Autumn – Chapter 9 – 04

                “Matt?”
                He was bent over his anvil, hammering away at an iron rod laid across it.  Each blow sent shivers up his limbs.  The muscles of his arms and neck stood out, his jaw set as he jerked his head up at the sound of my voice.
                Light glinted off the rivulets of moisture running down his face.  Tears.  He was crying.
                Oh Matt.
                “What do you want, Marin?” he asked, voice rough and hoarse.  He mopped his eyes with his sleeve and set down his hammer.  His fingers stayed half curled, as if they were stiff from wielding that hammer and holding the iron in place.
                I shook my head.  “Why are you trying to cold-hammer that?  You’re going to hurt yourself.”
                “I don’t care,” he said.  “At least I’d still be feeling.”
                My stomach flopped.  “What’s wrong?”
                “Maybe nothing and maybe everything.  Is he going to live?”
                Christ.  “I don’t know, Matt.  I don’t know if any of us know.”
                He shook his head as he sank down on a stack of bricks near his anvil, his voice as bleak as his vacant, hopeless gaze.  “I didn’t even think when we spotted him in the river.  I just dove right in to pull him out again.  We almost couldn’t find a pulse and he was barely breathing and I—Mar, all I could think about was what that crazy bitch said when the fight started and now we would never fucking know what she was talking about if he died.
                “He was standing his ground to protect us, but I’ll be damned if I understand why.  I mean, him protecting you I understand, but the rest of us I just don’t get.  He looked at you, he looked at J.T., and he looked at me.  Why are we so damn important to him?”
                I squeezed onto the pile of bricks with him and slid my arm around his shoulders.  He shivered, swallowing hard.  I rested my chin against his temple and sighed.  “Because we are, Matty.  He told me once that I reminded him of someone he knew once upon a time.  He didn’t tell me much more than that, though.”  I wonder if it has something to do with that weird vision I had during the battle, after I touched J.T.
                Matt sighed.  “I really don’t think he’d go toe-to-toe with that bitch out of simple sentiment.”
                “Maybe, maybe not.  He’s pretty serious about loyalty.”
                He grunted.  We were both quiet for a few long moments before he said, “When do you think we’ll know?”
                “About what?”
                He winced.  “Whether or not he’s going to make it.”
                “Oh.”  I frowned, sighing and shaking my head after a few long moments.  “I don’t know.  Thom said he’d come up here if something’s changed.”
                “Did he send you up here?”
                I looked at Matt, mildly surprised by the question.
                “Thom,” he clarified.
                “How did you know?”
                He shrugged, eyes focusing on something in the distance.  “I knew that you were with him, and he’s got this gift for getting you to focus on more than whatever the hell you’re fixated on.  Most of the time, anyway.”
                “And you thought I’d be fixated on something?”
                “I knew you would be.  The same thing I am.”  Matt leaned against me, shaking his head slightly.  “The same thing most of us are fixated on right now.  Do you think that could’ve been her plan?  Distract us by hurting—”
                “No,” I said firmly, even though my stomach did a full backflip at the thought.  Could that have been her plan?  If it was, she’s failed because she’s dead.  She has to be dead.  The birdshot was chewing her up even before Phelan got his hands on her.  He’ll tell us when he wakes up. He’ll tell us everything.  “I won’t say that I don’t think that she was that smart—I have no way of actually knowing that—but I will say that she’s too dead to make good on any threat like that.  She has to be.”
                Matt nodded after a moment.  “If you say it, I have to believe it.”
                I laughed bitterly.  “You’re the one who didn’t find a body.  It doesn’t matter.  If she wasn’t gone, she’d have shown up again by now.”
                “Why did you have to say that, Mar?”  Matt said, groaning.  “Now she’s going to show up.”
                We both held our breath, but no laughter came.  The only shadow that passed over us was a hawk that cried and made us both jump.  I started laughing helplessly, the tension suddenly broken.  Matt clung to me, breathing raggedly as tears started to roll down his face again.
                “We could’ve been killed today, couldn’t we?” he asked.  “All of us.  We could’ve been wiped off the map.”
                I sucked in a few ragged breaths, forcing down my hysterical laughter and looking at him.  I reached up and cupped his face between my palms.  “But we weren’t, Matty.  We weren’t.  We’re still here—all of us are still here.”
                “Someday we won’t be,” he said quietly.  “Not unless we can figure out more ways to defend ourselves.  Not unless I can figure out more ways for us to defend ourselves.”
                I stared at him.  “No one made it your job, Matt.”
                “You’re wrong, Mar,” he murmured.  “I did, and I’m going to do it.  I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to do it.”
                “Let me help,” I said.
                “I’ll let everyone help.”  He rested his forehead against mine.   “Go back down to Thom,” he said.  “Tell him what I said and thank him for me.”
                My heart sank.  He’s going to want to talk to you about this, Matt.  “Matt—”
                “I’ll come down later, but I’m not going to talk about this tonight.  Just let me think for a little while, okay?”
                I kissed his forehead.  “Okay.”
                My brother gave me one last squeeze before he sent me on my way.

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