Connor and I, as well as the rest of the senior portion of the Hunters, spent a long time recuperating and recovering from the stress of the run-in with the Dactyloi. My gunshot wound had healed with a night’s sleep, but the deep gouges in Connor’s chest and abdomen took quite a bit longer to finish healing, and he would likely carry the scars for decades to come.
However, as so many have said, saltwater and sunshine cure a great deal of ills, and delicious boozy, fruity drinks do a great deal to keep a grumpy patient’s spirits up. After a brief stop in Singapore, we had spent the rest of our recuperation enjoying the legendary hospitality of the Javanese.
It had taken three full weeks before my anxiety and stress at being so far away from the Hearthfire finally manifested itself. I called Olympus Air and requested a flight from Jakarta back to Athens. I was fully prepared if slightly dreading leaving Connor behind, but I needed to get home.
“Hes, you wouldn’t be thinkin’ of leaving me behind, would you?” he asked, appearing out of nowhere as I set down the phone. I jumped and swore, and he grinned. I had tried to be quiet and make the call while he was out swimming, but I had apparently delayed too long.
“I have to get home,” I blurted. “If Seamus and Young Hector think it’s all right for you to fly, you can come home with me, but I have to go. I love you.”
He leaned against the doorframe, considering. The Javanese sun had bronzed his skin beautifully during his daily swims, and nearly a month of rest had him bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The soft cotton Javanese batik sarongs were firm favorites with all the satyrs, and we had bought them by the dozen. The deep green one he was wearing, patterned in black and gold, set off the ambrosia-gold in his eyes.
I tried to push past him to go into the bedroom, but he stuck out an arm and caught me around the waist, pulling me into him.
“Shhh, pet,” he said, hugging me tightly into his chest. “Of course I’ll go home wi’ you. Grandda be damned. We’ve had a lovely long rest here, but I miss the Hearth too. When do we leave?”
I melted into him. He smelled like saltwater and satyr and home. I had been readying myself to walk into the village to catch a ride to the airport alone if need be, and now all the worry had been for nothing. “We leave in the morning, but you’re still not going until you’re cleared by the doctor,” I said, muffled by his arms and the warmth of his chest.
There was the familiar rumbling sensation of his laughter as he squeezed me even harder, proving that he was fully recovered from the savage injuries inflicted by the Dactyloi. “If you insist. Why couldn’t I have caught the eye of one of those lassies who can teleport?”
I punched him in the soft bits, and he laughed more. “Sorry, sorry, I don’t mean it, love. I wouldn’t trade you for all the whiskey in the Highlands.”
“Damn well better not. I come halfway around the world to rescue your dumb goat ass, and here you are sassing me,” I grumbled, but I was smiling despite myself. “Who is the one bringing you cool drinks when you’re flat out on the beach from swimming against the waves for your physical therapy, panting like a landed salmon?”
“Oh aye, and who’s been spoiling you with fresh fish every day, caught with my own two hands? And I brought you that giant basket of those weird prawns the size of my forearm.”
“You ate most of them too,” I said, laughing and heading into the bedroom to pack.
“I’m a growin’ lad!” he protested as he followed me in and hauled out the two leather duffel bags Seamus had provided for us. “Not my fault that I’ve got a vigorous appetite. Besides, I’m lucky enough to be in the good books of the greatest cook in two worlds. It would be rude not to eat everything you grace my plate with.”
“Hrmph,” I said, but smiled at the sarong I was folding. This one was mine, red and white, and elegantly striped. I hadn’t been sunbathing quite as much as Connor had, but I did find the beaches peaceful, especially in the middle of the night.
I had spent a fair bit of time talking to the ocean, hoping Ankhiale and her boys had found peace at last. I knew that there were still at least two sons and the five daughters left, and the sophistication of their organization in Gujurat had been a bit worrying, to say the least. I wasn’t naïve enough to think I had seen the last of them, but I doubted they would recover so quickly.
I stared out the window, one of my veils hanging from my hands. The evening breeze was kicking up, and Seamus and Young Hector were bickering back and forth as they fussed over setting up the courtyard for the nightly entertainment. The bougainvillea and wild ginger flowers were still open, their sweetness rich and intoxicating over the saltiness of the sea breeze. Seamus had flown his wives Abby and Ruby to Jakarta not long after we arrived, and Young Hector had invited a lovely nymph named Gemma to keep him company. The obvious feud between Abby and Ruby had been a very entertaining if sometimes explosive thing to watch, but at the moment, they weren’t in sight.
I smiled as Seamus kindled the fire and invoked my name, the faith a gentle frisson down my back. He poured a shot of the local liquor onto the little embers, and they blazed high in a beautiful blossom of near-invisible flames. Young Hector had brought out his guitar to woo his Gemma, and he sat on one of the chaises, strumming something sweet but wordless. The scene was peaceful, and I took a moment to be thankful that my family, my Pack, were all whole and hale, even if some of them acted like they would murder each other for twopence and a chocolate bar.
“Is this what it’s like, living with the Wild Hunt satyrs all the time?” I asked Connor, keeping my voice low.
“Ach, no. We’re usually cooped up in a cheap hotel somewhere, four to a room, and tripping over each other’s gear, staying away from women, and booze on Seamus’ orders. Four great big bucks belchin’ and fartin’ and thinkin’ of more pleasant places to be while we struggle to stay awake on the seventh week of a surveillance job. Drawing straws on who gets stuck taking some rich mogul’s bitchy mistress shopping for shoes for the third time this week. This is as much a treat for them as it is a place for me…us…to recover. It just means that sooner or later, your little brother is going to get a great crackin’ bill to pay.”
“Well, Sparky’s good for it, I suppose. I know I can’t afford to keep you all on the payroll myself.”
“We will always come when you call us, Lady of Flames. We haven’t forgotten you.”
Seamus walked off for a moment and came back with his bodhran, which he began to play softly in time with Young Hector’s idle strummings, which began to take on a familiar tune. I couldn’t place it, though.
“An tèid mi a chluich dhut, a ghràidh?” Connor asked softly. Shall I go and play for you, my love?
I nodded, and he bent to kiss my cheek before disappearing through the curtain that passed for privacy here. A few minutes later, he appeared next to Seamus, a polished set of pan-pipes in his hand. He nodded to his grandfather and cousin, then settled himself to play.
Winking at me, he played a trilling little melody once or twice until Hector and Seamus caught on, and they began to play in earnest.
I smiled. It may not be the love poetry of Catullus or the Eddas of the Norse, but modern songwriters did know how to write sweet songs, even if in the very odd context of a kid’s movie about training dragons. If that didn’t melt Gemma’s heart, she didn’t have one.
They reached the end of the song and started over, a bit louder, and I saw the curtains in the other two bungalows begin to twitch. Abby came out first, with Ruby not far behind, and Seamus gave them the Opan smile, and they stopped scowling for ten seconds. They caught sight of each other as they got closer, though, and I held my breath for a moment.
Ohh, this is gonna be interesting…
One quick spin and shove, and Ruby went spinning backward and into the undergrowth along the path as Abby strutted forward to take her place at Seamus’ knee. Ruby popped back up a few minutes later, brushing moss off her dress and with bougainvillea in her hair, and stomped into the firelight and sat on Seamus’ other side, glaring daggers at Abby. I stifled a giggle with a hand over my mouth and looked again at Connor.
I have been immortal for a very long time, but it wasn’t until I had lost Chiron and learned to love Connor that it felt like I had truly been living. And I’m old enough to know that living a long time isn’t the same as being immortal. If he had died in that ship’s hull in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, I think I would have gone to the depths with him. I knew that Seamus would follow his Abby and his Ruby into the pits of hell itself, that Hector the Elder would stand in the face of the destruction of the universe to defend and protect his Molly.
As Gemma finally emerged from the room she was sharing with Young Hector, the sun finished setting the clouds ablaze, and the tropical night closed in, encasing us in our warm bubble of music and firelight. I set aside the packing – time enough for that later.
I went and joined my family by the fireside, taking up my place at the side of the fire, and Connor moved to sit next to me. As the song ended, Young Hector continued to play, led on by the light in Gemma’s eyes and her shy smile. Seamus kissed Abby and Ruby into submission and laid his bodhran aside as he gathered them close. Connor slid down to sit on the ground and lean his back against my knees.
We watched Young Hector woo his doe for the rest of the evening while the moon rose, and the waves lapped at the beach. Tomorrow, Connor and I would leave this place and head back to the Hearthfire, but for tonight…we were adrift in a sea of music and love and laughter.