Page 28

But he looks different to me.

His gaze is too heavy, his eyes, too deep. His expression is too full of something I don’t want to recognize. He’s looking at me like I succeeded, like I shot him in the heart and shattered him, like I left him to die after he told me he loved me and I refused to think it was even possible.

And I see the difference in him now. I see what’s changed.

He’s making no effort to hide his emotions from me.

My lungs are liars, pretending they can’t expand just to have a laugh at my expense and my fingers are fluttering, struggling to escape the prison of my bones as if they’ve waited 17 years to fly away.

Escape, is what my fingers say to me.

Breathe, is what I keep saying to myself.

Warner as a child. Warner as a son. Warner as a boy who has only a limited grasp of his own life. Warner with a father who would teach him a lesson by killing the one thing he’d ever be willing to beg for.

Warner as a human being terrifies me more than anything else.

The supreme commander is impatient. “Sit down,” he says to his son, motioning to the couch he was just sitting on.

Warner doesn’t say a word to me.

His eyes are glued to my face, my body, to the harness strapped to my chest; his gaze lingers on my neck, on the marks his father likely left behind and I see the motion in his throat, I see the difficulty he has swallowing down the sight in front of him before he finally rips himself away and walks into the living room. He’s so like his father, I’m beginning to realize. The way he walks, the way he looks in a suit, the way he’s so meticulous about his hygiene. And yet there is no doubt in my mind that he detests the man he fails so miserably not to emulate.

“So I would like to know,” the supreme says, “how, exactly, you managed to get away.” He looks at me. “I’m suddenly curious, and my son has made it very difficult to extract these details.”

I blink at him.

“Tell me,” he says. “How did you escape?”

I’m confused. “The first or the second time?”

“Twice! You managed to escape twice!” He’s laughing heartily now; he slaps his knee. “Incredible. Both times, then. How did you get away both times?”

I wonder why he’s stalling for time. I don’t understand why he wants to talk when so many people are waiting for a war and I can’t help but hope that Adam and Kenji and Castle and everyone else haven’t frozen to death outside. And while I don’t have a plan, I do have a hunch. I have a feeling our hostages might be hidden in the kitchen. So I figure I’ll humor him for a little while.

I tell him I jumped out the window the first time. Shot Warner the second time.

The supreme is no longer smiling. “You shot him?”

I spare a glance at Warner to see his eyes are still fixed firmly on my face, his mouth still in no danger of moving. I have no idea what he’s thinking and I’m suddenly so curious I want to provoke him.

“Yes,” I say, meeting Warner’s gaze. “I shot him. With his own gun.” And the sudden tension in his jaw, the eyes that drop down to the hands he’s gripping too tightly in his lap—he looks as if he’s wrenched the bullet out of his body with his own 5 fingers.

The supreme runs a hand through his hair, rubs his chin. I notice he seems unsettled for the first time since I’ve arrived and I wonder how it’s possible he had no idea how I escaped.

I wonder what Warner must have said about the bullet wound in his arm.

“What’s your name?” I ask before I can stop myself, catching the words just a moment too late. I shouldn’t be asking stupid questions but I hate that I keep referring to him as “the supreme,” as if he’s some kind of untouchable entity.

Warner’s father looks at me. “My name?”

I nod.

“You may call me Supreme Commander Anderson,” he says, still confused. “Why does that matter?”

“Anderson? But I thought your last name was Warner.” I thought he had a first name I could use to distinguish between him and the Warner I’ve grown to know too well.

Anderson takes a hard breath, spares a disgusted glance at his son. “Definitely not,” he says to me. “My son thought it would be a good idea to take his mother’s last name, because that’s exactly the kind of stupid thing he’d do. The mistake,” he says, almost announcing it now, “that he always makes, time and time again—allowing his emotions to get in the way of his duty—it’s pathetic,” he says, spitting in Warner’s direction. “Which is why as much as I’d like to let you live, my dear, I’m afraid you’re too much of a distraction in his life. I cannot allow him to protect a person who has attempted to kill him.” He shakes his head. “I can’t believe I even have to have this conversation. What an embarrassment he’s proven to be.”

Anderson reaches into his pocket, pulls out a gun, aims it at my forehead.

Changes his mind.

“I’m sick of always cleaning up after you,” he barks at Warner, grabbing his arm, pulling him up from the couch. He pushes his son directly across from me, presses the gun into his good hand.

“Shoot her,” he says. “Shoot her right now.”


Warner’s gaze is locked onto mine.

He’s looking at me, eyes raw with emotion and I’m not sure I even know him anymore. I’m not sure I understand him, I’m not sure I know what he’s going to do when he lifts the gun with a strong, steady hand and points it directly at my face.

“Hurry up,” Anderson says. “The sooner you do this, the sooner you can move on. Now get this over with—”

But Warner cocks his head. Turns around.

Points the gun at his father.

I actually gasp.

Anderson looks bored, irritated, annoyed. He runs an impatient hand across his face before he pulls out another gun—my other gun—from his pocket. It’s unbelievable.

Father and son, both threatening to kill each other.

“Point the gun in the right direction, Aaron. This is ridiculous.”


I almost laugh in the middle of this insanity.

Warner’s first name is Aaron.

“I have no interest in killing her,” Warner Aaron he says to his father.

“Fine.” Anderson points the gun at my head again. “I’ll do it then.”

“Shoot her,” Warner says, “and I will put a bullet through your skull.”

It’s a triangle of death. Warner pointing a gun at his father, his father pointing a gun at me. I’m the only one without a weapon and I don’t know what to do.

If I move, I’m going to die. If I don’t move, I’m going to die.

Anderson is smiling.

“How charming,” he says. He’s wearing an easy, lazy grin, his grip on the gun in his hand so deceptively casual. “What is it? Does she make you feel brave, boy?” A pause. “Does she make you feel strong?”

Warner says nothing.

“Does she make you wish you could be a better man?” A little chuckle. “Has she filled your head with dreams about your future?” A harder laugh.

“You have lost your mind,” he says, “over a stupid child who’s too much of a coward to defend herself even with the barrel of a gun pointed straight at her face. This,” he says, pointing the gun harder in my direction, “is the silly little girl you’ve fallen in love with.” He exhales a short, hard breath. “I don’t know why I’m surprised.”

A new tightness in his breathing. A new tightness in his grip around the gun in his hand. These are the only signs that Warner is even remotely affected by his father’s words.

“How many times,” Anderson asks, “have you threatened to kill me? How many times have I woken up in the middle of the night to find you, even as a little boy, trying to shoot me in my sleep?” He cocks his head. “Ten times? Maybe fifteen? I have to admit I’ve lost count.” He stares at Warner. Smiles again. “And how many times,” he says, his voice so much louder now, “were you able to go through with it? How many times did you succeed? How many times,” he says, “did you burst into tears, apologizing, clinging to me like some demented—”

“Shut your mouth,” Warner says, his voice so low, so even, his frame so still it’s terrifying.

“You are weak,” Anderson spits, disgusted. “Too pathetically sentimental. Don’t want to kill your own father? Too afraid it’ll break your miserable heart?”

Warner’s jaw tenses.

“Shoot me,” Anderson says, his eyes dancing, bright with amusement. “I said shoot me!” he shouts, this time reaching for Warner’s injured arm, grabbing him until his fingers are clenched tight around the wound, twisting his arm back until Warner actually gasps from the pain, blinking too fast, trying desperately to suppress the scream building inside of him. His grip on the gun in his good hand wavers, just a little.

Anderson releases his son. Pushes him so hard that Warner stumbles as he tries to maintain his balance. His face is chalk-white. The sling wrapped around his arm is seeping with blood.

“So much talk,” Anderson says, shaking his head. “So much talk and never enough follow-through. You embarrass me,” he says to Warner, face twisted in repulsion. “You make me sick.”

A sharp crack.

Anderson backhands Warner in the face so hard Warner actually sways for a moment, already unsteady from all the blood he’s losing. But he doesn’t say a word.

He doesn’t make a sound.

He stands there, bearing the pain, blinking fast, jaw so tight, staring at his father with absolutely no emotion on his face; there’s no indication he’s just been slapped but the bright red mark across his cheek, his temple, and part of his forehead. But his arm sling is more blood than cotton now, and he looks far too ill to be on his feet.

Still, he says nothing.

“Do you want to threaten me again?” Anderson is breathing hard as he speaks. “Do you still think you can defend your little girlfriend? You think I’m going to allow your stupid infatuation to get in the way of everything I’ve built? Everything I’ve worked toward?” Anderson’s gun is no longer pointed at me. He forgets me long enough to press the barrel of his gun into Warner’s forehead, twisting it, jabbing it against his skin as he speaks. “Have I taught you nothing?” he shouts. “Have you learned nothing from me—”

I don’t know how to explain what happens next.

All I know is that my hand is around Anderson’s throat and I’ve pinned him to the wall, so overcome by a blind, burning, all-consuming rage that I think my brain has already caught on fire and dissolved into ash.

I squeeze a little harder.

He’s sputtering. He’s gasping. He’s trying to get at my arms, clawing limp hands at my body and he’s turning red and blue and purple and I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying it so, so much.

I think I’m smiling.

I bring my face less than an inch away from his ear and whisper, “Drop the gun.”