Wylan snorted. “It wasn’t fair. People were left to die, Mole. You really believe in fairness when the world is ending?”
Aria hesitated. She’d seen the survival instinct enough times now, and she’d felt it herself. A force that had pushed her to kill—something she’d never thought she’d do. She remembered Hess tossing her out of the Pod to die in order to protect Soren, his son. She could imagine that in the Unity, fairness wouldn’t have counted for much. What had happened wasn’t fair, she realized, but she still believed in it. Believed that fairness was something worth fighting for.
“Did you come here to be a nuisance, Wylan?” Molly asked.
Wylan licked his lips. “I was just trying to warn the Mole—”
“Thanks,” Aria interrupted. “I’ll make sure not to ask Sable about his great-great-great-great-grandparents. ”
He left with a greasy, curling smile. Molly went back to scratching the mare’s white star. “I like her, Butter. How about you?”
Late in the afternoon, Aria went to Perry’s house, wanting a few minutes alone before the Marking Ceremony. Vale’s room—where she’d spent her first night—was much tidier than the rest of the house. A red blanket lay across the foot of the bed, and there wa
s a chest and a dresser, but nothing more. She’d never met Perry’s brother, but she sensed his presence in the room. The intensity she imagined he’d possessed left her feeling uneasy.
She grabbed Perry’s turtle-falcon from the sill in the other room and set it on the nightstand, smiling at the simple solution. Then she changed into a white undershirt with thin straps, sat on the edge of the bed, and looked at her arms. In some ways, getting Markings would feel like an acceptance—an official one—of herself as an Outsider. As an Audile. As her father’s daughter. Had he broken her mother’s heart? Or had they been torn apart for another reason? Would she ever know the answer?
Outside, people gathered in the clearing. Their animated voices drifted in through the window. A drum pounded a deep heartbeat rhythm. She’d been at the Tide compound two nights now. On the first, she’d provided the tribe with a source of gossip. Last night, she’d entertained them. What would tonight bring?
Aria found her Smarteye in her satchel and held it in her palm. She wished she could use it to reach her friends. What would Caleb think of her getting Markings?
The front door opened and then closed with a solid clunk. Aria stuffed her Smarteye back into her satchel and rose from the bed, listening to the floorboards creak as someone approached. Perry appeared at the door, his green eyes intent and serious. They stood looking at each other, his expression growing softer, her pulse pounding harder.
Perry’s gaze moved to the figurine on the nightstand, honing in on the small change in the room. “I’ll put it back,” she said.
He stepped inside and picked it up. “No. Keep it. It’s yours. ”
“Thank you. ” Aria glanced through the door behind him, to the other room. She felt that strange and unsettling distance between them again—the glass wall keeping them apart, in case someone came into the house.
He set the falcon down and nodded to her satchel. “I thought we’d leave tomorrow at first light. ”
“Are you sure you should leave? I mean, after what happened?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” he said sharply. Perry winced. Then he let out a slow breath and rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m sorry. Reef’s been … Never mind. Sorry. ”
The shadows beneath his eyes seemed darker, and his broad shoulders had a tired slant.
“Did you sleep at all?” she asked.
“No … I can’t. ”
“You mean you couldn’t?”
“No. ” His smile was faint and humorless. “I mean I can’t. ”
“How long?” she asked.
“Since I slept a full night?” He lifted his shoulders. “Since Vale. ”
She couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t slept a decent night in months?
“Aria, this room—” Perry stopped abruptly. He turned and pulled the door shut behind him. Then he leaned against it, hanging his thumbs on his belt, and watched her, waiting, like he expected her to object.
She should have. She’d heard snatches of gossip all day. The Tides were unsettled by the storm, and by what had almost happened to Perry. She didn’t want to add to that. She could just imagine Wylan or Brooke calling her the Mole tramp who had seduced their Blood Lord. But she didn’t care about any of that now. She just wanted to be with him.
“This room?” she said, prompting him.
He relaxed against the door, but his eyes were intent, shining like the chain around his neck. Night was falling outside, and murky blue light seeped through the half-open shutter.