Forty-Four - Ira

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I shook my head all the way up the stairs, put my coat over Linkin's bag in the wardrobe, and put a light jacket over my rapidly cooling shoulders, still shaking my head as I made my way down. "You're out of your mind," I said to Linkin before she could tell me about Celestia. "What the fuck do you think you're doing? And what did you say to Stuart?"

"She's in Russia." Linkin stepped away from me and onto the soft living room rug. She nervously played with her black hair and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "I didn't get to tell Stuart that."

It took me a few seconds to register what that meant - I'd been away from Russia for so long that the realization settled slowly. It felt like frost was creeping over my body. "She thinks I went back to Russia."

"That's what it looks like."

"Why does she think I'd go there?" I was astounded. "I didn't even want to stay in Russia after I escaped my captors. I was already such a big risk to my family." My heart sank at where this train of thought took me.

"Dunno why. She was your friend," Linkin said flatly and shrugged. She looked exhausted. "Sorry, I didn't mean it that way. I'm just..." She sighed and sat down.

"Linkin, does she have someone with her?"

Her eyes widened. "I don't know. Why?"

"She wouldn't have been able to find me herself." I started pacing around the living room, sweat pouring out of my forehead again. "You haven't really met her... She's passive. Easily influenced. Her family was abusive. She used to hang around the stronger types who always had their own ideas. There's no way she could've found me unless somebody told her to, and helped her. She is just the puppet."

"I-I could find out-"

"It's okay, Linkin." As much as I'd like to know, I decided against telling her. How Linkin found out where Celestia was, I didn't know, but what I knew for certain was that it was too dangerous for her to be doing it. I closed my eyes and sucked in a deep breath, hoping for the best. I'd not told Celestia, or anyone else on the island for that matter, about my family, and my name was common enough name in Russia to make Celestia give up if she wasn't under a lot of pressure. Even if she did find my family and interrogated them, they wouldn't know where I'd been for more than ten years. Celestia wasn't the type to murder anyone in cold blood, and I hoped that whoever was behind this wouldn't ask her to. Liana. Nita. Desmond. Those names made me shiver.

"Are you sure?"

I sighed. I wasn't, and my pulse was everywhere. I hope Linkin didn't notice behind my collected facade. "Yeah, it's fine. They're looking in the wrong place, anyway. Go get some sleep."

"Okay." Linkin sounded relieved, but she looked exhausted and riddled with guilt.

"What happened?" I reached for her shoulder.

"Stuart..." She started off hesitantly as she slid from my touch. "He had a panic attack. He thought I'd left."

I bit down hard on my lip. "That's my fault. Stop trying to cover for me."

Linkin looked at me and nodded, and I let her go upstairs before holding my palms tightly against my face. Fragmented images of my family flashed by - I didn't have a lot of memories left of them, and I hadn't spoken Russian to anyone for years, except when I got blindingly angry. I clasped my hands together and willed for their safety, and headed to the second floor. I saw Stuart's door shut at the end of the hallway, and after some deliberation, I headed over and knocked. No answer, not even a "go away".

"It's not Linkin," I said to the white door. Nothing. Scared, I turned the knob and pushed the door open, relieved that Stuart hadn't locked himself in. He was asleep, looking like he did so out of exhaustion, lying on his front with his head just short of the pillow. If Stuart's back didn't rise and fall slowly, I would have checked his pulse.

I sighed, quietly walking around his bed to pull the sheets over him. When I slowly pulled the glasses off his face, he shifted a little with his eyes still closed. Startled, I waited for him to stop moving before folding up his spectacles and carefully placing them on his bedside table. Despite having laid down awkwardly, Stuart looked peaceful in his sleep, free from his hurt and anxiety for the time being.

After a few unsure minutes of watching him and staring into empty space when I felt embarrassed, I turned off the lights and snuck outside, shutting the door behind me. Going to my room, I fished out the pink cell phone that Linkin told me about, the one to use if something happened to her.

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