Nicolás says something softly in response to her, and then drops his head in a mini-bow.
I cross my arms. I don’t trust him.
“What?” Juliette stares at him, confused. “I don’t know what that means.”
Nicolás smiles at her. He says something else in Spanish—and by now it’s obvious he’s screwing with her—and I nearly kick the little shit in the face.
Warner gets to him before I do. He says something to Nicolás, something else I don’t understand, but somehow this makes Juliette angrier.
What a weird morning.
I hear Nicolás say, “We are pleased to meet you,” in English, and I’m officially so goddamn confused I think I should just see myself out.
Juliette says, “I take it you’ll all be attending the symposium today?”
Another douche-bow from Nicolás. More words in Spanish.
“That’s a yes,” Warner translates.
That seems to piss her off. She spins around, turns to face him. “What other languages do you speak?” she says, her eyes flashing, and Warner goes so suddenly still my heart hurts for him.
This moment is too real.
Warner and Juliette are both so full of shit today. They’re pretending to be so hard, so cool and collected, and then—this. Juliette says one thing to him and Warner turns into an idiot. He’s staring at her, too dumb to speak, and she’s flushed, looking all hot and bothered just because he’s looking at her.
I wonder if Warner has any idea what he looks like right now, staring at Juliette like all the words were shoved right out of his head, and then, with a jolt, I wonder if that’s what I looked like when I was talking to Nazeera.
An involuntary shudder runs through me.
Finally, Stephan puts Warner out of his misery. He clears his throat and says, “We were taught many languages from a very young age. It was critical that the commanders and their families all knew how to communicate with one another.”
Juliette looks down, collects herself. When she turns to Stephan, her face has lost most of its flush, but she still looks a little blotchy.
“I thought The Reestablishment wanted to get rid of all the languages,” Juliette says. “I thought you were working toward a single, universal language—”
“Sí, Madam Supreme,” Valentina says. (I know the word sí. It means yes. I’m not a complete idiot.) “That’s true,” she says. “But first we had to be able to speak with each other, no?”
I don’t know why, but something about Valentina’s response breaks something open in Juliette. She looks almost like herself again. Her face loses its tension. Her eyes are wide—almost sad.
“Where are you from?” she says quietly, and her voice is so unguarded it gives me hope—hope that the real J is still in there, somewhere. “Before the world was remapped,” she says, “what were the names of your countries?”
“We were born in Argentina,” the twins say.
“My family is from Kenya,” Stephan says.
“And you’ve visited each other?” Juliette turns, scans their faces. “You travel to each other’s continents?”
“Wow,” she says. “That must be incredible.”
“You must come visit us, too, Madam Supreme,” Stephan says, smiling. “We’d love to have you stay with us. After all,” he says, “you are one of us now.”
And just like that, Juliette’s smile is gone.
Her face closes off. Shutters shut. She reverts back to the cold shell of a person she was when she walked in, and her voice is severe when she says, “Warner, Castle, Kenji?”
I clear my throat. “Yeah?”
I hear Castle say, “Yes, Ms. Ferrars?”
I glance over at Warner, but he doesn’t say a word. He only stares at her.
“If we’re done here, I’d like to speak with the three of you alone, please.”
I look from Warner to Castle, waiting for someone to say something, but no one does.
“Uh, yeah,” I say quickly. “No, uh, no problem.” I shoot Castle a look, like, What the hell? And he jumps in with a “Certainly.”
Warner is still staring at her. He says nothing.
I almost slap him.
Juliette seems to agree with my line of thinking, because she stalks off, looking extremely pissed off as she goes, and I start following her out the door when I feel a hand on my shoulder. A heavy hand.
I look up directly into Warner’s eyes, and, I’m not going to lie—it’s a disorienting experience. That dude has some wild eyes. Pale, ice green. It’s a little unnerving.
“Give me a minute with her,” he says.
I nod. Take a step back. “Yeah, whatever you need.”
And he’s gone. I hear him call after her, and I stand there awkwardly, watching the open door and ignoring the other kids in the room. I cross my arms. Clear my throat.
“So it’s true, then,” Stephan says.
I turn, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“They really love each other.” He nods toward the open door. “Those two.”
“Yeah,” I say, confused. “It’s true.”
“We’ve heard about it, of course,” Nicolás says. “But it’s interesting to witness in person.”
“Interesting?” I raise an eyebrow. “Interesting how?”
“It’s rather moving,” Valentina says, and she sounds like she means it.
Castle walks up to me then. “It’s been at least a minute,” he says quietly.
“Right.” I nod. “Well, we’ll see you kids later,” I say to the room. “If you guys haven’t had breakfast yet, feel free to grab some muffins from the kitchen. They’re good. I had two.”
I nearly stumble trying to stop in place when we get out into the hall. Warner and Juliette haven’t gone far, and they’re standing close together, clearly having a heated, important conversation.
“We should get out of here,” I say to Castle. “They need space to talk.”
But Castle doesn’t answer right away. He’s staring at them with an intense look on his face, and for the first time in my life, I see him differently.
Like I don’t know him.
After everything Warner told me yesterday—about how Castle always knew Juliette had a complicated history, knew she was a critical asset, knew she’d been adopted, knew that her biological parents had donated her to The Reestablishment and that he’d sent me on an undercover mission to collect her—I’ve felt a little strange. Not bad, exactly. Just strange. All this isn’t enough of a revelation for me to lose faith in Castle entirely; he and I have been through too much for me to doubt his love.
But I feel off.
I want to ask him why he kept all this from me. I want to demand an explanation. But for some reason, I can’t bring myself to do it. Not yet, anyway. I think maybe I’m afraid to hear the answers to my own questions. I worry about what they might reveal about me.
“Yes,” Castle finally says, the sound of his voice refocusing my thoughts. “Perhaps we should give them the space they need.”
I shoot him an uncertain look. “You don’t think they’re good together, huh?”
Castle turns to me, surprised. “On the contrary,” he says. “I think they’re lucky to have found each other in this hellish world. But if they want a chance at happiness, they’ll have to continue to heal. Individually.” He turns away again, studies their figures in the distance. “I worry, sometimes, about the secrets between them. I want them to do the hard work of sucking out the poison from their past.”
Castle smiles. “Indeed.” He wraps his arm around my shoulder. Squeezes. “My greatest wish for you,” he says, “is for you to see yourself the way that I do: as a brilliant, handsome, compassionate young man who would do anything for the people he loves.”
I pull back, surprised. “What made you say that?”
“It’s just something I’ve been reminding myself to say out loud.” He sighs. “I want you to understand that Nazeera is a very, very lucky girl to be the object of your affections. I wish you would realize that. She is accomplished and beautiful, yes, but you—”
“Wait. What?” I feel suddenly nauseous. “How did y—?”
“Oh,” Castle says, his eyes wide. “Oh, was it a secret? I didn’t realize it was a secret. My apologies.”
I grumble something foul.
He laughs. “I have to say, if you’re interested in keeping it to yourself, you might want to change your tactics.”
“What do you mean?”
He shrugs. “You don’t see yourself around her. Your feelings are obvious to everyone. From anywhere.”
I drop my head into my hands with a groan.
And when I finally look up, ready to respond, I’m so distracted by the scene in front of me that I forget to speak.
Warner and Juliette are having a moment.
A pretty passionate moment, right here, in the hall. I realize, as I watch them, that I’ve never seen them kiss before. I’m frozen. A little stunned. And I know I should, like, look away—I mean, I know in my head that I should? That it’s the decent thing to do? But I’m kind of fascinated.