“Let me see it.” I took his hand carefully between mine, examining it. The touch was enough to drive my pulse back up, to spark a charge under my skin again. His eyes moved over me; I felt it like a second, sweet touch, and I wondered if he had missed this too, if he’d looked at me and felt the warmth pooling at his center. The need.
He’d broken the skin over his knuckles when he’d struck the wall, but the bleeding had already stopped, and the swelling and bruising had begun. I probed the delicate bones carefully, letting my loose braid fall over my shoulder. His other hand reached for it, took it between his fingers, and ran down its length. I caught my breath as he brushed against my collarbone. Closed my eyes. I felt the warmth around us shift as he leaned toward me, ran his finger along that ridge of exposed skin. I didn’t deserve the tenderness, but it had been so long, and I wanted him too badly to care.
I raised the hand between mine and pressed my lips against the torn knuckles. He closed his eyes and shuddered.
“Not broken,” I whispered against his skin. “Just bruised.”
“What about us?”
The question filled me with equal parts hope and fear. “I can’t forget, can you?”
“Does that matter, though?” he asked. “I don’t want to forget. There’s so much behind us, it’s true, but does it matter if we’re going the same way forward? The past few days have been hell. I see your face and it’s like—I wish—I wish I had never written that stupid note. I wish I had told you about Alice. I just wanted to feel something other than useless. I wanted you to see something good in me.”
“Liam—” My breath hitched. “I’ve never seen anything else. I want so much to have a real life. To be someone who can go home and be with her family again. I thought that I could fix myself and be the kind of person who deserves someone like you. Someone who deserves Zu, Chubs, Vida, Jude, Nico, Cate. I thought I could fix myself with the cure. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, to be done with this. But now, I just want to be kinder to myself. I don’t want anyone to implant anything in my head, or mess with who I am. When all of this is over, however long it takes, I won’t ever have to use my abilities again. But for now I have to, and I have to trust myself to do right by everyone. Tell me what I have to do, to earn the right to have you in my life, and I’ll do it—I’ll do anything—”
Liam’s hand slid up my hair to brush my cheek. Relief, pure and beautiful, bloomed in me as his mouth covered mine. When he pulled back, he watched my reaction carefully. When I offered a small smile, he kissed me again, and my last reservations fell away, shattering. I deepened the kiss, trying to leave him as breathless as I felt.
He pulled back, his face flushed, eyes bright. I knew the look on his face mirrored mine. My whole body was trembling, desperate to continue, to chase the fierce love I felt for him. Carefully avoiding his bad hand, Liam shifted onto his knees and started to rise from the floor, reaching down to help me do the same. He startled suddenly as he caught something at the edge of his vision.
“What is this?” he asked, taking a step closer to the printout taped up to the wall.
“That’s Thurmond,” I said. “Harry was able to work some contact in the government to get the image.”
Liam turned toward me slowly. “That’s...all Thurmond?”
I stepped up next to him, leaning against his shoulder. “Control Tower, Infirmary, Mess Hall, Factory...I labeled them, see?”
He nodded, silent. “Where did you live?”
I reached past where he was standing to one of dozens of tiny brown structures circling the imposing brick tower. “Cabin Twenty-seven, right here.”
“Ruby, this is...all the times you told me about the camp, I knew it was big, but not like...this.” He shook his head, muttering something I couldn’t quite hear under his breath. When he turned to me again, Liam looked stricken.
“Do you see now?” I asked. “If we hit Thurmond, it has to be an assault. It would take hundreds of civilians to overwhelm the PSFs, and that’s only if they can get through the gate. But I like what you guys are trying to do—I think we need to merge the plans. Focus the media blast on Thurmond and release the information in conjunction with the attack. We can use it as an opportunity to set up a meeting point for parents to pick up their kids once we have them out.”
“But someone has to go in and install a program to disable the security system first,” he said. “It’s exactly what I thought. You want to go in.”
“I have to,” I said.
“No, you don’t,” he said sharply. “There’s no way in hell I’m letting you do that! Promise me that when I get back we can sit down and talk that part of the plan through, too. Ruby, please.” He looked so devastated at just the idea of it, I heard myself agree. We could talk, but it wouldn’t change anything. It had to be this way.
He squeezed my hand. “I’m such an idiot...I really thought he only brought Harry into this to get at me. But it’s because he would actually be able to handle this kind of operation.”
“He really wants to be part of it,” I told him.
“Who—Harry? You talked to Harry?”
“Just for a second,” I said. “He told me that they found Cate and the others and extracted them from their prison.”
Liam gave a faint laugh. “Of course. Action Hero Harry. You should meet Sports Fan Harry, Master Chef Harry, and Mechanic Harry. The guy does nothing by half measures.”