“Thom may not react well to you being here, you know,” I said as we walked back across the plaza toward Little Mac and the ravine.
“Mm-hmm,” Phelan said, nodding slightly. “You already told me that. It is what it is, will be what it will be.” He shrugged slightly. “Even if he disapproves of my presence here, I’m not leaving until I’m good and ready to go.” He grinned, mayhem and mischief mingling in his bright eyes. “And I’ll tell him that to his face if I have to.” He patted the arm that was wrapped around his. “Don’t you worry for one moment that I’ll take his crap. I won’t forget what you asked of me, either.”
I nodded slightly. “Thank you,” I said softly.
Phelan’s tone gentled. “You’re not wrong about his needing to accept what is, Marin.”
“I know,” I said. I was saying it a lot, I realized, and it was beginning to sound like I was on the defensive when it came to just about everything. I tried not to sigh. “That doesn’t make anything easier.”
Phelan smiled wryly. “If this was meant to be easy, Marin, everyone would have survived rather than a select few.”
I looked at him sidelong, brows knitting for a moment. I still caught glimmers of the Phelan-that-must-have-been, the one from some distant past. “What’s it like?” I asked softly. “Living then and then living now?”
He shook his head slightly. “There’s not really a comparison to be made. Too different. Why do you ask?”
“Do you still have the tattoo?”
He startled, looking at me strangely. “Yes,” he said slowly, his hand drifting to the back of his neck. “How did you—” He cut himself off, staring at me for a few long moments. “What have you seen?” he breathed, eyes large.
I shook my head slightly, thinking that my heartbeat should’ve quickened, though it hadn’t. I was as calm as ever. “Just you. As you might have been once, I think. Like in the days from J.T.’s dreams of you, maybe earlier.”
Phelan’s breath caught for a moment and he shook his head slowly, his hand falling away from his neck. “Gods and monsters,” he said softly. “You remind me of her.”
“Who?” Who could I remind him of? Someone he knew in that long-ago yesterday, probably.
He smiled a sad little smile and shook his head. “The woman who helped me with the tattoo,” he said quietly, touching the back of his neck for a moment. “An old friend, lost for centuries. You remind me of her, and her brother Caidre.”
“Oh,” I said softly. My curiosity tried to amp up, but I tamped it down. I had to trust him to tell me more in his own time. Eventually, the words would come. I had to believe they would.
We crossed Little Mac and came up around the curve along the edge of Mackinac’s ruins. I slowly withdrew my arm, just in time to hear Angie’s laughter and the yipping of Birtha’s litter of puppies. There were a half dozen of them, shaggy little sheepdog pups that were big eyes and all paws and fur, and they were tumbling all over each other and Angie as we approached.
I waved to her as we came into view and she started to wave back to me until she got an eyeful of Phelan.
She stopped dead in her tracks and gave a little gasp, just staring, both hands clamped over her mouth, eyes big as saucers. It took a moment before she glanced at me, then back at him.
“Angie? What’s the matter?” I moved away from Phelan and walked over to her. I touched her shoulder, crouching down next to her, puppies tumbling around us both. She looked at me, her eyes still huge.
“Who is he, Miss Marin?” she whispered, a tremor of fear—or awe?—in her voice. Her small fingers tangled in my sleeve. “Who is he?”
“His name is Phelan, Angie,” I said softly, putting my arm around her and giving her a quick squeeze. “He’s a friend. He came to help us.”
“He’s older than Mr. Rory is,” she said. “Older than what’s inside of Mr. Rory and Miss Kellin. But Miss Kellin’s almost as old.”
Phelan stared at the two of us, looking puzzled for a moment. Then he smiled an easy smile and shook his head slightly. “Rory has an old soul, little one,” he said gently, moving to us and crouching down so he was on Angie’s level, so she could look him in the eye. “But so do you. You know that, right?”
Angie nodded firmly. “Yes, sir, I do. It scares Paul.”
Phelan grinned. “Is he your big brother?”
Her lips made a little O and she nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Sometimes, big brothers get scared because they can’t protect their little brothers and sisters.” He tapped her nose with a fingertip. “You shouldn’t scare your brother. But it’s okay if you do.”
“Really?” she asked, her voice a hushed, wondering whisper.
“Really.” Phelan tousled her hair and stood up. “Have the puppies told you their names yet?”
“No,” she said quietly as she watched him stand up.
“You should ask them,” he said, his smile gentle, almost paternal. “Listen to them. They’ll whisper their names to you, if you listen hard enough?”
“Yeah,” he said, still smiling. “Really.”
“Wow,” Angie said softly, then looked at me. “You’re right, Miss Marin. He’s a nice man.”
I almost laughed, nodding. “I’m glad you think so, Angie.” I straightened up. “Don’t get too close to the edge of the ravine or the ruins, okay?”
She nodded. “Okay, Miss Marin.” She hesitated a moment, then said, “Mr. Matt was looking for you. He didn’t know where you’d gone.”
“Oh.” Didn’t someone tell him? That probably wouldn’t have stopped Matt from wondering after me, even if someone had told him what I was doing. “Well, I guess I should find him, right? Because big sisters shouldn’t make their little brothers worry, right?”
Angie grinned. “Right!”
Phelan arched a brow at me as we stared to walk again, leaving Angie with the puppies at play. “Your brother first, then Thom?”
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said, waving to Tala, who’d clearly traded tending the fire to keeping a loose eye on Angie and the dogs while doing some other chores. She waved back, then went back to tending the smokers. “No sense in making him worry.”
Phelan nodded in agreement. “Indeed. I look forward to meeting him.”
I smiled wryly. This ought to be interesting. Maybe not good, but interesting to say the least.
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