I woke up with hair in in my mouth. What the hell? Still more asleep than awake, I spit it out and sat up. In the process my arm slipped and plopped on the blonde next to me.
Chloe? ConfusionFoggy. She shifted, then began her own return to the waking world. Now that I’d started to wake up for real, I recalled that the three of us stayed in my garage, since the girls’ hideout was way outside of town and none of us felt up for the trip. The sky was growing lighter by the time we made it here, and I’d pushed my luck with Nanna too much of late to have a no-show night.
Okay, we gotta get my truck. I left it on the other side of town, that’ll be our first priority. I couldn’t trust it to be safe in a parking lot forever, but we did leave it in a good neighborhood, so it wasn’t an emergency.
Chloe sat up, then leaned against me. ComfortSafeLove. “Hey. Thanks for letting me borrow your bed. And, umm, putting up with all my drama.”
“You can stay in my bed any time you want.” HappyDesire. The tingles working their way into my otherwise numb arm disagreed, but they were overruled by a different form of tingling. I kissed her forehead rather than expose her to the morning breath. “Besides, you’re our best defense. Do you think Quash would have hesitated to go nuclear if not for you?”
GuiltLossRegret. Chloe looked away. “If not for me, you would have went straight for Quash on the first night out.”
I began to formulate an argument that without her, we wouldn’t know who Quash was to go after him in the first place. The hard part would be overcoming her counter that she could have gone public about her parents from day one, before I came into the picture, thus rendering him harmless. As often as we’d had the argument, it had long become rote.
RealizationDread. Chloe shot to her feet with her power. “Where’s Cecelia?”
Huh? With my power, I could tell she was nowhere to be found in the garage. I called to my metal, which flowed slower than it had since the night I came home from our treasure hunting expedition. I couldn’t feel her through our link, either. Even my connection with Chloe was beginning to fade, though there was enough residual power that it would be hours before it vanished. “She’s gone.”
FearLossPanic. “Do you think she went after my father?”
Can’t rule out the possibility. “Maybe.” My initial fear, that she ditched us so we were no longer targets, sounded too much like retreat to fit her personality. “Do you have enough energy to get to his mansion without burning hers as well? We just need you to get in her range, right?”
“Uh, yeah, I think I can make it if you give me your charge.” HesitationFearLoss. “But what if they already got her? I don’t know if we can tell the difference between out of range and dead.”
I wondered about Chloe’s fear of Cecelia’s death, or mine for that matter. She wasn’t a friend, only barely an ally. She was a monster who’d done hideous, unforgivable things to a lot of innocent people, and she was supposed to be a prisoner helping to pay for her own upkeep. Caring about her was insane, but somehow I felt the same sense of emotional loss at her absence.
Why am I thinking this now? Once I asked myself that question, the answer was obvious. It’s the Pairbond in action. Or, more accurately, it’s the bond wearing off that’s made it clear.
Worry about that later. “If you don’t see a giant smoking hole in your old home, it’s a safe bet she didn’t go there.” I didn’t buy Cecelia’s overconfidence, but there was no way she’d go down without some real damage.
I switched over to my metal-vision. “I know your range with her is better, but I’ll drive around town, maybe get luck-” oh, shit. WorryAid. “Bea’s car’s not here.”
PanicGuilt. “You don’t think-” For a moment, even through the diluted link we carried without Cecelia, we were stunned to paralysis for a moment. Recovery was swift; a product of urgency and lower power. DreadRejection. “She wouldn’t. Right?”
The pain in my arm was meaningless to the fear in my chest. “I… I don’t… we’ve never let her off the leash before.”
I’d never spoken those words aloud; we’d never discussed the danger Cecelia represented if she left the range of our Pairbonds. By unspoken agreement, we were together as much as possible, and never did we leave her alone. That it allowed me and Chloe to be together made the duty a pleasurable one, but even if it wasn’t, we never trusted her with autonomy.
“I. I don’t get it. We gave her permission to leave, if she wanted to.” Knowing that with the Pairbond in effect, she wouldn’t.
UrgencyCertain. “Load me up with what we’ve got left.” Chloe extended her arms, braced for me to shape her armor. “I should be able to cover most of the city in an hour. I’ll find her.”
If she doesn’t use her power to hide, if she hasn’t had hours to drive Bea’s car in any direction. My metal started flowing around Chloe nonetheless, giving me a faint mental map of every curve on her body. An ability I might lose forever, soon. “I’ll go inside, maybe she just stole the car. Or I can call Bea’s cell.” My plan was just as flawed as Chloe’s, but I couldn’t stand around and do nothing.
“Right.” Chloe shot up to the ceiling, popped that secret entrance, and shot out as fast as her power could take her. Not something we ever wanted to do during the day, but now was not the time to care about secrecy.
For my part, I rushed into my house, hoping against hope I’d find Beatrice lazing about in her room or something. I noted the smell of fried vegetables upon entering the house, which meant Nanna was in the kitchen. I took a breath of relief; if Nanna was well, it meant Cecelia didn’t start a murder spree in my house.
I skipped talking to her for now; with no hope to hide that I was in full panic mode, it would accomplish nothing but worry her. Bea’s room was the usual mess, with several sets of clothes strewn about which eliminated all chances of finding clues of recent events.
Having failed as a sleuth, I grabbed the upstairs phone and called Bea’s cell. I had never hated ringing so much as in that moment, nor voice mail messages.
“Hey, either I’m busy, or I don’t wanna talk to you. But leave a holla in case I change my mind.”
An automated message let me know her mailbox was full, so I could not, in fact, leave her a message. Dammit. I dialed the phone again, intent on blowing up her phone until she answered. This is a good sign, right? Cecelia’s the type who liked to ‘play’ with her victims. She’d keep Bea’s phone just to pull some sick mind fuck-. The phone clicked. “Beatrice! Where the hell are you?!”
“~Heya, Dom~,” Cecelia’s voice was sing-song. She even started to giggle after.
Fuck! No. “Cecelia! What have you done?” Please God, let there still be a chance. “Where’s Beatrice? Let me talk to her.”
“Relax, I din’do nothin’.” Cecelia started another giggle fit. “Hey, Bea-Boo, ~yer brother wants you~. Should I be jealous?”
There was some sound as the phone was jostled around, then Beatrice’s voice came over the phone. “Look, before you say a word, I already know. I’m, like, ten minutes away and- Dammit! Tia! Put your pants back on!”
“Wait! Tell-” Too late, she’d hung up. I dialed the phone again, and then a second time without answer. RecognitionSuccessConcern. I felt Chloe from this range, which meant Cecelia had to be back in her range. The metal wrapped around my ankle didn’t have enough charge pick up the ‘signal’ otherwise. I took a slow breath, reaching out our errant prisoner through our Pairbond. AmusedSmugSoothing.
I suppose that’s her way of telling us to relax. Okay, we’re in the clear. Or as clear as we ever had been, which was evidently less than I’d realized. This event called into question every decision we’d ever made involving the serial killer who lived in our metaphorical basement.
I set the phone back on the hook and snuck my way outside again, grateful Nanna was still busy. With my eyes on the sky, and a good idea where to look, I spotted Chloe well above the tree line. Huh, that blue glow of hers isn’t half bad camouflage against the sky. She dropped much faster than gravity toward the garage, landing on the roof seconds before Bea’s car turned the corner.
Beatrice nearly hit the curb on pulling into the drive, having to swat Cecelia’s hand away from her while trying to park. She jumped out of the car, then slammed the door behind her while Cecelia crawled into the driver’s seat. ShockConcern.
“Good, you’re both here. You!” Beatrice pointed past me, at Chloe. “Go take care of that bitch! You!” She’d stormed up enough to grab my arm. “Come!” I was relieved enough to forgive her for treating me like a literal dog. She led me into our rather modest back yard.
She spun me around to face her, then looked up with tears in her eyes. “Now, I’m sure you have a lot of questions, and are about to say a bunch of shit about what I should do.” I hadn’t, actually. “And I’mma let you, if you promise me one little thing.”
Not how I expected my next conversation with my sister to go. “Uh, yeah, anything you want.”
“Please.” She gripped my shirt and pulled me close. “Stop sticking it in the cray-cray!”
“What did she do?” Wait. “Uh, I mean, I’m not doing anything with Felicia.”
“Not talkin’ about fuckin’ her.” Beatrice did not let go of my shirt. “I mean this whole crazy business you’re in. With the powers. I know she’s Spark. She’s…” Bea trailed off, then looked back. “Do you have any idea how nuts she is?” I did, but I couldn’t tell my sister that. “She attacked Ro. Made him cry, and call her mommy. Then she started popping ex and hydros like they were tic-tacs. Three hundred bucks of the shit in a minute. She shouldn’t even be alive right now!”
Christ, that could be bad. Wait, Romeo means… “The hell were you-”
“Shut up!” Tears ran down her cheeks, now. “I know what you’re gonna say.” She stopped herself to breathe. “I can’t go back there now, anyway. She burned those bridges and pissed on the ashes. And I’ll stop hanging with the other guys, too, if you promise me one thing.”
“Stop it. This superhero bullshit, quit it. It’s fucked up, and the people you’re with are fucked up. Walk away from them and I’ll stop from all the shit you hate.” She forced a smile that bordered on the manic. “You go back to med school, and I’ll be a perfect little sister. If you stop before this shit gets you killed.”
Oh. I pulled her into a hug as I put my own thoughts together. I couldn’t tell her who Cecelia was; setting aside my sister’s inability to keep secrets, Cecelia would know if Bea knew who she was even if I could keep it from her. Explaining Quash might be even more dangerous, or force me to reveal more about Chloe’s family life than I cared to.
I considered lying to Bea, but I knew that wouldn’t work. Dammit. “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
Beatrice pushed away from me. “Fuck you!” She turned, then stomped off.
I chased after. “Bea! Wait!”
“No, I get it. Hot white chick ass.” She didn’t slow down nor look at me. “Thought you were smarter than that shit, but whatever. That’s yo thing now? Fine, but don’t try playin’ high an’ mighty with me anymore. You ain’t any better. Least I ain’t bringin’ it home with me.”
Ouch. I stopped and let her go. She wasn’t the sort who listened to reason at the best of times, and I hadn’t a leg to stand on in the first place. More, she was right, I was the one who fucked everything up by bringing it home with me. Chloe first, then Cecelia, and through them the constant threat of Heritage looming over us.
There was a time when I swore to myself I’d make a few bucks and get out. Now I have enough money to tide me over for the first two years of college, but couldn’t leave even when my sister begged me. Fuck.
I stayed there thinking for what felt like forever, then turned for the garage where Chloe and Cecelia were waiting.