Autumn – Chapter 11 – 02

                “You need to talk him out of it, Neve.”
                She closed her eyes and counted to twenty before she straightened slowly and turned toward Teague, standing behind her in the doorway.  “I’m done taking orders from the men in our family, Teague.  If you want to talk Cameron out of going, you have to do it yourself.”
                Teague flinched.  “I suppose I deserved that.”
                “Yes,” Neve said, watching her brother ease deeper into the spare bedroom, the one she—and Cameron—had been sharing.  As far as Teague knew, she’d been sleeping on the floor, leaving Cameron the bed.
                He’d have some kind of attack if he knew the truth.
                She folded her arms across her chest.  “I’ve spent my entire life listening to you, to Seamus, to Father.  I’m done.  It’s time for me to follow my heart.”
                Teague stopped and stood by the window, staring out at the bright blue autumn sky.  “And your heart’s telling you to go off wandering with an ex-pilot who gets attacked by Dirae as if he was one of us?”
                “Someone has to watch his back if he’s going to fulfill whatever grand destiny you’ve foreseen for him, deartháir mór.”  She tried to suppress a wince as she saw her brother’s shoulders hunch slightly.  He leaned heavily against the windowsill and she went to him and wrapped her arms around him.  She rested her cheek against his shoulder blade and sighed.  “It’s not that I don’t love you, Teague.  You know that, right?”
                “Of course.”  His voice was unsteady and she couldn’t suppress the wince this time.
                Déithe agus arrachtaigh,” she muttered under her breath.  “Teague, it’s not as if I’m leaving you all alone here.  You have Kira.”  You have your wife and the child in her belly.  Hasn’t she told you yet?  Haven’t you sensed it, you bloody oaf?  “You won’t be alone, and you know full well we won’t abandon you completely anyhow.  We’ll be back.”
                “Will you?” he whispered, leaning his head against the glass.  Something wet hit the back of Neve’s hand and she sighed.
                Deartháir mór,” she whispered in his ear.  “I’ve been in a cage for too long.  Don’t ask me to lock myself in one again.  Not when I’ve learned how to fly.”
                “We need you, deirfiúr leanbh, Kira and I.”
                “Not as much as Cameron does.”  Neve squeezed him and straightened, running her fingers lightly through her brother’s tangled curls.  “He’ll get himself killed out there if he goes alone, deartháir mór.  There’s still too much he doesn’t know, doesn’t understand.”
                Teague closed his eyes, still braced against the windowsill.  “He’s like Kira’s cousin.  He’s not ready, but he doesn’t have the luxury of not being ready yet.”  He cocked his head to one side slowly, meeting her gaze.  The corner of his mouth twitched upward with a wry smile.  “Do I have any hope of talking him into staying on a few more days, even a week or two?”
                Neve smiled weakly and went back to packing her meager belongings.  “I doubt it, but you can try.”
                His smile turned sad as he turned back to the window.  “Maybe I’ll save my breath for a fight I actually have a prayer of winning.”
                They were both silent for a few moments except for the sound of Neve stuffing clean clothes into her knapsack.  She finally looked up to see Teague staring at her again, a little wistfulness in his gaze, in his voice.
                “You remind me of Mum.”
                She felt a sudden lump building in her throat.  She couldn’t remember their mother very well—she’d been too young when she’d died—but Teague had always been close to her.  “Teague.”
                He smiled faintly.  “It’s all right.  You just…you look like her.  That’s all.”  The smile grew a little more wry.  “And talk like her and move like her.”  He crossed the floor and lifted Neve’s bow, weighing the weapon in his hands.  “You shoot like her, too, but don’t let this be your only protection.  Let him do some of the work.”
                She wrapped her arms around her older brother and held him tightly.  “I will,” she whispered.  “I promise, I will.”
                “And be careful.  I can’t lose you, too.  Seamus was enough.”
                It hasn’t stopped hurting after all these years, after so much time.  Neve’s arms tightened.  Part of Teague’s problem, of course, was guilt.  If not for him, Seamus never would have been sent south, married off in his younger brother’s place.  They never would have lost him.
                They’d fought, of course, as siblings always did.  Seamus tried to protect his younger brother and sister from their father’s temper, from his dark, cold rages.  Neve was the only one who had generally been spared.  Teague had gotten the rougher side of their father’s tongue more than once in their lives.  He’d been the rebellious one—they both had been, truth be told, but Neve was too good at not getting caught.  As they grew older, into adults, Teague and Seamus had finally seemed to find the companionship in each other that they’d enjoyed as boys.
                And then Seamus had been taken from them.
                “Do you think he was happy with her?”  Neve whispered.
                “I don’t know that he had time, deirfiúr leanbh.” Teague sighed.
                “We will, though,” Neve told him, then lifted her head and kissed his temple.  “His fate won’t be ours.”
                “Of course not,” Teague murmured, the corner of his mouth twitching again.  “We’re smart enough to choose—not have our choices made for us.”
                Neve smiled and squeezed him one more time.  “Aye,” she said softly.  “Now don’t you forget that you’ve said that, either.”
                He laughed.  “I’ve gone and screwed myself, haven’t I?”
                “Only a little, deartháir mór.  Just remember that you said it the next time you want to tell me or Aoife or Phelan to do something.”  Neve turned back to her bags.
                “Phelan,” Teague said heavily, shaking his head slightly.  “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he gets himself half-killed on purpose.”
                “He might,” Neve agreed, rolling another shirt into a thin strip.  “Then again, maybe he can’t help it.  I’m sure he’s fine, though, Teague.  We’d know if he wasn’t, wouldn’t we?”
                Teague made a quiet, noncommitmental noise in the back of his throat.  “I imagine he’s fine.  For all we know, Kira’s cousin got annoyed and stabbed him.”
                “He can’t be as bad as you make him sound sometimes, Teague.  Kira adores her cousin.”
                “She does,” he agreed softly.  “And I suppose I can’t blame her.  They’re very close.”  He smiled briefly.  “As to how he might actually be in truth, I’ll let you be the judge of that.  You’ll eventually meet him.”
                Neve stared at him for a moment.  “Cameron told you that we were going west?”
                “No,” Teague said, and left it at that.

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