“Untie him, please. Mr. Callahan.”
"Now, Mr. Callahan,” Mr. Lewis said, the latent threat in his voice clear. Greg jumped to obey, and untied Cole from the table and undid the ropes on his wrists. Cole slowly stood, his eyes on the ground, but his focus on the government agent.
“Young man, look at me,” the man ordered, and Cole slowly raised his eyes to the man, who didn’t so much as blink at Cole’s brightly colored eyes, and Cole felt a skitter of trepidation down his spine at the man’s own sharp, practically colorless grey eyes. “Better. Come with me,” he said, turning to walk back to the front door. Cole passed his foster father, who still held the ropes in frozen confusion, and made his way after the man- Mr. Lewis, he’d introduced himself as-, wondering what sort of trick this was. But there weren’t any Officers waiting in the living room, or at the door, and still no Officers waiting by the sleek black car with the super-tinted windows - just Cole and Mr. Lewis, who went walking through the living room and out the door without so much as a glance back.
Cole didn’t look at the kids on the stairs, but from the corner of his eyes he caught a glance of Lily standing next to Henry, the girl looking forlorn, the other boy looking agitated, and he dropped his eyes back to the floor as he followed Mr. Lewis out of the house. There was a driver standing by the car, armed with a single, deceptively innocent handgun Cole knew had three settings; one a tazer, one a true gun complete with rounds, and one a dart shooter, with tranquilizers for Anomalies. Standard issue for most law keepers, and private security as well. He couldn’t help wonder when they were going to use one- or all- of those settings on him. But the driver opened his door and let him slide onto the slick leather interior without as much as a suspicious blink. Mr. Lewis slipped into the front seat and the driver got in and pulled away silently.
They sat in silence for a few minutes; then Mr. Lewis spoke up. “Your case is unusual, Cole. But not unheard of.”
Cole glanced at the back of the head of the government official through the pass through window the official had yet to close on him. “My eyes, you mean?”
“Yes, those. But also a latent ability. It’s unusual for an ability to go so long without emerging, but not impossible.”
His nerves started kicking in, and he looked to the door for an escape even as he lightly replied, “I don’t have any abilities, Mr. Lewis.” Fuck. The locks on the back doors were automatic and sawed down so no one could get out unless the door was opened from the outside.
“Well, we’ll need to be sure before we release you, of course. As I said, the most dangerous abilities are the ones that control you, rather than the other way around. Those Anomalies are the true monsters, because they can’t keep from being destructive. The ones that can control their ability, and merely control it to the outcome of chaos and anarchy- they’re troublesome, to be certain, but they aren’t unmanageable. They can reign it in, keep it under control when threatened with the right leverage. It’s those others you have to watch out for. They’ll destroy themselves and everything around them without any control. True dangers...”
Cole was starting to panic, and the feeling only intensified when the driver pressed a button and the pass through window slid shut with a resigned ‘whoosh’. There was a hissing sound, and the air in the backseat started fogging up. Cole quickly took a breath and yanked his shirt up over his mouth and nose and fell back on his back onto the seat, kicking at the door window to the outside.
The window held, and Cole felt his brain starting to go as foggy as the backseat air, and in a last ditch attempt, changed his target from the outside window to the pass through window. If he was going under, he was damn sure going to try to take them down with him.
The pass through window gave easily under his trainers, and through his clouded thoughts he heard Mr. Lewis yelling, and another voice that must have been the driver’s. A faint click betrayed the locks undoing as the driver and Mr. Lewis scrambled to stop and dive out of the car, and Cole grabbed at the handle, opening the door and stumbling out onto the street. The clear air hit him hard, and his head spun, caught between sharp clarity and fading fogginess, like that flash of white across your vision when you stand up too fast.
Still stumbling and unsure where he was or where he should be trying to go, he haphazardly ran from the car and down the street, hearing shouting behind him. Somewhere in his fading consciousness he realized it was starting to rain, and he should get to cover, but he couldn’t make himself stop running.
Finally, the shouting faded to nothing, and he ducked down a random alleyway and braced a hand against the wall, then turned into his whole right side as he slumped against the wall. He slid down, and crawled to the nearest dumpster, hoping it would hide him well enough as he started to slip into unconsciousness, exhausted and still foggy from the drugs in the car. He tried to remember where his house was; surely even Laurel and Greg would take him back knowing he’d been drugged? But even as the thought occurred to him, he knew it was pointless as everything faded to black.
He smiled as the young Anomaly told him a nickname, not that he blamed her. If he was one of them, he wouldn’t give anyone his real name either. They both looked back to the door as it opened to reveal Lily, looking distraught and guilty. She ran in and threw herself at Cole, tears running down her cheeks. “I’m sorry! You shouldn’t have taken the blame - you didn’t even say anything!”
He resisted the urge to look back at Distraction in her hiding spot, and rubbed Lily’s back. “It’s alright, Lily, I’m fine. Don’t worry so much.”
“She’s right, though.” Henry’s voice spoke from the door. “You shouldn’t have stepped in. No way they’re going to let you stay now-” he cut off as Distraction shifted to see him better and the movement caught his eye. “Hey! What’s that?” he called, running for the rafters. Distraction went wide eyed and terrified, and Cole leapt up, tossing Lily to the ground and tackling Henry before he could get closer to the small girl, giving Distraction the opportunity to skitter down from the rafters and out the window. Henry came at Cole with a fist to his jaw, and Cole fell back, still reeling from the almost drowning he’d suffered. He was a second too late regaining himself, and by the time he leapt up to chase after Henry, the other boy was already halfway down the stairs, yelling out for Officers. He went out the front door just as Cole came running down the stairs after him, and Cole caught the younger boy as he hit the street, throwing himself at Henry again. The two boys grappled in the street, but it was too late for little Distraction, whose frightened screams rose in the air, waking the microdistrict and bringing people to their doors. Cole threw Henry to the ground, hoping the little prick hit his head hard enough to bleed, and looked up, where the Officers were tying up an unconscious Distraction, who looked even smaller compared to the giant Officers.
A force hit Cole again, and he and Henry went back to exchanging blows until two Officers came to pull the boys apart and, as luck would have it, Greg pulled up to the house. The older man got out, his face like a storm cloud right before it lets loose the lightning, and came stalking over. “What have they done now, Officers?”
“We’re about to sort that out. You the guardian of these two?” the one holding Henry asked. Greg nodded reluctantly as Henry spoke up to defend himself. “That missing Anomaly, it was up in the back bedroom, Greg! I came running out to tell the Officers and Cole tried to stop me!”
The Officers and Greg turned to Cole, whose hair was still dripping wet along with his shirt, and who was bleeding from a cut on his head and his crooked nose. “Is this true?” the Officer holding Cole asked, his grip on the boy’s arms tightening to a painful degree.
Cole didn’t look away from Henry, his turquoise eyes burning. “She was just a kid,” he growled. His arms were yanked again, and he felt the stretching that experience that preceded a dislocation.
Henry defended himself before the adults could. “She was a monster,” he growled back, and the Officer holding him let him loose in approval. Greg went to Henry’s side, laying a hand on the boy’s shoulder and glaring at Cole. “Henry is correct. He did the right thing,” he said with a proud look to Henry, who beamed under the praise. Greg looked to the Officers. “We tried to do the boy a favor by taking him in, but after tonight, we obviously can’t keep him here. He’s a month past eighteen, we thought,” he added with a venomous look to Cole, “-we were doing a kind thing, letting him stay until he found a job.”
The Officers nodded. “We’ll leave him with you for now. But someone will be by as soon as possible to collect him.”
Greg nodded and the Officer holding Cole threw him to the ground, where he didn’t move. Greg thanked the Officers and told Henry to go collect the ropes from the back bedroom, and Henry ran to obey with only a fleetingly guilty look at Cole on the ground.
It was the foot connecting with his ribs he felt first, but barely had time to register the pain before Greg yanked him up by his hair. “You ingrate. After all we’ve done for you, you go and make a spectacle of us in front of government officers.”
Cole didn’t speak. He didn’t speak to adults. It only caused pain. But even without words, his point was heard, and Greg twisted his hand in Cole’s hair, making the boy wince. Henry came running out, snapping at Lily to stay at the door, where she watched with a horrified look. Greg tied Cole’s wrists together and took him back to the house. The kids were watching, lined along the stairs and peeking at Cole, and he felt that pang of betrayal at the accusing looks they threw at him. After all the times he’d covered for them, all the beatings he’d taken for them, and they turned on him in a second. Only Lily looked troubled. But even she didn’t speak up for him. Greg went to the kitchen and shoved Cole to the corner, tying the end of the rope to the table like he was some kind of dog. Cole leaned his back against the wall, trying to breathe past the pain in his ribs, waiting for the Officers to send their person to dispose of him. He had no doubt that’s what was going to happen by the end of tonight, and all he could do was sigh from his position on the floor of the kitchen in a house he was no longer tolerated in. He brought his knees up and laid his forehead on them, hoping to rest enough now to fight later.
Only a short while passed before he was awake again, the sound of pounding footsteps awaking him in a panic. He pressed against the dumpster, but it was just an adult, running past the alleyway in an effort to get home and out of the rain. He relaxed his breath as the man ran off without so much as a side glance to Cole’s hiding place, and he crawled out to peek into the alleyway. There wasn’t any sign of anyone hunting him, and he stepped out onto the street. He looked up the street, and down the other way, and there was no one but the quickly disappearing figure of that runner. He went to move against the wall of the nearest storefront, but before he reached the wall, a rush of water came pouring down from the roof system, soaking his surroundings, and him from head to toe. He gasped, and stood in stilled shock for a moment before cursing and going to sit against the wall, his knees pulled against his chest and his arms wrapped around his knees to try to fight the shivers. He laid his forehead on his knees and wondered if he sat here long enough, if someone would just shoot him out of his misery.
Again, barely any time passed when a shoe kicked his foot lightly. He lifted his head and immediately an apple fell into his lap. He kept his eyes down, but managed to get a glimpse of the woman standing over him.
Dark hair, falling in wet strands around her face, dark eyes and pale, pale skin. Her lips lifted in a smirk and she took a bite of a second apple in her hand, swallowing before she spoke. “Hey kid.”
He didn’t respond. She didn’t look very much older than him, maybe a few years past twenty, but he knew better than to talk to strangers. Especially in his current condition.
He handed her back her apple, and she cocked an eyebrow at him. “It’s just an apple.”
“I don’t take food from strangers.” It could have- and had in the past- been drugged.
Again with the smirk, though she seemed approving of his caution. “So. You do have a brain rattling around that pretty head of yours. I thought you might be missing one, seeing as you’re relaxing out here like a sitting duck with your eyes turned down.”
He didn’t respond again, and she frowned down at him. “Why aren’t you looking at me, kid?” She said, and he shook his head. She tilted her own at him in bemusement. “What, your gift scar your face or something?”
He looked up, turquoise eyes blazing. “I’m not an Anomaly.”
She blinked at him, not surprised or put off by his eyes, which immediately put him on guard; the only other person who’d ever been instantly unsurprised by his eyes was Mr. Lewis. And look how that turned out.
“Your eyes tell a different story kiddo,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You’re going to be one of those morose, self-hating types, aren’t you?”
“It’s a genetic defect. It happens,” he replied, getting defensive. It was unnerving, her standing over him like this, but he knew if he rose in any sort of aggressive manner, they’d come to blows. It was the way the streets worked.
She laughed, and he was surprised how lighthearted the sound was. “Of course it does. And who can you name for me that’s over the age of eighteen and still alive with a harmless ‘genetic defect’?”
“Me.” He glared at the ground for a second, and then lifted his eyes back to her. “They told me it happens, so it happens, ok?” he bit out. It was the truth he’d clung to his whole life. Even if it was for nothing that he’d been chased and beaten and wrongly accused his whole life, it was better than actually being an Anomaly, especially since he didn’t have any apparent abilities.
“Dumb, morose, and gullible. You’re going to be fun,” she deadpanned.
“Don’t you have something to do other than annoy me?” he asked. “Because I’ve already had a really shitty day and I don’t need any more crap piling up.”
Her laughter faded back to her smirk. “I’m heading to a safe house; thought you might want to join. You look like you could use a roof and maybe a meal.”
He shook his head adamantly. “No way. Safe houses are for people like Anomalies and other criminals. I’m not one of them.” And she didn’t look it either. How could she be sure she’d be safe at this supposed safe house?
She raised an eyebrow at him again, frowning in disapproval. “Alright, kiddo. Suit yourself,” she said, waving a hand. The closed awning suddenly screeched to life and contorted itself awkwardly to hang over his head, blocking the rain from hitting him. He looked up at her in a panic. “You’re- you’re an Anomaly.”
She gave him a sad smile. “Yeah, that’s one name I go by. Stay dry, kid.”
She turned to leave and he lowered his legs and set his palms on the ground to push himself up. “Wait.”
She paused and turned back to look at him. “What?”
“Maybe.... maybe I could use a roof. At least some company...”
She smirked again, and reached a hand out to help him up, her pale skin looking almost otherworldly white in the bleeding light of the clouds. He reached for her hand and felt the weirdest pull as his hand neared her, which turned into a full body convulsion when their skin touched. He heard a female scream, realizing it was her, but too concerned with the sudden surge of power around him, like he’d been shocked with static electricity. It wasn’t coming from him, necessarily, more like passing between him and her both via their contact, but it was impossible to tell if the energy was coming or going. They yanked their hands away from each other, and he realized he was back on the ground pressed against the wall, staring at her, and she was in a similar state, having fallen to her knees and staring at him with an unreadable look, rubbing her hand that had touched him. He realized the chaos surrounding them, the torn down awning, the tossed trash cans, the dumpster he’d hidden behind dragged into the street and lying on its side, and all the broken windows of the storefronts surrounding them.
She regained her composure first and rose back to her feet, watching him warily, and he followed suit.
“Was that me or you?” he asked softly. She shook her hair out of her face and stared him down. “Mostly me. But that kind of thing hasn’t happened to me in years.” She kept her distance but didn’t so much as blink to take her eyes off him. “What are you?” she asked, more to herself than to him. He felt more uncomfortable the longer her unblinking eyes watched him, then suddenly, she blinked and tuned to leave, and the spell was broken. “C’mon, kid. Let’s get out of the rain.”
He leapt up and hopped a few paces to bring him alongside her. “I can still come with you?”
“Of course.” She made it sound obvious. “Why wouldn’t you?” She started walking off and he trailed after her, dying to know what happened just now. “I’m Cole,” he allowed. She glanced at him, and then back to the rain, and he thought he saw the ghost of a smile before she was frowning again.
“They call me Rune.”
“Like a letter?”
She did crack a smile then, and shoved him playfully, careful to keep her hand from touching any skin not covered by his shirt. “Yeah, kid. Like a letter.”