Never Fade Page 84

This is a place we don’t have to lie.


Vida and Chubs were standing in front of the fire barrels, watching me with twin expressions of concern. How long had they been standing there listening? Chubs took a step toward me, but I waved him off. “I’m okay, he just…”

I crouched down, putting my head in my hands, forcing in two deep, steadying breaths.

Not possible.

“Are you sure?” Chubs repeated, his voice sounding colder than before. “Are you finished playing this game?”

I nodded, keeping my eyes on the ground at his feet. My stomach rolled and heaved. I could hear Liam struggling with the blanket twisted between his legs, my mind suddenly stirring.

“You think it’s okay to be all sweet to him like this now and confuse him even more? The plan is still to take the flash drive and dump us for the League, right?” he demanded. “What’s going to happen when he wakes up?”

“She’s going to mope around and pretend like she’s never met him before in all the sad, pathetic years of her life,” Vida said, sitting down a short distance away. “Because this is a grab-and-go operation. Ruby knows that’s all this is, doesn’t she? She said she wouldn’t let her feelings get all mixed up and twisty about this, didn’t she?”

I swallowed hard. “I know. Can you… Will you tell him why we’re here?”

“The truth?” Chubs challenged, his voice sharp.

It started as a single cough, but I recognized the first sharp gasp behind me for what it was. Liam struggled against his blankets, trying to get his hands up to his throat as he fought for the next breath. He sucked at the air, trying to twist onto his side, but he couldn’t get himself over onto his shoulder. There was no way to tell which of us moved first. By the time I reached Liam’s side, Chubs was there, too, propping his friend up to keep him from choking.

“It’s okay,” Chubs said, leaning him forward so he could pat his back. He sounded calm, but a sheen of sweat had broken out on his forehead. “One breath at a time. You’re fine. You’re okay.”

He didn’t sound okay. He sounded like…

He’s going to die. My hands twisted in my hair. After everything, he was going to die here, like this, fighting and failing and drifting away to a place I couldn’t reach him.

“Water?” Vida asked as she hobbled over with a plastic bottle in her hand. I hated the hard glint to her eyes. The judgment I saw her pass on Liam’s condition and the look of pity she sent my way.

“No,” Chubs said, “it might obstruct his airways. Ruby. Ruby—he’s going to be okay; I’m going to keep him awake and make sure he moves around. I need that medicine. I need fluids, heat packs, anything. Quickly.”

I nodded, fisting my hands in my hair, forcing in one damp breath after another.

“Roo!” Jude’s voice floated over to us a moment before he appeared at the edge of the fires, holding up a familiar black jacket. “I found it, I found it, I found it!”

The three of us shushed him.

“Come here!” I waved him over, taking the jacket before he could accidentally light it on fire. I had only gotten a quick look at the coat in Cole’s memories, and even then, it had been half hidden by the shadows swirling there—but this looked close enough, even if it wasn’t black. The jacket was dark gray, waxed canvas with a flannel interior, and even after being separated from its current owner, it still smelled like him. Pine, fire smoke, and sweat. I felt both Vida’s and Chubs’s eyes on me as I ran my fingers along the seams, until they found the hard, rectangular lump that Cole had stitched into the dark lining.

“He’s right.” I passed the jacket over to Vida. “Leave it in there for now; we’ll cut it out after we go.”

My eyes drifted back to Liam’s ashen face. It screwed up with the effort of the next cough, but it sounded stronger to me somehow, like he was clearing out the blockage. Jude hovered behind me, taking all of this in, too. The pride beaming from his face drained away. His hand closed tightly around my shoulder, either to steady himself or me. Both, I guess.

“Can you go tell Olivia I’m ready when she is?” I asked. “And—hey—” I caught the back of his shirt. “Find yourself something warmer to wear, will you?”

A clumsy salute was all I got in exchange for that. Vida raised her brows as he bounced away, a smug Good luck with that one! look stamped across her face. Maybe Vida was right and I should have forced him to stay behind, but there was no telling what kind of tech we were going to encounter. He might not have been able to hit a target a foot away or run more than a hundred feet, but as a Yellow, Jude had been specifically trained to handle electronic locks and security systems.

I helped Chubs lower Liam back onto the ground, but he caught my hands before I could pull back. His eyes slid from his friend’s pale face to mine.

“Is this really better than it would have been if you’d just stayed together?”

I flinched.

“You think you maybe overestimated his ability to take care of his own sorry ass without us?” Chubs asked. “Just a little?”

It wasn’t better, but it wasn’t necessarily worse. Chubs could pick at this scab all he wanted, turning and pointing every single time the wound started bleeding again, but he didn’t understand. The Liam in front of us was a reflection of the world we were forced to live in, and as cruel and harsh as it was…at least it wasn’t the Liam the League would have turned out: a violent, unforgiving reflection of how they thought the world should be.

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