- Unravel Me
“What is it?” I fix my eyes on the floor and count stones and sounds and cracks and nothing.
2, 3, 4
2, 3, 4
2, 3, 4
“He … can disable things,” Castle says to me.
5, 6, 7, 8 million times I blink, confused. All my numbers crash to the floor, adding and subtracting and multiplying and dividing. “What?” I ask him.
This news is wrong. This news doesn’t sound horrible at all.
“The discovery was quite accidental, actually,” Castle explains. “We weren’t having much luck with any of the tests we’d been running. But then one day I was in the middle of a training exercise, and Mr. Kent was trying to get my attention. He touched my shoulder.”
Wait for it.
“And … suddenly,” Castle says, pulling in a breath, “I couldn’t perform. It was as if—as if a wire inside of my body had been cut. I felt it right away. He wanted my attention and he inadvertently shut me off in an attempt to redirect my focus. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” He shakes his head. “We’ve now been working with him to see if he can control his ability at will. And,” Castle adds, excited, “we want to see if he can project.
“You see, Mr. Kent does not need to make contact with the skin—I was wearing my blazer when he touched my arm. So this means he’s already projecting, if only just a little bit. And I believe, with some work, he’ll be able to extend his gift to a greater surface area.”
I have no idea what that means.
I try to meet Adam’s eyes; I want him to tell me these things himself but he won’t look up. He won’t speak and I don’t understand. This doesn’t seem like bad news. In fact, it sounds quite good, which can’t be right. I turn to Castle. “So Adam can just make someone else’s power—their gift—whatever it is—he can just make it stop? He can turn it off?”
“I appears that way, yes.”
“Have you tested this on anyone else?”
Castle looks offended. “Of course we have. We’ve tried it on every gifted member at Omega Point.”
But something isn’t making sense.
“What about when he arrived?” I ask. “And he was injured? And the girls were able to heal him? Why didn’t he cut off their abilities?”
“Ah.” Castle nods. Clears his throat. “Yes. Very astute, Ms. Ferrars.” He paces the length of the room. “This … is where the explanation gets a little tricky. After much study, we’ve been able to conclude that his ability is a kind of … defense mechanism. One that he does not yet know how to control. It’s something that’s been working on autopilot his entire life, even though it only works to disable other preternatural abilities. If there was ever a risk, if Mr. Kent was ever in any state of danger, in any situation where his body was on high alert, feeling threatened or at risk of injury, his ability automatically set in.”
He stops. Looks at me. Really looks at me.
“When you first met, for example, Mr. Kent was working as a soldier, on guard, always aware of the risks in his surroundings. He was in a constant state of electricum—a term we use to define when our Energy is ‘on,’ so to speak—because he was always in a state of danger.” Castle tucks his hands into his blazer pockets. “A series of tests have further shown that his body temperature rises when he is in a state of electricum—just a couple of degrees higher than normal. His elevated body temperature indicates that he is exerting more energy than usual to sustain this. And, in short,” Castle says, “this constant exertion has been exhausting him. Weakening his defenses, his immune system, his self-control.”
His elevated body temperature.
That’s why Adam’s skin was always so hot when we were together. Why it was always so intense when he was with me. His ability was working to fight mine. His energy was working to defuse mine.
It was exhausting him. Weakening his defenses.
“Your physical relationship with Mr. Kent,” Castle says, “is, in truth, none of my business. But because of the very unique nature of your gifts, it’s been of great interest to me on a purely scientific level. But you must know, Ms. Ferrars, that though these new developments no doubt fascinate me, I take absolutely no pleasure in them. You’ve made it clear that you do not think much of my character, but you must believe that I would never find joy in your troubles.”
My troubles have arrived fashionably late to this conversation, inconsiderate beasts that they are.
“Please,” I whisper. “Please just tell me what the problem is. There’s a problem, isn’t there? Something is wrong.” I look at Adam but he’s still staring away, at the wall, at everything but at my face, and I feel myself rising to my feet, trying to get his attention. “Adam? Do you know? Do you know what he’s talking about? Please—”
“Ms. Ferrars,” Castle says quickly. “I beg you to sit down. I know this must be difficult for you, but you must let me finish. I’ve asked Mr. Kent not to speak until I’m done explaining everything. Someone needs to deliver this information in a clear, rational manner, and I’m afraid he is in no position to do so.”
I fall back onto the bed.
Castle lets out a breath. “You brought up an excellent point earlier—about why Mr. Kent was able to interact with our healer twins when he first arrived. But it was different with them,” Castle says. “He was weak; he knew he needed help. His body would not—and, more importantly, could not—refuse that kind of medical attention. He was vulnerable and therefore unable to defend himself even if he wanted to. The last of his Energy was depleted when he arrived. He felt safe and he was seeking aid; his body was out of immediate danger and therefore unafraid, not primed for a defensive strategy.”
Castle looks up. Looks me in the eye.
“Mr. Kent has begun having a similar problem with you.”
“What?” I gasp.
“I’m afraid he doesn’t know how to control his abilities yet. It’s something we’re hoping we can work on, but it will take a lot of time—a lot of energy and focus—”
“What do you mean,” I hear myself ask, my words heavy with panic, “that he has already begun having a similar problem with me?”
Castle takes a small breath. “It—it seems that he is weakest when he is with you. The more time he spends in your company, the less threatened he feels. And the more … intimate you become,” Castle says, looking distinctly uncomfortable, “the less control he has over his body.” A pause. “He is too open, too vulnerable with you. And in the few moments his defenses have slipped thus far, he’s already felt the very distinct pain associated with your touch.”
There it is.
There’s my head, lying on the floor, cracked right open, my brain spilling out in every direction and I can’t I don’t I can’t even I’m sitting here, struck, numb, slightly dizzy.
Adam is not immune to me.
Adam has to work to defend himself against me and I’m exhausting him. I’m making him sick and I’m weakening his body and if he ever slips again. If he ever forgets. If he ever makes a mistake or loses focus or becomes too aware of the fact that he’s using his gift to control what I might do—
I could hurt him.
I could kill him.
Castle is staring at me.
Waiting for my reaction.
I haven’t been able to spit the chalk out of my mouth long enough to string a sentence together.
“Ms. Ferrars,” he says, rushing to speak now, “we are working with Mr. Kent to help him control his abilities. He’s going to train—just as you are—to learn how to exercise this particular element of who he is. It will take some time until we can be certain he’ll be safe with you, but it will be all right, I assure you—”
“No.” I’m standing up. “No no no no no.” I’m tripping sideways. “NO.”
I’m staring at my feet and at my hands and at these walls and I want to scream. I want to run. I want to fall to my knees. I want to curse the world for cursing me, for torturing me, for taking away the only good thing I’ve ever known and I’m stumbling toward the door, searching for an outlet, for escape from this nightmare that is my life and
The sound of Adam’s voice stops my heart. I force myself to turn around. To face him.
But the moment he meets my eyes his mouth falls closed. His arm is outstretched toward me, trying to stop me from 10 feet away and I want to sob and laugh at the same time, at the terrible hilarity of it all.
He will not touch me.
I will not allow him to touch me.
“Ms. Ferrars,” Castle says gently. “I’m sure it’s hard to stomach right now, but I’ve already told you this isn’t permanent. With enough training—”
“When you touch me,” I ask Adam, my voice breaking, “is it an effort for you? Does it exhaust you? Does it drain you to have to constantly be fighting me and what I am?”
Adam tries to answer. He tries to say something but instead he says nothing and his unspoken words are so much worse.
I spin in Castle’s direction. “That’s what you said, isn’t it?” My voice is even shakier now, too close to tears. “That he’s using his Energy to extinguish mine, and that if he ever forgets—if he ever gets c-carried away or t-too vulnerable—that I could hurt him—that I’ve already h-hurt him—”
“Ms. Ferrars, please—”
“Just answer the question!”
“Well yes,” he says, “for now, at least, that’s all we know—”
“Oh, God, I—I can’t—” I’m tripping to reach the door again but my legs are still weak, my head is still spinning, my eyes are blurring and the world is being washed of all its color when I feel familiar arms wrap around my waist, tugging me backward.
“Juliette,” he says, so urgently, “please, we have to talk about this—”
“Let go of me.” My voice is barely a breath. “Adam, please—I can’t—”
“Castle.” Adam cuts me off. “Do you think you can give us some time alone?”
“Oh.” He startles. “Of course,” he says, just a beat too late. “Sure, yes, yes, of course.” He walks to the door. Hesitates. “I will—well, right. Yes. You know where to find me when you’re ready.” He nods at both of us, offers me a strained sort of smile, and leaves the room. The door clicks shut behind him.
Silence pours into the space between us.
“Adam, please,” I finally say, and hate myself for saying it. “Let go of me.”
I feel his breath on the back of my neck and it’s killing me to be so close to him. It’s killing me to know that I have to rebuild the walls I’d so carelessly demolished the moment he came back into my life.