“Tell me more about Kauf.” My hands shake with cold—I can hardly feel the parchment between my fingers. “Elias drew a rough layout, but if he fails and we have to go inside, it won’t be—”
“You haven’t said her name since she died.” Keenan cuts through the torrent of words spilling from my mouth. “Do you know that?”
My hands shake more violently. I fight to still them as he sits in front of me.
“You only talk about the next safe house. About how we’ll make our way out of the Empire. About Kauf. But you won’t talk about her or what happened. You won’t talk about this strange power of yours—”
“Power.” I want to scoff. “A power that I can’t even tap into.” Though skies know I’ve tried. Every free moment, I’ve attempted to will myself into invisibility until I feel like I’ll go mad thinking the word disappear. Every time, I fail.
“Perhaps if you talked about it, it would help,” Keenan suggests. “Or if you ate more than a bite or two. Or slept more than a few hours.”
“I don’t feel hungry. And I can’t sleep.”
His gaze falls upon my shaking fingers. “Skies, look at you.” He shoves the parchment away and envelops my hands in his own. His warmth fills up an emptiness inside. I sigh, wanting to fall into that warmth—to let it wrap around me so that I forget all that’s to come—even for a few minutes.
But that’s selfish. And stupid, considering that at any moment, we might be caught by Martial soldiers. I try to take my hands away, but as if Keenan knows what I’m thinking, he pulls me near, pressing my fingers against the heat of his stomach and throwing his cloak around us both. Beneath the rough weave of his shirt, I can feel the ridges of muscle, hard and smooth. His head is bent as he looks at our hands, red hair hiding his eyes. I swallow and look away from him. We’ve traveled together for weeks, but we’ve never been this close before.
“Tell me something about her,” he whispers. “Something good.”
“I didn’t know anything.” My voice cracks, and I clear my throat. “I knew her for weeks? Months? And I never even asked her anything worthwhile about her family or what it was like when she was young or—or what she wanted or what she hoped for. Because I thought we had time.”
A tear snakes down my face, and I pull a hand from him and dash it away. “I don’t want to talk about this,” I say. “We should—”
“She deserves better than you pretending she didn’t exist,” Keenan says. I look up, shocked, expecting anger, but his dark eyes are sympathetic. It makes it worse somehow. “I know it hurts. Of all people, I know. But pain is how you know you loved her.”
“She loved stories,” I whisper. “Her eyes would fix on me, and I could see when I told them that she’d lose herself in whatever I was saying. That she could see it all in her head. And later, sometimes days later, she’d ask me questions about them, like that whole time she was living in those worlds.”
“After we left Serra,” Keenan says, “we’d been walking—running, really, for hours. When we finally stopped and settled into our rolls for the night, she looked up and said, ‘The stars are so different when you’re free.’” Keenan shakes his head. “After running all day, eating hardly anything, and being so tired she couldn’t take another step, she fell asleep smiling at the sky.”
“I wish I didn’t remember,” I whisper. “I wish I didn’t love her.”
He takes a breath, his eyes still on our hands. The cellar is no longer frigid, warmed by our body heat and the sun hitting the door above.
“I know what it is to lose those you love. I taught myself not to feel anything at all. For so long that it wasn’t until I met you that …” He holds tight to my hands but doesn’t look at me. I can’t bring myself to look at him either. Something fierce kindles between us, something that has perhaps been quietly burning for a long time.
“Don’t lock yourself away from those who care about you because you think you’ll hurt them or—or they’ll hurt you. What point is there in being human if you don’t let yourself feel anything?”
His hands trace a path over mine, moving like a slow flame to my waist. Ever so slowly, he tugs me closer. The emptiness inside, the guilt and failure and well of hurt, it fades in the ache of desire that throbs low in my body and propels me forward. As I slide onto his lap, his hands tighten on my waist, sending fire up my spine. He lifts his fingers to my hair, and the pins within drop to the cellar floor. His heart thuds against my chest, and he breathes against my mouth, a hair’s breadth between our lips.
I stare down at him, hypnotized. For a fleeting second, something dark passes across his face, some shadow unknown but not, perhaps, unexpected. Keenan has always had a darkness about him. I feel a flicker of unease in my stomach, swift as a beat of a hummingbird’s wings. It is forgotten a moment later as his eyes shut and he closes the distance between us.
His lips are gentle against mine, his hands less so as they roam across my back. My hands are equally hungry, flitting across the muscles of his arms, his shoulders. When I tighten my legs around his waist, his lips drop to my jaw, his teeth scrape my neck. I gasp when he tugs on my shirt to trace a torturously slow trail of heat down my bare shoulder.
“Keenan—” I breathe. The cold of the cellar is nothing against the fire between us. I pull his shirt off and drink in the sight of his skin, tawny in the lamplight. I trace a finger along the freckles that dust his shoulders, down the hard, precise muscles of his chest and stomach, before dropping to his hip. He catches my hand, his eyes searching my face.