Twenty-seven – 02

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

I stared at him, knowing that shock was written all over my face. I clambered down from the wall quickly and he shook his head slightly, staring at me with crossed arms and a smile.

“You’re worried,” he surmised.

“It’s what I do,” I said as my boots hit the ground. “You’re leaving?”

“Was I lying about there being work to do?” He just regarded me with a faint smile. He’d changed since he’d come to us, but I suppose that was true of a lot of people. Somehow, he seemed happier, though, which felt like something that really mattered—mattered a lot. Maybe we’d given him back something he’d lost a long time ago.

We seemed to do that for people, too, no matter what we cost them.

“No, I guess not,” I said, then exhaled. “Where are you going to go?”

“Surprisingly enough, not far,” he said, letting his hands drop. He glanced up toward the sky. “I need to figure out the lay of the land and I may well be your best chance of that, I think.”

“What are you talking about?”

Cariocecus shrugged with one shoulder. “Who’s still out there, who might be hunting, where they are—what their weaknesses are. You know. Keep my promise to you all to help.”

“Keeping your promise nearly killed you,” I said softly.

“Still,” he said. “An oath made is an oath kept, Seer. At least for me. I’ve watched one too many double-crosses happen in this past year, all the ones I’ve seen in a thousand lifetimes notwithstanding. I’m not stupid enough to cross you and yours, not with your track record—and mine. I’ll be back, probably a week or two, maybe three.”

My mouth was dry. Words weren’t coming. “Don’t disappoint me,” I managed to say in a whisper.

Cariocecus smiled and inclined his head. “I’ll aim not to, my lady.” He executed a courtly bow and turned to the gate, walking silently through it and out toward what was left of the road. I watched him go, my throat strangely tight.

He would be back—I knew he would be. I didn’t need to see it to know.

I watched him until he vanished from sight.

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Twenty-seven – 01

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

A week after the battle found me sitting on the wall, my back to the world beyond it, just gazing out over the village we’d created in the almost-year since our world had come crashing down around us. It had been raining on and off here and there since the storm Thordin had called had abated, though it was hard to tell if that was in relation to his mood, a consequence of the storm itself, or if it was simply a natural occurrence. Time would tell—we said it a lot, but it never seemed to stop being true.

Time would tell for everything.

Sif still hadn’t regained consciousness, but J.T. and Jacqueline were constantly assuring Thordin that she’d live, she just needed time to recover from the shock.

I hoped they were right.

Neve wasn’t quite up and around yet, either, though that might have been more due to Cameron’s worrying over her than any sort of actual problems following the birth of the twins. Hecate had been spending a lot of time with her, something that I was glad to see. Maybe the past really could be left in the past. It was a nice thought, anyway.

Cariocecus appeared from somewhere in the tents, moving toward the walls, scanning the top. He spotted me well after I’d spotted him and shifted direction slightly, moving dead-on toward me, as if seeing me told him where he needed to go. My stomach started to sink.

Something’s wrong.

He frowned as he drew closer, peering up at me, squinting through the sunshine that backlit me. “What’s that look for?”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

His brow furrowed for a moment, then he smiled and shook his head. “Nothing’s wrong, Seer. There’s just work to do and I have to leave so I can do it. I thought that you would like to know. Respect and all that—and gratitude.”

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Twenty-six – 06

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

“Then that’s something we need to fix, and fast.” Matt shook his head, watching the blade in the forge. “Will talking it out help?”

“When has it ever?”

Matt snorted and shifted the blade around among the embers. “Don’t get like that, Phelan. Just because you’ve got some kind of existential dread about Atlantis doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have answers and doesn’t mean it’s something that we shouldn’t talk about. Let’s be honest here—there was some good that came out of Atlantis back then, wasn’t there?”

Phelan flinched, staring at his hands. Matt was right, of course, but admitting it almost made him ill at ease. “You’re right,” he grated, still staring at his hands. “But that doesn’t make it any easier, considering the hell we all went through because of it—you included.”

Matt grimaced and pulled the blade out of the heat again, starting to hammer once more. He didn’t bother to look at Phelan. “That’s a long time ago and far away.”

“The tightness in your voice says otherwise.”

He shrugged, intent on his work. “It’s further than other things.” He glanced sidelong at Phelan, his brow furrowing slightly. “Don’t let this eat you alive, Phelan,” he murmured. “It’s not worth it. There’s too much at stake for you to just let that happen.”

Phelan shook his head hard and exhaled a sigh, leaning back against the wall of the forge. The brick was cool against his back and he tilted his head to stare at the ceiling. “You’re right,” he said. “You’re absolutely right.”

“But?”

“But fucking Atlantis,” Phelan said, then smiled crookedly.

“Honestly, in that past life, he suspected it never really died.”

“He might have been right,” Phelan murmured, staring at something neither of them could actually see. “Maybe he was right.”

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Twenty-six – 05

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

Matt stared at him deadpan for a few seconds, though there was a maelstrom flickering through his eyes, emotions tumbling over each other in rapid succession before they were gone. His fingers tightened visibly around the hammer in his hand and for a second his jaw went tight as well.

Then the tension eased and Matt sighed, shaking his head slowly. “Somehow, even though it’s gone, that place never seems to let go, does it?” He scrubbed a hand over his face, leaving a faint trail of soot across his cheekbone and jaw. “What did you tell her?”

“That she’s connected to it. I can’t believe I didn’t put it together sooner.” Phelan stopped working the bellows, slumping onto a bench. Matt just shook his head, pulling the heated metal out of the coals and beginning to shape it again, hammer falling in a smooth, easy rhythm, almost automatic, instinctual.

“It makes sense, though, thinking about it. Marin’s always pointed out that Kel’s connection to the lines and everything has been stronger, that she’s always been more in tune with that sort of thing.” The ghost of a smile curved his lips, though briefly, and his gaze never strayed from the metal under his hammer. “I know she didn’t think I was paying attention back then.”

“Actually, I think she thought you thought she was full of some kind of bullshit,” Phelan muttered, watching the metal flatten out a little more with each blow of the hammer. The sound was soothing, the motion something to focus on rather than the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I shouldn’t have said anything about it, Matt.”

“Too late to take it back now,” Matt said with a slight shake of his head. “How did she react?”

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her face that color.”

“That well, huh?” Matt shrugged with the shoulder holding the metal steady against the anvil. “It’ll be all right, Phelan. You know her well enough by now to know that she’ll sort through it all her own way. She’s going to have questions, though. Are you going to have answers?”

“Are any of us?”

“That’s not what I asked.” Matt thrust the sword back into the forge and pumped the bellows once, twice. “She’s going to look to you for answers, Phelan. What you need to figure out is what you’re going to say when she does—and who you’re going to look to for her sake when you don’t have the answers she needs. What do you do then?”

“I don’t know,” Phelan whispered. “I really don’t know.”

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Twenty-six – 04

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

The sound of Matt’s hammer against metal echoed softly down the hill as Phelan trudged up toward the forge. His thoughts were a maelstrom and he was still kicking himself—hard—for being so blunt and so straightforward with Kellin about what he’d sensed, about what he’d come to realize.

He’d been too blunt and too straightforward and now he wasn’t sure if he’d upset some sort of delicate equilibrium she’d crafted for herself.

No, that’s a lie. I know I’ve upset the equilibrium and that was a dangerous proposition. I should have had more tact, been more careful.

It had just been so damned startling and she’d been the one to ask, after all.

I’m a bleeding idiot sometimes. Maybe I really am cracked. Maybe something really did go south somewhere along the line and I just haven’t realized that it did or what it was yet.

Matt was alone in the forge when Phelan ducked inside and barely glanced up when he did. Phelan slipped past him to take over the bellows, peering at the piece on the anvil.

“More swords?”

“Didn’t feel like casting arrowheads,” Matt said, watching as Phelan pumped the bellows, forcing more air into the embers. He gestured slightly and Phelan stopped, letting Matt thrust the piece back into the coals to heat again for more shaping to come. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m all right.”

Matt just stared at him in the dim of the forge, eyes narrowing slightly. Phelan managed a sheepish smile.

“It’s all over my face, isn’t it?”

“I’m thinking only a few of us would be able to read it and recognize it for what it is,” Matt said, glancing to the embers again and the half-formed sword heating in them. “What’s eating at you this time?”

“I told Kellin something.”

“What?”

“I told her about Atlantis.”

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Twenty-six – 03

[This post is from J.T.’s point of view.]

Seamus just stared at him, deadpan. J.T. stared back, holding his ground despite every instinct to run—or at the very least, avert his gaze to avoid meeting Seamus’s eyes. “I mean it, Seamus,” J.T. said, his voice quiet. “We never would have agreed to the terms the Hunt offered if we didn’t want you here.”

“You didn’t know what you would be getting when you accepted that bargain,” Seamus countered. “In most ways, you still don’t.”

“And even if we never do, who the fuck cares?” He was back to dropping f-bombs left, right, and sideways, like it was back to before the world had come crashing down around them. Stress and annoyance were the usual culprits—or frustration. Right now, it was all three making a partner of exhaustion.

As enjoyable as the morning had been and as relaxing as it had been in the moment, he was hardly as well-rested as he’d hoped to be.

J.T. took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, trying to calm down and swallow his temper. “Are you thinking that you’re out of place here, or are you thinking that people are coming here to attack us because you’re here? Because honestly, I have responses to either one.”

Seamus turned back to the ravine, leaning heavily against the bridge’s railing. “Go ahead, then.”

“Well, to the first point, you’re far more accepted here than you’re likely to be anywhere else outside of the Wild Hunt. Your sister’s here, your cousin, your lover? Where the hell else would you go and why would you want to, all things considered? Despite the fact that shit keeps coming to try to take over or murder us or suck us into wars we didn’t ask to be a part of, things are pretty okay here day to day.” J.T. shook his head. “And to the second, there is no one showing up here becauase you’re here. None of the bullshit we’ve dealt with is about you. It has everything to do with other factors, none of which are your fault. If someone sees taking you out as an added bonus to showing up here to kick our asses or worse, that’s not on your head. Trust me. That doesn’t make anything your fault. I can’t tell you how often we’ve had to pound that into our own heads and other people’s heads, Seamus.”

J.T. slumped against the rail, shaking his head. “Shit happens. None of it’s your fault at the end of the day. It all comes out in the wash.”

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Twenty-six – 02

[This post is from J.T.’s point of view.]

“Jameson.”

He took a quick breath and turned toward the sound of Seamus’s voice, his brows knitting as he watched the former head of the Wild Hunt crossing the bridge toward him. There was a strange look on Seamus’s face, one that left him slightly unsettled, slightly worried by what he glimpsed in the man’s eyes.

“What’s wrong, Seamus?” he asked quietly, watching the man come the last few steps to join him next to the railing, overlooking the ravine, the creek far below.

“I was hoping for a professional assessment of something,” Seamus said, leaning against the rail and staring down at the water below. He was in jeans and a button-down shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows to reveal tattoos along his forearms—tattoos that might have had a twin in some of those that J.T. had seen on Phelan.

Family marks, or something else? Something about being the Taliesin, maybe?

J.T. tore his gaze away and focused on the way the light slanted through the trees. “What would you need my professional assessment on?”

“Do you really need me here?” he asked, his voice almost lost in the breeze that ruffled the leaves and branches of the trees that surrounded them. “Truly? Am I really needed?”

His throat caught and his heart seized. J.T. froze up solid for a few seconds, slowly turning his head to regard Seamus with a long, silent look. Then, finally: “What the hell brought that question on, Seamus?”

He sighed. “I just wonder sometimes if staying is doing more harm than good. Sometimes I wonder—I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to stay with the Hunt, or to not have lingered once I attained my freedom. I wonder if you’re not better off without me here, without wondering what I might think of an action when it’s decided, or what my presence here might draw.”

What the hell was he supposed to say to that?

If another person comes to me with this sort of crisis, it’s going to be too damned soon. I know that much for sure.

J.T. sucked in a deep breath, eyes squeezing shut for a few seconds as he fought to martial his thoughts into something coherent and, he hoped, profound enough to convince Seamus that he—Seamus—was full of shit and that he—Jameson—knew what the hell he was talking about.

“That’s the biggest crock of shit I’ve run into since Phelan got the bright idea to run off for the same damn reason.”

Smooth, J.T. Real fucking smooth.

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Twenty-six – 01

[This post is from J.T.’s point of view.]

Wind whispered quietly through the trees and J.T. closed his eyes, breath easing from his lungs in one long, slow exhale. He leaned against the bridge’s railing, listening to the sounds of the wind through the trees and the creek far below.

It had been a damned long twenty-four hours on a lot of levels and he needed time to breathe and reflect and figure out what it all meant.

Carolyn. The fact that she had been there, waiting for him that morning when he finally straggled to bed—that meant everything. The words, the feel of her hands, the comfort of her arms and the warmth of her next to him had worked wonders, soothing nerves so ragged they’d barely been holding together.

She said yes. By all the gods and the powers, she said yes. His heart was full to bursting and he couldn’t help but smile as he thought of it. All he hoped was that he didn’t end up somehow disappointing her, or breaking the promise he’d made—a promise he aimed to keep no matter the cost.

Above his head, birds called to each other. He could hear someone singing softly near the edge of the ravine, back closer to camp—Tala, he thought, probably singing one or both of her twins back to sleep.

The thought brought him back down to reality. “Five babies,” he whispered to himself. “Five infants. How the hell are we going to manage this? Are we ready for this?”

The answer that echoed in his thoughts was an emphatic no, but somehow he knew they’d have to very quickly turn that no into a yes. They’d managed with Tala’s twins so far, and the recent addition of baby Lin—what was two more, after all? It wasn’t as if Cameron was going to let Neve anywhere near a battle-line anytime soon, especially since J.T. doubted that her leg had healed quite right after what had happened before they’d made it here.

But if more come, can we handle many more?

With any luck, there wouldn’t be more anytime soon—but luck, as he well knew, was rarely on their side.

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Twenty-five – 06

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

Hecate slipped out into the hall a few minutes later, dressed for the day in cargo shorts, a loose shirt, and sneakers. She was empty-handed, though she’d likely try to stop by the fire for at least a cup of something warm on her way to check on Neve. Her heart felt a little lighter, lighter than it had in a long while.

She had a purpose. There was a reason for her to be here. Knowing that felt good—very, very good.

It was quiet by the fire, but there was still a pot of tea settled on the stones surrounding it even if no one else was there. Hecate stopped, crouching to pick up the kettle and pour herself a mug of tea before heading onward, looping back in the direction she’d come. Cameron and Neve had a room at the far end of the hall from where she at Matt were—theirs was closer to the center than Neve and Cameron’s.

There was a spring in her step and she was surprised to find herself humming as she drew up to the door. A blush stole across her cheeks despite herself. How was it that she was so damned happy?

Matt. These people, starting to feel like I belong somewhere again, like I’ve got a family again, like these people are actually going to protect me instead of using me for their own ends.

She took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly before she rapped on the door.

“Should be open,” Neve’s voice called softly, almost too quiet for her to hear. Hecate smiled a little and opened the door slowly, starting with a crack she could peek through. She smiled at the sight of Cameron fast asleep with baby Anne in his arms, leaning against Neve, who was nursing Artorius.

“Just checking on you,” Hecate said softly as she slipped inside. “Cameron’s finally asleep, huh?”

“It only took all night, I guess.” Neve smiled crookedly, glancing down at him. “What about you? You slept, right?”

“Better than I have in a long time,” Hecate admitted, closing the door behind her and making her way over toward the bed. “For good reason, I think.”

“Thank you for being here,” Neve said softly, reaching to take Hecate’s hand. She squeezed the other woman’s fingers, and Hecate found herself surprised by the gratitude she saw in Neve’s gaze. She blushed and looked down.

“I was just doing what needed to be done.”

“You didn’t have to come and help me,” Neve said. “But you did anyway because I asked and that means a lot. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Hecate squeezed her hand back. “Thank you for asking for me. That meant a lot to me, too.”

“Maybe we’re almost even, then,” Neve said, then grinned.

Hecate laughed. “Maybe. I guess we’ll figure it out.”

Neve nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, we will.”

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Twenty-five – 05

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

They lay together in silence for a few more moments before Matt sighed, his nose still buried in her hair. “You’re not going back to sleep, are you?”

“No.”

He heaved another sigh and squeezed her before rolling onto his back. For a few seconds, he stared at the ceiling. Hecate rested her chin against his chest, staring at him.

“Matt.”

“I’m getting up,” he said. “Just another minute or two.”

“Are you sore?” she asked, slowly starting to sit up. Her side ached, that same dull pain deep inside. After she was done looking in on Neve and the twins, she’d need to have J.T. check on it. That would be later, though—much later, since there always seemed to be other things to handle.

“Mm. Only a little. Are you?”

A crooked smile curved her lips and Matt laughed, shaking his head slightly.

“You’re going to make me worry, you know that?”

“I’m not already making you worry? I’m doing something wrong, then.” She leaned in to kiss him gently. He ran his fingertips down her arm and sighed quietly.

“You know what I mean,” he murmured, staring up at her. “I love you. Of course I worry.”

“I know,” she said softly, her throat tight. “I love you, too.” She brushed her fingers against his face, then slowly got out of bed. She was more sore than she let on, but she knew that she’d be able to hide it—she’d been able to do it in the past, now should be no different, especially since Matt was still lazing amidst the covers on their bed. “Are you going to go up to the forge today?”

“Depends on how things look,” Matt said, scrubbing a hand over his face before he started to sit up. He watched her for a few seconds as she started to get dressed. She could feel his gaze on her back and it made her blush despite herself. “Are you all right?”

“As fine as I was last night,” she said, tugging her shirt down. “Why?”

“Just—never mind.” He heaved himself out of bed, crossing the floor to wrap his arms around her waist, to steal a kiss. “Take it easy, okay?”

She arched a brow, but nodded. “All right. You too, okay?”

“Okay.”

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