SOMETIMES SAM Riley found it hard to tell where his nightmares ended and the new day began.
As the room around him brightened, the residual terror of his disturbed dreams echoed through his mind. And mixed in was the surge and pulse of other forces, other dreads: a lonely young girl’s confusion, an adolescent boy’s perpetual anxiety, the dull ache of an unhealed wound, and soul-deep grief, buried but festering.
He couldn’t always tell whether the sensations were fresh or age-old, whether they came from inside the house or were being projected from miles away. Sometimes he couldn’t even tell if he was the one manifesting the raging energies that battered his senses.
The one thing that was certain was the insidious voice that visited him nightly and the horrible message it carried. Sam could feel it now, creeping around the edges of his awakening mind—a drumbeat of menace and bone-chilling threat.
He moaned as he fought toward consciousness, trying to separate night terrors from reality, desperate to escape the words that were being relentlessly pounded into his brain. His eyes fluttered open, but a blinding headache forced them shut again, though closed eyes couldn’t prevent the warring energies that lit him up from the inside out. His muscles stiffened, and his back arched as all the forces inside his head coalesced.
And then Sam felt a gentle weight settle over his heart. The winged tattoo on his chest warmed and calm flooded him, washing away the tension. As his muscles relaxed, he became aware of a hand splayed over his heart, and all the chaos receded until there was nothing left but a deep sense of peace and a soft voice close up against his ear.
“Wake up, Sammy. You’re safe. You’re home.”
He cautiously opened his eyes and turned his head toward the voice like a flower seeking the sun. A wave of profound relief pushed the competing energies out of him, leaving him still and quiet.
“Harry.” The word was little more than a whisper.
Harry smiled and bent to brush a kiss against Sam’s dry lips. When he pulled back, he looked worried.
“Bad dreams again?”
Sam pulled in a shaky breath. “Something like that.”
Harry traced the outline of the tattoo over Sam’s heart, a smaller version of the great black wings that covered his own back, and Sam felt the ink stir under the gentle exploration. “I thought Jonah was working with you on that.”
Sam nodded. “He is.”
Harry inclined his head. “It doesn’t seem to be taking.”
Sam waited until the churning in his stomach settled, and then he rolled onto his side. “We have to give it time, Angel.”
Harry’s mouth quirked at the affectionate nickname, but he sobered quickly. “It’s been over a month. You seem to be getting worse instead of better.”
Sam closed his eyes briefly, afraid Harry would see too much. When he felt more in control, he opened them again, sensing everything Harry was valiantly trying to hide from him. He didn’t want to spook Harry further by telling him it was a waste of effort—Sam could feel every emotion Harry felt, and just as deeply.
“We have to give it time,” he repeated more firmly. He managed a smile, though it did nothing to dispel the lines of worry etched on Harry’s face. “Just having you near keeps the worst of it at bay. You know that, don’t you?”
Harry shrugged and started to withdraw, but Sam reached out and covered Harry’s hand with his own. The tattoo pulsed wildly with their combined force, and Sam smiled, more genuinely this time, as Harry gave a little gasp. His face transformed, a dreamy look replacing the anxiety, and Sam knew that Harry’s own tattoo was throbbing now, his whole back alive with warmth and movement.
Sam tugged Harry closer. “You know I couldn’t do any of this without you,” he whispered. “Let me try to convince you.”
AN HOUR later Sam and Harry walked into the kitchen hand in hand, their composure and balance once again restored.
Their friends, Gabriel Rivera and his younger brother, Alejandro, were sitting at the table, the plates in front of them piled high. Sam’s empty stomach growled in appreciation at the sight of the food spread across the table. He and Harry had spent almost a year on the run after strangers showed up at their hometown, drawn to Oak Hill by rumors of Harry’s ability to fly. During those first tense months, they hadn’t always had the resources to look after themselves, and they had gone hungry more times than Sam cared to remember. It was only when they reached the city and were taken under the wing of Ray and Arlene Drummond that they began to get back on their feet. When Jonah Clayton found them and introduced them to other youngsters with abilities, Sam and Harry had moved into the apartment building they called the Bunker, and they now found themselves surrounded by luxury and abundance.
Gabriel raised his head when they walked in, sending a warm smile their way. Alejandro’s welcoming grin almost split his face in two. Though Sam had restored the mental defenses that helped him manage his housemates’ overpowering energy signatures, he still felt a surge of rock-solid support emanating from the Rivera brothers.
“You sleep okay, Sammy?” Alejandro asked.
His expression was so hopeful that Sam couldn’t bear to disappoint him. “I slept fine, Alex,” he lied. “You?”
Alejandro’s grin faltered before he shrugged and dropped his gaze.
“He had another dream,” Gabriel said.
Sam and Harry exchanged a look.
“Same one?” Harry asked.
Alejandro nodded without raising his head. “You and Harry again.”
“We’re going to work on it with Jonah,” Gabriel said.
Sam knew his confident tone was more for his brother’s sake than to reassure Harry and himself. They were past the point of believing in simplistic solutions.
A burst of kinetic energy swept into the room, moments before Maia Kodama entered. Of all the forces radiating from his teammates, Maia’s was the strongest and one of the most complicated. She had been an implacable enemy once, in the days when Sam was just an ordinary teen, before any of his abilities manifested. But the two of them had grown closer over the past month, a bond forged in adversity and loss.
Though Sam worked hard to shut out the swirling energies of his friends, it was impossible not to sense Maia’s troubled spirit.
He didn’t say the words out loud, but Maia’s head whipped around and she stared at him, her eyes widening.
Sam saw the puzzled looks Harry and Gabriel traded at the seemingly random statement, though Alejandro looked knowing.
“Did you see this?” Sam asked the young boy. Alejandro had the gift of premonition and often knew things before they actually happened.
He nodded, unable to meet Sam’s eyes.
“See what?” Harry’s gaze swiveled between Sam and Alejandro as he asked the question. “See what?” he repeated, when neither of them answered.
“He’s a telepath now,” Alejandro murmured.
“Sam?” Harry’s expression was carefully composed, though Sam sensed a confused jumble of emotion just below the surface. It was difficult to untangle all the strands: curiosity, fear, and something else. Something that felt like frustration.
You can hear me? Harry’s thought was faint, though undeniable.
“It only just happened, Harry.” Sam deliberately chose to speak out loud.
And you didn’t think to tell me first? Harry bit down on his lip, and Sam was suddenly enveloped in a wall of feelings he couldn’t quite interpret, but that made him shiver. He reached for Harry’s hand, flinching when a jolt of electricity passed between them. He was dismayed when Harry dropped his hand and sent, What else have you been hiding from me?
Harry, please! This time the thought was transmitted wordlessly, and Harry was unable to keep the surprise off his face.
“You’re a telepath now? That’s awesome, dude,” Gabriel said, clearly unaware of the sudden chill in the room.
Alejandro, who was usually much more clued in than his brother, stood up. “C’mon, Gabe. I need your help with that thing.”
Gabriel glanced up. “What thing?”
Gabriel frowned, looking totally mystified, until Alejandro jerked his head toward Sam and said a few words in rapid Spanish. Though he didn’t speak the language, Sam had no trouble figuring out the meaning, especially when Gabriel suddenly shot to his feet.
“Right. That thing you need help with. Come on, then, squirt. Let’s go.”
Sam would have laughed out loud at the pantomime, except for the look of irritation on Harry’s face and the anger Maia was only just controlling. After the Rivera brothers all but ran out of the room, Sam wasn’t sure which of his friends to face first. He was glad when Harry saved him from indecision and turned toward Maia.
“What’s up?” he asked.
She waved a hand. “The usual. Jonah’s on my case again.”
Maia’s twin brother, who had been thought to have died years before, had appeared suddenly a little over a month ago, very much alive. What should have been a touching reunion had been tainted by the fact that he was no longer the young man Maia knew. His mind had been virtually destroyed, and he’d ended up a tool in the hands of Caleb Reed, a man bent on exploiting all gifted children.
“What else?” Maia sighed. “He wants me to stop searching. I keep telling him, that’s never gonna happen.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to keep looking?” Harry said doubtfully.
Maia stiffened, and she turned a hard stare on Harry.
Cut him some slack, Maia, Sam pleaded. You know what Ren did to him.
Only weeks ago, Harry had been captured and brutally tortured by Caleb Reed, and Ren had been an accomplice, however unwittingly. Sam didn’t think Maia had forgotten, only that her own loss had momentarily clouded her judgment. When Harry had been rescued, Reed had escaped and taken Ren with him, leaving Maia bereft. Her eyes went blank for a fraction of a second as she sent a terse single word of assent directly to Sam’s mind. Harry glared at Sam, obviously realizing that he and Maia were excluding him by communicating silently.
When Maia left the room, Sam turned, wincing at the shuttered look on Harry’s face.
“When were you going to tell me?” Harry demanded.
“It literally just kicked in,” Sam protested.
“Not just about the telepathy,” Harry said. “About all the rest of it. You think I don’t know how much you’ve been suffering? Tell me what’s happening to you.”
Sam slumped into a chair and hung his head. He didn’t even know where to start. He hadn’t completely mastered the ability to build mental defenses, and his teammates’ every stray thought, every fluctuating emotion, every mood swing, battered his mind like a tidal wave. Worse, he could hear different voices now, feel fresh sensations as other unknown minds reached out to his. And then there was Caleb Reed. Speaking to him directly through his dreams.
He looked up when Harry crouched in front of him. “Don’t shut me out, Sam,” he pleaded. “Let me help you.”
Sam grabbed hold of Harry’s hand and pressed it against his heart, and the winged tattoo pulsed wildly. “You help me all the time, Harry,” he said fervently. “Just by being near me.”
It was a truth Sam was happy to share. Harry’s touch calmed him, slowed his racing heart rate, temporarily muted the other voices. “Without you, I wouldn’t be able to function.”
“You’re barely functioning now,” Harry pointed out.
“I’m doing my best,” Sam exclaimed. “But I can’t keep it together if you’re always pushing me.”
Harry sucked in a startled breath, and Sam immediately felt ashamed. He knew Harry was trying hard to be there for him.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
“Would you tell me if things got too much for you to handle?” Harry asked softly.
Sam paused for a fraction of a second before spilling the lie. “Of course. We share everything, Angel.”
Harry looked skeptical, and Sam wished there were a way he could persuade his friend just how much he was needed. He cocked his head when a louder voice sounded inside his mind.
“I have to go,” he said, reluctantly dropping Harry’s hand.
Harry managed a weak smile. “Tell him to work a bit goddamned harder on those nightmares.” He leaned forward, and Sam cupped a hand behind his head and held the kiss Harry pressed against his lips. He felt a palpable sense of loss when Harry withdrew.
Jonah was perched on the edge of his desk when Sam walked into his office. He raised a questioning eyebrow. “You haven’t told him yet?”
Sam shook his head. “He’d only worry.”
“But he knows about the telepathy?”
Sam no longer questioned how Jonah came to know the things he did. “And you saw how he reacted to that!”
“He’ll find out, Sam. Harry’s a smart kid.”
“I’ll cross that bridge if and when,” Sam said doggedly.
“It happened again last night?”
Sam rubbed his eyes. They felt gritty with lack of sleep. “It’s like Caleb’s getting closer. I can feel him much more strongly.”
“Harry could help—”
“No! I won’t put him in danger again. I’m going to protect him from this as long as I can.”
Jonah held his gaze for a moment. “I just hope you know what you’re doing,” he said at length. “In my experience, it’s never a good idea to lie to the people closest to you.”
“It isn’t a lie—”
“A lie of omission is still a lie,” Jonah cut in.
“Harry has enough to deal with,” Sam said. “I can’t let him carry this too.”
Jonah threw up his hands. “He loves you, Sam. And you’re cutting him out of an important part of your life. I guarantee you it won’t end well.”
Sam could feel his face set into hard lines of resistance. He didn’t know why Jonah kept fighting him on this. He was only protecting Harry—something he’d spent a lifetime doing. And if it meant shielding his closest friend from harm and shouldering the burden for both of them, then that’s exactly what he intended to do.
No matter how much it cost him.