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We're Still Here (IC)


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January 21st, 7.45 PM, 2013

6702 Roosevelt St., Bayview, Freedom City

Subito cheerfully tossed his Go-Mart apron onto the rack in the back room, retrieving his hat from it and waving goodbye to the others on his shift. "Later Fred, later Molly! Take care of that knee!" he called back as he walked out of the supermarket into the crisp winter air under a light gray sky. He paused for just a second to smell the smell of snow, and then set off for the meeting place he'd arranged with Kat.

The Day of Wrath was, thankfully, already starting to recede from memory, though the sturdy boy had heard rumors from some of the shoppers that the mayor was considering marking January 15th a day of remembrance. He had done his part, though he still felt a bitter twinge of guilt at his general uselessness that day, and the two transmitters had at last been taken down with the combined might of the Claremonters, shattered robots littering the street around them as in a the thrill of the moment the four had joined for a group hug.

'Still...' he glanced from side to side as he checked for cars coming, then darting across the intersection with great speed before settling into an even jog along the sidewalk, his heavy thudding footfalls heading for a small park with a very nice iron-work bench. They had all been affected by that day. Blodeuwedd's training had let her take the event mostly in stride, and Sam's determination to get Tona back had let her power through, but Subito had waited until the others were gone before collapsing into a sobbing gaudy pile, and he hadn't failed to notice his schoolmate's grief and guilt.

He slowed as he approached the meeting place, his Captain Thunder-emblem t-shirt an odd change for his normal white. The Herald of the Blue Dame had heard rumors about a gun deal with a supernatural bent that was about to happen nearby, and had asked Warp along to help break it up. 'Won't cheer her up, but it'll be a good thing to do As you say, but be warned that this is a delicate matter. You are not delicate. I know,' he answered with a slight grimace and a brief look of gloom 'But I'll do my best...'

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Since the Day of Wrath Kat had been conspicuously absent and Warp considerably more industrious on the streets of Freedom. And when she wasn't Kat had been in the library reading or studying or working out a problem, always always doing something always moving. She used her mind and her body like a tool for a purpose and dreaded the quiet moments when her hands had nothing to do and the still silence forced her to think.

Kat had gone through her messages before konking out in bed and found Subito's message on her voicemail, sent him a text and that was that. She hadn't seen the others from the Day. She hadn't really seen anyone else much at all, except when she went to visit her parents to dissuade them from their campaign to have her transferred out of Claremont and back home, where it was safe.

It'd gotten pretty loud.

She moved across Freedom's rooftops, reality whimpering softly with each jump. In a matter of moments she was perched on a ledge over the park, peering out over it. Kat found a spot no one was looking and just as quickly she was standing on the grass in the park, wearing a long dark coat over a white shirt with blue stripes, fingers drumming on her jeans.

Then she realized her hands had nothing to do, and she tried to distract them by smoothing out her shirt, messing with her phone. Kat was about out of things to do when she saw Subito coming in from the park and she smiled, hid her phone behind the flap of her coat and put it in her largest pocket. She raised her hand up so the sleeve of her coat slid down her arm and waved enthusiastically.

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Answering the wave with a fruious wave of his own and a cheery holler of "Heyo, Katsup!" Subito soon jogged up to his schoolmate, the rigorous training of the Claremont Academy and Alan Archer meaning he wasn't even short of breath. Crossing his powerful arms behind his head, the young paragon did some brief stretches as he spoke "Lookin' good tonight, Kat. You got anythin' you wanna do before we get goin'?" he added casually, glancing at her outfit "That's a sweet coat, by the way."

Swinging his arms back down, he straightened and stood at ease, blowing a quick puff of steam from his lips up at the sky. In the cold winter evening his dark skin took on a bizarre blue tint. "It's just down Roosevelt, then a couple blocks down on Grant. They've been super-careful, but I doubt they'll expect anything like you an' me." he declared with a confident smile on his face.

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"Katsup? Seriously?" She said, rolling her eyes, but grinned as she did. "That one was just straight up painful." Kat felt her cheeks reddening at Subito's compliment and, put a hand on her side and let an eyebrow rise. "Don't lie," she said, and made a mental note to wear more things with stripes.

Her expression pinched. "Do we have time?" Kat's heart skipped a little at the thought of some time alone with Subito, made her suddenly shy. She scratched at the back of her neck and gave an embarrassed little smile. "Are they going to be up to no good on Roosevelt while we wait?" Kat didn't have most of the details; she knew it had something to do with weird weapons, but that was where her knowledge ended.

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"Well, it's better'n Katniss! Or Katwoman! And I do like your coat, it makes you look really cool." Subito protested, though he was grinning too "And what's with you and saying "Don't lie"? S'that your catchphrase now? Are we a comedy duo?" he laughed cheerfully and slung an arm around her shoulders, giving her a quick hug. He was deeply relieved that she was so relaxed, the last few times he had seen her, she had been much more tense and driven.

Kat's question was very pertinent, however. Taking hardly a moment to think it over, he said promptly "We've got a while! About-" he checked his watch, then nodded "-twenty minutes. Enough to do a little, but if you wanted to get right to those douchebags, it's cool." At the question of if they were going to be up to something he shook his head, patting Kat on the shoulder reassuringly "The gangs are just waitin' at a parking lot, then they'll go to an alley a little ways away when their dealer shows up. If you want any suggestions, there's a chocolate shop pretty close t'the intersection of Grant and Roosevelt." he smiled hopefully before he suddenly realized how that sounded, looked rather embarrassed and added quickly "Uh! I mean, um, not in a...uh, if you want, I mean..." he blushed at looked away, unconsciously mimicking Kat's rub at the back of his head.

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Kat's blush went redder as he brought his arms around her, and she found herself very aware of the feeling of his body against hers. But this was simply Subito; contact was as much a way of communicating as speaking was. She stepped away, playfully swatting his shoulder with the back of her hand. "Don't be stupid. That'd mean you were funny." She tugged at her coat. "Thanks."

"Twenty minutes! That's hardly any time at all." Subito's embarrassment sparked a boldness in Kat. She grinned a long grin, grabbed hold of Subito's wrist and started pulling him through the park to where the two street met. "We'd better hurry!"

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Nearly thrown totally off-balance by Kat's sudden energy, only fancy footwork on Subito's part kept the sturdy boy from falling. Quickly getting in step with his schoolmate he walked briskly, deciding that this was as good a conversation as he could hope for. Her..reactions though...'I shouldn't have said that. It's pretty much flirting with her, and giving her the wrong idea right now is...it's just cruel One way to solve that would be to become gradually less intimately friendly while still being supportive to Kat, distance without simply shutting her out ...Alright, I'll do it'

Adjusting his cap as they walked down to the shop, Subito's limbs swinging freely and easily, the boy kept quiet for a surprisingly long time, waiting until following Kat into the brightly-lit chocolate store to say "So, what do you wanna get?" He grinned at the girl "I mean, besides half the store."

'OH CRAP, why did I say that? Well, since you asked...'

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Kat stopped in her tracks and looked back over her shoulder at Subito, bewildered. What kind of passive-aggressive bull am I listening to? That was the sort of backhanded insult she hadn't heard anyone try since Normal. That didn't really seem like Subito. Did it? Warp pulled back the folds of her coat and looked down at her belly. "Funny," she said, made the word humorless and dead. She let the moment hang in the air like a warning before she turned around and marched into the store. "Something with chocolate on it," she announced as she pushed open the door, not looking back.

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In utter mortification Subito opened and closed his mouth, mind buzzing with desperate entreaties and explanations that soon subsided into a dull rumble of guilt. Following Kat mutely inside the Sweet Bean, he considered for one wild moment if he should just blurt out what he had meant-no. He was in a store, it could wait. Shoulders hunched he walked straight up to a shelf on which were packages of chocolates shaped like stylized birds. "The shell is straight chocolate" he told Kat "brewed like the Aztecs did a lot of years ago. Head's got caramel, feet have coconut, body's got a core of orange and the feather stuff on the wings is white chocolate." he paused, glanced over at her and added bluntly "They're super-good, s'what I'm sayin'." With an awkward shrug he took one of the packages down and straight to the counter, giving the broad-shouldered and handsome young man behind it an imploring look that the other appeared to instantly understand, and in mere wordless seconds he was checked out. With a mutter of "Thanks Chuck, hope your cat's better soon." Subito quickly got the box into one of the store's hatefully brightly-colored bags and led the way out. Back in the crisp winter air he trudged rapidly in silence beside the leaner girl, then suddenly turned and said "I'm sorry. I didn't mean...I wasn't talkin' about your body Kat, seriously." looking apologetically at her he went on "You know how you go into a store like that and you spend ages looking at everything because it all looks so yummy? I do that all the time, it's what I meant, okay?" jamming his hat deeper onto his head he took a deep breath, stared ahead for a few seconds than looked back at Kat "I didn't think how what else that'd sound like. For all I know you've had jackasses like me say stuff like that for years." he commented moodily. 'I mean...from what you've told me, which ain't much Enough, it seems'

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Kat went through the store in tight-lipped silence and picked up one of the packages. It wasn't till he went on trying to apologize that she even looked at him. "Fat's a new one, actually." She bit down on her lip, helped her. "Usually they go for height, or looks. That's an easier sell on me. You don't think about a thing you say," Kat turned her head toward Subito, eyes serious. "do you? Nah, you don't have too, you're too charming. Too nice. Anyone'd forgive you." Kat already was. "You can say anything at all."

She turned away, sighed, hands clenching into fists. "Where're these weapon dealers at? I wanna break something."

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Meeting Kat's gaze with difficulty, her schoolmate nearly winced as she asked rhetorically if he ever thought before he spoke. 'Yeah, this is taking a horrible turn, let's get this over with and quit treating this like a pseudo-date' Aloud he said "Not exactly a lotta people say I'm charming" he rolled his eyes "Usually I just never say stuff like that" he looked away and was quiet for a moment before gesturing towards the tall, grassy and tree-lined street divide. "Pretty much exactly thataway. The parking lot is between a barbershop and a brick grocery store."

Pulling his hat further over his head he added "I'll see ya in a bit. Don't let me off so easy if I ever do that again." and walked on.

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"I won't," Kat promised. She took a close look at the skyline, looking for a few nice perches before she made a leap over a dark fence with pointed tops and into an alley big enough for her to touch both sides. She kept going until she turned a corner and appeared on a slanted rooftop halfway to the deal, dressed in Warp's red and black. She took a moment to look down at the street; there weren't a lot of people out, and those who were didn't bother to look up. She picked out Subito in the crowd and stared for a few seconds before she vanished in a flash of red and a whistling whine.

Barbershop and grocery store, barbershop and grocery store. Warp made about half a dozen jumps trying to make sure she hadn't accidentally passed it by until she found it; she appeared in a crouch on the ledge of the highest building in the area and peered down at the parking lot.

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Warp's eyes easily picked out the would-be customers. Five young men, only about eight years older at the most than her and all wearing long coats, were lounging around a dull red Chevrolet, talking casually about the Heroes' showing in the Superbowl with three young women in light winter wear. None of them took their eyes off the others as they smiled politely, and none of them removed their hands from their right hips.

The street was largely empty, with most people inside the nearby shops(comic store, diner, pet store, book and barber shop) or quickly leaving in their cars for the drive back home. After around ten minutes of waiting, just before Heraldo reached her, a small freight truck came cruising serenely up through the snow-lined street, with Dodson's Trucking Co. on the side in warm yellow letters.

At the sight of it, all of them slowly got into a small knot and watched the truck rumble into the parking lot, and grind to a halt.

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Three guesses what they're hiding, Warp watched where they were keeping their hands, one corner of her mouth quirking up. First two don't count; guns, guns and guns. . . . Nah, hiding wasn't the right word. They were in the middle of a balancing act, trying to tell each other they were ready to get serious if it came to throwing down, but keep things civil on the surface. She scanned the street for civilians that might get injured by careless fire, didn't see many. At least they had civility enough to do their thing where there weren't a ton of people.

Warp spared a glance up at Heraldo as he streamed through the sky toward her before turning back to the truck, her smile thin and cunning. "Hey," she said, never looking away. "Can you try to get everyone—driver included—away from the truck? I've got an idea."

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Heraldo landed next to Warp, looked over the gathering and nodded. "Sure. I can do that." he said quietly, then launched off and slammed down onto the parking lot with an explosion of snow and golden smoke.

Emerging out of it, the patriotic paragon began walking towards the assembled criminals, pointing at them with the Banner and shouting "It's over! You're not getting your hands on those weapons! Surrender, or I'll beat every one of you into the ground!"

The would-be buyers looked at the new arrival, all of them too stunned for a moment to do or say anything. Then seven of them turned and dashed away towards an alley, yelling at each other as they ran to make sure that all the wards would be set up in time. One of the women half-turned, fingers glowing...then she thought better of it and followed the others.

The parking lot was soon empty besides one of the bundled-up women and the driver, who jumped out of the truck and started walking towards El Heraldo, a gun over his shoulder and blood in his eye.

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Heraldo had done his part; now it was time for hers. Warp ruptured reality, stepped through onto the top of the truck and set down on her knees, pressing her palms into the steel. Darkness hissed and spat where she touched, spiderwebbing across the truck until the thing was all shadow and darkness. Her eyes flared red and the whole of it flowed into her hands like water down a drain as reality snarled around her, gone into her private world, where no one else could touch it.

Warp landed and bounced back to standing. She turned from the mage to the dealer; Warp covered her heart with a hand in mock concern. "Oh, I'm sorry! Was that important?"

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"Be bound by Bal'Hemoth's iron hands!"

With a snap of power, the magician threw one hand in the air and flung something at Heraldo, something that burst out of the ground in a mass of glowing yellow chains and started trying to wind around him, each link bearing the shape of a skull. Only an incredible burst of agility saved the young paragon from being clapped in mystical irons! Swearing under her breath, the woman turned and dashed off through the snow, slowed by her heavy boots and the crisp snow.

Glancing at Warp with an expression of quiet terror, the dealer quickly jumped away and shot at the glowing boy, the gun blasting out a lance of purple energy that whizzed over Subito's shoulder and exploded off of the nearby grocery store in a puff of smoke, leaving an ugly smear in the wall.

"That was everything I had forged in three months" the dealer muttered, a dark thickset and heavily-bearded man with thick black hair and a trucker's cap pulled over it. Looking sharply at Warp, he started edging away, the gun at the ready.

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Backflipping out of the path of the chains erupting from the parking lot, it took the muscular boy a few seconds to recover himself 'Holy-! Didn't expect that! Expect the unexpected, do not presume to know everything about your enemy I know I know'. Glaring after the fleeing woman, Heraldo snapped "Be bound by the arms of Puerto Rico!" so saying he flung himself through the air, slammed into the ground next to her and swung his arms tightly around her biceps and chest, holding her in a grip of steel. Glaring furiously at the back of her neck, the spirit-bearer's mind raced with questions.

'Bal'Hemoth? Everything he forged in the last three months? Are these guys some kinda weirdo cult or something? Signs point to that being so'

He set himself squarely, glancing over his captive's shoulder at the alleyway where the others had gone "Let's get these done and go after the others, Warp! We can't let them escape justice!" a sudden realization of how that sounded, he added sheepishly "Look, I...you know what I mean!" he blushed furiously, restraining the comparatively frail older woman with grumpy ease.

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Warp's grin had a razor edge. "You know what they say," she said, staring the dealer down. "Eggs, baskets and all that." Her eyes glowed for a long moment before darkness swallowed her with a hiss, left only empty air where she had stood.

She appeared poised in the air behind Mr. Thickbeard, foot already raised high into the air. Warp's boot scythed down between his shoulders, and she felt a thrill run through her blood as the magic trucker crumpled, almost before she hit the ground. "Remember that thing," Warp said, though she was enjoying herself too much to get angry; Heraldo could hear it in her voice. "About the talking, and the thinking?"

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"Oh come on, it wasn't that bad" Heraldo grumbled, easily stopping the woman as she briefly glowed with power and tried to muscle herself free. Swinging a powerful fist into her sternum he thoroughly winded the would-be customer of the occult, and dumped her momentarily unconscious form unceremoniously onto the snowy asphalt.

Dusting off his hands he nodded to the dealer, saying "Good work Warp! Now," he glanced at the two they had brought down "What d'you say we do with these jokers? That dimensional thing you did with the truck?" he turned his gaze to the windy alley where the others had fled "Or is that a bad idea due to the plethora of weaponry it now contains? I suppose a roof would be as good as any, but if they can fly or whatever..." he shrugged.

"If you want, I'll take care of these guys while you start stoppin' those others from escaping. Let me check if they're still running or if they've stopped somewhere." he paused and tilted his head, the hat on it blowing in the sharp winter wind, at where the fleeing gangsters had gone.

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"Huh," Warp crossed her arms and squinted down at the trucker, drumming her fingers in thought. "Nah, I don't trust them in there. It's perfectly fine for things, but people can worm their way out pretty easy." Warp nudged him with the tip of her boot. "I'd be different if I knew they were gonna stay down till everything was done . . . I won't risk it now. All my stuff is in there, too." Warp leaned forward, plucked the dealer's fallen gun off the pavement and vanished it away, just like the truck. "If you've got a place in mind I can take 'em there faster."

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Rubbing the back of his head as he glanced around, Heraldo at last shrugged and looked back at Warp "I'd say the best place would be the police station down the street, maybe? Considering what they can do though, it might be a good idea just to keep them with us, at least until we can get some STAR guys over to keep 'em from running off with their crazy hoodoo magic." the muscular boy shrugged his shoulders again, tapping the Bandera on his shoulder.

Floating a little into the air he added, slinging the woman and dealer over his shoulders "I'll keep an eye on these two. Well," he grinned "an ear out for 'em, but considering how crazy noticeable their stuff is, shouldn't be hard to know they're up to somethin'!" Taking a deep breath he turned to the alleyway 'Alright, time to do this! ...Wait, I should...damnit, let's at least try'. Then he looked back at Warp "How are you doing? I'm..sorry I haven't been much help for ya, Warp." he suddenly growled and smacked himself in the face "Nevermind. Bad time to bring it up, which come t'think of it would be every time. Let's go pants those goons."

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Warp gave Heraldo a puzzled look. "What are you . . ." Then she understood, and her expression turned sober fast. "Oh." Ah, dammit, she'd been having so much fun. "Yeah, it kind of is. Let's focus on finding the crazy people trying to buy magic guns, okay?" Warp changed the subject and pointed a thumb down the alley. "They went that way, right?" Not waiting for an answer, Warp vanished into inky blackness and reappeared at the far end. She peered around, trying to get a better idea of where the magicians might have gone.

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'Superlative work, Herald' "Yeah, 'kay, I'll catch up." Heraldo muttered, shifting the two over his shoulders in a more comfortable fashion. Setting off over the nearby roofs to get a better vantage point, both teens easily saw the group of mages in a circle hastily sketched out into the snow, a shimmering wall of light red energy around them.

One of the young men stood in the center of it, hands raised and mouth moving with words even El Heraldo couldn't understand. Glaring down at the band, Subito decided that the best way to deal with magical force fields one knew nothing about was to crash into them at top speed. Hurtling out of the sky to land next to Warp he told her quickly "I'll get their attention again, you pick 'em off!" as he dumped their quarry on the snow, turned and hurled himself like a blazing and very colorful arrow straight at the shield!

Hat whipping in the wind, he thundered "You've cast your last spell, occultists!" just before he struck the glowing wall of mystical force.

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Heraldo smacked straight into the glowing red wall, which caused a thundering wave of mystical power to lash out at the brightly-colored boy, smacking him into the snowy pavement with punishing force and leaving a dark bruise and shallow cut where it had struck into his warded skin.

The mages within looked up in shock, all of them yelling furiously at the man in the middle to do something only vaguely understandable with the spell. Whatever it was it involved him doing was he already was to invoke the might of dread Bal'Hemoth, but more and harder. His sweating face and quickly-moving mouth singled him out as an obliging sort, at the very least, arms spread at the sky as he babbled the arcane words.

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