Ten years old and Jaime Ortega had finally said the last wrong thing. And Rae exploded.
One final, “Hey, owl,” and she spun and lunged at him, screaming in rage and frustration and pain, fingers hooking for his eyes, face contorted into a mask of fury. Around her, kids stopped laughing. Her scream would give them nightmares for years.
She didn’t know how to fight, so she bulled into him headfirst, and they crashed to the asphalt together, kicking and gouging and howling, Jaime in pain and Rae in the savage voice of the monster in the woods, of failure, of vengeance denied.
She rolled up to sit on his belly and pounded his face until she felt his nose crunch under her throbbing knuckles. She filled his eyes with blood and tears and sobbing and she was crying too. And suddenly her fists were brown and her eyes were sky-blue, and for a moment her ST END charm flew past her eyes and it was Sam’s BE FRI and she was someone else and it was so much better than being herself—
And the teachers grabbed her by her arms and hauled her off, kicking and wailing, wretched and furious and thirsty for more. How dare they deny her? She wasn’t Rae anymore—she was misery and terror, and she was revenge, and she would finish this if she had to tear their throats out with her teeth—
And then she saw two green eyes and the wave of a black-tipped tail beyond the schoolyard fence. And she relaxed, silent except for the sniffles. She would suck her cracked knuckles for the rest of the day, and Jaime’s nose would never be straight again, and she would never say she was sorry. But she would be silent, because out in the dust and darkness, someone understood.
Ten years old and he wasn’t supposed to be here. He crouched on a warehouse rafter, invisible in the clothes he’d so carefully stained with mud and rooftop grime. Jude would ground him forever if he knew. If they both lived.
Right now Jude was strapped to a table below, unmoving, probably unconscious. It made Trevor’s skin crawl. He didn’t even like to see his mentor sleeping—it was too much like seeing his parents in their caskets. He’d wake Jude up at three a.m. sometimes, just to see his eyes open.
Dr. Maligno was busy with something at his lab bench, all syringes and beakers and test tubes full of phosphorescent goo. Trevor shivered as he watched. He felt nauseous, waiting up here like this. He didn’t like the look of the bubbles in those beakers. Didn’t like Jude not moving. Didn’t like having to choose between saving someone he loved and keeping his nights as a shadowy sidekick secret from his teacher.
Then Maligno turned around, needle in hand, and Trevor was more scared of that than of being grounded. He dropped out of the darkness with a yell, and one sneakered foot glanced off Maligno’s shoulder, and the little mad doctor stumbled into a wall of beakers with a crunch of glass, a hiss of something caustic, and a bellow of pain.
And as Trevor landed in a crouch beside him, Jude stirred and opened his eyes to see his adopted son sawing at his restraints with a shard of glass. Their eyes met, and he took in the bare-faced boy he’d tried to keep at home, and for once he had nothing to say about homework or proper sleep habits.
As Dr. Maligno struggled, shrieking, to his feet, Jude pulled himself free of his restraints and smiled at Trevor as suddenly as lightning on a summer night and said, “We’d better get you a mask.”