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Lights and Waves

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I’ve got eight hundred dollars in my hand. I flick my finger through the stack, doing another quick count just to be on the safe side. Eight hundred. As hauls go, it’s pretty decent. The house must have had foreigners in it, otherwise they wouldn’t have this much cash lying around. It’s much smarter to use an ATM, but if you’re a group of German tourists coming to Florida for a week then it’s a lot easier to just change a bunch of… whatever money they use in Germany into dollars.

I can make thousands if I find a street full of holiday homes, easy, but there’s a lot more risk attached afterwards. Miami likes her tourists a hell of a lot more than she likes me, and hitting them on the regular brings a lot more heat than the money’s worth. Closest I ever came to getting caught was when I got too cocky and travelled out to Key Biscayne to hit the rich foreigners. It’s much better to pick streets at random and clear them out. If I happen to run across the occasional holiday home then it’s a nice little bonus for a good night’s work.

I put the money away in one of the pouches on my belt, spray-painted black from the original army-surplus olive green they were when I bought them, once again wishing my power wasn’t too fussy to let me wear a fucking backpack. But that’s a tired old argument, and I know it’s not changing any time soon. Anyone who offers you an ‘upgrade’ to your powers is either a scammer, an idiot, or a sadist who gets off on torturing teenage girls and wants to be paid for the pleasure.

I guess I should be thankful that my power defines ‘people’ pretty fucking loosely.

I close the pouch, buckling it up tight in case I have to run. Not that I often have to run, nowadays, but it’s not the sort of habit you want to break. The next house has a nice car on the driveway, polished black bodywork giving me a clear view of my reflection under the streetlight. I’m still proud of my ‘costume’, even though it barely deserves the name. The sneakers are actually the most expensive part of the whole outfit; bought from a fancy running shop where some kid spouted a bunch of bullshit at me about how these particular sneakers are totally kickin’ with goo in their soul and a bunch of gorex, or something like that.

The leggings and hoodie, on the other hand, are comfortable but cheap, both in black. The belt and its pouches came from an army surplus store, the only modifications being the new colour and removing the shoulder straps. The mask is actually the second most expensive item, custom made and ordered from out of the city. I thought it was wasted money at first, but the material is some kind of special shit that doesn’t feel like it’s blocking my breath. It’s black and covers my whole face, with just a couple of holes for my eyes. With the hoodie as well, there’s no chance of anyone seeing my face.

Just the way I like it.

My mind drifts to the wads of cash in my pouches, the jewels and other small valuables, even the odd spot of drugs I can sell right back to the dealer. I could call it a night here, quit while the going is good, but who’s to say the good time won’t keep on coming? Miami loves me tonight, or at least she’s feeling a little fond, and there’s no guarantee she’ll feel the same way tomorrow. She can be a cruel bitch like that.

Fuck it, why not?

I step up the driveway, looking around briefly to make sure nobody else is on the street. Not that I was expecting there to be in a quiet residential zone at three in the morning, but nobody ever got killed by being too cautious. The house itself is nice enough; one story tall, like a lot of the buildings around here, with a brick driveway and a few palms in nice little beds. There’s a couple of cars parked on the driveway, and an alarm system on the wall above the door.

The door itself is either real wood or a decent imitation, painted black and framed on either side by columns and a little roof of terracotta tiles to shield it a little during the day. I rest my hand on the door, feeling how cool it is to the touch, and flex my power. The surface of the door distorts and ripples in rings out from my palm. I push forwards, feeling my hand sink through the door and out onto the other side.

The sensation is like wading through water, in that there’s still resistance but not enough to actually stop me. I feel around a little, just in case there’s someone standing on the other side, and step through. I can only take so much through; it’s like there’s a field around me that comes through with me. A backpack sticks out too much, but the pouches hug my hips close enough to be brought through. It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it, but powers don’t have to make sense.

I reach for my torch, taking a half-step forwards, and freeze at the sound of something slipping off a shelf. There’s a fraction of a second of silence before something ceramic smashes against the ground right in front of me. I freeze mid-motion, my hand stuck as it reached for my torch, and wait as my eyes slowly adjust to the dark. On the ground in front of me is some sort of ceramic dish, probably meant to hold the keys that are now scattered all over the fucking floor.

I pause, the sound of my heartbeat the only thing I can hear, until I’m sure that I haven’t woken up the people who live here. Once I’m in the clear, as sure of that as I can be, I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding in and start to creep through the house, my expensive sneakers completely silent on the wooden floor. I don’t risk the torch, instead creeping from room to room with the sort of single-minded focus that comes from long practice.

Half the time, this job is about luck. Sure, I case out the street, make sure the neighbourhood’s rich enough to have a semi-decent haul at minimum, but what I actually get really depends on the house in question. Do they use cash or card? Are they new rich and careful with money or old rich and careless? Do they keep their jewellery in their bedroom or in a safe? For me, the safe is easier, with less chance of waking someone up.

I find what I’m looking for in a small cupboard near the front door. There’s a safe in there, beneath the hanging coats and with shoes stacked around and on top of it. There aren’t any shoes in front of the safe, which means people are opening and closing it on the regular. That’s a good sign.

I get down on my knees and rest my palm on the safe, flexing my power a little before pushing my hand through the now wavy surface. Like always, I swear I can feel the cold metal creeping right through my skin. It’s bullshit, though; just my mind trying to make sense of what I’m doing. It thinks I should feel cold metal on my skin, so I do.

After three years, I still haven’t found a better way of doing this than just rooting about with my hand to see if I can find anything. At least I haven’t run into any nutcases who put bear traps in their safe or something. So long as I keep quiet, that’s not something I need to worry about any time soon.

The first thing I find is a gun, some modern piece with the magazine unloaded next to it. It’s too bulky to fit in one of my pouches, but I wouldn’t take it even if I could. They’re hard to fence, not worth a whole lot when you do fence them, and a hell of a lot of risk. The small case next to it, on the other hand…

Jackpot. Feels like a necklace, maybe with a couple of gems in it. I quickly feel around the rest of the safe, palming a couple smaller pieces of jewellery; some rings and a broach. A nice haul, even if it’s not as immediately useful as cash. Give me a week to track down my fence, another few weeks for him to shift the fucking things, and I’ll have a decent bit of spending money.

I smile a little at the thought, only to drop the jewels in a panic at the sound of footsteps pounding down the corridor. I shoot to my feet, only to bang the back of my head on the coat-rail. I swear out of habit, before my blood runs cold at the unwelcome noise. Loud it is, then. Fuck.

I sprint through the house, not making any effort to be quiet, and I almost make it to the door when I notice that the wall in front of me is glowing a strange electric-blue. I should keep going, should book it as fast as I can, but, whether from fear or confusion or cat-killing curiosity, I turn my head and immediately stop.

There’s a cape standing in the hallway, glowing electric-blue lines traced across her body, a rich blue glow reflected off her chestnut skin. She’s clearly only just got out of bed, wearing a long t-shirt and with her hair all over the place. There’s an angry look on her face and… she’s not wearing a mask.

Fuck.

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My burst of confidence carries me right around the corner, the polished hardwood floor reflecting my glow as the white walls take on the same light blue colour. I’m high on adrenaline in the way that only someone who’s just suddenly and violently got out of bed can be. My power is flaring up like crazy, energy flowing all over me in waves as it builds up charge, my every step leaving grid like patterns on the floor.

The burglar is covered from head to toe, looking like she dressed in whatever she could find so long as it’s black. She’s backing up slowly, obviously shocked by the sudden appearance of a hero, and her eyes are widening as she looks me up and down, no doubt taking in the beautiful patterned lines of energy with a mix of awe and terror.

It’s just a shame my costume-

Oh shit.

I panic, my left hand flying up to cover my face even I stretch out the right and start to gather energy along my outstretched fingertips. It quickly becomes clear that I can’t, in fact, hide my identity by putting my hand over my mouth and nose. The burglar’s eyes are a little less wide now; I can’t imagine I look very intimidating now.

Don’t look at me!” I hiss at her, suddenly painfully aware that my parents are sleeping in their room at the other end of the house. I punctuate my statement by pouring yet more power into my fingertips, which start to glow even brighter as the rest of me dims a little.

“Okay,” she says, backing up a little and raising her hands over her head.

Shit,” I swear under my breath. What the fuck am I going to do?

“Listen, I didn’t know a cape lived here, okay?” the burglar says, her voice a lot softer than I was expecting. “I’d never have tried anything if I knew, I swear.” She raises her head a little, trying to look at me again, only to drop it back down as I raise my other hand and start charging it as well.

“Look,” she continues, sounding like she’s trying to be calm in spite of her fear, “I get that I’ve crossed some boundaries here. Maybe it would be best if we both just forgot about it, yeah? Go our separate ways and never think about each other again?”

She’s backed up as far as she can, her arms pressed against the wall. I edge a little closer, only to stop dead as the wall behind her starts to shimmer like the surface of a pool caught in the sun. She falls through the wall like it isn’t even there. I fire a shot, reflexively, but the bright projectile doesn’t go through, instead spreading into a glowing grid-pattern that shimmers with the wall itself.

I shove my fist in my mouth to stifle a frustrated shout and sprint across the living room to the wall, leaping at it without any hesitation. There’s a brief moment’s confusion as I pass through it before I’m stumbling across our back garden, barely managing to keep my footing after the unexpected drop. I look left and right, spotting the retreating black-clad figure sprinting through the garden of the next house over, and give chase.

It’s about then that I realise that if her power had only worked on herself I’d have woken my parents up and probably put a hole in the wall…

I stretch my hand out, firing a blast up at the roof of a house at the far end of the street. A grid like web of energy spreads out across the tiles, as I fire another blast at the ground in front of me. The moment I step onto the patch of energy I flex my power, sending charge down through my feet and into the web.

There’s the familiar rush of my power disintegrating my body into light, my vision whiting out for a moment, before I reform out of the grid I shot onto the roof. Now I have a perfect angle on the burglar as she runs through the gardens, her hand held out in front of her to work her power onto each obstacle.

A mad grin passes across my face as I take aim. The first shot misses, hitting in front of the burglar, but she panics as the sight of the grid spreading out in front of her and slips over on the grass. I take advantage of her moment of weakness and fire another shot, this one catching her in the thigh and causing a neon grid to form across her leg and hips. I flex my power again, sending energy through the link, and the grid glows, voltage passing through it directly into her body.

She spasms and falls as I teleport into the grid in front of her, walking confidently towards her and kicking her down before dropping to a crouch with one knee pressing down on her sternum. She flails at me with her left arm, landing a painful hit on my gut, so I send another burst of electricity through her grid. She stops moving, glaring up at me as I pull her mask off.

She looks a lot younger than I was expecting…

“You’ve seen my face,” I say, hoping that if I sound confident it might actually make me confident, “now I’ve seen yours. Insurance, yeah?”

Okay, so it’s not the best solution out there, but it’s the best I can think of right now.

The burglar tries to speak, but her voice is a gargled mess. For a moment, she fixes me with a look like she’s going to spit in my face, but then she turns her head to spit on the ground instead.

Fuck,” she swears, a distinct Hispanic accent creeping into her tone, “dale, you fucking psycho. This means we’re even, right? I can fucking go?”

I pause for a second, thinking this though. Can I let her go? I mean, she’s a burglar, but if I turn her in she could probably get her burglar buddies to shoot up my house or something. Wait, my house…

“You know where I live,” I state matter-of-factly.

Her eyes widen as she takes in what I’m saying.

“No way. No fucking way.”

“You’ve seen my house. What’s to say you won’t tell your criminal friends to come break my mom’s legs or something?”

“My fucking criminal friends?”

“It’s mutually assured destruction. I can’t tell the cops where you live because you could get someone to attack my house, but you can’t get someone to attack my house because I could tell the cops where you live. See?”

“You’re fucking crazy…” she trails off, sullenly. “Fuck, fine. Just let me up already.”

I step back, cautiously, ready to send another jolt through the grid if she tries any tricks. It’s slowly starting to fade, but it should be good for another minute or two. She pulls herself to her feet, brushing a little grass off her leggings, and looks me up and down.

“You’re going to want to put on some proper clothes, or some shoes at least, and get some cash for the guagua.”

The what? No, don’t ask her. She might take it as a sign of weakness, or something.

“Fine,” I say, suddenly a little self-conscious about being outside in nothing but sleepwear. “Come on, we’ll swing back by my place and head off.”

I get changed as quickly as I can, absolutely terrified that the burglar will cut and run, throwing on some shorts, a clean t-shirt and a pair of sneakers, and grabbing a few dollars out of my purse.

She’s waiting for me outside, but it takes me a second to actually recognise her. The hoodie and her pouches are gone, probably stuffed into the pink and black backpack she’s pulled out of nowhere, and she’s wearing a hot-pink crop top made out of some glossy material. She couldn’t look any different from the discrete burglar.

After a second, I realise that’s probably the point.

“Great,” she says as she looks at me, “now can you get this off my leg?” she says, waving a hand at the grid on her thigh. I refreshed it before I went inside, as a little extra insurance.

“Sure,” I say, stepping forwards and brushing a hand across her thigh, drawing the energy back into myself. I concentrate, and the lines criss-crossing my body fade into nothing, my power disappearing back inside myself.

“Lead on,” I say, gesturing to the empty streets. She scowls at me, turning and walking off at a pace so brisk I almost have to jog to keep up. Pretty soon we end up on the bus, so I guess ‘guagua’ might be local slang. Probably… Cuban, isn’t it? Miami has a lot of Cuban culture, right?

The bus takes us out of my part of town, such as it is. Honestly, I haven’t really had enough time to get used to it, let along start going out on patrols. Once again, I find myself thinking about the patchwork costume hidden beneath my bed. I really wasn’t expecting to start my hero career so soon, and I definitely wasn’t expecting do to it in nothing but a t-shirt.

The bus heads into a much rougher part of town, and I start to feel a little nervous. I’m alone out here; it’s not like I can count on the burglar to have my back. Even the comforting feeling of my power isn’t enough to stop me from feeling a little scared. I have to be better than that, if I’m ever going to make a difference.

We get off at the next stop, in a part of the city that’s full of low-rise, low-income housing. There are a couple of people idling on the side of the street, some of them drunk, some of them just sitting and talking. A few women are hanging around on the street corner, but I can’t tell if they’re actually prostitutes or just friends waiting for a taxi. How exactly do you tell the difference between a gang member and a bunch of regular people?

I’m starting to think I’m not as prepared for heroism as I thought…

“Qué bolá jeva!?” one of the men sitting beside the road asks the burglar, leaning forwards with a leer on his face. His speech is slurred; the bottle in his hand might have something to do with that.

I flinch backwards, a little scared. There are four of them, and I’m still not wearing a mask. The burglar, though, she just slows her pace and grins at them, shouting a response as she passes.

“Ya tu sabes!”

What the fuck was that? Do they know her? Did she just tell them to attack me? Was it exactly like it seemed; a drunk asshole making a pass and a girl brushing him off?

I’m really not ready for this…

The burglar – I really need to learn her name – leads me to a bunch of apartments in a run down little complex right on the boundary between the commercial and residential zones. The buildings are long and only one story tall, with metal fences creating little courtyard along the length of each building, lined with little white doors. Every window, even the ones behind the fence, is barred.

“Not quite Little Havana, is it?”

I jump, as I suddenly realise I’d been spacing out for like a minute. The burglar is leaning against the now-open gate and grinning at me.

“Welcome to Allapattah, rich girl,” she says as she steps into the courtyard, walking over to a door at the left on the end of the row of apartments.

“It’s Caitlynn,” I say, as she fiddles with her keys. “Caitlynn Lawrence.”

There, I’ve told her my name. Now she has to tell me hers, and I’ll have something to call her other than burglar.

“Sara de la Cruz,” she says, sounding a little confused. “And this,” she pushes open her door, “is home.”

The moment I step into the apartment I realise a lot of my assumptions have been wrong. I’d been thinking she was as new as me, judging by the state of her costume, and that she was burgling to afford to move out of this neighbourhood but, clearly, I guessed wrong.

The apartment is incredible. The place is fully-furnished, with some quite expensive stuff, and she’s filled it with so much personality that she has to be living on her own. No parents alive would let their kid hang pink neon tubes along one wall in a pattern I can’t quite make sense of. Very few parents would spend their money on a TV that big, either. Certainly not when living in an apartment this small.

“This place is amazing,” I say, and I mean it too. “How long did it take…” I trail off as I realise what I’m about to ask. How long did it take you to steal the money you bought this stuff with…?”

“About three years,” Sara replies as she leans against the countertop of her little kitchenette.

“You’ve been a cape for three years?” I ask incredulously.

“Yeah, why? How long have you been a hero?”

“I, uh… I haven’t actually gone out yet.”

Sara gives me what can only be described as a look before moving behind the kitchen counter and disappearing into a fridge.

Should have quit while I was ahead,” I hear her mutter to herself. “Hey,” she says, a little louder, “you want a Colada? Because I need alcohol to deal with this shit.”

She sets a big jug of creamy liquid, with what looks like pineapple floating in it, on the countertop and removes the plastic lid before pouring it out into a glass. She looks up at me, holding the jug over a second glass with an unspoken question on her lips, before setting it down with a sigh.

“How old are you?” I ask, as she takes a little paper umbrella from a plastic bag full of them and pops it in her drink, following it with a straw.

“Seventeen, why? Gonna arrest me for underage drinking?” she responds as she somehow manages to slump onto the couch without spilling a drop.

Only a year older than me…

Wait, she’s been doing this since she was fourteen?

“So, I have to ask,” I say as I sit on the couch opposite her, “why do you live here? Why do you wear a costume that’s barely even a costume? I mean, I thought you were on your first night out or something.”

“That’s the idea,” she says, taking a sip of her drink and sighing contentedly. “Besides, there’s no way I’d find any decent landlords willing to rent to a teenager who only pays in cash. Best I can hope for is an indecent one who’s at least not going to rat me out, even if he is a bit of a dick…” she trails off, idly pushing around a pineapple chunk around with her straw before looking up at me again. “Let me ask you something; you ever heard of Susurro?”

“No, but my family only moved to Miami a couple of weeks ago.”

“Doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t have heard of her even if you’d lived here your whole life, and that’s just how I like it. I keep my head down, fly under everyone’s radar and work hard not to piss off anyone important.”

“Until now, you mean.”

“This was just some shit luck. I got greedy, and Miami turned on me for it. She can be a fickle bitch sometimes.”

“The city?”

“Yeah.”

She trails off, her face lit by the reflections of her pink neon lights off a patterned glass coffee table. Why hasn’t she kicked me out yet? I’ve seen her place; we both have enough dirt on each other that we’re safe. I could leave, right now, and we could go our separate ways without ever having to worry about running into each other again.

I look around the little apartment again, this space she’s made her own. She had two glasses out, and there’s two chairs at her little table. Two couches as well, but the one I’m sitting on right now has never been touched; there’s no sign of weight on the cushions. It doesn’t have as good an angle on the TV, so she never sat on it herself.

Am I the first person besides her who’s seen this space? If she’s so focused in flying under the radar, then why would she need to interact with anyone else? She’s shut herself in this little space and she probably only leaves to get food, alcohol, shopping or to rob some more houses. No parents, no family, no friends.

She doesn’t kick me out, so I start asking her about the bits of furniture around the place, the pink neon lights on the wall. She’s happy to explain every little bit of it, and we talk well into the night. Eventually, though, I have to leave. She doesn’t exactly seem sad to let me go, but I don’t think she really understands what she’s missing.

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I take another sip from the coffee, feeling it roll down my tongue and banish the last of my hangover. The great thing about drinking alone is that there’s nobody around to tell you to stop, and I had a great time last night. The coffee is just what I need to pick me back up, to shake my mind awake without being too rough about it. It really is just about perfect.

But it’s not nine dollars perfect. I don’t think any coffee could be, not unless the disposable cup is lined with gold foil. It’s the sort of knowledge that could fuck up an otherwise perfect mood, an uncomfortable reminder that’d kick in right after I’ve finished the thing, right before I look up at the sun hanging high overhead and sigh in contentment.

Yeah, that would suck. If I’d paid for the thing with my own money. Instead I smile, and think about the eight hundred tourist dollars burning a hole in my purse. Well, seven hundred and ninety-one now, I suppose. I came here to spend, and spend I shall.

But I’m not going to spend most of it on coffee. If there’s one lesson to take away from last night, it’s that my sneakers weren’t all the sales guy said they were. If they hadn’t slipped up on the grass I’d never have been caught, and I’d never have given my real name away to a baby hero with a fondness for force. What the fuck was I thinking?

I mean, it wasn’t too bad. I got her name too, and we both know where each other lives. It was even kind of nice to be able to talk to someone else for once. It felt… good to show off all the work I’ve put into my place, all the stories behind my shit. It felt good to talk to someone other than…

Shit.

Um, I talk to… no, that doesn’t really count. If you pay someone money every time you see them, I don’t think the conversation can be genuine.

Fuck.

That’ll just have to be a problem for another day. Today’s problem is buying new sneakers that actually work, rather than getting blindsided by a spotty shop assistant’s word vomit. I hope that little shit got a commission, ‘cos he really got one over on me. Bastard. I mean what’s the point of sneakers if you can’t use them to sneak away from an amateur vigilante who literally glows in the dark?

No, I got sloppy. I pushed my luck, didn’t look the gift horse in the mouth. Miami’s good to me, but her favour always fades. I used to be better at judging the moment she decides to turn on me, but I guess I’d become blinded by my streak of good fortune. I need to be more careful, and the sneakers are only part of that. I need to get better at judging the mood of the city, at keeping an eye out for anything that could fuck me over.

“Hey!”

I need to-

“Hey, Sara!”

The fuck?

It’s her. Caitlynn. With… are those her parents? Fuck. Of course they’re the sort of rich jackasses who’d shop in a fancy boutique mall like this one. I should have gone for one a little further away, but what were the fucking chances they’d be here on exactly the same day?

Shit. She’s heading right for me, smiling and waving. Her parents are looking on with a bemused expression; I mean, of fucking course they are. I’m dressed well enough to fit into a place like this, mostly to avoid asshole security guards making fucking assumptions, but I’m still a complete stranger their daughter seems to know very well.

I can’t pretend I don’t know her, half the fucking mall probably heard her, and I can’t exactly just turn and run. All I can do is put a fake smile on my face, step forwards with my arms outstretched and try to match her enthusiastically vapid tone.

“Hey Caitlynn! Fancy seeing you here!”

“A new friend, Lynn?” the wannabee hero’s mother asks her with smile on her face.

“I met Sara at school,” she explains, saving me from having to come up with an excuse myself. Just what the fuck is going on?

“She’s in the year above me,” Caitlynn continues, “but she helped me find my way around.”

“That’s me,” I try my best to simultaneously smile warmly at Caitlynn’s mother and stare daggers at the ‘hero’ herself, “a real good Samaritan.”

“I’m glad to hear my daughter’s settling in,” her father says, smiling warmly as he steps forwards to shake my hand. His grip is just a little too tight. “It’s always tough, moving into a new area. Takes a while to adjust.”

“I can only imagine,” I say with my best fake smile. “I’ve lived in Miami my whole life.”

“Hey,” Caitlynn says to her parents, “is it alright if I ditch you for a little while? Catch up with Sara?”

“Of course, dear,” her mother replies with a fond smile. “Can you make your own way back or do you want us to wait up for you?”

“I’ll be fine,” she replies, stepping away from her parents and over to me.

“Yes, Caitlynn,” my voice is cold enough to freeze the bay, “let’s catch up.”

She follows me as I lead her through the mall, idly chatting about something or other like she didn’t repeatedly taser me last night. I only half pay attention to her, keeping my eyes peeled for anything that looks promising. It doesn’t take me long to find it; a set of stairs hidden behind an alarmed door. I lead her over to it then grab her arm, using my other hand to push my power into the wall and pulling the both of us through.

I resolidify the wall with another touch, then slam Caitlynn into it with enough force to knock the breath from her lungs.

“What the fuck is this?” I snarl. “You think you can hassle me now? Gonna hold my identity over my head? I thought we’d fucking fixed this, ‘hero’.”

She pushes me back, but doesn’t use her power. She looks shocked, like she wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction.

“Look, I wasn’t… I’m not threatening you, you lunatic!”

“Then what the fuck is this about?”

“I just saw someone I knew and thought I’d say hi. You know, like normal people do?”

It takes me a couple of seconds to actually process that.

“Newsflash, dumbass. We aren’t normal, either of us.”

“Yeah, I get it. I’m the inexperienced little grasshopper and you’re the wise old veteran who’s seen it all before. Look, I’ve been thinking about you a lot, and I was probably going to show up at your place anyway in a few days.”

“So you can blackmail me?”

“No!” she almost shouts, clearly getting a little irritated. Well tough.

“I wanted to ask you a favour,” she continues. “You may have heard back there but I’m new to the city, and I’m new to being a Parahuman. I thought you could help with one or both of those?”

What?

“You do remember that I’m a villain, right?”

“A successful villain. You said it yourself; you’ve been at this for four years. That’s like a lifetime in Parahuman time. Who better to help me find my feet?”

“No, you don’t seem to get it. I’m a thief. Why would I help you become a better hero?”

“Because you’re desperately lonely and I think you’re badass,” she beams at me like that’s supposed to explain anything.

“Oh come on,” she says as she catches my expression. “You have to admit you had fun hanging out last night. You really opened up to me, which isn’t something you do to someone who tased you unless you’re really isolated. I need someone to teach me about all the weird cape rules and hang-ups so I don’t get myself killed, and I think you need someone to open up to about your own little world.”

“But why you?”

“Because I know you’re a parahuman, so you can talk to me about being a parahuman. It’s the same with me; you’re the only person in the world who knows I’m a cape.”

I pace around the room for a bit before sitting down on the stairs and slumping over. Irritating ball of energy she may be, but she does have a bit of a point.

“So how would this work, exactly?”

She leans against the wall, grinning from ear to ear as she no doubt celebrates her small victory.

“We meet up in a few days, and you show me the ropes. Teach me who’s who and what’s what in Miami, maybe a couple of tricks you’ve picked up. Then we go bowling or watch a movie or something, and I’ll foot the bill.”

“You this aggressive with everyone you try to befriend?” I snap at her, even though I can feel my resistance to the idea crumbling away. It does sound nice.

“I’ve moved house seven times. I learned to form friendships pretty quickly.”

I drum my fingers on the stairs, but I think I’ve already decided.

“I’m not going to commit to anything here, but give me your number and I’ll get in touch in a few days. But don’t come in costume, if you even have one.”

She smiles, and it’s all I can do to stop my lips from curling up to match. She’s like an open flame, full of wild energy that’s strangely comfortable. Maybe this’ll be fun…

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You want to meet? Fine

Sunday, midday, my place

Don’t dress up.

I take one last look at the message before putting my phone away and stepping off the bus. I can’t believe she actually got in touch! It’s nice to finally have someone I can talk to about being a cape. In fact, scratch that. It’s nice to have someone to talk to! I mean, there’s a few people I know at school, I guess, but school feels a little awkward right now.

It’s like, usually I’d make friends by finding some people who seem like they aren’t total assholes and opening up to them until they reciprocate. It works, most of the time, and after so many moves, I’ve gotten pretty damn good at it. But this time, it’s like my powers are kind of looming over me. It feels less honest, now that I actually have a secret I need to keep, but I also can’t exactly go around shouting to the world that I have powers.

I may not know much about being a Cape, but I know that’d be an absolutely terrible idea.

It’s made it a little harder to open up to people this time around. Oh, I’m sure there’ll be a few I’ll come to call friends, but it won’t be as deep as it was before. I never really get the chance to know people for long – usually just a couple of years before we have to move again – so I like to try and leave a lasting impression. I like to think of all the people I used to know, like to imagine that they still think about me from time to time.

I never stay in one place for long, but maybe I can leave something of me behind.

That’s not really an option here. I’ll never be able to connect with people in the same way, never be able to form the deep connections I used to. I have powers now, and I have a moral obligation to use them. It means I can’t hang out as much after school, can’t really go to any sleepovers or study groups in case something big happens and people die because I’m not there to stop it.

I’ve finally got a chance to really make something of my life, something that’s really mine.

Sara is standing at the edge of her street, dressed in a comfortably-looking pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt for some local band. She smiles, just a little, as she spots me and tries to hide the look by schooling her face into a neutral expression. She doesn’t speak, not until I’m only a few feet away from her.

“I need ten dollars,” she says as she starts to walk back down the road. I have to rush a little to match her pace.

“What for?”

“Lunch. Unless you’re fine with me paying in stolen money…”

I sigh, shaking my head, but pull a note out of my purse and pass it over to her.

“Alright, but it better be good.”

She slows her pace, just a little, and looks back at me with a smile on her face.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in four years of living on my own, it’s where to buy the best food for the least cash.”

Sure enough, she leads me down a bustling street right in the middle of Alappattah, pretty close to her apartment. I’m only just starting to get my head around the city’s layout; I bought a big map from a gas station and spread it across one wall of my bedroom. Mom thought it was a little weird, but seemed to think I was just trying to settle in to the new city.

Seemingly at random, Sara ducks into a small shopping centre and makes a beeline for an independent fast-food place with a long row of stools in front of a countertop. The place’s kitchen is visible, and I can see about half a dozen staff working over grease traps, skillets and all sorts of other appliances. From the way their ages are a pretty even split between spotty twenty-year olds, a pair of teenage dogsbodies, and an ancient couple, it’s pretty clearly a family-run affair.

Sara strides up to the counter like she owns the place, chatting away in flawless Spanish with the people behind the counter. It’s funny; she seems so lonely at times, but she’s able to talk to people so effortlessly. Like the drunks who hassled her when I first met her; I wouldn’t know how to resolve that situation without using my powers or a whole can of pepper spray.

She turns back to me and asks something in Spanish. I just stare blankly at her for a couple of seconds before she blinks.

“What do you want to eat?” she says, slowly.

I take a moment to skim the menu, before eventually settling on a safe bet.

“Um, just a cheeseburger.”

She chuckles to herself, but soon enough hands over a greasy burger wrapped up in paper. We end up sitting down on stools in front of the windows of this place, looking out into the dinky little mall as shoppers occasionally pass us by. It’s a little exposed, but it means there isn’t anyone sitting next to us. That means we can talk freely.

“You don’t speak Spanish?” Sara asks me through a bite of her tamale.

“Not really. Never stayed in one school for long enough to have any consistent language education. I can count to ten in French, Spanish, German and Russian.”

School in Alaska was weird.

“Well take this as lesson number one; you’re really going to want to learn,” Sara leans back on her stool, turning a little to face me.

“I mean, you can get by perfectly well on English, but that’s because it’s the language most of the tourists use. Once you leave the fancy parts of the city, I’d say it’s about fifty/fifty on which language the person you’re talking to would prefer to use. Out here, you’ll find Spanish opens a lot of doors that English can’t.”

“I get you,” I reply. “It’s hard to get answers out of someone if you’re asking questions in the wrong language.”

“That’s not what I mean at all,” Sara snaps. “Look, if you want to play the edgy vigilante then I’ll find something better to do with my time. You’re never going to be some silent predator of the night – I mean, you literally glow in the dark. Besides, those types never last long. They go loud and violent, piss off a lot of people, and then they disappear as one group or another drags them into the Everglades and throws them into the first patch of suspicious looking logs they find.”

She leans in a little closer as her outburst draws the eyes of a couple of builders in high-vis jackets, enjoying their breaks with cups of coffee and doughnuts.

“Listen, you’re not going to get anywhere if you just go around looking for fights. I get to hide away and skulk through alleyways because I don’t need to care what people think about me, but you do. Look, there’s something I have to ask. Why did you come to me, and not the Wards?”

I take a bite of my burger to buy time. It’s greasy as anything, but at least it’s hot. As fast food goes, it’s probably up there.

“I guess… I don’t really have a lot of control of my life. Dad works for this big casino company. He’s good at it, so they like to move him around the country to fix up problems and pull failing casinos out of the red. I’ve never stayed in one place long enough to get settled, and my parents like to… push me, in certain directions. You know what it’s like.”

“Not really,” she interjects.

“Right, sorry. Anyway, I guess the Wards just seem like more of the same. A whole lot of people telling me what to do and how they want me to do it. But I look at you and I see someone who’s managed to carve out a life of her own. To live without any restrictions. I want that, as much as its possible for me to have it.”

She pauses, nibbling away at her own food and looking out into the mall.

“I get it, but it’s not that simple. There are ties that you just can’t get rid of. I mean, you’re never really going to be able to earn a decent income if you’re going out as a vigilante and you’re never going to be able to spend any money you do get if you don’t dive headfirst into being a teenage runaway like I did. But if you can get to learn about the city, care about Miami, then you can find your place in her arms.”

“You talk about the city like it’s alive.”

“She is,” Sara smiles, a warm look. “She’s as living as you and me, with her own moods, her own needs, her own tempers and red lines. Push her too hard and she’ll turn on you, but work with her and she’ll take you under her wing, keep you safe.”

“And how do I do that?” I ask, my burger completely forgotten.

“If you find someone who’s hurting, take the time to talk to them. If a store gets hit, make sure the owners are okay. You’re never going to be the Triumvirate, but that’s okay. The Triumvirate are assholes flying high over as all, but I bet they’re just as lonely as I am at the top of their ivory fucking towers. I think you should go for more of a friendly, neighbourhood hero. It’ll take longer, sure, but people will be a lot more willing to open up to you.”

I don’t speak immediately, mulling the idea over in my head. To be honest, it kind of sounds like what I used to do when moving into a new area. People never really see heroes out and about, unless they’re unlucky, but, when they do, they really leave a lasting impression. I kind of like the idea of being able to walk down the street and have people look at me and smile, knowing that not only will I keep them safe, but that I’m also someone to talk to, someone they can trust to have their back.

It’s all about leaving a lasting impression.

“That sounds really nice. A lot better than my first plan of just going out looking for drug dealers to tase.”

“Of course,” Sara continues, grinning a little at my praise, “you will need to come up with a name.”

“Guess I will. Got any suggestions? Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks it’s that I’m terrible at naming things.”

Sara sets her food down and starts drumming her fingers on the table, a thoughtful expression on her face.

“Hit me with what you’ve already come up with, and let’s work from there.”

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I slump backwards onto the couch, long practice stopping me from spilling a single drop of my drink as I kick my feet up and hunt around for the remote. Last night was a pretty average haul, so I’m having a pretty average celebration: comfortable sweatpants, a freshly-made colada and the latest episode of ‘Concordia.’ The perfect recipe for a pretty neat night in, even if the show has sort of lost the plot in recent seasons.

It’s funny how a show about high-school teens with powers can suddenly throw in a plot about a Fallen cult taking over their small town while still keeping the focus on an upcoming school dance, but I guess that’s television for you. It’s still fun to watch, even if the fun has kind of shifted from actually enjoying the show to enjoying the train wreck it’s become. Besides, sometimes it’s nice to just switch my brain off and kick back a little.

The show is about as off the rails as usual. One moment the lead girl is trying to get one over her rival on the cheer squad, the next one of the random buff guys who sort of hovers around the main cast is breaking his way out of a torture-dungeon owned by an apocalypse-worshipping Parahuman Cult that totally aren’t the Fallen. Honest.

Frankly, I’m only half paying attention. There aren’t any twists I didn’t see coming and the characters are as bizarre as ever. Maybe it’s time to ditch this show and try to find another. Or maybe it’s the sort of show that’s better enjoyed in company. I wonder if Caitlynn watches it?

My phone vibrates, shaking itself off the arm of the couch and falling onto my carpet. I sigh, setting my drink down on the coffee table and lean down to pick up my phone. It’s a message from Caitlynn, which isn’t really a surprise. I figured it was a coin toss between a message from her and something from my landlord; there really isn’t anyone else who’d have any reason to text me. I turn the screen on and look at the message she sent, frowning.

I n

In? What’s that supposed to mean? My phone starts to shake in my hand; an incoming call. I answer it and bring it up to my ear, but I don’t speak first.

Caitlynn’s voice comes through clearly and I can hear she’s been breathing heavily. She sounds shocked, shaken.

“Susurro,” – why’s she using my cape name? – “you there? I tried to text but… fucking fingers are trembling too much.”

I switch off the TV the moment I hear the panic in her voice. “I’m here.”

Oh, thank fuck,” she exclaims, relief oozing from every word. “I need your help.”

I stand up, hurrying over to where I tossed my new sneakers… one of my new sneakers. Shit, where’s the other one?

“What’s the problem?”

“I’ve been shot,” I drop the phone in shock, scrambling to pick it back up. “I went out on my first proper patrol and I…” she descends into coughs for a few moments, “I ran into a couple of guys loading drugs into the back of a pickup. Tried to stop them, but…” a pained noise, somewhere between a grunt and a scream. “One of them got lucky.”

I’ve managed to force my sneakers on, tucking the laces under my feet rather than bothering to tie them. A second thought has me pulling out the first aid kit from the cupboard under my sink. I just hope these things don’t go out of date; I bought it three years ago.

“Listen, I’m coming to help. Just tell me where you are.”

I fumble with my lock for a moment before swinging the door open. Immediately I have to stagger back as Caitlynn, glowing from head to toe with her power, slumps forwards, her phone slipping from her hand and hitting my floor with the crack of a screen breaking.

“Hi…” she says, weakly. I look past her, out into the yard in front of my building. She’s standing on a huge grid-pattern that’s glowing with blue light. She must have teleported across half the city to get here. The grid starts to pull back, merging with the lines covering her as they glow intensely.

“Thanks,” I mutter as I help her stagger into my apartment. The last thing I need is a big glowing trail of cape weirdness leading right to my front door.

I lead her over to the sofa, barely noticing the blood dripping out onto my nice clean carpet, and help her sit down before opening up the first-aid kit. Now that she’s not using me as a crutch, I can get a good look at her. For whatever reason, she’s dressed in a sort of mirror of my outfit; white leggings and a hoodie instead of black, the colour of it marred by the deep red stain slowly spreading out from her gut. She’s pressing what looks like a balled-up black balaclava against the wound, but it’s soaked through and blood is seeping through her fingers.

“Here,” I pass her a wadded pad of bandages, making sure she presses it tightly against the wound before using more bandages to tie it down. She’s blinking erratically, her pupils dilating as she looks around my apartment.

“You need to go to the hospital,” I say, turning her head to look at me.

“I…” she gasps as I press her hand harder against her wound. This time she keeps it there. “I can’t. My parents…”

“I know,” I interrupt her. “But you still need to go. Listen, this lightshow… can you stop it? Switch it off?”

She nods, gritting her teeth and focusing. The glowing lines tracing along her clothes and skin start to dim, pulsing irregularly before disappearing entirely. It’s like her strength goes with it, and she sinks even deeper into my couch.

“Please…” she begs, looking up at me. “No hospital. I can’t let my parents take…” whatever she was about to say is buried beneath hacking coughs.

“No hospital,” I agree. “Listen, I’m going to sort this, okay? But I need you to trust me. Can you do that?”

She nods, gritting her teeth as another stab of pain shoots through her. I stand up and walk into my little kitchenette, close enough to see her but far enough away that I don’t have to worry about her overhearing my conversation. I flick through my phone, going to one of only four numbers saved in there. They pick up almost immediately.

“Southern Cross Insurance, how may I direct your call?”

The woman on the other end of the line is polite and professional, her calm tone almost feeling out of place right now.

“Hey, I have a policy with you. Name of Susurro, policy number is… fuck, hang on. I start hunting through drawers, looking for the card I put down years ago and promptly forgot about. I find it underneath my cutlery tray, after only tearing apart half of my kitchen.

“Policy number of six one nine, nine five three.”

“Thank you, ma’am, your details check out. An associate plan. How may I direct your call?”

“Wait, just… this covers medical emergencies and shit, yeah? Is that just for me, or can I use it on someone else.”

“Your policy includes both standard healthcare and emergency triage. It isn’t common for associates or members to use that policy on others, but it has happened in the past. They will need to sign a few NDAs, and it may affect your premiums.”

I come close to snapping at the delay. “That won’t be an issue, just please send a paramedic or something.”

“Transferring your call to triage now.”

There’s about half a second of hold music before another voice takes the phone. This one is still professional, but one hell of a lot gruffer.

“Triage Team. State the nature of your emergency.”

“My friend’s been shot in the gut. There’s no exit wound, so the bullet might still be in there. I don’t know. The address is the same one you have on file for me.”

“Is the area secure?” the voice asks like he’s asking what the weather’s like.

“What? Yeah, it’s empty.”

“Understood. Closest team is five minutes out. Keep pressure on the wound and don’t hang up. Put the phone on speaker if you can; I’ll talk you through how to keep your friend stable.”

I do as he says, setting my phone down on the coffee table as I do my best to keep Caitlynn conscious, keep pressure on her wound. I throw the balaclava aside, rifling through her pockets to hide a can of pepper spray, a phone and a pair of handcuffs underneath one of the couch cushions. I’ll give them back to her later, if she makes it through this, but for now I need to do what I can to stop her from being recognised as a wannabee vigilante. At least we’re in Miami; probably the only city in the US where an all-white outfit wouldn’t be seen as odd.

The paramedics let themselves in, and they do look indistinguishable from any other paramedics, right down to their uniforms. They take over, checking over my hastily-made dressing without a word to me. Apparently satisfied for now, they carry Caitlynn out of my little apartment and towards a perfectly-normal looking ambulance parked right outside the tenement complex, its lights bathing the whole street in red flashes.

I follow them in as they strap Caitlynn down, trying to keep out of their way in the confined space. They start working on her, but it’s all a little above my head. They’re both professional medics, that much is clear, and the ambulance is incredibly well-stocked. It could almost pass for the real thing, if it weren’t for the pair of assault rifles on the wall.

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Someone’s talking, but I can’t quite make out what they’re saying. Everything feels hazy, like I’m trying to listen but I’m deep underwater. It’s distorted, unclear, but it’s slowly getting clearer. I can make out two voices now: one young and familiar, the other older and a little harsh. The voice of someone who’s used to being listened to.

“I’m just saying, I’m a little surprised. I was beginning to think I’d never see you in a place like this.”

The second voice is comfortably familiar. Sara, sounding like she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.

“Yeah, well, it was an emergency.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I get it. Besides, what’s the point of having insurance if it never gets used? Although this will count against your no-claims bonus.”

That last sentence sounded casual, but there was a sharp undertone to it.

“Money’s not an issue at the moment.”

“That’s what I like about you, Susurro. You’re a nice set of figures in my books; three years and you’ve never been short, never missed a single payment. Until now, there weren’t even any claims on the other file.”

“No offence, Castellan, but I like my privacy. Keeping on top of my payments means I don’t have to deal with any strongly worded letters in the mail.”

“Of course,” I don’t need to see the man, whoever he is, to know there’s a sickly smile on his face. “Although you wouldn’t have to pay at all if you were a full member. I get all the same services you do – more, even – and I don’t pay a dime for them. With a power like yours, you could be earning a hundred thousand every year. Easy.”

The sales pitch is smooth, but Sara doesn’t sound convinced.

“There’s more to life than just money.”

“Maybe, but money is what you use to find that ‘more,’ whatever it is.”

I open my eyes, blinking away the harsh lights of the room. Something is definitely off here; it looks like someone crossed a bunker with a hospital, and whoever’s outside the door is talking to Susurro, not Sara or even Miss de la Cruz. The bed is comfortable, more comfortable than any hospital bed I’ve ever been in, but that’s not enough to stop my panic from growing.

“You got anything better to do,” Sara snaps, “or are you just going to bother me all day?”

“Alright, alright,” the man, Castellan, says in fake exasperation. “I know when I’m not wanted. See you at the end of the quarter!”

There’s the sound of heavy footsteps on concrete as the man leaves. Sara stays outside for a few moments before entering my room, muttering “asshole” under her breath. She’s dressed in her costume, insomuch as she has a costume, but I can just about make out her mouth moving beneath her mask as it curls up into a smile.

“You’re awake,” she says, flipping her hood down and pulling off her mask. “How are you feeling?”

I take a moment to check. Pretty much all of me aches, but that’s not really what I’m worried about. I slowly move a hand down my torso and press lightly on where the bullet hit, immediately wincing at the sudden stab of pain.

“Well, that hurts like a bitch, so that’s not great. The rest of me is sore, but at least I’m not dead. You really pulled my ass out of the fire on this one.”

Sara sits down on the edge of my bed, carefully moving she sheets so she doesn’t press down on them and irritate my injury.

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

I take another look around at the hospital room, like I’m expecting to find a microphone dangling from the ceiling.

“Sa- Susurro… what is this place?”

She sighs, looking down at the mask in her hands.

“You ever heard of the Elite?”

“Um,” I think back. “When I lived in Vegas, one of the big syndicates called themselves the something Elite or the Elite something.”

“That’s them,” she sighs, “or, it might be. But they’re a whole lot bigger than just Vegas. They… they like to present themselves as a sort of Protectorate for villains. I pay them money every month, and I get medical coverage in case I get hurt, legal support in case I get caught.”

I just stare at her, not quite believing what she’s saying. She’s such a free spirit, it’s why I like her so much. I just can’t believe she’d willingly shackle herself to a big organisation like this.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she fixes me with a stare, “but it’s not that simple. This city – fuck, this whole State – is locked up tight by the Elite. I cough up money to them, sign on as an associate, and I don’t get capes coming around to press-gang me into becoming a member. Independence…” she trails off looking down at the floor.

“Independence is a wonderful thing to aim for, but it’s not something anyone can ever really achieve. I mean, you’re here, aren’t you? You went out on your own, looking to change things for the better, but you got shot, and you needed surgery to save your life. If you hadn’t come to me, if this wasn’t an option, what were you going to do? Bleed to death in some shitty alley somewhere?”

“I couldn’t go to a hospital,” I say, my voice faint. “I couldn’t. They’d have brought in my parents, and I can’t let them find out about this.”

“I called your parents last night,” she says, and my heart stops in my chest. “I had to make up some excuse to stop them getting suspicious, so I told them you were staying over with my ‘family’. They didn’t ask for an explanation. In fact, they didn’t seem surprised at all…”

I don’t answer immediately. I can’t find the right words.

“We… argued. It’s why I snuck out. I just… I don’t have a lot of control over my life. Don’t have any at all, really, except for my powers. I didn’t want to lose control over them too.”

“I get it,” she says, putting her hand over my own. “Trust me, I do. But all I can do is be as independent as I possibly can be. The payments are a limit, sure, but they mean I have control over a lot of other things. I think you need to pick your limits too, because this isn’t going to work.”

My eyes widen. She can’t be talking about not seeing her, can she?

“What do you mean?” I ask past the butterflies in my stomach.

“I think you should join the Wards. I think what you need isn’t total independence; it’s an environment your parents don’t control. You wouldn’t be Caitlynn Lawrence there; you’d be whatever the hell you chose to name yourself. You’d be able to meet people you can talk to about cape shit, and they’d be able to teach you how to be a real hero.”

She smiles.

“You know how many fights I’ve gotten into? In four years of being a Cape? None. Oh sure, I’ve run away a bunch of times, but that doesn’t count. When you came to my front door covered in blood, I was fucking terrified. I don’t know how to patch up gunshot wounds, or fight lunatics and monsters, but the Protectorate does. They can teach you far better than I can.”

“But they’ll ask a lot,” I say wearily.

“For a couple years, sure, but they can’t keep you after you’re eighteen. After that you can stick around with the Protectorate, go Corporate or even drop off the grid and try the whole friendly neighbourhood vigilante thing. Independence, after only a couple years. That’s more than I’m likely to get.”

I close my eyes and sigh. “I don’t know…”

“I can’t do this again,” Sara snaps. “That was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever gone through, and I can’t keep using my criminal fucking healthcare to patch you up. I’m sorry; I just can’t.”

That’s when it hits me; I almost died last night. I almost died, and I only survived because of dumb luck, because she decided to rob the right house and I decided that the noise I heard wasn’t just the water pipes. I’m not ready to be a hero, not yet.

“You shouldn’t have had to. I asked way too much.”

I screw my eyes shut, trying to buck up the courage to come out and say it.

“You’re right. I can’t do this alone.”

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She looks good on TV. I’m not talking about the slight makeup work she’s gone through, or the clearly-coached speech she’s saying. I’m not even talking about her costume, which is fairly simple as costumes go; just close-fitting white spandex and a domino mask, the glowing patterns of her power providing all the dramatic flair she could ever need.

It’s in how she’s standing, how she’s confidently facing down an entire room full of reporters as they ask her questions ranging from the mundane to the inappropriately intrusive. She’s managing to come across as friendly, rather than aloof, replying to each question with the first name of the reporter that asked it. Even Stalwart looks impressed with her, and he’s pretty much the Miami Protectorate’s media darling.

More to the point, she seems to be really enjoying herself. A couple of the other Wards behind her look like they’d rather be anywhere else, but she seems like she’s finally found somewhere she can fit in, somewhere she can call her own. Maybe somewhere she can make a difference in the ways that really matter; not in fighting people, but in building up a reputation and trust with the community she protects.

She stops taking questions, finishing up with a brief statement that earns her a round of applause from the appreciative crowd of reporters and lucky cape geeks. I raise my drink in salute as she fires off her power, coating the wall behind her in an intricate grid-like pattern before stepping off the stage and back into the wings. A few seconds later, my phone vibrates.

Did you see it?

Somehow the words are able to get across just as much eagerness as if she’d spoken them.

I saw it

You had them eating out of the palm of your hand

Really!?

I was *so* nervous the whole time!

Trust me, you did great

Hero

Don’t say it! I haven’t even saved anyone yet!

She starts typing something, stopping and starting uncertainly.

So what does this mean for us?

Wdym?

I mean, I’m a Ward now.

 What happens if we run into each other?

I don’t want to arrest you…

You’d have to catch me first

Don’t think it’ll go like last time

I’m being serious!

So am I

Chances of you running into me are next to nothing

But, if it happens, I’m happy to let the best woman win

Because that’s me

Oh yeah?

Guess we’ll just have to see about that!

I have to go now

Secret Ward surprise party I’m not supposed to know about

Don’t do anything I *would* do

I set my phone aside, chuckling to myself. To be honest, there’s no way in hell I’m going anywhere near the Wards. It’s not safe, not when I can get by perfectly well with the way I’m already doing things. Even if it is a little lonely at times…

On the other hand, it would be a fun way to mess with her. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Castellan. Not to join, because fuck that, but to buy one of their professional costumes. I’m thinking spandex, like hers, but all in black. After all, I don’t want to go too crazy.

Although… maybe a few Miami pink highlights would really make the whole thing pop.