Never Fade Page 21

His fingers seemed to burn my skin. “He came back in a body bag.”

By the time we arrived at the entrance hall, the small crowd of spectators, senior agents, Alban, and his advisers were flocking down one level to the infirmary in a long line of drawn faces and furious whispered questions.

“You’re sure?” I asked Jude as we tailed the crowd. “Positive that’s what you saw?”

He gulped back a deep breath. This close, I saw the red rimming his eyelids, and I wondered if he had cried himself raw before coming to get me.

Jude’s hand floated up to grip the small, nearly flat silver compass that he wore around his neck with a string. Alban had given it to him out of his personal collection of junk, along with the personal prophecy that Jude would turn into “a great explorer” and “a traveler of the first order.” The kid never took it off, even though his abilities rendered the small device mostly useless. As a Yellow, Jude’s touch always carried a faint electrical charge that messed with the magnet inside. It meant the colored arm always pointed toward Jude and not to the actual direction he was headed.

“I saw them come in, then Cate made me leave. But I heard Alban asking Agent Jarvin how it could have happened, and Rob said it had been an accident.” Jude glanced around us, peering over my head to make sure no one was close enough to hear. “Roo, I don’t think it was an accident.”

When we reached the second-level landing, Nico blew right past us, heading down to the third, lowest level.

“Hey!” Jude called. “Nico—”

“Let him go,” I said, half wishing I could follow him and avoid this mess altogether.

The infirmary was directly beneath the atrium, occupying the large circular space on the second level, with the computer lab directly beneath it on the third. Despite its size, it was almost always clogged with machines, beds, and the few nurses and doctors the League kept on staff for emergencies and training accidents. I’d had to go in more than once to get patched up and hadn’t missed the fact that they wore special, thicker rubber gloves to touch me.

Now they wore the usual clear ones as they moved Jarvin and his other teammates in to be examined. Jude tried to go inside, his breath hitching as he reached for the door handle. I dragged him away to the observation window, where a few other agents were crowded, watching as a gurney was navigated through the beds and medical carts toward the screen at the back of the room. On top of it was a black body bag, occupied.

I squeezed up to the front of the window with Jude in time to see them unzip the bag and lift Blake Howard onto a flat metal table. A white sneaker dangled from his right foot, and the blood soaking his clothes was visible from where we were—and then nothing. Alban stepped through with Jarvin and Cate and Rob, and the screen was drawn back in place, leaving us with only shaded silhouettes.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” Jude was whispering, his hands fisting in his reddish-brown curls. “It was him; it was really him—”

I reached out to steady his elbow as he swayed. I hadn’t really known Blake at all. I didn’t know any of the kids who weren’t on my team aside from their names, and my winning personality guaranteed they would never know me. But Jude and Blake had been as thick as thieves; the two of them and Nico spent most of their downtime together goofing off in the computer lab or playing some kind of game. The only time I had ever seen a smile crack Nico’s face was when Blake had been with him, green eyes flashing, hands waving, telling some story that had Jude practically sobbing with laughter.

“We should go find… We should go find Nico, I think. I think he went to check on something,” Jude finally managed to get out. I guided him away from the door and down the hall toward the stairs. We had to squeeze past the agents jogging down the hall to confirm the rumors that I’m sure were blazing through HQ.

“I have to tell you something,” he whispered as we reached the stairs. “You have to see that…that I don’t think it was an accident. I think—I think I did this.”

“This had nothing to do with you.” I sounded so much calmer than I felt. “Accidents happen all the time. The only one to blame is Jarvin. He’s the one who picked someone who didn’t have the full field training.”

Jude didn’t give me a chance to bail. He seized my wrist and dragged me after him all the way down the stairs to the third level. I watched the sharp angles of his shoulders move beneath his ratty old Bruce Springsteen shirt, and I noticed for the first time that he’d worn a hole through the collar. He knew exactly where Nico had gone.

It was several hours past our allotted training time in the computer room, but I was still surprised to find it so empty. Usually there was any number of Greens haunting the room, typing away at whatever computer program or virus they were perfecting. If it hadn’t been a dinner hour, Nico’s expression alone probably could have cleared the joint out.

“I found it,” he said.

“And?” The word trembled as it left Jude’s mouth.

“It wasn’t an accident.”

Nico was prone to ugly feelings that he chose to deal with inwardly, in what I’m sure were ugly ways. But he never inflicted those bitter, venomous thoughts on the rest of us. Not until now.

“Found what?” I asked. “One of you needs to explain what’s going on right now.”

“You said it was nothing,” Nico said. “You thought it was a coincidence. You should have believed us.”

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