I’m so happy I could cry.
“It’s about time,” he says.
But it’s not Adam who says it.
There’s blood everywhere.
Adam is on the ground, clutching his body, but I don’t know where he’s been shot. There are soldiers swarming around him and I’m clawing at the arms holding me back, kicking the air, crying out into the emptiness. Someone is dragging me away and I can’t see what they’ve done to Adam. Pain is seizing my limbs, cramping my joints, breaking every single bone in my body. I want to shriek through the sky, I want to fall to my knees and sob into the earth. I don’t understand why the agony isn’t finding escape in my screams. Why my mouth is covered with someone else’s hand.
“If I let go, you have to promise not to scream,” he says to me.
He’s touching my face with his bare hands and I don’t know where I dropped my gun.
Warner drags me into a still-functioning building and kicks open a door. Hits a switch. Fluorescent lights flicker on with a dull hum. There are paintings taped to the walls, alphabet rainbows stapled to corkboards. Small tables scattered across the room. We’re in a classroom.
I wonder if this is where James goes to school.
Warner drops his hand. His glassy green eyes are so delighted I’m petrified. “God I missed you,” he says to me. “You didn’t actually think I’d let you go so easily?”
“You shot Adam,” are the only words I can think of. My mind is muddled with disbelief. I keep seeing his beautiful body crumpled on the ground, red red red. I need to know if he’s alive. He has to be alive.
Warner’s eyes flash. “Kent is dead.”
Warner backs me into a corner and I realize I’ve never been so defenseless in my life. Never so vulnerable. 17 years I spent wishing my curse away, but in this moment I’m more desperate than ever to have it back. Warner’s eyes warm unexpectedly. His constant shifts in emotion are difficult to anticipate. Difficult to counter.
“Juliette,” he says. He touches my hand so gently it startles me. “Did you notice? It seems I am immune to your gift.” He studies my eyes. “Isn’t that incredible? Did you notice?” he asks again. “When you tried to escape? Did you feel it . . . ?”
Warner who misses absolutely nothing. Warner who absorbs every single detail.
Of course he knows.
But I’m shocked by the tenderness in his voice. The sincerity with which he wants to know. He’s like a feral dog, crazed and wild, thirsty for chaos, simultaneously aching for recognition and acceptance.
“We can really be together,” he says to me, undeterred by my silence. He pulls me close, too close. I’m frozen in five hundred layers of fear. Stunned in grief, in disbelief.
His hands reach for my face, his lips for mine. My brain is on fire, ready to explode from the impossibility of this moment. I feel like I’m watching it happen, detached from my own body, incapable of intervening. More than anything else, I’m shocked by his gentle hands, his earnest eyes.
“I want you to choose me,” he says. “I want you to choose to be with me. I want you to want this—”
“You’re insane,” I choke. “You’re psychotic—”
“You’re only afraid of what you’re capable of.” His voice is soft. Easy. Slow. Deceptively persuasive. I’d never realized before just how attractive his voice is. “Admit it,” he says. “We’re perfect for each other. You want the power. You love the feel of a weapon in your hand. You’re . . . attracted to me.”
I try to swing my fist but he catches my arms. Pins them to my sides. Presses me up against the wall. He’s so much stronger than he looks. “Don’t lie to yourself, Juliette. You’re going to come back with me whether you like it or not. But you can choose to want it. You can choose to enjoy it—”
“I will never,” I breathe, broken. “You’re sick—you’re a sick, twisted monster—”
“That’s not the right answer,” he says, and seems genuinely disappointed.
“It’s the only answer you’ll ever get from me.”
His lips come too close. “But I love you.”
“No you don’t.”
His eyes close. He leans his forehead against mine. “You have no idea what you do to me.”
“I hate you.”
He shakes his head very slowly. Dips down. His nose brushes the nape of my neck and I stifle a horrified shiver that he misunderstands. His lips touch my skin and I actually whimper. “God I’d love to just take a bite out of you.”
I notice the gleam of silver in his inside jacket pocket.
I feel a thrill of hope. A thrill of horror. Brace myself for what I need to do. Spend a moment mourning the loss of my dignity.
And I relax.
He feels the tension seep out of my limbs and responds in turn. He smiles, loosens his clamp on my shoulders. Slips his arms around my waist. I swallow the vomit threatening to give me away.
His military jacket has a million buttons and I wonder how many I’ll have to undo before I can get my hands on the gun. His hands are exploring my body, slipping down my back to feel the form of my figure and it’s all I can do to keep from doing something reckless. I’m not skilled enough to overpower him and I have no idea why he’s able to touch me. I have no idea why I was able to crash through concrete yesterday. I have no idea where that energy came from.
Today he’s got every advantage and it’s not time to give myself away.
I place my hands on his chest. He presses me into the curve of his body. Tilts my chin up to meet his eyes. “I’ll be good to you,” he whispers. “I’ll be so good to you, Juliette. I promise.”
I hope I’m not visibly shaking.
And he kisses me. Hungrily. Desperately. Eager to break me open and taste me. I’m so stunned, so horrified, so cocooned in insanity I forget myself. I stand there frozen, disgusted. My hands slip from his chest. All I can think about is Adam and blood and Adam and the sound of gunshots and Adam lying in a pool of blood and I nearly shove him off of me. But Warner will not be discouraged.
He breaks the kiss. Whispers something in my ear that sounds like nonsense. Cups my face in his hands and this time I remember to pretend. I pull him closer, grab a fistful of his jacket and kiss him as hard as I can, my fingers already attempting to release the first of his buttons. Warner grips my hips and allows his hands to conquer my body. He tastes like peppermint, smells like gardenias. His arms are strong around me, his lips soft, almost sweet against my skin. There’s an electric charge between us I hadn’t anticipated.
My head is spinning.
His lips are on my neck, tasting me, devouring me, and I force myself to think straight. I force myself to understand the perversion of this situation. I don’t know how to reconcile the confusion in my mind, my hesitant repulsion, my inexplicable chemical reaction to his lips. I need to get this over with. Now.
I reach for his buttons.
And he’s unnecessarily encouraged.
Warner lifts me by the waist, hoists me up against the wall, his hands cupping my backside, forcing my legs to wrap around him. He doesn’t realize he’s given me the perfect angle to reach into his coat.
His lips find my lips, his hands slip under my shirt and he’s breathing hard, tightening his grip around me, and I practically rip open his jacket in desperation. I can’t let this go on much longer. I have no idea how far Warner wants to push things, but I can’t keep encouraging his insanity.
I need him to lean forward just an inch more—
My hands wrap around the gun.
I feel him freeze. Pull back. I watch his face phase through frames of confusion/dread/anguish/horror/anger. He drops me to the floor just as my fingers pull the trigger for the very first time.
The power and strength of the weapon is disarming, the sound so much louder than I anticipated. The reverberations are vibrating through my ears and every pulse in my body.
It’s a sweet sort of music.
A small sort of victory.
Because this time the blood is not Adam’s.
Warner is down.
I am up and running away with his gun.
I need to find Adam. I need to steal a car. I need to find James and Kenji. I need to learn how to drive. I need to drive us to safety. I need to do everything in exactly that order.
Adam can’t be dead.
Adam is not dead.
Adam will not be dead.
My feet slap the pavement to a steady rhythm, my shirt and face spattered with blood, my hands still shaking slightly in the setting sun. A sharp breeze whips around me, jolting me out of the crazed reality I seem to be swimming in. I take a hard breath, squint up at the sky, and realize I don’t have much time before I lose the light. The streets, at least, have long since been evacuated. But I have exactly zero idea where Warner’s men might be.
I wonder if Warner has the tracker serum as well. I wonder if they’d know if he were dead.
I duck into dark corners, try to read the streets for clues, try to remember where Adam fell to the ground, but my memory is too weak, too distracted, my brain too broken to process these kinds of details. That horrible instant is one mess of insanity in my mind. I can’t make any sense of it and Adam could be anywhere by now. They could’ve done anything to him.
I don’t even know what I’m looking for.
I might be wasting my time.
I hear sudden movement and dart into a side street, my fingers tightening around the weapon slick in my grip. Now that I’ve actually fired a gun, I feel more confident with it in my hands, more aware of what to expect, how it functions. But I don’t know if I should be happy or horrified that I’m so comfortable so quickly with something so lethal.
I slide up against the wall, my arms and legs flat against the rough surface. I hope I’m buried in the shadows. I wonder if anyone’s found Warner yet.
I watch a soldier walk right past me. He has rifles slung across his chest, a smaller sort of automatic weapon in his hands. I glance down at the gun in my own hand and realize I have no idea how many different kinds there are. All I know is some are bigger than others. Some have to be reloaded constantly. Some, like the one I’m holding, do not. Maybe Adam can teach me the differences.
I suck in my breath and move as stealthily as I can through the streets. I spot a particularly dark shadow on a stretch of the sidewalk ahead of me and make an effort to avoid it. But as I get closer I realize it’s not a shadow. It’s a stain.
I squeeze my jaw shut until the pain scares away the screams. I take short, tiny, too-quick breaths. I need to focus. I need to use this information. I need to pay attention—
I need to follow the trail of blood.
Whoever dragged Adam away still hasn’t come back to clean the mess. There’s a steady spattered drip that leads away from the main roads and into the poorly lit side streets. The light is so dim I have to bend down to search for the spots on the ground. I’m losing sight of where they lead. There are fewer here. I think they’ve disappeared entirely. I don’t know if the dark spots I’m finding are blood or old gum pounded into the pavement or drops of life from another person’s flesh. Adam’s path has disappeared.