Excerpt for Sightlines by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. All person(s) depicted on the cover are model(s) used for illustrative purposes only.

Sightlines

Copyright © 2017 by Santino Hassell

Smashwords Edition

Cover art: Kanaxa, kanaxa.com

Editor: Sarah Lyons

Layout: L.C. Chase, lcchase.com/design.htm

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher, and where permitted by law. Reviewers may quote brief passages in a review. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Riptide Publishing at the mailing address above, at Riptidepublishing.com, or at marketing@riptidepublishing.com.

ISBN: 978-1-62649-509-8

First edition

October, 2017

Also available in paperback:

ISBN: 978-1-62649-510-4

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Chase Payne is a walking contradiction. He’s the most powerful psychic in the Community, but the least respected. He’s the son of the Community’s founder, but with his tattoo sleeves and abrasive attitude, he’s nothing like his charismatic family. No one knows what to make of him, which is how he wound up locked in a cell on the Farm yet again. But this time, the only man he’s ever loved is there too.

Elijah Estrella was used to being the sassy sidekick who fooled around with Chase for fun. But that was before he realized the Community wasn’t the haven he’d believed in and Chase was the only person who’d ever truly tried to protect him. Now they’re surrounded by people who want to turn them against their friends, and the only way out is to pretend the brainwashing works.

With Chase playing the role of a tyrant’s second-in-command, and Elijah acting like Chase’s mindless sex toy, they risk everything by plotting a daring escape. In the end, it’s only their psychic abilities, fueled by their growing love for each other, that will allow them to take the Community down once and for all.

For all the unexpected heroes—past, present, and future.

About Sightlines

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Dear Reader

Acknowledgments

Also by Santino Hassell

About the Author

More like this

It was always a challenge to maintain his mental shield while pretending to be mind-controlled by a sociopath in a black lab coat who was trying to splinter his brain. However, Chase had done it before.

Without his shield, the sociopath in question—Jasper, psychic vamp extraordinaire—would realize Chase had never been truly loyal to the Community. More terrifyingly, he’d also gain access to Chase’s psychic talents. The trick to keeping up his shield was focusing on why he needed it. Usually it was because he trusted nobody enough to let down his guard even for a moment. In this specific moment, it was because he needed Jasper to think he had Chase, biggest freak of the multitalented freaks, firmly on his side so he’d stop pulling.

Pulling wasn’t a technical term, but it was the only way Chase could describe the sensation of Jasper trying to absorb the abilities out of his fucking brain. It felt like a giant vacuum had attached to his ears and eyeballs and was sucking away the psychic bits that made him Chase. And there were so many of those bits that each pull left him convulsing, eyes rolling back, pained screams wanting to escape his mouth.

As a kid, he’d tried to justify the existence of psychic powers as genetic mutations. That had to be why the Black family was so strong, and why Richard had taken a page from their book to begin breeding psychics of his own.

But if all of it was just mismatched genes . . . what clusterfuck of a mutation had given Jasper the ability to suck the abilities out of Chase’s brain? To cause such mind-numbing pain that Chase at times forgot who he was or even what he was. Could a human experience this and still come out okay? Maybe not. Maybe he wasn’t human. Whatever the case was, he wouldn’t let Jasper get him. And Jasper would never hear him scream.

Chase gritted his teeth, fingers clenching where his arms were pinned to his sides, and worked on keeping Jasper out. The psy-sucker could do his best, but he wasn’t going to succeed. Not until Chase’s brain completely buckled and he lost all agency over his body. And his abilities.

“You’re going to kill him.”

Jasper didn’t look back at Richard. He continued to loom over Chase’s pinned-down body, hands braced on either side of Chase’s temples, and struggled to work his way in past Chase’s mental shield.

“Jasper.”

The commanding whip crack of that voice jolted Jasper. Shit, it even jolted Chase, and he was in the process of caving under a mental attack more excruciating than usual. His father tended to have that effect on people.

“He won’t die.” Jasper’s cat eyes fixed on Chase. “He isn’t in danger until he starts to scream.”

Chase bared bloody teeth at him in a smile. “When have you ever heard me scream, shit bag?”

“The times you don’t remember.”

Disgust curdled Chase’s stomach. Jasper made him sicker than the torture itself. So, he did the only thing he could do in such a situation, and spat a bloody gob in Jasper’s face. It wasn’t easy to get all his facial muscles to cooperate and aim just right, but he did it and got a violent backhand for his trouble. It was followed by a punch in his face, then his stomach.

Physical pain joined the mental torment he’d been enduring for . . . a week? Two weeks? Time wasn’t real to him anymore, and he had no idea how many days had gone by since he’d jumped out of that boat. Since Holden and the others had left him and Elijah behind. All he’d known since that point had been a narrow room, an uncomfortable hospital bed, and the sensation of being ripped apart from the inside out.

“Jasper!”

Richard appeared in Chase’s view and grabbed Jasper’s arm. Had he been watching the entire time? Chase didn’t know why Daddy Payne was suddenly involved in this shit show.

“I’m beginning to think you’re enjoying your role rather than understanding the utility of it,” Richard said coldly.

“You don’t understand my role, Richard. That’s why you need me.” Jasper wiped blood on his lab coat, green eyes and narrow pupils still drilling into Chase. “He’s keeping me out, and I need to drain him.”

Richard glanced down at Chase. His nostrils flared before his eyes sharply cut away. “Chase’s abilities have been useful in the past. He doesn’t need to be left a husk.”

“He’s too dangerous to be left whole,” Jasper said with no emotion. “If it weren’t for him and his telepathic communication with his inbred brothers, none of this would have begun. Either he’s stripped or he’s removed entirely.”

Richard’s lips thinned. “He doesn’t need to be a corpse either.”

Chase panted harshly while staring up at his father. The man he’d never expected to . . . defend him?

“He is a traitor,” Jasper said, enunciating each syllable. “The fact that you look at your offspring as your children is the one thing I don’t understand. There is no need for parents in the Community. Isn’t that part of your ideology? That we should be devoted to the cause, to the community as a whole, and not to specific relations?”

Richard ignored the jab. He seemed to ignore a lot when it came to Jasper. “The only thing Chase is definitely guilty of is not telling us what he knew about Beck—not trusting me to tell me what he knew.”

“You really think that’s all he’s done?” Jasper sounded on the verge of laughter. “Are you that desperate to cling to one of your children?”

Richard’s lips curled just slightly before his expression smoothed again. “This has nothing to do with family. But I find it difficult to believe the only person who has consistently remained inside the Community is the one you suspect of betraying it. Especially since you can’t explain how you know.”

Chase stared up at Jasper through his eyelashes, breathing hard and hearing himself wheeze with each gasp. He wondered whether, when Jasper was rooting around in the depths of his mind, he’d found psychic evidence of Chase’s transgressions. The residue of lies, the stain of a secret, a shadow shaped like growing dissent. Could Jasper see those things? Or was this all . . . his assumptions? His personal vendetta because in all their time together as researcher and test subject, since Chase was a child, he’d never broken. Never screamed. Never given Jasper the satisfaction of watching Chase Payne break down.

“In all my years of studying siblings, I’ve discovered they have the strongest bond of all family members,” Jasper said. “Even more so than a parent and a child. They’re unique, especially twins. And that uniqueness would be heightened by psychic siblings, two of whom are from a family with enough power to send a rocket to space.” Jasper’s cat eyes slid away to focus condescendingly on Richard. Leader of the Community, but it seemed, in Jasper’s mind, still lesser. “I think Chase assisted Theo Black when it came to Beck, and I think he called Nate Black here after Theo was killed. Our reprogramming prevents Chase from fully acting against us, so he sent an SOS to his inbred brother. And I believe it’s Chase who continued to send messages to both Nate and Holden, drawing them here.”

“They left him behind,” Richard said. “Holden left him behind.”

“Because Chase came back for the boy.”

“Then use the boy to control him, not the shit that you’re doing now.”

For the first time since this had started, maybe since his childhood, and before Jasper had started practicing pulling from him, Chase panicked. Fear took hold of him with violent fuck-boy paws and forced him to see nothing but images of Elijah being hurt. Tortured physically. Ripped apart mentally. Left a husk as Richard had said. Beaten. Starved. White torture. Disorientation. Or totally reprogrammed and controlled.

The heart monitor tracking Chase’s vitals sped up.

“If I can’t get him to break, we’ll use the boy.”

A concession. One that satisfied Richard. He took a step back, retreating to his corner of the room while Chase shot him a panicked look.

Help me.

Richard started, then went still. Jasper put his hands on Chase again.

The pulling began more violently than usual. Chase’s eyes rolled back and he seized, limbs shaking and lips parting. A grunt escaped, the first sound all day, and Jasper released an excited hiss: “Yes . . .”

This man would soon have Elijah. He would use Elijah. Hurt him. Take him. Destroy him. Control him.

The possibilities shrieked through Chase on a loop, one image more awful than the last, as Jasper continued tearing him to pieces out of determination to destroy Chase’s telepathy—the only tool he had to communicate with his brothers. It hurt more than anything had ever hurt before. Maybe Jasper was getting closer, and this would work, and Chase would end up incompetent or brain-dead. Or maybe it wouldn’t work, and they’d drag out Elijah.

Chase did the only thing he could do to stop this.

He dropped his mental shields and invited in the full force of Jasper’s power. Then he screamed.

What had been painful was now unbearable, and he let himself feel it all. Red streaked across his vision, then black, and everything was cold. Everything was agony, and his scream got louder until he sounded like something else. Something different.

The glass lining his cell shattered.

“Goddamn it, Jasper!” Richard’s voice shook when he yelled.

The pain kept coming, a freight train of agony. Heat blazed over the cold, until Chase’s body felt flayed and exposed. His mind was a distorted mess of crossed wires that scrambled his thoughts and distorted his vision until everything was wrong.

There was shouting above the screaming in his head and the sound coming out of his mouth, but none of it made sense. Even when the pain traveled down his arms and something cold and sharp bit into his wrists.

Something touched him. Fingers. Hands. And then the pulling, the awful violent stretching, stopped.

Chase peeled his eyes open to find himself crouched on the floor, curled up and panting like a feral animal. The skin of his wrists was torn and bleeding. Apparently, a surge of energy and adrenaline had soared through him, and he’d broken the straps. Or that spark of telekinesis had come out like it always did when he started to slip away.

Licking his lips, Chase tried to reorient himself while huddling and hiding his face again. The voices around him still seemed too far away as he regathered his wits, but he could hear Richard snarling at Jasper, and Jasper lazily defending himself.

Everything in his body was on fire, but Chase forced himself to unlock his limbs and muscles. There was a conflict going on around him, and he could work with this. Divide and conquer, even when it felt like his own brain had been split in two.

Chase clumsily scrabbled across the floor, unable to walk, mostly crawling. The words silenced around him as he huddled by Richard’s feet.

“Please,” he managed to gasp. “Please help me.”

Silence resounded in the room. There was nothing but his labored breathing and the drip of his blood on the tile. He chanced a look up, squinting through the blurriness and lights dancing before his eyes, and saw naked horror on Richard’s face. It was amazing how a man who’d done so much, who was responsible for so much, had never witnessed this violence with his own eyes.

It made Chase hate him even more. But he swallowed his revulsion and clutched the smooth, perfectly cut slacks his father wore.

“Please,” he croaked again.

“You’re not buying this, are you?” Jasper asked, again sounding bored. “Put him back on the table and next time—”

“There won’t be a next time,” Richard thundered. “We’re done here.” He took a deep breath, which came out shaky, before kneeling beside Chase. “Come on. Up.”

Chase tried to grab Richard’s shoulders and failed. His fingers wouldn’t lock. His limbs wouldn’t cooperate. For a second, he really did panic. What if this was permanent? What if . . . he couldn’t escape? Or help Elijah.

“Why can’t he move?”

“It should fade.” Jasper walked closer, his footsteps slow and deliberate. “Richard—”

“‘Should,’” Richard repeated. “I told you not to hurt him.”

“No, Dick. You told me not to kill him.” A patient sigh, one that prompted Chase to glance up through his tearing eyes. All he could make out was a clenched jaw and Jasper holding himself very still. “I know it must be shocking to see what I do here, but it’s been sanctioned by you. Long ago. Why do you think the child is the way he is? He was half a beast when you finally took him to the city. Still is.”

A beast. One day Chase would crush Jasper’s head. That was a promise.

“You’re right. This is why Chase is the way he is, and this is why I’m putting a stop to it. Now.” The tremor was gone from Richard’s voice, and he was himself again. Commanding, strong, and brooking no wiggle room for debate. He was once again the person Chase had been in awe of as a child. The first time they’d met, Chase had been amazed at the man wearing the dark suit and shiny shoes—the first person he’d ever seen without a uniform or lab coat. “He’s my son. My only remaining adult son. And I won’t waste his life so you can have his talent.”

Richard hooked his strong hands under Chase’s arms and pulled him up. When Chase, whose knees were like water, nearly slid to the floor again, Richard held him.

“Fine,” Jasper said, voice gone cold. “And the boy? Elijah.”

Chase dug his fingers into Richard’s arms as tight as he could, and forced himself to make the most pathetic whimpering sound he could muster. Save me, Daddy. Save me from the bad man who wants to hurt me and my friend. I’m still loyal to you.

“I’ll deal with the boy myself.”

Richard put his arm around Chase’s shoulders and drew him out of the room, but not before Chase chanced a disoriented look over his shoulder at Jasper. He was furious. And that wouldn’t end well for any of them.

When Chase opened his eyes, he was immediately aware of a few things.

The first was that Frick and Frack, the Farm’s asshole psy-kid siblings who’d replaced Six as head of the guards, had sedated him after Richard had summoned them to the silo.

The second was that he was in a room he’d never seen before, so fancy he could have never imagined it. In all the years Chase had spent on the Farm, he’d always been . . . confined. Held in either a tiny cell in the silo, where Jasper could poke and prod at his leisure, or allowed to sleep in a slightly larger room in the silo with no windows save for a thin horizontal strip near the ceiling. He’d thought that had been a luxury and a reward for good behavior. But this bedroom, with its dark wooden walls and heavy beams across the ceiling, the golden glow of designer lamps, and fancy throw rugs, was a palace.

The third thing he realized was that all his psychic brain bits seemed to be intact, but he was pumped full of psy suppressants so those bits were close to useless. They’d put him back on them three weeks ago—when they’d first brought Elijah to the Farm.

Chase gritted his teeth and stared up at the ceiling. He should have been used to their methods of controlling him. As a kid, they’d programmed him to fear everything. Fear leaving the Farm, fear people from other parts of the city, fear voids, the government, anyone who could hurt him if they knew what he was.

Then, he’d gone out into the world and decided . . . a lot of that was bullshit. His talents allowed him enough insight into the people around him to discern whether they truly had bad intentions, and most of them didn’t. The people who wanted to do harm were there, but more folks than not couldn’t have given less of a fuck about whether he lived or died. Apathy was humanity’s biggest crime. Not murderous intent.

But even as he’d gone into New York City to learn that Jasper and Richard had mind-fucked him into being afraid of his own shadow, the Community’s early programming had kept him steady in their ranks. He knew there was more to the void world than they’d let on, and he knew his father and Jasper were taking advantage of the Community and even the rest of the board, but he could never force himself to do anything about it.

It was a mental stranglehold created by Jasper to control their Super Boy even after Richard had demanded his son be turned loose into the world. Chase would be out in the city, but the very notion of leaving the Community or defecting had caused his throat to close up and his body to all but shut down. Of all the Pavlovian responses that could have been programmed into him, Jasper had chosen to make Chase think—really think—he’d die if he left the people who’d raised him. It was all Jasper could do since he hadn’t been able to strip Chase of the talents that had opened his mind to the rest of the world, and there was no way to pump him full of drugs while Chase was running around the city.

Mind control had been the only way Jasper was able to exert his control on Chase, but now that Chase was back at the Farm . . . there were all the other ways as well.

Chase curled his hands in the plush blanket beneath him. One shift, and he felt the bed molding beneath his aching back. These motherfuckers straight up had memory foam beds while he’d lived almost a decade of his life sleeping on a hospital bed? Out of all the things they’d done to him, somehow this was right up there at the top of the list as the biggest slap in the face.

He rolled to the side and got to his feet, wincing at the sudden motion. All his mental pieces were in place, but his body was still a mess. His shoulder ached, and he could catalog a sprain in his ankle, his wrist, and a herniated disc in his back. Or two. After Frick and Frack had shot Elijah, he’d put up quite a fight.

“How are you feeling?”

Chase rolled his shoulders, flinching. “Awful. Your hand puppets beat the shit out of me.”

Richard stood against the wall with his hands in his pockets. He was looking out the window, sandy hair shot through with silver and falling to the nape of his neck. It wasn’t usually this long, and that reminded Chase of Holden. The thought of his half brother caused Chase to swallow. After all this time, he still had no fucking clue how he felt about the guy.

“They thought you were trying to escape.” When Chase said nothing, Richard looked over at him. “Were you?”

“Nah.”

“‘Nah,’” Richard repeated. “Is that supposed to satiate my concern?”

“Is you not letting Jasper actually kill me supposed to satiate my concern that you were still sitting there watching him try to suck me dry?”

Richard looked out the window again. “I apologize for that.”

“You apologize? He’s been doing this to me since I was a kid, Dick. And . . .”

“And what?”

Chase exhaled slowly. All his talents were in place, but he still felt scrambled. Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe it was just the aftereffects of all the pulling. Regardless, there was no time to ease back into this game. The game where he pretended to be a loyal card-carrying member of the psychic Community. He just had to jump in with both feet.

“I didn’t know you knew,” Chase said finally, putting a rough edge of hurt into his voice. “And I never told you because I know how informants and snitches get treated here. But I didn’t know you gave the okay for me to be a science project.”

Richard had the decency to react. Not much, just a slight bowing of his brow and a pursing of his lips, but it was something. “You were never a project.”

“So what the fuck was I? Research?”

“Yes.”

As cynical as he’d always been, it still hit Chase like a punch in the throat.

“I’ve never met anyone like you, Chase. And I was amazed that you were a product of my genes.”

“Half your genes,” Chase bit out. “The other half is Lorelei Black’s.”

Richard’s back stiffened. “Even so, you were mine, and yet you were exceptional. If you weren’t so impulsive, so unwilling to acclimate yourself with the Community and society as a whole—”

“You mean dressing up like Holden instead of getting tatted and screaming ‘Fuck the world’ in a pansexual accent?”

Richard’s eyes narrowed at the mention of his other son. “Correct. If you’d followed his example, you would have been the most valuable psychic in this entire Community. A telepath with both precognitive and postcognitive abilities and a touch of telekinesis—”

“My telekinesis is a joke. It doesn’t work at will.”

“It works under emotional duress,” Richard said. “In the silo, you didn’t break the straps with your physical strength alone. I watched them loosen before you broke free.”

Chase scoffed, unconvinced. He’d spent eighty percent of his life in extreme emotional duress and the psychic bits in his brain had rarely rubbed together enough to spark a telekinetic reaction.

“My telekinesis is broken. Get over it.”

“Regardless. You’re a powerful telepath. You can not only project your memories but insert yourself into another person’s mind. Into their dreams.” Richard turned fully to Chase, and his expression was strained. “My God, Chase. Do you have any idea the places you could have gone?”

“You’re right, Dad. I coulda been the motherfucking president.”

Richard pushed himself away from the window and moved closer to him. He’d always seemed larger than life, this impeccable person in power suits with broad shoulders and strong hands. With Chase battered and fatigued, that was emphasized. But he didn’t shrink in on himself or flinch for a coming blow. He just watched and waited.

“I know what you’re thinking, Chase. That the entire reason I was supposed to have dreamed up the Community was to help psychics. Not study them. But there is more to this than brotherly love and support systems,” Richard said. “We need to protect each other. And we can only do that with power.”

“So you studied people like me . . .” Chase trailed off, blinking away memories that came back unbidden. The way they’d poked and prodded and tested and pulled at him as a kid, trying to figure out how a toddler could be mentally stronger than multiple grown psys put together. How he’d managed to speak to them with nothing but his mind and ask where his mother was. And when they’d ignored him, how he’d entered their dreams to beg to be released from his cell. “Because you wanted to figure out how we can become strong,” he finished.

“Yes. Do you think a psychic like me would ever have enough influence to make a difference in the world?” Richard scoffed. “No. But you? And more like you? Absolutely.”

When Chase only stared up at him without comment, Richard began to pace the room with long steady strides. Agitation made itself known in the way he clenched his fists and jaw.

“When I met your mother, Lorelei Black . . .” Richard said her name like he was trying to pronounce an unfamiliar language. His gaze flicked to the window before he continued. “God, she was beautiful. Pale, white-blond hair, silver eyes—she didn’t look real. The fact that she was a powerful psychic made it better. Even though she was far more powerful than I’ve ever been. Powerful like—”

“Like me,” Chase said flatly. “She was a multi.”

“Yes. But her power was raw whereas we taught you to control yours.” Richard wiped a hand over his face, inhaling deeply. “The first thing she said to me was that no one could know we’re psychics. She was terrified of voids learning about her gift. She was initially indescribably happy to learn about a psychic Community, but that quickly turned to fear that the CW would lead to us being exposed. She feared what would happen if the government knew we existed, so to reassure her, I told her I’d show her the Farm. I’d show her . . . our plan.”

Chase could have laughed if his face didn’t hurt so much. “The plan to study people like her? Powerful raw psychics?”

Yes. At first she was excited, just as I expected. She was born into a family just as obsessed with remaining strong, and after I met her, I realized the value in breeding psys.” Richard shook his head as if thinking back to that time. “She agreed to stay and participate in Jasper’s study. But then she changed her mind. Something spooked her, and she vanished.”

“‘Something spooked her’ . . . More like Jasper spooked her. Did it ever cross your mind that the man is a fucking psychopath?”

“Over time it has, but I’ve also realized he’s a necessary evil. With his help, we’ve crafted so many powerful psychics.” Richard turned to Chase, not stopping until they were only a couple of inches apart. It was closer than they usually were, more intimate than Chase was prepared for. When Richard cupped the side of Chase’s face, the astonishment and the sudden rush of vulnerability that shot through Chase was real. “You have to understand, son. The government already knows about us. It’s only a matter of time before they decide to use us. Or worse—treat us as a threat to be neutralized or controlled. Kept within the confines of some facility until they can figure out whether we can be used as tools or whether we’re dangerous to national security.”

“Are we?” Chase asked, voice steady despite the way his pulse jumpstarted at his father’s touch. Never had he shown kindness. Never. “Do you want your super psys to get in and take over or be watchdogs?”

“There’s no point in having a watchdog if no action can be taken when things go awry.”

It made sense. God fucking help Chase, but it made sense. It was why, even without the programming keeping him from leaving the Community, he didn’t think he ever would. There were too many parts of it that . . . worked. Too many people it worked for. People like Elijah. And there was more hope to change things, or fix things, if he was on the inside.

He had nowhere to go, anyway. No aspirations. No hope for a life beyond the CW, Evolution, and the Farm.

“You understand,” Richard said knowingly.

“I guess I do.”

Richard crouched down so they were eye to eye, and Chase fought an urge to jerk away. Out of revulsion but also horror that . . . he warmed at this attention. These touches. Richard’s tone.

It’d never been him on the receiving end of affection or concern. It had never been him who’d been treated like a person. If his brain wasn’t close to succumbing to the recent strain and the drugs, he would easily be able to pick out his father’s thoughts. He’d know if any of this was real.

“You’re my son, Chase. Regardless of your mother, of the circumstances of your birth, you are mine. But if we could figure out how to make more psys like you . . . It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.”

Not your sacrifice. My sacrifice. While Jasper pulled me apart and put me back together, you collected psy women to breed more multitalented babies. Because you were inspired by my mother’s family, after you fucked her up and ruined her life. Ruined mine. Ruined Nate and Theo’s after turning their mother into a basket case before they were even born.

The accusation was on the tip of his tongue, ready and waiting to leap off and slam into Richard’s face, but Chase stopped it. He closed his eyes, took deep breaths, and schooled himself into a false version of himself.

“Chase, why were you trying to escape?”

“I wasn’t trying to fucking escape.”

“You’re lying. I saw the surveillance footage.”

Chase sneered. “You saw what you wanted to see. I went with them, but only because of Elijah.”

“The boy.” There was a hint of disgust in Richard’s voice. “You were willing to leave the Community, to betray me, for that boy?”

“I was going along with their dumb-fuck plan because I didn’t want Elijah to end up . . . like where I was. With Jasper. And then your shit-stain guards shot him.”

“Because he broke in and was running off with you. Running away with outsiders and traitors. With Sixtus. And your brother.”

There was real venom in Richard’s voice, and it was clear he felt a genuine sense of betrayal. Chase had no doubt that Nate and his boyfriend, but especially Six and Holden, were in for a world of pain once they were back in Richard’s grasp.

And he had no doubt, if he didn’t play this right, that he and Elijah were in for the same.

“I’m not like Holden,” Chase said flatly. “The Community is where a freak motherfucker like me belongs. Even if I do hate Jasper.”

Richard dropped his hands onto Chase’s shoulders and squeezed. “And the boy? Is he the reason why you withheld information from me before? Why you allowed outsiders to come into Evolution and look into Beck?”

Chase felt himself nodding. “I knew no one would believe me about her. And every time I tried to do something myself . . .” As he spoke, he waited for the choking sensation to grab hold of him. The feel of his chest constricting as he broke into a sweat. It hit him every time he thought about leaving the Community or taking it down.

Except . . . it didn’t happen.

Just like when he’d pushed through it for Elijah. From the start, a thread between him and Elijah had formed that he couldn’t explain. A connection that anchored him to the present and not a fear of what would happen in the future if he turned his back on the people who’d made him.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Chase finished. “You people taught me to keep my mouth shut even when you’re talking to me. Asking questions was a crime. Snitching on Beck seemed like more of one.”

Richard stared at Chase, gaze intense and skewering. “And the boy? What do you hope happens with him?”

“Elijah belongs here just as much as me.”

“How can you be so sure? He came with that group with an intent to destroy everything we’ve accomplished.”

“That’s not true,” Chase said sharply. “He only came here for me. Because he knew something bad was happening to me. That Jasper was on the verge of killing me.” When Richard just gave him that cool skeptical look, Chase balled his hands into fists. “He’s a precog. He could see it.”

“Are you certain, Chase?”

“I am fucking positive, Father.”

Richard’s nostrils flared. He rose to his feet as a glimmer of satisfaction passed over his expression. “Then maybe we should bring the boy in here and ask him for ourselves.”

It took nearly thirty minutes for Elijah to be transported from the silo to the guesthouse. Long enough for horror scenarios to run through Chase’s mind. They didn’t usually go straight to physical torture when they were reprogramming a wayward psy, but . . . the staff got rough when someone disobeyed. And Elijah wasn’t exactly the kind of person to go along submissively.

He always put up a fight.

That fiery streak, the sparking brown eyes and nonstop sarcasm, were what had initially drawn Chase to Elijah. From the moment Chase had stepped off the Farm to join the rest of the Community in the city, people had feared him. They’d avoided him. They’d assumed his bad attitude was indicative of some deeper issue, or that he was so powerful that there was no way he could control it.

Elijah hadn’t given a shit. He’d taken a single look at Chase, informed him that punk was dead, and hadn’t hesitated to backhand Chase after one unsolicited grope too many. And then he’d schooled Chase on consent. He’d schooled him on boundaries. He’d spent the past two years teaching Chase why so many things about him were wrong, and trying to help him be less . . . the him he’d been taught to be while raised on the Farm with people who’d thought his body was fair game.

After that, Elijah had wound up in his bed—or in a bathroom stall at Evo—on a regular basis, despite him claiming Chase wasn’t worth his time. They’d fucked so much, it had sometimes felt like there was more to it. Chase had allowed himself to create fantasy scenarios where Elijah only looked at and wanted him. Or that Elijah also felt the red rubber band that bound them together no matter how hard they sometimes pushed each other away.

That all crashed and burned every time Elijah looked up at Holden with admiration in his eyes.

But none of that mattered anymore. Right now, Elijah had been shot, likely mind-fucked, and was locked up in the silo.

Chase simultaneously felt like hurting himself out of guilt, and taking out everyone on the Farm to get revenge.

He did neither. He couldn’t even reach out telepathically to his brothers or Elijah. The combo of psy-sups and sedatives was dampening his talent in a way he’d never experienced before. And Richard was still standing there observing him.

“Are you ready?” Richard asked.

“For?”

The door opened, and Chase’s hands tightened into fists.

Frick and Frack, dressed in tactical gear as they’d been since the “invasion,” dragged Elijah in by his arms. He was barefoot and wearing nothing but a thin white T-shirt and a pair of compression shorts, even though the outside temperature was frigid. There was a bandage on his arm from where he’d been shot, but it was clear the two fuckers handling him hadn’t been using the best of care.

His lip was swollen, half his face was bruised, deep-bronze skin dull and slightly ashen, and he sank to the plush carpet despite them making a weak attempt to toss him in an armchair. Elijah landed awkwardly on his side and hissed out a breath, cradling his arm.

He was breathing so hard and shaking so violently, that he didn’t even seem to register who else was in the room.

A flash of anger shot through Chase too quickly for him to mask. He could tell the moment Richard felt it, which proved something Chase had been suspecting for the past several months. Since he’d made the desperate decision to reach out to Nate.

His own feelings for Elijah made him weak.

He schooled his face, gathered all the fragments of his asshole armor, and sneered down at Elijah. “Look what you did to yourself,” he managed to spit out. “You should have never gone with those idiots.”

Elijah looked up, squinting through the pain. His big dark eyes widened slightly upon seeing Chase, but they quickly flicked to Richard and back again.

“Chase . . .”

Elijah struggled to push himself up. Judging from his mobility, Chase was willing to bet the gunshot had thankfully been a flesh wound, but it didn’t stop his body from tensing with the need to go to him. He wanted to help Elijah up, pull him close, and tell him roughly, while burying his face in all that wavy glossy hair, what an idiot he was. But instead Chase held himself still and forced himself to look at Richard for direction.

“Sit down,” Richard said. “We’re all going to have a chat.”

Chase sat on the edge of the bed. Obedience made him ragey, but he’d already gone off too much about Jasper to get away with giving any more attitude to Richard. His loyalty wasn’t believable if he spent the entire time talking shit to everyone.

“And you . . .” Richard’s gaze grew distinctly chillier once aimed at Elijah. “You hold still.”

The two guards started to drag Elijah to his feet, but he twisted away, sneering at them. “I can do it myself. I guess it’s a good thing you have shitty fucking aim.”

The male sibling tensed, his own expression creasing in a scowl. His sister gave a minute shake of her head. Then she glanced at Richard. He didn’t say anything, but there was something in his demeanor they read as a warning because neither of them lashed out at Elijah.

Chase suspected they were the type who would let their new roles as head guards get to their heads, unlike Six. But apparently, Six had been Ex-Comm all along, so maybe this was how all staff at the Farm got once they realized the people being held for “realignment” were nothing more than prisoners waiting their turn to be brainwashed. If someone was a fucking monster, it probably wasn’t hard to stop seeing people as people once their free will was stripped away.

Chase would love to get the two guards in a room alone. Psychic powers neutered or not, he’d been in enough fights to fuck him up a pair of dead-eyed psy kids.

“You’re probably wondering why you’re here, Elijah,” Richard said once Elijah was sitting upright. “Why you’re being held in the silo. Why you can’t go home . . .”

“I know why.” Elijah tossed his disheveled hair out of his face. Even sweaty, battered, and clearly in pain, he had a way with a condescending bitch stare. “Because I know what you’re doing. What the Community is really about.”

“And what’s it about, Elijah?” Richard asked, crossing one leg at the knee. “Enlighten us.”

“It’s about you collecting psychics. Community Watch, an organization designed to help people—” the words like me were unspoken in the air, but the heavy weight of them still took up space nonetheless “—is being used by you and Beck and Jasper and . . . who knows who else, as a honey trap. A lure for psychics in need. It’s all a game to you. A hunting ground. Just like Evolution.”

“Interesting theory.” Richard was trying to be light, but it wasn’t working. He wasn’t as charming as Holden, or as two-faced as Chase. Not as good an actor as his wife. He couldn’t keep the ice from his tone. “What’s the goal of this game?”

Elijah’s eyes lit for a second—that psy-kid glow that indicated he was seeing a flash of the future—before he set his jaw. Apparently they hadn’t bothered to put him on psy-sups.

“You want to use us to shape the world, and you’re totally willing to betray your original goal, and the other founders, to do it.”

Chase wanted to smack him.

His nostrils flared, eyes narrowing, and by default he tried to make a mental link with Elijah. To reach out with his gift and whisper into Elijah’s mind: We’ll win the fucking battle if you quit fighting so loudly.

Trying to go head-to-head with people on the Farm had always called for guerilla warfare. Staying low, trying to be invisible, and then getting over or getting out.

That was how he’d gotten off the Farm as a kid. How Six had been trusted enough to slip away after years of servitude. And it was how Stepmama Payne had managed to live out nearly a decade with them decreasing her tranqs and psy-sups over time because she’d seemed so placid. But not Elijah. He had to kick, scream, and spit. And Chase wasn’t able to tell him just how suicidal that was.

Not directly, anyway.

“The Community saved your worthless life, you idiot,” Chase said. “Or did you forget?”

Elijah’s attention whipped from Richard to Chase. He blanched, making the purpling bruises stand out more on his delicate face.

“What?”

“Three years ago, you were nothing but a runaway from fucking Wisconsin who was pickpocketing faggots at the pier by West Fourth and had downgraded even more to hanging around the Brambles to try your hand at sucking dick for pocket change.” Chase kept his tone even, his eyes as dead as the guards, and locked gazes with Elijah. “The Community saved your life. Without them, you’d have wound up in jail, a career whore, or dumped in the Hudson.”

Elijah’s lips moved, but he seemed to have trouble forming words. Chase didn’t need Holden’s hyperactive empathy to see the naked hurt on Elijah’s face. The way his eyes had grown damp.

“I don’t understand how they’re able to control you like this,” Elijah whispered. “You’re the most powerful psychic I’ve ever known, and they turn you into their fucking puppet.”

Chase wanted to shake him. He was so good at his own act that Elijah couldn’t tell it was an act. Which meant Elijah was going to keep doing all the wrong things instead of jumping on the pretend-to-be-mind-controlled train.

“You shouldn’t have come here with your little friends,” Chase said. “You shouldn’t have let them turn you on—”

“They’re your friends too.”

Elijah shot to his feet, or tried to, and had to swing out his good arm to brace against the wall. His head seemed to swim because he wavered, and then almost collapsed to the floor again. The female guard grabbed him before he could fall.

“Will.” Richard looked at the male guard. “Prepare another room for the boy.”

Chase dug his fingers into his palms. He tried not to snarl once Will passed him on his way out the door.

Richard nodded at the other guard. “Put him in the chair, Kyra. And keep him there.”

“Yes, sir.”

Elijah gave little resistance as he collapsed in the armchair, sweating, but his big dark eyes were still conveying his betrayal.

“Chase,” Richard said. “Tell me about our friend. When we first brought him in, you were a little . . . preoccupied, and he refused to talk.”

Preoccupied had been more like sedated when he wasn’t being mentally skewered by Jasper. All he’d known was that Jasper had dangled Elijah in front of him like a threat. And now they were going to do it again, unless he and Elijah got on the same page.

So Chase nodded, not breaking Elijah’s stare as he relayed all of his information like a fucking soulless computer. “His name is Elijah Estrella. He’s from Wisconsin, and ran away at seventeen. His mother’s boyfriends were abusive, and he’d seen the Community, and New York, in a premonition. But he’s not powerful. That’s why no one notices him as anything other than a twink with a nice ass who hangs around with the right people.” Elijah flinched, but said nothing to interrupt Chase. “But we noticed him at the club. Set him up with a job, rented him the room in my apartment, and introduced him to the band. For the past three years, Elijah was a success story. An example of the good the CW could do.”

Elijah closed his eyes, but he didn’t disagree. He couldn’t. He’d sung the Community’s praises so many times in the past, even to Theo and Nate, that there was no denying how infatuated he’d been. How loyal.

“And your relationship with him,” Richard said. “What is it?”

Here it was. The real test of whether Chase was willing to say anything and everything. Whether all their years of programming had fully brought him under their control. So he let his shield slip, just a bit, like an accident, and allowed Richard to feel this truth.

“He started fucking me because Holden wouldn’t give him the time of day,” Chase said flatly. “He sees me as a convenient dick, and Holden as the prize.”

Elijah shook his head, eyes growing rounder. “Chase . . . no.”

“And how do you see him?” Richard asked, speaking over Elijah.

“As someone I love.” Humiliation wasn’t an emotion Chase experienced very often, but it scorched through him without remorse. “But it doesn’t fucking matter. Because I’m the freak—”

Elijah shook his head more vehemently, his lips trembling, eyes red and damp. “It’s not true.”

“—in the family. Just someone he’ll hop on when he’s horny and bitter over Holden. ’Cause he knows I’ll never turn him away. ’Cause he knows I would do anything for him.” The amount of vulnerability needed to strip himself this bare, to show his insides, made Chase want to throw himself out the window. Sweat trickled down his face, and his body felt cold. “I’ve never told him because he doesn’t think I’m capable of feelings. He thinks I have no heart.”

Elijah looked so stricken by the words, so absolutely fucking broken that Chase felt sick. Even though it was true. All of it was true. He’d been the one to beg for a job for Elijah, the one to offer his apartment, the one to bully Jericho and Lia into giving Elijah a shot at joining the band even though auditions had been over. But Holden had gotten all the credit. It was Holden, in Elijah’s mind, who had saved him. And Chase was just there to fuck him when he was bored.

Richard put a hand on Chase’s shoulder and squeezed. Was this supposed to be a comfort? Could he feel how Elijah had spent the last couple of years digging a larger and larger hole into Chase’s chest every time he’d dismissed him for Holden? Every time he’d talked about Holden right after they’d fucked?

Heh. Richard could probably feel it all. And more. But his compassion was hilarious given Chase wanted to rip his fucking face off.

“So, you fell in love with a runaway who used to be a thief, and you betrayed me for him?”

“No.” Things were getting dicey, but Chase left his shield down. Because this was true too. This was how stupid he’d been, along with everyone else. “I thought all the shit at the club, the disappearances and Theo’s murder, was only Beck. And I left the silo with them the other night because I was half out of my fucking mind, and I wanted to protect Elijah.”

Richard’s hand tightened on his shoulder again, and Chase slammed the gate closed. That was all he had for his father. Not the soul-crushing—as pitiful as his soul was—realization that Beck had been scouting multitalented queers for Richard. And that he’d sent her to Evo, because he was evil enough to know that most of the more powerful queer psys didn’t have anyone but each other, and he could snap them up because not many people would miss them if they were gone.

But Richard hadn’t anticipated Theo. Or Nate. Or even Chase trying to stop it. Apparently rebellion ran in the Black family genes.

“So what do we do with him now?” Richard walked closer to Elijah. He dragged a finger down Elijah’s damp cheek, shaking his head when Elijah jerked his face away. “He’s aligned himself with Ex-Comm. Shows utter contempt for us. And he’s in love with Holden, who has also betrayed me.”

“Realign him,” Chase said sharply. “He’s not far gone. A few months ago, he was basically a Community evangelical, spreading the goddamn word to every psy he came face-to-face with. Then your wife’s people got to him and talked him and Holden into the invasion.”

Richard’s entire body tightened.

Bad move, Chase. Don’t bring up the wife.

“Let me work on him,” Chase pleaded, allowing all his desperation to seep into his voice. “I’ve spent most of my life on this Farm. I know how to realign someone. And he can be. I know it. He’s not like Holden, who always kept himself separated in his special fucking club.”

“Why are you doing this?” Elijah cried. “Do you actually believe this or are you not . . . you? Holden cared about you. He came for you!”

Chase cast him a withering look. “He came for his mother. He just happened to find you first. Or did you really think he gave a shit about you? About either of us.”

“You’re his brother. He loves you.”

“I’m a tool for him,” Chase snarled, voice rising. He didn’t know if it was the venom in his voice or the fierceness in his expression that struck him silent, but Elijah clammed up. “That’s all I ever was.”

Chase exhaled and inhaled slowly, and allowed his eyes to fall shut for a second. There were dual urges working inside of him, and he was starting to have a difficult time discerning his plan from the seeds of resentment that had been growing for years. That had started from the very first moment he’d realized that Richard Payne wasn’t only his father. Off the Farm, in a beautiful Upper East Side mansion, he’d had a real son.

“Whatever.” Chase turned to his father. “Elijah’s infatuated with Holden, and with the idea of the club, and it’s got him all twisted up and confused. Work with him. We can get him back to where he should be.”

“You can’t make me like you,” Elijah said, struggling to get up from the chair and failing. “I spent so long being a puppet, and I won’t do it again. I’ll tell every fucking Comm member I meet that Richard Payne is a sociopathic monster who uses—”

Chase swung out his arm and cracked his hand against the side of Elijah’s head. It seemed to stun more than hurt him, but Elijah’s face still reddened.

“I can’t believe you’re this weak,” Elijah said, voice low with contempt. “I thought you were the strongest psychic I knew.”

“You have no idea what it means to be strong, baby boy.”

Chase could feel everyone’s eyes on him, watching and assessing his ability to follow through on his promise that he’d be able to get into Elijah’s head and realign him. Analyzing whether he was truly in line himself. But instead of looking at them, or focusing on convincing them, he stared into Elijah’s eyes and tried to make that mental link again.

Just do what I say and we’ll get through this, you silly fuck, he wanted to say, but he couldn’t reach out far enough to make the connection. His shield kept anything from getting in his head, and the psy-sups kept his gift from projecting outward. All he could do was narrow his eyes and stare into Elijah’s lovelier and more miserable pair.

“It’d be in your interest to try the usual route before you let Jasper lobotomize him,” Chase said again, directing the words at Richard even as he glared down at Elijah. “Holden and them will try to spread the word that you’re using the CW for your own agenda. But if one of Holden’s own employees, a close one like Elijah, says Holden is just . . . trying to slander you out of resentment or bitterness, then his story loses weight.”

Elijah’s gaze was so narrowed all Chase could see was a glimmer of deep-brown eyes. Elijah shook his head slowly, leaving little doubt he would fight Chase tooth and black-painted nail.

“And what’s in it for you, Chase? Why are you so invested in this boy?”

Will reappeared in the door, interrupting the answer. “The room is secured and ready.”

Richard nodded, but his gaze never left Chase. “Answer me.”

Chase grabbed Elijah’s good arm and hauled him out of the seat, jerked him toward Will and the doorway. Elijah ripped away and stumbled once before catching himself.

“I told you he matters to me,” Chase said roughly. “And if this works, he’ll be mine. Holden will be a fucking memory.”

It sounded bad. So bad, that as Elijah curled in on himself and shuffled by, Chase did the only thing he could think of. The most desperate, pathetic excuse of an inside joke they had. He smacked Elijah’s ass.

Elijah swung around to stare at him, first with uncertainty and then with slowly widening eyes.

He got it. Finally, he’d understood.

Finally, they could figure out how to eventually escape together.

As Will and Kyra led them to Elijah’s new room, Chase kept quiet and turned a sharp eye to their surroundings. He’d grown up on the Farm, and yet there were some parts he’d never seen. Even so, it all brought back bad memories.

When he was a kid, back before they’d converted the silo into a full-on brainwashing factory, he’d stayed in the cottage for some of his tenure on the Farm. But back then the Farm hadn’t been exclusively used for “realignment,” and Jasper had just started fully practicing his . . . craft. After Chase’s mother had run away, Chase suspected he had been their first full-time test subject. There had been a few other kids who were “special,” but he’d always been treated like a ticking bomb, while the others had extra privileges. They’d gone outside, shared meals with adults, and he’d been isolated and alone unless Richard had come back from the city to see him. At those points, he’d been allowed to go on walks or for car rides, and his father had “explored” the woods with him.


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