Miss Harmon had us on yet another group assignment, this time the alt-universe was a proposed setting where Asia found and started colonizing the Americas before Europe, and how we thought that might play out.
Unfortunately, since I was with Cassie and Eddie last time, I was deprived of both the eye candy and the kid who could do all the work. Luckily, I avoided being stuck with Sarah. Or maybe she avoided being stuck with me. Either way, I got Jordan, a sports nut whose parents were sports nuts and actually named him after a certain famous basketball player. Brendan, who perpetually smelled like something I couldn’t quite identify, but it wasn’t good. And Kacey, a kinda chubby redhead who probably wished she was in any group other than this one.
Fortunately, this project didn’t require a lot of research. We just had to find names of dead people online. Then we would be making shit up that sounded good. Other than Brendan complaining when we refused to base our alternate universe on the third season of Game of Thrones, it was uneventful.
I tried to be the first person out of the classroom, but Kacey had me beat. So did a few other kids, but that’s beside the point. I met up with Cassie and got to cuddle with her as much as was possible while walking. We didn’t talk about much, and that was my fault. Between Mom’s bullshit, and Ferne’s offer, and Sympathy’s bitchery, and Kitten’s… existence, I had a lot on my mind.
“Well, I guess this is where we part ways,” Cassie was sweet enough to sound disappointed. “You sure you don’t want a ride home?”
“Sorry, Mom’s probably got one of the neighbors watching the bus.” Knowing the local busybodies, she wouldn’t have a shortage of volunteers. Good odds they’d already told her about Cassie coming over. One more headache for me to deal with. “We’d better wait until the heat dies down.”
She smiled. “I understand, see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, see you.” I gave her a kiss on the cheek and went on my way.
The bus trip didn’t give me any problems, either. See, busses were for kids too young to drive or too poor to buy a car. Which ruled out most of the gangbangers. There weren’t a lot of gangs that would make thirteen year olds members. Mules, sure, all the time. But not members.
And whatever dumb fuck said crime didn’t pay was a lying liar who lies.
I finally bit the bullet and opened my cell. Dad would still be at work, but I called him anyway.
“Hey, son,” he sounded in good spirits at least. “Your mother already called. She’s really on the warpath.”
“Sorry about that.” I wasn’t sure why I was apologizing, it just felt I needed to. “So about you picking me up tomorrow…”
“You’d rather I didn’t.” Well, that saved me the trouble of explaining it. “Got a hot date with that girl you brought over last time?”
“Well, kinda.” The next part was the tricky one, hopefully Dad would be cooler with it than Mom. “There’s also stuff I gotta take care of.”
“And thanks to Amanda, you’ll have to do it when you’re with me.” I was about to apologize again, when he continued speaking. “We’ll need to work out a plan. You know she’ll be making surprise phone calls all weekend.”
I took a moment to metaphorically pull my jaw off the ground. “Yeah. You’re really cool about all this?”
Dad chuckled over the phone. “You’re growing up now, son. Learning what it means to be a man. My father always said that when a man wants something, he’s going to get it or die trying. All you can do is help him, get out of his way, or shoot him. I’ve lost the window of opportunity on the final option.”
Well, this is going better than expected. “I thought you said grandpa was an asshole.”
“He was.” Dad’s tone carried his agreement with his past self. “But that doesn’t make him wrong. If being a hero is that important to you, I’ve dealt with Hurricane Amanda before, and I can do it again.”
“Thanks.” I meant it, too. “It shouldn’t be that much, not this weekend. I’ll just need to disappear for a couple hours at some point. It’s not like the movies where there’s a new crisis to deal with every other day.”
“You don’t have to tell me, I’m an army boy. We didn’t write the book on ‘hurry up and wait’, but we did write the sequel.” He laughed, and I politely laughed along with him. “Speaking of, I’d better get back to serving the tax payers. I just want you to know: I’m proud of you. You’re finally growing up.”
God damn it, I have enough emotional shit to deal with without my father adding to it. “Try telling Mom that.”
He sighed slowly. “Trust me, she knows.”
If she knows… “Then why?”
“It’s just one of those ‘woman’ things. If I understood women, I never woulda gotten divorced. Or married.” Dad again laughed at his own joke. “Listen, I’ve gotta go now. We’ll talk more tomorrow. Love you.”
“Love you, too. Bye.”
That conversation over, I was left to stare out the window and think. Dad actually had my back for once in my life, and I had absolutely no idea what to think about that. It might have been some profound father-son coming of age revelation, but I had like a bajillion other things competing for my attention right now. Even if I was beating horses that, much like myself, wouldn’t stay dead.
I knew I made the right decision telling Cassie I’d take the bus when I spotted Laura’s car in the drive. The whole scene was eerily reminiscent of the day that so literally changed my life, two weeks ago.
All of this had only taken a couple weeks. I got my powers, and had them for less than three days before finding Kitten. That upgrade took less than a day to fuck over my life completely. And then yesterday to fuck over what remained unfucked from before. Hopefully things were at an equilibrium, now.
Laura was reading some book when I opened the door. I had no idea what it was, given that the title was in Japanese or something. “Hey, sis. I see Mom has you playing babysitter.”
She looked up at me, and forced a smile. Of all the expressions I’d ever seen on Laura’s face, that one always hurt the most. When she was upset and trying not to let me see. “I volunteered. I wanted to talk to you without people eavesdropping.”
“What about work?” I knew she didn’t have a lot of breathing room as far as that went. I was hoping that once I got a little more well known, I could make a bit of money doing interviews or something to help her out. Or making money with Muwth after we worked out sending telegraphs backwards in time.
“My day off anyway.” She dismissed easily. “Thursday afternoon isn’t exactly our peak hours. Now why the hell were you running around playing hero?”
Well, no getting out of this. I found a seat, not even bothering to shed my coat and dropping my bag beside me. “I can’t beat her alone.”
“You’re sure? How do you know?”
“I can’t reveal my sources, but I trust them.” I was probably breaking my promise to Anima just saying that much. But this was Laura. “And if we’re being honest, I already knew it was true. She was toying with me the whole time. I only surprised her once and she recovered before I could use it. I wasn’t ready, maybe I’ll never really be ready against someone that powerful.”
Laura frowned in thought. “So you’re, what, looking for allies? Shouldn’t you be calling the police? Or the army?”
“The cops are a waste of time. They know, and aren’t going to do anything. They tried it before down south, and it got a lot of people killed. Eight heroes on the payroll, six indies, like a dozen villains, and over forty civilians.” And all it did was kill her sister and make her even stronger and more psychotic.
“And you’re still going after her?”
“If I don’t, she’ll come for me.” I laughed. I don’t know why, but I laughed. “Public identity, remember? She’s convinced it’s some kind of weird destiny that we fight each other.” And given how Surges and the whole Mark of Cain thing works, she might even be right. “She called it romantic.”
Laura’s face paled in horror. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I ignored her question. The floodgates were opened. “She rapes and murders people for fun, Laura. What’s she going to do if she decides I’m ignoring destiny? I might be immortal, but what about you or Mom or Dad?” I buried my face in my hands. Fuck.
“Oh, Zach.” Laura moved from her chair, and hugged me from behind. “I had no idea you were going through so much.”
I ignored the details my power fed me, just accepting the contact. It was nice to be held, to be comforted. As much fun as Cassie was, she was just that… fun. She wasn’t someone I loved or really comforted me. And that brought up another thing that had been on my mind. “Laura? Did Erica have…” feelings for me? “…powers?”
Laura’s heartbeat jumped. “How did you?”
“It’s a thing I heard about.” I wasn’t going to tell the whole story. “That when someone with powers gets killed, they jump to someone else. What could she do?”
“She made me promise not to tell.” Laura was hesitant. “She hated them.”
That almost stopped me, it really did. “A little past that mattering, don’t you think?”
“It was nothing like your power.”
Still not hearing a ‘no’. “Please, I have to hear it. I have to know if she’s where my power came from.”
I could practically feel Laura’s doubt through my power. This was the longest I’d been in contact with anyone other than Cassie since getting my powers, and as long as I kept my hands away from her undergarments, Cassie’s information stayed pretty stable. I supposedly inherited a power from Kitten, right? Was it the lie detection? I’ll have to test that.
I sensed Laura giving in moments before it happened. “Remember all her boyfriends?”
“Yes.” I hoped I didn’t sound too bitter.
“That was her power.” The fuck? “We looked it up, she was an Infiltrator. A really weak one. Made guys go crazy for her. Problem was, it cut both ways. She was drawn to them just as hard. And it never lasted very long. Usually ending right after they slept together.”
“I guess it’s not a secret that I was… attracted… to her?”
“It was pretty obvious.” Laura moved, breaking the hug and sitting back down so she could look me in the eye. “The strange thing is, her power never worked on you. It made sense at first, everyone under twelve or so was immune. Erica always liked spending time with children for exactly that reason. She wanted to be a teacher, until…” Laura trailed off, and I filled in the blanks. “But you got older, and it never started. We wondered if you were gay for a while.”
“Oh, gee, thanks.” I didn’t have a problem with people who were gay, but something about my sister thinking I was bothered me.
“Sorry?” Laura tried to offer a smile. “But we figured out that she attracted gay men just as easily as straight ones. That’s how we even realized she had actual powers instead of…” Laura hesitated, looking down. “Let’s just say ‘slut’ was one of the nicer words used.”
“Oh.” My brain had officially run out of things to say.
“We guessed that maybe you had a really hard to notice power, like hers.” Laura continued. “One that made you immune to stuff like that. Those happen all the time, right?”
I shrugged, it seemed doubtful. Even the really minor powers still only happened to one in ten thousand people. Where the ‘Mark of Cain’ thing seemed to happen almost every time an Imbued was killed by anything other than nature or accident.
There had to be a more believable answer. The tightening in my chest gave it to me. I’d respawned to recently for it to be an attack, but I was trying so hard not to cry that it hurt.
“How long did her power take to kick in?”
Laura thought for a moment. “Half an hour or so if they’re in the room. Faster if they were really close. That’s why I never left her alone with you too long, just in case.”
I tried not to be too disappointed by that last detail. “My asthma.” I almost laughed. “It makes sense. Super pheromones. If she was putting out some kind of weird airborn drug, that would explain everything. And I just couldn’t breathe enough in to be affected.”
Laura sat there, letting the tears ruin her makeup.
I realized I was crying, too. I didn’t try to hide it, or even wipe them away. Erica deserved better than that.
I still wasn’t sure how her power was related to mine. But I wasn’t sure how my new power related to Kitten, either. I had the answer I needed.
Maybe not to the most important question I was dealing with, but the one that meant the most to me. It even explained why Erica would care about me enough to give me her power. A life full of… that… and I was the only one she could trust.