Forty-four – 05

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

Neve closed her eyes and sighed softly, then glanced up toward him with a faint smile. “What about a story about the sword?” she asked, her voice quiet, almost curious.

A slight chill crept down his spine and his stomach did a little somersault at the suggestion. He met her gaze with a slightly furrowed brow. “What kind of story?”

She thought about it for a moment, then her smile grew by a fraction. “What about how it was made?”

His breath caught and he smiled back at her. “I think that would be an excellent story,” Cameron whispered, leaning his head against hers. Neve grinned back and nodded slightly.

“Okay. So, the sword—it wasn’t made for him.” Her voice was quiet, the cadence changing slightly, shifting toward the tones of a long-experienced bard. Even that sent a chill down his spine, excitement setting his nerves jangling. His arm tightened slightly around her.

“It wasn’t?”

She shook her head slightly. “No. It was just made. We didn’t know who would hold it, we just knew that it needed to be made—the forging needed to happen. Metal that beautiful needed to be forged into something beautiful.” A wistful smile curved her lips. “The story goes that my mother and her brothers and sisters found the stone while they were swimming one day. The river had changed somehow—there was a new pool to one side of it that was strange and hadn’t been there before. There had been a storm without rain a few nights before and so when they went to see the pool they thought perhaps something had happened in that storm to create the new pool and I suppose they were right. They found the stone there at the bottom, shining in the water like silver.”

“But it wasn’t silver,” Cameron said softly, half in awe. “It was something else.”

Neve nodded, smiling. “Something magical—even to us. Even after all these years, I still stare in wonder at that blade, Cam, and I had a hand in its forging. It truly is a fated blade, a real magic sword, though not in any of the ways people seem to think.”

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Forty-four – 04

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

“A story, huh?” She cupped water in her hand, starting to rinse Anne, brow furrowing slightly in thought. Cameron smiled faintly as he watched her, settling back down to sit cross-legged again nearby, where the ground wasn’t nearly as damp from the washtub. Artorius yawned, but his eyes didn’t close—they were wide, watching his mother and his sister as he lay nestled in the crook of his father’s arm. Neve sighed softly. “I have a lot of those, Cam. What kind of story?”

“I could say surprise me.”

She snorted a laugh. “So then they’re right when they say having a husband is like having an additional child.”

He choked on his own laugh. “Right, okay. Let me think.”

Neve grinned over her shoulder at him, then finished rinsing Anne and lifted her from the water, moving her over to a waiting blanket to diaper and swaddle the infant. Cameron found himself distracted from trying to decide what sort of story he wanted to hear by the simple actions of a mother caring for her child—their child.

A sigh escaped him and Neve looked at him again, wrapping Anne in her swaddle with easy, practiced motions.

“What’s wrong?” she asked softly, moving to sit next to him, Anne safely cradled in one arm.

Cameron shook his head. “Nothing,” he whispered softly. “Just—I got distracted.”

“Oh?”

He nodded, smiling crookedly as he caught sight of the faint hint of a smile that tugged at one corner of her mouth. “Yes. You seem to do that easily.”

“For now,” she said, leaning her shoulder against his. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”

“If I were to venture a guess, probably forever.”

A faint blush stole across her cheeks and she leaned in to kiss his jaw gently, resting her forehead against his temple for a moment afterwards.

“I don’t deserve you,” she whispered.

“That makes two of us.” His lips brushed hers and she smiled, leaning into him as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. It was, he reflected, the picture of a perfect summer day—he never could have dreamed for better, not before the end of everything or since.

Even if he could, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Forty-four – 03

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

I have got to be the luckiest man in the world.

“You know, I never thought this would happen,” Neve said as she gently soaped Anne’s hair. “Falling in love, having children. My brothers and Phelan always said it would but I never for a heartbeat actually believed them. I always thought that if I did eventually marry and have children it would be at my father’s whim, like it was with Seamus.”

A hollow spot opened up in Cameron’s stomach and he swallowed hard. “Even that ended up working out for the best, somehow.”

“Seamus is a lot more lucky than anyone gives him credit for—even he doesn’t realize how lucky he is.” Neve glanced back over her shoulder at him, smiling sadly for a moment. “And I’m glad of it.”

“Me too,” Cameron said softly. “He deserves it. All of you do.”

Neve laughed quietly and turned her attention back to their daughter. “Maybe. It’s nice to think so, anyway. We’re not saints though, Cam—we’re just on your side. That makes us seem different, maybe. I don’t know. Sometimes, I don’t think there’s a side of the so-called angels, you know? To borrow a phrase, anyway. We our dark sides and our things that we’re not proud of—entire wars weren’t not proud of.”

“I would be surprised if you didn’t,” Cameron said softly, watching her. It was as if a weight had suddenly settled across her shoulders, one he couldn’t shift away for her. A quiet sigh escaped him and she looked back again, her brow arching.

“What is it?”

He shook his head. “What’s past is passed, Neve. You can’t change it, only go forward. So what if something went wrong a long time ago. You’re on the right side now.” He tilted his head. “Or are you doubting that, too?”

“Not for a heartbeat,” she said fervently. “No. We’re on the right side of this. And even if I wasn’t? Well. My conscience wouldn’t let me be anywhere other than here.”

“Likewise.” Cameron rocked to his knees, careful not to jostle Artorius, and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “Now stop fretting. Tell me a story.” He glanced down at Artorius, then at Anne, and smiled. “Tell us a story.”

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Forty-four – 02

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

Cam’s brow climbed higher and he sat down on the ground next to her as she knelt next to the shallow tub of soapy water for the twins’ baths. “Oh really? That sounds like an invitation.”

Neve laughed again, shaking her head. “You know full well that I’ve never exactly been one to run away from trouble.”

“Well, only the kind that would get both of us killed,” he said, shifting Artorius to one arm. His son yawned and blinked slowly, watching his mother ease his twin into the water. Anne gave a little start but didn’t cry, settling a few seconds later as Neve began to gently pour water over her with a cupped hand.

“You weren’t ready to fight half of what we faced,” she said quietly, her mirth fading for a moment. “I knew I couldn’t protect you, not alone, and I didn’t know exactly what your capabilities would be. I am very pleased to say that you surprised me more often than you didn’t, but I don’t regret running in any of the instances where we bailed the hell out before things got worse than they were.”

“Honestly, neither do I.” He reached over and squeezed her knee. Neve smiled over her shoulder at him.

“Love you, Cam.”

“Right back at you, princess.”

She stared at him for a few seconds more and then laughed again. “You…you are impossible.”

“I know. And you did, too.”

“I did,” she agreed. “I really, really did. I think it’s why I fell in love with you.”

“Is it?”

Neve thought about it for a moment, going back to bathing their daughter, then nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”

“Then I am eternally grateful for the impossibility of my person.” Cam leaned back against one hand, watching her. There was an odd sense of peace that settled over him as they sat there together, one tiny subunit of a much larger family. As he watched her, he knew that she felt it, too—there was none of the usual tension in her shoulders, her teasing coming easy and unforced.

It made him smile.

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Forty-four – 01

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

Cameron listened to the tune of the song Neve sang, his eyes closed as he sat leaning against a tree a little ways below the forge. Neve was bathing the twins nearby, the words to the song lost but the tune achingly familiar—though not so painful that it didn’t bring a wistful smile to his face. It was like a memory from a long-forgotten dream, something that stirred strands buried in his soul. It was idyllic, almost, this moment, her tune melding with birdsong and the faint rustle of the wind through the trees. Further away was the sound of Matt’s hammer in the forge above them, and further still was the sound of arms-training near the walls, by the Wild Hunt’s encampment.

He should have been down there with them, honing his skills with Caliburn, but there would be time enough for that later. Right now, he didn’t want the moment he was living to end—not yet.

It just felt so normal, and feeling that way was far nicer than he cared to admit.

The song stopped and he opened his eyes, twisting to peer around the tree. He watched Neve swaddle Artorius, then lean down to kiss him on the nose. She glanced toward Cameron and smiled.

“Could you hold him while I give Anne her bath?” she asked.

Cameron nodded, standing and stretching before he headed over to take Artorius. His son yawned as Cameron cradled him but didn’t go to sleep—not just yet. He traced a fingertip down the infant’s cheek and smiled.

“What kind of adventures do you think they’ll have?” he asked softly, glancing toward Neve as she lifted Anne free of the Moses basket she’d been sleeping in.

“Oh,” Neve said quietly. “I don’t know, Cam. Hopefully the best kind.”

Cameron chuckled. “The best kind, huh?”

Neve nodded, unswaddling Anne. “Mmhm.”

“The kind where they go out with their friends, don’t get into much trouble, come back safe and sound?”

She laughed. “I didn’t say anything about them not getting much trouble. Getting into trouble—and getting out again—is the best kind of adventure.”

“Really?” He turned to her, brow arching slightly. “That’s the best kind of adventure? How do you figure?”

Neve grinned at him—a warm, wicked grin that he knew by now signaled mischief and much more. “Oh, Cam. The stories I could tell you. The stories I could tell you.”

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Forty-three – 07

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

The rattle of bowls jarred me from my thoughts—or perhaps it had been a doze. Tala was getting bowls to serve the stew. Either it had been closer to ready than I realized, or I really had slept for a time. I took a slow, deep breath and shifted slightly, careful not to disturb Thom and Lin.

“It smells good, Tala,” I said quietly, wrapping my arm around Thom.

“Hopefully it’ll taste as good,” she said with a faint smile, starting to ladle it out into bowls.

“I’m sure it will,” Phelan mumbled, blinking slowly. “It’ll be hot and bracing and fortifying and—and—” he stopped, grasping for words and staring at the fire. I sighed.

“You should be in bed,” I said.

“Soon,” he answered. “After we eat. It’s—it’s been a long day.”

“It certainly has,” Tala agreed. “But we made it.”

“This time,” Hecate said, her voice faint. Her fingers bunched in the fabric of Matt’s shirt as she, too, stared into the flames of the cookfire. “We made it this time. But there will be more. We’d be fools to believe otherwise.”

“We’re not fools,” I murmured, looking at her, brow creasing. “Are you…?”

She didn’t look at me. “All right? Time will tell.” I saw Matt’s arm tighten around her slightly and she shifted, pressing closer. “It always does.” For a few seconds, she was silent, then she finally looked at me. “You want to know what happened.”

“You don’t have to—”

“Perhaps not now,” she said, gazing at me steadily. “But later, eventually, I will. It wouldn’t be fair not to. But not right now. Not tonight. They won’t come back tonight. They won’t try again tonight. All of you made sure of that—and I helped.”

“You did,” Matt murmured, burying his nose in her hair. “More than you know. Far more than you know.”

A soft snort escaped her, but she smiled. “All I was doing was protecting my family—as families, real families, do.” Hecate looked up at my brother, then at me, a tremulous smile curving her lips. “And that’s what you are. My family.”

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Forty-three – 06

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

Even hours later, there was a strange tension in the air, an energy that gave off a low-level hum, perceptible to the sensitives among us—which, truth be known, was most of us. We stuck close to each other, all of us, as if driven by safety in numbers even though the threat had passed and we were, for the moment, safe. Thom and I certainly weren’t immune, nor was my brother and Hecate. As night fell and the rain continued unabating, we found ourselves by the fire, clustered together with some of the others while Tala worked on a later dinner for those of us who’d found our appetites lacking at the usual hour—herself included. Phelan was there, a half-asleep Jacqueline leaning against him, exhausted after working on the wounded with J.T for hours. Carolyn had been able to convince him to go to bed after he’d eaten, but Jacqueline hadn’t had an appetite at the time. Now she cradled baby Gwen and stared blankly at the fire, Phelan’s head resting against hers. He was only here because she was—I knew that beyond a shadow of a doubt. He was exhausted beyond reason after what he’d done on the wall and I could easily foresee a conversation later between he and I with him telling me that he didn’t think he’d be able to do that again.

Somehow, he always managed it. I feared the day he wouldn’t.

Tala hummed a soft tune as she stirred the stew. It smelled wonderful, though it was still hard to muster an appetite. My mind wouldn’t seem to quiet down, though the thoughts were ones that I couldn’t quite master, couldn’t quite gasp. They were just there, a low-level hum like the tension, something I couldn’t quell and couldn’t shake and couldn’t address.

Thom was asleep leaning against me, Lin fast asleep against his chest. I didn’t have the heart to wake him to send him to bed—he wouldn’t have listened, anyway. I knew he was worried and I couldn’t blame him. I was, too.

I was worried about a lot of things, including him. I was worried about Hecate, too, nestled in Matt’s arms. So far as I knew, she hadn’t spoken a word since waking, as if the trauma of whatever had happened to her up on the wall was too much to articulate, too much to put into words.

I didn’t want to push her—I didn’t want to push any of them—but my gut told me I’d have to.

I hated it, but it would need to be done.

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Forty-three – 05

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

Drawing closer to the fire, I saw Thom sitting near it, leaning silently back against one of the split-log benches, out son against his chest. He looked like he was nearly asleep but fighting it. My breath hitched for a moment.

I thought he was below. I thought he was safe. What the hell? What was he thinking?

The problem was, I knew what he’d been thinking—or I thought I knew. His eyes blinked open slowly as we got closer and he winced, pushing himself up a little straighter with a groan.

“It’s over?” he asked quietly, eyes on me and nothing else. There was a fever-gleam there, one that was becoming disturbingly familiar.

“Yeah,” I said as Leinth and I eased Seamus down beside him. “For now, anyway.”

“Always for now,” Thom murmured, watching me for a second before he glanced at Seamus, then back to me. I shook my head.

“You’re happier not knowing.”

“Are you okay?” he asked, surprising me when he didn’t press for an answer to the question he hadn’t asked.

A lump built in my throat as I dropped to one knee next to him, my fingers moving of their own accord to brush along the curve of his jaw. He was warm, but at least he was there. “Am I ever?”

He pressed my hand against his cheek, exhaling quietly as he stared up at me. “None of us are.”

“We turned them back this time,” I said softly. “At least there’s that.”

“I sent her because you needed her,” he said. I blinked at him and he smiled. “Hecate. I could—just a gut feeling Mar. You needed her more than Lin and I did.”

My throat got tight again and I hugged him tightly, ignoring the fact that I knew he was still hurt and that I was soaked to the skin, briefly sandwiching our sleeping son between his. Thom winced but reached up to lace his fingers through my wet hair, cheek pressed against my temple.

“I just want to keep you safe,” he whispered. “Even if I can’t be there, I want you safe.”

“I love you,” I whispered back. There was nothing else that I could say—even those words didn’t adequately express everything I was feeling.

Thom pressed his lips against my temple and held me there for a moment longer. It was only a moment, but it was everything—everything.

I can’t lose him. Not today. Not ever.

We were one and we both knew that.

Unfortunately, it was starting to seem like the rest of the world did, too, and was determined to do something about it.

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Forty-three – 04

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

Leinth appeared in seconds, as if either sensing Seamus’s need or by sheer luck—or perhaps she’d seen me starting to try to carry him down the ladder alone. Her face was pale in the dim light, though not the color of ashes like her lover’s. Her jaw tightened as she reached to help me, wordless until we’d carried him down to the sodden ground below.

Then, finally: “What happened?”

“He covered us,” I said. “He decided to play a damned hero and covered us when the arrows started to fly.”

She winced. “That sounds like him.”

“I’m right here,” Seamus murmured, leaning more against Leinth than me. “And this isn’t anything that some stitches and a good poultice and shit-ton of rest isn’t going to fix.”

Leinth’s gaze slid toward me and I saw in her eyes the thought that I knew was reflected in my own—that Seamus was full of shit but both of us could understand why he was trying to downplay the injury. It was something we all did when we thought people should be worrying about something—or someone—else.

We weren’t buying it, not yet.

“There’s more wounded further down,” Leinth said after a few seconds and a dozen feet. Together, we carried Seamus toward the tents, toward the cookfire and shelter from the storm. “Not a lot—seems they concentrated fire around the gate rather than stretching it all the way down. It’s as if they knew where most of the leadership would be.”

“That’s something we’ll have to fix,” I murmured, thoughts already racing. “Can’t have them being able to take out our heaviest hitters in one lucky shot.” There will be a next time. There’s always a next time.

For a second, I squeezed my eyes shut.

There would be a next time and there was nothing I could do to prevent that from happening.

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Forty-three – 03

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

In those first few seconds, I scarcely dared to breathe, as if the simple act would shatter the momentary peace, the silence. And it was silent, as if everyone else was holding their breath, the same as I was, waiting, watching, expecting something other than what came.

What came was nothing.

I sucked in one breath and then another, staring at that field until Seamus moved and I snapped out of whatever fugue had temporarily gripped me. He needed help, Phelan needed help—and more besides.

I exhaled with a shudder and reached for Seamus. My next breath came with a curse and he just looked at me with a grimace and a slightly arched brow.

“What is it?”

“You look like hell already,” I said as I started to lift him. I needed to get him down off that wall and to a healer—probably Jac, but maybe J.T. I’d figure it out once we were on the ground, or maybe once we were back by the fire where there was better light. The sky was still dark with stormclouds and I suspected that it would be for a while yet.

“I got shot,” he said, still staring at me as I hauled him upright. He winced, then groaned. “What were you expecting?”

“I’m going to go with not you playing hero like that.” I blew out a quiet breath. “Phelan, are you all right?”

“Just need a minute,” he rasped. “Stay where you are, I’ll help. Just let me get my bearings again.”

I glanced at him and grimaced. His complexion was almost as ashy as his cousin’s.

Nope. This has to be me.

“Is Matt okay?”

I opened my mouth to answer Phelan’s question, only to be cut off.

“I will be,” Matt said, his voice hoarse, as if he’d been screaming—though I knew he hadn’t been, at least not out loud. Hecate curled into his chest and he peeked up to look at me for a few seconds, resting his chin against her hair. “Are you okay, sis?”

“Oh yeah,” I said with a measure of wry humor. “Peachy.”

With that, I started to drag Seamus to the edge of the wall.

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