Forty-six – 03

[This post is from Thom’s point of view.]

As he limped into view, Marin nearly dropped the French press, her eyes widening at the sight of him. He managed a faint smile as she quickly set it down before she could either spill or burn herself.

“You’re up,” she said softly, gently, pushing to her feet and moving to intercept him. “Why are you up?”

“Because it’s morning,” he said quietly, leaning down to kiss her gently, even as she wrapped her arms around his waist to help support him. He didn’t waver on his feet, not yet, but the support wasn’t unwelcome in the slightest. “Because my wife wasn’t in bed with me when I woke up and you and Lin were gone and I was awake.” Trapping his crutch under one arm, he reached up to run his fingertips along her face. “Are you angry?”

“No,” she said, sighing. “Just worried.”

“That’s a usual state of being,” Thom murmured, then kissed her gently. She laughed, squeezing him gently before she started to help him to a seat by the fire. J.T. grinned up at the from preparing a few skillets to start eggs and hash browns.

“Feeling adventurous?” he asked.

Thom snorted. “Feeling useless, like I’ve been laying around for too long.” He caught Marin’s flinch out of the corner of his eye and winced. “Mar, I didn’t—”

“It’s okay,” she said. “I know you didn’t mean it that way. It’s all right.”

Truth be known, he wasn’t quite sure what way he actually had meant it, but at least she let it go. Small favors. He watched as she returned to making the coffee, leaning back against the log bench she’d seated him on, his bad leg stretched out before him and his crutches set off to one side.

She smiled back over her shoulder at him. “Maybe this is what we needed so things could get back to normal.”

“Maybe,” he agreed quietly, watching her. His eyes began to sting unbidden.

I am never going to give you up, Marin. Not now and not ever.

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Forty-six – 02

[This post is from Thom’s point of view.]

Shirt first, then pants, and then he paused for a moment, staring at his shoes on the far side of the room. His shoulders ached, one more than the other, and his knee was worse as he leaned a hip into the dresser, lips thinning.

Not today.

Sandals it is. He blew out a quiet breath and limped across the room—hopped, almost—to his sandals, to the crutches left leaning against the wall. They’d make his shoulders ache worse, but they were healing—slow, but healing.

Thom scrubbed a hand over his face.

She won’t be happy, but I can’t keep lying around, can I? He knew what she would say and also knew he’d disagree vehemently.

Still, it made him smile.

He blew out the lamp and limped out, closing the door firmly behind himself. His shoulders burned after the first few steps, but dealing with that nuisance was better than trying to walk on his bad knee. Moving down the darkened, quiet corridor, Thom realized that it was earlier than he’d originally thought it might be, the darkness thicker than it would be if it was much past sunrise and the hall too quiet. That was fine. He was awake, and clearly his wife was, too. She’d be outside somewhere, or maybe up at the forge, though he suspected that Matt wouldn’t be there, not this early in the morning, nor would Thordin.

What the hell am I going to say?

A sigh escaped his lips and he shook his head at himself, limping out from the corridor and into the tent. He could see the cookfire’s glow beyond some storage shelves, could smell the scent of coffee. Thom smiled, an odd sort of relief washing over him.

Maybe it was because it felt normal to smell coffee this early in the morning—and it was certainly early, only a little bit past dawn. Some of the tension drained away and his shoulders seemed to ache a little less.

Maybe it was because after nearly a year, despite his visions, despite everything, he was starting to feel like somehow, everything was going to work out. There would be a future. There would be hope.

And as he headed for the cookfire and the smell of coffee, he decided that was all that mattered.

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Forty-six – 01

[This post is from Thom’s point of view.]

Thom startled awake in the darkness. The last vestiges of a vision were still fading, but the marks they left were deep. He blinked once, twice, unsurprised to find his lashes and cheeks damp with tears.

“I won’t,” he whispered to the darkness. “I can’t.”

His hand went to Marin’s side of the bed. It was cold, though the blankets were rumpled. He took another slow, shaking breath, reaching for calm even as his gaze drifted toward Lin’s cradle, vision adjusting to dim of the room. Breathing came a little easier when he saw the baby was gone, too.

Probably went for a walk. Maybe he woke up, she didn’t want to disturb me. He swallowed a groan as he lifted a hand to rub at his eyes. Not that she could’ve. How long was I asleep? What time is it?

Everything still ached, but he’d lain around long enough—he’d decided that the night before, though he hadn’t breathed a word of it to his wife. Marin was worried enough as it was, though he loved her for it. He didn’t need to add to that worry—not beyond what he’d already planned, anyway.

Slowly, painfully, he sat up in bed. He didn’t feel light-headed like the last time, and his stomach stayed here it was supposed to be.

An improvement, right?

His shoulders and back still hurt, though, and there was a dull, distant pounding in his temples.

Take what you can get. He swallowed and slowly stood, legs a little shaky, but still better. His knee protested as he limped to the dresser for a change of clothes. That was going to take longer than he wanted to heal and he knew it.

Got through the last time. I’ll get through it this time, too. He leaned against the edge of the dresser for a moment, weight on his good leg. It’ll just be as annoying as the first one.

Thom almost—almost—laughed.

“At least I figured out how to walk with crutches,” he murmured to himself, then shook his head. It didn’t seem to make the pounding in his head any worse.

Another small favor.

I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Shaking his head, still smiling ruefully, he started to get dressed. Morning or not, there was something left of a day to face, and one way or another, he was going to face it, visions or no visions, injuries or no injuries.

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Forty-five – 06

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

Not even Tala was there when we arrived, and for that I was absurdly thankful, settling in to start coffee while J.T. hunted down the requisite supplies to make the hash browns and eggs he promised. I laid Lin down in one of the moses baskets near the log benches—we’d started keeping at least two in the area so we wouldn’t have to lug them around. It made my heart ache a little to think that soon enough, Tala’s twins would be big enough to climb out of them soon, and after we hit that milestone it’d only be a matter of time for Lin and Anne and Artorius.

That’s why we keep fighting though, isn’t it? So they have somewhere safe to grow up. So they can grow up and live lives and find a purpose beyond just surviving—so we can find a purpose beyond just surviving.

After all, we’re not just living for them, are we? We’re living for us, too.

“You’ve got that look again,” J.T. said quietly as he rounded up a bowl of eggs, likely gathered the night before from the chickens that Stasia had managed to round up and coop. The hens could be vicious little beasties, but when they laid, they laid and had kept us in eggs for more than a month now. Every time we managed another feat like that, it felt like a minor miracle, even though intellectually, I know people had been doing it for thousands of years. Rediscovering it all, though, somehow that was strange and different.

And somehow, magical.

I smiled at J.T. as I filled a kettle and set it over the coals to heat, then started to stir the embers back to life. “Nothing bad,” I said. “Just thinking.”

“But nothing bad,” he said, casting a skeptical look at me. I had to laugh.

“Nothing bad,” I promised. “Just thinking about life.”

“Life, huh?”

“Well, it’s sure as hell better than thinking about death, right?”

One corner of his mouth quirked upward into a smile and he nodded. “It certainly is at that.”

I nodded back and started to ready one of the French presses, then got down a pair of mugs. “Just thinking about why we’re doing this, that’s all. And about chickens.”

“Chickens.”

“Are you going to keep repeating everything I say?”

He just grinned. I rolled my eyes.

“You’re impossible.”

“Most of us are. It’s why we’re still alive.”

I couldn’t argue with that—nor did I want to. I just grinned and sat back to wait while he started to crack eggs.

Someday, the everyday miracles would stop being magical. But that day wasn’t the day for it. That day, they were still magical and miraculous and wonderful, and we were still alive and all of us were together—and safe, or as safe as we could be.

If I had anything to say or do about it, we’d stay that way for a long, long time.

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Forty-five – 05

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

I didn’t say anything—I didn’t have to. J.T. was right, or at the very least I needed him to be. Thom would be fine, somehow. J.T. would see to that, no matter what it took. They were as close as brothers could be and he’d never give up on Thom, not while there was even the barest shred of hope—and for J.T., there would always be a bare shred of hope.

I exhaled a sigh and leaned into his embrace, forcing myself to relax. He squeezed me again, gently, rubbing my arm lightly.

“C’mon,” he said quietly. “Let’s go start breakfast, huh? I could use some coffee. What about you?”

“I wouldn’t say no to it,” I said quietly.

“Didn’t think so,” J.T. said with a faint smile. He started to steer me toward the cookfires, keeping his stride short enough to match mine. I leaned against him, maybe more than I should have, but the contact helped—it was somehow reassuring. Somehow, it felt safe.

He was quiet for a few minutes as we walked, but as we got closer to our destination, he glanced down at me. “This really has you more messed up than usual, doesn’t it?”

“It’s just been a lot of stuff lately,” I said. “That’s all. A lot all at once.”

“Yeah, but you’ve handled a lot all at once before. This feels different.”

I couldn’t find the words to tell him he was wrong—maybe because it wasn’t. He was right. There was something different about all of it this time, but even I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Instead, I just shrugged and shifted Lin slightly in my arms. He startled a little, yawned, then closed his eyes. I watched him for a few seconds, then sighed.

“I don’t know what it is,” I said. “Just that it’s something and I can’t seem to shake it.”

“Will you let me try to help?”

I choked on a quiet laugh. “As soon as I figure out how you can do that, Jay, you’ll be the first to know. I promise.”

He shot me a crooked smile. “Well, that’s something. Hash browns and eggs?”

“Sounds great,” I said as we got nearer to the cookfires. “I’ll make the coffee.”

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Forty-five – 04

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

“So what have you been seeing that’s robbing you of sleep?”

I startled at the question, blinking at J.T. as my stomach sank. “What?”

He just stared at me for a few seconds, then sighed, shaking his head. “Mar, I’ve known you for a long time by now. I’d like to think I have a little bit of a handle on what’s bugging you when it’s bugging you. Am I completely off-base here?”

I blew out a breath in a sigh and shook my head. “No.”

“Do you just not want to talk about it?”

“That’s more accurate,” I said, looking away from him, staring down at Lin instead. Lin wouldn’t judge me—at least not yet. That would still be another few years off, I thought.

I hoped.

J.T. tucked an arm around my shoulders and I leaned into his embrace, sighing again.

“It’s Thom, isn’t it?” he said quietly.

I nodded before I could stop myself, not that I suppose I really wanted to. J.T. studied me, expression softening.

“Is it the same thing as before?”

“Denial or losing him?”

“Either. Both.”

“Just the second one,” I said in a whisper. “Just losing him. I don’t know how or why, just that it’s what I’m seeing, like he’s fading away slowly and neither of us really seem to know what’s causing it.” My voice caught in my throat. It was hard to breathe. “I’m afraid that it’s related to what happened to him before,” I said. “To what happened when he was hurt that last time he fought. I’m afraid something happened that I can’t change or stop—that none of us can do a damned thing about.”

I felt sick and I knew that much was reflected on my face. J.T. turned, wrapping both arms around me and Lin, holding on for a few minutes.

“He’s going to be fine,” he assured me, his tone gentle. “I promise, Mar. You’re not going to lose him. He won’t let it happen.”

“You said that before,” I told him.

“And I still mean it now,” J.T. said, then pressed a kiss to the top of my head. “He’s my best friend, Mar—my brother in every way that matters. I’m not going to let him go without one hell of a fight and you know that I don’t like to lose.”

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Forty-five – 03

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

I snapped out of the vision to find tears on my face, my voice shaking as I kept on singing to Lin. The sun was only a fraction higher in the sky. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, maybe minutes. I sucked in one shaky breath, then another, clutching him a little tighter.

We won’t lose your father, Lin. I promise. I won’t let it happen.

Another breath. Just keep breathing. Just keep breathing. I swallowed hard and looked down at Lin. He was staring up at me with wide eyes, almost as if he was studying me. I forced myself to smile, reaching with one hand to brush his downy hair back from his face.

“It’s all right,” I whispered. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

Behind me, I heard the soft sound of footsteps below the wall. I twisted and smiled when I saw J.T. below, his hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans. I lifted a hand to wave and he smiled back at me.

“Couldn’t sleep?” he called quietly as he approached the wall. I turned to start climbing down, Lin cradled in one arm.

“Yeah,” I said. “Neither could this little guy so I came out to watch the sun.”

“Smells like rain.”

“Looks like it, too,” I said, then sighed. “But I don’t think that’s Thordin’s doing, do you?”

He shook his head. “Don’t think so. He’s been messing around a lot with the storms lately, but it seems like things are starting to even out again—at least for now.”

“Took less time this time,” I said quietly, my feet hitting the ground beneath the wall. I turned toward him and found him smiling crookedly at me.

“I don’t know how you do it carrying him.”

That made me laugh. “I could lie and say practice.”

“Then what is it?”

“Instinct, I guess. Maybe it’s something else. Damned if I know.”

Lin was looking at J.T. now, studying the man with those huge eyes of his. One corner of my mouth quirked up into a smile.

“Sometimes I think he’s memorizing everything,” I said softly, just watching my son. “Silly, isn’t it?”

“Not that silly,” J.T. said, reaching to let Lin grab a hold of one of his fingers with one tiny hand. “He’s learning every second of every day. That’s how it works.”

“Guess so,” I said, my stomach twisting uncomfortably. There had been a lot that had happened already that I didn’t want him to learn, didn’t want him to remember.

What impact was this going to have on his life going forward? Was he going to be damaged by all of this?

You can’t do more than you’ve already done—or more than you’re able to do. He’ll be okay. They’ll all be okay.

You know that. You’ve seen it.

Believe it.

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Forty-five – 02

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

Thom had promised to weather them all with me, but how was I going to guarantee that? Could I? Could he?

The visions suggested he couldn’t—that neither of us could. They’d come back after all this time, after they’d gone away for so long. I thought that it was over, that I wasn’t going to have to be afraid anymore.

 

Thom hunched over, perched, wavering on the edge of our bed. I reached over and laid my hand against his spine. He just felt so cold, like there was ice beneath his skin. I spoke softly, trying not to wake Lin, asleep on the other side of the small room.

               “Talk to me,” I said softly. “What can I do? How can I help?”

               “I don’t know,” he whispered, reaching back to lay a frigid hand on my arm. His fingers practically burned with cold where they touched my bare skin and I shivered despite myself. He winced and withdrew his hand.

               “You’re like ice,” I said, feeling hollow. “What’s going on?”

               He shook his head slowly and pushed himself up, standing, swaying for a moment before he seemed to catch his balance. “If I knew, Mar, I’d tell you. Going to go for a walk. Go back to sleep.”

               “Let me get dressed. I’ll come with you.”

               “No,” he said softly, reaching down to trace his fingertips along the side of my face. They were cold, but somehow felt a little warmer for at least a few seconds. “Stay here. Lin will wonder where we’ve gone if he wakes up and we’re not here. I won’t be long.”

               “No, it’s okay,” I said, watching him as he stepped away, started to dress in the darkness. “Take as much time as you need.” I pulled the blankets more tightly around me, trying to quell the panic that started to rise, tried to calm my suddenly pounding heart. “We’ll be here.”

               “Love you, Mar,” he said softly. I could see his smile in the dim as his hand touched the door handle. “I’ll be back.”

               “Okay,” I whispered. “Be careful?”

               “Of course.”

               Then he was gone and it was suddenly hard to breathe.

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Forty-five – 01

[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]

I watched the sun come up from the wall near the Wild Hunt’s encampment, Lin cradled against my chest, the scent of rain on the wind, lingering from the night before. The grass was still damp with rain from the night before, sparkling in the first rays of dawn. I hummed softly to my son as I stared at the sky, watched as the sun painted it in pinks and purples and oranges and golds. It would probably rain again soon, but for now, there was nothing.

That was fine.

My sleep had been restless, though it hadn’t been because of the storm. Thom had noticed, tried to reassure me that all would be well, but all I had to do was look at the dark shadows under his eyes and the paleness of his face in the lamplight and every feeling of worry and unease that he tried to allay came flooding back.

He’s my husband. I love him. I won’t lose him—I can’t, and I won’t.

I hadn’t told Thom what the visions were about, the ones that had woken me, just that I’d had some. He hadn’t pressed, just held me and whispered that everything would be okay. I wanted to believe him—I wanted to believe him so badly I could taste it. But I couldn’t.

Nothing was that easy anymore.

How could I tell him that the visions of losing him had come back? How could he not already know that’s what I’d been seeing? Maybe he did and didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to make it real by talking about it.

That would be like him, wouldn’t it?

Lin’s fingers tangled in my shirt and I realized I’d stopped humming. Tears lay wet against my cheeks and I exhaled a shaky breath.

“Sorry, Lin,” I whispered. “Sorry, my sweet boy.”

I took a shaky breath, wiped my cheeks and eyes with the heel of my hand, and started to sing softly to Lin instead of humming, a song from long ago, one that made a hand tighten around my heart and squeeze. It wasn’t one of my songs, but one of Brighíd’s, though somehow, it just felt right.

Lin quieted in my arms and I stared at the sun as it started to crest the horizon in the east, the sky pink and red around it, heralding the coming of another storm.

There was always another storm.

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Forty-four – 08

[This post is from Cameron’s point of view.]

They lapsed into silence for a few seconds, listening to birds calling in the trees, the soft clanging of Matt’s hammer against the anvil up in the forge, the barking of dogs, the sound of people below, working on more shelters while the weather held, before the undoubtedly long winter came—still probably months away, but inevitably coming. Neve shifted slightly, nestling herself more comfortably against him, then said quietly, “You know, when I first met you, I wasn’t sure if you were meant for someone else.”

Cameron blinked, stomach twisting for a moment before it settled. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I thought maybe you and my cousin Aoife—”

Her?” Cameron blurted. “Seriously?”

Neve choked on a laugh. “Will you let me finish?”

“If you were about to say what I think you’re about to say, I’m not sure I want to.” Cameron squinted at her, making a face he knew must have rather eloquently expressed how he felt about a possible pairing with her cousin. Though his encounter with her had been brief, it had been more than enough for him to know that she would not have made a good match. Neve stared back at him, clearly struggling to keep a straight face as she looked at him, a grin tugging at one corner of her mouth.

“She’s not—”

“Don’t even start to tell me that.”

She didn’t bother to stop herself from laughing this time, grinning and shaking her head. “Cam.”

“You were about to suggest that some sort of destiny might have tried to choose her for me. I don’t buy it.”

Neve’s brow quirked. “Why not?”

“Because I could never love anyone as much as I love you,” Cameron said simply, watching her as her expression changed, softened, her eyes seeming to grow brighter. “I could live a hundred, a thousand years and not find someone who’s as well-matched.”

“That makes two of us,” she said softly. “Though I have lived that thousand years and more.”

“I know,” he murmured, then leaned down to kiss her, gently, savoring the taste of her lips against his, faintly sweet and warm. “I love you, Neve.”

“I love you, too,” she whispered, then kissed him again. “Forever.”

“Aye,” he whispered against her lips. “Forever.”

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