We shouldn’t be able to do this. The Society doesn’t know that Nobodies can do this. If they had, they never would have sent me after her, never would have risked—
Nix couldn’t finish the thought. He belonged to the fade and to Claire. There were no worries here. No thoughts. There was only light. And excitement. And the incredible rush that came with absolute power.
All around them on the boardwalk, there were people. Normal people on Normal dates, frozen in the middle of their Normal lives. A woman screamed at her child, her face contorted at an angle so unnatural that it looked like her skin was melting off the bones. A man was using his briefcase to part the crowd. An old man smelled a hot dog, his eyes closed. Nix wouldn’t have given the man a second glance, but for the almost imperceptible light around his face.
Around his nose.
Moving on instinct, Nix put himself between Claire and the man and scanned the perimeter of the boardwalk.
There—a woman walking with her hands held out slightly in front of her body. And there—a twenty-something with his left ear turned toward the crowd. Nix found the remaining two by looking for the energy their powers gave off, visible only from the fade.
Five of them. Seemingly harmless. Spread out across the area. But Nix knew. He knew. He’d seen lights like those before. In the halls of the institute.
Don’t think it. Don’t worry. Don’t. Lose. Your. Fade
Claire, sensing something was wrong, put her free hand on the back of his neck, pulling him closer, forcing him to look at her and only her, as he’d done for her the night before.
“Claire.” He gave the word its due and let himself absorb their closeness, breathe it in and out until he could form the words he had to say. “There are Sensors here. I should have known. The Society never stopped looking for you. For us. I knew they were searching. I saw them—”
Any second, the two of them could lose their fade. Any second, these Sensors could make a move toward completing the job that Nix had left undone.
“We’re here, we’re together, we’re safe.” Claire’s words took on the rhythm of a song. “Just you and me.”
Nix couldn’t shake the fear, the crippling, solid, undeniable fear that Claire was in danger, that they might hurt her.
I can’t let them find her—hurt her—
“I’m going to lose my fade.” He spoke the words directly into her ear. “And when I do, you will, too, so you have to leave.”
“I’m not leaving you here.”
He struggled to hold on for just one more minute, just long enough to tell her what to do. “Sooner or later, we would have gone looking for a Sensor. We need information; they might have it, but five on two … the odds …”
Less than shadow. Less than air. Claire.
“Run. Get away from me so I don’t bring you back, too. Go to the cabin. Hide the serum. Bring me a gun.”
Nix held on. Closed his eyes. Concentrated on her smell. Remembered the way she tasted—and the whole time, he prayed she’d do what he said, because he couldn’t forget the limp body he’d carried onto that bus; the way a cleanup team had almost killed her once before.
The word was the only warning Nix got before Claire pulled away from him and ran. The moment they broke contact, Nix could hear the sounds of time speeding up around them. He felt her absence and knew it was only a matter of seconds before he lost his fade. Weight began returning to his limbs, but he fought it, fought tooth and nail to keep his mind clear, his body immaterial, just long enough to give her a chance—
Nix solidified on the boardwalk. Life went on all around him. The Sensors continued searching, and Nix took a step back. To think. To plan.
He and Claire needed information. The Sensors might have it. But they also might sense him, and they undoubtedly had orders to kill him—or Claire, when she returned—on sight. Five on one, five on two—either way, Nix didn’t like the odds.
They want to hurt Claire.
The thought—the same one that had made it impossible for Nix to stay faded with her by his side—brought the predator inside him to the surface now. The Society had trained him to hunt. They’d trained him to kill. They’d made him the perfect assassin.
Time to even the odds.
Claire felt Nix’s absence the second he left the fade. If she’d been standing next to him, if she’d seen it happen, she wouldn’t have been able to resist following, but she was running, through people and shops and trees, and she refused to allow her limbs to slow down, refused to let her mind think about the half of her soul that was missing.
I’m nothing. I’m Nobody.
She was Nobody, and she was running.
Situation: What if he were here beside me? What if we were racing? Floating, blurring, blending—
The wind can’t touch her body, but his breath can. She can feel him behind her.
“Winner takes all,” he whispers into her neck. Claire laughs, pushing down the desire to turn around, to take everything she wants, to allow the power to explode out from her body and connect with his.
He streams past her, and she lets out a gasp, full of mock outrage.
Faster, farther, more—
They run, neck in neck, their steps in sync. His heart beating in unison with hers. Faster, farther—
“End of Situation.” Claire whispered the words as she made it back to the cabin, and the moment she let go of it, her mind processed the reality she’d kept at bay: Nix was gone. She’d left him with the Sensors.
As far as triggers went, it was a good one.
Bones crunching, skin screaming, pores weighted down with cement.
It was all Claire could do to stay on her feet. Physicality had never been so brutal. It was like she didn’t fit in her own body anymore. She forced herself to straighten, to lift her eyes from the ground to the bookshelf in the corner.
“Hide the serum. Bring me a gun.” Claire repeated Nix’s orders like a prayer. “Hide the serum. Bring me a gun.”
She allowed herself the time it took to take one breath, then two, and then she moved, grabbing the Null drug off the coffee table. Her limbs became accustomed to movement again, and she walked out the front door and crawled under the porch, where she’d hidden Nix’s weapons. Digging her fingernails into the dirt, she made a small hole and dropped the onyx-colored drug in, before covering it again. Then she turned her attention to the weapons.
An eternity ago, Nix had laid his weapons out on the counter and told her to choose. He’d put a gun in her hand and told her to use it, and she’d refused.