I turn to Kenji. “What are you talking about?”
He rolls his eyes at me. Looks away and says, “Have a seat, Kent.”
Adam backs away—just an inch or two—his curiosity winning out for the moment, and Kenji tugs me forward so I’m standing in the middle of this tiny room. Everyone is staring at me like I might pull turnips out of my pants. “Kenji, what—”
“Alia, you remember Juliette,” Kenji says, nodding at a slim blond girl sitting in a back corner of the room. She offers me a quick smile before looking away, blushing for no apparent reason. I remember her; she’s the one who designed my custom knuckle braces—the intricate pieces I’d worn over my gloves both times we went out to battle. I’d never really paid close attention to her before, and I now realize it’s because she tries to be invisible. She’s a soft, sweet-looking girl with gentle brown eyes; she also happens to be an exceptional designer. I wonder how she developed her skill.
“Lily—you definitely remember Juliette,” Kenji is saying to her. “We all broke into the storage compounds together.” He glances at me. “You remember, right?”
I nod. Grin at Lily. I don’t really know her, but I like her energy. She mock-salutes me, smiling wide as her springy brown curls fall into her face. “Nice to see you again,” she says. “And thanks for not being dead. It sucks being the only girl around here.”
Alia’s blond head pops up for only a second before she retreats deeper into the corner.
“Sorry,” Lily says, looking only slightly remorseful. “I meant the only talking girl around here. Please tell me you talk,” she says to me.
“Oh, she talks,” Kenji says, shooting me a look. “Cusses like a sailor, too.”
“I do not cuss like a—”
“Brendan, Winston.” Kenji cuts me off, pointing at the two guys sitting on the couch. “These two definitely don’t require an introduction, but, as you can see,” he says, “they look a little different now. Behold, the transformative powers of being held hostage by a bunch of sadistic bastards!” He flourishes a hand in their direction, his sarcasm accompanied by a brittle smile. “Now they look like a pair of wildebeests. But, you know, by comparison, I look like a damn king. So it’s good news all around.”
Winston points at my face. His eyes are a little unfocused, and he has to blink a few times before saying, “I like you. It’s pretty nice you’re not dead.”
“I second that, mate.” Brendan claps Winston on the shoulder but he’s smiling at me. His eyes are still so very light blue, and his hair, so very white blond. But he has a huge gash running from his right temple down to his jawline, and it looks like it’s only just beginning to scab up. I can’t imagine where else he’s hurt. What else Anderson must’ve done to both him and Winston. A sick, slithery feeling moves through me.
“It’s so good to see you again,” Brendan is saying, his British accent always surprising me. “Sorry we couldn’t be a bit more presentable.”
I offer them both a smile. “I’m so happy you’re all right.”
“Ian,” Kenji says, gesturing to the tall, lanky guy perched on the arm of the couch. Ian Sanchez. I remember him as a guy on my assembly team when we broke into the storage compound, but more important, I know him to be one of the four guys who were kidnapped by Anderson’s men. He, Winston, Brendan, and another guy named Emory.
We’d managed to get Ian and Emory back, but not Brendan and Winston. I remember Kenji saying that Ian and Emory were so messed up when we brought them in that even with the girls helping to heal them, it’d still taken them a while to recover. Ian looks okay to me now, but he, too, must’ve undergone some horrific things. And Emory clearly isn’t here.
I swallow, hard, offering Ian what I’m hoping is a strong smile.
He doesn’t smile back.
“How are you still alive?” he demands, with no preamble. “You don’t look like anyone beat the shit out of you, so, I mean, no offense or whatever, but I don’t trust you.”
“We’re getting to that part,” Kenji says, cutting Adam off just as he begins to protest on my behalf. “She has a solid explanation, I promise. I already know all the details.” He shoots Ian a sharp look, but Ian doesn’t seem to notice. He’s still staring at me, one eyebrow raised as if in challenge.
I cock my head at him, considering him closely.
Kenji snaps his fingers in front of my face. “Focus, princess, I’m already getting bored.” He glances around the room, looking for anyone we might’ve missed for the reintroductions. “James,” he says, his eyes landing on the upturned face of my only ten-year-old friend. “Anything you want to say to Juliette before we get started?”
James looks at me, his blue eyes bright below his sandy-blond hair. He shrugs. “I never thought you were dead,” he says simply.
“Is that right?” Kenji says with a laugh.
James nods. “I had a feeling,” he says, tapping his head.
Kenji grins. “All right, well, that’s it. Let’s get started.”
“What about Ca—,” I begin to say, but stop dead at the flicker of alarm that flits in and out of Kenji’s features.
My gaze lands on Castle, studying his face in a way I hadn’t when I first arrived.
Castle’s eyes are unfocused, his eyebrows furrowed as if he’s caught in an endlessly frustrating conversation with himself; his hands are knotted together in his lap. His hair has broken free of its always-perfect ponytail at the nape of his neck, and his dreads have sprung around his face, falling into his eyes. He’s unshaven, and looks as though he’s been dragged through mud; as though he sat down in that chair the moment he walked in and hasn’t left it since.
And I realize that of the group of us, Castle has been hit the hardest.
Omega Point was his life. His dreams were in every brick, every echo of that space. And in one night, he lost everything. His hopes, his vision for the future, the entire community he strove to build. His only family.
“He’s had it really rough,” Adam whispers to me, and I’m startled by his presence, not realizing he was standing beside me again. “Castle’s been like that for a little while now.”