“We’re in Valencia. On the outskirts. The Patriots took us as far as they were willing. They’ve moved on to Vegas.” June blinks water from her eyes. “You’re free. Get out of California while you can. They’ll keep hunting for us.”
I open and close my mouth. Am I dreaming? I scoot closer to her. One of my hands comes up to touch her face. “What . . . what happened? Are you all right? How did you get me out of Batalla Hall? Do they know you helped me?”
June just stares at me, as if trying to decide whether or not to answer my questions. Finally, she glances over at the edge of the roof. “See for yourself.”
I struggle to my feet. Now I can look over the roof at the JumboTrons lining the walls. I limp to the edge of the rooftop and stare down from the railing. We’re definitely in the outskirts. I can tell now that the building we’re perched on is abandoned and boarded up, and only two JumboTrons along this entire block are functional. I look at the screens.
The headline playing on them takes my breath away.
DANIEL ALTAN WING EXECUTED TODAY
BY FIRING SQUAD
A video recap plays behind the headline. I see the footage of me sitting in my cell. I look at the camera. Then the video cuts to the yard, where the firing squad lines up. Several soldiers drag a struggling boy out into the center of the yard. I remember none of this. The boy’s blindfolded, with hands cuffed tightly behind him. He looks just like me.
Except for a few details that only I would notice. His shoulders are slightly broader than mine. He walks with what looks like a fake limp, and his mouth looks more like my father’s than my mother’s.
I squint through the rain. It can’t be . . .
The boy stops in the center of the yard. His guards turn away and hurry back the way they came. A line of soldiers hoist their guns, then point them at the boy. There’s a brief, horrible silence. And then smoke and sparks pour from the guns. I see the boy convulse with each shot. He collapses facedown in the dirt. A few more shots ring out. Then the silence returns.
The firing squad quickly files out. Two soldiers pick up the boy’s body and take him away to the cremation chambers.
My hands start to shake.
The boy is John.
I whirl to face June. She watches me quietly. “That’s John!” I shout over the rain. “The boy is John! What was he doing out there, out in the yard?”
June says nothing.
I can’t catch my breath. I understand what she did now. “You didn’t take him back,” I manage to say. “You switched us instead.”
“I didn’t do it,” she replies. “He did.”
I limp back to her. I grab her by the shoulders and push her back against the chimney. “Tell me what happened. Why did he do it?” I shout. “It should’ve been me!”
June cries out in pain, and I realize that she’s injured. A deep gash runs across her shoulder, staining her shirt with blood. What am I doing, yelling at her? I tear a strip of cloth from the bottom of my shirt and try to wrap her wound the way Tess would. I pull the cloth tight and tie it off. June winces.
“It’s not that bad,” she lies. “A bullet scraped me.”
“Are you hurt anywhere else?” I run my hands down her other arm, then gently touch her waist and her legs. She’s shivering.
“I don’t think so,” she replies. “I’m okay.” When I push wet strands of her hair behind her ears, she looks up at me. “Day . . . it didn’t go according to my plan. I wanted to get both of you out. I could have done it. But . . .”
The image of John’s lifeless body displayed on the JumboTron makes me light-headed. I take a deep breath. “What happened?”
“There wasn’t enough time.” She pauses. “So John turned back. He bought us time and he went back to the hall. They thought he was you. He even wore your blindfold. They grabbed him and took him back to the firing squad yard.” She shakes her head again. “But the Republic must know by now that they made a mistake. You have to run, Day. While you can.”
Tears stream down my cheeks. I don’t care. I kneel in front of June and clutch my head in both hands, then sink to the floor. Nothing makes sense anymore. My brother was probably worrying about me while I moped in my cell like a selfish brat. John put me first, always.
“He shouldn’t have done it,” I whisper. “I don’t deserve it.”
June’s hand rests on my head. “He knew what he was doing, Day.” Tears appear in her eyes, too. “Someone needs to save Eden. So John saved you. As any brother would.”
Her eyes burn into mine. We stay here, unmoving, frozen in the rain. It feels like an eternity. I remember the night that set this all in motion, the night I saw the soldiers mark my mother’s door. If I hadn’t gone to that hospital, if I hadn’t crossed paths with June’s brother, if I’d found a plague cure somewhere else . . . would things be different? Would my mother and John still be alive? Would Eden be safe?
I don’t know. I’m too afraid to dwell on the thought.
“You threw everything away.” I bring a hand up to touch her face, to wipe rain from her eyelashes. “Your entire life—your beliefs . . . Why would you do that for me?”
June has never looked more beautiful than she does now, unadorned and honest, vulnerable yet invincible. When lightning streaks over the sky, her dark eyes shine like gold. “Because you were right,” she whispers. “About all of it.”
When I pull her into an embrace, she wipes a tear from my cheek and kisses me. Then she buries her head against my shoulder. And I let myself cry.