Something warm and wet dripped down my cheek. I couldn’t tell if it was Benjy’s tears or mine.
“It’ll be perfect,” I murmured as the click of Mercer’s rifle echoed through the square. “Just you and me for the rest of forever.”
“I can’t wait,” he said, and though his voice was rough, I could hear his smile.
Everything went gray. We both tensed, and Benjy curled around me instinctively, shielding my body from the shot. But it was half a second too late. Time seemed to stand still, and in that infinite moment, I waited for pain to blossom.
It never did.
Maybe this was what dying was like. Maybe, in our last moments, our bodies gave us a chance at peace, and the pain of death would never register at all.
A second shot rang out, and this time a chorus of screams rose from the crowd. Benjy jerked me toward the center of the cage, and I cried out in pain.
On the rooftop, Mercer had dropped his weapon and doubled over. Hannah was on the far side of the building, huddled in the corner and covering her head with her arms. The crowd around us continued to scream, trampling each other in an attempt to get out of the square.
“Lie flat!” said Benjy, and he shoved me to the floor, once again covering my body with his. My face pressed against the cold platform, and several more shots rang out.
It wasn’t until I saw a group of prisoners running toward us with weapons drawn that I understood.
The rebellion had begun.
The smell of gunpowder permeated the air around us as shot after shot echoed through the square. Most of the prisoners managed to run from the fighting, but even from my narrow vantage point, I spotted several bodies lying motionless on the ground. The guards surrounding the platform fired back, but they were hopelessly outnumbered, and soon the gunfire ended.
“Lila!” called a woman, and it took me a moment to realize the voice was coming from underneath me.
The trapdoor in the platform opened. Scotia. “In here,” she said. “Hurry, before the rest of the guards come.”
Benjy lifted himself off me and shoved me down into the holding area. Scotia caught me, and he quickly joined us, breathing heavily as he collapsed beside me.
“What’s going on? Are the Blackcoats here?” I said. Had Knox come back after all?
Scotia shook her head and began to reload her weapons. “The cavalry’s taking their sweet time, but you got us the codes, so consider us even.” She gave Benjy a handgun. “Know how to use this?”
“I do,” I said, taking it from him. She raised an eyebrow.
“I’m not sure you should be shooting anyone right now.”
“Then make sure I don’t have to.”
Scotia smirked. “That’s the spirit. The other guards will be here soon. I’ll lead them away, but don’t move, got it? This thing is bulletproof.”
She gestured to the holding area beneath the platform, hollow and dark. I hadn’t gotten a good look before, but now I could see chains and shackles hanging from the walls, presumably where they kept the prisoners before forcing them to fight.
“It figures that the safest place in Elsewhere is where you wait to die,” I muttered. She patted my shoulder, and I cried out. With a frown, she gently probed the tender area.
“Your shoulder’s out of place,” she said, taking my arm. I winced. “There’s nothing I can do about it, not until—”
She wrenched my arm, and I screamed. White-hot pain exploded through my body, causing my vision to blacken for a moment, and Benjy lunged toward her.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he growled, but it was over in an instant. Suddenly the pain began to lessen, and Scotia eased my arm back into my lap.
“It’s back in the socket now, but you’ll need medical attention once this is over,” she said, and she looked at Benjy. “It’s easier when they don’t know it’s coming. She’ll be fine.”
He glared at her, but he stepped toward me, touching the small of my back protectively.
“I have to go,” she said. “Take care of that arm, and don’t do anything stupid.”
“We’ll try our best,” I muttered, and she slipped through a metal door at the base, shutting it firmly behind her. A lock slid home on the other side, and I exhaled.
“Are you okay?” he said, and I nodded. It still ached, and my fingers tingled unpleasantly, but at least I could move them again.
Benjy pulled me into his lap, and we stayed there in the darkness, ignoring the echoes of gunshots and screams as Scotia and her band of misfits fought the guards for control of Section X.
Neither of us spoke for what must have been over an hour. It was freezing underneath the platform, but he held me, and I curled up against his chest, trying to burn this moment into my memory. Even if we died today after all, at least we had a little more time.
“You know, I’m almost mad at them,” said Benjy, his voice a low rumble. “I was looking forward to that picnic.”
I snorted in spite of myself. “We’ll get there eventually. No need to rush it.”
He ran his fingers through my hair, gently working out the tangles. “If the Blackcoats succeed, can you promise me something?”
“What?” I said, my head resting against his shoulder.
“Promise me you won’t be Lila anymore.”
I blinked up at him, confused. “Why—”