…. EPISODE 34…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
“I need to get to the lab.”
I make the announcement when we’re all gathered around the table eating the dinner of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches that Riley and Nitro put together for us.
Deacon’s head shoots up first. “You’re not seriously thinking of going back to ESH, are you?” he demands. “Because that’s suicide.”
“Even if it’s temporarily closed,” Riley says, “you know my dad will have half a squadron of guards stationed there on the off chance we decide to come back.” “Which we won’t,” Deacon says. “Ever.”
He glances across the table at Dante, who nods. “We can’t go back there, Kenna. We just made Rex look like a fool in front of all the superheroes. If he gets his hands on one of us…”
His words hang ominously in the air between us.
I know he’s right, but how else am I going to make the immunity serum? Some of the ingredients are common enough that I can buy them at the grocery store, but most of them are found only in a lab. As is the equipment needed to safely contain the reaction.
And we need that immunity serum. Rebel woke up a while ago and nearly burned the cabin to the ground—this time without Nitro’s help. Draven put her under again, but I’m with Riley. We can’t keep doing that to her. I trust Draven completely. He would never hurt her on purpose. But he’s putting added stress on her brain, messing with her synapses and other stuff. Who knows how long he can do that without causing permanent damage?
Besides he’s so drained from the hell Rex put him through that I can see the toll it takes on him every time he uses his power.
“Does it have to be the superhero lab?” Jeremy asks, reaching for his computer. “Or will any ordinary lab do?”
My eyes widen as I get what he’s suggesting. “Not just any lab, no. But a well-supplied one should have everything I need. You’re a genius, Jeremy!”
“I really am,” he agrees as he pulls up Google. “Tell me what to look for.” “Search for universities,” I say. “Ones with graduate programs in biology, chemistry, and physics.”
Jeremy’s fingers fly over his keyboard.
“Won’t security be tight?” Riley asks.
“Not like private labs would have,” I tell him. “At night they probably only have a few campus guards who make regular rounds.”
“I can knock them out without much trouble, and we’ll be good to go,” Draven adds.
“You’re getting awfully comfortable knocking people out,” Deacon tells him, raising his brow. “Not that I’m not grateful for the rescue. But still…”
“You have a better idea?” Draven demands. “If we want to get in and out without anyone getting hurt or captured, then I have to—” “Actually,” I interrupt, “I think you should stay here.”
The table falls silent as everyone gapes at me. Guess I’m not the only one who has come to think of the two of us as a unit lately. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have different opinions. That doesn’t mean we are literally inseparable. That doesn’t mean I’ll put our relationship before safety, common sense, and the big picture. “What do you mean?” Draven asks, as if he really doesn’t understand what I said. The shadows under his eyes and the slump of his shoulders after knocking Rebel out this last time confirm that I’m making the right choice. “I don’t think you should come with us.”
“You don’t want me there?” Draven does a good job of disguising the hurt in his voice, but I know him well enough to hear it.
Just like I can see the hurt in the sapphire depths of his eyes.
“Of course I want you there,” I reassure him. “But you just spent twelve days with the heroes.”
He shrugs as if to say, So what?
“You’re hurt, you’re exhausted, and your powers aren’t what they could be right now.” I don’t miss how he flinches at my words. “I don’t want to risk you getting hurt because you can’t defend yourself.”
He studies me for a second. Then something in his eyes changes, shifting from hurt to anger.
“I can defend myself just fine.” His eyes narrow. “Or is that not the real problem? Are you afraid that I can’t defend you?”
“I know you can,” I say, rolling my eyes in exasperation. “I saw what you did to Rex.”
“Hey, what’d he do to my dad?” Riley asks.
I don’t bother to answer Riley, keeping my focus on Draven instead. “You also know I’m no damsel in distress. I’m more than capable of defending myself.” “That’s not the point.”
Then what is the point? From where I’m standing, it’s all about keeping as many of us as safe and healthy as possible. The fewer risks we take, the better.
“I just think you should sit this one out, okay?” I tell him. “Stay here, keep Rebel under control. Jeremy and I can handle—” “Jeremy?” He recoils like I hit him.
“I’ll need him. The labs will have high-tech locks and security systems.” “Your power can blow them,” Draven argues.
“Not without leaving neon bread crumbs for Rex. Jeremy can get me inside without leaving a trace. I can take it from there. We’re a good team—”
“A good team, huh? You and Jeremy?” Draven shoves back from the table so hard that his chair falls over. “By all means, why don’t you and Jeremy go save the world while the rest of us sit here on our asses? It’s not like you need us, right?” He storms out before I can say anything else or even figure out why he’s so mad. I don’t understand what just happened. My plan makes sense. The fewer of us who go into the lab, the less our chance of getting caught. And Draven is weaker than usual, which makes it even more dangerous for him.
I would do anything to keep him from Rex’s grasp again. Even cut him out of the plan if it will keep him safe. Can’t he see that?
I turn to the rest of the table in confusion, but every one of them is determinedly looking somewhere else. Even Jeremy and Riley.
“I’m only trying to protect him,” I insist, because even though they aren’t saying anything, I can tell they think I’m responsible for Draven’s outburst. “He’s the one who got mad for no reason.”
“No reason?” Dante asks incredulously. “You belittled his powers in front of all of us.”
“I did not—”
“You kind of did,” Jeremy says.
I glare at him. Isn’t he supposed to be on my side?
“And then you said you trusted your ex to protect you over him,” Nitro adds.
“I don’t need anyone to protect me,” I argue.
Riley tsks. “Add in that villain temperament of his—”
“Hey!” Nitro objects. “No villain discrimination at this table. My temperament is just fine.”
“It absolutely is.” Riley reaches over and pats him on the head. “As long as no one minds you setting stuff on fire every fifteen seconds.”
“Seriously?” Nitro puts a hand to his heart and pretends to fall back. “Et tu, Brute?”
I ignore them, turning to Deacon who knows his cousin better than anyone at the table. Or at least better than anyone whose judgment I actually trust…
“He’s not really upset about Jeremy? He has no reason to be—” I break off before saying the word. It just seems so…presumptuous on my part. Not to mention ridiculous.
“Jealous? Is that the word you’re looking for?” Dante supplies helpfully. “No!” My cheeks heat. “Of course not.”
“Well, it should be,” Deacon tells me. “Why wouldn’t he be jealous?” “Because the idea that there’s anything between me and Jeremy is completely absurd—”
“Really?” Jeremy squawks. “Because I thought we were pretty good when we were together—”
He breaks off as something shatters against the wall in the next room.
“You might want to keep those memories to yourself,” Deacon recommends hastily. “If you want to hold on to them, I mean.”
Jeremy pales. I know Draven would never try to use his memory powers on any of us, but apparently Jeremy doesn’t have the same confidence in him.
“See?” Riley tells Nitro. “That’s the villain temperament I was talking about—” “Keep saying that, and you’re going to see my temperament!” Nitro answers as he starts building a small fireball between his hands.
“Don’t worry, Nitro. We’ve all seen your temperament,” Jeremy says.
“Oi! Nothing but grief I get from the lot of you!” Nitro pushes back from the table. “Maybe I should go hang out with Draven. We could break some shite together.”
“Don’t do that!” Riley grabs his hand and pulls him back down.
Nitro beams. “You’d miss me, huh?”
“More like he’d miss the cabin,” Dante says. “We can’t afford to have you blow it up quite yet.”
Nitro crosses his arms over his chest and leans back in his chair. “This borders on abuse, you know.”
For the first time since I’ve met Nitro, he actually sounds like the teasing is getting to him.
I start to say something to him about how much I appreciate his help, but Riley
beats me to it. “I think your power is cool,” he says softly. “I wish I could do
something like that.”
“I’m serious.” Riley puts a hand on Nitro’s arm. “We wouldn’t be able to do half of what we do without you.”
Dante snorts and starts to interrupt, but I kick him under the table. We rag on Nitro all the time—let him have a minute of appreciation. Especially since Riley is totally telling the truth here. Nitro has helped us. A lot.
I glance behind me at the bedroom Draven stormed into. It’s deathly quiet in there, no sounds of shattering glass or fists hitting the wall. But somehow the quiet only makes me more nervous.
“Do you want me to talk to him?” Deacon asks.
“No. I’ll go.” I’m the one who upset him after all. I glance at Jeremy. “Find a list of campus labs within driving distance. Then the rest of you figure out who else needs to go. As few of us as possible,” I stress. “With Rebel down and Deacon still recovering, we’re doing a quick in-and-out, smash-and-grab routine.” “On it,” Jeremy says.
“Yeah,” Dante agrees. “We’ll figure it out. Go do…whatever you have to do.” Whatever I have to do. That’s one way of putting it, I suppose. Too bad I have no idea what that is.
The one thing I do know is that sitting here isn’t going to solve any of our problems. So, with my friends watching—all with varying degrees of trepidation that do nothing to set my mind at ease—I push back from the table.
Cross the living room.
Knock on the half-open bedroom door.
There’s no answer, but then I don’t really expect there to be. Not when he’s this angry.
Figuring no guts, no glory, I push open the door and step gingerly inside.
Draven is on the other side of the room, staring out the window. His shoulders are hunched, his hands are in his pockets, and he’s all but vibrating with a combination of rage and sorrow.
The rage I can handle. It’s the sorrow that has my hands shaking and sickness blooming in my belly. The last thing I ever wanted was to make Draven sad. He’s had enough sadness in his life, and the idea that I’m contributing to it, that I’m just one more thing that makes him feel bad about himself, makes me burn with regret. It’s that regret—that fear that I’ve hurt him—that pulls me to his side.
That has me wrapping my arms around his waist and resting my chin on his shoulder.
That has me whispering, “I’m sorry,” into his ear.
He shakes his head and shifts just enough that I fear he’s going to pull away. He doesn’t though. Instead he shrugs. “Nothing for you to be sorry about.” “There is,” I argue, tightening my arms around him. “I upset you, and I never meant to do that. It’s not that I don’t trust you to take care of me, Draven. It’s not that I don’t think you’re strong enough or don’t have kickass powers or won’t do whatever it takes to make sure we’re all safe, because I know that you are, you have, and you will.”
“Then what?” he demands, whirling to face me. “We haven’t seen each other in nearly two weeks, and the first chance you get, you want to run off with your hero
ex-boyfriend? You want his help instead of mine? I get it. You’ve known him longer. You trust him more than you trust me. But—” “Is that what you think? That I trust him more?”
He raises a brow in obvious challenge. “Don’t you?”
“There’s nobody I trust more than you to have my back. Don’t you see? That’s why I want you to stay here, why I want to keep you out of danger until you’ve recovered from Rex’s treatment, until your powers are back at full. It’s because—” I break off, unsure if I should say the words that are racing to the tip of my tongue. Things between Draven and me have happened so fast, and while it feels good and real and like it matters, I don’t know if it’s like that for both of us. Don’t know if he feels the same way, if saying the words out loud might ruin everything. “Because what, Kenna?” He looks frustrated as he shoves a hand through his hair, face pale and eyes tortured.
That’s what does it for me, what has me saying the words that have been inside me for days. For weeks. I can’t stand the idea that he’s hurting—and that I’m causing any of it. “It’s because I’ve fallen for you, Draven.” I blink back the tears that are suddenly blurring my vision. “I love you.”
For long seconds, I’ve fallen into an abyss. Like all the air has been sucked out of the room, and with it, the ability for my words to make any sound.
Or maybe that’s just me gasping for breath, feeling as if there’s no oxygen left in the world as I wait and wait and wait for him to respond.
“I’m sorry,” I finally say. “You don’t have to… I shouldn’t have… I didn’t mean…”
My humiliation seems to spur him to action because suddenly he’s wrapping his arms around me. Pulling me to his chest. Pressing soft kisses to my forehead, my cheeks, my mouth.
“Don’t,” he tells me between kisses. “Don’t take it back, please. Don’t—” “I’m not taking it back,” I tell him, turning my face up to his so he can kiss me properly.
And he does. Oh God, he does, his lips hot and sweet and desperate against my own.
I whimper a little when he pulls away and try to follow his mouth because I don’t want the kiss to end. Not yet. Not when there’s still so much heat and fear and jealousy between us.
It’s his turn to groan as he shoves his hands through my hair and pulls me in for another kiss, this one even deeper than the last.
I press myself to him and slide my hands around his waist and under his shirt to stroke over the smooth, hot skin of his back. Deep inside I know that this isn’t the time or the place, know that it’s too soon, that neither of us is ready for this. And yet I can’t force myself to stop, can’t let go when I went so long without him. There was a part of me that was terrified I’d never see him, never hold him, never kiss him again.
Draven doesn’t pull away until we’re both gasping for air, until our hands are shaking and our lips are swollen. And even then, he doesn’t go far. He rests his forehead against mine and just breathes. In, out. In, out.
“I’m in love with you too,” he says when we can both finally speak again. “I love you so much that those days I spent in Rex’s prison, not knowing where you were or if you were okay… It was bad. It was so bad. All I wanted was to find you. To make sure you were okay. To never let you out of my sight. And now you’re asking me to let you go again and for me to stay here, waiting, wondering if you’ll make it back alive. I can’t do that. I won’t—”
“You’re right,” I say, cutting him off with more soft kisses. “I won’t ask you to stay. I won’t let the fear of something bad happening to you keep us apart.” “Because that’s not how this works,” he says gently. “We both want to keep each other safe, but there’s no such thing as safety anymore. The whole world is upside down and getting more screwed up every day. There’s no way to guarantee that all of us—that any of us—will make it out of this alive. For as long as we have, I don’t want to be separated from you again. Not if I don’t have to be.”
He’s right. I know he’s right. And still I’m terrified that something’s going to happen to him if he comes with me to the lab. Still I’m terrified that Rex will find him again, and again I won’t be able to protect him. Like I couldn’t protect my mom.
But at the same time, do I want to go to the lab without him? Do I want to do any of this without him? I’ve spent the last twelve days like that, and even though I’ve done what needed to be done, I would have traded almost anything to have him at my side.
“I’m scared,” I tell him. It’s not easy to confess, but it’s true. I’ve lost my mother. I don’t want to lose him too. I can’t. Especially not when I just got him back. “I’m scared too,” he admits. “The more control Rex loses, the more dangerous he gets. We’d be idiots if we weren’t afraid of him. But the only way to overcome that fear is to take action. To make a plan and follow through. Step by step, we do what needs to get done.”
He says it so matter-of-factly that I have to believe him. I have to believe in him.
Rebel screams, and we hear things breaking in the other room.
“The first of which,” I say with a weary smile, “is to get that immunity serum cooking.”
He steps back and holds a hand out to me. “Ready?”
“Not even a little bit,” I answer as I take his hand. “But let’s do it anyway.”