The difference wasn’t noticeable right away. It took me a couple minutes to realize I was moving faster, ducking and blocking at the same time. The spell from earlier was broken and I was fighting, defending, moving in a way I only did when in the field.
When I saw his left arm coming at me I had only half raised my hand to block it before he grabbed my wrist and I felt his right hook smash across my cheek.
The punch was harder than I had expected. My knees hit the mat and I quickly wiped a hand across my nose, hoping he hadn’t noticed the blood.
He had his back to me, his hands laced behind his head, his elbows folded forward across his face.
“Callum,” I said. He didn’t move. “That was really good.”
He lowered his arms to cross them over his chest and turned to me. I had thought maybe he was crying, but his eyes looked clear. Clear, sad, angry.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
“Don’t apologize,” I said as I stood up. “I made you do it.”
“Still feels wrong not to apologize,” he mumbled, staring at his feet.
“Come on. I’ll escort you back to your quarters so they don’t give you any trouble.”
He trudged behind me, ignoring every glance I shot back at him. I had a sudden wild impulse to ask if he was mad at me.
The answer was yes, no matter what came out of his mouth. I shouldn’t care, anyway. My newbies were often mad at me. Hard not to be mad at someone who spent most of her time pummeling you. But it was strange to have one upset about hitting me.
“Training,” I said as we passed the guard in front of the boys’ quarters. He nodded slightly.
Callum stopped in front of a room and I took a quick glance inside. It looked exactly like mine, except for the boy sleeping in one of the beds.
“Good night,” I said. My voice shook a little. Why did it do that? My chest felt heavy, like I was . . . sad. I didn’t know what to think of that. Anger, fear, nervousness I could deal with. But sad?
I didn’t think much of sad.
Callum’s eyes were finally on mine. Then his arms were around me as well, tugging me closer than I’d ever been to him. His fingers lightly brushed the skin he’d just punched and the weight lifted from my chest. He left a trail of fireworks down my cheek and neck and into my hair and my eyes closed before I could stop them.
“Don’t make me punch you anymore, okay?” he whispered.
I nodded, opening my eyes. “You have to punch other people, though.”
When he laughed his chest moved against mine and I wanted nothing more than to kiss him.
I couldn’t kiss him. What would the guard do? What would Callum do? Maybe he didn’t even want a One-seventy-eight pressing her cold, dead lips to his.
“Deal,” he said, leaning his head down so our foreheads almost touched.
Maybe he did.
But my toes wouldn’t listen to me. They had to be first, those ten traitor toes. First to lift me from my sad little height to reach those lips.
They wouldn’t move. He released me and I tucked a piece of hair behind my ear, not sure what else to do.
“See you in the morning,” I mumbled, turning to go.
“Hey, I was better, right?” he asked.
You’re fine the way you are.
I pushed the thought away, because he wasn’t. He was dead if he wasn’t better.
“Yes. You were better.”
Although I still wasn’t sure it was good enough.
I STOLE A GLANCE AT EVER AS I PULLED A SWEATER OVER MY undershirt. She looked more normal today. Balanced, calm, as she tied her shoes.
I didn’t think she slept last night. She was awake when I returned to the room and perched on the edge of her bed when I woke up. She’d been in the same position, staring at the wall, when I returned from my run with Callum.
“Are you ready?” I asked, edging toward the door. She was scaring me. Her eyes were hard and icy and I half expected her to leap up and tear my throat out.
She stood slowly, letting out a little sigh as our eyes met.
Then she stepped forward and hugged me.
I stiffened, waiting for the catch, the real reason for the hug, but she just clung tighter.
I slowly wrapped my arms around her back, gently pressing my hands against the soft cotton of her shirt. She was warm—not Callum-warm, but certainly warmer than me, although her body shook with the intensity of someone who was freezing.
She pulled away and took a deep breath, attempting a smile through the tears that had formed in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
I heard the crack first. I hit the ground before I realized she’d slammed her foot into my knee, breaking the kneecap.
“Ever, wh—” I pressed my lips together to stop a scream as she grabbed my ankle and broke the other leg with one horrific twist.
I shoved the pain away, relegated it to a part of my brain I didn’t acknowledge. It tickled at me, refusing to be completely ignored, but I was a master at numbing my body.
Ever sent an apologetic look my way as she ran out the door. She was herself. Why would she do that if she were herself?
I gripped the edge of the mattress and struggled to my feet. A grunt escaped my mouth as fresh agony ripped through my legs and I had to cling to the edge of the bed to stay upright.
My head spun to the door to see the Reboots who’d been walking past freeze in mid-step at the sound.
Silence was never good here.
I let go of the bed and promptly crashed to the floor, my broken legs not able to support my weight. I dug my fingers against the cold tile and crawled into the hallway, whipping my head one way and then the other.
The guard at the end of the hall was dead—sprawled out on the floor, a bullet through his head. His gun holster was empty.
“Who did that?” I gasped, even though I knew the answer.
The young Reboot standing a few feet away looked down at me sadly. “Ever.”
I grasped her hand and she jumped, eyes wide with fear, as I used her as support to heave myself to my feet. My bones were beginning to heal, but I still wobbled.
I opened my mouth to ask if she would help me walk when another gunshot sounded. She jerked her hand from mine and sprinted in the opposite direction.
The wall didn’t have much to hold on to so I leaned against it, dragging myself down the hallway. Reboots flew past me, everyone else headed away from the shots. More rang out as I threw open the door to the stairwell. I could walk faster with a solid grip on the railing, and I hobbled down the stairs as quickly as I could.