Nix’s eyes opened wide as he realized what she was doing, and he listened raptly, as if no one had ever read him a story, as she expected no one had. And slowly, Nix’s body relaxed. His eyes closed.
And he fell asleep.
White floors. White room. White bed.
Nix woke up calm for the first time in his life, and he wasn’t sure why until he realized that he wasn’t in his quarters at the institute. The bed beneath him was soft, colored, and technically a futon. Sitting on the floor beside it was a girl, curled up like a cat, reading a book.
Claire. Claire’s voice. The Little Prince.
She’d read to him. The realization was sweet—so sweet that Nix couldn’t berate himself for having let her.
She’d read to him.
And he’d fallen asleep. No dreams. No terror. No waking up underwater. Just … nothing. A different kind of nothing than the fade, peaceful to its exhilaration.
“You’re awake.” Claire said the words shyly, ducking her head. Nix nodded. His eyes flittered toward the shelf he’d built her. She smiled.
It was funny. He’d always thought that the best thing about being a Normal would be talking to other people, having them talk back. But not talking, that had its charms, too.
More of them, maybe, because then you didn’t have to find the words. Without making a sound, Claire dog-eared the page she was reading, shut the book, and then put it back in its place, right next to the one she’d read him the night before. Then she went into the kitchen, and when she came back, she offered him a steaming mug.
He took it, their fingers brushing as she transferred it from her hands to his. Then she went back into the kitchen and poured herself a cup.
It wasn’t until the dark liquid in their mugs sank well past the halfway mark that she spoke. “I don’t have a plan.”
That was the exact opposite of what he’d expected her to say. After the previous night, he would have followed her off the edge of a cliff if she’d asked it.
“But I do have a place.”
“A place?” Nix asked, his voice—like the coffee—warm in his throat.
“What kind of place?”
“Sykes’s place.” She waited, and he realized that she was waiting for him to tell her no. He didn’t, and finally, she continued. “His house. Or maybe his office. Everything else The Society has done makes sense, but killing him doesn’t.”
Nix narrowed his eyes, but she didn’t give him a chance to interrupt.
“Everything else The Society did—it’s not good and it’s not moral and I’d like to take them down for it, one by one, but their motivation makes sense. If The Society wants something and there’s someone standing in their way, they take care of the problem. But why would they kill their own plant in the Senate? Even if he was being difficult, even if he was having second thoughts …”
Nix was still stuck on the fact that Claire had said she wanted to take The Society down. And sounded like she meant it.
“If Sykes was just postponing the vote on Prop 42,” she continued, “they wouldn’t have killed him, not unless they had a backup plan. So there must have been another reason. Either he had something that they wanted, or he was going to do something that they didn’t want him to do.”
For a brief moment, Nix entertained a fantasy in which he and Claire really did take The Society down. All of it. In its entirety. The part he’d seen and the parts he was beginning to suspect that he hadn’t.
But Claire couldn’t kill, and he wouldn’t ask her to. Wouldn’t let her. If Sykes had something that The Society wanted, and if they could get it first …
Nix wondered if Ione would bargain for his freedom. For Claire’s.
“If Sykes knew something that The Society didn’t want him to know, or if he had something worth killing over—maybe we can use it.”
It was like she was reading his mind.
“For The Society to kill their own inside man, it would have to be something huge. Something that could threaten the whole operation with exposure, something that could bring the whole thing to its knees.”
Understanding washed over Nix. Claire wanted to bring The Society down, but not by killing its leaders. By exposing them.
“It would have to be something big to make a difference,” Nix said, his mind whirring with the implications. “We’re Nobodies. No one’s going to listen to us. No one’s going to care. Unless it’s something huge, they won’t look twice at anything we give them either.”
“But if it is something big …”
Nix got a taste of the thing she was offering him, and it warmed him more than the coffee. Hope. Revenge. A future that didn’t involve doing that little four-lettered thing he did best.
Maybe, once it was over—
Maybe, if he could—
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. The possibilities were seductive.
“Going to Sykes’s house could be dangerous. The Society has to be looking for us, Claire.” Nix tried not to give in to the siren’s call of things he could never have. He tried to remember that no matter what he did now, there were some things he could never change.
You are what you are.
“Would the people in The Society ever guess you’d go to Sykes’s house?” Claire asked.
Nix rolled the question over in his mind. That was his advantage—and Claire’s—in this lethal game: The Society wouldn’t know what to expect. They wouldn’t be able to guess at his motivations. He’d lived under their rule his entire life, and they would have had better luck profiling a complete stranger.
“Maybe I should go alone.” Nix said the words carefully. He didn’t want to hurt her again, didn’t want her to think that he was pushing her away.
Claire’s expression stayed steady, her hands wrapped around her coffee mug. “You can go alone if you want to. I won’t make you take me. But I’d rather go with you. We’re stronger together, and you won’t let anything happen to me.” She paused. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
It was easy to believe her, easier than it should have been to want her at his back.
She liked my bookcase.
That thought hit him in place of the things he should have been thinking, about who deserved what and, more to the point, who didn’t.
“We’ll go together,” he said.