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   Chapter 5

Damsel[ed] Rescue Required By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 11085

Updated: 2017-12-12 12:03


Gats.

He sits with his knees bouncing, an overstuffed gym back half-open on his lap, all the clothes in the world poking through the zipper teeth and bulging out of tears at the bottom of the worn-blue nylon. You can pick him out immediately, even in the gush of nervous people, excited people, people rushing back and forth, packed together like playing cards. He looks up every second or so, scribbling on his drawing pad, his eyes so big they bug out. A lone jittery boy, draped in tourist gear, pressed up against a window as people pass by.

It“s been at least three hours since the dinner disaster. I“m wearing a purple “Starlight is for Heroes“ ball-cap, which is a clear rip off of “Virginia is for lovers“, but Starlight is a chunk of Virginia, so I don“t know if it“s okay or not. I even bought Heaven a Galaxy plushie and I give the purple knight a squish for moral support, staring down at the toy“s little button eyes and the smile stitched under its little plastic visor.

It“s a struggle to connect the stuffy to the beautiful, brooding, broken girl. When I look up, the walls and people seem to be moving in on me, crushing me. It“s a barrage of ugly thoughts, all at once. Owl“s complex. My prison. The cage. And before I even approach the boy I have begun to shiver, warmth seeping through my skin, like the heat of the blood that splattered my face and shirt just days ago. I squeeze the miniature Galaxy even tighter, but looking down at the smiling, chibi-like face puts a lump in my throat.

Is this really what people think she“s like? This happy, cute thing? Do they know she“s only sixteen? That she was almost tortured to death?

"Gatsby?" calls Storm. His voice is deep and echoes off the walls. Cuts right through all the white noise. My pulse is pounding in my clammy fingers. I force a smile.

"Y-Yeah." My voice is too shaky. I straighten up and lower it, pushing back at the fear that“s begun to creep into me. You are what you look. I try to laugh. "Yeah, yeah. New kid!" I wave wildly at the lone boy and squirm through the human flood, shoving, knocking one man out of the way.

He catches my eye and shrinks back for a second before popping up off the window, knocking over his bag and spilling its contents all over the floor. He stumbles a little, struggles to push the bag over his shoulder, apologizing in quick, mumbled sentences with the stylus clamped in his teeth. I push through the throngs and kneel down at his side.

Pictures spill out of his wallet. There“s a ratty stuffed rabbit with a chewed ear at the bottom of the pile, and drawings. Crumpled drawings, drawings in plastic sleeves, drawings held together with strips of tape. Pencil-drawn, oil-painted, chalk-etched. He blushes when I pick them up, takes them from my hands and shoves them into his bag so hard I can hear the paper tearing. "Hi," he says. "You must be... Angelos?"

He“s wearing a “Starlight is for Heroes“ cap, too, and his ponytail peeks out of the back, black chunks framing his face. His skinny jeans are splattered with paint. His collar is flipped up, his shirt half-tucked. And most of all, he looks like Angel. A paler, pocket-sized Angel, with the same dark eyes, hooked nose, and lean face.

I shake my head. "Gatsby. You?"

Storm and Juniper appear on either side of me, flanking me. The boy cows a little, and then straightens up, his eyes going round. A smile twitches on his lips. "Hi," he says. "You“re the Fibbs, right?"

"And you“re Grayson Shiroza—"

"Just Shiro“s fine!" Another awkward laugh. He scratches the back of his neck, bouncing from foot to foot. "Have you always lived here? Starlight City, I mean." The Grayson kid clears condenstation from the window, glancing out at the city lights on his tip-toes. "It“s amazing," he breathes. "Just—wow. Thank you so much for having me. I-I don“t know what to say." He extends that chuckle, a little eh heh heh heh. A bouncing, twitching, and under-breath squeaing mass.

He even talks like Angel. I glance up at Juniper.

"No," she says, evidently reading the question before I need to say it. "Angel“s only other relative is Poison."

"And Fallout."

"And Fallout." She nods. There“s a second of quiet. We don“t have to mention Owl.

"Is he an experiment, then?"

Shiro raises an eyebrow, his half smile small and unsure. "Uhhh..."

"No." Juniper pats me on the shoulder. "You“re making him nervous." At this, I roll my eyes. You know what makes someone nervous? Being jumped in your apartment while watching Star Wars. This kid is going to get used to it.

Storm stoops and offers out his hand. "Hello," he says with a smile that could only be described as “Clark Kent-esque.“ He just looks like a superhero in disguise, with his shoulders straining at his collared shirt and his white-blonde side-swept hair loose. I bet the Shiro kid is already puzzling over Storm“s alter-ego, though we haven“t had an adult hero in years. "I don“t think we“ve been properly introduced. I“m Storm, this is my wife Juniper, and this is Gatsby, my son. We have another boy. He should“ve been here hours ago and I don“t know what could possibly be keeping him." His voice is gentle, his smile, broad and friendly.

I faintly register Storm introducing me as his son and Angel as “another boy,“ and I don“t know what I should think about it, if anything at all, I just know it makes me feel a twisted up inside, like my heart is clenched inside a giant fist.

"Well," I say, "I“m sure he“ll be here soon."

Yeah, righ

t. I“m just hoping he hasn“t been kidnapped, but chances are, he“s already languishing in a dungeon somewhere.

"Oh, okay! Isn“t this place great?"

At this point, I“m assuming this kid is just Angel“s replacement. And if that was the case it would almost be a relief.

In the middle of the crowded airport, I start to laugh. The kid backs away. I lift my cap, showing off my own personal parlor trick. "If you like being tormented by supervillains, I“m sure you“ll be at home."

***

Heaven.

Yelling at Jaylin has become a form of cheap therapy for me. Telling her that she“s not my friend, hating her very existence, wishing she would just go away. But as soon as the phone call shuts off, the knot in my stomach is back, tightening as Poison tugs the black silk ribbon behind my ears. I fix the black mask with unsteady hands. It“s hard to breathe. My chest hurts too much. "What part of “as long as no one knows“ do you not get, Kat“?"

He“s holding up my cell phone. Turns out Poison knows a lot about how to debug a phone, track a phone, etc etc technology stuff etc. We“re pressed up against a small diner in a ghost town. A ghost town Poison keeps asking me if I remember, which I don“t. The only familiar element about it is the silver luxury car idling at the end of the road. "They were going to learn, anyway." He tosses me back my phone. I catch and pocket it with one hand. I can still hear Angelos begging me to come back, to talk, but it“s too late for that now.

Poison takes my hand. My pulse pounds, and so does his. His skin is hot. My face is flushing. "Don“t freak out," he says, "and don“t let them know who you are at any cost."

"Who“s they?

Poison glances over his shoulder. A string of broken shops spans all behind us, as quiet and drab as a canvas backdrop. The only movement comes from the car. The small figure landing hard from the passenger side. The lanky, Poison-sized figure wheeling around, wings outstretched. His voice echoes off the abandoned buildings. "Heaven, hey, Heaven!"

"This girl is a lost cost!" Jaylin says, just as loud as Angel. "But whatever, don“t we have to get to the airport? Maybe we should just leave her."

I turn around, torn between squeezing Poison“s hand or running back to the kids I sacrificed everything for. Poison catches my drift and yanks me through the door before I have a chance to voice or change my opinion. And that“s okay.

The world is painted rosy with the artificial chemicals knocking around my head. Everything seems hazy. The bruises on my wrist, for instance, the notion that his grip might be too tight or that I ought to join my friends, that I might be acting out of grief, that only weeks ago he called me a "prize." See, I know that to him, stealing me onto his side will prove his worth to Fallout, I know that“s why he “loves“ me. He finds me too snappy, too immature, too uncooperative. And as for pretty, sure, I“m pretty. But pretty you can find in a poster, or in a drawing, or—get this—in someone who actually wants a relationship.

No, Poison wants me because I“m a superhero, or at least, because I was one. To him, I am an it, like how he sees Angelos and Gats. Not a person, just a means to an end. But that doesn“t stop the chemical flood. Doesn“t keep me from wanting to be around him, doesn“t make me pull away when he tugs me into the smoky shop.

Yes, I am pathetic. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic. I stuff my free hand into my pocket and take in the scenery with balled, shaking fists. The masked men and women in black hoods, the cigarette smoke filled room, the cast iron tables. You“d think the masked guests would be up to no good, or at least enjoying themselves, but they“re silent. Dead silent. Like I“ve walked into a library. There“s a woman behind a mic, but she isn“t saying much, just thumping her fingers on the wires.

"You“d be surprised," Poison says, perhaps a little too loudly, "how many Syndicate people want in on Snare, now."

The figures look up. And it clicks, all at once. The door flies open. Jaylin leans on Angel“s hip, hobbling on one leg. The other one“s still healing, I suppose. Angel“s all sweaty, his hair stringy and half-drenched in grease. He whirls around and points at me. "Heaven!" His eyes light up. He smiles a crooked, boyish smile. My chest aches even more. "Oh, gosh, Hev! You“re here!" He ducks down and flings his arms around me, squeezing me so hard I“d be crushed if he was at full strength.

I start to cry, but I knock my tears away with the back of my hand. I“m okay, I want to tell him, but I“m not. I do want to talk. I do want to grab some coffee and ramen. Figure everything else. I pull my hand out of Poison“s grasp. I“ve promised to stay with him, promised not to fight his spell, and these are promises I plan to keep.

But first, I want to breathe.

"Angie-Ang," Poison says. His eyes are glowing. "Seems you“ve stepped into the viper pit, huh?" He slaps him hard the back.

I peek around Angel“s waist. The door is blocked off by people in black. The woman behind the mic knocks back her hood with a smile. "The prince has returned."

Angelos flinches.

It hits me like a punch in the chest, no, more like a punch in the dignity. I am an “it.“ Not the prize this time, but the bait.

My fists are already up in a guard. I tear off the flimsy mask, trembling, exhausted, so love-struck and in such pain I just want to hit something. Any something.

And my wish will be granted.

***

Agg, another late chapter! So sorry!

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