The First AssignmentMature

After a few days I was back at my prime performance, and I was being slightly reclusive for that reason. Mikhail would come to see me in my rooms, but other than that I would come down for food and to use the bathroom and disappear back into my quarters. One day I was reading one of my more expensive books, this one on the art of Summoning, when Mina and Mikhail both slipped into my room unnoticed to me. I looked up and jumped at the sight of them. “Thinking of taking up my trade?” Mina asked, and I shook my head. “I’m too old to apprentice, and I know there’s more to it. I just find it interesting. What brings you, Minny?” I asked, and she sighed. “We’re worried about you. Mikhail wanted to know what you were like when I knew you before, and when he told me how you were acting now I got anxious. I started to notice how I didn’t see you go out, anymore.” I shrugged. “Perhaps I’ve been a little withdrawn.” I allowed, nodding toward her. “So, we’ve decided to take you out.” She finished, and I arched my eyebrows with a devilish grin. “Have you now?” I asked, and she nodded, liking my reaction. “When?” I asked, and they looked sheepish. “Now.” I only hesitated a moment. “All right; get out, I’ll get ready. I can’t go out like this.” I gestured to my completely disarrayed condition. “You have twenty minutes, then we’re coming up to drag you out.” I held up a finger. “On one condition.” They waited expectantly. “I drive my car.” I said, and they nodded without a second thought. I changed my clothes and did my hair real fast, and then went down to meet them bearing my car keys. “Where did they park my Cobra?”

I pulled up in my 2007 Ford Shelby Cobra GT500, to the lustful sighs of everyone milling in the parking lot. We’d pulled into one of my favorite places, and they knew me there. “Hey, Emoticon!” Someone shouted when I got out of the car, and then I was swarmed by my usual entourage of fair-weather friends. I hugged some of them, shook the hands of others. Most of them I was very fond of. They called me Emoticon for my power; I don’t know how or when it started, but one day I came down and that was what I was called thereafter. “Hey, everybody!” I greeted the general crowd, moving towards the entrance to the club. “Looking for company tonight, Con?” The bartender asked when I got to the bar, and I shook my head. “I’ve got my own company now; thanks for the offer.” I said, and he tilted his head my way. “Anytime, old friend; been a while, hasn’t it?” He asked, and I knew damn well he knew exactly when I’d been here last. He kept careful track of me. “Yeah; long time.” I agreed, and he plopped a shot glass down in front of me. “Strong?” I asked, by which I meant was it absinthe. It wasn’t technically legal, but it was my favorite drink. “Very.” He agreed genially, and I knew that to mean yes. I smiled thankfully at him, and downed it. It burned like hell going down, but it was a good burn. “Mm.” I practically purred, and he hid a smile from the rest of my group. “Rough week, Con?” He asked, and I nodded. “Way rough. You have no idea.” I said, and he lined up three shots. “You rock, Smithy. Thanks.” I complimented, and he turned faintly pink. He never cut me off, because he knew I could hold my liquor until I said I couldn’t. I raised my glass to his easy-going nature, and many of my people did the same. Mikhail and Mina stuck out form the crowd, so to speak; they looked very uncomfortable. They felt that way, too; I crunched my eyebrows together. “You want to go elsewhere?” They shook their heads stubbornly. I grinned like Satan himself as I gestured for everyone to pay attention. “My friends, these are my very special companions, Mikhail and Minny.” I didn’t give Mina’s real name out of respect for her, but they were suddenly mobbed with people who wanted to be their new best friends. I laughed as they glared painful murder at me. I downed another of the green shots with glee. They made their slow way to me, and it didn’t help I was avoiding calling my entourage off. They were like puppies; anything to curry favor with their master. Who would be me. They finally got to me, and Mikhail kicked me in the shin at the exact moment Mina hit me over the back of the head. I took it and laughed, which seemed to piss them off and put them in a better mood at the same time.

After I downed my last drink, I grabbed Mikhail’s hand and hauled him out to the dance floor. He looked surprised, but got into the feel of the music faster than I expected. I loved this club because everyone here was always completely, euphorically happy. It was refreshing from the heartache and depression of the streets and other clubs. I leeched off the moods on the dance floor; when I did that, I tended to emit them back to people and heighten their emotions, which then recycled back. It was a cycle I had to end after one song, otherwise it turned a little…risqué. Once I’d caused a club-wide orgy; that hadn’t been a good thing. I’d slipped out through the back door after that little incident.

I maneuvered us off the floor, both of us breathing heavily and aroused. Everyone had made their way onto the floor after us, and now that they were on they weren’t getting off for a while. Mina was watching with a mystified expression as we went toward her. “You okay? It was a longer song than I expected, I may have stayed out there a little too long.” I gasped, and she shook her head to clear it. “Yeah, I should guess so. I’m still a little loopy from the power you were putting out. I’ve never seen you like that; so free. You just let yourself go.” She seemed awed and more than a little amazed. “It’s the only time I can.” I brushed it off easily. “That’s good, that you can.” She sighed wistfully, and I smiled. “Would you like to join in?” I asked, and she shook her head emphatically. “Hell no!” I laughed at her, and gestured toward the door. “You’re uncomfortable here; we should go.” I was relaxed, almost to the point of getting lost in the feeling. “Okay.” She agreed instantly, and Mikhail was still dazed, so I led him out. “That was impressive.” He said after a few minutes.

I drove like hell, my usual way to get my head back in the game. It unnerved my passengers, though. “Slow down! Holy crap, that light was red!” Mina yelled, and I rolled my eyes. “I do this all the time; put your seat belt on.” I ordered, and she did it fast. I squealed around a corner, rolled down my window, and let the wind whip my hair around. I laughed with pure joy, hitting ninety and then a hundred with the ease of breathing. “Slow your ass down, you psycho!” Mina shrieked, and I laughed again, this time at her. “I do this all the time; calm yourself before I do it for you.” I threatened, and she shut up, but her tension was hitting me in waves. I let it go, not touching her emotions with a ten-foot pole.

We screeched into the driveway; I threw it in park before we’d even stopped, and the brakes screamed, but we stopped just in time to keep us from destroying a building or a yard. I took a deep breath, rolled up my window, and got out of the car. “Well, thanks, guys; that was great!” I said, and the got out shakily, wobbling inside with me at the heel. “Next time, you don’t drive.” Mina said before disappearing to her room, Mikhail following close after. I snickered at her behind her back, digging through the fridge for something caffeinated; I was an addict. I hadn’t ventured down for a cup of coffee in two days, and my headache was proof of it. I downed four cokes before I began to feel better.

Renita slipped in the room, and I zeroed in on her like a dear in headlights. I looked at my coke, then at the stairs, and at the coke again. “It’s okay!” She yelped before I could bolt, and I cautiously leaned against the counter again. I took a drink, looking at her as she made tea. “Do you drink tea?” She asked, and I nodded. “Sometimes; it would depend upon what kind.” I allowed, and she smiled and poured me a cup. I replaced my coke with it.

“So, I take it you have a history?” She inquired, and I nodded mutely. “Would you care to elaborate?” She prompted, and I took a sip of tea before telling her my story. When I was done, her eyes were filled with pity as well as her heart, and I almost couldn’t bear it. “Please, don’t feel sorry for me. I hold few regrets, and I dwell on them even less.” I lied, and she felt marginally better. “I don’t feel sorry for you.” She denied, and I shrugged. “I know what you feel, even if you don’t.” I said cryptically, and she looked at me strangely. “Do you?” She grumbled, and I chose not to respond, but to take another drink of my tea. It had a slightly strange taste, and I sniffed it. I almost gagged when I realized what she’d done. “Shit!” I yelled, pouring it down the sink and putting the cup down like it was on fire. “What have you done?” I demanded, looking at her spiteful eyes with shocked ones of my own. “You tried to poison me?” I asked, and her head rose a tad higher. “You harmed one of my friends, I have a right to retribution.” She snarled, and she didn’t realize that my cry had brought the rest of the team behind her. Just then it hit me, and I threw up in the sink until all I had left were dry heaves. “Ren!” Sunflower yelped in surprise, and I felt a sheen of cold sweat form. “You’re lucky I’ve built up an immunity to most common poisons, or I’d be dead.” I enlightened her, and I felt her true surprise. “Renita, how dare you?” Mikhail was so angry he was flaming, and I could feel the heat from where I was standing. Nothing caught fire, however- I figured that was part of his power.

“Mick, she hurt Tigress!” Renita accused, and he let out a burst of stifling heat. I wondered if my eyebrows were gone. “After she attacked first, and even then he didn’t kill her! What were you thinking?” He demanded, and she paled slightly and his powerful anger. “I…I…” I could feel what he was about to do, and I grabbed her and shoved myself in front of her just in time, as a jet of flame shot for her frail body. I went up in flames, and it hurt like hell, but she was safe in my arms; I nearly went to my \knees in pain, but I managed to stay upright. Mick put me out fast, but I still got a few nasty burns. “Are you okay? You’re not hurt?” I asked, and she was looking at me in shock. I shook her slightly, and she snapped out of it. “Has harm come to you?” I repeated slowly, and she shook her head just as slowly. “Good. Then I’m going to go back upstairs and pass out.” I said, pulling my shirt off and throwing it in the trash as I walked for the door. Everyone was in a state of shock, including Mikhail himself. She gripped my arm as I went past her. “Why would you do that for me?” She asked softly, and I looked into her eyes, puzzled. “I couldn’t let him hurt you, could I?” I said simply, shaking her off and heading for my room.

“Mina!” I shouted, and she stuck her head out of her door. “Could you help me patch this up?” I asked, showing her my back. She hissed in annoyance and followed me into my room. “Why’d you piss him off?” She asked, and I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t.” I glared, and she gave me a dubious look. I explained what had happened, and by the end her eyes were sparking with anger. “I don’t see why you protected her.” She snarled, and I rolled my eyes. “Why does everyone keep asking me that?” I snapped bad-temperedly, and she nearly laughed. “She’d just tried to kill you; no one expects to you to try and protect your enemy.” She informed me, and I pursed my lips. “She’s not my enemy.” I informed her in a puzzled voice. “That’s generally what someone is when they try to kill you.” She said mildly. I just shrugged. “She felt it was necessary.” In my world, that was the end all be all. If someone thought that what they were doing was necessary, I couldn’t blame them for following through with it. I’d done it on more than one occasion. “You are an endless source of old-fashioned chivalry and new-age amazement.” She enlightened me, and I blushed, and she patted my back lightly. “You’re all patched up. Get some rest, huh?” She said, and I nodded. “Sleep well, Mina Dove.” I smiled, and she returned it as she disappeared out the door. I fell asleep on my stomach, instead of my usual position on my back, which gave me strange dreams full of guns, and one blonde man who I’d once known.

The blare of a blow horn woke me, and I was up and dressed in under a minute and down the stairs in the next. “What’s going on?” I asked as I joined the group moving out the door. “We’ve received word of a mission; we’ve got to infiltrate a cult called the Druids of Avalon. They believe that enough human sacrifices will gain them a ticket to paradise and immortality. We have to come to their attention as extremely devout members so we can apprehend the leader of it, one Mr. Louis Niall. Apparently he has a gift to inspire tremendous loyalty in others -sort of like a specialized version of your power, Jace- but he’s unable to use it against other Gifted people, which is why we were called in.” Renita said, looking everyone but me in the eye. She avoided looking at me at all; I could feel her guilt radiating from here, and I put a well meaning hand on her arm. She looked at me in surprise. “It’s okay.” I said softly, so only she could hear, and she smiled at me hesitantly. My responding smile was radiant, and her smile placed itself more firmly on her face. I sat back to find everybody staring at me. “What?” I asked innocently, and Mina shook her head. “An endless source.” She accused, and I turned pink. That seemed to set everyone off giggling, and I turned bright red.

We all sobered when we walked into the site where they specifically looked for recruits. We had to look like what we were; Gifted people. According to Renita, he collected them like pets, if they were willing to follow his cause. So we had to A. Get noticed, and B. Be approached by one of his many recruiters. This happened to be a Goth dance club, and if I knew how his mind worked -and I was sure I did, I had dealt with others like him in my former life of crime- the best way to get their attention would be a display of power. I said as much to the rest of the team, and they looked at me with weary eyes. “I take it I don’t want to know how you know that?” Renita asked. “No.” Me and Mina chorused, and we looked at each other. “Let me guess; the General?” I said, and she nodded. “Unfortunately. He had lots of money.” She admitted, and I nodded. “Same here.” I was abruptly bemused. “All right, then; let’s get this show on the road.” I said, and she grinned like the predator she was. “Dance with me?” She offered slyly, and I laughed. “Happy to, ladylove.” I took her hand and led her out onto the dance floor. “Let ‘em have it.” She breathed, and I smiled as I unleashed everything.

The entire room immediately got a dreamy look, except for my team, who I shielded from my power as best I could. As I pumped more and more energy into the room, people started getting…out of hand. Still I put out more of my power, until people were within an inch of taking all their clothes off, and then I dragged Mina off the floor. I sat her down at the bar to recover; she’d been hit with the most out of our team, no matter how much I tried to shield her. I looked at the rest of them, and they swallowed convulsively. “Snap out of it, people; Renita…Go do what you do; Drake, be a vampire. Mick…Well, think of something. I’ve done my part. Mina…Since I’ve been seen with you, I’ll tell them what you do. When they approach me.” I ordered, and Tigress glared at me. “And your suggestion for me, oh fearless leader?” She snarled, and I looked at her. “I figured that was obvious. Be scary.” I was conversational, and it seemed to piss her off. She stomped away in a huff. “Excuse me, sir?” A polite voice asked, tapping me on the shoulder. I smiled warmly, chocolaty sweetness in my voice. “Yes?” I asked, and he gulped. “I think…I think you may be interested in what my master has to offer.” He informed me, and I scrunched my eyebrows in fake confusion. “You master?” I asked, and he nodded. “Our leader to the gates of Avalon; a paradise where no pain or suffering can survive! We will live forever, don’t you know. You can join us in eternal youth and plenty.” He did make it sound nice, didn’t he? I wondered when he threw in the bit about the human sacrifice. “My friend here also has…talents.” I hinted, a gleam in my eye, and I could see the ambitious spark in his own. “Oh?” I nodded slowly. “She can…Summon things. Anything.” I worded it carefully. “She is most welcome, as well!” He hurried to say, and she smiled his direction. “What’s your name?” She asked, and he grinned brightly. “I’m Harry Shoemaker.” He held out his hand and shook hers, and she was falsely cheerful. “Your offer sounds too good to be true; how do we know it’s not just a hoax?” I asked, pretending to be dubious. “Come to a sermon; come see one of our reverends speak. You’ll just know, deep in your soul, that it’s real.” He gushed, and I smiled. “I’d be happy to!” Mina nodded, and he wrote down when and where. We left, and waited in the van for the others to return.

Drake was the first. “That was easy.” He remarked, and I smiled. “Oh?” I asked, and he nodded. “I bared my fangs a few times and a man approached me.” He answered, and I nodded. “Oh good; nothing too drastic, then.” I dismissed. Tigress came next, and we didn’t exchange words. Next came Renita. “How did it go?” I asked, and she just smiled. “Perfectly.” Her voice was a honey sweet I didn’t want to think about too hard. Sunflower had chosen not to come; she was too soft for this one. Mikhail was taking a long time, and finally he hopped in beside us. “That was harder than I expected.” He said, and I held out my hand in invitation. He put his own in mine, and I could see him showing off for some pretty girl until Harry Shoemaker noticed him. It had drained him. “You need to rest, lover.” I muttered, and he knew even as he said he didn’t. I rolled my eyes and put a hand to his chest. “Yes, you do.” I said, putting an edge to my voice that implied I’d make him if he didn’t be choice. “You’re no good to us falling where you stand.” I informed him gently, and he nodded reluctantly. “Wake me up in an hour.” He ordered sternly, and I nodded solemnly. He fell asleep, but I looked at the rest of the team. “Nobody wakes him up, got it?” I demanded, and they agreed with wide eyes at my ferocity. “He’s so tired.” I brushed the hair from his face, and everyone smiled at us with a certain allowance. “Love is a strong affliction, Jace; not even you can combat that.” Mina muttered, and I threw her a glance that was full of surprised shock. “Love? I don’t…” I shook my head to clear it. Of course not; not even I was that quickly fallen. “I’m stronger than you think, if you believe I can’t alter that much in myself.” I whispered, and moved to the front of the van, tapping the driver on the shoulder. “Just drop me here.” I ordered, and he obediently stopped. I climbed out without a word to everyone else, and Renita stuck her head out after me. “When can we expect you?” She asked, and for the first time in a long time I pulled out the pack on cigarettes I kept on me. I lit one, took a drag, blew it out, and looked directly into her eyes. “You’ll see me soon. I don’t know when, exactly; tonight, if you’re up. Tomorrow, if you’re not. I’ll find you.” I saw Mina look out at me, and her shock as she zeroed in on the cig at my lips. I gave her a dip of me head and a cocky grin before I walked off.

She tried to throw herself out the doors, but they were already driving. “Jace, think about what you’re doing!” She shouted out the window, and I shrugged it off with some difficulty. She knew, of all of them, where I was headed. I needed to see Him; I needed Eric’s expertise. She knew there was a very likely possibility I wouldn’t come back. But I hoped I had the depth of faith in myself, and in Mikhail, that I would return to the Team…and to Mick.

I sent out my mind to find the unique signature that only Eric had; it was complicated, to find one in so many, but I finally did. It helped he was nearby, and that I knew him like I knew myself. I sat on the barstool beside him, and he looked at me with a slight surprise. “You’ve come sooner that I expected.” He commented, and I nodded. “Not here for us; I’m here on business.” My voice held no warmth, no recognition of our past, and that seemed to truly shock him. “Oh?” He asked, momentarily stunned beyond speech. “I need to know everything that you do about one Louis Niall.” I requested, and he looked at me more reverently. “You’re in over your head with this one, Jace; even with your little flame-thrower boy-toy-” A sharp snarl erupted from my chest, and he looked shocked. “You have no right.” I growled. “I have every right.” He grumbled back. I abruptly stood. “Have a nice life, Eric Newman.” I ground out before he grabbed my arm. “Jace, I’m sorry; my temper. Please…Sit. I’ll tell you.” He pleaded, and I perched on the edge of the stool. “You know my price.” He said, and I nodded. He slammed into my arms and I kissed him back, but it was false. This was the price he demanded. When he broke away, he started talking immediately. “Louis is like nothing you or I have ever known. He has a cult of dutiful followers, yes, but that is where the resemblance ends. He is evil. He doesn’t believe what he’s preaching- he just wants to see people suffer for a faith he doesn’t believe is true. He isn’t even doing it for money or fame; he just wants to see the light go out in his sacrifice’s eyes. I’ve looked into those eyes; they’re black, empty. There is no light in them. I couldn’t shake off the image for days; the wild look he kept carefully hidden from his flock. It was awful, Jace; I don’t know…I don’t know what it would do to you to feel that.” He sounded truly worried; cry me a river. My heart had turned to ice for him; he would never thaw it, but it was so hard to resist the eyes I missed so much. The eyes I’d seen go blank. “Thank you for the information, Eric Newman. Perhaps we will see each other again.”

“Hey Jace?”


“You look like shit.”

“Thanks.” I left it at that.

I lit another cigarette and walked back to the dorm-house my team shared. I entered through the back door, halfway through the newly opened pack from the walk. I didn’t smoke often, but when I did, I didn’t tend to stop until I ran out of them. “No smoking in the house.” Drake greeted genially. “There’s no sign.” My voice was steel; unyielding. “Jace?” Mina ran into the room. “Oh, thank god. You came back.” She gushed, throwing her arms around me. I grunted, detaching her from my neck. “Of course I came back; this is me, here.” I growled around the smoke. “There’s no smoking in the house.” I rolled my eyes in exasperation. “So I’ve been told.” I exhaled smoke at her in defiance. “I’m stressed.” I muttered, and she looked anxious for me. “How did it go?” She asked, and my eyes told her it hadn’t gone well. They were haunted; drained of their usual flair. “It was…Informative.” I told her what news I’d gained. “And you and Eric?” She prodded gently. “He looked fine. Healthy. He didn’t know my feelings while he spoke to me, and I blocked his from my mind. He is still my enemy.” My voice was colder than ice. “Jace, no! You loved him once; you can call him your enemy, while Renita you can’t?” She accused, and I nodded curtly. “He betrayed me; not because it was necessary, but because it was an easy way out. Renita just wanted to kill me. He did worse.” It was a strange feeling, love turning to hatred. “He’ll never live down what he’s done.” I looked at her to gauge her expression and take a sample of her emotions. “When did you grow so cold?” She snarled, angry, and I met her fiery snapping eyes with my empty ones. “About four years ago.” I sat back on the couch, taking my cig from my lips and contemplating it as if it held the answer to it all. I finally put it out on my hand, the flair of pain waking me out of my depression. “How is Mikhail? Asleep?”

“Not anymore.” He stumbled in groggily. “You’re an ass; Why didn’t you wake me up?” He asked, and I shrugged. “I wasn’t here to do so. I just had a few things to do.” I lied slickly, and Mina shot me a look. He nodded and moved on to the next room. “Why did you lie to him? Why not tell him you were going to see Eric?” I looked away from her wary eyes. “There was a price for the information I got.” She gave me a measured assessment. “It was his usual price, right?” I nodded. “Mick won’t mind that. You know Mick won’t mind that.” She chided, and I flinched. “Forgive me, Mina, I haven’t done this whole ‘right side of the law’ thing for long; I keep some habits, as you did as well.” It was her turn to flinch. “You’re right. You’re right, I’m sorry. It’s not easy to be truthful when you’ve been lying for years.” She muttered, and I felt like an asshole. I shouldn’t have brought up her own habits. “Mina…” I couldn’t think of what to say, so I pressed my lips together and hunched over. “This is why we chafed whenever we worked together.” She said mildly, and I laughed before I could stop myself. “No, it was because you thought you knew better than me about me.” I scolded jestingly, and she punched my shoulder. “That’s because I do, stupid. Shoo, off with ya.” She swatted at my head, and I ducked and stumbled out of the room. I met Renita in the kitchen once again, and she looked ready to dart any minute. I smiled at her, and she stayed and got back to whatever she was doing originally. It looked like she was making soup, and as she put various things from various bottles in to the pot, I got curious. “What are you making?” I asked, and she looked at me. “I’m making a Seer’s Potion. It enables the drinker to stay awake for three days solid without side effects; I thought it might be good for you and Mikhail, since you’re going to be the most noticeable to the target and you might need something to keep yourselves going.” She said, and I dipped my head, oddly touched. “Thanks, Ren. I owe you.” I said, and she looked at me in surprise. “No, I owe you; I tried to kill you, and then you save my life. I owe you many times over.” I stepped forward and kissed her forehead affectionately, looking gently into her eyes. “Grudges and scores are not in my nature, dear heart. You don’t have to worry for me; I can take pretty much anything.” I left with that, and she felt immensely shocked, but it was sinking in that I didn’t mind her attempt on my life.

I felt that I’d had a productive morning and then afternoon, and I was tired; It was hardly six o’clock and I wanted to crash and burn with the best of them. I knew I couldn’t, however; I had work to do and planning to stay up for. I spread maps out on the table in the dining room; I had yet to see anyone come in here, so I had it to myself for a while. I marked all the places where recruiting was being done, and then the sacrificial crime scenes, and then anything else associated with him. I did it all on layers of clear paper over the map, labeled at the top and in color coordinated dots. I drew arrows in different colors for each of the team members who working with this one to indicate where they were supposed to check out, and then I made copies for each team member with only their arrows. A few of them I put them in partners, because they were known for their hateful nature toward Gifted people.

The last thing I did was write our careful instructions in my cramped script for each of them, including their rendezvous with their partners and their solo missions. They I called them all into the room. “How does this sound?” I explained my plan to them.

We would gain as much attention as we possibly could, try to get enough public association with one another that we were considered a team, and then I’d very subtly use my power to gain the trust of the people already in the inner circle. They would mention us, one by one, to our target, and then when we finally saw him we’d strike and take him and his entire circle. We’d have backup for that one- most of his circle was gifted in one way or another. Another team like this one was being transferred in in two days- they’d be rooming with us until this was over. Each of us was getting a room partner, although I wasn’t too pleased with it.

“Who died and made you leader of the Magicians?” That was the codename for our team. It was the Tiger that had spoken. “I’m not the leader; I just thought since I didn’t have anything better to do-” I was cut off by Renita. “You’re just upset that you’re not the big boss anymore.” She challenged, and Tigress looked stricken. “I was the obvious leader!” She wailed, and I put my hands up in the universal sign of consent. “I’m not trying to take your position-” I started, but I was cut off once again, this time by Drake. “His ideas are a lot more logical than yours, Tigress. It’s not his fault he is a natural-born leader.” I flinched. “Hey, now! I don’t want any-” I was cut off again by Mina. “And besides, He’s the stronger of you two; he dropped you in under a minute. He deserves the leadership.” I decided not to talk, because obviously it wasn’t getting me anywhere. “I follow Jace.” Sunflower put in her vote, even though she wasn’t in on this mission. “I follow Jason.” Drake agreed, and one by one they all said it until Tigress was the only one left. “I will never follow him!” She snarled, and I sighed. “Tiger, I’m sorry you feel that way. Because now I have to change it, and I really hate doing that to you, but if this is going to work we need you on this too. I value your addition to this team, but I would prefer it be of your own will, not the one I give you. Don’t make me do this to you?” I pleaded, and she was silent for a moment. “I’ll do what is required.” She conceded icily, and I smiled in relief. “Perfect, thank you. Here, everyone take your maps and your instructions; they’re stapled together and labeled with your names.” I gestured to the table, and they each swiped one to study. I took my own up to my room and memorized it; it was a useful thing to do, in case yours was lost.

I was oddly touched by the tremendous show of trust and loyalty they had all given. I wasn’t usually the leader, but I led the leader under the table. I planned and told him what to say or do. I was the unknown leader behind the leader. I liked it that way- it was a lot less complicated. But I could do this. What really bothered me is that they all trusted me to lead them so quickly. Mina I could understand, and Mikhail, but Drake and Renita and Sunflower had no proof of my loyalty. I sometimes wondered if my powers leaked even when I tried to keep them in, but I knew it wasn’t that. It seemed to happen, even before my powers had come into their own. From the time I was very young people just had and easier time trusting me and believing in me more than they would other people. It was a strange occurrence, and I always suspected that it was something to do with my power, but it wasn’t leaking. Perhaps just a side effect; a survival mechanism in case I were exposed some time before my powers came out I would have a strong base of loyal friends and protectors. I realized how easily I could have become just like our current target; it wouldn’t have been hard. But I’d been born with a rock-solid set of ethics and ideas on what was right and wrong and what should and shouldn’t be done.

I shook myself from my thoughts when a knock came from the door. I wondered vaguely who it was; Mina nor Mick would have knocked. “Come.” I ordered; I was stretched out on my bed on my back, and Drake walked in.

My eyebrows rose in surprise as I sat up. “Yes?” I asked, and his eyes darted around, to the chair and back. “Sit, please. Tell me.” I gestured to it, and he was sitting in a motion too fast for me to see. I didn’t flinch, but it was a close thing. I managed to keep my composure and showed no change in expression. “I’ve been wondering about you, Jason Jackal. You seem to be very…eclectic.” He was careful. He meant I was weird and he didn’t understand me. “Go on.” I invited, and he gave me a measuring look. “What are your intentions with Mikhail?” He said bluntly, and I blinked twice in rapid succession. Not where I had expected this to go. “Um…I hadn’t really thought about it.” I admitted blankly, still in shock. “I hope they are honorable.” He said sternly, and I was nodding before he stopped talking. “Of course- I just hadn’t considered what my intentions were. I have no desire to harm him. Emotionally or physically.” I added. He looked only a little relieved. “I saw the way you looked at him- you have a devotion I’ve never seen rivaled, but you seem to look at everyone you care for that way. You look at me, Mina, Renita, and Sunflower that way, and I get the feeling you would with the Tiger as well if she would allow it.” I nodded; I understood his hesitation. “I am loyal to my friends, and he is one of them.” My voice was genial; I didn’t know where he was going with this. “You have a special glint to your eye when you look at him.” He pointed out, and I nodded. “He is my lover.” My tone didn’t change. “I know…But it is very strong, this glint. I started to really think about it in the van, after Mina pointed it out.” I froze. “What are you saying.” My voice was nearly stone; or perhaps a block of ice. “Are you in love with my friend?” He asked directly, and I nearly choked. I didn’t. “I am…Not sure how to answer you.” I cleared my throat. “That is a…difficult question.” I cleared my throat again, and that seemed to be answer enough for him. “You don’t want to admit it. Not even to yourself.” He seemed to find this amusing; I found that denial was the best choice for my sanity on this one. “No; no, I’m sure not.” It was clear I was anything but sure. “You young people.” He shook his head and left in a blur of motion. This time I did jump, purely because I could and no one would know but me. I muttered something under my breath about annoying vampires. I looked at the clock; it was nearly three o’clock in the morning. The maps and instructions had taken longer than I had expected.

I eventually drifted off to sleep, and I vaguely remember Mikhail joining me near four, and we slept wrapped around each other until my alarm woke us. He grumbled in annoyance as I sat up and he lost my warmth, but I shook him gently awake after turning off the alarm. “What is it?” He grumbled, and I smiled. “We have work to do.” I chided, and he sat up. “Right.” He growled, and I was gone in a motion quick enough to rival Drake. I had my map, my instructions, and I left his where he would find them. Then I went out, got in my car, and left for my first destination.

The End

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