“Are the kids staying in here?” Emery asked, voice low. “Because if so, this is like the opposite of healthy, clean air.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, but then again, I had no idea.
“God, I hope you’re right.” Zoe looked down at the floor as she lifted a foot. “I think there is something growing on the floor.”
I shuddered, scanning the entire length that was lit by moonlight. Gaping darkness existed at each end and straight ahead.
“The light came from the center.” Daemon squinted. “They have to be around here.”
Instinct told me they were. They were hiding, probably in the absolute emptiness in front of us, waiting to see what we’d do. Desperately trying not to think of all the horror movies, I stepped forward.
Evie, Luc’s voice was a harsh whisper.
“It’s okay. I’m not going far.” I stared into the nothingness. “Just … everyone stay back for a moment.”
I could feel Luc’s unwillingness. It beat at my mind like crashing waves, but no one moved one inch.
“Nate? Jamal?” I called out. “Nia? We’re here to help, like I said we would be.” I paused, sensing that Luc had moved closer. “The guy right behind me is my boyfriend.”
“Aww,” Luc drawled. “That’s the first time you called me that. Today, whatever today’s date is, will forever be our boyfriend-girlfriend anniversary.”
I shot him a look over my shoulder. Moonlight sliced over his cheek as he grinned. “He’s a little different.” I turned back to the darkness. “The rest are my friends. They’re here to help, too.”
“Maybe they left,” offered Grayson, and honestly, he sounded a little too relieved by the prospect.
Then I heard it, the soft shuffling of feet. Hope swelled. “Nate?”
Another too-long stretch of silence and then whispers. I could nearly sense Grayson was about to speak, but I held up my hand, silencing him.
Do you hear them? I asked Luc.
I hear something.
I think it’s them whispering.
Have you’ve developed supersonic hearing? If so, that’s sexy.
My lips tipped up even though I didn’t think my hearing had approved all that much. That’s a weird thing to find sexy.
I find everything about you sexy.
Now I was really smiling, and maybe that helped, because after a small eternity, the silence was broken by Nate’s voice.
“We’re here. We’re coming out.”
Glancing back at the others, I met Luc’s gaze, and I let him see the broader, borderline creepy smile.
Peaches, came his voice. Stop being so adorable.
I love you, I told him, and then I turned back. The darkness had shifted, becoming solid as the children inched their way out. I moved backward with each of their steps, not wanting to crowd them. I ended up standing side by side with Luc. His fingers brushed mine, and then he took my hand in his.
I squeezed. Luc did the same.
I saw Nate first, and anger rippled through me all over again at the sight of his face. The bruise looked even worse in the moonlight, as if the entire area around his eye was black. He held the hand of the smallest child, one I hadn’t seen before. Jamal had ahold of two kids, as did Nia. The other older kids stayed behind them, their wary gazes darting frantically. They looked tired.
“God,” whispered Zoe in a thick voice.
Nia’s gaze shot to her as she stopped, pulling the two children closer.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “That’s my friend.”
Zoe nodded eagerly. “My name is Zoe,” she said, clearing her throat. “And you see this girl here with the really weird hair?”
Nia’s gaze moved to Emery while one of the smaller children cracked a grin. Nia nodded.
“My hair is not that weird right now,” replied Emery.
“It’s weird.” Zoe widened her eyes at the children as she nodded. “But she’s going to help me take you guys to get some food.”
“You’re not taking us?” Jamal asked me and then turned to Nate.
“I will be right behind you guys. I promise.”
“There’s nineteen,” Daemon said in a low voice. “Is that all of them?”
I scanned the group again, but it was hard to tell. So many of them had grime on their faces. “Is this everyone?” I asked.
“We couldn’t find Tabby,” Nia said, shivering in her thin shirt.
“I know where she is,” Nate said as he led the little boy toward Zoe. The child stared up at her with big eyes. “He likes his hand held. Is that okay?”
“Of course,” whispered Zoe, extending her hand without hesitation.
The little boy stared at her hand as if it were a coiled viper.
“Go ahead, Bit. Take her hand,” Nate coaxed.
“Bit?” Emery asked.
“He, um, he doesn’t know his name.” Nate shrugged like that were commonplace. “We just named him Bit.”
“He likes it,” added Nia.
My throat closed up as Emery smiled and said, “I like the name, too.”
Bit hesitantly reached out with his other hand, placing it in Zoe’s. It seemed so small as he continued to stare up at her. “Are you an alien?”