I’m discharged from the hospital at around seven a.m and I am more than excited to get the hell out of D.C. The rude nurse from the night shift wheels me down to the front of the hospital in a wheelchair as per their policy. Max has to help pull me to my feet. The bruises make themselves known once my legs start to support my body weight, but I bite my way through the pain. Max slings one of my arms over his shoulders despite my embarrassed protests and we hobble our way across the parking lot to a car that was issued by the League. The ride back to New York is going to be long, especially with the added checkpoints that have been set up. I just want to relax and not think for a little while.
I settle into the backseat beside Max but the comfort doesn’t last because I have to present my League ID every time we encounter a checkpoint. We finally cross through the last checkpoint and leave D.C after about an hour. The security and safety precautions are seemingly insane, but I completely understand them. Nobody wants to take any chances in letting the people Christen is working with slip away unnoticed.
“Can you drop me at my brother’s apartment, actually?” I ask the driver before slowly reading off the address. The man assigned to drive us back to New York gladly changes the destination in the GPS and Max merely raises his eyebrows when I look over at him.
“My head’s a mess right now,” I muter to him. “I just wanna see him.”
He studies my face for a moment before nodding in agreement.
I slip towards a less serious form of consciousness, sliding down in my seat. I unbuckle my seat belt and the driver thankfully doesn’t say anything about it.
“Alright, come here,” Max orders. “Lay down and sleep before you pass out and hit your head again.” It takes a second for my foggy brain to process his words but then I’m laying my head on his thigh and curling my legs up onto the seat. I pass out completely for the rest of the car ride.
Max shakes me awake an unknown period of time later. I recognize the street we’re parked on, though, because it’s where the old apartment I shared with Derek is.
“You can go back to the tower,” I tell Max as I sit up a little faster than I should have and open the passenger door. “I’ll be back later tonight, okay?”
“Yeah, kiddo, I’ll see ya,” he agrees as I climb carefully out onto the street.
The car waits until I’m halfway up the front steps to the apartment to pull away. I take a second to stand still and just breathe once I’m alone. I don’t have my phone on me since I was afraid I’d lose it somehow in D.C. It’s a good thing I left it in tower since I’m pretty sure it’d be destroyed if it was in the internal pocket of my suit’s jacket.
I make my way up to Derek’s floor and pause for a second to collect myself before actually knocking. There’s some scuffling until I hear a female voice say they’re coming to the door. Alexandra. Right. Maybe this wasn’t the best state to decide to meet her in. First impressions are everything, after all.
Oh well. Too late to turn back now.
The door opens and the petite blonde woman standing in the doorway literally gasps in surprise.
“Derek!” she exclaims. “It’s for you!” I snort out a laugh at her response which makes a smile bloom on her face. Derek appears from behind her without a shirt on and his blue eyes widen comically at the sight of me.
“Jesus fuck, Lake, what the hell happened to you?”
I sigh tiredly.
His face contorts in a way that looks almost painful before he’s grabbing the arm that isn’t broken and dragging me into the apartment. Alexandra shuts the door and locks it behind us. Derek leads me to the worn red couch that came with us from the old house we lived in before mom and dad died and sits me down.
“This is about the assembly in D.C, right? They chose you as a rep?”
“Yeah,” I nod as I settle as carefully as I can into the uncomfortable couch. “It was all going well. Then she blipped into reality from behind Scofield and stabbed him through the chest. She’s gained a large following, too. I’m still waiting for the final death tally to be released.”
“So mom did...this?” he asks, surveying me up and down.
“Yeah. I think one of her goons broke my fingers, though.”
Alexandra sits down on the newer armchair we bought when we moved into the apartment, watching us with concerned eyes. She clearly didn’t expect Derek’s little brother to be League agent for a living.
“Did they get her?”
“No. She started going on about Ash so I kept spitting blood into her face. I almost got to choke her out, too, but Max dragged me away,” I explain before shrugging slightly and looking away, “it was probably for the best though.”
“Who’s Ash?” Alexandra finally pipes up, looking from Derek to me and back.
“Ashton,” I clarify. “Our mom’s brother. He abused the fuck out of me when we were kids.”
“Oh,” she says quietly, suddenly just as subdued as before.
“Don’t worry about it,” I reassure her with a slightly forced smile. “He’s dead.”
“So your mom did this?” she asks, glancing between Derek and I once again.
“And you guys seem really...casual about this…” she trails off.
I exchange a look with Derek.
“It was like this a lot when we were kids,” Derek says gently. “Like. A lot, actually.” The horrified expression that crosses her face is what honestly what I expected. Basically everything about Derek and I’s family doesn’t tend to go over well with normal people who had typical childhoods.
I watch the silent conversation taking place between the couple and realize with a start that I’ve started something that Derek has yet to bring up without knowing. Derek and I come off as completely normal people until we start delving into the past. Sometimes we both mention things in passing that are typical to us and horrifying to others without realizing it. It’s obvious by the look on his counterpart’s face that the topic of how horrible our parents were to us hasn’t come up yet. He probably decided to keep quiet about it for now like I have. Things have the tendency to slip through the cracks when I’m talking to Rowan but he definitely doesn’t have a full or even partial picture yet. He may never know the whole story. There’s a lot of hurt that has followed me around for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if I’m willing to place any of that hurt on him.
“I just…wanted to stop in. Make sure you’re okay. If you’re feeling even a little worried or uneasy, call me. If I don’t answer, call the tower. I’ll text you the number,” I say after a lapse of silence.
“You think she’ll come after me?”
“No. She hates me because I became a League agent and because I’m gay. You’d be her favorite if she liked either of us. I just wanted to cover my bases, ” I reply. Dropping in without notice is unlike me so I can understand Derek’s concern. I mostly just wanted to see him, but I’m not going to say that right now. He’ll know something is so incredibly wrong with my head right now if I did.
“I’m gonna go. I’ll text you later,” I tell him.
Alexandra half-heartedly insists that I stay the night, but her face says that they have a lot to talk about. I feel bad exposing this part of Derek’s life to her before he wanted to, but maybe this is the push he needed. Stubbornness is a Ford family trait.
I take the train back to the tower. Max took my bloody uniform after they cut it off of me in the ER, so I’m luckily already in street clothes. I’m half asleep the entire ride and excited to collapse into bed once the tower comes into view. I look up at the sky as I walk. Stars are dotted here and there among the black expanse, dimmed from the light pollution of the city that never sleeps. I’ve always loved star gazing and constellation searching. I may not be as enthralled as Cally, but it’s an interest nonetheless.
Agent Moon meets me right at the front door after I climb the steps. He’s never done that before so this must be part of the new security protocols going on within all the League teams.
“Good evening, Agent Ford,” he greets with a friendly smile. “ID.”
I fumble around in the pockets of my jeans before I produce it for him and hand it over. Moon swipes me in on a card swipe that’s always been on the wall by the door. I’ve always swiped myself in by the elevator, but I suppose you can never be too careful these days. Christen may be able to teleport wherever she wants, but anyone who enters the tower without an ID on their person sets off the security alarms and locks the entire building down. She could come if she wants, but we’ll know the second she’s here.
“Agent Rivera has been losing his mind since Max got back,” he informs me as I make my way to the elevator.
“I’m sure he has,” I say with a chuckle. “Had some stuff to take care of first.”
“Lake,” he says suddenly, and I stop to look back at him with an eyebrow raised in question. “There are very few who remember Christen Blackwell’s face enough to recognize her children, and from those of us who do, I just want you to know that we won’t say a word.” Nobody in the League knew my mother had children but I understand exactly what he’s saying. Dad always used to say that I have my mother’s features: the blue eyes, blond hair, and oval-shaped face.
I appear to have severely underestimated Julien Moon.
“Thank you,” I say thankfully with a crooked smile.
He nods and I turn back before stepping onto the elevator and clicking the button for the common floor.
Rowan is on me the second the elevator dings and the doors slide open. He looks more worried than I’ve ever seen him so I immediately throw my arms around him and pull him into a tight hug. He holds on as if I’ll fall to dust if he lets go.
“I was so fucking worried, you asshole,” he mutters into my ear. “We watched it on the news. They had every fucking police car in D.C. on the street of the assembly building. Nobody knew if you two were alive or not. If we weren’t Bonded and I couldn’t feel you, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“I’m sorry,” I whisper back. “We didn’t bring our phones and they kept me overnight in the hospital.”
“Max told us how blood was all over your face, but he told us he didn’t know everything wrong,” he says before finally releasing his grip and letting go. His face sets into a grim expression but his eyes are blazing golden in a way very similar to something I’ve seen them do only once before when he used his powers.
Some element bender’s eyes have the tendency to glow when they shift their power level into overdrive. Rowan’s described it as a burning rush of adrenaline unlike any other. I still haven’t reached that threshold with my powers just yet.
“What’s the damage?” he asks with a minute tightening of the jaw.
“It’s not that bad, Row,” I mutter, looking down towards the floor.
“Well, obviously the broken bones. I have a concussion. Some stitches. Some...internal bleeding that should resolve itself in a couple days or so.”
“Oh jeez, Lake,” he sighs, running barely-there fingertips down both my arms. I only really feel it on the right arm because of the cast on my left, but the action is soothing and sweet. “The rest of the team is up on the conference floor calibrating the Armadillo Protocol. They’re really excited to see you, baby.”
I look at him as my shoulders slump down. I’m really not in the mood to deal with people right now. Rowan is just about all I can tolerate. Maybe Bella, too, but that’s about it.
“Can I just sleep?” I say instead of doing the professional thing and agreeing to join my teammates. “I just wanna sleep.”
He looks at me with as if he’s just seen me for the first time today.
“Are you okay?” he asks quietly, curling his hands around mine but doing so carefully so he doesn’t disturb the finger splints.
There’s a long silence during which I just can’t find words. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but my thought process has been shorting out since I got my brain rattled around in my skull by my mother and her new friends.
“I don’t know,” I mutter. “Just wanna sleep, Row. You can come, if you want.”
“Yeah, okay,” he agrees after a pause. “I already put Bella down for the night.”
We consider going up to my suite but decide that it’s just easier to go to his room. He still has yet to move him and Bella onto the floor Max designated as theirs the moment Rowan came back from the entrance exam.
We pass by Bella’s room on the way down the hallway and peek in to check on her. The little girl is fast asleep and curled around the stuffed puppy that she has appropriately named “Puppy.” Rowan shuts the door quietly and smiles at me as we make our way past her door to his bedroom.
Rowan’s bed is as soft as it always is. It smells like him, too, which is great for when I shove my face into the blankets and curl onto my side. I turn over to face him when he joins me under the covers.
“You know I love you, right?” he says quietly in a rare tender voice that I don’t hear often from him. It’s a voice he has reserved for only me and occasionally Bella. His words manage to pry a smile out of me. As small as it may be, it’s the most normal I’ve felt in the past two days.
“Of course,” I say with a silent nod. “I love you, too. So much.”
He drags my forward and I go along willingly although clumsily with all of the casts and splints. I sleep the best when he’s around, so I don’t even try to fight it. Sleep is all I really want to do right now.
I sleep through the night and into the morning. Rowan gets up early to drop Bella off at school but I decline the offer to come along. The doctor I had in D.C, one of the many I’ve had in the past year or so, said to take it easy. I remember how it was when I didn’t listen to my previous doctor’s instructions when I got shot and I definitely don’t want a repeat of that. I also may be giving into the fog taking over my head for a little while. There will come a time very soon, probably later today, when I’m going to have to act like a professional adult and do my damn job. For now, though, I’m just going to relax and not worry about anything.
My cell phone buzzes with a phone call on the bedside table a little while after Rowan leaves. I pick up the call when I see Atlas’s name on the screen.
“Hey, Wilson,” I say upon answering.
“Lake! Jesus, have you seen the news lately?” he replies, nearly shouting into the phone. “Your mom’s dead, Lake! But, apparently not, right? What the hell is going on?”
I sigh quietly. This problem is more public than I first thought. I run a harsh hand through my hair before giving Atlas the basic rundown of everything that is going incredibly wrong in my life right now.
“She did what?” Atlas seethes once I get to the part about her beating the shit out of me.
“Yeah,” is all I say in response.
“Listen, Atlas, I really wanna drop by in person sometime to see you guys,” I say. “I’m sure the old lady misses me.” I haven’t seen Maggie since Atlas and I moved out of our dorms. It really wasn’t that long ago but so much has happened between then and now that it feels like it’s been an eternity.
“You better,” Atlas agrees. “Text me every once in a while so I know if you’re alive or not, okay?”
I agree and we hang up. I put my phone back on Rowan’s bedside table and I curl myself up in the blankets until the bedroom door opens. Rowan comes in and lays down beside my even though he’s wearing jeans. I roll over to kiss him sweetly on the lips in greeting.
“I’m so happy I could get her into school, you know,” Rowan says with a content sigh. “She loves it there.”
“She’s a really bright kid,” I agree.
“Definitely brighter than I was at her age.”
Rowan and I spend some quality time together for a few hours. I always feel like we’re missing out on time together. Every time things seem to have settled down, the plot somehow thickens and I usually find myself back in the hospital for some ridiculous reason. Maybe things will truly quiet down after Christen.
Rowan and I are edging towards some more R-rated activities when a sudden idea strikes me.
“Wait,” I say suddenly. He stops as I expected him to, dick in his mouth and all. He looks up at me half concerned and half like I’ve lost my mind.
“Yeah? What’s a matter?”
“I just had an idea,” I reply as he sits back a bit and props his head up on an elbow, clearly unimpressed.
“Yeah?” he says blandly. “Here I am trying to blow you, so it must be damn important.”
I smile mischievously before bopping him innocently on the nose.
“Christen has a brother,” I say slowly.
His gold eyes darken nearly brown.
“Yeah, I know,” he says lowly. “That sick fuck.”
“No, no, she has another one. Estranged for some reason. Maybe he knows something about her that we don’t.”
“Like about her powers. There’s gotta be a weakness. Every power has one,” I reply with a triumphant smile. “I can go see him tomorrow. Grill him about how to haul her ass in.”
He smiles a bit exasperatedly, but agrees.
“We can go tomorrow. If you want me to go,” he offers.
“That’d be good,” I say, nodding slowly. “He could very well be a murderer.”
“It’s decided, then,” he says with a move towards me. “Now, can I keep going or…”
I throw my head back against the pillow with a loud laugh before goading him on. What an absolute dork.