Most people probably couldn’t see the fear inside Naomi. She hid it well, behind a wall of anger and rage, spirit and determination mixed into a swirl of defiance in her eyes. But I saw the real driving force behind her anger—fear. Angry tears streamed down the sides of her face, and into her dark, matted hair. Her screams were starting to quiet. Her voice was getting hoarse.
A lot of them broke at this part of the intake. It was the worst part of the process for me, when I faced them and saw the fear, even when they tried to hide it.
I was trained to see that fear, though, to use it, manipulate it to get the results Section Five wanted. Maybe this was why the Pattersons kept me here. I knew people, I knew what made them tick, and I knew how to motivate or tear them down.
My past made me an asset, and I had no doubt that if Section Five suddenly lost that need, they’d lose me too.
Regret rolled through my chest like ice as I approached the girl. I couldn’t figure this out. There was something different about her, something that separated her from the other recruits.
It had been days since she’d seen me last, not since her first moments in Section Five’s complex. But I’d watched her for the last few hours, detailing reactions and motivations from behind the glass. It had been difficult to watch her, which was why I’d stayed away the last couple days. If I’d had my way, I’d have never come back to her.
Her entire body tensed, her fists clenched so tightly not even a paper clip would have fit between her fingers. Even completely restrained, ready to roll into that hag Sonya’s torture chamber, it was almost like her eyes could have set me on fire.
I glanced at the guards. I didn’t want them hovering. “Step back.” Guards made all the recruits nervous, particularly at this early stage, and considering what Naomi had done to one on her first day, I had no doubt they’d make her even more nervous and afraid than she already was.
Looking down at her, she surprised me. She should have looked small and terrified, like other recruits before her. Helpless, even. Hopelessness should have been in her eyes by now, by her third day.
But it wasn’t.
She refused to accept her position, refused to accept defeat, and it radiated from every movement she made. This was what I had warned Sonya against. What kind of person did she have to be to have that type of fortitude?
Curiosity ebbed through every part of me as I leaned over Naomi. Her dark eyes locked on mine in a second flat, unwaveringly. 110% on me. Jesus. I fought against every instinct to look away from such strength.
She wasn’t just not fitting the Section Five profile. She was blowing it away. Something about her had to make the Patterson’s radar, especially with the insolence I saw inside her.
Haunted wasn’t the right word for her, I decided. Soulful. Fear lived deep inside her dark chocolate eyes, oppressed by the rage that swirled above it. All of it mixed up into an emotional cocktail that Sonya would slurp away for hours at a time until Naomi either conformed or died.
“What is your story, Naomi?” Saying her name for the first time resonated deep inside me, weighting my stomach with heaviness. I avoided names usually, unless necessary. It was too familiar with someone that might not make it through the intake process. I protected the recruits as much as I could, but sometimes, they weren’t strong enough, or they broke during indoctrination. Termination was usually a relief for them at that point, but I never liked making that recommendation.
She grunted through the gag they’d placed over her mouth.
“What makes you so special?”
I didn’t really want the answer to that, on some level. As her indoctrination processor, it would be useful, but I had the feeling with this one, it would make her too human, and less of just another recruit in the pipeline. Her humanity would connect an attachment to her, and I had to steer clear of attachments.
At all costs.
“Just relax and breathe. Okay?” I told her. “The more you fight this, the worse it gets.”
Her eyes closed, a fresh round of fury-filled tears sliding down her cheeks. Something broke inside me, sticking into my chest like a sliver of glass.
I brushed her matted, now wet hair from her face. “You’re here for a second chance at life. We’re here to help you.” I didn’t really believe the rhetoric that was coming from my mouth. I said it because it was part of the procedure. It was what helped mold their decision to conform.
Her eyes opened, fiery defiance within those dark irises, like an uncontrollable wildfire.
My breath left me.
Everything about her suddenly made sense. I hadn’t been this close to her even on the first day, but standing over her, only inches from her now… I knew why they’d chosen her, and why they didn’t care that she hadn’t fit the whole profile.
Fuck me. My lungs tightened as the air left them.
Same dark hair.
Same high cheekbones.
Same almost heart-shaped face. My chest ached with dulled pain I’d long thought was dead. Every beat of my heart slammed hard against my chest.
I hadn’t thought much about my sister in the last year. I couldn’t afford grief, so I’d locked it away. That was probably why Sonya brought her up from time to time.
But here was this girl. I hadn’t seen it before, maybe because I hadn’t let myself get close or maybe because she’d always been throwing her fits. I wasn’t sure how I hadn’t seen it, because it was just so obvious something inside me snapped. She was almost identical to my sister, except for the eyes. Kala’s had been blue like mine and Jet’s, not dark and mysterious like Naomi’s.
But really, that was the only difference. She was even the same age, only a few months older, if I recalled her profile sheet right. God, even as a different color, her eyes were so fucking similar to Kala’s too.
What would happen when he saw her? God, he was already broken. He would flip. Losing Kala had fundamentally broken him. Hell, maybe it had broken me too, if I was reacting so strongly.
Whether Ryan and Sonya saw it or not, I wasn’t sure, but I knew my brother. He’d loved Kala so much. Protected her at all costs when he could. He’d always been unpredictable, but this… Fuck me, I’d lose him now.
Was this my reminder from the Patterson twins to conform? Was taking David and Kala not enough that they had to bring this girl in as a daily reminder of what Jet and I had lost?
I brushed her raven hair from her forehead, a brief shudder emanating from my touch. It wasn’t one of disgust though, but one of relaxation. Seemed like the sedatives were starting to take effect. The sliver of ice stuck in my heart from Kala’s death started to melt, not completely, but enough. The ache from it was still there.
“Everything will be fine,” I told her.
I didn’t believe that any more than she did. Misery poured from her when I said it. A twinge of that sliver dislodging inside my chest sent pain reverberating through my chest. What was that? Compassion? Guilt?
Kala had been summarily executed because of Jet and me. They’d taken David as collateral, to keep us in line. I had no doubt that David was gone too. I couldn’t bear it if another life was taken because of me.
Shit. I needed to nip that feeling in the bud quick. I couldn’t feel anything for recruits, even something as simple as compassion, and really not guilt. This was my job. I had to watch over Jet. He was all I had left. I couldn’t form any feelings for recruits, not if I wanted to survive.
I couldn’t promise that nothing bad would happen to her. I couldn’t promise that she wouldn’t be okay on the other side of intake. I didn’t have that luxury. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
She whimpered through her restraints, knocking me back to reality. I stiffened my shoulders and stepped away from her, away from the smell of her fear and the tears she couldn’t stop.
Tearing my eyes from her, I focused on the guards instead. “Sonya wants this one in her office.”
As the guards closed in on her again, I balled my fists tightly, trying to ignore her renewed struggle and screams as she fought to get loose. The tightness in my chest intensified to painful proportions as I turned from her. There were no options for the new recruits and I needed to remember that. Naomi would either conform or the Pattersons would make her vanish.
Like they did to Kala.
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