The boy shot through the nighttime air like… well, like nothing he could conveniently reference. The feeling of it was odd, to say the least. He could tell by the way the lights moved below him that he was moving fast, but beyond that, he had no way of gauging his own speed. It normally took his mother a little over half an hour to deliver him to his school in the morning traffic. In flight, however, he guessed the journey took around two minutes, perhaps longer given the sheer exhilaration of it. Time passed faster when you were having fun, after all.
He came to a stop above the entrance to his school, floating a few hundred feet in the air. This close down, he could make out the features of the buildings below, the outlines of the middle school building and the courtyard dividing it from the highschool section. It was a little odd, seeing the whole place from above, it seemed a lot smaller from up here. James grinned to himself, then pivoted once more. Tasha had said she was to the south, and he had no time to waste. He drifted out from his point above the campus gates, scanning the rooftops below, and rapidly concluded that this would be harder than he’d thought. He could barely make out anything in the gloom.
He was considering lowering himself a few dozen feet towards the ground so as to see more clearly, when a slight change in one of the lights below caught his eye. It came from a rooftop, a small, clear white spot against the dark. Unlike the dim, faintly yellowed glow of the streetlamps all around, and the squarish patches of light emanating from windows all around, this one was moving, waving gently from side to side. Tasha? He scooted forwards, not descending immediately, but instead reorienting himself on the other side of it, before lowering himself. As he came closer, his eyes began to make out the edges of a figure, sprawled against the concrete, the edges of a dim, greyish cloak obfuscating the boundary that divided them from the surrounding concrete. He reoriented again, so as to come down behind them, just in case it wasn’t her.
James ceased his descent a half foot or so from the rooftop, and considered how best to approach this. If it was Tasha, then job done, but if it wasn’t, best to identify them without being seen. For the moment, they were still distracted, waving the light, which he now saw to be a cellphone flashlight, from side to side in front of them. He glanced around, noting a number of large, oddly shaped chunks of what appeared to be some sort of metal or debris laying around the figure, and spied a small, tightly packed air conditioning system that lay a short distance away. It wasn’t perfect cover, not quite big enough to reliably conceal himself behind, but it would impede the figure’s sight long enough for him to fly away if it wasn’t Tasha. He floated in behind it, hunched himself down into a little ball, and spoke.
“Tasha?” he whispered, as loud as he dared. “That you?” At first, the only response was a small thumping sound, then silence. James gathered his focus, chose a direction, and was about to take his leave when:
“James?” Tasha’s voice called quietly. “I can’t see you. You here?”
“Yeah,” he muttered, floating out from his hiding space. Tasha was twisting around frantically on the ground, her eyes scanning the skies above, presumably searching for him. He chuckled. “Behind you.”
The girl swiveled around, caught sight of him, and let out a heavy groan of relief, her shoulders slumping slightly as the tension began to drain out of her.
“Oh, thank fuck,” she muttered. “My phone was about to die.” She grinned tiredly, stowing the device in a pocket, before turning her attention to her legs. “Just gimme a sec. I gotta get the last of my armor off or you’ll never be able to carry me outta here.”
“Armor?” James asked, surprised. “I thought you said you got shot, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” she grumbled, her hands working at a set of loose fitting, wide hemmed pants, pulling them up around her right leg and revealing a section of something apparently metallic wrapped around her lower leg. “Didn’t hold up as well as I hoped.”
James, curious, moved in for a closer look. Tasha’s ‘armor’ seemed to consist of what looked like a thick, tightly bound mass of aluminium foil, of the sort that was used to cook Turkeys on thanksgiving. It seemed, for all the world, as though the girl had simply wrapped it around her leg until it was near enough a solid inch thick.
“Is… is that cooking foil?” he asked, perplexed.
“Yup,” Tasha grunted, reaching her hands behind her knee and grasping at something. She pulled, her face contorting in effort, until the armor piece came away from the limb, bending out of shape with a surprisingly quiet series of creaks. “Whole bunch of it wrapped around strips from those heavy duty metal trash cans, I took that, beat it flat with a hammer, and then bent it around my arms and legs and stuff. Got the idea off a youtube video.”
James considered this, mouth slightly open in surprise. He wasn’t entirely sure what to say to that, but eventually opted for:
“… Isn’t that kinda heavy?”
“Pretty heavy,” Tasha agreed, depositing the hunk of ruined metal on the ground alongside what James now realized were the rest of her armor pieces. “About two hundred pounds. Kinda handy, really. Being heavy helps hold me down when I’m punching stuff.”
“Didn’t work out too well as armor though, huh?”
“Fucking really, genius?” Tasha asked, her tone positively dripping with sarcasm. “I never would have guessed without the help, thanks. Homemade kevlar my ass.”
James rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, whatever. Just grab on to me so we can get out of here, okay?” He reached out a hand towards the girl and she took it. He began to rise, face turning skywards, before letting out a small squeak as she yanked him back down towards her.
“Nope. I am not just gonna let you dangle me along, buddy boy,” she grumbled, pulling the protesting boy around and forcibly positioning herself at his back, her arms locked over his shoulders and wrapping around his front, her hands pressed to his sides. “I’m not trusting your weedy little grip strength to keep me up there with you. It’s piggybacks or nothing.”
“What?” he objected, trying to shove her off. “I can’t piggyback you! You’re like a foot taller than me!”
“Oi,” Tasha replied. “You’re gonna be way up in the air, so you can piggyback me all you like. Now get flying, c’mon!” With that, she dug one of her fingers sharply into the skin below his ribs, eliciting a squawk of purest outrage from the boy. Before he had a chance to make a counter, she flexed her good leg against the ground and pushed off in a jump, sending the two of them high into the air. “Better catch us or I guess we’ll die.” She murmured into his ear, insufferably smug.
“… I hate you so much,” he muttered, allowing his flight to kick in and feeling the weight of Tasha’s body against his sternum as gravity began to reassert itself. “Fine, whatever. Just tell me how to get to your place before I run out of juice or something.”
The girl pointed, and James fired himself forwards into the gloom, the exhilaration of his new mode of travel somewhat ruined by the continued waves of smugness emanating from the girl against his back, spoiling the sheer joy of it a fraction.
They traveled largely in silence, broken by the occasional muttered direction from Tasha as she spotted new landmarks by which to navigate. James quickly found his annoyance and the residual shades of fear giving way to a more subdued train of thought. Tasha was surprisingly light against his back; only a little heavier than him. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he had expected her to be heavier. More… boyish, he supposed. It was a little disconcerting. Pressed this close against him, he was acutely aware of the soft pressure of her chest against his shoulder blades. He’d heard a couple of his friends at school bragging over getting to touch some girl or other’s boobs, and had never really seen the appeal, an attitude that remained with him still. Maybe he’d get it when he was older.
“Been quiet for a while,” Tasha spoke, re-positioning herself a little against his back. “Whatcha thinking about?”
“Trying to figure out what’s so special about boobs,” he replied, grinning. “Yours don’t seem all that great.”
“… You copping a feel, you little perv?” She chuckled. “You know I could snap you like a twig, right?”
“You’re the one who forced me to carry you like this,” he replied with a shrug. “Besides, I could totally stop flying pretty much whenever I wanted. How does your super strength handle twenty story drops?”
“Better than you’d handle not having a spine,” she replied. Despite himself, he laughed. The two were quiet for a time after that.
“It’s nice up here,” James murmured eventually, more to himself than to his companion. “It’s quiet, you know?”
“Meh,” came the reply. “It’s kinda cool, I guess. Mostly cold, if I’m honest.”
“Wait, you’re cold?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow in confusion. “You sure that’s not just blood loss? I’m totally warm.”
“It’s not blood loss,” Tasha replied. “I don’t really bleed a lot when I get hurt. Just a couple seconds before it scabs. Trust me, it’s cold up here. Wind chill isn’t helping.”
“…Huh,” he muttered. “Guess it’s a power thing. That your place?”
“The building with the sign on top?” she asked, peeking down past his shoulder. “Yeah, that’s it. Land us on the roof and I can manage the rest myself, okay?”
James nodded, angling himself towards the building in question and beginning his descent.
They struck the ground a little harder than intended, James intent on getting them out of the sky before anyone had a chance to notice them up there. He hissed in pain as the impact jarred its way up his shins and into his knees. Tasha, behind him, let out a bark of sound as her weight came down on her injured leg. Her knees buckled, leaving James in the unfortunate position of attempting to carry both of their weight. He staggered, righting himself with an instinctive jolt of his flight, and came to rest on his feet, panting, with Tasha braced against his back.
“I’ll… see you inside before I go.” He mumbled, semi-apologetically. “That okay?”
After a few shallow breaths, the girl gave a small, sharp nod, and the two stepped forwards, opening the door into the complex, and making their way towards Tasha’s home. As it happened, her apartment was one of the ones on the upper floor, close to the stairway onto the roof. As they approached the door, Tasha pushed herself off him, leaning the bulk of her frame against the hallway wall as she fumbled in her pockets for her keys. James stood awkwardly behind her, the need to ensure she was alright warring against the desire to get home as quickly as humanly possible. The girl fumbled at the lock for a few moments, before the door swung open, and she stepped inside. James followed, momentarily curious as to what her place might look like.
Whatever the boy’s expectations of the place had been, they were not met. Pizza boxes. Chip wrappers. Everywhere he looked, there were more of them. The floor of the small living room sat hidden under a layer of discarded food wrappers and trash so thick that he couldn’t see it to identify its presence. He took a step inside, and his nostrils filled with the smells of old grease and dirt. The layer of garbage was broken only by a small, beaten up old couch in the center of the space. A ball-pein hammer sat on one end of it, along with several unused rolls of aluminium foil, half a trash can, and a set of bolt cutters. Tasha glanced over her shoulder at the boy still standing in her doorway, his mouth hanging open in shock, and made a small sound of realization, before digging in her pocket.
“Uhh, here,” she muttered, holding out a crumpled wad of bills to him. “Some of the money I made in the raid. Only fair you get some, since you helped me out of there.”
James didn’t move.
“You… live here?” he asked, trying to make his voice sound mild. “Like, all the time?”
Tasha looked around herself for a moment, apparently confused.
“… Yeah. Why?”
James, for a moment, considered continuing, but opted against it with a sigh.
“No reason. Keep the money, kay? I don’t need it.”
“Nope,” she waggled the notes in front of him again. “Take em, or it’s unfair. I don’t like unfair.” James rolled his eyes, and took the cash, tucking it into his pocket without looking at it. “Good.” She smiled. “Now go away. I gotta dig a bullet out of my leg and I don’t want you around for it. Bye now.” Without another word, she ushered him out of the room, before slamming the door closed in his face.
For a moment, James just stood there, uncertain. Then he turned, made his way back onto the rooftop, and took to the skies, headed for home.