Never Fade Page 98

I slipped a hand up under the blanket and the sweatshirt, trying to find the one source of white-hot pain. The lump of neat, even stitches only stopped stinging when my stiff, icy fingers were there to numb it.

I thought, at first, that it was only the mist clinging to my cheeks. That the wind might have carried over a spray of water from the falls. But the ache in my throat was still there, solid and unmoving, and something very much like a sob started to bubble up from my chest. There was no one there to see me cry and no point in trying to stop the tears from coming.

I pressed my face against the blanket, balling it up against my mouth to smother the scream. And it was like once I started, I unlocked that gate, the rest of it came flooding out, and I couldn’t stop. Every thought that raced through me was tainted by blood; I could actually taste it at the back of my throat.

I killed that man.

No, it wasn’t just that. I had tortured him with fear. It wasn’t that he didn’t deserve to be punished for the crimes he’d committed, it was how I had done it—how I had used those kids, manipulating them and their memory, when they were already victims. And I had liked doing it. I had relished how easy it was to consume his mind, filling it bit by horrifying bit with terror until I had felt it snap completely. The darkness that had reached out for me then had been warm. Exciting. The rush of it had left a tingling, jittery feeling in my limbs that I still couldn’t shake.

I had kicked Knox out for what he’d done to Liam, but I’d stubbornly ignored the reality that Liam would never, ever have considered it the right decision to make. I had assumed he was unredeemable, but he was a kid—Knox, or Wes, or whatever he wanted to call himself, was one of us. How was turning him out to the cold to die any more forgivable than turning other kids over to get food? And Mason…I could have helped Mason. I could have taken away his painful memories, but my first instinct had been to use him as a weapon. Like he wasn’t human at all and didn’t deserve to make his own choices.

Maybe…maybe the camp controllers had been right to do what they did to the dangerous ones. Maybe we needed to be muzzled, chained, conditioned to follow orders—it had felt so natural for me to command Rob, and Knox, and every other kid who challenged me at the warehouse.

And it made me Clancy. It made me Martin. It made me the Orange on the bus into Thurmond, who’d compelled that woman to kill herself with her own gun. It made me the countless others who tortured the PSFs and camp controllers by flooding their brains with horrifying images.

I wasn’t any different than them. I wasn’t any better. All along, I’d thought that gaining more control over my abilities would mean reclaiming my life. But that wasn’t the case at all, was it? It was entirely possible that not being able to control them—being afraid of them—was the only reason I hadn’t followed the other Oranges down that path earlier.

I saw now how the League had been good for me. They’d given me discipline, focus, and direction on how and when to use my abilities. It only proved I’d been right when I told Cate I shouldn’t be Leader—we needed people who were stronger, people who still had good left to their names. Or, at the very least, people who could still trust that their instincts wouldn’t take them into this kind of darkness.

Murderer. Just like all the other agents in the League.

The blanket was hot and damp with my tears. I lifted my face again, trying to cool my aching face and lungs, but nothing helped. Nothing erased the images of what I imagined Rob must have looked like to Vida when she saw him that last time. Nothing eased away the final thoughts that had blazed through his mind in the seconds before his life ended. A beautiful woman in a checkered dress, a red bicycle, an open field, the sunset over Los Angeles—

“Stop it,” I choked out, “stop.”

And I hurt. Every part of me, from the blinding headache behind my eyes to the cuts and bruises along my back. There wasn’t enough space in my lungs for the air I needed. No matter how hard the sobs shook my body, I couldn’t ease the pressure there. It felt like I was being folded, and folded, and folded again, until there was nothing left to do but break.

The rushing water swallowed every other sound, including the footsteps that tapped out a slow, hesitant trail over the wood behind me. But I knew he was there.

“Hey,” Liam said, his voice soft.

The mist from the falls passed between us, spinning the large snowflakes into a pure white screen. When it pulled away with the next freezing breeze, he was still standing there, still clutching my black boots to his chest, still with that tortured look on his already worn, ashen face. He opened his mouth, taking a small step forward. His legs were still unsteady, but it was the way he was openly looking at me, searching my face, that had me anxious.

But he was alive. He was standing on his own two feet. The glaze over his eyes had passed. His breathing was shallow but consistent—a steady in, a steady out, with only a small interruption for him to cough.

Liam had always been an easy read. He couldn’t hide any of his thoughts or feelings, no matter how many smiles he forced. His face was as open as it always was, so heartbreakingly perfect even with pain tightening the line of his mouth. His eyes were—they were so pale in this light, jumping from my eyes to my nose to my lips like he had never seen me before but never wanted to stop looking. An ache started at the center of my chest and worked its way out, twisting my insides until I finally forced myself to look away.

“I don’t…” he began, the words edged with soft desperation. “How can I help? What…what can I do to make it stop hurting? Make it better?”

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