Never Fade Page 25

“My, my.” A feral grin spread across Cole’s face. “Little brother must be a good kisser.”

The rage flared up in me so fast, so strong, that I actually forgot to slap him.

“Go to hell,” I said, and tried to charge past him. Cole caught me again and pushed me back, chuckling. My hand twitched at my side. Let’s see who’d be laughing when I fried every single thought out of his brain.

The same idea must have crossed his mind, because Cole released me and took a step back.

“Have you at least been able to establish contact with him since you got back?” I asked.

“He’s dropped off the radar,” Cole said, crossing his arms over his wide chest. The fingers on his left hand tapped against his right arm. “Funny thing about him not realizing the payload he’s carrying: I can’t predict where he might take it or try going. It means it’s next to impossible to track the little jerkass, other than to assume he’s still trying to find our mom and stepdad. Chaos theory at its finest.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you’re the only one who can do something about it.” The steam overtook his shape and he disappeared into it. “No, listen to me. I’ve been made. The League won’t let me out of HQ. I won’t even be able to run Ops, never mind search the eastern seaboard for a fugitive. Once they realize our little fictional informant isn’t real, they’re going to start going through the other options. They’re going to ask themselves, Who’s the only person these two strangers both know? They’re going to ask, Who would this girl do anything to protect?”

I bristled, crossing my arms. Cole’s eyes flicked down from my face to where my shirt clung to my chest, and I raised my arms that much higher. He let out a thoughtful hum, an absentminded smile stealing back over his face. “Have to say, you’re not really his type. Mine, on the other hand…”

“You know what I think?” I said, taking a step closer.

“Not really, darlin’, but I have a feeling I’m going to hear it anyway.”

“You’re actually a lot more worried about Liam than you are about this intel. You want me to find him to make sure he’s okay. That’s the real reason you’re asking me instead of someone else.”

Cole scoffed. His shirt had wilted against his skin with the steam, and it was impossible not to look at the strong lines of his shoulders as he set them. “Sure, fine. Run with that theory, but can you stop thinking about my brother’s dreamy eyes for two damn seconds and put your head on straight? This isn’t about him or me—it’s a matter of making sure that we control the intel so we can bring it to Alban and shut the door on Meadows and all of his little buddies. You have no idea what kind of shit they want the organization to start pulling—what they’d do to you kids if they got their way. And they will if we don’t figure out a way to outplay them.”

You think we can keep this up without making a big statement? Rob’s words echoed back to me. “What are they planning? Something to do with us and the camps?”

The water sputtered between us; the timer they’d installed to limit the use of hot water clicked off. The water was still flowing, but it was cooling off to its usual frigid temperature. And neither of us moved.

“His big idea,” Cole began, his voice brittle, “is to use some of the ‘nonessential’ kids here and the information you provided about the camps. You know, the ones too young to be activated, some of the Greens.”

“To do what?” I demanded.

“You said in your report that they don’t search or pat down the kids who are supposedly pre-sorted as Green, right?” He waited until I nodded before continuing. “That was backed up by one of the other kids we pulled from a smaller camp. Meadows thinks that their intake security procedures have become lax over the past year—since there are so few kids left outside of the camps, they’re usually only bringing a few in at a time. That, and the PSFs are stretched too thin at the bigger camps.”

“That’s true,” I said. I’d noticed the number of soldiers decrease over the years at Thurmond as the camp reached maximum capacity and they closed it off to new arrivals. But decreasing the bodies present only translated to them increasing the weapons present and the willingness to hit us with White Noise anytime anyone so much as looked on the verge of acting out.

“He thinks—” Cole cleared his throat, pressing his good hand against it. “Meadows wants to strap explosives to the kids. Turn them over to the PSFs, then set the bombs off as they’re being driven into camps. He thinks it’ll stir enough fear and discontent among the PSFs to get them to ditch their required service.”

I didn’t hear the last part, not fully. There was a static in my ears that burned and burned and burned away every thought, every sound, everything outside of my racing thoughts.

“If you think you’re going to faint, sit your ass down,” Cole ordered. “I told you this because you’re a big girl and I need your help. I know you didn’t mean for this to happen, but you’re in it. Knee deep. You’re as responsible for righting this as the rest of us.”

I didn’t sit, but the dark blotches in my vision were growing, expanding, swallowing his face. “The other agents…they want to do this?”

“Not everyone,” he said, “but enough that if Alban weren’t here, it wouldn’t even be a question. Read between the lines there.”

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