I hesitate before answering. “Adam is a great soldier.”
“Is that all?”
My heart is pounding so hard. Too hard.
Warner looks away, carefully neutralizes his expression, his tone. “You care for him.”
It’s not a question.
“Yes,” I manage to say. “Of course I do.”
“And what does that entail, exactly?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I lie.
Warner is staring at the wall, holding himself very still, his eyes revealing nothing of what he’s really thinking, what he’s feeling. “Do you love him?”
I can’t even imagine what it must cost him to ask this question so directly. I almost admire him for being brave enough to do it.
But for the first time, I’m not really sure what to say. If this were one week ago, two weeks ago, I would’ve answered without hesitation. I would’ve known, definitively, that I loved Adam, and I wouldn’t have been afraid to say so. But now I can’t help but wonder if I even know what love is; if what I felt for Adam was love or just a mix of deep affection and physical attraction. Because if I loved him—if I really, truly loved him—would I hesitate now? Would I so easily be able to detach myself from his life? His pain?
I’ve worried so much about Adam these past weeks—the effects of his training, the news of his father—but I don’t know if it’s been out of love, or if it’s been out of guilt. He left everything for me; because he wanted to be with me. But as much as it pains me to admit it, I know I didn’t run away to be with him. Adam wasn’t my main reason; he wasn’t the driving force.
I ran away for me. Because I wanted to be free.
Warner’s soft whisper brings me back to the present, hauls me up and into myself, jarring my consciousness back to reality. I’m afraid to dwell on the truths I’ve just uncovered.
I meet Warner’s eyes. “Yes?”
“Do you love him?” he asks again, more quietly this time.
And I suddenly have to force myself to say three words I never, ever thought I’d say. “I don’t know.”
Warner closes his eyes.
He exhales, the tension clear in his shoulders and in the line of his jaw and when he finally looks at me again there are stories in his eyes, thoughts and feelings and whispers of things I’ve never even seen before. Truths he might never bring himself to say; impossible things and unbelievable things and an abundance of feeling I’ve never thought him capable of. His whole body seems to relax in relief.
I don’t know this boy standing before me. He’s a perfect stranger, an entirely different being; the type of person I might never have known if my parents hadn’t tossed me away.
“Juliette,” he whispers.
I’m only now realizing just how close he is. I could press my face against his neck if I wanted to. Could place my hands on his chest if I wanted to.
If I wanted to.
“I’d really love for you to come back with me,” he says.
“I can’t,” I say to him, heart racing suddenly. “I have to stay here.”
“But it’s not practical,” he says. “We need to plan. We need to talk strategy—it could take days—”
“I already have a plan.”
His eyebrows fly up and I tilt my head, fixing him with a hard look before I reach for the door.
Kenji is waiting on the other side.
“What the hell do you two think you’re doing?” he says. “Get your asses out here, right now.”
I head straight into the living room, eager to put distance between me and whatever keeps happening to my head when Warner gets too close. I need air. I need a new brain. I need to jump out of a window and catch a ride with a dragon to a world far from here.
But the moment I look up and try to steady myself, I find Adam staring at me. Blinking like he’s starting to see something he wishes he could unsee, and I feel my face flush so fast that for a moment I’m surprised I’m not standing in a toilet.
“Adam,” I hear myself say. “No—it’s not—”
“I can’t even talk to you right now.” He’s shaking his head, his voice strangled. “I can’t even be near you right now—”
“Please,” I try to say. “We were just talking—”
“You were just talking? Alone? In my brother’s bedroom?” He’s holding his jacket in his hands. He tosses it onto the couch. Laughs like he might be losing his mind. Runs a hand through his hair and glances up at the ceiling. Stares back at me. “What the hell is going on, Juliette?” he asks, his jaw tensing. “What is happening right now?”
“Can’t we talk about this in private—?”
“No.” His chest is heaving. “I want to talk about this right now. I don’t care who hears it.”
My eyes immediately go to Warner. He’s leaning against the wall just outside James’s room, arms crossed loosely at his chest. He’s watching Adam with a calm, focused interest.
Warner stills suddenly, as if he can feel my eyes on him.
He looks up, looks at me for exactly two seconds before turning away. He seems to be laughing.
“Why do you keep looking at him?” Adam demands, eyes flashing. “Why are you even looking at him at all? Why are you so interested in some demented psycho—”
I’m so tired of this.
I’m tired of all the secrets and all my inner turmoil and all the guilt and confusion I’ve felt over these two brothers. More than anything else, I don’t like this angry Adam in front of me.
I try to talk to him and he won’t listen to me. I try to reason with him and he attacks me. I try to be honest with him and he won’t believe me. I have no idea what else to do.
“What’s really going on between you guys?” Adam is still asking me. “What’s really happening, Juliette? I need you to stop lying to me—”
“Adam.” I cut him off. I’m surprised by how calm I sound. “There’s so much we need to be discussing right now,” I say to him, “and this isn’t it. Our personal problems don’t need to be shared with everyone.”
“So you admit it then?” he says, somehow angrier. “That we have problems, that something is wrong—”