Holy hell, my head! And my back. And my entire flipping body, which I think was hit by a semi, and the semi is still on top of me…. I can’t move a damn thing. Or maybe I’m paralyzed. Why the hell won’t my ears stop ringing? I crack my eyes open, afraid of where I’m going to find myself. A dark sky, speckled with stars, stares back at me. How anticlimactic. But it doesn’t make sense. How did I end up outside, on my back, unable to move? I chance wiggling my limbs, finding that I’m not paralyzed.
I’m pinned down.
I look to one side, gasping at the sharp pain zinging through the back of my head, but push it aside—there are bigger issues here. Looking the other direction, I bite back a scream.
There’s a head sitting close enough that our noses touch.
A whimper escapes me, despite my efforts. I’m not paralyzed. Not pinned to the ground by a semi, but by a body. Everything that happened flies back, hurting my head in a totally different way. The database, him on his knees with a gun pressed to his temple, me running to his rescue like an idiot, someone shooting a freaking grenade launcher at the database, and then him launching himself at me… to rescue me from the explosion. I stare at his closed eyes, waiting for a puff of breath to blow on my face.
Is he dead?
He can’t be dead!
No no no no!
“Cadmar?” I squeak, wishing my voice were stronger. “Don’t be dead! Cadmar, please wake up! Please!”
He doesn’t respond. Doesn’t make a stinking sound. Another whimper escapes me when I try wiggling out from under him. Little pebbles lodge into my palms, my head throbs, but I push with all my might.
How much does he weigh? I should be able to move him at least a little.
Gravel crunches somewhere to my left, sounding like more than one set of footsteps. My heart thuds hard enough that it could very well count as mine and Cadmar’s. Play dead. I have to play dead like a possum. If it’s some of the agents, who knows what they’ll do to me? Hopefully they didn’t hear me whimper.
As the steps approach, blood rushes through my ears and I squeeze my eyes shut, even though that won’t make a very convincing dead face. I can’t help it.
“There, right there!” someone exclaims, who sounds a lot like Kay. “That’s them!”
Their pace quickens in our direction. I sigh—probably loud enough for the entire field of bodies to hear—when Kay’s and Rae’s dust-coated faces hover over me. They breathe heavily, staring with wide eyes. I wonder what I must look like.
“Are you okay?” Kadence croaks, gripping her side. Jeez, I completely forgot about her getting shot back in that horror show of a car ride with Scarlet.
“Is that a real question?” I wheeze. I try for a deep breath, but it’s impossible to draw one in. “Any chance you could get him off?”
They give his back a weary expression. Is there a giant hole in it or something?
Rae bends over, seemingly to get closer to me, but she presses her fingers to his neck. Could he actually be dead? That can’t be! He can’t die because of me. For me.
She sighs before her gaze shifts to mine. “We may make his condition worse if we move him before treating him.”
I freaking wish I could see whatever they’re seeing, but I can’t, which may be for the best. Against my nature, I hold my tongue to keep from asking what’s wrong with him. I don’t want to know how bad it really is.
Their faces disappear and whispering ensues, prompting an eye roll from me. I want to be frustrated, want to throw a fit for them to remove the boulder crushing me, but exhaustion has won out. For once in my life, I would rather close my eyes and sleep than argue with a grown-up. I must be growing up.
I wait… and wait, until their grim faces finally reappear, the stars sparkling behind their heads in an odd jubilation.
“We’ll try lifting him a little, so you have enough room to wiggle out,” Rae states, her tone glum.
All I can do is nod, my breathing too labored to get words out. They each take a shoulder and lift, Kay’s face contorting in pain. The second I have enough room, I shove against the gravel, scraping my hands, until I’m clear of Cadmar’s body. Once I’m out and in a sitting position about to gulp air, I can’t breathe at all. A jagged piece of metal the length of a baseball bat protruding from Cadmar’s back, a sheen of blood surrounding the hole on his leather jacket.
“What do we do?” I demand, keeping my gaze on his back.
“Are you injured?” Rae steals my attention with an annoying hand on my shoulder. I glare at it.
“I’m fine.” I meet her gaze. “I mean, what do we do for Cadmar? Shouldn’t we pull it out or something?” I glance between the two, and they share a look.
“It could kill him,” Kay answers.
“Couldn’t leaving it kill him?’ My voice goes up an octave. “We can’t just leave it!”
“You need to lower your voice,” Rae reprimands all mom-like, making my nostrils flare. She may be my real mom, but she can’t boss me, not after fourteen years of abandonment. “We don’t know if all the agents are dead, and I’m certain whoever shot the grenade launcher is still alive. We need to keep a low profile.”
“A low profile?” My mouth hangs open. The sarcastic tone couldn’t be helped. “We’re the only ones moving in the middle of an open war zone, which makes my point. We should get the metal out and get a move on.”
I move to Cadmar’s side, ignoring their protests and the sharp pain in my head. Wrapping my hands around the jagged metal as carefully as possible, I tug gently, stopping dead when his body jerks and he gasps. I’m frozen in place while he groans, coughs, groans some more. He should be dead, no doubt about it, but he isn’t, and I couldn’t be happier. I could never live with his death on my hands.
After too many minutes, he presses his hands to the ground. Rae rushes forward, getting in his face. “Cadmar, you need to lie still,” she urges, but he gives her a confused look.
The metal protruding from his back doesn’t faze him when he sits up to his knees. “Reiley” is all he says before his gaze rests on me. A sigh of relief escapes him but swiftly breaks off, turning into a howl of pain. “What the…?” He touches the metal.
“I tried to tell you,” Rae says with raised eyebrows, making him glare.
“How bad is it?” he demands through gritted teeth.
“I can’t tell. I haven’t examined it.” Rae shrugs. “If we’re going to fix it up, we need to get you back to the car.”
“We don’t have time for that,” he bites out, then looks around at the scattered bodies and the gaping hole in the building. “We can finish this right now. Don’t think they won’t send more after us.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Rae asks, crossing her arms over her chest.
An undercurrent of desperate concern is hidden by the contempt in her tone, making the crossed arms appear more as a shield than anything else. The thought that she may still be in pain because he ended up with Scarlet all those years ago makes my head hurt. This woman, my real mom, with Cadmar. I can only picture it because she would give him a good run for his money.
He stares at her, taking short gasps of breath. Then his gaze turns to Kay and me, the little muscle in his jaw twitching.
“Pull it out,” he says, looking back at Rae with pleading eyes.
When the hell does Cadmar ever plead with someone?
The bump on my head must be causing hallucinations.
With only a tight nod, Rae moves around his back, then cuts his jacket from top to bottom with a wicked sharp knife she pulled from her boot.
“I loved this jacket,” Cadmar grouches, making me snort.
His eyes light up when they meet mine, but only for the split second before Rae tugs the coat off from around the metal. Hands on his knees, he hangs his head. Kay moves around to his back to watch what Rae is doing, and I do the same, staying on my knees. She hands me one of the scraps of his coat. “When I pull it out, you press that to the wound as hard as you can.”
How terrified I am has to make me a giant sissy, but I can’t keep my hands from shaking when I take the material from her. Rae asks Cadmar if he’s ready and he nods, bracing his hands on the ground. She wraps one hand around the metal and places the other on his back before pulling the metal out in one swift move.
He doesn’t yell out, as I expected, but growls deep in his chest, clenching his eyes shut. I’m frozen in place while blood gushes out. The sight has the image of Kay slumped in the front seat of the car, blood pouring from her gunshot wound, clouding my mind.
Rae shouts something at me. The world sways when my eyes rest on the bloody metal that had to be embedded at least three inches in Cadmar’s back. I gag. And gag. Then vomit right next to Cadmar. It won’t stop coming up; I can’t catch my breath.
How did I ever think I could do this for a living? I hungered for it, but now I can’t stand it, can’t stand that it’s what my life is. Hands grip my shoulders as I welcome the glorious oblivion that consumes me.