“He did,” I said quietly, and the nurse shuddered, wiping her hands. She pulled up Ash’s shirt, revealing a layer of gauze that was just beginning to seep blood onto the mattress. “At least the bandaging was done properly,” she mused. “Very nice, clean work. Your handiwork, I presume, Goodfellow?”

“Which one?”

“The bandage, Robin.”

“Yeah, that was mine, too.”

The nurse sighed, bending over Ash, studying the cuts on his face, peeling away the gauze to see the stab wound. Her brow furrowed. “So, let me get this straight,” she continued, looking at Puck. “You stabbed Ash, prince of the Winter Court.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“And, judging by both of your conditions—” her eyes flickered to my throat and Puck’s bloody shoulder “—I’m guessing the Winter prince did that to you, as well.”

“Right again.”

“Which means you were fighting each other.” The nurse’s eyes narrowed.

“Which means he was probably trying to kill you, yes?”

“Well…” I stammered.

“So, why in the name of all that’s sacred do you want me to heal him? Not that I won’t,” she added, holding up her hand, “but what’s to stop him from attacking you again? Or me, for that matter?”

“He won’t,” I said quickly. “I promise, he won’t.”

“Are you planning to use him as a hostage, is that it?”

“No! It’s just—” I sighed. “It’s a long story.”

“Well, you will have to tell me later,” the nurse sighed, standing up. “Your friend is very lucky,” she continued, crossing the room to take a porcelain jar off the shelf. “I don’t know how he didn’t die, but he is strong, to survive as long as he did. He must’ve been in terrible pain.” She returned to his side, shaking her head as she knelt beside him. “I can heal his surface wounds, but I don’t know what I can do about the iron sickness. He must recover from that himself. It is better if he returns to Tir Na Nog after this. His body will throw off the sickness faster in his own land.”

“That’s not really an option,” I ventured. The nurse snorted.

“Then I’m afraid he will be quite weak for a long, long time.” She straightened and turned around, staring at us with her hands on her hips. “Now I need to work. Both of you, out. If you’re tired, use the extra bed in the adjoining room, but don’t disturb my other patient. The prince will be fine, but I can’t be tripping over you every few seconds. Go on, now. Get.”

Making shooing motions with her hands, she chased us from the room and slammed the door behind us.

EVEN EXHAUSTED, I was too worried to sleep. I wandered the healer’s small cabin like a restless cat, checking the door every ten seconds, waiting for it to open. Ash was on the other side, and I didn’t know what was happening to him. I drove Puck and the satyr with the broken leg crazy, drifting from one room to the next, until Puck threatened, only half jokingly, to put a sleeping spell on me if I didn’t relax. To which I threatened, only half jokingly, that I would kill him if he did.

Finally, the door creaked open and the nurse stepped out, bloodstained and weary-eyed, her hair in disarray.

“He’s fine,” she told me as I rushed up, the question on the tip of my tongue.

“Like I said before, he’s still weak from the iron-sickness, but he’s no longer in any danger. Though I must say—” and she glared at me fiercely, “—the boy almost snapped my wrist when I tried sewing his wounds shut. Wretched Unseelie, the only thing they know is violence.”

“Can I see him?”

She eyed me over her gold-rimmed glasses, and sighed. “I should tell you no, he needs his rest, but you wouldn’t listen to me, anyway. So yes, you can see him, but keep it short. Oh, and Robin,” she said, crooking a finger at Puck, “a word.”

Puck gave me a grimace of mock terror and followed the nurse from the room. I watched them leave, then slipped quietly into the darkened room, closing the door behind me.

Easing over to his bed, I sat beside him and studied his face. The cuts were still there, but they were faded now, less severe. His shirt was off, and clean bandages wrapped his stomach and torso. His breathing was slow and deep, his chest rising and falling with each breath. I reached down and gently placed a hand over his heart, wanting to touch him, to feel his heartbeat under my fingers. His face was peaceful, free of harsh lines or worries, but even in sleep, he looked a little sad.

Preoccupied with watching his face, I didn’t see his arm move until strong fingers curled gently over mine. My stomach leaped as I looked down, seeing my hand trapped within his, and glanced back at his face. His silver eyes were open now, staring at me, his expression unreadable in the darkness. My breath caught in my throat.

“Hi,” I whispered, for lack of anything to say. He continued to watch me, unmoving, and I rattled on. “Um, the nurse says you’re going to be fine now. You’ll be a little sick from the iron, but that should fade with time.” He remained silent, his eyes never leaving my face, and my cheeks started to burn. Maybe he just had a nightmare, and I’d startled him by creeping into his room like a stalker. I was lucky he hadn’t snapped my wrist like he almost did with the nurse. “Sorry if I woke you,” I muttered, attempting to pull back. “I’ll let you sleep now.”

His grip tightened, stopping me. “Stay.”

My heart soared. I looked down at him, wishing I could just melt into him, feel his arms around me. He sighed, and his eyes closed. “You were right,” he murmured, his voice nearly lost in the darkness. “I couldn’t do it alone. I should have listened to you back in Tir Na Nog.”

“Yes, you should have,” I whispered. “Remember that, so that next time you can just agree with whatever I say and we’ll be fine.”

Though he didn’t open his eyes, one corner of his mouth curled, ever so slightly. It was what I was hoping for. For a moment, the barriers had crumbled and we were all right again. I squeezed his hand. “I missed you,” I whispered.

I waited for him to say I missed you, too, but he grew very still under my hand, and my heart plummeted. “Meghan,” he began, sounding uncomfortable. “I…I still don’t know if…” He stopped, opening his eyes. “We’re still on opposite sides,” he murmured, his voice tinged with regret. “Nothing changes that, even now. Contract aside, you’re still considered my enemy. Besides, I thought you and Goodfellow—”

I shook my head. “Puck is…” I began, and stopped. What was he? Thinking about him, I suddenly realized I couldn’t say he was just a friend. “Just friends” didn’t kiss each other in an empty bedroom. “Just a friend” wouldn’t make my stomach squirm in weird, fluttery ways when he came through a door. Was this love, this strange, confusing swirl of emotion? I didn’t have the same intense feelings for Puck that I did for Ash, but I did feel something for him. I couldn’t deny that anymore.

I swallowed. “Puck is…” I tried again.

“Is what?”

I spun around. Puck stood in the doorway, a rather dangerous smile on his face, watching us with narrowed green eyes.

“…talking to the nurse,” I said faintly, as Ash released my hand and turned his face away. Puck stared at me, hard and uncomfortable, as if he knew what I was thinking.

“Nurse wants to talk to you,” he said at last, turning away. “Says to leave his royal iciness alone so he can sleep. Better go see what she has to say, Princess, before she starts throwing her coffee mug.”

I glanced down at Ash, but his eyes were closed and he wasn’t looking at me. A little apprehensive, I approached the kitchen, where the nurse sat at the table with a steaming mug of what was probably coffee, since the whole room smelled like it. The nurse glanced up and waved me to the opposite chair.

“Sit down, Miss Chase.”

I did. Puck joined us, plunking into the seat beside me, munching an apple he’d gotten from who knew where.

“Robin tells me you’re going on a dangerous mission after this,” she began, cupping her withered hands around the mug, staring into the coffee. “He wouldn’t give me details, but that’s why you need the Winter prince healthy, so he can help you. Is that right?”

I nodded.

“The problem is, if you go through with this plan, you’ll almost certainly kill him.”

I jerked up. “What are you talking about?”

“He is very sick, Miss Chase.” She glared at me over the rim of her mug, steam writhing off her glasses. “I wasn’t joking when I said he’ll be weak. The iron was in his system too long.”

“Isn’t there anything else you can do?”

“Me? No. He needs the glamour of his own realm to heal, so his body can throw off the sickness. Barring that—” she took a sip of coffee “—if you could find a great influx of human emotion, in large quantities, that might help him. At the very least, he could begin to recover.”

“Lots of glamour?” I thought a moment. Where would there be a lot of crazy, unrestrained human emotion? A concert or a club would be perfect, but we had no tickets, and I was underage for most clubs. But, as Grimalkin had taught me, that wasn’t a problem when you could conjure money from leaves and a valid license from a Blockbuster card.

“Puck—think you can sneak us into a club tonight?”

He snorted. “I can sneak us into anything, Princess. Who do you think you’re talking to?” He snapped his fingers, grinning. “We can pay a visit to Blue Chaos again, that’ll be fun.”

The nurse blinked. “Blue Chaos is owned by a Winter sidhe who employs redcaps and is rumored to have an ogre in the basement.” She sighed. “Wait. If you insist on doing this, I’ve a better idea, one not so…insane.” She looked caught between reluctance and resignation as she turned to me. “The Winter Formal is tonight at your old school, Miss Chase. If there is one place that is sure to have an overabundance of emotionally charged, hormonal teenagers, that would be it.”

“The Winter Formal? Tonight?” My stomach fluttered. Going back to my school would mean facing my former classmates, and all the gossip, rumors and stories that followed. I would have to wear a fancy dress in front of everyone, maybe even dance, and they would all snicker and laugh and whisper behind my back. Think of an excuse, Meghan, quick.

“How will we get in? I haven’t been to school in forever, and they’re likely to be monitoring the tickets to make sure only students attend.”

Puck snorted. “Please. How many of these things do you think I’ve crashed?

Tickets?” He sneered. “We don’t need no stinkin’ tickets.”

The nurse shot Puck an annoyed look and turned to me. “Your parents called off the investigation for you a few months ago, Miss Chase,” she said solemnly. “I believe the excuse your mother used was that you had come home and that they sent you away to a boarding school out of state. I’m not sure what she told your father—”

Tags: Julie Kagawa The Iron Fey Book Series
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