[This post is from Marin’s point of view.]
It was just after sunrise when he came into the forge, silent and contemplative. His fingers brushed over his tools, the anvil, the half-finished projects that he’d left behind. A gentle, misty rain fell outside, muting every sound, and the thickness of the mists shrouded the world like a cloak, letting us forget what had happened two days before, at least for a little while.
I hadn’t thought he’d realized I was there until he looked right at me with a faint, crooked smile. “You’re supposed to be in bed, sis. My nephew wake you up?”
With a faint smile of my own, I shook my head, slipping out of the shadows near the whetstone. “No, he’s still asleep after his predawn feeding. I decided to stretch my legs a little. I ended up here.”
Matt stared at me for a few long moments, then said, “So you weren’t looking for me?”
I glanced down. “I figured you’d eventually make it up here.”
“You were right.” He closed his eyes, exhaling a sigh. “You should sit down. You’re pale.”
He opened his eyes and I felt the immense weight of that gaze. He was worried on a lot of levels, not just about me. I sat down instead of arguing and he sank down next to me. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and I leaned against him, listening to the slow, easy rhythm of his breath.
“You were hoping I’d come looking for you,” I said.
Matt sighed, nodding. “I didn’t want to bother you. You’ve got enough on your plate right now.”
“You’re my brother.”
He shot me a crooked smile. “That means I’m either always a bother or never a bother. I’m almost afraid to ask which one it is.”
I laughed, wrapping my arm around his waist and squeezing. He rested his cheek against my head and sighed again. There was an elephant in the room—more than one if I was really honest—and he was leaving it to me to be the one to name it. I couldn’t blame him.
“Do you love her?”
He exhaled and nodded without a hint of hesitation. “At first I wondered if it was because of her history with Cíar, but I figured that it was more than that. Their history just made it easier for both of us. It dropped some walls that would have made things really difficult otherwise.”
“Then she loves you, too? Not just because of Cíar?”
Matt nodded again. “And she trusts me, which is more than I can say about almost everyone in her life.” He tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling. “I don’t know if we can stay here, Mar.”
My stomach dropped, my throat growing tight. Everything I’d ever seen showed him with us. We needed him with us. More than anything, I needed him to be here. He was all I had left of the family I’d been born to, that I’d grown up a part of. “Will you at least try?”
“That depends on her and everyone else,” he murmured. “She knows they have good reason to hate her, Mar, and I know it, too. She did some really bad things, but—”
“I know,” I said, cutting him off. “I get it, Matt. Ériu…Ériu knew. She told me. I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure if I was apologizing to the brother sitting next to me or to Cíar mac Dúbhshláin, whose soul was the twin of ancient one living in me.
My brother sighed again, his arm tightening for a moment before he let go. “Who would have thought a year ago that we’d think talking to ghosts about the ancient lives of our souls would be normal?”
“Not even me,” I said softly. “Are you okay?”
“Mostly. I’m just worried.”
“About everything.” His crooked smile returned as he glanced toward me. “I think I learned that from the best.”
“Probably right on that.” I squeezed him gently. “I’m kind of looking forward to meeting her, though, y’know?”
Matt stared at me for a few long moments, then shifted on the bench. He hugged me fiercely and pressed a kiss to my forehead.
“I think she’ll like that,” he murmured. I reached up to ruffle his hair.
“I hope so. She must be something really special if you married her fifteen seconds before she picked a fight with a god of death.”
He blushed. “Who told you?”
“Phelan. Thom’s still trying to wrap his head around it.”
“That sounds like him.” Matt took a deep breath and stood up, wandering toward his anvil. His fingertips brushed along its smooth surface. “Thordin kept an eye on things up here for me, didn’t he?”
I nodded. “Toward the end.”
“I’ll have to thank him.” He stared out the open door at the mist and rain. “It’s good to be home.”
“We’re glad to have you home,” I said.
He looked at me and smiled. “No matter what? Despite who I brought with me?”
“Based on what everyone’s told me? You guys saved us. That should be enough for everyone.” I stood up, wincing slightly. Everything was sore. “But you don’t have to face any of them until you’re ready.”
“Don’t I?” he smiled faintly and shook his head. “I appreciate the sentiment, but I think it’s time for us to figure out what normal is now—and then she and I can decide what we’re going to do. That means facing them sooner rather than later.” He nodded toward the door. “You want to go have breakfast? Before Thom wakes up and realizes you’re gone and has some kind of anyerism?”
I smiled. “Breakfast would be great.”
“Then let’s go. I’ll cook if someone else hasn’t already started.”
I took his hand. He squeezed my fingers and together we headed down toward the cooking fires and whatever the new normal might turn out to be.