Never Fade Page 78

“Help me,” he begged, “please.”

“It’s all right, Mason. It’s okay; you’re safe.” I could dive into his thoughts again—my mind spun with possibilities. I could erase his memory, what he had been through, everything he had seen. I could leave the skinned knees, sunshine days on the playground, his mom’s sweet smile. Only the good. He deserved that. Mason needed to be free from this.

“I’m scared,” he whispered, his cheeks slick with tears and blood. “I wanna go home—”

The bullet cut so close to my ear, it nicked the edge of it. I felt a stab of pain and a warm rush of blood, pitching forward against Mason to protect him. The shot had come from above—I heard Vida scream something, but I didn’t fully register what had happened until she grabbed me by the shoulders and hauled me off the Red, throwing me down to the ground. Knox or whoever had taken the shot at me wasn’t going to get another clean one off, not if she had anything to do with it.

My front was drenched in warm wetness. My shirt clung to my skin awkwardly; I tried to smooth it all out, but my hands were frozen as I looked down at myself. Half dazed, I wondered how it was even possible my ear could have bled so much already.

“No, dammit!” Vida’s voice rose above the buzzing in my ears. “No, goddamn you!”

I pushed myself upright and turned toward her horrified voice. The faint hum in my ears sharpened, distilling until I could make out the distinct crying and whispers from the kids above us. They were all looking at the Red boy, watching the blood bubble up from where the bullet had lodged in his throat, watching him choke and sputter, his hands clawing at the ground. The space between his breaths stretched longer and longer, until the last exhale came out in a strangled sigh.

I couldn’t speak, couldn’t hear, couldn’t see anything but Mason. My hands rose in front of me with a life of their own, my eyes fixed on the pool of blood that spread across the cement until the edge reached my knees.

“I missed,” Knox said. I craned my neck around, watching as he lowered the silver handgun just a tiny bit. “Oh well. Mama did say it was important to throw out broken toys.”

The fury rose in me like a fever, burning away every last trace of reluctance. And I didn’t even have to think about it; there wasn’t a choice to be made. I pushed myself onto my feet, whirling back toward him.

He only had to look at me, flick his gaze toward mine with that arrogant smirk. I felt the rising waves of anger distill to a perfect, piercing strike.

Knox’s mind rose in my own like a hot blister, swelling and swelling each time I brushed it until finally it burst, and a gush of liquid memories came pouring out. I didn’t have the patience or care to examine them. Ignored the thick, congealed memories of fists, and belts, and angry words that blew up like bombs in his dark world; I pushed through military academies, buzzed hair, beatings—I pushed until Knox dropped to his knees.

It was like the air had been sucked out of the room along with everyone’s voices. The fires crackled as they devoured the rest of the wood in the barrels. I heard Vida drag herself toward me, sucking in a sharp, pained gasp. It was like their faces were in orbit around us; there was no one else in the world besides him and me.

“Knox—?” The boy next to him still had his gun leveled at us, but he risked a glance down at Knox. He watched, the same way we all did, as Knox threaded his fingers through his hair and began to rock back and forth.

“Come down here,” I said coldly. “Right now.”

A few of the kids made weak attempts to grab him and keep him in place, but he fought past them. I felt a thrill of power at the thought—the hold I had on him now was so strong, he would have fought them off to get to me. He flipped a rope ladder over the edge of the walkway and began to work his way down.

“What’s going on?” someone shouted. “Knox! What the hell?”

Knox stumbled past Vida, who was watching this all with wide eyes from the ground. I’m not sure if she figured it out right then or just wanted to take advantage of the moment, but she lifted her face, streaked with soot and sweat. Her foot swung around, tripping him, sending him sprawling over himself to the ground at my feet.

“Are you happy?” she yelled to him, to the kids around us. “Did you get off watching that? Did we pass your stupid test?”

Apparently there was only one person who decided whether or not a kid passed, and that was the one who had dropped down onto his knees in front of me.

“I want you to apologize,” I said. “Now. To Mason. To all of these kids for what you did to them, for never giving them what they needed or deserved. For making them fight another kid and pretending like that’s the only way we have to survive in this world.” I knelt down in front of him. “I want you to apologize for the kids you left outside to die, the ones you said were worthless and who you treated like they were invisible. Because unfortunately for you, they weren’t invisible to me.”

“Sorry.” It was a frail whisper, a shadow of a word. Several kids gasped, but more were stunned into speechlessness. And still, I could tell by the faces around me that a single word wasn’t nearly enough. It would never be.

“Tell them your real name,” I ordered.

His pupils flared, like he was struggling to fight off my control. I strengthened my grip, my lips turning up in a small smile as he shook. “Wes Truman.”

“And are you the Slip Kid, Wes?”

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