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“That decision was so easy for you to make,” he says. “So simple. You had a gun. You wanted to run away. You pulled the trigger. That was it.”

He’s right.

I keep telling myself I have no interest in killing people but somehow I find a way to justify it, to rationalize it when I want to.

Warner. Castle. Anderson.

I wanted to kill every single one of them. And I would have.

What is happening to me.

I’ve made a huge mistake coming here. Accepting this assignment. Because I can’t be alone with Warner. Not like this. Being alone with him is making my insides hurt in ways I don’t want to understand.

I have to leave.

“Don’t go,” he whispers, eyes on my notebook again. “Please,” he says. “Sit with me. Stay with me. I just want to see you. You don’t even have to say anything.”

Some crazed, confused part of my brain actually wants to sit down next to him, actually wants to hear what he has to say before I remember Adam and what he would think if he knew, what he would say if he were here and could see I was interested in spending my time with the same person who shot him in the leg, broke his ribs, and hung him on a conveyor belt in an abandoned slaughterhouse, leaving him to bleed to death one minute at a time.

I must be insane.

Still, I don’t move.

Warner relaxes against the wall. “Would you like me to read to you?”

I’m shaking my head over and over and over again, whispering, “Why are you doing this to me?”

And he looks like he’s about to respond before he changes his mind. Looks away. Lifts his eyes to the ceiling and smiles, just a tiny bit. “You know,” he says, “I could tell, the very first day I met you. There was something about you that felt different to me. Something in your eyes that was so tender. Raw. Like you hadn’t yet learned how to hide your heart from the world.” He’s nodding now, nodding to himself about something and I can’t imagine what it is. “Finding this,” he says, his voice soft as he pats the cover of my notebook, “was so”—his eyebrows pull together—“it was so extraordinarily painful.” He finally looks at me and he looks like a completely different person. Like he’s trying to solve a tremendously difficult equation. “It was like meeting a friend for the very first time.”

Why are my hands trembling.

He takes a deep breath. Looks down. Whispers, “I am so tired, love. I’m so very, very tired.”

Why won’t my heart stop racing.

“How much time,” he says after a moment, “do I have before they kill me?”

“Kill you?”

He stares at me.

I’m startled into speaking. “We’re not going to kill you,” I tell him. “We have no intention of hurting you. We just want to use you to get back our men. We’re holding you hostage.”

Warner’s eyes go wide, his shoulders stiffen. “What?”

“We have no reason to kill you,” I explain. “We only need to barter with your life—”

Warner laughs a loud, full-bodied laugh. Shakes his head. Smiles at me in that way I’ve only ever seen once before, looking at me like I’m the sweetest thing he’s ever decided to eat.

Those dimples.

“Dear, sweet, beautiful girl,” he says. “Your team here has greatly overestimated my father’s affection for me. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but keeping me here is not going to give you the advantage you were hoping for. I doubt my father has even noticed I’m gone. So I would like to request that you please either kill me, or let me go. But I beg you not to waste my time by confining me here.”

I’m checking my pockets for spare words and sentences but I’m finding none, not an adverb, not a preposition or even a dangling participle because there doesn’t exist a single response to such an outlandish request.

Warner is still smiling at me, shoulders shaking in silent amusement.

“But that’s not even a viable argument,” I tell him. “No one likes to be held hostage—”

He takes a tight breath. Runs a hand through his hair. Shrugs. “Your men are wasting their time,” he says. “Kidnapping me will never work to your advantage. This much,” he says, “I can guarantee.”


Time for lunch.

Kenji and I are sitting on one side of the table, Adam and James on the other.

We’ve been sitting here for half an hour now, deliberating over my conversation with Warner. I conveniently left out the parts about my journal, though I’m starting to wonder if I should’ve mentioned it. I’m also starting to wonder if I should just come clean about Warner being able to touch me. But every time I look at Adam I just can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t even know why Warner can touch me. Maybe Warner is the fluke I thought Adam was. Maybe all of this is some kind of cosmic joke told at my expense.

I don’t know what to do yet.

But somehow the extra details of my conversation with Warner seem too personal, too embarrassing to share. I don’t want anyone to know, for example, that Warner told me he loves me. I don’t want anyone to know that he has my journal, or that he’s read it. Adam is the only other person who even knows it exists, and he, at least, was kind enough to respect my privacy. He’s the one who saved my journal from the asylum, the one who brought it back to me in the first place. But he said he never read the things I wrote. He said he knew they must’ve been very private thoughts and that he didn’t want to intrude.

Warner, on the other hand, has ransacked my mind.

I feel so much more apprehensive around him now. Just thinking about being near him makes me feel anxious, nervous, so vulnerable. I hate that he knows my secrets. My secret thoughts.

It shouldn’t be him who knows anything about me at all.

It should be him. The one sitting right across from me. The one with the dark-blue eyes and the dark-brown hair and the hands that have touched my heart, my body.

And he doesn’t seem okay right now.

Adam’s head is down, his eyebrows drawn, his hands clenched together on the table. He hasn’t touched his food and he hasn’t said a word since I summarized my meeting with Warner. Kenji has been just as quiet. Everyone’s been a bit more solemn since our recent battle; we lost several people from Omega Point.

I take a deep breath and try again.

“So what do you think?” I ask them. “About what he said about Anderson?” I’m careful not to use the word dad or father anymore, especially around James. I don’t know what, if anything, Adam has said to James about the issue, and it’s not my business to pry. Worse still, Adam hasn’t said a word about it since we got back, and it’s already been 2 days. “Do you think he’s right that Anderson won’t care if he’s been taken hostage?”

James squirms around in his seat, eyes narrowed as he chews the food in his mouth, looking at the group of us like he’s waiting to memorize everything we say.

Adam rubs his forehead. “That,” he finally says, “might actually have some merit.”

Kenji frowns, folds his arms, leans forward. “Yeah. It is kind of weird. We haven’t heard a single thing from their side, and it’s been over forty-eight hours.”

“What does Castle think?” I ask.

Kenji shrugs. “He’s stressed out. Ian and Emory were really messed up when we found them. I don’t think they’re conscious yet, even though Sonya and Sara have been working around the clock to help them. I think he’s worried we won’t get Winston and Brendan back at all.”

“Maybe,” Adam says, “their silence has to do with the fact that you shot Anderson in both his legs. Maybe he’s just recovering.”

I almost choke on the water I was attempting to drink. I chance a look at Kenji to see if he’s going to correct Adam’s assumption, but he doesn’t even flinch. So I say nothing.

Kenji is nodding. Says, “Right. Yeah. I almost forgot about that.” A pause. “Makes sense.”

“You shot him in the legs?” James asks, eyes wide in Kenji’s direction.

Kenji clears his throat but is careful not to look at me. I wonder why he’s protecting me from this. Why he thinks it’s better not to tell the truth about what really happened. “Yup,” he says, and takes a bite of his food.

Adam exhales. Pushes up his shirtsleeves, studies the series of concentric circles inked onto his forearms, military mementos of a past life.

“But why?” James asks Kenji.

“Why what, kid?”

“Why didn’t you kill him? Why just shoot him in the legs? Didn’t you say he’s the worst? The reason why we have all the problems we have now?”

Kenji is quiet for a moment. He’s gripping his spoon, poking at his food. Finally he puts the spoon down. Motions for James to join him on our side of the table. I slide down to make room. “Come here,” he says to James, pulling him tight against the right side of his body. James wraps his arms around Kenji’s waist and Kenji drops his hand on James’ head, mussing his hair.

I had no idea they were so close.

I keep forgetting that the 3 of them are roommates.

“So, okay. You ready for a little lesson?” he says to James.

James nods.

“It’s like this: Castle always teaches us that we can’t just cut off the head, you know?” He hesitates; collects his thoughts. “Like, if we just kill the enemy leader, then what? What would happen?”

“World peace,” James says.

“Wrong. It would be mass chaos.” Kenji shakes his head. Rubs the tip of his nose. “And chaos is a hell of a lot harder to fight.”

“Then how do you win?”

“Right,” Kenji says. “Well that’s the thing. We can only take out the leader of the opposition when we’re ready to take over—only when there’s a new leader ready to take the place of the old one. People need someone to rally around, right? And we’re not ready yet.” He shrugs. “This was supposed to be a fight against Warner—taking him out wouldn’t have been an issue. But to take out Anderson would be asking for absolute anarchy, all over the country. And anarchy means there’s a chance someone else—someone even worse, possibly—could take control before we do.”

James says something in response but I don’t hear it.

Adam is staring at me.

He’s staring at me and he’s not pretending not to. He’s not looking away. He’s not saying a word. His gaze moves from my eyes to my mouth, focusing on my lips for a moment too long. Finally he turns away, just for a brief second before his eyes are fixed on mine again. Deeper. Hungrier.

My heart is starting to hurt.

I watch the hard movement in his throat. The rise and fall of his chest. The tense line of his jaw and the way he’s sitting so perfectly still. He doesn’t say anything, anything at all.

I want so desperately to touch him.

“Smartass.” Kenji is chuckling, shaking his head as he reacts to something James just said. “You know that’s not what I meant. Anyway,” he sighs, “we’re not ready to deal with that kind of insanity just yet. We take out Anderson when we’re ready to take over. That’s the only way to do this right.”