Outside Bedevil’s apartment, I check the groceries I bought again: veggies, chicken, ground beef, some cheap, shredded cheese, sandwich bread, eggs, pasta, milk. All the essentials. And I even got my hands on an avocado. I reach out to knock.
I check the bags again: veggies, chicken, cheap shredded cheese, sandwich bread, eggs, pasta, milk, where did that fucking beef go, there it is.
Okay, Gabe, you can’t just stand here and check groceries a dozen times. You already put this off by a week and paid for it by sleeping in the corner of your living room. Knock on the damn door.
While I wait for Bedevil to answer, I check the groceries again.
The door unlocks and creaks open, an inch at a time, faltering once at the bright sun shining into the dark apartment. The door finishes its journey, revealing a Bedevil in a pink sweatshirt, gray short shorts, and giant bunny slippers. Her hair is just about everywhere it could be, she’s wearing three rings on her left hand, there’s a cut on her cheek, and she’s halfway through a melty pint of cookies and cream ice cream.
She goes from sleepy haze to alarmed in half a breath. “Gabe? You- you didn’t text me or call me! What if someone from OPI was here? What if I had a guest?”
That stings a bit. I really shouldn’t worry if she has a guy over or not. We’re not together. And yet my stupid mouth: “Do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Have a guest?” I cough.
“N-no,” she says. She looks at my bags. “What are those?”
“Groceries. For you. For your terrible fridge.”
Bedevil brushes her hair out of her face. “Oh. Are you here just to drop off a care package?”
“No, I’m also here to train. Like you said. Can I come in?”
Bedevil steps out of the way. “Yeah, yeah. It’s way too early to train, though.” She rubs her temples while the pint floats toward her kitchen counter – and misses, splattering the ice cream all over the tiled floor. “Shit.”
Pawpaw rushes into the kitchen to clean up Bedevil’s breakfast of champions.
“It’s actually 11:30,” I say.
“Yeah, that’s too early,” Bedevil says. “I had to patrol last night.”
“Ah yes, I don’t know how anyone could get up at the butt crack of noon, either,” I say. “But, you said to train, and you don’t have to do anything besides tell me what to do. You can sit there and be hungover, just so long as you’re barking orders at me.”
Bedevil snorts. “You should put that on your dating profile.”
“I don’t know how well I’d do on those sites,” I say. “I’m not very good at describing myself. Plus, there’s the whole Megajoule thing. I think girls on dating sites would study my face extra hard. It would take all of two minutes for somebody to message me asking me if I was Megajoule.”
“Nah,” Bedevil says. “They only care if you’re hot or not.”
“Am I?” I ask. I immediately regret that question. She’s already called me hunky before and now I’m just rubbing it in her face.
I look into my grocery bags, trying to ignore that colossally stupid string of words. “Don’t answer that. Let me just…” I go to her fridge to do my duty. “I got you stuff, carrots, corn, lettuce, broccoli.” I put the veggies in her barren veggie drawer. The roast beef from yesterday is still there, so I throw that to Pawpaw and replace it with the milk and cheese. I stock her drawers up with everything, and put the bread on her counter.
She’s been quiet for a while.
“So. Training.” I stand up to look into her living room, but she’s not there.
“Up here, bro.”
She’s plastered to the kitchen ceiling, looking down at me. Her hair dangles in a messy, golden curtain.
“Comfortable?” I ask.
She nods. “Where did you get the groceries?”
“From one of those organic sprouty market places,” I say. “I know you’re used to that stuff in California, so I tracked one down. Though, now that you’re in Texas you should probably get used to regular food.”
“Dude, I inhale dollar burgers on the daily,” she says.
“Mmm. Well, maybe let’s not do that anymore.”
“Says the guy that downs Captain Crunch like it’s water.”
I shake my head. “You know… I came out here to better myself, not to get torn down.”
Bedevil sinks down and lands on her bunny slippers. “Well, part of training is tearing yourself down. So let’s hop to it, buddy.”
I smile. “Okay. Uh… here?”
“No, not here, ya dingus.” Bedevil trudges back to her room. “Do you have a garage or something? We can’t go back to Epione’s house. By the way, that girl has texted me like non-stop since yesterday.”
“Yeah, she’ll do that.” I laugh. Epione makes friends in the time it takes someone to string together a greeting. “Remise knows some guys with a car garage, will that do?”
Bedevil emerges from her room. I thought she’d trade out the slippers, but no. She’s still wearing them. Instead, she put a baseball cap on. The fridge opens, and one of her swill beers floats out.
I grab it out of the air.
Bedevil turns to me, her eyes cold, her face rigid. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Preventing my dojo master from drinking and teaching,” I say.
A dozen tendrils wrench my hand open. The bottle zips through the air into her clutches. Her expression frightens me, like she’d absolutely destroy me if she got the chance. “Don’t do that again.”
“Okay.” My face flushes. I hate looking in someone’s eyes when they’re pissed.
“Come on.” She shuffles out of the apartment.
I call Remise while we head down to my part of town.
Her usual Scottish accent lifts my mood. “Oi, Gabe, what’s crackin’?”
“I was wondering if we could use your mate’s garage to train in?” I ask. “Bedevil and I are looking for a place to train, and we talked about helping Epione, too.”
“Course! My mate’s got a lot of warehouse he doesn’t, so I’ll let him know we’re takin’ it over. Meet ye there in thirty? I’ll text ye the addy.”
Bedevil and I take the sky-rail over to my part of town again. We don’t strike up a conversation as easily as yesterday. Even so, I tell her: “I slept. I’ve been sleeping.”
Bedevil, groggy as hell, turns to me. She’s resting her chin in her hand, her eyes are drooping. “Hm?”
“I slept. Six hours a night, like you asked. Remise went and looked around for Maisa this week, instead.”
Bedevil straightens up and shimmies her shoulders. She nods. “Good. I’m glad.”
Her eyes flutter, and she yawns. “Tired. I didn’t sleep much.”
“Erm, do you need a shoulder?”
Bedevil looks at me, purses her lips. “Are… are you cool with that?”
“Okay. Yeah. Please.”
I slump into my seat, shifting to match her height.
Bedevil rests her head, nuzzles into my shoulder. She leans her whole body against me. She’s warm. This is not a good thing in the hot Houston climate, but temperature never bothered me anyway.
A minute passes, and I am aware of every single second inside that minute.
Bedevil snores, and I feel drool through my shirt. I stifle a laugh while trying to keep myself steady for her, and I also try to ignore my heart ringing a boxer’s bell, screaming, ‘LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!’ in my ears. ‘ALL BLOOD TO BELOW DECK!’
I decide to test what’s broken about my power. My thermal sensing seems to be blinded, somehow, but I don’t know how it happened. The heat tickles all around me and doesn’t seem to be affecting me, as normal, but I can’t form patterns out of it like I did before Parlor. When I reach out to use my power, it feels injured. Like a muscle that’s torn.
Bedevil thinks it’s a psychological block but I’m afraid I hurt myself permanently. That whatever the Fear is, it broke me at Parlor.
Electronic bells ding as we make it to our stop. I gently nudge Bedevil awake.
Bedevil nuzzles into my shoulder. “Fi’ mo’ mins.” She throws a hand around my chest like I’m a teddy bear. Her legs lean up against mine, and those sweat-shorts aren’t doing a lot to hide them. Oh NO she has really nice legs.
“Well, then we’ll miss our stop.” My stomach’s so full of butterflies I think I’m gonna hurk it.
Bedevil’s eyes flutter open and she realizes she’s got me in a bear hug. She lets go and scoots away. “S-sorry.”
“All good.” God damn it, no reason boner. Okay, there’s definitely a reason, but now is not a good time. I stand up and face away from her, fixing my pants real quick. “Let’s get a move on.”
We head off the tram; me, struggling with my pants, her, yawning and clutching the paper bag that hides her beer.
We stroll down an unevenly paved sidewalk bordered by yellow-green grass that’s collapsing under the humidity, desperately in need of a mowing. Shoddy houses with sinking walls break apart overgrown fields and industrial warehouses. Office parks and parking lots full of cars complete this shitty, over-baked cement cake.
According to my shitty GPS, it’s about a five minute walk to Remise’s mate’s warehouse, so I decide to broach the topic of me crashing on her couch. “Hey. So.”
“Hey is for horses,” Bedevil says, three feet behind me.
“Uh, so… my apartment is kind of crowded. Between Remise, Epione, Saw Off, the 2nd Amendment, I don’t really have a spot.” I struggle to work up the nerve, slap myself lightly on the cheek, and buck up: “And, well, could I crash on your couch?”
That wakes Bedevil right up from her stupor. She doesn’t say anything, she just stares at me with wide eyes.
Oh, no, that was too rude. “Please?”
“What about OPI?” she asks. “What if they find out?”
“Do they honestly come to your apartment all that often?”
She floats to catch up to me. “Actually, no. I haven’t had a house visit in… well… over two years. Marcy May doesn’t like me, but she’s not keeping tabs on me. As long as I show up and do my job.”
“Are… are you sure you’re comfortable? I mean… with what happened and all…”
I sigh. “Listen, I can’t really explain right now, but something went down with Doc. Any place would be more comfortable for me right now. I’d rather not sleep in a gutter, but I’ll do it.”
“What happened?” she asks.
“I can’t go into it,” I say. I don’t think she can handle the real reason right now. I’ll tell her, once this is all over. She deserves to know the truth. Right now, we need to focus. “Is that okay?”
Bedevil nods. “Yeah, you can crash on my couch. My dog’s gonna be all over you, though.”
I turn away from her and pump my fist.
“You… dork.” Her voice goes soft as she insults me.
The address Remise gave me is right in front of us. Warehouse garages are packed together into a Tetris puzzle, wrapped with chain link fence so tightly it’s like an industrial Christmas present. Remise and Epione wait by the entrance to one of the warehouses.
“Oi!” Remise calls.
“Gabe,” Epione says, smiling at me. “Bedevil! I hope I didn’t text you too much.”
“Nah.” Bedevil waves a hand at her like it’s no big deal and she didn’t complain to me about it, and takes a swig of her beer. “I don’t respond much, sorry.”
“Most people don’t!” Epione says, a little too cheerfully.
Bedevil frowns at that.
Remise opens the warehouse door. “Voila!”
Hot air shoots out of her mate’s garage in an overwhelming blast. Bedevil gags. “Oh, good lord, is it not climate controlled?”
“Nope,” Remise says. “Puts hair on your chest.”
“Does it really?” Epione asks. She puts a hand to her chest. “I don’t want hair on my chest.”
“Figure of speech, lass,” Remise says.
The garage isn’t very wide, maybe fifty feet, but it runs several hundred feet deep. There are cars parked on each side, all in need of a mechanic’s attention and a new paint job.
“Mostly these cars just sit here,” Remise says. “So, my mate lets me hang out here and there. Flashfire and I have sparred here.”
“Perfect,” Bedevil says. “Except the AC, that’s not perfect.”
I hold my hand out and start sucking the heat in to chill the place. That much I can manage with my power. I channel most of it out through my feet in small currents of heat and kinetic energy, so nothing gets broken. I keep a little for myself, though, just to see how much I can hold.
Bedevil sighs in relief. “That’s fantastic. You keep that up, I’ll set up. Epione, you brought those towels, right?”
Epione salutes Bedevil. “Aye aye, captain!” She reveals some fluffy red towels that I’m very certain came from my apartment.
A handful of minutes later and I’ve cooled the warehouse enough for us to train in.
“Good. Okay, let’s get to work.” Bedevil grins at me. “You ready, Gabe babe?” She parrots Saw Off’s voice. She’s actually really close with her impression.
“I think. What are we doing?”
“Like I said, most power blocks are psychological. What did you call it? Burnt out?”
“You’ve been holding back so long, you created this block to avoid hurting your friends and enemies too badly. So when you lose control, I’m guessing instead of incinerating, your body flushed the energy somewhere else and burnt you out, instead.” Bedevil takes another swig of her beer to punctuate that statement.
Remise and Epione sit on the unfinished cars and watch Bedevil take a stance opposite me.
Without warning, her invisible tendrils squeeze me, wrench my limbs out, and lift me into the air. “Your first goal. Escape.” Hundreds. There are hundreds of her telekinetic appendages wrapped around me. “Blocks are mental. Push past it.”
“I can’t-” the tendrils squeeze the next words out of me.
“I don’t want to hear ‘I can’t,’ out of you.” Bedevil takes a slug of her beer. She’s not even trying. She’s gonna pop me like a fucking grape, and she’ll drink a beer while she does it. “The only words I want to hear are ‘yes, ma’am,’ when you get free.”
“That’s hot,” Epione says. “When we get Jason back I’m going to use that.”
I struggle against the invisible webbing wrapped around me. They’re in my mouth, gagging me from speaking.
I feel my way around the block. Always trying to hold it back. There must be a balance, a place where I don’t burn my friends but I can still use my power. A place where I let the heat move through me but not out of me.
I search for it while my body twists. The block is there, I feel it, I push against it with all of my might.
Bedevil’s tendrils fall off one at a time as I steal the energy of pressure squeezing me. Bedevil gasps, which turns into a grin as she realizes what I’ve just done. I throw the kinetic energy I gathered into a ball around me, shoving her telekinesis fully off of me, and fall to my feet. My chest is heaving; I feel like I just did a twenty second sprint.
“Wooo! Go Gabe!” Epione shouts.
Bedevil grins at me. “Proud of yourself?”
I stand up and glare at her. “Yes ma’am.”
Her tendrils seize me again and lift me off my feet. “Good,” she says. “Again.”
I draw in what I can and push back with my power. Her tendrils shoot off of me. She takes a swig of her beer. “Again.”
More tendrils. I draw in. Like reps in the gym. I take the energy of pressure and her tendrils fall off, I throw the energy back at them to finish freeing myself, and then she grabs me again. I find the block and push against it. I fight with my power.
I breath in.
Again. Again. Again.
I’m on fire. There’s a sweat puddle beneath me. I fall to my knees. “Again,” Bedevil says.
“Wait,” I say. “I can’t.”
“You’ll know when you can’t.” Bedevil sets her empty beer bottle down. “You haven’t puked yet.”
“Please, give me a minute.” I lean forward, resting my head against the cement floor.
Her telekinesis grabs my ankle and hoists me into the air.
“Hey, what the fuck, Ruby?”
Bedevil shakes her head at me. “Are you going to ask the next person you fight for a minute? When they’re walloping your ass, pooching you all over Houston, you’re gonna sit down and say, ‘I need a breather?’” She flips me upright and sets me down. “You can’t let this block dictate how far you can go.”
She straightens my shirt for me, while a towel floats from Remise’s side and smacks me in the face.
I wipe my face with the towel, and set it down. She’s pissing me off, spouting all of that in my face, and worst of all she doesn’t even know how stupid and worthless I feel right now because I just found out I’m a defective clone.
God damn it, why does she have to be right?
Bedevil waits, her eyebrow cocked.
She’s right. I need to get better. I have to work ten times harder than Megajoule did. So, I will. “Again.”
Bedevil smirks. “Atta boy.”
We go again and again, over and over, until my stomach’s spinning and sweat drenches my clothes.
I scream as I push against her telekinesis. The energy I summon isn’t enough. I’m actually gassed. “I-”
“Don’t you fucking say it!” Bedevil zooms through the air, right into my face.
I flex my power and try to shoot her tendrils off me. Not enough.
Bedevil squeezes me with her telekinesis. “Escape or I’ll kill you.”
“You-” That’s all I get out. Her tendrils become a vice grip.
I can’t breathe.
I push. No use. Just like the fight with Trainwreck, my power doesn’t respond.
“Don’t you want to be better than Megajoule?” Bedevil’s face twists into the first phase of her ugly cry, but she doesn’t go farther than that. “Don’t you want to live?”
How could I be better? I’m a defective version of him! “I can’t-”
“I said! I don’t! Want to hear the words ‘I can’t!’” The towel flings from the floor into my face and wraps around me. The tendrils pincer me. “Are you actually okay with dying in some alley?” She grinds the towel into my nose. “Are you telling me you’re happy this is all you’ll ever amount to?”
Too many starfish, but I have to try. I’m not happy. I’m not fucking happy! I scream and push as hard as I can against my power. Bedevil flies back, her tendrils rip off of me. The cars around us shift, their metal frames groaning with my power.
I fall to my knees, fighting my urge to throw up. Bedevil said I’d puke when I was done, but I’d really rather not, anyway. I get on my hands, breathing in heavy gulps, dripping sweat on the floor.
Bedevil helps me to my feet. She pats my cheek. “You’re holding yourself back.”
I can’t say anything, my lungs burn too much. I fall back over. When I can speak, I’m going to tell her to go fuck herself, and thank her.
I lie there breathing and burning for a long time, sweat drenching my hair and shirt, beading on my forehead. My glasses fog up.
Bedevil’s voice is in my ear. “Hey.”
Her head is right next to mine, but upside down from my perspective. She’s lying down opposite me.
“Thank you. For the groceries.”
I turn my head to look at her. She’s very close.
No. No, we’ve been down that road. That road goes to Shitville, Gabetown.
“You’re welcome,” I manage. “They’re partly for me, now. I suck at cooking, by the way.”
“We’re in trouble,” Bedevil says. “I can’t cook either.”
We sit there in silence for a moment.
There’s a tickle in my throat. I chuckle, and that spark catches full fire. It’s just a little giggle at first, until it spreads through my whole chest, warming me as it goes. The fuzzy feeling carries all the way to my fingers and toes, to the top of my head. I laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and it feels like the sun thawing a frozen lake.