Hint 28. Don't Give Up
Shark’s room is soft and dark when we arrive. It’s late in the afternoon but with the city wrapped in the harsh clasp of winter, the sun is already close to setting. I tear my mask from my face, slamming it into the floor, and run a distracted hand through my hair. I’m tense, angry and edgy, like there’s too much energy pent up inside me. I pace the room once but Shark doesn’t move and eventually I falter, giving him my attention once again.
There’s something about him that immediately calls to the protective instinct in me and I’m in no state to be making compromises. I can’t think straight. I’m just doing things without stopping, without considering. I drag him into his bathroom, ignoring his protestations. His face might be mostly healed but he eventually allows me to wet a facecloth, flinching as I dab at the cut on his lip.
“Maya, it’s nothing,” he says. “Seriously.”
“I know. I just…” I keep hearing his voice in my head, calling for help, and I can’t go to him.
Shark laughs, gently taking my fingers in his hand and removing the cloth from my grasp.
“I know,” he says. “I get it. Don’t worry, Maya. I know you’ve got my back.”
He places the facecloth on the edge of the sink and, wrapping his hand around mine, guides us back into his room. I just follow obediently, lost and shaky. He’s being so tender with me. We feel so vulnerable together right now, raw. It seems strange to share this with someone. There’s a part of me that just wants to go home, lock myself in my room and stare at the wall but I don’t. I nearly lost him today and I can’t quite work out how I feel about that.
Shark drops down onto the edge of his bed, rolling his head back on his neck, eyes closed. He looks so tired.
“You keep thinking of me as Shark,” he says, “even now that you know my name.”
“Sorry.” I look away from him, feeling awkward. We’re not normally like this. Every time he talks, he leads the conversation. He always gives off this air of control but now I’ve seen him break down, lose it all, and we’ve got to work our way around that, find the balance again.
“I like it,” he says, smiling. “I like that that’s what I am to you.”
“A master criminal?” I ask, lifting an eyebrow.
He laughs. “A superhero.”
Anna was the only superhero today.
He laughs again, slowly coming back to himself. You’re too hard on yourself, you know that, right?
I just shrug, kicking my toes petulantly across the floor. He has a full bookshelf on the far wall and I run my fingers over the spines, anything to avoid looking at him. When the silence stretches out long enough that I can’t bear it anymore, I turn back. He’s just staring, eyes locking onto mine with an intensity I can’t fathom.
“Come here,” he says and I do as he bids. As I draw near he puts out a hand, resting it on my hip, pulling me in close enough that I stand between his legs, tilting my head down to look at him.
He wraps a fist in the back of my shirt and instead of looking up at me, he allows his head to drop forwards, resting gently on my stomach.
“I thought I was going to die today,” he mumbles into the material of my jacket, “and then I suddenly realised we were playing all these stupid games with each other and, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why.”
“Don’t ask me,” I say. “You were the one acting like a teenage girl.”
He chuckles and I stiffen, realising I can feel the movement of his lips through my shirt. He leans back, looking up at me through his mask. For the hundredth time since I first met him, I’m struck by how much of a travesty it is for such a beautiful man to feel like he has to hide so much of his face.
He’s grinning before I’ve even finished the thought.
“Take it off then, Maya, if it bothers you so much.”
“It does bother me,” I grumble, embarrassed, looking away.
His fist tightens in my shirt, shaking me slightly, until I turn back to look at him.
“Do it then,” he says, earnest, insistent.
I swallow the lump in my throat and lean forwards. I don’t know why I’m so hesitant. I’ve seen his face before, if only once, but there’s just something about revealing the man behind the mask that feels so personal.
Shark’s fingers guide my hands to the knot at the back of his head and I loosen the bindings, peeling the silk from his skin. His face follows the movement of my hands as I pull the material from his skin, as if he needs just a second longer in obscurity, and then he leans back, running a hand through his hair, grinning.
“Happy,” I say.
His eyes are grey, like steel, but not as cold when they’re bordered by the soft pink hue of his skin. He nods his permission, knowing what I’m thinking, and I let myself trail my fingers over this strange new part of him. I rub my thumb across his cheekbone, up to the corner of his eye, and down his jaw. He chuckles, laughing at me.
“So I’m not too horrifying then?” He asks.
“No, quick, put it back on,” I murmur. “You’re hideous.”
“Sure I am,” he says, tilting his head back to look at me.
I smile down at his grin. He reaches up, prying the mask from my lax fingers, and before I know what’s happening he’s attaching it to his face again.
“Hey!” I exclaim, darting back to scrabble at the ties in his hair. “What are you doing?”
“I’m hideous, remember?” He laughs. “Wouldn’t want to upset your delicate sensitivities.”
“That’s not fair, obviously I was only joking.”
“Nope,” he says. “Too late.”
He leans back far enough that I shouldn’t be able to reach the mask but I follow instinctively, tripping as my knees hit the edge of the bed. He’s still grinning as he guides my fall. I tear the material from his face, throwing it across the room, and only then realise how I’m lying, propped up against his chest, bodies pressed tight together. He grins underneath me, disheveled hair fanning out across his wine coloured sheets.
“You’re toying with me,” I say in sudden realisation.
“Perhaps,” he says, tossing me a casual wink.
I make to pull back but he links his arms around my lower back, preventing my escape.
“Just kiss me already,” he says.
“Maybe I don’t want to anymore.”
“Or maybe you’re lying,” he says, reaching up a hand to tap my temple. “I know which one it is.”
My breath hitches in my throat as I look down, catching his eyes in mine. He’s not grinning, not now, not as that strange certainty washes over us again. One of us is going to breach the distance this time, it’s just something I know.
The pressure’s building. My gaze falls to his lips. The pads of his fingers press into the base of my spine, guiding me closer, and I snap.
His fist tightens in my shirt a second time as my eyes drift closed. My head’s tilting, nose trailing down the side of his cheek, breath swirling together in the modicum of distance that separates us, and then our lips are pressed together, his tongue reaching out slowly, lazily, to touch mine.
I’m breathless by the time he pulls away. Shark watches my face, waiting for a reaction. I school my features, studying him. He breathes through his mouth, lips slightly parted, and his grey eyes are wide, flicking briefly over the details of my face before they catch my gaze once again.
“Don’t be gentle,” I say and it’s all he needs.
I awake in the dead of the night with the guilt clawing at my chest. Shark sleeps peacefully at my side, an indicator that he lied about being forced to share my dreams. His breath rustles out between parted lips and his right arm curls easily down between my shoulder blades. I push myself up, fingers pressing gently into the soft skin of his bared chest, and remove my face from the crook of his arm.
I should be happy but I’m not. I should smile to myself, reshuffle my position and lie back down again, closer to his naked body than I was before, but I don’t.
All I can think about is Alex and how he caught me. He’ll have told Ripley by now and, if he hasn’t, then I’ll have to do it myself. I’m trying not to be dramatic but I can’t help myself. I’m still half asleep, caught up in the strange, choking certainty that always seems to hang around as wakefulness replaces nightmare.
It’s all over.
As I slowly begin to comprehend that I’m a real criminal now, I start to understand why. Over the past month, I have broken every rule that I once considered sacred. I might have felt like a superhero but every danger that I protected us from was a danger I caused myself. Every fight was against the authorities, against people who were supposed to be on my side, and if I wasn’t fighting Townhall, then I was fighting Jack. Jack was a national hero before I met him. Now he’s a one man terrorism movement and every time he loses his temper enough to cause damage, it’s because of something I’ve done.
I run a hand over my face and by the time my palm drops back down into my lap, I’ve made my decision. I grew up with Alex. He’s basically my brother but in all our years I’ve never once seen him look at me the way he did last night. I’m not going to make him be the one to have to turn me in. I’m not going to fight anymore. It’s painfully obvious that I’m not even that great at it and every time I try, I always seem to make things worse.
I roll over onto my back, staring blindly up at the ceiling. In the distant corridor, the front door slams. Shark shuffles in his sleep. He doesn’t wake and eventually I sigh, brushing a light kiss across the delicate skin behind his ear, pulling myself to my feet.
Fishing one of Shark’s black T-shirts from the mess we left of his bedroom floor, I pull it over my shoulders, tugging it subconsciously over my bared thighs before deciding to throw my underwear back on as well.
In this house I have a history of forgetting just how dangerous The Lady can be but as I pad gently into the kitchen on bared toes, I do not make the same mistake again, not tonight. She has her back to me, flicking the switch on the kettle, and an air of hot fury hovers around her shoulders.
As I watch she hisses, shrugging out of her jacket. Beneath she’s wearing nothing more than a white shirt, over half of it stained in deep crimson. She struggles, attempting to tear the material over her head with limited mobility.
“Here,” I say, stepping forward, “let me help.”
She snarls, whipping round to face me. There’s something about her face, about her disheveled hair, that’s still so wild. I freeze and a minute passes, counted out by nothing more than the heavy beating of my heart. Her shoulders relax. She beckons me over with a sharp jerk of her head.
She allows me to pull her shirt over her head and I stifle the gasp before it leaves my lips. She catches me staring though and shakes her head in disappointment. The tears on her arm have reopened and one or two seem even longer, though it may just be an illusion of the light.
“I can’t take you back to Alex,” I say.
She growls. “Can do it myself.”
The kettle finishes and instead of the cup of tea I had expected her to make, she pours the water into a shallow bowl. It steams and she waits a second, eying it suspiciously before tugging a fresh tea towel from a drawer and swirling it around the hot water.
She doesn’t look up as she dabs at her arm, gritting her teeth against what I can only imagine is something much worse than discomfort. If the dynamic with Shark had been off this evening, then it is nothing compared to how I feel now, all caught up in the dark of the night and her ageless, endless anger.
“What happened with Jack?” I ask.
She doesn’t reply, turning her head up to glare at me.
“Tell me,” I say. “I can handle it. Did you hurt him?”
“No,” she says.
Again she tries to evade my question with silence but I persist.
“What did you do?”
“I calmed him down,” she growls, focusing on her arm. “Obviously.”
She snarls a second time, slamming the cloth down on the kitchen top. The edge of her hand catches the bowl of water and it jumps, pouring scalding water out across the granite. She doesn't even react as it pools around her fingers, simply lifting her hand free of the moisture and shaking it dry.
“You come out here at one a.m., sporting nothing but my brother’s T-shirt and messy make-up, but I don’t assault you with questions, Maya. Perhaps I deserve the same courtesy.”
“Yeah, but…” I hesitate, suitably chastised. “This is different.”
She just raises an eyebrow, turning back to her administrations. “Not that different,” she says.
“Anna…” I breathe.
“Do I really look like I’m in the mood to be Anna right now?” She growls.
“You’re always Anna,” I wail, confused and miserable.
She grunts in pain, ignoring me completely. Her eyes drift closed as she folds her arm back into her chest. She's not bleeding profusely anymore and she appears content to leave it at that, leaning back against the kitchen top and opening her eyes.
“What did you come out here for, Maya?” She asks. “And let me remind you that I’m in a lot of pain. My patience is running somewhat too thin to be dealing with lies. I know this isn’t about Jack.”
I sigh, mirroring her pose, leaning the base of my spine against cool granite. The Lady’s eyes narrow suspiciously at my look of defeat.
“You’re giving up,” she says.
“My housemate found my mask, it’s all falling through. This superhero thing: it’s over for me.”
She somehow manages to look confused and angry at the same time. She gestures to my bared legs.
“I don’t see the big deal, obviously you’ve already ensured there’s a space for you here. You’re not in any danger, not from the police, not from your housemate, not from Jack.”
“It’s not about danger, it’s about honour.”
The Lady raises her eyebrows incredulously. Obviously honour is not a concept she can comprehend too well.
“Look,” I say, “I helped you get your serum. You don’t need me anymore. I think I was just playing a stupid game and it caught up to me. I’m sick of making mistakes. Everything that happened today? You know it was my fault. People keep getting hurt because of me. You got shot because of me.”
She turns her head away, face twisting up in scorn, as if there’s just a fraction of a second where she can’t bring herself to look at me.
“You haven’t been paying even the slightest bit of attention, have you?” She asks.
Before I have the time to reply, she’s marching from the room. I just watch her exit, filled with apathy. I feel as though I’m only coming to terms with the words as I say them, only appreciating the extent of the damage I’ve been causing when I try and explain it to someone else.
The Lady marches back in with an armful of papers. She glares as she slams them down onto the surface at my side. I try not to flinch but the fury in her almost seems to burn.
“Read them,” she commands, voice low and heavy with passion.
I comply, lifting the first sheaf with delicate fingers. By the time I’m four front pages in, I’m shaking my head.
“I don’t understand,” I say. “How did I not know about this?”
There have been protests, riots, fighting on the street. People want change, they want the age of faceless superhumans to end and they want it bad. Governing officials have been ousted, prominent figures found dead in their rooms. So many speculations are being thrown around about who has, and has not, simply disappeared.
“You expended so much focus on playing your ‘stupid games’, on embroiling Jack in his ‘Shark case,’” The Lady says, “that you didn’t pay any attention to how you were helping us change the world.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Suddenly everything Ripley was saying about the streets being unsafe makes so much sense. No wonder he was so hesitant about sending Sapient+ out amongst the public with bright blazon tags beneath their collars to identify them.
“You only agreed to help in order to get back at Jack,” she says. “Did you ever actually want to rock the boat? Did you ever want to change things?”
“There wasn’t anything wrong with the way things were.”
The Lady shrugs with just one shoulder. “So we didn’t feel the need to tell you,” she says. “It wasn’t your cause.”
“I wouldn’t have abandoned you.”
“Really? You’re talking about abandoning us now.”
“Maybe this changes some things,” I say, tossing a hand out over the scattered newspaper, “but I’ve come to an impasse. I can’t go on, not without feeling like I faced justice. Perhaps the people will speak, if they’re so convinced that I’m this figurehead of the new world, but more likely they won’t. Either way, I’ve become tired of worrying who’s going to kill me, of worrying who I’m going to get killed. I thought I wanted to be a superhero but I’m sick of watching the people I thought were good turn into monsters. Just because Shark lost today doesn’t suddenly make him a good person. He had it in him to be a killer today. You had it in you. I did not. The worst thing is that perhaps, if I stayed, that would change. It’s time I left. We’ve stopped being of benefit to each other.”
“In a few weeks your definition of justice won’t exist anymore.”
“So I guess my timing’s just perfect, then, it’s not too late.”
“Shark won’t allow it.”
“I’m leaving now. Right now, while he sleeps. He won’t even know, not until I’m already gone, not until I’m safely tucked up in police custody.”
“He loves you.”
I roll my eyes at her pointed glare. “He loves his mask, that’s what he loves.”