“Wait,” Jack said. “What do you mean you couldn’t let a girl exist?”
Fitz studied his hands. They were cut up, his fingernails filthy. “It was one of the Order’s most important tasks inside Circle households. We’d keep watch on the families.”
“You mean spy on them,” Jack cut in.
Fitz inclined his head. “And advise in ways that led to the most favorable outcomes. Our people are high up in many households. Some of them are Keepers.”
Shock flitted across Jack’s face. Elodie shook her head at him.
“We couldn’t let any of the twelve families have a girl with violet eyes,” Fitz continued, “so we didn’t. The methods have changed over the years. Just this past century we were able to isolate the genetic marker and make sure no baby girls with violet eyes would be born at all if we kept up with our duties.”
“Genetic engineering? Like what Olympias did to Alexander,” Stellan said.
“Like how she created the healing properties of your body, yes,” Fitz said. “Impossible, but true.”
Elodie cut in. “Going all the way back to Olympias, the Order has been advanced scientifically. We’ve lost some of what she knew—she was remarkable. But yes, the lack of that modification on Avery’s mother is what allowed Avery to exist.”
“So you’re saying Alistair was the only person in the history of the Circle to sleep around with someone he wasn’t supposed to?” Stellan asked.
I kicked him under the table. He just shrugged.
“Of course not. The Order operative in the household tries to keep an eye on that. And it’s not guaranteed that any Circle child will have the purple eyes anyway—it depends on the mother’s genetics, too, which is why many Circle marriages are arranged. But between that and the fact that the Order member in the household does their best to prevent it . . .”
“But my mother was the Order operative in her household,” I said.
He nodded. “I’m sure there have been other slipups, but until relatively recently in history, the world was not so connected. No Internet. Much less travel. A girl like you could have lived out her whole life without anyone noticing or caring about her eye color.”
I thought about the other girls through history who could have been in my position if things were different. How easily things could have been different for me.
“Finally, I discovered Napoleon’s research,” Fitz said. “It was the breakthrough I’d been waiting for. I learned about the thirteenth bloodline, but I still didn’t know how they’d be connected to Avery and her well-being. So it became about finding that bloodline. I’d just begun to come to a new hypothesis about it, from a different interpretation of Napoleon’s diary, when, on an off chance, I heard about Stellan and his sister.”
I saw Stellan’s throat bob with a hard swallow.
“I thought there was no way it could be true,” Fitz told him, “but you were the closest thing I’d had to a development in nearly a decade. I had the Dauphins take you in.”
For a few seconds, the only sounds were the boat’s motor and the distant sounds of traffic. “So it’s true. I was a science experiment,” Stellan said, his voice too even.
“Yes,” Fitz said matter-of-factly. “When I first brought you in, it was so I could study you. Elodie came to me around the same time, and I had her placed in a position not only to do the Order’s work in the Dauphin home, but to keep an eye on you.”
It was exactly what Elodie had told us.
Stellan sat forward, resting his arms on the table. “Do you know who killed my family?” he said, his voice so level that if I couldn’t feel his foot bouncing under the table right now, just inches from mine, I wouldn’t know it bothered him at all.
“I’m sorry,” Fitz said. “I wish I did.”
Stellan nodded tersely.
I crossed my legs and brushed his calf with my foot. He glanced at me, and I felt the bouncing of his foot slow.
I honestly wasn’t sure whether I was only offering moral support or whether it was more. The more anxious I got, the more I found myself longing to go back to last night, in my room in Egypt. For a few hours, we hadn’t thought about any of this. We hadn’t analyzed, we hadn’t planned, we hadn’t made decisions. It was the first time in a long time I’d felt anything but terrible.
Stellan glanced at me again. I wondered whether any part of him was thinking the same thing.
“So when did you find out about the virus?” I said.
Fitz shook his head. “I didn’t. All I knew for certain at the point when the Saxons took me is what I’ve told you. It had crossed my mind before, what I’d do if something like that ever happened, and if you, Avery, were ever in danger. I had only minutes to implement that plan, though luckily I’d hidden the diary earlier, and I knew Avery had the necklace. You all took my decades of research and brought it to its end in record time.”
“What about me?” Jack said quietly to Fitz.
Fitz turned his chair to face him. “You had nothing to do with it, Charlie.” I’d forgotten that Fitz had actually called him that—it wasn’t just made up for me. “You were around the age of my own grandchild, whose life I couldn’t be a part of. As you got older, and you proved yourself to be smart and loyal, I grew attached to you like you were my own family. I found myself hoping that, one day, I’d be able to introduce you two.” He took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirt. “You all came to me in different ways, but I consider all of you my grandchildren. And here you are: all together.”
Jack held his phone in a stranglehold and stared at the table. Elodie looked at each of us in turn. Stellan laced his hands together, chewing his lip. There it was: all of our stories. I felt like in some way, we were all hoping for a miracle in our pasts that would make everything better, or a miracle from the Order to tell us what to do. We’d gotten neither.