“That’s not very Team Reality of you.”
His smile matched mine. “Screw Team Reality—I’m leaving to join Team Sanity.”
An hour later, Liam and the others appeared at the entrance to the tunnel, each dragging in a large cardboard box or plastic tub. Their voices carried down the long pathway, bubbling over with excitement. Clearly they didn’t know what was waiting for them at the other end.
Liam appeared first, his face and hands covered in a fine layer of dust, his hair hopelessly mussed by the growling windstorm outside. The sight of him, tousled and laughing and looking so happy, made me forget why I’d been so angry in the first place.
It didn’t have the same effect on his brother.
Cole was on his feet, bracing his shoulder against the wall to the right of the entrance. He hadn’t said a word, but his breathing had grown harsher over the last hour. Even with his arms crossed over his chest, he couldn’t hide the way his fingers on his right hand were convulsing every few minutes. It was one spark away from explosion, I saw that clear enough.
And still, I wasn’t fast enough jumping up to my feet.
Liam had a half second of joy to see me sitting there, and then Cole had him. His arm shot out, gripping him by the front of his shirt and whirling him around to slam him up against the wall. The box in Liam’s hands crashed to the ground, sending the cans and bags inside skidding in every direction. A bright red box of Lucky Charms cereal slid right over to me, stopping just short of my feet.
“Jesus Christ—” Liam choked out, but Cole was already hauling him away, into Alban’s old office. I caught the door before it was kicked shut in my face. Liam was practically thrown into the large, scuffed desk.
“What the hell is your problem?” Liam gasped, still winded. Cole had a few inches on his brother, but Liam’s anger seemed to stretch his spine and even out the difference. They never looked more alike than they did right then, seconds away from ripping each other’s heads off.
“My ‘problem’? Try finding out a kid’s gone out to get himself and two other kids killed! Are you really that stupid?” Cole rounded on him, cutting a furious hand through the air. “I hope it was worth it. I hope you got to feel good about pretending to be a hero again, because you just jeopardized the whole operation! Someone could have followed you back to us—someone could be monitoring the building right now!”
Liam’s temper finally broke over him. He shoved Cole back against the empty bookshelf behind him and pinned him there with an arm barred across his chest. “Play the hero? You mean what you’ve been doing this whole damn time? Walking around, barking out orders like you have any right to lead these kids. Like you know how they feel or what they’ve been through?”
Cole let out a derisive laugh and for a moment, I really thought he’d tell his brother his secret, if only to throw it all back in Liam’s face. Get the shocked and horrified reaction he’d been afraid of for so long.
“I got it done,” spat Liam. “We weren’t followed, no one ever saw us. I’ve done this a hundred times, in a hell of a lot worse places, and each time I got it done—which I would have told you if you’d treated me like I was capable of doing something besides sitting around with my thumb up my ass, waiting for someone to take care of me!”
He was right. Of anyone here, he had the most experience doing this kind of hit. The security team at East River had kept everyone fed and stocked with medicine and clothes simply by preying on truck shipments along a nearby highway.
“Why are you acting like you actually care?” Liam pressed, his voice edged with frustration. “You ignore my existence for years, going around thinking—”
“You have no idea what I’m thinking,” Cole snarled, finally throwing him off. “You want to know? Really? I’ll tell you—it was how am I going to tell Mom another one of her kids is dead?”
The words seemed to suck every last trace of air out of the room. The color in Liam’s face drained, and his clenched jaw went utterly slack.
“You made me tell her, remember that? You couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t even leave Claire’s room. I had to go downstairs and stop her, because she was already making her sandwich and getting her lunch bag ready for school.”
I pressed a hand over my mouth; the image was too painful for me to even bring to mind. Liam stumbled back, blindly bumping into the desk. His hand caught the edge of it, and it was enough to keep him upright. I saw his face, stricken, only for a moment. It disappeared again behind his hands. “Sorry—God, I’m sorry, I didn’t think—I just wanted to do something—”
After seeing so many varying shades of his anger, I was surprised to see that Cole could turn his voice and face so frighteningly cold. “The only reason you’re here is because I don’t know where the hell Mom and Harry have holed up, and I can’t ship you straight to them—what?”
Liam had always been an easy read; every thought that passed through his mind at some point or another registered on his face. It had been so easy, even for a damaged girl terrified out of her mind, to trust that what he said, he meant—that when he offered something to you, it was only with the purest intention of wanting to give it to you, no catches, no takebacks, no favors. I used to wonder how painful it would be to have a heart that felt things so deeply, even the most secret of things could never fully be contained.