I step out onto the cabin porch, fixing my joggers. Megajoule materializes at the edge of the porch, staring out at the stormy night. He holds his hand out to the pouring rain. The raindrops slip through his phantom fingers. He glowers at me as I join him.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Megajoule asks. “Falling into bed with her?”
I stammer. He’s got a severe look on, the expression of a disappointed father.
“She’s…” Megajoule shakes his head. “You remember what she did to you.”
“I forgave her,” I protest, weakly.
“You might have been a little quick on that,” Megajoule says. “The first thing she does when she meets you is fuck you, and then has the nerve to sneer at you when she calls you by my name. You can just let that go?”
I don’t really know what to say. My brain is so foggy about that night; I’ve blacked most of it out. “She’s proved herself.”
“Proved what, exactly?” Megajoule asks. “Proved that she’s willing to kill and attack her own team just to cling to my fleeting memory? She wants you to be someone you’re not.”
“You’re wrong,” I say.
Megajoule scoffs. “I’m wrong? I’m wrong about my own sidekick, a girl whose career as a cape I launched? You’ve known her about, what? A half a year? Less than that? And you’re already sleeping with her, you’re already acting like she’s your lover.”
I lean against the wall of the cabin. The storm is just enough to drown my voice out. I don’t want to wake Bedevil up. “We’re taking it slow.”
“Fucking her is taking it slow?” Megajoule asks.
“I… I don’t know! I don’t know how these things work! I like her, she’s funny, she’s passionate! I didn’t think I’d have to defend my taste in girls from you!”
Megajoule sighs. “No, no, you don’t. You’re an adult, a man in your own right, and I don’t want to tell you your business. But you should be careful. Ruby has a lot more experience than you, and I would hate for you to get hurt.”
We meet eyes, and I can see just how upset he is by this. I glance away, scared by the intensity behind his gaze.
“Promise me you will be careful,” Megajoule says.
I can’t meet his eyes, even though that probably doesn’t matter since he’s a figment of my memories. “I promise.”
“Good man.” Megajoule appears next to me and puts a hand on my shoulder. “You’re doing great. You just can’t afford to get entangled with someone who’s going to hurt you like she already did.”
After everything Bedevil confessed to me, after the way she looked at me, that just rubs me the wrong way. “Why do you care so much?”
“Because I love you, Gabe. I’m the only one who doesn’t want you to be me. I’m the one who wants you to be Gabe. I’m the one who wants you to succeed on your own strength, and I’m the one who believes that you could really do that. I believe in you, so fiercely, so passionately. I gave my life for that, Gabe. I gave my life to save you from that lab.”
With that, he vanishes. The door to the cabin opens, and Bedevil steps out, wearing a huge white t-shirt and gym shorts.
Bedevil yawns, and rubs her eyes. “What’s going on?”
I usher her back inside. I turn the lamp on, and Bedevil sits on the edge of the bed, blinking at the warm light.
“Listen, do you remember how I told you that I used to hallucinate Megajoule?” I ask.
Bedevil’s sleepy face vanishes. She grabs my hand. “Is it happening again?”
I grip her fingers in mine. “It turns out it wasn’t just a hallucination. Do you know a hero named Oracle?”
Bedevil nods. “From Africa, she was one of the Sovereigns. I think she was a diplomat between the Union and UWC. Memory powers, right?” Bedevil gasps as she says that. “She did something to you, didn’t she?”
“Yeah. Apparently, she assembled some kind of… er, memory construct of Megajoule. Basically, she put his ghost inside my head so he can give me advice,” I say.
“You were talking to him on the porch? What did he want?” Bedevil stares at me, playing with her hair. “What’s he like, now?”
I rub the back of my neck. “He’s… mad. About us.”
Bedevil’s face falls flat. “Oh.”
“He says I should be careful because you’ve got a lot more experience than I do. And after what happened…” I shake my head. “He cares about us both, I think.”
“He’s right,” Bedevil says. She plays with her gym shorts, and a tear rolls down her cheek. “Did he say anything else? About me? About you? About all of this?”
“I told him to fuck off,” I say.
Bedevil gasps. She jabs an elbow into my ribs.
“Okay, okay, I told him I’d be careful. I don’t think he’s working off current memories,” I say. “His last impression of you when he was alive was as his sidekick, and you were just nineteen. If that’s the case, of course, he’d be worried about us. He doesn’t know who you are now.”
“I wish he could speak to me like that, though,” Bedevil says.
I’ll admit, I felt the same way. And his fatherly approach scratches an itch I didn’t even know I had. Still, I’ve been trying to be realistic about it. “It’s not even him, it’s like… a backup data file, or a copy of a book, I think.”
Bedevil rubs my thumb with hers. “…thank you, Gabe. Can you tell me if he says anything else?”
I nod. “It’s late.”
“Or early,” Bedevil replies. She leans against me. “What do we do after this? We can’t stay in Houston. I don’t even know if we can stay in the UWC.”
“Hell, I don’t even know if the States will stay in the UWC.” I adjust so that I’m sitting against the headboard of the bed and Bedevil leans against me. “I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland with Remise, to be honest. She says it’s gorgeous there.”
“Why isn’t she a cape there? She’s incredible.”
“She actually made a personal enemy of one of the big teams there, I think.” Something about Remise’s training to become a full hero over there. “Her career got dumped down the toilet, so she moved to the UWC for a clean start.”
“That sucks,” Bedevil says, sounding very sleepy.
I chuckle, and stroke her hair, and we fall back asleep together.
The next thing I know, my phone is ringing in my jacket across the room. I check the time: 6:32 AM. Bedevil stirs and groans, and when I try to get up, she presses her hand against my chest to keep me down.
“My phone,” I protest.
“Call ‘em back,” Bedevil slurs.
I chuckle and try to get up again, and Bedevil uses telekinesis to reinforce her hold on me. She lifts her head and glares at me with killer’s eyes. “Call. ‘Em. Back.”
I almost laugh out loud at her tantrum.
Wait, that’s not my regular phone. “Bedevil, it’s Mr. Gold.”
Her eyes snap open and she floats up from me toward the ceiling of the cabin. “Sorry, sorry!”
I warp over to my jacket and fish the burner phone out before it stops ringing, answering it just in time. “Hello?”
“Gabe. I’ve got a way in,” Mr. Gold says. “Three days.”
“What’s the plan?” I ask. My heart soars; we finally have a chance at saving Flashfire. Once that’s done we can figure out what we’re doing next instead of staying stuck in limbo.
“We’ll talk about it in person,” Mr. Gold says. “I’ll call you. Keep your head down, by the way. I know you want to play the hero, and I don’t blame you, but we can’t afford any more incidents where you might get caught.”
I bow my head in apology, even though he can’t see. “Right.”
“I’ll be in touch.” Mr. Gold hangs up.
“What did he say?” Bedevil says.
“We’ll rescue Flashfire in three days.” I toss the burner phone in my hands.
Bedevil hovers in the air, the sundress rises to meet her from where we discarded it, and in a flash, she’s out of the gym shorts and the huge t-shirt, and into the sundress. She floats down to her feet, her arms crossed. At first, I think she’s looking at my abs, but I realize she’s looking at my hands. “Gabe, those burns.”
I’ve still got slight marks where I burned my fingers rescuing Jake the Boss Man from that fire. “It’s nothing.”
Bedevil walks up and traces the scars Sledge left me with her fingers. “I saw the news. Remember what I said about your corpse hurtling places?”
“What am I supposed to do?” I ask. “Just sit back when I can save people?”
“Epione told me you didn’t have your power,” Bedevil says.
I look away from her.
“I don’t want to lose you either.” Bedevil playfully pinches my ear. “I want you to grow old, and lose your abs to a beer gut, and be happy.”
“I was actually going to quit drinking.” I glance down at her again.
Bedevil’s lips part. Her eyes glisten. “You… please, be careful.”
I can’t get Megajoule’s words out of my head. I can’t rid myself of the doubt that she’s clinging to his memory. I suppose I’ll just have to learn to live with it. “I’ll try.”
After we talk a bit more about random nothings, Bedevil and I sneak into the main building. Saw Off snores on the couch, her hand on Pawpaw’s neck scruff. All five of Bedevil’s cats lounge on top of her, slumbering in peace. Pawpaw whines as he sees Bedevil and frees himself from her grasp.
The fresh scent of coffee draws me to the kitchen.
Doc stands there, coughing crap out of his lungs, pouring hot water from a kettle over a pour-over coffee carafe. He looks up. “Oh.”
Bedevil floats in behind me, Pawpaw at her heels.
Doc and Bedevil stare at each other for about seven of my panicked heartbeats.
Doc opens his mouth and only manages a stuttering, “Uh.”
Bedevil silently hovers to him and lands on her feet. Not a word passes from her lips and not a trace of emotion on her face as she studies his.
Doc, unnerved, returns to his pour-over. “Coffee?”
“No.” Bedevil doesn’t retreat from him. “I don’t like coffee.”
Meanwhile, I’m over here having heart palpitations, so don’t mind me. I cling to the column leading into the kitchen.
“I want you to tell me if it’s true,” Bedevil says. “About what you did to Gabe and his brothers.”
Doc nods once.
“Why?” Bedevil asks. I can’t really tell what she’s thinking, she’s got a stone face on right now. I’ve seen Epione more emotional.
“I wish I had an answer to that other than, ‘It was my job.’”
Bedevil turns to the counter and supports her weight with both hands. She stares at the granite, raps her fingers on them, and grimaces.
“I’m sorry,” Doc says.
“I want to be angry with you.” Bedevil stands up straight. “For staying silent when you knew they were trying to find a way to kill my hero.”
Doc cowers from her, staring at the coffee dripping out of the paper filter full of fresh grounds.
“That’s what you did. You stayed silent.” Bedevil’s hands ball up into fists. “Do you know what I got when he died? One of his capes and a text message from Templar. They brought us in for debriefing but Templar thought the best way to break the news to the rest of the team was to send us a text.” A cupboard opens above her head and a coffee mug descends, landing next to Doc’s carafe. “What did you get?”
“I got to share a studio apartment in Colorado with Gabe.” Doc pours some into the cup. “I’d been gone three days when I found out through social media. You’re sure?” he asks, offering Bedevil the mug.
Bedevil shakes her head.
Doc sips the coffee.
“I can’t coexist with you,” Bedevil says. “I’m sorry. Even more, because you did save Gabe, and you really deserve credit for that.”
“Kid,” Doc says. “I can’t coexist with me, either. The bottle was easier.”
Bedevil recoils from him, from the words that I know strike too close to home. “Y-you…”
“Did you tell her, Gabe?” Doc asks.
“No.” I can’t look at either of them so I settle for inspecting the kitchen’s tiling.
“I’ll let you do that, then,” Doc says, heading out for the door. “I’m gonna take a walk.”
“Aren’t you sick?” I ask.
“Getting better,” Doc says. “Need some fresh air, anyway. It’s a lovely day.” With that, Doc walks out the door, sipping his coffee.
Bedevil buries her head into her arms. “Tell me.”
I walk over to her and sit on the counter next to her. “When you almost died, you almost choked on your own vomit. He took some injuries to your lungs that might’ve killed you.”
Bedevil groans. “He saved me.”
“Yeah,” I say. “He didn’t want me to tell you, so I didn’t.”
“Why?” Bedevil’s voice gets shrill, and she stands up to glare at me. “You can’t hide that kinda shit from me.”
“It wasn’t my place to say anything if he didn’t want me to.”
We stare at each other for a tense second, and then Bedevil backs down, with her hand to her head. “Is that true, about Colorado?”
I nod. “I don’t remember much of that time.”
Pawpaw whines and presses his nose into Bedevil’s hand. She kneels down and smiles at him. “I’m glad you’re okay, old man.”
We share a couple of bowls of cereal in the dining room and take bets on when Saw Off will wake up, and a few moments into that, Remise comes down the stairs, dressed in her sparring outfit. Maisa and Epione are wearing athletic outfits, like they’ll be sparring, too, and Drone stumbles behind this entourage in her pajamas.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“We’re gonna go get a few bouts in.” Remise grins. “They’re both pretty similar skill levels, so I’m gonna thrash ‘em for a while. Morning, Bedevs.”
Bedevil glowers at Remise from her cereal bowl. “It’s catching on.”
Epione smiles at us. “I’m glad you’re on the other side of it, Bedevil.”
“Thank you for helping me,” Bedevil says.
“We should have a cake later!” Epione says. “I’ll bake one!”
I glance over at Bedevil’s face and am worried for a brief second that her heart has been stolen away.
I smile, and say, “Mr. Gold called, by the way. He’s going to reach out soon about a plan to save Flash. We’ve got three days.”
Remise grins an evil grin at her two trainees. “You heard him. Three days to get you two ready for a mission.”
“Why don’t we follow?” I ask Bedevil.
Bedevil, only halfway through her bowl of cereal, nods. She trudges after me, carrying the bowl, spoon in mouth.
I bring my bowl to the sink and wash it out, and glance down the counter to the trash, where I see my jar of jelly beans.
“W-where are the jelly beans?” I ask, as my world shatters around me. When I look back for Bedevil’s answer, she’s giving me the cold shoulder. “Bedevs, where are they?”
“I ate them, yesterday,” Bedevil says around the spoon. “They were there, on the counter, and I was hungry.”
“You ate them.”
Bedevil shows me a mock frown. In a deep, sarcastic voice, she says, “I’m sorry.”
“I thought the girlfriend eating your food thing was a myth,” I say, picking up the jelly bean jar that is as empty as my dreams.
“It is not,” Bedevil says. “Especially with me.”
“You!” I chase her out of the kitchen. Bedevil cackles as she flies to the porch.
Bedevil smacks right into Remise at the door. Epione, Maisa, and Drone all worm their way back into the living room, and Remise shuts the door behind her. “I heard heartbeats, in the woods. Dozens of them. We’re surrounded, Gabe.”
“Saw Off,” Drone hisses. “Get up!”
There’s no time to panic, no time to freak out. I drop into combat mode immediately. Advantages: We have a host of powerful people, we’re inside the house, and we’re very mobile even in rough terrain. Disadvantages: We’ve no idea what’s coming.
Wait, Doc is out there.
“Get down.” I warp over to the door with a quick exchange of gravitational energy to speed and glance out the window. The others follow my instructions, crouching behind the sofas. Bedevil slings right behind me.
As I make it to the door, a man screams out from the garden: “Hey! I found this old man wandering in the woods!”
“Gabe!” Doc shouts. “Don’t-”
The man cuts Doc off. “If you want him alive, I suggest you come to talk and surrender peaceably.”
I recognize that voice from Megajoule’s last video, from the video where he tried to tell me about the Fear. Nero.
I shift over to the living room and look out the window. Nero stands in the garden, one foot up on the bench like he’s a fucking pirate and his hand around the back of Doc’s neck. He grins as I try to get a peek in without tipping him off. “I see you there, Gabe!”
He’s in his mid thirties, his black hair is slicked back, and he grins wide like this is the best day of his life. He wears a strange body suit with plating underneath the mesh, and a thick chest piece. Blood trickles out from the seams of the armor, but Doc’s not armed, and he doesn’t have any visible injuries.
“Are you going to come out?” Nero pats Doc’s shoulder with his free hand.
I don’t know what to do. “L-let him go.”
“What was that?” Nero shouts. “I can’t hear you from behind that window.”
I could hit Nero through the window if I charged up enough energy into a projectile. Bedevil still has her spoon in her hands. That’ll make a suitable bullet. I point at the spoon and Bedevil floats it over to me.
“Well?” Nero asks
I start to suck in energy from the heat of the air and from gravity’s pull. “Promise me he’ll be safe.” I glance up and sneak a look at Doc, trying to tip him off that I’m about to try something.
He’s weeping. He mouths at me: “I love you. Run.”
Doc turns around and grabs Nero’s chest plate, shoving Nero back. Nero screams, and blood spills from the suit. Red fire licks from Nero’s hand as it lights up similar to my skin when I have too much heat.
Nero smashes his fist through Doc’s chest.
Doc’s face twists as if to scream, but he makes no sound. Instead, he grabs Nero’s face. The wound in his chest starts to close, but Nero opens another, and another, glowing brighter and brighter as Doc transfers the wounds back to him.
Nero’s form bursts with an explosion of fire, washing the garden in light and sound.