The flow of people through the hospital ER was average; which to anyone other than the seasoned medical personnel on staff meant it looked really busy. There were a variety of medium to serious lacerations, one sex related injury that everyone was staying far away from, and a few return visitors from the madness that had occurred a few days prior. The loss of power had severely impacted the hospital’s capabilities. What made this night different was the block of men and women in blue uniforms.
You could tell who was on and off duty. There were only a handful of officers in ragged clothing, who looked like they’d jumped out of bed and come straight to the hospital; and they were unarmed. The rest looked somewhere in between anxious and ready for war.
There were two officers guarding the entrance to the ER since all the police casualties had been brought in. It was standard procedure, and considering the circumstances it was the least they could do; but that didn’t make it entertaining. The two men flanking to door couldn’t go talk to their friends, or check on what was going on. The other officers were good about it. They brought the two guards coffee, donuts, and information as often as they could; but the men had to remain at their post and watch for anything suspicious. So imagine their surprise when a six foot three inch blonde, Spartan goddess nearly pushed the door office its hinges.
The officer closest to the fire-eyed woman instinctually stepped in front of her to block her way. “Ma’am, you can’t be in here.” But by the time he was finished the woman was already past him.
She’d sidestepped and pivoted around him like a ballerina, leaving him with his hand in the air like some rookie traffic cop. “Hey, you can’t…” he reached for her shoulder, but she dipped it and slipped past him; continuing her fast walk toward the administration desk.
“Guys I need some…” the statement caught in the man’s throat when the woman looked over her shoulder and shot him a glare. Those fiery eyes were pulsing red; which could only mean one thing.
“Super!” the officer yelled out, reaching for his weapon.
Since the officer on the raid had been ambushed by the Super gang, the Fist, it was a logical jump in the officer’s mind to think that they were here to finish the job. That was one of the reasons why there was such a heavy police presence in the first place.
Guns were yanked from holsters and people everywhere started screaming. The police yelled for the woman to “get on the ground” or “surrender”, while the medical staff just screamed because all of a sudden there were guns everywhere. The only one who didn’t seem to panic was the woman walking toward the frightened nurse at the desk.
Thankfully, no one was trigger happy enough to take a shot at a Super who was casually strolling through dozens of cops with guns drawn like she was taking a Sunday stroll. There was more than one person in the room who knew things probably wouldn’t end well if people started shooting.
Daisy didn’t care what was going on around here. She barely even registered it as she marched toward the desk. Emotions whirled through her mind like laundry on a spin cycle. She was scared, pissed off, concerned, and ready to kick some fucking ass if she needed to. Images danced through her mind. She saw the friends she’d lost over the years, the interns who’d died on her watch, and the boyfriends she’d either killed or watched die. Each memory was more painful than the last, but one thing was for sure. There was no way and hell she was going to let Topher die on her. Not when it was her lead that had put him in the hospital.
<I haven’t even fucked him yet,> the thought rampaged through her mental melancholy like a bull in a china shop. For once it was good to have stuff shaken up a bit in there.
“Officer Christopher Phillips,” Daisy asked the scared shitless nurse as politely as she could.
The woman was frozen, her hands shaking, and her eyes darting between Daisy’s demonic red eyes and the barrels of all the guns pointed at her. It didn’t take long for Daisy to realize she wasn’t going to get anywhere with the nurse, so she turned around to address the screaming police officers.
She made sure to keep her hands out to her sides with her palms up. She didn’t need a ricochet hitting some innocent civilian. She gave all the officers a level stare until they stopped shouting and scaring everyone. “Take it easy guys I’m one of the good ones,” she stated when they’d mostly quieted down.
The look on the men and women’s faces told Daisy that didn’t really do much. “For fuck’s sake,” she sighed massaging her temples to ease her frustration. “Just go and talk to Topher. Tell him Daisy is here.”
Mentioning her boyfriend’s name seemed to help a little, but no one lowered their guns. One cop went running down the hall to confirm while everyone else remained in a state of unrest. Two minutes later the man came running back and nodded quickly to his fellow officers. More than a few sighs of relief filled the waiting area as officers holstered their weapons.
When Daisy was confident she wasn’t going to get shot in the back she turned back to address the still shaking nurse. “Deep breaths,” Daisy gave the frightened woman a smile. “Everything is fine. Just take a minute and get me Officer Phillips’ room number.
The woman only paused momentarily before her fingers started scurrying over the keyboard. The more screens she went through the more at ease the nurse became. That was the best way to get over a high octane situation like the one that had just ended. Doing something normal and comfortable brought the brain out of its momentary shock. By the time the nurse had a room number for Daisy she was pretty much back to normal.
As Daisy turned to head toward the door that led into the hospital the same door she entered burst open. Into the waiting room, with his weapon drawn, stepped Galavant. There was a half second where everyone just stared at each other, which Daisy filled with a smile and wink for the rookie Hero.
“Who the hell called the Protectorate!” the senior officer in the gathered group yelled.
Everything descended into madness. Daisy gave the Protectorate Hero a small wave before excusing herself from the entire scenario. <Well that’s a hell of a way to make an entrance,> everyone present would have a great story to tell at future parties.
The steady click of her boot heals followed Daisy down the hallway. Like some of the officers in the waiting room she’d thrown on the first thing she could find before speeding straight to the hospital. That meant that she was wearing a baggy hoody, yoga pants, and workman’s boots that clashed horribly with the outfit and the mild Florida weather; but her clothing was the least of her worries.
Daisy felt her pulse quicken and her hands become sweaty as the room number steadily climbed upward. She passed a few rooms that had other officers from the raid in them. One was on life support, a bloody bandage covering his leg. Some of the others didn’t need help breathing, but they looked like they got the shit kicked out of him.
For about the third time since she got the news about Topher, Daisy felt like kicking her own ass. She’d let her fears about her recertification get in the way of doing what needed to be done. And because of her cowardice, Topher was lying in a hospital bed with…Daisy didn’t actually know what was wrong with Topher. Her steps quickened until she reached the room the nurse gave him.
“Hey, babe,” Topher sat upright, grinning like an idiot with a hospital Jell-O cup in his hand.
Daisy’s heart did a summersault at the sight of her man. His chest was wrapped tightly in white material, and she could see the twitch of pain in his cheek every time he took a breath. She exhaled a breath she didn’t notice she was holding, and put a hand on the door for support.
“You scared the shit out of me,” Daisy replied undiplomatically.
Topher’s face went from a slightly strained smile to a worried look. “They didn’t tell you I was ok.”
“No,” a flare of anger surged in Daisy, but she pushed it down. Scaring the officer who’d neglected to tell her everything was fine wasn’t going to help the situation.
“It’s ok,” Topher must have guessed what she was feeling because he beckoned her over into a hug.
<This man is too good for me,> Daisy realized in that moment. Here she was complaining about not getting any information when Topher was bandaged up in a hospital room. His injuries didn’t look life threatening, but they were still injuries.
Daisy hugged as gently as she could, but he still winced. Still, that didn’t stop him from grabbing a handful of her ass. Daisy slapped his hand away playfully and grinned back at him.
“This whole stunt isn’t some elaborate trick to get me to sleep with you, is it?” Daisy teased, taking a seat next to Topher on the edge of the bed.
“I don’t know, is it working?”
“Maybe,” they both laughed, but Topher’s was cut short by a grunt of pain. That brought an end to the light flirting.
“Two broken ribs and a bruised sternum,” Topher explained when he saw her worried look. “Nothing some rest and relaxation won’t cure.”
Daisy nodded. She’d had bruised ribs before. Hell, one time she’d nearly had her whole chest blown off. A compound fractured rib was something she would never forget. Thankfully, there had been a healer nearby or she would have died long ago.
“Well you need to get some rest then,” Daisy tucked him in like he was a child.
“Where are you going?” Topher reached out and grabbed her by the wrist before she could pull away.
“I’m going to talk to your friends out there and see what happened. Then I’m going to find who did this and put them in the ground,” it might have been a little dramatic, but that was how she honestly felt about it.
“Wait,” Topher didn’t let go when she pulled away, causing another wince of pain. “You can’t do that.”
“They can’t get away with it,” Daisy retorted a little more sharply than she intended. “One of your friends is out there fighting for his life.”
“And we all knew what we signed up for,” Topher cut her off, still not relinquishing her wrist. “I’m a police officer, Daisy. Sure this isn’t New York, but it’s part of my job to stand between this community and danger. That’s why they call us the thin blue line remember.”
Logically Daisy knew all of this, but when someone your cared about was hurt you tended to be a little illogical. “I know.”
“Good, so promise me you won’t do anything reckless. I don’t want you screwing anything up. I’d like to put you in handcuffs, but not when I’m arresting you.”
Daisy couldn’t help but laugh. The light sexual banter did a lot to ease her frustration. After their mutual flashing episode things were growing less awkward on that front; maybe even to the point where she’d be ready soon. Of course there was no way in hell she’d tell Topher that, the man still had to work to get the good stuff.
“I promise I won’t do anything stupid,” Daisy sighed, leaning in to give her boyfriend a light kiss.
“I’m gonna hold you to that,” Topher’s face was sincere and serious.
“How about instead of cracking some skulls I get some ice cream?” Daisy suggested. A light went off behind Topher’s eyes telling her that she struck gold. “And not this shitty hospital food. I’m gonna get us some good stuff.”
“No funny business,” Topher hesitated, but finally let go of her wrist. “Chocolate vanilla swirl please.” He sounded like a kid at the ice cream truck.
<Sometimes men never change,> Daisy gave him one last kiss and then headed for the door.
She was going to be good and get ice cream, and she wasn’t going to engage in anything illegal; but that didn’t mean she couldn’t figure out everything about the sons of bitches that did this to Topher.
When the time came she would be ready.
The parking garage was as dark and foreboding as always, but this time an icy chill swept through the structure. Orlando was getting a rare burst of true winter weather. The air temperature had plummeted below freezing and strong winds turned the tourist town into a ghost town. People didn’t pay good money to come to amusement parks and freeze their asses off.
Orlando might be suffering, but it was nothing compared to what was going on just north of them. From Atlanta to Charlotte, an arctic funnel had descended on the American Southeast. The blast of cold air and building condensation was dumping inches of snow on the South. People were already out calling it snowmagedon.
In actuality, it was a lack of preparation by state and local government to combat Mother Nature. Even the largest southern cities didn’t have more than a handful of snowplows and a few tons of salt to coat the roads with. As a result the highways had become clogged and slippery, and accidents were everywhere because people didn’t know how to drive in the snow. Everyone was being urged to stay in their homes and ride it out.
Orlando didn’t have it that bad. It was just a lot colder than usual, and that was a good thing. After the madness of the power outage it was a better to have everyone stay at home instead of wandering the streets. Of course, there were always exceptions to the rule; which was why a small group of the Fist were waiting in a dark parking garage.
Lilly had arrived half an hour before their scheduled appointment. She was laying prone on a cement rafter, freezing her ass off, and wanting desperately to be back on vacation. She’d seen the news of the arctic freeze that had descended on Orlando while eating room service in bed with her hunky man. They’d joked about the poor losers who’d be forced to endure the cold. Now she was one of them.
The group was small, only four people. Lilly recognized Squid, Dragon, and the woman who could do something with light; but she didn’t recognize the fourth man. He was a small, rat faced man; but from everything she’d seen he wasn’t much of a threat.
<Let’s get this shit over with so I can get back to the beach,> she’d lied to Seth and said she was going to get a massage. That gave her an hour of free time before he got suspicious.
Lilly shifted on the cement rafter and the rat faced man’s head snapped over in her direction. He tilted his head towards her, and his nose scrunched up repeatedly as he sniffed the air.
<Enhanced senses,> Lilly made a mental note before teleporting to the edge of the flood-light circle that was present during all of their meetings.
“This had better be good,” Lilly didn’t have to act disgruntled as a gust of cold wind slapped her in the back. “I’ve got better things to be doing.”
Everyone but the rat-man jumped slightly at her sudden appearance, but they recovered quickly. “Boo-fuckin’-who,” Squid growled. “Shit’s goin’ down and where you been?”
“Squid, I don’t tell you how to run your business so don’t tell me how to run mine,” Lilly put a little menace into her tone, and placed her hand on grip of her pistol.
A ripple of anger visibly ran over Squid, but he didn’t shift. “Ever since that power plant gig we’ve had heat comin’ down on us from everyone. The Heroes are sniffin’ around. Dragon barely got away when they tried to kill his ass at the bank.” Dragon huffed his agreement in the form of a puff of smoke. “And now the five-o is raiding our safe houses. We had to put down a bunch of them a few days ago.”
“What is your point, Squid,” Lilly didn’t want to listen to the man bitch all day long.
“The point is that we bein’ hunted now. All because you had us do that one job,” Dragon took a threatening step forward, but was met with the audible click of a safety being switched off.
“I pay you good money, Squid,” Lilly said after she teleported to a new location. “I gave you a job that both of us would profit from. It isn’t my fault that you couldn’t look two moves ahead. No shit the Heroes and cops are going to be gunning for you now. You guys took down a fucking city,” she laughed. “You’re a bigger threat now, but if you did your job right during the outage you should have the resources you need.”
Squid’s face was neutral; but the light manipulator, Dragon, and rat-face all looked confused. Lilly sighed and put everything in simpler terms. “You need to seize this opportunity. You’ve got a reputation and resources now; assimilate your competition or put them down for good, bring in more muscle, put out the word and other Supers might join you. Hell, if you cast a big enough net you might get some trained mercenaries who’ll do the job for the right price. You need to present a formidable target. That’ll keep the Heroes on their heels. The Protectorate isn’t the Patriots. They’re a small town, second rate franchise. They don’t have the muscle to take down a gang as big as yours can be.”
“What about the HCP?” rat-face spoke up. His voice was just as rat-like as his face.
“The HCP will stick to their campus unless you pull some serious shit or you put their wannabe Heroes in jeopardy. Stay away from the school, don’t blow up the city and you should be fine,” she was fairly confident in that assessment.
“It ain’t just the Protectorate and the HCP we gotta worry about,” Dragon said, and Lilly was surprised the brute could form whole sentences. “There was another guy at the bank, a teleporter. He killed a few of my guys.”
“A teleporter!” despite Lilly’s desire to remain calm and collected; her emotion betrayed her this time. “What did he look like?”
“Big dude, big ass rifle on his back, with a mask,” Lilly had all she needed to know.
<Fuck, Hunter is in Orlando.> She stopped paying attention to the end of Dragon’s description, and started thinking about how this affected her plan.
<Does he know who I am? Does he know what we’re trying to do? Does he know that I’m bankrolling the Fist? Does he know about me and Seth? Does he know that I killed Ricky?> The last reason was a lot more inconsequential than the second to last, but it was still valid concern in her mind.
“Yo, everything ok, Shadow,” she must have missed something because Squid was waving into the darkness.
Lilly teleported to another location. “Yeah,” she didn’t sound nearly as confident she wanted to. “I know the teleporter. I’ll deal with him.”
“He was pretty bad ass, Shadow,” Dragon began, but she cut him off.
“I know him much better than you, Dragon. So leave him to me,” her voice was hard and the fire-breather shut up.
“I don’t give a shit what your beef is with rifle-guy,” Squid stated. “I just want what I built to not get ripped to pieces by other assholes.”
“Then take my advice,” Lilly’s mind got back on topic. “Grow, either absorb or conqueror, and get some Supers who know their shit. That will at least buy you time to consolidate your hold on the city. Understood?” It was clear Squid didn’t like taking orders in front of his people, but he wasn’t dumb enough to miss good advice when it was presented to him.
“Good, now I’ve got places to be,” Lilly didn’t bother with a goodbye, she just vanished.
A quick stop to stash her Wraith outfit, and another teleport took her back to the beautiful Cayman Islands. She felt the heat hit here and her skin start to glisten with newly formed sweat almost immediately. <Ahhhhhh. Perfection.>
The resort she and Seth were staying at was an upper class one with a private beach, and full service. They were on the VIP package, so they basically had a gaggle of servants following them everywhere and tending to their every need. It was heavenly.
Lilly took a deep breath, slipped back into the familiar skin of Liz, and exited the dressing room.
“There you are, Ms. Elizabeth,” a man rounded a corner and visibly relaxed at the sight of her.
Liz tensed at seeing the man. It was never a good thing if people were looking for her when she didn’t want to be found. “Yes.” She replied. She didn’t owe the help an explanation.
“Mr. Abney has requested your company after you finish your massage.”
“Thank you,” Liz slipped a five from her bikini top and handed it to the guy.
She didn’t wait for his thanks before walking away. It was a perfect eighty-two degrees today with a light wind and a cloudless sky. She spent a few minutes walking the resort. News that Hunter was looking for her now had her a little on edge. She needed to make sure no one was watching her, and she needed to get the anxiety out of her before heading back to Seth.
The resort was surprisingly sparse this time of year. Liz would have thought it would be a prime time for anyone in a colder climate to get away, but apparently people like to spend November and December with their families.
<Give me a mojito and Seth any day,> the thought sent Liz heading to the poolside bar.
She and Seth had only been there a few days, but they had a reputation among the staff. If they anticipated Liz and Seth’s needs they got good tips; which was why the bartender was just putting the finishing touches on a pair of the minty drinks when Liz arrived at the bar.
“Ms. Elizabeth,” the man had a sultry voice that he used on every woman he served.
Liz returned his smile and handed over a ten. Seth might be paying for the majority of the trip with his unlimited credit card, but she was still an independent woman. She’d brought along a few grand in her bag to handle tips and other little conveniences that popped up. She was even prepared for inconveniences. She had a million bucks ready to be wired to anyone if shit went down. Thankfully, nothing had happened so far. They got through immigration with no problem, and now they were enjoying their vacation.
Liz walked from the pool area to the VIP elevator. The elevator was a glass box that ascended the outside of the building, giving the occupants a million dollar view of the ocean. It was still early in the day, and the sun steadily rising above the waves allowed Liz to put her plan, the Fist, and Hunter out of her mind. She rode the elevator to the top floor suite and disembarked directly into their room with a swipe of her key.
The room was all soft Egyptian cotton, light colors, and comfortable furniture. She could affirm that the bed was extremely comfortable, and stood up to their rigorous extracurriculars. The floor was an off-white tile, and its coolness felt good against her feet as she walked into the room.
Seth sat across the room on his laptop. He was shirtless and in a pair of swimming trunks. Liz stopped and admired the sight for a second. This was the man who said he loved her back, and this was the kind of life they could live together. The thought sent a ripple of ecstatic anticipation through her.
“You just gonna sit there and creep on me all day,” he turned to face her with a smile.
Liz had never found southern accents attractive before, but now it revved her engine.
“You don’t want me to admire the view, because that can go both ways,” she teased, and pretended to cover up.
“No!” Seth pleaded, and they both laughed.
“I thought you might be thirsty. We need to stay hydrated,” she handed him the mojito. They’d taught the bartender how to make them right the first day they were here.
“You’re looking out for my well-being, like a good girlfriend.” She answered his statement with a passionate kiss. It would have led to other things, but Liz had just spent the majority of the last hour sitting on a cement rafter in an uncharacteristically cold Orlando. She needed some sun.
So instead of humping like bunnies on speed they packed a bag and headed to the beach. The ocean was a little too cold for Liz’s liking, but digging her feet into the sand and slowly baking her skin in the Caribbean sunlight was what she really wanted. If she needed to cool off there was a heated pool she could use.
Liz and Seth claimed what looked like a bed on the beach. It had a retractable fabric roof and curtained sides to block out the sunlight when the occupants had enough, but Liz knew that wouldn’t be anytime soon. If this was ancient times she would have worshiped a sun god.
Once they settled in, they fell into a comfortable rhythm. Seth did some reading on a tablet; mostly financial news from back home. Liz watched him reading, watched how his eyes darted across the page, and his brow furrowed as he took in information. Seth might look like a playboy, but she knew there was a brain under there.
She rolled from her front to her back when she felt her skin start to heat and hid a smile as the movement pulled Seth’s attention from his tablet to her ass. <Smart, but still a man.>
Liz closed her eyes and let warmth of the sun and Seth’s affection wash over her. Life was pretty much perfect, and she never wanted it to end.