Fevers brought the strangest dreams, Cameron reflected as he took a few uneven breaths, shaking off the lingering vestiges of one such dream.
His wounds still burned, still felt like they were open and weeping. The blankets over him felt almost too heavy, too hot.
Dim light splashed across his eyelids and he groaned softly. It felt like he was stabbing himself in the eyes with icy daggers. Trying to throw an arm across his eyes to shield them made him nauseous with pain.
In the end, he squeezed his eyes more tightly shut and tried to curl in on himself until the dry heaves stopped.
A cold hand touched his cheek and he shivered, exhaling a little gasp. “Fuck all,” he croaked. “Your hand’s cold.”
“That’s because I’d estimate your fever at about a hundred and three,” a woman’s voice said. She was close. The pain in his head ebbed enough that he risked a look.
Her body shielded his eyes from the light streaming in through an uncovered window. Dawn light made a halo of auburn hair that had won loose of a ponytail and firelight cast her features in flickering shadows, but Cameron saw enough to know she was a stranger.
“I saw you,” he said quietly. “I saw you in a dream.” One of his fever-dreams, but a dream nonetheless.
The woman glanced over her shoulder toward a man nearby. A jolt ran through Cameron as he met his gaze.
“You,” he whispered.
More light flooded into the room and Cameron choked on a curse as it sent a flash-frozen spear between his eyes that exploded into fresh, searingly cold pain.
“Close the door, Neve. He’s awake.”
Neve. Cameron sucked in a few ragged breaths, eyes squeezed shut until the light abruptly winked out again.
“I thought you said it’d be at least another day or two,” Neve said with an accusatory edge to her voice.
The man answered, his tone dry. “Apparently I was mistaken. We both know this isn’t precisely my area of expertise.” His voice dropped. “That dubious honor went to Seamus.”
“Well, he’s not here and never will be,” Neve snapped.
Her hands were cool and damp when they touched his face. Cameron exhaled and sagged, opening his eyes slowly to stare up at the Black Irish girl who’d saved him on the road.
“Neve,” he murmured, thoughts starting to tangle. How had she known where to bring him? Had it been an accident? Why had she followed him instead of taking her own path as she’d originally intended?
And the sword. Why had she given it to him—and how had he known how to use it?
“It’s all right,” she whispered. “You’re safe here. We’re both safe here.” She glanced toward the other woman. “Kira, could you slide that basin over here? The fever’s breaking. He’s starting to sweat.”
A chill swept through him and he shivered. Pain lanced through his arm and shoulders; red-tinted darkness nibbled along the edges of his vision. The two women crowded around him. Neve wrung a rag out over a wide bowl filled with water and began to sponge his brow and neck.
How long have I been sleeping?
He felt the absurd desire to suck on that rag and realized he had to be hellishly dehydrated.
“What day is it?” he asked.
“Does it matter?” Neve asked softly. “Got somewhere to be?”
He looked away, watched the flickering fire, whose light didn’t seem to hurt his eyes like daylight did. It struck him as strange, but he pushed the thought aside and sighed softly. “No. I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“Here.” The man he’d seen in his fever dreams, the man his gut told him he’d been looking for, pressed the nipple of a sports bottle against his lips. “Drink and try to keep it down. You’ll be all right now that the fever’s broken.”
A clever retort slipped through Cameron’s metaphorical fingers. It didn’t matter anyway. He twitched one arm reflexively, intending to take the bottle and was rewarded with fresh and blinding pain for his efforts.
“Don’t move,” the man said. “I’ll hold it, you just drink.”
Cameron swallowed and nodded, then began to drink. The water went down sweet and cool, sending good shivers down his spine even as his stomach quivered, still in rebellion against the pain of his injuries. After the first few gulps, Cameron forced himself to slow down, to calm down.
He was fairly certain he’d downed more than half the large bottle before he shook his head slightly and the other man lifted the bottle away.
“Where am I?” Cameron asked. The riot in his belly was starting to slowly settle down. As long as he didn’t try to move, maybe it would stay that way.
“New Brunswick, such as it is,” Kira said. “You’ve been down for the count for nine days. Not bad, all things considered.” She glanced at the man sidelong and he nodded slightly.
Cameron stared at the man. “You’re the one I was looking for, but I don’t know why.”
Follow your gut, follow your heart, and I’ll follow mine. Neve squeezed his hand. He hadn’t even felt her take it.
Why did she follow me after all?
The man shook his head slowly. “I can only speculate about why you were looking for me, and none of my ideas might be right. The best I can come up with is fate.”
“Fate? Fate brought me here.” Cameron stared at him. “Really.”
The man shrugged. “Don’t believe in it?”
“Not really,” Cameron said. “But at the moment I’m not sure I’ve got a better suggestion, so we’ll go with that for now. What about those things that attacked me on the road? What were they and why the hell do I still hurt so damn much if I’ve been laying here for nine days like a lump?” She said fever. Infection? Maybe. God, I hope not.
“They’re—well. We’ve always called them Dirae,” Neve said softly. “The Greeks called them Erinyes, but the Romans called them the Dirae and so do we. They’re anger spirits made flesh.”
Cameron stared at her, blinking. “You mean they’re some kind of gang of chicks that are like anger spirits in the flesh.” His heart started to beat a little faster. First his gut, then weird dreams, a guy who said his showing up here was fate and now this?
Did I die out there on the road and get sent to some really, really special brand of hell?
Neve shook her head slowly. “No, Cameron,” she said gently. “I meant exactly what I said. That pack started chasing you about two days after we started traveling together. I thought they were after me. I was wrong.”
He started to feel sick again as he stared at her, read the pain and guilt in her eyes. His mouth went dry.
“I—I need to get out of here,” he stammered.
“You wouldn’t even make it upright,” the man said. “Believe me, I know. I’ve tangled with them before.”
I fell off my horse and into Crazy Town. This is all a dream. It has to be.
Neve’s hand tightened around his so tightly he could feel her pulse through her thumb against his flesh. “Please, Cameron,” she whispered. “Don’t test your luck trying. It’s going to run out sooner or later, and you’re going to need it later rather than sooner.”
He shook his head weakly. “Who are you people?”
“Fellow survivors,” the man said simply, “who care as much as you do about what comes next.”
What does come next? Cameron closed his eyes. “And what’s that?”
“Survival,” the man said. “And building a better world after the war’s over.”
Cameron’s eyes popped open. “War? What war?”
“The one that you became a part of the moment you survived the end of the world.”
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