Thirty-three – 05

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

We lay there in silence, the two of us with baby Lin nestled against Thom’s chest. It was if Thom sensed that if he pressed me, nothing good would come of it, so he let it go. He let it all go, but we both knew that wouldn’t last forever. We both knew that the net time he was awake and aware enough to bring it up, he would.

At least that would give me time to prepare and try to organize my thoughts and prepare my stomach for what I knew would probably follow.

It was maybe an hour before Thom gave in to sleep. I dozed a little next to him for a while, then got up slowly, careful not to disturb him. Lin was awake but quiet as I gently lifted him off his father’s chest and tucked the covers more securely around Thom.

Cradling Lin against my chest, I leaned down and pressed a kiss to Thom’s forehead. “Sweet dreams, sweetheart,” I murmured as I pulled away. Only sweet dreams. No nightmares. Please, for the love of everything that’s still sacred and holy, no nightmares.

I put my shoes back on and slipped outside, leaving Thom to rest alone. Lin wrapped a tiny fist around the end of my braid and tugged, fingers tangled in the curling tips of my hair. It was an act I had to smile at, at least a little, as I headed back to the cookfires. It was long past lunch and there was oddly no one in sight. My throat tightened slightly and I tried to shake the sudden feeling of unease that welled up in my gut.

Don’t be paranoid, Marin. Everything could be okay. Everyone’s just doing what they need to do, that’s all.

Everything’s fine. Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s fine.

Damn, but I hated to be wrong.

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Thirty-three – 04

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

“But you don’t want to ask him.”

I winced at the certainty in Thom’s voice—in part because he was right, but mostly because I wished he hadn’t realized he was right. He sighed into my hair.

“Mar.”

“Gods and fucking monsters—”

“No,” he said, his voice gentle and faint. “No, Mar, please. Please, don’t run from this. What if it’s all connected?”

“I hope to hell it’s not,” I said, my throat constricting. “Gods, Thom, I can’t even begin to fathom what that would mean. It’s too—it’s too much space, too much time, too many factors. How? How the hell could it be connected—and who are we thinking’s connected? Her to Menhit and Anhur? Her to Leviathan? Something or someone else?”

I was crying, now, the tears stinging in my eyes, on my cheeks, and I could taste the salt of them on my lips and against my tongue. My throat was so tight that it was hard to speak, my heart trapped in some sort of vise.

“Just leave it be a little while longer,” I begged in a whisper. “Please, Thom. Just—leave it be.”

He stayed quiet for a long time, stroking my hair. I felt him swallow. I hugged him a little tighter, squeezing my eyes shut.

“What if you’re wrong?” he finally asked, his voice barely more than an exhaled breath.

“Pray I’m not,” I whispered into his shoulder. “Warnings or no, dreams or no, we have to pray I’m not. Phelan and Seamus know. They know she attacked me during that fight. They know she’s out there, they know she’s a threat. None of us have talked about connections.” It was, of course, a conversation that I’d been trying to avoid.

I was just too afraid, but at the same time I trusted them. I trusted them to be vigilant, to make sure we’d be ready. Despite what both of them may have said or felt to the contrary, they hadn’t failed us yet.

All I could do was pray they never did.

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Thirty-three – 03

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

“Whoa, whoa.” Thom pressed his cheek against my hair. “Hey, slow down. What the hell do you have to be sorry for? How is that your fault?”

“Because she’s looking for me, I said, sucking in a breath and trying to calm down. “She’s looking for me, Thom. I’m the one that’s going to end up drawing her here.”

“She’s looking for Brighíd’s soul,” he said, his voice half muffled in my hair. “It’s not your fault that soul’s in you. Her coming here isn’t going to be your fault, either. I promise.”

“II should have told you.” My arms tightened around him slightly.

“Told me what?”

“That she attacked me once already. That I knew she was coming. I should have told you all of it.”

“In your defense, I wasn’t in much of a state for you to tell me anything.” Thom pressed a kiss to the top of my head. “It’s okay. We’ll make it. We always do and we always will.”

He was right, at least about the firsts part. The rest, I wasn’t sure of, but he certainly sounded like he was. I sighed and nestled closer. His fingers tightened slightly in my hair.

“I love you,” he murmured softly. “And I trust you. Don’t ever forget that.”

“I love you, too.” I trusted him, too, but he didn’t need me to tell him that, not right now. It would have felt empty, hollow, saying the words. He didn’t need the reassurance. I did. I sucked in another breath, trying to steady myself again. “What have you been seeing? The dreams?”

He sighed, fingers loosening for a moment. He was warm with fever. I’d have to talk to Jac or J.T. about something for it once he was asleep again, once I’d managed to center myself again. “The weeks and days leading to her coming,” he said after a long silence. “The anticipation, the worry, the moments of knowing coupled with the relief of one threat passing and another coming. Do you remember?”

I bit my lip but nodded slightly. It was fragmented, but the pieces were there. “A little. It was after Cíar came home.” If I were honest, most of the memories about that time were focused on Brighíd and her twin, on her joy and pain at his return and all that he’d suffered and her inability to do anything about it. I wasn’t sure if that said more about her or if it said something about me, the memories that floated to the surface, what they focused on. Maybe it was a little bit of both. “It’s not much.”

Thom nodded slightly. “Maybe Phelan remembers.”

“Maybe,” I said quietly, feeling sick. “Maybe.”

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Thirty-three – 02

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

“Marin.” Thom squeezed a little harder and it snapped me back. I sucked in a sharp breath, tears stinging behind closed lids. “Marin, talk to me.”

“She can’t know where we are,” I managed to say, my voice strangled. “Thom, she can’t. We can’t go through that again. I won’t go through that again.”

“Through what?”

“Any of it,” I said. “All of it. I just—I can’t.”

The memories of Cyhyraeth’s encounters with Brighíd had been slow to return, but I had been getting them in a trickle, dreams that woke me in the depths of the night and left me shaken and angry—sometimes even afraid. The only small mercy I’d been able to cling to was that Thom had slept through it all, slept through memories that might as well have been nightmares. I’d get up at night and pace the floor, holding our son and talking half to him, half to myself, trying to work my way through the awful things I’ve seen, the terrible things I’d relived in dreams.

They’d been coming since that moment on the wall, since her attack on me, an attack I’d still been trying to convince myself was nothing.

Thom still didn’t know about it. I still hadn’t told him.

“Marin.”

I rolled over onto my side, buying my face against his shoulder. He moved his hand, letting go of my arm and reaching to tangle his fingers in my hair as I curled against him.

“It’s—”

“Don’t say it’s okay,” I whispered into his shoulder. “It’s not okay.”

Fuck all, it’s so not okay.

“Then talk to me,” he said. “Talk to me, Mar. What the hell is going on?”

“She’s not dead,” I whispered. “She’s out there somewhere and she’s hunting for me. She knows I’m alive, knows Brighíd’s soul is in me. She knows I’m out here and she’ll come after me again—come after us.” My eyes stung as the tears began to flow. “Thom, I’m so sorry. I’m so bloody sorry.”

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Thirty-three – 01

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

The bottom dropped out of my stomach, a sudden chill seizing me in an iron grip. “Thom,” I said quietly, struggling to keep my voice steady as I asked the question again, “what’s wrong?”

“Other than this damn fever?”

“Yes,” I said, resting my palm against his cheek. He leaned into my hand, his face hot against my skin. “Since I’m pretty sure that’s not what you want to talk about.”

Thom choked on a quiet chuckle and shook his head slightly. “No. Hell no, it’s not.”

“Then what?” I edged a little closer, tucked one leg up underneath me. I hadn’t intended to linger for too long, but the others wouldn’t miss me, at least not for a while yet—and if they did, it didn’t matter. This was more important.

This would always be more important.

“I’ve been having dreams again,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut, as if the weight of my gaze was too much. “Visions of the past, not the future. Finn’s memories.”

My breath caught. His fingers flexed in mine as I squeezed his hand. “You never talk about those,” I whispered.

He shook his head slightly. “No, I know. I just—it’s uncomfortable sometimes, that’s all. The whole as it was before so will it be again bullshit.”

“That’s not—”

“I know it’s not. It just feels like it sometimes.” He exhaled, opening his eyes and staring at the ceiling. “It’s just that this time, everything is centered around one thing and I can’t figure out what it means. Hell. I’m not sure I want to know.”

Biting my lip, I nudged him gently. Thom blinked at me, then scooted over in the bed, toward the wall, leaving room for me to curl up beside him. He watched me with a concerned look on his face.

“Mar, I didn’t—”

“You never do,” I said, cutting him off before he could tell me he didn’t mean to worry me. “It happens anyway.” I wrapped one arm around him and the baby, resting my head against his on the pillow. “Keep talking.”

“Right.” He sucked in a breath. “I—do you remember anything about the invasion?”

“Which one?” I asked, my tone dry. “It seems like there were a few.”

“When she came,” Thom murmured, shifting his hand to rest on my arm, thumb rubbing back and forth against my elbow. “Do you remember that?”

A shiver shot through me. “Which ‘she,’ Thom?”

“Cyhyraeth.”

I felt sick and squeezed my eyes shut. I must have stayed silent for too long because his fingers wrapped around my arm at the elbow and squeezed gently.

“Marin—”

“No,” I whispered, feeling sick. “No, it can’t. It can’t.”

It’s not possible.

No.

No.

No.

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Thirty-two – 05

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

He’d been dreaming of war a lot lately, though, seeing visions of war, past and possible future. He wasn’t exactly keen on trying to fathom the reasons why—Thom was half convinced that down that path would lie madness, and he’d left enough of his sanity in pieces scattered around in the last eleven months.

It had been almost a year. Idly, he wondered how they would mark the anniversary of that day, if they would mark it at all. There was a strong temptation to just let it pass. It had been the beginning, though.

For the first time in a long time, Thom found himself wondering how many others were out there, how many had managed to survive and scrape together resources to keep on going. They knew about the group in the mountains of Pennsylvania, knew about two or three others out east thanks to Cameron, then there was the community due south that Lara led—and another that Daniel’s people had discovered on the other side of Lake Michigan during the depths of the frozen winter, when everything had seemed like it was spiraling out of control.

At least those monsters that the shifter had warned of had never come.

Not yet, anyway.

His fingers brushed over his son’s hair and he stared at the ceiling, exhaling a quiet sigh. The infant stirred, but didn’t wake.

We’re doing this for him, not for ourselves. For him and the others. For the next generation, the one that’ll never know the world we grew up in, just this one. We’re fighting to give them a home, to give them peace and stability.

“Is it even possible?” he asked the rafters.

“Is what possible?”

He jerked, blinking rapidly. Marin stood by the door, watching him as she took her shoes off. “I didn’t hear you come in,” he said, his voice hoarse. How long had she been standing there?

Am I losing time somehow?

“I just came in,” she said softly. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear me.”

“I was just thinking,” he murmured, looking back at the ceiling again. She padded quietly across the floor to the edge of the bed and reached down to brush her fingers across his forehead.

“You’re still warm,” she whispered.

“I know.” Thom closed his eyes. “It’ll go away eventually.”

“I should get Jac or Jay to come have another look,” she said. “Or Seamus or Phelan.”

“Later,” Thom said, reaching up to take her hand. He squeezed her fingers, finding them cold in his grip. “I’ll keep until then.”

“What’s wrong?”

He took a deep breath, then let it sigh out of him. The silence stretched for a few moments. Then, finally:

“We might need to talk.”

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Thirty-two – 04

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

For a few moments, he lay there, staring at the ceiling and listening to his son breathing, the rhythmic sound of the infant sleeping far more soothing and comforting than he ever thought it might be. He wasn’t sure what he would have done if his son needed more than just to be comforted and held, though he assumed he would have found a way to handle it—Marin wouldn’t have left the baby there if she hadn’t thought Thom was capable.

Of course, that also assumes that she wasn’t thinking that she’d only be gone for a few minutes. That’s also a possibility. Thom closed his eyes. It had been more than a few minutes, which led him to believe that the former possibility was far more likely than the latter.

He tried not to think about the dream that wasn’t a dream, but of course it drifted through his thoughts soon enough as he lay in bed, silent and alone except for the infant sleeping against his chest and the cat that was once again curled up on top of the blankets over his feet. In the dimmest recesses of his mind, he knew it had been real, those moments so long ago, memories his soul dredged up. There was a part of him that would have rather seen visions of the future in his dreams that day rather than glimpses of a long-ago past, but that was something he had no control over.

Not yet, anyway.

He exhaled a quiet sigh. He told himself not yet, but the truth might have been not ever.

“Why now?” he murmured to no one. “Why see that now?” There was no doubt in his mind that it meant something, he just wasn’t sure what. It was more than certainly a warning of things to come—his gut could get him that far, at least—but what was it warning him about?

Why dream of her coming with her army?

After all, Cyhyraeth was dead.

Wasn’t she?

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Thirty-two – 03

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

His son was crying. That was the sound that jarred Thom awake from the dream that was more memory. He took one breath, then another, reorienting himself. In the basket next to the bed, Lin was still crying.

Damn and damn. Thom slowly pushed himself up on an elbow, wincing. The room spun slowly, then righted itself as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Shh,” he said quietly. “Shh, it’s all right, little guy. It’s all right.”

For a moment, the crying eased, then Lin ramped up again, back to the same level he’d been at before Thom had spoken. Thom sighed quietly, leaning forward to reach for his son. His shoulders screamed and his head swam, but there wasn’t another choice.

“It’s all right,” he murmured as he carefully lifted the infant out of the basket. “Daddy’s got you. I’m here.”

His son quieted as he cradled him against his chest, settling back onto the bed with a relieved sigh. Everything still ached and the fever wasn’t quite broken. It would have to eventually, though. He knew that much for certain.

Everything healed with time.

“Did you have a bad dream?” he whispered to Lin, reaching with one arm to adjust the pillows at the end of the bed before he swung his legs back up under the covers again. The baby, of course, didn’t answer. Thom smiled faintly, leaning back, resting his son against his chest. “It’s okay. Nothing’s going to hurt you here. I’m here. Daddy’s here. Everything’s fine.”

The infant stayed quiet, watching him with huge eyes for a few seconds before his eyelids started to droop. Thom brushed a hand gently over his son’s hair, then reached to tug the blankets a little closer.

Lin yawned and closed his eyes. Thom lay there, watching him in silence as the baby drifted off to sleep again.

“There we go,” he whispered. “Sweet dreams, Lin. Only sweet dreams.”

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Thirty-two – 02

[This post is from Thom’s point of view]

The words haunted him, even days later. Brighíd had noticed but not asked, a mercy for which he was silently grateful. He had no desire to tell her what her brother had told him, no desire to watch her face as she came to realize that her brother had become some sort of prophet of the end of their world as they knew it.

That realization would come in time, but at least he wouldn’t be the bearer of that news.

He heard the crunch of boots against the gravel of the path, though he didn’t turn. The tread was familiar. Finn took one breath, then another, fingers flexing around the haft of his bow.

“Anything?” she asked as she drew abreast of him, standing to his right, near enough to touch, near enough to hear the sound of her breathing over the sound of the crashing waves below and the wind coming off the water.

He shook his head. “No. Nothing yet. But they’re coming. I can feel them.”

“Can you?”

He inclined his head slightly, offering a brief, if small smile. “In a matter of speaking.”

“Mm.” She stared off over the water, though he knew she was watching the sky more than the waves. “Come back,” she murmured. “I’ll set someone else on the watch.”

“I told you I’d—”

“We took a boar today,” she said, interrupting him as if he hadn’t spoken. “Cíar and I. It was like old times. They’re roasting it right now.” Brighíd’s fingers slid into his, squeezed. “Come back to the encampment, Finn. They won’t be here tonight.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do,” she said softly, then tugged at his hand. “Come. Sit with us and remember better days.”

He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it, not looking at her, gaze still on the horizon. “Better days will come again, Brighíd.”

“I know,” she said. “But I fear they’ll be long in coming. Come. I’ll set another watchman.”

“I’ll come when he’s relieved me,” Finn said. He finally looked at her, risked a faint smile. “Go on. Knowing you, I know it won’t be long.”

She gave a slight nod and squeezed his hand before she let go. “Of course it won’t be.”

Finn nodded and watched her as she walked away before his gaze shifted back to the horizon, to the water.

Perhaps she was right, perhaps they wouldn’t be here today, but it was only a matter of time.

In this, time was not their ally—it was their enemy, one that could not be vanquished as they’d handled so many before. The enemy that would come, though, that would be a different matter entirely.

Of that much, he was certain.

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Thirty-two – 01

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

Waves crashed against the shore, the salt spray caught on the wind, carried higher, up to the edge of the cliff where he stood watching, listening.

Waiting.

They would be here sooner than any of them would like. It was only a matter of time. Cíar had warned them, in broken sentences and fragments of thoughts. He’d warned them that they were coming.

They would be here soon, perhaps on that day’s tide.

Finn took a deep breath, then another. The sky was the color of ashes. A storm was coming off the water. The wind was biting, but he remained where he was, watching.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Soon he would see sails on the horizon. He knew it in his gut. His fingers tightened around the haft of the bow in his hands.

Would they be here before the storm? Would they wreck on the rocks, on the shoals?

We could only hope to be so lucky.

She had dispatched envoys to her cousin, to the king of the Áes Dana, lord of the isle. Finn could still remember Cíar’s weak whisper when he had come to sit beside him and share the news. The blind man had been curled beneath a pile of blankets and skins near the fire, barely awake when Finn had come.

“Your sister sent word to the king,” Finn had murmured, settling down beside him, a plate of food and a mug of broth in hand. He’d had little confidence that Cíar would be interested in either, but he’d promised Brighíd that he’d try. “She warned him of the war to come.”

“He will hear but not heed,” Cíar had whispered, sightless eyes trained on the fire. “He will not come to our aid this time, brother. We are on our own.”

“He will abandon us?”

“In time, they all will,” Cíar whispered. “And then we will truly see what our race is made of, in the age when our gods are suddenly gone.”

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