Hint 31. Remember What You Stand For
“Alex, turn the TV on.”
He jumps as I appear at his shoulder. Not literally though, of course, I’m pretty sure the band on my ankle is set to go all kinds of crazy if I even consider using my power.
“Jesus, Maya,” he whips round in his chair, glaring up at me. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in custody.”
I wave my foot beneath his nose. “Still in the bounds of my perimeter, ‘ent I? Turn the TV on.”
“Where did Jack go? Pretty sure we’re not supposed to leave you on your own.”
“He left, don’t know where he went. Turn the TV on, Alex.”
“If Ripley were here he’d…”
“Turn the fucking TV on!”
Alex leans back in his chair, increasing the distance between us, and eyes me suspiciously.
I ignore him, diving into his desk drawer. I dig through the endless amounts of crap he stores in here, searching for the remote I know he’s got hidden right at the bottom. He’s always the one who steals it when no one’s looking. It gives him unbounded joy to switch the channels when people are trying to watch the news. I hear him giggling every time.
“Ha!” I exclaim victoriously, waving the small black device beneath his nose. “Found it.”
“Is there nothing you hold sacred?” He snaps.
“Yeah, yeah,” I respond, leaning round his monitor to switch the office television on. “You’re angry with me, I get it. This is a little more important right now.”
I push him over, squeezing both of us onto his desk chair at the same time. He huffs, folding his arms, but doesn’t try and shove me off. I take it as a good sign.
“What, exactly, are we watching for?” Alex asks ten minutes later when the same stories begin to repeat themselves. It’s business as usual on the 24hr news channel and I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, it’s going to be OK.
I sigh. I can’t tell him it’s Jack I’m watching for. I wouldn’t know what I’d do if Alex tried to confront him on it. This entire station wouldn’t last ten minutes against Jack Docklen’s fury, it’s better not to risk it.
Three minutes later, Tim stands, desk chair collapsing behind him.
“Shit,” he breathes.
I shake myself out of my daydream, lifting my head from where it has drifted onto Alex’s shoulder. I did not have a good night last night and I’m already halfway towards falling asleep.
“Who is that?” Alex asks as the figure on the screen appears to rip his way through one of the city’s trendy mid-week markets.
“Same guy as yesterday,” I say, sighing in defeat.
“Yeah, except this time yesterday, Whisper and Shark turned up to sort things out.” The voice comes from behind us and I turn, taking Amber in with a wan smile. She hovers behind the chair I’m sharing with Alex, hand resting gently on its back.
“Sorry, love,” I say, sticking out an ankle, “Whisper’s stuck here.”
Amber’s eyes flick from me, onto the telly where Jack continues unchallenged, and then back again.
“So it was you?” She breathes.
“That’s so cool,” she says.
Alex humphs angrily, reshuffling on the seat. I know he’s just doing it because he's angry and he doesn’t want me to have all the attention.
Tim makes his way over to our small huddle. I begin to realise he’s not the only one. Half the station has joined our side, watching the news with tense expectation.
“Should we send people out?” Gloria asks. “It’s Inspector Kartley’s district, right? I know we’re not responsible for the whole city but we should still help.”
I’m not the only one that responds to her words by swivelling my head round to take in Ripley’s empty office.
“He’s not in today,” Alex says, “said he was entitled to a day off given what had happened. I think you nearly gave him a heart attack, Maya.”
“So we’ll put a squad together, then,” Tim says. “That’s what he’d say to do. He’d be bloody pissed if he knew we’d been hanging around this long already.”
“No!” I speak too quickly and all eyes turn to me expectantly. I don’t know how I’ll dissuade them, I just know I’d rather see half the city razed before I force myself to sit here and watch them tackle Jack and his insanity. “Leave it to the rest of Enforcement. This kind of thing is Townhall’s issue, not ours.”
“Shark will sort it anyway, won’t he, Maya?” Amber asks. “That’s what he did yesterday… that’s what you did yesterday.”
“Sorry, Amber. I don’t think he’s that stupid. Or at least, I’m bloody praying he isn’t.” I pause and then just decide to go with the truth. “He nearly died yesterday. I thought I’d lost him.” My voice catches in my throat and I swear, embarrassed. “He’s on his own now, he won’t risk it a second time.”
“He’s not on his own,” Amber says. “What about The Lady?”
Alex and I turn our heads in unison, looking away from the tv and up at her in utter disbelief.
“I shot her,” Alex says. “Remember?”
“Just stay here,” I assert, sweeping my gaze across all of them in order to really drive the point home. “It’s too dangerous.”
“We’re not afraid of danger, Maya, we’re policemen,” Tim reminds me. “It’s kind of what we signed up for.”
“This is different.”
He shakes his head. “You coming, Alex?” He asks.
At my side, Alex stands. He’s not the only one. All around me, people start moving, rushing down to the basement for the riot gear.
“Stop it!” I’m shouting but no one listens. “You can’t take him, he’ll destroy you!”
Amber looks at me, pity in her eyes. “It’s our job, Maya.”
“No,” I say. “No it’s not. You don’t understand. That man, that man on the television, is more deadly, more unpredictable, than anything you’ve ever seen.”
“And you think you’re the only one that gets to be a superhero?” Tim asks, tapping his foot impatiently as Alex struggles with the buckles on his kevlar.
“No, I just…”
I’m saved of my spluttering explanation when The Facility finally makes it onto the scene.
“Shit,” Amber breathes and we all turn back to the telly.
There are faces I recognise in amongst the amassed force of everything this one government faction has to offer. The girl who can turn herself to water is forward centre of the front row, grinning ecstatically amongst her peers. I search for Delanon but I can’t find her. She’s the only one that had any hope of stopping me and I’m pretty certain she’s the only one that had any hope of stopping Jack also.
Alex drops back down onto his seat, mouth open, and my chest floods with relief. In a second they’re all back at his desk, crowding round again.
The Facility doesn’t stand a chance against Jack. They don’t know him, they don’t know what his power can do and if Shark can take down six of them, then Jack can take down all thirty.
At least the guys around me have stopped moving, at least they look like they’re staying here now.
I send Shark a silent call, wondering if he plans to join the operatives from The Facility. Now that I’m certain Alex and the others are as protected as I can make them, I’ve got to make sure everyone I care about is safe.
He doesn’t reply.
I guess I didn’t expect any less but, still, it stings. He seems to think it’s him that I left but it’s not true, I’m not cutting him out of my life. He was right, I never really thought about it before I slammed that mask down on Ripley’s desk, but now that I do think about it, the risk of not ever getting to see him again might turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
The next twelve minutes are painful ones, watching Jack’s power infect The Facility. Half its operatives turn on each other, a further four simply flee, and the remaining few, those that actually make some effort to confront Jack, look about as clumsily powerless as I felt yesterday. The only consolation comes in the knowledge that now my station knows what it’s up against. They won’t be so keen to rush out if he ever loses it again.
By the time Jack is done, disappearing between two tight buildings, the entire market is in flames. There’s a great crater right in the centre of the street and half The Facility is still scrapping in the corner, rolling around on the floor like stray dogs.
At least Shark didn’t show up, I think to myself. Watching him get killed would have broken me.
The station is a dark and unfriendly place during the hours of night. I feel strangely out of place, like I don’t belong here, not when the natural light of day is replaced by cheap lightbulbs and the shadows warp strangely across empty corridors. This feeling is only emphasised by the fact that I have returned to my one man cell, locked back up when the people that truly know me collected together their stuff and went home to warm beds and supper.
Only forty eight hours, I remind myself. I won’t be here any longer than two nights. Ripley’s legally obliged to charge me with something before then. Otherwise he’s got to let me go.
Footsteps tap hollowly on clinical prison flooring and I perk up, tilting my head to the side. I stand, making my way over to the window, and stick my nose through the cell’s tiny bars. I am greeted by nothing more than a policeman’s navy hat and the jingling of keys.
I scoot back, returning to my seat as the door scrapes open.
“What?” I ask, unsettled by the lack of greeting.
Whoever it is doesn’t reply and my heart clenches with sudden fear. It could be Jack. I’m trapped here, alone in an empty station, and it could be Jack. He could do anything he wanted right now and I’d be powerless to stop him.
I call out to Shark, a reflex I cannot control, but he doesn’t reply.
“Thought you might be lonely.”
I freeze at the rough voice, disbelieving. The shadows cover his face and I twist my neck, trying desperately to see features hidden by the peak of a cap pulled low.
“No way,” I breathe.
A smile curls up beneath the shadows of his face and I’m on my feet in a second, rushing into his arms. I rip the cap from his head and toss it to the floor, taking in the sight of him properly.
“Shark,” I breathe, grinning as he drops his hands to rest gently upon my waist.
“Umm, no,” he says, pulling back to scrutinise the badge on his chest. “Says here I’m Sergeant Alexander Higgs.”
I’m almost crying with laughter before I can compose myself, a symptom of not only the situation but also my relief that he’s still with me.
“Little tight about the shoulders,” Shark says, rippling his back in discomfort. “Sergeant Alexander Higgs should hit the gym a little more.”
“He’s also shrunk since the last time I saw him,” I say, pointing to where Shark has the hems of Alex’s giant six foot three trousers rolled up over his boots.
Shark just laughs, dropping himself onto the bench and tugging me into his lap. I stumble, throwing my arms around his neck to right myself.
“I thought you were mad at me.”
“I was,” he croons, “but you just missed me so much. It’s very endearing when you try and talk to my mind.”
I flush, embarrassed, and he chuckles, bouncing me until I’m sitting sideways across his lap. He wraps his arms around my hips, tapping fingers along my thigh, and presses his nose into my collarbone.
“I missed you too,” he says, “if it makes you feel any better.”
“I’m sorry I ran away and left you.”
“I know.” He chuckles. “My favourite bit was when you managed to convince yourself it was the biggest mistake you’d ever made.”
“Fucking hell!” I exclaim, squirming. He tightens his grip and I cannot escape. “I only thought that because I thought you couldn’t hear me anymore.”
“What? Why wouldn’t I be able to hear you?”
“I don’t know.” I tap my head. “Felt kind of empty up there without you.”
There’s a pause as he assesses what I’ve just said and then he has the signature knuckle trapped between his teeth and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t suppress the smirk.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” I pout.
“Sure, of course.” He smothers his laughter with his fist.
I pause, running light fingers through his hair. He presses his forehead into the back of my shoulder, relishing the closeness.
“So you can always hear me?” I ask.
“Sure,” he says, voice muffled. He seems distracted by my presence, talking without thinking. “I can always hear people I care about, no matter where they are.”
There’s something about that that doesn’t quite add up and I furrow my brow, confused.
“But you could always hear me from miles away,” I say, “right from the beginning.”
He stiffens, nipping at the soft skin of my shoulder in his frustration.
“Maybe I always cared about you,” he growls.
He grumbles to himself again, dragging his teeth over the back of my neck.
“Why do you always make me sound like an idiot?” He asks. “You know I used to run drug cartels, before I met you. I used to smuggle Facility weaponry across the borders, North and South. Now look at me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about that bit, tell me more about the ‘caring for me’ thing.”
He mutters curse words to himself, biting at my ear this time, and I yelp, pulling away. His hands are in my hair immediately, pulling me back, and his lips press soothing kisses across the fleeting pain.
“Say it,” I command and he groans.
He lifts me, up and round before I can even begin to process what’s happening, and the next thing I know, I’m straddling his hips, knees pressing down onto the cold, hard bench at his side. His fingertips find their way to the very centre top of my chest, the point my where my collarbones kiss, and he walks his fingers lazily up along my throat. I feel very vulnerable all of a sudden, bare. He holds my neck at the mercy of his grip and my breath catches, trapped beneath the pads of his fingers.
“Maya,” he says, “I…”
“May-May! I think some bastard stole my jacket. Was it Amber? Where the hell did she go?”
The whole room freezes as Alex explodes into the cell. He draws to a stumbling halt, eyes narrowing dangerously.
“Maya… Who the fuck is this? Why does he have his hands up your shirt? That’s not very professional, mate. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there.”
I look down, only now realising that Shark has his second palm spread out across my ribs. I smack him back to decency and he, very reluctantly, lets me go.
“Alex, what are you still doing here?” I reshuffle myself, twisting back to face him, a compromise that allows me to keep my dignity but simultaneously ensures I remain anchored quite firmly in Shark’s lap.
“So not the most important question right now, Maya.” Alex tilts his head, squinting to take Shark in properly. “Seriously. Who is this?”
Shark chuckles and I try my best not to catch his humour, smothering a grin.
“Alex, this is my friend…”
“Fucking hell, it’s Card Shark, isn’t it? Seriously, dude, get out of my station right now. I’ll totally arrest you.”
“We both know you’re not even slightly prepared to do that.”
I smirk, unable to stop myself as the look of affronted fury paints itself across Alex’s features.
“He does that,” I say. “The mind reading thing. You’ve kind of just got to go with it.”
Shark sighs, taking in Alex’s expression for himself.
“I always make this mistake,” he says, “I’ve heard you thinking before, so I forget we haven’t actually met. We’ll do it properly, I’m sorry.”
He pushes me from his lap, not altogether roughly, and stands, brushing himself down. I can’t help but admire him in the navy blue. He cuts a strapping figure in uniform and it does things to me that I don’t care to describe.
Shark doesn’t need me to describe them, though, and he grins. Leaning down to ruffle my hair, he brushes a quick kiss across my forehead.
You were the one that chose to be here instead of back at mine. Think on that.
Alex eyes Shark suspiciously as he straightens up again, holding out a hand. For a second I think he’s just going to fold his arms and ignore the introduction but eventually he sighs, grasping Shark’s palm in his own. I smile.
The truce lasts about a second before Alex’s eyes narrow. “I wanted to go home two hours ago,” he says. “Two. Two hours. Do you know why I couldn’t go home two hours ago, my new friend? I couldn’t go home two hours ago because I couldn’t find my jacket.” He grits his teeth, jaw clenching. “Have you seen it anywhere?”
Shark chuckles, stepping back and slipping Alex’s clothing from his shoulders. Alex snatches the offending item from his grasp. Shark drops himself down onto the bench at my side, completely unabashed.
“I don’t know what’s happened to you,” Alex says, turning to me, gaze all accusing before he returns back to Shark. “And you. Get out of my station right now.”
Shark doesn’t move. Alex storms out and I sigh. He doesn’t exactly deal well with falling out. He always forgets he’s supposed to be mad and then, when he does remember again, he throws a massive strop as if he’s trying to make up for all the nice things he said when he wasn’t paying attention.
His footsteps stomp angrily down between the rows of cells but he only seems to get halfway before he hesitates. I hear him turn, somewhat more tentatively to how he left.
Neither Shark nor I are surprised as he pokes his head back round the door and sighs.
“Anna,” he says, addressing Shark directly. “… The Lady… How’s she doing?”
Shark, when he replies, is serious, voice low.
“Honestly? Not great,” he says. “She tore all the stitches and she’s gone all funny, doesn’t seem to care. Hasn’t made any effort patch herself up. She’s healing,” he turns to me, “ that’s another thing she does faster than other people, but I’m worried about her.” She’s so focused on the serum. It’s consuming her.
Alex scuffs his feet across the ground. It’s almost an angry movement and he frowns bitterly to himself. I don’t make anything of it but Shark’s head lurches up almost immediately, taking him in with scrutiny.
“I can take a look at her,” Alex says, voice so quiet he’s almost speaking to himself.
His comment is met by silence and he looks up.
“I’ll take a look at her,” he repeats, louder this time. “I still think you guys are in the wrong. I’m not changing my stance on that one. I just… I shot her, alright, so it’s kind of my duty to make sure she’s OK.”
Shark is on his feet in an instant, looking round at me, almost as though he’s seeking permission for something.
“Go on,” I say, knowing how important it is to him.
“Are you coming?” He asks.
I look between them, between Alex’s frown and Shark’s open invitation.
“No,” I say eventually. “I’m kind of under arrest here.”
They turn to leave and I stiffen.
“Shark,” I call his name, suddenly remembering the warning I need to give him. “You’re not going to go after him, are you?” Jack. Don’t go after Jack. “Not on your own. He hasn’t been back… to that place.” The Facility. “He’s just getting stronger.”
Shark pauses for a second, scrutinising me. There’s something calculating in his gaze, a secret he’s not telling.
“No,” he says eventually. He’d kill me.