It started at his fingertips as a tingling, a small electrical pulse ticking against his skin. Circling the grooves of his fingerprints and traveling upwards across his palms, his wrists, to his elbows where the tingling grew into something else entirely that might have been pain if he weren't already used to it.

Beside him Teddy exhaled, chipping at his concentration. He frowned.

The feeling moved from his elbows to his shoulders until it seeped into his chest and he tried to manage his breathing despite the sudden increase in his heartbeat. He could feel the waves of it inside him, his body's effort to synchronize, to soothe. And then Teddy cursed in surprise and suddenly it all clicked.

It had only taken 15 seconds this time.

"Three of them down the hall," he said, "five more one floor above us and about a dozen out at the loading dock. Can't read any farther than that." He flexed his fingers and the connection wavered, he moved them away from the door altogether and it severed. Flipping off like a light switch.

Teddy shifted from foot to foot, the sound slight, a rustle of clothing. "Yeah, that's no good. What the fuck do we do now?"

Douglas ignored him. "The three beyond the door. Are they spread out or grouped together?"

"Two were talking together at the far end, the other was taking a piss," he said.

"There is no way we can take them, Douglas. No fucking way." Teddy had a habit of pitching his voice higher when he whined. It was annoying and he hardly blamed Douglas for smacking the other man as he passed. "Look, I get it. You're a big scary man," he continued, "But you ain't got much it the way of backup and I—"

His sudden squawk must have been Douglas cuffing him again. "Lyle, watch our backs," he said. The blind man nodded and moved out of the way for Douglas to drag Teddy, whining still, through the door.

It was the last time he heard from either of them.

*

To be fair, it wasn't really his fault. It hadn't been any of them, really. But he still should have caught it earlier than he did.

Lyle ran, gasping, his fingers stretching for anything he could use to give him direction. He stumbled once, stumbled again, had stumbled so many times already his knees were probably bleeding. He hadn't had time yet to reach down to find out. He could hear the dogs. They had let loose dogs.

He crashed into a chain-link fence, twined his fingers around it. He threw his power out into it like a net, fishing for any sight it could give him. He mapped out the locations of the men coming after him, mapped the border of the fence, mapped the three locked gates along its sides.

He started climbing, cringing already at the thought of the barbed wire waiting for him at the top.

Someone else had tripped the alarms. Some other group maybe, he hadn't had time for a clear reading. He hadn't even had time to call out a warning to Teddy and Douglas. He had started running, knowing all too well what would happen to him if he was caught.

No time to protect himself. He bit his lip and spread the barbed wire, got his foot up on the rim and vaulted, crying out at the chunks of his palms he left behind.

He landed off-balance and rolled, scrambling back up to his feet just as quickly and throwing himself back into the city. The alarms called after him.

He hardly made it ten feet before the butt of rifle caught him between the shoulders and he toppled. Another man moved in quick to kick him but he was already curling into a ball.

"Fucker!" one of them shouted. "Thought you'd get away easy, huh? Huh?" He used the toes of his boots as punctuation.

Lyle knew how to turn, to roll to avoid the worst of it but he was tired and trying to read his chances from the pavement and it had started to rain and he couldn't concentrate and then like a bolt of lightning—

The guard caught him in the stomach and he gasped, his breath spewing from him all at once but he saw it. It burned through his mind like electricity.

Behind them the warehouse exploded. The guards were knocked off their feet and Lyle used the moment granted him to catch his breath, to struggle to his knees and press his bleeding palms flat against the wet pavement. Bits of the building fell with the rain and he turned his face down to protect it.

It was coming towards him. Unsteady. Blurred by the rain, he couldn't quite make it out. He read deeper but all he could get was an outline. A man maybe, or a machine. It felt like a machine, lumbering towards him. It sounded like cogs turning, like the zip of electricity through wires, like the static crackle of radio waves.

From the pavement under his hands he read a bending, a dip of the earth beneath the feet of the man-machine.

He lifted up his head and didn't know if he should run. Didn't know if he had anything left in him to even get himself back on his feet.

This was what had tripped the alarms, he reasoned, already beginning to lose the reading the closer it got to him. It was escaping. Like him, it was running away.

The connection snapped and he crumpled, curling his arms up against his chest and resting his forehead against the pavement. He inhaled the rotten stench of the city and waited.

He could hear heavy footsteps come to a stop a few feet from him. He could hear the guards stirring behind him. "I'm not with Whipperin," he said, making sure his words were clear. "I'm not with Whipperin."

That seemed to be enough. One of the guards cursed and the other tried to raise his rifle. Lyle heard the footsteps of the man-machine thunder past his head, heard the sound of something heavy smack against the first guard, heard his skull crush inwards, his cry of surprise, the thud of his body just as a second smack rang out and then a third and then he felt it as the both of them died and the man-machine dropped his weapon and the ground shook as it met with its weight.

Lyle tried to control his breathing even as his heart beat frightened in his throat.

For a while there was nothing but his breathing and the rain and the presence at his back. Then, and he exhaled in relief, there were footsteps, slow and dragging, as the man-machine walked back towards him. It came to a stop just behind him, leaving a few feet between them. "Sir," it said in a rusty, grating voice, "can you help me?"

"What?" Lyle said before he could stop himself, quickly sitting up on his heels and turning to face the general direction of the man-machine.

"You," it—he—paused, his voice growing softer and Lyle almost lost it to the rain, "You're not with Whipperin?"

Lyle shook his head, frowning, and wished he had something left to read the man with. What he had felt from him earlier was gone completely. The contrast was jarring.

"Then you know the city, right? Can you…Can you take me somewhere he couldn't find me?"

So trusting, Lyle thought, and then immediately thought trap, but the man could have killed him just as easily as he had the guards and yet he hadn't, and as long as they weren't going back to Whipperin, what else did he have to fear?

"Few places like that," Lyle said at last, wondering if he had enough strength left to get back on his feet. "Your best bet would be leaving the city altogether."

The man was silent for a moment, considering, Lyle imagined. Finally, he said, "Alright, can you take me there?"

Lyle thought about it. Wasn't that also where he should be heading? His frown deepened at the thought of returning, but it didn't seem he had any other choice now.

"Yes," he said, "if you don't mind carrying me."

No hesitation, just a quickly chirped affirmative and then Lyle was mapping footsteps and the man was standing directly in front of him. A silence again, for nearly a minute and Lyle curled his fingers into the soaked fabric of his pants, waiting.

"How do I, I mean, how should I do this?" he shifted, "Carry you."

Lyle smiled despite himself. Maybe not a man at all, but a boy. The more he spoke the more the rust chipped away from his voice and Lyle could hear the scared kid underneath.

He wondered if this was really the same figure he had read. The same bolt of lightning. Experience told him it didn't matter, as long as he kept his guard up.

"Just let me borrow your shoulder," Lyle said, "I think I can manage the rest."

*

He leaned against the boy—for surely he was a boy, shorter than Lyle and with skinny, narrow shoulders—and all but allowed himself to be dragged. He tried not to grip the kid's shoulder too tight but he felt his feet slipping all too often and dug in his fingers to make up for the loss. The kid had an arm around his waist, holding him up by his belt. Together they stumbled through alleys and side streets, Lyle leading from memory alone, his power overused and dead to him.

He was panting and trying not to, gritting his teeth to all the little pains that made themselves known as the adrenaline wore off. His hands, by some luck, had gone numb thanks to his power and he couldn't feel the gashes. His mind strayed and he wondered how the boy was holding him up at all, with such a small frame. He remembered the weight of the kid's weapon and wondered if this was the same person at all. Maybe he had misread.

No, he never misread. His power was the only thing he could trust. It hadn't been wrong before and it wasn't wrong now. There was just something he wasn't seeing. Something more to be read.

That'd have to wait, though, Lyle thought. He had to get them off the streets first. Whipperin would have men searching for them already and they only had so much of a head start.

"You're bleeding," the kid said. His pace had been slowing gradually for some minutes and now he stopped completely.

"Where?" Lyle asked. His back hurt, his knees hurt, his sides and stomach hurt. His hands thrummed a warm numbness and he let go of the kid's shoulder to flex his fingers.

"Legs. Knees," the kid said.

"Is it bad?"

"Bad?"

"Yeah, is it bleeding bad. Can we keep walking?"

"How…bad is bad?"

Lyle could think of few moments he had wanted the use of his power so badly. There was something with this kid. It picked at him. "Gushing," he said at last.

"Oh. No, I don't think so. Hold on a minute," and then the kid was moving away from him. Lyle staggered, unable to find his own balance and a hand shot out to steady him. He heard the rip of fabric and froze.

The hand left him and he heard the kid shift, felt the motion as he kneeled. Lyle hissed as the makeshift bandage was tied around his knee. "We don't have time for this," he said. "If I'm not going to die from it, it can wait."

"You can hardly walk," the kid was wrapping his other knee.

"Not because of a few scratches, we have to hurry," and Lyle almost tripped as he tried to move away but there was an arm to steady him again and then the kid was there to take most of his weight and continue to half-drag him.

*

Lyle woke with a start. He didn't know where he was or how he had gotten there and his body existed only as a mass of pain. He threw his palms down without thinking and came into contact with something soft, something not-ground. A few minutes of searching and he decided it was a mattress. He was lying on his back on a mattress.

Pushing past the ache in his head he tried to remember how he had gotten there. He had been with Teddy and then

"Oh," Lyle pressed his palms flat against the mattress and listened.

There, to his left, soft breathing. Slow and even: asleep, or almost there. He could barely remember giving the kid directions as far as the outskirts of town. He must have found his way inside after that. The edges of the city were littered with abandoned buildings; all he'd have had to do was stumble into the closest one.

Lyle had lost track of time, and there was no telling how long they had been here, how close Whipperin's men were. Or, there was, but what little strength Lyle had left he didn't want to waste on that. Instead, he slid his left hand off the edge of the mattress to the floor, laying it on rotted carpet. He dug his fingers in and sent out a tendril of power. The connection was like a sudden flame shooting up his arm. He cursed, biting his lip and trying to keep focused.

It was slow at first, navigating by sound rather than mapping the room, but he found the boy soon enough. He was sitting propped against the far wall, asleep. The pain in his arm increased and he felt his head going fuzzy. He had only overused his power to this extent once before, and he had sworn to himself then never to repeat it, and yet here he was. Fighting the inevitable crash, Lyle sent out one last tendril of power, grabbing a hold of the boy with it and

Nothing. The reading blanked and the connection snapped so fast it left him reeling, nauseas. Lyle rolled to his side, gagging, and cradled his left arm against his stomach. He coughed, gagged, hacked, but all that came up was air, and the nausea only grew more pronounced. He moaned, curling in on himself and tried to even out his breathing, counting the exhales.

"Are you okay?" the hand on his shoulder felt far heavier than it should, and it was turning him, and it was pain to move.

"Don't," Lyle croaked, gagged. His breathing fell back into an irregular rhythm.

The hand lifted, hovered, and fell again to his shoulder, much lighter this time. "What's wrong? Can I…can I help?"

"Nothing," he wanted to jerk away but all he could do was shake his head. "Don't," he repeated.

Taking the hint, the boy removed his hand again and backed up. Lyle felt it in the sudden shift of air. He inhaled deeply and when he didn't gag considered himself well enough to roll back over on his side.

"Are you sick?" he had backed up but wasn't retreating completely. When Lyle didn't answer he stood, and Lyle followed his footsteps around the mattress until the kid was standing in front of him again. He kneeled. "You're worse than you were before," he said.

Lyle wished he had the words to tell him to go away. Instead he settled on a noise halfway between a grunt and a growl.

"What should I do?"

Go away, Lyle willed, but his powers, even if he could use them, had never lain in that direction. Instead, the kid settled down, even reached out a tentative hand to his forehead, pressed his fingertips there for mere seconds before quickly yanking them away again. "You're burning up," he noted.

Lyle concentrated, dredging up the words from he knew-not-where. "It'll pass," he said. "Not sick, just need sleep." Then, a passing thought, "Whipperin…"

"I haven't seen anyone. I was outside until just a few minutes ago. There was no one there. Maybe he…maybe he can't find us here."

Whipperin would find them eventually, Lyle thought, it didn't matter where they went really. But he was already half-gone before the thought had even completed. It echoed into his mind and followed him into unconscious.