“Bullshit,” Nazeera says, her eyes flashing. “You know as well as I do that her adoptive parents were monsters—”
“Paris changed the terms of the agreement,” Delalieu shouts angrily.
Nazeera raises an eyebrow, unmoved.
But something seems to have loosened Delalieu’s tongue, something like fear or guilt or pent-up rage, because suddenly the words rush out of him.
“Paris went back on his word as soon as Ella was in his custody,” he says. “He thought no one would find out. Back then he and I were about the same, as far as rank went, in The Reestablishment. We often worked closely together because of our family ties, and I was, as a result, privy to the choices he made.”
Delalieu shakes his head.
“But I discovered too late that he purposely chose adoptive parents who exhibited abusive, dangerous behavior. When I confronted him about it he argued that any abuse Ella suffered at the hands of her surrogate parents would only encourage her powers to manifest, and he had the statistics to support his claim. I tried to voice my concerns—I reported him; I told the council of commanders that he was hurting her, breaking her—but he made my concerns sound like the desperate histrionics of someone unwilling to do what was necessary for the cause.”
I can see the color creeping up Delalieu’s neck, his anger only barely contained.
“I was repeatedly overruled. Demoted. I was punished for questioning his tactics.
“But I knew Paris was wrong,” he says quietly. “Ella withered. When I first met her she was a strong girl with a joyful spirit. She was unfailingly kind and upbeat.” He hesitates. “It wasn’t long before she grew cold and closed-off. Withdrawn. Paris moved up in rank quickly, and I was soon relegated to little more than his right hand. I was the one he sent to check on her at home, at school. I was ordered to monitor her behavior, write the reports outlining her progress.
“But there were no results. Her spirit had been broken. I begged Paris to put her elsewhere—to, at the very least, return her to a regular facility, one that I might oversee personally—and still he insisted, over and over again, that the abuse she suffered would spur results.” Delalieu is on his feet now, pacing. “He was hoping to impress the council, hoping his efforts would be rewarded with yet another promotion. It soon became his single task to wait, to have me watch Ella closely for developments, for any sign that she’d changed. Evolved.” He stops in place. Swallows, hard. “But Paris was careless.”
Delalieu drops his head into his hands.
The room around us has gone so quiet I can almost hear the seconds pass. We’re all waiting for him to keep going, but he doesn’t lift his head. I’m studying him—his shaking hands, the tremble in his legs, his general loss of composure—and my heart hammers in my chest. I feel like he’s about to break. Like he’s close to telling us something important.
“What do you mean?” I say quietly. “Careless how?”
Delalieu looks up, his eyes red-rimmed and wild.
“I mean it was his one job,” he says, slamming his fist against the wall. He hits it, hard, his knuckles breaking through the plaster, and for a moment, I’m genuinely stunned. I didn’t think Delalieu had it in him.
“You don’t understand,” he says, losing the fire. He stumbles back, sags against the wall. “My greatest regret in life has been watching those kids suffer and doing nothing about it.”
“Wait,” Winston says. “Which kids? Who are you talking about?”
But Delalieu doesn’t seem to hear him. He only shakes his head. “Paris never took Ella’s assignment seriously. It was his fault she lost control. It was his fault she didn’t know better, it was his fault she hadn’t been prepared or trained or properly guarded. It was his fault she killed that little boy,” he says, now so broken his voice is shaking. “What she did that day nearly destroyed her. Nearly ruined the entire operation. Nearly exposed us to the world.”
He closes his eyes, presses his fingers to his temples. And then he sinks back down into his chair. He looks unmoored.
Castle and I share a knowing glance from across the room. Something is happening. Something is about to happen.
Delalieu is a resource we never realized we had. And for all his protests, he actually seems like he wants to talk. Maybe Delalieu is the key. Maybe he can tell us what we need to know about—about everything. About Juliette, about Anderson, about The Reestablishment. It’s obvious a dam broke open in Delalieu. I’m just hoping we can keep him talking.
It’s Adam who says, “If you hated Anderson so much, why didn’t you stop him when you had the chance?”
“Don’t you understand?” Delalieu says, his eyes big and round and sad. “I never had the chance. I didn’t have the authority, and we’d only just been voted into power. Leila—my daughter—was sicker every day and I was— I wasn’t myself. I was unraveling. I suspected foul play in her illness but had no proof. I spent my work hours overseeing the crumbling mental and physical health of an innocent young woman, and I spent my free hours watching my daughter die.”
“Those are excuses,” Nazeera says coldly. “You were a coward.”
He looks up. “Yes,” he says. “That’s true. I was a coward.” He shakes his head, turns away. “I said nothing, even when Paris spun Ella’s tragedy into a victory. He told everyone that what Ella did to that boy was a blessing in disguise. That, in fact, it was exactly what he’d been working toward. He argued that what she did that day, regardless of the consequences, was the exact manifestation of her powers he’d been hoping for all along.” Delalieu looks suddenly sick. “He got away with everything. Everything he ever wanted, he was given. And he was always reckless. He did lazy work, all the while using Ella as a pawn to fulfill his own sadistic desires.”
“Please be more specific,” Castle says coolly. “Anderson had a great deal of sadistic desires. Which are you referring to?”
Delalieu goes pale. His voice is lower, weaker, when he says, “Paris has always been perversely fond of destroying his own son. I never understood it. I never understood his need to break that boy. He tortured him a thousand different ways, but when Paris discovered the depth of Aaron’s emotional connection to Ella, he used it to drive that boy near to madness.”
“That’s why he shot her,” I say, remembering what Juliette—Ella—told me after Omega Point was bombed. “Anderson wanted to kill her to teach Warner a lesson. Right?”
But something changes in Delalieu’s face. Transforms him, sags him down. And then he laughs—a sad, broken laugh. “You don’t understand, you don’t understand, you don’t understand,” he cries, shaking his head. “You think these recent events are everything. You think Aaron fell in love with your friend of several months, a rebel girl named Juliette. You don’t know. You don’t know. You don’t know that Aaron has been in love with Ella for the better part of his entire life. They’ve known each other since childhood.”
Adam makes a sound. A stunned sound of disbelief.
“Okay, I have to be honest— I don’t get it,” Ian says. He steals a wary glance at Nazeera before he says, “Nazeera said Anderson has been wiping their memories. If that’s true, then how could Warner be in love with her for so long? Why would Anderson wipe their memories, tell them all about how they know each other, and then wipe their memories again?”
Delalieu is shaking his head. A strange smile begins to form on his face, the kind of shaky, terrified smile that isn’t a smile at all. “No. No. You don’t—” He sighs, looks away. “Paris has never told either of them about their shared history. The reason he had to keep wiping their memories was because it didn’t matter how many times he reset the story or remade the introductions— Aaron always fell in love with her. Every time.
“In the beginning Paris thought it was a fluke. He found it almost funny. Entertaining. But the more it happened, the more it began to drive Paris insane. He thought there was something wrong with Aaron—that there was something wrong with him on a genetic level, that he’d been plagued by a sickness. He wanted to crush what he saw as a weakness.”
“Wait,” Adam says, holding up his hands. “What do you mean, the more it happened? How many times did it happen?”
“At least several times.”
Adam looks shell-shocked. “They met and fell in love several times?”
Delalieu takes a shaky breath. “I don’t know that they always fell in love, exactly. Paris seldom let them spend that much time alone. But they were always drawn together. It was obvious, every time he put them in the same room, they were like”—Delalieu claps his hands—“magnets.”
Delalieu shakes his head at Adam.
“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you all this. I’m sure it’s painful to hear, especially considering your history with Ella. It’s not fair that you were pulled into Paris’s games. He never should’ve p—”
“Whoa, whoa— Wait. What games?” Adam says, stunned. “What are you talking about?”