He looks up, so slowly, gold lashes lifting to reveal more sadness and beauty than I’ve ever seen in the same moment. I didn’t know a person could convey so much with just one look. There’s extraordinary pain in him. Extraordinary passion.
It takes my breath away.
I take his face in my hands and kiss him, so slowly.
His eyes fall closed. His mouth responds to mine. His hands reach up to pull me closer and I stop him.
“No,” I whisper. “Don’t move.”
He drops his hands.
“Lie back,” I whisper.
I kiss him everywhere. His cheeks. His chin. The tip of his nose and the space between his eyebrows. All across his forehead and along his jawline. Every inch of his face. Small, soft kisses that say so much more than I ever could. I want him to know how I feel. I want him to know it the way only he can, the way he can sense the depth of emotion behind my movements. I want him to know and never doubt.
And I want to take my time.
My mouth moves down to his neck and he gasps, and I breathe in the scent of his skin, take in the taste of him and I run my hands down his chest, kissing my way across and down the line of his torso. He keeps trying to reach for me, keeps trying to touch me, and I have to tell him to stop.
“Please,” he says, “I want to feel you—”
I gentle his arms back down. “Not yet. Not now.”
My hands move to his pants. His eyes fly open.
“Close your eyes,” I have to tell him.
“No.” He can hardly speak.
“Close your eyes.”
He shakes his head.
I unbutton his pants. Unzip.
“Juliette,” he breathes. “What—”
I’m pulling off his pants.
He sits up.
“Lie down. Please.”
He’s staring at me, eyes wide.
He finally falls back.
I tug his pants off all the way. Toss them to the floor.
He’s in his underwear.
I trace the stitching on the soft cotton, following the lines on the overlapping pieces of his boxer-briefs as they intersect in the middle. He’s breathing so fast I can hear him, can see his chest moving. His eyes are squeezed shut. His head tilted back. His lips parted.
I touch him again, so gently.
He stifles a moan, turns his face into the pillows. His whole body is trembling, his hands clutching at the sheets. I run my hands down his legs, gripping them just above his knees and inching them apart to make room for the kisses I trail up the insides of his thighs. My nose skims his skin.
He looks like he’s in pain. So much pain.
I find the elastic waist of his underwear. Tug it down.
The tattoo is sitting just below his hip bone.
h e l l i s e m p t y
a n d a l l t h e d e v i l s a r e h e r e
I kiss my way across the words.
Kissing away the devils.
Kissing away the pain.
I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, elbows propped up on my knees, face dropped into my hands.
“Are you ready?” he asks me.
I look up. Stand up. Shake my head.
“Breathe, sweetheart.” He stands in front of me, slips his hands around my face. His eyes are bright, intense, steady, and so full of confidence. In me. “You are magnificent. You are extraordinary.”
I try to laugh and it comes out all wrong.
Warner leans his forehead against mine. “There is nothing to fear. Nothing to worry about. Grieve nothing in this transitory world,” he says softly.
I tilt back, a question in my eyes.
“It’s the only way I know how to exist,” he says. “In a world where there is so much to grieve and so little good to take? I grieve nothing. I take everything.”
I stare into his eyes for what feels like forever.
He leans into my ear. Lowers his voice. “Ignite, my love. Ignite.”
Warner has called for an assembly.
He says it’s a fairly routine procedure, one wherein the soldiers are required to wear a standard black uniform. “And they will be unarmed,” Warner said to me.
Kenji and Castle and everyone else are coming to watch, care of Kenji’s invisibility, but I’m the only one who’s going to speak today. I told them I wanted to lead. I told them I’d be willing to take the first risk.
So here I am.
Warner walks me out of his bedroom door.
The halls are abandoned. The soldiers patrolling his quarters are gone, already assembled and awaiting his presence. The reality of what I’m about to do is only just starting to sink in.
Because no matter the outcome today, I am putting myself on display. It is a message from me to Anderson. A message I know he’ll receive.
I am alive.
I will use your own armies to hunt you down.
And I will kill you.
Something about this thought makes me absurdly happy.
We walk into the elevator and Warner takes my hand. I squeeze his fingers. He smiles straight ahead. And suddenly we’re walking out of the elevator and through another door and right into the open courtyard I’ve only ever stood in once before.
How odd, I think, that I should return to this roof not as a captive. No longer afraid. And clinging fast to the hand of the same blond boy who brought me here before.
How very strange this world is.
Warner hesitates before moving into view. He looks at me for confirmation. I nod. He releases my hand.
We step forward together.
There’s an audible gasp from the soldiers standing just below.
They definitely remember me.
Warner pulls a square piece of mesh out of his pocket and presses it to his lips, just once, before holding it in his fist. His voice is amplified across the crowd when he speaks.
“Sector 45,” he says.
They shift. Their right fists rise up to fall on their chests, their left fists released, dropping to their sides.
“You were told,” he says, “a little over a month ago, that we’d won the battle against a resistance group by the name of Omega Point. You were told we decimated their home base and slaughtered their remaining men and women on the battlefield. You were told,” he says, “never to doubt the power of The Reestablishment. We are unbeatable. Unsurpassed in military power and land control. You were told that we are the future. The only hope.”