Nine – 02

[This post is from Phelan’s point of view.]

Phelan had to laugh, shaking his head as he reached for the plate she offered him. “You’re not even going to argue with me about it, are you?”

Tala shook her head. “No. I know when a cause is lost.”

His brow quirked. “Really.”

She nodded, smirking at him. “Well, yeah. Since you hopped off the self-loathing train, you’ve mostly been right about when you deserve some sort of punishment for something.” She turned back to her pans, glancing back toward him only as he settled down a few feet away against one of the log benches. “I don’t think I knew he punched you back then, though. What the hell happened?”

Phelan shook his head, taking a quick sip of coffee before he answered. “When I first showed up, J.T. was one of the first to see me. He recognized me from something long ago and decked me—laid me flat, really, and like I said, I wholly deserved it. There were things that happened in the past that I stood by and allowed to happen rather than stopping them, in part because I thought it was better to leave things lie rather than try to change them. It’s—it’s a complicated story.”

“I imagine,” Tala said, focusing on the cast iron pans and pots over the fire. Phelan watched her as he started to eat. Her movements were practiced, certain, as if she’d been doing this forever, not just for the last dozen months.

It was so strange, how quickly they’d all adapted—himself included.

“What’s bothering you?” she asked after a few moments of silence dragged on. Around them, the camp was still waking, but no one else had come to the fire for breakfast. “Is it the date on the proverbial calendar?”

“I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily bothering me,” Phelan said, balancing his plate on his knee. “Though I would be a fool to deny that it’s making some sort of difference in the atmosphere around here today.”

Tala inclined her head with a slight shrug, glancing back over her shoulder at him again. “Probably right, but unless some new calamity is about to hit today, I’m not sure what the point in worrying is. It’s just another day as far as I’m concerned. It just happens to mark another trip around the sun since everything changed. Right?”

He offered her a faint, weak smile even as his stomach gave an uncomfortable shudder. “Right,” he said softly. “Of course.”

She straightened, her eyes narrowing. “Phelan.”

“What?”

“That tone.”

He blinked. “Huh?”

“You’ve got that tone,” she said, crossing her arms. The narrow-eyed gaze became almost a glower. “What’s going through your head that you’re not sharing?”

“I don’t—”

“You do,” she said. “You absolutely do. You’ve got that tone that says something is going to happen but you don’t want to share with the class and damn it all, I’m here to tell you that if you’ve got something to say, if there’s something you’re keeping from us, you’d damned well better reconsider doing that because now, today, is not the time.”

The force in her words set him back and he just stared at her for a few seconds, feeling like the wind had been knocked from his lungs. He licked his lips, shaking his head slowly.

“That’s just it, Tala,” he said quietly. “I don’t have anything. There’s nothing that I know, just a twist in my gut when you said what you said.”

“What did I say?”

“About another trip around the sun and new calamities.”

Now it was her turn to blink, the glower gone, replaced by a frown. “What?”

Phelan shook his head slowly. “Nothing’s certain,” he finally said. “But I hope you’re right about nothing new rearing its head. We don’t need any new calamities, certainly not today of all days.”

Her lips thinned. “It would set an ugly precedent.”

“Yes,” he agreed quietly. “Yes, it would.”

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