He stirred awake thanks to a chill the next morning, just as the sky was turning light in the east. Marin was sitting up, staring at him. “Your chest is like some kind of furnace, Thom.”
Probably aggravated my ribs or something, he thought. He closed his eyes again as she peeled up his shirt, flesh puckering with the cold. He winced as she gasped a little.
“You’re all black and blue on the one side again,” she said, her fingers like ice against his ribs. He shivered, swallowing hard.
“Yeah, I fell against some shelves last night,” he mumbled, starting to tug his shirt back down. “Hurt like hell at the time, but I didn’t feel anything pop so I thought it’d probably be okay. Just bruises.” He sat up slowly. “And it sounds like that’s all it is. Right?”
She looked doubtful, frowning slightly. “Maybe you should have Jay look.”
Thom grimaced. He’ll just get on my case about being careful and try to keep me stationary again. “You’re not going to give me a vote about that, are you?”
A weak smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Am I that transparent?”
He hitched one shoulder in a shrug and stretched a little, rubbing lightly at his sore ribs, careful of the fresh bruises. “Not usually,” he said, a wry smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Just when you’re worrying about me.”
Marin laughed and shook her head. “I suppose that’s a good thing to be transparent about.”
Thom started to change into clean clothes to face the oncoming day, hissing as the cold air hit his bare skin again. “If it still hurts at dinnertime, I’ll bother Jay with it. Not before; I’ve got too much work to do.” Matt hasn’t said anything about not laying those foundations today, with or without Phelan, so we’re going to get that started while the others work on the walls. Thom suppressed a shiver. We’re going to need that forge sooner rather than later, I’m afraid.
Sometimes, he wondered if Matt was cursed similarly to he and Marin, or if he just possessed more simple, logical foresight than the rest of them. His relationship with Matt was tenuous enough that he didn’t want to ask him outright. For the same reason, he didn’t want to disappoint his soon-to-be brother.
“You’re still working on the walls. Rory can handle that for a little while, right?”
Thom shook his head. “Matt and I were going to start the foundations for his forge today.”
“I thought you didn’t want to worry about anything except for the walls until they were up.” Marin watched him dress, her eyes on his bruises until he covered them up again with a clean shirt.
“They’re mostly up,” Thom murmured, “and I promised your brother.”
Marin shook her head slightly, sighing and finally turning away to get dressed herself. “Matt would understand, Thom.”
“I’m not going to break that promise because of a few bruises.” Thom kissed her cheek. “I’m going to go find a jar of peanut butter. After last night, I think some of us could use some fortified toast.”
“That sounds like a good plan.” She squeezed his hand before she let him go.
Thom limped toward the fire, where he could see Tala already starting on the morning’s breakfast. She shot him a smile in the dim light, mostly cast from the fire and not the slowly rising sun.
“What was all the commotion last night?” she asked. “I started to get up, but by the time I was, J.T. told me to go back to bed. Jac looks like she’s slept maybe three hours all night.”
“She took the watch from Carolyn after the incident last night.” Thom edged closer to the fire, to warm his cold hands before he’d have to make the trek to the supply tent to rummage around for peanut butter in their stores. “Have you noticed Leah acting strange lately?”
Tala startled, blinking. “Leah? I’m not sure how I’d be able to tell, Thom.” She sat back against her heels, frowning to herself. “I don’t know. Maybe? She just kind of holds herself aloof from the rest of us, I guess. Always going off to do her own thing. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t like the rule about never going anywhere alone. I think that’s got more to do with her style of plant-hunting, though. She doesn’t want someone else coming behind her and trampling anything she might have missed. She’s like a deer when she’s in the forest—lightfooted, doesn’t do much damage unless frightened.”
I wonder if she’s frightened now. Thom nodded slightly.
“Why? Did she have something to do with whatever happened last night?”
Thom shrugged with one shoulder. “She tried to give Phelan antibiotics. I hit her with a crutch.”
“What the hell did you do that for?”
Thom smiled weakly. “If you saw someone straddling Phelan’s chest in the middle of the night, what would you do?”
“If you hadn’t said his chest, I’d say I’d congratulate him.” Tala frowned. “That doesn’t explain your question, though.”
“Phelan’s allergic to antibiotics.”
She shook her head. “That just means she almost killed him on accident. You saved his life, sure, but she was probably just trying to help him. Unless…you think something else is going on?”
He shrugged slightly. “Following my gut. I hope I’m wrong. I’m going to go get peanut butter for the toast.”
He’d gone three steps before her question stopped him.
“What if you’re not wrong?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”