Catharsis: 2.5

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AN: Sorry about the slight delay, a few minor concerns that are now dealt with. Side note. The results of the January bonus chapter vote are now in, and the winner was Bex. That chapter will be published in the next half week or so. I expect to have the February chapter vote set up by the end of today. Just to reiterate, the vote is now open to anyone, not just people who follow the story, though I do encourage you to follow. That’s all for now. Hope you enjoy the chapter.

James:

In spite of his better judgement, James dawdled somewhat on his return home, glorying in the feel of the night air all around him, the utter freedom of weightlessness. Floating high above the city lights, he could almost feel the wind all around him, the way it flowed and eddied, the currents changing from altitude to altitude. He closed his eyes to focus on the feeling, a smile touching his lips. It felt like reaching beyond himself, trying to extend his hands further than the reach of his arms. With this new reach, he imagined he could shape the very winds themselves, feel them move and sway at his fingertips. He chuckled to himself, imagining the wind at play, and, just for the hell of it, he tried brushing his imaginary hands against one of the currents. It moved, shifted away from him, the current changing at his suggestion. He grinned, enjoying his own pretense, until he felt the current brush against his form. He opened his eyes wide, staring at nothing, before, experimentally, he tried again. He reached out, nudged the wind with the hand beyond his hand, and again, felt the current change against him. Again, in the spirit of the experiment, he slapped himself with it. He let out a small shriek as the torrent of wind sent his body tumbling, base over apex. It wasn’t long before James Toranaga righted himself, stared at his hands, and began to laugh.

“So darn cool!” He said gleefully. “I need to fly more often. I need to fly WAY more often!”

James spent a few more moments soaking in the excitement, before pivoting in the air, and making for his home as fast as his power would allow.

Despite his glee, James approached his house with a degree of care, checking his window from a distance, just in case either of his parents might be poking their heads in through the doorway. Unfounded concerns, it would seem. The room was empty, his television paused mid scene. He floated inside. Was Casper off somewhere dealing with his parents? Had the other boy needed to go home? He dropped to the floor, and strode towards the door, trying to figure out a way of weedling the info out of his mother. He stepped out into the hallway, only to immediately come face to face with Casper, who was hurriedly pulling his fly back up. Ah, toilet, right. He opened his mouth to speak, but Casper shook his head and raised a finger to his lips, his other hand reaching out to gently push James back into his room, before stepping in after him and closing the door. The moment the door was closed, Casper’s external calm dissolved.

“How’d it go?” He asked hurriedly. “Did it work? Is Tasha okay? Why’re you so hyped all of a sudden?”

“Yeah, Tasha’s fine.” James grinned. “And I found something super cool. The coolest. Maybe even the most cool thing!”

“Yeah, I noticed it was cool.” Casper chuckled, his nerves seeming to ease a fraction. “You’re practically giving me a sugar rush over there. What happened?”

“New power,” James exclaimed, as loudly as he dared. “I got a new power and I was controlling the wind and it was awesome!”

“Great,” Casper replied, deadpan. “But I meant what happened with Tasha. You know, my friend? The one who got shot?”

“Oh,” he muttered, his excitement faltering for a moment. He sat on the bed, trying to force himself to calm. “Right. Sorry. Uhh, Tasha’s fine. We got her home, pretty sure no one saw us, and she said she was gonna go yank the bullet out. Her place is kind of a mess, and she seemed okay enough to joke with me about her boobs.”

“You were joking about her boobs?” Casper asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” James nodded. “I was trying to figure out what’s so cool about em.”

“About Tasha’s boobs?”

“No, just in general.”

“Are you kidding? Boobs are awesome.”

“Meh,” James grunted. “You’re older.”

“Not THAT much older.”

“Can you stop talking about boobs? Point is, Tasha’s fine.”

“Kay, good.” Casper murmured. Then he grinned. “Okay, NOW you can tell me about your awesome new wind powers.”

“… No.” James replied, folding his arms. “I just don’t feel like you’re really interested.”

“Oh, come on!” the other boy said playfully. “Did I hurt your feelings? Am I just a great big meanie?”

“Yes.” He folded his arms, gazing pointedly at the wall a few feet to the side of his friend and forcing back a smile. “Yes you are.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” Casper teased, dipping into a mock bow. “Here, I’m now paying full attention to you and all of the awesome things you have to say. That better, baby boo?” The boy stepped forwards, then turned, and slumped down on the bed beside him.

“No,” James scowled, still refusing to look at the other boy, partly because he was barely managing to wrestle the grin off of his face. “But fine. I will tell you about my awesome wind pow-”

The pillow hit him in the side of the head, bowling him backwards against the sheets and eliciting a cry of outrage. He glared over at Casper. The boy was holding the weapon on his lap, an innocent smile tugging at his lips.

“You okay, dude?” Casper asked, his concerned tone undershot slightly by the mischievous note he was making no attempt whatsoever to hide. “That came right out of nowhere. Of course, I had nothing to do with it cuz I’m just such a caring frien-”

James dipped into his newfound power to flick the other boy on the nose, as hard as he dared. Casper stopped mid-sentence as the gust of air hit his face, forcing its way into his mouth and puffing out his cheeks and pressing his hair out in every conceivable direction. It was, without a doubt, the funniest thing James had ever seen. He would have tried to keep his laughter quiet, except that he was struggling to make any noise at all. He was laughing so hard that he couldn’t breathe.

“… You’re a dead man.” Casper murmured. Before James had a chance to recover from his giggles, let alone enough time to utter a response, Casper launched himself at him, wrapping his arms around him and picking him up. James, still giggling, tried to push the other boy off, but to no avail. Casper grappled firmly around James’ midsection, and pulled himself off the bed, hoisting him up into the air… Then he stopped. “… Are you doing that?”

“Doing what?” James asked, the humor of the moment shifting to a slight confusion.

“Are you flying or something?” The freckled boy asked. “Cuz you’re really light. Like, really, really light.”

“Umm… no,” James replied, uncertain. “I’m not flying right now. You sure you’re not just kinda strong?”

“No, dude, I’m serious,” said Casper, shifting his grip to hold James with one arm, a hand braced against his stomach. Demonstratively, he extended the hand holding James up towards the ceiling. “See? You’re light enough I can hold you above my head with one hand. It’s not even hard. Have you weighed yourself since you started flying?”

“Yeah,” said James, worried. “I did it this morning. I came in at like, eighty two pounds. Kinda light, I guess, but that’s just cuz I’m short.”

“Scales in your bathroom?” Casper asked. Without waiting for an answer, he lowered James down from the ceiling, tucked him under an arm, and made his way towards the door.

“Yeah, they are… Are you gonna put me down?”

“Nope.” Casper proceeded out the door, through the short hallway, across the landing, and into the bathroom, carrying James under his arm the whole way. Once there, he slid the door shut with his heel, dumped James on the scales, and waited for the spring to stop compensating. Eventually, the dial stopped spinning, and the two boys stared at the number on the small plate.

“Okay,” James murmured. “So, I’ve lost a bit of weight. That’s a little weird.”

“James,” Casper whispered. “That’s not ‘a bit of weight’ you’ve lost, that’s fifty pounds. You weigh less than a four year old.”

“Okay, fine,” James admitted. “It’s a lot weird. Nothing I can’t fake, though. I’ll just sorta do… this.” He tapped into his flight, using it to press himself downwards against the scales. Immediately, the weight displayed began to shift, from thirty pounds to forty, then fifty, sixty. His legs felt the weight, as if he had a whole other person on his back. Seventy pounds, eighty. His knees started to shake slightly under the strain. “Okay,” he said, his voice a little tight. “Small problem. This is really heavy.”

“Wait,” Casper said, tilting his head slightly. “You can’t lift your own bodyweight? I guess you must’ve got weaker as well as lighter, huh? Hang on, try and lift me. See if it’s just you.”

James eased up on the pressure against the scales, and nodded, slightly out of breath. He stepped off the scales, positioned himself behind the other boy, wrapped his arms around his middle, and pulled. Nothing. He pulled harder, pushing all of his might into lifting the other boy, his teeth beginning to clench at the effort. Casper didn’t budge.

“… Are you really trying?” Casper asked. “Cuz if you are, then that’s just sad.”

James didn’t answer. After a few more seconds, he gave up, his breathing heavy.

“Okay,” he panted, leaning himself against the wall. “So, ultra cool windy powers. But I’m lighter and weaker than my own little sister. Hiding this is gonna be a chore.”

“How so?” Casper asked, curious.

“… Bex wrestles a lot.” James admitted, embarrassed. “She’s gonna kick my butt and I’m gonna have to pretend to pretend to lose.”

Casper snorted. “That’s adorable. Your sister’s gonna love it.”

“… Shut up.”

Their experiment done, the two made their way back to James’ room, ostensibly returning their attention to the television. In truth, James’ focus was elsewhere, the events of the evening tumbling through his head in an attempt at order. Casper doubtless felt the confusion, but kept his eyes fixed on the tv screen, waiting. Eventually, James spoke into the quiet, his knees hugged in tight against his chest.

“Hey, Cas?”

“Yeah?”

“I… I kinda wanna help Tasha. Those guys who hurt her… the ones who are hurting kids… I wanna help with that.”

“… You sure?” In the corner of his eye, he saw the other boy turn slightly to face him.

“… No.” James sighed. “Not even a little. But I don’t like thinking about… about stuff like that happening. I wanna make it stop.”

“… Kay.”

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Catharsis: 2.4

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James:

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.

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Catharsis: 2.3

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James:

“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 laying 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 as he raised 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.” It 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 towards his bedroom wall, resting his head against the plaster, and brought his fist up against it, setting his knuckles gently against the plaster. 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 to James, silently gesturing him to come back down to the ground. Somewhat ashamedly, he 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.”

Casper chuckled. “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 its display and upping the volume a little. “Just a thought. Wear dark clothes. It should be harder to see you against the night sky.”

“Good idea.”

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.

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Interlude 1

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Doctor’s notes, Subject #24170. Alias: David. Session 2.

Notes and recommendations of attendant therapist, Natalie Sharpe:

In the week since our previous session, David has continued to exhibit no noticeable changes indicative of deviant manifestation. The observation period has been closed and the all clear provided early due to special circumstances. David’s father works with the office of -REDACTED TO ENSURE ANONYMITY-, and has given assurances that he will provide notification should David begin to demonstrate deviant abilities. David’s parents have noted a few marked improvements in his day to day behaviour since beginning to sleep in their bed and resuming school. They note that he seems less angry, more generally talkative and that while he still cries regularly, invariably following his still frequent nightmares, he no longer attempts to hide it from them. His mother continues to list a concern, however, in that she feels he may be hiding something from her. Such concerns are valid, and often true, but caution has been advised. Children in David’s situation often hide things from their parents more because they do not feel ready to address them yet than due to any need for deception.

With regard to concerns raised last week over anti-social patterns forming, the scenario seems unlikely. Upon his return to school, David immediately resumed his highly social behaviour, going so far as to have made a new friend by the end of his first day back. It is possible that he wishes to form a new social group for the purposes of self redefinition, but that remains conjecture.

Transcript of audio-visual session recording taken down by supervisor Sullivan is as follows:

A knock sounds on the door, Doctor Sharpe turns in her chair to face it.

Doctor Sharpe: “Come in.”

The door opens and David enters, accompanied by his mother. The two hug briefly.

David’s Mother: “Are you sure you’ll be okay? I promise I’ll be right outside.”

David: “Yeah, I’m sure. Love you Mom.”

David’s Mother: “Love you too, sweetie.”

David’s mother exits the room, closing the door behind her. David turns to face Doctor Sharpe, still standing close to the door, as he did before.

Doctor Sharpe: “Hello David.”

David: “Hey, Doctor.”

Doctor Sharpe: “How are you feeling today?”

A pause.

David: “Better, I think. A little bit at least. I’ve been sleeping better.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s good to hear, David. Are you still having thoughts about what happened?”

David: “Yeah, every night, pretty much, but when it wakes me up, Mom and Dad are there and they help me feel a little better.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s good to hear, David. Your parents told me that you tried sleeping alone again on Tuesday.”

A pause.

David: “Yeah. I thought I was ready. I wasn’t.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “Do you want to talk abo-”

David vehemently cuts Doctor Sharpe off.

David: “No.”

A pause.

David: “Sorry. It… it wasn’t fun.”

Doctor Sharpe nods.

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s fine. Your parents also told me you’ve made a friend.”

David: “Yeah, Nathaniel.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, would you like to tell me about him, David?”

David: “He’s… Fun, I guess. Kinda dorky, a little lonely. He seems just as messed up about stuff as I am sometimes and that… kinda helps, I think. We’ve been watching anime together.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Oh yes? Anything I might have heard of?”

David: “Uhh, no offence, doctor, but I’m pretty sure you don’t watch anime.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs.

Doctor Sharpe: “You’re right, I don’t, but my roommate in college watched them all the time. I couldn’t help but pick up a few things.”

A pause.

David: “Spacefighter X.”

Doctor Sharpe grins.

Doctor Sharpe: “Never heard of it.”

David: “Course not, it only came out last year.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Let me guess, giant robots fighting in space?”

David: “Well, yeah, but there’s politics and stuff, too.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs.

Doctor Sharpe:My roommate used to assure me of something very similar.”

David scowls.

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, that aside, I think we’re getting a little off topic here, David. Why don’t you tell me a little more about Nathaniel?”

David: “Yeah, okay. He’s… he’s nice, you know? Not that fake kind of nice that you get from teachers or people who just want you to like them. He’s… I dunno, kind? He came to my house yesterday to hang out and I was busy playing castles with my sister, so instead of pulling me away, he just grabbed some pillows and joined in. I mean, what kind of person just randomly gives up two hours of time just to make a five year old happy?”

Doctor Sharpe: “You did.”

David: “Well, yeah, but she’s my sister.”

Doctor Sharpe: “True enough. I don’t think we’ve discussed your sister yet, have we?”

A pause.

David: “Not really, no. I… Sorry. That’s kinda personal. We’ve only had one session, and I-“

Doctor Sharpe raises her hand.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s fine, David, we can talk about something else, if you prefer. How have you been finding your life back at school? You went back on Wednesday, correct?”

David: “Yeah, it’s good. I was starting to feel way too cooped up at home. Kinda bums me out sometimes, though. I wanna play games with my friends, but my mom said if I fell, it might make the skin patch come off and I… yeah.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “I wouldn’t worry about that too much, David, If you use a new one every week or so, the adhesive should hold up against a scrape or two. There’s nothing stopping you playing ball games with whoever you want.”

David sighs.

David: “I know, but… Nerves, you know?”

Doctor Sharpe: “Yeah, I know.”

The two are silent for a time. Doctor Sharpe moves to her fridge for a soda and offers one to David, who declines. Doctor Sharpe returns to her seat.

Doctor Sharpe: “Have you thought any further about what you would like to do with regard to your markings?”

David shakes his head.

David: “No. I mean, yeah, I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t decided yet. I… I think I wanna get rid of them, but I’m still not one hundred percent sure. There’s… stuff.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs slightly.

Doctor Sharpe: “Not feeling like sharing much today, are you?”

David opens his mouth to reply, but Doctor Sharpe raises a hand.

Doctor Sharpe: “It wasn’t a criticism. This whole thing is a process, and it works best when you feel comfortable enough to share things without being pushed.”

David nods.

David: “It’s just… there’s some things I really want to figure out on my own first, you know?”

Doctor Sharpe: “I do. I’m here if you need help with any of them, though. Okay?”

David: “Yeah.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, then, is there something else you’d like to talk about with me, or would you rather we called this to a close for the day?”

David hesitates for a time, opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again. Doctor Sharpe watches quietly, hands folded in her lap. After a few minutes, David sighs.”

David: “Not right now. Sorry.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s fine, David. You can hold off of telling me until you’re comfortable doing so. Would you like to go back to your mother?”

David: “Yeah, please. Sorry.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s not a problem, David.”

David nods, before exiting through the door and closing it behind him.

Doctor Sharpe opens her desk, retrieves a hand recorder, and begins recording.

Doctor Sharpe: “Personal notes, patient number 24170, session two. Patient appears to be recovering well on an emotional level, his resumed social activity and decreased signs of stress at home are both good signs. Hearing his description of Nathaniel, the relationship seems healthy, and the traits mentioned point towards an additional source of support in his recovery. If David is indeed trying to redefine who he is in the aftermath of his assault, this new connection seems a healthy start. Side note. I feel the need to address a possible conflict of interest. Nathaniel, the boy David recently befriended, is my -REDACTED TO ENSURE ANONYMITY-. I feel it is possible that this could be an issue going forward into future sessions.”

End of recording.

Notes and recommendations of supervisor Sullivan regarding case #24170:

No new notes to record. Concerns regarding a possible conflict of interest have been explored and factored. No action required.

Report Concludes.

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Mistakes: 1.8

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Author note:

Hey guys, this is just a little note from me to let you know about a few changes I am making to the site. My resolution for the new year is to maintain a more consistent weekly update schedule so that you guys don’t have to wait so long for content, so from now on, the site will be updating on or around the Monday/Tuesday of every week (It will be either Monday or Tuesday for some of you because of time zones.)

Additionally, I have decided to add a bonus chapter every month focused on the perspective of a character that you guys choose. These may be origin stories, background info, battle scenes, or even just slice of life stuff. To assist with this, I have set up a page in the site menu where people can vote for any character I have tagged in one of my chapters. I had been intending to limit these votes to my followers as a way of keeping track of the novel’s popularity through time while still rewarding you guys rather than taking stuff away. I have since changed my mind on that because it felt a little alienating, so now anyone can vote regardless of whether they have followed.


James:

The two boys walked together in an awkward silence, neither one entirely sure of what they were supposed to say. James didn’t like the idea that the other boy could tell what he was feeling. It made him nervous, and the fact that he knew Casper could probably feel that nervousness wasn’t helping. A small part of him cursed the thin width of the sidewalk that prevented him from standing a little further out from the other boy without it being obvious. A larger part of him wished he’d played it a little cooler back in the alleyway.

“… So-” James began eventually, before Casper cut him off.

“You’re probably wondering if I’ve figured out what happened to you,” he said bluntly. “Just gonna let you know, I haven’t, and I’m not really planning on trying very hard to find out. I have a hunch, but I’m not gonna follow it. It’s your thing to deal with, okay?”

“Uhh, okay.” James replied, unsure what else to say.

“Okay, good.” The other boy nodded. The two walked in silence for a few seconds, until Casper spoke again, sounding annoyed. “Can you stop that?”

“Stop what?” James asked, a little helplessly.

“Stop feeling so weird and awkward,” Casper groaned. “It makes talking to you super hard!”

“I’m sorry,” said James, raising his hands in aimless placation. “But it’s kinda hard when you…” He tried to figure out how best to put it for a few moments, then groaned, putting a hand over his eyes. “Okay look. You find out that your new friend can tell what you’re feeling every second, right at a time when you’re kinda going through some stuff, and obviously, that makes you feel kinda awkward around him, and you know he can tell that you feel awkward, so you start feeling awkward about feeling awkward and after a few loops of that, you can’t really stop anymore!”

“What?” Casper asked, an eyebrow raised. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You make it sound like I’m judging you for feeling things.”

“Well you kind of are, aren’t you?” James retorted, a little irritated. “I mean, you were judging me for feeling awkward about you just a few seconds ago.”

“Well, yeah,” Casper muttered. “But that was only cuz there’s no reason to feel awkward about me.”

“Well I kinda think there is,” James snapped, fast approaching something akin to anger. “I had a really bad thing happen and I didn’t want anyone to know about it and then you come along and I can’t even hide it from you when something makes me feel bad!”

Casper stopped walking and gazed at James, a stricken look on his face.

“Does… does this mean we can’t really be friends anymore?” The boy asked, his voice trembling just a little. “I… I’d really like to keep being friends… if it’s okay… I d-don’t really have many and it’s nice having someone to talk to and…” He trailed off into silence.

It was painfully obvious that Casper was holding back tears. James gazed at him stonily for a few moments, his arms folded, then let out a long sigh.

“Yes, we’re still friends, Casper,” he grumbled eventually. “But you can’t pretend this doesn’t change stuff a little. I mean, for starters, why the heck did you only start talking to me after I came back to school, huh? If you’ve been able to feel how I felt every day, then why did you only start talking to me after I started feeling worse, huh? How am I supposed to feel, when by the looks of things, I’m pretty sure you only started trying to be my friend out of pity!”

“Pity?” Casper asked quietly, eyes glistening. “James, I got my powers after my dad got angry one night and broke my arm. I spent three whole months after that trying not to drown in other people’s feelings and thinking I was going crazy. I don’t do pity, James, cuz no matter what happened to you, I’m pretty sure that I have it worse.” That made James stop, he opened his mouth, unsure of what to say, but Casper wasn’t done, he continued, his voice rising steadily in pitch. “And yeah, I came to find you cuz you felt sadder than you used to, and yeah, maybe I did want to help you to feel better. You can feel whatever you want to feel about that, but I’m not gonna apologise for trying to make someone feel better when they’re sad!”

Casper was genuinely crying now, angry tears sliding slowly down his face. On one side, James noticed, the tears ran clear. On the other, however, the moisture picked something up off of the boy’s face, turning a pale, pinkish brown, the same color as Casper’s skin. James suddenly felt very small. He stared at the ground, cheeks red, hands clenched at his sides.

“… Sorry.” He muttered eventually, trying his best to mean it. “I… I was being a doof. Sorry.”

Casper wiped his eyes on his sleeve.

“If you start feeling bad for me, I swear-”

“I don’t,” James forestalled him, holding a hand up placatingly. “I feel bad cuz I said stupid stuff, not cuz of anything happening with-” he gave up with a groan. “Look, do you wanna go to my place and watch bad anime for a couple hours? This is way too heavy and I wanna just zone out for a while, you know?”

Casper nodded, just a little shakily.

“Y-yeah, that’d be good. Do you have any that aren’t in japanese?”

“I have some with subtitles.”

“God,” Casper groaned as they began walking again. “Being friends with you is gonna suck.”


Tasha:

The girl ran for what felt like miles. One advantage her power offered her, she had found, was endurance. Perhaps her super strength extended to her lungs and heart as well, perhaps it was something else. Whatever the cause, it did not matter. For now, she was running.

After what felt like an age, Tasha began to tire, and her flat sprint slowly petered down to a stop. She came to rest in an alleyway, clutching her knees and panting slightly with an exertion she rarely felt any more.

“It’s okay, Tasha,” she muttered to herself between gasps, trying to settle her racing mind. “It was just a gun. Just a gunholyshitthatguyhadagun!”

She straightened, jogging on the spot and waving her hands by her side in an attempt at dispersing the nervous energy.

“It’s okay! Calm down, Tash, you got this,” she took a deep breath. “Okay. So they had a gun. And that dude didn’t even flinch when I broke his hand, and they were all staring at me like creepy psycho vampire people. It’s okay, I can deal.” She nodded to herself, and took another deep breath.

It wasn’t working. Tasha started pacing the length of the alleyway, hands clenching and unclenching by the moment against the tension.

“Everything is juuuuuust fine! You’re safe, and strong, and nobody can stand up to you. You got this.” Tasha took another long deep breath, closed her eyes and tried to force herself to be calm through sheer force of will.

It didn’t work, so she punched a dumpster, letting out a bark of anger and frustration. The dumpster rocked back momentarily and she felt the impact ring through her arm, only a little painful. The violence helped, just a little, so she punched again, harder this time. The resulting clang rustled a few birds from their perches on a nearby rooftop. She punched it again, driving her fist into the thing with all the force she could muster and was rewarded with the satisfying feeling of the metal giving way under her knuckles. When she pulled her fist back, she noticed the dumpster now bore a slight dent in the rough shape of her fist.

Looking at the dent, Tasha felt something ping in the back of her mind, an idea. She stared at it for a while, letting her anxiety slowly drain away, to be replaced with excitement. She chuckled, and the chuckle became a deep belly laugh. She raised her face to the sky and cackled for all she was worth, then she set off at a run, trying to figure out where she was before reorienting and setting off towards her new destination.


Samson:

Samson stayed with Marcus for a few hours until the pain began to fade, the younger man eventually laying back against the medical bed and falling into a fitful sleep. Samson wasn’t surprised. The boy had been working himself to the bone in the last few weeks in his attempts to acclimatize to his new position. He suppressed a chuckle that it had taken a severe injury just to get the kid to take a nap.

Samson struggled to think of Marcus as his sibling, much as he struggled to think of any of their new members as such. He was grateful to Father, and the family as a whole for saving the child that he had been and giving him this new life that he cherished, but he had always had difficulty thinking of them as his ‘family’ in the way that Marcus did. The life he had led prior to his membership here had not been exactly conducive to his idea of families as particularly loving things. Samson suspected that Father knew this about him, thought that was probably why he had been asked to select someone to replace him as the leader here. Ah well, if Father only wanted to have true believers in charge, Samson couldn’t really bring himself to blame the man for it. Despite the fact that he did not really consider him ‘family,’ he did still love the man, in his way.

Samson left Marcus to his rest, and left the room, sliding the door open and closing it behind him as quietly as he could. He took out his phone, unlocked it, and dialed in a number. He pressed the call button, raised the phone to his ear, and waited. The man on the other end of the line picked up before the third ring.

“Hello, Samson, good to hear from you,” the voice spoke in that same gentle tone that he remembered. Even hearing it over the phone, Samson found it very calming. He smiled. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your call? Is your new leader struggling to acclimatize to the role?”

“No, nothing like that,” Samson replied, his tone unconsciously shifting to match the other man’s natural gentleness. “Marcus is doing just fine. Some growing pains, but that’s to be expected for a kid his age in a role like this.”

“Ah, well, I am glad to hear that,” the voice replied, and Samson could almost hear the smile behind the words. “What is it that I can do for you then, my son?”

“I wanted to report an incident that I thought would interest you,” Samson answered. “A girl was poking around today, fourteen or fifteen, if I had to guess. We scared her off.”

“I see,” the voice was curious now, its tone elevated ever so slightly. “What makes her worth commenting on?”

“She broke Marcus’ hand,” Samson said simply. “With her fingers. No tools or anything, just grip strength.”

“Ah,” the voice said, understanding. “You think she might be special, then.”

“I thought you might want to know about it, yes.”

“You said she was around fifteen, correct?” The voice asked. Before he could respond, it continued. “That’s a little older than I normally accept in a new family member, but I suppose an exception could be made. Would you have said she was attractive?”

“Hard to say,” Samson shrugged. “Under all the bruises and sun damage, I would struggle to even say what race she was, and her teeth looked a little damaged.”

“I see,” the voice sounded disappointed. “It would be better if she was naturally pretty, my touch can only fix so much, you know. Still, I had best take a look. Thank you for telling me this, my son.”

“You’re welcome, Father.” Samson replied.

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