Doc springs to his feet as if the cracked rib is giving him no trouble. “Take me to her! Now!”
Only after he says that do I realize I am warping through the garden with the kinetic energy I still have. I rush into the cabin, to find Bedevil lying in bed. Her lips are blue. First aid training kicks in, and I tap her cheek to see if she’s responsive.
She’s out cold.
I press my hands on her chest and give her thirty compressions. “God damn it, god damn it, BREATHE, PLEASE!” I tilt her head back, lift her chin, and press my mouth to hers so I can breathe into her lungs, twice.
No response. I start to give her another round of compressions.
Bedevil coughs, and puke dribbles out of her mouth.
“Oh, thank fuck!” I pull her to lie on her side, and she drools the vomit out. She breathes in ragged gasps, but still doesn’t wake up.
Doc runs into the cabin, rushes to the bedside, and touches her head. After a second, he recoils from her. “She’s taken some damage to her lungs. Not sure about her brain, or her heart, but we need to be safe.”
“What do we do?” I ask. God, I hope I can do something.
“Go out to my room,” Doc says. “I have some medicine for this. Should be a bottle of aspirin in my bag, that’ll help her with the stroke.”
I sprint out of the cabin, shoot by Epione sitting on the porch, and run to the main building. I rip through the living room, past a shocked Maisa and Saw Off, tear by Echo in the upstairs hallway, and find Doc’s room. I search through his luggage until I find the bottle of aspirin, and then jet back down the stairs.
“Gabe, what is going on?” Echo asks, but I don’t reply.
I rush back to the cabin. Epione sits on the porch, mumbling to herself.
When I get there, Doc is sprawled on the floor, and Bedevil is breathing easy again. Doc convulses and breathes in ragged gulps.
He took her injuries. I mumble, “The aspirin-”
Doc cuts me off, “Knew you wouldn’t let me do that if you were here. Even if it’s her.” He groans.
“Listen, you’re not done.” Doc stares at me, even as tremors wrack his body. “She needs your help. I need you to chill her brain.”
“Doc! What about you?” I ask. “The damage to her lungs and heart-”
“Would’ve killed her, Gabe. I can still survive,” Doc says. “My power gives me a very slight healing factor, so I can tough out wounds more than most while I transfer them.”
I get on my knees and try to help him up, but he swats me away.
“Gabe, go help her, first. She might have damage in her brain. Couldn’t take that.”
I can barely talk. “Fuck.”
“Kid,” Doc grabs my shirt collar.
Tears, shit. My throat tightens so I can’t speak. I still try to lift him up.
“God damn it, Gabe! Help her!” Doc says.
I wipe my nose and crawl over to Bedevil’s side. I place my fingers on her head. “How much?”
“Take her to 97° Fahrenheit, from her whole body,” Doc groans.
I grab the thermometer from the night stand and wiggle it into her lips, and let it stabilize. 101° F. I sap heat from her entire body until the thermometer reads 97°.
“You’ll have to do this for a few hours-” Doc gasps and grabs his chest.
I turn to help him but he snaps his fingers at me.
“I can hold on.” His voice is hoarse, his cough that follows wet and gunky. “Epione!”
The door opens, and Epione runs in. “What do you need?” she asks. Her eyes are red, her cheeks stained, but there is no emotion in her voice.
“Do you have robitussin and a humidifier?” Doc asks.
“No,” Epione says. “We only grabbed the essentials. I’m sorry.”
“We can get that at a CVS. But I need an antibiotic,” Doc says. “I took what could have become an infection in her lungs. Gabe, there’s an unfinished bottle at the apartment.”
“You’re supposed to finish those! And how can I go get that if I have to stay…” I look at Epione and remember what she can do. “Epione, take my power.”
Epione stammers out, “What?”
“You need to keep her chilled while I’m gone. You’ve practiced with my power. I only need to get a bottle.” I stand up, and offer my hand.
“It’s my fault she’s… I wasn’t paying attention.” Epione sighs, reaches her hand out, and places it in mine. “I’m sorry, Gabe.”
She’s practiced with my power, but I still can’t get used to the sensation of losing my ability. One moment, everything around me vibrates with energy, with life, and the next, someone throws a blanket over me so that I can’t feel any of it. The heat and movement of all things goes cold and still in a death-sigh as Epione removes her hand from mine. My thermal sense vanishes.
“Tell me what you need again, Doc,” I say.
“Antibiotics, robitussin, and humidifier,” he says.
I help him up and walk him to the couch. “On it.” I grab my jacket and run out the door.
Outside, on the porch, I find Pawpaw and the five cats waiting. Pawpaw whines, his tail tucked between his legs, and the cats meow in chorus, approaching yowls and angry hisses. I squat down to pet Pawpaw. “I’m not going to let anything happen to her. I promise.” Pawpaw licks my hand, and the cats nuzzle against my legs. “She’ll be okay.”
I step out of the bramble of animals and run to the house. Remise is on the porch, watching me sprint up to her. “Oi, Gabe, what’s going on?”
“Bedevil stopped breathing, but we stabilized her. Doc took her internal injuries, but he needs medicine. Can you take me?” I ask.
Remise nods. “Mils, we need the car!”
A few seconds later and Mil-dot comes out of the house, followed by Lugs. “Why?”
“Medicine for the old man. He just saved Bedevs from choking by taking her injuries, but he needs some shit,” Remise says.
Mil-dot forks her keys over. “You dent it-”
“How the fuck would ye know if we dented it,” Remise says, snatching the keys. “It’s got fookin’ bullet holes in it!”
“That’s not my fault, that’s Saw Off’s,” Mil-dot says.
Remise and I book it toward the car. Without my power, my body feels sluggish, and Remise is so much faster than I am naturally that by the time I make it to the passenger door, she’s already started the car. I guess I didn’t realize how much I use my power to move around.
Remise takes off. “Where we headed?”
“My apartment, first. You can tell me if anyone’s watching for us, and I’ll get the medicine.” I pull out my phone and dial Iso. He picks up in two rings.
“Hey, kid! You’re all over the news, again. Even my bosses want me to write a piece about Gabe, the son of Megajoule.” Iso chuckles over the phone. “Don’t suppose I could get you for an exclusive.”
“If you go to a CVS and get me robitussin and a humidifier, I’ll give you any quote you want,” I say.
“Doc, he’s hurt.”
“You got it,” Iso says. “Anything else?”
I think for a minute. I’m scared out of my mind. Panicked. I don’t even want to think about Doc or Bedevil dying, or worse, both. I feel like I need to will a reality where they both survive into existence. “Remise, what’s a good food for a first date?”
“Is this really the time?” Remise asks, driving us back toward 45.
“I need to give myself something to fight toward.”
Remise’s bemused expression slides right off her face. “Take her on a picnic.”
I cover the receiver with my hand. “That doesn’t really seem like a first date kinda thing?” Technically we’ve been on a date before, but this would be our first as Gabe and Ruby, not as masks.
“Gabe, lemme level with you. You have almost died about five times this last week, right? She’s almost died twice. You could die tomorrow, next week, any time. You’ve already rooted her once, anyway, so who cares about what’s fine for a first date?”
I cough awkwardly. My cheeks flush. From the earpiece, Iso says, “Hello?”
“Iso, can you get me a non-alcoholic bottle of sparkling wine, a picnic basket and whatever foods work for a picnic?”
“Uh… yeah. Anything else?” Iso asks.
“A jar of jelly beans.” That one’s just for me.
“Uh… huh. Okay.”
“Thanks, Iso. Just bring it to the property, and I’ll pay you back,” I say.
“Pay me back with a quote or something.” Iso chuckles, and the line hangs up.
Remise drives us to the apartment. The time slides over me, I’m so anxious. Worse, everything feels off without my power. She parks on the street below, rolls the window down a crack, and closes her eyes. After a minute, she opens them again, and says, “We’re clear. Just make it quick, okay?”
I’m already out the door. I sprint up the stairs to my apartment door, and unlock it.
Things are mostly as they left them. I guess that Cynic didn’t get the chance to really dig through my mind and find this place. Even so, I’m not going to wait around. I run into the bathroom, to our medicine cabinet, and grab every half-empty bottle of antibiotics I find, plus our first aid kit. On the way out, I glance into my room, and see Bedevil’s guitar resting against the bed. All her stuff is still here, including the box with her mementos.
I put the medicine in her box and grab the guitar, and haul everything out together. Remise opens the back door of the van, I stuff it in, and we peel out of there.
“Guess they never found the place,” Remise says. “What do you think it means?”
“Either Cynic couldn’t find the exact address in my brain, since I rarely think about it, or she was searching for something else when we met,” I say. “I don’t know exactly how her power works, only that she’s a telepath.”
“Still, not safe to stay there. Yer neighbors might remember Gabe, the son of Megajoule.” Remise drops her usual accent to intone an announcer’s voice, much like Iso did. Is this just a thing now?
We drive back to Baytown, and Remise listens to the radio while we do, and I rap my fingers on my kneecaps. A warning comes in for the approaching tropical storm. I wonder if the property will flood, and if we’ll have to move Bedevil to the main house from the cabin, and which bed she’ll be in, and how much longer she’ll be unconscious.
“How old is too old to survive a choking injury?” I ask.
“Cannae say, Gabe,” Remise says. “Haven’t deal with it much myself. You wanna chat about it?”
I shake my head. “How’s things with Echo?”
“Great-” Remise pauses. She sniffs the air. “I smell smoke.” She pulls the van over in the middle of Baytown and rolls down the window. “Ahead of us.”
She drives us down, and sure enough, there’s a little two story office building that’s caught fire. Dozens of cars are jammed on the intersection, blocked by a firetruck parked so that traffic can only flow one lane at a time. Firefighters blast the flames with hoses, but there aren’t any heroes in sight.
“Damn,” I say.
Remise, however, is pale. “There’s someone inside, still. They’re hurt.”
I open the car door. I have to save them. “What floor?”
“Gabe, you don’t have your power!” Remise shouts. I don’t stop. She calls out: “The second floor!”
“Keep the car running!” I shout. I may not have my power, but I have my clothes: Doc made them to insulate others from my heat, and so they wouldn’t melt when I absorbed too much energy. The thing is, it goes both ways!
That’s the only advantage I have right now. Even so, I don’t fucking care. I’m going to save this person.
I sprint around the firetruck, past the honking cars and the shocked firefighters, and barrel through the door of the burning building.