Tag Archives: Bloodhound’s Friend

Who Pays the Piper? 3

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I was in class when Lyle called, so I couldn’t just answer; fortunately, my phone was set to vibrate, so nobody noticed. I excused myself as soon as I could, ostensibly to use the restroom, and called him back. I assumed it wasn’t an emergency; I’d told him to text if that was the case, since I could check a text message without anyone noticing regardless of where I was.

“Flicker?” he said.

“Yes, doctor,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Well, it’s not an emergency exactly, but I felt like I should warn you that Kaylee got some bad news. I talked her out of going to the police right away, though! She’s upset, but I convinced her to be patient, at least for now.”

I blinked in confusion, starting to worry. “You still haven’t told me what the actual problem is. What was the bad news she got?”

“Oh, right!” Lyle said. “She, well, she got fired. She was taking sick days, since we were afraid of the…of my former bosses finding her, you remember? So she couldn’t go back to work yet. I convinced her not to go to the police because it’s too late now, her boss probably wouldn’t give her job back anyway, the asshole. And I have enough money to take care of her rent and bills for a while, until we get this sorted out. But…well, she’s still really angry. I, um, don’t know if she’ll be willing to keep waiting too much longer.”

I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. The possibility of something like this happening really should have occurred to us, but it hadn’t; we’d been worried about keeping everyone alive and safe, and leaving town to guard Lyle and Kaylee hadn’t really been an option. If I had gone, or Raquel had gone, it would have taken us away from Berkeleyport, where all the bad guys were, and left Mary without backup at a critical time. With Alena, Lindsay, and Doug now in town, and the new danger to Heavyweight, leaving town seemed like an even worse idea; of the four people in town who I could trust, including myself (but not Leon and Feral, since they couldn’t really move independently of Raquel and I), two were effectively under constant threat. Raquel and I had to be on call to help them if something happened, and that meant we had to be present.

There weren’t many of us, and we were outnumbered. We were basically depending on secrecy to keep us all safe, and we hadn’t had much choice other than to hide Lyle and Kaylee, as well, at least for now. I tried to think of some alternative option that we had failed to consider, but nothing came to mind. If we were the police, or trusted the police fully, Lyle might have been a candidate for the witness protection program or something similar. Maybe if we brought the Philly Five into things more, they would be willing to help us cover all of the bases, but they had their own problems; I’d gathered from something Bloodhound let slip the other night that they were still trying to pick up Collector’s trail, and that was pretty damn important too.

“Flicker?” Lyle said.

I blinked again, realizing that I’d spaced out. “Yeah, I hear you, sorry. Are you two going to be all right for now?”

“Probably?” Lyle said, his tone uncertain. “I just wanted to warn you. I don’t think Kaylee will do anything, but, well, the longer we’re stuck here the more likely it is. And, uh, she’ll probably be really angry the next time you talk to her.”

“Okay, thanks for the heads-up,” I said. “I’ll pass it on.”

“Sure,” Lyle said.

We hung up, and I put away my phone, stashing it in my pocket. It had felt weird, at first, to be carrying around two phones all the time, but I’d grown accustomed to it.

Once again, I feel blindsided by things going wrong in a mundane way instead of a dramatic way,” I noted.

We prioritized life-threatening problems over mundane ones,” Leon replied. “It’s a blind spot, but one that we developed from a sensible approach, at least.

Maybe, but I can’t help noting that doing what we decided – you, me, and Mary – cost someone her job. Heavyweight’s in danger, too. I’m starting to wonder if our methods are the right ones,” I said.

You’re not ‘starting’ to wonder anything,” Leon said. “We’ve been through this before. Something goes wrong, and we feel doubt, then try to make the best plan we can for the situation we have, rinse and repeat. This is unfortunate, but it’s not really significant in a broader sense. It doesn’t change the situation, and it shouldn’t change our approach. Now come on, let’s get to your next class.

I took a deep breath and shrugged off the doubts. Leon was right; they weren’t anything new. I’d been questioning everything since the day I met Raquel, especially after any setbacks.

Right,” I said. “Introspection later, education now.

That night, we had another vision; Leon and I noted that the pace seemed to be accelerating. We were both pleased; the two of us had certainly been eager for more after the end of the previous one. In any case, this one seemed to pick up where the last had left off. Murphy was leading Charlotte, Hector, and David along. They followed her through three heavy doors, each of which had a different security check. The first scanned Murphy’s retinal pattern, the second checked her palm print, and the third required her to enter a combination of letters and numbers into a keypad. After the last door, there were more people waiting inside; guards that I hadn’t seen before. There were five of them in the room, each armed with an automatic weapon, wearing body armor, and looking menacing. One had a dog on a leash. They held the group at gunpoint as the dog sniffed at each person in turn, and only when it was done were we allowed to advance.

This is like a professional course in paranoia,” Leon observed.

Definitely,” I agreed.

Eventually the security checks ended, and Murphy led us to meet someone new. Off of the hallways we passed through, I caught a few brief glimpses of computers and a few gadgets that I didn’t recognize, but which looked suitably high-tech; all together, it made me feel like I’d walked onto the set of a near-future sci-fi movie, where the director had just ordered the set designer to make it look expensive without worrying about the specifics. I lacked the background to make sense of what I was seeing beyond that. There were several multi-monitor setups on the desks that I saw, although none of them were displaying anything when we passed by, not even a desktop screen; the monitors were all turned off, at least in the rooms I could see into.

More security,” Leon guessed. “The three of them are cleared to be back here, but not to see everything, maybe? Good attention to detail, if so.

I didn’t reply, except to register a feeling of agreement. At the same time, there didn’t seem to be many people.

I guess they probably find it difficult to find qualified, trustworthy personnel who will agree not to leave,” I mused.

That would make sense,” Leon said.

It was a short walk, despite my fascination with the newly-revealed wing of the facility, and soon enough Murphy took us into a room where a man waited, sitting down at a table; I realized after a moment that it looked almost the same as the meeting room I’d seen in previous visions, albeit smaller. The chairs were the same type, too. They were probably cheaper in bulk.

“So, these are the new folks?” he said, standing up as we entered.

“Yes, they are,” Murphy said. She moved out of our way. “Hector, Charlotte, David – this is Geoff Worthington. Geoff, these three just got their security clearance upgraded, and they’ve volunteered to try out your teaching skills.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Geoff said. He stepped forward and shook hands with everyone, moving energetically. “I’m excited to have some new faces! We don’t have much opportunity to meet new people, as you can imagine. So, I take it you’ve already got a clear idea of what we do. Should we jump right into it?”

Murphy chuckled. “Breathe for a second, Geoff. It might not hurt to give them a little demonstration, first.”

“Of course, sure,” he said, his grin shrinking to a smile as he stepped back. “Why don’t you sit down, I’ll only need a minute to concentrate.”

We did so, and Geoff returned to his chair. Moments later, he cupped his hands and held them up, holding a small, bright white light in them.

“This was the first trick I learned,” he said, grinning again. “Not too impressive, I know, but a year ago I couldn’t do it.”

As he started to elaborate, I felt a powerful sense of déjà vu. His words were different, and his manner was different, but the explanation was very familiar, with a mix of certainty and uncertainty, an emphasis on danger, and a warning about trial and error.

We need to talk to Bloodhound again,” Leon said, and I agreed. Going by our recollections, the explanation Geoff gave was almost identical to the first lesson Raquel and I had gotten from Bloodhound, functionally speaking. We listened with rapt attention, trying to pick out any differences and see if Geoff had any more details than Bloodhound had offered us since we began learning from him, but he didn’t say much that was new or different. Nothing contradicted what we’d learned already.

When Geoff got around to testing the three of them, it felt like a foregone conclusion, based on what we’d seen before; Hector didn’t seem able to learn anything, but Charlotte and David both managed a flickering, unsteady light on their own after a while. It looked exactly the same as the first thing Bloodhound had taught us as a learning exercise, and I didn’t believe in massive coincidences.

The vision didn’t reveal anything else, but the connections were too numerous to ignore. We sent messages to Raquel and Bloodhound after we woke up, trying to arrange a meeting as soon as we could for a non-emergency situation.

It took a few days to get everyone together. Given how we’d interrupted the Philly Five recently, I didn’t begrudge Bloodhound the time. Leon and I were surprised that the visions didn’t continue before the meeting finally arrived, but it seemed we wouldn’t be getting our answers quite so quickly.

When we did meet, I was surprised to find that Bloodhound had brought someone else along; the friend who’d showed up before to vet Leon and Raquel, and guarantee that they weren’t suppressing us or vice versa.

She stayed back at first. Bloodhound didn’t give us a chance to ask why she had come along, instead explaining as soon as we were close enough to hear him.

“Given what you told me, I thought it would be better to bring her along to consult with us,” Bloodhound said. “Otherwise, I thought I would just end up calling her on the phone and forcing us all to wait for her to get here. If you two don’t want her around, she can leave, but she may know something helpful.”

I glanced at Menagerie, but she only shrugged. Feral was out, in her small form, walking a perimeter around us.

“It’s fine with us,” I said to Bloodhound. He half-turned and beckoned her, waving with one hand. “Is there something we can call her?”

“She doesn’t really have a call-sign the way we do,” Bloodhound said.

“I think I told you guys when we met, I prefer to stay away from the fighting,” she agreed.

I took a second look and tried to think back; we’d only met briefly, and I hadn’t seen her face, but I thought it was the same person Bloodhound had introduced as a friend before. Her voice sounded the same, at least.

“Okay,” I said. “Everyone feel free to grab a seat. I’ve been having some dreams that seem more like visions, or someone else’s memories. It’s a bit of a long story, but I was wondering if you’d experienced anything similar, or if you could help me make sense of what’s happening.”

I laid out everything about the visions: names, descriptions of the places I’d seen and what the people looked like, and any other detail I could think of that might matter. I described them in the order I’d seen them, noting that the events didn’t seem to be perfectly sequential but I wasn’t sure what it meant. By the time I was done explaining what Leon and I had seen and what our attempts to investigate had turned up, my throat was sore and my voice was starting to get a bit hoarse. At the end, I rubbed at my throat and wished I’d thought to bring some water to drink.

Menagerie had heard some of it before, and accordingly was the least surprised. Bloodhound’s friend looked curious, I thought, based on her posture. He seemed tense.

As the silence stretched out, I felt compelled to fill it.

“I don’t know what it means,” I said. “I’m not sure why I’m seeing it, I’m not sure where or when it could be, and basically every time I see a new vision I have new questions. If you can shed any light on this, please do. Other than that, I just wanted someone else to be aware of what’s happening, if only to be prepared in case something happens to me.”

“Sounds freaky,” Bloodhound’s friend commented. “You said the guy you’ve been seeing through has the same name as you?”

“Yes,” I said. “I hope you aren’t offended that I’m not telling you my name,”

“Nah, nothing like that,” she said, waving my concerns away with one hand. “I just feel like that can’t be a coincidence. Um…unless it is. I get that you don’t want to say what it is, but can you tell us if your name is common?”

I hesitated for a moment, deciding how to answer. “It’s pretty common, yes. I don’t know if it’s in the top ten, but it might be, and you probably know at least a few people with my name. So it’s not totally out of the question for that to be a coincidence.”

She shook her head slowly. “Still, though…doesn’t seem like good odds.” She scratched at her chin and her eyes flicked to Bloodhound for a moment before returning to me. “Can you describe how it feels when these visions start, again?”

I did. She drew in a breath to speak again, but Bloodhound preempted her.

“Your companion, Leon, tried to remember his past before, correct?” Bloodhound said. “But it just hurt him.”

“Yeah,” I said. “It hurt him too much to try again. Why?”

Bloodhound shook his head slowly. “Just trying to make sure I’ve got things straight.”

“I’ve heard of something that sounds similar, on the surface,” his friend said. “Someone I know has what I can only call visions. But her description of the experience isn’t quite like what you describe, and they impose a kind of mental strain that can be dangerous. I understand you don’t seem to have control, but you should be as careful as possible.”

“Dangerous how?” I asked.

“The kind of dangerous that renders people insane, or close enough that there’s no noticeable difference,” she said evenly. “I’m not saying you’re going to end up that way, but if I were you and I found a way to turn the visions off, I would probably do it for safety reasons.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said. Leon noted that her advice was as ominous as it was unhelpful. “What about the other aspect of it? The way they were taught was very familiar. I’m guessing you noticed the similarities.”

“It does seem a lot like how I taught both of you,” Bloodhound admitted. “I lifted most of the first few lessons from the way I was instructed, to be honest. Maybe my teacher was tied to what you saw somehow. Unfortunately, he’s no longer around, so we can’t ask him. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to help you investigate all of this, but I can make a few calls, at least, if you’re willing to let me. There are one or two friends of mine who know a bit of magic, and it’s possible one of them has had a similar experience. I wouldn’t tell them anything about you, of course.”

“That’s fine with me,” I said. “Leon and I aren’t sure what to think, but the links popping up are a bit too much to discount, and I didn’t want to risk writing it off as nothing when there was a chance you might have heard of something similar.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have more helpful answers,” Bloodhound apologized. “I may be your teacher, but in some ways I’m still groping blindly as much as you are.”

We spent a while talking things over; they asked me questions, clarifying specifics of what I’d seen and heard, or probing in hopes of learning more, but there were so many questions that Leon and I couldn’t answer. We couldn’t explain why he hadn’t seen the first vision when I had, or what triggered them. In the end, it proved a lot more frustrating than I’d expected, since we ended up rehashing a lot of things that Leon and I had wondered ourselves, but for three other people, all of whom were justifiably curious. Feral barely spoke at all; I didn’t notice until Leon drew my attention to it after the fact, but she had seemed a bit withdrawn.

Eventually, there wasn’t anything more to say, and we went our separate ways. Menagerie and Feral went home, Bloodhound and his friend left, and I headed back to my dorm.

I was worried about getting more bad news, but nothing happened for a couple of days. Heavyweight eventually agreed to hear us out and try to work out a plan for dealing with the situation, and Mary managed to stall in the meantime, so things were looking up.

The next time Mary called and asked to meet us, I thought it was just to check in and update each other on what was happening, but I was disabused of that notion the second I got a look at her face. She looked like she was on the verge of crying; it was the first time I’d seen her look really upset. After the mess when we got Dustin, she’d been angry and worried, but now she just looked crushed.

I started to ask what was wrong, but she just shook her head and told me to wait until Menagerie arrived. She had said that she would be a bit late. I frowned, but let it pass, and we waited for a few minutes in silence. Heavyweight had been invited, but said he couldn’t make it unless it was an emergency.

Leon, what do you think?” I asked.

I see what you see, and we’re thinking the same thing,” Leon said. “I don’t know. I’m confident it’s going to be bad news, but that’s all.

When Menagerie finally got there a few minutes later, she walked in and apologized for keeping us waiting, then stopped suddenly as she noticed the atmosphere.

“What happened?” she asked.

Mary took a deep breath and drew herself up, standing with laborious effort. “We’ve been patient, and we’ve been trying to stretch things out until we can learn more,” she said. “I don’t think we can afford to wait any longer. We need to make our move.”

I was shocked, and immediately started imagining reasons for her change of opinion.

“Does the boss suspect you?” I asked.

Mary shook her head. “No. It’s…you know I was doing what I could to keep Tuggey and Michaels out of things, lying low and not causing trouble? I thought it was working, but it’s not anymore.”

“That’s it?” Menagerie asked, confused.

I realized that Mary was looking past us; we didn’t have her full attention. She was thinking about something.

The bad feeling in my gut got worse.

“Mary,” I said, “tell us what happened.”

She looked up and met my eyes, nodding almost absently. “Right…right. I got word about the two of them today. I thought I had a lid on things, but Tuggey was, he was,” she drew in a shuddering breath before finishing, “Tuggey was getting rid of a pair of bodies. I’m not sure who they were, but from what I heard, they weren’t involved in a big way, or anything. They just got in the way at some point.”

We were all silent. Leon didn’t say anything, but I could tell that we felt the same sense of weight pressing us down.

The quiet lasted for maybe a minute before Mary spoke again. “We can’t wait any more,” she whispered. “I think I can get the boss into the open, at least briefly. Enough to give us a shot at taking him down. I was hoping you guys could call the Philly Five, and ask them to help. Between them, you two, Heavyweight, and me, I think we have a good chance of ending things quickly, without letting it turn into a war in the streets. Maybe we can talk to the FBI too, I don’t know. If it’s the best way to stop the boss, then I think we have to.”

“It’s not your fault,” I said at Leon’s prompting. “You didn’t kill them.”

Mary looked away. “I know,” she said. “But maybe if I hadn’t been so set on keeping things quiet, this would be over already.”

“Maybe,” I said. “Or maybe half of Berkeleyport would be on fire. Anyway, we all agreed, so even if you were right you wouldn’t be the only one responsible. Okay?”

She nodded, but she didn’t look comforted. I hesitated for a second, then stepped forward and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. She tensed up for a moment and then relaxed, head bowing.

“This isn’t on you,” I said. “The only people responsible for murder are the murderers. That’s all there is to it.”

The next time she breathed out, Mary seemed to stand a little straighter. I glanced at Menagerie to see how she was taking things, and found her kneeling and holding on to Feral, who was nuzzling her cheek.

I cleared my throat. “If we can come up with a decent plan, I’m willing to make our move,” I said. “But I don’t want to just get ourselves killed over this, too. It wouldn’t save anyone. You have to know that.”

Mary nodded, and Leon silently agreed.

I gave her shoulder another squeeze before letting go. “I’ll send the Philly Five a message and say that we want to meet. Important but not this second. Okay? We’ll pull in whatever help we can, call in the FBI once we have a handle on the situation, and then hit them fast. You might have to play it cool for a few more days. Can you do that?”

Mary didn’t answer at first, and as the seconds stretched on I wondered if she was considering her answer or if she was thinking about something else entirely.

“I’ll have to avoid Tuggey and Michaels,” she said finally. “I don’t think I can look at them without starting trouble right now. I’ll sit on Alena and the others as long as I can, but I can’t do nothing for much longer, okay? Tell the Philly Five we need to hurry.”

“I will,” I promised. “Just try to play the part a little longer, and then it will all be over. We’ll finish this.”

“Okay,” Mary said.

I drafted my message to the Philly Five on the way home, then spent the rest of the bus ride going over the powers and assets that Mary’s boss had at his disposal, thinking about what we were up against.

We’re going to need all the help we can get,” I said silently.

Yes, we will,” Leon agreed.
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Trust But Verify 1

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Bloodhound and Comet both showed up, with someone else in tow. It was obviously a female figure, which ruled out Newton. It could be Tin Man, or the fifth and final member of their team, who was called “Stalker”. Stalker was a virtual unknown, rarely seen, and there wasn’t much video of her. Stalker had showed up three times that I knew of; some people thought it was someone who wasn’t an original member of the team – they’d been called the Philly Four for a bit before she made her public debut. Secrets aside, people had some idea what the other four could do, but Stalker had never been seen using powers.

Supers seemed to have a thing for secrecy. I would have made fun of it, but I’d spent a lot of time thinking about secrets and lies myself in the last two weeks or so.

Her face was covered, but she was wearing normal clothes, which the team in general didn’t. Leon pointed out that she seemed to walk closer to Bloodhound. It was a subtle distinction that I hadn’t noticed, but I trusted him. Between Bloodhound and Comet, she looked small, but I realized it was how she carried herself more than anything else. Comet was pretty big, of course, but Bloodhound wasn’t much larger than average.

“Hi,” she said. “I don’t have a fancy name that I go by, so I’m afraid this won’t be much of an introduction, but I’m a friend of Bloodhound’s. You can think of me as a consultant on spirit-related stuff.”

Leon and I noticed it at the same time when we suddenly felt a presence –hers, but also separate and attached to her – appear in front of us. I didn’t say anything for a few seconds.

“You’re like us,” I said finally, thinking aloud. “But you were hiding.” I cocked my head to one side. “Can we meet your friend?”

“She’s not real big on talking to strangers, unfortunately,” the woman said. From her voice, I thought she wasn’t much older than me. I glanced at Bloodhound. Could she be his girlfriend, or something?

“When it comes down to it, neither am I,” she went on. “I don’t have a cape handle because I’m not in the business. I stay away from trouble, and it mostly stays away from me. But I hear you have a little spiritual problem, and I owe Bloodhound a solid, so I’m willing to help.”

“Which I appreciate,” he said, interrupting. “We’ll be even after today.”

“Okay,” I said, glancing at Bloodhound before I looked back at her. “And how are you planning to help, exactly?”

“That’s simple enough,” she said. “We’re going to meet your friend Menagerie, surprise her, and yank Feral right out of her. Then we’re going to ask if she was a good little spirit and paid her rent on time, and see if Menagerie wants her back. If she does, that’s that. If she doesn’t, we’ll need to ask why before we figure out what to do next.”

“I don’t know if Feral can survive outside of Menagerie,” I said. “Do you? Because I’m not too big on the idea of spirit murder, or whatever it would be called if there was a law for it. Especially since they seem to get along well, as far as I know.”

“I can’t give any absolute guarantees,” she admitted, “but I know that other spirits can survive on their own for a time even without help. It tends to cost them personality, but we should be able to prevent that between us,” she said, making a gesture that seemed to include me, Comet, Bloodhound, and herself. “Even in the worst case, I don’t think there could be any bad side effects unless we sat around for at least a couple hours. As long as we don’t waste time, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Leon?” I thought, prompting him for his opinion.

Go through with it,” he agreed.

“Okay,” I said. “So how do we do this?”

“Well, there’s just one thing first,” she said.

“What?” I asked.

“This,” Bloodhound replied. Comet was behind me in a second, knocking me to the ground and grabbing hold of my arms. I managed to keep my face from hitting the dirt, but I coughed and blinked as the air left my lungs and I breathed in dust.

When my eyes cleared, Bloodhound was holding his sword.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s not for you. But as long as we’re checking spiritual credentials, we figured we should start with your friend Leon.”

“You’ve got him?” the nameless woman asked Comet.

“He’s not going anywhere,” she replied calmly. I didn’t even bother trying to struggle. She wasn’t hurting me, but I felt like my wrists were being held by a vise, and her foot was on my back. I couldn’t even trip her, since she could fly. That meant that leverage was almost useless, even if I could find some.

“Okay,” the other woman answered, sounding a bit nervous. “I am sorry about that,” she said, looking at me. “It’s really nothing personal toward either of you. If you’re both playing fair, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

I didn’t say anything. It sort of made sense, but I was still pissed off, especially because I could feel Leon’s fear. Sure, they said a spirit could survive on his own, but I couldn’t be certain, and neither could he. Not until after the fact.

She sat cross-legged in front of me, a yard or so away. Bloodhound stood at her side, sword held up in both hands. It made me think of an executioner about to strike, which wasn’t helping me calm down.

The woman in front of me closed her eyes and bowed her head, then looked back at me.

“Okay, buddy,” she murmured. “Have you been naughty or nice?”

I felt a sudden sense of emptiness.

Leon, are you there?” I asked.

Nothing. He was out.

A small part of me felt relieved, and a much larger part of me felt guilty as soon as I’d realized that. I may not have asked for his company, but I didn’t think he’d asked for mine either, and he’d become a real friend.

Part of me had missed having my mind to myself, though. With Leon around, I’d never really had privacy.

“So, you’re Leon,” she said, looking at the air in front of me.

I couldn’t see anything. Remembering what Leon and Bloodhound had managed to teach me, I tried to perceive the world differently, to focus on the magic in it.

There he was – a poorly-defined figure that looked a lot like me, actually. He was turning around, looking in every direction.

“Hey, are you all right?” I asked aloud.

“David?” he answered absently. He was looking at himself, at his hands and body. He didn’t look normal, of course, since he wasn’t physically there, but for those of us who knew what to look for his presence was plain.

I noted that Bloodhound was looking at him; I couldn’t see whether Comet was. I also noticed that Bloodhound’s sword looked different, now that I’d switched to perceiving things the other way. That was strange, but it also made sense – they’d said it wasn’t for me, after all, which meant it could only be for Leon. Apparently he carried that thing around for at least one good reason I’d never suspected. I wondered whether he’d used it on any spirits before.

I was guessing the answer was “yes”.

“So, Leon,” the woman asked, getting his – and my – attention. “You and…Flicker getting along okay? You happy with things the way they are?”

“I would prefer to be independent,” Leon answered. “But unless that is an option, yes, I’m happy to be coexisting with Flicker.”

“Hmm,” she murmured. “How about you?” she asked, turning to me. “You want your…tenant back? Or what?”

I glanced at Leon, but I didn’t hesitate. “He’s welcome,” I said. “Unless he gets a better offer and wants to go.”

Leon laughed a bit at that. “I guess I wasn’t a bad roommate,” he said.

I smiled at him, and I felt Comet’s grip relax a bit.

“Okay then,” the woman said, waving a hand mock-dramatically. “I now pronounce you man and spirit. You may inhabit the host.”

With that she stopped doing whatever she had been doing, and Leon seemed to just slide back into place. The process only took a few seconds, but in those few seconds I felt like something clicked into place and I knew that we trusted each other even more than we had before, now.

Comfy?” I asked.

You should have cleaned this place while I was gone,” Leon joked. “One minute outside your brain and there are dust bunnies everywhere, what the hell.

I laughed out loud and the others looked at me strangely as Comet let me go and helped me up with one hand.

“Uh, sorry,” I said. “Internal dialogue. You had to be there.”

“We’ve been here the whole time,” Comet pointed out, but she sounded amused.

“I meant ‘there’ as in ‘my brain’,” I said. “So, now that that’s done, if you’re satisfied that Leon and I are both on the level, can I ask if you’re planning the same thing for Feral and Menagerie? Because I’d rather not assault a friend, even in a good cause.”

“No, we’re not planning the same thing with them,” Comet said. “We were almost certain about you. We’re more worried about them. They don’t get the kid gloves.”

I wasn’t happy, but I also wasn’t willing to screw up our one chance to surprise Feral by telling her and Menagerie what was coming, and I couldn’t handle the situation on my own. That meant I was stuck doing it their way, however little I liked it.

Menagerie and Feral arrived expecting a lesson with Bloodhound. Instead, Newton turned up the gravity to keep Menagerie from moving, and when she called out Feral, Comet tackled the cat to the ground and restrained her while Bloodhound and his friend explained the score.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m not happy about how we’re doing this, but if either one of you is screwing the other one over we can’t just ask. They checked on me and Leon the same way. Nothing bad happened.”

“You fuckers,” Menagerie said, struggling to crawl out of the increased gravity. “Whatever’s between me and Feral is none of your damn business. I would have thought you would understand!” she added, looking at me.

“Look, if I could know for certain that you two were fine with each other this wouldn’t be necessary,” I said, trying to be logical. Not that defusing anger with logic often works, but it was worth a try.

“Think about it this way,” I said. “If Menagerie is abusing her power, then we can’t ask Feral and expect the real answer under normal circumstances. It’s the same thing if the problem goes the other way. The only way we can know for sure that you two are both all right is to separate you, at least temporarily. If you’re both dealing with us straight, then we could just ask, but if one of you isn’t such a good guy, asking would just tip them off. I know it sucks, but can you please just cooperate? If you do, it’ll be over faster and I can start apologizing.”

Menagerie looked over at Feral. I wondered if she would try letting the cat body evaporate and forming a new one – she seemed to be able to do that at will, which made confining Feral essentially impossible. The fact that the cat could change size just exacerbated the problem.

“Fine,” she said, practically growling. She looked like she was grinding her teeth. “Feral, let’s just play along and get this over with.”

Soon enough Feral’s cat-shape dissolved and she formed into a human figure, much like Leon had. Again, I could only see it when I focused. I noticed that her features looked different from Raquel’s, while Leon had looked a lot like me when we were separated.

“So, Feral, do you want to stick around in her head?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” Feral said. Even with poorly-defined features, she looked like she was glaring.

“And Menagerie, you want to keep sharing your body with the cat lady? If you say no, we can keep her in one piece. She won’t just die right away, or anything.”

“Yeah, I do,” Menagerie said. “Now is that it, or what?”

The woman started to speak, and then stopped, frowning. She looked at the two of them closely, before turning to Feral.

“If she wants you, I won’t stop you from going back,” she said. “Just make sure you two play nice.”

Again, the return took moments. Leon and I were paying close attention; when Feral returned to Menagerie’s body, she seemed to slip into control again, as she had before. Still, she gave it up immediately. I was still a bit uneasy – more about what I’d helped do than anything else – but they’d both had a real choice, and they’d both made it.

The woman was watching too, and she looked even more unhappy than before, but she didn’t say anything else to us.

“Now that I’ve met your friends and gotten on their bad side, I’m going home,” she said to Bloodhound and Comet. “Stay out of trouble.”

She left, and that was that. Time for the fallout.

“I’m pissed off,” Menagerie said, looking at all of us. “Actually, we’re pissed off. I’ll see you all next time, but I’m going home to cool down, ‘cause right now I just want to punch all of you. You could have fucking killed her if you were wrong.”

“Okay,” I said. “I am sorry.” I shrugged. “If I knew another way, I would have tried it.”

“Yeah,” she said, biting the word off. “Fine. Whatever.”

She stalked away.

The three of us who were left stood there for a moment, watching her go.

“That went better than expected,” Comet said once she was gone. “I thought she might actually try to hit me.”

Bloodhound snorted. “She would just hurt her hand, and she’s not that dumb.”

“Maybe,” Comet said. “I wonder about that spirit, though. How sharp do you think her claws can get?”

“Good question,” Bloodhound mused. “I’d be surprised if they cut you, but maybe I’m just too used to seeing you shrug stuff off. Powers don’t all seem to work the way you’d expect…maybe she could cut you.”

I looked at them a bit uncomfortably. They sounded like they were just wondering, but combined with the way we’d ambushed Menagerie and Feral, it was making me look at them a bit differently. They might be good guys, but somehow they seemed less heroic than they had the first time I met them.

I reminded myself that they’d probably saved my life – and Menagerie’s – the first time we met. Still, I had a feeling we wouldn’t end up being friends.

“I’m heading out,” I said. “I guess I’ll see you two around.”

“A bit shocked?” Comet asked. I guess I hadn’t been hard to read.

“Uncomfortable is more like it,” I told her.

She nodded. “That’s fair. Just try to keep in mind that if we seem a bit quick to act, well, it’s because we’ve seen things go bad when people hesitated. I don’t mean to be condescending, but you’re new to all this. Even Menagerie hasn’t seen that much, in comparison. Spirits aren’t our usual thing, but past experience tells me that when we find a possible problem, the best thing to do is handle it as soon and as carefully as possible. That’s all this was.”

“I get that,” I said. “And I even know that it wasn’t about mistrust. I’m the one who brought up the subject, anyway.”

“You’re right, it wasn’t about mistrust,” Bloodhound agreed. “It was about wanting to trust. Menagerie’s done good work here. So has Heavyweight, and so have you, even if you’ve barely started. Consider this: we are arguably the first team to work together like we do, and even if we don’t break the law outright, usually, we still bend it pretty damn far even on the good days. We knew, when we started fighting together, that we might inspire imitators. We figured some of them would be good guys, and some of them might not be. We feel a certain responsibility to try to make sure that the good ones survive, and the bad ones get put out of business.”

“That sounds like you’re talking about us and Blitz,” I said. “Are you still looking for them?”

“Absolutely,” Comet said. “We may not be responsible for their actions, but we let the genie out of the bottle when we started collaborating. One super can be dangerous. A team of them can be a catastrophe. We thought it was worth the risk, and we still do, but that doesn’t mean we’re blind to the consequences.”

“Someone else would have tried it if you didn’t,” I said. “No offense or anything. You guys are a big deal. But I’m not sure you changed history.”

Comet laughed. “You might be surprised. Not all of our fights are on the news, after all. As for making history, well, the records will show that we were around for years before Blitz became public, and they’re the first bad guy team I know about. We thought that would be better than having it the other way around.”

“Did you really think that far ahead?” I asked.

Comet hesitated for a second.

“Yes,” Bloodhound answered. “We have to, whenever possible. You should too. If you start causing massive property damage, it will affect us, Menagerie, Heavyweight, and anyone else on our side. If you save a cop, that will probably help us. Word gets around, and people group us together, even if we’ve never met.”

I nodded, then looked at Comet. “Were you going to say something?”

She seemed to think for a moment. “I have a friend with powers. We both found out what we could do around the same time. When we realized that we weren’t the only ones, she looked at me and said, ‘the world we grew up in just died.’” She chuckled. “Melodramatic, but she had a point. The day someone woke up able to fly, or run on water, or read minds, the world became inherently unfair. And not just a little bit; it’s monumentally unfair. People like us,” she gestured at all three of us, “are going to decide how unfair it gets, for better or worse. There may not be a lot of us yet, but we’ve done some brainstorming. Even without telepaths, I think our odds of taking over the world if we ever all got together would be pretty good. So, we do what we do. We stop some bad guys, help some people, and most importantly we set an example. The real wins aren’t when we beat the crap out of some guy and hand him to the cops. The real wins are when someone else decides that robbing a bank isn’t worth the risk of dealing with us, or decides that it is worth the risks to fight on our side. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying stopping bad guys is worthless. But in the long-term, the indirect effects are bigger.”

“Interesting take on things,” I said. “Do you really think it would be that one-sided if it was supers versus everyone else?”

“No,” Comet said, “but I don’t think we’ll ever see that kind of war. Even if it came down to it, some of the supers would take the side of the majority, and some of the normal people would side with the supers. Nothing is ever that clear-cut. If we recruited every super we could and tried to wipe out vanilla humans, I think we’d lose, if only because most of them wouldn’t sign up. But we could cause a hell of a lot of damage along the way, and trying to take over would be another story entirely. The FBI sees the danger too, from what they said. Sooner or later, some super is going to try to make himself a king. If he’s strong enough, if he can recruit enough other people to help him out, he might be able to make it stick. That’s mainly what I’m afraid of. And in that kind of conflict, there are a million ways he could get normal humans on his side. People do it all the time. A dictator with my powers probably wouldn’t be worse for his people than a regular one, but he’d be harder to take out.”

“So we try to keep them from dreaming big in the first place, then.”

Comet shrugged. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or something like that, I’m not sure I’ve got the expression quite right.”

“All right,” I said. “I hear what you’re saying, I see how it applies to today. And I’m still grateful for the way you bailed us out in the past. I’ll try not to hold today against you guys…but this stuff is still new to me. I hope you understand. I’m not used to that sort of pragmatism, even if you did have a good reason for betraying my trust.”

“You may be glad we did, the next time you have to talk to Menagerie,” Bloodhound said. “She’ll likely forgive you sooner for it.”

With that, the two of them finally left, and Leon and I were alone again.

It had all happened fast, but I had a lot to sort through, between the way I’d felt betrayed and the guilt I’d felt over helping to ambush Menagerie. Even knowing it was all in a good cause, I wasn’t used to using people’s trust in me against them. And my own irritation just made me a hypocrite, given that I’d started it all in motion with the same sort of “it’s for your own good” logic. On top of that, the things Comet and Bloodhound had said were playing in my head. I felt like they had been honest with me, although Comet seemed to hesitate before telling me about her friend. Maybe it was a family member? Or maybe she just wasn’t sure whether to tell me anything personal? It did help me feel like they trusted me.

That might have been why she did it, but I didn’t think it had been a lie either way.

I walked home, wondering if they really did feel responsible for Blitz existing as a group.
Collector seemed to be the center of it, the one who’d brought the others in. He certainly could have gotten the idea from the Philly Five, but the truth was that the idea for a team of supers had existed in fiction before any actual supers showed up. That cat was well out of the bag from the start, I thought.

I wonder if we’ll ever see Bloodhound’s friend again,” Leon wondered. “Somehow I got the sense that she was more than a casual acquaintance. And she seemed very at ease with manipulating spirits. I’d like to find some way to stop her from doing whatever she did.

Agreed,” I said, losing my old train of thought. “If she could yank you at will, someone else might be able to as well. That’s a problem we need to solve, and sooner rather than later. When you came back, it felt like it happened naturally. Was there any effort on your part?

Not really,” Leon answered. “It was like she was pulling me through a door and I stretched, until I only had one foot on the side where I started, but then when she let go I just snapped back into place. It didn’t even hurt, really. I could feel the difference, but it wasn’t painful.

That’s what I thought,” I said. “When you were gone, I could tell, but when you came back it felt natural. Like settling my weight into a chair or something, you know?

Yes, something like that,” Leon agreed. “I think our link changed, as well. I actually feel more comfortable here than I used to.

I wondered if that was just me,” I admitted. “I think you’re a bit easier to hear now.

We should try to test things out sometime,” Leon said. “Maybe with Menagerie and Feral around as spotters? See if I can leave and come back at will. It could be educational. I’d like to know just what I’m capable of.

That could work,” I said. “And it would be nice to show that we trust them after today. Maybe with their help we can figure out how to keep you in here if someone else comes along and starts pulling.

My thoughts were on Collector just then. He’d learned healing by watching my healing, and he’d stolen other tricks like that from other people. I wondered whether he might want to try stealing Leon. If he could control him, it might be worthwhile for him to do it. Having Leon with me had some definite advantages, if only in terms of improving my ability to multitask. In the recent fighting, we’d found that he could use my peripheral vision while I focused on what was in front of me, and he’d warned me about trouble that way more than once. Even if he couldn’t do anything else, that alone was a significant edge, and Collector seemed like the sort of guy who wanted every edge he could get.

Leon could tell what I was thinking, approximately at least. “You think he’ll be back one of these days,” he said.

Yeah, I do,” I said. “He didn’t kill me because he wanted all of our powers. That’s got to be why he wanted us and Menagerie and Feral. Sooner or later he’ll make another run at us, somehow. And they saw my face. It’s still a whole city to find me in, but it’s not impossible. Just really damn hard. I think he’ll come back, with his whole crew, and I think if we’re not ready he’ll grab us, learn everything we know, and then cut my throat. Whether you’d die or get taken, I don’t know.

We were both quiet for a while.

Well, I guess we’d better make damn sure we’re ready,” Leon said. “You want to try to step up our practice schedule? Find some way to train more?

I think so, yeah,” I said. “Not sure how exactly, yet. Let’s both brainstorm overnight, then compare notes tomorrow.
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