These Broken Stars Page 82

Tarver looks down at where I’m grasping his arms, and then looks back up, grinning. I haven’t seen him smile like that since before I lit that fuse. “I chose you. And I don’t think they wanted me dead—I think they wanted us both to make it through.”

I look over at the metal ring that circled the rift. The blue light is gone, leaving only the empty cage my father’s company built to contain the whispers. Tarver follows my gaze, his own smile dimming.

“They wanted an end,” he says softly. “They were stretched too thin to go home.”

Power gone, the last of the monitors fade, leaving us in utter blackness. Afterimages linger in front of my eyes—but not of the screens. “For a moment I saw them. All of them. They were once all part of each other in a way we could never…it was beautiful, Tarver. I wish you could’ve seen it.”

His arm tightens around me as he kisses the top of my head. Then he pulls away so he can get to his feet, keeping hold of my hand in the dark to help me up.

My head spins as I stand, but I can feel my strength returning. I open my mouth, but there’s a low groan of metal that sends vibrations through the grid floor to our feet.

“What was—”

Another scream of metal interrupts me, the ground shaking beneath us. Tarver’s hand tightens in mine, and I hear him turn away.

“The station—the shock wave from the rift collapse must’ve…come on!” He jerks at my arm, and though I brace myself, it doesn’t hurt like it would’ve a few minutes ago. As soon as I move I can hear something huge—the metal containment device, perhaps—come crashing down where I stood.

Together we careen out into the corridor, sprinting up the slight incline in pitch blackness. There’s not the tiniest scrap of light, though my eyes keep trying to adjust to the darkness anyway, picking out imagined shapes looming ahead. Tarver keeps his hand wrapped firmly around mine, and I find myself growing stronger with each step. My blood races, my heart pounds—my lungs work for the first time in what feels like weeks.

Tarver collides with the ladder, the clang of impact lost in a flood of curses. He shoves me up in front of him. The world is reduced to the sound of our harsh breathing and the clang of our feet on the rungs. The ladder bucks beneath us as shudders run through the station. I collapse on the ground just above the hatch, and Tarver scrambles up behind me and drags me to my feet. There’s light here, just enough for us to make out the doorways and the rubble, and beyond it the clearing lit by starlight so bright it dazzles my eyes.

We scramble for the exit just as the floor caves in, and for a horrible moment it’s like I’m in the escape pod again while gravity outside wars with gravity inside—my head spins and I can’t figure out which way is up. Tarver’s hand closes around my wrist, and then I find purchase on the grass, and we drag ourselves up and over the lip of the cave-in.

For long, labored moments all I can see are spots as my lungs heave for air, and though Tarver tries a few times to get back to his feet, eventually he’s forced to concede defeat and we just lie there, listening to the last remains of the building collapsing in on itself.

After the underground darkness, the stars seem like fiery beacons, bright and promising. I drag myself up so that I can look down at Tarver, who’s still half dazed, searching for breath.

“You stupid, stupid man,” I murmur, reaching for his face, tracing the path the starlight takes across the bridge of his nose, over his cheekbones. “We have no way of signaling now. If those were ships up there, they’ll never find us. You’ll never go home.”

Tarver presses a hand into the dirt and hauls himself upright so he can look at me properly. “I am home.” He lifts his hand when I start to protest. “My parents would understand. If they knew what was happening here, they’d tell me so.”

“Still, how could you do such a thing? The signal was working. They would have seen it.”

“It was killing you,” he says simply.

I’m already dead. The words hover on my tongue, but remain unsaid. Because now, here, for the first time, those words aren’t true. I draw a long breath, watching the way it steams the air when I exhale.

Tarver eases closer, reaching for my hand. I’m still weak from so long eating next to nothing and sleeping so little. But my muscles respond to my commands. My hand, as I twine my fingers through his, doesn’t tremble.

For the first time since I was brought back, something inside me flickers, warm and vital. Hope. Together we stagger to our feet and move away from the sinkhole that used to be the station.

Tarver starts to let go of my hand, but I tighten my fingers through his, and he watches me for a long moment. I don’t pull away. He lifts our joined hands and kisses my fingers, his eyes closing as his lips linger against my skin.

I can’t help but wonder which is worse: losing the girl you love suddenly or being unable to touch her while she wastes away.

“How do you feel?” he asks, watching me intently.

“Incredible. Alive. Tarver, how did you know?”

“I didn’t.” He’s still watching our joined hands. “But I just—I sensed they didn’t want us hurt. They just wanted to be free. I guessed.”

A little chill ripples through me, and at my shiver, Tarver hauls off his jacket and wraps it around my shoulders. “Pretty big guess,” I point out.

“I had to believe it.”

“You picked a hell of a time to start believing in hunches and feelings.” I pull the jacket more tightly around myself and flash him a smile.

His arm around me tightens, and for a little while we just listen to the breeze stirring the leaves overhead.

“What do we do now?” I let my head lean back, looking up at the sky.

“Hell if I know,” he replies cheerfully. “Start building a house, I guess.”

I laugh again, startling myself with how easy it is. I didn’t think I remembered how. “Can it have a garden?”

“A dozen gardens.”

“And a bathtub?”

“Big enough for both of us.”

“Can I help?”

“I’m certainly not doing it all on my own.”

I shift my weight and lean against him.

“We should get some rest first,” he says, turning his head to touch his lips to my temple. “We can start on the house tomorrow. Shall we go back to the cave? Some idiot destroyed your bedroom.”

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