As we reached the porch, Roman glanced back over his shoulder, taking one last look at the towering clouds rolling across the farmland. But I couldn’t bring myself to do the same; I didn’t want to see those last traces of our light be devoured by the darkness of the storm.
The next morning, just as the sun had begun to paint the new sky pink, we gathered at the table to silently eat our breakfasts.
Silently, until Priyanka sat straight up from where she’d been lounging on the couch, the laptop perched on her chest. Her eyes were ringed with dark circles, and she looked slightly crazed from lack of sleep and excitement. “I got them.”
Roman stood, shoving his chair back. “You found Mercer on camera?”
“I found both,” she said. “Mercer and Moore. Together.”
Liam set his spoon down in his untouched bowl of oatmeal, looking like he’d slept about as much as Priyanka had. “Tell me you’re not joking.”
“There was nothing in the security footage at all, but then I realized, duh, of course there wouldn’t be. They’d delete it or turn the cameras off to give the boss full deniability. But”—she balanced the laptop on the back of the couch and turned it so that it faced us—“I went back and searched the time stamps for the day that Max said Mercer was last there and found something. I’m going to be honest, it’s not the best shot. It’s a reflection of the two of them in one of the building’s interior windows. They clearly thought they were safe in whatever corner they were hiding.”
“Genius, Pri,” Max said, coming closer along with Chubs and Vida. “Good job. I would never have noticed it.”
“Is there audio?” I asked.
Rather than answer, Priyanka twirled her hand and hit PLAY.
It was difficult to make the two of them out. But slowly, as they stopped walking and turned to face each other, it became easier to discern their faces.
Joseph Moore was a handsome man who looked ten years younger than his actual fifty. Forever tanned and impeccably groomed, it was actually a little shocking to see him look as disheveled as he did. One hand gripped his thick dark hair, tugging at it as he turned on the other man. His gray suit was rumpled, the lines of his face stark with obvious stress.
Beside him, Gregory Mercer was a study in opposites. His edges were grizzled, his face roughly hewn, and there was a long raised scar that ran over his left temple and cut down into his eyebrow. He was in a suit, too, only his was head-to-toe black. His blond hair had been tied back into a low ponytail, and he was as still as a snake in the grass. Eyes narrowed into slits. It was the only sign of his controlled fury until he said, “This wasn’t the deal.”
Both Max and Roman flinched at the sound of his voice.
“My job isn’t to make you happy,” Moore snapped back. “My job is to make us both money, and I’m a little preoccupied with something else at the moment, if you haven’t turned on the news lately.”
“I’m not here for your excuses,” Mercer said. “Don’t fuck with me. I know more about you than anyone, even your show pony of a wife. You’re too ‘busy’ to see to our terms? Then I’m too busy to make sure none of that slips out—nothing about your connections overseas, selling secrets. Nothing about your little bomb-making enterprise.”
Moore held up his hands. “You think I wanted to do it? Turning her over to the feds myself would have singlehandedly won me this election. I took a loss there, too. Instead some sad-sack government employee will get the credit once they decide Cruz needs the PR boost.”
Roman looked over at me. I bit my lip.
But Moore wasn’t talking about me.
“Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. The only way to avoid closer scrutiny was to give her to the feds, quietly trade her for their continued blind eye. I salvaged this project, and if you can’t make this one sacrifice to keep it going, then—”
I jumped at the explosion of movement as Mercer violently shoved Moore up against the wall, his arm pinning him by the throat. “Don’t ever talk to me about sacrifice, you nepotistic, overindulged sack of pig shit.”
Moore struggled against the hold, lashing out until finally the other man released him and turned to go. “Where are you going? We’re not finished here—I want an update on your progress!”
Mercer didn’t look back. As he moved farther from the camera, his words became almost inaudible. Almost. “I’m going to get her myself.”
Liam leaned over, shutting the laptop screen. Without looking at any of us, he said, “Get ready. We’re leaving now.”
WE MADE QUICK WORK OF feeding the animals and cleaning up the house. Once it was locked up, awaiting Sam and Lucas’s return that night, we divided ourselves between two cars and siphoned the gas out of the third.
“I’d like to go with Zu,” Liam told Chubs, then glanced over to where I was stowing our filthy, battered bags in the trunk of the SUV Chubs had driven. “If you don’t mind?”
Liam had showered and shaved before coming down, and while his movements were still stiff, and he seemed to be vibrating with anxiety, he looked a little more like himself. Or, as Vida put it, he no longer looked like a cult leader who wanted to murder all of us.
“Of course not,” I said. “But I’m driving.”
A faint smile. “All right, then.”
“I hope you’re ready to snuggle up in the back,” Priyanka told Max as they came down the porch steps. “I’m about to defend my repeat champion status in I Spy.”
Max turned to Vida. “Can I please come with you guys? I could use some peace and quiet.”
Vida opened the back door, sweeping her hand inside. “Be my fucking guest.”
“Should one of us tell him that’s not the ‘peace and quiet’ car?” Liam whispered, limping over to help me finish loading our supplies.
“Some things are more fun to discover on your own,” I said.
“Are you sure you want to drive?” he asked, staring longingly over the backseats. Something in his expression changed.
I reached into one of the backpacks, unzipping the front pouch. The photo I’d taken from Haven was still inside, burned and wrinkled, but still mostly in one piece.
I held it out to him until he looked down, his eyes widening.
“Everything’s not lost,” I told him. “It’s going to be okay.”
He took the photo in one hand, then reached over, resting his palm on the top of my head, the way he used to. “When you’re the one saying it, I can actually believe it.”
“Ready?” I asked him.
“It’s a long drive,” he said. “Maybe you’ll need to take a break…?”
I shot him a long look.
“There’s my Zu,” he said, pocketing the photo. Before I could move to the driver’s side, he took my wrist.
“Liam, don’t be ridiculous—”
“No, I just want to say—” He shook his head, a few strands of dark blond hair falling over his forehead. “I’m sorry I didn’t even say good-bye.”
“Which time?” I asked, fighting the need to hug him.
He winced. “Both. For leaving without warning, and for letting both of you go with angry words between us. I’ve never been perfect, but I’ve always wanted to be for you.”
“I never needed perfect,” I told him. “None of us did.”
“After Cole died, after everything,” he said, struggling with the words, “it was the only thing I could think to do.”
“I know,” I said. “Liam, I know. It’s all right. Just…none of us are allowed to leave without saying good-bye, not anymore. Yeah?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“All right,” I said, giving him a nod of my own. “Then let’s go.”
Vida looked back at me before climbing into the driver’s seat. “If you lose track of us, just keep going. We’ll meet four blocks south of the lab.”
I opened my own door. “What makes you think I’m going to be following you?”
As I slid inside, buckling my seat belt, Priyanka turned and looked out the back window. “Farewell, Snowflake, princess of my heart.”