The figure was facedown, both arms and legs twisted at a strange angle. It was a—it was a boy, all thin limbs. Big hands, big feet, as if he hadn’t quite grown into them yet. Puppy paws, Cate had called them once. The light faded over him again as I rushed forward, and brightened just enough for me to see it was Jude.
The blood was everywhere, streaking his face, his hands, his broken back. I was screaming, screaming, screaming, because his eyes were open, his mouth was turned down into the pool of it, but his lips were moving. He shook, his body giving those last involuntary jerks—
Two hands clamped down on my upper arms, ripping me out of that hallway and into another. No—oh God—he needed help, I needed to help him—
My mind came awake with a surge, so quickly I thought I was actually going to be sick. I spun, my legs disappearing under me, but someone held me up. My teeth knocked together as I was shaken back into reality.
“Easy—easy!” Southern—Liam? No, Cole. His anxious face came into focus. The lights overhead were pure, unwavering white, with more light from small windows at either end of the hall. I focused on the pane of glass behind his head, where I could see a variety of weights, treadmills, and mats. Gym. Cole’s face was beaded with sweat, his skin was flushed, because he’d been in the gym. But I hadn’t walked here. I hadn’t come to find him. I hadn’t left—
Cole drew me forward into the training room. The air conditioning was running at full throttle, instantly cooling the patches of sweat on my back and under my arms. He lowered me down onto one of the benches and disappeared for a second, returning with a small towel and a paper cup of water.
I hadn’t realized I was shaking until I tried to drink. Cole took my left hand and pressed the towel against my palm. I looked down, surprised to find streaks of fresh blood running down my wrist, into the crook of my elbow. It was all over my jeans and shirt.
I jumped up, or at least tried to. My mind narrowed in on the image of Jude, the way the red light had turned his blood black. But this was—this wasn’t his blood, was it? This wasn’t HQ. This wasn’t Los Angeles.
We had left Jude in Los Angeles.
“Do you know where you are?” Cole asked, crouching down in front of me. He waited for me to nod before continuing. “I’m sorry to wake you up the way I did, I know you’re not supposed to, but I saw you pass by and then you started screaming. I didn’t realize you had those kinds of pipes, kid.”
I barely heard him. “I was...sleepwalking?”
“Seems like it,” he said, not unkindly. “What did you cut your hand on?”
I shrugged, my throat aching. “What time is it?”
“It’s about five in the morning.” The lines around Cole’s mouth were so much more pronounced. Now that the flush was fading from his face, the shadows were returning—under his eyes, under his high cheekbones, the new beard growth along his jaw. “You made off with about five hours of sleep.”
“More than you,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, well, I decided to try running from my nightmares instead of diving into them headfirst.” The screen on the treadmill he’d been using was still flashing, paused. “Got too much adrenaline. Too many thoughts knocking around my skull. Energy to burn.”
I finally came back fully into the present when my ears picked up the soft voice of a broadcaster coming from the TV bolted to the wall. The room’s smell flooded my nose: plastic, sweat, and metal finally driving out the stench of blood.
Cole gave me a shrewd look, studying me for a moment with a look like he recognized something in me I didn’t necessarily know was there myself. Unlike Cate, unlike Liam, unlike Chubs—unlike Jude—he simply let what had happened drop at our feet. There was no pressing about how I was feeling or what I’d seen, and that was exactly what I wanted. To push it behind me and leave it there.
He pulled the towel away from my palm, inspecting the cut.
“Looks pretty shallow,” he announced, rising to his feet. “Already healing. It’ll probably sting like a bitch for a while, though.” Finished with me, he lifted his shirt to wipe the sweat from his face, giving me a flash of toned skin I hadn’t asked for.
I looked away. “Are you here every morning?”
“All two days we’ve been here,” he said, amused. “Trying to get my ass back in shape. It’s been a while since I trained. Helps, too, to get the...” He made a vague gesture with his hand. “To blow off steam.”
“I miss it,” I heard myself say, “feeling strong. I just feel like we know where we’re going. You and me. But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m just spinning and spinning and spinning waiting to get there. And dammit—the research on the cause of IAAN, I can’t get over what a goddamn waste it is that, after everything, we can’t even have that. I used to be able to handle things. I’m not...” I lifted my hand. “Obviously that’s not the case these days.”
“Yeah, and what are you going to do about it?” Cole tucked his arms against his chest. “You recognize the problem, how are you going to fix it? Stop thinking about the flash drive, the cause. Don’t waste your energy on regret or self-pity. If that road is closed to us, we’ll focus on figuring out the cure. So, again, tell me: what are you going to do about it?”
“Train,” I said. “We’ll have to train all of the kids. We’re going to need them to be able to fight.”