An ex-criminal turned bookshop clerk is recruited to work for a special government team- a team for people with Gifts. He finds more than he ever expected or wanted, including some old friends- and some old enemies.

“Jason Jackal?” I looked up from my book at the two huge men in well-fitted suits stared down at me. “He’s in the back.” I said, gesturing toward the back room. They moved that way, and I vaulted over the counter and out the door.

I was used to running by now; it was second nature to me. They gave chase, but they were no match for my long legs and experience. I ditched them and went back to my bookstore. I owned a little tiny back-corner bookshop in a back alley, and no one really came in. I had a few regulars who only shopped there, but that was about it. I had to do this at least once a week. Major corporations, or not so major ones, hired some thugs to “acquire” me. I just wanted to sell some damn books! I didn’t sell my abilities out to some sleaze with a lot of money. Anymore, anyway. And I didn’t let them collect me like some sort of statue. When I sat down again, it wasn’t twenty minutes before another suit set walked in. “We’re with the government. We’re here to speak with you about joining one of our teams.” They said without hesitation, and I rolled my eyes. “Not interested.” I said, and went back to my book. “Please, Mr. Jackal. Give up five minutes of your time.” The shorter of the men pleaded, and I put my book down with an annoyed slam. “Fine; talk.” I snarled, and they looked taken aback at my obvious hostility. “We are from the B.I.T.E.N. squad-” He started, and I glared at him as I interrupted. “Never heard of it.” I snapped waspishly. “You never will.” The tall one interjected. I arched an eyebrow. “We want to have you join a group of…singularly talented people like yourself.” I smiled coldly. “I really doubt that you have anyone like me.” I commented snidely, and they nodded. “True, but we have others who are also talented in ways others aren’t. We believe that you could round out a unique team of gifted people.” I sat forward, a little bit interested. “What do you have?” I asked, and he was very uncomfortable as I stared at him.

That was my power. I could feel people’s emotions…and change them at my slightest whim. “Relax, man.” I said, putting a smidgen of force behind it. He was suddenly less tense than he’d been in years. “Just tell me.” I implanted the want to tell me everything I wanted to know. “We have a fire-starter, a succubus, a vampire, a pixie, a Summoner, and a shape shifter.” He said in a rush, and I smiled and sat back, freeing him from my power. He stumbled back, cursing. The other one looked on in amazement. “I’m something you guys haven’t seen before.” I assessed smugly, and he shuddered. “What are you?” He asked, and I replaced my book on it’s proper shelf. “I’m an empath; I can fuck with your emotions, not to mention I always know what they are.” Twin grins spread across the two agent’s faces. “You are one of a kind!” I nodded. “Yeah; so about this thing…I’m not sure.” I was hesitant, but it sounded interesting. “What does this team do?” Their grins vanished. “Our initials stand for Bump In The Eerie Night. It’s you’re guy’s jobs to make it not so eerie and not nearly so bumpy.” He said, and I thought about it for a while. It seemed like an opportunity to do something with my gift rather than waste it sitting in a bookshop. “Okay. Sign me up.” I grinned, and they nearly started jumping up and down. “Follow us; we have a car for you outside. Don’t worry about packing, we’ll take care of everything.” They said, and I glanced around nervously. “My books…” I mumbled, and they nodded understandingly. “We will have them transferred to your rooms at headquarters.” They said quickly, and my eyebrows rose. “O-kay.” I responded, getting in the car they wanted. I rolled down the window. “And my cat? I can’t leave my cat. I have to have my cat.” They’d know what I was talking about when they got to my house. So I kept a panther for a pet; she loved me, and I could influence animals just as well as humans. She would never attack me. “Your cat too.” They said, and I snorted. “Good luck with that.” I laughed, and with that the driver left.

He pulled up to the unassuming building; it looked a lot like a college dormitory, and I walked in with a confidence I didn’t have. Suddenly there was a commotion at the back door. A big cat’s scream echoed. “Mr. Jackal!” The shorter operative yelled, and I started running.

I laughed when I saw her. My cat was sitting in the middle of the doorway, blocking everyone from moving in my stuff. “Claws, get out of their way.” She got to her feet and trotted up to me, purring deep in her throat with a rumbling growl. I scratched her ears, and she settled. She was very displeased with the taller operative. “What did you do to her? You pissed her off!” My temper flared. “I didn’t do anything; we had to get her in the van.” I was still annoyed, but I could understand it. “Sh…” I tweaked her anger to be less than it was. She trotted away, toward the room the movers were headed for. “You guys work fast.” I commented, and they blushed. “It’s our job to work fast.” The tall one answered proudly, and I rolled my eyes. “So where are the rest of this team?” I asked, and they shrugged. “They’re around here somewhere; I’d imagine they’ll be headed down here after all the noise your pet made.” The short one responded. “Okie-dokie.” I said, throwing myself at a chair. They seemed very nervous, perhaps about whether I was going to mess with their heads again. “Don’t worry.” I said, not sure what to reassure them of. If it really bothered them, I wouldn’t do anything. “We’re not!” The tall one yelped, and I laughed. “Yes you are; I can feel it.” I said, and it increased tenfold. “Don’t worry.” I repeated.

“They don’t like us to use our powers unless we have to.” I looked to see who had entered, and a red-haired man without a shirt entered. He was muscled and prime, but he had a warm quality about his emotions that might say he had a quick temper, but it wasn‘t quite the same. I instantly knew I’d like him…Not to mention he was very pretty. “I’m going to guess you’re the Pyrokinetic?” I asked, and he nodded, surprised. “Yes; how did you know?” He asked, and I tapped my head. “You feel warm, like a bad temper but not.” I said, and his eyebrows rose in surprise. “What do you do?” He asked, and I smiled. “I’m an empath. I know you’re emotions, and I can change them if I wanna.” I explained casually. “What was all the noise earlier?” He questioned, and I shrugged. “My cat.” I said. “Oh, you brought a kitty?” He said, and I fought a smile. “No, I brought a panther. Her name is Claws.” I said, and he paled slightly. “Is she…” He seemed wary. “I can control animal emotions, too. She would never attack if I were nearby.” I assured him, and he regained his color. “Sorry; Tigress makes me antsy about cats.” I cocked my head. “Tigress would be the Shape shifter on the third floor?” I asked; her emotions were strong, volatile. Animalistic. It was like a lighthouse on Pluto. I would have noticed three miles away. He nodded. “Yep; she’s-” He waved his hand on the air with a wishy-washy motion. “She has a very volatile temper.” I agreed, and he nodded. “God, that is so creepy, man. Useful, but creepy.” He shook his head. “Sorry.” I apologized, hunching over. “No, no; I think it’s frickin’ awesome! But it’s creepy, too.” I knew what he meant. “Try being social when you know that they feel awkward, which makes you feel awkward, which makes them worse. I try not to tweak with people too much. It messes up their views on life if they react differently toward something than they would normally.” I presented the scenario in a sarcastic light. “That sucks, man.” He put a hand on my shoulder, and suddenly everything was magnified. I gasped, and my pupils dilated to take up my entire eye, including the whites. I had every thought he did, his memories… He jerked his hand back, and I was lucky I was sitting. “Touching me is not a good idea.” I said breathlessly. “Sorry.” He said, and I looked at him through my eyelashes. He was homosexual; I was too. “Um…” He said, clearing his throat. “You have pleasant memories.” I said, hinting strongly that I knew them. “Oh.” I could see the cuss word coming out after it, But I held out my hands. “I only saw the ones you felt strongly about and thought about at the time when you touched me.” I said, and he felt a little uncomfortable. “Don’t mind it; I‘m not going to go around spreading anything I saw.” I said, and his eyebrows arched. “So if I touch you, you can read my mind?” He asked, and I nodded. “If you feel strongly about the thought you were having, yes.” He looked thoughtful. “Does it hurt you?” He asked, and I was shaking my head before he finished. “No; I just wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t have time to warn you, either. It can be a very strange sensation for the transmitter, as well.” He grinned unexpectedly, and I felt a wave of mischief come off him before he put his hand back on my shoulder.

I was prepared this time, so I could sort through it and find what he wanted me to. He wanted to know if I was gay. I nodded dreamily, and a wave of excitement hit me. He wanted to know if I were attracted to him. I slunk back into my mind. “Guess.” I suggested, a deep purr. He was ecstatic at the thought that I was interested.

A light cough emanated from a corner. “Oh, Sunflower! Hi!” The man said, and I realized I didn’t know his name. People rarely think of their names. It’s always first person. “This is…” He paused, coming to the realization I just had. He laughed fully. “I don’t know his name.” I cracked a grin. “I’m Jason.” I didn’t hold out my hand, and luckily, she didn’t either. “You have a very strange quality about your emotions; are you the fey? They said they had a fey, a vampire, and a succubus, but you seem very Feyfolk to me.” I said, and she blushed lightly. “I’m a pixie. My name’s Sunflower, but everyone calls me Sunny.” She was a very shy girl, and I smiled warmly. “You are a very nice girl.” I stated. “What do you do?” She asked, and I explained once again what I did. “Oh! How interesting!” She exclaimed, and I brushed it off. “It’s not that important.” I tried to pass it off, but she didn’t believe me. I could tell. “When did your powers develop?” The boy asked, and I shrugged. “My sixteenth birthday. It was not a good thing.” I said, wincing lightly. “My name’s Mikhail. Mikhail Surge.” He introduced himself, and I smiled. “Jason Jackal.” I said, and he laughed. “That must have been a bitch going through school.” I laughed with him. “You have no idea.” I chuckled, and he led me into the next room. He plopped himself down on the couch, and Sunflower occupied the single chair, so I sat on the other end of the couch with Mikhail. This seemed to be their master plan, because they shared satisfied looks. They were both very smug and trying not to show it. “So, the others? Where are they?” I asked, and Mikhail rolled his eyes. “Drake’s sleeping-that’s the vampire- and I’d imagine Tigress and Ren will be down pretty soon. Mina’s as nocturnal as Drake is, so don‘t expect her until evening.” I met his eyes, and he had a trill of curiosity. I waited patiently for him to ask; I didn’t want to press him. “What were you doing before they got you?” He asked, and I smiled. “I owned a bookstore. People didn’t really come in much, so it was quiet.” I informed him, and his eyebrows rose. “And now you’re going to just come in and start fighting the good fight?” He asked incredulously. “I’ve been fighting since I was sixteen, at least once a week when some corporation or company sent a couple of thugs out to ‘collect’ me.” I said, and his face cleared. “That must be hard.” He said sympathetically. “I learned fast.” I dismissed, and he had a hidden admiration of my strength. I met his eyes and shook my head. “I’m not.” I denied, and though he didn’t say anything his feelings only cemented themselves. I smiled jestingly. “Oh, I see how it is.” I teased, and he faked a shocked face. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He said, and I rolled my eyes.

Sunflower had somehow managed to slip from the room without my noticing. “She set us up, didn’t she?” I asked in awe, and he giggled. “She’s a crafty one, and she wants to see the people she likes happy. She likes both of us.” He said, and I nodded. I knew that already. “She is a nice person.” I said, and he nodded. “I want to try something.” He said, and I was instantly wary. He was ready to back off if I declined, but I didn’t want to refuse him. He was only curious. “What?” I asked, and he moved closer to me. “Before when I touched you, it was through your clothes. What would it be like if I was touching your skin?” He asked, and I moved nearer to him on the couch until we were barely an inch away from one another. “Try away.” I offered, and he put a hand on my face. I got a crystal clear image of the memories he was thinking of; he was remembering his last boyfriend, who had dropped him after he saw his power. I was overwhelmed with sadness; I wanted to murder the man who made Mikhail this depressed. I put a hand to his chest, and my connection was even better. He was surprised, but happy. The man’s name was Darren, and Mikhail knew now that no normal man would take him; I knew the feeling. But perhaps since we were both different, we would accept each other?

I felt like I knew him already, but I realized this might be a little awkward for him; I probed his mind and found no trace of negative feeling about me. He really, really liked me; I was surprised. He thought he could probably love me, someday. I felt the same way about him. I got what he was going to do a split second before he did it, and when his lips descended on mine I met him halfway. He deepened it swiftly, and I took a lungful of air as I seemed to be out. Emotions ripped through my mind like wildfire, both his and mine, but I hardly noticed, because he was kissing me and I loved it. He felt nearly the same, so it was hard to distinguish what was his and what was mine. A cold fire sprung out of his hands, but when it touched me it didn’t hurt. It didn’t burn me, instead it felt like a feathers, sort of, or a strong gust of air, but it didn’t tickle. It didn’t light anything on fire, so I didn’t worry about it.

Time lost meaning, but somehow I ended up under him and he was still kissing me. There was a loud gasp and then a surprised yelp. I could feel the emotions of the person while we were both still so riled, but I was guessing that this was the succubus. Every move she made breathed sex. “I’m so sorry-” Mikhail was laughing, and then I was laughing, and she blushed deeper. He put his face in my shirt to hide his expression, and I shook my head. “Come in; please. I would like to meet you.” I giggled, and she sat primly on the chair Sunflower had only recently vacated. She was very tense, and as our extremely strong emotions faded a little I could make out what she was feeling. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t know you had company over, Mick; I didn’t even know you were dating after…” Her words trailed off, and I glanced at him. A spike of pain went through him, quickly stifle but still aching. “Would you like me to fix that?” I asked softly, and he looked at me in surprise. “Can you?” He asked, and I nodded. “Yes, but I won’t do it if you don’t want me to.” He was nodding before I was done. “Do it.” He ordered, and I pressed a hand to his heart. I had to root out the source of the pain, and that was obviously the man, but what exactly hurt the most?

My eyes opened, and they were pure black. I breathed deeply, burying myself in him…There! I had found the reason for his pain. He felt he was never going to find love. That he would be alone forever, pining for a relationship that wouldn’t go sour. I shoved all my will at it, and replaced it with a surety that he would find what he desired. He gave a shuddering gasp, and then kissed me again. I got out of his head and back into mine, breaking off the kiss quickly. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to kiss him; but we were ignoring the other person in the room. “What the hell was that?” She asked, and I laughed. “I just arrived today; I’m your new team member.” I explained what I did and who I was, and she did the same. “I’m Renita Sparrow; I’m a succubus. It’s good for reconnaissance, since I can sneak into anywhere and do anything without anyone knowing.” She said, and I nodded. “I’d imagine it would be.” I said genially. “So…You two just met?” She said, and I nodded sheepishly. “With my abilities, it’s hard to remember that people don’t know me as well as I know them. And then Mikhail didn’t mind…” I was looking at the ground. “Jason…I am as much to blame as you are.” He argued, and I shrugged. It wasn’t important. “But anyway, I’d better go feed my cat.” I stood up, and Mikhail stood with me. “What do you feed her?” He asked, and I realized I had a new dilemma. “Rabbits, generally…but I don’t have any. Is there raw meat anywhere? She’ll be very sore with me if I’m late.” I said, and the succubus laughed. “Freezer.” She pointed. “Perfect!”

I found some suitable meat; beef, it looked like. I walked in the room, Mikhail just behind me. He seemed unwilling to leave my side, as if I would disappear if he lost sight of me. I didn’t mind; it was nice that he cared about me. I fed her, and she are daintily, for a panther. “Pretty girl.” I cooed, and she let out her rumbling purr again. She sat on Mikhail’s feet, which he thought was unbearably funny. “Claws, shove off.” I ordered disapprovingly. She looked like I’d mortally offended her. “No, don’t look at me that way. Off with ya.” I bossed sternly, and she slunk off to the corner of her room. I looked around me; the room was bare, other than my books. “Can we paint?” I asked, and he nodded wordlessly. “Good; this is horrendous.” I assessed, and then started to take the books out of the boxes so I could put them on the shelves. I handled them like gold; some of them were worth their weight in it. “If the movers ripped anything, I’m taking somebody down.” I added, just for something to say. I knew him, but he didn’t know me. He seemed to be aware of it, too. “So…You’re moving in here?” He said, and I nodded. “Yep; they hardly gave a choice in the matter. Once I’d agreed, they shoved me in a car with promises to bring me my cat and my books. So here I stand.” I said, and he blinked several times. “What?” He was surprised. “They didn’t let you go home, even?” He asked, and I shook my head. “No; there isn’t anything there for me, anyway.” I looked in the box and froze. My hands shook slightly as I picked up the old frame. The glass chattered as my unsteady hands rattled it, and I put the picture on my nightstand. “They shouldn’t have put that where it might have gotten broken.” I said, my voice shaking slightly. I didn’t think about that picture. I didn’t think of it now. I continued putting books on the shelf, my hands having trouble holding the books. “Who is he?” Mick asked, and I shook my head to clear it. “It doesn’t matter.” He wrapped his arms around my chest. “I think it does.” He pressed lightly, and I stopped my hands. “He’s dead.” I said, my voice hard. “He died because of me. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve seen that picture. It’s the only one I had. I shoved it away in my closet.” I said, and he squeezed me tighter. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.” I broke out of his grip. “Yes it was. I called a bluff; it wasn’t one.” I said, not wanting to remember my life between sixteen and owning the bookstore. “So they killed him.” I said, my voice like ice.

“Hey; you didn’t kill him.” Mick said, and I didn’t respond. “You don’t know anything about my past.” I responded, my voice intended to be harsh but came out wistful. “No, but I’d like to.” He said, and I smiled. “I really doubt it.” I nearly laughed; my history was as gloomy and bloody as Eric’s death. I flinched at the name in my head. “You know how they killed him?” I spat rhetorically. “They made him do it. They said he could either point the gun at himself and pull the trigger, or he could point it at me. He chose himself. It’s totally my fault; I should have made them shoot me; made them angry with me. I should have made him hate me so he could have shot me. There were a lot of things I should have done; and I didn’t do any of them.” I said this in an angry rush, and just as quickly there was a knock on the door. I could feel the worry pulsing from the hall. “It’s all right; come in. No reason to worry.” My face was cheerful, chipper, and not at all what I felt. But no one could tell. This person was new, and she was obviously Tigress. She was fierce, in an animalistic way. “I’ve heard about you from Renita. I also hear you are…Involved, with our own Mikhail.” I nodded absently. I knew we were going to chafe; but right now I wanted to. I wanted to fight, to hurt something. “If you break his heart, I’ll rip yours from your chest.” I rounded on her. “Try it.” I hissed, and threw, perhaps an overexertion, of depression right into her. She fell to her knees crying, sobbing as hard as she could. “Aw, damn! I hate it when I do that!” If I lost my temper this was what happened. I put a hand to her head and shoved the depression out again. “I was joking!” She yelped when she could stand again. “I know; I lost my temper. I was already on edge when you said something.” I didn’t apologize, but she got that I was regretful. “Watch your back, dog.” She snarled as she whirled out of the room. She was angry I had made her vulnerable. “I always do.” I muttered, and dug through the boxes until I found my cell phone. “Oh, come on, give a guy a break!” I hissed. Thirty missed calls. From the same person. “Sorry about Angel; she’s uncomfortable around new people.” He apologized, but I barely heard him.

I called her back. “Jacqueline.” She answered formally. “Jackie; what did you need?” I asked, and her breath hitched. “You’re alive? Your books were gone; you bookstore up for rent. I was really worried!” She scolded, and I caught myself smiling. “I’m fine, Jack. I found a new job. I can’t tell you where.” I said before she could ask. “I’m coming over.” She informed me, and I shook my head. “The job includes room and board.” I sounded apologetic. “Where?” She demanded. “Um…I’m not actually sure.” I answered, shocked. “That isn’t helpful.” She ground out. “Jack, listen, I need to go. I’ll call you later.” Jackie was my sister. She wasn’t different like me; she was normal, but she knew about me. I hadn’t talked to her since Eric died. She started to squawk an objection but I hung up on her.

“Who is Jack?” Mick asked icily, and I jumped. I’d forgotten he was there. “My sister.” I said, and his expression immediately relaxed. I hid a smile as I continued on my way. “So…this man?” He reminded, and now that I was in control of myself I could answer. “His name was Eric. He was my boyfriend, for a while. We got into crime early, when our powers matured. Yes, he was like us. He could make things look like other things- for a while. We got into smuggling, and then into some major things, like robbery and fraud. He could make us or anything else who or what we needed. If we needed a new face for a robbery, he could do it. If we needed a badge to get into an office, he could make one. It was really useful…until someone caught up to us. I made it out of that deal alive. He didn’t.” I was looking straight into his eyes now. “I left that life, and opened up a shop. I was twenty. I started the biz when I was sixteen. You can imagine it wasn’t that simple. But I got it all settled. Until companies started hearing about my powers. They started sending, and I started running. Been doing it every since.” I said, and he looked into my eyes with a curiosity. “How old are you?” He asked, and I shrugged. “Twenty four.” I muttered, and he whimpered. “But you mustn’t feel sorry for me; everything that happened I brought down on myself.” I said, telling him and reminding myself. I didn’t want anyone’s pity, and I didn’t want anyone thinking I did. “I’ve been thinking…” He said, and I probed a little into his emotions. I couldn’t tell what about. “Oh?” I asked, and he stood up. “You can feel other’s emotions. Can you project your own?” He asked, and I thought about it. “Well, I never thought about it, but of course I can. I can change other peoples emotions, so I can change them to match my own.” I said, and he shook his head. “That’s not what I mean. When you touch someone, you can see their memories…can you give yours to other people?” He asked, and I looked at him solidly. “I have no idea. I wouldn’t want to try.” My voice was cold; my emotions were shutting themselves away. “Please! I just want to understand.” He said, and I sighed. “I will try it, but I will only try it once. If it doesn’t work, I’m not doing it again. If it does, I’ll practice.” I said reluctantly, and he grinned brilliantly. “Awesome!” He exclaimed, and I very nearly rolled my eyes.

I spread my hand on his chest, right over his heart, where people felt their emotions. Since I wasn’t quite sure about how to go about it, I focused really hard on one of my less horrifying memories from those days: Me and Eric watching a movie together. I focused especially on my emotions during the time; I’d been hoping to kiss him for the first time, but I wasn’t sure if he cared for me. He’d kept his emotions and thoughts very shrouded around me. I’d been feeling insecure and unsure, until he’d kissed me, and then my heart was filled with pure joy.

Suddenly I felt Mikhail’s lips on mine, and when our lips met I knew he’d received what I’d tried to send. “You’re incredible.” He whispered breathlessly after he broke away, and I smiled and blushed. I muttered something undecipherable, even to myself, and he chuckled. “Will you share more with me?” He asked, and I nodded. “Only with you.” I promised, and he hugged me. It felt nice; I’d forgotten what it was like to be hugged. Not kissed, or danced with, but just hugged. I’d only been here a few hours, and I’d already learned something about my power. The connection went both ways, if I wanted it to. “Share with me.” He requested, and I put my head on his heart. Now that I knew what to do, I could go through my memories faster. He often gripped me when I ran across something that was painful, and when I got to Eric’s death I stopped. I couldn’t remember that; not yet. “It’s okay; I’ve learned enough for today. I feel like I’ve known you for years.” He soothed, and I nodded into his chest. “I feel that way about you, as well. People’s emotions, their responses, are what make them who they are. If you know their feelings you know their true selves.” I responded, muffled by his chest. He lifted my face to look into his eyes. “You aren’t responsible for Eric’s death. It is not your fault.” He told me firmly, and I started to deny it. “No; I won’t hear it. He did not die because of you.” He ordered, and I kissed him with a new hunger. I needed to feel needed; wanted. He seemed to know; he was gentle, but quickly grew to match my intensity. Another knock broke us apart, and I was shocked to learn that it was past nightfall. “How long have a been here?” I asked, and he laughed. “Since nine this morning.” I chose not to comment. “Come in; and please, tone down the anger.” I pleaded, and shock played a secondary role to the rage. A dark, very medieval man stormed into the room. “You have harmed one of my companions!” He accused, and froze when he saw Mikhail. “How can you converse with someone who has harmed your comrade?” He demanded. I knew immediately what he was talking about, but Mikhail needed reminding. “Tigress.” I assisted, and his face grew fiercely loyal, but I could tell for whom; me, or the shape shifter. “She shouldn’t have goaded him!” He growled intensely, and I put a light hand to his chest. “It’s okay; I’ll deal with this.” I assured him, and he looked at me. He was very protective of me, and while it was nice, I needed to make my own name in the team.

I stood slowly, looking at the undead man. “Drake, yes? I assume they told you what I do?” I asked, my voice calm; conversational. He nodded curtly. “Well, I lost my temper. She managed to hit a nerve of mine, and I was already on my last one.” I explained, and he lost some of his intensity. “It was sloppy and uncontrolled.” He accused, and I dipped my head. “Yes; when you had your powers for as long as I have didn’t you make mistakes?” I asked genially, and he paused for a moment. “Perhaps.” He admitted, and with that the rest of his anger left. “I apologize for my inhospitality. I am Vlad Dracul the second, at your service.” He bowed, and from watching him I did the same. He looked delighted, and he felt it, too. “You learn quickly for someone of your generation.” He complimented, and I smiled. “I thank you.” I responded formally, and he seemed satisfied, somehow. He wasn’t one to hold a grudge once amendments were made. “It has been a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He bowed once again before blowing out of the room like the wind. “I like him.” I decided, looking at Mikhail. He was gaping. “I’ve never seen anyone handle him that fast; did you use your power?” He asked, and I shook my head. “No; I could just tell what he was angry about.” I explained. “Well, if he’s up, that means Mina is, too.” He informed me, and I grinned. “I’m anxious to meet this last one; to be honest, I find her power the most fascinating. The ability to summon creatures and people from anywhere.” I had heard about them here and there; they weren’t so uncommon. Usually they made their livings as mediums or gypsies, but I‘d met a few in my old line of work.

“You find her more interesting than me?” He pouted playfully, and I kissed him briefly and helped him to his feet. “No; just her power. I find everything about you interesting.” I purred, my tone letting him know it wasn’t just his personality. “Hmm, good answer.” He purred, and I winked before heading back down to the small room. All the seats were occupied now, by everyone I’d met so far, plus one. Mikhail joined me in a few moments. “You move fast.” He informed me, and I nearly burst out laughing. It brought everyone’s attention to me, however; I’d managed to slip into the room and lean against a wall. “Oh, eavesdropping, are we?” Tigress asked in an conniving voice. “No; you merely didn’t notice me enter.” I corrected icily. “Impossible; I notice everything.” She scoffed, and I said nothing. I ignored her as Mick placed an arm around me; he was angry at her for being so rude. “It’s okay; she just doesn’t like me.” I assured him, putting a hand over his on my hip. “I don’t care.” He growled, and I patted his arm affectionately. “Where have you two been all day?” Sunflower asked, and I blushed and looked away at her tone; it was suggesting more than had happened. “We were exploring the extent of his gift.” Mick felt the same as I did. “I bet.” Renita said sarcastically, and I blushed an even deeper color. I could feel the heat on my cheeks.

My attention was drawn to a very subtle persona as soon as it walked it. I knew her already; Mina Dove. I knew her like I knew myself. She was one of my old partners in crime . She was the Summoner; I zeroed in on her and probed deeper. She wasn’t like the other Summoners I’d known before; she wasn’t obsessed with personal gain. She wanted the best for people around her, but she put herself before everyone else if it came down to life or death. I liked her, but I could never trust her with my life. The others did; I wouldn’t break their trust in her. They needed to trust everyone to feel secure in their team. I didn’t. Being an ex-conman did have it’s perks.

She saw me staring, and stared back, though I saw the flash of recognition that no one else did. “Hello. You are Jason?” She asked, and I nodded, never breaking the fierce staring contest we were having. “And you would be the Summoner?” I asked, and she nodded. “I trust you with my name, so I will give it to you myself. Mina Dove.” She gave me her Name, and looked shocked when I didn’t immediately respond with my own. “I don’t give my name to Summoners. Any Summoner who wants my name will learn it from someone else.” I responded, and she broke into a predatory grin. “But I’m your team member.” She agued, her voice sickly sweet and honey smooth. “True; but I know what’s going on in your head.” She froze for a moment, and then her smile grew wider. “I’m sorry for your caution.” I smiled now, matching her predatory grin with one of my own. We hadn’t blinked yet. Everyone else was silent. “Please give me your name?” She pleaded, and I pursed my lips as if thinking. “If, and only if, you promise on your own that you will never call me with it.” I said, and she winced. She still didn’t blink. “I swear on the name of Mina Dove that I will not call the one known as Jason Jackal if he tells me his True Name, no matter circumstance or need.” She allowed carefully, and I nodded slowly. “And in return for this Promise, I give Mina Dove my own True Name, Jason Jackal.” I responded. She seemed to think this was a victory, until she really thought about what I’d made her do. “Oh my… You should learn my trade. You’re good.” She said, and I shrugged. “I used to deal with Summoners, a long time ago. I still remember the rules. It is a pleasure to meet you.” I held out my hand, eager to see the inside of her head. “Don’t!” Mikhail tried to warn her, but she put her hand in mine, and I closed my hand around hers like a vise.

I poured through her mind, finding all the things I could before she ripped away. “How dare you?” She asked, and my grin didn’t falter. “How dare you, Mina Dove, try to slip past my notice? I deal with your sort a lot more than you deal with mine. So I have one thing to say. Fond words of warning.” I said, and she arched an eyebrow. We blinked at the same time so that we could both remain in contact. “Do not. Fuck with me.” I said.

We both suddenly burst out laughing, and she threw herself into my arms. I hugged her back. It was good to see her on the right side of the law for once. “Minny, what the hell you doin’? I never pinned you for a suit.” I fell easily back into the slang we used to use. “It’s the money, Jace. Always about the money.” She quoted me, and I rolled my eyes. “Oh, throw my own saying back in my face, eh? What’d I ever do to ya, Minny?” I teased, poking her side. She giggled. “You stiffed me on a job, ya pansy-ass!” She accused, and I shook my head. “No, you stiffed yourself. You gave be a bugged fuckin’ phone, for chrissake! You really think I was goin’ to give you a cut after that?” I asked, and she rolled her eyes. “For the last time, it wasn’t bugged when I gave it to you!” She said, exasperation in her voice. We both giggled. “Um…” Sunflower said, and the others echoed it at odd times. “What?” We chorused, and the others stared and gaped. “Oh, you can’t tell me you didn’t tell them about us? You must have known it was me when you heard my name.” She shrugged. “Oh, yes. I’m going to tell my government friends all about our past. ‘Jason Jackal? Oh, yeah, I worked a few bank robberies with that guy!’ Puh-lease! I’m not stupid, Jace.” She informed me sardonically. “We worked more than a few, Mina love. We worked all of our Bank heists together.” I reminded her dryly. “Technicalities. How many was that? A few hundred?” She was bemused, but the rest of the room was starting to get pop-eyed.

“So, I hear you opened up shop on a shitty little corner. Selling books of all things. You and Eric break up, or something?” She asked callously, and I froze, my face losing all of its good humor in an instant. “Jace?” She asked, suddenly worried. “Jason, what happened? Is Eric okay?” She was panicked. “Eric’s dead.” I said coldly. “No!” She half-moaned, and I caught her as she nearly fell to her knees. “Sh, it’s okay, Minny. It was a long time ago.” I enlightened her. “How?” Was all she asked, and I looked away. “They…found us.” My voice was cold. “Which one?” I asked, I shook my head. “They’re dead. Shot their brains out from depression as deep as mine was when they made me watch. Took out their guns and ate the bullets like candy.” I said, and fierce justification shone in both our eyes. “Good; they deserve it. They deserve every bullet. They deserve worse than that, but I can deal with that.” She snarled, and shock rippled through the room. I got the vibe that she wasn’t this bloodthirsty around her team. “Minny…Can I speak with you out of hearing range?” I asked, my eyes darting around. Everyone was distinctly interested all of a sudden. “Absolutely.” She said shortly, and we exited the room. “I missed one. I haven’t been able to find him, and no one knows his true name. He disappeared. I hunted for a while, but I couldn’t do it for long. I wanted to let you know. In case…You might want to do something.” I said this with careful discretion. She was known to have a temper. “I’ll think about it.” She dipped her head, and I nodded curtly and returned to the room. I was immediately bombed with enough emotion from Mikhail to put me out of my mind. “Whoa!” I said, stumbling. “Don’t!” I yelped when he went to touch me. “What is it?” He asked helplessly. “You! Your feelings!” I said, lightheaded. “Oh, shit!” His shock lessened his stymied emotions. “Oh, that’s so much better. Thanks.” I said, putting a relieve hand on his shoulder. I could bear it now that he had toned it down from the immense intensity it had been moments before. “Where’s Mina?” Sunflower asked, and I shrugged. “No idea, she tends to pop in and out of my sense. She knows how to shield herself from me, although she doesn’t mean to. She’s not even sure how she does it.” I dismissed. Everyone was silent for a moment. “So…You’re both ex-criminals?” Renita asked, and I nodded. “Yep; I didn’t know what I know from working in a bookshop all my life. Never was caught, though. Rather proud of that, actually.” I said, my chest puffing out. “We don’t like or allow criminals in our midst.” Tigress snarled, and I rolled my eyes. “Oh, get over yourself.” I glared at her, and she was so shocked her jaw dropped open. “How dare you?” She snarled. “Well, obviously someone needs to tell you, and everyone else here is scared shitless by you. I see it as my duty.” I growled bad-temperedly, and she glared daggers at me. “Don’t strain yourself trying to kill me with your mind, honey; other’s have tried.” I was just pissed enough to not give a shit if she liked me or not. She stood up and took a swipe at me.

I dodged and grabbed her arm. I had her on the ground faster than she could move, and she yelled in pain. “Don’t fuck with someone who knows how to fight, sweetie; I’ll break something next time.” I warned, slamming her once against the ground for good measure and getting off her. She turned into a giant white tiger, and swiped a clawed paw at me. I bent to avoid it and slammed both of my hands on her face. I held on and pushed more and more of my power into her until she felt like she was bursting. She shuddered back into human form, falling to the ground and moaning. “I warned you, Tiger. You’re nothing but a disobedient kitten to me.” I said, and she feebly tried to swipe at my leg. I didn’t even dignify her with a look. “You ass hole! And to think I liked you!” Renita yelled at me, but it was like water off a duck. “I’m going for a walk.” I said, falsely chipper. I walked out the door and immediately a normal agent started to walk after me, so I started running. He tried to follow, but as I’d thought many times before, I’d just had too much practice ditching people. I found myself sitting on the curb across from my old shop, staring at the vacant place with a “For Lease” sign hanging in the window. I sighed, and sat there for another hour at least.

When I got back, I didn’t go in the door. They were waiting angrily around the door for me to come home, so I went in the window to my room. I sat down on my bed, and winced at the overly loud creaking that my floor made. “What was that?” I heard someone ask, but they dismissed it. “Nothing, I guess.” the same person said, and I relaxed on my bed, sitting in a light half-sleep. Two people came upstairs near dawn, and I was guessing Drake was one of them. If Mina had been down there, she’d be the other. I couldn’t tell, just from their emotions. She would be angry with me too.

Someone opened my door, and I jerked to my feet in surprise. I started to dart for the window, but the door shut without Mikhail calling out to the others. I paused, and that was all he needed to blast me with enough hostility to drop me. It didn’t feel like anger for his friend, it was like a spurned lover…But I didn’t understand that. I must have been misreading, right?

He shut the window and locked it, but I hardly registered it, because I was falling. I hit the ground, and he looked shocked, as if he didn’t realize that he had done this to me. As if it hadn’t been his intention. I couldn’t tell if he was really, my brain was way too fried. I couldn’t move, couldn’t even speak to ask him to stop. To leave. He was too focused on his anger to care if I was in pain, although it was surprising to him. My back arched, and I was lifting myself from the floor by my head and toes. I don’t pretend to be immune to things like this; this hurts like hellfire. But it wasn’t a new sensation. It happened too often for me to be rendered completely thoughtless by the onslaught, but it was a close thing. “Stop pretending, please.” He said blandly, and I was in too much agony to say a word. “I’m just here to talk, Jace; you don’t have to act like I’m hurting you.” He seemed offended, but his anger was my pain. I started to seize, and he began to be really worried; I realized he wasn’t the one who was this angry with me. Someone close, with nearly the same emotional signature, was really pissed at me. “Oh my god!” He yelled, “Someone!” He shouted, and Mina was there in a flash, closely followed by Renita and then Sunflower. Tigress could care less, and Drake was asleep. “Aw, shit!” Mina yelped, her knees thumping against the floor next to my head. She slapped both of her hands against my face and pressed her forehead to mine. My head was filled with a buzzing. For once I was glad for her shield. “Thank…” I couldn’t finish, because it was breaking though. “Anger…Pain…Like Mikhail…Not…” I gasped out, and everyone tried to decipher it. I slapped a hand to her heart and transmitted the memory into her. “Ouch!” She yelped, but she got the idea. “Someone’s overloading him, feeding him too much emotion for him to handle. It apparently feels a lot like Mikhail’s emotions, but it’s not. It’s someone close; within a hundred yards of him.” She snapped impatiently, and I worked hard on pinpointing the source…There! But it was impossible. He was dead. “Eric!” I screamed, my yell reverberating in the house. “What?” She snapped. “Street!” I exclaimed, and she left me for a moment to look out the window. “Holy shit!” She breathed. “He’s not dead!” She said, and for a moment I couldn’t accept it. “Not dead.” I echoed, and then I passed out.

I came too with a dull buzzing of anger still in my head, but it was from just across the room. “Eric…” I asked, my voice dull. “Who else? Could you tell your pets to release me, this rope is chafing.” He said snidely, and I sat bolt upright. “You’re dead!” I said, and he glared at me. “How are you alive?” I tried instead. “My powers aren’t useless, Jace. I made it look like I’d died.” He answered, and I felt a certain surreal quality about the air. “Why did you do that to me? Why overload me like that?” I demanded, surreal-ness giving way to indignant anger. “You fried my brain that night when I ‘died’. I was just returning the favor.” That was his vengeful nature showing itself. “Of course…Yes…” I muttered, still shell-shocked by his return. I realized this opened up a new bundle of issues. I’d loved Eric, but he’d died and I’d moved on. To Mikhail, who I thought I might love even more than I did Eric. “Rope hurts.” He pointed out, and my eyes were steel-hard glass. “Yeah, well so does my head.” I growled. “Love, don’t hold a grudge.” He pleaded, his eyes begging for forgiveness. “That won’t work anymore, Eric. Why didn’t you come to me? Why not let me know you weren’t dead?” I demanded, and he looked away. “I may have found another man that I liked an awful lot…” He admitted, and I snorted in disgust.

“Let him free. I don’t want to talk to him.” I requested, standing up and moving to my closet. I changed my shirt. A hand on my shoulder shocked me, and I threw it off before I could catch anything. “No, Eric. I don’t care. Get out of my sight.” I snarled, and he crossed his arms. “I’m not leaving this room.” He was stubborn, and I smiled. “Perfect. I’ll go. I don’t think I can do this job; too much crap keeps happening. Crap that I can’t handle. I’m going to go back to being a damn shopkeeper; it’s quieter that way.” I said, and a flash of victory went through him before he could stifle it. “You wanted me to leave; you have an issue with me being happy.” It was a revelation, and for the first time I noticed the others in the room. Mikhail and Sunflower, the two who weren’t so pissed at me that they couldn’t stand me. Mikhail had already forgiven me, and Sunflower had forgiven me because Mikhail had. She had a soft spot for Mick and anything he liked. I felt eternally grateful for that. “That’s right. Why do you get to be happy?” He suddenly burst out, and I rolled my eyes. “Why can’t I be the happy one?” He yelped, and I sighed. “Eric, it’s because you are an idiot.” I made him want to leave like nothing else, and, he left without thinking. I locked the door behind him and then removed my influence. His fists pounded on the door immediately. “You ass hole!!” He shouted. “How dare you close me out? You love me!” He shouted, and I banged once on the door. “No, Eric; I used to love you. I moved on; you should too.” I ground out, and I could feel his pain, his rejection. Since I’d recently gone through an overload I wasn’t at peak ability, and I couldn’t sense him as well as I could have normally, but I got that at least. “Jace?” His voice broke, but my heart had closed to him. “Get out. Of this building. And I never want to see your face again.” I added, and my words stung, but he stalked away and out of my range before I could care much.

I sighed, turning and sitting down in the chair he’d recently vacated. I rubbed my face roughly, squeezing my eyes closed. It was beginning to crash down on me that this had really happened. “I apologize.” I looked both of them in the eyes, not really sure what I was apologizing for. For Tigress, for their havening to witness our argument, or just for being such a nuisance. “For all of it.” I decided out loud, and Mikhail put his hand on my shoulder. He hated that I’d made him choose between me and Tigress. “You do not have to choose. This is between the Tiger and myself. The fact that you feel you have to makes me want to leave here, despite the fact that I could be useful. I’ve wreaked enough havoc elsewhere to last lifetimes; I don’t need to cause any more.” I responded to his thoughts, my voice tired and worn. “Why did you try to run when I came in?” He asked, and I looked into his curious eyes. “People like me tend to wish for the best and prepare for the worst…and part of that preparation would be to never have an altercation in the first place. You were angry, and when people I normally associate with get angry, they bring friends and guns.” I answered frankly. “No matter how good I am, I’m not faster than a bullet with my power. I like my skin on me, if you don’t mind.” I added the last bit on a sarcastic note, and that seemed to take away the shock factor some. “I guess…I suppose…” Sunflower started and trailed off two sentences, and I waved it away. “My marvelously fucked up life isn’t important anymore; I just have some…lasting habits, I suppose.” I disregarded, and they were still slightly shocked. “I wonder if there’s food in the fridge?” I asked after a moment.

The End

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