I must have blacked out when I hit the ground. By the time I knew what was happening, my attacker was on top of me.
My power gave me some level of sense of what metal I was controlling. It wasn’t anything I could describe, maybe best described as a form of proprioception. It was the only sense I could rely on. I was blind from the glowing greenish light, could only hear what sounded like static, and the ozone in the air was so thick I could taste it.
Everything else was pain and the certainty that at least two of my ribs were broken.
My attacker wasn’t stopping, either. Fingers clawed through my metal helmet. She’s trying to unmask me. I thought villains didn’t do that.
I tried my best to counter. Holes sealed and were reinforced by spikes and barbed hooks. They didn’t seem to slow the attack down any. At least the light was starting to dim, giving me a visual of the girl. Through a quirk of my power, I could see through my controlled metal like it wasn’t there.
The girl’s face was contorted in rage and other, more complex, emotions. Tears of glowing blue-green light ran from her eyes. She was young, perhaps younger than I was, and familiar looking. Oh shit, I do know her.
Rage was replaced with confusion for a moment, then the rage returned. She squeezed around my neck, pushing through my metal like so much wet tissue paper. “How do you know my name?”
Unable to speak with her hands wrapped around my throat, I let the metal melt away from my face. She’d have figured it out after I lost consciousness. Or, at this rate, worse.
“Domenic?” Chloe was a sophomore and we’d never once spoken, but it wasn’t any surprise she recognized me. I’d like to attribute it to a school with less than two hundred students, but in truth I had long ago grown accustomed to students gawking at me like some kind of exotic zoo animal.
She released my neck, moving back away. “B-but, why? I thought you were one of the good ones.”
What is that supposed to mean? “The good ones?”
She hesitated for a second. “Well, yeah. You’re smart, you work hard at school, you act like a normal person.” She looked at me like she expected a confirmation. “So why are you breaking in here?”
There are so many reasons I should be pissed off at what she’s saying right now. I decided not to call her out on her bullshit, mainly because I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that ass-kicking ever again. I shifted my metal around me, forming it into some hybrid of a gurney and water bed. In its liquid state, the metal was as pliable as I wanted it to be.
“Bounty hunting.” I knew I screwed up when the teal light in her eyes got brighter. “Not you!” I hissed in pain. “Oww. I… I think you broke my rib.”
“Sorry.” To my surprise, she sounded like she meant it. “This was officially the worst night of my life, and then I saw you and just lost it. I mean, part of it was protecting myself, but I was so angry. And… and…” Greenish light started streaking down her cheeks again.
Great. It’s my first night out and I get my ass kicked by a girl a year younger and a hundred pounds lighter than I am, and she’s a crybaby. I think my ribs will heal long before my pride.
“It’s been a rough night on everyone.” Shut up, gallantry. I don’t care if she’s cute and crying, I want to hate her.
I warped my metal around me, creating a bandage of steel that was lighter and more flexible than cloth. It would do for now, but what I really needed wwas a doctor. A doctor there was no way I could afford. Right, I have a mission to complete. Focus on that instead of the pain. “Listen. I’m willing to let bygones be bygones if you are, but I did come here for a reason.”
She looked at me, her face switched from tearful to suspicious in an eyeblink. “Right, you never did say what you were here for.”
I took a slow breath, testing the limits of my breathing. The pain wasn’t too bad, but I suspected adrenaline and shock were working to dull it. Tomorrow I’d have a better much idea of how bad the healing would suck. “I’m here for the guns.”
“Guns!?” Chloe’s eyes flashed gold. “That unbelieveable bitch! Where are they?” He eyes narrowed once again. “For that matter: why do you want them and how did you know they were here?”
I thought about bluffing, but I didn’t know Chloe’s power. Plus, I’d have to remember any lie I told her. “There’s a police bounty on turning in illegal goods, no questions asked. I, umm, need the money.”
Chloe glanced over at a small half-made office. “I guess that makes sense. So you found the place, how?”
“It’s part of my powers.” I hated telling her, but I did know her identity. If I had to, I’d threaten her with that. “I, umm, can see certain types of metal. Including most types of guns.” I didn’t know if there were any normal guns that didn’t use steel. However, I’d heard about ones which could get through metal detectors, which suggested nonferrous metals. “I saw the stash earlier and decided to come back at night.”
“Well, I guess stealing illegal guns for the police isn’t a crime.” Her guess was wrong, but I wasn’t about to correct her. She hesitated for a moment, her light flickering between yellow and green. “Wait. You said. She knew.”
She crumpled to the floor. “That manipulative, evil cunt!” With each word, her aura brightened. Crunching noises filled the air as her fingers dug into the concrete like a normal person’s would through pea gravel. Glowing green tears dripped onto the broken floor. “She knew you’d be here, she thought I’d… she wanted me to… and I almost. FUCK HER!” She punched a hole into the concrete.
This time, the male instinct to make the pretty girl feel better had an ally: the self preservation instinct of making the scary girl who could kill me with slap feel better. It took some effort to walk over to her, but I used my control over my metal as a sort of crutch.
It also made it a whole lot easier to kneel down in front of her. “Listen to me. I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but ‘almost’ still means ‘didn’t’, right?”
“I guess, but…” She looked up at me. “Your eyes!”
What? Oh, right. “Yeah, that came with the powers.” My eyes were now a solid sheet of silver. Somehow it didn’t seem to impact my vision any. “I guess as far as physical mutations go, it’s not bad. Just have to remember to wear sunglasses.”
“Sorry.” She looked away again. “For everything.”
“Look, I’m fine.” A complete and total lie. I hoped she wasn’t one of the ones who came with lie detection, or if she was she’d appreciate I was trying to make her feel better. “But I do need those weapons. You have no idea important that money is.”
She nodded. “Okay, if you’re sure, but it’s my fault you’re still hurt.”
I would have shrugged, but I couldn’t do that without revealing just how much pain I was in. “No, it’s fine.”
“And if I did damage to something internal and you bleed to death going home? Then what?”
She might have a point. “Do you even know what you’re doing?”
“My parents made sure I had all the basics of first aid training by the time I was twelve.” I wondered why that made her so angry, but again bit my tongue. “It’s probably not enough. Maybe I should take you to a hospital?”
“No.” I didn’t feel light headed or unfocused, so I ruled out serious blood loss and concussion. Nothing else was likely to be life threatening. More than that, a trip to the hospital right now would just put Nanna in an even worse situation, or reveal my powers to the world. “A bit of quick first aid will be enough. Umm, if you can turn off the super-strength first.”
“Yeah.” Her light dimmed until it only came from her eyes. Now, instead of terrifying, the glow made her beautiful. “I don’t have super strength. Just a sort of forcefield over my skin and clothes. It’s a summoner powerset, with Tank, Brawler and Transit applications.” She didn’t bother to use her legs to move, instead hovering with her power.
I let my armor melt away where she was poking at me. I tried not to think her being the most attractive girl I’d ever been in physical contact with. “My arms are pretty banged up, but nothing feels broken. Same with my legs. I think my ribs took the worst of it.” Not true, strictly speaking; one shoulder was in pretty bad shape as well.
“Okay.” She started pressing her fingers down my back. “Can you take off your shirt?”
“I’d rather not.” In part because I didn’t want to lift my arms, and in part because I didn’t want her seeing my lack of physique. “Fush!” I clamped my teeth together in pain where she poked a sensitive spot.
“Sorry!” She pulled her hands back, then grabbed my shirt and pushed it up. “God, your back looks like a single giant bruise. This is bad, we should get you to a hospital.”
“I, uh, have a phobia?” I didn’t expect her to buy that lie with or without powers. “I’ll be fine, okay?”
“If you’re sure. But I don’t think I can help you. You need an x-ray at the least.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Thank you for getting the hint. I used my metal to help me stand before returning it to its state as bandages. “Wouldn’t mind a few dozen pain relievers, but I’m going to have to drive home.” I hobbled toward the grate hiding my prize.
Chloe followed behind me. “So… you can just see metal even through walls and stuff? That’s pretty cool. I didn’t get any sensing powers at all. Unless you count the part where I’m my own flashlight.” She forced a laugh.
“It has its perks, I guess.” Why is she nervous? There’s no way she’s attracted to me now or something, right? “I kinda wish I got something like healing people by touch. You’re pretty much guaranteed a paycheck that way.”
“Oh.” From nervous to disappointed in a syllable. “So you just care about the money. You really are just a thief.”
How to answer that one. “Kind of. I wouldn’t do anything illegal for it, but I do need that money. It’s to help my family.”
“You don’t want to be a hero?” She made the question sound like an accusation.
“What I want is to have a normal job and life. Not all of us are cut out to run around in costumes.” I stopped in front of the grate. The guns were about ten feet down and another ten feet off to the side. There didn’t seem to be a ladder to go down the hole. “Don’t you have dreams of your own that don’t involve a costume?”
“I… used to.” Her voice crackled from her power. I instinctively stepped forward, putting myself on the other side of the grate from her. I didn’t believe the extra couple steps would protect me if she wanted to hurt me, but instincts often defied logic.
Chloe knelt next to the grate. “I guess I can go down there for you.”
I would have turned down her offer if she hadn’t just broken my ribs. “I’d appreciate that.” I also ignored the part of my brain telling me all the inappropriate comments Bea would have made right now.
Chloe ripped the grate out of the floor, then dropped down the hole. I couldn’t see what she was doing down there, but I could see some of the guns moving. Five of them at a time. She came up with a wood crate, five guns inside.
“Looks like you were right.” Her voice trembled with emotion and hummed with static. “I can’t believe she…” Chloe hesitated, then looked back down the hole she was only halfway out of.
“Are you okay?”
“I…” she looked up at me, the glowing green tears highlighting her features. There was a sort of grim determination to her features that made her downright beautiful. “I need somewhere to stay. Please, can I go home with you? Just for tonight.”
No! No no no no no! “Yes.” God damn it, penis! “So, if you don’t mind me asking. Why are you here in the first place?”
She looked down again. “It’s a long story. I’ll explain on the trip back to your place if that’s okay? But we should get those guns out of here first.”
“Okay.” I could afford to wait a few minutes to hear the story. I couldn’t afford to leave behind the firearms, and the money they represented.