By West Thornhill
Sera shivered. She peeked around a corner while Berke hid his face against her back. She was still trying to figure out if the man who had walked past them was the same one she’d seen arguing with Loic. Luckily, the marmaro had kept them hidden until he and several others had rushed by. She had a bad feeling they hadn’t been there just to see Jiro.
But she couldn’t let her thoughts go there. Sera was more than aware of what Jiro and his friends had done to Kaz. All she wanted now was to get out of the ruthenium palace. But they had to wait for the signal before they could go back and spring Keenan and Quinn from their cells. Then they would go after Kaz. All she could do was hope everything went according to plan.
Satisfied there was no one nearby, she turned back to Berke. “We’re okay right now. All we have to do is wait.”
“Wh…wha…what’s the sign supposed to be?” Berke’s teeth were chattering, but he was shaking hard enough to generate heat.
She wrapped her arms around him. “Trust me. You’ll know it when…”
Berke squeaked, wrapping his arms tightly around Sera’s waist when the building shook. She knew he wasn’t going to let go anytime soon. She pulled out the marmaro and concentrated on the cell area. The feeling of being sucked into a vacuum was disorienting at first, but it was a lot easier than travelling secretly via a blind. Too many people would have known about this mission. And that was the last thing any of them wanted.
She opened her eyes and smiled at Keenan. “Hey.” Tapping Berke on the shoulder, she said, “You can let go now. There aren’t any guards. It’s time for you to put your anti-ruthenium skills to work.”
He took a deep breath, slowly unwrapped his arms, and stepped back. He met Sera’s gaze. “Let’s hope my lock picking skills aren’t rusty.”
Sera kept an eye toward the door while Berke opened Keenan’s cell and then Quinn’s. As soon as they were all gathered at the door, they waited for one last signal. A shrill, ear-splitting whistle rent the air.
Wincing, she glanced back. “Let’s go get Kaz. Then we have to get to the clearing.”
But that wasn’t going to be as easy as she hoped once they reached Kaz’s cell. He was drugged to the gills and wouldn’t let any of them touch him. Sera wanted to cry when she’d seen Kaz curled in a ball in the center of the small bed. He was even more frail than the last time she’d seen him. She also knew they didn’t have time to waste trying to do this gently.
“Be ready to pick him up,” she said softly to Quinn. She walked up behind Kaz and hit him with the marmaro, knocking him out. “I’m sorry,” she leaned close and whispered.
Once Quinn had Kaz in his arms and the others huddled close, she started concentrating on the marmaro and where they needed to go. Voices coming closer almost sent her into a panic, but just before the men came around the corner, the marmaro sucked them to the clearing.
“It’s about time you got here. We need to go before reinforcements show up.”
Sera closed her eyes, opened to the Balance and her Bond with Keenan, and quickly got them all off Argent Island.
* * *
They stumbled onto Kane’s patio. Keenan caught Sera as her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed. He looked around. Quinn was sitting on the ground curled around Kaz who was still unconscious. Jute ran inside the house followed closely by Berke. Kane, Loic, and the rest of the group all looked like they had just run a combat marathon. A few of them were bent over gasping for air. One had his arm around his middle like he’d either broken it or his ribs. The woman, Peitho, just looked pissed. Her lip was puffy and there was the beginning of a whopper of a black eye.
The sound of voices and footsteps jerked Keenan’s attention toward the open wall of windows. He grimaced at the look of shock, fear, and a tiny bit of anger on the faces of their parents. Ric loomed in his vision and reached out a shaking hand to Sera.
“She’s,” Keenan coughed, “she’s okay. Overextended herself.”
“What the hell were you thinking?” Ric’s voice was soft, but filled with a myriad of emotions.
“They were thinking about saving Kaz and Quinn.”
Keenan looked up to see Kane kneeling beside them. He had a feeling the divide between Kane and Ric had just widened.
“Oh bright Annos.”
Wincing, Keenan turned his head to see Claire and Izumi huddled around Kaz and Quinn. A firm, but gentle hand gripped Keenan’s shoulder. He looked up and felt his eyes well up when he met his dad’s gaze.
Gannon nodded. “Might not approve of how you did this, but I’m glad you brought your brother home.”
“Vans are coming from the medical center. I’ve informed the doctors of Kazuki’s situation.” Loic announced right before they heard the sound of brakes screeching to a halt and door slamming.
After that, it all became a blur. Keenan refused to let Sera go. Well, the Bond refused to let them be separated. He had watched Quinn reluctantly place Kaz on a stretcher. But now that they were all in the medical center it had been non-stop activity.
Kaz had woken up screaming and had attacked anyone who’d gotten too close until they’d been able to sedate him. Then about fifteen minutes later, Kaz had somehow sliced open his arms from wrist to elbow. Luckily, a nurse had walked in the room right after he’d done it and they were able to keep him from bleeding out. It had been touch and go until about an hour before dawn.
The Bond finally allowed Keenan to tuck Sera into one of the beds. She was sleeping peacefully and the doctor had assured Ric she was fine, but exhausted. Keenan was standing in the door of her room when a murmur drifted down the hall. He looked up and saw Suya disappear into Kaz’s room. Raiden was standing with his arms around Hemp and Alchemy. Keenan wasn’t sure how he’d done it, but he was glad Raiden had convinced Suya to come.
He was about to duck back into Sera’s room when he heard another commotion.
“Where’s Suya? All he left me was cryptic message about Kaz and Quinn and Annodox Island. What the hell is going on?”
Suya poked his head out of Kaz’s room. “Darci.”
Keenan watched her run to Suya who pulled her into the room and closed the door. Keenan shook his head. He didn’t know how much longer he would be able to stay awake. He turned and stared at his Angel. She looked so beautiful and all he wanted to do was crawl into bed beside her.
He jumped. “Quinn.”
He watched Quinn try to smile. It was like his muscles were on strike and he grimaced instead. “Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Q. You’re my brother and when Sera’s dreams and Al’s art showed us where you were, we had to get you back.” The tears he’d been holding back slowly trickled down his cheeks.
“Love you, bro.” Quinn whispered as he wrapped his arms around Keenan.
* * *
Sera opened her eyes. She was staring into a clear blue sky. The scents of fresh cut grass and honeysuckle filled the air. Turning her head, she met an amber gaze.
“What’s going on? Where are we?” She felt like she was floating and her body didn’t want cooperate. Then it hit her. The lethargy she was feeling wasn’t hers. It was Kaz’s. Something must have happened for them to sedate him so heavily. Sera forced her body to roll over until she was laying on her side. That’s when she saw the white bandages covering both of his arms. “Oh, Kaz, what did you do?”
He sighed. “I’m dirty. Shouldn’t be Thirteen. Bond broken.” His voice was slurred and tears trickled down his cheeks.
Sera shifted until she could wrap her arms around Kaz. “No, Kaz. You aren’t dirty. What happened wasn’t your fault. Jiro did that to you.”
“But I let him. I didn’t fight hard enough.” His whole body shook. “They said Quinn left. That he didn’t want me anymore because I let them…”
The heartbroken sobs coming from Kaz felt like a punch in the gut. She knew there was nothing she could say at this moment that would help. So, she did the next best thing. She held him until he drifted off to a real sleep. She didn’t have long until she was back in her body, but she made sure to leave a way for Kaz to find her.
Slow blinks gradually brought Sera to semi-wakefulness. She took a deep breath and smiled, cuddling close to Keenan and closing her eyes again. The faint sounds of machines beeping, soft but hurried footsteps, and mingled voices combined with the fresh, sharp scent of antiseptic told her she was in the hospital. So, they must have been successful. All she could do was hope no one had gotten hurt.
She wanted to go back to sleep, but her mind kicked in and wouldn’t let her. She sighed and hoped she could move without waking Keenan. She eased herself out from under his arm, watching as he rolled over onto his side. She gently brushed his bangs out of his eyes before sliding out of the bed. At least she wasn’t trussed to an IV or anything and she desperately wanted a bath.
Stretching felt amazing once she was on her feet. Glancing around the room, she saw her Trillium Angel backpack. She would have to thank Kane for making sure she had clean clothes. She quietly made her way to the bathroom. Yes, she would feel human again after a hot shower.
When she walked out, she jumped. Sitting in the chair where her bag had been was Loic. He held a finger up to his lips and gestured for her to follow him.
Once they were in the small waiting area at the end of the hall, Loic nodded. “Good. They’re all still away. This place has been a mad house. I’m also pretty happy I did a good job of choosing clothes for you.”
“You packed the bag? Why?” Sera felt her brow furrow. Confused didn’t even touch on how she was feeling. She watched Loic nod and look everywhere but at her. “Loic, what’s going on?”
He sighed. “Yes, I made sure you would have clean clothes. Why? Because Ric and Kane were staging a Gaea war of their own and I didn’t want you to have to wait on either of them to get their heads out of their asses. Plus, Alchemy is exhausted and I didn’t want to bother her. I’m still not sure how Jute convinced her to leave and get some sleep.” Loic flopped down on a chair, running his fingers through his hair.
“Thank you.” Sera sat beside him and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. “So, what did you want to talk about that we couldn’t do in the room? Well, besides the fact that Kee is asleep.”
“There are people who don’t want me to ask you to do this, but I have a way to help Kazuki as well as bring down Nakano Jiro. And it’s all dependent on if someone with a strong ability to help people in their dreams can help me convince Kazuki to do it.” Loic stared down the hall as if he were waiting for someone to come running and tell her not to listen to him.
Sera had spent a lot of her dreamtime with Kaz and had gotten him to a somewhat less caustic place. But she was also aware she would have to do it all again if someone said the wrong thing to him. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and turned to Loic.
“I’ll help. And I know somehow this has to do with your Black Ops team and I won’t say a word to anyone. Not even Kee.” She winced. Yeah, that was not going to be easy.
Loic turned and met Sera’s gaze. “This isn’t going to be easy and it might cause problems between you and Keenan.”
“I know. I also know that right now I’m one of a select few Kaz actually trusts. So, I’m in.” All she could do now was hope Keenan would understand when she was able to explain.