These Broken Stars Page 61

Instead of putting on his soldier voice and saying something about getting a march on the day, he just stretches and gathers me against him with one arm. The other, he tucks behind his head, looking up at the ceiling of the cave, where a little daylight comes through a crack. The light plays over the cavern walls, revealing formations carved over the ages—stalagmites reaching up from the ground for their twins overhead, vast curtains of gleaming limestone dripping down from the ceiling.

“I can’t think of any way inside that building. For now, there’s nothing we have to do that requires immediate attention.”

I prop myself on my elbow, staring at him. “What do you mean, nothing we have to do?”

“Just what I said, beautiful.” He grins at me, making my stomach flutter. No one in my old life would be permitted to grin at me like that. “You think I have any burning desire to get out of bed today?”

I can’t help but smile back at him. He leans up and kisses me, a brief thing before he starts to pull away again. He pauses, eyes half closed, thoughtful, before leaning up once more, taking his time, his mouth warm against mine. By the time he pulls away, my heart is pounding.

“I’ll get us some breakfast,” he says, slipping out of our nest and tucking the blankets back around me. He hauls his pants on but doesn’t bother with his belt, letting them hang low on his hips. I curl into the warm space beside me that he left behind and watch him as he moves around the camp. How is it that I can want him so badly when he’s only been gone from me for a minute?

He rummages in his pack, searching for ration bars. After a moment he pauses, staring down at something in the bag. I see only a flash of silver as he picks it up, closing his hand around it, but I know what it is—the case containing the picture of his family.

It’s then that I realize something that began to take root the day we climbed the wreck, looking for our next move. When I discovered that the thought of living here didn’t hurt. The truth is that I don’t want us to be rescued. I wish I could stay here, with Tarver, forever—even if forever is only a few short years, or months, or days, before the savageness of the planet overcomes us. Because the moment the rescue ships touch down, I’ll never see Tarver Merendsen again.

And this is the thing I’ve been trying to fight, because I know it’s not the same for him. I know he couldn’t be happy here, not when his heart is in a little garden cottage with a teacher and a poet and the memory of his brother.

I watch as he sets the silver case aside, carefully, tenderly. He returns to his search, but I can see the grief lingering in his expression.

It doesn’t matter that being rescued means the end of us—that it means a return, for me, to a life unlived, watched every moment and kept apart from anything that could touch me. All that matters is that he gets home. That his parents don’t have to suffer the loss of their second child.

We have to get inside that building. By the time Tarver returns to me, I am smiling, and I wrap myself around him. But even as he murmurs in my ear, kisses my shoulder, twines his fingers in my hair, my mind is working. I’ll think of a way.

It isn’t until late afternoon that we finally drag ourselves from bed, and only then because we need to refill the canteen from the spring. We locate clothes and take a walk through the woods afterward, making our way back toward the building.

I try the shutters again; he taps at the door to gauge its thickness. We share a few ideas, each more improbable than the last. Tentatively we think about some sort of battering ram, but even if we use the rusted tools to chop down a tree, there’s no way the two of us could lift and swing a log big enough to break a steel door. Whatever supplies or equipment might be inside stay firmly locked up.

I hear whispers of sound at the edge of my hearing, rising like rain hissing across the grass toward me. There’s an urgency in the voices that moan in my ear, pleading, pained. They’re always coming from the station itself—we’re not the only ones who desperately want to find a way to get the station open. The whispers have been leading us here all along, and now they’re beseeching us to come inside.

Eventually, as dusk approaches, we give up and return to our cave to rekindle the fire and reassemble our bed, which, over the course of last night, got scattered about the place. As I’m rebuilding pillows and settling blankets, Tarver’s crouched by the fire. Tonight he’s building it up high. Easier to be naked, he says, when you’re not freezing.

“Slumming’s not so bad, is it, Miss LaRoux?” he teases, flopping onto our makeshift bed and pulling me down on top of him.

Frustration flares, despite the urge to let it slide under the circumstances. “Do you really have to do that, after everything? Act like you’re beneath me?”

He smiles again, shrugging, dismissive. “The whole universe knows I’m beneath you, Miss LaRoux. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Fifty thousand people on that ship, give or take.” I choose my words carefully. “Three thousand of them soldiers. At least a dozen decorated war heroes. I looked at you.”

He starts to speak, but I run my hand along his arm, and this is enough to make him hesitate, voice catching in his throat at my touch. This newfound power is intoxicating.

“Do you think I like you just because you saved my life? Because you know what to do and I don’t, because you make sure I eat enough and you keep me from losing my mind? Because you’re the only man on the planet?”

He protests, but I see it in his face. I’m not completely wrong.

“It is,” I whisper. “It’s because of all those things. It’s because of your strength, but it’s because of your goodness too, and your softness. You act like you inherited nothing from your mother, but that’s not true. There’s—there’s poetry in you.”

He inhales sharply, the arm around me tightening and his fingers twisting into my hair, tugging at it, tugging me close. I can’t breathe—I don’t want to. When he speaks his voice shakes a little, the way it did right before he kissed me for the first time.

“Sometimes you take all my words away from me.” He leans back onto his elbow, then pulls me down to him so he can stop me answering with the press of his lips. When he breaks the kiss I end up blinking down at him, breathless.

“I’m still not sure you’re right, Miss LaRoux,” he murmurs. “I am beneath you.”

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