For the third time, the doctor stammered something in French that I could tell meant I have no idea.
Suddenly Luc blinked a few times fast, then swayed like he was dizzy. He caught himself before falling onto the bed, his eyes rolling back and slipping closed. We all froze.
“More blood,” Elodie said, frantically grabbing for my arm.
“We must have missed something,” Jack said. “Could Lydia have lied? Or could it be that you have to inject the cure rather than ingest it? Or—”
Luc coughed. Everyone went silent. We all knew what came after the coughing.
Stellan fell to his knees, his hand ripping from mine. “No,” he whispered.
Elodie’s hand clapped over her mouth, her face frozen in a mask of shock.
No, I echoed in my head. We’d found the cure. Please, please no—
Luc coughed again, harder this time, rattling in his chest. A sob escaped around Elodie’s hand. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I’d seen this a thousand times in my nightmares. I stared at Luc’s slim, angular face, just waiting for blood to stream down his cheeks. For the next cough to be red.
His eyes fluttered, and I stared, horrified.
And then he blinked—and opened his eyes. He looked at Elodie and squinted, then pulled himself to sitting. He coughed again, and it turned into clearing his throat. He shook his head like he’d just woken up. “What happened?” he said.
He wasn’t bleeding. That wasn’t how this worked. Once any symptoms hit, it was over. It didn’t ever reverse. Not in the cases we’d seen personally, and not in any of Nisha’s research.
Something weird had happened to Luc—but it hadn’t turned into the full force of the virus. He was alert now. Alive.
Somehow, the cure had worked for him when it hadn’t for his mother, even though Luc had more Circle blood.
A sob tore out of Elodie’s throat, and she threw herself on Luc. My legs were shaking, and only then did I realize Stellan was holding me against him as he kneeled, his arm around my waist. My knees gave out, and I fell into his lap on the hardwood floor.
He hadn’t died. We hadn’t killed Luc.
The door to the room burst open, and Colette came in, her voice frantic in French. She ran to Luc and Elodie soothed her, telling her what had happened. We all waited a few more minutes, making sure Luc didn’t relapse, but he seemed to feel fine. We had no idea why. The din built as everyone threw out theories. It turned into a wall of noise until all I could hear was the rasping of my breaths and the shaking in Stellan’s, his chest rising and falling against me. Neither of us was contributing to the conversation. It kept playing in my head—Luc’s cough. The second his eyes cleared again. One of my hands had Stellan’s wrist in a death grip, and his thumb was stroking mine. I turned to him, and the anguish on his face made my other hand clench in his shirt.
Luc was okay, but we weren’t. The way I’d been feeling on the boat earlier washed back over me.
Luc cleared his throat. “Water?” he said.
“I’ll get it,” I heard myself say. My eyes didn’t leave Stellan’s.
I must have been telegraphing exactly what I was thinking, because he said, “I’ll show you how to get to the kitchen.”
We got to our feet and strolled out of the room and silently down the carpeted hallway.
As soon as the stairwell door shut behind us, plunging us into darkness cut only by the weak green light of the SORTIE sign, Stellan spun and pinned me to the wall. We hadn’t said a word, but that made it even more explosive, setting a match to every nerve in my body at once.
This kiss was the opposite of sweet and careful. There wasn’t enough of his mouth to keep mine happy, my hands couldn’t find enough of his skin. It was the physical manifestation of panic and terror and relief so bone-deep it made us feverish and wild.
I didn’t know what was wrong with us. This was an absurd thing to be doing.
I didn’t care.
My head fell back against the wall and every rational thought— every worry I had wanted to forget earlier, every bit of the horror show of the past hour—fled my mind.
I came back to my senses some time later, when a breeze made me shiver. I was propped on the handrail, my legs locked around Stellan’s waist. I pulled away and he gave me a dazed smile that was a world away from his earlier distress.
This was like a drug.
I shivered again and he rubbed my arms. “Cold?”
I looked down. My tank top was drooping off one of my shoulders, Stellan’s hands warm on my skin. “Where’d my sweatshirt go?” I whispered. I looked over his shoulder to find it in a heap on the next landing down. “How . . . ?”
He shrugged and laughed, low and rough.
I blinked myself back to reality. I felt so much clearer, more alert. I’d been upset with myself about being distracted after Cannes, but this was the type of distraction that would help me concentrate and calm down and feel like a human being. That was helpful. “We should probably go back. Make sure everything’s still okay.”
“They would have let us know if it wasn’t,” Stellan said, but he dropped one last kiss on my lips and then set me back on the floor. I reached up to smooth his hair, and he loped down the stairs to grab my discarded hoodie. He held it out with a teasing eyebrow raise.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I whispered, shrugging it on. “You’re the one who took it off me. And you’re the one who told me to do something for stress-relief. This is as good a hobby as anything. A temporary hobby at that, if you’re leaving.”
If I hadn’t been watching him closely, I might not have seen his face change. Just as quickly, he went back to normal. “I’m flattered you’d choose me over knitting,” he whispered.