Authors: Jennifer Harlow
The gunfire begins again, moving closer. Time progresses slowly. The few people still on the street sprint inside for cover. My driver starts praying again and ducks down as a man in full tactical SWAT gear and balaclava lays covering fire behind himself as he rounds the corner. Coming right for us.
I don't think. I just do. My hand reaches inside my purse, pulling out the Taser and pearl handled .22 I carry for just such emergencies. I have to time this just right. I peek through my shattered side window. With the gun now in my waistband and Taser in hand, as the shooter runs beside the front passenger door, I throw mine open with all my might. It hits home. He smashes right into the door, chest and legs first. Dazed, he drops the Uzi and falls to the cement with a groan. The moment he wipes out, I zap his leg with the Taser. His body convulses, then grows still when I release the button. I know from experience how scrambled the bastard's brain is now. Good.
On shaky everything, I manage to climb out of the car, training the .22 on the stunned man. The Uzi has skidded out of reach but not the Glock on his belt. Breathing heavily, I crouch down and retrieve it, throwing the .22 into the town car. I keep the Glock on him as I Taser him again. I'll just keep zapping until the cavalry arrives.
"Holy shit." My gaze whips up toward the man who steps out of the store in front of me. More people follow him. That's when I realize the gunfire around the corner has stopped.
"Everyone get back ins--"
Quick movement to my right startles me enough to turn the gun that way. As if materializing from thin air, a tall man in a black and white costume with "WN" on his broad chest appears. My gun is trained right on his completely masked face where only the eyes are visible. They lock on mine, and he's suddenly breathing as heavily as I am, gasping even. The man raises his hands in surrender. "Please lower your weapon," he whispers for some reason. "I'm one of the good guys." That voice literally sends a chill down my spine as if someone walked over my grave. Why--
"Lower your weapon," another man shouts. I glance left to find a bleeding police officer approaching, pistol right on me.
I toss the Glock near the Uzi. "You guys are welcome," I say cattily.
The, I'm assuming, hero lowers his hands as the officer steps beside me. "Got this?" the hero asks in that same low tone that can barely be heard over the oncoming sirens.
"Yes, sir," the officer says, pulling out his cuffs.
The hero nods, then looks back at me, eyes burring on my face. He stares but when I try to meet his eyes, he gazes down. "I…" His mask moves where his mouth should be but no more noise comes out. Instead he grabs me by the shoulders hard enough to hurt, giving me one quick shake. "Never do that again." He releases me, and disappears as fast as he came.
I roll my eyes. Sometimes I really hate superheroes.
Better late than never. I return home five hours later than planned what with giving my statement, accompanying my driver to the hospital after he went into shock, followed by a traffic jam to the airport. I'm glad I broke that bastard's nose for all the trouble he and his friends caused me. On the plane I was waiting for the panic attack, or at least cathartic crying jag, but neither reared their ugly heads. Instead I fell asleep until Shannon woke me when we landed. Both she and Dobbs knew better than to ask questions. We drop Shannon off at her apartment and drive home listening to the news. The robbery didn't go national, and I can only pray my name doesn't get leaked or it will. I don't want certain people to worry. When we walk into the mansion, without a word Dobbs and I go our separate ways. I can tell he's worried, but I don't want to talk about it. Ever.
I strip off my clothes--even now shards of glass tumble out--and climb into the scalding shower until I prune. I feel nothing. I heard four police officers were injured, two civilians were shot, but no fatalities. My driver, who I learned is named Luis after we spent an hour in the hospital waiting room, is now at home with his wife and babies, no doubt hugging them tight. Lucky bastard in every damn sense. I towel off, throw on pajamas, and slide into bed. Okay, really I stare at the phone on my nightstand, buzzing with nervous energy like I'm about to supernova. I lose track of how long I do this, willing it to ring or for me to pick it up and dial.
I sent him a text at the hospital that lunch went well, that I was looking forward to our sailing lesson tomorrow, and nothing else. He's probably at home now, reviewing gene therapy studies for his next project. His eyes light up when he talks about the research. I could call or just show up at his apartment. No, that's the exact wrong thing to do at least for me. I know what will happen, and it can't. I stop the torture by fleeing the temptation. Works with the booze.
Oh, of course. I have guests. Tonight both Nightingale and Liberty sit at the computer. Perfect. We're still tracking down the explosives with little success. That success being the criminals in town are quaking in their boots after getting paid a visit or ass-beating from the Triumvirate. Both heroes look my way as I walk down. Since the backrub debacle Nightingale and I have been quietly working side-by-side with no mention of anything not pertaining to the work. I just adore an awkward office environment.
Liberty pivots around first, mouth open in surprise, while her companion spins back the way he was, away from me. Not a happy camper. "There you are," she says, standing. "We were worried. Are you okay?"
"Why?" I ask.
"Why do you think? We heard what happened."
Of course they did. "How?"
"We have connections," Nightingale says with a hint of anger.
"Did you really Taser a guy in the balls?" Liberty asks with a mischievous smile.
"Just the leg and shoulder."
"Too bad." She scans me like an MRI machine. "Well, you look intact. How are you feeling?"
"Fine," I say, scanning her too. Wish I could see her eyes.
"It's always a trip, huh? Getting shot at?"
"If you say so."
Liberty's mouth purses. "Fine, don't give us details." She glances at her colleague. "See what
can get out of her. I'm going on patrol." She spins on her heel and walks away.
," I say.
," she says before lifting off the ground and flying down the passage.
A small smile crosses my face, but I drop it before gazing at Nightingale, who is still blanking me. I sit in the spare chair next to him. "What are we working on tonight?"
"Nothing," he says. "Reviewing files."
"Any news on the explosives? We know they haven't been sold in Galilee so maybe we expand to Pacific City or--"
"We've hit a wall," he says, voice hard. "The government's on it."
"So, we're giving up? What if--"
He turns to me. "We're you even going to tell m--
about the shoot-out?"
My mouth snaps shut. "Why? I'm fine. Shit happens."
"You were shot at. You risked your life for nothing. What were you thinking?"
"That a dangerous man was getting away, and that I could stop him."
"It was idiotic," he says. "You could have been killed. Don't you care?"
"I…" I can't seem to find the right words. "I reacted. I did what I had to."
"That's the point.
don't have to. White Night had the situation well under control."
"Not from where I was sitting. In my bullet riddled car, I might add. You weren't there. The man who shot at me was getting away. I could stop him. I did. You of all people should know what that's like. So unless you're hanging up your cape: pot, kettle, black your Lordship."
This shuts him up. He sits there breathing heavily and staring. After a few seconds, he hangs his head and says, "I just don't want anything to happen to you. You're…a friend." He clears his throat and returns to Doris. "I-I assume you won't be that foolhardy again. There are too many people who depend on you. Employees, family, whatnot. You had an ordeal today. You must still be in shock. You should speak to someone."
"I'll be fine. It wasn't like the KitKat incident. I wasn't the target."
"Still. There must be someone more…suitable for you to talk to. A person you're more at ease with."
"I'm not calling anyone. There's no need. Look, stop worrying. I'm really okay. What I need right now is to work." I turn to the computer screen. "So, if they didn't sell the explosives, then we're looking for a terrorist group or possibly a villain. There are a few villains we couldn't find in the city, but maybe it wasn't one of our regulars. Or the locations of the bases were incidental. Galilee won't be the target. The base had the laxest security or an inside man."
"Everyone was cleared. We've hit a wall. We really have done all we can. It's time to move on."
"So we're just giving up?"
"We'll keep our ears to the ground and eyes open. Nothing else to do."
"I don't like giving up," I say.
"I know," he says, glimpsing my way. "Nor do I. We just…have no choice. Accept what we cannot change, correct?"
I raise an eyebrow. "Been to many A.A. meetings, have we?"
"Have you been to one recently?"
"I'm not going to get plastered because some asshole sprayed bullets at me."
"If you say so," he says in a small voice. The temperature in the room feels like it's gone down twenty degrees, the chill emanating from my companion.
"I do say. And it's none of your damn business anyway."
"Fine." It lowers another ten degrees.
"Good. So, what should we do in the meantime?"
He pauses before swallowing as if he's tasted something sour. "We're trying to track Boneshaker. One of the men we spoke to about the explosives said he was approached last week by Mr. Percy about a potential job at the Botanical Gardens. We're keeping an eye on it. Then there's the garden variety crime. Tempest is pursuing a family annihilator, as is your old squad. All is well in hand." He stands. "I'm done here, it's all yours. Enjoy your evening, Miss Fallon." He steps away, mouth set straight in anger.
It infects me. "Excuse me, are
"Of course not," he says sharply, killing those words.
I roll my eyes. "Jesus Christ, what the hell do you want from me, man?" I leap up and stalk toward him. "You want me to bear my soul to you? Share my innermost thoughts and fears? You want me to trust you?" I ask with a laugh. I try to meet his eyes but his head swivels to deflect. "You won't even look me in the eye. You don't even have the balls to tell me who you really are. Until you do, you're just another masked vigilante who uses my computer, and I occasionally have a sandwich with. You're keeping me on the outside, and though I do know and respect why, it makes trust hard. It's a two way fucking street, and you're still on the highway."
"And you're not?" he asks, voice hard. "Have you told anyone what you do in here?"
"Those who need to know do."
"And you don't trust the others to understand."
"Don't you turn this around on me! I'm not the one…" I snap my mouth shut. "You know what? I'm done with this conversation.
"Fine. As am I."
"Fine!" He lifts off the ground and flies away, taking the last word with him.
Of all the…
has the nerve to…fuck him! He should thank me for keeping my trap shut not giving me shit. I swear all superheroes are nuts. Certifiable.
I'm done. I'm spent. I need out of this fucking room. I've done enough for the betterment of humanity today. I shut off the lights and stomp up to the house, fuming. First I get chastised, again, for helping then I'm made to feel like shit for not shouting from the rooftops that I'm in league with heroes? I don't tell anyone to keep my ass safe, same as him. Until he rips that mask off, he just needs to keep his fucking mouth shut about trusting people.
After brushing my teeth, I turn off the lights and get into bed again. No matter how hard I try, and I do try, my mind races a trillion miles an hour. Images from the day are replayed until I'm curled in the fetal position hugging my legs. Guess I'm not as strong as I thought. It just took awhile to sink in. I was shot at today. If I hadn't ducked when I did my brains would be splattered inside that car like a macabre painting. I've had front row seats to that horror show before. Fuck it. I open my eyes and turn on the TV, hoping the noise will drown out my thoughts.
After fifteen minutes, I give up that dream as well. God, being sober sucks. If this were a year ago I'd be pouring Bourbon, popping a pill, or driving over to Harry's so he could screw the demons away. A year before that I'd call Justin and we'd talk or meet for late night pancakes at Nell's Diner. Now I know why he was always in the city at night when I needed him. I just thought he was working late. Suppose he was.
Fucking superheroes. He could have told me. He
have told me. Even now a large part of me hasn't forgiven him for all the lies. I know the reasons in my head, but that doesn't mean the wound in my heart isn't still tender. How the hell are you supposed to trust a person who won't share such an important part of their life with you? A part of themselves? How can you even begin to build on that? No idea, but boy do I want to.
Of course I'm awakened all of two hours after I fall asleep by the ringing phone next to my head. So much for Jem, me, a beach, and nothing but a towel. This had better be life or death or heads will roll.
"It's Tempest. We need you down at command."
"What--" He hangs up. "Fuck."
I toss on my robe and hustle downstairs. I expect to find the threesome in the command center, but the lights are off. Static from the radio fills the room, followed by Tempest's voice saying, "Guardian, come in. Repeat, Guardian come in. This is K.T., come in, over." I think I'm supposed to be Guardian? I've never used the comms unit on Doris, so it takes me a second to find the right button and headset. "Repeat, Guardian--"