Autumn – Chapter 3 – Marin – 01

            I watched the sun slip slowly toward the horizon, arms crossed and holding my jacket tight across my shoulders.  It was a chilly evening, as Michigan evenings can be as September gives way to October, slowly but surely.
            Tonight was the night.  We’d have to leave soon for the burial, to make sure we could make ready before we lost the light completely.  Phelan still wasn’t happy about the prospect of doing this at twilight, but the combined might of me, J.T., and Carolyn wasn’t giving him much choice in the matter.  Rory, I think, would have been just as happy doing it in the dead of night, and Kellin had been damnably ambivalent the past few days when it came to arguing a case for or against anything.  Regardless of what Phelan said about edges and crossings, I was starting to get more than a little concerned—and annoyed.
            At least we hadn’t felt the eyes on us again since that day by the fire.  Whatever Greg had managed to do apparently had warded them off, at least for now.
            “I’m coming with you.”
            I startled and turned, blinking at Thom.  He was leaning on one crutch instead of two, which would have J.T., Jacqueline, and Leah all up in arms, but they were probably busy doing something else at this time of the evening.  He took a few limping steps toward me and gingerly slid his free arm around my waist.
            I looked up at him as he leaned into me, hip to hip.  “I didn’t think you’d want to.”
            He smiled briefly.  “Not sure why.  It’s paying respects and making the ground safe for our dead.  Considering I was almost among them, only seems right I should be there.”
            I winced and he squeezed me gently.
            “Of course, if you don’t want me to tag along, I guess I could stay here.”
            “It’s a long walk, Thom.”  Nervous flutters filled my belly, like a dozen butterflies trying to win free.  Stubborn though he was, sometimes logic won out over his stubbornness.  It was a long walk, and it’d be hard on his battered body.  Not to mention what we were going out there to do might be hard on his battered spirit.
            He sighed quietly and shook his head.  “I haven’t been anywhere but here in camp for almost five weeks, Mar.  I think I’m starting to go crazy.”
            “Starting?”  I teased gently, smiling at him.  He cracked a grin and shook his head again.
            “Yeah.  Starting.”
            I put my arms around his waist for a moment and squeezed.  He winced slightly, then sighed.  I just looked at him.  “Are you sure?”
            “About coming with you guys?”  He nodded.  “I’m sure.  I want—I need—to see what the rest looks like, Mar.  I need to know what…”  His voice trailed away, broke a little in the middle.  “…what’s happened to this place.  It was our world.  Sitting here, I’m not going to figure that out, you know?”
            I nodded.  “I know,” I said softly.  I squeezed him again, kissed his jaw and just held on.
            “So you’re not going to argue with me about this?”  He whispered into my hair after a few moments of silence.
            “No,” I said.  “But the others might, and that’s a battle you have to win yourself.”
            “Mm.”  His gaze drifted toward the sky, painted in vivid reds and oranges, pinks giving way to deepening blue somewhere above us.  We were silent for a long time, just standing there together, listening to the activities of camp in the evening behind us.
            “I dreamed of Kira last night,” he said after a long time, so softly I almost didn’t hear him.
            So that’s why he was murmuring her name in his sleep.  I knew he was worried about her, despite Phelan’s assurances that she was fine.  Thom would never really be sure his cousin was fine until he saw it for himself, and that was an impossibility at this point.  I rubbed his back gently.  “Did you?”
            He nodded slightly.  “Saw her by a fire, talking with a woman I don’t think I’ve ever seen.  Teague was there, and another man I’ve never seen.  She seemed…fine, I guess.  If it was more than just a dream.”  He buried his nose in my hair.
            I smiled weakly up at him.  “Thom, if you saw more than just her and Teague, do you really think it’s only a dream?”
            “No,” he said softly, the word muffled by my hair.  “But I can’t be sure.”
            “We’re never sure,” I said quietly.  “There’s no way to ever be sure when it comes to all of this.  Educated guesses, instincts, and hope.  What does that tell you?”
            He laughed.  “That my unconscious is focused on things I’ve got no control over.  Probably something I should fix.”
            Maybe, maybe not.  I tilted my face toward his to kiss him lightly before I slowly let go of him.  “Can I help with that?”
            After a moment’s consideration, he shook his head.  “No.  Probably not.  Where are you going?”
            “I have a few things I have to pull together for tonight.  If you stay here, I’ll bring you your other crutch before J.T. or the girls catch you wandering around with one.”
            “Too late for that,” J.T. rumbled from behind us.  “Carolyn’s looking for you, Marin.”
            Thom mimed looking stricken and I laughed, shaking my head.
            “Take your lumps like a man,” I called over my shoulder to him as I headed back toward the tents, where Carolyn probably was.
            “I’ve got too many of those already.  Another lump and I’ll break!”  Thom called back, but he was grinning.
            J.T. just shook his head, smiling wryly.  I could hear him starting in on Thom as I walked away, though his tone was more good-naturedly stern than angry.  I shook my own head and shoved my hands into the pockets of my coat, only feeling mildly guilty for abandoning Thom to explain not only why he was limping around with only one crutch, but also to tell his best friend that he’d be accompanying us on the long walk out to the burial mounds that needed blessings this evening.
            That was probably going to be a fairly interesting conversation, to say the least.

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