“You’re certain this is going to work?” Why do I keep asking that question? I know she can’t lie to me. Then, I didn’t know the full extent of how Pairbonds worked. It was a poorly explored topic at best, since all information was filtered through the people trying to describe it. Little was concrete, and our three way bond broke one of those few ‘known’ rules.
FearConcern. Hunter finally looked up from the glowing, warped steel she’d been charging. “Not for sure. There won’t be any risks to you.” ReluctanceYield. She felt the question before I asked it. “I… think I’ll be alright.”
“And you waited until after we sent Damascus away to tell me?” This is why they invented disposable cells. Then again, if we were carrying our cells, they would have been destroyed in the fight. “You planned it like this.”
“He would have tried to argue for another plan, and we don’t have time for that.” Her smile and shrug would have been adorable, if not for the fact that she was a damn psychopath. “You and I don’t care if I get out of here alive.” She was right, on both counts. “I give myself good odds, between my healing, shapeshifting, and having your shield to back me up, but it’s not like anyone’s ever done this before.”
“That’s just wonderful.” Domenic’s going to be crushed if this goes wrong. He’s putting his hopes that he can beat the Greenwitch’s fate for Beatrice. “Too late to turn back now, isn’t it?”
Hunter pulled her hands away from the glowing metal. “I’m surprised that no one’s shown up yet. Everyone saw your display.”
“Maybe they thought you weren’t insane enough to walk into the trap, I dunno.”
Orange lightning ran across the steel ball in defiance of everything I knew about electricity. The energy should either have grounded into the concrete, or stayed unmoving inside like a battery, not jumping across the surface. Before, I’d just accept it for what it was, but now I watched its violation of physics in awe. I guess Domenic’s need to understand powers is starting to rub off on me.
RegretFear. “I shouldn’t have told you. Now, if things go wrong, he’ll blame you.”
She feels bad? How do I react? Under normal circumstances, I’d have told the psycho to burn in hell, but it’s harder to dismiss someone’s feelings when you’re feeling them, too. I wanted to hug her, but she was still the bitch who murdered my mother. I can’t believe I’m doing this.
“He knows, and he knows you knew.” SurpriseDisbelief. Now that I said it, I started to believe it. I’d have to yell at him later. “As smart as he is, he figured it out first. And he’ll only blame himself for not being smart enough to figure out a better way.” I looked her in the eyes, my own eyes glowing. “You’d better not let that happen.”
WorryDeterminationSurprise. “Or you’ll kill me?”
“I know someone who might arrange it.” Sass notwithstanding, she would now do everything in her power to survive. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
Hunter climbed into a steel dome. Somehow, metal altered with Domenic’s power stayed that way if Hunter used her power on it, and she could do some limited crafting with it; we didn’t have time to know all the rules, yet. AnticipationReady.
“Well, here goes nothing.” I don’t know who I was speaking to. My power seemed to respond to my emotions, so maybe I was just hoping it would understand me and try harder to protect us from the destruction which was about to happen. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and placed my hand on the ball of metal.
It wasn’t as loud, or as bright, as I’d expected. Energy pulsed off my skin, blinding me as it annihilated everything nearby, but it wasn’t like a bomb went off. For a second, I wondered if anything happened, and then the explosion happened. Or, perhaps, it was an implosion. Huge amounts of dust slammed into me from every direction, with all the fury of a thousand lightning strikes.
I climbed out of the rubble I found myself buried in, careful not to use too much power in case Hunter was in here with me, somewhere. My power protected me from harm, but it didn’t give me the ability to see or breathe through the dust. I used my hands to feel around.
ConfusionPain. The relief I felt to know Hunter was still alive in here surprised both of us. SafePreparingGo. She’s right, we’re not done yet.
I pushed my energy output as high as it would go, hoping it could clear a bit of breathing room or enough light to see with. I got the first half of my wish; the air quality became something almost tolerable. Unfortunately, instead of a wall of pure black dust, I had a wall of pure yellow reflected light.
Hunter felt like she was in pain, but didn’t seem worried, so I took off, hoping to get clear of the dust. The building was gone, along with the parking lot connected to it and a lot of the nearby trees. We wanted something that wouldn’t leave a body, and we got it.
In the distance, the sirens blared. I won’t have long before-.
Several people appeared in a crackle of blue-white particles. My first thought was that it looked like the special effects from Star Trek. The second was that all my clothes were destroyed in the blast, including the armor Domenic made for me. I folded into a ball, using my arms to hide my chest and legs for everything down south. A fringe benefit to flying that I’d never considered before. My hands were positioned over my face, to protect my identity as best I could. I’d have to trust my blinding glow to do the rest.
“Daybreak?” Oh, and of course my father is here. Why wouldn’t he be? “Why are you?”
Several others in the crowd looked away, and a few didn’t. “Oh, as if you’ve never met a Tank who’s had a wardrobe malfunction before.” It was the most common problem for us. Better than the alternative of having our flesh burned off in addition to our clothes like a non-Tank faced, but still a problem.
Dad, as Quash, stepped a bit closer. “Uh, I’m sure the police will have a blanket or something in their squad cars. Can you tell us what happened?”
I considered telling Dad he forgot his stupid accent, but now was not the time. “Damascus and I set a trap, Hunter came alone. The other one didn’t show.” Short, blunt answers that wouldn’t trip off Truthsayers were my best bet here. No one would be suspicious as long as I told the truth; after all, they would expect me to act strange under the circumstances.
“You set a trap?” Some woman I didn’t recognize stepped up. Based on the blue and gold color scheme, and badge printed into her costume, I guessed she was a hero. Not that that meant she was a good guy. “What the hell did you use?”
“Not the explosion, that was something else.” A three person Pairbond utilized to maximum potential. “We just rigged the place with traps like ball bearings. The explosion was caused by my power.” They would have to ask, and if I volunteered ahead of time it would let me control the situation. “I… my power’s always been emotion based, and…”
I left it there. This hero, if she was police, wouldn’t have much trouble connecting me to Starfall. If they drew the wrong conclusion, it would not be lie.
“Are there any other survivors?”
Fuck. “I…” How to get out of this? “Domenic!” I ‘fell’ toward the building, hoping that all those acting classes paid off. The dust had finally more or less settled, letting me see just how much damage we’d done. The building was nothing but rubble; the concrete near the epicenter had been reduced to gravel.
We’re this powerful together? The thought was chilling; in a matter of minutes, we’d built a bomb that could take out a small city block. The list of Imbued, even Pairbonds, with that level of power was miniscule.
A distorted semi-humanoid metal shell stood in the debris. It was a poor attempt to look like Damascus. Hunter may have been able to piggyback on Dom’s power, but she didn’t have the finesse he did. She got the featureless mask right, at least.
“Are you okay in there?” TrappedPain. “I’ll take that as a yes.” She was alive, and there was no sense of panic, so she’d be able to regenerate with enough time.
Footsteps crunched in the rubble. “You look like you’ve seen better days.” Dad managed to sound quite amused. “Ah do believe, when last we met, there was some words said about the next time.”
Really? God fucking damn it. FearAttackRun. It was a dim emotion, like a warning and strategy. She was right, though; it wouldn’t take long for people to get suspicious about Damascus if we stuck around. I kicked my glow up to full power and moved to block Dad from getting any closer. “Don’t you dare.”
“Step aside, girl. This is a conversation for men.”
If he ever said anything like that to Mom, she would have broken every bone in his face.
Thinking about Mom stunned me; I was currently protecting the psycho who murdered my mother, from someone who had every reason to end her. This isn’t right.
ConcernRealizationTrapped. Is this the power of a Pairbond? Is this what happened to Mom and Dad? Would Mom have been a good hero, if not for meeting Dad? Or do I have that reversed? Was Mom the monster and Dad the decent person?
The more I thought of it, the more I was that Mom would make the better villain. She was always the more calculating and ruthless in the pair, while Dad was laid back and more interested in enjoying wealth than acquiring it. Mom’s the one who killed Domenic’s mother.
“Yeah, that’s not happening. You can lose another dick waving competition with my boyfriend later.” I had to wonder if the Truthsayers would see that as a lie. It didn’t matter; there nothing criminal in lying about your relationship status. “Right now one of those monsters is still out there free and we need to get moving. Or did you forget your promises already?”
The familiar weight of my own body started to pull harder toward the ground. I wondered briefly if it was hitting Hunter, and if so how she’d weather the storm. “Ah. Would. Never.”
“Good.” Energy crackled around me; my own colors rather than the blended variant sustained by Hunter’s supply. Whatever power Hunter added to my own had been expended in surviving the explosion. “Oh, and since I’m not a man, I’m not going to do some silly threat. I’m just going to let you know that we know about Andromeda. Make of that what you will.” I fell backwards to where Hunter was frozen in steel no longer under her control.
If there was ever a time to stab her in the back, it would have been at that moment. Instead, I put my arms around her, a reflection of the hug I’d wanted to give her, and used her shell as cover while I pulled us off into the air. Anyone found it suspicious wouldn’t know why.
RetreatPathetic. It galled me as well; everyone here would assume Domenic was hurt, including Quash, and he’d see it as a sign of weakness.
ContemptDisdainSuperior. Looking down at the destruction I’d left behind, I knew she was right; our demonstrated power made us amongst the strongest Imbued the world had to offer. “We’d better get going.”
I fell sideways through air at max speeds without fear of dropping from the sky. The benefits of my part of the Pairbond with Hunter; she recharged me faster than I could drain the battery, while my power allowed her electricity to imitate my shield’s defensive properties. Domenic’s benefit was in easier to control metals that she could use to some extent as well.
She gets the greatest benefits from this combination, but if I’ve learned anything it’s that everything comes with a loss. What does she lose?
Domenic’s truck was waiting for us when we landed, reflecting light in that special way that could only happen if he was using his power. I set Hunter down against the driver’s side door, just in case were were still being watched. Her shell turned to fluid state, allowing her to move and climb in the truck. The metal itself joined the rest coating the truck while I waited a few seconds to get in the other side.
“We made it.” The words belonged to Hunter, who’d already gotten into the back. There wasn’t room to fit someone back there, but shapeshifters come with contortionist skills built in. “We got past every fate-thread!”
ReliefSuccessHope. “You’re certain?” Domenic was already driving off.
“As sure as I can be.” InsecureTrepidation. “I’m sensing no danger, but there are so many powers out there.”
With my door closed, the only source of light was now the dashboard, and me. “I think we’re in the clear, but-” ShockDesire. Oh, right, I’m still naked. I wasn’t sure if I should feel insulted or flattered that it took him this long to notice. The familiar flow of metal sliding over my skin gave me some modesty back. “Thanks. Uh, as I was saying, we’re mostly in the clear.”
AnnoyanceContempt. SuspicionFocus. “Mostly?” Domenic asked.
“Yeah, well, Quash showed up.” DisgustHateKill. I wasn’t sure which aspects of that emotion came from which of us, but at least some of it was my own. “Tried to start another argument with you. I jumped in, argued with him, and got you out of there.”
“It made you look weak,” Hunter added from her place hidden behind the seats. WorryFrustration. RealizationFear. “She didn’t have a choice, not without risking the plan.”
ResignationAcceptance. “Okay, if that’s the worst consequence, I consider this an unmitigated victory.” He hesitated for a moment, probably because of my surprise. “The part of me that was raised on turning the other cheek wants to remind myself that he did lose his Pairbond recently.”
UnderstandingApprehension. He reached out to touch my cheek. “It was hell just waiting here for you to come back, wondering if we’d never see each other again. I don’t know how I’d react knowing I’d be alone forever.”
LossPainDefend. Was that Hunter, or me? “Yeah, I guess.”
FocusAngerShame. That’s Hunter’s feelings. “And what does the rest of you want?”
“The rest of me wants to reunite him with his wife.” ApologyRegret. “Sorry, Chloe.”
“Don’t be, I’m not a fan, either.” Screw you, Dad. ComfortSupport. UnderstandingHate. We spent the rest of the drive in silence, stopping only so Domenic could send the metal covering his truck back into hiding, and to follow traffic laws. Somehow, the emotional effects of the bond didn’t hit him as hard as the rest of us.
Domenic looked into the back, at Hunter. “Well, we’re home. We’ll be staying in the garage tonight. We can figure something more permanent out later.”
RealizationSuspicion. Hunter glared at the garage. “There’s someone in there.”
“No, I’m not seeing any violent fatelines. I don’t think she’s hostile. Do you have a computer in the garage?”
RealizationDread. Domenic’s head fell onto the steering wheel. “That would be my sister. We’re fucked.” Fear rolled off of Domenic like a panic attack, enough that I was having trouble keeping my own emotions in check. He hadn’t thought of the risks of bringing her near his family before.
ShameInsecurity. “I’ll be good, I promise.” Hunter’s voice had changed. I glanced back, to face an entirely different person. Her skin was now a dark brown color, though lighter than Domenic’s, and all her other features were African as well. Her emotions dripped of desperation.
I took a breath, fighting through Domenic’s fear. Neither of them are going to be useful right now. “Well, Bea knows who you are, and who I am. The only person we need to keep a secret is Hunter. Best way to do that is hide it in plain sight. Bring her in, say she’s with me, we can do this.”
FocusResolution. “You’re right.” ReliefHope. “She’ll be nosy, but once she thinks she knows the answer, she’ll stop poking.”
Hunter pulled her shirt off and tossed it at me. I ignored my jealousy at her figure; no one could expect to compete against a shapeshifter. Hunter’s skin shifted, changing to a deep red color even as she started working her pants off. She kicked those at me. “Get dressed, or do you want to be seen like that?”
Domenic hid his face in his arm. “It’s not like I could hide it if I peeked, anyway.”
I followed instructions, putting on Hunter’s clothes. They were dirty and torn, but fit me well enough. “How on earth did you get the blood stains out of these?” While wearing them, no less.
RealizationDisgust. Oh, right, we do keep forgetting how terrifying our prisoner is.
By the time I pulled Dom’s metal off and got in Hunter’s clothes, she’d managed to shapeshift herself clothes. “You can look now.” He was true to his word, and hadn’t peeked once.
He pulled his head up. “Okay, let’s go.”
Through some unspoken agreement, it was Dom, then me, then Hunter. I couldn’t decide which of them was more terrified.
“Nanna told me to wait up for you,” Beatrice didn’t miss a beat upon hearing the door open. “But I got bored around midnight, so you now have a profile on GaySingles dot… uh, hi, Chloe. Hope you’re not here for a refund.” WorryFrustration.
“Actually, I’m here to stay, I think.” After tonight, there was no possible scenario where I returned home.
Bea didn’t look happy to hear it, either. “I think Nanna threw out your toothbrush. Who’s the new girl?” Her smile threatened to cut the top of her head off. “Damn, Bro, wait ’till I tell the guys that you’ve got your own harem now. Good job.”
ApprehensionPanic. “Beatrice, I do not have a harem!”
AnticipationFocus. “I’m just here with Chloe. He only gets to watch.” ShockEmbarrassment. Hunter had a tone in her voice that just oozed sexuality. “You can watch, too. Or join in, if you like.” DiscomfortProtective. I was with Dom; this was awkward beyond belief even before factoring in who it was making the offer.
Beatrice laughed like it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. “Oh god! And the look on their faces!” She even slapped her leg. “We are gonna get along great, I can already tell. But I only do stuff with girls in front of guys who ain’t my brother.”
“A pity.” Hunter made a pop sound with her lips. She’d walked a few steps ahead, putting far more sway into her hips than were necessary. “I’m Felicia. It’s been a pleasure meeting you. Lemme know if you change your mind.”
“Find me a bar that doesn’t card, and maybe we’ll talk about it.” Bea’s tone was almost as flirty as Hunter’s. She started walking toward the door. “See you around.”
“Count on it.” I don’t know how she kept up the act with our emotions pushing on her mind, but Hunter didn’t lose her smile until Bea closed the door. Then her face was all business. “Your sister is an awful judge of character.”