“Great practice today dude,” Tony said, smacking me on the back on his way toward the showers.
“You too bro,” I replied, sniffing my sweaty jersey.
It wasn’t like I was the star player of the team or anything. Certainly wasn’t as good as our quarterback Bennett. How could I be? He was a Demigod.
But I did my part as a defensive back and I did it well. So long as I felt I’d contributed even a little to a win or held my own in practice, I was satisfied.
I stink, I thought. Showers are all being used though.
“May as well just shower at home,” I said, shrugging.
Grabbing my overstuffed duffel bag, I left the locker room. Stanky I was though, there was one stop I had to make before I headed to the bus stop.
The school campus wasn’t huge, but it did have a tennis court, a baseball field, and a football/soccer field and track. The dual purpose field was in great condition, having just been renovated over the Summer. However, it most certainly wasn’t thanks to my bros and I. We were good, but the Bluejay Bandicoots hadn’t made it to playoffs in a decade. Some of us thought our bad luck was brought upon by the kinda dumb decision to name our team after an animal that wasn’t the one the school and city were named for. I wasn’t sure if I bought into the superstition.
But yeah, the reason our field was so radical was because of the girl’s soccer team, who’d won states the past two years. And that was thanks to the team’s captain, the hottest chick I’d ever met, Shay Myers.
Looking over the field’s fence, she was there, practicing by herself, just like she did every day after the football team had finished. She may not have been a Demigod, but she sure as Hell moved like one. And with so much grace too.
She was wearing a purple crop top with King Power’s initials in gold on them, along with black gym shorts. So hot…
And on top of being a major hottie, she was super nice to everyone. Be it clubs, dances or charities, she was always helping someone out with something. The only volunteer work I did was helping out Detective Troyan around the office on weekends.
Frankly, the only person I’d ever seen who was nicer than her was her little bro, Carter. The middle schoolers had started coming to the high school since Carter accidentally burnt down the middle school, which meant I’d gotten the chance to see him in the halls a few times.
He was seriously the sweetest. And not just because he had more respect for the old heroes than anyone else. Poor kid got bullied to Hell and back, but he didn’t let that get him down. Probably had something to do with the fact that Shay always either jumped in to protect him, or got revenge for him by beating the crap out of his bullies.
I’d thought about taking the kid under my wing. He had a good soul, but no head on his shoulders, and I was pretty sure he couldn’t snap a twig.
Only reason I hadn’t done so was because I was afraid of how Shay would react. Because I was basically terrified of talking to her in general.
My bros all knew how crazy I was about her so none of them made a move, though a few of them weren’t interested at all because they were either intimidated, not that they’d admit it, or because they found her unusually large nose unappealing.
I loved it.
But yeah, despite my feelings, I just couldn’t bring myself to talk to her. I’d say maybe two words to her a week in the Geology course we were both in, but that was it. I didn’t think she even knew my name. And once high school was over, she’d probably forget about me entirely.
Sometimes I’d have this daydream. More of a plan, really. Just in case, somehow, we did end up meeting in the real world. Through some sitcom level shenanigans, we’d end up stuck together.
And once we were, I would be the biggest jackass in the universe. Nothing offensive of course, but I’d just be rude and unpleasant, maybe even act dumber than Carter. But only until it struck a chord. Until something triggered latent memories of me.
She’d remember the big, all smiles doof who sat behind her in Geology, and the year before that, English. She’d remember the fat man with the bushy blond beard who came to every single one of her games. The generous jock in the meatball stained jersey who lent her some change to pay for lunch once.
Maybe we’d really get to know each other… maybe we’d become friends…maybe something more. It was stupid idea. Probably wouldn’t even work. Wasn’t like I’d ever actually get the chance to put it into action.
“Hey!” she shouted, running toward me.
Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod, I panicked.
“Uh, hi…Shay,” I said nervously.
“There a reason you’re always out here watching me?” she asked directly.
“I…I…um.” Speak man, speak! I thought.
“You don’t seem like the pervy type so I’m gonna assume you just appreciate watching a boss ass bitch at work.”
“Y…yeh…yeah that’s it,” I managed to get out.
“Thought so. Just cut it out alright. No beef between us; I just don’t like being watched while I’m destressing.”
Destressing? I thought. She was a straight A student whom everyone loved. What could she be stressed out about?
Not even trying to speak this time, I just nodded.
That was good enough for her, as she nodded back, also shooting me a weird hand sign I didn’t recognize, running back over to her ball.
Feeling like I was about to barf, I waited till I was sure she wasn’t paying any attention to me, and made a beeline for behind the bleachers.
Yeah, my idea was silly. Completely unrealistic.
But in a world where there were people who could manipulate space and time, and other people who could turn hot dogs into waffles, was it that much of a stretch that Joey McKnight could get the girl?
Was it too ludicrous that maybe, even in this messed up world without heroes, we could all just have a happy ending?
Isn’t that what everyone wants?
Despite what they tell you in school, everyone isn’t special. Everyone most certainly isn’t equal. Not when 20% of the population has super powers. No, some of us are just painfully average.
And that’s the word I always thought would sum up my life. “Average” An average childhood, an average student, an average career, and eventually, an average death. That’s how I thought things would go. The only thing notable in my life would be my relation to one of the greatest heroines who ever lived.
But only the first two of those things ended up coming true.
What I thought would be my normal police officer job was thrown out of whack the moment my high-school crush and super cop Shay became my partner. I didn’t think it would get any more fantastical than that.
Of course, then I found out about Carter, Raina and Malcolm, lost my job, and ended up becoming a part of Team LIghtning Bee. I was even a hero myself for short time. I’d wrestled with a real demon!
“An average career?” Hardly.
As for the “Average death”, I seriously doubted that there were many people who could claim that they died via an angel in a turtleneck and skinny jeans cutting them apart.
And unless I could pull something out of my butt, that was exactly how I was gonna go out. Not like I had any other choice. I couldn’t sit back and watch him kill Raina. Not when she finally seemed so close to becoming a truly good person.
If I did die, maybe it would have a purpose. When you’re not special, and everyone around you is, you can feel kinda like a supporting player in your own life. And if that was the case with me, maybe this was just where I exited.
Gordon started laughing. Not mockingly or anything, it was just like he’d heard a really funny joke.
“I really love human humor,” he said. “Back up in heaven, the jokes are all overly-wordy and you always have to find a way to either fit in praise for God or ill-wishes against Lucifer. Really not that funny.”
“No one’s joking,” I said, maintaining my fighting stance.
“Hmm,” Gordon muttered, tapping his finger against his chin. “Okay.”
“No, this is NOT happening,” Raina cried. “There’s no reason both of us need to die. Talk to him Captain!”
On the floor, Troyan was shaking, seemingly having a panic attack.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna kill him,” Gordon said. “No reason for that.” He turned to me. “You said were a boxer right?” He looked and sounded really excited.
“Yeah. What of it?”
“Well, I’ve been watching some movies, and I think it’s pretty cool sport. So, since I’m seriously digging these heroic vibes you’re giving off, I’m gonna give you the fairest shot I can at fighting me, by playing your game.”
Not even seeing the motion, Gordon slammed his hands on top of mine, generating a white light from them. A couple seconds later when the light cleared, both he and I were wearing rainbow colored boxing gloves.
There was another flash of light, and once it had passed, Gordon and I had lost our shirts, and we were left wearing gym shorts and sneakers.
This is actually happening, I thought. Wrestling with a demon? That was cool. Boxing an angel? Just flat out weird.
“Of course, I’ve come up with some rules to make this more fun,” Gordon said, standing on his toes, giddy as a kindergartener.
A soft hand was placed on my exposed arm.
“One sec,” I said, turning around.
“You sure you know what you’re doing?” Raina asked.
“Not really,” I answered honestly. “But he already said he won’t be killing me so at least we don’t have to worry about that.”
“No, just my life on the line then,” she said with a half smile.
I gave the same bravado filled smile I gave when I told Gordon he’d be fighting me.
“I’m not Carter bro. I’m not the one whose always looked out for you and saved you.” Her half smile became a full frown. “But I’m not letting either of you down.”
Spinning back around, I faced Gordon.
“Let’s do this.”
“There she is! There she is!” I cheered excitedly, pointing up at the sky.
I didn’t see cousin Mandy very often. It used to be because she lived in Georgia. But now that she lived in Bluejay, it was for the most awesome reason possible.
She’d become a superhero.
And right now, she was flying in the air, no doubt heading toward an exciting adventure.
“Wow,” Katie said. “Her costume is so pretty.”
“Darling’s costume isn’t pretty, it’s cool,” I corrected her.
Katie was pretty smart for a girl, but she still got some stuff wrong.
Her costume looked awesome either way though. She wore full body white spandex with pink boots, pink gloves and a pink beret. There were also pink stripes running down her arms and legs, each one ending in a pink heart. She’d also died her hair pink to match her costume, also wearing pink lipstick. The thing I knew all the guys she dated loved most about it? The heart shaped hole around the space between her boobies. I wondered if there was a name for that.
“We should follow her,” Katie said. “Maybe we can see her in action in person!”
“Great idea,” I responded, both of us lifting the foot we each had on the ground, and starting to peddle on our bikes, going in the same direction Mandy had.
Even if she was a girl, Katie was still the best friend I could ask for. We’d lived next door to each other all our lives, and I couldn’t even remember a time where we weren’t friends. We didn’t like all the same things; she preferred off-brand soda for some reason. And we didn’t want the same career; I wanted to be a hero while she just wanted to see the world.
Still, no one has everything in common with their buds. And she was more than a bud. She may as well have been my sister.
“So what’s her actual power, bro?” Katie asked. I really dug it when she called me “bro”. “Besides flying I mean.”
“You don’t remember? I wouldn’t shut up about everything she could do last week.”
“All of those things were actual powers she had? I thought you were just exaggerating. No one has that many powers.”
“But she does,” I said proudly. “Flight, super strength, super speed, and she can both absorb and release energy.”
“That’s crazy,” she said. “If she knows how to use all those powers, she’ll probably be getting recruited by The Guardianship in no time.”
Would I get to meet The Guardianship if that happened? I thought. There’s never been a better team than them, and never a better leader than Chronometer.
“Woooooooow”, I said softly.
Katie and I were pretty fast on our bikes, Katie having even won the 2nd grade bike race last year, and we knew these streets well, shortcuts and all, so we were soon able to catch up to Darling, who’d landed in the park, standing on a single foot atop a statue of the legendary hero the city was named for, Bluejay.
Looking up at her, she looked so majestic.
“Introduce me!” Katie shouted, shaking my arm. “Before she leaps into action!”
So majestic, I thought. One day, I’m gonna be a hero too.
As everything seemed to be moving in slow-motion prior to our fight starting, I couldn’t help but think about why I was really doing this.
Was I really just that selfless a person that I couldn’t stand back and let Raina die, even though she was someone who, up until today, had never once been nice to me? Was it out of a sense of duty to Carter to protect her?
Or did I really think that if I somehow pulled this off, then the woman I’d loved for half my life, returning from having kicked Smog’s ass, would be impressed with me as the only other person who beat one of these supernatural psychos.
Yeah, that last part was definitely at least partly on my mind.
It wasn’t like I was delusional and thinking that accomplishing this would make Shay fall in love with me and leave Malcolm. But maybe she’d finally remember me.
I mean, I thought for sure she’d remember me after I saved her life by killing that deranged arsonist, but then Demongeddon happened and I suppose that sort of overshadowed everything else.
“So how is this going to work?” I asked.
“Well!…” Gordon shouted, raising a finger.
“Hold on,” I interrupted, turning my head. “What are you still doing here?” I growled.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Raina said, matching my tone. She glanced around. “But I will get out of your way.”
As she helped Troyan up and walked to the back of the bus, she mouthed to me Be careful.
“Not like it’d matter if she left. I can teleport,” Gordon said.
“Of course,” I said under my breath. “Sorry for the interruption. Explain whatever rules you’ve come up with.”
“Here’s what I had in mind,” Gordon said, bouncing up and down on his heels. “There are 12 rounds max in a boxing match, right?” I nodded. “Yes, I knew it!” He thrusted his arm into the air. “Anyway, to simulate that, we’ll each have the chance for 12 blows. Above the belt. If you can knock me down for 10 seconds, OR you’re still standing after one of us has landed 12 hits, you win, and I’ll leave.”
Cheerful bastard, I sneered.
“I’ve had to tell my friends more than once that I’m not a joke. And now I’m telling you that I’m not your playmate. You’re only doing this because you want to have fun and because you think I don’t have a chance in Hell of winning.”
He tilted his head to the side.
“Do you think you do?”
Right then, every lousy time I’d been doubted flashed through my mind. But right now, scared as Raina was, this guy was the only one doubting me. Shay had trusted me to evacuate the city. That may have gotten partially botched, but I still had her trust.
With her faith in me…
“Yes,” I said, roaring and launching a right hook at Gordon’s face.
Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! I screamed internally, keeping a straight face. I’d punched a Demigod before. That hurt. Punching Gordon though was something else though. If I wasn’t wearing gloves, every bone in my hand would have broken. Wasn’t even sure some of them weren’t already.
And of course, he didn’t even flinch.
“Huh,” I said, not being able to stop myself from breathing heavily. “That…that could have been worse.”
“No,” he said. “That was a freebie.”
“Ahhhhhhh!” I screamed, flying threw the air after, faster than I could see, he jabbed my chest, launching me from the front of the bus through the emergency exit in the back, landing on the pavement.
“Joey!” Raina screamed, though it sounded blurred.
“I’m sorry God! I’m so sorry!” Troyan shouted.
Pain…so bad. Can’t think. Gotta…stand.
“You down?” Gordon asked loudly. “Do I win?”
Work…work through the pain. Just…stand up.
One hand on the area of my horribly bruised chest where I’d been hit, I pushed myself up with my other arm, stepping back into the bus. At the same time though, doing this sent a shocking pain through my whole body.
“Don’t worry,” I said, even my chest hurting even more from speaking. “I’m not offended that you started with a warm-up punch.”
Forcing a grin, I gave Raina, who was sitting in the back seat, a thumbs up.
“Why are you trying to insult me?” Gordon asked, sounding genuinely hurt. “I was about to compliment you for taking that punch. And it’s clear just from your hunched position that it did hurt you.”
Bracing myself for more of the pain from speaking, I said “You’re really into human culture, right? Well here’s something you should know. Even the best of us can be snarky bastards”
“Hmm,” Gordon said, walking toward me. “I don’t quite get it, but maybe you can teach me later.”
“Gonna be hard…” I paused, taking a moment to breath. “…when you’re dead!”
I charged at him, the agony in my chest getting worse by the second. He was probably expecting me to just lunge at him, so instead, I threw some feints. Gordon was way faster than me, but with him caught off guard, I was able to graze his shoulder.
I can’t hurt him, I thought. But to win, I only need to hit him. No need to hurt myself.
“Nice moves. I dig it.”
While I had my training to help me get hits in, there was nothing I could do about defense, Gordon uppercutting me and sending me through the glass window and back onto the street.
“Fucking Hell,” I spat, simultaneously spitting out blood.
My jaw should have been broken. No way around that. Maybe rolling with the punch had saved me, but I doubted it.
It seemed likely with the first punch, but it was obvious now. He was holding back big time.
“Stop this!” I heard Raina cry.
I can’t take…much more of this, I thought, pushing myself up again as I rolled my jaw around. Two. Maybe three more punches I could handle. Definitely…not ten.
“What do I do?”
“This is the greatest day of my life!” I cheered, Katie, Mandy and I walking through the entrance to The Guardianship’s headquarters.
Everything was so big and shiny, the walls, floor and furniture all being one or both of the team’s signature colors, black and chrome. Walking through the main lobby, there were people holding all sorts high-tech looking computers and gizmos. Also, weirdly, all these people were really, really good looking.
“I knew you’d be recruited sooner rather than later, but no one’s ever been asked to join a top level team after only two weeks before. Let alone The Guardianship,” Katie said.
We were both crazy impressed with Darling the other day at the park. The bad guys never stood a chance. Their bats broke when they swung them at her! It was kind of shame they weren’t tougher though. Would have been cool to see her lasers.
“Yeah, I’m pretty great,” Darling said, keeping her eyes forward. “Just you watch cuz,” she said, now speaking to me. “Soon enough I’ll be running this team. Then we’ll really be able to get rid of all the filth this city.” As we reached a desk, it had a certain name, rec-something I thought, Mandy looked down at us, her face kinda disturbingly sweet, “Scrub it all way.”
Katie and I smiled at each other.
Mandy pulled out her ID card from under her beret and held it in front of a scanner. She then spoke into a microphone saying, “Rank 3: Darling, two guests.”
“So where are we starting?” I asked. “The training room? The museum?”
“We aren’t starting anywhere,” she said. “Trailblazer just came across a major drug shipment and I need to make sure I get there before the cops do.”
“So who’s going to give the tour?” Katie asked.
“He’ll be down here in a minute,” Mandy answered, looking at her new gold watch. I wasn’t sure how much heroes made exactly, but it was obviously a lot. “Don’t touch anything until he’s here,” she said, starting to walk off. And, if you wouldn’t mind cuz, tell your parents I showed you around. Don’t need my hag of mom finding out and nagging me.”
“Uh, sure thing!” I exclaimed. I didn’t like lying to mom and dad, but Mandy was a hero now, and that meant she knew best.
Mandy left through the sliding doors the same way we’d come in, leaving us to wait.
“So who do you think is taking her place?” Katie asked.
“Well, she said “he”,” I started. “And Chronometer is probably too busy, you know, curing cancer or something, so that leaves Synthesis, Doctor Ductile, Stallion, oh, that magic guy that joined up a few weeks ago, Magistar, maybe Bladebust…”
“Oh, I really hope it’s Bladeurst,” Katie interrupted, moaning.
“I didn’t know you were such a big fan. I think I’ve got his trading card if you want.”
“No, I’m not a fan,” she waved me off. “I’m an…admirer. You wouldn’t get it, but he’s really good looking.”
“Ew,” I pulled back. “If you already like guys like that, cool, but he’s a grown up.”
Putting her hands on her hips, Katie said, “All I’m saying is that Bladeburst is a total dreamboat.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him that,” a gruff voice said.
Stepping out from around a corner was Panda, the only member of The Guardianship without any powers. Not like that mattered though. He was cool even without them. Like a few heroes before him, he’d made his codename his legal identity for privacy reasons. Meaning he ran his company while in costume.
“555,” Kate and I said in unison, staring up at the ginormous man. He must have been way over six feet tall.
“555” was a nickname for him we’d come up with. I got the idea from the fact that he’s one of the top 5 richest men in the world, one of the top 5 smartest men in the world, and one of the top 5 martial artists in the world.
“What was that?” He asked, putting his hand around his ear.
“Uh, nothing, Panda, sir,” she said. “I’m Katie and this is Joey, Darling’s cousin. It’s an honor to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you both too,” he said, bending down to shake both of our hands.
One place where Panda definitely wasn’t in the top 5 was my favorite costume list. It was good, but nothing special. Personally, I thought that went for most of The Guardianship’s costumes and Z-listers often had coolers costumes, but that was just me.
He wore a black motorcycle helmet with a white visor. He could see through it, but no one could see his face. Besides that, he wore a black leather jacket with white shoulders, and the face of a panda over his chest, white combat boots, and some kind of black pants.
“So, are you and Bladeburst friends?” Katie asked, still thinking about her weird crush.
“Ha,” Panda laughed. “The best. He’s like a little brother to me. Even if we don’t hang too often these days. He’s had his hands full for awhile.”
“Bad guys?” I asked.
“The worst,” Panda answered, losing his gruff voice for a moment. “But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to show you two lucky kids how Earth’s greatest heroes operate.”
Listening to our requests, Panda started our tour in the training room, a high-tech facility designed by him to make sure everyone stayed at the top of their game. The gruffness never left his voice again, but I could hear plenty of joy as he told us about all of his designs. Even if all the big words and tech stuff went right over our heads.
While we were in the museum, looking over old costumes and trophies from the team’s victories, Panda actually asked me something.
“So what’s it like?” he asked. “Darling being your cousin.”
“Only the coolest!” I shouted.
“Right,” he said, taking a breath. “Have you…have either of you ever seen Darling in action?”
“Yeah,” Katie answered, pulling her attention away from one of Guerilla Gorilla’s de-activated bombs. “Last week at the park, she effortlessly beat the crap out of some thugs.”
“First off,” he said, raising a finger. “Language. Second of all, if you don’t mind me asking, what were these “thugs” doing?”
“Nothing really,” I shrugged. “Just playing baseball. But she told us she’d spotted them robbing a store the other day, only for them to get away.”
He mumbled something that I couldn’t make out, but I heard words that sounded like “away” “speed” and “fuck”.
“Everything alright sir?” Katie asked.
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Panda answered. “Just one last question, and then I’ll show you two the armory. Katie,” he put emphasis on her name. “What did the thugs look like?”
Katie scratched the back of her head.
“Sorry, I don’t really remember too well. They were skinny, not too old looking and black. Similar skin tone to you and I, I think. That’s all I know.”
Panda nodded, making a few odd sounds with his mouth. I was just wondering why he’d only asked Katie. I didn’t remember anything else about the bad guys, but still.
“Walk with me,” he said.
He started walking toward the exit and we both followed him out of the museum, and into one of the many hallways.
“Teachers are people you should listen to,” he said. “You’ll learn a lot. But here’s two important things to know that they won’t teach you. Heroes, villains…few things in this world are as they seem. And unlike my costume, they’re never black and white.”
“Beating the crap out of you is really fun!” Gordon shouted, having just punched me for the third time. This time, he’d hit me at a downward angle, sending me to the floor, knocking out a couple teeth, and smearing blood across my face.
Gordon pulled some candy out of his pocket and popped it into his mouth.
“For real,” he said with his mouth full. “Usually I punch something and it dies instantly. Getting to just smack you around is a nice change of pace.”
I needed a plan. But…maybe I’d been thinking the wrong way. The heroes of old, they were powerhouses. They strategized and they hit with everything they had.
What I’d been trying.
But today’s greatest hero? Strong as he was getting, it had been more often than not his heart and his mouth which had saved the day.
Was I his equal in those areas? Probably not. But the fight portion of this debacle needed to end soon. He may not have been trying to kill me, but I doubted he’d lose sleep if he did so accidentally.
Here goes nothing, I thought, standing up and cracking my neck, taking another glance at Raina and Troyan.
“Is that…really…the best you’ve got?” I asked, taunting him once more. Only this time, I had more than just gusto in mind. “But before you get offended again, or throw another punch, I wanna say something.”
“I wasn’t offended before,” he lied, swallowing the rest of the candy he’d pulled out, along with a wrapper.
I smirked…or at least, I smirked as much I could with an injured jaw, missing teeth, a bruised face.
“Just hear me out,” I started. I didn’t actually have anything in mind here. I would just have to make this up as I went along. “No one…no one sane considers themselves evil. Everyone thinks whatever it is they’re doing is right. So…what heroic deed are you trying to perform with all of this?”
“Like I said before,” Gordon started, bouncing on his toes. “We’ve all got our reasons.”
“No!” I growled shaking my head, flinging drops of blood across the bus. “I am sick and tired of this secrecy bullshit! My friends not being honest with each other is why so much has gone wrong. DId you know I didn’t even know Carter was Lightning Bee until after he met Smog? It’s horse crap, and I’m done!”
I was breathing heavily, and Gordon just looked confused.
“That’s cool. Don’t see how it changes anything though.”
Opening my mouth to speak again, Gordon drove both of his fits into either side of my head, the scattering blood from my mouth ending up all over Gordon this time.
“Uuuuuuuuu,” I groaned, trying to…t…to stay standing. “Th…tha…that…that…that’s against…the rul…”
I was unable to finish that thought, vomiting up all over the floor and Gordon. My throat burning, I could see plenty of blood mixing in with the brown and green mixture. Both Raina and Gordon sounded grossed out.
“Whyyyyyy?” I hissed.
“Oh. Okay,” I said slowly, bending my knees to stay standing. Come on, I thought. Think…think of something else. “Gord…gord..y…can I call you Gordy?”
He snapped his fingers and pointed them at me.
“Is that a nickname? That’s so cool. I got a nickname! I. AM. GORDY!”
Really…really can’t get a grip on the way this guy thinks, I thought. Maybe if I say something totally random, he’ll give me something to…work with.
“I wonder if Abe will find “Gordy” sexy.” Oh. That works. “Damn Lucifer! Why did I say that out loud?!”
Don’t waste this…keep talking. Don’t lose consciousness…no matter how great that sounds.
“Gonna take a shot in the dark. Abe… is Smog?”
He alternated between nodding and shaking his head.
“Hold on,” Raina said, speaking for the first time in awhile. “You said that you hoped he found it sexy. Are you saying that you and Smog are…gay?”
Scratching his head, his boxing gloves having disappeared at a point I’d missed, he said, “Angels don’t usually do what we do so we have no word for it…but, yes. That fits.”
“Huh,” Raina sighed. “I did not see that coming.”
“You’re telling me,” I said, my body currently in the worst shape of its life all because I couldn’t see his moves coming.
My eyes were flickering open and closed. The exhilaration from when Gordon landed on the bus, the fight, the vomiting; forget the pain, exhaustion was doing me in.
“So, before we get back to boxing…”
“Actually,” he cut me off, and, in the blink of an eye, having changed us both into martial arts gi’s. “I was wondering if we could try out Brazilian jiu jitsu.”
Okay, that was enough.
“Are you crazy?” I asked. “I know some weird dudes, and I’m all for that, but I gotta know. Spill your secrets, don’t spill your secrets, whatever. What is your deal?!”
That…that got him angry. And his angry face…it was scary.
“There is nothing wrong with me,” he said, clenching his fists. “I am me. And that is OK.” Raina and I shared a concerned look. “I just like human things! That so wrong?! Because I can’t stay focused?! Because I do stupid shit like challenge my enemies to boxing matches instead of killing them?!” I’d seen things like this before. People, both friends and criminals. This was something he’d heard before. Something which had hurt him in the past.
And I’d just triggered him.
“Gordy, I’m sorry,” I said, partially meaning it, and partially terrified of how many surfaces I’d be splattered against if he stopped holding back. “Let’s just…”
“NOOOOOOO!” he screamed. Gordon was breathing just as heavily as me. “Abe loves me for me. And he’s the best. My superior in every way.” He tilted his head. “You wanted to know why I do things that I don’t agree with for him? It’s because I love him!”
It took me a few moments to process what happened next. My eyes bulged, feeling pain like I’d never felt before. Pain which I couldn’t believe I was thinking through. It was only when I looked down that I saw the cause. He’d punched through my stomach.
“Joey!” Raina cried out in terror, Gordon yanking his hand back out, and letting the blood gush out.
“Mortal weakling,” he said. “You never stood a chance.”
It’s…over, I thought, darkness encompassing my sight and mind.
“You’re moving!?” I shouted. “You can’t move!”
Whenever we had something important to talk about, Katie and I would climb a short way up Mount Bluejay. Tonight, we were lucky enough to catch a gorgeous sunset. But the awful news made its beauty mute.
“Not my choice, bro,” she said. “Sucks though.”
“No kidding,” I grumbled.
“It’s just, now that all the heroes are gone, mom isn’t sure Bluejay is safe anymore.”
Kicking some pebbled off the cliff we were sitting on, I stood up.
“Nowhere is safe anymore. What kind of crazy world doesn’t have heroes? What messed up one is it where you and I aren’t hanging out every day?!”
I was being cray cray, but for good reason. Everything I knew was being turned upside down.
Katie and got up and put an arm around me.
“It’s gonna be OK,” she said. “In regards to the heroes,” she snickered. “Come on. So all the old ones are gone. It sucks, but the news doesn’t know what it’s talking about. They’ll be new heroes running around in a month. And you and I?” She poked my increasingly large belly. “We’ve still got phones dummy. And hey, E-mail is becoming pretty simple too. We’re not gonna lose touch.”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “Yeah I guess you’re right.”
A curious look on her face, she bent down and used her newly developed power to expand the cliffside to be a lot wider.
“The world is a big place,” she said, walking away from me. “And the more we learn about it, the more it seems like its growing. Ever expanding. And…change is a part of that. That’s why I want to see it all. To see every change and detail I can.”
Putting her hand back on the ground, she compressed the cliffside back to its original state, moving her back over to where she was standing before.
“But even with as much cool stuff that’s out there, I’ll never forget what’s important to return to.”
“It’s like…like when I’m a hero. Because, like you said, heroes aren’t just going away. And well, a lot of heroes seem to think being a celebirty is more important than helping people. Warping the word. What it means to be a hero has changed. But I forget what it really means.”
Katie spat off the mountain.
“If…if heroes don’t return though, it’ll be up to us. Every normal person to take care of themselves. Man, woman and child. With how the world changes. With how we change. Everyone needs to remember what’s important to them. And protect it at all cost.”
The wind blowing through out hair, we nodded in agreement, and after a few moments of silence, we sat back down.
“Katie, do you think reading those philosophy books is why everyone has been aoivding us lately?”
“Like Hell,” I said, opening my eyes.
I was lying in my own blood, the pain still burning. But I couldn’t just accept this and die. Let Raina die. No, I wasn’t the big hero here. Just a normal guy. But as someone who was a big hero once told me, things are never so black and white.
Arms trembling, I dragged my fingers through the puddle of my wet blood, still warm, just pushing through the pain to move my arm over the hole in me. Wasn’t too sure how I was still alive, but the last thing I needed after a miracle was to just bleed out.
Gordon was standing over Raina, sword in hand. He still looked angry.
I didn’t even see Troyan.
Just a flesh wound, I lied to myself, starting to drag myself toward Gordon with my free arm.
“If you have any prayers you’d like to make, now is the time,” Gordon said.
“You know who my dad is. And I stand against him. Don’t think I’ll be praying,” she snarked.
So brave, I thought, my teeth grit and eyes clenched shut as tightly as possible.
“Very well then,” he said, raising his sword. “Goodb…”
“Come on Gordy!” I shouted, reaching out and grabbing Gordon’s ankle. Just looking at his eyes, I could tell he was stunned. “What kind of pussy ass angel can’t kill an ordinary human like me?”
“You’re,” Gordon started.
“Alive,” Raina finished, relief in her tone.
“That’s…that’s not possible,” he spoke, sword lowered. “Are you literally holding your guts in? Even if you somehow survived, how is it possible that you’re talking?!”
Almost as if in response, I coughed up some more blood.
“Not sure,” I said. “But you’re the one in love with a guy who seems to know everything. So if you don’t know the answer…how should I?” Both he and Raina just continued to stare at me, the former with confusion and the latter with worry. “Listen,” I started back up. “I”m sorry I said what I said. I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Oh really?” Gordon asked with a healthy dose of smarm. “See I’m smart enough to understand sarcasm. Even Abe’s brothers never got that!”
“I mean it,” I grunted, starting to lose feeling all over my body. “I was…I was just getting frustrated. Running out of options! Maybe…maybe that’s how I’m still alive. Because I’m just pushing myself as hard as I can to save her. Like I hope I would for anyone.”
He looked to be believing me. Hopefully…
“You’re right!” he instantly perked up. “That has to be how you’re alive!”
“Huh?” I moaned, the utter exhaustion I was feeling before the punch through the stomach happened catching up to me.
“It’s all about the soul!” he shouted. “Mortals are weak and squishy. But they’re also the only species to have souls, which in some cases, are among the strongest power sources in the universe. Thing is, even humans with strong souls don’t have the ability to tap into it. Hell, the whole reason Abe became interested in Carter is because he could.”
“So…I’m like Carter?” I asked.
Gordon looked like he was about to speak, but then he frowned.
“Know what? I should probably take care of this first.”
“NO!” I screamed, more blood flying out of my mouth as I anticipated him murdering Raina.
But that wasn’t what he did.
Instead he put a hand on me, and with another flash of light, I was fully healed, save the exhaustion. The feeling of going from having a mortal wound to being perfectly healthy was honestly better than sex.
“Woooooow,” I said in awe, Raina’s jaw dropping.
Gordon held out a hand to help me stand, but he quickly pulled it back.
“You really didn’t mean to insult my feelings?” he asked.
Only Gordon could go back and forth between talking about his feelings and cosmic principles so suddenly and casually.
“I didn’t,” I said. “And you know, since you didn’t kill Raina just now, I think I’ve got a better nickname for you than Gordy.”
“Really?!” he asked excitedly. Raina had a confident look on her face, seeming to think I finally had a real plan here.
I appreciated the faith.
“Yup,” I said, reaching my arm out. “Gordon bro.”
And then…he squeed. Like a fangirl.
He pulled me up, and with another white flash, we were back in the clothes we’d started in.
“So…” Raina said awkwardly. “You’re not gonna kill me?”
“I mean,” he started. “I need to. Abe will be mad otherwise. But maybe he’d understand? Maybe if I told him there was another candidate he’d take that as a consolation?”
“Candidate?” Raina asked.
“Well yeah, we, NO, no, I can’t spill any more beans!”
“Gordon bro,” I said, resting a hand on his shoulder. “If you wanna keep that name, you gotta tell us what’s up, and you’ve got to let Raina live.”
Anxiety plain on his face, he turned back and forth between Raina and I.
“I only have Abe and Salaran,” he said. “Don’t have anyone else. “Bro” is something you call your friends. You really want me as a friend? I’ve done so many horrible things.”
“Bro,” I said, actually not having to force a smile. “If you’re talking about being different in some way, there’s nothing horrible about that. And if it’s about having killed people? Sick as it is, most of the people I hang out with have killed as well. Even I have. We’re both nice guys, right? Both trying to do the right thing? Tell us what you’re doing. Maybe…maybe we can end all of this peacefully. Just all of us get together and talk it out!”
“Yeah!” he shouted ecstatically. “That sounds…” the cheerfulness faded. “No, it’s too late for that.”
“What do you mean?” Raina asked, actually walking over to us.
“I mean,” he said. “In a matter of minutes, your friends Shay and Malcolm will be dead. And I don’t think peace will be an option then.”
“Malcolm,” Raina whispered.
Shay, I thought.
“How…how do you know that?” I asked, my whole body trembling again.
“Because it’s the only way this can go,” he spat. “Carter didn’t show up, and that means those that did are going to die. This has all been about him! We wanted to make him suffer!” He paused. “And now I guess you all will.”
“No,” Raina said, getting up in his face. “No. You’re his lover. You can teleport! You wanna be Joey’s friend, how about you go there and get your fucking lover to stop?!”
“I can’t do that!” he shouted back. “We’ve put too much time into this. I’m not sure how you did what you did Joey, but I don’t think Abe will be satisfied with a mortal who can only use their soul upon being mortally wounded!” He paused. “He won’t listen to me. And even if I wanted to, and I never would, I couldn’t fight him. I’m completely outclassed.”
As Raina and I once again shared a look of mutual emotion, my mind started racing.
I’d never made detective. But I’d still picked up plenty of things. Always kept my brain moving. And right there, everything just started falling into place like puzzle pieces.
Cartoonishly evil…but his lover isn’t.
This has all been about making Carter feel despair…because maybe his weird powers came directly from his soul?
The rest of us were just pawns to move around…but the first murders which were committed happened before Raina and Carter met and Malcolm came to Bluejay.
Spur of the moment. Not planned in advance.
He’d been afraid of a witch when he attacked the Troupe Experience…still don’t know who that was…but he is an enemy of a sorcerer.
Adam wanted to wipe out humanity. But Abe’s lover….one of only two people he “had”…he loves our culture. And he’s nice!
Abe and Adam are enemies…the former’s cabal really was trying to do good?
But not alone. Abe can’t beat a magic user alone!
Back to Carter…
His power…triggered by fear. They wanted to provide more?
The long wait.
Abe purposely put the rematch months in advance to give time for fear to build.
If he wanted Carter to get more powerful…he was only making him hate him. They’d never be able to work together.
Especially if he killed Malcolm and…
I shook my head.
So he didn’t want to work with him…but he wanted him to be more powerful.
A “Candidate.”…Strong mortal souls were incredibly powerful…and Abe didn’t have one. But being able to tap into it mattered too.
I didn’t have it all figured out, but I thought I finally had a pretty good idea of what was going on. What had been going on for months.
And more importantly…
“Gordon, I need you to send me to City Hall. Now.”
“What?” they both reacted with shock.
“Have you lost it?” Raina asked. “Did having a near death experience make you want to die?”
“No, of course not,” I spat. I was taking breaths again, but now they were longer and deeper. “But…I think I know a way to save Shay. And Malcolm. Odds of me coming out of it alive, yeah, they’re slim. But I think I can pull it off.”
“But Joey,” he said. “We just became friends.”
“And friends help each other,” I replied. “Plus, if I do make it out alive, I’ll take you to a real boxing match. My treat.”
He opened and closed his mouth a few times, each time a different syllable starting off.
“OK,” he resigned.
“No, not OK!” Raina shouted. “Joey, you were just giving it everything you had to protect me, despite how I’ve always treated you. I…I refuse to allow you to go on a suicide mission!”
Half-grinning, I shook my head.
“Sorry Raina bra, you don’t really have a say in the matter,” I said, ruffling her hair. She’d have probably killed me for that under normal circumstances but her hair was already in terrible shape.
“Idiot,” she growled, lowering her head and tightening her fists.
“Are you ready?” Gordon asked.
There were things I wanted to do. People I wanted to say goodbye to, just in case. My parents. Katie. Carter and Eve. Troyan, who I figured must have gotten kicked out of the bus by Gordon. All the people who’d helped lead me where I am.
But there wasn’t any time. The woman I loved was going to die, and I was the only one who could save her. High school me would have loved this chance. But then again, hich school me probably would have also thought he had a good chance of seeing the other side of this plan.
“Just one more thing,” I said, making sure I was now looking Raina in the eye. “You’re gonna be the world’s greatest hero one day. That’s what Carter believes. Heard him say it out loud earlier. I believe it too. And to some extent, so does everyone else I think.” Inhabitions basically gone at this point, I wrapped my round body around her petite one. “But please, even if that it what lies in your future, try to be nicer to Shay. For me.”
Surprisngly, she squeezed back. The hug only lasted a few seconds, but it was still great to finally see this side of her first-hand.
“Be careful,” she said, wetness in her eyes.
“Last time you said that, I ended up with a hole in my stomach,” I joked. Turning around, I faced Gordon and said, “OK. Let’s go.”
“So tight,” I said, pulling up the waistline of my new uniform.
After half a year of training in the academy, I’d finally become a police officer. Sure, I wouldn’t be fighting villains or anything, but as I’d gotten older, reality had settled in, and I’d become content with just getting a job where I could help people.
Having assisted Troyan for so long had paid off. He’d gotten promoted to captain a couple years ago, and so he was able to make sure I got stationed here in Bluejay. After backpacking for long, it was nice to be able to be home.
After Katie had moved away, and then a week later all the heroes disappeared, I thought things were going to be terrible forever.
But they weren’t.
I’d had a good run in high school, I’d met up with Katie again and I got to spend some time seeing the world with her, and now, here I was, ready to enter the next chapter of my life. Nothing was going to hold me back.
“You look great Joey,” Captain Troyan said, walking over to me. I was still getting used to seeing him in a suit.
“Thanks Tr…Captain. You, uh, too.”
“Riiiiiight,” he stretched out. “You already know the station and where everything is, but there are some finer points you need to learn now that you’re one of us. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time so I’m going to leave that to your new partner.”
“Yes sir,” I said.
Should I have said that? I thought. He wasn’t giving me an order.
Turning his head to look down the hall, he commented, “Ah, there they are now.”
I’d been wondering what my partner would be like. Maybe he’d be super muscular. Maybe he’d share my secret love for scrapbooking. Would he be powerless, a Median or a Demigod? No matter what, I’d already decided that I wouldn’t hold them back, and we’d be great friends.
“Nice to meet you,” she said with a voice I’d never forgotten as she turned the corner. “ I’m Shay.” As she finished, she put out her hand for a shake.
I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. All the time I’d spent thinking about her in high school. All the fantasies I’d had of something like this happening…and now it was.
But…it looked like I was right. She’d introduced herself and she had a perfectly good look at me. Sure I’d grown a beard, but I didn’t look too different from how I did in high school.
She’d forgotten about me.
But she was just as beautful as ever. Had the same warm smile and the same good vibes. She was even more buff than I’d ever seen her.
Was it a good idea? To play the asshole like I’d always thought of doing? Maybe. But first…first I was going to make a good impression.
Swining my arm down, I clasped her hand in mine.
“Pleasure to meet you too. And I want to promise you right now that so long as we’re partners, I will always have your back.”