I stood up and started feeling around the walls for the light switch. I slapped the steel until I found it. I surveyed the space. It was smaller than the other room I’d been in. It had a sink but no toilet, just a bucket in one corner. A bench was pressed up against the wall by the door, and a shelf with some packets of food and blankets lined the back. And then finally, on the floor, the gun sat cold and waiting.
I didn’t even know if this would work, but I had to try. I pulled the bench over to the middle of the room and tipped it on its side with the wide seat propped up toward the door. I crouched below it, checking the height, and realized that wasn’t going to be much cover. It would have to do though.
As I stood, I tripped over my stupid dress. Huffing, I hunted on the shelves. The thin knife was probably for opening and dividing food, but it worked on the material just fine. Once my dress was cut into an uneven hem around my knees, I took some of the fabric and made a makeshift belt and tucked the knife in it for good measure.
I pulled the blankets over myself, expecting there to be some sort of shrapnel. Looking one more time around the room, I tried to see if there was anything I should take with me, something I could repurpose. No. This was it.
Ducking behind the bench, I aimed the gun at the lock, took a steadying breath, and fired.
The sound echoed in the tiny space, scaring me even though I’d been expecting it. Once I was sure that the bullet wasn’t ricocheting around the room, I went up to check the door. Above the lock, a small crater sat, exposing rough layers of metal. I was upset that I’d missed, but at least I knew this might work. If I hit the lock enough times, maybe I could get out of here.
I hid behind the bench and tried again. Shot after shot hit the door, but never in the same place. After a while, I got frustrated and stood up straight, hoping it would help. All I managed to do was get my arms cut by pieces of the door flying back at me.
It wasn’t until I heard the hollow click that I realized I’d used all the bullets and was stuck. I threw down the gun and ran over to the door. I hit it with all the force of my body.
“Move!” I rammed into it again. “MOVE!”
I hit the door with my fists, accomplishing nothing. “No! No, no, no! I have to get out!”
The door stood there, silent and severe, mocking my heartbreak with its stillness.
I slid down to the floor, crying now that I knew there was nothing I could do. Aspen might be a lifeless body only feet away from me, and Maxon . . . surely by now he was gone.
I curled my legs to my chest and rested my head against the door.
“If you live,” I whispered, “I’ll let you call me your dear. I won’t complain, I promise.”
And then I was left to wait.
Every so often I’d try to guess at the time, though I had no way of knowing if I was right. Each sluggish minute was maddening. I’d never felt so powerless, and the worry was killing me.
After an eternity, I heard the click of the lock. Someone was coming for me. I didn’t know if it was a friend or not, so I pointed the empty gun at the door. It would at least look intimidating. The door creaked open, and the light from the window glared in. Did that mean it was still the same day? Or was it the next? I held my aim though I had to squint to do so.
“Don’t shoot, Lady America!” a guard pleaded. “You’re safe!”
“How do I know that? How do I know you’re not one of them?”
The guard looked down the hall, acknowledging an approaching figure. August stepped into the light, followed closely by Gavril. Though his suit was practically destroyed, his pin—which I now realized looked an awful lot like a North Star—still hung proudly on his bloody lapel.
No wonder the Northern rebels knew so much.
“It’s over, America. We got them,” August confirmed.
I sighed, overwhelmed with relief, and dropped the gun.
“Where’s Maxon? Is he alive? Did Kriss make it?” I asked Gavril before focusing again on August. “There was an officer; he brought me here. His name is Officer Leger; have you seen him?” The words tumbled out almost too quickly to be understood.
I was feeling funny, light-headed.
“I think she’s in shock. Take her to the hospital wing, quickly,” Gavril ordered, and the guard scooped me up easily.
“Maxon?” I asked. No one answered. Or maybe I was gone by then. I couldn’t remember.
When I woke up, I was on a cot. I could feel the stings of my many cuts now, but as I picked up my arm to inspect it, the cuts were all clean, and the larger ones were bandaged. I was safe.
I sat up and looked around, and realized I was in a tiny office. I inspected the desk and the diplomas on the wall and discovered it was Dr. Ashlar’s. I couldn’t stay here. I needed answers.
When I opened the door, I discovered why I’d been tucked away. The hospital wing was packed. Some of the less injured were placed two to a bed, and others were on the floor between them. It was easy to tell that the worst were in beds toward the back of the room. Despite the number of people, the space was remarkably quiet.
I scanned the area, looking for familiar faces. Was it good not to find them here? What did that mean?
Tuesday was in a bed, holding on to Emmica as they cried quietly. I recognized a few of the maids, but only vaguely. They nodded their heads at me as I passed, as if I somehow deserved it.
I started losing hope as the crowd started to thin. Maxon wasn’t here. If he was, he’d have a swarm of people around him, jumping to meet his every need. But I’d been placed in a side room. Maybe he had, too?
I saw a guard, and his face was scarred from what I couldn’t guess. “Is the prince down here somewhere?” I asked quietly.
Solemnly, he shook his head.
A bullet wound and a broken heart would seem like two different injuries. But I could feel myself bleeding out just as surely as Maxon had. No amount of pressure or stitching would ever fix this; nothing would ever stop the ache.
I didn’t break into a scream, though it felt as if something similar was happening inside. I just let the tears fall. They didn’t wash anything away, but they felt like a promise.
Nothing will ever replace you, Maxon. And I sealed our love away.
I turned and saw a bandaged figure in one of the last beds in the wing. Aspen.
My breathing hitched as I took unsteady steps toward him. His head was bandaged, and there was blood staining its way through. His chest was bare and bruised in several places, but the worst part was his leg. A thick cast was wrapped around the bottom, and several bandages were sloppily placed over gashes on his thigh. Wearing nothing but some shorts and a bit of a sheet over his other leg, it was easy to see how badly he’d been wounded.
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