Fourteen – 05

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

“So how do we prepare for this?” Thom asked, watching her. He was pale, but resolute. Hecate swallowed hard, half wishing he wasn’t there. She wasn’t sure any of them would very much like the answers she could come up with.

She wasn’t sure she liked the answers she could come up with.

Matt squeezed her gently. “The same way we always do,” he said quietly. “Keep a close eye. Check the wards. Stay alert. Be ready for anything.”

“Anything,” Marin echoed, then shivered. “Par for the course.”

“I was just about to say that,” Tala said. She shook her head. “Is this really how it’s going to be? Always?”

“Gods, I hope not,” Marin said, scrubbing a hand over her face. “I don’t know if I can take it.”

“None of us can take it,” Phelan murmured. “It’ll get better. It has to.”

“But when?” Tala asked. “When the hell is it finally going to get better, Phelan? I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. I’m tired of always being on alert, I’m tired of getting bound up in everything that’s none of our fault—not even yours, or Hecate’s, or Seamus’s, or anyone’s. We just get sucked in whether we like it or not.”

“We do,” Marin agreed. “And you’re right, it’s not fair. I just have to hope that by the time our children are old enough to understand that it won’t be a constant struggle anymore. I hope that we’ll have been able to fend off the worst of it and build a life, because that’s what this is. This is our life—this is our home.”

“It’ll be all right,” Thom said, his voice low. His gaze flicked between them, finally settling on his wife. “It will.”

There was the weight of promise in his voice, heavy and certain. Hecate shivered again and pressed herself against Matt.

She didn’t envy either of them, neither Thom nor Marin. Their gift was as much a curse and it wasn’t one she’d ever wanted or would wish on anyone.

There was just too much pain bound up in seeing the future, even if that future didn’t turn out to be real.

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Fourteen – 04

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

The weight of their gazes was heavy on her, but no gaze was as heavy as Phelan’s. The shock in his eyes almost had physical weight and Hecate looked away, down at her hands. She swallowed hard, uncertain whether she should say more than she already had.

Thom cleared his throat quietly. “So what does this all mean, exactly? Clearly we have another problem on our hands to deal with but that’s not exactly new, is it?”

“Nope,” Tala said, fixing a plate of food for Seamus—one he’d likely eat, whether he wanted to or not. “Sounds like it’s older and deeper than any of us realized, too.”

“Just like this this tends to be,” Marin said, shaking her head slowly. “At least it maybe solves the mystery about where to find Persephone.”

“It does,” Hecate said quietly. “That should put J.T. a little more at ease.”

“It should put you more at ease, too,” Matt murmured. She shivered slightly.

I wish it did, but it doesn’t. She closed her eyes, resting her head against his shoulder and neck.

“If our theory is right, anyway,” Seamus said. He took a slow sip of tea, wincing slightly as he lowered the mug. “I could be wrong.”

“You’re not,” Phelan murmured. “Your instincts on this sort of thing are too good.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I should go find J.T. and tell him.”

“There’s nothing to tell right now,” Marin said. “We only know where they are—kind of—but they don’t seem to be coming after us yet, right?”

“They will,” Hecate said softly, trying to steady herself. The words were her anchor. “He’s playing with fire out there, with the dirae. I don’t know how he learned their song, how to control them, but he did. There’s only one reason he’d be playing with that kind of power and it’s to take revenge.” Her gaze flicked toward Seamus for a few seconds, then over to Thom and Marin. “We know who he’ll come for, we just don’t know when.”

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Fourteen – 03

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

“She asked for our help,” Matt said quietly, his brow furrowing as his gaze drifted between them, finally settling on Hecate.

“And she’ll get it,” Hecate said, swallowing hard and glancing at him. Her voice didn’t shake and she was shocked by that. “I owe her that much.”

Seamus swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, Hecate. I didn’t—”

“There was no way for you to realize anything,” she said, more acid to her tone than she intended. Hecate scrubbed a hand over her face again, leaning into Matt’s chest and trying to calm down. “Sorry. I—sorry.” She took another breath, then started again. “There were so many secrets then. There had to be—there wasn’t a choice. If people were going to stay safe, there had to be.”

Matt’s arms cocooned her and she closed her eyes for a few seconds. His touch helped her center, but it didn’t ease the old pain that had suddenly risen to the surface again.

She was so tired of hurting.

“It’s like you said, you made a devil’s bargain,” Hecate said, her voice quieter, closer to normal again. “It’s okay. You didn’t know what would happen. No one did. You didn’t know what the consequences would be.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Besides, part of the blame for this is on me, if it is really Orcus and he has Persephone. I’m the one who killed Pluton. I know I didn’t have a choice but his blood is still on my hands. We all share some blame for this.”

Matt pressed a kiss to her neck through her hair. She sighed quietly.

“I violated the terms of the agreement,” she said in a whisper. “The bargain you made with him. I still went. I was still there from time to time. Never for long and usually not to do any harm. But I was still there.” Matt’s arms tightened around her a little more. Her voice was barely audible. “I was still there.”

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Fourteen – 02

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

“H-how do you know?” Hecate’s breath caught in her throat. “What—what makes you think that he’d—that he’d have her?” The terror was back, the deep-rooted fear. Even Matt’s touch seemed like a distant thing, comfort that she could barely perceive.

It was hard to breathe.

Seamus swallowed once, then again, studying his hands. “He might have her or she might be—be free. Be out there on her own.”

“Not likely,” Matt murmured quietly even as his arm tightened around her. “Not with what they saw.”

“The Hunt? What did they see?” Leinth’s gaze flicked toward Matt, then to Phelan. Hecate sank back, pressing herself against Matt’s side.

It was her. It had to be her. The figure they saw, the small one. It had to be her.

She felt sick, chilled to the bone. She squeezed her eyes shut. Marin reached over and put her hand on her knee.

“I’m okay,” Hecate lied in a whisper. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not,” Marin whispered back. “But it’s okay not to be. She’s your friend.”

“She’s the closest thing I have to family other than all of you,” Hecate said, reaching up to mop at her eyes. Her stomach roiled and she swallowed bile. Keep yourself together. You can do this. Don’t fall apart. You can’t fall apart. Keep it together.

“He’d want some kind of leverage,” Seamus said, his voice pained. “If he could find a way, he would. He’d find a way to get leverage over anyone who might oppose him. Having her—”

“It would be a lot of leverage,” Hecate said softly. “No one hates her. I was the monster. She was the innocent. Damn. Damn and damn.” She scrubbed her hand over her face angrily, eyes stinging with tears. “I promised her that I’d take care of her. We have to help her.”

“We will,” Marin said softly. “I promise, we will.”

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Fourteen – 01

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

Her mind reeled. Hecate’s thoughts cast back through the centuries, thrown there unbidden as her unconscious sought something her conscious mind was certain wasn’t there to find—something, anything about Orcus.

She could remember when he’d called her and the forces with her back. There had been no arguing with him—she could even remember the tone he’d used, the harshness of it. But there had been something else, something she hadn’t been able to identify at the time, not that she’d tried very hard. Her brain had been a scrambled mess then. But she knew what it was, now.

It had been glee.

She hadn’t wanted to come back from the isles, but her reasons had been her own, reasons she’d fought to bury when faced with Pluton’s wrath. She’d managed it—or at least, she’d thought she had.

“I remember it,” she whispered, blinking, vision clearing. Matt’s arm settled around her shoulders, a protective gesture and a comforting one. “I remember him calling us back, forbidding us from venturing to the isles. I remember him being so—” she groped for the word, her brows knitting. Finally, she shook her head. “Practically giddy, which was terrifying in and of itself. I remember Persephone coming to me but I don’t remember why or what she said, only that she was afraid of someone new that he’d exposed her to, someone she said was dangerous. She was worried. I remember that.”

Seamus swallowed hard. “You think she knew him, then? Or at least, of him?”

“Of Orcus?” Hecate took a breath and exhaled slowly. “I think so. For all that happened, Pluton only kept a few things from her and I think that’s why she was so often afraid, why she and I ended up so close. I think she must have known.”

Leinth looked at Seamus, her brow furrowing. “Then it would fit. Your theory.”

He gave a full-body shudder. Hecate leaned forward.

“What are you talking about?”

“He may have her,” Seamus whispered, his lips barely moving. “She might be with him. He might be the shadow holding her now.”

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Thirteen – 09

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

“What devil?” Thom asked.

Seamus looked down, staring into his mug of tea, his jaw tightening for a second as some color washed into his face. It didn’t make him look all that much healthier, but it did swallow some of the pallor, at least for a few seconds. He took a slow, quiet breath, then exhaled before he answered. “I made a deal with Pluton. In exchange for his assurance that Olympium would leave the isle alone, I would deliver Orcus to him.”

Hecate sucked in a breath, her lips thinning. “That was why,” she whispered. “That was why all the plans were abandoned.”

Seamus swallowed hard, glancing at her, then at the rest of us. Phelan looked as shocked as Hecate sounded. Leinth didn’t, though. I watched her for a second, then cleared my throat.

“You knew.”

“Only since this morning,” she said softly. “I’m not even sure that Seamus fully remembered until recently.” She glanced at him, then back to me. “You have to understand, the situation was complicated—made far worse by the upheaval that took place in my homeland around the time Seamus was taken by the Hunt. I’d stolen away to have my child in safety, but it was utter chaos. My sister was pregnant, too, by Seamus because he did his husbandly duty before he was handed over—my father saw to that. He would have accepted no less and he got what he wanted and then the bastard got what he deserved.” A shudder raced through her before she continued. “He promised me to Orcus when I was practically a baby and Orcus wanted to press that claim. I refused him because I was in love with Seamus—and Seamus was in love with me. Even if he had been handed to the Hunt, I still refused Orcus what he wanted and that put both Seamus and I under threat.”

“So I did something about it,” Seamus murmured. “I made a deal that was mutually beneficial—or so I thought. Pluton had some kind of beef with Orcus and I was only too happy to solve his problem and mine. Orcus was alive when I handed him over but I was so sure that Pluton killed him shortly after, but it looks like I was wrong.” He sighed. “And now it seems that’s put us all under threat.” He looked at his cousin, at Tala, at Matt and Hecate and finally to Thom and I. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I am so sorry.”

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Thirteen – 08

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

“What?”

I hadn’t realized I’d spoken until well after the word left my throat and I found everyone looking from Seamus to me and then back again. My heart felt like lead even as it rose into my throat, threatening to choke me. Thom put a hand on my knee, squeezed hard.

Seamus, for his part, closed his eyes, exhaling a sigh even as his fingers tightened around his mug of tea. “There was a time long ago when I ran afoul of one—mostly because my presence offended him, but also because I had the temerity to be in love with someone who claimed as his own.”

Leinth made a choked sound, easing closer to Seamus, her eyes wide and bright with the moisture of tears she tried to suppress. “You never told me.”

“I know,” he whispered, turning to press a tender kiss to her cheek. Leinth wrapped her arms around his shoulders and I felt a pang somewhere deep inside.

I pressed closer to Thom and he wrapped his free arm around me, holding me close, as if he could sense what I was feeling. Gods and monsters. I scarcely dared to imagine what he went through—maybe I should have.

Seamus took a slow breath. “It wasn’t something that I wanted you to worry about, nor was it something that I was exactly proud of, after I’d dealt with it. I had to make a deal I hoped I would never regret.”

“But you regret it now,” Phelan said, eyeing his cousin. “What did you do?”

“I made a deal with the devil. My soul was already lost, but I thought that if I made the deal offered, if I controlled it and made sure it was binding that I’d save the better angels, if you’ll pardon all the metaphor. I exacted my price and so far as I was ever able to gather, he kept his end of the bargain.”

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Thirteen – 07

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

There was no small measure of concern in Thom’s gaze as we came to the fire. Maybe it was something in my expression or Phelan’s, or Matt’s, or maybe it was just the sight of Seamus that did it. His eyes met mine, a question in the look he shot me. I shook my head almost imperceptibly, heading back to my spot next to him and the coffee cup that sat abandoned there, waiting for me.

Thom watched me for a few seconds before looking at Seamus and Leinth, brow furrowing.

“You, sir, look like utter and complete shit,” he said with a completely straight face, watching as Leinth helped Seamus to a spot even closer to the fire.

“Do I?” Seamus smiled as he slowly, agonizingly, lowered himself to the ground to sit against another log. “That’s an improvement, then, I think.”

“Tala,” Leinth said quietly. “Do you have any tea on?”

“I do,” she confirmed. “Two cups?”

Leinth nodded, sitting down next to Seamus. “Please.”

Hecate separated from Matt long enough to get a blanket from the bin near the dish storage shelves. We always kept a few near the fire, just in case. She brought it to Seamus and Leinth, draping it over the former Taleisin’s shoulders but letting Leinth fuss with it as she saw fit. “You promised a story,” Hecate said softly as she withdrew, coming to sit with Thom and I. Matt was getting a fresh cup of coffee by the fire, but he’d join us soon enough.

“I did,” Seamus said quietly. “I suppose I owe you that and more.”

“And more?” Thom asked, his brow arching. “What’s going on, exactly?”

“The story relates to that,” Seamus said, gently brushing aside Leinth’s fussing over his blanket. Tala came to them with two mugs, the tea still steaming in them, and Seamus reached for one. “For better or worse, I suspect I know more and better than any what’s out there and I fear it’s my fault this time that they’re here.”

“Well,” I said quietly. “We do seem to have a knack for helping people with enemies. What is it this time? Another god of war?”

“No,” Seamus said quietly. “Another god of death.”

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Thirteen – 06

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

They weren’t that far away, so it only took a few seconds and about a dozen steps to reach them. Seamus leaned on Leinth, his complexion ashen, eyes sunken into even darker hollows. I swallowed hard, my throat getting tight. I’d never seen him look quite so bad, certainly not in this life and not in any part of the last one I could recall.

Still, I regretted the fact that the first words that escaped my mouth were, “You shouldn’t be up.”

He managed to smile. “Good morning to you, too, Marin.”

“I told him he didn’t have to,” Leinth said, shaking her head and smiling helplessly at me. “Do you think he listened?”

“Clearly not.” I started to move toward him, to help, but he waved me back. I saw Matt smile weakly behind him and shake his head almost imperceptibly. Phelan and Hecate both just looked worried.

“They tried to help, too,” Seamus said, waving a hand slightly toward my brother, Phelan, and Hecate. “I wouldn’t let them, either.”

“Can you blame us?” Phelan asked, casting a sideways look at his cousin. “You know what you look like?”

Seamus smiled, looking directly at him. “Yes, a stubborn bastard second only to the one to my left.”

He meant Phelan.

That made me smile. At least his sense of humor was still intact.

Small consolation, but still consolation.

A shiver crept down my spine and I glanced toward Matt. “The Hunt. What did–?”

“That’s why we’re coming back to the fire,” Matt said, his gaze drifting toward Seamus for a moment before returning to me. “Seamus knows more about what’s out there, he thinks, than what the Hunt was able to tell us.”

“What was the Hunt able to tell us?” I asked.

Seamus shook his head. “Everything all at once,” Seamus said, then gestured toward the fire ahead of us. “Let me sit down and get a mug of something hot in my hands and I’ll spill my guts.”

I winced at the analogy but nodded. “Okay,” I whispered, feeling sicker by the second. “If that’s what you want.”

“It is,” he said.

I wasn’t sure if I believed that it was what he wanted or if it was he needed. Then again, I wasn’t sure it mattered.

It probably didn’t. It never seemed to, anyway. Not anymore.

Maybe not ever.

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Thirteen – 05

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

Thom’s gaze settled on me for a few seconds after that. He swallowed hard, then shook his head and gulped down some more coffee. “You could’ve woken me up, Mar.”

I choked on a laugh. “At the time, letting you sleep a little longer sounded like the smarter idea. It’s not like there’s anything we can do right now, y’know? Not until we know more.”

He sighed but didn’t argue with me. There must have been a part of him that realized how right I was about that, though I knew that he’d have preferred to be able to give me moral support—such as it was, anyway. I pressed a kiss to his cheek.

“I love you,” I murmured. “You know that, right?”

“If you didn’t, you wouldn’t work so damn hard to keep me out of trouble.” The ghost of a smile curved his lips. I grinned.

“Dead-on on that.”

I stole another kiss before letting him go back to his breakfast. It was only a few more minutes before we started to hear the sound of voices—the ones Tala and I, at least, had been waiting for. Thom tensed slightly, looking up from his plate.

“That sounds like Seamus.”

It did, and that sent a shiver creeping down my spine. Leinth had gone to talk to him, but I hadn’t quite expected her to manage to get him out of bed, not the way J.T. had made his condition sound the last time we’d talked about it. But then, Seamus had been a healer for a long time before his centuries with the Wild Hunt, and I had to trust he knew what he was doing.

After all, there really wasn’t much other choice.

Thom nudged me gently. “Here,” he murmured, holding his arms out for Lin. “Go on. I know you’re worried.”

“I’m always worried,” I whispered, pressing a kiss to his jaw and transferring our son from my arms to his. “It’s just a question about what and who at any given moment.”

“Well, right now it’s about Seamus.” Thom smiled wryly. “Go on. I know you’ll be back in a minute.”

He was right about that.

I pushed to my feet and headed toward the sound of their voices, uncertain of what kind of sight might greet me when I finally reached them. I hoped it was far better than I imagined it might be.

Odds were good I’d be wrong.

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