All eyes were on Aoife as she sat with her back to the hearth and the anemic fire flickering there, but she wasn’t looking at any of them. Instead, she stared into the depths of the steaming mug of tea cradled between her hands, as if she believed if she didn’t look at anyone or anything else, the questions would just go away.
But they weren’t going to just go away, were they? Her lips thinned and she sighed quietly, finally risking a look up, her gaze falling on Gray. “What did you ask, again?”
“I just want to know what happened three days ago,” he said, seeming as reluctant to make eye contact as she was. “That’s all, Eva—I just want to know.”
The words came slowly, hesitantly. I don’t know if I want to tell them this. They’re just going to think I’m crazier than they already think I am. Can’t just lie, though, can I? No, I guess not. There isn’t any way around it, is there? “It was my brother,” she said quietly. “He—something—acch.” She broke off, fingers tightening around the mug. The urge to throw it was almost too strong to quell.
“Something happened to my brother,” she spat, forcing herself to set down the mug before it ended up broken. “The bloody idiot probably got in over his head and got himself maimed.”
The others sat in stunned silence for a moment, not even moving. Kes was the first, swallowing and glancing from Wat on her right to Gray on her left before her gaze settled on Aoife.
“How—how did you know?” she asked. “That he’d gotten hurt, I mean. How did you—”
“I sensed it,” Aoife said, cutting her off. Her voice shook slightly as she forged on. “We can do that. We can…we can sense things like that, sometimes. Not always, just sometimes. It has to be sudden or bad and usually both and this woke me out of a gods-be-damned dead sleep, so it was probably really bad.” Woke me out of a dead sleep and had me running barefoot into the damned woods to get him, like I could just run across a few hundred miles to get to him. No doubt it was bad. She laced her fingers through her hair, holding her head. “Damn it, I have to leave. I have to go.” She sprang to her feet and headed for her pack. If I leave now, I’ll have time to make it five, maybe eight miles before dark.
Gray’s hand snapped out, fingers tightening into a death grip on her arm. His voice came out oddly flat, his eyes still on the spot where she had been, not the spot where she was now.
“No,” he said. His fingers, already digging, tightened even more, dug even deeper.
“Let go,” she hissed.
Gray stood up slowly, looking at his friends. “Excuse us.”
He dragged her into one of the side rooms, mercifully not the one she’d been sleeping in. He kicked the door closed and finally let go.
Aoife rubbed her arm, grimacing. “What the hell is this all about?”
“I’m not letting you leave like that,” Gray growled. “Even if I have to hog-tie you to something. Not after everything that’s happened so far.”
Everything that’s happened so far? Your biggest goddamned problem would be things spitting in Teca’s metaphorical, metaphysical eye if I hadn’t shown up! “Everything like what? Like me showing up and starting shit and bringing new and novel problems to the fore for the lot of you? Please. Things would get back to normal around here if I left and you guys could just forget I was ever here.”
“Forget?” His voice sounded strange. “Forget? You expect us to just forget? Screw that in twelve directions, Aoife. It’s not happening because this shit doesn’t work that way.”
She tried to ignore the fact that he’d actually said her name, not Eva, but her name. Her fingers flexed at her sides. Gray seemed huge and the room seemed tiny. Her breath quickened. “Get out of my way and let me go, Gray.”
“Not a chance,” he said. “Not until you promise that you’re not leaving.”
She gritted her teeth. “I can’t make that promise.” Part of her wanted to, though, the part that craved safety in numbers, a warm, dry place to sleep and people to talk to. Those were the things she’d sacrifice by running.
If I leave, I might as well never come back because he’s never going to forgive me.
He is never going to forgive me. Why does that matter so much? He’s not the only one here.
Their eyes met and she shivered at the fear and desperation she saw in him.
“Then I can’t let you out of this room,” he whispered. “Because I can’t let you just run away and abandon m—us. Abandon us.”
“You mean abandon you,” she said, voice bleak. Her legs felt shaky and she fumbled her way to a chair, collapsing into it before her knees could give out. “Gray, why does it matter?”
“Why does it matter?” He moved away from the door, expression slack and gaze troubled as he came toward her and knelt down in front of her chair. “How am I supposed to keep these yahoos safe without help? You’re the only one who can help me here. You’re the only one who knows shit that I don’t. You’re the only one.” He shivered, looking away. “What was that thing I saw over you, Aoife? When I found you in the woods three days ago.”
“I—” What is he talking about? Her mouth snapped shut and she shook her head. “I don’t know, Gray. I don’t remember it.”
He sighed and looked away. “You can’t just bail on us, Aoife, and I can’t just bail on them.”
“Who said anything about you leaving, too?” Shit. She leaned forward slightly, putting her hands on his shoulders. “Gray, you can’t.”
“Then neither can you,” he murmured, looking up at her. “Because you’re not leaving here alone.” He swallowed hard. “Promise me.”
Gods and monsters. Aoife squeezed her eyes shut, her voice a whisper.
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