“Who’d you steal this from?” I asked as I shoved Clancy inside, my gun digging into the small of his back.
“Does it matter?” Clancy grunted, dropping into the nearest seat. He held up his bound hands, nodding to the plastic zip tie Chubs had been oh so happy to supply. “Can you cut this off now?”
“Is he okay to fly?” I asked, jerking my thumb in the pilot’s direction. Most people could barely remember their own name when I was in their heads, let alone operate delicate machinery.
Clancy folded his arms over his chest. “Every time he looks at us, he sees six adults on a business trip, all of whom have paid him handsomely for his services in arranging the flight details. You’re welcome.”
Liam caught my eye as he followed the others in. “When do we get to dump him?”
It was the first time he’d spoken to me since we’d left the restaurant. I hadn’t even been able to look him in the eye before now, afraid of the disappointment I knew would be there. Liam would have fought me on this if I had let him, just like I would have fought for him and Chubs to stay in Colorado, far away from the upcoming fight.
But I think we both knew they were losing battles.
“Mid-flight?” Chubs asked, his voice brimming with hope. “Over a desert?”
Vida slid into the seat to the right of mine before Liam could. “We’re not dumping him yet, are we, boo?”
She knew exactly what I was thinking. This was what the League had taught us to do when we located a valuable asset: you brought him in, bled him for intel, and then traded him for something better. I shook my head, trying not to smile at the alarm that flashed in his dark eyes. “No, we’re not.”
The look he gave me in return made my skin feel tight around my bones. But what could he do? Nothing that I couldn’t do right back to him five times over.
I could tell Chubs wanted to ask exactly what we meant by that, but the pilot’s voice interrupted, telling us he had finished his final checks and was ready for takeoff.
I didn’t relax my grip on the gun until we were up in the air, sailing high above the jagged peaks of the Rockies. For all the grumbling he’d done about how much more likely it was for this kind of jet to crash than a normal passenger plane, Chubs passed out in his seat five minutes after the plane was in the air. I glanced over my shoulder, watching as he began to slowly drift too far to the right, only to startle awake for an instant and catch himself. The others had laid their seats out flat or curled up on them, using the blankets we’d found in one of the storage compartments.
Clancy unbuckled his seat belt, pushing onto his feet.
“Going somewhere?” I asked.
“To use the bathroom in the back,” he snapped. “Why, do you need to come in and watch?”
No, but I followed him to the back regardless, shooting him a meaningful look as he slammed the door and locked it.
I leaned back against the shelves of drinks and service ware in the back. My eyes drifted from Liam to Vida to Chubs and then, finally, to Jude sitting nearby. He’d been so quiet up until then, I’d just assumed he’d fallen asleep like the others.
“Hi,” I whispered.
He had been staring out the window to the unending stretch of land below, and he stayed that way, even when I touched his shoulder. Jude, who hated silence, whose past slithered up to him like a shadow along glass, did not say a single word.
I sat down on his chair’s armrest, glancing across the way to make sure both Liam and Chubs were still asleep. I had known Worried Jude and Terrified Jude and Ecstatic Jude, but never this shade of him.
“Talk to me,” I said.
Jude burst into tears.
“Hey!” I said, taking his shoulder. “I know it doesn’t feel this way, but it’ll be okay.”
It took several minutes of coaxing for him to settle down and sit up. His skin went blotchy, and his nose refused to stop running. He swiped it against the arm of his jacket.
“I should have been there. With them. I could have…I could have helped them somehow—Cate and Alban. They needed me, and I wasn’t there.”
“And thank God for that,” I said. “Otherwise you’d be trapped there with all of the others.” Or dead. It was too horrible to even consider.
I put an arm around him, and whatever invisible string had been holding him up promptly snapped. He leaned into my shoulder, still crying.
“Oh my God,” he muttered, “this is so not cool. It’s just…I’m really scared Cate’s dead, too. All of them. It’s like Blake all over again, and I’m just as responsible. Would any of this have even happened if I hadn’t been so stupid? If Rob and Jarvin hadn’t caught us listening that day?”
I blew out the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding and rubbed his arm. “None of this is your fault,” I told him. “None of it. You aren’t responsible for what other people do, good or bad. Everyone is just making the choices they think will help them get by.”
He nodded, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. For a long while, the only sound between us was the moaning of engines and Chubs’s rhythmic snores.
“But I could have made a difference,” Jude whispered. “I could have fought. I—”
“No,” I interrupted. “I’m sorry. I get where you’re coming from, and they’re all good thoughts, but I just don’t think it’s worth it. It’s not worth it to weigh what you could have done or should have done when there’s no way of changing it. And it’s not worth risking your life over. Nothing is more important or valuable than your life. Got it?”
He nodded but was quiet again. A little more settled, I thought, than before.
“It’s just not fair,” Jude said. “None of this is fair.”
“Life isn’t fair,” I said. “It’s taken me a while to get that. It’s always going to disappoint you in some way or another. You’ll make plans, and it’ll push you in another direction. You will love people, and they’ll be taken away no matter how hard you fight to keep them. You’ll try for something and won’t get it. You don’t have to find meaning in it; you don’t have to try to change things. You just have to accept the things that are out of your hands and try to take care of yourself. That’s your job.”