Nevaeh hadn’t slept in five days. This was the sixth night of tossing and turning, breathing into the darkness of Sanctuary, wondering if her arm would brush against Holden’s.
She had slept soundly enough before Sanctuary, when it felt like caretaker attacks were waiting around every corner, but she couldn’t sleep through this?
The bed that Oz had intended for her and Holden to share had looked enormous, but with the two of them in it, there was always the possibility that if she shifted, he would feel it. If she cried out during a nightmare, it would wake him up. If she dreamed about him, he would somehow know.
Nevaeh looked over at Holden, or, to be more accurate, Holden’s spine trailing down his skinny back. He was cute in a way that had crept up on Nevaeh like a slow tide. It hadn’t been the kind of thing that swept her away immediately on a wash of hormones. But now she was drowning in sweat and unsaid things.
Nevaeh reached out her hand. Slowly. It lingered near Holden’s waist. He was wearing a T-shirt, but it had gotten all twisted up as he tossed from one side to the other.
Forty-seven times. Nevaeh had counted.
What if she did touch him? Woke him up? Told him the truth about how she felt?
She couldn’t breathe right, which reminded Nevaeh of the hospital, where she’d stayed up all night sometimes, hearing that soft, ragged sound, punctuated by the beep of monitors that told the nurses and doctors who was getting better . . . and who was dying.
It had felt like the monitors were always watching her, but Oz was worse.
At first he had seemed like a perfectly harmless little kid to Nevaeh. Cute, even. Someone who was left behind in this world as much as she was. Someone who needed her help. Now he was like a parent with a nanny cam that covered every angle.
And even though she wanted to be near Holden, it didn’t actually make her happy that Oz wanted Holden and Nevaeh together.
He was shipping them in the creepiest way possible.
Nevaeh pulled her hand back. Fast. She couldn’t touch him like that, with the hope that it might lead to actual kissing. Not while Oz was pushing them together so that they would—and here was the creepy coup de grace of the whole creepy thing—reproduce.
Save the world by filling it with tiny Holden-and-Nevaehs.
No matter how overwhelming her crush had gotten, she had not signed up for that.
Holden groaned and turned over suddenly. His face was inches away from hers, his breath landing softly on her face. It smelled minty. Oz was a stickler for oral hygiene. But what Nevaeh noticed most was the way Holden slept, his soft eyelashes always scrunched, like he was trying to solve the next problem before it even happened.
She loved that about him.
Nevaeh breathed harder, and Holden stirred. He was going to wake up with Nevaeh’s face in his face, and it would force a moment she wasn’t ready for. She swung out of bed as quietly as she could, throwing on soft slippers that Oz had delivered—via caretaker—when she complained that her feet kept getting cold.
Nevaeh rushed out of the bedroom, and a young man she’d never seen before came around the corner wearing scrubs. He was white and shortish with brown hair, and it took Nevaeh a second to remember that this wasn’t an actual hospital worker—just Oz wearing a new body. He had a soft face this time, complete with crinkled lines at the corners of his eyes, and the sort of smile that Nevaeh remembered from her endless hospital stays. They always looked at her like they were sorry for her, like their cheerfulness was an aggressive medicine meant to kill off any negativity. Like they were determined to help her whether she wanted help or not.
Of course, there was one important difference: This nurse was a hologram.
“How are you feeling tonight?” Oz asked.
“I’m fine,” Nevaeh lied.
“Is there anything I can bring you?” Nurse Oz asked as a line of caretakers rushed down the hall to catch up to them. Sharp. Metallic. Efficient.
It hadn’t taken Oz long to figure out that the nurse form was the one that evoked the biggest reaction from Nevaeh. She’d gotten a bad headache two nights earlier, made the mistake of saying it out loud, and boom. Oz had shapeshifted into scrubs, sent a caretaker to get a little white paper cup with an unmarked pill in it, and figured out exactly how to turn Nevaeh panicked and helpless.
Except Nevaeh wasn’t helpless. She had been living in this new world for months now. And she hadn’t been helpless back when she was a teenager with a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis, either. She might not have been able to run and climb, but she had been staring down death when most of her classmates were worrying about what to wear for eighth-grade graduation.
But what good was that knowledge when she had to deal with an AI who wanted to keep her inside and...