Relief washed over me like a cool wave of water. She was alive and, from what I could tell, in one piece. As I held her, she seemed thinner, but I had probably lost a little weight myself from my own absence from home and Mother’s hearty meals. But as she stood before us in the flesh once more, it didn’t really matter. There would be no doubt of her safety now that Father and I were here. We would guide her back to where she belonged, the protection of home...at least that’s what I thought. Up until this moment, I never considered that she may resist, that she may not want to leave...but that was something not to be addressed right now.
The wild elation began to fade, the warmth of familial love simmering between all of us. We seemed to sink back to earth, to the tunnel around us. I dabbed at my own eyes, looking around in the limited light, caught sight of Jon standing off to the side. Father made his own curt acknowledgement of the man, nodding shortly in his direction. My earlier thoughts, the anger, boiled to the surface. I stepped around my sister, coming before Jon, who looked to me, my expression, warily.
“Luke,” he answered, bowing his head slightly, appearing a little relieved. He looked up, and unable to control myself further, I formed my fingers in a tight fist and punched him.
Katrina yelled out, men jumped forward to grab at me, but I was done. Jon was on the ground in front of me, touching his nose tenderly. “Guess I deserved that,” he managed, wincing as he made sure his face was still in place.
“You bet your life you did,” I grumbled.
“Luke!” cried Katrina furiously, roughly pushing me back. “What in the world are you thinking?!”
“He put you in danger, Katrina! How can he care for you if he just throws you in-?” I answered defensively. Jon fumbled for the wall, trying to get his feet under him so he could stand and confront my latest words, which obviously angered him.
She moved to his side, putting a calming hand on his shoulder and glared at me, her eyes blazing, “It was my choice! My choice. Jon certainly did not deserve that.”
Father put moved to my side, looking over Jon stonily. “We are clearly, understandably, not happy with our current situation, and how this all played out, it something we cannot fully comprehend until it is fully explained. This is not the time or place for blame, no matter what our current beliefs and feelings are.” Jon sniffed, wiping a small stream of blood from his nose with his shirt sleeve. My father continued, “Right now, it doesn’t matter how...or why...you got my daughter in this mess. What matters is that you kept her alive and safe thus far, and I have to commend you for that.” He stepped forward, offering a hand. His words were not warm or affectionate by any means, but it put us back in our places and cooled my head.
Jon nodded slowly, reluctantly taking my father’s hand and standing, Katrina still at his side looking at his reddened nose with a soft concern. I swallowed, ashamed of my sudden outburst, and held out my own hand, “Sorry, Jon. My father’s right. I’ve always liked you, and never doubted your character, and it...was wrong of me to make assumptions under these circumstances.”
He smiled tightly, accepting the apology by shaking my hand firmly.
“You...uh...alright?” I asked in the silence, all the eyes watching us.
“Yeah,” he sniffed again, and grinned, a little more relaxed now, “Got a strong arm there.”
I rubbed the back of my neck, smiling awkwardly, “Uh, thanks.”
The others guided us back to a cave-like room at the end of the hall, where we had to wait...for something or someone. It was a little crowded, but some of the other men of our rescue party decided to go back into the tunnel and play a game of cards. Sebastian, his sister hanging on him dreamily, Frederick, and Hurst gathered with Jon and another man in a secluded corner, muttering amongst themselves. I guessed they were exchanging information and making plans. A sort of rough-looking girl, who Katrina identified as Nellie, was sitting in the opposite corner, appeared depressed and lonely. Lewis, who was strolling idly around the room, came to Father, Katrina, and I, seated together, and crossed his arms with a sigh.
“So, what now?” he murmured, his eyes flickering over to the group of important men chattering. I knew the thought of joining them was eating at his mind.
“Hm,” I said thoughtfully, looking towards the Nellie girl again. I nodded my head indiscreetly in her direction. “Go over and talk to her. She looks like she could use someone to talk to.”
“Her?” he briefly glanced at her, his eyes caught, and for a moment, a flash of recognition crossed his face. He shook it off and turned back to me, “Why?”
I opened my mouth, but before I could speak again, he carelessly gestured at me, “You just want to get rid of me, don’t you? Fine, I’ll leave you all to converse in private.” He was clearly sarcastic, a grin twinging at his lips before he left us for Nellie.
“So...,” began Katrina. “What is the latest from home? Did you receive any letters from them before you left the camp? I am sure you have gotten plenty - between Mother and Jacob and Ed...is he planning on returning to the field soon?”
Father and I looked at each other, sadness chilling his eyes. “You...so you haven’t heard....,” I murmured slowly.
Katrina looked to me, her eyes wide with fear, her voice a mere whisper, “Heard what?”