"Did Mr. Rohan tell Shuri about his tattoo?" Win asked. "That it was identical to yours?"
"And what did Shuri say about it?"
"Nothing." His reply was a shade too quick.
A pair of street sellers, one bearing bundles of watercress, the other carrying umbrellas, approached them hopefully. But one glower from Merripen caused them to retreat, braving the traffic of carriages, carts, and horses to go to the other side of the street.
Win didn't say anything for a minute or two, just held Merripen's arm as he guided her along with exasperating bossiness, muttering, "Don't step there," or, "Come this way," or, "Tread carefully here," as if stepping on broken or uneven pavement might result in severe injury.
"Kev," she finally protested, "I'm not fragile."
"I know that."
"Then please don't treat me as if I'll break at the first misstep."
Merripen grumbled a little, something about the street not being good enough for her. It was too rough. Too dirty.
Win couldn't help chuckling. "For heaven's sake. If this street was paved with gold and angels were sweeping it, you would still say it was too rough and dirty for me. You must rid yourself of this habit of protecting me."
"Not while I live."
Win was quiet, gripping his arm more tightly. The passion buried beneath the rough, simple words filled her with an almost indecent pleasure. So easily, he could reach down to the deepest region of her heart.
"I'd rather not be put on a pedestal," she finally said.
"You're not on a pedestal. You're-" But he checked the words, and he shook his head a little, as if he was vaguely surprised he'd said them. Whatever had happened that day, it had shaken his self-control badly.
Win pondered what possible things Shuri might have said. Something about the connection between Cam Rohan and Merripen…
"Kev." Win eased her pace, forcing him to go more slowly as well. "Even before I left for France, I had the idea that those tattoos were evidence of a close link between you and Mr. Rohan. Being so ill, I had little to do except observe the people in my sphere. I noticed things that no one else had the time to perceive, or think about. And I've always been especially attuned to you." Taking in his expression with a quick sidelong glance, Win saw that he didn't like that. He didn't want to be understood, or observed. He wanted to stay safe in his iron-clad solitude.
"And when I met Mr. Rohan," Win continued in a casual tone, as if they were having an ordinary conversation, "I was struck by many similarities between the two of you. The tilt of his head, that half smile he has… the way he gestures with his hands… all things I had seen you do. And I thought to myself, I wouldn't be surprised to learn someday that the two of them are… brothers."
Merripen stopped completely. He turned to face her, standing right there on the street while other pedestrians were forced to go around them, muttering about how inconsiderate it was for people to block a public footpath. Win looked up into his heathen dark eyes and gave an innocent shrug. And she waited for his response.
"Improbable," he said gruffly.
"Improbable things happen all the time," Win said. "Especially to our family." She continued to stare at him, reading him. "It's true, isn't it?" she asked in wonder. "He's your brother?"
Kev hesitated. His whisper was so soft she could barely hear it. "Younger brother."
"I'm glad for you. For both of you." She smiled up at him steadily, until his mouth took on a wry, answering curve.
"Someday you will be."
After a moment he pulled her arm through his and they began walking again.
"If you and Mr. Rohan are brothers," Win said, "then you're half gadjo. Just like he is. Are you sorry about that?"
"No, I-" He paused to mull over the discovery. "I wasn't as surprised as I should have been. I've always felt I was Romany and… something other."
And Win understood what he didn't say. Unlike Rohan, he wasn't eager to face this entire other identity, this vast part of himself that was so far unrealized. "Are you going to talk about it with the family?" she asked softly. Knowing Merripen, he would want to keep the information private until he'd sorted through all its implications.
He shook his head. "There are questions that must be answered first. Including why the gadjo who fathered us wanted to kill us."
"He did? Good heavens, why?"
"My guess is that it was probably some question of inheritance. With gadjos, it usually comes down to money."
"So bitter," Win said, clinging more tightly to his arm.
"I have reason."
"You have reason to be happy as well. You have found a brother today. And you found out that you're half-Irish."
That actually drew a rumble of amusement from him. "That should make me happy?"
"The Irish are a remarkable race. And I see it in you: your love of land, your tenacity…"
"My love of brawling."
"Yes. Well, perhaps you should continue to suppress that part."
"Being part-Irish," he said, "I should be a more proficient drinker."
"And a far more glib conversationalist."
"I prefer to talk only when I have something to say."