A/N: Well, here it is, the final chapter. I hope you all like it! I really appreciate the reviews you guys have left throughout.
Casey's mouth was hanging open, but she couldn't seem to do anything about it. She could only stare at Parks as he approached them, his gun held high. Behind her, Casey heard Tori mutter, "Ah, crap."
"Professor?" Taylor asked, rising to a standing position and looking as confused as Casey felt. "What's going on?"
The professor turned the gun toward Taylor. "I'll ask you all to sit down now. No sudden movements."
They did as they were told, Casey squeezing between Tori and Jason on one couch. Her emotions were in turmoil. The professor was in on it! How could he? She'd trusted him! He'd promised to help them! And the whole time, he and Donovan had been working together...
Her disappointment must have shown on her face because Parks shrugged. "Oh, come on. You had to have suspected. You really think all this would be going on in my lab and I wouldn't know about it?"
Casey shook her head sadly and looked down at her hands. We were so stupid... She jerked her head up and narrowed her eyes at Parks. "Why? Why pretend to be on our side?"
Parks leaned against the back of the couch Donovan was lying on, keeping his gun up but not pointed at anyone in particular. "Why not? If he can take all the blame." He poked Donovan's side with the nose of the gun. Donovan's eyelids fluttered, but he didn't wake up. Casey stared at him, biting her lip. So they never were going to be able to make people safe from him. It was all a ruse.
"It was just for the money, wasn't it?" Jason asked angrily. "I knew this house was too expensive for a professor!"
Parks smiled. "You would do the same in my position."
"Doubtful," Casey muttered.
"What about me?" Tori cried. She started to push herself to a standing position but froze when Parks turned the gun to her. "Was I just an act too?"
Parks took a deep breath, looking as if he were about to say something, then shook his head. "Sorry, honey, you're much too young for me."
Casey looped her arm through Tori's, more to hold her in place than for comfort. Tori's face was purple; she looked as if she'd love to beat the crap out of the professor single-handedly. Of course, they all would, but there wasn't much they could do about it right then.
Why couldn't one of us have super strength? Casey debated shifting Tori and Jason to safety but glanced anxiously at the others on the opposite couch. If she shifted, the professor might kill them. She couldn't do that to them. She needed to wait until she could get them all out.
A moan floated up from Donovan and one of his arms moved. Casey gasped, looking anxiously at him. If he woke up, they'd have two people to worry about.
But the professor did something strange then: He pulled a syringe out of his pocket and jabbed it into Donovan's arms. Donovan sighed and lay motionless again.
"What the hell..." Casey breathed. Her eyes flew to the professor's face. "Why did you do that if he was helping you?"
Another laugh from the professor. "You're all so naive. You really have no idea what's going on." He walked around the couch so he was closer to them, though still out of reach. "You really think I would trust anyone else with a project this big?"
"But... He was working for you," Taylor sputtered. She was staring intently at Donovan's body, as if waiting for another sign of him gaining consciousness.
Instead of answering Taylor, Parks motioned at Bridget. "You, come here."
Wide-eyed and trembling, Bridget stood and crossed over to Parks. He held out his arm. "So they'll know the truth."
She stared at him a moment, then understanding washed over her face. She gulped, then took his arm and closed her eyes. After a few seconds, she gasped and jerked away from the professor. She stared up into his face. "You don't have much time left."
"I could have told you that," Jason growled. Casey elbowed him in the side.
Dan finally spoke up. "What do you mean, Bridget?"
Bridget, looking as if she were going to be ill, walked slowly back to her seat. When she sat down, she said quietly, "He's dying. He's searching for a cure."
The easygoing expression on Parks' face faded. "Do you blame me? If you had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in your brain, you'd want a cure too." He was angry now, pacing back and forth between the couch and a table along the wall. "Did you know, a tumor like this can be fixed - if you have the right tools. Which cost half a billion dollars! Insurance doesn't cover something like that!"
Casey bit her lip, almost - almost - feeling sorry for the professor. But being sick didn't make it okay to steal and kill. "What about Donovan? How was he helping you if he wasn't helping you?"
Laughter spilled out of the professor's throat, and it sounded almost hysterical. "It's ironic that the very thing that could help me has sped up my condition."
He wasn't making any sense. Casey surreptitiously looked around the room. They needed to start finding a way to escape before the professor really went off the deep end. It didn't look like he was about to let any of them go.
From the other couch, Bridget said something softly that Casey didn't hear. But next to her, Taylor gasped, her icy blue eyes widening. Casey leaned forward so she could see Bridget better. "What did you just say?"
Bridget's cheeks flushed, and she said, barely louder than the first time, "He's a puppet master."
Casey had heard her that time, but it still didn't make any sense. "I'm sorry... He likes to play with puppets?"
Parks scowled. "How the lot of you ever proved useful in any way is beyond me."
"No," Bridget said with a toss of her head. "He can control people. Kind of like Donovan, only from a distance, and completely."
Casey stared at the professor. "You..." Her mind was whirling. "You've been controlling Donovan?"
"No way!" Taylor protested. "How is that possible?"
At the same time, Dan asked, "Have you been controlling us too?"
The professor shook his head. Casey could see from his expression that he'd been dying to share his terrible plan with them. He was glad they were asking questions.
Well, once a professor, always a professor, she thought. Even an evil one.
"It doesn't work that way," Park said. "I can only control one person. But it's completely; everything you do is because I tell you to do it." Casey thought she actually saw a gleam in his eye as he lifted a hand and wiggled the fingers. "Like a puppet on strings. Hence, puppet master. It's even better when the puppet has its own powers."
Jason narrowed his eyes at the professor. "But what about when he hit you with that frying pan? Did you tell him to do that?"
"Yes, that." Parks reached a hand up to rub the spot on the back of his head where he'd been struck. He scowled. "It's an imperfect system. Sometimes he ... breaks through a little. But never more than slightly," he rushed to emphasize. "Ironically, it actually helped with my plan. You never suspected me."
Casey stared at Donovan's prone body, a wave of nausea rolling through her. The professor had been using him to use them. All this time, she'd thought Donovan had been evil, and it had been no more his fault than the terrible things that they'd done. Tears suddenly formed in the corners of her eyes. "Is..." she choked out. "Is he still in there?"
Parks shrugged. "Beats me. Maybe. He's the first I've tried it on."
His voice was so nonchalant. A slow fire started burning in Casey's stomach. They had trusted Parks, and he had not only made them do terrible things, but he had also ruined the man she used to love. They couldn't let him get away with it; he'd just move on to some other unsuspecting victim.
Out of the corner of her eye, Casey saw Jason looking at her, his expression worried. "Casey," he whispered.
But it was too late. In the blink of an eye, Casey had shifted behind the professor. "You son of a bitch!" she cried as she clenched her hands together and brought them down on the professor's forearm that held the gun. He had started to turn toward her, but he was too slow, and the gun clattered to the floor. Casey could barely see him through the tears blocking her vision, but she still managed to land a hit on the side of his head.
He grimaced, his face contorting with rage. "That's it," he growled. "Play time is over." He shoved her shoulders hard, and she went skidding across the floor. She lay there a moment, gasping in surprise.
But Casey had unleashed chaos. With the professor distracted, everybody else leaped into action. Taylor stood, a fireball forming in one hand, and whipped it at the professor. He ducked, and the fireball smashed into the wall behind him. Two more fireballs followed it, and Parks rolled to the side. One hit the couch Donovan was lying on, which promptly burst into flames.
"Donovan!" Casey shrieked. Ignoring the others, she pushed herself to her feet and raced to the couch, grabbing Donovan's feet and pulling him to the floor. She dragged him into the corner of the room, away from the action. For a moment, she stayed kneeling next to him, staring into his face. Tears spilled down her cheeks and onto his shirt, leaving giant wet spots. "I'm so sorry," she whispered, even though he couldn't hear her. "I didn't know."
"Casey!" Tori yelled. Casey jerked out of her stupor and took in the scene in front of her. Despite being outnumbered, the professor was doing quite well. Dan was sprawled next to the window-filled wall, groaning. Taylor was still flinging fireballs, despite the fact that she had yet to hit the professor with them and was instead alighting the walls. Jordan and Tori were pinned in a corner. Flames had crisscrossed in front of them, and they couldn't get past them.
"I'm coming!" Casey cried, dashing toward them just as one of the couches, fully engulfed in flames, made a popping sound and the springs worked loose, sending pieces of the couch in all direction. An armrest smacked into Casey, and she stumbled backwards across the room. She bounced off the wall and paused a moment to catch her breath. "Taylor, dammit!" she screamed. "Stop throwing fireballs!"
If Taylor heard her, she didn't indicate it. Bridget did, however, and Casey watched determination set on Bridget's face. She whirled toward Taylor and punched her right in the face. Taylor shrieked, her hands flying to her face. Bridget stepped back, cradling her fist, looking smugly satisfied, and Taylor fixed Bridget with a glower so intense that Casey thought for a Taylor might try to fry Bridget. But Taylor didn't seem too injured, and with a shriek of anger she turned her back on Bridget, nursing her nose with her finger. At least she had stopped making the fire worse. Casey turned her attention back to the professor, who was facing off with Jason, both men circling each other like wrestlers.
Jason's eyes suddenly lit up, and Casey knew he was about to turn invisible. Apparently so did the professor because he dove to the ground and grabbed the fire extinguisher that Jason had previously used on Donovan.
Casey yelled at Jason, but Parks wasn't going to hit him with it. Instead, he sprayed the extinguisher around himself in a circle. Jason's form suddenly stood out bright as day, charging at the professor. Parks sidestepped, and Jason's momentum kept him going past. Parks dropped the extinguisher and fumbled around for something else. He jumped back to his feet with the gun in his hand.
Casey gasped and started to sprint toward the professor - to knock him down or ruin his aim, something. But she was too slow. If she'd been thinking instead of panicking, she would have shifted to him, but it hadn't become that second nature to her yet.
Jason's foam-covered form spun around to face the professor again, and the professor's gun went off.
"No!" Casey shrieked. On the other side of the fire, a scream from Jordan echoed her own. Jason suddenly became visible, a circle of red blossoming on his shirtfront. He looked down at it, confused, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell to the ground. Jordan, still screaming, dove over the flames pinning her and Tori and threw herself on Jason's body.
Casey stopped mid-run, staring in disbelief at Jason. A dark pool was quickly gathering around his body. "No," she repeated. He had to be OK. She rushed to Jordan's side. Jason's eyes were open, and they stared glassily at the ceiling. Jordan was pressing her hands on the bullet wound, but the blood continued to gush around her hands. Casey grabbed Jason's hand and pressed her fingers to his wrist. Why couldn't she find the pulse? It had to be here somewhere. She couldn't find the right spot.
"Jason," she whimpered, pulling on his arm. "Wake up!"
Then Jordan started wailing. "He's dead!" she shrieked and collapsed on his stomach, sobbing.
Casey sat back on the balls of her feet, her whole body suddenly feeling numb. It couldn't be. Jordan was mistaken. But Jason's face had taken on an ugly ashen tone, and his chest wasn't moving with breaths of air. Jason was dead.
A strange calm overtook Casey, then, along with a roaring sound in her ears. She blinked and surveyed the room. Everything jumped out at her in stark detail. Flames had worked their way up three walls, and if they didn't get out soon, they were all going to be buried in the ruins of the house. Tori had managed to follow Jordan out of the corner, and she and Taylor each had a hold of the professor's arms. They were trying to pull his hands behind his back, but he was resisting and trying to step on their feet. He was stronger than both of them, and it had become a standstill.
Cold determination filled Casey's body, and she clenched her fists, shifting to stand in front of the professor. Next to her was the fire extinguisher. Who knew something meant to save lives could be so dangerous?
"Hold him!" she shouted as she reached down for it. Tori and Taylor both tightened their grips on the professor's arms, and he unleashed a string of swear words at them. Casey swung the extinguisher as hard as she could. It came down with a crack on the professor's head. He crumpled to his knees, still conscious but obviously having trouble staying that way. Casey grabbed Tori's hand.
"Come on!" she yelled. "We have to get out of here! Everyone gather in one spot."
Tori rushed to Dan and helped him to his feet. They stumbled back to the couch farthest from the worst of the fire, where they were joined by Bridget. Taylor was trying to get Jordan to come, and Jordan was fighting her. Finally, with a roll of her eyes, Taylor grabbed Jason's feet and began dragging him toward the couch.
Casey fought her way to where she'd left Donovan. The flames had swelled up around him, and the heat burned her eyes. Coughing and gasping for breath, she picked her way among the debris. When she reached him, she realized there was no way she could get him back to the others. One look at his face told her he was still well unconscious. Hopelessness washed through her.
Then she smacked herself internally. "God, Casey, you don't need to carry him." She spoke the words out loud, as if it would help her focus. She grabbed Donovan's outstretched hand and closed her eyes. A moment later, they were on the floor next to the rest of the group. She stood, facing the others, who were huddled together and frightened. Some coughed; it was getting hard to breathe. For some reason, she had become their leader, the one who would get them out of this.
She mentally nodded her head. She would get them out of here.
"Everybody, grab my hands, or my arms. Anywhere with skin. I'm getting us out of here."
Heads nodded, and hands reached out toward her.
One hand in particular, though, was coming at her fast. And it was shaped like a fist.
It smashed into her face, and she staggered backwards. Parks' face suddenly loomed in front of her, looking twisted and angry. Blood spilled down the side of his head, staining one half of his collar red. "If I'm not making it out of here, nobody is," he growled.
In one fluid movement, he had spun around and grabbed Tori, holding the gun to her temple. She began sobbing. "Anybody moves, and I kill her," Parks said evenly.
Casey fell to her knees and closed her eyes, intending to shift behind the professor, as she should have done earlier, but her head was spinning. That punch had packed a wallop, and she couldn't seem to focus. She'd already been feeling drained after her earlier trip to the other side of the Earth and back, and the ice pick in her brain didn't help either. Frustration welled up inside her, making it worse. She rubbed furiously at her temples, as if somehow she could rub the pain out.
Through squinting eyes, Casey watched as Taylor darted forward, grabbing the professor's free arm and setting his sleeve on fire. With a roar, he swung his arm out, catching Taylor in the stomach and sending her flying backwards into the glass coffee table. Its legs shattered on impact, spilling her to the floor, and she groaned in pain.
"Come on, Casey," she muttered to herself. "They need you."
Flashes of pain were dancing around in her head, and the flickering light from the fire didn't help. She struggled back to her feet, and the room spun. She almost fell down again.
With Tori in his arms, the professor began backing away from the group. The others were standing still, hands in the air, not wanting to risk him shooting Tori. Tori started to say something, and Parks smashed the handle of the gun into her head.
Something about that brought sudden sharp focus to Casey's mind. Enraged, she flew at Parks, grabbing the arm his gun was in and shifting them both. Before he had a chance to orient himself, she grabbed the gun from his hand and stepped away.
They stood on the balcony he'd shown them earlier. A clear night sky spread out above them, moonlight bathing the balcony in a cool blue. The chasm below the balcony stretched away from them, dark and ominous. In the house below, Casey could see orange flickers coming from the wall of windows where the others were trapped. For a moment, Parks stared around him, confused. Then a slow smile spread across his face. "Well, that was unexpected," he finally said. "But now what are you going to do?"
Casey pointed the gun at him, trying to ignore how it trembled. "I can't let you out of here," she said softly. "Not with your power."
Parks' smile grew wider. "What are you going to do? Shoot me? You're not a killer."
The trembling in her gun hand grew visibly more pronounced, and Casey tried not to let her fear show in her voice. "You can't live," she said as evenly as she could.
Now Parks' eyes were sparkling. He laughed and leaned toward her. "You don't have the guts. You're weak."
A gust of wind blew her hair in her eyes, and she pushed it away, glaring at Parks. Her whole body tingled with energy, and she suddenly knew what she had to do. "You know," she said, "they always say that in the movies, and the girl always does."
Before Parks had time to react, she dropped the gun and threw her body at him, shoving with all her might. The wall that edged the balcony might have helped someone from accidentally falling, but it wasn't high enough to prevent someone from being pushed. Casey caught a glimpse of shock written on Parks' face, and then his feet kicked up in the air and he went over the side. His scream echoed up to her as he fell, and then it was silent.
Gasping, Casey closed her eyes, hugging her arms to herself.
It's over, she thought.
She walked to the balcony wall and leaned over. She couldn't see anything below, no sign of Parks at all. A shudder went through her body, exhaustion sweeping through her.
Not yet, she told herself. She still had one more thing to do.
She closed her eyes and shifted back to the great room. The fire was now totally out of control - not that it was ever in control to begin with - and the others were huddled in the last remaining corner that wasn't overcome with flames. Casey nearly teleported herself on top of a smoldering ceiling beam that was now on the floor. Luckily, she missed it by about a foot.
Tori noticed her first. "Casey!" she gasped, sprinting toward her and throwing herself in Casey's arms. "You're OK!"
Casey couldn't help smiling as she hugged Tori back. "I'm fine. But we need to get out of here." She detangled herself from Tori's arms and approached the group.
Dan stepped forward, his eyes wide. "Where's the professor?"
Casey gave him a grim smile. "He's taken care of." She noticed Jordan on the floor, sitting next to Jason. Or rather, Jason's body. Casey felt a prick of tears as she looked at him. He'd done so much to help her, and she hadn't been able to save him. Her voice cracked as she said, "Let's try this again. Everybody touch my skin." She knelt down and reached out her hands so one touched Jason's body and the other touched Donovan, who was still unconscious but whose eyelids were fluttering. Casey closed her eyes as one by one the others reached in and touched her, some on her forearms, some on the back of her neck - easiest to reach, she supposed, since she was kneeling.
"Everybody got a hold?" she asked without opening her eyes. She heard a chorus of affirmation and nodded to herself. A second later, and a cool night breeze was playing with her hair, soothing her hot face. She opened her eyes. They stood in the driveway in front of the house, which was now completely engulfed in flames.
"Should we call the police?" Bridget asked.
"Let it burn," Taylor said, her tone venomous.
Casey jumped to her feet, but a wave of dizziness pulled her back down to her knees. Tori, standing next to her, gasped and grabbed Casey's arm.
"Are you okay?"
Casey nodded, gulping against the sudden sharp pain that raced through her skull. "I'm fine," she finally managed to say. "I've never teleported that many. I think it was a strain."
Tori enveloped her in a hug again, and Casey felt hot tears land on her shoulder. "I'm so sorry," Tori whispered in her ear. "I should never have trusted Robert."
Casey felt tears of her own welling up, and she hugged Tori back with as much strength as she could muster. "I'm sorry about Jason. I never should have kissed him. I was upset."
Tori pulled back and gave Casey a big smile, laughing and crying at the same time. "It's okay. I'm not mad about that anymore. I was going to tell you but then I got kidnapped." Tori's smile faded, and she suddenly looked horribly sad. "And now he's dead."
They both turned to look at Jason's body. They hadn't been able to separate Jordan from him, and she sat next to him now, silent, with his head resting in her lap. Casey's heart wrenched.
Oh Jason, I'll miss you.
Then a moan came from behind Casey, and she spun around. "Donovan!" she cried. She hurried to his side.
He was trying to sit up, and not doing a very good job. Casey grabbed his arm and helped him to a sitting position. He held a hand to his forehead. "What happened?"
"Are you okay?" she asked, peering intently into his face. She still didn't know if what the professor did would have a permanent effect. Would he still be evil?
Donovan blinked a few times, then focused on Casey's face. "Casey?" His face lacked the hard edge she'd seen the past few weeks, and she allowed herself to hope that a miracle had happened. He gave her a crooked smile, and her heart melted. She dove at him, wrapping her arms around him.
"Van," she gasped. "It's really you this time, isn't it?"
She felt him pat her back tentatively. "I ... think so."
She sat back so she could see his face. For a moment, all she could do was stare. Emotions raced through her, leaving her paralyzed. His hair and style obviously were different, but his eyes - something in his eyes - told her this was the Donovan she'd once known. He was watching her too, still looking faintly confused. She swallowed and reached out to take one of his hands. "Do you remember anything?" she asked softly.
He sighed, his eyes flicking to the house, then back at her. "Some of it," he said after a long pause. "I tried to fight it at first. But he was too strong." His hands clenched into fists. "I never should have gone to him when I discovered my power."
"You were used, Van, just like the rest of us." She stared at him, feeling a strange throbbing in her chest. "Van, I..."
She was interrupted by a shriek. Jordan was screaming, "What's happening?" over and over. Casey gasped and jumped to her feet. Jordan's hands were enveloped in a bright white light centered over Jason's chest. Bridget was kneeling next to her, holding her hands toward Jordan's as if she wanted to grab them but was afraid.
"What's going on?" Casey asked as she hurried up behind them.
"I don't know," Jordan cried, her face contorted in terror. "It just ... happened."
Dan, standing on the other said of Jason, asked with eyes wide, "Does it hurt?"
Jordan shook her head, whimpering as she stared at her hands. "No. But I can't move them."
"Let me try." Casey grabbed Jordan's shoulders and pulled her back. At first, there was a strange resistance, and then Jordan fell backwards onto Casey's feet. The light blinked out.
Jordan lay on her back, staring at her hands. Casey dropped down next to her, watching as Jordan flexed them into fists and back out again. "Whoa," she finally breathed. "That was weird."
"What do you think it was?" Casey asked.
Jordan shook her head. "I don't know."
Someone bumped into Casey from behind, and she ignored it. "But they don't hurt?"
Jordan didn't answer. She was staring at a spot over Casey's shoulder, her face draining of color.
"What?" Casey asked, then turned around - and froze. Jason - who had been dead a second before - was sitting up, shaking his head as if in a daze.
With a shriek, Jordan dove toward him. "You're alive!" She threw her arms around him.
"Whoa," Jason said, his voice cracking a little. "Nice to see you too." He apparently noticed everyone looking at him like they were seeing a ghost because his eyes widened. "What?"
Chaos ensued. Between people poking and prodding at Jason and wanting to hug him, it was a few minutes before they calm enough to figure out what had happened.
"Dude, you were dead," Dan explained bluntly.
Casey pointed at Jordan with a grin. "Jordan's a healer!"
Jason broke into a huge smile, and he picked up Jordan like she weighed nothing and spun her around. "My sister's a miracle worker!"
By now, Jordan was blushing, and when Jason set her back on her feet, she ducked her head. "I don't even know how I did it."
"It okay, we'll figure it out," Jason said, patting her head fondly.
Taylor, who'd been standing on the edge of the excitement stepped forward, her eyes narrowed. The beginnings of a black eye were forming around one eye - a gift from Bridget. "So are you totally healed? Is there a scar?"
Jason shrugged and pulled at the hole the bullet had made in his shirt. Smooth skin shone through. He glanced back up with a gleam in his eye. "Not a mark."
"Excellent!" Dan high-fived Jason.
In a blur, Tori threw herself into Jason's arms. "I'm so sorry I dumped you for that lunatic! Will you forgive me?"
Jason gaped down at her for a second, then his eyes met Casey's, questioning. She gave him a small, apologetic smile and jerked her head toward Donovan. Jason frowned, then nodded, a bit sadly, message received. Then he turned back to Tori and gave her a sly smile. "I might make you work for it." He wrapped his arms around her waist, dipped her backwards so quickly that she gasped, and planted a dramatic kiss on her lips. When he pulled her back up, her face was flushed, and she was giggling.
Casey smiled at them. Maybe they would be able to find that missing spark without her interfering. She hoped so. Yes, Casey had been attracted to Jason, had thought she'd moved on, but now she knew they would never be anything more than friends. Her heart belonged elsewhere - and always had.
Taylor cleared her throat and approached Jordan. "So, um, can you fix my arm?"
For the first time, Casey realized Taylor was cradling one arm against her stomach. The arm didn't look quite right. She must have broken it when Parks threw her into the coffee table. Funny, she hadn't said a word until now. Maybe Taylor had turned a corner.
Jordan looked aghast. "I ... I don't know if I can..."
"Come on, try," Taylor pleaded.
"O-okay." Jordan reached out and held her hand above Taylor's arm. The others watched, mesmerized, as she squeezed her eyes closed. "I was thinking about how badly I wished I could fix Jason. I think if I..." At that moment, the white light returned, and Casey gasped as she watched Taylor's arm straighten. The light flashed off.
Taylor suddenly let out an unladylike squeal and wrapped her arms around Jordan. "Thank you," she murmured. Then her face grew serious, and she stepped back. "Um, I'm sorry I ... killed your boyfriend."
Casey's jaw almost hit the pavement. Had she just heard Taylor apologize for something? Granted, it wasn't exactly something someone can really apologize for, but still... It was a start.
Jordan took it gracefully. She patted Taylor's arm and said softly, "It wasn't your fault. Nothing to apologize for."
It was subtle, but Casey still caught the flicker of Jordan's eyes toward Donovan, who had come up behind Casey. He cleared his throat.
"Guys, I'm really sorry about everything." He ducked his head, seeming almost shy. "I tried to fight him - and when he was sick, I could a little - but I was too weak." His eyes met Casey's, and he gave her a small smile. "I didn't fight hard enough."
"It wasn't your fault," Casey whispered.
"No way, man," Dan added. "It was all Parks."
And like that, everything was okay. They started moving toward their respective cars, chatting among themselves as if the whole night hadn't even happened. Behind them, the house was a smoldering pile, the flames already starting to die. Donovan walked next to Casey, silent. When they reached his motorcycle, Casey gasped.
"Can you drive, after everything?"
Donovan grinned at her, a spark back in his eyes. "I was controlled by a lunatic puppet master, not tied to a chair for weeks." He glanced down at the bike. "I may not have picked it out, but I was still there when I learned to drive it."
The smile was infectious, and Casey returned it. "Think you could give me a ride? I came with Jason, but..." She nodded her head in the direction of Jason's car, where Jordan and Tori were arguing over who got the front seat.
He started to hand her the helmet, but the crunch of gravel made them both stop. A dark vehicle was pulling up behind their cars.
"Who's that?" Dan asked, his voice full of suspicion.
A tall, handsome man in a suit stepped out of the driver's side. From the passenger side... "You!" Casey cried.
The young man on the passenger side stopped, freezing in the middle of closing his door. He turned to Casey. "Yes?"
Anger flared up in her, and she stalked to the man, who was staring at her with squinty eyes. "You've been following me!" she accused, jabbing a finger into his chest. "Who the hell are you, and what do you want? Are you working with Parks?!"
At her words, the others closed ranks around the car, pinning the two men to their respective sides.
"Whoa!" The driver held up his hands. "Let's not jump to conclusions here."
Jason crossed his arms across his chest and glared at the driver. "I don't think there's any jumping. I was with Casey when he was following her. I saw him too."
The driver groaned and gave the passenger an exasperated look. "Biggs, you suck at recon."
Biggs shrugged, looking embarrassed. "I'd like to see you try following around a teleporter. It's hard!"
Donovan stepped forward, grabbing Biggs' shirt and leaning his face in close. "You have about three seconds to explain before I tell you to jump off a cliff."
Biggs' eyes widened, and Casey knew he knew about Donovan's ability. Biggs stammered, "It's not what you think, I swear."
"We're here to help," the driver said, stepping forward. When Jason raised his fists, the man stepped back again, sighing. "Look." He pressed a hand to his car window, and it immediately frosted over. The night air was cool, but it wasn't cold, and a collective gasp rose from the group. The man turned his head toward them, looking smug. "See, we're like you."
"So was Parks," Donovan growled.
Casey reached out and touched Donovan's shoulder lightly. "Van, let him go."
For a moment, she wondered if the violent part of him that the professor had created might have hung on, but Donovan didn't hesitate in releasing Biggs and stepping back. He turned to Casey and winked, a sparkle in his eye.
Jason lowered his fists. "Help us how?"
The man cleared his throat and adjusted his collar. "My name is Taft. I work for ICE."
"Immigration?" Dan scratched his head.
Taft sighed and rolled his eyes. "No, the Institute for Cognitive Excellence."
Biggs stepped forward, and this time no one stopped him. He puffed up his chest, Casey assumed because he thought it made him look important. "We do great work."
"We've been watching Robert Parks," Taft continued, shooting Biggs a look that clearly said grow up. "We ... suspected he was into something criminal, but we could never catch him doing it. We now know it was because he wasn't doing it in person." Taft glanced at Donovan as he said it.
Casey stepped in front of Donovan defensively. "Hey, it wasn't his fault!"
"We know." Taft started pacing. It seemed he was just getting warmed up. "I had Biggs tail you, Miss Graham, because we were trying to figure out if you were involved. Obviously, he's not very good at it."
Biggs' face turned red, and he opened his mouth to object. Taft shushed him by holding up a single finger. "Anyway," Taft continued, "I'll keep this short."
"Too late," someone muttered.
Taft's jaw clenched, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes, giving all of them a penetrating gaze. "We know you all are innocent, but we also know what you can do. We'd like to help you, in the way Professor Parks should have. Work with us, and we'll teach you how to control your abilities. You'll be around others with like powers."
A low murmuring began, and Casey looked around. Each face - except for Tori, of course, who had no power - was full of hope and enthusiasm. One thing kept Casey from feeling excited herself.
"What about this?" She motioned behind her at the ruin of the house. "Isn't this suspicious? What do we tell the cops?"
Next to her, Donovan held up a hand. Dangling from it was the diamond necklace Casey and Jason had stolen. Casey's eyes bulged. She'd forgotten all about it. "And this?" he asked. "What about this?"
This time Biggs spoke up, a grin on his face. "Do nothing. We already took care of everything. ICE has that power."
Taft interrupted. "Except that," he said, pointing at the necklace. "You should probably take that back."
Donovan frowned and stuck the necklace back in his pocket.
"So..." Casey stared at Taft. "We can just walk away like it never happened."
Taft met her eyes and said solemnly, "Like what happened?"
Casey bit her lip. They had trusted Donovan and then Parks to help them, and look how that turned out. How did they know they could trust these guys?
Bridget stepped forward. "I've got it, Casey," she said, as if she'd read her mind.
"If I could just have your hand," she said to Taft, who eyed her skeptically. Bridget shot him a brilliant smile, the largest Casey had ever seen on her. "I'm a human lie detector." She said it proudly.
Taft reached out his hand tentatively, and Bridget took it, closing her eyes. After a moment, she dropped it and turned back to Casey. "We can trust them."
Couldn't get much more final than that, Casey supposed.
Donovan lifted his chin. "Okay, but just remember what we can do if you turn on us."
Casey caught the flicker of Taft's eyes toward the smoldering house, then he smiled. "Excellent. Here's my card." He proceeded to walk around the circle and hand them each a white card. He even gave one to Tori, who turned to Casey and held it next to her face, mouthing "Wow" at her. Casey stifled a giggle. "Just go home for now. We'll be in touch."
Biggs got in his side of the car, but when Taft tried, he realized he'd frozen it shut. Taylor stepped forward with a sultry smile. "Here," she said in a low voice. "Let me help you with that." She leaned across Taft and, looking up at his face, melted the ice with her hand. "Fire and ice are a good combination."
Taft couldn't quite keep the astonishment off his face, and he cleared his throat and said in a flustered voice, "Uh, yes, thank you." Casey snorted.
With the two strangers gone, the group burst out into excited chatter. It was interesting how quickly everybody got over the events of the night, now that it had turned out for the positive. Even Jason didn't seem too nonplussed to have been dead not half an hour earlier. Casey met his eyes as he walked back to his car, Tori and Jordan in tow, and he gave a short nod of his head at her, a smile stretching across his face.
She turned to Donovan, who was staring at her with an intense gaze. "What?" she asked nervously, one hand flying to her hair. She probably looked terrible; she could feel the ash from the fire coating her face like a mask. "Is it that bad?"
A smile fluttered at the corners of Donovan's mouth. "No. It's perfect." He reached out and took her hand, his eyes not leaving her face but his expression turning solemn. Casey was faintly aware of vehicles pulling out behind her, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from his. A slow heat spread throughout her body, and she could feel her face flushing, even if the soot covered it up. Nobody had looked at her like that since... well, since the last time Donovan had done it.
"It's been so long," he finally said, his voice low. Emotion flickered across his face. "So much wasted time because I was stupid."
A tear streaked down Casey's cheek. She reached out and took his other hand, sandwiching both of his between hers. "I missed you so much," she whispered. "I thought I'd lost you forever."
"So did I. Parks, he changed everything about me, and I couldn't stop him." He looked away from her, his jaw set angrily. "Most of the time, it was like I was asleep, but when Parks was weak enough for me to have my own thoughts, I was afraid..." He paused and looked at her again. "I thought if I ever got free, I'd be someone else."
Donovan pulled his hands out of hers and shoved them in his pockets. He pursed his lips and looked chagrined. "I was glad when you broke up with me. It was safer. I didn't want you to get hurt." He was looking at her anxiously, as if he were afraid she'd be angry.
Casey swallowed, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea. I wouldn't have..." Her voice cracked, and she stopped to calm herself. "I wouldn't have left you if I'd known."
"No." He gave her a faint smile, his eyes reflecting the glowing timbers of the house behind her. "You saved my life."
She stared at him, her mouth hanging slightly open. "What?"
With one hand, Donovan reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear. The hand hovered next to her cheek for a moment, and he smiled sadly. "I was just waiting to die, so it would be over. And then you showed up. You were so beautiful, and it reminded me what I had to lose."
Casey's breath caught, and she couldn't speak. A tear streaked down her cheek, and Donovan tenderly wiped it away. "Van..." Casey whispered.
"Enough talking," he breathed and leaned toward her. His lips met hers, and his hands slid behind her head, resting at the nape of her neck.
Casey gasped and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist, her hands sliding up his back and coming to rest on his shoulders. It was a kiss that was both familiar and new, and it made Casey's heart race. She closed her eyes and leaned into him, noting that despite the years, their bodies still fit together perfectly, as if two parts of a puzzle. She thought back to the first time he had kissed her; it had felt much the same as this.
They stood that way for what seemed like forever, passion racing between them, their lips pressing harder and harder, as if it could disappear at any minute.
And then Casey pulled away, gasping for breath. Donovan looked down at her with a gentle smile, then his eyes flickered to behind her. Surprise shot across his face. "Umm..."
She was still looking up into his face. "What?"
He jerked his head in the general direction of behind her, and, confused, she turned. Her jaw fell open, and she clapped her hands to her mouth with a giggle. "Oops!"
They stood in the middle of a football field - their high school's football field to be exact. The school loomed up in the distance, dark except for a few lights in the windows.
It was where they'd first kissed.
She turned back to Donovan, biting her lip and flushing. "Sorry."
"It's okay." He pulled her to him in a tight hug, and she rested her cheek against his shoulder. "Obviously, we've got some work to do."
She smiled into his shirt, then looked up at him. His hair fell into one eye, and she reached up and brushed it back. "No more mind control on me, okay?"
Donovan nodded. "I'm so over that." He quirked an eyebrow at her, as if a thought had just occurred to him. "Hey, what about Jason? Weren't you two..."
Casey shook her head, standing up on tiptoe to give him a soft kiss. "Just you. It's only ever been you."
He smiled against her lips and kissed her back. They stood there a moment, Casey leaning against Donovan, just enjoying each other's company. Then Casey reached out and took his hand, preparing to shift them back to his motorcycle. She stopped. "So what are you going to do, now that you have your life back?"
He winked at her and gave her a sly smile so much like the old Donovan that her heart ached.
"Make up for lost time."