“Lina. Lina.” A hand waved in front of her face. “Catalina?”
She blinked. Jackson had a hand on her back and a hand in front of her face. Her hands — her hands were on Dylan and Ethan’s necks. And down in the gorge, the whole place was glowing blue.
“What—” She stared. “Did—”
“You got everyone safe. Separated. And down on the ground. Might have gotten a couple broken arms while you figured it out, but a broken bone is a lot better than — well, than what was happening.”
“I don’t have that sort of power!”
“Well, two things. One, you’ve been hiding it, and you got a chance to really let it out tonight – so that’s going to spread it to its full potential. Two, you don’t have to have all that power, because we all do.”
“We?” Lina felt like she was missing some really big things here, but all she could do was blink and parrot Jackson’s words back at him. “We all do?”
He ducked his head. “I’m not yours, the way they are.” His gesture was clear — taking in Dylan and Ethan, still — holy shit, still kneeling there in front of him. “But I kind of slipped in under the radar and let you — got you to — mark me while you were spouting with power.” He touched his forehead.
Which — that wasn’t just the back-wash glow from the gorge. He was glowing. Her thumbprint, or some stylized glyph of it, was shining on his forehead.
“…I…?” She looked down at the two people kneeling in front of her. They, too, were shining. The backs of their necks were shining with a line of blue light. Like a necklace.
I’m not yours, the way they are.
“First things first. First, I noticed at least five people whose lives you definitely saved. You’re not — well, I don’t think you should mark them right now, but you should make sure they know. And second — I think if you pull back from Dylan and Ethan now, you can hold the shield if it’s not actively fighting against anything, and if I’m wrong, now is the time to find out. It’ll be easier for us to go down there if you’re not tangled up in them.”
“They are — not the sort I’d imagine myself tangled up in,” Lina joked. It was a nice shield, holding the reality of everything away. Because she was definitely tangled up in this now, her shield-light spilling out over them like some sort of blanket. Her fingerprint on Jackson’s forehead.
“Mmm, me, neither, but you use the tools at your disposal.”
“Right here, you know.” Ethan’s voice was strained, like he was carrying a huge weight while talking and not just her hand on his neck and a light blue glow.
Pull back from them. She focused on the hand on Dylan’s neck and carefully, like she was dismissing a shield — but not too much like that, she added in her mind, because she only wanted to pull back from this — this new thing? “Jackson,” she asked slowly — she thought her hands might fall off or her mind might break otherwise — “what am I pulling back from?”
“Their power. Their, uh, life force? Energy.”
“What?” She yanked her hand back from Dylan’s neck. He grunted and tumbled forward, barely catching himself as he threw one arm forward.
“Easy, easy. Not quite that rough, maybe?” Jackson patted her back cautiously; she tried to pull away without moving her hand off of Ethan’s neck. Yet. That had looked like it hurt Dylan. But — she glared at Jackson —
“I don’t want to drain their life force!”
“You’re not. Dylan, you okay, man?”
“Mmmf. Ow.” He pulled himself back up into a kneeling position. “Pretty good, except that cut-off. How do you seriously know none of this? Didn’t your father-“
“No.” She cut him off. “Didn’t know, neither did my mother, nobody knows, except, well, now they do.” She huffed. “Stupid secret societies keeping secrets. Jackson. Life force. Am I turning this guy into a, like, husk?”
“Still sitting right here,” Ethan muttered. “Do I look like a husk or something?”
“You look fine,” Dylan assured him.
“No. You’re not turning him into a husk any more than you’re turning yourself into one using magic. We’re all gonna want some carbs afterwards, that’s all. Look.” Jackson patted her shoulders; this time, Lina looked at him. He looked sincere. He looked marked. He looked glowy and worried. “Look, all you’re doing is using their magic instead of them using it.”
“I don’t have magic,” Dylan muttered, sulking. “And this -” He trailed off, sighing. “Anyway.”
“Seriously.” Jackson shook his head. “Lina, I get, considering the way her parents are, but don’t you two ever crack a book? You might not have an application, but you’re a person. You have power. All people do,” he added, as if the first part wasn’t explanatory enough.
“That’s—” Dylan sputtered. “I know what’s going on, you know. I know how things work. But I don’t-“
“Everyone has magic,” Jackson repeated. “It’s part of existing.”
“So.” Lina looked down at her fingers, still on Ethan’s neck. “So I’m not stealing their lives. Your lives.”
“I feel fine,” Ethan offered, “if anyone’s asking. I mean, still sitting right here.”
She focused on her fingers and slowly pulled away from him. This time, she managed to do it without sending him sprawling. She could feel the way that the power stretched and pulled, but there was still a trickle of something making her fingers on that hand tingle. She reached down to the shields — they were still holding.
“Okay.” Jackson looked down over the cliff. “Can you set people down as far from each other as possible? We don’t have a lot of room to work with — what the hell were they thinking, getting people worked up in an enclosed area?”
“Probably that rich people didn’t riot,” Lina muttered. “Okay. Okay.” She shifted her shields this way and that until they were all touching the ground.
“And now… now, how about we go down there?” He offered her a hand. “This is going to be hard. But I think you ought to do it. The more you claim what you can do, the better you can do it. Okay?”
Claim it. Lina looked at his hand. “You want me to — you —” she gestured at Dylan and Ethan as if that explained everything. Well, they were glowing. That really ought to explain something.
“Yes.” He sounded so somber, so intent, that it was almost like he was a different person.
A person she’d met a day ago, she reminded herself. It wasn’t like she knew him well yet.
“The older people here,” he gestured outwards, “they ought to know what it means. I mean, even these guys knew—”
“Hey.” Dylan glared weakly. “Of course I knew. It’s a basic tenet of the Organization. And she might not—” He shook his head and amended himself hurriedly. “ — she might not know what’s going on, but she’s part of the Organization. She’s here,” he added, as if that explained everything.
Maybe all it explained was she has power over me now.
“And yet I don’t belong here,” Lina murmured, unable to stop herself.
“I was a shit, okay?” He couldn’t look at her. “Look, your father — your mother — you’re part of the Organization, whether you want to be or not. That’s just – well, it’s how it is, okay? You’re here. You have power. And now you have us.” His lips curled a little bit, definitely not a smile. “For what that’s worth. But worst-case scenario, you use us, you save more lives, you get more powerful people.”
“…it works that way?” She stared at them for a moment, but, before they could formulate an answer, any of them, even Jackson, Lina nodded sharply. Her father. His business contacts. The way they built on each other… “Of course it works that way. All right.” She wiggled her fingers. “What do I- what do I do with this? With this power, with this – with this power over other people?”
“Well,” Dylan muttered, “I mean, you could probably take over the Organization. Maybe not uh. Like today? But you probably could do it. Although you’d probably have to save some more lives for that.”
“Not that hard to put people in a situation where you can save their life.” Ethan stood slowly, like he wasn’t sure he was supposed to, and cracked his neck. “I mean, come on, that’s basic.”
“No.” Lina glared at them. “I am not becoming the Organization’s version of the mob, some one-woman protection racket.”
“Not just one-woman,” Dylan countered. “You’ve got us now.”
“Guys, if she said no, I’m pretty sure she meant no.” Jackson looked between them. “Let’s go catch those other people before they forget that Lina saved their lives, shall we?”Want more?