Thom wasn’t far from where I’d left him earlier, though he was hobbling around with his crutch, a sign that J.T. wasn’t looking. He was scowling at his sketchbook as we approached, but looked up at the sound of our footsteps. His expression brightened as he saw me. He set his sketchbook down on the chair he was supposed to be sitting in and took a few limping steps toward me. The pain showed in his expression, so I stepped up the pace to keep him from pushing his limits any further. I could almost feel Phelan grinning behind me as I took Thom gently by the arm and tried to tug him back to his chair.
“Who’s that?” Thom hissed, looking over my shoulder at Phelan.
I moved his sketchbook and pointed him into his chair. “Phelan Conrad.”
Thom went rigid, falling into his chair and wincing. My brows knit and I touched his arm.
“Are you okay?” I asked quietly. He nodded, eyes never leaving Phelan.
“Kira sent him.”
Phelan smiled. “Aye, she did.”
Thom’s fingers tangled with mine. “Why?” he asked, a note of desperation in his voice.
“Why what? Why did she send me?” Phelan’s brow creased.
Thom shook his head slightly. “No. Why did she marry him and not tell me? Why did she run away?” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Why didn’t she warn me, if she knew?”
Oh, Thom. I squeezed his hand tightly. He swallowed hard and looked at me. “I was going to tell you,” he said softly. “There just…there wasn’t…I didn’t…I just forgot.” He reached for my face as I crouched next to his chair. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” I said, my fingers covering his. “I’m sure you meant to tell me. Phelan already broke the news anyway.”
“On accident,” Phelan said, smiling weakly. “I thought she’d know. Teague talked about the two of you and how important you were to Kira. I’m sorry I wasn’t here before.”
Thom just stared at him. “Could you have stopped this?” He waved his free hand toward the ruined dorms behind us.
Phelan shook his head sadly. “No. Nothing could have stopped that. Believe me, we would have if we could.”
“Then you don’t have anything to be sorry for,” Thom said quietly. “We’re all still alive here. None of us are in immediate danger of dying.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I think she’ll forgive you. Eventually.” Thom finally got a good, long look at me after that. He frowned. “You’re all dirty. What were you doing?”
“Oh,” I said, feeling my cheeks flame. I didn’t exactly want to tell him where we’d been. He probably wouldn’t take it very well. “I was playing in the mud.”
Thom’s gaze flicked between Phelan and I for a few seconds. “With him?”
“She was showing me the first place she ever saw a camazotzi.”
“A camazotzi,” I said softly. “One of the things that attacked us the other day.”
He stiffened, lips thinning. “The ones that hurt you.”
At least he’s not angry that we were down in the ravines without anyone knowing where we were.
Phelan looked at me quizzically. “I thought you said he didn’t believe.”
I just stared at Thom. Pain flickered through his gaze.
“It’s like I said the other day,” he whispered, staring at me. “I love you. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t believe. I love you and that’s all I need to know.”
“Is it?” I whispered.
He nodded. “Yeah. It is.”
“May I…ah…interject?” Phelan said.
Thom tore his gaze from me and stared at him, jaw setting. “Why?”
Phelan shook his head slightly. “Just thinking that maybe some of what I know may shed some light on the importance of, ah, belief in this sort of situation.”
“I believe that there’s things out there,” Thom said, voice hitching slightly as he continued. “Things I can’t see, can’t sense, but the others can. They’re out there, I know that. What else is there to know?”
My heart sank a little and I looked helplessly at Phelan.
“Kira thought it was a little batshit, too,” Phelan said softly. “At least at first.”
Thom just stared at him. “How? She’s believed in past lives, all of that, for as long as I can remember.”
I squeezed Thom’s hand. Kira had told me about the boy she saw in her dreams, the face that had haunted her since she was old enough to realize she was dreaming. We’d talked about it one Thanksgiving out on her balcony while Thom and my brother screamed at football on television.
“He haunts my dreams. I just want to know who he is, who he was. He just feels so real, so important. Like he’s a piece of a past I can’t remember.”
She’d met Teague the following September. Thom didn’t like him much, but I’d reminded him more than once that it wasn’t up to him. He’d sulked for days and never really admitted I was right.
Phelan grinned at Thom. “It’s one thing to believe in the power of dreams, even in past lives. It’s entirely another to run into that person on the street and find out that they’re some kind of equivalent to Aragorn and Gandalf combined out of Lord of the Rings—after you’ve started to fall in love with them.” He eased closer, voice growing quieter. “She was pretty shocked, especially after she started to unlock her own talents.”
I looked up at Thom, watching him struggle to control his expression. He went a little more tense and I barely suppressed a wince.
Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all.
“What kind of talents?” he asked, voice heavy with a mixture of concern and suspicion. His hand tightened around mine so tightly that his knuckles went white.
“That hurts, Thom,” I whispered. He didn’t hear me; he was too intensely focused on Phelan.
Phelan sat down cross-legged on the ground in front of us. “She’s sensitive. She can catch glimmers and her instincts are good. Strong-willed, too. I’m sorry I won’t be there to see what Teague can teach her about will-working.”
Wow. Kira? Shock must have shown on my face because Phelan flashed me a brief smile. Thom noticed and scowled momentarily, gaze softening when his gaze flicked to me. He glanced at our hands and his fingers loosened.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. I’d smiled weakly at him.
“‘s all right.” I glanced toward Phelan. “I can go, if you two want to have a private chat.”
Thom glanced at Phelan, too, then murmured, “No. Stay a few minutes longer.” He sighed and shook his head, still staring at the other man. “Just because my cousin has some kind of ability—which I’m not entirely convinced of—that doesn’t mean I do.”
I had to look away so Thom couldn’t watch my face fall. Why is he being so damned stubborn? He knows this stuff is real. He knows I know that he at least used to be able to see it all. What they said he did, after the Shadow Man threw me, he couldn’t have done if he hadn’t been able to see it, or sense it. I just don’t understand.
“You’re right,” Phelan said softly. He glanced me, then back at Thom. “Though by the same token, just because you don’t believe you’ve got some ability doesn’t mean you don’t.”
A shudder ran through Thom, so violent he let out a little gasp of pain, one hand drifting to his ribs.
“You know what, Mar?” he said softly, “Maybe you should go check on Kel or something. I think our new friend and I might need some privacy after all.”
I stood up slowly, my fingers brushing his cheek. He turned his face to kiss my fingertips as they trailed past. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” He smiled wryly. “Try to keep Jay busy for a little while, too, huh?”
I kissed his cheek, nodded, and walked away. Hopefully Phelan would manage where the rest of us had failed.
It was a small hope, but a hope nonetheless.