Homecoming (Peter-4)


BANG!

Legion has her back to the rest of the gym, legs spread in a wide stance, her right arm extended parallel to the ground.  The small pistol in her hand is still smoking.  I am just in time to see the plume of red spread out behind Joan’s head.  Her pony tail is gone.

She falls back, not in a graceful arc.  More like a rag doll filled with rocks.  Her head makes a hollow thud when it hits the stage.  Legion adjusts her aim and shoots the girl twice more in the chest, more for the fun of watching her body twitch than to make sure she is dead.  I feel a keen pain blossom in my chest, but the task is not complete.  I must put off grief for the sake of the children.

I can’t see Lady Fabulous.  I can see the other hybrid, uniform stained dark now, stepping up to confront the demon.  I should feel uneasy about this.  If Legion defeats this last hero, she will have her choice of powerful hosts.  Yet, inside I feel an unexpected sigh of relief and a prod to help the children.  Not one to ignore logical advice, I hurry over to the small group of teenagers.  I can see now the glazed eyes that mean they have been enthralled in order to keep them in line.  One by one, I place a hand on their heads and watch awareness return, which I temper with calm.  Panic will not help in any way.  A single chaperone has survived, a stocky man in a badly fitting suit.

“Take them outside,” I say quietly to him, letting the full force of my healing cushion his mind.  “Keep them safe.”  He nods blearily and with just a hint of authority, commands the children to follow him.  By the time they have climbed over the rubble and out into the frigid air, the fight on the stage is over.  I feel Legion depart.  Last task done, I at last take those few hurried steps and I am holding Joan in my arms.

Poor child.  She is so young.  No older than the other victims here tonight, but I feel her death keenly.  I remember how old she seemed when I first met her ten years ago.  Those ancient eyes staring at me, already well versed in violence and the hunt.  And since then, time and again, finding her when she needed me.  So many times when her life was in my hands and I always saved her.  Always.  I am trying so hard to hold back grief.  After all, I barely knew her, saw her a half-dozen times over the last decade.  She’s just a hybrid, barely human.  It is better now.  She can stop fighting and rest.

I tell myself this.  All perfectly logical.  But the rage still roars out of my throat.  She didn’t have to die like this, cut down like a rabid dog.  Why did I hesitate?  Why didn’t I dispatch all of them?  I could have.  I know that.  It would have been selfish and dangerous, but I could have.

“Hey!” whisper-yells the lone hero, tossing aside a bloody lump from his clenched fist.  “Get out of here, now.  If she wakes up and you’re still here, you’re dead.  Understand?”

I don’t really, but some primitive part of my mind kicks in and drags me from the stage with Joan’s body clutched in my arms.  I head for the nearest door, one leading back into the school.  It is chained shut, but falls open at my touch.  I get us both back into the dark hallway before whatever had been pushing me along gives out.  I lean against a wall and slide down, cradling the girl gingerly, now.  I am unsure of how long I sit there, but it is long enough for calm to reclaim control and a dangerous plan to form.

There is that roar again of a motorcycle meaning Lady Fabulous is conscious and leaving the gym.  Moments later, the other hero strides into the hallway.

“Alright, just who are you and why did you come here?” he demands.

“I’m Peter and this is, was Joan,” I say, feeling a little numb.  “She, she brought me here.  To help.”  Without a word, he wrenches Joan from my limp grasp and starts heading away from the gym towards the other wing of the school.  I scurry to my feet and follow, ignoring the return of all those creaky joints I have been ignoring for the last hour.

I can bring her back, I think, watching her feet bob limply ahead of me.  The hero heads straight passed a library and quite a few exit signs, aiming for a door with a large bolt on it and a caution sign.  A single kick crumples the barrier and we enter a part of the school that appears to be under construction.  Here there are no lights and I realize why I was unconcerned about this hero fighting Legion.  In the darkness, I can finally See his wings.  They glow dimly before me, like wisps of smoke in the glare of a weak flashlight.  They are black and leathery, like most of the demons I have encountered, though far more vast.  And yet, I can perceive white feathers sprouting from the spines.  He is so much more than a mere hybrid.

He leads me without hesitation through the darkness, taking turns through the directionless maze almost as though he has been here before.  I follow as near as I can, fearing to lose him if the darkness fails, strange as that my sound.  At last, we reach one last door, which he unceremoniously kicks clear off its hinges so forcefully, it becomes imbedded in a tree ten feet away.  After a moment of disorientation, I realize we have come out on the far side of the school, away from the emergency vehicles, whose lights I can see reflected on the great cement stadium far on my right.

“Give her to me.  I can help her,” I say, happy that I have actually regained my control.

“There’s no use,” the hero says, reluctantly handing her back to me.  I ignore him.  She has not been dead for very long.  Nothing compared to four days.  I look down upon my friend and for one giddy moment, note the look of surprise on her face.  Then I close my eyes and concentrate on calling her back.  Inside, there is no complaint or scolding.  He approves, at least, though I doubt very much if I could manage it without His approval.  It takes forever and no time at all.  Come back Joan.  Not dead but sleeping.  It is not your time.

When she gasps for air I nearly jump out of my skin.  The wounds in her chest have scabbed over.  I focus a few seconds longer, making sure that her mind is completely repaired.  Her other wounds will heal with time.  I cannot do anymore right now.  She tries to sit up but I draw her into my arms instead and weep a few tears of exhausted joy.  Oh, tomorrow is going to be a very painful day, but it is worth it.

I am aware that there have been noises around me and when I finally turn my attention back to the mundane world, the hero has dispatched one last demon that had been lurking in the forest and I recognize Bernadette and her brother coming out of the trees.  Then Bernadette appears to swoon.  She probably saw the demon depart the host.  Poor girl is still adjusting to her Sight.  Her brother manages to catch her, though and I turn my attention back to the hero.

“How did you do that?” he demands, standing up and waving a gloved hand at Joan.

“She’s very weak.  Can you help me take her to my car?  I have to get her someplace where she can rest or she will fade again.” I don’t know why this hero is helping us.  We are vigilantes by his rules.  And yet, here we are.

He seems to be thinking, though it is difficult to tell with that face plate.  His face is completely obscured by it.  “Give her here.  I have a device that will help.”

On instinct, I hesitate.  It could be some sort of trick, but it seems unlikely at this point and I am getting some internal encouragement to trust him.  This could be the start of something really important.  So I stand up and pass my vulnerable young friend over to the enemy.

He says, “I’ll keep her safe and contact you soon.”  I don’t ask how he will find me.  He seems like the type of person that specializes in locating people.  I just nod and watch as he lifts silently into the sky.  It really is unnerving watching someone fly without any means of support.

Benjamin decides that he would rather investigate the school than wait for me to awaken his sister.  I consider trying to deter him, but realize that the danger has passed and he is responsible for his own choices.  Bernadette comes around after a few brief words on my part.  I position myself between her and the body, plop down on the grass and begin considering what I should do next.  I am not entirely certain about this hero.  My instinct is to trust him, but logic dictates that I be prepared regardless.

Benjamin returns, pale and sick.  Well, I can’t imagine what he was expecting to do here.  He is a boy with no visible gift, which is a little odd now that I consider it.  Surely the twins couldn’t be that divergent.  Bernadette is on her feet and the twins begin sniping at each other.  Why would he try to help us?  It truly does not make any sense.  Yes, we helped and I might have saved his life, but from what I have seen, circumstances like this tend to make the offense worse.  No hero wants to be saved by an “amateur.”

I wish I had been paying better attention.  Perhaps if I had decided to take the children away from the school directly instead of taking some time to get my breath back, but it is no use wishing to change what has already happened.  I don’t notice until it is too late that Bernadette is in a queer mood.  With an impish glance in my direction, she bolts through the gaping doorway and into the school.  Old and tired as I am, it takes too long to gain my feet and hurry after her and Benjamin is still being ill in the dead leaves.  My voice echoes in the darkness, calling to her in vain.  The hallway I follow is pitch black, but straight and eventually I come to a door still ajar from her passing.  I take some time to catch my breath for what feels like the tenth time tonight.  I am too old for all this running.

When Bernadette starts screaming, I force myself to start running again, following the broad hallway in the hopes that at some point it will lead me to her.  I unexpectantly run into the cafeteria, grateful to have found something familiar.  I can see the gym door caty-corner from where I am.  Just as I wind up to weave through the tables, the door whips open and out sprints the girl, herself.  She doesn’t see me at all, nearly running me over in her panic, but I manage to catch her.  She struggles briefly, trying to free herself from me.  I persevere, using my power to try to calm her, though the effort almost makes me pass out.  My inner support responds with enough strength for me to get her out of the school and back to her brother.

“The police will start canvasing the perimeter and interior of the school to ensure none of the bad guys escaped,” I gasp when I see Benjamin.  “We all need to leave here.”

“What the fuck did you do to her?” he demands with his usual hostility.  Bernadette is leaning heavily on me, dazed and possibly slipping into shock.  I have no more reserves to offer her.

“We need to get her home, Benjamin.”  He is determined to hate me, but that is not easy for anyone to do in my case.  He is more concerned for his sister and since they are twins, I have a suspicion that he will be able to help her recover better than me at the moment.

He grunts in irritation, but drapes her left arm around his shoulder and picks her up easily.  Almost immediately, her color improves and she starts breathing more normally.  She has the power but he is her strength.  Interesting.

I stay with them, though at a short distance to make the boy more comfortable, for the walk back to their house.  The walk through the woods is dark and cold but I focus instead on the events of the evening.  I will have to do some research.  I was unaware that Lady Fabulous had a sidekick, yet there he was, capable of taking out a horde of mindless puppet demons and still strong enough to defeat one of the chief demons of the Void at the peak of her power.  So not just a side kick.  I had thought I was brought here for tonight’s battle, to face down Legion.  Now I wonder if this hero is my true mission.

I leave the twins at their back door, following the road back down to where the car is dutifully waiting.  In the distance, I can see the lights of the emergency vehicles.  One more prayer, for the children and their families.  The key turns in the ignition.  After a few sickly coughs, the car grumbles into life and I follow a different road home.  Yes, tomorrow I shall think of all these new developments.  Tonight, I shall sleep deeply.

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