I was watching Jacqueline finish up with Thom and nursing a lip I’d bitten bloody. Jacqueline didn’t curse much, but she’d cursed today, and a lot, mostly aspersions on Thom’s character and on his ability to get himself hurt, but at the same time she’d tried to calmly reassure me that he’d be fine. J.T. had joined her halfway through the patching process, his face pale and his chest bare except for bandages holding a heavy gauze pad against his shoulder. He hadn’t joined in her swearing. He’d just gone quietly to work.
They were finishing up when Rory touched my shoulder and cleared his throat. I turned, blinking blearily at him, realizing that my eyes were having trouble focusing.
“What is it?” I asked, glancing toward J.T. and Jacqueline before I stepped out of the shed where they were doing their work and into waning daylight. The sound of hammers on roofs echoed distantly. Some of the others were working on the covered walkways at the far end of this row.
“Was coming to let you know that we saw them on their way,” he said. “The ones who surrendered. I…” He looked vaguely uncomfortable for a moment before he shook his head. “I gave them a mark. In case they try to come back someday. In case something happens to the people who saw their faces today and they try to come back.”
My stomach twisted uncomfortably. “How, Rory?”
He glanced down at his hand, then held it up slowly, palm up, fingers slightly curled. A tiny, flickering blue-white flame appeared, then faded as he curled his hand into a fist.
“Holy crap,” I whispered, forcing myself not to rock back against my heels. “Rory, when did you—”
“I’ve been practicing since the day Leah ran,” he said. “I’m the only one with really strong offensive ability, Mar. I’ve got to be able to control it if it’s going to be useful.”
“I—I guess so,” I said, my eyes meeting his. I didn’t like the look of discomfort I saw flicker across his face. “Are you okay?”
He shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, Rory, it matters.”
He stared off into the distance for a few long moments before he spoke, not looking at me right away. “I’m afraid of myself,” he said. “I’m afraid that there’s some kind of monster inside of me. I hear these whispers from inside when I bring up the fire, telling me that I can do more, telling me that I should do more. It’s not like something out there is whispering to me. It’s something inside of me. I don’t want to turn into some kind of psychopath. I’m not some kind of psychopath.”
“Of course not. You’ve been fascinated by fire for as long as I’ve known you, though. It’s just your subconscious or something.” Or is it? I took his hand and squeezed it tightly. “Everything’ll be fine.”
“Right,” he said, his tone vaguely disbelieving. “Anyway, I just was coming to tell you that. And to offer my service when it comes to burning the bodies.”
“Did they get them piled up?”
“Looted and piled,” he confirmed. “Out near the drive. I told them to wait on the wood, though. I might be able to take care of it without wasting some of the deadwood.”
After you just told me what you told me, Rory, you’re volunteering to do that? “Are you sure it’s a good idea?”
“The sooner I sort this out for myself, the better off we’ll all be,” Rory mumbled. “Right?”
I exhaled softly. “Right,” I said. “Do you want me to come with you?”
He looked beyond me, toward the building where Jacqueline and J.T. were still at work, then slowly shook his head. “No,” he said quietly. “You belong here. I’ll ask Greg and Drew to come with me. If I go off the rails, Drew’ll stop me.”
“Take Phelan, too,” I told him. “Talk to him about this. He might be able to help.” And if there’s something to worry about, he’ll tell me.
Rory nodded. “All right.” He squeezed my hand. “Thom’ll be fine. You shouldn’t worry about that.”
His breath stirred the hairs on the back of my neck and I shivered slightly, glancing up over my shoulder at him and away from the sleeping bundle in my arms.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he murmured. I shook my head, leaning back against his chest. His arms closed around the baby and I and I relaxed in fractions, by inches.
“Bad dreams,” I said softly.
“Bad dreams,” he echoed. “Bad dreams or bad visions?” He rested his cheek against my ear, his voice rumbling through my bones. I pressed closer.
“Hopefully the former and not the latter,” I said. Our son stirred in my arms, yawning and squirming, then quieted. His eyes blinked open, as blue as an October sky. I smiled faintly and brushed fine, dark hair away from his forehead. “If it’s the latter, I don’t like the road ahead, Thom. It’s not going to be a happy one.”
His arms tightened briefly. “For all of us?”
I nodded slightly. “For any and all. I hope it’s just nightmares.”
“What did you see?”
“Death,” I whispered. “And a lot of it.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he reminded me.
“I know,” I said. “I know.”
“What was it this time? Raiders? Another beastie?”
“All of them. And plague.”
I felt him wince. He gently turned me to face him and put his hand on my cheek. They were rough from chopping wood and repairing roofs. “It was just a nightmare,” he told me softly. “We’re not that unlucky, right?”
I laughed a weak, broken laugh. “Not since the first year.”
“Exactly.” He pressed a kiss firmly to my forehead and settled his arms around my shoulders. We stood there, three that were one, for a long, long time.
“I know he will be,” I said, mustering up a smile. “I’ve seen too much of him in the future for him to die today.”
Rory smiled back, gave my hand one more squeeze, then walked away.
After a moment, I turned and followed him.