For once, Brennan was too tired to dream. He hit the pillow and crashed, waking in short bursts to the sound of sirens or a sudden sense of cold. Neither one bothered him longer than it took to roll himself tighter in his nest of blankets, and he slipped back into deep, exhausted sleep, until sometime in the morning.
Dimly, Brennan became aware of the sound of rain against the window, and a soft, cloudy late that promised that the morning was well past the time he could still consider it night. But there was no school today, and if any day deserved a sleeping-in, this felt like a good one. He yanked the corner of his blanket over his face to search out more sleep.
An ice-cold hand touched his cheek.
“Stop it, Ivy,” he mumbled, pushing it away.
“Ivy?” Lucia said, equal parts surprised and amused.
His eyes flew open. She sprawled on the bed beside him, head propped on his extra pillow with an impish grin on her face. Rain spattered her blue-streaked hair, and her loose sweater had slipped past one shoulder. He suddenly felt very awake.
“Lucia? What—When—” She definitely hadn’t been here last night. He’d have remembered that. He’d been tired, not drunk.
“You’re so adorable when you’re confused,” she said, worming her way under his blankets. It would have been nice, except her fingers were like icicles, and her damp hair rubbed up against his chin.
“Oh, my god,” he said, pushing her hands away. “Did you stick your hands in the freezer before you came up here?”
“No,” she said. “But I might next time. It’s proven quite effective at waking you up. I tried being gentle, but all you did was snore and wrap yourself further up in that burrito of yours.”
“Mmm,” he said, burying his face in his pillow.
“You could at least pretend you’re happy to see me,” she said.
“It’s morning,” he said. “I’m not happy to see anyone.” But he rolled onto his side and let her slide closer, draping his arm over her waist. Now that the confusion had faded some, it felt nice. Very nice, actually, and he was feeling more awake by the moment.
“Are you wearing socks?” she asked as her toes brushed against his feet. “In bed?”
“My feet get cold,” he murmured.
“You are such a huge dork,” she laughed. “I don’t know why I love you.”
“Cause I’m so hot,” he said.
“Oh, god, that’s awful, Bren. Even for you.”
He glanced at the clock, which confirmed that it was, in fact, much later than it felt. He caught sight of the door, which was shut but not locked.
“Did my parents see you come in?” he asked.
“Nah, they’re already gone,” she said.
“Sonia had to go into work—her boss apparently didn’t think a major natural disaster was a good enough reason to stay home—”
“So I thought I’d come over and…surprise you.” She slipped her hands under the edge of his shirt—they weren’t nearly so cold now—and shifted her head so that her lips brushed his jaw. “Good morning.”
“Morning,” he said, kissing her back.
Neither one of them had much to say after that. The aches and weariness he’d been feeling melted away, and he let himself sink into the feeling as it grew from a warm glow into a fire. Her fingers traced the arc of his spine, sending jolts through his skin like her touch was electric.
He pulled back quickly, breathing hard.
“What? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Are you pushing me?”
“What? No!” she said quickly, and then, more uncertainly. “I don’t think so. Why does it matter?” With a half shrug, she leaned back in, but he gripped her shoulders and held her back.
“Why does it matter?” he asked. “Are you serious?”
“I— Come on, you know what I mean,” she said. “It’s not like I made you do anything. The spark’s there. I can’t help it if I spill over a little on you. It doesn’t mean—”
With a sigh, he shoved the blankets back and heaved himself out of bed.
“Brennan,” she said, scrambling to follow him. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to take a shower,” he said. “I need to—calm down.”
“Hey, wait a second,” she said, scrambling after him.
He halted by the bathroom door as she caught him, but pulled his hands away before she could touch them.
“Why does it matter?” she said. “You want to. I want to. I could make you feel anything you want—” She rested a hand against his face. He felt that fire again, and it had nothing to do with her power.
“I know,” he said. He thought about kissing her, just once more, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop. “And I’d let you. That’s why we’re not ready.” He stepped inside and shut the door between them. As he leaned against it, he could still sense her on the other side, a vague shape of heat, swirling with heightened emotion.
He took a deep breath and pulled away. Sometimes he hated having so much self-control.
* * * * *
When Brennan came downstairs twenty minutes later, he found Lucia in the kitchen, frying something over the stove. The smell of simmering oil and salt filled the silence between them.
He swallowed, wondering how to break it. “Hey.”
She glanced up at him, and then away quickly, clearing her throat.
“I, uh,” she said. “I figured since I didn’t have any food at home and you don’t have any parents this morning, I could at least make some breakfast.”
“Oh,” he said, sliding into a bar stool. “That sounds great.”
Lucia fixed her attention firmly on the frying pan. Brennan watched her for a minute as she stirred peppers and cheese into the sizzling scramble of eggs. “Where’s Ivy?”
“Sunroom. Think she’s painting or something. I told her I was going to cook.”
He glanced out the sun room door and caught a glimpse of Ivy at her easel, earbuds in and a look of intense concentration on her face. It was the most awake he’d seen her in months. Rocket was curled nose to tail in a furry ball at her feet.
“Good for her,” he said softly.
Lucia set a plate in front of him, loaded with a fresh omelette and a healthy serving of orange slices.
“Looks awesome,” he said. “Thanks.”
Another awkward silence passed while Lucia turned back to load her own plate. She took the seat beside him and picked at her food for a minute.
“So, um, Aaron and Carter are going to town to help with cleanup later this morning,” she said. “Thought you might want to go to. It’s not like we have anything else to do, with school cancelled. And Aaron thought it would be a good time to go get another look at the damage, before any…evidence is cleared up.”
“Heard from anyone else?” he asked. “Has Selena gone over the data yet?”
Lucia’s sideways glance let him know she caught on to his unasked question. Did we know what had happened? Who had done this? And what he knew they were all wondering: did it have anything to do with Avalon? “Haven’t heard,” she said. “It may be a day or two before its safe for us all to get together again.”
“Yeah, I imagine,” he said. “Sucks not knowing.”
“No knowing what?” Ivy said, coming in from the sun room. Rocket trotted in after her, ears perking up as she smelled the lingering smell of bacon.
Brennan hesitated over telling her. She’d been through enough without having to worry about some powered psycho running around causing earthquakes. But, like she’d said, avoiding danger doesn’t mean it can’t find you.
“We think,” he stared, and after an encouraging glance from Lucia, continued, “We think the earthquakes weren’t natural. We think they may have been caused by someone. With…powers.”
To his surprise, Ivy nodded as if she’d expected that. “I’ve been wondering about that,” she said. “We don’t really get earthquakes here, and these didn’t behave like natural earthquakes anyway. I’ve been doing some reading,” she added. “Do you have any idea who it was?”
“Aaron saw someone in the school, before the last quake,” Lucia said. “He said she…vibrated the walls or something. I saw the aftermath and it was…well, there was a crater in the floor and the hall was torn up.”
“Whoa,” Ivy said. Then she grew thoughtful, tapping her finger on her chin. “I wonder if she can only oscillate solid matter, or if it’s some kind of sonic manipulation…”
“Whatever it is, we’ll take care of it,” Brennan said. “We won’t let you get hurt this time.”
A frown passed over her face—a brief shadow that let him know she was still haunted by her experience—and then she set her jaw and it passed. With unusual brusqueness, she swept into the kitchen and took the third plate of food, digging into it without even bothering to sit. Rocket followed her, pausing briefly to greet Brennan before laying on the floor to beg shamelessly for handouts.
Ivy was halfway through her plate before she said anything else. “I think you should all try to stay away from her.” She kept her eyes firmly on her plate.
“Probably,” Brennan muttered.
“Can you give me a ride to town?” she asked. “I promised Becky and Lin that I’d be there by 11. They’re helping distribute supplies.”
“Yeah,” Brennan said, sharing a glance with Lucia. “I think we’re going, too.”
Lucia sighed and set her fork on her empty plate. “Sounds like a fun afternoon,” she said.
* * * *
The town didn’t look as bad as it had yesterday. Now that the fires were put out and the panic had subsided, they were just left with the mess. Despite all the debris and broken windows, most of the damage was superficial.
Desperate for some good PR after the disaster back in September. Lartech had stepped in to organize cleanup efforts and donate much-needed supplies. The courthouse lawn was overrun with tents and tables, the grass muddied by white vans and trucks being divested of equipment and crates of water and food.
Brennan and Lucia wandered through the bustle, looking for some kind of direction. Ivy had already run off to find her friends, after extracting promises that they’d fill her in the moment they found out anything.
“Oh, there they are,” Lucia said, pointing. Brennan followed the gesture to see Carter and Molly at one of the Lartech trucks, unloading supplies. Even from here, he could make out their ridiculous attempts to flirt with each other.
“Do you think you have any idea how obvious they are?” Lucia said, with poorly concealed disdain. She raised her hand in a wave. “Hey, lovebirds!”
Molly started so suddenly, she almost dropped the pallet of water bottles she’d just taken from Carter. Her face went bright red.
Carter just grinned. “Hey guys.”
Molly recovered, setting the pallet down and brushing stray hair from her face. “Hi,” she said. “Want to lend a hand?”
“Sure,” Brennan said. “I can carry a few crates.”
“Not you, Brennan Haley.” Out of nowhere, Zoe Lightheart appeared to intercept him. Aaron came behind her, carrying an apple in one hand and a clipboard in the other. Carter’s mom was dressed as casual as he’d ever seen her—in a flannel shirt and jeans rather than her usual skirt and heels. But as stern as ever, she planted her hands on her hips and said: “No heavy lifting. I promised your dad I’d make sure you didn’t strain yourself.”
“Oh, come on, Dr. L,” he said. “I’m fine!”
“Three more weeks is what he told me, and I’m inclined to think you should wait longer. If you want a second opinion, I’m happy to call Dr. Lanski and ask him what he thinks.” She held up her cell like a threat.
“You might as well give up,” Aaron said. “She’s relentless.”
His mother spared him a special glare, and he responded with a grin. “Only trying to help, Mom.”
“It’s okay,” Lucia said, taking Brennan’s arm. For once, she didn’t attempt to soothe him with her power. “We can find something else to do. I bet your mom could use some help.”
“I’ll come with you,” Aaron said, casting a desperate, please rescue me look at his friends. If Dr. L had been using him as an errand boy all morning, he could imagine why.
“Go ahead,” Dr Lightheart said, with a weary gesture. “Just remember what I said. Lucia, dear, I’m putting you in charge of these boys.”
“I’ll take care of them,” Lucia promised, slinging an arm around their necks, “like the sweet, fragile little ducklings they are.”
“Not funny,” Brennan muttered.
As Dr. Lightheart left, Brennan glanced in her direction and said, “So, anyone got any news?”
“Since last night?” Molly said, and shrugged before turning to pull another pallet out of the van. “I had breakfast and came here. Saw the news coverage this morning, though, and my dad seemed suspicious. Thinks something’s going on that they’re not talking about.”
“Well, he’s right,” Carter said. “Anyone with half a brain can tell those craters aren’t natural, even if we were used to earthquakes.”
“Lartech’s on high alert,” Aaron said. “Overheard dad on the phone with the brass earlier. I think they’re hoping this goodwill effort will distract anyone from thinking they had something to do with it.”
“Are we sure they didn’t?” Lucia said.
Aaron shook his head. “I don’t think so. She didn’t seem like she was following any kind of plan. I don’t think she meant to hurt anyone. She was scared. Reacting to feeling threatened.”
“So that just adds something else we have to look out for,” Molly said. “Lartech, Avalon, and now, earthquake girl.” She leaned against the side of the van and took a long drink of water. “And we’re going to have to be extra careful now. It was easy enough to hide our powers before because people weren’t looking for anything unusual. After this, people are asking questions. People are awake. It’s going to be harder to stay hidden.”