“Wait, so if she’s gonna be Queen of Mars, then why does she need the Silent Knight to die for her? Can’t she just order Lord Commander Hadran to step off?”
“Yeah, but if she did that, then we wouldn’t get to see this cool robot fight.” James gestured towards the television, where two animated metal figures were indeed dueling fiercely with one another.
“But the fight makes no sense. If the war’s over, then these guys are on the same side now, aren’t they?”
“… I think you’re putting way too much thought into this, Casper.”
“Hey, you said this show had politics. I just wanna make sure those politics make sense, which they don’t.”
“Shut up, you massive dork.”
Casper opened his mouth to reply, before being interrupted by a sound from his pocket. His phone, presumably, blaring out a drum solo from a song James didn’t recognize.
“Hang on,” Casper murmured, digging in his pocket. “That’s Tasha. Wonder what she wants.”
James grabbed the television remote with a shrug, and lowered the volume a fraction while his friend answered the phone.
“Hello?” Casper spoke, his voice curious.
James heard Tasha’s voice faintly on the other end of the line. He allowed his gaze to drift around the room as he waited for the conversation to end, glancing down at the DVD case on the bed, and looking over the blurb for lack of anything better to do.
“Jesus, Tasha,” the other boy groaned, drawing James’ attention for a moment, raising the palm of his free hand to his forehead in frustration, before resignedly continuing. “How bad is it this time?”
James returned his attention to the box cover, only to have it snapped violently back towards Casper.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU GOT SHOT!?” The boy screeched, forcibly lowering his voice at James’ frantic gestures for him to keep his voice down. “Why are you telling me this?” Tasha’s voice spoke for a few moments on the other end of the line, and Casper shot a glance at James across the bed. “I don’t know if he’d want me to give you his number yet… No, I’m in his room.” A few more words from Tasha, and the boy held the phone out towards him. “She wants to talk to you.”
James took the phone, his fingers shaking slightly as they wrapped around it, and brought it to his ear.
“You got shot?!” he whisper-shouted into the mouthpiece, aghast.
“Yeah, kinda,” came Tasha’s response. She sounded pained. “Look, I need a hand with something, okay? Now, did you test out how much weight you can carry with your power yet?”
“Not a lot,” he replied hurriedly. “More than a backpack full of books, less than my bed. I didn’t have much to test with.”
“It’s ok,” she muttered, letting out what sounded like a gasp of pain. “That should be plenty. Look, I’m on a rooftop about two blocks south of your school. I need you to come give me a lift home before someone finds me.” James didn’t respond at first, staying silent so long that Tasha spoke again. “James? You still there?”
“You what?” he hissed, incensed. “You want me flying in the open, in a city, in a place where people with guns are apparently looking for you? Are you insane, Tasha? What if I’m seen? What if my parents notice I’m gone? I don’t even know you!”
“Yeah, I know, I know. I’m sorry,” she replied, her voice tired. “I’m only asking cuz I’m out of options here. I managed to get some distance from them, but if they find me, I’m screwed. If I have to jump another building like this, I might make a noise loud enough for them to hear.”
“And who’s they?”James continued, his shock giving way to anger. “How bad did you mess up, Tasha? Who did you get so mad that you need ME to come save you?”
“… People selling kids for sex,” came the bitter answer. “I almost had them, too.”
That cut James short; stopped his anger in its tracks. What was he supposed to say to that? No?
“J-James?” Casper’s voice sounded from somewhere to his right. “You okay? You feel kinda messed up right n-”
“Shut up for a sec,” James cut him off. He stood, dropping the phone down onto the bed behind him, and took a deep breath. This wasn’t the first time he’d had to force himself to calm in the past few weeks, and he’d gotten surprisingly good at it. This time, however, was different. Whatever horrors his nightmares routinely showed him, they were all, at least, just variations on a memory. This, on the other hand, was very much present. This was a danger still to come. If he went, people might try to kill him. If he stayed… could he even stay at this point? He knew himself well enough to know that staying would feel like siding with the child molesters. The very thought made him feel ill.
He moved to his bedroom wall, rested his head on the plaster, and brought his fist up towards it, setting his knuckles gently against the material. It didn’t help. He pushed himself away, and started pacing the length of the small room, his hands held tight around himself. He needed time to think; needed quiet. The television in the corner played on. The little sounds broke his focus; distracted. Not what he needed. He moved to the bed, picked up the remote in trembling hands, and mashed at the off button for a few long seconds until his shaking fingers finally managed to shut off the sound. His heart was racing; everything moving too fast. He sat on a corner of the bed and tried to force himself to breathe deep.
James felt someone’s arms closing around his own, pressing his elbows to his sides, restricting his movement. He reacted without thought, forcing his head backwards as hard as he could. He felt it make contact with something, and a voice yelped in surprise and pain. Good, he had them on the back foot. He wrenched his arms to the sides with all his might, forcing his way free, and in the movement, felt a hand latch on to his shoulder. He took it in his mouth, and bit down, hard. Another cry. James pushed away, forcing himself off of the bed and starting to fall. He would have hit the ground in a heap, but he had more options now, so instead of down, he went up. His back found a surface, and he shoved himself to the side, coming to rest in a corner where the wall and ceiling met. He looked down. Casper sat on the bed, gazing up at him, a few drops of blood dripping down his hand.
“Everything okay in there?” came Sarah’s voice from the hall. “What’s with the noise?”
“It’s all fine!” Casper replied, his gaze level with James’ own. “James fell off his bed cuz he’s being a doof.” The boy raised a hand towards him, silently gesturing him to come back down to the ground. Somewhat ashamedly, James lowered himself to the floor, then moved towards the bed, and picked up the phone.
“This is the only time, Tasha. You understand me? The only one.” Before she had a chance to answer, he hung up. He held the phone out towards Casper, not looking at the other boy, opting instead to gaze at his own feet. “… Sorry.”
“Panic attacks a new thing for you?” he asked, taking the phone. “They were an issue for me too when I got my powers. Lots of people around me with problems, you know? I learned to deal after a while.”
James wasn’t sure what to say to that, so instead opted to change the subject, too ashamed of himself to bring up the still bleeding wound on Casper’s hand.
“Can you cover for me if my parents come in?” he asked. “I’m probably gonna need about twenty minutes.”
“Yeah, of course.” Casper nodded. He reached for the TV remote, returning the robot fight to the display and upping the volume a little. “Just a thought. Wear dark clothes. It should be harder to see you against the night sky.”
Casper was good enough to turn away while James changed, turning back to face him when he moved to the window, opening it with a loud creak. He clambered up, his feet resting against the second story window sill, and took a deep, long breath.
“Sorry I hugged you,” the sandy haired boy spoke quietly from the bed behind him.
“Yeah,” he answered. “I’m sorry too.”
With that, James squeezed his eyes shut, placed his hands on the edges of the wall to either side, and pushed off, allowing himself to fall.
Immediately, he willed himself forward and up, as far and as fast as he could go, reasoning that he’d be harder to spot if he was higher from the ground. When he opened his eyes a few seconds later, he found himself high, high above the ground.
James took a moment, the sight of the hundreds, even thousands of tiny lights below him was… oddly invigorating. He stretched his arms back, his back cracking slightly as it worked through the cramps of sitting on his bed with his friend, and breathed deep. The air up here was cold, wet, and unexpectedly fresh, clear of the ever present tint of smoke he so often tasted out in the city streets below. He grinned, simply because it felt like the natural thing to do, and, without warning, even to himself, let out a loud, whooping yell into the night sky. There was no echo, and that fact elated him somehow.
He shook himself. He was getting distracted. There was a job to do. James pivoted slightly in the air, peering through the nighttime gloom until he saw a formation of lights that he was fairly certain belonged to his school, and began to move.