It linked us, I realize. That tattoo. It did bring me and Adam together, but not because we were destined for one another. Not because he was my flight to freedom. But because we have one major connection between the two of us. One kind of hope neither one of us was able to see.
A white bird with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head.
A fair-skinned boy with gold hair, the leader of Sector 45.
It was always him. All along.
Warner, Adam’s brother, my captor and now comrade. He inadvertently brought me and Adam together. And being with Adam gave me a new kind of strength. I was still scared and still very broken and Adam cared for me, giving me a reason to stand up for myself when I was too weak to realize I had always been reason enough. It was affection and a desperate desire for physical connection. Two things I’d been so deprived of, and so wholly unfamiliar with. I had nothing to compare these new experiences to.
Of course I thought I was in love.
But while I don’t know much, I do know that if Adam really loved me, he wouldn’t have treated me the way he did today. He wouldn’t prefer that I was dead.
I know this, because I’ve seen proof of his opposite.
Because I was dying.
And Warner could’ve let me die. He was angry and hurt and had every reason to be bitter. I’d just ripped his heart out; I’d let him believe something would come of our relationship. I let him confess the depth of his feelings to me; I let him touch me in ways even Adam hadn’t. I didn’t ask him to stop.
Every inch of me was saying yes.
And then I took it all back. Because I was scared, and confused, and conflicted. Because of Adam.
Warner told me he loved me, and in return I insulted him and lied to him and yelled at him and pushed him away. And when he had the chance to stand back and watch me die, he didn’t.
He found a way to save my life.
With no demands. No expectations. Believing full well that I was in love with someone else, and that saving my life meant making me whole again only to give me back to another guy.
And right now, I can’t say I know what Adam would do if I were dying in front of him. I’m not sure if he would save my life. And that uncertainty alone makes me certain that something wasn’t right between us. Something wasn’t real.
Maybe we both fell in love with the illusion of something more.
My eyes fly open.
It’s pitch-black. Quiet. I sit up too fast.
I must’ve fallen asleep. I have no idea what time it is, but a quick glance around the room tells me Warner isn’t here.
I slip out of bed. I’m still wearing socks and I’m suddenly grateful; I have to wrap my arms around myself, shivering as the cold winter air creeps through the thin material of my T-shirt. My hair is still slightly damp from the bath.
Warner’s office door is cracked open.
There’s a sliver of light peeking through the opening, and it makes me wonder if he really forgot to close it, or if maybe he’s only just walked in. Maybe he’s not in there at all. But my curiosity beats out my conscience this time.
I want to know where he works and what his desk looks like; I want to know if he’s messy or organized or if he keeps personal items around. I wonder if he has any pictures of himself as a kid.
Or of his mother.
I tiptoe forward, butterflies stirring awake in my stomach. I shouldn’t be nervous, I tell myself. I’m not doing anything illegal. I’m just going to see if he’s in there, and if he’s not, I’ll leave. I’m only going to walk in for a second. I’m not going to search through any of his things.
I hesitate outside his door. It’s so quiet that I’m almost certain my heart is beating loud and hard enough for him to hear. I don’t know why I’m so scared.
I knock twice against the door as I nudge it open.
“Aaron, are you—”
Something crashes to the floor.
I push the door open and rush inside, jerking to a stop just as I cross the threshold. Stunned.
His office is enormous.
It’s the size of his entire bedroom and closet combined. Bigger. There’s so much space in here—room enough to house the huge boardroom table and the six chairs stationed on either side of it. There’s a couch and a few side tables set off in the corner, and one wall is made up of nothing but bookshelves. Loaded with books. Bursting with books. Old books and new books and books with spines falling off.
Everything in here is made of dark wood.
Wood so brown it looks black. Clean, straight lines, simple cuts. Nothing is ornate or bulky. No leather. No high-backed chairs or overly detailed woodwork. Minimal.
The boardroom table is stacked with file folders and papers and binders and notebooks. The floor is covered in a thick, plush Oriental rug, similar to the one in his closet. And at the far end of the room is his desk.
Warner is staring at me in shock.
He’s wearing nothing but his slacks and a pair of socks, his shirt and belt discarded. He’s standing in front of his desk, clinging to something in his hands—something I can’t quite see.
“What are you doing here?” he says.
“The door was open.” What a stupid answer.
He stares at me.
“What time is it?” I ask.
“One thirty in the morning,” he says automatically.
“You should go back to bed.” I don’t know why he looks so nervous. Why his eyes keep darting from me to the door.
“I’m not tired anymore.”
“Oh.” He fumbles with what I now realize is a small jar in his hands. Sets it on the desk behind him without turning around.
He’s been so off today, I think. Unlike himself. He’s usually so composed, so self-assured. But recently he’s been so shaky around me. The inconsistency is unnerving.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
There’s about ten feet between us, and neither one of us is making any effort to bridge the gap. We’re talking like we don’t know each other, like we’re strangers who’ve just found themselves in a compromising situation. Which is ridiculous.
I begin to cross the room, to make my way over to him.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes,” he says too quickly.
“What’s that?” I ask, pointing to the little plastic jar.