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Hiatus

I write this with sadness but also in the interests of transparency. In recent months I’ve struggled to continue Vigilantes Make Us Safe. After dedicating several years to this project, I find my creativity within it has ground to a halt. Whenever I sit down to write something I find myself unable to find interesting new angles. It seems I’m either treading ground I’ve previously covered or dragging myself through the few new ideas I have.

This has been made worse by the fact that I haven’t gone completely dead creatively. I have ideas which flow quite well on other projects. As a result I find myself trying to drag through this project with time I could better spend on other projects.

A reckoning against this is necessary and I have to be honest with myself and with you, whose viewership I greatly appreciate. As a result, I need a good, long break. This isn’t forever. This project and these characters mean too much to me. We will get through it together. I need a break though and a month isn’t cutting it. My tentative plan is to return at the start of 2020. Our story is timely and I have a feeling that 2020 will be a critical year for this country. I will post a more exact date of return when we get closer. Until then, please check out our story, share it with friends, get caught up. I appreciate every one of you who has read this.

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Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 12

Marching through the long halls of their headquarters near the San Francisco bay, Jia walks in front of her crew with Jillian and Darin flanking her on either side. The rest of the group’s further back. They don’t run but they walk with precision. It isn’t often the boss wants to see them and everyone’s on edge. Things have been going well on all fronts recently though so Jia hopes this is a good meeting. The Five Tails have stopped invading. Her contact within the group’s spilling secrets almost daily. Sales are up. Maybe she’s finally risen to the level she needs to.

Reaching a doorway, Jillian and Jia are allowed to pass but the rest of her crew is required to wait outside. They’re led into what seems like a conference room, richly adorned with red and gold. The table looks expensive as do each of the chairs. The one at the head of the table’s the fanciest of all. Dark red leather with gold trim, it looks more like a throne than a chair. Jillian and Jia are seated at the far end of the table from the throne. Sitting a little further up are a few men including Tommy, the man who handled Jia’s initiation and who she regularly reports to. He nods at her and she nods back but nothing’s said.

They all sit in silence for a few minutes, staring at each other. Jillian briefed Jia on this part. The leader of the gang always shows up late and they’re all monitored the entire time they sit here. One wrong word or phrase and he may decide to expel you from the group, or worse. He has a short fuse for anything but obedience.

The door slams open and a tall middle aged man with long wavy hair wearing a red shirt, open down to his navel, as well as a pair of red pants, walks in. He’s flanked by two men who are both nearly seven feet tall. They both have giant grins on their faces; they take long strides, pausing between each step to avoid walking faster than their leader. The leader has thin lips which are pursed in a look betraying almost nothing. He walks up to Jillian and puts a hand on her shoulder. “How is the child? I hope you’re both well.”

She bows her head. “Of course Vizier. I’ve been very well treated. I’m working on training my replacement so you’ll still be as well protected as you should be when the time comes.”

He nods, pacing back and forth in place, and turns to face Jia. “I’m confident you’ll still be able to serve in some capacity. Is this her?” Jillian looks down and nods. “I’ve heard impressive things about you girl. Our enemies run from you. Of course that mostly just pushes them into our other territories but I like your ambition.” Jia nods, keeping her head down.

He walks to the front of the table. His two massive companions pull the giant chair out and he sits in it. “This is going to be the start of our biggest plan yet. It will effect our entire crew but it is of a very… sensitive nature. Only those I trust can be involved. Those I want as my personal protection need to be in on it though and now that I trust our replacement for Jillian we can get going. I believe most of you are familiar with the plan but we’ll run through the basics for those who are unaware. We’re going to poison the city’s water supply.”

Bile rises in Jia’s chest and she has to force it back down. Did she hear correctly? She wants to react but most of the people at the table don’t budge. A few share glances but even those are brief. She catches Jillian’s eye and tries to get a sense of how much she knew. Not wanting to arouse suspicion the glance has to be quick but she can put the pieces together from it. From the start Jillian’s told her that she couldn’t reveal the plan because there was too much risk and she knew Jia couldn’t hide this knowledge. She knew.

“It really won’t be that difficult. Most of the city uses one main water treatment plant. We take it over and slip our poison into the supply. Most people it will just make very sick but it will kill some if not treated. Good news for our people, we have an antidote which they’ll be given. Which we’ll gladly provide it to the rest of the city as well in exchange for a hell of a lot of money.”

This is too big. This is something to go to the police with. They may not believe it but she has to try. If she goes to them and they don’t believe her though, this is a done deal. A group as powerful as the Delux Gang has people in the police force. Her cover will be blown. Can she do more here, among them?

“The poison’s being supplied at a meetup in two days. I’ll handle that with some of my more loyal lieutenants. Then we’ll be ready to go. First, I want us to close some loose ends. New girl, you’ve been managing the girlfriend of the Five Tails’ leader, correct?” It takes her a moment to realize he’s talking to her but when she does she nods. “Good, good. She’s a liability at this point. Get one last meeting with her, somewhere private. See if she has any more information to pass on. Then take her out of the picture.”

Her eyes go wide. She searches for an excuse, something which will get her out of this. Nothing comes to mind. She squeezes her eyes shut and nods.

Part 11

Part 13

Dynamo Vol. 2 Exit Strategy Part 4

Going home after everything she’s dealt with in recent weeks feels amazing. That isn’t to say everything’s immediately better. Reaching her bedroom on the second floor of the house proves painful so Marco sets her up on the couch. Not what she was hoping for when going home but he wrapped the cushions in a set of her sheets so she feels a little more at home. The first night he sleeps in the recliner next to it but after that she assures him he can sleep in their bed. No reason he shouldn’t get a good night’s sleep because she can’t be there. He reluctantly agreed.

The transition home’s made a lot easier by her decision to give up being a vigilante. Despite the kind words from George Stephan, she knows she’s making the right decision. If she wants to protect people she’s better doing it in court. The remains of her costume and gear are stashed in the closet in the garage. Marco’s eyes go wide when he sees how much she has, especially when he sees her giant box of grenades. He doesn’t say much though as they lug it all into the closet. Her body suit was mostly destroyed when she was shot and a replacement hasn’t come yet but her gloves, mask, boots and her trenchcoat are piled on top of the boxes.

Returning to work’s a little more difficult. Her bosses haven’t forgotten how quickly she returned from her other recent injury and they push her to take all the time she needs. They don’t like hearing that she’s already done so and she’s ready to get back. Already her head’s spinning with thoughts of her coworkers poaching her best cases.

She has a penchant for winning though and two days after returning home she’s back on the highway into the city. After their latest conference call the partners said they’d consider letting her return to work today if she takes it easy and stays out of court for at least a little longer. When they never called her back to provide a final decision she took it as approval.

Walking through the lobby three people stop her to ask how she’s feeling. She grumbles that she’ll be fine once she gets her coffee and manages to get to the elevator without causing a major incident. When she reaches the third floor her assistant’s waiting for her with a cup of coffee which she knows will be made exactly the way she likes it. He’s the only person here she bothered to inform about her return today. The only reason he got to know was because someone had to schedule her appointments. She agreed not to go to court yet but that doesn’t mean she’s going to sit around reading case files all day.

That is how she spends her morning though. Sipping coffee and reading up on her cases. She has to go to several other lawyers’ offices and practically threaten them to get her cases back but they all give in. That leaves her with weeks of notes to review.

Her first meeting of the day’s with Edgar Juatco, a man she believes is wrongfully accused of being an accessory in a gang murder. He used to be a member of the gang but he’s been out for years and has a strong alibi which the district attorney hasn’t been able to poke holes in. He’s the one who provided the tip that led to all of this happening. She tried to use the information to work out a plea deal but when she found no deal was coming she took matters into her own hands.

Edgar walks into her office wearing the same suit he wears to court. He looks good, every hair in place. There’s a sad look on his face though and his tie’s been slightly loosened. She starts to stand to greet him but he puts a hand up. “No need for that Ms. Wallace. I heard about what happened, take it easy. Glad to see you’re looking good. How you feeling?”

Gritting her teeth, Kalenia offers a hand to Edgar which he quickly takes. “I’m good.” She nods a few times, trying to make sure she believes it. “For someone who got shot I’m actually really good. What did you hear.”

Sitting in the chair across from her, Edgar unbuttons his suit jacket so he can stretch out. She can smell a faint aroma of marijuana on him. “Not a whole lot I guess. You were at that casino gambling when things went down and a bunch of people got shot. Took one right to the gut. Told my friends my lawyer was there but she was too tough to take out.”

She smiles and pushes her hair back. “That’s sweet. I got really lucky though. Another reason to try and stop this vigilante act.”

“I’m with you on that. They’re the reason I’m wearing this suit.”

Looking him over, she notices he’s even wearing his dress shoes. He’s never felt the need to dress up to meet here at the office. He’s shown up in wife beaters before. “What do you mean? I figured you got confused and thought we were going to court today.”

He shakes his head, looking down at the ground. “No, nothing like that. A friend of mine, good guy, was one of the people who worked security at that thing I told you about. Some vigilante showed up and took his ass out. Just came from the funeral. Pretty torn up about it. Keep thinking if I was there to watch his back maybe he’d still be here. Or even if I hadn’t been selfish and I let the cops have the tip without letting me off, you know?”

The blood runs out of her face. “I’m so sorry about your friend. If you’d been there though you’d likely have been another victim. You’ve gone straight. Stick to that.”

He shoves his hands in his pockets. “Know you’re right but between the charges and now this, feels like I’m never going to do enough to get clean.”

“Look at me.” He does. “You are doing plenty. You are going to beat this thing. You have the best lawyer in the city in your corner. Me. A bullet didn’t keep me down, partially because I needed to come back here and defend you. So you don’t get to give up, alright?”

He looks up at her, his eyes wide. “If I’m not giving up then we need to see about another option. I still want a plea bargain and I was offered another job.”

She takes a deep breath and puts her hands behind her neck. “What sort of job?”

“Similar to the last one. They’re desperate to get some stuff out of town apparently, after what went down at the casino, selling to people they shouldn’t be, people who they haven’t properly vetted so they need a lot of security. It’s even more dangerous for me to give this meeting up than the last one though. They might connect that I was offered both gigs and I have a reason to want to cut a deal. Even with the guilt from last time I can’t give this one up if they won’t cut a deal.”

Kalenia starts digging through the piles of junk scattered on her desk. At the best of times her office can be described as organized chaos but today it’s worse than normal. In her absence others had no clue where to put anything so anything and everything was piled wherever it fit. There’s all sort of mail, files, requests, documents. She finally finds a notebook and tosses it across the desk. “Write down anything you know. I want to go into negotiations with every bit of information. We have a trump card. Your last info was good and I can prove it from the stuff you filled out then. This time they’re going to take you more seriously. If this is a big deal there’s a good chance they’ll drop the charges. They’re losing anyway.”

He grabs the notebook off the desk and takes a pen she offers. “So names, date, time, location, all that?” She nods. He opens the notebook but when he does so an envelope falls out and falls to the ground. He picks it up and looks it over. “Guess this is yours? No addresses or anything on it.”

Taking the envelope from him, Kalenia looks it over. It’s sealed but there’s no return address or even her address on it. Not even a name. It feels like there’s something in it though. Did one of the partners leave it here? She hesitates to open it but after patting it down from end to end all she can feel is paper. While Edgar writes, she opens it, trying not to make it seem like a big deal. There’s a single piece of lined notebook paper folded up inside. She sets the envelope down and pulls the paper out.

The three folds come undone and she sees there’s no handwriting. Whoever left this here went with the old serial killer method of cutting letters out of magazines. The note’s short but it gets the point across.

 

I know who you are Dynamo. If you don’t want others to know, I suggest you play ball. I’ll be in touch with more demands soon. Ciao.

Part 3

Part 5

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 8

“Sorry kid, haven’t seen anything?” The butcher down the street turns back to a customer as Ryaan Asfour asks again for any sign of the man in red who attacked the rally in Millennium Park. That’s the twentieth business he’s checked today but not a single employee or customer can do more than confirm they watched the rally on TV and they saw the guy there.

As way of thanks for saving the Chicago Aquarium the city held a rally to celebrate the Goggle Guys. A pair of vigilantes Ryaan can’t stand, they were in the right place at the right time and stopped a bombing. Celebrating them gets more complicated though when you take into account the totality of their record. They have no problem terrorizing and profiling minority communities. That’s almost all they’ve done since signing up under the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act. This one action may have been great but many people were disgusted to be celebrating people for one good act while ignoring all the hurt they’ve caused. Ryaan certainly was.

He wasn’t alone apparently because a man in red attacked the rally, first with what looked like a bomb and when that failed he stormed the stage with a sword. Ryaan was put in the awkward position of stepping in to protect people who would gladly shoot him in the back if given the chance. He did the right thing and fought the man off. Now the whole city’s looking for this man in red. From the man’s comments he believes he’s from his community. It could even be someone he knows. If he gets caught he’s going to be publicly flayed. Ryaan wants to find him first and convince him to turn himself in. He’s not sure he can do it but he feels he has to try. He understands the mindset of wanting to take those guys off the board. He just can’t support murder.

Back on the street, faces follow him. A couple of kids whisper as he walks by. A little boy’s eyes go wide as they see him and they rush down the street after him. The boy’s dad swings him off the ground to stop him. The Rebel’s starting to gain a following in the neighborhood and more people recognize him. That should make him nervous as he’s not officially registered as a vigilante and he’s actually too young to register. With vigilantes popping up in every corner though nobody has time to track them all. Unless he gives the police a reason to dig into his background he can probably keep going forever.

Without any more shops to check, Ryaan’s out of ideas. He’s checked in the Mosques, he’s checked shops, he’s checked every place he thinks a middle eastern man would be especially likely to go. Without any other ideas he’s left spinning his wheels hoping something falls into place. There are still plenty of places outside his neighborhood he could check but this is too big a city for him to go over with a fine toothed comb. If nobody in his neighborhood, one of the areas of the city housing the most people from the middle east, has a clue there’s a good chance he’s never going to find the man.

Cutting down a side street, Ryaan’s glad nobody follows. A few times in recent weeks he’s had a hard time shaking a crowd. It’s hard to be a vigilante when people won’t leave you alone. Criminals see you coming. He does better at night but getting out of the house after dark’s a different challenge. He’s found a couple good places to lose a group when needed but they’re out of the way and when he needs to get home by dinner he doesn’t want to go running two miles out of his way. He certainly can’t lead them home though and he can’t change out of his costume with people around.

It’s a windy day which helps take the edge off the heat. It’s over ninety and his mask makes him feel like he’s in a sauna. He wants to take it off and stuff it in his bag but he has to retrieve that bag first. It’s stuffed in the dog house behind an abandoned house a few blocks from home. The place was foreclosed on last year so he knew it would be empty. He realized quickly that carrying the same backpack as the Rebel was a good way to tie them together so he’s been stashing it every chance he gets.

Nearing the abandoned house, Ryaan thinks he hears something behind him. He turns around but doesn’t see anything. It’s windy and that’s probably what he’s hearing but something doesn’t feel right. He gets back on his path but soon he hears it again. It sounds like a clanking of some sort but he can’t place it. He turns but again doesn’t find anything there. He wants to dismiss it as the wind but the wind generally doesn’t clank. His hand edges toward his knives.

For weeks Ryaan’s been terrified that a local gang he tipped the police off about are going to come after him. Their leader figured out who he is and threatened both him and his family. He’s worked hard to watch his back and he thought he had it handled. Following the advice of a Police Officer he knows, Ryaan sent them a letter advising he’d stay out of their dealings as much as possible if they don’t come after him. He also advised that he has a failsafe set up so that if he or any of his family is seriously harmed in any suspicious way he’ll have everything he knows about their operation sent to the news. It might not be enough for an arrest but it would certainly make the papers.

They’ve left him alone so far and he expected that to continue. Who would be following him though? Who would be good enough to avoid being seen twice when he thought he had them? Hearing the noise for the third time Ryaan doesn’t turn. He rubs his hand along his leg as he walks. Right as he hears a step he lifts his arm and grabs the staff from the holster on his back. His original model broke during a recent fight but luckily he ordered two when he got started. If anything that makes him more cautious. If he has to replace this one he’s going to have a hard time coming up with the funds. As he spins he presses the button to expand the staff, making it grow. The staff doubles in size as he turns and he ducks while swinging it. He lands a hit right in the knee of his pursuer.

As he turns Ryaan catches a glimpse of red and his eyes start to go wide. Did the man in red track him down? Is it because he thwarted his attempt to take out the Goggle Guys or because he keeps asking about him? As his staff swipes through the man following him’s legs he tumbles to the ground. Amid the red Ryaan sees flashes of light skinned flesh. A few parts of the robe like suit the man wears have brown stripes as well. The man at the rally definitely wasn’t white and his suit was only red. This is someone else.

Part 7

Part 9

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 10

Catherine’s standing by the corner, a cigarette in her mouth, pacing back and forth and staring up the street. She smokes? He can’t imaging his little sister smoking, but then again, he doesn’t know her anymore. Five years is an eternity for anyone, especially someone her age. She looks like she’s calmed down some, though he can’t tell if she’s hiding her anger now that she’s more public. “Cat?”

Wheeling toward him, the rage which had started to subside is back in full force. Her face turns red and her eyes go wide. “No, you do not get to call me Cat. You don’t get to call me anything.”

“I just want to talk.” Tears force themselves into his eyes again. He can’t fight them anymore as they roll down his face. “You have every right to hate me, but please at least listen to me for a minute.”

Shaking her head, she throws her hands up. Her eyes somehow go wider. He was never much of a crier. He doesn’t remember ever doing so in front of her. He doesn’t even remember crying after finding out about his parents. Later he cried a lot in private but when people are watching he can usually control himself. He didn’t cry at their funeral as he tried to comfort her, knowing he could never really help her when he couldn’t even help himself. “I’d have listened to you five years ago. Or four years ago probably. Maybe a little later. Not now though. It’s not fair. You come up here and cry and now I’m the jerk if I don’t listen to you.”

“I don’t want you to feel like a jerk. I’m not playing a game or trying to use this. These are real.”

She nods. “I believe you. I just don’t care. You probably feel a lot of guilt. You should after what you did. You’re a coward and you lost the right to speak to me a long time ago. Go back to wherever you’ve been hiding. Or don’t, I don’t care.”

A car pulls up to the side of the road, the stickers of several ride share companies plastered in their windows. Catherine turns to walk toward the car. Zach says, “Please give me five minutes. I don’t deserve them but if you listen to me and don’t like what you hear, I promise I won’t bother you again.”

Her shoulders tighten but she pauses. When she gets to the car and opens the passenger door she says something to the driver Zach can’t make out but the man behind the wheel nods and drives off. She turns back to face him. “I’m listening. I won’t promise to say anything, or not to say anything. If you have to get anything off your chest you’d better speak up. This is the last time you’re going to speak to me.”

He slowly nods, trying to sort out his thoughts. There are so many words to express in such a short time. He wishes he could say he’s rehearsed this speech a million times over the last five years but that would be a lie. He did a little at the beginning but for most of that time he’s given her as little thought as possible. During the rare times the thought of her and how she was doing popped into his head, he pushed those thoughts back out. He thought about doing an internet search for her a few times but never did. The less he thought about her out here, abandoned by the one person she had left at the time she needed him most, the easier he slept.

“You’re down thirty seconds. I started the time when the guy drove off, not when you start talking.”

That snaps him out of his self pity. He made a bargain to gain this chance, he needs to use it. “Look, you have every right to hate me.”

“Check.”

“You have every right, but for what it’s worth, I do love you. I was a mess after what happened. I’m still a mess. I’m trying to put things back together but it’s a process. That’s why I hadn’t reached out to you yet. I wasn’t planning to any time soon. I wasn’t ready. I’m not ready now. I couldn’t let you walk away today thinking I didn’t care though. I care a lot. I messed up. I couldn’t be there for you though because I couldn’t even hold myself together.”

Nodding, she puts her hands on her hips. “Ya, I’m not stupid. I put that much together. I knew you were messed up before you took off.”

“You figured that out? At your age?”

“I was fourteen, not five. So ya, I put things together. That didn’t matter though. I was a mess too but I didn’t take off. I got therapy, I cried, I acted out, but I didn’t run and leave you alone. I would never have done that. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I did.”

She needs to understand things weren’t so simple. “I probably should have done some of that, but there was so much pressure. You, the business, everyone fighting for a minute of my time. All the pity.”

Her face gets angrier at this. She closes the distance between them and shoves him. “You think I didn’t deal with that? After you were gone that got worse. I had to take all of the responsibility for both of us. Linus tried to help but he could only do so much. You weren’t facing anything I didn’t face too. I still never left you.”

What excuses are left? His shoulders sag. He wagered everything that he could get through to her and he’s failing. “You’re right, what I did wasn’t excusable. I messed up. I was broken and I hurt you when you needed me. If you don’t want to see me again, I understand. I just want you to know I truly am sorry and if I could go back and change what I did, I would.”

There’s a pause but after a moment the car from before pulls back up. She nod but looks back at the vehicle. “I believe you. I just don’t care. I guess apologizing’s nice and if you’d done so a few years ago it might have meant something. It doesn’t now though. I cared for a long time and eventually I got to the point where I couldn’t manage anymore. The pain was too much. I honestly never thought I’d see you again. Look, I don’t wish anything bad on you. I hope you pull yourself together and live a decent life. I just can’t be part of it. Good luck.”

Turning away from him, she walks toward the car. He searches for something he can say which will stop her but can’t find the words. “I’m so sorry Cat.”

She doesn’t turn around. “I don’t care, and don’t call me that. Or do, you won’t get the chance again so I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

Climbing into the back of the car, she says something to the driver before slamming the door. He wants to fall to his knees but manages to stand. He wants to run to the car and beg her but that won’t help. She’s made her decision and she’s standing by it. All he can do is watch the blue car speed off and disappear around the corner at the end of the street.

The easy thing to do would be to leave. He wants nothing more than to go back to his apartment and fall into bed. He doesn’t want the beautiful loft apartment though. He wants the studio in the terrible building where he spent the last five years. He was safe. He didn’t have to deal with bank robbers, or attempted murders, or his past. That apartment’s no longer an option though. If he goes back to even the loft now, there’s a good chance he won’t leave for another five years. Instead he forces himself back into the side door, back down the steep staircase into the Cuban restaurant with the wonderful smells.

When he returns to their table in the dark corner, Linus is already halfway through his sandwich. Zach’s is still waiting for him. The man eyes him up and down, pausing on his slumped shoulders and wet face. “It went that badly huh?”

What can he say? Slumping into his seat, he grabs for his food and starts stuffing it into his mouth. In less than a minute half of his sandwich is gone and he moves on to his side of plantain fries. He sees why Linus likes this place.

They eat in silence. When Linus’ food’s gone, he tries to catch Zach’s eye but they don’t leave his plate. “Look, she’s still living with me and despite this, I doubt she disappears. I’ll talk with her tonight, try to ease things. Maybe get her to give you another chance.”

“She said she never wants to see me again. I promised if she heard me out I’d leave her alone. I’ve broken enough promises to her, I don’t need to break another one.”

Laughing, Linus leans forward. “Now who doesn’t know her? She lashes out but she calms down too. It’ll take time but she will eventually give you another chance. Besides, if I talk to her that’s not you bothering her, that’s me doing so. I bother her all the time. It’s kind of my thing.”

Fighting the urge to hope, he decides for now he must assume he just said goodbye to his sister. At least this time she got one. The second half of his sandwich sits untouched. He was so hungry but now he feels nothing. “Why didn’t you tell me she was staying with you? I had no clue what happened to her.”

“Eat your sandwich. She had to go somewhere after you were gone and Amy’s around the same age. Things worked out. Besides, I was happy to take her in. I love you guys.”

His face’s starting to turn red. The vein in his neck pulses. He should never have been set up like this. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You had enough to deal with right away. It’s been a few months though and I figured it was time. I spent five years telling her I didn’t know where you’d gone. I protected you because I thought that was best. Now I feel the best thing is to push you. You’re both too stubborn to make the first move. That’s done. It was hard and it hurt but now you can move forward.”

Part 9

Part 11

Red Line: The Future Part 16

A week later Melissa’s laying on a cold metal bed in only a hospital gown. She’s in a private room on the second level of the facility, alone except for her sister sitting in a chair across the room. She’s still mad at Tara but she’s apologized enough that she agreed to let her be here today. She knows Wyatt and Kurt are in rooms on the same floor so she isn’t completely alone but right now she doesn’t feel close to either of them. She’s annoyed with Wyatt and mad at Kurt. He’s tried to apologize and she’ll forgive him eventually but eventually hasn’t come yet.

Her knee’s circled with a marker as a reminder to the scientists to watch how it responds. They considered doing her surgery before the serum’s administered but after going back and forth for days the scientists agreed to try it this way. They want to see how her body responds without it. They can always go in and do the surgery later but the biggest reason to do it is to strengthen the surrounding area and to avoid deterioration of the knee later. If the formula works like they hope those might not be concerns for her.

At three o’clock on the dot when the procedure’s set to begin Stan walks in. Sook and two other scientists she doesn’t recognize flank him. She’s up first with Kurt set to go at four and Wyatt last at five. The actual procedure’s quick. They inject her with the two parts of the serum simultaneously and then monitor her vitals closely for the next hour. When it really starts to take effect she’ll probably lose consciousness but that should only last a few hours. When she wakes up she should already start to feel the changes, though some changes may take a few days to start showing up.

Sook takes one syringe and Stan has another. He smiles at her and promises to make this quick. Tara walks to the side of the bed and grabs for her hand but she isn’t sure she wants that right now. She’s still mad. Tara uses both her hands to get a good grip though. “Hey, not now. You can be mad at me again when you wake up. Right now I’m your sister and I’m here for you.”

She slowly nods and holds her sister’s hand. One of the needles is positioned directly over her heart. It won’t be puncturing the heart since that would kill her but they’re putting it into the sack surrounding it. They want to get it into her blood stream fast and that’s the best way they’ve found. This has to be immediate or the risk goes way up. The other needle goes into her arm and she’s much less afraid of that one but it still makes her cringe. Both needles are huge. She’s always hated needles.

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, not wanting to see the needles coming. Seconds before they go in Tara squeezes her hand a little tighter. She loves her for being there but right now she hates her a little for giving it away. The pain in her chest is strong but it doesn’t last long. The needles are removed and Stan starts examining her chest to make sure they didn’t puncture anything that’s going to be an issue. There’s pain but she thinks it’s okay.

Squeezing her hand tighter, Tara gets close to her face. “How do you feel? Are you okay?”

“I feel okay I guess, that hurt but I’m alright.” A few minutes pass as they sit there. The scientists step back, monitoring her charts. Every so often one of them will smile at her and tell her everything looks good. “I’m starting to get sleepy.”

Most of the group ignores it but Sook smiles at her. “Don’t worry about that, it’s normal. Go to sleep if you want. You’ll wake up in a few hours feeling amazing.”

Taking them up on her offer, Melissa smiles at her sister and slowly closes her eyes. She decides to count down from ten to see how long she lasts. She never even makes it to nine.

Part 15

Part 17

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 11

“Jia.” She looks over and sees her girlfriend staring at her. She’s leaning against her as they watch some silly romantic comedy Carly had laying around. Since arriving in San Francisco she’s shuttled back and forth between Jillian and Carly’s places depending on the needs of the moment. She can’t have the people under her in the gang come to Carly’s place. Her college roommate’s willing to let her stay here as long as she needs but she’ll lose it if she sees people like that around. She barely held it together when they went looking for Jillian.

On the other hand, she can’t let her girlfriend see Jillian’s place or the people she’s spending her days with. She’s told her enough that she has a general idea what’s going on but not enough that she has to feel guilty about it. She’s still a cop and if she knew what her girlfriend did two nights ago she’d probably storm out of this apartment and never look back.

“Yes?”

“I really like your head. Can I rub it?” Jia can’t help but laugh. She was so nervous about Cassie seeing her bald. She doesn’t like how she looks without hair. She needed to do something drastic though, both to fit in with the type of people in the Delux Gang but also to make it more likely she wouldn’t be recognized by any members of the gang who saw her take them on in Napa when she attacked their favorite bar in the area. She wouldn’t send a picture of herself to Cassie for the first two weeks she was here but when she finally did the girl was nothing but positive. She’s teased her about it but that’s the worst of it.

“No you can not rub my head. Not unless you’re about to let me do something else.”

Cassie smiles. From this angle Jia has a nice view. She tries not to stare though she’s pretty sure the girl wouldn’t mind. Cassie pulls herself up and gives Jia a long kiss. When she settles back down and lays her head back on Jia’s shoulder she says, “We’ll see how the night goes.”

They lay together until the movie’s almost over. It’s nearly six. Jia’s phone buzzes and she grabs it off the side table. She has a text message from Darin reporting that there aren’t any issues today in her territory. Someone from the Five Tails was caught by another member of the Delux Gang but they seem to be staying clear of her areas. She sends a response back and looks away from her phone to find Cassie paying more attention to her than the movie. “What’s up?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just something with my project here. It’s all good.”

Cassie’s eyes don’t look away. “You’re not going to tell me about this project are you?”

Looking at the movie, she feels Cassie reach down and grab her hand. She takes a deep breath and squeezes back. “Not if I don’t have to. I have certain protections as a vigilante that you don’t. If I told you everything I don’t think you’d be able to stay out of it and I need you to stay out of it.”

“Are you sure? I can help. I’m good backup if it comes to that.”

“That’s sweet but I’m not letting you get hurt. This is my thing, my family’s thing. I need to take care of it and I need to know I’m not putting you in danger by doing so. Is that okay?”

Cassie takes her hand and kisses it. “Not completely but I appreciate you wanting to keep me safe so I’ll live with it. Can we go get some dinner? I’m getting really hungry.”

“Why don’t we order in?” Darin’s text puts her at ease but there’s a part of her still worried about retaliation. If they’re seen together Cassie could be in danger too.

Looking Jia up and down with eyes that narrow, Cassie’s smile slips. “I mean, I guess but we did that last night. I was thinking we could see the city. I don’t get over here very often.” Jia looks down, trying to think of an excuse. Nothing comes to mind. “Jia.” She looks up at Cassie. Their eyes meet for a moment but she breaks contact. “How bad is this stuff you’re involved in? I’m not accusing you of anything but I need to know that at least.”

Closing her eyes she says, “Bad. I don’t have a choice though. My brother’s life’s in danger and the girl who’s having his baby is in even more danger. I have to do this and if I do it right, it’s going to do a lot more good than bad.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“I know, but if I fully answer there’s a good chance you won’t want to see me anymore and I don’t want to lose you. Can you please just trust me?”

She meets Cassie’s eyes again and holds her gaze. Cassie blinks first, looking away. “Fine. Will you promise to tell me about if after it’s done?”

Jia nods. “I can do that if you want me to. I’m not sure it’s a good idea but I’ll leave that up to you.”

Standing from the couch, Cassie doesn’t look at her but starts walking back toward the guest bedroom. “I’m going to lay down until dinner gets here. Go ahead and order something.” Jia starts pulling up her phone to find something. She has to fight back tears. This was supposed to be a fun weekend but she seems to be ruining it. Stopping in the doorway, Cassie clears her throat. “After you order, you can join me if you want to.” Dread turning to relief, the search for dinner suddenly becomes a lot more urgent.

Part 10

Part 12

Dynamo Vol. 2 Exit Strategy Part 3

The morning before she’s set to go home, Kalenia pretends to sleep as Marco walks in. It’s time for her to make a choice and while she’s fairly sure she knows what to do, she still goes back and forth in her head every few minutes. Throwing the curtains open, light shines into a room she’s kept dark for most of her stay. He settles into a chair nearby and puts the news on with closed captioning, muting the TV so he doesn’t wake her.

Slowly she opens her eyes, a grin forming on her face as she makes out her boyfriend. The light shining from behind him makes him look slightly off but she squints through it. He smiles back at her and she scrunches her face up and sticks a tongue out at him. He pulls himself up and walks over to give her a kiss. It’s back to the quick pecks. He’s trying to look happy but she can see the fear behind his eyes.

He starts to walk back to the chair but before he can reach it Kalenia says, “I’m giving it up. Just so you know.”

Turning around, the look on his face isn’t as happy as she expected. One eyebrow goes up and he walks back to the bed. “By which I assume you mean…”

“Being a vigilante. I’m done with it when we get home.”

He nods but won’t look her right in the eye. “Are you sure? I don’t want you doing this only to avoid a fight or make things easy between us. I thought about it too and I decided I’m not going to leave if you decide to keep doing it. I’d rather you quit, but I want you to do what you think is right.”

“I’m sure.” She grabs his hand. “Look at me.” He does as she asks. “I got lost in all of this. Really and truly lost. I started because I wanted to do research for my case, thinking I could help people by knowing more about how this worked. It went way beyond that. I started out desperate to stop the program and by the end I was desperate to be a part of it, even if it killed me. That’s crazy. I don’t want to die. I want us to grow old together and have a good life.”

“Are you going to miss it?”

She nods. A few tears form in the corner of her eyes but if anything her smile grows. “I’ll miss it a lot. That’s not a good thing though. I didn’t learn anything to make me think about the program differently. I still think it’s the wrong way to protect people. I believe in my case. If I believe that, I can’t continue being part of it when it isn’t helping the case. If anything I’m making my case worse by making vigilantes look good and potentially compromising myself. I need to stop. I’m doing this for you but I’m also doing it for my case and for myself.”

He pulls a chair close to her bed and grabs her hand again. “So how does this work? Do we need to go down to the vigilante office and remove you from the program or something?”

“We don’t need to and I’m not going that far anyway.”

His eyebrow goes up again. He uses his free hand to push his hair back, taking a deep breath while he does so. “Any reason? Seems like a good idea so you’re not tempted to dive back into it the first time you see a problem.”

She swings her feet over the edge of the bed so she’s facing him. She pulls herself to her feet and walks over and sits on his knee. There’s actually not much pain. A combination of healing and strong pain medication. “You’re right, but I’m not promising I won’t get involved in anything. I’m promising I won’t go out and actively be a vigilante. If I see someone needing help and I can help them I may still do it. That was true before I became a vigilante too. The registration protects me if I need it.”

“You’ve thought this through.”

“I have.” She pauses, not wanting to share the last part but knowing honesty’s important as they get back to their life together. “There’s another reason too.”

“Spill.” He looks up at her with eyes that are somehow happy and suspicious at the same time.

“Well, there’s a chance the people who were running the casino figured out who I am. Not a certainty or anything but a chance.”

“How?” He wraps his arms around her, holding her tight.

She shrugs, leaning her head on his shoulder. ”I wish I knew. There’s a guy who may have used some clues they found about me to find out. If they come after us though I need to be able to protect us. I’m keeping the weapons for now. I’m not getting rid of what’s left of the costume. If they come after us, I’ll use the vigilante act to protect us. I’m not out looking for anything new. I’ll be tempted but I’ll fight through it. Do you trust me?”

There’s a hesitation but he nods. “I trust you. It’s going to be alright.”

“I know it’s going to be alright. Now let’s get me home. If I have to spend another night in that hospital bed I’m going to scream. I want to feel my sheets on my skin.”

Marco glances at the door before leaning in close to kiss her. “If I see your skin against only the sheets, I may not be able to resist.”

Laughing, she pulls him in for another kiss. “You’re going to have to hold out a little longer big man, we can’t get back to that for a few more weeks.”

He sticks his lip out and pouts but he’s struggling to keep a grin back. “Somehow I’ll survive.”

Part 2

Part 4

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 7

They manage to get their dad on the phone right before he can get onto the highway to start driving downtown. Ryaan’s surprised to find the man never called his phone, so intent on calling Nadia.

As they get home a pizza delivery man is pulling away. Their dad comes out the door only moments later. When they walk up to the house he runs over, wrapping them in tight hugs and dragging them inside. The aroma of their favorite pizza place fills the air as they walk inside but before they can eat he has a million questions about whether they’re okay and what happened. He barely blinks when Nadia shows him her phone. He promises to order her another using their phone insurance the next day. She looks surprised but any shock disappears when they see the news.

A reporter outside the park jumped in to get on the air right after people started running. The camera’s not close enough to the stage to show the man in red well and thankfully not close enough to get a good look at Ryaan but it does catch Nadia being thrown to the ground and doesn’t show her get back up. Pointing at the TV, he has a silly grin on his face. “I thought you were dead or seriously hurt. I’ve never been happier than I was when you called and said you were all okay. Maybe the day you were born but even then. Why didn’t you call sooner?”

Ryaan gets ready to jump in but Nadia cuts him off. “We were so busy getting clear of the place that we didn’t have time. Really sorry if we worried you dad, we’ll be more careful in the future.”

“There will not be an in the future.” He turns to Ryaan. “I didn’t see you on the tape. Where were you?”

He tries to think of a good lie that might stand up to his youngest sister Lana’s terrible ability to lie and lack of reason to do so but Nadia again jumps in. “He was there, we got separated for a minute because someone pushed between us. He was behind the big guy next to me. He caught up after a minute, helped me up.”

Their dad turns to Lana who nods, though she doesn’t say anything. Ryaan gives the same nod which seems to be enough for the subject to be dropped.

They’re allowed to eat pizza on the couch while watching TV for once. Mina’s invited to stay but makes an excuse about needing to get home. Now that he knows his kids are safe, their dad has no further desire to watch the news. Instead he puts on some cartoon the girls enjoy. Ryaan’s not going to complain, most nights they wouldn’t get to watch anything.

After the last of the pizza’s gone, their dad runs around collecting plates and offering to do the dishes after the day they had. Lana’s falling asleep in their recliner while Nadia and Ryaan are curled up on opposite ends of the couch.

Turning to her brother, Nadia gives him a kick with her long legs. “You think all the pizza and dishes is his way of saying sorry for making us go to this thing?”

Having not even considered that, Ryaan suddenly feels guilty. “I hope not. It wasn’t his fault. No way he could have known that would happen.” He gets quiet for a moment, both of their attention returning to the TV. Ryaan glances toward the kitchen, hearing the water still running to tell him their dad’s still washing dishes. “Why’d you lie about me being there? I appreciate it but you didn’t need to do that.”

She shrugs, putting a hand on her chin. “You know how dad would have reacted if he found out you left us alone with Mina and then this happened, right? Not your fault, there’s no way you could have known what would happen either. If you needed the bathroom you needed it. I didn’t want you to get blamed for something stupid.”

He wants to hug his sister but she’s too far away and he’s too sore from his fight today so instead he rests a hand on her ankle for a moment and squeezes. “Thanks. Do you think Lana can keep it to herself though? She has a habit of squealing and I’ll be in more trouble for lying than if I come clean now.”

Nadia shakes her head. “I bribed her if she keeps her mouth shut for at least two months. She wants the game I promised to get her and by then we’ll be far enough out that it won’t come up.”

His sister’s a genius. The urge to hug her’s getting stronger. “I can split the cost of the game with you.”

“That goes without saying.” She smiles and kicks him again. “You’re lucky you’re a good brother. You owe us. Tomorrow you play basketball with us.”

Ryaan groans at this. The idea of getting up jumpers while his body hurts this much sounds terrible. His legs are heavy and his arms feel like rubber. He nods in agreement though.

Their dad calls for him to come into the kitchen. Nadia gives him a concerned look but he smiles and tries to reassure her. Before he leaves he does finally give her the hug he’s been wanting to provide.

Leaning against a counter in the kitchen, his dad’s shirt is soaking wet. The faucet on the kitchen sink’s broken so it sprays outward. Despite this their dad hasn’t changed his normal dish washing strategy of leaving the sink running the entire time. He waves Ryaan over to him and wraps him in a long bear hug, holding him longer than he’s ever held him. Ryaan wants to push away because of his dad’s wet shirt but decides now isn’t the time. “Thank you for keeping yourself and your sisters safe today. I was so worried.”

Ryaan pats his dad on the back a few times, pausing between each pat. “No problem dad, I’ll always look out for them.”

The man pulls him away and stares him in the eye. Twice he starts to say something but pauses. After a deep breath he says, “I feel bad bringing this up after the day you’ve had, but your teachers put your chemistry test on the online portal today. You got a C.”

He nods, looking his dad in the eye. “Sorry, I guess I was distracted with the end of the basketball season and all. I’ll be more careful.”

“That was weeks ago. That’s not the reason you struggled here. Is anything going on? We can get you a tutor if needed.”

“No!” He pulls away strongly from his dad before realizing how forcefully he did so. He can’t afford the time or the extra people watching over his shoulder right now. The time after school and before his dad gets home is his best time to go out as the Rebel. “Sorry, scary day. Seriously though, I’m fine. One bad test, I’ll turn it around. I promise.”

His dad looks him up and down, clearly wanting to say more. If ever there was a day to get a bad test score though it was today. “I want to believe that so I will today. I shouldn’t take it into account since you didn’t fail today, but I will. You get this chance to turn things around on your own. You get one chance though. If you get another test back like this I’m going to come down on you and you will be getting a tutor. Is that clear?”

All Ryaan can do is nod. His dad’s known to put grades before everything else. That he’s giving him a chance to redeem himself is huge.

“Good.” The man pulls him in for another hug, this time not letting go until his son forces his way free.

Part 6

Part 8

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 9

The Cuban restaurant Linus picked for lunch is hard to find from the street. The door’s tucked around the side of the building and the only sign’s on the door itself. Linus promised he’d pick a place in Zach’s area and he wasn’t lying. Only a ten minute walk from the shop he didn’t bother to call his driver. The fresh air lifts his spirits. Upon arrival he regrets not having the extra set of eyes to help him figure out where to go. He walks past the place three times before finding it. His phone’s GPS app says he’s arrived but he can’t see a restaurant. His knee’s throbbing so he breathes easier when he notices the side door, tucked out of sight in shadow down an alley.

Opening the worn door, he descends a steep staircase where he ducks his head to avoid the ceiling. He’s grateful for the sturdy railing so he can lean on something when his knee hums with pain.

At the bottom of the staircase he finds a dim room, though a light sits on each table so the diners can see each other without issue. There’s fifteen or so tables and each one’s full. A woman emerges from the back carrying drinks but she notices him across the way and gestures that she’ll be with him in a minute. Dropping the drinks off at a table, she walks over to him. “What can I do for you? We’re all full at the moment.”

“I’m meeting someone here. A Linus Setterberg?”

Nodding, she wipes her hands on her apron. “Oh ya, he’s already seated. Follow me.” She leads him around a corner to a table which is concealed by a half wall. Linus is eating a giant platter of plantain fritters. There’s twenty of them on the table and from the look of the crumbs there were originally twice as many.

Linus extends a handshake which Zach takes. He turns to the woman who led Zach to the table. “Thanks for bringing him over Samara.” She nods and walks away. He gestures for Zach to sit on the other side of the table. There’s two other chairs. “Glad you found the place. Try these Bolitas de Platanos, they’re awesome.”

Grabbing one and popping it into his mouth, Zach has to admit they’re very good. Maybe not so good he needs forty of them but he understands the appeal. “Took me awhile. Almost had to call you for help. Why are they so hidden?”

Linus shrugs and pops another plantain ball into his mouth. “They’re pretty much always full and they don’t have a ton of room. If they were easier to find they’d only turn more people away. I think they like being the little hidden place people love. They could move but they’ve been here forever.”

Zach nods at Linus and picks up a menu. He has limited familiarity with Cuban food so he’s not sure what to order but everything looks delicious. “Why’d you want to meet? You said something about planning next steps.”

The waitress returns and interrupts them. Linus orders a sandwich and asks Zach if he wants the same thing. Without a clue what to order he goes along with the suggestion. Before she leaves, he makes a point of asking her not to hurry the food. Weird. When the waitress walks away, Linus turns back to Zach. “So, I want to talk about a few things. Next steps, how things are going, but let’s start with money.”

Eyes narrowing, Zach wasn’t expecting this. He’s gone through almost twenty million so far being a vigilante but he’s worth billions and that’s not much in the grand scheme of things. “What about it?”

Swallowing another plantain Linus says, “Well, you’re spending a lot. Not that you can’t afford to, and considering you’ve spent almost nothing for five years now this isn’t a major deal, but we need to slow down at least a little.”

Zach puts a hand on his forehead. He considers objecting but he hates confrontation. “Slowing down’s good. I’m trying to do so. I think I’ve slowed down the last few months actually.”

Another plantain ball disappears. Zach takes a second before they’re gone. Suddenly he feels the need to eat. Once Linus finishes chewing he says, “Ya, I’ve noticed but not as fast as I’d like. I was thinking we could hire a financial planner to work with you.”

That grabs his attention. He eats another of the plantain bites. As the conversation continues he feels more and more glad Linus ordered so many. He can’t deal with this. A financial planner means reporting to someone about everything he buys. He wouldn’t be able to hide where the money’s going and he’d be found out as a vigilante. “It’s my money, I don’t think I need permission to spend it.”

“No, you don’t. I’d like to help though. Going from nothing to this kind of spending overnight can be overwhelming. I want to make sure you’re prepared.”

Trying to smile, Zach’s pretty sure he only manages to look strange. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine. I’ll tell you if I need help. Can we talk about something else?”

Linus stops smiling and eats another snack. “Fine, but I’m going to keep tracking your spending. If you don’t slow down then I’m going to bring this up again. That sounds awful so get yourself under control.” He leans around the corner and looks toward the door. He checks his watch. “Let’s talk about the last board meeting. I thought things went well.”

Zach turns and looks toward the door as well but nothing stands out to him. “Are we waiting for someone?”

“Don’t worry about that. The meeting went well. I liked that you got involved with one of the presentations. Maybe not my favorite but you established yourself as someone the board has to take seriously. That’s a good move. You really liked Charley’s presentation though?”

Eating another of the bites, Zach takes a moment to think over his response. He can’t tell Linus why he really likes it. “VR’s huge right now. I think there are a lot of potential uses down the line, either as it’s own technology or for licensing.”

“I’m glad you’re already out ahead thinking about things like licensing, but I think it’s going to take a long time to reach that level and cost an awful lot of money on the way. Still, we’ve signed off on the funds and we’ll continue to do so. I want to make this your project though. It’ll give further products you support additional clout. Follow along, give support where needed, I’ll get you Charley’s number so you can check in.”

Looking down, Zach realizes he’s earned himself additional work. His goal with the board’s been to do as little work as possible. “I don’t know if that’s appropriate. If she wants me to have her number, she’d give it to me.”

“That’s awfully presumptuous when you’re her boss. Don’t worry, I checked with her, she’s waiting to hear from you.”

Looking at the table, Zach notices they’re low on their appetizer. Linus again looks around the corner toward the door and Zach can’t help but notice. “Seriously, are you waiting for someone? We can wait if someone else is coming.”

“Don’t change the subject Zach.” Linus pauses for a moment, eating one of their last few bites. “Over the next few weeks, I need you at every board meeting. We need you invested and making contributions if possible. Nothing major. It doesn’t need to be what you did this week. I want you felt every time in some way though.”

That wasn’t the deal. This was supposed to be easy. Linus promised he could show up, listen in and drift into the background. “What happened to no pressure? I can make an impact, but every time?”

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on you. If you’re really not comfortable speaking up, that’s fine. You took initiative though and that changes things a bit. People are going to look to you now. Before you could take a back seat, assess, then step in later as needed. If you fade now people will think you made a mistake. It’s going to make you seem weak when you step up later.”

Putting his head in his hands, Zach groans. “What do I have to do? I’m not good at all of this.”

Linus smiles and reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder. “That’s okay. We don’t need anything crazy out of you. Support a project, or vote against the majority on something every time. You don’t need to care about the vote. Wait until near the end then vote against the majority. It won’t matter since the thing lost but people will start looking to you to try and get a measure of your support. That’s huge.”

This is all going to be too much. He squeezes his eyes shut and steadies his breathing for a moment. He wishes Linus would remove his hand but he can’t ask him to, too much risk he’ll take that the wrong way. The only choice is to accept the man’s well meaning gesture, though doing so makes him want to scream. Footsteps approach from behind them. Nobody’s checked on them since they ordered so he assumes the waitress is coming back. He can’t let her see him like this. He doesn’t even like Linus doing so.

Looking up, his mind goes blank. He thought his stress was at about a level nine out of ten. Now he’s escalated to level 50. The blonde haired girl, dressed in khakis and a tank top hovers over them with her mouth wide. A small yellow purse is wrapped over her shoulder. She looks him right in the eye and her shock turns to anger. Her eyes go thin and the edges of her mouth curl. Her fist tightens and the first clear thought Zach has comes in the form of fear she might hit him.

Her gaze flashes to Linus who doesn’t look at all surprised to see her or afraid of the consequences. “How dare you do this. What gives you the right?”

He takes a long drink from a glass of scotch before smiling and answering her. “Well, as the person who spent the last five years taking care of you, that gives me the right. You wouldn’t do this on your own, I did what I had to. Sit down and eat with us. You love the food here, I’ll split my pork belly with you.”

What has Linus done? Zach tries to think of something to say, something to make up for all he’s done wrong and everything he wishes he could change. Nothing comes to mind though so he stares in silence. She turns to him, her anger rising. She reaches toward him, grabbing toward his collar, but she pulls her hand back and locks it behind her head. “Did you know?”

Words don’t come. He manages to shake his head no which is going to have to be good enough.

Linus nudges a chair out to provide her an opportunity to sit. “At least have lunch with him, you might find what’s left of your family does better together than they do apart.”

Even after five years, Zach knows what to expect. Linus lived with her for this long and hasn’t figured that out? People don’t change that much. She kicks the chair away and turns to go. He could say something to her but what can he say to make up for all that’s happened? Tears gather in the corner of his eyes but he tries to blink them away. He hasn’t cried in five years and he’s not ready to start now. Before she storms off they lock eyes for a moment. She notices but she doesn’t say anything. She breaks eye contact and looks down before rushing away.

“Wait Catherine, don’t rush off.” A few moments pass while Linus watches her go. Then he turns to Zach. “Go after her.”

It takes a moment for him to realize Linus is talking. The man reaches out and shakes him a little. “What?”

“Go after her. You need to talk to her now. Why do you think I invited you both out here? Your spending’s a concern but not so bad we had to have this talk yet.”

Shaking his head, he looks at the man, still having a hard time finding words. “Why would you think this was a good idea? She doesn’t respond well to being pushed. She’s been with you five years and you haven’t figured her out?”

“Of course I have. What other choices did I have though? You’ve both pushed each other away for so long that if someone didn’t push you together this would never have happened.”

“Did you ever think that’s for the best?” The silence between them lasts a few moments, the sadness in Linus’ eyes growing. Is that pity he sees behind them? That’s the last thing he wants. “I stepped away at the worst time. That wasn’t fair and —”

“That’s all well and good but everything you’re saying to me right now, you’d be better off saying to her. She’ll call a car and in this part of town they’ll take at least a few minutes. If you hurry you can still catch her. Your sister’s stubborn as hell. If you go after her, she might not want to talk to you, but she’ll at least recognize the effort. If you don’t try this time, I don’t know that she’ll give you another chance.”

Blinking, he looks at Linus and considers his response. He wants to yell, maybe to shove the man. He’s right though. This might be his last chance. Is he willing to write his sister out of his life forever? She’s the only family he has left. He doesn’t deserve her forgiveness but if he’s trying to put his life back together, wouldn’t that eventually include bringing her back into it?

Without another word, he stands and heads for the exit. He should scream at Linus but he’s not going to cause a major confrontation in public. That he can tell himself that while rushing toward what’s likely to be an even bigger public confrontation isn’t lost on him but what else can he do?

Climbing the steep stairs to reach the street, he fights through the pain in his knee. Hopefully any car service will have as much trouble finding the place as he did. He’s blasted by the heat as he pushes the door to the street open. How hot is today supposed to be?

Part 8

Part 10