“But-” Alex started.
“He’s dead,” Haven finished for him.
“He is?” I was stunned. If he was dead than I’d been freaking out over nothing. Except it wasn’t nothing. There were still bodies. On the other hand, I hadn’t heard anything about them being burned or having white phosphorous poisoning. I still didn’t buy it. “But, no, that’s not right.”
“Avery is dead. 53% of his body was covered in third degree burns and he got a good dose white phosphorous.” I wasn’t fond of Alex’s surprisingly patronizing tone.
I bristled. “When?”
“A few days after Christmas.”
“But Robert told me he was here a few weeks ago.” I shook my head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Maybe he lied to you.” Haven’s brow was irkingly scrunched in sympathy. “Maybe he-.”
“He’s didn’t,” I said firmly, pulling my hands from under his.
“You can’t know that for sure.”
Scooting my chair back abruptly, I stood. “I have to talk to him.”
“No.” Haven grabbed my wrist as I moved to pass by his chair. I clenched my other hand into a fist hard enough to make crescent moon indentations in my skin to keep from doing something to him I’d regret. Or maybe it was in preparation of doing that. My emotions were kind of on a seesaw.
I glared at him instead. “And why not?”
“It’s too dangerous.”
I rolled my eyes. “With him cuffed and if I have an escort? Really? Besides he could’ve killed me several times before now, if he’d wanted.”
“That’s not helping your case.”
I swiveled my head to the Alex who was picking infinitesimal fur from his sleeve. He wasn’t going to be any help. Then I moved my gaze to the Captain, my last hope, who’d remained silent for awhile now. “Sir-” The slow shake of his head make my jaw click shut.
He shook his head slowly. “I’m sorry, Mr. McCormick. I don’t thinks that’s wise.”
I deflated. There wasn’t really anything else I could do at this point. I supposed I should be angry and maybe I would be again shortly, but just then I was tired. No, not just tired. Talking about an emotional wound that, while aged, hadn’t quite healed and in fact might even be harboring some poisonous thoughts was a kind of exhaustion you had to experience to appreciate. It pressed on the eyelids, clouded thoughts, and made movement sluggish. There might have also been a hint of relief, that added weight to a body. It wasn’t that I didn’t want answers, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. At the moment. And like I said, I was tired.
When Haven pulled me to him, it was with a kind of worn melancholy that I allowed myself to lean in, resting my head against his chest. I listened to his heartbeat and felt mine change to match it. His arms wrapped around me like I belonged there, right there, and nowhere else. A safe Haven.
“You bunnies are adorable, but we should really get hopping,” Alex said, his tone dripping with sugar.
It vaguely registered when Haven threw the tissue box at him.
I’d go home. I’d rest. And I’d try again.
No matter how many ‘agains’ I tried over the next several days, I still couldn’t get in to talk to Robert. I had my own theories about what was going on but I didn’t want to cry human, so to speak. Or maybe I just wanted him to tell me I was wrong.
I let my fork rip through the piece of cake, the utensil never touching my lips, as I watched the distant wind turbines over the treetops. They kinda looked like tiny wind spinners made for kids only more bland in their clinical white against blue sky. The wind farm had been added to the southern border of the reservation just a few years back to make it more self sufficient. It wasn’t a huge farm, but it was big enough to manage a little more than the reservation’s needs. Turns out that was a good way to make money for city upkeep.
“If you didn’t like the cake I’d’ve eaten it. The poor thing didn’t need to be murdered.” I looked up to see Ryan with his own plate of cake and ice cream, mournfully staring at mine.
They’d rented out a large cabin on the river north of Luther, not quite on the reservation. I sat near the railing on the upstairs deck to catch as much sunlight as possible in early April. Which was quite a bit as the weather seemed to be cooperating today. Those with toddlers or other childlings too young to control their shifts played in the backyard, which was fenced in to keep them from wandering into the river but so isolated that their shape-changing wouldn’t upset the locals.
“Sorry, Rye.” He scrunched up his nose. “What? Don’t like the nickname? Thought I’d try something new.”
“No, you should call him Yen, since he’s working on that money tree,” Kate chuckled as she walked up behind him.
“Ma!” he expostulated. His face turned pink under the conical cardboard hat he wore.
“Yen, huh?” I grinned. “I like that. So what are you trying to save up for?”
“Okay, so you’ve heard of the new Switch system, right?” He sat down in the chair next to me, one leg curled up so he could face me.
“Oh, now you’ve done it.” Kate’s eye-roll was belied by the quirk on her lips as Ryan started in on the new VR gaming console developed by Syntech. She ruffled Ryan’s hair and offered to take my plate when she saw the state it was in. “Come inside when you’re ready to open presents, Ryan.”
“Presents?” They boy’s eyes lit up greedily. Oh, to be ten again, I mused. He scrambled to retrieve his plate and follow.
I chuckled and went to get up myself. As the deck chair was ergonomic, tilting up at the knees for a better seated experience, it wasn’t so kind on the body of someone whose pregnant belly, even mine wasn’t nearly as big as it would be, made getting up from regular chairs a task. Every time I scooted up the ramp of the chair and went to lean forward to use the railing to haul myself up, my ass slid right back into the chair. Maybe I should’ve thought a little more about that when I’d sat down in the first place. I sighed; the party would go on without me. I leaned my head back against the headrest and closed my eyes.
A hum made me crack one eye to see a hummingbird hover over to perch on the railing. His blue feathers shone green in the light and a ring of red ones wrapped around his throat, widening just under the chin. He puffed out his feathers and turned his head from side to side.
“Hey, Peter,” I chuckled. He shifted, legs elongating until they hung down from the rail at the knee and feathers shrank into the skin, looking like a layer of feather tattoos for a moment, as fingers spread from the wings.
“Need some help?” he nodded to my chair.
“Maybe,” I said letting the eyelid fall again. “Might just take a nap first. I think I remember someone mentioning something about spare clothes in one of the bedrooms.”
“Perfect!” I could hear the happy in his voice, but, just using my hearing as I was, I could hear something off about it. “Victor isn’t coming until later, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.” Maybe there was a hint of sarcasm. As a hummingbird he really couldn’t carry much, even clothes, so he pretty much had to find other ways to have a set of clothes waiting for him. It wasn’t like we were unused to nudity as shifters but we weren’t nudists. Well, most of us weren’t. Sometimes I thought Uncle Joe would be happier if he were.
“Hey,” I stop him before he can take more than a couple steps. “Is everything alright?”
His smile faltered ever so slightly before he pinned it back up. “Yeah, I’m good. Be back in a minute.”
He didn’t come back. After Kate had strode over maybe an hour later, apologizing, and helped me out of the chair, I sat on the much nicer indoor couch on the main floor. From there I could see the kids running around outside to where they’d been banned for their noise making as the babies were had been put down to nap inside. The adults chatted or played with the kids, but Peter never gave more than a passing nod or wave to me. The false levity made me think of the Joker from the Dark Knight and I regretted having pressed him earlier when he clearly didn’t want to talk. Still, I felt… I don’t know, stung might come close. I felt stung that he wouldn’t confide in me. I didn’t really have right to feel that way but I did.
The only other way was to talk to Victor, who had yet to make an appearance.