She dispatched them to different parts of the Institute: Julian to the attic to check on Arthur, Mark to the kitchen, and Emma to the library to help the twins clean up. Kit had disappeared.
“He hasn’t run away,” Ty informed her helpfully. “He just didn’t want to make beds.”
It was late by the time they finished cleaning up, figured out which bedroom to assign to which Centurion, and made arrangements for food to be delivered the next day. They also set up a patrol to circle the Institute in shifts during the night to watch for rogue sea demons.
Heading down the corridor to her room, Emma noticed that a light was shining out from under Julian’s door. In fact, the door was cracked partway open; music drifted into the hallway.
Without conscious volition, she found herself in front of his room, her hand raised to knock on the door. In fact, she had knocked. She dropped her hand, half in shock, but he had already flung the door open.
She blinked at him. He was in old pajama bottoms, with a towel flung over his shoulder, a paintbrush in one hand. There was paint on his bare chest and some in his hair.
Though he wasn’t touching her, she was aware of his body, the warmth of him. The black spiraling Marks winding down his torso, like vines wreathing a pillar. She had put some of them there herself, back in the days when touching him didn’t make her hands shake.
“Did you want something?” he asked. “It’s late, and Mark is probably waiting for you.”
“Mark?” She’d almost forgotten Mark, for a moment.
“I saw him go into your room.” Paint dripped from his brush, splattered on the floor. She could see past him into his room: She hadn’t been inside it in what felt like forever. There was plastic sheeting on some of the floor, and she could see brighter spots on his wall where he’d clearly been retouching the mural that ran halfway around the room.
She remembered when he’d painted it, after they’d gotten back from Idris. After the Dark War. They’d been lying awake in bed, as they often did, as they had since they were small children. Emma had been talking about how she’d found a book of fairy tales in the library, the kind that mundanes had read hundreds of years ago: how they’d been bloody and full of murder and sadness. She’d spoken of the castle in Sleeping Beauty, surrounded by thorns, and how the story had said that hundreds of princes had tried to break through the barrier to rescue the princess, but they’d all been pierced to death by thorns, their bodies left to whiten to bones in the sun.
The next day Julian had painted his room: the castle and the wall of thorns, the glint of bone and the sad prince, his sword broken at his side. Emma had been impressed, even though they’d had to sleep in her room for a week while the paint dried.
She’d never asked him why the image or the story called to him. She’d always known that if he wanted to tell her, he would.
Emma cleared her throat. “You said I could hurt Diego, without laying a hand on him. What did you mean?”
He pushed his free hand through his hair. He looked disheveled—and so gorgeous it hurt. “It’s probably better if I don’t tell you.”
“He hurt Cristina,” Emma said. “And I don’t even think he cares.”
He reached up to rub the back of his neck. The muscles in his chest and stomach moved when he stretched, and she was aware of the texture of his skin, and wished desperately she could turn back time somehow and be again the person who wasn’t shaken to pieces by seeing Julian—who she’d grown up with, and seen half-clothed a million times—with his shirt off. “I saw his face when Cristina ran out of the entry hall,” he said. “I don’t think you need to worry that he isn’t in any pain.” He put a hand on the doorknob. “No one can read someone else’s mind or guess all their reasons,” he said. “Not even you, Emma.”
He shut the door in her face.
* * *
Mark was sprawled on the floor at the foot of Emma’s bed. His feet were bare; he was half-rolled in a blanket.
He looked asleep, his eyes shadowy crescents against his pale skin, but he half-opened the blue one when she came in. “Is she really all right?”
“Cristina? Yes.” Emma sat down on the floor beside him, leaning against the footboard. “It sucks, but she’ll be okay.”
“It would be hard, I think,” he said, in his sleep-thickened voice, “to deserve her.”