The back gate looms ahead, its white paint oddly bright in the grey night.
To see me running here, you’d have thought there’s no place I’d rather be. And I guess I thought the same, too. But . . . suddenly things seem different. The demons I thought I’d left behind in the dust have caught up at last. They stand at the door, waiting for me to go in.
I don’t know how I’m going to face Conlan. Or the look on Tara’s face when she sees what I did to him.
He’ll forgive me, I’m pretty sure. But she might not. She’s going to see things rather differently.
At least Faolan isn’t going to crush me for it. I did save his life, after all. He has the flesh wound to prove it. Or so Tara said. But I can’t help think that we’ve won very little, tonight—a brief reprieve before a long slide into war. Nothing’s going to change in the short term. Not yet. That’s not the way we do things. But Rian has made this whole thing very personal, and Faolan isn’t going to forget it.
Sooner or later, he’s going to want payback.
As soon as he has Keaira’s family on side, probably.
The pain has caught up with me, at last. It’s been okay when I’m running, but now that I’ve stopped, the cuts on my back burn like they’re on fire. And what was my elbow hasn’t appreciated the exercise, either. It throbs with a deep, swollen ache. I crane down to lick it clean, but that only makes the pain worse.
The image of that man, arched up in agony, clawing at the ground as his life slips away, flits around the edges of my mind.
Dead. It’s so permanent, that word.
And nobody knows but me.
I don’t know whether to be proud, or ashamed, or indifferent.
No, not indifferent. Not ever indifferent.
But who do I tell? Faolan? He’d be proud of me, for sure. And I’ll admit, I want that. For once. It would be nice.
But I’m not sure I want him to be proud of me for this. I know I should, but just I can’t feel right about it.
I guess, eventually . . . that’ll change.
The night air smells of autumn—wet, decaying leaves and cold earth. I can smell the river, too, in the mist that is slowly rising from the forest around me. I shiver, despite my fur. But I’m just restless.
I step through the gateway and into the back yard. There are lights on in several windows. One of them Conlan’s. Tara’s is dark.
Whatever. It’s done.
It’s so done.
I change and step inside.
“Tiergan!” Sheridan says, from the kitchen, as I enter. “We were starting to worry. You’re the last one in.”
“Yeah, sorry,” I say and nod. “I needed to run a bit.” It’s sort of a lie, but . . . .
“Of course,” she nods. I feel as if she is looking straight through me, but she betrays nothing about what she’s seeing there. “Tara told me what happened. It was a good call, tonight, Tiergan. Faolan owes you his life. Cormac, too, probably.” She smiles. Like I’d done nothing but right, tonight.
I nod. I should be flattered, pleased. But it just won’t sink in.
“Conlan made it back okay?” I ask, looking down the hallway to the front door.
Tara’s shoes are sitting on the mat.
“Mmm, hmm. Tara’s with him now.” My heart sinks as she says it. I’d hoped I’d get to tell her before she saw him.
“Don’t worry. He’ll be okay in a few days.”
I nod, but don’t turn.
“Faolan’s in the den. He won’t be running for a week or so, but he’ll be okay, too. Get dressed, first, then go see him.
“He’s waiting for you.”