Don't Date Your Nemesis... And Other Helpful Hints For The Modern Superhero

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Hint 19. Don't Mess With Ripley

When I shuffle into Ripley’s office the next morning, Jack’s already sitting there like a naughty school child, hands folded obediently in his lap. Ripley’s not even here yet but Jack’s guilt is rolling off him in waves. I wish he’d looked this repentant after our little misunderstanding but, then again, knowing Jack this has probably got very little to do with Ripley and an awful lot to do with the news cameras.

He looks up at me as I join his side and the pity explodes in my chest. The whole of the left side of his face is swollen. They hit him so hard I can make out a cross hatching pattern, stamped into his skin from the non-slip stuff they put on powerful Facility weaponry these days. I can’t help but notice there’s conveniently no hospital discharge notice to send him home for the week. Not when half the station’s been suspended for playing silly buggers.

We don’t say anything as I pull up a chair, sitting at his side. There’s nothing to say. We fucked up. Silently, without even looking at him, I reach across and take his hand in mine. I don’t even know why I do it. I can’t help myself. He’s not inherently bad, he’s just got a temper, and I was the one that set him up for this.

“Maya,” he says, voice croaky. “I’m so sorry about hurting you the other day. I didn’t… I just…”

“Don’t worry about it.”

The door handle rattles, signalling Ripley’s arrival, and I drop Jack’s hand like it burns.

We don’t say a word as Ripley circumnavigates the room, ending up behind his desk, and sits. The silence continues for just a second longer until, eventually, Ripley groans. He drops his head into his hands, massaging his temples.

“What are we going to do?” He asks.

I jump in immediately, before Jack can say anything.

“It was my fault, Chief. We shouldn’t have gone there at all. Don’t punish Jack. Don’t take him off the case. I’ll go home. It’s about time you suspended me anyway.”

Ripley looks up, taking in my awkward smile. I allow it to slowly drop from my face until, finally, he speaks again.

“No one’s getting suspended, Maya,” he says, quite uncharacteristically kindly, “at least not in the Met, that’s for bloody sure.”

I don’t understand. Jack and I share a confused look. He just shrugs. Why hasn’t anyone patched up his face? Surely there’s someone in his life that cares enough to send him to hospital?

Ripley sighs.

“I hate those jumped up Townhall bastards,” he says. “You had every right to be there, Docklen, and you, Kurtis.”

“So… we didn’t fuck up?”

“Oh, you fucked up. You should have come straight to me instead of pissing around at the front gates. However, the beauty of politics is that now they’ve slighted us you guys are in the clear. We get to defend everything you did in the name of The Metropolitan Police and its sense of pride.”

“Even the bit where I hit the reporter?”

“Well, maybe not that bit, Kurtis, but I’ve met that little bitch before. She probably deserved it.”

“She did,” I mumble, looking down at my fingers.

“So will we get to see the crime scene?” Jack asks.

“Probably not,” Ripley replies honestly. “Knowing those bastards at Townhall, they’ll have cleaned it up already. But I’m going to make it so that you have full access to all the files and any evidence they’ve collected. I’m going to make it known that if anything progresses with these renegade superhero wannabes, you two get to be first on the scene. Fair?”

“Fair,” Jack says with a smile.

I just nod. It’s going to be quite difficult for me to be first on the scene when I’m busy being the scene itself but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

“Good,” Ripley says and I can’t quite believe we’re actually getting away with this. “Leave it to me. I’ll let you know when things start to progress.”

“And that’s why no one messes with Ripley,” I say as we quietly close his office door behind us.

Jack just nods, walking back towards his own office. I don’t allow him to leave quite so easily, hands on my hips.

“And where do you think you’re going?” I ask.

“Back to work,” he says, not looking me in the eye. That whack to the head has really subdued him.

“Back to work my arse,” I say. “We haven’t got any work until Ripley’s done patching things up. I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“I don’t need the hospital,” he says.

“Jack,” I say, “I’m pretty sure I can see a make and model name imprinted in your eyebrow. Frankly, I’m quite surprised you didn’t die in the middle of the night: not everyone’s a Scofferson, we can’t all regenerate from bullet wounds in forty two seconds. You need the hospital.”

He hesitates.

“I don’t really do the hospital,” he says. “It’s a personal thing.”

“I don’t really care,” I say, grabbing his elbow and transporting us down town.

I hate the smell of disinfectant. When I was a constable and didn’t get exciting cases like rogue Sapient+ operatives and gory murders, I’d often find myself here at some godforsaken hour, watching over an aggressive drunkard or a jumped up frat boy. It was tiresome and being here with Jack is altogether reminiscent of those unpleasant years. He won’t let anyone touch him.

“Look,” he growls, “she can put whatever she likes on my face but she can’t take any readings. That means no heart rate monitors, no blood pressure cuffs,” he pushes the offending object away and the nurse rolls her eyes, “and absolutely no taking of blood… or any other bodily fluid for that matter.”

“Sir,” the nurse repeats patiently and I sense that she may have had to deal with stuff like this before. “If you’re Sapient+, you need to go to the infirmary at The Facility.”

“I’m not Sapient+,” he snaps, “I’m not hiding anything. I just don’t see why you need to do all that stuff.”

I sigh.

“Can’t you just put give him some anti-inflammatory and wrap him up?” I ask.

The nurse doesn’t look too pleased with this.

“He should be half dead,” she says, “I don’t know how he even survived the night. We need to do some checks. Toxins in his blood from damaged tissue, things like that. Are you sure you’re not Sapient+?”

“Well you already established that he hasn’t even got a concussion,” I say, ignoring the Sapient+ comment, “and he’s very obviously not dying.”

She looks at me, then she looks at Jack, and I realise that she’s very rapidly getting sick of having to deal with us.

“Fine,” she concedes eventually, “but I strongly recommend you see your GP.”

“I haven’t got a GP,” Jack mumbles sullenly, flinching as she dabs at him with something alcohol-based, sterilising his noughts and crosses board of a face.

“Then get one,” she says, applying adhesive plaster and bandaging. When she’s done, she stands back, admiring her handiwork. His whole eye was bloodshot and she’s even covered that over with some pale eyepatch. He looks miserable. Bless; it makes me so happy.

“I’ve got to get some forms for you to sign,” she says. “Don’t you dare move.”

She bustles out the room, leaving us alone, and Jack pats the empty spot at his side, beckoning for me to join him on the examination table. I hop up next to him and he peers at me out of his one good eye.

“Now we match,” he says, reaching up with a gentle finger to brush my hair away from the tiny dent in my eyebrow.

“I think yours is a little more impressive,” I say.

“Obviously,” he says, nudging me with an elbow. “I’m Inspector Jack Docklen. I’ve got to be bigger and better than everyone else.”

“Oh. So you’re admitting it now?”

He shrugs.

“Well I’m the only one with an actual eyepatch,” he says. “So I’m the pirate. Obviously I win. Pirates always win.”

“Aargh,” I say.

Jack sighs.

“I’m worried about you,” he says. “I’m worried you’ve fallen in with Shark.” He pauses, not looking at me. “I’m worried you’re Whisper,” he says.

“I’m not Whisper.”

“Look,” he says, “I know I…” he reaches out, brushing my eye again. “Me and my temper, we’re different people. I can’t control it, him, the man with the temper, but it never changes the way I feel about you. I know I hurt you but it really was an accident and I can’t stop thinking about it. The things Shark would do to you though… He’s seen the worst in people. He’s been the worst in people. He’s a killer, Maya. I get angry but I have never - could never - kill anyone.”

“Perhaps I deserve someone that has neither a temper nor homicidal tendencies,” I say huffily. “Has that ever occurred to you?”

Jack pauses, looking at me soulfully through his one eye. Eventually he drops his gaze, resting his head on my shoulder. I can feel the tension ebbing from his body.

“Thank you for taking me to the hospital, Maya,” he says.

*****

Shark’s already waiting for me when I get back home.

“Yes,” he says as I walk into my bedroom, shutting the door behind me. “I’ve killed people.”

I don’t say anything. He was obviously listening in to my conversation with Jack and he’s managed to get himself all worked up.

“I’m not going to apologise for it,” he says.

“Do you listen to everything I do?” I ask.

“When Jack Docklen’s around? Yes. Need I remind you what happened the last time you found yourself alone with him?”

“Need I remind you that, in the end, your presence was not necessary the last time I made the decision to be alone with him?”

“So you love him?”

I look up at Shark, standing by my window, fists clenched, jaw tight. I tilt my head. I can’t even believe he’d say something like that.

“No,” I say, eventually. “I’m a policeman; I’ve seen enough abused women traipse through the station to know better than to even consider loving someone with a temper like Jack Docklen’s.” I pause again, staring at Shark, almost demanding he read my thoughts as I speak. I need him to know how genuine I am, that I mean what I say, and that he has angered me. “But he’s my friend and I do care for him. I don’t think he has anyone else. You certainly didn’t seem to have a problem leaving him.”

“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.”

And just like that, I’m furious.

“So you expect me to love you, then?” I ask, straightening my back, folding my arms. “Is that it?”

He doesn’t say anything.

“You think you’re better than Jack? I don’t even know your name. I don’t even know what your face looks like. Look at you, standing there acting like you’re all jealous. You don’t have any right to be jealous. You know all the things I think about you. You know everything about me, I don’t even have privacy over my own thoughts when you’re around, but you keep everything about yourself so fucking hidden. You know you could have me, if you wanted me, but you don’t. You just tease and that’s it.”

Shark’s eyes widen and, ironically, the things going on in his mind are so obvious, just from that one expression, that it’s almost as though I can read his thoughts myself. He wants to shake me he’s so mad. I remember my brother used to look at me that way, when he was trying to explain something and I’d refuse to understand. The only difference is that my brother would actually take hold of my shoulders and rattle my teeth.

“You think I like being gentle with you, Maya? You think I like taking this so slowly?” He’s stabbing at me with that gaze of his, weaponising it. I can’t keep his eye. “Look at me,” he demands and I’m powerless to resist. “Do I look gentle to you? Do I look like the kind of man that often has to be patient? Tell me: how often do you reckon I have to wait to get the things I want?”

“So you’re making no effort, so you don’t want me,” I say, deliberately misreading him, speaking stubbornly, as though this decides it then. “Why didn’t you just say? Could have saved us all a lot of trouble.”

Shark grits his teeth.

“These stupid women games don’t work with me, Maya,” he says. “I cheat at your little tests. I already know what you want me to say.”

“Fantastic,” I say. “You’re the worst cheat ever. Because this little test right now, if that’s what it is to you, is one you’re failing.”

Shark just shouts, mangled nothing, throwing his hands up in despair. He strides across my room and back again, pacing angrily. I stand there and watch him, arms crossed vindictively. Eventually he slows, turning back to face me again.

“Maya…” he says, running a hand through his hair. He pauses, as though he can’t bring himself to say the rest of the sentence. “Oh God this is so stupid,” he says instead. “We’re not fifteen.”

“What?”

I glare at him, making him say it, whatever it is.

“You keep saying ‘want’,” he says, “it’s not about ‘want’. It’s about ‘like’.”

“What?”

His eyes flick to the side and then he’s just going for it, walking up until we’re close together again.

“Maya,” he says, looking down at me, “I like you. It’s not about wanting you, obviously I want you. Even married men would want you, look at you. I don’t just want you, I… like you.”

I laugh but, underneath it all, there’s a smile.

“Jesus, man,” I say, “we’re not fifteen.”

He chuckles. He’s so close all I’d need to do is rock forward on the balls of my feet and I’d be in his arms.

“Maya,” he breathes, crouching so that he can look me levelly in the eye. He takes hold of my arms, keeping the conversation serious.

“You don’t need to be gentle with me,” I breathe, licking my lips. “You must be able to, you know, read that too.”

He grins, looking down for a second, as though he’s remembering something that gives him pleasure. Dropping forward, he presses his forehead into mine, touching our noses together. He sighs and I realise that that memory, the one that had made him smile, has been replaced by something else.

“You remember when my sister told you I was manipulating you and I said I wasn’t, I had my own emotions to contend with?”

I nod, moving our heads together.

“Good,” he says, “remember that. Just because I know what you’re thinking and I know you’re interested, doesn’t mean I’m just going to go for it. I don’t want you to think I’m manipulating you, playing you. I want you to know I did it properly, so it can last properly. I want you to realise that everything I do with you is something that I did because I wanted to make you happy, not because I thought it might trick you into helping us with the serum.”

“Shark,” I say. “I know you’re not playing me.”

He stiffens, reacting to my words. I’ve said exactly the right thing.

The understanding crackles between us, that split second of psychic knowledge everyone experiences just before someone closes their eyes and commits. My gaze flicks to his lips, longing. He moves to the side, tilting his chin down to break the connection we had before, pressing our faces together in a way that’s far more intimate. And yet there’s still something missing. Even though my breath is mingling with his, even after everything we’ve just said, the kiss never comes.

“No, Maya,” he says, and I can feel his lips moving against mine as he speaks. It’s still not the kiss I’ve been waiting for. It could be, it’s so close it should be, but it isn’t.

“Why?”

He leans back, tearing us apart. I move my body to follow him but he holds me firmly in place.

“I know what you think when you’re around him,” he says. “I like you; I can’t bring myself to share you, not with Jack Docklen.”


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