Adeline Banker

In the kitchen of a large house in Virginia, ten men, five young and five aged, stood around a counter discussing what would be a life changing event for each and every one of them.

"She's trained to kill you, so you have to be fast and cohesive. We don't know what she can do, but it's dangerous." Carlos Walsh explained to his son and his son's comrades. Allen and his friends nodded.

"You are going to get her, be very careful with her, each of you will do whatever it will take to keep her under control, the five of you should be able to do it as a team. Then you will bring her back through the woods, and back up here after you get back up on the highway." Dane's father, Evan, explained to the group.

"You should call at least once a day, and whenever there are new developments. Let us know when you're on the road back up. It should take you no more than ten days to do this." Miles' father said.

"Do you have everything you'll need?"

"Yeah, it's all in the truck." Dane said.

"Then you boys had better get moving. We'll see you in a week or so. Keep us updated." His father reminded them. With those parting words, the five boys went out the door.

Her adventure began on a Saturday night. She didn't have any plans other than to fall asleep in front of the television waiting for her dad to come home, so you might say that she had been rescued. In fact, if she had not had her evening interrupted, her life would have been quite mundane, for more than just the rest of the summer. Sydney had only lived in town since May, and that had not given her much time to build substantial friendships in school. Mostly, she had kept her nose in her studies and in her books, and she found the transition from one school to another at the end of her junior year to be quite exasperating, especially when the work was challenging to keep up with. Sydney didn't see the point of making new friends a month before summer. Now that she could drive, she intended to take a road trip back up to Maryland to spend the summer with her old friends, if her dad would let her, which she was certain he would. He father's date showed up at her house at seven eighteen, and sat nervously on the opposite edge of the couch from Sydney. Sydney could tell that she was a nervous little woman from the way that she bounced her feet and checked her watch and picked at her nails. She was a very impatient interior designer that was offended by the lack of good feng shui in the house. Sitting on the couch made her feel unclean. Sydney decided that she was too uptight, and she knew immediately that her father would be too relaxed for this woman. He would take her out and try to show her a good time, and of course she would be unable to refuse, but she, ultimately would not have a very good time, and though she would get home late, and would be teased by her friends for having a wild night out, she would ignore his calls back. Sydney observed her, her shiny black hair pulled up into a tight bun and her tiny little skirt and shirt and she pulled nervously at the threads. Sydney wanted to make conversation, or at least ask the woman's name, but she looked agitated, and Sydney decided not to distract her from her thoughts.

Sydney thought her father was a bit like a girl in the way he spent about an hour preparing for a date. She knew he was nervous and lonely, but she didn't really understand the scope of it. Julian Wallace felt obligated to have a female role model for his daughter, even if he didn't like her as much as he wanted to.

Her dad came down five minutes later and whisked the woman away, letting his daughter know that he would call when he was on the way home. Sydney knew her father would keep the woman out late, so she had the house to herself for a long while. She watched television for another hour, then grabbed her camera from her purse and began to upload some photos online. While that was running, she went into the kitchen and began to eat a slice of cold pizza, just leaning against the counter.

Suddenly, she heard a noise, coming from the sliding door. She whipped around and glared out it, but didn't see anything. Another sound came from the front, and she left her pizza on the counter to go investigate, but didn't see anything there, either.

Thoroughly creeped out, she put her camera back into her purse and put her shoes on, grabbing her keys on the way. Sydney was going to go for a drive. It always made her feel a little better, and it would be a nice chance to have some time to herself. Sydney locked to door behind her and took a nervous glance out to the street. She thought maybe a person was there, somewhere, but couldn't distinguish anyone from the shadows. The floodlight came on when she entered the driveway. There were two boys standing between her and her car. Sydney froze, unsure of what to do. Why would two boys be outside her house at nine o'clock? She shifted her stance, holding the bag over her chest protectively.

"Do I know you?" She asked, glancing from one of them to the other. They were both young, definitely still teenagers, probably not much older than Sydney herself. Neither of them said anything, but the one on the left stepped toward her, taking the distance between them from a yard to about a foot. Sydney's immediate reaction was to step back, but he grabbed her arm and yanked her toward him. She went to yell, but her voice caught in her throat. Sydney swooned, losing her knees, suddenly completely exhausted. She struggled to stay awake, but her eyes were drooping as if she had been up for days. She fell asleep before she could say another word.

She woke up slowly, at first sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. Then she looked around, startled. She was on the ground, under a blanket in the middle of the woods. Sydney registered it as a campground; she could see a few picnic tables, a trail, and a trashcan. People all around her were laying on a big spread out quilt, under blankets themselves, asleep. Six pairs of shoes littered the ground around the quilt, one pair, her own. She looked down at her bare feet, and then up, finally noticing the boy in front of her, awake and sitting, looking right at her. He held a gun, not pointing at her, of course just there in his hand, like a threat yet to be made. Sydney's stomach lurched as she remembered the night before; the noises, going out to her car, the weird boys, and passing out when he grabbed her.

So how did she get here, in the middle of the woods? And who were those boys?

"Who are you?" She asked the boy with the gun.

"Who the hell do you think? Don't try anything, I'm not afraid to shoot you." He warned.

"Please, I have no idea who you are. What's going on?" She asked, her voice cracking with fear.

"Playing stupid won't get you very far either." He nudged the sleeping form nearest to him with his foot. "Get up. She's awake." He said.

"I'm not playing stupid, please." She said, almost begging.

"We already know all about what you are and your training and your plans." Said the boy, very matter-of-factly. Sydney bit her lip. She was kidnapped, she realized, as the boy next to the one with the gun awoke groggily, throwing her a cautionary glance. She would have to get away. She didn't wait for a distraction. Better now, when they were all asleep. She scrambled to her feat and bolted towards the trail, ignoring the boys yelling at her. She looked over he shoulder and could have sworn she saw the boy with the gun smile. She turned forward and kept running as hard as she could.

"Help!" She screamed as loud as she could She sucked in another breath, ready to yell again, when something caught her and yanked her backwards, onto the ground. She landed on her back and lost all of her air. The boy with the gun stood over her, pointing it down at her face. She was startled by his sudden appearance, not having heard him pursue. How had he gotten to her so fast? He wasn't even winded.

"Get up." He said. Sydney scrambled to her feet, trying to catch her breath. "I hadn't realized they trained you to be a coward." He scoffed at her. Sydney shook, and fought back tears.

"I don't know what you're talking about." She said. He laughed and shook his head. Why don't we go have a seat at that table? We need to have a talk with you." He said. Sydney glanced down as his gun, noticing his trembling hand. She walked to the picnic table, and sat down on the side opposite him as the others, all awake now, came to sit as well. Two boys sat on either side of Sydney, and two more sat on the other side of the table. Five kidnappers, total.

"Hayden, is everything alright?" The boy sitting to the right of the one with the gun asked as he sat down.

"It's fine. She's not a very convincing actress, and she isn't very fast." Sydney sat, uncomfortable with the proximity and the gazes she was enduring from the boys. As she looked from one to the next, she realized, they were all probably around her age. The boy that had grabbed her the previous night sat to her right. Sydney cleared her throat. The boy on her left scooted closer to her and put his arm over her shoulders cordially.

"Good morning sleeping beauty." He said in her ear.

"I'm not acting," She protested, leaning away from the boy with his arm on her. Sydney was becoming more frustrated and upset. "Please don't touch me." She said to him. "Can't someone tell me why I've been kidnapped?"

"You know why. I'm surprised you haven't attacked us yet." Hayden replied, putting the gun down in front of him. The boy to her right ignored her request.

"Attacked you? You attacked me! You're the one with the gun. How would I have attacked you?" She exclaimed, practically shouting. Tear of frustration rose to her eyes. "How am I supposed to give you what you want if I don't know what that is?" She demanded, struggling to control herself. Hayden glared at her, as if he was examining her.

"Sydney, please try to calm down." The boy to Hayden's left said. In her lap, Sydney's hands went to fists. "Hayden, maybe she isn't acting. Maybe there was something we didn't know..."

"Dane, don't fall for it. They warned us about this." Hayden said back to him.

"Yeah, but they also said that she wasn't stupid. Don't you think she would get the futility of putting on an act if she knew what was going on? I'm going to call them."

"Yeah, I think that's a good idea. Dane has a good point." The boy sitting next to Sydney said. He ducked under the table and pulled up a backpack. "While he does that, we should eat." He pulled from the bag water bottles and a big Ziploc filled with trail mix. The boy on her other side dropped his arm from her shoulders, much to her relief, and took the bag as it was passed to him.

"I'm starving." He laughed, eating a few handfuls before passing it along. Sydney had no appetite. Dane was on the phone, listening to it ring.

"Hello? Hang on-" He paused, looking at the boy, still eating his trail mix breakfast. "Miles." He said, catching his attention and jerking his head toward Sydney.

"Oh, yeah, sorry." He said, throwing her a glance and nodding. Sydney looked back to Dane, who had resumed his phone conversation. He kept his eyes carefully on Sydney as she became more and more confused. She could no longer hear Dane's voice. She saw his lips moving and could hear everything else just fine. She touched her ear. Nothing else was wrong except that his voice was gone. It was like someone had put him on mute. She could hear his fingers drumming on the table, and Miles asking Hayden to pass the trail mix back, and the birds in the trees.

Sydney glanced at Miles, her mouth open to ask if he, too, was having a problem hearing Dane's voice, when he winked at her and began to speak.

"You're the only one that can't hear him. He's having a conversation that is none of your business," he poked her nose, causing her to scowl and lean away from him, "so I am censoring his voice from your ears. Don't worry your pretty little head about his conversation." He finished, smiling.

"You're what?" She demanded, staring at him in disbelief.

"That's my special power."

"What?" She asked again, not understanding, or not willing to. He shook his head and smiled at her again before going back to his trail mix. Was he serious? She looked around the table, but no one was laughing, or found his saying such things out of the ordinary. And then, suddenly, Dane was looking right at her, offering the phone to her.

"He wants to talk to you." He said perfectly clearly. She blinked and took the phone slowly, bringing it to her ear.

"Hello?" She mumbled into the phone.

"What does the treaty mean to you?" A man's voice asked.

"I don't know. What treaty?"

"Tell me honestly that you have no idea what's going on." He said.

"Honestly I have no idea what's going on." She parroted, half sarcastically. "That's what I've been saying for twenty minutes." She insisted. "Who are you?"

"You don't need to know. Hand the phone back to Dane." The voice ordered. She did so, wondering what the point of that conversation was.

Dane finished his conversation audibly.

"Yeah...Really?" He asked then, looking at her, wide eyed. There was a long pause. "Oh-okay... Now? ...Alright... Yeah... Thanks. See you soon. Bye." Then he closed the phone, eyes on Sydney as he spoke to the table.

"They think she's for real." He announced. Sydney sighed, relieved.

"Seriously? Did we get the wrong girl? That would be really bad." The boy to her left said, rubbing his temples.

"No, we definitely have the right girl. The situation is just...different than they thought. They want me to double check." Dane said. Sydney wondered what he meant by that. Everyone around the tables seemed to glance nervously at her.

"I don't believe this." Hayden grumbled. "Allen, can't you just do your thing until we get there?" He complained.

"No." Said the boy on her right. "Then we would have to drag her, and she has to eat and pee and drink and stuff, too." He said. Sydney was becoming frustrated with being in the dark.

"Can someone tell me what's going on now?" She demanded.

"Can I?" Miles asked excitedly.

"Why not." Dane shrugged. "But keep it short." He said.

"We all have special abilities, as you might have noticed." He paused, looking her in the eye, keeping a completely straight face. Sydney laughed, disbelieving. "Seriously. That's about all I can tell you right now. You're sure you don't know anything about this?" He asked her, head cocked to the side.

"I don't believe you." She said.

"Listen up. We're not screwing around." Hayden said. "Jarred, take this." He said, handing the bag of trail mix to the boy on his right. "Watch that bag." He said. There was a blur, barely visible, and it was gone from Jarred's hands, and was in Hayden's. "I'm fast, alright? Faster than anyone. Miles can modulate voices, whether you like it or not. None of us are joking. Get with the program." The bag was suddenly sitting back in front of her. She blinked twice.

"Fine. You're special. What does that have to do with me?" She asked, glaring at him. She had always been very down to earth, never having any interest in the supernatural or playing pretend. The sudden introduction of magical powers to her world disturbed her more than she let on. It just wasn't natural.

"Dane, maybe you should do that check sooner rather than later." Allen said, looking at Sydney.

"What this check thing?" She asked, looking challengingly at Dane.

"It's my power. Mind control. I need to poke around in your head." He responded in the same challenging tone. Her aggression dropped immediately and gave way to all of her raw confusion and fear.

"What? No. You can't." She said, looking down at her hands, curled into fists on the table now, her anger and frustration laid out for everyone to see. She could feel her pulse rising. Miles put his hand on her back comfortingly and began to speak but she cut him off. "Don't touch me." She snapped. He dropped his hand instantly. Sydney glared at her hands, taking a deep breath and letting it out to calm herself.

She wanted to be away from here, at home, sleeping in. She wanted to be anywhere but where she was now. She counted to ten, and that was enough to clear her head. She convinced herself that this was happening and it was going to keep happening whether she liked it or not, so she made herself accept it. She couldn't run away because Hayden was fast. She had to deal with it.

"What if I don't consent to you "poking around in my head"?" She asked, mocking his words. He paused, looking very uncomfortable.

"I really need to do this. I have to. Please don't make it...don't make it like that." He said, apparently finished. Then he continued suddenly. "I mean, I really don't like to do this. It's not easy and it's tiring and it hurts, not just the other person, but me too. And it's so invasive and private and I don't want to. But I have to."

She stared at him, hating the stares that seemed to fall onto her whenever there was a silent moment, as if she was going to explode, or do something drastic and unpredictable.

"Does it hurt?" She asked hoarsely, resigning herself.

"Yes." He said frankly. "But less if you let me." He pleaded.

Sydney sighed in frustration. First they were yelling and angry and reactive, and now they were going to ask nicely before they conducted supernatural experiments on her? She almost preferred their reactivity to their uncertainty. 'Eager' would not describe how she felt at that moment. Maybe, she decided, he was being nice because he felt guilty. Not nice enough.

"What do I have to do?" She asked Dane.

"Nothing, just...maybe you want to close your eyes? Try to trust me." She squeezed her eyes shut, scoffing. Allen and Miles took hold of her arms and shoulders, gently. It was uncomfortable at best, but she said nothing.

It was a really intense pressure at first, and then a sharp pain. Then she understood why the two of them were holding on to her. She was shaking uncontrollably, really hard. It was as if her muscles couldn't decide if they wanted to contract or flex. And it hurt badly, like someone had severed her spinal cord from her brain stem. A scream built up, from her gut, and would have tore out through her throat if Miles hadn't caught it. A heavy blanket settled over her mind, like a blizzard. And then it all stopped. She wanted to lay down and sleep for a long time, but her eyes opened and looked around. She wanted to close them. She tried. They stayed open and moved around. Her head pounded like someone was beating it with a sledgehammer. The world became like white noise. Everything she perceived was through a filter, like listening through cotton balls, feeling through a sheet, and seeing through wax paper.

Sydney? She would have blinked and looked around, it was her first instinct, but she couldn't. She wasn't any longer in control of her own body. She figured it out. Dane was in control of her. She hadn't realized it would be like this. She couldn't do anything, didn't have a choice. She panicked, and her mind raced, struggling, fighting the heavy pressure of Dane's own mind and presence frantically instinctually. His thoughts at her were an attempt to soothe. Sydney, I'm not going to hurt you. Focus on my words. Calm down. It's alright. Just give me a minute. Take deep breaths. Mentally. One or two minutes. She couldn't even breathe on her own. She tried, in vain, to make her body respond to her. She could feel herself, present in the situation, but couldn't even choose what to listen to, how to focus her eyes.

"One second guys." Her mouth said. Dane, speaking with her voice, her lips tongue and teeth. She despaired in her weakness, her trapped spot in her own head.

Besides being highly frustrating and distressing not to have control over her own body, it was extremely uncomfortable. Every thought that she was having or would have was laid out for him to see, whether she liked it or not. He could go through memories and personal experiences and secrets. It was like being chained to a stranger while naked. It was invasive and she felt like a puppet.

Then, suddenly, memories were bubbling up, old thoughts that she had no reason to be thinking about. She realized that Dane must have been looking at her past, and felt more panicked, more violated. She was afraid that he might find something personal, or that he would shame her, laugh at her fear and confusion.

Sorry. Try to stop fighting it, it will go faster that way. He insisted. Sydney tried to calm herself.

"Is everything alright?" Sydney heard Allen ask. She wanted to shout that no, nothing was alright, but couldn't respond.

"Yeah, it's fine. Just let me finish up here. She isn't making it easy." Sydney's voice and Dane's voice said at the same time.

"That's creepy." Miles said.

"Dane, why don't we just go like this? We won't have to worry about her running or making trouble or anything. It's easy."

"No. It's too hard on her, she's freaking out right now and I wouldn't be able to maintain it for more than a few hours, after which we would probably both pass out. She will be just fine." He said through her and his own body again.

She was noticing something strange, on top of all of the other strange things about this experience. She could feel him, his presence in her head. The emotions that he was radiating and his sort of intent toward her. It was like a change in temperature and humidity, from the feeling of her own mind to his. His was dense and muggy and heavy. He radiated a feeling of confidence, but also of concern. Like he was trying to assure her, calm her. She could feel that he was being careful. Gentle, almost. Finally, she felt like he was almost done.

Then something very strange happened. His weird presence disappeared, just for a second, and then it was back, like a blink. It wasn't as if he had retreated from her mind, but like he had moved into and then quickly out of a blind spot in her head. It happened again, longer. His emotion, his intent, that feeling of his mind, was gone, but his presence was certainly still there. She felt him brush against something, in her blind spot. Something she didn't even know was there, something she had never experienced before. Whatever it was, she could suddenly feel it, pulsing against whatever walls that held it in, the walls that he had touched with his mind. Then, he touched it, not just the walls, but the thing itself, revolving and pulsing and shifting like an angry tempest. It was like an electric shock to them both. Not a little jolt, either. A stick-a-fork-in-the-outlet kind of shock. The force of it was like a riptide. Her body shuddered for a minute, and Allen and Miles both grabbed onto her again. Dane was thrown off, back into his own head. In Sydney's, it calmed, becoming less and less, pulsing slowly like a dying heart, until it faded into oblivion, in the blind spot she could not feel. And then it as gone. She took back her own body, like a computer rebooting.

Her skull pounded and she wanted to collapse. All five boys were staring at her, and the two on either side had not let go of her yet.

"What the hell was that?" Hayden asked her.

"Nothing." Dane said quickly. Then he looked at Sydney, sideways, as if trying to figure something out.

"Are you okay?" He asked her. She blinked, and then echoed Hayden.

"What the hell was that? What did you do?" She demanded, half afraid. He met her eyes, and seemed, almost, to shake his head slightly. His eyes were pleading.

"I don't know. Nothing. I lost my grip for a second." He shrugged, lying. "In any case, she's completely clear and innocent."

"No crap. What happens now that we've established the obvious? Can you bring me home since I clearly do not have whatever you want?" She asked irritably, already feeling a dreadful migraine and desire to sleep for a year. Sydney was getting bolder, especially now that she had been validated as being completely oblivious. She also knew that Dane had dome something else that had shocked him out of her head. He hadn't lost his grip—not as if she knew much about these things, but the way he had been ejected didn't seem like he had just "lost his grip."

The boys all looked at each other, uncertain of how to respond.

"Nope." Hayden said. "We have a plan, and we're sticking to it. Sorry, you're along for the ride, whether you like it or not." Sydney frowned at the table. She certainly wouldn't be able to run away from these people. What they could do terrified her, but their demeanors were confusing. Too friendly for kidnappers. The most disconcerting thing was their confidence. The situation was completely relaxed because they were so confident in themselves.

"We need to get moving." Dane said, casually breaking the silence. "I'll get the blanket and stuff." He went over and began to shake out and roll up the quilt and wrestle it into a backpack. Allen took granola bars out of the other bag and handed them out to everyone else. Sydney pocketed hers, not quite sure she wanted to trust any food given to her. It was obvious they were going to be doing some hiking but she had no idea how far it would be. She convinced herself that she didn't have any appetite anyway.

"Let's get moving." Jarred said, heading up toward the trail. Mile's arm snaked around Sydney's waist and he guided her up to the trail. She moved away from him, happy to follow as long as he wasn't assaulting her. It only took a few steps before she realized just how exhausted she really did feel. Dane had said that what he did might make her tired, but she hadn't realized how physically taxing it would be. Allen sidled up to her as they left the campground behind. Sydney was startled by his hand on her elbow. She jerked away and started forward, not having realized that she had stopped walking.

"Dane told me you might be a little tired." He said, quietly, tentatively.

"So?" She snapped, wary.

"I thought I could give you a little waker-upper. It's a long walk." Sydney could tell that he felt he was walking on eggshells and that he was trying very hard to be gentle.

"How do I know you're not going to make me sleep or whatever?" She asked, not really sure how to put into words exactly what she knew he could do.

"Well it's a long way to drag an unconscious girl. And other hikers might get curious… but other than that, you don't really know, so I guess you'll just have to trust me." Sydney exhaled and nodded, closing her eyes. It made sense. She felt his hand; just his fingers really, touch her arm again, lightly. She flinched at the feeling of something being pinched. "Sorry." He muttered. The sensation was incredibly strange, but it was comparable to taking a cold shower after an early wake-up. Invigorating.

"Thank you." She said, finding herself rather sincere.

They group continued in silence for a long while, giving Sydney time to ponder. She had plenty of questions, but they had made it quite clear that she wasn't going to get any answers that she didn't absolutely need. Sydney knew that if she had encountered these five in broad daylight, or even at night in public, things might have been different. She certainly wouldn't be obediently trailing them. However, she was alone with them in the middle of the woods, and as if that wasn't enough, their abilities were terrifying.

None of it made sense to her. They had all seemed very wary, nearly scared of her, expecting her to attack or do something to them. They didn't want anything from her. Not information or money or anything conventional like that, at least. They wanted something, but she hadn't figured it out.

Jarred and Allen were a few yards ahead, staggering up a hill, and Miles walked quietly next to her, his advances put off by Sydney's rejection. Dane and Hayden, she saw with a look over her shoulder, were just behind. It was easy to tell that they were herding her, keeping her in a subtle cage. She gritted her teeth, vastly irritated at the idea of being contained.

Eventually, she was able to take her mind off it. The hike was challenging, with lots of roots and stones for potential tripping over. Once the hill leveled out, however, and they all the caught their breath, the conversation picked up.

"So," Miles began, addressing Sydney. "Do you like it in North Carolina?"

"Um." Sydney said, looking up. She hadn't expected to be conversed with, quite the opposite; she had hoped they would overlook her so long as she did what they said. "I've only lived there since March. It's nice, I guess."

"Oh, where did you move from?" He asked, sounding genuinely curious.

"Pennsylvania." She cleared her throat.

"Philly?" Jarred interrupted eagerly. "I love the Phillies."

"No, the countryside." Sydney corrected. She had never liked baseball much anyway.

"Did you live on a farm? That's what I imagine when I think of the countryside." Miles said.

"No. A small house, four acres on a hill. A long way from the town, nowhere near a city. A long way from the woods though, too." She said fondly. All the details of her old house were sharp in her memory, which pleased her. Sydney and her dad had left months ago, and she tried not to bring it up because she missed it so much, but she was surprised not to feel painful yearning, but fond nostalgia when she thought about it. "North Carolina has been growing on me, I think." She said, mostly to herself.

"What caused the move?"

"Dad's job." She shrugged. "He's in business. Asheville is where the new office is, so he commutes." Sydney grumbled.

"You would have rather stayed in Pennsylvania." Miles said.

"You think? We were only there for two years, but I had friends, and a job. It was in the middle of the school year, too."

"How'd your mom feel about the move? And after only two years, really?"

"My mom… is gone. And yeah, my dad's job moved him around a lot. He's the PR manager for all the new openings and stuff, so we basically move every time they have a new building that he needs to manage. He's very 'valuable to the company.' Or so he's told me." Sydney rolled her eyes.

"So your parents got divorced? That's rough. Was it a long time ago?"

"My parents aren't divorced. My mom died… It's complicated I guess. She left when I was really little, but not because she hated my dad. They loved each other, but she had to go for some reason… I don't know why. My dad didn't hear or see her for a long, long time. And then, about six years ago, she died. Someone got in touch with my dad to let him know."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to assume… My dad could never keep a woman around, so I guess I'm kind of cynical about it."

"It's fine." Sydney said.

"As a matter of fact, none of our dad's could keep ladies around. We are all motherless beings." Dane said with a laugh.

"Weird." Sydney said, wondering if the fact that none of them had moms had led them to become kidnappers at this early point in life.

"So where have you lived? Anywhere cool?"

"Mostly just suburban east cost. New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts. My dad knows that I don't like cities much, so he parks us in the rural areas, or the suburbs, and commutes."

"Why don't you like cities?" Allen asked with a frown.

"Too many people. I get overwhelmed and freaked out. Plus there's so much crime… it makes me really nervous."

"That sucks. I love the cities." Miles said. Sydney just shook her head. It was weird to her, but relieving that at least one or two of them were acting like normal people. It was better, at least, than an intimidating, ominous silence, and uncomfortable glances, or stares. Sydney didn't mind engaging in a conversation if it kept those at bay, especially when it was obvious that he was trying hard to keep it going. It was even odder to think that he might be interested in her, considering the situation.

There was a short break in the conversation as they climbed another hill. At the top, Jarred pulled water bottles out of his backpack and passed them out.

"Allen, time check?" Dane said. Allen pulled out a cell phone.

"Almost eleven. We're making good time." He said with a smile. Sydney reached for her own cell phone, remembering having pocketed it before going out to her car the night before. She wondered where it might have gotten lost along the way. When it occurred to her, Sydney knew it wouldn't be much of a stretch, for them.

"Do you know where my phone is?" She asked, directing her question at Dane, who seemed more and more to be in charge. She watched Dane and Hayden exchange a look, which tweaked her nerves, mostly because they were being so obvious about it.

"Yes, we have your phone and purse." Dane said with a glance at her. "Don't worry, we won't touch anything." Sydney rolled her eyes. She wasn't worried about her things being touched. She was worried about why they wouldn't let her have it. Obviously they were worried she would call the police. Light tension was reestablished for a while as they walked, and Sydney's mind wandered. How were they all so tightly knit, she wondered? They certainly weren't brothers. Miles was blonde and Dane was a brunette, and Hayden had skin that was a few shades tanner than the others. None of them looked too much alike, and they all seemed to be the same age.

Sydney was brought back to the previous conversation, of her dad. Her mom was gone, and he was dating again, not that Sydney minded. People had to move on with their lives. Sydney knew her mother had told him to move on. Frankly, she was surprised he had waited so long. She wondered if he had noticed last night that she was gone, or if when he had gotten in, he had just assumed that she had already gone to bed. Was he still sleeping? Or was he awake, and worried, calling frantically, on the phone with the police? Sydney shook her head to herself. Her dad worked hard, and definitely didn't need or deserve the stress or concern.

Sydney realized how potentially dangerous the situation could become, if she asked too many questions, or didn't do what they wanted, or if she tried… tried anything, and failed. Miles seemed okay, maybe Allen too. But Hayden was frightening. Jarred was so stoic, it was little menacing. And Dane… well, since he seemed to be in charge, she would rather not test him.

"Have you been hiking before?" Miles said, striking up another conversation. Sydney was grateful that he was keeping her out of her head. She was scaring and worrying herself.

"Just camping out. Sleeping on the ground has done nothing for my back either this or last time." Miles laughed in response.

"Me neither, to be honest. It's the hiking I like. I just love the trails and the smells and the trees. It's really beautiful."

"So you love the city and the woods? How does that work?" She said, surprising herself with a laugh.

"They're both filled with wild animals. And neither of them are organized." He said after a pause. "The similarities are rather poetic." He said, sounding mock pretentious. Sydney laughed. They went on, not talking about anything vastly important. By the end of the next half-hour, Sydney had realized that he had hardly given away a single personal detail while putting her in a position to give many. She wondered if that was his plan. It didn't really matter, did it? She was trapped either way. Why not give him what he was trying to get?

Sydney unconsciously began to observe, as she chatted carefully with him and they all hike. None of them were dressed in clothes that were specially suited to kidnapping, or hiking for that matter. Miles was wearing cargo shorts with a grey t-shirt and flip-flops. It meant that they wouldn't be hiking that much, if he hadn't seen the need to at least wear sneakers. Hayden kept swatting flies away from his face and swearing when a mosquito got him. Allen and Dane would once in a while, jump into the conversation. Jarred mostly stayed quiet, occasionally rattling off the time or telling which direction to go when they reached a fork in the trail. Sydney came to the conclusion that, as far as kidnappings went, she had probably gotten lucky, for she could be in far worse hands than those of a quintet of teenage boys.

Noon came and passed, and Sydney knew she was getting tired; her calves were burning and her feet ached. But she didn't dare complain. It would establish her as weak, which was something she did not want to do. Compliant, maybe, but not weak. And definitely not a liability. Luckily, at nearly one in the afternoon, Jarred announced that the next campsite was ahead, and that was where they would stop for lunch.

Jarred steered the group into the campsite with the lure of sandwiched in his backpack. They all sat at a big picnic table, Sydney squished again between Allen and Miles. Jarred glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She was slightly enigmatic. Not at all what they had expected. Even more strange that she hadn't known her mother at all. He wondered if they had the wrong girl after all, or if she was the right one, but lines had gotten crossed in his father's search along the way and somehow she wasn't what he had thought she would be. Allen was drooling over her like a dog with a new chew toy, and Miles wasn't being shy either, both of whom were beginning to grate on his nerves. It was possible that Miles was in control and knew exactly what he was doing, Jarred wouldn't put those kind of sneaky antics past him. But Miles was also a natural flirt and that side could definitely tend to get the better of him. Allen, on the other hand, was absolutely blatant about it. He was never very forward with girls, but when he was interested, he made a point to interact with them, and then he would become a little serpent, cunning enough to manipulate them until he got what he wanted. Even if his objective was nothing malicious—an honest relationship, even—the way he went about captivating a girl was just ridiculous. Jarred could admit to himself that he was a little jealous. After all, Allen didn't put half as much effort into relationships with guys. He would play up the "bro thing" and then suddenly it was a lot more serious than you ever intended, but once again, he had just what he wanted. If Allen sunk his teeth into this girl, she wouldn't have a chance. He had learned from his dad, how to play on women's affections and tolerate them, to give them exactly what they wanted. Of course, his dad had probably used the skill very differently. Allen's young hormones put him in a perpetually fickle state. He was more sensitive and thoughtful than most boys his own age. He actually was interested in a girl for who she was, just as much as for her body, something that his father's method had taught him only to pretend to be.

Jarred had fallen victim to Allen's boy-ploy months earlier. The problem being that they hadn't had time to break it off, really, things had just sort of become less and less between them and suddenly they had seamlessly melted back to being just friends. The problem was that Jarred couldn't tell if that shift had been a product of Allen's effort, an accident, or something that Jarred himself had made happen, out of stress from what had transpired between them.

He handed out sandwiched quietly, watching Miles carry on a conversation about something trivial between bites with Sydney, who, strangely enough, didn't seem too disturbed by him, or the situation. Jarred went over in his head something that all of their dads had briefed them on before they had set out on this mission. They had stood, for the thousandth time around the island in Allen's kitchen, going over details.

"She can act, so don't be fooled. She'll have a strong tendency to control the situation, which will probably come through even if she's pretending." Dane's dad had warned. Jarred was sure she was completely innocent. She was meek, was going along because she was scared, that was obvious. Jarred was a little bothered by that, not that it was her fault. It was upsetting, to be feared. It wasn't just him, it was all of them. She was obviously intimidated, and there was nothing he could do about it. Couldn't extend a friendly hand to her because of the whole stupid situation. It would seem artificial to her, he was sure. So, instead of joining to conversation and putting a fake smile on, he kept his eyes on the table and dug into his sandwich.

He was grateful to get back on the trail about twenty minutes later, walking in step with Dane. Jarred and Dane used to get up early and run together on weekday mornings, sometimes joking and talking between breaths, sometimes it was quiet and comfortable. The hike was more like the latter.

Jarred looked at the time again as they passed a trail mark.

"It's about one forty-five now. If we keep up this pace we'll get there at around four."

"Sweet." Miles said. Jarred heard Hayden snicker as Miles dove back into an enthralling conversation with Sydney. Jarred shot him a grin, glad that someone besides himself had noticed Miles' ridiculous infatuation with the girl that was supposed to be their hostage. Not that he would rather there be some awkward tension, or worse, she be exactly what they had expected. Something none of them would be able to handle or subdue. Jarred did wonder, however, kicking Dane's stone back into his path, what was going to happen to Sydney, when they got her back to their fathers. What would they want with her, if she was powerless? She didn't have any information, that much was obvious. There must be something that they hadn't told him about. Nothing else made sense.

Sydney looked out into the woods as se went by them, half-observing, half-wondering. Would it be better to get lost in the woods than to stay with these guys? Or what if they brought her to civilization? Would it be easier to get help there? They would definitely be less willing to use their powers in front of people, that would be for sure. Maybe she would have a chance.

Silence finally fell, much to Jarred's great relief, and in part, to Sydney's too. It was a comfortable silence, for the most part. Sydney fell back into thinking about other things. Most of all, her move to North Carolina. She had never particularly like moving, mostly because of having to start fresh every few years. She didn't like to travel, in fact, it frightened her. Being somewhere new, with no contacts, relying on the goodwill of others… Sydney thought it was all very dangerous. She recognized that fear in herself, but pushed it away. The worst of it was over. Finishing the school year, unpacking everything, meeting the neighbors, all behind her. Of course, now there was all this… but back to home—that fear of the unknown was always with her. Maybe part of it was curiosity. Like not knowing was killing me so much that it was better to stop wondering and to resist the temptation to wonder by fighting change.

It was almost three when Miles heard hikers coming up the trail. He grabbed Sydney by the waist, and pulled her against his side. Sydney opened her mouth, but Miles looked her in the eye and said.

"Shh." Dane and Jarred fell back so they were just a two steps ahead, and suddenly Hayden and Allen were on their heels. Three hikers came over the hill, decked out in EMS hiking gear, and talking noisily, hardly noticing the boys pass them, or Sydney, staring at them with a startled, confused look on her face. Sydney's mouth had gone dry, and she knew exactly what Miles would do if she tried to scream for help, in fact, she could already feel the sensation from before in her throat. She understood why he was holding her. He wasn't making a pass at her; he was keeping her close and under his thumb. His fingers dug into her side and she could heel his steady heartbeat in her other arm, which she crossed over her chest, protectively. The hikers seemed to pass in slow motion, making the uncomfortable moment drag on. She began to move away once they had passed, but Miles shook his head slightly, half a warning, and didn't let go of her until they were out of earshot. The group loosened back to the relaxed way things had been before. Jarred was pleased how well that had gone. They had spent hours practicing for that situation. Granted, it wasn't as necessary considering the fact that Sydney had turned out not to be so dangerous, but it was still useful. Dane turned and gave Sydney a tight smile, making sure she wasn't too shaken. She didn't meet his eyes long enough to see the smile, instead dropping them to the ground when she felt his gaze.

For Sydney, the illusion of friendliness between her hand Miles had been broken. It was business now, and so forth for the next hour.

Then, at nearly four o'clock, cars could be heard, along with more voices. Miles took her by the waist again, much more gently this time, however, and Hayden appeared on her other side. The trees got thinner and thinner until they could see a parking lot. There was a short walk down a steep incline, then they hit pavement.

"Right on time." Jarred muttered, walking briskly across the parking lot. Miles walked much faster too, forcing Sydney to keep up. His hand held her elbow on the other side of her body, keeping it against her ribcage. Sydney wanted to pull back from him, to make some sign of distress. Were there enough people in the parking lot that maybe someone would notice, if she tried to make a scene? Or would she just end up pissing off the boys? A cloud passed over the sun, and Sydney looked up at a thunderhead coming to rest right on top of them. Suddenly she was stopped in front of a huge dark green truck. Dane threw his bag in the back and climbed into the driver's seat. Sydney was helped into the back of the cab after Jarred, and Hayden climbed in after her Allen and Jarred sat up front. Sydney realized that she had jut entirely missed her chance to do anything, and now she might be utterly doomed. As if that wasn't enough, she was stuck in the back with the two boys that had shown her the least kindness, and there wasn't much elbowroom. Sydney glanced around the cab, surprised that there could be space for 6 in a truck. The whole thing was very clean, which surprised her for some reason.

"Hey, buckle up." Jarred said, startling Sydney from a stray thought. Sydney did as she was told quickly. The thing roared as it started up. It began to rain, and it only got harder as Dane pulled out onto the highway.

"Cool, we just beat the rain." Miles observed. Dane flicked on the heat and turned the radio on, quiet enough that a conversation could be had if need be. Every single one of them seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Sydney dropped her head against the seat, sick of thinking and worrying and of being scared. Her fingers drummed against her leg, and her leg jiggled impatiently as she waited for anything to come to mind to take her thoughts away from her present position. Jarred leaned over and spoke into her ear.

"Calm down. No one is going to attack you, or ask you any impossible questions, or make you solve a really hard riddle, or anything ridiculous like that. You can relax. It's a long ride." Sydney's eyes slid down to her lap, where she folded her hands and stopped fidgeting, certainly not wanting to bother Jarred. Hayden's arm shot past her nose as he leaned forward, passing his gun over the seat to Allen.

"Put that in the glove box for me?" he asked. Allen put it away for him, giving Sydney a reassuringsmile before turning back around.

"Now he's harmless." Miles joked.

"Hardly." Hayden said with a dark laugh and a smile that Sydney would have moved far away from if she hadn't been flanked by Jarred on the other side.

"Dane, call them and check in. We should let them know we're on our way. Miles will cover you." Allen said. Miles nodded. Sydney watched nervously as Dane drove and dug his cell phone out of his pocket. The rain was picking up, and distracted driving made her nervous. She knew exactly what Allen meant when he said "Miles with cover you," especially when he glanced at her when he said it. She wouldn't be able to hear a word. Sydney dropped her head again, closing her eyes this time. She heard Dane pick up, but after that, his voice was lost. Sydney did watch the conversation though. They had put the cell on speakerphone, and Allen held it while Dane talked, allowing for everyone to hear what the man on the other end had to say, except for Sydney, or course. It was a tad unnerving to sit, watching them all miming at the cell phone, which bore no response. Miles gave her an apologetic smile that she did not return. Sydney was watching the conversation change, boys jump in and float in and out for about five minutes. She couldn't figure out what they were talking about. Probably her. It should have bothered her, but it was probably the least strange thing happening in the situation. Sydney noted a sudden pause in the conversation. The tension in the truck rose a tangible amount. What happened next all sort of seemed to collide and squish together.

The boys looked at each other, stunned. Allen was suddenly yelling something into the phone, and Dane stopped the truck and pulled over. He took the phone from Allen's hand and said something into it, slowly. Sydney thought he might be crying. But the she realized he was enraged. Hayden looked at her, eyes wide, and his hands were shaking again, exactly the same way he had been that morning. Miles looked at her too. Dane ended the call, turned off the phone, threw it into the console, hard.

"Shit." Miles said.

"Shit is right. How could they do this to us?" Dane snapped.

"What the hell did we think they were going to do with her?" Jarred asked. "Have tea?"

"What do we do now?" Allen said.

"We can't go confront them. They'd execute her." Jarred said.

"Do you think we would be able to protect her one way or another, from them, even? We should save them the trouble." Hayden said. Miles jumped at him.

"Shut up Hayden, this isn't funny. They want to kill her, even though her mom-"

"They're going to come after us when they can't reach us and we don't show up." Allen said.

"They completely used us. Manipulated us into doing their dirty work. How long have they been using us like this? Tricking us into being obedient little brats or doing whatever they needed? If we hadn't figured it out, where would we end up?" Jarred mused.

Sydney's head pounded as they all went on like this. She was putting together some idea of what was going on. Someone wanted to kill her? Because of her mother? Whoever the someone is lied to the boys… and now what? Tears welled to Sydney's eyes. She had to get out of there. As soon as possible. These boys were nuts. Sydney could tell she was in way over her head.

"Everyone shut up." Dane commanded. Everyone quieted down, with a little obvious help from Miles. "We are going to go south." He announced, "We will figure something out while we are on the road. Right now, we need to get as far away as fast as possible. Hayden, you're driving." He said. He might as well have been talking to her. "Get as far away, as fast as possible." He had said. It didn't really matter how she pulled It off. Sydney's heart pounded and she saw her chance. Hayden opened the door and slid out into the rain, leaving it open for Dane to come around. Sydney took the moment, knowing full well that it wasn't a very good one. In a second she was out on the side of the highway in the pouring rain, running as hard as she could away from the truck. Her heart was in her throat, and she sobbed as she ran away, not sure if it was because she was scared, or happy to be free, or because she knew it wouldn't last long enough to mean anything. Moments later, she slammed straight into Hayden, who had appeared in front of her. He was so fast; it felt just like someone had slammed a stick across her chest when he pushed her. She stumbled backward but managed to keep her balance, sucking in a breath. In all her distress, she managed to indignantly shout at him.

"Did you just shove me?"

"What are you gonna do about it?" He snapped, contributing to her growing feling of powerlessness. She could see his furious, severe face even through the dim rain and her tears. She swung at him, and at first she was sure she had hit him, but then she realized the he had caught her fist, mid-swing. "Nice try." He snarled. "You might have hit me if I were one of the others." She aimed to punch him in the stomach with her other hand, but her punch swung wildly out to the left and he hit her in the stomach hard enough to knock the wind out of her. She coughed, surprised that he had actually hit her, and that hard. He grimaced at her and let go of her fist. She was satisfied when she felt her foot connect with his leg and heard his shout, which he stifled quickly. There was a sudden sting across her face when he slapped her and then he shoved her again, so hard that she found herself on the ground, skinning her palms. She glared up at him, knowing she wouldn't win this fight, especially when her butt was soaking wet. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to her feet, and then yanked her face close to his.

"You had better turn your ass around and start marching back to that truck, or I will drag you, kicking and screaming." His voice was a growl, and she was sure, at that point, that he would unquestionably drag her. Despite her tears, that had all but subsided and her rising ire and fear, she jerked away from him and glanced over her shoulder. There were two boys standing outside the truck, watching the two of them, a good hundred yards away, probably Dane and Miles from what she could see. It was much farther away than the distance Sydney thought she had put between her and itself. She turned back to Hayden, who spun her by the shoulders and gave her a shove toward the truck. "Get moving." He barked. Sydney wiped her face and sniffed, gathering her dignity. She walked back to the truck, using all of her effort to keep her head up and back straight. Sydney struggled back into the backseat, grateful this time for the body heat of the boys on either side of her. She was soaking wet and freezing. It was also much less uncomfortable with Hayden in the front seat. He slammed the door as he climbed in. The truck peeled into a u-turn off the shoulder and hit seventy in the pouring rain. Sydney didn't say anything even though she wanted to. She said something else instead.

"What's going on?" She found herself shaking, either with anger or fear or cold. Her fingernails bit into her palms from inside her fists. She could see Hayden's shoulders stiffen. Dane closed his eyes and sighed. Sydney started in again. Something had changed to let her feel like it was okay to being angry and to take control like this.

"You're a bunch of cowards. Kidnapping and manhandling an innocent girl. You were going to have me killed." Her voice began to rise. "I hate all of you. You're all evil, creepy little—" She was silenced by Miles. Sydney's jaws clicked together as he turned around in his seat, saying calmly and evenly,

"You need to stop. You have no idea what's going on, and you're making unfair accusations." His features were utterly blank. He turned back around, letting her stew in silence for a few minutes. Sydney glared at the blonde locks of hair she could se around the headrest. When she felt herself tearing up again, she opened her mouth again.

"They why don't you clue me in to what's going on, exactly? The I could make fair accusations." Her request was met with silence for a minute.

"Why not? It's not like it's going to hurt to tell her everything at this point. She is sort of in over her head now anyway." Dane sighed. Sydney was shocked that he was arguing in her favor. He glanced at her, not smiling.

"Whatever. It isn't like things can get any worse." Jarred muttered. No one else said anything, so Dane took that as consent. He turned to her and took a deep breath.

"This whole think is really long and convoluted, to try to stay with me, alright?" Sydney nodded eagerly. "There's this long-standing…sort of…. Rivalry-thing of girls versus boys going on. It's been going on for at least a century. Behind the scenes, as it were. Each side has power, as we have demonstrated." He said, gesturing around the cab of the truck. "They've been going back and forth, fighting and killing each other, and both sides trying to gain the upper hand by acquiring enough power to completely crush the other. The women have gathered and organized in the past few decades, amassing power, becoming highly efficient. They all work together in some facility somewhere out in the Midwest or something. The men are all mostly scattered around in little sects and groups all over the place. The women are impossible to defeat because they're so huge and incredibly organized. The men are impossible to defeat because they're everywhere, unregistered, and impossible to stomp out because there is no way to really track them all. Are you with me?" Sydney blinked. She had already accepted the fact that they had powers. His explanation wasn't any more farfetched. She nodded.

"So you guys are from the boys side of the boys versus girls rivalry?"

"Yeah, our dads and us. So our dads brought us up together. Home schooling and everything. We all live on the same block too. The point it, our dads were friends growing up too, and their dads raised them the same way they raised us. Essentially for the purpose of fighting the women if the time should come. Somehow, I don't know how, my dad snooped around the women's database and found this plan…" He paused, thinking. "The plan was for a training program. They would train members from a young age to be operatives that would hunt down and execute or capture men from the other side as they were discovered." Sydney nodded and listened, already putting to pieces together. She didn't want to jump to any conclusions, however, so she allowed him to continue. "The youngest boy or girl in a generation from either side has the strongest power out of anyone in the whole lot. Let me know if I lose you here. This part is sort of confusing. As the youth gets older, their power will dissipate, go down in concentration so that the kid isn't an outrageously powerful adult. This leads kids to be manipulated intensively by both sides. The project my dad found out about was planning to train kids, teens and young adults, to go off and do this killing stuff." He stopped again, staring through the seat in front of him. Sydney knew he wasn't finished, so she stayed quiet.

"My dad started finding names of people associated with the project. He found your name. You were the first one to be in line for the program. You were the youngest one that the whole lot of those women had. The file was old, really old. There were no other names on the roster for trainees. They were worried that you would be coming for us. The program should have been well on its way to being in effect at this point. They were scared… They decided to act preemptively. They found it shockingly easy to find you. Went through a lot of trouble to be sure they had the right person." Sydney nodded. She knew, somehow they had messed up. Gotten the wrong girl. She wanted to laugh. That she actually believed this whole story was funny. That she had gotten tangled up in it like this was hysterical. "Then they sent us to do the dirty work. You were supposed to be frighteningly powerful, because you were the youngest and the only one in the generation, so you didn't have to share the level of power with anyone, it was all concentrated in you. We didn't think they were planning to kill you, I swear." He said, suddenly defensive. "They lied to us. There's a way… some old ritual that can be done… to strip people of their power. It's archaic, supposedly. I think it's all a bunch of Wiccan bull, but hey, they were welcome to try it.

Of course, after we became aware that you were normal and had no power, that plan didn't make sense anymore, but our minds were diverted elsewhere, courtesy of my dad's mind control." Dane stopped again, giving Sydney the opportunity to ask te question he knew she would.

"How did you not know he was controlling you?" Her voice was disbelieving. After having Dane in her head, it was impossible to believe that someone wouldn't notice that.

"My power is derived from his, but it isn't the same. His is rather different, it's more like the power of suggestion. He'll tell you what to do and you'll do it, happily, not even realizing that you'd be doing it even if you didn't want to. He can put an idea in your head and you'd follow through with it thinking it was your own. His is much more subtle in that you don't even realize you're being manipulated. The weakness is that it isn't absolute the way mine is. The second you wonder if you've been controlled, you're aware that you have, and you're free from his commands. When we were on the phone, Allen's dad was in the background, and he mentioned something about preparing to kill you. That's when we figured it out."

"Okay…" Sydney nodded, taking it all in very slowly. "So somehow, you or they got the wrong girl." Dane frowned and looked away from her.

"I… don't think so. I think," He began very delicately "what happened was that you are the right person but because your mother wasn't around to trigger your power to start blooming, you grew up normal. While all our dads saw was the old program that had your name on the roster, you had a pretty sane life, without any intent to kill us all." Sydney blinked. Maybe it did make sense. Her mom left because she wanted Sydney to avoid being forced into that program. That's what Sydney chose to believe at that moment, since she had to force herself to believe something.

"I believe that they'll come after us when we don't show up in the next few days." He said. "To kill you and punish us." Dane said. "As for now, thought, they're probably going to be as confused and as scattered as we are. They were trying to convince us into bringing you anyway, like it would all be okay. If we can get organized before they do, we'll be one step ahead. But we have no idea where we're going yet. We'll figure something out." He finished with a heavy sigh. Sydney shook her head, trying to make sense of it all.

"You could just take me home." She suggested.

"That's the first place they'll look for you. We're not that stupid." Hayden said. He bit his bottom lip, holding back his ego. "We messed up, okay? We put you in the middle of this, and now we're going to get you out in one piece, whether you like it or not." Sydney knew what that meant. She would still be a hostage, even if they were protecting her.

"Then you could go to the police," She suggested.

"Oh, sure. 'Please, help us! We kidnapped this girl, but as it turns out, it was a mistake. We don't want to kill her, but our dads do. Could you help us?' We'd get arrested. Plus, our dads would destroy the police. It would be just as useless as bringing you home." He said dismissively. Sydney looked down.

"So what are you going to do?" She asked, upset and frustrated. There had to be some way to get around them.

"We don't know yet, alright? But we'll figure it out. What we need from you is to shut up and do what we say. Any more trouble like what you pulled back there and I will be about half as happy as I am now." Hayden said. Sydney wanted to shout at him, but she bit her lip and considered his, no, all of their points of view. They've just been betrayed, she told herself. Give them a little slack.

"I'm sorry." She said. Hayden nodded curtly.

"I know where we can go." Jarred said suddenly. He immediately had the attention of the whole truck. "My uncle Casey's, down in Georgia. He told me he would do me a favor whenever I needed it, no matter what, no questions asked. That's looking pretty good right now. I don't think they'll ever guess we would go down there, and certainly not with her."

"That's a better destination than none." Allen agreed. Sydney turned toward Dane.

"So the story that you're telling me is that my mom is part of a team of women that are trying to kill a team of men, and that she has superpowers?"

"And that you would too if you had been raised by her." Sydney wanted to laugh, but as she looked from boy to boy to boy, they were all completely serious.

"So why don't we find the women? Whoever and wherever they are, and ask them to give us refuge and protect us from your dads?"

"It doesn't work like that. Our dads and the rest of the men's side of this are all spread out and in their own separate little factions. The woman are stricter. They're all together, a huge number of them, working as a team in a facility somewhere out there in the US. We have no idea where they are. And even if we did, we would mark it as a place to steer far, far clear of, because if we got into their hands, they would sooner kill us than they would believe us." So the group's destination became Georgia. But Sydney wasn't satisfied with that. She wanted to go home and see her father. She wanted to be far away from Hayden's unpredictable attacks, from Dane's scary ability, Miles' lack of personal boundaries, from Allen, who seemed to be waiting for a reason to attack her, and Jarred's menacing form.

The car was silent for a long time as Hayden drove. Sydney, despite all of her distress and her confusion, found herself falling asleep. Though she suspected Allen (who was nonchalantly sitting next to her glaring out the window) was doing it, she knew it really had more to do with the hum of the engine and the sound of rain. She drifted off and slept until

At lunch time, Jarred pulled off the highway and into a small town. He pulled into a line for McDonald's drive through. He put in the order. The group was waiting in the drive-through traffic when Hayden said

"Sydney, get down."

"What? Why?" She asked, looking at him, to her left.

"If they see you in the backseat, they might call the cops. Your face is probably all over the news." He said. Sydney hesitated as they inched toward the window. Two cars remained in front of them.

"He's right, that's a good idea." Miles agreed, from her other side. She bit her lip and continued to hesitate, her hand on the seat-belt buckle. She wasn't sure she didn't want to be seen. Maybe she could be rescued and brought home.

"Sydney." Hayden looked her in the eye, his voice turning serious. "Get down." Sydney unbuckled and turned slowly, shaking with frustration as she sunk into the foot space on the floor. She felt Miles put his hand on her back. The woman cheerfully handed the bags of food to Jarred, and the truck sped up as it went to pull out of the lot.

"Look, I'm terribly sorry to impose on you like this, but if you could do us this favor... I would owe you a huge one." Jarred promised.

"Just tell me a few things, alright? You don't need any money or illegal substances? And you aren't going to engage in illegal activities under my roof."

"Absolutely not." He promised again. "We just need places to sleep and for you to not ask why we're here and not tell our dads."

"Oh is that all?" Casey said with a laugh. "I suppose it isn't a problem. I have three spare rooms upstairs, so the six of you will have to share. My wife will be back tomorrow night, and I'm sure she won't mind accommodating you. Most of tomorrow I'll be in my office, working, but feel free to do whatever you like around here. There's food in the fridge, and extra sleeping bags in the basement, I think you remember where. The place is yours. Find me if any of you guys need anything." Casey said to Jarred, who nodded gratefully.

"Thanks again. I don't know what we would do—"

"Don't worry too much about it for now. You'll find some way to repay me someday, I sure." He laughed, and then retreated to his den, to watch the rest of the game. Jarred went back to the living room where the others waited. Jarred had been to his Uncle's house before, and even though it had been a long time ago, he still had a pretty good memory of the place.

"He said we could stay and basically do what we want." Jarred announced with a smile. Allen and Dane slouched with relief, sighing in unison.

"How are we going to work out lodging?" Miles got to his feet.

"Three rooms, so two per room." Jarred said. "Upstairs, if you will follow me." He said, sweeping his arm through the air in a tour-guide gesture. They ascended the stairs and split up into pairs in each room. Dane and Hayden took the room at the end of the hall, Jarred and Allen parked in the middle, and Miles and Sydney were left with the room at the top of the stairs. Jarred took Hayden down to the basement to help bring up extra pillows and linens and sleeping bags. After Jarred helped the others get settled in and set up their sleeping arrangements, he retreated to his room with Allen, sighing heavily when he closed the door. It felt like his first moment of peace all day. He slouched against the closed door for a fraction of a second before he realized how close Allen was standing to him. Jarred could feel his breath, practically on his neck. His eyes flew open and he straightened. The look on Allen's face was at ease, but there was definitely a question there.

"You really want to do this tonight?" Jarred asked, moving away from him, seating himself on the edge of the bed. He was careful to keep his tone together and to not even sit down too heavily so that Allen wouldn't misinterpret it.

"Well we hardly have any other time alone, and I don't see us having any for a while yet, considering how this whole situation seems to be unfolding." He said, going to sit next to Jarred. Allen's hand rested heavily on Jarred's knee.

"You know I'm not blowing you off." Jarred said, meeting Allen's eyes briefly. "It's just been a long day."

"Yeah, I know." Allen said, sighing. He wasn't let down, exactly, but this wasn't the first time he had picked up on a vibe of less-than-interested from Jarred. Jarred wasn't uninterested, but when he was, it always seemed to be inopportune for Allen, as if it were inconvenient for him. They couldn't seem to coordinate the timing of their interest in one another.

Allen leaned over and kissed Jarred, in an attempt to fall back into the usual routine of their half-relationship interactions, but Jarred just sort of leaned away and broke the kiss.

"Allen, I'm sorry, I'm just too tired for this tonight." He sighed. "If we get through tomorrow without any drama…" He trailed off.

"Yeah." Allen said, suddenly fed up and short. "You can take the bed, I'll take the floor." He slid off the bed and hit the lights and got himself into the sleeping bag while Jarred protested.

"Don't be like that. Come on." And that was how they left it that night.

Dane and Hayden were discussing Sydney, one room over.

"Do you think she hates us?" Hayden sighed. He was laying on top of the sheets, staring up at the ceiling in the dark, fully aware that Dane was awake at the foot of the bed.

"I never thought you of all people would have a conscience." Dane scoffed, turning onto his side.

"No, no, you mistake me. I don't feel guilty or have any regrets, I'm just curious. Do you think she hates us? For running her summer and possibly her life?" There was a hint of humor in Hayden's voice.

"Honestly, I don't think she does. She's pissed off, I'm sure. I mean, how could she not be?" Dane responded. "But she believes what we told her and I think she understands that we're trying to undo what we messed up by protecting her, even if it is a massive inconvenience to her and us. I think."

"That's good." Hayden responded. "She seems alright." There was a short silence. "Do you feel guilty about running her summer and possibly her life?"

"Yeah, a little. I feel like crap that I didn't see we were being manipulated before we messed up some random girl's life."

"I don't." Hayden laughed. "And you shouldn't either. Think about it. We're giving her something she'll never forget, (if she lives through it) and changing the course of her life. On that same condition, of course."

"Whatever you say. I think you feel a little remorse, somewhere in the deep dark soul of yours." Dane said with a smile.

"Mmm." Hayden said.

In the last waking room in the house, Miles insisted the Sydney take the bed, and he have the floor.

"Sleeping bags are much warmer anyway, and I am such a gentleman I would never allow a delicate rose like yourself to wilt in the extreme heat. Or to rest your petals on the floor, of all places!" he exclaimed as if he were truly disgusted.

"Thanks." Sydney said as she yawned, surprised to find a smile on her face. She pulled her tee shirt over her head so she could sleep in just her tank top instead because it was so humid in the room. Miles opened the window as she climbed under the covers. She pulled off her shorts under the blankets and tossed the to the floor next to the bed. Miles hesitated by the window, then went to the table next to the bed and turned the lamp on there before turning the fixture off with the switch by the door. Then he went to sit on that side of the bed, next to Sydney. She moved over to accommodate him, though there was plenty of space on the queen-sized bed. He sighed and stretched his arm over the headboard.

"Are you okay?" Miles closed his eyes as rested his head against the headboard. Sydney took a minute before answering.

"I don't know. I'm just distressed and confused and… worried, I guess."

"I get that." Miles said, nodding. He looked at her and smiled lightly. "I can imagine why you're confused and distressed, all of that is situational, right? You have all this unbelievable new information and you have no idea what to do with it and the whole thing is out of your power and you just have to wait for others to tell you what to do and what not to do when all you want to do is live your life. It's incredibly frustrating, right?"

"Yes." Sydney nodded enthusiastically. "You're exactly right. I don't know if I could have explained it better myself."

"But why are you worried?" Miles asked.

"I'm worried about my dad." Sydney sighed. "He's going to be really upset without me, and I think he'll be even more confused than I am because he as even less information."

"You never know." Miles replied. "Ignorance might be bliss in this case. Things might actually be a lot less complicated on his end not knowing all the details."

"I would hardly call having a missing daughter 'bliss'." Sydney laughed. "What about you, though?"

"My dad?" Miles asked. Sydney nodded. He sighed. Sydney stayed silent, noting wanting to make him more uncomfortable in case she had struck a nerve. "I don't want to offend you." Miles said tentatively.

"So what?" She laughed. "I am very hard to offend. And even if you did offend me, what could I do about it?" The both laughed.

"I don't really know. I guess it seems weird to me, but I miss him." He closed his eyes as if he was in pain. "He's used me. Done something terrible, with terrible intentions, pissed me off beyond belief, but I still love him, and that makes me furious." Sydney saw tears welling up in his eyes. Miles struggled not to spill them. He blinked and they were gone.

And then Sydney found herself crying, unsure, really, of why, or what crying would do to make her feel better, but she suddenly couldn't control herself any more. Miles reached over and wrapped both arms around Sydney, pulling her against his chest, something she welcomed. Collapsing there to release all of the hours of frustration and anger and confusion of the past few days did feel good. Miles didn't say a word the whole time, but he didn't really need to, and Sydney couldn't think of anything he could have said that would have helped. They fell asleep like that, her face pressed against his sternum listening to his heartbeat, and Miles helping her let it out and feeling her breathe under his arms.

The door cracked open the next morning with a soft creak, and Jarred poked his head in to wake the two, but the situation he found before himself puzzled him enough to make him pause. Miles' arm stretched over Sydney's shoulders, and she was leaning into him, asleep on his chest. Her hands were pressed against his chest, and his chin rested on her head. They were curled up rather close to each other under the blankets, and he could see their respective pants on either side of the bed. Jarred pushed the door open a little wider, and cleared his throat. He knew that Miles knew better than to do exactly what it looked like they had done, and he was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

At the sound of Jarred clearing his throat once more, Sydney's eyes opened slowly. She barely moved, but looked up until he was in focus. Then she froze, feeling guilty for no reason, mostly because she knew exactly what she looked like.

"More innocent that it appears, I assume?" He asked with a teasing smile. Sydney nodded miserably.

"I'll give you two a minute. We can chat later." He said with a little nod to her, closing the door and standing in the hallway, counting to 100.

Sydney craned her neck with a sigh of relief to catch the time. 10:21 AM. Definitely time to get up. She sat up, and Mile's arm fell off her. She nudged him, and then gave him a little push in the chest. He groaned but didn't move.

"Miles." She said sharply. "Wake up." Another groan. Sydney gave him a little shove and he woke up.

"Fine." He stretched and glanced at her with a smile. "Would you look at your hair? You look absolutely ridiculous." He laughed.

"You're not so hot yourself." She muttered.

"I heard that." He said, getting to his feet. He pulled his jeans on just as Jarred was opening to door.

"Hey guys." He said, completely innocently. "I'm going to get breakfast started, so you can come downstairs soon if you want any." Miles nodded at him.

"Thanks. We'll be right there." Miles said, as if he was interrupting something. Jarred shut the door behind himself once more. Sydney pulled on her shorts quickly, and moved to grab her tee shirt from the floor, but Miles tossed it to her first.

"Thanks." She said.

"No problem." He said with a laugh.

"For last night, I mean. For dealing with my whining and crying."

"You weren't whining, you're legitimately upset. And you're welcome. Thank you for putting up with mine."

"It was my pleasure." She said.

Downstairs, Sydney joined Jarred in the kitchen, while the others put on a sport show analyzing last night's game. She helped him quietly make scrambled eggs for a few minute before he asked.

"Care to tell me exactly what was going on there?" Sydney added paprika to her pan of eggs, and took up a spatula.

"Well we were just talking last night, and I started, um, getting really upset, and crying… He wanted to comfort me I guess, so he hugged me while I was crying and we fell asleep like that. Though when I fell asleep, he was on top of the covers with his pants on, I swear." She insisted.

"It's okay, I believe you." Jarred nodded, scrambling his eggs. "Miles is good at sympathy and comforting. Me, not so much." He explained, a piece of egg hitting the floor as he sung the whisk in the air.

They served breakfast ten minutes later, receiving a round of 'thank you's from the rest. They all ate together in the living room, and then Sydney bolted back upstairs, determined to get into the shower first. She found the bathroom and locked the door behind her, turned the knob to 'scalding' and stepped in after making sure there was a towel waiting for her on the rack. She stayed in the shower a long time, relishing the unending supply of hot water, and time without boys bearing down on her every minute. She had an uncomfortable feeling that alone time would become very scarce very soon. When she finally got out of the shower, feeling guilty that it had begun to go cold, nearly half an hour had passed. She pulled her dirty clothes back on, now grateful for the heat now, since it kept her from shivering no that she was out of the shower. She went back to the room to tidy up, making up the bed and otherwise straightening. Sydney picked up a book she found on the bedside table and read the inside jacket, intrigued by the title. She sat a read it for a while, and a while longer, until, she realized she was about halfway through it. She checked the time, and then put it down, smiling to herself. She had done this to herself before, losing track of time while reading.

It was noon, so she went back downstairs to check in with the boys. Allen and Dane sat on the couch, watching the news. Dane's eyes were on Sydney from the moment she emerged from the staircase.

"Change the channel." Allen muttered. "She doesn't need to see this." He said to Dane as Sydney sat down on the end of the couch.

"What are you guys watching?" She asked.

"Nothin'. Just channel surfing." Said Allen.

"The news." Said Dane. Allen gave him a nudge in the ribs, but he ignored it. Sydney could sense something passing between them, but she forced herself to ignore it. The next story on the news came on after a commercial, and the words the newscaster was speaking instantly had her glued to the screen.

"The search is on for one Sydney Wallace, a North Carolinian that went missing from her home two nights ago. The police believe she may have been kidnapped. Her car was found miles away at an entry to the Appalachian Trail. There are K9 squads searching the woods for her trail. Though he hasn't received any contact from the alleged kidnappers, Sydney's father has put out a public request her safe return. If you have any information on her whereabouts, please contact the police, or dial 911." Sydney blinked, her mouth hanging open slightly.

"That really just happened?" She asked, looking from Dane to Allen and back again. They nodded. "Wow. Okay. And how long has it been? Not even three whole days?" She ran a hand through her hair, trying to calm herself down. "And that was a picture of me on there?" She asked, her voice suddenly shaking. Dane nodded again. "Should I get the others? I assume you guys will want to talk about this…" She said, staring at her knees.

"You don't have to do that." Allen said, standing. "I'll get them." He disappeared into the basement. Sydney turned to leave, to go back upstairs and lose herself in the book again. But she couldn't possibly now.

"Where are you going?" Dane asked, sounding curious. Sydney suspected she was being checked up on.

"Upstairs." She said sarcastically. "To read, if that's okay with you." She said. He definitely got the message; that she was well aware of what he was trying to do. He glanced down.

"You're not going to call, are you?" He asked quietly.

"You think if I was that I would tell you?" She shot back with a laugh. Sydney knew it was the wrong thing to say, and she knew better than to provoke more suspicion directed toward herself, but sarcasm was her refuge when she was angry. He half-frowned, uncertain of her meaning.

"I not trying to monitor you like a baby." He said. "I'm just… concerned, I guess. Because our interests… could be different, and I don't know what you're thinking." She sighed.

"I get that. I'm just sick of you all keeping me on a leash and always needing to know what I'm doing and stuff. It just drives me crazy. I need a bit more space that when you're giving me." Dane nodded and grimaced, hearing Allen come stomping up the stairs.

"They don't think we need to do anything. I agree. We should just stay here as long as Uncle Casey will have us." He said. Dane nodded and then glanced at Sydney.

"That okay with you?" Sydney stared at him until she understood that he wasn't just asking her what she thought, but showing her a sign of respect. She nodded.

"I like it here, so it's fine with me, thanks." The look on Allen's face said it wasn't, in his opinion, a good idea to ask her about what she felt for this situation. Sydney went back upstairs, to resume reading or to contemplate the news story.

"What was that?" Allen asked, sitting back down on the futon sofa.

"I think it's fair to ask for her input on a decision that effects her. Is that okay with you?" He said with a smile.

"No need to be so snarky. I just think that maybe we should be careful of what ground we give her. It's human nature to take a mile when given an inch. Get it?"

"Alright, I get you." Dane sat went into the kitchen and took a bag of chips from the cabinet.

The evening wore on quickly, and soon, Uncle Casey had emerged from his office, and began to ask around about dinner.

Exiting the train, Sydney was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people standing on the platform, some pushing past her to get onto the train. She might have lost the others, could have in a second, but she felt Miles' hand on her waist, guiding her forward. She stood with them as the train pulled out, and continued into the dark tunnel.

She turned to observe her surroundings. There were more people now, a huge crowd of about 200, milling around the platform, checking train lines and times, some heading for the escalator, others peering down the tracks to see if their next one was coming around the bend. The escalator led up to an overhang that cast a large shadow over part of the platform, completely unlit underneath so that no people were milling about under there. Sydney observed all of this as she walked slowly forward through the crowd with the boys. She did a double take over toward the overhang. There was a pair of men there, standing just outside the shadow. She peered over there, and caught a fractionally clear glimpse as some people passed her. Her eyes went wide as she processed the scene before it was lost again. Sydney could feel her pulse quickening and her heart rising into her throat. She took off in the direction of where she had seen the two men, pushing through the people that separated her from the overhang.

"Dad?" She yelled in that general direction, her voice completely lost in the din. In her panic, she had forgotten Jarred and Miles, who had once again assumed he worst of her and gone into panic mode. Sydney hit the end of the crowd; she stood in the same place she had seen the two men, at the edge of the shadow, calling into the semi-darkness for her Dad again. Sydney didn't get anything but an echo. She was on the edge of hysterics, and she hadn't even realized that she had begun crying, in her frantic dash through the mob. Jarred slammed into her from behind. She would have hit the ground if he hadn't grabbed onto her.

"What the hell," He snarled, moving her into the darker area, where people wouldn't see them. He planted her against a wall, not gently.

"I'm sorry," Sydney whimpered three times in a row.

"Do you have her?" Miles said as he jogged up, sounding winded.

"Yeah, yeah, I got her." Jarred said.

"I saw my dad." Sydney said, struggling to compose herself. The boys looked at each other, highly doubtful. "Right here. With this other guy." She looked from Miles to Jarred, automatically able to tell that they didn't believe her. She sniffed hard and stood up straight, wanting to shake Jarred's hand from her shoulder. "I'm serious. I wasn't running away from you. I saw him standing right here with another man. The guy looked right at me, and he had a gun. My dad looked terrified." She could tell that it would take more than her story to convince them.

"Maybe you were seeing things." Miles said, willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. "Because you miss him. I remember how anxious you were when we went through North Carolina."

"No." Sydney said, shaking her head. "I saw them both. I wouldn't have bolted like that if I wasn't sure it was real." The boys exchanged a look once again.

"I'm going up to call the guys." Jarred said, turning. "Just to check in."

"Fine. I don't care. I don't know where you think I would have gone." She snapped. Jarred frowned, but left, heading toward the escalator. Miles lifted her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes.

"I understand, if you were trying to… you know…" He said, holding her gaze.

"I wasn't, I told you the truth. And even if I had been, you don't trust me at all, obviously, why would you expect me to trust you. I'm not stupid. If I said anything about anything to you, you'd turn right around and tell the others. But I don't have anything to tell you. I told you already." Miles sighed and looked down at his feet. He was willing to accept the possibility that she was being honest. But her excuse didn't make any sense to him. Her dad and some other man, suddenly gone.

"Can you describe the other man that was with your dad?" He asked her, having a glimmer of an idea. He hoped her was wrong. Sydney nodded.

"He was taller than my dad, very lean. He had a tanner skin tone than yours. Dark hair, sort of curly. He looked angry." She said, eager now that he was inquiring into her explanation. He nodded, thinking.

"Okay. Let's go outside. I'll talk to Jarred. I think he's mostly nervous without the others around for security. I believe you."

"Thank you." Sydney said, relieved. He took her hand and went back into the crowd, and up the escalator. Outside, Jarred was standing by a bench, talking quietly on his cell phone. Miles and Sydney sat on the bench and waited. Sydney knew Jarred was getting her into trouble with the others, and she was sure she would be lectured like a child and then ushered about like a scared dog that would run and hide at the slightest shadow of a chance.

"Let me talk to him." Miles said, standing, holding out his hand for the phone. Sydney listened to him relay the information Sydney had told him about the man and her father.

"Look." He said with a sigh. "There's a possibility that she's telling the truth. I believe her." He listened for a minute or two, and then started talking again. "I don't think it would hurt to call them. The worst that comes from it is that she'll have been right. Then that's a separate situation to deal with. If not, she's made fools of us in front of them and then we have something to be really angry about." Miles sent her a pointed look on his last phrase. Sydney just stared, unsure of what he was talking about. He sighed as he listened.

"I'm starting to think this is a bad idea." Sydney said as they crept out of another yard that had suddenly lit up, courtesy of a motion-activated light. They all kept doing that. Or the doors were locked.

"Nah, it'll be fun. It was a good idea. I'll just sneak upstairs and make sure they stay asleep while we party."

"I don't know…" Sydney said, tossing another nervous look over her shoulder. The next house they tried had an unlocked door and no automatic light.

"Score." Hissed Jarred and he opened the door.

"For the record, this is immensely creepy and I am being forced to takfe part in this. If we get caught, I am completely innocent." She swore, following them into the house. The door led right into the kitchen, which adjoined the dining room. The whole place was dark. To the left, there was a flight of stairs leading upward. Then, there were footsteps. Upstairs, moving around.

"I thought you said this was a good idea!" Sydney hissed.

"It is a good idea." Miles insisted.

"Let's go this way, we can hide in the other room." Dane said.

"He's probably just up to use the bathroom or something." Allen suggested. "Let's just.—" There was the sound of a door opening and closing, and then, footsteps on the stairs. Allen froze and looked at the rest of the group, ushering them away.

"Go!" He mouthed. "I'll take care of him." They moved back, but stopped, watching as the man came down the stairs. It was a little difficult to see in the dark, but he was of average height, and a little on the lean side, wearing his boxers. His eyes locked onto Allen.

"What are you doing in my house?" He asked assertively, seeming relieved to see that Allen wasn't carrying a gun or wearing a ski mask. Allen silently offered the man his hand, smiling. The man turned his head suspiciously to the side, peering at Allen through narrowed eyes. He took his hand. The man dropped to the floor with a thud, and promptly began to snore.

Allen let out a little snort.

"Do you think there's anyone else?" Hayden asked at the same time a woman's voice called out, tentatively

"David? Is everything okay?" After a silent pause: "Is anyone down there?" She was scared, it could be heard in her voice.

"You guys get David here back upstairs, and I'll help the missus get back to sleep." Allen said, bounding up the stairs. At the top of the stairs was a laundry room then a doorway, which led right into a master bedroom. Allen imagined how his form must look to her, unfamiliar. He wenat around to her side of the bed.

"Who are you? What did you do to my husband?" She said, her voice rising in urgency.

"He's fine. Sleeping." Allen assured her. She shrank further away from him. Allen reached out to put a hand on her arm. She went right back to sleep as well. Allen could hear Jarred and Dane Fumbling to drag David up the stairs. Allen went out the other door of the bedroom and found himself in a hallway. He checked the other rooms, and they were all empty. One was obviously a guest room, one was an office, and the other was a bedroom, belonging to a girl, but she wasn't there. There was a bathroom upstairs, and a friendly cat that rubbed up against Allen's ankles and Meowed for his attention. He scratched it's back as he went down the other set of stairs in the hallway. At the other end of the house downstairs, there was a room with a fireplace, one with a television, a small storage space, a basement, a coat closet, a pantry and another bathroom, and then he was back in the dining room, with Sydney, Miles, and Hayden. Dane and Jarred were back down two minutes later.

Even after the men with guns had receded from the reach of the light from the buildings behind the boys, they had waited until the car doors had slammed and the wheels had screamed as the spun away from Madrid. Then Hayden swore.

"Sons of bitches." He kicked at a rock and balled his fists, taking controlled breaths. He knew exactly what they were planning and exactly how they were going to make it work.

"We have to go after her." Dane said. "Now." Hayden gritted his teeth and shook his head.

"We can't. They'll have guys in the city watching us, keeping eyes on us. If we try to do anything, they'll probably come down on us. They won't be in small numbers either." He said. Miles glared down at the dark dirt and wanted to scream.

"What do you propose we do then, Mr. Italy?" He asked, struggling not to let his temper get the better of him. The words rolled out of his mouth like any other joke would have. Harmless. Nevertheless Hayden caught his mood and met his eyes with a warning glance. Miles would see his jaw flexing, and for once, didn't care about backing down from Hayden. He promised himself that next time Hayden gave him an excuse, he would take the opportunity to stand up to him.

"We can't do anything tonight. They expect us to pursue sometime, so they'll probably let us go without trouble tomorrow, but for now all we can do is hang tight. Go to bed or get a stiff drink." Hayden's thoughts were stormy, but he could feel himself becoming placid and organized as he was forced to deal with his mother's side of the family yet again. Whenever they rudely interrupted his life, he went into crisis mode, which consisted of a very concentrated, quiet, orderly, leading version of himself that was set off twice as easily.

The five of them migrated silently to a bar two doors over from their motel and sat at the counter in the same silence they had dragged in from the street. Allen and Hayden drank while the others glared at the counter or listened to the world of spanish being spoken around them.

"You could have gotten her, you know." Miles said, only half under his breath.

"Excuse me?" Said Hayden, cocking an ear toward him.

"Out of all of us, you were the one with the ability to help her keep up. You could have taken two steps back for her and helped her keep up with you." He insisted.

"What the hell did you expect me to do, carry her, drag her?" Hayden exclaimed. Dane looked over at them, concern written on his knit brow.

"I don't know, but you could have done something." Miles insisted, standing. Hayden stood too.

"You don't know how they work, there isn't anything any of us could have done!"

"I beg to differ. Why are you always so pathetic when it comes to your family?" Miles snapped back.

"Why are you always so pathetic when it comes to Sydney?" Hayden responded, shoving Miles, hard, into Dane. In a second Miles tackled Hayden and they were a tangle of fists and limbs. They had the attention of the entire room, and the owners were not happy. Allen moved to get between them.

"Guys, you're making a scene. Take it outside." Miles shoved him.

"You're full of shit, Allen. We can all tell you just want to get into her pants, so shut the hell up."

And suddenly it was all three of them in a brawl, with shouts and grunts and pain.

Dane and Jarred rushed in to pry Allen and Miles off of one another. Hayden drew himself away and disappeared from the restaurant in barely a blur. The two of the group that were still sane pushed the others out the door before they could be yelled at in spanish.

Outside, Hayden leaned against a wall, holding an hand over his nose. Blood trickled down his forearm all the way to his elbow where it dripped onto the dusty road. He glared at Miles, who was in worse shape than Hayden. Allen didn't look too bad, but there was still healing to be done on his arm where a broken piece of chair had snagged him when Miles tackled him. Jarred grudgingly fixed wounds, one by one, pressing his thumbs into bruises and swelling and blood until they were all scratchless and ready to go at it again. Luckily, they didn't. They just stood glaring at each other, scratching the sore itchy spots left over from Jarred's work. Dane's eyes were locked on a shadowy figure across the street.

"Jarred, look." He said, nodding toward the woman. "She's staring at us." He said quietly.

"I would be to. She just watched bleeding wounds knit up and disappear. She'll get over it. I want to go to bed."

"She's coming over here." Jarred followed his gaze and watched as the woman approached, slowly, as if she were a small bird hopping toward an unfamiliar bug.

"Guys get over here." Dane said. The three truants gathered behind him silently, as the woman stepped into the light from the side of the building. She pointed at Jarred, who sighed, having seen this coming. She would ask if he had just made wounds disappear, and he would deny it until she left them alone. He looked at her expectantly.

"Is your name Jarred?" She asked. Jarred stepped back like someone had swung at him.

"Yeah. Who are you?" He responded, very suspicious. The woman seemed to be smiling tentatively. "Moss?" She continued.

"Yes...?" Jarred said. She bit her lip to keep her chin from trembling and smiled widely.

"My name is Stefanie Cabot. I think I'm your mom."

Jarred gaped at her, having no other reaction but to ask.


"Your dad could do the healing thing too. It's been a long time since I've heard from him, but I know those eyes anywhere. Are these your friends?"

"I, uh...yeah." Jarred said, at a loss for any other sort of comprehension. "Miles, Dane, Allen, Hayden." He said.

There was an uncomfortable pause before she spoke again.

"This is kind of awkward. Maybe we should go somewhere else and talk?" She suggested. Jarred turned and looked to the others.

"Guys? Maybe we should go back to the hotel and talk to her."

"I don't have a problem with it." Dane said.

"It's not like we have anything else we could possibly be doing tonight." Miles growled toward Hayden, who shot him a look to kill.

"We have a room at the hotel right there." Jarred pointed. The six of them went up into the hotel room, and sat around, listening to Stefanie's story.

"I met Austin in an airport the summer after we both graduated. We were eighteen, and we were both completely aimless, for the most part. We both wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to spend my life traveling. We had the same plane ticket to France, and people were friendlier back then. We rarely separated from when we met in the airport.

Five years after that, we had traveled across half of Europe. That was when he told me about all of his family and this supernatural business. On our fifth anniversary. He had to have a son. He had to raise him to the same purpose he had been raised to-to kill, to fight these women. And once he had shared the secret with me, it seemed to consume him. Or maybe I just could see it better now. That mysterious aspect about him, that I had been in love with... it had been replaced with his passion for his purpose. I didn't realize how much it frightened me until the seventh year. We were in Germany, I remember, when he told me that he couldn't travel for the rest of his life. I had known, obviously that he would have to go. He told me that our relationship was halfway over. I don't think I was nearly as happy for the other seven and a half years. I was going to give up on my traveling to settle down with him, and the son I knew I would have to have for him. I never wanted kids." She stopped here, and looked at Jarred, half seeming remorseful, half apologetic. "Anyway, we got a loft, here in Madrid, to the north of the city somewhere. We held to Spain mostly, exploring the area, occasionally going to Portugal. There were all sorts of things to learn and see. The next five years were nothing compared to the first five, but I was happy enough to stay, and he seemed to love me. It was the twelfth or thirteenth year when he began to talk to his friend back in the US. Everyday, for about an hour. I only stayed because he needed me, then. I was bored, and he was making me sick. Eventually, I became sick. I couldn't hold a meal or go an hour without an headache. I thought I was pregnant, but it was just the change. I had finally seen how he had changed in the last fifteen years, and I couldn't take it. Your pregnancy passed like a dream. It was very easy, and I was healthier during the duration of it than I was for most of my relationship with your father. After I had you, I had to leave. It was like I was being pulled away. I wanted to go. And he wanted to go too. He had to go home, he said, and take you with him. I was aware it was coming, but you... you weren't like him, the way he had become. You were innocent and you seemed to like me well enough. Then he left with you.

I ditched the apartment and left Spain. I explored Asia for years. I came back here to visit some old friends. What's your story?" She finished, tossing the question out for any of them to answer.

"All of that sounds just like my dad would do. Be an inconsistent jerk and screw around with you. Exactly like him. A complete flake." He paused and she nodded. "My dad-and theirs, also. All of them-have gone overboard with their struggle with the women they talked to you about. They tricked us into kidnapping this girl from the other side, and they were going to kill her." He let that sit in front of her. She didn't seem upset by it, but just nodded understandingly. "We found out and ran away with her. We've been trying to get out of their reach for a while now. I don't think any of us really want to face them. They might be committing awful sins, but they're still our fathers. They raised us."

"They've chased you all the way here?" She asked in disbelief. Jarred shrugged.

"For the most part, yeah."

"So where's the girl?" She asked. There was a groan from Hayden, whose face was buried in a pillow.

"The mafia kidnapped her a few hours ago and according to their nephew, over there, we can't go get her until maybe tomorrow, if we're not being watched."

"Wow. So you guys are in a whole mess of trouble." She bit her lip, and looked at Jarred. "You're going to rescue her from the mafia? How do you plan to manage that?"

"As you should be aware, we all have our special tools. And on top of that, what are we supposed to do, just let them take her to our dad's and let them kill her?" Miles said.

"If she's one of the women, shouldn't she have her own special tools also? She can't take care of herself?" She asked, looking at Miles.

"She wasn't raised as a part of the women. Her mom ditched her and she was brought up with her dad. She doesn't have any power." Dane explained.

"Oh, I get it. So your dad's screwed up twice. Not just going after the women, but going after an innocent." Jarred cocked his head at her.

"What do you mean?"

"Well it's a part of that treaty, right? Like if neither side attacks the other, and neither side attacks anyone that has nothing to do with either side, then they can gather as much information on one another and no penalty will come if it, and they'll stay at a stalemate, no chance of being attacked by one another." At this, all of the boys looked to one another.

"We didn't know about this. They really did screw up. Jesus Christ."

"Yeah. I assume all of the women know about this already?" She asked.

"Not a chance. If we showed up, they would eat us alive."

"You might want to try talking to them. A few weeks after your dad left me, a woman approached me, wanted to know all of these things about him, about you. She scolded me for having you. I told her whatever she wanted to know. My allegiance to Austin had ben destroyed at that point. I hated him. Her name was... Maria, I think? Maria Anderson, I believe." The boys looked to one another again, not in confusion, this time, but in recognition.

"Isn't that.." Allen said.

"Sydney's mom, yeah." Miles confirmed.

"You know of her?" Stefanie asked, surprised.

"She's the mother of the girl we've been with." Jarred nodded. "Do you know how to reach her?"

"She stayed with me for two weeks after, just in case he came back. Then she had to go after some group or sect in Russia or something. She promised she would contact me. The last contact I got was an invitation to her funeral, about three or four years ago. I didn't go, I was too far away." Everyone stayed silent for a minute or so, some just feeling badly, others thinking about how they would even being to break this to Sydney.

To none of the boys did it seem like a question of whether they would retrieve her, but when. None of them would dare to consider not doing so.

"So you've come all this way in defiance of your fathers and of the way they raised you?" Jarred looked up at her.

"That seems kind of like a loaded question. Obviously there's a little more going on than we've been led to believe. We came all this way because we messed up, and dragged someone that was supposed to live a happy life without all of this bull into the middle of a war, and we were more than obligated to keep her from getting killed by it. Especially since it was our fault. "

"So you kidnapped her and dragged her across the globe with you? And then your protective hostage was kidnapped from you, and you plan to go rescue her? You expect her to be happy to be out of one pair of kidnapper's hands and back into the others?" She asked aggressively.

"No." Dane said sharply. "It's not like that at all." Hayden sat up.

"She's our friend. My extended family, the mob, was hired by my father to hunt us down and kidnap her, and bring her to them. And we're probably next on their list. She likes us. We're in an equal relationship. Granted, she was less than thrilled about coming over to Spain with us, but she has a fear of flying, and she thought airport security would catch her." He said.

"She gets that we're trying to protect her and she wouldn't leave if we gave her the chance." Miles defended.

Stefanie sizes them up, one by one until she seemed satisfied.

"You boys really actually care about her?" There was some uncomfortable nodding.

"Yeah," Jarred admitted. "We do."

"Well." She said, letting out a breath. "I'm very proud of you. It sounds like you're making better choices than either your father or me." She paused, meeting Jarred's eyes, and then looked down for a moment. When she looked back up and around the room, she looked determined. "I have some things that might be useful to you boys, back at the old apartment, if you want to come see them." She offered.

"Not tonight. If we go back out, whoever happens to be keeping an eye on us could get suspicious." Hayden said. "Tomorrow, maybe, we could go with you." He said.

"Tomorrow we have to go get Sydney." Miles said sharply, glaring at him.

"They won't do anything with her for at least three days. She's probably just sitting on the couch, eating italian food hoping for us to show up. And I doubt it will take all day to do whatever errand we have to do with Jarred's mom." Hayden said. Stefanie nodded at him.

"It shouldn't take long at all." She promised.

"Are you sure you have your priorities straight, Hayden?" Allen asked, half glaring.

"Are you sure you have yours?" Jarred snapped suddenly. Allen looked at him, surprised, and then suddenly Jarred backed down, embarrassed. "Sorry. I mean, Hayden said that she would be fine for another day, and I don't think she's going to be in town forever..." He said, trailing off. Jarred suddenly felt selfish, but he wanted a chance to know his mom as much as he rest of them did. He hoped they would understand that.

"I guess that would be alright." Dane conceded. Miles and Allen said nothing.

"We need to go to bed if we want to get up before tomorrow night." Dane asserted, glancing at the digital clock on the bedside table, reading 11:30.

"Would it be alright if I shared this room with you five tonight?" The question caught the boys off guard. She fell over herself. "I could sleep on the floor, and just use a pillow. I'm really sorry, I was planning to stay in my car tonight. My apartment hasn't been set up for living in year.s and--"

"I'm sure it's fine. We know what it's like to be stuck sleeping in a car. the six of us slept in a trick for months." Jarred said.

"Um, yeah." Dane said. "You can stay here tonight." He said, feeling more than a little annoyed with Jarred. "Is it okay if she takes one of the beds guys?" Dane asked. Once all had consented, bedtime followed more quickly than any had expected.

It was approximately 11 when everyone finally woke up. The boys were in a rush, each feeling awful about delaying so late into the day. All were worried about Sydney, even Hayden, who had reassured the others that she would be fine.

The boys waited for three minutes in silence by the car for Stefanie to bring hers around. She was going to have them follow her to her apartment in a small city north of Madrid. Miles and Allen stood apart from each other still, but in humorously identical positions. Arms crossed over their chests, feet planted firmly under their shoulders, expressions daring someone to piss them off. Dane stifled a laugh looking between them.

"I'll drive." He said when she pulled up. The five of them in the truck were utterly silent for the entirety of the half hour ride to Stefanie's old apartment. Some of them were still nursing wounded egos or grudges from the previous night's brawl, and some were just worried into their own heads. Jarred, as one might expect, has twice as much on his mind as the rest. he wanted to know what his mom had for them. He was thinking of a way to convince her to come with them. To go back with them... He knew better. He couldn't just expect her to leave her life the way she had made it. It wasn't fair to her to even ask.

Finally, they reached her building. The loft was nice, very wide open. There was an empty steel bed frame and an open place between that an the kitchen area. Jarred had a hard time picturing Stefanie and his father there, young, in love. Cooking together, traveling. His father didn't seem like he knew what romance was. Maybe he didn't, Jarred concluded.

On a separate level of the loft, it looked like a studio. The area was less covered in dust than the lower part, but everything looked like an antique, sentimentally valued, or of a very high cost.

"This is where we lived." She said, going over to a shelf, and seating herself at the foot of it. She began to push stacks of books out of the way, and the boys wandered around the upper area, quietly looking at things, discretely waiting impatiently for her to get on with whatever she wanted to share with them.

The clock read noon exactly when Sydney pulled up to the complex and parked the truck in the lot.

"This looks dandy." Miles laughed as they walked through the gates up to the huge door.

"If they attack you guys, just go with it. They probably won't kill you, right?"

"Probably." Hayden grumbled.

"Either way, I'll do my best to convince them. How badly could it go?" She asked, shrugging. She had no idea, but it would be a lot worse than she imagined.

When they knocked on the door, it took a minute before someone answered. A woman in a business suit ushered them in, looking distressed. Inside the door was a lobby with a secretary sitting at a help desk. The area was very nice with tile floors and bright lighting. There were two hallways leading out of the lobby, one was carpeted and went off to the right of the door, very friendly and welcoming. The other was to the left, and it was industrial, all steel and concrete with harsh fluorescent wall lights lining the corridor. Women streamed out of this hallways and surrounded the group, pointing guns at them. A woman grabbed Sydney's arm and pulled her out of the group and off to the side of the altercation.

"This is going to be a good day. I can feel it." Miles said. The women led the boys down the hallway at gunpoint, while the woman that had opened to door came over to Sydney. She held a palm pilot, a stylus poised over it.

"That went well." She laughed. She had a heavy french accent. Sydney looked at her surreptitiously. The woman was probably in her thirties, had dark brown hair pulled up into a tight bun, and an attitude that was all business. "May I have your operation code and identity number?" She said, looking expectantly at Sydney, who shifted uneasily from foot to foot.

"Um, I don't work here." She said nervously.

"You don't?" The woman asked, turning off the PDA and putting it into her pocket. "Then you have a lot of questions to answer, honey." The woman said, straightening. "You had better come with me." She said, pulling out a walkie-talkie as she guided Sydney down the hallway to the right.

"Hold off on action concerning new arrivals, there may be complications." She said into it. Sydney was led into a big office, well decorated and elegant. There was a large bay window with a wide window seat, and a large oak desk covered with stacks of papers and office supplies. A woman sat in the chair behind it. She looked to be about sixty years old. She was wrinkly and at first glance, looked decrepit, but as soon as she looked up from her paperwork, any hint of that was gone. She wore bright pink lipstick and an outfit that did not lead her to seem nearly as classy or upscale as her office was.

"Ma'am." The woman with Sydney addressed the woman behind the desk.

"Eleanor." The woman nodded, her voice creaking like an old rocking chair. "And who is this?" she asked, looking to Sydney.

"A girl that came in with the new arrivals. Says she is not an operative." The woman stood up and crossed the room, coming to stand before Sydney and Eleanor.

"Very curious." She said, studying Sydney. "I will talk with her. Be sure those boys don't have action taken yet. I'll call you back in shortly." She said, making shooing motions for the woman to exit the room.

"Yes ma'am." Eleanor said, closing the door behind her as she left.

"Name's Lucille Collins, but you can call me Lulu, my dear. Please, come sit down." She said. By the fireplace, there were two easy chairs. They both sat.

"I'm Sydney Wallace." she said. Lucille looked at her for a moment, sizing her struggled to smile despite the headache that was growing behind her temples.

"You're Maria Anderson's little girl." Lucille said, stroking her chin as if there was a disorderly beard there.

"You know my mom?" Sydney said, practically jumping out of her chair. She leaned forward eagerly. Lucille's face took on a very sad aspect. Her thoughtful face was gone.

"I'm sorry. Your mom died three years ago." Lucille folded her hands, blinking remorsefully at Sydney, who sat back and looked at her feet for a moment.

"It's okay." She said. "My dad told me she was dead, a while ago, but I was still hoping that maybe she was around. I guess I'll be alright." She said, sighing.

"Perhaps later we can talk more on the subject. For now, tell me how you found this facility, who your male companions are, and why you came here." Sydney nodded.

"One of my mom's old letters. I have it, and the envelope had the address on it. We came because we need your help, very badly. Who they are... it's really complicated, and I'm afraid that if I tell you, you'll take it the wrong way." Sydney explained.

"I can't make any promises, but I'll hear you out. Please, go on." Lucille replied.

"They're the sons of a few men that I am to believe are your enemies in--..." Sydney stopped herself, pausing, deciding maybe it was better to wait before giving the location to this woman. "Anyway, these's all very complicated, how they came across me and how we all wound up together but they want your help to get their fathers to stop trying to capture me." To this, Lucille nodded sympathetically, and then let a thoughtful silence hang for a few minutes while she peered into the fireplace.

"Sydney Wallace, may I take a guess at your story?" The woman asked, turning back to Sydney. Sydney nodded, though it was becoming increasingly hard to focus through her immense migraine. "These boys kidnapped you and proceeded to take you wherever they thought was best, whether you liked it or not, claiming to be trying to protect you from their fathers. Then they agreed to come here, to perhaps get help in killing or disabling their fathers. Is that correct?" She asked. Sydney nodded.

"Yes, but there's more to--" She began to say, but Lucille leaned forward, cutting her off.

"I'm gonna do you a favor honey, listen to me. I've seen it before. These guys are not your friends. They don't want to hang out. They're not protecting you. These guys are highly trained tricksters. And you have been fooled." Sydney frowned. This blind refusal of her story was what she, and all of the boys had feared.

"I don't think you're right." She said. "Any one of those guys would take a bullet for me. And I would do the same for them." She insisted.

"Oh, I would rethink that. Let me spell it out here. They lied to you." She said slowly. Sydney's irritation exploded into anger as she got to her feet.

"You're being completely ignorant. I trust them. They haven't lied to me." She shouted. Lucille stood calmly and waited a moment, for Sydney's temper to cool.

"I apologize." She said, practically gritting her teeth. "I was being ignorant. I will consider what you have said, but for now, it appears you are in an unhygienic and rather distressed state. I have a shower in my bathroom, and I would feel much better about this whole thing if you would please, treat yourself to a long hot shower. In my experience, one of those is a good cure for just about anything. Once you step in, I'll have your clothes cleaned and ready by the time you get out. I need some time to think about what you have told me." Lucille said, sweeping Sydney across the office to the bathroom.

"Use whatever you need, and take your time." She said, closing the door behind Sydney, who said thank you and turned the hot water on as soon as possible, hoping that the steam would cure her migraine and the light feeling of nausea that had made itself known during the argument with Lucille. The bathroom was well stocked and as elegant and indulgently set up as the office, and Sydney was glad to have a chance to clean up, considering she hadn't seen hide nor hair of a shower stall since Madrid.

After Lucille had collected Sydney's clothes from the bathroom, she called Eleanor on the walkie talkie.

"Get those boys into interrogation. I want everything out of all of them. Then I need these clothes cleaned quickly, and I want Eloise and Ingrid in here to take Sydney Wallace to the infirmary. She has stockholm syndrome, and she's going to need a gauge installed immediately."

"Is that all ma'am?" Eleanor responded.

"That's all. Be quick about it." She said before putting the device down. Then she went to her filing cabinet, and began to study the file of Maria Anderson.

When Sydney stepped out of the shower, her clean clothes were waiting there for her. Her headache and nausea had not cleared with the shower, in fact, much to her disappointment, they seemed to have gotten worse. She stepped out of the bathroom, feeling dizzy, and walked back into the office to see Lucille talking to two other women. All three of them stopped talking and turned toward her.

"Sydney, I'd like you to go with these two women, Eloise, and Ingrid." She said, motioning to each one. Ingrid was petite and had a severe look about her, and Eloise smiled sweetly and straightened her skirt.

"But I thought we had more to talk about?" She asked irritably.

"We do, but it can wait." She said. Sydney wrinkled her nose, but didn't argue, too distracted by her headache to care much.

"I'm sorry, I have an awful headache. Is there some aspirin around?" She asked, looking from Ingrid to Eloise to Lucille.

"Yes, we'll go straight to the infirmary." Ingrid said. "This way, please." She said, holding open the door. She was led down a long hallway, and they eventually reached the infirmary, but by that point, Sydney was breaking out in a cold sweat, and stumbling to keep up with the two women. When they opened the door to the infirmary, she lunged for the trash can and emptied her stomach. Ingrid handed her a paper towel.

"I'm sorry." Sydney apologized. She passed out two minutes later. The women loaded her onto one of the hospital beds and attached her to an IV.

"Diagnosis Mademoiselle?" Eloise asked.

"She's coming into her power, obviously, activated by being in the presence of so much like minded ability. It would be a slower process if she weren't under so much stress. As long as she is unconscious, the process will delay. We need her ready for operation in a few hours. I want a level 3 gauge and monitor for her." Ingrid said, looking over Sydney. "She looks exactly like Maria." She sighed, rubbing her eyes. "Her mom left her to keep her out of all of this. If someone could have told her that she would end up here either way, she might have known her mother. We'll do whatever we can to protect her, is that clear?" She said, turning to Eloise.

"Ma'am?" Eloise said, giving her boss a sideways glance. Ingrid shook herself.

"I'm sorry. Never mind." Her walkie talkie buzzed.

"Ing, they need you in interrogation."

"I have to go. Watch her, let me know if anything happens. I'll be back soon enough." Ingrid said, hurrying out of the infirmary and down to interrogation.

The boys were led at gunpoint into a cement room with four chairs around a table, and were locked in.

"I really hope she straightens this out, really fast, because I don't have a very good feeling about what happens if we're on our own." Allen said, sitting on the table and shaking his head.

"Those chicks are everywhere. Making an escape from here will be almost impossible, especially if they're not on our side." Hayden said. "Even for me."

"We'll have to count on her." Dane said. They sat, bored in the room, stewing and waiting, for forty minutes. Hayden began to become antsy somewhere around the fifteen minute mark, pacing. At twenty minutes, he began to become irritatable.

"What the hell is she doing? If she was making any headway, we should have been out of here by now, right?" He ran hans hands through his hair.

"You're driving my nuts with the pacing, man. Sit down. Stand still." Miles said to him, receiving a glare and more pacing at only speeds that Hayden could manage.

By the thirty minute mark, he was infuriated. He punched the wall, the table, his palm, anything, as hard as he could.

"Hayden, you need to stop. You're going to tire yourself out and if this comes to a fight you're done." Dane said. Hayden slouched against the wall and glared at his fists for the next ten minutes.

"This isn't good," He was saying as the door opened. He stood up instantly. A woman stood there, her hand on her gun holster.

"We are going to begin interrogation." She said, right before Hayden punched her. She grabbed him and slammed him against the wall, her gun pressed up against his cheek. Her nose was a millimeter from his. "And I guess you want to go first." She growled at him, gathering a fistful of his shirt.

"You're an idiot." Jarred informed him. Hayden grinned.

"You hear that guys? I get to go first!" He said, mock cheerful. The woman dragged him by his shirt from the room and slammed the door behind her. There were four other women out in the hallway, but they only watched as the short woman hauled the grinning boy down to the next door and shoved him in. Hayden didn't care about the predicament as much as he was happy to have some action again. It was another plain cement room. There were two chairs, a yard apart. In one sat Ingrid. The other was empty. She rose.

"Please, have a seat." She said kindly. Hayden peered at her, wondering what she was playing at. He sized her up. She wasa few inches shorter than him, in her early twenties, he estimated. She had a french accent and sincere look about her, so he sat down. She went to the back of his chair, and took his wrists, and tied them to it. She stood up and put her hands on his shoulders and let them rest there for a minute, letting him wonder before she took a deep breath, and went back to her chair.

"What is your name?" She asked him.

"Hayden Rossi." He replied, his eyes twinkling.

"Where are you from?"

"Italia." He said. She stood and slapped him.

"You live in the US, no? Where do you live, eh? No sass." She said sharply.

"Italia." He laughed stubbornly. She hit him again, but began asking some different questions.

"How did you find Sydney?" He swore at her in Italian and spat at her feet. She punched him, then took a handful of his hair and pulled his head back to look up at her.

"You had better start speaking English, little boy. We have you on camera speaking it, you're fluent. Don't make this harder than it needs to be." She pulled the chair closer and leaned forward. "How old are you?" He rolled his neck.


"Much better. Tell me how you met Sydney." She demanded conversationally. Hayden yanked hard on the ropes around his wrists, and smiled tightly when they didn't give.

"Our mommas were pregnant together." He deadpanned.

"She is a year younger than you." She snapped, hitting him again.

"You hit hard, for a girl." He said. She looked at him disgustedly.

"You claim to be Italian but only Americans are such pigs." She sneered.

Hayden continued to resistantly ignore any questions of substance, frustrating Ingrid. Hayden could feel the bruising by the end of fifteen minutes. He had a split lip and his eye was swelling, but he just laughed at her anger.

"Tell me what you can do. What is your special power?"

"I move really fast." He said.

"How fast?" She asked, looking skeptically at him.

"Untie me and I'll show you."

"I don't think so." She said. "You've hardly proven compliant and I'm sure there isn't much you would not lower yourself to."

Hayden's eyes sparkled.

"What's yours?" He asked. The mischievous glint was back in his eye.

"Not relevant to this conversation." She said, standing.

"Come on now. I know a little mystery is sexy, but I tol-" That was as far as he got in his snide negotiations before she turned on him and brought her fist down on his lap. He shouted and curled in towards it, groaning.

"Control yourself, little boy." She said.

"Son of bitch." He said through gritted teeth.

"Keep it up and we'll see how close to dead you can get." She said. "Now tell me all about your friends." Hayden wiped his face on his shoulder and sniffed before looking at her. It would take some effort to keep this up, he knew. But the longer that she kept him here, the longer his friends would stay out.

"Which ones?" He asked. She punched him hard, drawing blood from his nose.

"You are not funny." She said to him.

"Oh, those friends. Well, they're really nice. I remember this one time that we all went fishing. It was great." He said, knowing she was going to get hit again. When she came close to him, he kicked her. To his surprise, she didn't cry out or flinch. She smiled.

"You think you are powerful, but you are harmless. Your friends will tell me all I need to know, I'm sure, but you need to be broken." Ingrid informed him. Her questioning continued neck in neck with his stubbornness. Finally, she became fed up. She took out her gun, and removed the cartridge.

"Answer me." She demanded. Hayden frowned.

"Nah, I don't feel like it." He said, shrugging and shaking his head, preparing himself for the hit that he received under his chin with the butt of the gun. It wasn't as if he liked the pain, but provoking her was so easy, and so incredibly satisfying that he couldn't resist. Plus, it gave him an easy feeling of control. She beat him until tears rolled down his face as he laughed weakly. Neither he nor she knew if they were from pain or from laughter. She untied him and pulled him, stumbling and silent, back to his room.

He crumpled against the wall, still laughing softly to himself.

"What the hell happened in there?" Dane demanded, going over to him.

"It doesn't matter what you say in there, just don't tell her where we live. I have an idea. Don't tell her anything about our dads or where they live or anything. No matter what she does to you." He warned. Jarred sat down next to him.

"You want me to fix that up?" He asked.

"No." Hayden laughed.

"You look like crap. What did she do to you?"

"What the hell does it look like?" He shouted. "Sydney either screwed up, is in trouble, or turned on us." The door opened then, and the same short woman from before stepped in.

"You." She said, pointing to Miles. "You're next. Come with me."

"Joy." He said sarcastically, giving Hayden a nod as he exited. In the next room down, he was also tied to the same chair by Ingrid.

"I hope you are not a stubborn as your friend." She said, looking dangerously at him. Miles shook his head. He was shaking, he realized, with fear. Not violently, but certainly visibly.

"No. Nor do I have any desire to piss you off or get myself beaten to a pulp." He promised, keeping his own voice steady only by way of his power.

"Good boy." She said, tapping his cheek. She paused, looking him over or sizing him up. Miles stared at her shoes, a pair of shiny back heels, uncomfortably. He could see his reflection in them. "Are you scared?" Ingrid asked him.

"Yes. After what you did to Hayden. Yeah. I'm scared of you." He said candidly.

"Don't be. As long as you answer my questions and respect me, you will be fine." Ingrid assured him. "Now, what's your name?"

"Miles Irving."



"Place of residence?" Miles bit his lip.

"That's private. I can't really say..." He trailed off. She did not look happy.

"I'm disappointed." Ingrid told him. "But let's come back to it. Tell me about your ability."

"Um." He said. "It's sort of complicated. I can mess with voices. Volume, direction, pitch, and who hears what's being said."

"Show me." Ingrid commanded. Miles demonstrated, asking her to speak, and then altering her voice in a few simple ways.

"How interesting." She said, more to herself than to him as she sat again.

"Would you care to tell me about your little adventure?"

So then he told her about the whole thing. From the planning all thee way through Madrid and up to the front door of the facility where he was now, leaving out anything too detailed about his father, about Jarred's mom, or anything personal, like what had happened at Uncle Casey's house. She nodded when he was finished.

"I see. And can you tell me why you didn't come here seeking help in the first place?" She pressed him. Her attitude was severe and cutting. Miles knew just from her tone that she was judging him, making decisions and picking and choosing what she wanted to believe. It was right then that he realized, no matter how hard he tried to persuade her, she would not believe his story. She would not believe any of them. None of the women would. They believed that they were good and the men, and anyone related to the men was bad. Miles suddenly understood that to the women, everything was static. No one could change for better in their eyes. His response was like a rubber band breaking.

"I thought I said why? We were afraid of a reaction like this. You women writing us off and blindly believing that we're bad guys. You're utterly ignorant. You'll only pay attention to the parts that confirm your hypothesis and screw the rest, right, that's how it works here."

Ingrid's expression dropped to a glare in a second. Allen suddenly wanted to run very far away. She rose from her chair and paced in front of him. For a moment, he was certain he was about to be hit.

"I think I have someone for you to meet."

"Oh...okay." He said, nearly positive that after what he had just said, this could not possibly be good. Ingrid left the room for two long minutes. Miles stared at her chair and the door, making promises to himself and to god about all of the things he would do-and wouldn't do-if he got out of there alive. Then Ingrid returned, another woman in tow.

"Miles, this is Amanda." Miles blinked at the woman that stood by the door, looking half-frightened, half mad as hell. Timid didn't look natural on her face. Amanda Wayne's normal demeanor was fierce and keen, rarely shy, unless she knew she was in trouble. In Miles' interrogation room, she could barely step toward the boy tied to the chair, away from the closed door behind her.

"Miles." She said, her voice as shaky as Miles had been minutes ago. She took two steps towards him, her hand outstretched tentatively. She looked eerily familiar to Miles. Amanda looked to Ingrid, and received a nod.

"He has shown low signs of hostility." The woman went over to her son and ran a hand through his hair, and put the other on his face. Miles sat, confused. Amanda cried silently, and then, suddenly, her hand tightened around a fistful of his hair, and the hand on his face scratched him, confidently leaving open welts that would grow raw and sting.

"Your father used me just to carry on his legacy. I should never have had his baby. You. You know he made the words pour out of my mouth? He didn't tell me until afterward. After I was pregnant with you. All of those years. I was saying things I didn't want to. I thought I was just crazy in love." Amanda spat the words into Mile's lap where they sat and melted. Miles winced not only in pain but in surprise and also in horror.

"You're my mom?" He asked in disbelief. Her grip on his hair made it hard for him to look her in the eye.

"Yes you little brat, I'm your mother. I can not believe what you have chosen to do with your life. You were going to kill a girl that had no choice in her fate. " Miles struggled to twist his head away from her claw. Instead of protesting her accusations, he frantically asked her a question.

"How did you become a part of these people?"

"They recruited me from the army." She sneered. "After your dad screwed me out of a normal life." Amanda let go of her son's hair with a scoff. Miles noticed the trembling of her lip. "You, and your father, and your friends, and their fathers. You're all scum. And they're going to get the information from you. And then they're going to kill all of you." She said, seeming to boil as she spoke, until her words were flat and only the phrases themselves remained, toneless.

Miles chewed on the inside of his lip, half confused, half in shock. He wanted to have something to say to her expectant glare. She was waiting for him to say anything to her. Miles wanted to protest, to promise or beg, but he knew it was hopeless. his own mother stood right in front of him and he knew he couldn't bring her to believe that he was innocent. She left the room quickly, whether disappointed or simply enraged, neither of the remaining two knew. Ingrid sat down and crossed her legs, and let the sound of the door slamming hang for a while as she looked at him. Miles squirmed inwardly, replaying his mom's visit over, trying to make himself believe that it had happened.

"Do you have any other information you would like to share with me? About your father, perhaps?" She asked at last. Miles shook his head slowly, unsure that withholding information was going to be good for his health. He mentally urged himself to stick to the agreement that he had made with the others. To his surprise, Ingrid stood and untied him. He was brought back to the other room, where he sat down on the table, and touched the red welts on his cheek.

The same process was repeated, with Jarred, then Allen, telling the story as best they could without giving too much away about their fathers. Then, finally, it was Dane's turn. He told her his name and his age, but when she asked him to demonstrate his ability on her, he hesitated.

"It's... I would rather not." He said.

"Why not?" She demanded.

"It's very painful and fatiguing for both you and me. And it's extremely invasive. I'm not interested in attacking you." He explained. Ingrid waved her hand dismissively.

"Whatever it is like, I have had worse. I want you to do it. Now." Dane looked away from her and bit his lip.

"Okay..." And then he did it. It was not like it had been with Sydney. It was much much easier. To get control of Sydney, the barrier had been as substantial as cardboard. In Ingrid, it was like tissue. It took him about five seconds to have full control of her. The sensation of having full feeling in two bodies was incredibly strange, and it was even more so to see himself sitting across from her and vice versa through both pairs of eyes at the same time.

Dane could feel and see her distress and resistance under his own realm of control and influence. It was about another two seconds before her mental voice was barking borderline hysterical commands at him.

Release me. Now! He could feel her struggle for mental composure and obeyed immediately. He withdrew from her mind. As soon as her body and mind were her own again, her hand went to her gun. Dane just sat in the chair, staring.

"I'm sorry if that causes you a headache. For the record, the second time, it isn't like that. The second time is easier. Half as much pain, less time for me." Dane said. "I hope you see now why I didn't want to do it." His eyes met hers, and for a whole minute, he was sure she was going to hit him. He noticed her hand shaking. Ingrid closed her eyes and took a deep breath before seating herself.

She looked him hard in the eye.

"Tell me how you got here." Ingrid said. Dane told her the whole story, the same as Allen had. Afterward, she took him back to the other room with the rest of the boys. They sat and waited for a long time.

It was about 2 in the afternoon when Jarred pulled into the abandoned lot next to an old barn. There was a lot of empty space, fields filled with dead stalks of corn and empty fields of dirt. Everyone got out but Allen, who was left in the passenger seat, just like the plan said. Hayden had "accidentally" left the gun on the seat next to Ingrid. Outside at the back, Hayden opened the trunk and began looking through the backpacks for a gun he knew wasn't there. Miles leaned against the van and smirked at Sydney. Dane winked at her, which was the signal. She screamed at the top of her lungs, and Dane and Jarred grabbed either side of her and held on as she struggled, trying to subdue her. It was an act, but had it been a real struggle, Sydney knew she would not have stood a chance.

"Liars!" She yelled furiously, summoning tears. "You betrayed me! Get off of me!" She shrieked, enunciating each word.

"Quit struggling!" Dane demanded, keeping a tight grip on her.

"Where's the tape?" Jarred snapped at Hayden. Hayden tossed it to Miles, who began to pull off a long strip.

"You should have let them kill us when you had the chance." Jarred scoffed at her.

"I can't find the gun." Hayden said, slamming the trunk shut and coming to stand, arms crossed smugly over his chest, in front of Sydney. She grunted and snarled, trying to bite him, but Dane and Jarred kept her out of reach.

"Help!" She shrieked at the top of her lungs.

"That's enough out of you." Miles said, coming toward her with the duct tape, grinning.

"Freeze or I'll shoot him." Ingrid said, coming around the side of the van, with Allen at gunpoint. Everyone froze. Sydney struggled to look relieved, but held her breath.

"Aw hell." Hayden said.

"Dane..." Allen said, pleading.

"I can't." He shook his head, frustratedly. "Not enough energy."

"You two, let go of her." Ingrid said, nodding toward Dane and Jarred. They both dropped Sydney and stepped back from her, hands up.

"You," she said, directing Allen. "Put them all asleep, except for Jarred, and Sydney, of course." She directed, keeping the gun leveled on him. He went from boy to boy, putting his hand on their arm, and gently lowering them to the ground. "Now, tape their hands. And Hayden's feet as well." She ordered the boys. Sydney went to her side.

"Thank you so much." She said to the woman, trying to sound immensely relieved.

"Idiots left the gun right on the seat." She scoffed. "Now drag them and lean them against the side." She snapped at the two. "They didn't hurt you, did they?" She asked, glancing at Sydney concernedly.

"No, no, I'm fine." Sydney insisted.

"Now put Jarred to sleep and tape his hands." She instructed Allen. He did as she said. Ingrid's aim stayed trained on him as he moved Jarred over with the others. "Sydney, would you mind taping Allen's hands for me?"

"Of course." Sydney said cheerfully. She went up to Allen and snatched the roll of duct tape from his hands. She taped them together behind his back, and then came back around to his front. She stood chest to chest with him, and he sneered down at her. She grabbed a fistful of his shirt, a nifty move she had learned from Hayden, and pulled him down so they were eye to eye.

"You're a dirty little liar." She snarled, then smacked him across the face. He seated himself against the side of the van with the others. Ingrid took Dane's cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number on it.

"Hello? Yes. Ingrid. It's secure. She's fine." She proceeded to give them directions to the abandoned farm. She closed the phone and put it in her own pocket. Sydney noticed out of the corner of her eye some of the boys stating to wake up.

Lucille pulled into the cul-de-sac and the other two cars pulled up behind her. Everyone got out of the cars and stood out in the pavement. Jarred nodded toward a white and brick tudor house, sitting up on an incline.

"They should be in that one." He volunteered.

"Good." Lucille said. Jess dragged him over to stand with the other boys. Sydney wanted to go over to them, but they seemed alright, plus the woman guarding them did not seem incredibly friendly. In front of Sydney, Ingrid stood, and five aides assembled around her. Sydney watched them, but they just seemed to be standing, waiting. Lucille was on the phone a few yards away from Sydney.

"Come outside." She said, and then hung up. Sydney looked toward the house. A shadow passed over the big open window that looked into the kitchen, and then disappeared. Suddenly there was a man next to her, out of nowhere. He grabbed Sydney and wrapped his arm around her neck. She bit him and kicked, but he wouldn't let her go. As soon as he put the gun against her head, she stopped.

"You had better hold still." He warned. Sydney felt nauseous again, and wanted desperately to heave. She decided she didn't like being used as a human shield, when several women spun around, guns drawn. Ingrid turned and grabbed the hand of one of her aides, glaring at the man behind Sydney. He spun, dragging her along with him. The aide that Ingrid had grabbed passed out.

"What the hell is this?" He demanded, looking wildly around him. "What did you do?"

"Angela, the gun!" Ingrid shouted. Sydney felt a wave of intense heat roll past her ear as the man yelped. The gun clattered to the pavement, glowing red. Sydney twisted from under his arm and kicked him hard enough to send him to the ground. A woman with a gun charged up to him.

"Step back." She commanded Sydney. The man on the ground swore and Sydney backed up. Another woman, Angela walked up behind her, picked up the red-hot gun.

"I didn't burn you, did I?" She asked Sydney. Sydney shook her head. To her left, the man was being handcuffed and dragged into the back of the van. The woman that had fallen next to Ingrid was being cared for by two other women. She looked to be alright. Sydney looked toward the boys. A woman had Hayden pinned against a truck, her gun waving about in his face. His eyes were wild, and he looked frantic and furious. Sydney realized that it must have been his dad, teleporting down to the cul-de-sac. Miles looked at her, tearful. She remembered that night back at Uncle Casey's, and how he had talked about still loving his dad, even after he had been used. Sydney looked back up to the house, where four men were emerging. They came to the top of the driveway and stood there. Angela dropped to the ground next to Sydney, who gasped, stepping away from her. Sydney's head was beginning to pound, and her nausea wasn't going away. She knew the feeling, from when she had gotten sick down at the facility in Oklahoma. Being around all of these women was making her come into her power all at once. Two more women fell, one of the ones next to ingrid and the one near Hayden. Sydney looked up the hill at the men, who had paused in their descent.

"Sydney, come with me." One of them shouted down to her. She looked up at them, her eyes not leaving the source of the voice, and she began to walk toward him, mindlessly. She heard shots, and one of them men fell. The gunfire stopped quickly. One of the men crouched over the other, and then the one that had fallen dusted himself off and stood up. Sydney trotted up the hill, not even noticing the eerie silence that had fallen. The men led her inside. Her head pounded, and she squeezed her eyes shut as her stomach turned. The door slammed shut behind them, and the sound cleared her head. What was going on? Why had she followed them here? And she knew instantly, she had ben controlled. She stopped, preparing herself to fight, but he found herself hands and knees on the ground, heaving her stomach onto the wood floor. Her head was spinning and throbbing like it was going to split open. Waves of hot a cold washed over Sydney like the ocean, making her insanely dizzy. Sydney struggled to stay conscious even as she could see her vision fuzzing and dimming. The ground shook. She heard footsteps and breaking glass. There were lots and lots of voices too. Shouting her name, or just shouting. Miles' voice, floating past her ears, sounding like it was begging. Dane's voice, in her head. Someone's dad, Ingrid, all alking and yelling. More shots fired. Then it was much quieter. Just her own pulse, roaring in her ears. Throbbing, shaking her while the world raged in a whirlwind around her. Then her pulse was on the outside, a pulse in the real world. Then she passed out.

She barely remembered anything when she woke up. The window was letting bright sunny morning light flood across the bed. The walls were covered with band posters and there were CDs, cassettes, and records everywhere. There were a few books on a shelf and a carpeted floor. The walls were red and the sheets matched. There was an armchair in the corner, in which Allen was sleeping. She sat up slowly, and called his name. He snapped awake immediately and blinked at her.

"You're awake?" He asked. Sydney nodded. Sitting up was dizzying. He left the room at a run. He was back sixty seconds later with the others. They crowded around her, Hayden sat at her feet, and she scooted over to the other side of the bed to make room for them.

"Good morning sleeping beauty." Miles said, pulling a chair from the desk and sitting next to her. She smiled widely, and was instantly brought back to the last time he had said that to her, that first morning when he had slid right next to her and put his arm over her shoulders.

"How do you feel?" Jarred asked, feeling her forehead.

"Dizzy. Tired. Confused. What the hell happened?" She asked, looking from one of them to the next.

"A lot." Allen said. "If you're still tired though, maybe you should rest more before you get too overwhelmed." He said nervously, putting a hand on her shoulder. Sydney's hands fluttered towards his.

"No, no, please, I'm fine. How long have I been sleeping anyway? I'll be fine." She insisted. Allen frowned, but lifted his hand.

"If you're sure." He said uncertainly. "It's been about three days."

"Jesus Christ." She said, shocked. "I definitely do not need to go back to sleep."

"I tried to wake you up. Dane tried too, but there was nothing there. You were in a coma or something."

"You wanna tell me what happened?" She asked.

"Sure. Dane's dad controlled you, and you followed them inside while my dad made it nearly impossible for anyone to go after you, and Miles' dad wouldn't let anyone say anything to you. They stopped as soon as you were inside, but then the women stormed the house. You were getting your power, and you were out of control. We followed them into the house in all the confusion. You kept screaming. Dane tried to get into your head, but it was...impossible." He said, seeming at a loss for any other words. "You caused a shockwave or something. It's really hard to explain what happened after that. There was a lot of noise and chaos and catastrophe."

"Did anyone get hurt?" She asked, startled.

"No, no one... well, no one died." He said. "They arrested our dads. We got cleared by Jess. They helped us clean up, make sure the neighbors had no idea what was going on, then they left."

Even though she knew it was late and she had to get up early the next morning, Sydney couldn't sleep, so she rolled out of bed and went downstairs, planning to watch some TV or get a snack, but she paused at the front door. The light to the steps was on, and it was unlocked. She went to lock it and hit the switch, but then noticed someone outside. She quietly stepped out and closed the door behind her,

"Hayden?" She asked tentatively. He turned toward her. She blinked, startled to see him with a cigarette in his hand. She bit her lip.

"What are you doing up so late?" He asked.

"You smoke?" She immediately wanted to kick herself. Obviously he did, if he was now.

"Not usually." He said, looking back out at the cul-de-sac.

"I couldn't sleep." She said, standing awkwardly next to him, looking for a reason to stay. "Is everything alright?" She asked, looking up into his face. He sighed and dropped the butt, grinding it into the cement with his toe.

"No. It's not alright. Once we drop you off, I have to enlist in the mafia and become a criminal. Do you know what they'll use me for as soon as I do?" He was weaker and more unguarded than she had ever heard him. She shook her head. "Hunting down you and the guys, to get you to join or else."

"What?" She asked in disbelief.

"Think about it. It's logical." He looked her in the eye. "I don't want to become a criminal. I don't want to kill people. I definitely do not want to terrorize my friends."

"Couldn't you just not go? Run away or go into hiding? Or maybe get the women in Oklahoma to give you refuge or get them off your back or something? There has to be a way out of it."

"Some of those ideas are good. But..." He trailed off and looked out at the street again, and she got the feeling that he was looking way past it. "I'm a man of my word. And I'm not a coward. I'm scared, but I can't run away from my promises. I can't be like that. It's too much like dad." He closed his eyes. She got the feeling she should leave him alone. It wasn't really for her to see him with his shields down.

"Maybe they'll decide they don't want you after all?" She suggested weakly. He laughed a little.

"You should go back to bed. Get some rest or something." He lit another cigarette. She frowned. It didn't seem right. Like the image of Hayden and the cigarette fit together too well.

"Where did you pick up smoking?" She asked.

"My dad." He said, bored.

"You should go to bed too." She suggested. He smiled and leaned over, so he was eye to eye with me.

"Good night, Sydney."

She sighed, but turned and went back inside.

NOTE: something to bring up later [Sydney/Dane conversation in private] "What happened? When you were in my head? What was that? What did you do?" He almost tripped when I asked him that. He seemed surprised.

"You noticed that?" I noticed that some of the other boys and started paying attention to our conversation.

"It was in my head, how could I not? It was weird. Like I didn't even know it was there until you did that. And I can't find it again. What did you do?" This was a question I really did want an answer to. It had been incredibly strange. Like I had a deep scar where all the nerves had dies and I didn't know I had it, then he had touched it, and I could feel it but just that it was there, not what it was, or where it came from, or how it got there. And it felt personal, too. I looked at him, and he seemed disoriented. Almost lost. I looked back at my feet as they pulled me up to the top of the slope.

"I didn't do anything. I don't know what it was. It was weird." He said finally. I had a suspicion he was lying.