Home > Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)(7)

Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)(7)
Claudia Gray

Though at least once, in the Russiaverse, I might have stepped over the line.

“Not judging you guys. I know it’s different, the way you and Paul handle the journeys. It’s just—” Theo went very still. “I’ve seen who I am as a traveler. I justified some of the worst stuff you could ever do to anybody, because I told myself I was ‘protecting’ you. Really I was delivering you straight into Conley’s hands.”

“Hey. Nobody got hurt.” I nearly touched his shoulder before I remembered I was wearing wet rubber gloves.

He shook his head, and his smile was hard. “No thanks to me. Come on. I helped them kidnap Henry.” Theo gestured toward my father, who at this point might as well be Theo’s adoptive dad too. “I framed my best friend for murder. And I dragged you off on an extremely dangerous trip, just to prove Wyatt Conley could use you after all.”

“You didn’t do any of that!”

“A version of me did. You’ve said a hundred times—every one of our other selves out there is the same in some important way. We have the same framework or essence or soul, whatever you want to call it.” Theo leaned against the refrigerator and sighed. “Listen to me. When a physicist starts talking about souls, we are officially off the map.”

“I don’t think it’s silly or crazy—talking about souls.” I never did, really, but after these journeys began, I learned how real they are, how much they mean.

Theo shrugged. “The point is, we’ve all seen the danger. Apparently, when I get a little bit of power, it goes to my head. Never, ever would I want to turn into a guy who could do anything like what that other Theo did to all of you. So I think it’s better if I stay on the sidelines.”

Although I wanted to reassure him, I couldn’t. I’ve come to believe that there really is something that flows through every version of us, one common identity that outweighs our different situations in the various worlds. The ruthlessness and self-delusion of that other Theo—they have to be a part of this Theo, too, don’t they?

When our eyes met, I knew he could tell what I was thinking. Theo cast down his dark eyes with shame for things he never even chose to do.

The shadow that had haunted us these past three months fell between us again. He turned back to the dishes, attacking them with new vigor; I took my place at his side just like before. Neither of us spoke, because there was nothing more to say.

Afterward, Theo buried himself in his work, taking his laptop onto the back deck. “I need some quiet,” he said, and my parents had the good grace not to ask why. Paul walked him out, though, and it took all my self-control not to eavesdrop on their conversation.

As soon as the door to the deck was closed, Mom blithely said, “Is Paul staying over?”

“Mom.”

“I’m not prying.” She took her seat at the rainbow table again, ready to get back to work. “I simply need to know what I ought to plan for breakfast.”

Our living room might as well be an unofficial university dorm. When grad students work that closely with my parents, they practically move in.

But Mom wasn’t asking whether she should grab blankets for the couch.

Most parents would be freaked out even thinking about their teenage kids having sex. Mine haven’t got around to the freaking-out stage yet, because they are so completely thrilled Paul and I are together.

(Back in January, during that first conversation with my parents about my new relationship with Paul, Mom—prompted by absolutely nothing I’d said, by the way—made a suggestion. “You’ll need a method of birth control. We’ll have to review efficacy rates for condoms, birth control pills, hormonal inserts—”

“Oh, my God.” My face had to have turned carnelian red. “That’s—we’re not—it isn’t an issue yet.”

Which was not addressing what happened in the Russiaverse, but that’s between me and Paul. And another Marguerite, a few dimensions away.

“Will be eventually,” Dad said smoothly. “You and Paul are young, you’re healthy, obviously attracted to each other—it’s only a matter of time. And you don’t want to fall pregnant this early in life, do you?”

Mom brightened as she looked at Dad. “Though the genetic combination—their various talents and potential—think of it, Henry. Were they to reproduce, our grandchild would be extraordinary.”

“Wouldn’t she? Or he?” Dad leaned back on the sofa, where they were relaxing and I was staring in disbelief. “The two of you should have a baby together, by all means. Just not now.”

“Whoa. Slow down.” I held up my hands, like I could physically stop them from this whole line of thought. They didn’t listen.

“Pregnancy and child rearing would seriously interrupt your art studies, and Paul’s defense of his dissertation, at least in the immediate future,” Mom mused. I think if I’d handed her a calendar, she would have started counting off months until the ideal conception date.

Dad took her hand. “You know, Sophie, we could help out. Even be primary caretakers while Marguerite and Paul finished their education. We always wanted another little one around. So the kids might as well get started.” My mother beamed at him, like this was the best idea ever.

When I could speak again, I said, “You guys—you’re—you two are the worst role models ever.”

“We are, aren’t we?” Mom’s smile became so wicked that I finally realized they’d been putting me on—mostly. I balled up one of Josie’s discarded T-shirts and threw it at them, which made them laugh. Much later that night, as my mother and I sat out on the back deck, she finally spoke to me more seriously. “You know how much your father and I like Paul. No—how much we love him.”

I nodded. We were side by side on the wooden steps that led down into our small, nearly vertical scrap of a backyard. The light around us was provided by the strings of tropical-fish lights Josie had put up a long time ago. “This isn’t going to mess things up between everyone, is it?”

Mom put her arm around me. “Marguerite, as dear as Paul is to me, you are my daughter and always my priority. If you and Paul have problems, or break up, I’m on your side. Even if you’re in the wrong! You know you come first.”

Which was really sweet, but not what I’d been asking. Splitting up with Paul—that wasn’t ever going to happen. Really I was worrying about Theo.

She continued, “We are all very much a part of each other’s lives, and our work. To some extent that will always be true. No matter what happens between you and Paul in the future, that connection will remain.” Her fingers combed through my hair, just as curly-ratty as hers. “Lifelong relationships are complicated. It’s a great deal for a new romance to carry.”

“I know,” I said. But I’d already realized Paul and I were meant to be. Destined, in a real, literal, provable sense. You can’t fight destiny, and I didn’t even want to try.)

Paul hasn’t slept over at my house since we got together in this world. Partly that’s because we feel hyperobserved, partly out of consideration for Theo’s feelings, but mostly because we’re taking this slow. Making sure the moment is right.

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