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Nothing happened.

Nothing happened except that she burst into tears. She threw herself into my arms and wept and told me she’d been terrified that there was something wrong with her, that she’d turned into a monster—

We only had a month, altogether.

But there was something about her that felt right to me, from the very beginning. I trusted her. She felt familiar, like I’d always known her. But I also knew it seemed a dramatic sort of thought, so I kept it to myself.

She told me about her life. Her horrible parents. She’d shared her fears with me, so I shared mine. I told her about my mom, how I didn’t know what was happening to her, how worried I was that she was going to die.

Juliette cared about me. Listened to me the way no one else did.

It was the most innocent relationship I’d ever had, but it meant more to me than anything. For the first time in years, I felt less alone.

The day I found out she was finally being transferred, I pulled her close. I pressed my face into her hair and breathed her in and she cried. She told me she was scared and I promised I’d try to do something—I promised to talk to my dad even though I knew he wouldn’t care—

And then, suddenly, he was there.

He ripped her out of my arms, and I noticed then that he was wearing gloves. “What the hell are you doing?” he cried. “Have you lost your mind? Have you lost yourself entirely?”

“Dad,” I said, panicking. “Nothing happened. I was just saying good-bye to her.”

His eyes widened, round with shock. And when he spoke, his words were whispers. “You were just— You were saying good-bye to her?”

“She’s leaving,” I said stupidly.

“You think I don’t know that?”

I swallowed, hard.

“Jesus,” he said, running a hand across his mouth. “How long have you been doing this? How long have you been coming down here?”

My heart was racing. Fear pulsed through me. I was shaking my head, unable to speak.

“What did you do?” my dad demanded, his eyes flashing. “Did you touch her?”

“No.” Anger surged through me, giving me back my voice even as my face flushed with embarrassment. “No, of course not.”

“Are you sure?”

“Dad, why are you”—I shook my head, confused—“I don’t understand why you’re so upset. You’ve been pushing me and Lena together for months, even though I’ve told you a hundred times that I don’t like her, but now, when I actually—” I hesitated, looking at Juliette, her face half hidden behind my dad. “I was just getting to know her. That’s all.”

“You were just getting to know her?” He stared at me, disgusted. “Of all the girls in the world, you fall for this one? The child-murderer bound for prison? The likely insane test tube experiment? What is wrong with you?”

“Dad, please— Nothing happened. We’re just friends. We just talk sometimes.”

“Just friends,” he said, and laughed. The sound was demented. “You know what? I’ll let you take this with you. I’ll let you keep this one while you’re gone. Let it sit with you. Let it teach you a lesson.”

“What? Take what with me?”

“A warning.” He leveled me with a lethal look. “Try something like this again,” he said, “and I’ll kill her. And I’ll make sure you get to watch.”

I stared at him, my heart beating out of my chest. This was insane. We hadn’t even done anything. I’d known that my dad would probably be angry, but I never thought he’d threaten to kill her. If I’d known, I never would’ve risked it. And now—

My head was spinning. I didn’t understand. He was dragging her down the hall and I didn’t understand.

Suddenly, she screamed.

She screamed and I stood there, helpless as he dragged her away. She called my name—cried out for me—and he shook her, told her to shut up, and I felt something inside of me die. I felt it as it happened. Felt something break apart inside of me as I watched her go.

I’d never hated myself so much. I’d never been more of a coward.

And now, here we are.

That day feels like a lifetime ago. I never thought I’d see her again.

Juliette looks up at me now, and she looks different. Her eyes are glassy with tears. Her skin has lost its pallor; her hair has lost its sheen. She looks thinner. She reminds me of myself.

Hollow.

“Hi,” I whisper.

Tears spill, silently, down her cheeks.

I have to force myself to remain calm. I have to force myself not to lose my head. My mother warned me, years ago, to hide my heart from my father, and every time I slipped—every time I let myself hope he might not be a monster—he punished me, mercilessly.

I wasn’t going to let him do that to me again. I didn’t want him to know how much it hurt to see her like this. How painful it was to sit beside her and say nothing. Do nothing.

“What is she doing here?” I ask, hardly recognizing my own voice.

“She’s here,” he says, “because I had her collected for us.”

“Collected for what? You said—”

“I know what I said.” He shrugs. “But I wanted to see this moment. Your reunion. I’m always interested in your reunions. I find the dynamics of your relationship fascinating.”

I look at him, feel my chest explode with rage and somehow, fight it back. “You brought her back here just to torture me?”

“You flatter yourself, son.”

“Then what?”

“I have your first task for you,” he says, pushing a stack of files across his desk. “Your first real mission as chief commander and regent of this sector.”

My lips part, surprised. “What does that have to do with her?”

My father’s eyes light up. “Everything.”

I say nothing.

“I have a plan,” he says. “One that will require your assistance. In these files”—he nods at the stack in front of me—“is everything you need to know about her illness. Every medical report, every paper trail. I want you to reform the girl. Rehabilitate her. And then I want you to weaponize her abilities for our own use.”

I meet his eyes, failing to conceal my horror at the suggestion. “Why? Why would you come to me with this? Why would you ask me to do something like this, when you know our history?”

“You are uniquely suited to the job. It seems silly to waste my time explaining this to you now, as you won’t remember most of this conversation tomorrow—”

“What?” I frown. “Why wouldn’t I—”

“—but the two of you seem to have some kind of immutable connection, one that might, I hope, inspire her abilities to develop more fully. More quickly.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

He ignores me. Glances at Juliette. Her eyes are closed, her head resting against the wall behind her. She seems almost asleep, except for the tears still streaking softly down her face.

It kills me just to look at her.

“As you can see,” my father says, “she’s a bit out of her mind right now. Heavily sedated. She’s been through a great deal these last two years. We had no choice but to turn her into a sort of guinea pig. I’m sure you can imagine how that goes.”

He stares at me with a slight smile on his face. I know he’s waiting for something. A reaction. My anger.

I refuse to give it to him.

His smile widens.

“Anyhow,” he says happily, “I’m going to put her back in isolation for the next six months—maybe a year, depending on how things develop. You can use that opportunity to prepare. To observe her.”

But I’m still fighting back my anger. I can’t bring myself to speak.

“Is there a problem?” he says.

“No.”

“You remember, of course, the warning I gave you the last time she was here.”

“Of course,” I say, my voice flat. Dead.

And then, as if out of nowhere: “How is Lena, by the way? I hope she’s well.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

It’s barely there, but I catch the sudden shift in his voice. The anger when he says, “And why is that?”

“I broke things off with her last week.”

“And you didn’t think to tell me?”

Finally, I meet his eyes. “I never understood why you wanted us to be together. She’s not right for me. She never was.”

“You don’t love her, you mean.”

“I can’t imagine how anyone would.”

“That,” he says, “is exactly why she’s perfect for you.”

I blink at him, caught off guard. For a moment, it almost sounded like my father cared about me. Like he was trying to protect me in some perverse, idiotic way.

Eventually, he sighs.

He picks up a pen and a pad of paper and begins writing something down. “I’ll see what I can do about repairing the damage you’ve done. Lena’s mother must be hysterical. Until then, get to work.” He nods at the stack of files he’s set before me.

Reluctantly, I pick a folder off the top.

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