… EPISODE FOURTEEN…
Rebel cries the entire way back to the Lair. It hurts me to see her in this kind of emotional pain, especially when I know it’s my fault that we didn’t get Deacon tonight. It’s my fault they changed the security protocols on the secret sub-level. It has to be.
I shouldn’t beat myself up. Logically, I know that if I hadn’t been down there— hadn’t seen Deacon with my own eyes—there would be no proof that the secret sub-level exists, let alone what’s going on down there.
But that knowledge is cold comfort. I hug Rebel and try to figure out what to do next. How’re we going to save Deacon and my mother when we can’t get back to sub-level three? If that’s even where my mother is. She’s not a villain. She doesn’t belong there, and she has friends at the lab.
Really, she could be anywhere.
And how are we going to face Draven and Dante when we’ve failed to get Deacon back? Just the thought of Draven’s reaction makes my stomach hurt—not because I’m afraid of him, but because I’ve seen how much this weighs on him.
On both of them. I know how every second feels like a year and every hour feels like an eternity.
I’ve felt that way since the moment I saw Deacon. And it only got worse when I walked into my house and my mother was missing.
The ride to the nightclub from the lab feels excruciatingly long, but when Jeremy pulls up in front of the Lair all I can think is, it’s too soon. I don’t have an explanation. I don’t know how to tell Draven and Dante what happened without causing them more pain. I don’t—
Nitro meets us in the parking lot, throwing open the van door before we even come to a complete stop.
“Deacon!” He climbs inside, but his face falls when he sees Rebel’s tear-streaked cheeks.
“Oh, God. Is he—” Nitro turns white and looks like he’s going to pass out.
“We couldn’t get to him.” My words come out in a rush. “They’ve sealed off access to that sub-level and we couldn’t find another way in. Not without tipping off the guards and blowing our cover.”
“Shit.” Nitro rubs both hands over his head and climbs out of the van. “How could you screw this up? You promised this plan was airtight. Draven and Dante are going to kill us. You know that, right?”
Rebel whimpers, and I pat her back a couple times, shooting Nitro a warning glare.
“We couldn’t have known,” I argue.
He ignores me. “I knew it. I knew better than to trust a couple of heroes to handle something this important.”
“Is that really how you want to play this?” Jeremy comes to my side and stands over Nitro.
Jeremy may be lean, but he has almost a foot over the angry villain.
Nitro doesn’t look impressed. “I’m not playing anything. Just stating the truth, yeah?” His British accent is out in full force. “You wankers failed, didn’t you? You talked me into locking up my two best mates, and then you bloody well screwed up. A guy can’t be blamed for thinking maybe you did it on purpose.”
Rebel starts to sob harder, which makes me see red. I advance on Nitro. “Must be nice. Easy for you to stand there criticizing when you didn’t have a better plan. We risked everything tonight!”
“You think you’re the only ones?” he scoffs. “I’ve got two of the most dangerous villains in the bloody world locked in my refrigerator. You obviously don’t know what they’ve spent the last hour and a half threatening to do to me when they finally get out.”
Screw it. Dante and Draven already know about my immunity. What’s one more villain at this point, especially since he’s their best friend? They’ll probably tell
him anyway, the first chance they get. “At least I found the secret sub-level! You couldn’t even do that.”
“Because of you!” He doesn’t look surprised that Draven’s brainwashing didn’t stick, which proves that Dante and Draven spilled the beans while we were gone.
Typical. Can’t trust villains, can’t trust heroes… Who the hell am I supposed to trust?
“You almost killed me with that fire extinguisher!”
“Yeah, well, almost doesn’t count. If it did, Rebel and I would have Deacon right now.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it. You lousy hero-worshipper—”
“Hey!” Rebel finally pulls herself together and climbs out of the van. “Don’t call her that!”
“Or what?” Nitro glows a little, the air above his hands tinged green as he starts to lose his grip on his power. At least I assume he’s losing his grip—maybe he’s doing it on purpose. At this point, who can tell?
“Or I’ll make sure you regret it.” Jeremy’s joined the fray now, standing shoulder to shoulder with Rebel and me as he stares down Nitro.
“Yeah, right. ’Cuz I’m scared of a nerdy technopath.” Flames lick along Nitro’s fingers.
“You should be.” Jeremy takes a step forward and I know that if I don’t stop this right here, right now, the situation’s going to get out of control. Testosterone is such a pain in the ass.
But just as I slide myself between the two of them, the door to the club flies open and Draven and Deacon sail into the parking lot. They’re both bruised and bloody and more than a little frantic. When they see us, they do double takes, then race full tilt toward us.
“What the hell!” Dante roars.
“How did you get out?” Nitro demands. When they turn to glare at him, he shrinks back, half hiding behind Rebel.
Not that I blame him. I’ve seen Draven go from surly to tortured to furious in the short time I’ve known him, but never have I seen him this enraged. If his expression—and the way his bruised hands are trembling—is anything to go by, he’s about two seconds from ripping us to pieces.
All of us.
Draven doesn’t hesitate. He reaches past Rebel to grab the lapels of Nitro’s leather jacket and yanks him off his feet. “Let’s just say you and Quake are going to need a new fridge.”
“It’s not his fault,” I insist. “We asked him to help.”
“Bloody brilliant idea that was,” Nitro snaps.
I glare at him. Not helping.
I wrap my hands around Draven’s forearms and yank, as if I’m going to have any effect on him in this state.
To my utter amazement, he actually relaxes. He lowers Nitro to the ground.
“Where is my brother?” Dante peers into the van.
The silence is deafening—taut and terrible and terrifying. The next thing I know, Dante’s whirling, advancing on Jeremy and me with his hands curled into fists. “Where. Is. Deacon?”
“We couldn’t get to him!” Rebel says in a rush, throwing herself against his chest and starting to sob all over again.
His arms wrap around her, his hands stroking her back. But his back is ramrod straight and his face is dark. “What does that mean?” he demands. “Deacon’s still in that hellhole?”
“They’ve closed off access to the sub-level where they’re holding him. We couldn’t get down there,” I say. But it’s not Dante I’m talking to, not really. It’s Draven.
He’s calm, the calmest person out here in fact. But somehow that doesn’t reassure me.
“So you just left him,” Draven accuses. “You didn’t even try to get him out.”
“We couldn’t!” Rebel tells him. “We tried but Kenna’s access route was blocked off.”
“That’s it?” Draven sneers. “The way was blocked off so you gave up? Wow, you guys really are hero material.”
“Back off,” I tell him, slapping a hand against his chest and shoving lightly. “We did the best we could with what we had.”
“Of course you did.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s awfully convenient that the three of you trapped us here in a tin can while you went off to save the world.” His face is a mask of rage and resentment. “Except you didn’t save anyone, did you? Was that the plan all along?”
I gasp. “You think we left Deacon there on purpose?”
“I don’t think you tried very hard to get him out.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, moron, they have my mother too!” I know he’s upset, but this is nuts. “You think I’d walk away without trying to find her if there was any other way?’”
He takes a step forward, so we’re standing inches from each other. His head tilts down and mine tilts up as we face off.
This is totally the wrong place and the wrong time, but I can’t stop the thrill that sparks through me at the realization that he’s treating me like an equal. He’s not pulling his punches, not treating me like some fragile little ordinary. Maybe it’s because he thinks immunity is my power, or maybe it’s because he doesn’t realize I’m not a super.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because he understands that I’m just as strong as he is.
Then he shatters the moment with more of his mistrust. “How do we even know your mother’s there? This could all be some elaborate setup—”
“Are you being serious right now?”
“Does it look like I’m being serious?”
“You’ve got some nerve—”
“Nerve? I have nerve? You locked us in a refrigerator and then screwed up. You’re either a liar or you’re incompetent, and either way I’m not impressed.”
“Dude, you need to back off.” Jeremy shoves Draven’s shoulder. “Now.”
Draven doesn’t flinch. He turns those cold, sharp eyes on Jeremy. Except they’re not cold anymore. They’re fiery, seething, spoiling for a fight.
“You going to make me, geek boy?”
“Okay, wait a minute!” I hold up both arms like a referee. The last thing I want is for Draven to kill Jeremy, and from his stance, that’s a distinct possibility.
Jeremy has no sense of self-preservation. “If I have to.”
“We did try, Draven!” Rebel says. “Even if you don’t trust Kenna and Jeremy, you trust me. You know I’d do anything to help Deacon.”
Draven looks at her, and for a moment, the rage subsides and I see the fear he’s been hiding.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him softly.
“Don’t apologize to him, Kenna!” Jeremy snaps at me.
“Don’t talk to her like that!” Draven snarls at him.
We all kind of freeze at that. Moments ago he’d been ripping me a new one, and now he’s getting mad at the way Jeremy—Jeremy—talks to me? Could this night get any more upside down?
“Look, maybe if we all calmed down,” Nitro says, “we can figure out what went wrong and try to—”
“What went wrong,” Dante growls, “is you locked us in a refrigerator. You sided with the heroes and now everything has gone to shit. What kind of villain are you?”
The whole situation is a powder keg waiting to explode. All it needs is a little spark, and the four guys are going to beat the hell out of each other—or whatever guys with powers do when they lose their tempers.
The mayhem these three villains could unleash with Dante’s wind, Nitro’s fire, and Draven’s psy abilities is catastrophic. We need to diffuse this fast. But how? A quick glance at Rebel tells me she doesn’t know what to do either.
“You think I’m on their side?” Nitro shouts incredulously.
“You chose them over us,” Dante says. “Don’t think I’m going to forget that.”
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Nitro sputters. “Man, not in a million years!”
“We’re not lepers, you know,” Jeremy spits out.
“I’d like you a hell of a lot more if you were,” Dante returns. “Heroes are nothing but a bunch of two-faced hypocrites.”
“Dante!” Rebel gasps.
“I’m not talking about you, babe. These two.” He looks at Jeremy and me like we’re contagious.
“Screw you!” Jeremy seethes. “Kenna doesn’t have to help you and neither do I.”
He looks to me, waiting for me to speak up, but I don’t know what to say. Dante’s insult is ringing in my ears, and even knowing that he’s got a good reason to say something like that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
Not when I’m trying so hard to make things right.
Not when just yesterday I saw things just as black and white, just as right and wrong. Only I was certain that every last villain was as bad as Dante insists all heroes are. Are we both right? Or both wrong?
“I’m sorry, were you helping?” Dante demands. “Because I thought you were making things worse.” He jerks his head in my direction. “Kenna stopped us from finding my brother the first time we broke into the lab. She’s the one who left him there to get tortured. And she’s the one who couldn’t get the job done tonight, even after she said she didn’t need our help.”
I take a step back.
He’s right. He’s totally right. This isn’t about black and white; it’s about saving Deacon’s life. It’s about finding my mom. And I failed.
I want to run away—somewhere, anywhere. I can’t stay here. Not when it’s taking every ounce of self-control I have not to cry.
I won’t break down, though. Not here. Not in front of Dante and Draven. I won’t give them that satisfaction. My whole world might be flipped inside out, but I still have my pride.
I stand tall, even as I’m falling apart inside. I deserve every last word of his scorn.
“You make me sick!” Dante continues viciously, jamming a finger at me. “Walking around all proud of being heroes when—
“Dante!” Rebel shouts his name at the same time Draven says, “Enough.” “No! It’s not enough. They—” Dante breaks off as Draven shoves him, hard. “I said that’s enough. This isn’t Kenna’s fault.”
Dante shakes his head. “Are you kidding me? You’re taking her side?” “You’re being an ass,” Draven tells him.
“And you’re acting hero-whipped,” Dante spits. “Just because you think she’s a nice piece of—”
Draven’s fist connects with Dante’s mouth.
And then all hell breaks loose.
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