My slap sends her back a step, more in surprise than pain. She catches the sheet as she falls, pulling it sideways, revealing my brother’s pale face. At least his eyes are closed. He could be only sleeping. I move to tug the sheet back into place—I can’t look at him long—but she hits me with her shoulder, using her considerable height to drive me into the wall.
The cockpit door bangs open, and the two boys rush out, drawn by the noise. In an instant, Cal takes Farley down, tapping the back of her knee so she stumbles. Kilorn is less fancy, simply wrapping both his arms around me, hoisting me clean off the ground.
“He was my brother!” I yell at her.
She screams her response. “He was far more than that!”
Her words trigger a memory.
When she doubts. Jon told me to tell her something. When she doubts. And Farley certainly doubts now.
“Jon did tell me something,” I say, trying to push off Kilorn. “Something for you to hear.”
She lunges, reaching, and Cal pushes her back down again. He gets an elbow to the face for the trouble, but doesn’t relinquish his firm hold on her shoulders. She isn’t going anywhere, yet she continues to struggle.
Farley, you never know when to quit. I used to admire you for it. Now I only pity you.
“He told me the answer to your question.”
It stops her short, her breath coming in tiny, frightened puffs. She stares, wide-eyed. I can almost hear her heart beating.
“He said yes.”
I don’t know what that means, but it levels her. She slumps, falling on her hands, and bows her head behind a short curtain of blond hair. I see the tears anyway. She isn’t going to fight anymore.
Cal knows it too, and backs away from her shaking form. He almost trips on Elara’s deformed arm, and shies away from it, flinching. “Give her space,” he murmurs, and seizes me by the arm in a bruising grip. He all but drags me away, despite my protests.
I don’t want to leave her. Not Farley, but Elara. Despite her wounds, her burns, and her glassy eyes, I don’t trust her corpse to stay dead. A foolish worry, but I feel it all the same.
“By my colors, what’s the matter with you?” he snarls, slamming the cockpit door behind us, shutting out Farley’s low sobs and Kilorn’s scowl. “You know what Shade was to her—”
“You know what he was to me,” I reply. Being civil isn’t at the top of my list, but I try. My voice quivers anyway. My closest brother. I lost him before, and now again. This time he isn’t coming back. There’s no coming back. “You don’t see me screaming at people.”
“You’re right. You just kill them.”
Breath hisses between my teeth. Is that what this is about? I almost laugh at him. “At least one of us can.”
I expect a screaming match at the very least. What I get is worse. Cal takes a step back, bumping against the instrument panel, trying to put as much distance as he can between us. Usually I’m the one to pull away, but not anymore. Something breaks behind his eyes, betraying the wounds he hides beneath his flaming skin. “What happened to you, Mare?” he whispers.
What hasn’t happened to me? A single day without worry, that’s what. All to prepare me for this, for the fate I bought myself with the mutations of my blood—and the many mistakes I’ve chosen to make, Cal included. “My brother just died, Cal.”
But he shakes his head, never looking away from me. His gaze burns. “You killed those men in the command center, you and Cameron, while they begged. Shade wasn’t dead then. Don’t blame this on him.”
“They were Silver—”
“I am Silver.”
“I am Red. Don’t act like you haven’t killed hundreds of us.”
“Not for me, not the way you kill. I was a soldier following orders, obeying my king. And they were just as innocent as I was when my father was alive.”
Tears prick my eyes, begging to be spilled. Faces swim before me, murdered soldiers and officers, too many to count. “Why are you saying this to me?” I whisper. “I did what I had to, to stay alive, to save people—to save you, you stupid, stubborn prince of nothing. You of all people should know the burden I carry. How dare you try to make me feel guiltier than I already do?”
“She wanted to turn you into a monster.” He nods toward the door, and the twisted body behind it. “I’m just trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“Elara is dead.” The words taste sweet as wine. She’s gone, she can’t hurt me. “She can’t control anyone anymore.”
“But still, you feel no remorse for the dead. You do whatever you can to forget them. You abandoned your family without a word. You can’t control yourself. Half the time you run away from leadership, and the other half you act like some untouchable martyr, crowned in guilt, the only person who’s really giving herself to the cause. Look around you, Mare Barrow. Shade’s not the only one who died in Corros. You are not the only one to make sacrifices. Farley betrayed her father. You forced Cameron to join us against her will, you chose to ignore everything but Julian’s list, and now you want to abandon the kids back at the Notch. For what? To step on the Colonel’s neck? To take a throne? To kill anyone who looks at you the wrong way?”
I feel like a child being scolded, unable to speak, to argue, to do anything but keep from crying. It takes everything to keep my sparks contained.
“And you still hold on to Maven, a person who doesn’t exist.”
He might as well put a hand around my throat and squeeze. “You looked through my things?”
“I’m not blind. I watched you take the notes off the bodies. I thought you’d rip them up. But when you didn’t—I suppose I wanted to see what you were going to do. Burn them, throw them away, send them back dipped in Silver blood—but not keep them. Not read them while I slept next to you.”
“You said you missed him too. You said so,” I whisper. I have to refrain from stamping my foot like a frustrated child.
“He’s my brother. I miss him in a very different way.”
Something sharp scrapes my wrist, and I realize I’m scratching myself in my misery, creating a physical pain to mask the agony inside. He watches, conflicted.
“Every single thing I did, you stood behind me,” I say. “If I’m turning into a monster, then so are you.”
He drops his gaze. “Love blinds.”
“If this is your idea of love—”
“I don’t know if you love anyone at all,” he snaps, “if you see anything out there but tools and weapons. People to manipulate and control, to sacrifice.”
There is no possible defense to such an accusation. How can I prove him wrong? How can I make him see what I’ve done, what I’m trying to do, what I’ve become to keep everyone I care about safe! How badly I’ve failed. How terrible I feel. How the scars and memories ache. How deeply he’s wounded me with such words. I cannot prove my love for him, or Kilorn, or my family. I cannot put such feelings into words, nor should I have to.
So I don’t.
“After the Archeon bombing, Farley and the Scarlet Guard used a Silver news broadcast to claim responsibility.” I speak slowly, methodic and calm in my explanation. It’s the only thing keeping me sane. “I’m going to do the same now, with the queen’s body. I’m going to show every single person in this kingdom the woman I killed, and the people she kept locked up, newblood and Silver. I am finished letting Maven control this game by spouting his lies to the kingdom. What we’ve done isn’t enough to bring him down. We need to let the country do it for us.”
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