Origin Story

Dark Side of the Moon, Side 2 Song 2

Dark Side of the Moon: Side 2, Song 2

XxxxxxX

"See, you get yourself three or four good pals, then you've got yourself a tribe. And there ain't nothing stronger than that." – William "Billy the Kid" Bonney (Emilio Estevez), from the film "Young Guns"

XxxxxxX

"You are simply not going to believe this, boss. It's downright ugly in here." David Bowe held the ultraviolet lamp at the correct angle, but before he turned it on, he looked back to his supervisor. "You ready?"

Special Agent in Charge Newman merely nodded. He thought he knew what to expect, but when the ultraviolet light touched the mattress, he was shocked. There was residue everywhere. Everywhere. "Wait… is this the…?"

"If asked for my professional opinion, George, I'd have to say there was a lot of sex happening on this mattress. Lots and lots of sex. See this?" He pointed to a large, patchy, interconnected stain. What you have here is dried blood mixed with dried semen and I'm guessing dried vaginal fluids." He pointed to a different spot. "Here's some more blood mixed with semen. Semen on top of semen here. Blood there. More semen here." His arm moved as he pointed to various spots. "I think it would be easier for us to just ship the entire mattress to the lab than take specific samples."

Newman just stared at it, aghast. "Holy shit."

"Yeah, holy shit is right. This was the girl's mattress, right?" Newman nodded, and Bowe continued speaking. "Now, we'll have to wait for DNA to get back before we know for sure, but I'd say that either the young Miss Starr was really entertaining her boyfriend in here pretty much all the time, or else daddy dearest was sampling the cookies, if you know what I mean."

Newman dragged a hand across his face. This was getting ugly. "So how'd you find it?"

"What are you talking about, find it?" Bowe shrugged. "I just stripped the sheet of the mattress, sprayed it down with Luminol and Fluorescein, pointed the light, and bam, there it was. Whoever's been keeping the room clean didn't even bother turning the mattress over."

Newman stared at the mattress again. Without the black light, it looked like any other mattress. "How long do you think…?"

Bow shook his head. "No clue. According to the tag, the mattress is about ten years old. This much spatter, this deep? Couple a' years at least. How old did you say this girl was?"

"She was fifteen when she disappeared. She'd be seventeen now. And I don't think she had a boyfriend for that whole time."

"Right." Bowe blew a long breath through his front teeth. "Damn, that sucks. If we go with it being the dad, and she was fifteen the last time a fresh sample was laid down, he had to have started in on her when she was thirteen at the earliest. Latest would be when she was fourteen." Both men went quiet for a long time. "Boss," Bowe asked finally. "What's the statute of limitation on sexual assault on a minor?"

Newman shrugged. "In Ohio? I don't remember. I think there's still time to charge this scumbag if the DNA comes back. I remember that the civil limit is a lot longer."

Bowe stood and stretched his back. "Got to love laws which make it easier to sue somebody than arrest them. I remember this one case back when I was working in Chicago, there was this…" But David Bowe's story was interrupted. Abdul Raschid, one of the chemical trace techs working on the cars came running into the room, gasping for air and obviously not used to the exercise.

"Boss!" The man leaned over to rest his arms on his knees and be sucked in air. "Boss!"

"Calm down, Abdul. Catch your breath and tell me what's going on. Slow down."

Raschid nodded, still leaned over. "Right, boss. Right. Kuni's… Kuni's calling for you. He… damn, I need exercise. He said he's got a body, out behind the… the garage."

XxxxxxX

"Kuni. Raschid said you found a body?"

"Take a look for yourself, George." Kuni Hernandez was writing something down in his notebook, and George Newman had long ago learned that when he was recording the facts of a scene, you didn't interrupt him too often or too badly. So George just nodded, sure that Kuni would never notice, and stepped past the man.

The body was lying in a shallow hole, no more than two or three feet deep and maybe four feet long. Just wide enough to hold the body. It had almost been reduced to bones, but he could see some areas where what flesh remained was little more than leather-like strips. The corpse was dressed in the remains of a fuzzy pink sweater and a pair of jeans. A pair of running shoes were on its feet.

"Male or female?"

Kuni Hernandez looked up from his writing with a frown. "Not conclusive, but I think female. Maybe five foot seven. No other details. I'm waiting for the coroner to even begin to guess about a COD."

"Great. So maybe our missing person isn't missing anymore." He shook his head. So now it looked like the girl was raped and murdered, maybe at the hands of the girl's father.

Sometimes, George Newman thought to himself, I really despise people.

XxxxxxX

"Aaron? Hey, Aaron? You in there?" Louise had brought Xander to this makeshift community and to this shack specifically, its "door" was a sheet that looked nailed to the plywood making up the shack's walls.

Xander looked around at the home-built "neighborhood" that had been built under the highway. There were junked vans, and trucks and cars being used as houses, a couple of thrown away couches that had been partially blocked off with plywood, and several make-shift shacks, including the one he was standing in front of right now. The look of it made him readjust some of the preconceived ideas he had about homeless people. He shifted the backpack he was carrying from one shoulder to the other more from habit than need.

Louise had been talking about Aaron their whole way down. Aaron kept the homeless mutants organized, kept them fed. Organized scrounging teams that hit the landfill and construction sites around town for discarded material with which to build shelters, found help if someone got in trouble, talked people down if they got drunk or high and then got stupid. And it was Aaron who apparently had some connection to the local group of superheroes, who themselves were said to be a bunch of outcasts on the edge of homelessness.

Whatever Xander had been expecting, the guy who pushed aside the sheet and stood in the doorway wasn't it. Aaron was dressed only in a pair of blue jeans and a pair of wrap-around sunglasses, as far as Xander could tell, and was an obvious albino. His skin was milk white, as was his hair.

The sunglasses, Xander noted, were pink. Even the lenses were pink.

"Hey, Louise. Que pasa?" Aaron smiled at Louise, then very carefully looked Xander up and down. For a moment, he felt like a slap of beef under this strange man's inspection. "Who's the ice cube?"

Louise giggled. "Ice cube?" She looked at Xander. "You think?" The albino man grinned and nodded.

For a moment, Xander was unsure how to react. He had no idea what the guy meant by "ice cube", and thus had no clue as to what the proper response should be. Xander fell back on default behavior and gave the other man a quick grin and a wave.

"Aaron, this is Alex. She's my – my friend." At that, Aaron's mouth quirked into a quick smirk, then went back to its normal uncaring pose. "Alex Harris, this is Aaron Robles. He's one of my friends. And though he denies it, he's the guy who's in charge around here.

"I deny it because look around. You think anyone here is really in charge?" He turned his attention to Xander and stared for just a second. "Nice to meet you. Alex, you said?" He reached a pale hand out to Xander, who was careful to not put too much into the handshake. As Xander was pulling his hand back from the greeting, the other man was staring at his own hand.

"Whoa, that is immensely weird." He looked back up at Xander, who just stared. Xander glanced at his own hand, then quirked an eyebrow at Louise. "So," Aaron continued after a moment, as if what just happened never did. "What's her story, Louise? Why bring her here?"

"She's one of us, Aaron. You should have seen it. Marvin came by all mad 'cause I skipped out on work last night. He grabbed me and was choking me, and Alex beat the shit out of him. It was awesome. And since she's about done with her week at the convent and needs a place to crash, I figured she could crash with me. I can find another cot and we'll get her a bag and she can share my corner."

"Beat the shit out of Marvin? How's she do that? I mean, sure, she's got that Chyna from WWF thing goin' on, but I can't see her getting away with throwing a punch at Marvin, much less beating the shit out of him." Aaron stared at the pair of them before turning back into his shack. "Oh for fuck's sake. C'mon." Louise was through the door quickly, and Xander could only shrug and follow. Aaron stepped aside and waved them into his shack. The interior was lit by an old-fashioned Coleman lantern, like the kind his Uncle Rory occasionally used to light up his garage. Aaron stepped carefully past them in the tight quarters, then dug around in a small igloo cooler. He handed both of his guests a bottle of water and sat on a bench made of boards and cinder blocks. Louise perched on an overturned milk crate, and motioned Xander to join her on another, slinging the backpack down between his legs. While this was going on, the albino man took a long pull from his bottle of water. Aaron continued staring before shaking his head again.

"This thing with Marvin. Is he gonna come around looking to get some payback on you or Blondie here? Is this going to cause people trouble, Louise? 'Cause if so, you two need to walk. Now. We can't afford to have Marvin and his shitheads comin' in and bustin' up the place. Not with some of the kids we got here."

Louise looked scared, but just shook her head. "Alex scared Marvin shitless, Aaron! There's no way he wants any trouble from her."

"Uh huh." Aaron shook his head once more. "Right. So Beach Bunny here's got Marvin afraid of his own shadow. Right. Louise, I've known Marvin awhile, and I know that when he gets scared of something, there's a chance he'll keep away from it. But there's also a chance that he'll come in here with eight or nine guys packing Mac-10s, shootin' everybody that gets in their way, all because your friend here disrespected him in front of his own crew."

Xander looked at Louise. Louise looked at Xander. "I can't say a hundred percent, but I don't think it's gonna happen, Aaron. We just got nowhere else to go. I got my stuff here, and I figured Alex and I could stay in my spot. I'm sure Alex will help around like everybody else does. And she's got to be useful, as strong as she is."

Xander was nodding. "Of course, I'll help out."

Aaron chuckled, but it wasn't a happy chuckle. "That include helping take care of Marvin's goons if they come lookin' for you?"

"Of course."

"Uh huh. And when you're not here?" At Xander's blank look, the man just shook his head. "Yeah, that's what I thought. I got to hand it to you, protecting Louise from that shit-stain Marvin, but you should have taken him out all the way. All you done is embarrass him. So it isn't a question of whether Marvin will come, but when Marvin will come."

"I can't stand by and just let things happen to my friends." Xander looked over at Louise and smiled. "She's my friend, so I'll protect her. I can protect the rest of you all from the gang-bangers too, if that's what it'll cost me to stay here for a little while. If you need help in other ways, I don't mind helping then, either."

Xander looked at Louise, who patted Xander on the knee and said, "She's strong. Real strong. She tossed Jamal right across Queen Street hard enough that he smashed into the side of Pablo's Pawn, then thumped Baby Ray in the head hard enough to drop him. Picked Marvin by the throat and held him off the ground like he was nothing. And Marvin's knife didn't cut her. There's got to be a lot of ways she can help out, Aaron. Lots of ways." Louise gave Xander a quick look and a wink. Xander wasn't quite sure what that look meant.

The look also caused Aaron to chuckle. "Just your friend, huh, Louise?" Once again his eyes were on Xander. They seemed to bore into Xander and see through him a moment. "Yeah, okay. She's one of us, after all, that's for damned sure." Before Xander could ask what he meant by that, Aaron asked, "So, Alex, I got to ask. What are you doing with all that heat?"

Xander's bottle of water stopped its motion toward his mouth. "Say what?"

"Yeah, you read like you're cooler than everything around you, yet when I tough you, you're warm enough to heat my hand up. You're eating up the infrared around you. What's up with that?"

Louise leaned in. "He can see whatchacallit… heat radiation. I forget the word for it."

"Infrared. I see into the range of infrared light. That's my 'superpower'. Some power, don't you think? Real superhero material." He chuckled again and took another swallow from his water bottle. The chuckle was authentic, and Xander found it calming a little. "Problem is, all the colors I see with infrared tend to blend with what I'm seeing in visible light. It means I miss a lot of the surface detail, but can tell things like the fact that you seem to be eating all the heat that's pouring into you from the sunlight without it warming you up."

Xander finally got the joke. "So when you said ice cube it was because…"

"Because to my eyes, you look blue, which is typically a color associated with a lack of heat. But you're warm enough to the touch, like I said, to add to my hand's heat. Which again raises the question what you do with it all."

"Oh." Xander thought for a moment before finding the answer in Kara Zor-El's memories. "I'm, uh, metabolizing it. I sort of use it for fuel." He shrugged and grinned at Louise. "As long as I get exposed to sunlight regularly, I stay strong and hard to hurt.

"Strength and invulnerability. That's a classic combination. If you could fly, you'd have the whole package." Aaron chuckled again and took another pull from his bottle, but cut it short when he caught Xander's sheepish look. "Get out! You can fly too?"

Louise goggled. "Alex? Is he right, you can fly?" And Xander really didn't know what to make of that look.

Xander smiled at her while shrugging toward Aaron. He tried to duck the question. "What do you mean whole package?"

"Ever read any of the old Hyperion Academy comics? About the high school for super-powered teenagers?" Xander shook his head and Aaron continued. "They called it the 'FISS' package, and said it was the most commonplace combination of superpowers in the world. Or at least in the comic book world, you know? 'FISS' stood for flight, invulnerability, and super strength." Aaron finished the water in his bottle, then carefully put the bottle back in the cooler. "So, Alex, you never did answer the question. Can you fly?"

Xander shrugged again. Louise was looking at him with wide eyes and grinning. It was the grin that did it.

"Holy shit! I can't believe it! That must be so cool!" Louise was bouncing a little. "Alex you've got to take me flying some time! Like, sight-seeing! Wait. How far and fast can you fly? Could you fly us to like, San Francisco? Or is that too far?"

"Well, I, um. San Francisco? I don't think that would, um. I, um, I try not to fly around in the city because it's too easy to be recognized. But I guess if we, like, got outside of LA first, I guess we could – it's just that I'm trying to keep out of sight right now."

"Yeah, ain't we all?" Aaron sat back and stretched. He seemed much less hostile toward Xander and much more conciliatory. Not yet welcoming, but at least willing to give it a shot. "Well, been a while since we had a heavy hitter with us. Normally people like you end up in a hero team. Or knocking over banks. I'm thinking the fact that you're here means you're not knocking over banks." Xander shrugged again. He hadn't intended to reveal the fact that he could fly, but he couldn't control his reaction to Aaron making the joke about it. The guy was good at reading body language.

There was a scratch at Aaron's "door." At his invitation, a girl of maybe thirteen or maybe fourteen at the outside stuck her head in under the sheet. "Ahrn, meen Gohah gurn twa schturr. See cowashum kass sho wen glect tink shwe ned?" It was obviously a question, but Xander couldn't understand a word of it. The girl's jaws were distended and looked heavily muscled in the same way that a champion-level bodybuilder's arms were muscled. When the girl opened her mouth to talk, at least three rows of large, flat-topped teeth could be seen. Xander got the impression that if this young lady wanted to, she could bite through an inch-thick steel cable. Not necessarily the most useful mutation and it did things to her ability to speak clearly.

Aaron didn't have any problem understanding her, apparently. "That's okay, Jan. You tell your mom that I appreciate the offer, but I'm fine. She worked hard for that money and she should get you something special if she's going to the grocery store. Maybe a candy bar for you. Oh, hey, this is Louise's friend Alex. She's going to be living with Louise for a while."

The girl looked at Xander nervously, but managed what looked like a distorted smile. It made the girl drool heavily, but Xander ignored it and smiled back and waved. The way she looks isn't the girl's fault. Do not stare. Whatever you do, do not stare at her! "Hi. Nice to meet you."

The girl blinked again, and the distorted smile got wider. "Nighsh glu meeglu goo." And then the girl was gone.

Aaron studied Alex closely under his pink sunglasses, then smiled again. "You did good, Alex. Jan's shy around people she doesn't know. Anyway, welcome to the family. I hope you don't mind, but I might call on you occasionally to help, now that I know what you can do. Nothing huge and nothing nasty. Just, you know, occasionally moving something, or helping out if the idiot gang-bangers come by looking to harass someone. Or, I don't know… driving nails with your thumbs or something." Aaron turned to Louise. "Oz came back two nights ago, bleeding a little from where a banger knocked him down. Took everything he collected for the day, too."

"Oz?" Xander knew it couldn't be, but he couldn't help but ask.

"Oz is great," Louise said. "He's a street performer. Puts out an empty violin case, does his act for five or six hours, and lives off what he collects. He's usually good for twenty or thirty dollars a day. And his act is fantastic. I'll introduce you on the way to my place."

Xander shrugged. He wasn't quite sure what was going on still. "Sure. Let's go see your place."

They climbed out of Aaron's over-crowded shack and Louise led him deeper into the small Hooverville-like community under the overpass. Xander tried to take in everything and everyone around him as he followed Louise.

She took particular care to point out an older black man who was just outside a large wooden crate, inside of which he had made himself a home. The man was practicing a soft-shoe routine and was singing softly to himself. Xander concentrated for a moment and could suddenly hear the man singing "If I Only Had a Brain" to himself with the barest hint of a Jamaican accent. The song connected, and Xander realized that the dance moves the man was practicing were those that Ray Bolger himself had performed as the Scarecrow from the Judy Garland version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Louise caught him watching the dancer. "That's Oz. He's a sweetheart, and talented as the day is long. Great dancer, and he's got a beautiful singing voice."

"Is he, um, I mean does he have, uh—" Xander didn't quite know how to ask the question.

"Is he a mutant like us? Sure is." Xander tried not to wince at Louise's use of 'like us'. He didn't like lying to her about being a mutant, but he had to admit that letting her think that was easier than trying to explain how he was a man from another dimension stuck in the body of an extraterrestrial from Planet Krypton. "A lot of the people here are. Not all of them, but a lot. Some of the ones who aren't are the kids whose parents are, or are boyfriends or wives or moms and dads. And some are just folks Aaron let's stay here. You know, this is just a bunch of people who live close and try to help each other, not like it's a cult of mutants or something."

Xander nodded and looked over his shoulder at Oz, who was still dancing. He stopped in shock when he realized that Oz had been replaced with a clone of Judy Garland's character Dorothy Gale, down to her blue farmer smock and white apron. Dorothy did some tap steps, then suddenly turned into Jack Haley's Tin Man, who completed the dance move.

"What the hell?"

"Oh, yeah. That's what Oz can do. He can change the way you see him when you look at him, but he can only make you see characters from The Wizard of Oz. You'd think a person who could make other people see them differently would be able to become anybody, but he can only become the cast of Wizard of Oz." She shrugged and grinned. "It's a better power than changing your hair color, I guess."

Xander suddenly got it. "That's why you call him Oz, right?"

"Right! Exactly!" Her face brightened up as she tugged on Xander's arm. "Come on! We're in here!"

"Here" turned out to be a yellow school bus whose engine block was missing and whose front wheels were missing tired and propped up on blocks. "The bus is a pretty good place to stay, even if we have to share it with six other people. There's lots of space, but people are constantly tramping past your place, you know?" Louise stopped at the top of the stairs leading from outside. "Hey, we're coming through!"

The first thing that Xander noticed about the inside of the bus was that most of the bench seats had been removed, and the resulting increase in space had been subdivided by "walls" made of cardboard, plywood, and sometimes even a strung clothesline with a blanket thrown over it. The left side of the bus, right up against the sidewall, was clear, allowing people to walk all the way through to the emergency door at the back. The right side was filled with people's living spaces. As they were on their way deeper into the bus, a woman stepped into the passageway. She jerked to an abrupt stop when she saw Louise and Xander. "Oh, hi there, Debby. Debby, this is Alex. Alex, this is Debby. She's our neighbor." Louise had a cautious look on her face, letting Xander know that while Louise was on speaking terms with the new woman, they weren't the closest of friends. "You going out?"

Xander found himself on the far side of mortified. Do not stare. Do not stare. Whatever you do don't stare at her. For one thing, Debby's skin was so translucent it was almost transparent. For another, she was dressed only in a white thong and what looked like a matching set of ballet slippers. Her muscles and bones were visible beneath what looked like a clear layer of gelatin. Her lips, aureoles and nipples were silver smudges barely less see-through than her skin. Even the hair on her head, her nails, and her eyelashes were translucent. She was fascinating to look at, and Xander had no idea where to put his eyes without it seeming like he was staring.

"Yeah, Dave paid back the ten bucks he owed me and I need a pack of smokes." The translucent women switched her attention to Xander, who smiled and nodded and tried to keep his eyes on Debby's eyes. "How're you doing? Your name is Alex?"

"Yeah. Alex Harris. Nice to meet you Debby." Without thinking about it, Xander gave Debby the classic male up-and-down. When his eyes once rose to Debby's face, she was clearly smirking.

"Uh-huh. Nice to meet you, too." She was still smirking. "You need anything, Louise?"

"Nah, I'm good. C'mon, Alex." Louise tugged on his arm as Debby passed by. "Our room's right here."

Their "room" turned out to be an cleared out space six feet wide by perhaps four feet wide, closed in on one side by a piece of dirty plywood and on the other by a curtain of visqueen tacked up to a flattened cardboard box. The door-slash-fourth wall of the "room" was a wool blanket hung on a clothesline. The only furnishings were a thick foam mat piled high with blankets, a set of ad-hoc shelves made out of three stacked milk crates upon which sat a cracked dinner plate that had a half-melted candle stuck to it, two more milk crates that might have served as stools, a small, red Coleman cooler, and a battered suitcase.

Louise was giving Xander careful, hesitant glances, waiting for a reaction. She was clearly afraid of what Xander might be thinking.

"Hey, thanks for letting me stay with you for a while. This is great. Beats living out on the street, right?"

"It really isn't all that bad. I mean, there's a gas station two blocks away that doesn't mind if you use their ladies room to clean yourself up some. And the nuns will let you shower every night if you need to. And there's a coin laundry down the road that's not too expensive if you can keep yourself in quarters. We've got a share-alike thing going for food, so everybody puts a what they can into the kitty; Sally, that's Jan's mom – you remember Jan, she was the girl with the…" Louise motioned at her mouth. She returned Xander's nod. "Yeah, her. Anyway, Sally usually makes grocery runs every two weeks and gets some basics. You know, canned soup or chili or a couple of boxes of crackers. Stuff that doesn't go bad too often."

She sat there quiet for a moment, still trying to gauge Xander's reaction. It confused Xander a bit and he began to wonder why his reaction would be so important to the girl. Abruptly, Louise added, "Oh! And… and… Bam-Bam boosted a couple of chemical toilets from a couple of construction sites so we have sort of a men's room and a ladies room just a short way away. Bam-Bam even empties them into the sewer regularly.

"No, hey, it's okay, Louise. This is great! No problems at all!" Xander put his backpack down and sat on one of the milk crates. For someone with no place to go and your choice is this or sleep out in the open, this place is the Ritz-Carlton. Like he said, there were no problems at all.

XxxxxxX

Xander should have known better than to jinx himself. There weren't any problems the rest of the day. Louise had shown him around the tiny community, introducing himself to several people, and then the pair had gone to dinner and church at the Convent. All in all, it had been a quiet day.

But that had been yesterday.

"Louise! Hey, Louise! You in here?"

Xander's eyes shot open. It took him a moment to shake the last remnants of sleep from his mind and remember where he was. The school bus, in Louise's alcove. On the foam pad and under the pile of blankets that served Louise as a bed. The slight feeling of heat and the weight on his side – Xander looked down and saw one of Louise's hands grasped in his own, held close against his own chest. She'd snuggled up to him in the night while they slept, and had thrown an arm around him. If they hadn't been sleeping fully dressed, having one of Louise's hands clutched between Xander's breasts would be much more erotic than it was.

Xander was still unsure about their relationship. Louise had referred to him as "her girlfriend" and Xander had never corrected her, but they'd done little more than hand out with each other for a week. Xander liked Louise well enough, but he hadn't formally decided on what to do about it. They hadn't even kissed yet. And now here they were, sharing a bed and snuggling.

"Louise! Girl, there's trouble…" Aaron's voice. The albino's head suddenly thrust under the blanket that made their sleeping space's inner wall. "Louise, you need… oh, Alex. Sorry, but it's a kind of emergency thing. Hey, Louise, you awake?"

The girl groaned behind Xander. "I am now. What's going on?" She pulled her hand out of Xander's as she rolled on to her back; she took the time to stroke the side of Xander's face while she did it. Apparently Louise had no trouble deciding on their status as a couple.

"Marvin just pulled up with three cars of guys. There's like, nine of them, and they got their guns out."

"Oh fuck! Alex, c'mon, we got to hide." Xander looked at the girl and could tell she was terrified. "We don't want them to hurt people. We got to get away." Louise was beginning to sound like she was going into a panic attack. "Crap. Crap. Crap. Fuck! I figured he might show up, but I didn't think he'd show up so soon, y'know?" She scrambled to her knees and began fumbling around for her shoes and socks.

Xander sat up, sighing. He absently rubbed at one side of his face while he shook his head. He looked at Louise, then up at Aaron, then back at Louise. He was coming to the slow realization of how badly the pimp had kept "his" girls in terror of him, and it was causing a slow burn in him, somewhere deep down. Xander, like most abused kids who had somehow grown up and avoided becoming abusive themselves, had a slow-burning fuse when it came to getting angry, but once it was lit, it took no time for him to go from irritated to completely pissed-off.

Without thinking about it, Xander had come to a conclusion regarding his relationship with Louise. He grabbed one of her hands, carefully, and gently rubbed its back with his thumb. "Louise." She kept babbling. "Louise." He was firmer this time. "Louise, look at me." Firmer still. She stopped babbling and looked at Xander, confusion and fear competing in her eyes. "You don't have to worry about Marvin. Nobody here has to worry about Marvin." He kissed the back of her hand, then stood up, then motioned to Aaron to lead the way.

He could hear Louise's plaintive, "Alex, please be careful" as he stepped out of the bus.

XxxxxxX

Marvin and his eight friends were only just beginning to step across the partially collapsed chain-link fence that marked the edge of the community's unofficial border when Aaron and Xander got there. Only Marvin had a gun out, a dirty-gray automatic of some kind that Xander didn't recognize. His knowledge of guns was limited to the .38 his dad had owned, the Army 9mm that he'd seen in countless war films, and Harry Callahan's Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver. In the end, of course, wasn't going to matter unless something went pear-shaped and innocent people got shot.

Xander had decided to not let any innocent people get shot this morning.

As the two of them approached the gang of thugs, Aaron stepped forward, trying to calm the situation down. "Marvin, hey, what're you doing here, man? And what's with the gun? Nobody wants any trouble, man, we got kids here, you know? So how about we all stay cool and you put the gun away?"

But Marvin had already spotted Xander, and with blood in his eye had already dismissed Aaron as irrelevant. "Naw, fuck that! That bitch and I gonna have a talk, and then she gonna learn a lesson she ain't gonna forget. Get the fuck out of my way, white bread." The pimp brought his pistol around, swiping it at Aaron's head, but Aaron managed to skip back and out of the way. Marvin's eyes never lost contact with Xander's. "You, you big-tittied cunt… you gonna fucking learn that nobody disrespects me on my own street, especially not in front of my boys. And you took something that fucking belongs to me. You get that scrawny whore out here right fucking now and I might leave you one of your fucking eyes." Xander didn't move. Marvin pointed the pistol at Xander's head. "I'm gonna count to five and I swear to fucking god if you're still standing there, I'll…"

It was as far as he got. Xander rushed forward, nowhere near as quickly as he could have, and grabbed Marvin's hand, the one with the gun in it. Xander's fist clenched just enough to squeeze the pimp's fingers against the metal of the pistol as he pulled the other man's hand up. The muzzle of the man's gun was now firmly pressed against Xander's forehead, right between the eyes. "Go ahead, big man. Pull the trigger. See how that works for you. But I have to warn you, Marvin, you do and you're going to be in a lot more pain than you've ever known."

"What the fuck? Are you fucking crazy?" Marvin tugged fruitlessly against Xander's hand, trying to free himself.

Xander ignored Marvin to turn toward one of Marvin's thugs, who was fumbling under his coat. "Dude, if that gun sees daylight, I'm going to make you eat it." He turned back to Marvin and once again pressed his head up against the muzzle of pistol. "Take your best shot. You got me dead to rights."

"Bitch! Let me go!" Marvin continued to jerk against Xander's hold.

Nothing else happened. Eventually, Xander got tired of it and leaned back. "Yeah, that's what I…" Xander was going to finish the sentence with "that's what I thought", but was interrupted when Marvin's gun went off in his face. Xander's eyes widened in surprise as he felt the bullet strike the back of his throat and then fall harmlessly onto his tongue. It tasted like copper and cordite, and just might have been the most disgusting taste Xander had ever experienced, including that time the ichor from the gnarishak demon splashed on his face.

Xander could feel Marvin start to shake, no doubt in fear. He had, after all, just shot Xander at close range. Xander glared at him, then spat the bullet out of his mouth and into the hand that wasn't busy holding Marvin's hand in place. He held the bullet in between thumb and index finger when he showed it to the pimp. "Okay, so now you know. Marvin, its time you learned your lesson. With that he pulled the gun out of the pimp's hand so quickly and so forcefully that Marvin's index finger, still hooked into the trigger guard, was pulled completely off with it. Marvin Screamed and clutched his damaged hand, now missing a finger, to his chest. Marvin's goons reacted, and none of them effectively. Half of them just took off running. Xander let them go. He now only had four to deal with, including crippled Marvin.

The man who'd been trying to grab his own gun got it out and brought it up into a firing position, but he was nowhere near fast enough. "I warned you." Xander poked the man in the shoulder, just at where the arm met the man's chest, and his finger sank into the man's flesh up to the second knuckle. The gun dropped out of the man's hand as he shrieked in pain. A quick thump to the forehead and the mook was unconscious. Xander turned to the other three guys, none of whom were moving. As he shook the blood off of his finger, he asked, almost casually, "Oh, are you guys still here?" They ran.

Marvin was still on his knees. He'd picked up his pistol from where Xander dropped it and was fumbling with it, trying to make it work through the pain and with the wrong hand. Xander took it from him, much more gently this time, and crumbled it up into a ball.

"No more guns, Marvin." He grabbed the pimp around the throat with one hand and dragged him bodily to where the unconscious goon was laying. With his free hand, Xander grabbed the unconscious gunman by the heel of one foot. Both Marvin and his good were dragged back to Marvin's car. With casual ease, Xander popped the trunk open and dropped the goon into it. Marvin he still held. Xander brought Marvin's face close to his own. It was clear that oxygen was about to become an issue for the pimp, but it wasn't like Xander cared a whole hell of a lot.

"Marvin. Marvin, pay attention." The man's eyes bugged out at Xander, but they never wavered from Xander's face. "This is the second time, Marvin. You come by again and I'm going to feed your body to the sharks. I'm talking about those huge sharks off the coast of South Africa, the ones the Discovery Channel does week-long documentaries about. I'm not playing here, Marvin." Marvin grabbed Xander's arm, trying desperately to dislodge Xander's hand from around his neck, but ti wasn't working. "Do you know how you can tell I'm serious, Marvin? Because I broke your fingers telling you this, Marvin?" And then Xander did just that. He grabbed Marvin's flailing hand and exerted enough pressure to break each of the pimp's fingers. Marvin whimpered. He could breathe easily enough to stay conscious, but not enough to scream, and the pain made it a near thing anyway.

"Are we clear, Marvin? If I see you again, I'm dropping you into the middle of the Indian Ocean where the sharks can get you. Nod if you understand me, Marvin."

Marvin nodded, desperately.

"Good. Now go to sleep." Xander smashed Marvin's head into the roof of the car hard enough to render the pimp unconscious, then dropped him, too, into the trunk of the car. He shut the lid on the two street thugs, then welded it closed with a quick application of heat vision.

The whole thing took maybe a minute. Aaron was standing there with his mouth open, unsure what to say. "Hey, Aaron, look what I found!" Xander said. He pointed toward the other two cars. "Someone went and left two perfectly functional cars out on the street! Even left the keys in them. Know anybody who needs to have a roof over their head? The backseat of that one looks pretty huge!" Xander dusted his hands off and smiled at the man. "I know this is going to be a weird question, but do you know where I can get some white paint?"

XxxxxxX

They'd all come out of the precinct headquarters when they heard the loud crash. Almost a minute later and none of them had a real clue as to what they were seeing. The uniforms and various detectives were all standing around scratching their heads, hesitant to approach the object. It wasn't that they couldn't recognize what the object started out to be… it's just that the object no longer was one of those and had become whatever it was now.

What it started out as was the back half of a car. The axle was missing, as was the back door and the back seat. Someone had welded what looked like the hood of a car over the hole left by the seat. The metal of the car body was torn in places and crimpled together in other places, but it was still recognizable as the back end of a car. Even had the license plate still attached. But there had been some "modifications," starting with the fact that it wasn't attached to the front end.

"What's this happy horse shit?" Lieutenant Togorian stepped out of the precinct and took a moment to google just like the rest of the cops. The precinct's captain couldn't be bothered to come down himself, so he sent the nearest lieutenant he could find, and that had been the commander of his vice division.

"Take a look for yourself, Lou," one of the uniforms answered her. "It's a car. Sort of."

"Really Benneli? A sort of car? With observational skills like that you'll be a detective in no time." Lieutenant Togorian pushed through the assembled officers and got closer in order to get a better look. "Yep, that's sort of a car." She walked around the wreck, taking in the missing back seat, and the missing doors, and the fact that the cut that had separated the car's halves looked ragged and uneven. She continued her circle until she found the trunk lid. Across it, in large white letters made of what looked like paint, were the words "CAUTION! DO NOT SHAKE! LIVE ASSHOLES INSIDE!" The words were surrounded by many holes in the trunk lid that made it look like someone had taken after it with a shotgun.

"Live assholes inside." She thought about that for a moment, before shouting. "Somebody help me!" The lieutenant searched the trunk seam for some sort of release catch, but there wasn't any. It took her a moment, but eventually she concentrated enough to look at the trunk seams. They'd been welded shut. "Somebody get on the horn to the Fire Department, tell 'em we've got people trapped in a vehicle trunk. Bring the jaws-of-life. Now, people!" She carefully put an eye to one of the holes. It was a through-and-through, but there couldn't be a lot of air getting in there.

Togorian stepped back and forced herself to calm down. Okay… half a car, and there were apparently people inside who needed police attention. What that did mean? She turned back to the precinct. "Benneli, when the fire department gets here, come get me. I'm going to brief the captain." She ran inside, but slowed as she realized that while the situation of whomever was in the trunk of that car, there was no reason for her to run, because running wouldn't get them out any faster. So she took the elevator rather than climbing the stairs.

In her head, she'd was already wondering what the next step was. This felt like something those damned super-powered kids would do. The people in the trunk would turn out to be a wife beater, or a jewelry store perp or maybe a bank robber. The car would be one of the bad guy's getaway vehicles. And no doubt the perps would be seriously injured. Probably one of them had gone off and beaten them to within an inch of their lives.

That might work in New York City, but this was Los Angeles where officially such activities were frowned upon. Someone needed to tell those kids to cut it out. And besides, she needed more information if she was going to explain this to her boss. So rather than go to him directly, she went to her desk and dug around for the cell phone number that Sister Grimm kid had given her just in case. It would take strength to do that to a car. Not to mention the toughness to survive a hypothetical counter-attack on behalf of the criminals. Grimm had young girl with her who Togorian had once seen lift a semi's tractor-trailer. She was just a kid, and that message left outside was something a kid would do.

She had no idea where a bunch of runaway kids with superpowers would hide, but maybe she could get in touch with them.

XxxxxxX

Author's Note: If you recognize it, it belongs to either DC Comics, Mutant Enemy Productions, or Marvel Comics (which means Disney these days). All I own is the plot line and the other things you don't recognize.

Author's Note the Second: Most of this chapter was written while listening to the orchestral soundtrack to the video game Mass Effect 3. Regardless of what you thought of the game, you've got to admit the music was epic.

Author's Note the Third: The chapter title actually comes from an episode of the soap opera General Hospital. Luke Spencer and Robert Scorpio were attempting to stop some world-threatening conspiracy and so Scorpio went to a friend to see if he'd help them in their quest to bring down the bad guy. After the meeting, when Scorpio got Luke on the phone, Luke asked how the meeting went, and in response, Scorpio said, "Dark Side of the Moon. Side 2, Song 2" and hung up the phone. Luke immediately knew exactly what Scorpio meant: the friend wasn't going to help, and Luke and Scorpio were on their own.

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