Cassie noticed the men, frowned, and said, “Let’s go into my room.”
We walked upstairs. I couldn’t help but remember other times I’d been inside, most of them during the summer before we’d reformed the League. Cassie had been on bed rest after the treatments that activated her powers. I hadn’t known it at the time. I’d just thought she was sick.
I’d helped her gather everyone for movie nights while wondering if she’d make it through the summer.
Even then it hadn’t been a cluttered house. It always felt clean and orderly, but a little like a hotel. Her mom commuted to Washington D.C. a lot and had hired people to keep it clean.
Sure, her cover as a realtor had never been blown, but I’d always wondered if adding a little mess to the house might have helped.
In some ways the empty rooms and undecorated walls felt like it always had—it was just a matter of degree.
Cassie’s room felt different though. It felt bigger. You could even see the beige carpet.
A jumble of trophies and medals had decorated the walls. A pile of clothes had lain next to the closet—which had never been quite shut, allowing me to see the piles inside.
A picture of her father had stood on her dresser next to a music box. The picture showed him riding a horse, something I hadn’t known he’d enjoyed.
I wondered where the picture was—probably in a box in the truck.
Cassie shut the door behind us. “I’m so, so sorry I’m going. I wanted to stay, but if the Nine ever do match my face and name, it’ll give all of you away.”
Haley cocked her head. “You mean they don’t know your name already?”
Cassie shook her head. “No, and they wanted it pretty bad. On the plane one of their guys tried to interrogate me. He tried to get me to say where our base was, and everyone’s names, all that stuff. I didn’t give him anything, but normal people would have, I bet. He seemed pretty scary at first. He was telling me how regeneration would make everything he could do worse when we got back to the base. He even hit me a few times.”
Vaughn’s face tightened for second. “You didn’t tell me that. I wish I’d been there. I’d have roasted his ass.”
Cassie smiled a little. “Too late. He might have been roasted in the explosion on our way out. Besides he wasn’t doing too well when I last saw him. I… bit off a couple of his fingers.”
We were quiet for a moment, but then Haley said, “Really?”
Cassie started almost before Haley finished. “I didn’t try to. He punched me in the face twice, and then the third time I twisted and bit his hand. I was just trying to bite hard. You know, make him think about it before he punched me again? I felt his bones break in my mouth, and when he pulled his hand away, something was still inside. I spit them out.”
Haley covered her mouth.
Vaughn said, “That’s pretty badass.”
Cassie didn’t say anything at first. The blank expression on her face made me guess that she didn’t feel badass. “I didn’t try to do it, but I pretended I had. They left me alone for the rest of the flight, and they didn’t try to interrogate me at the base. But I told you they were going to call in the Dominators, right?”
I nodded. “That would have been worse.”
Cassie shook her head. “No kidding. That’s why I tried to escape the first chance I got.”
That reminded me of something that had been bothering me. “How did you signal us anyway? We got your utility belt and communicator back. It looked like you used your old League distress signal, but I didn’t know it was on you.”
She backed up toward the wall, beginning to put her hand where her dresser would normally have been, but stopped, and placed it on the windowsill instead.
“This is going to be gross too. When they caught me, I palmed my League ring, and shoved it into my abdomen. My skin healed before they saw it, so I had it when I broke out of the room they had me in. That’s when I signaled you.”
I nodded. “That was quick thinking. I don’t know what I would have done. Not that I could have done that…”
Cassie began to tear up. “I hated it. I didn’t know if you’d gotten the signal or if I’d be caught as soon as the Dominators appeared. You don’t know how much better I felt when I heard the alarms start to ring.”
Vaughn frowned. “I wish I’d been there instead of Sean. Did you know that he’s been complaining that Flick kept him out of the main fight?”
I was about to talk, but Haley spoke first. “Who’s he talking to? That’s not what she was doing.”
Vaughn held up his hands. “Whoa. Just people he knows—me, Jody, and Dayton. Not the media.”
It wasn’t fair to Flick, for sure. She’d had him turn the building’s fans, blowing the nerve gas outside. That was worth doing.
I didn’t get to say so because Cassie’s mom opened the door.
“It’s time to go.” Cassie’s mom didn’t look anything like her—given that Cassie was a clone of her dad plus some major gene splices, that wasn’t a surprise.
Cassie’s mom had black hair, slightly darker skin, and wore a black suit with a skirt.
Cassie turned toward her, lips curling into an expression I couldn’t call happy.
“Just a second, Mom.”
“You’ve got five minutes. Any longer and we risk missing our window.”
She gave us a smile, and said, “I wish we could stay longer, but I’m sure you understand.” Then she closed the door again.
Cassie stared at the door for a moment before turning back to us.
“Look, I’ve got to go, but this isn’t the end. I’m going to be at Stapledon weekends whether my mom wants me to or not.”
A few more tears ran down her cheek.
“I wish I were staying. I really do. You’ve all been the best friends I’ve had in a long time.”
She hugged each of us. We were all crying. I don’t think I cried much, but my cheeks were wet.
As she let me go, she said, “I’ve got an idea for a costume that doesn’t look like me, but I’ll need your help, okay?”
We walked downstairs, and watched the truck pull off, followed by Cassie and her mom in her mom’s blue Audi. They’d be switching cars several times before they got to well… wherever.
No one had said.
Vaughn turned to Haley and I, saying, “Well, that sucks.”
I couldn’t argue. We’d defeated Rook, and the Nine for now, but it didn’t feel like we’d won.