My guilt disappears.
I look more closely and realize he’s perfectly unharmed. His leg is working fine. His face is back to normal. His eyes are no longer puffy, his forehead is repaired, smooth, untouched. He was right.
He does have a spectacular face.
A defiant jawline. Perfect eyebrows. Eyes as pitch-black as his hair. Sleek. Strong. A bit dangerous.
“I’m sorry I almost killed you,” I blurt out.
“Oh.” He startles. Shoves his hands into his pockets. “Well. Glad we got that out of the way.” I notice he’s wearing a destroyed T-shirt. Dark jeans. I haven’t seen anyone wear jeans in such a long time. Army uniforms, cotton basics, and fancy dresses are all I’ve known lately.
I can’t really look at him. “I panicked,” I try to explain. I clasp and unclasp my fingers.
“I figured.” He cocks an eyebrow.
I nod. “You look better.”
He cracks a grin. Stretches. Leans against the wall, arms crossed at his chest, legs crossed at the ankles. “This must be difficult for you.”
“Looking at my face. Realizing I was right. Realizing you made the wrong decision.” He shrugs. “I understand. I’m not a proud man, you know. I’d be willing to forgive you.”
I gape at him, unsure whether to laugh or throw something. “Don’t make me touch you.”
He shakes his head. “It’s incredible how someone can look so right and feel so wrong. Kent is a lucky bastard.”
“I’m sorry—” Psychologist-man stands up. “Are you two finished here?” He looks to Kenji. “I thought you had a purpose.”
Kenji pushes off the wall. Straightens his back. “Right. Yeah. Castle wants to meet her.”
“Now?” Blondie is more confused than I am. “But I’m not done examining her.”
Kenji shrugs. “He wants to meet her.”
“Who’s Castle?” I ask.
Blondie and Kenji look at me. Kenji looks away. Blondie doesn’t.
He cocks his head. “Kenji didn’t tell you anything about this place?”
“No.” I falter, uncertain, glancing at Kenji, who won’t look at me. “He never explained anything. He said he knew someone who had a safe place and thought he could help us—”
Blondie gapes. Laughs so hard he snorts. Stands up. Cleans his glasses with the hem of his shirt. “You’re such an ass,” he says to Kenji. “Why didn’t you just tell her the truth?”
“She never would’ve come if I told her the truth.”
“How do you know?”
“She nearly killedme—”
My eyes are darting from one face to the other. Blond hair to black hair and back again. “What is going on?” I demand. “I want to see Adam. I want to see James. And I want a set of clothes—”
“You’re naked?” Kenji is suddenly studying my sheet and not bothering to be subtle about it.
I flush despite my best efforts, flustered, frustrated. “Blondie said they destroyed my clothes.”
“Blondie?” Blond man is offended.
“You never told me your name.”
“Winston. My name is Winston.” He’s not smiling anymore.
“Didn’t you say you had a suit for me?”
He frowns. Checks his watch. “We won’t have time to go through that right now.” Sighs. “Get her something to wear temporarily, will you?” He’s talking to Kenji. Kenji who is still staring at me.
“I want to see Adam.”
“Adam isn’t ready to see you yet.” Blondie Winston tucks his pen into a pocket. “We’ll let you know when he’s ready.”
“How am I supposed to trust any of you if you won’t even let me see him? If you won’t let me see James? I don’t even have my basic things. I want to get out of this bed and I need something to wear.”
“Go fetch, Moto.” Winston is readjusting his watch.
“I’m not your dog, Blondie,” Kenji snaps. “And I told you not to call me Moto.”
Winston pinches the bridge of his nose. “No problem. I’ll also tell Castle it’s your fault she’s not meeting with him right now.”
Kenji mutters something obscene under his breath. Stalks off. Almost slams the door.
A few seconds pass in a strained sort of silence.
I take a deep breath. “So what’s moto mean?”
Winston rolls his eyes. “Nothing. It’s just a nickname—his last name is Kishimoto. He gets mad when we chop it in half. Gets sensitive about it.”
“Well why do you chop it in half?”
He snorts. “Because it’s hard as hell to pronounce.”
“How is that an excuse?”
He frowns. “What?”
“You got mad that I called you Blondie and not Winston. Why doesn’t he have the right to be mad that you’re calling him Moto instead of Kenji?”
He mumbles something that sounds like, “It’s not the same thing.”
I slide down a little. Rest my head on the pillow. “Don’t be a hypocrite.”
I feel like a clown in these oversized clothes. I’m wearing someone else’s T-shirt. Someone else’s pajama pants. Someone else’s slippers. Kenji says they had to destroy the clothes in my duffel bag, too, so I have no idea whose outfit is currently hanging on my frame. I’m practically swimming in the material.
I try to knot the extra fabric and Kenji stops me. “You’re going to mess up my shirt,” he complains.
I drop my hands. “You gave me your clothes?”
“Well what did you expect? It’s not like we have extra dresses just lying around.” He shoots me a look, like I should be grateful he’s even sharing.
Well. I guess it’s better than being naked. “So who’s Castle again?”
“He’s in charge of everything,” Kenji tells me. “The head of this entire movement.”
My ears snap off. “Movement?”
Winston sighs. He seems so uptight. I wonder why. “If Kenji hasn’t already told you anything, you should probably wait to hear it from Castle himself. Hang tight. I promise we’re going to answer your questions.”
“But what about Adam? Where is James—”
“Wow.” Winston runs a hand through his floppy hair. “You’re just not going to give it up, huh?”
“He’s fine, Juliette,” Kenji intervenes. “He needs a little more time to recover. You have to start trusting us. No one here is going to hurt you, or Adam, or James. They’re both fine. Everything is fine.”
But I don’t know if fine is good enough.
We’re walking through an entire city underground, hallways and passageways, smooth stone floors, rough walls left untouched. There are circular disks drilled into the ground, glowing with artificial light every few feet. I notice computers, all kinds of gadgets I don’t recognize, doors cracked open to reveal rooms filled with nothing but technological machinery.
“How do you find the electricity necessary to run this place?” I look more closely at the unidentifiable machines, the flickering screens, the unmistakable humming of hundreds of computers built into the framework of this underground world.
Kenji tugs on a stray strand of my hair. I spin around. “We steal it.” He grins. Nods down a narrow path. “This way.”
People both young and old and of all different shapes and ethnicities shuffle in and out of rooms, all along the halls. Many of them stare, many of them are too distracted to notice us. Some of them are dressed like the men and women who rushed out to our car last night. It’s an odd kind of uniform. It seems unnecessary.
“So . . . everyone dresses like that?” I whisper, gesturing to the passing strangers as inconspicuously as possible.
Kenji scratches his head. Takes his time answering. “Not everyone. Not all the time.”
“What about you?” I ask him.
I decide not to indulge his cryptic tendencies, and instead ask a more straightforward question. “So are you ever going to tell me how you healed so quickly?”
“Yes,” Kenji says, unfazed. “We’re going to tell you a lot of things, actually.” We make an abrupt turn down an unexpected hallway. “But first—” Kenji pauses outside of a huge wooden door. “Castle wants to meet you. He’s the one who requested you.”
“Yeah.” Kenji looks uncomfortable for just a wavering second.
“Wait—what do you mean—”
“I mean it wasn’t an accident that I ended up in the army, Juliette.” He sighs. “It wasn’t an accident that I showed up at Adam’s door. And I wasn’t supposed to get shot or get beaten half to death, but I did. Only I wasn’t dropped off by some random dude.” He almost grins. “I’ve always known where Adam lived. It was my job to know.” A pause. “We’ve all been looking for you.”
My mouth is sitting on my kneecaps.
“Go ahead.” Kenji pushes me inside. “He’ll be out when he’s ready.”
“Good luck,” is all Winston says to me.
1,320 seconds walk into the room before he does.
He moves methodically, his face a mask of neutrality as he brushes wayward dreadlocks into a ponytail and seats himself at the front of the room. He’s thin, fit, impeccably dressed in a simple suit. Dark blue. White shirt. No tie. There are no lines on his face, but there’s a streak of silver in his hair and his eyes confess he’s lived at least 100 years. He must be in his 40s. I look around.
It’s an empty space, impressive in its sparseness. The floors and ceilings are built by bricks carefully pieced together. Everything feels old and ancient, but somehow modern technology is keeping this place alive. Artificial lighting illuminates the cavernous dimensions, small monitors are built into the stone walls. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know what to expect. I have no idea what kind of person Castle is but after spending so much time with Warner, I’m trying not to get my hopes up. I don’t even realize I’ve stopped breathing until he speaks.
“I hope you’re enjoying your stay so far.”
My neck snaps up to meet his dark eyes, his smooth voice, silky and strong. His eyes are glinting with genuine curiosity, a smattering of surprise. I’ve forgotten I know how to speak.
“Kenji said you wanted to meet me,” is the only response I offer.
“Kenji would be correct.” He takes his time breathing. He takes his time shifting in his seat. He takes his time studying my eyes, choosing his words, touching two fingers to his lips. He seems to have dominated the concept of time. Impatience is likely not a word in his vocabulary. “I’ve heard . . . stories. About you.” Smiles. “I simply wanted to know if they were true.”