Thom was still digging around in the storage area for a jar of peanut butter when J.T. caught up with him. He hung back for a moment, watching with a faintly amused expression as his friend lumbered around in the dim, hunting through the stacked totes of foodstuffs for his quarry. Thom about jumped out of his skin when he turned around and saw J.T. blocking his exit.
“Fuck, Jay. Are you trying to give me a heart attack or something?”
“I think it’d take more than me startling you to do that.” J.T. shoved his hands into his pockets. “Marin said you got a little banged up last night when you smacked Leah.”
Thom shook his head, making his way back over to where he’d leaned his crutches against another pile of totes. “Just bruises that look worse than they feel. I lost my balance after I hit her and a shelf broke my fall.” He made a face. “Did she tell you to come looking for me? I told her I’d talk to you about it later.”
“Only part of it.” J.T. crossed his arms. “She said that I should come out here and talk to you about the Leah situation.”
“It’s a situation now?” Thom handed J.T. two jars of peanut butter, one creamy, the other chunky, both looted from the local grocery.
“Really not sure what else you’d call it.” J.T. held the tent’s flap open before following Thom out into the early morning light. “There’s something you should know.”
“What’s that?” Thom asked as he started to head back to the fire. J.T. took him gently by the arm to stop his forward progress. Thom frowned. “What?”
“Just hold up for a second.” J.T. frowned, looking around. Don’t need anyone overhearing this. Not just yet. Satisfied there was no one around to interrupt them or overhear, J.T.’s voice dropped low as he started talking again. “Rory heard something the day of the big attack, just like you and I did.”
A shudder ran through Thom and he flinched. J.T. shook his head a little.
“I know, you don’t like to talk about it.”
“I don’t like to remember it, Jay. There’s a difference.” Thom scrubbed a hand over his face. “What was it?”
The words tasted sour in his mouth even as he said them. “The Shadow Man said that one of us already belonged to them.”
He watched the words hit Thom like a physical blow, shock and horror washing over him, shifting his expression. It took a moment before Thom seemed to master the ability to speak again, and even when he did, his voice emerged as a croak. “What?”
“After last night, I thought you should know. Carolyn and I thought you should know.”
Thom shook his head slowly. “Christ on crutches. Why didn’t Rory say something?”
“He did. The day that Phelan came, he told me and Care and Marin while we were out working on the wards. I thought she’d tell you, but she told me she hadn’t.” I guess there are still some things she’s trying to protect you from, bro.
Thom shook his head slowly. “No, she never said anything. Of course, we don’t talk about it much.” He swallowed convulsively. “It’s not something I want to remember, you know?”
J.T. grunted and nodded. “Yeah, I understand.”
“Does Rory have any idea who it was talking about?”
“No,” J.T. said quietly. “Up until last night, we’d all been hoping that it was someone who decided to leave.” And then last night happened. Leah knew about Phelan and antibiotics. She was sitting right there when he said it. And pinning him down like that? There wasn’t any reason for it, or to do it in the middle of the night.
“You and Care think it’s Leah, too?” Thom looked incredibly uncomfortable. J.T. had to strain to hear him.
“We couldn’t think of anyone else it could be. What happened last night non-withstanding, she’s been doing her own thing lately, flaunting the rules. Remember how she said that she was going to go fishing that day?”
Thom grimaced. “I’d almost forgotten. Yeah, I remember. Then you guys found her out cold outside of camp after you’d gotten the rest of us settled.”
“And we’d scattered to the four winds looking for her sorry ass in the ravines that day, too,” J.T. said. His stomach soured and he grimaced. I didn’t realize how bad it all really sounded until I started putting voice to it. There’s a lot that we’ve been overlooking.
“This just gets worse and worse,” Thom muttered, starting to move again. “What are we going to do about this?”
J.T. shook his head. “I don’t know. I figured I’d let Marin tell Kel first, then we’d go from there.”
“Phelan wants Jacqueline to take care of him. Only her.” Thom glanced at him. “Probably said that just to keep Leah from getting too suspicious.”
Great. So he suspects something’s going on, too. J.T. grimaced and nodded. “I’ll try to be appropriately nonchalant, then. Let’s be honest, I’ve got my hands full enough with you and half a dozen other things. Speaking of, when do you want to start the hand-to-hand and melee work?”
“Soon,” Thom murmured. “Really soon. Let me get the walls situated and the forge started. Then we’ll start on training and practice in the evenings.” He smiled wryly. “Assuming that Kel and Marin agree it’s a good idea.”
“They’re not going to disagree,” J.T. said. “They know as well as everyone else that we’re going to need to be able to defend ourselves in close quarters. Hell. They may even know better than us.”
Thom grunted. “Yeah. I’m afraid of that.”
“Me too, man. Me too.”
Want to help support Awakenings?
Want to chip in to support Awakenings? Buy Erin a coffee through ko-fi and fuel her creativity with a little caffeine.
Want to help support all of Erin’s writing endeavors?
Thank you to my supporters!
Thank you to all of my supporters at Patreon, especially Karen L. Klitzke and Brandon!
Where we’re listed