Thom stood very still, thoughts reeling.
How would she know that I’d need that kind of message? There’s no way for her to—unless he knew. How could he know, though? How is that possible?
And if they knew, why didn’t they tell Phelan before they left him?
“That certainly sounds like her,” Phelan’s voice said wearily from behind the stunned pair of Seers.
Marin turned toward Phelan, nose wrinkling slightly as Thom tried to collect his thoughts. “Where were you?”
Phelan held up his kit of herbs and odds and ends. “Was sound asleep until about fifteen minutes ago. I think some of Carolyn’s little friends decided my head would make a good dance floor, though. That’s what it feels like, anyhow.”
Thom shook himself and looked at Phelan. “Something tells me the way that your head feels has quite a bit more to do with what you and Marin did to that thing out there, not any faeries tangoing on your face.”
“Probably right.” Phelan looked past them to Cameron, who was staring at the three as if they’d each grown a second head.
“Christ,” Cameron muttered. “Is everyone who lived through the end of the world batshit crazy?”
“Just most of us,” Phelan said with mock cheer before he slid past Marin and headed for the door behind Cameron.
Cameron just stood there and watched before he glanced at Thom. “Is he always like this?”
“Except when he’s being depressed, usually,” Thom said. He nodded toward the door. “We were coming to check up on everyone. Is it going to get insanely crowded if we step inside, too?”
Cameron grimaced. “Probably.”
Marin’s fingers slid into Thom’s. “We could head over to the cook fires and have something hot to drink. How long has it been since you had a cup of coffee, Cameron? It’s Cameron, right?”
“Right.” He smiled weakly. “And it’s been a long time. I don’t think I’d say no to a cup at this point. You guys actually have some?”
“Everything that the local stores and coffee shops could furnish us with,” Thom said, grateful to be back in control of something, at least temporarily. “And we’ll keep on having it until we run out or it somehow becomes undrinkable.”
Cameron nodded, glancing over his shoulder again toward the doors. He tugged them shut almost reverently and turned back toward Marin and Thom. “There’s a fire where we’re going, right?”
“Decent-sized one, yeah,” Thom said. “We still do most of the cooking over open flame, but I think Tala said she’s almost ready to test the oven.”
“She said it yesterday,” Marin confirmed. She looked at Cameron as they began to walk toward where the cooking fires still burned. “You guys had a hard road to get here, huh?”
His lips thinning into a tight line, Cameron nodded. He’d been so interested in getting his lover, Neve, taken care of that there had only been the chance for the most perfunctory of introductions and questions. Thom couldn’t blame him. He’d have done the same in the former pilot’s place.
Oh yes, he’d very much noticed the flight suit that had been in the other man’s saddlebags. He wasn’t above snooping when lives might be at stake.
“Yeah, we did,” Cameron said quietly after a moment, “but we’re here now and we’re safe. Now I just have to figure out why I was drawn here in the first place.”
Drawn here, huh? Interesting. We’ll have to run that one by Phelan, I think. “Probably to even the odds,” Thom said. Marin elbowed him sharply below his ribcage, the impact enough to send ribbons of fire across his chest. “Goddammit, Mar,” he said as his eyes started to water. “Those still aren’t in one piece, remember?”
She swore under her breath and shook her head. “I’m sorry. You okay?”
“I think so.” He gingerly touched his side to check if anything seemed out of place, but everything felt relatively normal. “Seems like.”
Cameron stared at the two of them. “How many walking wounded do you have around here?”
“Fewer now than we did a couple weeks back,” Thom said. “Trust me, we’re a lot more solid now than we were before.”
Cameron shook his head slowly. “Seems like it’s been rough all over.”
“You could say that,” Marin said as she pulled Thom’s arm around her shoulders. They stepped out of the main ‘building’ of the settlement and into the tent where they still did all of their cooking around one of two fires that stayed tended day and night. Greg was sitting by the main fire and lifted a hand in greeting.
“A little late for you to be up, isn’t it?” he asked as they joined him by the fire.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Marin said before Thom could say something about the strange vision she’d had and then barely talked about. The fact that she’d said as little as she had about it meant she was well and truly unsettled by whatever she’d seen. “Cameron hasn’t had coffee in forever, so we came out here to talk.”
Greg nodded with a wry smile. “Good thing I just put a kettle on, then. Was going to have some tea myself.”
“A very good thing. You want coffee instead?” Marin began hunting for the current canister of grounds and the coffee press.
Cameron just shook his head in bewildered wonder as he sank down to the dry ground near the fire. “How many of you are there?”
“Thirty or so,” Thom said as he seated himself. “Room for a few more at this point. We started out with more, but we terrified some so badly they left. After everything that keeps happening, I can hardly blame them.”
“Most of the survivors here were students at the university,” Greg added. “Very bloody clever students.”
Marin grinned as she came back to the fire with mugs, the press, and a canister of coffee. “We had to be, Professor. Otherwise, we weren’t going to make it.”
“True,” Greg said.
Cameron shook his head. “Couldn’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t,” Thom said. “But neither was your road to get here.”
Cameron winced. “We were going to talk about that, weren’t we?”
“Yup,” Thom said. “We were.”
Cameron heaved a heavy sigh and stretched before he resettled, edging a little closer to the fire. “Fine. What do you want to know?”
Marin settled in next to Thom. “Why don’t you just start at the beginning?”
“Oh. All of it, then?”
“All of it,” she said, giving him a warm, sympathetic smile. “Don’t worry. You tell us yours and I’ll tell you mine.”
Thom smiled wryly. “We’ll tell you ours, she means.”
Cameron took a deep breath, nodded, then started to talk.
Winter – Chapter 27 – 01
Thom stood very still, thoughts reeling.