“Hey—you have no idea what I just did for you,” Kenji says. “So I’m going to repeat myself one more time: You are welcome.”
“I never asked for your help.”
Kenji crosses his arms. When he speaks, he overenunciates each word, like he might be talking to an idiot. “I don’t think you’re thinking clearly.”
“I’m thinking clearer than I ever have.”
“You really thought that would be a good idea?” Kenji says, shaking his head. “Here? Now?”
Aaron’s jaw clenches. He looks mutinous.
“Bro, this is not the moment.”
“And when, exactly, did you become an expert on this sort of thing?”
I look between the two of them. “What is going on?” I say. “What are you guys talking about?”
“Nothing,” they say at the same time.
“Um, okay.” I stare at them, still confused, and I’m about to ask another question when Kenji says, suddenly:
“Who wants lunch?”
My eyebrows shoot up my forehead. “We have lunch?”
“It’s pretty awful,” Kenji says, “but Nazeera and I have a picnic basket we brought with us, yeah.”
“I guess I’m up for trying the contents of the mystery basket.” I smile at Aaron. “Are you hungry?”
But Aaron says nothing. He’s still staring at the floor. I touch his hand and, finally, he sighs. “I’m not hungry,” he says.
“Not an option,” Kenji says sharply. “I’m pretty sure you haven’t eaten a damn thing since you got out of fake prison.”
Aaron frowns. And when he looks up, he says, “It wasn’t fake prison. It was a very real prison. They poisoned me for weeks.”
“What?” My eyes widen. “You never t—”
Kenji cuts me off with the wave of his hand. “They gave you food, water, and let you keep the clothes on your back, didn’t they?”
He shrugs. “Sounds like you had a little vacation.”
Aaron sighs. He looks both annoyed and exhausted as he runs a hand down the length of his face.
I don’t like it.
“Hey— Why are you giving him such a hard time?” I say, frowning at Kenji. “Just before he and Nazeera showed up you were going on and on about how wonderful he is, and n—”
Kenji swears, suddenly, under his breath. “Jesus, J.” He shoots me a dark look. “What did I say to you about repeating that conversation out loud?”
Aaron sits up, the frustration in his eyes slowly giving way to surprise. “You think I’m wonderful?” he says, one hand pressed against his chest in mock affection. “That’s so sweet.”
“I never said you were wonderful.”
Aaron tilts his head. “Then what, exactly, did you say?”
Kenji turns away. Says nothing.
I’m grinning at Kenji’s back when I say, “He said you looked good in everything and that you were good at everything.”
Aaron’s smile deepens.
Aaron almost never smiles widely enough for me to see his dimples, but when he does, they transform his face. His eyes light up. His cheeks go pink with feeling. He looks suddenly sweet. Adorable.
It takes my breath away.
But he’s not looking at me, he’s looking at Kenji, his eyes full of laughter when he says, “Please tell me she’s not serious.”
Kenji flips us both off.
Aaron laughs. And then, leaning in—
“You really think I look good in everything?”
“Shut up, asshole.”
Aaron laughs again.
“Stop having fun without me,” Nazeera shouts from the cockpit. “No more making jokes until I put this thing on cruise control.”
I stiffen. “Do planes have cruise control?”
“Um”—Kenji scratches his head—“I don’t actually know?”
But then Nazeera saunters over to us, tall and beautiful and unbothered. She’s not covering her hair today, which I suppose makes sense, considering it’s generally illegal, but I feel a faint panic spread through my body when I realize she’s in no hurry to return to the cockpit.
“Wait— No one is flying the plane,” I say. “Shouldn’t someone be flying the plane?”
She waves me down. “It’s fine. These things are practically automatic now, anyway. I don’t have to do more than input coordinates and make sure everything is operating smoothly.”
“Everything is fine,” she says, shooting me a sharp look. “We’re fine. But someone needs to tell me what’s going on.”
“Are you sure we’re fine?” I ask once more, quietly.
She levels me with a dark look.
I sigh. “Well, in that case,” I say. “You should know that Kenji was just admiring Aaron’s sense of style.”
Nazeera turns to Kenji. Raises a single eyebrow.
Kenji shakes his head, visibly irritated. “I wasn’t— Dammit, J, you have no loyalty.”
“I have plenty of loyalty,” I say, slightly wounded. “But when you guys fight like this it stresses me out. I just want Aaron to know that, secretly, you care about him. I love you both and I want the two of you to be frien—”
“Wait”—Aaron frowns—“What do you mean you love us both?”
I glance between him and Kenji, surprised. “I mean I care about both of you. I love you both.”
“Right,” Aaron says, hesitating, “but you don’t actually love us both. That’s just a figure of speech, isn’t it?”
It’s my turn to frown. “Kenji is my best friend,” I say. “I love him like a brother.”
“I love you, too, princess,” Kenji says, a little too loudly. “And I appreciate you saying that.”
Aaron mutters something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like, “Unwashed idiot.”
“What did you just say to me?” Kenji’s eyes widen. “I’ll have you know I wash all the time—”
Nazeera places a calming hand on Kenji’s arm, and he startles at her touch. He looks up at her, blinking.
“We have another five hours ahead of us on this flight,” she says, and her voice is firm but kind. “So I recommend we put this conversation to bed. I think it’s clear to everyone that you and Warner secretly enjoy each other’s friendship, and it’s not doing anyone any good to pretend otherwise.”
“Does that sound like a reasonable plan?” She looks around at all of us. “Can we all agree that we’re on the same team?”
“Yes,” I say enthusiastically. “I do. I agree.”
Aaron says, “Fine.”
“Great,” Nazeera says. “Kenji, you okay?”
He nods and mumbles something under his breath.
“Perfect. Now here’s the plan,” she says briskly. “We’re going to eat and then take turns trying to get some sleep. We’ll have a ton of things to deal with when land, and it’s best if we hit the ground running when we do.” She tosses a few vacuum-sealed bags at each of us. “That’s your lunch. There are water bottles in the fridge up front. Kenji and I will take the first shift—”
“No way,” Kenji says, crossing his arms. “You’ve been up for twenty-four hours straight. I’ll take the first shift.”
“Warner and I will take the first shift together, actually.” Kenji shoots Warner a look. “Isn’t that right?”
“Yes, of course,” Aaron says. He’s already on his feet. “I’d be happy to.”
“Great,” Kenji says.
Nazeera is already stifling a yawn, pulling a bunch of thin blankets and pillows from a storage closet. “All right, then. Just wake us up in a couple of hours, okay?”
Kenji raises an eyebrow at her. “Sure.”
“Yup. Got it.” Kenji offers her a mock salute, Aaron offers me a quick smile, and the two of them disappear into the cockpit.
Kenji closes the door behind them.
I’m staring at the closed door, wondering what on earth is going on between the two of them, when Nazeera says—
“I had no idea you two were so intense.”
I look up, surprised. “Who? Me and Aaron?”
“No,” she says, smiling. “You and Kenji.”
“Oh.” I frown. “I don’t think we’re intense.”
She shoots me a funny look.
“I’m serious,” I say. “I think we have a pretty normal friendship.”
Instead of answering me, she says, “Did you two ever”—she waves a hand at nothing—“date?”
“What?” My eyes widen. A traitorous heat floods my body. “No.”
“Never?” she says, her smile slow.
“Never. I swear. Not even close.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with him,” I hurry to add. “Kenji is wonderful. The right person would be lucky to be with him.”