“Shh,” I hissed.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t forget, I’ve been with both of them, too. I get it.”
I sniffed. “You guys have the weirdest relationship.”
“Us guys? Do you prefer the term judgy or hypocrite?”
Fair. “Why didn’t it work out between you and either of them?” I said quietly.
“Because sometimes something is fun for a while and not true love forever. And sometimes things change. People change.” I had just a moment to wonder which boy went with which comment when she went on, “Stop distracting me. I’m trying to be kind or sympathetic or whatever this unfamiliar sentiment is. You’re making it even harder than it already is.” Her snarky tone vanished. “I used to do this same thing, you know. I would go over and over the night my family died. If I’d stayed up late reading, maybe I would have noticed the fire in time to save them. If my dad hadn’t tried to get into business, maybe . . . But no matter how many scenarios might have made things different, none of them mean it’s the fault of anyone besides the people who did it. Full stop. You can pout over other things, but you can’t pout over that, because it’s not true.”
I scuffed my shoe on the packed dirt. “Has anyone ever told you you’re the worst at pep talks?” I mumbled.
Elodie raised her light to see farther down the passage. “You know what I used to tell myself when it would get bad?” she said. “You made it through this, and you survived. It’s way more than most people have been through. That means you can do anything.”
I clutched the strap of my bag tight.
“You’re a survivor. I’d never wish it on anyone, but you’re just like the rest of us now. Welcome to the world’s worst club.”
I turned away from her, pretending to look at something on the wall. I blinked a few dozen times, dissipating the heat behind my eyes.
Just ahead, Stellan stopped short. When I saw what he was looking at, my heart jumped, and my head cleared.
There was faint orange light coming from the tunnel ahead. If this was it, I didn’t have to panic anymore. If this was it—
I realized halfway there what it was.
“We’re back to where we started.” Stellan’s voice was a mask of calm.
“How is that possible?” We hadn’t been going in one big circle. We’d made a bunch of turns, some sharper than others. And yet, here we were. The afternoon sun outside reflected in the water pooled beneath the fountain. “We must have missed something.” I headed back down the corridor, my light bouncing erratically around the endless smooth dirt. “A turnoff. A door.”
“We didn’t miss anything.” Jack jogged up beside me. “I was paying close attention the whole way.”
“You saw those ruins.” Elodie caught up with us, too. “You see whatever this weird tunnel is. There’s no way it means nothing. We’ll just have to go around again, watching more carefully.”
“And if we don’t find anything this time?” Stellan said.
“Give up if you want,” Jack snapped. “The rest of us won’t.”
“So what you’re saying is that the rest of you have a death wish.”
I grabbed Stellan’s arm and dragged him down the tunnel. “We’ll take the front this time,” I called over my shoulder.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Stellan whispered loudly, “but I’m not sure this is the most appropriate time to sneak away and make out. Though there is no shortage of dark corners in here . . .”
“Quit antagonizing him,” I whispered once we were out of earshot. “It’s not helping.”
“It’s also not untrue.” Stellan looked casually down at his arm. I hadn’t realized I was still holding on to him. I let go.
Talking to Elodie had taken my panic down a notch. There was no way Stellan would allow her to do the same for him, so maybe it was my job. “I get how you’re feeling.” It was hypocritical of me, but I went on, “And I know safe is a relative term these days, but we’re okay right now.”
Our lights made a halo of white on the dark ground. “Are we, though? Really?” His face was barely illuminated, but I could see his eyes darting around, still searching, despite his protests. “I’ll forget for a moment that one of the few people I trusted has been lying to me for years, and that I’ve been working for the same group that killed my family. But as much as I’ve been trying to, I can’t forget that this, right now, is exactly what I’ve been afraid would happen since we discovered the thirteenth bloodline. That the Circle would find a reason to turn on us. You don’t get on the Circle’s bad side. You just don’t.”
“Maybe once we find—”
“The thing is,” he cut me off, “it’s not just my own life I’m risking to save the people who want to kill us. Where do you think they’ll turn once someone remembers that I have a sister? So there you go. That’s why I’m having a hard time following this dead end further than is logical. Is the psychoanalysis finished?”
This all sounded too familiar. Too much like how I’d been feeling for a long time. Everything he’d ever known was wrong. He didn’t know whom to trust. He didn’t say it, but I could see the flashbacks hitting hard, too. From the hospital. From Elodie’s story of her own family’s deaths. It was torturing him not being able to see Anya safe with his own eyes. This spiral into the carefully constructed snarky persona he was so good at playing was his version of my panic attack. “Maybe we could get Luc to go check on Anya,” I said.
He exhaled. “I don’t want to draw more attention to her than I need to,” he said quietly.
“Just because I’m asking you to control yourself doesn’t mean I don’t understand,” I told him. “I very much do. I’m worried just like you are, and I keep thinking there’s something I should have done, too. Like maybe I should have just gone to Lydia in Jerusalem and let the rest of you get away while you could. Or—”
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