Catharsis. 2.12

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

James:

James gazed out of his window into the evening sky, his hands resting gently against the windowsill. A part of him, if he was honest, had wanted to do nothing, to go home and pretend nothing had ever happened; but he just couldn’t quite bring himself to leave it. It went against the grain. Eventually, he had come to a decision. He would try to help, but if there was nothing he could do, or if it looked like it might go badly for him, he would leave.

He stepped back from the window for a moment, taking a second to change. Dark clothing, as before. He chose a hoodie, pulling the hood down over his face and pulling the string ties to scrunch the fabric up over his face, leaving him just enough room to see. He took a breath. His parents were downstairs, watching a movie. Not much chance of either of them moving for the next hour or so. Bex was in bed, a story read to her, and a glass of water already set up by her bedside. If he was going to leave, now was the time. He returned to the window and pulled it open, then breathed deep again.

One… Two… Three.

James threw himself through the window, squeezing his eyes shut as if diving into a freezing pool. As before, he willed himself upwards as fast as his power could carry him. By the time he had the drive to will his eyes open, the streets were but tiny lines below him, illuminated by the sparse lights of cars and streetlights. He felt that momentary thrill, that giddy high of pure, positive vertigo, and pushed it from his mind. More important things at hand. He turned himself towards the place the text had specified, then pushed himself into the gloom at speed.

As before, it was not a long journey, two or three minutes, at most. He suspected he could have gone faster, but he was wary of pushing too far, running out of power in midair. The idea made him shudder. He floated some three hundred feet or so above the building, surveying the area from on high to assure himself that his plan would work.

There was a degree of traffic along the small street, but it was night, and far enough from the central districts that flow was relatively sparse. He allowed himself to hope that no one would notice, before choosing an alleyway opposite his target, and descending into it as fast as he dared. He didn’t allow himself to touch the ground. The text had warned that these people tracked by smell, and he had reasoned that his best defense was to stay high up enough that they would be left without a scent to follow. He hovered against a brick wall, hugging himself tight against the building’s shadow.

‘Corner room closest to traffic light,’ the text had said. James’ eyes fell upon a window, the curtains inside drawn against his view. He took another deep, steadying breath, and began to muster his power.

His plan was not the best, he had to admit. It had dozens of things that could easily go wrong, even if his newfound ability was strong enough to do what he wanted it to. More of them floated to the surface of his mind as he tried to focus. What if Tasha was too wounded to move? What if the drugs hadn’t worn off? What if his plan worked too well, and he hurt her? He did his best to ignore them. If it failed, he told himself, then at least he had tried. If it got too dangerous, he could leave with a clear conscience. He tried to believe it.

James extended his reach beyond himself, just as he had done the night before, feeling the strands of the light evening breeze beneath fingers that, to his newfound sense, were feeling less and less like fingers by the second. He extended further, collecting the strands and drawing them together in his grasp, letting them flow together, strengthening. When he felt he had enough, he drew them all together, bundling them up together tightly into a single imaginary fist, before pushing it forth against the building’s wall with all his might.

The result was not as he had hoped for.


Tasha:

Pain, everywhere.

That woman -Lara, the others had called her- had not gone easy. She had laid into Tasha with her own bat across every inch of her body while the soft voiced man delivered bullshit line after bullshit line.

‘They didn’t want to hurt her. She’d left them no choice.’ As if she gave a fuck. She’d done her best to tune him out after a time. In the hours that had followed, as the feeling slowly began to seep back into her nerves, she had slowly began to become aware of the pain, a dull, powerful ache across every inch of herself. She wanted to move, offer an insult, or at least do something to prove to them that they hadn’t beaten her, but she knew that the moment she did, not only would she lose the element of surprise, but the pain would become far worse. She had tested it with a few small flexes of her arms, and had barely managed to suppress the groan of pain as her battered muscles tugged along bruised, bloodied skin.

The one called Marcus had gone to bed, declaring something about seeing to the children as he took his leave. Lara and Samson had remained, Lara sitting on the floor with her back against the wall, the bat resting along her knees and a smug grin on her oh so punchable face. Of her captors, Lara had seemed the only one to actively enjoy the beating they had given her. Samson had seemed indifferent, passively watching with his gun at his hip, a pose he had held ever since, and Marcus had been almost apologetic, but Lara had enjoyed it. Tasha was grateful for that, in a way. Marcus confused her, Samson made her angry, but only Lara had done enough to really let Tasha hate her.

No one spoke. No one moved. It seemed like these two were content to watch her, unwavering, until their so called “Father” came to take her. For her part, however, Tasha was planning. Samson had the gun at his hip. That meant he would take at least half a second or so to raise it and point it at her. If she could move fast enough, then she could throw the chair at him before he had time to fire. If she could manage that, then she’d only have to deal with Lara. She just needed a single moment of distraction. That was the problem. Nothing was happening. Nothing had been happening for hours, besides the growing ache in every inch of her body. She needed to be alert, ready to capitalize on any distraction the moment it happened, but trying to keep herself that focused for so long was exhausting. She found her attention beginning to drift, a small part of her mind conjuring a scenario of what she was going to do to Lara when she got out of here. The ideas it presented were attractive, and she found more and more of her focus drawn towards it, figuring out what she’d break, what she’d say. That was when it struck.

It all happened so fast that Tasha barely had time to register what was happening, let alone try to make sense of it. There was a sudden, violent cracking sound, easily the loudest thing Tasha had ever heard, and at precisely the same time, the window imploded, shards of glass catching in the curtains and tearing them free, peppering the inside of the room with a hail of jagged shards. Tasha felt a few new tears emerge along the skin of her arms and face as she was thrown back in her chair, landing painfully on the ground. The room went dark, the solitary light bulb that hung from the ceiling exploding in the sudden wave of force. She brought up her hands by instinct, breaking her bonds with ease in some attempt to catch herself.

As she tried to work through the surprise, her ears ringing shrilly in the aftershock, a voice inside Tasha’s mind told her to move, to act. This was her chance. She had to take it. She reached down her hands grasping the edges of her chair to arm herself, but before she had a chance to go any further, a form stepped into view above her. In the sudden gloom, it was difficult to make out the face, but the shape of the gun aimed at her was unmistakable. She thought he might have said something, a command of some sort, but the ringing in her ears was too loud for her to make it out. The gun, however, sent a very clear message. Very slowly, she drew her hands back away from the chair. The gun jerked, gesturing her up, so she rose, her every muscle protesting angrily, to her feet. Lara stood at the window, a hand pressed to her ear. It was hard to tell, but Tasha could have sworn she was shouting something.

Whatever she was saying, it probably didn’t work, as another invisible wave struck her about the face. It was not as strong as the first, not by a long shot, but it was enough to make the woman stumble. She turned her gaze towards Tasha for a moment, her expression furious, before another wave struck her from behind, sending her off balance just in time for a third to knock her off her feet.

Tasha felt a hand grab her by the collar, and looked around. Samson had his gun against her cheek. He pulled her along with him, stepping around Lara’s form as she woozily pushed herself upright, a small trail of blood dripping down from her ears. The ringing had begun to subside a little, and Tasha was able to make out Samson’s words just fine as he shouted calmly out into the street.

“Keep attacking and I shoot her.”

Nothing happened. The ringing slowly died away to a low buzz as the two of them stood staring out at the empty street.

“Good,” Samson said eventually. “Now, show yourself, or I will shoot her. I swear to God.”

Again, nothing happened. Tasha glanced at her captor out of the corner of her eye. He was bleeding, a small shard of glass embedded in the flesh of his cheek, but he was calm, his eyes slowly roaming the darkened street. After a few moments, he pushed her to the side, shoving her against the window frame, his expression not changing in the slightest.

“You have to the count of five. Four, three,”

He still wasn’t looking at her. Tasha had an idea. A very stupid one, but one that, she hoped, would be enough to save her life.

Moving as fast as her aching arm was able, she swung her hand upwards, slapping her palm towards Samson’s wrist with all the force she could muster. Samson, still focused on scanning the street below, never saw it coming.

Tasha felt her hand connect, wrapping her fingers around the larger man’s wrist and forcefully wrenching the gun to the side, pointing it away from her, into the street. He squeezed the trigger, just a moment too late, firing off a loud, echoing shot into the wall of a nearby building. Tasha absently hoped there was no one inside as she reached out with her other hand, grabbed the gun, and wrenched it from his grip. He resisted, but not enough. She lowered her hand to his chest and, her back still braced against the window bracket, shoved him hard enough to launch him into the wall. She felt a few of his ribs crack under her fingers.

For a moment, Tasha contemplated leaving through the window, but then she realized, she had the gun. She had her strength, she had a gun, and Lara was doing only slightly better than her. With the surge of adrenaline pumping through her system, she couldn’t even really feel the pain in her muscles right now. She had promised to tear this place to the ground. Time to make good on that. With a wide grin, she turned back towards the more hated of her captors, just in time to see her finally rise to her feet.

Tasha raised the gun, but Lara was quicker. She opened her mouth, and Tasha felt something grasp her, pushing every inch of her backwards out of the open window. She let out a surprised yelp as she fell. Then, she felt the strangest thing beneath her. It was like wind, but stronger, much stronger, pressing her upwards, slowing her fall. She hit the ground on her back, nowhere near as hard as she should have done, and pushed herself to her feet. Before she had a chance to choose a direction, Lara peaked her head out of the window, her mouth already open as she exposed herself. Apparently she had started firing before she even left cover, because a chunk of the wall connected to the window split, the brickwork cracking away and sending out a fine plume of dust. Before Tasha had a chance to fire, the shot hit her. It was less focused now, and further away, but it still struck her dead on, knocking her off her feet once more. She landed on her knees, began slowly forcing her way to her feet, expecting a shot to the back, but none came. She turned, glanced up at the window. Lara had her arms braced against her face, seemingly trying to ward off some invisible force as it struck at her again and again, sending her hair frizzing out in every direction as she tried and failed to line up another shot. Tasha took the opportunity, and began to run.

Tasha ran a long way. She wasn’t sure if it was minutes, or an hour. All she knew was that by the end, the adrenaline had worn off, leaving her every muscle aching and screaming for her to stop. She ignored the pain, and kept running, gasping for breath with every other step. It took almost everything she had to keep going, her head lowering towards the ground, staring at her feet as she simply willed her feet to press forwards.

The first gust of wind was ignored, registered and written off as merely another trial for her aching body to overcome. The second, however, was stronger, sending her stumbling against a wall. She looked up, trying to identify the source. It took her a few moments to recognize it.

A figure, floating in the air to her left, a dozen or so feet above the road that divided the street. Small, child sized, dressed in thick, dark clothing that concealed their face almost completely. Tasha allowed herself an exhausted grin.

“Hey man, you here to give me a hand?”

The figure raised a hand, beckoning, and Tasha took a deep breath, building up the last of her strength, before she pushed herself away from the wall and launched herself up into the air. It was a relatively short distance for her, and yet she barely made it, her arms wrapping around the small form with what little strength remained and clinging tight. The moment they were connected, James took off into the sky, fast as he could go.

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Catharsis: 2.11

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Tasha:

Her captor had deposited her in a chair, her body slumped uncomfortably against the rigid wooden frame, before taking his leave, abandoning her to these three perverts. Tasha recognized each of them. The woman with the force breath was talking in a low voice to the guy with the broken hand while the man with the gun busied himself doing something behind her back.

“Why are you doing that?” the younger man asked. “It’s not like she can move and when that drug wears off, it’s not like a few cable ties will hold her.”

“They’re not supposed to hold her down,” the larger man grunted from behind Tasha, making her wish she had enough control to at least look at him so she could see how she was being tied. “They’re just supposed to make a noise if she breaks out of them. I’m keeping watch, and if I get distracted by something, these should stop her getting the drop on me. I hear a peep out of her, I shoot her.”

The force breath woman nodded.

“Makes sense,” she murmured, stepping forwards to peer into Tasha’s eyes. “Can she hear us?”

“Should do,” the broken handed one replied with a shrug. “Lewis said the drug just paralyzed. She’s perfectly aware.”

“Good,” the woman said. Without warning, she brought her hand sideways in a wide sweep, striking Tasha across the jaw. Numb as she was, she didn’t even feel it. Did they not realize her nerves just weren’t working? That being said, the strike disoriented, throwing her mind out of order for a moment. It made her angry. Very, very angry. The woman stood straight again, massaging her fingers with her other hand. “Might as well get some work in while we wait for it to wear off.”

“Yeah,” broken hand agreed. “Best if the punishment’s done with before she’s able to scream. I don’t want the kids having to listen to that.”

“Good call,” force breath nodded. “Where’d you put her bat, Samson?”

“Careful,” the older man replied, standing from his position behind her and moving to lean against the wall beside a window with its curtains drawn, a hand drifting under his jacket to unholster his gun and holding it casually pointed towards the floor. “If you hurt her too much, Father won’t be able to heal her. You’ll be in trouble, then.”

“Yeah yeah,” she replied. “Stop your fussing. I know when to stop. So, where is it?”

Samson shrugged, jerking a thumb towards some point behind Tasha.

“Storage closet. End of the hall.”

The woman took her leave and the two men waited in silence, both simply gazing at Tasha coolly. She tried to move again, but failed. This was hell. This was absolutely hell.


Casper:

Lewis led him out of the building, taking a left down the street, apparently headed towards the nearby subway terminal.

“So,” he murmured evenly. “I’m betting you have questions, so go ahead. Hit me.”

Casper shrugged. As much as he hated to admit it, he’d done all he could for Tasha at the moment. He may as well make use of the chance to learn some things.

“Well,” he said. “Big one first, I guess. Why doesn’t the whole world know about us?”

Lewis laughed as though he’d said something deeply funny.

“Truth is, they used to,” he replied. “Back before science got big and all the governments had so much control. The world used to be full of monsters and wizards and all sorts of stuff in between.” He paused for a moment, glancing back at Casper, who nodded, more to show his interest than anything else. “But that stopped being a thing over time. It used to be that the mages and monster hunters barely managed to keep all the bad stuff away, but then we started learning and inventing useful stuff, like guns, and suddenly the monsters weren’t so hard to fight any more. We started managing to keep them back a bit better, so the people being kept safe eventually stopped believing all the stories about monsters and magic and all the rest of it. Truth is, most of the governments active at the time liked that people were starting to forget. Less people knowing about magic and stuff means less people trying to mess with something powerful and getting everyone around them in trouble. So, most of them started trying to help everyone ignore it all.”

“So there really is a cover up?” Casper asked, uncertain.

“Only sort of,” Lewis grunted. “You get punished for telling normal people without a good reason, sure, but it’s usually a slap on the wrist, basically the same as a parking ticket, really.”

Casper considered this as Lewis led him down a set of stairs and into the crowded subway terminal, a small part of him wondering where he was being taken, the rest focused elsewhere.

“… I don’t get it,” he admitted eventually. “If it’s just a slap on the wrist, then why don’t we have superheroes turning up all over the place? People finding out they have powers and putting on costumes to go fight crime.”

“Well,” Lewis replied after a moment. “A couple things there. First, sometimes, that does happen. First gens like you getting ice breath or whatever and figuring they’re the chosen ones. They don’t usually last long. The moment they do anything big enough to get noticed, the government figures out where they are, someone way better at using powers brings them in  and everything gets made to look like a really well done hoax. A youtube video becomes a really cool CGI short film, a photo becomes part of an online scavenger hunt. It’s pretty easy to do, really, they just have to make the explanation sound more reasonable than a person in a costume who can literally breathe ice. Same goes for some of the stuff that’s just too common to hide. Magic effects like the purity marks get explained away by a dude in a lab coat pretending it’s just natural biology.”

Casper swallowed at that, unsure he liked where the conversation was headed, a small part of him surprised by the revelation that something as mundane as purity marks actually had some magical component.

“… What happens to the guy with ice breath, then?” he asked, his voice quivering just a little.

“Depends what he did,” Lewis grunted. “If he broke the secret to a few dozen people, he might get fined a few hundred bucks. If he hurt anyone, he might get a bit of jail time. Thing is, first gens get treated pretty evenly when they’re taken in. Suddenly developing superpowers can be enough to make you start acting real stupid, even make you a bit delusional. So it kinda gets treated like temporary insanity.” Casper nodded at that, relieved. “Different story for people who know about all this before, of course,” the hunter continued. “That’s why you don’t see people like me pulling superhero stuff. Vigilantism is a crime in this world just as much as it is in the normal one, and using powers to do it is treated a lot like using a gun to do it.” Again, Casper nodded. That made sense.

The two stopped talking a few moments as Lewis guided Casper onto a train car and they sat down, utterly ignored by those around them.

“So… I’m guessing a lot of people with powers wind up in gangs and stuff, right?” Casper asked, trying to think of a way to phrase it better and failing.

“Some of us,” Lewis replied evenly. “Depends what sort of person they are and what they can do. It comes in all flavors. Some of us set up shops, join the government, or start using our powers to do normal jobs in easier ways without attracting attention. Some of us have a bit less choice than that.” The hunter smiled at that, and it looked genuine, but under it, Casper felt a swell of bitterness from him.

“… What’s that mean?”

The hunter shrugged.

“Some of us have powers that are just too useful not to be used. Me, for example. I’m a tracker, a good one, too. I can find anything as long as I have its scent. My mom was like that, too. She was pretty well known for it. So when she died, I suddenly had a lot of people wanting the same services from me. A lot of the time, that was from people you can’t say no to easily. So I started taking jobs, and I told them that if anyone tried to make me work for them exclusively, I’d put a lighter up my nose and kill my power.” He gave Casper a hard look, before continuing. “Problem with that is, I have to be useful to everyone at least some of the time, or what’s to stop them just getting rid of me to stop the others having access? So sometimes I have to take jobs I really don’t want to do, like helping the Family track down some teenager.”

Casper wasn’t sure what to say to that. The hunter’s feelings weren’t giving him much to go on, either. Lewis’ emotions were cold. He wasn’t pleading, nor was he fishing for forgiveness, so why was he offering any explanation at all?

“… Why tell me this?” Casper asked eventually. “It doesn’t feel like something you’d just tell someone, so why tell me?”

Lewis shrugged, leaning back in his seat and gazing stonily at him across the train car.

“Because you’re the same as me,” he said dryly. “You’ve got the potential to be a tracker, and unlike me, your power probably wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of, so I’m giving you a warning. Keep quiet about it, or someone might force you to do things you really don’t like. Don’t even tell the government, if you can avoid it. They’re no better than the criminals, sometimes.”

Again, Casper wasn’t sure what to say. Something in the back of his mind told him that ‘thank you’ was a bad choice. Eventually, he settled on:

“Where are you taking me?”

“My place,” Lewis replied, shrugging. “I thought you might wanna talk to some kids your own age about all this. Help sort it all out in your head.”

Casper nodded, staring quietly at the floor, unsure of what to say once more.


James:

‘James. Come see me.’

He glanced briefly at the message as he unpacked his bag and shrugged. Maybe Casper was nervous again about what had happened at school.

“Hey, Mom?” he called into the hallway, opening his bedroom door. “Casper says he wants to meet up with me. Is it okay if I go to the mall for a bit?”

There was a momentary hesitation before Sarah’s voice replied from the living room on the floor below.

“Sure, sweetie. You want a ride? I was just about to go pick Bex up, anyways.” Her acting was good, James almost failed to notice the tightness in her voice.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Please. Should I call you when I’m done?”

“Yeah,” said Sarah, her head poking out into the stairwell. “If you could. Just tell me when you want to go, kay?”

James nodded, stepping briefly back into his room to change out of his school clothes, then headed down the stairs, flicking Casper a quick text in response.

‘Sure. Meet up at the GameStop near my place?’

He tracked down his mother and the two of them loaded into the car, spending most of the three minute journey to the mall in silence.

“You sure are spending a lot of time with Casper, lately,” Sarah murmured, eyes on the road. “You do remember you have other friends, right?”

“Yeah,” James replied with a chuckle. “I do. He’s just goofier than they are.”

“…He’s a nice boy,” she said after a moment, apparently more to herself than to him.

“Yeah,” he smiled. “He is.”

The rest of the trip passed in silence, Sarah depositing him at the entrance to the mall with another hug, and staying long enough to watch him step inside. He made his way to the GameStop and waited there for a few minutes, eventually taking out his phone and loading up a game to pass the time on. The game had just reached the opening screen when the text alert pinged. He closed the game for a moment to check the text. It was from a number he didn’t recognize, and only contained a single line of text, an address he didn’t know off the top of his head.

He gazed at the message for a few moments, confused, before the phone pinged again and another text emerged. His eyes drifted down to it, perplexed, then went wide. He felt his legs begin to shake a little, allowing his weight to shift down to the floor as he stared at the screen. This was not good. Not even a little. Forcing himself to be calm as best he could, he re-read the message, hoping against hope that he had somehow just read it wrong.

‘Tasha kidnapped. Using her phone. Second floor. Corner room closest to traffic light. They track by smell. She’s drugged. Wait an hour.’

He felt the panic begin to rise in his gut, and forced himself to breathe deep, shutting off the phone and closing his eyes.

Okay… Now what?

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Catharsis: 2.2

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Tasha:

The brown haired man was smiling. His trap had worked, and now he leaned once more against the corridor wall, smugness practically radiating from every inch of him. The attacker, for her part, was still for the moment, seemingly content to allow Tasha to make the first move. She took a few seconds, tensing and relaxing every muscle group in her body, ascertaining that everything was still working as it should be. Good, nothing was broken, that was something, at least.

The floor was not a good position to attack from, at least not in this position, with her legs in front of her and her arms to the side, she lacked any way to build her footing before another of those attacks, whatever it had been, hit her. Cautiously, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t provoke a response, Tasha pushed herself upright, then stood. Surprisingly, the woman let her, a small smile spreading across her face.

“…You’re testing me?” She asked, leaning back against the wall and trying her absolute best to make it seem natural. Her hands found the solid surface of it and braced themselves against it. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her baseball bat, laying perhaps ten or so feet away, too far for her to grab it without giving her adversary another opening. She’d do this barehanded, then.

“That’s the idea,” the woman replied coolly. “If I like what I see, you might even have a place with us. I’ll be honest, though, you’re not doing all that well so far. You got yourself baited into an ambush, that’s a rookie move. Try and be a little smarter from now on, kay?”

Tasha grit her teeth at the woman’s words, and nodded, more to distract than for any other reason. She needed to take this one by surprise. Think it through. First step, get more information.

“And if I fail?” She asked, her muscles tensing, ready to spring. “What happens then?”

“Then I guess I kill you,” the woman replied, sounding unconcerned. “You did attack us after al-”

Tasha pushed herself off of the wall with all her might, her hands and feet digging into the ground and wall as she forced herself from complete stillness to a dead sprint in under a second, not so much running as throwing herself at her foe like a battering ram.

The woman barely even moved. She stopped talking mid word, and opened her mouth wide, letting out what may have been called a scream, if a scream were able to happen without sound. The shockwave struck tasha before she was even halfway towards her new foe, and for a moment, she strained against it, the force of it battling against her own momentum, before it launched her back, harder than before. She struck the wall, and, with a crunch, felt it give way beneath her. She landed on her back, the new room around her utterly dark. Tasha was prepared this time, more ready for the second blow than she had been for the first, and wasted not a moment in shoving herself to the side, out of the small field of dim light pooling in from the hole into the hallway. Somewhere in the darkness of the room, a young voice screamed. Tasha grimaced; so this was a bedroom, then.

“No blind shots,” came the man’s voice from the other side of the wall. “You might hit Ellie!”

“I know!” The woman’s voice snapped. “Just stay back and let me work, will you?” The man did not respond, and it seemed the woman turned her attention to Tasha. “That’s two really bad calls in a row now. Gonna go for three?”

Tasha moved towards the punctured wall, and pressed herself against it, as far from the hole as she could get, then squeezed her eyes shut, trying to force her eyes to adjust to the darkness as fast as possible. When she opened them again, she could see.

The room was small, set up similarly to the others she had seen. A bed against one wall, a single window, the curtains closed against the night, and a free standing dresser to one side. A small scuffling sound from the bed drew her eye, and she caught sight of the room’s only occupant, a girl a little older than her, by appearances, crawling beneath the bed. Tasha nodded to herself, best the girl stay out of the way, where possible. There were sounds of movement coming from outside the door. She was running out of time.

Tasha shook herself. She needed time to think, to make a plan. Easiest way to get time was to make distance. She nodded to herself, then turned towards the wall adjoining this bedroom to the next one along. With one deep breath, praying quietly to herself that this would work, Tasha threw herself at the connecting wall, her shoulder slamming into it with full force. The old plasterboard gave with a crunch, and she found herself in another bedroom. The light was on. She smashed it. The inhabitant of this room was a boy. He did not scream, merely glared at her.

Glancing momentarily into the room behind, Tasha saw the woman standing in the doorway, peering owlishly through the dark as her eyes began to adjust. It would be perhaps a few seconds before she could see well enough to fire off another blast without risking hitting a bystander. That was the hope, at least. Tasha crossed the bedroom, aiming to put her next hole in the opposite corner to the one through which she had come so as to break the line of sight. She charged, and the wall gave just as easily as the last.

This room was empty of its inhabitant, presumably one of those dealing with the ‘customers’ outside, and that gave Tasha an idea. She crossed to the window, tore away the curtains, and slammed her forearm into the glass, shattering it. Then, she made for the next connecting wall, this time aiming to make a hole by the dresser that stood against it, just as in every room, it seemed. Tasha aimed low, intent on making the hole as small and low to the ground as possible this time. The moment she was through, she reached behind herself, taking hold of the dresser by a leg, and tugged it along the floor until its bulk covered her exit hole. Glancing around, she made eye contact with the inhabitant of this new room, this one a teen, and held a finger to her lips, the other hand curling into a fist. The girl got the message, and remained quiet. Tasha returned her attention to the dresser covering her, and lowered her head to lay flat on the floor, gazing into the vacated room through the space between its legs.

From this new vantage point, Tasha watched a pair of feet step into the empty room, before making their way towards the broken window. The woman swore under her breath, and spoke in a low murmur, apparently to herself.

“Going out into an open street when your enemy can use ranged attacks. That’s another mistake. Stupid girl.”

Tasha moved in near silence, positioning herself to sit facing the gap between the two rooms, bracing herself with her hands on the edges of the hole, before placing her feet against the dresser. Tasha took a deep breath, trying to picture the remembered location of the woman’s feet as accurately as possible, before thrusting her feet outward towards it, sending the dresser skidding towards the woman across the floor. Without waiting to see if the first attack made contact, Tasha pulled herself forward through the hole with her hands, and forced herself off of it as hard as she could, throwing herself through the air towards the woman.

The noise of the maneuver caught the woman’s attention, and she turned away from the window, catching sight of the dresser just in time to blast it aside with another of those strange, silent screams, her eyes going wide with surprise. She did not have time, however, to stop the other attack, and Tasha impacted against her in an uncontrolled tackle, bowling her down onto the bed against which she stood. Tasha wasted no time in wrestling the woman into submission, forcing her into a headlock so as to prevent her taking any new targets.

“There,” Tasha grunted, frustrated beyond belief. “Now, If we’re done with the bullshit, I’m gonna finish robbing you.”

As she spoke, she pulled herself to her feet and the woman was dragged stumbling along with her. She tried to speak, her words coming out hoarse and halting through Tasha’s grip on her throat, but before she could get out anything coherent, the girl shifted her grip, cutting her off.

“Nope!” She snapped. “No talking for you. You sell kids for sex, you threatened to kill me, and you punched me through a wall. We’re gonna go get my bat, and then I’m gonna break your legs.”

They reached the door, and Tasha lashed out with a foot, forcing it free of its hinges with a loud crack. She tugged the struggling woman into the hallway, glancing left and right for her bat.

Tasha registered the impact before she noticed the man holding the gun. The sound of the gunshot rang in her ears, far louder than tv shows made it seem. She felt her leg give way under her, and toppled sideways against her captive, who herself was forced against the doorframe, barely keeping the two of them upright. This change in their profile was likely the only thing that spared Tasha of a second shot. There was a pain in her left leg, somewhere below the knee, a hot, sharp sort of feeling, but that was not the main concern. A small part of her mind realized that her homemade armor had failed to deflect a bullet, and that she needed to get away. The rest of her mind, too busy reeling from the shock and the rapidly building pain, obeyed the impulse. She clumsily tugged the woman forwards, placing a hand at her waist, and another at the back of her neck, before hoisting her up and throwing her bodily down the hall towards her attacker, who, she realized belatedly, was the same man who had threatened her with the gun on her last visit. The woman screamed, and the man fumbled to catch her, the weight of momentum forcing them both to the floor.

Tasha turned, grasping the sides of the doorframe in either hand, and faced herself towards the window. The room was on the second story. This was not going to be fun. She grit her teeth, then threw herself towards the opening, glad that at the very least, the glass had already been removed from the frame. She hit the windowsill at an angle, the injured leg striking the wall on the way through and eliciting a wave of genuine pain. She yelled in defiance of it, her body tumbling the five or so meters to the pavement below and landing on her arms, managing luckily to absorb most of the impact. She would have liked to remain still for a moment, take some time to adjust to the pain, but she knew they’d be right behind her, and so dragged herself to her feet, grasping the side of a public bin to aid the effort. No chance of getting away at ground level, she knew that. Best get to a rooftop then, and fast. She tested her undamaged leg against the pavement, and felt no real pain from it. Good, that gave her a chance. She crouched low, trying to keep as much of her weight off the damaged leg as possible, then pushed off from the ground with all her might, launching herself across the street and up into the air. She fell short of her intended target, the rooftop of the building opposite her jumping point, and found her chest colliding hard against the edge of it, her legs dangling uselessly in the air below as her hands scrabbled for purchase. She caught a hand on the edge of the brickwork, and pulled herself up onto the roof, letting her body slump down onto the ground, concealed by the short, slightly raised lip of the rooftop that, hopefully, would help hide her from the eyes of anyone in that damned whorehouse. If she wanted to get away, she had to stay hidden; had to stay silent.

Slowly, fighting against the urge to gasp in pain as her damaged leg scraped against the rooftop, Tasha began to crawl. Finally, she made her way to the other end of the rooftop, and after a laborious climb to her feet, she launched herself across the gap once more to another rooftop. Only then did she allow herself to succumb to the pain and sheer frustration of it all. She raged in silence, slamming her fists against the ground again and again, tears streaming down her cheeks. She had been so close.

For a time, Tasha lay still. She would not bleed out, she knew that well enough. Of the many strange little quirks to her biology that seemed to have accompanied her newfound strength, one of the more commonly used was a far enhanced ability to withstand punishment. So for the moment, Tasha simply lay there, letting it all sink in. Then, once the tears had run dry from her eyes, she dug clumsily in her pocket for her phone. She dialed the number without much thought. It rang into the silence a few times, before a quiet voice answered on the other end.

“Yeah?” It asked.

“H-hey, Casper,” Tasha mumbled, trying to ignore the shame building painfully in her gut. “I-I kinda got myself in trouble… I need a favor.”

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Mistakes: 1.8

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

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.

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Mistakes: 1.6

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Tasha:

Tasha gazed at the squarish, slightly run down apartment block before her, then glanced down at the address on her phone screen. Well, it was the right place alright. It always amazed her how completely unassuming places where bad things happened looked. She shrugged, squared her shoulders, and stepped inside.

Tasha glanced down to check the address on her phone screen. Well, it was certainly the right place. She looked around, casting her eyes once more over the richly decorated interior of the foyer. She, like most people, had built up a set of expectations in her life about what places where crimes happened were supposed to look like, sex crimes in particular. Whatever that expectation was for Tasha, this was not it. A rich, velveteen carpet covered the floors in a deep, nut brown, lined by walls of a gentle cream color. The whole place put Tasha more in mind of high-end business space or some fancy hotel than homes.

The foyer branched off into two corridors, the right one terminating in a staircase, the left continuing around to the presumable end of the building, before making a right turn, beyond which she couldn’t see.

‘Second floor, fourth window,’ she reminded herself with a shrug, making for the stairs, before something caught at the corner of her eye. She turned to glance back. It was a plaque on one of the doors that lined the halls, the lettering picked out in solid black against smooth, reflective bronze.

‘Junior classroom one.’

There were a few occasional snatches of sound from the other side of the door. Curious, Tasha pressed her ear against the surface.

“-kay, kids,” a woman’s voice spoke, loud and clear, even through the thick door frame. “So, if you find the area of a rectangle by multiplying the width and the length, then can anyone tell me how you find the area of a trian- hey, Drew, pay attention please. If you get last place in the test again and have to spend another week helping make the dinner, the other kids might die from how gross your food is.” There was a snatch of what sounded like children’s laughter, presumably at Drew’s expense.

Tasha pulled her ear away, frowning. Was this place some kind of school? She shook herself, and returned her attention to the stairway. She made her way over, grasped the old wooden bannister in her hand, and made her way up the stairs, attempting, for what it was worth, to distribute her weight somewhat to quiet her movements; an attempt that failed spectacularly with every creak of the old, semi rotted staircase.

The second floor was decorated much like the first, the hallways lined with doors and plaques. It was, however, far more densely populated than the one below. The room beyond the stairway opened out briefly into a fairly spacious communal room of sorts, littered with comfortable looking arm chairs and tables bearing vases of somewhat droopy looking flowers.

Scattered throughout the room were around fifteen people. A few boys, perhaps a little older than Tasha, were playing a card game between themselves of a sort that she did not recognize. Tasha imagined by the look of frustration on the right hand boy’s face, that the one on the left was probably winning. A trio of twenty-somethings stood by a window, chatting amiably as they took turns puffing cigarette smoke out into the street. There were others, ranging from their early teens to what Tasha would have assumed to be their mid thirties. Stepping out of the landing that housed the stairs up to the third floor, Tasha noticed how the quiet conversation all around seemed to hush slightly. One or two sets of eyes turned towards her briefly, before returning to their prior activities.

Tasha pretended not to notice, held her head straight forwards, and took another step, continuing through into the hallway. She felt their eyes following her until the right turn mercifully removed her from their view.

Casper had said the sense was coming from the fourth window on the second floor. Tasha left the quiet inhabitants of the room behind and moved through the corridor, turning to the right and continuing to the door which, to her best estimate, corresponded with the window Casper had specified. She tried the door, and found it locked.

“Excuse me, miss,” said a soft, male voice from behind her. “You seem lost. Can I help you with something?” Had it been her first time investigating a place, it may have been enough to make her jump. As it was, however, she was more experienced than that, and so turned to face the speaker quite calmly. It was one of the twenty somethings that had been smoking by the window. He wore a polite smile, accentuated by a gentle looking face framed nicely by a shock of hazelnut brown hair. He was not alone. Behind him stood the rest of the people from the waiting room, each eyeing her coolly. In spite of herself, Tasha found it slightly unnerving. She hadn’t even heard them approach.

“Nah,” she answered with a shrug and a small smile. “Not lost, just new. I just moved in here last week, nice to meet you.” She held out a hand, which the young man shook.

“You don’t live here,” he replied, that gentle smile still affixed to his face. “You sure you’re not lost?” When Tasha tried to withdraw her hand, he refused to let go, gripping perhaps twice as hard as he reasonably should have been. A threat? Tasha grinned. She liked it when people tried to threaten her.

“Yeah, I’m sure.” She replied, giving the man’s hand a firm squeeze. “Thanks, though.” He winced for a moment, letting in a sharp puff of breath, before once more shifting back to that strange serenity. Tasha cocked her head, confused, then began to gradually tighten her grip. The man ignored it.

“Too ugly to be one of ours,” said one of the boys who had been playing cards from behind the man. “Too old to be a new sist-” He was silenced by one of the others, a woman in her early twenties, placing a hand on his shoulder. Tasha might have been offended by the comment, but she had to admit, now that she had a chance to look, everyone around her was, indeed, quite startlingly attractive.

“One more time,” the kindly voiced man smiled, still utterly ignoring the no doubt excruciating pain emanating up from his hand. “What are you really doing here, because this definitely is not your home.”

Tasha had no response. These people unnerved her. She gripped the man’s hand tighter still, more just because it felt good to be doing something than because she thought it might achieve anything. There was a sharp snap as one of the bones in his palm gave out under the pressure, his hand contorting slightly under hers. Almost as one, the young man and his companions turned their eyes down towards his broken hand, then back towards her.

“I think you should go now, miss,” he said, no longer smiling. “You really shouldn’t be here.”

Tasha may have argued the point, secure in the knowledge that these people posed little real threat to her, but was stopped when one of the older men behind the group’s apparent speaker shifted his weight, and she caught a glimpse of the gun handle under his jacket.

“… Fine,” she muttered angrily, glaring at the group at large. “I’m gone. Later.” She released the man’s broken hand, turned back in the direction of the staircase, and began walking, the group parting around her as she went.

Tasha kept her head pointed straight ahead as she made her way back the way she came, letting herself glance back only once. They were all still watching her, standing as a group at the corner-point of the corridor. She waited until she hit the staircase and was out of their sight before she allowed herself to start running.


Marcus:

The group watched the strange girl take her leave, maintaining their facade by mutual agreement until she was well out of sight, before, as one, moving into a blur of action.

“Who the heck was that?” Asked Alistair, his young face twisting in confusion, still gazing after the departed intruder.

“No one good,” murmured Samson, reaching down to gently swat the boy’s face. “And what are the rules about speaking in front of intruders? You let the adults handle it, don’t you.”

Alistair shifted his gaze to the floor, his cheeks flushing red with embarrassment.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “I forgot.”

Samson opened his mouth to deliver a final reprimand, but Marcus beat him to it.

“It’s alright, Alistair,” he murmured, ruffling the youth’s hair affectionately with his undamaged left hand. “Just be thankful you had your big sister here to stop you saying anything stupid, okay?”

Alistair inclined his head towards Isabella and mumbled a few incomprehensible words of thanks before shuffling off in the direction of his room.

With the misbehavior suitably reprimanded, Marcus made his way back across the corridor, his brothers and sisters following close behind him, and rapped his undamaged hand a few times against the door that the stranger had attempted to open.

“Elise?” He called. “You catch any of that?”

There was a brief fumbling noise at the other side of the door, before it swung inwards to reveal Elise, her brow furrowed in concern, the skin pulling into wrinkles that cast unfortunate shadows on her otherwise pleasant, slightly browned skin.

“Yeah,” the girl muttered. “W-who was that? Why was she trying to get into my room?”

“I was kinda hoping you could tell us, sis,” Marcus murmured, attempting to make his voice as soothing as possible. “Have you run into anyone or said anything that might make people want to snoop around here? I promise I won’t be mad, kay?”

The adolescent shook her head shakily, her face still twisted in that unsightly worry.

“You’re sure?” He asked. “Never said something in front of your regulars, no one heard you talking to someone on the street, nothing?”

“I-I haven’t said anything to anyone about anything,” she mumbled. “P-promise.”

Marcus sighed. That was a shame. If it wasn’t anything to do with Elise, then that meant he didn’t have any leads to go on, but it couldn’t be helped, he knew his sister wouldn’t lie to him.

“I see,” he said quietly, crouching slightly and pulling the girl into a brief hug. “It’s gonna be perfectly fine, Elise. She probably just chose your room at random cuz she needed to pretend she had a reason to be here.” The girl nodded, but did not seem overly reassured. Marcus sighed. “Isabella, can you stay with Elise for a bit? I think she could use some company right now.” His sister nodded once, before stepping forwards, taking the girl gently by the shoulder, and guiding her back inside her room.

“Right, you lot,” Samson rumbled, his voice still drawing his younger siblings’ attention despite his age. “You guys go back to doing your own thing. Remember, just because we had an intruder doesn’t mean you might not still have customers to take. I need to patch up Marcus’ hand before the pain comes back.”

The others gave their assent, nodding and murmuring amongst themselves about the strangeness that had just occurred as they made their way back to the showroom, leaving Marcus and Samson alone in the empty corridor. The two were still for a moment, before the older man grasped Marcus by the shoulders, and began steering him gently but firmly towards the infirmary.

They were about halfway along the corridor, before Samson broke the uncomfortable silence.

“You really shouldn’t have used the painkiller, you know.” The older man commented, his voice low in case someone else should hear. “You’re supposed to use it for emergencies only, not to intimidate teenagers. It draws attention.”

“I know,” Marcus grumbled. “I messed up, okay? She was crushing my hand and it hurt and I was trying really hard to keep my cool. I did it without thinking. Sorry.”

“It happens,” Samson murmured, not unkindly, giving his young leader a small nod in acknowledgement of his contrition. “But you’re the leader now. You need to learn to think a little more before you use Father’s gifts, okay?”

“Yeah, I know.”

The pair were silent once more until they reached the infirmary. Samson sat Marcus down on the thin medical bed, and set about resetting the split bone before the pain had a chance to kick back in. Marcus was becoming slowly aware of the dull ache building gradually in his hand. He sighed. This was going to hurt a lot.

“You were too gentle with Alistair,” Samson muttered as he set about bandaging the wounded extremity. “If you don’t hammer the point home, he’ll never learn not to make such simple mistakes.”

Marcus groaned, resisting the urge to roll his eyes until Samson looked away.

“I’m not you, okay?” He replied, forcing his voice to sound even. “I know that you liked to reinforce every lesson you taught, but you’re not the leader any more, Samson, I am, and I don’t want to lead that way.”

The older man grunted, eyes still focused on his task.

“You sure that’s all it is?” He asked. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a little soft on our little brother. I know you prefer them young and pretty, and I know how often you’ve been sharing his bed lately. You sure you’re not getting a little too involved?” Underneath the usual gruffness, Marcus could have sworn he heard a note of hurt in the older man’s voice.

“Now now,” he replied, working to keep the note of amusement out of his tone. “Don’t be jealous, Samson, it’s not like that. You know as well as I do that Alistair still finds his male customers a little… painful. He asked me to help him work on that, okay? I promise, I haven’t forgotten you, oh glorious leader.” He allowed a touch of humor into the last few words to soften his teasing.

“Little brat,” Samson grumbled, a mild blush coloring his cheeks. “That’s not what this is about and you know it.”

“You sure?” Marcus grinned, raising his uninjured arm and grasping one of his companion’s hands. “We can always ask one of the girls to help you out. I could probably even manage a little quickie right now if you’re feeling neglected, oh mighty Samson.” He lowered his face, resting his forehead lightly against the other man’s stomach.

“No thanks,” Samson murmured, pushing him gently upright. “I don’t want your teeth anywhere near me when that painkiller wears off.”

Marcus grimaced. The ache in his hand was indeed getting worse and worse by the second.

“How bad’s it gonna get?”

“You’ve never broken anything before, have you?” Samson asked, giving him a contemplative look. Marcus shook his head, and the older man sighed. “It’s going to be pretty bad. Want me to stay with you, little brother?”

Marcus was about to shake his head, when the first wave of genuine pain hit him. He grit his teeth against it, letting out a little groan as his hand began to pulse with what felt like fire. Wordlessly, Samson sat down beside him on the bed, one large hand moving to stroke the younger man’s back.

“D-don’t call me little brother,” he managed weakly. “I’m the leader now, okay? Don’t you forget it.”

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter: