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But with Warner there’s nothing to hide.

I want to see his expression; I want to know what he’s thinking now that I’ve opened up, offered him a personal look at my past, but I can’t make myself face him. So I sit here, frozen, humiliation perched on my shoulders and he doesn’t say a word, doesn’t shift an inch, doesn’t make a single sound. Seconds fly by, swarming the room all at once and I want to swat them all away; I want to catch them and shove them into my pockets just long enough to stop time.

Finally, he interrupts the silence.

“I like to read, too,” he says.

I look up, startled.

He’s leaned back against the wall, one hand caught in his hair. He runs his fingers through the golden layers just once. Drops his hand. Meets my gaze. His eyes are so, so green.

“You like to read?” I ask.

“You’re surprised.”

“I thought The Reestablishment was going to destroy all of those things. I thought it was illegal.”

“They are, and it will be,” he says, shifting a little. “Soon, anyway. They’ve destroyed some of it already, actually.” He looks uncomfortable for the first time. “It’s ironic,” he says, “that I only really started reading when the plan was in place to destroy everything. I was assigned to sort through some lists—give my opinion on which things we’d keep, which things we’d get rid of, which things we’d recycle for use in campaigns, in future curriculum, et cetera.”

“And you think that’s okay?” I ask him. “To destroy what’s left of culture—all the languages—all those texts? Do you agree?”

He’s playing with my notebook again. “There … are many things I’d do differently,” he says, “if I were in charge.” A deep breath. “But a soldier does not always have to agree in order to obey.”

“What would you do differently?” I ask. “If you were in charge?”

He laughs. Sighs. Looks at me, smiles at me out of the corner of his eye. “You ask too many questions.”

“I can’t help it,” I tell him. “You just seem so different now. Everything you say surprises me.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “You’re just … so calm. A little less crazy.”

He laughs one of those silent laughs, the kind that shakes his chest without making a sound, and he says, “My life has been nothing but battle and destruction. Being here?” He looks around. “Away from duties, responsibilities. Death,” he says, eyes intent on the wall. “It’s like a vacation. I don’t have to think all the time. I don’t have to do anything or talk to anyone or be anywhere. I’ve never had so many hours to simply sleep,” he says, smiling. “It’s actually kind of luxurious. I think I’d like to get held hostage more often,” he adds, mostly to himself.

And I can’t help but study him.

I study his face in a way I’ve never dared to before and I realize I don’t have the faintest idea what it must be like to live his life. He told me once that I didn’t have a clue, that I couldn’t possibly understand the strange laws of his world, and I’m only just beginning to see how right he was. Because I don’t know anything about that kind of bloody, regimented existence. But I suddenly want to know.

I suddenly want to understand.

I watch his careful movements, the effort he makes to look unconcerned, relaxed. But I see how calculated it is. How there’s a reason behind every shift, every readjustment of his body. He’s always listening, always touching a hand to the ground, the wall, staring at the door, studying its outline, the hinges, the handle. I see the way he tenses—just a little bit—at the sound of small noises, the scratch of metal, muffled voices outside the room. It’s obvious he’s always alert, always on edge, ready to fight, to react. It makes me wonder if he’s ever known tranquillity. Safety. If he’s ever been able to sleep through the night. If he’s ever been able to go anywhere without constantly looking over his own shoulder.

His hands are clasped together.

He’s playing with a ring on his left hand, turning and turning and turning it around his pinkie finger. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to notice he’s wearing it; it’s a solid band of jade, a shade of green pale enough to perfectly match his eyes. And then I remember, all at once, seeing it before.

Just one time.

The morning after I’d hurt Jenkins. When Warner came to collect me from his room. He caught me staring at his ring and quickly slipped his gloves on.

It’s déjà vu.

He catches me looking at his hands and quickly clenches his left fist, covers it with his right.


“It’s just a ring,” he says. “It’s nothing.”

“Why are you hiding it if it’s nothing?” I’m already so much more curious than I was a moment ago, too eager for any opportunity to crack him open, to figure out what on earth goes on inside of his head.

He sighs.

Flexes and unflexes his fingers. Stares at his hands, palms down, fingers spread. Slips the ring off his pinkie and holds it up to the fluorescent light; looks at it. It’s a little O of green. Finally, he meets my eyes. Drops the ring into the palm of his hand and closes a fist around it.

“You’re not going to tell me?” I ask.

He shakes his head.

“Why not?”

He rubs the side of his neck, massages the tension out of the lowest part, the part that just touches his upper back. I can’t help but watch. Can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to have someone massage the pain out of my body that way. His hands look so strong.

I’ve just about forgotten what we were talking about when he says, “I’ve had this ring for almost ten years. It used to fit my index finger.” He glances at me before looking away again. “And I don’t talk about it.”



“Oh.” I bite down on my bottom lip. Disappointed.

“Do you like Shakespeare?” he asks me.

An odd segue.

I shake my head. “All I know about him is that he stole my name and spelled it wrong.”

Warner stares at me for a full second before he bursts into laughter—strong, unrestrained gales of laughter—trying to rein it in and failing.

I’m suddenly uncomfortable, nervous in front of this strange boy who laughs and wears secret rings and asks me about books and poetry. “I wasn’t trying to be funny,” I manage to tell him.

But his eyes are still full of smiles when he says, “Don’t worry. I didn’t know much about him until roughly a year ago. I still don’t understand half the things he says, so I think we’re going to get rid of most of it, but he did write a line I really liked.”

“What was it?”

“Would you like to see it?”

“See it?”

But Warner is already on his feet, unbuttoning his pants and I’m wondering what could possibly be happening, worried I’m being tricked into some new sick game of his when he stops. Catches the horrified look on my face. Says, “Don’t worry, love. I’m not getting naked, I promise. It’s just another tattoo.”

“Where?” I ask, frozen in place, wanting and not wanting to look away.

He doesn’t answer.

His pants are unzipped but hanging low on his waist. His boxer-briefs are visible underneath. He tugs and tugs on the elastic band of his underwear until it sits just below his hipbone.

I’m blushing through my hairline.

I’ve never seen such an intimate area of any boy’s body before, and I can’t make myself look away. My moments with Adam were always in the dark and always interrupted; I never saw this much of him not because I didn’t want to, but because I never had a chance to. And now the lights are on and Warner’s standing right in front of me and I’m so caught, so intrigued by the cut of his frame. I can’t help but notice the way his waist narrows into his hips and disappears under a piece of fabric. I want to know what it would be like to understand another person without those barriers.

To know a person so thoroughly, so privately.

I want to study the secrets tucked between his elbows and the whispers caught behind his knees. I want to follow the lines of his silhouette with my eyes and the tips of my fingers. I want to trace rivers and valleys along the curved muscles of his body.

My thoughts shock me.

There’s a desperate heat in the pit of my stomach I wish I could ignore. There are butterflies in my chest I wish I could explain away. There’s an ache in my core that I’m unwilling to name.


He’s so beautiful.

I must be insane.

“It’s interesting,” he says. “It feels very … relevant, I think. Even though it was written so long ago.”

“What?” I rip my eyes away from his lower half, desperately trying to keep my imagination from drawing in the details. I look back at the words tattooed onto his skin and focus this time. “Oh,” I say. “Yes.”

It’s 2 lines. Font like a typewriter inked across the very bottom of his torso.

hell is empty

and all the devils are here

Yes. Interesting. Yes. Sure.

I think I need to lie down.

“Books,” he’s saying, pulling his boxer-briefs up and rezipping his pants, “are easily destroyed. But words will live as long as people can remember them. Tattoos, for example, are very hard to forget.” He buttons his button. “I think there’s something about the impermanence of life these days that makes it necessary to etch ink into our skin,” he says. “It reminds us that we’ve been marked by the world, that we’re still alive. That we’ll never forget.”

“Who are you?”

I don’t know this Warner. I’d never be able to recognize this Warner.

He smiles to himself. Sits down again. Says, “No one else will ever need to know.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know who I am,” he says. “That’s enough for me.”

I’m silent a moment. I frown at the floor. “It must be great to go through life with so much confidence.”

“You are confident,” he says to me. “You’re stubborn and resilient. So brave. So strong. So inhumanly beautiful. You could conquer the world.”

I actually laugh, look up to meet his eyes. “I cry too much. And I’m not interested in conquering the world.”

“That,” he says, “is something I will never understand.” He shakes his head. “You’re just scared. You’re afraid of what you’re unfamiliar with. You’re too worried about disappointing people. You stifle your own potential,” he says, “because of what you think others expect of you—because you still follow the rules you’ve been given.” He looks at me, hard. “I wish you wouldn’t.”

“I wish you’d stop expecting me to use my power to kill people.”