Jehane trudged down the hall, thinking about Ajax’s meditations on blame. She was grateful that he didn’t blame her but she didn’t know where to go from there. It was a short leap from thinking what he said made sense to thinking she should blame herself, so she could make sure it didn’t happen again.
Ajax, she decided, was probably not a good role model.
On the other hand, Seth wasn’t blaming himself at all, as far as she could tell. He was trying to go crazy instead. Jehane wondered what that meant.
He can’t imagine a next time.
She shuddered. Seth wasn’t a good role model, either. Natalie had told her that for ages, and now she was finally starting to see it.
Her thoughts skittered from Natalie back to Malachi. She wondered if he blamed himself for his own partner’s death. Or maybe it really had been his fault?
That dark thought sucked at her mind for a moment. Had his partner made a choice he hadn’t approved of? She’d never looked at the report on how Emily had died.
The darkness traveled up the chain of thoughts. Maybe Emily’s death had been Malachi’s fault. Maybe Natalie’s loss was Seth’s fault. Maybe it was Ajax’s. Maybe it was hers.
Maybe it was Natalie’s.
And then, with a breathtaking sense of epiphany, she thought, It was Hatherly’s fault.
He was the darkness, and they had to be the light.
“Elian, I’m sorry I ran away from Seth before I could help him–”
“Don’t be. I’m sorry I sent you into that situation. I warned Valeria, at least.”
“No! No, that’s not what I want. Don’t be sorry. I want to try again.”
Elian hesitated. “I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Jehane touched the wall. “If I do, it’s Seth’s fault, not yours.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” muttered Elian. “He’s hiding in the Portalry.”
She found him in the same beanbag chair where she’d once hid, watching the nearest portal like a cat watching a mousehole. As she approached, Elian said to Seth, “If you try to go through one of the portals before you’re cleared to do so, I will make sure you’re handcuffed to your bed in a locked room at the deepest level of this tower.”
Seth said, “And who’s going to clear me? The Tanist? The doctor?” He laughed. “I can convince them.”
“Your mother.” Elian’s voice cracked like a whip, and Seth looked away from the portal. In a more conversational tone, Elian added, “Right now she frightens me more than anybody else.”
Seth noticed Jehane and grinned. “Hey, gorgeous, want to go fight some monsters?”
“Maybe you,” Jehane said.
Seth flinched, then grinned wider. “Ooh, now you understand.” He sprang to his feet.
Exasperation warred with a desire to slap Seth upside the head. “Do you? I—I—” and then suddenly words poured out of her. “You think it’s a defense and it’s not, it’s sanity that’s the defense. It wears down the broken glass in your mind. I can’t let you hurt yourself like this, break yourself, even if it makes you hate me. I don’t want you to hate me, I really don’t, I don’t have any other friends. Natalie’s gone and I don’t have anybody else, don’t you understand?” She gasped for breath, and looked away from the way Seth goggled at her, his grin a faded memory. “I won’t turn into a monster if I’m all alone. I’ll just shrivel up and turn into a shadow again.
Seth moved one shoulder up and down in a half-shrug, then patted her shoulder. “You’re going to have to make more friends, cute thing. You can’t just rely on me, because I’m not always going to be there.”
Jehane stomped her foot. “But I’m not good at making friends. I say the wrong things and I— I like the wrong people. You’re good at it, I was trying to learn from you, and now you’re half-mad because of Natalie being in danger.”
Seth’s smile returned. “But you’re such a cute thing. You can make as many friends as you want. Me, I’m an annoyance. And Natalie was more than a friend. We were like twins and she was the better one. She was…” He shook his head and didn’t finish.
Jehane set her jaw. “I’m not going to let go of you. I’m going to hang onto the friends I have because… because that’s what being a friend is. I don’t know what it’s like to have a sibling. But friends don’t give up on each other. Look at Ronan and Elian! Friends are there when they’re needed.” She darted into his previous seat and crossed her arms. “So there. And if you try to hurt me, I’ll give you a whole new pain to think about it.” She considered. “Maybe I should anyhow. You said once it filled the whole world with agony, after all.” She raised her eyebrows at him. “How about it?”
Seth looked down at her, a hunted expression on his face. His eyes darted from side to side. Then he sank down into a crouch and put his head under his arms. Muffled words emerged. “I deserve that. I should probably let you. I think I’d rather pass, all the same. Props on being a true friend, though.”
“Will you go home and let your mother take care of your injuries?”
The top of his head shook. Jehane sighed and rose from the beanbag chair. “Then have your bed back.” He looked up, then fell onto it, staring at the high ceiling.
“Are you going to stay here?”
“Yes. I don’t trust you. You’re tricky.”
“All right. Then I might as well get some sleep.” His eyes closed immediately, and his breathing lengthened.
Carefully, Jehane stretched out on the rounded lip of the chair, resting her head on her hands, and watched him sleep.