Home > Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)(10)

Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)(10)
Claudia Gray

“I still can’t wrap my head around it,” Josie admitted as she walked past me to flop down on the sofa. She wore the same fleece pullover and leggings she would for a 5K run. “You couldn’t stand the guy, and now you’re in love with him.”

“That’s not true.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Can’t stand is way too strong. I just thought he was . . . kind of weird. That’s all.”

“Paul is kind of weird,” Josie said. “But in a good way.”

“Then why are you being so strange about my getting together with him?”

Instead of answering right away, Josie sipped her coffee, deep in thought. Finally she said, “Right after you came home with Dad, when you’d first fallen for Paul—you told me you realized you loved him while you were in the Russiaverse.”

I remembered Lieutenant Markov waltzing with me alone in an enormous, ornate room of the Winter Palace, music playing from a phonograph in the corner, his hand warm against the small of my back. “Yeah. I did.”

“Okay.” She hesitated, and I realized she was worried about offending me. Josie usually doesn’t worry about offending anyone. I knew it would be bad. “Are you sure it’s not just that world’s Paul you loved? Because when you told me about it—Marguerite, you fell really deeply for Lieutenant Markov. And even though he’s another version of Paul, they’re not the same guy.”

Obviously she expected me to blow up. But I wasn’t angry. Josie hasn’t traveled to other dimensions yet. That means she can’t grasp what I’ve learned.

“Lieutenant Markov isn’t identical to my Paul Markov,” I said. “I know that. Still, something in them is the same. Something deep—the deepest, most meaningful part of who we are, that’s the part that lives in every universe. In every person we could ever be. I fell in love with that Paul, and my Paul, because I fell in love with what’s the same inside them—their souls, if you want to call them that. Or soul. Singular. One.”

My sister didn’t look convinced. “You really believe that? That you’re in love with every Paul, everywhere?”

“I don’t believe,” I said. “I know.”

When we visited Theo at the hospital that afternoon, everything about his room there was depressing: the plain, cheerless walls; the TV hanging from a black metal adjustable arm, showing a generic action movie from cable; and above all the plastic-framed adjustable bed. Theo had propped himself up, and he grinned when he saw us, but he was still so pale. Yet he sounded cheerful, for our sakes. “About time you two showed up.”

“I brought some things from your apartment,” Paul said.

“Not that you’ll be here very long!” I quickly added. “But you might want your stuff.”

“All the comforts of home, huh?” Theo smiled. God, we were all trying so hard to be upbeat, and failing. “Okay, hit me.”

“First of all,” I said, “that blue hospital gown? Not your best look. So, here.” From the cardboard box I took Theo’s straw hat, the one he bought at the beach last summer.

He let me set it on his head, then reset it at a rakish angle. “I don’t even need a mirror to tell me how much better I look.”

“Smokin’ hot,” I promised.

Paul didn’t bother reassuring him, just plowed on. “I also brought your e-reader, your cell, some headphones, and a pair of argyle socks.”

With a frown, Theo said, “Socks?”

“In case your feet got cold,” Paul replied, like that should be obvious.

Theo sighed. “You’re worrying about my toes getting chilly, little brother? Trust me, we have bigger problems to deal with.”

I think he meant it as a joke, but Paul and I looked at each other with growing dread.

We already knew what we had to do. In the car afterward, we didn’t even discuss other options—just argued over who would get to save Theo. I said, “You know I should be the one to go.”

“No,” Paul said, in that zero-arguments tone that sometimes drives me crazy.

“The version of you in the Triadverse ran off to South America, remember?” We appear in our alternate selves, wherever they happen to be, and we have to deal with whatever situation we leap into. I’ve fallen down staircases, woken up underwater, you name it.

Paul insisted, “I wouldn’t have to be in Triad headquarters to get the information. All I need is a computer, a wireless link, and the ability to get through Triad’s security.”

“You know Conley has to have beefed up his systems since then.”

“That would be the logical move, yes.”

“So you see the problems?”

“I may not be the ideal candidate, but you’re even worse.”

Paul’s bluntness felt like a smack in the face. I’ve learned not to get my feelings hurt too quickly, though. He never means to be hurtful; he just doesn’t know how to phrase things. So I said only, “You want to explain that?”

“At least I have a chance of getting the information while remaining undetected,” Paul pointed out. “You have none.”

I didn’t want him to be right, but he was. My knowledge of computers begins and ends with hit power switch, magic box comes on. Why do I have to be the only right-brained person in the family? Paul is hardly an expert hacker, but he knows a thing or two about getting past firewalls. “When did you get so good with computer security, anyway?”

Paul sighed. “Theo taught me.”

His free hand rested against my leg; I tangled my fingers with his. “He took you under his wing from day one, huh?”

“Not day one. But early on—after I called out an error in one of his equations. At first he was pissed off, but the next afternoon he said he’d rather have me on his side.”

That sounded about right. Theo has an ego the size of the Golden Gate Bridge. His saving grace is that he’s as ready to admire others as he is to admire himself.

Paul spoke so tentatively, like he’d never tried to say any of this out loud before and didn’t know how. “I’d never gone out to a club before Theo took me. Never even drank a beer. So he took me out with him. He called it ‘remedial adolescence.’”

No wonder Paul idolized Theo. But he didn’t know the other Theo. Not like I did. I was the one who’d been led into Triad headquarters for Wyatt Conley to take captive, the one who was physically attacked in a submarine. The one Theo kissed and claimed to care about while he was faking Dad’s death and framing Paul for the murder.

Theo has so much goodness in him—but there’s darkness there too. Even that afternoon, when I was more afraid for him than I’d ever been, I couldn’t help questioning how much the Triadverse’s Theo and our own have in common.

Paul had no such doubts. His loyalty to Theo was, and is, absolute. If he had to break Wyatt Conley’s truce to save Theo, so be it.

Conley had said only that we had to stay out of the Triadverse. But the Triadverse invented Nightthief—which meant if any cure or treatment existed, that was the only world where we’d be able to find it.

First the two of us headed back to Paul’s dorm room. Since we had no idea how long his journey would be, we needed him to leave from a location that could be sealed off to be sure nobody was in the wrong place when he returned, and his physical body once again started interacting with our universe. Like, if he left from our couch, but somebody was sitting on that couch the moment he came back—my parents aren’t one hundred percent certain what would happen, but it could lead to both bodies being fused together in a very permanent, possibly fatal, and definitely gross way.

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