—"
Zavala turns to look at Safiyah. She stares him down.
"We have wounded here! We don't need violence. We need supplies!"
The others break off, leave him to it—the same fight with the same woman.
She doesn't flinch.
"I was clear," she says.
A drone—Ghost?—bobs in the air just behind Zavala's shoulder—Targe, his name is Targe.
"I'm not a part of this," Targe says. Safiyah stands on her toes and catches his eye before he ducks away.
"Moving against the Fallen will ensure your safety," Zavala says. "Like I've told you before."
"You want to protect us?" Safiyah points towards the meager hospital. "This is how: by ensuring we have what we need to live."
"She isn't wrong," Targe says.
"Are you a part of this conversation or not?" Zavala asks, glancing sharply at his Ghost. He turns back to Safiyah.
"You don't understand," she says, walking away.
"Where are you going?" he asks. A silly question. She ducks under the tent flap. Zavala follows, strung along by their argument. He always wants the last word.
Safiyah washes her hands in a basin, then glances at him. She will make him useful.
"Wash your hands," she tells him. He hesitates, but does so.
"Take this," she says, and hands him a fistful of clean rags. She moves to one of the cots, her head down as she inspects a fresh wound, still bleeding into the dirty bandage. She removes it carefully.
"Come here," she says and guides him to press the clean rags into the wound, staunching the flow of blood. He opens his mouth to speak again, but she raises her hand.
"I understand the situation," she says. "Do you? Do you know how hard it is to survive in this world?"
"Yes," he says. He eases the pressure—she points, snaps her fingers, and he presses down again.
"Without your Ghost?"
He says nothing. That one will need sutures, Safiyah thinks to herself. She calculates their dwindling stores as she fetches antiseptic and gloves.
"It's not just Fallen. It's not just Warlords. It's sickness. Starvation. Cold."
She motions for Zavala to stand aside, and he does. The wounded man, regrettably awake, shivers, stiffens, bites down on a scream as she cleans his wound as gently as she can.
"We don't walk away from these things the way you do."
There is a note of pity in her words. She thinks that he will argue with her, push back, raise his voice. But he says nothing—he is pensive, quiet. She looks up and sees the way his eyes shift, how his jaw stiffens. He wants to speak.
She turns away from him, pulling off her gloves at the wrist. Another patient, a woman with a dressed wound across her temple, had shifted in her sleep, her blanket fallen to one side. Carefully, Safiyah picks up the blanket's edge and pulls it up so that it covers her again. She passes a hand over the woman's brow, feeling for fever, and finds none. Safiyah smiles. When she looks up, she sees Zavala watching her.
"The wounded look to me." She does not lower her eyes, does not bow her head. "Not you."