I’m wrapped warmly in layers of soft blankets and Rowan’s arm when I wake up the next morning. It’s early June but I keep the air conditioning blasting in my suite so I can curl up under the blankets. Rowan is like a human furnace but I don’t move away. I move closer and toss a leg over his hip.
He groans and stirs slightly. I listen as he shifts around a bit on the sheets and pillowcase, hair scratching against fabric and free limbs gliding smoothly across the high thread count that came with the suite. I still have a lot of personalizing to do with my suite but I haven’t exactly had much time to do so what with getting shot and all.
He hums a bit as he turns over to look at me and his lips slide into a soft smile.
“Hi,” he murmurs. His voice is lower than normal when he speaks in a husky kind of morning voice that does something funny to my stomach.
“Hey,” I say back. “It’s morning.”
“It is,” he agrees with a slight nod against the pillow. “I’m taking Bella to meet with a preschool today, you know, if you wanna come.”
“Yup,” he replies. “She just turned three and even though that is still kind of early, she hasn’t gotten to be a normal kid yet.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” I agree. “Building blocks. Finger paints. Sticky other kids.”
He full-on smiles this time.
“See? You get it.” He rolls onto his back but cranes his neck over to look over at me once again. “Come’ere.”
I sit up slowly and the pain isn’t as bad as it normally is. I have good enough balance that I get a little cocky and decide I’ll seat myself right on his lap. The barely healed holes in my chest have other plans, however, and send a flash of pain up my torso that sends me crumbling down at the last minute. Rowan catches me, of course, and I laugh despite the flare of discomfort it causes.
“Whoops,” I mutter, but I’m still on his lap and now he’s staring up at me as if I painted the stars into the sky. The smile has dropped from his face, though, and it only takes me a second to figure out why. There’s no need to wrap my arms in bandages anymore. The burns have almost completely scarred over at this point. Some areas are still pink but they’re all white for the most part. The scars may not be as severe as they would be if I didn’t have a healing factor, but it’s still clear what they are.
“Hey,” I say softly before placing my palms on either sides of his face, “we’re gonna get this straight right now. You did what you had to do. If I really wanted you to stop, I would have stopped you. Trust me, I could have. As for when you grabbed my later on, if you do something like that again, I’m going to freeze you up to your neck and leave you.”
“Only my neck?” I smile.
“Well, I don’t think I’ll ever want you dead. You gotta be able to breathe, babe.” I sit up and hop as gracefully as I can off of him and onto the floor. “Come on! Let’s wake up the kiddo and get going, huh?”
He disappears back to the common floor to wake up Bella while I get dressed as quickly as I can. We leave the tower through the front door and Bella waves goodbye to Agent Moon as we go. We grab breakfast for the kid and ourselves at a coffee shop that’s close by before actually hopping on the train and heading over to the preschool Rowan’s picked out. It’s a sweet little place in Queens. There are drawings of bumble bees and ladybugs stuck in the windows.
“Picking up or dropping off?” the perky blonde receptionist asks once we step up to the front desk inside. The ID clipped to her cardigan says “Molly.”
“Oh, no, we have an appointment? With Ms. Jacobsen?” Rowan replies. Bella lets go of Rowan’s hand and turns to me before holding out her little hands to be picked up. I smile and shake my head but she insists, tugging on my jeans.
I sigh quietly and roll my eyes before scooping her up into my arms and balancing her on my hip. It’s much easily than it was the last time since the bullet wounds have finally healed over.
“She’s in the periwinkle room, down the hall and the second door on the right,” Molly informs us, pointing to the right of the front desk with a friendly smile.
Rowan leads the way and sends me a funny smile at the sight of me carrying his sister. We make our way down the hall and turn into the “periwinkle room” which has walls that are indeed painted a light shade of purple. There’s a brunette on the far side of room who’s tidying up the desks before the kids get here for the day. She looks up when we come in and smiles brightly.
“You must be Rowan,” she says as she stands up straighter and smoothes down the skirt of her dress. “This must be Bella, then?”
“Say hi to Miss Jacobsen, Bell,” I say quietly into the kid’s ear. She smiles shyly and waves to what may be her future teacher if everything goes well today.
“Hi there,” the woman says to Bella. “It’s very nice to meet you. Are you excited to be starting school?”
Bella nods her head. Damn. I figured Bella was just being shy with me because of the circumstances in which we first met, but she just seems to be a shy kid in general. I can’t say I’m shocked. I’d have been the exact same way if I didn’t have Atlas when I was growing up. Atlas lived close by and since we were friends so early, his parents would have been suspicious if my parents hadn’t placed me in preschool.
“How about you go play with some toys over there while we talk a bit over here, huh?” the teacher suggests. Bella nods and I let her down to do so. She toddles right off to a bin of large building blocks that she immediately dumps right out onto the rainbow carpet.
“If you wanna take a seat,” Miss Jacobsen says before gesturing to one of the kids’ tables. We all sit down awkwardly in the seats that are about six times too small for adults.
“So, Bella,” she begins, opening a folder and pulling out a pen. “She’s three, right?”
“Yup,” Rowan confirms. “Just turned a month or so ago.”
“That’s good. Is she reading yet?”
A strange noise comes out of Rowan’s mouth and I look on is disbelief. Reading? Kids her age are barely even potty trained.
“No? Is she supposed to be reading already? She’s barely three years old,” Rowan replies, and I can tell how disappointed he is just by his tone of voice. He’s gone from confident to completely discouraged in a second flat.
“No, no, but we have a small gifted program. The magenta room. It’s a prestigious program, though. We’ve got kids from all over New York in there. I always ask just in case,” the teacher says with a light laugh. Rowan looks like he feels a little better but he’s clearly been rocked by this “out of his league” business. Pun intended.
“Okay, good. She draws a bunch and loves to bake, though.”
“That’s great. She seems like a really sweet kid. Is this her first preschool?”
“Yeah,” Rowan nods. “She needs friends her own age, you know?”
“Of course,” the teacher agrees with a nod. “Is she fully potty trained?”
“Yes, has been for six months or so.”
“Okay. Everything seems to be good. You already put in your application and everything, so paperwork aside from payment is already taken care of,” she pauses and looks sideways at the pair of us. “The parents here are really great, too. We have another family like yours, and they’re just lovely.”
“Family like ours?” I finally pipe up, my brow furrowing.
She looks from me to Rowan and back again. He looks to me and is just as confused as I am.
“Bella’s your...daughter, right?” she says slowly as her eyes flick between us.
“No, no, she’s my little sister,” Rowan replies. He gives a small nervous chuckle before glancing back over at me. I ignore the hesitation that jolts through me and grab his hand under the table. Most counterparts like us have already Bonded so they’d be able to tell how the other is feeling. I have to figure it out how Rowan is feeling just like every other person on the planet since we haven’t Bonded yet. I normally think that’s better since I have to know him really well to decipher his emotions, but right now I wish I knew instantly.
“I see. I shouldn’t have assumed. Well,” she says, smiling nervously as she straightens her papers, “either way. It’s a nice community here. The kids are all great. All the employees get a background check done every year. We have six rooms, magenta is the gifted room. Kids move up through the rooms based on age. Amber is for six months to a year, jade is two to three, cyan is for three to four, and periwinkle is four to five. Bella over there would be in the cyan room.”
“That sounds great. How soon do you think we could get her started?” Rowan says. He clears his throat and shifts a bit, squeezing my hand in his.
“Quite soon. You are aware of the tuition situation, correct?” the lady asks, pen poised after writing down all of Rowan’s previous responses. His face closes up.
“The what?” he replies, and he once again sounds quite crushed.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not cheap,” she slides a packet across the tiny table to Rowan. “It’s monthly payments instead of weekly or yearly.”
Rowan looks at me with a sad expression that nearly breaks my heart. I look back to the lady and sit up a little straighter.
“Well, I get a grant through work,” I say to her quietly. “A section twelve grant.”
The woman’s eyes widen, not comically, but significantly enough to notice. There are many kinds of grants given for education in the United States. Section 12 grants are League grants that are only given to benefit the dependents of League employees. Since Bella’s custody has technically been turned over to our team and not one sole person, she’s covered by any one of our grants. Anyone who uses them is protected by confidentiality, it’s required by law, but it obviously doesn’t stop the surprise. There’s an almost childlike kind of excitement that comes with finding out that you’re in the presence of a League agent that’s out of uniform. You suddenly know a secret no one else can know and no one would believe you if you told them you met a League agent, anyway.
“Are you public or private?” she asks, pulling the tuition information away and shifting gears completely. She sits up straighter and smoothes her hair down. It’s a typical reaction to civilians when they realize they’ve just met a League agent, no matter if it’s dramatic and unnecessary or not.
“Private,” I reply smoothly.
“Alright, then, you can take care of this with Molly at the front desk once you’re ready. Do you guys have any other questions?”
“I think we’re all set,” Rowan replies before standing slowly and slipping his hand out of mine. She stands as well and we all shake hands. “C’mon, Bella, we’re going,” Rowan calls afterwards. The little kid shoves all of the building blocks back into the bin and puts it away before she comes trotting up to us.
I take care of the paperwork for the League grant at the front desk with Molly before we head out. Rowan thanks me repeatedly for helping with tuition but I insist that it’s really no big deal at all since he’ll have a grant of his own once he passes the entrance exam.
He looks over at me with this serious expression when we’re on the train back to the tower. Bella is fiddling with a game on his phone where she’s seated comfortably on his lap.
“I want to take you on a date,” he proclaims. “A real one. One where we don’t have to lie about everything. I thought it’d be nice.”
“Oh, yeah. That’d be really good. Maybe at that same diner from before?”
“Yeah. That’d be good,” he smiles softly. “Who are you Lake Ford?”
“I don’t know,” I smirk, pushing him playfully. “What about you, Rowan Rivera?”
We drop Bella off at the tower. Cecelia is more than happy to take her off of our hands for a few hours. Apparently the redhead has been dying for a trip to the park and a kid is just an excuse to get to go. I have a feeling that having Bella around the tower has lit a fire under Tony’s ass. Cecelia loves kids and I’m sure the topic has to have come up between the couple more than once before, especially recently.
The date is nice. We talk about Bella and Derek. There are multiple apologies from both sides that each of us accept but quickly dismiss. We have a lot of laughs and stray away from the overly serious stuff. I lay my head comfortably on his shoulder on the ride back to the tower. I guess we’re okay now. I think I accidentally got over everything that went down between us. It’s easier to be around each other now. We still drop each other’s hand once we get back to the tower, though. We may be back on the track to a real relationship with each other but the team still doesn’t know.