[This post is from Phelan’s point of view.]
“What the hell happened?”
Jacqueline’s voice reached them before Phelan actually saw his wife, who’d spotted them before he could spot her. He glanced up the hill, toward the old forge where Matt Astoris still spent most of his days even after all these years. Smoke drifted into the sky above it, a sure sign that the smith was still at work and Jacqueline was coming down the hill from the forge, an empty basket in her hand and her expression like the sky just before a storm’s breaking.
Lin shifted his weight slightly and Phelan glanced at him, frowning. The teenager’s complexion was washed-out, even in the afternoon sunshine. It was all Phelan could do not to shake his head.
Eighteen years since that deal was struck. His lips thinned. Five years since they tried to buy us more time. Our luck had to run out eventually. “Camazotzi got the drop on Lin.”
“A camazotzi.” Jacqueline stumbled a step before she reached them. “Where?”
“In the ravine,” Lin said. “Don’t worry, Aunt Jac, it’s dead.”
“Oh, I imagine it is.” Her gaze slid toward Phelan for a second before it flicked back to Lin. “Only one?”
“That’s the weird part,” Lin said. “I saw something. That’s how it was able to creep up on me like it did.”
Jacqueline looked at Phelan again, her brow furrowing. Phelan shook his head.
“We can talk about it later,” he said. “For now, you need to have a look at him. Thing took a few chunks out.”
“That much I can see,” Jacqueline said, jaw tightening for a second. “Bloody hell, Lin.”
“Not too much of one,” the teen mumbled, glancing down, cheeks flaming—likely not from the fever that Phelan could already feel setting in, either. “Sorry, Aunt Jac.”
“This is not something to apologize to me about,” she said, swinging around to his other side. “Let’s get you cleaned up and into bed. I’m sure something is going to need a stitch.”
“And some antibiotics from your stash,” Phelan said, silently thankful that Lin hadn’t inherited an allergy to the stuff that seemed to plague their bloodline.
Jacqueline frowned for a second, studying Lin, then nodded. “Yeah. I think you’re right.”
“I can hear you,” Lin muttered.
“I am fully aware of that,” Jacqueline said, tone chiding and amused all at once. “Trust me when I tell you that we did this to your father, too.”
They had done it to Thom Ambrose—many, many times over the years, they’d done the same and it had always annoyed him, too. Most of the time, he just let it go, but every so often it led to explosions that Phelan was sad to say he still missed, even all these years later.
Even having lived for as long as he had, somehow five years felt like a long time, now.
“Often?” Lin asked as they headed for the small cottage where the teenager had lived on his own for almost a year, since his seventeenth birthday.
“Often enough,” Jacqueline said, smiling wistfully. “Though I don’t remember it fondly enough to have ever wanted repeats. The worst points in my life have always been marked by someone needing my healing skills.”
Of course, some of the best moments have been those, too. Phelan held his tongue. His soulmate’s skills often took her on a rollercoaster of understandable highs and lows. That, of course, was the hand dealt to the healers, to the fixers.
The front door was unlocked and Jacqueline led the way inside. Lin winced, possibly at the books strewn across the small table near the fireplace and the unwashed mug sitting next to them, at the quilt draped haphazardly across the back of his chair, the laundry piled in a basket in the corner. In truth, it looked no different from anyone else’s space, but Phelan could understand his embarrassment. This was his space, his sanctum, and almost no one was ever there except for him.
Jacqueline snorted a laugh, spotting something Phelan hadn’t noticed. “Your bed is actually made?”
“Habit,” Lin mumbled. “Mom and Dad always made sure I made it before I left in the morning. Now I just do it. Always have.”
Phelan’s throat tightened for a second and he swallowed hard. Of all the things…
Jacqueline shook her head, walking to the table and chair. She plucked the quilt from the chair and pointed. “Right here, Phelan. We’ll get everything stitched and bandaged and then to bed with you, Thomas Merlin.”
Lin winced. That was the second time he’d heard both names trotted out in the span of half an hour, and that never boded well. The teenager dropped into the chair without complaint and started to take off his shirt. Jacqueline handed the quilt to Phelan, giving him a long, measured look.
He nodded slightly, folding the quilt out of reflex. “I’ll get it.”
“Thank you,” she said softly.
He set the quilt on the foot of the bed and slipped out of the cottage. She would need her kit and supplies to treat Lin’s wounds.
After that, Phelan would have to tell the others that it was becoming clear that the peace really was finally breaking.