My first kiss is smothered in Everclear and salt. Her lips are soaked in tears, yet soft and warm. Her tongue swirls in my mouth, her hands crush my face in a passionate pincer move.
Bedevil releases me with a gasp. My mind buzzes and shuts down; I can hear the neurons catching fire and exploding like transformers in a storm. Her eyes dance as she stares into mine, her mascara runs. Her chest heaves. The bottle of liquor orbits both of us.
Her eyelids flutter and her head wobbles. She’s drunk as hell.
The bottle drops out of the air, smashing onto the balcony.
Bedevil sinks, her power failing. She’s too drunk! I grab her wrists and keep her from falling to her death. I haul her over the apartment railing.
I drag her into the apartment, and for lack of a better option, I lay her on the couch. She hiccups, then curls right into the cushions, putting her hands by her chin and sighing. She snores within seconds. Okay. Okay.
I put a finger to my lips. I’ve never been kissed before. It tasted awful. My heartbeat is in my ears, and my stomach’s in knots.
I liked that.
Ugh. Okay. She’s passed out, so I don’t have to deal with this right away. I need to think about something else, so I put some corn in a bowl and put that concoction in the microwave. How’d she even follow me without anyone else seeing her? Remise shoulda detected her.
No, wait, Remise went a separate way until we met up at the house. And Bedevil can be utterly silent with her power. All she had to do was latch on to our car and wait it out. She must’ve followed me back to Epione’s place and all the way here. She’s a sharp girl: she recognized me by my power.
The microwave beeps, and the door jingles as keys turn the lock.
I swear Doc is telepathic because he comes in already rubbing his temples. Like he knows! Like he knows I done fucked up. Which I did.
“Why the hell is there a random girl face first in our couch?” Doc asks, seeing Bedevil passed out on the sofa.
“Oh, shit, is she face down?” I ask, pulling my bowl out of the microwave. “Can you turn her over?”
“Can you turn her over?” he parrots. “No! No I can’t turn her over because I’ve got groceries in my hand and you still haven’t explained who she is!”
Like I’m stepping around a land mine, I say, “Well, uh, she’s Bedevil.”
“She’s… Bedevil.” He looks down at her. He is computing this. The explosion is coming. “The telekinetic wonder kid of the west coast.”
“Yes, she is. So she can’t die on our couch, please turn her on her side.”
I shush him with a finger to my lips. I really don’t want her to wake up right now.
“WHAT the FUCK?” Doc whispers.
“She followed me home after the port fight.”
Doc rubs the bridge of his nose. “Is that… is that corn?”
“It is,” I say, spooning some into my mouth.
“May I have some?”
“Is that an avocado?” I ask, pointing at the avocado I can clearly see in his bag.
“Fuck you, you can’t have this avocado, it’s the first batch I saw in weeks, it cost nine dollars, it’s mine. And also because you put drunk Bedevil on our couch. Also because she knows who you are.” He glares at me, clutching his grocery bag to his chest.
“Then no corn for you.” I continue to eat my corn.
“Fine, you can have a quarter of the avocado. Don’t say I never did anything for you.” He sets his grocery bag on the counter. “What’s the plan for her?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll wait until she wakes up, and figure out where to go from there.” My fingers are on my lips again, out of my control. I keep doing that. “She kissed me, Doc.”
Doc looks up from unpacking his groceries. He studies Bedevil. He’s always wearing a grumpy face, so seeing him calmly appraising her is a bit strange.
After a moment, he declares, “She was in love with Megajoule.”
That’s exactly what this is. She was in love with him and now I have to deal with it. I stammer, trying to find something to say that will dispel all of this. Some words that will reset this to yesterday, before we got caught up at the Port, before I was Home Run, and before Bedevil was in love with Megajoule.
“You’re stammering. Stop it.” Doc puts his groceries in the fridge and starts to carve the avocado. “Tell you what, in the morning I’ll take off. I’ll let you figure out… this.” He waves his hand at Bedevil like she’s a fly. “I’ll be back in the evening.”
“That’s fine.” I leave Doc some of the corn in my bowl. “I’m going to sleep now. I’ve had probably the worst day.”
Doc grumbles and starts to eat my corn.
I flop onto my bed. I’ve got a world of troubles piling up around me.
The sensible thing to do? Sleep.
I snap awake.
Bedevil is leaning over me, one knee on the bed. Her eyes are wide. “It really is you.” Before I have the chance to say anything, she laughs and floats into the air. Her expression has dollops of relief, mania, and adoration swirled into a smoothie that’s freaking me the hell out. “You were amazing yesterday! I mean, I should be upset about you clobbering Krater but good grief!” She mimics my pole swing mid-air. “I’ve never seen you hit anyone that hard! I noticed you haven’t been flying, has something happened to you? I like the beard by the way, it really suits you.” She floats over my desk, the words spilling out of her mouth like a leaky faucet. “What’ve you been reading? Alinsky, Machiavelli.” My copies of Rules for Radicals and The Prince float up to her. She glances over the books that were underneath those two. “Confessions? Book of Five Rings.” She wrinkles her nose at the final book in the pile, a bright yellow one with a polite little chum on the cover. “Physics… for Dummies.”
“Do you like… knock?” I ask.
“Huh?” Bedevil squeaks, turning toward me. She sees I’m not wearing a shirt. Her cheeks redden. “Oh. Um. Sorry.”
“I need to get dressed.”
She nods furiously. My books rearrange themselves in a neat row on my desk, and she floats out of my room.
Once I’m clothed, I walk out to my living room, where Bedevil sits on the couch waiting for me. The delicious scent of coffee lures me into the kitchen, where a fresh pot waits on our cheap coffee machine. “Thanks.” I pour myself a cup.
“You’re welcome.” She kneads her thighs. “Mega.”
“My name is Gabe.” I take a slug of the coffee.
“…Gabe.” She shakes her head. “Do you… What happened to you? Where have you been?” She pauses. “I don’t know if someone’s messed with your mind, or what, but I can help you. I know it’s been a long time, but I promised I would.”
“I’m not Megajoule.”
“…what? You… Your mind…”
I sigh. This isn’t gonna be easy. She’s going to think I’m insane. “I’m his clone. I’m a back up they made to take over when he died, and I escaped-”
“Let me stop you right the fuck there.” Her voice takes on a menacing growl. “Because that is the most ridiculous bullshit I’ve ever heard.”
“Gonna ask you to do a little thinking here. Why is that anymore ridiculous than Megajoule resurfacing after 6 years with nearsightedness, youthful appearance like I’ve been sitting in a vat of anti-aging cream for most of that time, and a devolution of his power set? You said it yourself, I can’t fly.”
That pissed her off. “I’m not stupid.”
“I never said you were, but I’m not who you want me to be. I can see you wish he was still alive-”
A tendril of telekinesis wraps around my mouth, effectively gagging me so I can’t talk. It tastes funky, like bad water or something. Bedevil glowers. “Shut up. Just shut up. I’ve spent six years mourning you. I’ve spent six god damn lonely years without you. And- and I was in love with you, and when you left, I had nothing. Do you know how long I wanted to tell you that? Longer than the six years I’ve spent wishing I’d got the chance. So, when I take this gag out, you’re going to explain to me exactly what you’ve been doing, how you got here, and what we should do next.”
The tendril slips away from my mouth. I cough, and take another slug of coffee. “That tasted like pennies.”
Bedevil slams her fist on the kitchen counter. “God damn it, explain, Julian!”
“My name is Gabe, and I have proof of what I’m telling you. Hang on.” I hurry back to my room and grab my laptop. I return and plug it into my TV while Bedevil watches, her arms crossed. Her breathing is agitated. She sits down on my couch.
I try to find a good video that explains the situation. The only one I can think of is the video where he showed me the power distribution curve. That’s one of the few where he directly references me by name, and he even called me a clone.
I start it up right as he’s pulling the diagram out.
Bedevil gasps, and puts her hand over her mouth.
Megajoule’s looking right at the camera. “I’d meant to save this for another video. But! Might as well get it out now. I don’t know if those eggs or any of those fish agents showed you the bell curve of superpowers, but this is it. 98% of all living people have the Sword gene.”
I skip it a bit forward, to the ending.
“-that’s enough for today. I don’t really know you, Gabriel. You and I may have the same DNA, you may be a carbon copy. But genetics aren’t the only thing that makes a person. You don’t have to be me. You can be whoever you want.” He scratches his cheek and looks right into the camera. “You must have a lot of questions, and I’ll always regret not being able to answer them. But, if you are anything like me, you’re probably feeling inadequate. Useless. Unworthy. Even the best struggle with that, Gabe. You know what the plaque said on the stone that Terrence Lilac pulled the sword from?”
I look at Bedevil. She looks at me. With Megajoule, I say: “If they are worthy, pull the sword from the stone.”
“Who the fuck knows what that means, Gabe.”
I stop the video.
Bedevil still has her hand over her mouth. Her eyes tear up again.
I sip my coffee.
“M.. Gabe. Will you do something? Will you shave? So I can see his face one more time? I know…” she pauses, swallows. “I don’t mean to offend you. I just… I want to see.” She’s got that face on again, like a dam about to explode.
Seeing her so busted, pity takes over. What the hell, I can just grow the beard back, right? I set my coffee down, resolve myself on the way to the bathroom, and get to chopping with Doc’s clippers. I haven’t seen under my beard in awhile. My jaw surprises me.
Bedevil leans on the wall and watches as my beard comes off. If it weren’t for the incredibly strange circumstance, this would be homey and romantic. But she’s waiting for a man who’s been dead for six years.
“You’ve really been in love with him all these years?” I ask.
Bedevil stammers, scowls, and looks away. “Not… not all this time. I’ve dated.”
“Wind Rider, right?” The tabloids would not shut up about them for an entire year, I remember that. It was my first taste of hero gossip. Hollywood faded; heroes took over.
“Yeah.” Bedevil wrinkles her nose, shakes her shoulders, and crosses her arms. She’s pouting her bottom lip. “Let down.”
“Men,” I joke, finishing with the clippers and applying shaving cream to my face. I grab Doc’s cheap straight blade razor, hoping I’m not going to cut myself with it.
Bedevil chuckles. “Yeah, men.” She stares at me a little longer than she should. Like, when you’re on a bus and you glance at someone across the row, but you can’t linger too long otherwise you’re creepy? She’s doing the creepy thing. I mean, it is just us, but I get uncomfortable when someone looks at me too long. “Have… have you dated?” she asks.
I pause my shaving and shake my head. “Doc says I won the genetic lottery, what with being Megajoule’s clone and all, but it turns out all the genetics in the world don’t make you good at dating. Plus my hobby involves coming home bloody and broken on the regular, and I don’t think most girls can handle that sort of thing.”
She rubs her arm and looks away. “It must be hard.”
“Do you have a family?” I ask, washing my face off.
“A mom. In San Diego. Do you have-” She stops herself, I guess realizing that’s a stupid question.
“Doc’s the closest thing I’ve got. I guess the other Underground members, too.” I let her get a good look at my shaved face. It’s not a pretty job, but it’s good enough to show my actual jaw.
Bedevil comes close and studies me. I take the opportunity to study her, too. Her hair is exactly like Megajoule’s wife’s hair from my dreams, gold flowing around her ears. There’s a spark in her hazel eyes, a full smile dawns on her lips, and I can almost see down her shirt that’s too big for her… and what am I saying? I need a distraction. My heart’s thumping, and I can hear all the blood screaming through my veins.
“I probably look a lot younger,” I manage. My head is blazing.
“He had crow’s feet, around the eyes. And laugh lines.” Her smile. She gingerly reaches up for my glasses, and I let her take them off. “You don’t.” She traces fingers along my face. The tips of her fingers are soft and cool, they feel nice running along my cheek. My natural inclination is to just let her get her fill, but she falters. The smile dies out. “I’m sorry, I’m touching all over your face.”
This is the strangest thing, but I want that smile back. “It’s okay, I’m used to that. In the lab I grew up in they just kind of poked me whenever they felt like it.”
Bedevil frowns. “That’s horrible.”
“Well, we can’t all be from California.”
She giggles. Her eyes crinkle, sparkle, dazzle. I’ve never felt this way. She’s not backing away; in fact, I think she’s getting closer.
I put a hand on her arm. “Hey, uh…” My voice fails me.
With care and gentle touch, she reaches up and puts her hands on my cheeks. She pulls me in, and I let her. Our lips and the tips of our noses brush, then she pushes into a full kiss.
Wow. Her lips are soft. All of her is soft. She’s pressed against me, and she’s really warm. One hand grips the back of my neck hard, the other pulls my waist in. Out of instinct I stoop down to her and wrap my arm around her back. I hope I’m not terrible at kissing. I don’t even know if she’s terrible. All I know is her tongue is swirling around mine and her chest is pressed into me. And it feels like magic.
She grips my arm and pulls me back to my bedroom. I let her drag me. Her hands search under my shirt; she shivers and gasps while rubbing my chest. I raise my arms to let her take off my shirt, like every time before in the lab, where they laid me on a metal table and prod at me. She’s prodding me, tenderly, but still prodding.
“When did you get shot?” she asks, running a finger around the wound on my right hip. Her eyes search my chest, fall on the hole in my upper shoulder. “Here, too?” Her fingers are soft, gently caressing around my injuries.
“Ah- yes- and my forearm,” I say, showing her my right forearm. Except that wound is gone. I forgot Doc took the injuries in my arm.
She gives me a funny look.
I chuckle. “I heal pretty well, I guess.”
Bedevil looks at me. Her breathing is erratic, her mouth open just a bit. She strokes my hair and cheek, and slowly leans in. She’s so warm. She’s doing all the work. So, I run a hand along her back, and as a test, grab her ass. Wow, so that’s what it feels like when it’s not a dude I’m throwing down a hall. She shudders at my touch.
She gets on her tip toes. Her lips run up my jaw. “Please,” she breathes into my ear. “Please, fuck me.”
I exhale. “Okay,” I whisper back.
She kisses my chest and my door closes by itself: by her power. The buckle of my belt comes undone all on its own, but she’s working the button of my jeans with her hands. She kisses my chin all at the same time. How is she so good at multi-tasking?
She pushes me gently with her telekinesis, and I just go with it. It’s all I know how to do. I do want this. I’ve never- and well, when you’ve never, you want to. But I’m also kind of being led by the hand, here.
I lay back on my bed, and she pulls my jeans off. She studies me for a second. “You- you’re in good shape,” she says. She pulls her shirt off in one move. She’s not wearing a bra. I’ve seen porn, I’ve seen pictures, but I’ve never seen a real woman in front of me, undressing. She’s got cute, pink nipples, and she’s on the smaller side. Her hair is long and golden, framing her face perfectly. She’s gorgeous.
She takes her jeans off slower than her shirt, and she looks flustered. She’s wearing granny panties, not sexy at all. I struggle against a smile: I know enough to know embarrassing the girl you’re about to sleep with will destroy your chances. She slips those off and she’s completely naked.
As I said, never seen a real naked girl. My eyes are popping out my skull, like that stupid cartoon wolf. Bedevil puts one knee on the bed between my legs and teases my boxers off. Her breathing quickens as they come off.
She crawls on top of me, locking eyes. I am on fire. Heart slamming against the walls of my chest. I’ve never been more aware of the blood in my body, and where it’s moving. She starts to kiss my neck and her hands go wild exploring me. I respond in kind. I’m like a kid on Christmas. She’s soft and firm and warm, so warm.
She nibbles my ear and plants a kiss. She giggles and it’s all I can hear. “Touch me.”
I reach down and press my fingers on her. She gasps and squeaks. She’s already wet, grinding against my hand. She strokes me in kind.
We stay like this for awhile, feeling each other. Her heart’s beating just as fast as mine.
“I… want to…” she says.
“Yeah,” I answer.
She reaches back, straddles me, and rocks her hips so I slide into her.
She’s hot. She’s a goddess. She moves like its a dance, throwing her head back and moaning. She steadies herself with a hand on my chest and grinds hard. She never closes her eyes. She looks right at me, throws herself forward and kisses me passionately while still bouncing. I feel like I’m melting alive. Melting into her.
Instinct takes over, and I toss her off me and onto the bed, onto her back. She squeals in delight as I pounce her, and take over. She wraps her legs around me, pulls me into a kiss.
She pushes me back, wanting to look at me. I keep the rhythm going while she drinks me in.
“Mega,” she moans.
My heart stops pounding, and drops out, instead.
“Fuck me, Mega, please, fuck me,” she moans, putting her hand on my ass and pulling with each thrust.
I am very far way, suddenly. I am not here. I am another experiment. A cheap imitation of the real thing. I’ve put on his face for someone again, and sullied his name. The poor man can’t stay dead, and poor me can’t ever live.
I don’t stop. My body keeps going without me while I sink into myself. I fall into the black hole inside me.
Her gasps shorten, her chest heaves. She stiffens and her legs fall back as she orgasms. “Oh my Goooooood…”
I thought that would be it, but she grabs my body’s waist and pulls me closer.
“Are you close?”
My voice grunts something close to a yes. This is not fun anymore.
“Finish… you can finish in me,” she says. I know that’s not a good idea.
My body pounds her until it finishes, while she snarls at my ferocity. It doesn’t feel like what I imagined finishing inside someone would feel like. It feels like masturbating.
We separate. And I am alone. I am more alone than I’ve ever been. I am not even connected to my arms or legs.
She breathes in heavy gulps. “That was… oh my God, I’ve always wanted…”
“To fuck Megajoule,” my voice says. My body sits up. It doesn’t look at her.
My words wipe the look of half-drunk ecstasy right off her face, replacing it with wide-eyed shock. She can only stammer out one word: “I.”
I wait for her to say something. I want her to say something that will save whatever we just did. I know she won’t; you can’t come back from an event horizon.
Whatever pleasure she felt is gone. “I’m… Oh my God. What did I just do?” She starts to panic. “What the fuck did I just do?”
“You got what you wanted.”
She sits on her knees and looks down. Tears spill onto her thighs. She whispers something I can’t hear.
“What?” My arms are numb.
“I’m fucking sorry!” she screams. She floats from the bed with her power. Her clothes fly up to meet her and dress her in one fluid motion. She lands on her feet and stumbles to my door. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. That’s the most fucked up thing I’ve ever done.”
I don’t know what to say. So, I say nothing, which is probably not a smart move either. My body puts on pants. My ears roar. I’m resurfacing, rebooting. I’m trying to rip down the wall between me and my skin.
She stops before leaving. “I’ll… Oh my God, I’m fucking awful.”
“Don’t-” She holds a hand out. “Please.”
My body stops.
She balls her hand into a fist. “I’ll… what the fuck? What do I say? What do I do?”
“I don’t know,” I tell her.
She whirls around. She’s in anguish. I’ve never seen someone look so broken. No, I have seen her like this before. In the Bella Villa video. “Why did they do this? Why did they pull him from the grave just to torture me?”
“I’m not him.”
Emotions smash through the barrier between Megajoule and me. We reunite into Gabe. “I’m not him! They didn’t pull him from a grave, I’m my own person!” I have to be. I need to be.
Bedevil turns away and thumps her head on my wall. “This is all so fucked. That was the best sex I’ve ever had.”
And it’s not even because of me. “I’m sorry.”
“Why the fuck are you apologizing to me?”
God, I feel so worthless. Rage fills me, so white-hot my arms have no choice but to move. My hand slaps the wall. “I don’t know. I’m just never fucking enough for anyone, am I? Not even his fucked up sidekick.”
Bedevil is a puppy I just kicked. She sniffs and starts to cry like a kid who just got their hand slapped. “I’m sorry,” she mutters. “I’m sorry.”
The anger passes. I step away from her and rub my temples, ‘cause Doc told me that soothes pain. “No… I’m sorry, that was too far.”
“I’ll go, I’ll go,” she says, trembling and crying. She’s crying so hard snot’s running down her lips. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I am fucked up, you’re right.”
“Bedevil,” I say.
“Ruby,” she says.
“I’ll go, I shouldn’t have come here, I’ll leave you alone.” She shuffles out of my bedroom. I don’t have the energy to chase after her. She moves around in our kitchen, I hear a couple of drawers open, and then they close. After a minute, our door opens and closes, too.
I slump against the wall. She’s an alcoholic, depressed, self-destructive woman. What the fuck is going to happen now? I don’t even want to think about that.
But if her name popped up in articles? Superhero Bedevil found dead in Houston alley from apparent suicide.
I hop up and head outside. Maybe I can catch her.
There’s a note taped to the door.
I pull it off and read it.
I am very sorry. I will leave you alone. Don’t worry about me.
If you need help, ever, here is my number.
She’s scrawled her number beneath her name.
I wipe the water welling in my eyes. I’m tired of crying.
I take her note and grab my phone to put it in. I’ve got more unread texts. I enter Bedevil’s number in my phone, and then check the messages.
The most recent one is from Flashfire:
Come to the Underground. We found Parlor.