Which means right now, I’m watching him bench-press three hundred and fifteen pounds. Three forty-five-pound plates on each side of what Kenji told me is called an Olympic bar, which weighs an additional forty-five pounds. I can’t stop staring. I don’t think I’ve ever been more attracted to him in all the time I’ve known him.
Kenji pulls up next to me. Nods at Warner. “So this gets you going, huh?”
Kenji barks out a laugh.
“I’ve never seen him in sweatpants before.” I try to sound normal. “I’ve never even seen him in shorts.”
Kenji raises an eyebrow at me. “I bet you’ve seen him in less.”
I want to die.
Kenji and I are supposed to spend this next month training. That’s the plan. I need to train enough to fight and use my strength without being overpowered ever again. This isn’t the kind of situation we can go into without absolute confidence, and since I’m supposed to be leading the mission, I still have a lot of work to do. I need to be able to access my energy in an instant, and I need to be able to moderate the amount of power I exert at any given time. In other words: I need to achieve absolute mastery over my ability.
Kenji is also training in his own way; he wants to perfect his skill in projecting; he wants to be able to do it without having to make direct contact with another person. But he and I are the only ones who have any real work to do. Castle has been in control of himself for decades now, and everyone else has fairly straightforward skills that they’ve very naturally adapted to. In my case, I have seventeen years of psychological trauma to undo.
I need to break down these self-made walls.
Today, Kenji’s starting small. He wants me to move a dumbbell across the room through sheer force of will. But all I’ve managed to do was make it twitch. And I’m not even sure that was me.
“You’re not focusing,” Kenji says to me. “You need to connect—find your core and pull from within,” he’s saying. “You have to, like, literally pull it out of yourself and then push it out around you, J. It’s only difficult in the beginning,” he says, “because your body is so used to containing the energy. In your case it’s going to be even harder, because you’ve spent your whole life bottling it up. You have to give yourself permission to let it go. Let down your guard. Find it. Harness it. Release it.”
He gives me the same speech, over and over again.
And I keep trying, over and over again.
I count to three.
I close my eyes and try to really, truly focus this time. I listen to the sudden urge to lift my arms, planting my feet firmly on the floor. I blow out a breath. Squeeze my eyes shut tighter. I feel the energy surging up, through my bones, my blood, raging and rising until it culminates into a mass so potent I can no longer contain it. I know it needs release, and needs it now.
Before, I always thought I needed to touch something to let the power out.
It never occurred to me to throw the energy into a stationary object. I thought my hands were the final destination; I never considered using them as a transmitter, as a medium for the energy to pass through. But I’m just now realizing that I can try to push it out through my hands—through my skin. And maybe, if I’m strong enough, I might be able to learn to manipulate the power in midair, forcing it to move whichever way I want.
My sudden realization gives me a renewed burst of confidence. I’m excited now, eager to see if my theory is correct. I steel myself, feeling the rush of power flood through me again. My shoulders tense as the energy coats my hands, my wrists, my forearms. It feels so warm, so intense, almost like it’s a tangible thing; the kind of power that could tangle in my fingers.
I curl my fists.
Pull back my arms.
And then fling them forward, opening my hands at the same time.
I squint one eye open, sneaking a look at the dumbbell still sitting in the same spot.
“GET DOWN,” Kenji shouts, yanking me backward and shoving me face-first onto the floor.
I can hear everyone shouting and thudding to the ground around us. I crane my neck up only to see that they’ve all got their hands over their heads, faces covered; I try to look around.
Panic seizes me by the throat.
The rock wall is fissuring into what might be a hundred pieces, creaking and groaning as it falls apart. I watch, horrified, as one huge, jagged chunk trembles just before unhinging from the wall.
Warner is standing underneath.
I’m about to scream before I see him look up, both hands outstretched toward the chaos. Immediately, the wall stops shaking. The pieces hover, trembling only slightly, caught between falling and fitting back into place.
My mouth is still open.
Warner looks to his right. Nods.
I follow his line of sight and see Castle on the other side, using his power to hold up the other end. Together they control the pieces as they fall to the floor, allowing them to float down, settling each broken slab and each jagged bit gently against what remains of the wall.
Everyone begins to pop their heads up, realizing something has changed. We slowly get to our feet, and watch, dumbstruck, as Castle and Warner contain the disaster and confine it to one space. Nothing else is damaged. No one is hurt. I’m still looking on, eyes wide with awe.
When the work is finally done, Warner and Castle share a brief moment of acknowledgment before they head in opposite directions.
Warner comes to find me. Castle to everyone else.
“Are you okay?” Warner asks. His tone is businesslike, but his eyes give him away. “You’re not injured?”
I shake my head. “That was incredible.”
“I can’t take any credit for it,” he says. “It was Castle’s power I borrowed.”
“But you’re so good at it,” I tell him, forgetting for a moment that we’re supposed to be mad at each other. “You just learned you have this ability, and you can already control it. So naturally. But then when I try to do something, I nearly kill everyone in the process.” I drop my head. “I’m the worst at everything,” I mutter. “The worst.”
“Don’t feel bad,” he says quietly. “You’ll figure it out.”
“Was it ever hard for you?” I look up, hopeful. “Figuring out how to control the energy?”
“Oh,” he says, surprised. “No. Though I’ve always been very good at everything I do.”