Never Fade Page 51

“Fine,” Vida answered, leaning back away from the grating, her eyes drifting over to the window at her right. The first traces of snow drifted into our roaring path.

I told them about East River, how it had felt like a dream until we woke up and realized we were trapped in a nightmare. About Clancy, which was so much harder than even I expected. How we escaped, how Chubs was shot, and how it was just the two of us in the safe house. Jude started to interrupt, his eyes wide with either anxiety or confusion, I couldn’t tell. I felt my own heart drift up and up and up until I had to swallow it down to get through what came next. My decision and Cate’s deal. What I had seen in Cole’s memory and his own explanation of it.

In the strangest way, it made me feel closer to Liam. He was alive and vivid in my thoughts. Solid, warm Liam with his sunglasses on, the sunlight in his hair, and the words of a favorite song on his lips. I half expected to look up and see him in the driver’s seat.

No one spoke. I couldn’t bring myself to look behind me; I felt both Jude’s and Vida’s conflicted feelings cling to my skin the way condensation was gathering on the windows.

I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I turned, slowly, to see Jude retract his finger back through the metal grate. His bottom lip was white where it was caught between his teeth. But he was looking at me—not with fear or any of its ugly cousins. Just a deep, sincere sadness.

He could still stand to look at me.

“Roo,” Jude whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

“Can I just ask one thing?” Chubs said, his voice sounding tight in his throat after I finished. “What are you doing with the flash drive?”

“I was going to bring it back to Cole,” I said. “He and I have a deal—if I get the intel back to him, it’ll be enough to shift the priorities of the League back to freeing kids from camps and exposing the government’s lies.”

Chubs rubbed his forehead. “And you believe him? The only thing Liam ever said about him was that he used to set his toys on fire when he didn’t get his way.”

“I believe him,” I said. “He won’t hurt us. He’s one of the few who doesn’t want us gone, apparently.”

“Gone?” Chubs asked, alarmed.

I let Jude explain; his stumbling, rambling explanation was coated by rough grief, and it made the story that much more horrible to hear.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Chubs said. “You’re just going back, hoping that they manage to pick out all of the bad seeds?”

“Don’t say it like that,” Jude cried. “It’ll get better. Rob’s gone, right? Cate will let us know when we can come back.”

“You and Liam will be safe—at least from the League,” I told Chubs. “They won’t come after you. You get it, right? You understand why I told Cole I’d do this?”

“Sure. I get it,” he said, his voice cold enough to drive a chill through even my veins. And again, I read the question he was really asking in the silence he left to fill the space between us. I knew what he wanted to ask, because it was the same thought that had been circling in on me for days.

If the intel is that important, why would you ever give it to the League?

Of all the training, and Ops, and the League-sponsored explosions I’d been unfortunate enough to witness, none seemed half as dramatic as Chubs’s thrilling tale of escape.

We pulled into an old camping ground for the night, just outside of a city called Asheville in western North Carolina. I’d managed to fill most of the five-hour drive with explanations, and the whole thing had left me drained. I didn’t put up any kind of struggle when Chubs and Jude argued for stopping.

We did a quick walk-through of the area to make sure it was clear of other visitors before returning to pull supplies from the SUV. I popped the latch, stepping back from the door as it opened.

“Oh my God,” I managed.

The whole thing was just so…impressive. A wall of small, stacked plastic tubs and drawers, all labeled with handy reminders like: FIRST AID and ROPE and VITAMINS and FISHING HOOKS. The care and forethought it had taken to put this all together was impressive, if not completely terrifying in how ruthlessly thorough it was.

Jude gave Chubs a long look of appraisal. “You had day-of-the-week underwear growing up, didn’t you?”

Chubs merely pushed the glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

He laid out the entire story for me as we set up the tent that had been folded neatly under the backseat. Vida, at least, was able to get a small fire going with a lighter.

“I don’t actually remember most of this stuff happening,” Chubs said, struggling with the tent’s frame. “The League brought me to the nearest hospital, which happened to be the one in Alexandria.”

“Not Fairfax?” I asked, smoothing the damp hair away from my face. Jude and Vida were doing their best to listen to all of this while pretending they weren’t.

Chubs shrugged. “I have a vague memory of seeing some faces but—I told you that I look like my dad, right?”

I nodded.

“Well, one of the doctors recognized me. She used to work with Dad, but transferred—Anyway, it’s not important. They managed to stabilize me, but this doctor and her staff knew I needed to be in a better-equipped hospital. So she got on the phone and tracked Dad down. He was going to meet us at my aunt’s restaurant, remember?”

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