There’s a pain in my chest as I remember the first time I stumbled across a man with fists lined with metal spikes. I was walking through downtown Santa Ana with Justin, and it was one of those times when I thought, He’s totally going to kiss me tonight. It was back before I began traveling through time, before I found out just how dark the world could be. We were laughing and heading toward a frozen yogurt shop, and he slid his arm around my waist.
It might have been the first time I thought, This guy is it; he’s the one I could fall for. I knew he was a Genetic and that nobody wanted us to be together. But I didn’t care. He was sunshine on a dark night. He was heat when the cold winds blew.
I put my head on his shoulder.
It was only natural.
It was exactly right.
Then I saw the metal man, his brow furrowed as if his heart held all the anger in the world. He was chaos and destruction and he was walking toward us, eyes like fire, like he wanted to kill us both.
Maybe he was looking at Justin. Metal men hate Genetics, because in a real battle, Genetics win. It doesn’t matter how much metal you’ve grafted onto your skin or bones—it might make you stronger, but you’re slower, too. Nobody can match the speed and natural strength of a Genetic. So, this guy might have been looking at Justin and challenging him, but it felt like I was going to be collateral damage.
One swing of his spike-covered fist and I’d be dead.
But I didn’t have to worry about it for long, because Justin pushed me behind him. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see the metal man. Doubt flickered in his eyes; he paused and glanced to the side. He was probably looking for a way out.
Justin took a step forward, his hands curled in fists. When he spoke, his voice came out like thunder, a loud, low growl that rumbled through my spine.
“Don’t even think about it,” Justin said. “Take one more step and I’ll rip out your metal implants, one by one. They hurt going in, so you better believe it’ll be a mother when I pull them out.”
He paused to laugh, but I’d never heard him laugh like that before. It was chilling, like he was a different person. He continued to warn the metal man. “Especially when I twist those implants sideways and the roots tear off chunks of your flesh.”
The metal man narrowed his eyes, and there was a split second when I thought he was going to tackle Justin.
Maybe he would have.
But he didn’t get a chance. It was like Justin knew the metal man’s plan, like it was an open football playbook. Justin rushed him, grabbed the guy around the waist, and slammed him against the brick wall of a local tattoo parlor. It took the wind out of the metal man’s lungs, and he was temporarily stunned. Justin could have slugged him; he could have broken the guy’s arms; he could have killed him.
All he did was lean close enough to whisper in the guy’s ear.
Then Justin stepped back and let the thug slide to the sidewalk in a heap. The metal man caught his breath, his eyes flickered, and he glanced up at us. Then he floundered to his hands and knees and crawled away as fast as he could. By the time he got to his feet, we were surrounded by a Friday-night club crowd, most of them drunk and all of them laughing at the metal man as he ran away.
Justin didn’t even hit the guy.
Sometimes you can win by intimidation alone.
So, do I melt every time I see this boy, who was willing to fight to protect me?
You better believe it.