Before you start reading, I think I have to admit how much I love the part you're about to read. It's almost too cute for its own good, but I had more fun writing this because of Matt's general awkwardness than anything else.
Disclaimer complete. Commence reading.
The Early Days of the Underground: Matt’s Errand
In the city, there was an entire district of nothing but tailors, seamstresses, and costume shops. What Matt needed could have probably been found in a costume shop, but he bypassed a whole row of them to duck into a proper tailor’s shop.
“You want what, exactly?” The tailor behind the counter was a man in his forties, with thinning gray hair and perfectly straight posture.
“I need a suit fitted by tomorrow.”
“For a friend. It’s a surprise.” Matt pulled out the list of measurements and handed them across the counter. “Those are his measurements.”
“And why can’t he come in for the fitting?”
“Because he doesn’t know I’m doing this. It’s for…” Matt shook his head. “It doesn’t matter what it’s for; it matters that it gets done. I’d like to be able to present it to him by six o’clock tomorrow. You must have something in here that you can alter to his measurements.”
“Sir, without him here to measure properly, I can’t guarentee it will fit.”
Matt waved off the problem. “Look, the woman who found the measurements is excellent at her job. If she says these are it, then these are it.”
The tailor squinted at the paper and grudgily dug a pencil out of a drawer in his counter. “I will try. Now, what all did you need?”
“I’m going to need a black suit coat, matching slacks, a white shirt, a thin black tie, and a black belt.”
“Any special requests?”
“I need them to look cheap.” Matt grinned at the shock on the tailor’s face. “Look cheap, not be cheap. If I wanted cheap, I’d be down at that madhouse they call a mall out on the highway. I want cheap-looking but high quality.”
The tailor sniffed in disapproval. “I’m not sure I’m willing to make that kind of compromise on my work. I’ve been at this store for twenty years and change. I started it with one mirror, a run down sewing machine, and a clerk that couldn’t take measurements if the tape did the work for him. I’ve built up a reputation as a quality man with quality goods. Asking me to make something that is quality but looks cheap is like asking a hooker for a blow job and then refusing to pay. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Matt reached into his wallet and slowly pulled out his platinum card. “I have an unlimited credit line. And when I say ‘unlimited’, I mean it. Have you seen Pretty Woman, sir?”
“I’m willing to be just as obscene, and I won’t drag Julia Roberts and her giant mouth in here. Do we have a deal?” Matt laid the card on the counter but didn’t take his finger off of it.”
The tailor eyed the card for a moment before holding up a finger. “Wait here. Let me see if I can find something to alter in the back.”
He walked behind a curtain, and Matt let his eyes roll into the back of his head. He watched the skeleton of the man flip through a long rack of jackets and then another long rack of pants. Matt passed the time wondering where the man had gotten the metal plate in his head and the screw in his femur. Must have been a nasty accident, whatever it was. The tailor’s skeleton started moving towards the curtain, and Matt slid his eyes back into the front of his head. “Anything?”
The tailor held up a pair of slacks and a jacket. “These should work just fine. The shirt will take a little more time to find, and I don’t want to keep you from any other errands you might have.”
“What’s the damage?”
“For regular alterations to items in my inventory, I usually charge two hundred dollars. Considering the odd request you’ve made, It’ll be three hundred.”
“Done.” Matt watched the tailor’s eyes light up. “And I’ll throw in an extra hundred if you can track me down a sapphire tie tack. A blue sapphire tie tack. And I’ll pay whatever the price on the tie tack as well.”
“I know a handful of very talented jewlers. Do you want anything inscribed on the tie tack?”
“Just make sure it looks like it’s sparking.”
“Of course.” The tailor ran Matt’s card and handed him the extra receipt that printed out of the machine. “I’ll have it ready by two o’clock tomorrow. If you need it before then, you’re out of luck.”
“Two o’clock is fine. A pleasure doing business with you.” Matt gave a wave over his shoulder as he exited the shop. He paused on the street to get his bearings and then walked into the costume shop across the way. A pretty young woman with long blonde hair and gray eyes was working behind the counter. She greeted him with a smile.
”May I help you, Sir?”
“Yes, please. I’m getting my Halloween costume ready, and I’m searching for a couple of masks. Just something with eye holes and a nose cover. Preferably cardboard if you have it.”
The girl walked around the counter and motioned Matt to follow her. “You’ve got excellent timing; we just got in a whole shipment of stuff like that. Everyone starts shopping for their Halloween costumes mid-September, so we had to re-order some stuff that we thought would last. She led him to the far wall and stopped in front of a row of cardboard masks with eye holes. They were long enough to cover a person’s nose and had a bump in the bottom half of the mask for that particular purpose. “If you’re shopping for anyone with a big nose, we do have masks with larger bumps.”
“These will be fine, thanks.” Matt surveyed the masks. Some were just plain cardboard that looked like they’d been spray painted. Some went so far as to be covered in feathers and rhinestones. Some were made of foil and others were held in one hand like opera glasses. Matt picked up a few and held them against his face and finally decided on a blue foil mask with no extra decorations and an elastic band for Leonard and a black mask with a silver stripe across the nose for himself. He still had no idea what outfit he was going to wear to help break open the prison, but he figured the silver stripe made him look a little tougher. None of the masks seemed right for Daniel, and Matt figured that Daniel would probably laugh him off before flying over the prison with nothing but whatever he was wearing and whatever explosive device Leonard had managed to concoct.
“Did you find everything?” The girl was back behind the counter, a glossy, overly colorful magazine in front of her, the pages screaming something about ‘making him yours’ or ‘best beauty tip ever’.
“I think so.” Matt put the masks on the counter and considered the capes behind the girl. He shook his head at the idea, picturing either himself or Leonard trapped because of the damned thing and reached for his wallet. “I think this’ll do it for now. I’m not quite sure what I’m going as yet, but it’s a full masquerade ball, so I know the mask is a requirement no matter.”
“Oh, I hate those types of balls. I always end up with a massive break out on my nose the day after. If you want my advice,” and the girl didn’t actually stop to make sure Matt did, “you need to clean the inside of the mask with astringent before you wear it. Those things come crammed in a box, and then half a dozen people try them on before their bought. It changes the color of the mask on the underside, but who sees that anyway, right?”
Matt grinned, deciding that this girl, even if he never saw her again, was going to stay in his memory. “Do you recommend a particular astringent?”
“The stronger the better, I say. And then you should follow it up with a dose of peroxide, just to make sure you killed everything. But really let it dry before you wear it or else you’ll break out anyway because the peroxide will dry you out.”
Matt nodded and handed over his credit card. “I’ll remember that. Thanks.”
“Oh, sure, no problem. All part of the job,” and when she smiled at Matt, he actually believed her.
He got back to the office with a half hour before the end of the day, and Leonard was on the phone, obviously in the heat of an intense conversation.
”Ma’am, I would never assume your daughter had done anything wrong. I’m simply asking for all the information on the event so that I can make sure I have the full story to pass on to Mr. Scarpelli.” Leonard rolled his eyes and spotted Matt in the doorway. He made the motions of a man wrapping a noose, slipping it over his head, and hanging himself. Matt grinned in return as Leonard gave the phone a dirty look. “Ma’am, I fully understand your concern, but that’s not information that I can see at this moment…Because that’s confidential student information, and the university tries to limit it to as few people as possible…Ma’am, my job is not such that I need that information, and is actually much better used in the hands of Mr. Scarpelli, who is the one who is in charge of meeting with people such as your daughter and her roommate if the need arises.” Leonard tugged at his hair and scribbled what looked to Matt from his upside-down vantage point, as a dunce cap. “Ma’am, I’m not accusing your daughter of anything. In these types of situations, where violence against one roommate to another roommate is being discussed, it’s procedure to get as much information from both sides, so that while we sincerely believe that your daughter has no reason to lie about the events, we have to get all the information we can from her about the attacks so that when we talk to the roommate, we can fill in any holes to your daughter’s story. This type of action between roommates is unsettling, and I’m sure your daughter, in her,” Leonard rolled his eyes at Matt, “sensitive state, will have certain parts of the event she won’t recall right away. So, if you could please relay to your daughter that we in no way want to accuse her of lying or producing false information, I would appreciate-“ Leonard made a disgusted face and slammed down the phone. “She just hung up on me.”
Matt’s forehead crinkled in sympathy as he brought his eyebrows together. “Who are we accusing of lying?”
“No one. Roommate conflict apparently got violent, and when the hall director tried to talk to the girl who says she was attacked, she called her mother and said her honesty was being questioned. The mother called the hall director who got so disgusted with the accusations that she sent her over here.”
“You thinks she doth protest too much?”
“And how.” Leonard shook his head and rubbed at his eyes with the palms of his hands. “I tried to explain that there’s no accusation being made in regards to her daughter telling the truth, that we’re just getting information, and she won’t have any of it. Apparently her precious jewel of a miracle daughter has never lied in her life.”
Matt snorted as he tried to hold in his laugh. “Well, that’s bullshit.”
“Nothing. She didn’t even leave her number, and the hall directors are off the clock now, so I’ll ring Venice in the morning and see if she got the information.”
“Great.” Matt glanced at his watch. Twenty minutes until quitting time. “Go on and head out. I know you’ve got stuff to take care of, and I can certainly handle any mouthy parent that decides to try and start shit.”
“Okay. Thanks.” Leonard stood and grabbed his coat from the back of his chair. “Do I need to know anything about your errand?”
“Not just yet. I’m waiting for confirmation. It’s nothing that’s absolutely vital, just a side note.” Matt watched Leonard search him for a lie. Go. Go. Go. Go. Just leave it be for now. If you keep pestering me, I’ll probably come clean because I just bought you a goddamned suit.
“Okay. Fine.” Leonard shouldered past Matt to get to the door. “What’s Boostie making for dinner?”
“Tuna fish sandwiches and tomato soup.”
Leonard wrinkled his nose. “Whatever happened to grilled cheese?”
“It’d be best for you not to say those particular words to Bootsie ever. It causes rage fits wherein she doesn’t remember the preceeding events.”
“Sounds like the story from the roommate of this girl.”
“Who has the fits of rage?”
“The precious, perfect miracle of goodness and light.”
Matt smirked. “Of course. I’ll see you later, Leonard.”
The Early Days of the Underground: The morning before the first fight
Leonard called in sick early Friday morning and spent the day at the bunker reviewing his plan over and over again. If all the information he had was correcet – and there was no reason to think otherwise, as it all came from the guys in the green ties and a smidgen from Daniel – then they should be able to get in, get people, and get out. Leonard gassed up the two largest vehicles, an SUV that seated eight and a Humvee that seated twelve, and just hoped that they had enough space for everyone. The blue prints showed the unassuming white building to have only eight spaces that Leonard assumed were prison cells, and he was betting on two people per cell. His biggest concern was that prison overcrowding had hit the unassuming white buildings like it had hit regular prisons and that there wouldn’t be enough seats for people. His second biggest concern that one of the three of them going in to play hero would get fucked up but good by some device of the guards that they hadn’t considered.
Bootsie walked up to Leonard at the large conference table where he’d spread out the blue prints and the basic strategy set-ups for the raid and put a steaming cup next to his hand. “Peppermint tea,” she explained, “it’ll help you relax but it won’t put you to sleep.”
“I don’t like tea.”
Bootsie lifted the cup and set it down a bit more forcefully, somehow managing not to spill a drop. “Peppermint tea,” she said with a bit more demand in her voice, “it will help you relax, but it won’t put you to sleep.”
Leonard looked up from the schematics and gave her a small smile. “You’re trying to tell me something.”
”The tendons on your neck are sticking out so far I could play a little song.” Bootsie held out the cup. “Peppermint tea-“
“It’s help me relax, but it won’t put me to sleep. I got it.” Leonard took the tea and sipped it. It tasted vaguely of toothpaste and then, as an after taste, Baily’s Irish Cream. “Funny, I’ve never had tea that came infused with liquor.”
“You’ve been drinking the wrong tea.” Bootise started to walk away, but Leonard reached out and grabbed her arm.
“I need a worse case scenario favor.”
Bootsie sat down and brought her chair in close to the table, propping her elbows on top of a blue print with arros showing various directions Daniel could approach. “What can I do?”
“I need a doctor on stand by, ready to patch up any of us, and I need someone who isn’t going to turn around and call the authorities. Preferably someone familiar with emergency medicine. Any way you can find something like that?”
Bootsie nodded. “I’ll have a name in an hour.”
“It’s best you don’t ask.”
“What do you know, Bootsie?”
She smiled, and it struck Leonard as being a little brittle on the edges. “More than you need to know.”
“Are you,” Leonard looked her over, looking for some sign of green. “Are you with the men in the green ties?”
She shook her head, “Not in the least. I agree with them, though.
Leonard tugged at his hair. “I don’t even know what they think.”
“You’re not supposed to. They’re there to help you. That’s all you need to know about them.”
“What’s your real name?”
“You don’t ask a lady her age, and you don’t ask a Bootsie her name.” She patted Leonard on the shoulder and walked out of the room.
Lenoard took another hit off his tea and went back to his blue prints and notes. Does everyone around here have some past secret they’re not telling? Jesus Christ.
Before the Early Days of the Underground: What is Known of Bootsie’s Past
She was temping at a maid agency when Matt called looking for someone to help take care of the big old house left to him by his grandparents. Bootsie had been sent, and she’d introduced herself by her proper name and followed it up immediately with, “But I’d prefer if you called me Bootsie.” Matt had agreed amicably enough and told her he wasn’t sure what he needed.
Bootsie had grinned and agreed, and when her temp contract was up, Matt bought out the rights to her salary and put her in charge of the house. He’d asked her about her background once, when he’d been in the kitchen having his morning coffee. She had a family, she said. A mother and a father, a brother whom she hadn’t spoken to in years, and a half-dozen cousins scattered around the country and up in Canada. She wasn’t particularly close to any of them, save a third cousin twice removed whom she visited three times a year. She’d gone to college, sure, but she could never decide on a major and dropped out.
Everything she said, apart from having a mother and father, was a bald-faced lie, but Matt hadn’t seen through it, and Bootsie had meant for him not to.
The Early Days of the Underground: The Last Talk Before the Fight
They sat around the conference table after a dinner of pot roast and potatoes, bits of carrots in the pot roast juice for taste. Leonard walked them through everything one last time, ignoring the exasperated look he was getting from Daniel. He looked up from the maps and blue prints with his eyebrows raised. “Any questions?”
”No,” Daniel said as emphatically as possible. “We’ve been through this a dozen times.”
“Yeah, that’s too bad that I don’t want you dead.” Leonard held onto the urge to stick out his tongue and settled for sending sparks off his fingertips. “Anything else?”
“One thing,” said Matt, who had been quiet through the whole recitation. He reached under the table, pulled out a blue box, and handed it across the table to Leonard. “Call it for luck.”
Leonard turned the box over in his hands before setting it on the table and working off the top. There was a suit jacket, and when he lifted it, a pair of pants, and under that, a white shirt with a thin black tie. A small box tucked into the corner of the box held a blue tie tack. Leonard laid everything out on the table and gave Matt a look. “What-“
“Well, if you’re not going to wear a proper costume, you might as well look like one of the assholes who won’t do it either.”
Leonard grinned and laughed and gathered up everything. “Back in a minute.”
Matt didn’t miss the look he was getting from Daniel. “What?” It came out slightly more defensive than he meant it.
“You could just ask him to dinner, you know.”
Matt shook his head. “This isn’t about that. He’s got this idea that being a superhero means a costume and great feats of power and strength and morality. It’s an ego boost. He’s not Pete Wisdom, but he’s a guy worthy of a costume.”
“That’s so romantic I just might be sick.”
Matt balled up a piece of paper and threw it at Daniel. “Don’t be a jackass. You may be comfortable with all this saving of lives, and I can fake it well enough, but Leonard needs a little help.”
“A full suit and tie tack?”
Matt reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the blue mask. “And a mask for dramatic flair.”
“Christ on a cracker,” Daniel couldn’t help but laugh, “And do you have one, too?”
“As a matter of fact…” Matt pulled out his black and silver mask and slipped it over his eyes. “Suit me?”
“Not a goddamned bit. Why bother with the secrecy?”
“Because he and I still have day jobs, and we may for a while. We need to be able to pull both jobs without anyone putting together who we are.”
“And how long do you think that’ll last?”
“Well, I’m a boring asshole who spends his day nine to fiving in an office surrounded by bitchy parents and whiny students. Leonard’s some entry-level bastard who just answers phones and files when I ask him. Sure, we go out and have a drink occasionally, maybe we even go to a club, and we have hobbies and pastimes, but we’re pretty much the same shmoes as anyone else. We don’t have some grand fortune, or a secret school, or a bag full of trick arrows. We’re just a couple of guys who are just as shocked as anyone else that people would be attacking some unassuming white building.”
“You realize this isn’t going to make the news, right? These guys aren’t going to let this get out.”
Matt shrugged. “Who gives a fuck? We’re not doing this for glory. This is about what’s right. Either we believe in equal rights for everyone, which should include giving people a chance to prove their powers, or this country is full of nothing but hypocritical assholes. I’m not saying I haven’t been a hypocritical asshole by letting this shit go for as long as it has, but I can earn back, you know? Do what I should be doing.”
Daniel shook his head. “You’re an idealistic son of a bitch. They could kill you, and no one would know.”
“So be it. At least I’ll know.” Matt turned in his chair as Leonard walked back into the room. The suit fit perfectly, and he’d thrown on a pair of shiny black dress shoes. He sent out a flare of sparks.
“How do I look?”
“Like you’re going to kick some ass.” Matt held out the blue mask. “And one last touch, in case hell freezes and this makes the news.”
Leonard grinned and slipped the mask over his face. “How do I look now?”
“Like a man about to do some damage. Lead the way.”
Leonard turned on his heel and led Matt and Daniel into the garage. “Matt, take the Hummer. I’ll take the SUV. Daniel, you can ride with whoever.” Leonard wasn’t surprised when Daniel walked to the passenger side of the Humvee. “Keep me in sight, but don’t get too close. We’re going to bring on enough attention by having two huge fucking vehicles on the road so close together, so let’s keep a couple of cars between us at all times.”
“Got it,” Matt said as he popped the locks on the Humvee.
They were going to a field approximately half a mile from the unassuming white building. Leonard, unbeknownst to both Matt and Daniel, had gone out earlier in the day and scouted the location to make sure it was a good place to set up. The field made up the bottom of a hill that raised up and blocked their approach from view for a few dozen yards. There were trees nearby that Daniel could use for cover as he started his flight, and the tree line would allow shadows for Matt and Leonard to make their approach from the ground. Leonard hadn’t mentioned the scouting to Matt because he feared a lecture, and he hadn’t mentioned it to Daniel because he still didn’t trust the guy.
They got to the field slightly earlier than Leonard had estimated due to light traffic. The last two miles of the trip were done on an access road, and a half a mile from the sight, Leonard killed his headlights, happy to see Matt do the same in his rear view. He pulled into the field and turned the SUV so that the nose pointed towards the road. Matt repeated the movement, and both vehicles were set with their front wheels on the road, in hopes of making the escape a little quicker. Leonard got out of the SUV and met Matt and Daniel between the vehicles. “Keep the doors unlocked; it’ll save us a few seconds, and that could make all the difference.”
Matt clicked the button on his key chain that unlocked the doors. “Done.”
“Okay. I’m going into the trees for a minute to form up Daniel’s weapon. Hopefully, they won’t notice it from the building, but keep watch, just in case.”
“Go to it. We’ve got your back.” Matt didn’t miss the glance Leonard slid at Daniel. “Don’t worry.”
Leonard laughed, and it was a little hysterical at the edges, but he reeled it in. “I make no promises.” He walked towards the woods, lighting his way with a small ball of light that he formed up in the palm of his hand.
Daniel watched him go and looked at Matt. “I’m not trying to be an asshole, but why is he in charge?”
“Because he came up with the plan first.” Matt turned away from the woods and scanned the field. No movement as far as he could see. “Next time, you can come up with the plan.”
Daniel snorted despairingly and lifted off the ground a few inches, looking over the hill. “I don’t think he’d follow my lead. I don’t see anyone.”
“Let’s hope it stays that way. He’d follow your lead.”
Matt watched Daniel float above the ground and thought back to all those years ago in the lake. “If you came up with a plan like his, he’d follow you.”
“And by a plan like his you mean, what, exactly?”
“I mean a good plan.” Matt rolled his eyes to the back of his head and looked through the hill. Nothing. In the distance, he could see into the building. It didn’t look like there was a scramble going on. He could only assume that it meant they didn’t know they were about to get hit. “You know it’s a good plan.” He rolled his eyes back into their proper place.”
“I’m not going to admit it to him. He needs someone poking him with a stick to keep him moving.”
“He certainly seems to enjoy the challenge you present.”
Daniel looked behind him as footsteps approached. “Speak of the devil.”
Leonard walked up to them holding an object roughly the size of a basketball. It was black with a blue stripe around the center. On the top was a small black button. He handed the object to Daniel. “On top of the atrium, there’s a small, metal disk. Place this on top of the disk, press the button, and fly like hell. Once you’ve set it to detonate, comm us and we’ll move in.”
“What happens when it detonates?”
“If it works, it’ll short out all the electronics in the building.”
“And I need to fly like hell because…”
“Because there’s a slight chance it will just explode into a million pieces, and I’m not digging shrapnel out of your ass.” Leonard closed his hand and cut off the ball of light. He checked his watch with the light up function. “You should get going. We’ve got five minutes before eight o’clock, and I want to set off on time.”
“I’m going; I’m going.” Daniel took the sphere and lifted off the ground.
“Stay near the trees,” Leonard pretended not to notice the glare Daniel gave him. As soon as Daniel was out of sight, Leonard leaned back on his heels and glanced at Matt. “Tell me not to calculate our chances of getting killed.”
“I would if I knew it’d actually do anything.” Matt reached over and grasped Leonard’s forearm. “It’s a good plan.”
“But it’s not fool proof.”
“Find me a plan that is.”
Leonard looked down at his wrist cuff and rotated it on his arm. “Jesus, we have communicators.”
“Yeah.” Leonard smiled at Matt, his eyes crinkling behind his mask. “Nice mask, by the way, it suits.”
And right then, more than anything, Matt wanted to kiss Leonard. He looked like a man with a real life mission, like he really thought this one fight could lead to a change in the world that would cause the greatest repercussions to everyone it touched. He leaned over, not quite enough that Leonard noticed, and he was going to touch Leonard’s shoulder and make him turn, but then, as always where romance was concerned, it was interrupted. Leonard’s communicator beeped, and brought it up to his mouth. Matt could tell that he was completely focused and any move Matt made would lead to nothing but awkwardness.
“It’s up,” Daniel’s voice was slightly tinny through the speaker. “And I’m flying like hell.”
“We’re on our way. As soon as you see a flash, it means it’s killed the electromagnetic response to everything, and then we’ll move in properly.” Leonard clicked his communicator to Matt and looked at him with his chin raised. “Let’s do this.”
Matt clapped Leonard on the shoulder, and then started moving forward. The guards on the perimeter didn’t notice them at first, and a quick x-ray of the base still showed no scrambling to be used as a warning that the guards knew what was happening. They were a hundred yards away when they were noticed, and Matt heard a gun shot and a small crackling sound in the same moment. The bullets came at them and bounced off the blue, translucent wall Leonard had thrown up in front of them. The guards kept shooting, and the bullets kept bouncing, and as they neared a fleet of white vans, Matt picked up one with both hands and carried it over his head.
There was a flash of light from the atrium, and as the guards turned towards it, Matt flung the van out the south wall. All the cells were concentrated there, according to the blue prints, and the van caused mortar and brick to fall to the ground like a wave. There was a dent in the wall where the van was wedged, and Matt leaned in, grabbed the back axel, and yanked the van back over his head, flinging it towards a group of guards at their six. A well-placed shot of energy from Leonard sent the van up in flames, and Daniel, flying overhead in a holding pattern, swooped down, and grabbed two guards by the color, carrying them over the building and dropping them half a mile away from the building.
At the south wall, Leonard formed up a full sphere to surround Matt and himself and nodded to Matt as he formed up a megaphone. “Can you get a count?”
Matt x-rayed again and counted skeletons behind metal bars. “They’re three to a cell.”
Leonard cursed heavily. “Shit. We-“ he cut off, seemed to shake out of it, and raised the megaphone. He made sure it was cranked to top volume. “If you are near the windows or the south wall, back to the edge of your cell! Do it now!” Leonard counted to ten, raised his left hand, and blasted a hole in the wall the size of a school bus. “We’re coming in to get you! You have to trust us!” Leonard killed the sphere and walked into the prison without a shield. He formed up a cattle prod and shoved it against the chest of the first guard he saw. The man dropped to the floor and twitched. No other guards approached, but Matt had run ahead, and Leonard could hear the sounds of bodies smacking into the walls.
Daniel swooped in, stopped at a guard, rifled through his pockets and found a key card. “Will we need this?”
Leonard stopped at the first cell, home to three women in gray uniforms, and tried the door. It was locked. “They have a back up system. Think you can find it?”
“I’ll do what I can.” Daniel took off down the corridor, sending three guards sprawling as he ran straight into them.
Leonard smiled at the women in the cell. “We’re getting you out of here.” He placed his index finger over the card slot and fed in a slice of power. After a moment, the light above the slot turned green, and the lock clicked. Leonard swung open the door. “What can you do?”
The first woman made a fist and silver, razor-like spines came out of her arms. The second woman’s eyes went red, and the light in the cell rumbled before disenigrating. The third woman shook her head.
“I can’t do anything,” she said quietly, her voice on the edge of hysterical. “I knew someone who…” she trailed off and just stared at Leonard for a moment. “I’m not supposed to be here at all.”
“It’s okay,” Leonard said as he reached for her. He opened his hand and made a ball of light, let it get brighter as the woman’s face showed her surprise. “It’s why we’re here.” Leonard turned at the sound of heavy footsteps and relaxed when he saw Matt. “Take them out of here. I’m going to get the others free. Any more guards?”
Matt rolled his eyes to the back of his head. “Those who aren’t knocked out are running away or getting plowed down by-“ he cut off. “They’re getting plowed down.”
“Good. I’m heading down the cell block. We’ll meet up back at the spot.”
“Got it.” Matt paused at the next cell and ripped the bars out of the ceiling and floor. “Let’s go, everyone.” The three women in the newly destroyed cell fell into line quickly, leaving behind everything in their cells. One woman scorched her bed with a blast of fire on the way out.
Leonard worked his way down the cell block, freeing women and telling them to stay close. They ran into one guard. One of the women jumped on him and slashed his face. When she pulled back, she had short fingernails, but they pulsed with a light on the underside. They met Daniel halfway down the second hallway. He had nine women following behind and a small black box under one arm.
”It was their back up,” he explained. “I figured we’d want to dismantle it.”
Leonard grinned. “Thank you. Anyone else down that way?”
“Then let’s get the hell out.” Leonard turned on his heel and faced the women who were watching him with a combination of awe, fright, and confusion. “Everyone, we’re leaving. We’re going back the way we came, and we’re going out the hole in the wall. Stay behind us, and be ready to use your powers if you have them.” Leonard ignored the look Daniel gave him and motioned him to the front of the group. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
The exit of the building went without a hitch, which only succeeded in making Leonard twitch. As soon as they exited, he left Daniel at the front of the line and fell to the back. “As fast as you can, people! Let’s move it!” Leonard was relieved when the women took him seriously and took off at a run. As soon as they crested the hill, Leonard turned, formed up a smaller black sphere similar to the one he’d made for Daniel, and threw it as hard as he could. When he reached the cars, Daniel raised his eyebrows.
“And that was what, exactly?”
“A bomb that’s supposed to cause shrapnel.” Leonard looked around and took a head count. “Where’s Matt?” There was a sudden, loud ripping sound, and Matt came out of the woods holding a tree. He waved at Leonard and the assembled crowd of still slightly shaky women.
“Give me just a minute.”
Leonard left him to it and started getting women into the vehicles. “As many as we can fit safely with seat belts, please. We’ve just gotten you out, we don’t want anyone injured.”
“There won’t be enough room,” said the woman with the retractable claws.
“Don’t worry about it,” Leonard said as he tried to take his own advice and wondered if his back up plan for this particular issue would actually work. He heard a crash and turned around. Matt had dropped the tree down the length of the access road, leaving just enough clear road after the cars to allow them room to pull onto the road and get away. Leonard turned back to the cars. They were full, with the exception of the driver’s seat in the SUV and the driver’s seat in the Humvee. “Daniel, take the Humvee, go back to the bunker.” He turned to the woman with the retractable claws. “Follow him.”
“What about the rest of them?”
“I’ve got it handled.” Leonard put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her towards the car. “Get moving now.”
She gave him one last look, jumped in the SUV, and took off, tires squealing, after Daniel.
Matt walked over, brushing his hands on his pants. “What about us?”
“That’s why I needed you to stay behind. I’m going to be incapacitated in a minute.”
“Step away for a minute.” Leonard jogged about thirty yards away, concentrated, and built up a ball of energy nearly the same height as himself. In another thirty seconds, it took the shape of a large car, and after another minute, it was fully formed, and Leonard dropped to his knees with spots of light flashing in front of his eyes.
“Everyone,” Leonard gasped in air, amazed at the pain coursing through his body. “Everyone get in the car. Now.” His hand slid in the grass, and scraped against a rock. From the corners of his vision, he saw the women getting into the car. As the last woman piled in, Leonard felt Matt’s hand on his elbow and tried to grasp his sleeve. His fingers splayed and slid but couldn’t get purchase.
”That was entirely too goddamned noble,” Matt said as he lifted Leonard clear off his feet and carried him to the car, settling him into the front passenger seat and buckling the seat belt around him.
”What the fuck else was I supposed to do?” Leonard groaned as a headache started pounding behind his eyes. He opened his mouth to complain and passed out.
Matt pressed his fingers against Leonard’s neck and gave a reassuring smile to the women in the car. “His pulse is fine.” Matt ran around the car and got into the driver’s seat, impressed to find that Leonard had remembered an ignition key. The engine turned over on the first try, and Matt pulled out onto the access road, not missing the flash of headlights before a sudden, sickening crashing sound. He’d been right then, to assume that the road wrapped around to the unassuming white building.
“Is he going to be okay?” The woman who spoke was gripping her seat belt like there was nothing else on Earth that was holding her still.
Matt honestly wasn’t sure if Leonard was going to wake up or not, but he gave his best, ‘Everything’s really okay and safe’ smile to everyone who could see him in the rearview. “He just wore himself out. He’ll be up and around within the day. It’s what happens when he has to expend so much energy at one time.”
“Where are we going?”
“We’re going someplace safe. We call it the bunker, and from there, you can go where you want.”
“ I can’t go home,” said from the back of the car, and Matt couldn’t pinpoint who it was in the rearview. “We have options for you. We can set you up to start somewhere else, as someone else.”
“Why are you doing this?” From the seatbelt woman again.
”Because this is a bad land for heroes, and we’re trying to rearrange that idea.” Matt took a right at the end of the access road and checked his rearview. No lights, but that didn’t mean anything. “Can anyone see if we’re being followed?”
“Hold on,” a woman with blonde hair stuck her hand out of the window and it was day light bright behind the car. “No one.”
”Thank you,” Matt said as they approached the main road. “I need everyone to pretend like you didn’t just get broken out of prison, okay? I don’t know who’s watching, but it’s best if we don’t give anyone any ideas.”
“Then maybe you should take off your mask.”
That caused a ripple of laughter through the car, and Matt couldn’t help but join in, relieved that the ridiculously hard part was over. He whipped off his mask with a flourish and dropped it to the seat, reaching over, he removed Leonard’s with a bit more care, nearly going off the road when the other man groaned, twitched, and fell silent again. Matt’s communicator beeped before he could double check Leonard’s status. “Yeah?”
“Where the fuck are you?”
“We’re a few miles out still.”
“How are you getting here?” Behind Daniel’s voice was the excited chattering of a group of women, and beyond that, the sound of Bootsie trying to get people settled.
“Leonard pulled a rabbit out of his hat.” Matt glanced at Leonard again. “We may need a doctor.”
“Already got it,” Bootsie’s voice in the background rang through like a church bell.
“Thanks. We’ll be arriving in a few minutes.” Matt cut the connection and noticed that all the women were watching him with an edge of fascination. “Yes?”
“Who…” the woman with the death grip on the seat belt looked from Matt to Leonard, and then around the backseats of the car, where all the women were crowded together. “Who are you with?”
“No affiliations? This isn’t an organized group?”
“There are three of us at the moment. We’re not enough for an organization.” Matt stopped at a red light and turned to look at the women. “Look, we’re not taking you for experiments, and we’re not taking you any place where you’ll be looked in a cell. Where we’re going, it’s a stopping point for you. Hopefully, a very brief stopping point. We want to get you on your way as soon as possible, and hope that, perhaps, you’ll remember us when we call in need of a favor.”
“Public relations, huh?” This from a woman with an ironic smile and humor in her eyes.
“We like to think we earn the reputation,” Matt replied with a smile before turning around and driving through the green light. Another few blocks, and they were on the road to the bunker, still no sign of a tail no matter how hard he looked.
When they reached the garage, the women piled out of the car, one running through the door to the kitchen to grab the doctor, and the rest making their way a bit more leisurely, stretching their legs and looking around at all the cars. Matt opened Leonard’s door and shook his shoulder. There was no response, but a check of Leonard’s pulse reassured Matt that at the most, Leonard had just collapsed from his faint into a deep sleep. He lifted Leonard into his arms and carried him inside. Bootsie was waiting at the kitchen door and followed Matt to one of the bedrooms at the back of the first floor. Matt and Leonard had both taken over single rooms during the past week, and Matt laid Leonard on the double bed before stepping away for the doctor to take a look at things.
The doctor was a severe looking man with bushy eyebrows and large ears. He sat on the edge of the bed, careful not to jostle Leonard, and held his hand over him. After a moment, a complete, three dimensional picture of Leonard’s body appeared above his hand. The doctor studied it carefully, muttering to himself so softly and quickly that Matt couldn’t catch a word he said.
“Kinnerman, if you please. Bob Kinnerman. Give me just a moment, sir, and I’ll let you know what I know.”
Matt crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, trying desperately to keep calm. The doctor wasn’t making any motions or having any responses that suggested to Matt that something was seriously wrong, but it was disquieting to see all of Leonard’s insides on the outsides, even if it was just a projection. Daniel was suddenly at his elbow with a cup of coffee.
“Bootsie’s getting everyone into rooms. We’ve got a few who are already asking how they can help.”
“We’ll discuss that later.”
“That’s what I told them.” Daniel sipped his coffee and watched Matt watch Leonard. “You know, you can probably drop some of this emo angsty bullshit if you just fucking talk to him.”
“When’s he’s conscious and lucid again, I’ll consider the option. For now, I’d prefer to stew.”
Doctor Kinnerman stood up, and the image of Leonard’s body disappeared in a small puff of vapor. “Everything’s fine from a purely physical level. What happened?”
“We ran out of space, and he made a car.” Matt watched Doctor Kinnerman’s impressively large eyebrows raise. “He can form things from energy. I can’t really explain it. You’ve got to see it.”
“I think I understand the basic idea. Does he ever seem tired after he ‘forms up’ something?”
Matt shook his head. “Not that I’ve noticed. I haven’t watched him form up anything as large as a car, though.”
“In that case,” said Doctor Kinnerman as he pocketed his stethoscope, “I would say that he just exhausted his power reserve and needs rest. If he doesn’t come to in the next twenty four hours, call me and I’ll reevaluate.”
“Not to sound clueless doctor, but how did you find us in the first place?”
“A woman by the name of Bootsie rang me. Said you were looking for a doctor with special talent in odd cases.”
Matt took a half step back. “Bootsie called you?”
“Yes, she did. I was surprised to get the call, honestly. I make a point of not letting people know what I can do.” Doctor Kinnerman held out his hand, “but when I arrived, Bootsie explained what was going on, and I would like to shake your hand for your efforts. If you ever need a doctor for whatever team you mention to put together, I’d be very happy to offer my services.”
“Thank – thank you.” Matt shook Doctor Kinnerman’s hand and watched him walk out of the room. Matt glanced at Leonard, who hadn’t moved an inch but seemed to be breathing evenly and smoothly. He stepped out of the bedroom, making sure to latch the door behind him, and looked around. There was a small group of women around the conference table, drinking what Matt guessed was tea, or possibly tea and Bailey’s Irish Cream, if he knew Bootsie. Another group were headed up the stairs, talking quietly and urgently, most likely still unsure what the hell was happening. Daniel had a third group around him in a circle, obviously peppering him with questions. Matt raised his chin to offer help, but Daniel waved him off, so Matt went in search of Bootsie.
She was standing in the middle of the hallway up in the loft area, passing around shampoo, conditioner, bars of soap, and night shirts, which Matt hadn’t even realized were in the closet. He stepped around the line of women, stopping briefly to accept a hug and a kiss on the cheek from one of the women, a heartfelt ‘thank you’ from another, and a smile from a third. She had tears in her eyes and seemed unable to say anything at all. Bootsie didn’t spare him a glance until the line of women was cleared from the hallway.
“How’d you know to get a doctor here? We weren’t far enough behind the other cars that calling and retrieving a doctor specialized in power care to be found.”
“Leonard asked me to do it this afternoon. He was covering his bases.”
Matt stepped out of the way as a woman wrapped in a large red towel walked past him with a smile and a slight blush. “You didn’t say anything.”
“I thought he’d told you. I figured you two had discussed it.”
“We hadn’t,” Matt said curtly, and then another thought occurred to him. “And how’d you know how to find a doctor with power experience?”
“I have channels.”
“What kinds of channels?”
“Just channels,” Bootsie said with finality. “The less you know, the better.”
“That works for them, that doesn’t work for you and I. You’re going to tell me how you know who to call.”
“No, I’m not.” Bootsie didn’t flinch when Matt stepped up to her, his nose practically touching hers. “How I know what to do isn’t your business. So unless you’ve got reason to suspect I’m using my powers for evil instead of good, it’d be best if you stepped back and walked away from this.”
Matt raised an eyebrows. “’Powers’? Are you?”
“Not in that sense, but I have connections and information and a few tricks up my sleeve. And I’m not telling you who I know or how I came across what I know. It’s not business you need to have your name involved with, trust me. It’s dangerous to know what I know.”
“You’re supposed to be a nice woman from a maid agency. You have parents and a brother and a handful of cousins, only one of which you’re particularly close.”
“Well, I have the mother and father.” Bootsie threw her hair over her shoulder and took a step back. “I’m here to help you, Matt. Whether it’s cleaning your windows or getting a doctor or spiking your coffee, I’m here to do what needs to be done to keep you in fighting condition. You’ll need it.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“No one anyone knows. Just trust me, okay?”
He wanted to fight her, grab her arm and make her stay in the hallway, make her talk, but her eyes stopped him. There was no pleading or begging, just a straight, hard look that made something in him twinge. She wasn’t the person he’d known for the last few years, but at the same time she was. She was still loyal and taking charge, and she sure as hell wasn’t taking shit from him. “You’re going to tell me.”
“Sure, I am,” she made no effort to pretend that she wasn’t lying. “Just as soon as the world is a perfect place full of unicorns and rainbows.”
Matt turned on his heel and walked down the stairs, so tired and mentally worn that he was sincerely worried that he’d say something that could end in a huge fight. The people they’d rescued didn’t need that. They needed to know they were safe, and the big strong man going for the throat of the no holds barred woman wasn’t going to do anything but scare the hell out of everyone. Matt stalked around downstairs for a while, drank the Valerian root tea Bootsie gave him, and fell into an exhausted sleep shortly after midnight. He dreamed of nothing, woke briefly, and then dreamed of colors and shapes, and nothing that he could quite remember when he woke for good early in the morning.