Winter – Chapter 24 – 08

            Phelan dropped the piece of chalk in his hand, fingers suddenly nerveless, a frisson of fear arcing up and down his spine.
            Déithe agus arrachtaigh,” he growled, pushing away from the wall.  “Now what?”
            “What’s the matter?”  J.T. asked, frowning darkly as he bent over and scooped up the dropped piece of chalk.  He offered it back to the flame-haired man.  “You’ve got a look.”
            “Something isn’t right,” Phelan muttered.  He snatched the chalk from J.T.’s hand and shoved it deep into his pocket.  His fingers itched for the staff he’d left laying on his bunk.  For the second time, he cursed himself for a fool.  I should have gone to get it before we came out here.  I wasn’t thinking.  His skin puckered with a chill that wasn’t from the weather.  Do I have time to get it now?
            Do I have a choice?  He swung away from the wall, breaking into a jog a few steps away from the edifice of concrete and broken brick.
            J.T. stayed with him, his first few steps shivering the ground at Phelan’s heels.  The bigger man rivaled some berserkers Phelan had known in sheer presence and girth, as gentle a giant as J.T. was.  “Start explaining, Phelan.”
            “I can’t explain when there’s nothing to explain yet,” Phelan snapped, hating himself for the sudden harshness frustration brought to his voice.  Settle down.  You’ve got no idea what’s out there yet.
            And that’s why I’m snapping at him.  Déithe agus arrachtaigh, Phelan.  He blew out an explosive breath and shook his head firmly.  “I’m sorry.  I am, I’m sorry.  I don’t know what’s out there, I just feel something and it’s not right.”
            “Then why are we heading back into camp and not out there to Thom and Greg and Rory?”
            “Because I’m the godsdamned idiot who left his staff on his bed,” Phelan growled.  “And whatever’s out there is something I don’t want to face without it.”
            J.T. missed a step behind him.  “What is it?”
            “I don’t know,” Phelan said again.  Déithe agus arrachtaigh, Jameson, I don’t know.  Go get your sword, col ceathrar, and hurry.”
            The big man cursed under his breath and broke off, headed toward his shed even as Phelan ducked into his own.  He hesitated a moment to let his eyes adjust to the slightly warmer darkness indoors, taking a few deep breaths and trying to settle down.  The scent of herbs and leather calmed him slightly, helped his thoughts clear.
            Ifreann.  This isn’t like me.  I’ve never been this unsettled.
            Then again, he’d never been quite as close to dying as he’d been a few weeks ago.  His jaw tightened as he strode across the plank floor to his bed.  As his fingers closed around the haft of his staff, the voice from his dream of the Morrigan echoed in his thoughts.
            “Someday, go leor grá amháin, someday I will come to carry you home.  It will not be this day, nor the next, but someday I will come.  You’ve served us well, but someday, leanbh, that service will come to an end and I will be there to bring you home.”
            The words still made him shiver.
            He grabbed his kit and threw the long strap of the small leather bag across his body.  Better to have the herbs and oils at hand, just in case.  With both hands around the worked wood of the staff, he took another few breaths, trying to find his center.  There was something about this group that kept him slightly off-balance—probably the sheer power concentrated in one spot—but at the same time, was oddly comforting.
            They’re your family, leathcheannThat’s why.
            These people are family and they’re your home and you’re terrified of having to leave them someday.
            “Not going to happen,” he murmured to himself before he turned and walked back out into the winter chill.
            Carolyn was at his elbow almost as soon as he stepped out into the light.  He blinked at her, eyes drifting momentarily to the sword she’d strapped to her side, to the rifle in her other hand and the faint glimmer of her fae companion, Longfellow, perching on her shoulder, hanging onto the woman’s hair.
            “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.
            “Marin said you would need me.”
            Phelan blinked.  “She’s awake, then?”
            “She said she felt like something threw her down two flights of stairs, but yeah.  Jac talked her into staying put.”  Carolyn looked past him, eyes lighting on J.T. for a moment as he joined them.  The big man gave her a stern, grave look and she shook her head slightly.  “But she said that I should get my ass to wherever you were and stick with you until it’s over.”
            Until what’s over?  He kept the question trapped behind his teeth and nodded.  “All right, if that’s what she says.”  His gaze flicked toward J.T., whose claymore poked up over his shoulder.  “Let’s get going.”

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