Never Fade Page 82

Only five of the eight kids in Michael’s hunting party followed him out, not saying a single damn word, not taking anything from the pile of supplies, not acknowledging the waves of hands that reached out in silent good-byes. And only one of them turned back to look at me.

I saw the plan unfold in his mind as if he had opened a book and was turning the pages for me. Coming back to camp in the night, turn, sneaking back into the warehouse, turn, unloading every round in their guns on the kids sleeping in small huddles of blankets, turn, the five of them carrying out all of the supplies we’d be bringing back.

My spine stiffened from bone to granite to steel. I shook my head and blasted the plan clear out of his skull.

“Anyone else?” Olivia asked, surveying the huddled masses in front of her. “No? All right. Let’s get to work, then.”

The former occupants of the White Tent had been laid out beside the supplies, kept in a circle of warmth by the ring of blazing trash cans around them. Chubs glanced up from where he was hunched over Vida’s shoulders as I squeezed through the ring, the smell of smoke dragging up one black memory after another. I took a deep breath, pressing a hand against my mouth until Mason’s face had cleared from behind my eyes, and stepped over the sleeping kids. He had set them up in two lines again, this time not piled on top of one another.

“You suck at this!” Vida snarled. “What, did you forget your rake in the car? Pour some water on it and leave it the hell alone!”

She was sitting cross-legged in front of Chubs, her elbows resting on her knees and her face pressed firmly into her hands. It was a shock every time I looked at her now, an ugly little reminder of the previous night. When we returned to the warehouse, it had been obvious to all of us that most of Vida’s long hair couldn’t be saved. She managed to put out the fire before it reached her scalp, thankfully, but the blue ends had been charred and left in uneven patches. With one single, fierce look, she had pulled the small knife Jude had smuggled from the storage room and cut it off herself. Her wavy hair now curled around her ears and chin.

“A rake would make this go faster,” Chubs muttered. “I’m assuming you enjoy the luxury of having skin on your back, though.”

He licked away the sweat from his upper lip. The painstaking process of removing the charred pieces of her shirt from the burn on her shoulders had begun more than an hour ago, and we were all in agony listening to him try to disinfect the area.

“Scoot back!” she hissed. “You smell like unwashed ass.”

“How’s it going?” I asked, crouching down beside him.

“Could be better,” he muttered, “could be worse.”

“I am going to straight up murder you,” Vida said, her voice trembling with the intensity of the pain, “right in the face.”

The tweezers in Chubs’s hand stilled, just for an instant. He cleared his throat, but when he spoke again, the heat had evaporated from his voice. “Please. If it means getting away from you for five minutes, I’d gladly let you do it.”

“Could be much worse,” I amended, looking around again. “I have the list of all the meds you gave to Jude, but was there anything else you wanted me to look for?”

He set the rag back in the water. “Sterile gauze for Vida’s burns, any kind of disinfectant like alcohol pads…any complete first-aid kits if they have them, really.”

“What about other medicine?” I pressed, forcing myself not to look at Liam’s still form. “Something else to treat their pneumonia?”

Chubs rubbed the back of his hand against his forehead, closing his eyes. “There’s really nothing else, and even then the medicine will only work if it’s bacterial pneumonia. If it’s viral and it’s already this bad, I’m not even sure IV fluid would help.”

“There’s nothing else…not even in your book?”

He’d insisted on trekking all the way back to the car to retrieve some kind of medical text his dad had given him to double-check the list of medicine.

Chubs shook his head.

I felt the scream burning at the base of my throat. NOT HIM. Not Liam. Please don’t take him, too. I wondered if this was what all of those parents had felt like once IAAN had gone public and they knew there was a 98 percent chance their kids wouldn’t make it through, no matter what they did to help them.

“When are you leaving?” Chubs asked. “Who’s going with you?”

“In a few hours,” I said. “It’ll be most of the hunting groups, but a few of the guys are staying behind. And Vida.”

The gunfire flashing through that boy’s mind had been enough for me to worry about any other plans they might have for retaking their old home tonight. If they were stupid enough to try something, they’d be guaranteed some serious pain and trauma for their effort.

“And that’s comforting, how?” he asked.

Vida reached behind her, trying to punch whatever part of him she could reach.

“You’re done,” she announced, bolting. The strips of the shirt he had shredded to wrap her burns with fell out of his lap as he lunged after her. We watched her stumble through the ring of fire around us, Chubs’s eyes narrowing with every clumsy step she took. Slowly, after she’d disappeared into the kids milling around us, he turned to look at me.

“Yes,” I said. “You have to go after her.”

He raised his eyebrows in challenge.

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