… EPISODE 19…
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
Rebel drives like a highly trained wheelman. She burns rubber on the straightaways and takes the corners like she’s on rails, pushing the limits of the coefficient of friction. Which is impressive, considering we’re in a minivan. We weave and squeal down residential streets before we finally lose the SHPD. I’m trying to process everything that happened inside the lab—everything we saw. Body bags. Corrupt guards. Dead villains. The heroes aren’t just experimenting on them anymore, aren’t just imprisoning them. They’re killing them.
And if the seven we saw were just “the last of them,” then who knows how many others they’d killed?
I fight the urge to throw up. But if Rebel takes even one more corner the way she’s taken the last few, I might not be able to hold it in.
Then there’s the confirmation that my mom wasn’t at the lab. Which means she could be…pretty much anywhere else on the planet.
On top of everything, I have another thought weighing on my mind. Gingerly, I press my fingers against my arm through the thin sleeve of my tee. I wince when I connect with what feels like a burn.
I’ve burned myself before on the stove. That’s not unusual. But I haven’t been near any ordinary heat sources tonight. The only thing that might have burned my arm is Nitro’s fireballs. Which can only mean one thing: my immunity is wearing off.
If I’d been paying attention, I would have seen the signs. Rebel levitating me in my kitchen. Dante using his wind power to lift me to the roof vent. Not to mention Rebel’s telekinesis carrying me off that roof. If my immunity were intact, none of them would have been able to touch me.
My stress level ratchets up about twelve notches. My immunity is the only thing that protects me against the superpowers in my everyday world. How am I supposed to stay safe without it? Other ordinaries don’t even know that superheroes exist, but in my life I can’t exactly avoid them.
I’ve grown so used to hiding my immunity. What am I going to do now that I actually have to protect myself from the powers?
“Damn it.” Draven snaps out of the fog first. “I screwed up. I should have wiped their minds.”
“You didn’t have time, dude,” Dante insists.
Nitro shakes his head. “Not a chance.”
“They knew we were villains.” Draven pounds a fist against the van door. “There will be retribution. We need to warn Uncle Anton.”
Dante digs out his phone, punches an access code, and dials. “Come on, come on.” He listens impatiently and, when the call presumably goes to voice mail, pounds the screen so hard that I’m surprised it doesn’t shatter. Then he starts texting. “Where should we go?” Rebel asks. “I can’t drive around forever.”
No one has an answer for her. Dante is trying to reach his dad, and Draven and Nitro are sending out a series of text messages to warn their fellow villains that the superheroes will be looking for payback. Jeremy is typing furiously on his laptop, searching for…I don’t know what. And I can’t stop thinking about my vanishing immunity.
How can I save my mom when I don’t even know if I can save myself?
Rebel turns onto another street and guns it, steering the van up a steep mountain road. I lurch against Draven’s side, wincing when my arm smacks into his. I can’t believe how much it hurts. It’s been so long since I suffered a super-related injury that I forgot what they feel like.
Trying to hide the pain, I regain my balance and put some distance between us. He turns and frowns at me, his gaze darting to my arm.
Suddenly, Rebel slams to a stop. She’s driven us to a small mountain park that overlooks the city. It’s a beautiful view of the twinkling lights of Boulder and the vast dark of the plains beyond. It’s way more peaceful than the reality of what is happening down there behind closed superhero doors.
“We need to regroup,” she says, cutting the engine. “No one should be looking for us up here.”
Rebel flings open her door, jumps down, and starts pacing off some of her nervous energy. Nitro and Dante pile out too. Jeremy takes one look at Draven’s scowl, and then he’s struggling to climb down on his injured ankle.
“Hey, a little help,” he calls out, and Nitro gives him a hand. They hobble toward the low stone fence at the edge of the overlook.
If he can hobble, then it probably isn’t broken. That’s one good thing.
I start to follow everyone out—the crisp mountain air will be good for clearing our heads—but Draven puts out a hand to stop me.
“Can we—can we talk for a sec?”
I nod. “Sure.”
“I’m sorry,” he says.
I frown. What does he have to be sorry for?
“I didn’t mean to scare you back at the lab,” he continues. “I just—when they mentioned the tattoos, I thought it was Deacon in that bag. I lost it.”
“Totally understandable.” Knowing how much he loves his cousin I’m surprised he was able to pull back at all.
“No, I mean I really lost it.” He lowers his gaze. “I lost control of my power. I never lose control of my power.”
“So…that thing you did,” I venture. “You did that with your psy ability?” He hesitates. “No.”
“No?” I echo. “Then what—oh. Oh.”
If his memory-wipe ability didn’t take down those guards, that means he has a second power.
Second powers are extremely rare in the super world. Extremely rare. In fact, only children with both a hero and a villain parent are gifted with double powers. The implications shake me deep inside.
One of Draven’s parents is a hero.
Oh my God.
“So one of your—”
“Yes.” He cuts me off. “My mom was a villain.”
Which tells me two things I didn’t know. First, that his mom is dead. I place a sympathetic hand on his knee. No matter how long it’s been, it’s never easy to lose a parent. I would know.
The second thing it tells me is that Draven’s dad is—or was—a hero.
Stunned is a ridiculous understatement.
I have a million questions, but I can’t ask him. Not when he’s looking at me like that. Not when he whispers, “No one knows. Only Dante, Deacon, and Uncle Anton.”
“Then why are you telling me?”
“I know it scared you, and I needed to explain. I don’t want you to be afraid of me.”
The silence stretches as I process his revelations. Not just his second power and his mixed parentage, but the fact that it bothers him to think I’m afraid of him. And how much courage it must take for him to trust me with a secret almost no one else knows.
“I would never hurt you, Kenna, even if I could.” He stops then and glances away, his hands fisting and unfisting by his sides. I start to answer, but then his gaze returns and my breath catches at the intensity in his icy blue eyes. “I only want to protect you.”
“You don’t scare me.” The words are out before I even know I’m going to say them.
I meant to reassure him with the words, but if possible, he only grows more tense. What did I say wrong? “I…” I want to fix this, but I don’t know how. Don’t know what to say. I have a brief mental debate and decide to confess a secret of my own. At this point, it’s only fair. “My immunity is wearing off.” He scowls. “What do you mean wearing off ?”
I lift up my sleeve and show him the burn on my arm. It’s the first time that I’m getting a look at it myself. It looks as bad as it feels. A patch of skin from above my elbow to halfway to my shoulder is bright red and covered with a web of tiny blisters.
“Nitro,” I say with an awkward laugh. “Besides, how do you think Rebel and Dante were able to use their powers on me? If I still had immunity—”
“I thought you could choose to be immune. Like, if you wanted someone to use their powers on you it would be fine, and otherwise you had immunity. Or like, maybe you could block powers at will or something.”
“No. That’s not how it works. Either I’m immune to everything, or I’m immune to nothing.
“But immunity is your power.” He looks from the tender burn on my arm to my face. His eyes are soft and sweet and sorry. “How can it wear off?”
I have to tell him everything. It’s only fair after all he’s shared with me. Still, it had been nice to have someone think that I had an actual power for a while. “Not a power,” I explain. “Mom developed a serum.”
His brows twist with confusion, like what I’m saying doesn’t make sense.
“I get weekly shots.” Memory intrudes, and I correct, “Well, I got weekly shots. Mom keeps the formula top secret. She was making another batch, but…”
I stop, figuring I won’t have to spell it out for him. Draven is still. He doesn’t seem to be impressed or freaked out, relieved or concerned. He’s just…blank.
I close my eyes and my head droops. I’ve just confessed to the biggest crime in the super world. I’ve admitted that I’m a useless, powerless ordinary.
I should have expected this response. After all, superheroes turn down their noses at me for not inheriting my father’s amazing powers. But I wanted to believe that Draven was different. Wanted to believe he wouldn’t care.
I don’t know why it matters so much—to him or to me. I’m still the same person I’ve always been.
But it does matter. Another glance at Draven proves that.
Fine. Whatever. I’m not waiting around for his disappointment or—worse—his disgust to surface. I push out of my seat.
A warm hand wraps around my wrist and pulls me back.
Our eyes meet for a split second before his mouth is on mine.
I can’t think, can’t breathe, can’t do anything but feel.
The pressure of his lips.
The sparks along my nerve endings.
The sizzle of his touch.
His right hand cups my cheek, his fingers tangling in my hair as he sweeps his tongue along the seam of my lips. The stress I’ve been bottling up releases, and I sink into him. All I want is to stay right here with Draven, forever.
I stroke my hands up his arms, over his neck, across the rough stubble along his jaw. Then my fingers tangle in the cool silk of his hair, tugging at him. Closer, closer, closer.
He slips his right arm around my waist and presses his hand on my lower back until we’re flush against one another. All I can feel is the heat and strength of his body against my own.
We’re chest to chest, hip to hip, skin to skin, and still I want to be closer. Still I want to fall deeper into him—all the way into him.
Draven growls low in his throat and nips at my lower lip. He shifts against me. I hold tight, but he pushes me away, holding me at arm’s length when all I want is to burrow into him again. We stare at each other. I can’t catch my breath.
I want to lift my fingers to my lips, to see if they are as hot as they feel, but Draven has my arm in his iron grip. When I look down, he’s holding the spot that got burned by Nitro’s fireball.
Only it’s not burned. The pale skin looks perfect.
My gaze flies back to Draven. “What—?”
“Biomanipulation.” He releases my arm, dropping his hand to his thigh.
I look from him to my miraculously healed arm and back again. “Your second power,” I say, pointing out the obvious. “You can heal?” He nods. “Among other things.”
Right. Other things. Like whatever he did to the guards in the lab tonight. He was doing something to their bodies from the inside out.
I keep running my hand over my arm, expecting the burn and blisters to return. But they’re gone, and I am totally overwhelmed. Who were Draven’s parents that he has powers like this? Mind control is rare—and one of the most potent powers out there. But biomanipulation? The ability to heal—or destroy—on a cellular level? Maybe even on a genetic level? Only a couple supers in the world have a power like that.
His eyes are guarded, as if he expects me to freak out or recoil in fear. But he didn’t turn away from me when I confessed to being powerless. Nothing in the world could make me turn from him right now.
If I’ve learned anything from the last few days, it’s that the power is not what makes someone bad or dangerous—it’s the person who wields the power. Draven and I may go toe to toe on pretty much everything, but he’s not a bad guy. In fact, he’s one of the strongest, fiercest, most genuine people I’ve ever known.
I lean forward and press a soft kiss to his lips.
“Thank you,” I say, and it’s for a lot more than healing my arm.
Draven smiles, then nods toward the low rock wall where the rest of the team has assembled. “We’d better get out there.”
He sounds cool, in control, but I see the way his hands tremble before he shoves them into his pockets. The knowledge that he’s as affected as I am makes me feel okay about my own vulnerabilities. My own shaking knees.
Draven climbs out first, then reaches up to help me down. When I’m on the ground, he doesn’t release my hand. Instead, he laces our fingers together, his thumb gently stroking the back of my hand.
Of all the times to start falling for a guy, in the middle of this mess is pretty much the worst possible option. One star-crossed relationship in the team is more than enough. This is only going to make things that much more complicated.
And yet, I can’t bring myself to care.
As we approach the group, Jeremy and Nitro are involved in some kind of heated debate, while Rebel and Dante are wrapped so tightly together that I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. My best friend glances at us, takes one look at our joined hands, and raises a curious eyebrow. I ignore her.
“You’re a complete cock-up!” Nitro yells.
“It’s not my fault. Once the guard initiated the lockdown protocol, I was shut out of the entire system.” Jeremy doesn’t even glance at Nitro as he types furiously. “If you would just give me a minute….”
“We’ve given you more than a minute. What kind of hacker genius gets ’imself locked out of the system he’s trying to hack?”
“The kind,” Jeremy says, pausing while he finishes typing, “that still has access to Rex Malone’s desktop. Which means”—he spins the laptop so we can all see the screen—“we can still read his private communications.”
“Hmm,” Nitro says, leaning closer. “Maybe you’re not a total wanker after all.” “Wanker?” Jeremy repeats, offended. “I’m a bloody genius.”
I laugh—Nitro’s obviously rubbing off on him. But it doesn’t feel like the time to point that out, especially as line after line of text scrolls across the screen. Messages—texts, emails, transcribed calls and voice mails—flying by so fast that I can’t read it all. But I do see mentions of the break-ins and three villain escapees. “If we’re lucky,” Jeremy says, “we’ll get a clue to Lima Whiskey’s location.” “And my mom?” I ask.
“How will we even know?” Draven asks. “Can you read that fast?”
Jeremy laughs. “Of course not. I’m running a screen recorder and a rootkit that is specifically searching for any reference to the secret facility.”
Draven tenses and then releases my hand. “And what if we learn the location?” He runs his fingers through his hair. “What then?”
“Then we go save Deacon,” Dante says. “And my mom,” I add. “If she’s there too.”
Draven gives me a sympathetic look. “They’re not going to hurt your mom,” he says. “She’s too important to them. But Deacon…”
Though he doesn’t say the words, we can all fill in the blanks. The odds that Deacon is still alive, that he survived the torture and was transported to the new facility, are pretty slim. Just because he wasn’t in any of the body bags we saw doesn’t mean…. My stomach pitches at the unfinished thought.
Dante obviously believes otherwise. “Deacon is alive.” “You don’t know that,” Draven argues.
“I do. He’s my twin. If he were…” His voice cracks and Rebel gives him a squeeze.
Dante recovers, shaking off his emotion. “I would feel it. In here.” He smacks a fist to his chest. “I know he’s still alive.” “It doesn’t matter if he is,” Jeremy says.
“The hell it doesn’t!” Draven shouts.
“What I mean,” my ex says, “is that what Malone and the hero leadership are
doing is tantamount to villain genocide. The six of us are the only ones who know
what’s going on.”
“He’s right,” I say.
Rebel looks at me like I have gone insane.
“No matter what happens, we can’t just walk away. Not from this. Even if it’s too late for Mom or Deacon,” I explain. “There are others. And if we don’t stop it, there will be a lot more. We can’t just pretend we don’t know what’s happening. We have to do something.”
“Damn straight,” Nitro says, cheering.
“The seven dead villains we saw tonight are too high a price to pay.” My voice breaks. “And if we don’t stop this now, there will be another seven. And another seven. And another—”
I shudder at the thought of how many people the heroes might have already killed in the name of research, or whatever their excuse is. There is no way I can live with myself if even more die and I could have done something—anything—to stop it.
“Exactly,” Jeremy says. “I won’t walk away. I can’t.” “None of us can,” Rebel agrees. “Not now. Not from this.”
They nod, faces solemn and eyes coolly determined. That’s when I realize that the villains never planned to just walk away after finding Deacon. He’s not their only goal. Even if Rebel, Jeremy, and I never thought beyond rescuing him and my mom, Dante, Draven, and Nitro had always intended to be in this to the end. They’d always intended to end this.
“We need a new plan,” I say, fighting a yawn. Far out on the horizon, the first pink of sunrise is beginning to show. “But we’ve been up for going on forty-eight hours now. We need to go somewhere safe where we can get some rest and regroup.”
Nitro jams his hands into his pockets and glances at Draven and Deacon. “I have an idea where we could go.”
They exchange a long look, and then Draven nods. “The safe houses.” “What, like in witness protection?” I ask. “More like villain protection,” Nitro tells me.
I start to ask why villains need safe houses, but considering what I’ve seen, everything I now know, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched. The only thing that seems far-fetched is that the heroes have managed to keep this whole program under wraps. That they’ve managed to torture and kill villains for years—without reason and definitely without trials—and no one has been the wiser. Well, no one but the villains, and nobody was listening to them.
“We have a dozen or so houses scattered throughout town,” Draven explains. “The closest one is across from the cemetery on Ninth.” “Then let’s go,” Jeremy says.
The others nod, and for the first time we really feel like a team. Not like a bunch of strangers with a common goal, but a real team. One that trusts and respects each other.
It’s a powerful feeling, which makes me think that maybe, just maybe, we have a chance.
We all pile back into the van, this time with Draven behind the wheel and me in the passenger seat. Two days ago I would have never thought I’d feel so comfortable in a vehicle with three villains, let alone trust them as much as I do. But a lot can change in a couple of days, especially when two days feel like two lifetimes.
As we drive back down the mountain, I start to drift. I’m locked in my thoughts and half asleep when Draven starts cursing, his voice low and calm despite the words pouring out of his mouth. The contrast is terrifying. I look up as he rolls to a stop in front of a house. In front of what used to be a house.
Now it’s just a pile of smoking rubble.