Jude spun away, pressing his face into his hands to avoid seeing.
Shit, I thought, shit, shit, shit.
Nico had clearly watched it before we arrived, but he pressed play again, and again, and again, until I had to be the one to click out of the window. He said nothing; there was no expression on his face at all. His eyelids were hooded, and I could almost feel the way he was slipping back, away, into that place that was his alone.
“This…I can’t…” Jude cut in, his voice rising with every word, his palm pressed flat against his compass. “It’s just these guys—they’re the bad ones. The other people here care about us, and once they find out what happened, they’ll punish them. They’ll stand up for us. This isn’t the League; this isn’t—this isn’t—”
“Do not,” I said, “tell anyone about this. Do you hear me? No one.”
“But, Roo.” Jude looked horrified. “We can’t just let him get away with this! We have to tell Cate, or Alban, or—or someone! They can fix this!”
“Cate won’t be able to do anything if you’re already dead,” I said. “I mean it. Not a single damn word. And you never go anywhere alone—you stay with me, or Vida, or Nico, or Cate. Promise me that. If you see one of them coming, you have to turn back and head the other way. Promise.”
Jude was still shaking his head, his fingers fussing with his compass. I tried to think of something comforting to say to him. And it was so strange how torn I felt between wanting to protect them from the truth of what the League really was and the kind of vicious cruelty it took to be an active agent, and the small satisfaction that came with knowing I had been right about them all along. This was not a safe place. Maybe it had once been for kids like us—but now the foundations were cracking, and a misstep could bring all of HQ crumbling down on top of us.
Rob and Jarvin weren’t patient souls. They always finished their Ops on schedule. This would be no different, I was sure of it. Cate and a few other agents might be sympathetic toward us kids, but for how long? If we became liabilities, if it looked like we were nothing more than messes to be cleaned up, would they still stand with us?
Again and again, my mind kept turning back to the grenade, the way it had exploded directly under our feet. The way Rob had ordered us to stand exactly there.
I had the power to fix this; I knew I did. It was just a matter of getting close enough to Rob and all of his friends to do it. And, unfortunately, that was going to be the hardest part.
“Not a word,” I said, turning to go. “I’ll take care of this.”
And I would. I was Leader. Any thought I had been entertaining about escaping once I had word on Liam and the others fled like a dream in the morning.
Jude was alive, and Nico was alive, and I was alive—and, for now, I needed to focus every ounce of my energy on keeping it that way.
INSTEAD OF HEADING BACK TO THE ATRIUM, I hit the stairs and went up a level, following the second floor’s curve to the locker room to shower and change. HQ was cold and dingy as always, but every inch of me felt sticky and hot, like I was on the edge of a fever. A few minutes under freezing cold water would help me clear my head. I could use the rare quiet to try to put together some kind of plan to make sure one of us was with Jude at all times.
The lights were already on when I stepped inside. They had automatic motion sensors, meaning someone had either just come in or just left. I stayed completely still, my back flush against the door, listening to the steady drip of a faucet somewhere across the room. No one was in the showers; all of the yellow curtains had been thrown open, and I didn’t hear the squeak of faucets or the usual explosion of pressurized water.
What I did hear was quiet—almost undetectable under the drip. A steady tapping, like a boot against cement, and a rustling, like a page turning…
I took the long way around the lockers, crossing one foot over the other as I ducked around the corner and stepped into the other long row of gleaming silver metal.
Cole didn’t look up from where he was sitting on the bench, a folder in his hands. I caught a glimpse of the familiar sketch of Thurmond’s electric fence as he turned the page.
“…was Caledonia a lot like this, do you think?”
Every muscle in my back tensed, forcing me to stand up straight when the sight of him was enough to make me want to sink into the ground. I flexed my hands into fists at my sides and took a deep breath.
“No,” I said. “Caledonia was smaller. They remodeled an old elementary school. But some of the details are the same.”
He nodded absently.
“Thurmond, man,” he said, dropping a finger on it. “I saw some rudimentary sketches of it a few years back, but nothing this detailed. The agents we had there didn’t get to see half of this stuff—not even Conner.”
I stayed exactly where I was by the lockers, waiting for him to leave.
“Alban passed these handy copies out at our senior staff meeting tonight,” Cole said. “Cate got up to excuse herself halfway through. Any idea why?”
I said nothing. In truth, I did have an idea. Cate had been trying to drive me off this track for months. I had to slip the folder to Alban when she wasn’t around.
“And here I thought you were a mind reader,” he said with a faint laugh.
Cole’s muscles were still stiff, and it was obvious he was in a great deal of pain as he stood. He tilted his head toward the showers.
I followed him into one of the shower stalls. The curtain rings screamed as he pulled the cheap plastic shut behind us, making me jump and press my back against the cement wall. It was tight quarters, and I was already feeling uncomfortable when he leaned around me, bruised face a few inches away from mine, to turn the shower on at full blast.
“What are you doing?” I demanded, trying to push my way past him. He grabbed my shoulder and held me next to him under the stream. We were drenched before Cole began to speak.
“The showers are the only place in HQ that aren’t recorded. I don’t want to take a chance that the other cameras in the room can pick up our little chat.”
“I have absolutely nothing to say to you,” I said, pulling myself free.
“And yet I have so much to say to you.” Cole put both arms out to block me and nearly lost his balance. Unsteady on his feet, not performing up to maximum strength, tired—an easy target. I rammed my shoulder into him, but I must have telegraphed my plan. He caught one of my arms and twisted until my muscles screamed and my joints felt like they would pop. His skin was hot, like he was trying to spread the fire burning in his blood to mine.