“Are all of them dead?” I asked quietly. In addition to the twenty-odd League kids huddled at the center of the room, eating whatever it was they’d dug out of the kitchen store for breakfast, there were something like forty agents ringing the perimeter of the room in clusters of black. But these were the faces that I had expected to see: agents who were in charge of Psi teams, instructors, the ones who looked at us with sad, longing eyes when they thought we weren’t looking.
“The ones who wouldn’t stand down,” Cate said carefully.
So—all of them?
“I know it must have felt like they were all against you, but there were a number of agents who were blindsided by Alban’s assassination and only stayed because it was too late to get out without retribution from Jarvin. They didn’t put up a fight when we swept the sleeping quarters and were free to leave if they didn’t want a part of this.”
My eyes didn’t stop scanning the room until they’d found them all. Chubs and Liam stood in front of one of the televisions, their backs to me as they watched news coverage of some kind of white domed building. Jude and Vida were near them, crouched on the floor in front of Nico, who looked like he was making a real effort to curl up into a ball and disappear forever.
Cate followed my gaze. “We’ll talk about that later.”
“Talk about what?” came the drawl behind us. I felt a heavy arm drop over my shoulder. “Could it be about little old moi?”
I tried to tug myself free, but he held me there, ruffling my already disastrous hair. I couldn’t keep myself from flinching when I smelled the smoke on him. Red.
It just… I rubbed the back of my hand against my forehead. He was so together, when Mason had been crumbling from the inside out. And it wasn’t that Cole wasn’t intimidating—he was, in a way that disarmed you and left you flustered. It was that every other Red I had come across at Thurmond acted like an animal that had been caged by his own skin. They refused to meet anyone’s eyes, walking around with these vacant looks, listening to a voice in their mind, I think, that the rest of us couldn’t hear. Every once in a while, they’d come back to themselves, a hunger darkening their faces. You’d catch them staring at another kid, these little, twisted smiles tucked into the corner of their mouths, and you knew—knew—what would come next.
But Cole not only had kept himself in check, he’d flourished.
The two of them shared a look over my head. “He mentioned that you’ve been…trusted. With a very important secret.”
I didn’t say anything, not because I couldn’t think of a response but because I couldn’t pick one out of the thousands of questions billowing through my mind. Finally, I turned to him and settled on, “How long have you known?”
“Since I was twelve,” he said. “Late bloomer compared to the rest of you. Scared me shitless. Mom and Harry always thought I was sneaking in matches or lighters—burning things to act out. It’s not the kind of thing you talk about if you don’t want to get bused to some god-awful camp, you know?”
“Why not tell Lee?” I asked. “Why keep it from him?”
Cole’s eyes narrowed. “I have my reasons, none of which is your business. You gave me your word you wouldn’t—”
“I won’t,” I said, hating him for it. Another thing to keep from him. Another lie. “I just… How is this even possible? You’re too old. Are there…more like you?”
No wonder Alban had valued him—a Psi who could move among the adults, never detected, just because he missed the supposed age cutoff.
Cate glanced around, making sure there were no prying ears nearby. “Far, far, far fewer. A few hundred age outliers. But it’s not the time to talk about it. We have bigger concerns right now.”
“Speaking of which.” Cole lowered his voice as he leaned down. “You couldn’t have mentioned Damsel-in-Distress Number Two was the president’s kid?”
“Let’s see how many words you can get out after having your brain scrambled.”
“Fair.” He glanced at Cate. “Is he going to be a problem?”
“He’s in closet B-two,” she said, raising her brows in what looked to me like a challenge.
“Okay, okay,” he said. “This first, that…later. There weren’t any guns left in there, right?”
I don’t know who looked more irritated at the suggestion, Cate or me.
Cole was still smirking when he asked, “You bring back the big prize along with my jerk-ass little brother?”
I patted my pockets, feeling for the small plastic rectangle. I held it out to them, suddenly eager for someone other than me to carry its weight for a few minutes. Cole glanced at Cate. “All yours. You’re still heading out soon, right?”
“In a minute. I need to tell my kids where I’m going.”
“Because they won’t know what to do with themselves without Mommy fussing over them every two seconds?”
At that, I really did wrench myself away from him, feeling my temper spike dangerously. Cole held up his hands and backed away a step. “Take a joke, Gem. Smile. Today’s a good day, remember? Solid win.”
“Where are you going?” I asked Cate.
“Out with a few agents to try to find some kind of transportation for all of us.”
“I’ll be back in a few hours, I promise. I think you know that…it probably wouldn’t be right to stay here after this.”
“Where are we going?” I asked. “Kansas? Or Georgia?”
It was impressive we’d been able to stand there for that long before Jude’s radar started to ping. He was up and on his feet, pushing through the agents standing between us, nearly tripping over a group of kids who were clearly just trying to sit and eat and not burst into tears. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Chubs and Liam turn around, but just as quickly they were gone, and the only thing in my world was Jude as he threw his long arms around me.
“You scared the crap out of me!” he said. I hugged him back. My one-kid welcoming committee.
“I was worried about you, too,” I said. “Did anything happen?”
He shook his head, curls flying. “Did you find him?”