It rained for two solid weeks.
The haze over the lake was so thick, Molly could imagine it had swallowed everything else and left her adrift in some other world. The water was dead calm, too, like it had never been touched. She dipped her toes into it, watching ripples scatter the perfect image of trees over its surface. Even though it had passed into October, the water was still warm, although the weather had left a cool, humid blanket over the whole town. She’d trudged through it, feeling lost and kind of guilty, as if the rain and all its ensuing misery were somehow her fault. For all she knew, it was. Her power had become harder to control, spiking unexpectedly, and forcefully, and in new ways. She had to keep a check on it constantly, and it had deteriorated her already precarious focus in school. It was just as well she didn’t have any other distractions, like friends or hobbies.
Molly sighed and leaned back. At least at home, they were far enough removed that she could relax a little. Without Clarissa around, she could even play with her power some, enjoy it like she’d never been able to. She held her hand over the water, feeling its presence like a strange sense of magnetism.
It gravitated up to her, rising in little ripples that grew into waves: two feet, five feet, ten feet. Spray glittered in the air as it crashed down, splashing water on the deck and sending huge waves rushing across the calm surface of the lake.
“M?” Her father came up behind her. Molly let the water fall.
“Morning,” she said, drawing her feet out of the water with a sigh.
“It’s almost time for school,” he said, crouching beside her. “Ready to go?”
She took a deep breath. “I guess I have to.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You kind of do.”
“I’ll be right there,” she said. “I’ve got to get my shoes on.”
She took her time with them, savoring the last few minutes of peace she had before going back to what was left of her life. Eventually, she couldn’t stall anymore, so she made her way back into the house, grabbed her backpack form her room and started downstairs.
Her dad was on the phone, hovering half-hidden between the hall and the kitchen.
“—weeks is a long time. I’ve really missed you,” he was saying.
Molly froze halfway down the stairs. Was he talking to Clarissa? She didn’t know who else it could be. He had that sad, lost puppy quality to his voice, so it couldn’t be Grandma. She was pretty sure he didn’t miss anyone else that much.
“Can I call you back? I’m trying to get Molly to school.”
Two weeks, and he hadn’t mentioned her once. Had they been talking this whole time? Or had she just now called? Molly was afraid to speculate; she’d just been glad that Clarissa had decided not to call the police or the news or something.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. We can talk about it. Okay, bye.”
She waited through a few seconds of silence before she ventured the rest of the way downstairs. “Hey, M,” he said, grabbing his coat and keys. “Ready to go?”
“Actually— I thought I might take my bike today,” Molly said. If Clarissa was ready to talk to him again, she thought she should give him the chance. After pretty much ruining his engagement, it was the least she could do.
“Really? Are you feeling up to it?”
“Yeah,” she said, prodding her ribs. “Pain’s all gone.” She’d had to feign a wreck to explain the injury, but it had made the healing process a lot easier. “I mean, the rain’s supposed to hold off until tonight, and I think I’d enjoy the ride for once.”
“You don’t have a lot of time.”
“I’ve got half an hour,” she said. “I can get there.”
He looked skeptical, but after a second he nodded. “As long as it stays dry,” he said. “But if it’s raining when school’s out, wait for me. I don’t want you running home in the rain.”
“Okay.” She started out the door, but he stopped her.
Both hands on her shoulders he said. “Stay calm today, M.”
“And stay focused.”
He gave her a hug. “And come home safe.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ve got it under control.”
* * * * *
Aaron was tired of rain. He felt like the world had grown eternally soggy under the constant storms. The ground was wet. The air was wet. Every time he put on his shoes, they were still damp with rain and mud. Half the school seemed to be out with a cold, and everyone left was just as miserably sodden as he was. Even this break in the rain wouldn’t last long, and the muggy haze over everything pretty much promised more misery in the future.
The good thing was that his concussion had pretty much healed, and his visions had been a lot easier lately. Fewer full-blown episodes, even if he was still having less severe episodes more often. It had made such a difference that Mom agreed to hold off on probing his brain any time soon. Of course, some of that might have been guilt. She was still healing from her own injuries, and not all of them had been physical.
There had been no trace of the mercenary from the lab. After a week of constant anxiety, Aaron had started to feel bored instead. Like he wanted something to happen, even if it was awful, just to end all the waiting. The others still refused to let him go anywhere alone, too, and it was driving him crazy.
Molly was still around. He’d half expected her to disappear, but Monday morning, there she was. Like nothing had happened. But of course it was different now. She was different. She kept to herself. She ate lunch alone, did her work without looking up or talking in class. He didn’t think he’d seen her smile once since the day at the lake. It was like seeing a shadow wandering in her place. Molly had kept her distance from all of them, and so far none of them had breached it.
“Aaron, you’re spacing again,” Lucia said.
He blinked back at her, and then down at his half-eaten tray of food. “Sorry,” he said.
“Vision?” she asked, shoveling a forkful of spicy rice into her mouth.
“No, just thinking.”
Brennan glanced toward the corner of the lunchroom. Lucia followed suit, and her gaze lingered longer than his had. Clearly, they knew who he’d been looking at, but they didn’t comment.
“I haven’t had one in a few days,” Aaron said to change the subject. “I’m not sure why. It’s been kind of weird.”
“You haven’t been using your power as much, though. Right?” Brennan said. “That has to make a difference.”
“Well, actually, I have,” Aaron said. “Once my head stopped aching so much, I started practicing again. I think it’s getting easier.”
Lucia broke her gaze away from Molly. “Are you doing something different?” she asked.
“Not really.” He shrugged. A little part of his brain suggested it was thanks to Molly’s help. He ignored it.
“Hmm.” She didn’t say anything else, but he could tell there was something bothering her.
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” she said. “It’s just…I’ve been really sensitive lately. And last night, I was helping Sonia with her tension headache and I noticed this bruise on her shoulder….and I…uh…I healed it.”
“The bruise? I thought you couldn’t—”
“Well, okay, not completely,” Lucia said. “But it definitely faded. It went from bluish-purple and blotchy to yellowy-red and blotchy.”
Aaron frowned. Lucia had always had some ability to heal, but it had mostly been limited to pain relief, reduced swelling—basically anything a good painkiller could do.
“I only meant to ease the soreness a little,” Lucia said. “I’ve never had a reaction that strong. I mean, I’m not going to be performing miracles any time soon. But…” Her face grew worried. “It’s like you were saying. Things feel easier. Like my power’s getting stronger.”
Aaron thought about it. “What about you, Bren? Anything new?”
Brennan shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t use my power for much. Been having weird flashes though. Feeling hot, then cold. Like my body can’t adjust to the temperature. It’s feels kind of like what happened in the beginning. When our powers first started, you know?”
“How long has it been going on?” Lucia asked. “Since…” she hesitated. “Since the lab?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
Aaron glanced toward the corner again. He thought about the lake, how out of control she’d been. Were her powers getting stronger, too? “What if—”
He was interrupted by a very loud throat-clearing. He turned around to see Selena standing next to their table, a mask of disdain on her face. She rounded the table and sat between him and Brennan. They all stared at her. “Uh, Selena? What are you doing?” Aaron asked.
“Just keep your voices down,” she said, and turned to Brennan. “I told them we had chem homework to work on,” she explained, laying her tablet flat on the lunch table. “Pretend to think.”
“Are we going to go there?” Brennan arched an eyebrow. “Remind me which one of us is acing chem?” He leaned back in his chair, smirking as she turned pink.
“Only because you’re cheating. Stupid heat powers.”
Brennan grinned wider, clearly pleased that he’d gotten under her skin. “If I’m cheating, then all of your grades are cheating. How does that feel, genius?”
“Fine, you’re better at chemistry than I am. Happy?” She tossed her hair back, but didn’t quite lose the affronted tinge in her cheeks. “I thought you might want to see this,” she said, sliding her tablet forward so they could see.
The image was startlingly familiar. “You found him!” Aaron said.
“Turns out Ivy’s sketch was actually really good,” Selena said with a shrug. “He was just hard to track down. His name’s Hugo Leveille.”
“He’s Canadian,” she said, like that explained it. “He used to be military. Special ops. But then he went dark side—political assassinations, industrial sabotage, that kind of thing. He wasn’t on the driver’s license database because he’s not a US citizen, and he’s not in any of the databases because he’s supposed to be dead.”
“Officially. He died three years ago. An airstrike demolished a whole building, and he was assumed dead.” Selena swiped through a few documents. “But if he has regenerative powers or hyper-resilience, he could have survived.”
“And now he’s working for Avalon, whoever that is,” Aaron said. “Still haven’t found anything else?”
Selena shook her head. “There’s a suspicious lack of data on it,” she said. “I’ve found references, but anything informative has been… well, eradicated.”
“Eradicated?” Brennan said. “Strong vocab.”
“It’s appropriate,” Selena said. “It’s not just gone. It’s been systemically purged. Someone really wanted to hide it, whatever it was.”
Aaron leaned back in his seat, mulling over this new information. There was something important here, some connection that they hadn’t made. “Do you think it has to do with the Resson field?” he asked.
She raised a brow. “Maybe,” she said. “But only because Leveille is involved with both.”
“He mentioned the Resson field,” Aaron reminded her. “Asked if I felt it. And I did. All of you did, too.”
A round of reluctant nods. “But Dr. Haley didn’t feel it, and neither did my mom. So… if the Resson is related—”
“We’ve been through this, Aaron. It doesn’t make sense. If it caused our powers—”
“Maybe it didn’t cause them, but it might be making them stronger.”
Selena froze. “What?”
“Our powers have been weird,” Brennan said. “Have you noticed anything?”
She stayed rigid for a long moment. Then, “I—” With a sigh, she slid her hand over the table and stretched out her fingers. Sparks crackled over her skin. A few inches away, Aaron’s spoon moved. He jerked back instinctively. The utensil twitched again, and then skidded the two inches to Selena’s fingers.
Brennan’s eyes widened. “You’re magnetic?”
She shot him a look of utter contempt. “No,” she said.
“It’s electromagnetism,” she said, handing the spoon back to Aaron. “The same thing I use to interface with electronics. But it’s gotten more powerful. I found out by accident a few days ago. Levitated a pencil.”
“So you’re telekinetic,” Brennan said.
“No,” she said. “Electromagnetic. Learn your physics.”
“You’re kind of telekinetic,” Aaron said, turning the spoon in his hands. “Even if the reason is—”
“Electromagnetism,” she said again. “And still not very powerful. I experimented some. That spoon is probably the heaviest thing I’ve moved, and three or four inches is the limit.”
“But wait,” Brennan said. “She wasn’t in the building while the Resson thing was on. So if it’s the cause, why was she affected? It would have to have a range of at least a few hundred meters. Plus being able to pass through who knows how much concrete and radiation shielding and whatever else is in that building.”
“I was still close to the building,” Selena said. “My main question is that if it has a range that large, why hasn’t anyone else been affected?”
“Maybe they have,” Aaron said. “Maybe they just haven’t noticed it. Maybe we’re…predisposed to it somehow? Either way, something has changed. All of us have noticed a difference. If we ask Carter, I bet he’ll have noticed something, too.”
“And Molly?” Brennan said. They all carefully avoided glancing toward the corner.
“Maybe,” Aaron said after a while.
A brief silence fell across the table.
Selena broke it. “I’ve got to go,” she said, gathering up her tablet. “That’s about as long as I can pretend to talk about chem.”
“Yeah, okay,” Aaron said. “I’ll talk to Carter. We can meet up later. Today after school?”
“I have robotics,” Selena said. “Tomorrow.”
“I have a recital tomorrow,” Brennan said. “Friday.”
“The game’s Friday,” Aaron said. “Carter will want to go.”
“Friday, then,” Selena said, sliding out of her seat. She dropped a thumb drive on the table. “There’s everything I have on Leveille. Try not to get yourself blown up before you get a chance to read it.”
* * * * *
Lucia left soon after Selena, making excuses about an art project that she didn’t really have. Aaron was too busy brooding to question it, and Brennan was familair enough with her moods to recognize when she needed space.
All of it was just too much sometimes. And the rain hadn’t just brought mud and nasty colds; it made everyone more tense, more despondent, like a cloud of discontentment floating around the school building. Lucia could normally shut it out—close herself off and just kind of zombie out until things improved. But this time it seeped through, either because the rain had gone on for so long or because her powers really were getting stronger, and harder to control. Added to that, she had Aaron’s dark moods to deal with, and everyone’s guilt for the whole Azure mess. Most of which was hers.
The halls were pretty empty, so she found a secluded spot and leaned against the wall. She searched through her pockets for the half-eaten candybar she’d hidden there and took a bite, focusing on the taste, the texture, trying to ground herself. Eyes closed, long exhale.
A familiar presence wandered by her, and she opened her eyes. “Hey, Carter,” she said, around the half-chewed mouthful of chocolate and caramel.
“Huh? Oh, hi Lucia.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and kept walking.
Even more surprised at the emotions she picked up off him: frustration, fatigue, pain. She pushed of the wall and followed him.
“Yeah,” he said, although there was nothing okay about what she felt from him. She raised an eyebrow, and he sighed. “I just pulled a muscle or something,” he said, rubbing at his arm. “I was headed to the trainer to see if she could give me something.”
“Pretty sure you have to have like, three forms of parental consent, ID and a blood contract to get painkillers at this school.”
“Not if you’re an athlete,” he said. “At least that’s what Steve says. I’ve never needed anything before. I don’t know what’s wrong.”
Hence the frustration.
He looked so forlorn, she couldn’t help pitying him a little. “Here, let me.” She held out a hand, and after a moment’s hestiation, he offered her his arm. She closed her eyes, tuning into the rhythms of his body.
It almost floored her.
It was like walking from a dim room into spotlight. There was so much energy in his body, more than she’d ever felt from a single human being. Was it his power doing this? Why had she never felt this before? He’s never needed my help before. She pulled back, overwhelmed.
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” she murmured. “Just…a second.” She grounded herself again, and then reconnected. It was like touching a live wire, but this time she was prepared for it. She slipped her other hand up to his neck, feeling the connections from his brain to his body and mapping out his muscles and organs in her mind. The problem quickly became clear.
“What the hell did you do?” she said. “Were you trying to bench press a car?”
“What? No,” he said. “I haven’t even been to track practice because I’ve been so sore.”
“Well, you had to have done something,” she said. “You’ve got about a dozen stress fractures in your left arm, and half that many in your other arm.”
“Stress fractures?” he said. “But I didn’t do anything. I just…”
He frowned down at his hand, flexing the fingers with confusion.
Lucia felt over his arm again, tracing the patterns of damage with her mind. “Have you… noticed anything weird?” she asked. “With your powers?”
He met her eyes, surprise and understanding lighting up through the frustration. “Yeah,” he said. “I keep having these muscle spasms. And, you know, accidentally breaking things.”
“Oh, great,” Lucia said. “Aaron was right. I hate it when he’s right.”
“Right about what? Our powers getting…”
“Stronger, yeah.” She sighed. “We’ve all been having weird spikes in our abilities. I’m gonna bet Molly has, too.”
“You don’t think the storm is…”
“Well, I hope not,” Lucia said. “She’d have to be crazy powerful to affect the weather on that kind of scale. Here, give me your arm.”
She grasped it in both hands, feeling for the tiny cracks through his bones. The muscles were tight, too, inflamed from stress. “I can ease off the pain pretty easily,” she said. “You’ve got way too much adrenaline in your system, too.”
“Can you heal them?”
“No,” she said. “Although, with this much energy, I can definitely speed it up. Hold still.” She connected with him again, and spent a couple of minutes redirecting the excess of energy poisoning his muscles into reversing the damage it had done.
“Better?” she asked, even though she was still connected enough to sense the rush of relief he felt.
“Yeah,” he said, flexing his hand. “Wow. No wonder Aaron always wants your help with his migraines.”
Lucia couldn’t help a little grin. “Well, they’re still not completely healed. I blocked off most of the pain, but don’t push yourself too hard. You should probably get something else to eat; I took most of that energy from you. Oh, and if you hurt yourself again, come to me first. I don’t know what a doctor would make of that kind of injury, but it definitely isn’t normal.”
Carter sighed. “Nothing is,” he said, rubbing at his hand. “Listen, if you think—” He halted midsentence, glancing sharply toward the cafeteria door. Lucia felt such a strong bundle of emotions from him she couldn’t even sort out what they were. Mostly negative, though, and when she followed his glance, she saw why. Molly.
She halted as she saw them, and then bowed her head and plowed past them. Carter watched her go with a riot of emotions like a physical heat. He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m going to get something else to eat,” he said. “Thanks, Lucia.”
“Sure,” she said, watching him go.
Then, against her better judgment, she went after Molly.
“Hey,” Lucia said, not sure if she actually wanted the other girl to respond.
But she turned around, settling into her habitually guarded stance. Feet spaced apart, shoulders set. One hand on her bookbag, the other not quite curling into a fist. Ready for a fight. “What?” she asked.
Lucia realized she had no idea what she wanted to say. “I saw you walking to school this morning,” she said.
“Fine,” Molly said. “Is that all?”
Lucia didn’t answer right away, and Molly started to turn around. On impulse, Lucia reached forward and grabbed her arm. Molly jerked it away just as fast. “What?” she said. Hostility saturated the word, but Lucia could sense the emotions behind it. She wasn’t as angry as she was acting. She was mostly just hurting.
“I wanted to…I, uh. I thought I should apologize,” Lucia said.
“For what?” Molly asked. “It was Aaron that jumped down my throat. The rest of you just watched.” She said it to make Lucia angry, but it just dredged up more guilt instead. “I don’t need your apology.” Molly hiked the bag further on her shoulder and started to turn around.
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Lucia said. “Your first day, in the hallway. I pushed you.”
Molly shrugged. “Yeah. So?”
“I mean… I pushed you. I wanted to see what you’d do. How far you’d go.”
“I could tell you were hiding something. Even after you showed us your powers, I knew you were lying about something else.”
“Yeah? Well, you were right,” she said. “Congratulations.” She started to turn around, and Lucia laid a hand on her shoulder. Molly tensed, maybe expecting some kind of push, but Lucia let her go.
“I wasn’t right,” she said.
“I mean, I wasn’t wrong. Obviously,” she said, crossing her arms. “But I was wrong about…. You weren’t… I just meant that it’s my fault. That everyone overreacted.”
“So I’m sorry.” Seriously. She was trying, but this girl was determined to keep her angry. “No wonder you suck at people. Look, I’m trying to apologize, so can you just—”
“It’s not your fault,” Molly said. “You were right. You’re still right.”
“The others. Are they staying out of trouble?”
“For now,” Lucia said.
“Good. Keep Aaron from doing something stupid, will you?” Molly pushed past her. She made it a few steps before Lucia called after her. “Hey, Molly!”
Molly halted. “What?”
“Are your powers getting stronger?”
She hesitated, fingering the straps of her backpack. “I think so,” she replied.
“Can you control it?”
Molly looked up, maybe sensing the rain pouring down. Lucia could hear it, drumming against the roof. Molly looked back at Lucia. “I don’t know,” she said. “But I’m trying.”