These Broken Stars Page 65

“Lilac, stop, that doesn’t matter.” She’s in pain somewhere, though I can’t see where. My hands are shaking as I start unbuttoning her shirt. “We’ll handle that when we get inside.”

“Don’t think we will,” she whispers, hoarse. Then she lifts her hand away from where it’s wrapped around her middle, and shows me what she’s hiding, what she’s holding together. A tangle of bloodstained shirt and skin, the glint of metal embedded deep.

I can’t hear, can’t see, can’t think.

My body knows what to do, though. “Put the pressure back on, keep your hand on it.” My voice snaps orders like I’m out in the field. I scramble across to our pack to haul out the first-aid supplies she salvaged from the Icarus, sending bottles and bandages flying in every direction as I dig for the one vial that matters. “Keep your hand on it, we have a coagulant.”

“Don’t.” Her voice is weak, though she presses her hand back over the wound. “You’ll need it later, until help comes.”

“I need it now.” Finally I find it, tearing the wrapper off a needle and scrambling back to her on hands and knees. Breathe in—one, two. Breathe out—one, two. My hand steadies. I fit the bottle to the needle, watching as it fills, lifting it, tapping it free of bubbles.

It’s not enough. I know that as I slide the needle into her skin. It can’t stop this kind of bleeding. The shrapnel went straight through her gut. This injection can’t sew her back together.

“Please,” she whispers, flinching.

I throw the empty needle aside and haul my shirt off over my head, lifting her hand and pressing the fabric against her abdomen. “I’m here, Lilac, I’m here. I promise. I’m right beside you.”

She pushes weakly at my arm, shock overtaking sense as her gaze slides past me to the sky beyond. “This is why it’s better. I’d be in pieces, if it were you.”

I am in pieces, Lilac.

But my body keeps moving, my mouth keeps talking. “Stop it, I’ve seen this before. We can fix this.” I press down on the wound and reach out with my other hand to touch her cheek, trying to guide her gaze back to my face. I want her to look at me.

She whimpers, and the sound breaks my heart. “Tarver, it’s okay. Don’t start lying to me again. I’m not afraid.” But she’s crying, tears leaking out the corners of her eyes and running down her temples, leaving pale tracks in the dirt.

I don’t know what to say. Words abandon me.

“Tell my daddy—” She breaks off to cough, and blood trickles down from the corner of her mouth. I see the confusion start to take her. I’ve seen this before, too.

No. Please, no.

Her hand lifts to grab at me, finding my arm and clutching tight. “Tarver.” Her whisper’s a gurgle, the blood in her throat now. “I lied. I’m—I don’t want to die.” Her blue eyes are wide and terrified as she gazes past me.

I’m shaking as I ease down to stretch out beside her, pressing my forehead to her temple, whispering my words against her skin. “I’m here.” I can barely make myself loud enough, but I think she hears me. “I promise, I’m right here, Lilac. I won’t go anywhere. I won’t leave.”

She struggles for another breath, reaching across to touch my face, her fingertips trailing across my cheek. “I thought…”

Her hand goes limp, and I feel the moment the life goes out of her. For a moment we lie perfectly still together, neither of us breathing. And then my treacherous lungs contract, and send me gasping for air no matter how I try to stop.

She remains still, silent. Her eyes, like reflecting pools, show me the trees, the leaves, the sky.

“Are you all right, Major? Your throat seems a little dry.”

“I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?”



THIS IS SHOCK. I know that from my field training. my mouth is dry, and my hands are starting to tremble. I’m cold.

I stare down at her face, but it’s like I’m looking at her through glass, removed. I find myself noticing trivial things—the length of her eyelashes, the new freckles that stand out on her pale cheeks. She never knew about those.

But I saw them, and I loved them, I loved—

I should close her eyes, I know that. There are steps to be followed. My body’s trying to move, trying to do what it’s done before, but I can’t stop shaking. I observe the tiny cuts and blackened fingernails on my hand, and wait for it to stop trembling so I can brush her eyelids, but it won’t. It worsens, and I stare at it, fascinated.

The brain places importance on these small nothings to distract itself from overwhelming trauma. Instinct causes it to start memorizing details feverishly when it’s in danger. I’ve been trained for this.

No. No one trained me for this.

I know there’s this other thing I should be thinking about, this other thing I know, but every time I try to approach it my mind reels away, shuddering. I can’t think it. I can’t know it.

The bile rises up my throat in a rush, and I wheel away from her to plant my hands in the grass as I cough, gag, then swallow hard. I’m panting, but I keep from throwing up. My elbows start to bend, and I lock them in place.

I know with utter certainty that if I let myself fold to the ground beside her, I’ll stay there forever. The lessons they’ve drilled into me forbid it.

I stagger to my feet, movements clumsy. I’m swaying when I stand, looking around the clearing for something—anything—that will tell me what to do. The small fires from the explosion are burning out. Time must have passed. I don’t remember.

And I don’t know what to do. There’s nothing here. No protocol, no notification, no debriefing, no—anything. Just me, standing in the middle of the clearing, Lilac at my feet.

The building is still smoking, one wall blown inward, debris scattered and metal twisted. The trees around the edge of the clearing bow inward, the forest beyond utterly silent. The tiny details of the scene clog my thoughts, dragging my attention away from this thing I can’t understand.

I try again to push past the great wall of resistance in my mind.

Lilac is dead.


Lilac took shrapnel. Lilac bled out.

Nothing. I can say it to myself, I can push the words around in my mind, but there’s not even a twitch of a response. They’re just words. Stupid, impossible words—so ridiculous that I ignore them.

Prev Next