Shoe-Dropping Promises Part B
I was thinking about protesting, but before I could remember how or why, I was already in the air and halfway to the Bureau hospital wing. Within ten minutes I was under a hot blanket, an oxygen mask over my face, inhaling the rich air like I was drowning. Will and Layla were getting their burns cleaned and bandaged right next to me, and I was trying not to wince every time they did. Will’s face was burned again from where I had gone nova, though apparently taking the trip up so high had helped deflect the worst of the fire. He actually looked much less worse than the time with the dinosaur robots. All of Layla’s knife and claw wounds were gone, but I had left my right handprint burned into her chest. If I was lucky maybe Will wouldn’t kill me for that.
I hadn’t said anything while they were tended to, keeping the mask over my face even though I really didn’t need to. It gave me a perfect excuse not to talk. In truth I was feeling almost normal physically, but was still very shaken mentally. I had been careless, and if Will had been one second slower, I might have killed someone. That fact was just sinking in now. I could have easily died up there if Will had chosen so, and the thought of falling through all of that icy space…
I hadn’t known he was capable of that. Then again, Layla had been closest when Bloodtalon had hit me. I should have considered myself lucky that he hadn’t knocked my head off of my shoulders to stop me. As it was, he had made a choice to try to save his best friend and his girlfriend had nearly died because of it. If I hadn’t been able to heal, I would have considered anything he had done to me as just punishment.
It must have been an hour or so before the rest of the gang joined us, damp from the rain but looking much better than the rest of us.
“How’d it go?” Layla asked, hanging Magenta back her jacket. She’d had to ask the nurses for some other clothes to go home in; her costume was a total loss.
“All right,” Ethan said with a small shrug. “I tried to keep from naming anything specifically, and luckily the cameras were pretty far away when… You know. I don’t think they caught too much. Anyways, most of the people that were close enough to see what really happened were also kinda busy trying to keep themselves from being noticed by the Crew. We went and talked to everyone and asked them to keep quiet.”
Magenta smirked when Ethan mentioned that, and we all got a faint smile on our faces. It was a tried and true fact that when a superhero asked a citizen for their help in keeping something a secret, it almost always worked. People liked getting responsibilities from superheroes, and Ethan was very clever for having both remembered it and talking to each person.
“Guys, did you find out what happened with Skybolt?” Will asked more urgently. Ethan looked uncomfortable, like someone had asked him a Champion Debate question he wasn’t prepared to answer, but nodded.
“Both him and Saurian Lord are gone. No one is sure how yet; the security cameras fuzzed out in their rooms during their breakout. Everything shows the power-suppresser field was working though, so they’re not sure how they did it. They literally managed to break out. They actually broke through walls, but no one saw them leave,” he said, looking thoroughly bewildered.
“How the hell did that happen? Is anyone else missing?” Magenta asked. Ethan shook his head emphatically.
“Royal Pain is still in prison. It looks like they didn’t even try to get anyone else out. They just… woke up with super-strength, bashed through walls, and waltzed out!” he said with exasperation. “The Bureau’s on the look-out, but everyone is pretty scared.”
“No joke,” Zack muttered. Everyone looked at each other for a second, wide-eyed, but it was Layla that broke the silence.
“This isn’t the first time they’ve pulled these escaping tricks before, just the best one so far. They’ll be back,” she pointed out. Reluctantly we all agreed.
"Did anyone see Painbreaker?" Layla asked. "She wasn't there, and that was kind of strange."
"No man, and I was looking," Zack answered quickly and quietly. Magenta put her arm around his waist loosely, looking up at him encouragingly. Everyone else just shrugged.
"Maybe she's hurt and can't fight, or her mentor isn't done with her yet," Ethan opined. We batted that back and forth for a minute, but mostly we were a little too tired to get into a detailed debate.
“What… happened out there today? After Bloodtalon…” I asked carefully, changing the subject to something more personal as we wound down. Ethan looked at me, then over at Will and Layla, and took a deep breath.
“After Bloodtalon hit you and Will took you away, Cutter teleported over to try to get to Layla. So I was standing over her, and pulled out my stun ray.”
“And then we figured out she had just left instead of hiding again,” Magenta added. “So we started to tag-team Viper as fast as we could, and he just ran when he realized he had no backup.”
“Then Cutter just stopped about ten feet from me and started smiling. I fired at her, but then Bruin got up again, shifted, and charged me. I threw myself under his feet and melted so he would slip, then Cutter starting throwing knives at Layla,” he said quietly. He was staring at the floor when he said that, hands clasped behind his back, his entire stance rigid. “Bruin landed on Layla, I got myself back together, and then by then Cutter and him were both gone.”
“By the time we even realized what was going on, you guys were already back,” Zack finished.
“Ok, I’m going to say something. We’re not going to play the damn blame game for this. Seriously, or I’m going to kick everyone’s ass individually and alphabetically on a daily basis from now on to knock sense into your heads. Because if I want to hang around with a bunch of emo, depressed, self-absorbed jackasses, I’d go back to Sky High. That’s not us guys, that’s never been us,” Magenta broke in.
As we were trying to take that all in, a soft knock sounded on the door, and three people entered the room. Two I recognized vaguely as nurses; I had seen them now and then when I had stopped in for fan mail, talking with some of the other Bureau workers. One was a thin, pale woman with aggressively short dark brown hair, and the other was a man that looked like her brother, with gray-shot dark hair longer than my own. The third I didn’t recognize, and she was particularly weird; if I'd ever seen her before, I definitely would have remembered it. If a crane had gotten stuck halfway to turning into a human, that would have described her pretty well. She had a long curved beak in place of her mouth and nose, and a crest of white feathers instead of hair. Thin white feathers covered her skin, though the rest of her looked human enough, if elongated and bony.
She only gave Will and Layla the most perfunctory of nods before turning to me, and ignored the rest of the group entirely, which was unusual. Will being who he was, he got mobbed every time he stepped into the Bureau. The fact that he was easygoing and didn’t keep his fans at arm’s length like I did meant every time he was in costume and not busy saving the world, he was surrounded by people. Even now, the occasional intern, nurse, office worker, doctor, or recuperating superhero had been poking their heads in almost constantly just to say hello. The bird-woman closed the door behind her and drew the shades, blocking out the curiosity seekers.
“Dr. Egret, can we help you?” Ethan asked politely.
Ah, I thought dumbly, that’s Egret. Duh. Of course, the stethoscope, caduceus on her coat, and the nametag should have tipped me off. I must have been more tired than I thought. I recalled her name being paged a few times when I had been I the Bureau. She was, obviously, one of the doctors in the medical wing, with some minor healing power of her own.
“Phoenix,” she said shortly, ignoring everyone else. “I saw the news. The director refused to talk to me, so I came to see you directly. It is true?”
Even tired as I was, I saw where this was going, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. I tried to figure out a way to stall when she went over and picked up Layla’s ripped, bloodstained costume off the floor. Then she looked at the relatively small bandage Layla had on now and gave a triumphant trill, echoing strangely within her beak.
“I suppose that’s a yes!” she said gleefully. “Phoenix, I can’t imagine why you’ve kept this a secret. This is wonderful!”
The rest of my friends looked uncomfortable, and Will and Layla looked downright torn. They had a good idea of what might happen, but today’s fight had left us with a lot of issues. I don’t think anyone was sure if they wanted to hit me or thank me (or both), and I definitely didn’t want them to feel obligated to defend me.
“I got this guys,” I said, finally putting the oxygen mask away. The two nurses gave Will and Layla a quick once-over, and then waved them from the room with everyone else, filing out in awkward silence. They sat in the chairs near the door and watched us both carefully.
“Yeah, it’s great,” I agreed flatly, continuing our conversation. Egret’s face fell a little at my tone.
“I apologize for barging in on you like this. It’s just I’m not certain you realize what this means for us.”
“Us?” I asked.
“Superheroes. The Bureau.”
I knew what she wanted, and I couldn’t refuse without looking like a selfish bastard. I started feeling sick to my stomach, and suddenly very much wished I hadn’t sent my friends away. I wished my mom was here, because she could have made everything sound reasonable and sent everyone home happy. I even wished Monica could have been here, because she could have probably made Egret feel guilty about even being in the same room as me.
I took a deep breath. I was an adult, and I didn’t have to have my friends, my mom, or my girlfriend holding my hand. Even if I really, really wanted to.
“Yeah, I know. The academy knows too, that’s why we kept it a secret.”
“Well, I could see that. But don’t you want to help your fellow superheroes? There are so many of them that would give a lot to be out there fighting evil again.”
I had promised myself, if this situation ever came up, that I wouldn’t get too defensive, but I was so tired I didn’t have my mental filters on all the way. I started talking too fast, almost babbling excuses, saying it was risky, I had to have help to keep from going too far, it was draining and difficult, that I might not have enough strength left to fight crime-.
Egret verbally pounced on that last bit.
“But what if you didn’t?”
“Didn’t have to fight?”
I blinked at her in non-comprehension.
“If we found someone else to take your place with the Champions. I know you’ve been a really excellent fighter Phoenix. But think how much more you could do as a healer! Think how many more people you could save, through each person that you get back out there to fight. You wouldn’t have to be angry all the time, and the risk would be so much less to you. I know you’ve never really thought about it before, but just think how much more you could accomplish,” she said passionately.
I swallowed hard, staring at her in half-defiance, half-fear. It had just crossed my mind that if I were to just be a healer, I would never have to worry about a day like today happening again. That I would never have to deliberately hurt someone with my fire again.
On the other hand, that wasn’t what I was. I had been a fighter, since day one-. And look where that got you. You were an angry, brooding loner for most of your life. If you knew from the start that you didn’t have to power up in anger, what would have happened to you? How would you have turned out?
I felt a vague sense of something smothering me as Egret’s eager expression and impassioned logic hammered at me, but I couldn’t find the words to protest. The air suddenly felt too thin to breathe again.
“Egret, give the man time to think,” the short-haired woman broke in. Her words broke Egret’s momentary spell, and anger came back to the forefront of my mind. To do what Egret suggested, I’d have to leave my friends behind, to be alone again in a profession and job that I didn’t particularly want. I’d be changing everything that I was, before I was entirely certain of that myself. I looked over at the woman sharply. Egret looked pissed, probably because the nurse had broken the spell of words she had been weaving. I was confused; weren’t they on the same side?
“Aren’t you supposed to convince me too?” I asked. She shook her head.
“We’re here as impartial witnesses.”
“Hardly impartial, I’d say-,” Egret started, but clacked her beak shut as the longhaired man raised his hand for silence.
“And as your advocates, Phoenix. Think of us as union representatives,” he commented mildly.
I must have looked extra confused, because he elaborated, speaking to both Egret and I.
“There is nothing the Bureau can give us, not our pay, not aid, not our cover identities, or anything that makes up for the total dedication we give to our jobs. How many other people are on call twenty-four hours a day, every day, with no hope of vacation or rest? And though we have only recently rectified the mistake with assigning Sidekicks, as a whole, the Bureau has never dictated how a superhero must use his powers. That has always been the decision of the individual. And no many how much you might want to press, Egret, the choice belongs to Phoenix,” he said calmly.
“Please,” she said finally, her voice more coaxing. “The academy has made it so much harder for the few of us in the medical department. There are so many more casualties. We could really use your help.”
I drew a slightly shaky breath, and finally shook my head. Egret jerked as if she had been stung.
“But you’re not doing enough!” she cried, almost a wail.
Oh, that hurt. I suddenly had an insight as to how this must be for her, to be one of so few to stem a rising tide of injury and pain. There were very few super-doctors in comparison to the number of active heroes. She, and the rest of her staff, must have been working themselves to the bone to keep everyone going. I must have seemed like the answer to her prayers. I felt horrible, but the sudden thought of being trapped in here with dozens of injured heroes brought back that terrible smothering feeling again. I hadn’t forgotten my mom’s lecture about Margaret Peace. But it still hurt.
“Egret!” the man said sharply, rising from his chair. “That was too far. Leave Phoenix alone, he’s made his choice. If he wants to give us a try someday, that’ll be up to him.”
Egret lifted her chin, her beady bird’s eyes looking from him to me and back again, and finally sailed out of the room. I grabbed my helmet from the floor, taking a few more deep breaths to get myself calm. She had been desperate, willing to try to guilt-trip me into what she wanted, and I guess that excused a lot of what she said. But right now I just wanted to go home and sleep before anything else happened.
I waited a few moments for Egret to get well clear, and then moved to leave myself, just desperate to get out. As I passed the doorway, the woman put her hand on mine for a second, halting me.
“Phoenix, don’t you ever thing you’re not doing enough. You’re doing more than you’ll ever know,” she said firmly, catching my gaze. She had the kindest brown eyes I had ever seen, and I felt some of my anxiety easing as I finally left.
As the door shut behind me, I realized I didn’t even know their names.
My friends were all standing around in the hallway, talking softly, and I walked up to them with a little trepidation.
“Ok dudes, we’re having a party,” Zack announced as I appeared, not even asking what Egret had wanted from me. Everyone looked at him wearily. After everything that had happened today, doing anything like that almost sounded nauseating.
“After you get some sleep,” he clarified. “So, ok, this fight wasn’t so great, but hey, no one died, nothing got stolen, and everyone’s ok. Tomorrow night, everyone goes to Glitterdust at ten, and we are going to dance. Anyone that doesn’t show up, I’m going to your house and dragging you out.”
Normally, after every bad fight, weird piece of news, anything odd, we had reacted to it in the same way; brainstorm for more ideas and train our tails off.
Now Zack had suggested a party. Everyone looked at him, looked at each other, and then looked back at him. That was the best damn idea we had heard in a month.
“Can I bring Chloe?” was Ethan’s only question.
I must have slept for almost twelve hours, but by the time I woke up in the very late afternoon, I actually felt close to normal again. I badly wanted to call Monica; my heart was still feeling pretty bruised from yesterday, but when I checked my messages, she had left me a text.
See you later tonight, promise. We’ll talk then.
Well. That would have to be enough. I would have dearly loved to talk to Mom too, but as true per most academy attacks, all of our parents had been called out of town before they had shown up. Mom had been somewhere in Pakistan for close to three weeks now, with at least another two weeks’ worth of work in front of her. Whatever trouble the academy was stirring up wasn’t necessarily limited to the superhero front; or perhaps some of the non-super bad guys were just taking advantage of the generally chaotic scene to make trouble, it was hard to tell. At any rate, she had been gone more often than not lately, and we didn’t get the chance to talk every day.
Tonight couldn’t come soon enough.
Glitterdust lived up to its name, with glitter being the primary form of decoration. It was on the dance floor, the paint on the walls, the murals, the furniture, and sprinkling down from the ceiling as well. A huge light show of lasers, colored lights of all descriptions, and a mirrored ball, all pulsing in time to the beat, made for a very cool place. Zack and Magenta had gotten us all VIP cards, so we were whisked to the front of the long line, along with several other of Maxville’s coolest people. Some of the other club-goers stared at the nerdy Ethan or Will in his horn-rimmed glasses with contempt as they passed by, but no one really cared about that tonight. We were all just looking for a good time, a chance to relax, and some time to forget and put things at a distance.
The girls all looked amazing in their clubbing clothes, and the rest of us guys (minus Zack, who was the DJ) were enjoying the show as they danced together, oblivious to the rest of the club. He had the weirdest dance mix sometimes, house, techno, some rock, pop, and dance mixes of other songs, sometimes from the strangest places, but all of it completely rocked. The music overpowered nearly all conversation, but no one would have it any other way.
Easy now, let me see ya move! Let your mind. Move! Put me online. The music is my life!
The place was completely packed to the rafters with clubbers, everyone eager to have a good time. And right now it made it a really awesome place to be.
I’m the lyrical Jesse James!
No one needed rescuing here. No one needed to be healed. Everyone just wanted to have fun.
Obstacles are inefficient, follow your intuition, free your inner soul and break away from tradition.
Will and Ethan finally left me to go dance with their girlfriends, and I quickly lost myself in the crowd. There were some girls who were eyeing me, and a moving target was harder to hit. I went to find a drink to get away from the worst of them.
My images reflect in the enemy’s eye, And his images reflect in mine the same time.
Glitterdust didn’t sell alcohol, mostly because it catered to high school kids as well as adults, but I really didn’t want to even try to get drunk tonight. I grabbed a pop quickly, and kept moving through the crowd, tossing it off quickly, and looking for another relatively safe place to just enjoy the music and people-watching without getting an invitation to dance. Not that I didn’t like dancing, I just would have rather danced with-.
She’s a battleaxe in pinstripes!
Monica. Monica was standing right over there, half in shadow by a pillar, and staring straight at me. I blinked, certain that it was just a trick of the light, a figment of my imagination, just some other girl that looked like her. Surely she wouldn’t be out in public.
Yesterday wasn't half as tough as this time
This time isn't Hell,
Last time, I couldn't tell
This mind wasn't well
Next time, hope I'm...
She didn’t go away. She actually smiled at me. I finally broke and came over to her, still stunned. It was definitely her, no mistaking it.
“What are you doing here?” I asked incredulously as I got close. She was always the cautious one.
“Who’s going to believe it’s me?” she pointed out reasonably. “The lights, the shadows, the music, the three dozen girls ready to jump you the second you look unattached…”
“Jealous?” I asked a bit acidly, wanting to convince her this was the height of insanity. It lacked the bite it should have though. I was a little distracted by Monica’s outfit; shiny dark blue and clingy, with silver jewelry, it was a lot more revealing than anything I had ever seen her in. And she looked damn good in it.
Give me just a second and I'll be all right, Surely one more moment couldn't break my heart.
“Terribly,” she confessed, and glanced over her shoulder at some of the other girls in the club. “The phans don’t bother me, that’s business. But the vultures over there that are waiting for me to leave, yeah, they do.”
“I can take care of myself,” I said a little defensively.
“I know you can. I’d just rather you not have to,” she said with an odd tilt of her head, smiling a little. This is such an odd conversation.
“You gave me my life back. You gave me even more than that. And I-.”
“You don’t owe me anything-.”
I promise you my heart, just promise to sing.
“I love you. I didn’t know I would ever, you know, find anyone. I just… I know you said you don’t like it when those fans of your push themselves on you.”
“And you want to?”
I pulled her close, my hands around her waist, sliding across the slick fabric over her skin. I lowered my head, breathing slightly into her dark hair, smelling the faint scent of something spicy and sweet.
“No,” I said into her ear. “But you’re crazy for doing this.”
I felt her laugh a little in relief, her hands circling my shoulders as we swayed in time to the music.
Everyone that burns has to learn from the pain.
We danced through several songs, and even as I felt myself relaxing, I was telling her of everything that had happened yesterday. The attack, Skybolt’s escape, my own near-death, Layla’s injuries, even Egret’s offer.
Is there anything to feel?
Is it pain that makes you real?
Cut me off before it kills me.
She listened attentively, her large, dark eyes fixed on mine, and a lot of the tension just slipped away, now that I knew I had someone else who would help me get through this.
“I’m so sorry about Layla. I tried to take her pain for her, but it’s so hard at that distance. I tried to do everything I could…” she trailed off, and rested her head on my chest for a moment, and I cradled her. It was bad for me, but she hadn’t even been able to act directly.
“I can do more. I’ve been thinking about this for months, going over everything,” she said finally, catching my eyes again. “I have a plan.”
There was only one thing that she would have a plan about that would have gotten her out in public, and I felt my spirits take a huge leap. She had a plan on how to take down the academy. A real, solid plan, if her urgency in meeting me was any indication.
“Tell me,” I said, and she jerked her head towards a side exit.
“In private,” she said, and I nodded, following her out. Even here the music was audible, but much, much quieter.
“I just have a few questions first,” she said, her arms still wrapped around me.
“Would you… be willing to use your powers on some of the other academy members? Help them like you did me?”
I only had to think a second on that. I had been able to break the artificial bonds Monica had on her own powers without a whole lot of difficulty, once I had known to look. If I could do that to other academy members, maybe we could turn others to our cause.
“Yeah,” I said simply.
“And would you be willing to risk your own reputation to bring the academy down?” she asked more earnestly.
I thought about that for a longer moment. Would I be willing to risk Phoenix, the reputation I had made for myself in defiance of my father’s crimes, to stop their crazed rampages? Would I do it for her? Or just because it was right?
“Yeah,” I said again.
"Do you trust me?"
"Yes," I said quickly.
I still have my name, I still have my face, I have not run away from home. Does it seem so wrong, if now embrace, every single thing I’ve never known.
Music echoed from the door as Monica smiled at me, her fingertips brushing my temples.
“Every good plan needs an element of surprise,” she started. And then every vestige of emotion suddenly dropped from her face.
“Warren, I’ve been recalled.”
Blinding agony shot through my head, overwhelming me with pain shot through from temple to temple, until I dropped into blessed black oblivion.
Post Author's Note: I don't own any of the following bands, songs, lyrics, or music. All are used without permission and with no profit. But if you figured out the Glitterdust song clips before this part, you get a No Prize!
She’s a battleaxe in pinstripes – Lordi, Who’s Your Daddy
I’m the lyrical Jesse James – Snap, The Power
Easy now, let me see ya move! Let your mind. Move! Put me online The music is my life – C+C Music Factory, Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)
Obstacles are inefficient, follow your intuition, free your inner soul and break away from tradition. – Black Eyed Peas, Let’s Get it Started
My images reflect in the enemy’s eye, And his images reflect in mine the same time – Massive Attack with Mos Def, I Against I
Give me just a second and I'll be all right, Surely one more moment couldn't break my heart –Daniel Beddingfield, Gotta Get Through This
I promise you my heart, just promise to sing – AFI, Prelude 12/21
I still have my name, I still have my face, I have not run away from home. Does it seem so wrong, if now embrace, every single thing I’ve never known. – Iris, Annie Would I Lie to You
Is there anything to feel?
Is it pain that makes you real?
Cut me off before it kills me – Goo Goo Dolls, Long Way Down
Yesterday wasn't half as tough as this time
This time isn't Hell,
Last time, I couldn't tell
This mind wasn't well
Next time, hope I'm... – Barenaked Ladies, Too Little Too Late
Everyone that burns has to learn from the pain – Limp Bizkit, Nookie