And that meant that they were going in.
A part of Claire had always known it would come to this. Nix had already returned to The Society once, and he’d come back bleeding. No matter how much evidence they gathered, no matter what they learned about The Society’s purpose and their plans and the lies they’d told Nix—at the end of the day, the enemy still had to be taken apart from the inside out.
Only this time, Nix wasn’t going in alone.
He’s going to tell me I can’t come. Claire knew that. She also knew that he was wrong. He’s going to say that it’s over and that I’m not a part of this, that it’s something he has to do alone. But I’m not going to let him leave me behind. Not again. Not now.
“I bet my parents haven’t even realized I’m gone.” That was the only thing Claire could think of that wouldn’t give him an excuse to run. “I disappeared, what, three, four days ago? They probably haven’t even noticed I’m gone. What if I never go back? Will they just forget I existed at all?”
I’m never going back. Claire knew it was true the second the question left her mouth. Even if Nix says it’s over, even if he tries to send me away. Knowing what I know, knowing that they’ll never care—
There was no coming back from something like that.
From the moment Nix had realized that he was going back to the institute, he’d known that this would be good-bye. This was his fight. He was The Society’s executioner, its weapon.
He had to let Claire go. But as he looked at her, really looked at her, he realized the obvious: that Claire didn’t have anywhere to go.
“They won’t forget you right away,” he said, a lump rising in his throat. “They’ll realize you’re gone, but they won’t look for you. If you went back this week or next or six months from now, you could probably jog their memories.”
“But a year from now? Or two? Or ten?”
They’ll forget about you. Nix didn’t have the heart to say it out loud. The only reason The Society’s members would remember that Claire existed was that they had protocols in place to prevent them from forgetting. They had files. Reminder alarms set to go off to prompt them to read those files and recall what it was that they were after.
Claire’s parents didn’t have any of that.
“You ever heard of Roanoke?” Nix wasn’t sure why he decided to bring that up, other than the fact that the story didn’t involve talking about going back to the institute, and it didn’t involve telling Claire that the people she’d called Mom and Dad would probably forget they’d ever had a daughter.
“That’s the lost colony, right? The one that just sort of disappeared?”
“Sir Walter Raleigh—the guy who funded the expedition that landed at Roanoke—was Society. Most of the people on the ship were Nobodies. A few were Nulls who Raleigh wanted away from the Crown. A half dozen Sensors. I guess The Society wanted a claim on the New World, the power that would come with it.”
Claire snorted. “How’d that plan work out for them?”
“The Nobodies killed the Nulls. The Sensors forgot the Nobodies existed. Raleigh and the Queen neglected to send supplies for a few years.” Nix shrugged. “Didn’t go well.”
“So there were more of us back then?” Claire asked, and the idea was as strange to Nix as it was to her.
From dozens to two.
“There must have been.”
“And now there’s just you and me. You. And me.” The words burst out of her mouth with enough force that he realized she’d been holding them in the whole time. While they’d discussed the drug. While they’d been making plans.
“I never would have been normal, Nix. I never would have been Abigail with her Courtneys and Justins. I won’t ever have a normal life, no matter what I do, and I swear to God, I don’t know whether to be sorry for them or for me. Because I know—I know what’s going to change and what’s not going to change, and I know that you’re the only one who will ever see me. And that’s enough, because you’re the only one I want to see.”
He couldn’t quite process the words, but he read their meaning in the set of her body, the tilt of her chin.
You’re the only one I want to see.
She knew what he was. She understood. Maybe he should walk away, maybe he didn’t deserve her, but Nix knew—suddenly and irrevocably—that he couldn’t.
You’re the only one I want to see.
She wouldn’t ever have a normal life. If she’d never met him, if he walked away and never darkened her door again—
She’d be alone. And it would kill her, the way that walking away from her would kill him.
“I’m not going to leave you, Claire.” He’d never made a promise before. The words had a taste to them—sweet like lavender, solid like steel.
Nobodies didn’t think about the future. Nobodies didn’t have futures. All they had was an ability and a responsibility. To kill.
Claire took a step forward then, a tiny, hesitant step that Nix found hard to match up with the way she’d wrapped her arms around him at the graveyard. The way she’d asked him—commanded him—to let it out. The way they’d kissed the rest of the universe away.
Now she was asking him, one tiny step at a time, to let that be real. To let it be lasting and solid. Nix didn’t pause. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t give a single moment to shoulds. He forgot about the vial on the coffee table. He closed what little space remained between them, and as his arms enwrapped her, his mouth descended, and condition one went the way of condition two.
What happened before can’t happen again.
When I say you’re done, you’re done.
His lips brushed hers. She closed her eyes. Pushed to her tiptoes. Locked her hands behind his neck. Trailed her thumbs down its sides.
This won’t ever be over.
He kissed her. The rest of the world didn’t fade away; power didn’t explode between them; but he couldn’t keep himself from crushing her body to his.
This is real.
In the fade or out of it, solid or immaterial, she was his.
Touch me, he whispered, from his mind to hers, and as she did, he lost himself to her. Together, they sank in and out of the fade. In and out of time. Physical. Transcendent. Nothing. Everything.