“Hot damn,” Ian breathes.
“What do you want?” Lily asks, fists clenched, standing in a far corner of the room.
“Nothing from you,” Warner says to her. “I’m here to pick up Juliette. I have no wish to disturb your . . . slumber party,” he says, looking around at the pillows and blankets piled on the living room floor.
Adam goes rigid with alarm. “What are you talking about? She’s not going anywhere with you.”
Warner scratches the back of his head. “Do you never get exhausted being so wholly unbearable? You have as much charisma as the rotting innards of unidentified roadkill.”
I hear an abrupt wheezing noise and turn toward the sound.
Kenji has a hand pressed to his mouth, desperately trying to suppress a smile. He’s shaking his head, holding up a hand in apology. And then he breaks, laughing out loud, snorting as he tries to muffle the sound. “I’m sorry,” he says, pressing his lips together, shaking his head again. “This is not a funny moment. It’s not. I’m not laughing.”
Adam looks like he might punch Kenji in the face.
“So you don’t want to kill us?” Winston says. “Because if you’re not going to kill us, you should probably get the hell out of here before we kill you first.”
“No,” Warner says calmly. “I am not going to kill you. And though I wouldn’t mind disposing of these two”—he nods at Adam and Kenji—“the idea is little more than exhausting to me now. I am no longer interested in your sad, pathetic lives. I am only here to accompany and transport Juliette safely home. She and I have urgent matters to attend to.”
“No,” I hear James say suddenly. He clambers to his feet, stares Warner straight in the eye. “This is her home now. You can’t take her away. I don’t want anyone to hurt her.”
Warner’s eyebrows fly up in surprise. He seems genuinely startled, as though he’s only now noticing the ten-year-old. Warner and James have never actually met before; neither one of them knows they’re brothers.
I look at Kenji. He looks back.
This is a big moment.
Warner studies James’s face with rapt fascination. He bends down on one knee, meets James at eye level. “And who are you?” he asks.
Everyone in the room is silent, watching.
James blinks steadily and doesn’t answer right away. He finally shoves his hands into his pockets and stares at the floor. “I’m James. Adam’s brother. Who are you?”
Warner tilts his head a little. “No one of consequence,” he says. He tries to smile. “But it’s very nice to meet you, James. I’m pleased to see your concern for Juliette’s safety. You should know, however, that I have no intention of hurting her. It’s just that she’s made me a promise, and I intend to see it through.”
“What kind of promise?” James asks.
“Yeah, what kind of promise?” Kenji cuts in, his voice loud—and angry—all of sudden.
I look up, look around. Everyone is staring at me, waiting for me to answer. Adam’s eyes are wide with horror and disbelief.
I meet Warner’s gaze. “I’m not leaving,” I tell him. “I never promised I would stay on base with you.”
He frowns. “You’d rather stay here?” he asks. “Why?”
“I need my friends,” I tell him. “And they need me. Besides, we’re all going to have to work together, so we may as well get started now. And I don’t want to have to be smuggled in and out of base,” I add. “You can just meet me here.”
“Whoa—wait—what do you mean we can all work together?” Ian interrupts. “And why are you inviting him to come back here? What the hell are you guys talking about?”
“What kind of promise did you make him, Juliette?” Adam’s voice is loud and accusing.
I turn toward the group of them. Me, standing beside Warner, facing Adam’s angry eyes along with the confused, soon-to-be-angry faces of my friends.
Oh how strange all of this has become in such a short period of time.
I take a tight, bracing breath.
“I’m ready to fight,” I say, addressing the entire group. “I know some of you might feel defeated; some of you might think there’s no hope left, especially not after what happened to Omega Point. But Sonya and Sara are still out there, and they need our help. So does the rest of the world. And I haven’t come this far just to turn back now. I’m ready to take action and Warner has offered to help me.”
I look directly at Kenji. “I’ve accepted his offer. I’ve promised to be his ally; to fight by his side; to kill Anderson and to take down The Reestablishment.”
Kenji narrows his eyes at me and I can’t tell if he’s angry, or if he’s really, really angry.
I look at the rest of my friends. “But we can all work together,” I say.
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot,” I go on, “and I think the group of us still has a chance, especially if we combine our strengths with Warner’s. He knows things about The Reestablishment and his father that we’d never be able to know otherwise.”
I swallow hard as I take in the shocked, horrified looks on the faces of those around me. “But,” I hurry to say, “if you aren’t interested in fighting back anymore, I totally understand. And if you’d rather I didn’t stay here among you, I would respect your decision. Either way, I’ve already made my choice,” I tell them. “Whether or not you choose to join me, I’ve decided to fight. I will take down The Reestablishment or I will die trying. There’s nothing left for me otherwise.”
The room is quiet for a long time. I’ve dropped my eyes, too afraid to see the looks on their faces.
Alia is the first to speak.
“I’ll fight with you,” she says, her soft voice ringing strong and confident in the silence. I look up to meet her eyes and she smiles, her cheeks flushed with color and determination.
But before I even have a chance to respond, Winston jumps in.
“Me too,” he says. “As soon as my head stops hurting, but yeah, me too. I’ve got nothing left to lose,” he says with a shrug. “And I’ll kick some ass just to get the girls back, even if we can’t save the rest of the world.”