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Vincent Macleod: Agent of T.R.A.C.E.

By Derek Smith All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Adventure

Chapter 9

Vincent stood inside the room where he had spent his first night in TRACE and looked around, taking it all in. From the moment he acquired his synthesuit to standing in a sub level of Giest Tower and the reveal of the Red Eco Spartan robots, he could not help but wonder what he had got himself into and why he was so quick to put himself in harm’s way in order to save the world.

His thoughts were interrupted as the communicator clicked on inside his head and his mother spoke. “Vincent, I know that no one has really taken the time to ask you this, but are you okay? I know what you are thinking and I am concerned.”

Trish’s voice comforted him and reminded him why he was willing to put his life on the line. “What do you say when someone tells you that you are their only hope? Especially when they tell you that the world is unknowingly dependant on you? I don’t know why I am so quick to throw myself into other people’s problems and why I always seem to think that it’s up to me to fix them.”

“You do those things because that is what comes naturally to you,” she eventually answered. “You’re kind hearted and would do anything to comfort others, even a stranger on the street. With or without the Six, your grandfather would have seen that you possess what most agents never have - a heart. It is a quality most people have but never listen to hard enough to follow. You are willing to sacrifice not only your happiness but your safety for the lives of others, and in my books that makes you more of a hero than anything else.”

His mother’s words reassured Vincent that he had made the right decision as his doubt was no longer an issue in his mind. Before he could thank his mother, she spoke again. “My sensors indicate that Adam and Justin are waiting for you at the entrance to the hover rail whenever you are ready for your departure.”

Vincent smiled as he walked over to the door and scanned for it to open. He decided that before he left he should stop by and say goodbye to his grandfather. Vincent told his suit to form one eye of his HUD so he could locate his grandfather’s office and learned it was also on Level Five. As he receiving the coordinates, he removed the lens from his face and ventured through the maze of tunnels that made up the TRACE facility. His legs began to tire as he approached a thick glass door, the customary TRACE logo in the middle and a scan pad on the wall to the left. Vincent stood patiently during the security scan and could see his grandfather writing at his desk inside.

Curt looked up momentarily at the sound of his grandson entering his office. The heavy oak desk was surrounded by walls of shelves all containing several pictures and war memorabilia from different eras. Vincent was amazed as his eyes moved from frame to frame, shelf by shelf.

Vincent picked up one of the photographs to examine it more closely and was startled by what he saw. In his hand was a black and white picture of American troops taking Nazi soldiers into custody. The photo looked no different than any of the pictures Vincent had ever seen in his history books, but something was definitely out of place. Standing amongst the troops in the same uniform was his grandfather looking as proud and young as he did in his office.

Clearly his grandfather’s shape shifting abilities extended beyond limits Vincent perceived. This was confirmed when he spotted another photo a few shelves over next to an old repeater handgun. The photo was from the Wild West era, his grandfather standing outside an old saloon in a duster looking the same age as his previous picture. Vincent chuckled as he pointed at the picture. “Either there are a couple of generations in our bloodline where everyone was born looking just like you or you found one hell of a photographer. These vintage photos look authentic.”

“I can assure you that those photos are authentic,” Curt gave him a lopsided grin. “Our family would have been more than blessed to have so many generations look as good as I do.”

“If these photos are authentic, then...” He trailed off as he came to an unsettling realization.

“Typically, if someone is in a photo it is because they were standing there when it was taken.”

The seriousness on his grandfather’s face confirmed his suspicions. “But that’s impossible! The Old West was over a hundred years ago.”

Curt got up from his chair and stood beside the young man. “When we were talking earlier about Giest, I told you that Eco is unpredictable and can sometimes have a negative effect on people. While my Eco has given me the ability to shape shift, it has also given me the ability to retain my youth and given me a rather extended life span. I have spent many generations witnessing the rise and fall of man. I’ve seen power wielded for good and tyrants use it for destruction. But in all my years I have never seen such a possible destructive force as I witnessed today. I sometimes have to fight with myself to accept that negative events must happen, but it doesn’t mean that I have to enjoy witnessing them.”

Despite a prophecy he was not present to see for himself, Vincent could see the faith that his grandfather had invested in him. It was at that moment that Vincent realized that there was more going on than just his own emotions and began to feel selfish for ever doubting his purpose within TRACE. “I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Justin and Adam are waiting for me but I wanted to come by and say goodbye before I left.”

The colonel placed his hand on Vincent’s shoulder and walked him over to the door. “Oh, you aren’t completely rid of me. I will be in Southdale keeping an eye on things when I can.”

Vincent was barely down the hall when Curt shouted, “And for god’s sake, when you get home make, sure you stay out of trouble!”

When Vincent reached the departure bay he saw Adam pacing, clearly annoyed with the start up time for the transport. Justin noted the concerned look on Vincent’s face. “You’re nervous about going home, aren’t you?”

Vincent reluctantly turned his head towards Justin. “What exactly gave it away?”

Justin smiled back at Vincent. “Well, I don’t mean to brag but I am a psychic you know.”

“Two years is a long time to be gone from home. I know that X was there the entire time but I just feel a little empty inside knowing they were spending time with another person they believed to be their son.”

Justin always had the shoulder that Vincent could lean on in times of need. Unlike his other friends, Justin kept him calm and took nothing personally when listening to whatever Vincent had to say. He sympathized with his friend as he thought of the best way to justify the situation. “Two years is a long time, Vince, but your parents only know one side of the story. In their eyes, you never left so the same boy they took in has been there the whole time. A lot has changed in two years. Watching X wasn’t always easy for us, but it was hard on us because we knew who he was and where you were the whole time. We never saw him as a replacement, more like a substitute.”

Somehow, Justin knew the right words to comfort Vincent and his insecurity vanished. The hover rail reached full power, its track lit up, and the transport opening its top door. Adam rushed inside and took his seat. Justin shook his head while laughing at Adam and wrapped his arm around Vincent’s shoulder, urging him forward and into the seat next to him. As the door closed, the seat belts locked them in and the transport jolted forward down the track. Knots formed in Vincent’s stomach from the sheer speed of the machine.

Excited to fill him in, Adam spoke up. “Wait until you get home, Vince. We were a little worried about how to handle a few things, but now that you’re coming home you’ll make it just in time for your real first date.”

Justin reached over and slapped Adam in the shoulder. “How hard is it for you to keep your mouth shut? There’s a better way to ease Vince back into things than by dropping it all on him at once.” Adam knew that tone and decided not to reply.

The knots in his stomach fought for space with his newly acquired butterflies. “Um, who am I going on a date with?”

Justin quickly composed himself. “Well, it’s a little hard to explain. Shortly after you left, Alexis really wanted to spend more time with you as friends so in the past couple of years we have allgotten very close. To be fair, I did tell you early on that you should have made a move, but it seems she finally got sick and tired of waiting.”
Sweat started to drip from his forehead. He hadn’t even had time to think about Alexis in the time he’d been away. Two years. How much had she changed in that time? And exactly how close was “close”? He let out a long, slow breath and asked, “How did this happen?”

Before Justin could give Vincent a response, Adam replied, “She got so sick of waiting that she finally just asked you out!”

His throat closed up as he squinted his eyes while trying to wrap his brain this incredibly important and life changing information. “So what you’re trying to tell me is that I’m dating Alexis Sommers?”

Adam slapped Justin on the arm. “See, I told you he wouldn’t be happy about it! You owe me five bucks!”

“No,” Vincent clarified, “you don’t understand. I am happy about it. It’s just unexpected, that’s all.”

Sitting this close to Vincent, Justin didn’t need to poke into his friend’s mind as his worry radiated off of him in powerful waves. “From day one, we have kept a close eye on the situation with Alexis and X, and made it clear to him that although he is living your life for you, there are boundaries he does not cross. Matt can be very convincing when he needs to.”

Vincent was grateful for his friends’ efforts to ensure his happiness. “Can I ask you guys something? Not to gossip or sound like I have a problem with it, but what exactly is Matt’s issue? He seemed really upset with me earlier today.”

“Listen, Vincent,” Justin began, “you have every right to question Matt, but don’t take anything personally. He always had it in his head that he was the best. When you began your training, all of the non Eco agents inside TRACE were buzzing with excitement over you and your true potential. Needless to say, Matt was jealous. Your synthesuit was built for the limit chamber. It gave you your training at an accelerated rate whereas the rest of us have trained our entire lives to get this far. Matt doesn’t see this as anything more than cheating. He’s a fool when it comes to his pride, but we all know he will get over it.”

Vincent smiled, relieved, as he looked out the side window of the hover rail patiently awaiting his return to Southdale. He decided that maybe being at TRACE was the best thing that had happened to him. He could not help but wonder what other surprises were waiting for him at home.

The hover rail came to a stop in Vincent’s Nest, X standing at the platform with Matt awaiting their arrival. Once the door to the transport decompressed, Vincent jumped out onto the platform to greet and thank his clone.

X was different from the first time that Vincent had seen him. He had obviously bulked up his physique in order to maintain the body that the synthesuit had given Vincent. X smiled as he greeted Vincent with a fist bump to his shoulder. “I’m sorry, but I would be lying if I said I was happy to see you,” X stated matter of factly.

Matt eagerly shoved X forward towards the hover rail. “Let’s get moving, substitute. Babysitting you has me running behind on my science project, so I would like to be home as soon as possible.”

Clearly upset about having to leave, X lowered his head ever so slightly and reluctantly approached the transport. As they came up alongside him, Vincent grabbed Matt on his bicep. “Go easy on him, Matt. He doesn’t deserve that.”

X’s eyes sparkled with appreciation for Vincent’s concern as Matt looked his friend in the eyes. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Vince.”

Vincent loosened his grip on Matt, allowing him to walk with X to the hover rail. As the two boarded and the cockpit door closed, Vincent waved to his clone as the transport pulled away from the nest and back to TRACE.

Adam slapped a hand on Vincent’s shoulder blade. “Man, are we all glad to have you home again, Vince.”

He was definitely happy to be home again. On the other end of the elevator was his bedroom, his video games, his life. But knowing that didn’t quell the anxiousness he felt about Alexis. “Just so I’m clear, when exactly am I supposed to be going on this date with Alexis?”

“Tomorrow night is the Lakewood High Fall Formal. X said he had left the tickets on your desk in your bedroom with something else for you. He also mentioned that you are supposed to pick her up from her house at seven o’clock,” Justin informed him.

Adam opened the large red door leading down a long tunnel to the other boys’ nests. Vincent, still stunned over his impending first date, asked, “Am I supposed to pick her up in that rusted out beater I was told to drive?”

Justin and Adam stood in the threshold of the doorway as Adam laughed at Vincent’s dismay. “Come on, Vincent, why don’t you look at the glass as half full? You don’t just get to drive a car that looks like it’s on its last legs, you get to drive it to the formal with Alexis in it!”

Vincent smirked over at his friend. “I knew I could count on you of all people to understand, Adam.”

Adam laughter echoed as he waved to Vincent and made his way down the tunnel to his home. Justin remained in the doorway, supportive as always. “What you need to realize is that Alexis likes you because of who you are, not because of anything you may or may not have.”

Vincent let out a sigh of despair. “I’m not saying I have to impress Alexis, I just want more for her. She’s spent her whole life with her mom struggling to make ends meet and having to live off Carrie’s hand-me-downs. She deserves more. She deserves everything.”

“It’s situations like these that confirm what I have known all along. You’re going to do great things with Alexis and with TRACE because your heart is always in the right place. You are a loyal friend and always put others first. Alexis is getting what she is due with you, Vince,” Justin smiled. “All she’s ever wanted is to be with you and now she finally has that. If you want to give her what she deserves, then just make sure that she has the time of her life at the formal tomorrow night.”

Justin stepped into the tunnel, ready to close the door and head home himself. “We’ll see you and Alexis tomorrow night. Do your best to stop over thinking everything and just have a good time for once.” With a wave, he was gone.

The door locked itself from the other side and Vincent stood satisfied looking around his nest. He stepped into the elevator and the glass doors instantly closed. Not even the hum of a motor came to Vincent’s ears as he rose and watched the lights inside the nest go out below. A set of metal doors opened after the glass doors separated, and he fumbled around in the dark, arms extended and waving around as he tried to figure out where he was. Pushing his face forward, he felt hangars poke his ears and got a face full of cotton. I’m in my closet! he realized, and giggled.

The metal doors had disappeared and the wall looked like any regular boring wall. Outside, the doors to his bedroom opened abruptly and Vincent’s synthesuit violently shifted into a t-shirt and pair of shorts without prompting from its owner.

Catherine was standing on the other side of the closet doors as she called out to her son. There was silence for a brief second before Vincent replied. “I’m in here, mom.”

Catherine swung open the closet doors with a confused look on her face. “Vincent, what on earth are you doing in the closet?”

Vincent felt a little flustered. He hated lying to her. “I was just looking for something.”

Catherine placed a hand on Vincent’s forehead. “Are you feeling okay? I know boys tend to do weird things at your age but I can’t understand why you would be in your closet in the dark.”

Vincent removed his mother’s hand. “Mom, I’m fine. I was just looking for something, honest.”

Catherine finally gave into her son’s claim. “Okay. Well, I just wanted to come down and tell you that your father’s home and picked up your suit for tomorrow night.” Catherine turned around and reached outside the door to Vincent’s bedroom, pulling a hanger from off of the top of the door. She was holding a dark black suit, pressed white dress shirt, black pants, and a matching black tie. “I think you are going to look great for Alexis in this!” she exclaimed.

Vincent took from his mother and held what would be the first actual dress suit he had ever owned. He smiled as he looked back up at his mother. “Thanks, Mom. I’m sure it’s going to be perfect.”

Catherine smiled at her son as he hung his suit up in the closet behind him. “Don’t forget that you still have to go to Tops Tailors to pick up your shoes later tonight. Your father said they were open until eight o’clock.”

Smiling, Vincent nodded and thanked his mother again. She closed the door behind her leaving Vincent some time to adjust. Not much had changed in the last two years. All of his posters had remained untouched, but there was a new computer on his desk X had left turned on.

Vincent walked over to his desk and noticed the tickets for the fall formal sitting next to his computer. Sitting in his chair, he picked up one of the tickets and looked it over and grinned. To think that after all this time he would not only be attending the formal, but Alexis would be by his side. As he placed the ticket down, Vincent noticed a thumb drive sitting next to the tickets. X must have left behind for me, he thought as he plugged the drive into the side of his computer.

He sat back in his chair when the drive loaded up a slideshow of pictures. Every few seconds the photo changed and Vincent watched how X lived his life for him with his friends for those two years. The pictures ranged from the boys playing hockey to Vincent’s sixteenth birthday. He especially enjoyed the one at the beach where Alexis and some of her friends got a bucket of water thrown at them by Adam while X, Justin, and Matt all pointed and laughed.

Over the next hour he watched what could have been his life pass him by. He was satisfied with the choice he had made to join TRACE but wondering if this is what the rest of his life was going to be like saddened him. For a split second Vincent felt selfish wanting to live in both worlds and not just catch up to one through pictures.

I made the choice to join TRACE I have to live with that decision no matter the consequences, he told himself. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself all the time and get on with my life.

Vincent finally shut the computer down and looked at his watch. It was almost seven o’clock. He grabbed his wallet from his desk and ran up the stairs, through the living room where his parents were watching the evening news. “I’m going to Tops to pick up my shoes. I’ll be home in a while.”

William looked over from the television to his son. “Drive carefully, Vincent.”

Vincent kept forgetting he was two years older and that he had a car sitting in the driveway. He thought for a second about it before answering his father. “I think I’m going to walk for a change.”

“You can never get enough exercise,” he muttered as he looked back at the TV as the sports reporter rattled off last night’s scores.

Vincent headed out the door and began making his way down Sweetwater Bay to Southdale Square. As he was walking, he smiled to himself at the thought of not only how much had changed in his life but at how funny it was that things all have a way of working themselves out for the better. Not only did he have remarkable powers, but he had great friends and now the girl whom he had always secretly admired.

After a short walk into the town Vincent finally arrived at Tops Tailors. He pulled the door forward as a bell rang inside of the store summoning employees. As Vincent entered he was greeted by the store manager, Ron Saldman.

Ron was very well acquainted with the Macleods. He had been battling a vicious divorce over the years and was a client of Vincent’s father. William was also a loyal and frequent customer of the shop. Ron lifted his hands in the air welcoming Vincent into the store and making an embarrassing scene for him as he approached the counter.

“Hi, Ron. Mom mentioned that you had some shoes here for me to pick up.”

The shopkeeper smiled as he pointed his finger at Vincent. “Ah yes, your shoes for the fall formal tomorrow night. And I heard you have a big date for the dance.”

Vincent blushed as Ron reached behind the counter, grabbed the plastic bag containing the shoe box inside, and handed it to the boy. Vincent reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet when Ron stopped him. “Your father was in here earlier to pick up your suit and paid for these at the same time. I would not dream of giving any Macleod a pair of shoes that were not properly shined first.”

Vincent thanked Ron for everything as he grabbed his shoes and began making his way home. As he walked through the Southdale Square shopping center, Vincent passed by Claire’s Boutique when his eyes caught sight of the most amazing thing he’d ever seen. Alexis was standing on top of a circular stage posing for her mother in a stunning light pink dress. She had a smile from ear to ear as though the dress was made just for her.

Time almost stood still for Vincent as he gazed through the window. But his enjoyment was short lived as he watched the ultimate expression of happiness on Alexis turn to sorrow and disappointment. He placed his hand on the window almost as if he was reaching out to Alexis and his suit formed a glove over the hand. Pressure sensitive audio enhancers formed on his fingertips and suddenly Vincent was able to hear everything that was going on inside the store.

“Alexis, I know you really love this dress, honey, but I simply don’t have the money for it right now. I’m pretty sure we can get you into Carrie’s dress from a few years ago.” Susan sounded just as disappointed as her daughter.

Alexis said nothing as she silently made her way back into the dressing room to remove the gown. Vincent slowly pulled his hand from the window, disheartened by the exchange when Trish came in on his communicator. “It’s always hard to witness another’s misfortune, especially when you care about them so much.”

Vincent shook his head in dismay. “It isn’t fair. I know that Lexi’s mom does the best she can for her family, but I can’t stand by and watch this anymore. She deserves to have the night of her life and I am going to give it to her. Can you transfer some money into my personal bank account for me, please?”

Vincent could hear the smile in his mother’s reply. “I could tell by your brainwave patterns what you were thinking and took the liberty of already transferring substantial funds to your account.”

Vincent looked just in time to see Alexis and her mother approaching the door to leave Claire’s. Vincent ducked around the corner and used his newly acquired ability from Adam to disappear as they exited the shop and made their way to their car.

As soon as the car was out of sight, Vincent removed his cloaking and made his way into Claire’s. As he headed for the counter, Vincent saw the pink dress hanging on a clothing bar beside the counter. Jennifer Beasley, one of Alexis’ best friends, came out from the back room to greet Vincent. “Hey Vince, I don’t know why you would be looking for a dress, but I don’t think that we have anything available in your size.”

Vincent smirked. “Very funny, Jen. I saw Alexis in here trying on a dress.”

Jennifer nodded. “Yeah, I told her all about it and felt awful dragging her in here to try it on and getting her hopes up for nothing. But it’s just as well she didn’t buy it because you shouldn’t see your date in her dress before the formal.”

“I want to buy it for her.”

Jennifer was taken aback. “That’s wonderful! You must make pretty good money working with Mr. Mackenzie to be able to afford this dress. Aren’t you curious about the price?”

Vincent pulled out his bank card and placed it on the counter. “It doesn’t matter. For Alexis, I’ll pay anything.”

Jennifer anxiously swiped the card through the machine and began processing Vincent’s request. The funds cleared and Jennifer rushed to the back room to wrap the gift, returning with a large white box tied with a massive pink bow. Her mouth hung open as she handed the box over to Vincent.

He thanked her, asked her not to say a word, and headed out the door on his way to Alexis’ house. The cool fall air lingered throughout the neighbourhood as he hurried along the quiet streets. Vincent wanted to waste as little time as possible in getting to Alexis so he decided to take a shortcut down a back service road. As he began to make his way down the poorly lit road, the roar of a large engine car bellowed.

Headlights peered over the road and began moving side to side on the roadway. Vincent recognized the vintage GTO that had dragged him along the dirt road on that fateful day.

Vincent continued to walk down the road daydreaming about the look on Alexis’ face when he handed her the package. As he took a few steps forward, he felt his synthesuit suddenly forming itself around his body. What’s going on? Why is this happening to me now? he thought as he quickly realized he had lost his ability to control the morphing of his suit.

As he watched the last of his suit form to his hands backlit by the headlights, Vincent turned around and suddenly realized why his suit had done what it had. A split second later, Vincent tossed his packages into the ditch as the dreaded GTO was now just inches from him. Vincent faced the car as it slammed into his midsection. The car to came to a complete stop as though it had slammed into a brick wall. The front end of the car folded around Vincent as Cyrus was thrown through the windshield.

Vincent may have had a deep hatred for Cyrus but that didn’t mean he could ignore his responsibilities. He used his lightning quick reflexes to grab Cyrus by the neck of his t-shirt as he flew through the windshield, saving his life before slamming him into the torn hood of the car. He reeled back as he caught the stench of alcohol on Cyrus’ breath. Disgusted and angry, Vincent looked at Cyrus’ bloodied face and saw the fear in his eyes.

“Vincent, are you alright? My scans show your biorhythms as stable but your heartbeat is rapidly increasing. I can see your anger growing based on your blood pressure. Please don’t do something you are going to regret,” Trish pleaded.

As his mother’s words sank in, Vincent took a few short breaths and replied. “Trish, contact the police and paramedics. They’ve got some trash to pick up.”

The communicator fell silent as Vincent clenched his fists tight around the neck of Cyrus’s shirt pulling him close to his face. “You could have killed someone, Cyrus! You only think about yourself and never care about the consequences of your actions.”

Cyrus trembled as he stared back at Vincent, frightened by the ominous blue glow and smoke began pouring from his eyes. “I knew you were some kind of freak when you showed up at school the next day like nothing happened!”

Vincent pulled his right fist back and an Eco charge naturally began to build in his hand. “I can assure you that I am no freak, Cyrus. If I ever catch you doing anything that can harm the safety of others again, I’ll find you!”

Cyrus coughed up a small amount of blood and scrambled to push himself away along the hood of the car. “What are you doing? Don’t hurt me! Just leave me alone!”

Certain he’d scared Cyrus enough, Vincent diffused his Eco charge. Besides, his enemy had wet himself and fainted on the hood of his car. There was no need to use his power in public, especially when the police were on the way. “You’re pathetic, Cyrus!” Vincent muttered as he removed Cyrus from the hood and lay him on the roadside.

Vincent knew that in a short time authorities would show up and he could not have any possible way of explaining what had happened. Using his enhanced strength, he lifted the ravaged GTO and threw it front end first into a nearby tree and cleaned the debris from the road. He placed Cyrus back on the hood of the car lying on his stomach, head first, just in time to hear emergency vehicle sirens in the distance.

With little time to waste, Vincent ran to the ditch, collected the packages which were still intact, and disappeared from sight just as help was arriving. Two police officers got out of the cruiser and shone their flashlights at what they believed to be as a crash site. When the bright light bounced off Cyrus’ face, he slowly came to and the police officers knew from his extensive record who they were dealing with. The paramedics carried a gurney over to the tree, carefully removed the hysterical Cyrus from the hood of the car and moved him to the ambulance.

“It wasn’t a tree! It was Vincent Macleod! I hit Vincent Macleod! He threatened my life!” he yelled as he was being transported to the ambulance.

One of the officers examined the inside of the car and discovered a half empty bottle of rum on the floor of the front seat. The other officer joined him and shook his head. “He’s lucky to be alive. He’s so intoxicated he thought the tree was a person.”

“Well,” his partner said as he jotted down notes on his pad, “we can put all of that in our report. I’ll call for a tow truck to get this vehicle to impound and we can get back to start on the paperwork for the DUI charge.”

Vincent smiled weakly as the ambulance pulled away from the wreck, Cyrus safely inside where he could do no more damage for the night. The tow truck arrived and Vincent decided it was time to leave.

After a very eventful evening, Vincent finally arrived in the townhouse complex of Clearwater Grove. He walked over to Alexis’ house, number 135, and eagerly knocked on the door.

As the door knob turned, Vincent’s heart raced at the thought of seeing Alexis’ reaction as she opened her gift. His expectations fell when Carrie opened the door. “A little late don’t you think?”

He tried not to let Carrie’s horrible attitude get the better of him, and swallowed hard to clear the bulge in his throat. “I was hoping to see Alexis.”

She shook her head. “She went to her room and said she was going to bed right after dinner. Mom couldn’t afford the dress she wanted for the formal so she was pretty upset. I’ll let her know you stopped by, if I feel like it.”

“That’s kind of why I came by. If you could make sure she gets this I would really appreciate it.” He presented Carrie with the ribboned box, praying silently that she wouldn’t be nasty about it.

Carrie had always been a snoop when it involved her close friends and family. She raised an eyebrow and slowly lifted the lid to see a small portion of the pink dress Alexis had her heart set on. She quickly closed the lid in and exclaimed, “I don’t know how you knew about the dress, let alone how you could afford it, but please tell me you didn’t steal it or something!”

He gently shook his head. “I’ve been saving money for a while now and just thought that Lexi deserves to go to the formal in the dress she wants.”

Carrie squinted her eyes. Satisfied he hadn’t robbed the boutique, she put it down on a small table in the entryway. “I’ll make sure she gets this in the morning. And just a friendly reminder that I will be a chaperone at the formal so there will be no funny business with my sister.”

The door closed and Carrie turned off the porch light. Not exactly get the visit he had hoped for but knowing he had done the right thing put a skip in his step as he returned home.

Since he wasn’t in a hurry to get back, Vincent took his time, sauntering and thinking about Alexis in the shop window. So he was startled when he found a police car parked beside his car in the driveway while Catherine and William talked with the officers.

Catherine held her sweater closed and gasped when she saw Vincent coming up the street. She rushed over and hugged him. “Thank god you are okay! Where have you been?”

Avoiding a lie, Vincent told her the parts of the story that wouldn’t blow his cover. “I was at Tops getting my shoes like you said, and I decided to stop over to see Alexis for a bit. What’s going on with the police?”

As one of the officers walked over to Vincent he realized they were the same officers that had arrived on the scene. “Vincent, is it? We picked up Cyrus Drake earlier after he crashed his car into a tree while driving intoxicated. He claims that he did not hit the tree but hit you instead. Clearly that was not the case since you are standing here without so much as a scratch, so obviously he’s just had too much to drink.”

The other officer looked over at William as he shook his hand. “Sorry to have bothered you folks so late. You have yourselves a nice night.” William nodded to the police officers as they got into their car and drove away.

Knowing that Cyrus would finally get the punishment he had deserved and would maybe be a little more careful of the choices he made, Vincent headed inside excited to spend the night in his own bed again.

#

Alexis woke to the bright fall sun shining on her face through the slats of her bedroom blinds. She slowly sat up in her bed and stretched before spotting a box wrapped with the boutique’s signature bow on her vanity. She tossed aside her sheets, jumped out of bed, and excitedly grabbed for the package. She ran her fingers across the box until she reached the bow and carefully pulled at the ends, letting the ribbon flutter to the floor.

She gasped when she found her dream dress inside. Carefully removing it, she let the fabric slide through her fingers and tried to keep her tears from getting it wet. She pinched herself and once she was sure it wasn’t a dream, she ran downstairs to thank her mother.

Susan was watching the morning news when Alexis threw her arms around her from behind and let out a string of thank yous. “I thought you said that we couldn’t afford my dress! How on earth is it sitting in my room?”

“I didn’t buy you the dress,” her mother admitted. “Vincent brought it over for you last night. He told Carrie that it was a gift and that you deserved to go to the formal in it.”

Alexis slowly sat down on the couch as she took in the news. Shocked that Vincent spent so much money on her, it took a few minutes before she questioned just how he knew that she wanted this dress so badly. Wasting no time, she darted back upstairs and threw on whatever clothes were handy, a pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt, freshening up in the bathroom before bolting out the door.

#

The soft knocking at his door finally roused Vincent from his slumber. He rubbed his eyes and let out a sleepy grunt of acknowledgment to which his mother replied, “Vincent, could you come upstairs. Alexis is here to see you.”

Vincent quickly jumped out of his bed, his synthesuit changing into an outfit that looked like it came off his bedroom floor. After a quick swish of mouthwash and a spritz of cologne, he took the stairs two at a time until he opened the door to the hallway.

Alexis waited for him in the entry and he saw the smile start in her eyes as he drew near. Glad to see she wasn’t about to chew him out, he returned the smile and was surprised when she wrapped her arms around the back of his neck. She pulled his face to hers and kissed him.

Vincent’s heart almost stopped. That was their first real kiss, at least for him. Alexis pulled away and just stood there smiling at him. Vincent cleared his throat, his face burning from the rush. “So I take it you got the gift that I left for you last night?”

“That is the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me, Vince! I love my dress and I can’t wait for you to see me in it tonight. But I’m curious to find out how you knew I had my heart set on that particular dress?”

“I was picking up my shoes for the dance when I walked past Claire’s and stopped in to say hi to Jen when I saw her behind the counter. She mentioned you were upset about the dress and I knew I couldn’t going to let you go without it.”

“Well, you have certainly scored some brownie points, Mister Macleod,” Alexis grinned. ” I am going to need to head home so that I can make sure I look as good as that dress. Are you still picking me up at seven?”

He looked out the front window at the rusted out car that was sitting in his driveway. “Seven on the dot, and I just may have another couple of tricks up my sleeve.”

She kissed Vincent on the cheek and walked out the front door. Vincent waited with the door partially open watching Alexis walk away when she turned back to wave. After returning the goodbye, he closed the door and found his parents standing excitedly in the hallway.

“Did I hear correctly? You bought Alexis a dress for tonight?” Catherine sounded just a little surprised by her son’s gesture, but not overly. She raised him to be a considerate man, after all.

Vincent didn’t want them to pry too deeply. “Mom, Alexis wanted that dress more than anything and she couldn’t afford it. I had the money from working with Mr. Mackenzie so it’s not like it’s a big deal or anything.”

William seemed satisfied with the explanation. “It was a very thoughtful thing to do, Vincent. It looks like Alexis is really happy with the dress and I’m sure she will look great in it. I’ve got the power washer out for you in the garage if you need to wash your car for tonight.”

“That’s okay, Dad. I have to go see Justin about what we are doing tonight with rides, anyway.” Vincent slipped into his sneakers, gave his mom a quick kiss on the cheek, and ran out the door toward the Thompsons’ home.

As he turned up the driveway, Vincent saw Justin in the garage with his father reorganizing some boxes. Justin acknowledged with a nod, and once he’d put down the box in his arms he jogged over to Vincent.

“Hey. I saw the police at your house last night and Trish told us about what happened with Cyrus. What were you thinking? What if you blew your cover?”

“Everything is going to be okay,” Hank said as he joined the boys. “According to our intelligence, Cyrus was shipped off to a psychiatric ward for evaluation this morning. Even once he’d sobered up he held to his claims of running into Vincent, and the police brought in a psychologist who recommended he be placed under observation.”

“So they shipped Cyrus off to the loony bin?” Vincent was relieved.

Hank shook his head. “It would seem so, Vincent. I don’t think he’ll be a problem for quite some time. Trish explained that there was nothing you could have done to avoid the incident, but make sure you use caution. If your cover had been blown, all would be lost. Now, what brings you here?”

“I came by to see if Justin would help me with something for tonight.”

Justin crossed his arms. “What exactly do you need?”

“I was hoping you would drive Alexis and myself to the formal,” he replied.

Justin thought to himself for a second. “I’m not going to read your mind because that would be abusing my powers, but what exactly are you up to?”

“I’m not up to anything, Justin. Can’t a friend simply ask another friend to drive him and his date in his car because they are friends?” Vincent was definitely up to something, as evidenced by the way he held his smile.

Hank laughed and put an arm around his son. “That sounds like a great idea, Vincent. And this way Justin can ask Carrie if she would care to come for the ride and he won’t have to find an excuse to talk to her later.”

Vincent’s jaw dropped as Justin’s head hung slumped forward. “You have a thing for Carrie? Do you have a death wish?”

Justin raised his head a bit but kept his voice low. “I’ve always felt something for Carrie. but she’s older than me, and I knew you guys wouldn’t be thrilled given our history with her. You have to swear that you’ll keep this between us.”

Vincent nodded, trying his best to keep from laughing at Justin’s admission. Somewhat satisfied, Justin grabbed Vincent by his shoulders and turned him towards the curb, urging him to leave.

“I’ll pick you up around six thirty!” Vincent yelled as he began his walk back to his home.

#

It was precisely six thirty when a smartly dressed Vincent pulled into Justin’s garage with all the noise and pollution that accompanied the rusty shell of his Chameleon. He placed the car in park and motioned for Justin to close the garage door.

“So what is it you have planned, Vince?” Justin asked, extremely skeptical of his friend. Keeping out of his friend’s mind was turning out to be a bad idea.

Vincent picked a ball of lint off his lapel. “Why tell you when I can show you. Trish, could you please reconfigure the car for me?”

The Chameleon shimmered slightly as panels shifted around to form the body of a Lincoln MKT Town Car. The rust vanished, revealing the glossy Tuxedo Black paint customarily associated with chauffeured vehicles and the windows slowly darkened to match. Justin approached the driver side window, cupping his hands around the sides of his eyes as he tried to get a look inside with absolutely no luck.

Once the initial wave of curiosity passed, Justin took a step back and cleared his head. “No way, Vince! I am not going to be your personal chauffeur!”

Vincent gave him puppy dog eyes. “Come on, Justin. It was too late for me to order one for tonight and it would help me make this a perfect night for Alexis.”

“Fine,” he resigned. “I will help you this one time. But don’t think that this means that you can make this a regular thing.”

Vincent gave Justin a pat on the back before climbing into the seat behind the driver facing toward the rear of the car. He felt Justin open the door and take his own seat. There was a quiet admiration for the custom interior and the swish of Justin’s palms as they glided over the leather wrapped steering wheel.

The car rolled back onto the street, and Vincent enjoyed the quiet hum of the pavement as they pulled away from their neighbourhood. “There’s a switch to open and close the side doors on the panel. That way you don’t have to worry about Alexis seeing you,” Vincent informed him before rolling up the tinted privacy window that divided the driver from the passengers.

Justin came to a stop and Vincent’s door popped open. His heartbeat quickened as he approached the house and knocked on the front door. Susan opened the door and invited Vincent inside as she called up the stairs to let Alexis know that her date had arrived. Vincent stood eagerly looking up the stairs as Alexis slowly appeared, stunning in her dress, hair straightened to her shoulders and a shy smile lighting up her eyes. Each step she took made Vincent’s heart skip, and when she finally reached the bottom, she wrapped him in a warm hug.

Susan was overjoyed at her daughter’s appearance as she began snapping pictures of Vincent and Alexis, posing them this way and that. Eyes nearly blinded by all the flash shots, Alexis finally insisted that they needed to get going and Vincent offered her his arm as he led her away from the townhome.

“You really look amazing, Lexi. I am definitely the luckiest man alive to be going to the dance with you. I really wanted to do everything I could to make your night perfect so we won’t be taking my car to the formal this evening.”

Vincent’s heart soared when he saw Alexis’ reaction to the town car waiting for them in the complex. “I’ve never been chauffeured before!” she squealed as the side doors swung open and Vincent helped her into her seat. He sat across from her and reached out to hold the hands she extended to him. “This night is going to be perfect,” she whispered.

Justin shifted the car into drive and continued on his way to Lakeview High where Vincent would spend his first official night with Alexis as a couple.

#

Vincent escorted Alexis to the school gymnasium, pausing in the hallway outside to have their photo taken underneath a flowered trellis. The loud music from the speakers and pounding of sub woofers rattled every bone in Vincent’s body, and they weren’t even in the room yet. Justin came running from behind to catch up with his friends.

Alexis was excited to see him and gave him a friendly hug. “You didn’t bring a date?”

Vincent raised an eyebrow and hoped that Justin might confide his feelings for Carrie to Alexis, but he did no such thing. “No,” he replied, “I’m helping a few friends out with something tonight so I figured I would just go stag. You and your committee have done a great job with the decorations. It’s nice to see hard work pay off.”

Justin looked across the gymnasium and found Adam and Matt sitting on the bleachers, also dateless. From the look on Matt’s face, Adam was annoying the hell out of him, probably with completely ridiculous conversation. “It looks like I’m needed elsewhere. I’ll catch up with you guys in a bit,” Justin said, excusing himself. As he walked away, Vincent heard his friend’s voice in his head. “You owe me for this big time, Vincent.”

Vincent couldn’t help himself. He smiled at Alexis and then called out to his friend. “Hey, Justin, you should ask Carrie to dance. I’m sure she would love to!”

Alexis burst out laughing. “Oh my god, that would be hilarious. Justin, you so have to do that!”

Justin’s eyes widened, horrified. “That’s cold. Why do you got to be like that, Vince?”

The couple laughed and crossed into the bedazzled gymnasium where they spent the majority of the evening dancing and enjoying themselves. Students swung like marionettes to the beat of the music as they danced to the beats of the Top 40 list, but Vincent’s friends kept to themselves on the bleachers. Eventually the DJ turned on his microphone to announce he would be slowing down the music, and Vincent decided that this was a great time to pay Justin back for his help earlier.

Carrie had stood in the corner of the gym all night watching Vincent like a hawk so he didn’t have to go looking for her. He hoped his gift for Alexis would have softened her hatred just a bit, but from the look on her face nothing had changed. She held her glare as he approached her. Vincent would have never in a million years attempted to try and start a reasonable conversation with Carrie, however it might prove a little easier with his newfound powers on his side.

Vincent began to use his telepathy on Carrie and knew it had taken hold when her expression seemed a little more tolerant. “Hey, Carrie. I thought I’d come over here and see if you would be interested in having a dance with Justin. You see, he’s always had a bit of a thing for you and I know it would mean the world to him if you asked him to dance. God only knows he’ll never have the courage to ask you himself.”

Vincent concentrated even harder to make his power take hold as Carrie looked over at Justin. Eventually, she responded. “You know what? You’re a really great guy, Vince. In fact, the only reason I give you such a hard time is because I am jealous that my sister was able to find someone so amazing. I would love to dance with Justin.”

Perhaps he used his abilities to warp Carrie’s mind a little more than he should have. Carrie aggressively walked over to the bleachers and Vincent returned to Alexis. As she watched her sister approach Justin, Alexis grabbed Vincent’s arm. “Vincent, what on earth did you do?”

Even from that distance, they saw Justin’s face blush as Carrie asked him to the dancefloor. Justin started to get up, helped along as Matt and Adam pushed him out of his seat, laughing. Vincent leaned over to Alexis, replying, “I guess I just have a way with people.”

Alexis could not believe her eyes and watched as Justin and her sister started to sway to the power ballad. Vincent extended his hand for Alexis, which she accepted by placing her hand in his as Vincent guided her out onto the floor. Colourful reflections from the disco ball spun around the dark room, lighting a path on the floor, and Alexis pulled Vincent close to her as they danced. Vincent felt at peace as he swayed with Alexis.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked.

“I was just thinking about how strange it is that life just has a way of working things out for you sometimes,” she answered him, her eyes sparkling to reflect the love in her voice.

“Everyone is in control of their own lives. They can do anything they want to if they just put their minds to it. What about you, Lexi?” He brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “What would you want to do with your life if you could do anything?”

Alexis thought for a moment and sighed contently. “I just want to finish school, move to a small acreage outside of town, have a family and be able to stay at home with my kids so I can do all the things for them that my mother was not able to do for us. She’s had to work so hard to keep a roof over our heads, and she has done a great job, but it’s cost her the time she could have spent with Carrie and I.”

“I will do everything in my power to give you the things you deserve, Lexi,” he promised. Making such a promise would be difficult to honour given his situation with TRACE. A quiet life would be next to impossible for an agent.

Alexis lay her head against his chest. “Those things are what I would want if I could do anything, Vincent. I don’t care about possessions or what kind of life I have. I have you, and right now that’s all that matters.”

On the opposite side of the dance floor, Justin had two left feet as he tried to dance with Carrie. Shaking and feeling a little sweaty, he bashfully looked up at her and said, “I’m a little surprised that you asked me to dance. Not that I’m not happy about it, I’m just curious what prompted you to do it.”

Carrie stared blankly at Justin as she replied, “Vincent told me I should ask you because you’ve had feelings for me and were too afraid to say anything. He really is a great guy, and I am so happy for him and my sister.”

It only took a moment before Justin recognized the look in her eyes and it suddenly became clear what Vincent had done. As the song came to an end, Justin used his abilities to delve into Carrie’s subconscious and remove the damage that Vincent had done. Carrie regained control of her mind, took one look at Justin standing in front of her, and said, “Is there something I can help you with or are you just going to stand there looking like an idiot?”

Justin let a shameful smile out when he knew that Carrie was back to her former self. He looked over at Vincent who was laughing in his general direction and mouthing the words “You owe me!” He walked back over to his friends on the bleachers, preparing himself for the verbal beating he was about to walk into. Halfway there he realized that he was almost happy with what Vincent had done because for a short moment things seemed simply perfect.

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