The hospital was much more cheerful during the day. Despite the yellow paint and the constant, lingering scent of bleach, Aaron found that he didn’t hate it quite as much as usual. He just felt grateful it was here at all.
“Are you sure it’s okay if I come?” Molly asked, tucking her hands in both pockets.
“Sure,” Carter said, through a mouthful of energy bar, “Why wouldn’t it be?”
Molly only shrugged, watching the cheap vinyl tile as they walked down the hallway. “I just didn’t know if Brennan would want me there. I mean, I’m not really—we’re not really—”
“You can ask him when we get there if you want,” Aaron said. “But as far as I’m concerned, we’re over all that.”
“Yep,” Carter agreed, taking another huge bite.
“You’re not going to eat that in front of him, are you?” Aaron asked. “You know he got shot in the stomach.”
“That’s why I’m finishing it now. So I don’t get hungry.” He shoved the last few bites in his mouth and crumpled up the wrapper. “Do you guys see a trashcan anywhere?” He glanced back toward the nurse’s station. “Be right back.” He jogged away.
Molly turned to watch him go. “Well, he doesn’t seem much worse for wear,” Molly said.
“Yeah, that’s because you didn’t see him this weekend,” Aaron said. “He didn’t do anything but eat and sleep for a day and a half. Mom thought he’d caught the flu.”
“How about Brennan?” Molly said. “You said there were complications?”
“They had to keep him in ICU for a couple of days. Something to do with the clot, I think. Lucia’s been with him as much as they’d let her.”
“His parents. I think she’d have slept at the hospital if they hadn’t made her go home.” He paused and looked up at the signs over the intersection. “Hey, Carter,” Aaron said as his brother caught up. “Did Lucia say 3114 or 3141?”
“3114,” Carter supplied.
“Should be down this hall, then.” Aaron started down the lefthand corridor. An uncomfortable silence settled over them as they walked. Carter was still chewing, and Molly seemed lost in her thoughts, frowning at her shoes as they walked.
Before they found the room, they met Dr. Haley coming the other way, “Oh, hello, Aaron. Carter,” he said, with none of his usual enthusiasm. “And you must be Molly?”
“Um, yes sir,” she said, turning bright red.
“How is he?” Aaron asked.
“Sleeping,” Dr. Haley said. He let out a long sigh as he glanced at the door. “God knows he needs it.” The smile turned into something grimmer, and Aaron had a feeling he was suppressing a lecture, and a lot of anger. “I was going to take a few minutes and grab a bite to eat while he’s resting. Lucia’s with him.”
“Is it all right if we go in?” Carter asked.
For a second, Aaron thought he’d say no. The look on his face suggested he wanted to. “Yes, it’s fine,” he said. “Just don’t wake him up.”
“Yes sir,” Aaron said.
“I’ll be back in an hour,” he said. “Nice meeting you, Molly.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
He gave them all another grim look and walked away, shoulders hunched over.
“Wow,” Carter said.
“Yeah, I know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that upset.” Aaron shrugged. “Guess he’s got a right to be.”
“Should we still go in?” Molly asked.
“Yeah. Lucia’s probably dying to talk to someone besides Brennan’s parents.” Aaron knocked softly on the door as he started to open it.
To his surprise, Brennan was awake, if only barely. He tilted his head and blinked as Aaron peeked around the door. “Don’t wake her up,” he said, glancing at Lucia curled in the chair beside his bed. She’d nestled her head against his pillow, and draped one arm across the sheet, fingers resting against the back of Brennan’s hand.
“She just fell asleep,” he said. “Think she needs it.” His voice sounded slow and hoarse, maybe even a little slurred, but stronger than Aaron had expected.
“She didn’t want to leave you,” Aaron said.
“She was here the whole time?”
“Almost.” Aaron stepped softly inside, holding the door for the others to follow. “How are you feeling? Sorry, that’s a stupid question.”
“Yeah, kind of.” Brennan’s gaze drifted past him. “Hey guys.”
“Hey, man,” Carter said. “You look awful.”
“Well,” Brennan said, “I got shot.”
“Yeah, I remember.” Carter leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. “You ruined my shirt.”
“Sorry.” He blinked and glanced back at the door. “Hey, Molly. You’re all normal again.”
She shrugged, biting her lip. “Can’t be saving the world all the time,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” she said. “I don’t have to stay—”
“Why wouldn’t you stay?”
She stopped short, and blushed—a subtle, quick flush of surprise.
Aaron gave her an I-told-you-so look, and she deflected it by brushing a hand through her hair. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll stay.” She crossed the room and perched on the windowsill, crossing her ankles and leaning forward on her arms. Aaron plopped on the couch beside her.
“So what’s been going on?” Brennan said. “Lucia tried to tell me before…but I… I think I fell asleep?”
“No, you just kept forgetting,” Lucia said sleepily. She stirred briefly, shifting her position on the pillow. “And then blurting out things about gunmetal and ice bridges while you were half asleep. It’s a good thing you were so high, otherwise your parents would be asking some serious questions.”
“I was not high,” he said, scowling at her.
Lucia laughed. “Babe, you were high enough to dock with the International Space Station.” She stroked a hand through his hair. “It’s okay. Morphine does that to you. At least you didn’t confess many embarrassing secrets.”
“Wait, many?” Carter said with a grin. “What did he—”
Lucia just shook her head, and put a finger to her lips. “Not telling,” she said. “At least not until I need blackmail material.”
“Not funny,” Brennan muttered, still frowning.
“Some of it was,” Lucia said, yawning. “And don’t worry. I made sure no one remembered your little slip-ups either. Though I think I’m running out of juice.”
“Don’t pass out again,” Aaron said. “It was hard enough to explain the first time.”
“You passed out?” Brennan asked. “What else did I miss?”
“Okay, okay,” Aaron said. “Um, I guess we should start back before you got shot…” He started to recount their confrontation with Leveille. He wasn’t sure how much of it Brennan actually absorbed, since he constantly seemed in danger of nodding off. Midway through, Selena showed up, wearing sunglasses and a raincoat with the hood pulled over her head. “If anyone sees me here, my parents made me come,” she said, shaking her hair loose and crimping it with both hands. “Hi, Brennan. Glad you’re not dead.”
She stopped as she noticed Carter chuckling to himself.
“What?” she said.
“Sunglasses and a hoodie?” he said. “What movie set did you just walk off?”
“It’s a raincoat,” she said. “It is raining.” Carter kept chuckling. “Oh, shut up.” She sat on the couch beside Aaron and crossed her legs, still combing her fingers through her hair. “Well? What did I miss?”
“Nothing much,” Aaron said. “Just filling Brennan in.”
“Oh, right. I guess you did miss everything while you were bleeding out.”
“Just the good part,” he said. “So did they get him? The police?”
“Yeah,” Aaron said. “Selena listened in to make sure. It wasn’t on the news, though. They just called it a ‘malfunction’ and a ‘blackout.’” He shrugged and glanced up at Molly. She had her hand propped on one knee, frowning in thought.
“And everything else?” Brennan asked. “I don’t remember much about… I mean, my parents, our parents… They don’t know…?”
“They don’t know,” Carter assured him. “We told them it was an accident. Someone shooting in the woods who didn’t see us.”
“Does that happen often?” Molly asked, alarmed.
“It’s not unheard of,” Aaron said. “I mean, it’s a rural area, plenty of people have guns for some reason or another. It’s plausible, and no one can prove that’s not what happened.”
“I don’t like it,” Selena said. She’d pulled out a nail file and was shredding her fingernails like they’d offended her. “Sheriff going around accusing innocent people of shooting kids? That can’t end well”
“But we said we didn’t see anyone,” Carter said.
“Maybe so, but the sheriff had a hard time believing the story,” Lucia said. “I did what I could, but…” she shrugged. “Town this small, word gets around. We don’t just have the police to deal with. There’s Bren’s parents, ours, other people in town. I can’t go around mind-wiping everyone who’s suspicious.”
“Would you rather tell everyone the truth?” Aaron said. “I’m honestly asking. I know we all decided not to, but that was before things got this serious.”
No one answered. “We won this time,” he went on. “But Leveille is still alive, even if he’s in jail. He’s seen three of us, and probably suspects there’s more. He might have been alone last night, but he was still working for Avalon.”
“I’d just as soon forget about Avalon,” Molly said. Maybe Aaron imagined the tension in her voice, but her knuckles whitened where she gripped the windowsill. He knew what she was thinking, even if she didn’t want to say it.
“I know,” he said. “But that’s not all I’m worried about. I know we can’t trust anything Leveille said, but if there is something going on at Lartech… Our dad is head of security,” he said, looking across the room at Carter. “Selena’s parents are on the board, and her mother’s a geneticist. Dr. Haley was working on the Resson, a project we know is related to our abilities.”
“Come on, Aaron,” Carter said. “You don’t honestly think—”
“I don’t,” he said. “But the deeper we get into this, the less sure I am of anything. On the other hand…if there’s something going on, they could help us.”
“Are you going to tell?” Molly asked quietly. He glanced over to see her staring at her hands. She’d covered the bruises with makeup, but he could still see the raw skin over her knuckles.
“Not unless we all agree to,” Aaron said. “I think it has to be unanimous. This affects all of us.” He looked around the room, locking gazes with all of them. “I don’t like the idea of telling anyone about our abilities, much less what happened last night. But I think we need to consider whether it might be the best course of action.”
“No,” Selena said, almost immediately.
“Think about it first—”
“No,” she said. “My vote is no. So if the rest of you want to tell, you’re doing it without me.”
A tense quiet followed her ultimatum.
“I think I’d get in a lot of trouble if it got out,” Molly said. “Not just with my dad, either. If people find out I was Azure… I won’t stand in your way, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.”
“We don’t have to decide right now,” Lucia said. “We’re all exhausted and most of us are hurt. Aaron got electrocuted, Molly got the shit beat out of her. Even Selena’s got a heck of a shiner—” Selena glowered and rubbed at the bruise swelling her cheekbone.
“I got shot,” Brennan added.
“Yes, yes we know,” Lucia said, patting his hand. “I just mean—we shouldn’t rush to make a decision that will overturn our lives. We should regroup, make plans…give things time to sink in.”
Aaron didn’t bother pointing out that Avalon might not give them time. Everyone was scared enough. Even Molly, who was trying to pretend she wasn’t shaken, hadn’t relaxed since she’d found her grandmother’s journal. “Carter?” he said.
His brother shrugged, looking at his feet. “Not sure my opinion matters at this point.”
“Of course it does.”
Carter glanced at him. He looked deeply, deeply upset. “You’re right,” he said. “We’re in over our heads, and we could use some help. Better resources.” He glanced at Selena and Lucia. “And you’re right that coming clean is going to cause a lot of trouble, and not just for us. I think whatever we decide, it has to be all of us, and it has to be for the right reasons.”
“We need to ask Ivy, too,” Molly said. “She may not have powers, but she’s part of this.”
“Need to keep her safe,” Brennan said. His eyes had closed, and he looked close to drifting off again.
“We will,” Lucia said. “We’ll keep everyone safe.” Aaron didn’t know if she believed it, but she stroked his hand with her fingers, and he relaxed at the touch. She sighed and rested her forehead on the pillow.
Incredibly tired, Aaron thought. Battered and drained. And how could they explain it? Any of it? He didn’t entirely understand how they’d gotten here. The decisions he’d made seemed the right ones at the time, but each one had driven him to more and more desperate choices. Had they been right? How did you even tell?
Aaron took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes.
“I think we should wait, for now,” he said. Maybe it was the wrong decision, but no one else looked like they wanted to make it. “Lay low, see what happens. Keep our eyes open, run interference if someone gets suspicious. And be prepared, in case Avalon comes looking for us.” He shrugged, trying to look cavalier. “Who knows? Now that I can trigger visions, maybe I’ll see her coming.”
“You should all learn some self defense,” Molly said. Aaron glanced at her. She was still staring at her hands. “At the very least.”
“Are you offering to teach us?” he asked. She did look at him then, although her expression was so blank he couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
“Sure you want me to?”
“Who else can we trust?”
He meant it as a joke, but she didn’t smile. “Yeah, sure.”
“I mean it, Molly.”
She shrugged, like she was embarrassed. But he caught the brief flash of a smile. “Yeah, if you want me to. I’ll be around.”
Aaron sighed and leaned back, stretching his arms over his head. “You know,” he said, “I kind of thought winning would be more fun than this.”
“Less sitting in a hospital room and more victory cake?” Selena asked, testing the edge of her nail with one thumb. “Yeah, life’s fun like that.”
“No cake till I’m allowed to eat it,” Brennan said.
“But cake later?” Carter said. “I’m good with cake later.”
“I can make cake,” Lucia said.
“And ice cream,” Molly said.
“Definitely ice cream,” Aaron agreed. “We could throw a whole party.”
“For just the six of us?” Carter asked.
“And Ivy,” Molly added.
“She likes cake,” Brennan said sleepily. “And strawberries. Strawberries are weird. All the seeds on the outside.”
“Aaaand that’s the morphine talking,” Lucia said, biting her lip to keep from laughing.
“Maybe we should clear out,” Carter said.
“Good,” Selena said, packing away her nail file. “I have places to be.”
Aaron turned to Lucia. “Are you staying?”
She laid her head back against his pillow. “Yeah,” she said. “They’ll make me leave tonight, but I haven’t really been able to sleep at home, you know?”
“Yeah.” He rested a hand on her shoulder. “He’ll be all right.” Lucia only nodded without answering.
As soon as they were in the hall, Selena pulled her hood up and slipped her sunglasses over her eyes. “Later,” she said, and started down the hall.
“Does she know she’s going the wrong way?” Carter asked.
“Pretty sure she’d walk an extra mile to avoid being seen with us,” Aaron said. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah,” she said. “But could you drop me off in town? Dad’s installing cabinets in the cafe and asked me to help.”
“Sure,” Carter said. They started down the hall. “You know, I was thinking about that. He should sell some sandwiches and stuff. I mean, you have to go twenty miles to find a decent deli. Think about it. Artisan bread, some gourmet cheese. Honey ham, smoked turkey, maybe some calzones…”
* * * * *
Molly had Carter drop her off a block down the street. She enjoyed the brief walk, gazing across the row of shops that had become familiar. They’d been here less than a month, but it was starting to feel like she’d been here forever.
Molly paused in front of the cafe. He hadn’t put up a sign yet—actually hadn’t even decided on a name—but they’d repainted the front and cleaned the windows, and it was starting to look like a real place.
It felt good. Things weren’t perfect, but they were starting to make sense. It felt kind of like home now. She felt herself smiling as she stepped inside.
“Hey, M!” Dad called from behind the counter. He was busy screwing hinges into a cabinet door. His efforts so far had littered the counter and floor with screws, tools and cabinet parts. Most of the counter was covered with multi-page instruction sheets, well wrinkled from handling. “How’s your friend?”
“He’s better,” Molly said, dropping her backpack by the door. “They say he should make a full recovery.”
“Good.” He reached down for another screw. “How did this happen, again?”
“It was just an accident,” Molly said. “I wasn’t there.”
“Uh-huh.” Dad was silent a moment while he positioned the screw in the cabinet door. “Seems like your friends are involved in accidents a lot.”
Molly pretended to ignore the accusation in his voice. “Bad luck, I guess. Can I help you with that?”
“Sure, M,” he said, giving the screw one last turn. “But first—” He set the screwdriver down and reached for something else. He tossed it onto the counter between them.
An old notebook, its cover bent and water-stained. It looked exactly like the notebooks Molly had dug out of the attic, with one exception: the name scrawled in the corner read Evelyn Lakefield. Her grandmother’s name.
She looked up at her father with excitement and dread.
“We need to talk,” he said.
This ends the first book! Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please do me a favor and vote for Less Than Heroic on topwebfiction: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=less-than-heroic. I’ll be back in about a month with the start of book two!