Never Fade Page 81

“How are we supposed to do that with this?” Michael demanded. He shook his head, the ripped collar of his shirt falling open to reveal the strips of pale pink burn scars bubbling over his neck and shoulders. He jerked a thumb back toward the measly pile of supplies. “You’re as stupid as you are ugly, aren’t you?”

“Hey!” Brett barked, taking a charging step toward him. Michael backed off with a sneer.

“We start by making sure those kids back there survive,” Olivia continued, “that we all survive this winter. If you help Ruby and me with this hit, we’ll be able to feed ourselves for months. We’ll save their lives and, in the process, ours.”

“And where’s this magical land of make-believe, huh?” Michael pressed.

“One of the hangars at John C. Tune Airport,” Olivia fired back, meeting his gaze dead-on. “Does anyone know where it is?”

Brett raised his hand. “It’s a couple miles west of here, I think—ten at the most.”

“Okay,” Olivia said. Her jeans hung loose off her hips, half hidden by the jacket she fished out of the supply pile for herself. “That’s doable.”

“No,” Michael snarled, “it’s a trap. And anyone who agrees to participate in this shit show deserves what he or she gets.”

The kids in white—the hunters—began to shift, their teeth on edge. My mind stirred in response. I had just turned my gaze on him when Olivia spoke again.

“Look, if this is going to work—and it can, and it will—things have got to change around here. We can’t just be a tribe of Blues. No—no, listen to me!” Olivia raised her voice over the startled protests. “This isn’t about colors. It should never have been. This has to be a place where we don’t separate out by colors. This has to be a place of respect. If you can’t respect one another and your abilities, if you aren’t willing to help one another understand, then this won’t be the place for you.”

“And you get to decide this, why?” Michael pressed. “Who are you exactly to try to step up here? We had a system that worked pretty damn fine before. You want us to go soft? There’s a reason we only ran with other Blues—the rest of you are so goddamn pathetic you can’t do anything, not even protect yourselves.”

Olivia hesitated; her own doubts about herself had been simmering below the surface of her scarred skin. The doubt radiated off her, infecting everyone standing nearby. She seemed to wilt in front of me. I felt a small jolt of panic rush through me, like a second, unwanted heartbeat. We weren’t done yet. I needed her help—I needed her to be strong.

“Black is the color.”

I fought through the press of memory, letting those same words wash over me. Hearing them curled softly by Liam’s Southern accent, exactly as they had when he’d first said it all those months ago. “Black is still the color.”

She got it. I didn’t need pretty words to explain and, really, there were no words to describe what that place had been to us. We had been there together, had worked together, lived together, survived together. East River hadn’t just been a camp—it was an idea, a signal fire. A belief. Clancy might have been the Slip Kid, but so was every other kid who dodged the system. Who didn’t go quietly. Who wasn’t ashamed or afraid of what he or she was.

“Being smart doesn’t mean being soft,” I continued. “You can stay or you can go, but just remember—if you run, you run alone. And trust me, it’s a long, lonely road.”

“That’s right,” Olivia said finally. “If you want to go, now’s the time. Just know, though, that from this day on you will never stop running, not until they catch you. Never.”

“This is stupid!” Michael shouted. “It’s not how it’s supposed to work. If you think any of my guys are gonna support this—”

“Then, beat it,” Olivia said. “If you don’t like it, go. This only works if you want to be here. Take whatever you need and hit the road.”

I pushed myself off the small stage and walked right up to him. Michael was all razor edges and steel skin when I had been farther away from him, but I could see the way he was shaking now. He stood a full head over me, outweighed me by dozens of pounds, was armed…and none of it mattered. I didn’t have to pry inside his head to know that he was replaying last night. That his thoughts were looping on what I’d done to Knox.

What I can’t do to him.

The knowing hit me square in the teeth, stopping me dead in my tracks. I could influence him, that wasn’t even a question. But he’d been so outspoken and openly hostile that if I flipped him now, his miraculously sudden change of heart would raise suspicions. They would all know that I could and would do the same to them. They’d still be just as afraid of me, only then they’d be motivated enough to do something about it.

Michael stared at me, breathing heavily. Olivia was at my back in an instant, arms crossed over her chest. He licked his lips and started forward, the old hunting rifle at his side clattering with the force of his step.

“No man, come on,” another kid in white said, gripping him by the shoulder. “We don’t got to stay.”

Michael shrugged, throwing the other boy’s grip off him. He started toward the loading dock door, then spun toward Brett. “You too, huh?”

“When things go bad, you gotta fix them,” Brett said quietly.

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