Dylan helped Lina back down from the hood of the car they’d been standing on. People were still quiet, still processing what he’d said.
So was she. She looked at Dylan, trying to figure out what it was that she wanted to say.
Woah didn’t seem to encompass it. When the hell did you become a public speaker? didn’t seem to really do it either.
“I uh. I have to take classes in this sort of thing,” he muttered. “Even if I’m not going to be the next, uh, you know. The next leader of the Organization, well, I have to be able to run something. So I – I know how to do it, and you needed it.” He coughed. “I think the city needs it – oh, hello.”
Nina didn’t recognize the skinny guy standing in front of them, but she knew him. She was sure, if she looked, her mark would be on his neck.
“I uh. You said, if I needed a place to stay…?”
“Yeah, here. Look, I hate to be an ass, but first, I need your promise you’ll be right here at twelve fifteen and help us with the next wave. Can you give me your word on that?”
Lina wanted to tell him not to be the ass he was saying he didn’t want to be, but — but he had a point.
The kid shifted a couple times. “Yeah. Yeah I. I promise, I can do that. I — I give me your word. But you’re really serious? About a place to stay?”
Dylan seemed to soften, which was good, because Lina might have punched him otherwise. “Yeah, I was. Come on – hi, I’m Dylan. This is the woman who saved your life and is going to do so again tomorrow. Come on, we’ll get you a room. Anyone else?” He raised his voice up just a bit; three other people wandered over. One of them looked pretty well-off, another looked a bit like a hobo, and the third was the prostitute.
“All right, this way. Come on. Now, look, please don’t run up damage charges, or I’ll never be able to do this again, but if all you do is, you know, watch some weird shit on tv and order – I don’t think the Motel 8 has room service, to be honest, but go ahead and order if if you can. Then we’re fine.”
“You’re for real.” The prostitute looked at Dylan. “You’re just going to get us four rooms?”
“Well, technically, I guess, my dad is, but don’t tell him that. The agreement is, though, you have to give me your word you’ll be here tomorrow at 12:15 so we can save the world again. That okay? We all good with that?”
“My house is gone,” said the woman who looked pretty well off. “I – It was smashed.”
“Shit.” Lina winced. “Shit, that sucks, I’m sorry. You – I don’t need your -“
“I’m not smashed. Because you stopped it. Yeah, I’ll be here tomorrow at 12:15.” She hugged herself. “I don’t have anywhere else to be anyway.”
Lina was swaying again. Dylan looked at her and then back at Jackson. “How about you get settled and we’ll go back up the hill once I get these people their rooms, okay?” He patted her shoulder. “Maybe get some more food, too?”
Lina sat down on the back of a truck. She closed her eyes, just for a moment.
It seemed that a moment was all it took.
“Easy, you’re going to knock something over!”
“I’m being easy, you’re the one shouting – shit. you woke her up.”
Lina was sitting – on a pile of lumpy things? And moving up a steep hill at a ragged pace. She opened her eyes.
She was definitely in the shopping cart, and she was definitely being pushed uphill. Nearly to the campground, from the looks of things. “Guys…”
“Almost there,” Ethan grunted from behind her. She shifted carefully; he was pushing the cart with her and their slightly-depleted groceries in it. “Do we have a story or are we just going to bull through and pretend we meant to do it?”
“I think we’re going to have to bull through.” She turned to look at Jackson, who handed her a protein bar.
“You three should be doing the eating,” she complained. “You pushed this whole thing – and me! – all the way up that hill, after – after! -“
“We’ve been eating the whole way up. Please, eat. You’re going to need it.”
She couldn’t argue with the look on his face, so she ate the bar. Only when she was done – and Dylan had swapped off for Ethan pushing the cart – did she think about the fact that they were still pushing her up the hill.
“I can get down. Guys. I can walk.”
“When we get to the park entrance,” Jackson offered, although somehow it almost sounded like an order. “Really, Lina, you can use other people’s energy, but you’re going to end up spending the most of your own no matter what. No matter how many people we add,” he tacked on, but the way he said it made it sound like he was referencing a discussion she hadn’t been part of, maybe with Dylan or Ethan or both. “And I know we can call in a bunch, but the more we call in, the more people are going to be linked to you – I’m going to spend some time today looking to see if there’s something more like a temporary link or the sort of thing that would let you release a connection. So you could take power but then, well, not have them bound to you in aeternum.”
“I know basic Latin,” she muttered. “Dressing it up doesn’t make it less ‘forever.'”
“Still. That’s the goal, to have a way to get you more power without it being forever.”
They’d come to the gate of the park. Dylan stopped the cart and Ethan and Jackson helped Lina down. She wanted to protest that she didn’t need the help, but the way her legs were wobbling suggested otherwise.
“All right.” Dylan hrrmed. “Me and Ethan behind, Lina in the front with Jackson directly to her right hand, just a fraction behind her. If we’re bulling through, Lina, walk in like you’re a conquering hero. Or in this case, their savior, who happens to be very aware that you are.”
“You’re good at this,” she muttered.
“Yeah. Like I said. Places, everyone.”