Throughout the morning, we hunt for more opportunities to make money—naive police to pickpocket, stuff in trash bins to resell, unguarded pier crates to pry open—and when that’s done, we find a new spot to camp for the night. I try to keep my thoughts on Eden, on the money I need to collect before it’s too late, but I start thinking up new ways to mess with the Republic’s war campaign instead. I could hitch a ride on an airship, siphon off its precious fuel, then sell it on the market or divvy it up to people who need it. I could destroy the airship altogether before it heads off to the warfront. Or target the electric grids of Batalla or the airfield bases, cut their power and shut them down. These thoughts keep me occupied.
But every now and then, when I steal a glance at the Girl, or feel her eyes on me, I helplessly drift back to thinking about her.
NEARLY 2000 HOURS.
AT LEAST 80°F.
THE BOY AND I SIT TOGETHER IN THE BACK OF ANOTHER alley while Tess sleeps a short distance away. The boy has given her his vest again. I watch as he files his nails down by scraping them with the edge of his knife. He’s taken the cap off his head, for once, and combed through the tangles in his hair.
He’s in a good mood. “You want a sip?” he asks me.
A bottle of nectar wine sits between us. It’s cheap stuff, probably made from those bland sea grapes that grow in ocean water. But the boy acts like this wine is the best thing in the world. He’d stolen a case of bottles from a shop at Winter sector’s edge earlier in the evening and sold all but this one for a grand total of 650 Notes. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly he gets around the sectors. His agility is on par with the top students at Drake.
“I’ll have some if you do,” I say. “Can’t let your stolen goods go to waste, can I?”
He grins at that. I watch as he stabs his knife into the bottle’s cork, then pops it out and throws his head back for a long swig. He wipes a thumb across his mouth and smiles at me. “Delicious,” he says. “Have some.”
I accept the bottle and take a small sip before handing it back to him. Salty aftertaste, just as I thought. At least it might ease the pain in my side.
We continue taking turns—large swigs for him, small sips for me—until he recorks the bottle, seeming to put it away the instant he feels it dulling his awareness. Even so, his eyes look glossier, and the blue irises take on a lovely, reflective sheen.
He may not let himself lose his ability to focus, but I can tell that the wine has relaxed him. “So tell me,” I decide to ask. “Why do you need so much money?”
The boy laughs. “Is that a serious question? Don’t we all want more money? Can you ever have enough?”
“You like answering all my questions with your own questions?”
He laughs again. But when he speaks, his voice has a sad tinge to it. “Money is the most important thing in the world, you know. Money can buy you happiness, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks. It’ll buy you relief, status, friends, safety . . . all sorts of things.”
I watch as his eyes take on a faraway look. “It seems like you’re in an awful hurry to stock up.”
This time he shoots me an amused look. “Why wouldn’t I be? You’ve probably lived on the streets as long as I have. You should know the answer to that, yeah?”
I look down. I don’t want him to see the truth. “I guess so.”
We sit in silence for a moment.
The boy speaks up. When he does, there’s such a tender quality to his voice that I can’t help looking up at him. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this,” he begins. He doesn’t blush, and his eyes don’t dart away. Instead I find myself staring into a pair of oceans—one perfect, the other blemished by that tiny ripple. “You’re very attractive.”
I’ve been complimented on my appearance before. But never in his tone of voice. Of all the things he’s said, I don’t know why this catches me off guard. But it startles me so much that without thinking I blurt out, “I could say the same about you.” I pause. “In case you didn’t know.”
A slow grin spreads across his face. “Oh, trust me. I know.”
I laugh. “Nice to hear something honest.” I can’t break away from his stare. Finally, I manage to add, “Well, I think you’ve had too much wine, my friend.” I keep my voice as light as I can. “A little sleep will do you good.”
The words have barely left my mouth when the boy leans closer and places his hand on my cheek. All my training would have me block his hand and pin it to the ground. But now I do nothing but sit perfectly still. He pulls me to him. I take a breath before he touches his lips to mine.
I taste the wine on his lips. He kisses me gently at first and then, as if he’s reaching for something more, he pushes me against the wall and kisses me harder. His lips are warm and so soft—his hair brushes against my face. I try to focus. (Not his first time. He’s definitely kissed other girls before, and quite a few at that. He’s—he seems like he’s short of breath. . . . ) The details flit away. I grab at them in vain. It takes me a moment to realize I’m kissing him just as hungrily. I feel the knife at his waist against my own skin, and I tremble. It’s too warm here, there’s too much heat on my face.
He pulls away first. We stare at each other in bewildered silence, like neither of us can quite grasp what just happened.
Then he regains his composure, and as I struggle to regain mine, he leans back against the wall beside me and sighs. “Sorry,” he murmurs. He gives me a look laced with mischief. “I couldn’t help it. But at least now it’s over with.”