Nora looks up at the camera, snapping me out of my thoughts. I feel like she’s looking right at me even though she can’t see me, and I get the sudden urge to talk to her again. I don’t know why, but the need is strong and I find myself fighting against it.
She grins as if she knows someone’s watching and I look away from the screen.
Niklas is sitting to my right, reading a magazine. A cigarette is tucked behind his ear. A cup of coffee sits on the table next to his elbow.
He still hasn’t spoken to me much since his confession with Nora. It’s starting to annoy me.
“You don’t have to be a dick,” I say.
He slides a finger between the pages and flips one over casually. “Yeah I do,” he says calmly and without looking up. “Haven’t I always been?”
“Yeah, actually you’re a pro at being a dick,” I say, “but I think I prefer the rude, mouthy you over this silent-treatment one.”
“I don’t recall ever giving you a choice.” He flips another page.
I sigh. “Niklas, what happened to Claire isn’t my fault.”
“Never said it was.” He still hasn’t looked up, or raised his tone above I-don’t-really-give-a-shit.
“But why do you hate me so much? Because she died? Can your brother not be happy?”
Finally he looks up and his eyes lock onto mine; the half-turned page paused on his finger.
“Happy?” He smiles with mock disbelief. “There are a handful of words that don’t really apply to this kind of life, Izabel”—it actually stings this time that he doesn’t call me Izzy—“and ‘happy’ is one of them. That’s for people with white picket fences and bratty kids n’ shit.”
He closes the magazine and tosses it on the table; it lands on a keyboard. Then he leans forward; the smile still present on his unshaven face now laced with mockery. “What was it that Nora said to you when you were in there with her, before the audio was turned off? Inexperienced, overly confident and too far in over your head—it was something like that.” He pauses. “Well she was right.”
I swallow down my hurt feelings and my shame, and pull at all of my strength to keep it from showing.
Niklas leans back in his chair again and crosses his arms over his chest. He props his left boot on top of his right knee.
“You never should’ve been brought here,” he goes on. “You never should’ve been allowed to know what we do, much less being fed the delusion of thinking you could do it too. You don’t just decide one day that you want to be a contract killer, or a professional spy. And you never will be. You may hold your own on some missions, you may ‘prove your worth’”—he makes quotation marks with his fingers—“but you’ll never be on my brother’s level, or on mine, no matter how much you train because you weren’t born into this life or started training young.” He shakes his head, glances at the surveillance room door and then says, “Do you really think that Victor has ever once”—he points a finger upward—“trusted you to go on a mission without him or one of us to protect you? Think about it—have you been on a mission alone? Has Victor ever sent you out alone?” He shakes his head again, this time in answer of his own question; a vague smile around his blue-green eyes. “And he never will. Even when you think you’re alone you know his men are in the shadows watching you.” He picks the magazine back up and opens it to the center. “A solo mission will never happen. At least not until he realizes that you need to die, then he’ll send you out on your own. It’ll be easier for him to stomach than killing you himself.”
Niklas’ words cut through me like a dull blade through flesh and bone. My stomach swims with humiliation and pain. For a long time I can’t even look at him, not out of anger for his cruel words, but out of shame because I believe them. Deep down I think I’ve always believed them.
“You’re a bastard, Niklas.”
“I know,” he says, looking up. “I’m a bastard in the technical sense, too, because my brother killed our father. Can you kill someone you love? Can you let Dina Gregory die? Because it’s in all our best interests that she does, and you know it. This never should’ve happened, Izabel. Family members and ex-wives—ties to the outside are just weaknesses.”
“You would know,” I shoot back icily, referring to Claire.
I never would’ve used something like that against him, stooping to his heartless level, but it just came out like word vomit.
His eyes harden around the edges, but he doesn’t let my comment faze him enough to unravel him.
“Yeah, I would know,” he says with a nod and leans forward. “Claire was the biggest mistake of my life. I loved her. I’ll never deny that to anyone, or sugarcoat it—I fucking loved Claire and I would’ve died for her. But that was my moment of weakness, Izabel. I guess we’re all fucking entitled to at least one. There is no such thing as love, or happiness, doing the shit that we do. My brother may love you, I can’t really say that he doesn’t, but that makes you his only weakness. And you know Victor. You may be delusional thinking that this kind of life you somehow fit into, but you’re not a stupid girl. You know that my brother is less human than I am. How long will he allow you to compromise him?” He points sternly at me “Victor is experiencing his one moment of entitled weakness right now, just like I did with Claire. Just like Gustavsson did with Seraphina. And look at what love did to Flynn, right in front of your eyes. It’s my brother’s turn now, like a rite of passage, but how long will it last?”
I look away from him and back at the screen, finding more comfort with Nora than with the sonofabitch sitting in the room with me. How can I hate him now more than her?
“But in some fucked up way,” he says as my focused gaze penetrates the glowing veil in front of me, “you’re sort of my weakness, too.”
I stop breathing for a sharp second.
“I guess I feel responsible for you,” he goes on. “And I guess I feel like I owe you because I tried to kill you once.”
I look over, but I say nothing.
Niklas shakes his head, and the boot propped on his knee bounces up and down a few times.
“How the fuck does that work exactly?” he asks; his eyes hard around the edges, his brows drawn.
I still don’t say anything. Because I don’t know. And I don’t think the question was really for me as much as it was just him thinking out loud.