Lady Smoke (Ash Princess Trilogy #2)(3)

I’m not sure I want to give it to him, for that matter, but there is a part of me holding on to the hope that he will laugh it off and tell me I’m wrong.

I take a deep, steadying breath. “Before we left Astrea, when Erik was telling me what berserkers were, he mentioned the symptoms,” I say slowly.

Next to me, Blaise stiffens, but he doesn’t look at me and he doesn’t interrupt, so I push on.

“He said that as their mine madness gets worse, their skin runs hot and they begin to lose control of their gifts. He said they don’t sleep.”

Blaise shudders out a breath. “It’s not that simple,” he says quietly.

I shake my head to clear it, then push off the railing, folding my arms over my chest. “You’re blessed,” I tell him. “It’s how you survived the mine, how you’ve survived in the years since you left. You can’t be…” I can’t force myself to say the words. Mine-mad. It’s only one word, two syllables, each one innocuous enough on its own. Together, though, they are so much bigger.

I want so badly for him to tell me I’m right, that of course it isn’t mine madness, of course it isn’t fatal. Instead, he says nothing. He stays frozen, hunched over the railing on his elbows, hands clutched tightly in front of him.

“I don’t know, Theo,” he says finally. “I don’t think I am…sick,” he says, unable to utter mine-mad either. “But I’ve never really felt like I was blessed either.”

The confession comes out in a whisper lost in the night air, never to be spoken of again. I wonder if this is the first time he’s said the words out loud.

I touch his shoulder, forcing him to face me before placing my hand on his chest, where I know he bears a mark, right over his heart. “I’ve seen what you can do, Blaise,” I tell him. “Glaidi blessed you, I know it. Maybe your power is different from other Guardians’, but it’s not…it’s not that. It’s something more. It has to be.”

For a second, he looks like he wants to argue, but then he places his hand over mine and holds it there. I try to ignore how hot his skin is.

“Why couldn’t you sleep?” he asks me finally.

I can’t tell him about my nightmare, but I can’t lie to him either. I settle for something in the middle—a partial truth.

“I can’t sleep alone,” I tell him, as if it’s as simple as that. We both know it isn’t.

I wait for the judgment to come, for him to tell me how ridiculous that is, that I shouldn’t miss having Shadows to watch my every move. But of course, he doesn’t. He knows that’s not what I’m saying at all.

“I’ll sleep with you,” he says before realizing what he said. It’s too dark out to say for sure, but I think his ears turn red. “I mean…well, you know what I mean. I can be there, if that will help.”

I smile slightly. “I think it will,” I say, and because I can’t resist, I don’t stop there. “I would sleep even better if you tried to sleep, too.”

“Theo,” he says with a sigh.

“I know,” I say. “It isn’t that simple. I just wish it were.”

* * *

As Blaise and I make our way to my cabin, I feel the eyes of the crew on us. I can imagine how this looks to them, the two of us walking together at this hour. By sunrise, they’ll all be whispering that Blaise and I are lovers. I would rather people didn’t whisper about me at all, but if that rumor eclipses the ones about S?ren and me, I wouldn’t mind.

A romance with Blaise is a much better rumor because it’s one the crew will support wholeheartedly, if for no other reason than that he’s Astrean. And the more support I have from the crew, the better. I can’t help but remember how dismissive Dragonsbane was when I came on board, how she spoke to me like I was a lost child instead of a queen. Her queen. I worry it’s going to get worse.

I force myself to stop that line of thought. How did I become so conniving? I do have feelings for Blaise and I know he has them for me as well, but I didn’t even consider that. I went straight to plotting, straight to seeing how he could be used to my political advantage. How did I become that sort of person?

I’m thinking like the Kaiser. The realization sends a shudder through me.

Blaise feels it. “Are you all right?” he asks as I open the door to my cabin and lead him inside.

I turn to look at him, and push the Kaiser’s voice out of my mind. I don’t think about who saw us come in or what they’ll say or how I can work that to my advantage. I don’t think about what we talked about a few moments ago. I just think about us, alone in a room together.

“Thank you for staying with me,” I say instead of answering.

He smiles briefly before glancing away. “It’s you who’s doing me a favor. I’m bunking with Heron, and he snores loud enough to shake the whole ship.”

I laugh.

“I’ll lie on the floor while you sleep,” he says.

“Don’t,” I say, surprising myself.

His eyes widen slightly as he looks at me. It feels like we’re going to stand here in frozen, awkward silence for eons, so I break the spell. I step toward him and take him by the hand.

“Theo,” he says, but I press a finger to his lips before he can ruin this with warnings I don’t want to hear.

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