Catharsis: 2.7

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Hunter:

The hunt was not, in the end, a particularly difficult one, just very time consuming. The girl, as it turned out, spent a lot of time outside, her scent twisting and winding around the city, bending into alleyways, crossing fences and occasionally disappearing entirely where she had leaped up onto the tops of buildings, whereupon he was forced either to find a way up in order to regain her trail, or to wander the streets until he could relocate her trail again. After an hour of searching by this deeply frustrating method, he found an alternative. A few times in his search, he had found points where the girl’s scent intersected with another. A young boy, not the one who had accompanied her in the escape last night, his scent was far stronger, more present. Given how frequently the two came into contact, and the length of time their scents seemed to have mingled with one another, it seemed more than likely that the two were friends. If the two were friends, then the boy would likely know where she lived. Questioning him shouldn’t be difficult, and if, for some reason, he failed, then he could send in the kids.

The moment he shifted his focus to the boy, he began to notice the frequency with which he had been coming across the scent. The kid walked these streets regularly. That was not unusual, he supposed; most children lived by a set routine, after all, but most confined themselves to a few set paths. This boy, on the other hand, had his scent scattered over more than a dozen streets, most of the stretches pointing in the same direction. There was a school over that way, if he remembered right, a private school. Good, that should make things easier. Private school children tended to trust authority more, having been raised in the understanding that such people were there to help them. He turned, began to make his way towards the school at a light jog, and soon enough, picked up the boy’s trail again. This one was more recent, much more recent. Less than an hour old, at a guess. He picked up his pace. The school day wasn’t due to start for another half hour, perhaps he’d have a chance to talk to the boy before classes began.

Casper:

Casper was tired. A late night spent worrying over Tasha and how she planned to deal with James wasn’t exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep. He sat on the school steps, in front of the large glass double doors to the middle school building, his head in his hands while he waited for the other students to begin arriving. The man, at least, he certainly felt like a man, didn’t draw his attention immediately, it was not particularly odd to feel an unfamiliar set of emotions on the campus. A new teacher, a contractor, or maybe just one of the teachers who spent most of their time in the high-school side of the place.

The only thing that struck him as particularly odd about this man was his focus. This early in the morning, most people, even the adults about to start their work day, were still gripped by the lull of sleep to some small degree. This man, however, was focused and awake in spite of the hour; attentive. Casper glanced up, curious as to what had this man’s attention. It didn’t take him long to locate the presence, there weren’t very many people around yet besides the teachers. The man stood at the school gate, a thick brown coat slung around him to protect from the morning chill. The man was staring at him, his face blank, a touch of curiosity in his mind. Casper averted his eyes, a little uncomfortable, and tried to ignore the man’s attention. The newcomer, for his part, began to approach, crossing the near empty parking lot at a light jog.

Casper shifted slightly from his position in front of the doors, not that he’d been blocking them, but the gesture of getting out of the way was one that, in his experience, helped forestall interaction, and he found the idea of a grown man staring at him with that kind of focus more than a little creepy.

He stared at his feet as the man approached, quietly hoping the guy would just walk past him. The footsteps continued to grow louder, and then stopped. Through his power, even without looking, Casper could tell that the man was beside him, attention still fully focused on him. He sighed, well, maybe the guy just needed directions. He turned his gaze to the stranger, fixing a smile to his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but the stranger beat him to it.

“Young man, my name’s officer Lewis Themps, New York police department. I need to ask you a few questions about a friend of yours.” He pulled a small leather article from a pocket, and flipped it open, showing him a police ID.

Casper felt a stone drop out of his stomach. Fuck. This was bad. Either Tasha had actually attracted the attention of the police, or this was something far, far worse, and it had found its way to him.

“Now,” Officer Lewis continued. “Your friend caused a bit of an incident last night with a known criminal organization. She’s in a lot of trouble, because now these people want her dead. I’m going to need you to tell me where she is so that we can get her somewhere safe until this blows over.”

Casper listened, his power focused near completely on the man, trying to detect a lie. Nothing. The emotions were too calm, too businesslike. No, if he was going to figure out whether the man was lying, he’d need to draw attention to it, make him focus on his own deception actively, and check the response to that.

“… You promise you’re a cop?” He asked, trying to make his voice small and scared sounding. Not too difficult to do, he just needed to express the fear he was really feeling.

The stranger smiled, a tiny note of satisfaction playing through him as he fished the badge out again.

“I promise, kid. Now, you gonna tell me where I can find her?”

Casper almost had to hold back a groan. The emotional response there could just as likely mean that he was a cop, or that he wasn’t; mere satisfaction that he now had the kid’s confidence. He tried again.

“…I don’t want anyone to hurt her.” Again, he tried to make himself sound small. The man’s expression held steady, but mentally, he flinched, a touch of guilt, a momentary regret. Casper swore internally. Still not sure if this guy was a cop or not, but whatever he was doing, he was clearly under the impression that it would bring Tasha to harm. Well, for now, the path was clear, he had to convince this guy that he didn’t know a damn thing, best play up the victim card, try to lie as little as possible. “I-I don’t know much,” he mumbled. “I-I saw her on my way home once… She was beating up some guys… I ran away. A few days after, she came to find me. S-she said she could help me.”

“Help with what?” The man asked, his voice kind as he sat himself down on the step alongside the boy.

Casper hesitated. Much as this stranger was a threat, the possibility still existed that he was a real cop, and that telling him about his dad could cause some very real trouble.

“… Personal stuff.” He answered after a time. “She said she could beat someone up for me… I told her no.”

“Wanted to deal with it yourself?” The man asked, raising a hand to stroke the poorly shaved stubble that lined his jaw. “I can respect that.” The words came out accompanied by a surprising degree of sincerity. Casper wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about the idea of this guy genuinely liking him.

Casper nodded, then continued. “I… I don’t know where she lives. We just meet up every now and then… talk about stuff.”

“Could you get her to meet up with you today?” The man asked, his calm disposition giving no trace of the spike of eagerness that had begun to flow through him.

“… I don’t know,” he answered. God, why did this all have to be so confusing? On the one hand, he didn’t want to lead the guy to Tasha, but on the other, if he really was a cop, then he didn’t want his dad getting word that he’d said no to a policeman. “I-I’d need to ask her first… I don’t think she’d like it.”

A flash of annoyance, quickly hidden, a level of determination. “Young man, if these people find her, they will hurt her very badly. Do you want that?”

Casper nodded. “Yeah, but what if you’re not really a cop? Or what if you are, but you’re really a bad cop, and you’re going to tell them where to find her?”

More frustration. “Heh, kid, I think maybe you watch a little too much tv. I prom-”

An idea flashed into Casper’s mind, and he snapped his fingers together, grinning. “I know! What if you take me to the police station? Then I’ll know that you’re really a cop, and I’ll know I can help you cuz there’ll be a bunch of other cops around who can hear what I’m saying!”

The man’s annoyance deepened, another flash of anger, a touch of fear. So, then, probably not a cop.

“You’re making this way more complicated than it needs to be-”

Casper made a show of digging a hand into his pocket for his phone, his hands shaking slightly.

“I could even take a picture of you and ask my dad about it. He works with the police, so he could tell me. Then you could come back after sch-” The man batted the phone away with the back of his hand, the polite facade dropping away from his face.

“Word of advice, kid.” He murmured, his voice even. “That friend of yours? She pissed off some very dangerous people. Right now, you’re only getting in my way, and you’re lucky about that, cuz I don’t like hurting kids. But if you manage to get in their way too? Then, you’ll be in trouble, and the next person they send won’t be so likely to just look the other way when some kid gets too clever. Remember that.” With that, he stood up, straightened his coat, and walked away, leaving Casper shaking where he sat, trying desperately not to cry.

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Catharsis: 2.6

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Family:

The woman leaned against the shattered window, her fingers clenching occasionally against the scarred wooden frame. Marcus watched from his position against the wall, trying to figure out how best to approach her. He allowed himself a momentary irritation that dealing with Father’s dispatches was his job now instead of Samson’s. The older man had busied himself in calming the customers and seeing the children back to bed, leaving him to deal with the pissed off superhuman.

“So,” he ventured eventually. “What now, Lara?”

“Now?” She asked, her tone clipped, not looking at him. “Now we find the girl. Much as it pains me to admit, she beat me in a fair fight. She passed the entrance test. Now we just need to get her to Father. The tracker’s still active in New York, right? I don’t feel like waiting for her to come back here again.”

“I’ll contact him,” Marcus nodded. “Is the main family paying, or is this one on the New York branch?”

“We’ll cover the cost,” she allowed. “Looks like you’ll have enough to deal with for now getting the building repaired.”

“Yeah,” Marcus laughed. “You know, before I was put in charge here, I used to wish I’d wind up with powers like that. Now I just look at the walls and see a pile of repair bills.”

Lara let out a short, forced laugh, her knuckles still clenched hard against the window frame.

“You’re not alone in that. When I was still training, Father used to say I should write a receipt every time I opened my mouth, just in case.”

The two were silent for a while, her staring out of the window, him gazing cautiously at her back. After a time, she sighed.

“Just let me be angry for a while, kay? I’ll stay here till I’m calm, best for Father’s representative to not be furious in front of the children. You go call the tracker.”

For a moment, Marcus considered contesting the issue, trying to talk things out. He decided against it. He pushed away from the wall, pulling his phone from his pocket as he stepped towards the open doorway.

“She was gonna break my legs,” Lara murmured, Marcus wasn’t entirely sure if she was speaking to herself or not. “She’s gonna pay for that before Father gets her.”

“She threatened the little ones,” he replied quietly, his broken hand emitting a momentary ache as the fingers reflexively tried to clench against the bandages. “You’re right. She’ll pay.”


Tasha:

The girl let out a hiss of pain as the knife blade pierced the meat of her lower leg, the flesh parting with a slight puff of oddly savory smelling steam. She tried to ignore the sting as she pulled the handle to the side, carving a shallow trench in the skin a few inches below her knee. The bullet had gone in from the side, and, as far as she could tell, had been stopped short by bone, leaving it buried a few millimeters beneath the skin, while at the same time, nearly an inch from the point of entry. After some consideration, Tasha had decided that she’d rather just cut it out that try rooting around inside the bullet hole for the slug, so now she sat on the small, largely unused kitchen counter beside the stove that she had been using to heat the knife. She wasn’t entirely sure whether her body had anything to really fear from infection, but she figured she may as well warm the blade just in case.

After a few moments of work and an uncomfortable degree of pain, she felt the blade catch on something hard and jagged. She tossed the knife in the sink, and reached down with her other hand, placing a finger on either side of the fresh incision, pulling the hole open while the fingers of her other hand fumbled inside of it, grasping the exposed section of the slug and tugging it free with a grunt. She brought it up to her eye, examining it closely. The soft  metal was warped and cracked, but, as far as she could tell, largely intact. She tossed it into the sink after the knife and pushed herself down off of the counter, taking the landing largely on her uninjured leg. Experimentally, she pressed her other foot to the ground, testing the damage. It hurt, but the pain was a little better now. She tried walking, and managed a decent limp, heading into the small bathroom to wash the wound clean under the shower tap, stopping briefly to fend off Maxie on the way through; he was a good boy, but she’d picked him up too late to really train him at all, and she groaned as he jumped up on her, his paws pushing her off-balance against the hallway wall as he tried and failed to lick her face. She pushed him away with a groan and allowed him a grudging tickle behind the ears, sending him back to his room, tail wagging, before finishing her journey to the bathroom.

The bad guys had powers. Well no shit. Tasha chuckled angrily to herself, trying to ignore the sting as the cold water soaked between the torn flesh of the injury, momentarily regretting not having warmed the water first. Of course the bad guys would have powers. It made sense, in retrospect. If superpowers were just getting handed out to random kids, it made sense that some of those kids would grow up letting it go to their heads. She allowed herself a grin. At least she’d beat the bitch. If it hadn’t been for the dickbag with the gun, she let out a sigh. Losing, as it turned out, was not fun, and it felt doubly shitty because she’d overcome the main threat without issue. It was cheating. It was unfair.

Her phone pinged, pulling her out of her lamentations for a moment. She dug in her pocket, pulling out the device, almost out of power, and checked the screen.

‘You gonna be okay? James says he wants to help you out. Cas.’

Tasha gazed at the screen for a few moments, then sighed. She’d lost tonight because she was outnumbered. She had no doubts there, but James was twelve. If she was going to be a hero, then she needed to find another way to win, something that didn’t put a kid in danger, let alone a kid whose power probably wouldn’t even be much use in a fight. Seeing the phone battery tick down another percent, she typed in a quick response.

‘I’m good. Heal quick. Phone dying. I’ll talk him out of it.’

After a few seconds, a new message came up on the screen with a ping.

‘Thanks.’

Any response she might have made was cut short by the phone shutting off. She chuckled. It was nice to see the little guy with a friend his own age. He was a bit more delicate than her. He needed other people. Tasha shut off the tap, found a rag, and mopped herself dry, before finding an unused shirt to wrap around the wound. Then, she limped back into the main room, flopped down on the couch, and went to sleep. As she began to fade, she felt something warm against her stomach as Maxie clambered up alongside her, resting his head against her side.


Hunter:

The cell phone alarm went off at six AM, the familiar staccato sound of piano chords cut short after a few seconds by an irritated flick of his thumb. Must have forgotten to turn it off. He hated that alarm. Not unusual, perhaps. He supposed most people likely hated the sound of their alarms after a time. That didn’t matter for now, though. He’d already been up for hours. It was always best to rise early when he had a new target to locate, before the movement of the day diluted the scents his targets left behind, making them all that much harder to track.

He began at the street below a broken window, from which he had been assured that the girl in question had thrown herself the night before. Sure enough, there was a scent there. A powerful one, full of the telltale notes of blood and sweat and dog hair. He chuckled to himself. This girl needed to take better care of herself. The chuckle was cut short as he remembered just who he was hunting her for. Knowing what the Family tended to do to kids, it wasn’t particularly likely that she’d be neglecting her hygiene for very much longer. He suppressed a shudder at the implications of the idea, and pushed it from his mind. It wasn’t that he begrudged them his services, but he had to admit, the Family weren’t exactly his first choice of customer.

He shrugged. Best not to think about that sort of thing. He knelt down slightly, allowing himself to get a better whiff of the target’s scent. It was distinctive, easy to track. He followed it across the road to where one of the children had said they saw the target jump to a rooftop. The front entrance to the place was closed, but that wasn’t much of a concern. He made his way across to one of the buildings alongside it, and found a fire escape. It was easy enough to jump up to, and he ascended, bringing himself a little above level with the roof the girl had jumped to. He climbed up onto the handrail, then launched himself across. He made it, narrowly, hitting the surface in a roll before coming to his feet, dusting himself off. Better remember to give himself more height next time he tried that. The scent was nearby, a strong concentration, collected in a solid line leading from one end of the building to the other. Ah, so the girl had been bleeding as she made the journey, then. He followed to the ledge where the scent ended. Easy enough to guess she’d tried jumping again. He was surprised she’d made it if she’d been bleeding that badly. By the direction of the blood trail, he made a guess as to the building she’d gone for and nodded, before descending back to ground level with relative ease.

The second ascent was easier than the first. The building was open this time, and he was able to make his way up to the roof via the stairs. Again, the scent was easy to discern. It was everywhere around this rooftop, collected on small, torn lumps of metal sheeting and foil. He picked one up, took a sniff, examined it. Was this meant to be armor? He laughed. Not that it would be useless. Hell, maybe it’d even be enough to stop a low impact round, but judging by the blood, and how the armor had been discarded, he had to assume the gun she’d been shot with was a little more than expected. He moved to the edge of the roof, and began to walk around the perimeter, searching for the point where the scent was strongest, where she was most likely to have jumped.

It was after almost ten minutes of searching like this that he realized he’d made more than one lap of the rooftop, and had found nothing. So she hadn’t jumped. Had she gone inside? No. He would have smelled her on the way up. He searched closer. There were other scents, a few individuals who must have been around in the last few days or so, their odor mixed largely with tobacco smoke and food. He needed something more recent, an explanation. He moved to the center of the area, where the majority of the armor pieces lay, and took another sniff. His eyes widened slightly. The scent went up into the air. Surprising. So she had jumped, after all. How, though? Some kind of glider? Unlikely, but possible. There was something else there, though. Something confusing. Another scent. Male, and young, but fainter, much fainter. At a guess, he would have said it was days old, maybe even a week, but it intertwined closely with that of the girl, rising up into the air with hers in such a way that it could not be a coincidence. What an unusual boy, to have such a weak scent. He grunted. Well, if she’d gotten away by air, he had no way of pursuing her from here. Best to retrace his steps.

He made his way back to the Family building, and stood outside the entrance, taking another breath. If he couldn’t track the girl by her escape route, best to track her by the approach instead. He set off at a jog, interrupted briefly by his phone’s secondary alarm going off at six twenty.

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