<Twenty-fours spent doing nothing but sitting on my ass.> Angela silently fumed in her little corner of the gym.
Her negative emotions hovered over her like a black thundercloud. People sensed it and kept away. The teenage shifter was pretty sure she’d aced her finals. She’d been stern and unyielding when needed but also considerate and compassionate. She knew a Hero required both, and she’d delivered.
And then the real deal happened. The city had gone to hell in a hand-basket, and she’d been given a mask in case she needed it. It felt like every fiber of her being tingled when she touched that small piece of comfortable plastic.
<This is what I’m meant to do.> No matter what anyone told her, she knew this was the life for her.
And then she’d sat on her ass while it all happened.
Roads and bridges turned to rubble. The power plant blown up…again. TV and radio stations hijacked or demolished so the enemies’ message of fear and hate could be spread. The airport was a flaming wreck with the smoking skeletons of 737s still lying dead on the tarmac. Lots of people had died too. Civilians caught in the crossfire all over the city, hundreds of them. The Orlando PD had done their best, but they’d taken their own losses. A few dozen cops killed in the line of duty. The department was reeling.
The DVA was on scene and investigating in force for the time being. They were bolstering the PDs ranks and sharing some of the burdens until the next class graduated from the police academy at the end of the summer. But even then, there would be a lot of rookies with fewer veterans to show them the ropes than any time in recent memory.
The DVA was also looking into what was being called Lander’s Crucible and seeing if the two attacks were related. So far, there didn’t seem to be any link between the Sons of Progress and Seif al-Din’s terrorist organization, but they were still digging.
They also had to look into their deployment protocols. Even on different sides of the country, with totally different circumstances, Lander’s attack pulled a disproportionate number of Hero responders compared to Orlando. Granted, some of it was due to the chaos and breakdown in communication. Lander had just dropped off the grid and that was a clear red flag. Orlando had rapidly descended into chaos, but the city’s leadership had been slow to make the distinction between possible gang violence and a terrorist attack. The Protectorate and DVA having their hands full didn’t help getting information to the right people.
Despite the needs for improvement for the local authorities, there was no denying that the bad guys had planned things perfectly. They’d dispersed the local defenders all across the city. They’d started a natural disaster up north, and all so when they found Seif al-Din they only had a small strike force that wasn’t able to take him down.
They were also looking into that because lethal force had been authorized but not used. A lot of people wanted to know why.
While all of that was important, none of it mattered to Angela because she’d been stuck underground the whole time. And now they weren’t even being allowed to help in the clean-up.
“Everybody turn in your masks.” Coach McMillian was making the rounds to collect the school property.
She saw him watching everything closely. A lot of the students thought he was the good cop to his and Coach Meyers’ good cop bad cop routine. They thought he was the one that would go easy on them, and he might just do that, but there was always something going on behind the speedster’s eyes.
Coach McMillian was sharp, and she could tell he was watching all the students and evaluating how they went about giving up their first piece of almost real Hero action.
“I heard the students at Lander got to help.” Angela held onto her mask when the coach came by.
“Where’d you hear that?”
“People talk.” She left it at that.
“Yeah, they got to help, but it was a different situation.”
Angela bit her tongue and nodded. Arguing with the close combat coach wouldn’t do her any good. But, like always, the man noticed.
“They were directly under attack. They were the targets of the Sons of Progress. We were not. The terrorists specifically left us alone, for the same reason the Sons should have left Lander alone. Most of the terrorists and most of the Sons that participated in the attack are dead now. They might have showed that an HCP could be attacked, but they also showed that an HCP would fight back. With no backup, and no intel, Lander’s professors and their students took down several enhanced Supers. It was a pretty big show of force. Something we didn’t need here.” The coach’s eyes were thoughtful but stern.
“I just wish I could have done something to help. “Angela tried to recover.
“Don’t be so eager to jump right into things, Angela. Lander’s students got a taste of what the Hero life was like, but they got a taste of the good and the bad. They lost someone.”
Angela didn’t know that, and she thought about what she would be feeling right now if they’d run off to help and Becca had been killed.
Dr. Johnson would be proud of how she handled herself. She approached the problem, admitted what she was feeling to herself, came to grips with that, and figured out a way past it. All while taking deep breaths and keeping her emotions in check. If this had been a few months ago, she probably would have just started punching something.
“Ms. Martin.” Dean Ditmar stepped into the gym for the first time since this whole ordeal started.
The HCP leader looked tired, like he’d been fighting bad guys all day, and cleaning up all night. But there was still a smile on the older Super’s face, and she took that to mean everything was ok.
“Please come with me.”
<Anything to get out of sitting here for one more minute.> She jumped to her feet and worked the kinks out of her legs and neck as she crossed the distance to the gym’s double-door entrance.
She followed the Dean through the maze of sci-fi corridors that didn’t look any different than the first day she walked out of the lift and into this life. She followed him all the way to the entrance to the library where an all too familiar woman was standing.
“I’ll give you to a moment.” The Dean smiled and left Angela with her mother.
The both stood eyeing each other for a minute before Angela final spoke. “Jesus, Mom. What happened?”
Sophia Martin was in a worn pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Her eyes were red, she wasn’t wearing any make-up, and she was favoring one side.
“Rough day at the office.” The unshifted Hero Seraphim chuckled before taking a step forward and wrapping her arms around her daughter.
Angela froze for a minute, ready to counter any grapple the Hero tried to pull on her, but none ever came, and she slowly relaxed into the embrace. “What happened?”
“The bad guys weren’t exactly better than us, but they were better prepared. We walked right into their ambush and we lost some people. I made it out, but just barely. The DVA healer patched me up, but he’s not HCP quality, so I’m on medical leave for the next few days.”
Then Sophia did the impossible, she hugged Angela even harder. Angela returned the gesture and felt something in her chest. It wasn’t a heart attack, she was too young for one of those. It could have been from all the stress, or her irritation about this whole situation up until right now. Either way, she’d have to ask Dr. Sanderson about it. But for the moment, she just wanted to be content. She couldn’t remember the last time her mother hugged her like this.
“Well.” Her mother’s voice shook like she was holding something back. “I’ve got one more thing to show you before we go home for summer break.”
“You’re taking me home…” Angela waited for the “but”, but it never came. For some reason her mother was taking the exact opposite approach than what she’d decided to do when dropping her off at the beginning of the year.
<She wasn’t the one that dropped me off.> Angela shut that line of thought down hard before it could fester. Things were going really well with her mother, and she didn’t want to ruin it.
“In here.” Sophia pushed open the door to the school’s library and waved her through, but didn’t follow. “Third aisle on the left. I’ll be here when you’re done.”
Without another word, her mother closed the door behind Angela with a hint of a smile on her face.
<They’ve got to have her on pain meds.> It was the only explanation.
She walked down the few dozen feet to the third aisle and turned left like she’d been instructed. There was somebody else there. A large somebody who was preoccupied with running their hand underneath one of the shelves. Whoever it was didn’t notice her at first, and she wasn’t sure what to do.
<Just asking some random somebody if my mother just set us up isn’t exactly what I thought this was all about.> Really, she had no idea what was going on.
The person sat there for a few more moments, running their fingers underneath the shelf before standing up. They were bigger at their full height, at least half a foot taller than Angela, and it was obviously a guy. Angela’s thought process went from possible set-up to possible ambush in a nanosecond. Her eyes scanned the rest of the library looking for more threats when the man started to laugh.
<Wait…> Angela froze. Despite all her training, everything she’d been taught for eighteen years. She still froze like a deer in headlights when she heard that familiar laugh.
“Don’t worry, Angela, it’s just me.”
Before she even knew what was happening she was sprinting toward the hulking figure and throwing herself into his open arms. She couldn’t speak. She was laughing, she was crying, and she was just trying to wrap her mind around what was happening.
“Daddy!” She buried her face in his chest and never wanted to let go.
“It’s ok, honey. I’m ok. Everything is going to be ok.” He pulled her close, and the feeling was mutual.
“So that was kind of a bust.” Mason handed in his white mask and stood their awkwardly with his hands in his pocket. He’d been dreading this moment since he wrapped up his last final.
“Better a bust than us being called out there.” Kyoshi didn’t look happy, which meant she was hearing things from everyone around them and not liking it.
“You’re right,” Mason chided himself and put a lid on his disappointment.
<Us going out there would mean the brown stuff was well and truly flying everywhere. That’s not what this city needs, and that isn’t what we need. We forget that we’re still kids.>
Kyoshi turned toward him with a smile as she dropped her own mask in the container that Coach McMillian was passing around. “Let’s not dwell on the bad, but think about the good.” She wrapped her arms around his neck.
To date, she was the only girl he’d ever dated that was able to do it.
“So…summer break?” Mason didn’t look her in the eye, but he was sure she could read his thoughts like an open book.
The title of the book would be “Mason doesn’t want to spend three months away from the woman he loves” in all caps with a hundred exclamation points at the end.
Kyoshi smiled as she read as much off him. She didn’t really need to read his mind as much as his face and body language, because hers was a mirror image of his. She didn’t want to spend time away from him either.
“What are you planning?”
“Honestly, I want to keep training. I know I did well enough on the finals that I think I’ll make it back, but I need to be stronger. Strongmen are a dime a dozen. If I want to make it into junior year I’ve got to be at my best and figure out new uses for my ability.”
“Mason.” She placed a hand on either side of his face to make sure he was looking at her. “If you don’t get to become a Hero then none of us should.” She meant that with all her heart. “You are kind, considerate, compassionate, strong, courageous, and a selfless person. There is no better future Hero out there than you.”
“Except you.” Mason’s reply made Kyoshi blush scarlet.
“Let’s just agree to disagree on that point.” They both smiled at each other.
“But the summer?” Mason brought them back on point.
“Well, you need to see your grandmother,” Kyoshi stated.
“And you need to see your parents,” Mason reminded her of her own commitments.
“You have to drive back home in that beater and I’ve got to fly.” Kyoshi outlined their travel arrangements.
“So how about this.” Kyoshi adopted a thinker’s pose. “Let’s road trip up the east coast to Brooklyn. We can take our time, see some sites, and spend quality time together. Once we hit New York, we’ll stay for a few weeks and spend time with your grandmother. You can introduce me to your boxing coach and I can build on my hand-to-hand skills by training with a new opponent. Plus, I’ve got a technique I want us to try out that could be really cool.”
Mason nodded fervently. Any extra time he got to spend with his girlfriend was time well spent in his mind.
“After we do some time in New York. We’ll fly out to see my parents. If you want a strongman to train you and teach you some new tricks there is no one better than my father. Don’t worry.” She saw Mason pale a shade or two at the mention of training with the famous German Hero. Of all the boys I ever brought home he likes you the best.”
“You brought a lot of boys home?” He didn’t get an answer, just a coy smile.
“Well, sound like a plan?” She raised an eyebrow, daring him to come up with something better.
“Nope, you’ve always got the best ideas.” Mason settled for hugging her close and thinking about how the next few months could go.
It could be awesome. They could learn more about each other, their families, and how they were together outside a school environment. Of course, it could also be awful, but he highly doubted it. He’d never met a woman quite like Kyoshi Schultz, and he knew how to hold on to a good thing when he had it.
“Ok, it’s a date then.”
“A three-month date.”
They both smiled and exchanged a brief kiss as the double doors opened and they were released for the summer.
The hospital hallway parted like the red sea as the two teenage Supers made a beeline for each other. They collided just beyond the crowded nurses’ station. Arms and lips locked while tears flowed freely.
“I thought I’d never see you again.” Anika held Becca tight and squeezed. If Becca had been human she probably would have broken a rib or two.
“I just woke up and you were gone.” Becca chuckles were mildly hysterical, and she kept stroking Anika’s arms to convince herself she was real.
“I’m never going anywhere ever again.” Anika gripped her even tighter.
“I’m sorry to say, but that isn’t exactly true,” a familiar voice spoke from just behind them.
Despite the relief, both women were on edge, and both rounded on the voice determined to protect the other.
“Easy there,” the woman held up her hands to show she had no bad intentions. “I’m the DVA agent assigned to get Ms. Kemps home safe.”
“Wait, you’re the one who talked to us after Angela…” Becca let the sentence trail off. If this was the woman then she knew why she’d been there.
“Yes, I’m Agent Phillips.” She pulled out her badge for good measure.
“You’re taking me home?” Anika repeated with a raised eyebrow.
“That’s what my plane ticket says.” The agent flashed two plastic slips.
“You’re a smart girl, Ms. Kemps.” The agent pocketed her badge and the tickets. “You were the target of all of this.”
Like someone hit the unmute button on a TV, Anika and Becca suddenly realized what was happening all around them. There was organized pandemonium. A constant stream of victims with everything from minor lacerations to burns covering a large portion of their body were everywhere. Beds with groaning patients were starting to stack up in the hallways. The nurses all looked harried and frantic, and the doctors had noticeable stress lines. This was a hospital after a disaster.
“I didn’t want all of this to happen.” Anika unknowingly grabbed Becca’s hand and squeezed. “I just didn’t want to go back.”
“Don’t let your mind go that way.” The agent took a step closer and placed her hand on Anika’s shoulder. “You were a victim of this just like everyone else.”
“But all these people. And the bad guys?” Anika looked to the DVA agent for some sign that they’d captured her psychotic father.
“We put down most of the terrorists. Captured a few, and a few got away. I’m sorry Anika, but that’s why I’m taking you home.”
“Can’t you pump the ones you got for information. You’ve got all those interrogation techniques. Find out where that butthead is and get him.” Becca’s face was fierce as she thought of any plan to save her girlfriend.
“That’s not how it works. We can’t just…”
“Did you get her?” Anika cut the agent off.
“Did you get her?” Anika asked again forcefully.
The DVA agent looked around like she was making sure no one was eavesdropping. “Yes, we got her.”
“I want to talk to her.”
“Absolutely not.” Agent Phillips put her foot down. “We’re still building a case against her. Lawyers will come by for your testimony, but until then you will not be seeing Wraith.”
“You guys caught Wraith. Awesome!” Becca squeaked in delight. “What did she do in all of this?”
“She’s the one that drugged you and kidnapped me.” Anika stated before Agent Phillips could tell her to zip it.
“Drugged me…But there was no one else there but you, me, and…” Her eyes went wide. “OH MY GOD!”
Agent Phillips gave them both a stern looked that in no uncertain words told them to shut up, but Anika still managed to mouth, “I told you so” to Becca.
<Always trust your gut.> Anika would never make that mistake again.
“We need to get going.” The DVA agent looked at her watch. “It’s a commercial flight out of Daytona since Orlando is pretty much a smoldering wreck now. So we’ve got a drive and then a long set of flights ahead of us.”
“What about our stuff.”
“Your stuff will be shipped to the new address.”
“My stuff?” Anika asked.
“New address?” Becca followed up.
“Ms. Kemps.” The DVA agent lowered he voice. “Like I said before. You were the target. The DVA is taking all necessary measures to protect you going forward, and that means WITSEC is moving your whole family to a new location.”
“And…” Becca wasn’t reading between the lines because she considered herself practically family.
“Ms. Whitfield will not be able to join us.” The older woman finally had to spell it out.
“The hell I ain’t.” Becca looked ready to speedily put her foot up someone’s ass.
“Hey.” Anika touched the blue-haired speedster’s arm and she relaxed a bit. “They just want to get me moved and get me settled. Then I’ll call you and we can meet up.” Anika glared at the DVA agent, daring her to say that even that wasn’t allowed.
Agent Phillips put up her hands again in a clear “I’m not getting in the middle of this” motion.
“But what about our summer of plaid?” Becca deflated, and new tears threatened to leak from the corners of her eyes. “We had it all planned out.”
“It’s going to be the half-summer of something new.” Anika tried to make the situation better. “Maybe it’ll be sun dresses. Maybe it’ll be copious amounts of SPF 50. Maybe we’ll have to get you some stylish parkas.” Anika smiled as Becca giggled at that one. “Whatever it is, wherever I am, I’ll be with you soon. I promise.”
Anika pulled her smaller girlfriend closer and locked lips for an explosive kiss.
“I’m going to hold you to that.” Becca replied breathless some undeterminable amount of time later.
“Count on it, babe.” Anika gave her one last hand squeeze and turned to Agent Phillips.
“Ok, lead the way.”
The still unclassified teenage super wasn’t looking forward to spending half her summer packing and moving out of Montana and into a new identity, but she’d do anything to stay away from her father.
<And anything to keep Becca safe.> There was that too, because what happened between her, Becca, and Liz was never going to happen again.
A black SUV with thick tinted windows had driven up to townhouse 117 and asked for Seth to come with them. It wasn’t as much a question as an order, and Seth had been in the HCP long enough to know when to just say yes and do what he was told. He didn’t know the two guys in suits who accompanied him on the ride back, but they both had pistols in holsters on their hips.
“Any chance you can tell me what the hell is going on?” He just got a shake of the head from the suit in the passenger seat.
The drive from West Private University downtown didn’t show a lot of what had gone down. For the most part, things didn’t look so bad. There was a lot of smoke in the air from the fire that was now under control in the north, so everything had a haze to it.
Occasionally, they’d come across a building or structure that looked like it should be in the middle of a Syrian warzone, not Orlando. They were ridden with bullet holes, had all their windows blown out, and large chunks of masonry missing where something a little stronger than 5.56 rounds had smashed into it. And those were the lucky ones. A few buildings were nothing more than a pile of rubble.
The driver seemed to be taking a round-a-bout way to their destination, because they seemed to pass by every building like that. Finally, they ducked into a garage next to a building identified as police headquarters, and went underground into a full motor pool full of everything from more SUVs to armored vehicles.
The vehicles looked like they could use some TLC. Some were covered in dust or ash depending on where they’d been deployed. Others had bullet holes, and a few looked like they’d had to been towed back here. A big vehicle with SWAT written on the side of it in white looked like its whole front end had exploded.
<Is that blood?> Seth didn’t have time to ask before the two suits walked him over to an elevator and hit the button for the top floor.
They emerged into a madhouse. Phones were ringing off the hooks, people were yelling into those phones, yelling for other people to shut up, running around with paperwork stacked up to their shoulders, or running in full tactical gear to get somewhere. Seth had to flatten himself again a wall as a squad of SWAT officers ran past looking ready for war.
Seth didn’t even see the man appear. He was old, exquisitely dressed, and wearing a mask. But most importantly the suits deferred to him.
“I’ll take it from here.”
The man didn’t grab him and haul him away, which Seth got the impression he wanted to do, but he pointed impatiently toward a steel door across the room.
“My name is, Mr. Morningstar. I’m the leader of the Protectorate, the…”
“I know what the Protectorate is.” Seth cut him off. “Galavant came to talk to us earlier this year.”
If the interruption made the man angry he didn’t show it. “Very well. Follow me.” Without any pomp or circumstance, he pushed open the steel door and led the way into a dark room.
“Back for more, Morningwood.” A half-crazed voice laughed. “For a veteran Hero, your attempts have been pretty pathetic so far. How’d they let someone as incompetent as you run this joint?”
“I have my moments.” Mr. Morningstar replied calmly, but Seth saw his posture tighten at the insults. “Like right now. I brought you a guest.”
“I don’t want to see anyone.” The other voice immediately became wary. “Take them away.”
“You don’t make the rules, Wraith.”
<Holy shit they caught Wraith!> Seth’s eyes bulged and he looked at Mr. Morningstar.
The man waved Seth forward. He wanted Seth to see.
Seth couldn’t lie, this had tickled his curiosity. After writing a paper about the villain there was a certain amount of natural intrigue. Seth wanted to know all about this recently famous villain.
He stepped up to the cell, he hadn’t noticed this was a jail until Wraith’s name had been brought up, and the lights of the cell flickered on. The villain was sitting with her back to him. She had tucked herself into a corner and was showing no signs of wanting to interact.
“Hello, Wraith.” He saw his voice made her visibly stiffen.
“Go away!” The villain grunted.
“I’ve got to say I never thought they were going to catch you. I wrote a paper on you.” He left the HCP part out. “I thought you had them all outsmarted. No one knew who you were, or anything more than you were female between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five.”
He got no reply.
“So how’d they catch you? Please, I’m dying to know.” A little bit of haughty swagger had crept into his voice.
“Go away!” she grunted again.
“Now…now…Wraith. Where are your manners? Engage with the boy. He wants to know all about you.”
Somehow, things seemed to have flip-flopped in the last few minutes. For some reason, Mr. Morningstar held the power now, and he literally had the villain cowering in the corner.
“Go away!” This time it was a feminine scream, not a grunt, and something about it tickled his memory.
“No, Wraith. You brought this on yourself. Or should I call you…”
“NO!” The woman whirled around and threw herself against the barrier.
She bounced off it like a rubber ball hitting concrete and sprawled on the floor temporarily dazed. As soon as she got control of herself she rolled back onto her stomach.
But not before Seth caught a glimpse of a familiar cheekbone, an eye he’d looked into most nights over the past six months, and lips that he’d kissed a thousand times before.
“There is it.” Mr. Morningstar sounded cruel as Seth stumbled backwards in shock. “Now you see the truth.”
“No!” Liz threw herself against the barrier again, fully revealing herself, and the metal collar they had locked around her neck.
“L…Liz.” Seth felt like a strongman had sucker punched him in the gut. His legs gave out and he conveniently collapsed right into a waiting chair.
A chair on wheels which was then immediately rolled right up to the barrier and his crying girlfriend.
“No, Seth. No!” She was frantically pounding on the barrier trying to get to him.
“Yes, Seth. Yes.” Mr. Morningstar squatted just to his right. “Ms. Aretino here has been infiltrating the HCP since the day you met. Earlier today, she drugged Rebecca Whitfield and kidnapped Anika Kemps on behalf of the man who attacked this city. She killed two ForceOps soldiers that we know of, fired rocket propelled grenades into a residential neighborhood, and led Heroes into an ambush that resulted in death and serious injuries to members of that team. My team.” The Hero’s voice had dropped to a predatory growl by the time he finished.
“No! Don’t listen to him, Seth. That’s not the whole story. It isn’t all true. Please! PLEASE!”
Seth didn’t know what to think. But he knew he was in shock. All he could do was look into Liz’s wet chocolate eyes. Eyes that looked so different and yet so similar to the eyes he’d gazed into as they made love.
“Why?” He managed to mumble after a minute.
Liz seemed to have an emotional breakdown at the word. She cried, kicked, screamed, and tried to tear the metal collar from her throat. She alternated between threatening Mr. Morningstar and profusely apologizing to Seth. It just made things more confusing.
“I can’t be here.” Seth finally got up and looked around for the door.
“Please, Seth. PLEASE. He’s trying to turn you against me. I love you. I’ve always loved you. Nothing in the world can change that. Please, just please don’t give up on me. Don’t listen to them. I LOVE YOU!”
Seth couldn’t listen anymore. He half walked, half stumbled toward the door. His chest felt tight and his head was swimming. He barely made it out of the room before he puked all over the floor. There were a few startled gaps as people took evasive action to avoid the filth, but everyone was too busy to stop, or even ask if he was ok.
“I’m sorry you had to see that.” Mr. Morningstar emerged behind him. Cutting off Liz’s continued screams as he shut and sealed the door.
“No, you’re not.” Seth straightened up, feeling a hollowness in his stomach and chest.
Mr. Morningstar didn’t reply.
“You wanted me to see that. You wanted to break her. You used me. At least give me the courtesy of being truthful.”
“We need to break her down so we can get all the information she knows about other very bad people. You’re training to be a Hero, Mr. Abney. This is part of the job.”
Seth didn’t know how to answer that. “Can I go now? I’ve got things to pack before I head home for the summer.”
“Yes,” Mr. Morningstar straightened his tie. “Congratulations on completing your first year. The gentlemen who brought you will take you home.”
Whatever townhouse 117 had been, it wasn’t home now. Seth had just had everything he knew and loved turned on its head. He hoped this was all a bad dream and he’d wake up in bed with Liz, preferably on some tropical island midway into their summer break.
He waited for it, but nothing happened.
So he took one step, and then another, and then a third toward the door. He didn’t know what the fuck he was going to do, but he didn’t want to be here, and he didn’t want to be sober.
All he wanted to do was forget the last ten minutes had ever happened.
The smoke from the fires had cleared just the other day, so the sun was able to rise into a cloudless sky. It was going to be hot. Spring had officially become summer, and summer in Orlando led to swamp ass and proliferous BO.
<I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.> Daisy stood at the entrance to the hospital and took a deep breath.
She thought about where she’d been a year ago, and where she was now. She’d been practically a homeless vagabond, drinking herself to death and not able to do what she had been born to do. Now she was back in action. She was teaching the next generation of Heroes, and she was still able to help this city when it needed her.
New York City would always be home, but this place wasn’t too bad. And a big part of that had to do with the man inside this building.
She exhaled the deep breath, and marched into the build. The nurse at the desk waved her through before disappearing to be anywhere else. Doctors scattered at her approach. She had a reputation in this place.
She smiled to herself as she found the room and knocked softly. If he was asleep she didn’t want to wake him. She popped the door open a tad and looked in.
Topher was sitting on his bed, his chest wrapped tight, and watching the boxy TV hanging from the wall. He looked over at her and smiled that smile that made her heart flutter.
“Please tell me you brought a hamburger. This hospital food is going to kill me.”
They both grinned at each other as Daisy pulled a paper bag from behind her back.
“That’s my girl.”
Topher had faced his own difficulties during the terrorist attack. He’d been in a raid against a jihadist strongpoint that had left another cop dead and two more shot. Topher had taken a round to the vest. His vest had stopped it, but the AK’s 7.62 round broke three ribs in the process.
“Wait.” She pulled the bag away from him and put a finger to her lips. “Payment first.”
She leaned down so he didn’t have to strain himself, but the kiss was anything but restrained. Topher even worked his hands around to her butt.
She playfully slapped it away and got a dramatized grimace for her trouble.
“Shut up and eat your hamburger.” She handed over the bag, and he dug into it like a little kid trying to find the hidden toy inside.
<Life could be worse.> She took her customary seat next to the bed, their hands found each other’s, and they spent the afternoon watching the TV and talking.
Despite everything that had happened. The detox, the adaption to a new environment, getting her memories back, being slapped on the wrist by the DVA not once but twice, being given back temporary Hero authority for a bit, and nearly getting killed by Seif al-Din after he stated he wanted to make god-like babies with her.
<It’s been a hell of a year.> But sitting in the hospital room with Topher was worth it. <So much for a change of pace.>
She wondered what would happen next year.
End of Season 1