“Hi,” James says, so loudly it startles all of us. He’s looking at Warner. “What are you doing here?”
Warner raises an eyebrow. “I live here.”
“This is your house?” James asks.
Strange. I wonder what Adam and Kenji told him about where they were going.
Warner nods. “In some capacity, yes,” he says. “It serves as my home. I live upstairs.”
“That’s so cool,” James says, grinning. “This whole place is so cool.” He frowns. “Hey I thought we were supposed to hate you, though.”
“James,” Adam says, shooting his brother a warning glance.
“What?” James asks.
“You are free to hate me,” Warner says. “If you want to. I don’t mind.”
“Well you should mind,” James says, surprised. “I’d be really upset if someone hated me.”
“You are young.”
“I’m almost twelve,” James says to him.
“I was told you were ten.”
“I said almost twelve.” James rolls his eyes. “How old are you?”
Everyone is watching. Listening. Too fascinated to look away.
Warner studies James. Takes his time answering. “I’m nineteen years old.”
James’s eyes go wide. “You’re only a year older than Adam,” he says. “How do you have so many nice things if you’re only a year older than Adam? I don’t know anyone your age who has nice things.”
Warner looks over at me. Looks back at James. Looks at me again. “Is there nothing you want to add to this conversation, love?”
I shake my head. Smiling.
“Why do you call her ‘love’?” James asks. “I’ve heard you say that before, too. A lot. Are you in love with her? I think Adam’s in love with her. Kenji’s not in love with her, though. I already asked him.”
Warner blinks at him.
“Well?” James asks.
“Are you in love with her?”
“Are you in love with her?”
“What?” James blushes. “No. She’s like a million years older than me.”
“Would anyone like to take over this conversation?” Warner asks, looking around the group.
“You never answered my question,” James says. “About why you have so many things. I’m not trying to be rude,” he says. “Really. I’m just wondering. I’ve never taken a shower with hot water before. And you have so much food. It must be really nice to have so much food all the time.”
Warner flinches, unexpectedly. He looks more carefully at James. “No,” he says slowly. “It is not a terrible thing to have food and hot water all the time.”
“So then are you going to answer my question? About where you got all this stuff?”
“I am the commander and regent of Sector 45,” he says. “We are currently on an army base, where it is my job to oversee our soldiers and all the civilians who live on the accompanying compounds. I am paid to live here.”
“Oh.” James goes pale in an instant; he suddenly looks inhumanly terrified. “You work for The Reestablishment?”
“Hey, it’s okay, buddy,” Kenji says to James. “You’re safe here. Okay? No one’s going to hurt you.”
“This is the kind of guy you’re into, huh?” Adam snaps at me. “The kind of guy who petrifies children?”
“It’s nice to see you again, Kent.” Warner is watching Adam now. “How are you enjoying your stay?”
Adam seems to be fighting back the urge to say a lot of unkind things.
“So you really work for them?” James is asking Warner again, his words just a breath, his eyes still frozen on Warner’s face. He’s shaking so hard it breaks my heart. “You work for The Reestablishment?”
Warner hesitates. Looks away and looks back again. “Theoretically,” he says. “Yes.”
“What do you mean?” James asks.
Warner is looking into his hands.
“What do you mean, theoretically?” James demands.
“Are you asking,” Warner says with a sigh, “because you are actually seeking clarification? Or is it because you don’t know what the word theoretically means?”
James hesitates, his panic dissolving into frustration for a moment. He screws up his face, annoyed. “Fine. What does theoretically mean?”
“Theoretically,” Warner says, “I’m supposed to work for The Reestablishment. But, obviously, as I’m hosting a group of rebels on this government-owned military base—in my private quarters, no less—and sustaining said rebels so that they might overthrow our current regime, I would say no. I am not, exactly, working for The Reestablishment. I have committed treason,” he says to James. “A crime that is punishable by death.”
James stares at him for a long time. “That’s what theoretically means?”
Warner looks up at the wall. Sighs again.
I bite back a laugh.
“So, wait—then you’re not the bad guy,” James says all of a sudden. “You’re on our side, right?”
Warner turns slowly to meet James’s eyes. Says nothing.
“Well?” James asks, impatient. “Aren’t you on our side?”
Warner blinks. Twice. “So it seems,” he says, looking as though he can hardly believe he’s saying it.
“Perhaps we should get back to the suit,” Castle cuts in. He’s looking at Warner, smiling triumphantly. “Alia has spent a long time designing it, and I know she has more details to share.”
“Yeah,” Kenji says, excited. “This looks badass, Alia. I want one. Can I have one?”
I wonder if I’m the only person who notices that Warner’s hands are shaking.
Warner is standing directly across from me, head cocked to the side. Everyone is watching us.
I shake my head, fast.
“Don’t be afraid, love,” he says to me. “I just want you to try.”
His arms are relaxed at his sides. His stance so casual. It’s Saturday morning, which means he has time off from his daily workout routine. Which means he’s decided to work with me, instead.