We ran down to the kitchen and grabbed an armload of water bottles. Maybe I hadn’t really seen that pause. This whole time, Stellan and I had been a story for the Circle, and now we were a distraction for ourselves. That was what this was. It was not—
It wasn’t. Not least because that wasn’t something my heart could handle right now. The occasional instance of kissing-for-fun-and-stress-relief was one thing. Liking somebody was another, especially under these circumstances. Especially him. It wasn’t that.
I made a point to walk a couple feet farther away from him than I otherwise would have.
When we got back to Luc’s room, Elodie grabbed the water out of our arms with a frown. “I was starting to get worried you wandered into the clutches of the Saxons.”
I was about to reply, but then I looked behind her and did a double take.
“Oh. Right. Rocco’s here,” Elodie said. “I’ll explain in a minute.”
Rocco was crouched by Luc’s bed. Holding Luc’s hand. Luc looked around self-consciously.
Elodie took the water to Luc, and Stellan and I were left gaping. “But Rocco had a thing with the Emirs’ daughter,” I whispered.
“And that means he couldn’t be interested in Luc? How . . . limiting,” Stellan whispered tightly. “That’s not what confuses me about this situation.”
“Remember when Luc was talking to Rocco without us and we all thought it was weird?” I whispered. Stellan nodded. Elodie gestured, and the two of us followed her to the balcony, where Jack was already waiting. We weren’t far from the balcony of the room I’d stayed in when I first got to France. Below us, the Louvre courtyard and the Tuileries Gardens spread in either direction.
Stellan wouldn’t take his eyes off Luc and Rocco just inside the French doors.
“Lucien only just told me on the phone last night,” Elodie whispered. “It wasn’t the Emirs’ daughter Rocco had a relationship with after all. It was Malik.”
Malik Emir had been the first to die in the string of assassinations the Saxons blamed on the Order. It had happened before I even knew the Circle existed. “Everyone thinks the Emir Keeper and their daughter got caught and Laila had to terminate him herself, right?” Elodie said. “That is what happened with Rocco and Malik—but Malik promised Rocco he’d let him escape. Rocco loved him, and he believed him. But Malik decided he couldn’t let what happened between them get out for the sake of his reputation, and tried to kill him instead. Rocco fought back, and in the scuffle, Malik was accidentally killed. Rocco ran.”
“That’s where Rocco got the scar,” I whispered.
Elodie nodded. “The Emirs covered it up, but the Circle was suspicious. The Saxons found Rocco somehow, learned the real story, and it seems like that was where they got the idea to commit these assassinations and blame them on the Order. The Circle was primed for it. For a while, Rocco thought the Saxons were good-guy vigilantes. It didn’t take him long to realize he was wrong. And then we found him.”
I stared at them through the glass doors.
A lot of things went through my head: Rocco had faced just as much tragedy as any of us. But was there any chance he could be using Luc? Could he hurt him if he got that close? And I realized suddenly why relationships between family members and staff were forbidden. And I also remembered how recently I was in that exact position.
I glanced up at Stellan, and he just shrugged. It’d be pretty hypocritical for us to police Rocco and Luc having a secret relationship, even if Rocco was working for us. “Okay?” I said.
Elodie sighed. “I told Lucien you’d be fine with it. I thought he was going to have a heart attack when he admitted it to me, but I reminded him that you two, of all people—”
“So what now?” I cut her off.
Elodie had spoken with the Dauphins’ security, and they were tightening their safety measures around the Louvre. There would also be a lot to deal with regarding the Dauphins’ deaths. We still had no idea why the cure had worked for Luc and not Madame Dauphin.
Jack leaned back on the railing. “About that. Earlier, Nisha told me more about what they’ve been researching. Seeing what happened with the cure, I had a thought. We never saw the original wording. We just know Lydia translated it as that your blood is the cure. But there are rather a lot of shades of the idea of remedy, or treatment. What if this one didn’t mean antidote, like she thought? What if it was . . . vaccine?”
The idea rolled around in my head. It only took a second for it to make sense. “Nisha said my blood is the one that has the virus, and Stellan’s just makes it replicate out of control. So that could make sense. Aren’t a lot of vaccines essentially a mild version of the disease to prime the body against it?”
Elodie was nodding along. She pulled us inside and we shared the theory.
“Avery, have you been putting your blood in my food?” Luc said. It was a little too bright, a little too fake-cheerful. Considering his parents had just died, then he’d nearly died himself, I was shocked he was doing this well.
Wait. His parents. Monsieur Dauphin. What I would always associate with him was—
“The wedding,” I said. Luc raised his eyebrows. “When we were supposed to be married. Part of the ceremony was cutting our hands and putting them together, remember? You had my blood all over you. If you accidentally wiped your face, or put your own cut into your mouth, you could have ingested it.”
Stellan was pacing at the end of the bed, wearing a path on the hardwood floor. “But Elodie was infected—”
“Maybe I was never infected at all,” Elodie said. “I could have actually been coughing from dust. I’ll have the doctor examine me and see what she thinks.”
“What about your mother?” Stellan asked me. “If your blood is a vaccine—”
Wouldn’t I have vaccinated her at some point, too? But I shook my head. “Before I met you guys, I was not covered in blood nearly as often as I am now. If my mom was ever cleaning up a cut for me, I’m sure she would have washed her hands immediately after, and it never would have—”
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