“Are you doing all right?” I ask.
It’s a stupid question. The girl is clearly in an awful position. Right now she’s only in our custody for as long as it takes my father to decide what to do with her. She’s currently in a fairly comfortable holding facility here on base, but she’ll likely end up in a juvenile detention center. I’m not sure. I’ve heard my father talk about running more tests on her first. Her parents are apparently hysterical, desperate for us to take her in and deal with her. Offer a diagnosis. They think she killed the little boy on purpose. They think their daughter is insane.
I think she seems just fine.
Better than fine.
I can’t stop looking at her. My eyes travel her face more than once, studying her features carefully. She seems so familiar to me, like I might’ve seen her before. Maybe in a dream.
I’m aware, even as I think it, that my thoughts are ridiculous.
But I was drawn down here, magnetized to her by something beyond my control. I know I shouldn’t have come. I have no business talking to her, and if my father found me in here he’d likely murder me. But I’ve tried, for days, to forget her face, and I couldn’t. I try to sleep at night and her likeness materializes in the blackness. I needed to see her again.
I don’t know how to defend it.
Finally, she speaks, and I shake free from my reverie. I remind myself that I’ve asked her a question.
“Yes, thank you,” she says, her eyes on the floor. “I’m doing fine.”
I want her to look up, to meet my eyes. She doesn’t, and I find it frustrating.
“Will you look at me?” I say.
That works well enough.
But when she looks me directly in the eye I feel my heart go suddenly, terrifyingly still. A skipped beat. A moment of death.
Fast. My heart is racing too fast.
I’ve never understood my ability to be so aware of others, but it’s often served me well. In most cases, it offers me an advantage. In this case, it’s nothing short of overwhelming.
Right now, everything is hitting me twice as hard. I feel two sets of emotions—hers and mine, the both of them intertwined. We seem to be feeling the same things at the same time. It’s disorienting, so heady I can hardly catch my breath. I feel a surprising desire to touch her. I want—
“Why?” she says.
I blink. “What?”
“Why do you want me to look at you?”
I take a breath. Clear my head, consider my options. I could tell the truth. I could tell a lie. I could be evasive, change the subject.
Finally, I say, “Do I know you?”
She laughs and looks away. “No,” she says. “Definitely not.”
She bites her lip and I feel her sudden nervousness, hear the spike in her breathing. I draw closer to her almost without realizing it.
She looks up at me then, and I realize, with a thrill, how close we are. There’s a palpable heat between our bodies, and her eyes are big and beautiful, blue green. Like the globe, I think. Like the whole world.
She’s looking at me and I feel suddenly off-balance.
“What’s wrong?” she says.
I have to step away from her. “I don’t—” I look at her again. “Are you sure I don’t know you?”
And she smiles. Smiles at me and my heart shatters.
“Trust me,” she says. “I’d remember you.”
I can’t believe we forgot about Delalieu.
I thought Castle’s news would be about Nouria. I thought he was going to tell us that she reached out to say that she was some fancy resistance leader now, that we’d be welcome to crash at her place for a while. Instead, Castle’s news was—
Homeboy came through.
Castle steps aside and allows the lieutenant to enter the room, and even though he seems stiff and out of place, Delalieu looks genuinely upset. I feel it, like a punch to the gut, the moment I see his face. Grief.
He clears his throat two or three times.
When he finally speaks, his voice is steadier than I’ve ever heard it. “I’ve come to reassure you,” he says, “in person, that I’ll make sure your group remains safe here, for as long as I can manage.” A pause. “I don’t know yet exactly what’s happening right now, but I know it can’t be good. I’m worried it won’t end well if you stay, and I’m committed to helping you while you plan your escape.”
Everyone is quiet.
“Um, thank you,” I say, breaking the silence. I look around the room when I say, “We really appreciate that. But, uh, how much time do we have?”
Delalieu shakes his head. “I’m afraid I can’t guarantee your safety for more than a week. But I’m hoping a few days’ reprieve will give you the necessary time to figure out your next steps. Find a safe place to go. In the meantime, I’ll provide whatever assistance I can.”
“Okay,” Ian says, but he looks skeptical. “That’s really . . . generous.”
Delalieu clears his throat again. “It must be hard to know whether you should trust me. I understand your concerns. But I fear I’ve stayed silent for t-too long,” he says, his voice losing its steadiness. “And now—with— With what’s happened to Warner and to Ms. Ferrars—” He stops, his voice breaking on the last word. He looks up, looks me in the eye. “I’m sure Warner told none of you that I am his grandfather.”
My jaw drops open. Actually drops open.
Castle is the only person in the room who doesn’t look shocked.
“You’re Warner’s grandfather?” Adam says, getting to his feet. The terrified look in his eyes breaks my heart.
“Yes,” Delalieu says quietly. “On his mother’s side.” He meets Adam’s eyes, acknowledging, silently, that he knows. Knows that Adam is Anderson’s illegitimate son. That he knows everything.
Adam sits back down, relief apparent on his face.
“I can only imagine what an unhappy life yours must’ve been,” Brendan says. I turn to look at him, surprised to hear his voice. He’s been so quiet all this time. But then, of course Brendan would be compassionate. Even to someone like Delalieu, who stepped aside and said nothing while Anderson set the world on fire. “But I’m grateful—we’re all grateful,” Brendan says, “for your help today.”
Delalieu manages a smile. “It’s the least I can do,” he says, and turns to go.
“Did you know her?” Lily says, her voice sharp. “As Ella?”
Delalieu freezes in place, still half turned toward the exit.
“Because if you’re Warner’s grandfather,” Lily says, “and you’ve been working under Anderson for this long—you must’ve known her.”
Slowly, very slowly, Delalieu turns to face us. He seems tense, nervous like I’ve never seen him. He says nothing, but the answer is written all over his face. The twitch in his hands.
“How long?” I say, anger building inside of me. “How long did you know her and say nothing?”
“I don’t— I d-don’t—”
“How long?” I say, my hand already reaching for the gun tucked in the waistband of my pants.
Delalieu takes a jerky step backward. “Please don’t,” he says, his eyes wild. “Please don’t ask this of me. I can give you aid. I can provide you with weapons and transportation—anything you need—but I can’t— You don’t underst—”
“Coward,” Nazeera says, standing up. She looks stunning, tall and strong and steady. I love watching that girl move. Talk. Breathe. Whatever. “You watched and said nothing as Anderson tortured his own children. Didn’t you?”
“No,” Delalieu says desperately, his face flushing with emotion I’ve never seen in him before. “No, that’s not—”
Castle picks up a chair with single flick of his hand and drops it, unceremoniously, in front of Delalieu.
“Sit down,” he says, a violent, unguarded rage flashing in his eyes.
“How long?” I say again. “How long have you known her as Ella?”
“I— I’ve”—Delalieu hesitates, looks around—“I’ve known Ella s-since she was a child,” he says finally.
I feel the blood leave my body.
His clear, explicit confession is too much. It means too much. I sag under the weight of it—the lies, the conspiracies. I sink back into my chair and my heart splinters for Juliette, for all she’s suffered at the hands of the people meant to protect her. I can’t form the words I need to tell Delalieu he’s a spineless piece of shit. It’s Nazeera who still has the presence of mind to spear him.
Her voice is soft—lethal—when she speaks.
“You’ve known Ella since she was a child,” Nazeera says. “You’ve been here, working here, helping Anderson since Ella was a child. That means you helped Anderson put her in the custody of abusive, adoptive parents and you stood by as they tortured her, as Anderson tortured her, over and over—”
“No,” Delalieu cries out. “I d-didn’t condone any of that. Ella was supposed to grow up in a normal home environment. She was supposed to be given nurturing parents and a stable upbringing. Those were the terms everyone agreed t—”