“What’s that?” Thom tried to push himself up on an elbow, stopping short and gasping for breath as he fell back. He squeezed his eyes shut, tears welling up. I gave him a dirty look that he didn’t see and pushed slowly to my feet, limping into the waning daylight to see.
The source of the sound had been the Mackinac complex, which slowly crumbled as I watched. I exhaled a breath weakly, watching it come down. Some of the others were shouting. Figures were stumbling clear—Kellin, J.T., the others that had been searching the rubble. I shivered. Thank god. Lightning crackled in the sky. We were almost out of time.
“What was that?” The sound of wood against wood coupled with Carolyn’s shout heralded her return with my brother. “Oh. God…”
I withdrew, limping back to Thom.
“What happened?” He hadn’t tried to get up again, but he was craning his neck to see as much as he could. I thanked whatever powers that were for small favors. Trying to get up before must have really hurt, if he was staying down now.
“Mac came down,” I said quietly. “And a storm’s coming in. Looks bad.” Knew the storm was coming. Probably will be bad, though not sure how bad. We can hope it’s not as nasty as it looks…
“Running out of time.”
I nodded mutely. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better. Much, much worse. I closed my eyes a moment, sinking down next to Thom and hugging my knees against my chest under my blanket, opening my eyes to stare at my bare, dirty toes. They were cold. “I should find some socks,” I mumbled to myself.
Thom reached up, drawing a fingertip across my toes. I winced slightly at the touch, shivering a little. God, did they hurt. His brow furrowed slightly, but he didn’t stop running his fingers along my toes, the top of my foot; the touch was gentle, tender, even. After a few long moments, he pulled my blanket down across my toes, shaking his head slightly.
“Where did you lose your shoes?”
“One’s in the river, somewhere, I think. Other one’s here, somewhere. Matt found a different pair for me.” I grimaced. “Thinking I should maybe wash them before I put socks on.”
“If they’re cold now, put socks on, Marin,” he mumbled, closing his eyes and exhaling slowly. “Not sure how they’re cold. Ninety degrees today…”
I looked at him. “Does it feel ninety degrees, Thom?”
He was quiet for a long moment. The temperature had been falling since the sky had turned red—I was pretty willing to lay odds that it was maybe, potentially somewhere well south of seventy degrees now, probably closer to sixty at the high end. And my feet were cold, but they throbbed. I suppose I should have been glad that they were cold, rather than feeling as if they were a more comfortable temperature.
“No,” he said quietly, “it doesn’t feel like ninety degrees. I thought it was because I was in shock, though.” He looked up at me and grimaced, looking away again, something seeming to die inside of him in that moment. “They were really wrong,” he mumbled, almost to himself.
Oh, Thom. I struggled not to sigh, reaching down and gently stroking his brow. He didn’t look at me, just lay there, letting me run my fingers through his short hair, still full of masonry dust, the dark of the strands shrouded by the whitish gray of it, making it looked frosted.
Whump. I startled, looking up to see Jack maneuvering the extra mattress into the shelter, starting to arrange it at a perpendicular angle to Thom’s. I smiled weakly. “Thanks, Jack. Rain started yet?”
He shook his head. “Not yet. But we’re trying to work quick so we’re not caught in it. One of the guys—one of your friends, I think, that Davon guy?—found one of the big tents that they use for events; they’re trying to pitch it so it’ll give the shelters some extra cover. Hopefully they’ll get it up before the rain gets going.”
“Hopefully,” I echoed, then shook my head. “Find Jacqueline, if you can. She wanted to look at Thom after he woke up.”
He nodded. “I’ll get on that ASAP.” He jogged off. I was aware of the sound of metal against metal—the sound of pounding pegs into the ground to pitch that tent.
Thom found my hand as I stared off in Jack’s wake, squeezed my fingers gently. “You look like hell, Marin,” he murmured. “Sure you’re all right?”
You’re one to talk. I tried to smile. “Best that can be expected. No one’s really ‘all right,’ Thom. We’re just doing acceptable jobs of faking it.” I pushed my hair out of my face, tucking it behind my ear. I’m really glad you didn’t go, though. I’m not sure any of us would make it through this hell if you weren’t here. Leastwise, not from what I’m feeling, not from the impressions I’m getting. My stomach flip-flopped once, then settled. I took a steadying breath. It’s what I saw years ago, but different. All of that makes more sense now, though. A lot more sense. People…surviving things they shouldn’t have survived—radiation sickness kills. People don’t live through that shit. This…this is survivable. Somehow. We’re going to make it. I bit my lip, resting my chin on my knees.
“Marin?” He was worried. It was in his voice, a tone rarely heard. He usually hid it, buried it. Worry was weakness in his family, and an Ambrose never showed weakness. That’s what his father had always said, and no matter how much bitterness I’d heard in Thom’s voice when he talked about it, some lessons of boyhood had never left him. It was just the way things were. I took his hand again and squeezed.
At least I know he still gives a damn. I smiled down at him.
“You said you loved me.”
He flinched. “I do love you.”
“But you can’t accept what I am, my gifts.”
“Those I accept and you know it. You just can’t accept the fact that I don’t have the same, Marin.”
“Bullshit, Thom, bullshit,” I spat. “You and I both know that you can feel and see and sense it all too.”
He turned away, didn’t say anything. I sighed, my ire cooling.
“We fight like we’re married.”
His voice was a mumble. “Stupid shit to fight over.”
I bit my lip, quiet for a long moment before I came up behind him, slid my arms around his waist, pressed my face into his shoulder, sighing. It’s not stupid when it’s a matter of survival. I didn’t say it, though. Not then. Would I ever be able to? Would I be able to say it before it was too late?
“You look like you’re a thousand miles away,” he murmured, eyes half-lidded. I shook myself.
“Maybe I was for a minute.” I looked away, out the opening in our shelter. Davon and one of the camp staffers were bracing the center pole for one of the huge event tents, the tarps for it dangling limply from its tip, like some big piece of wet tissue paper on a Popsicle stick. They might actually get it up in time. Thunder growled, closer now. I hope they get it up in time.
He didn’t say anything, just followed my gaze. What was going through his head? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. Thinking I was crazy again? Maybe. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all. Not anymore.
Why was it so hard? Why couldn’t he just…admit it to himself? Why couldn’t he just accept it?
What had caused him to run so hard and so fast away from the things we both knew he could see, the things we both knew he could do? Eight months, now. Eight months since he’d started to deny it. We hadn’t slept together in almost two. Maybe it was over. I didn’t want that, but it was going to be what it was going to be. All I could do was try to make sure he stayed alive. We were going to need him.
I found myself staring at him, reached down and ran my fingers through his short-cropped hair, cursing myself for the sudden stinging tears in my eyes. “I love you, Thom,” I whispered softly, barely able to say the words but at the same time unable to stop them.
Thom looked up at me. The ghost of a smile flitted across his features as he reached up to stroke my cheek gently with a cold thumb. “Always, Marin,” he said softly. “Always.”