I sat, unsteadily, then tried to get to my feet. The edges of my vision fuzzed again, and then there was nothing.
• • •
The next time I opened my eyes, I knew where we were. The plane. I was on a couch and Stellan was on the one across from me, watching me openly. A little blond girl slept curled in his arms. The roar of the engines and a slight shake told me we were already in the air. Safe. Away.
Stellan was still staring, like he wasn’t quite sure if I was really awake. When I blinked a few times and lifted my head, he closed his eyes and murmured something under his breath.
I sat up, and he leaned forward. “Be careful. You might still be—”
Anya whimpered, and he cut off.
I stood, gingerly, and grabbed the edge of the couch when a wave of dizziness hit. My bag was still across my chest, and I dug out contact drops.
“Are you—” he said, but his sister made another noise and he got quiet, looking down at her like he was cradling a poisonous snake instead of a skinny blond child with bandaged knees sticking out from under a dirty blue dress.
He didn’t know what to do with her, I realized. Even the way he held her wasn’t familiar, but stiff and awkward. I was surprised at first, but then I realized. He’d spent his whole life protecting Anya, but none of that time actually being her brother. He probably didn’t know much more about kids than any of us did.
He glanced up at me, back to Anya again, like one or the other of us might disappear. I felt suddenly self-conscious. I looked down at my hands, expecting them to be coated in blood. It was a dream, I reminded myself. A hallucination, and an especially melodramatic one at that. Was the rest of it a dream? Had I really woken up outside, staring at the sky?
Then everything that had happened before we’d been drugged finally broke through the fog. “Lydia?”
“She got aw—” Stellan whispered. Anya stirred again, and he got quiet. “She got away,” he mouthed.
So Lydia was still alive. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. “Omar?” I mouthed back.
He nodded to the back of the plane. We were bringing Omar with us, because it wasn’t like he could go back to Lydia. So it had worked. We’d planned to lure her to us, and Omar would take Anya as far away as he could before she figured it out. Us being knocked out was a wrench in the plan, but Stellan must have woken up faster than she’d anticipated.
I stole a glance at him, and the too-open way he was watching me made my pulse stumble. Had we really said those things, or was that in the dream, too? If we had, did it count?
I hugged my arms around myself, and when I touched my shoulder, it hurt more than usual. I looked down. There was a new bandage on it.
I looked up at Stellan quizzically. He cut his eyes to the bar counter, where a first aid kit lay open. I still didn’t get it until I peeked under the bandage and saw a fresh slash across the healing bullet wound. And then I noticed a small puncture in the crook of my elbow, like there had been a needle there. She’d taken our blood while we were passed out—both in the medical way that made more sense and by slicing us open, just to be mean. She’d probably taken a lot. That’s why I was so dizzy.
Stellan turned a tiny bit to show me his back. His shirt was soaked through with blood. I crossed the cabin, and he winced when I pulled on his collar to find a slash across his back, too.
Even with his scared little sister to take care of, even with his own wounds, Stellan had bandaged me up.
I stared down at his back, covered in blood. If she tries to take you, I’ll kill her, his voice said in my head. And, You make me feel too many things.
I let out a long breath, then crossed to the bar and felt Stellan’s eyes on me as I gathered up the bandages and wet a bar towel with warm water. I brought them to the couch. He hesitated, then shifted enough that I could reach his back.
I tried to reach down his collar, but the wound was too hard to get to, so I tugged on the hem of his bloody shirt.
He cautiously extracted one arm from under his sister. Anya’s hair was stick-straight and pale blond, with one tiny braid woven through it. Through the blond wisps across her face, I could see scars just like Stellan’s, stark even against her pale cheek.
I pulled at his T-shirt, working it off over his free arm with his help, and then over his head. He shook his hair out, and I let the shirt drape over his opposite shoulder.
When I could finally see his whole back, my breath caught. Lydia had cut him right across his scars.
He glanced back at me quizzically. I picked up the towel and cleaned the area as gently as I could, careful not to get his blood near my own cuts, just in case. I might not even need to do this. He healed so quickly. But I wanted to. Everyone should have somebody to put them back together when they need it.
Maybe that was why I couldn’t stop feeling like I did about him. Maybe two broken people who put each other back together over and over made one whole. Because that’s what it felt like sometimes. Like all we did was patch each other up.
I patted some antibacterial spray on the wound and spread a line of bandages over it, then picked the towel back up to clean off more of the blood. Instead, I found myself staring at his back. The scars, the two tattoos—the Dauphin sun at the base of his neck, and a sword running all the way down his spine. I touched the hilt of the sword, between his shoulder blades, with the very tips of my fingers.
I knew the muscles under my fingers weren’t from hours spent in the gym. They were from the same places his scars were. From fights, from running, from wins and losses.
I walked my fingers down the tattoo, gently. Stellan tensed.
How much must it have hurt to have gotten this done over the scars? And what did it mean? He wasn’t Jack. He didn’t like being a Keeper. Why he had gone to this much trouble and pain to have a weapon tattooed onto him?
I remembered something he’d said when we’d just met, right after he’d stabbed the man who had tried to kill me on the Prada floor. It takes more effort to kill with a dagger. You have to do it on purpose. Guns make it too easy.
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