“Because I’m not strong enough to survive seeing you with the League!” I said. “Because I wanted you, after everything you went through, to have a chance to find your parents and live your life.”
“Dammit—I wanted you!” Liam seized my arms, his fingers tightening like he could make me understand his pain that way. “More than anything! And you just…crashed through my mind and sealed everything away, like you had the right to, like I didn’t need you. What kills me is that I trusted you—I was so sure you knew that. I would have been okay, because you would have been there with me!”
How many times had I told myself a version of that? Hearing it, though—that was a knife to the throat, a razor’s edge I had no choice but to lean into.
“My head is so damn muddy, nothing is lining up.” He took a step back, letting himself drop down in a crouch. “Chubs was shot, and Zu is still out there, and East River burned, and—everything after that is like a nightmare. And you…you were with those people this whole time. Anything could have happened to you, and I would never have known. Do you know what that feels like?”
I dropped down to my knees in front of him, hitting the ground hard enough to finally jar the tears clinging to my eyelashes. I felt exhausted. Empty.
“I can’t fix this,” I said. “I know I’ve messed everything up, and there’s no way back from this, okay? I do. But your life was worth more than what I wanted, and it was the only way I could think of to make sure you didn’t get it in your head to come find me.”
“Who says I would have?” I knew he meant it cruelly, that it was a weak moment and all he wanted was for me to feel as much pain as he did, but there wasn’t enough venom in his words for them to sting. He just wasn’t capable of it.
“I would have torn this whole damn country apart looking for you,” I said softly. “Maybe you really would have left. Maybe you wouldn’t have come looking for me. Maybe I misread everything. But if you even felt a quarter of what I did…” My words wavered. “I used to wonder, you know, all the time, if it was all because you felt sorry for me. Because you pitied me or were looking for another person to protect.”
“And you could never see another reason?” he whispered in a fierce voice. “It couldn’t have been because I respected how hard you fought to survive? Because I saw how kind your heart was? Or that you were funny, and brave, and strong, and you made me feel like I was all of those things, too, even when I didn’t deserve it?”
“I don’t know what to say or what to do here,” he said, shaking his head. “It feels like it never ended for me. Do you get that? I can’t forget it ever happened. I can’t hate you—I can’t, not when I want to kiss you so damn badly.” Then, so brokenly, I almost couldn’t understand him, he continued. “Why couldn’t you have taken everything? Not just the memories but the feelings, too?”
I stared at him, my mind blanking in confusion.
“It’s terrifying—terrifying—to meet a stranger and feel something for her so intense it actually stops your heart, and you don’t have any basis for it. No context. The feelings are there, and it’s like they’re clawing at your chest, needing to get out. Even now, even when I just look at you, it feels like they’re crushing me—with how much I want, and need, and love you. But you’re not even sorry; you just expect that I’ll be okay with the fact you threw your life away for mine.”
The world around us had retreated so far back from our pocket of misery, I’d forgotten it even existed. That we were out at the edge of an open highway, exposed to the freezing cold and any passing eyes. Reality came roaring back in the form of a car engine, a blaring horn, and headlights aimed directly at us.
I pulled Liam up onto his feet, reaching for the gun tucked into my coat pocket—but I saw the car now, the familiar dusty tan of Chubs’s SUV. The car skidded to a stop a few feet away, kicking up an explosion of snow.
Chubs jumped out of the driver’s seat, leaving the engine running. “Oh, thank God. I saw you both on the ground and I thought you killed each other.”
I turned my back to them both, wiping my cheeks against my coat sleeves. Behind me, I heard Chubs suck in a sharp breath, but Liam was the one to speak, his voice frighteningly calm.
“Come inside for a sec. There’s some food left we can take.”
I didn’t want to follow them, and I didn’t want to get into the car. I couldn’t move; the fight, if I could even call it that, had drained me to the point that I was seeing two of Jude as he jumped out of the car and came toward me.
“Roo?” He sounded scared.
I physically shook myself to clear my head. “It’s okay.”
“What happened?” he whispered, pressing a comforting hand to my back. “Did you guys fight?”
“No,” I said. “He remembers now.”
We turned, watching as Chubs stumbled over himself, trying to keep up as Liam dragged him over to the gas station. He looked back at me with wide eyes as Liam kicked the door open with his foot. The bang as it slammed against the opposite cinderblock wall was enough to draw Vida out of the car, too.
It took two, maybe three full seconds for the shouting to start. They’d moved far enough into the store that we couldn’t tell exactly what they were saying; particularly hot words jumped out now and again—How could you? and Why? and Her, her, her.
“Holy shit.” Vida turned back toward me, her hands planted firmly on her hips. “I told you to leave the kid alone. What did you do to him?”
My skin felt tight and hot over my face with the effort it took not to burst into tears.
“—a damn idiot!” Liam was shouting. “Because I feel like a goddamn fool!”
“He knows?” Vida asked. “You told him?”
“No…I think he remembers. I think I undid it. Or I never really did it. I don’t know. He won’t talk to me. He’s never going to talk to me ever again.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Jude offered. “He’s probably just overwhelmed. It seems like…”
“Like what?” Vida asked.
“That some part of him remembered you. He got so upset when we found you, and he thought you were going to die, remember?”