Anika grunted as a lightning bolt hit her in the gut. She lost a step in her sideways scramble as her muscles involuntarily seized from the shock, but she quickly recovered and kept moving.
<Great decision, Anika,> she chastised herself for accepting a match on a Friday after a physical training class. <Let’s start off the weekend with a little friendly electrocution.> She dived again, her enhanced speed allowing her to narrowly avoid the bolt of electricity.
“You’re fast, but you can’t dodge forever!”
Anna Fletcher stood on the other side of the room, laughing manically like a deranged sky god, as she hurled attack after attack at Anika. Anika considered Anna a friend. People said the two female Super’s personalities were similar, even if Anna’s was a little more extreme. The two women got along outside the HCP, and if Anika hadn’t been head over heels in love with Becca, she might have taken a run at her current opponent. None of that positive relationship translated past the doors of the combat cell.
Anna was on a roll in her combat challenges. The volatile Super had challenged Ashley Bates on Monday, and beaten her in less than five minutes. They’d switched ranks, bringing Anna up to number eight in the class. Anika didn’t know the other moody Super, but everyone she talked to said Ashley hadn’t taken getting dropped to number fifteen well.
Anna’s next step on the climb to the top was Anika, and the challenge made sense. Since you had to go through number six to get to the top five, Anna needed to test her skills against a strongman. Anika was nowhere near Mason’s weight class, but it was a good place for Anna to get a feel for how that Super classification would react to her ability.
“Shit on a stick you’re tough,” Anna took a break from throwing lightning bolts to adjust her positioning.
Anika had been trying to get through Anna’s attacks to land a punch. Despite Anna’s powerful ability, the electrokinetic was basically human. She was faster than the average human, likely a result of the electricity she generated, but she wasn’t any more durable than any other athletically fit teenager.
“Thanks,” Anika took the opportunity to lunge across the room with a powerful leap.
Anika flew through the air with one fist reared back, ready to land the final blow of the match. It was the kind of image you’d see on the cover of a comic book. Anika actually thought she had it. She was only a few feet from a back peddling Anna when a bolt leapt up from the ground to hit her square in the boobs.
Anika couldn’t help but squeal from the uncomfortable sensation. That squeal was turning into a grunt as she smashed into the ceiling thirty feet off the ground. Her precarious situation didn’t improve when another bolt smacked into her ribs, flattening her against the reinforced ceiling. Unlike the previous attack this one didn’t die out. The electrical charge continued to slam her into the ceiling, and even grew stronger as it slowly forced her away from the recovering Anna.
<That hurts,> Anika grimaced as she was dragged along the top of the ceiling, creating a shallow furrow with her body, and then dropped to the ground near the far wall.
Anika let out a small scream as she smashed into the ground, creating a small network of cracks that spider webbed outward from her injured body. <Fuck!>
Anika struggled to her feet, her arm wrapped protectively around her injured ribs. <I’m taking too many body blows.> No sooner had she thought this than another bolt stabbed into her protective arm.
“You should give up, girlfriend,” Anna advanced slowly, throwing bolt after bolt into the slumping Super. “I’d hate for Becca to see your hair like that.”
<Need…distraction…> Anika’s slowly frying brain sought for a way to regain some momentum.
She found it when one of Anna’s attacks went wide and smacked into the wall behind her. The force of the blow broke off small pieces of concrete, so Anika quickly picked one up and tossed it in the direction the attacks was coming from.
“Shit!” Anna yelped, dodging the flying shrapnel, and stopping her relentless attacks.
The momentary reprieve was exactly what Anika needed. She got to her feet as fast as she could, grabbing whatever left over chunks of rubble she could, and lobbing them at where she thought Anna was. She was having trouble seeing straight at the moment.
<Need to focus,> Anika’s vision was blurry and full of lightening induced stars.
<Son-of-a-bitch…stop fucking throwing…stupid chunks of shit,> Anna’s unprotected thoughts were coming in like radio static, but it helped Anika figure out where she was.
Since Anika’s evaluation with Coach Meyers, she’d been spending more time talking with Kyoshi about telepathy, and practicing the exercises given by Professor Livingston. Developing a new ability was tough. It was like learning to walk all over again, and she needed to be able to crawl before she could walk. Right now she was still in the crawling phase of telepathy. Everything she got from others was disjointed, confusing, and sporadic. Luckily, she’d mastered tuning it out early; or else she would have been a miserable person to be around.
Anika didn’t pick up more than cursing as Anna dodged the improvised missiles, but it did tell Anika exactly where her opponent was. Anika launched herself into the air again, but with a different plan this time. She grabbed a handful of the small pieces of debris before she jumped, and tossed the entire handful ahead of her directly into Anna’s face.
Anika’s vision was too fragmented to see what happened, but she head Anna’s angry scream loud and clear. The small attack did exactly what Anika intended. No lightning bolts reached out to swat her from the sky, and Anna was too distracted to dodge Anika’s incoming body. Anika had been careful not to launch herself too forcefully across the room, but that didn’t stop her from breaking several bones in Anna’s body as they collided.
Both women screamed; Anna because of three broken ribs, hip, and shoulder, and Anika because of the powerful electrical surge that rampaged through her body like a theme park. It was through sheer willpower that Anika was able to remain conscious enough to hear those sweat beautiful words announced over the loudspeaker.
“The winner of this challenge match is Anika Kemps, please…” she blacked out before Coach Meyers could even finish the sentence.
She didn’t know how long she was out, but a warm tingling sensation, followed by some rough shaking, finally brought her back to consciousness.
“Ani…wake up, Ani,” only one person called Anika, “Ani”.
Anika felt groggy as she opened her eyes to look into the cutest face in the whole world. Becca was basically straddling her, with her hands on her shoulder, roughly shaking her to wake up. It was a sight Anika would have loved to wake up to, even though she felt like someone had tossed her face first onto power lines.
“Good morning, gorgeous,” Anika smiled, ignoring her throbbing headache.
“Ya gotta be more careful, Ani,” Becca looked concerned as the senior healer continued to run his hands over the portions of Anika’s body Becca wasn’t sitting on. “Anna almost had you.”
“If I’d remained conscious for one more second I would have,” the disgruntled electrokinetic pouted nearby. “That smokescreen with the debris was slick, and you broke my fucking nose.” Her face was already fixed, but the memory would linger. Breaking your nose was never a pleasant experience.
“It was a good fight,” Anika replied, motioning for Becca to get off so she could get up.
Becca obliged, waving her hand back and forth in front of her face. “Ani, you smell like burned bacon.”
Anika couldn’t help but laugh, which turned into a grimace when her head protested. “You can thank Anna for that.” Anna waved off the blame.
“Sorry about the headache,” the senior healer got to his feet with a scrunched nose. “If you want to get that fixed up you need to go to the infirmary.
“You better,” Becca stood with her hands on her hips. “I want you at one hundred percent for our date tonight.”
“We’re going to Sprout for coffee,” Anika complained. She hated going to the infirmary. “Isn’t coffee supposed to help with headaches?”
“Caffeine headaches,” Becca clarified. “Not electrocution headaches.”
“Your girlfriend makes an excellent point, in my expert medical opinion,” Anika didn’t know whether to be surprised the senior knew about her and Becca’s relationship, or frustrated that he was taking her side.
“Fine,” Anika surrendered with a dramatic wave of her arms, which only brought on another stab of pain. “Give me a hand.” Becca helped Anika to her feet and off to the infirmary.
Everyone along their path gave them a wide berth, and Anika knew why once she got a whiff of herself. <I love you, Becca, but you undersold it. I don’t smell like bacon, I smell like burned shit.>
Lilly looked herself over in the mirror one last time. <That’ll do.> She grinned wickedly at her reflection.
It had been interesting to figure out the exact balance of what to wear to this date. If she’d been trying to get Seth in the sack she could dress provocatively, and that would be all it took. Men were simple like that. If it was a more casual encounter; she would be able to dress informally. She’d be spending the evening in comfortable clothing compatible with the summer heat; which still meant she’d she showing a lot of skin.
Tonight was unique when it came to dressing etiquette. She couldn’t overdo it and come off too slutty. She’d been watching Seth for a while, and she knew bimbos threw themselves at him. Lilly needed to set herself above the competition. At the same time, it needed to be casual enough for where they were going, and to avoid him thinking she was getting too serious too quick. If Seth thought that, then he’d run. Lilly couldn’t have him running this far into her plan, and with her father wanting to meet him. If some boy broke his little girl’s heart; she shuddered just thinking about it.
<Damnit, Dad,> she thought for the thousandth time this week. <You’re messing up my carefully laid plans.> The knowledge that this was exactly Hellgate’s intention didn’t help.
Lilly took a deep breath as she slipped on her heels. They weren’t stripper heels, but the stylish black stilettos still gained her a few inches. They paired well with the black outfit. The top was strapless ang tight around her breasts, but then flared out before stopping around her belly button. The bottom was a mid-length skirt. It wasn’t tight enough to resemble a cocktail dress, so it was more casual. There was also a small slit along her right thigh, which gave her a little more maneuverability and sex appeal.
Lilly felt she’d hit a nice balance of classic sexy, but still casual first date attire. She topped it all off with a pair of designer sunglasses. They might be meeting for coffee around six, but the sun didn’t set until nine at this time of year.
<Plus, the sun never sets on a badass,> she tossed her dyed blonde ponytail melodramatically.
“Dad, I’m heading out!” she yelled, hoping the echo would carry the message to her father. “Don’t wait up.” Lilly didn’t wait for a reply before vanishing in a blast of darkness.
The momentary dark embrace of the space she traversed was nice. It actually helped calm her nerves. <I can’t believe I’m actually giddy about meeting up with him,> Lilly dropped into the humid evening air of central Florida as she finished the thought.
Lilly was immediately glad she’d chosen to wear black as the sweating started. She emerged from the shadow of the alleyway and started the three block walk to the coffee shop. This was the closest hidden teleportation location to the coffee shop she’d discovered. Luckily, this neighborhood was a good one, so she wouldn’t have to pull the pistol from her purse and kneecap some hobo.
<Let’s see,> Lilly rounded the corner that brought her into sight of the coffee shop.
It was always easy for Lilly to see which guys were interested in more than her curves. For one thing, they always showed up early. Secondly, they usually brought some sort of gift. Lilly’s heart sped up a bit as she saw Seth standing nervously in front of the coffee shop, in a stylish blazer and khakis, with a bouquet of roses. He looked like a preppy model right out of GQ.
<Damn he looks good,> Lilly could feel her libido revving its engine. <Calm down girl; business before pleasure.> Seth caught sight of her, and his face split into a smile to rival Lilly’s own trademark beam. It made her want to skip the business portion all together.
“Hey,” she was a little breathless when she finally reached Seth. She hadn’t realized she’d picked up her pace to reach him quicker.
“Hey,” he seemed a little out of breath too, despite standing completely still. “These are for you.” He held up the flowers.
“Thanks,” she took the expensive bouquet and breathed in the floral scent.
“You look absolutely stunning,” Seth’s compliment came out in a rush, and was followed by a blush.
“You clean up pretty well yourself,” she grinned back, not totally suppressing the rosy coloring of her own cheeks. “So what’s the plan?”
Her question snapped Seth out of whatever haze he was in. “I thought we’d start with coffee and a bite to eat before seeing where the evening takes us,” he opened the door for Lilly to enter Sprout.
“I like the sound of that,” Lilly entered the moderately busy shop.
Sprout was a hipster coffee establishment catering almost exclusively to college students. It was owned by a couple of hippies who’d settled in the area thirty years ago and never left. The whole shop had a very unique, earthy vibe to it. The menus were two giant blackboards placed next to each other against the back wall. It was written out in an assortment of colored chalk, which made the whole thing look like a rainbow. Specials were done the same way, but on freestanding easels around the shop. Some even had creative drawings on them. The walls were a mesh of earth tones like someone had just randomly thrown paint on the wall, with pictures of local artists prominently displayed. The whole vibe had a very calming effect on Lilly.
The seating was a hodgepodge of single, double, four person tables, lounge chairs, and even a few sofas. There was even an entire section of the shop devoted to performances, where currently some English major was reciting a terrible love poem.
The icing on the cake was the barista at the counter. Lilly had only ever seen this one man working the register. His eyes were bloodshot, and he spoke like any stereotypical stoner. He sometimes even smelled like weed when he came back from his breaks. The best part about him was his long dreadlocks. They looked really out of place on a guy one shade darker than albino.
“Pick anything you want,” Seth waited patiently behind Lilly.
Lilly contemplated the menu for a minute. She already knew what she wanted, but she needed to get a sense of the room. Of the two dozen people in the room there was no one who screamed “threat” to her. With that covered, she pre-selected the table they’d sit at. It was in the back, near an employee only entrance which most likely led to a secondary exit. It would work as an emergency exit.
“I’ll take the Reuben, with an extra order of fries, and a mocha Frappuccino. Don’t skimp on the whip cream,” she gave a level stare at the barista to show she wasn’t kidding.
The women around Lilly were shooting her looks of pure loathing. She was ordering a meal fit for a football player, and she still had the figure of a bikini model. <Suck on that bitches,> she shot them a smug smile before stepping aside to let Seth order and pay.
He ordered a similar serving size, but that was to be expected. The HCP gym classes didn’t get out until later in the afternoon, so he needed a post-workout refuel.
“Comin’ right up, bro,” the barista drawled, taking the slip of paper with the order on it, and sticking it on a wheel he spun so it faced the kitchen.
Lilly walked over to her pre-selected table like she owned the place, and Seth followed along obediently. She did love it when they were obedient. They took their seat at the two person table with Lilly facing the front door. Seth looked a little uncomfortable at having to face away from it, and Lilly took comfort in that.
<At least I know the HCP is offering basic training to their students,> Lilly didn’t let her evaluation of the gorgeous man reach her face. <I need to have proper Heroes to face off against when I’m older.>
“Um…you look beautiful, Liz,” Seth repeated himself, but Lilly didn’t mind hearing it.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to wear. I hope I didn’t disappoint,” she gave her date a coy smile.
“Definitely not,” Lilly could feel the sexual tension building between them, and she didn’t mind it one bit.
“Here’s your order, Dude and Dudette,” the barista chuckled at his own clever word-play as he arrived with their massive amounts of food.
It was a welcome interruption from the light flirting going on between them. Lilly was enjoying the attention so much, she didn’t trust herself to get back on track. As she sunk her teeth into the corned-beef of her sandwich she bought some time to pull herself together.
“The fries are a little cold,” Seth complained, a frown crossing his face.
For some reason the frown made Lilly angry. It was an unnatural anger. The frown wasn’t directed at her, but the poor service. Still, Lilly was now consciously aware that she didn’t like to see Seth upset.
<Get a grip,> Lilly berated herself. <This is your mark, not some crush. Even if he is one of the most handsome men you’ve ever seen, that doesn’t change anything. FOCUS!>
Seth’s complaint was exactly the opening she’d been waiting for, and she’d almost missed it crushing on the man. “Just warm it up,” Lilly succeeded in sounding completely nonchalant about it.
“I don’t think they have a microwave for me to just use,” Seth looked around for the device. “I’ll need to take it back to the kitchen.”
“That’ll take forever,” Lilly pointed at the growing line of customers. Sprout was staffed like any other independent coffee shop; so they had two, maybe three people max, working at any one time. Seth wouldn’t get his food back for a half hour at the rate the crowd was ordering. “Just heat it up,” Lilly pressured him gently.
“How can I do that?” Seth looked frustrated, but Lilly caught the twinge of fear in his eye.
“I’m not an idiot, Seth. I know you’re a Super, and since you’re an Abney, I’d guess an elemental manipulator to some degree. I’m sure you can generate a little heat to warm those fries up,” she gave him a casual, warm smile, and crossed her fingers she didn’t scare him off.
<The whole plan hinges on this moment.>
Lilly saw Seth go through the gambit of emotions when he finally admitted to himself that she knew about him. He started out angry, his nose scrunching up, and his mouth setting in a hard line. Then he progressed to sadness; he sighed audibly, his face relaxed, but his eyes lost a little bit of their luster. Lilly actually felt a stab of pain in her chest when that little something disappeared from his beautiful emerald eyes. Finally, Seth seemed to settle into plain frustration. A frown settled onto his face as he looked at Lilly, but that light in his eyes was still gone.
<Now time to reel him in,> Lilly made sure the devious grin she was wearing on the inside didn’t ruin everything.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” she waved one of her own fries casually in front of her face. “I’m a Super too, and as far as I see it, our kind need to stick together.”
Seth’s frustration was replaced with shock. Not only because he believed she wouldn’t tell anyone, but because she’d also revealed herself to him. That little bit of extra panache returned to his green eyes, and Lilly felt her heart skip a beat. Saying she wouldn’t tell anyone had just been a line to weasel her way into his circle of trust, but seeing that look in his eyes, and how I made her feel; Lilly knew she truly wouldn’t tell anyone that Seth Abney was an HCP student. If someone tried to get her to talk, then they had better come ready for a fight, because that was exactly what she was going to give them.
Seth took a quick look around to make sure no one was looking. When he was confident no one was peeping in on their dinner date he pressed his finger to the side of the plate. Lilly could feel the residual heat in the air, and couldn’t stop the grin from cracking through her casual exterior.
Seth took a freshly heated fry off the warm plate, and took a bite. “Perfect.” The smile he gave her was the most relaxed one she’d seen all evening.
“I’ll say,” Lilly winked at him as she stuck a fry in her mouth.
Seth nearly choked on the fry he was eating, and Lilly giggled. <You’re too easy,> she was starting to love throwing him off, and seeing how he reacted.
“So…” it took Seth a few seconds to dislodge the rogue fry from his throat. “Since I’ve shown you mine, can you show me yours?”
Lilly felt her whole body get hot upon hearing the thinly veiling sexual innuendo. “Not even a little foreplay, just straight to business,” Lilly played along, and got a blush from Seth in return.
“I know what you mean,” Lilly cut him off. Despite how cute he was floundering around like a fish out of water, it was drawing too much attention to them. Primarily from a newly arrived older looking couple who seemed a little too old to be college students.
Lily focused on the spoon next to her left hand. She concentrated, a trickle of sweat falling from her brow, before the spoon disappeared from the left side of her plate, and reappeared on the right side.
There was no flash of darkness to alert everyone in the shop to Lilly’s unique brand of teleportation. And possibly reveal to everyone, including Seth, that she wasn’t Elizabeth Aretino. Lilly let out a sigh of relief when her trademark blackness didn’t erupt outward. It had taken her months to learn to subdue it, and it still required tremendous effort, even for small objects. She wasn’t even close to mastering it when teleporting herself.
“You’re a teleporter,” Seth tried to sound impressed, but Lilly could tell he wasn’t. She didn’t blame him.
She assumed there was a teleporter or two in his HCP class. In reality, their abilities most likely paled in comparison to her own, but she couldn’t let pride get the best of her. She needed to play this one slow and cool; which meant looking like a weakling.
“Yeah,” Lilly replied, faking pride in her small expression of power. “It’s not much, but it helps me get stuff from across the room without having to get up. It’s not HCP worthy or anything, but it’s mine, and I make do.”
Seth tried to hide the pity from his expression, and was only slightly successful. Lilly didn’t blame him through. If she knew all he could do was warm up a plate then she’d probably have pitied him too. Seth might be training to be a Hero, and Lilly might be a startup villain, but they were cut from the same cloth. Power, fame, and fortune, were the marks of success, and they both wanted to be the best.
<One of these days I’ll show you what I can really do,> Lilly made the promise to herself, knowing she was talking about a lot more than her teleportation.
“So now that I’ve shown you mine, what else is on the agenda for tonight?” Lilly took a long sip of her delicious mocha frappuccino.
“Well I was thinking…Liz, you have a little,” Seth motioned at the area between her nose and upper lip where she’d intentionally left a chunk of whip cream.
“What?” she asked innocently, smiling at him.
She was setting him up. She knew it, and Seth knew that she knew it. Like any gentleman, Seth took his napkin, leaned across the table, and wiped the excess cream off her face.
<An excuse for initiating a little physical contact,> she’d used the gesture countless times to express interest, but what she didn’t expect was the jolt that shot through her body when his skin touched hers as he pulled the napkin away. It was like someone had stuck her with a cattle prod.
He seemed to feel the same thing, because his eyes went wide, and he jumped a little bit with the contact.
<Wow,> was all she could think, and she was pretty sure he was thinking the same thing.
The moment was pretty perfect. The adrenaline was rushing through their veins, Seth’s hand was lingering on her face a little longer than was socially acceptable, and neither of them cared. If Seth leaned in and kissed her, she wouldn’t mind. Instead, Seth went ridged when the sound of two people talking reached his ears.
“Shit,” he quickly sat back down; glancing over his shoulder to the older couple Lilly had spotted a few minutes ago.
They had just placed their order, and were heading toward the only table still unoccupied in the shop. The one right next to theirs.
“Are you ok?” Lilly asked. She kept half her attention on Seth, and the other half on the approaching couple.
The way the guy looked and moved told Lilly instantly that he was law enforcement. It was confirmed when he got a little closer and she saw the badge and holstered pistol underneath the blazer he was wearing. If Lilly had to guess, the approaching couple was also on a date. Despite the man approaching them with a weapon, it was the woman who demanded most of Lilly’s attention.
The woman was just as tall at the man, and he stood a few inches over six feet. Together they were two of the tallest people in the room. Even through her outfit, Lilly could tell she was fit, probably not quite as fit as her or Seth, but still athletic enough to be classified as a threat. She was also drop dead gorgeous, which sent a spike of jealously through Lilly. The fact that Seth was looking at her with a mix of anger and confusion helped her fight back the emotion she didn’t usually have to deal with. Despite being tall, athletic, and beautiful, it was the way she moved that put Lilly on edge. The blonde haired bombshell moved with a natural, lethal grace that was more commonly seen on stalking predators than human beings. Despite the obvious danger signals Lilly was picking up, the woman didn’t automatically scream “threat”. In her, admittedly limited, experience, Lilly knew these were the most dangerous people. Anyone could tell a guy with a scar running down his face, wearing a leather biker vest, with a .357 magnum tucked into his belt was dangerous. It was the ones who didn’t have to seem intimidating that were the real threat.
“What the hell is she doing here?” Seth cursed through gritted teeth.
“Seth, what’s up?” Lilly tried to act ignorant of the woman who’d just sat down with her back to them, which also conveniently faced the entrance.
“Let’s just say I know her, and I didn’t expect her to ruin our evening,” Seth was visibly upset now.
It was sweet if Lilly looked at it from a different angle. He’d obviously wanted to impress her, and this mysterious woman was throwing a wrench into his plans. Lilly tried to alleviate some of his tension by sliding her hand across the table, and placing it on top of his.
“This night is only ruined if we let it be,” she smiled, and for once, there was no ulterior motive behind her actions. She just wanted Seth to relax.
It took a moment, but the physical contact seemed to take some of the tension out of Seth’s posture. “You’re right,” he sighed, turning back to face her. “She only wins if we let her.”
Lilly wasn’t sure what the deal was between Seth and this other woman, but she was determined to find out. <Not now,> Lilly had to struggle to stop evaluating the woman with her back to them. <Now I need to enjoy Seth’s company.>
The two Supers smiled at each other, settled back into their seats, and resumed trying to have a pleasant evening.
It had been a long time since Daisy had been on a date. Nearly 15 years if she actually bothered to count, so she was rusty. Everything about getting ready for the date felt foreign and weird. She’d showered in the morning before class, and hadn’t worked hard enough to illicit another one before the next morning. To her, it felt weird taking two showers in a single day. Most people might think she was a bit off for thinking that way, but when you went a week without showering because of some massive Super crime spree, you started to see the priceless value of running water and indoor plumbing. She’d never taken those things for granted again, and that meant doing away with showers when not necessary.
<So what the hell do I wear?> Daisy was standing in her closet, a towel wrapped around her body, and another around her hair, just staring at her wardrobe.
She was immediately grateful that Maria had talked her into going on that shopping trip. If the Weapons instructor hadn’t, then she’d definitely be limited in her options. Either she’d overdress, and give Christopher the wrong impression, or underdress, and also give him the wrong impression. Being a girl was just harder in these situations.
Maria had come over earlier in the week and helped her pick out an outfit, but now that Daisy was looking at it, she didn’t like it. It was basically a cocktail dress that was tight in all the right places. If she’d known better, she’d have thought Maria was subtly telling her to get laid. That wasn’t Maria’s style though; it was Craig’s, and he’d told her to her face to get laid as she left the gym thirty minutes ago.
<It’s already five thirty,> Daisy felt a momentary wave of panic. <He’ll be here soon. I still have to do my hair!>
Daisy put off selecting her outfit in exchange for blow drying her hair. After drying she combed out the blonde tangled mess, and threw it up into a ponytail out of instinct. She took a second to look herself over, before pulling off the band holding her hair back. Daisy loved wearing her hair in a ponytail because it kept it out of her way when she was fighting. Preferably, she preferred to have as little of her hair showing as possible. It helped with the secret identity bit to have one more trait people couldn’t identify, and it also gave the enemy one less thing to pull on. Daisy couldn’t count how many times a villain had tried to grab her hair during a fight. It didn’t matter if they were a man or woman. Anyone’s sense of what was proper during a fight usually went out the window when you were losing.
Daisy let her hair fall to its full length. It partially concealed a portion of her face, so she pulled it back, and tucked it behind her ear. She looked herself over in the mirror and smiled. It was a rare moment when Daisy could relax and feel girly. Reaper never had that luxury.
<Clothes!> Daisy was running out of time before Christopher arrived. He might want to see her in her birthday suit, but that was something Daisy definitely wasn’t ready for yet. Just going on this date was a big step for her.
<Let’s just keep it simple,> Daisy put the tight cocktail dress back on the rack and grabbed a pair of jeans.
She grabbed a thong from her dresser, because anything more than that wouldn’t work in the tight jeans, and put on both garments. <Now for a top.> Daisy really wanted to wear a white blouse that she’d picked up on her recent shopping trip, but that was just asking for an embarrassing situation. It was still too damn hot out to wear white. And of course, she wasn’t feeling anything else in the closet. Luckily, inspiration struck and she found a plain red t-shirt in her dresser drawer.
Another quick look in the mirror told her she wasn’t done yet. She looked good, and felt comfortable, in what she had on, but the t-shirt wasn’t doing enough. It had enough of an opening at the top to show off a little cleavage, while still being conservative enough; but the shirt just made her boobs look huge. She didn’t want Christopher getting the wrong impression.
Solving the problem of a second layer that wouldn’t cause heat stroke in humid central Florida was probably more difficult than stopping a burglary. Daisy eventually settled on a black vest that she’d bought years earlier. Her overall look was probably a little butch, but it was a lot better than the dress she’d originally picked out, or more accurately, had been picked out for her.
Daisy was adjusting the vest, trying to find the best way for her to cover up, when the doorbell rang.
“Be right there,” she called out, fighting down the surge of anxiety.
<Am I really ready for this,> she watched her own scarlet pupils in the mirror.
If Daisy was being honest with herself, the dream she’d had earlier in the week was still messing with her head. She still didn’t know, even after some tests from Grace, if the dream was externally influenced, or her subconscious trying to tell her something. It could have simply been about Blake. The revelation of who Dr. Sanderson really was had left her emotionally drained for days, but Daisy felt like it was more than that.
<Is it ok for me to move on? Am I doing justice to Dave, Connor, and Danny? How can I be fair to Christopher with all this baggage?> Her thoughts were interrupted by a softer, hesitant knock on the door. She’d been standing there staring at herself for a few minutes.
“Coming,” Daisy rushed to the door of her home and threw it open with a little too much force.
Officer Christopher Phillips was the same height as Daisy, which meant her red eyes met his kind brown ones when she nearly pulled the door off his hinges. He smiled when he saw her, showing a set of dimples that made Daisy a little weak in the knees. She had a weakness for the facial feature.
“Hello, Daisy,” Christopher pulled a bouquet of daisies from behind his back.
Daisy couldn’t quite squash the blush from creeping onto her face. She didn’t know if showing up to a girl named Daisy’s home with daisies was incredibly corny or incredibly sweet. That didn’t stop the fact that daisies were her favorite flower, and her home was in desperate need of something other than workout clothes and classified documents.
“Hello, Christopher,” she accepted the flowers, and took a deep breath. They reminded her of spring, and not a Florida spring.
“Please, my mother doesn’t even call me Christopher. Most people call me Chris, but my close friends call me Topher,” his smile sent a wave of relaxation through her that made Daisy wonder if he was a projective empath.
“Do you have a preference?” Daisy asked awkwardly, as they both continued to stand in the doorway.
“I’d like to think we’re on the way to being close friends, so Topher please,” the smile never wavered, and he never took his eyes off her.
Daisy’s knees were getting weaker by the second. Topher was much more handsome in person than from the window of his squad car. “Um…ok, Topher,” Daisy suddenly remembered her manners, and invited him inside. “I just need one more minute to get my shoes, and then we can go.”
Topher nodded, his eyes looking around the house with casual interest. Daisy waited until he was looking away to sneak another look at him. Without knowing what he was going to wear, Daisy had matched up her outfit with his pretty well. He was wearing a pair of dark blue jeans and clean, but clearly workmen’s boots. He was wearing a red polo, which did nothing to hide his impressive athletic physique, and topped everything off with a tan blazer.
<He is a handsome man,> Daisy made sure she was facing away from him to hide her fiery blush. <Shoes, I need shoes,> Daisy got herself back on track.
She didn’t have a lot of shoes outside running sneakers, so Maria had suggested she pick up some more casual footwear. She only had two other pairs of shoes, so she opted for the black pair of Toms she’d purchased. She wasn’t the biggest fan of the style, but she liked that the company gave back to the less fortunate.
Daisy gave herself one last look in the mirror, and a confidence-building nod. “Ok, I’m ready.”
Topher’s smile returned when he caught sight of her. “I must say you are beautiful,” the blush Daisy had beaten back returned with renewed vigor.
<Ah shit,> it hadn’t taken long for this guy to work his way into her heart. <Damnit, Daisy.> she’d always been the type of girl to fall for a guy too fast, which was one of the big reasons she tended to keep them at arm’s length. When she got serious, she got real serious. So far that had only ended in heartache.
Her conflicting emotions must have shown on her face, because Topher’s smile faltered. “Why don’t we head out,” he quickly recovered. “Sprout tends to get a little busy around this time, and we don’t want to have to wait forever for our food.”
“Yeah, sure,” Daisy plastered a half-real smile back on her face. “Just let me lock up.”
They both stepped outside so Daisy could put the key in the lock, and seal the door. It might look like an old-fashioned way of securing the premises, but the turning of the key initiated all sort of unseen countermeasures. Lines to the local police were just the tip of the iceberg. Daisy hadn’t read up on all the specifics, but she knew even some Supers would be lucky to get out of her house alive.
Topher led the way to his truck; of course he had a truck. It wasn’t the big, obnoxious, gas guzzling monstrosities that some guys bought to compensate for an aspect of their anatomy. Topher had a small to midsized truck. Large enough to cart around stuff, and small enough he didn’t have to spend a fortune to fill up. A quick look in the bed in the back showed enough scrapes and scratches for her to tell the vehicle served a purpose.
Like the gentleman he was, Topher escorted her to the other side of the truck, and opened the door for her. Some women in this day and age might have taken offense to that. Daisy strongly believed that a woman could kick ass just as easily as any man, she was living proof of that; but that didn’t mean she didn’t like to be treated like a lady.
It was about a ten minute drive to Sprout. Daisy would have considered walking, but it would have taken too long, and it was a Friday night. The two adults didn’t want to get caught up in some student shenanigans where they felt compelled to intervene. Topher was still a cop, and Daisy still had the attitude of a Hero.
All the parking was full around the coffee shop, and Daisy could see a steadily growing line at the counter. This made her glad and terrified. She was glad she’d have a chance to talk more with Topher, and she was terrified she’d have a chance to talk more with Topher. Daisy wasn’t great with small talk, especially with guys she liked. Vodka used to loosen her up enough to break the ice, but that wasn’t an option anymore.
<One more dirty little secret I’ll have to clue him in to if we get serious,> the thought put a damper on her mood.
They ended up parking a block away on the street. Topher could have chosen to not feed the meter; Daisy was sure the cops that patrolled the area would recognize his car, but he put a few bucks in anyway. Daisy admired his integrity, because it was doing the little things you knew you could get away with that separated the true Heroes from the wannabes.
They walked most of the block in silence. Both of them casually scanned the people that passed them. Topher looked for weapons and anything out of place, while Daisy reached out to them with her ability to see if they were a Super or Powered threat. Together they would have made a great crime fighting team. They just needed to work on their communication.
“So…did you have a good week?” Daisy asked the lame question, knowing the instant it left her mouth just how lame it sounded.
“It was actually pretty quiet. Just some vandalism, two B&Es, and a domestic disturbance,” Topher gave her a look that said none of instances were pleasant, but he was glad they hadn’t been worse. “How about you?”
“It was…interesting,” Daisy stopped for him to open the door for her into Sprout.
Daisy felt oddly at home when she entered the coffee shop. Not because she could see the inspiration in the shop from decades past, but because it also reminded her of a lot of places in New York. The haphazardly thrown paint, the local artists showing off their work, and even the stereotypical poetry reading. The bit of sadness that crept into her chest was unexpected. Daisy didn’t quite realize just how much she missed New York City.
There were ten people in line before them, so Daisy had ample time to scan the room while she and Topher didn’t engage in uncomfortable conversation. <And everything started off so nice before I messed it up.> Daisy didn’t let the disappointment cloud her search.
The room was pretty packed. Only a few tables were still open, and if they were lucky they’d be able to snag the last one there in the back. It was the best from a tactical perspective. The employee exit offered a quick exit, and it had a clear line of sight to the front door. As far as people went she couldn’t’ see any threats, but…
<You’ve got to be shitting me,> Daisy made sure her eyes didn’t linger over one of the people she definitely didn’t want to see this evening.
Seth Abney was sitting at a table with a gorgeous girl in a two piece. <She’s way too good for him,> Daisy would have thought that even if she didn’t know Seth’s personality. <She doesn’t look like his type.>
The blonde girl, who didn’t look like a natural blonde to Daisy, was certainly beautiful. They only made eye contact for a second, but Daisy could tell there was a sharp mind at work behind that stunning face. Seth didn’t usually go for the smart ones. He always struck Daisy as more of the small brains, big boobs kind of guy.
“Is everything ok?” Topher had noticed her hesitation.
“It’s just one of my stu…someone I know from the school is here,” Daisy tripped over her reply.
Topher just chuckled at her stumble. It was a rich, warm chuckle filled with genuine happiness. “Don’t worry about seeing some of your students here,” Topher leaned in close to whisper in Daisy’s ear. “I can keep a secret.”
Daisy knew Topher could keep a secret. She’d done some digging on his clearances, after her conversation with Craig, to make sure what she could and couldn’t say about herself. Topher wasn’t read into the details of West’s HCP program, but he had the clearances to know if need be.
Daisy smiled at him, as they moved forward in the line. She’d been around people long enough to know Topher was telling the truth. That was a weight off her shoulders.
They placed their orders with a white Rastafarian. Daisy could see Topher physically restrain himself from arresting the barista when he smelled weed on the man; which said a lot about how much he wanted tonight to just be about the two of them. Topher didn’t seem like the type of person to do anything less than 100 percent.
The table next to Abney was the last one in the shop, so Daisy tried not to make such a big deal about taking it. She could only see Abney’s back as she approached, but she could see he was tense. <I guess the feeling’s mutual.> The girl had reached across the table to hold his hand, and was whispering something to him when Daisy and Topher took their seats.
It would be a while until the food arrived, so Topher took advantage of the time. “Thanks for giving me a chance, Daisy,” he was keeping his voice low out of respect for the nearby people. “I know you’re busy, and have a lot of important stuff on your plate. So thanks for working me into your schedule.”
“You don’t need to thank me, I wanted to see you,” Daisy felt like she was telling someone a secret, even though there wasn’t anything secretive about the conversation. “You seem like a really nice guy. I want to thank you in advance for putting up with me,” she countered. “There’s a lot you don’t know, and this being my first date in a while is just one of them.”
Daisy expected to see Topher’s surprise at the admission. Instead, he looked honored.
“Then that only makes me more thankful. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone to spend time with someone you’ve only met twice, for less than a few minutes,” Daisy hadn’t thought about it that way before. “There’s no pressure with this,” he continued, putting her more at ease. “I just want to get to know you, and I know there are things you can’t, and won’t, say; and that’s fine.”
“I appreciate that,” Daisy replied.
“Is it me, or are we thanking each other a lot for just sitting down together,” Topher cracked one of those smiles Daisy was beginning to like a lot.
“Yeah,” Daisy was more relaxed than a few minutes ago, but she still felt nervous.
“So why don’t we start with the basics,” Topher’s expression got serious. “Favorite color?”
Daisy laughed out loud at the unexpected question. She could feel Abney’s glare boring into the back of her head.
“Red,” she replied, gesturing at their shits and her eyes. “Yours?”
“Green,” he sat back in his chair. “Favorite food?”
“A bacon cheese burger with an egg on top,” he answered proudly, prompting another giggle from Daisy. “Favorite place?”
“New York City,” his face lit up at her response.
“Me too! If pizza is really your favorite food you need to check out this little pizza place on Fulton St. in Brooklyn…”
“Riva’s,” Daisy vibrated with excitement.
Topher’s grin nearly split his face in two. “I see you know your way around Brooklyn’s pizza scene. When did you live there?”
If Daisy was being more defensive she would have asked why he thought she’d lived there. If he didn’t have the clearances, she would have done that. <But he knows about Riva’s,> that little pizza place was a hometown secret.
“I spent some time there about ten years ago,” it wasn’t a lie, but she didn’t convey all the details. She did catch the momentary confusion on his face. “I’m a little older than I look.” She made the last sentence sound like an apology, and he caught on.
“Don’t be sorry. I’d rather have a woman with good stories than good looks, although you don’t seem to be lacking in either department.”
<Damn blush,> Daisy couldn’t hide it this time, and that only made him smile wider.
Twenty more minutes of talking about New York, and listing their favorites, had Daisy completely relaxed when their food arrived. It had started off a little rough, which she took the blame for, but it had turned into something pretty awesome. She’d only been with Topher for less than half an hour, but Daisy knew she wanted to get to know him better. She’d still have to work out her issues with her past relationships, but she wouldn’t let that get in the way of a good thing.
Speaking of things that could get in the way of good things. <You have got to be kidding me!> Daisy was checking the front door whenever the bell above it rung, so she saw what was coming, and had time to prepare.
<Don’t people have anywhere better to go than here! It’s Friday night in a college town. People should be out getting shitfaced, not getting coffee,> her frustration must have shown, because Topher stopped mid-sentence to follow her gaze.
“Something wrong?” he stared at the new entrants.
“Just more of my students,” Daisy sighed, there was no use in hiding; they’d already seen her.
<You better get your girlfriend under control or there will be hell to pay on Monday,> Daisy hoped the somewhat-telepath understood her, and could get a hold of the hyper speedster before she could make a scene.
Recently healed, freshly showered, and with the cutest girl in the whole school; Anika made the trek from Becca’s townhouse to Sprout. Since their moment together in the gym a while back, Anika hadn’t been back to her own dorm room other than to grab clothes and books. She was sure Erin didn’t mind, Anika didn’t think the detached animator even knew she was there half the time anyway.
“Come on, Ani,” Becca whined, tugging her hand impatiently. “We’re gonna have to wait an hour for food, and I can’t handle that right now.”
Anika didn’t mind getting pulled around by her girlfriend. Becca’s pigtails swayed back and forth as she pulled the taller Anika around the side of a building; while her hips sashayed, giving Anika a pleasant view of her perfect ass.
“Aaahhhummm,” Becca coughed, catching Anika in the act of checking her out.
<How can you look so innocent and so devious at the same time,> Anika didn’t even pretend to look ashamed as she looked into Becca’s earnest brown eyes.
Anika wasn’t one to kiss and tell, but the so called “honeymoon period” between them was nowhere near over.
“I thought we were just getting some coffee; which now that I think about it, you don’t really need in the first place,” Anika changed the topic before her mind could go to less PG rated places.
“Ani,” Becca stopped pulling, turned to face Anika, and placed her hands on her hips in what the tattooed Super loving referred to as her “pint-sized powerhouse” stance.
It was the position Becca took when she wanted something, and so far, Anika hadn’t been able to deny her. “Ok, ok,” Anika threw u her hands in surrender, only to have them grabbed again, and pulled towards the nearby coffee shop.
“Plus, it’s Friday night. I’ve already accepted an invite to this new country bar in town; Casey, Anna, and Teresa said it would be a swell time for all us girls to get together. I even convinced Angela to get her butt out of the house tonight.”
<Now that’s a miracle,> the only time Anika had seen the class’ number one rank leave the townhouse was to go to some study group.
“So you’re darn tootin’ it better be ok,” Becca read her mind better than the fledgling telepath was managing.
“All right, you win, as usual,” Anika’s surrender made her girlfriend giggle. The pleasant sound relieving any stress or uncertainty Anika might be feeling.
That giggle was cut short when they got close enough to peer into Sprout’s windows. The place was already packed, all the tables were taken, and there were still a dozen people in line waiting to order.
“Hey, you wanted me to get that extra healing,” Anika responded when she saw Becca’s pout.
Becca waved the accusation off and rushed into the shop, and out of the heat.
<…girlfriend under control…hell to pay…Monday,> Anika received the fragmented mental shout just in time to grab Becca’s hand.
The speedster was yanked to a stop by a fraction of Anika’s increased strength before she could take off across the shop and intervene. Anika sought the source of the broken mental orders to find Coach Meyers sitting at a table with some guy.
<A guy…Coach Meyers…,> the imagery was so alien Anika didn’t immediately connect the dots.
“OH MY GOD,” Becca vibrated with barely contained excitement. “She’s on a date,” the hyper young woman stabbed her index finger repeatedly in their alternative instructors direction, removing any chance they could simply pretend like this never happened. The guy turning, seeing Becca’s pointing, and laughing only made the situation more awkward.
<Scratch that,> it was funny how you think the universe had embarrassed you enough, and then it hit you with even more.
At the table behind Coach Meyers and her mystery date, Anika saw Seth turn around and look at them. Becca saw it to. Her expression was slightly confused, until she saw the girl he was with turn to see what was going on.
“Hey isn’t that…”
“Yeah,” Anika interrupted, recognizing the blonde haired girl they’d literally run into on their last date.
Anika had gotten a bad vibe from the girl, and been a little standoffish. She got a talking to about proper manners from Becca because of that, but it still didn’t change how she felt. Now that Anika saw her with Seth, she knew something was up. Not many smart women willingly sat down with Seth Abney. She could still remember him checking her out on their elevator ride down on the first day. For some reason Anika didn’t understand why Becca continued to defend him. The speedster said he was getting better, and Anika guessed he hadn’t checked her out in a while, so that was technically a step in the right direction. Still, Anika didn’t trust the man.
“We should go talk to them,” Becca was bouncing up and down with excitement.
“No, we shouldn’t,” Anika reined the smaller woman in by pulling her into a hug.
The gesture got Becca to relax. She even nestled her pig-tailed head into Anika’s bosom. <So adorable,> Anika held her tightly despite the stares they were getting. She didn’t give a rat’s ass what other people thought. This was one of those rare perfect moments where everything ceased to matter except them.
So of course the universe had to ruin everyone’s day.