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Heidi took over the watch at least two hours ago. I spent the first thirty minutes sitting near her, trying to start a conversation so I could build a possible alliance, but I might as well have been talking to the log I leaned against for all the response I got. Finally, I gave up and wandered over to lie by the ashes of our campfire, close enough to Samuel to feel marginally safe getting some rest but far enough removed that I feel cocooned in my own little corner of darkness.
I’m under no illusions. Heidi never looks my way, but she’s aware of me just as I’m aware of her. Besides, an hour after Heidi took up the watch, Ian joined her. He never looked my way either, but Ian knows me. He’ll be ready for anything I try.
So I lie on my back and watch the stars slowly drift by while Samuel curls up inside his bedroll and snores. Heidi and Ian stand beside the log Samuel used as a post for his watch, their heads close together. It looks like they’re arguing about something, but only the occasional echo of their words reaches me. Either they’re being quiet to preserve their ability to be alert to dangers approaching the camp, or they don’t want me to hear what they’re saying. Or both.
I’ve tried to sleep, knowing I’ll need to be ready for anything once we start traveling in the morning, but I can’t seem to manage it for more than a few minutes at a time. My chest feels hollowed out, and everything in me longs to crawl away from this camp, disappear into the Wasteland, and make my way back to Logan. Missing him feels like something I was born to do. I breathe. I blink. I miss Logan. I couldn’t stop it if I tried.
I don’t try. I want the hurt. The ache that threads through my body until I can’t separate the pain in my arm from the pain in my heart. Ian was right about one thing—pain reminds me that I’m still alive. Still here. Still moving forward even when it would be so much easier to stop.
I’m exhausted and on edge. Sleep feels impossible. I can’t stop circling around the thought that, once upon a time, Ian was a boy with dreams not so very different from mine.
He deserves to die for destroying Baalboden. For murdering innocent people. Nothing will change that. But the boy with dreams also deserved to have his family remain whole. To follow in his father’s footsteps instead of being the one responsible for ending his father’s life.
I know all about the cruel ways life poisons the dreams we have and plunges us into darkness instead. I understand losing sight of the right choices because the wrong ones feel like the only salvation from pain that is too terrible to bear.
Something hot and wet slips down my face and drips onto my neck. I raise my good arm and wipe my cheeks. I’m crying. Again. This is all Quinn’s fault. Ever since he pushed me to crack the wall of silence inside and start feeling bits and pieces of the grief and guilt that belong to me, tears just . . . happen. It’s like my body knows I need to grieve and refuses to wait for me to give in to it.
I sit up and blink away the tears, even as more form in their wake. This is ridiculous. I can’t even think about Ian—the boy I want to kill—without feeling emotional and weepy. I scrub my face dry and glance at Samuel.
Still asleep. At least I don’t have an audience for this. Even if it would reinforce my image as the girl who must be protected, I can’t stand the thought of feeling raw and vulnerable in front of him again. Especially when I now know he blames me for Ian’s brokenness.
Before more unwanted empathy for Ian can swamp me, I begin to count all the ways in which he and I are different. True, we both lost our fathers because of the treachery set in motion years ago by the Commander, but my father died a hero. Ian killed his father because his leader told him to. Before I can feel vindicated that I would never have obeyed orders like that, I remember watching Oliver die in front of me because I was too scared of the Commander to fight back.
A sob tears through me, and I shove my cloak against my mouth to muffle the sound.
Comparing my situation with Ian’s is getting me nowhere. I need to take action and fix this before the entire tide of pent-up loss inside of me breaks loose. I glance toward Heidi and Ian. They’ve moved away from the log and are standing just inside the eastern edge of the Wasteland, facing away from the campsite. Whispered snatches of their conversation float past me.
“. . . other technicians . . .”
“. . . don’t need it . . .”
“. . . Logan . . .”
That does it. I need to know what they’re saying. I lean toward them and hold my breath, straining to hear more.
As if Ian can feel the weight of my gaze, he turns his head in my direction. Quickly, I lie back down and hold perfectly still. My pulse thrums against my ears. My hands itch to grab the knife in my boot. My tears, thankfully, have dried. Nothing like a little spike of adrenaline to shove a girl into a warrior’s mind-set again.
I count to one hundred, my back pressed against the rough dirt of our campsite, and then count to one hundred again for good measure. A breeze tangles with the oak leaves that surround us, and something skitters across a branch to the left of me. Samuel snores softly to the right.
When I finish counting, I slowly turn my head and look. Heidi and Ian are gone, though faint snatches of conversation still ghost through the night. They must’ve moved farther into the Wasteland. Apparently, they’re willing to compromise their ability to guard me in order to keep me from overhearing them.