Rowan and I drop Bella off at daycare before we head over to Joseph’s house. I got his address off of the League database after asking our AI, who we’ve named Dennis for no real reason, to pull up his file. He has a pretty sweet loft over in Brooklyn. There was no other family listed for him other than the Blackwells, so his file has left me questioning what he’s been doing with his life.
“Do you think he’s married?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, shrugging my shoulders from beside him where we’re sitting on the train. “Maybe. I’m more curious about why he was written off from the family in the first place.”
I have last minute doubts when we actually reach the door to his loft, but I force myself to swallow them and ring the doorbell. There’s some scuffling around and the sound of stomping feet before the door opens and the man from the picture in the file answers.
The picture is old. The file does say that he’s a retired agent so I’m not really surprised. He has the same striking light blue eyes as I do but with brown hair instead of blond. His face is scruffy from a few days without shaving and he looks like he has a tiredness that lives in his bones.
“Yeah?” he says with his eyebrows raised in question. “What do you want?”
“Oh, I, uh,” I stammer. “You’re Joseph, right? Christen Blackwell’s brother?”
His eyebrows draw together, face opening up for only a moment before it slams shut a second later. The blank, guarded expression is a lot like looking in a mirror. I do the exact same thing and I do it as well as he does.
“Yeah, why?” he replies, crossing his arms and leaning heavily against the frame of the door, “you find out and come to heckle me for being related to that psycho on the news?”
“No, uh,” I stumble over my words once again, looking to Rowan for help. My ever helpful boyfriend just shrugs in response, so I roll my eyes and force myself to concentrate. “I’m...her son. So you’re, like, my uncle, I guess.”
The blue eyes jump wide in surprise.
“Her what?” he repeats. “Christen never had any kids. She wasn’t even married.”
“I...she was. I was actually under the impression that she was dead for the last five years up until a couple days ago.”
“I’m sure it was a heart-warming reunion,” he says sarcastically. “She tell you all about her ungodly brother? Is that why you’re here?” his tone takes on a seriously degree of aggression and I immediately shake my head.
“No, she beat the shit out of me at the assembly in D.C,” I reply before holding up my left arm to show him the bright blue cast, “so, yeah, no love lost when she died. I’m here to figure out how we can take her off the streets?”
Joseph’s tune changes instantly. His entire face shifts and his body relaxes as he steps away from the door frame to stand up straight.
“Jesus christ, come inside,” he says, looking out into the hallway before stepping aside to let us in.
Rowan and I walk past him into the loft as he shuts the door behind us to shield from potentially prying ears. I’m sure Joseph has heard all about the rise in the League threat level lately, even as a retired agent. There’s no such thing as too careful right now.
“I...didn’t realize, sorry,” he says awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Wasn’t exactly any love lost when they kicked me out, either.”
“Yeah, uh, what happened there, anyway?”
He looks around the loft as if he’s checking for something but then he just gestures to the couch in the living room area. The layout of his place is very similar to the suites of tower with the open floor plan.
“I’ll tell you as much as I can remember, okay?” he offers once all three of us are settled down. “Oh, and I go by Jay mostly. Unless I’m in bed with my—” he cuts himself off abruptly. I’d say it’s because he’s suddenly become aware of how much of an oversharer he is, but the place he decided to stop is a tell. He’s hiding something.
“I’m Lake,” I reply. “Christen picked Lukas, but, you know, no love lost. Oh, and this is Rowan, my boyfriend.” The man’s eyes widen a bit at the word “boyfriend.” There it is. He’s gay. That’s the big secret.
“Oh, uh, okay,” he says as he nods in understanding. “Well, uh. I was kicked out and disowned when I was a teenager. I knew I was gay, and that’s not a Blackwell trait as I’m sure you’re aware. Sure, Christen was straight as an arrow, but I always thought Ash swayed back and forth a bit.”
The mention of his other brother makes me jerk a bit against the couch. Rowan’s hand lands on my knee at the same time.
“Yeah, he definitely swings,” I confirm for him. “Unfortunately.”
“Are you saying...he…?” Joseph stammers. “You?”
“Yeah, when I was a kid. Christen would always fuck off to god knows where and leave my brother and I with him. He’s dead, anyway, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Christ, I always figured there was something wrong with that kid,” he says with a disgusted look on his face. “With that siren song thing he could do, too. I was afraid something like that would happen.”
“Well, it happened,” I say bluntly. “Listen, can you tell me anything about Christen’s powers? Something that could help us?” I say, quickly changing subjects.
He sighs and looks down, pressing his fingertips together as he thinks.
“Dad trained all three of us together when we were kids. All of us presented pretty early. We kind of had to, anyway, since he only gave his kids until five before he started throwing them into life-threatening situations to try and trigger a presentation. Anyway, I had fun knocking people out as I wished, but dad didn’t view my power as valuable. Ash did the siren song thing, and dad liked that more, but Christen was firstborn and she could also teleport to any place in the world, so she was dad’s favorite.”
“Anywhere? Are there any limitations on that?” I say, leaning forward toward where he’s sitting across the coffee table from us.
“Well, if she’s exhausted, she can’t go too far. If she’s low on energy and shooting for Australia, she may end up somewhere in the middle of the ocean instead. Besides that, no.”
“How about physically? Is there anything that could stop her from popping away completely?”
He thinks hard about it until his eyes light up.
“Actually, yes. It was the one thing dad always harped on her about. His perfect daughter with the best powers couldn’t travel with another person along with her. If anyone grabbed her, even placed a finger on her, she couldn’t go anywhere,” he replies as he smiles fondly in remembrance. “That day was the only day he ever hit her. It was always me and sometimes Ash most times.”
“So domestic violence is just, what, a Blackwell tradition, or what?” I snarl, but I’m not angry at Joseph. He’s just as much as a victim of our toxic bloodline as I am.
“I guess so,” he says with a bitter smile.
“Well, I think that’s our answer,” I say, looking over at Rowan. “Tackle her ass and bash her face into the floor. She won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.”
“Hey, now,” Rowan says before placing a hand on my shoulder in a jokingly soothing way, “let’s not be so violent.”
“She broke my nose with a marble floor,” I argue. “It’s only fair if I return the favor.” I add with a sweet smile. The bones in my nose have already fused due to my advanced healing, but the purple bruising is definitely still there.
“Well, I hate to break it to you, kid, but lots of people have tried to grab her to stop her. She’s always been able to shake them off or dodge them,” Joseph says, interrupting the mounting celebration Rowan and I were sharing.
“Well,” I begin, smirking as I glance over at Rowan and hold a palm up in the air. I conjure up the cold that’s always humming beneath my skin, shoving it through my veins and concentrating on sending it to my palm. Snow begins to float up into the air, brought into existence from the center of my hand. I do so long enough for my hand to fill enough with snow before blowing it into Rowan’s face. “I don’t think losing my grip will be a problem.”
A mischievous smile spreads across Joseph’s face.
“An ice bender,” he remarks. “The ultimate fuck-you to a teleporter with her restriction.”
“Yup,” I agree.
“Well, I’m sure you guys have some very important things you have to get back to, huh?” Joseph says after we all share some small mild talk.
“Yeah, I guess,” Rowan agrees, shrugging his shoulders before rolling them back. I have a sudden thought and look after at Joseph, my uncle, apparently, once more.
“I don’t know if you’d want to have me over again,” I say quietly, suddenly uncomfortable. “I have an older brother, Derek, too, but aside from him, you’re our only family.”
The man actually looks a little choked up at the offer. I guess he hasn’t had any contact with what he calls family in a very long time. He’s not completely alone judging by the wedding band on his ring finger, but having people you can call your blood family is always a comforting feeling.
“Yeah, that would actually be really good,” he agrees. “You’d bring your brother, too?”
“Sure, I’m sure he’ll be excited.”
“And you guys are...counterparts, right?” he continues, looking from me to Rowan and back.
“Yeah, he’s a fire bender and...well, it’s a super long story I’ll save for our future dinner party. But yes.”
“That’s so nice,” he says, a wide smile spreading across his face. “I was depressed as hell until I met mine. Oliver. He won’t be back til later, but I’ll make sure he’s around the next time you come by.”
We all share some pleasantries before Joseph sees us to the front door. He looks a little lighter than he did when I first knocked on door. Hopefully I’ve knocked a bit of the weight off of his shoulders.
Nobody knows who the hell Lee Redwood is. Just about every person in the League knows the last name “Redwood” as an original bloodline of enhanced families. Little old Lee, however? He’s a nobody, and that almost makes up for the air of arrogance he carries when he steps foot onto our common floor the next morning.
Max, Flint, and I are watching the newest episode of a teen drama we’ve managed to get sucked into. Flint pauses it as Max gets to his feet and approaches the unknown man who’s managed to get into our tower.
“How did you get in here?” Max says with the aggressive edge to his voice that I expected.
“I was sent by IA from D.C,” he replies, looking at Max as though our team captain has just spit on his shoes. “Lee Redwood. You’ve probably heard of me.”
Max glances back to Flint and I. We both shrug, just as clueless as him. This small exchange is enough to make the short man angry. He crosses his arms over the front of the gray suit he’s wearing that also happens to be a couple sizes too big on his tiny frame. He looks far too weak to be a representative from Internal Affairs. What would Internal Affairs even being doing here, anyway? The situation with Rowan has already been through them and all of us were cleared.
“I’m afraid I haven’t,” Max says slowly as he turns back to the blond man.
“Well,” the man says, sounding flustered and appearing quite taken aback. “I’m a liaison sent by the head of IA. I’m here to speak to Lukas Blackwell.”
My body recoils slightly at the sound of my real name. I never really thought about what would happen as people start to find out that Christen is my mother. The Blackwells are also an original bloodline. Charles Blackwell was one of five people on the first ever League “team.” Once Richard, my mother’s father, went rogue and she followed suit, the Blackwells fell out of favor within the League’s regard quite quickly. Being associated to the Blackwell name is no longer a point of pride. I wouldn’t even want to be part of the bloodline normally, but the fact that it’s just one more thing that will forever connect me to my parents makes it even worse.
“It’s Lake, actually,” I pipe up. My tone practically cuts through the room. “And I’m not a Blackwell, I’m a Ford. What do you need me for?” I know that correcting him is basically pointless. Bloodline names stick with League agents forever, even if they remarry and take their partner’s name. I still don’t even know what this stupid little man is here for and yet he’s already managed to ruin my day.
“I’d prefer to discuss this in private,” he says to Max without even bothering to turn my way and speak to me directly. “You have some interrogating rooms, I’m sure?”
“Of course, but I think it would be better if you spoke up in a conference room, actually,” Max replies smoothly.
Lee actually turns in my direction for the first time since he’s gotten here, looking me up and down. His lip curls in blatant distaste before he turns back to Max.
“I suppose that would be alright.”
The three of us take the elevator down to the conference floor in complete silence. My legs won’t stop jittering with anxiety once I sit down in one of the office chairs inside conference room three. Lee refused to allow Max to sit in on the “talk” him and I are sharing, so it’s just me and this man who happens to be the human embodiment of an albino weasel.
He has a manila folder and a pen which he clicks and poises over a blank page before he even speaks.
“This is about your involvement with your mother,” Lee deadpans.
“Okay?” I reply.
“You are aware that involvement with her current terrorist activity calls for immediate dismissal from the League and transfer to the Vault,” he continues. The Vault? Is this guy on crack? The Vault is where they send enhanced people who commit atrocities since they can’t go to normal civilian prison facilities. Nobody comes back from the Vault.
“I know that,” I say, brow furrowing in confusing. “I have nothing to do with her or anybody she’s involved with. I had no idea she was even alive.”
His white brows raise all the way up into his hairline incredulously.
“You thought she was dead?”
“Yes, she was in a car accident with my father when I was in high school. She died. My brother and I lived off of the insurance money. She’s been dead for five years.”
“Well, clearly she hasn’t. How can you prove that this happened?”
“The obituary? There’s a death certificate for Christen Ford and my father, as well. They both had a life insurance policy that we were able to benefit from,” I list, looking at this guy like he’s grown another head. Is he seriously implying that I knew about any of this? It’s not exactly like I can fake the death of both of my parents.
“Right. Well. That’s very convenient,” he says, but moves on swiftly before I can even comment. “You knew that she was agent, right?”
“No. She told my brother and I she worked an office job. She was gone from nine to five every day. Our dad was a lawyer.”
“You never found this suspicious?”
“Derek and I preferred them out of the house as much as possible.”
“You know what, we’re not about to play therapy right now, Agent Redwood,” I say. I don’t even attempt to keep the venom out of my voice. “They both beat the shit out of us. They had the most toxic counterpart relationship that I’ve ever seen. It almost ruined any chance I had at my own. I didn’t question when she wasn’t home because when she was, she’d be throwing plates or pushing us down the stairs.”
“Hm,” he hums, clearly not impressed. “Listen, you’ve just gotta see this from my perspective, Agent Blackwell—”
“Ford,” I say, interrupting him. “It’s Agent Ford.”
“Right. Well. From IA’s perspective, Agent Ford,” he starts again, nearly spitting the last name out of his mouth. “All of this seems just a bit too suspect.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that it’s just a little bit convenient that you decided to join the League right around the time Christen made her grand comeback. It’s also quite interesting that you were assigned to the exact team with a captain that is the one who took out your mother’s father.”
“Well, I don’t know if you know this or not, but it’s kind of hard to pay for college with no help from your dead parents, so I needed a job. The League was basically a guarantee for me. As for the team placement, I was a probationary member of the team before my exam. Max requested me specifically.”
“Is his recommendation on file?”
“Hm,” he hums again as he scribbles down some more notes onto the paper in the file. “What’s your relationship with Rowan Rivera?”
“That’s none of your damn business,” I hiss. Rowan has nothing to with my shitty family life. Nothing at all. He’s just bringing Rowan into this to piss me off.
“I’m afraid it is,” he says smoothly, although a smug smirk has made its way onto his face. “You currently pose a threat to national security, so those connected to you potentially do, as well.”
“Rowan Rivera has nothing to do with Christen Blackwell,” I say firmly as my hands begin to shake where I’ve stashed them under the table.
“I am going to be very clear with you right now, Agent Ford. As of right now, Internal Affairs has very good reason to believe that you are working with your mother. Any information to prove that you’re not will do nothing but help your case.”
His words are like a slap in the face. My hands fly up to grip onto the edge of the table to stop me from jumping straight across it and strangling this man to death.
“My case? Listen here, you fucking weasel, I spent the first seventeen years of my life getting my ass kicked by that woman. Everything bad that’s ever happened to me is plainly tied to her and my father. She and her new friends kicked my insides purple during the assembly in D.C, so, no, I don’t think there really is any reason for IA to be shoving their noses up my ass right now. If I could have it my way, she’d have stayed dead.” My grip tightens gradually until I can barely feel my fingers against the table. I don’t notice a problem until his eyes flick down to the wooden table and I realize that ice is beginning to seep through the grains. A resounding cracking noise disrupts the tense silence that follows just after the word “dead.”
The room has dropped at least twenty degrees. The man starts to shiver as I let go of table quickly and clasp them together tightly in my lap. The door to the conference room opens just as flurries of snow begin to drift down from the ceiling.
“This interview or whatever the hell you’ve chosen to call it is over,” Max says loudly. “It’s clear that Lake has no involvement in any of this. I was there in D.C. with him, too. You should be interviewing me if this is a serious security threat, as well, so it’s clear that you’re all just trying to nail him to wall because of his ancestry.”
“Now, let’s not be so harsh—” Lee begins, but Max cuts him off.
“I’d hate to have to call Agent Moon up to escort you off the premises, but if you insist…” he says, trailing off with a raise of a single eyebrow.
Lee leaves with a huff, disappearing through the conference room door and onto the elevator. He glares at me on his way past with an expression that is obviously him trying to portray that he’ll be back.
The room slowly goes back to its normal temperature as my heart stops racing and there isn’t so much violence racing through my veins. I’ve never lost control of my powers in front of someone like this before. Control is typically something people seriously struggle with after they initially present with powers, especially kids. I was really young when I presented which I’m now learning is nearly a Blackwell family “tradition,” but I didn’t have much of a grace period for learning. My mom made it clear that my powers weren’t for me by beating me within a few inches of my life every time she caught me using them, accident or not. I had control within a year whether I wanted it or not.
My past is catching up with me in a way I never thought it would. I’ve forced control into my life in every area I could manage because of the serious lack I grew up with as a kid. I was just another League agent less than a week ago. No, not even. I was the youngest agent to ever become an agent, and the League loved me for it. Now anyone who is in the know about my true lineage hates me.
“Are you okay?” Max asks, stepping closer to me. That’s right. I haven’t even gotten up from the conference table yet. The cracked conference table.
I look at him and am unsure of exactly how to answer. I guess we’re back to me not being able to figure out how emotions work.
“I’m gonna go for a run,” I say instead of telling him that I really want to just sleep for the rest of my life.
He doesn’t try to stop me. I grab my running shoes from my suite and then head right up to the gym. I’m still getting occasional headaches from my concussion but there’s nothing wrong with my legs. There’s something very weird about pumping my arms with a cast on one of them, but I run until I can’t even feel my arms anyway.
“Lake,” a voice says from the edge of the track. Rowan is there, standing with a mixture of concern and surprise on his face. I slow down but keep going, rounding the track and going right past him.
He’s standing in my path when I back to where he was, and I let him catch me when I get close enough to him. The feeling returns to all of my limbs as Rowan is practically holding me upright.
“You’re okay,” he murmurs. “Let’s go back to your room, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” I agree, nodding against his chest. We take the elevator up to my suite. I lean against him the entire time and he doesn’t seem to mind me clinging onto him like a pathetic octopus.
I sit down on the edge of my bed, still completely dressed, but all my energy is suddenly gone. Rowan goes to unbutton my jeans but meets my eyes in question as ever the gentleman. I nod, deciding to hand over the controls to him for a little while. He’s the person who holds most of my trust right now, so I might as well act like it.
He pulls off my jeans and does the same for himself as I curl up under the blanket draped across my bed. We lay there together for a long while and do nothing. He plays with my hair and tells me all about the first friend Bella just made at school. I fall asleep after he’s moved on to some crazy long joke JD told him today.