“Go ahead, Claire. I won’t fight you.”
“You’re not going to kill me?”
She was going to make him say it. She wouldn’t settle for less than absolute defeat. She wanted to break him.
“I’m not going to kill you, Claire,” he said, savoring the taste and feel of her name on his lips one more time, as he played along with her game. “You’re going to kill me.”
For as long as she’d known him, this dark-haired, blue-eyed boy had wanted her dead. And now he wasn’t going to kill her.
I can’t take this. I really can’t. Up and down and in and out, seesawing back and forth. First he was going to kill her, then he saved her, then he tried to kill her again. And now—
“You want me to what?”
The kitchen lights grew very bright. Claire’s tongue swelled inside her mouth. Her mouth went dry. Tiny, iridescent spots dotted her peripheral vision. Her body felt very cold.
This must be what it feels like to go into shock.
The boy didn’t move, not a muscle. She should have taken advantage of the moment. At the very least, she should have grabbed the weapons in case he changed his mind. But even in shock, Claire was stupidly certain that he wouldn’t hurt her.
I’m not going to kill you, Claire. You’re going to kill me.
Maybe she should want to. After what he’d almost done to her, maybe a normal girl would. But she wasn’t normal. She knew that now, more than ever.
“What’s your name?” she asked, her throat dry, her body anticipating the answer.
“I don’t have a name. I’m Nobody.”
“My name’s Claire.”
He obviously already knew that, but in faerie stories, it mattered, sometimes, if that knowledge was freely given.
“My name is Claire. What’s yours?”
“Nix.” His pupils flared. “Now you have it. You have everything. Kill me.”
His tone was feral. There was no other word.
“Do it!” he screamed. His body twisted, as if he was in pain. “Pick up a weapon.” The boy—Nix, Nix, Nix—hurled the words at her, each carrying the weight of a punch and the threat of something much, much worse.
He’s going to kill me. If I don’t kill him, he’s going to kill me.
She took a step toward the weapons he’d laid out on the counter, trying not to look at them.
“Keep moving, Claire.”
The closer she got, the more she averted her gaze. From him. From the sharp edge of the dagger, the glint of the gun. With each step, her body thawed.
So this is what coming out of shock feels like.
“Pick up the gun.” Nix’s orders were curt and clear. He hadn’t moved, but she knew he would if she didn’t do exactly what he said. “Pick it up!”
She picked up the gun.
I won’t kill him. I won’t.
“Aim it at me.”
“You won, Claire. You won. This is what you want. This is what you’ve always wanted.” He spoke the words like they were sacred. Like he was delivering his own eulogy, and somehow, it was all about her. “You’re everything, and I’m nothing, and I. Can’t. Kill. You.”
Everything wouldn’t have been the most anonymous girl in her ninth-grade class. Everything wouldn’t have to nearly die to get her parents’ attention. Everything wouldn’t want a boy who wanted her dead.
“Aim the gun at me, Claire. Do it now.” He stalked toward her, grace incarnate. “Point it at me. Pull the trigger. It’s easy, Claire. So easy.”
He was getting closer.
“It wouldn’t be the first time, would it? What, are you too good to kill me? Am I not your type?”
“No.” She threw the gun down in a fit of rebellion. The second she did, he dove at her. Contact. His body. Hers.
For a moment, Claire flew. Weightless. Entangled. And then he twisted, cushioning her landing, then moving to cover her body with his own.
He’s afraid the gun is going to go off, she realized. She struggled against the shield his body was offering for hers. She was the one who’d thrown the gun. She was the one who’d put them in danger. Why was he protecting her?
The gun clattered to the floor, the safety still on. Silence filled the room, and Nix jerked his body away from hers, the ghost of his touch lingering on her skin.
“You threw the gun,” he said, voice rough, eyes wide. “You threw it away.”
“I didn’t think about it going off. I just wanted it gone.” Claire tried very hard to look as determined as she felt. To choose the words to get her point across. “I won’t hurt you. You shouldn’t try to make me, because I won’t.”
For a moment, Nix resembled a shepherd who’d seen the messiah. Awe colored his every feature. Even his tattoos seemed to glow with some kind of inner joy. And then, as quickly as it had come, the expression disappeared, and Nix blanched.
Just a choking sound, like the air was suffocating him.
And then he leapt to his feet, and before Claire could stop him, her would-be killer was gone.
Nix’s feet pounded against the ground. Limbs reached out to scratch him. The summer air, heavy and hot, stung his lungs with every breath. He had to get away—from the girl, from what had just happened, from the feelings threatening to suck him into a black hole of asking and wanting and doubt.
She’d thrown down his gun. People who trafficked in death didn’t do that. True killers anticipated death—their own. Others’. They saw it everywhere. An active Null, one who’d given in to the impulse to play God, might have bucked at Nix’s offer. She might have wanted to kill him with her own weapons, on her own time.
But she wouldn’t have thrown the gun.
Claire has never killed anyone. Of that much, Nix was sure. And yet …
The Sensors had identified Claire as a Null. Ione had designated her Code Omega—too dangerous to approach, even for Nix. The last Omega Nix had killed—number Nine—had the bodies of fourteen women buried in his backyard. In pieces.
Nulls were evil. Those designated Do Not Approach were worse.
Nix stopped running. He backed himself into a tree and forced himself to breathe. To think. Not about Claire—what if—what if—what if—but about the fact that The Society had misclassified her.
Claire wasn’t dangerous. At least, not yet. So why had The Society told him she was? Why had Ione ordered him to kill her from afar?