Thwump Ka-King Thwump Ka-King Thwump Ka-King
The bat weighs heavy in my hand, palms stinging a little. The last one was a bad hit, bad angle, bad spot, and the reverberations traveled in a bad. I don't shake out my hands, don't take the moment to rest and recenter myself. The next ball is already on the way, the nozzle already loaded and primed with another round.
Thwump Ka-King Thwump Ka-King Thwump Ka-King
The lights at the back shine and sparked and my little square plays a fun little ditty. A square on the net at the back, labeled 'Home-run,' starts dancing. One of the sides is missing a few bulbs. I think they just twined Christmas lights around it, and the inevitable happened. Either no one noticed, or no one cared. I don't mind, not really. I'm also pretty sure that hitting the tiny square wouldn't necessarily make a home run by the official standards. Probably just go left center field unless the wind decided to help out a smidge.
Thwump Ka-King Thwump Ka-King Thwump Ka-King
"And that's the game!" cheered the tinny voice from my little square, "Home team wins!"
I stretch and roll out the kinks in my back, my shoulder, my wrists. My palms still sting a little bit, but I can finally give them some attention. The pain fades and dims and my knuckles make a wonderful crack.
"God, I hate that you do that, Evan," says a wonderful voice from behind me. I smile. I can't help it. I love the voice, even when the words carry the slight suggestion of disgust. I grab the edge of the little square that holds me and twist, the pops rolling up my spine.
"Hey honey," I say, and she shudders. Hannah shudders.
"I hate you so much right now. Have fun?"
"Yeah. I'm all done. Did pretty well if I say so myself."
"Still haven't broken the record though?"
"One day. One day I will. I don't care that Bloody Sunday owns this place. He's going down."
She smiles and rolls her eyes, and my own grin shines back. I eye the heavy duffel she's got with her, slung over her shoulder. Hair's short, shorter than I've seen it before. I swear every other week, it loses an inch. Soon, she'll be rocking a bare scalp. But for now, it has the suggestion of the final shape, a proud jut breaking the sky, pulled up in a pompadour. She's expressed some interest in feathering it out, letting go wild and insane. Just a simple curl and bounce to it today though. Still trying to get her to consider full blown liberty spikes, but I think that's a way off. So, for now, it's all controlled and sleek.
She eyes the duffel too, a slight bit of trepidation sinking into her frame. Nervous, she's nervous. I'm nervous too. The same song and dance I've done for years and it still makes me a little nervous to actually go through with it. I've been on both sides of it, worked with people and gone alone, and still that little pull deep in my stomach works its way up into my mind.
"Are you ready, Riot Girl," I ask. I already know the answer.
"Absolutely, Beat Match."
We wait on the roof of the Lemon Building. Not it's official name, and I don't care to learn it. It just looks like a lemon and if the sun hits it just right, then it turns yellow, kind of a sickly yellow, not a blinding beautiful gold or an ethereal pale of heaven glow, just kind of lemon yellow, but if the lemon had a bad day and was kicked around a bit. Chosen, not for the name or the style, but location. The mayoral mansion sits across the way and some of my friends have taken issue with his civic performance.
Full kit, green leather jacket, hair spiked and fanned up to the clouds, baseball bat sitting on my shoulders, that wonderful weight giving me something to focus on instead of the wind that bites and tells me to let go and fall. There will be time enough for that in a bit. Right now, though, we just sit and watch the whole thing go down. Riot Girl sits like a stone, the training and the regimen still baked into her. Back straight, arms folded, but ready, eyes dead set on the door. It's odd seeing something so stiff in ripped and patched denim, declaring beautiful anarchy to the whole world and reveling in the sheer power of untamed chaos. Still, so absolutely still, so beautifully still.
I reach out and pinch her ass.
She yelps and the stone melts and I feel a shock rip through my chest as a thunderclap pierces my skull. Through the mask, I see the playful anger burn.
"Relax," I say, "I know that saying that won't make you, but you need to relax. It's a different game on this side."
"I know," she says, "But you pinched me. How would you like it if I pinched you?"
"I'd like that very much I think."
She does and I am right. I sit back, smug, and sure of my place in the world and nothing could ever possibly shake that. I pinch her again, on the sides and that wonderful mix of frustration and eager joy crosses her face.
In the gap between us, a face breaks through the void with a terrible grimace.
"Lovebirds," says the distortion, "Stop playing grab ass. We're on the clock."
"Sorry, Doppel," says Riot Girl, "But in my defense, he started it."
"I don't care who started it. One of the looking glasses found the squad car. They're on their way. Get ready. It's going to get real loud, real quick."
"Fuck yeah it is." The face shatters and fades. We are alone again.
The eager joy remains, replaced with something a little more savage. I feel the same surge in my stomach, that same push of nervous electricity. She's still stiff, still statue and stone, but underneath, she starts trembling a little. I feel the earthquake in her body travel through the stone and up my spine. It's a heartbeat, frantic and jackrabbit, and I can't help my mind wandering to the dead of night and the wonderful times we've had together naked and canoodling.
Doppel Gang and his many, many, many, many eyes were correct. The squad car came roaring down the street, tearing pavement and asphalt and concrete, 3 axles screaming with pure speed before screeching to a halt. I sigh. I don't like the squad car. I appreciate it, sure, and its purpose, but it's so military, so commanding and brutish. Something big and strong and momentous and ultimately just kind of a boot to stamp down on the road. I know that's why it is the way it is, and all the wonderful implications it carries on 6 wheels, but something in my soul just wants to smash it to bits. Part of why I chose my line of work really.
Riot Girl stands before showing me her back. I latch on and the world detonates and shatters as she jumps. Loud, I always forget how loud she is, catching thunder and earthquakes with a wall of sound that threatens to turn bone to dust and organs to slurry. I need to invest in some ear protection for this wonderful partnership.
She rocks the squad car, stamping her foot and getting pure church bells in response. I'm still reeling from the impact, the topsy turvy turn of shockwave and descent. She stomps again I fall off the top.
I steal the moment, turn the world gray. The shockwaves from her little tantrum freeze, resistance from the force. Frazzled, a little shaken, not to worry. New partner, new scene, new everything really. Natural. I'd be more worried if I was feeling fine after all that. And it's not her fault. She's still settling into her role as well, finding what works for her, how she slots in. I have to admit, the banging on the roof is a nice touch. Wish she told me about it, but that can be save for the postmortem. Deep breath, roll the shoulders, make sure the hair is nice and straight and strong, and I smile.
Color will come back. I will allow it. I can't stay here in the perfect little gray world forever. Every second standing still is a second I can't stand still later. But I do take another heartbeat to watch Riot Girl. The moment of savagery encapsulated on her face, the raw ecstasy of smashing something strong. Something primal, something unfiltered and jagged and wild. And she looks beautiful reveling in her own base instincts. It doesn't hurt that the particular top under the jacket is rather formfitting and I just notice that she forgone a bra.
My station situated and staked, I let time resume its terrible flow once more. The church bells sing and clash and clamor in perfect cacophony. Loud, so wonderfully loud and I grin, lopsided and cocky as a blast comes back and knocks her clear and clean away. She lands in the street a way away, already back up and dusting herself off. The back door slams open and the gathered allies of justice file out and strike what must surely be the most rehearsed set of poses imaginable. I applaud them, cheer and whistle. They worked very, very hard for this moment and I must show appreciation. Their mothers must be so proud.
A little lighter on the whole party than I thought they'd be, but that's fine. It's our job to keep them out of the house the collective goons are currently ransacking. Mostly a symbolic thing at this point. Mayor Juniper is nowhere near here, and it keeps the place lively.
"Welcome, welcome friends," I say as I pull myself forward, "thank you so much for attending this wonderful soiree. As you can see, you've arrived a bit early. My associates are still inside setting up the venue. But don't worry, we have diversions of all kinds out in the garden."
Deadman, holy hell they actually dragged him out here, groans and grumbles something in the back of his throat that I can't quite make out. His pale suit, coated in dust and dirt, flutters with the wind. It takes a moment, but I place the face to the name, and Azure Dream steps out and I desperately want him to go back. Garish and clashing and absolutely hideous. Granted, I think that's part of the whole point, but succeeding at looking awful is still looking awful.
And to my absolute shock, Serpentor comes out the play as well, long robes trailing behind her. Face is covered of course, but the writhing shapes around her stomach, up her arms, are unmistakable. It's a good day, a really, really good day.
"Serpentor," I shout, some genuine joy creeping through the façade, "I thought you moved. No idea you were still hanging around. I'm so happy to see you."
She grins, wide and viper and menacing, sharp teeth glinting behind the green lips. The shapes, long tubes, writhe and wriggle and pulse.
"Good to see you too, Beat Match," she hisses, "And I see you made a friend."
"I've been his friend a while, thank you very much," says Riot Girl, "Also, hey guys. How's it going? I changed sides. Dead, grandson still in college?"
Deadman nods as he raises his hands.
"How dare you," shouts Azure, "You have betrayed the Grand Alliance of Heroics, Blast Hole. You have no right, no right at all to stand where you are. Submit to justice or we will use force."
I roll my eyes and Serpentor mouths 'new guy.' I figured. Give him a few months and he'll mellow a little. Hopefully switch gimmicks and change into a costume that does not leave a bad taste in my mouth.
The two gentlemen take the lady, and I am left with the wonderful Ms. Serpentor. A moment. I just need a moment. I took too long in the gray and I need the switch in my chest to come back so I can go again. She raises her arms and I hear rolling thunder from the other side of the squad car.
"Snake, snake. Cobra, cobra. Snake, snake. Cobra, cobra," she chants. I don't think she actually has to do that, but it sells the effect. Plus, the waving arms and shifting worms in her robes are always unsettling.
"Feast," she said.
A snake, head the size of a car, bursts from her sleeves and I cannot help but falter. Fang and gullet drip with ravenous need and something ape in the back of my mind realizes that it is a dangerous thing to be on the receiving end.
The switch comes back, and the world turns gray, heart already threatening to break through my ribs. Close, too close, and for a moment, I realize that all the schoolteachers in the world might have a point that women wearing certain things are distracting. My problem though not theirs. Something I need to work on, so I don't get eaten by snakes. All the modesty in the world wouldn't have helped me succeed in the academic sector.
I forget the name of which one's through I'm staring down, but it gets a good smack on the snout for its trouble. I am also very glad that scents don't carry over into the gray world. No idea why, but one of the many, many quirks that come with a certain influence over the world and all its natural flows. I hit the snake again, just to be sure. And one for the mistress as well.
Color and time and everything's reeling. Booms, thunderclap detonations on the other side of the squad car, grunts and yells and wonderful speeches meant to rouse and inspire cut short with right cross to the jaw and a shockwave that I can feel rip through me.
Serpentor's fine. She's tough and there was probably a snake in the way to take most of it. The big boy still out to play hisses and groans from the impact, shaking its head back and forth. A baseball bat to the noggin is still the great equalizer. Anything that can take that and be fine on the other side is simply too powerful to go against.
"I'm feeling good today, Beat," she says, "Really good. So, I'll give you that one. You've gotten better."
"What can I say? Having love in my life is good for me."
"Finally. I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for the two of you to actually do something about it. Don't think we didn't know about those little games the two of you played."
I blush. I have to. I hate myself, but I still do. Some beautiful mind game played, and I don't have the wits about me to get out of the way as a massive snake head rams into my side and throws me against the wall.
"You're doing terrific," she says, "now get up and actually try this time."
Hannah has a split lip, and she can't stop beaming. She can't stop touching the damn thing either.
"It's going to get infected if you keep doing that," I say. The mohawk's gone. Its limp and dangling to the side, straight and clean. It always feels odd with it down. Mohawks should be up, always up and fanned and cutting the wind like a knife. But most doors aren't made to mohawk height, so it stays down.
"I forgot how hard Deadman can hit," she says, "Still think he should retire, but damn. Train in a fist and he has two of them. How's the bite mark?"
She jabs at my shoulder and I wince.
"Sore. Probably going to be worse tomorrow. Thank god she doesn't actually use venomous snakes. That'd be just cruel. How's the new guy shaping up?"
"I can feel the push coming for him. Give him a year and they'll try to turn him into Solar 2. But I doubt he could handle that. Way too nervous, way too uptight for it. Who knows though right? Hell, if you asked me the day before we got together, I'd switch, I would've called you a liar. And then gone to get ice cream or something."
Ice cream does sound very nice right about now, but the vice of the night is alcoholic libations at a wonderful little hive of scum and villainy. And heroics once the mask drops. So, few places to collect and talk shop. So, few places where the mask and the face behind it were one and the same. Tonight, is a celebration. The first job of a new mask, and it went off without a hitch. Doppel Gang ransacked the place and left some vaguely threatening note, made off with some valuable artifacts. There was talk of kidnapping the mayor's daughter, but that got the axe. Just a routine show of force, a little bit of chaos thrown into the city. Thought and planning and facilities have to go into a good a kidnapping. Didn't help that the lady in question was abroad.
Hannah keeps touching her lip with a sense of pride. A mark, she has been marked by the other side. She has given blood for the cause of mad villainy. And she finds herself happy about. I can't imagine what it was like on the good guy's team, spilling blood, bruising, breaking bones and then deciding at the end of the day that it wasn't worth it. All that pain and she walked away to stand by me. I take her hand, and she squeezes it tight. I am worried about an infection. I couldn't kiss her if she has an infected lip.
Neon, glowing neon that buzzes and hums, blue and green and purple that says the Roulette Club comes from the glass and steel. A long time since I've seen those particular words greet me. She perks up a little, adding some drag to the arm to get me to go faster. A great joy greets the both of us as we simply walk past the congregation waiting to get in. I half suspect that they are hired plants to cater to the real clientele, to impart that visceral level of superiority. They shoot daggers and glares that could wither and turn, but I pay them no mind. Dante, the wonderful man with shaggy hair standing in front of the door, unclasps the velvet line and ushers us inside.
Deep, dark, pulsating light, music just a bit too loud to be peaceful, but the end result is the slow intoxication before anything can actually sit in my stomach. Deadman's here, up past his bedtime it seems, already a handful of glasses deep. Azure's across from him, barely holding on, and I can see the older man chuckle, although I still can't hear any noise he makes. Doppel's off in a corner, talking to himself. He's in good company at least. I'll have to swing by and talk with one of them at some point. It's only polite.
An arm snakes over my waist and I turn to Hannah. It's not her arm, and she has one of her own on her waist.
Serpentor pulls us into a hug. I return it. Hannah returns it and I feel a kiss on my cheek. Hannah gets one too.
"Hey, Kieran," I say as the hug finally breaks, "You were good out there. I don't think I got you the way you got me."
"Oh, you did," she says, "really messed up my knee. I'm going to be walking funny for a week, you little bastard. But come on. Drink with me. It's time to celebrate."
"What's the occasion," Hannah asks.
"The happiest day of a woman's life. My divorce."
"Wait," I say, "You were married to Tom?"
"Captain Solar is many, many, many things," Kieran says, "But faithful was not one of them. And honestly, I was kind of okay with that, granted I could exercise that same liberty. It's a very stressful line of work we're all it and there have to be certain ways to unwind. And I did. However, it was one of those things that was never supposed to actually happen. He could go about and fuck women half his age, but the moment I start making a pass at Windstep, he gets all up in arms."
She sips her drink, something clear and clean and probably strong enough to punch me in the mouth. Of my many flaws, a light weight is unfortunately one of them. And I have chosen to work very close with Bloody Sunday over the course of my career, so that's just bad planning on my part. I can handle a beer, maybe two if I have something in my stomach, but I stay away from anything labeled spirit.
"So now I'm back on the market after a terrible proceeding," she says, "And our good friend Thomas has been shipped out to Vegas."
Hannah throws back her head and laughs, something ugly and barking and I can't help but join her, even if I have no idea what's so bad about Vegas.
"He's going to Vegas?" Hannah says, "That's awesome. What'd he do to get sent there? I can't imagine he'll have a good time."
"He lost," says Kieran as she takes another sip, "Specifically, to you two. So, I owe you both. He was trying to get me sent out there, something about how my 'dark mysterious wiles' would be a perfect fit. But then you both kicked his ass and you switched so that kind of put a damper on his reputation. And they are understaffed out there anyway, so off he goes."
"What's so bad about Vegas," I ask. I have no problems with the city, in principle. A little arrogant of mankind to slap a city in the middle of a desert and build it up as the den of vice, but arrogance is the least of my worries with the human race.