“I can’t,” I tell him. “I have to go. I’m not allowed to come back here again.”
“What?” Anger. In and out of his eyes. “What do you mean you’re not allowed?”
“Adam doesn’t want me to stay here anymore. I have to be gone before he gets back.”
Warner’s jaw tightens. He stares at me for what feels like a century. I can almost see him thinking—his mind working at an impossible rate—to find a solution. “Okay,” he finally says. “Okay.” He exhales. “Kishimoto,” he says all at once, never breaking eye contact with me.
Warner tries not to roll his eyes as he turns toward Kenji. “I will set up your group in my private training quarters on base. I will require a day to work out the details, but I will make sure you are granted easy access and clearance to enter the grounds upon arrival. You will make yourself and your team invisible and follow my lead. You are free to stay in these quarters until we are ready to proceed with the first stage of our plan.” A pause. “Will this arrangement work for you?”
Kenji actually looks disgusted. “Hell no.”
“You’re going to lock us up in your ‘private training quarters’?” Kenji says, making air quotes with his fingers. “Why don’t you just say you’re going to put us in a cage and kill us slowly? You think I’m a moron? What reason would I have to believe that kind of shit?”
“I will make sure you are fed well and regularly,” Warner says by way of response. “Your accommodations will be simple, but they will not be simpler than this,” he says, gesturing to the room. “The arrangement will provide us ample opportunity to meet and structure our next moves. You must know that you’re putting everyone at risk by staying on unregulated territory. You and your friends will be safer with me.”
“Why would you do that, though?” Ian asks. “Why would you want to help us and feed us and keep us alive? That doesn’t make any sense—”
“It doesn’t need to make sense.”
“Of course it does,” Lily counters. Her eyes are hard, angry. “We’re not going to walk onto a military base just to get ourselves killed,” she snaps. “This could be some sick trick.”
“Fine,” Warner says.
“Fine, what?” Lily asks.
“Oh.” Lily blinks.
Warner turns to Kenji. “You are officially refusing my offer, then?”
“Yeah, no thanks,” Kenji says.
Warner nods. Looks to me. “Should we get going?”
“But—no—” I’m panicking now, looking from Warner to Kenji and back to Warner again. “I can’t just leave—I can’t just never see them again—”
I turn to Kenji.
“You’re just going to stay here?” I ask. “And I’ll never see you again?”
“You can stay here with us.” Kenji crosses his arms against his chest. “You don’t have to go.”
“You know I can’t stay,” I tell him, angry and hurt. “You know Adam meant what he said—he’ll go crazy if he comes back and I’m still here—”
“So you’re just going to leave, then?” Kenji says sharply. “You’re going to walk away from all of us”—he gestures to everyone—“just because Adam decided to be a douchebag? You’re trading all of us in for Warner?”
“Kenji—I’m not—I have nowhere else to live! What am I supposed to—”
“Adam will throw me out—”
“No he won’t,” Kenji says. “We won’t let him.”
“I won’t force myself on him. I won’t beg him. Let me at least leave with a shred of dignity—”
Kenji throws his arms in the air in frustration. “This is bullshit!”
“Come with me,” I say to him. “Please—I want us to stay together—”
“We can’t,” he says. “We can’t risk that, J. I don’t know what’s going on between you two,” he says, gesturing between me and Warner. “Maybe he really is different with you, I don’t know, whatever—but I can’t put all of our lives at risk based on emotions and an assumption. Maybe he cares about you,” Kenji says, “but he doesn’t give a shit about the rest of us.” He looks at Warner. “Do you?”
“Do I what?” Warner asks.
“Do you care about any of us? About our survival—our well-being?”
Kenji almost laughs. “Well at least you’re honest.”
“My offer, however, still stands. And you’re an idiot to refuse,” Warner says. “You’ll all die out here, and you know that better than I do.”
“We’ll take our chances.”
“No,” I gasp. “Kenji—”
“It’ll be all right,” he says to me. His forehead is pinched, his eyes heavy. “I’m sure we’ll find a way to see each other one day. Do what you need to do.”
“No,” I’m trying to say. Trying to breathe. My lungs are swelling up, my heart racing so fast I can hear it pounding in my ears. I’m feeling hot and cold and too hot, too cold, and all I can think is no, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this, it wasn’t all supposed to fall apart, not again not again—
Warner grabs my arms. “Please,” he’s saying, his voice urgent, panicked. “Please don’t do that, love, I need you not to do that—”
“Dammit, Kenji!” I explode, breaking away from Warner. “Please, for the love of God, don’t be an idiot. You have to come with me—I need you—”
“I need some kind of guarantee, J”—Kenji is pacing, hands in his hair—“I can’t just trust that everything is going to be all right—”
I turn on Warner, chest heaving, fists clenched. “Give them what they want. I don’t care what it is,” I say to him. “Please, you have to negotiate. You have to make this work. I need him. I need my friends.”
Warner looks at me for a long time.
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