Winter – Chapter 17 – 05

            “I want to know where you get off thinking you can lie to me after we’ve been honest with each other for so long so far, Phelan.”
            The muscles of his shoulders bunched as my words caught up with him that afternoon, long after our early morning conversation with Thom and Daniel.  Phelan was heading toward the forge, where my brother and Davon were working on a roof.  His back ramrod-straight, he turned slowly back toward me, brows knitting.
            “You can’t tell me that we’ve been entirely honest, Marin.”  His tone was neither accusing nor angry; it was sad.  “There are always secrets.”
            “I haven’t kept any from you,” I said.  “And secrets aren’t flat-out lies anyway.  Why did you lie to us?”
            “What did I lie to you about?”  He asked.
            I rolled my eyes.  Really?  “Dragon.  You know something about him, something you don’t want to tell us.  Why?”
            A muscle in his jaw twitched and he stared at the gray sky, at the clouds that raced, promising more snow later this morning.  “Remember what I told you once about fear, Marin?”
            He’s afraid?  Why is he afraid?  I rocked back against my heels.  Now I really want to know whatever he knows.  This doesn’t make any sense.  “Phelan—“
            He held up his hand and sighed, shaking his head.  “Never mind it.  I’m sorry.  You’re right.  At some point, I’m going to have to stop trying to protect all of you from everything I know and fear.”  His lips compressed into a line until he blew out a breath.  With that breath, he seemed to exhale some of the tension that had gripped him.  “Dragon.”
            “Yes,” I said, stepping closer and lowering my voice.  “Dragon.”
            His gaze returned to the sky, his lips barely moving as he spoke and his words almost torn away by the light wind slowly kicking up.  “Teague saw a man by that name rising here after…after the asteroid.  He would struggle, would try to bring hope in the darkness—like all of you here—but the true leader and hero would be his son, long after the father had vanished.”  Phelan’s hands curled into fists.  “He saw that much, but wouldn’t say more.  Every time I asked to talk about it, he’d refuse.  He just…I don’t know, Marin.  He never wanted to talk about it.  Acted like it was dangerous to talk about it.”
            Why the hell would it be dangerous to talk about something like that?  Even as I asked myself the question, I began to realize the possibilities.  “I imagine if Teague ever met the man, he wouldn’t warn him about this supposed destiny of his, would he?”
            Phelan’s brows knit again for a moment, then he sighed.  “No, I suppose he wouldn’t.  I’d be surprised if he did.”  Momentarily, Phelan looked like he wanted to punch something, then the moment passed and he just seemed tired again.  “That’s Teague, though.  I’m not my cousin.”
            “No,” I agreed quietly as I took his hand.  “You’re not.”  I squeezed his knuckles and smiled weakly.  “I’m sorry I came after you like this, but…”
            “It’s all right.”  He shook his head.  “I needed it, in a strange way.  Every time I try to protect all of you, you guys just keep finding ways to remind me that you’re capable of taking care of yourselves—with a little help.”  A wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.  “Speaking of a little help, I promised your brother I’d help with that roof over there.  Jameson said I should be all right as long as I don’t fall off the roof.”
            I squeezed his hand again and let go.  “I won’t keep you from it.  Go on.”
            He smiled at me as he turned away and continued up the hill.  I shoved my hands into the pockets of my sweatshirt and headed back down toward the main tent, where Thom would undoubtedly be with his maps and sketches.  I waved to Tala as I passed the meat smokers and she waved back.  She glanced sidelong at one of them before she half walked, half jogged away, toward me.  I stopped and waited for her to catch up, wincing.  It was still early in her pregnancy and she was already huge.
            She poked me in the ribs as she joined me.  “I saw that wince.  What was that for?”
            I shook my head.  “Running can not be comfortable for you right now.”
            “Eh.”  Tala shrugged.  “It’s not, but sometimes it has to be done.  Thanks for waiting for me.  Are you headed back to the main tent?”
            “Yeah, to see what everyone else is up to.  Why, do you need something?”
            “Just some water.  Mind if I walk with you?”
            “Not at all.”
            We fell into step together as we headed back toward the main tent, her steps a little shorter than mine.  Despite how round her belly was, she still moved pretty well.  I glanced at her sidelong.
            “Did we ever figure out when it happened?”
            “This?”  She pointed to her belly.  “No, not precisely.  We think maybe June or July, but it’s hard to know.  Without ultrasound or anything like that, the techniques we’ve got to work with are positively medieval.  I’m not sure what we’d be doing if Jac hadn’t taken that one class, you know?”
            I wasn’t sure what class Tala was talking about, but I decided it was probably safer not to ask.  I had little doubt that it was probably a midwifery class or something in the school of nursing.
            “Should you really be…well…”
            “This huge at four or five months in?  No, probably not.  Jac’s a little worried, but I decided what’s the point in getting terrified?  We won’t know anything for a little while still.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe it happened sooner and that’s why I’m already as big as a flipping house.”  She blushed a little.  “Not that I’m not pretty big to start out with.  That probably has something to do with it.”
            I snorted.  “Somehow, I don’t think that’s entirely the case.”  Our shoes crunched against gravel and fallen leaves, snow that had melted down and refrozen again into ice.  “What if it’s more than one?”
            “You mean like twins?  Fuck if I know, Mar.  I’m still not sure how I’m going to handle one, let alone more than one at the same time.”  Her eyes focused distantly for a moment before she shook herself.  “At least I’ll have all of you guys to lean on.  And help with the walking and the bathing and the changing.  The feeding not so much, but something tells me that won’t be a problem.”
            How does she know that?  My nose wrinkled, but I didn’t ask the question, changing the subject instead.  “How do our food supplies look?”
            “We should have enough,” she said.  “It’s looking okay.  If we can bag some more game, we’ll be in even better shape.  The cereals and everything seem like they’ll keep, and we actually got a surprising amount of produce that we’ve managed to find ways to preserve for the winter.  I’m not sure how those little greenhouses are going to end up working out, but they seem like they’re doing okay so far.”  She canted her head to one side.  “Come to think of it, I should check with Professor Doyle on that.  Get an update on how they’re doing.”
            “That might be a good idea,” I said.  “Never know when we’re going to need them—or how bad this winter’s going to be.”  The memory of an earlier vision came to mind, of figures clustered around a fire, the sound of someone laying bricks in the background.  A shiver shot down my spine.  Had we already changed that future?  To a degree, I suspected we had, but it would still be a long, cold winter.
            Unless that vision wasn’t of this first winter, but some later winter after something really, really terrible has happened.
            “You okay?”
            “Yeah,” I said, chafing my hands over my arms.  “I’m fine.  Just a little chill, that’s all.”
            “You sure?”
            “Positive.”  My thoughts returned to Thom’s suggestion that we start writing down our visions.  I was still wondering what actual purpose it would serve, but even as I wondered, it started to sound more and more like a good idea.
            Just in case.
            In case of what, I wasn’t quite sure.  Then again, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be.

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