Tag Archives: Tanya

You Can Choose Your Friends 5

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I had felt a little twinge of warning in my stomach when Tanya pulled me aside after our little group hangout split up, possibly because of the way she’d glanced at me before telling Alexis that she would catch up with her in a minute. Apparently my gut was smarter than my brain, because it had picked up on the warning signs and I’d written them off as nothing.

It hadn’t occurred to me that she might ask me out on a date.

Tanya was looking at me expectantly, and I was staring at her mute, like a dear in the headlights, trying to respond without stumbling over my words.

“Uh – I don’t think – I mean, no, sorry,” I said haltingly. “I like you, but I don’t want to go out.”

I was wincing inside. There’s no good way to say ‘I just want to be friends,’ but I was confident I’d just found one of the many bad ways to say it.

“Oh,” Tanya said, her face falling. “Okay.”

She stared at me, clearly not sure what to say next.

I started to reach out with one hand and thought better of it. “I’m flattered,” I said, managing to find my tongue at last. “Really. I’m just not looking for someone right now.”

I held another wince. That sounded too close to ‘it’s not you, it’s me,’ another cliché.

“Sure,” Tanya said with a nod. I hoped that would help her feel a little better.

“Excuse me,” she said, turning to walk away.

I let her head back to her room, my good mood evaporating as I went back to mine. I’d never had occasion to reject a friend before. Seeing the look on her face hadn’t felt nice. I hoped it wouldn’t cause drama and break up our little group.

Alexis will help her get over it,” Leon said. “I’m sure it will be fine, given a little time.

Yeah, I hope so,” I said. “As long as Alexis doesn’t skewer me. She’s pretty protective towards Tanya, and I’m pretty sure I just made her shit list.

You’re borrowing trouble again,” Leon said. “Relax.

I gave Tanya another glance over my shoulder, and looked away when she started to glance back at me, retreating into my room and closing the door behind me. I flopped onto my bed and sighed, trying to let it go. “You know, I was in a good mood pretty much all day. I’m sure she was too. I wish we hadn’t had to ruin it.

Out of curiosity, did you have another reason for turning her down?” Leon asked.

I rolled onto my back, putting my hands behind my head and staring at the ceiling. “Do I need one?” I asked rhetorically. “Yes. Don’t get me wrong, she’s nice and she’s pretty, but I don’t think this is a good time to start dating anyone. With all the stuff that’s going on? I’d like to wrap up our current problems first, get Mary’s boss dealt with and the Jamesons back to their lives. Especially since there’s a non-zero chance that Mary’s boss will end up killing us, given how afraid of him she is and why.

If that wasn’t going on, would you have given it a shot?” Leon asked.

Maybe,” I admitted. “I like her, and not to sound shallow but she looks nice too. I’m not sure.

Anything else?” Leon asked.

Just come out and say it,” I told him. “You’ve clearly got something on your mind.

At the risk of sounding self-centered, I’m wondering if you might have turned her down in part because of me,” Leon said.

I hesitated for a second, and he read it the right way.

So, I’m correct,” he said.

I rolled my shoulders uncomfortably. “Look, the other reasons are true too. It’s not just you.

But they are temporary, and I am not, necessarily,” Leon said. “I think it’s something we’ll have to address sooner or later.

We’re a package deal,” I said. “It’s not that complicated.

Bullshit,” Leon said. “I think it’s fair to say that it is pretty complicated. Be honest. Would you be comfortable dating any girl as long as I’m in here?

Do we have to have this conversation now?” I asked.

Is putting it off going to help somehow?” Leon said.

Probably not,” I admitted. “But I’d still prefer to. Look, you want me to get blunt? I’ll get blunt. I’m not going to date anyone who doesn’t know about you. That’s off the table entirely, for obvious reasons which I will not go into at length, okay? As for dating anyone at all, that’s iffy at best. Two’s company, but three’s a crowd, as they say. I haven’t discussed it because I haven’t figured out what to do about it yet. Maybe one day we’ll figure out how to get you your own body, if you want that. But for now, kicking you out would kill you, and I don’t want that. I actually like having you around.

That’s nice, but it’s your life that I’m borrowing part of,” Leon said. “I don’t want to be cutting you off from other people.

You’re not cutting me off from anything,” I said. “I’ve got plenty of friends, including you. I wouldn’t have met Raquel and Feral without you, either, among others, and I’m glad I did. Even taking into account the increased likelihood that I’ll get splattered by a super-punch one of these days. So don’t go blaming yourself for anything, all right? That’s why I wanted to put this conversation off until I had a solution in mind.

You can’t blame me for feeling partially responsible,” Leon said.

Oh, shut up,” I said. “I can if I want to. Look, I’d still feel weird about it even if you weren’t around. I’ve got a lot of secrets, these days. Dating someone who doesn’t know any of them would feel off. It’s dishonest on a level I’ve never had to deal with or think about before. If I had powers but not you, I would have given her the same answer, okay? You being around doesn’t screw up my life. Maybe the reverse. Despite my doubts and misgivings, I think we’ve done some good, and if you weren’t here Collector might have killed Raquel the day we met. Personally, I’m glad that hasn’t happened.

That doesn’t have anything to do with this,” Leon said.

It doesn’t matter either way,” I said. “Come on, Leon. We’ve got a good thing going. It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is. One day we might split, if we figure out a way for you to survive it. Until then, you’re still not responsible for my choices just because you’re renting my real estate. I know what I’m doing and why, and that’s all any of us can get in the end.

I lay back, trying to relax physically.

All right, I suppose I’ll just have to take your word for it,” Leon said.

Since ‘it’ is my own damn opinion, that’s an affirmative,” I said. “It’s not like someone else has inside info.

Other than me, you mean?” Leon asked.

I smiled. “Poor word choice, but you know what I mean. Your info isn’t more inside than mine, is the point.

Point taken,” Leon conceded.

Tanya started avoiding me, I found, and that went for Alexis too. I tried not to read into it; despite what I’d said to Leon before, I figured Alexis was just keeping Tanya company and trying to cheer her up. She’d looked like she was taking it hard when I turned her down. I tried to steer clear for a bit, to give her some space to get over it. Hopefully things would return to normal soon, or close enough.

That left me without much to do during my free time, though. Shawn and Liz were off together, spending time as a couple before they got separated over the holidays. I had other friends, but they weren’t as close, and they all seemed pretty busy too.

With nothing else going on, and mindful of the looming issue of Mary’s boss, Leon and I doubled down on practicing our skills, trying to stretch them as much as possible. We attempted to do a lot of different things with magic, most of which failed. Fortunately, the only one that blew up in our face was an attempt to control a small flame.

Unfortunately, it blew up in my face rather literally, which hurt like hell for a few minutes until we finished healing the damage. I hadn’t been planning to throw fireballs around, but it looked like even my more modest ambition was going to have to be written off. I was nervous that someone would notice my eyebrows were singed off, or that my hair was shorter; the latter problem was easily fixed by going for a haircut, at least, but I ended up just shrugging at the former. Upon further reflection, Leon and I weren’t worried enough to devote time to figuring out how to control the speed at which my eyebrows grew back. We gave it a quick try just in case it turned out to be easy, but when it didn’t work we moved on. I figured that nobody would be inspecting me that closely.

It wasn’t all bad news, though. I put the minor disaster out of my mind as I looked into a full-length mirror and failed to see myself reflected in it. There was still that little patch of distortion, still noticeable around my feet, but other than that I had become completely invisible, and this time I had extended the effect to my backpack. The extra effort wasn’t too much of a strain, now that I’d worked out how to get it done, and it meant that I could sneak around while wearing thick clothing or hauling stuff with me, which was nice. I hoped to find a way to extend the effect to another person, but so far I wasn’t anywhere near skilled enough. I extended my right arm all the way out in front, pointing at my reflection with a finger, then tried extending my limbs in various directions; they stayed hidden. When I had tried holding up a stick, though, using it to point, most of it remained outside the area I was affecting, and I could see it with or without the mirror. I pulled out my ruler – I’d had to go buy one for the occasion – and held it out instead of the stick, looking down to see where it became visible.

Less than two inches hidden,” Leon commented.

I took a deep breath and focused, trying to push the effect further along the ruler and outward from myself; it grew increasingly difficult to hold, and I soon lost it. I managed to hold onto enough to keep myself invisible, but my backpack reappeared behind me, apparently hanging in midair. The straps were mostly hidden, but the pack was painfully obvious.

I sighed, putting down the ruler.

It seems like we can’t extend it very far if we go in every direction at once,” I said, disappointed. “Maybe we could hide someone else if they’re small and right next to us, but I doubt it. And if we’re ever carrying anything bulkier than my bookbag, I don’t think it’s going to work at all.

Try strapping the backpack on the other way around, on your chest,” Leon suggested. “Let’s make sure that works too.

Sure,” I said, following the suggestion. I let the invisibility (or was that camouflage?) fade as I did so, then reproduced the effect once I was done. It took a few seconds to get it right, but I managed to hide the bag again, without much more difficulty.

With that done, I took the bag off and put it down before grabbing the ruler again. “Let’s try something else.

Ignoring everything else and without the backpack, I held the ruler out, like before, and tried to extend my invisibility to cover it specifically, rather than the whole area around myself.

That worked a little better. I only managed to hide about half of it, though, which convinced me that distance from my body was a big factor, not just the size of the area I was attempting to hide from sight.

We kept at it for hours, testing and pushing until we were both exhausted. Over the next few days, we tried to hide better, we tried to shrink distance more while on the move, and we tried to add color while creating a small light. I didn’t have much success improving my movement powers, and attempts to drag something with me kept failing. When we moved onto light, though, it was another story.

We managed to create light in a vibrant red color, finally, and after that it was like we’d broken through a wall. Practicing in the dark, I soon found that I could generate light in various colors, and it only cost me a bit more power than just plain white light of the sort I’d get from a flashlight or lamp. Making more than one color at a time was another story, but I couldn’t think of any reason I’d actually need to do that.

Do you really think we’ll ever want to make a green light, either?” Leon asked pointedly.

We might, yeah,” I said. “I can’t think of a specific reason off the top of my head, but it could be helpful. Anyway, it’s fun. I think we’re still allowed to have fun.

Fair enough,” Leon said. “Still, I’d like to spend some time on something other than magic, if you don’t mind. I know the time we’ve been putting in is worthwhile, but I’m starting to feel burned out on this.

Do you have something specific in mind?” I asked.

No,” Leon said. “I just want a break. We haven’t talked to anyone much, except in class and at meals, and we’ve been spending all of our free time on work. Can we please relax? See a movie or something?

I guess, yeah,” I conceded. I had been pushing pretty hard, partly out of a desire to be ready and partly to avoid thinking about my worries, both the mundane ones and those involving powers.

I looked up the convenient theaters to see what was showing, and within a few minutes we had picked a movie and left my room, heading out.

A few days later, I’d had an awkward dinner with Tanya and Alexis, which seemed to be Alexis’ idea, and I was optimistic that we’d get things back to normal eventually, but I was still feeling vaguely lonely and bored. Tanya clearly felt a bit hurt, still, even if she wasn’t saying it. I almost apologized, but Leon pointed out that she likely wouldn’t appreciate my doing so in public, and reminded me that I hadn’t actually done anything wrong in the first place. I hadn’t been totally tactful, but that wasn’t some awful, terrible crime.

I tried to put it behind me and enjoy the quiet, reminding myself that “busy” had often equated to “in life-threatening danger” recently, but apparently my brain was either malfunctioning or just not up to code in the first place, because getting back to my normal life wasn’t a welcome relief anymore. Playing video games, reading, and sitting around was still relaxing and fun, but I felt less engaged in all of it, even after I’d had some time to get back into the routine. Trying to expand my powers with Leon was interesting, but it was also hard work, and I couldn’t do it all the time.

Finally, it occurred to me that I could get my Christmas shopping done, rather than waiting until the last minute the way I traditionally did. Starting in the first week of December was pretty unprecedented. With that in mind, I headed out to the nearby mall, figuring I’d begin there.

I tried to mentally review the ideas I’d come up with so far. Shopping for gifts for my parents was always difficult, and the last time I’d spoken to them I hadn’t thought of asking them for ideas of what to get each other, so I was on my own for the day. Beyond them, the only people I needed to get gifts for were Shawn, who was a close friend at that point, and my cousin Billy; I’d drawn her name in the family lottery.

Shawn should be the easiest, I thought. I’d get him a movie or two, or maybe a season of a show he liked. The mall had a Best Buy, and I should be able to find something there. My mom would be happy with earrings or books. Thinking back to something she’d said on the phone, I thought she needed a new winter coat and boots, too, so those were possibilities.

As for my dad, books were always an option for him, too. I wasn’t sure about practical stuff. I’d try looking for some music, probably classical or jazz; if I spotted something that looked good I could try calling mom and then ask her to make sure he didn’t have it yet.

The tough one was Billy. She was pretty close to my age, but I hadn’t seen her for a while, so I didn’t have a strong sense of what she was interested in these days. We got along well, but only saw each other around the holidays, for the most part. Maybe I could call her parents for suggestions? If I got really lost, I could always just call her, but that felt too much like giving up.

I was still mulling my list over when I got off the bus at the mall, and I was absorbed enough in my thoughts that I almost wandered in front of a car – not my brightest moment. The driver honked, and I sprinted across the parking lot and into the mall, feeling dumb.

I wandered the place for most of an hour, finally going to Best Buy in frustration. I hadn’t come up with anything for my parents, and Billy’s parents hadn’t picked up. I decided to just get something for Shawn and go home. I’d try calling again tomorrow, figure out what I was going to buy, and then give it another shot. Every year, I forgot how much I hated Christmas shopping. I always obsessed over gift ideas, having second thoughts and then waffling back and forth until I just bought something to end it. That was the reason I put off shopping in the first place. Giving gifts was nice, but picking them was another story.

When I was finished, I went home feeling frustrated with my lack of success.

Leon’s presence was still in the back of my mind, as always, but he hadn’t had much to contribute, so we hadn’t really talked much. Despite that, I had felt a pretty clear sense of his opinion whenever I stopped to look at something. It seemed like his attitude and emotions were coming through more clearly than when we’d first met.

I got an email from Raquel on the way back. No subject line, and when I opened it all I saw was a link.

The link sent me to a video which I quickly realized was showing Meteor fighting another woman with powers. I assumed it was Meteor, at least; with only the colors of their outfits to go by, there wasn’t any way for me to really differentiate Meteor and Comet unless they talked to me, and the video quality wasn’t good enough for me to make a guess based on height and build. Regardless, it was a short fight. I didn’t get a great look at Meteor’s opponent, but she seemed to manifest a pair of giant hands in midair, using them as weapons. Meteor was fast enough and tough enough that she dodged most of the blows, and when I watched the video a second time I realized that she was letting herself get hit a few times because there were people behind her. Finally, she moved out of frame for a few seconds and then came back, flying through a window and tackling her opponent to the ground, then grabbing her and flying up into the air.

When they came back down a minute later, the other woman surrendered to the police and Meteor flew out of view.

She must have been pretty convincing,” I said.

My guess is that she threatened to drop her,” Leon said. “I don’t know if she would have, but that’s the most obvious reason to fly the enemy up like that. And I agree, she must have been persuasive.

In the last few seconds of the video, the opponent-turned prisoner looked up before the police put her in the back of a car.

Where was this?” Leon asked.

I looked again. The video title didn’t say, but a quick glance at the comments revealed the scrap had taken place in New York.

I would think the FBI would be able to respond pretty quickly there,” I said.

They probably can, but Meteor and Comet have an advantage in terms of response time, after all,” Leon said. “They might well have been present. If it was a running fight, then she might simply have gotten ahead of them.

True,” I said, still looking at the comments. “Well, at least it was nothing like the Philadelphia battle. No fatalities, if the person who posted this knows what they’re talking about. Let’s see if we can learn more.

We didn’t find out much about what had happened until later; the story was too fresh when Raquel pointed us to the video, but details were released the next day. The woman apparently had a broken arm and bruised ribs when she surrendered, and was accusing Meteor of attacking her. No one was taking her claims very seriously, despite her injuries, because everyone else who had been present when the fight started agreed that Meteor hadn’t even been there at the time. In fact, she’d arrived only after the woman had assaulted two police officers who arrived on the scene of the call that had set off the whole mess, which had been a report of noise and vandalism. She’d been using her powers to destroy someone’s car – it wasn’t clear to me whether the owner was a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or something else – but she apparently hadn’t been very discreet about it.

We’re lucky her lies are so transparent in this case,” Leon said. “I wonder how long it will take for someone acting as a super hero to be believably accused of a crime?

Technically, we’ve already committed a few crimes,” I pointed out. “Although as I understand it, Meteor probably didn’t do anything wrong except maybe leave the scene without even making a statement. There’s no rule against defending other people who are attacked, after all.

When I said ‘believably accused,’ I meant in the public eye,” Leon clarified.

I hear you. It probably won’t take too long, especially if more people start taking action like Meteor – or like us, for that matter. Someone is bound to go too far at some point, if only by accident.

 Am I right in thinking that prosecutors don’t have to advance any case they don’t want to?” Leon asked.

I think so,” I said uncertainly. “I mean, there’s always the possibility of pressure from the community, or the police, or the mayor, or anyone in a position of influence. But I don’t think anyone can force them to prosecute a case if they don’t want to. Why?

Just considering the ins and outs of our lifestyle,” Leon said. “The logical conclusion of this is that popularity with the local populace may influence how much someone like us can get away with.

That goes for anyone, to an extent, though,” I said. “I mean, we ignore personal shit that politicians do if we like them enough. Sometimes people even ignore blatant corruption. I’m not saying that’s great, but I don’t think you and I have any particular advantage in that regard, you know?

Probably,” Leon agreed. “As I said, I’m just thinking it over. Considering hypotheticals. How angry do you think people would get if the police tried to prosecute the Philly Five, for example?

I raised my eyebrows involuntarily. There was no one there to see it, but Leon could feel me doing it, so it had the same effect, I supposed. “People would be pissed, I’d expect,” I said. “They’re popular, they’re winners, they’re local, regional, and maybe even national heroes, and they would have to do something wrong where everyone could see it. Can you imagine trying to pick a jury for that trial? You couldn’t even hold it in Pennsylvania, let alone Philadelphia, without packing the jury with fans. I don’t think anyone else has quite so much reputation to trade on. Raquel might come close, around here, I guess. The way she saved Dustin the first time was extremely public, after all. Not to mention the other stuff. You and I are a bit more under the radar, but I imagine there are rumors floating around about us too. I’d bet that they’re mostly positive, locally, even if the FBI is wary of us.

You’re probably correct,” Leon said. “All of which makes me wonder what’s going to happen if and when the government tries to shut down vigilante efforts like ours.

I rolled my shoulders, glancing around. I was sitting in a chair in one of the more public parts of the library, close to the front desk, with my laptop on my knees. I glanced at the girl sitting behind the desk, and the students scattered around the room.

I wonder what they think of all this stuff,” I said. “Is Raquel popular with them? I feel like it would be tough to live here without knowing about her at least vaguely, and most people probably see her as a hero.

I agree with them,” Leon said.

I smiled. “Me too. I think you’re right that the status quo won’t last forever, though. Turner practically told us as much. But it is a thorny problem. I wonder if the FBI might try to bring some of us on board, somehow. Recruiting the Philly Five could be a major PR coup, if they could find a way. It would retroactively condone everything they’d done in the past, which might be a sticky point, but I don’t think they’ve ever gotten caught breaking laws, really. Maybe some minor stuff. Misdemeanors. But that’s probably not bad enough to cancel out the advantages, right?

Definitely not,” Leon said. “Some people might object to recruiting the Philly Five, of course, but they’re so popular I can’t imagine anyone in politics objecting too loudly. Maybe someone affiliated with the police, but I think the local cops like them. After what happened with Blitz, they may even love them, unless they blame them for the group showing up in the first place.

If it were me,” I mused, “I would probably get them to agree to some community service or something. If I had them for misdemeanors, I mean. That way no one could say I was ignoring their past completely, but I could still take the credit for signing them up. What do you think?

It has possibilities,” Leon said. “I can definitely imagine a world where that happens, from a government perspective. I doubt the Philly Five would go for it, though. They expressed concern about the idea of a government monopoly on powers.

Yeah, but there’s a difference between the government saying ‘no vigilantes’ and the government conscripting people with powers,” I said. “In the long run, we have to go down that middle route, right? Otherwise, doesn’t the idea of a law-bound society juts get left behind?

What are we, then?” Leon said.

I’m remembering when we talked to Bloodhound and Comet, a while back,” I said. “I think we’re a stopgap, really. I think we’re here to smooth the transition. To make sure it isn’t too rough, and keep society afloat while it adjusts. Like patching a boat’s hull while you work on repairing it. The patch might not be pretty, but you still need it to keep the water out while you’re figuring out the long-term solution.

Sometimes patches are permanent, you know,” Leon said. “I’m not sure your analogy works quite the way you intend it. I mean, people patch sleeves all the time, and leave them that way, or paint over cracks in a wall.

Yeah, well society isn’t a freaking boat, either,” I said dryly. “Or if it is, it’s one that we’re constantly redesigning and rebuilding while we sail it, which…makes no sense. You knew what I meant.

True,” Leon conceded.

I watched my fellow students for a minute, reflecting that things had changed a lot for me in a few months. With the exception of the people I was already friends with, I felt very separate from all of them.

I shook my head. “I hope we finish all this crap soon, and we can get back to a normal routine without the crime boss of Damocles hanging over our heads.
 
 
 
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If At First You Don’t Succeed 6

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Hey, we’re here!” I called. “I hope we’re not too early.” The trip hadn’t taken quite as long as I’d expected.

Hey, David,” Raquel replied. “Thanks for coming. Leon, hi.”

“David, Leon, it is good to hear you both again,” Feral said. “Are you well?

We’re all right,” Leon responded. “A bit fatigued, but that’s all.” The two of us had agreed, after brief discussion, that we should see what they had to say before mentioning the new weirdness of my odd dream, or whatever it had been. We didn’t want to sidetrack things when Raquel and Feral needed somebody to talk to.

Raquel opened the door before I could knock. “Come on in,” she said.

I nodded, following her in. I wiped my feet, hesitated for a second, then shrugged and kicked off my shoes, pushing them over by the others I saw near the door. When I looked up, I saw Raquel’s mother, Carmen, in the kitchen.

“Thanks for having me,” I said a bit awkwardly.

She smiled, giving me a little wave. “David! It’s good to see you again. Come in, get comfortable. Do you want something to drink? Water or soda? It’s going to be a little while before I’m done cooking.” She looked almost the same as on my last visit, when I’d met her. I had my wits a bit more about me than before, though, and I could tell that she looked tired, but I didn’t think that was new. I just hadn’t noticed it when we first met. There were faint circles under her eyes, and she had the look of someone who has spent years working very hard. Her hands were worn, and her skin looked tough. Before, I’d thought she was a bit old to be Raquel’s mother, but Leon had suggested that she was younger than she looked, and I could see it now. Her hair was in a bun, presumably so it wouldn’t get in the way while she cooked.

“I’m fine, thanks,” I said.

“All right,” she said. “Go ahead, then.”

Raquel and I headed for the living room. I sat on the end of the sofa by the back wall, and she took the opposite side, turning toward me; as soon as her back was to her mother, her expression dissolved, turning from polite cheerfulness to something completely different. The brief glimpse I caught of her face made her look empty. Her head hung forward, looking down at the ground, and I grimaced as I realized she didn’t want to meet my eyes.

That wasn’t a great sign.

So,” I said, “how are you two?

Raquel has been miserable all day,” Feral said.

And you?” I asked.

I am troubled,” Feral admitted. “I’m not certain how to deal with what happened. I don’t mind killing if it’s justified, but we didn’t know anything about most of the people there last night. Regardless, our actions endangered Dustin, and put his recovery in jeopardy. If you hadn’t been able to improvise so effectively, then we probably would have either failed to retrieve the boy, or done so by killing all of those guarding him.

As Feral spoke, Raquel’s hands clenched into fists.

How can you be okay with killing?” Raquel asked. Normally, I couldn’t get much from either her or Feral in terms of emotion when we spoke silently, unlike Leon, but even I could feel her fear and disgust.

Leon and I tried to figure out what to say, but Feral replied first.

Is it the killing itself that bothered you, or how it happened?” Feral asked.

BOTH!” Raquel screamed angrily. “You just locked me up, took over, and then tore his throat out! How could I be okay with that? How can you be remotely okay with that?”

“Raquel, I have apologized for taking control,” Feral said. “I have apologized repeatedly, and you know I meant it. The rage we felt, it seemed natural at the time. That anger came from both of us, and I just…slid into control. I didn’t try to suppress you, you know that. I didn’t decide to do it, or make an effort. It just happened.

Hang on,” I said, breaking in. “Are you guys just talking about this now?

They were both quiet for a moment.

I had school,” Raquel said. “There wasn’t time to talk about it before.

We have not spoken since waking,” Feral said. “I thought Raquel would appreciate some privacy.

Damn.

Look, I can’t say I’ve been in the same position as either of you, but I really doubt ignoring each other is going to help anything,” I said.

No, you really haven’t been in our position!” Raquel said. She looked up at me, meeting my eyes, her face twisted with anger. “You don’t get it because you wound up with a polite guy that’s happy if you let him out to eat every once in a while, and I got the psycho who thinks killing people is perfectly okay! And she can do it anytime she wants, and I can’t stop her!

I glanced over Raquel’s shoulder at Carmen, confirming that she wasn’t looking, then met her eyes. “Raquel, calm down. I don’t think Feral’s ‘psycho’, and I don’t think she’s worse than Leon.” I almost started to say something about whether killing was always unjustified, but thought better of it. That was something to debate rationally, and this wasn’t a rationally-debating kind of moment. Besides, my own feelings were pretty mixed up on that score.

If you truly wish me to leave, I will,” Feral said. “Just say so. I have no desire to exist as an unwanted parasite!

Calm down, both of you!” Leon interjected. “This has gotten completely out of hand. Raquel, has Feral done anything wrong other than last night? It wasn’t that long ago you were defending her to the Philly Five. Feral, you should remember that as well.

Look, Raquel,” I said. “I know we don’t have proof, but I genuinely believe Michaels must have done something to you guys last night. From my perspective, things were going pretty well and then Feral seemed to flip out. She’s never done that before, and we’ve been in mortal danger more than once. We know Michaels manipulates emotions. I think he tried something on her, or both of you, and it backfired the worst way it could. Otherwise, I have no explanation. I don’t think either of you is psycho, but whatever happened definitely affected you both.

The silence got awkward again.

If you guys haven’t spoken, I assume your mom has no idea what happened last night?

None,” Raquel said, the word heavy with something I thought was shame. “She just knows that something went wrong, but none of us were hurt. I think she wanted to try to talk me into giving this up, but she stopped herself.

I didn’t understand their relationship well enough to read between those lines, but I could sympathize with Raquel’s keeping the secret. Even if her mother knew about Feral, the difference between talking to Feral and talking to Raquel wasn’t obvious or provable. It might be hard for her to believe that Feral was really another person. And if that was the case, hearing the story would be even more horrifying than if she did understand. In her position, I wouldn’t want to explain it either.

Look, you’ve been doing the super hero thing for a while, now,” I said. “For months. What are the odds Feral could have hidden being a psycho for that long? If either of you was just going to freak out on your own, it would have happened by now. It didn’t. It happened for some reason, and Michaels is the one I’m betting on.

It was lucky I had my feelings under control, and that neither of them was in a position to tell that I was exaggerating my certainty so much. I wanted to believe that Michaels had done something to set Feral off, but she’d showed anger once or twice before, and Raquel had certainly seemed pissed ever since Michaels grabbed Dustin. The mere fact that “Feral” had picked that particular word for her name made me feel less confident and more worried. It might seem stupid of me, but she had chosen the name for herself, and I couldn’t help wondering if it was significant. If she’d decided to call herself Susan or Mary Lou or something, well, it wouldn’t have the same connotations, but “Feral” wasn’t a name that said “mental stability” or “respects the sanctity of life”, or anything else reassuring.

Still, my interpretation of events could add up. Michaels hadn’t tried anything on Leon or myself, as far as we knew, and if he’d done anything to Heavyweight we’d missed it, but Feral had been the first one into the house. If he’d tried to do something and set her off by accident, the results might have convinced him not to try the same thing on the rest of us.

You’ve seen people get hurt before, and you’ve been in dangerous situations before,” I continued. “Blitz had us on the run, and neither of you lost it then, even when it was seven against two. So either something made you lose control last night, or it happened on its own. And I just don’t think option two makes sense.

Are you sure?” Raquel asked.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I said quietly. “If I thought you were dangerous like that, I wouldn’t have just left you here with your mom last night. I would have tried to do something to make sure you didn’t attack anyone. I didn’t do that, because it didn’t need to be done.”

Another half-truth. It was easier to lie aloud than silently; I had years of practice speaking, and everyone lies now and then. I hoped hearing me say it out loud would be reassuring, as well, giving the words more weight by making them real.

“Okay,” she said quietly. She visibly took a deep breath and let it out.

I waited for a second, then leaned back, breathing a quiet sigh of relief. From the way she was sitting and the way her eyes were going out of focus, looking at nothing, I guessed she was talking with Feral some more. I’d nearly given myself away a few times after Leon first arrived by spacing out in public places, before I got used to talking to him discreetly. Usually the trick was just to have a book or screen or something in front of me, but that wasn’t always possible, so I’d learned to be less obvious about it.

What do you think?” I asked Leon privately.

I don’t know,” he answered. “I hope it’s enough, but I’m worried. Something seems different about them.

Other than the lack of trust?” I asked.

Yes. Here, look at them the way I see them.

I let Leon show me what he saw. My normal sight was unchanged, but just like during our practice with Bloodhound and a few attempts since, I could see Feral overlapping Raquel in her body, making her look different from her mother or any other normal person.

I can’t see anything different, but I don’t always see like this,” I said. “What is it?

The connection between them seems a bit thinner,” Leon said. “I could be wrong, but I noticed the difference after we rescued Dustin, and it worries me. It could be a result of their disagreement, or a contributing factor, for all I know. It might be because of something Michaels did, or it could be entirely unrelated to last night.

I thought I felt a trace of fear from him, but he buried it quickly. I figured he must be trying to avoid disturbing Raquel and Feral, so I did the same, making certain I didn’t project any emotions by accident. I didn’t think we could, but better safe than sorry. They definitely didn’t need more stress.

Leon and I sat quietly for a couple of minutes, just waiting while Raquel and Feral talked. Carmen was busy in the kitchen, so we had nothing to do.

It wasn’t relaxing. I felt tense, and it reminded me of the way I’d felt when staking out the BPSC building, or waiting for Michaels to leave his apartment. I had to make a conscious effort to relax my muscles, reminding myself that I hadn’t come for any kind of fight. If anything, being tense could have a bad impact on Raquel and Feral, putting them on their guard and giving the impression that I didn’t trust them as much anymore.

Which, to be fair, I didn’t. I still believed Raquel had good intentions, but I wasn’t sure of their self-control, and that was a pretty big problem. Super powered or not, well-intentioned or not, any given vigilante was only as good as his or her conscience and self-control, to my mind.

The silence between us stretched out, broken only by our breathing and the sounds coming from the kitchen.

Do you think we can convince them to take a break, or something?” I asked Leon.

Maybe,” he replied. “But what if we need their help? The other side has at least three supers in town, plus normal people willing to kill us. We have a bit of an advantage, for now, assuming Mary doesn’t get caught. Either way, we have no idea what’s going to happen next, though.

Whatever we do, I think we’re going to avoid fighting as much as possible, especially when Michaels is around. It’s too dangerous. If he did set off Feral and Raquel, he might be able to do the same thing to you and me, and Heavyweight is probably more vulnerable than we are.

We cut off when Raquel looked up.

“Thanks,” she said quietly.

“No problem,” I said.

She closed her eyes and sighed, again, her shoulders relaxing. Watching her, it occurred to me that she would probably benefit from therapy. But then again, I doubted there was a therapist in the world who was prepared to handle two truly distinct minds and personalities sharing a body, not to mention the problems inherent in telling someone we’d broken the law.

Hell, did I need therapy? I thought I was okay. I was bothered by some of what had happened, of course, but I knew I should be. If I’d been unconcerned, that would have been creepy.

I shook off the stray thoughts, looking at Raquel again. “So, feeling a bit better?”

“Yeah,” she said. “A little. I just hope that guy was bad, not brainwashed.”

I nodded my understanding. “I hear you,” I said. “Look, I think maybe you and Feral should take a few days off, or something. Just do normal stuff, catch up on your homework or whatever. Hang out with friends. I’ll talk to Mary, and I’ll tell you if anything important comes up, but unless it does you need a break. Dustin’s home, and we don’t know where the bad guys are or what they’re planning, so you should enjoy the time while you have a chance.”

“You don’t need a break?” she asked.

“I do too,” I said, “but I’m not planning to do any running around on my own. Just trading messages and stuff. With Dustin home, I think we probably need to hit the brakes and find out what we’re up against. Ideally, we won’t do anything until we can deal with the boss. Whoever he is, he and Michaels seem to be the ones holding everything together, as far as we know. So we’ll lay low until we can find them both, then hopefully end this and live happily ever after. The end.”

“It would be nice to catch up on my sleep,” Raquel admitted. She glanced over her shoulder at Carmen. “Maybe you’re right. We don’t even know where they are, right now.”

She rubbed at her eyes for a few moments, then sat up straighter. “You know what? I don’t want to talk about work anymore tonight.”

I smiled. “Fair enough,” I said.

We stared stupidly at each other for a few seconds. “I just realized we don’t have all that much else to talk about. I mean, other than powers and things that involve powers, we’ve never had a conversation.”

Raquel blinked. “I hadn’t really thought about it,” she admitted. We were both quiet for a moment. “Fuck it,” she said, shaking her head. “Seen any good movies lately? I don’t want to think.”

We kept the conversation light until dinner, and Carmen didn’t ask anything awkward while I was there. I felt bad for her, but she seemed to be coping pretty well. I was hopeful that Raquel would be able to tell her a bit more now, even if I was sure she wouldn’t share everything.

I filled up at dinner, declined an offer of ice cream, and headed out after thanking Carmen for the food again. I had a feeling that Carmen might have suggested inviting me, hoping that Raquel would talk to me about whatever she wouldn’t discuss with her mother. She seemed pretty sharp.

Raquel, Feral – we’re always around if either of you needs someone to talk to,” I said as I walked away. “We’ll keep in touch. You guys take it easy.

We will,” Raquel said. “Stay out of trouble.

As I boarded the bus, I realized that we’d forgotten to mention the dream, or any of the other things Leon and I had discussed, but I decided that was probably for the best. The two of them didn’t need more reasons to think about powers, and we hadn’t noticed any real problems. Leon thought their connection was a bit thinner, but even he wasn’t certain, and I hadn’t noticed anything.

Of course, I had a new problem after dinner. If I had many more meals cooked by Carmen, I was going to have a hard time forcing myself to go back to the dining hall; it didn’t compare. It was a nice problem to have. Thinking about the food I’d enjoyed was a pleasant distraction.

When I got home, Shawn and Liz weren’t there; probably in her room for the night.

It was too early to go to sleep. I had stuff I could read, but I didn’t want to sit in my room; I went to the common area, hoping someone would be around. The dorm was pretty typical of residential structures at colleges; when I’d been visiting and applying to different schools, at the end of high school, I remembered thinking that a lot of dorms could probably have been swapped between campuses without anyone noticing much of a difference. My current dorm was no exception, with lots of two-person rooms situated on opposite sides of a long hallway, broken up by bathrooms and staircases. Each floor had a kitchen and a common room. Except for the ground floor, the common rooms all had a small balcony sticking out.

The common room on the second floor had a pool table that some of the guys seemed obsessed with. I’d learned enough to know how to play, but I wasn’t good at it, and I didn’t have much interest. Freshman year, my common room had a foosball table; I’d met Shawn there one weekend, when hanging out on Saturday afternoon had turned into an impromptu foosball tournament. He’d kicked my ass and nearly won the whole thing.

The common room on my current floor didn’t have anything like that. Instead, it just had a sofa, a futon, and some comfy chairs, mostly scavenged from graduating seniors, or people who were buying something newer. On the bright side, that meant our common room wasn’t as rowdy as some of them, so we didn’t have to deal with loud, drunk people keeping us awake at odd hours.

When I walked over, I found Alexis and Tanya sitting on the sofa, with Rick in a chair facing them and some girl I didn’t know stretched out on the futon. Alexis and Tanya were a pair of blondes, roommates who looked almost like sisters and got along even better. Alexis was shorter and a bit younger-looking, though they were only born a few months apart. She had obvious dimples on her cheeks, and wore her hair in a short bob. Tanya kept hers long, and after knowing her for long enough I’d realized that she kept her bangs long to hide the acne scars on her forehead. Most guys wouldn’t have noticed anyway, since they’d be busy checking out her body, which was pleasantly curvy.

Of the two, Alexis was the more outgoing. She was always looking for something fun to do, and she rarely had trouble finding it. Tanya was quieter, especially with people she didn’t know, but she could be pretty sarcastic once you got to know her. She had a bit of an accent, and I thought she had lived in the south for a while.

I didn’t know Rick as well. He was a sophomore, like us, but he looked like he wasn’t quite past adolescent awkwardness at first glance, with big ears and a scrawny build that made him look kind of wimpy. I had a feeling he was smarter than me. His hair was dark and perpetually messy, so it always looked like he’d just woken up.

Someone else I didn’t know was smoking out on the balcony. Cigarettes, judging by the smell.

“David, hey, what’s up!” Alexis said, noticing me.

“Hey, Alexis. Tanya, Rick.”

Tanya smiled and Rick gave me a little wave with one hand.

“What’re you guys doing?” I asked.

“Just killing time,” Rick said.

“We’re educating Tanya, actually,” Alexis said. “Would you believe she doesn’t know how to play poker?”

As I got closer I could see the table in front of them had a deck of cards on it.

“That’s a crying shame,” I said.

“Exactly!” Alexis agreed. “Can’t let that stand. So, you up for playing cards? We were just about to play a couple open hands, to show her the ropes.”

“Sure,” I agreed. I turned my head for a second, looking for the best spot to sit, then started to pull a chair over.

“Here,” Tanya said, gesturing to the empty space on the sofa. She scooted over toward Alexis.

“If we weren’t playing open hand, I’d think you were trying to get a look at my cards,” I said.

“I would never,” Tanya said, smiling at me.

Alexis laughed. “You totally would. But that’s okay. Just let me show you how it’s done, and you won’t need to.”

“Yeah, Alexis will show you how to cheat properly,” I said. “That’s what friends are for, I think. I may not have paid attention for all of kindergarten.”

“So, am I correct in assuming that you two gentlemen have played poker before?” Alexis asked.

“Yeah,” Rick said.

I put on my worst fake British accent. “Quite so. Why, I should never presume to call myself a gentleman at all if I hadn’t. What do you take me for, some sort of peasant?”

The girl on the futon glanced over for a second before going back to texting.

“Thank you, Sir David The Unnecessarily Snooty,” Alexis said, rolling her eyes. “Do you need to do anything else before we start?”

“Like maybe checking in with your country estates?” Tanya suggested.

“Or maybe asking God to save the queen?” Alexis finished.

I held up my hands in surrender. “By all means, deal,” I said, speaking normally again.

Rick laughed at me and I flipped him off casually, then watched Alexis shuffle.

She didn’t do anything tricky, but she did manage the bit where you split the deck in half, take one half in each hand, and then use your thumbs to slowly release your grip so that they mix together. I couldn’t even do that, let alone any of the fancy stuff.

She was just starting to deal when the girl on the futon sat up, putting her phone away.

“Sorry about that,” she said. “So, can I get dealt in?”

“No prob,” Alexis said easily.

The girl glanced at me, then looked at Rick pointedly. It took him a second to get it.

“Oh, sorry,” he said with a wince. “David, this is my girlfriend, Sada. Sada, that’s David.”

She stuck out a hand for me to shake, resolving the normal uncertainty of introductions; I always found myself trying to guess whether people wanted a handshake, preferred to avoid it, or didn’t care. Sada, I suspected immediately, always shook hands. Between that, and the stern look she’d given Rick, I immediately found myself wondering what the attraction was. She seemed pretty serious, given that we were just sitting around.

“Pleasure to meet you,” I said.

“Likewise,” she said. As we gripped each other’s hands, I took a closer look at her. Sada was dark-haired, tanned, and a bit on the short side, definitely the shortest person in the room. She wasn’t small, though. If anything, she was a bit fat, with a slightly stocky build. As we shook hands, I was a bit surprised by how far around mine her fingers reached.

We let go and Sada leaned back. “So, let’s get the show on the road,” she said.

Alexis dealt, casually sliding cards to each of us. “Sada, I don’t know if you heard – we’re playing open hand for a few, so Tanya can see what we’re all doing.”

Sada had just been picking up her cards, so I was pretty sure she hadn’t heard.

“Ah, okay,” she said. She put them back down on the table, face up. The rest of us did the same as Alexis finished.

“So, normally there’s betting here, either to make it interesting or just to keep score,” Alexis said. “Given that we’re all in college, I figure we wouldn’t be betting enough to matter, but everybody loves bragging rights, especially me. Since we’re skipping that, let’s see…I’ve got a pair of threes, Rick’s got nothing, David’s holding a pair of eights, Sada’s got nothing, and you’ve got nothing special, you poor dear.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Looks to me like Sada’s got a possible flush,” I said.

Alexis looked again. “And Sada’s got a possible flush, of course,” she said as if I hadn’t just spoken. “Come on, try to keep up here, people.”

I ditched a four and seven, holding on to a jack and my eights, and I was rewarded with another four and a two. Rick got nothing to go with his nothing, Sada missed the flush by a card, and Tanya’s beginner’s luck must have been waiting to kick in, since she got nothing better than an ace as a high card. Alexis drew another three.

“You dealt yourself that off the bottom, didn’t you?” I said skeptically.

“I would never,” Alexis said, matching Tanya’s tone from earlier.

Tanya nudged her in the side with an elbow, leaned over and whispered loud enough for all of us to hear. “You’re going to show me how to do that too, right?” she asked.

Alexis put an arm over her shoulders. “Yup, but only if you help me cheat the guys out of their money.”

“Okay,” Tanya said.

“So, it looks like this hand goes to moi, a victory for the ages if ever there was one,” Alexis said. “Let’s do one more like this, then try it without training wheels.”

“Um, point of order,” I interjected. “If Tanya hasn’t played, how is she supposed to know what a good hand is or what to discard?”

Alexis opened her mouth and then closed it. “Um…osmosis?”

Rick laughed, and I shook my head at her as she shuffled.

“Okay, so I forgot that one tiny, unimportant detail,” Alexis said. “Yeesh. Everybody’s a critic. We can explain the hands to her after this,” she said, starting to deal again.

She blatantly dealt her own cards off the bottom of the deck, staring me in the eyes and sticking her tongue out as she did so.

“Okay,” she said, when all the cards were dealt. “So, Sada has an ace and a possible flush again, Rick has a jack, ten, and eight and he could theoretically get a straight if he has enough luck, I have a queen, David has an ace, and Tanya has a pair of fives.”

“Woohoo!” Tanya cheered. “I rule!”

“Absolutely,” Alexis agreed. “So, any idea what you should do?”

“Well, I guess I can either ditch everything except the pair, or keep the pair and the queen?” Tanya said hesitantly.

“You could, yeah,” Alexis agreed. “It’s probably best to ditch at least two cards, since it gives you two chances to get something new that’s actually helpful. Of course, if you’re unlucky you’ll end up like David did last hand, and you’ll get another one of something you just got rid of.”

Tanya frowned. “Wait, there’s only four queens in the deck, and you have one. So it’s less likely for me to get a queen than a six, right? Cause none of you have sixes. So I should probably get rid of the queen and keep the six.”

Rick answered before Alexis could. “You’re right, but you only know that because we’re playing open hand,” he said. “Normally, you won’t know what we have. It’s probably a good move now, though.”

“Precisely,” Alexis agreed.

We discarded and she dealt our new cards.

“Okay,” Alexis said. “David, you’re out of luck, Rick, you’re – oh wow, you’re really unlucky. That’s just like a taunt.”

I looked over and saw that he had gotten a seven and six to go with his eight, ten and jack, and winced. “Ouch, man,” I said.

“Let’s see about us ladies,” Alexis continued. “I’ve still got nothing better than queen high, Sada, looks like you missed your flush again, sorry, and Tanya – well, well. You’ve landed two pair, fives and sixes. Very nice.”

Tanya smiled happily as Alexis collected the cards again.

“So, let’s talk hands and see about doing this right,” Alexis said.

We played for most of an hour, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had that much fun. I didn’t even notice the time flying by until afterward.

Eventually, Sada and Rick bailed.

“That was fun,” Rick said as he stood up. “I wouldn’t mind playing for change sometime, if you guys would be up for it.” He looked at Sada. “How about you?”

She shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Could be fun,” I said.

“Well, if you guys want to give me your money, I won’t object,” Alexis said. She looked at Tanya. “What do you think?”

“Sure,” Tanya said, flashing a smile. “I’ll need a fallback career, and card shark’s better than some of the alternatives. Am I right, fellow English major?”

“Right on,” I agreed.

Rick and Sada took off, and I glanced at my phone to check the time.

“I should hit the sack too,” I said, standing up. “Let me know if and when you’re up for poker again, though.”

“Sure, Dave,” Alexis said.

They were headed back to their room, talking quietly, when I closed my door.

I started getting ready for bed. It was a little earlier than I would normally go to sleep, but I’d had an exhausting night, and my nap during the day hadn’t been what I would call restful.

That was fun,” Leon commented. “It’s been too long since we really relaxed like that.

He was right. Ever since the day Raquel had knocked on my window, I’d been pretty tense. There had been peaks and valleys, of course, but I’d been so busy worrying about things that it was difficult to take advantage of my opportunities to relax. When I wasn’t in the middle of something, I’d often been anticipating more trouble.

Yeah, I need to enjoy that stuff while I can,” I said. “Hopefully, things will stay quiet for a little while before the other shoe drops.

That would be nice,” he agreed.

Before I fell asleep, I couldn’t help wondering if I’d just tempted fate.
 
 
 
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