“Please,” I whisper.
He looks away. Looks back at me.
He finally meets Kenji’s eyes. Sighs. “What do you want?”
“I want a hot bath,” I hear Winston say.
And then he giggles.
He actually giggles.
“Two of my men are ill and injured,” Kenji says, immediately switching gears. His voice is clipped, sharp. Unfeeling. “They need medicine and medical attention. We don’t want to be monitored, we don’t want a curfew, and we want to be able to eat more than the Automat food. We want protein. Fruits. Vegetables. Real meals. We want regular access to showers. We’ll need new clothes. And we want to remain armed at all times.”
Warner is standing so still beside me I can hardly hear him breathing anymore. My head is pounding so hard and my heart is still racing in my chest, but I’ve calmed down enough that I’m able to breathe a little easier now.
Warner glances down at me.
He holds my gaze for just a moment before he closes his eyes. Exhales a sharp breath. Looks up.
“Fine,” he says.
Kenji is staring at him. “Wait—what?”
“I will be back tomorrow at fourteen hundred hours to guide you to your new quarters.”
“Holy shit.” Winston is bouncing on the couch. “Holy shit holy shit holy shit.”
“Do you have your things?” Warner asks me.
“Good,” he says. “Let’s go.”
Warner is holding my hand.
I only have enough energy to focus on this single, strange fact as he leads me down the stairs and into the parking garage. He opens the door of the tank and helps me in before closing it behind me.
He climbs into the other side.
Turns on the engine.
We’re already on the road and I’ve blinked only six times since we left Adam’s house.
I still can’t believe what just happened. I can’t believe we’re all going to be working together. I can’t believe I told Warner what to do and he listened to me.
I turn to look at him. It’s strange: I’ve never felt so safe or so relieved to be beside him. I never thought I could feel this way with him.
“Thank you,” I whisper, grateful and guilty, somehow, about everything that’s happened. About leaving Adam behind. I realize now that I’ve made the kind of choice I can’t undo. My heart is still breaking. “Really,” I say again. “Thank you so much. For coming to get me. I appreciate—”
“Please,” he says. “I’m begging you to stop.”
“I can’t stomach your pain,” he says. “I can feel it so strongly and it’s making me crazy—please,” he says to me. “Don’t be sad. Or hurt. Or guilty. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Don’t be sorry, either,” he says. “God, the only reason I’m not going to kill Kent for this is because I know it would only upset you more.”
“You’re right,” I say after a moment. “But it’s not just him.”
“What?” he asks. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t want you to kill anyone at all,” I say. “Not just Adam.”
Warner laughs a sharp, strange laugh. He looks almost relieved. “Do you have any other stipulations?”
“You don’t want to fix me, then? You don’t have a long list of things I need to work on?”
“No.” I stare out the window. The view is so bleak. So cold. Covered in ice and snow. “There’s nothing wrong with you that isn’t already wrong with me,” I say quietly. “And if I were smart I’d first figure out how to fix myself.”
We’re both silent awhile. The tension is so thick in this small space.
“Aaron?” I say, still watching the scenery fly by.
I hear the small hitch in his breath. The hesitation. It’s the first time I’ve used his first name so casually.
“Yes?” he says.
“I want you to know,” I tell him, “that I don’t think you’re crazy.”
“What?” He startles.
“I don’t think you’re crazy.” The world is blurring away as I watch it through the window. “And I don’t think you’re a psychopath. I also don’t think you’re a sick, twisted monster. I don’t think you’re a heartless murderer, and I don’t think you deserve to die, and I don’t think you’re pathetic. Or stupid. Or a coward. I don’t think you’re any of the things people have said about you.”
I turn to look at him.
Warner is staring out the windshield.
“You don’t?” His voice is so soft and so scared I can scarcely hear it.
“No,” I say. “I don’t. And I just thought you should know. I’m not trying to fix you; I don’t think you need to be fixed. I’m not trying to turn you into someone else. I only want you to be who you really are. Because I think I know the real you. I think I’ve seen him.”
Warner says nothing, his chest rising and falling.
“I don’t care what anyone else says about you,” I tell him. “I think you’re a good person.”
Warner is blinking fast now. I can hear him breathing.
In and out.
He says nothing.
“Do you . . . believe me?” I ask after a moment. “Can you sense that I’m telling the truth? That I really mean it?”
Warner’s hands are clenched around the steering wheel. His knuckles are white.
Warner still hasn’t said a single word to me.
We’re in his room now, courtesy of Delalieu, who Warner was quick to dismiss. It feels strange and familiar to be back here, in this room that I’ve found both fear and comfort in.
Now it feels right to me.
This is Warner’s room. And Warner, to me, is no longer something to be afraid of.
These past few months have transformed him in my eyes, and these past two days have been full of revelations that I’m still recovering from. I can’t deny that he seems different to me now.
I feel like I understand him in a way I never did before.
He’s like a terrified, tortured animal. A creature who spent his whole life being beaten, abused, and caged away. He was forced into a life he never asked for, and was never given an opportunity to choose anything else. And though he’s been given all the tools to kill a person, he’s too emotionally tortured to be able to use those skills against his own father—the very man who taught him to be a murderer. Because somehow, in some strange, inexplicable way, he still wants his father to love him.