The clang of forks and knives was the only sound to fill the silence. The four of them sat together, eating a normal dinner. Like a family.
The hot-head, blind telepath, winged girl, and energy manipulator. All under the age of 18. The most normal family you could think of.
None of them pretended the fifth place was supposed to be empty. Their knife-wielder, ex-thief and ex-conn. Youngest. Smartest. The first to grow out of the squad. Of the Double Helex.
Each teenager glanced at the empty seat multiple times. But neither had the insensibility to say anything, to call each other out. Not until the coldest, the one containing the most heat, spoke up.
"How come you never asked Aryess out?" Nic asked, looking directly at the youngest of the present four.
Emily and Jasper exchanged glances as Alek choked on his soda. Nic kept a straight face, even as the choking subsided to a cough.
"Why would you ask that?" Alek asked. He took another sip of ginger-ale to clear his throat.
"Just curious," the leader of the squad said. Emily suddenly stood.
"I need to get some air," she said, grabbing Jasper's hand and dragged her boyfriend toward the door. Jasper shot an apologetic glance over his shoulder before the apartment door shut behind him.
There was a full minute of awkward silence between the two remaining members.
"You didn't answer the question," Nic said.
Alek stared back and suddenly let out a laugh. "You have to be kidding me," he said, expecting the hot-head to smirk and claim the prank. When he didn't, Alek frowned. "You aren't kidding."
Nic shook his head slightly, holding his gaze.
Alek considered, then shrugged. "I just didn't," he said.
"But why not?" Nic persisted. "You had plenty of opportunities. I mean, all the missions you went on together, you never thought to say anything?"
"We weren't... I didn't... I would never have tried to..." he met Nic's eyes. "You're going to let me go on rambling, aren't you?"
He didn't react, which Alek took as a yes.
He sighed. "It doesn't honestly matter."
"Dude, she has a boyfriend."
"Oh yeah," Nic said dramatically. "South."
Alek almost laughed, but a sudden notion struck him so hard, he almost fell from his chair. Instead, he stood so hastily it was the chair the toppled backwards, hitting the wooden floor with a CLAP!
Nic didn't look the least bit surprised, though he never did. Alek reckoned a small pink smurf could march right up to him and spit a purple blob on his hand, and the fire-caster would never even flinch. Alek was sure he was imagining the guilty glint of emotion that flickered in the squad leader's eye.
"Is this because Ary is with Tyler?" he asked incredulously.
"What? No!" Nic shouted defensively. "Okay, maybe," he admitted.
"Nic! That's just low," Alek spat.
"I just don't want to see Ary hurt."
"South's a good guy. I've met him myself. He would never do anything to hurt her."
"He's a hot-head, Alek."
"So are you!"
"Exactly. I know how easily we can loose our tempers."
"You've hurt people?" It was out of the heat of the moment that Alek countered with the question. He had not anticipated the sudden darkness that entered Nic's eyes.
He stood slowly, and leaned closer to Alek. "I have killed people," his voice was low.
Alek nodded. "Ary told me about your step-father."
Nic shook his head. "Others," then he added, "Others I actually regret killing."
Alek felt the cold snake of fear slowly crawl up his spine. Never before has he understood the fear that his partner had described to him. The fear that had given Nic his place as a leader. Fear that had protected him, even as a kid. Now though, he understood with more clarity than he would've liked.
"What makes you think Ary would be better off with me?" Alek asked quietly. "A lab rat."
Nic smiled without humor. "Aryess is a naive, trusting, stubborn little girl. And, like many girls, she seems to fall for a specific type. In her case tall, dark, and dangerous." He spoke as if he meant there was more than one person who fit the profile. Someone just as much of a threat as he saw South to be.
"Tyler is no threat to Ary," Alek assured.
Nic finally pulled back. He rested a hand on Alek's shoulder. "Watch over my protege." He turned and began to walk over to the door. He opened it, but stopped with his hand on the door. "Watch our sister."
Then Alek was alone in the apartment, the heavy eight of the world suddenly on his shoulders.