Bedevil stood alone in the woods, studying the White Shark. The others sat around near the bay doors or inside the fuselage while they all waited for the Underground to show up. Bedevil had other plans. Her talk of developing her power and regaining her old strength had her thinking.
“You’re being creepy,” Maisa said, walking up to her. “Staring in the dark.”
“Guess I picked it up from my boyfriend.” Bedevil laughed, but noticed her remark saddened Maisa. Bedevil was trying to notice more, like Gabe did. “The whole me and him thing bothers you, I know.”
“It’s not you. Or him. It’s… He’s like my brother and you’re like my sister… but that’s not what bothers me. It will be a long time before I’m comfortable with that sort of thing. From anyone. It bothered me with Flashfire and Epione, too, and it bothered me with Remise and Echo.” Maisa stomped around in the grass. “It’ll bother me no matter what. My skin crawls at the thought that I might… that someday… I’ll have to…”
Bedevil lifted Maisa’s chin and saw the girl had tears in her eyes. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
“I can’t explain it.”
“You don’t have to explain why you don’t want something,” Bedevil said.
Maisa returned her hug. “I know. You two… I’m scared. I’m scared for him and for you, because you belong with each other.”
Bedevil had no more tears now. She sniffed and stroked Maisa’s hair. “Me too. He wouldn’t want us to be afraid. He’d want us to press on. Which is what I’m doing out here.”
“What are you doing?”
“Processing a thought,” Bedevil said, staring at the wings of the White Shark. “I’m always relying on other people to fly. I never thought I’d be able to go beyond the reach of my tendrils. But I keep thinking… maybe, there’s a way.” She had to admit, Gabe willing to push the limits of what he could do had inspired her.
He’d been inspiring her since she met him.
She’d inspired him, too.
“Car!” Templar called to them from the bay door.
Sure enough, a box van pulled out of the woods, rumbled to a stop not a hundred feet from the White Shark. Archimedes stood up. His hands searched all around his body. He was tense.
The back door of the van opened.
Pawpaw burst from the van, barking like mad. Bedevil squeaked at the sight of her dog, dropped to her knees, and started to sob again.
Pawpaw jumped into her arms, whining and barking with joy. He licked her tears from her cheek and she cried and petted him. “Oh my God, oh my God, baby. I thought you died. I thought you died, you stupid mutt.” She wept into his fur. He nuzzled her in return and squealed. “You stupid… you stupid, good boy. You good boy.”
“He’s been a very good boy.” Lugs walked up to her, Pawpaw’s leash in his hand. He offered it to Bedevil. “You owe me. I had to haul him out of those woods with my one arm.”
Bedevil looked up from Pawpaw but her hands never left his fur. “You found him?”
“Your cats, too.” Lugs rubbed the back of his neck. “I think. I wandered around with cat food until I found them. They’re back with the Street Devils.”
Bedevil took the leash and smiled. “Lugs. You’re the best.”
Lugs coughed and looked away. “It’s all good, chick.”
Saw Off stumbled her way out of the van. “Oh. My. Fucking. GOD! Your ASS is gigantic you fucking rock monster fucking—”
Krater barely squeezed himself out behind her, grinning the whole way. “Now, is that any way to talk to a hero you have posters of?”
Remise and Echo emerged next. Mr. Gold stepped out of the driver’s side. And finally, Flashfire exited the passenger front of the van.
It was the first time Bedevil had seen him in almost four months, since just before the mission where she’d killed those Sanctified Remnant agents. He was tired and scrawnier than before, but his eyes still blazed with the same zeal she’d seen in his mugshot. He approached Epione with care. “Abby. Can I touch you?”
Epione’s face was blank. She looked like an ice queen, no expression, only a cold stare.
Flashfire was taken aback by her complete silence. “Ep?”
Epione threw her arms around him. Flashfire responded in kind, holding her tight against him.
That started an entirely new wave of crying for Bedevil. She saw Maisa run into Remise’s arms and laugh and cheer with Echo. Saw Off joined in on their little circle.
Joy sparked goosebumps on Bedevil’s skin, and filled her with a bout of warm frisson that accompanied her tears. “God damn it, turning me into waterworks.” She wiped her eyes and tried to stand, but failed.
Krater helped her stand. “Damn, I’m glad you’re okay. The hell happened to your hand?”
“Ah, I got cut pretty good. I’m glad you’re okay, too,” she said. “Sorry about… everything.”
“Nah, it’s cool. It’s all been cool. A lotta people stepped up in Houston after I got put in the Gallery and the Heroes fell.” Krater grinned. “This city never lets me down. She can take care of herself.”
Flashfire and Epione had parted, but were arm in arm. Gabe told her that Epione had lost her love for Flashfire but she seemed completely head over heels right now. Yet, Bedevil noticed that it wasn’t the only emotion on Epione’s face. She cycled through a new one every few seconds but always returned to adoration.
All of the expressions seemed fake to Bedevil.
Flashfire, on the other hand, searched the White Shark, and asked, “Where is Gabe?”
Bedevil stammered. Everyone turned to her, as if she was the only one who could answer that question.
Bedevil shuddered, trying to compose herself to explain. Just thinking about it was agonizing. “The Fear took him. Like it took Tim Prince. He’s somewhere in South America. He buried himself to protect us.”
Epione continued explaining for her. “He’s fighting it but… it’s strong. It’s using his own insecurities against him.”
“He’s possessed?” Saw Off’s face fell.
“He’s asleep, battling a nightmare for control of his body,” Epione said.
“We need to help him,” Bedevil said. “It’s going to be dangerous. Like when we fought Rorschach in the airport. Some of us could die. He might die. But I promised him that I would either save him or… or… kill him, so he can’t be used by the Fear. I owe him that, so I’m going.” She shuddered again. She thought she’d cried enough but that wasn’t the case.
“I’m going because I love him,” Bedevil continued. “I came to ask if anyone wanted to help, but I know—”
Bedevil felt a reassuring hand on her back. Krater. Then another, Remise, and Echo. “He needs us,” Remise said. “Of course we’re going to get him.”
“He’s our Gabe Babe,” Saw Off said.
Flashfire left Epione’s side. “He’s my best friend. I love him, too. I’m going to find him with you and I’m going to shake him free of whatever it is that’s got him. We’re not going to kill him, Bedevil.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “We’re going to save him. All of us.”
Bedevil understood why Gabe believed in Flashfire so much. Why Epione loved him all over again even after the Fear ripped her love out of her. She fought against her tears. “Okay.”
Archimedes clapped his hands. “Lovely reunion all around. Quick introductions, I’m Archimedes, this is Linear, Oracle, and Templar.” He pointed at all of them.
“Cool,” Saw Off said. She pointed at the White Shark. “Dibs on shotgun.”
“There’s no…” Archimedes frowned. “No dibs.”
“Dibs,” Saw Off said, striding up into the aircraft. “Nice to meet y’all.”
“No dibs,” Archimedes repeated, softer, weaker, in vain.
“She’s always like that,” Mr. Gold said. “Unrelenting.”
Lugs came up to Bedevil. “I’d go, but I don’t know how much use I’ll be. Besides, you’ll need someone to watch Pawpaw until all this is over, right? And your cats.”
Bedevil chewed her lip. She’d really wanted to bring Pawpaw with her but she knew that wasn’t the smartest. “Thanks, Lugs. I’m really sorry about Mil-dot.”
Lugs averted his gaze. “…yeah.”
“We’ll come back for you,” Bedevil said.
“And keep an eye on Saw Off, make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.” Lugs, for the first time, looked very close to tears. “She’s all I got, now.”
“I’ll make sure she stays out of trouble,” Bedevil said. “Promise.”
Lugs wasn’t the only one staying behind. Echo shared a tearful goodbye with Remise, while Mr. Gold seemed to be working something out with Flashfire and Krater, and looked like he wouldn’t be boarding the plane either. Bedevil knew they probably wouldn’t take everyone, so she wasn’t so disappointed.
“Where are we going now?” Templar asked. Oracle nodded and looked to Bedevil for the answer.
“How many more trips can the White Shark handled before we need to recharge?” Bedevil asked. “We need all the help we can get. I’m guessing every other member of the Inheritors fought the Fear at some point, right?”
Templar shook her head. “Only Mega, me, and Longinus.”
“Then let’s go get Longinus. You know where he is. I know you do,” Bedevil said. “You kept tabs on all of us.”
“I did…” Templar trailed off. There was more she didn’t want to say. She took Bedevil aside from the plane. “Ruby, we can’t call on him.”
“Why? He’s retired, but he’s not dead. You don’t think we can convince him?” Bedevil asked.
“No, it’s not that.” Templar turned away from her, out to the waters. “He… he was there when Megajoule died. He helped, Ruby. He helped.”
Bedevil realized what she was saying. “No. No, no, he was Mega’s right hand man, he’d never…”
Templar said nothing, only slumped her shoulders as the guilt of that secret rolled off of them. “I’m sorry.”
“Why? Why?” Bedevil asked. Her heart raged, her mind burned. “Why is it every single person I thought was good on our team turned out to be fucking awful?” She wrenched a tree free from its roots and flung it away from the ship, though even that did not satisfy her anger. She was going to pull him apart, limb from limb, she was… Bedevil sighed out. No. What would that help? “How long did you know? Were you there, too?”
“God, no,” Templar said, and Bedevil believed her. The only way Templar could keep a secret was by not opening her mouth at all. “I only knew after the fact. Longinus, Nero, and a few others. The cloak Carnality.”
They really wanted to kill him. “Tell me their names.”
“Besides Longinus, Nero, and Carnality, the others are dead.” Templar picked up a rock and chucked it into a lake. “Telling you their names would do nothing.”
Bedevil hated all of this falling apart around her. The entire world felt like a let down, now. Gabe’s words about people amazing him and disappointing him all at once came to mind again. But Bedevil closed her eyes and breathed out. If she was going to believe in this idea that people could become better, it meant she had to let them grow. She couldn’t hold them to coals over past mistakes, no matter how heinous, as long as they were growing beyond them.
Gabe would want that.
Bedevil grit her teeth, swallowed her pride, and said, “Fine. We still need Longinus.”
“Are you sure?” Templar asked.
“Yes. He’s fought them before. We need to know if we can save Gabe, if it’s at all possible.” Flashfire wanted that and she did, too. Even if it cost her everything, she’d save him.
“Gabe showed us it is possible to rescue a host.”
“I mean once and for all. I want to rescue him without costing someone else their life.” Bedevil hoped that was possible. But if it wasn’t, she would trade places with him. “I want to kill it for good.”
Templar had nothing to say to that, so they boarded the White Shark.
Krater and Maisa sat next to each other, and the difference in size between them was absurd. In fact, Krater had to sit in a slouched position to keep his head from rubbing on the fuselage ceiling. “So you’re the kid Home Run… Gabe… was all gung ho to find.”
“Yeah,” Maisa said. “And you fought him, right?”
Krater laughed a loud, deep laugh. “Yeah. We destroyed Cosmoworld, back when I thought he was some Cloak.”
“And you lost?” Maisa asked.
Krater stopped mid-laugh. He nearly folded in on himself. “The circumstances… I had no idea…”
Bedevil bit her lip to keep herself from cackling.
Saw Off leaned over Archimedes’ shoulder like she knew him personally. Linear, Remise, and Oracle introduced themselves and fell to quiet chatter. Bedevil sat right across from Epione and Flashfire. “Thank you,” she said.
Flashfire shook his head. “There’s nothing to thank us for. In fact, I should thank you. Epione says you’ve been there every step of the way.”
“Yeah, well, part of that time she spent helping me get sober.” Bedevil crossed her legs, wishing she could retreat into herself from that embarrassment. “I needed their help more than they needed mine.”
“We all help each other,” Flashfire said. “Epione’s been conveying a lot to me. I think I’m up to speed.”
Bedevil pursed her lips. “Everything?”
Epione nodded, her face neutral. Bedevil had a feeling she wasn’t telling the whole truth.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here to help,” Flashfire said.
“You’re here, now. We’ll get him back,” Epione said. “Speaking of which. I’ve been keeping my eye on him when I have a spare moment. He hasn’t moved since I last left him. Do you want to go with me, Bedevil?”
“You can take me?” Bedevil asked.
“Yes.” Epione held out her hand. “If you want to go.”
Bedevil grabbed Epione’s hand.
And suddenly, she was no longer inside the White Shark, but standing on a shoreline of some beach she didn’t recognize. Waves lapped at her feet. Pawpaw ran in circles in the sand behind her, barking in joy and constantly looking to her for approval. Bedevil smiled and waved him on. Colors danced in the sky above, like someone had woven a blanket of rainbows and draped it across the earth. They shimmered, shifted, changed places with each other.
Some dream she found herself in.
Epione’s voice whispered in through the babbling of the waves. “He doesn’t know I lost my love for him, if that’s what you were getting at.”
Bedevil searched for Epione but couldn’t find her. “It… was. I’m sorry, it’s none of my business.”
“No. You’re leading us. Allow me to explain my reasoning.” Epione stepped out of the water a few feet from Bedevil, materializing out of the misty sea. “Until we defeat the Fear and rescue Gabe, Flashfire needs to focus on the mission. I will tell him when it settles down.”
“So we’re just going to lie to him?” Bedevil asked.
“We’re just not going to say anything,” Epione said. “This will be easier.”
“I don’t like that.” It reminded her too much of Jamie. How he hid things from her, how much he concealed by simply playing it cool.
“This isn’t the same as that,” Epione said. “I would never abuse Flashfire’s trust. But right now, if I think about this, I can’t focus either. You need me to focus.”
Bedevil weighed her options. There was an air of a question to Epione’s statements, so much it felt like Epione was deferring to Bedevil. If Bedevil decided it was best to tell Flashfire…
“I would accept your decision,” Epione said. “I don’t think it’s the right one, but it would be your decision.”
On the other hand, Epione was right. They needed to focus. If doubts and hang ups came up now, they’d fall apart. Bedevil expected — and hoped — that this wouldn’t take weeks and weeks. She hoped they’d rescue Gabe as soon as possible. In the next few days.
That wouldn’t be like Jamie, who’d lied to Bedevil over the span of a year and a half.
“You’re right. This can wait.” Bedevil hesitated to say her next piece.
Epione sensed her hesitation. “Yes?”
“It won’t be my place once this is over, but I still think you should tell Flashfire. Eventually.”
Epione nodded. “I will.”
Bedevil looked up at the network of dazzling colors in the sky. “Where are we?”
“This is your happy place.” For some reason, Epione’s smiles looked more genuine here. “We’re in your little corner of the Affect. Are you ready to visit Gabe’s?”
Bedevil reached her hand out. “Take me to him. Please.”
Epione took her hand. She looked up at the colors in the sky. Before Bedevil’s next heartbeat, they tumbled headfirst into a nightmare.