Polymnia pushed her fingers into the lock of the shop’s backdoor. Somehow, their opposition had managed to lock it down, even though Basil had cut the connection to the central system – whoever was sitting at the controls must have managed to reroute it. Neither he nor Polymnia had said it out loud, but they both knew – if the enemy had a gadgeteer or, worse yet, a computer-contriver on their side, then their situation was much worse than they expected.
However, they did have an ace up their sleeve – namely, Polymnia’s secret power, and it served them well as she simply pushed the lock out of the frame, letting the door fall open. Silently, they moved out – Polymnia had already put her ear to the door, and heard no one on the other side; and because that alone was not sufficient to dispel their doubts, Basil had also used a small telescoping camera to check at the same time – and down the corridor. Since the enemy obviously had taken over the central control room, their best chance at getting a signal out was to find the server room and work from there. Which meant going deeper into the arcades.
While they were moving, looking for the next stairway to take (not the same one they had used before). As they did, Basil was going through possible scenarios in his head, trying to figure out alternate courses of action. Trying to break out by main force would be foolish – even if Kudzu didn’t have something prepared to prevent that, the arcades had been built to act as an emergency shelter for citizens during S-Class events; it was highly unlikely that they could break out, even with Polymnia’s strength, before the enemy responded. His own communication devices were not working, and…
“Polymnia,” he whispered, making her stop and turn to look at him (she had insisted on leading the way, arguing quite convincingly that she was both tougher and more likely to hear an attack coming). “Have you tried using your emergency beacon?” he asked, but he knew before he had even finished his sentence that she had – her facial expression said it all.
<That was the first thing I tried. No one’s reacted yet, so I turned it off to avoid being tracked by it,> she explained without whispering. Earlier, she had told him that her vocaliser, though it looked quite ordinary, contained a directed speaker and thus she could make sure only he heard her if she wanted to (and there was a clear line of sight between them). <And I haven’t been able to reach Gloom Glimmer over the telepathic link she set up, either.>
That was new information. “What could possibly be blocking her power?” he asked, worried. Basil was not one to give up easily, but if Kudzu had someone capable of messing with Gloom Glimmer, then he doubted they stood the slightest chance.
To his relief, Polymnia dispelled those thoughts when she shook her head and replied, <No, she’s simply out of range – we both have this week off, and she wanted to spend a few days at home with her father.>
“Oh, right, members have to regularly take time off – I never really thought much about that,” he replied, slightly distracted.
<Well, not everyone can be Lady Light, and even she takes an entire day a week off to recover, even if she spends the other six working non-stop,> she replied. <But now we should hurry. Enough delays.> And she turned around and walked onwards again.
Basil nodded, and followed, idly wondering how the Dark and Irene spent their bonding time…
* * *
The Whitaker House, somewhere on the East Coast
Irene yawned, stretching her legs and spreading her toes, feeling them pop a little. She’d always enjoyed that sensation, as if something popped out of and into place again. It was a fleeting distraction from her frustration at having to stay at home today. Oh, sure, she enjoyed spending time with her dad, and she didn’t mind taking a week off work – she’d always thought her mother was crazy, teleporting and flying around the whole world twenty-four-six in order to help people, only resting when… well, on Sundays – but she would have liked to invite Melody for a sleepover (it wasn’t like she didn’t already know this house, and Melody wasn’t going to sell the location to any newsies or anything, anyway) or at least a meal and some girl time, but…
“Aaaand they’re done!” the man known to most of the world as the Dark and as ‘dad’ to her (Petey to his fiancée/wife/soulmate/whichever word could possibly describe a relationship that had literally started at birth and lasted, with a few fits and starts, for more than a hundred years and still counting) exclaimed, leaving the large kitchen, which opened directly into the living room, a pan in one hand from which he flicked several perfectly formed chocolate-chip pancakes onto her plate.
Irene wasn’t exactly what one would call a girl interested in great culinary experiences (the lack of need for nourishment made it hard to really enjoy it to its fullest), but even she loved her father’s pancakes, and they were almost, almost enough for her to forgive him for forbidding her from inviting Melody over. Eagerly, she brushed her hair aside and stretched out on the couch. The first pancake floated up off the plate, neatly falling apart into bite-sized pieces, the first of which flew straight into her mouth.
Moaning in simple delight, she chewed it slowly, enjoying the rich taste… there was nothing quite like chocolate to calm the nerves and take the edge off the frustration.
Her father filled his own plate, then put the pan away, as well as the apron he’d been wearing (not that he’d needed to have bothered with that – it was still pristine) and sat down next to her, idly lifting her legs so they lay across his lap. “I gather that you like them?” he asked, though he knew the answer already, beginning to cut his own meal.
She opened an eye, not interrupting the steady stream of bites that flew into her mouth, and his own pancakes fell apart, the first piece floating up to his mouth. With a chuckle, he leaned back and ate the first piece. “Mmm, I really am magnificent,” he said with his mouth half full, causing her to roll her eyes.
“You know, it’s bad form to compliment yourself,” she grumbled in between two bites.
“But then how am I going to get enough praise?” he asked back, one hand petting her shin. “Unless I start brainwashing enough people to constantly praise me… that might help me finally get enough of my well-deserved adoration,” he continued, faking a pensive look. She’d gotten pretty good, by now, at telling when he was serious and when he was just joking around (without a mantle of darkwraiths, he actually had quite a few tells).
“You could, you know, earn it. Put on a nice costume and become a hero,” she shot back. “Perhaps if you used your powers for good…”
“Bah! Being a hero would drive me crazy, I tell you. Sometimes, I just don’t get how Gwen manages it,” he replied, waving the oft-repeated idea off.
She’d been proposing variations of it every since she’d been two. “I keep telling people and she keeps telling them, and you of all people should know, mom isn’t a superhero,” Irene said, annoyed.
“Bah twice! The only one who believes that is Gwen herself,” he replied, moving onto his second pancake (well, it moved into his mouth, technically). “This world would have been fucked to hell decades ago if it wasn’t for her.”
“Language!” she reprimanded him, but did not push the issue. They’d repeated this argument very, very often – it would really be quite funny, Irene thought, if she wasn’t so close to the subject, that the Dark was the most vocal defender of her mother’s status as a superhero (against her own will). “There are children present!”
He snorted, but fell silent, and they ate quietly for a while, until there were no more pancakes left (the plates were already sparkling clean again and floated back into the cupboard).
“Are you still mad that I told you not to invite your friend?” he asked after a few minutes of silence.
Grumbling, she shook her head. “Not mad, just… why not? She’s… she’s my best friend, why can’t we have a sleepover, we’ve been doing it regularly at the base,” she sulked, hugging herself.
“Because you, of all people, need the time off,” he replied. “Not just from patrol and that – from pretending, too. Speaking of which,” he gave her a meaningful look. Sighing, she relaxed her hold on her power, and…
There was a, to her, noticable shift in the… the mood, or perhaps it was the atmosphere in the room. She felt her body relax (she hadn’t noticed she was tense, at all), her hair lengthened, becoming somehow even darker, with glimmers of light showing from within the depths of jet-black strands, like stars in pitch-black night. And her eyes… Irene didn’t like to think about how her eyes looked when she wasn’t keeping a tight leash on it. She didn’t need a mirror to see the black sclera, or the ruby-red iridae on the crystal-like cornea. And there was, of course, always the song, this low, beautiful, bewitching song that was everywhere if she wasn’t holding back a lot. Neither her father nor her mother knew – or wanted to tell her – where it came from or what it meant.
Nonetheless, as much as she might have disliked looking like this, it did feel good. Perhaps too good, but still; like having been forced to wear tight, restraining clothing all day, and thick shoes, and then finally throwing them all off in the evening in preparation for a warm bath…
“Much better,” her father said. “You mustn’t always pretend. You’re straining your power too much, reigning it in at every turn.”
“If I don’t, bad things happen,” she replied, her voice somehow resounding while still within her mouth, coming out stronger, more than was normal. “Remember the incident at the dance club in Rio?“
“That was only partly your fault, and fortunately, your mother never found out about that,” he replied, as if that made it all better. “Besides, no one sane and sensible would expect you to always be in control. Not to mention the fact that by straining it that much, you are only inviting a greater loss of control at just the wrong time; like a chord that has been wound too tightly. Best to loosen it every now and then; vent it, to use another metaphor, so as to avoid a real explosion.” He was repeating the same argument she’d been hearing for years now, and like always, she couldn’t argue againt it. “Just relax. You’re safe, I’m safe, there’s no one around for several miles and you can just be yourself for now.”
“I don’t see why I’m not allowed to be myself around Melody,” she sulked, though less so than before.
“Because even if she may be trustworthy herself, she well become a victim to a telepath and so spill your sec-“
Irene saw red. “If anyone even looks at her that way, I’ll tear them to shreds!” shouted, and every single syllable made the very ground shake.
He just looked at her with his maddening calm smile, still stroking her leg. “Of course you would. But best not to provoke such a situation – at the very least, it would make your mother very sad if you were to kill someone.”
That was always the worst argument he could throw at her, and it worked, deflating her quite a bit. “It’s so weird. When I’m with Melody, I rarely even remember to control myself, and yet it works… mostly. It’s almost as easy as letting… go…” She stopped talking as he gave her a serious, pensive look. “What?“
“Hm,” he grunted. “Say, Irene… what is Melody to you, really? You know you can tell me,” he asked her.
Why is he asking that? she asked herself, blushing hotly… but not quickly enough to show before her power drained the excess blood from her face again. It reached up, out, towards her father to get an-
No. A single word, spoken with the aid of a darkwraith that had appeared from nowhere, and he’d shut her inquiry down, just like that. He didn’t even look angry or annoyed.
Retreating a little deeper into her cushions (they swelled a little, wrapping tighter around her body), Irene thought his question over. “She is… she has… I feel like, she’s necessary. I feel better when she’s around, and even more so when she’s happy. I don’t like being away from her. I want to entrust my secrets to her, and have hers entrusted to me. I…“ She closed her mouth, unwilling to continue.
Either way, it appeared to be enough. He nodded, a sagely look on his face.
“What?” she asked, curious. “What are you thinking?“
“You know… I’m not exactly an expert on this,” he began, making her pay even more attention. He so rarely admitted not being an expert at anything, and he rarely wasn’t, anyway. “I’ve always had your mother. I don’t remember falling in love with her, because that would imply that there was a time before we loved each other – and there wasn’t, not any meaningful, conscious time,” he continued. “I’ve fallen for… one other woman, in all my years, and that was nothing like what I feel for Gwen, and I was already long since an adult by then; so I’m not exactly the best source of wisdom on this; but I think you. Are. In. Love.” He grinned at her.
“A-are you serious!? H-how can I be – I barely even know what part of my emotions is mine, and what is its!” she replied, exasperated. And maybe, just maybe, a little hopeful… could she finally be able of some real human emotion, independent of her power?
“I can only judge by what I see and hear, but to me, sweetheart, it seems like you’re quite simply in love,” he said simply. “Or at the very least, you have a strong crush on her.”
“And this isn’t just you trying to hook me up with a hot girl? Because Mom told me how you’ve been trying to set her up wi-“
He waved a hand, cutting her off. “Irene, please! I wouldn’t do that with my own daughter!” He looked honestly shocked that she even considered it, and for a moment she almost felt guilty.
“But you’d try to set up the love of your life with other hot chicks…“
“First of all, you’re way too young to use terms like ‘hot chick’, if you ask me. Not that you should be using a term like ‘chick’ at all, especially in any relation to your mother,” he replied with an indignant expression on his face. “And secondly, well, a guy can dream, can’t he?”
She rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t deny his logic. The thought of her, and Melody, alone, well…
I really take too much after him.