He shrugs. “I never said you had to. But it will happen along the way; it’s an inevitability in war. Killing is statistically impossible to avoid.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“You can always avoid killing people, Warner. You avoid killing them by not going to war.”
But he grins, so brilliantly, not even paying attention. “I love it when you say my name,” he says. “I don’t even know why.”
“Warner isn’t your name,” I point out. “Your name is Aaron.”
His smile is wide, so wide. “God, I love that.”
“Only when you say it.”
“Aaron? Or Warner?”
His eyes close. He tilts his head back against the wall. Dimples.
Suddenly I’m struck by the reality of what I’m doing here. Sitting here, spending time with Warner like we have so many hours to waste. Like there isn’t a very terrible world outside of these walls. I don’t know how I manage to keep getting distracted and I promise myself that this time I won’t let the conversation veer out of control. But when I open my mouth he says
“I’m not going to give you your notebook back.”
My mouth falls closed.
“I know you want it back,” he says, “but I’m afraid I’m going to have to keep it forever.” He holds it up, shows it to me. Grins. And then puts it in his pocket. The one place I’d never dare to reach.
“Why?” I can’t help but ask. “Why do you want it so much?”
He spends far too long just looking at me. Not answering my question. And then he says
“On the darkest days you have to search for a spot of brightness, on the coldest days you have to seek out a spot of warmth; on the bleakest days you have to keep your eyes onward and upward and on the saddest days you have to leave them open to let them cry. To then let them dry. To give them a chance to wash out the pain in order to see fresh and clear once again.”
“I can’t believe you have that memorized,” I whisper.
He leans back again. Closes his eyes again. Says, “Nothing in this life will ever make sense to me but I can’t help but try to collect the change and hope it’s enough to pay for our mistakes.”
“I wrote that, too?” I ask him, unable to believe it’s possible he’s reciting the same words that fell from my lips to my fingertips and bled onto a page. Still unable to believe he’s now privy to my private thoughts, feelings I captured with a tortured mind and hammered into sentences I shoved into paragraphs, ideas I pinned together with punctuation marks that serve no function but to determine where one thought ends and another begins.
This blond boy has my secrets in his mouth.
“You wrote a lot of things,” he says, not looking at me. “About your parents, your childhood, your experiences with other people. You talked about hope and redemption and what it would be like to see a bird fly by. You wrote about pain. And what it’s like to think you’re a monster. What it was like to be judged by everyone before you’d even spoken two words to them.” A deep inhale. “So much of it was like seeing myself on paper,” he whispers. “Like reading all the things I never knew how to say.”
And I wish my heart would just shut up shut up shut up shut up.
“Every single day I’m sorry,” he says, his words barely a breath now. “Sorry for believing the things I heard about you. And then for hurting you when I thought I was helping you. I can’t apologize for who I am,” he says. “That part of me is already done; already ruined. I gave up on myself a long time ago. But I am sorry I didn’t understand you better. Everything I did, I did because I wanted to help you to be stronger. I wanted you to use your anger as a tool, as a weapon to help harness the strength inside of you; I wanted you to be able to fight the world. I provoked you on purpose,” he says. “I pushed you too far, too hard, did things to horrify and disgust you and I did it all on purpose. Because that’s how I was taught to steel myself against the terror in this world. That’s how I was trained to fight back. And I wanted to teach you. I knew you had the potential to be more, so much more. I could see greatness in you.”
He looks at me. Really, really looks at me.
“You’re going to go on to do incredible things,” he says. “I’ve always known that. I think I just wanted to be a part of it.”
And I try. I try so hard to remember all the reasons why I’m supposed to hate him, I try to remember all the horrible things I’ve seen him do. But I’m tortured because I understand too much about what it’s like to be tortured. To do things because you don’t know any better. To do things because you think they’re right because you were never taught what was wrong.
Because it’s so hard to be kind to the world when all you’ve ever felt is hate.
Because it’s so hard to see goodness in the world when all you’ve ever known is terror.
And I want to say something to him. Something profound and complete and memorable but he seems to understand. He offers me a strange, unsteady smile that doesn’t reach his eyes but says so much.
“Tell your team,” he says, “to prepare for war. Unless his plans have changed, my father will be ordering an attack on civilians the day after tomorrow and it will be nothing short of a massacre. It will also be your only opportunity to save your men. They are being held captive somewhere in the lower levels of Sector 45 Headquarters. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you.”
“How did you—”
“I know why you’re here, love. I’m not an idiot. I know why you’re being forced to spend time with me.”
“But why offer the information so freely?” I ask him. “What reason do you have to help us?”
There’s a flicker of change in his eyes that doesn’t last long enough for me to examine it. And though his expression is carefully neutral, something in the space between us feels different all of a sudden. Charged.
“Go,” he says. “You must tell them now.”
Adam, Kenji, Castle, and I are camped out in his office trying to discuss strategy.
Last night I ran straight to Kenji—who then took me to Castle—to tell him what Warner told me. Castle was both relieved and horrified, and I think he still hasn’t digested the information yet.
He told me he was going to meet with Warner in the morning, just to follow up, just to see if Warner would be willing to elaborate at all (he wasn’t), and that Kenji, Adam, and I should meet him in his office at lunch.
So now we’re all crammed into his small space, along with 7 others. The faces in this room are many of the same ones I saw when we journeyed into The Reestablishment’s storage compound; that means they’re important, integral to this movement. And it makes me wonder when I ever became a part of Castle’s core group at Omega Point.
I can’t help but feel a little proud. A little thrilled to be someone he relies on. To be contributing.
And it makes me wonder how much I’ve changed in such a short period of time. How different my life has become, how much stronger and how much weaker I feel now. It makes me wonder whether things would’ve turned out differently if Adam and I had found a way to stay together. If I ever would’ve ventured outside of the safety he introduced to my life.
I wonder about a lot of things.
But when I look up and catch him staring at me, my wonders disappear; and I’m left with nothing but the pains of missing him. Left wishing he wouldn’t look away the moment I look up.
This was my miserable choice. I brought it upon myself.
Castle is sitting at his desk, elbows propped up on the table, chin resting on clasped hands. His eyebrows are furrowed, his lips pursed, his eyes focused on the papers in front of him.
He hasn’t said a word in 5 minutes.
Finally, he looks up. Looks at Kenji, who is sitting right in front of him, between me and Adam. “What do you think?” he says. “Offensive or defensive?”
“Guerrilla warfare,” Kenji says without hesitation. “Nothing else.”
A deep breath. “Yes,” Castle says. “I thought so too.”
“We need to be split up,” Kenji says. “Do you want to assign groups, or should I?”
“I’ll assign the preliminary groups. I’d like you to look them over and suggest changes, if any.”
“Perfect. And weapons—”
“I’ll oversee that,” Adam says. “I can make sure everything is clean, loaded, ready to go. I’m already familiar with the armory.”
I had no idea.
“Good. Excellent. We’ll assign one group to try and get on base to find Winston and Brendan; everyone else will spread out among the compounds. Our mission is simple: save as many civilians as possible. Take out only as many soldiers as is absolutely necessary. Our fight is not against the men, but against their leaders—we must never forget that. Kenji,” he says, “I’d like you to oversee the groups entering the compounds. Do you feel comfortable doing that?”
“I will lead the group onto base,” Castle says. “While you and Mr. Kent would be ideal for infiltrating Sector 45, I’d like you to stay with Ms. Ferrars; the three of you work well together, and we could use your strengths on the ground. Now,” he says, spreading out the papers in front of him, “I’ve been studying these blueprints all ni—”
Someone is banging on the glass window in Castle’s door.
He’s a youngish man I’ve never seen before, with bright, light-brown eyes and hair cropped so close to the crown I can’t even make out the color. His eyes are pulled together, his forehead tight, tense. “Sir!” he’s shouting, he’s been shouting, I realize, but his voice is muffled and only then does it dawn on me that this room must be soundproof, if only just a little bit.
Kenji jumps out of his chair, yanks the door open.
“Sir!” The man is out of breath. It’s clear he ran all the way here. “Sir, please—”
“Samuel?” Castle is up, around his desk, charging forward to grip this boy’s shoulders, trying to focus his eyes. “What is it—what’s wrong?”
“Sir,” Samuel says again, this time more normally, his breathing almost within his grasp. “We have a—a situation.”
“Tell me everything—now is not the time to hold back if something has happened—”
“It’s nothing to do with anything topside, sir, it’s just—” His eyes dart in my direction for one split second. “Our … visitor—he—he is not cooperating, sir, he’s—he’s giving the guards a lot of trouble—”
“What kind of trouble?” Castle’s eyes are two slits.
Samuel drops his voice. “He’s managed to make a dent in the door, sir. He’s managed to dent the steel door, sir, and he’s threatening the guards and they’re beginning to worry—”