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War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 35: Necessary Good
Sky High
Drama/Sci-Fi

Author’s Note: I I don’t own Stanley Kirk Burrell either. And to my fellow children of the 80s, my profoundest apologies.

Necessary Good

ooooo

One year after graduation

“Phoenix, we have an alarm at the Maxville First National Bank! The surveillance cameras show one of the robbers punched through the vault door. We’ve already called off the security personnel, but we need your help! There are at least four of them, including the door-buster,” the tinny voice said at the other end. At this time of night, it wasn’t the mayor, but usually some other city official that coordinated with the Bureau to handle super-problems. And he sounded seriously frightened.

“I’m on it,” I told him confidently, and hung up. I wasn’t quite as confident as I sounded, but one of the first things they taught us was that a show of invincibility can be as useful as actual invincibility. At least it tended to make citizens feel more comforted.

One guy with super strength, and three other crooks were not exactly my idea of an easy day. I was reminded of my uncle Anthony’s words, that the Bureau would only try me past my strength once, because I’d be dead if they were wrong.

Don’t get paranoid. They obviously think you can handle this, or they wouldn’t have called you. Remember, you can always call for back up if you have to. Most superheroes didn’t unless it was a matter of saving the world or something, as it was a matter of pride to be able to do what you were called for. And besides, Maxville First National has an attempted robbery at least twice a year. They were due for one. Relax Phoenix.

“So where to?” Monica asked, turning the ignition key.

“Maxville First National Bank,” I said, slipping into the back to finish costuming up as she got us there in record time.

“Be careful,” she said as I rolled out the back. The ambulance went around the block, and I ducked out the door and down the alley behind the bank, ready for action. The front door was too obvious, and thumps and crashes from the back door let me know I wouldn’t even have to go in. They would be out soon.

Think, they’re coming out the back, where are they going? They must have a getaway car… I looked down the alley and finally spotted a van idling at the opposite end. Right… I don’t need to go in the bank, they’ll come out the back, and I can stop them here and keep the fight around dumpsters and brick walls. Better that then the alternative. If I had to start throwing fire, better it be around metal and stone than plaster and wood.

Taking advantage of the cover, I slipped from shadow to another, going past the bank, until I was between two dumpsters, halfway between the bank door and the idling van. It smelled, but I was hidden. Considering there were four of them, five including the driver, I needed the element of surprise. The crooks would have to go past me to get to the van, and the alley wasn’t all that wide. With the rather spectacular exit they were going to make, they would have to be running to get to the van. And then I could give them a little surprise. No time to take out the driver now; it would just give the crooks too much of a warning that someone was after them.

More crashes, louder now, and a sudden boom as the back wall of the bank collapsed. I dared a look as they ran out. Three normal-looking guys wearing ski masks and toting duffle bags, and one hulking brute with huge, metallic fists that gleamed in the faint light from the street. As he stepped out of the dust, I could see he had his hair cut into a flattop and was wearing a truly hideous costume including purple metallic parachute pants. I wracked my brain for a second before his name came to me. Hammerfist, supervillain muscle-for-hire. He was small-time, at least compared to people like Royal Pain, but he was a very heavy hitter.

If I can handle getting hit by Will Stronghold, this guy should be a piece of cake. Relatively speaking, I added quickly before my brain could take me down a notch.

I waited, knowing I was only going to get one shot to take any of them out without them fighting back, and listened carefully as they ran closer and closer. Wait for it, wait for it… Now! At the last second, I threw out my arm and clotheslined the closest thug. His legs shot out from under him and he hit his head on the pavement on the way down, blacking out. One down, three more to go, I thought as I stepped out over him, flinging my arms to the sides and igniting them, illuminating my costume clearly in the dim alley.

The others skidded to a halt barely ten feet from me, staring in astonishment.

“Stop right there!” I called, raising my arms. I was uncomfortably aware that the driver might be getting ready to jump me from behind, but he was at the far end of the alley. Besides, I figured Hammerfist wasn’t just along for the ride. The other two ski-masked crooks looked at each other, and then Hammerfist stepped forward.

“Step back, this is what you’re paying me for,” he whispered to them.

I’m sure he didn’t mean for me to overhear, but he had about the same concept of whispering that Coach Boomer did.

“It’s hammer time!” he crowed, clenching his fists.

He did not just say that, I thought faintly with distaste. I braced myself, because a second later Hammerfist rushed me, hurling himself down the alley with the inevitability of a tank. If I took him straight on, I would get maybe one good lick before he punched me through a few buildings. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but he’d get away before I could get back to him. The easiest way to keep from being hit… is to not be there! I slid to the side at the last second, like a matador taunting a bull, flinging two fireballs that caught him in the side.

He grunted in pain as the other two crooks, taking advantage of Hammerfist’s distraction, ran by in his wake. They wanted no truck with a superbattle, but they weren’t going to get that luxury. They forfeited that right when they hired a supervillain, and I wasn’t going to let them get away with all the money while Hammerfist and I slugged it out. I spun and got off two more shots, going low, and hit one in the legs. It was a safe hit; non-fatal, but he sure wasn’t going anywhere fast with that injury. The guy went down, yelling and rolling to extinguish the flames, and I jumped aside from Hammerfist’s return hit. Brick pulverized on the wall behind me, and I ducked and rolled to his other side.

The last standing crook took one look at his fallen partner-in-crime and grabbed something from his waistband.

“No!” he screamed. I had enough time to recognize “gun” before he started firing. Time seemed to slow down as my adrenaline surged, and I could almost see the bullets coming towards me in slow motion. I threw myself backwards desperately, the bullets missing me by inches, but also putting me right in the path of Hammerfist’s right hook.

My face exploded in pain as I sailed the length of the alley, across the street, and into a building on the other side. Stone cracked under my body, and then I fell to the sidewalk, shoving myself up weakly. Will had hit me harder during Gauntlet runs, but it still took me a second to pull myself together. By that time, I saw Hammerfist, with the guy I had clotheslined over his shoulder, getting into the van. The other two were apparently already in, as the driver floored it and began to tear away from the scene.

I don’t think so!

The pain from my head was almost gone, and I powered up again (I couldn’t even remember powering down) and flung more fireballs. Remembering my lesson from Torque: bad guys couldn’t get away if their transport was fried, so this time I aimed not not at any of the crooks, but at the van. Two melted tires brought the van to a screeching halt, and meant this gang of thugs was going nowhere. They began to pile out, the driver, the other two conscious guys, and Hammerfist, all of them looking mad as hell.

“You can’t get away! Surrender!” I thundered. Their van was useless; I had taken a hit from their biggest bruiser and walked away, I had dodged bullets, and I was apparently ready to take them all on. Intimidation was a big factor in any clever hero’s repertoire of tricks, because I wasn’t very sanguine about my ability to fight four people at once, even if only one was a supervillain. They didn’t have to know that though.

They all looked at each other with varying expressions of panic as I let my fire flare and pulse along my arms. Hammerfist growled and stepped forward, but the guy who had shot at me put up a hand to stop him.

“You aren’t stopping us this easy,” he snapped. And almost as one, all three of the crooks drew their guns.

Shit! There was no real cover out here, not unless I ducked down another alley, and I wasn’t about to inadvertently lead these guys to someone they could use as a hostage. I could have dodged or run, but that would mean letting them shoot all over the place, letting bullets ricochet, and I didn’t dare do that either. I was smart enough to realize this required an act of extreme stupidity. So I stood my ground as they opened fire.

I crossed my arms over my chest and went down on one knee. My fire could get hot enough to melt lead, but there was no way I was hot enough to melt them as they hit me. My super-suit was strong enough to stop most of the hits, but at least three got through, striking me in the chest, shoulder, and neck, the pain surging in counterpoint to the breath-stealing force of strikes.

The downside of indestructibility, as opposed to Will’s near-invulnerability, was that I actually took the wounds, though they were gone so fast there was no blood and no scar. Bullets wouldn’t have even penetrated Will’s skin. He would have felt some pain, but I knew it was a lot worse for me. Of course, this was small potatoes next to the thought that a normal citizen would have had to take them if I hadn’t been here. I could handle this, they couldn’t. That’s why I was here.

It was time to show them the other reason I had taken the name Phoenix. I screamed as the bullets hit, letting it be a lot louder than it strictly had to be, and let myself fall to the ground, my flames dying. Not too many people realized I was indestructible, even after a year being active. My fight with the Wolf Pack notwithstanding, I generally tended to fight with my fire at a short distance. I hadn’t been shot successfully before tonight, at least not in a way that couldn’t be explained away by body armor. People knew I was tough, but most didn’t realize I could take a lethal-seeming hit (for a superhero) and walk away.

Which was the reason I was now playing dead. I didn’t want them to get into a firefight with me, because I could practically guarantee that some citizen might try to get a closer look at what was going on. And that would lead to a whole big hostage-taking scenario that I really didn’t want to deal with. But if they got closer, I get catch all of them at once. They were all going to walk away with burns for this, but then again, they also just tried to kill me.

“Is he dead?” I heard one say.

“Yeah… come on! I know a guy that’ll pay good money for that helmet. We’ll double our profit from this job, easy,” Hammerfist said gleefully, and I could hear his heavy tread coming closer, the lighter footsteps from the three remaining crooks echoing him. He wants to take my costume to a trophy collector? Tacky, I thought flippantly.

“Make it quick, we still got to get a car and get out of here,” another snapped. I kept my eyes open, because the lenses of my helmet obscured them from their view, and watched with trepidation as three pairs of combat boots (and one pair of purple Converse sneakers) came into my line of sight. I was only going to get one chance at this, and forcibly kept myself breathing shallow to avoid looking alive. Knock down the three crooks, flame Hammerfist, flame them I thought, trying to get my battle plan fixed in my head.

“There’s no blood, are you sure he’s dead?” I heard another say warily.

“His costume’s red moron!” the third said with exasperation.

“Make sure,” Hammerfist said. I heard a gun being cocked far too close.

They’re going to shoot me in the head! I realized with panic. I had no idea whether or not I could survive that, but definitely didn’t want to find out. I had dodged their shots once before, but I sure wasn’t fast enough to move out of the way of a point-blank shot while lying down. Even if I powered up and rolled, I wasn’t sure if I could avoid the strike. This is going to hurt… Flames flared as I shoved myself backwards, trying to get my feet again, a shot ringing out with shocking loudness. I could feel it actually skimming along the top of my helmet before continuing on its path behind me. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I remembered thinking.

Then the screaming began.

The last time I had heard those kinds of screams, high, loud, of someone in mortal agony, it had been Zack, when Painbreaker had tagged him. The shooter jerked his gun back as Hammerfist, me, and the other two crooks all stared at him. He was screaming, clutching at the back of his neck as if he had just received a mortal wound, and finally collapsed, his scream cut off his shocking suddenness. Behind him stood a figure in black, robed and cowled like Death, a plain black mask covering its entire face, with sharpened silvery fingertip covers the only relief from the somber hue of the costume. And if I hadn’t heard the screams, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize Monica.

No, this isn’t Monica. This is Painbreaker.

A tiny bit of blood stained the tips of the claws on Painbreaker’s right hand from the scratches on the driver’s neck. Scratches she had pain-enhanced until he had passed out. But the others didn’t know that, all they knew was that someone had come up and made him scream like he was dying. They also knew two other things, only supervillains wore black, and obviously she disapproved of their presence here. It was why I had chosen red for my costume despite my own preference for black; only villains ever really wore it. Superbeings flaunted those unwritten fashion rules at their own peril.

Therefore, they either had another problem on their hands… or a potential ally. The remaining crooks had their weapons out, but wavered with their aim, not sure whether to point them at her or me. She was closer, and also apparently a little more scary-looking, so they kept the guns pointed in my general direction. Hammerfist bounced slightly on his toes, ready to take either of us out if he had to. I was only partway up, in an awkward half-crouch, quite close enough to get shot again or even backhanded by Hammerfist if he chose to exert himself. I could probably flame any of the villainous trio that I chose, but the odds were I’d get smacked or shot again for my trouble.

I had no idea why Monica had suddenly overcome her fear to confront armed robbers face-to-face, but if she could just distract them for a few more seconds, get them to drop their weapons, I would have a much better chance of taking these guys down. For that alone, I would have owed her. I was also scared for her; she was practically close enough to touch the crooks, and all it would take was one bullet, and she was done for.

“Who’re you?” one gunman asked, wincing as he shifted slightly on his burned legs.

“Get away from him,” she growled. She must have been using a vocal distorter, like Royal Pain had, because it sounded nothing like her. And what the hell is she doing exactly?

“Ah… you got a beef wit him?” he said a little nervously, the gun starting to tremble a little as his hands shook with anxiety. The guy had a nasal New York accent, and I tensed slightly as the gun moved away from me by a hair. If he moved it just a bit more, I would be able to move before he could shoot. Hammerfist was also paying closer attention to Painbreaker than to me, and if he took his eyes off of my completely, I could use my fire on him and catch him by surprise. Keep him talking Monica, come on…

“Get away from him, leave the money, and run away,” she commanded, flicking her fingers slightly so the steel fingertip claws glinted cruelly.

“If you want to take care of this guy, we got no problems. But we got the money fair and square,” the gunman protested.

Hammerfist shifted a bit backwards, and I realized he was getting ready to run. If Painbreaker had been a real supervillain, getting between her and a superhero that was on her bad side could be fatal to anyone, villain or not, that was caught in the middle. Hammerfist was a mercenary, not a martyr. If he was lucky, he could get away before Painbreaker finished with the two gunmen and me.

“Get away from him, leave the money, and run,” she repeated.

Hammerfist chose to pick future employment over having a pissed-off apparent supervillain on his tail, and turned to run. Both gunmen gaped at him in shock, and I moved. Ignoring Hammerfist for the time being, I flung fire at the crooks, catching both low. They yelped and ran and rolled around almost comically to extinguish the flames, and I surged to my feet to run after them.

Painbreaker had other ideas though, and as the two crooks shoved to their feet and tried to run off in the opposite direction, she flung darkness at them, as she had at Zack back nearly two years ago. Both screamed in agony as she enhanced the pains of their burns, their piercing howls going on and on…

“Leave off!” I shouted, trying to catch her eyes between our two masks as I closed the distance between us and put my hand on her arm.

Painbreaker gasped and clenched her fists at the sound of my voice, the darkness fading suddenly. It was hard to tell behind the mask, but her eyes looked almost stricken.

“It’s ok, just relax,” I told her quietly. With the pain reduced to something normal, the two crooks were about to get up, but when I powered up again at their movements, then both dropped flat meekly.

“I… thought you were… a supervillain,” the gunman said weakly as we approached, gasping slightly for breath and wincing at the pain of his burns. I was scowling at him as he stared at Painbreaker, but he really wasn’t paying attention to me.

“You were wrong,” she said simply, as I took some plastic cuff ties from my belt and bound both men hand and foot. For good measure, I also bound the one Painbreaker had tagged, and the guy I had clotheslined as well. The police would find most of their work done for them by the time they got there.

“Hammerfist, he got away,” Painbreaker said as I finished.

“I know,” I said with irritation, glaring down the street where he had gone and mentally leveling a few choice Mandarin curses at him. He hadn’t gotten any of the bags of money, and now he knew two superheroes had seen his face, he wouldn’t stay in town any longer than it would take him to reach the city limits. He was finished for today.

“Painbreaker,” I said, putting my hand on her arm to try to restrain her as she started to surge to her feet.

“You can go after him!” she exclaimed. “The police will be here soon, I called them.”

“He’s got a head start…” I started, and then something Monica had said to me a while back floated to mind. “Why are you always reactive, fixing someone else’s mess? Why not just fix it before it becomes a mess?”

“The ambulance-,” she said, and I got her drift.

“Let’s go!” I exclaimed, and we both ran off to get it. No lights or sirens were needed this time, and I was laughing internally at the sight of two superheroes in a mundane ambulance.

I seriously need a Phoenix-mobile or something…

It was two o’clock in the morning, and the streets were blessedly empty. Hammerfist was going to find it tough to hide, but I knew he was also fast. He was strong enough and tough enough to run without pause until he found a place he could hide, and then the next time we caught him it would be on his next caper. That was the way I normally would have done it, because I wouldn’t have had the time to go chasing after him on my own. But with two of us…

“Where did he go?” I said, rapidly scanning the streets as Painbreaker took a turn fast enough to throw me against the door. I refrained from cursing, saving my energy for the upcoming fight.

“Three blocks ahead,” she said confidently. “There’s only one person in my range who has burns on his right ride.”

My face lit up with an unholy grin as I realized the implications. As long as she knew exactly how someone was hurt, she could track them to the edge of her range. No tedious or frantic searching, practically knowing you were going to get ambushed…

“Don’t stop,” I told her, unbuckling my seatbelt and rolling down the window.

“What the hell are you doing?” she asked, trying to keep her eyes both on the road and the distant, and rapidly enlarging, figure of Hammerfist.

“I saw this in a movie once,” I said, shifting up to lean out the window, letting flames engulf my arms. Painbreaker looked from me to Hammerfist and back and suddenly let out a really evil laugh.

“Get him,” she growled in her distorted voice, gunning the motor and steering so we’d pass right next to Hammerfist. He turned around at the last second, the sound of the engine suddenly filling his ears, his eyes widening at the sight of me riding shotgun, hanging out the window, hurling fireballs in his direction. One hit high, one hit low, and the third got him straight in the chest.

That’s for the haircut, that’s for the costume, and that is for your dumb-ass catchphrase! I thought as Painbreaker swung the ambulance around, cutting off Hammerfist’s route of escape. I leapt from the window, arms flaring, as Hammerfist picked himself up with a groan. Behind me, I could hear Painbreaker getting out and coming to stand beside me.

“Remember when I told you to surrender? That wasn’t a suggestion. Do it now,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Painbreaker raising one hand, the steel finger-knives darkening as she invoked her powers.

“Careful,” I whispered to her in a bare breath of sound, and I saw her nod faintly. Hammerfist, defiant to the end and looking seriously pissed despite his scorched skin, just flexed his massive fists.

“You can’t touch this!” he said, and leapt for us.

Oh, that is it! My temper was seriously gone at his cocky attitude even in the light of the fact that we had taken out all of his partners in crime. And he had tried to kill me.

Both of us stuck at once, my massive, two-handed fireball blasting him back several feet, and Painbreaker’s following flare of pain-enhancement, this time mercifully short, bringing him to his knees. He was tough enough to come away without major burns, but he hadn’t been expecting the extra pain, and it floored him. And this time he seemed to realize how much trouble he was in, and he stayed down.

Painbreaker suddenly looked over her shoulder, listening to the police scanner we had in the ambulance. Someone had noticed our little showdown, and the police were on their way.

“I have to go,” she whispered, and was in the ambulance and out of sight in a flash. She couldn’t be seen, not here, not in front of the police and accompanying TV cameras, so I kept my eye on Hammerfist as the squad cars (and inevitable TV news van) came down the street barely after Painbreaker had gotten clear.

“Phoenix, rough night?” Officer Parker called out to me, his gun drawn, but pointed down at the much-subdued Hammerfist. Three other cops followed suite, a fourth holding a massive set of shackles designed to hold someone with super-strength. The fourth man was from the Bureau, and the big car he had arrived in was supposed to be tough enough to transport someone of Hammerfist’s abilities.

“Did you get the other four behind the bank, Parker?” I asked, keeping my attention on Hammerfist. He might choose to do something stupid, like grab one of the cops for a human shield, and I didn’t want to give him the option. Officer Parker was one of the night-shift cops, and after a year on the job, I had a pretty decent working relationship with him and the others on this shift.

“Bagged and tagged. We got the bank under guard, and other than replacing the wall and getting a new vault door, they didn’t lose a single dollar,” he said with satisfaction. I smiled a little at a good night’s work while the Bureau man approached the sitting Hammerfist warily. I flared up just a little in Hammerfist’s line of sight, letting him know that any wrong moves were going to get him toasted. He almost meekly let the guy put the shackles on, and walked slowly to the car. However, he wasn’t quite done with me yet.

“Who was that other guy?” he demanded as he passed me. I felt a short stab of fear go through me, that Painbreaker had been seen by the crooks, but also realized that none of the cops or reporters had seen her. It was just his word against mine.

“You got hit in the head too many times Hammerfist,” I said shortly, and the bewildered supervillain was led away. I took a few deep breaths and walked over to deal with the press. I had gotten better at this, but I guessed I would need to be at the game as long as the Commander before I could handle them without butterflies in my stomach.

I did my usual smile and waving thing, trying to answer the questions quickly without being too obvious about it. I had a lot of questions for Monica, and I really didn’t want to do an extended press conference. The plus side about working the night shift was I usually didn’t get the really talkative reporters. The gang always told me I looked really confident on the morning news when my clips played, and Monica had jokingly said once that I should go into acting or something. But that was too silly even to contemplate.

I finally begged off the last questions, saying I had to get back to defending the city from evil (always a great exit line), and slipped down an alley before they could formulate more things to ask. I quick changed as I walked, and found the ambulance in short order, practically in sight of the news van.

Monica was inside, already changed out of her costume, her eyes somewhat red, hastily scrubbing away the remains of tears as I got in.

“Hey, are you ok?” I asked in concern. I hadn’t thought she’d gotten hurt during that fight, but… Then logic reasserted itself. If she’s ever actually in pain herself, you’ll never know it.

“I’m fine,” she said softly. I could practically feel something building inside her though, and wasn’t surprised when she erupted in the next instant. “I thought they killed you!” she nearly shouted.

“I wanted them to think that. I didn’t want to get into a firefight-,” I started, but Monica interrupted me.

“I was watching you, I saw when they shot you, I could feel it! Then- you fell, and I can’t tell when someone dies, so I thought-,” she broke off and took a shuddering breath. “I couldn’t let them get away with it.”

She was willing to go after them because she thought I’d died? I realized incredulously. After she had seen me get thrown across a street, and seen three armed thugs pump me full of lead, she had shoved aside her fear and went out toe-to-toe with them. Will would have done the same thing, but Will knew he wouldn’t be hurt. Monica was as fragile as any normal person, and it made her actions all the more heroic.

“You did great,” I told her sincerely, the magnitude of what she had just done getting through to me.

“I used my powers too long, I know it, on the shooter…” she started. I put my hands on her shoulders to stop her, turning her towards me. I had to make her believe me, that I believed in her.

“You were awesome,” I said forcefully. “We were outnumbered, you did right.”

“I just- If you died, I never, I’d never have the courage to do this. I was so scared,” she whispered.

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I told her. “We make a great team. Hammerfist isn’t going to be making trouble for anyone for a long time.”

Monica looked straight in my eyes, looking a little desperate, searching for truth.

“I was watching you, with the press. They were cheering for you, smiling at you,” she said, and looked down, tears falling from her eyes.

Oh God, I realized. It was her first real venture into full-on heroics, like my first time at the bank in Berlin, and instead of being treated and flattered by the press, instead of hearing the adulation of law enforcement and the people she had saved, she had to go and hide. The academy was far too dangerous for her to show herself in public, especially for something good like this. She would get no fan mail, no news clips, no pictures in the paper. Nothing of all the good things I’d been showing her about heroics for the past year.

And she deserved that. She was my friend, and she had just put her life on the line for me. She had helped me clarify exactly why I was doing what I was doing, and she understood, even better than the rest of my friends, why I had to do things the hard way. Will, Layla, and the others would almost expect the kind of praise she might never get. I initially hadn’t thought I’d get it, and thought I’d be putting myself at risk for no other reward than just knowing I had made a difference. I thought people would have to be scared of me, that I would make them scared, even now, with how I fought. I knew some were, because I had occasionally glimpsed at some of the letters that Mandy threw away. And yet Monica wasn’t afraid of what I had to do, any more than I was afraid of her. She knew me, even more than my friends did in some ways.

She was more than a friend even…

“Would anyone ever… do that for me?” she asked, looking back up at me.

Tell her, you have to say it… There was a feeling in the air, like the wind before a storm, that something huge was about to happen, if I just let it. She’s more than a friend…

“I would,” I said softly, and pulled her close to kiss her, almost surprised at myself. Her tears quickly dried from the heat on my skin, her lips soft on mine, searching, testing, both of us hesitant, uncertain, but neither wanting to stop. I had no idea what this was really, and I had more butterflies in my stomach now than I had talking with the reporters. It felt like I had two or three flocks at war with each other inside me. Still, it was long minutes later before we pulled apart again, locking our gazes, looking for understanding.

My life had taken a not entirely expected turn, and I had no idea what was going to happen next. I was both terrified and elated, and had a sudden extreme feeling of empathy for the rest of my friends with their own relationships. It wasn’t logical, the timing couldn’t be worse, yet somehow I didn’t care. It was right, somehow, in a way that had nothing to do with morals, ethics, or supervillains. I knew it was important, and I really should say something, but… Then Monica leaned in again to brush her lips against mine, and I held her close, just wanting this moment together, with her.

It was enough.


 

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