I pressed my lips to his knuckles to show I was just teasing. Finally—finally—I was rewarded with a smile.
His soft cotton shirt had ridden up his back slightly, exposing a sliver of skin. I wanted to touch it, so I did. I dragged his shirt up that much farther as I worked my fingers up and down his back in soft strokes.
“Feels nice,” he whispered. “Will you stay? I don’t want to see anyone but you for a while.”
He moved back toward the wall, a silent invitation to slide into the small bunk beside him. It felt so good and easy now; I knew exactly how we fit together, as if we’d been cut from the same pattern.
“You okay?” I asked, fingers worrying the front of his shirt. Liam wrapped an arm around my waist, drawing me closer. Everything that came out of the laundry practically reeked of detergent and bleach, including the shirt he wore, but underneath it all was this scent that was all warm skin and evergreens and mint toothpaste. And that was Liam.
The scent had a drugging effect on my system. I took in one steadying breath after another.
“Just dog-tired, darlin’.”
The silence that followed was the first true spell of calm I’d experienced in months. It was the dim, shadowed light, the steady rise and fall of his chest against my cheek, his warmth pressed against mine. All of these things conspired against me; one moment I was awake, Liam’s fingers carefully stroking the loose hair back out of my face, the next I was slipping into a slow, sweet doze.
The soft kiss was the only thing to bring me out of it.
“Dinner time,” he said, his own voice sounding rough from sleep. “They just shouted down the hall.”
And yet, neither of us moved.
“What did you do today?” he asked after a while. “I didn’t even ask...”
“Are you sure you want to know?”
He leaned back at that, the focus in his eyes sharpening.
“I got us into Clancy’s private collection of files. Besides a list of the different tribes and their last known locations, it basically was a digital scrapbook of nightmares.”
“How did you get access?”
Now it was my turn to fix him with a look. “The usual way.”
I watched his reaction carefully, already feeling the words settle between us, add to that space. They were an unwelcome reminder. This is what I do. This is who I am.
He took it in stride. “Was there anything about the cure on there?”
“A bit about the testing they did at Thurmond to find the cause. But...it turns out that they’re going to close Thurmond down at the end of March.”
“Oh, damn,” he said, “I’m sorry.”
“Cole still wants to plan a hit.”
“Well...I guess two months is better than two weeks,” he said. “We’ll figure it out. But can I ask you something, and can I get an honest answer out of you?”
I bristled a bit at that.
“This quartermaster thing you suggested, me being in charge of supplies...is it a consolation prize?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is this a way to keep me here? Keep me behind, I mean. When things get rolling with the camps, am I going to be left waiting here, hoping everybody comes back in one piece?”
“You mean, exactly what we’re all going to be doing while you’re out looking for supplies?” I said. “No. And for what it’s worth, Cole was only panicking because you didn’t tell him where you were going. It was the same for me—you were just gone. I know you can fight if you have to, but I don’t know that he does.”
“He has no idea what I’ve been through...what I’ve had to do. He acts like I don’t even know how to use a gun.” His hands bunched up the back of my shirt. “I do, though. Harry taught me before I left home. I just don’t want to shoot one unless I have to.”
“That’s the way it should be,” I told him. “Sometimes I can’t believe that this happened to us, and I wonder when it became so natural to pick up a gun and act like it’s nothing. I have to teach the other kids how to shoot, and I have no idea how I’m going to do it. I don’t know how to show them how absurd and terrible it is that they even have to learn.”
“Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way,” he said, quietly. “Maybe we don’t have to actually show up with guns blazing.”
I’m not sure I could have been more surprised if he’d suggested we should just go straight to the top and assassinate Gray. I’d based my camp liberation plan on the one he and the others had come up with at East River. And both involved considerable use of force.
“No, it has to be a real fight,” I said. “They have to take us seriously. The thing is...what I can’t get over is, how the kids will take it. What’ll happen if they find themselves in the position to kill and pull the trigger. We can train them to steady their nerves and we can give them targets to practice with, but it feels like forcing them to drink poison that’ll never leave their system. I know it’s a sacrifice and that they’ll be the ones choosing to make it, but I worry about the cost. I’m afraid of what we’ll be at the end of the road.”
Look at what it’s done to us. Zu’s crying face the other night floated to the forefront of my mind, only to be replaced by the memory of Chubs’s confession about the requirements of becoming a skip tracer; him being shot; Liam’s battered face—all of these were linked in my mind now. They’d never fade, not even in the afterlight of all of this.
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