Winter(9)

By: Marissa Meyer



“Not Scarlet,” he said, his voice rough when he said her name. “I’ve been wondering about my parents.”

She blinked. Parents? She had never imagined Wolf with parents. The idea of this hulking man having once been a dependent child didn’t fit. In fact, she couldn’t imagine any of the queen’s soldiers having parents, having once been children, having once been loved. But of course they had—once.

“Oh. Right,” she stammered, smoothing down the skirt of the worn cotton dress she’d taken from the satellite, what felt like ages ago. Though she’d spent a day wearing one of the military uniforms found in her crew quarters, a lifetime spent barefoot and in simple dresses had made the clothes feel heavy and cumbersome. Plus, all of the pants were way too long on her. “Do you think you might see them? When we’re on Luna?”

“It’s not a priority.” He said it like a military general, but his expression carried more emotion than his voice. “But I wouldn’t mind knowing if they’re still alive. Maybe seeing them again, someday.” His jaw flexed. “I was twelve when I was taken away. They must think I’m dead. Or a monster.”

The statement resonated through her body, leaving her chest vibrating. For sixteen years, her father had thought she was dead too, while she’d been told that her parents had willingly sacrificed her to Luna’s shell infanticide. She’d barely been reunited with her father before he died of letumosis, in the labs at New Beijing Palace. She’d tried to mourn his death, but mostly she mourned the idea of having a father at all and the loss of all the time they should have had to get to know each other.

She still thought of him as Dr. Erland, the odd, curmudgeonly old man who had started the cyborg draft in the Eastern Commonwealth. Who had dealt in shell trafficking in Africa.

He was also the man who helped Cinder escape from prison.

So many things he’d done—some good, some terrible. And all, Cinder had told her, because he was determined to end Levana’s rule.

To avenge his daughter. To avenge her.

“Cress?”

She jolted. “Sorry. I don’t … I can’t access Luna’s databases from here. But once we’re on Luna—”

“Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” Wolf leaned against the cockpit wall and clawed his hands into his unkempt hair. He looked like he was on the verge of a meltdown, but that was his normal look these days. “Scarlet’s the priority. The only priority.”

Cress considered mentioning that overthrowing Levana and crowning Cinder as queen were decent-size priorities too, but she dared not.

“Have you mentioned your parents to Cinder?”

He cocked his head. “Why?”

“I don’t know. She mentioned not having any allies on Luna … how it would be useful to have more connections. Maybe they would help us?”

His gaze darkened, both thoughtful and annoyed. “It would put them in danger.”

“I think Cinder might intend to put a lot of people in danger.” Cress worried at her lower lip, then sighed. “Is there anything else you need?”

“For time to move faster.”

Cress wilted. “I meant more like … food, or something. When did you last eat?”

Wolf’s shoulders hunched closer to his ears, and the guilty expression was all the answer she needed. She’d heard rumors of his insatiable appetite and the high-octane metabolism that kept him always fidgeting, always moving. She’d hardly seen any of that since coming aboard the ship, and she could tell that Cinder, in particular, was worried about him. Only when they were discussing strategies for Cinder’s revolution did he seem rejuvenated—his fists flexing and tightening like the fighter he was meant to be.

“All right. I’m going to make you a sandwich.” Standing, Cress gathered her courage, along with her most demanding voice, and planted a hand on her hip. “And you are going to eat it without argument. You need to keep up your strength if you’re going to be of any use to us, and Scarlet.”

Wolf raised an eyebrow at her newfound gumption.

Cress flushed. “Or … at least eat some canned fruit or something.”

His expression softened. “A sandwich sounds good. With … tomatoes, if we have any left. Please.”

“Of course.” Drawing in a deep breath, she grabbed her portscreen and headed toward the galley.

“Cress?”

She paused and turned back, but Wolf was looking at the floor, his arms crossed. He looked about as awkward as she usually felt.

“Thank you.”

Her heart expanded, ballooning with sympathy for him. Words of comfort sprang to her tongue—She’ll be all right. Scarlet will be all right—but Cress stuffed them back down.

“You’re welcome,” she said, before turning into the corridor.

She had nearly reached the galley when she heard Thorne call her name. She paused and backtracked to the last door, left slightly ajar, and pressed it open. The captain’s quarters were the largest of the crew cabins and the only room that didn’t have bunks. Though Cress had been inside plenty of times to help him with the eyedrop solution Dr. Erland made in order to repair Thorne’s damaged optical nerve, she never lingered long. Even with the door wide open, the room felt too intimate, too personal. There was a huge map of Earth on one wall, filled with Thorne’s handwritten notes and markers indicating the places he’d been and the places he wanted to go, along with a dozen to-scale models of different spaceships scattered across the captain’s desk, including a prominent one of a 214 Rampion. The bed was never made.

The first time she’d been in that room she asked Thorne about the map and listened, captivated, while he talked about the things he’d seen, from ancient ruins to thriving metropolises, tropical forests to white-sand beaches. His descriptions had filled Cress with longing. She was happy here on the spaceship—it was roomier than her satellite had been, and the bonds she was forming with the rest of the crew felt like friendship. But she had still seen so little of Earth, and the thought of seeing those things, while standing at Thorne’s side, their fingers laced together … the fantasy made her pulse race every time.

Thorne was sitting in the middle of the floor, holding a portscreen at arm’s length.

“Did you call me?” she asked.

A grin dawned on his face, impishly delighted. “Cress! I thought I heard your footsteps. Come here.” He circled his whole arm, like he could draw her forward with the vacuum it created.

When she reached his side, Thorne flailed his hand around until he found her wrist and pulled her down beside him.

“It’s finally working,” he said, holding up the port again with his free hand.

Cress blinked at the small screen. A net drama was playing, though the feed was muted. “Was it broken?”

“No, the solution. It’s working. I can see”—releasing her wrist, he waved a finger in the screen’s direction—“kind of a bluish light. And the lights in the ceiling.” He tilted his head back, eyes wide and pupils dilated as they tried to take in as much information as they could. “They’re more yellow than the screen. That’s it, though. Light and dark. Some blurry shadows.”

“That’s wonderful!” Although Dr. Erland believed Thorne’s eyesight would begin to improve after a week or so, that week had come and gone with no change. It had now been nearly two weeks since the solution had run out, and she knew the wait had tried even Thorne’s relentless optimism.

“I know.” Crushing his eyes shut, Thorne lowered his head again. “Except, it’s kind of giving me a headache.”

“You shouldn’t overdo it. You might strain them.”

He nodded and pressed a hand over both eyes. “Maybe I should wear the blindfold again. Until things start to come into focus.”

“It’s up here.” Cress stood and found the blindfold and the empty vial of eyedrops nestled among the model ships. When she turned around, Thorne was looking at her, or through her, his brow tense. She froze.

It had been a long time since he looked at her, and back then they’d been scrambling for their lives. That had been before he cut her hair too. She sometimes wondered how much he remembered about what she looked like, and what he would think when he saw her again … practically for the first time.

“I can see your shadow, sort of,” he said, cocking his head. “Kind of a hazy silhouette.”

Gulping, Cress folded the blindfold into his palm. “Give it time,” she said, pretending the thought of him inspecting her, seeing every unspoken confession written across her face, wasn’t terrifying. “The doctor’s notes said your optical nerve would continue to heal for weeks on its own.”

“Let’s hope it starts healing faster after this. I don’t like seeing blurs and shadows.” He twisted the blindfold between his fists. “One of these days, I just want to open my eyes and see you.”

Heat rushed into her cheeks, but the depth of his words hadn’t sunk in before Thorne laughed and scratched his ear. “I mean, and everyone else too, of course.”

She smothered the start of a giddy smile, cursing herself for getting her hopes up again, for the thousandth time, when Thorne had made it quite clear he saw her as nothing more than a good friend, and a loyal member of his crew. He hadn’t tried to kiss her again, not once since the battle atop the palace rooftop. And sometimes she thought he might be flirting with her, but then he’d start flirting with Cinder or Iko and she’d remember that a touch here or a smile there wasn’t special to him like it was to her.

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