It wasn’t. Not to Claire. But she wasn’t about to say that, wasn’t about to set herself up for the inevitable rejection.
“When we touched in the fade,” she offered instead, “something happened.”
“Time stopped.” Nix said. “My hand touched yours, and everything else … just … stopped. That’s never happened before. It’s not even possible.”
Claire gave him a look. “You walk through walls, Nix. When we fade, we can fly. Impossible lost most of its credibility a while back.”
Claire wanted impossible. She wanted to let go. She wanted to bring Nix back to her in a world where condition one did not exist. And for once in her life, what Claire Ryan wanted, she was darn well going to get.
Eyes on his, she sank back to the ground. “Let’s do it again.”
She’s better at this than she should be. Nix couldn’t shake the thought. It had taken him years to learn how to fade on cue—years of waking up underground or underwater or with a knife at his chin. Fading took power. It took concentration. But for Claire, it was easy.
With Claire, it was easy. Fading, stopping time whenever his faded hands touched hers—it was as natural to Nix as inhaling and pushing the air back out of his lungs. Before, when he’d thought Claire was a Null, he’d brought her into his fade—but now she didn’t need him, and Nix was beginning to process the fact that there were things The Society hadn’t taught him.
Things about what it meant to be a Nobody—and what happened when there was more than one.
“They never told you, did they?” Claire’s voice sounded different in the material world now that the two of them had spent an afternoon flowing in and out of the fade. “The people you worked for never told you that there were other Nobodies. They never told you it would be like this.”
This, as in the boost to his powers, the ease with which the two of them could fade when they were together? Or this, as in the way that looking at her made him feel? Like each cell in his body was electric and alive.
Like she was carving out his heart.
“I was fourteen the first time I killed.” He said those words to push her away. To punish himself for letting her get as close as she was now. “Before that, there was another Nobody. I never met him. Never saw him. Didn’t even know his name. So, no, Claire, The Society never told me that this would happen.”
“What did they tell you?”
He swallowed, hard. He thought of the folders back in the cabin. The things he’d promised to show her.
“Come with me,” he said. “And you’ll see.”
The folders felt heavy in Claire’s hands. Back in town, her demand had seemed so simple: if Nix was investigating the people who wanted her dead, she had a right to help. But an afternoon of fading had dulled her anger—at him, at the situation, at the things she’d discovered about herself. What Nix had taught her how to do—it was beautiful. It filled the lonely, hollow places inside of her—and now she was holding Nix’s past, his secrets, his dark and twisted, empty places in her hand.
“Open it,” he told her.
She didn’t want to, but she did. She sat on the floor of the cabin and set the folders in front of her. She opened the file on the top, and dull eyes stared back at her: a man, in his early twenties. He was handsome enough, but there was something chilling about the way he stared at the camera. Claire fumbled with the pages in the folder and flipped to the next one.
Another picture of the same man. He was naked, lying in a bathtub. His skin was charred.
“One,” Nix said. “My first. Richard—one of the Sensors—he drove me there, dropped me off three blocks away. He told me that I was a killer, that no matter what I did, someone was going to die that night, and the only choice I had was whether it was the monster or the girl.”
Claire didn’t want to ask—but she did. “What girl?”
Nix closed his eyes. “The girl he had chained in the basement. She was wearing a metal collar, and she was so dirty, you couldn’t see her skin.” Nix’s eyes jumped beneath their lids. Claire opened her mouth to tell him that he didn’t have to do this, but it was too late.
There was no stopping him now.
“I went upstairs, and the man who was keeping her in that filthy cage like some kind of animal—he was in the bathtub, listening to the radio. Classical music. He was clean, and he was smiling. He never heard me coming.” Nix opened his eyes. “I dropped the radio into the tub.”
Claire’s gaze was drawn back to the picture: the welts on the man’s skin, his empty eyes. After a long moment, she set the folder aside and opened the next one.
“Two,” Nix preempted. “Shot through the temple. I would have gone with poison, but she’d set up a cult of sorts, and her followers were worshipping her like she was a god. If she’d had any idea she was going to die, she would have taken them with her, children and all.”
Claire thought back to what he’d told her in the forest. He was fourteen when this started. Younger than she was now. She glanced up at him. His entire body was tense, like a rubber band stretched too tight.
“Tell me about the fade.” Claire knew instinctually that this was the one thing she could ask to diffuse the tension. Things were different in the fade.
“Fading isn’t magic, Claire. It’s not some fairy tale. It’s just a physical expression of a metaphysical deficiency.”
“No,” Claire said firmly. “It’s not. Whatever The Society told you, whatever they taught you—how would they know? How could they ever understand what fading is like?”
For a second, Nix looked like he might agree with her—but he didn’t.
“The Society studies energy, Claire. Once upon a time, they called it alchemy. Now they just call it science. The Sensors, the scientists, the people who trained me—they never sat down and explained fading to me. They beat it into my head.” Nix paused. “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
Without warning, he strode toward the far end of the cabin. He stopped near the wall and held his hand an inch from its surface. “I’m not touching the wall, and it’s not touching me,” he said, and then he moved his hand forward, pressing it gently to the wall. “Now I am touching the wall, and it’s touching me.”
Nix leaned against the wall, putting all of his weight behind the motion. The muscles in his arm tensed, and Claire could see him—dumping a radio into a monster’s tub, setting his sights on a cult leader and pulling the trigger.