Maverick stared at shop’s door, mind buzzing with what-ifs.
“What in seven hells is Jack thinking?” he demanded, not for the first time. He felt Pops’s gaze, gauging his reactions, and turned his back ever so slightly towards him.
“I’m sure he has his reasons, boy,” Pops replied in his gruff, dry voice. “Since when do you question anything Jack does?” A different question hung silent between them.
“Since he started making daft decisions like that,” Maverick answered.
Pops snorted. “Maverick, son, I love you like my own, but you’ve never understood why Jackie’s done anything. And you’ve never cared. You go along because you know he’s the leader type. He makes the rules, you break ‘em. S’how it’s always been.”
“The Detour?” Maverick argued.
“Sinner’s Way?” Pops countered, eyebrow cocked.
Maverick’s face blended in with his hair and he glared down at the counter top. “That didn’t put her in danger,” he grumbled. “You know damned well she might not make it through.”
Pops raised a shoulder. “She’s a bright kid, and a quick learner. As long as she remembers the basics, she’ll be fine.”
“I don’t see why he needs to take the chance.”
Pops punched Maverick’s shoulder and he nearly fell off his stool. “Then what the hell are you still doing sitting here? You worried? Make yourself useful. What do you expect me to do about it? Wheel with them into the Tracks?”
“He didn’t say you weren’t going,” Pops reminded. “And if he does? Do what you do best.”
“And what’s that?”
Pops’s wrinkled face lit up and he clapped his hand on Maverick’s shoulder, staring him down. “Be immovable.”
Reason had climbed up the scaffolding-turned-apartment structure that sat against the wall in her tent city. She’d been hit with inspiration to paint that morning and felt a new perspective was in order. Up seemed a good choice. She sat with her legs dangling over the side, the end of her brush in her mouth as she studied the comings and goings. It was hard to narrow in on what she wanted to capture, there was so much life in this room. Fires blazed from small pits scattered across the platform and down the darkness of the tunnels. Dirty, pinch-faced kids laughed with each other, sharing the spoils of their thievery; a mother cuddled her child, tears on her cheeks because her milk had dried up and the baby was starving, but then there was Pipsqueak coming up and offering the edge of a condensed milk can.
They were united in their suffering. None of them would mourn if someone was lost – they had lost so many in the few days since the lockdown – but no one would leave anyone to starve either. It was what had kept the Shadows going for as long as it had. What made people search them out. It was what she loved about being a part of the darkness. While the full belly was a blessing she was grateful for every day, there was so much more to appreciate from this motley group.
Her sights fell on someone everyone here had to thank. Maverick strode across the platform like a man on a mission, which struck Reason as unusual. Maverick never “strode”. He loped. He was feline in his movements, and used his grace to his advantage, being the best pickpocket on the streets – even better than she was. No one ever suspected him.
Curiosity won over her inspiration and she set aside her tools and unfinished sketches, climbing down the rungs of the scaffolding to chase after him.
“What’s your hurry, Red?” she asked.
“I’ve no idea what you’re about, lass,” he answered without slowing down.
“Any faster you’d be running,” she teased, stretching her own long legs to keep up. “Fire we should know about?”
“Not yet.” He mumbled it, and Reason wasn’t even sure she’d heard correctly. Okay, clearly not in a talking mood. But she knew his buttons. “Where’s Damsel?”
She’d expected his face to flush, so surprise hit her with force when instead he paled. “Jack took her to the Detour.”
Reason stopped. “You’re kidding.” Maverick kept going. “Why?”
He wanted – needed – to vent, and she wasn’t chasing him. He came to a halt and threw his fist against the cement wall. “Just to see if she could? Gods be bloody, Reason, I don’t know what he’s trying to prove. Got it in his head that Pete Wallace’s daughter is some kind of wonder child? He’s daft.”
Reason’s eyes softened and she approached Maverick to rest her hand on his chest. “You love her.”
Maverick scoffed, rolled his eyes and pulled away. “You sound as mad as Jack. I’ve known her a week.”
“Even still,” Reason insisted. “You’re drawn to her, maybe for reasons you don’t understand yet.”
Even as she pushed, Maverick pulled, a shake of his head and a look in his eyes that reached deeper than he probably wanted to show. “There’s no love in the darkness, lass. The shadows just snuff it out.”
Reason reached up to wrap her arms around his neck and pressed a kiss onto his stubbled cheek. “I love you, Maverick. The Shadows haven’t snuffed that out yet. Be happy.”
He gave her a squeeze back and a glimmer of his usual grin flashed and then disappeared as quickly as he did, leaving Reason alone in the tunnel. She chuckled. Men.
Another inspiration hit her and she turned to go back to her sketchbook. Maverick might like a sketch of Damsel to keep close to his heart, and then maybe he wouldn’t feel so lost.
Jack had to hand it to the girl. She had a good head on her shoulders even if she didn’t think so. They had stepped out of the Shadows into the fresh air of night. The Detour exited outside of the city, atop a hill that looked down on Greylands and the Tracks. From this perspective, at this time of night, they could see the city in startling contrast. Greylands was bleak and dark. Small fires smoked from alleys as the homeless did their best to fight off the February chill. From the odd shuttered or curtained window, hints of stolen electricity filtered onto the street. The Golden Tracks, separated from a wall and gate that served as well as the shutters in the window, was a landscape of colour and warmth. Light poured from every window, music drifted up from stereos or televisions. It was a whole other world, a cocoon of safety and affluence. Their blindness and ignorance meant the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
That would stop tonight.
“You have some kind of master plan?” Damsel asked. The tremor in her voice was barely noticeable. She was trying hard to appear unshaken by what had just happened. He frowned at the flippancy of her words. He preferred a certain deference to his position. He held his control the same way the police did – using fear that he could eject people out of Shadows. Damsel didn’t seem to have that fear.
“I have a plan,” he said. “Whether it’s master…we’ll find out if we make it back, I guess.”
“Great,” Damsel mumbled, and tucked some stray hair behind her ear, fiddling with an elastic band to pull it out of her face. “Lead on, then. If we’re going to get ourselves shot, I don’t see the point in hanging around.”
Her sarcasm was answered by a laugh behind them. “That doesn’t sound like much of a plan, getting shot. Maybe I can come up with something a wee bit better, hm?”
Jack ground his teeth, an absurd niggle of irritation creeping up his throat.
“What are you doing here, Maverick?” he demanded without turning to face his friend. Brother, he reminded himself. They were more than friends. No one could go through what they had gone through and not be family. So why was he so upset to see him?
“Saving your arses by the sounds of it. What were you thinking, Jack? Just stroll up to the Gates and knock?”
“Something like that,” Jack growled. They both knew damned well he knew how to get into the Tracks. It wouldn’t be his first time.
“If that’s what you’re going to do, then you’ll need me. At the very least I can be an extra head to aim for. I’m going with you.”
Jack’s head swivelled to Damsel, his expression mirrored on Maverick’s face.
“No?” Maverick asked.
Damsel pressed her lips together, as if regretting she had spoken. Then she appeared to win some inner battle and repeated. “No. This is already a dangerous plan. If the two of us are going to get killed, someone needs to stay here to make sure the Shadows keeps going.”
Maverick spat. “The Shadows will be fine. Someone will step up. There’s always someone willing to step up.”
“Like Firefly? You really want someone like her running things? You would lead them with a fair hand. There’s no point you coming with us.” Her face turned pink and she focused her final words on the ground, reaching up to rub at the back of her neck. What a crazy girl. She was afraid they were going die and wanted to protect Maverick. A better person than he was, then.
“She’s right,” Jack agreed. “Either this won’t go well and you should be here to clean up the mess, or it will go well and we don’t need you. Either way, you’re not coming.”
Maverick stared, a smile playing on his lips. “Jack, you and I go back a ways. You ever know me to stand down once I had an idea in my head.”
Jack hesitated. He could order Maverick back, but he knew the man wouldn’t listen. “Let’s get going then,” he said, and turned to start down the hill
“But-” Damsel protested.
“Ach, relaxed, Damsel,” Maverick said – Jack could hear the smile in his voice. “Might be you’re glad I came along for the fun.”