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After a short pause, I shook my head. “No one. Just forgot where I was for a second.”

Jared nodded, and then rested his hand on my knee. “We’l be there in two hours.”

He spent the remainder of our flight on his cel phone. He made arrangements for a car to pick us up at the airport, and for a friend, Colonel Jason Brand to meet us at Landstuhl with visitor identification.

Upon arrival, the pace accelerated. The second the plane came to a stop, Jared had the few things we brought with us in hand, and he held out my jacket.

“It’s chil y,” he said, helping me twist into the sleeves.

Descending the stairs of the plane, it was clear why Jared had to make so many phone call s. Pilots walked to and from their jets, crew chiefs were parking and marshel ing out jets, while others were busy with flight inspections. Jet engines screamed as they prepared for takeoff.

We had landed at Ramstein air base. Jared’s connections spanned farther than I had imagined.

We rushed off the tarmac to the waiting car. The driver was a stranger to me. He spoke fluent German to Jared, so I was unsure if he was just a local or someone Jared had met before. He looked about Jared’s age. Light blonde hair peeked from his dark green bal cap, but his eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses.

“Warum gehen Sie nach Landstuhl?” the driver said.

“Claire’s Taleh ist verletzt worden,” Jared said.

The driver’s eyebrows pul ed in. He was a friend. Jared mentioning Claire’s Taleh could even mean that he was a Hybrid, and by the features I could see, he was.

“Gutes Glück zu Ihnen, Freund,” he said, shaking his head.

“Danke,” Jared frowned. He leaned toward me, then. “He was asking why we’re here. I told him, and he wished us luck,” he whispered against my cheek.

Nodding, I hugged Jared’s arm to me. Landstuhl was just three miles from the West Gate of the base. The soldier guarding the gate seemed to know the driver, and after checking out his identification, let us through quickly.

An officer in a blue decorated dress uniform waited at the front entrance of the hospital.

“Colonel,” Jared said, shaking his hand. He was definitely not a hybrid, with his dark hair and eyes. “Nina, this is Colonel Jason Brand,” he said.

I shook his hand. “Thank you,” I said.

“Not at al . Claire’s pretty famous around here. We’ve al trained with her at some point,” Jason said with a smal grin. “Jared, we’ve got good news coming from the surgeon,” he said as we fol owed him inside. His voice was firm and no-nonsense. It reminded me of the way my father spoke. “Claire is in the waiting room on the third floor. They know you’re coming.”

Jared nodded. He kept me by his side as we walked to the elevator. The space was quiet, and despite Jason’s positive comment earlier, Jared was on-edge. He rubbed his thumb compulsively against the top of my hand as he held it a bit too tight in his.

“What can I do,” I asked, touching his arm with my free hand.

One corner of Jared's mouth turned up in an appreciative half-smile. “You're here with me. That's al I need.”

The door opened to a bustling hal way. The wal s were devoid of anything but white paint, and the hal s were ful of equipment and people.

Medical personnel attended to the wounded wearing either utility attire or green scrubs. Soldiers past by in wheelchairs, accompanied by their attentive wives or mothers. A few were trying on their new prosthesis and learning to walk again.

My stomach instantly felt sick, wondering what was waiting for us in Ryan’s room.

Jared pushed through a set of double doors and stopped. Claire, tiny and alone, stood at the end of the hal . She was looking down an adjacent hal , but the second she felt Jared’s presence, she slowly turned to face him. His stoic disposition deteriorated as he looked into the eyes of his little sister, and a smal sound escaped from his throat.

Claire ran down the hal at ful speed, and crashed into Jared, wrapping her arms around him. She had run so hard, and hit him with such force, it made a clapping sound that echoed through the hal s as if a door had slammed. Even with Claire’s incredible strength, Jared didn’t budge. He lifted her off the floor, taking her into his long arms and squeezed her tightly.

“You didn’t have to come, stupid!” she said. Her voice was muffled against Jared’s shoulder. When she pul ed back to look at him, tears blurred her round, ice-blue eyes. “But, I’m glad you came.”

She reached for me, and hooked her arm around my neck, adding me to their embrace. We stood there in silence for a long while, knowing once we let go, reality would set in.

Time was not on our side, and too quickly the reunion was over. We walked to the waiting room, dazed and emotional y exhausted. Jared sat beside me on the sofa, and Claire took a chair adjacent to us.

Jared cleared his throat. “I’m going to apologize in advance, Claire. This is hard for me.”

“Déjà vu?” she said in understanding.

“Something like that,” he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb.

“You mean me,” I said softly.

Jared didn’t meet my eyes; he simply nodded as he stared at the floor. I had tried to imagine many times what he went through while waiting to hear whether I would live or die after the shoot out in the restaurant.

“I remember,” Claire said with a far-off look in her eyes. “Mom was there. Bex was stuck in Dubai with Amir.” She spoke low and slow, looking to Jared with weary eyes. “You sat on that horrible, fake leather chair until you couldn’t stand it, and then you paced the length of the room until we couldn’t stand it. It was harder to watch than when Daddy slipped away. Then Samuel came, and Eli….”

“They were there?” I asked, surprised.

Jared nodded. “They appeared after I call ed for Gabriel. I begged him to take me the second...I didn’t want to know what it would feel like when you were gone.”

“Would it be painful?” I asked, touching his arm.

Jared breathed a heavy sigh. “My father described it as weakness, growing so debilitating that eventual y every system in our bodies stop.” He looked into my eyes. “We literal y need our Taleh’s to breathe.”

Claire watched us for a moment before speaking. “I had to restrain Jared several times. He couldn’t stand the thought of you lying on a table without him, letting strangers—humans—try to save you. He wanted to force his way into the O.R. I’d never seen him so unreasonable.” Claire’s icy eyes melted when she looked at her brother. “Seeing Jared feel so helpless and desperate—Mom waiting to hear if she would lose you and her son—the col ective pain in that room wil be burned into my memory forever. Just like yesterday wil .”