Claire stared up at the ceiling, eyes wide open, Nix asleep beside her. If she closed her eyes, he might disappear. Not because he chose to—he’d said he wouldn’t leave, and she believed him—but because Happily Ever After didn’t happen to girls like Claire.
If you believe in something long enough. If you want it hard enough …
There was still The Society. The people who wanted her—and Nix, too, by now—dead. The Null drug sitting on the coffee table. The fact that, sooner or later, they had to venture into the belly of the beast. The fact that they were just kids …
But they weren’t. They weren’t kids. They were Nobodies, and Claire had been on her own for a very long time, Nix—so peaceful in his sleep, so quiet—for even longer. Claire thought of her parents. About the fact that she probably wouldn’t ever see them again, because seeing them and knowing they hadn’t missed her would make the times she’d missed them, missed everything that they could have been so much worse.
Claire wondered if she’d always feel this way. She wondered whether she and Nix would make it in and out of The Society’s stronghold alive. But mostly, despite the stakes and everything that had happened and was about to happen, Claire wondered what Nix was dreaming about. What had put the soft, boyish smile on a face that had never looked so soft. So vulnerable.
Claire thought of The Little Prince. Of a wild fox that had asked to be tamed. Claire knew the story. Knew it by heart and didn’t need to pick the book up off her shelf.
The most important things in life were the things you couldn’t see with your eyes. The things you saw with your heart. Claire closed her eyes, saw Nix’s image against the backdrop of her eyelids. Felt the heat from his body, lying next to hers. She curled into his torso, laying her head on his chest. He shifted in his sleep, enveloping her, curving to meet the curves of her body.
You understand the things you tame, she thought, reworking the fox’s words to the little prince, making them hers. When you tame something, it is wholly and uniquely yours.
Nix woke up to the feel of Claire’s breath on his face. She needed toothpaste. He smiled.
We can stay this way, he thought. Maybe not forever. Maybe not past noon. But for a few soothing seconds, as he felt her heartbeat. For a moment of exhilaration as his beat faster in return.
The vial on the coffee table stared back at Nix the moment he tore his eyes away from Claire’s face.
We’re going in.
To a place crawling with Sensors. To destroy files and hard drives and every trace of the Null drug they could find. But first, Nix had to figure out how they’d kept it hidden from him to begin with. He’d been inside their labs. He’d walked their hallways. He knew every inch of that building.
Unless they had other buildings. Other labs. Nix was beginning to suspect what he knew about The Society only scratched the surface. They’d taught him not to ask questions, to never expect answers. He’d known only what they wanted him to know.
We’ll have to find someone with inside access, make them talk.
Nix heard Claire stirring beside him, and he turned to watch her eyes open, to see the recognition in them the moment they locked on to his.
We need a plan—but not today.
The thought surprised Nix. Vacation wasn’t a word in his vocabulary. Nobodies sat and they waited and they bled and they killed. Over and over and over again, until they died. No variation. No vacation.
That’s not Claire’s life. It’s not mine—not anymore.
“Good morning.” She greeted him with a smile. So simple. So sweet.
It was perfect. So perfect that for a moment, he wished he could freeze it, the way the two of them could stop time from the fade.
“What are you thinking?” Claire asked.
Nix smiled back, banishing the drug to the back of his mind. “I’m thinking that we should go somewhere. Like … on a date.” The word felt inadequate and silly to the extent that Nix actually wondered for a split second if he’d mispronounced it. “We should go out,” he amended.
Before we play David and Goliath with The Society, we should have at least one day, just for us.
Claire glanced toward the coffee table, but he put his hand on the side of her cheek, brought her eyes back to face him. Claire tilted her head into his palm.
“Okay,” she said, with another smile—almost shy, twice as sweet. “Where do you want to go?”
Not the graveyard.
Not a dead senator’s midwestern mansion.
Nix’s lack of experience with the outside world was limiting when it came to brainstorming ideas for dates. “Once we fade, we can go anywhere,” he said, hedging to give himself more time to think.
Claire’s smile grew to almost blinding proportions. “Anywhere sounds nice.”
“Anywhere it is.”
Nix cleared his mind. He let everything but Claire trickle out—no drug on the table, no weapons under the porch. No Society. No Sensors.
Shadow. Air. Nothing. Claire.
A new mantra. New words, pumping through his veins, forming a strange duet with the old one.
Nix opened his eyes just in time to see Claire slip from reality, and he realized that it didn’t matter how many times he watched her do this. He’d always be completely absorbed in it, entranced by the way the light shined through her body, from the inside out. The expression on her face would always be new to him, precious.
Amazed. Awed. Ecstatic. Blissed.
“Let’s run.” Nix purposefully used her words from that first day, from the first time she’d crossed over.
They ran. And as the world bowed down at their feet, as Nix passed through the forest, as Claire blurred beside him, he accepted the fact that they’d never be Normal. Not even for a single date. Not even for just one afternoon.
They were more.
Anywhere ended up being a boardwalk in a small, touristy town—far enough away from their hideaway that they couldn’t have run there weighed down by solid limbs, but close enough to remind him of the town where he’d found her standing on the sidewalk in stolen clothes.
The two of them stopped running at the exact same moment, in the center of a modest crowd. Eventually, they’d cross back to the solid world. Do normal things. Eat lunch. Play games. Enjoy the view—but not yet.
Like a dancer moving through motions choreographed long before his time, Nix flowed toward Claire, closing the space between them. She met his eyes. Caught his hand, and the moment they touched, time stopped.