A scream, distant yet urgent, drew my head from its place buried under my pillow. It was still dark outside, and the illuminated clock on the wall (the one that was local time anyway considering I had a lot of them all set to different time zones so I could keep track of what time it was wherever my dad happened to be supposedly traveling) read five in the morning. The sun wouldn’t rise for a couple hours. Everything was quiet. So why–
The scream came again, as I sat there groggily staring at the wall. Before I knew what was happening, I’d already flung my blankets off, half-tripping over them as I stumbled out of bed and ran for the door in my sweatpants and tee-shirt. I hit the hallway before my conscious brain actually caught up and I realized what the screaming was. Izzy, it was Izzy down the hall.
Running that way, I reached the door of the formerly empty room that had been converted into Izzy’s. There still wasn’t much in there, just that bed, a dresser with some clothes that she and Mom had picked out, and a desk with a chair. Both of my parents had made it clear that they would get Izzy whatever she wanted or needed, but she just kept demuring from getting anything aside from the bare essentials. Mom had said something to me about not wanting to push the girl too far, too fast. She quite clearly wasn’t exactly comfortable with any of this.
And speaking of not being comfortable, the girl herself was on the floor instead of the bed. I had no idea how she’d ended up there, but she was down there thrashing around. Her foot kicked the side of the bed a couple times while her fist hit the floor and she screamed. Like, full on screamed. It was like she was being tortured. Her body arched off the floor with that loud cry.
Eyes widening, I hurriedly dropped beside the girl and grabbed her arm with one hand and the side of her face with the other. “Izzy? Izzy, it’s okay, you’re having a nightmare. Izzy, it’s–”
And then I got punched in the face. The girl’s eyes snapped open and the arm I wasn’t holding swung up wildly, fist crashing into my mouth as she shouted something about leaving her alone. I reeled backward with a yelp, falling onto my backside while she scrambled up. She was on one knee, glaring at me before suddenly freezing in place, seeming to realize where she was.
“Izzy, it’s okay,” I managed while holding a hand against my face. That hurt, damn. The kid packed a punch. “You were just dreaming. I mean, having a nightmare, I guess. I heard you screaming from the other room, so I came to check and I guess I startled you or something–”
“I’m sorry,” she blurted, face immediately falling. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Tears had already filled her eyes as she fell backwards against the bed, knees drawn to her chest. “I didn’t mean to.”
“Wha–oh, I know.” Quickly, I put both hands up placatingly, ignoring the pain in my lip. “I know you didn’t mean to. It’s okay. You were just having a bad dream. A, uhh, really bad dream.”
Swallowing hard, the younger girl took a few seconds to collect herself. She was trembling so much I thought she might need a hug or something, but I just wasn’t sure how she’d react to it. “I’ll be ready to go as soon as everyone’s up,” she said in a quiet, somewhat shaky voice.
Blinking at that, I shook my head slowly. “Uh, ready to go where, exactly? What do you mean?”
Still holding her knees against her chest, the girl stared at the floor rather than look at me. Her words were a quiet mumble. “I’ll be ready to leave as soon as your parents tell me to get out.”
Well, that made me stare at her. “My parents aren’t going to kick you out of the house, Izzy.”
The look she gave me was a mix of disbelief, exhaustion, and fear. “Y-yes, they will,” she insisted in a voice that trembled weakly. “I hit you in the face, Cassidy. I hit you. I hit their daughter. They’ll never let me stay with them now. They won’t let me sleep in the same house as you, let alone two doors down. They’ll throw me into foster care in Idaho or something.”
My mouth opened, then shut as I stared at her. Taking a second to collect my thoughts while she whimpered, I finally replied, “Do you realize that’s probably the most words you’ve said to me all at one time since you got here?” I meant it to be gentle teasing, but she just flinched. Seeing that, I moved over and sat down next to the other girl with my back against the bed as well. “Izzy, listen, you didn’t mean to hit me. I know that. You were having a nightmare, right?”
Drawing herself in tighter, like she had to make herself as small as possible before responding, Izzy slowly nodded. “A nightmare… yes. Yes, I was having a nightmare.” From the sound of it, there was a lot more to that. But I kind of doubted that she was in the mood to tell me any more.
“Right, you had a nightmare, you lashed out. It was an accident, and now it’s over.” Stating that firmly, I turned to look at the girl beside me, trying to meet her gaze while she studiously stared at the floor. “It’s over, so we don’t have to tell anyone. I mean, I know my parents wouldn’t kick you out just for having a bad dream. But still, they don’t need to know about it in the first place.”
Izzy mumbled toward the floor, “You said I was screaming. You heard it from your room and it woke you up. Don’t you think your parents probably heard too?” Even as she finished saying it, the girl blinked up and frowned in confusion. “Wait a second, how come they’re not here yet?”
Despite myself, I chuckled softly before catching it as she flinched. “Izzy, first, this house is really big. Second, the walls are really soundproof. They were already pretty good before, but a few years ago Simon got really nuts with his music so Mom had them all redone. Now you could scream at the top of your lungs from here and they’d never hear anything. Hell, you could be in the next room over and not hear anything. That’s why we have the intercoms.” I pointed to the button on the nearby wall next to the door. “You could also just say B-R-O-A-D-C-A-S-T without spelling it, then say ‘now’ followed by the name of the person you want to hear you or a specific room and the intercom will connect you without touching it. Like, modcap now kitchen. Or modcap now Elena. Except say broadcast instead of modcap.”
Izzy stared at the intercom, then slowly looked at me. Her expression was still very lost and apprehensive, but she managed an utterly disbelieving, “You guys have a lot of money.”
It was my turn to blush, as I shrugged while shifting a little so I was facing her more directly. “Having an intercom isn’t a big deal, and lots of people have voice activated home assistants.”
“But your house is so big and so soundproofed that people can’t hear each other screaming,” she pointed out before finally looking up at me. “Wait, how did you hear me then? You… umm, you said that people couldn’t hear each other from the next room. Except you did hear me.”
“You left your door open,” I replied with a gesture that way. “And I guess I left mine open too. I was really tired after I got–” I almost said ‘home’ but caught myself. “After I came upstairs from my snack. Guess I forgot to close it.” That much was the truth, actually. I’d been seriously famished when I finally dragged myself in after everything that had happened the night before. I’d gotten food from the kitchen and gone back to my room before crashing hard into bed.
Izzy was staring at me, her eyes boring into mine. “So… the only reason you heard me is because we both forgot to close our door?” she asked in a voice that still trembled just a little.
“I, uhh, I guess so.” Offering her a tiny smile, I shrugged. “Not a bad coincidence this time, huh?” Sobering then, I added, “I don’t know what you were… what the nightmare was. But are you okay? I mean, like I said before, if there’s anything you might want to talk about, or–”
“I’m okay,” she interrupted, shaking her head before biting her lip as she stared somewhere around my stomach. “You…” In a small voice, the girl hesitantly asked, “You really don’t want to tell your parents?” Her gaze peeked up at me with a quietly added, “I hit you.”
“Eh, I’ll get over it.” I shrugged, and both of us looked at each other for a few long seconds before I straightened up and offered a hand to her. “I guess we’re both awake now, huh?”
Izzy still seemed a bit reluctant to touch me, but in the end she let me help her up to her feet. Then she took her hand back, folding her arms around her stomach with a slight flinch that I almost missed. “I’m really sorry I woke you up, Cassidy. And that I hit you.”
Dryly, I assured her, “I’ll survive.” It wasn’t even the worst injury I’d taken in the past twenty-four hours, really. I had bruises all over, but they were thankfully all in places other than my face, thanks to my now-destroyed helmet.
Clearing my throat to avoid thinking about all that, I gestured. “Anyway, like I was saying, we’re both awake and there’s no point to me going back to sleep. And I–” Yawning abruptly in the middle of my own words, I flushed. “I need coffee. You wanna come downstairs? It’s not time for Ethan or Christiana to be up yet, but I’m pretty sure we can hunt down our own breakfast.”
“Ethan or Christiana?” Izzy asked with a confused expression, even as she started to move to the door with me. “Who are they?”
So, I told her about Chef Claudio’s assistants. Or interns, or whatever he called them. Students, sometimes. Either way, as we headed down for the kitchen and found our own food, I told her about how those two set things up in the morning and made sure breakfast was ready for everyone. I even told her about how the two of them had taught me how to make omelettes.
“Anyway,” I finished while we carried our food back upstairs (with my coffee, of course), “they’re both really…” I trailed off. Really nice? Did I know that for sure? Hell, for all I knew, Ethan and Christiana were both psychotic axe murderers. Maybe all the people my family employed were secretly evil monsters.
Shaking that off, I started to go on before hesitating once more. That time, it was because Izzy was standing there on the landing just ahead of me, staring silently out through the large window at the dark sky. The tray of toast, fruit, and cereal in her hands shook just a little.
My mouth opened to ask if she was okay (seriously, just what had my family put this girl through?), but she started speaking first. “I wasn’t dreaming.” Glancing back before turning to me, the girl amended, “I mean, I was. But it was more like a memory.”
Boy, did I both want and not want to know what kind of memory would make her scream like that. Almost not trusting my voice, I still managed, “A memory of the reason you’re here?”
She hesitated before nodding once. “I–I can’t talk about it. But… but there’s bad guys out there, and now I’m afraid they’ll come here and hurt you and your parents because I’m here. I… I don’t want that to happen. You guys have been really nice and… and if the bad guys hurt you…”
Wait, was she seriously afraid of bad guys hurting my parents? That had to mean it wasn’t them that she was afraid of at all. If she knew anything about what Mom and Dad did, if they had been involved, then she’d know better. But–okay, maybe it had to do with Dad’s work as Silversmith? Maybe he saved her from something bad? Just because he was also a villain didn’t totally discount Silversmith from ever helping people, of course. Maybe Silversmith saved this girl from someone terrible like… like Pencil. That would fit. Maybe Pencil did something awful to people she knew, like her family, and Dad saved her as Silversmith before taking her in as himself. Wait, this was right after that whole thing at the hospital. What if Izzy’s parents were killed during that whole thing? Yeah. Shit, shit, yeah, that actually fit everything, didn’t it?
A voice in the back of my head told me I was missing something obvious, but I had no idea what it could be. The theory I had was the best I could think of. And hell, there was always the chance that my family was the reason she was upset and she just didn’t know it.
Realizing I’d been silent, I quickly shook my head. “It’s okay, Izzy. You’re safe here. Seriously, this place is probably one of the safest buildings in the city. If you weren’t keyed into the security system, it’d be going nuts right now. You know how Dad had you do all that stuff to add your biometrics into the system before he let you walk anywhere by yourself? That’s because the system tracks all that. If someone tried to go anywhere in this house without either being admitted as a guest or added permanently like you were, there’d be private security here in like sixty seconds and cops in three minutes. Plus, the whole house would lock down, the actual onsite security would be on the job, and…” Trailing off, I shrugged. “Seriously, you’re safe here.”
Except for the fact that the thing keeping her the most safe, who my parents were and what they were capable of, was also the thing that put her in the most danger. But I couldn’t exactly explain that. Part of me wanted to tell the girl to run and never stop running. Instead, I just told myself that Mom and Dad wouldn’t hurt Izzy, even if they were actually villains. Which meant that I had to ignore the voice in the back of my head reminding me about Dad talking about killing me without knowing it was me.
Izzy still looked a little uncertain even without all those details, but started walking again anyway. Together, the two of us went back to her room and sat on the floor. I handed her one of the small cartons of milk for her cereal before pouring some on my own, then started with, “Hey, Izzy?”
Looking up from her food that she had immediately started to dive into, the younger girl hesitated, clearly uncertain about what I was about to say. “Umm, yeah?”
“I know you don’t want to talk about why you’re here, and that’s okay. Really, I’m not gonna push you or anything.” As much as I seriously wanted to, it felt like a bad idea. Especially if I was right about the whole ‘her being traumatized by Pencil killing her parents’ thing. That was not something I wanted to force her to think about. “But I did want to say that you don’t have to be afraid of my parents kicking you out for every little thing.”
Quietly (and with a tiny bit of humor, I thought), she pointed out, “Hitting you isn’t a little thing.”
“Are you kidding?” I scoffed. “Simon hits me all the time and they haven’t kicked him out. I think you’re fine.” Then I sobered a bit. “No, seriously, it’s okay. My parents brought you here, they keyed you into the security system. My–” Fuck, I was telling her to trust my supervillain parents to be good to her. But what else was I supposed to do? I couldn’t tell her the truth about them. I barely knew this kid. I liked her, but I didn’t really know her. She could do literally anything if I told her about that whole situation. And besides, even if I could trust her not to freak out, I definitely didn’t want to thrust that whole responsibility onto her. The poor kid was traumatized to the point of screaming nightmares as it was. I couldn’t do that to her.
Finally, I settled on, “My parents definitely won’t throw you out just like that. And if they try, I’ll… I’ll tell them I’ll keep holding my breath until I pass out or they bring you back. I figure it’ll only take five or six times before they cave.”
A giggle escaped the girl before she even seemed to know it was coming. Her hand covered her mouth, and she flushed visibly. “I–thanks, Cassidy,” she murmured quietly.
We ate breakfast on the floor like that, before I picked up the trays. “I’ll take these down, then come back to take a shower before I’ve gotta go to school. Are… you gonna be okay here without me?”
“Uh huh,” she confirmed. “I’m okay, really. I–” Again, she hesitated. For a second, it looked like she was going to say something else, before settling on, “Good luck on that project you told me about.”
Giving her a thumbs up, I stood with the trays. “No worries, Jae and Amber’ll cover anything I don’t have a handle on.”
There was a sharp cough from behind me, and I turned to see her staring at me. “Jae and Amber?”
“Yeah, my project partners,” I replied. “You okay?”
A quick nod came. “Uh huh, I just… swallowed wrong.” She coughed again, then took a drink of juice. “I’ll make sure to shut the door tonight, I promise.”
Glancing to the door, then back to her, I shook my head. “You know, maybe you should leave it open. If you want to.”
“But if I do,” she pointed out, “I’ll wake you up again if I have another nightmare.”
“I know,” I replied simply.
“That’s kind of what I’m counting on.”