It was because of the way she’d felt Patrick react. It wasn’t a slow, sleepy gesture, it was something that spoke of alerts and danger, and though he didn’t stir again, she knew he was completely awake and alert.
And so was she.
There was a crack of dim light coming through the door. The windows showed no signs of dawn; it was, according to the digital clock on the nightstand, just about four in the morning.
Bryn heard a very faint creak of wood, and felt Patrick’s hand press lightly in warning, and then move slowly off her skin without stirring the covers. His breathing remained deep and regular, and she had to force herself to try to mimic it. Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong here.…They both felt it.
And then it was too late to try to think, or plan. She only had time to react.
A light blazed on right in Bryn’s face, halogen-bright, and she sensed the attacker lunging at her. Something sharp flashed in the light. Bryn didn’t stop to think, just moved forward, blocked what was coming down at them, then met the attacker’s rush with one of her own. The flashlight went flying in a spiraling arc that showed color, wood, a confusing whirl of shadows.…
She grabbed the intruder more by luck than skill, and held both his arms away from her body as she used her momentum to drive him backward into a waist-high heavy table. She expected it to be Fast Freddy Watson, her nightmare bogeyman, or, possibly worse, Jonathan Mercer.…
But it wasn’t a him at all. The cry was feminine, and in the moonlight Bryn saw a long, sharp kitchen knife fall to the carpet. There was bright blood staining the first inch. From down the hall she heard dogs sounding alarms, led by Mr. French’s deep, ferocious barks, and ten seconds later, as she fought to hold on, the door of the room banged back and the lights went on.
Bryn was grappling with her sister.
Annie struggled wildly, screaming now; her hair whipped around her distorted face as she tried to break Bryn’s grip. She didn’t look…sane.
No, no, no…This was what they’d feared, what she’d dreaded, but Annie had seemed so much better. And she’d responded to the Protocol cancellations.…
“Out of the way!” shouted a voice from behind—Joe Fideli, still fully dressed, who instantly grabbed hold as Bryn let go and backed away. He easily held Annalie and forced her down on the floor, where he put a knee on her chest to pin her as he administered a shot. It took only a few seconds, and then she went out, still as…
Still as a corpse.
He’d killed her. Anesthesia for the Revived.
Joe didn’t look up. “Get dressed, Bryn.”
She realized, with a burst of shock, that she’d been fighting naked and hadn’t even realized it. She found her shirt and pants and dragged them on without bothering with underthings, and then, belatedly, realized that there was one participant absent from the drama going on in the room.
Patrick was still in bed. He was alive, and he was breathing, but he had his hand clamped tightly over his slashed arm.
The bedding was a mess of fresh blood.
“Pat!” Training kicked in, and Bryn forced herself to slow down, push feelings aside. “Did she get the artery?”
“Yes,” he said. “Look after her. I’m fine.”
Not with that much blood outside his body, he wasn’t. Bryn grabbed up her belt from where it lay by the door and wrapped it around his arm above the wound, then yanked it as tight as possible before twisting it even tighter. “We need an ambulance,” she told Joe, who nodded and rose to his feet to pull out his cell phone. “What the hell happened?”
“What Pat thought might happen,” Joe said. “Your sister’s under Protocol. Mercer didn’t lose her; he sent her like a guided missile to kill you, or Pat, or both. Until we detox her with Manny’s new formula, we can’t break her Protocol conditioning, so I have to keep her out for a while, but we needed to be sure.”
Bryn remembered what it felt like to have her will taken away; it was one of the hidden military applications of Returné. That undocumented feature—that was what it was called, in bureaucracy-speak—was one of the first things that McCallister had asked Manny to change in the formula he’d developed independently…and the most difficult.
It wasn’t that Annie felt right about trying to kill them.…She just had no choice. She was a passenger in her own head, with no will of her own, until they could break the Protocol. Which I thought I’d done. It had been stupid. She’d fallen into the trap of her own wishful thinking.
But she couldn’t worry about Annie just now, not with Pat’s skin fading to a pale, shocky color under the olive tone. He looked calm, but there were stress lines around his eyes and mouth.
“I’d love to put on some pants,” he said. “If you don’t mind. Joe—”
“I’ll do it,” Bryn interrupted. She helped him dress without another word, and Joe kept watching Annie’s limp body as if his life depended on it. He was keeping his observations strictly to himself, which was very un-Joe-like.
“Hey,” she said, and put a hand gently on Pat’s face as he lay very still on the bed. He had his eyes shut, but he opened them and focused on her. “Don’t think I missed the fact that she was going for me first, and you got in the way.”
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, as if the segue made sense, “that I don’t want to just be friends with benefits.” It was possible he’d lost enough blood that he’d forgotten Joe was standing in the room, unable to not hear this. Bryn tried not to glance in that direction, but her cheeks burned a little. “I hope that’s all right with you.”
“Yes,” she said, and swallowed hard. “I’ve been thinking the same thing.”
“Good,” he whispered, and closed his eyes again. “Very good.”
Joe cleared his throat as his cell phone dinged for attention. Text message. “Ambulance is on the way,” Joe said, and pocketed his cell phone. “Damn. It’s way too early for this kind of excitement.”
Bryn wasn’t sure which kind he meant, exactly, but it didn’t seem a prudent time to ask.
Patrick’s slice to the interior aspect of his forearm needed stitches to close the brachial artery, and then more to match up severed muscle and flesh. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as Bryn had feared. It was, for one thing, his left side and not—as Joe had laconically remarked—his main trigger hand. “Can’t shoot for shit with his left anyway,” Joe had observed. “If a barn’s attacking us, he might get a solid hit.”
Bryn could tell by Pat’s eyes that he was still doped when they rolled him out in his official release wheelchair, but only mildly, and the first thing he said was to Joe, not to her. “Is she still out?” Meaning Annie. He’d given the ER doctors a bullshit story about a kitchen accident, which they’d probably not believed but had accepted nonetheless.
“Like a hammered ox,” Joe said, as Patrick got out of the wheelchair and walked toward the sedan parked in the covered area. Bryn tried not to hover. He’d had a unit of fresh blood, but even so, he still seemed pale to her. “I let her wake up and put her on a slow drip of the new formula, but it’s going to take time. The Pharmadene standard is pretty strong stuff, and it’s not easy to erase a Protocol—you know that.”
“You left her with Liam?”
“He’s armed, warned, and she’s strapped down.” Joe paused in the act of opening the car door and said, “I’m sorry, man. I should have gotten Liam to spell me when I hit the toilet, but she’d been so quiet all night I didn’t think she’d move. I was gone maybe two minutes, tops. Don’t know how she beat the door. My fault.”
“Mine, not yours,” Pat said. “I expected her to go for Bryn first, and Bryn always locks her door from the inside. I thought we’d have time to intercept. And I needed to let her try to act, so we’d be able to verify what he’d done to her.” He sent her a half-apologetic glance. “I was hoping I was wrong, but I thought you’d need proof to convince you that I was right.”
“Well, I think you’ve got it,” she said. “And how do you know I always lock my door?” Bryn always did, even in the mansion—the habit of growing up in a large family, and living in an apartment complex where theft was a common occurrence.
He didn’t answer that, other than with a slight smile.
“Oh, and by the way, no worries about me busting in on you,” Joe said with an insane amount of cheer. “Didn’t see a thing.”
Pat sighed and put his head back against the seat, eyes closed. “You’re not going to forget it, are you, Joe?”
“Which part? The two of you naked in bed? Bryn going hand-to-hand naked? Because it’s fairly memorable, my friend.”
“Pervert,” Bryn said. “I’m going to tell your wife.”
“She’d be shocked if I didn’t remember. And then she’d check me into the hospital.”
Bryn smiled, but her mind wasn’t on the banter; it was on her sister. Annalie had been lost for months, and come back…brainwashed wasn’t the correct word, but neither was wrong, because she’d simply lost control of her body to the program. It can be fixed, Bryn told herself. It can all be okay. But she didn’t know that for certain. She’d seen Annie when Mercer had first taken her, and even then, she’d looked…damaged. Desperate. Almost destroyed.
Six months later, how much of the original Annie was still there to be saved? I’m so sorry. I never should have gotten you involved in this. She’d regretted it every day, but regret wasn’t helpful.
Nothing was helpful right now. She just had to wait and see how Annie came out of it. And Pat was right—she’d have to keep her guard up, regardless. She couldn’t trust her own sister anymore. Protocol instructions were wicked difficult to countermand when raised to their highest levels like this.