It was three am, and I hadn’t managed to sleep.
I’d wanted to. Wanted more than anything to get more than a brief moment of peace, but everytime I shut my eyes for more than a minute I was back in the base. Back to proving how wrong I was to go there. How little I really know about anything, really. Back to Gunze. Back to gunshots, and people laying down dead.
Where were the proper authorities? Should I just pretend to be them, continue on with this charade, or should I come clean and see what would happen.
The com rolled across my fingers over and over again as I flipped it out, drawing it up and down. In the dim light of the motel, though I’d been offered better housing in other places, I’d turned them down, I didn’t deserve it, I could just barely see the swooping insignia of purple on the back of the device. Just a smudge, faded from use.
The Purple Capes.
War Heroes. I’d gotten a war hero killed. He was still there, buried under the rubble on Dauphin island. I was numb to the idea of what that meant, that I’d gotten Gunze killed.
I couldn’t interface with it. It just welled up inside of me like a torrent, a waterfall, and roared at me in laughable defiance when I did nothing more than stare at it. Was it that I hadn’t been good enough? Did I not do well enough?
Could I blame it all on Patrickson?
I could feel his fists upon me again then, curled up in a ball around the Com device, steadfastly ignoring the blink of the emergency radio in the corner, striking me over and over again until my skin split open like an overly ripe tomato.
It’d been a trap, but I couldn’t… I wanted it to not be a trap. I couldn’t…
I looked back on why I’d done it and yet I couldn’t…
Couldn’t say I’d made the totally wrong choice. We could’ve won so much more by going there. I replayed what I’d known in my head over and over again. Rendezvous on that point. Figure out what was wrong. Find who was still there. Bring them back.
But I’d been more selfish than that, I knew. I’d been looking for someone to foist this place off on, and had gotten a good man killed because of it. Had felt him dying. Had watched him choke on his own gore.
Strong man, brought down low before his enemies.
Who were the proper authorities now? Was it still me, trapped in this cage I’d thrown upon myself, hoping that my good intentions could shield me?
How many more people were dead because of me. How many had I saved? Did their lives equal out? Could you even balance lives like that?
My fingers danced across the surface of the com and I curled up, but no matter how blankets I’d broken out of our emergency supplies, I couldn’t get warm. Couldn’t stop feeling that Purple Cape insignia.
War heroes. Deployed by the Association to take on powered threats in other countries. First generation oversight squad, legendary heroes. Excelsior. Guinevere. Some of the names had faded from memory. People who had retired. Gunze. What had the association done to earn them their deaths? What could possibly motivate people to hate that much?
What had happened in Mexico?
What had created Patrickson?
I didn’t want to know. I wanted to keep hating him. Keep it tucked in close to me as tight as I could so I could burn, too, and I would stop shaking, and shuddering, but even as my fingers clenched and tears ran down my face the thoughts didn’t stop flowing, didn’t stop running through my head blankly, the raw roaring incoherence of the last few days running through my mind, death after death, gunshots wildly playing back and forth.
One more chance, Mary said.
Hadn’t… hadn’t even talked to the others about it. Could see hands shaking her head at me, could see Colton’s accusing gaze. Was hiding.
Didn’t want to poke my head up and yet…
At some point I stopped existing again and knew peace.
The morning came and now it was eight and the city was making its quiet noises outside. Getting up hurt more than I’d ever thought it would. Sweat caked every inch of my skin, and my eyes were bloodshot, veins pulsing.
Took a shower and wished I could burn the cape when I saw it by the front door. Knew it was fireproof, but I still wanted to try it. Feel the cloth combust and ache and burn with me. So I wouldn’t have to go outside again.
Just retreat, be the old Gale again. Unseen. Filing paperwork. Helping with PR photo shoots. Stupid lucky idiot I had been, daydreaming of being a real hero.
What was a real hero but a series of mistakes? What was Excelsior but a man with a sword?
What was I, but a lunatic in a costume?
Somehow, I swallowed down half a box of pop tarts, but I didn’t notice the flavor or what they’d felt like, and got back into armor. The cape tucked behind me fluttered slightly, every inch the hero I had proved that I wasn’t.
Then the day started properly.
No matter how much I wanted to stop… the city needed more fuel. Needed lines of supply etched out. Needed everything to run.
It was time to set the system straight.
Hands danced in front of me, or rather, my eyes refused to lock together well enough to keep her in one image. She stared at me from the driver’s seat of her car. “Well?”
Her tone was clipped, short. Like her hair, settling across her face in dirty blonde sheets, or the way her eyes were narrowed, like the passenger door, barely open. I reached behind the door of the motel and pulled out a suit of body armor, and she relaxed just a hair.
“That’s for me?” Hands asked.
“I figured, even if part of you were bullet proof, you could use the extra help,” I said.
“That why you’re wearing it all?” She asked, flicking her gaze across me.
I flushed. She’d been there. Awake. Cognizant. Had heard how much of a sham I was.
A voice in me demanded that I take responsibility for standing back up, that someone admit that I had tried my best, but it was far too easy to squash it down, to snuff it out before I spoke up or developed an ego.
Wasn’t hard to work in adversity.
It was the day to day that was killing me, piece by piece.
I laughed and pulled in next to her in the car, dropping the armor in the back seat.
“You look like garbage,” She said, her red veined eyes staring at me. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“You too?” I asked. Didn’t want to admit it, so I just implied it. Didn’t want it to leave my tongue that I could still feel my nose blossoming like a flower, could feel my ribs sore still. Could feel my heart pounding hard enough to hurt.
That last one wasn’t a memory, though. My heart was just pounding at the thought.
She shrugged slightly, and buckled my seat belt with her invisible hand before starting up the car. “You mentioned you had a place in mind?”