“I have to be selfish,” Liam said raggedly. “I know kids are suffering. I know people have died. I want those bastards taken down, I want Zu to be cleared, I want some ounce of justice in all of this, but I’m terrified of what they might be doing to her. What they might have already done. I don’t want to do this without her.”
All along, I’d been so afraid of our circle of friendship falling apart forever. I’d wanted things to go back to the way that they had been before everything had become so painful and complicated. I’d believed that they could, if we only tried. Watching Liam now, I felt the last bit of that hope slip away.
I felt resolve slip into its place.
We would never get back to what we’d been, because we were no longer those same people. That private world we’d created and filled with love and protection had to expand, had to grow and flex into something stronger. There was nothing in the world that would ever be powerful enough to keep us from being there to carry each other forward in those moments when our strength gave out.
The floor creaked as Max stepped back into the room. He scratched at one of the sores on his arm. “I’m ready, if you are.”
“What do you need to do this?” Vida asked. “Some kind of conductor? Silence?”
“I just need to borrow his mind,” Max said. “Well, and a bucket.”
“To knock me out with?” Liam asked weakly.
“Not…exactly,” Max said.
“The ride’s pretty gnarly,” Priyanka explained. “A lot of people hurl.”
“Great,” Liam said. “Didn’t like the lunch I ate anyway.”
I switched places with Liam, giving him my spot beside Max on the couch. Roman dutifully retrieved the trash can from the small bathroom and set it down next to Liam.
“What do you need me to do?” Liam asked Max. “Do you want our audience to give us some space?”
“It’s all right,” Max said, taking one last gulp of his water. “Do you mind if I hold on to your arm?”
Liam rolled up his sleeve, offering it to him. I could see him trembling from where I sat on the arm of Priyanka’s chair.
“Remember that you’re not there,” Max told him. “We’re only riding a link between the electrical currents of your minds. No matter what you see, you have to let me pull you back.”
“Think of the last time you saw her,” Max instructed, his hand hovering over Liam’s skin. “It’ll help us locate her faster.”
They both closed their eyes, shutting out the world and us with it. For a while, the only sound that filled the farmhouse was our breathing. To distract myself, I counted the electric currents moving through the walls and across, and under, the floor, taking stock of the digital clock on the bookshelf, the television, the refrigerator….
Liam jerked hard, leaning back against the couch as if to get away from Max’s grip. His feet kicked out, slamming against the floor.
“What’s happening?” Chubs asked, bending to check his pulse.
“It’s all right,” Priyanka said. “He’s connected.”
The moan that escaped Liam’s lips tore at me. “Are you sure he’s okay?”
“He’s all right,” Roman promised. “Max, what do you see?”
I whipped back toward the couch. He’d gone so still, I’d just assumed that he was in some kind of trance state.
“Lights…sterile gowns…gurney…” Max said, the words sluggish. “Tired…”
“She’s alive?” I pressed. “You’re sure?”
Liam jerked again, his whole body tensing.
“Liam, it’s all right,” Chubs was saying. “You’re not there, remember?”
Tears streamed through Liam’s lashes. He shivered. The hair rose on his exposed arm, prickling with goose bumps.
Owen’s words at Haven drifted back to me. She’s cold. She’s so cold.
“Door…label…” Max seemed to startle himself awake, a full-body tremor rippling through him as he released his grip. He blinked rapidly until his pupils were no longer dilated.
Liam gasped in a ragged, wet breath, folding forward at the waist. Vida dutifully passed him the trash can, but he waved it off, swallowing.
“You saw some kind of symbol?” Roman asked.
Max nodded. “It was on a set of sliding doors…some sort of bird?”
“It wasn’t just a bird,” Liam croaked out, his face bone-pale. “It was a swan. Blue Star doesn’t have her. Leda Corp does.”
THE STORM WAS DANCING.
Heavy clouds unfurled over me, but they brought no relief to the miles of dry land crying out for a drop of rain to drink. A wall of dust traveled through the fields each time the wind picked up. Now and then, I could taste it in my mouth, feel the grit of the earth between my teeth. And still, even knowing the power of the thunderstorm growling in the distance, I couldn’t go back inside to those grim faces. Not yet.
Not until I’d figured out what I was going to do.
The lightning made me feel as if the clouds were living things; they streaked across the violet sky like pulsing silver veins. Each singed my nose with a sharp, almost chlorine-like smell. The longer I sat there, watching, the more static seemed to gather on my skin and crawl across my nerve endings.
I don’t know why I did it, exactly, or why it even occurred to me to try. My world had tilted so sharply onto its side that I’d gone from questioning nothing to questioning everything, including what my own limits were.
The thread of power in my mind tentatively reached out, stroking the charge in the air. I kept both of my hands planted on the stone fence post, drawing up my legs and crossing them beneath me so I was balanced on top of it. I closed my eyes, imagining the thread weaving through the blanket of power enveloping me, imagining that I could draw it near enough to paint my skin with light.
Warmth gathered at the center of my chest, building, feeding itself, burning brighter until it finally exploded, shooting across my nerves like the purest, hardest hit of adrenaline. I was floating and falling all at once, my body dissolved into particles that rolled with the deep thunder and flashed down to strike at the world with pure power. A laugh bubbled up in my throat and escaped, as surprised as it was thrilled. The dry summer air heated as the glow behind my eyelids intensified.
Behind me, someone gasped faintly. That small intake of breath was enough for me to drop the thread, to release the heat and light back into the air. I whirled toward the sound, my heart still pumping wildly in my chest.
Roman held up his hands, taking a step back. “Sorry. I walk now to clear—I was walking. Walking. Thinking in Russian. Speaking in English. Confused brain. I’m not sure why I’m still talking?”
“Do you usually think in Russian?” I asked, curious.
“Sometimes. Sometimes I dream in it, too.” Roman still looked like he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to stay or go. I slid down off the stone post, onto the wood fencing, hoping he’d at least read the invitation in that.
I would have felt embarrassed for wanting him to stay, maybe, if it hadn’t been for the sparks still firing under my skin telling me try.
“I came out to look for you,” he blurted out. “The storm…I thought it would be…”
“Dangerous?” I finished. My whole body felt like it was shining as he stared at me. The warmth was back, curling through my blood until I was sure I’d have to run miles to work off the raw energy. I wondered if this was even a fraction of what Priyanka felt after she used her power.
His expression was one of pure wonder. “You looked like a star.”
Lightning streaked over us, and my heart gave that little kick again. He looked flustered, suddenly fixing his attention on his hands. “I don’t even know what I’m saying. I’m sorry.”
“You thought I looked like a star,” I said softly. The words hung in the air between us, and not even the thunder was powerful enough to erase them.
He forced that careful mask back into place, the one that revealed almost nothing—but o
nly to the people who didn’t know him. His expressions were like a language; you only had to learn how to read Roman’s face to decipher him. The line of his lips relaxed as he drew a breath and crossed the distance between us, sitting on the fence beside me.
I relished the easy silence between us. The way we let the wind and thunder carry on their own conversation, like we might listen in and learn a secret.
“Your friends are…” he began lightly, looking for the right word.
“A lot?” I suggested.
Roman looked a little relieved, nodding. “Vida made my ears wilt.”