Out on the Edge: Chapter 1

Hayden, September

“Guess this is it.” My dad solemnly said before sighing.

He’d just stopped the car in front of the Cedar Grove Academy’s student housing. At the sight of the building I nervously chewed my nails. My older sister Channel didn’t seem to share my anxiety, playing around her phone in the backseat.

“Well, obviously.” I nervously muttered. “We visited two weeks ago, not like it could’ve gone anywhere in the meantime.”

“I mean this is the last time we see each others for a while.”

I felt a noose form in my stomach. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”

“It’s my last tour after that it’s back to civilian life for me.” He said with a sad smile. He put an arm around my head and drew me closer, mushing me against the fabric of his army uniform.

“Can you at least come and help us unpack?”

He took a look at his watch. It wasn’t the fancy one, that one was safe in storage. The one he wore just a cheap one he’d bought for the days ahead. “Got plenty enough time for that.”

The three of us hopped out of our van and went for the trunk. There was a lot of stuff; clothes, blankets, desk fans, school supplies. With my dad about to leave for an eighteen month tour of duty Channel and I were relegated to living on the school’s campus. Dad and Channel picked up most of the stuff, I grabbed a few things only for my dad to frown.

“Are you sure you’re good carrying all that?” He asked.

“I’m fine dad.”

“You don’t have to force yourself like that, we can carry it all.”

“Dad, I said I’m fine.” I rolled my eyes before doing a little jig to prove my point. Ever since the accident he’d turned into a big papa bear. Not that he had any choice with mom gone…

“Let’s go!” Channel said. “This is way heavy.”

I didn’t argue and marched for the house. It wasn’t anything spectacular, just your average family home even if it was larger than usual. We didn’t have to knock at the door that a couple in their late sixties answered; Mr and Mrs Carmody, the house parents.

“Please come in.” They said, stepping out of the way. “Hayden will be in room five and Channel in six.”

“They’re not together?” My dad asked.

“We prefer to group people by age, it helps getting them accommodated to boarding and make friends.” Mrs Carmody explained. “They’ll just be one door away from each other.”

We stepped for the staircase only for Mr Carmody to intercept me.

“Oh dear, let me take that.” He didn’t give me a second to protest that he had already swiped the bags I’d been carrying and was hauling them upstairs.

I sighed before following everyone upstairs. My room wasn’t anything spectacular, it was small with a bunk bed, two dressers and two desk taking most of the space, leaving only a small area to navigate. The room was otherwise bare, the closet empty too. Clearly my roommate hadn’t made it yet.

I started putting my things down when Mrs Carmody came to me.

“Girl’s bathroom and living rooms are upstairs. The Boys rooms and showers are in the wing.” She said. “You’re not allowed in the other sex’s part of the house but the den, living room, dining room and kitchen are open to everyone. Understood?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Wake up is at seven, breakfast is served at seven thirty. You have to change and shower before then. Diner is at six. Quiet time at nine and lights out at ten. Weekends are more loose.”

I nodded and thanked her again before focusing on my things. My dad came and helped me do the bed and move the heavy stuff, occasionally going to help Channel set up her own room.

While I was alone the door of my room opened and a girl I’d never seen before walked in. I could tell with just a glance we weren’t alike; she was tall, skinny and everything about her was so perfect and manicured; her hair, her makeup, her nails even. On the other hand I was short, slightly pudgy which my dad insisted was just ‘baby fat’ and rather unkempt. She had natural blonde hair and blue eyes. She was that kind of girl that boys would probably go crazy over.

“Hi!” She said, smiling perfect white teeth at me. “I’m Evelyn.”

“Hayden.” I said with a timid wave.

She came forward and put down her first bag down, soon followed by a man and woman I presumed were her parents, all equally neat and perfect. She introduced them to me as Brigite and

“Leaving me the top bunk? I thought it was the prized one.” She joked.

“I couldn’t get up there if my life depended on it.” I answered, it hadn’t sounded as comedic as I’d wanted it, more like grim.

She turned around and looked at me, a brow raised.

“Old injury.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.” I shrugged. “Are you from around here?”

“No, but I convinced my parents to let me come here. I really wanted to try the whole boarding school experience and a fresh environment. Cedar Grove’s prestige did help them along with a certain promise I’d take up law classes.”

“Oh nice.” I answered. She was definitely one of those share-everything type.

“What about you?”

“I live- used to live just a few blocks away but my dad’s getting deployed in Kuwait.”

“Oh my god, that must be terrifying.”

I shrugged. “He’s a helicopter mechanic so I’m not that worried. Doesn’t leave the base without a helicopter escort.”

“Well, that’s comforting, I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to have your parent as an infantryman. What about your mother?”

“She’s… Not around anymore…” Was all I could say, my eyes heading straight for the parquet flooring. I bit my lip, trying not to think of her. I’d been over a year but it still felt so fresh…

“Oh sorry.”

We both went silent as we unpacked. Thankfully the awkwardness was interrupted by my dad.

“Knock-knock.” He said as he hovered at the entrance of my room. “Channel’s all set up and I still have some time before I have to report to the base. How about we go get some ice cream?”

“Sure.” I smiled. “I can finish what’s left later.”

We left the house, making sure to keep our electronics with us for safekeeping and packed back into the car. We drove only a few streets to the local dairy queen. We got some ice cream cones and found a place further away to sit down.

“I’ll miss you two so much.” My dad said, putting a hand on both of us.

“I’ll make sure to write all the time.”  I said.

“Then I’ll eagerly await your letters.” He wrapped his arms around me and I leaned down against his chest, feeling the way it moved with his every breath.

“You are such a daddy’s girl, Hayden.” Channel said with a chuckle. “It’s your first year of high school, it’s meant to be enjoyed, not to think of your dad. You’ll see dad, I’m going to make sure that happen, I just need to get her a boyfriend and then she’ll be alright. Won’t even think of how much she misses you.”

“Oh my god Channel!”

“Maybe one of those geeks she’s always spending her time with. You’d think she’d notice one of them but nope, it’s all about video or card games with her. I wonder why… ” She put her fingers to her chin. “What if it’s not her type?” She said, nudging my father.

“Woah, are you calling me a lesbian?” I said, choking on my saliva.

“I dunno, are you?” She teased.

“We are so not talking about me being or not being a lesbians right now.”

“Oh come on, you know we’d still love you.” She hopped closer and wrapped an arm around me. “Gay or not you’d always be my little sis.”

“Oh my god. Dad! Make her stop!” I pouted.

Instead my dad just burst out laughing and Channel and I stopped, looking at him. “You two; please never change.” He said once he regained his composure. “And she’s right about being gay not changing anything.”

“Not you too!” I rolled over on my back. “Dad, Channel, I like guys okay? Just not my friends. Just because I’m a tomboy doesn’t mean i’m gay.”

My dad chuckled. “Whatever darling, I don’t mind either way. You two take care of each other alright?”

“We will.” We both promised. Channel gave me a quick hug and I returned it. We argued, we fought, we annoyed each other but in the end we were family.

“Channel, try not to tease her too much?”

“Ooh, I’ll try my best but I can’t make any promise. She’s just so fun to tease.”

In answer I flicked my finger at her ear.

“Ouch! You little runt!” She shoved her half-eaten cone in my father’s arm before wrestling me down and tickling me without mercy.

“You- bas-tard-” I screamed, “if I drop my ice cream I’ll kick you!”

Our little ‘fight’ was interrupted by the sound of my dad’s watch alarm beeping.

“Is it time for you to go?” I asked, Channel having stopped.

“I’m afraid so.”

The sun was already making its way down, the first colors of the evening showing. In a few hours he’d be in another country, half a world away from us. I got up and wrapped my arms around him tighter than ever before. The last time I’d hold him in nearly a year…

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Divergence: Guardian 7.5

Thankfully for both Kenzie and I, our last day in Atqasuk was a thousand times less emotionally charged. I even got to attend a storytelling of Inupiat legends, with Kenzie helpfully translating for me and go fishing on the frozen Meade river.

“Ready to go home?” Kenzie asked once we got back to her place, holding one of the fish we’d caught. “The plane leaves not long after dinner.”

“I guess. As much as I like it here, I kind of miss my mom and the others.”

“I know how you feel.” She said with a smile. She put an arm around my waist and kissed my cheek.

When we arrived home, Kenzie’s dad took our catch and quickly prepared it for dinner. A few minutes later we all found ourselves sitting around the table eating.

“You two are leaving tonight?” Walther asked.

“Yeah, in about an hour and a half.”

“Well, it was nice to meet you Paige.” Kenzie’s mom, Jennie, said.

“And I’m so grateful for letting me stay over.” I said. “It was one of the most amazing experience I’ve ever had.”

“Well, hopefully you’ll get to come back.” Kenzie said, dragging me closer and kissing my cheek.

“Oh, maybe when she comes back, she won’t be such as a qallunaat.” Kenzie’s sister said, nudging her in the rib with a big grin on her face. Qallunaat was the inupiat word they used for white people and from what I’d learned, I was one heck of a qallunaat.

“Plead the fifth.” I said my arms raised. “Screw it, I’m guilty as heck. Hopefully I’ll be better next time.”

“Let’s not get our hopes up, Paige.” Kenzie said, giving me a look. “I tried to teach her a few words and it did not work out to say the least.” She then explained to her family. She wasn’t exaggerating, even after a crapton of attempt, my pronunciation had been horrid.

“If you excuse me, I’m going to find a hole to hide it…” I said humorously, getting up from my seat.

“Nooooo!” Kenzie said in an exaggerated manner, grabbing my arm and dragging me closer into a hug. “I’m sorry, don’t leave me!” She said with a chuckle.

“Fine. But only for you.”

I gave her a quick peck on the lip before sitting down. After dinner was over, we went back into our room to pack our things and get it all in order.

“Say, you didn’t mind us teasing you, right?” Kenzie asked.

“Nah, I’m whiter than mayo, I acknowledge it and my cluelessness. In all seriousness, I know I’m terrible with languages, but I’d love to learn how to speak your language.”

“Well, we can give it another try.” She said, holding my hips and kissing my neck.

Kenzie’s whole family escorted us to the local airport, bidding us goodbye and making sure to tell me I’d be welcome to come back anytime. When we touched down in Anchorage and went through the terminal, we found not only my mom but also my dad waiting for us at the gate. I ran through the terminal and practically jumped in their arms.

“I am so happy to see you.” I said kissing my parents cheeks. “Why didn’t you tell me dad was back?” I then asked, looking at my mom.

“We wanted it to be a surprise.”

“Well, it’s the best surprise ever.”

We took a cab back to the house and I spent the drive there telling them about everything that had happened, everyone that I had met, the food I’d eaten. But I didn’t bring up what had happened that night after church and our talk the day after, it was best not to.

***

The next morning as I prepared breakfast, everyone but me still asleep, the door to my parents room opened and my mom came out, she looked exhausted.

“Good morn—” I didn’t finish my sentence as she ran for the bathroom, only half closing the door behind her. She barely made it to the toilet before she started hurling. Once she was finished, I cautiously approached her

“Mom?” I pushed the door of the bathroom open. “Are you okay? I mean you’re probably not okay because you just ran here but… I’m rambling. Can I do something, is it bad?”

“Paige I need you to get something from the drugstore for me, it’s extremely important.”

She told me what and I ran out. I didn’t need to as it wasn’t exactly urgent, but my heart was beating frantically. Waiting in the small line at the cashier was exhausting, after I paid, I ran back home and up the stairs.

I gave the purchase to my mom and she went back in the bathroom, locking the door behind her. I paced through the tiny kitchen, doing a half dozen step before having to turn around. My mom came out after what felt like an eternity. She clutched the little wand in her hand. Without a word, she gave it to me, the indicator boasted a positive sign.

“Does that mean you’re… Pregnant?”

“Yes.” She took me in her arms and kissed my forehead. “You’re going to have a little brother or sister, Paige.”

“I’m not really sure how to take this or what to say…  That means you’re going to keep it?”

“Yes.” She said. I nodded quietly, thinking about all that it entailed. “Are you alright, Paige? you look a little overwhelmed.”

“I don’t I just got used to being an only child and now this happens. Plus I don’t know what we’ll do, I mean we can’t stay here with a baby on the way it’s way too small, maybe I could buy us a house once I graduate from training, together we can definitely afford the mortgage… Plus you’ll have to stop working for a while, I can help with bills and—”  I started doing what I always did when stressed: speed talk and ramble. I would have went on but my mom put a finger on my lips to silence me.

“We’ll figure everything out eventually, don’t worry about it. But I’m proud of you for wanting to help.” She kissed me on the forehead. “We have nine months to figure everything out and I won’t be out of actions for a few months. But first I have to tell your father, he’ll be ecstatic.”

“Wait… This wasn’t an accident was it?”

“No. Your father and I talked about it a few months and we’ve decided that we wanted to have another child since you’re almost an adult and we’re both still young. We were lucky enough to have our wish come quickly. We considered adopting, but I admit I was a little selfish and wanted to be pregnant again.”

“You wanted to be pregnant? It seems kind of awful.” I’d kind of always been grossed out by the idea of falling pregnant.

“Sure, sometimes it’s unpleasant, but carrying and giving birth to a baby can be a wonderful experience, I loved having you inside of my belly and I wanted to feel the wonder of carrying a little one again.”

I unconsciously put a hand on my own belly. Even if it was ridiculous, if there was one thing that we knew about divergent people is that we were sterile.

“Do you know how long you are along?”

“Morning sickness normally first happen around the five to six week mark. Right now, the little one should be around the size of a sesame seed up to a lentil. Right now, it’s tiny little heart should have begun beating.”

Mom and I had breakfast together. We were almost finished when my dad shambled out of bed and into the kitchen.

“Gabriel, dear.” My mom said, coming up to him. “I have something to tell you.”

“What is it?” He asked, yawning.

Instead of answering, she took his hand, gently guiding it to her belly. He looked at it, then at her and then back to her belly.

“You’re serious?”

“Test came back positive.” She said, taking out the little wand. “We’re going to have another child.”

My dad started crying with joy, wrapping his arms arms tightly around my mom before dragging me into the hug.

“What’s going on here?” Kenzie asked, wiping her eyes. “Did I miss something?”

“I’m going to have a little sibling.”

“Congrats.” She said with a smile kissing my cheek. “And congratulation to you both.” She said giving my parents a hug.

Divergence: Guardian 7.4

I woke up later than usual. Kenzie was sitting on a chair next to the bed, her computer on her lap.

“Hey.” She said, giving me a weak smile as I got up. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay…” I muttered looking away. I hadn’t dressed back up from the night before and tugged the blanket tightly around my almost naked body, trying to cover every inch of flesh.

Kenzie must have noticed because she gave me my folded hoodie along with some clothes.

“Here, I washed your hoodie for you. I thought you might want it.” I took the hoodie and , which was still warm. The soft scent of fabric softener reached my nose. She left the room and I quickly dressed back up before leaving the room.

“Thank you.” I said, giving her a hug.

“You’re welcome.”

We sat down and ate breakfast together. It was nothing special, just toasts and jam along with tea. Although normally I didn’t drink any, having something warm to drink was nice. After breakfast was over, Kenzie took me to the community center and presented her friends to me.

“There’s something I want to show you.” Kenzie said as we left the community center. “Something really important I think you should know about.”

We came back to her home and she got her father to drive us out of town, dropping us off at the local cemetery. Kenzie took my hand and guided me through the rows of tombstones until she stopped in front of a grave. The inscription read Olivia Kignak, beloved daughter, 2022-2033. Kenzie stood silently for a few minutes before I dared speak up.

“Did you know her?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“She was my best friend. Everytime I come back home, I make sure to visit…” She opened her bag and took out a dried peony, putting it at the base of the tombstone before she kneeled down in front of it.

“I’m sorry…” I said, sitting next to her. “What happened?”

“I did.” She said, her voice heavy. “Because of my disability I often struggled keeping up with the other kids, I often couldn’t play with them. But Olivia was always there for me, she’d always make sure I wasn’t alone, she’d drag me into her crazy games and adventures… We’d often explore the old structures around Atqasuk, she was fascinated with them. Until three years ago. While we were messing around an old condemned building, it just started collapsing. Olivia could’ve gotten away, she could run but with my crush I wasn’t fast enough. The support pillar would have crushed me but she pushed me away… She saved my life, but took the worst of it. We were trapped under the structure for god knows how long. That’s when I had my trigger event, I got us out and got help before I passed out. I woke up in the hospital in Barrow but Olivia had died in transit…”

“I’m so sorry…” I wrapped my arms around her and held her tightly as she cried.

“She’s part of the reason I became a Guardian.” She said, after a moment. “And why I continued being one even when it killed me inside… She died because of me, my powers cost her her life and I can’t squander them without making her sacrifice meaningless…”

“It wasn’t your fault. You shouldn’t have to bear all this guilt. I might not have known her but she cared for you, if she didn’t she would’ve run. I don’t believe she’d want you to hate yourself over what happened.”

We stayed embraced for a few minutes until she got up.

“Thank you for being there.”

“I’m honored you decided to share this with me, even if it hurts.” I said, giving her a last squeeze. “We should go back, it’s freezing cold.”

She nodded and we went back home, Kenzie’s father having waited for us. When we arrived her mother was preparing dinner, a stew pot boiling on the stove. We went back into Kenzie room for the moment.

“Kenzie?” I asked, as she sat down.

“Yes?”

“Do you want to know what happened at my trigger event?”

She went quiet for a moment, looking at me with a surprised expression.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No…” I sighed. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to… Maybe I just have to tell someone, maybe that’ll help.”

“If it helps you, I’d be happy to listen to you.”

I sat down next to her, taking a minute to collect my thoughts…

“When I was eleven,” I began, “since my mom would work until later in the evening I’d go to the local community youth center after school. They had games, classes and stuff I didn’t get to do at home. I had friends there, some from school, some I only saw there. One of those friends was Kevin, he was this fourteen years old boy who was always super nice to me.” I said, my fist clenching at the mention of his name. “We liked the same books, the same games and we spent so much time talking and geeking out. Whenever I was having a bad day he’d give me some snacks and was always really kind. I just loved having an older friend. It felt so validating and made me feel so mature.”

Kenzie nodded.

“In November three years ago, the youth center organized their yearly cabin retreat. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a weekend messing around the woods, cross country skiing and slides at the nearby hill. My mom signed me up and among the people going, there was Kevin. We had so much fun that day, so when he asked me to follow him into the woods shortly before curfew to show me something he’d found, I didn’t think anything about it…

He lead me to an old abandoned log cabin, showing it to me. He’d found it the year before and wanted to show it to me, saying it’d be our secret hangout for the rest of the trip. That’s when he told me he liked me, I told him I liked him too, being an only child, he was like that big brother I didn’t have. But of course he didn’t mean it that way…

He kissed me. I froze, I didn’t know what to say or do… So he forced his hand down my pants… I told him to stop. He didn’t. I tried to push him away but he pushed me against the wall, trying to remove my clothes and saying all these dirty nasty things to me…

I panicked and kicked him in the crotch and that stopped him for long enough for me to run. I was so sacred I couldn’t think of where I was going. It was dark so I never saw the stream before I tripped and got drenched. I kept running until my body couldn’t support my weight anymore. I hid behind some rocks…

I don’t know how long I stayed there, crying and hurting, I remember hearing Kevin yelling in the distance saying he was sorry, that he hadn’t meant to hurt me, to come back and we could be friends and pretend nothing happened happened. Whenever his voice sounded stronger, I’d start crying harder.

That’s when I triggered. It was like something found me and took root inside of me. The cold went away and I feel asleep, I woke up a few hours later to the yapping of rescue dogs, I was still wet but I wasn’t cold anymore. The rescue worker who found me tried to take me to safety but that activated my armor for the first time. Instead they had to talk me into leaving my spot. When I did, they took me out woods and brought me to a hospital. They told my parents that I had gotten lost and that had triggered my abilities, I didn’t contradict that story. I spent some time away in a testing facility

When I came back to town, I never went back to the community center, never saw Kevin again since he didn’t know where I lived… I began withdrawing from others, especially boys, I didn’t want to trust anyone and eventually my friends moved on until I was alone. And that’s kind of it… I never told anyone what happened. Everyone assumed I’d changed because I had triggered and become divergent. Some people thought that was cool, but I pushed them all away… That’s pretty much where I was when I met you Kenzie.” I wasn’t sure when I’d began crying, but I was now, the words had stirred too many bad memories and I’d been lost in them.

“I’m so sorry.” Kenzie said, holding onto me tightly. I lost myself in her arms, crying my soul out at the memories…

Divergence: Guardian 7.3

Later the night, Kenzie left to take a shower, coming back into her room with her hair dried and styled. She went for her drawers and took out some clothes.

“Are we going somewhere?” I asked.

“I’m going to church for the Easter vigil with my folks. You can stay here if you want.”

“I didn’t know you were the religious type. I mean you never talked about it.”

“I’m a proud Christian but my religion is a personal experience. I pray everyday, but I don’t feel the need to display it on the public place as we were told to in Matthew six six through seven. And I know that you’re not a believer and I’m okay with that. I didn’t feel the need to bring my faith up.”

“I was kind of a Christian when I was young, being gay and later divergent it wasn’t a very welcoming environment anymore. I just lost that connection I once felt… ”

“Religion doesn’t have to be a negative experience based on fear or hate of those who think or live differently.” She sat down on the bed. “When I was eleven, I had a crush on a girl and that scared me, I’d read the bible and I knew that it was a supposed to be a bad thing. So, I went to my pastor for help and we sat down, rereading the gay bashing verses. I started crying, feeling like I was broken but instead of playing the fire and brimstone card, he gently explained the context that those verses existed in, how they didn’t speak of homosexuality and bisexuality was we know them today. When he was done, he told me that what I felt wasn’t just not abominable, but that God had made me the way I was and that loving girls was perfectly normal. I don’t believe in an angry, petulant God, I believe in an all loving God who gave me the ability to love people of all gender and who gave me my powers to help people.”

As she spoke, she changed clothes right in front of me. Putting a pair of black slacks, a jacket and a white button up shirt.

“Can I come? I really don’t know where I stand about my faith anymore, but if it’s important to you, I want to be there.”

“Yes, everyone is welcome at church.” She said with a smile. “But you’ll have to change, put on something nice. Do you prefer a skirt and blouse, a dress or a suit?”

“I don’t really know.” I shrugged. “Skirt and blouse, I guess?”

She took the items out of her wardrobe where they were kept in plastic protectors on a hanger.

“They’re a little small for me, but they should fit right for you.”

Rather than leave the room, I opted to change in Kenzie’s room just as she’d done a minute ago. Although at first she turned around, I felt her arms wrapping themselves around my waist.

“I swear I didn’t want to peek, but you are looking sexier by the day.” She whispered to my ear, kissing my neck just below it. My whole body become so warm, I was worried my armor would try cooling it down.

“Do you really think so?” I asked.

“Come on, look at you, you’re healthier, you gained some muscle and some mass. Heck, I can’t see your ribs anymore.” She poked me in the chest.

I normally avoided looking at my naked body, feeling hideous and vulnerable, but with Kenzie encouraging me, I dared to do so. I’d put on quite some weight in the past two months. I wasn’t fat by any standard but I wasn’t painfully thin. My pants and bra felt tighter too. I wasn’t the flat, popsicle stick that I was when I’d met Kenzie. She let go and I finished dressing up. Skirts weren’t my thing but I wasn’t so sure about wearing boyish attire.

“You look fantastic.”

She wrapped her arms around my neck and we shared a long, slow kiss, her tongue and mine intertwining.

“I love you.” She whispered breathlessly.

“I love you too.”

“We’d better go before we’re late.”

Kenzie put her coat on again and we joined with her family who were also preparing to leave. There was a thermometer outside, it was almost April yet it was fourteen fahrenheit degrees below zero. Thankfully for the others the church was only a two minutes away on foot.

Kenzie’s congregation didn’t do things halfway, the entire service took about three hours and despite the dismal cold, the service began outside with a fire and the preparation and lighting of a candle that they brought into the darkened church. Thankfully for me, the service was performed in english so I understood what was happening. The reverend recited scriptures and chants, all the while I sat in silence, listening. Kenzie was next to me and we held hand. Some people gave me odd look, but I chalked them up to being the only white person in the church and probably in the town.

After nine readings, it was time for Baptism, an infant was brought in for baptism and then they called for renewal of baptismal vows. The congregation got up, but I remained in my seat, I prefered not to participate rather than do so insincerely. It felt like a safer choice.

Kenzie was allowed to go first so she wouldn’t have to stand long. In front of the whole congregation she renewed her baptismal vows; declaring her rejection Satan and sin. When she was finished, she came back to me, sitting behind me, our fingers intertwining. She rejected sin, but she hadn’t rejected me.

Our love wasn’t sinful… That meant the world to me.

***

“That was exhausting.” Kenzie said, sitting on the bed where she started removing her braces. “Thanks for being there.”

“You’re welcome. You look beat, how about a massage?”

“That would be lovely.” She leaned over and gave me a quick peck on the lips before removing her pants.

I found the massaging cream in her bag and starting working on her legs, the muscles extremely stiff. Every once in awhile she gave out like satisfied moans and mewling. Once I was done, I got up and washed my hands. When I came back and sat on the bed, Kenzie wrapped herself around me.

“You have no idea how badly I want you.” She mewled, tracing the outline of my neck with her finger. “I don’t want to pressure you… But I was wondering if you wanted to go a little further than usual?”

My heart speed up, my chest catching ablaze in a mix of excitement and abject terror. I wanted her too, I wanted to stop being afraid and go all in. I was tired of delaying and waiting…

I leaned on her, our lips meeting. My hands wandered and found their way onto her chest, undoing the buttons of her shirt, everyone of them sending a spike of anxiety into my spike. She took my hand gently and guided it inside of her shirt, placing it on her breast.

Everything dissolved into a blur of mixed feelings and sensations. Our clothes discarded piece by piece until all I was left in was my boyshorts, lying back onto Kenzie’s chest as she kissed my necks while her hands explored my thighs; first on the outside and then on the inside. As her fingers made their way between my legs, my underwear the only thing standing between she and I, my mind snapped. Going back to that night in the woods, remembering…

“Stop!” I cried, feeling myself tear up, my breathing getting out of control.

She let go and I ran away, rushing into the kitchen and hiding under the table before I could even think about what I was doing. I was shaking, hyperventilating, my fingers clawed at my scars.

A few minutes later, Kenzie came out of her room, having put her braces and pants back on but nothing else. She looked around and found me under the table. She lowered herself to the ground and sat near me.

“Paige?”

I tried to answer but all that came out was babbling.

“Paige it’s over. ”

“I’m sorry…” I cried. “I didn’t mean to run…”

“It’s okay, you didn’t do anything wrong. Let’s get you covered.” She got up and found a blanket, putting it over my shoulders. Before sitting next to me, she offered her hand and I took it, feeling her squeezing it gently.

When I finally gathered the strength to move, all I could feel was disgust at myself and my pathetic messed up brain.

“Come on, let’s get back in my room.” She said, escorting me and sitting me down on the bed. “Would you like to sleep alone tonight?”

“But it’s your bed.”

“I can sleep on the couch for a night.”

“No, you can stay… I’m such an idiot…”

“Do you want to talk about what happened?”

I lightly shook my head.

“Alright, I respect that.” She opened her arms and I let her hug me. It was light and brief.

“I don’t know if I can even sleep tonight.”

“Let me get something for you.” She said, getting back up and to the kitchen, coming back a few seconds later. “Here. It’ll help you sleep.” She said putting a pill in my hand and giving me a glass of water.

I didn’t hesitate, I trusted her. A few minutes later, I felt the light buzz of opioids and the accompanying drowsiness. I’m not sure when I fell asleep.

Divergence: Guardian 7.2

After spending the evening with Kenzie’s family and getting to hear all of the embarrassing anecdote her sister decided to share — including pictures of a terrifyingly embarrassing scene phase — we retreated back to her room for the night.

“Oh my god.” Kenzie said, crashing down on her bed and smashing her face into her pillows.

“You alright?”

She muttered something which was muffled by the pillow.

“You’re going to have to speak up.”

“I can’t believe she would show you those picture.”

“It wasn’t that bad. It was very retro, like very turn of the millennium.” I said. In response she glared at me. “Okay, it was pretty bad, but you were ten.”

“I still can’t believe I used to think I looked good.”

“I think you look good no matter what you’re wearing.” I said lying down next to her. “Although, I’m very partial to your current style.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Paige.”

“Oh really?”

“Well, maybe not nowhere.”

She moved a little closer and pressed her lips against mine.

***

The next morning, Kenzie took me out to see the town. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, being such a small place. She showed me the store, the coop, the community center, the church and all the other accommodations. The few people we had met were all really nice and didn’t make me feel so out of place.

“Sorry, it’s such a short tour.” She said as we headed back to her house.

“That’s alright. It’s a lovely place, I’d love to see it in the summer.”

“I’m sure you’d love the midnight sun. It’s something quite amazing, a never setting sun for weeks at a time.”

“That sounds lovely.”

We came back to Kenzie’s home and into her room, hanging out in there and talking about everything and nothing until lunch time came about.

“Do you have something to eat?” I asked. “I’m starving.”

Kenzie just shifted uncomfortable for a moment.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ve been kind of dreading this.”

“Lunch? What’s wrong with lunch?” I said with a frown.

“Not lunch itself but the food…”  She brought her knees to her chest. “Pretty much the first thing you learn as a person of color when you go live in a predominantly white place is that your culture’s food is disgusting and that you should probably be ashamed of it, that what white people eat is normal, what we eat is just weird and gross.” She took a break and I caressed her hand. “I’m terrified of what you’ll think… Do you want to try Inupiat traditional food? I can make you something else if you want.”

I felt my chest tighten a little, not because of the food but because of how scared she was… I didn’t know what it was like being of a culture and ethnicity different from the dominant one, but I could see the pain in her expression.

“Of course I do.” I came closer and kissed her on the cheek before taking her hand in mine.

“You promise you won’t be weirded out?”

“I swear. I’m open to try anything.” I said and she smiled. “Except shellfish, I don’t have my epipen. As delicious as it probably would be, I’d rather not risk dying.”

“Don’t worry, no shellfish here.”

She squeezed my hand and we got up together, going into the kitchen. The kitchen smelled nice if a little fishy, a pot on the stove still gave a small fillet of vapor. On the table there was a cardboard sheet with a partially cut fish, missing it’s head. The flesh was a reddish-pink, slightly darker than salmon.

“A lot of our traditional food is made of raw fish and meat.” Kenzie said, she grabbed a knife that was on the table, it was a quarter circle blade with both end attached to the handle. She cut a slice out of the fish, skinned it and split it into two parts. “There’s a belief among us that raw, inuit food keeps you warmer and gives you more energy than cooked, european food. Although the fact is uncooked, fresh meat has more glycogen which fulfills our need for carbohydrate over cooked meat.”

She gave me a piece and I took a bite of it, chewing it thoroughly. It was close to salmon, but not quite exact, my fish palette wasn’t developed enough to think of what else to peg it as resembling.

“This isn’t weird, is it?” She asked, a worried frown on her brow.

“Nah.” I said, before swallowing the piece. “I’ve had sushi a few times and this is basically it. Just minus the rice and the seaweed.” I took another bite. “So it’s like Sashimi really.”

“You don’t have eat if you don’t like it… It’s not too cold isn’t it?”

“Kenzie, it’s okay.” I put a hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to panic. And need I remind you that I can’t feel cold, it’s a side effect of my ability. So this just sort of feel lukewarm.”

She nodded “Want to try something else?”

“Sure.”

“My mom makes this soup whenever we have enough leftover from previous meals.”

She took out a bowl out of a cabinet and poured a fish stew onto it, she broke a piece of thick flat bread and served it along with it. When she handed it to me, I could see the fish head inside of the broth. I admit, it had me a little grossed out at first, I was used to carefully cut pieces of muscle meat that didn’t remind me that it had belonged to something living.

“I’m really not sure how to eat that.” I said, after taking a sip of the broth, which was surprisingly nice and salty, flavored with powdered soup base. “The broth is great.”

“Ah, white people.” She chuckled a little nervously.

“Could you show me?”

Kenzie showed me how to eat the different bits; how to remove the bones and get access to the neck and cheek meat, the cartilage and the brain. It took a bit of encouragement, but it was a rewarding experience, there was a lot of flavor and different textures to be found. Although I didn’t have the courage to touch the eyes, but she didn’t seem to mind. Soaking bannock in broth was a nice change of pace between trying different things.

“Let me get you a little desert.” She said once that was done.

“Some people like to call it Eskimo Ice cream.” She said, putting a bowl full of berries inside of a pinkish cloud. She took a spoonful of it and guided it toward my mouth, I rolled it around, feeling it melt in my mouth.

“It’s nice. Very sweet and creamy.” She took another spoonful and ate it herself. “This doesn’t have any dairy product?”

“No, it’s made with fat.” She explained. “You’ve probably noticed a trend; we don’t waste any part of animals; not the organs, the blood or any other bits that others discard. We can’t really grow plants this up north so we have to rely on animal products to fulfill all of our diet.”

I nodded, taking another slice of fish as I wasn’t quite stuffed yet.

“So, how was it?”

“It was nice. Once I got past my hesitation, the soup-stew was my favorite. It was nice, rich and salty.”

“You looked terrified.” She said, kissing my cheek. “But I’m proud of you for trying. What was your least favorite?”

“The fish, it wasn’t bad, it just felt like it was missing something, I’d probably just dip it in soy sauce. I’m big on salty things. I’m glad you wanted to share your culture with me, it means a lot.”

“Let me get you the bottle.” She said with a smile. She then opened the fridge and put a bottle and a tiny dipping cup on the table.

“See? It’s perfect now.”  I said with a grin. “But you know, this situation kinds of reminds me of the first time you came to my place. I was so terrified when you got hungry because there was nothing to eat left in the house and I didn’t want to make a bad impression, I was so scared think ‘what if she doesn’t like the food?’ over and over.”

“You know, had you told me there was nothing to eat, I would have taken you out to dinner and bought you some groceries.”

“You would have?”

“Yes, because I know how it feels, I’m very intimate with the horror of food insecurity… Before I joined the guardians program, we were extremely poor, there isn’t a lot of work in the arctic and everything is expensive. Have you ever had to pay thirteen dollars for a small bag of dried pasta, fifteen for a carton of juice or almost thirty dollar for a lettuce? Here, it’s our reality. My family and I lived paycheck to paycheck and in the days before it came, I’d often go to bed hungry. And when I went to bed hungry, it meant my parents hadn’t eaten in days. I think was seven when I first noticed that when things were tight, my older brother faked being ill so my sister and I would eat more. When things were bad or something in the house broke, it meant that the only meal we could get was from the local soup kitchen and the free lunch at school.  I know what starving is like, I would never wish on my most dire enemy.”

I gave her a hug, she returned it weakly.

“When I triggered, I convinced my parents to let me join the guardians program, I said I wanted to do good things with the power I’d been given, but inside I really just wanted to stop being a burden on them.”

“I’m so sorry.” I said, I didn’t know what more to say.

“It’s alright, these days are over now, my family and I are now secure and for the last two years, I’ve spent most of my salary helping the town.”

We hugged again.

“Paige?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for being here.”

“And thank you for sharing your culture and your anxieties. I’m really happy that you trust me enough. I just hope I’ll be worth your trust.”

“You trusted me with yours, didn’t you?”

Divergence: Guardian 7.1

The Thursday just before Good Friday — the date of our departure — came about simultaneously quickly and yet dreadfully slowly.

Thankfully finding a place for Ashes before we left turned out to be quite simple as Stan volunteered to take the little furball. Apparently he was a big cat person and had several of them at home, even if he typically stayed at the dorm for reasons I’d never actually asked for. So now Ashes was going to be a feature of the Lounge.

In the morning Kenzie, my mom and I found ourselves in the terminal of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

“Well, this is the last gate.” Kenzie said. “We board in…” She looked at her phone. “forty-nine minutes.”

“I guess this is goodbye.” My mom said, a little teary eyed but not quite crying.

“Yeah, but don’t worry. We’ll be back before you even notice I’m gone.”

“You’ll remember to call?”

“Yes. I’ll send you all the pictures, it’ll almost be like you’re there with us.”

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“Mom!” I said taking her by the shoulder. “I’m leaving for like four days, I think I’ll survive.” I dragged her into a hug. “Hopefully you won’t get too bored without my drama to deal with.”

“Oh I’ll probably miss it.” She said with a nostalgic smile. “See you soon honey.”

“Bye mom. I’ll miss you too.”

We passed through the gate and went to our airplane, taking off not long after.  The longest part of the journey wasn’t the plane trips themselves but the four hour layover in barrow where we had to switch from the big commercial plane to a tiny biplane to go down to Atqasuk itself. So we got to hang around the place; visit Inupiat heritage center to examine their collection of artifacts, it’s library and gift shop. We were even lucky enough to see a demonstration of soapstone sculpture. Much to my surprise, Barrow also had an impressive selection of asian restaurants for it’s size and locale. So we did the only thing we could; tour them and pig out.

When we finally landed in the tiny airport of atqasuk it didn’t take long for a pair of parka clad persons to come our way, coming out of a pickup truck. It didn’t take a genius to figure out they were Kenzie’s parents, especially as she jogged toward them and embraced them. She and her parents shaked a long hug before beginning to speak in what I presumed was Inupiaq.

I stood there awkwardly for a moment as Kenzie and her parents exchanged words in their mother tongue. Although Kenzie had tried to teach me a few basic words and phrases in the last few days, I’d been a terrible student so everything they said was a mystery to me beyond the few mentions of my name I heard.

“We should probably start speaking english before Paige gets nervous and think we’re talking behind her back.” Kenzie said after a moment. She took her parents hands and walked them closer to me. “Paige, this is my mom Jennie and my dad Walther. Dad, mom, meet Paige.”

“It’s an honor.” I said, feeling a little nervous.

“Oh my god, what are you wearing?” Kenzie mom exclaimed. Even though we were deep in the arctic, I hadn’t actually bothered to pack a coat.“You must be freezing! Walther, can you get the blanket from—”

“She’s fine mom.” Kenzie replied with a laugh.

“But…”

“No, really I’m okay. I have ice powers, so the cold doesn’t bother me. Heck, I can’t even feel temperature.” I said which seemed to calm her down. “The big heads at HQ measured my nitrogen ice armor temperature to be averaging  at three-hundred and forty-six degrees fahrenheit below zero.”

There was a moment of silence which Kenzie’s dad thankfully broke. “We’re very pleased to finally meet you.” He said taking a step and extending a hand, which I firmly shook. “Kenzie has told us a lot about you.”

“Hopefully good things.” I said, shooting her a look.

“Very good.” He confirmed with a smirk. “Why don’t we get moving, not everyone is immune to this hellish cold.”

“Of course.”

We all packed into the truck where Kenzie shamelessly snuggled up with me on the backseat. Kenzie’s father drove us the three-quarter of a mile to the town itself. To say Atqasuk is small wouldn’t begin to cover it. The whole village consisted of maybe seventy buildings, mostly small rectangular one-story houses that stood elevated from the frozen ground. We came to a stop next to a house with blue paneled exterior and a black roof. Unlike most of the others, it had a long ramp leading to its door.

When we came inside, two teenagers came to greet us; Karina and Markus, Kenzie’s older siblings whom she had mentioned a few times. They one and three years older than her respectively.

After introductions, Kenzie guided me to our room, or rather hers.  Kenzie’s room wasn’t huge but it was nice, like her room at the headquarter, she had paintings hanging off the wall. Despite being here only a few days a year, it was clean, free of dust and cobwebs. Kenzie and I unpacked our bags and lied down on the bed, inches away from each others.

“It’s so great to be out of that plane.” She said, stretching her legs a bit.

“Definitely.” I said, rolling to my side and looking at her. I couldn’t help but smile at her beauty. Two months in and I still couldn’t believe how gorgeous my girlfriend was… “So… What did your parents say about me?”

“They thought you’d be taller.” She said, which didn’t surprise me. I was a fair bit shorter than most girls my age, I hadn’t grown much in the past two years. “Also, they asked if you liked arctic char because guess what’s on for dinner tonight.”

“Umm… Moroccan style lamb maybe?” I said and she snickered. “They know we’re together, right?”

“Yep. I told them that I’d made a girlfriend two days after we started dating and they knew I was bringing you over. I’ve been out with my parents for three years. They’ve always been super supportive.”

“That’s nice.”

She reached out and we laced our fingers together.

“I’m so glad you’re here.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

“We have some time before dinner, we do it late here. Want to make out?”

“Do you even have to ask?”

Interlude 6

Five years ago

The San Francisco headquarters of the Guardians were burning hot, the air conditioning struggling to compensate for the summer sun’s glare. Kimberly stood in front of Nadia Kapoor, director of the department of divergent affairs. The director calmly sifted through the files on her tablet, ignoring Kimberly.

“So.” Ms. Kapoor began, finally deigning to acknowledge her. “You must wonder why we’ve convoked you here.” Although the two of them were alone, the director had opted to speak in the plural form.

“Yes.”

“We’ve noticed your diligence the last few years and though it was time for your efforts to be recognized and for you to receive a position you are worthy of.”

“You’re promoting me to head of Houston?”

“Oh no. You’ll have a brand new team.”

Kickback frowned at her words, thankfully her face was left hidden by her mask. The director put her tablet down, flipped it around and slid it toward the edge of her desk. She picked the tablet up and saw the roster for her new team; Dazzle, Jackdaw, Molecular, Rave, Hekatonkheire.

“These are all trainees save for Rave.” She said.

“They might be fresh out of the academy, but they’ve trained together. That’s an asset, is it not?”

“I imagine it is.” She said with a neutral tone, trying to contain her disappointment. It didn’t feel like a promotion; more like babysitting.

“Now for the other reason I’ve called you here.” The director rose from her chair and took a few steps toward a large screen. “CLIO, if you would.”

“Of course Ma’am.” The AI answered.

The screen came to life and showed scenes of carnage and gore, one after the other before stopping on a blurry picture of a hulking monstrosity.

“We call him Sanguinus.” The director said. “He and his followers form a cult slash criminal enterprise they call the Red Path. In the last two weeks they’ve massacred half the gangs in Anchorage as well as the high threat response police team sent to stop him. You and your team have been tasked with stopping them. He is extremely dangerous and powerful, but we believe you can handle him.”

“You can’t be serious!” Kimberly exclaimed. “You want me to take him down with untested guardians? This should be a job for Envoy or a team of experienced guardians, not recruits.”

“In normal times I would agree with you, but we expect a Kaiju attack any day from now. We cannot take the risk to leave one of our high-power operatives being stuck recovering. Our only options are waiting until the attack is over, which could take over a week or send you and our newest recruit which wouldn’t be deployed against a Kaiju just yet anyway.”

Kimberly bit her lip. They couldn’t leave the Red Path to massacre its way across Anchorage, but at the same time going in with untested trainees was suicide, professional and literal.

“We’ll also deploy two DART squads to assist you, but that’s all we can spare at the moment.”

Sixteen normal if well trained men, four superpowered recruits and one veteran. That was all she had.

“I’ll have to make do.”

***

Two days later she found herself in the briefing room of the DDA headquarters. The recruits that would make her team were sitting around, partially costumed. As she approached, she caught the end of what seemed like a joke.

“—and then I was like; is that a gun in your pocket or are you really happy to see me?” Kurt said with a grin. “And just between the five of us, she was actually happy to see me.”

Of all the recruits, he was the one she had the most apprehension about. He wasn’t there out of goodwill or patriotic duty; his dumb ass had been caught after robbing a few jewelry stores. Faced with ten years in prison or ‘community service’ among the guardians, he’d taken the latter.

“Guardians.” She called them to attention. “My name is Kickback and I’ll be your team leader. We’ve been tasked with eliminating a threat in anchorage by the name of the Red Path. We deploy at o’ nine-hundred. All the information you need to know are in these files.” She passed one of every member of her new team and went over them in detail.

“You need to relax.” Molecular said. “It’s one cape, we can totally handle him.”

“A gamma-level brick, beta brawler, alpha healer and gamma ace cape.” She corrected him, her jaw clenching. “Sanguinus is beyond bulletproof, possess a rapid regeneration ability, is capable shredding flesh at a touch and is known to have been empowering his followers. By all accounts this should be an A-class threat, not a job for a handful of untested trainees.”  

“Relax, we’ll be fine.”

Kimberly sighed. The mission was going to be harder than she ever thought…

***

Anchorage was chaos, the city had become a warzone between not only the police and federal agents against the Red Path but also the remaining gangs who had so far escaped Sanguinus’ wrath. Not helping the chaos had been the dozen or more trigger events happening in rapid succession, adding unstable, frightened children with superpowers to an already terrible situation. The only comfort Kimberly found was that the evacuation of the city had been successful enough.

“By the gods…” Molecular muttered as their helicopter surveyed the area, smoke of a dozen flaming buildings choking the city.

“Do you still think we’ll be fine?”

“We have to stop this.” He said with a snarl.

“That’s what we’re here for. The feds and national guard are containing the situation for now but we have reports of the Red Path taking captives and subjecting them to Sanguinus’ power imbuement abilities.”

“30 seconds to drop point!” The helicopter pilot informed them over the comm.

“Get ready to deploy. Molecular and I will be on point. Rave will cover our left flank, Dazzle you’ve got right. Heka, you’re on rear guard. Jackdaw I want you to scout the area with your minions.”

“Aye aye Ma’am.” She said, giving an all too formal salute.

The helicopter touched down and they stopped off, weapons in hand and their minds ready to conjure their powers save for Molecular who metalled up and Jackdaw who called forth her birds; beings made of pure energy she shared a mental link with. She sent her birds into the sky, letting them scatter in all directions.

“Alpha and Bravo team, you have your orders.” She said to the DART squads. “Guardians, we march north toward city center.”

***

It didn’t take long for Kimberly’s team to encounter resistance. Minions of the Red Path patrolling the city for offerings to their lord, the blood of whom had twisted them; swollen their bodies into hideout mass and enforcing blind loyalty to their new master.

“This is Bravo team.” The team leader’s voice burst through Kickback’s comm. “We need assistance, we have engaged primary target.”

“Bravo, we’re on our way. Alpha team, converge on bravo.” She replied to her comm.

She took one look at the Guardians and they nodded, running toward Bravo team’s latest position. They arrived only to see the last of Bravo team fall, a ten foot monster of swollen flesh covered in blood holding one of the men with its massive arm. In a matter of seconds, the DART squad member fell apart, becoming nothing but loose gore as the monster grew larger.

“More!” I screamed, its voice guttural. “Feed me!”

The guardians eyes turned to the Red Path’s minion, dragging an unconscious bleeding DART member toward their master. Kimberly felt her guts twist and her blood boiling.

“Guardians!” Kimberly screamed. “Engage!”

Her scream attracted Sanguinus’ attention, the monster turning to see the Guardians emerge from cover. It let out a scream before charging them, only to impact against Kickback’s barrier. Although it would normally send a human flying backward, the sheer mass of Sanguinus allowed it to stand fast, with only a minor hitch in its charge.

They threw everything at it; force fields, minions, energy blasts, bullets, grenades, foam. But nothing worked, Sanguinus shrugging off the brunt of it and what little did harm it, it would simply devour one of its minion, instantly healing itself.

“It’s not working!” Dazzle screamed. “We’re not strong enough.”

“We can’t escape and leave the city to burn.” Molecular screamed back. “We stand.”

“Dazzle’s right, we need reinforcements. Beta team can cover our exit.” Kickback declared. “Guardians, fall back into the alley!”

“I’m not leaving them to die!” he protested. “I have an idea.” He said before beginning to run toward Sanguinus.

“Molecular, come back!”

He didn’t listen, charging at the monstrous parahuman, only to be intercepted; Sanguinus’ giant hand wrapping around his chest, his power shredding Molecular’s metallic flesh.

He let out a scream of agony, before punching the creature in the mouth and shoving it deep.

“Choke you son of a bitch!” Molecular he screamed.

A second later, the Sanguinus’ mouth exploded with foam, Molecular having shoved a grenade inside. It let of of Kurt, trying to claw at its own chest, trying in vain to dislodge the rapidly expanding and hardening foam out of its respiratory tract. It flailed around helplessly before collapsing, its minions also falling down, overtaken by spasms…

“Kurt?” Jackdaw yelled out, running to her friend. “He’s breathing.”

“Owww… Fuck.” He grunted, holding his guts in place. “That hurt more than I thought it would.”

“Hold still!” Kickback ordered, rushing to his side and applying medical foam, hoping to stop the bleeding.

“You’d think my power would’ve helped…”

“The fact you’re still in one piece and not a loose pile of gore is proof enough it helped. Now stop talking, it’s not helping.” She screamed back.  “Someone get a medivac!”

“Hey I’m going to—”

“I swear if you move or say one more word, I’m going to punch you unconscious so you don’t risk your life stupidly anymore.”

***

Three days later Kimberly arrived at the hospital room she’d been told he was in. She gently pushed the door and went inside, seeing Molecular on the bed. He looks like a damned mummy. She thought, seeing all his bandages. Equipment held him in place as Elixir’s eponymous concoction worked its magic.

“How are you?”

“Doc says I’ll live. Just going to be a painful recovery.” He said, with a cough followed by a pained scream. “I heard they were going to give me a medal for bravery.”

“You shouldn’t try talking.”

“Come on, even you have to admit it was brave.”

“It was stupid and reckless.” She said, crossing her arms. “But it did save us.” She said with a smile.

“And here I thought you I only had two mood; stuck up and grumpy.”

She rolled her eyes at the comment.

“For a crook, you were rather suicidal when it came to other people’s safety.”

“You think I’m a crook?”

“I know how you were drafted. You were caught stealing jewelry. Poorly might I add, after the second store they were ready for you and you just blindly walked into a trap.”

Molecular let out a laugh before screaming in pain.

“Ouch… Fuck…” He moaned before speaking weakly. “Doesn’t matter if I got caught, she got what she needed.”

“She?”

“My sister, she’s an artist. You should see what she paint, it’s like the most fucking beautiful thing. But then she she started getting paralyzed, no cure but an experimental treatment not covered by hospitals we needed to pay cash.”

“You stole jewelry for your sister? Why steal?”

“The heck was I supposed to do? Never finished middle school because my dad needed money, I never held a legal job in my life instead just washing dishes and shit under the table. No banks wanted to see me and I didn’t have time to get something legit before Marise would’ve been done for life. It was stealing or beating people up, at least with stealing it’s all insured and nobody gets hurt.”

She nodded taking his words in before getting up. “You should rest.” She walked up to the door but stopped after opening it, turning toward Molecular. “Oh and I guess I owe you one for what happened. You saved everyone when I couldn’t…”

“I might have just the thing for you to repay me once the doc have fixed this.”

“Do you?”

“Well, that depends. Do you like coffee?”