Fire & Ice

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Chapter 22

Christen and a group of her terrorist friends hold up a bank on Madison Avenue a couple days later. The local police department obviously tries to handle it themselves, but Dennis, the AI in our tower that I keep forgetting exists, puts through a call from the department asking for our assistance. They report that there’s an enhanced person in the field so our partial team suits up and gets moving as fast as we can.

As per the League’s most recent guidelines that require at least one member of the team in the tower at all times, Max has outlined team lineups for certain situations. He’s decided that anything Christen related should be dealt with by everyone but Cecelia, Cally, and Tony. His choice to essentially bench Cecelia and Cally for now makes sense because of their powers. They’re technically only consultants for a reason. Tony is the one agent Max has decided to leave behind at the tower on any given mission. Tony knows how everything runs and will be able to hold down the fort if anything happens while we’re gone.

The partial team quickly gets ready on the missions headquarters floor. I get to see Rowan’s uniform for the first time. Tony did a really good job, as always. The thick material is a deep red and entirely fireproof. He chose to wear a domino mask, as well, because we’re both so tightly tied to each other.

The public will start to connect us to each other at some point, so it’s best to start hiding information sooner rather than later. Our lengthy pasts with certain people would put a target on either of our backs if we were to be open with our identities. The Rivera gang did a lot of people dirty and Rowan has made plenty of enemies during his time working for his father. The entire League would know that I’m Christen’s son in a heartbeat if my bare face were to be broadcast on even a single news outlet. I don’t spend much time with other League teams and I’ve been in uniform anytime I have. Domino masks aren’t magic, but they do the trick.

The bank is close to the tower so Nick picks me up and we fly there together while the rest of the team follows behind in a car from the garage. Max gave me the okay when I asked to go in ahead of everyone else. The real fight she’s been itching to have is with him. I’m just a fun opening act for her to paw at for a little while.

We land within the group of cop cars stationed out on the street. They’re all just standing around outside of the bank. A few have guns trained on the building, but that’s about as far as the action they’ve taken has gone. I can’t exactly knock them for any of this, though, because that’s protocol. Enhanced people in a situation like this where there are nearly two dozen civilian hostages means that it’s entered the League’s jurisdiction. They follow our lead once we arrive. There have been multiple cases where officers stepped into a situation even after it’s been declared that they can’t. They all lost their badges if not their lives.

“Agent Castillo,” one man greets after walking up once we land and she lets me go. “Ford. They’re all still in there. We sent in Officer Mendel and he saw the enhanced activity. Radioed in but hasn’t come back out. Says there’s at least two dozen hostages. Mother and her baby, the works.”

“Blackwell is enhanced, but she can only teleport, so we can handle her. Are any of the anti-Leagues enhanced, as well?”

“As far as I’m aware, no. I could be wrong, though. If two Blackwells can go bad, other ex-agents can, too. I’d keep my eyes open.”

“Alright, we’re just waiting for our captain before we move in. You’ll follow us close behind. I’m sure seven of us will distract them enough for you to take care of the hostages.”

The officer agrees and goes off to relay the information to his coworkers. Max and the rest of the team arrive a few short moments later.

“What’s the situation?” he asks. Nick explains it quickly while I try to see what I can catch a glimpse of through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the bank. The hostages are being held too far back in the building for me to see them clearly from here, so going in is going to be a dangerous kind of guessing game.

“I want Crystal Witch right in front of me. I’ll follow her directly in so she scope everything out for the PD. I’m going straight for Blackwell. Her vendetta is against me. Ghost, take care of all their weapons. Bolt, you get all the hostages out. Angel, you’re aerial defense. Inferno and Hurricane, work defense. If you see someone in trouble, fix it,” Max lists out the orders cleanly and precisely. Hearing the code names of everyone instead of their names is definitely something I still have to get used to. They’re pretty much self explanatory, though. Wendy, Flint, JD, Nick, and then Rowan and I. I’m kind of surprised he put me on background defense, but I suppose somebody has to do it. I am still just coming off of an injury, as well.

“Are we killing on sight?” Flint asks, his normally cheerful face drawn and stony.

Max heaves a heavy sigh as he adjusts the comm in his ear.

“There is a kill-on-site order on her from the Director. I would prefer, however, that nobody dies today.” Max pauses, glancing to me briefly before back to Flint. “Take her out if necessary, but let’s not going straight for it.”

I start a bit in surprise but I really shouldn’t be shocked. I was there when Director Scofield issued the order and I wasn’t exactly objecting to it when she was bashing my head into the floor of the assembly hall. She has a major body count. She would have been caught and sentenced to death by now if she was any other ordinary citizen, but that’s simply not the case.

Wendy goes invisible before we enter the building so it appears that Max is leading the pack. He sprints right in, finds Christen, and goes directly for her. It’s difficult to keep myself from following him, but I have my orders. Chaos has already erupted within the bank. A man with a black bandanna wrapped around his face that leaves only his eyes exposed starts to come after me, though, so I don’t have much of a choice in who to fight anymore.

By the time I have the man on the ground and cuffed with power-inhibiting cuffs, half of the hostages are already gone. JD is faster than I realized.

The ground rocks beneath me as a quake blasts through it. Max. His code name is “Tremor” for a reason. I look in his direction long enough to see a huge crack in the marble floor where Christen more than likely just was. Fighting someone who can teleport is nearly impossible.

A scent I’ve smelled before hits my nose and it takes me a moment to understand what it is. Charred flesh. Rowan is shooting walls of flames left and right. He’s taking down multiple anti-League people at once. None of them have guns any longer. Flint took care of it as soon as possible. He’s fighting them hand to him at this point.

A woman with a crudely cut out fabric domino mask comes racing up to me, fist raised, and I freeze her from the waist down before she can reach me. She lets out a surprised noise and then angrily tries to pull her legs out. All she succeeds in is toppling over to the floor with her legs still frozen in a solid block of ice. I grin as I step over her to see where my help may be needed.

A shot rings out in the bank. There were many in the first few instances we entered, but they ended quite quickly after JD and Flint took everyone’s weapons. My gaze swings back to where Max and Christen are still playing a deadly game of tag and my stomach drops into my feet.

A crimson stain is spreading from a hole in the black fabric of Max’s suit. He stumbles a bit but regains his balance and doesn’t go down. Flint thrusts a hand into the air and tries to pull the gun from her hands from where is he, but it doesn’t budge. It takes me a second to realize why. She’s tied the gun to her hand. She must have seen another fight the team did because no one has ever thought that far in advance before.

Another shot cracks through the air just as I’m pushing forward into a sprint towards them. The bullet hits Max in the lower leg. He sways to one side and then the next before raising a hand to toss another vibration beam her way. She teleports away before it even reaches her and just as he begins to fall forward toward the ground, Christen is behind her and she is holding him up.

The next few moments happen too fast.

More pops of gun fire. One. Two. Three. Four. Four bullets enter Max’s back and leave through his chest. My heart stops. A shard of ice pierces the woman’s shoulder after leaving my hand, but it doesn’t even matter. My team captain’s eyes go wide. Christen lets go and Max crumbles to floor in a heap of too much blood. He doesn’t move an inch once he lands. I’m not even sure if he’s breathing.

Anguish spikes inside me. I can hear my heart beating as I stalk straight up to Christen, my mother, and I go immediately for her neck. I’m really going to do it. I’m going to strangle the life out of this woman. Max isn’t here to stop me this time. He’s probably dead. There’s a loud flutter that I recognize as Nick’s wings, but I ignore it.

I am going to murder my mother.

I stalk straight up to her, tossing shard after shard of hardened ice as hard as I can physically muster as I go. She dodges all of them, disappearing and reappearing here and there with a psychotic grin stretched across her face all the while. I guess the first one I threw was a lucky hit.

It takes me too long to realize that she’s just toying with me. Fighting someone who can teleport is nearly impossible. The next time she disappears from view, she reappears and catches me in a choke hold from behind.

“You didn’t really think you could come in here and win, could you?” she says sweetly. “Please, I raised you, didn’t I?”

“Not exactly the term I’d use,” I choke back with what little breath I have left. I yank my arms up and grab onto her own with my hands before pouring everything I have into them. The ice burns in my veins as it travels around my body, but I ignore it. It always burns and I need to focus. I’m only going to get one shot at this because she’ll know my angle if I mess it up and she’ll get away once again.

When I’m nearly blacking out from lack of oxygen and the strain of forcing energy into my powers, I unleash all I have. My hands freeze over as they freeze her arms. The ice spreads up the lengths of both of her arms and even reach farther back to her chest, as well. Wetness drips from my nose, into my mouth, and down my chin. My reflection in the glass divider between the lobby and the office cubicles tells me that its blood from the strain. The pain is nearly unbearable, and that’s saying a lot for me. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to hold on long enough to keep her here. This is probably going to kill me.

Then the adrenaline hits me like a tsunami. The exhaustion hangs on as well as the pain, but I suddenly feel like I can do this all day. There’s something glowing silver in my reflection now, as well, and I realize with a rush of elation that it’s my eyes. I’ve reached the height of my powers.

Christen has startled thrashing around, clearly finally understanding what it is that I’m doing. I force more ice out, though, strengthening any cracks that she may be creating with her struggle. I force the little energy boost I just got out as hard as I can. She deserves to die. I can do it. I can.

“Where’s your escape act now?” I say breathily with a cocky smirk. I can freeze her entire head, encase it in ice, and suffocate her. She’ll die. She deserves to. I could. I could. I...

I force myself to stop, though. The ice must has spread all the way up to her shoulders now. I absolutely could kill her right now. I want to. I think. I catch her eyes in the reflection of the glass. There is no panic there like any normal person who have. The psychotic rage that has taken over jumps out at me through them. She kills who she wants with reckless abandon. I’m not like that. Her death isn’t necessary anymore. I have her where I want her. It’s over. Killing her would make me just as bad as her.

I stop the ice from spreading. There is still a serious shortage in air reaching my brain right now, though, and I start to fade out quickly. My vision fuzzes around the edges. Sure, this may be my end. At least I’ll be remembered fondly. I’ll be the Blackwell who didn’t completely soil the bloodline for once.

A whoosh whips past me and kicks up all the papers on the floor around us. There’s a click from below and then JD and Rowan are coming around to my side. JD holds up a spare set of power-inhibiting cuffs and suddenly I understand. He must have clipped some around her ankles. She can’t go anywhere even if she was loose.

Rowan gets closer and places his hands on the ice binding me to her just as I feel my eyes start to roll back. The warmth slowly starts to break through and the ice quickly melts into water that drips down the front of my suit. My knees buckle and my only thought is that I hope Rowan is fast enough.

“She’s choking him, Inferno, a few burns is worth not dying,” JD says, goading Rowan to go faster. His voice is muffled, though, and very hard to hear over the rush of blood in my ears.

I blank out and figure that this is finally the end. I gave it a good run. Christen’s done. Mission accomplished.

My vision comes back, though, to JD and Rowan staring down at me. I’m breathing normally and freely now. Rowan thawed me in time.

“You got her?” I croak out before immediately rolling over onto my side to see.

“Yeah, yeah, Hurricane, we got her,” Rowan says, rolling me back. “Can you at least pretend to take it easy? You almost died. Again.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I slur out, pushing his hands away as I drag myself to my feet. I sway heavily and Rowan grabs on to me to make sure I don’t topple over. “Max,” I rasp.

“Nick’s with him. She found a pulse after he went down. She already flew him out to the hospital.”

I lean against Rowan and let a shuddering sigh rush out of me.

“I was gonna kill her, Row,” I mutter shakily, “I almost fucking murdered her.”

“Hey, now,” he says as he brings both hands up and places them on either sides of my face. “You didn’t. You stopped yourself.”

I bark out a wet laugh but don’t say anything else.

Flint and JD comes join Rowan and I back in the bank from outside. They haul Christen to her feet from where she had been sitting slumped over on the marble floor. Someone has already cuffed her hands behind her back with a second pair of power-inhibiting cuffs for good measure. Good.

“You’re going to regret this you little shit! You’ll pay!” she shouts as they pull her away.

I grin at her with bloody teeth.

“Nobody comes back from the Vault, Ms. Blackwell,” I reply. Her face contorts but she’s outside on the street before she can reply.

Rowan and I walk back out onto the street with Wendy at our side. She breaks off to make sure JD and Flint get back to the tower alright. Rowan and I hang back from the giant group of police cars because my head is already spinning just from the short walk. I’m still quite light headed and I can feel the dry blood crusted on my face. I hear a few clicks and know it’s the press, but I ignore it. Let them take all the pictures they want.

Rowan and I step off to the side behind the many police cars and away from everyone else.

“You know, you continue to scare the absolute shit out of me,” he remarks, but it’s only half of a joke.

“Yeah, well,” I begin with an uncoordinated shrug. “What can I say? Life with me is a ride.”

He grabs me and pulls me close before leaning down to kiss me. I kiss back, placing my hands on either sides of his face and pulling him down closer. I forget where I am for a second, but the chatter and closing of car doors pulls me back to reality before things can truly get out of hand.

I pull away and stare into his eyes like we’re in some kind of dramatic romance movie.

“I love you,” I say.

“I love you, too,” he says back with certainty. “Now, let’s get you to the hospital, huh?”

Rowan and I go to the hospital together. It’s not as bad when I’m walking in voluntarily instead of waking up from a coma. The triage nurse doesn’t even make me wait in the waiting room and she even lets Rowan come back with me.

I have another MRI done. I can almost count on some kind of imaging every time I get dragged into a hospital at this point. The demand League agents put on hospitals is actually a growing issue as anti-League activity grows, so D.C. is slowly phasing medical floors into the works in each team’s base of operations. They, of course, started with the D.C. teams, Avalanche and Blaze. Lucky bastards. A med bay has to be better than a real hospital.

The doctor they’ve assigned to me this time determines that the nose bleed and roaring headache I’ve developed since we got to the hospital is a power side effect. Translation: we can’t fix anything, so here’s some Tylenol and get out of our faces. I’m not even mad. I’ll take what I can get.

I march straight up to the front desk and demand information about Max once I’ve taken three times the recommended dose for Tylenol. The nurse at the desk stammers for a few seconds before asking for ID. The rectangle of plastic has dried blood on it when I retrieve it from the pocket in my suit, but she nods and tells me his room number.

Nick is standing outside of his room when we get there. She smiles sadly when she sees us and I don’t even hesitate when I pull her into a hug. She shudders a bit but then the moment is over and she’s straightening her uniform up.

“They removed the two bullets in his leg,” she says quietly. “The four that tore straight through him destroyed his insides, but he was already healing when they got him on the operating table. I didn’t know his healing factor was that strong, but apparently a bullet ripped apart his spinal cord. They thought he was gonna be paralyzed, but it’s already repaired itself. The doctors that worked on him are shocked, but they’re sure he’s gonna be fine.”

“His spinal cord?” I say smally.

Her wide eyes nod in agreed shock.

“That’s insane,” Rowan says from beside me.

“It is, but you don’t hear me complaining,” Nick agrees with a shrug. “Is Blackwell taken care of?”

“She is more than taken care of,” I confirm with a vicious smile. The petite woman looks a bit taken aback but then she nods in understanding.

We wait around for a few minutes until Max gets wheeled into his room from surgery. He’s fast asleep and his doctor informs us that they’ll be keeping him sedated for a couple days so he isn’t awake for any of the internal healing.

The three of us sit around his bedside for a while until Rowan catches sight of the clock on the wall and curses loudly.

“What?” I reply, looking over at him from across Max’s bed.

“I gotta pick up Bella in ten minutes.”

We simultaneously look down at what we’re wearing: League uniforms. Yeah. That’s totally inconspicuous. There’s nothing against walking around in our suits outside of missions, but it obviously attracts attention.

“If even one person gets a picture of us with her, it’s over,” I say quietly.

There it is, really. The struggle for privacy in an age that cares so little about it. Realistically, wearing a domino mask and dark, heavily armored uniforms doesn’t do much to hide our identities. We need to rely on the fact that most people will have never seen us out of uniform. Every time Atlas sees “Arctic Hurricane” on the news, he would obviously know it’s me. He would have known even if I didn’t tell him. The average classmate I had during this past semester would be none the wiser, however. I was hardly a passing face to them. Getting a picture of two League agents with a little kid between them would have any wrong-doer within a hundred mile radius readying a target directly on the little munchkin. That’s too dangerous.

“I know,” he agrees.

“I’ll text JD,” I say suddenly. “He’ll be more than happy to sprint some clothes here in the time it takes for me to send the text.”

He appears just as quickly as I figured he would. The flimsy curtain to the side of Max’s bed sways with the sudden disturbance behind JD.

“You rang,” he drawls before handing over two sets of street clothes.

“Actually, I texted,” I reply with a slight smirk as I place the stack beside me on the bed. “Thanks, J.”

“Yeah, yeah, you two kids have fun now,” the older man jokes. He even has the audacity to ruffle my hair before disappearing from view with only a gust of wind in his wake.

Rowan and I waste no time changing into our normal clothes in the bathroom connected to Max’s room. Rowan’s actually zips all the way up the back so I have to undo it for him. Jesus christ. You’d think Tony designed his suit with the sole goal of making me want to jump Rowan’s bones every time I see him. I have a decent amount of wiggle room in my own, but the thick material of Rowan’s hugs the curve of his back like a dress hugs a woman’s. It’s unfairly hot, especially because we’re in an ER and it isn’t socially acceptable to do the dirty here.

“You’re insatiable,” he huffs when I take a little bit longer than necessary to pull the zipper all the way down to just about his tailbone.

“Only for you,” I hum back, and the Bond that’s always thrumming quietly in the back of my head warms happily. It’s still something I’m struggling to get used to. The counterpart system seems outlandish enough already, but the Bond sounds like something straight out of some crappy young adult novel that wasn’t screened nearly enough before publication.

We change quickly after that and fold up our uniforms as well as we bid Nick goodbye and leave the hospital. Rowan and I have to basically book it to Bella’s daycare if we have any chance of making it on time. We’re still about eight minutes late despite our efforts when we arrive.

Bella’s sitting with her teacher and another child at an otherwise empty desk. All the other kids have already been picked up, but at least Bella isn’t the very last one.

“I’m so sorry,” Rowan says quickly as he signs Bella out on the attendance sheet. I grab Bella’s backpack out of her cubby and she runs up to put her arms through the straps. “We were running late.”

Ms. Reyes raises a single eyebrow and smiles.

“I can imagine,” she replies with a glint in her eyes. “I saw the news.”

Rowan and I exchange a long deer-in-the-headlights look.

“Even without the privacy policy, I wouldn’t say anything.”

“Thank you,” I pipe up, because Rowan looks so incredibly dumbstruck.

He grabs my arm when we’re finally out of the school with Bella in tow.

“What if she’s lying?” he whispers so Bella doesn’t hear.

“Have a little faith,” I say back. “Not everyone is out to get us. I also remember a Reyes on the KIA roster from last December.” The League releases a list of all of the agents who were killed in action during the year every December to honor them. Their names are also added to the memorial in the Seattle headquarters building. The names aren’t released to the public and remains confidential, but it goes out annually for a limited period of time to each League member. The name on their memorial plaque may be their code name, but agents are just normal people to so many others.

“You really think…” he says, trailing off.

“It’s very possible,” is all I say in reply. We don’t lost agents everyday, but it happens. Those left behind either severely resent the League or lose the glamorized love that most civilians feel for the organization. Ms. Reyes strikes me as the type to see the good in the League.

Neither of us says anything more on the topic. I take one of Bella’s hand and he takes the other. She laughs and squeals as we swing her back and forth in between us. The three of us appear as nothing more than the average family to the outside world. The idea used to terrify me, but now it just make sense. Bella is Rowan’s and Rowan is mine. I don’t think it’d be overstepping boundaries to say that Bella’s at least partially mine now, as well. She holds onto my hand as tightly as she holds onto Rowan’s and I think that says a lot.

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