While Liam polled his network of informants for information on Lyndria, Allen found himself curled up on an easy chair in the high school teacher’s condo. The small living space wasn’t meant for entertaining—Liam avoided people. With the three of them gathered there, the space was well beyond occupied. Donald was theoretically crashing on the couch, though Allen had yet to see the man sleep, which left Allen the floor space. He was more than happy with that, and would probably end up falling asleep on the chair anyway. If he slept at all. The day’s events kept racing through his mind. He tried to focus on the plans Liam and Donald were discussing, but every time he blinked he could feel the soul-crushing darkness of Freakazoid’s mental attacks.
He felt suffocated. The room was too small, there were too many people in an apartment meant for one, and why did his shirt collar suddenly seem so tight? He pulled at the cotton, but that just made it worse. Iron claws couldn’t scratch his skin, but somehow the simple material felt like the roughest sandpaper.
He couldn’t breathe here. It was too hot. He pushed himself off the chair, floating because he trusted his flight to bear him better than his legs. “I need to get some air,” he muttered. If the two men tried to stop him, he didn’t notice.
The door clicked softly behind him as he stepped out onto the blue-carpeted hallway that smelled of cleaner and middle-aged living. He didn’t remember making his way to the rooftops, and he could not honestly say if he’d climbed the stairs or opened a window and flew. One way or the other, he found himself pacing the gravel by an ancient air conditioner in its death throes, phone in hand.
His heart thudded faster at the sound of Tracy’s voice, though it was somehow a more comforting, natural rhythm. “Hey.” He wondered if he could fully communicate the scope of his relief into the single syllable.
“Hey yourself. How are things in Montreal?”
“Oh. You know.” I almost died today.
I almost died. How in the world am I supposed to tell her that?
“Well not really, silly, that’s why I asked.” He could hear her smile. “How’s the hunt? Find anything yet?”
“Not yet. Been kind of an interesting experience, meeting all kinds of different people and stuff.”
“Man, you must be hating your life right now.” She laughed.
“Well, there are worst things.” Like having a freaky psionic metacriminal making scrambled eggs out of your brains.
“I suppose. Well, it’s good to know my little hero boy is surviving his first solo mission.”
“Yeah, about that. I think I accidentally teamed up with Mitch’s dad. Him and this weird old guy who were apparently looking out for Lindsay too.”
“Wow, small world.”
Allen nodded in agreement. “Yeah,” he blurted, after realizing that she couldn’t see his head movement. The silence fell. Allen felt like he could hear the stars screaming at him from the night sky.
“Allen? Are you okay?”
“Huh?” No. “Why?”
“I dunno, I just…I’d say you seem quiet, but that’s normal behavior for you. I just have this feeling that something’s up.”
Allen breathed into the phone. “I, ah…” No secrets, Allen. You promised. “I almost died today.” He put his hand to his forehead and his back to the dying air conditioner. “Oh God…” He slid to the ground, neither his flight nor his strength enough to hold him up anymore. “I almost died today.”
“I’d ask you how you’re feeling about that, but I think the answer’s self-evident. Allen, do you need to come home?”
Allen took a breath and looked up at the sky. The moon was waning; it had been full a week ago. He closed his eyes and imagined Tracy’s arms around him, the scent of her hair embracing him. “No.” His hands shook, and he felt a tear itch down the side of his face. He took a deep, determined breath. “Tracy, if I come home now, I’m not going to be able to come back out here again. I have to find Lindsay. I have to. I made a promise to Marcus, and I’m going to keep it.”
“Allen…you know I’m proud of you?”
Tears pooled in his eyes now, cooled by the breeze that stirred. Despite himself, he smiled.
“You’ve taken on this task that’s so completely out of your element in ways I only know of because I’ve been your best friend for forever. And despite the difficulty, despite all the dangers and the fear you’re feeling right now, you’re not giving up. I can’t even tell you how enormously proud of you that makes me. Now, I can’t actually be there, so you’re going to have to imagine me hugging you. Will that be enough?”
He nodded again.
“Did you just nod?” she asked.
He laughed, his voice shaking a little. “How’d you know?”
“Knowing you is my super power. I’m sending you hugs in my mind, so hopefully that’ll be enough to tide you over for now. I’ll give you, like, a million when you get home. Deal?”
“So…do you want to talk about it? You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“To be honest, not really. I want to hear your voice right now. How are things back home?”
“Oh! I had an interview yesterday with the people from Mapleview Long Term Care Facility. I think I might be able to get a job there this summer.”
“Tracy, that’s amazing!”
“I know! I mean, it’s not my preferred demographic. I’ve always wanted to work with teenagers. But this is going to look great on a resume, and I talked to some of the residents there, and they seem like really nice people.” She laughed. “This one old guy asked my name, so I gave it and asked him his, and he took my hand and said, ‘I’m your knight in shining armor. You can hate me, break me, shake me, but baby, you cannot forsake me.’ And then he kissed me hand. It was adorable.”
Allen laughed. “Do I have a challenger for your affections?”
“Oh, I think you can take him. He’s a frail man. Blink too hard in his direction and he’ll fall over.”
“I’ll be really careful with my eyelids if I ever meet him then.”
“Your eyelids are very powerful, sweetheart.”
Allen laughed out loud at that one. By the time he stopped laughing, his heart felt lighter. Pushing off into the sky, he sat cross-legged, leaning his elbows on his knees. He smiled.
“You’re smiling now, aren’t you?”
That made him grin wider. “You know I love you, Tracy?”
“Yeah. I love you too.”
“I kinda want to kiss you right now.”
“Me too. Guess I’ll have to pack a few of those in with the hugs, huh?”
“Guess so. Oh God, what time is it? Man, I totally called you in the middle of the night, didn’t I?”
“Allen, relax, it’s okay. I was up with a good book anyway.”
“Aw man, now I feel really bad for interrupting you.”
“Don’t be silly.” She yawned. “I should sleep anyway. You sure you’re feeling better, though? Because I will literally stay up all night if you need me to.”
“No, it’s fine.” He smiled. “I am feeling better. Much better. Hey, Tracy?”
“Anytime, sweetheart. I mean that. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night.”
“Not just that. For saying yes.”
“I’m glad I did, Allen. I love you. So very much.”
“And I love you. Now get some sleep.”