These Broken Stars Page 52

No. She turned me down when she could. I know what she thinks of me. Don’t really want to try again just because she’s out of options.

“Is that what you really think?”


“Safer, though, yes?”


“So what will you do?”

No idea.

“You’re thinking that a lot lately, T. I’ve never heard it from you before, not once. When did you learn those two words?”

When the infallible spaceliner her father built came crashing down through atmo. When Lilac started seeing the future, when Mom and Dad’s house appeared in a valley halfway across the galaxy. No idea about a lot of things, now.

“You should kiss her. It looks like it would be fun.”

Wait, what? Right, Alec. So what happens after this magical kiss?

“Who cares about after? You could die tomorrow, you don’t think you should kiss her today?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t kiss her today because I could die tomorrow.

“Boring. Also, illogical.”

I’m delirious and hallucinating, now you want logic?

“I have only the highest standards for you, T. If you won’t kiss her, have you at least written her one of your poems?”

Are you joking?

“You have, then. You just haven’t shown them to her.”

No. She likes Mom’s.

“So yours wouldn’t be up to scratch?”

Something like that.





“Yes, T?”

What do I do now?

“Keep trying. You have to get back to them. They can’t lose us both.”

I never really thought they would. I don’t know why. I’ve nearly died a lot of times.

“I never thought they’d lose one son. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, T. I know you can. You always do.”

I look across at him, drinking in his familiar face, smiling, no older than he was when he died, watching over me with the same indulgent affection that allowed me to trail up hills and down mountains after him at home.

Don’t go yet.

“I’ll stay while you sleep.”

I know something’s changed when I open my eyes. My eyelids aren’t heavy, and the sunlight doesn’t burn. I suck in a breath through my nose, bracing myself to move, but when I shift my weight, it’s easier. I know all this is different, but I can’t put my finger on why.

I blink again, and when I try focusing my gaze, I find Lilac passed out beside me. When I clear my throat, she jerks awake, reaching out without opening her eyes to fumble for my wrist and check my pulse. Then she shoves up on one elbow to reach for my forehead, her own eyes still closed.

I see the moment she realizes my skin’s cooler, and her eyes snap open as she stares down at me.

“’Morning.” My voice is a croak. I reach up to brush my fingertips against her cheek. Her face is streaked with dirt, smudged where she’s been sweating, and there’s a dark bruise across her other cheek. Her eyes are red with exhaustion, purple circles marking the skin beneath them. I can’t even see now where her black eye from our crash landing was.

“Tarver.” It’s more a question than a statement.

“I think so,” I whisper. “What the hell…?”

“You’ve been sick.” She can’t take her eyes off my face. She reaches for the canteen without looking at it and holds it up to my lips with practiced hands—but when would she have practiced this?—and I take a careful sip.

“How long?” My whisper’s a little clearer now. She looks appalling. There’s grime all over her blue shirt, and a brownish-red stain where she’s wiped her hands clean.

But didn’t she pick out that shirt from the laundry the day before yesterday? I thought it was clean when we went to bed.

“Three days.” It’s her turn for a hoarse whisper.

I feel like the air’s gone out of me. “Are you okay? Anyone around?”

“No,” she whispers, soft and raw. “Just me.”

I don’t know what to say. We stare at each other as seconds go by, my head swimming, her breathing slow, carefully controlled, that ragged edge held at bay. Hanging on by a thread.

Then her lips press together in a thin, firm line, and I see her take herself in hand. “I’ve got aspirin, and a ration bar for you,” she says, suddenly purposeful. “I found antibiotics in the ship, in the sick bay. That’s what made the difference.” When she moves to haul herself to her feet, I see her exhaustion—it’s there in the way she reaches out with one hand for balance, wobbles as she stands, bites her lip too hard.

I lift my head as she walks away, ignoring the momentary dizziness so I can get a look at our little nest. Our supplies have multiplied. I don’t get a chance to see much more than that before she returns, peeling a ration bar out of its wrapper, watching my every movement—however small—with an unnerving intensity. She’s almost possessive, the way she kneels down beside me to help me sit up, and holds the bar so I can reach out with my good hand to break off a piece.

It tastes delicious. God, I really must be dying.

Dying. Alec. The faces of my parents, a girl I dated on Avon. I remember…what do I remember?

I push that thought aside, and as she reaches for the canteen so I can take the aspirin, we’re staring at each other again. I’m moving before I recognize the impulse. I ease my good arm away from my body, holding it out in a silent invitation, and after a moment she settles against my side and buries her face against my shoulder. A shudder runs through her, but she doesn’t break down.

“You saved my life,” I murmur. “Again.”

“I had to. I wouldn’t last a day around here without you.” Her whisper’s almost inaudible. Her arm snakes across my chest to rest over my heart.

“You lasted at least three, by the sound of it.” While she’s not looking I lift up my bandaged hand. My fingers aren’t as puffy, and I find that when I wriggle them a little, there’s no pain. The bandages look clean. “Did you wrap my hand up?”

“Mmm. You didn’t like it much. You have the foulest mouth I’ve ever encountered, Major. I didn’t even recognize half the languages you can swear in. I’m glad I’m not one of your soldiers. Still, it was rather educational.”

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