Stellan dropped his hand from my hair. “Come on up. We’re discussing mass genocide.”
Jack cringed, but he came up behind our bench. “If the Order isn’t going to be much use, we’ll just have to figure it out ourselves, won’t we?” He squeezed my shoulder and then, after a short hesitation, clapped a hand on Stellan’s, too. “It’ll be all right.”
Stellan and I glanced at each other, and I reached up to squeeze Jack’s fingers back. “So what do we do?”
“First order of business will be to keep the cure away from them, same as before. Knowing what the cure is changes the method, but the objective is the same,” Jack said. I scooted over and he sat on the other side of me. “I was thinking about it a lot on the plane, and I think the second thing for us to do will be to work on the Circle. Make them believe us. If the Circle turns on the Saxons, maybe they’ll stop them, or at least help us.”
“Not that I disagree,” Stellan said, “but Lucien has been trying to tell them the truth and he’s getting nowhere. It’s not that easy.”
I watched the boats moored to docks along the Seine.
“That’s why we need something more than our word against theirs,” Jack said. “I don’t know what that is yet, but I think that’s what we work toward.”
Fitz came onto the upper deck. His eyes looked tired, and his sweater looked two sizes too big. “Here you three are.” He turned to Jack, then to Stellan. “May I speak with Avery for a few minutes?”
Jack nodded and stood. Stellan nudged my knee. “Okay?” he mouthed. I nodded, wishing I could ask them both to stay. I moved to one of the smaller tables on the deck, and Fitz joined me. The boat was turning, heading back toward the Eiffel Tower in the other direction.
“I’m sorry that upset you. I understand how you feel,” Fitz said. “No one wants to see this end in more death and destruction—not even me, in spite of everything.”
I nodded, though I wasn’t really sure that was true for all the Order members. “Everything’s just a little . . .”
“Overwhelming?” Fitz sat across from me. “I’m so sorry we weren’t able to tell you earlier about who I was to you. It’s been one of my biggest regrets that I wasn’t able to be part of my granddaughter’s life.”
“Why weren’t you?” I said quietly. And then I amended it, to be fair. “You were. You were one of the only people who was ever part of my life for more than a few months. But why couldn’t you . . .”
“Your mother and I tried. That’s why I lived near you for as long as I did. It was an experiment. But with my own ties here—it was too dangerous.”
I realized I was nervous. I’d wondered for so long how my life got to be the way it was, and now that I was about to find out, I wasn’t sure I was ready. I nodded anyway. “Go on.”
He told me the story.
Like the Circle, the Order started their operatives young, he said, and membership often ran in families. My mom had been assigned to the Saxon household when she was fifteen years old. “I blame myself for what happened then,” Fitz said. “But here you are, so I can’t regret it.”
He hadn’t realized my mom was falling for Alistair Saxon until it was too late. The Circle took the prohibition against family members being romantically involved with the help seriously, as I knew, and he had never considered that my mom would get involved with a member of the Circle, either. But Alistair was different. Even Fitz saw it. He wasn’t like his older brother and his father. He was reasonable, and saw the Circle for what it was. He wanted more for them, and for the world. He was good. But then his brother and father were killed, and everything changed. He came into incredible responsibility overnight, and in such a way that he felt a threat to his family he’d never believed in before. They blamed the Order for the deaths, when in reality, it wasn’t true. But that incident changed the Circle, and it changed Alistair.
My mom would have ended the relationship at that point, Fitz said, but it was too late. She was pregnant with me. She confided in some Order members, and it was a mistake. Every one of them wanted her to end the pregnancy. She refused. But then she found out I was a girl.
“And because of what we knew about girls of the Circle, and what you’d mean if you did have the gene, it changed things. Still, your mother was determined to keep you,” Fitz said. “I helped her come up with a plan. She told everyone—both the Order and your father—that she’d lost the baby. And then she disappeared.”
From up on the riverbank, a siren got closer, and I tensed, wondering what had happened now. It passed.
“Once you were born,” Fitz continued, “and you did have the violet eyes your mother and I were hoping you wouldn’t, we knew it was unlikely I’d be able to be a real part of your lives.”
I’d been mad at my mom for a long time for running from this, and it was all to keep me alive. And here I was, in the same position, considering doing the same thing. Doing the bare minimum to keep my own blood from being the end of the world, and then washing my hands of everything to do with the Circle. Disappearing, just like she did.
I rested my elbows on the white tablecloth and my head in my hands.
“And that was when I began my research,” Fitz said.
I glanced up. Jack, Stellan, and Elodie were by themselves on the lower deck now, talking in a tight knot. At this point, this was no longer just my story. And even if it had been, I wanted them here.
“Just a second,” I said, and called them upstairs. Stellan sat next to me again, and Jack and Elodie seated themselves on the other two sides of the table. I caught them up on the quick version of my mom’s story, and then Fitz went on.
My mom had been young, and naive, and optimistic, he said. She thought she’d be able to keep me from this world forever. Fitz, knowing that might not be true and that my life and freedom would be compromised, was determined to help. “So I began researching what might actually happen if Avery were discovered. All I knew at that point was what the Circle knew. The mandate would produce a weapon, supposedly against the Order. The girl with the violet eyes was the key, which was why we couldn’t let such a girl exist.”
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