Fire & Ice

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Chapter 2

I make sure to wake up early the next morning to do all of the homework that I’ve been neglecting. I’m a creative writing major so I’m not exactly taking some hardcore courses during my junior year, but the few required core courses are kind of killing me. I pushed everything back so I could make the entrance exam for the League my top priority and now that it’s over, it’s crunch time. I don’t think I’ve ever pulled off what I’m about to attempt in all my years of college, but I have to at least try.

It takes me until around three in the afternoon since I procrastinate at every turn. I figured it’d be a good idea to get ahead of the work instead of behind like I always am so I caught up on the work due next week, as well. Now that I’m an actual League agent, my schedule is only going to get tighter from here.

Atlas is absent throughout my homework binge. He always schedules back to back classes on Fridays because he’s a total psychopath and then usually come back to be with Maggie. He usually just crashes at her place for the night and stumbles his way back to our dorm room sometime on Saturday. She may be our mutual best friend but she’s also his girlfriend and counterpart. They’ve known since middle school which is just another example of how weird it is I’m still alone and without a counterpart. Neither him or Maggie really get how it is to still not know their counter at my age.

I change into shorts and a loose t-shirt after I save my last essay. I’ll admit that it’s not my best work, but my skin started itching for a run about an hour ago. An hour is as long as I can restrain myself. Anything I try to write in my current state will be absolute trash, anyways.

It takes me a few moments to find my running shoes. They’re tucked under Atlas’s bed once again, kicked underneath by careless feet. It’s usually Atlas’s fault but, for once, I can’t be entirely sure if it was him or I. The state I was in when I dragged myself back into our room after the League exam wasn’t exactly high-functioning.

I tie the neon blue laces sloppily before finally making my way down to the gym.

There’s five dorm halls and two gyms on campus , but the one closest to my hall is the only one with an indoor track. Most people opt for a treadmill or the outdoor track, but I don’t have a preference. Running is running.

I walk half a lap as a warm-up. As part of my official induction into the League, Max has placed me on a regimen of training that he’s confident will have me field-ready quickly. The man’s face lit up when I told him that I run for fun and am more than happy to tack on a mile or so. The regimen includes four days of “training” which is primarily easy stuff that I can do by myself while I’m at school. On Wednesdays, I’ll go to the tower to actually train with Max. His training sessions will focus on the more combat and power oriented aspects of getting me ready for missions.

Once I start running, everything else falls away. It’s always been like that even since I was kid. My parents were horrible and once I was old enough to be allowed independence, I’d run to get away from everything. I ran in school on the track team even before they died as well as basically anytime I felt like it. It’s always been my thing. It’s not even just the physical act of running. I have this amazing power where I can create and control ice, sure, but going for a run has also given me the ability to simply turn my brain off for a little while.

I run two laps, heartbeat rising steadily as I go. I sprint around the track once, heart pounding in my ears and against my skull. It quiets down when I slow back to a jog, feet tapping lightly as they hit the spongy red flooring of the track. My counterpart pendant bounces against my neck with every step, two right triangles stacked on top of each other point to point. They’re made of sturdy metal wire, blue on top and red on the bottom, and cut like puzzle pieces so that they’ll fit together with my counter’s. Like most people on this planet, I’ve worn my pendant since I was old enough to, but it’s bittersweet. I’ve never felt it heat up, not even the slightest whisper of warmth against my skin. Thinking about it usually makes me think that there really is no other person that holds the second half, so I try my best not to think about it.

I jog for a little while. There’s nothing that’s been troubling me recently. I successfully managed to push everything that Dylan made me see in the hallucinations during the exam out of my head. When I’m actually troubled or upset, I’ll run myself straight into the ground, slam my feet hard into the ground until pain shoots up my legs and makes it hard to walk, let alone run, for the next few days. It’s not exactly healthy, but it is what it is.

I also like running just for the fun, which isn’t something you hear often.

My focus drifts around a bit as I round the track once more. I have no clue how much time has passed, but the sun is starting to set beyond the small rectangular windows near the ceiling of the track. The room is washed in a sea of yellow and orange as a beautiful end to a stressful day.

My eyes catch on someone standing off to the side of the track. He’s leaning against the wall, arms crossed, with an expression I can’t quite read on his face.

Danny Wright.

Like me, Danny still hasn’t met his counterpart. While many of people our age have found their counter, him and I are part of that minority that hasn’t. It’s a sad sort of club, sure, but this isn’t AA, so it’s not like we have meetings.

I met Danny in my college writing class during our freshman year and we started engaging in the oh-so socially acceptable relationship know as friends with benefits. That’s kind of how things tend to be when everyone’s younger. Everyone knows their counterpart is out there, somewhere, so nothing outside of that one person is serious. Well, unless you’re in the even smaller minority of people whose counters have either died before they got to meet or after. Everyone gets “assigned” a counterpart, but that’s not a guarantee of a happily ever after. I mean, come on, my parents were a train wreck from start to finish. If I learned one thing from my parents it’s that there really are no guarantees in life.

Danny’s a nice guy. Whoever turns out to be his counter will be very happy. He’s good looking, hilarious, and what I’d categorize as reasonably down-to-earth. The sex is also pretty great, so that’s always a plus.

I push myself harder, winding back up into a run. I want to be field-ready as soon as physically possible and I won’t get there if I don’t push myself. I’m sweating hard as I slow down to a jog and then a walk, satisfied to see that the sun has completely set.

Danny is still there when I finally come to a stop. I head over to where I tossed my bag when I first got here and pull out a bottle of water. I see him start making his way over to me out of the corner of my eye as I take a long swig of water.

“My roommate is with his girlfriend until tomorrow night,” he says in greeting, smiling with a smirk I know quite well.

“Interesting,” I reply, smirking back as I cap the bottle and toss it into my bag.

I sling a strap over one my shoulders and gesture for him the lead the way. He smiles and grabs his own bag, walking in front of me all the way back to his dorm room. He’s in the same hall as me but a floor above so I press a different button on the elevator than normal. True to his word, Danny’s roommate, Gus, is nowhere to be found.

I drop my gym bag on the floor by the door and sit down on his bed, sweaty skin and all. Over the years, Danny and I have grown from friends with benefits to actual friends with benefits. Sometimes we just hang out for the sake of hanging out, no sex in the equation whatsoever. It’s kind of twisted in a way, but both of us are totally fine with that.

“Didn’t see you around much the past few days,” he remarks, placing his own bag on top of his desk and unlacing his sneakers. I lean down to do the same, skipping right over the laces and simply yanking the shoes right off of my feet. They hit the floor with a muted thud a few feet away once I kick them off.

He turns to me with a crooked smile hanging on his face before getting up into my personal space. We’re both sweaty and honestly kind of disgusting but I guess the plus side of being close with him is that neither of us really care.

“Where were you, hm?” he hums, lowering his head so that his forehead rests against mine, hazel eyes meeting my blue ones.

“Wanna know the truth?” I whisper back, a knowing smile playing on my lips.

“Lay it on me, baby,” he rasps, his voice nothing more than a faint tendril in the air. All it takes is his voice lowering in pitch for the room to gain a sexual charge in an instant. A jolt of excitement stabs me in the stomach at the sound.

“I’m a superhero,” I confess and let it hang right out there in the open, waiting for his response.

Just like I expected, Danny lets out a loud, amused snort.

“Right,” he drawls, entirely unconvinced.

Nobody is crazy enough to believe anyone when they tell others that they’re a “superhero.” It’s a huge joke, actually. The League operates as a government agency, but the general public has turned it into a sports team of sorts. Since everyone in the League has a codename, they’re all basically superheros. People idolize them. There is a good number of agents that don’t take even a single measure to mask their identity and civilians are more than happy to regard them as celebrities. Of course, a vast majority of League missions are private or under cover, but the few that are blatantly public tend to get quite a bit of media coverage. Fan girls “ship” League agents together. Some people write books and fan fiction about them.

The second I step out with the team in a public matter, the media is going to be hounding all of their sources for my codename, my identity, my everything. It’s actually kind of terrifying. Me, a guy who’s generally secluded from the public in every way, suddenly thrown out into the light? I don’t think I’ll ever truly be ready for something like that.

My fingers find their way to the hem of Danny’s soaked workout shirt, tugging it up until his lower torso is exposed. I poke my fingers under the material to run the tips of them across the smooth dips of his abs. Danny’s not exactly ripped, but he’s got just enough of a six pack that I always want to either touch or run my tongue down his abs to get somewhere else.

“We’re pushy today, hm?” he hums, gently pushing forward to lay me on my back.

His face follows after mine and his lips hover over my own, mere centimeters apart. We’ve never been weird about kissing. Some people who still have yet to meet their counterpart vow to save their first kiss for that person. That sounds exhausting. I had my first kiss in seventh grade at a party I didn’t even want to go to with a girl I wasn’t even into. That was back when I was still trying to convince myself that I’m not a hundred percent gay, okay? That particular phase didn’t last very long. Danny had a similar experience as mine, so we were essentially on the same page when we began this messy “relationship” of ours.

I chase after his lips myself, tired of the teasingly slow game. He smirks against my lips the second they meet but I just press harder. I love wiping the relaxed smugness right off of his face. I bite on his bottom lip and pull hard which elicits a shaky groan from him. That is the sweet, hot sounds of progress.

“Alright, alright,” he breathes, words drifting from his mouth in a breathless huff. “Alright.”

I grab the hem of his shirt once more and pull it up and over his head. He grabs the bottom of mine but all the air in my lungs bursts out in quick stutters, my hands disappearing from his head of brown hair to stop him from pulling up my shirt.

Childhood not only left me with a head full of trauma, but also a few party favors to send me on my merry way. There are two long, white scars that run across my torso from the middle of my chest to the side on my ribs. They’re white and faded from age, but still prominent and raised enough to be plainly visible.

Danny and I have been doing this thing for about three years. In that time, I’ve found that I have good and bad days in terms of whether or not I want to expose myself like that. Today is not a good day, so the shirt will be staying on.

He understands without me having to even open my mouth. I just give a minute shake of my head and he nods briefly in understanding. He lets go of the bottom of my shirt and slides me farther onto the bed, following closely behind. I am more than happy to let him slip a hand down the front of my gym shorts and grab me.

Tonight’s not a full-on sex kind of a night. Both of us are sweaty and absolutely disgusting. I’m not in a good enough way about myself to take off my shirt. Not to mention that neither of us are prepared, if you catch my dirty drift. It’s not just a one and done deal; that’s just unrealistic. I know all about having stuff up my ass when I’m not adequately ready and it’s never a great time.

“God, look at you,” he sighs lowly. “Hottest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.”

I curl up beside him in his bed to promptly pass out for the night when all is said and done. It’s kind of a reach to call the walk I make back to my own room in the morning a “walk of shame.” I’ve made it plenty of times before, so many that I’m sure there have to be people in our dorm hall that known exactly what the pair of us have been doing together for the past few years. It’s not exactly a secret.

Atlas is laying on his side and facing the wall in his bed when I quietly slide into our room. I pad silently across the linoleum tiles to my own bed, placing my gym bag on the floor and gingerly sitting down on top of my blue comforter. I just start to think that I’ve gotten away with sneaking in but then Atlas rolls over with a smug look plastered on his face. He laughs sleepily and runs a tired hand through his messy brown hair.

“It’s actually kind of adorable how transparent you are, you know that?” he remarks before turning back to face the wall once more. I can’t think of a response in time before he speaks again.

“So, how was the party, anyway?” he says blearily, sucking in a long breath and shifting around under the covers.

“It was fine,” I reply, choosing to leave out the whole gift incident. “They got me cake and everything.”

“That’s good, that’s good,” he says, nodding even with his head against the pillow, “so, are you like, okay now? You came in on Thursday looking like a total mess and then were just gone before I woke up on Friday.”

When I said I stumbled in after the League exam, I wasn’t exaggerating. The exam is physically exhausting, sure, but the party trick Dylan decided to pull out on me and a few other recruits really fucked me up in the head. I was twitchy as hell. The train ride back to campus was packed and I flinched like I’d been hit every time someone so much as brushed past me. “Fucked up” doesn’t even begin to describe the state I was in when I finally collapsed into my bed for the night.

One thing I didn’t want to do the next morning was explain myself to Atlas so I got the hell out of our room as soon as I could. It’s nothing against him, he’s my best friend, after all, but I needed some time to get my head together before I could deal with other people.

“I’m okay,” I reply, shrugging my shoulders, “that exam handed my ass to me more times than I could count. I got in though, so it was worth it.”

“Hm,” he hums curiously. “Happy you’re official, now, though. When I see you on TV, I can tell people ‘that’s my best friend!’ and they won’t believe me, but I’ll totally know, and it’ll be great.”

“Alright, buddy, how about you get some sleep, huh?” I suggest, smiling softly at his exhausted ramblings. From the sound of it, there must have been a party last night that kept him up late.

“Sounds good,” he agrees, and is out cold before I can even respond.

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