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It was nearly dark when Skyler and the others said their goodbyes. Madison had brought fresh clothes and supplies for them, and told them to be careful. She would keep an eye out for any news on the Jumpers.
"And..." Hannah began. She glanced at Skyler almost nervously. "Can you keep an eye out for Grace?"
"What?" Skyler looked startled. "But Grace--"
"She's here, Skyler," Hannah said. "In Cincinnati. She's been here for a while."
"You didn't think to tell me?!" Skyler exclaimed.
"I didn't want to upset you," Hannah said soothingly. "I know she's a sensitive topic, and you were already wearing yourself out with looking for the others--"
"But you didn't think I would want to know?!" Skyler shouted. "She's our friend, Hannah! She might need help!"
"Shut up, Skyler," Wes hissed. "Not so loud."
"We don't know what's going on, Skyler," Hannah said quietly. "She might still be tracked. We don't know, and we can't take that chance right now."
Skyler glared, but said nothing. He tried not to feel angry with his sister, but he couldn't help it. If Grace was back, that meant she was alive. She was okay. Skyler hadn't thought he would ever see her again, and yet here she was, back in the city. But since everyone was so suspicious, she was probably without a home. Without any friends around to help her if she was in trouble.
"I'll keep an eye out for her." Madison nodded. "And she'll have a place with me if she's in want of a bed."
"Thanks," Hannah said gratefully. She glanced at Skyler warily again. "Be careful."
"I will." Madison smiled. "You all be careful too. If these Coyotes turn out to be unsafe, my place is open. I miss having people over."
On the way back Skyler was silent. Hannah tried talking to him, but he brushed her off. He was in no mood to listen to her. His frustration boiled inside him. It seemed that everyone else knew about Grace except him. Everyone. Some of them had even seen her. And no one ever told him. All because they thought he was already too unstable to handle it. He wasn't a scared fourteen-year-old anymore. He had made it this far without going insane. This news about Grace wouldn't have pushed him over the cliff.
But it would have made me wear myself out more.
Skyler pushed away the voice. Granted, he would have been less inclined to sleep, but at least he would have been able to do something. He had been feeling helpless for two whole years. He needed something to do that didn't make him feel like everything was hopeless and not worth fighting for anymore.
"Hey." Conway trotted up to them as they returned to the Coyote hideout. "How'd it go?"
Skyler pushed past, in no mood for cheerful conversation. Conway frowned, watching him.
"Ignore him," Wes said. "He's being a jerk. It went fine. Thanks for getting that message to her."
"No problem." Conway nodded. "We've got some dinner for you guys."
Hannah didn't see Skyler at dinner, or when the Jumpers bedded down for the night. Kate offered to look for him in the tunnels, but Hannah declined. She knew her brother wouldn't appreciate having her send him a babysitter. He would come around eventually, and she wanted to be up for him when he did.
"Hey." Wes sat down next her in the dim cavern, handing her a cup of mildly heated coffee. "He'll be fine, you know. You don't have to sit up for him. He's a big boy."
"I know." Hannah looked down at her cup. "But he's still my little brother, and I made him upset."
"So what?" Wes said. "Let him throw a tantrum. It's not your fault he's acting like a kid."
Hannah glared at Wes, he held up his hands. "All I'm saying is you don't have to always be there. It's great that you are, don't get me wrong, but sometimes he just needs to figure things out for himself. Like this. He'll learn that he's being--"
"Don't call him names," Hannah cut him off. "I know what he is. I just don't like seeing him this way... always thinking he has to do something for us, or the others... I'm almost afraid it's gonna kill him." She almost choked on those last words. The idea terrified her.
"Don't talk like that." Wes looked at her. "He's not gonna die, Hannah. Yes, he's pretty much run himself into the ground with exhaustion, but any of us would. It was his idea to come here, and now he thinks it's his job to play leader. No one's challenged him on it, which makes him further settled. I'll even grudgingly admit he's good at it. But he just needs time by himself. Let him figure out his problems on his own for a bit. Be there for him, but don't butt in."
"You talk like you've been through something similar." Hannah smiled a little, looking at him.
"I've lived with the Jumpers a long time." Wes smirked. "We had a few Skylers then.... I was one of them."
Hannah lifted an eyebrow.
"Just saying." Wes shrugged. "He'll come around eventually, and he won't act like he hates you forever. But while he is in this phase of being a jerk..." Wes looked at Hannah in the eyes. "I'm here, if you ever want to talk."
Hannah smiled. She felt a fluttery feeling in her stomach, but she didn't care. "Thanks, Wes."
Wes nodded. "Get some sleep, alright?"
"Okay." Hannah nodded back. Wes crawled back onto the boys' side of the mattresses, and Hannah crawled to the girls' side a little while later.
Hannah suddenly felt herself shaken awake. She gasped and twisted, swinging a fist instinctively.
"Whoa!" Aggie grabbed her arm. "Easy, Hannah! It's just me."
"Sorry." Hannah rubbed her eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Skyler's gone," she said. "He snuck out last night and knocked the Coyote on watch duty unconscious."
"He did what?!" Hannah sat up. "Why?!"
"Is that seriously a question?" Wes asked, hopping as he tried to pull on his sneakers.
Hannah groaned and pushed to her feet. "He's going after Grace."
Skyler managed to slip into the inner city easily, but it still made him nervous. He was still surprised he had been able to escape the Coyote guard without raising an alarm.
Skyler knew he was being stupid. He had no idea where Grace was, no idea if she was still being tracked, and no idea if she was even still on their side. He refused to believe she was on Horatio's side, but after Claire's betrayal Skyler knew better than to immediately rule it out. Anything could happen. It had been two years since they parted on the train.
Entering the city so late at night felt weird. The city seemed nearly dead. Streets were pretty much empty, with an occasional vehicle rumbling down. They had a couple of old safe houses in the city. Even though Grace had been seen on the streets, she might be hanging out in one of them.
Skyler walked down the street, heading for the thrift store. There was an old back room that was never used, and the first safe house.
As he trotted around a corner, a car started up behind him. Skyler slowed to a halt when the headlights came on. Slowly, he turned around to see the large shape of a dark van.
The van rumbled after him. Skyler shot down a narrow street, but the van was gaining speed. Something smacked off the pavement near his feet. Skyler swerved sideways to avoid any more tranquilizers. He had to find cover and lose the Nabbers.
A sharp pain pierced his leg, and he yelled and crumpled to the ground, moaning. The sedative was already taking effect as the van rolled to a stop. Skyler tried to stand, but his legs gave out from under him. He panicked, twisting around to see the Nabbers approaching him. His shaking arms gave out, and he fell back. He vaguely heard voices right bear everything went black and silent.
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The familiar pinching sensation roused Skyler from unconsciousness. He grimaced and sucked in a breath. His nostrils were suddenly packed with the smell of cinnamon, and he sneezed.
"Hey, you're awake."
Skyler jerked and whipped his head around. A girl with long teal-colored hair sat in a recliner nearby.
"Easy..." she frowned, standing and walking over to him. She reached out to him, but Skyler pulled back, watching her warily. "You're okay, Skyler. It's okay. Don't you recognize me?"
Skyler stared at her, trying to place her face.
"It's me." the girl smiled. "Grace."
Skyler stared even harder.
"Grace?" he murmured. "You... you're okay. How--"
"Shh," Grace said. "Rest. You're safe. The Nabbers are gone."
Skyler lay back, looking around. He was lying on a sofa in a spacious living room. A ceiling fan whirred quietly overhead. He had a light, fleecy blanket spread over him, and a feather pillow that had a feather pricking into his neck.
"Just take it easy," Grace said. "You've been out for a while. It's almost lunchtime."
"What?!" Skyler sat up. Grace gently pushed him back down.
"Careful," she said. "Just relax until the sedative is out of your system. We're making something that will help."
"We?" Skyler ground his palms into his eyes. "What's going on? When did you get back? Hannah said they saw you."
"They did?" Grace frowned. "When?"
"I don't know," Skyler replied. "Are you okay? When did you get back to Cincinnati?"
"About half a year ago," Grace said. "I'm fine. No tracker, either." Grace pulled up her T-shirt sleeve. A little scar on her shoulder showed the place the tiny tracking device had been implanted. "I found a lady who could take it out, and I told her what's going on here. Skyler, she might be able to help. She's a doctor."
Footsteps made Skyler turn. A lady with fiery red hair in a messy bun entered the room. She wore blue skinny jeans and a green tank top, carrying a tray of sandwiches and drinking glasses.
"Well, you decided to join the living after all." she smiled as she set down the tray. "Grace, can you fetch the lemonade for me?"
"Sure." Grace left the room. Skyler looked up at the red-haired lady.
"Hello," she said. "So, you're Skyler. Grace has told me a lot about you. At least she did after we carried you in here."
"You did?" Skyler was confused. "How did you keep the Nabbers away?"
"I have my methods." the lady smiled. "Actually I just said you were my second cousin and you were a trouble-maker." She felt Skyler's forehead, then took up a small syringe from the tray. Skyler tensed and sat up a bit. "Easy. It's just medicine. It will help remove the sedative faster so you'll be more awake."
Skyler nodded. He bit his lip when the needle was inserted in the crook of his arm and the plunger depressed.
"There." the lady sat back. "You should be feeling better in a minute or two."
"Who are you?" Skyler asked. "Grace said you helped her, and you could help us here."
"We'll see about that last part," the woman laughed. "Grace told me about Horatio and his plans. But we can discuss that when you don't look half-asleep. I'm Dr. Emma Kelly, but feel free to just call me Emma."
"I'm Skyler. Although I guess Grace already told you that." Skyler grinned as Grace returned with the lemonade.
"Are the other okay?" Grace asked him. "Hannah, and Wes, and the rest?"
"They're fine." Skyler nodded. "We found people we can stay with. They kind of started up around when we... when we "disbanded," I guess. They call themselves the Coyotes. We found them the other day, but before we've been living in an old mechanic's garage." He looked at Grace. "So, you're really not being tracked? You're okay?"
"I'm fine, silly," Grace laughed. "No tracker. They had followed me, but when they realized it was just me they kind of left me alone. I found Emma, and she took it out."
"And, the hair...?"
"Oh." Grace combed her fingers through her hair once. "I did this when we got here, just in case there were any wanted pictures or anything. D'you like it?"
"It's... different." Skyler shrugged. "But it's nice."
Emma smiled. "Well, we can talk more once we've eaten. Starting with what brings you here in the city if it's so dangerous."