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Ryker had spent days observing the elusive Blackbird of Avia. She was a favorite above all others, living the easiest life of all the birds, protected from the worst of what went on inside of Avia’s ‘classrooms’. Not that she was ignorant of anything; Vivika just didn’t have to deal with it upfront.

It was a small miracle that Adaline was so protective of this girl and not dripping with jealously. From what he had gathered from the files and poking around in Adaline’s mind, the pair had been the closest of all the birds. Blackbird and Blue Jay, the only family they had anymore. That was one of the few beautiful things in here, the bonds that had been forged between the prisoners.

He had been careful about approaching Vivika too quickly. When he had the time, he skirted just outside of her awareness to get a better feel for the girl that the heads of Avia kept so cushioned. She may not have experienced the rape and torture the ways the others had but she was still damaged. To keep her under their thumb, they’d broken her spirit and it was another injustice he raged about.

Vivika had let them to get under her skin so deeply that she hated her own powers. Powers that, from her memories, had not earned her love from her parents but had connected her to far more than that. She had been able to see and speak to departed family, to meet people that she wouldn’t have otherwise ever known about. It was a gift and she was too scared to even remember all the good from it.

Today, she was spending her free time outside again. Adaline was busy gathering additional intelligence for him about the movements of the security around the perimeter otherwise she would have been here with him.

Even so, he had a bit of leverage. The ones in charge of her had not been nice today. After ripping into her already damaged psyche, they had tried to force her to make more portals. When she failed, the emotional and mental abuse had been vicious. They would never harm her physically but her mind was free game.

“Hello Viv,” he murmured, sinking into the grass next to her before she truly knew what had happened. She jumped and shied almost instantly, but he carefully influenced her mind enough to stay put and not run. At the same time, he held out a handful of small flowers that he had scoured the island for. “For you, Adaline said that Poppies were your favorites.”

She did not speak but her shaky hands took the flowers. He leaned back into the grass and threw an arm over his eyes. If he made himself as nonthreatening as possible, she would relax faster.

“Has she told you what she’s doing?” Ryker spoke softly, devoting his moment to talk to this little broken bird. He’d touched his mind to so many of Avia’s prisoners and yet Vivika tugged some heartstrings.

When she did not answer he did not take any offense. He did not expect her to say anything yet, she was not ready. But at least she was listening while she played with the flowers he had given her.

“I guess not,” though her thoughts said that she knew exactly what Adaline was out doing. “But we’re blowing this cage wide open. Breaking it right off the stand it has been built on.” Deep within her, there was a spark of light that tugged his lips into a smile. The hope was not all gone, Viv was still there. “I want your help too. It is very important and you’re the only one who can do it.”

“You’re Ryker?” Her voice was quiet but it was just what he needed. She did not quite trust him yet. That would come with time. “What is it that I’ll be doing?

“Saving Adaline’s life.”

Now that really got her attention. The flowers she had been fiddling with lost her interest and he lifted her arm to meet her gaze straight on. It was the only thing that he could not figure out how to do himself, not without significant suspicion that could ruin everything. A part of him wanted desperately to shield her from everything and to help fix the damage that had been caused to her.

“She is in danger?”

“Not yet,” he admitted, sitting up and smiling at her. “For this to work, Adaline is key. Only she can disable all the collars. But—”

“Her collar is not the same, the moment her powers rise above a certain level…” Vivika trailed off and she looked away. They both knew how much damage those rubber needles caused to Adaline. There were scars in a perfect circle around her neck already from a time when she couldn’t control her powers. He watched as her hand rose to touch the electric collar around her and he resisted the urge to do the same. “The power she’d need to generate to disable all the collars would cause her own collar to initiate the failsafe, the one that would sever her spinal cord.”

“Exactly.”

This was not easy by any level and he did not want to bring up this topic when she was already down on herself but the plan needed to be moved up. Already one of the most innocent was nearly killed in the ‘classrooms’. If not for her friendship with Magpie, she’d be dead.

He gave her the time she needed to come to terms with what he was saying. He needed her to do something so that Adaline would not die saving the rest of them, which they both knew she’d do in a heartbeat.

Minutes ticked by and he used it to poke around more than he probably should have. But the longer he spent learning about her from her thoughts, and from the fond stories that Adaline had shared, the more he wanted to save her.

Truly, he wanted to save them all but there were a few who had grown closer than the others. She gave off this vulnerable air that made him want to protect her. Adaline had warned him about that and how Viv was like a little sister to her.

“What do you need me to do?” There it was, the agreement that he knew would come. He would not rush her into a decision but she cared for Adaline.

“We have found out that your handlers hold the only other copy of the key that unlocks Adaline’s collar. I have the initial code but we need that key.” They would end up killing Adaline themselves if they only put in the code without the key. “It is a smaller key with the numbers eight-five-one-zero-nine-six on the side and a blue spot painted on one side.”

The blue helped the newbies remember that it was for the Blue Jay.

Vivika murmured the numbers a few times under her breath, though he already planted the numbers into her head. “I can get it.”

“I know you can,” he bumped his shoulder against hers gently and grinned wide at her. “They’re wrong by the way.”

“Who?”

“Your handlers,” she instantly tensed and he bumped her again, “They are the ones who are wrong. You’re strong enough for anything you put your mind to and we all believe in you. Whether you realize it or not, we’re family now.”

“Thank you.”

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