“It doesn’t belong here,” Nix said, thinking back to that day on the bus, when he’d covered Claire with his fade. If she’d been a Null, really been a Null—
“It’s a part of me. We’re nothing. I can do this. I can.”
Nix heard the words she didn’t speak. It hurts.
If she wouldn’t leave the fade, and she wouldn’t let him take the drug, there was only one thing Nix could think of to do to take that pain away. He put his hands on either side of her face. He forced her eyes to look away from the serum and straight into his.
“Stay with me, Claire.”
Her body relaxed under his touch, but he could still see the strain in her eyes. He could still feel the drug’s unsettling presence in the fade.
“Nix, Nix, Nix,” she said his name, over and over again. Nix traced his thumb along the edge of her cheekbone. He’d hate himself for touching her later, remember why he couldn’t later, but right now she needed him.
To take away the pain.
“That’s right, Claire. I’m right here. Stay with me.” He pulled her closer, ignored the warning—You are what you are. She’ll never love you—as he brushed his lips lightly over hers.
She pressed herself into him, harder. He let her. Nothing mattered, except his lips and hers. His touch and hers. The warmth between them, the power of their fades doubling over and over until the vial in her hand seemed as unimportant as Nobodies did to Normals.
He shouldn’t be doing this. He shouldn’t touch her, shouldn’t kiss her—but it was too late for that. There was no room for shouldn’t in the fade. Nothing but Nix. Nothing but Claire.
Nothing but the two of them.
Claire didn’t remember running back to the cabin. She didn’t remember flying. She didn’t remember anything other than the kiss: the way it stilled her mind and grounded her in the fade, the sensation of knowing with a deep and undying certainty that Nix was the only person in the world she wanted, the only person she would ever want, even if he jerked away from her the moment they crossed out of the fade.
No matter what he said or did or how he looked at her—she remembered his smell and his taste and what it felt like, for one perfect moment, to be the thing against which the whole of the universe paled.
She set the drug they’d stolen from Abigail Sykes on the coffee table.
“No.” He didn’t let her say any of the things she was thinking. He didn’t want to hear it. “I shouldn’t have. We shouldn’t have.”
“Yes, you should have.”
He closed his eyes, refusing to look at her. “Don’t, Claire.”
Condition one, Claire thought. If she reached out to touch him, he’d jerk back. If she tried to talk, he wouldn’t listen.
Don’t. Can’t. Shouldn’t. No. Claire’s eyes drifted over to the bookshelf. Her bookshelf. No matter how tired she was of being pushed away, no matter how much she wanted things he would never let her have—she couldn’t bring herself to hate him for it.
“The drug’s a different color now.” Claire gestured to the liquid inside the vial. If he didn’t want to talk about it, they wouldn’t talk about it. “Before, it was the color of tar. Now it’s like onyx. Still dark, but …”
She couldn’t make herself say the word beautiful.
“Do you think taking it to the fade changed it?” Claire focused on that question instead of asking him how he could think, even for a second, that kissing her had been a mistake.
Nix flicked his eyes toward the Null drug. “You’re right. It does look different. Nobodies and Nulls are polar opposites. I felt it when you brought the drug into the fade. Something happened.” He paused. “I don’t know exactly what’s in that drug, but whatever it is, it’s not compatible with the fade. They reacted to each other.”
“Like matter and antimatter?” Claire wasn’t even sure what the words meant, but at least she was talking, and at least she wasn’t saying what she was thinking.
Tell me you want to be with me the way I want to be with you. Tell me you felt it, too. Faded or solid, today, tomorrow—
“Yeah,” Nix replied, and for a moment, she pretended he was responding to the thing she hadn’t asked. “Something like that.”
Claire’s being quiet. Her knees are pulled up to her chest. Her hair is falling into her face.
Nix didn’t want to think about what bringing the drug into the fade must have cost her. To bring something into the fade, you had to consider it an extension of yourself. The strength of will it must have taken to look at the drug, to know what it could do and absorb it into her sense of self was incredible.
“Claire?” He reached out and touched her shoulder. He’d kissed her to stop the pain—and it had worked. But that hadn’t been his only motivation. He’d wanted her, wanted so many things that he knew he would never have. “Are you okay?”
“What are we going to do with it?” She answered his question with a question. “The drug, the tapes, the fact that The Society killed a senator—will it be enough? If we gave it to the police, or the FBI, or the media—would it be enough?”
Nix tried to picture himself giving the Null drug to someone, telling them what it did. If they heard him, they wouldn’t particularly care. And if they cared—if he and Claire could send a letter or an email or find someone else to deliver the message and the proof—what would happen? Would the government shut The Society down …
Or would they take it over?
The Society had three purposes that Nix knew of now. Killing Nulls. Studying energy. Preserving and extending the power of The Society. Maybe there were other initiatives, and maybe there weren’t, but the government would almost certainly have plans of their own. They wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to use The Society’s means for their own ends.
Wasn’t Sykes proof of that?
“If we’re going to expose The Society for killing Sykes, we have to do damage control first.” Nix glanced at Claire. “No one can know about the Null drug. We can’t run the risk that someone else will take it. And no one can know about us.”
“We have to destroy the drug.” Claire spoke the truth that he had been dancing around. “Not just this vial. All of it.”
“All of it,” Nix agreed. They couldn’t risk The Society, or the government, or anyone else giving themselves the power to manipulate others—and becoming a psychopath in the process. They had to destroy the drug. The research that went with it. Any chance of making it again.