I want to be one of the ones to go down there after him, Thom realized as the others started to cluster near the gap in the wards, trickling in one by one. His free hand tightened on Marin’s arm.
I want to go, but she’d never let me. They’d have to carry me back up. Hell. They’d have to carry me down in the first place.
“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly. “Are you all night?”
He fumbled his sword back into its scabbard. “I just realized that I wanted to go with them and I can’t,” he murmured.
“Oh, Thom,” she said softly.
“I know.” He squeezed her gently and limped toward the edge of the ravine. He couldn’t see anything as he peered over the edge and down into the sun-dappled shadows below. “I don’t see them,” he said over his shoulder.
“Well, they couldn’t have gone that far,” J.T. said grimly, handing the shotgun he’d been wielding over to Matt. “They didn’t have that much time.”
Thom glanced at him. “Are you going down?”
J.T. nodded. “Matt and I. No sense in wasting time waiting to us to draw straws. Anyone else who wants to come can catch up. We’re going to go down and start working our way toward the river.” He hesitated, then added, “Send Carolyn down after us when she gets back with Kel.”
“Should I send Kel, too?” Thom asked as Matt handed him the spare shotgun J.T. had relinquished.
“No,” J.T. said. “She’s got to handle the ward with Marin. You guys stay up here and wait.”
“If I start hearing things that I don’t like, I’m sending them after you,” Thom said.
J.T. cracked a smile. “Guess we’ll have to die or some shit quietly, then. C’mon Matt.”
“Jameson Thaddeus MacKenzie, if you get my little brother killed, I’ll murder you myself,” Marin said from behind Thom.
“We’ll be careful,” he called back, then headed down.
Matt glanced toward Thom as he started to follow. Thom just nodded.
“Good luck,” he said quietly.
Matt nodded back and followed J.T. down the slope into the ravine. Thom turned away slowly, sucking in a deep breath.
I don’t like letting them go alone. Then again, I don’t like staying behind, either.
They need more backup. He looked around, frowning, then pointed at Drew, offering him the shotgun. “Drew, get Davon and head down after them.”
Drew smiled grimly as he took the gun. “Make sure they’ve got this line patched by the time we get back, just in case.”
“Count on it,” Thom said, then waved him off. Somewhere to his right, he heard Paul bark his little sister’s name. Angie stood next to Marin, both of her small hands wrapped around the older woman’s. Thom shook his head slightly.
“You shouldn’t be out here, kiddo,” he said gently. “It could be dangerous.”
“Miss Carolyn said the fighting was over,” Angie said. “Where’s Phelan, Mr. Thom?”
Marin caught his eye and shook her head almost imperceptibly. Thom cleared his throat, mouth dry and stomach churning, somehow nervous at the prospect of lying to a ten year old.
“Oh for pity’s sake, Thom,” she said, her hands spread wide. “You guys lied to me seventy-five percent of the time I was growing up because you were terrified of scaring the crap out of me. Being honest probably wouldn’t have scarred me for life. As it was, it was mostly the stuff Miss Kellin and Phelan told me that kept me sane. You can tell the kids what’s going on and I think they’ll be able to handle it.”
He grimaced. “Angie, I’m less concerned about telling them than I am about them telling someone else, someone who doesn’t understand how things work around here.” Or in the world beyond common sight, for that matter, or the fucking shadow war we’re still fighting after all this time. “Besides, back then it was your brother’s hands, not ours.”
“Yeah, well, it’s in yours now. They’re your kids, nieces, nephews, godkids, whatever. You guys get to choose now.” She went quiet for a moment and just shook her head. “You at least have to tell your son something, though. Lin’s been sensitive since he was fucking conceived. You need to be honest with him even if you’re not honest with anyone else.”
“Now who’s telling who how to raise their kids?” Thom asked, his wry tone designed to mask the sick churning of his stomach. Telling his son more than was strictly necessary wasn’t something he wanted to consider, let alone do.
“I’m just saying that he’s going to find out about what’s going on around here one way or another and it’d be better coming from you. That’s all.” Her expression softened. “He’s a tough kid, Thom. He can handle it. At least give him the chance.”
“We’re not sure, Angie,” Thom said. “But I’m sure he’s fine. Jay and Matt went to go find him, and Drew and Davon are going to go help.”
She stared at him for a long moment, until Paul moved between them and scooped up his sister.
“I told you to stay by the fire with Tala until I got back, kiddo.”
“Sorry, B-bro,” Angie said. “I only came because Miss Carolyn said it was safe. I’ll go back.”
Paul set her down. “I’ll come with,” he said, then glanced over his shoulder at Thom. “Coffee? Tea?”
“Put the water on,” Thom said, moving toward them to be near to Marin again and so he wouldn’t keep staring into the ravines, straining to see. “Keep it hot until we all get back.”
“Mr. Rory looked upset,” Angie piped up. “Maybe he could use some hot chocolate.”
Thom shivered as he remembered the bleakness in Rory’s eyes when he’d headed back for the tent. What he needs is a stiff drink—or several. “You might be right,” he said as he stepped around the brother and sister, finding Marin’s hand.
Paul frowned at him a little. Thom offered him a weak smile.
“It couldn’t hurt, Paul.”
“I guess you’re right.” He set Angie down and took her hand. “C’mon, kiddo, let’s get that started.”
Marin squeezed his hand as the brother and sister walked away. “Why did you tell her that? About Phelan?”
Thom swallowed hard and shook his head slightly. “I won’t lie to her about this stuff, just like I’ll try not to lie to our son someday.” Marin went rigid next to him, her hand squeezing even tighter. He just stared at the ravine. “They can handle the truth. She can sense it, anyway.”
“Thom,” Marin whispered, “how did you know we’d have a son?”
He shivered as a sudden chill gripped him.
“You saw it, didn’t you?”
“I’ve seen a lot of things, Mar,” he murmured. “Some I try to forget.” Some I hope I can change, some I hope aren’t real.
“But you saw our son.”
Wordlessly, he gathered her into his arms. She leaned against his chest and closed her arms.
“I’ve seen him, too,” she said.
He just nodded, throat too tight for words. He rested his chin against her head.
They stayed like that, holding each other, for a long, long time.