Never Fade Page 134

I gave a faint wave as she led him and Vida back over to Nico.

“Ah.” Cole muttered. I felt him stiffen, adjusting his posture from a casual slump to one that was solid. Collected. Even his face seemed to harden. He kicked off where he had been leaning against the wall and pushed past me without another word. He threw a single warning glance over his shoulder.

That was less than what he gave Liam—and even less than what Liam gave him—as they brushed past each other and continued in opposite directions. I met Chubs’s look dead-on, and the expression there was enough to tell me there’d be a story later.

Alive, alive, alive, alive, my heart sang. I let the poisonous memory of what Clancy had shown me bleed out until there was nothing but the buzzing brightness in my chest. It took my breath away. Alive. The dirt on their faces was nothing. The cut that had reopened on Liam’s chin was nothing. The crack in one of Chubs’s lenses was nothing.

They were everything.

The two of them stood in front of me, arms crossed over their chests, wearing identical disapproving looks.

“Are you guys okay?” I asked, since they clearly weren’t about to say anything.

“Are you?” Liam shot back. “What were you thinking, going after him like that?”

I bristled at his tone. “I was thinking that he let himself be dragged here for a reason, and I was right.” I reached into my pocket, fishing out one of the photos from the folded stash of documents. Chubs eyed the stained paper I held out with a measure of distaste.

“That blood wasn’t in your body at one point, was it?”

I pressed it against his chest, forcing him to take it. “I tracked him to Alban’s office. That’s what he was after.”

Liam leaned over to look. They didn’t have the same mental block I did, apparently. Recognition lit up their eyes. Chubs’s jaw actually dropped.

“He’s looking for her,” I said. “The photos were in a file with what I think is research she was conducting. I don’t know if he thought she was here or he knew Alban might have some kind of clue, but—”

Cole climbed up onto the table at the center of the room, clapping his hands twice. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Can I get your attention?”

There was a formality to his tone that sounded unnatural. The Cole of sly smiles and infuriating teasing had apparently retired for the morning. Agent Stewart had no time for him.

“All right. I’ll make this quick.” The agents and kids in the room were shifting, flowing around the cots and tables so they were standing in front of him. “What happened here…it’s done. You did your part beautifully. And while I wish I could say they wouldn’t have gone through with their plan in the end, I think we all know that’d be a damn lie.”

Liam shifted, leaning back against the wall in the exact pose his brother had assumed a few minutes before. He kept his eyes focused on me, clearly waiting for something.

“Look, I’m not one for pretty speeches. I’m not going to lie, because you’ve been lied to all of your goddamn lives, and it’s got to stop. Here’s what you need to know.” He cleared his throat. “When Alban started this whole thing, he only ever wanted to expose the truth about IAAN and for Gray to own up about the camps. More than anything, he wanted this country to go back to what it was before—the place he was proud of and was happy to serve. The Children’s League was his dream, even if it turned to shit in the end. He wanted that life again. But I say we can’t go back.”

I turned more fully toward him, stepping around Chubs to get a better look. The other kids watched, riveted. Why wouldn’t they be? It was the same as all of those times I’d heard Liam speak about freeing the camps; the passion behind their words undercut all the doubt they claimed to have about their ability to express themselves. They let themselves burn when so many of us were afraid to be warmed by the fire.

He’s one of us, I thought. The others had no idea, and they still felt that this was right. That he was supposed to be taking charge.

Liam scoffed, rolling his eyes. Chubs and I glanced at each other, and I wondered if he could feel the wave after wave of disappointment Liam was sending our way, too.

“It’s forward or nowhere for us now. We—all the folks who came back—are leaving this place, and this name, behind. I don’t know what we’ll be yet or if we’ll take another name, but I know what we’re going to do. We’re going to figure out what the hell happened to cause IAAN, expose anyone responsible, and get those poor damn kids out of those cesspools of misery. We are leaving; we’re going up to the ranch—there are agents reopening it right now. We want you to come. We want you to want to fight. We want you.”

Cate stood from where she’d been sitting with the others and gave me a wave as she exited through the door on the other side of the room. Vida, Jude, and Nico didn’t look up as she left. They were nodding, letting Cole’s promises sweep them up in the heady rush of possibility. I felt it fluttering inside me, too. There were no advisers feeding him lines, no locked filing cabinets, no dark hallways. This was honest. Real.

“What’s the ranch?” Chubs whispered.

“It’s the League’s old temporary headquarters near Sacramento,” I said. “They shuttered it when they finished this one.”

“We want you,” Cole repeated, his eyes sliding our way. “But it’s your choice.”

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