“This is a damned bloody waste of time,” Jonas grumbled for the fourth time since they had sat down at a table in the corner of the cafe that Aazzi had indicated. “They know we’re not on the Vimana. They could already be searching the city for us.”
“Are you trying to sound paranoid?” Twist asked as he stirred a little cream into his coffee and tried very hard not to look up at Jonas. Beside him, Myra leaned just a little farther behind the tall potted plant to the side of their shadowed table, and tugged her sari to hide her copper skin just a little more.
“Darling, what if he’s right?” Myra asked Twist gently.
“I’m not going to fling you aimlessly across the world, running and hiding like a fugitive, unless I’m absolutely certain that I have to,” Twist said, yet again. The words were starting to feel comfortable and well-practiced on his tongue.
“You keep saying that, and I might start to believe it,” Jonas said darkly. Twist felt the heavy draw on his attention: the buzz at his neck sparking brightly as Jonas’s eyes dug at him.
“What are you looking for, anyway?” Twist asked, reaching up to rub at his neck as he kept his eyes firmly on his coffee cup.
“Some kind of sense.”
Twist shot him a glare. “Aazzi implied that there might not be any problem at all,” he said with as much conviction as he could muster—well aware that Jonas could see it clearly in his eyes. “I understand your concern, but we might not need to hide at all. If we don’t, we’ll have a vastly better life from here on. I have to take that chance.”
Myra made a mournful tone, her metal hands clasped tightly together on the table top. When Twist looked to her, he saw her face devoid of its usual brightness and joy.
“I’m so sorry,” she breathed. “This is all my fault…”
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” Twist said instantly, his voice considerably kinder when he turned it to her.
“If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be in this mess,” she said, looking to him sorrowfully. “You wouldn’t be worried, or in danger, or angry with your friend,” she added, glancing to Jonas.
“Oh no, we argue a lot anyway,” Jonas said to her with a smile suddenly on his face.
“I wouldn’t remove myself from your side for all the trouble in the world,” Twist added. “Please, don’t blame yourself.”
Myra smiled weakly back to them both in turn. “Oh, you’re ever so sweet to me.”
“Can’t help it,” Twist said, giving her hands a gentle pat. A flash of relief came through his Sight at the touch.
“Thank heavens,” a voice said hurriedly, coming closer to the table. Jonas replaced the black-lensed goggles over his eyes again, apparently out of reflex. Aazzi took the open seat between Jonas and Twist, and set down a couple of bags at her feet. “I’m very proud of you,” she said to Twist.
“What did I do?”
“You didn’t let him push you into running,” Aazzi said, nodding to Jonas.
“Hey!” Jonas snapped, looking highly affronted.
“You’re as predictable as the sunrise,” Aazzi snapped back at him before turning back to Twist. Even a few feet away, Twist could feel true anger—and not just the frustration and annoyance he had personally caused—wafting off of Jonas like a toxic heat. It whispered at the vibration in his neck, calling his own heart to burn as well. “Now,” Aazzi said to Twist, “did he explain anything about what’s happening here?”
“Yes, he told me in great detail exactly why we can’t let those men have Myra,” Twist answered, fighting to keep his mind clear.
“Well, you’re in luck,” Aazzi said with a nod. “They didn’t send Rook agents,” she said to Jonas. “It’s just a low grade, unarmed, collection team. They didn’t expect a problem.”
“They thought we’d just give her up?” Jonas asked, curiosity poking holes in his smoldering anger.
“They thought we’d sell her for the right price,” Aazzi explained. “They don’t seem to realize that we see her as a friend.” Myra’s face appeared surprised, but she said nothing. “Howell told them the truth—that you three were out exploring the city and that you should be back any time now.”
“How is any of this lucky?” Twist asked, fighting very hard to ignore Jonas’s anger.
“Because they still don’t have any idea that we are going to run,” Jonas answered.
“More than just that,” Aazzi said, “we might be able to get them to back off completely.”
“Wait, you want us to run too?” Twist asked.
“How could we get them off our backs?” Jonas asked tartly.
“I have a friend in Paris—Philippe’s uncle, actually—who works in the field,” Aazzi said. “He builds human-shaped machines that he calls robots. Apparently, it’s a Bohemian technology that he’s trying to perfect. They’re nothing like Myra: just soulless shells that look something like people. But he’s an expert on the subject and a consultant for the Rooks. If you can get to him directly, and get him to declare her just another robot, then they will have no cause to trouble us again.” She finished with a proud smile. Twist looked to Jonas.
“Are you insane?” Jonas asked Aazzi sharply, seeming to glare squarely at her through the black lenses.
Aazzi frowned. “It’s a perfect solution.”
“We only have a handful of unarmed low-level thugs to deal with right now, but you want us to walk right into the middle of a hornet’s nest, on purpose, and hope your weird uncle sees things our way. How the hell is that a good idea?”
“If we tell the thugs about her,” Aazzi said with measured patience, “they’d still have to take her in to let their suppressor make the decision. If you go to them instead, it shows initiative and would help to show how much you care about her—that she isn’t some thing that can be bought and sold.”
“And what happens if this expert doesn’t go along with it?” Jonas asked.
“He’s family!” Aazzi said, exasperated.
Twist rubbed at his face as the others continued to argue. He could easily see the logic of both points of view, and the flaws in each plan as well. Neither one seemed like a perfect solution. His instincts had always helped him solve complicated problems before, but this time he couldn’t use his Sight. He couldn’t find the source of the problem in all the complexity of it.
He looked to Myra and found her watching the argument with a sheepish and forlorn expression. Twist reached out to touch her wrist, drawing her attention. Her emotions ran cold and fearful over his fingers. It dimmed his world to see her so unhappy. He leaned closer as Jonas and Aazzi’s voice rose.
“My dear,” he said softly to her copper ear, “if you could have anything in the world, regardless of all of this, what would you want?”
She smiled weakly to him. “I just want what you already gave me,” she answered. “I don’t want to be alone anymore. And I want to be with you,” she said, reaching out to toy with the soft black curls behind his ear as her smile took on a deeper tone. Twist’s skin prickled at her touch, sending a delicious chill down his spine.
“Could you be happy if you had to hide?” he asked. “What if you couldn’t dance for anyone but me?”
“Well…” she said, her face taking on a hint of bitterness. “As long as I have you, I think I’ll be all right,” she said bravely. Twist felt the lie echo off her metal skin, no matter how she tried to bury it. Twist felt a solid shift in his own thoughts and emotions as he found the true source of his troubles.
“I understand,” he said with a nod. He looked up to find Aazzi and Jonas still spitting shards of logic and spite at each other. He knocked on the table top with his knuckles until they paused to look at him. “I’ve decided. I’m taking Myra to your uncle in Paris,” he said to Aazzi. “Are you coming?” he asked Jonas.
“But—“ Jonas began, while Aazzi smiled victoriously.
“There’s a chance that she’s right,” Twist said, gesturing to Aazzi. “There’s a chance that Myra won’t have to hide and live in fear for the rest of her life. I’m taking it.”
“And if they try to snatch her?” Jonas asked quickly.
“They’ll have to kill me before they can take her from me.” Twist felt a ripple of shock shoot through Myra at the resolute sound of his words. “I want exactly what you want,” he said to her, squeezing her hand gently.
“You are one stubborn little bastard, do you know that?” Jonas grumbled at Twist.
“I’ve been called worse. Are you coming or not?”
Jonas’s face moved as if he were rolling his eyes behind the opaque goggles. “Yes, of course,” he said on a heavy sigh. “Damn you.”
“Wonderful,” Aazzi said brightly, picking up the bags she had left at her feet and placing them on the table. “Here’s your things, and here’s the address,” she said, handing Twist a slip of paper.
“You packed for us?” Jonas asked, pulling his goggles up just enough to frown at the bags on the table.
“I knew you were leaving the Vimana today the moment I saw the Rooks. The ship’s too easy for the Rooks to follow. And no, Howell and Ara don’t know yet. I’ll explain things to them.”
“Thank you,” Twist said. Jonas said something under his breath. Myra smiled at Twist from under her purple sari, and he felt a flash of pride bleed through her touch.
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