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

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Hint 27. Ask For Help

Shark is pacing his living room agitatedly when I arrive.

“Where were you?” He asks and it makes me realise just how stressed he is. He should already know the answer to that question.

“Sorry,” he murmurs, “you’re right. We’ll work out what to do about your housemate later. I’m just on edge; I’ve been having to deal with this one for the last thirty minutes.”

I look up at his gesture just as Anna walks in, mask wrapped securely around her face.

“I’m coming with,” she says.

“No you’re bloody not,” he says.

“Anna,” I begin. “You’re not…”

In a second she’s up in my personal space, accosting me with the familiar pressure of her blade beneath my chin. I hiss, gritting my teeth against the cold sting of metal on the burn of Jack’s handprint.

“Anna,” Shark snaps. “If you tear your stitches, I’ll throttle you.”

“You can wave that thing around all you like,” I say, staring calmly into her cold eyes, “but I’m not taking you.”

She doesn’t say anything, she doesn’t move, and eventually Shark sighs, taking my arm.

“We don’t have time for this,” he says and I make us disappear, leaving her behind without a second thought.

The dust is so thick it coats my throat immediately. At my side, Shark tugs his bandana up until it covers his face. Between the mask and the red cloth, there’s only about half an inch of him left to see.

“Thanks for sharing,” I splutter vindictively.

Shark rolls his eyes. With a flourish, he pulls a second scrap of red from his back pocket, dangling it pointedly before my eyes, and I snatch it from his grasp.

Securing the material over my nose, I finally allow myself the time to take in the scene of Jack’s destruction.

It’s not like it seems on the big screen. Visibility is limited to just a few metres, masked by thick, swirling clouds. It takes a long time for the chaos of a broken building to settle back down into stillness and in the meantime large, threatening shapes loom up out of the grey. Loose cables swing lazy arcs between the steel girdles of giant concrete cylinders, bright blue sparks dancing from their torn ends. Except for the occasional low groan of shifting masonry or the dry rattle of loose scree, it’s silent, all sound masked by the dust.

At my side, Shark casts his eyes warily around himself.

He’s here somewhere, he says, sending the words directly into my brain. I can hear him thinking.

Shark strides forwards into the unknown and I follow, staring up into the broken bones of this iconic old building. It’s almost beautiful in a terrible kind of way. As we walk, I cannot help but stick an arm out at my side, running questing fingers over every rough surface. I wonder what each thing was in the grand scheme of a building that once stood more than forty stories tall.

“Looking for something?” A familiar voice asks, bouncing down from above. I tilt my head back, taking in the full sight of him.

He sits on a distant ledge, feet swinging casually out over the drop. My chest tightens immediately and every lingering hurt on my body, each one dealt there by him, twinges in sympathy. If he gives me even the slightest excuse, I’m going to pay him back in kind.

“Come down from there, Jack,” Shark says. They’ve barely spoken eight words to each other but his voice already reveals how thin his patience has begun to stretch.

Jack doesn’t seem to care.

“Why don’t you join me?” He asks. “There’s a lovely view from up here.”

“I don’t have time for these games.”

“Then stop hiding.” Shark’s remark pushes him over the edge and Jack’s cocky arrogance is replaced so definitely with solid fury. He bellows the words, each syllable echoing out like thunder. “Come up here and admit that all you are is a game, a joke, cowering behind your flimsy masks and stupid names.”

Shark just sighs.

“Fine,” he says. “Have it your way.”

Muscles bulging, Shark hauls himself skyward, elbows pushing against some invisible ledge. I hang behind, waiting until he reaches Jack’s side before I fade from existence, reforming at his side.

Jack is instantly scornful.

“What happened to being first on the scene, Maya?” He sneers. “You used to be so keen.”

“Learnt some painful life lessons, didn’t I?” I snap.

He cocks a single eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you’re scared?”

“No shame in being scared,” I say, tossing him a casual shrug. I can be just as scathing as he is but I don’t need to play these juvenile word games with him.

Jack hisses, pulling himself to his feet. Already I can feel his power coming back into play, the cracked concrete beneath my toes beginning to hum. I suddenly remember my fear of heights, stepping a good way back from the gaping edge.

Jack watches my every movement with something worryingly close to hunger. His face has changed so much and in such unnerving ways. There is no sign of the bullet that Shark sent through his brain, a wound that should have been fatal healing in just a matter of days, but for some unknown reason the cross hatched scars across his eye still stand out pink and proud. They won’t last forever, it’s obvious that they’ll fade. He hasn’t lost his good looks, they’ve just changed slightly, from boyish charm to something more dangerous.

After all that’s happened between us, I realise his face doesn’t affect me the way it used to. Instead of the dimples in his cheeks, it’s his teeth that I notice when he pulls his lips back for a cruel smile. Instead of the twinkle in his eye, I’m caught by the cold, dark depths of his wide pupils. He sickens me.

Maya, I keep searching his mind but there’s nothing we could say to get him to go back to The Facility. He simply won’t go.

So what do we do?

Shark doesn’t reply.

“I know you’re talking about me,” Jack snarls, taking a step forwards. Shark reacts immediately, intersecting him, throwing a protective arm out across my chest.

The wind picks up, the floor shivers expectantly. Jack’s hair whips across his face, longer than I remembered, and unruly.

“What are you doing?” He asks and, for a second, he sounds lost. “I won’t hurt her.”

When Shark replies he speaks, perhaps, just a little bit softer.

“There’s handprints on her arm, on her neck, and a thousand bruises that beg to differ, Jack. Go back to The Facility. Do what you know is right. You’ve been fighting this your whole life, don’t give up now.”

He has said the wrong thing, I can see it immediately.

“What lies have you been telling her?” Jack turns his attention back to me. “They thought it was Anna and now he’s trying to convince you it’s me. But it’s not. It’s him. He was the monster all along, not me.”

“There are no such things as monsters, Jack,” Shark sighs, “only people.”

Jack’s fists tighten at his side and I tense, knowing enough about his power to expect the sharp crack of snapping masonry that rolls out just a second later. The floor beneath my feet is shaking so much I can feel it in my teeth. It’s happening all over again, only a matter or time before everything explodes.

He turns his hurt eyes towards me, as if somehow he still believes he has been wronged after all the damage he’s done. I look down, past the expression on his face and into his soul and, for the first time, something in me snaps.

“Don’t you dare look at me that way,” I spit. “You’re the devil, Jack Docklen.”

Jack’s wounded eyes are replaced almost immediately with rage, all humanity wiped clean in a split second, torn free with my careless words. It is the last thing I see before the whole world tumbles down around my shoulders.

Chaos reigns once again.

Shark tugs on my arm, pulling me in towards his chest. He folds his broad shoulders around mine, sheltering me from the storm, but I take it one step further, enveloping us both in the calm safety of nothingness. I can’t hold two people in between locations for as long as one but I’m not trapped this time and we reappear a hundred metres away, tiny concrete chips cascading around our shoulders.

Now, finally, is the time for heroes. Now is the time to fight.

Shark reads the intention in my mind. I don’t have to say a word to him, he just knows. I hit the ground running and we move as one, building up momentum. I take his hand easily, flicking us forwards in an instant. Shark reappears so close to Jack that they collide with the force of titans and Jack hits the ground.

There’s not enough time to pause and I’m in again in a second, grabbing the scruff of Jack’s collar in my fist. We disappear. I take him up, reforming our tangled bodies forty stories high, where once there used to be a building but now there’s nothing but open air.

We begin falling immediately, air rushing up past my ears and through my hair. My throat clenches so tight I can barely breathe until I remind myself that I’m safe, I’m invincible. Jack grabs at my waist but I kick him free with disgust and separate us just enough that I can shimmer from existence, reappearing forty stories below him, safe on the ground once again.

From down here he’s just a dot, arms flailing. I watch his descent with mild disappointment. He doesn’t seem quite so terrible after all.

Shark allows him to drop until he’s so close I feel I could reach an arm above my head and touch him. There’s no terror in his eyes, not anymore. He’s just staring at me with empty loathing. Our gazes catch, just for a second, and then Shark appears from nowhere, two bodies colliding at speed.

They hit the ground a fair distance away. The pavement dips as they land, rippling outwards, a symptom of both Jack’s power and the force with which they fall. They surface a second later, tussling like young boys, but the blood on Shark’s bottom lip is enough of an indicator of the real force behind their movement.

I cover the distance between us in under a second but when I get there I hover back, unsure. Neither of them look up as I arrive, lost in their own violent world. I watch on, forgotten, as Shark pulls back, sending a fist into Jack’s face with a grunt. He leans back a second time, preparing to repeat the action, and I have to force myself not to look away. I’m not inexperienced in violence but this is different. This is Shark and I don’t like to see him brawling like an animal, eyes narrow, jaw tensed with hate.

My thoughts have distracted him. He notices me now, looking back over his shoulder and dropping the fist. I regret my indelicacy instantly. He was just doing what he had to do and, in pausing, he has given Jack enough time to throw out a hand, grasping at the tarmac, calling his power back into play.

I cower as a car tumbles overhead, ducking just in time for its empty wheel arches to graze my shoulder. It hits the ground in shower of peroxide sparks and Shark dives to the floor, covering his head with his arms. Its undercarriage misses him by less than a centimetre, pulling at his hair.

You alright?

I’m fine.

Jack’s already up and running and Shark throws himself to his feet in pursuit. With every footfall, Jack’s power shudders outwards, messing with the natural order of the world. Crumbled pieces of masonry begin floating upwards, pebbles as small as my fist, boulders as large as a house. Tossing them a worried glance, I begin running, using my own power to bring myself to Shark’s side. He looks up as I arrive, flashing me a smile.

Stay here, he says, knowing I could intersect Jack in under a second. Don’t go after him by yourself.

There’s so much rock hovering in the sky that it’s getting difficult to keep pace. Jack disappears behind great boulders and by the time we attempt to follow, the whole floating landscape has shifted.

Don’t worry. No one in the whole world thinks quite the same as Jack Docklen. I can hear him, we won’t lose him.

I’m not worried about losing him. I’m more concerned about the nature of this temporary asteroid belt. The concrete has begun to spin and it’s picking up pace already, lazy drifting becoming more frenzied by the second.

Shark looks up, noting the shift in atmosphere for himself, and then, as it always does with Jack, everything snaps. The wind howls into existence, whipping up a storm of cosmic proportions. As the stone becomes ensnared in the gale, Shark launches skyward. The only escape is up.

Stick with me, Maya.

Shark’s own peculiar brand of flight suits this environment perfectly. He climbs higher, as though he’s running an assault course, and if his feet just so happen to land on rock, then they land on rock. If they land on air, then they land on air. I just try and keep up, ignoring how high we’re getting. For the first time since Shark told me to be more subtle with the noise of my power, I ignore his command, arriving with a loud pop on every new boulder. Everything’s moving so fast there isn’t the time to fade gently back into existence.

I throw a look over my shoulder and I can see Jack down below, standing in the eye of the storm. He looks up just as I catch sight of him and his shoulders stiffen.

“Maya.” His lips curl around my name. I can’t hear him, not over the roaring of the wind, but I don’t need to.

Around me, the stone begins to drop, picking up speed. As it falls, Jack rises. He’s coming straight for my plummeting body but again Shark’s in between us at the last minute, protecting me. They collide, twisting as they travel through the air. I disappear just before my floating platform can hit the ground, reappearing beneath their battling bodies.

I find myself entrenched in a weird game of cat and mouse, running along the streets below them as they fly. It’s not long before they leave the destruction of the Alliance Group Building behind, soaring down the wide alleys formed by other, more occupied office buildings.

Now, finally, I see the chaos Shark warned me of. The streets are packed with stationary cars and instead of sitting patiently behind the wheel, people are arguing with each other, scraps breaking out on the hot tarmac. It pains the policeman in me to just keep running, frustratedly switching to short hops of translocation when my path gets too congested by heaving humanity.

People are shouting, screaming. Four young boys throw bricks through a department store display. They don’t even follow to steal anything. They relish in the destruction, moving onto a different pane of glass as soon as they’re done.

This is all Jack’s fault.

Up ahead I can still see them both, tumbling through the air. There’s no indication of who’s winning, not until Jack throws out a desperate hand and the street buckles and caves, cars sliding to the side as people flee. A plume of water hits the sky from a tear in the water line and Shark swerves, spinning out of control.

Jack’s floating of his own accord now and he just pulls back, watching with a soft smile as Shark hurtles through an entire row of sixth floor windows.

I’m up there in an instant but he’s still rolling, crashing through office cubicles as though they’re made of paper. People are screaming but I hardly notice as they clear the room. I just have my eyes on Shark as he attempts to stand. He stumbles and I flick to his side, putting out a hand. He bats it away, forcing himself up under his own power.

I’m fine, Maya.

Shark’s attention is torn from me before I even have the chance to consider replying.

It’s Jack.

He saunters in through Shark’s smashed windows, hands clasped behind his back. There’s no shift in his body as he transitions easily from midair to glass littered carpet. He’s happy now, now that he thinks he’s winning, and some semblance of order has returned to the world. He smirks as he takes in the sight of us together, Shark’s mouth pursing angrily around his split lip and me with my arms folded awkwardly, not wanting to get in between their bizarre personal vendetta.

“I’m looking forward to getting rid of you,” he says to Shark. “You always thought you were so much better than everyone else.”

“You’re not going to kill anyone, Jack,” I remind him, put out by his mocking cruelty. “You don’t have it in you.”

He clicks his fingers, making a big show of thinking. “I think I do,” he says, gaze turning hard and sharp as diamond as he flicks it onto me. “I’m the devil.”

Shark knows there’s no point talking to him. At my side, his fists clench. Just for a second I look down and then he’s moving again without warning, leaving me behind. As Shark throws his body into Jack, tipping them both into the street again, I realise I’m the third wheel in this battle. I sigh, resigning myself to just following uselessly along behind.


There’s a pause as I kick at a battered office chair, making my slow way back towards the gaping hole in the wall.

Maya! … Help.

In a second I’m back at his side. Water’s still gushing up from a great crater in the pavement, pattering down around my shoulders. I’m soaked to my skin before I’ve even started rushing forwards.

From the way he’s lying, it’s obvious that they twisted as they fell. Jack has gained the upper hand and he straddles Shark’s torso, sending his fist repeatedly down into Shark’s face.

“Stop it!” I’m screaming, forcing him off. “Stop it!”

Jack doesn’t even look up as he places a casual hand on my upper arm, pushing me away. I bite my lower lip angrily but before I even have time to curl a fist, my power’s dancing up beneath his touch, enveloping my entire body in the familiar sensation of nothingness.

I reappear… elsewhere. I don’t even know where I am, an empty field somewhere. Jack and Shark are nowhere to be seen. Before I can gather my wits enough to return, I’m fading again and there’s nothing I can do about it. I scream in frustration as I arrive somewhere new. People look up at me in shock but then I’m gone again, dropping unceremoniously into existence in a packed shopping mall.

Maya! …Help.

I make it halfway across the globe before I finally collapse, panting, in my own apartment. Alex is long gone and I give myself a second to recover before collecting my wits, dusting myself down, and rejoining the fight.

Everything’s so much worse by the time I get back. Piled cars line the edges of the street, haphazardly stacked one on top of the other, and even though the street is drenched in a thick layer of escaping water, lazy flames lick idly at most second floor windows. Jack and Shark have moved from when I left. I’m relieved to see that they’ve both regained their feet but even as I watch, Jack sends out another fist and Shark just… goes down.

I’m bewildered, lost. I’ve never seen Shark lose anything before. He’s always so perfectly calculated, so perfectly in control. He basically took down six Facility operatives on his own but Jack’s just tossing him around like a rag doll.

Maya… He can hear me thinking and he turns his head, catching my eye. In a second, Jack’s whipping around. They both take me in and Jack’s face contorts. His hisses his frustration, throwing out a hand.

“This ends now,” he snaps, reaching round behind himself.

My body’s reacting to the flash of sunlight on the barrel of his gun before it has even registered in my mind. I’m running and running and running but it just takes so long to realise I’m not moving. My body’s not my own and every step I try and take forwards lands awry, skidding on tarmac that has become twice as treacherous as ice. My power lies dead in my chest and I’m just stuck, useless.

I force myself to watch as Jack rocks back on his heels, taking his time, lining his eye up against the sights. Shark tries to stand but a swift kick to the stomach sends him back down again. I witness the exact moment that all the fight just falls away from him. He closes his eyes.

Everything goes still.

She arrives in a storm of dark fur and fury. There’s something about her second form that speaks to the terrified animal in all of us and I can feel her bubbling rage right down to my very core. She’s a goddess of vengeance and her lip curls up around a muzzle full of bleached white fangs.

The Lady arrives on only three paws, the fourth curled up under her body, but she still moves faster than anything I’ve ever seen. As she barrels past my frozen form, time seems to slow. She tilts her head, catching my eye, and then she’s gone. So much hope fills my chest with just that single look. I’ve never felt quite so… protected, as if she’s trying to tell me she’s always looking over me.

Jack’s already turning with his terrible intent but she’s so much faster than he could ever comprehend. The gun goes skidding out across the tarmac and she takes his entire chest in her massive jaw, lifting him from the ground. His face twists up with anger but he hardly seems to fight it, resting flat palms against the soft fur of her muzzle.

She cocks her head, giving Shark a look very similar to the one she gave me. He closes his eyes again and nods. I watch his lips mould around the words of his gratitude, thanking her, and she snaps free from his spell. She worries Jack’s limp body like a dog with a new toy, shaking him jarringly, and then she leaves, disappearing as fast as she arrived, Jack’s legs bouncing along uselessly at her side.

Shark doesn't even watch her go. He stands, brushing his hands along the length of his arms. He doesn’t look at me at first but as Jack and The Lady disappear into the distance, Jack’s power slowly wears off, returning my body to itself, and I make my slow way over to him.

“Is she going to be OK?” I ask, concerned. “Do we need to go after her?”

Shark just shakes his head. At first I think he’s not even going to reply, not even going to look up, but then he lifts his head and treats me to a wan smile.

“She’ll be fine,” he says. “He can’t touch her. She’s almost as much chaos as he is.”

“Your face,” I say, unable to stop myself as I finally take in the full sight of him. I lift a hand, brushing it over the pristine surface of his skin. I don’t understand. I saw what Jack did to him, time and time again. He should be black and blue and broken but he’s not. Other than the small knick in his bottom lip, he looks fine, as though he’d just sauntered out of his living room.

Shark sighs and shudders.

“I think,” he says, “I think he just wanted to keep hurting me. And he couldn't keep hurting me if I was out cold. So he hit me and healed me and hit me and healed me and it just kept going. I’m fine, though,” he grins but somehow I know his heart’s not in it. “Picture perfect.”

My face crumples at the thought of him trying to be cheerful after everything that’s happened. My hands are shaking. I just want to sit down. He asked me for my help and I couldn’t and I was useless and he nearly died.

Shark’s arms are around my back in a second, pulling me in towards his chest. He laughs, tangling his hand in my hair, pressing my face down into his shoulder.

“I’m fine,” he says. “It’s fine. We’re a team of three people. She saved us.”

His other hand is on my back, running lazy circles around my spine. It’s thoughtless on his part and that small token of unconscious affection slowly begins to help the tension. The stress seeps from my shoulders and I relax into his hold, burying deep into his warmth.

“How did she know?” I ask.

Shark stiffens in my hold and I tilt my head back, removing it from the comfort of his chest so that I might try and see his face.

“I told her,” he says. “I told her I needed her. It was selfish but I…” He doesn’t finish the sentence. He doesn’t need to.

“What’s she going to do with him?” I ask another question, changing the topic ever so slightly.

Shark doesn’t answer right away, leaning down to rest his chin on the top of my head.

“I don’t know,” he says and when I express my disbelief because of course he would know, he can read every thought in her mind, he forces himself to amend the sentence. “I don’t want to know.”

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