Who was scrambling up, wiping blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked savagely triumphant at having gotten Gabriel to lose control. Kaitlyn realized he wasn't thinking anymore, just feeling. He was lost in his hurt and betrayal and anger, lashing out in a way she'd never seen before.
God, we've changed, she thought, sick with dismay. We've all changed from being in such close contact with one another. Rob used to be so pure and now he's furious . . . just like a regular human being, her mind added, unasked.
And he's wrong-and I've got to stop this. Before the two of them actually kill each other.
"Come on," Rob was saying. "D'you have the guts to go one on one with me? No hocus-pocus, just our fists. You man enough for that, boy?"
Gabriel pulled off his jacket, despite the efforts of Anna and Lewis to keep him still. Strapped to his forearm was a knife in some kind of spring-loaded mechanism.
Oh, great, Kaitlyn thought. She held on to the crystal shard more tightly. She knew she should get it to safety-but where was safety? Gabriel could follow anywhere she went; could take the knowledge of where it was hidden out of her mind. And besides, she couldn't leave and let Gabriel and Rob fight.
She decided to gamble.
"Here's the crystal, Gabriel," she said. "I've got it-and the only way you're going to get it is the way you did before." But I'm hoping you won't, she added mentally. You said yourself that it's not going to do us any good. We can't get to Mr. Z's crystal-so what
difference does it make? Why not just go back and tell him you couldn't find it?
She was trying to give him a way out. If he didn't really want to hurt them . .
Gabriel hesitated. His mouth was tight; his eyes hard. But she could see uncertainty in his face. He stood very still a moment, then, abruptly, he started toward her.
Kaitlyn's mind blanked out in fear and surprise. Behind her, the door opened.
"Hey, are you guys still up-?" The sleepy voice broke off.
It was Tony, Marisol's brother, wearing cutoff shorts as pajama bottoms. He was rubbing his eyes and frowning. Clearly whatever Gabriel had done to keep the Diaz family asleep had worn off.
"Who's that?" Tony demanded, staring at Gabriel. Then he blinked and the frown disappeared.
"Hey, it's you. I remember you from last time. Come back to get the brujo, huh?"
He seemed happier to see Gabriel than he had been to see the rest of them, Kait thought. Maybe because Gabriel was somebody he could relate to-another tough guy. Or maybe because he thought that of all of them, Gabriel was most likely to be able to get Mr. Zetes. Tony hated Mr. Z with a passion; called him "El Diablo" or "El Gato"-both names for the devil, and longed for him to be sent abajo-down below to hell-where he belonged.
The five who shared the web were all frozen by the presence of a stranger, like figures in a tableau. Tony went on talking cheerfully; he didn't seem to feel the tension in the room or see the blood on Rob's chin.
"I see you got the cuchillo-the magic knife for Marisol. I couldn't believe it when they told me. A real old-fashioned charm, right? After all those doctors said she'd never wake up-we'll show 'em!" He grinned, his usually sullen features almost glowing. He did everything but slap Gabriel on the back.
Kaitlyn looked at Gabriel sharply, saw what she'd suspected-that he hadn't known the shard could cure Marisol. Maybe she should have told him, but she hadn't liked the idea of giving Mr. Z any further information. He'd find a way of using it against them somehow.
For now, though, it had given Gabriel pause. He seemed thrown off balance by Tony's gratitude and good humor. Embarrassed.
"Well, Gabriel certainly helped us to get the shard," Kait said-and that was true enough. If Gabriel hadn't defected, the Fellowship's crystal wouldn't have been reduced to shards in the first place. "And he would want Marisol to get well."
Rob was quietly wiping his bloody mouth again. He'd backed off when Tony came in, and Kaitlyn could feel through the web that he was calming down. Gabriel looked at him, then at Kaitlyn, and finally at Tony.
"We'll have a big party when all this is over," Tony said. "A real blowout. I've got some friends in a garage band. As soon as Marisol is better." He ran a hand through his curly mahogany hair.
Kaitlyn pressed the crystal to her chest and looked at Gabriel.
He held her gaze a minute with eyes as dark and unfathomable as storm clouds. For the first time that night she consciously noticed the scar on his forehead-a crescent-shaped mark left by his encounter with Mr. Z's crystal. Right now it seemed to stand out against the pale skin.
Then, looking suddenly tired, Gabriel shrugged. His eyelids drooped, hooding those depthless eyes.
"I've got to go," he said.
"You can stay," Tony offered immediately. "There's plenty of room."
"No, I can't. But I'll be back." He said the last to Kaitlyn and Rob, with heavy emphasis. Kait couldn't mistake his meaning. "I'll be back-soon."
He picked up his jacket and walked out the door. Kaitlyn felt her breath come out in a rush. She found she was holding the crystal so hard it hurt.
Tony yawned. "So, are you guys coming to bed? I put sleeping bags on the floor."
"Just give us a minute," Rob said. "We have to talk something over."
Tony left. Rob shut the door after him, then turned to face the others.
He isn't as calm as I thought, Kaitlyn realized. Rob's jaw was set, his skin pale under its tan.
"Now," Rob said. "What to do."
Kaitlyn shifted. "He did go away," she pointed out. "Without the crystal."
Rob angled a sharp glance at her. "Are you defending him?"
"Good. Because it doesn't matter if he went away. He'll be back. You heard him."
Anna opened her mouth, then shut it and sighed. She put a hand to her forehead. Her usual serenity was in tatters, but she seemed to be regaining it, gathering it around her like a cloak. "Rob's right, Kaitlyn,"
she said slowly. "Gabriel did say that-and he meant it."
Kaitlyn lowered her arms and looked at the crystal.
It was heavy and cold, and on one facet was a pinkish smear. Gabriel's blood. "But what can we do?"
"That's what I want to know." Lewis's round, open face was tense. "What can we do against him? He knows where we are-"
"We'll have to get out," Rob said. "That's obvious. And another thing that's obvious-Gabriel's our enemy now. I meant it when I said we'd fight him. We've got to do whatever's necessary from now on."
Kaitlyn felt very cold.
Lewis was sober. "Geez," he breathed. Then he said, "I guess if we have to stop him, we will."
"Not just that. If we have to hunt him, we will, too. We may have to destroy Mr. Zetes-and that may include Gabriel. If it does, it does. We'll do whatever it takes," Rob said. "We don't have any choice."
Lewis looked even less happy, but he nodded slowly, scratching his nose. Frightened, Kaitlyn turned to Anna.
Anna's lovely face was set. "I agree," she said quietly. "Although I hope he'll come to his senses and it won't be necessary-for now he's our enemy. We have to treat him that way." Her dark eyes were sad but stern. Kaitlyn understood-Anna's nature was peaceful, but she had the pragmatism of Nature itself.
Sometimes hard choices had to be made, sometimes even sacrifices.
They were all in agreement, all united against Gabriel. And they were looking at Kaitlyn.
That was when Kaitlyn realized what she had to do.
It came to her in a dazzling burst of inspiration, almost like one of her pictures. A crazy plan, completely insane-but she had to do something. She
couldn't let Rob destroy Gabriel-not only for Gabriel's sake, but for Rob's. If he succeeded, he would be changed forever.
The first item in her plan was not to let anyone know she was planning it.
So she composed her face and did her best to veil her thoughts. It wasn't easy to hide things from mind-mates, but she'd gotten a lot of practice in the past week or so. Looking as resigned and grim as possible, she said, "I agree, too."
She was worried that they might be suspicious- but she was with three of the most unsuspicious people in the world. Rob nodded, looking genuinely grim and resigned himself, Anna shook her head sadly, and Lewis sighed.
"We'll hope for the best," Rob said. "Meanwhile, I guess we should get some sleep. We'll have to get up early and get moving."
Which means I don't have much time, Kaitlyn thought, and then she tried to smoke-veil that, too. "It's a good idea," she said, going over to the desk and putting the crystal shard back in.Lewis said good night and left, chewing one thumbnail and looking wistful. About Gabriel? Kaitlyn wondered. Or Lydia? Anna departed for the bathroom and Kait and Rob were left alone."I'm sorry about all this," Rob said. "And especially sorry he hurt you. That was-unspeakable." His eyes were dark, dark gold."It doesn't matter." Kaitlyn was still cold-and drawn to Rob's warmth like a moth to a flame. Especially now, when there might be no tomorrow . . . but he couldn't know that. She reached for him and he took her in his arms.Their first kiss was a little desperate, on both sides. Then Rob calmed down, and his tranquility spread to Kait. Oh, nice. Warm tingles, warm golden haze.It was harder now to cloak her thoughts from him. But she had to, he couldn't suspect that they were going to be separated for the first time since they'd met. Kaitlyn clung to him and concentrated on thinking about how much she loved him. How she wanted to engrave him on her memory . . ."Kait, are you all right?" he whispered. He held her face between his hands, searching her eyes."Yes. I just-want to be close." She couldn't get close enough.You've changed me, she thought. Not just showing me that boys aren't all pond scum. You've made me different, made me look at the broader picture. Given me vision.Oh, Rob, I love you."I love you, Kait," he whispered back.And that meant it was time to stop. She was losing her control; he was reading her thoughts. Reluctantly Kaitlyn pulled back."You said it yourself. We're going to need our sleep," she told him.He hesitated, grimacing. Then nodded, yielding. "See you tomorrow.""Sleep well, Rob."You're so good, Rob, she thought as the door closed behind him. And so protective of me. You wouldn't let me do it. ...There was a map of Oakland on the desk; they'd bought it to find their way back to Marisol's house. She put it in her duffel bag with the rest of her worldly possessions-a change of clothes bought with the Fellowship's money and her art kit-and pulled a pair of underwear over it. Maybe there was a way to leave the bag in the bathroom . . . yes, and she could wear a nightgown over her clothing. . . ."Need something?" Anna's voice said from behind her. Guilt stricken, Kaitlyn froze in place.Blank your mind! Kaitlyn told herself.She'd been caught red-handed, thinking about things that would make Anna suspicious-if Anna had been listening. And everything tonight depended on Anna not suspecting."Just trying to figure out what to wear tomorrow," Kait said lightly, giving the bag a final rummage-through. "Not that I have much choice; I'm beginning to feel like Thoreau.""With his one old suit?" Anna laughed, and Kaitlyn felt the knot in her stomach ease. "Well, I'm sure Marisol would lend you something if she knew what an emergency it was. Why don't you look in the closet?" Anna was going to the closet herself as she spoke. "Whew! This girl liked clothes. I bet we can both find something to fit."I love you, Kaitlyn thought, as Anna pulled out a long slim cotton-knit dress and said, "This looks like you, Kait." I love you and Lewis almost as much as Ido Rob. You're all so decent-and that's why he's going to beat you if you're not careful.She forced her mind away from that and looked around the room. Marisol's room was like Marisol herself-an unpredictable mixture. Neat with messy, old with new. Like the big mahogany desk, with its silky-ruddy finish scratched and stained, as if it had been given by a loving grandmother to a careless teenager who used it for mixing perfume and storing a CD player. Or the leather miniskirt peeping out of a hamper just below the picture of the Virgin Mary.A pair of expensive sunglasses were lying half under the bed's dust ruffle. Kait picked them up and absently twisted one gold earpiece back into shape."How about this?" Anna was saying, and Kait whistled. It was a very sexy, very feminine dress: spandex bodice fitting to just below the hips then flaring to a sheer chiffon skirt. Tiny gold clasps held the cap sleeves. A radical dress, black, that would make the wearer look slim as a statue."For you?" Kait said."No, you, dummy. It would make the boys swallow their tongues." Anna started to put the dress back."Come to think of it, you don't need any more boy trouble. You've got two panting after you already.""This kind of dress might get a girl out of trouble," Kait said hastily, taking the hanger. Spandex and chiffon wouldn't wrinkle, and she would need all the weapons she could gather if her plan went through.An outfit like this might make Gabriel sit up and take notice, and seducing Gabriel was item number one on her date book.She folded the dress small and put it in her duffel bag. Anna chuckled, shaking her head.Is this really me doing this? Kait wondered. KaitlynBrady Fairchild, who used to think Levi's jeans were high fashion? But if she was going to be Mata Hari, she might as well do it thoroughly.What she said was, "Anna? Do you think about boys?""Hmm?" Anna was peering into the closet."I mean, you seem so wise about them. You always seem to know what they'll do. But you don't seem to go after them,"Anna laughed. "Well, we've been pretty busy lately with other things."Kaitlyn looked at her curiously. "Have you ever had one you really liked?"There was the barest instant of hesitation before Anna answered. She was looking at another dress, fingering some sequins that were coming off. Then smiled and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess I found somebody worth caring for once.""What happened?""Well-not much."Kaitlyn, still watching curiously, realized with surprise that Anna's thoughts were veiled. It was like seeing lights behind a paper wall-she could sense color but not shape. Is that what my veiling looks like? she wondered, and barely had the wits to ask, "Why not?""Oh-it would never have worked out. He was together with somebody already. My best friend.""Really?" Thoughts of veiling had led to thoughts of what she was veiling, and Kaitlyn was by now utterly distracted. She hardly knew what she was saying, much less what Anna was. "You should have gone for it. I'll bet you could have taken him. With your looks ..."Anna grinned ruefully and shook her head. "I would never do that. It would be wrong." She put the sequinned dress back in the closet. "Now, bed," she said firmly."Um." Kaitlyn was still distracted. Thinking: I'm casual, I'm calm, I'm confident. She hurried to the bathroom and came back with her clothes still on under the billowing flannel nightgown she'd gotten at Anna's house.She'd acquired it on the trip up to Canada, because they hadn't stopped by Anna's home in Puget Sound on the way back down. They'd accepted money and a 1956 Chevy Bel Air from the Fellowship and taken Route 101 all the way down the coast, driving all day for three days, avoiding Anna's parents.Avoiding any parents-they hadn't contacted Lewis's in San Francisco or Rob's in North Carolina or Kaitlyn's father in Ohio. They'd agreed on this early as a necessity; parents would only get worried and angry and would never, never agree to their kids doing what had to be done.But from what Gabriel had said, Anna's parents had gone to the police anyway. They'd had proof of what Mr. Z was up to-files Rob had stolen from the Institute, detailing Mr. Z's experiments with his first group of students . . . but obviously even proof wasn't enough. Mr. Z had the police sewn up.No one from the outside could take him down.Kaitlyn sighed and pulled the covers more tightly over herself. She was focused on Anna, lying beside her in Marisol's bed; listening to Anna's breathing, monitoring Anna's presence in the web.When she was certain Anna was asleep, she quietly slipped out from under the covers.I'm going out to see Rob, she projected, not loud enough to wake the other girl, but loud enough, she hoped, to wiggle into Anna's subconscious. That way, if Anna noticed her missing in the next few hours, she might assume Kaitlyn was in the living room and not worry.Kait tiptoed to the bathroom, where she'd managed to leave her duffel bag. She stripped off the flannel nightgown and crammed it on top of the black dress and Marisol's designer sunglasses. Then she crept down the hallway and noiselessly let herself out the back door.There was no moon, but the stars were frosty-pale in the night sky. Oakland was too big a city for them to make much of a show, and for a moment Kaitlyn felt a pang of homesickness. Out by Piqua Road in Thoroughfare, the sky would be pitch-black, huge, and serene.No time to think about that. Keep moving and find a phone booth, girl.Back in Thoroughfare, she would have been terrified of walking around a strange city at night-not to mention daunted by the task of trying to get to another strange city, at least thirty or forty miles away. But she was a different Kaitlyn than she'd been back in Thoroughfare. She'd dealt with things then that Kaitlyn had never dreamed of, she'd traveled all the way to Canada without any adult to help, and she'd learned to rely on her own resources. Now she had no choice. She couldn't wait until morning-she'd never get away from the others in the daytime. She didn't have money for a cab. Still, there must be a way to get across the bay to San Carlos; she just had to find it.With an almost frightening coolheadedness, she set out to find the way.This wasn't a bad area of town, and she found a phone booth with an undamaged phone book. She looked up Public Transportation in the local area pages-thank heaven, it said that most of the buses ran twenty-four hours a day. She could even see the basic route she'd have to take: up to San Francisco to get across the water, then south down to San Carlos.But now, how to find a bus that was running at this hour? Well, first thing was to find the bus line.Wincing a little, she tore the AC Transit map out of the phone book-a rotten thing to do, but this was an emergency. Using that and the map of Oakland she navigated her way to MacArthur Street, where the map showed the "N" bus running all night.