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

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Hint 36. Don't Forget Your Friends

It is very quiet in here when I am alone. They have taken to questioning me lately, about Jack, about Shark, and so I have becoming alone increasingly less frequently. But still, in the early morning before the average shift begins, there is always a period of time when my nightmares wake me where I always find myself sitting in the silence.

This morning is like those other mornings. I stare blankly at the clock as it slowly ticks through from six thirty a.m. to eight o’clock and the echoes of screams bounce across the back of my skull. In a way I am looking forward to the moment where it flicks to nine and a man in Facility scrubs steps through the door, in a different way, I am not. Whilst the company stops the memories, I am getting tired of keeping my silence.

The Facility doesn’t face insubordination all that often, it’s just not that kind of place. This means that as the shouting in the corridor slowly begins to drift into my consciousness, I drag myself up from the depths of my tumbling memories and pay attention.

I recognise Ripley’s voice rising above the rest. He’s always had the ability to make himself heard, even in the most trying of circumstances.

“What’s happening?” I ask, relieved, as Alex slips through the door, tossing a glance over his shoulder to make sure he isn’t being followed.

“Nice to see you too, Maya,” he replies, pulling up a chair and throwing himself into it.

We survey each other through the flickering walls of my confinement and, after a second, he smiles.

“I missed you,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says, awkwardly running hand over the back of his neck. “I kind of owe you an apology. A lot of things have changed recently.”

Outside Ripley’s still shouting. More voices seem to have joined the fray.

“No you don’t,” I say. “I was a dick.”

“Yeah,” he says, shrugging. “You kind of were.”

We share an unspoken housemate moment where we silently forgive each other for everything. It’s a strained moment, Alex has a lot to forgive, but eventually he stretches his hands out above his head, snapping the tension. He kicks his feet forward, swinging the chair back on two legs, and balances there precariously. He looks so at ease. Everyone that has come to me since I handed myself in has been ringed with stress, muscles tensed, eyes hooded, but not Alex. Alex always faces the things the world throws at him in exactly the same way, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. He just lets it hit him and then he laughs out some stupid joke as it rockets on past.

“What changed?” I ask. “I thought you were never going to talk to me again.”

“That’s a lie,” he says with a wink. “You know I’m your buddy, your pal.”

I laugh.

“I missed you,” I repeat, trying to get the weight of my meaning behind the words. I need Alex, I need the way he views the world. Things anger me less, and frighten me less, when he’s around, if only because he never takes them as seriously as he should.

“Yeah, yeah.” He shudders. “I missed you too and shit.”

“Kurtis!”

Alex flinches as Ripley bursts into the room, only just managing to prevent himself from toppling backwards off his chair.

“Hey, Chief,” I say. “What’s going on?”

Ripley pulls back, frowning in disbelief. “Christ, Higgs. You’ve been in here forever. What have you two grannies been gossiping about?”

Alex stands as what appears to be half the station begins to file in behind Ripley. I feel touched. They all came for me.

“We were having a heart to heart,” Alex says, making out like he’s offended, “mending broken bridges. Maya shed a tear.”

“I did not,” I say.

“Yeah but you missed me, same thing.”

“No it isn’t.”

“You cried yourself to sleep at night.”

“If I had, it wouldn’t have been over you.”

“We came to get you out,” Amber says. I can’t help but notice she’s on the other side of the room, as far away from Alex as possible. He doesn’t even turn as she speaks.

My colleagues finish arriving and three Facility guards shuffle awkwardly into the room. They don’t look so superior now that they’re surrounded by a good thirty members of the Metropolitan Police. They hold themselves like men that know they’re very much in the middle of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type situation.

“I take it this isn’t quite fully within protocol?” I ask.

“Screw protocol,” Ripley says. “Protocol was the reason we ended up with Docklen at our station in the first place.”

“Gutter feeder,” someone mutters. I am quite surprised when I find out that it’s Tim. He’s usually so soft spoken.

“Creative, Tim,” Alex says. “I like it. Fucking gutter feeder.”

Ripley just grunts.

“Docklen’s our responsibility,” Amber says. “He was one of ours and now he’s a menace. So it’s our responsibility to take him down, no one else’s. We had a vote on it.”

“It was unanimous,” Alex says.

“We also voted on something else,” Amber continues. “We voted on you. You’re one of ours and we’ve decided you’re not a menace. So it’s our responsibility to protect you.”

“Bet that one wasn’t quite so unanimous,” I say with a smile.

Amber opens her mouth to reply but Alex is already talking.

“You bet it wasn’t,” Alex says. “I told them you were a fucking gutter feeder, Maya, but no one ever listens to me.”

Amber’s eyes dart across at him irritably.

“It was unanimous,” she says. “Obviously.”

There’s a scuffling at the door. I look up just as Ripley turns. More Facility guards are piling into the room. They spread out across the walls and as they slowly begin to surround the crowd of people before me, Ripley starts to walk away. He pushes through policemen, making his way to the back of the crowd. It’s a very deliberate movement, calm, controlled, as though he’s forcibly dampening the blustering anger he so regularly displays. I’m watching closely so I notice the small nod he gives Gloria as he brushes past her. She peels away immediately, weaving through the people at her side.

I stand up against the forcefield, watching the tension unfold before me. Ripley reaches the back of the room and, though I remain focused on his movements, I keep Gloria in the region of my peripheral vision, wondering just exactly what it is that Ripley has planned.

Guards finish filing in, followed eventually by someone who walks with the confident swagger of a CO.

“Tell your men to stand down, Leggett,” Ripley says. There’s no hesitation, as if he had always known who would be arriving eventually.

Leggett just smiles, allowing Ripley to march into his personal space. He’s a slender, wiry man. Where Ripley looks like he was strong once and let it all go, Leggett looks like he’d never be able to let anything go. He couldn’t let go of his former youth and he’d never let go of a simple grudge.

“I think, perhaps, it is your men that should stand down, Ripley. This is my jurisdiction. And that,” he nods my way, “is my prisoner.”

I have never met this man before but he still looks at me like he knows me. It is a clinical look, as if all it takes to truly understand a person is to watch the way they move.

“She’s a Detective Sergeant for the Metropolitan Police,” Ripley replies. “So she’s mine and, as such, it is my prerogative to punish her digressions as I see fit. This stupid game has gone on long enough, Leggett. Go back to sneaking your precious scientists out of the city and we’ll see about fixing this place.”

Alex catches my eye with as little movement as possible.

“Burn,” he breathes. I try not to smile.

Leggett’s eyes narrow dangerously and he flicks out a hand. One of his guards steps closer, shuffling his grip on the oversized guns they all have to carry propped up against a single shoulder.

On a normal day, Ripley’s too clever to let this get messy but with the way this city’s been going lately, I don’t trust that anyone’s thinking straight.

“You’ve been letting the renegade get into your head,” Leggett says. “Come on, man. You’ve got too much experience to fall for that.”

At first, Ripley does not reply. I can’t see the expression on his face, he has his back to me, but there’s something about the way he rolls his shoulders that makes me nervous, as though he’s preparing for something.

“Gloria,” he says, and the words are forcefully casual, very fake. He’s playing a game and he doesn’t care who knows it. “Would you be so kind? I think it’s time I spoke to Captain Leggett on my own.”

“Sure thing Chief,” she says and Alex hits my body with the force of a speeding truck.

“Go!” He hisses, wrapping his hands around my upper arms.

I panic, too confused to realise straight away that Gloria has used her power to override whatever machinery it was that was holding up the forcefield. My ability rises up instinctively and Alex comes with me as we disappear.

My bed sinks beneath our weight, the familiar smell of home grabbing at my chest, and Alex smirks, fishing out one of my old teddy bears from under his hip.

“Oh babe,” he says, “I was kind of hoping we’d end up at the station but alright, I guess we’ve got time for a quickie if you’re that desperate.”

I grunt, pushing him off, and ignore his laughter to bury my head in my pillows. I can’t believe I’m finally home, can’t believe how much I missed it.

“May-May,” Alex says gently. “We kind of do need to get back to the station.”

I don’t respond, burying beneath the duvet. I spent nearly a fortnight in prison cells, fighting off nightmares and watching the door in case the next person to open it was Jack. I just need to sleep. I need a moment to stop and pretend that none of this is happening to me.

“Just give me a second,” I say, voice catching in the thick paralysis of my throat. I feel like I’m going to cry but I’ve become so used to hiding it that I can’t. I want to, want to find release in the one small weakness I might be able to allow myself, but I can’t.

“Alright,” Alex says, “that’s fine. I’ll come back for you later.”

I feel his weight shift as he makes to get up from the bed but my arm’s darting out before I even know what’s happening.

“Don’t leave me,” I choke. “Please. I can’t… I can’t be on my own anymore.” This bedroom is the one place I’m safe. If he leaves and the nightmares come back, I know I’ll never be able to escape them.

Alex sighs but consents. He shuffles awkwardly, scooting under the sheets with me even though he’s still wearing his full police ensemble, batons and cuffs and everything still strapped to his waist. A second later his arms wrap around my chest. It’s awkward but I need it.

“Your boyfriend’s going to kill me,” Alex mutters.

“I’m not sure he’s my boyfriend,” I say.

“Mhmm,” Alex mumbles, “well the things he’s saying in my head right now certainly seem to suggest he thinks he is.”

“What?”

Alex squeezes me one final time.

“Expect jealousy in three… two… one…” he breathes. As the last word leaves his lips, he rolls away, exiting the bed rapidly.

I turn slower, dragging myself up until I’m sitting, and blink. Shark’s at the edge of my bed in a second, curtains flapping in the wind of his hasty entry. He crouches as I swing my legs off the edge of the mattress and looks up at me. Alex slinks from the room, shutting my door with a final click, but Shark doesn’t even move. His gaze burns up through my skull, tying my eyes to his, and his lips flatten out. The expression is concern but there’s something beneath it, something unreadable. He looks as tired as he sounded in his broadcast and I realise he’s not wearing his mask, even when he knew Alex would be here.

Shark brushes is hands up my thighs and over my arms, questing fingers dancing over every spare inch. He reaches up across my face, fingers burying themselves in my hair, and pulls my head down until my forehead rests ever so gently against his. His eyes drift closed and, finally, his breathing evens out. As his shoulders relax, his hands lose their grip in my hair. I realise he’s just letting himself go, that he hasn’t even the strength to keep his arms above his head, and I catch his wrists before they can leave the surface of my body.

Carefully, I pull his arms back, allowing him to link his fingers behind my neck. I reach out myself, mimicking his action and lacing my hands through his hair. Even though we’re already touching, I realise I need to get closer. There’s a part of me that wants to tug him in until we melt together, a part that wouldn’t care if I crushed his ribs against mine until they snapped.

“Maya,” he murmurs, breath dancing against my cheek as I brush my lips over the delicate skin beneath his eye.

“Cristian,” I reply. He stiffens at my choice of name but I don’t care. I need him to be human right now. I can’t even bring myself to comprehend superheroes.

“I couldn’t hear you,” he whispers and the way his voice catches makes it sound as though this was the worst kind of torture. “I couldn’t hear you for so long. I didn’t know where you were, didn’t know what you were thinking, and now you’re back… You’re so different.”

“I’m still me.”

“But the lightness in you, it’s gone. You’re so heavy.”

I imagine him shuffling through my thoughts, brushing over my feelings, and I laugh.

“Keep looking,” I say, smiling against his skin. “You’ll find it.”

But as is becoming so regular lately, there is no lightness to find. In fact, there is nothing to find, nothing but that brief period of time when Jack brought hell into my life. Six point two milliseconds, if Vex is to be believed, and Shark’s trying to tell me they changed me forever.

I try not to think about it.

“No,” he growls, tightening his grip on the back of my neck, “let me see.”

And for the first time, I just allow myself to relive the moment without battling it. I show him what I saw, let him delve down into every detail the way I was forced to experience it, and by the time he’s finished, he’s laughing. It’s not a normal kind of laughter, strangely maniacal, and it takes me a while to realise it’s relief.

“We can fix that,” he breathes. “We can fix it.”


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