“I can’t.” His arm went slack, his face twisted with disgust. Then immediately he raised his arm again, but not at me. He shot a mannequin instead.
No more bullets. I looked at David; there was no surprise in his expression, no shock. He’d been expecting it.
“We’re going to figure this out,” Noah went on, his voice firm, strong, determined. “I’ll call the police. We’ll find Daniel. I’ll heal him. You’ll get better—”
“Stop it!” My words battered the walls of the factory. They seemed to echo forever. “This is not something you can fix.” And I couldn’t risk letting him try.
“You always think the worst of yourself,” he said with bitterness.
“And you always think the best.” It was true, which made me smile. “You can’t see me objectively because you love me. But I’ve done things. How am I any different from him?” I flicked my eyes to Jude, who lowered his to the floor. If I hadn’t known any better, I’d have said he looked guilty.
Jude was sicker than me and crazier than me and crueler than me, but he’d loved his sister, his only family. Deborah and David had used that love to control him. I didn’t forgive him for the things he’d done—I would never do that. But I understood them.
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It only matters why,” Noah said. “He uses his ability to hurt people. You use yours to protect people.”
Not always, I thought, and said so. “The villain is the hero of her own story. No one thinks they’re a bad person. Everyone has reasons for doing what they do. Jude and I are not as different as you think.”
Those words did something to him, lit a spark in him. He looked alive, really alive, for the first time since he’d been back. His hands cupped my face as he said, “Never say that again. You’ve been lied to. Manipulated. Tortured. It’s not your fault.”
I shuddered, from his words or the contact, I didn’t know.
“It’s not your fault, Mara. Say it.”
“Noah,” David said. There was a note of urgency in his voice and I began to panic.
“There’s no time, Noah.”
“Say it and I’ll—I’ll give you the shot.”
“What?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard what I thought I’d heard.
“I can’t with the—the knife. I’ll see it forever,” Noah said. His voice sounded different. Like something had broken inside of him. I wanted to smooth the crease between his brows, take his face in my hands, kiss him, make it better. But I was the one hurting him.
I swallowed my sadness, for him, for myself.
“It’ll just look like I’m going to sleep.” I glanced at the laptop. Jamie’s eyes were wide with horror. My brother’s were closed. I realized I’d never see them open again, and that was the moment I started to cry.
“Jamie,” I said, catching my breath, “Tell my brother—tell him I love him.”
Jamie nodded silently. Tears streamed down his face.
“Tell him I’m sorry.”
“Mara,” my friend said.
“Tell him he’s my hero. And, Jamie?”
He sniffed. “Yeah?”
“Make him forget what he knows about me. Make him forget all of this. Can you do that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you try?”
His chin trembled. “God, you’re so demanding.”
A laugh escaped from my mouth.
“I’ll try,” he said. “You know I’ll try.”
“You’re a good friend.”
“I know,” he said back. “You’re not so bad yourself.”
“Yes I am.”
“Mara,” David said. “You should hurry.” He didn’t say it unkindly.
I hated him, but it was a cold, distant kind of hate. I would see him in hell, someday, and punish him there. But right now I just wanted to love Noah. I wanted to leave the world feeling that.
I looked at the boy I loved, the one who saved me, every day. He was so hurt. I didn’t know what to say to him, but he seemed to know what I needed.
He scooped me up from the table and carried me, the way a groom would carry a bride. We walked a little bit, but not far; I needed to be able to see my brother. I wasn’t ready to leave him yet.
David and Jude gave us space. They knew we weren’t going anywhere. There was nowhere else to go.
Noah unfolded me into his half-kneeling lap. He wrapped one hand around my stomach and the other over my chest. My soft cheek was against his rougher one, his mouth pressed against my shoulder. Once upon a time his lips on my skin would have made me forget myself. I could laugh and joke and pretend with him, and his voice would drown out the thoughts inside me that no one should ever hear. But he couldn’t change me. No one could. I was still poison, and even Noah couldn’t make me forget it anymore.
My chin trembled as I said what Noah needed to hear. “It’s not—it’s not my fault,” I whispered.
“It’s not my fault,” I lied, louder this time.
Noah uncapped the syringe, his face ashen, and I held out my arm.
I think that was when I knew, for real, that there would be no SWAT team barging in to save us. No epic battles would be fought in some cinematic climax. There would be no screaming, no explosions. It was just us. Two people and a choice.
“I won’t even feel it,” I said, trying not to imagine all of the conversations we would never have. That was what I would miss most, I realized. Just being able to tell him things. There was still so much to say.
“I love you,” I whispered against his neck. Noah held me tighter, not saying it back—I knew he couldn’t speak. Then, without warning, I felt a tiny prick in my arm, which deepened into a burning sting. I managed a crappy smile as Noah plunged the contents of the syringe into my veins. “Thank you,” I said when he was done. He held his fingers over the puncture wound. His breath caught, trapping a silent sob. He was so brave.
“If Daniel’s still—” My chest felt tight, and I opened my mouth, trying to swallow more air. “If he’s still sick when I’m—and your father doesn’t—”
“I will,” Noah said hoarsely. He looked so fierce and beautiful. I would miss that face.
“Find him,” I said. My words slurred, and my eyelids drooped. My breath was too shallow. “Fix him,” I said with my last one, and then the world went dark.