Unhinged Page 81

“No.” Mom’s face falls even more. “I’ll help you protect him.”

The offer means so much, considering how she’s always tried to keep me and Jeb apart. I think now I understand. He reminded her of Dad in too many ways: a young mortal man with a noble heart at the mercy of a cruel Wonderland.

“It’s okay,” I say. “Jeb’s here with us on the train. He’s getting a chance to relive last summer. He’ll be safer with the memories intact.”

“It should never have come to this.” She’s about to break into tears again.

We don’t have time for any more regret. I stand and offer her my hand. “I think Morpheus hoped I would forgive you if I saw Dad’s memories. He hoped you would forgive yourself, and we’d find our way back to each other. He wants us to work together. It’s the only way we’ll have the power to stop Red and send Sister Two packing. Are you up for it?”

She clasps my hand and nods. In the time it takes her to stand, the fear and trepidation fall away from her face. She looks determined, regal. Her confidence feeds mine, and we step out the door arm in arm.

I run smack into Jeb’s solid chest. He’s against the wall on the other side of our door. One look at his face and I know he’s remembered everything.

He doesn’t move, doesn’t acknowledge my mom, just stares at my wings, then at the netherling patches around my eyes.

Mom squeezes my arm. “I’ll keep the conductor occupied. But don’t take long. We have to find out where Red’s sending her army.” Before walking down the aisle, she touches Jeb’s shoulder.

He meets her gaze, and an unspoken understanding passes between them. Then she makes her way to the front of the passenger car and whispers something to the conductor, coaxing the beetle outside.

Without a word, Jeb takes my hand and leads me toward his room. Expression set in stone, he guides me in and closes the door behind us. It’s identical to the room I was in, only Jeb’s cologne mixes with the almond scent and his plate of cookies is empty except for some crumbs. The theater curtains are still drawn open on the stage, as if it’s ready to start playing his memories again.

I watch him and shiver, unbalanced by his silence. As hard as I try, I can’t talk, either. What would I say? How do I explain a yearlong lie so life-altering?

He steps close, traces the patches around my eyes with the lightest touch, then surprises me by spinning me around. He touches my wings, arranges them with gentle veneration, as if they were the train to an heirloom wedding gown. He draws me close to his chest and nuzzles the tangled hair bunched at the back of my head.

“I never got to touch them,” he says, voice muffled. “Not once. But he did, didn’t he?”

How do I answer that? I’m glad my back’s to him, that he can’t see my face, afraid of what my expression would say.

He strokes my wings—featherlight—affecting every sensory receptor in my body. “Tell me that’s all he touched, Al.” He opens his palms along the veinlike cross sections, letting them graze the jewels.

My heart skips a painful beat. “I kissed him.” It’s brutal to admit it out loud, but I can’t lie anymore. “I was trying to get my wish back, so I could save us.”

Jeb makes an anguished sound, somewhere between choking and growling. I need to see his face—even if that means him seeing mine.

He steps away from me, leaving my back and wings cold. I turn, and his muscles tense. With a snarl, he shoves the chaise lounge and sends it scraping along the wall. It knocks over the table and shatters the empty plate. My body goes rigid at the sound.

“Morpheus.” Jeb bites down on the name, as if trying to chew it up. “He visits your dreams and flies with you. How can a human compete with that?”

“This isn’t a competition,” I say. “I made my choice.”

“Is that why you lied for so long?” He won’t meet my gaze, concentrating instead on his boots. “Because you made your choice?” His jaw clamps so tight I can see the muscles twitch beneath the skin. “No. You lied because I’m just a skater. Just an artist. I have nothing to offer. He can give you a world of magic and beauty.” His eyes slowly trail up to mine. They’re like a forest trampled by a storm. “A world that you were born to rule.”

Words bottle up inside me. I’m so furious, I want to shake him. How is it possible he watched everything play out yet overlooked the most important part of our journey? What we learned about ourselves, about each other?

No. He’s going to watch those memories again a second time, and I’ll make sure he sees what I see.

I sidestep him and turn the dial on the wall to dim the lamp. The screen lights up. This time, I’m pulled into his point of view, seeing things from Jeb’s eyes. Fighting the flower fae, defeating the octobenus, figuring out how to wake the tea party guests.

There are things that are new to me, like him rolling me over to face him while I slept in the rowboat, stroking my hair and promising to keep me safe. Or how the sprites lulled him to sleep while we were apart at Morpheus’s mansion, how they tried to make him forget me, but my face kept surfacing in his dreams. And how hard he fought to escape when Morpheus shrank him and put him in the cage, while I was being forced to win the crown.

Then the most dreaded scene comes, the one I’ve only imagined in my darkest nightmares.

Gossamer slips into Jeb’s cage, her size matching his. Seated atop a wedge of pear tottered on its side, she tells him my fate. I feel his terror and helplessness as he leaps up, so desperate to get to me he pounds his head against the cage until his skin is gashed.

“Would you die for her, mortal knight?” Gossamer’s words stop him.

Hands clenched to the bars, he looks at her, blood drizzling into his eyes—burning. “If it will send her home.”

Gossamer stares back, unblinking. “Are you willing to go beyond death? To be lost to everyone, even yourself, in a place where memories wash away with a tide as dark as ink? For in order to free Alyssa, you will have to take the Ivory Queen’s place in the jabberlock box.”

There’s a moment when he hesitates. I feel it: his heartbeat stumbling for self-preservation, his mind racing to find another way. Then, his heartbeat slows, resolved again.

“Yes. I’ll do it.”

“And so you shall.” Gossamer flies him out of the cage, leading him to a pewter box the size of an armoire.

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