Twenty-five – 04

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

I should get up.

There was work to do, but then there was always work to do—for everyone else, at least, there had been until the night before. Last night she’d found purpose again. She had done something she hadn’t done in what felt like forever, and truth be known, it might have been forever.

And yet…

It was as if she’d never stopped doing it.

Matt held her a little closer and she sighed, nestling against his chest. He should have been up hours ago, but the long night they’d both had guaranteed sleeping in as a reality, as a given. But Hecate knew that it was morning, knew that they should both be up. He would be needed, especially if Thom was hurt, and she needed to check on Neve and the babies, then maybe on Marin, to make sure that her friend—her sister—was all right in the wake of everything.

The aftermath of a battle was sometimes harder than the fighting itself—was often harder than the fighting itself. She knew that better than most.

“You should still be sleeping,” Matt murmured into her hair. His eyes were still closed, though his breathing wasn’t the deep and even breath of a sleeping man. Hecate sighed softly, her fingertips grazing his bare arm.

“I haven’t been awake for very long,” she whispered, closing her eyes again. “But we shouldn’t stay here much longer.”

He stiffened. “What—”

I should have phrased that better. Dammit. “I mean in bed, Matt. I mean in bed.”

He relaxed immediately and a broken chuckle escaped him as he held on a little tighter. “Oh. I thought—”

“That something was going wrong.”

“Yes.”

She had to smile, nuzzling his jaw. “No. Quite the opposite, I think. In some ways, things are starting to go right.”

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Twenty-five – 03

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

Neve was quiet for a few long moments, staring down at Artorius. I wish I had trusted her sooner. I wish—I wish things hadn’t gone so horribly wrong for her.

I wish so many things. So, so many things—too many, really.

If only they could come true.

That wasn’t the way things worked, though.

“Neve?”

She glanced up toward Cameron and smiled, though her smile shrank slightly at the concern on his face. “What’s wrong?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing.”

She reached up and stroked his cheek. “I’m fine. I was just thinking, that’s all.”

“About what?”

“Things that can’t be changed.”

Cameron stared at her for a moment, then smiled weakly and shook his head. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Her thumb brushed against his cheek before she moved her hand. “You need to get some sleep, y’know.”

“Soon,” he said quietly. “I promise.”

“Really.” Neve grinned. “I don’t believe you.”

“I’ll drop of my own accord soon enough,” Cameron admitted, shifting so he was seated next to her on the bed, leaning back against the pillows with her. “I promise. You’ll look over and I’ll be snoring.”

“Promise?”

He smiled and leaned into kiss her on the cheek. “Promise.”

“I’m still not sure I believe you.”

Cameron smiled crookedly, edging closer. Neve sighed, resting her head against his as he rested his head against her shoulder.

This. This is how it should be—how it always should have been.

She pressed a kiss to his temple. His eyes were already closed.

Saying she didn’t believe him had been a lie, after all.

“Sweet dreams, Cam,” she whispered, gently rubbing her son’s back as she gazed at Cameron. “I’ll be right here when you wake up. All of us will be. I promise.”

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Twenty-five – 02

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

Neve stroked his cheek for a moment with her thumb, staring into his eyes. There was love and fear and hope in his gaze, nervousness that she could understand, uncertainty that she felt, too. Somehow, they would make it, but the question, as always, would be how.

Artorius made a snuffling sound, a precursor to waking. Cameron smiled at her and turned his face just enough to kiss her palm.

“Someone’s about to announce that he’s hungry,” he murmured. Neve smiled.

“He’s not the only one that’s hungry, but I guess I’ll have to wait a little while longer.”

“Do you want me to go find you something?”

She shook her head, then looked down. Artorius squirmed in his swaddle, face scrunched, likely about to cry. She brushed her finger against his cheek and he turned toward it, expression easing and his mouth reaching for her fingertip. Neve smiled.

“I’d rather you stay,” she said as she adjusted herself and her son slightly, bringing him to her breast before he was fully awake. “Someone’s going to come check on us sooner or later, and when they do, we can send them for food—for both of us. You haven’t eaten yet, either, have you?”

“I ate a little while you were asleep,” he admitted. “Seamus spelled me for about half an hour.”

Neve arched a brow. “He was here?”

He didn’t wake me. How did I not realize he’d been here? Why didn’t he wake me?

Cameron nodded, still seated on the edge of the bed. “Early, though after the sun came up. He looked exhausted—hadn’t been to bed yet, I guess. I tried to be quick so he could try to get some rest. Not sure if he did or not, though.”

She exhaled, brows knitting. “I’ll have to talk to him.”

“Later,” Cameron said, shifting their daughter in his arms. “It can wait. I’m hoping he got some sleep.”

“Me, too,” Neve said, then sighed. “What about Hecate? Has she been here?”

“Not since she left last night,” Cameron said. “She looked pretty worn out by the time it was all over. I hope Matt made sure she got some rest.”

“I’m sure he did.” Neve sighed softly, closing her eyes for a moment. “I’m glad she was here.”

“Me too,” Cameron murmured. “Despite everything we went through before with her, I’m glad she was here, too.”

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Twenty-five – 01

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

“They’re so tiny.”

Neve had to smile at the wonder in Cameron’s voice as he cradled their daughter, staring down at her with a broad smile and tired eyes. For her part, she’d slept after it was all over, after feeding and cuddling their newborn twins, but she wasn’t sure if he had. “You knew they would be,” she murmured, her voice still a little hoarse from the strain of the previous day. Cameron glanced up to meet her eye, flushing.

“I did, but it’s—it’s different, somehow. It’s not quite what I expected it to be like.”

“It never is,” she admitted, then smiled again. Artorius was nestled against her breast, still fast asleep, though he’d wake soon enough. His sister had already eaten her fill. Her younger twin would wake soon enough to do the same. “It’s different when it’s yours. That’s what I’ve heard time and again.”

“I guess they’re right.” Cameron’s gaze drifted back to the dark-haired bundle in his arms. Both had inherited her dark hair, though Anne had her father’s eyes. Cameron was already besotted; she could tell that much.

That’s the way it should be, really. “They’ll grow up before you know it,” she said softly. “Think about how quickly Lin’s been growing, and he’s not much older at all.”

“A few weeks,” Cameron murmured, drifting over to sit down on the edge of the bed. He shifted Anne to one arm, then reached for Neve’s hand. “This is our family, Neve,” he breathed. “This is us.”

She nodded, squeezing his fingers before she reached up to ruffle his hair. “It’s the family that came from the two of us, but there’s more to our family than just what’s right here, isn’t there?”

“Well—I mean—of course there is.” Cameron blushed looking away for a moment. “But this—you and me and these two babies, this is us. It’s—it’s the core of our family.”

Neve rested her hand against his cheek and smiled weakly. “It’s what you’ll fight for.”

“The hardest,” Cameron admitted, looking back at her. “And it’s what I’ll always come home for. I swear it.”

“Always?”

He nodded firmly. “Always.”

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Twenty-four – 05

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

“I can go,” Kellin offered again. Thom winced.

“No,” he said. “Don’t go and no, you’re right, Mar, it’s not nothing.” He sighed, fingers going still against Lin’s hair. His son squirmed a little in Marin’s arms and he watched as the infant looked around, trying to look up to see who or what had touched his head. A lump grew in Thom’s throat, threatening to choke him further.

God.

“Thom?”

He exhaled and shook his head slightly. “I just—their memories sometimes.”

Marin’s brows knit. “Who—oh. Oh.”

He swallowed hard again, nodding slightly. “Atlantis,” he said.

Kellin chewed her lip. “You have memories of it.”

“Not of someone who’s been there,” Thom said, reaching up with a wince to rub at his temple. “But someone who knew a bit too much about it, yeah.” He sighed quietly. “There was a moment I saw just a few minutes ago, a memory that wasn’t—well. Wasn’t mine.”

“Finn?” Marin asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.

He nodded, feeling chilled to the bone despite his fever. “He was worried—scared for her. Afraid she’d been there when it went. He saw it. Felt it.”

Marin eased closer to him and he closed his eyes again, sighing.

“So the stories are true,” Kellin whispered. “It did sink.”

“Something happened,” Thom said. “Some kind of explosion. Something.”

Kellin nodded almost convulsively, then exhaled quietly, swallowing hard again. “That—I’ve heard that before. It makes sense. Gods. This is hard.”

“But somehow it’s still out there,” Marin whispered. “And some survived. Ériu was from Atlantis.”

A shiver shot through Thom and his lips thinned. “That’s true,” he said quietly. “She was. Maybe Jay can—”

“Maybe she’ll talk to you herself,” Marin said, sliding an arm around Thom. “It might happen.”

“Maybe,” Kellin said, then shook her head again. “Atlantis.”

Thom’s stomach felt hollow. “Yes,” he whispered. “Atlantis.”

And all the trouble she brings. What the hell does it mean? What are we going to do?

He didn’t know.

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Twenty-four – 04

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

Thom’s stomach dropped right through the floor to a spot about seven or eight feet below where he was sitting, staring at Kellin in stunned silence.

Atlantis. Fucking Atlantis.

It all comes back to that mess, doesn’t it?

The thought sent shivers down his spine, in part because the source was one he tried not to hint about, tried to leave in the darkened recesses and corners of his mind. The memories of Finn’s life were something to be used when it suited him—he didn’t want to end up in a situation where they controlled him, or bled too much, leaving him in a state where he couldn’t know for sure where Finn ended and Thom began. It didn’t matter that it was the same soul, separated by thousands of years. He was Thom and Finn was Finn and the Fianna’s chieftain had died a long time ago.

Marin moved toward Kellin, the baby still cradled in one arm as she hugged her longtime friend tightly. Thom’s fingers fisted in the blankets as he watched them, his jaw growing tight.

He could see the explosion from the shore, could feel the shockwaves it sent through the very fabric of the world, shaking him down to his marrow. He could taste the bile rising in his throat, the feeling of his very heart being ripped from his chest—he hadn’t known if she was there or not, if she’d escaped or not, if she was on her way home or not. He knew that the pathway could have led her there, but—

“Stop,” he breathed, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Thom?”

He flinched. Marin had heard him. “It’s okay,” he rasped. “Just—trying to keep my head in order.”

“It doesn’t look okay,” Marin said, taking Kellin by the hand and tugging her over toward the bed, toward the chair she’d left sitting next to it—probably where she’d been keeping vigil prior to Kellin’s arrival.

“Your face is the color of ashes, Thom,” Kellin said quietly, moving the book Marin had left on the chair and setting it on their dresser as she sat down. “What is it?”

He shook his head mutely. Marin sat down on the bed with him, drawing her knees up. Thom found he couldn’t look at her, so he stared at their son instead, reaching a shaking hand to brush his fingers over the boy’s fine dark hair.

“It’s nothing,” he whispered. “I promise.”

“No lies, Thom,” Marin whispered back, leaning in to kiss him gently. “Only when they’re necessary. Is this one necessary?”

He squeezed his eyes shut and said nothing. His throat was too tight to speak.

Is it?

He didn’t have an answer.

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Twenty-four – 03

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

“Bullshit,” Thom spat, trying to push himself up again. Marin winced at the vehemence in his voice and shook her head.

“Kel, stay. Come on. You wanted to talk about this and Thom waking up isn’t going to change that.”

She stood in the doorway, frozen for a moment, then looked back over her shoulder at both of them. “You two have enough to worry about,” she murmured, hesitating. “I shouldn’t add to the freaking pile.”

“Add to the pile,” Thom rasped. Marin help him sit up, but pain still left spots dancing before his eyes and he felt light-headed, stomach turning over onto itself. “What’s going on?”

Kellin’s lips thinned, but she closed the door. She sagged against it even as Thom sagged against the pillows Marin shoved behind him to help prop him up. In his cradle near the foot of the bed, Lin made a quiet whimpering sound.

Thom exhaled quietly. “Kel, please.”

“I told Phelan I could feel something tugging on me,” she said, the words tumbling over each other, as if she could barely hold them in. “Told him I’d felt it for a while, something that wasn’t just the normal lines tugging at me or sensing the nodes of any of that. I said it felt like it was far away, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He gave me this look and I—I almost can’t believe what he told me. I’m not sure I want to but in my gut I know it’s true and I have no fucking clue what it means.”

“Kel, you’re not making sense.” Marin gathered Lin up from the cradle and then came back over to the bed, leaning against its edge as she cradled the infant. “What did he say? What is it?”

“Atlantis,” she whispered. “Somehow, I’m linked to Atlantis. What I can do, what I’ve always been able to sense, it’s Atlantis, Mar. I’m linked to Atlantis somehow and I don’t know what that means or how it might be important and it scares the shit out of me.”

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Twenty-four – 02

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

He wasn’t sure if he slept or how much time had passed when he clawed his way back to the surface of the blackness that had swallowed him whole. Marin’s voice was nearby, speaking in hushed tones, as if she didn’t want to disturb him. He could hear another voice, more distant, hurried, rushed—familiar, but too quiet for him to fully recognize.

Thom shifted in the bed, sucking in a breath as a sharp pain stabbed through four distinct points in each shoulder—three in back, one in front. “Hell,” he rasped, then coughed. It felt like he’d swallowed an electric sander while the damned thing was still turned on. “Mar?”

The voices stopped for a moment and he heard the scrape of her boot against the floor. “I’m here,” she said, steps echoing softly. “Did we wake you?”

“No,” he murmured, cracking one eye open, then the other. It was dim and the light still hurt his eyes, but it was bearable. “No, you didn’t. That was all me. How long have I been out?”

“Since the last time you were awake? About four hours. It’s midday.”

At least it helped. “And since the fighting?”

“More than twelve,” Marin said softly. Her fingers were cool against his face as she ran them along his cheek and jaw. “Feeling any better?”

“Hurts like hell,” he muttered, then coughed a little, squeezing his eyes shut for a few seconds. “Head’s pounding. Everything hurts. Twelve hours?”

“More,” she whispered, then pressed another kiss to his forehead. “But we won, and that’s what matters.”

“Good,” he murmured. “Good.”

“Did you want me to go?”

It was Kellin. That startled him, but he wasn’t certain why. He cracked an eye open again, peering at her in the dim. She was ghost-pale, standing near the door. His guts twisted. “What’s wrong, Kel?” he asked. He saw Marin wince out of the corner of his eye.

That didn’t help the sick feeling that had settled in the pit of his stomach.

“It’s nothing,” Kellin lied, shaking her head quickly.

Thom cursed under his breath, trying to push himself up onto his elbows. His shoulders screamed and he bit back another curse, shaking as he let Marin push him down as if he had no strength left at all.

“Stop,” she said firmly. “Stay down.”

“Will one of you two please tell me what the hell is going on?”

Kellin sucked in a breath. “Just something Phelan said. That’s all. Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.”

She turned quickly and jerked the door open, clearly intending to go whether he wanted her to or not.

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Twenty-four – 01

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

Finding his way back to consciousness was a fight that Thom almost would have rather avoided. Everything hurt—more than it should have, in his humble opinion, despite having been—

What the hell had happened to him, anyway?

He tried to roll onto his side and stopped, keeping a cry of pain trapped behind his teeth. A chair scraped across the floor and he heard the sound as if through a tunnel, echoing, but louder than it should have been.

Thom groaned. It was too hot and too cold all at once. He couldn’t tell if he was sweating, if he had a fever or chills or something else.

Everything just hurt and his mouth tasted strange, the sort of strange he could perceive but not identify, couldn’t explain.

“Thom?”

He knew she was whispering but even the whisper seemed too loud and he flinched despite himself. Marin’s fingers touched his cheek, like ice against his skin, and in that second he knew that he had some kind of raging fever, that something was definitely, seriously wrong.

His voice came out as a rasping whisper. “Water?” He could feel light beyond his eyelids but even that hurt, sending lances of pain straight through his skull. He didn’t dare open his eyes, not yet, but at least he knew she was there, that he wasn’t alone.

How long had he been out? How had the fight out there ended?

Too many questions, not enough answers.

I don’t have the energy to ask, either.

She brought water, slipped the tip of a straw between his lips and he drank, more slowly than he would have liked, less strongly than he would have hoped, but still drank.

Everything hurt, even swallowing hurt, even the effort to draw water through the straw into his mouth hurt like hell.

What happened to me?

Her fingers were cold as she brushed his hair back from his face. He shivered, teeth starting to chatter. Her hand moved and he groaned.

“No,” he rasped. “No.”

“I’m not leaving,” she whispered. “I promise.”

He wanted to cling to her, wanted to take her hand, wanted to open his eyes and see her face, even though he knew the expression she wore all too well already—the worry, the frown, the concern and pain that would be dwelling in her eyes.

But his eyelids were too heavy and his head hurt too much. Everything hurt too much.

He felt her tuck the blankets around him a little more securely, felt her hand on his arm.

Marin pressed a kiss to his forehead and he squeezed his eyes a little more tightly shut as they began to sting.

“I’m staying right here,” she whispered. “For as long as you want me to.”

“Forever,” he whispered back, his throat tight. “Forever.”

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Twenty-three – 06

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

Phelan grinned even as Kellin shook her head.

“Out with it, Phelan.”

“You first,” he countered, crooked smile still firmly in place. He was borrowing trouble and was fully aware of it, but at the same time doing that felt a hell of a lot better than letting his own worries gnaw away at his mind. Worrying about things he couldn’t readily fix wasn’t going to help him or anyone else. “The monsters still living inside of your head, Kellin.”

For a few seconds, she paused. They’d reached the corner of the ward-lines, the spot down the hill from the forge where the ravine curled in two directions around their growing village. Emotion flickered through the young woman’s eyes as she stared out over the trees and brush, one of the wards she’d set into a bare patch of ground at her feet, the stones still neatly piled on top of each other inside a circle cut into the ground with the tip of a hand trowel.

“Sometimes I wonder if it will be enough,” she said at last. “Everything we’re doing—everything I’ve done. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too much. It’s always been easier for some of them to talk to Marin about things. I find myself wondering if my place is really here anymore, or if it’s time I move on, find another spot, find other people who desperately need someone to help them, to guide them—but then I wonder if there’s anyone left out there that’s survived this long without that sort of help. Finally, in the end, I realize this is my home and this is where I belong, that there’s nowhere else that I would rather be. My friends—hell, they’re my family—are here. Everything that really matters to me is here, now. But there’s still this tug, this tether I can feel without seeing. It’s…I don’t want to say it’s disconcerting, because that’s not quite the right word for it, but it’s there and I can feel it. Sometimes it’s stronger, sometimes it’s fainter, but it’s always there.”

“The lines?” Phelan suggested. “Another nexus, something else?”

“It feels different,” Kellin said as she sat down in the grass in front of the small warding cairn. She ran a fingertip along the deepest part of the circular groove, smoothing the base of it from a point into something deeper but more rounded, a tiny moat around the miniature stone mountain. “It’s something beyond the lines, something—older, I guess, even though I know it’s not. The lines are as old as the world itself. Forgotten is probably the better word. Something old and forgotten and it’s tugging at me. Sometimes it feels close but most of the time it feels very, very far away.”

The once-druid stared at her for a very long time, silent. He watched as she took a few herbs from the bag she carried, bundles carefully braided together, and tucked them into the small pile of stones at the center of the anchor. The power that she infused it with was familiar enough to cause a faint ache.

Kellin glanced up toward him, her brow arching slightly. “What?”

“I know what it is,” he said quietly, his throat tightening. “What’s tugging you.”

Her brows knit. “What?”

“Something lost a long time ago,” Phelan whispered, his throat tight. “But never truly died.”

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