It took me forever to fall asleep that night, even though Chase was guarding me, stretched out at the foot of the bed. And when I finally did, I had a very unusual dream. It did not take place at the Angelo house like most of my dreams. I was in my grandparents’ orchard, the same one where my friends and I had breakfast this morning. It looked quite different in the moonlight, though, so it was a while before I realized where I was.
I paced around the orchard for several minutes, stopping in some places for no reason. Or so I thought. As time passed, I started to see things, short episodes that looked like glimpses of a high-quality 3D movie. I am tempted to call those visions flashbacks; but if so, they weren’t mine, because Davi and I were already fleeing the orchard at the time when most of the events that I’d witnessed were taking place.
Later on, when I discussed portions of that dream with my friends, they were amazed that I knew the details of that day’s events so well. After going over the details with them several times, I eventually came to believe that I probably did see the actual events that followed Davi’s and my flight.
It was pretty hard to stitch those fragmented visions into a single story while I experienced them during the dream, however. I couldn’t tell what happened when! I mean…
…I saw Lyzander swing something long and heavy with surprisingly little effort, aiming at the people coming from… yes, the south-east. I wondered if he’d recognized any of those folks…
…I saw Ignat and Damian as they grabbed hold of a couple handguns. I have no idea how they got them, but they were returning fire, their faces fierce and cheerful. Alvin lay unconscious at their feet…
…I saw Mark standing on the table, bellowing something at the attackers. Farren ran towards him and forced him to the ground just as the shooting started…
…I saw Al, engaged in a massive fistfight with several guys from my school, moments before a random spell knocked him out. I could almost sense his surprise as his consciousness slipped away…
…I saw Kai as she threw fruit, cups, and anything she managed to lay her hands on; Gale levitating stones and other heavy objects, hurling them at anyone she did not recognize with her Powers. She was the only one who used Powers to fight! Her ability to stay calm and keep her cool must’ve been passed on to her by her parents…
I only saw a glimpse of Amara as she put up some protective charm over our friends’ unconscious bodies. By that time the attackers had realized that Davi and I were a long time gone and went after us. Only four of our friends were not knocked out by spells and darts by then: Amara, of course; Mark… Kai… and…. The “flashbacks” ended before I could see the last person’s face.
I’ve been pacing while the “flashbacks” came, but stopped dead in my tracks after the last vision faded. I felt frozen in time as I took in what I’d just seen… and I couldn’t help feeling extremely grateful. Our friends fought for us like true heroes! They were ready and willing to lay down their lives! It was overwhelming to understand that! And they did not do this because of some legend, or because they expected something to come out of it for them. They stepped in to help us because they wanted to protect us! All of them, except for one.
Chris… betrayed me.
Knowing that felt worse than being punched in the stomach. I got angry; I was devastated! He used to be my friend, and that only made it more painful! How could he have done it to me…to all of us?
Then another vision took over me; and what I saw then totally changed my mind about Chris.
…I saw Chris talking to my Grandparents, smiling at them when he – first of us all – saw the people who came for us. I could tell that he’d recognized some of them. His smile turned into a bitter, betrayed expression.
“Both of them here!”
He became angry then. I felt his anger as if it were my own; I saw the fire in his eyes. There was no more hesitation in the way he acted. Jumping out of his seat, he screamed at us:
I saw Davi and myself running for it, the attackers hot in pursuit. The fact that only six people managed to keep up with us was Chris’s achievement. With a howl, he hurled himself at the crowd. They did not expect that, halted; a few of them stumbled or fell. They slowed down only for a moment, but that was all it took. The rest of our friends finally joined the fray.
They were too busy with their own fighting, however, to see what I saw in that dream. The people who fell when Chris tried to stop them did their best to “get even”… if that’s the right term for beating the crap out of a person. It was a fairly short scene, but I thought that I would die of shame as I watched four adult men punch and kick Chris. He was a bloody mess.
He stayed that way. As the vision faded around me, I realized that I could still see him. He sat on the ground a few feet away, leaning against a tree. His face was covered with blood, breathing shallow, eyes half closed. I could tell that he was in a lot of pain.
“I did not betray you, Adrian.”
The vision faded entirely, but he was still there, real as anything could ever be in a dream. I took a step towards him, and realized that he probably looked no better outside the dream. The blood and bruises that I saw were not my imagination.
“I did not betray you.”
My mind still said otherwise, but I knew I only had to trust my heart here. And my heart ached at the sight of Chris and at the sound of his voice. I took another step towards him, sat down by his side in the tall dewy grass.
“You look terrible. Didn’t Mark…?”
He let out a sad, pained laugh – and I bit my tongue.
“Mark! He wouldn’t even touch me after what the leader of those beastly people said! None of your friends would. That guy… he praised me for a job well done! So sarcastic… but no one took it as sarcasm, Ad.”
Tears were running down his blood-covered cheeks, leaving odd-looking tracks on his face.
“No one believed me when I tried to explain! They didn’t want to listen. I hope you would, Adrian. I did not lead these people here! I had no idea they followed me!”
“Why would they follow you?”
He hid his eyes; but then looked up, quite terrified by his own honesty:
“I did spy on you for Arthur, Adrian. That was way before today. Maybe that’s why.”
My face must’ve changed somehow, because Chris spoke faster, afraid that I might leave before he told me the whole story:
“I spied on you, but I thought he meant to protect you! He talked so much about how people could trick you and harm you because you are such an honest person. I believed him like a fool! He asked me to place a charm on your phone. He said it was a protective charm, but when I set it up, it didn’t feel like one. I started trying to figure out what it was. I took it off immediately when I found out that it was a Listener! I didn’t want to intrude on your privacy. And I wanted Arthur to explain why he told me to put it up. He told me that Listener was meant to protect you by tracking the lies you were told, and that it wasn’t working, unfortunately, because you’d started to avoid using your phone for some reason.
“By that time I already knew that you’d set up a meeting, but I didn’t know when or where. It wasn’t hard for Arthur to figure out that I knew. So he asked me if he could track me, in case you invited me to join you. He said that he just wanted to make sure that you were fine. He was certain that you’d let me join you.”
“And you agreed?”
Chris nodded, completely crestfallen. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was sure I hated him. Only I didn’t. I felt terribly sorry for him. Poor fool, I thought. Metus used him just like he used me. It was even worse, because he played on Chris’s loyalty and honesty. How could I blame a person meaning to help, even if he acted like a naïve idiot? I used to be like him, too, less than a year ago.
“I doubted for a while, Adrian. I really did. I wanted to hear what you had to say about Professor Arthur’s desire to protect you, but I didn’t know how to ask without bringing the rest of it up…. I didn’t want you to avoid me because of the stupid things I’d already done. And then there was that experiment, and the girl you saved, and our conversation…. And I just thought, you were right, people have to do what’s right sometimes, no matter the consequences. I thought it was right to protect you – so I agreed. I did not know that Professor Arthur would use this as an opportunity to send people after your brother…. I’m sorry, Adrian. I really am…”
He started crying again.
And I sat next to him, and could feel nothing but pity.
What else was I to feel? Anger? I knew that Chris had been used, and I could not blame him for something he could not control. Hatred? But he did what he did to protect me! What was I going to hate him for? Should I have felt betrayed? He was the one who was betrayed in the end, beaten and broken, lied to by the person he thought was a friend, and now shunned by my pals. And, terrible as Davi’s and my experiences were, we were at least among friends. But Chris was alone… lonelier than alone, because he was surrounded by Metus’s men. I knew that without a doubt.
“I believe you, Chris.”
He looked up at me through his tears, shuddered when I put my hand on his shoulder.
“I know that you did not mean for any of this to happen.”
Power flowed from my fingertips, flooding the world around me. I directed all of it towards Chris. He had to be fixed, and it looked like I was the only one able to do it, now that Mark’d bailed on him. It did occur to me for a second that what I was doing was impossible. I’ve never heard Mark mention Healing within a dream! Then, it started to make sense to me. This dream was real. When the Healing was complete, I had no doubt that Chris would be OK in the real world.
“No problem. It would be wrong of me not to help you, Chris.”
He smiled and nodded, and explained as he started to disappear:
“No, I meant, thank you for believing me. You’re the only one who did… and I was afraid you wouldn’t.”
Then I woke up.
I lay sleepless, staring at the ceiling till the break of dawn, thinking… thinking… thinking… There was a lot to figure out in my life now.
There were friends, the people who stood up for me no matter what… yet could not live in peace with each other’s imperfections. They loved me for who I was, not for what I could do with my Powers. That’s why it hurt to watch them offend each other. The way they rejected Chris was one of the painful problems. I knew I had to do something about it. But what?
See, I told Chris the truth when I said that I believed him. I was certain of his honesty, the way one is certain of the sun rising in the east. But I also knew that it would be a while before I could fully trust him again. I did not know how to interact with him now… and I had to figure it out quickly, because I intended to protect him from my other friends’ treatment when time came.
Then there were my families. I grew up with one; the other was mine by birthright. I had both of them in my heart, but I knew that I couldn’t belong to both equally. So what was I supposed to give up – Sammy and Marie’s love, or the mystery and Power of my true family?
And then, what was I to do with the destiny that David and I were a part of now? I didn’t even know what it really was! That “destiny” legend may have been something that they’d told us about at school, but it was a little hazy in my mind even after Mr. Black had referred to it that afternoon. The more I tried to remember the details, the hazier it became. I guess it was one of those stories that people who grew up among Talented just knew about – but Davi and I didn’t! So how were we supposed to deal with it? The very thought of that “destiny” thing freaked me out. It felt like trying on a superhero’s outfit! I was not even remotely like a hero, and neither was David! I was… I am…
…Who am I, really?…
Staring at the ceiling just the way I did a year ago, I struggled to put all of these things in order in my head. It took me all the way until dawn; and when I figured out the answer, I couldn’t help laughing! It was so simple! More importantly, I’d already found it a year earlier!
I was myself – Adrian Alexander Angelo, the son of the last living members of the Phoenix line, the heir to all their Power and brother to another equally amazing person, that’s right! I was myself!
Maybe, that wasn’t much, but I knew I could work with it, and make it work… somehow.