I counted a hundred paces off in my head, sure I was nearing the end of the hall, when a hand reached out of the darkness and grabbed me. I was pulled inside a small, tight space—a closet? My heart was still fluttering when the door clicked shut behind me.
“So, Gem...” Cole began. “Busy night, huh?”
The only way I’d been able to keep myself mostly together these past two weeks had been to screw a lid down over every terrifying impulse of emotion that tried to bubble up. Now, though, I’d been shaken so badly that it was only a matter of time before I exploded. I just wished it wasn’t now, and that it didn’t come in the form of gasping tears. I couldn’t get a word out.
“Gem—Jesus.” Cole put a hand on my shoulder, steadying me as he snapped his fingers. A flame flickered at the tip of them, filling the cramped space with light.
“I was coming back...” I managed to squeeze out. “I overheard Sen and the others....They aren’t going to—we aren’t going to the Ranch. I looked in her head and...they’re going to—they’re going to—”
“Take it from the beginning,” Cole said. “Go slow. Tell me everything you heard the agents say. What you saw.”
I repeated it, word for word. I told them about how they were going to take one or two of us kids in each car with them, how they planned to wait until we were an hour or two outside of the city before subduing each kid. The exchange of flesh and bone for blood money. The guns they’d buy, the explosives they’d set—they were going after Gray where they assumed he’d be stupid enough to be: the newly rebuilt Washington, D.C.
Cole’s expression was shuttered, closed off in a way that Liam never could manage. If I hadn’t seen his hand spasm, I wouldn’t have known he was furious until he spoke. For a long time, though, he said nothing at all. I felt a trickle of sweat run down my face and was tempted, for a moment, to open the door and let the cool air in.
Finally, he said, “I’ll handle it.”
“We will handle it. But you have to decide,” I told him. “Right now. You can’t keep running down the middle, trying to have a foot on both sides of the line. Decide if you’re with us or you’re with them.”
“Of course I’m with you,” he said sharply, looking pissed that I’d suggested otherwise. “You know I—this affects me, too. I made you a promise back in Los Angeles, didn’t I? You trying to make me out to be a liar?”
“No, I just—” I sucked in a deep breath. “You won’t tell the others what you are. You won’t even tell Liam. You haven’t looked at the cure research since that first night.”
“Oh, gee, could it be because I’m trying not to draw attention to the fact that I have a personal investment in getting rid of certain delightful freak powers?” He let the flame go out for a moment and then relit it for emphasis. “I can’t show interest in something without the other agents wondering why, or without them wanting it more, just because I do. It’s a game I’ve had to play for years.”
“This is not a game, no part of it is,” I said. “They won’t give the research back now.”
“I am well aware of that, and I’ve taken precautions. Their names are Blair and Sara.”
The two girls were Greens. With photographic memories. “You gave it to them to memorize?”
“I tested them. Had each reproduce a diagram and chart, and they nailed it. I think we should let the agents keep the backpack—it’ll help sell what we’re trying to do,” he said. I kept my back straight and looked just past his head, where I wouldn’t have to both listen to the Southern drawl and see that smile, the patented Stewart charm assault. “I have an idea, but I also have a feeling you aren’t going to like it.”
“Way to set it up for me.”
“I’m serious now, Gem. This has to be between you and me, understand? It won’t work otherwise. Promise me. It’s the only way to get rid of them before they get rid of us.”
Cole offered a hand, and I hesitated before taking it. I held it long enough to feel the natural, innate heat of him warm the air around us.
Clancy had told me once that there had to be a natural hierarchy of people with Psi abilities; that those with the most power should be leading the others, simply because there wasn’t anyone else powerful enough to question them. And now, holding Cole’s hand, I saw that was true, but for a different reason. We were the ones who saw the full spectrum of everything right and wrong with the abilities we’d been given; we’d been feared and hated, and we’d feared and hated ourselves. Neither of us wanted what we had; we’d never try to keep our powers or abuse our position for absolutely longer than we had to. And on a basic level, the ones with the most power had to be out front, if only because we’d have the best shot at protecting the others.
I squeezed his hand. A look of relief and gratitude passed over his features before he could steady them back into his usual look of arrogant nonchalance.
“What’s our next step, then?” I asked. “How are we going to accomplish anything without trained forces? Where are we going to go?”
“We are going to the Ranch,” Cole said. “They are going to Kansas HQ with the rest of the agents. They get to wash their hands of us, but they don’t get the damn Ranch. That is ours.”
“How are you going to manage that?” I said.