“Because everyone cares about Lila Hart,” he said. “They either love her or they hate her. There is no in between. And I can’t stand to go through losing you again.”
I was quiet. After everything that had happened, I’d nearly forgotten that before Knox had hired him as his assistant, Benjy had thought I was dead, too, after I’d been kidnapped and Masked as Lila. At least I’d only thought Benjy was dead for a couple days. He’d had to mourn my death for over a month.
“Please, Kitty,” he said softly. “Just be you again. For me.”
I took a deep, shuddering breath. Now that the adrenaline was gone, the pain in my shoulder was nearly unbearable, but I would put up with anything to be there with him. “Okay,” I said. “I promise. But only if you make me a promise, too.”
“What?” he said, and I laced my fingers in his.
“Promise that no matter what happens to me, you won’t do anything stupid,” I said. “You won’t die to protect me, or die to avenge me, or—anything. If I’m going to be safe, then you have to be, too. Because I want that picnic in this life. I want that cottage. I want our future, and I’m not going to let anyone, not even you, take that from me again. Got it?”
He hesitated. “Kitty—”
“Yes or no?” I said, pulling away enough to look at him. “If we make it through today, then I swear to you I’ll stop being Lila. I’ll never leave you again, and we’ll weather this together. Either we’re going to survive together, or we’re going to die together. That’s the only way I’m going to let this end. I just have to know that you’re with me, too.”
He clenched his jaw, but at last he nodded. “All right. I promise.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, and I settled back against him. I would never stop worrying about him, and he would never stop worrying about me, but at least now we would be at each other’s side until the end. One way or the other.
Finally the sounds of gunshots ceased, and the door opened, revealing Scotia. Several wisps of hair had slipped out of her sleek ponytail, and her coat was stained with blood spatter, but at least she wasn’t dead.
“You two all right?” she said, and I nodded.
She nodded, too. “We’ve taken over Section X and Section J. The Mercers are still alive, we think, but they’ve retreated into the manor. We have them surrounded.”
I swallowed tightly. “Don’t kill Hannah.”
Scotia frowned. “Excuse me?”
“Please,” I said. “She’s as much of a victim as the rest of us. You saw what her face looked like. Mercer did that to her because she helped me escape.”
“Do you have any idea what she’s done to people like you and me?” said Scotia, her mouth curled into a sneer. “She’s one of them.”
“Because it was the only way she could survive,” I said. “And I know exactly what she’s done to me. She saved my life. She’s the reason we have the codes in the first place. You’re the one who was letting Mercer stick his tongue down your throat for a chance at survival—she was doing exactly the same thing. It’s not her fault she was better at it.”
Scotia clenched her fists. “Fine. But if I’m doing you a favor, then you’re going to do one for me, too.”
“What kind of favor?” I said warily.
“You’re going to work your Lila Hart magic on the crowd out there and convince them to fight with us.”
I gaped at her. “What?”
“You heard me,” she said. “My people are gathering everyone now. We don’t have much time before reinforcements come from the other sections, and we’re down a dozen people. We have the weapons we’ll need, but we can’t hold them off on our own until the Blackcoats arrive. We don’t have the manpower.”
I stared at her. “And you want the prisoners to fight?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you have a secret cache of soldiers ready to die for us?”
I opened and shut my mouth. I was no stranger to speeches. In my three months as Lila Hart, I’d stood in front of a dozen crowds in various cities and encouraged them to stand up to the Harts and fight for true equal opportunity. I could recite that speech in my sleep if I had to, but never had I tried to convince anyone to walk straight toward their death.
“If they don’t want to fight, then there’s nothing I can say to convince them,” I said. “They have a right to protect their lives.”
“If we lose, they will bomb the entire section,” she said. “Prisoners, guards—everyone who’s left will be burned alive. If they fight, we have a chance. If they choose to act like cowards and let the rest of us die for them, then they’re dead anyway.”
I gritted my teeth. “If I get up there and convince even one person to stay and fight, their blood will be on my hands.”
“If you get up there and convince enough people to stay and fight, and we win, then they’ll have their lives because of you. They’ll have their freedom.” Scotia shook her head. “We all have blood on our hands already. Now it’s your job to make sure those people didn’t die for nothing.”
There’s no such thing as a bloodless revolution.
Knox’s voice echoed in my mind, and I closed my eyes. He was right. Scotia was right. I had gotten the codes, and now I would have to live with the consequences, both the good and the bad. People were going to die no matter what I did—they’d died already. I owed them a chance to survive.