These Broken Stars Page 53

“Been posted to too many places. You pick stuff up from the locals, wherever the old cultures have survived.” I reach up to trace her hairline with my uninjured hand. “But if you’re telling me you understood any of it, Miss LaRoux, I’m going to reevaluate my opinion of you.”

“Well, the context helped.”

We’re quiet for a little, and I smooth down her hair with my good hand. She turns her head a little in response, and I see that bruise standing out on her cheek again, livid against her fair skin. I can actually see the faint imprint of knuckles there against her skin.

I’m the only one around here who could have done it. I swallow down the sick guilt that comes with that knowledge, and concentrate on something else. “Have the whispers shown up? I remember a lot of things that don’t seem right, unless we did visit a restaurant, and you’re holding out on me. I can’t tell whether it was a fever, or visions.”

“The fever, I think.” She hesitates, eyes flicking from me to the fire, as though seeing something I can’t. I want to press her, ask her what she’s seen, but then she shakes her head. “I haven’t seen anything since the valley, and your parents’ house. You did, though. You called me all sorts of different people. I never realized how nice it was when you just called me Lilac.”

“Lilac?” I smooth down her hair again as she settles closer. I don’t want her to move. “I’d never be so familiar, Miss LaRoux. It would be highly inappropriate. I know my place, and apparently it’s swearing up a storm at you, hallucinating wildly. My mother would be so proud.”

“Inappropriate,” she murmurs, that raw edge to her voice finally softening. She sounds amused, leaning into my hand where it rests against her hair. “When the cavalry comes, I hope it’s not at night. Imagine what they’d think of this.”

Yes, imagine. What a silly thought, that a girl like you would look at a guy like me. I’m a fool, lying here and holding her. This girl who, under any other circumstances, never would’ve given a guy like me a second glance.

“I have to move, tomorrow.” My body resists the very thought, limbs turning to lead.

“Like hell you’re moving,” she replies, quick and sharp. There’s a steel there I haven’t heard since the early days of our stay here. “We’re staying put. I’ll go back into the ship and see what I can find.”

There’s something in her voice as she says it, a high note, full of tension. It makes me look at her again.

“We can both go in together tomorrow, or the next day at worst.”

She shifts and sits up, shaking her head, chewing on her lip again. I want a little to reach after her, and pull her back down next to me. “It’s—not good in there. A few more days and I don’t think you’d be able to spend much time inside without getting ill.”

“What’s in there, Lilac?” But the answer’s settling in the pit of my stomach even as I’m asking the question.

“It’s—you know, there’s no power or anything. Everything’s gone bad, rotting.” She barely gets that word out before she cuts herself off, jaw clenching as she shuts her eyes. Her freckles stand out against the whiteness of her skin.

That knot in my stomach was right. Not everyone made it off the ship. “You can’t go back in there, Lilac. Whatever you brought out, we have enough.”

“Stop it.” It’s a strained whisper. “I’d have been eaten our second day here if it wasn’t for you. Time for me to even the scales. I won’t be long.”

“You’ve already done that.” I reach for her hand to wrap mine around it. “You saved us both, hot-wiring the escape pod. Let’s just stop trying to keep track of who’s saved who.”

“Tarver, you’re making it harder.” Her eyes are squeezed shut now. “It’s dark in there, and cold, and it’s more silent than space itself, and being here with you is none of those things. But there are things we need in there. If I were the one who was sick—” I can see the wetness along her lashes, but she refuses to blink and let the tears roll down her cheeks. What happened to her in that ship?

I breathe out slowly and try to inject some calm into my voice, even though all I want to do is hold on to her so tightly she has to give up the idea of going back in there alone. “I wouldn’t go in there. It’s a pretty simple risk-reward analysis. Sure, there are things in there it would be good to have. What’s better is to have two people functioning. What’s worst of all is to have both of us down for the count. We need to be well more than we need more clothes or food.”

Slowly, reluctantly, she begins to ease down beside me again, then stops. She draws the Gleidel out from the back of her waistband, offering the gun to me grip first. “I suppose I ought to give this back now. You should teach me how to use it, though. I wouldn’t have known what to do with it.”

It’s a jolt to realize I was so sick I didn’t even miss it. “You want to learn to use the gun?” I ask, setting it down beside me within reach and easing my arm around her once more. “Maybe when I’m a little better, and I can run to a safe distance.”

“Come on, now.” She pokes me in the ribs. “You know I run faster than you. So you’ll do it?”

“After you’ve pointed out you’re fast enough to hunt me down and shoot me when I upset you?” I tighten my arm around her and turn my head to tuck her under my chin.

“I’m stubborn,” she warns as she closes her eyes. “Don’t think you can just wait until morning and hope I’ll forget.”

“Of course not, Miss LaRoux. You’d shoot me if I tried.”

I continue to lie there after her breathing has evened out. Alec wells up in my mind again, and I can hear our conversation. I hope I die first.

Has she been thinking about that too? About what would become of her? My throat closes as I realize that she’s not talking about learning to defend herself if something happens to me.

I should give her a lesson. If I at least show her how to operate the settings, she’ll have options. I can’t think about it any further than that.

I turn my head to take a better look at her now she’s asleep.

There’s a rip in the leg of her jeans, running down by her knee and exposing skin that’s turned grubby with dirt. Her blue shirt’s untucked, marked with black grime.

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