I flipped it open, and my real face greeted me with a smile. It was my school picture, clipped to a report card I couldn’t read. I must have been seven or eight—I still had freckles from staying out in the sun too long, and I was missing my front tooth.
Tearing my eyes away, I flipped through the other pictures. There were more than I could have ever imagined, detailing every important moment of my life, including what looked like the day I was born. I squinted at the typed pages that filled the folder to bursting, hoping in vain that the words would make sense for the first time in my life. But they remained a mystery, and the only clues I had were those pictures.
Some of them were noticeably older than the others, yellowing around the edges and slightly discolored. This wasn’t a file Augusta had compiled after I’d been Masked as Lila—she’d been keeping tabs on me throughout my entire life. But why?
I frowned. As badly as I wanted to know, I had another more important question right now, and I was holding the answer in my hands. There was only one file left I hadn’t looked through, and I opened the pages, careful not to touch whatever was inside.
It was slimmer than mine, but still full of the same things—papers I couldn’t read, what looked like a copy of the test everyone in the country had to take on their seventeenth birthday, and certificates I didn’t recognize. And at the bottom of the pile was a single photograph.
Two young men with light hair and dark eyes stood side by side, sporting carefree smiles I envied. They both wore black uniforms, and insignias on their lapels announced their high ranks. One of the men looked strangely familiar, but they both resembled one another in a way that only family could. Brothers? They had to be. They had the same nose, the same eyes, and the same dimpled chin, and the way they slung their arms around one another made it obvious they were more than comrades or patrol partners.
Which one had been Masked as Daxton? I glanced back and forth between them. Did I recognize the man on the left because I subconsciously associated him with Daxton, or had I seen him before? And the man on the right—he shared Daxton’s eyes, the only part of the human body doctors couldn’t modify to resemble someone else’s. Then again, they both did.
The soft sound of footsteps outside the door pulled me from my trance, and I snapped the folder shut and gathered the rest. As silently as I could, I tucked the unnecessary folders back into the safe and closed the portrait before climbing up the bookshelves toward the grate, my file and Daxton’s tucked securely in my arm.
Once I settled back in the ventilation system, I took a deep breath, my mind spinning. Benjy would tell me what was in my file. He would read it to me, and I would know within the hour what secrets Augusta had kept from me.
But if I went to Knox instead, it was the other file that would give me leverage. It could buy me a way to keep Benjy safe outside of Somerset. Something this valuable to the Blackcoats—it could be the ticket to everything we both wanted. I couldn’t change my past, but my future was wide-open. And I wanted it to be as far from D.C. as possible.
My mind made up, I crawled through the vent, pushing the files along in front of me. If Knox wanted to know who Daxton really was, then I hoped he was in the mood to bargain.
By the time I dropped back into my suite, I held only my thick folder. It had taken me another twenty minutes to hide the fake Daxton’s file where no one would ever find it, not without my help, and the only way Knox was going to get it was if he helped me first.
Now that that was done, I turned to unlock the door that led out into the hallway, wondering if Knox was still standing there or if he’d given up and returned to his suite by now. Either way, we had to talk before I left, and I wasn’t going to wait until morning.
“You know you’re not supposed to crawl around the vents anymore.”
I jumped and whirled around, the folder nearly slipping from my grip. Knox sat in front of my fireplace, his dark eyes gleaming with annoyance and a glass of something I wasn’t so sure was water in his hand.
“Have you really been waiting this whole time?” I said casually as if this wasn’t weird at all. I crossed the room to Lila’s desk and set the file down.
Knox rose. “Where have you been, Kitty?” he said, a note of warning in his voice. “It’s been an hour.”
“Saving your cowardly ass, that’s where.”
“My ass is anything but cowardly,” he said as he approached, glass still in hand. I wrinkled my nose. Definitely not water. “What’s that?”
“This?” I opened the file and began to flip through it. “Oh, you know, nothing too much. Just my entire past.” I held up a picture of me at five years old. “Care to explain why Augusta had this?”
Knox furrowed his brow and snatched the file from the desk. A handful of pictures fluttered to the floor. “Where did you get this?”
“The same place I found Daxton’s file,” I said, bending down to pick up the photos. “Along with evidence of who he really is. You’re welcome.”
“I’m not thanking you.” A second later, the weight of what I’d said seemed to settle over him, and he stilled in the middle of rifling through the pages. “You have a file like this on the fake Daxton?”
I nodded. “There’s only one picture, but it has other documents that must have his name on them somewhere.”
“Where is it?”
“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “Help Benjy and me get to the bunker safely, guarantee us the Blackcoats’ protection, and I’ll tell you where it is. After you tell me why Augusta has been watching me my whole life, of course.”