Jimmy Doran. That name, that boy. He thought because he was big that he didn’t need to take no for an answer. It was in those same claustrophobic weeks inside the old stone halls of Refuge. Everyone was going stir crazy, cooped up like we were against the raging winter storms. Finn was fighting just about every day, driving Dad crazy, and while I was trying to play the dutiful daughter and focus on my training and my chores, I was also desperately trying to get through to Finn, because he suddenly seemed to be very distant to me. I couldn’t stand the thought of him leaving for his first year of patrols without me and Dad when it seemed like he suddenly didn’t want to know me. We’d been so close since Day One, hanging out together, training together, and when we were younger, playing together, but suddenly he was avoiding me.
To keep morale up, we had gatherings in the Great Hall most nights, where people who could play instruments or sing would perform and a lot of people would dance and there would be plenty of Firewater flowing. Of course, this is when a lot of fights would break out, but in most cases the older men like Dad and O’Connell would break it up and throw the fighter’s in the dungeon cells for the night. Finn spent a lot of time in those cells that winter.
Anyway, that night, Jimmy had been pestering me from quite early on in the evening. He was drunk and I didn’t take him seriously. There was a big group of us, maybe twenty teenagers including myself and Finn, so while Jimmy was being annoying, I kept brushing him off and it was becoming a source of amusement to most of us. Except Finn, now I come to think of it. Finn spent most of the night brooding silently at the edge of the group. I tried to draw him out of it, but he wasn’t having it. Anyway, I had to take Adair back to our rooms as he’d been sneaking sips at people’s glasses and was pretty worse for wear. He was almost the same height as me then, at eleven, and while he was a skinny kid, he was all limbs and I had a hell of a time helping him keep them disentangled long enough to get anywhere quickly. We must have fallen five times crossing the courtyard in the snow from the Great Hall to the buildings on the inner wall where our rooms were. Before I got Adair into bed, I had to clean up his skint knees and make him get out of his wet clothes too, so I must have been gone more than half an hour. Jimmy was waiting for me under the walkway by the entrance to the Great Hall, everyone else was inside.
“Hey Cat,” he said, sidling up to me and blocking the door from me. He was absolutely reeking of whisky.
“Hey Jimmy, what are you doing out here in the cold?” I asked him, sidestepping so that I could get back into the warmth of the hall. He followed me though, and kept himself between me and the door, towering over me. Jimmy was somewhere about 6’4” or 5”, and built like a bull, but that didn’t scare me much. What scared me was the intent look in his eye and the reek of booze on his breath. They would make him do something stupid.
“I was waiting for you. What took you so long?” Waiting for me? I didn’t like the sound of that at all.
“I had to look after my little brother. Come on, let’s get back inside, I’m freezing,” I told him, then made to dart round him. He grabbed me then.
“I’ll keep you warm,” he said, breathing his fumes all over my face while he wrapped his arms tightly around me. It felt like being caught by a drunk and amorous bear, and it made me furious.
“Let go of me,” I growled at him.
“Come on, Cat, you’re the prettiest girl in Refuge. Let me show you what I can do for you,” he kind of slobbered drunkenly in my ear. I was utterly revolted.
“Let go of me now, or you’ll regret it!” I snapped.
“Why because big brother Finn will get mad at me?” he asked me mockingly. I’d had enough.
“No because then I’ll have to do this,” I told him, bringing my knee up savagely between his legs. He howled, and as he doubled over I brought my elbow up into his face and smashed the bridge of his nose to pieces. He fell to the ground then, and I stepped over him, but he grabbed at my leg.
“You little bitch! I’m not going to let you get away with that,” he yelled at me as he pulled me down onto the frozen, hard-packed snow of the courtyard. I’d be bruised for weeks, I knew that instantly, and I felt blood on my hip where the impact had grazed it. Instantly I started kicking out at Jimmy while he struggled to pin me down. He got my hands pinned, but when he leaned over me, with the blood from his nose pouring freely onto me, I head-butted him. He reared back, screaming, and let go of my hands. He was still pinning my legs though, because he was straddling me by then, but I knew how to handle that and took advantage of his distraction to throw him off. I was beyond angry by this point, and I had my knife in my hand as I pounced forward to put it to his throat as he sprawled on the ground.
“Don’t you ever, ever, try to touch me again, Jimmy, because next time I swear, I’ll cut your fucking throat,” I told him. Then there was someone behind me, trying to pull me off Jimmy and I started fighting again until I heard him speak.
“Easy now, Cat, easy, it’s only me,” Finn murmured in my ear. Dad was there too, dragging Jimmy to his feet and demanding to know what had happened. I spent my first night in the dungeon cells that night, because although Jimmy started it, Dad had to make an example of me for pulling the knife. Jimmy spent the night in the cell next door though, once the Sisters had patched up his face for him.
“Jimmy Doran had it coming,” I tell Finn now, reaching for the hip flask myself.
“If you hadn’t done it, I would. The reason we stopped you when we did was cos I followed him out and then Dad followed me,”
“You followed him? How much did you see?” I’m surprised, I’d had no idea either of them were anywhere near until they split up the fight.
“Most of it, Dad wouldn’t let me do anything until you pulled the knife,” That was just like Dad. He was very keen on the two of us standing up for ourselves.
“And that was hard for you was it?” I demand now, thinking back over some of the situations we’ve fought out of together. They make a big oaf like Jimmy look like a teddy bear. Finn knew even then that I could handle myself, hell, he has a few scars himself to prove it.
“I wanted to kill him just for touching you. That kind of bypassed any common sense,”
“You were feeling possessive were you?” I’m teasing him a little now, but I’m not feeling entirely playful.
“I was full of the old green eyed monster. I couldn’t touch you, so I couldn’t live with seeing anyone else touch you.” Wow. Okay. So it wasn’t just Big Brother protectiveness after all. I discovered I was still holding the hip flask in my fingers and took a drink, “He made damn sure I took hold of you, and not Jimmy when we did break it up. I guess he thought I might have tried to finish the job on Jimmy. God knows what Dad made of it, but he never mentioned it afterwards,” he adds while I’m still trying to figure out what to say. Then it hits me.
“I hoped it was going to be you that came and let me out of the cells the next morning, you know. I remember how disappointed I was when it was Dad and Adair. Dad never spent a night in those cells,”
“God, they were hell that winter, weren’t they?” Finn says, sounding almost nostalgic. Sometimes his machismo could do with some kind of restraint, but then, he wouldn’t be Finn.
“So fucking cold, and the floor was just a sheet of ice,” I say, remembering with a shiver just how bad it had been.
“And with the wind and the snow blowing straight in through those bars,”
“You spent so many nights in there, didn’t you? I didn’t realise just how bad it was until I had done it, even though I was always there to let you out in the morning,” Was that necessary of me? Do I really need to dredge up all of this old pain now?
“Shit, Cat, I’m sorry,” he says, finally realising what I’m implying here, “I was so messed up in the head the next morning, I figured it would be a bad idea for me to be anywhere near you,”
“I missed you, all that winter, even before you were gone, I really missed you. I spent that whole night thinking about it, because while I had noticed all the attention I was getting from the boys, I wasn’t really interested. I was way more upset about the fact that you were avoiding me, and that you seemed to be losing it,”