I’d asked Daemon one evening as we walked back from the lake, enjoying the warmer temperatures, how could people forget so easily? A bitter sensation had taken up residence in my tummy. Would that happen to me one day if we didn’t come back from Mount Weather? People would just get over it?

Daemon had squeezed my hand and said, “It’s the human condition, Kitten. The unknown isn’t something that sits well. They’d rather push it away—not completely, but just enough that it’s not always shadowing their every thought and action.”

“And that’s okay?”

“Not saying that it is.” He’d stopped, placing his hands on my upper arms. “But not having the answers to something can be scary. People can’t focus on that forever. Just like you couldn’t focus on why it was your dad who had to get sick and pass away. That’s the big unknown. You had to let it go eventually.”

I’d stared up at him, his striking features highlighted in the waning light. “I can’t believe you can sound so wise.”

Daemon had chuckled, running his hands up and down my arms. Promising chills followed. “I’m more than looks, Kitten. You should know that.”

And I did. Daemon was ridiculously supportive most of the time. He still hated that I was taking part in the onyx training, but he wasn’t pushing it and I appreciated that.

I threw myself into training with the onyx, which left little time for anything other than going to school. Onyx stripped away energy and after every session, all of us were quick to pass out. And we were so wrapped up in building our tolerance, watching out for officers and implants that we hadn’t even celebrated Valentine’s Day besides the flowers he’d bought me and the card I’d given him.

We kept planning to make up for it, to do the dinner thing, but time got away from us or someone got in between us. Either it was Dawson impatient to save Beth and a hairbreadth from storming Mount Weather, Dee wanting to murder someone, or Blake demanding that we do the onyx thing every day. I’d forgotten what it felt like when it was just Daemon and me.

I really began to think his sporadic late-night visits really were a product of my overactive imagination, because at the end of the night, he was just as whipped as I was. Every morning it seemed like a vivid dream and since Daemon never mentioned it, I let it go while looking forward to it. Dream Daemon was better than no Daemon, I guessed.

But by the beginning of May, the five of us could handle the onyx for about fifty seconds without losing control of our muscle functions. Didn’t seem like a lot of time to the others, but it was progress to us.

Halfway through today’s practice, we gained an audience that included Ash and Dee. Those two were becoming real bosom buddies of late, while I was basically friendless with the exception of Lesa on good days.

Bad days were when she missed Carissa and no one could replace that lost friendship.

Watching Ash teeter around on her ridiculous heels, I had to wonder how Ash and Dee were even getting along. Besides their obsession with fashion, they had little in common.

Then I realized what probably had bonded them together: their grief. And here I was, begrudging them of that. I could be such a tool.

Matthew was in the process of picking himself off the ground as Ash tottered over to the onyx, frowning. “It can’t be that bad. I have to try it.”

I bit back a mad grin. I was so not going to stop her.

“Uh, Ash, I really wouldn’t suggest doing that,” Daemon began.

Party pooper, I thought, but Ash was a determined little alien. So I sat down, stretched out my legs, and waited for the show to begin.

I didn’t have to wait long.

Bending over gracefully, she picked up one of the shiny blackish-red jewels while I held my breath. Not even a second later, she shrieked, dropped the onyx as if it were a snake, and stumbled backward, falling flat on her butt.

“Yep, not bad at all,” Dawson commented drily.

Ash’s eyes were wide, mouth gulping like a fish’s. “What…what was that?”

“Onyx,” I responded, lying on my back. Bright blue skies and a touch of sun warmed the air. I’d already had three rounds with it today. I couldn’t feel my fingers. “It sucks.”

“It felt… It felt like my skin was ripping apart,” she said. Shock roughened her voice. “Why would you guys put yourselves through this for months?”

Dawson cleared his throat. “You know why, Ash.”

“But she’s…”

Oh, no.

“She’s what?” Dawson was on his feet. “She’s my girlfriend.”

“I didn’t mean anything.” Ash looked around for help, but she was alone on this one. Standing carefully, she took an unsteady step toward Dawson. “I’m sorry. It’s just…that hurt.”

Dawson said nothing as he brushed past Daemon, disappearing into the thicket. Daemon’s eyes met mine, then he sighed and trotted off after his brother.

“Ash, you need to learn a tad bit more sensitivity,” Matthew said, brushing loose dirt off his jeans.

Her face fell and then crumbled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

I couldn’t believe it. A rarity was to see Ash show any emotion other than bitchiness. Dee went to her side and the two walked off, Matthew following after them, looking like he needed a vacation or a bottle of whiskey.

Which left me alone with Blake.

Groaning, I closed my eyes and lay back down. My body felt heavy, like I could sink through the ground. In a couple of weeks, I’d sprout flowers.

“Are you feeling okay?” Blake asked.

Several snarky responses lined up on my tongue like little soldiers, but all I said was, “I’m just tired.”

There was a pregnant pause, and then I heard his footsteps move closer. Blake sat down beside me. “Onyx is killer, isn’t it? I never really thought about it, but when I was first inducted into Daedalus, I was always tired.”

I didn’t know what to say so I kept quiet and for a while, so did he. Blake was probably the hardest person to be around. Because deep down, he wasn’t a horrible person, maybe not even a monster. He was a desperate person and desperation can make people do crazy things.

He brought forth conflicted feelings. Over the last couple of months, I had grown, like the others, to tolerate him but not trust him, because I remembered Luc’s parting words—You really shouldn’t trust a soul in this game. Not when everyone has something to gain or lose. I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d meant Blake. I didn’t want to go easy on him because of what he did to Adam, and I didn’t want to feel sorry for him, but I did at times. He was a product of his environment. Wasn’t a justification of any sorts, but Blake didn’t do what he did all by himself. There had been several factors. The strangest thing of all had been at lunch, seeing him sitting at the same table with the siblings of the boy he’d killed.

I honestly didn’t think anyone knew how to handle Blake.

Finally, he said, “I know what you’re thinking.”

“I thought you couldn’t read other hybrids’ minds.”

He laughed. “I can’t, but it’s obvious. You’re uncomfortable with my being here with you, but you’re too tired and it’s too nice to get up.”

Blake was right on all accounts. “And yet you’re still here.”

“Yeah, about that… I don’t think sleeping out here is the safest thing to do. Besides the bears and coyotes, the DOD or Daedalus could always come around.”

I opened my eyes, sighing. “And what would be suspicious about my being out here?”

“Well, besides that it’s a little early in May and late in the day for sunbathing… They know I still talk to you. Keeping up appearances and all.”

I tilted my head toward him. Each of the Luxen took turns scouting the area while we practiced, making sure no one was watching. Seemed odd Blake would be concerned about that now. “Really,” I said.

He bent his knees, resting his arms over them as he stared out over the peaceful lake. There was another gap of silence and then, “I know you and Daemon went to see Luc back in February.”

I opened my mouth but then shook my head. I sure as hell didn’t need to explain why to him.

Blake sighed. “I know you don’t and won’t ever trust me, but I could’ve saved you a trip. I knew what the black opal does. Seen Luc pull off some crazy-insane stuff because of it.”

Irritation flared. “And you didn’t think to tell us about it?”

“I didn’t think it would be an issue,” he said. “That kind of opal is damn near impossible to get ahold of and the last thing I expected was for Daedalus to be outfitting hybrids with it. Hell, I haven’t even thought of it.”

Here I was, in the same position with Blake as usual: to believe or to not believe him. I crossed my legs at the ankles and watched a thick, fluffy cloud shuttle across the sky.

“Okay,” I said, because honestly, there was no way to prove if he was lying or not. I bet if we hooked him up to a lie detector the results would be inconclusive.

Blake seemed surprised. “I wish things were different, Katy.”

I snorted. “Me, too, and probably a hundred other people.”

“I know.” He dug through the soil, finding a pebble. He turned it over in his hand slowly. “I’ve been thinking lately, about what I’m going to do when this is all over. There’s a good chance that Chris… He won’t be right, you know? We have to go somewhere and disappear, but what if he can’t blend in? If he’s…different?”

Not right, like Beth had been when I’d seen her. “You’ve said he likes the beach. So do you. That’s where you should go.”

“Sounds like a plan…” He glanced at me. “What are you guys going to do with Beth? Hell, what are you going to do after you get her back? Daedalus is going to be looking for her.”

“I know.” I sighed, wanting to sink through the ground. “We’re going to have to hide her, I guess. See how she is. Cross that bridge when we get there, that kind of thing, but as long as everyone is together, we’ll figure something out.”

“Yeah…” He stopped, lips thinning. Swinging his arm to the side, he tossed the pebble out into the lake. It skipped three times before sinking under. Then he stood. “I’ll leave you alone, but I’ll be nearby.”

Before I could respond, he stood and jogged off. Frowning, I arched my back so I could see him The bank around the lake was empty, with the exception of a few robins hopping on the ground near a tree.

Now that was an odd conversation.

Settling back down, I closed my eyes and forced my mind blank. The moment I was alone and it was silent, a thousand things came from every direction inside me. Falling asleep was difficult, so I had this habit of picturing this beach in Florida that Dad liked to go to. Creating the image of frothy waves lapping blue-green foam against the shore as they crested and receded, I kept that scene going on a loop. Nothing else but that image snuck into the recesses of my thoughts. I hadn’t really been planning on dozing off out here, but as exhausted as I was, I fell asleep pretty fast.