They walked away from Mr. Lee, from the remaining people that seemed more confused than anything else. She didn’t know if it was a victory, but it was – well, it was a clear path at the moment.
“So.” Jackson cleared his throat. “So, something of an adviser role puts us in a position where we aren’t immediately submissive to Lina – sorry, guys-”
“She saved our lives.” Dylan shrugged jerkily. “It’s a price to pay, that’s all.”
She noticed he didn’t say small price but then again, it wasn’t.
“-but we can still offer her power when she needs it.”
“You seem quite well-informed on this matter.” Mrs. Thompson didn’t look upset, but Lina couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that she did look.
“I, um, I always thought that it sounded kind of neat,” Jackson admitted. “The whole setup, being somebody’s right hand man, their adviser. I always wanted to be brains behind the throne. And then here was Lina, and nobody had told her anything about any of this, and she, she was using this amazing power…” He trailed off, looking a little uncomfortable.
Lina found herself laughing. “Okay, okay, that may be the nerdiest, most adorable reason for saving the world, or at least a wedge-shaped portion of the city, that I have ever heard.”
“You’ve heard a lot of reasons for saving wedge-shaped portions of cities?” Ethan was looking at her as if she’d said something particularly weird.
For once, Lina was entirely in her element. “You’re not the only one who knows that you shouldn’t hire a grand vizier, or why we don’t want a chancellor, or if a wizened old man or old lady tells you something, you should listen. Although we haven’t run into any of them yet,” she added, her brow furrowing as she considered that.
Even with the people they’d just encountered, the Organization still appeared to be short on elderly people. Sure, there were people her parents’ ages, a lot of them, and some a little older but nobody that was wizened.
Did people just not live to be old, or did they just not age? With magic, she supposed either could be possible.
That was going to have to be a question for another day, she figured. She looked back at Jackson, who had mostly managed to get his blush under control by that point. That was a little adorable as well, but she didn’t think it was the time to bring it up. “So, you always thought this bonding thing was kind of cool, and then there I was, doing the thing with the riot, and you…”
“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “I pretty much slipped in when you – well, I figured you might need the extra power?”
“Dude.” Dylan rolled his eyes. “You like her, we got it. It’s cute. But maybe save it till we save the world?”
“I don’t like her! I mean, I mean… shit. Sorry, Mrs. Thompson. I mean-”
Lina patted his shoulder. She had no idea what he actually meant or how she felt about it, but she didn’t have the room in her mind to handle it either way – to be sad he didn’t “like her” or to be relieved or confused or anything. “Later,” she told him. Everything was going to be later.
They walked on – the path was clear now that Mr. Lee had cleared the way, and it stayed clear. It was beginning to actually feel real.
They really were going to make it out of the park, which meant they really were going to make it to the grocery store, which meant they were going to try to stop another wave of whatever it was the power plant was doing.
Lina tried to tell herself that, after all, she’d done it last time with no preparation, with no idea what she was doing, and with Jackson more or less throwing people at her who had no idea what they were doing.
This time, at the very least, she’d done it once before.
It didn’t feel like that, though. It felt like she was going to go climb Everest when she’d climbed a little hill before. It felt like – like everyone was going to be watching her. Last night, they’d been a little punch drunk, a little hyper, and there hadn’t been anyone from the Organization there except two guys she hadn’t even wanted to be near the day before and someone who seemed more than willing to forgive her foibles, if only because it seems that he wanted to be her knight in shining armor.
She’d never actually had anyone want to be her knight in shining armor before. Lina figured, if they survived the next couple days, it might be something to talk about. Right now, though – right now, she was too busy freaking out.
“I was going to look up math,” she realized abruptly. “I was going to look up calculus and physics. I was going to research how to make the shape of a shield work exactly right so that the power wave – you were going to tell me about what it was, too – didn’t crash back and hit anybody on the way back. I didn’t get it right yesterday.” She chewed on her lip.
“I was going to look up more about bonds.” When she looked over at Jackson, he seemed guilty. “I was going to look up how to do this without leaving you connected to thousands and thousands of people.”
“I was going to look up a way to to dismantle the bonds afterward,” he continued.
“Instead,” Lina sighed, “instead we slept.”
“Oh come on.” Ethan glared at them. “Seriously? You are seriously beating yourself up for sleeping? For real? There at the grocery store, you ended up using more power than you had ever used in your life – don’t tell me I’m wrong on that one – you pulled on more power that you had ever channeled, until you passed out, then went and bonded more people, and you’re worried about sleeping? And you.” He jabbed his pointer finger at Jackson’s chest. “You organized the whole damn thing, worked with Dylan to organize all of those people afterward, talked to the police – I don’t like to do that, and the police in my neighborhood are in my my dad’s pocket – it’s not like you didn’t use a whole shitload of power too, I mean – I mean, the four of us there, we stopped a riot and you’re worried about sleeping? Don’t be stupid. Stop being stupid.”Want more?