The knock on the door surprised Jerome, who gave Eliza a quick glance as he rose from the couch. They’d been lax about watching the outside in their worry over Nicholas, and only now did he realize how idiotic that was. If Nathaniel had gotten wind of this, or orchestrated it in the first place, then it was the perfect chance for him to take out Nicholas for good. Jerome briefly contemplated smashing through the door rather than even taking the chance; only his experience halted the attack. Nathaniel didn’t just want to kill Nicholas, he wanted to defeat him. Killing a helpless opponent wouldn’t give the orange-eyed monster the victory he craved, so there was a solid chance it wasn’t him at the door. Jerome still held a small gun to his side as he opened the door, just in case.
What stared back at him were four familiar faces, lightly shining in sweat from what he assumed was the jog over. He recognized them easily, though that familiarity didn’t completely ease the tension in his gut. Nicholas was still being looked over; they hadn’t made any calls for help. These four being here spoke to an information leak, and that was not acceptable in his world.
“We’re here to help Nick,” Mary announced, meeting his eyes despite the significant difference in their statures.
“Nicholas is being looked at by a doctor right now. Once he’s done-”
“The doctor won’t find anything,” Mary said, trying to brush her way past. Jerome stood firm in the door, blocking all entrance. “Listen to me: what’s happening is going on in his head, and seeing as how I know neither you or Eliza have abilities to deal with that, we’re his only hope.”
“Maybe so, but I still think it would be best to let the doctor fully examine him before we go trying anything crazy.” Jerome kept his words as polite as always, but his shoulders were squared and his feet were planted. It was clear he meant to defend this territory as he saw fit, even if it meant going against four Heroes-in-training.
Vince shifted his own position, so that he was directly in front of Jerome. “I should probably warn you: my therapist thinks I ‘react with disproportionate aggression’ when someone tries to hurt my friends.”
Both young men looked at each other for a long moment, a single twitch of muscle away from letting loose. What finally broke them apart was a new voice, one that spoke with both venom and sense.
“Can you put away the dicks and the measuring tape until after Nicholas is saved?” Eliza said. “Jerome, get out of the fucking door. The rest of you, dial it back a few notches. We care about Nicholas too, but we’ve got to be careful who we let in.”
Jerome moved aside, motions slow and controlled, and the others stepped into the apartment. If he bore any animosity for being ordered to stand down, Jerome kept it from his face. His expression was the same as always: politely neutral.
“First off, how did you all know about Nicholas?” Eliza asked once the door was shut. “We run a tight ship here and this is important.” Vince was a bit surprised to see her so authoritative. She’d always been strong-willed, but not so much that she would immediately take control of a room filled with near-strangers.
“Telepathy,” Mary said simply. “I overheard some bits of what’s happening to him in there.”
Eliza cocked an eyebrow. “My understanding was that telepaths couldn’t hear unconscious thoughts.”
It was Mary’s turn to be surprised; this woman knew more about how advanced minds worked than Mary herself had when she came to Lander. Then again, given the nature of Nick’s home life and accomplices, it did make sense for them to be well-versed in the capabilities of telepaths.
“Most can’t. I’m a bit unique.”
“Unique enough to help?”
“Unique enough to try.”
“I guess that’s better than our current plan, which is sit here with our thumbs up our ass and hope the doctor finds something,” Eliza admitted. “What are you going to do?”
“Nick is stuck inside a trial, one set-up when his memory was first wiped. He’s not doing well though, and I think he’s going to fail. I’m going to try going in and helping.”
“You HCP people really can do some crazy shit, can’t you?” Eliza glanced from Mary to Vince, and her face softened as their eyes met. “Maybe that explains why you seem to fit in so well. Okay, give me a minute to clear the doctor out and you can all go in.”
Jerome raised his voice, just enough to be heard, and spoke “But protocol-”
“Calm your ass down. I’m making this call, and if it goes bad then it’s on me.”
“Nicholas wouldn’t want them going into his head,” Jerome said.
“No, he wouldn’t, but he’s not here to make the choice. We can’t do anything to help him and they can. Besides, I’m good at reading people, and these four would sooner cut a leg off than intentionally harm their friend.”
“I’d say a foot,” Roy countered. “We were close, but not that close.”
“Does this seem like a time for joking?” Jerome asked.
“No, but Nick’s not here, so someone had to do it,” Roy said.
Jerome scoffed. “Nicholas Campbell isn’t the sort of man who jokes around.”
“That might be, but Nick Campbell is,” Alice snapped. “And we’re going to go get him back.”
Eliza left them to snipe at one another, heading into the bedroom where the doctor was pulling a thermometer from Nicholas’s mouth. He glanced up at her as she entered, blinking away the weariness from his eyes.
“He’s holding stable.”
“Good. Listen, we have some new people coming in, specialized consultants. I thought you might want to head out the back before they came in.”
“We’re on the second floor of an apartment building, what back are you referring to?”
“Our profession sometimes calls for rapid evacuation, so we had a few alterations made to the apartment,” Eliza explained.
“Good enough for me.” The doctor began putting his things into a bag, sounds of tinkling glass filling the air. He only spoke again once he was done. “Listen, I know the deal on these jobs: I’m not supposed to ask too many questions beyond what I need to know for treatment. But I was doing a test earlier and noticed something odd; the sort of thing I wouldn’t feel right not passing on. At the same time, I don’t want you to think I was snooping. I’m aware of how that’s viewed.”
“So long as it’s possible, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt,” Eliza said.
“Guess that’s the best I can hope for. I was checking his eyes for signs of dilation, and when I pulled back the lids I found something very out of the ordinary: his irises are glowing a yellow-gold color that they weren’t before. I don’t know if it’s a symptom or something else, and I don’t want to know. Just making you aware.”
Eliza smiled, a very soft and small expression on her otherwise stoic face, and her eyes darted back toward the living room. Even trapped in his own mind, Nicholas had managed to summon a cavalry.