Winter – Chapter 28 – 04

Marin sighed, staring beyond the fire to the storm that was rising beyond the walls of the tent, battering it, blowing snow lashing against the blue and white tarps, quickly washing away all sign of the fights of the day before.  “You know, you told me once that I never had to thank you for what you did because you did it because we’re family, and that’s what you do for family.  Did you ever stop to think that maybe you didn’t need to thank me for the same reason?”

Phelan opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again.  He shook his head.  “I never thought of it that way, no.”

One corner of her mouth twitched toward a smile. “Maybe you should.”  She slid one arm around him and gave him a brief, tight squeeze before letting go.  “You’ve said it enough times, Phelan. We’re blood of your blood.  That makes you ours to protect, too.”

“I could never ask that of you.”

“You don’t have to,” she said softly.  “Some of us would just do it—in a heartbeat, without being asked.  It’s just the way we’re made.”  She smiled.  “You and yours have something to do with that, after all.”

He smiled humorlessly. “Aye.  I suppose we do.”

“Phelan?”

He twisted toward the sound on Jacqueline’s voice, immediately frowning.  “You were staying with—”

“They’re okay,” she said quickly. She’d been keeping an eye on Neve and Cameron while he got cleaned up.  He’d planned to relieve her once he was finished, but Marin had distracted him from that plan.

“Then what’s the matter?”  You said you’d stay with them until I came back.  What happened now?

“I need more of that poultice you packed into Cameron’s side,” Jacqueline said as she snagged the kettle and poured some of the steaming hot water into a portable container.

Phelan blinked.  “Did it somehow get forced out?”  That would be very not good.  That would mean it’s deeper than I thought and that there’s more corruption in the wound than I thought there could possibly be.  He pushed himself to his feet, ignoring Marin’s concerned look.  He’d have to explain more later.

Jacqueline shook her head. “It’s not Cameron.  He’s resting comfortably right now.  It’s J.T.”

“What’s wrong with J.T.?”  Marin asked, suddenly at Phelan’s shoulder.  He winced slightly.

“What she said.”

“Do you have more or not?”  Jacqueline asked.

He threw up his hands.  “Of course I’ve got more.  This isn’t the first time I’ve run into shit like that.  What’s wrong with Jameson?”

Her expression hardened as she took him by the hand.  “You need to get it because J.T., being the huge idiot he is, had a gash on his back from one of those things out there and Carolyn just came and told me that it’s oozing pus already.”

“Like Cameron’s wound,” Phelan said.  He closed his eyes for a moment and exhaled.  Bloody hell.  I should have known that we wouldn’t be that lucky.  “Marin, you need to go check on Thom.  They got a piece of him, too, didn’t they?”

She looked between he and Jacqueline for a moment, then sucked in a breath and moved away quickly, toward where Thom was undoubtedly sleeping off the night’s combat.

“Is this going to happen every time we go up against something nasty, Phelan?”  Jacqueline asked as she tugged him along.  “Is someone going to get so badly hurt that they’re on the verge of death—even from something minor?”

“Don’t exaggerate,” Phelan mumbled as he diverted her toward his cot.  His spare kit was there, along with his backup supplies.

“I’m not.  He’s already running a fever, Phelan.  What the hell is going on?”

He shook his head.  “It’s the effect Dirae can have on people with Otherworld blood,” he growled as he pawed through his bins of supplies.  “I was hoping that Cameron would be the only one with a serious problem, but it seems we’re not so lucky.  Either the Dirae got more potent after the end of the world, or he’s got more Otherworld blood in him than I suspected.”

“And that means what, exactly?”

“It means this could kill him,” Phelan snapped.  He immediately regretted it as Jacqueline’s fingers dug into his shoulder.  “I—I’m sorry.”

“It could kill him,” she echoed, her voice quiet and weak.  “Why didn’t you warn them before—”

“I did,” he said quietly.  “I did warn them.  Some things you can’t help, Jac.”

She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly.  “So what do we do?”

“Pack the wounds, dose him with antibiotics, and hope,” Phelan said through a clenched jaw as he shoved a few jars of herbs into his satchel.  “It’s all we can ever do.  At least the antibiotics will work for him and Cameron.  Me, Teague—those would kill us faster than the poison.”

“Because of your allergy.”

He nodded.  For a moment, his shoulders slumped and he stared at nothing, lips thinning.  “I hate all of this, Jac,” he murmured at last.  “None of this should be happening.”

“Then what should be?”  Her fingers tightened around his shoulders again and she shook her head.  “We play the hand we’re dealt.  There’s nothing more we can do than that.  God never dishes out more than we can handle.”

Phelan smiled humorlessly as he rose.  “If I hadn’t seen what you can do with Yahweh’s power, I would tease you about that.”

“Unfortunately, you need the gift he’s given me—we all do.”  She headed for his door.  “Come on.  Jay needs us.”

“Aye,” Phelan said softly.  “Aye, he does.”

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