Daemon squeezed his eyes shut. “Son of a bitch…”

“It’s okay.” I started to sit up. “He needs you.”

He let out a ragged sigh. “Stay here and get some rest. I’ll talk—or beat some sense into him.” He kissed me briefly and then gently pushed me back down. “I’ll be back.”

Settling in, I smiled. “Try not to kill him.”

“No promises.” He stood, pulled on his pajama bottoms, and headed for the door. Stopping short, he looked over his shoulder, his intense gaze melting my bones. “Dammit.”

A few seconds after he stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind him, there was a fleshly smack and then Andrew yelling, “Ouch. What in the hell was that for?”

“Your timing sucks on an epic level,” Daemon shot back.

Smiling sleepily, I rolled onto my side and ordered myself to stay awake, but as my breathing returned to normal, sleep dragged me under. Sometime later, I heard the door open and then Daemon was beside me, pulling me back against him. It wasn’t long before the steady rise and fall of his chest lulled me back into the rhythm of sleep. Every so often I’d wake up when his arms clenched around me, his embrace so tight I thought he’d cut off my circulation, holding me as if even in his sleep he was haunted by the fear of losing me.

Chapter 23

Daemon and I rode together to school on Monday. The car still carried a musty, wet scent to it, a painful reminder of where our mission had ended—in a river. On the way, Daemon was convinced that his brother had been talked down from bum-rushing Mount Weather, but I knew we needed to come up with another way to get to Beth and Chris. Dawson couldn’t wait forever, and I could understand that. If it were Daemon locked up, I don’t think anyone would be able to stop me.

As soon as we stepped out, I saw Blake leaning against his truck a few spaces down. He pushed off and trotted over the moment he spotted us.

Daemon groaned. “He is not who I want to see as soon as I get to school.”

“Agreed,” I said, wrapping my hand around Daemon’s. “Just remember we are in public.”

“No fun.”

Blake slowed as he reached us, his gaze dipping to our joined hands and then quickly sweeping up. “We all need to talk.”

We kept walking—or Daemon kept walking. “Talking to you is the last thing I want to do.”

“I can understand that.” He caught up to us. “But I seriously didn’t know about the onyx shields in the doors. I had no idea.”

“I believe you,” Daemon said.

Blake’s step faltered. “You punched me.”

“That’s because he wanted to,” I answered for Daemon, earning a wink from him. “Look, I don’t trust you, but maybe you didn’t know about the shields. It doesn’t change the fact that we’re not going to be able to get in there.”

“I talked to Luc last night. He didn’t know about the shields, either.” Blake shoved his hands into his pockets and stopped in front of us. He was lucky Daemon didn’t lay him out right there. “He’s willing to do it again—take down the cameras and stuff.”

Daemon blew out a long breath. “And what good does that do us? We can’t get past those doors.”

“Or if every door is set up like that,” I added, shivering. I couldn’t imagine going through that three or four times. Sure, I’d been in that cage longer, but the airborne onyx had covered everything.

The three of us were huddled along the fence surrounding the track, careful of keeping our voices low so other students didn’t overhear us and wonder what the heck.

“Well, I was thinking about that,” Blake said, shifting from one foot to the other. “While I was with Daedalus, they used to expose us to this stone each day. Our forks and silverware were encased in it. A lot of stuff was, almost everything we came into contact with. Burned like holy hell to touch, but we didn’t have any other choice. I’ve walked through the doors before and recently. Nothing happened.”

Daemon laughed as he looked away from Blake. “And you now just thought this was a good thing to tell us?”

“I didn’t know what it was. None of us did.” Blake’s gaze pleaded with mine. “I didn’t think much about it.”

Dumbfounded, I realized they’d been conditioning Blake. Probably exposing him and others to the onyx over and over but like last night, something wasn’t right. Why would they expose them to it? Sick and twisted punishment or for tolerance? And why would they want Luxen or hybrids to develop a tolerance to the one weapon that could be used against them?

“You can’t tell me you never knew about the onyx and what it could do,” I said.

He met me dead-on. “I didn’t know that it could incapacitate us.”

I pressed my lips together. “You know, there’s so much we have to just trust you with. That you really are working against Daedalus and not for them. That Beth and Chris are where you’re saying they are, and now, that you didn’t really know about onyx.”

“I know how this looks.”

“I don’t think you do,” Daemon said, letting go of my hand as he propped his hip against the fence. “We have no reason to trust you.”

“And you’ve blackmailed us into helping you,” I added.

Blake exhaled roughly. “Okay. I don’t have a glowing history, but I want nothing more than to get my friend away from them. That’s why I’m here.”

“And why are you here right this instant?” Daemon asked, obviously at his patience threshold.

“I think we can get around the onyx,” he said, pulling his hands out of his pockets and holding them in front of him. “Now, hear me out. This is going to sound crazy.”

“Oh, goodie,” Daemon muttered.

“I think we need to build up a tolerance. If that was what Daedalus was doing, then that makes sense. Hybrids have to go in and out of those doors. If we expose ourselves to it—”

“Are you insane?” Daemon turned around, running his hand through his hair, clasping the back of his neck. “You want us to expose ourselves to onyx?”

“Do you see any other option?”

Yeah, there was one—we didn’t go back. But was it really an option? Daemon was starting to pace. Not a good sign. “Can we do this later? We’re going to be late.”

“Sure.” He sidestepped Daemon. “After school?”

“Maybe,” I said, focusing on Daemon. “We’ll talk later.”

Taking the hint, Blake skedaddled out of there. I had no idea what to say to any of this. “Expose ourselves to onyx?”

Daemon huffed. “He’s insane.”

He was. “Do you think it would work?”

“You’re not…?”

“I don’t know.” I switched my backpack to the other shoulder and we started toward the school. “I really don’t know. We can’t give up, but what other options do we have?”

“We don’t even know if it will work.”

“But if Blake really is sort of immune to it, then we can test it out on him.”

A wide grin spread across his face. “I like the sound of that.”

I laughed. “Why doesn’t that surprise me? But seriously, if he has a tolerance to it, then shouldn’t we be able to? It’s something. We’d just need to figure out how to get some.” Daemon was quiet for a few seconds “What?” I asked.

He squinted. “I think I have the onyx part covered.”

“What do you mean?” I stopped again, ignoring the faint warning bell.

“After Will got you and a couple of days after Dawson came back, I returned to the warehouse and stripped most of the onyx from the outside.”

My jaw hit the ground. “What?”

“Yeah, I don’t know why I did it. Kind of like my big FU to the establishment.” He laughed. “Imagine their faces when they went back and saw it was all gone.”

I was speechless.

He tweaked my nose. I smacked his hand away. “You’re insane. You could’ve gotten caught!”

“But I didn’t.”

I smacked him again, this time harder. “You’re crazy.”

“But you love my craziness.” He leaned down, kissing the corner of my lip. “Come on, we’re late. The last thing we need is detention.”

I snorted. “Yeah, like that would be the biggest of our problems.”

Carissa still hadn’t returned to school on Monday. The flu must’ve been kicking her butt. Lesa seemed a bit jealous over the whole thing. “I’m, like, five pounds from my goal weight,” she said before trig started. “Why can’t I come down with something? Geesh.”

I giggled and we moved on to some gossip. For a little while, I forgot about everything. It was nice and much needed downtime even though we were in school. The morning blew by and when Blake entered bio, I refused to let him ruin my mood.

But then he opened his mouth and the big “what the hell” statement came out. “You didn’t tell Daemon about what I said to you in the woods? About me liking you?”

Ah, what the frig, man? “Um, no. He’d kill you.”

Blake laughed.

I frowned. “I’m being serious.”

“Oh.” His smile faded and he paled. I imagined that he was playing that scenario out in his head: me telling Daemon about his dirty little secret and Daemon going ape poo poo over it. He came to the same conclusion as me. “Yeah, good call.

“Anyway,” he continued. “About what I said this morning—”

“Not now.” I opened my notebook. “I really don’t want to talk about that right now.”

I smiled when Lesa sat down and luckily, Blake respected my request. He chatted it up with Lesa like a normal person would. He was good at that—pretending.

A knot formed in my stomach as I looked at him sharply. He was telling Lesa about different kinds of surfing techniques. I was pretty sure she wasn’t even listening, considering her gaze was trained on how his shirt strained over his biceps.

He laughed easily, blending in perfectly. Like a good implant would, and I knew from previous experience that Blake was skilled at faking it. There really was no way of telling what side Blake was truly on, and it was stupid to even guess.

At the front of the class, Matthew pulled out his roll book. His eyes met mine briefly and then shifted to the boy beside me. I wondered how Matthew did it—kept calm all the time. How he stayed the glue that kept everyone together.

I stopped at my locker and grabbed my US history text at the end of the day. The chances of a pop quiz tomorrow were high. Mrs. Kerns had a schedule, which really didn’t make the quiz a big surprise. I closed my locker door and turned, shoving my book into the bag. The crowd was thinning out as everyone rushed to get out of the school. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to rush or not. Blake had already texted me during gym about getting everyone together to talk about the onyx situation, and I really didn’t want to.