I take my history exam at two in the afternoon after a long night of studying and promptly pass out in my bed for a long nap afterwards. I basically learned half of the textbook for the first time last night so my brain is fried and my body is totally exhausted. The cramming seems to have paid off, though, because I shockingly knew most of the material on the test.
I wake with a start when the door to my dorm opens and a bag is thrown against a wall. Atlas. He’s finally back from his three back to back exams of the day. He’s literally insane.
“How was it?” I ask as I roll over and prop myself up on an elbow.
“Awful,” he replies, sighing exasperatedly before throwing himself backwards onto his bed. “Please stop me from destroying my Fridays like this next year.”
“You tell me that every year,” I say matter-of-factly with a raised eyebrow. “And I tell you every year, but here we are once again.”
“This time you need to beat it into me,” he insists. “With a stick.”
“We’ll see, Wilson,” I joke, smirking even though he can’t see me. “We’ll see if you aren’t pissing me off next September like you always are.” Atlas always gets antsy and impatient around the time we have to move into our dorm every year. It never gets easier to deal with but he always buys us doughnuts once everything is said and done to apologize for his shitty behavior.
“One of the frats is throwing a party tonight,” he says suddenly, sitting up to look at me.
“So?” I reply, rolling my eyes as I sit up as well to lean with my back against the wall.
“Maggie thought it’d be fun to go,” he says, shrugging. Then a knowing smile slides onto his face as he leans forward and harrows his eyes at me. “Danny’s up for it, too.”
I cast a playful glare at him.
“You asked him?”
“What? I’m not allowed to talk to him?” Atlas says before shrugging with an innocent smile. “Maybe he’s your counterpart after all.” The debate Maggie and Atlas have been having with me over Danny has been going on since our freshman year.
“Ha ha,” I say sarcastically.
“So, do you wanna go or not?”
I consider the offer for a minute with my current situation in mind. I do want something to work off the stress that has been brought on by my finals. This may also be my last real glimpse of normality before I devote a majority of my time to my new League assignment. One time missions are one thing, but fully immersing myself into a fake life is something completely different.
“Alright, fine,” I say finally. It’s just a party.
Maggie shows up at our room about half and hour later and the three of us make our way to the party. Danny is meeting us there so I just third wheel behind Maggie and Atlas for a little while.
There’s already loads of people at the house when we finally get there and I’m nearly tempted to turn around and go back to my room. Danny is standing right in the living room when we get inside though, and my tense body relaxes a bit. He’s talking to a perky blonde that I actually have a class or two with. She’s not exactly nice and I’ve even seen her make a few girls cry before. I’m not really excited to have to go see Danny when it’s clear that she’s still trying to “seal the deal.”
I’m anticipating the nasty look she gives me when I reach Danny. He smiles and pulls me close, tucking me under his arm. The expression on her face amplifies by a million.
“Oh, Lake, this is Jeanette,” Danny introduces, gesturing to the girl as her hands drop to her hips.
“It’s Jean, remember?” she tries, and the desperation in her voice makes me cringe. She’s trying really hard to get him to like her. Danny’s bi but the part of me that feels bad for her wishes someone told her that he became off limits the moment he found out I’d be coming to the party, as well.
“Right,” he agrees, smiling politely. I nearly smirk when her eyes bug out a bit in surprise. I think the burning in my stomach is jealousy. I suppose the gray area Danny and I exist together in is much grayer than I thought it was. I have no place to be jealous about Danny hooking up or flirting with other people yet here I am, satisfied that he’s so blatantly disinterested in Jean Porter. We’re not in a relationship.
Or. Maybe we are. Maybe we have been for quite a long time. Any relationship outside of a counterpart one is incredibly hard to navigate. It often makes me wish that the pendants never came into existence in a first place. In a perfect world, counterparts wouldn’t matter and I could be with Danny with nothing holding me back. I’m not saying I’m in love with him, but in a parallel world, I definitely could be.
“Well, I’ll see you around, yeah?” Danny directs at her. Jean’s mouth pops open. It’s obvious she’s not used to being turned down often. Danny pulls me away before she can get another word in, though, and I follow with a little spring in my step.
“That was brutal,” I say when Danny hands me an drink that I take a long sip immediately. Being around so many people is way easier when I drink.
“Yeah, well,” he begins, shrugging as I take his hand and lead him through the crowded living room, “she cheated on Gus’s brother like, three times back when at least pretended to be faithful.”
“The way you rejected her was kinda hot,” I confess.
He snorts and releases his hold on me once we find our way into a less crowded game room. There’s a foosball table and a pool table on one side as well as a TV with some game consoles on the other. There are also a few mismatched couches and armchairs. The entire room gives of the vibe of a gaming den frequently inhabited by a bunch of frat boys.
“Really?” he says around a smirk. “Looked kinda like you wanted to rip her extensions out.” I nearly trip in surprise as he pulls me down to sit on one of the couches beside him.
“What can I say?” I say, shrugging innocently as I lean into him. “You’re worth a fight?”
“That’s sweet,” he replies. He rolls his eyes even as his lips stretch into a soft smile.
We manage to put away an impressive amount of drinks before even being at the party for an entire hour. I’m already bordering on being full blown drunk. Danny’s shoving me and I’m shoving him back as we laugh hysterically about something I don’t even remember. There are way more people in the room now but their presence barely touches my anxiety with all the alcohol in my system.
Jean becomes part of the crowd and even though she’s sitting in some guy’s lap, it’s obvious she still has eyes for Danny. When I finally notice her, another jolt of jealousy punches me in the stomach. Drunk me tends to seriously lack impulse control because the glare she’s drilling into me from across the room has me climbing up into Danny’s lap and kissing him right on the lips. He’s surprised for a second but returns the gesture. He pulls back to look at my face.
“What are you doing?” he says, laughing lightly. “You hate making out in front of other people.”
He’s right. We’ve been messing around for years and we’ve also been to countless parties together during that time. I’ve never been so daring as to start making out with him in the middle of a party in front of a bunch of strangers. There are a few reasons why I’ve made such a shift may be, but I have a sinking feeling that it’s knowing that Danny and I realistically have only about a year left until we go our separate ways.
“Well if you didn’t want to kiss me, then fine,” I whisper back, my drunk self taking the controls as I stumble to my feet from my spot on top of him.
I weave unsteadily through crowds of college kids until I finally find a bathroom. There’s luckily no one inside so I shut the door behind me. The door opens again before I can even sit down on the toilet lid or lay down in the bathtub like my unconscious mind had planned. It’s Danny. He must have followed right after me. He shuts the door as well and when he turns to me, there’s an expression on his face I can’t quite place.
“Christ, Lake, you’re flighty when you’re drunk, you now that?” he remarks, but his words are a bit linked together as well, so it’s not like he’s sober, either.
I cross my arms and lean back against the bathroom sink.
“C’mon,” he sighs, coming closer and wrapping his hands loosely around my wrists, “you know I always love kissing you.”
“But not when I kiss you in front of people?”
He rolls his eyes.
“I don’t care about that, either, but it was out of character.” He pauses and lowers his voice. “I wouldn’t want you to do stuff you’d regret later.” I try not to wince. What he said was really nice, of course, but it’s also just another reminder of how complicated we’ve let this thing between us get.
“That bitch Jean was eyeing you up,” I inform him, sticking my bottom lip out.
“I know,” he says with a laugh just before an easy smile slips onto his face. “Is that why you sat on my lap?”
“Maybe,” I reply, shrugging innocently. “Once I was up there it was more about you, though. You’re kinda addictive.”
He presses closer until our fronts are touching and his face is only a few inches from mine.
“Oh, yeah?” he breathes. “I’m addictive?”
“Holy—yes, very,” I murmur back. A song with heavy bass starts to thump from the speakers a couple of rooms over. He kisses me then, and it’s much better than back in that room full of college kids I can hardly remember the names of.
He backs me up against the door and I hit it with a loud bang. I gasp without meaning to but he starts to kiss down my neck without even pausing. He stops when he reaches my collarbone and I tangle my fingers through his hair once he starts to suck a hickey onto the side of my neck. My head slams back and bashes into but I barely feel it.
There’s a smirk on his lips when they come back up to meet mine. I bite his bottom lip and pull with my teeth. He shoves his tongue in my mouth. My hands tighten in his hair. His are sliding around under my t-shirt but the scars are a distant thought in my mind. Making out in the bathroom of a party while the music pounds against your back is an otherworldly feeling. It’s kind of like driving around at three a.m. or how quiet it is right after a fresh snowfall.
Being with Danny is both familiar and exhilarating at the same time.
Things only get better when he drops to his knees before me without warning. The music swells and my mouth runs away with words I would normally stifle. It feels like floating through space.
The next morning brings me crashing right back down to earth. I wake up in Danny’s bed that I somehow managed to find my way to last night. We’re both still wearing clothes and Gus is fast asleep in the bed across the room so Danny and I didn’t fool around or anything. I peel the covers back and scrape myself out of his bed as quietly as I can. I would normally just go back to sleep on mornings like these but I have to go meet Max and the League liaison at the tower early today.
I shove my shoes on without taking the time to undo the laces first. It takes me few moments to find my cell phone where it’s hiding under Danny’s bed. When I stand back up, I catch sight of his face. He’s still out cold so his features are all relaxed and soft. I lean forward and press my lips to his cheek before I can think better of it and watch as his nose crinkles up for a second but then relaxes once more. I leave the room after that since I’d rather not admit to myself that I’d enjoy skipping the meeting to just look at his face. I’m running late as it is.
The subway ride is hell. A single look at myself in the camera of my phone tells me I’m noticeably hungover. I start trying to straighten my hair and wipe my face but give up when I realize it’s futile. Looking hungover in front of a League liaison is the opposite of professional, but it looks like that’s what going to be happening. The loud noises of the train and the chatter of passengers sounds ten times louder than normal. Once I get off at my station and climb the stairs onto the streets, the sunlight is blinding.
I greet Mr. Moon at the front desk like always and he smiles in return. I take the elevator up to the conference floor just like yesterday. Nobody is waiting for me like before but there are voices coming from the only room with an open door. I knock on the door frame of the room as I get a look inside. Max is sitting across an oak table from a woman I’ve never seen before. She looks up when I knock and smiles, gesturing for me to come in. I shuffle into the room lean across the table to shake her hand before sitting down in the seat beside Max.
“I’m Agent Salem Moore,” she introduces herself before rolling her eyes and adds, “codename Red.” It’s a short codename that doesn’t allude to any specific kind of power, which is quite interesting. Most code names give away the agent’s powers immediately, like Tremor or Angel. It may have something to do with her being a liaison in the first place. Most high clearance agents aren’t on active League teams and instead deal with operations back in D.C. or Chicago.
Everything about her is also quite neat. Her black hair is down but it’s sleek and straight all the way down to her mid-chest. Her dark red lipstick is applied with precision as well as her dark eye makeup. She’s wearing a plain black dress with accents that match the color of her lips. The appearance as a whole gives off an air of humble importance. It’s probably why I’ve never heard her name or even codename before. Liaisons typically have a wealth of knowledge even though the means in which they got it are unknown which always adds to the strange wonder of them. They’re like kids who are incredibly wise for their age but nobody knows how they have so much experience and advice.
“Lake,” I reply, settling more comfortably into the office chair as she opens a purse that she’s placed on the seat beside her.
“We’ve got a lot to cover, so I guess we better get started,” she says, flipping open a folder from inside her bag and cutting right to the chase.
It’s all names and addresses and friends of friends of connections after that. Someone else who has been undercover in the League has established a connection with one of the kids who runs drugs for the Valiant dealing gang cell. This kid, Chris Allen, will be the one I initially meet with and my ticket into the inner circle. Agent Moore wants me to charm this guy enough that he’ll eventually trust me into bringing me around their base of operations.
This Chris guy is actually only seventeen and kids tend to be stupidly trusting, even the ones who run drugs for a Valiant cartel. That’s what this Rivera gang is, as well, a cartel. They’re the only Valiant producers and distributors on the east coast. Any other gang selling it is connected to the Rivera group in one way or another. Taking the Riveras down will be like killing a hundred birds with one stone. That’s not taking the ones on the west coast into account, but baby steps.
“I’m not technically supposed to tell you this, but we have an operation starting up over there right this minute, as well,” Agent Moore tells me with a playful wink. “Once one group goes down, especially at the magnitude we’re projecting, well, people start to panic and scramble.”
I’m keeping my name and story. One of the biggest selling points on this gang taking an interest in me as a dealer is that I have access to a whole school to sell to.
“The cell, this certain one, is the heart of all of them. Alexander Rivera, he’s the big guy. He’s got his son in it, his brother and his brother’s kids, cousins, the whole assortment.”
She tells me the right things to say, like that I dealt drugs in high school so a new job like this won’t be a big deal for me at all. She tells me what I definitely shouldn’t say, like mentioning any of my friends or family members.
The fact that I won’t actually be selling anything is also explained. I’ll take whatever drugs they give me to sell to the tower to exchange for money provided by the League. Once all of the cells are taken out, the money will be back in the League, anyway. I’m told I shouldn’t come by to exchange for money at the same time of day more than once so I don’t establish a pattern. On the off chance that someone has their suspicions about me, I don’t want to give them anything to actually find.
“Anything beyond this information is all on you,” she says as she starts to wrap things up. “It’s all up to your own undercover work past this.”
“Don’t make up unnecessary lies. They’re hard to keep track of. Remember that you’ve got to be able to navigate the web you weave,” she says, shrugging as she flips the folder closed and slides it across the table to Max. “Don’t get in over your head.”
I have to check in with Max every three days so he knows that I’m still alive. Since I’m going to have to pick up money from the tower anyways, that should be easy. I need to brief him on everything that happens since he’s going to be my connection back to headquarters in D.C.
That’s basically all the preparation I get. I’m going to be jumping in feet first. In fact, my arranged meeting with Chris is tonight. I guess I just better hope I have the hang of things or else it all may go south much quicker than anticipated.
“Good luck, kid,” Agent Moore says, shaking my hand once more after Max and I walk her to the elevator. “A lot is riding on this. But, you know, no pressure, or anything.” I huff out a laugh at the joke. It’s not even really a joke. From the information she gave me, it’s clear that getting this drug off the streets is important. There have been nine murder-suicides fueled by Valiant in the past two weeks alone. The drug stops that normal filtering the brain does when people have an irrationally insane thought and instead goads them into bringing it to life.
Max turns to me once she’s gone and sighs.
“You’re gonna be fine,” he says softly. “And if you’re not, you need to remember to ask for help.”
“I have a lot of experience in pretending and lying,” I reply, shrugging and avoiding his eyes. “It shouldn’t be too hard.”
“I’m not sure if I should be happy about that or pissed at some people I’ve never even met.”
“Both, I guess.”
“Well, at least you’ll know whether you’re cut out for undercover work early on in your career,” he says as a way of trying to look on the bright side of this stressful situation. “They tried to put JD on a case a year ago and it was a disaster. He still doesn’t like to talk about it.”
An alarm on his phone goes off and it punches me in the eardrums hard enough to make me cringe. He fumbles for a moment to get his phone out of his pocket and shut the alarm off.
“Sorry, I gotta draft a briefing on what the team has managed in June. It’s kinda due today and I haven’t started,” he says with a light laugh. He narrows his eyes and looks me up and down a couple times. “You want an Advil or something?”
“Yes, please,” I huff.
I follow him to the closest bathroom on this floor and lean against the door frame while he rifles through the medicine cabinet. He finds a bottle of the pain reliever inside and shakes two pills out into his hand. He places them carefully into my own palm and closes the cabinet as I swallow them dry.
“How much did you drink last night?” he asks with a knowing grin.
“Enough to make some questionable decisions,” I reply with a shrug before pulling out my phone to check the time. I should probably try to get some studying in now before my time starts getting taken up by undercover work. I really don’t want to have to retake any on my classes for getting too in over my head right as finals week begins. “Maybe I should get going.”
He turns to me before leaning back against the bathroom sink.
“Or you could take a nap here?” he suggests, crossing his arms and shrugging his shoulders. “Plenty of free beds and couches in this place.”
I consider his offer for a moment before nodding and following him to the elevator. We ride up to the common floor and go our separate ways, him to the shared office room and me to the long couch in front of the TV. As team leader, Max has an entire floor as his living quarters instead of sharing it like everyone else. With that floor, he also has a fancy office for whatever team captains have to do to keep the team running smoothly. I’ve never seen him disappear to it, though.
I’ve heard from Flint and some of the others that Max doesn’t run our team as traditionally and strict as a lot of other captains do. Some of them let the power go to their heads. Max is down-to-earth and doesn’t follow the hierarchy of titles. Technically, I’d be at the lowest section of the title totem pole, at least for right now. If I decide that I enjoy undercover work, my rank will be bumped up from “agent” to “specialist.” The only other specialist on our team is Tony who’s our certified pilot. Max, Cecelia, or even Flint could fly if push came to shove, but Tony has been extensively trained.
Cecelia and Cally’s titles are technically “consultants” since they aren’t on fully active duty. Their powers aren’t very practical for most operations so they join in on a need basis only. The rest of us are active field agents.
I lay the blanket draped over the back of the couch down over me after I’m settled in. It’s a large blue fleece throw that’s almost dangerously soft. I may just have to steal it on my way out of the tower later.
I fall asleep faster than I thought I would considering it usually takes me a while when I’m somewhere I’m not used to.
I take the train headed to the station Chris and the League connection have agreed on for me. It’s a little out of the way so it’s a longer ride than I usually take but it gives me time to get my head together beforehand so that’s fine with me.
When I get off at my stop, I step off to side and lean against a wall. I wait for only a little while until a kid eventually saunters right up to me with a sort of confidence one would normally only display when approaching their friends. When I get a look at his face, I know it’s him. Agent Moore showed me a picture of everyone I need to know.
“You the Ford kid?” he says, his face blank and void of any warmth.
“Yeah,” I reply with a nod, “you the Allen kid?”
“That’d be me,” he confirms.
“So, we gonna do this or not?” I say impatiently even though I’m more nervous than inconvenienced. I’m not the drug dealer type so I’m struggling a bit with playing the part.
“You got somewhere to be, white boy?”
“It’s finals week, kid,” I say, rolling my eyes, “not that you would know.”
He pulls a pack of cigarettes out of the back pocket of his jeans and I watch is stifled surprise as he pops one in his mouth and lights it. Setting aside the fact that we’re in a subway station, he’s a kid.
“You want one?” he asks, offering the open box. I consider his offer for a second before agreeing, sliding a cancer stick out and leaning forward so he can light it for me. I take a long drag and it fill my lungs like an old friend. I smoked a little in high school but never enough to call it an addiction. I was in a relationship similar to the one I have with Danny, but this guy’s name was Jude and he also enjoyed kicking the shit out of me. It was a very strange period in my life considering the fact that I had powers that I could’ve used to defend myself, but I chalk it up to the intimidating shadow that my parents had cast over me. Once Jude graduated I quit smoking and never picked it back up. The smell of cigarette smoke usually makes me feel sick to my stomach.
Chris and I stand there and smoke for a bit.
“So how much will you give me?” I say finally.
He chuckles a bit and it sounds like it should be coming from someone ten years older than him.
“Eager, are we?”
“Gotta pay for my next semester somehow, no?” I reply, quirking an eyebrow and taking another drag. Even though I haven’t smoked in a good three years, my brain has certainly missed the blanket of nicotine. I guess the adrenaline that’s threatening to make my fingers shake is blocking out the normal reaction I have to the smell that’s filling my airways.
“Fair enough,” he agrees, accepting the explanation easily. “I can give you a hundred.”
“That’s it?” I say, even though that sounds like quite a lot. His eyebrows shoot up before he drops his cigarette and grinds it into the ground with his shoe.
“This not your first rodeo?”
“I dabbled in high school,” I shrug like the lie is no big deal. “Never any Valerie, but enough to live comfortably.” The street name for Valiant always gets me. It’s so obvious yet also easy enough to slip into conversation. The first time I heard it was prom weekend of my senior year of high school and I was none the wiser until Atlas of all people explained it to me. None of my friends had it with them, thankfully, but there was talk about a distant acquaintance stumbling their way through a rough first high.
“Alright, Ford, I can give you two-fifty, but that’s it, at least for now,” he concedes with a smirk as he pulls his backpack off his back. “Don’t fuck it up and we’ll see what we can do about the supply.”
The hand off is less suspicious than I thought it would be. Considering I’ve never actually taken part in a drug deal I guess I’m not really sure what my expectations were. I take my backpack off and unzip it as well as he hands me a large encyclopedia and a Pringles can which I shove into my bag without question. I shove my arms back through the straps of my bag and nod at Chris in approval.
“You have till Monday,” he says. “Don’t fuck it up and don’t run off because I hear that it’s kind of hard to eat without any fingers.” The threat should sound laughable coming out of this kid’s mouth but it actually makes my stomach turn. This kid has clearly seen and done some serious shit.
“Aye aye, captain,” I joke. I even throw a two finger salute in for good measure. He just shakes his head and turns around, walking away and muttering about something in amusement.
I get on another train and take it back to school. Atlas is nowhere to be found so it’s easy to shove my backpack into the bottom of my wardrobe without any questions. I’ll be taking the bag straight to the tower tomorrow. Agent Moore made it clear that going to the tower directly after being given the drugs is just asking for the operation to go bad. The Rivera gang doesn’t fuck around. If they have even the slightest bit of suspicion about me, they won’t hesitate to have me followed.
I take a quick shower before crawling under the covers in my bed, curling up warmly under the blankets. My counterpart pendant is as cold as it’s always been against my skin. I play with it for a little while, turning it over and over until I finally start to feel tired and then quickly fall asleep.