Never Fade Page 101

My heart shattered the ice around it, slamming against my rib cage, beating harder with every minute of silence that followed. The anger had left him quickly, replaced by confusion that bloomed into an open, barefaced fear as he looked between us.

“It’s okay,” I said, holding up my hands in a weak attempt to placate him, “it’s fine. You can call me whatever you want; it really doesn’t matter.…”

“Are you messing with him? Are you forcing him to play nice with you?” Liam asked. His face was flushed, and it almost seemed like his anger was edging into anxiety. He was looking at his friend and seeing a stranger.

I couldn’t keep up with his flip-flopping moods, and I suddenly wondered if it was even worth the energy to try. The memory of what had happened when he’d found me down by the falls evaporated like mist in the sunlight. Maybe I had imagined it altogether.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” Chubs said. “After what happened at East River? Do I need to remind you that while Clancy Gray turned you into his little poodle, he couldn’t even touch me?”

“I don’t… What?” Liam’s breath exploded out of him. “What are you talking about?”

Oh, I thought, damn.

When I had gone in and pulled myself out of Liam’s memories, I’d had to…tweak a few of them, otherwise they wouldn’t have made sense. The night we tried leaving East River had been one of them, because the whole terrifying episode had been sparked by my letting my guard down and trusting Clancy when I shouldn’t have. I was a crucial part of that story.

But now—what had I slipped into its place? Had I just erased that night completely? My mind was spinning, trying to dig up what images I had pushed into that vacant space, but everything was black, and black, and black.

Chubs turned to look at me with a glare that could have incinerated a mountain.

“What are you looking at her for?” Liam exploded. “I don’t even know what you’re doing here, and with them!”

“We were trying to find you!” Chubs said. “All of us just wanted to help you!”

“Oh, for f**k’s sake,” came Vida’s shrill voice from inside the tent. “Can you two shut the hell up and just go back to spooning? We don’t need to hear this same shitty argument for the tenth f**king time before five A.M.!”

Jude made a very valiant effort to shush her, but the damage was done.

“You—you—I can’t—” Chubs sputtered, too furious to form an actual sentence. “Come out here. Right now!”

“Come and get me, big boy,” she sang back. “I know I don’t have the parts you like, but we can always make it work.”

“Oh, like a functioning brain?” he shouted.

“Chubs!” I snapped. He knew what she was like—he was only playing into her hands. “Vida, please come out. You too, Jude.”

She exited the tent with a blanket wrapped around her like a queen’s flowing robe. The effect was soured by the fact her fading blue hair was sticking straight up on either side of her head like horns. Jude didn’t look much better—I don’t know that I had ever seen such dark rings under his eyes. He slouched out after her in his EMT jacket, taking a seat on the opposite side of the fire pit.

“I’m not gonna change my mind, so don’t even start spinning your little yarn about how great the League is, how wonderful the agents are,” Liam said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Tell Cole to go screw himself. I don’t need him—or you—to take care of me!”

“Says the kid who was two steps away from death’s grasping fingers when we found him,” Vida said, rolling her eyes. “You’re f**king welcome, by the way.”

“I promise that we don’t have any other motivation beside getting the flash drive and seeing our end of the deal through,” I told him, watching his chest heave with the effort to get enough air in. It was easier to talk to him like he was a stranger. And as pale, as thin, as unshaven and dirty as he was, it wasn’t hard to imagine him as one.

This is not Liam, I thought. Something’s wrong.

“Is that a fact?” Liam said coldly. “I didn’t ask for any of this, and the last thing I’d ever want is to be babysat by someone like you.”

It took me a second longer than the others to realize that last zinger was for me.

“Hey!” Jude cut in. “We’re just trying to help. You don’t have to be mean about it.”

“Lee, you’re being dramatic,” Chubs began.

“And you—God, it’s like you get a new pair of glasses, a car, and some tech and you think you’re Rambo in the jungle. I never thought you would play along with this.”

“If he trusts us,” Jude tried again, “why can’t you?”

“The League?” Liam let out a single bark of laughter. “Are you all really that stupid?”

He held up a hand to silence whatever Vida was about to say. “They talk about rehabilitation and do nothing but hold kids hostage. They talk about training kids to defend themselves, and then turn around and send them off to be killed. Either we’re in camps, or we’re with the League, or we’re on the run, and it’s not even a choice. You wanna know what I want? A choice. Just one. And this is me making it. You might be okay heading back into the arms of those murderers, but I’m staying the hell away from them. From you.”

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