He felt something was wrong, felt it up in his room.
He’d run out, just as James had tried to continue the conversation from last night.
Joseph rode the elevator down, his senses screaming that something was happening on the ground floor. It wasn’t psychic sprites. Instead….
Joseph could only just hold on to his anger.
When Jerry had suggested Carlisle was sleeping with Sally, Joseph had almost lost it.
But he wasn’t the one who would lose it now.
Something snapped in Sally. Joseph swore he could feel it. It was… it was this powerful rush of force unlike anything he’d experienced or thought possible. It was the kind of force that could make anyone cower, no matter how strong they’d once assumed they were.
Jerry, the idiot, couldn’t frigging feel it.
“That made you react, didn’t it? You’re nothing but a damn sacrifice, Sally—”
Something unraveled faster inside Sally. Her expression… it belied what was happening within her. It was even, cold, almost like she was a statue. Inside, her heart felt like it suddenly became millions of hearts. She was still holding onto Joseph’s hand, and he couldn’t deny the sensations shifting into him.
“You’re a damn sacrifice, Sally Winters—”
Sally slowly pushed onto her toes. She didn’t get away from Jerry. Even a snarling tiger would flee that psychopath right now. But Sally inched up. She pushed her face right into his.
Jerry snarled. He enjoyed every second. Until Sally Winters opened her eyes.
Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. The scene didn’t freeze. But….
“I am no sacrifice, boy,” she said, her tone changing. It was so distant – no. It sounded… it sounded….
Joseph couldn’t think. His brain refused to function. It was like… he right now stood in front of one of the most important forces in all the universe, but he had no clue what he was looking at. There was some kind of block in his mind he couldn’t move past.
He’d been halfway through a chuckle, but it became stuck in his throat as if it’d turned into a lump of coal.
“You will drop my hand,” Sally commanded.
You would think with the note she was using the earth would tremble and the ceiling would fall. It didn’t, but Jerry still dropped her hand, his fingers twitching.
Sally remained there, up on her toes, staring into his eyes for a fraction of a second.
From the look she shot him, it was almost as if she wanted to turn him to dust. And it was… almost as if she could do that.
She fell onto her heels and went to walk away, but she was still holding Joseph’s hand.
She stared at him briefly. She went to drop his fingers.
Joseph blinked. Whatever had happened to the room… or him… or whatever that had been lifted. So he knew exactly what he was doing.
Sally might’ve dropped his hand, but he quickly twisted his fingers around, grabbed her by the wrist, and pulled her on.
He pulled her right out of the crowd just as people appeared to wake up.
She twisted her neck muscles around, her tendons straining as she stared at him. She said nothing. She just watched him. And that horrifying energy that had possessed her started to ebb away.
He pulled her right through the doors just as a lieutenant marched in. Maybe someone had finally called a teacher.
Joseph should’ve paused. He didn’t. He kept pulling Sally away.
He just… he had to get her out of there. He should’ve gotten her out of there the second Jerry had become psychopathic. Even if Joseph had been forced to reveal himself….
They hit the grounds outside.
It was only then that he realized his hand was shaking. He was transferring long lines of sweat down her wrist.
Sally… she just looked at him.
There was a pleasant breeze. It rushed through the trees. It started to calm his nerves and remind him that that – whatever the hell it had been – was over.
The other cadets fortunately didn’t push out of the doors to finish this. That lieutenant had likely stopped them to figure out what the heck was going on.
Joseph moved as quickly as he could, Sally keeping pace beside him but never turning her head. She just stared at him. He let her.
Maybe he was revealing way too much. Maybe that look in her eyes was suspicion that he was a spacer. And maybe he didn’t damn well care. Hell, it could be good. Because if she figured out he was a spacer, right now he could go through with the urge in his heart, pick her up, and transport her the hell away from here.
Joseph didn’t stop until they reached some oaks, and even then, he set his mind on taking her right out of the Academy.
She pulled back. “Joseph,” she said in a tone that was meant to be calm but was fractured anyway, “it’s okay. You can stop now.”
Nope. He couldn’t. He was still far too full of nervous tension. It was scissoring up his spine, making it feel as if it was gonna pull it right out of his back.
He went to take another jerky step, but she placed her fingers over his. “Joseph, it’s okay.”
Just like that, it became okay.
He realized what he was doing and dropped her hand. His fingers lingered for a while. Then he grabbed the back of his head. Dammit was his hand sweaty. He transferred it all down his short-cropped hair.
His fingers finally fell. They hung loosely by his side. “We’re gonna go straight to—”
“Before you suggest going to an admiral or something,” she said perceptively, “it’s not going to work.”
“Jerry just threatened you. He was going to drag you out of the Academy—”
“Right now he’s gonna be smoothing that over.”
“I heard it. I saw it.” Joseph bounced a tense hand off his chest. He really had to be careful here. If he lost hold of his nerves, he’d start floating.
Sally couldn’t ignore what had just happened. But Sally… how the hell had she done that? That look… had been so endless.
She turned away from him. She pulled her hair over her shoulder. Sally never did something like that. And why did he know that? Quite probably because he spent way too much time watching her – more time than he would’ve been comfortable admitting previously.
“Sally, I don’t care. We’re going to go straight to an admiral and tell them what happened.”
“I shouldn’t really be your priority right now, Joseph.”
“You should, and you are,” he said flatly, his voice ringing with real passion.
This was not the kind of tone you used on someone who was a mere acquaintance.
She appreciated that because she slowly looked up at him from the corner of her eye, then turned fast again.
Sally was not one who ever had to hide her emotions. She could control them evenly like a spirit level. Now? She wouldn’t look his way once. “It’s okay, Joseph. This isn’t your fight. You’ve already got too much on your plate.”
“Jerry was gonna drag you out of the damn Academy. You think I’m just gonna stand around and let that happen?”
“It’s okay. I can look after myself.”
He opened his mouth. He closed his lips.
She’d shocked Jerry into dropping her hand. Just like that. Hell, based on the way she’d looked at him and the way she’d spoken, she could’ve shocked a Scarax god into dropping her hand. Sally… was just Sally. His mind filled in that gap, always there to repeat that exact refrain whenever he thought too hard.
She closed her arms around her middle. She tilted her head back, secured her eyes shut, and seemed to enjoy the dappled sunshine making it in through the oak leaves.
“I’m not going to let him hurt you,” Joseph said, knowing it was true as soon as the statement came from his stiff lips. He squeezed his hands into fists. A few little sparks of subspace energy developed in his palms. He honestly didn’t damn well care.
He needed to prove to Sally that he wasn’t some pushover.
He could and would keep her safe.
“There are much bigger fish to fry right now. Did you hear what Jerry said?” Sally asked quickly.
“I think they’re going after Carlisle,” she said in an even voice. “I think they’re going to frame him for something,” she added quite specifically.
Joseph couldn’t think of a thing. What the heck was she doing being concerned for other people? E Club wanted to—
“Look, I think we should get to class. We’ll have to explain ourselves. Just… pretend nothing happened. Don’t get in trouble for me.”
“Don’t get in trouble for you?” He actually laughed.
She’d been about to push out from behind the oak tree, but she paused. “In the end, it won’t be worth it.”
She went to leave. Joseph almost ported right in front of her. He settled for rushing up beside her instead.
But that would be when he saw Admiral Forest walking across the grounds. She was clearly here for him.
Oh… it got worse.
He suddenly logged into his neural comms and realized he’d ignored several calls from her. He hadn’t even heard them.
Sally didn’t look surprised at the fact the most important admiral in the Academy was walking over to them. In fact, it was like she expected it. She took a proper step away from Joseph. She looked at him once. “It’s okay. I can look after myself.”
Joseph went to follow her, but he knew he couldn’t. He also knew that he couldn’t associate with Forest.
By her walking across the grounds, she was simply making her intentions clear.
He finally answered her call.
“Joseph, what the hell happened? And why did you ignore me?”
“I didn’t ignore you…. I just… didn’t hear you.”
“These are neural comms,” she thought. “They are independent of external sound.”
“Look. Something crazy just happened—”
“By the sounds of it, you got involved in a situation you shouldn’t have. I told you to watch her, not—”
“Not what, Admiral?” He thought that way too fast. “I’m really not your priority right now. That Cadet Jerry—”
“We have new evidence against Carlisle. When you’re done here, port down to the basement levels.”
“You heard, Joseph. Come.” Forest didn’t make eye contact with him once. She walked straight past him while mentally communicating with him.
Joseph didn’t make the mistake of staring at her. He did, however, turn around and try to glimpse Sally.
She’d walked off. Into a freaking storm of hatred.
This wasn’t fair. Jerry and the rest of E Club were frigging crazed. Why couldn’t anyone else see that? And why was no one else prepared to do anything about it?
Why… how could Sally… why…? Joseph couldn’t finish a single thought.
Sally… was Sally Winters. But even if she was meant to be nothing at all, he would do whatever he could to ensure she survived.
She was no sacrifice.