I swallowed and opened my mouth to ask if he was sure, but his lips were on mine and I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed my body into his.
“I’m sorry,” I said, barely breaking away from the kiss. “You know I’ll stay and help you, right? I know it’s important to you.” It wasn’t important to me, and I could feel the weight of that still hanging between us. But if what he said was true, that he didn’t want to tell me how to feel, maybe that was okay.
“I know,” he said. “Thank you for that.” He kissed me again, more urgently this time, and I ran my hands into his hair as his body slipped over mine. This was a nightly routine, but it felt different this time, my heart beating fast with relief and some leftover sadness.
His fingers traced down my cheek and to my neck, and I didn’t bother to tense like I usually did when he came near the collar of my shirt. But he didn’t touch my shirt or my chest—he never did, because I knew he was waiting for the okay from me—and instead wrapped his arm around my back and pulled me close.
I buried my face in his neck, letting out a long breath as I closed my eyes and melted against him.
I woke to Callum still sleeping, which was so rare I didn’t dare move for fear of waking him. The sunlight coming through the cracks in the tent was bright, and I suspected we’d slept until almost noon.
Callum stirred about half an hour later, his arms finding me, like they did every morning.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said sleepily in my ear.
“Where else would I be?” I asked with a laugh.
He placed his palm flat against my back, sending shivers down my spine. “Nowhere. I just thought you should know. I’m always happy you’re here.”
A smile slowly spread across my face, and I leaned forward to kiss him.
Yelling and running footsteps suddenly exploded all around us and I jerked into a sitting position. Those were bad yells. Panicked yells.
I scrambled out of the tent and pulled on my shoes, Callum right behind me. Reboots were all running in the direction of the fire pit, and Beth sprinted by me, her face furious.
“What’s going on?” I yelled, breaking into a run.
“It’s Addie!” she called over her shoulder.
My insides twisted around, the day Ever died flashing through my vision. It had been like this, with people running and panicking, and by the time I’d gotten there it was too late.
I broke into a sprint, passing other Reboots as I rounded a corner of tents.
It was Addie. Strung up in the middle of the compound. Her wrists were tied to a wooden beam by rope, her feet dangling above the ground. Her shirt was covered in blood, her head slumped down toward her chest. A crowd of mostly reservation Reboots had gathered around her, their faces grim. But no one made a move to help her.
Micah stood right in front of her, Jules at his side with a long stick in her hand.
My heart was pounding in my ears. Was she dead?
Her head moved suddenly and the relief was so sudden and powerful it almost knocked me over.
“What the—” I turned to see Beth running toward Micah, fists clenched.
“Back!” Micah stepped in front of Addie, his face hard and furious. Beth quickly stopped and he stared her down as he pointed to the crowd. “I said, back.”
She glared at him for a couple seconds before retreating, muttering something to the Reboots next to her. They were spreading a message between them rapidly, bodies poised like they were ready for a fight. Even some of the reservation Reboots were inching forward, their faces hard and angry.
“Keep those wounds open!” Micah yelled, whirling around to face Addie. Jules nodded and lifted a giant stick. She struck Addie so hard I heard a crack.
Anger exploded inside my chest and I shoved the Reboots in front of me out of the way. I’d spent five years taking orders and watching people I liked get hurt or killed. I wasn’t doing it anymore.
Micah saw me coming and his eyes narrowed. His shoulders straightened. He was ready for a fight.
I stopped directly in front of him, drawing in a breath before I spoke. “Why is she up there?” I kept my gaze on Micah, afraid I would lose it and rip off his head if I looked at Addie again.
“I don’t tolerate talk of rebelling and saving humans,” he said evenly. “Recruiting Reboots to save humans is unacceptable.”
I scanned the crowd. Someone she’d trusted had ratted her out. My eyes found Isaac, but he looked horrified, the group around him furious. They hadn’t been lying about being with us.
I turned back to Micah and cocked my head. “You don’t tolerate talk? Really?”
His jaw twitched. “Yes. Betraying fellow Reboots is the worst thing I’ve seen at this reservation. I’m not even sure this punishment is sufficient.” He waved a hand in Addie’s direction.
Guilt pressed against my chest as I thought back to my conversation with Addie last night. I’d blown her off when she asked me about those schematics. I’d shown no interest in helping her and Callum approach people, even though I knew they were risking Micah’s wrath if they were discovered. Why hadn’t I helped them at all? How much trouble would it have been, really? The Austin Reboots had been looking to me for direction when we first got here. I may have had more sway with them.
A breeze blew through the silent reservation as I spoke quietly. “Let her down.”
“You’ve made your point. Let her down.”
He took a step closer to me, so I had to lift my chin to meet his eyes. “I said no. Perhaps I should put you up there as well?”
“Please try. I’d love to see that.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Reboots move forward slightly in a show of support. Of me. Micah saw it, too, and anger crept up his face.
He cast a glance over his shoulder. “Hit her again.”
My vision was red as I launched myself at him and slammed my palms into his chest. He hit the ground with a yell and I jumped as he tried to grab my legs. He was already trying to get to his feet so I slammed my knee into his chin and he stumbled, blood spewing from his mouth.
I leaped on top of him and wrapped my hand around his neck, pushing his head into the dirt. I leaned closer. “I’m taking her down,” I said loudly. “And you’re going to sit here and let me, or I will put you up there instead.”
I released his neck and he gasped as I got to my feet. I marched to Addie, the edge of my vision catching restless Reboots fingering their weapons. I barely shook my head, and they backed off.