Twenty-one – 04

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

The next few minutes were some of the most arduous he’d spent in recent memory. The walk to the fire recalled another walk, now nearly a year gone. He could still smell the smoke, feel the hot wind. He could sense the loss. It had been almost overwhelming then.

Even now, it ached like a raw wound.

He’d been near Chicago when it had all happened, trying to make sure a last few people were safe before things fell apart. He’d alerted everyone he dared, then headed out, intending to sail across the lake. But he’d left the city too late. He’d come to hours after meteorfall, head ringing, eyes stinging, throat raw, somewhere alongside I-80, south of the city. Everything had hurt. It had been too quiet. He hadn’t expected that.

In hindsight, there had been a lot that he hadn’t expected.

The guilt was still there—the guilt that he and Teague hadn’t been able to prevent what had happened, the guilt that he hadn’t been able to save more people, and finally the guilt that he hadn’t made it here when he’d intended to. He tried to keep it tamped down, but sometimes it was hard.

As he eased down onto one of the logs near the fire, he knew right now was one of those times.

Hecate moved toward the fire to check the kettle—there was no one else around; even Tala was gone for the moment, probably to check the smokers or to see to her twins. Phelan watched her, vision a little blurry, though no longer doubling as he tried to relax. Marin sat down next to him and he didn’t need to look at her to know that she was wearing an expression of concern.

She put her hand on his knee. “What can we do, Phelan?” she asked softly.

“Just—just wait until tea,” he murmured, digging a pouch of herbs from his pocket. It was a mix that he’d hoped to avoid using again so soon after the last time, but sometimes there wasn’t a choice.

This time, like so many others, there wasn’t a choice.

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