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

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Hint 40. Beautiful Things

The mansion still echoes with Alex’s screams. Jack’s power seems to pull them from the walls, casting the whole building back to last night. It’s dark and empty and I’m so alone. The coldness seems to be spreading out from my chest, pooling in the pit of my stomach.

I’m useless without my power. I don’t know why I’m here, why Shark still thinks I have a chance.

Dusty carpet coils beneath my feet, undulating like soft sea swell. I try and ignore the way the ancient patterns shift and change. They’re living and breathing down there, growing fat on Jack’s power, and if I stop to consider it too long, I’ll start to wonder when they’ll be strong enough to reach up out of the deep and pull me down.

I drift along corridor after corridor. The hallways seem to stretch on forever, longer than even the Facility’s clinical catacombs. Jack has morphed the whole building, sending me in circles. I begin to wonder if I’ll ever find him.

I startle at the sound of footsteps but it is only my own. Somehow time is moving slower around my ankles and as I walk, the sound takes just a second too long to catch up. It makes me feel as though there’s someone stalking in my shadow. I can’t shake the sensation, darting fearful glances over my shoulder, but if there’s something there, it’s too fast to see.

My fingers are tingling with the chill, my eyes feel heavy. I come to a fork in the road, two arching galleries splitting apart. For a second I consider my options and then I decide on the one to the left. It disappears down into darkness and the air feels somehow heavier, clogged with invisible dust.

I know I’ve made the right choice when the handprint on my arm begins to burn.

Jack leans up against the wall and as I draw close, he slips to the floor. My feet bring me to a stop and I just look at him. His head folds forward. He’s struggling to breathe.

I watch him bleed. He makes no move to stem the flow. It’s coming thick and as it trickles down his thigh, the carpet reaches up hungrily. His blood curls through the tapestry like water. I’m mesmerised by it, watching the way it seems to collect itself together, coming to life, circling the moving patterns warily.

“I think I’m dying,” he says.

“I think so too.”

I want to feel something but I can’t.

“This wasn’t how it was supposed to go,” he says.

I sigh, dropping down to his side. I pull my knees to my chest and close my eyes, resting my head on his shoulder.

“It’s not what I wanted either. You’re my friend.”

“Still?”

I shrug. “You’re not the same person that you were.”

“That’s not an answer.”

He coughs, forcing the blood from his lungs, and struggles to pull himself up straighter.

“Maya?”

“Yeah?”

“I made you something.”

He throws out a hand, scrabbling at the wall until eventually there’s a door where there wasn’t one before. He grunts, attempting to push it open with just the tips of his fingers and it clatters noisily against the frame.

My limbs are so heavy but I pull myself to my feet, stepping forward to push the door wide with tentative hands.

“It’s just a room,” I say.

Jack grunts, slamming his fist against the wall, and suddenly the room is a room no more.

The tears are falling down my cheeks before I can stop them. It’s so beautiful, a whole world behind a door. I stand beneath the mantel and watch soft light crawl over fresh grass. It smells like summer.

“I was going to replace the bits of the city that I squashed,” he says, “but it’s chaos so I couldn’t just make it like magic. I had to start a world from scratch.”

“You made a whole world?”

“Sure. It’s easy. All you need are chemicals and chaos. I’ve been keeping it in my pocket.”

“You’ve…?” I choke on the words. “It lives in your pocket? Why didn’t you say?” There’s something about this wild beauty that floors me.

Jack just shrugs, screwing his eyes shut as the movement tugs at the deep scours of his neck. “It lives in a marble in my pocket, nice and clean that way. I kept meaning to tell you but then you’d make me angry and I’d think. Why should I? She doesn’t deserve to know.” He swallows, panting slightly. “Seems so stupid now.”

I drop to the floor, allowing the door to clatter closed, and gaze over him with concern.

“We should be able to stem the bleeding,” I say, “get you to the hospital.”

“Why? Because I made something pretty?” He grunts, shifting himself again. He can’t seem to get comfortable.

“Because I was wrong,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

“Too late for that now.”

He attempts to stand, foot sinking briefly down into the carpet before he re-centres himself. The patterns scatter and he mutters frustratedly to himself.

“You should leave now,” he says.

“Why?”

“Because I’m going to set my power free again. I’m hoping that, if I’m lucky, it might heal me.” He grins and that boyish charm is back, sparkling in his blue eyes. “Doesn’t seem likely.”

I step back. As much as I want to trust him, I can’t.

“I’ll stay as long as I can,” I say.

Maya! Where are you?

“Fine. Do what you like.” The floor begins to hum as he blinks. His shirt is sticking to his chest, dark with blood.

“See you later, Jack,” I breathe as his eyes slowly glaze over. It’s not fury that replaces the consciousness in them, not this time. It’s something else, something alien, uncaring.

Maya, what are you still doing there? Get out.

He rubs a hand over his throat, as though this simple gesture might revive torn flesh. It does nothing.

I step back again, watching helplessly as the panic builds in him. He stands tall, as though he cannot even feel the pain, but there’s something buried deep that understands, understands the danger he’s in, understands the consequences of failing to heal.

Jack snarls. The sound is different, dampened somehow, all the sharpness taken from it. He’s drowning, lungs filling with blood.

He scrabbles at himself, fingers darting across his neck. It almost looks as though he’s fighting something, as though the power’s welling up with too much force, as though it’s tearing him apart from inside. Dimly I’m aware that he might still be in there, that he’s holding it back for me, but my body’s so numb I can hardly move. I’m just watching him drag handprints across the walls.

And then it sees me.

He stiffens, pupils contracting to pinpricks. There’s a moment as we just watch each other. We couldn’t be more opposite right now. I’m cold and empty, frozen in my sudden lack of power, he burns like the sun, brimming to overflowing with a force he cannot control.

I don’t move as he steps forwards once but as he makes to move again, I scuttle backwards. His face twists. The heartless thing in him is easily irritated, offended by my insubordination.

“I need you,” he snaps.

“For what?”

He doesn’t reply, lurching forward, fingers scrabbling for my wrists. I curl out the way, wrenching my hand free from his grasp, and he hisses in sudden fury.

“Come here.”

“No.”

I take another step back but the carpet has become a beast in its own right. It grabs at my feet, velvet vines coiling up my legs. I swipe fruitlessly at the bindings but they’re insistent, hungry, and even the lightest brush of my consciousness over the bruised hole that used to be my ability is enough to send flashes across my sight.

I can hear Shark shouting my name but I don’t know if it’s just in my head.

Jack draws closer. He’s smiling, a soft expression for icy eyes, and his palm wraps around the back of my neck. It’s a gentle gesture, soothing for just a few seconds before his fingers land on my throat and I scream.

I sway but he holds me still. My hands are scrabbling at his arm but its useless, I might as well be beating at rock, and all the while there’s nothing I can do but watch the wounds on his neck begin to heal. I can feel the gashes as they slowly open up in me, as he transfers his injury onto the yielding canvas of my blank flesh, and there’s nothing I can do.

Maya! Maya!

“Thank you,” he breathes, as though I had any choice in the matter, and rubs his thumbs down my cheek.

Maya, you’re strong enough. I promise, I promise.

It’s getting difficult to breathe. I’m contemplating how easy it would be to give in, to sink down into the cold and the black and be done with it. My shirt’s damp, clinging uncomfortably to my chest, and I realise that if I die, then it’s all over. I won’t have to worry anymore.

Maya. Don’t leave me… please.

Shark’s words waken something in me. He’s begging, desperate, and I realise I’m the one that’s doing it to him. I’m the one that’s hurting him. I already left him once and I’m about to do it again.

My hand’s moving without thought, fingers drifting ghost-like down to the pistol at my hip. I can’t see anything, can’t feel anything, but somehow the metal makes it into my palm. It feels like there should be some drama in it, some poetic ending for tortured souls, but there isn’t. I press my finger to the trigger and it’s done.

Jack’s palms slip from my skin like silk. He almost looks peaceful as he drifts backwards but it’s probably just my imagination, the only way I can justify to myself the fact that I actually shot him. He slumps against the door, balanced for just a second, and then he falls through.

I force myself forwards, following a dead God into the world he made. I look down on him, try and muster something in my heart, and then I slip silently away, closing the door behind me.

Shark arrives five minutes later. Everything feels muted as he flutters around me, forcing strips of his shirt into the holes of my neck. Alex arrives, The Lady propped against his side. She’s barely conscious but she pales at the teeth marks in my throat.

“Did I…?” She begins but I shake my head.

Shark stops moving and waits. He waits for as long as I need, until the reality returns to me, until the world seems like a normal place once again.

“Where is he?” He asks.

The door stands before me. Shark hasn’t even seen it. It’s just a door to him, means nothing more than that, but to me it’s everything. I want to answer but I’m just staring sightlessly and eventually he catches onto the direction of my gaze.

“In there?” He asks, reaching for the handle.

It’s just a room, tiny, filled with brooms and buckets on shelves. The grass is gone but I remember dappled sunlight on crimson blood so I know it was true.

“He’s gone,” Shark says. “Is he dead?”

“People always forget he can create things,” I say as if this counts for an answer at all.

“I’m so sorry, Maya,” Shark says as he reads the real answer from my mind.

He’s gone. Forever.

Alex steps forward, leaving The Lady propped up against the wall, and runs his fingers along the doorway. His expression hardens and he flips the hood from his face.

“No,” he breathes. “He’ll be back.”

“I shot him,” I say. “I saw it. I felt it. It’s over.”

Alex folds his arms. “I’m just saying what I see,” he says.

“When?” Shark asks, brow darkening.

“I don’t know.”

No one speaks as we consider the implications of Alex’s words. Eventually Shark just sighs.

“Well when that day comes, we’ll just have to make sure we’re ready, won’t we, Protector?”

Alex returns to Anna’s side, pulling her to her feet and making for home. “That’s the absolute worst superhero name I’ve ever heard,” he announces. “I’m changing it.”

“You should be called Absinthe,” Anna says, voice hoarse, “because you drink and then you see things that don’t exist yet.”

“That’s definitely a girl’s name, Anna. My masculinity couldn’t hack it.”

I let them leave, winding their slow way down the empty corridor. Shark throws a worried glance over his shoulder but I think he senses I have to be alone. I’ll need him later but we’ve never been the kind of couple that clings to each other. He’s my soulmate, or so I’ve been told, so we’ve got all the time in the world. For now, there’s something more important that needs to be done.

I step through Jack’s door one final time, crouching in the darkness below the shelves, and I don’t stop searching until I find a tiny blue marble, no bigger than a cherry. It’s the colour of cloudless skies and it hums gently as I press the pads of my fingers onto its smooth surface, dropping it into my pocket.


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