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After a quick survey, he popped down again. “I’m going to get her out of here before she really loses it.”

He crawled over me and grabbed Kriss, who was covering her ears and crying in earnest. Aspen pulled her face up and slapped her. She was stunned into silence long enough to listen to his orders and follow him from the room, shielding her head as she went.

It was getting quieter. People must be leaving now. Or dying.

And then I noticed a very still leg hanging out from under the tablecloth. Oh, God! Maxon!

I scurried under the table to find Maxon breathing with great labor, a large red stain growing across his shirt. There was a wound below his left shoulder, and it looked very serious.

“Oh, Maxon,” I cried. Unsure of what else to do, I balled up the hem of my dress in my hands and pressed it to the bullet wound. He winced a bit. “I’m so sorry.”

He reached up his hand and covered mine. “No, I’m sorry,” he said. “I was about to ruin both our lives.”

“Don’t talk right now. Just focus, okay?”

“Look at me, America.”

I blinked a few times and pulled my gaze up to his eyes. Through the pain, he smiled at me.

“Break my heart. Break it a thousand times if you like. It was only ever yours to break anyway.”

“Shhh,” I urged.

“I’ll love you until my very last breath. Every beat of my heart is yours. I don’t want to die without you knowing that.”

“Please don’t,” I choked.

He took his hand off mine and laced it through my hair. The pressure was light, but it was enough for me to know what he wanted. I bent to kiss him. It was every kiss we’d ever had, all the uncertainty, all the hope.

“Don’t give up, Maxon. I love you; please don’t give up.”

He took an unsteady breath.

Aspen ducked under the table then, and I squealed in fear before I realized who it was.

“Kriss is in a safe room, Your Majesty,” Aspen said, all business. “Your turn. Can you stand?”

He shook his head. “A waste of time. Take her.”

“But, Your Majesty—”

“That’s an order,” he said as forcefully as he could manage.

Maxon and Aspen stared at each other for a long second.

“Yes, sir.”

“No! I won’t go!” I insisted.

“You’ll go,” Maxon said, sounding tired.

“Come on, Mer. We’ll have to hurry.”

“I’m not leaving!”

Quickly, as if he might suddenly be fine, Maxon reached up to Aspen’s uniform and clutched it in his hands. “She lives. Do you understand me? Whatever it takes, she lives.”

Aspen nodded and grabbed my arm harder than I thought possible.

“No!” I cried. “Maxon, please!”

“Be happy,” he breathed, squeezing my hand one last time as Aspen dragged me away, screaming.

As we got to the door, Aspen pushed me up against the wall. “Shut up! They’ll hear you. The sooner I get you to a safe room, the sooner I can come back for him. You have to do whatever I say, got it?”

I nodded.

“Okay, stay low and quiet,” he said, pulling out his gun again and dragging me into the hall.

We looked up and down, and saw someone running away from us at the far end of the corridor. Once he was gone we moved. Around the corner we stumbled upon a guard on the ground. Aspen checked his pulse and shook his head. He reached over and grabbed the guard’s gun, and handed it to me.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” I whispered, terrified.

“Fire it. But make sure you know if it’s a friend or a foe before you do. This is mayhem.”

It was a tense few minutes of ducking into corners and checking safe rooms that were already taken and locked. It seemed that most of the action had moved upstairs or outside, because the pops of gunshots and faceless screams were muffled by walls. Still, each time we heard a whisper of a sound, we paused before moving.

Aspen peeked around a corner. “This is a dead end, so keep a lookout.”

I nodded. We moved quickly to the end of the short hallway, and the first thing I noticed was the bright sun coming in through the window. Didn’t the sky know the world was falling apart? How could the sun shine today?

“Please, please, please,” Aspen whispered, reaching for the lock. Mercifully, it opened. “Yes!” He sighed, pulling back the door, blocking half the hall from view.

“Aspen, I don’t want to do this.”

“You have to. You have to be safe, for so many people. And . . . I need you to do something for me.”


He fidgeted. “If something happens to me . . . I need you to tell—”

Over his shoulder, a hint of red came from behind the corner at the end of the hall. I jerked the gun up and pointed it past Aspen, firing at the figure. Not a second later, Aspen pushed me into the safe room and slammed the door, leaving me alone in the dark.


I DON’T KNOW HOW LONG I sat there. I kept listening for something outside the door, even though I knew it was useless. When Maxon and I had been locked in a safe room a few weeks ago, we couldn’t hear a single sound from the outside world. And there had been so much destruction then.

Still, I hoped. Maybe Aspen was okay and would open the door at any second. He couldn’t be dead. No. Aspen was a fighter; he’d always been a fighter. When hunger and poverty threatened him, he pushed back. When the world took away his dad, he made sure his family survived. When the Selection took me, when the draft took him, he didn’t let it stop him from hoping. Compared to all that, a bullet was tiny, insignificant. No bullet was taking down Aspen Leger.

I pressed my ear up to the door, praying for a word, a breath, anything. I focused, listening for something that sounded like Maxon’s labored breathing as he lay dying underneath the table.

I pinched my eyes together, begging God to keep him alive. Certainly, everyone in the palace would be looking for Maxon and his parents. They would be the first ones helped. They wouldn’t let him die; they couldn’t.

But was it past hope?

He’d looked so pale. Even the last squeeze of my hand was weak.

Be happy.

He loved me. He really loved me. And I loved him. In spite of everything that should have kept us apart—our castes, our mistakes, the world around us—we were supposed to be together.

I should be with him. Especially now, while he lay dying. I shouldn’t be hiding.


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