He held his arms away from his body and scrunched his face up in a way that made me want to gather him into my arms. That would only make it worse, though.
I couldn’t look at him anymore, so I pressed my palms against my eyes and wished I’d paid closer attention to Callum’s healing time. Ten minutes? Twenty?
I squeezed my eyes shut, but when I pushed the image of Callum’s pain-filled face out of my head all I saw was the drug den.
“Stay really still.”
I took in a sharp breath as the memory came crashing down, as clear as if it had just happened.
“Don’t look at her.”
It was my mom speaking, her putrid breath caressing my face as she whispered in my ear and locked her arm around my tummy so tight it hurt.
I didn’t listen to her. I had looked up, past the other humans huddled in fear around the den, to the face of the Reboot in the center of the room.
She saw me staring, her light green eyes shining in the darkness.
“One-thirteen.” She spoke to the other Reboot and he turned. She pointed at me.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s a kid.”
“So she shouldn’t be here, should she? Look at this place.”
“That’s none of our concern. We’re just here to get the assignment.”
“Seventy-one,” he interrupted sharply.
She closed her mouth, turning to look at me sadly as she left. I’d stared even after she was gone, wishing I could follow her.
My mom must have noticed, because she pushed me off her lap, her face angry and disgusted.
My heart beat strangely from the memory, the faces of my parents flooding my mind. My mom had been blond, like me, although her hair was darker from the dirt and grease. My dad had big bushy eyebrows that were constantly knitted together in sadness or deep thought.
I clenched my hands against my helmet, willing the images out. I hated it here. I didn’t want to remember these things. I didn’t want to go to Austin. The pain that hit my chest was so intense that for a moment I thought someone had shot me.
Callum’s voice jolted me out of my thoughts and I looked up to see his adorable worried face.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
His skin hadn’t healed everywhere yet; I could see wounds closing and turning pink in front of my eyes. But he looked so much better that I was struck by a wild urge to throw my arms around his neck.
“Yes. Are you?”
Callum turned and pressed his body against mine, placing his palms flat against the wall behind me. I mashed myself into the brick, taken aback by his sudden closeness.
“How did you do it?” he asked, eyes twinkling as he smiled at me. “How did you get Leb to help?”
“I went on a solo mission with Leb, and I captured this human who said they were helping Reboots escape. Sending them to some Reboot reservation. I made a deal.”
“Something about his daughter?”
“I had to promise to go rescue her. She’s a Reboot in Austin.” My words came out strained, breathless. I couldn’t speak right with his body so close to mine.
“What is this Reboot reservation? Reboots are really just living there? Free?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it, to be honest.”
“So we get Adina, meet these humans, and then go to this reservation?”
“Where are we going to go if it’s not there?”
“I don’t know,” I said, the panic gripping my chest again. “I didn’t think about it. I was just . . .” I stopped, hoping I wouldn’t have to finish the sentence. But he only raised his eyebrows in question. “I didn’t want you to die.”
He slipped his hands over my cheeks and tilted my face up so I had no choice but to stare into his dark eyes. I’d thought he couldn’t get any closer, but he leaned in and my body folded into his. His chest rose and fell against mine and I let my hands rest on it.
I blinked, not expecting gratitude. Not sure if I deserved it. I didn’t know what to say in response, but he wasn’t looking at me like he expected one.
He had to give his helmet a little shove and dip his head down to kiss me, but I didn’t believe he was actually going to do it until I felt his lips gently press against mine. My body jolted in surprise and I felt him smile against my lips.
And I was totally gone.
My toes needed no urging this time. I rose up on them as far as I could go and wrapped my arms around his neck. He dropped his hands to my waist and hugged me against his body.
It wasn’t how I had thought it would be. Kissing had sort of puzzled me. As a human I had thought it seemed dangerous—an easy way to spread germs. As a Reboot it had confused me. I wasn’t entirely sure why people liked doing it.
Now I was only confused as to why a person would want to kiss anyone but Callum.
When he lifted his head from mine I almost pulled it back down again, but he smiled and I didn’t want to miss that.
“I told you you liked me.”
I laughed and utter delight danced across his face, like he hadn’t been sure that statement was true.
He stepped away and pulled what was left of his shirt over his head. He unhooked his helmet, carefully placed it on the ground, and studied his pants, which were more like shorts with a few strands of fabric. I could see his black underwear poking through. He plopped onto the ground and I slid down the wall next to him. My brain wanted to continue running but my legs were limp and wobbly suddenly.
“That really hurts, by the way,” he said, holding his arm out to look at his new skin. “Have you ever been burned?”
“Not like that,” I said quietly, my voice shaking.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, scooting closer to me. “Were you worried about me?”
I crossed my arms over my chest and mock frowned at him in response, which made him smile wider. He reached for me and I felt a blush cross my face.
“Callum, you’re in your underwear.”
“I have pants on. Sort of.” He reached for me again, his eyebrows furrowing when he took one of my hands in his. “You’re cold. Come here.”
“Aren’t you cold?” I asked as he pulled me into his lap and I wrapped my arms around his bare shoulders.
“No. It’s not cold.”
I thought he was going to kiss me, but instead he leaned forward and buried his head in my neck, his lips gently pressing against a spot that made my stomach do a happy dance.