I stood in the corner for the rest of the meeting, hugging my freezing body and trying not to look as exhausted as I felt. No one else tried to convince me to ask Knox for the codes, but every once in a while, I caught someone staring at me. They all hastily looked away, except for the guard with the long blond hair. Rivers.
Our eyes locked as Scotia barked a list of orders for the next meeting tomorrow night. I was only half listening, distracting myself with fantasies of how it would feel to wrap my hands around Knox’s throat and squeeze, but Rivers’s blue eyes were impossible to miss. They were the color of the ocean, like mine.
I held his stare, and he watched me openly, not the least bit ashamed of being caught. There was a question in his expression I couldn’t read, and the moment Scotia ended the meeting, he crossed the room to join me.
“You don’t have to ask Knox directly to help,” he said, and I blinked at him.
“Are you incapable of listening, or do you just not understand the word no?”
“I’m not going to try to threaten or persuade you into helping,” he said, leaning in so only I could hear him. “But if you want to get back at this bastard Knox for what he did to you, then wouldn’t your best bet be to make sure the very thing he doesn’t want to happen does?”
I glared at him, and he straightened, patting me on the cheek.
“If you need me to smuggle anything in for you, all you have to do is ask,” he added. “First round’s on the house.”
With that, he melted into the steady stream of others leaving through the door, calling out, “Twos and threes, remember! If you’re caught after curfew, it’s your head, not ours.”
Scotia stalked toward me and grabbed my elbow. “You say anything about this meeting to anyone, you’ll be in the cage tomorrow night,” she said. “Please, go ahead and test me on that.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone,” I said wearily. “I’m not stupid.”
“Sure could’ve fooled me,” she said, and with that, she dragged me back up the narrow staircase and back into the freezing alleyway.
The crowd quickly dispersed, leaving us alone in our journey back to the bunkhouse. She dragged me the entire way, her nails digging through my coat. Scotia was a master at melting into shadows and hiding around corners until she was sure the coast was clear, but it all seemed like a long-winded charade, as the streets were once again abandoned, leaving me to wonder if the cold had chased away the guards or if Scotia had done something to take care of them, too.
“I want my necklace back,” I whispered half a block away from the bunk. Scotia scoffed, her breath visible in the freezing air.
“And I want the armory codes. Not all of us get what we want whenever we ask for it, princess.”
“A friend gave it to me,” I said. “A really good friend.”
“Is that so?” She glanced at me, her dark eyes narrowed. “Funny, a really good friend gave it to me, too.”
I prickled at the suggestiveness in her voice. “Mercer stole that from me, and it’s mine.”
“You want it back? Then get me my armory codes.”
“Then I guess it’s mine now, isn’t it?”
I tightened my hands into fists. “It means nothing to you.”
“Maybe thirty seconds ago, but now it means plenty.” She stopped in the middle of an alleyway and faced me. “I don’t know why you’re refusing to help us, but I do know about the speeches you gave. I know what you’ve done for the rebellion in the past, and to see you piss it all away just because you wound up here—do you have any idea how badly you’re hurting morale?”
“Give me my necklace,” I said, ignoring her. She continued on as if I hadn’t even spoken.
“I’ve heard the recordings they smuggled in. The speech you gave in New York City—you’re the reason half of these people agreed to risk their lives and join us in the first place.”
I opened my mouth to insist they were idiots, but stopped suddenly. The speech in New York—that hadn’t been Lila before she’d faked her death. That had been me.
“You’re an inspiration to those people. Just you being here, in our section—it gave them hope. More people risked their asses getting to that meeting tonight than we’ve ever had before, just on the off chance you might be there. And come to find you’re not here to help us—” Scotia shook her head ruefully. “You might’ve already ruined any chance we had of ever being free again.”
“The only reason I’m still alive is so Knox can use me against you,” I said, my voice trembling with cold and fury. “If I ask him about those codes, you won’t stand a chance of ever finding them.”
“So don’t ask,” she said. “Stay with the Mercers. Search for it while they’re sleeping. I don’t care what you do—but if you want to prove you’re more than just a princess, then you have two days to help us before the entire rebellion fails. If we can get those codes, we might have a real shot at winning. But if we don’t, then not only are we all dead, but no one’s going to dare lift a finger against your family for generations to come.” She leaned down until our noses were nearly touching. “We need a leader, Lila. You can be that leader. You can change millions of lives for the better. All you have to do is care enough to try.”
I stood absolutely still as the cold seeped into my bones and the air turned to ice in my lungs. I’d tried caring. All it had gotten me was a one-way ticket to Elsewhere and a front row seat watching Benjy die. Now I had nothing left to lose, and no matter where I was—Elsewhere, D.C., that cabin in the woods—my life would never get any better than it was in that moment, cold and empty and worthless.