“He’s gone,” Clancy muttered, his voice high in a weak imitation of mine. “Gone.”
Liam’s gaze traveled from where I was on the ground to where Clancy still sat in the booth, rolling his eyes to high heaven in exasperation. Then Liam was moving, coming at him with a mask of pure, unflinching fury stretched tight over his features. I saw his decision there, read it in the way his fist was coming up for blood. So did Clancy.
“Don’t—!” I shouted. Liam jerked to a stop, every muscle in his body seizing up, as Clancy sunk deep into his mind. I watched him slump to the ground with no way of catching himself.
I scrambled onto my feet as the president’s son looked down on Liam, crossing his arms over his chest. The blood from his wound dripped down onto Liam’s leather coat. Liam’s face changed from a wince, to a grimace, to a red mess of agony, and I knew it was different than before; Clancy’s cool smile as he looked down on him was so much more terrifying than it had been at East River.
“Stop it!” I said, forcing myself between them. I pushed Clancy back, one gun tucked up under his chin. “Let him go—Clancy!”
I’m not sure why he backed off then, releasing his grip. I let my eyes tell him everything I was willing to do to him. And Clancy, he’d come to realize, just as I had, that I wouldn’t kill him to protect myself, but I would to save the people I cared about. And if he couldn’t invade my mind anymore, then he had no way of controlling me outside of them. The anger darkened his eyes as he stepped back, jaw clenched.
I forced him into the booth, making sure he heard the safety switching off. My hands shook, not with fear but from the sudden spike in my pulse. The power I felt watching him shrink back, without even a word between us, was intoxicating. I would do it—if he tried to compel any of my friends again, I’d kill him, and the last thing he’d see was the smile on my face. We needed to get out of there. While we still had the flash drive and the upper hand.
I saw the thought flash behind Clancy’s eyes, the way his whole body seemed to relax as he figured out the exact right thing to say to keep himself alive. “If you shoot me now, you’ll never know what’ll happen to your friends back in California. Not before they die, too.”
IT WAS JUDE WHO FOUND HIS VOICE FIRST, weak as it was. I watched his hand fly up, pressing the compass against his chest. “What are you talking about?”
I drew the barrel of the gun closer to Clancy’s face. “Answer him.”
In that moment it became just as clear to me as it was to Clancy that he had never been in a situation like this before—one he couldn’t wriggle out of, let alone control. Reluctance and frustration burned an ugly expression on his face. “I have a source in the League who says that they’re going forward with their plans to blow those kids to hell. You kill me, and you have no idea about when or how it happens.”
I shook my head, but inwardly, my stomach clenched. “Who’s the source? You could have pulled those plans off a computer network for all we know.”
The smirk on his face was enough to make me want to pull the trigger. He drew the name out, twisting the vowels. “Our mutual acquaintance. Nico.”
“No!” Jude cried. “No! Roo, he’s lying—”
“Nico and I go way back,” Clancy interrupted, glancing over to where Liam was struggling back onto his feet, coughing.
“Do you ever tell the truth?” I asked. “You would never have had access to Nico. He was in Leda’s testing program until the League got him out, and he hasn’t left HQ since.”
Clancy looked at me like he couldn’t quite believe I hadn’t put it all together by now. “Ruby. Think. Where was he before that? Or do you all honestly not know?”
“I know I’m going to shred the skin off your face and turn it into hair ribbons,” Vida snarled from the floor, still visibly struggling to get her legs under her. She sneered at him, pulling her fury around her like armor.
“That’s the spirit,” Chubs murmured, waiting for her to finally accept his help up—which, of course, she did not.
“What?” Jude was saying, coming up behind me. “What’s he talking about?”
I felt sick—faint enough that I almost sat down again. “Nico was in Thurmond? While you were there?”
“Annnnnd she gets it. Finally.” Clancy gave me a little round of applause. “We were scalpel buddies. They liked to compare our brains—to study kids at the opposite ends of the color spectrum. They even brought us in on the same day, way back when.”
My mind was racing, trying to figure out how I couldn’t have known that until now, if Nico had ever offered up a hint of it. But I couldn’t remember if I had ever told him I was in Thurmond. Had Cate?
“Are you saying your old man had them experiment on you?” Liam’s voice was rough as he came to stand behind me.
Clancy tapped his fingers against the table. He had no proof. His father had consented only if the researchers didn’t leave scars. “After I walked out of that camp, I did wonder what happened to the others—I figured that they must have moved the experimentations to another location once they started expanding the camp to bring in kids like our friend Ruby. It took me some time to find they’d been brought to Leda Corp’s Philadelphia lab.”
My stomach turned over. I tried to say something, anything, but the picture of Nico—small, scared Nico—strapped down to one of the Infirmary’s beds was too much for my mind to take. I couldn’t process anything else.
“Even before East River,” Clancy said, folding his hands on the table in front of him, “I realized the only kids who would ever truly understand what I was trying to do were those who had been there with me. I thought they could be useful. But by the time I traced them to Leda Corp, Nicolas was the only survivor whose brain hadn’t been completely destroyed.”
“And all you had to do was wait until the League broke him out to make him useful,” I said, disgusted. “Were you planning on convincing him to break away and meet you at East River before that plan imploded?”
“I didn’t wait for anyone. Who do you think slipped the intel to the League about what they were doing in that lab? Who do you think suggested a way for them to get the kids out? I had to be patient, of course, and wait until they had him back in California before contacting him. And no—it was never the plan to bring him to East River, Ruby. He was more useful to me there, collecting every piece of intel about the League I asked for.”