"Heroes never have to be stared at, like they’re killers and bad and evil." Lang, viol.
|(Rating is for violent death later in story.)
It starts with a vibration.
The disturbance causes the woman to roll over. Her scuffed leather jacket strains at the seams as she throws an arm across her face.
The music starts to play in rhythm to the phone’s bouncing on her stand. The sound is tinny, speakers muffled by the wood.
All she hears is a muffled buzzing, as if a fly was bobbing around the room. That could be; she hasn’t replaced windows yet. They let all sorts of shit in.
She waves her arm to swat the bug away.
“—now? Can we pretend that airplanes—”
Mira’s eyes snap open. Mosquitoes aren’t that annoying. It had to be—
“Whadya want, Joey?” Her voice crackles with sleep. She runs her free hand across a switch behind the stand, and a muted yellow light flickers on the ceiling. The fan groans and starts spinning muggy air.
“Now, is that any way to treat the guy doin’ ya a favor?”
This has to be a joke. “Do you have a death wish?”
“Nah, that’s your thing.”
“Mira! Gee, this is fun!”
“Joey, it is“ —Mira twists the clock, squinting to read the time— “Two thirty-nine. In the morning. Why are you calling me at two thirty-nine in the morning?”
“Hey, I’m doin’ this as a favor to you, sweetheart. Don’t get all grouchy on me, jeez…” A thump, a curse, and then something that sounds like a tornado made of Brill-o pads scrapes against the microphone. “Got it! Reapers for you, darlin’.”
Reapers. At the word, Mira’s mind blanks, repeating the sole thought as it struggles to reboot.
Oh, there is a god. Thank you, baby Jesus.
“We got a call just now saying the Reapers was going on ghost patrol, and the Big Guy decided to give it up ‘cause of some stakeout or some shit like that. You want it?”
“Just tell me where.”
“O’Connell Avenue. At the corner of Franklin with that gas station Mike used to–”
“I know where,” Mira says. “Thanks.” She flicks her phone shut before Joey can continue.
And here it comes. If she closes her eyes, she can just sense the adrenaline surge through her system, bursting through her veins like she’d drunk twenty cups of coffee. Her hands shake in the onslaught. There’s no more sleep tonight.
She perches at the edge of her mattress, balancing, testing herself, before she slams her boots on the concrete floor. Snatching a pair of scuffed leather gloves from the top drawer of her nightstand, Mira strides toward the door completely dressed, pausing only to grab the leather harness she tossed on a tarnished brass bracket.
And it’s here, as she reaches around her body to settle the holster on her hip, that the glint of a polished silver picture frame flickers into her peripheral vision, and her head snaps up, one hand frozen on the pebbled grip like a kid caught with one hand in the cookie jar.
Michael’s handsome, tan face grins at her, preserved behind sparkling glass. A brown cowlick stands against the blue spring sky. A thin cord peeps past his collar. Mira fingers her own cord, the one that holds her yin to his yang, her dark to his blazing sun. But her sun set, cooled and corpsified so that it can never rise again, never keep her warm. Never whisper I love you and hold her so tightly that it feels as if flesh could weld itself to another, that the you and I would become an us so completely that we could never be separated, never, ever, ever.
She can’t look at him anymore. Mira wrenches her eyes away from the picture and snaps the light off. She leaves her room without a backward glance, not bothering to lock her door. There’s nothing in there worth stealing, not really. Just a piece of paper behind wafer-thin glass and locked away behind shiny strips of tin metal.
She doesn’t have far to go: a small mercy. The Reapers are just two blocks away. Mira spots the idiots the moment she steps out of her complex, the humid night muffling the sounds of the nightlife. Her street is fairly well traveled, day or night, and the bright headlights of passing cars reveal the massive silhouettes of two guys in trenchcoats. (Yeah. Trenchcoats in this heat? No way they aren’t Reapers.)
Mira frowns as she studies them. They aren’t very smart: they should’ve posted guards facing the street so they’d know if someone was sneaking up behind them, like she was about to do. Mira shrugs and melts into the shadows lapping at the dim yellow halos of the streetlamps. She isn’t about to complain, not if it can be used to her advantage. She slips across the street during a brief break in the traffic to arrive at Ground Zero with enough time to survey the damage.
The Reapers’ victim is splayed on his back, staring at his assailants, just… waiting, which makes no sense. He doesn’t move – he just stares. Like an idiot. Like a halfwit. Like a child, dammit, a frickin' child! A red wash seeps across Mira’s sight, clouding her vision with an anger so intense that she can’t see anything but this pale body that sprawls itself in the dirt. How can he just let this happen? He can call for help or try to run or something, anything besides lying there like some gasping fish.
The man on her left cocks his fist in a melodramatic, threatening gesture, like it’s some stupid action movie.
It’s unfortunate there are no stunt doubles in real life.
“I don’t think so,” Mira says, and her lips peel back from her teeth in a sensation which Mira vaguely recognizes as smiling. Before either Reaper can move, she catches the nearer man’s raised fist. A turn on her heel braces her back against his and, silently, efficiently, she slams down his arm.
The crack his elbow makes as it breaks actually echoes in the tiny space, though she’s listening so hard for it—for the assurance and the satisfaction—that the sound might’ve just splintered through her own body, traveling up her spine to pound in her ears.
She kicks him to the asphalt. He struggles to his knees and stares at his cockeyed arm. (Really, do something besides staring!) Silence remains for one beat, two, before it shatters as the wounded man screeches in pain, fingers groping at bone fragments. Mira curses and knees the idiot in the head. He topples face first to the road, unmoving.
One down. Mira spins on her heel to face the other man, only this time, instead of some clueless blank look of shock, she’s looking down the business end of a semi-automatic, the barrel already black (doesn’t he know how to clean it?), and one look at the scar running sideways through his face confirms what his gun is already screaming—he won’t hesitate to shoot her, not like she hesitated, not the way she stopped to watch the pain and gloried in it, really, she reveled in his pain and fear and pain because even if it was black and red and bone, it’s something, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
She senses his hand clench around the trigger. (It’s what she’d do, it’s what she should’ve done, dammit, dammit all to hell—)
She hears a gun fire.
Only it’s her gun.
Somehow, she drew her own weapon and fired it and actually hit. That’s what really gets her—it’s like her body knew what she wanted even when she couldn’t remember, couldn’t get two thoughts to line up and shut themselves up so she could get the goddamn job done. She couldn’t shut up, so she failed; her hand couldn’t talk, so it did. Good arrangement, that.
Her pointer finger caresses the trigger, curling and wiggling and ready to twitch again. But it doesn’t need to. It was perfect the first time. She watches as blood silently blossoms across his chest. It’s not like there’s anything else to do—not now, anyway.
Mira waits until his body finally (finally!) hits the ground before she spits on him. Her saliva runs down his cheek to merge and blend and swirl in the pool seeping beneath the body.
“For Michael,” she whispers. She can barely hear herself over the rush of sound swooshing through her ears. “May the rest of you murdering bastards end up in Hell.”
A whimper forces Mira’s gaze to the only other person left alive. The Reapers’ victim watches her. Terror has leeched the color from his plump baby-fat cheeks. He sits, pale as a ghost can be with a heartbeat.
Heroes don’t have to deal with this, some part of her brain husks. They never have to be stared at like they were crazy, like they’re killers and bad and evil—they never have to stick around. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, and off into the sunset to save some scrawny kitten. This isn’t how this goes at all. This isn’t right. This is off the script, off the books, under the table, oh, God, what now?
But the man—the boy—answers the question before Mira can wrap her brain around a response.
“Thank you.” His voice rasps against his throat, as if he’d been screaming. He stares now at the corpse beside him while his trousers wick blood back to his body, drinking it into the grooves of denim and grommets until there’s not a way in hell that that’s coming out, not ever.
“Thank you for saving me.”
And those are the words, the right words, he’s trying to get back to the script, to the way it was (oh, Michael!) but that can’t happen, not ever, and she’s screaming, I didn’t do it for you, and she’s running, running away from that alley and the bodies and let someone else deal with the blood and bodies and death because she’s in her room and the shitty lock’s turned and she’s crying so hard that the red leaves her, too, leaves her to sorrow (he’s dead he’s dead he’s dead omigod he’s dead) and fear (I/he/we killed him/that man/him) and pain (I sprained my wrist, the barrel was hot my finger is burning and that elbow bent back) and oh god, I didn’t do it for him, Michael, I’d never do it for him, I did it for you—only for you.