These Broken Stars Page 64

“You’ll be smiling for the cameras,” I correct her, laughing.

“You’ll have your fair share,” she tells me. “You’re the one who saved the life of Roderick LaRoux’s only daughter. It’ll be hard to slip away.”

“My commanding officer will sort it out. I’ll get a week to go home and show my parents I’m whole, then a posting somewhere quiet for a while. Very quiet, if we’ve seen things we’re not supposed to.” Her skin’s so impossibly soft. My hands feel rough against it as I run my palm down her side.

She’s quiet for a little, holding still against me, not leaning into my hand as she usually does. I wait, and let her turn it over in her mind. Eventually she speaks again. “You’ll just—disappear?” The question’s very soft. “What about you and me? What happens to us, if you just vanish?”

I have no flippant answer for her, no deflection this time. I don’t know what happens to us. It’s the question I’ve been trying to avoid every second of every day since we saw the building on the horizon, and discovered the possibility of rescue after all.

“I’m not fourteen anymore.” She lifts herself up on one elbow, gazing at me. “My father is powerful, changing the galaxy to suit him, but he’s not going to change this. He’s strong, but I’d fight him.” Her blue eyes are grave, determined—calm. “I’d fight for you.”

She’s stolen my breath. My hand tightens at her waist until she makes a soft sound of protest, and it takes me a moment to realize I’m hurting her. I want to kiss her until she’s as lost as I am. My heart fills my chest.

But I’ve seen what happens when people go back to the real world. I’ve seen what happens when they’re reunited with their friends, their families. When the everyday rhythms reassert themselves, little currents pulling and tugging them back into the stream of life. Right now this is what she wants, but when she’s back in a life with no room for someone like me? If I let her make these promises and then have to watch her return to her old life, leaving me and all we’ve gone through behind…I’m not sure I can survive that.

With an effort I force myself to start breathing again.

“Lilac.” My voice sounds weak even to me. “Neither of us should make promises like that.”

She swallows. “Are you saying that because you aren’t sure, or because you think I’m not?”

“I’m saying I don’t think it’s as simple as either of us would like it to be.”

“It’s the simplest thing in the world,” she whispers, leaning down to brush her lips against mine. “But I don’t mind waiting until you’re sure. You’ll come around.”

I want to tell her I’ve already come around, that I was there before she was—that I’d face down an army of paparazzi and her father to boot if she asked me.

But she doesn’t know how it can all change when you get back to civilization. And I won’t hold her to promises she can’t keep.

She takes her time over preparations in the morning. At least this much was true—she does seem to know what she’s doing when it comes to blowing things up. No wonder they kept this side of her under wraps—this is hardly an acceptable hobby for the well-bred.

She has me stack the fuel tanks six different ways, she paces out distances, tries different fuses. She dumps out some of the fuel—to leave room in the tanks for vapors, she says. I spend my time clearing anything that might cause damage if it flies through the air, until I’m combing the area for twigs and pebbles and even I have to admit none of them could so much as bruise her. After that I sit at the foot of a tree and watch her.

She’s incredible. She’s so composed, so determined, twitching the fuse with two fingers to change the angle a little. There are moments like this when I can actually imagine her at my parents’ cottage. I can see her hauling wood with the rest of us, chopping vegetables, going for long walks and calling it entertainment. I think my parents would like her.

I can see her happy there. I just wish I knew whether I’m only seeing what I want so badly to see.

Crouched by the end of the fuse, she looks over her shoulder and smiles at me, and I smile back, helpless.

Then I realize that she’s bending her head to strike a match, and something clicks together in my head. She can’t. She mustn’t. My daydreams scatter and I scramble to my feet, too slow, helpless—I don’t know how I know, but every instinct I have is screaming at me as she leans down to touch the flame to the fuse.

The little spark races up the string fuse, too fast. The wind picks up, and the fuse burns quicker, leaping up toward the barrels.

She spots it as I do, and she whirls away from it. I stand helplessly by the tree. I can’t move.

She makes it seven steps before the fuel tanks explode.

The flames blossom out behind her, and the boom comes an instant later. The building’s tearing open like a tin can, and Lilac’s thrown through the air like she weighs nothing at all. She hits the ground with a thud, rolling over and over as debris rains down around her. My body fails me, locking in place and keeping me from her. I rip my foot from where I’m rooted to the ground and finally start moving. She’s facedown, unmoving, lying amid a dozen tiny grass fires as the last light particles fall around us.

I throw myself down beside her, turn her over with a hand at her shoulder and one at her hip. My throat is frozen, unable to even whisper her name. She lets me move her without protest, one arm wrapped around her middle, the other reaching weakly up for me.

Her face is white, but apart from the dirt smudges and the bruise across her cheek, she looks unscathed. For the first time since the explosion, I feel myself take a full breath.

“That was exciting,” she murmurs, her eyes still closed. “Did it work?”

“I think they saw it from space,” I whisper, leaning down over her to press my forehead to hers. “Are you all right?”

“Shh.” Her voice is almost inaudible. “Tarver, I need you to—” She breaks off to groan softly, her mouth tightening, eyes squeezing tighter shut, pinched with pain.

My heart contracts. “Lilac, tell me what hurts.”

Her hand curls around my sleeve, the way she usually summons me for a kiss. She opens her eyes with a visible effort, blinking until she can focus on me. “Just listen, okay? When you get inside—should be a generator. You have to—to get enough power for a signal.”

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