Failure. Loser. Worthless. Ever since he decided to be a vigilante, Ryaan Asfour has spent hours going over how this day would play out in his head. He ran through a lot of possibilities but they all ended the same way. He knows what he can do and he never imagined he wouldn’t be able to pull this off. Walking back to the front of the testing facility, it’s all he can do to keep from crying.
He put everything he had into trying out for the Vigilantes Making Us Safe (VMUS) Act. He used virtually every dollar to his name to get the equipment. He went out and got a fake ID showing he was old enough. He lied to his family. What else could he have done?
The only reason he’s involved in this program is a desire to keep people safe. Too many of the newly minted vigilantes hitting the streets are harassing people, threatening them, even killing innocents who are just trying to get home each night. That has to stop. Someone has to protect these people from the people who are supposed to be protecting them. He thought he could be that person.
Right now the only thing he wants to be involved with is a bed. His back’s burning from being shot with a rubber bullet at close range. They warned him how dangerous this could be, the volunteer shouldn’t have been shooting that close. It all happened so fast that he didn’t realize what happened initially. There was pain but nothing like it is now. It’s growing by the moment. With the test over, there’s nothing left to distract him.
The earliest people to sign up for the program didn’t need to take a test. Why didn’t he sign up sooner? He’d have signed some forms and been on his way. Now he has to wait another month to try again. That’s way too long. Another month of these lunatics running around wreaking havoc and he’s not sure there’s going to be anything left to protect.
Reentering the facility’s indoor offices, he’s taken to a small room where the gear he wasn’t allowed to use is stored. Everything used on the test has to be nonlethal. Opponents here aren’t criminals, they’re innocent volunteers. It’s hard enough to convince them to come in and potentially be beaten up or knocked out. They weren’t going to volunteer to have knives thrown at them.
There has to be another way. Once his knives are back in their holsters, Ryaan starts searching the facility for someone he can appeal to. There’s a guard watching over the room with confiscated gear so he starts there. “Is there anyone I can talk to about taking the test again sooner, or maybe about an appeal? I was really close and I know I can do this.”
The guard has a kind face and is at least nice while he breaks Ryaan’s heart. “Kid, we all watch the tests and see how they go. You weren’t that close. You got hit because you rushed at the end. The higher ups might have considered an appeal or time extension if you ran out of time. Especially since there were only two volunteers left. Some people only have to take down six. For that many volunteers you actually did alright. You knew time was running down though and you got sloppy.”
He doesn’t want to hear it. Shaking his head, he puts his hands on his hips. “I know, but what choice did I have? I was running out of time.”
“That’s a good sign that you aren’t ready to go out there. That’s why we have the tests. You can retake it in a month and hopefully by then you’ll work it out.”
That’s mostly the answer Ryaan expected but that doesn’t make it easier to accept. “People are getting hurt now. Waiting a month is going to let more people get hurt. They need me. I can help now, let me.”
The guard sighs loudly. He puts a hand on Ryaan’s shoulder. Ryaan considers shaking it off but decides against it. “I’m just talking kid. Guards don’t make those calls. Only the head of the facility can override a failed test and I can tell you he isn’t gonna do it here. If you want to talk to him, I can make that happen, but I can tell you right now you’ll be wasting both of your time. He’s not big on his time being wasted either. Making a big stink out of this is a really good way to make sure that when you come back to take the test next month, you have the hardest possible version waiting for you.”
Feeling broken, Ryaan realizes the only thing he can do is walk away. After a final glance around the room to make sure he isn’t forgetting anything he thanks the guard for his time and looks for the exit.
The original plan was to use the rest of the money from his summer job to get a ride home. Plans change though, now he has to get back to the Chicago suburbs next month to take this test again. It isn’t a cheap trip. Looking into ways he can save, his phone reveals a train station a few miles away. He can walk that.
Removing his mask and his knives from his costume, he sadly slides them into his backpack so everyone on the train doesn’t lose their mind. He considers changing the rest of his suit but decides against it. No one will recognize it. They’ll just think he’s some funny looking foreign guy in funny looking foreign clothes. A lot of them see him that way even if he’s wearing basketball shoes and a Bulls shirt.
The only stop he makes is to search the parking lot and make sure his Uber driver Ralph isn’t waiting outside. The guy dropped him off earlier and he offered to come back to handle the return trip. He’s nowhere to be found and Ryaan can only hope he doesn’t waste his time. He seemed like a nice guy and Ryaan feels bad leaving without seeing him but he can’t afford to pay him at this point even if he does show up.
The ride back to the city’s boring. Staring out the window, there’s nothing to watch except the different neighborhoods, defined by different graffiti or a lack thereof. Listening to his favorite music helps, though only so much. He’d almost be having a good time rocking out if it weren’t for how bad his back feels. Every time the train hits the slightest bump, he feels the sting rock through his body. Since these tracks are going on 100 years old, there are a lot of bumps. He’s nervous to look in a mirror and see how bad the bruising is.
Relieved to finally pull into his home station, he slips off the train. A few eyes follow him but most people don’t even notice his colorful shirt. As slow as he’s moving, he barely manages to hop onto the platform before the doors slide closed. He’s still a few miles from home and his body has tightened enough that walking sounds like torture. Without a good alternative, he sets out anyway.
As he walks through the streets he’s spent most of his life on, Ryaan feels more eyes on him than normal. Apparently this costume draws unwanted attention after all. He ignores them, there’s nothing else to do. He can’t help but wonder about his next steps. He wanted to protect the people he cares about, people who really need him. Because he wasn’t fast enough they’re on their own.
Is this crazy? He’s good with a staff and great with a knife but there are plenty of people who can handle a weapon. Adults, people who are actually allowed to sign up for this program. Why should he get involved? He has the will to do it but right now that doesn’t seem to be enough.
Music blaring in his ears, Ryaan tries to block out the world around him. Let people stare if they want to stare. He won’t notice. The music’s almost loud enough that he doesn’t hear the screaming a street away. Almost. He tries to ignore it when he first realizes what he’s hearing. Not his problem and not that uncommon in the city. The screams continue though and before long, they’re all he can hear. His music might as well not be playing.
Removing his earbuds, Ryaan searches for the source of the screams. It’s definitely a woman and she sounds like she’s on the next street to his left. Hurrying to the next alley, he looks between the buildings for any sign of the source. He can see a bit of the next street but he can’t see any sign of the woman or whatever has her screaming.
Whatever it is, it’s moving away from him and it’s moving fast. He could walk away. That’s the easy thing to do. It’s what he’s supposed to do. He couldn’t even pass a test. If he wants to help people in the neighborhood though there won’t be many better opportunities. Considering his choices, he realizes there’s really no choice. Ryaan starts sprinting down the alley in the direction of the screams.
Reaching the next road, Ryaan’s head darts in all directions. He catches a glimpse of a woman being chased by two men. A feeling of nausea sets in. He recognizes those guys even from behind. Their outfits are hard to forget. It’s the so called, “Goggle Guys”, a pair of idiots named Billy and Jimmy. These morons somehow managed to become licensed vigilantes where he failed miserably. He so hopes these morons registered before the testing started.
These are the guys who beat the crap out of him and left him laying bleeding in the rain. His only crime was trying to protect a family they were threatening. Vigilantes are supposed to protect people but these two don’t have any interest in protecting anyone. They just like running around in the streets waving their guns around.
Even in the city this much screaming doesn’t go unnoticed. Looking at the windows and doors along the road he can see many people watching but nobody’s making a move to help. Ryaan’s first instinct is to blame all of them for letting this happen. They have the power to do something and they hide. Then again, it is scary to start a fight with guys brandishing guns. Especially when they seem eager to use them. His knees feel weak but he’s not sure if it’s from his test or from seeing the Goggle Guys.
Darting back into the alley he came from, Ryaan reaches into his bag and pulls out his mask. He doesn’t want these guys to recognize him. The mask goes over his face while his knives slide into the various pouches built into his costume. Once they’re all in place he tucks his backpack behind the closest dumpster and rushes out of the alley.
They’re pretty far up the street by now but they aren’t moving that fast. They let the girl get a little ahead of them and then hurry to close the distance. They’re toying with her. It doesn’t take Ryaan long to catch up. The girl darts down an alley hoping to lose them but they’re right behind her. As he sees her turn he swears under his breath. She went the wrong way.
The pair won’t stop shouting vile things at her. The larger one named Billy’s closing in on her. “Stop running ya stupid girl. We just want to talk. At least at first.” The last part of this comes with a little bit of a snicker.
This alley doesn’t go all the way through to the next street because of how close the next set of buildings are to each other. The girl reaches the dead end and turns to face her pursuers, her eyes wide and terrified. She looks wildly around for a path out of here but there’s nowhere left to go.
Ryaan enters the alleyway right behind the Goggle Guys. After taking in his surroundings, his eyes settle on the girl being chased. He knows her. She’s named Mina and she’s a close friend of his younger sister Nadia. She’s a year older than Nadia and entered high school this year. Ryaan hasn’t paid much attention to her since he’s a few years older. He’s seen her in the halls here and there but that’s about it.
Their moms were friends before his mother took off a few years back and before that Mina’s family came over for dinner at least once a month. Since his mother left town things haven’t been the same. Mina’s mom probably doesn’t want to see Ryaan’s dad. Even when Nadia wants to hang out with Mina she usually goes to her house.
Right now Mina has a lot on her mind. She doesn’t even notice Ryaan entering the alleyway. Her eyes are locked on the Goggle Guys who are closing in. Their guns are drawn, though so far they aren’t pointing them at her. Jimmy, the shorter of the pair, says, “Why’d you run away little girl. Got something to hide? My friend was just trying to be nice and make some conversation. Suddenly you go tearing off like a bat out of hell. That’s kind of suspicious.”
Mina manages a quiet apology, though she’s visibly shaking and tears are starting to well in her eyes. Jimmy looks to his partner, tapping his gun against his hand. “Well that’s nice. I like an apology. We’re going to need a bit more than that now though. If you’ve got something to be sorry about, that’s concerning to us. After the way you ran off, that’s the kind of suspicious behavior we’re authorized to look into. We’re going to need to search you now. Hand us the backpack.”
Without a second thought, Mina throws her backpack at their feet. Her arms wrap around her body as she tries to make herself small. Jimmy picks up the bag and starts rifling through. He pulls out books, notebooks, and a variety of other school supplies. They all end up on the filthy ground. A calculator bounces off the pavement. He absentmindedly flips through the notebooks but doesn’t say anything. After a minute he pulls out a banana and seems to get a real kick out of the piece of fruit. “All you folks love your bananas now, don’t you?” He tosses the fruit to Billy who opens it and takes a big bite, apparently oblivious to the gross comment his friend just directed at a teenager.
Ryaan’s shaking with rage at this point. He wants to jump these guys, to get back at them for what they did to him the last time they met. He can’t though. He doesn’t want to put Mina in danger if he doesn’t have to. These guys are creeps but they’ll probably let her go after searching her bag. If they do he has to stay out of this. For now he watches while Jimmy finishes tossing everything in the bag onto the ground. He tosses the bag on top of the variety of school supplies and snacks. A gross smile crosses his face as he looks at the uncomfortable girl. It doesn’t take Ryaan long to realize these two don’t plan on letting Mina go.
Jimmy gives her a nice smile, trying to sound friendly. “Well, everything looks good with your bag. I appreciate your cooperation on that.”
Mina can’t seem to speak louder than a mouse. “Is that it then? Can I go home? My parents are going to be worried if I don’t get home soon. Please let me go home. I promise I’ll be good.”
Jimmy seems to think this is a hilarious joke. Billy starts laughing along after a few seconds, though Ryaan doubts he knows why he’s doing so. Jimmy walks right up to the girl, pressing his hand against her cheek. She flinches away but doesn’t stop him. “You can definitely go soon sweetheart. We obviously wouldn’t want to worry your folks. We need to make sure we’re protecting this neighborhood for everyone though and we can’t be too careful when it comes to you people around here. So here’s what we’re going to do. My buddy here,” he says while pointing to Billy, “is going to give you a nice search. He’ll be real friendly about it and if you just stay nice and still it’ll be over fast. Does that sound good?”
Mina visibly cringes at his comments. At this point tears are flowing freely down her face. She doesn’t say a word. Ryaan decides he’s had just about enough of staying out of things.
He makes his way into the alley, positioning himself a few feet behind the men. “You’re not going to lay a finger on the girl. You’ve had your fun. She’ll be going home now.”
The Goggle Guys turn to face him, apparently so concerned by little Mina that they turn their backs on her without a second thought. Billy stares dumbfounded. Jimmy runs his eyes up and down Ryaan. “Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m a licensed vigilante the same as you guys.” Ryaan doesn’t have a problem lying through his teeth. “What reason do you have for giving her a hard time?”
Jimmy’s eyes pause on each of the weapons tucked in Ryaan’s suit. Not seeing a gun, he stays calm. “Listen kid, and I say that in the nicest way but you’re clearly young as fuck, get the hell out of here. We’ve got this neighborhood and we sure as shit don’t answer to your ass. This girl ran from us for no reason we can figure out and we need to make sure there wasn’t a good reason. That’s all. Once we’re done searching her we’ll send her on her merry fucking way as long as we don’t find a bomb strapped under her clothes or some shit like that. Sound fair?”
Slowly he shakes his head. “Afraid not guys. She probably ran because she’s a little girl and no offense, but you two are some scary dudes. I mean that in the best way. I’m over here shaking in my shoes. She’s not wearing especially loose clothing, you can see that she doesn’t have anything dangerous on her. That’s all you need. You’re going to let her walk out of here now. If you don’t, we’re going to have a problem.”
Billy’s always looking for a fight and raises his shotgun slightly, though he doesn’t yet point it at Ryaan. Jimmy seems a bit more in control. He reaches toward his friend, giving him a look. The gun lowers slightly, though not to it’s original height. “Look kid, we’re not letting this kid go without searching her. No way. We wouldn’t be doing our job. You can stay for it if you want but that’s the best we’re gonna do. Maybe you’re the type who likes to watch or something. Does that work or do we have a problem?”
Ryaan doesn’t bother to respond. If there’s going to be a fight, he’s going to win it. Considering he’s against two grown men with guns he needs to fight smart. He lunges toward Billy, trying to get close enough that he can’t get a shot off.
The large man seems surprised by this sudden move and jumps back slightly. That’s all the time Ryaan needs to reach back and grab his bow staff. Pressing the button to extend it, the staff grows to full size. Ryaan flicks it directly at Billy’s head. The step backward changes his aim slightly and the blow ends up catching the man’s throat instead of his head.
It connects with a sickening squish and the large man drops his gun and reaches for his neck. Ryaan sets his feet and spins, with his arms straight out and his staff in front of him. He hits Billy in the side of the head with his next shot. It sounds like he hit a brick wall. The large man stumbles backwards and then falls on his butt. Ryaan leaps forward and kicks Billy in the side of the head. The large man collapses to his side and lays still.
Hearing what sounds like an explosion go off, Ryaan freezes. Wanting to know where the noise came from, he shifts his eyes all over. After a moment he turns his head to see Jimmy pointing his still smoking gun straight in the air. Mina stands at his side, being held in place by the man’s other hand. As Ryaan turns, Jimmy changes his aim, pointing at the girl.
He has a smaller pistol which Ryaan didn’t notice until now. The short man is bright red and looks like he wants to puke. With a gun pointed at a teenager though he also looks terrifying. “If you care about this fucking kid then cut the crap and surrender.”
Ryaan doesn’t move. His pride isn’t worth Mina getting hurt. He makes a downward gesture with his hand before slowly crouching to set his staff on the ground. Jimmy relaxes slightly, easing the gun back from Mina. Ryaan considers surrender but knows he can’t trust these guys. There’s no guarantee Jimmy doesn’t shoot them for fun. If he wants this to stop he needs to end things. Luckily, crouched as he is, his hand’s only a few inches from the knife stashed a few inches above his boot. Also lucky for him, Jimmy’s hand holding the gun is far enough from Mina that even if his aim isn’t perfect there’s no risk he’ll hit her.
Wrapping his fingers around a knife, Ryaan flings it at Jimmy. It finds the man’s hand, eliciting a scream as the gun goes clattering to the ground. Mina scrambles deeper into the alley, getting as far from the fight as she can.
Ryaan grabs his staff back off the ground and rushes the man. Jimmy’s not prepared to fight, he’s using his remaining good hand to put pressure on his cut. As Ryaan closes in, Jimmy tries to fight back anyway. He dodges the first strike of Ryaan’s staff. While Ryaan’s off balance, Jimmy darts in, trying to get close enough to render the staff useless. Releasing his injury, Jimmy starts raining punches on Ryaan’s chest with his good hand. When Ryaan starts circling away from that side of the man’s body, Jimmy tries one with his injured fist. It knocks the wind out of Ryaan but if Jimmy’s scream is anything to go on, there won’t be more punches coming from that side.
Fighting for air, Ryaan looks for an opportunity to strike back. He continues circling toward the injured hand, causing Jimmy’s next few punches to find nothing but air. He needs to put space between them but his back’s nearly touching the brick wall of the nearest building. Continuing to circle, it isn’t long before he feels open air behind him.
The breeze on his back tells him this is over. A few quick steps backward set him up. Now able to use his staff again, he starts jabbing Jimmy in the face, disorienting the man. Wildly swinging his staff now, he’s landing hits all over the man’s body. Jimmy makes a few half hearted attempts to hit back but he’s not even close to finding his target. With a final hard shot to the side of the head, Jimmy goes down. He starts to rise again, but a hard kick in the ribs seems to take the last fight out of him.
Still gasping for each breath Ryaan presses the button to retract his staff and slides it back into the leather holster on his back. Turning to look for Mina, he realizes this isn’t as over as he thought it was. Mina’s holding Jimmy’s pistol in front of her. It’s pointed right at his chest. She must have chased it down after he lost it. She stares at him and he stares back at her. Neither moves for what feels like an eternity. Mina fights back tears while Ryaan can barely manage to keep breathing.
Ryaan’s the one to break the silence. “It’s okay now. I just wanted to help. You can go ahead and put the gun down and go home.” Mina doesn’t say anything, she just keeps staring and pointing the gun at his chest. Her eyes seem blank, as if nobody’s home. Her arms are shaking more by the second though. “Really, I’m a friend, I promise. You have nothing to worry about.” Still no response. She continues to shake, seemingly operating in a trance. Unable to think of another option he tries to connect with her directly. “Mina, please go ahead and put the gun down. I’m a friend.”
Hearing her name seems to snap Mina out of her trance, at least a little. “How do you know my name?”
Ryaan smiles under his mask. At least she’s talking now. “I’m a friend.”
She may be reacting more, but she doesn’t seem to be calming down. If anything she’s getting more agitated. He starts to worry one of these shakes is going to shake her finger into the trigger. Maybe letting her know that a mystery vigilante knows her name for no reason isn’t how he wins her trust. Not wanting to die here, he only has one other idea. After a quick glance down to make sure neither of the seemingly unconscious Goggle Guys is looking his way and looking to make sure nobody’s at the end of the alley, Ryaan slowly reaches up and removes his mask.
It takes a moment but this finally seems to bring her back. She slowly lowers the gun. She starts to say, “Ry—,” but he shushes her.
“Don’t say my name. I don’t know if those two are actually unconscious and I don’t want them hearing.” He slips his mask back on before continuing. “Now put the gun down Mina, you don’t need it, they’re not going to hurt you.”
She does what he asks but can’t seem to tear her eyes from the two men on the ground. “I was so afraid. The big one said something gross when I walked by him on the street. I didn’t even realize I was running until I noticed them chasing me and then I felt like I had to keep going. I don’t know why they wanted to follow me so bad.”
Ryaan puts a hand on her shoulder. “They’re idiots looking to give people a hard time. It probably didn’t have anything to do with you. Go ahead and leave their guns, neither of them is going to report they got beaten up by a couple of brown kids. Let’s get out of here.”
Mina nods and puts the gun down. They slip away from the alley, pausing only for Ryaan to retrieve his throwing knife. There’s a bit of blood on the blade and he reminds himself to wash it later. With the added cost of having to take the vigilante test again, the last thing he needs is to waste a knife and have to buy another set.
Pulling Mina behind him by the hand, Ryaan rushes to the alley where he stashed his backpack. He’s relieved to find it’s still behind the dumpster. They spend the next few minutes moving from street to street, trying to put as much distance as possible between them and the Goggle Guys. After they’re far enough away to feel safe, Ryaan pulls Mina into yet another alley and takes off his mask. This time he takes all of his knives and his staff off and stashes them in his bag. They stand there catching their breath, not saying a word.
Mina leans on a wall, staring at him. “Ryaan, not that I’m complaining since you kind of saved me, but what in the world are you doing running around in a costume? Why do you have a bunch of knives?”
Ryaan almost giggles. When she puts it like that it sounds absurd. “I tried out for the vigilante program this morning but I didn’t pass.”
Mina’s eyes go wide. “So you were lying back there when you told them you were a vigilante?”
“I think of it more as bluffing but I guess I was. I hoped I could convince them to back down so I wouldn’t have to fight them. They kicked the crap out of me a few weeks ago when I tried to stop them from harassing another family around here. They’re crazy and shouldn’t be able to walk the streets. Somebody’s going to end up dead.”
A look of realization comes over Mina. Her head tilts to the side. “I thought you had to be eighteen to be a vigilante. You’re a junior. Did you fail a couple grades at some point without Nadia telling me?”
Feeling the sting of her words, Ryaan looks at the ground. “I have a fake ID. I know it’s dumb but no one wants to do anything about this. When you were running there were a ton of people watching, just staring out their windows, but no one did anything. Even without passing the test, I couldn’t let them hurt someone.”
Mina rushes up to him and squeezes him in a big hug. Ryaan cringes in pain. Not only is his back still giving him a hard time after his test, he thinks Jimmy bruised a few ribs when he got in close and wailed on him. Mina notices his discomfort and quickly releases him. Suddenly the moment becomes awkward. “Are you okay? He got some good hits on you.”
Ryaan tries to give a reassuring smile. “I think so, I’ll have a few nice bruises but I’ll be fine. They’re not all from right now anyway. I got hurt while taking the test this morning.”
Mina points at his shirt. “He got some blood on you.”
Looking down, Ryaan sees a smear of blood across his ribs. It must be from when Jimmy tried to punch him with his injured hand. He shakes his head, trying to figure out what to do. “I’m glad you’re okay but I need to get home and try to get this blood out before it sets. I don’t exactly have ten of these. We’re not far from your house now, do you think you’ll be okay?”
Mina thinks for a minute before saying, “Why don’t you just come back to my house? My mom’s out with some friends so there won’t be anyone home. You can get changed and put some ice on your ribs before heading home. I assume you don’t want them to see you like this. I know your dad would never let you run around if he knew.”
Ryaan considers this and decides it probably is best not to come home in a weird outfit covered in blood. He takes Mina up on her offer and they head to her house. It’s less than a mile away. They make only minor conversation the rest of the way.
As they walk into her house, Mina seems to really breathe for the first time since her attack. Ryaan may not be on his home turf, but he feels at home here as well. He’s been upset since he failed the test but today wasn’t a bust. He was actually able to help someone. Without his mind being torn between ten things, he notices Mina’s turning into a very pretty girl.
He hasn’t seen much of her lately but he’s always thought of her as his kid sister’s friend. He’s not seeing a kid now. She has long black hair and a slightly lighter complexion than he does. Her eyes are a pretty hazel color and she has a really nice smile when he finally gets to see it.
She offers Ryaan a bag of ice which he sticks under his shirt. The cold feels weird on his ribs but it offers relief. They sit down to relax but after a few minutes Mina’s gaze returns to the blood on his shirt. “Why don’t you give me your shirt. I do most of the laundry since my mom and dad work a lot. I’m good at getting stains out.”
Without thinking Ryaan takes his top off. It doesn’t take long for him to regret it. He feels incredibly awkward standing there without a shirt in front of Mina. She blushes, trying to look away. After a moment she takes the shirt and heads to her laundry room. Ryaan uses her absence to grab his regular shirt out of his backpack. He manages to put it on before she returns. When she comes back and smiles at him, suddenly all the pain he’s felt today is worth it.
They return to the living room where Ryaan can sit and keep the ice pack from moving around. Mina sits in a chair across the room and stares at him. She keeps doing that. It doesn’t take long for them to both realize they have no idea what to talk about. Mina says, “Your shirt will be clean in thirty minutes or so. I can dry it too if you want but that will take longer.”
Ryaan tells her that will be okay and thanks her for the help. Now it’s Mina’s turn to laugh. “I think if anyone owes a thank you it’s me. You saved me from those guys. I can’t believe you’re trying to be a vigilante though. That seems really dangerous. None of your family knows?”
Ryaan shakes his head. “I’d appreciate if you don’t tell them. I know you and Nadia still hang out some but I don’t want her to worry.”
“No problem, I’m not going to blow your secret. I think you should tell them though. At least Nadia. She’d be really supportive. Plus, you know she’d make you a better outfit than what you’re wearing. Did you make that yourself?”
Ryaan confirms that he did. His feelings are slightly hurt but she’s not wrong about Nadia and clothing. She’s always done a lot of patching and repairing of their clothes. Something she picked up from their mom. When they first moved to the US they had almost no money and mom made most of their clothes. When he started school he remembers how embarrassed he was when he realized none of the other kids wore homemade clothes. His parents, always trying to be American, somehow came up with the money to buy him a cheap new wardrobe.
Mina crosses her legs, putting her head in her hands. “Are you going to take the vigilante test again?”
He opens his mouth to answer but nothing comes out. He realizes he hasn’t really considered the question. He has to, doesn’t he? As much pain as he’s in, today taught him that helping isn’t a choice. He saved someone in trouble and it feels amazing. He wasn’t registered when he did it though.
He definitely wants to keep going but waiting a month for the test sounds like torture. What if he does this without registering? What will happen if he gets caught? Mina runs over to her computer and a quick internet search gives them an answer. Since the passing of the act the only punishment for vigilantism without registration is being required to register. They must have come up with that one before the test was required and not changed it. Unless something changes, he’s not even taking a real risk by skipping the test. Plus, he doesn’t have to use his fake ID to be a non registered vigilante.
Looking over Mina’s shoulder, a smile starts to spread across Ryaan’s face. “I’m just going to help people. I’ll worry about registering if someone catches me.”
Mina’s face lights up with excitement. “I like it, you’ll be kind of a rebel and do your own thing. That’s really cool.”
Something clicks in Ryaan’s head and reminds him of one of his favorite songs. “That’s what I’ll go by, I’ll be the Rebel.”
The look on Mina’s face is priceless. “You mean I get to name you? That’s awesome!” She starts to go in for another hug before remembering how much that hurt him last time. She stops herself, looking sheepish. “Ryaan, I won’t tell anyone about you either way but can I help you? I want to repay you for saving me.”
It’s Ryaan’s turn to want to hug her. “That’s really nice of you Mina but this is really dangerous. I know how to fight thanks to my parents. Unless you have some kind of training, you’ll just end up getting hurt.”
Mina’s mouth is practically gaping at this point. “I’m not going to be running around the streets in a funny outfit Ryaan. My parents would kill me. I can still help you though. If your clothes get bloody I can clean them. If they get damaged I can fix them, maybe not as well as Nadia but I can handle some basic sewing. I might even be able to make you a better costume as a thank you.”
“Okay, so you can help with the costume?” Ryaan processes his options. This is the best he could manage after a lot of effort and it’s not great. A good costume goes a long way to being taken seriously as a vigilante. If she can do better, he knows taking her up on the offer’s a good idea. Ryaan reaches out his hand. “Sounds like a plan. I can’t wait to see what you can do.”
Mina grabs his hand and shakes it hard. As she does so, in the background the washer buzzes loudly to tell them his clothes are clean
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