There’s a moment of absolute silence.
I try to run after him.
Kenji catches me around the waist, yanks me backward. Gives me a hard, knowing look. “I’ll take care of Kent. You stay here and clean up the mess you made,” he says, cocking his head at Warner.
I swallow, hard. Don’t say a word.
It’s only after Kenji has disappeared that I turn around to face the remaining members of our audience, and I’m still searching for the right thing to say when I hear the one voice I least expected.
“Ah, Ms. Ferrars,” Castle says. “It’s so good to have you back. Things are always so much more entertaining when you’re around.”
Ian bursts into tears.
Everyone crowds around Castle at once; James practically tackles him. Ian shoves everyone else out of the way in his attempt to get closer. Castle is smiling, laughing a little. He finally looks more like the man I remember.
“I’m all right,” he’s saying. He sounds exhausted, as if the words are costing him a great deal to get out. “Thank you so much for your concern. But I’ll be all right. I just need a little more time, that’s all.”
I meet his eyes. I’m afraid to approach him.
“Please,” Castle says to Alia and Winston—the two standing closest on either side of him—“help me up. I’d like to greet our newest visitor.”
He’s not talking about me.
Castle gets to his feet with some difficulty, even with everyone scrambling to help him. The entire room suddenly feels different: lighter; happier, somehow. I hadn’t realized how much of everyone’s grief was tied up in Castle’s well-being.
“Mr. Warner,” Castle says, locking eyes with him from across the room. “How very nice of you to join us.”
“I’m not joining anyth—”
“I always knew you would,” Castle says. He smiles a little. “And I am pleased.”
Warner seems to be trying not to roll his eyes.
“You may let the guns down now,” Castle says to him. “I promise I will watch them closely in your absence.”
We all glance up at the ceiling. I hear Warner sigh. All at once, the guns float to the floor, settling gently onto the carpet.
“Very good,” Castle says. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m in desperate need of a long shower. I hope you won’t mistake my early exit for rudeness,” he adds. “It’s only that I feel quite certain we’ll be seeing a lot of each other in these next weeks.”
Warner’s jaw tenses by way of response.
Winston and Brendan help Castle to the bathroom, while Ian shouts eagerly about grabbing him a change of clothes. Me, Warner, James, Alia, and Lily are the only ones left in the room.
“Juliette?” Warner says.
I glance in his direction.
“A moment of your time, please? In private?”
“You can use my room,” James interjects. “I don’t mind.”
I look at him, shocked he’d offer up his personal space so freely to the likes of me and Warner; especially after having seen his brother’s outburst just now.
“Adam will be okay,” James says to me, as if reading my mind. “He’s just really stressed out. He’s worried about a lot of things. He thinks we’re going to run out of food and stuff.”
“It’s really okay,” James says. “I’ll hang out with Alia and Lily.”
I glance at the two girls, but their faces reveal nothing. Alia offers me only the slightest of sympathetic smiles. Lily is staring at Warner, sizing him up.
I finally sigh, relenting.
I follow Warner into the small storage closet, closing the door behind me.
He doesn’t waste any time.
“Why are you inviting your friends to join us? I told you I didn’t want to work with them.”
“How did you find me?” I counter. “I never pressed the button on that pager you gave me.”
Warner studies my eyes, his sharp green gaze locked on to mine as if trying to read me for clues. But the intensity of his gaze is always too much for me; I break the connection too soon, feeling untethered, somehow.
“It was simple deductive reasoning,” he finally says. “Kent was the only member of your group with a life outside of Omega Point; his old home was the only place they’d have been able to retreat to without causing a disturbance. And, as such,” Warner says, “it was the first place I checked.” A slight shake of his head. “Contrary to what you might believe, love, I am not an idiot.”
“I never thought you were an idiot,” I say, surprised. “I thought you were crazy,” I tell him, “but not an idiot.” I hesitate. “I actually think you’re brilliant,” I confess. “I wish I could think like you.” I look away and look back at him too quickly, feeling a lot like I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.
Warner’s face clears. His eyes crinkle in amusement as he smiles. “I don’t want your friends on my team,” he says. “I don’t like them.”
“I don’t care.”
“They will only slow us down.”
“They will give us an advantage,” I insist. “I know you don’t think they did things the right way at Omega Point, but they did know how to survive. They all have important strengths.”
“They’re completely broken.”
“They’re grieving,” I tell him, annoyed. “Don’t underestimate them. Castle is a natural leader,” I say. “Kenji is a genius and an excellent fighter. He acts like an idiot sometimes, but you know better than anyone else that it’s just a show. He’s smarter than all of us. Plus, Winston and Alia can design anything we need as long as they have the materials; Lily has an incredible photographic memory; Brendan can handle electricity and Winston can stretch his limbs into just about anything. And Ian . . .” I falter. “Well, Ian is . . . good for something, I’m sure.”
Warner laughs a little, his smile softening until it disappears altogether. His features settle into an uncertain expression. “And Kent?” Warner finally asks.
I feel my face pale. “What about him?”
“What is he good for?”