“Burn No Bridges”
story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb
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Jules had lain awake at least half an hour after hearing Rory slip into Max’s room before he finally accepted that sleep wasn’t coming anytime soon.
He got up, made chamomile tea. Settled on the sofa with some of the books and papers he’d salvaged from his office.
Pointless, pointless, pointless, chanted a voice in the back of his head.
“Shut up.” He scribbled a margin note.
A wound in reality feeds on all attempts to contain it.
“I’m not letting it take her.”
… It already has.
A knock on the door startled him almost out of his skin.
Warily, he put the books aside. Got up, shot a glance down the hall to make sure Rory and Max were safely out of sight. Crossed into the vestibule.
A look through the peephole revealed Cyrano standing on the other side.
Jules hesitated, opened the door a crack. “Cyrano,” he said softly. “I’m surprised to see you here. Especially this late.”
“Yeah…sorry about that. I actually went by your house first. The dude at the gate said you were staying here.”
“Is everything okay?”
The look in Cyrano’s eyes said it wasn’t. “Sorry,” he said again. “I…didn’t know who else to talk to.”
“Should we go down to the bar?”
Cyrano stared at the floor. “I’d…rather not talk about this in public. If that’s okay. I’m sorry.”
Jules debated with himself. Ideally, he wouldn’t risk giving anyone a glimpse into his secret life with Max and Rory. But Cyrano was a friend—insofar as Jules could say he had those—and, by the look on his face, he might be in trouble.
Try trusting someone for once, Nimri.
Jules waved Cyrano into the suite, locked the door behind him. “Can I get you something? Water? Tea?”
Cyrano shook his curly head. He sank down on the couch, huddled there, his gaze darting nervously around the room.
“What’s up?” Jules dragged the accent chair around to face him, sat.
“Um.” Once more, Cyrano’s heavy-lidded eyes made an anxious sweep of his surroundings. “Nobody else is here, are they? I really want to keep this between you and me.”
“I have…suitemates,” said Jules, carefully. “Pretty sure they’re asleep. We should be safe if we talk quietly.”
Cyrano eyed Jules a moment. Lowered his gaze.
“Is it to do with the project?” Jules tried.
Cyrano shook his head. “I mean—no. Not really.”
“So it’s personal.”
Cyrano took a deep breath that shuddered on the exhale. Said suddenly, “You know what, I really don’t know if I can do this. It’s too—” He grimaced, knotted his fists.
“Hey…it’s okay.” Jules’s mind started to rifle through possibilities. Maybe this had to do with Cyrano’s dad. From everything Cyrano had told Jules about Geraldo Almonte, the man wouldn’t be winning the Father of the Year Award anytime soon.
“I have to ask you a really personal question,” said Cyrano finally.
“It’s about Master-Savant Lockwood.”
Jules stiffened. “Okay,” he heard himself say again.
“I know you…used to know him pretty well,” Cyrano continued, with obvious difficulty. “And…I’m…I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but…”
Jules sat quietly rooted to his seat, pulse thumping in his ears.
“Did he ever…” Cyrano hesitated. “When you were, um, when you were with him, I mean…did he…?”
Cyrano’s eyes switched suddenly past Jules’s shoulder—flared wide.
Jules glanced back.
Just this side of the hallway stood Max, buck naked, the dark sprawl of the rift plain to see on her chest.
Jules was at her side in a breath with the throw blanket from the back of the chair, flinging it around her shoulders. “Hey, what are you doing up?” He kept his voice hushed, his gaze locked anxiously on Cyrano. Fuck. “Where’s Rory?”
Rory came stumbling down the hall, shirtless. “Sorry. Shit. I was asleep. Max, what are you…?” He stopped short, seeing Cyrano. “Who the hell is…?”
“He’s okay,” said Jules. “Max, go back with Rory, okay?”
“You’re embarrassed of me.” Max’s eyes listed toward Cyrano.
“No. Never.” Jules felt her forehead. As always lately, she was cold. “What did you do with your clothes?”
“You think I’m disgusting.”
“No. No. No.” Jules swallowed a bubble of panic. “Rory, help.”
“Come on, Max.” Rory put his arms around Max, steered her back toward the hall.
Max broke down in tears. “You don’t love me anymore!” she roared at Jules, and started beating and clawing her scalp. The blanket fell to the floor as Rory grabbed her wrists. “Everything is fucked. Everything is fucked. Everything is—”
“Hey. Hey. Hey.” Jules caught up to her in one long stride, took her face between his hands. “That’s the darkness talking, okay? I will never give up on you, I’ll never leave your side, and I will never, ever, ever be ashamed of you. Do you understand?”
She blinked up at him wetly.
Jules tasted salt on her lips. “Go with Rory, okay?” His thumb traced her chin. “I have to talk to my friend out there, but I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”
Max let Rory guide her back down the hall. Rory shot a glance over his shoulder at Jules, then at Cyrano, then at Jules again, a question in his eyes.
Jules waited till they’d both disappeared into Max’s room, then returned to where Cyrano was waiting. The Apprentice was on his feet now, his face slack with shock. “I’m…sorry,” he stammered. “I should go.”
“No, I’m sorry. That was weird. But it’s under control now. You don’t have to leave.”
“I’m intruding.” Cyrano started for the door.
Jules took a deep breath. “You were about to ask if Hunter ever hurt me.”
Cyrano stopped short, stared. Jules could see from his eyes it was the truth.
“Is he hurting someone now?” Jules’s heart beat faster as he took a step closer to Cyrano.
Cyrano’s jaw gave a telltale twitch.
“Is he hurting you?”
Cyrano swallowed hard, opened his mouth to speak.
Suddenly, his expression changed, and he gave a coarse laugh. “No, I—what? You’ve got it all wrong, dude.”
“I just was gonna ask if he ever worked on anything that might have any relevance to the nulla materia project. I know you two aren’t on the best of terms, but if you wanted I could try to get some input from him, maybe.”
Jules eyed him. Why did I open my stupid mouth? “Uh, no. He never did, that I know of.”
“Okay.” Cyrano spun on his heel. “Sorry to bother you.”
Cyrano turned back, his expression fixedly neutral. His leg jiggled, a small, frantic motion, as if he was anxious to get as far away from this room as he could, as fast as he could.
Jules paused. Selected his tack carefully. “You know my secret now. Don’t you? About Max?”
Cyrano averted his gaze.
“So, whether you trust me or not,” Jules went on, “you can rest assured your secret will be safe with me. Do you see what I mean? You have leverage.”
Cyrano’s eyes swung back to meet his.
“I know it’s hard.” Jules took another step toward him. “Trust me. I never told anyone either. Which means if it’s happening again, it’s partly my fault.” He held his breath for a moment. “Please—let me help.”
Cyrano stared at him hard in the eyes and, for a long time, didn’t speak.
Jules waited. Didn’t know what else he could do.
His heart sank as, at last, a phony smile curled Cyrano’s lips. “Look, I really…I stepped in something I really didn’t mean to here.” He backed away, showed his palms. “I hope I haven’t embarrassed you, dude.”
“I misunderstood,” said Jules. “I’m sorry I embarrassed you.”
“Nah, no way, man, not at all. Look, I, um, I won’t tell anyone about your girl. Or…anything else.” Cyrano raised one eyebrow significantly.
Their eyes met.
Seconds later, Cyrano resumed his path toward the door.
The Apprentice stopped.
“If you ever do have anything you need to talk to someone about, you know where to find me.”
Cyrano avoided Jules’s gaze. “Thanks.”
Jules stood rooted in place for several seconds after the door had swung shut, then shuffled over, barred and deadbolted it.
He hovered there, heaved a sigh, turned. Saw Rory coming toward him from the hall and started past him. “She okay? I’ll go see her.”
Rory stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm. “She went back to sleep. Just rest.”
Jules halted, wavered on his feet, gave an absent nod.
“Who was that guy?” Rory asked.
“Cyrano. He’s on my lab team.”
“Do you trust him?”
Jules gazed back in the direction of Cyrano’s departure. “I…think so.”
Cyrano sat behind the wheel of his dad’s jalopy in the Alfheim parking lot, struggling for air, his head reeling at the thought of what he’d almost just said, what he’d almost just done.
Once he’d calmed down a little, he toggled through the series of photos he’d snapped discreetly with his camera phone.
His heart stuck in his throat when he saw how clear they’d come out. Their subjects were unmistakable: a naked girl with an enormous nulla materia rift in her chest, and Jules Nimri kissing her.
Half an hour earlier, Cyrano had been backed into a corner. His only option had been a bad one—a stumbling confession that he was weak and damaged and desperate, made in the dim hope that someone hardly stronger than himself could—and would—help him.
Now, he was facing a question. One he’d been running from all his life, because the answer would bear consequences:
What do I live for?
He raised his eyes to his reflection in the rearview mirror.
Is it enough for me just to survive? No matter what it takes?
He looked down again at his phone, took a deep breath. Selected the photos of Jules and his ailing girlfriend.
Toggled to the option to delete them.
His thumb hovered over the OK button. Heart turned a somersault in his chest.
Several wracking palpitations later, Cyrano snapped the phone shut. He held it in a white-knuckled grip, fought to control his breaths.
I don’t have to choose yet.
He hurled the phone down on the passenger seat, turned the key in the ignition.
NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR
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