Rory gave me a dirty look as I fell into step with him. “I thought I told you to stay with Thom.
I shook my head. “I can’t help him right now and if I stay, Jacqueline’s only going to end up wound tighter. Better I come and help make sure you don’t go off the rails.” I took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “Besides, it’s better I see my orders to their completion. I’m the one who said to burn the bodies. I shouldn’t hide from that.”
His look became measuring and he finally turned away, nodding with a sigh. “I guess you’re right about that.”
I reached over and squeezed his arm. “I’m not the one that needs protecting anymore, Rory. You guys can stop sheltering me.”
“Thom would kill us,” Rory said. “Because he really, really doesn’t share that opinion. Intellectually, he knows that you’re strong enough to handle the nasty stuff, but he doesn’t want anyone to make you shoulder that burden.” Rory’s lips thinned. “This’ll make him open his eyes. He’ll know what happened today, if not when he wakes up, then soon after.”
Maybe I should shelter him from that for a little while. I don’t want him to deal with that kind of shock right away.
Drew was up on one of the rooftops and Greg was dumping out some dirty wash-water when we found them a few minutes later. We flagged Drew down and beckoned Greg over to us, clustered in the shadow of one of the shelters. Greg rubbed his palms together briskly and then blew into his fist, trying to warm his bare hands. “What’s up?”
“We’re burning the bodies,” I told them. “Rory’s going to see what he can do without wasting deadwood. Have either of you seen Phelan?”
“Not since he walked away with you,” Drew said. “He’s not still over by Thom, is he?”
I shook my head. “I just left them a few minutes ago. He wasn’t there.” My gaze drifted up toward Matt’s forge. A faint wisp of smoke rose from the chimney. “I think I figured out where he must be, though.”
The three men followed my gaze. Drew wiped his hands on the seat of his jeans and then shoved them into his pockets. “Wonder why he spends so much time up there. He didn’t strike me as the type.”
“Why, because of the bow and the staff?” I smiled wryly before I started walking toward the forge. “There’s a lot more facets to him than he’s let us all see,” I said. Even as the words left my mouth, I knew that a bare handful of us—me, Thom, J.T., and Matt—knew more about Phelan than any of the others.
It was a strange, almost disconcerting thought, to realize that I knew more about him than most of my friends.
If we’re mostly his blood, shouldn’t that mean he’d be more open with more of us instead of just a few of us? I frowned, crossing my arms as I walked.
“What’s the matter?” Drew asked.
“Just thinking. Nothing important.”
The smoky smell was like wood but not, a scent I couldn’t quite place. I could hear the quiet murmur of voices as I reached the stone shed that was the most solid structure we had save for the sheds we slept in, though it was entirely open on one side, facing the ruins and the ravines to the south.
Greg’s nose wrinkled. “Are they trying to make charcoal?”
That would make sense. “Maybe,” I said, then raised my voice. “Phelan? You up here?”
He poked his head around the corner and peered at me, then at the trio following on my heels. His expression went abruptly from curious to grave. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” I said. “We just need your help with something.” I reached behind me and tugged Rory forward. “Can Matt spare you for a little while?”
“I can bank the fire and come along,” Matt said, stepping out from the shadows and into view, his face smudged with either dirt or soot, I couldn’t be certain which. “What’s going on?”
I looked at Rory, who shifted from one foot to the other, almost nervously, like a child dragged into the principal’s office.
He swallowed before he said, “I volunteered to try to burn the bodies,” he said. “Using my…uhm…parlor tricks.”
I stared at him. Parlor tricks? Really?
Phelan started to laugh. He shook his head and started walking past us, back down toward the gap in the walls and the road beyond it. “I’d say what you can do is a little more than parlor tricks,” he said to Rory as he passed us, “but if it makes you feel better to call them that, who am I to stop you?”
Rory shot me a baleful look as we started walking again. I reached over and squeezed his hand.
“You’re the one that said it,” I murmured to him.
“I know,” he said. “Now I’m never going to live it down.”
My lips twitched into a smile. “Maybe not. But you still said it.”
“Me and my big mouth.”
Want to help support Awakenings?
Want to chip in to support Awakenings? Buy Erin a coffee through ko-fi and fuel her creativity with a little caffeine.
Want to help support all of Erin’s writing endeavors?
Thank you to my supporters!
Thank you to all of my supporters at Patreon, especially Karen L. Klitzke and Brandon!
Where we’re listed