Mercy winces as he squints towards the front of the lecture hall; he's automatically unimpressed with the anxious way his professor scans the mass sea of fresh faces. He sighs, clenches his hands into fists, and clears his throat. "Here," he calls softly. The acoustics carry his answer to the forefront of the room and his professor—Langley, if he recalls correctly—holds his gaze momentarily before looking away, nervous sweat lining his brow.
He frowns. It's not that he expected much else but still, it stings.
Irritation gnaws at the back of Mercy's mind but he studiously ignores it, instead opting to pull out an empty notepad and a mechanical pencil. It's not his fault he was born into a family notorious for their criminal activity. Honestly, all he wants to accomplish for the day is to sit through his first lecture like a normal, confused college freshman without half the lecture hall glaring at him. Even the girl, who had been previously sitting next to him, has scooted away without so much as a hint of subtlety.
Mercy swallows back the lump lodged in his throat and forces all of his attention on the whiteboard, ineffectively tuning out the half-whispered gossip surrounding him. You're above this, he reminds himself, grip on his pencil tightening. You aren't defined by the paths your family has chosen to walk. Mercy lets out a shaky breath, glad that Professor Langley has finished roll call and begun the lecture, causing the rest of the students to dispel their rude blathering.
The lecture passes swiftly, Mercy's deft hand writing quick, concise notes, leaving his mind buzzing with new information. Langley's a good professor, keeps almost all of the students engaged—including Mercy—and doesn't pile on too much for the first day. Something akin to happiness simmers in Mercy's chest as he stands to gather his things. The moment he turns to exit his row, however, that feeling dissipates as he spies who's waiting for him.
The girl looks normal by all accounts; petite, olive skinned with long, spiraling brown hair that tumbles elegantly over her shoulders. It's her eyes that tip him off. They're cold, calculating, and hold such thinly veiled contempt that it makes his skin crawl. The atmosphere she exudes reminds him of his brother and that alone is enough to make him feel physically ill.
Mercy schools his features. "Did you need something?" he asks indifferently, trying to hide the fact that his heart has begun to beat erratically.
She smiles, slow and shrewd. "I didn't know a Doyle would be attending this university. How lucky," she drawls, ending with an overly playful chuckle.
Mercy decides right then and there he doesn't like her. "Okay," he says blandly, relaxing his shoulders as he waves his hand in a bored, go on motion.
She leans in towards him, the movement more predatory than seductive. "My name's Annie," she says. "I think we should be … friends." Annie raises her eyebrows as if to punctuate her crass meaning.
"No, thanks," Mercy replies evenly, pushing past her to exit his row. The last thing he needs is for some groupie to hang around him on the misguided notion that he's an in into the lackluster criminal underground. He has nothing to do with his family's less than honorable misdeeds.
And he never will.
He doesn't spare a look over his shoulder to see if Annie is following him, but he has the sinking feeling this isn't the last he'll see of her. People with that sort of interest aren't known for giving up, after all. Mercy grits his teeth; his head has already started to ache from the thought that there will, no doubt, be more Annie's out there to corner him when he's least expecting it. He had wanted to attend University under an alias, but having to explain his reasons to his family was something he wouldn't have been able to do. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
They may be his family on paper and by blood, but they wouldn't think twice about harming him if they thought he was somehow ashamed of them.
A chill runs down Mercy's spine at the thought of his family finding out, causing him to grip his books ever tighter, his breathing coming in shorter and shorter bursts. He stops walking, movement abrupt as he leans up against the nearest wall, his heart beating too fast as he fights off the cusps of panic. He shuts his eyes tightly, grounds his teeth, and thinks of snow; brilliantly white and freezing. The panic begins to subside then, but just barely.
Mercy doesn't open his eyes before taking a tentative step forward and pays the price immediately as he slams into the chest of someone else. The contact surprises him and makes him stumble a half-step to the right, his things falling from his arms on reflex. Mercy blinks and finds that in the scuffle the person he'd run into somehow managed to steady him with a hot, iron grip. "You alright?"
He takes a moment to regain his composure before he nods. "… I am," he replies. "I apologize. I wasn't looking where I was going." His tone is subdued as he turns to take stock of the someone he'd slammed into for the first time.
The man is tall, muscular in the way swimmers are, just shy of bulky. His hair is buzzed so short Mercy can't discern if it's brown or an off dirty blonde, but his eyes are what truly catch Mercy off guard. They're a soft brown, creased with worry and concern. It rattles him as no one looks at him that way; not even his own family.
He smiles then, lips curving upwards crookedly, the motion sheepish. "Nah, I wasn't paying much attention either." He pauses for a beat, eyes dropping to the floor. "Ah, you dropped your things," he says, amusement alight in his tone. He relinquishes his grip on Mercy's arm to lean down and gather up his things. He all but shoves them back into Mercy's arms.
Mercy doesn't know want to make of it.
"What's your name, kid?" he asks casually as he crosses his arms and leans up against the corner Mercy had hastily stepped out from behind.
Mercy frowns, suspicious and pensive. "Aren't you supposed to introduce yourself first?" he counters, which surprises a laugh out of the man.
"Right, right. Sorry." He holds out his hand. "David," he says simply, grinning like only a fool ought to.
It makes Mercy uncomfortable, but he takes David's hand nonetheless. "Mercy."
"Mercy?" David repeats with a lighthearted laugh. "What kind of name is that?"
Mercy grits his teeth. "It's a nickname."
But David isn't paying him any mind—his attention has already been stolen by someone waving obnoxiously at him from outside the building's large entryway windows. "Sorry, kid, gotta run!" And just like that, David's bounding off. Once he exits the building, Mercy watches as he throws an arm around a shorter man, no doubt harassing him in good fun.
Mercy's chest constricts unpleasantly, but he looks away before the envy he feels can completely wrap its barbed tendrils around his heart.
Mercy's shoulder aches by the time he makes it back to his dorm. He unlocks the door with a day-long sort of apathy; his backpack slides to the floor the moment he crosses the threshold into his shared living space. He spots Bentley almost immediately, propped up on his bed, glasses pushed back into the thick, thatch of auburn curls. "Bentley," he greets with a sigh as he meanders across the room to collapse on his bed.
Bentley grimaces, sets down whatever book he'd been previously engrossed in, and side eyes Mercy with mild irritation. "I told you to call me Buzz."
"Buzz is a ridiculous name," Mercy counters, running a hand tiredly through his hair as he works off his tennis shoes.
Bentley snorts, unperturbed. "So is Mercy."
Mercy's lips twitch tetchily but he doesn't open his mouth to argue. As he tosses his soiled socks into his empty hamper, he fixes a contemplative gaze on Bentley. He's since returned his attention to his book, seemingly uncaring of Mercy's presence. They aren't friends, per se, but Bentley seems to tolerate his presence in stride and doesn't appear to be afraid of him at all. It's a small thing to take pleasure in, but Mercy finds himself biting back a smile.
His admittance to Aspen University was never a secret to society at large or, more importantly, to the government. He knows the Board of Supers is aware of his presence at the university and he wouldn't put it past Eric Holloway, the distinguished head of the BOS, to have arranged for Bentley to be his roommate. The likelihood that his roommate is spying on him should be worrying, but having a watchdog for a roommate is better than having someone who fears him for reasons beyond his control.
Mercy cracks his neck, dispels those unpleasant thoughts, and bends down to retrieve a warm can of cola from one of the six packs he's hidden underneath his bed. He holds it in his hand for a moment, lets the familiar tingle radiate down his arm, shivering outwards until the can of cola is covered in a thin sheet of ice, chilling the beverage perfectly.
Bentley's watching him indiscreetly from the corner of his eye. Mercy looks at him lazily. "Want one?"
Obviously embarrassed he's been caught staring, Bentley makes a complicated face before begrudgingly nodding his head. "Sure, why not?"
Mercy brushes off the ice and lobs the can at Bentley's head. He catches it, but not before grappling wildly for purchase. Mercy half-smiles, chuckles quietly to himself, and fetches his own cola, chilling it the same way before popping the tab. He takes a long, greedy gulp before letting out a soft, satisfied sigh.
Bentley's still staring at him.
"What?" Mercy asks mildly.
"Frost manipulation, huh," Bentley begins conversationally, hiding his curiosity horrendously.
Mercy lifts a surprised brow. "Yes. You didn't know? It's a matter of public record." All supers are, after all, required by law to register with the government when their ability first presents itself. Not doing so is a direct violation of the law and carries a steep price. It's perhaps the only law his family hasn't broken, with the exception of his brother.
"Yeah, well, not all of us look up our roommates in the national database," Bentley replies, miffed.
Mercy rolls his eyes. "Why bother with the database? My family is notorious enough, surely." He immediately regrets the bitterness that seeps into his words; he's slipping up, letting his mask of indifference crack.
"Uh." Bentley gapes at him like a suffocating fish out of water.
"Quit gaping and close your mouth, you look ridiculous," Mercy tells him crankily.
Bentley does just that, but he's smiling now. "You're not what I was expecting."
"I thought you don't look up your roommates in the national database?" Mercy says, smiling slightly despite himself.
Bentley flushes, sputters with indignity, and very nearly knocks his cola off his nightstand. "Uh—Um—"
"You can stop your sputtering," he says plaintively, tossing his own empty can into a nearby trashcan. "It's natural to be curious." He pauses. "I looked you up."
"I was wondering why our dorm was suspiciously lacking summertime bugs. It seems being able to manipulate insects has its advantages."
Bentley rubs nervously at the back of his neck, now an impressive shade of red. "Yeah, well." He clears his throat, all of a sudden looking shy. "It doesn't bother you?"
Mercy frowns. "Bother me?"
"That I can, you know, control bugs."
"Ah, well, it creeps some people out, I guess."
Mercy levels an impassive gaze on Bentley. "Does it bother you that I'm a Doyle?"
It's Bentley's turn to frown. "Not especially?"
That warms Mercy's heart unexpectedly. "Then there's your answer."
Bentley looks thoughtful, but before he can further the conversation, Mercy rolls over on his bed, turning his back to him. "I'm taking a nap," he says through a yawn. "Good night, Bentley."
There's a beat of silence before Bentley lets out an aggravated sigh. "I told you to call me Buzz, damn it."
The first week on campus passes with a blur, though Mercy does find comfort in the fact his family hasn't felt the need to contact him yet. It's oddly satisfying being away from them after nearly nineteen years of constant exposure.
Mostly, Mercy's thankful Cerberus hasn't made an appearance yet. His gut lurches at the thought of his brother's cruel smiles and empty eyes. His classmates may be wary of him now, but should his brother show up, he'd give them true reason to show fear. Mercy grimaces at the open book before him and plops forward, letting his head thunk against the smooth pages, wishing those thoughts away.
He stays like that for a while, realizing for the first time how exhausted he is. It's near two AM and the library is all but a ghost town. Which is to be expected; it's Saturday, after all. Had he any friends, he'd probably be out partying somewhere instead of stuck in the library with only a history book to keep him company. That particular thought makes Mercy frown against its pages.
His mind is a traitorous self-pitying bastard.
I have Bentley, he thinks morosely. Though, that isn't entirely true. They may have bonded that first night, but his roommate has been suspiciously absent for the rest of the week. He leaves early and returns after Mercy has already turned in for the night. They've hardly had a decent conversation all week. I can't even get my watchdog to speak to me.
Mercy groans into his book just as he hears approaching footsteps.
"Alright, champ, you gotta—," someone starts to say, but they cut themselves off to laugh abruptly, the sound of it surprised and delighted.
Mercy jolts upright, embarrassed. He shifts his body to narrow his eyes and glare at whoever is laughing so obnoxiously at him. He pauses, however, when he's sees it's the guy he'd run into the first day of classes.
David grins, recognition clear on his face. "You're the kid with the funny name."
"Did you mean for that to be a compliment?" Mercy returns scathingly, mood soured.
"Hm," David hums, sauntering closer to Mercy's table. "I certainly didn't mean for it to be an insult." He's giving Mercy an appraising look that makes him feel suddenly shy and on display all at once, which is ridiculous.
Mercy sends David a withering glare before shuffling his things together.
"Shouldn't you be out partying?" David asks, tone light and teasing.
"I don't drink," Mercy snaps, eyebrows twitching with annoyance as he stands abruptly and shifts on his heel to storm past David.
Surprisingly, David reaches out to stop him, warm hand pressing in hotly against his chest. "Easy there, kid, I was just teasing…" he says, trailing off as his gaze catches Mercy's. There's something serious brewing in David's eyes that causes Mercy to swallow thickly. "I don't drink, either," he admits finally, shooting him a crooked smile that Mercy is hard pressed to deny is attractive.
They stay standing like that for a moment, David's hand resting idly on Mercy's chest, tension so thick it could be cut with a knife.
"David, is the third floor clear yet? Some of us would like to go the fuck home tonight," the radio at David's hip crackles, heavy with static.
Something akin to irritation and disappointment flicker across David's face briefly. He uses the hand currently not pressed up against Mercy's chest to fetch the radio from his hip. "I'm walking the last guy out, don't go getting your panties in a twist, Spencer."
Spencer replies immediately. "You're not getting paid to flirt, you fuckwit."
David's lips twitch. "That one's got a mouth on him, you'll have to forgive him," he tells Mercy jokingly.
Mercy takes a step backwards, causing David's hand to slip from his chest. "I can walk myself out," he says quietly.
David's having none of that. "No need to be shy," he teases lightly, stepping around Mercy to snag his backpack off the tabletop. He starts walking off immediately, forcing Mercy to follow after him with loud, harried steps.
"Do you normally steal people's things and force them to walk with you?" he questions, tone biting.
"Nope, you're just a special case," David sing-songs, grinning sideways at Mercy.
Mercy turns away from him, mind swarming with suspicions. First of all: why is David being even remotely nice to him? He'd been quite the hot topic on campus and, by now, everyone knows to avoid him. He glances at David to find he's staring back, face relaxed and amused. "What?" Mercy snaps.
"What are you doing tomorrow?" David asks unexpectedly as he pushes the exit to the library open, stepping out into the humid night air, Mercy two steps behind him.
"That's quite an intrusive question," Mercy bites back, holding out his hand with clear intent. "This is the part where you hand me my backpack, so I can go home."
David smirks. "Hm, not just yet."
"What are you, a child?" Mercy asks irritably. "Or just deaf? Give me. My backpack."
"Neither, actually," David says, tone mischievous. "Have lunch with me tomorrow."
Mercy's response is immediate. "No."
David has the gall to look marginally surprised. He recovers swiftly, however. "I see. Came on too strong, huh," he says, though it appears he's talking more to himself than to Mercy.
Mercy sighs, frustrated. "You phrased it as a demand," he informs him. "Most people ask."
David appears, by all accounts, thoroughly amused by Mercy's antics. "Then, would you like to have lunch with me tomorrow?"
"No," Mercy replies, rejecting him for the second time without so much as a flinch. With that said, he snatches his backpack out of David's grip and turns to stalk off.
"Well damn," he hears David murmur behind him. "See you around then, Mercy," he calls after him.
Mercy ignores him in favor of heading towards his dorm.
Hope you enjoyed. Reviews loved and constructive criticism welcomed. I will update next Sunday. Thanks for reading. :)