Page 26

It’s my fault.

It’s my fault for misunderstanding.

It’s my fault for thinking she was fine, that she didn’t require more from me—more encouragement, more motivation, more guidance—on a daily basis. She kept showing these tremendous moments of growth and change, and they disarmed me. I’m only now realizing that these moments are misleading. She needs more time, more opportunities to solidify her new strength. She needs to practice; and she needs to be pushed to practice. To be unyielding, to always and forever fight for herself.

And she’s come so far.

She is, today, almost unrecognizable from the trembling young woman I first met. She’s strong. She’s no longer terrified of everything. But she’s still only seventeen years old. And she’s only been doing this for a short while.

And I keep forgetting.

I should have advised her when she said she wanted to take over the job of supreme commander. I should’ve said something then. I should’ve made sure she understood the breadth of what she’d be getting herself into. I should’ve warned her that her enemies would inevitably make an attempt on her life—

I have to pry my hands away from my face. I’ve unconsciously pressed my fingers so hard into my skin that I’ve given myself a brand-new headache.

I sigh and fall back against the chair, extending my legs as my head hits the cold, concrete wall behind me. I feel numb and somehow, still electric. With anger. With impotence. With this impossible need to yell at someone, anyone. My fists clench. I close my eyes. She has to be okay. She has to be okay for her sake and for my sake, because I need her, and because I need her to be safe—

A throat clears.

Castle sits down in the seat beside me. I do not look in his direction.

“Mr Warner,” he says.

I do not respond.

“How are you holding up, son?”

An idiotic question.

“This,” he says quietly, waving a hand toward her room, “is a much bigger problem than anyone will admit. I think you know that, too.”

I stiffen.

He stares at me.

I turn only an inch in his direction. I finally notice the faint lines around his eyes, his forehead. The threads of silver gleaming through the neat dreadlocks tied at his neck. I don’t know how old Castle is, but I suspect he’s old enough to be my father. “Do you have something to say?”

“She can’t lead this resistance,” he says, squinting at something in the distance. “She’s too young. Too inexperienced. Too angry. You know that, don’t you?”

“No.”

“It should’ve been you,” Castle says. “I always secretly hoped—from the day you showed up at Omega Point—that it would’ve been you. That you would join us. And lead us.” He shakes his head. “You were born for this. You would’ve managed it all beautifully.”

“I didn’t want this job,” I say to him, sharp and clipped. “Our nation needed change. It needed a leader with heart and passion and I am not that person. Juliette cares about these people. She cares about their hopes, their fears—and she will fight for them in a way I never would.”

Castle sighs. “She can’t fight for anyone if she’s dead, son.”

“Juliette is going to be fine,” I say angrily. “She’s resting now.”

Castle is quiet for a time.

When he finally breaks the silence, he says, “It is my great hope that, very soon, you will stop pretending to misunderstand me. I certainly respect your intelligence too much to reciprocate the pretense.” He’s staring at the floor. His eyebrows pull together. “You know very well what I’m trying to get at.”

“And what is your point?”

He turns to look at me. Brown eyes, brown skin, brown hair. The white flash of his teeth as he speaks. “You say you love her?”

I feel my heart pound suddenly, the sound drumming in my ears. It’s so hard for me to admit this sort of thing out loud. To a veritable stranger.

“Do you really love her?” he asks again.

“Yes,” I whisper. “I do.”

“Then stop her. Stop her before they do. Before this experiment destroys her.”

I turn away, my chest heaving.

“You still don’t believe me,” he says. “Even though you know I’m telling the truth.”

“I only know that you think you’re telling me the truth.”

Castle shakes his head. “Her parents are coming for her,” he says. “And when they do you’ll know for certain that I’ve not led you astray. But by then,” he says, “it’ll be too late.”

“Your theory doesn’t make any sense,” I say, frustrated. “I have documents stating that Juliette’s biological parents died a long time ago.”

He narrows his eyes. “Documents are easily falsified.”

“Not in this case,” I say. “It isn’t possible.”

“I assure you that it is.”

I’m still shaking my head. “I don’t think you understand,” I say. “I have all of Juliette’s files,” I say to him, “and her biological parents’ date of death has always been clearly noted. Maybe you confused these people with her adoptive parents—”

“The adoptive parents only ever had custody of one child—Juliette—correct?”

“Yes.”

“Then how do you explain the second child?”

“What?” I stare at him. “What second child?”

“Emmaline, her older sister. You remember Emmaline, of course.”

Now I’m convinced Castle is unhinged. “My God,” I say. “You really have lost your mind.”

“Nonsense,” he says. “You’ve met Emmaline many times, Mr Warner. You may not have known who she was at the time, but you’ve lived in her world. You’ve interacted with her at length. Haven’t you?”

“I’m afraid you’re deeply misinformed.”

“Try to remember, son.”

“Try to remember what?”

“You were sixteen. Your mother was dying. There were whispers that your father would soon be promoted from commander and regent of Sector 45 to supreme commander of North America. You knew that, in a couple of years, he was going to move you to the capital. You didn’t want to go. You didn’t want to leave your mother behind, so you offered to take his place. To take over Sector 45. And you were willing to do anything.”

I feel the blood exit my body.

“Your father gave you a job.”

“No,” I whisper.

“Do you remember what he made you do?”

I look into my open, empty hands. My pulse picks up. My mind spirals.

“Do you remember, son?”

“How much do you know?” I say, but my face feels paralyzed. “About me—about this?”

“Not quite as much as you do. But more than most.”

I sink into the chair. The room spins around me.

I can only imagine what my father would say if he were alive to see this now. Pathetic. You’re pathetic. You have no one to blame but yourself, he’d say. You’re always ruining everything, putting your emotions before your duty—

“How long have you known?” I look at him, anxiety sending waves of unwelcome heat up my back. “Why have you never said anything?”

Castle shifts in his chair. “I’m not sure how much I should say on this matter. I don’t know how much I can trust you.”

“You can’t trust me?” I say, losing control. “You’re the one who’s been holding back—all this time”—I glance up suddenly, realizing—“does Kishimoto know about this?”

“No.”

My features rearrange. Surprised.

Castle sighs. “He’ll know soon enough. Just as everyone else will.”

I shake my head in disbelief. “So you’re telling me that—that girl—that was her sister?”

Castle nods.

“That’s not possible.”

“It is a fact.”

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