Max and I have to leave for D.C. Early so I’m up at around six the next morning. Rowan watches me get dressed with his head propped up by his elbow and his lips stretched into an easy smirk. I feel lighter than I have in quite possibly years. I never thought finalizing the Bond would have such a big effect on my life, but I can’t ignore the facts. The stress over finding my counterpart is gone. The anguish over the situation the pair of us were in has been resolved. We’ve finally moved out of the gray area our relationship had existed in for so long. Everything with Rowan is working out better than I ever thought it could.
I can’t forget the situation with my mother, however. It seems that if anything ever goes well in my life, something else has to go horribly wrong. Right now is no exception.
It’s still early so Bella isn’t up yet. She doesn’t have to be to school for another two hours or so. Rowan and I get into the elevator to ride down to the parking garage level where I’m meeting Max together. I take the hand hanging at his side and pull him down into a long kiss. He lets go of my hand to slide it down my arm until it rests on my waist before yanking me in closer to him. I forget exactly where we are, something only Rowan has ever been able to do, and apparently we had less time than I thought because there’s a ding and then the elevator doors are opening.
There’s some surprised noises and “oh’s” which means whoever is down here, as well, has just had a first hand encounter with what kind of personal relationship Rowan and I have. We break apart and I step away before daring a look to see exactly who it is we’ve exposed ourselves to.
Oh boy. The whole team. All of them. Great.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Flint jokes. “Are you guys messing around or not?”
I glance over to Rowan and slowly reach a hand into the collar of his t-shirt. I stop for a second, asking for permission with my eyes, and he nods clearly. I grab the black strand and pull the red and blue pendant out from where it’s always hidden under his shirt. I make mine visible, as well, and wait.
Nick whoops and Cecelia stumbles from where she was on her way to the opposite side of the group.
“I knew it!” Max exclaims loudly.
“Sure, Max,” I reply, rolling my eyes. “Whatever you say. Can we get this show on the road now?”
“Aw, he’s embarrassed,” JD coos. “How adorable.”
“Yeah, yeah, come on, we should get going,” Max agrees before gesturing to the door to the parking garage.
We all exchange some “goodbyes” and “good lucks.” Flint actually has the audacity to high five me and say that Rowan’s a good catch. I can’t exactly disagree with him, but the smug expression on his face kind of makes me want to punch him.
Max and I head out eventually. D.C sent a car and a driver to ensure that we arrive there alive and wide awake. The trip is three hours which I’m not particularly thrilled with, but at least I can catch some extra sleep on the way there.
Washington D.C. is just as beautiful as I remember it being back in fifth grade. I went on the trip that many schools take part in where all their fifth graders spend a weekend in the capital of the country. Sure, I may have slept a total of six hours in two days, but that just means that Atlas and all our friends had the times of our lives.
“We’re just about there,” Max says once he notices that I’m awake. “They’ve set up police escorts. Even without the entirety of the teams, two agents times nearly a hundred teams is a serious risk. It’s like the president coming to your hometown times a billion.”
“We should put our suits on,” he suggests, and I nod in agreement. Our uniforms are essentially mandatory at such large and serious gatherings like this emergency assembly. There’s a yearly assembly every year on the last Saturday in July that’s much like the one happening now, but it’s typically less grave and more cheerful. There’s always a parade in D.C and they get the boys and girls scouts involved. It’s really cute and I always wanted to go as a kid. Now I’m basically living that life. Oh, how the tables turn and flip.
Pulling on a uniform of tough and nearly immovable material is almost impossible in the backseat of a car, but Max and I do our best. Gluing a mask accurately and securely to my face is also an incredible feat in a moving vehicle, but Max helps me and we manage to pull it together just as we pull up to the assembly hall.
The hall is a lot like the capitol building with a high arching dome roof of white marble. It’s truly an amazing sight as we walk up to it once we exit the car. What’s even more awe-inspiring is the sight of dozens of costumed League agents walking together up the white stone steps to the entrance. Security is incredibly tight just at the entrance, but that’s to be expected during a situation like the one we’re in. I try to look past the glum mood for a second to relish in a childhood dream: being up close and personal to a sight so amazing like a League assembly. It’s a scene straight out of a comic book.
Max and I walk with swift purpose all the way into the building. This is right around when the magic starts to wear off and I lose my nerve a little bit. All these people are gathered to discuss how they’re going to deal with the threat my mother and her gang of anti-League terrorists are posing. They may not know I’m her son, but a good few are bound to. Who knows who Director Scofield has told the whole story to.
I shove the thoughts aside. I may be the youngest member of the League, but I can’t act like it. Max leads the way into the actual hall. It’s round like the inside of the Senate Chamber of the capitol building. The League assembly hall was built specifically to mirror the capitol building, so it’s to be expected. The layout works the best with such a large volume of agents in one place.
The room is divided up nicely. There are desk-like tables with two seats per team. Each table has a paper with the team codename printed on it. Nebula is in the second row towards the middle and we quickly take our seats. My knees jitter up and down as we wait, a nervous tic I work hard on making sure doesn’t transfer to my behavior when I’m in uniform. I guess I’ve already lost that battle for today.
Other teams quickly file in and take their seats, as well. I can imagine that they typically take time to have some small talk before assemblies like the ones in July, but everyone is wearing either angry or solemn expressions.
I am spared more passing glances than I expected to receive. I know how insanely young I look, though, even in a mask. I’m bound to draw attention when the average age in this room is about just over 25.
The room eventually fills and there’s a low murmur for a while until Director Scofield comes out and everything falls quiet and still.
“I seriously wish we were gathering on more positive terms, but that’s the way this job goes,” he begins before clasping his hands in front of him where he stands before all of us.
“We’ve done a very good job at keeping the threat level low throughout the past few years. We’ve unfortunately had to move into level red. If we let this slip out from under our hand, the country will dissolve into chaos. Agent Blackwell deviated and has committed multiple acts of treason. She is a serious threat to the entire League, which has also upgraded her to a threat to national security.
The President wants a hold of her and the people she’s running with now before the public really catches on. She’s in the wind right now, but it’s likely she’s still hovering around New York since the Nebula team’s tower is where she made her grand comeback. The remaining Blackwells have been notified. We’re going to start small and work our way up.”
He pauses to look around at the room. The hall is dead silent and the gloom is nearly visible. From what I’ve been able to gather, Christen and her father wreaked havoc before she disappeared off of their radar. She clearly isn’t remembered fondly. By the way Scofield has to force the Blackwell name out, he obviously shares the same sentiment, be it more tastefully professional or not.
Also. “The remaining Blackwells?” That’s right. My mother had siblings. I unfortunately knew Ashton quite intimately. I had no idea that her estranged little brother, Joseph, even existed, though. He lives right here in New York and I never even knew until Max told me. I’m quite interested in meeting him soon. It’s very possible that he’ll have some answers about how to subdue my psycho fucking mother.
“I don’t want any towers left unattended. One agent must be there at all times aside from any retired agents that may already be stationed inside. I also want the Armadillo Protocol initiated in your AI systems, whether you use them on a daily basis or not.” Oh, that’s right. Each team tower is equipped with AI software that can run the entire building with the swipe of a hand or the whisper of a command. We don’t use it in our tower since Max has decided to not run our team strictly within the guidelines. He’s against tradition in most ways but he also believes in the value of problem solving skills instead of relying on a computer to do everything for us.
“I’ve also issued a kill-on-sight order for Christen Blackwell. We’ve terminated her League ID number and all associated authorizations. She used her old ID to infiltrate the Nebula base which a mistake we will not make twice. As always, keep civilian casualties to an absolute minimum. If you have a possible shot, however, take it. She and her associates are murdering citizens left and right.”
Director Scofield eventually moves on to explaining the way PR is dealing with everything and our report-to-HQ-ASAP policy that’s in place to cover our asses. I’ve managed to zone out enough that my legs have stopped bouncing and I’ve calmed down a bit.
There’s a sudden whooshing sound that I’ve heard before but can’t place. It’s too late to figure it out and prepare because suddenly my mother has popped into existence behind the director of the League. Her arm rears back and suddenly there’s a hole in the front of the director’s chest. His blue uniform blooms red with a dangerous amount of blood. Oh fuck.
The entire hall quickly descends into absolute chaos. There’s the shouting of orders before many team captains remember that they don’t have their entire teams with them.
The people associated with Christen from the multiple recent murders have also appeared seemingly out of nowhere and are stabbing, slicing, and shooting with reckless abandon. They all appear to be normal civilians, though, but that’s what I thought about Rowan for the longest time, as well. Any one of them could turn out to be a wild car and do something crazy. They’ll all be taken away in power inhibiting handcuffs just to be safe.
I jump up out of my seat. The wooden chair clatters to the floor as Max stands up beside me and we look around wildly. There’s so much happening at once that it’s difficult to choose which to deal with first.
Director Scofield has collapsed to the ground. He’s already being swarmed by multiple agents, so whatever chance he has at survival is already being taken care of.
I’m shoved around and suddenly Max has disappeared completely from my sight. Great. I look around quickly, still trying to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do in this situation. My decision is basically made for me when someone grabs me by the shoulder from behind before yanking me backward so hard that I slam hard into the wooden floor of the fancy assembly hall.
I stare up at the ceiling bleary-eyed until a face comes into view. Christen. Of fucking course she’d target me.
“Hi, Lukas, baby,” she coos sarcastically. “I hear you still go by Lake. How adorable.” She punctuates the word “adorable” with a direct kick to my nose. I feel the bones crack under her shoe and the warm, wet rush of blood immediately begin to gush all over my face. A deafening roar of pain is screaming in my ears as my vision swims a bit. I struggle to hold myself together because this is just about the last situation where I’d want to check out for any period of time.
“Wouldn’t want anything around to tie me to you,” I say before a manic kind of laugh bubbles out of my mouth. She leans down closer to get to me and I smile back up with a mouth full of metallic red. She gets so close that I am entirely justified in my actions when I spit and splatter the side of the face with blood.
An animalistic growl explodes from her mouth before her and all of her buddies converge on me. There’s kicks and punches. My ribs crack and there’s definitely going to be internal bleeding but all I can do is curl up enough to cover my skull and send out uncoordinated blasts of water and ice. There’s shouts when they land and gunfire is still raining down around us so Christen’s “army” has clearly grown quite a bit since they last struck in Central Park.
“God, you’ve always been such a—” I pause, struggling to breathe. “Such a fucking bitch.” I finally gather my bearings enough to grab one of those anti-League assholes by the throat. My hand tightens and I squeeze, holding him in place with a forceful strength I’ve never exerted before. I’m not Tony. I don’t have super strength. It must be the adrenaline.
I see another flash of my mother’s face before there’s a snap and a harsh flash of pain that radiates down my arm. Fuck. The crowd of assailants eventually trickles back down to just my mom. I suppose they have better things to be doing. It’s enough of a break for me to stumble my ways to my knees. I shoot streams of ice strong enough to freeze her but they all miss her completely. My coordination is completely shot just like my vision. I’m just about to find my footing when a literal kick to my face has me flying backwards to the floor once again.
“I see the necklace is gone,” she says knowingly. “Does he know how fucked up you are?” she hisses before advancing on me just as I’m finding my way back to my knees. She grabs hold of my chin and jerks it around a bit. Blood and saliva is spilling from my mouth.
“Does he know how used up you are?” she continues. Oh, right. She knew all about Ashton. When the stuff with him first started I figured that nobody knew but when she caught her brother with his hand down my pants and she didn’t do anything, I realized I was wrong. She knew all along and did nothing about it.
“You’re a fucking bitch,” I seethe, spewing blood and spit into her face as spitefully as I can muster.
Someone’s calling my name and I quickly recognize it as Max in the distance. I stumble to my feet, swaying side to side like a leaf in the wind, before pushing her back with weak hands.
“I was afraid Ashton dirtied you up as a kid, but a man as a counter? You poisoned the bloodline, Lukas,” she sneers directly into my face. “A gay son is no son of my mine.”
I go for her throat this time. Maybe I can choke her out, too. The streams of ice I shoot are much more accurate at this range. Arms have closed around my front, though, and they’re dragging me backwards away from her. Max.
“I’m gonna fucking kill her,” I snarl. “I’m gonna fucking do it. She’ll barely be a fucking blip on the League’s radar. Let me, Max!” I shout. She disappears out of view and teleports to the opposite side of the hall where I couldn’t even get to her if Max were to let me go.
I’m seething. There are hundreds of other agents around who are witnessing my rage and I should really shut up because I’m definitely establishing personal ties to Christen. I also undoubtedly have multiple broken bones that should really be looked at.
“Come on, kid, come on,” Max’s urging voice slowly makes it way back into my head. “You definitely need a hospital, kid, come on.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay, let’s go,” I agree half-heartedly, allowing him to lead me away.
There’s no official dismissal of the assembly like there normally is. Max drags me through the large arching entrance of the assembly building and down the marble stairs. It’s already dark outside. I guess Director Scofield spoke for much longer than I even realized.
“Is Scofield okay?” I slur out around blood and spit as I limp along beside Max. There’s a hospital only a block or so away so we can definitely walk there. He’s got my arm curled tight around his shoulder and I hate to admit it but if he wasn’t supporting me, I would’ve collapsed to ground already.
“I don’t know,” he replies as he adjusts his hold on me, “there was a ton of people on him, though, so he should be alright. Let’s worry about you for now, huh? This is second time in a month that I’m seriously concerned you’re going to bleed out on me. That’s more than most adults on our team, kid.”
“Hey,” I mumble, rolling my eyes, “I’m an adult.”
The older man huffs out a tired laugh.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “Barely.”
The ER entrance is already flooded with uniformed League agents and the waiting room is swamped with waiting teammates. Max immediately hands me off to a triage nurse who takes one look at me and has me whisked off.
“See ya soon,” I call drearily to Max. They’ll let him back once those in charge decide I’m not at an immediate risk of dropping dead.
I’ve said it once and I will continue to say it every time I find myself in a hospital: I hate them. The atmosphere. The smell. The mere idea that someone is probably dying right now. The whole place is ominously gloomy and nauseating.
Internal bleeding. Compound radial fracture. Cracked ribs (again). Some pretty deep cuts that required stitches. Another concussion. Serious bruising. A broken pinky and ring finger on my left hand and the index finger on my right. It could have been worse. They could have left a bullet fragment inside of me and caused the need for corrective surgery and multiple blood transfusions.
They let Max back to see me once I’m all casted and splinted up. Active League agents have treatment priority, especially when the director issues a change in threat levels to hospitals like Scofield did before the assembly. They stitch up my left arm where the bone broke through the skin in a disgustingly gory fashion, wrap it, and then put a blue cast over it. The fingers just get splints but I can still barely unlock my cell phone. It’s going to be another rough couple of weeks.
“They’re holding you overnight because of the concussion, so get comfortable. They’ll discharge you as early as they can tomorrow morning to make room. Montgomery from the Blaze team got shot three times. They’re rushing him into surgery,” Max tells me as he helps me sit up as gently as he can. “Scofield made it. Barely. He’s on life support for now, but that man’s healing factor is off the charts, so he should be just fine.”
“That’s good,” I say, breathing harshly through my nose as my ribs grind together. Not literally, of course, but that’s what it feels like.
Max curls up in one of those uncomfortable bedside chairs and we tough it out through the night. A nurse wakes me up every few hours as expected to ensure that I still know my name and haven’t slipped into a coma. She’s pretty nice and even brings me a chocolate pudding cup sometime in the latest hours of the night. At least the nurses in hospitals are around to help make things a bit more bearable. The night nurse after the shift change is a total bitch, though, but I guess that’s how it is when you’re stuck working overnight.
As it always is when I have a concussion, any sleep I get doesn’t really count as sleep. The exhaustion escalates each time I’m woken up once again. It’s a long night.