We sat there in silence, each doing our best to think of solutions to our problems. I looked between Domenic and Cecelia, wondering just who would speak first, who’d have the answer to our problems. The possibility that it would be me never entered my mind.
Cecelia had leaned forward, so her wrists were touching and her palms were flat on the concrete floor. This had the side effect of pressing her breasts together and giving a direct view of her cleavage to Domenic.
I moved a little closer to Domenic, to remind them that we were still her captors and nobody should get any funny ideas. Okay, come up with a distraction. “Well, I was thinking about moving out, getting an apartment somewhere.” DreadDisquiet AmusedAnticipation. “I have money… enough for a deposit and a couple…” I trailed off after realizing it wasn’t a matter of money. “What?”
UneaseConcern. Domenic glanced over at Cecelia for a moment. “Let’s just say there aren’t a lot of places that are going to rent an apartment to girl who’s still in high school. The places that do are, well… they’ll assume you’re working there.”
“Working?” I tried to parse together what he was saying, to avoid looking stupid in front of Cecelia, but I failed. “Why would they care where I work?”
IncredulityAmused. Cecelia brought her hands up. Her left, she formed an ‘o’ with her thumb and pointer. The other she held as a fist, then she extended her pointer and middle finger. “You know.” She brought her right hand over and slid the fingers in and out of the circle a few times. DiscomfortResignation. “Working?”
Oh my god. “I’d never!”
SupportCaution. “Of course you wouldn’t.” Dom moved his hand over to rest on my knee. “But reputable establishments demand all kinds of stuff, including background checks. And if you’re going to live in the bad places, well…”
“Not a safe place for girls to be alone,” Cecelia said. “Especially not ones as pretty as you.” She thinks I’m pretty? AmusedConfident. “Though, there is something to be said for the plan.”
UncertainWorried. Domenic turned his attention back to Cecelia. “Okay, I should be afraid to ask, but I have to.”
“Well,” as she spoke, Cecelia allowed herself to fall backward, though she kept her legs forming an L shape to her body. It ended with her laying down with her toes pointed to the ceiling. “She’s got nothing to fear from your average thug, right?”
Still on her back, Cecelia parted her legs enough to look at us through them. “They know where all the best dark alleys are, where nobody will go if they hear screaming. That’s when you beat them up and take their wallets.” Her legs snapped together, to emphasize her point. “Like an even sexier Venus Fly Trap. Emphasis on the V.”
Not a bad idea. DiscardUseless. Domenic just sighed. “I don’t see that working.” What the hell? Am I not attractive enough to be attacked or something? Domenic looked over at me. ConfusedApology.
“Uh, I mean, the city’s not that bad. We only get a couple thousand violent crimes per year in the whole area.” He stopped for a moment, thinking. “Half a million people, so five thousand per two attacks is one in twenty-five hundred. Something like ninety percent of violent crime is personal rather than random, so that’s twenty five thousand. Remember, that’s per year, so your odds of getting attacked are, like, nine million to one per night?”
SurprisedImpressed. Cecelia flipped herself back into a sitting position. “Huh. It was…” AlertWorried. She looked at us for a moment, then forced a smile that wouldn’t have been convincing even without the empathy. “Well, I think we can do better than that with my power, but I can’t go out with you.”
Oh, of course she’s upset about that. I looked at Domenic. He won’t say it, so I’ll have to. “Staying here’s just as dangerous.”
ParanoiaAmused. “Huh, so I guess that’s pushing more to us getting an apartment together, then?”
RejectionProblem. “Won’t work.” He looked over at Cecelia. “Uh, our identities may have been compromised a few times in the past. There’s a sort of gentleman’s agreement about keeping business and costume separate, but just because everyone agrees that going after us in civies is playing dirty, doesn’t mean they won’t. If they’ve been watching us, and suddenly there’s a new girl in our group with no background? Well, we’re one Esper away from disaster.”
My father, especially. It’s the threat of blackmail that keeps him away, but if he realizes who Cecelia is, then it’s over. He refuses to accept Domenic, and that’s his problem. He’d go nuclear over Cecelia. Literally, by feeding Biohazard something radioactive and sending her our way.
UnderstandingVigilant. “How are we going get around, then? If they know your identities, even leaving the city might not be enough. They’d just look to see who showed up in the new place, and work from there.”
HopeApprehensionDoubtRejectionGuilt. It took me a moment to realize all of that was Domenic’s ‘flavor’. At least I’m getting better at telling them apart without waiting for other clues. “Dom? What was that?”
UncertainApology. “I, uh, it’s a stupid idea, but I was thinking what if we didn’t use a house?” He cringed a little, as if expecting one of us to yell at him for the idea “Like, a camping trip? It’ll be months before the weather gets bad, and by then we’ll figure something else out.”
UnderstandingApproval. Yeah, what she thought. I brought my hand up, with just a bit of glow in my fingertips to make my point. “I can heat myself enough to boil bath water, so I think I can make enough heat to keep warm in the winter.”
As much as I suffered for my power, I deserved a chance to brag every now and then. In that one way, at least, I was fortunate: my power made me immune to heats that made steel start to glow. Imbued knew to fear fire; it cut through defenses and left most of us as vulnerable as any ordinary person. It was also one of the more common attack powers, so my immunity was a major advantage in a fight as well.
ReliefUncertain. Domenic took a breath. “Well, it was the bath I was sorta not sure about. I don’t think the park people appreciate people bathing in the lakes, these days. You could get away with it a couple times, maybe, if you’re near some public utilities, but that raises the same problems you’ll see with motels and the like.”
Oh, right, that is a problem. AmusedDismissive. Cecelia stretched her arms. “You can boil water on your skin, and you’re afraid of a little dirt? Just cook it off. And I can make soap on my skin when I want to.” I watched as she scanned her eyes down my body, then back up again. “If you ask nice, I’ll let you rub on me to get clean.”
I was stunned for a second. What the hell. I drew my power together, making my eyes glow so I could- AwkwardAllure. My developing plan fell apart around me. Unable to find the words to tell Cecelia to go to hell, I focused on the mechanics of the situation.
“Well, we could build our own place?” UnderstandingAcceptance. “We’d have to hide it, but all the best heroes have their own secret bases. What is it they call it? Going off the grid? A lot of people do that, and most of them don’t have powers.”
ApprovalSuccess. Cecelia folded her legs so she was sitting on them. “Right, and then we don’t have to use a park or anything, we can go anywhere.” Now resting on her shins, she brought her hands forward to hold her knees. It occurred to me that she hadn’t sat still for longer than a few seconds during this entire conversation. “Now we just need somewhere hidden.”
UncertainConsideration. “That’s not a bad idea, now that I think about it.” A smile crept into Domenic’s face, and I could almost feel his brain working. AcceptanceEnthusiasm CuriousSupport. “And I think I know where to go. Roger’s family has a lot of land outside town, near Falls Lake.” I knew Roger only as Humpty-Dumpty, so named because the girls of school decided he had a shocking resemblance to an egg. They weren’t wrong; cruel, sure, but not wrong. “In the spring, we go out there to LARP.” RealizationHumiliation. “Uh, well, they’re touring Italy this summer, so we’ve got months ahead of us.”
“Well, that settles it, then!” I climbed to my feet using muscle rather than powers. I didn’t feel the need to move around as much as Cecelia, but using my power to move around too much made me feel like I hadn’t climbed out of bed. “Construction materials are the most expensive part of making a building, right? And we can do that for almost free.”
ConfidentCaution. Domenic was next to stand, towering over me in a way I both loved and hated. “We’ll need to look up how to make a well, maybe a septic system. People have been making those for thousands of years, so it can’t be too hard with superhuman strength and custom tools, right?”
Domenic extended his hand toward the metal blob on the floor, which slid under the workbench like a living creature, with orange lightning jumping off it the whole way. SurpriseImpressed. “I think it picked up a charge while w- we slept last night. The more charge it has, the easier time I have controlling it.”
ImpressedEager. Cecelia hopped up as well, but she did so by leaning forward and pushing her hands off the ground hard enough to ‘jump’ to her feet that way. “Well, there you have it. And we can use this as an excuse to go out and test our powers, too. Don’t pretend you’re not as curious as I am at our power boost.”
Wells, septic systems? How long does he expect us to need this place? It then hit me that it would be almost two years before I graduated school. On some level, I always knew that was the case, but it hadn’t hit me until just now. “Uh, yeah, but how do we get out there without you being seen?” We’ll need provisions. Food, clothes, bottled water, maybe medicine. I don’t know if I can get sick or not with my powers. Other hygiene supplies.
UncertaintyFear TeasingAmused. Cecelia jumped at Domenic. “Wha-oof!” Domenic stumbled back, against the work desk, which gave like it was made of clay when he hit it. She locked her legs around his hips, and pinned his arms to his sides with hers. He struggled, but Dom wasn’t a powerhouse at the best of times, and Cecelia had my power’s durability to boost her own strength. I wasn’t sure I could break her grip, but there was no way he could. ShockConfusedWorried. “Get off me!”
That’s right, get off him. That’s supposed to be me! With a burst of power, I cleared the floor of the garage in a single almost lazy jump. “Okay, that’s enough fooling around.”
Cecelia leaned her head against his chest, then looked at me and spoke in a whisper. “But this is how you can get me… out.” She pulled herself further up Domenic’s body so she was pressed against his stomach rather than his hips. ReliefDisappointment. “Think about it. In costume, you’re wearing a, what, seven foot solid steel suit that weighs at least a ton?”
AwkwardTrapped. Domenic glanced down at Cecelia, whose shirt had slid down a fair amount by her climbing around. He pulled his eyes away to look at me instead. “Uh, about twenty-eight hundred pounds, give or take a few. It’s… my old maximum level. I think I can do more with our power boost.”
FrustrationTriumph. With another shimmy up Dom’s trunk, she put her head between him and me, looking him right in the eyes. “Well, that’s a lot of room for you to hide li’l ol’ me, ain’t it? We can fit in together, nice and cozy.”
UnderstandingApproval. “That’s not a bad idea, now that I think about it.” Metal started to pull off the wall, faster than I’d ever seen him use it before. “But not like this. I need to be able to move. Maybe I can carry you piggyback?”
“Alright.” Instead of getting down and moving better, she scrampled up until she was more or less sitting on his shoulders, then climbed over his head to the table he’d half reduced to liquid. “Like this, then?”
ReliefGuilt. Domenic looked at me like he could apologize via psychic signals. I suppose, in a way, he could. The metal folded up around both of them, until they were encased in the solid steel that made up his Damascus costume. “How does it look?” He left off the deadly blades and the like, but the intimidating dark knight helmet worked as it always did, staring forward with with empty slits where eyes should be. The rust-orange glow emanating from the sockets was a new to the look, but it didn’t detract anything.
“It looks, well, terrifying.” ApprovalSuccess ConcernConfirmation. “Uh, yeah, I can’t tell there’s someone else hiding in there.”
“Then we’re golden,” Domenic said. “Well, once nightfall hits and we can sneak out.” There was a moment of silence before Dom spoke again.
“Yes, the armor’s always been this tall.” PriceSuccess. “The idea was I didn’t want to get hit in the head, so I made it the armor big enough that I’m hiding in the chest cavity.” CleverConfident. “They can’t hit my head if they’re aiming at the decoy, right?”
It took me that long to realize he was talking to Cecelia while inside his armor. How I could hear him, but not her, was anyone’s guess.
ApprovalConcern. “Uh, well, yeah, but you’re not going to be in here during a fight, so it doesn’t matter… Well, we’d better hope nobody starts anything. I think we’re safe, long as Heritage doesn’t start anything.” AlertRetaliate.
“No, we’re safe enough. Chloe’s going to have to carry us around anyway.” UncertainThreat. “Their only flier is Myriad, and she doesn’t go out.” HateDestroy. “Then I drop a two hundred pound metal ball on his head.”
AmusementCruel. “No, I won’t make it into a giant coiled up dog turd.” InsistantSuperiority ConsiderationAmusement. “Fine, I promise I’ll think about it, that’s it.” SuccessAnticipation.