Chapter Nine

Internal Strife

The next morning found Aven irritated and grouchy. He had gotten back terribly late the night before and hadn't even bothered saying good night before going to bed. It was clear he was still quite upset over the previous day's revelation. I still didn't have the chance to tell him that he wasn't exactly right in that respect, which meant I certainly couldn't mention Cartier's hand-kissing

He looked at me sullenly. "Get in," he growled.

I rolled my eyes. "Could you be any more brutish?"

Aven grunted as if to prove his point and jerked his head roughly at the car. I raised my brow, but his glower finally got me to acquiesce and I slipped into the car, unwilling to get into an argument with him at seven in the morning.

He slammed the door on his side and savagely reversed out of the parking garage, nearly running over an 80-year-old grandmother on her early morning stroll.

As if to indicate how angry he was, Aven ran two red lights and took out a water hydrant. By the time we finally got to school, I was relatively certain he had left quite an impressive trail of black rubber on all the streets.

I turned to him when he finally parked in one of the spots. "Feeling better now?"

"No," he grunted.

"When are you going to get over it?" I asked, exasperated. "You're acting like I betrayed you or something."

Aven looked at me with wide, hurt eyes. "Because you did! You're a traitor! How could you fall for the enemy?"

I threw my hands into the air, smacking my right against the car ceiling. "I didn't! God, Aven, will you please stop obsessing over this? I don't like Cartier, period."

His watched me through shrewd eyes. "You were at his house yesterday, Tess. What's that supposed to tell me?"

My jaw dropped. "You followed me?"

"No. I was suspicious so I had Giselle call Cartier's home. That kid named Ash picked up and said Cartier couldn't answer the phone because he was talking to you."

I couldn't believe I was hearing this. "You checked up on me? I'm your partner for Christ's sake!"

Aven's expression was cool and unrepentant. "My partner doesn't betray me."

I stared at him. I didn't know whether my expression was more furious or hurt, but from what I was feeling, it was probably a mixture of both. Aven and I had gotten into scrapes before, but never had we truly doubted each other before. So for him to sit here and accuse me of betraying him without any hard evidence? Yeah, it definitely stung.

I sneered. "And my partner doesn't doubt me."

His smile was cold and he turned to look out the windshield. The parking lot was quickly filling up, which meant first period was about to start. "Looks like that makes two of us then," he drawled.

I cursed under my breath and grabbed my bag. "I don't have time for this," I snapped and yanked open the door a little harder than necessary. It nearly hit the cute VW Bug parked next to us. "Fuck you and your insecurities."

Aven didn't call after me as I stormed away and I gladly tore across the pavement towards the buildings. I was so angry that I didn't even want to hear his voice, much less see his face. This was the first time in our existence as partners that doubt had come into play. It was something that all the other partners had been envious about because it was difficult for a pair to trust each other so implicitly. Aven and I had always had it. I couldn't believe our streak had been broken because of some inconsequential high school kid.

I suddenly disliked Cartier very much.

Thankfully enough, I didn't run into him or any of the other guys in the morning, and by the time I was supposed to attend AP Government, I was much calmer. I could probably hold a decent conversation with Cartier without blowing my top.

Or at least, that was what I thought until I was cornered by Braelin a few feet away from my classroom. She sauntered up to me, high heels clicking against the floor, looking all for the world like she was completely unaffected by the previous day's emotional roller coaster. Her smile was displayed for the world to see, and she looked so put-together that if I hadn't seen her breakdown the day before, I wouldn't have known that it had happened.

She flicked her fingers in a dainty little wave. "Hi Tess."

I was amused. "Back to normal, I see."

"Not yet, but we'll get there." Braelin arranged herself against the lockers that were next to us. "I just came to discuss a little matter with you."

"Ah." I nodded knowingly. "Is Cartier still not speaking to you?"

She lost a bit of her smile. "That is none of your concern. You may have won this battle, but trust me, I'll be winning this war."

I grinned. "And trust me when I say clichéd lines never prove to be true. Didn't you get the memo yesterday? I thought all that bawling meant you finally understand that Cartier doesn't want anything to do with you."

All the charm and poise disappeared from her now. Braelin took a step forward and shoved her face a scant inch from mine. "Don't be so smug, Tess," she hissed. "There's nothing about you that would interest Cartier. I will get him back. He could never resist me for long."

The bell for fourth period rang, but both Braelin and I ignored it. This conversation, as childish as it was, was actually more entertaining than AP Government could ever be.

I arched a brow and tried to be as possessive as possible. Hey, if people thought were dating now, who was I to correct their assumptions? It only meant one step closer to completing our errand… once Aven finally got over himself.

"You honestly think he'd take you back after you cheated on him with Dave?"

Her smile was too sweet. "Honey, you may have the looks and the charm, but I have one thing that you'll never have – history with Cartier. And there's one thing you have to know about him." Her lips twisted into a devious smirk. "That boy is one of the most sentimental people you'll ever meet."

I caught on to what she was saying in a flash. Unbidden, anger swept over me like a tide-wave. "So you'll play on his memories and his past with you just to get him back?"

"That's the key to victory, isn't it? Know your enemy and use his weaknesses to your advantage." Braelin took a step back and tipped her head coyly. "Only in this case, he's hardly my enemy, but you get the point."

I stared at her, internally fuming. Later, I would reflect on this point in time and question why I was so angry. But now, I was seeing red, and it wasn't helping much with the whole restraint bit.

"You are unbelievable," I said.

Braelin's eyes widened mockingly. "How could you say such a thing? I'm only trying to get my boyfriend back." She placed a hand on her heart. "Tess, when it comes to unbelievable, no one could beat you in that department."

And then she gave me a little wave and a small giggle. "Have to go to class now. See you later!"

I watched her stroll away, mentally conjuring an image of stabbing Braelin with a fork over and over and over again. Once I felt thoroughly disturbed with myself, I took in a deep breath and walked through the door.

Snyder stood at the front of the room with a stack of paper in his hands, most likely our graded homework assignments. His mouth twitched into a frown when he saw me, but surprisingly, he didn't call me out on anything. Maybe my words from last time had truly softened him to me, or maybe because he simply wasn't in the mood. Either way, I went to my assigned seat with no trouble and slumped into it.

I kept my gaze on my desk, well aware that Cartier was sitting right next to me and was currently staring at me. Thinking about him made my blood boil.

"You know, if you scowl any harder, your face is going to stay like that permanently."

I gritted my teeth. Of all the times Cartier chose to voluntarily talk to me, it had to be now?

I closed my eyes, took in a breath, and mentally counted to three before meeting his gaze.

"What?" I asked rudely.

He didn't appear fazed. "Why the murderous look?"

Take your pick. Because your ex-girlfriend made you out to be such a spineless fool? Because Aven actually thought I'd fall for a guy like you and is now furious with me as a result?

Instead, however, I said, "Your ex-girlfriend just attacked me in the hallway."

Cartier seemed surprised. "Brae? She's here today?"

"Should she not be?"

He shrugged and observed the pencil in his hand rather pensively. "No, but she's not normally known for taking things well."

I nearly rolled my eyes. Freakin' Cartier and his freakin' sentimentality. Why the hell was he so complicated? "Are you upset that she isn't more traumatized by the breakup?"

He looked startled that I had suggested such a thing. "No, of course not. I don't want her to be in pain."

I frowned and looked at him carefully. I didn't know if it was just me, but it oddly seemed like Cartier was being more open today than usual. He was always so stoic and so my-expression-shall-be-as-blank-as-a-wall-so-you-can't-read-me. I reflected back on that brief chivalrous kiss on the back of my hand and wondered if maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to Cartier? But was it really that easy?

Snyder was still handing out papers, so I deemed it safe to continue the conversation. "You're surprised," I said quietly, "because you're in pain, aren't you?"

Cartier's green eyes flickered to me in astonishment, but then he shook his head. We held each other's gaze, briefly caught in the moment, before Cartier cleared his throat and glanced at Snyder. He had good timing because at that moment, Snyder happened to call out his name and he stood to retrieve his homework. To my surprise, he came back with mine as well and placed it on my desk.

I glanced at the score. 50/50.

"So," Cartier said, his voice light. I turned to him. "I'm holding a Halloween party at my house. You should come."

I blinked. Halloween party? Cartier Lovaine was inviting me to his party? "When?" I stupidly asked.

He looked at me strangely. "On Halloween. When else?"

"Oh. Right."

I didn't know if I ought to hate myself for this, but as soon as he mentioned the party at his house, the first thought that popped into my head was: yes! Halloween party meant a lot of people were going to be there, which meant it'd be easier to finish the job. Halloween was three days away, giving us ample time to prepare as well.

I wanted to scoff at Aven as soon as I thought this. If only he could read my mind, then he'd see that my head was completely screwed on correctly. Stupid bastard.

Snyder chose this time to begin his lecture and I forced myself to turn my thoughts to state-level governments. I could still feel Cartier's gaze on me from time to time, but I was unable to assess it without making myself obvious. I couldn't help but wonder what was running through his mind. The guy always managed to throw me off.

Snyder's voice broke through my thoughts then. "Now I don't want to hear any complaints, but it's group project time!" Despite his warning, the groans rang out. His glare stifled the voices. "This will only be a two-day assignment that I want completed by Friday. Pair up with the person sitting next to you and give me an extensive biography on an active player in our state legislature."

A guy whose name I didn't know raised his hand then. "But that's not fair, sir," he complained. "Cartier can just write about his dad."

Snyder raised his eyebrow at the guy but nevertheless turned to look at Cartier and me. "I think you know the solution then, don't you?" he asked us.

We nodded simultaneously. It looked like there would be no report about Governor Dominic Lovaine from us.

"When do you want to work on this thing?" I asked as we walked out of the classroom. The students paved a way for us in the hallway due to our status. I wasn't sure when I had been accepted as one of the elites but I wasn't complaining. It came with extra perks such as this.

Cartier had a hand in his pocket. "Whenever. We can probably finish it in a day."

"Tomorrow then? After soccer practice?"


I did a double take at his complacency. He must've noticed because he glanced at me. "What?" he asked.

"Why are you being so nice?"

He stopped walking, causing a couple of younger students to crash into each other to avoid hitting him. "Excuse me?"

I only just realized how strange the question was and flushed a little, momentarily forgetting that I was still quite angry with him for valid reasons unknown to me. "Well it's just… you're usually quieter and more… adamant. It's hardly ever give and take with you."

He rolled his eyes and commenced his walk towards the cafeteria. "I'm not unreasonable."

Thinking back to our initial encounters, I couldn't hold back my snort.

Cartier chose to not acknowledge it.

The rest of the elites were already at the table. I noticed there were two open spots right next to each other and Cartier slid into one easily. I was forced to sit right next to him, and when I looked up, I found myself looking at a very pissed off Aven. He had an arm around Giselle's shoulders, but I could detect his mutinous vibe.

I was so busy staring at Aven that I hadn't noticed the entire table had fallen quiet upon our arrival. Braelin was no longer sitting with us, but a couple of girls who had been more attached to the guys than her had stayed behind, and they were now whispering under their breaths, casting me odd glances every few seconds.

Vic was the first to speak up. "So is it true then?" he asked, eyes wide. "Are the two of you really going out?"

Cartier raised an eyebrow, but I cut in before he could say anything. "Who told you?" I demanded.

"Aven did." Vic's face scrunched up comically. "God, you people! I can never keep up with this drama anymore." He pointed an accusatory finger at Cartier. "I come to school this morning to find that not only have you broken up with Brae, but you've also started dating Tess too! Why don't people tell me things anymore?"

"I'm not dating him," I snapped.

That caught everyone's attention. Giselle looked confused.

"Wait Tess, I thought you liked Cartier."

"Well that was because…" I was only pretending to like him so I could kill him. Yeah… nope. I changed tactics then. "I mean I do, but the way Vic said it made it sound so dirty."

Quinn gave Vic a very indiscreet nudge and tactfully changed the topic. "So Cartier, what's up with the party? Do you have a theme yet?"

With Quinn's smooth transition into another topic that was safely free from anything having to do with Cartier and my supposed relationship, I spent the rest of the lunch period alternating between glaring at my pasta and glaring at Aven. In fact, I was so engrossed in the glaring that I failed to notice Dave's entrance and didn't even have it in me to find it odd that he and Cartier were conversing just like they had done before the fiasco with Braelin had occurred. It looked like the two had made peace with each other.

Dave, who was now sitting diagonally across from me, threw a plastic spoon at me. It landed right in the middle of my food.

I looked up at him, irritated. "What?"

He, on the other hand, was entirely too happy to notice my mood. "Are you coming to soccer practice today?"

"Doesn't she have to?" Vic cut in before I could respond. "She's your water girl, right?"

"True, but she could just call in sick or something," Quinn said.

Aven snorted then, loudly and clearly. "I doubt you have to worry about it, Dave. Tess loves you guys so much she'd be at your practice even if she was down with pneumonia."

Dave blinked and exchanged an odd look with Cartier. "Really?"

Aven's smile was too cheerful. "Of course. She wears the team jacket all the time."

I bristled at his words and bared my teeth at him. He was such a liar. I had only worn it at home yesterday because it was a comfortable jacket and I had been too lazy to change.

"You're so petty," I snapped at him, unable to reign in my temper.

He sneered. "Don't be a brat, Tess."

I shoved out of my seat. "Excuse me? What did you just say?"

Cartier grabbed me before I could physically launch myself across the table and Quinn rested a restraining hand on Aven's shoulder. Giselle's eyes were innocently wide as she observed the two of us, a hand on her mouth.

"Oh," she cried. "Are you two… are you two mad at each other?"

The girl was innocent and cute, but she was also dense.

"No we're just having a chat," I said sarcastically and then jerked a little. When Cartier's grip remained firm, I turned around and glared at him. "Will you let go of me already?"

"Not if you're going to cause a ruckus in the cafeteria," he replied.

He didn't have to worry because at that point, Aven let out a loud grunt that sounded very childish and stormed away, throwing Quinn off as he moved. Quinn scowled and shook his hand out slightly and then lifted an eyebrow at Giselle, who still looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

"Aren't you going to go after him?" he asked pointedly.

She blinked, and to my surprise, hesitated. "Um… I'm not sure if I should. He kind of bit my head off this morning when I tried to talk to him."

"Ignore him," I said peevishly. "He's just being a presumptuous little kid."

Giselle frowned and glanced at Dave and Vic, but luckily enough, they all chose to remain silent. Quinn, once again, came up with another topic of discourse and the previous issue was dropped. With friends like his, I wondered if he spent a good few hours every day coming up with creative ways to avoid arguments.

The bell rang then, signaling the end to lunch and the end to any other arguments that may have occurred.

Snyder was rubbing his hands in glee when the varsity soccer team made its way out onto the fields. He was so happy that he even offered me a smile as I dragged the huge water cooler over to the stands. I was so shocked by this that I nearly tripped over myself.

The players were exchanging odd looks with each other. It was evident that even they hadn't seen Snyder in such a good mood before.

Travis McConnell nudged Dave discreetly. "Dude, what's up with that smile? It's freaking me out."

"Don't know, man." Dave prodded Cartier, who was in the process of tying one of his shoelaces. "Did something happen in AP Gov today that's got him so excited?"

Cartier shook his head.

Max Pfeiffer, the goalie, approached the cluster of players, a ball tucked under his arm. "Maybe Coach finally got laid," he said.

Travis snickered but Dave punched both of them to keep them quiet. "Shut up, will you? You don't want to ruin his good mood. Maybe he'll go easy on us today."

Cartier snorted and threw him a look as he snatched the ball away from Max. "Doubt that'd be possible. We'd all have to prepare for the Armageddon if that happened."

Dave shoved his head playfully. "Freak."

And then they got into a minor scuffle for the ball, which Travis and Max quickly participated in. Snyder was looking at something on his clipboard, but he was still wearing that alarmingly wide smile. I half wondered if maybe he was slightly touched in the head.

Snyder finally seemed satisfied with what he had written because he looked up at his unruly team and stuck a whistle in his mouth, the shrill sound cutting through the air. Everyone on the team froze, and as usual, gathered around him.

"Okay everyone, I know all of you have been practicing extremely hard for our game next week. I've seen a lot of good progress so far, so I just thought I'd spice things up a bit to keep things interesting for you." He could barely keep up his stern facade. "Just for today, I've changed up all your positions and put you on two teams."

The shocked look on the players' faces was priceless. Even I had to smile a bit at that.

Snyder announced the new positions in clipped words, and by the end of it, there were shouts and groans of complaint. A few of the players even went as far as punching the person who had taken his spot.

Snyder smirked at his dismayed team. "The losing team will pay for a pizza dinner."

More groans.

Dave, in particular, was looking very flustered. "How the hell does a goalie work?" he lamented. "What the fuck is up with this whole hands business?"

Max shoved him rather rudely. "Stop complaining, dude. At least you can use your hands."

Snyder clapped his hands together. "All right, team! Let's get to it!"

Needless to say, the game was quite a sight to see. The players often forgot what position they were supposed to play in the middle of the game, which meant some of the defenders abandoned their positions and streaked across the field to attack, while some of the midfielders stayed behind in front of the goalie and never moved forward. It was about three-quarters of the way into the first half that the players started getting the hang of their new positions.

Dave, in particular, attracted extra attention. When the ball was on the other side of the field, he'd stand with his arms crossed and mutter to himself about missing out on all the action. But when the ball shot towards him, he'd spin around frantically, constantly holding both of his hands up, palms out, as if to remind himself that he could now use his hands as the goalie.

The score was tied 2-2 with only five minutes on the clock. Team B, Cartier's team, was dribbling the ball forward, and Dave was poised and ready in the goal to block. He had proved to be quite an effective goalie once he got the hang of it and had blocked some remarkable shots.

I stood on the sidelines, watching with rapture as Durden Drake dribbled the ball forward, dodging the players in his way. And then, out of nowhere, Travis sprung forward, knocking the ball away. Durden cursed as he fell, taking Travis down with him, and everyone watched as the ball rolled away from them… and towards me.

As I watched it roll, I suddenly got an image of Cartier in Cloverfield Park, the way his foot was angled, the position of the ball in relation to the goal post. And then it was as if my leg developed a brain of its own. I watched, dazed, as my leg shot out of its own accord, kicking the ball at just the right angle and at just the right speed, sending it sailing through the air, miraculously avoiding Dave's well-placed hands… and hit the net.

Time stopped for just a second.

I could barely get my brain to comprehend what had just occurred. Had I just scored a goal for Team B?

The buzzer went off then, sharp and shrill, signaling the end of the game. Team B had won.

Another moment of stunned silence, and then the cheering and cursing started. Dave was looking at me, his eyes wide and jaw open, as if he couldn't believe that I had betrayed him and his team. I shrugged in what I hoped was an apologetic way and wondered if I ought to run in the opposite direction, seeing that he had started his march towards me.

And then I was abruptly lifted into the air and I found myself looking down at a widely grinning Cartier. He spun me around in a circle, laughing with his team, and they all swooped in to crush me in a massive hug.

I was incredibly stunned by the time Cartier finally set me down again. He ruffled my hair affectionately. "Nice kick."

I blinked and nodded.

"That was most certainly not a nice kick," Dave growled to my left. He pointed at me, mock hurt all over his face. "How could you do this to me, Tess? I trusted you!"

I rolled my eyes, but I was unable to keep myself from grinning. "Tough luck, Isaacs. Looks like you aren't meant to be a goalie after all."

"Shut up," he mumbled.

Snyder stepped in at this time to call the team over to him, and I stepped away from the crowd of sweaty boys and checked my phone. No missed calls. I wasn't surprised that Aven hadn't bothered to contact me, but at the same time, I was still a little hurt. How was I supposed to get home now?

I sighed and slipped the phone back into my pocket.

"You all right?"

I turned around to see Cartier approach me. He had a bottle of water in his hands and I realized belatedly that I hadn't done my duty as the water girl. I glanced at Snyder to see if he was angry, but as it turned out, he was still focused on how the last game went and couldn't be bothered with me.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Aven's still a bit angry with me."

Cartier nodded. He was looking at me pensively, and I bristled defensively. "What?" I asked.

"Nothing." He shook his head, but then he smirked. "You're a fast learner, aren't you?"

Now I was confused. "What do you mean?"

"That kick you made back there. You copied me." He didn't say it in an accusatory matter. In fact, it almost seemed as if he was intrigued by what he had seen. "I've never seen anyone execute it in such a similar fashion. I didn't even teach you."

I shrugged, suddenly feeling modest. "It's not too big of a deal. I kind of pick things up sometimes."

"Right." He looked back over at his teammates and then glanced at his watch. "Do you need a ride home?"

I looked at him, startled. "Um, kind of. But it's okay. I'm sure I can take the bus or something."

He waved off my comment. "Don't be ridiculous. Just give me a minute to grab my stuff." And then he left before I could say anything.

I was left, stunned. Don't be ridiculous? What was Cartier playing at? One day he was ruthless and cold to me, and suddenly, after one very confusing kiss on the back of my hand, he was treating me like his long-lost best friend. I didn't understand his motives and wasn't sure I really wanted to.

Cartier was back in a flash and he nodded towards the parking lot. "Come on, let's go."

"Don't you have dinner with the team?"

"Not a big deal," he said simply.

Oh great. Now he was ditching his friends to drive me home. What the heck?

Aven looked up from his position on the couch when I walked into the apartment. For a moment, he looked like he wanted to smile and ask how soccer practice was, but his demeanor suddenly turned cold as he remembered that we were in the middle of a feud and he turned away with a scowl.

"Finally back?" he asked, the sneer present in his voice.

I glared at his profile and threw my bag on the floor. "Still not over ourselves, are we?" I asked snidely.

He scoffed but didn't turn around to look at me again. Irritated, I walked to the kitchen and grabbed a frozen pizza. I was briefly amused by my food choice before I quickly unwrapped it and stuck it in the oven, setting the timer for 25 minutes.

When I walked back out of the kitchen, Aven had shifted so that his lanky form was sprawled out on the couch, leaving no space for me. I couldn't help but raise a brow.

"When are you going to stop being so childish, Aven?"

He glared at me. "Who says I'm being childish?"

I sighed and stepped closer to him. "Look, I get that you were a little peeved about me feeling sympathetic for Cartier. Fine, I get it. But we only have a few days left before we have to complete our errand and we really can't afford to waste this time."

Aven tore his eyes away from the TV, his expression mocking. "Are you still going to go through with this? Because honestly, I was under the impression that you're Cartier's girlfriend now."

I bristled. "That's because you don't listen to me!"

He stood from the couch in a bout of fury. "Why should I?" he shouted.

"Stop jumping to conclusions!" I screamed and jabbed him in the chest. "I never said I was backing out on this. You incorrectly thought so. And if you had just given me a second I would've explained why I was at Cartier's house yesterday."

"Then why was he so lovey-dovey with you today?" Aven snarled. He grabbed my arm, jerking me closer. "You think I'm stupid? Anybody could see that his attitude towards you is different!"

I shoved away from him. "I don't know why, okay? But that's not the point!"

"That is the point! If you're going to fuck him then-"

Aven never got the chance to finish his sentence. My first lashed out and nailed him across the jaw, sending him stumbling into the coffee table.

"Don't you dare finish that sentence," I spat.

He glared at me through narrowed eyes and dropped his hand from his jaw. "What the fuck, Tess."

I wasn't prepared for his sudden movement and it sent me flying into the wall. I shook my spinning head and saw that he was approaching me, looking slightly repenting for his actions. I waited till he was close enough before snapping my foot out, intending on catching him in the groin. But he moved at the last minute and threw his arm around me, yanking me into a deadlock.

"Give up, Tess," he said, "you could never beat me in hand-to-hand combat."

I glanced down and gave his left foot a savage stomp. Since I was still in my school uniform, the heels on my shoes gave my move some extra force and Aven immediately released me with a cry of pain.

I spun around, my hands poised in a defensive pose. "Oh yeah? Let's see it then."

Aven watched me for a second, before he smirked and lunged. I felt the impact from our bodies' collision and grabbed his arm.

It was on.

Author's Note: A little bit of an internal issue with our beloved assassins :) The deadline is quickly approaching! Stay tuned for it :D And thanks to all of you for reviewing! It's heartwarming to know that people are still reading this after it's year-long hiatus. I respond to all of you through the PM system, so please let me know if I've left you out. As for my anonymous reviewers, if you have any questions, I'll gladly respond to you in my next A/N.

Thanks and let me know what you think of this chapter!