The front door rattled open, startling Cristina into knocking a dish from the table. It fell to the floor and shattered. She was about to pick it up when she saw Julian come in, closing the door behind him—Locking runes were more common than keys in Idris, but he didn’t reach for his stele, just looked sightlessly from the entryway to the stairs.
Cristina stood frozen. Julian looked like the ghost from a Shakespeare play. He clearly hadn’t changed since the Council Hall; his shirt and jacket were stiff with dried blood.
She never quite knew how to talk to Julian anyway; she knew more about him than was comfortable, thanks to Emma. She knew he was desperately in love with her friend; it was obvious in the way he looked at Emma, spoke to her, in gestures as tiny as handing her a dish across a table. She didn’t know how everyone else didn’t see it too. She’d known other parabatai and they didn’t look at each other like that.
Having such personal information about someone was awkward at the best of times. This wasn’t the best of times. Julian’s expression was blank; he moved into the hall, and as he walked, his sister’s dried blood flaked off his jacket and drifted to the floor.
If she just stood still, Cristina thought, he might not see her, and he might go upstairs and they’d both be spared an awkward moment. But even as she thought it, the bleakness in his face tugged at her heart. She was in the doorway before she realized she’d moved.
“Julian,” she said quietly.
He didn’t seem startled. He turned to face her as slowly as an automaton winding down. “How are they?”
How did you answer that? “They’re well taken care of,” she said finally. “Helen has been here, and Diana, and Mark.”
“Ty . . .”
“Is still asleep.” She tugged nervously at her skirt. She’d changed all her clothes since the Council Hall, just to feel clean.
For the first time, he met her eyes. His were shot through with red, though she didn’t remember having seen him cry. Or maybe he had cried when he was holding Livvy—she didn’t want to remember that. “Emma,” he said. “Is she all right? You’d know. She would—tell you.”
“She’s with Drusilla. But I’m sure she’d like to see you.”
“But is she all right?”
“No,” Cristina said. “How could she be all right?”
He glanced toward the steps, as if he couldn’t imagine the effort it would take to climb them. “Robert was going to help us,” he said. “Emma and me. You know about us, I know that you do, that you know how we feel.”
Cristina hesitated, stunned. She’d never thought Julian would mention any of this to her. “Maybe the next Inquisitor—”
“I passed through the Gard on my way back,” Julian said. “They’re already meeting. Most of the Cohort and half the Council. Talking about who’s going to be the next Inquisitor. I doubt it’s going to be someone who will help us. Not after today. I should care,” he said. “But right now I don’t.”
A door opened at the top of the steps, and light spilled onto the dark landing. “Julian?” Emma called. “Julian, is that you?”
He straightened a little, unconsciously, at the sound of her voice. “I’ll be right there.” He didn’t look at Cristina as he went up the stairs, but he nodded to her, a quick gesture of acknowledgment.
She heard his footsteps die away, his voice mingling with Emma’s. She glanced back at the kitchen. The broken dish lay in the corner. She could sweep it up. It would be the more practical thing to do, and Cristina had always thought of herself as practical.
A moment later she had thrown her gear jacket on over her clothes. Tucking several seraph blades into her weapons belt, she slipped quietly out the door and into the streets of Alicante.
* * *
Emma listened to the familiar sound of Julian coming up the stairs. The tread of his feet was like music she had always known, so familiar it had almost stopped being music.
Emma resisted calling out again—she was in Dru’s room, and Dru had just fallen asleep, worn-out, still in the clothes she’d worn to the Council meeting. Emma heard Julian’s step in the hall, and then the sound of a door opening and closing.