Inside the box lay a gold picture frame with a labyrinth pattern carved into the edges. It wasn’t the frame that surprised me, though—it was the picture of Lila and Greyson inside. They sat together in the library buried in the heart of Somerset, and though Greyson held a book, he watched Lila out of the corner of his eye, a secret smile playing on his lips as he tried to see what she was drawing on her sketch pad.

No, not Lila’s sketch pad, I realized with a jolt. Mine. That girl wasn’t Lila—she was me.

I studied the look on Greyson’s face in the picture. He looked relaxed and happy—the kind of happy you couldn’t fake. “When...?”

“While Daxton was unconscious,” said Greyson. He cleared his throat, and his cheeks flushed. “Right before you saved my life.”

“I didn’t save your life,” I said. “It was never in any danger in the first place.”

He shrugged again. “I was going to tell Grandmother I didn’t want to be Prime Minister. I think she knew, but if I outright refused...” His Adam’s apple bobbed, and his eyes turned red. “Do you think she would have replaced me, too?”

Forgetting for a moment all that had happened and every reason he had for not wanting me anywhere near him, I closed the distance between us and wrapped my arms around him. “I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I do know she loved you more than anything, though.”

At first he didn’t move, but after several seconds, he finally returned my embrace, hugging me tight enough to bruise. “Because of who I am,” he managed, his voice breaking, “or because of who I was supposed to be once she decided to get rid of the impostor and make me Prime Minister instead?”

I couldn’t answer that. Maybe that was all Augusta had ever been—the kind of person who had no problem saying goodbye to the people she loved if it brought her more power. Or maybe that had been the armor she’d worn to protect her deepest vulnerabilities. I’d only ever seen the bad in her; it was Greyson who had seen the good, if there’d been any to begin with. “It doesn’t matter now,” I said. “Remember her the way you want, and try to forget the rest.”

His shoulders shook, and he clung to me the way I clung to Benjy in my worst moments. He had no one. His parents and older brother were dead; the man pretending to be his father was really a Masked stranger; Lila had disappeared underground; and Knox was so busy trying to change the world that half the time he didn’t have a second to spare for me, let alone Greyson. I was it, and whether or not he’d forgiven me for what I’d done to the last family he had left, his face in the picture had said it all. And I was going to walk away from him to save my own skin.

No, he would have Lila once the rebellion was over. She and Celia would return, and Greyson would have his family again. He wouldn’t have to be Prime Minister if he didn’t want to be, and in the end, everything would work out for him. If I wasn’t there to make sure of it, Knox would.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, pulling away after nearly a minute had passed. I started to tell him he had nothing to be sorry for, but he took the picture frame from me and fiddled with something on the back. “Here. This is what I wanted to show you.”

I took the frame back and blinked. Instead of Greyson and I sitting together in the library, it now held a picture of Benjy with his arms around a girl with a round face, dirty blond hair, and bright blue eyes.

My mouth dropped open. Once again, that girl was me—actually me, Kitty Doe, before I’d been Masked as Lila. Benjy’s shock of red hair was as vivid as ever, and he bent his head to kiss my cheek as I grinned ear to ear. Unlike the picture with Greyson, I remembered the moment this had been taken, almost a year ago. The brand-new sweater I wore gave it away. It had been our last Christmas together in the group home—the last one our matron, Nina, had seen before Daxton had hunted and killed her in the vast forests of Elsewhere.

I traced my old face over the glass. Everything about it was different now, and I would never look in the mirror and see Kitty Doe again. I almost hadn’t recognized myself, and seeing this picture now—the only one I had from before I’d been Masked as Lila—made my insides knot together. I’d had nothing then, only Benjy and the hope of a better future. That better future had turned into a III and a job cleaning sewers, and only the strange color of my eyes had saved me from a short, brutal life underground. If I forgot my own face so quickly, then what hope did I have of anyone else remembering it? I had been a nobody. I still was a nobody, but at least now I was a nobody who might be able to make a difference in the lives of the IIs and IIIs who hadn’t been lucky enough to have the same eye color as Lila Hart.

And here I was, about to run away from the only thing that made my life worth anything at all.

More than my guilt over leaving Greyson, more than my trepidation over dragging Benjy underground, that was what cracked my resolve. I would still leave—I had to, to save Benjy’s life, to save my own, and to give Knox a chance at seeing his plans through without me getting in the way. But I’d be damned if I wasted this chance to make the difference I’d risked my life for in the first place.

“How did you find this?” I said, still staring at the photograph. It had been less than a year since that moment, but it felt like another lifetime. Nothing was the same anymore, and nothing would be ever again.

Greyson shrugged. “I found it in Grandmother’s things with the others.”

Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction