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Excerpt for Hidden Talents: A deliciously twisted M/M trilogy by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Hidden Talents

The Full Story

By Claire Cray



© 2017 Claire Cray

All Rights Reserved



About this version of Hidden Talents:

Hidden Talents was originally published as a series of free novellas beginning in 2012. In 2015 the series was adapted and published as a trilogy by a short-lived independent press. The trilogy has been remastered here as the final, epic version of Hidden Talents. There’s no good reason for this sloppy journey, but here we are—with a bigass book full of sexy psychics. Please enjoy it.



Table of Contents



PART 1: REBEL HELL

1. Telepath Seeks Asylum. Smoker. Pets OK.

2. Make New Friends but Keep the Old

3. It's Always Something

4. Sky Doesn't Listen

5. Ken Just Wants a Snack

6. Aki Keeps at It

7. Jin wakes up in Sadland

8. Monkeys, Ghosts, and Sky

9. Aki's Nightmare

10. Ken Walks Along

11. Mark Lets Go

12. Jin and the Pussycats

13. Lip and Kel at Work

14. Aki is Not in the Mood

15. Two Guys and a Heavy Bag

16. Ken Learns Something

17. Shopping with Lip and Ken

18. Blood on the Tracks

19. Mark Sees Redhead

20. Sky Makes a Mess

21. What's the Antichrist?

22. Junkie Whore

23. Jackson Gadamer

24. Midnight in Paris

25. Round One: Fight

26. Fresh Tracks

27. Aki Steps Out

28. Round Two: Fight

29. Look Sharp

30. Playing Chicken

31. Inside Affairs

32. Slumber Party!

33. Sky Lights a Beacon

34. Together Again

35. Six Months Earlier



PART 2: WIND CHANGE

1. First Class

2. Economy

3. Good Talk, Mark

4. Checking Traps

5. Driving Lessons with Ken

6. Inevitable

7. 2 AM

8. It Takes a Train

9. Meet the Family

10. Rearranging

11. Get Used to It

12. Aki Tunes In

13. Dare

14. Jumping Through Hoops

15. Getting Higher

16. Happy Graduation, Sky

17. City of Angels

18. New Tombs for Talents

19. Ken Meets Girl

20. Mark Gets the Message

21. It's All Jin's Business

22. Jackson Thinks Ahead

23. Fever Pitch

24. The Worst That Could Happen

25. WTF, Jen?

26. Lip Makes a Call

27. Jin's Desert Adventure

28. Aki Faces Facts

29. Ken Gets a Room

30. Burn!

31. O'Reilly Family Reunion

32. Ken Touches Trouble

33. Mark Loves Dylan. Or Jen. Or Dylan.

34. Paging Dr. Gadamer

35. Ken Does The Right Thing

36. Jin Gets In

37. Ken Goes Deep

38. Biting the Bullet



PART 3: HARD GAMES

1. Jin, Jackson, Jen, Jealous

2. Ken Comes Home To A Mess

3. Mark Gets Some Lip

4. Testing the Water

5. Aki Comes Clean

6. Finally

7. Death and David

8. Sky Clears Up

9. Telepaths Need Friends

10. Trust

11. Sky Gets a Little, a Little Late

12. Jin Finds the Beat

13. Baby Steps

14. Lip Takes a Vacation

15. Moves Like Jackson

16. David Doesn't Like It

17. Ken Lets the Cat Out

18. Kel Sees a Bad Moon Rising

19. Not Trying to Make It Weird

20. Mark and Dylan Never Say Die

21. Jin Does Not Know What the

22. Another Perfect Storm

23. Lights Out

24. Kel Watches the Weather

25. Closing Time

26. A Complicated Eulogy

27. On Another Planet

28. Ken's Bad Trip

29. Aki Sees Double

30. Jin Remembers Something

31. Jen Steps Up

32. Jin Does Jin

33. Lip Gets Real

34. Joke's on Ken

35. Squad Problems

36. Ken Takes a Swing

37. Jen Jumps In

38. Choose Your Friends

39. Just Like Old Times

40. Jin Wishes They Could Just Not

41. Jackson Admits It

42. Aki and the Devil

43. Jin Hits the Spot

44. Strauss Cuts the Shit

45. The Gang's All Here

46. Back to Reality

47. Benevolent Ghosts

48. Good Morning

49. Ken Figures It Out

50. Life After Fate

51. You Say Goodbye

52. O'Reilly Peace Treaty

53. Jackson Feels the Burn

54. Teamwork

55. Pizza Power

56. New World Order

Note from the Author



Part 1:

Rebel Hell



1. Telepath Seeks Asylum. Smoker. Pets OK.

Jin hopped expertly from rooftop to rooftop, high on anticipation as he drew closer to his target. This part of Paris was packed with tiny tenement apartments, which swarmed with crowds of thoughts that buzzed gratingly around his mental shields. He was a telepath, and an exhausted one. This was like running through clouds of locusts. A plague of noise.

His target, though, was silent. Unnervingly silent. He was a young guy, maybe even a teenager, and his shields were so strong that Jin couldn’t read a single thing about him—not even what kind of Talent he was. He slipped through the shadows and crowds like a weird little ghost. Since Jin couldn’t follow the kid’s thoughts he had to track him the old-fashioned way, scanning minds in the vicinity for sightings whenever he lost his visual.

The novelty of an honest chase had kept him entertained for half an hour, but now it was time to cut the shit and catch the mouse.

He took a running jump to the next rooftop, cleared another street, swung down a fire escape and jumped straight down into the alley—right in front of his target. His new friend.

Jin flashed a cat's grin up at the waif in front of him. "Bonjour," he chirped as he stood.

The kid took a backward step, and he looked pissed.

So this was him. His face was as fine as bone china, pale and sharp, with mismatched green eyes—the left one dark as the deep sea, the right one pale as an emerald. Ink-black hair fell over his forehead, grazing his temples and covering his ears. His thin neck disappeared into a black hooded sweatshirt, and he wore dark jeans cut close to his long legs. On closer look, Jin saw he had scars. They were smooth, almost invisible, but they were there. A lot of them.

"I'm Jin," Jin said.

The kid was silent. Then he bit out, “And?"

Somehow, Jin felt that unexpectedly husky voice in his spine. He gave the smartass another look. Not exactly his type, but hard to look away from. Interesting. "And yours is?"

"Who are you?" the kid asked acidly.

"I'm Jin," Jin repeated, studying the scars. They were faint enough that they probably went unnoticed by many, but Jin’s eye could see how heavily the kid's face had been messed with. There were so many scars they almost blended together at this distance, except for a few, like the long, clear slash extending from the outer edge of his dark eye to the corner of his mouth.

Jin felt a weird little throb in his chest. Exhaustion was making him goofy. "I'm a Talent. Like you."

"So?"

"Not enough to impress you, huh? " He took a step closer, wanting a better look at this odd creature with shields as strong as Jackson's. "What's your name?"

The kid stood his ground, glowering. "Harriet."

Well. Jin grinned. "Okay, Harriet. Take me to your leader, all right? "

"Why?"

"You're tough," Jin laughed. He took another step closer, wondering if the kid would retreat. He didn't. He was a few inches shorter than Jin, a few years younger, and skinny as hell. Razor sharp bones. Not Jin's type, no, but he did wonder what the rest looked like.

"Wonder what your Talent is," Jin murmured, enjoying the hard gaze of those mismatched gems, though he wasn’t sure why.

Suddenly he sensed another Talent approaching the opening of the alley. Jin kept his eyes on the kid for another moment before he turned to look at the newcomer.

"S'goin' on?" It was a tall, athletic blond who approached. He looked like an Abercrombie model. The greeting was casual, and his posture was relaxed to match. But the energy was unmistakable: Like the kid with the weird eyes, this Ken Doll was a Talent—either some kind of psychic, or some kind of superman.

Jin gave his mind a scan, though even this exertion sent stale pulses of pain through his skull. The blond Talent’s mind was well shielded, designed to blend in with a healthy outer layer of mundane thoughts. It would take a very clever telepath to see behind that facade, to find the hard protective walls that Talents built in their minds to hide their thoughts from prying psychics.

Jin gave him a look of approval. As a very clever telepath, he appreciated a good set of shields. They couldn’t stop him, though, if he really wanted to get underneath them. "Lip, right?"

Lip came to a natural stop facing Jin and spoke in an Australian accent. "Who are you?"

"I'm Jin. Talent. On the run. I'll tell you everything. I just need a place to stay."

Lip raised an eyebrow. He looked to the kid, who looked back apathetically. Cold! Jin thought.

"All right," Lip said. "Jin. Let's get a car."

A taxi swerved and screeched to a stop at the closest end of the street. "Got it," Jin said.

Lip looked from the taxi to him with a resigned expression. "Telepath?"

"Yep.”

"Great," Lip said dryly. "Let's go."

Jin turned back to the kid. "Do I get your name now?"

"Ricardo."

"Next one you say's gonna stick," Jin warned, examining the planes of his face. There was definitely something weird about this one. It was like someone had crossed a baby deer with a wolverine. But those shields were on another level. Jin couldn’t find a single opening. Not a crack. Not a peep. How could that be?

Maybe Jin was just more tired than he thought. That was probably it. He watched the kid take the front seat of the car.

Lip gestured for Jin to follow him into the backseat, and Jin forced himself to pay attention. The Australian’s eyes were on him, curious and sharp.

“You look like hell,” Lip noted.

“No sleep for a week.”

Lip was about to say something when something else caught his attention: the kid had directed the driver to turn into a fast-food drive-through. "Ken," the Australian groaned.

Ken.

"What?" Ken asked. He ordered three cheeseburgers, fries and a large shake.

"No mustard on mine," Jin said.

Ken shot him a narrow-eyed look. "It's not for you."

"What do you want?" Lip asked Jin. Jin didn’t hesitate to order a couple of burgers of his own. After a week on the run, with his Talent in a constant state of high alert, he was running on fumes. He’d take all the calories he could get until he could sleep.

"Can I play the radio?" Ken asked, piquing Jin's interest again. Was he young enough to be asking for permission? Or was he actually capable being polite? At Lip's nod, the kid turned it on and filled the car with American hip-hop before starting in on his food. He wolfed down the burgers like he hadn’t eaten in days.

Jin noted this with interest. If he always ate like that, it could mean he was approaching a peak development period. Powerful Talents always ate and slept more when they were headed into a growth spurt. He was getting impatient to know what this kid was all about. He watched Ken lift the milkshake, slip the straw between his narrow lips, and suck.

Ken swallowed, then turned his head to fix Jin with a dark glare.

Jin smiled and took a bite of his own burger.

"Who's after you?" Lip asked.

Oh, right. There was a reason he was here. Reasons. There were reasons.

“KGA,” Jin said around a mouthful. “I’m a deserter.”

Lip's eyebrows went up. Jin wondered how much he knew.

- - -

Before Klaus Gadamer founded KGA in the 1950s, Talents were the stuff of rumor and superstition. Gadamer, an esteemed scientist and a precognitive himself, was the first man to have the vision, timing, and ambition to make a study of this growing phenomenon in human evolution.

But his scientific interest in Talents was inextricable from his drive for power and profit. KGA was a nefarious venture from the start.

Gadamer was a master manipulator with ruthless ambitions. Using his precognition for all it was worth, he quickly collected a stable of psychics and sent them out to find others. Things snowballed quickly. Before long KGA had cornered the market. There was never any competition. And for the past half a century, the KGA monopoly had maintained a stranglehold on the world’s Talents.

KGA’s sweeper teams covered the globe, its psychics and empaths scanning minds in search of new Talents who were then scooped up and hauled into its headquarters, currently located in Berlin. There they were brutally initiated, brainwashed, and trained to use their abilities for profit. KGA made incomprehensible sums of money by sending its Talents out to manipulate leaders, governments, and corporations around the world.

It was all bad enough to begin with, but it had just become a whole lot worse. Two weeks ago, a coup had taken place at KGA.

The shadowy organization was now under the leadership of Wilhelm Strauss, a sadistic fascist with huge dreams of a new world order.

Strauss was already known and feared throughout the global ranks of KGA. His unusually cruel empathic Talent branded every KGA initiative with lifelong trauma. He had created KGA’s keystone training program, the Trigger Method, which pushed Talents to extreme levels of ability slightly more often than it broke their minds. The broken ones kept the research labs in supply. There were always experiments on the schedule.

Strauss had one rival at KGA: Klaus Gadamer’s grandson, the precognitive prodigy Jackson Gadamer.

Jackson, too, was known throughout the KGA ranks. When he was just a kid, he’d delivered a vision that enthralled the entire organization.

It was called the Key Prophecy. Jackson promised KGA that he would discover a prodigious young Talent, dubbed the Key, whose genetic material would provide the missing ingredient to their struggling Talent Genome Project. With the Key, Jackson said, KGA could finally develop a formula to allow them to clone perfect Talents, however they wanted.

The Key Prophecy stirred the upper ranks of KGA and sent Jackson’s career into a steep climb. Being Klaus Gadamer’s grandson and an infallible precognitive didn’t hurt, either. All told, Jackson enjoyed an unprecedented degree of autonomy. He had complete authority over his assignments and team members, whom he trained as he saw fit.

KGA leadership had faith that Jackson’s methods would lead them to the Key. But Strauss did not share that faith. He scorned Jackson’s prophecies and resented his status. He was always searching for ways to bring Jackson down, undermining his authority at every turn. Fortunately, his hands were tied by protocol and the other members of the Board that ruled KGA.

But not anymore. Jackson’s name and performance record wouldn’t matter now that Strauss was in full control.

"You saw this coming, right?" Jin had asked Jackson when news of the takeover struck.

They were in Thailand, working on a project involving corrupt diplomats and opium magnates in the Golden Triangle, which wasn't as fun as it sounded. Jin was sprawled on the leather chair at Jackson’s desk, drumming his fingers on his knee, grimly anticipating a likely worst-case scenario that involved being psychically flayed alive by Strauss's terrifying empathic Talent.

Jackson gave him a dry look. Of course he had. He threw an envelope down on the desk. "Go to Paris. You can hide there safely."

Jin laughed, incredulous, and raised his eyebrows at the precognitive towering over him. “Do what?”

The precognitive swept the edge of his suit jacket aside to hang a hand in his pocket. “Strauss will strike us at the first chance he gets. You’re the most obvious target.”

True. Strauss hated telepaths, and especially Jackson’s telepath.

“Which leaves us no choice,” Jackson went on. “As of this moment, you are on the run from KGA.”

In Paris, Jackson said, Jin would find a cell of exceptional Talents with unusually sophisticated shields who could offer him asylum. Jackson would join him in a matter of weeks.

There wasn't time to have Jackson explain how there could possibly be a cell of exceptional Talents living under KGA's radar, nor how he’d cover for Jin’s disappearance. But Jackson rarely explained everything anyway. Precognitives had to be secretive. It was all about controlling the variables, or whatever.

Jin was used to leaping at Jackson’s command. This was a bigass leap. But Jackson had a plan, and Jin knew better than to doubt him. So far, Jackson had never failed. So it was off to Paris to find some homeschooled Talents.

- - -

And here he was.

Fuck.

Lip spoke again, snapping him out of his rumination. "How'd you find us?"

"Wasn't easy,” Jin replied. “I’ve been combing the city for a few days. Then I caught this quiet spot today. You should be careful of that, you know," he added to Ken, baiting him to say something.

Ken ignored him.

"How'd you know we were here?" Lip asked.

"My director sent me. He's a precognitive, and he had some intelligence on you he’s been hoarding from KGA." Jackson had told him to be straightforward with these people, that they were vigorously suspicious of outsiders but would be sympathetic to their cause. He’d also told Jin not to underestimate them.

"Since when do KGA directors hold intelligence back from KGA?" Lip asked, as if he was familiar with how KGA worked.

Jin raised his eyebrows. "Do you know who Jackson Gadamer is?"

"Yeah." Lip didn’t clarify how.

"That's my director," Jin said.

This could have been a point of pride. Any KGA Talent would kill to be Jackson’s right hand. Jin didn't give a fuck about status at KGA. But he did care that Jackson had the brains, power, and Talent to stay ahead of Strauss. Plus, they were fucking.

"Do you know what happened there two weeks ago?" Jin asked.

Lip shook his head. That made sense. Having a bit of intel was one thing, but knowing the latest political developments in the inner departments would have been ridiculous.

"Wilhelm Strauss just took over," Jin explained. "Jackson’s rival. Arranged the right death and got himself elected himself president of KGA."

Lip nodded. Despite his casual demeanor, the Aussie wasn’t giving anything away. A regular iron butterfly.

They'd entered a neighborhood of subtly expensive homes. In the front seat, Ken was rummaging for his last french fries, ignoring everyone like he was alone in the cab.

"What's your thing?" Jin asked Lip.

"I'm a mix. Physical and mental."

KGA would call that a Hybrid Talent, Physical and Hypercognitive. But of course Lip didn't use KGA jargon. That was refreshing.

Then the Aussie neatly opened his mind up a bit to show his credentials, and Jin realized that Jackson hadn't been kidding about these guys.

Lip wouldn’t just rank high at KGA. He’d be unprecedented. Not only could this guy outmatch anyone in speed, strength, and healing abilities, but he had powerful psychic defenses, complex shields designed to keep his mind secret, and significant level psychic skill to top it off: He could likely read unshielded minds.

KGA had been trying to breed hybrid talent like this for decades. They wouldn’t even be able to classify Lip. Stunning.

The taxi pulled up in front of a brick house.

"Can I go home?" Ken asked immediately.

"Why don't you stick around for a while, okay, mate? Hang out in your old room."

Ken got out of the car. Jin watched him walk up the path to the house, noting that exchange. Old room—so he'd lived here before, and now he didn't. Had he grown up there and moved out after graduation, or what? "Is he always so friendly?" Jin asked Lip.

"Nope." Lip paid the fare. "Let's go."



2. Make New Friends but Keep the Old

Jin had gotten a second wind when he'd pounced on Ken, but his exhaustion returned as he anticipated the tedious introductions that likely lay ahead. A migraine was threatening, and he felt like he was dragging an extra few hundred pounds as he walked from the car to the door. He badly needed sleep.

Just a little longer. Jackson told him he could rest as soon as he was in the company of these Talents. Jin fantasized about the bed they'd have for him.

Inside the well furnished home, several men were spread throughout the living room and the kitchen. Not all were in view. It was clear from their looks, physiques, and relatively quiet minds that they were all Talents. At this point using his Talent felt like punching himself, so Jin stuck to scanning for the basic information that floated on the outside layers of their shields.

There was a tall guy with plum-dark skin sitting in an armchair. Kel, from Senegal. He had the cool beauty of a young prince, with high, noble cheekbones, full lips, and an air of incisive watchfulness. Another “physical and mental” mix, as Lip had put it. And like Lip, his shields were formidable. Kel nodded to Jin with a blank expression.

"Have a seat," Lip said, gesturing to an empty chair. "You need something to drink?"

"Juice if you have it." Calories. Running on calories.

His eyes moved to a man slouched against the frame of the open french doors leading to the backyard. Mark. He was beautiful, even for a Talent, with bronze skin and thick, dark brown hair. He looked like the descendent of a Native chief, with a dark charisma Jin could feel from across the room. He also looked like a killer. When he straightened from the doorway and sat on the sofa across from Jin's chair, he moved with a panther's deadly grace. A physical Talent, for sure. Jin had never been so impressed by one. Damn.

Lip was back with a tall glass of orange juice and a casual smile. It was an amusing contrast to Mark’s broody aura. But despite their outward differences, Kel, Mark and Lip were definitely old friends. Jin got the sense they were the ones in charge around here.

Then two more Talents came into the room from a hallway, and things started to get weird. Apparently, not all of the rogue Talents were in perfect shape.

The new ones were a couple. Aki, a sullen-looking Japanese hunk with a mop of shiny black hair, and Luke, another pale, dark-haired beauty with light green eyes and a startlingly frail build. There was something distinctly, disturbingly unwell about them both. Especially Luke. It sent a chill down Jin’s spine.

They must have been attacked, or something. Something had fucked them up. Especially Luke. He was dead in the eyes, and when Jin brushed against his head, he heard a kind of strange, distant static that spooked him to his core.

Aki stared coolly at him, and when Jin met his eyes Aki cocked his chin in a haughty greeting. Jin was relieved. This one had been wrecked, too, but he still had his wits about him.

Jin beamed at him, even as he wondered what the hell Jackson had gotten him into. Also, where was Ken?

“So this is Jin,” Lip announced, sitting on the arm of the sofa where Aki and Luke had sat. “He’s a telepath and he’s just deserted KGA. Apparently there’s been a change in leadership.”

Kel appraised Jin again. “Who?”

“Uh,” Jin said. “Wilhelm Strauss just took over.”

Kel nodded in apparent recognition. “And who’s your director?”

“How do you guys know this shit?” Jin asked, caught off guard. “Jackson Gadamer’s my director. He’s the one who sent me. He knew about you guys, but KGA doesn’t. He said I could hide out here, that you have some trick for staying under the radar.”

Most of the Talents looked vaguely surprised, except for Kel, who was possibly incapable of showing emotion, and Luke, whose eyes were fixed somewhere off near the farthest corner of the ceiling.

“A trick?” Lip asked.

“Yeah. How are you doing that? KGA sweepers come through Paris all the time. How are you still here?”

Lip shrugged. "We just use our shields. I guess we share them, sort of.”

Share?” Jin leaned forward, forgetting his exhaustion for a moment in his eagerness to learn a new trick. “How?”

“I dunno. We just connect and our shields seem stronger. We’ve done it for a long time. Can’t promise total safety, but it’s worked so far.” The Australian paused. “If you feel for it, you can do it too.”

Surprised, Jin scanned Lip’s head again. Like all telepaths, he “saw” minds in visual metaphors—every brain a vast ecosystem of hallways, paths, rooms and walls, trapdoors and secret passages, endless layers of hidden places. When he skimmed Lip’s outer shields in search of the protection he was offering, Jin found a sort of veil wafting his way.

“Can you use it?” Lip asked.

Yes, Jin thought could. Jackson had told him to. He cautiously opened his shields and “pulled” the veil over himself until he felt it settling over the surface of his mind. It hummed faintly for a moment, and then he could scarcely feel it at all.

That didn't make sense. Jin showed as much on his face. “So, I’m invisible now?”

Lip shrugged ambiguously. "Guess so."

Jin looked around the room again. Jackson really hadn’t been kidding. These Talents were doing all right for themselves, despite whatever drama had befallen Aki and Luke.

Just then another blond came in from the kitchen. And Jin—to his own shock—knew him.

The blond froze in the archway, his blue-gray eyes widening in horror.

No fucking way.

Jin couldn’t stop the grin from spreading over his face. Speaking of drama…

"What are you doing here?" Sky asked sharply, using the impeccable British English he'd been taught growing up in Japan.

The others looked between them in surprise.

"Nice to see you, too," Jin said warmly, remembering the last time he’d met Osaka’s finest rent boy. It was a good thing he trusted Jackson's assurances that these Talents would grant him safe haven. Otherwise, he might have worried Sky would fuck it up. The whiner. Sure enough…

"Get him out," Sky said, looking at Lip and thrusting a finger in Jin’s direction.

"How do you know each other?" Mark asked in a voice that sounded like gold flakes falling through dark chocolate. Not bad for an American.

Jin smirked. Hilarious jabs at the little orphan empath were collecting at the tip of his tongue, but he fought to remain on good behavior. Looking peacefully at his old acquaintance, he waited for an explanation.

"I ran into him in Osaka," Sky muttered, turning shifty.

Jin snorted and gave the blond a once-over, taking in his lithe figure, his creamy skin, his expensive clothes. Looking good. Even better than before. Cut back on the smack, obviously. Jin wondered how much that did for his Talent. Sky had always made such creative use of his empathy.

"And?" Mark asked.

“And he's a… a bad guy."

“I was just working,” Jin said innocently. “Same as you were.”

"You're an evil, sadistic prick."

“Well, you’re the one calling names.” But we both know you’re into that, he projected into Sky’s mind. Name-calling and sadistic pricks.

It was worth the psychic sting of effort to see those stormy eyes widen in outrage.

Lip broke in. "Sky, he’s on the run from KGA, and he knows about us. If they find him, they find us. Is there a real reason to turn him away?"

Sky was incredulous, clearly horrified that Lip had to ask. “Because he's a sadistic asshole?”

"Objection!" Jin exclaimed, and saw Mark lower his head to hide a smirk. Aki was looking at Sky with vague dismay, as if embarrassed for him.

"Do you have a reason to think he's a threat to us?" Lip pressed Sky in a somewhat cool tone, and it was pretty clear, to Jin's amusement, that Sky was having some trouble fitting in here.

Sky set his jaw stubbornly. “I don't trust him with Ken."

Oh, shit. Jin leaned forward. “Is he your boyfriend?"

“He’s my brother," Sky snapped.

That was too much. Jin started to laugh. And then he couldn’t stop.

“Fuck this.” Sky turned and stalked out of the room, his perfect shoulder-length hair shimmering.

Aki got up from the sofa with a tired look and followed Sky. Luke didn’t seem to notice.

Jin was still laughing, tears welling up in his eyes. He held his stomach; he was beyond help. Bordering on hysterical. “Wait…”

"You're tired," Mark said. "You should rest."

"Look," Jin managed. "I'm not here to…" He pictured Sky and Ken side by side. Nope. Still couldn’t deal. The laughter boiled up and over again and he waved his hands, shaking his head.

"You can have the guest room." Mark said. “I’ll show you.”

Jin rose from the soft chair somehow, finally settling down into snickers. "Goodnight.” He bowed to Aki and Luke, to Lip and Kel. “Thank you. Goodnight."

Mark led him down a hallway, into a spotless room with hardwood floors and the softest, most inviting bed Jin had ever seen. His eyelids started to droop. He nodded drowsily as Mark showed him the attached bathroom, the cabinet, towels and a toothbrush.

"We'll have to deal with you and Sky, whatever that is," Mark said, "But he'll keep his distance for now. You're safe here.”

Jin toed off his shoes as he sank down onto the bed. For some reason, the Brady Bunch theme song had started to play in his head. "I could be out for a while. Couple of days."

"We’ll check in. Anything you need when you wake up?”

"Food," Jin mumbled, rolling onto his stomach. Impressive hospitality. "I'll need food."

"Okay. Sleep well."

As Jin sank down into the warm, dark waters of deep sleep, blurry thoughts ran through his tired mind.

Luke’s spooky head.

Jackson and the team.

Strauss.

Last of all—oddly enough—Ken.



3. It’s Always Something

Jin appeared to fall asleep as soon as his weight settled into the bed. His face was gaunt, and there were purplish circles under his eyes. He looked like hell in the way Talents did when they were psychically exhausted. No one would doubt that he was on the run.

But worn down or not, Jin was clever and alert. Mark didn’t miss the way his eyes had sharpened on Luke. He wondered what Luke’s mangled head looked like to a telepath. He wondered what Aki’s looked like.

They’d never had a telepath in their midst before, not really. Psychic abilities weren’t their strongest suit, as a group. Luke was an empath as well as a healer, but he had always done what he could to ignore the empathy; and Sky was an empath, but he didn’t know much about it other than the tricks he’d come up with as a man of the night. They were no KGA.

Jen had been a telepath. But she’d been a lot of things. Like catastrophically insane.

Mark joined Lip and Kel in the driveway. Lip was propped against his parked motorcycle, arms crossed, and Kel was sitting astride his own with his phone in hand.

“Is he out?” Lip asked.

“Yeah.” Mark stood between them and hooked his thumbs in his pockets. He nodded at Kel. “What do we know?”

“Not much.” Kel turned the phone idly in his hand. “Need to find out what’s going on at KGA. Jackson Gadamer should be easier to check out.”

Of the three of them Mark was the most gifted physically, but Lip and Kel outdid him when it came to deduction and logic. They analyzed information so well it was almost mystical. Kel was especially into gathering intelligence. The stoic Senegalese Talent was always flying around to spy, hacking into highly secured systems, keeping tabs on various paramilitary organizations, government operations, and—to the extent that it was possible—KGA.

It was all in the purview of their own organization, the Alternative Research and Security Institute. ARSI had once been ARI, a modestly funded private group devoted to unconventional research in neuroscience and genetics. Lip, Mark, and Kel had quietly co-opted it for themselves six years back, after the fall of the paramilitary agency where they’d met as young recruits. They poached the most talented scientists they could find and transformed the place into an underground operation devoted to researching Talent and monitoring KGA. As quickly as they could, they expanded the facilities to accommodate a training academy and began recruiting young men and women to teach them the lucrative art of espionage.

ARSI was still growing, funding itself with private security and defense contracts. Lip, Mark, and Kel took on endless missions themselves to keep the money pouring in while they built up a base of impeccably trained agents. Recently they had finally gained enough momentum to focus on research and intelligence.

They’d be ready to start looking for more Talents to bring in soon. None of them much liked the idea of building an army, or dealing with unknown Talents. But it didn’t seem like they had a choice. It was only a matter of time before ARSI landed on KGA’s radar.

So far they’d stayed out of that brutal organization’s grasp. But there was no knowing how strong KGA would get. Whether they liked it or not, a war was guaranteed.

They were taking the telepath seriously, to say the least.

“Do we know anything about Wilhelm Strauss?” Mark asked.

“Just that he’s on the Board of about a dozen Talents who’ve run KGA for years. If this bloke’s taken the wheel for himself, that’s big news.” Lip sighed openly. “Anyone wanna bet it’s good news?”

Mark smiled without humor. “Wouldn’t recognize good news at this point.”

“Been a hell of a couple months,” Lip agreed, and glanced over his shoulder at the house. “Luke and Aki still in there?”

“Yeah.”

They all went quiet. Mark knew they were picturing the same thing: Luke’s frail body, his empty expression, his hollow eyes.

“Luke looks like hell,” Lip murmured, his forehead crinkling with the helpless concern they’d all gotten used to since it had happened. There was a long pause before he added, “He looks worse.”

Kel nodded slightly.

Mark gazed at the concrete with a bleak look. What more was there to say?

He just didn't know what to do. He didn't know what to do anymore.

Apparently Talents went crazy sometimes. Apparently they lost their minds. Apparently there was no stopping it.

That was what had happened to Jen. That was why she'd turned on them. That was why she'd assaulted them six weeks before, mangled Aki’s head, lured Luke away for reasons unknown and ripped his mind out at the root.

It was also probably why, just two weeks before that, Luke’s twin brother David had abruptly ended his own life.

Apparently these were things that could happen.

What were they supposed to do?

The front door swung open, and they all turned. Aki came out of the house with Luke following like a ghost. He paused and put a hand on Luke's shoulder, murmured something in his ear. Then he approached them.

"Hey," Lip said.

"I told Ken to stay here," Aki said, very quietly. The circles under his eyes had grown darker. "Keep an eye on him. And that new guy.”

"Sure." Lip frowned. Mark and Kel were studying Aki, too. The Australian glanced at Luke, then back at Aki, raising his eyebrows. "Everything okay?"

Aki dropped his head and closed his eyes for a moment, then looked up at the sky. "He's not having a good day."

"Why don't I come stay with you?"

The Japanese boy shook his head.

"You sure?"

“It’s fine. He'll take a pill and we'll sleep."

Mark looked past Aki. Luke was standing on the porch, perfectly still, his green eyes blank.

"All right," Lip murmured. "Can I come by in the morning?"

"Aa."

Mark's gaze shifted back to Aki. God, it hurt to look at him. The Japanese Talent had been so strong before she hit him. He'd fought so hard. "Aki," he said.

Aki looked at him, his dark eyes suddenly guarded.

Mark's heart sank. Everything was so complicated. "You sure you're okay?"

Aki's lips quirked slightly, the bleakest smile Mark had ever seen. He didn't answer.

"I'll come by later tonight," Mark said.

Aki shrugged. "Okay. Goodnight."

Mark, Lip, and Kel watched the younger Talents walk down the street toward their own house. There was a long silence.

"I don't know what to do," Lip murmured.

"Maybe the telepath can help," Mark said. Before Aki and Luke had come out, he'd felt only dull hopelessness. Now he just wanted to change this. He'd do anything to change it.

"Maybe."

Kel picked up his helmet. "I'll handle the research tonight."

"Thanks, mate." Lip was still frowning after the troubled Talents, now out of sight. "I’ll be in touch. I got a bad feelin'."

Mark groaned faintly. Even Kel sighed and shook his head. Lip’s deductions weren’t always precise, but his hunches were never wrong. "Hate it when you fuckin' say that," Mark said.

"Sorry."

They all scattered, Lip and Kel on their bikes, and Mark on foot, headed for the house he shared with Dylan.

Two months ago, Mark had been in Luke and Aki’s house when Luke shouted for him. Upstairs in the bedroom, Aki had gone into some sort of seizure. His nose was bleeding, which was rarely a good sign for them. It meant things were straining or snapping in the mind. Shields, usually.

But this time it was worse. Aki had a handful of Luke's hair as they carried him to the bed, and he managed to choke out four words: It’s Jen, and Hide Ken.

Mark wished he could forget the screams that followed. But also the silence that came next, when Aki fell into a coma.

They called Sky, the only psychic they had, but when he tested Aki's shields he jumped back like he'd been burned. And that was how he described it. It was burned out in there, charred and smoking.

The senselessness of it was staggering. Mark didn’t know what she would want with Ken, or why she would have to hurt Aki. Jen’s unruly psychic Talent had been twisting her mind for a long time. This went beyond any chance of redemption.

And if there was more where this came from, they could all very well be fucked.

It wasn’t clear how Luke figured out what she wanted. Lip guessed he had spoken to her psychically, or used Aki as a conduit somehow.

Luke only said goodbye to Ken. Slipped into his bedroom with a parting gift. At the time Ken was still covered from head to toe in gnarled and pitted scars. Luke used his healing Talent to smooth them out. Didn’t completely erase them, for whatever reason, but diminished them enough that Ken could walk through the world as inconspicuously as he wanted.

Then he left.

A fucking note on the kitchen counter explained:

She’ll settle for me. I’m going. Don’t follow.

Please take care of Aki.

I hope everyone will be all right.

-Luke

Mark wished he could forget that, too.

The question remained: Why?

What did she want? A hostage? A lover? A whipping boy? A pet? What?

They couldn’t track her down. Her Talent was godlike compared to theirs.

The muscles shrank from Aki’s bones. Fuck, it was sick. The helplessness was agonizing. All they could do was watch him fall apart.

But they learned not to question Aki’s chances of recovery in front of Ken. He scarcely spoke to them, but he didn’t have to: one seething glance from those mismatched eyes could silence anyone. Until then the kid had kept to himself like a shadow in the corner, but now he was glued to Aki’s bedside. At any hour they could find him with his arms crossed on the mattress and his head bowed close to Aki’s, whispering unknown things.

Maybe that was what did it.

Aki did wake up.

And a few days later, Luke came back. Just walked through the front door and sat down on the first chair he saw. In a flat, empty voice, he told them where to find Jen. He’d killed her, he said. Then he fell quiet. And that was that.

Luke’s eyes were dead. It wasn’t exhaustion. It wasn’t trauma.

It was an abyss.

Now it was almost midnight, and Dylan was in bed. He slept on his side, his dark, wild hair tumbling over his forehead, eyelashes fanned out over his sharp cheekbones. Even in sleep, his brow was furrowed.

Hard to comprehend what grief could do to a person. Hard to believe that Luke’s older brother was known for his ability to light up a room with a grin.

Hard to believe how fast things could change. Between David’s suicide, Dylan’s traumatic grief, and Luke’s—whatever this was, all three O’Reilly brothers had been taken down in a matter of weeks.

Dylan stirred when Mark slipped into bed behind him. Mark curled an arm around his waist, kissing his shoulder. There was no response.

After a long hesitation, Mark said, “Lip has a bad feeling.”

Dylan’s only reply was a slight shake of his head.

“Dylan.” Mark pressed his forehead to the nape of his neck. Grief had a horrible hold on the Irishman; Mark dreaded the day Dylan woke up and realized the cost of his detachment. “Go see Luke and Aki. I’m asking you. Okay?”

Dylan didn’t answer.

Mark sighed against his back. It didn’t seem like Dylan could even feel him anymore. It was deeply troubling. He wished he knew what to do. But he never did. He never had.

4. Sky Doesn’t Listen

Sky ignored Aki’s advice not to bring Jin up with Ken. Not because he didn’t respect Aki’s opinion. But because Aki just didn’t understand.

None of them did. And Sky wasn’t going to wait for them to come around.

There was no way to speak to Ken in Lip’s house. The Australian turned into a guard dog, always trying to stand between them, like he thought Sky meant to bother Ken. Like he thought Sky meant for things to get so heated and confusing every time. Like Sky wanted anything but to be there for his brother. His brother!

Ken ignored his first two calls, but around one in the morning, he finally picked up. He didn’t even say anything when he did. Ken was still weird about things like that, phones and greetings and conversations. Being this fresh out of lifelong isolation, he hadn’t gotten the hang of anything yet.

“Hey,” Sky said, trying not to sound nervous. Younger brother or not, Ken was intimidating. “Sorry if I woke you up.”

“Were you sorry the first two times?” Ken’s voice was deep for someone of his stature, and he had a way of speaking that gave each word an iron weight. At least, he did when he talked to Sky. Or it felt that way.

“Yeah,” Sky answered awkwardly. “I just need to tell you something.”

Silence.

“About that guy. Jin.”

Silence.

Sky cleared his throat. “It’s just that I know him. From Japan. And I just want to tell you not to go near him.”

Silence.

“Okay? I don’t know if you talked to him earlier, or—”

Three quick beeps. Ken had already ended the call.

Sky tossed the phone aside, sweeping a hand through his hair.

Why wouldn’t anyone listen to him?

He had a very bad feeling about Ken and Jin. He wasn’t sure why, but thinking of the two of them at the same time made him prickle with anxiety. It made his stomach turn. It made him sick.

It made him want a fix so bad his veins ached.

He'd been clean for three months, since he'd arrived in Paris and found his little brother living in a house with a bunch of people like them. Ken still didn't want anything to do with him. There wasn't much Sky could see to do about it except keep trying, and in the meantime, break out of the habit that had held him captive for so long. No more heroin for him.

Not that Ken seemed to notice. Sky could only hope he cared. And he knew it wasn’t enough, yet, but what would ever be enough?

Ken was little when they were separated. Sky wasn’t much older when he alone was bought out of that brothel in Romania, whisked away by Tetsuo Iida, a prominent Osaka gangster. He remembered that in those early years there had always seemed to be a connection between his feelings and those of the small, pale, black-haired boy, but he was too young to contemplate it, and he lost track of it when he was transported far away to Japan.

Iida doted upon Sky obsessively, rarely letting him out of sight. Sky slept with him, bathed with him, and learned to cater to his desires. The man was known for his eccentric decadence and his taste for art and antiques. Sky was eleven when Iida introduced him to his most beloved pastime: opium, smoked from ornate antique pipes.

That was the start of forgetting.

When Sky was thirteen, Tetsuo died of a stroke. His brother and sergeant Takuya took over his estate and affairs, happily adopting Sky and replacing opium with heroin.

Takuya was a more ruthless criminal than his brother had been, and soon found new uses for his underage concubine. Sky was regularly sent out to reward the man’s favorite associates and allies, and occasionally to murder his rivals.

Sky’s charms kept him safe among these dangerous men. His physical beauty was unparalleled. His drug habit kept him loyal. Most importantly, his empathy allowed him to read and influence the feelings of those around him. Sky honed this Talent to keep them happy. They rewarded him with affection and a steady supply of heroin.

Growing up in this haze of drugs, sex, and luxury, he almost never thought of the world he’d left behind. Even so, sometimes he had nightmares so horrific, so real, that he woke up shaking uncontrollably, groping for the needle.

Maybe, deep down, he had always sensed the dreams were more than dreams. But it wasn’t until he was fifteen that he knew for sure.

One afternoon as he was draped across Takuya’s silk sheets while the man was out on business, a blast of emotion broke through his drugged bliss and flooded his senses with pain and fear. It felt like something was stabbing him in the eye, tearing, gouging, and his head rang with wordless pleas for help.

All at once, he knew—even as he lurched out of bed, stumbling for the bathroom—he knew that the line between himself and his brother had never disappeared.

Crumpled on the floor, clutching his eye, Sky felt the other boy’s desperation reaching over land and sea, gripping him like a vice. Calling him, begging him for help. And as the vision returned to his eye and the pain faded to a persistent throb, Sky became overwhelmed by shock and guilt.

Almost instinctively he tried to call back to the other boy, to comfort him and tell him help was coming. He even started thinking about a plan. Surely he could convince Takuya to take him to Romania. He could convince anyone to do anything. Takuya would probably love it. He'd feel like a hero, and so would Sky. And maybe the boy could live with them.

If so, then Sky would have a little brother. The thought made his heart swell up like a balloon. But as he thought all this out, Sky's eye kept hurting. So he took another hit.

He wasn't sure how long it was before he thought about the other boy again. Time was so hard to hold onto. The days, the weeks, the months, they just kept slipping by.

Each time he remembered, he reached across that link with a fresh surge of desperation. But somehow, each time, things slipped out of reach again.

Years floated by. They just floated by.

It was all very confusing.

5. Ken Just Wants a Snack

Ken opened the door of his room at Lip’s and peered cautiously outside, listening closely. The house was almost silent, but he could hear Lip’s voice on the back porch downstairs. The Australian was talking to someone on the phone.

Sidling out of the room, Ken walked silently down the hall and descended the stairs. He knew they’d put the telepath to sleep in the other guest room. Hopefully he’d stay asleep. Ken just wanted the leftover pizza he’d seen in the refrigerator earlier in the day.

It was still there. Ken pulled a slice from the box, closed the refrigerator, and leaned back against the counter to eat it by the light of a small bulb over the stove. Chewing the first bite, he grimaced in disappointment. The crust was tough and all the sauce had soaked in. It was nothing like the cold slice of pepperoni pizza he’d enjoyed a few days before. He ate it anyway.

He hoped Aki was okay. Luke had looked weird. And everyone seemed tense. Even Sky was somehow more aggravating than usual. Ken frowned thinking about it.

Things had been okay between him and Sky for the past couple of months, probably because there were so many disasters to deal with and the blond was actually trying to be useful for once. Ken should have known better than to think the peacetime would last.

Why did Sky keep trying to tell him what to do? Ken couldn’t wrap his head around it. Just because they had the same parents, Sky thought they were supposed to act like brothers did on TV. Well, it was probably because of the link between their heads, as well. They’d always been able to sense each other’s feelings, whether Ken liked it or not. He did not. But he was stuck with it until he could figure out how to get rid of the connection.

Maybe he wouldn’t hate it so much if it had ever done anything useful. But it hadn’t. Even though Ken had used it to call Sky for help, for years. And years. But whatever.

It wasn’t Sky’s job to save him. But it was notable that he only gave up his silk sheets and gangster drugs after Ken got himself out of Hell, hitchhiked across three countries with a bunch of body parts missing, and tracked down the Talents in Paris. Then Sky came to find him. Ken had only been in Paris for a couple of months at that point, and he was just starting to become a human being. After a lifetime in a dark cage he still had some catching up to do, but he was figuring it out. It didn’t hurt to be surrounded by new luxuries like beds, showers, and food. Finally, he’d made it out of the dungeon, and things were looking up.

And then Sky showed up. What a joke.

Ken finished his slice of pizza and considered it for a moment before he opened the fridge and pulled out another.

The first time he saw Sky he couldn’t believe it. Not only his beauty, which was so perfect it made Ken think of things like roses and diamonds, but the expectations he arrived with. This tall, pretty stranger tried to hug him.

The audacity of it turned Ken into a ball of rage. How could Sky say “brother” with those pleading, hopeful eyes, like he wasn’t the one who’d taunted Ken with heroic daydreams while enjoying a life of silk sheets and expensive drugs? And how could he act so wounded when Ken didn’t embrace his arrival? Why did he think Ken owed him anything?

Ken quickly decided to ignore Sky unless absolutely necessary. But the blond hadn’t given up. Ken could feel the neediness wafting off of him all the time, and he could expect Sky, at every possible opportunity, to try and snare him into a meeting or conversation. That was one perk, at least. Interacting with the stupid shit did motivate Ken to develop his verbal skills, just to eviscerate Sky’s pathetic pretenses and his pleas for family bonding.

What an idiot. Calling him on the phone tonight. Stay away from Jin? What was he talking about? Ken stayed away from everyone.

He frowned at the pizza and wondered if he could figure out how to order another one to be delivered. It didn’t seem complicated.

The back door opened, and Lip’s quiet footsteps crossed the living room. A moment later he appeared in the archway of the kitchen and blinked in surprise. “Jesus, mate. You’re like a fuckin’ ninja.”

Ken smiled slightly.

Lip noticed the pizza and grimaced. “You’re okay with that? Mark picked it up.”

“It’s not very good.”

“No. Mark has awful taste in food.”

Ken frowned. Bad taste in food? This puzzled him. It seemed easy enough to recognize what was delicious and what wasn’t. So many things were delicious.

“Are you still hungry?”

Ken shrugged. “I just thought this would be good.”

“Well, now you know better.” Lip opened the freezer, releasing a cloud of steam into the warm, dim kitchen, and pulled out a flat box that he slid across the counter toward Ken. “Here. Pepperoni. Instructions on the back.”

Ken picked up the box, intrigued. “Thanks.”

“No worries.” Lip’s phone lit up in his hand and he lifted it to wave at Ken. “Back to work. I’ll be around.”

Ken nodded and turned immediately back to the pizza. Once he got it in the oven, he leaned against the counter and watched the frozen disc turn toasty and melted. The world was still bewildering, yeah, but he was starting to feel like he was getting the hang of things.

6. Aki Keeps at It

Aki sat slumped in an armchair, staring into nothing. Crouched on the floor before him was Luke. Luke had just finished healing the damage he’d done to Aki’s body. But for some reason Aki still couldn't move.

He’d known it was going to be a bad night. Even if he hadn’t known, he would have seen it in Lip’s eyes, and Mark’s, and Kel’s. And if he were completely honest, he’d seen this exact thing coming. Her poison coming out. Luke turning violent.

Luke was staring at him now, studying him with that strange new mechanical look in his eyes. The old Luke would soothe him now. He'd say something. Old Luke would hold him. Old Luke’s eyes would be full of quiet tenderness.

The old Luke wasn’t there. But there were moments when Luke remembered who he was supposed to be, or saw the shadow of who he'd been, who she'd ripped out of him. Moments like this, when he spoke up and his voice wavered with uncertainty. “I hurt you.”

"It's okay." Aki leaned forward immediately, framed Luke's skeletal face in his hands. Why wouldn't he eat? "But Luke, you can't do that. You can't hurt people." He closed his eyes briefly. It was all wrong. Luke would never hurt anyone. Never. And yet he had. And it could have been anyone. It could have been Ken.

Before Luke left and surrendered to Jen, he had doted on Ken. Luke loved Ken. But after he came back from Jen, it was like he barely recognized the kid. Aki sometimes wondered if he’d somehow managed to cut Ken out of his head, protectively, before he went to her. It wouldn’t surprise him. Luke rarely acknowledged his psychic Talents, but he was always capable of more than he let on.

Anyway, it didn’t matter. Luke had all but forgotten Ken, and sometimes that made Aki more nervous than anything. Not just because it meant one less reason for Luke to want to live, but because the darkness she had left in him was frightening, and Aki was gutted to realize he didn’t trust Luke anymore.

Aki dropped his head, kneading Luke's bony shoulders. His chest was tight.

"I'm sorry." Luke's voice was vacant, but there were echoes of him in it.

Aki clung to them.

"It's okay." Aki looked at him again. "If it happens again, I'm calling one of the others. I don't want to, but I'm not strong enough now to fight you."

For a second, dismay flickered in Luke's eyes and he looked almost like himself.

Aki pulled Luke up into his arms, kissing his cheek and holding him close. "It's okay. It's fine. Don't worry."

Luke was silent. But doom radiated from him like the scent of sickness.

If only David were here. Aki stroked Luke’s dark, limp hair, eyes shut tightly. Luke hadn’t even begun to recover from his twin’s death when all of this started. As if he ever would have recovered…

Aki guessed Jen must have taken him weak link because he was only twenty-four, a mere physical Talent, and inexperienced with psychics. She didn’t know that he always trained his mind like he trained his body. A lifetime of meditation had served him well. When he first learned about Talents and psychics and shields, he didn’t hesitate to expand his combat skills to the mental realm.

When his mind wasn’t the open library she’d been counting on, she burned it down and left him for dead.

Why? Would they ever know? She was dead now, as far as a Talent of her strength could be declared dead. Her cold, still, corpse, untouched by decay, lay in a high-security tomb at ARSI.

Luke was still alive. His eyes were still open. He still spoke. But what she’d done to him…

“Aki.”

Aki pulled back to look at Luke. He got thinner every day, and his large green eyes now seemed too big for his face. Aki caressed his cheek, wondering if he’d eat today, if he’d drink some juice, if the life would ever come back into his eyes.

Luke stared back at him silently. He did that often now, said Aki’s name and nothing else. As if it was the only thought he could put into words. But this time he managed to get back to full sentences. “It’s bad that I hurt you.”

“She did this.” Aki said, summoning the strength to speak in a firm voice. “She messed us up. But we’re still alive. We’ll get better. We just have to keep fighting.”

“I’m tired.”

“I’m tired, too, but we can’t give up.”

“I can’t control anything.” That dead calm look was returning to Luke’s eyes. “Can’t feel anything.”

“Luke.” Aki gripped his hands. “We can’t give up.”

“I can’t tell the difference.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Aki’s voice firmed up with all the resolve he could summon. “You’re going to eat today. You’re going to rest. I’m going to call Sky. He said he’d try again.”

Luke nodded slowly, his expression unchanged.


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