He is drenched in sweat, his dark hair spiked comically, though his expression is not of humor. He bears the vague look of someone thoroughly satisfied as he gazes dreamily up at the ceiling far above him.

She lies next to him, face similarly composed though barely a sheen of sweat on her brow can bear witness to earlier exertions. One might assume that this means his actions more vigorous than her’s, or his enjoyment greater. But one might assume a great many things in such a setting.

“You should tell her about us,” the girl speaks suddenly, breaking what had been a comfortable silence.  His brow furrows over his long, thin nose and a crease appears on either side of his mouth.  This, it appears, is all the answer he is willing to give.  After a few moments of further silence, the girl turns her large hazel eyes on his face.  “Andrew, she has a right to know.”

“Does she?” he bursts, a little venomously.  This is not a new subject.  They have discussed it many times before.  Andrew is not eager to discuss it again so he decides to retreat.  He picks himself up off the floor and snags a clean towel off the rack nearby.  With his back turned to the still reclined girl, he rubs the towel vigorously over his damp hair and then puts it to work down his arms and bare torso.  She is not one to let sleeping dogs lie, however.  She is still deficient in the social training that would have her keep silent on a delicate subject.

“Yes, she does.  She is your girl friend, after all,” she replies as she, too, leaves the floor.

Andrew tosses the towel angrily at the rack and spits, “And your best friend.  I don’t see you racing to break it to her, Susan.”

Susan hesitates, unsure of how to proceed.  “I could, if you would prefer,” she says softly, adopting the tone she was trained to use in negotiations.

The anger seems to drain away from his hunched shoulders.  With a sigh he says, “I don’t see why she needs to know anything.  It will only hurt her.”

“Ah, but if she discovers the truth from another source, will that not hurt her more?”

“She won’t find out.”  Though he sounds confident, he really isn’t.  “Besides,” he continues, trying to convince himself as well as Susan, “she wouldn’t understand.”

“I don’t think there is anything in this world that Brianne cannot understand.  She is one of the most brilliant women we know.”

“Yeah, well, being smart and being rational are two very different things, sweetheart.”  His sarcasm is uncharacteristic.  If this continues, he is going to say something to hurt her and he won’t be able to help it.  Fortunately for the both of them, a distraction has been provided.

There is a loud bang from the lower level of Susan’s lair.  The upper level, the one Susan and Andrew are bickering on, is a gym with a floor covered in mats and walls lined with weights, balls, and various other exercise tools along with a single shower stall and a deep sink.  Along the roofline is a series of arching windows that give a three hundred and sixty degree view of the city, including the sunrise in the south-west.  The first noise had stunned the two, but the second reminds them why they were both there at such an early hour.  Susan had brought home a stray.

Susan flies across the floor and then down into the corridor that followed the north and part of the east walls of her secret lair and connects to the rest of Susan’s penthouse apartment.  One last crash and Susan has to quickly dodge the lid of the healing chamber where a certain patient had been so recently sleeping.  The chamber, nicknamed “The Tomb” by her gadget guy, had been a rectangular, steel box with a clear lid and more buttons and blinking lights than any device ever needs.  It was designed to accelerate the natural healing process, in case Susan did not have the leisure to grow bones back at her own pace.  She never uses it because her healing and regenerative capabilities are so far advanced.  Now, looking upon the dented and smoking mess it has become, Susan wonders if she may ever use it.

Crouching next to the wreck is Joan, looking confused and angry.  Her large, yellow-green eyes flit about in a panicked, trapped-animal kind of way.  This is a delicate situation that requires finesse and charm, two talents Susan is extraordinarily deficient in.  Hovering inches over the floor littered with splintered metal and glass, Susan pauses.  Why did she bring this vigilante here?

“Why the hell did you bring her here?” whispers Andrew in an angry hiss.  He, too, is made wary by the girl.  Rather than turn his back to her, he risks walking down the ladder facing her and nearly looses his footing.  He doesn’t have the option of floating above the mess, though, and the debris scrapes under his bare feet.

“I do not rightly know my reasoning.  I did not expect her to wake for at least an hour.  The tranquilizers are rather strong.”  It is becoming apparent that Joan is crouching not to spring, but because the effects of the machine have not fully worn off.  Panic gave her the strength to free herself from the device but all she is left with now is adrenaline quickly wearing off.

“Well, does she speak English?” Andrew asks, not attempting to hide his distaste for the situation.

“Um,” is the response.

“You mean you don’t know?”

“Not as such, no.”

“She knows who you are, though, right?  That you’re a friend?”

“Well,” she hesitates.

“Damn it, Susan!  You brought a rogue vigilante into your secret lair, stripped her and tranqued her so that she would wake up in a strange environment with strange people!  Why the hell did you drag me into this?”  As he is yelling, Joan focuses on him and begins to growl, a surprisingly threatening sound from her human looking face.

“Keep your voice down!” Susan insists.  “I asked you here because you have a gift with wild animals.”

Andrew gives her a dirty look and then crouches down to eye level with the girl.  Even with all the nutrients the machine was pumping her with, she looks dangerously thin.  “Your name is Joan, yes?  I am Peter’s friend,” he lies.  Having only heard of Peter when Susan told him the whole grisly adventure an hour ago, he feels a white lie can be forgiven in the circumstances.  “He sent you with my friend Susan so that you would have a safe place to heal from your injuries.”  He speaks calmly and clearly, slowing down his speech and reaching out with his power.  He can feel her agitation, her fear and, strongest of all, her rage.  She does not like being put in a corner.

It occurs to Susan, as she observes Andrew work, that the girl might be suffering from memory loss of some sort.  A gun shot wound to the head might leave all kinds of damage that won’t simply fix itself.  She considers mentioning this to her friend, thinking it might help in his endeavor, then decides against it.

“You were,” he hesitates on the word ‘dead’ and goes with, “hurt,” instead.  “The blonde woman shot you, but Peter healed you.”  Quite an understatement, but Peter could deal with the nasty details if he wanted.  All Andrew cared for right now was for the girl to stop looking at him like he might be lunch.

More soothing words and Joan’s eyelids droop and her irises darken, which he isn’t expecting.  Her heart rate slows to almost a normal pace and her breathing steadies.  At one point, Susan decides to drift a bit closer and is snarled at by Joan, revealing her sharp-looking teeth.  After a few more calming entreaties from Andrew, however, she calms down entirely.  It is another few moments and he has coaxed her back into a healing sleep.

He carries her through a secret panel in the wall, through Susan’s walk-in closet, and deposits the girl on Susan’s plush, queen-sized bed.  A spare comforter is draped over her nude form and he quietly departs the way he came to find Susan busily sweeping up the broken bits of machinery.  The soft whoosh of the sliding panel alerts her to his return.

“So why did you bring a dangerous vigilante into your secret lair?”  With everything calmed down again, his curiosity has peaked.  This behavior is completely out of character for her.  “There are any number of laws you broke, not to mention entire paragraphs of the Code and the Oath you took when you became the Alpha-in-training.”

“Your point?” she asks and dumps a pan full of shards into the hidden trash bin.

“My point is that you might as well put up a banner that says, ‘Collar Me!  I want to be a drooling vegetable the rest of my miserable life!’  This leniency towards a vigilante is,” he starts but is interrupted by a rare bout of anger from her.

“What?  Careless?  Stupid?  Naive?  Or just plain dangerous?”

“I was going to say compassionate,” he interjects with a lazy smile.  “But all those other sentiments apply as well.  Taken all together, this is very unlike you, Susan.”  She scowls and he grins, happy to have distracted her from their earlier fight.  Rather than risk further disagreement, he quickly ascends a nearby ladder to the upper level and is soon heard turning on the shower.

The mess cleaned up as much as possible, Susan turns to a large flat screen on the eastern wall and pulls down a panel that turns out to be a computer keyboard.

<Pull up visual file of male vigilante, Peter, unknown surname.>

<Run facial recognition program.>

Peter’s grim face from last night is juxtaposed against millions of photographic files for a few minutes while Susan changes into some loose yoga pants and a tank top.  She ignores her reflection in the full-sized mirror next to the changing room as she always does.  She has come to accept that no amount of posing or varied angles will change her boyish hips and flat chest into the womanly curves of other girls her age.  Logically, she knows it shouldn’t bother her since her figure is best suited to her lifestyle.  Still, a girl likes to dream.

The computer gives a silent pulse when it has finished its search.  Whenever possible, she avoids bells and whistles in her sound-proofed lair.  Her ears get enough damage in the real world without alarms in her sanctum.  If she could find a way to use scents as alarm systems, she’d truly be happy.

On the right side of the screen is a driver’s licence.  Peter Rupez.  A few more documents show his acquisition of a derelict apartment complex and applications for contracts to repair and upgrade the building.  A few local news bits about the community center he helped to start.  As she scrolls through his history, she notices definite gaps in time.  There are months where he disappears entirely off the records only to appear again among philanthropic endeavors as though he had been there all along.  He seems unable to go any amount of time without trying to help people.  This makes Susan instantly suspicious of a guilty conscience.

Then, pay dirt.  Under suspicion of murder twenty years ago.  Excommunicated from the Catholic Church for performing unsanctioned exorcisms.  Hard to imagine the church denying any opportunity to torture a soul to heaven.  He spent six months in an asylum and then he disappeared without a trace.  Interesting.

The shower turns off above her and Susan hurries to download the apartment address into her phone.  Andrew can keep Joan down with his powers while she goes to find out just who and what she is dealing with.


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