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“Answer the question,” I say. “Just tell me this much.” I step forward, so close I can feel his breath on my face; so close I can almost hear his heart racing in his chest. “Were you ever going to tell me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell me the truth.”

“Honestly, love,” he says, shaking his head. “In all likelihood, I would have.” And suddenly he sighs. The action seems to exhaust him. “I don’t know how to convince you that I believed I was sparing you the pain of that particular truth. I really thought your biological parents were dead. I see now that keeping this from you wasn’t the right thing to do, but then, I don’t always do the right thing,” he says quietly. “But you have to believe that my intention was never to hurt you. I never intended to lie to you or to purposely withhold information from you. And I do think that I would have, in time, told you what I knew to be the truth. I was just searching for the right moment.”

Suddenly, I’m not sure what to feel.

I stare at him, his downcast eyes, the movement in his throat as he swallows against a swell of emotion. And something breaks apart inside of me. Some measure of resistance begins to crumble.

He looks so vulnerable. So young.

I take a deep breath and let it go, slowly, and then I look up, look into his face once more and I see it, I see the moment he senses the change in my feelings. Something comes alive in his eyes. He takes a step forward and now we’re standing so close I’m afraid to speak. My heart is beating too hard in my chest and I don’t have to do anything at all to be reminded of everything, every moment, every touch we’ve ever shared. His scent is all around me. His heat. His exhalations. Gold eyelashes and green eyes. I touch his face, almost without meaning to, gently, like he might be a ghost, like this might be a dream and the tips of my fingers graze his cheek, trail the line of his jaw and I stop when his breath catches, when his body shakes almost imperceptibly

and we lean in as if by memory

eyes closing

lips just touching

“Give me another chance,” he whispers, resting his forehead against mine.

My heart aches, throbs in my chest.

“Please,” he says softly, and he’s somehow closer now, his lips touching mine as he speaks and I feel pinned in place by emotion, unable to move as he presses the words against my mouth, his hands soft and hesitant around my face and he says, “I swear on my life,” he says, “I won’t disappoint you”

and he kisses me

Kisses me

right here, in the middle of everything, in front of everyone and I’m flooded, overrun with feeling, my head spinning as he presses me against the hard line of his body and I can’t save myself from myself, can’t stop the sound I make when he parts my lips and I’m lost, lost in the taste of him, lost in his heat, wrapped up in his arms and

I have to tear myself away

pulling back so quickly I nearly stumble. I’m breathing too hard, my face flushed, my feelings panicked

And he can only look at me, his chest rising and falling with an intensity I feel from here, from two feet away, and I can’t think of anything right or reasonable to say about what just happened or what I’m feeling except

“This isn’t fair,” I whisper. Tears threaten, sting my eyes. “This isn’t fair.”

And I don’t wait to hear his response before I tear down the hall, bolting the rest of the way back to my rooms.

WARNER

“Trouble in paradise, Mr Warner?”

I’ve got him by the throat in seconds, shock disfiguring his expression as I slam his body against the wall. “You,” I say angrily. “You forced me into this impossible position. Why?”

Castle tries to swallow but can’t, his eyes wide but unafraid. When he speaks his words are raspy, suffocated. “You had to do it,” he chokes out. “It had to happen. She needed to be warned, and it had to come from you.”

“I don’t believe you,” I shout, shoving him harder against the wall. “And I don’t know why I ever trusted you.”

“Please, son. Put me down.”

I ease up, only a little, and he takes in several lungfuls of air before saying, “I haven’t lied to you, Mr Warner. She had to hear the truth. And if she’d heard this from anyone else she’d never forgive you. But at least now”—he coughs—“with time, she might. It’s your only chance at happiness.”

“What?” I drop my hand. Drop him. “Since when have you cared about my happiness?”

He’s quiet for too long, massaging his throat as he stares at me. Finally, he says, “You think I don’t know what your father did to you? What he put you through?”

And now I take a step back.

“You think I don’t know your story, son? You think I’d let you into my world—offer you sanctuary among my people—if I really thought you were going to hurt us?”

I’m breathing hard. Suddenly confused. Feeling exposed.

“You don’t know anything about me,” I say, feeling the lie even as I say it.

Castle smiles, but there’s something wounded in it. “You’re just a boy,” he says quietly. “You’re only nineteen years old, Mr Warner. And I think you forget that all the time. You have no perspective, no idea that you’ve only barely lived. There’s still so much life ahead of you.” He sighs. “I try to tell Kenji the same thing, but he’s like you. Stubborn,” he says. “So stubborn.”

“I’m nothing like him.”

“Did you know that you’re a year younger than him?”

“Age is irrelevant. Nearly all my soldiers are older than me.”

Castle laughs.

“All of you kids,” he says, shaking his head. “You suffer too much. You have these horrible, tragic histories. Volatile personalities. I’ve always wanted to help,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to fix that. Make this world a better place for you kids.”

“Well, you can go save the world somewhere else,” I say. “And feel free to babysit Kishimoto all you like. But I’m not your responsibility. I don’t need your pity.”

Castle only tilts his head at me. “You will never escape my pity, Mr Warner.”

My jaw clenches.

“You boys,” he says, his eyes distracted for a moment, “you remind me so much of my own sons.”

I pause. “You have children?”

“Yes,” he says. And I feel his sudden, breathtaking wave of pain wash over me as he says, “I did.”

I take several unconscious steps backward, reeling from the rush of his shared emotions. I can only stare at him. Surprised. Curious.

Sorry.

“Hey.”

At the sound of Nazeera’s voice I spin around, startled. She’s with Haider, the two of them looking grave.

“What is it?” I say.

“We need to talk.” She looks at Castle. “Your name is Castle, right?”

He nods.

“Yeah, I know you’re wise to this business, Castle, so I’m going to need you to get in on this, too.” Nazeera whips her finger through the air to draw a circle around the four of us. “We all need to talk. Now.”

JULIETTE

It’s a strange thing, to never know peace. To know that no matter where you go, there is no sanctuary. That the threat of pain is always a whisper away. I’m not safe locked into these 4 walls, I was never safe leaving my house, and I couldn’t even feel safe in the 14 years I lived at home. The asylum kills people every day, the world has already been taught to fear me, and my home is the same place where my father locked me in my room every night and my mother screamed at me for being the abomination she was forced to raise.

She always said it was my face.

There was something about my face, she said, that she couldn’t stand. Something about my eyes, the way I looked at her, the fact that I even existed. She’d always tell me to stop looking at her. She’d always scream it. Like I might attack her. Stop looking at me, she’d scream. You just stop looking at me, she’d scream.

She put my hand in the fire once.

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