Never Fade Page 14

Instructor Johnson nodded in my direction as I held the door open, the fluorescent lights bleaching his already blond hair. Both Vida and I were excused from lessons and training for the day, but tomorrow they’d start all over again for us. I’d fall back into this place’s pattern, grateful for the relief of not needing to think about anything other than moving from hour to hour, door to door. A life lesson on how to cope, courtesy of Thurmond.

Jude and Nico could both hate me for this; I didn’t care. I just couldn’t afford to feed on their fear and let it twist my own. I’d worked so hard to numb myself to this place, and they didn’t get to blow that apart. They got my attention, my concern, my protection, but they didn’t get that.

Showered, fed, clothing changed, and thoughts collected, I was ready to meet with John Alban. But he wasn’t ready for me.

There was a lot you could say about the League’s founder, and maybe two words of it were actually flattering. He was a smart man, no one was going to deny it. The League was what it was today because of him. It was just that some felt it was time for him to take the assaults against Gray to “a new level,” and others were pressing for him to hold the course, since it was working.

I thought he had every right to want to think more about such a huge decision, but I understood their impatience. I knew they wanted to capitalize on the growing discontent and murmurs of protests we’d been tracking.

I heard voices beyond the door, soft at first, then enflamed enough to catch my attention. Every intention I had of knocking fell apart the longer I stood there, listening.

“No!” Alban was saying. “My God, no! No! How many times do I need to repeat the word for it to join your vocabulary? It was the answer the first time you presented it to the senior staff, when you convinced Jarvin to present it to the advisers, and, yes, now.”

“You’re not thinking this through—”

I rocked back on my heels instinctively, away from Rob’s harsh voice.

“You think we can keep this up without making a big statement? How many of these things do you just have sitting around HQ, wasting our time and energy?”

Alban cut him off. “They are not things, as you, I’m sure, are well aware. This is nonnegotiable. The ends will never justify the means, no matter how you try to pitch this. Never. They are children.”

In the back of my mind, a thought was beginning to knot itself with another, darker one, but I forced my attention to stay here. Now.

“You’re the one who always says anything to get Gray out, aren’t you? The distraction would be more than enough for us to go in and dismantle the camps, blast the news out to the rest of the damn country. This is the only way in now. They’ve wised up to our forged IDs—we can’t even get in to extract the agents we still have embedded in the camps. They’re waiting for us! We’re all waiting for you to do something! Decide something!”

There was a long, bitter silence that followed. Whatever words Alban was looking for, he never found them. I couldn’t keep my own mind in check. What kind of plan could get him this worked up?

“I’m just warning you,” Rob continued, sounding calmer, “that even I’ve heard agents wondering about what kind of policy we’re moving toward. A good number still think that you want to rekindle things with Gray in the end. That you miss your friend.”

I closed my eyes. It was an unspoken rule that we didn’t bring up Alban’s former friendship with President Gray and the first lady for any reason. Cate told me once that Alban didn’t even like to be reminded of the work he’d done as Secretary of Homeland Security—so I imagine he wasn’t thrilled to be reminded he was once in a small circle of people who enjoyed private dinners in the executive residence of the White House.

A new voice chimed in. “John, let’s not dismiss this entirely. This is a tactic that’s been employed before, and it is effective. They wouldn’t know. We have ways of hiding the mechanism—”

I was so focused on the conversation in front of me that I didn’t hear the person who hobbled up behind me. Not until he was hovering at my back, tapping on my shoulder to get my attention.

“I’d keep this one to yourself, Keyhole Kate,” Cole said. “Or do you need to hear the old one about that pesky cat and his curiosity?”

It was too late to jump back and pretend I hadn’t been listening, and now I was too flustered to bother trying.

The medic on Rob’s team had done a good job patching up the deeper cuts on Cole’s face, cleaning away the filth from his skin. He was wearing a loose shirt and pants that were a number of sizes too big for him, but he was out of his old vomit-stained rags, at least. He looked like a different person, and I was grateful for it. It was easier to get a look at him.

And I finally was getting a good one.

When Liam had told me he had an older brother, I had imagined him to be much older—twenty-five or twenty-six, the same age as Cate. But I’d overheard some of Rob’s tact team complaining about him on the flight back. About his punk-ass attitude, how he was only twenty-one, but Alban wasted all of the good Ops on him. The little golden boy.

Three years—that was all that separated him from Liam. From IAAN. Cole was a member of that narrow generation that had been just old enough to avoid the disease’s grip.

“Didn’t get much of a chance to talk on the plane, did we?” he said, bandaged fingers brushing the damp hair back over my shoulder.

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