The Cult of Midnight: Lights, Camera, Music

Black ops weren’t what they used to be, mused Emi as she sat. Not that she had a problem with that, but… it was a bit of an adjustment to make.

 

Nat was already there, floating gently behind Emi on blurry, gossamer, incorporeal wings. Ey had eschewed eir normal showy attire for a matte black catsuit, complete with matching gloves and moccasins. Even eir orange head of hair was obscured with a bandanna.

 

Pandora sprinted into the briefing room, sliding on the ground for a couple feet before finally coming to a halt. She was decked out in her usual attire: heavy headphones atop her head, MP3 player at her side, a neon-blue cross-top covering a decent portion of her upper body whilst her worn and baggy jeans fell around her hips to reveal the pair of neon-pink dance nylons below. Her platinum-blonde and purple-highlighted hair was slick with water from the shower and her cheeks were flushed a faint shade of crimson. [We… I mean… Ummm… Uhhh… I hope I am not late. Did I miss anything?] She signed hurriedly, waving to Nat and Elliot when she spots them.

 

Alex was running at a much slower pace than pandora, and his boots thumped into the briefing room right after her. He was in a tight but wrinkled under armor legion logo shirt as well as some wrinkled grey cargo pants. “Uh. Hey. We came as fast as we could.” He said a bit quietly with a bashful shade of red on his face as his mess of black hair hung wetly over his face. He eased from one leg to another uncomfortably. “How can we help?”

 

Elliot was already there in the meeting room when those two arrived, grinning and waving at Pandora.  He was in what looked like motorcycle gear with strange reflective panels up the jacket and the sides of the legs.  He didn’t look uncomfortable, though, helmet under his arm.  It was taking all of his will not to bounce up and down out of excitement– he’d already been told to please stop once.

 

“No one is late.” Emi said, favouring the Neon Ops team with a smile. “I have an important duty for the Neon Ops team, and I’m glad you could arrive. This is a mission of monumental importance, and we cannot afford any mistakes. Anathema is the most powerful psychic we know about on Earth, and she has been building a web of mind control for what looks like two decades now. We are going to attempt to break all of that down in a matter of days.” Emi pauses, dark eyes scanning the crew. “No pressure.”

“So hype. I am so hype right now.”

 

Alex straightens up,saluting. “You can count on us!”

 

Vin nods eagerly and gives a two-handed thumbs-up before realizing that the fly of her pants were not currently zipped up and doing that with an even brighter blush.

 

Normally, Nat would be as rambunctious as anyone else, but ey closed eir eyes, took a deep breath, and nodded. “I’m ready.”

 

Emi nodded. “I’m going to be frank. I don’t want any of you engaging with Anathema herself. None of you are ready, and I won’t risk any of you. That doesn’t mean you don’t have an important job to do. I hope that won’t cause any issues. There’s no room for glory hounds, here.”

Alex nods. “Keeping innocent lives safe is glory enough for me ma’am.” His stance was still uncomfortable, but he forced himself to stay focused.

 

[How will we be breaking her enchantment?] Vin asked after a short period of silence, looking over to Nat with a small look of worry. It was not like her to be so reserved. The new hero’s hands were shaking a little with nervous energy. ((Tag~!))

 

Elliot gives his helmet a little twirl and pops it on his head just in time to hide that he’s pouting at the HAVE NO EPIC HERO MOMENTS commentary.  He’s willing to play but the rules but but but– okay fine.  Helmet clicks into place, and all those lights on his helmet and suit light up, warming up more like.

 

“Check, check, and check. Also, I don’t know if sick beats are enough to like, jog their brains a bit? I mean, I don’t wanna give them a concussion to snap them outta it?”

 

“I’m capable of restraining them until the spell can be broken if necessary.” Alex said hopefully, thick branches growing from his wrists, wrapping around one another in demonstration.

 

“The last time we faced Anathema in such a manner, we learned that defeating her, taking her in, was enough to break the enchantment. I’m not sure why, or the details behind it, but she’s the root of the problem. That’s not to say that you won’t be playing an important role.” Emi taps her fingers against her chin. “The last time we faced her, we were also woefully unprepared. She was able to use her mind controlled assets against us. We need to keep them distracted and unable to act on their master’s orders.” Emi smiles again, a small and wry one. “Lights Show, Pandora, Alex. You’re going on tour.”

LED Hearts literally EXPLODE on the screen on Lights Show’s helmet. “YASSSSSSSSSS.” And he strikes the success kid pose, because he is SO DOWN for this.

 

Vin could not help but grin widely at this. She turned to watch Elliot and chuckled silently as she began to think more about what it was they would be attempting. [I have a feeling that this show is going to get a little wild. Cannot wait to try out my moves in that mosh pit.]

 

Alex smiles. He didn’t have as much show business experience, but he’d make a good stage hand. “You got it! We won’t let you or the legion down!”

 

Nat offered the rest of the team a tight smile. “You’re all going to do an amazing job. Emi put a lot of trust in me when she agreed to scout all of you, but… I’m so confident it was the right call. Please stay safe. We can’t lose any of you.”

 

Wait wait wait a MINUTE here, HOLD THE FRONT DOOR. “Nat. Bae. Um… You okay?  I mean. You’re comin’ with us, right…. OH NO NO NO, YOU ARE NOT USING HER AS BAIT, W-T-F!!!” And W-T-F is displayed on his mask, all big, red, and angry.

 

A similar anger blossomed in Vin, her teeth clenching and one of her hands becoming a fist. She does not sign anything, however, not wanting to get on the boss’ bad side so soon. Pandora does look to Nat though, even more concern showing.

 

Emi stared at Lights Show for a long minute, smile gone and replaced with a cold mask. “Did I say that, Elliot?”

“It’s okay.” Nat held up one hand, then fixed eir eyes on Elliot. “I asked for this. This mission is more important and personal to me than any other we’ve had so far, and… I have connections to the people we’re dealing with that no one else has. I have to do everything I can here. Please understand. I’ll… do everything I can to make it back alive.”

 

Emi turned her gaze onto Nat next. “Did I say I was bringing you as bait, Bug?” She shakes her head. “We have bait already. She’s eight feet tall in a suit of golden armour. I’m bringing you as my apprentice, Nat. I’m teaching you. And I will die before I let anything happen to you.”

Alex listened in, a determined look growing on his face. “You are both going to come back though. We all know you will.” He smiled to the rest of his group reassuringly. This wasn’t a time for anger. It was one for support. “And we are going to do our best to make sure you both come back.”

 

“No, I– I know, I’m not there as bait. I just recognize that I’m gonna be in the thick of it, and I can’t turn my Lure off, and just–“

 

Vin let Alex’s words calm her. She closed her eyes and nodded as she took in a series of deep breaths. When she next opens her eyes, she turned to her first friend in this new world of hers and gives em a hug.

 

Lights Show just couldn’t stand there anymore.  He walked up– bounced up, semantics— and threw his arms around Nat, hugging eir tight. “Hey, I believe in you, you Sexy Damselfly, so knock ‘em all a good one.” His helmet winked at eir, since his face was covered and all. “Love ya and see ya soon.”

 

“Yeah,” Nat’s voice was a little thick. “Be seeing you all. Real soon.”

 

Emi smiled at the Neon Ops crew.


She had a feeling everyone was gonna be alright.

 

The Cult of Midnight: The Sound of Freedom

DELTA, COLORADO

 

The call came in the evening, right around the time that a civilized person should be winding down their day, spending time with their family and getting ready to rest their heads. Emma Roberts should not have needed to watch her flock that night, should not have had to tend to their loyalty, should not have had to preach the word of midnight.

 

But then a call came. “Begging your pardon, Miss Roberts,” came the voice of one of her most loyal children.

 

“It’s all right, Andy. What is it?”

 

“There’s… something I think you’d better see. In person.”

 

Emma gaped at the colorful concert stage, a panicked note rising in her heart upon seeing the crowd gathering to watch. “How… how did this happen? In our town!”

 

“They set up real quiet, Miss Roberts, in only a couple hours,” Andy said meekly. “At the edge of town, we didn’t notice until they’d turned that bus into a… a–“

 

“A platform of sin,” Emma hissed. “We’re going to go up there and let them know they’re not welcome here, before the–“

 

–music started.

 

<Intro Track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUILQOVt4vU Astronaut – Feronia>

 

Standing atop the bus and augmented by its embedded amplification and systems, Lights Show blew imaginary kisses at the audience, then lit up the night with sound and light.

 

Pandora already stood near the front of the stage, facing out towards the audience as she closed her eyes and let the beat move through her. She started out by tapping her foot and bobbing her head in time to the groove and then, opening her bright yellow eyes to see the gathering crowd began to dance in full. Her headphones rested around her neck, this being one of the few times in which she removed them. As she danced she moved through the crowd to take people’s hands in her own as she moved with them a little so as get them into the beat as well, working her hardest to snap them out of whatever trance they might have been dragged into.

 

A few people were already moving a little bit to the beat, bobbing their heads or swaying. Almost all of them were teens, standing near the front of the crowd and listening as if a bit confused but liking what they were hearing. The faces of the adults further back showed mostly confusion as well, but some disgust and anger.

 

Pandora had no trouble drawing in some of the kids near the front of the near-ground-level modular ‘stage’, who gaped at the colorful, beautiful, fascinating woman moving near them.

 

Knowing full-well that the best way to get people dancing was to start with something simple, Pandora dashed with remarkable speed back to stand atop the stage. She jumped, throwin a single fist up into the air with a wide smile as she led the crowd to fist pump in time to the beat. Her eyes were gazing over the group near the back, however, knowing full well that if trouble were to arise, it would come from back there.

 

Sure enough, there was a bit of a kerfuffle. A woman with long brown hair in a simple, puritan, buttoned dress was speaking in an agitated fashion to a younger man who wore a mullet and a stricken expression. Several adults walked up to her and said something, jerking a thumb toward Vin and her crew. The woman shook her head, holding up a palm, and the adults who had approached her reluctantly backed away. She was in charge.

 

Meanwhile, the younger crowd had caught the infectious energy, bouncing on the balls of their feet, some of them pumping their fists along with Vin and a few dancing on their own. Those on the edge of the crowd were drawn back by parents or older friends, but a few of the adults were starting to feel the energy, smiling, nodding their heads.

 

Alex had hopped out of the bus with a big friendly smile and a giant bucket full of glow sticks, glow bracelets, glow just about anything under the sun. He jumped and pumped his fist to the music as he made his way through the crowd, chatting the kids up and handing them out liberally, going through looking for just the people who weren’t quite into it yet. Encouraging them with a friendly face, making sure they knew there was nothing wrong with a little music in your life!

 

Pandora chuckled silently as Alex stepped out and began to pump his fist in time to the music, raising two fingers to her lips and blowing a sharp whistle to get his attention. She waved her hands and pointed to the glow bracelets, clearly asking for him to toss her a couple to wear as she began to liven up her dancing to include far more intricate moves.

 

The woman in the back was stalking around the edge of the crowd. Her only follower seemed to be the mullet-bearing young man; she seemed to think that she could stop this herself, somehow. She kept a berth from the stage as she reached the front of the crowd, turned, and started to shout back at the audience, catching the attention of some of the kids dancing at the edge.

 

Seeing the stalking woman approach the front, Alex quickly tossed the glow sticks to Vin with a wide grin before searching through the bucket, throwing more into the crowd until finally…he found what he needed.

 

Taking his giant megaphone he pushed to the front of the crowd, standing right next to the shouting woman.

 

“Delta Colorado let’s hear it for the dj who brings the Dazzle, man who’s a meistro! The one, the only, Dj lightshow!” His voice roared over the woman as he motioned to the DJ behind him, who brought the beats with a BOOM.

 

Lights Show responded by launching the next song even louder than the first, drowning out the woman’s words.

 

<Next Song: https://youtu.be/nnAy1906EHg Aero Chord: Break Them (feat. Anna Yvette)>

 

Pandora’s eyes burst into a fiery red as the newest song came on and she grinned as she felt a flame of power stir in the soles of her feet. Flipping onto her hands, the expert dancer began to spin and twirl as trails of multicolored fire painted the air behind her feet so as to light up the stage even more than it had before. Rolling through moves and break dancing in ways that very few had seen before, the woman was putting on quite the show to match the beat which Lights Show blasted over the crowd.

 

The woman realized quickly that she was being drowned out in both sound and spectacle; Vin’s special effects had caught the attention of even many of the adults who’d stayed detached until now. She turned to glare at Vin, her eyes blazing a bright amethyst.

 

Alex hopped right back into the crowd, this time using his powers to grow bright and colorful bioluminescent flowers all along his forearms and fingers, handing them this way and that, sticking them in girls hair, tying them into bracelets. He even managed to slip some on Vins ankles with a swift move of his hands as she break danced. He flashed her a wink, turning to the approaching…huh. Looked like a stereotypical principle from those TV shows. “Looks like we made somebody angry.”

 

Holding herself upside-down with one arm, Vin blew Alex a kiss from where she danced on the stage before turning her gaze to the amethyst-eyed woman. She grinned a grin which basically read “I DARE YOU” in all-capital letters before turning her attention back onto the crowd and flipping onto her feet with a backwards twirl which colored the air with two bright arcs of flame over her head.

 

Eyes blazing, the woman started to shout something at Vin, but realized that she wouldn’t be heard. Scowling, she rummaged in a purse at her side, turning up a marker and notebook. She scribbled furiously for a moment and held up a page:

What are you DOING

More scribbling, then:

Who sent you???

 

While the principal was busy, Alex snuck back into the bus. He had drinks to prep!

 

Pandora chuckled and knelt by the edge of the stage, plucking the woman’s notepad and marker from her fingers before scribbling her own message down and flipping it over for the woman to see.

Dancing and throwing a party, DUH!

We are here as a part of Light Show’s “Blow Your Mind” Tour.

She then tossed the notepad and marker back to the woman with an eyebrow raised and her arms crossed as if to say “can I get back to my job now?”

 

The woman wrote as quickly as she could, which was admittedly not as quickly as Vin wrote, but she eventually turned the notepad around, reading:

We did not hire a light show. You are here to tempt my children to sin.

Give me one good reason that I should not break this party up at once.

 

Vin took the notepad and marker back, scribbling on the pad of paper and revealing it.

  1. Because everyone is having a great time
  2. Because I have gotten into the groove and do not want to stop
  3. Because THEY have gotten into the groove and do not want to stop
  4. Because, deep down, you honestly want to join in on the fun
  5. Because you know you cannot break up this party anyway

She grinned a devilish smile and politely handed the pen and paper back to their owner.

 

“Free sodas and drinks in front of the party bus!  First come first serve!” Turning around there was a wooden, very natural looking stand as the beefcake hype man gladly passed out drinks of choice to anyone and everyone. He did not ask for IDs, and everyone who got a drink got their own bioluminescent something. Folks were really starting to let loose now.

 

Stricken, the woman turned away, staring at Alex, then taking a halting step forward, then stopping. She turned back to Vin, who’d already gone back to dancing and hyping the crowd. She seemed unsure of what she could or should do, paralyzed with indecision and helplessness. A few of her loyal followers stepped forward as if to help her, but she was unable to come up with a command, so they stood as still and helpless as she.

 

Vin had taken note of this, of course, and lept down from the stage to grab the woman’s hand. She pulled her gently towards the stage and then eagerly helped her up onto it. The woman now stood in front of a sea of party-goers who were all having a fantastic time as the music and spectacle washed over them like a cleansing wave. Pandora bumped her hip with the once-upon-a-time leader and gave her a thumbs up as she grooved in time to the music and gestured out to the crowd. The motion was clear: “They are having fun. Why don’t you?”

 

Before she could reply, Alex took note of what Vin was doing and added “And let’s not forget to give a roaring round of applause for the lovely pandora, and the woman who graciously welcomed us all here tonight!”  He motioned at the two on stage grandly. He bet she’d never heard applause like that as an oppressive cult leader.

 

The woman held up her hands as if to object, but halted as she saw the reaction of the crowd. Upon the announcement that she had supported this performance– though a clear lie –had been the step that most of the crowd needed to let go of the last of their reservations. Emma nearly flinched at the intensity of the cheer.

 

She turned to Vin, and for a moment that amethyst light in her eyes guttered like a candleflame in the wind. She said something that Vin couldn’t hear, but it was easy to read her lips:

 

“How?”

 

Pandora chuckled and pointed to the speakers, the lights, and the crowd of dancers with a wide sweep of her arm. She then pointed to the woman’s her ears before drawing a faint line from them to the woman’s heart. When she had reached the approximate area over the vital organ, Pandora gave it a gentle poke as if to emphasize her point. Music touches the heart.

 

She then grabbed the Emma’s hand in her own and raised it above their heads, gesturing to her with a flourish to inspire a chorus of cheering from the crowd. This, she thought, this would be the sound that brought change tonight.

 

She could see Alex beaming up at her, glad to see their plan was working. He let out a cheer and rallied with the crowd. “Now let’s get this party pumping!” He gave LS a thumbs up and large explosions of light blasted in the skies along the beat.

 

<Neon Ops Coup de Grace Track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0h2u87JwyA Madeon – Finale>

 

Emma looked over the cheering crowd, felt the music thrumming in her chest, stared into the middle distance, thinking about Pandora’s words. Gradually, the mask of indignant horror on her face began to melt, and Vin could almost feel a sensation like crystal breaking.

 

As Emma Roberts blinked away tears, the purple light in her eyes flickered, then flared, then died forever.

 

She fell to her knees and wept.

 

Pandora went to Emma’s side, wrapping an arm around her in a comforting manner as she smiled. She opened a palm in front of the woman, dazzling lights dancing through her fingertips as the music continued to pump its power into her. Lifting Emma’s gaze to her own, magenta eyes blazing, Vin smiled and gave her a hug before helping her back onto her feet and providing her with as much support as she needed before raising a single hand into the air and giving a thumbs up which created a dazzling explosion over her head in a show of triumph.

 

They had freed another town from Anathema’s control. They were winning.

 

When in Rome

P-MART GAS STATION

ROMULUS, MICHIGAN

 

They’d been driving on Route 94 for way longer than Vin felt was appropriate. She didn’t even know particularly where they were, only that when Alex had pulled off the highway to gas up the van in a town called ‘Romulus’, Vin had immediately begged off to ‘stretch her legs’, anything to get out of the stuffy vehicle interior for a little while.

 

The trip was still lots of fun, but a person can only take that kind of travel for so long. So she walked along the sidewalk, doing a lap around the building, when something caught her eye: a bit of graffiti. It looked like.. an eye with a horizontal line drawn through it, in pinkish spray paint. Then, over that, someone had put an X through it and written the word ‘MURDERER’ above. Odd.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glmBscKJ530 Stonebank – Eagle Eyes>

 

Vin tilted her head to the side as she examined the odd graffiti, walking up to it and running her fingers lightly over its outline. She shrugged, deciding that this must have been some kind of an inside joke between two taggers and turned to continue her walk as she bobbed her head in time to the song echoing through her headphones.

 

“Scuse me, miss,” an authoritative voice said behind her.

 

When she turned, she saw a tall man and an even taller woman in standard police uniforms and sunglasses. A cop car was parked not far away; had they been staking out the graffiti?

 

“Mind if we ask you a few questions?” The male cop asked.

 

She raised an eyebrow at the pair, looking between them before shrugging and nodding. The mute woman pointed over her shoulder at the graffiti with her thumb before shaking her head in a manner to say that that was not her doing.

 

“Oh, we know,” the woman growled. “We know exactly who’s responsible for that.”

 

“Mighty fancy bus you got there, miss. What brings you into town?” The other cop asked.

 

Vin pointed to her headphones and MP3 player. She then opened up her palm, pointed to a specific spot on it, and drew a line through it in an attempt to say “just passing through.”

 

“Good,” the woman nodded, then lowered her sunglasses and peered over them at Vin. “We heard about your little band, yeah? We don’t need that kind of show around here. So once your little stooge gets done gassing up your freak van, just drive on out and don’t come back. This is Jorja’s turf.”

 

CODEX UNLOCKED: Jorja Stevenson

Human. Villain. Stevenson is a Human Rights Activist, extremist, and terrorist who believes in human supremacy and the end of Paranormals. She’s unafraid to throw a Molotov or assault a Paranormal in order to achieve her goals. She’s taken over a fair amount of Detroit, and has been working to purge the city of those who would threaten her goals.

 

“We’re not looking for trouble any more than you are,” the man smiled, clearly playing ‘good cop’ out of the pair. “We just want a nice peaceful town. Get me?”

 

Man, what on Earth crawled up her ass and died? Vin thought grumpily to herself as the woman insulted her and her friends. The new superhero crossed her arms and looked more than a little displeased. She had done nothing wrong that she could think of and yet was getting harangued by some uppity policewoman. Turning to look at the kinder of the pair, Vin nodded and made to leave as she ground her teeth together.

 

“Fuckin’ Para scum,” the woman muttered under her breath, and then there was a heavy thud and a cry of pain, and a small spatter of blood appeared on the pavement at the peripheral of Vin’s vision.

 

When she turned, she saw the female officer stumbling up from the ground, clutching at a long cut on her forehead that was bleeding freely. The male officer had already drawn his pistol, and was casting frantic glances about, searching for a target.

 

“You!” The woman on the ground growled, struggling to stand and draw her gun with a bloodied hand. “You brought her here! Are you working with her??”

 

Vin turned quickly, her bright eyes scanning the environment for whatever had attacked the female officer as she drew power from the song in her ears to heighten her senses to perceive the auras of those around her. She was not certain whether she wanted to thank them for doing what she wished she could have done or chew them out for attacking an innocent bystander, but she did know that this individual had just made things considerably more difficult for the band of superheroes traveling through the town. Even if she denied bringing… whoever it was the female officer was referring to, they probably would not believe her. She shook her head regardless. Might as well TRY to keep the peace, right?

 

Something glowed at the edge of her vision as she scanned the area: an aura, something alive, pulsing with protean strength and wound tight like a coiled spring. The shape… was distinctly not human, crawling along the roof of the P-mart store. Stalking them.

 

“Fuck you!” The officer struggled to her feet, drawing her pistol and pointing it straight at Vin. “Fuck this, and fuck you, and fuck your freak mascot! I’d gone months without getting marked, and this is how it happens? This?”

 

“Calm down, Deborah!” The male officer barked, still scanning the area. “She’s still here somewhere.”

 

<Current Song: https://youtu.be/ddFAIkUb7A0 Varien – Valkyrie>

 

As the song changed, the auras the woman had once been able to see faded away into nothing and her eyes turned to a bright-silver hue as a shimmering sword of frozen energy appeared in the woman’s hand. Sprinting past the female officer and shoving the weapon into the side of the building as she used it as a mobile hand-hold to help her scale the rough wall.

 

“Hey!” The male officer shouted, as his partner cursed and tried to wipe the blood dripping down into her eyes. “Stop!”

 

Vin reached the roof of the stubby building in moments, and the creature atop it wheeled to face her. It was a repulsive thing, spiky mottled fur all over with patches of scales showing through, long forelimbs and curved back ones that allowed it to crawl on four wicked claws.

 

Its face, however, was mostly human, save for the slavering maw full of fangs. Its eyes widened and it tensed, ready to lunge.

 

“Legionnaire!” The beast snarled. “Stand down! I am not your enemy.”

 

Not entirely certain of that fact, Pandora continued to face down the creature. She bounced on the balls of her feet in time to the music pumping through her headphones, testing the grip on her new weapon to find one that suited her best. Then, with a flourish, she pointed down at where the woman below had been injured and shakes her head in a disappointed fashion.

 

“Don’t pass judgment on what you don’t understand,” the beast growled, its eyes straying toward the frozen blade, “those people down there serve and protect humans only, and only some humans. They’re the rot making this city sick.”

 

Pandora shrugged, pointed to the pair of cops on the ground floor with her blade, and then gestured between herself and the creature standing before her. Sure, it was not her place to judge anyone or anything, but it totally was her place to protect those who could not effectively protect themselves. Even if they were dicks.

 

Still, she did not want to fight. Her powers wore her out and she did not want to use them any more than she necessarily had to. As such, she extended a hand to the creature.

 

The creature eyed the extended hand and growled, “I need to mark the other one and escape, before they call for backup. Just… get out of the way and let me do my job. Please.”

 

Pandora shook her head and extended her hand again. It was clear that she was not going to let this creature pass to harm another individual. It was also clear that she did not want to fight. Come on… Just take my hand and leave. Then I can let you go. She continued to bounce on the balls of her feet just in case.

 

“You fucking Legionnaires,” the beast snarled, circling her, “this is why they’re winning. This is why I’m fighting this war alone. Damn you. Now I have to do this the messy way.”

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMokMQ8Bu7Y Pegboard Nerds & Tristam – Razor Sharp>

 

Before Vin could react, the creature was a streak of fur and scales, leaping from one side of the roof to the other, far faster than a human. At first it seemed like the beast was zig-zagging its way toward Vin, but she quickly realized by its trajectory that it was aiming past her, to the edge of the roof. Toward the crooked cops.

 

She leapt off the roof with the creature, facing it in the air with vibrant-blue eyes as she spun to plant a kick straight into its abdomen with as much force as she could muster; the sword in her hand dissipating into thin air. The aim for her kick was exceptional as it hit the mark as perfectly as she could have imagined. Pandora landed with a cloud of dust kicking up from her feet as she skidded to stand over the police officers.

 

The creature, completely caught off guard by the sudden accuracy and calculation, caught Vin’s kick right to the midsection, and Vin felt a rib crack under the force of the kick. It tumbled to the pavement headfirst and landed hard enough to kill a human, bouncing and rolling before coming to rest in a heap, vainly struggling to stand and making high-pitched whines of pain.

 

At once, four men leapt out of a black sedan that had pulled up nearby, each one wielding a high-powered combat rifle. They aimed their weapons squarely at the beast on the ground, just as Vin felt a cold metal barrel press against the back of her neck.

 

“Good going, hero,” there was a smirk in the male policeman’s voice. “Maybe you filthy paras are good for a few things. As thanks, I’ll let you walk away. Leave the Pariah to us. We’ll fini–“

 

Pandora’s eyes flared up with sudden anger as she reached behind her back and grabbed the gun without even needing to look. Once the cool metal was in her hands, she spun quickly and clocked the policeman right in the temple with a loud thud of impact. I JUST FUCKING SAVED YOUR ASS, DOUCHE CANOE! A GUN TO THE BACK IS NOT HOW YOU REPAY SOMEONE!

 

Not knowing how to fire a gun in the slightest, Pandora looked at the weapon in her hand and hurled the hunk of metal at one of the gunmen in the van as she sprinted as fast as she could towards the creature on the ground.

 

Vin realized her mistake before the pistol even connected with its original target. Calculations she could never otherwise make flashed in her head as the end of the song approached, feeding her the facts of her imminent demise like some kind of morbid, slow-motion commentator.

  • These people are all trained killers.
  • Those guns are fully automatic assault rifles.
  • They are already pointed at me.
  • I’ve only knocked out one.
  • By the time I’m three feet away, I will have taken a minimum of thirteen high-caliber rifle rounds.

 

Then, a variable raised its head and howlscreamed. The creature that the cop had referred to as ‘The Pariah’ was still awake, and it was angry. Almost as quickly as Vin’s eye could track it, the creature’s claws wrapped around one of the assault rifles and tore it from its owners hands, then used it as a bludgeon to knock the wind out of the man behind, then a sharp crack as the beast brought its stock up in a nasty uppercut to the jaw of the fourth.

 

The Pariah gave the battered rifle an easy toss to Pandora, who caught it without thinking, and then there were four more quick movements from the creature and four spatters of blood. The Pariah had put a mark on each gun-toting thug: a bloody, horizontal line across the forehead, a move so quick and easy that it must have done it a thousand times.

 

Pandora skidded to a halt and the Pariah looked up at her as the men surrounding her struggled to grab their weapons.

 

“I’ll keep them busy. Go,” the creature growled, “and if it makes you feel any better… I don’t kill. No matter what the news says.”

 

Blinking with shock, Pandora could not do much but nod as her feet began to carry her away from the scene. Her body screamed with exhaustion as adrenaline carried her back towards the party bus. Realizing that she still had a rifle in her hands, she turned one final time to face the scene, aimed it, and hurled the weapon like a javelin towards where she remembered the female cop had been. If she was going to run away with her tail between her legs, she was going to give that lady one hell of a headache to wake up to.

 

As she reached the bus, she blew on two fingers sharply to signal that they needed to get out of there pronto and hopped her way onboard. Whoever was sitting in the driver’s seat, Pandora shoved them out of the way and, making sure everyone was onboard, slammed her foot into the gas as she drove them the fuck out of Romulus.

 

“Get the fuck out? With armed men in the streets?” Alex asked haughtily. “Sure. But I think we need to make a delivery first. Lightshow! Plug in! It’s time to turn it up to eleven.” Alex grinned devilishly, panels along the sides of the bus opening up to reveal massive amplifiers. The jets roared to life, bringing them just above car level. He flicked through their music selection. “Something ranged for you baby.” He flicked the radio on full blast.

 

“Let’s show these guys Team Neon won’t just stand there and take their shit.”

 

The bus began speeding towards the street Vin was at, screaming just above normal traffic.

 

Elliot mumbled, an arm flailing up from a pile of blankets and curly blond hair sticking up at every wrong angle.  It took a moment for him to realize–OH SHIT STUFF WAS HAPPENING! And he was up, in a whirlwind of a blanket covering up and black motorcycle suit parts getting pulled on, until he was stumbling, bleary eyed, out to the DJ station with a cup of coffee in one hand and his helmet in the other.

 

He set his helmet down on the DJ dashboard, plugged it in, and knocked back the coffee like a shot while the system was initiating.

 

“Prepare for blastoff in 10… 9…” He still sounded like he wasn’t awake yet.

Outside of the van, some kind of horrible hairy beast thing with multiple nasty-looking bullet wounds seemed to be in the midst of pitched battle with about half a dozen shouting, armed humans… and they all looked up as the bus started bearing down on them.

 

Alex rolled down a window for Pandora to shoot out of, and then his passenger window…the only problem being that they were both on the wrong side. His booming voice roared through the van “hang tight!”  Before he gripped the wheel and pulled hard, swerving the bus mid air, almost flipping them, but just barely avoiding it as their back slammed against the gunmen’s escape vehicle. He timed it perfectly so Lightshows boom would go off now, right in front of them while the buses momentum was still shifting.

 

And boom  did it go. Right as Elliot finished his countdown, he slammed the helmet on over his head, and let the beat drop.

<The song: https://youtu.be/R5N7JaURMxQ?t=53s>

 

A concussion wave burst around the bus, waves of lights flying out like it was suddenly 2001 and they were on a Space Odyssey.  It was enough to knock most normal people flat on their asses– though Elliot hadn’t tried the whole, AOE effect before.  It was kinda cool. Like really freakin cool.

 

The shockwave hit the combatants hard, sending the humans tumbling to the ground, and the Pariah’s lighter-than-human frame flying ass over teakettle against the escape car, caroming off of it, and slamming into the exterior wall of the building behind. She crumpled to the ground, but the humans were too busy cringing and cowering from the kinetic assault to take advantage of the opening.

 

Alex, not being the showman Lightshow was, simply leaned out the window and threw a full can of Ebcoil Cola at one of the fleeing supremacists, at speeds rivaling or even surpassing most professional baseball players it hit the back of their head with a fizzy splash before they crumpled to the ground. He then proceeded to show all of them the middle finger, shouting “Don’t fuck with the legion!” Before speeding off. He thought that went well.

 

Behind them, they heard a catastrophic roar, and a glance in the rear view mirrors showed humans falling over each other to pile into their vehicles and escape, as some kind of ten-foot-tall lumbering monstrosity appeared, four tree-trunk arms raised and ready to fight.

 

It’d probably be fine.

 

The Cult of Midnight: Fly Bye

THE FLYING FORTRESS
OVER SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
VEHICLE BAY #3

 

<Current Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbAUwi4D3Ew The Glitch Mob – Fortune Days>

 

The call came as the Neon Ops Team was unloading from a successful tour, over the Flying Fortress PA. Scanner’s voice, deadly serious: “Shadow Scout Team, departure at Teleport Bay Delta in ten minutes. Shadow Scout, Bay Delta, ten minutes.”

 

The tension in the air here at the fortress had grown taut as an E string, with everyone aware that the final assault on Twin Falls could begin at any time. Preliminary scouting groups had already been sent to the surface, but most had simple number or letter designations. This one just had a title.

 

Vin’s mind flashed back to the memory of that placard outside of Emi’s office. ‘Shadow Mask’.

 

Pandora’s eyes went wide as thoughts turned themselves over in her head. Emi had said that she was taking Nat along with her to deal with the problems in Twin Falls, hadn’t she? Yeah. Yeah, she totally had. That meant that Nat was about to…

 

The mute woman turned to her two compatriots and hurriedly began signing something about having forgotten to turn her stereo system off back in her room at the Flying Fortress. Before Elliot or Alex even had a chance to respond, however, she had already activated her teleporter and was off and running down the halls of her new home towards Nat’s room. She moved with such speed and urgency that when she turned to face her friend’s door she nearly ran face-first into it but managed to stop herself a hair’s width away from doing so. She took a deep breath and knocked on the door a few times.

 

When the door slid open to reveal a startled Damsefly, Vin’s heart dropped. Nat’s usual, colorful attire was nowhere to be seen; ey wore a figure-hugging catsuit of matte black, the kind designed to make its wearer blend into shadows unseen. The kind that Nat would never have willingly worn unless ey needed to.

 

Unless ey had something important to do that demanded it.

 

She could not help but frown at her friend’s abnormal attire, knowing exactly what this meant. [You are heading out to Twin Falls soon, aren’t you?]

 

“Um. Yeah,” Nat averted eir eyes for a moment, then returned them to Vin’s hands. “What are you doing here, Vin? Shouldn’t you be helping the team unload in the vehicle bay?”

 

Vin nodded. She probably should be, but had decided that this was more important. [I want to go with you. I know Emi said ‘no heroics’ and everything, but I do not see why that has to apply to me and not you. You’re a member of my team and I want to keep you safe.]

 

<Current Song: https://youtu.be/-seot5RyeX8 Andrew Bayer – Gaff’s Eulogy>

 

“Vin…” Nat clenched eir jaw, still having trouble meeting her eyes. “…no. You can’t. We all have our roles in this. Our strengths, our connections. This is mine, and Emi’s. We’re going in together. I’m still with the rest of you, just… not in person. As you all are with me.”

 

[But you’re not there with us. Not really.] She was upset, her signs a mix of sad and angry. [Even though we may not show it at the shows, it is clear to us all that we are missing something. Someone. We want you to be there with us. It… It’s where you belong. You may look good in black, but you are far better looking when you are dancing in colors.]

 

“Oh god, Vin…” Nat reached up and touched her face, eyes shining with tears that ey was having trouble holding back. “I know. I miss it too. It feels better when I get to play with all of you, be a part of our team. When we work together. We will again. I’ll be back in no time, and we’ll make the world shake.”

 

Nat’s tone was sincere, but there was something uncertain in eir eyes, a reserve. That bracing look of someone who knew that ey was wading into hell and might not come back.

 

Vin rubbed at her eyes, the sunset-orange color in them wavering as she struggled to hold back tears of her own. [I just… You are my first friend in this world. You helped bring me here. You helped me to meet all of these wonderful new people. You gave me more purpose than I had before. I… I don’t like that you are walking – flying – into danger without me.] She looks up from her shaking hands. [Are you sure I cannot go with you? I won’t be a burden. I swear.]

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDplwu9kH9Y Velvetine – The Great Divide (seven lions mix)>

 

Nat closed the distance in a moment, taking Vin’s face in eir hands and kissing her deeply.

 

She returned the kiss, taking in a stabilizing breath through her nose as her arms wrapped around behind Nat to hold em close. The embrace was powerful, an unwillingness to let go surging through the woman’s muscles.

 

The Damselfly’s thin limbs held her fast too, imbued with that uncanny strength and coursing with that passionate energy that Vin had sensed in Nat from the very beginning. When ey finally broke the kiss, ey didn’t let go; ey nudged one side of her can headphones with eir nose and murmured: “When we first made love to this song, you were already on the way to becoming part of my family. I’m not going to leave you alone without the fight of my life.”

 

Ey disengaged enough that Vin could reply if she wanted to, but also as a way of indicating that it was almost time to go.

 

This convinced Vin to hold on even tighter. She pulled Nat into her arms and snuggled the Damselfly close so as to nestle her lips close to eir neck, kissing the freckled skin gently. Eventually… She let go and took a few steps back. [I do not want to see a scratch on you when you return, you hear me? If I see even one scratch, I am going to be pissed.] The woman’s eyes were watering as she tried to look tough.

 

“I’m sure I’ll be very contrite,” the Damselfly smiled, wiping a stray tear from one eye. “I… I gotta go. Emi and I have a lot of ground to cover tonight.”

 

Pandora nodded, closing her eyes and sniffling a little. [You guys will do great. Kick some major ass out there for me, okay? I want to hear all about it when you get back.]

 

Nat laughed. “I think that’s called a ‘debriefing’,” ey said, and then gave her another short, tight hug. “Okay, now get outta here before I cry again.”

 

The Cult of Midnight: Bliss Is It

Bliss is It

 

INTERSTATE 84 SOUTH

JUST OUTSIDE BLISS, IDAHO

 

“All right, Nops,” Nat’s voice over the radio was deadly serious. “Bliss is the last compound we need you to hit, and time is of the essence here. This is the closest enclave to Twin Falls that we’ve found, and it’s likely that nearly everyone you meet is going to be a puppet and very hard to break. That said, don’t kill ’em unless you absolutely have to. Distract, confound, disable. Don’t count on being able to convert them. If y’all pull this off, you’re preventing an entire backup regiment from getting to Rooster and Wastey. Good luck.”

 

The lights of Bliss, Idaho shone in the distance as the party bus sped toward it.

 

Alex was going slow with the bus, cautious. Giving them some time to see what all was around them. Giving them time to make a plan. “So…doubt I will be able to be as ah…generous as I have been with past shows. You guys think I should just go full security? Might be better to just wait it out.” He muttered. He had a feeling in the pit of his gut about this one. A bad feeling.

 

Lights Show is a bit surprised when he hears Nat’s voice, but is also super happy too, and a big 😀 appears on the dome of his helmet in neon rainbow colors.

“Nat, bae, we got this. Like. Wow. WE SO GOT THIS.” He did a little spin, then moonwalked back to his console, “Hearts and kisses, butwegotthis.” And he’s totes not trying to convince himself of this more than trying to convince eir. Of course not!

Instead of thinking about it, he starts up his own brand of LET’S RIDE INTO THIS PLACE IN STYLE (AND STUFF) music, to set off the, um, set right.

 

<MUSIC: https://youtu.be/ps7VHOJLOfc>

 

“I know you got it, E. You all do. I’m so psyched to be on this team with all of you, and it’s just killin’ me that I can’t be there. All y’all best survive for victory makeouts. That’s an order.””WHOO!”

 

“That’s not actually an order,” Emi cut in on the radio. “The makeouts. Surviving is an order. Not the makeouts.””awwwwwww”

 

“It’sanorder,” Nat whispered. “Damselfly out.””WHOO!”

 

Pandora was stretching again, making sure she was loose enough to pull off whatever moves would be necessary. Even though Nat and Emi could not see her response, the mute woman flashed a nervous smile and a thumbs up to both present members of Neon Ops before placing her headphones over her ears once more and tuning her MP3 in to catch Elliot’s signal. Her pale-white eyes instantly shifted color to a bright golden hue.

 

As the bus approached the town, Alex took note of several flashes of color appearing in the distance… blue and red. Police. A blockade. The cops had blocked both sides of the road, and several well-armed troopers stood by the cars.

 

Alex turned the bus on very slow autopilot before jumping from his seat, hopping up and down taking in deep breaths, getting his adrenaline pumping. He went over to his teammates. “Alright guys we got this. Just a little blockade.” He gave them high fives as he jumped around peering back at it. “Nothing we can’t handle.” They could tell in his voice he was nervous. “We got this. We got his. Ok. Hands in.” He gave a marker to Vin so she could write on his hand as they huddled up. “Stop at the barricade, or go over it? Thoughts?”

 

Go over them, Pandora writes on the back of Alex’s hand with a small smile. Set us up as close to the center of the compound as possible so that we can have as big of an impact as possible. Turn this bus into a fucking musical fortress in the middle of their town.

 

Lights Show chewed on his lip, a loading wheel popping up on his helmet as he thought about it. “Hmm… Fortress? I… I uh think I can do fortress. I got some ideas? I mean, for songs. Not like. Viable plan ideas.” He lets out a nervous laugh, music a bit quieter as he muses on things.  After he shrugs (and an emoji shrugs on his helmet), the music turns back up again, leading their epic charge.

“Over it is.” Alex gives off as confident a grin as he can given the circumstances, rushing over to the wheel. “Hold on to your lunch and plug in! It’s gonna be a rocky ride!” He pushed the pedal to the floor hard, making sure they would reach top speed by the time they reached the barricade and he grabbed the wheel to pull them up and over at the exact last second, hoping with his eyes shut that it would be enough!

 

The cultist troopers brought their weapons to bear and started firing! Bullets, slugs, and buckshot glanced off the armored exterior of the party van until nearly the last moment, and several of the troopers dove out of the way as the van barely cleared the cop cars, knocking the lights clean off of one of them.

 

Pandora stuck her head out of the passenger-side window as they go over the barricade and spat on top of one of the cultist’s head, making a face at the rest of them so as to rile them up a little. She then settled back into the passenger’s seat and put her legs up on the dashboard as she chuckled silently as the adrenaline pumping through her veins helped her to relax a little more.

 

OH shiiiiiiiiii was that gunfire? Lights Show rapidly switched the beat to one of the songs he’d been practicing for Pandora, hoping that he did it in time.

<Music: https://youtu.be/dSFrHi7z_ag Maor Levi – Reflect>

 

Alex opened his eyes just in time to hit the ground running, swerving the hover-bus this way and that, keeping damage to a minimum as much as possible. “Going to be reaching the compound any minute now, we probably need to take out those gunmen first!” Alex shouted over the roar of the bus and the fire and the music blasting.

 

Mercifully, Nat had anticipated this problem, making sure that everyone was fitted with a comm device that mimicked the one ey had implanted against eir jaw—the Neon Ops agents could all hear each other perfectly well, even over the loudest din.

 

Well. Except Vin. Nobody could hear her.

 

As the party bus caromed off the road on the other side of the blockade, the troopers who’d dived for their lives stood up and fumbled for their weapons while those on the sides kept firing, having little effect on the armored bus, which careened off the exit into town.

 

Route 30, the road cutting through the town itself, seemed clear enough going in, and mostly deserted… but Alex spotted people darting into buildings, barely managing to get out of sight. Nat had said to keep an eye out for the Bliss Community Church as a possible base. Said church had been renovated a few years before and was therefore the most modern and spacious building in town.

 

Alex saw the structure almost immediately, looming overhead and silhouetted by bright moonlight.

 

Alex brought the van into a skid, parking it right infront of the entrance with a horrible groan as it tilted juuuuuuust enough to not tip over, before slamming against the ground. He had taken all the handicapped parking. “Like a glove!” Alex shouted before popping the door open and jumping out. Seemed like they had some time before the police got to them. “Best we incapacitate these goons first.” He added, Alex’s arms and fists growing thick branch muscles and tough bark skin, he slammed them quickly into the concrete in search for dirt.

 

Dirt was easy to find; the pavement of the parking lot was only a few inches deep, with dry packed earth below. It wasn’t easy to get through, but Alex was plenty strong enough.

 

A high-caliber bullet smacked the pavement from a steep angle. Someone was in the church tower with a rifle.

 

Pandora spun in her chair before sprinting outside, her eyes a solid shade of grey as dust flew up from the ground in front of her from where the bullet had collided. With a grin, she moved directly into the path of where the sniper had aimed and pointed to her heart with a wide smile. Come on, buddy. Shoot me right here. I dare you.

 

Power-slide complete! Lights Show unplugged his helmet and sprinted outside–

 

“AH!”

 

He gave out an undignified yelp and jumped at the sound of the bullet, glancing quickly between Alex and Vin to make sure they were okay!  And he patted himself down. He was good. All epic leather motorcycle suit and shiny helmet. Phew!

 

Thankfully, he got that music going again, same song, figuring that, um, a barrier might be a good idea vs bullets and stuff. Maybe.

 

Alex was already on it, unflinching when faced with close bullet fire he called out “Vin! Cover my back from the watchtower!” Meanwhile the earth rumbled as a thick wall of heavy trees began forcing their way out of the ground, surrounding them and the bus from the oncoming police force and providing plenty of cover for both sides to use. It’d take a moment to complete though, he needed his team to keep him safe during the process.

 

A shot rang out again, and a bullet pierced Vin’s hand and chest, passing directly through her with what would normally have been a painful and debilitating wound. Instead, her flesh closed up behind the bullet’s path, and there were a few seconds of silence… and then a sniper rifle hit the ground, dropped from far above.

 

Alex’s shield started to rise just as a half a dozen armed cultists poured from the doors to the church, shouting. They fired wildly, some of them dropping to the ground after shooting Vin.

 

Pandora patted the spots where she had been shot with some form of shock as she seemed perfectly okay. She gave her two compatriots a thumbs-up to show that she was okay and moved to make herself a more appealing target for the goons to shoot at, moving as best she could to take shots to non-vital limbs so as to mitigate damage on her opponents. She did not want them to kill themselves, after all.

 

“Ignore the slattern!” Someone shouted. “She turns our bullets against us. Shoot the abomination and the robot!”

 

The gunfire shifted, aiming more toward Lights Show and Alex.

 

Slattern!? Pandora thinks to herself incredulously. I do not even know what that MEANS and I know that it is insulting! Whoever said that, you are the first on my nad-kicking jamboree! With that, Vin books it into the crowd. They may not be able to attack her, but she could certainly knock their weapons away.

 

As Pandora waded into battle, the cultists didn’t quite know what to do. This woman was charging them, attacking them, and they couldn’t hit back? Pandora was able to disarm several of them before some were able to get by, shoving her but not striking to get past her blockade.

 

After the reached a certain height, Alex began curving the trees, making them thinner, faster, going for the group behind Vin, flanking the back of the bus. The leafy flora tips began slapping them around their faces, making it extremely difficult to aim properly. He let out a grunt in pain though, as a bullet grazed his hip. “No your an A-BOB-NATION!” One of the tendrils shook a goon around angrily till he dropped his gun.

 

With the sound of impact, Pandora danced her way back through the crowd of goons and blew three short whistles to signal a change in song as she moved to Alex’s side to protect him from any more stray bullets.

 

Duuuuuude they totes thought he was a robot?! That was cool. A neon thumbs up appeared on the dome screen on his helmet, and he did a little spin, keeping himself as well shielded as he could while still playing.  

 

And of course, since they were changing their attention, it was time to switch songs!

<Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf6LD2B_kDQ>

 

Lights Show was quickly surrounded with rainbow pulsing light, small cloud of sonic bursts around him like a shield as he spun the song for Pandora.

As Lights Show beatmatched the song transition, bringing the trance backbeat into a halftime dubstep rhythm, the brainwashed troops fell back. A barely-audible shout came from behind Alex’s shield, and the troops near the periphery fell back further. Some stayed to try to fight or recover their weapons, but it was clear that they were losing ground.

 

Alex, being satisfied with his tree wall, shook his arms out of the ground, pointing at the fleeing troops. “Time to go on the offensive! Let’s round them up and cuff them up for the time being.” And with that he sprinted after the baddies trying to regain their weapons, kicking them away and clocking one in the face so hard he spun. Then Alex grabbed his arm behind his back and a heavy wood covering locked it there as he let the bad guy fall to the ground. “Were doing good team let’s keep it up!” He cheered, then pursuing the other troops with much vigor.

 

Clink. Clink. Two grenades sailed over the tree wall and bounced off of the asphalt.

 

“Shit! Get behind the bus!” Alex grabbed his captive and dived on top of him, hoping his body would at least somewhat protect the innocent.

 

On the playlist’s transition, Pandora lost her reflective immunity as her eyes changed hue; a swirl of rainbow replacing the simple grey. Lifting her hands, colorful light began to swirl above her palms as she turned towards a charging assailant and, twirling to the side to avoid a second attack from her flank, let loose a barrage of frozen energy towards her original target’s legs before turning to another cultists and blasting him against the tree wall with a beam of purest force.

 

Wait was that a– oh no, worse. It was two.  Lights Show stared up for a moment. It felt like a million moments, but they were grenades.  And then he acted, keeping the beat, but swinging his arms, launching into full dance.  A concussive arc hit the first grenade, launching it back towards the building, and then a second– okay, that one missed, but no one was looking.

The third (technically) concussive arc hit the second grenade, flinging it back as well.

Appropriately, there was a big red exclamation mark on his helmet at the moment. He was only screaming internally, though.

..and both grenades struck the wooden shield, bouncing back. Lights Show caught them both with another pair of arcs, and they bounced again. This time he’d get them over the top. This time–

 

Kneeing another thug hard in the side of the head to force him into the ground whilst her beam cycled harmlessly through its gamma form, Pandora’s eyes go wide as she sees the grenades being juggled between Lights Show and the wooden barricade. Beginning to sign something before realizing it would likely be lost in the chaos around them, she scrambled up one of the trees and, using a beam of concentrated water, used the combined blast and her own weight to try and move the trunk out of the way partially.

 

The grenades both exploded in midair, shrapnel pelting the bus, LS’s armor, and the tree behind which Vin was hiding. Nobody seemed to be too badly injured from the detonation, though the cultists were scrambling even more frantically, some of whom were bleeding from small shrapnel cuts. The smoke from the grenades mixed with the already increasingly-hazy night air as there was a brief lull in the action.

 

Alex jumped up from atop the cultist. “That was freaking awesome!” He shouted at LS and Pandora, beaming, before jumping right back into the action. He clotheslined another baddie right in the neck and downwards so they hit the ground hard, roots immobilizing any and every goon he took down as he waded through the enemy lines.

 

Oh no. Oh NO NO NO NO. His ears were ringing. He could hear the EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and that was terrible because that meant bad things and he tries switching into the next song but what he’s playing is slightly off key.

<Music: https://youtu.be/WXrdYwG17PE>

 

Using the blast of the grenade to catapult her backwards a bit, Pandora slammed her feet straight into the face of a cultist. Springboarding off of this goon with a flip, the woman made a pair of finger guns and pointed them at the center mass of another goon. With a pair of BANGS that could barely be heard over the cacophony, she fired a stream of force bullets straight into this individual before landing. Stuck on the opposite side of the barrier from her compatriots, Pandora ran horizontal as she twirled and dove above and below strikes aimed her way, firing shots into the crowd with concussive shots of her own as she worked her way back around and into the fortress.

 

The yellowish lamps in the parking lot bathed the thickening fog covering the area in light, creating a haze that was getting harder and harder to see through. Luckily, this worked in Pandora’s favor: the brainwashed troopers couldn’t see her to hit her, and she heard bullets thunking against the wood all around her as she ran.

 

Alex was undeterred by the fog, growing two massive wooden plows on his arms and running through the enemy ranks like a football player, shouting out his position for his friends. ((Tag))

 

The screech of his ears was still there, but Pandora was running around, and now he was running out of cover into the fog, and he may have just panic switched songs. But, like, it fit. Right?

<Music: https://youtu.be/IJKolWUVcuA>

Lights Show dove out from behind the tree wall, tucking and rolling.  He came up in a sprint, flinging a sonic wave at the closest person right as the drop hit.

Not only did Vin’s eyes change to shadowy-purple, but soon she had vanished from sight completely as the dancer dove into a shadow. Moving slowly from one pool of darkness to another, Pandora soon leapt straight out of a goon’s shadow who was sneaking up behind Lights Show and swiftly plants her foot straight into his groin. She pats her companion on the shoulder three times to let it know it was her and that she had his back before diving into the darkness under a nearby tree.

 

There seemed to be… fewer soldiers. Had they gotten through all of them? And was that a burning smell in the air? Was something on fire? It didn’t look like there was the light of a fire anywhere nearby. Odd.

 

Lights Show sniffs, nose wrinkling. Did he singe some hairs in that explosion? He patted himself down, breathing a sigh of relief when he felt his helmet was still in place. Okay, good– WHAT ABOUT THE TREE WALL?!?!?! He whipped around, trying to keep the beat and multitask and HOLY SHIT was this more difficult than he realized it would be.

“Let go, little sinners.” A woman’s voice, somehow audible over all the music and violence. “There is more for you in heaven and earth.”

 

Pandora steps out of the shadow of a goon she had just taken down, eyes scanning the dark surrounding them as she tried to work out where the voice was coming from. Her muscles screamed with exhaustion, her powers draining her each second they were being used, but there was so much adrenaline pumping through her veins that she hardly even noticed. That would be something she would worry about later when everything had passed.

 

“I was like you in so many ways,” the voice said. Where was it coming from? Was that a dark shape moving in the suddenly-smoggy air above the tree shield? “Letting go, giving myself to her… it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

 

Alex busted through the smog to stand next to his friends once again. He didn’t pay mind to the figure above yet. “Hey, guys, you all good? Nobody hurt? Just throw an OK Pan.” He was bleeding from a cut on his leg, torn right through the pants. But other than that and his hip he was fine.

 

The mute superheroine flashes a thumbs-up to her partner and then points up into the air towards the woman with the same motion. Muscles tensed, body still as plans flashed through Pandora’s head. Their adversary could fly, that much was clear. In order to stand the best chance at success, therefore, they would have to get her onto the ground and pummel her to a pulp before she pulled out of range. That would probably be up to Lights Show and her as she knew that Alex was best on the ground. The smell, however, concerned her. It was that of an open flame. Could she use fire? Was that another ability of hers? No way to tell at the moment. Best to assume yes and avoid giving her more kindling to pump herself up.

 

Pandora turned to Alex and then pointed to the trees before drawing a slice across her throat. Cut them down for now. Trust me on this one. I think I have an idea. She then looked to Lights Show, pointed to the woman above as if she were drawing back the string on a bow, and blew three whistles on two fingers to signal a change in song.

 

“Ah… I…” Lights Show saw the signal, and he had no clue what song she could possibly be referring to.  He really didn’t have enough time to study them all (no, partying time was not time he should have been studying, shush).  And now…

 

“Do you trust me?” He gave her a weak look, which was thankfully hidden by the shiny black dome of his helmet. “I… I really hope this works.”

And he started playing another song.

<Music: https://youtu.be/502xxCTRfxo>

 

“Defiance,” the voice said. “You don’t take this seriously. Very well.”

 

Multiple dark shapes moved in the smoke, above and behind them.

 

“You got it love!” Alex saluted and shoved his hands in the ground, his trees bending down backwards, flat on the ground. He jumped up onto one of the flattened flora, looking back and up at the shapes trying to make sense of things.

 

A silent chuckle ran through Vin’s body as this new song came on, her eyes shifting to that multi-colored rainbow hue from earlier as she pointed two finger guns up into the sky. Bright and colorful energy swirled up her arms and gathered in her fingertips as she closed one eye to focus on the targets in the air in front of her. This was going to be epic.

 

Still audible over the music, the woman kept speaking. “Once you are subdued, hollowed out, free, you will understand as I came to understand. I no longer obsess over the gadfly I failed to kill. It will be hollowed out too.”

 

Cultists poured from the smoke in a unified wave, weapons raised.

 

“Oh no, that’s Smokescreen!” The alert exclamation flashed on his helmet again, replaced by the image of a light bulb turning on. “HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A MOMENT!” And he kept up the obnoxious music, crouching down to try to make sonic waves around them.  He was shaking, he was sweating way too much in his leather suit (yeah, his bad for choosing black leather, oops), and he was sure he was missing a beat now and then on the song, but, he HAD to get that smoke away from them.

 

Vin stood stoic despite being the closest to the smoke in front of her, taking a deep breath and holding it in as she continued to charge her attack with her one open eye still focused on those in front of her. Come on lungs, don’t fail me now. I cannot move or else this thing will not fire…

 

“Yes. Hello, Lights Show. It’s good to see you again. I look forward to you becoming part of the family. The gadfly is already defeated, did you know? Shadow Mask’s legs are broken. The gadfly is immobilized. The Oathkeeper is on the brink of surrender. You have lost. Give up now.”

CODEX UNLOCKED: Smokescreen

Once a stoic Legionnaire with a troubled past, Smokescreen was a versatile hero with the ability to create hundreds of kinds of specialized gas with uses ranging from deadly neurotoxin to healing. Sadly, when she was caught by the Lure of the Damselfly, the Legion found themselves having to hunt her down to retrieve their black ops agent from certain death. She was last seen unconscious over the shoulder of Callister Rayne, and is assumed to have been captured by Anathema.

 

DON’T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT MY FRIENDS LIKE THAT!” Lights Show kept crouched, teeth gritted, pulses of sheer beat swirling the smoke away in slow wafts. That wasn’t going to be enough.  He knew it wasn’t going to be enough. And if what she was saying…

Elliot closed his eyes, concentrating. He’d never tried this outside his bedroom before, but… Now or never.

He focused the bass down, like jets beneath his feet, coming from his palms, determined that he was gonna soar up there and uppercut that traitor!

 

Alex pointed a finger at the cultist battalion behind them and shouted “fire!”  The wall of trees that was flattened all rose up at the same time at high speed, like a tidal wave, and crashed towards the enemy, blowing a massive amount of the gas away from them.

 

With the command, Vin finally let loose her attack as a flurry of rainbow-blasts rocketed out from her fingers towards her enemies. Each one shaped like a cat for some odd reason, the barrage of concussive missiles would explode into shining fireworks as they struck their targets. Even those who tried to flee were not entirely safe as the trail of this barrage followed the path of the single, rainbow-colored eye Pandora had kept open as she continued to hold her breath.

 

At first Elliot was worried he wasn’t going to get off the ground, and he was just going to look like this sad little idiot in an anime pose on the ground but– oh shoot. He wasn’t on the ground anymore!!!!  He wobbled at first, panicking, and the beat skipped for a moment, but then he stabilized himself enough and pushed the bass even harder, shooting straight for Smokescreen.

 

The smog parted before him in a ring, pushed away by the pressure waves wreathing Lights Show. For one moment, they cleared completely around his opponent, her amethyst-tinted eyes wide with shock. They almost seemed to hang there for a moment, but then Lights Show slammed into her and they both plummeted to the ground, his fall broken by hers. Elliot heard and felt Smokescreen’s bones buckle under him as the shock of their impact with the ground jarred him.

 

As the last of her missiles collided with their targets or exploded, Vin jumped backwards into the clearing of air made by Lights Show’s takeoff. She took a couple deep breaths before managing to blow three whistles again, coughing a little afterwards as she let her body rest by Alex’s side for a few moments.

 

Alex held her gently as she let the coughs out, wondering slightly why he wasn’t getting affected by it to bad. He patted her shoulder and then got in a back to back position, scanning the area for more enemies…and Lightshow.

 

“Ah…” Smokescreen managed to gasp, blood trickling from her mouth and nose. “I can’t… feel. Pity. If I don’t … counteract it… this—this haze. Will end us all. It has been… good to serve.”

 

Despite her exhaustion and shortness of breath, Pandora blew out three whistles once more even as her legs shook with overuse. Her entire body was threatening to keel over.

 

Lights Show could feel his skin itching, and that couldn’t be good at all– he could hear Pandora coughing too.  And then it dawned on him.  First thing first: new experiment in songs:

<Music: https://youtu.be/yp3UeCguVVI>

 

Second, he ripped off his helmet– immediately his eyes started to water, and breathing felt like sandpaper, but it was easier to appeal to a person when you could see faces and stuff. Or something.  He grabbed her face, staring down at her, and pleaded.

“Look, I know you didn’t want to hurt Nat back there. It was just a lot of stuff gone wrong. Come on. You don’t have to do this.”

As the new song struck, crackling black energy shot through Pandora’s headset as her eyes turned a shade of pitch black. With a groan of pain, she collapsed to the ground and the energy rocketed into the air before clouds started to billow up above. The mute clenched her teeth with concentration as she tried to control the discordant song as rain began to fall and a great gust of wind began to sweep through the area. Lightning crackled and struck the top of the church’s steeple close-by as Vin grabbed her headphones and threw them off. The song was not coming from them this time, however, and so the power continued to build stronger and stronger as a tooth actually cracked from how hard she clenched her jaw.

 

“Ha… beautiful…” tears shone at the edges of Smokescreen’s eyes. “God, I can’t remember… the last time… I… I…”

 

Her breath hitched for a moment, and the amethyst light flickered in her eyes. “Oh God,” she murmured. “I … what have I done… what have I done!”

 

Alex grabbed Vin. “Hey! Hang in there!” His eyes were starting to water from the gas. There were the effects. He managed to lift the larger than him woman in his arms with ease. “We need to get out of here. Lightshow! We can’t stay here!” He put up an arm to brace himself from the wind, moving against it, hoping it’d blow the gas behind them, he went as fast as his failing and wounded legs would allow. He winced. He wasn’t going to make it at this rate. Not with the two of them.

 

Rain poured from the billowing storm up above as black energy continued to crackle through Pandora, her headphones dragging across the ground behind her and Alex as she opened her mouth in completely silent screams. Lighting struck the steeple again and then struck the ground close to its entrance, the strikes becoming more and more common as the wind continued to gust.

 

Elliot let his head drop, forehead resting against hers.  His eyes were stinging and he kept blinking, but he couldn’t tell if it was the smoke or something else. Dammit, he had something in his eye. That was the story he was– there wasn’t time for this.

“Hey. Hey, you can still fix this, okay? Just… stop the smoke. Please. Then we can get out of here together. Whatdya say?”

 

“Your… your friend blew the smoke away,” she choked. “It’s already inside you. But—”

 

She coughed out a thick white vapor, and Lights Show inhaled it before he could react. Suddenly his airways felt clear, his lungs stopped burning. He felt… almost refreshed.

 

“I can’t move…” Smokescreen whispered hoarsely. “…them… here… hurry…”

 

Alex was holding Vin tight. Looking her in the eyes. “I’m here for you love. Stay in there. I’m here.” He was already making his way to Lightshow. He would drag all three of them out of here if he had to. Even though he wouldn’t make it. They were in this together. “We need to leave before the smoke comes back!” He shouted over the storm to no avail, clutching Vin tightly. “The music…you’re hurting her!”

 

Vin “Pandora” Peter’s eyes focused upon Alex’s, pain clear in them despite how pitch-black they were as thin tears of blood leaked from their edges. If she would just pass out, this discordant power would finally come to an end. The song would not let her fade though, it kept her going and going as that black energy ripped at her. She reached a hand up to Alex’s cheek and gave him a pained smile. Hey, at least she had something nice to look at…

 

Lightning struck more fiercely, thunder booming in time to the beat as dirt was thrown up into the air around them all. Dust was moving at such speed that it could slice the skin thinly as rain came down like a hail of bullets. This song was not getting any better. It was getting worse.

 

“…them to me…!” Smokescreen was visibly struggling to stay conscious, reaching out her one movable arm toward Alex and Vin.

 

“Come on…stay with my Vin. Focus on my voice. Uh.” God damn it. There was desperation in his voice. He needed to do…something. Something fast. He began humming. “Twinkle twinkle…” He didn’t know the words. His fist clenched, water distorting his vision. Warm. He shook his head, continuing the song, pushing forward at any cost.

 

Huh. That was… weird and good. Okay, cool. Now– Elliot glanced up. Oh. Alex was carrying Vin away. And– OH SHIT THAT IS A BIG STORM. Lightning struck mere yards away as if in agreement.

 

All color dropped from Elliot’s face as his eyes widened as he immediately stopped the song, switching to one Vin had actually prepped with him.

 

<Music: https://youtu.be/c33DbNoVtAU >

 

Worried, but determined not to fuck this up any worse, Elliot reached down, wrapping his arms around Smokescreen as best as he could.  He struggled to stand, straining, then used a little bass to help him get up.  Wow that was a– whoa, off balance, gotta sway a bit, then he was firmer on his feet, and charging after Alex and Vin.

Smokescreen cried out in pain as Elliot lifted her, broken limbs dangling at angles they really shouldn’t.


“HEY COME BACK WECANFIXTHISOMGYOURUNTOOFAST!”

 

The black energy around Vin’s body fades away as the discordant song died. Her eyes cleared, a bright-blue shade shining through the darkness as the growing pain in her body began to lessen. A gentle breeze wrapped around her and Alex, the man’s wounded leg beginning to knit itself together even as the blackened scorches that colored Pandora’s veins remained. Continuing to look up at Alex, she reached a weak hand up to his eyes and brushed a tear away. She only had seconds of consciousness left in her.

 

Alex stopped at the end of the storm, the end of the song, and the end of Vins pain. He sniffled a bit, squeezing her to him, but with the end of his momentum…he let the poison take hold. No more adrenaline to keep him going. He fell to his knees, turning his head at the approaching Lights Show. He couldn’t really understand what he was saying, but at this point he wasn’t sure it mattered. His eyes were growing heavy.

 

Seeing Alex fade terrified Pandora, her eyes shooting open with sudden adrenaline. There was no more energy left in her body, the storm had seen to that, but she still focused intently upon the song that was echoing through the air as she begged it to help her. With her last remaining strength, she leaned up and kissed Alex, breathing a healing wind into his lungs to clear away the effects of the gas before her eyes turned that blank shade of white she had when there was no music and passed out.

 

Finally, Elliot dropped to his knees and powerslid over to them, right in time to see Pandora pass out and PANIC A LITTLE MORE.  Yes, internally, he was screeching.  Externally, he was doing things. Like gently putting Smokescreen down next to Vin, and hoping it wasn’t too late.

“Friends,” Smokescreen murmured, a white mist coming from her mouth, nose, hands, eyes, even skin. As they breathed it in, the burning in the air went away, their lungs felt clearer. “I betrayed you. I betrayed myself. Please… tell the Damselfly…

 

I’m s .. s o

    r

                   rr

                       …  —”

 

Her head lolled, and she was still.

 

Alex was dazed by the kiss, his eyes du for a few moments before finally snapping back into it. “Vin. Vin!” He shook her gently. “No! Don’t go!” He didn’t know about the white gas, and so he just looked at Lightshow desperately, red eyed. Helpless as tears streamed down his face.

 

“Hey, dude, breathe deep and shotgun that shit to her.”

 

Alex looked confused for a moment, but finally he caught on. He moved as quick as he could, breathing in as much as he could before desperately breathing it into Vins lungs. He didn’t care if it was some kind of trap. Didn’t stop to consider it as a possibility. Nothing else mattered.

 

“Neon Ops, come in,” a familiar voice came in over their comms. “Anathema has been apprehended. We’re alive over here. Is… are you guys okay?”

 

For a moment, Lights Show looked really excited to hear Nat on the com, and he pressed his own earpiece to ring in. “Hey, Nat, it’s Lights. We have Smokescreen–” He glanced down, and realized there was a dead woman in his arms.

He promptly fainted.

As the mist was breathed into Vin’s lungs, her eyelids fluttered a little bit and she opened them for a second. There was a moment of shock that she was waking up to a kiss, but soon realized that it was with Alex and thus was completely cool with it. The burns across her body healed slowly as dead nerves began to rewire themselves. It was… It was actually quite painful, really.

 

She made a small sound and then turned her eyes slightly to see the limp woman on the ground beside Lights Show who seemed to have collapsed. Breaking the kiss suddenly, Vin slapped Alex’s shoulder and pointed to her with some desperation before pointing to her eyes. There was still a tiny bit of blue in them as Elliot’s song drew to its conclusion.

 

Alex looked at the corpse, and back at Vin with a shameful, somber look before shaking his head. He clicked his earpiece. “We’re all safe Nat…only. Only one casualty.” His voice was breaking a bit as he called it in, his eyes still wet. “Not one of us…but.” He shook his head trying to think up how to word it.

 

The mute superhero immediately understood what Alex meant when he shook his head, some tears springing to her eyes as well. She may not have known this woman, but it still hurt to see someone they tried to save pass away. With whatever remaining strength she had, she wrapped her arms around Alex to give him all of the support she could muster before falling into another bout of unconsciousness; this time from sheer exhaustion rather than pain.

 

“Hang tight, gang,” Nat said, “a crew’s on their way. Good work, and um. Thank you. For staying alive. See you soon, kids. Love you.”

 

“Smokescreen is dead.” Alex said bluntly, after mustering his courage. “They said…that they were sorry.” He gripped Vin in his arms. Unsure how he felt about it. Conflicted.

 

“…oh.” There was a long silence on the other end of the connection. “Thank you. D-damselfly out.”

 

Alex moved Vin and Lightshow to the grass, making them comfortable until transport arrived. He looked at Smokescreens body. She could have killed them. His fist tightened, his lips forming a scowl, but it softened. “But she didn’t.” He let out a long sigh, letting his muscles relax. He lifted her up delicately, laying her a good distance away. He made her look respectable. “Thank you. I’m sorry you didn’t realize before. You had the potential for good. Everyone does.” He said quietly, before folding her arms over her stomach. It was time he got back to his friends.

 

The Anteater: Nothawking

There’s no such thing as an ‘early night’ in Rock City. The city of technological forevers, the night-time oasis of digital labour, the bridge of tomorrow, it’s basically always going, and the labourers who hit the sack at seven in the evening, chances are good, were working at four AM. It’s a city of nooks and crannies across a long, architectural smear – a fascinating study in finding places.

 

Finding places like this coffee shop, helpfully just called The Anteater, which had the fortune of being smack dab halfway between a five-star hotel and a much more sedate set of coffee houses that serviced commutes. Basically, if Benny and Silvered met, after work, the natural flow and currents of traffic pushed them towards The Anteater.

 

Charming little place, it was like if Norman Rockwell had been industrial-strength queer. The aesthetic was smooth, elegant, a sign on the wall said THEY IS USUALLY SAFE, and the paintings were wonderful reimaginings of classic 50s style in a world that didn’t exclude but instead included. Queer families having thanksgiving, red-and-white check pattern tabletops, and the person running the bar, Qun (“Just pronounce it Quinn”) did everything they could to make the place comforting and warm in the twilight hours, when shift workers and late day folk came out to do something other than fall down in an apartment they were barely affording.

 

Silver sat at the bar, resting his phone on the counter, which almost felt like a tiny crime, standing out in the crafted aesthetic. The app – known as OMW – was pinging with Benny’s marker, letting the brunette boy keep vague track of his friend.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e__PmyXwI8I

Stepcat Vs Ella Fitzgerald: It Don’t Mean a Thing>

Sitting in a booth with a steaming mug of coffee that had not yet been touched was a woman with platinum-blonde hair and purple highlights who looked as if she were just getting back from a long night of partying. She wore a neon-green bra top, a pair of black elbow length fingerless gloves, and a pair of extremely baggy denims over which the top of her neon-green underwear could be seen. Head on the table, music pumping through the bulky LED headphones keeping her hair in check, it looked almost as if she had passed out when, in reality, she was simply nursing an already-forming hangover.

 

Today, the chalkboard by the service counter and Jukebox read:

JOURNEY TAX: $2.00, $5 For Don’t Stop Believing

 

The twentysomething boy who shouldered his way through the front door of the Anteater was certainly dressed a little nicer than someone might be expected to when coming to hang out after work at a coffee place, especially when your work was a different coffee shop. He had on a pair of black slacks, a green button-down shirt (tucked in and belted but the top two buttons undone), and a grey vest.

 

Since Benny had started meeting Silvered here, he’d slowly started to dress nicer and nicer to do it. It was obvious to everyone except Benny that he was pulling some kind of flirt, but it was harmless enough, so.

 

Silvered, by comparison, looked… well, look. Some boys worked with what they had. Silver (“Saul Veron” if you checked his government ID, which… you really wouldn’t) always had that slightly bushed look, like he’d been thrown out of a tree. A long shift didn’t do him any favours, and he wore his clothes in a way that could be called rakish if it was more intentional, and not a function of having had to change out of a work uniform at work before heading home.

 

Loose brown hair that fell down to his shoulders, a slight not-from-around-here darkness to his skin tone (though really, between Canada and Seattle, that wasn’t really too remarkable), and a fair bit of extra height on Benny, Silver’s shirt was two buttons undone, his jacket sleeves rolled up and open in front. He’d even walked down the backs of his slip-on shoes slightly getting in here – yeah. Guy was a bit of a mess. When Benny put his hand on the door, he’d notice his friend glance over at it – either the app, or those senses of his.

 

Weirdly, though, he’d also turned the other way and grinned over at Vin, making a two-fingered gesture, a beckon.

 

The hungover woman looked up from her spot on the table and blinked. Was that guy over there asking her to come over? Yeah… That was certainly what it looked like. With a small groan of effort, Pandora stood and walked slowly over to Silvered; coffee mug held firm in one hand as she raised an eyebrow as if to both examine the man and ask what he wanted. The guy was not bad looking. Not bad looking at all. That could have been the beer talking… Probably not though, this guy was definitely hot.

 

The bell over the door tinkled and a nattily dressed gentleman stepped through. Well made as his clothes looked, they also had the slight feel that they’ve been thrifted as opposed to having flown off a designer’s rack. He blinked brown eyes in the sudden change and of light and whistled good naturedly as he walked up to the counter to make an order (black coffee with a splash of soy milk). He spoke with a slight Japanese accent, he’d obviously been in the States for a while, and he grinned genially at the other customers of the cafe.

 

Benny waved to the guy behind him and made it the better part of the way to Silvered when he caught sight of the club girl who was approaching him. What… what is this. Who’s that. He halted just a few steps away, forming a triangle of awkwardness between Silvered, Vin, and himself.

 

Silvered sat in what seemed to be the middle of some profane symbol, looking around at all three, before he cleared his voice and spoke in a voice that probably belonged in the mouth of a gargoyle more than a slender brunette guy. “Hey. C’mon, sit down, everyone. I’ve had a good day at work and I wanna commit some god-damn acts of random f-” a sudden look from Qun, “rrrricking kindness.” he said, reaching down under the chair, lifting up a box. A box decorated with a hotel logo, the vaulted place known jestingly as The Imbruglio. “C’mon, friends and strangers and whatever else we got.” he looked around, again.

 

“C’mon. Coffee’s on me, I guess.”

 

“Heard that. No takebacks.” Qun said, from behind the counter. They were sharply dressed as always, sharper eared still.

 

Pandora blinked a couple more times, her alcohol-addled brain taking a bit longer to process the words of the hot-guy than it probably should have. She shrugged and took a seat beside him, not even remotely noticing the awkward triangle that she had once been a part of. Setting down her mug, she took a leather notebook with a golden musical note out of her pocket and flipped a few pages in before pointing to a sentence.

Hey there! My name is Pandora! I am a superhero! Can I get into this club for free?

It was clearly something she had written down earlier in the night and was too lazy to rewrite at this point in time. She gave the man beside her a thumbs-up though.

 

Benny blinked and squinted, gears turning rapidly in his head. “Pandora… Pandora! Oh! You’re Nat’s new girlfriend!”

 

“Another? Your enster, I swear.”

“Oh that’s good, I’m stealing that”

 

“Mind if I join you folks?” The dapper young man smiled, adjusting his glasses and sticking his hand into his pocket. “I’m Kaito, I just moved into the city.”

 

“Welcome to Rock City, neighbour,” Silver said, grinning, gesturing at one of the chairs. “Pull it up.” A quick pause, pointing around. “Don’t know you well enough but based on the smell Qun’s already got one going for you,” he said, gesturing to Kaito. Then over at Pandora, “You’re after a Slow Wakeup, yeah? And Benny’s a chocolate affogato, and I’ll have a Rough Start.” he said, grinning at Qun.


“You sure?” they asked, standing over the bar. Qun was not a small person. That wonderful mix of easy, Cary-Grant style cool with an appreciation of the world around them that also suggested they could throw Silver through the window if he’d started anything. “Right time of month for it?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” he said. “Anyone here got a problem wiiith…” he peeked into the box. “Cinnamon, gluten, uh, sugar, and um… raspberries, I think? There’s meringues.” Then, as if catching Benny trying to look into the box, he snapped it shut. “Patience, hon, jeeze.”

Benny drew back, looking appropriately chastised.

 

Pandora looked at the cup of coffee she had ordered earlier, looked back to Silvered, and then pushed the steaming mug aside before giving the hot-guy another thumbs up. Upon hearing Nat’s name, she turned to look at Benny and blinked a couple times before flipping through her notebook to find another pre-written sentence.

You’re hot, do I know you?

“… how many times do you need that phrase-”

Flipped through to a new page. I’ve done it more times than you could imagine.

And that set Silver off, hand over mouth in a clenched fist, clearly grinning like a wolf behind it, trying not to laugh.

 

She pointed more specifically to the second part of the sentence in this case, but once again was simply too hungover to bother writing anything new down.

 

Benny stifled a giggle at the use of the pre-written phrases.

 

“Um, not exactly? But I’m pretty sure you’re dating my sibling. My name’s Benny. You, uh, must be Vin. It’s nice to meet you.”

 

“Thanks.” Kaito took a seat. “And no, no problem with any of the above.” He grinned, a flash of white teeth. “Although Grandmother will complain about my diet when I call home.” His dark eyes watched the Silver/Pandora interaction with dancing amusement. “What about all of you? Rock City natives?”

No. I have not had too much to drink. You could buy me another to find out though. She pointed to the first word.

Dang, Benny, she’s almost got handwriting as pretty as yours.”

“Almost, yeah.”

 

“Us? Well, um, I live under Soubridge now, but I’m originally from Colorado.”

 

“I’m… sort of native? I’ve been here a few years, but I wasn’t, like, I didn’t grow up here.” then, a low, hollow invocation, in that already boot-rattling deep voice: “Nobody ever really grows up in Rock City.” a grin.

 

Qun reached across the bar and shoved his forehead. “Stop that.”

 

“Fiiine.” Silver muttered, as Qun set out the cups; old, classy style 1950s aesthetic, but reshaped for different sizes. Benny’s had a little flower shaped cookie on the dish, which wasn’t strictly speaking necessary, but coffee servers, they knew their own. Solidarity. The drink he’d mentioned was set before Vin, too – a dark coffee, but with a distinctly sweet, almost syrupy smell, more like a molten chocolate fondue than a normal drink, at first glance. Then down came Kaito’s soy white, and finally, in a cup that looked more like a shotglass, the ink-black drink Silver’d ordered.

 

“Thanks Qun. You’re royal.” he said, fishing around for his wallet, before flicking out some bills onto the table. Someone got paid today, it seems.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YnuuSLncsA

MAGIC!: Rude (Zedd Remix)>

Pandora picked up her coffee, sniffed it once, smiled, and then downed the whole thing in one distinctly unladylike chug before letting the mug hit the table once more. It was good coffee and it helped with her growing migraine a little. That was something, at least. She then flipped through her notebook and pointed to another sentence.

Thanks for the dance. The stepping on my toes part though… Yeah, you’ve got to work on that.

She underlined the first word emphatically with her finger so as to make sure there would not be any confusion on what she wanted to say.

 

“… Hey Benny have you ever seen anyone take a Slow Start like that?” Silver asked, one eyebrow raised. And he’d seen a werewolf on a cocaine bender, once.

 

The drink was sweet and easy, really went down gentle. The warm tingle that came afterwards, that chocolatey sweetness – then the rolling headache-suppressing effect of caffeeine followed hot on its heels. Slow Starts were great for hangovers, because you could sip them a little at a time, enjoy the texture, the comforting feeling, then the caffeine worked its magic.

 

All at once? May be a bit much.

 

“I, uh, haven’t, no…” Benny shifted awkwardly, realizing that his superhero sibling’s superhero girlfriend did not seem to be in a ‘oh hi there nat’s brother’ kind of mood. He gently carved off a small bit of ice cream and scooped up some cooling espresso with it from his cup.

 

Kaito sipped his coffee and nodded. “That’s good! Thank you.” He gave Qun a shallow bow from his chair. He nodded at everyone. “That’s real interesting. You go to a city like New York and half the people in the room are born and bred.” He shrugged lightly, taking another sip.

 

Pandora turned and looked at Benny. It was not that she had not heard him or even that she did not care that he was Nat’s brother. She simply knew she did not have anything written down that would make that conversation easy to follow. Still, she wanted to know more and so, with another groan of effort she began flicking through the notebook in search of SOMETHING that could work.

 

If there are cocktail names in that book, there are some pretty funny conversations Benny could have with that.”

 

You have a twin? That’s fucking rad! Are they into dancing too? We should hang out.

 

“This book speaks of a single night more fun than my entire life.” Silver noticed, looking over Vin’s elegant fingertips. He nudged Benny, then gestured back and forth. “So, okay, Benny here is super shy, but that’s kind of his thing, since he’s just, basically, the sweetest.” He laughed, slinging an arm around Benny’s shoulder, tugging him close, as if he was showing Benny off to Vin.

 

Benny laughed along, leaning into the casual bro-ey embrace. What a couple of bros! Ha ha! Just friendly buddies.

 

“And Nat is…” he paused, snapping his fingers and looking to Benny. “I am awful with pronouns, uh-”

 

“They’s usually fine,” Qun said, behind the bar, almost on automatic.

 

“Yeah, but this is – ey … like?” he paused, as if he was conjugating on the fly in a language he didn’t speak. “Ey are… no, ey is Benny’s sibling or enster or … well.” he shrugged. Then a pause. “I’m doing this for my benefit, by the way, I am so clueless about what’s going on in this little rockstar’s life.” He tousled Benny’s hair with one oversized hand.

 

This treatment had elicited a growing blush under Benny’s freckles. “Um well, that’s kind of it I guess? There’s me, and I’m just a barista, and my twin sister Buster lives up on the moon and drives a tank, and Nat is like… cooler and more famous than me and Buster put together. Which you know, of course. So like… yeah.”

 

“A tank, seriously?”

“Well. Kind of? It’s a mech. It walks on two legs. Sort of. It’s very cool though.”

 

Pandora nodded and then, looking between Benny and Silvered she began to chuckle without so much as a sound escaping her lips. To someone like Vin, it was 100% clear that Benny was interested in the other man. She gave Nat’s brother a knowing smile, however, eliciting an even deeper blush from Benny, and then went about continuing the conversation.

It is nice to meet you. I am a dancer. No. No I do not do lap dances. What the actual fuck?

Once again, she makes certain to point to the first part and tries to ignore the rest.

 

Kaito peered at Vin’s notebook and chuckles. “Do people actually ask that?” Amused and appalled at the same time.

 

Silvered was visibly holding his breath there.

 

With a sigh, Vin nodded regretfully.

 

“I tell people I’m a writer but when they find out I make a living by working for a newspaper, they then say they thought I was a real writer.” Kaito grinned with a laugh.

 

Pandora gave him a look. She was not entirely certain that was on par with being asked if you gave lap dances after saying she was a dancer. With a sigh, however, she shrugged and gave Kaito another look which showed some sympathy for the guy.

 

Kaito read that first look and gave a rueful laugh. “Not on par with your experience, but I find people are heavily influenced by a great deal of…expectation.” His phone beeped and he looked at it. “Right, I have to get going. Great meeting you all and thanks for the coffee. Hope to return the favor soon.” He stood, getting ready to leave.

 

“Come by the Bean Sidhe on route 1 northbound sometime! I’ll hook you up.” Benny smiled, still a little red around the freckles but perfectly capable of being polite.

 

Kaito winked. “Will do.” He held his hand up, waving, and left.

 

“Okay,” Silver said, reaching over to his box. “Okay, I’ve made you wait too dang long already,” he said, flipping the box open…

 

And it revealed a mess. A sort of mess, really; cinnamon rolls and meringues and cream, and pavlova and cakes, slices and breads – all sort of inelegantly stuck together. It was the dessert cake version of a Hot Mess – as Silver gave a grin. “We got a new trainee in the bakery, so we had some over-orders, and that means… stuff was going to get thrown out.” he reached into the box, plucking up a pair of small, nibble-sized treats. “Here, come, friends, take some, enjoy.” And then, showing either a great degree of awareness or none, he held out a treat to both each of Vin and Benny – as if they could just eat them out of his hands.

This thought occurred to Benny too, and his blush returned with a vengeance.

 

Pandora looked at the hot mess of baked goods and, with a shrug, snatched up a treat with her bare hands and started stuffing her face with it. The simplicity and lack of manners with which she did this was actually kind of cute in a way. It was either that she did not know any better or did not care. Having just gotten to know the woman, it was probably the latter.

 

“Um,” Benny delicately reached out to take what might have been a bear claw, if the bear had suffered a terrible accident prior to being turned into a bear. “Thank you, S.”

 

The evening air outside was warm and windy, the ocean keeping the temperature stable even as the breeze slid around. Concrete spires and glass towers kept it splitting up, stopping anything from becoming a gale – and here, in the corner of a corner of the city of a bridge that was Rock City, people had a nice, calm little while in The Anteater.

 

A beep from the phone, and Silver glanced down at it. “Aw nuts. Okay, I gotta get moving.” he stood up, setting the box on the counter as if he was making a chess move. “I guess someone is going to have to take this home, because I can’t.” a pat on Benny’s head, a nudge to Vin’s shoulder – a smile at Qun. Then he stepped back, wriggling to get his shoes on properly. “You stay great, okay?” Tapping his toes against the ground, he reached out to take his coffee, that little shot – and slugged it in one, giving a long, deep gasp afterwards. Then, he waved over his shoulder as he headed out the door, just in time for Qun to notice.

 

“Hey, hang on, Si-” but he was out the door, and they called after him. “What the hell is Jugglerphobia?

 

The Anteater: Waiting at the Edges

 

The Anteater changed decor only slowly and subtly. Qun was the kind of enby who favoured playing with the environment, maintaining the same feel and style, but subtly shifting things to play with the regulars. That one big Nighthawks homage under the sign was the only really obvious thing – they changed that when they’d already changed every other sign or poster around the place. Some movie posters were out of line, and there probably never was a movie called Queer and Pleasant Stranger featuring a pair of boys in ruffled shirts, but it didn’t matter.

 

Place still did food, drink, and late night atmosphere whether you’d started a shift, or finished one.

 

Silvered had had a long day.

 

Benny was just finishing up a shift, sure, but as usual he was dressed kinda nice in the way that he mysteriously always did when he was gonna hang out with Silvered. He had a paper handlebag dangling from one hand as he used the other to shove the door open.

 

He let the little silver charm drop out from his lips – Silver always had that little spot on the middle of the bar, his elbows against the countertop, hands folded together, chewing a little on that thing like it was a charm. The door rattled and he tilted his head, because it always unnerved Benny when Silver just reacted like he already knew he was there. “Hey there, Benny. Waking up or going down?” He asked, as he waved Qun over.

 

Silvered how do you have me blushing when I’m only three steps into the fucking— “G-going— home after this. To sleep.”

 

“Hey Qun. Benny wants, y’know. Tea.” he waved a hand. “Silvered no”

 

“What kind of tea, Benny?” Qun said, reaching across the counter to put their hand on Silvered’s forehead, resting it there as if they were dismissing him.

 

“S’jus fgn tea,” Silver murmured into that hand. Silvered no”

 

“I’m going to pretend for your friend’s sake he didn’t just say that.” Qun went on, smiling brightly at Benny.

 

“I’ll have—” and then Benny nearly leapt out of his skin as someone entered the shop behind him.

 

The door rattled again, and in peeked a red head. Satisfied that she hadn’t accidentally opened a door that should have remained closed, she meandered up to the counter and plopped down. She looked around with a faint, not-quite-demure mile on her face, eyes bright. And then she stared at the menu like it contained at least six of the seven secrets of the universe.

 

“I’ll um. Have a double-strength Dublin Fog, Qun, please. You still have that super strong irish breakfast, right?” He glanced nervously at the oddly-dressed woman who’d come in behind him and scurried to the bar, taking a seat next to Silvered. And she looked right at Benny.

 

That party trick.

 

Benny had known Silver for a – god, was it years now? Holy shit. And he had that trick he did. That trick when he saw someone for the first time and he just knew something about them. Something. And he got this look on his face, almost smug, almost curious – it was something like the expression you saw on the face of Sherlock Holmes in one of the really good productions, you know, the ones where – where Sherlock Holmes was kinda dreamy, but also had like, a really dangerous smile and –

fffuck

Look the point was, Silver had that look.

 

But he wasn’t saying anything. A little grin… and then he nudged Benny. “You had a rough day or…?”

 

Qun finally took their hand off his head and walked over to the redhead. “Evening there. Welcome to the Anteater. You looking for something in particular, or just here for the quiet and the-” they looked over at the pair of boys. “Atmosphere?” “what, what was that about.”

 

Qun’s saying you’re cute. Told you they dug ya.“w-what”

 

“Oh, I very much want something. I just don’t know what something is, yet. I will let you know when I have figured it out,” she said with a smile. Then again, look at her. Maybe that smile never goes away. And who wears a long, flowing dress like that to a coffee shop? Weird red-heads. That’s who.

 

Qun was quite good at Maintaining The Professionalism in the Face Of Thirst, which really, when you were a weird ethereal redhead with that accent, I mean, come on. But they smiled brightly, and tugged on the edge of the menu. “Well, this is a fine place to come, when you want but don’t know how to find. The Anteater is a place on the edges between places…” they smiled. Then they leant over to look at Silvered and Benny. “You two, be nice.” then a pause. “Okay, Silver, you be nice.” beat. “Benny, you’re an angel, as always.”

 

Benny beamed. “I’m an angel,” he told Silvered.

 

Then Sil put his finger on Benniel’s lips, gesturing with his head over to Chrys. “You gunna be sittin’ for a while, Miss?”

 

Qun gave him just the faintest look of irritation. After all, he didn’t know Miss was the right word. Ah well, retail bored some habits into you.

 

She glanced at Silvered. She glanced at Qun, and Benny, and then the large window. She stared at the ceiling as though it would respond for her. Or to her. One of those. Finally, she nodded. Once. Decisively. “I believe so – yes. Nothing springs to mind as needing doing. That may change. But it hasn’t.”

 

Then Sil – slipping his arm around Benny’s shoulder and pulling him into one of the seats, like he was fixing the other boy in place – held up three fingers to Qun. “Okay, Qun – you good for three Neo-British breakfasts? It’ll be my dinner, Benny likes the muffins, and one for the lady down the row – all on me.”

 

For a boy who whined about poverty, he paid for people’s food a lot.

 

Qun leant back and looked down at Chrys. “Are you alright with that?”

 

“I do not know what that is. But it sounds lovely. How did you make Britain new, I wonder?” Despite the question almost seeming snarky, it sounded completely genuine and honestly curious.

 

“Oh! Speaking of liking stuff,” Benny set the bag in front of Silvered. “I got you some of those roast beast sammies with the horseradish cream that you’re always complaining are out of stock.”

 

A child in a fitted leather coat and stylish cap pushed the door open and strode into the pub. Oh wait, it’s not a child, it’s just a really really short person with a freckly baby face.

 

Qun visibly started sweating.

 

“Hey Chrys, I thought I lost you—”

 

“How would you do that. I walked. In a straight line. After pointing.”

 

“I got distracted, okay? Hey! Benny!”

 

Benny whirled on the barstool. “Nat!”

 

Silver held out his hand, trying to hold Chrys’ attention, watching it flit back and forth, not out of any kind of entitlement, but because he felt he’d been asked a question- “It’s a big platter breakfast.” beat interrupt, “Neo-British because instead of uh, black pudding? Which is kind of gross? It’s got other stuff from around the world, and served with-” he looked up at Qun. “Tea?”

 

Three Teas, and a shortbread cookie,” Qun said, expression knotting slightly – but they had their eyes on the endlessly effervescent Damselfly. First impressions… lasted.

 

Taking off eir cap and smoothing down bright orange hair, Nat looked around until eir eyes lit upon the They is usually okay sign. “Oh, I like this place,” ey murmured.

 

“Oh. Black pudding is quite frightening. Yes.” She nods (She does that a lot). “… I am not entirely sure I would like to eat it again. Perhaps it is different, now. Or maybe it is the place that makes it different. The company? Stars?

 

“I’ve had worse, I guess?”

 

“I find that suspect.”

 

“Nat!” Benny chided. “Hug?”

 

The Damselfly grinned and took to the air, and two pairs of eyebrows rose, zipping past Chrys. Ey wrapped Benny in a hug, in the process filling the air around Qun and Silvered with sweet, musky pheromones. “Big bro!”

 

“Baby sib!” Benny laughed. “Welcome to my haunt. Oh, and that must be Chrys! I thought she seemed like someone I should know. This is Silvered, and that’s Qun, who will hook you up.”

 

“Who else might I be? I know who I have been. … Oh. Yes. I see, now.”

 

Silvered wasn’t really seeming to pay attention in that moment – that fanglike expression, that I-know-something grin he normally wore when he met someone new was not showing up – and instead he was resting his elbow on the countertop, his nose against his fingertips like he may have had a sinus headache – though none of the clear exhaustion you saw with that. On the other hand, Qun leant forward with such a proud smile.

 

“Why, hello there – you here to enjoy Silvered’s generosity hour, pretty thing? Or are you – ahah, friends of friends?” They leant back, grinning at Benny. “Ohoh! The infamous Damselfly?”

 

There were three books in Qun’s bedroom with puns on ‘Damselfly’ over a Smut Grenade logo. You could almost taste the tangible air of Keeping It Cool.

 

“Oh, well,” Nat smiled, eyelashes unconsciously fluttering, “aren’t you a gentleone.”

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5y_KJAg8bHI

Avicii: Wake Me Up>

 

With a deep yawn, a tall woman with platinum blonde hair and purple highlights wandered into the coffee shop. Bulky headphones already secured atop her head, Vin “Pandora” Peters stumbled up to the counter without seeming to realize that anyone else was even in the shop at the moment. [Could I get a coffee?] She signed rather hopelessly to the barista. [Whichever one has the most caffeine, that is the one I want.]

 

Was that a giant snake that went by outside the window just a second ago?

 

Alex waddled in behind her in a big hoodie and a huge amount of bedhead, blinking about lazily behind his girlfriend. His eyes had small bags above his tired smile as he let out a giant yawn. Vin snuggled close to Alex when he walked up behind her with a smile of her own.

 

Nat hadn’t yet noticed eir partners walking in, and Benny was too busy being puzzled at Silvered’s odd and out-of-character reaction.

 

“Usually I’m the one bringing the generosity hour,” Nat smiled over to Silvered, “and hey, I may yet. But if my brother is speaking highly of a coffee shop, well. I’ve got to try something. He’s very picky.”

 

“Discerning tastes,” Silvered croaked. “Bit of a snob.” Even as he said it, though, he flipped the little metal coin around his neck up, catching it between his lips – shooting a wink at Benny, and waggling the coin at Qun. Then a moment, and they started.

 

“Oh, right, the food.” they laughed, heading to the kitchen momentarily to place the order.

 

Chrys seemed to have disengaged, just a bit, staring at something that only she could see, if, indeed, there was anything to be staring at. Her smile had finally vanished, leaving in its place a contemplative expression, and something that may be a frown, or maybe she just looks disappointed by comparison. “Now that wasn’ very polite.” “it’s a fair cop tho”

 

Alex hugged Vin back, saying “I will take something sweet if you’ve got it please.” In the cheeriest voice he could muster, before turning slightly. “Hey. Is that Nat?” He squinted through drowsy eyes.

 

Vin blinked a couple times to get some of the sleep out of her eyes and then followed Alex’s gaze over to where Nat, Benny, Chrys, and Silvered were. Not exactly believing that so many people she knew could be in the same place at the same time, Vin rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand and then looked once more. [Yeah. That’s em alright.]

 

With two fingers raised to her lips, Vin blew a distinctive and recognizable whistle which anyone on the Neon Ops team had now come to recognize as their dancing teammate’s. When Nat looked over to see who made that sound, Vin waved and grinned back.

 

“Oh! Dang~!” Nat zipped over to Alex and Vin, kissing them both on the cheek. “I’m being a coincidence magnet again today. These are my partners Vin and Alex!”

 

“Hi again Vin! It’s nice to meet you, Alex!” Benny visibly struggled to avoid looking his sibling’s partner up and down appreciatively.

 

“Careful, Callister would crush him like a fistful of rose petals.” Silvered muttered, sotto voce, looking over his shoulder at Benny, before looking back across to the kitchen window, lips tugged to the side. Still with his hand by his nose. Weird.

 

Alex wasn’t really in the moment enough to hear that bit, and so just beamed at Benny. “Hi! It’s nice to meet you too!” He was smiling from ear to ear from the kisses on his cheeks, and almost always blushed meeting new people anyway. “What’s your name?”

 

“B-Benny,” he stammered, flushing or blushing or both. It wasn’t clear whether his nervousness was in response to Alex’s effusive attention or Silvered’s warning. “I’m Nat’s older brother.” Vin looked up at Alex with a chuckle as she signed [I think he likes you.]

 

Nat giggled. “Benny oh my god.”

 

A blink, and Silvered – who still hadn’t turned around, as if perhaps the cloud of Affection And Contact And People was sliiightly disconnected, or if he was just focusing on something else – gave a snort of surprise. “Wait, older?”

 

yes almost seven years older what is that supposed to mean”

 

I have a hard time seeing you as -” and Silvered trailed off, as if the conclusion of that line was… dirty? No, not quite. But he smirked.

 

[Hey Nat, could you translate for me? I just realized that I forgot my notebook back at the apartment. Probably is stuffed in the pocket of the pants I wore yesterday.] Vin scratched at the side of her neck with a small and hopeful smile despite already knowing Nat’s response.

 

“Absolutely, love! Hey, um, Qun?” Nat looked around. “Oh, they’re in the back. I’ll order when they get back out. Lots of caffeine, right?”

 

Silvered called from his seat towards the back. “Double god-ender.”

 

“I was just gonna order a blackeye, but that sounds ominous so it’s probably better.”

 

Alex rested his cheek on Vins shoulder as she signed. “It’s great to meet you Benny! Nat has told me about you…I have to say you are just as adorable in person.” He said it with a happy and sincere smile, like he wasn’t trying to tease him at all. But he was.

 

Benny reeled, looking slightly faint. [Yep. He has the hots for you, Alex.]

 

[As much caffeine as could physically be put into a cup.] Vin signed to Nat with a loving smile before turning back to Benny and Silvered. [How have you two been since we last met? Keeping out of trouble?]

 

“Vin wants to know if you boys have been keeping out of trouble. Or how you’ve been. Whichever.”

 

“I will take some hot coco please.” Alex seemed to be content with resting his head right where it was for the moment, humming in Vins ear. “Yeah he might.”

 

[To be fair, I can completely understand why he would have the hots for you.] She turned her head to place a small, but loving kiss upon Alex’s lips before rubbing noses with him. [You’re pretty darn amazing, after all.]

 

“I don’t get into trouble!” Benny gathered his wits enough to reply. “My friends do it for me. They don’t need help.”

 

Silvered, still not turning wholly around, said. “Hey, remember that time you wound up having rough sex with…” he paused. “You know, legit, I cannot remember that fuckin’ rat’s nest of what happened. So, Callister and noise complaints?” he smiled at Benny.

 

It was a winning smile.

 

It was a pyrrhic victory of a smile. BLUSH.

 

“Oh so that kind of trouble.” Alex laughed cheerily. “I’m fine with that.” Of course Alex was thinking in the “so I don’t need to arrest you” way. But you couldn’t tell it from his voice. He smiled innocently.

 

“Me, I just deliver like… baked goods.” Silvered shrugged, turning back away, rubbing his face again.

 

“Are you okay, Sil? You seem, I dunno. Are you having allergies?” Benny’s voice had real concern in it as the blush faded from his cheeks. Seemed he recovered relatively quickly, at least.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0W1c_qH9sQ

Alexisonfire: To A Friend (Adventure Club Remix)>

 

Vin’s eyes were looking Silvered over as well. It was not the look of one who was necessarily concerned, however, as she had seen that kind of exasperation on many people’s faces from when she had worked in the labor force herself. No… This was more the look of someone who was enjoying the view and Vin made no attempt to hide it whatsoever.

 

He waggled the metal coin between his teeth again, before flipping it – with his lips! – and letting it fall down to the end of its little leather strap down into his shirt again. “Ah, probably just a long day.” he lifted up on one thigh, fishing from his pants his wallet, folding out some bills. “Ey, Benny, if I have to bounce, you gunna hang around and pay Qun for the party?”

 

Suddenly, Nat was next to Silvered, and that scent was in his nose and mouth and lungs. “Don’t even,” ey placed a hand on his, pushing the money back toward his wallet. “I’m the obscenely wealthy person here. Let me.”

 

Then, murmured too quietly for anyone else to hear: “You know that my brother has it worse for you than for anyone else here, yeah?”

 

Then came back – weird, it was almost like a growl. “Sorta. But he has it for most boys who push him into lockers. And his life’s pretty complicated already.”

 

That thing with the coin and the lips made Vin’s eyes sparkle a little more with impressed interest at this guy. Cool? Check. Kind? Check. Cute? Check. Under normal circumstances, Vin would have asked this guy out in a heartbeat to see what kind of luck she might have… But this was not normal circumstances.

 

She looked to Benny, knowing from their previous encounter that Nat’s elder sibling had quite the massive crush on Silvered. With a sigh she scratched at the hair underneath the band of her headphones. It would probably be rude to ask Silvered out when Benny had yet to even attempt asking the guy out. So… With that in mind… Vin did it for him.

 

[Nat, please ask Silvered if he would like to go out to dinner and a movie with Benny sometime this upcoming week. Nothing formal, mind you, but emphasize that it is a date.]

 

Alex brought his hot chocolate up to his lips carefully with both hands, his eyes shifting from Vin, to Nat, to Benny, to Silvered. This was gonna be good.

 

“My girlfriend suggests that you take him on a date, if you’re interested,” Nat continued in a low voice, “a movie or something. Trust me, he won’t mind the complication. But if you’re not interested—tell him. Don’t string my brother along. Please.” It wasn’t a threat, or upset, but a decidedly firm request rested in the Damselfly’s voice.

 

And then the scent abated and Nat was swooping away.

 

Vin had gotten quite adept at reading lips and reading Nat’s lips was no different. She grinned her thanks and blew em a kiss before extending an arm to em as if to ask if ey wanted to come in for a hug. Ey did, of course. She snuggled Nat close, nuzzling their cheeks together before placing a loving kiss upon eir ear.

 

Benny looked… confused, and vaguely alarmed.

 

Out back, frying, cooking – a panopaly of scents and flavours – Qun emerging with –

 

“Qun is that a different tie?”

 

“Shut up.”

 

– a grin on their face and arms spread wide. “Good news, everyone. We’ve got a bit of a spread going, so your orders will be ready in a moment. Now I understand someone here wanted a double god-ender?” they said, stepping to the counter.

 

The cup was ceramic – stout, pale grey, and looked weirdly like a double-height shotglass. The surface of it was black, inky. No bubbles on the surface, and it didn’t even seem to reflect the light. “Now, all marketing hooey aside, this is a strong drink – I just wanna make sure you sweeties are comfortable with what you’re getting into.”

 

A pause.

 

Qun looked at Silvered. “What, nothing?”

 

“I said nothing.” he shrugged.

 

“… You feeling okay?”

 

He looked ruffled at that.

 

“I’m worried too! He’s been acting kinda off since—” realization dawned on Benny’s face, glancing between Nat and Silvered. “OH.”

 

“Some bozo at work shot Axe bodyspray in my face, I’m fine.” Silvered lied at Benny.

 

Snapping out of the tense moment for a second, Vin turned and grabbed her drink before downing it in a single chug. It wasn’t a drug trip but it was close. She grinned afterwards, a massive buzz of caffeine rushing through her body with such strength that both Nat and Alex could probably feel it in her muscles. Shit, Nat seemed to be feeling it through sheer receptive empathy.

 

Alex squeezed the both of them, Nat and Vin. He was pretty clueless about what was going on. “Hey…I’m kind of clueless? What’s going on?” He asked quietly.

 

Qun held out their hand. “Take a seat there, petal,” odd word choice, “And join us in enjoying the finest midnight hospitality Rock City has, here at the Anteater.” They stopped at the countertop, glancing quickly to Silvered. A moment, and money didn’t change hands, just a few short words. Then they turned back. “C’mon, it’s a lovely night, and there’s plenty to have.” they smiled broadly.

 

Nat leaned toward Qun in a way that would not be possible for a person with… weight. “Seems like you might have a secret menu.

 

Silvered was – it wasn’t that he slunk away or hit the door. There was just a moment in the conversation where he was there… then a moment when he wasn’t.

 

Benny frowned, but gave Silvered his space.

 

Alex blushed bright red at being called petal by someone he had just met. “Oh…uh…play…heheh…” He ran a hand through his hair and followed Qun to his seat, sipping his coco with a soft sigh of satisfaction. “This stuff is really good.”

 

[Holy fucking shit,] Vin signed with a silent chuckle as she shook her head to clear it a little. [Really have got to learn how to drink things without chugging them. Damn that stuff is strong.] She looked to Qun and gave them a thumbs up.

 

Nat leaned in toward Alex and said, “my brother is really into Silvered. Vin and I were encouraging him to… make a decision one way or the other.”

 

“Awwww.” Alex said, pout of a frown on his lips as he looked over at Benny. “Poor guy. He seems really nice Nat. I guess I didn’t realize I might have…ah. Made things worse.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Still getting used to when to flirt or not to flirt.”

 

Now far more energized than before, Vin wrapped her arms around her two loves a little more and gave them both kisses on the cheek. She then rubbed her nose with Alex as a calm smile spread across her lips so as to let him know that he did fine.

 

Alex smiled and kissed her back, holding her hands as he looked at the two of them. “You think he wants to talk about it?” There was genuine concern in his eyes.

 

Glancing over at Benny, who appeared confused and a little hurt, Nat nodded. “It probably wouldn’t hurt. Besides, you should get to know him. He’s one of the few people who’s almost as sweet as you are.”

 

Alex nodded, taking his hot coco with him and gently sitting down across from the confused man. “Hey Benny, I know I just met you and all but…you look a little down.” He glanced towards the door Silvered left from. “Is there anything you want to talk about? Could I get you some coffee maybe, or some hot chocolate? It’s really good.” He finished that with a happy smile.

 

“What?” Shocked out of his reverie, Benny fell over himself apologizing. “Oh, no, I’m so sorry! I was just worried about Silvered, that’s all. I didn’t mean to concern you.”

 

Alex smiled. “Hey it’s all good. No need to apologize, I worry about people’s well being for a living.” He grinned warmly. “You think he’s going to be ok?”

 

Vin motioned for Benny to come and sit with them with a comforting smile, taking her arm from around Alex’s shoulders for just a second to pat the stool at the counter beside them before snuggling her boyfriend close once more.

 

“I think so? He’s sort of hard to read,” Benny admitted, moving over to the seat near the two as Nat hovered behind. “I’m sure he’ll be fine at some point, it’s just clear that something was bugging him. And thank you for the offer, but I have my tea latte.”

 

Alex walked with him, happily getting snuggled as he walked by Vin. “Yeah…I think he’ll get better too. Not sure what was bothering him but…I think I can relate. I was really nervous when Vin asked me out.” He beamed as he kissed her cheek. She blushed and returned the kiss with one of her own. “But after I took some time to think…well. I realized that she was awesome and kind and really really great. And you seem like a pretty awesome guy yourself. I bet that guy just needs some time to realize that.” He said, giving Benny a small and hopeful smile.

 

“Wh-what? I mean, like. I’m—” Benny slumped a little. “I really am that obvious, huh.”

 

“Mm-hmm,” Nat confirmed.

 

“Well if I am being honest, Nat helped me out.” He averted his gaze, blushing a little. “I can be kind if oblivious sometimes.”

 

“I like helping. Oh, speaking of which:” ey leaned in and whispered to Alex. “He’s not off-limits.”

 

Vin chuckled a little, clearly overhearing Nat’s whisper as she ordered a croissant to act as her breakfast for the day.

 

Alex blushed a bit more. “But yeah…anyways. Being obvious isn’t that bad a thing. At least I don’t think so.” He said, looking down into his sweet drink as he nervously messed with his hair. He had never been the one to go out of his way to ask someone out before. Oh god.

 

With a very firm smile, Vin pulled Alex close once more so as to place a kiss on his cheek. [You are so adorable, sweetheart.]

 

“Hey, it seems like you all might be kind of preoccupied too?” Benny laughed a little nervously, clearly assuming that he was the problem. “I can give you space. But hey it’s been really nice to meet you in person, Alex, and to see you again, Vin. And it’s always awesome to see my enster.”

 

Alex’s look became one with confusion when it was said he was preoccupied. “Oh…uh. Yeah. It was pretty great to meet you too. Have a great day out there today. And like, if you need to talk….I wouldn’t mind it.” He gave a small wink before bashfully retreating into his coco.

 

Nat slapped eir forehead. So close. Ey looked over at Vin and signed (slightly behind Alex so he didn’t see): [We’re going to have to mash them together, aren’t we.]

 

[Probably.] Vin chuckled a little. [Still… I have to admit that that was freaking adorable.]

 

Clearing eir throat, Nat spoke up. “Alex, Benny is like you. If you want to ask him out, you sort of have to hit him over the head with it.”

 

Benny, midway through a sip of his tea latte, spilled about half of the remaining liquid on himself.

 

“Oh my gosh!” Alex jumped for the napkins and quickly went to work cleaning the tea off his lap, kneeling next to him. “You got it everywhere…”

 

Benny’s intake of breath was silent, but his eyes went wide, his cheeks very red.

 

Alex realized what he was doing and where his hands were about 15 or so seconds into it and his body froze. Like he thought if he did not move people would forget he was even there. Blushing a deep rose, he slowly looked up at Benny, who stared back down, blushing just as fiercely. “Haha….haaaa. Um.” His hand slowly raised out of Benny’s lap, taking the napkin with it. A short pause.

 

“So…would you like. To. Like. Go out. Sometime. Maybe.”

 

“Oh wow um I mean that kind of sounds amazing? I’d really love that but I mean I’m not as like attractive or talented as my enster or your girlfriend and I don’t want to like disappoint you?”

 

[You are plenty attractive, Benny.] Vin commented, letting Nat translate as she rolled her eyes. [Heck, if it seemed like you were into girls then I might have asked you out myself.] With a chuckle, she wrapped her arm around Alex’s waist in an affectionate manner.

 

“I think if I was going to be disappointed it would have already happened.” Alex said a little quietly, leaning back into Vins arms. “Nat really talks you up. And I like your vest.” He said it like it had some deep, reassuring meaning. You know. Like a dork.

 

“Oh,” Benny said, face still flushed and wide-eyed. “Um. Then yes. You’re really cute and I’d totally go out with you.”

 

Vin clapped her hands together excitedly for Alex and Benny. [Oh! You two are going to have such a great time out, I can tell.] She pulled them both into a hug.

“Oh! Miss Vin, please don’t get coffee on your nice outfit!”

She made a ‘pffffft’ sound before signing. [My outfits get covered in sweat when I go out dancing anyway. Coffee is no big deal.]

 

Alex made a =D face as he was pulled into the hug, not wanting to shout in the coffee shop he let out a drawn out and loud for a whisper “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay.”

 

Grinning broadly, Nat nodded a few times, gears turning. “We need to find you two a Dom.”

“I know a guy named Dom…”

 

[Nat, I hardly think these two are going to fuck on their first date.] “You haven’t met Benny.” Blush explosion. Make it double. She chuckled and gave her two loves a look.  [What I am now thinking, however, is that I need to find a second Schuster of my own to take out on a date to even things out.] She was clearly joking… You think… Maybe… Who knows?

 

“Buster,” Nat and Benny said at the same time. Nat continued. “You’d like her. She’s hot. She’d be into you. Should I not be doing this? Is this weird?”

[Not at all, oh glorious matchmaker!] Vin chuckled and leaned in to give Nat a kiss. [Do they dance?]

 

“I dunno. Does Buster dance, Benny?”

 

“She’s not that great at it but she at least knows how to move to the beat,” he offered.

 

[That’s good enough for me!] Vin replied with a wide smile.

 

“Buster is a cool name I like it.” Alex’s head was clearly in the clouds now as he thought about boys and how to date them.

 

“Buster’s very cool. She drives tanks and lives on the moon.”

 

“My boyfriend is dominant,” Benny chimed in a little quietly, also clearly thinking about other things.

 

“I think that dating Callister might be a little bit too intense for Alex to start off with, buddy,” Nat ruffled Benny’s hair.

 

[Buster lives on the moon?] Vin’s eyes seemed to light up at that, mind starting to wander as she considered the many possibilities that opened up. [Okay. Yeah. When can I meet her?]

 

“I like the moon.” Alex said, his face taking the form you would expect of somebody thinking about a nice butt. [You certainly seem to appreciate mine.]

 

“Benny, when’s your twin on earth leave next?”

 

“She’s supposed to be on it now,” he said, face suddenly sobering, “but she’s waiting for authorization for some kind of rescue mission. Apparently her boyfriend went missing? Sorry, her friend with benefits went missing. She’s very clear on him not being her boyfriend.”

 

[Well… If she ever needs someone to relax or hang out with, I can certainly clear some time in my schedule for her.] Vin smiled a little, nodding her understanding to Benny.

 

“Hey Vin,” Nat turned eir phone around. Ey’d fullscreened a picture of what appeared to be a female bodybuilder grinning brightly and flexing for the camera, clad in pink camo BDUs and a sports bra. She had a floppy mohawk dyed blue and pink and white, the signature Schuster freckles, and some of the most defined abs Vin had ever seen. “That’s Buster.”

 

Vin whistled, rather impressed with the woman’s physique. [Wow! That is one Hell of a unique look she has got going on there and I love it. All of those muscles too. Wow!]

 

“Us trans Schusters like to stand out, I guess,” Nat laughed.

 

Alex stared at the picture and blushed a little redder. “Woah”

 

[Give her a call sometime. Tell her that I am 110% interested in meeting her.] Vin’s eyes sparkled a little more, a wry smile spreading across her lips that Alex and Nat recognized.

 

“Yeah, Buster’s my identical twin, but she somehow inherited all the, like. Motivation. I could never stay in that kinda shape,” Benny admitted sheepishly.

 

“Well if you ever want to try working out…I will give you something to look at while you do.” Alex giggled a bit as he rested his head against Nats floating body. “Also lots of help and motivation.” He didn’t wink but that was because he did not need to. His blush said most of what he needed to say.

Thomson’s Projector

OUTSIDE THE LAKE THEATRE

OAK PARK, ILLINOIS

 

In another city, it might have seemed suspicious. Police blockades up and down Lake Street, warding people away from the Lake Theatre, but around the theatre itself? Black sedans and turtlenecked, gun-toting enforcers. One of them, standing near the entrance of the theatre, was decked out in full SWAT gear, but with no markings. In Rock City, San Francisco, New York City, it would have raised countless red flags. But here? The locals knew what was up.

 

The Family had someone cornered.

 

Vin “Pandora” Peters, dressed in her civilian attire of a loose-fitting tank-top and baggy sweat pants, walked through the streets of Chicago in search of a store at which to buy a dress for her date later that night. So far she had come up with nothing. Everything was either not her style or was far too expensive for her meager funds. She cursed herself internally for having spent pretty much all of her last paycheck on music… again…

 

Upon reaching the intersection of Lake Street, the off-duty superhero stopped and looked past the barricades towards the theater. What in the world was going on over there? Looking at the people around her, the woman slipped underneath the barricade and started walking forward as she grabbed out a large pair of headphones, an MP3 player, and a notebook out of a purse. She slipped the headphones on over her ears and flicked on the MP3 player to its first song.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoXp5LU1m9Q

Gramatik: The Long Swing of Justice>

 

No one noticed Pandora at first, but as she approached the black sedans, a uniformed police officer stepped forward, holding one hand up. “Sorry, miss, there’s police action going on. You can’t be back here.”

 

Turning her notebook open, Pointed to her ID which proved her to be a member of The Legion. The name upon it read “Pandora” in large, friendly print next to her picture.

 

What is going on here? She wrote on the next available page in the notebook. Anything I can do to help out or is everything under control already?

 

The officer gave her a tight, uncomfortable smile. “It’s airtight… um, ‘Pandora’. Not to worry. Just some crooks who didn’t move fast enough after an illegal trade. We have it well in hand.”

 

Nearby, a man in a tan suit with aviator sunglasses emerged from a car. An elderly man carrying an antique cane stepped forward, smiling, and the two exchanged a few words that Vin couldn’t quite make out.

 

Shuffling through the alley’s and trying to keep out of sight, Revenant had been listening to the police scanner on her phone. As she had been patrolling the neighborhood nearby and had caught the talk of the police setting up roadblocks she decided to sneak over and have a peek for herself.  

 

Wearing her black kevlar vest with the white skull and wings on the back, the black face mask obscuring most of her face. Slowly she edged up towards the road within the cordoned off area.

 

Revenant instantly recognized the austere cars and ‘uniforms’ favorited by the enforcer squads of Chicago’s largest and oldest surviving crime syndiate: The Family. An outer ring of bought cops, and an inner one of enforcers. And one armored, helmeted figure: if rumors served, likely one of their employed Nulls.

 

Pandora raised an eyebrow. With how many vehicles they had in the area, she was not entirely certain she believed the officer’s claim that everything was ‘well in hand,’ She clicked her pen and began to write again.

 

Are you sure? There are a whole lot of bodies here for something small. Who are the crooks inside the building and what were they trying to do?

 

The officer sighed, looked over at the suited man and the old man with the cane, then looked back. “The perps are paranormal. Accomplices of the Silver Killer. That’s all I can say without further authorization; we really do have it well in hand.”

 

Frowning as she looked each of the cars over and the people nearby “Definitely can’t be good if you’re here” she whispered to herself. Noticing the heavily armored figure she instantly had a bad feeling about that person. Peeking out from around her position she watched their movements in so she would be able to quickly dart across the street to get on the side of the theater building.

 

Silver Killer… Vin remembered hearing that name somewhere before and, for some reason, the face of a nervous man in a bar appeared in her head. It made her doubt the officer’s story even more than she already had. Despite this, she shrugged and gave the officer a small nod.

 

Alright. If you are certain everything here is taken care of, then I suppose I shall continue to go about my day. Good luck catching the bad guys or whatever. With that, she closed her notebook and walked away, moving towards a side alley which flanked the theatre. Something in her gut told her that things here were not as they appeared and so she flicked on her phone and sent a message.

 

From their nearby vantage points, both Pandora and Revenant were able to catch a bit of shouted dialogue from just inside the theatre.

 

A woman’s voice, first: “Is the Null still at the front?”

 

Now a male one. “…yeah.”

 

“God dammit. You sure we can’t blow open the back door or something?”

 

“I told you, boss, we didn’t bring nothin’ that explodes! You said it’d show poor faith in front of Mister Dupont!”

 

“Fuck.”

 

<Current music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=subJNIByGuA

Blockhead: Insomniac Olympics>

 

Making a mental note of the voices she caught Revenant looked for a fire escape to make her way inside the theater. Knowing the voices would be concerned about the back door and to know the Null was out front.

 

Revenant didn’t have much luck, looking around the building; a vaulted-roof, one-floor affair, the Lake Theatre had a guarded and hastily-barricaded back door, but there wasn’t an obvious way to the roof… and who even knew if there’d be a skylight or door.

 

Vin’s green eyes changed to a shade of hazy purple as she listened in on the conversation inside. Pursing her lips with annoyance, she made her way around the theatre to look at the back door and see what the situation was like back there.

 

Frustrated that a frontal incursion would bring too much attention to herself and bring the Null down on her along with all of the muscle and dirty cops wasn’t a plan that she was wanting to go through with. Taking a moment before she went towards the back door to see just how bad it was. Blinking as she spotted Pandora.

 

As Pandora and Revenant caught sight of each other from opposite sides of the building, they also caught sight of the emergency exit at the back of the theatre. Two men guarded the door, each clad in a flak vest. One loosely carried a pump-action shotgun, the other a semi-automatic pistol. The door itself was barred with a portable tension barricade made of heavy steel, arms pressed on either side of the doorframe and preventing it from opening.

 

Surprised to see another person doing the same thing as her, Vin blinked a couple times before waving a little, pointing to the door, and then shrugging as if to ask a question.

 

Returning a small wave in kind Revenant signaled towards the other to knock out the guards she then followed it up with a thumbs up.

 

Pandora nodded and, waiting for an upbeat, jumped out from around the corner and sprinted at the guard closest to her. She angled a kick upwards as she got close, lithe body stretching in an attempt to nail the guy right under his chin.

 

Pandora caught the first guard completely by surprise; he didn’t even have time to raise his pistol before his head snapped back and he crumpled to the ground, rolling in pain.

 

The other guard, unfortunately, was already raising the muzzle of the shotgun toward Vin.

 

Sprinting towards the remaining guard Revenant, her eyes a dead grey would grab him around the neck while using her momentum to spin him around and send him to the ground. Her increased strength playing a factor.

 

Not expecting another intruder, the shotgun-wielding enforcer hit the ground like a ragdoll. The attack had taken only a few seconds, and made virtually no noise, and now the women stood unaccosted in front of the door, a locked tension barricade all that stood between them and the theatre.

 

Giving the other paranormal a thumbs up, Vin gestures to the door with her thumb. Her current powers could not allow her to open it. As she did this, her other hand grabbed out her notebook again and she began to scribble some words upon it.

Thank you for the assist there! Any chance you could also take out the door? I have a feeling something is going on in there and that not all is as it seems.

 

Reading the words as the other wrote Revenant nodded “I can give it a try.” Turning her focus onto the tension barricade. Reaching out she quickly tested the barricade, going into z-mode she put all her strength into taking out the barricade.

 

With a squeal and a snap, the barricade’s lock broke, and its arms retracted. The hefty metal lock tumbled to the ground with a loud clang, and a voice just inside the door called,

 

“Boss, I think I just heard somethin’ from outside!”

 

Pandora bows low to her new friend before writing again.

Great job! Name is Pandora, by the way. What’s yours?

The music-based superhero looks in through the doorway, scanning the area to make sure the coast was clear for the time being.

 

Brushing her hands off “I’m Revenant and thanks.” lowering her voice “Seems that we’ll going to have some company.” she said with a grin.

 

Seems like it. Pandora wrote within her notebook, bouncing back and forth on the balls of her feet as she kept herself limber in case anything happened.

 

After a few moments, the woman’s voice they’d heard from the front came from a little further out behind the door. “So?”

 

“I dunno, it just uh. It went quiet. There was some scufflin’ and clanging and stuff.”

 

A third, quiet voice chimed in, “maybe some heroes came and beat up the enforcers?”

 

“Tortoise, I love you, but leave the thinking to me, babe,” the woman said. “All right, we’re gonna try this one more time. You ready, boys?”

 

Three people at the least. The most feminine voice seemed to belong to the leader. Take her out and the other two would likely be easy enough to handle. Vin stepped to the side of the door, out of the line of sight so that she could get the element of surprise.

 

Moving to the side of the door as well Revenant crouched low. Balling her fists as her muscles tightened for anyone that could step out the door.

 

The door burst open from the force of a booted foot, and a wiry, tallish woman with dark brown hair and fierce eyes followed through it, pistol held ready in her hands.

 

“All right you mobster fucks—”

 

A leg covered in a deep purple mist swept at the woman’s legs at speed, her calves suddenly feeling weaker upon being struck as Pandora attempts to trip the gun-toting individual from her spot behind the door.

 

Whump. The woman hit the pavement unceremoniously, her pistol flying from her hand as she struck the ground.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U13DaFJq8ls

Dessa – Fighting Fish>

 

Revenant kicked out at the gun to make sure it was even further out as she proceeded to press her knee against the woman’s upper back “Would be better for you to stay put and not make a sound.”

 

Pandora flashed Revenant a thumbs-up, her eyes shifting to a deep shade of blue. Peeking around the side of the door to see if the other two individuals she had heard were there, she stepped into the theater with a look of serious determination in her eyes to dissuade them from doing anything foolish.

 

Or, she would have, if she hadn’t been nearly bowled over by the one coming through the door. A short, broad-shouldered young man wearing a domino mask barreled through, sending Pandora stumbling back and slamming into Revenant with a heavy shoulder. It wasn’t a particularly effective combat maneuver, but it served the purpose of getting the woman off his boss’s back.

 

He stumbled as he pushed her, almost falling on top of the brunette, then threw his arms wide. A dome made of hexagonal panels of energy sprang up around him and the prone woman, partially clipping through the walls and doorframe and preventing passage.

 

“Leave Erin alone, you—mobsters!” He shouted, then looked at the two women outside the bubble and frowned. “Wait, you’re not the Family. What the heck?”

 

“Ack!” Vin managed to exclaim as she fell backwards and landed butt-first in a puddle. She grimaced with discomfort, sighing deeply with annoyance as she pushed herself back onto her feet and stood to face those who had been trapped in the theater, giving them a good look.

 

For the fact in not needing air to breath or even breathing at all it still surprised Revenant and hurt when the bruiser slammed into her, sending her tumbling forward. Standing up, angry and ready now for any more surprises “No and I’m take that as an insult, thinking that we’re part of The Family.” Revenant still glared at him with cold, gray eyes “Who do you think you are?”

 

“Oh gosh, I wasn’t tryin’ to say you look like The Family, we just thought they was the only ones out here,” the young man said. He couldn’t have been older than twenty or taller than five foot five, and the mop of unruly blond hair, freckles, chubby physique, and earnest blue eyes certainly didn’t paint the picture of a career criminal. “I’m the Tortoise. This here is Erin the Arrow, and um. I guess I sorta left Achilles in there. We’re the Paradox Crew and I’m real sorry for the shoulder check, we really just wanna get outta here, honest.”

 

“Prob’ly best to stop talkin’ before we know who they are, Tort,” Erin winced, trying to pick herself within the cramped confines of the shield bubble.

 

Pulling her notebook out once more, Vin began to scribble down in it.

What on Earth could you three have done to merit the welcoming party out there? Please do not make this any more difficult than it has to be as well. I have a date in a couple hours and still need to pick out a dress for it.

She placed the page up against the barricade for Tortoise and Erin to read, her annoyed look still present since her pants were soaked.

 

“The Paradox Crew? Can’t say I’ve really heard of you guys before and whatever you guys did, or didn’t do.” Revenant shrugged slightly “Brought a lot of attention from the Family.” She looked over both Erin and Tortoise, sizing them up if it came to that point.

 

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Erin had the bearing of a Family wiseguy and sounded like one, but other than the barrier there was nothing even remotely impressive about Tortoise.

 

“Everything okay out there?” Someone called from inside.

 

“Still figurin’ that one out,” Erin called back. “And yeah. They’ve had it in for us lately. We were here to make a deal with that merchant, Dupont, but the old fuck sold us out.”

 

Revenant had heard of Dupont. Evidently a dealer in Wheird and unusual artifacts. Unscrupulous, resourceful, and hard to pin down.

 

Pandora raised an eyebrow.

Who the Hell is DuPont and why would he sell you out? Did you do something to him?

 

Sighing softly “Yeah? Wouldn’t put it past that old meatbag to do something like this. You guys made the mistake of even dealing with him.” Revenant turned to look over at Pandora “He’s not a great upstanding member of the city.”

 

“We didn’t do nothing!” Tortoise insisted.

 

“…but we can’t pay as much for a deal as the Family can pay for us to take a fall,” Erin admitted bitterly. “Yeah, fine, we fucked up. Can we leave now?”

 

One second… Pandora turned the Revenant and wrote down another sentence. Do we trust them? I mean, I get that those folks out front are pretty much all in the pocket of this ‘Family’, but we still don’t know what exactly these guys did. I’d say it’s likely both sides are on the wrong side of the law…

 

“I agree with you there Pandora.” Revenant nodded to her “So you guys got paid to be the idiot fall guys for this?” she emphasised with one hand towards the theater.

 

“What? No, we were gonna buy an artifact from Dupont, and instead the Family paid ‘im off to hand us over on a silver platter! We don’t get one red penny, just a bunch of crooked cops, a Null, and two very inquisitive strangers!”

 

Pandora sighed and shrugged to Revenant.

We might as well let them go. “Fucking thank you!”To be honest, I cannot see much harm in it right now. I’m more concerned about what that group out there will do to them.

 

“True and I don’t want to see old meatbag have another win over people like us. Yeah, you guys can go and make sure to don’t deal with Dupont again.”

 

“Yeah sure absolutely, lesson learned, never trust an old man with a cane. Now let’s all—”

 

“They’re back here!” A black-clad man with a pistol shouted at the end of the alley. “They took out the guards! They’ve got reinforcements!”

 

Two more men ran around the other corner, bringing their guns to bear and blocking the only other route out of the alley.

 

“It won’t work!” The first man yelled. “We need M.T.! Get M.T. back here!”

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CSSZuocA-0

Dessa – Mineshaft>

 

((to be clear: think of this alley as a long, enclosed area with two corner exits on either end. The yelling guy arrived around one corner, the two others arrived on the other side. Both routes are blocked to one extent or another))

 

Pandora spat as she pocketed her notebook and pointed towards the side of the alley that would lead them away from the mob in front of the theater. She then sprinted in that direction, her deep brown eyes focusing upon the individual in front of her; attempting to make eye contact with him so as to use her newest power.

 

Seeing her race toward them, one of the armed men caught her eyes and gasped.

 

“Well hell.” Revenant sprinted towards the open door of the theater and picked up the barricade that had once blocked it. She effortlessly tossed it at the original man that was shouting as she ran towards him as well.

 

Tortoise glanced between the two heroines who’d just run in opposite directions, then dropped the hex shield and ducked back behind the door. Erin scrambled for her pistol and took aim at the man next to Pandora’s target.

 

Upon making eye-contact with Pandora, the gunman she was sprinting at would suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of vertigo whilst the dancer leapt into the air and, with a twirl, backhanded the man so that he would fall forward into her raised knee.

 

The man wobbled, fell, and took both hits before dropping like a sack of potatoes. The other one raised his pistol but crumpled and fell as he took two of Erin’s bullets in the calf and thigh.

 

“That nonlethal enough for ya, Zeno?” Erin snarled as her henchmen helped her to her feet.

 

Meanwhile, the man in Revenant’s path had an even worse time; the heavy steel barricade hit him square in the face, and he spun and fell into a rapidly-growing pool of his own blood, unmoving.

 

Then Revenant looked down the side alley and her blood went cold. There was a figure advancing at a slow jog, wearing a reinforced helmet and unmarked riot armor. They held only a handgun, but she knew that their weapon was a field around them.

 

The Null. Only seconds before Rev would be in that field, fewer if she charged.

 

Thinking quickly on the spot Revenant turned and shouted to the others “Null!!” moving closer to the now obviously dead goon she picked up his weapon and started to fire at the Null as she started to run back to the others “damn it and was hoping to get a snack from him.”

 

Vin kicked the shot-up goon in the side of the head to knock him out before looking around the corner to see if there were any more attackers she would have to deal with this way.

 

There were. About half a dozen, not in melee range, and with guns drawn and ready. The one in front was carrying a god damn submachine gun, what the fuck

 

“Fucking get behind me!” Erin yelled as she scrambled around the corner, and straight into the path of the armed goons. They fired… and the bullets halted right in front of Erin, spinning in midair a millimeter from her skin. “Fuck that never stops being scary.”

 

“Hope you guys have a plan, this day is going to get much worse quickly.” Revenant had joined up with the others.

 

Looking around at the mob of… well… mobsters in front of them, Pandora looked for a possible weak spot in their formation as her current song shifted into the next.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXrdYwG17PE

Parov Stelar: Catgroove> ((sorry, just wanted to throw you something a little more helpful 😉 ))((That certainly works well here!))

 

She grinned, eyes now a shining shade of white as she pointed a pair of finger guns at the gun-toting goons. With a mental ‘Bang! Bang!’ the tall woman fired back at them with concussive bullets of energy, aiming first and foremost at that one with the machine gun.

 

The enforcers’ expressions of triumph turned to surprise as they started dropping, felled by pellets of invisible force that their flak jackets did nothing to halt. Erin’s taller henchman, Achilles, shouldered his way to the front and provided another human shield, bullets glancing off of him as they halted in front of Erin. They were slowly gaining ground as Vin felled mobsters by firing through the openings in her human shields, but Revenant saw the Null rounding the corner and marching their way. It wasn’t fast enough!

 

Firing the remaining rounds left in the guns magazine as the Null approaches “We need to leave now.” Feeling herself losing strength.

 

The Null was limping now, their armor dented, but still coming.

 

Revenant was right, they needed to move and they needed to move now. With this in mind, Pandora began shoving one of her human barricades further in front of her with her shoulder as she continued to rain fire down upon the mob. It was still too slow. Pandora looked around desperately as she began to formulate a plan. Then… She came up with one.

 

Pandora whistled loudly, pointing at Revenant and then pointing at a parked car that was beside them. She then pointed to the narrow alleyway and mimed slamming the car down between the two walls to create a barricade between them and the null. After doing this, she began firing once more in an attempt to thin out the mob’s numbers.

 

“Perfect.” Revenant quickly pulled the car to the side, grunting as she began to tip it over effectively making a two ton barrier between them and the Null “That should buy us some time.”

 

“You’re very strong, miss,” Tortoise observed earnestly as he watched Revenant shove the car into place.

 

Seeing what she was doing, the null halted and cursed. She turned and yelled back at the other enforcers, “they’re fuckin barricading themselves in! I gotta go back out and around!”

 

“There’s no time for that, M.T.!”

 

How you want me to climb over a fucking car on its side in this getup with a bullet in my leg, Hawthorne you rotten piece of shit—”

 

“I can see the edge of the alley!” Achilles yelled, then made a choking noise and spat out a bullet that had gotten into his mouth while he was talking. “Bluh, gross.”

 

Pandora gave her makeshift squad of misfits a thumbs-up before continuing to pick off as many of the crowd in front of her as she possibly could. The barricade had slowed the null down, but you could never assume anything in a street fight.

 

“Thanks but I would be as useful as a wet noodle of that null had reached us.” Making sure to keep herself behind Pandora and Achilles shielding.

 

“All right, I got one last card up my sleeve, but we’re gonna have to be quick. Tort, you ready?”

 

“Yeah boss!”

 

“Okay. Everybody stay behind me, and when Tortoise drops his shield, run. Ready, set—”

 

Tortoise threw up a large hex dome that covered everyone except Erin and Achilles, momentarily halting their progress. Erin then twirled to the side, and the dozens of bullets that had been poised to strike her resumed their flight path, caroming off the surface of the shield and scattering all throughout the alleyway, back at the enforcers.

 

The black-clad thugs cringed and scattered, evidently not noticing that the bullets failed to strike them too, halting in midair and ricocheting off of nearby surfaces.

 

Tortoise dropped his shield. “Run, while they’re confused!”

 

Pandora wasted no time in following that instruction, shooting everyone one last thumbs-up and a playful salute before sprinting her way out of the alleyway. Once out of the enclosed space, she fired a couple final shots from her finger guns at a pair of confused thugs and danced her way out of there.

 

Not one to wait around Revenant dashed out from the group. Taking the moment as she ran past the confused thugs to fling the empty weapon at one of them. Escaping from the alley she looked back to make sure that one she was being followed by the thugs and two, to see if they others had made it out.

 

The Paradox Crew wasn’t far behind, whooping and hollering as they made their escape. As she passed him, Erin grabbed the submachine gun held by one of the thugs and headbutted him, jerking the weapon out of his hands. As she ran, she sprayed a salvo of bullets at the Null, who cringed and ducked back into the alley.

 

“My van’s through that alley over there, if you kids want a lift!” Erin yelled so everyone could hear her over their ringing ears.

 

“Sure, I’ll take you up on that offer.”

 

Pandora shrugged and nodded. It certainly beat having to hoof it on foot.

 

The getaway van was painted black, save for a white arrow running across it like a racing stripe. Still whooping and cheering, the Paradox Crew piled in, opening the back for Vin and Revenant. Once the others were in, they peeled out.

 

“Thanks again for the ride.” Revenant made herself comfortable as could be in the back of the van “I’m Revenant by the way.” she waved to the Crew with a slight grin on her face.

 

“Least I could do after you helped us get the fuck outta there!” Erin grinned back, then returned her eyes to the road. “So yeah, I’m Erin the Arrow, you met Tortoise, the tall one is Achilles, and I call the guardian angel who don’t let me kill or die ‘Zeno’. Like the paradox. That’s why we’re the Paradox Crew.”

 

Cramped into the back, the tall woman took out her notebook and started writing.

My name is Pandora. Glad we could help out. You guys did not seem like the kind to merit that sort of police response and… well… There was no way I was going to let them hurt you or take you in without a damned good reason.

 

“Somebody read it to me, I’m driving.”

 

Tortoise did.

 

“Aw, you’re a sweet gal, blondie. So. We got a few grand on us that we were gonna spend on one of Mister Dupont’s trinkets. That obviously ain’t happening. So. You boys thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”

 

Tortoise gasped. “Yes!”

 

Achilles frowned. “No?”

 

“Let’s buy our new friend a dress!” Erin grinned.

 

Vin let out a happy little squeak and grinned. Looked like all that trouble was totally worth it!

Family: Welcome to the Garden

Eden, Los Angeles

 

It was the hottest new club in LA. People said you could get anything you wanted there. Privacy? Drugs? You got it. Security was good if you wanted safely, and the food even better thanks to the Michelin class chef that could be seen at the pass.

 

It was early yet, but the seats were filling up though the dance floor was still scarce.

 

The Damselfly arrived on the back of a six-foot-tall woman, eyes dilated and full of admiring wonder.

 

Nat is immediately recognised as the famous Damselfly. A hostess with a thousand watt smile and a dress with a slit all the way to her hip welcomes you and Vin.

 

“Table for two, Mx Zygoptera?”

 

Nat gasped, delighted. “You used the right address, oh you’re wonderful. You’re so good. What’s your name? Um yes! Table for two, please,” Nat said, then whispered excitedly in eir date’s ear: “Vin, I’m a celebrity. How neat is that. Can we get food? I want some food. I hear it’s good here.”

 

The hostess grinned. “Yes, Mx Zygoptera, you certainly are. I’m Priscilla. Let me show you to your table.”“Priscilla, you are wonderful. You can totally call me Nat though.”

 

“And yes, food can certainly be ordered. Chef Nerone is famous for his risotto.”

 

Pandora grinned widely as she examined the club with wide-eyed wonder. She was completely out of it at this point, her mind having wandered far-afield whilst her legs had carried the pair of drugged-out buddies to this bright and colorful location. At the mention of food from the Damselfly on her back, the tall woman nodded eagerly and licked her lips as her stomach grumbled.

 

There’s a woman lounging near the booths. It’s hard to miss her – even though she’s only about five feet two, and maybe a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet, she’s dyed her asymmetrical haircut neon green and bright pink. Her hands shuffle a deck of cards in a practiced motion. She’s not here to dance — she’s scanning the other patrons, looking for something else. When she sees Vin and Nat, she tilts her head to one side and gives them a long, considering look.

 

“Holy shit, risotto,” the Damselfly whispered reverently. “I can’t remember the last time I ordered that. My sister made super good risotto back in the day, and whenever I got it at restaurants it was disappointing. Just… yeah.”

 

Ey dislodged from Vin’s shoulders and waved to a few staring fans with a cheerful “hiiii!” before settling down onto the chair.

 

[Risotto… Risotto…] Vin watched her hands with clear interest as she signed, seemingly shocked that she could understand what they were ‘saying.’ [Have you noticed that when I move my hands like this it is almost like I am saying words? But then, when I do this…] Vin waved her hands around randomly. [When I do that it does not make any sense. Isn’t that weird?] She took her own spot in the booth, a dreamy smile still upon her lips.

 

“Well it’s like,” Nat struggled to find the words, “when you have intent… that makes all the difference. Your intention infuses meaning into your… movements? It’s the same with spoken words. And symbols on paper. We shape the world around us… using intent and the force of will.”

 

[Yeah… Yeah… That makes so much fucking sense!]

 

Priscilla set menus down at table, still smiling that thousand watt smile. “Now, our specials of the day are lobster risotto, sea bass with an apple cider reduction, and I especially recommend the tiramisu for dessert. Matthew will be your waiter for the evening, and he’ll be by to take your orders.” She left them to their decisions. “Fuuuuuuck that all sounds so good”

 

Nat ogled the menu for a few moments, squinting and blinking to try to read the words that didn’t seem to want to stay still, then ey set the menu down and looked over to see that one of the people looking at them was kind of different. Somebody who looked more confused and intrigued than starstruck.

 

So of course Nat grinned and waved.

 

The obnoxiously haired girl seemed to take that as an invitation. She sliiid into the booth, wearing an audacious grin. “Mx. Damselfly,” she said. “Everyone’s buzzing about you. Who’s your friend?”

“It’s Pandora!” Nat volunteered loudly. “We’re dating!”

 

Pandora’s face was literally INSIDE of her menu as she tried to read through it. She gave up after a few moments and tossed her menu aside. [Who thought it would be a good idea to make the words on this menu move!? It makes it really hard to read!] It was then that she noticed the newcomer and blinked at them. [You have cool hair. Very colorful.]

 

“Thanks.” Elise grinned. “I like your hair too. And you’re dating, eh? Good shit. Good shit. Elise Atlas, by the way.”

 

Dr. Atlas was one of the Infinity Legion’s premiere scientists, explorers, and researchers. He was known for his affairs and his womanizing as much as he was his work with the Legion. He adopted the name ‘Atlas’ after joining the Legion as a way to signify his allegiance with the Legion’s mission of one Earth. He has been missing for over two decades, but his legacy remains in statues and museums and university wings around the world.

 

The significance of the name sailed right over the Damselfly’s head. “Oh dang you understand ASL? Now you have to hang out with us!”

 

“I know a lot of things.” Elise said. “I’m pretty great like that.”

 

Vin’s eyes narrowed and she looked into Elise’s eyes in a challenging fashion. [So… You could understand that… But can you understand… THIS!?] The drugged-out superheroine waved her arms about wildly for a few moments and then stopped. [Got you there! There is no way that you could understand THAT.]

 

[We are extremely high on drugs,] Nat signed to Elise. [Want some?]

 

[I’m not THAT high, Nat.] Vin signed back with a sigh despite most certainly being ‘that high.’

 

Matthew the waiter, handsome in a rough around the edges way, approached the table with an orders pad and a pen. He had a tattoo on his neck, and polite brown eyes. “Would you ladies like some drinks to start the night?”

 

Folding eir hands, Nat waited for the ladies to order, since apparently enbies weren’t first in line.

 

Pandora looked to Nat as she suddenly realized something, eyes wide in horror.

[Oh shit, Nat… I think I might be totally fucking broke.]

 

“Oh whatever, I got you, I brought my card,” Nat waved that sentiment away. “Get whatever you want! Both of ya.”

 

Pandora squealed with delight and then turned to the waiter with a semi-serious expression. [What is the most amazing drink you have on the menu? Which one will blow my goddamn mind with flavor?]

 

Matthew smiled apologetically, looking around. “Sorry, honey. I don’t know sign. Could you ladies help her out?”

 

“There’s a third?” Genuinely confused.

 

Vin blinked and looked around for this mysterious third lady.

 

“Ladies?” Elise raised an eyebrow. “I’m… technically a lady, although I don’t know that it’s the most accurate description, what with all the fuckin’ and cursin’ and drinkin’ and –” Elise grins, clearly unashamed with that long resume of debauchery. “And this is the Damselfly.” She says that as though its explanation enough, and then leans into Nat. “And I would absolutely love those drugs.” wink.

“Oh, I can help! With what Vin– um. She just wants your most amazing drink. Something that’ll blow her mind. And I’ll wait for the ladies to finish ordering like you asked but I want a drink too.” Nat looked around for the third lady again.

 

Matthew gave Nat a confused look. “Er….what would you like to have?” He clearly had no idea who Nat was.

 

“I want! The fruitiest and sugariest and most colorful drink you’ve got.” Ey grinned. And the risotto. Wait, are we not ordering food yet? I want the risotto.”

 

“I want that drink too!” Elise chimed in, equally as exuberant. “The fruity and sugar one. Thank you. You know what, I’ll just have what The Damselfly’s having.”

“I like you, Elise Atlas.” [I like her too. She’s got panache. That’s a word, right? Panache?]

“So! Three Bubblegum Explosions? A risotto…and?” Matthew risked smiling at the other two not as yet confirmed ladies.

 

“A risotto aaaaaand a garlic bread aaaaaaand a cheese n’ crab dip.”

Nat turned eir eyes to Vin, ready to translate.

 

Pandora’s stomach grumbled loudly as she once again attempted to read the menu in front of her, eyes going a bit cross-eyed before she wound up giving up again and ordering the first thing that popped into her head. [I want a mac-n-cheeseburger, buffalo fries, onion rings, and chipotle mayonnaise on it. Could I also get potato skins and a salad on the side?]

 

Nat translated in real time, rattling off the order to Matthew, being asked to repeat it, asking Vin to repeat it, and translating some more.

 

Matthew, to his credit, recited their order accurately. “Thanks again, ladies!” He said as he walked off.

 

[Wow… I cannot believe he actually accepted my order.] Vin burst into a fit of silent giggles. [I really like this place, Nat. We need to come here more often.]

 

“Yeah, whoever runs this place knows their shit,” Nat squinted, trying to turn an appraising eye to the decor. After a moment, ey thought of something. “Oh! Yes. You wanted drugs. How’s your metabolism, Elise? Baseline or Para?”

 

“I’m a Para.” she said. “But not the laser-from-the-eyes type.”

[Holy shit! Really!? ME TOO! We’re like… Sisters or something!]

 

“Right but like. Are you, like… super metabolism or whatever. Dazzlefly will kinda mess you up if your constitution isn’t super. I have something else for baselines.”

 

“Give me the regular stuff.” Elise gave a crooked grin. “It’s for the best, anyways. I don’t want to make an ass out of myself around you two rad as fuck individuals.”

“I like you very much, Elise Atlas,” Nat said, sliding a folded paper packet across the table, “and this is for you. It’s called Fly Dancer, and you should only take it if you don’t have anything super important to do tomorrow. It doesn’t taste too good, but dissolves in liquid.”

 

[It’s 100% safe though!] Vin signed with a grin. [I would know. I was the… The… Ummmm… What was my title again? It was some kind of an animal…]

 

“Lab rat?” Nat pondered. “Guinea pig! Guinea pig.”

 

[That was it! Thank you, beautiful~!] Vin blew a kiss across the table to em.

 

“I always have something important to do, and I never do.” Elise sprinkled her Fly Dancer into water and chugged it in one go. “I’m a gambler, darlings, and a nomad. I don’t really do the whole 9 to 5 thing.”

Leaning over and draping an arm around Elise’s shoulder, Vin began to sign once more. [Elise, you’re pretty fucking awesome, you know that? Like… Damn… Do you like dancing?]

 

“Right? I feel like. We’ve stumbled over a… a kindred spirit. Also she’s cute? She’s cute. You’re cute.”

 

[She is totally cute. Hot too. Hot and cute. Both. At the same time. Kind of like you, Nat.]

 

Elise beamed at the attention, clearly enjoying it. “I like to dance, but I don’t think I got much in the way of ability.”

“Once we’re all high as proverbial kites,” Nat smiled, “who cares? It’ll be three hot people dancing, two of whom are pro-level, but which two? Who knows? Can anyone ever really know?”

 

“A mystery for the ages.”

“Aaaand here are three bubblegum explosions for three explosively charming girls,” Matthew smiled, setting them on the table.

 

Vin held up two fingers. [Two girls. There are two girls. I looked and I could not find a third.] She then picked up her drink and immediately began to drink it down as if it were water.

 

“I… still don’t understand sign, sorry.”

 

“She said there are two girls here. One. Two. Count ends there. No third girl. That getting through to you yet?”

Sudden realization dawned on Nat’s face. “Ohhhh, I’m being misgendered,” ey marveled, “I thought there was a third woman here! I was really confused!”

 

Vin nodded as she continued to drink down her Bubblegum Explosion. It was just sweet enough that it made it difficult for her to stop drinking until it was almost all gone. With a long exhalation, Vin grinned at her two companions for the night. [Are you going to drink those?]

 

“I’ll get to it,” Nat assured.

 

Baffled, Matthew stammered, “uh, would you like… another? Or something else?”

 

The mute belched in a distinctly unladylike fashion and then burst into another fit of giggles before giving Matthew a thumbs-up and nodding.

 

He toddled off, still looking distinctly off-kilter.

 

Elise propped her hand on her chin and grinned off after him. “I think we shake him.” she said. “I think he’s used to people who fit nicely in their little boxes. Not that I haven’t fit in a few boxes in my day.”

“Shouldn’t be that weird,” Nat began, “with this place’s, um… I’m sure he… but I guess.” Ey nodded, as if a coherent thought had successfully been conveyed.

 

Vin blinked. [What?]

 

“Yeah, probably!” Nat agreed.

 

[Ohhhhh! Okay.] She nodded. [I get ya.]

 

Elise just shrugged and took a loooooong sip on her bubblegum explosion. “Maybe it’s his first day on the job.”

“Yeah, probably!” Nat rotated in the booth and changed eir floating position a bit so that ey could flirt with both Vin and Elise effectively. “Elise Atlas. Mysterious gambler, stylish and cool. We know so little about you! Tell us more.”

 

Arm still draped across Elise’s shoulders, Pandora nodded in agreement. [Yeah! What is your story, Elise? What do you do? What brought you to this neck of the world?]

 

“My dad was Legion, my mom was a nurse.” Elise grinned at both of her new companions, soaking up the attention. “Well, she’s still a nurse, but she’s like… President Nurse, or whatever, relatively cushy job at the moment. Anyways, she wanted me to go to school, I wanted to chase my passion – which is playing cards… I bounce up and down the coast, up here, then Rock City, the Bay… No real commitments, nothing tying me down but a platonic lifemate and a van.”

“That’s so fuckin romantic,” Nat breathed.

 

[So you’re a professional gambler? That is fucking awesome.] She picked up her glass, tried to take a drink from it, and frowned deeply when she realized it was empty. Her smile returned moments later, however, as she turned to Elise again. [So who is this platonic lifemate? Are they as hot as you are?]

 

“I dunno, they’re a man, and I’m weapons grade gay.“that’s a familiar turn of phrase…” He draws attention from the ladies, so I guess? He’s a dude named Jericho. Allergic to shirts.”

Nat squinted. “Are yoouuuuu. Monosexual tho.”

 

Vin’s grin widened a little at the direction this conversation was going as she once again attempted to drink from her empty glass with the same result. [Fucking Hell… Someone needs to invent bottomless booze already.] She looked to Elise, waiting for her answer to Nat’s question.

 

“I used to think I was, when I was nineteen and dumb and still figuring things out. Now I just know I’m not into masculine dudes.” Elise said, clearly being a bit careful in her choice of words. “If that makes sense? I just try to… go with the flow, these days.”

“That was a good answer,” Nat grinned. “That was the answer I wanted you to do.”

 

Pandora turned to look at Nat, catching eir eye and flashing a wry grin before blowing em a kiss across the table.

 

Elise considered that for a moment. “Y’know, when I saw the Damselfly roll in, I was hoping for like… an autograph. I mean, I thought a free dinner and drinks was the best case. But hey, like I said. I’ll just… go with the flow.”

Her stomach gurgles.


After that risotto gets here.”

“Yeah for real,” Nat leaned eir head back against Vin’s shoulder. “I’m starving. This risotto probably is gonna disappoint but I like. I just had to know. Anyway.

 

Ey turned to face Elise, catching her blue eyes with eir green. “I’m not– Elise. Elise I’m, please understand, I’m not going to fuck you tonight? Because I’m not sober, and I don’t fuck people for the first time when I’m not sober. But if you want to make out a lot? We should do that?”

 

[Oh yeah! I had forgotten that you have that rule…] Vin chuckled lightly as she nuzzled her cheek against Nat’s. [I don’t know if I follow that one very well. Haven’t in the past, at least.]

 

Elise shot a thumbs up, grinning. “Sure, fine by me. Ain’t goin’ to push on a ground rule like that, especially not an ethical one.”

“Elise Atlas, I really like you and I think we should all have sex at the next available sober opportunity.” Sage nod.

 

[So long as I get some hugs and kisses tonight as well, I am down for that.]“Well you I can fuck tonight.” The superheroine looked to Elise and grinned wryly. [I like you as well. You’re fucking rad.]

 

“I am fucking rad.” Elise leaned back, luxuriating in the attention. “I should try to swing by LA a little more. Maybe even make the trip to… where’s the place you dance? The Glen?”

“Hell yes. You’d love it. Top of the line theatre tech, good food, good booze, and wall-to-wall gorgeous queers who don’t blink an eye at paranormals needing to chill out and have a good time.”

 

[Their music is also top of the line. Probably has some of the best in-house sets I have ever experienced and I go to A LOT of shows. The Glen is pretty much my fave club.]

 

“I definitely have to try it. This place is… okay. I have a deal with the owner, he lets me gamble, I get some perks, and I don’t take too much money from the house.”

“Oh yeah? Who’s the owner? Maybe we should meet ‘im.”

 

Vin’s attention had fallen upon a spotlight which now danced around the room, watching it with the interest of only someone as high as she was could possibly manage.

 

If anybody was looking in the direction of the front of the club, they’d see Priscilla the hostess talking to Matthew. She appeared to be hiding a smile behind a menu held up to her face while Matthew talked.

 

“Some guy named Blake? I dunno. Hey, what is our waiter doing?” Elise propped her chin on her hand, scowling. “I’m starving. And I want another drink.”

“Blake,” Nat nodded, a little dreamily. If ey had been sober, it would have dawned on em right away. Luckily, ey was not even remotely sober. “That rings a bell. Anyway. Yeah I want the food too! And–” ey drained eir drink, “another drink!”

 

Pandora blinked and turned her eyes to their waiter and the hostess, squinting her eyes as if she desperately needed glasses. [I dunno. Kinda looks like he’s doing the worm standing. That is actually kind of impressive. Belly dancing is not as easy as you would think.]

 

Matthew and Priscilla finished their conversation, with the former wandering to the kitchen pass with an enlightened look on his face. He soon came back with another waitstaff, both of whom were laden with plates of delicious food.

 

“Ladies, enby, your dinner!” He directed where the dishes went.

 

“More Bubblegum Explosions?” Matthew collected the empty glasses.

 

“Oh, he learned! Yay Matthew!” Nat smiled and clapped both hands. “And um! I will have… your finest cosmo, please!”

 

[Oh my gosh! A mac and cheeseburger! How did he know I wanted one?] Vin seemed to have Andrew Jackson, he did all that, but he still adopted two American Indian boys. what. forgotten ordering the dish and immediately scooped the odd dish up before tearing a large chunk out of it with her teeth. [Can I get a beer? The shittiest one you have, please.]

After translating, Nat added: “She’ll also have a water, and she’s not allowed to have another drink until she’s finished it.” [Awwwww! Come on, Nat! Don’t be a party pooper!] “I’m not. You just need water.

 

“One water, one Bubblegum Explosion,and one Cosmo. Coming right up!”

 

Elise immediately begins to tear into her food like a starving woman. It’s a wonder that someone so small can put that much away so quickly.

 

Nat leaned over and sniffed at the rice dish, then blinked in pleasant surprise. Ey cautiously picked up a forkful of the food and tasted it, and eir eyebrows shot up. Ey shoveled in another forkful.

 

“Either the drugs have an effect I’ve never had before,” there was genuine awe in eir voice, “or this is the best risotto I’ve ever tasted. It’s… just like Susie used to make, but… but better, somehow!”

 

Pandora had not heard her friend, far too busy stuffing her face full of delicious burgery-goodness. A wide smile spread across her lips as she ate, the food on her plate disappearing at a remarkable pace.

 

“The staff here are pretty great.” Elise bragged once she inhaled the garlic bread, spooning crab dip onto a chip. “I’ve uh, fooled around with a couple of the bartenders and regulars. Everyone’s super nice. Not surprised the cook’s a boss.”

“I would fuck someone who made me risotto like this in a second.” Ey made a face. “Unless it actually was my sister. Not going there. Didn’t go there with Buster, and she’s pretty hot.”

 

Pandora’s food seemed to have vanished as quickly as it had appeared, the mute woman leaning back with her hands resting upon her stomach with a satisfied expression upon her lips. [That… Was so fucking good. Like… Holy fucking shit.]

 

Matthew came back with a tray of drinks. “How’s the food? Can I get you ladies and enby anything else?” He seemed pleased that he was getting the terms right.

 

“Matthew, I want to personally hug whoever made this risotto,” Nat told him with a fierce intensity. “Chef, sous-chef, whoever was involved. I want to hug them for reminding me that there was anything good about my childhood. That was too much information. Can I do that? Can I hug them? I’ll hug them with money later also.”

 

Matthew beamed. “I’m sure we can arrange something like that. Will that be all?”

 

“Drinks! Oh.” Nat saw the drink. “No, that’s it, thanks Matthew.”

 

Picking up the glass of water set in front of her, Vin grumbled as she began to drink it down. It tasted soooooo bland in comparison to her usual orders and thus found it harder to drink than it really should have been.

“Attagirl! Oh huh, I forgot to order water for myself. Oops.” Vin grumbled and pouted.

 

Matthew nodded and made his way through the swinging kitchen doors.

 

“Hey.” Elise said, quietly. “Uh, I don’t really talk to – I have siblings somewhere out there, too. I just think you’re really cool, and I hope you know that, no matter what family is or isn’t in your life. That’s about as mushy as I’m ever gonna get, okay?”

Nat blinked, surprised by the sudden sentimentality, but in a moment ey grinned and wrapped both arms around Elise. “You’re really cool!!” Ey insisted. “Elise Atlas, you can very much stay.”

 

Noticing the hugs happening beside her, Vin grinned and wrapped both of her friends up in a hug of her own. She nuzzled her cheeks against theirs affectionately as she gave them both a squeeze with her long arms.

 

There was a bustling from the direction of the kitchen and Chef Nerone burst forth through the swinging doors. He sailed forward like a man of war vessel, dragging Matthew and someone else in his wake.

 

“I had heard that the Damselfly was here and that she wanted to hug the creator of her spectacular dinner!”

 

“Er, Chef, the Damselfly prefers ey, em, and eir…” Matthew consulted the penned noted on his wrist.

 

Chef Nerone ignored the opinion of a lowly waitstaff. “The Damselfly honors my kitchen with her offers of hugs! But I cannot take all the credit for myself. This is my apprentice, Susanna. She, too, deserves your tribute as she slaved over the stirring of the risotto!” He reached out behind him without looking and dragged a freckled and blonde woman to stand before him.

 

Susanna blinked, overwhelmed.

 

It didn’t dawn on em, not right away. Ey gave an enthusiastic, sweet-scented hug to Chef Nerone first, and then hovered backward and turned to face Susanna.

 

“Thank you so much! It was just amazing, I haven’t had risotto that good since I lived with my sis–“

 

There was the lightbulb. Eir eyes widened, staring at Susanna’s face. “–ter…”

 

[Hey… Nat… That lady who made the same kind of risotto as your sister and shares her name has your freckles.] The still-drugged woman chuckled a little. [Isn’t that wild? What a weird coincidence, huh? It’s like… Fate or something.]

 

Susanna stared back at Nat. Her jaw was slack and she appeared to be working out a word.

 

“Pe…Pe-t-”

 

Matthew looked back and forth, his waiter senses picking up drama.

 

Elise could tell that something was up, but she knew this wasn’t her place. She downed what was left of her drink and just watched.

 

“Um–” Nat’s eyes, still dilated wide, darted back and forth. Ey twisted in midair to check and make sure that eir friends hadn’t also transformed into family members. “This is. Is this actually happening? This all seems extremely improbable. You’re — are you– Susie?”

 

“Su-Susanna. Yes. I’m Susie.” She continued staring at Nat, her hands twisting in her apron. “Petey? Is that you?”

 

“My name’s Nat now,” eir voice was still a bit disbelieving, “Nat… Zygoptera. The Damselfly.”

 

“I…what’s going on?” Baffled, Susie looked around, perhaps trying to spot a hidden camera crew or such like.

 

Chef Nerone looked overjoyed. “I have brought together two sisters who have lost contact with each other!” He boomed, hugging both Susie and Nat to his generous torso. “Susanna, stay with your sister and her friends, you have the night off! I will send you the finest patisseries from the kitchen!” He let them go, like doves into the wind, and marched back into his domain.

 

“I– I’m not–” Nat looked utterly discombobulated, hanging in midair next to eir equally baffled-looking long-lost sister. Ey looked to Vin and Elise with pleading eyes. “Is this happening?”

 

“Yeah.” Elise said, squeezing Nat’s hand in an attempt to be comforting. “It kind of is, yeah.”

Suddenly realizing what was happening, Vin blinked and pulled Nat into even more of a comforting and supportive hug against her. She watched Susanna as if she were some kind of a mythical beast which she had never seen before.

 

All alone, Susanna looked increasingly uncomfortable by the stares of onlookers from the other tables. She twisted her apron in her hands. “I…excuse me.” She backed away and retreated towards the staffrooms in the back.

 

“W-wait!” Nat held out a hand. “I– I’m–“

 

Forgotten, Matthew had taken refuge at the bar where he and the barkeeper observed with wide eyed fascination.

 

“I’ll– be right back!” Nat stammered to eir friends and swooped in the direction Susanna had gone, flying over the heads of diners and deftly sailing around elaborate chandeliers.

 

Vin turned to Elise and blinked a few times, now alone with her new friend. She opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, and then finally closed it with a sigh. The shock of what was going on seemed to have shaken her out of her drug-addled state for the time being as she took Elise’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Whether she was reassuring the woman or herself was another question entirely.

 

“Do you… think ey’ll be okay?” Elise asked, slightly nervous.

 

[Yeah. Yeah, I think Nat will be fine. Eir one tough cookie.] The mute gave Elise a small and reassuring smile, squeezing her hand. [I would know. Ey have punched me in the face many a time during training. Can dish out one heck of a whooping.]

 

Elise burst out laughing. “Are you kidding me? I can’t picture em punching anybody.”

[I am totally fucking serious!] Vin replied with a silent chuckle of her own. [To be fair though, ey generally uses grappling instead of straight-up punches. Don’t know how many people out there can say they have been both beaten up and slept with the one and only Damselfly.]

 

The green and purple haired girl grins. “I don’t intend to join that club. But one out of two ain’t bad.”

[Totally! That one is pretty spectacular as well.] Vin grinned back and wrapped her arm around Elise’s waist to pull her close. [Like… Wow is it a good club.]

 

The gambler griiiiinned. “Y’know, if ey’re not here, we can get more drinks. Ey won’t make us drink water.”

 

[Holy shit! You’re totally right! I should kiss you for coming up with that!] Vin snatched up her second drink, putting aside the water as she chugged it down with a grin. [That’s the ticket!]

 

“Should? You totally can.” Elise half-jokingly puckers up and winks.

 

With a wry grin, Vin pulled Elise close to lock lips with her. The kiss is small at first, just a peck, but then the mute took a breath in through her nose and deepened it just a little bit.

 

Elise returns the kiss with enthusiasm, then waves to Matthew. “Hey! We need more drinks over here!”

 

Susanna had only been in the staff area for a few seconds when she heard the Damselfly’s quavering voice call into the room.

 

“Um. Hello?”

 

Susanna came out from the women’s toilets, holding a towel to her face. She lowered the damp cloth. “P-. Nat. Hi.” She stood, staring at Nat, looking for her little brother in Nat’s features.

 

“Hi,” Nat floated a little further into the room, looking around. There didn’t seem to be anyone else on break here at the moment. “Um. I’m sorry for… look, I. Uh. How… have you been?”

 

Susie sat down heavily. “Been..okay. Yeah. Okay is a word. Got married to Zachary Gilford. You’re an uncle? By the way. He left us, and now I’m here. How’ve you been? I see you fly now.” She appeared wide eyed still.

 

“I… I’m not an uncle cuz I’m not a boy, but, um. Yeah. I fly. I’m, uhm. A Legionnaire. I’m sorry to hear about Zachary. He never, um. Deserved you.”

 

Susanna nodded. “It makes sense you’re not a boy, seeing as you kept stealing my hairclips and ribbons.” She paused, worried. “This…isn’t because I used to play dress up with you? Paul and Dad always got mad at that.”

 

Nat laughed a little shakily. “Other way around. No I um. Yeah. I’m genderqueer. I go by ‘ey’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. Outside of Glenwood Springs, people are um. Actually pretty chill about it.”

 

“Yeah, the “outside” is a lot more….varied than Glenwood Springs. Legionnaire, huh? That’s great. You must know the Oathkeeper.”

 

“Yeah, um, I’m in the video where she came out as bi and poly, actually. I was the flying kid who hugged her around the neck. She’s my, um.” Nat blushed a little. “General mom, I call her.”

 

“That’s…great. I’m happy for you.” She gave Nat a fragile smile. “So…what do I call you now? What would Isaac call you? That’s your nephew.”

 

“Oh. Um. Well, ‘unty’, I guess? But you can call me your sibling, or– Benny recently called me his ‘enster’, that was cute.”

 

Susie froze. “You’ve met Benny?”

 

Nat realized eir gaffe immediately, looking embarrassed. “Oh um. Yeeees? Only very recently but yes? Buster too. I mean… your sister who used to be named Bartholomew and is now named Beth, and goes by Buster.”

 

“What?”

 

Ey screwed up eir face in thought, trying to make sure ey made any sense through the drug-induced haze. “Benny… is a barista. His identical twin, whom you used to know as Bartholomew, is actually a girl, and she’s named Beth now. She drives a tank for PHALANX, and they call her ‘Buster’ cuz it’s ‘Beth’ plus ‘Schuster’.”

 

“Bart is a girl?” Susie worked her mouth soundlessly.  “What?”

 

“Umm. Here, I’ll–” Nat pulled out eir smartphone, tapping and swiping through the gallery app. Finally, ey turned the phone around and showed Susanna a photo. In it, three of the Schuster siblings posed, dressed in nice clothing, joy in their faces. Benny looked the same as he always had, but for the glitter in his eyes. Nat was in the center, dressed in garish but admittedly matching clothes. And on the other side… a muscular woman, her hair in a soft mohawk dyed in toothpaste colors, flexing for the camera and grinning wide. She bore almost no resemblance to the depressive, sullen brother that Susanna had known in her childhood, but she could see the features if she really looked for them.

 

“This is the night I met them again, a couple of months ago.” Nat said quietly.

 

Susie clutched the phone, staring at the happy faces. She gave the phone back to Nat, was quiet for a moment, then burst into tears.

 

“Why does God hate us? Why are we all such freaks?”

 

“Wh-what?” Nat had no idea how to react to that. “S-Susie, I– that’s– d… d’you i dunno want a hug..?”

 

Susie sobbed in her hands. “I just want to be normal.” It actually didn’t sound like that, but Nat got the gist of it.

 

“Wouldn’t you rather be… um. Happy?”

 

That increased the onslaught of tears. “I was happy. I was normal. I had a loving husband. I just couldn’t keep my freak to myself.”

 

“You’re a paranormal too,” Nat whispered. “We’re all Paranormals. Susanna, it’s not — it’s not a bad thing to have powers. It’s not bad.”

 

Susie looked up at Nat. She had always been hideous with blotchy eyes and nose after a crying bout, and she still was now. Ah, childhood memories.

 

“Then why do so many bad things happen to us?”

 

“Because our role models fucked up,” Nat’s voice was steel, suddenly. “Because we weren’t taught right. Because we had to fight to get out. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t get to be okay.”

 

Susie hiccuped. “Yeah. I know. I moved back in with mom and dad after Zach kicked us out. Why do you think I married him in the first place? He got me out of there.” She hiccuped again and wiped her face with her towel.

 

“He’s gone,” Nat offered, “and you’re still out. And you’re…finding siblings again.”

 

“Yeah.” She stared at her towel, then up at Nat. A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Get over here and hug me, you brat.”

 

And those spindly limbs were around her, lifting her into the air with shocking strength, a sweet natural scent like sugar and musk and flowers filling her nose, the only thing familiar about it was that hair, that silky orange hair that still looked and felt the same against her cheek.

 

Susie hugged her little sibling back, not even minding her feet dangled beneath her. This was okay. This was good. She had her own issues with Ben and Bart, but she’ll sort them out later.

 

Family: You, Me, and the Scalpel

DeLeary’s

New Orleans, Louisiana

 

DeLeary’s Bar in New Orleans was just as terrible a location as it always was. Not only was the barroom floor covered in a layer of caked-on grime but the door the the bar had not yet been fixed either, a blue tarp having been put up in its place. The grizzled, old, nonverbal bartender which the regulars simply assumed was DeLeary stood behind his countertop with a dirty rag as he “cleaned” an even dirtier mug. If there was to be pride in coming in last place, this man surely did not show it in his deep frown.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrPe5ekHL4Q

Forgotten Sounds – Funkies>

 

Vin “Pandora” Peters skipped her way happily into the bar in her hero’s attire as she gave the bartender a cheery wave. It had been a while since she had last visited her favorite bar on the planet and she was excited to be back. With some flair, the tall woman moved to sit at the bar and flicked her notebook from a pocket as she scribbled something down within it.

 

Hey there, Bobby! Did you miss me?

 

The bartender looked at the words and then shook his head. Vin had been trying to guess his name for years and had not once figured it out. He did, however, go to pour her a tall glass of terrible beer before going back to cleaning that dirty mug of his.

 

“Hi Lear-dear~!” Alex cheered, skipping in behind his girl and wrapping his arms around her. “Whaaat, Bobby? Last time it was Larry.” He seemed SO confused.

 

“I know this is shocking, petal,” Nat floated in behind the other two, “but most bars have more than one employee. Oh no wait, that’s the same guy. Huh.”

 

[It’s always the same guy. No one else works here, I think.] Vin smiled as she turned in her chair to grin up at Alex and Nat. [This guy seems to be as mute as I am though and will not tell anyone his name, so I’ve been trying to guess it every single time I come here. One day I shall figure it out. One day!]

 

“Hey, mystery bar-person! I’ll have a cuba libre, please!” Nat called over. “With… I dunno, whatever your best available rum is today. Captain? Bacardi? I’d take Castillo, just… not rail. Anything but rail.”

 

The bartender rolled his eyes and grabbed a glass for the Damselfly’s drink.

 

Vin took a sip from her beer, made a pained face at the terrible taste, and then continued to drink as her old resistance to the world’s worst brew returned to her. She let out a contented sigh as she slammed her now empty glass back down onto the bar. [Just like old times. Some things will never change and that flavor of dirty-socks-beer is certainly one of them.]

 

Alex stole a sip from her beer before it was all gone. His face scrunched, like a flower wilting, before returning to it’s normal happy demeanor. “That tasted terrible!” He cheered.

 

“I love you both dearly but I do not understand why you subject yourself to this place’s beer,” Nat shook eir head, accepting the cocktail. Ey took the wedge of lime perched on the glass’s rim and squeezed it, then stuck the lime wedge in the drink.

 

[It’s a part of the ritual of coming to a place like this,] Vin signed back in reply as she grinned happily at her two loves. [You come here because it is cheap and terrible, not because they serve anything decent.]

 

Alex just assumed it was part of what you were supposed to do to be nice here. “Yeah but it’s like. Amazingly terrible.” There was a sparkle in his eye.

 

Vin nodded her agreement and smiled as if this were the perfect explanation for why she drank here despite how awful it always was.

 

“Can I taste tho?” Alex asked Nat with those big blue eyes, leaning in close. “Pleeeeaaaaase~”

 

“It’s not nearly as good as the margaritas we had last night, just warning you.” Nat pushed the drink toward Alex. “Hey, um. Can I talk to you two about something important real quick?”

 

[Of course, Sweetie Fly.] Vin grabbed the tall glass of beer the bartender had refilled and took a long sip from it, this time without any negative reaction. [What’s up?]

 

Alex plopped a straw in it, taking a sip and looking up to em. The drink wasn’t good, but it was certainly more palatable than the beer. “Of course Nat.” He nodded encouragingly as he squeezed Vins free hand.

 

Nat took a deep breath and let it out, then smiled. “…I’ve scheduled my bottom surgery. It’s next week.”

 

A mixed expression of excitement and worry appeared upon Vin’s face as her fingers entwined with Alex’s. [That… Wow, that is so much sooner than I thought it would be.] She bit her lower-lip a little nervously and then smiled confidently. [Congratulations are in order then! I mean, I’m nervous about you going under the knife, of course, but this is what you want and I am happy to hear that you are getting what you want!]

 

Alex squeezed Vins hand with a look of extreme worry at first, but as Vin spoke that switched to one of confusion. “So…um.” He blushed a bit, playing with Vins fingers. “Your. Uh. Your butt is ok? It’s not getting surgery cuz it’s sick?”

 

“Oh gosh, petal, I’m so sorry. I never explained to you what’s happening, did I? This stuff is just. So hard to talk about. Um. You know how… I don’t like to have my underwear all the way off?” Nat lowered eir voice enough that the other two could hear, but even the bartender would have to lean in to eavesdrop.

 

Alex nodded quietly, leaking in so ey didn’t have to raise eir voice. “Oh. Mhm.” He nodded. “I understand. Is it…something to do with? Oh…ok.” He seemed to at the very least vaguely get the idea. “I will love you and support you no matter what.” He told em with that big smile. “Surgery can be scary.”

 

Long arms wrapped around both Alex and Nat to pull them into a hug as Vin snuggled her two lovers close, nuzzling her cheek against Nat in particular to let em know that she supported em.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1y6smkh6c-0

Swedish House Mafia (Feat. John Martin) – Don’t You Worry Child>

 

“When it’s over, I’ll be able to be… naked, with both of you. Without feeling bad or gross. It’d mean a lot to me. But also… I’m going to need help while I’m recovering. I’d really like that help to be the two of you. The last time I was in the infirmary, I’d nearly been killed. I’m a little scared about being in recovery there again.”

 

Alex nodded. “I would be so happy to take care of you for once!” Alex teased, wholeheartedly in the hug. “You can count me in cutie-fly. I’m here for you till the end.” He wrapped em and Vin up tight.

 

Vin nodded emphatically and placed a small kiss upon Nat’s lips before taking eir hand in her own and giving it a light squeeze. She would be there for em as well. Of course she would.

 

Nat squealed happily. “You two are the best.