If I told Flare I would be meeting a bunch of supervillains in an abandoned warehouse from which nobody could even hear me scream, she would probably have a few objections. And honestly, a large part of me wasn’t too keen on this entire ordeal either. Meeting an infamous villain group somewhere in a secluded place? Alone? I must have gone insane in these past few days.
Sure, the Lightbearers were some of the better villains. They made a mess, knocked around some heroes who happened to show up, and then left. They avoided seriously harming others. The incidents with Eruption and Monochrome were the only exceptions. Kidnapping, conscripting, blackmailing, and other shady tactics were mostly only used by the Dragon Maw.
But I still couldn’t help but feel like I was a puppet on strings playing to Lightshow’s tune. I was pretty sure she’d intentionally waited for Flare to leave before calling me back. Why was she doing all of this? What were her true intentions? What was the real reason for this meeting?
I didn’t know, but I had to find out. I knew I was probably making a mistake, but I just couldn’t let this go and pretend nothing happened.
I walked up to the big door and tried to open it. It didn't resist at all and swung open with a creak. I quickly looked around to see whether I’d alerted someone nearby. Luckily, these parts were mostly abandoned. Not a single soul seemed to be around.
When I entered and closed the door behind me, I scanned the interior. It featured boxes, shelves, and rusty heaps of metal that likely used to be machines of some kind.
I walked inside, navigating my way between the debris, looking for the people I was supposed to meet.
My heartbeat gradually sped up. I felt nervous. I didn't know what to expect from this encounter. Even if Lightshow didn’t have any ulterior motives and honestly just wanted me and Eruption to talk and reach some kind of closure, what would that even entail?
A few minutes of wandering around later, I peeked around the corner of a box, and there they were. Lightshow sat on top of a box, one leg over the other, while Eruption lay on her belly, her crossed arms hiding her lower face. I couldn’t see anyone else around. That either meant they were hiding somewhere, preparing an ambush, or those two were here alone.
"Hey, Ink! Glad you could make it," Lightshow called out to me.
I didn't answer and simply eyed her for a second, before focusing on the girl lying beside her. Emotions boiled up inside me as soon as my eyes found hers. And for some reason, it seemed like she felt the same way. The tension began to rise once again.
"Come on now, you two," Lightshow interrupted our staring contest. "You’re not here to beat each other up."
Both me and Eruption deflated at her words.
Right, I needed to calm down. I wasn’t here to get revenge by fighting her. No, I was here to talk. In a way, it felt wrong. Like it couldn’t have been that simple. Maybe I’d played too many video games where everything was resolved by beating someone up.
"Go on, then. You wanted to do this," Lightshow prompted her companion.
The little catgirl half-purred, half-growled, and got up before jumping off the box. She landed in front of me and stood up. Her eyes were glued to the ground, avoiding mine, her fists clenched. It was almost as if she was as nervous as me. I couldn’t fathom why.
She then put her hands in front of her, and they lit up with molten matter. I tensed up but didn't make any effort to dodge or run. I simply steeled my nerves and waited for her next move.
The lava moved around and molded into a specific shape and then cooled down into a black slate with words etched into it. It said 'SORRY'.
I was stunned. Sorry? Sorry? What the hell?
"What...?" I whispered.
"She feels guilty, you know?" Lightshow answered. "Even though it's not her fault, there's no way she can pretend it's someone else's problem. Think about it. How would you feel if you were in her place?"
I would feel horrible, devastated. I would blame myself for all these deaths and wouldn't ever forgive myself.
"I... but..." Soft mumbles left my mouth without my permission.
My head was starting to spin. I tried supporting it with a hand, but it didn't help. I slumped against a nearby box.
Just that one word, and suddenly all of my hatred for her seemed stupid. How could I continue hating her, when she genuinely felt bad for it? When it wasn't even her fault? Despite not even having the ability to speak, she had come forward and confronted me. How could I hate that?
But it wasn't like an apology was going to bring Mom back, was it? No. She was gone, and I would never get to meet her again. I would never get to hear her voice or eat her cooking again. Never would I get to feel her warmth. She was gone, forever.
But she hadn’t been murdered. She’d died in an accident. The same accident that had taken away Eruption's parents. We weren't a criminal and a victim. We were both fellow victims. I couldn't hate her for that. What kind of person would I be if I did? A hero? Hardly.
I hadn't even noticed when I started crying. It felt like someone had finally opened the bottle I had been keeping closed for months. Back when it happened, I hadn't even cried. I had felt upset. I had been asking myself whether I was a horrible person for not crying at all. For continuing through my life as if nothing happened. But maybe I had been crying. Just not on the surface. Maybe I had just buried all of it to keep going, to keep myself from giving up.
And now, I was digging it up. Was that weird? To start mourning someone's death two and a half months after they had died? Maybe I was just an idiot. Maybe I was just too dense.
Something wrapped around me.
When I looked through my tear-stained eyes, I saw the little girl with cat ears hugging my limp sobbing self sprawled out on the floor. It felt so bizarre. Just a few days ago, no, just a few hours ago, I wouldn't even have let her within ten meters of me. But now, I couldn't help but return the hug. She felt warm. And she hadn't even used her powers. It felt like we were letting go of a decade-long conflict rather than a few months of ire.
We separated after a while and I stood up on my weak legs as I wiped the remnants of my tears. Eruption scuttled near Lightshow and lay near her legs, glancing up at me. Lightshow stood in front of me, smiling.
"I... well... yeah..." I said weakly. "Seriously, what are you? A psychologist?" I tried to force a joke to abandon the heavy mood.
"Well, kind of." She shrugged. "My mom was." Her gaze left me and wandered around.
I didn't dare ask why she used past tense. There was probably more to it.
"She always told me that the best solution is usually simple but difficult."
Simple but difficult. The idea of confronting Eruption had been simple. But going through it was extremely difficult. Was that what she meant?
"Yeah... I... thanks, I guess." I honestly didn't know what to say.
"No problem! Friends help each other out, don't they?" She grinned.
The heck? At what point had we become friends? Was she just making fun of me again? Was she serious? Or maybe...
"You're doing this... because you want me to join your team," I stated matter-of-factly, without sounding accusing.
Everything she had done led to this point. Every word she had said to me, every action she had taken. In an odd way, she had been trying to befriend me, to make me empathize with her cause and her teammates.
She paused for a second. "Well... that would be neat if you joined us, sure. But I can't force you. Everyone in our team is there voluntarily. We are no Dragon Maw, after all."
Right. She wanted to make me want to join her team. And a big part of me wasn't even that opposed to the idea. They were a powerful established team, and having a precog on my side would be invaluable. And I had no doubts about her truly being a misunderstood vigilante anymore.
She seriously was a master manipulator, wasn't she? I didn't even hate her for what she had done. She hadn't lied at any point. She'd manipulated me by being genuinely honest and kind to me. Could I even consider that manipulation?
But I couldn't join them. For one, Flare was my partner, and she wouldn't like it one bit. And also, joining a villain team meant making heroes my enemies.
"No," I simply stated. "I want to be a hero. And... I don't want to become an enemy of the other heroes."
"Understandable." She nodded, smiling.
I frowned. I’d expected her to try and convince me. Was my refusal still part of her planned timeline? Was I still doing everything she wanted me to?
"Well, if you change your mind, the offer will still be there!" She shrugged. "And if you need a helping hand from an eeevil villain--" She made a funny voice. "--you have my number."
I eyed her for a second before conceding. "Alright."
"Now then--" Her tone turned serious. "--before we go on our merry way, there is one more thing I should tell you, a warning."
That made me double back. I did not like the idea of receiving a warning from a precog. The concept itself was just ominous.
"My intuition tells me that it would be a really bad idea for you and Phoenix to go out as heroes in the next few days."
I nodded. She didn't have to tell me that. Tsunami had mentioned that 'Boss wanted us'. We were no doubt on Dragon Maw's radar, and if we went out, I fully expected to get ambushed. They weren't as nice as Lightshow about asking whether we wanted to join them. They conscripted independent hybrids like an obsessed action figure collector hoarded action figures.
"Tomorrow is really bad. The day after tomorrow is better, but still bad. Friday and the weekend are so-so." She paused. "And then? It would be a really bad idea if you didn't go out as heroes on Monday."
And there came the ominous prophecy. Was something going to happen on Monday?
"What do you mean?"
"Sorry, that's all I can tell you."
Which could have meant she didn't know either or didn't want to tell me. Maybe telling me the reason would lead to worse outcomes?
"Anyway, that's it from me. Just take a break from heroing for a bit, and you should be fine."
"Alright." I nodded. "Thanks."
"No problem." She grinned. "Well then! See you!" She spun around and threw a grenade in my direction. I tensed up and shut my eyes tightly while putting my hands up to guard my face.
The object bounced on the floor three times and stopped. The smoke or the deafening light never came. I slid my hands off of my face and stared at it in confusion.
"Hahaha! Got you good there! You should have seen your face!" The evil villain laughed at me from across the warehouse.
I gaped at the fake grenade and then glared at her. "You...! Screw you!"
"Ahahahaha! Later then!" She escaped through the door with Eruption following her.
I stood there for a moment before heaving a heavy sigh as I slumped against the box again. Lightshow was very irritating to deal with, but somehow, I always felt enlightened after interacting with her. Wait, was that why she was called Lightshow and her team the Lightbearers? Because people felt enlightened after meeting her? No way, she usually just made fun of everyone. Our interaction was an exception.
Friends, she’d said. Seriously? Was I really a friend of one of the most notorious villains in the city? Or was it her habit to call everyone a friend just to tease them? What did it even mean to be a friend with someone?
Ugh. For some reason, I was starting to get philosophical.
Culling that thought process, I made my way out of the warehouse. For a second, I thought about going straight back home, since it was so late and the storm clouds were gathering above me already. But on the other hand, I felt like there was one more thing I had to do tonight. I could have put it off for another day, but it wouldn’t have felt right.
I wasn't stupid enough to go there in my Ink costume though. I quickly stopped by the hiding spot and changed into civvies before heading out again, this time, on foot.
Thankfully, there were barely any people on the streets this late at night. And nobody seemed to be interested in me even when they spotted me. I could only assume they were returning home from a grueling day at work. They didn't want trouble and that worked out well for me.
Eventually, I reached the park. A quiet walk through it again let me relax and gather my thoughts. Once I left the park, it didn't take too long until I reached my destination. The Morrow Cemetery.
For normal people, going to the graveyard in the middle of the night when a storm was brewing might have been the plot of some bad horror movie. But for my Felice eyes, it didn't even feel that creepy.
I slowly entered the cemetery and kept my eyes peeled for any people. Not like I expected someone to be here, but I still wanted to make sure I had privacy.
A few paces later, I found myself in front of a specific tombstone. Although I knew for a fact that there was no body buried underneath, it was just symbolic. It was enough for me, though.
The tombstone read: 'Here lies Katelyn Dash, 4.3. 2307 - 7.7. 2351'.
"Hi... Mom," I breathed out.
I looked at the tombstone as if expecting to be greeted back.
"I'm sorry... for being so late." My eyes briefly closed before I continued. "I was not in a good place for a while. And the shock of you leaving just... froze me. I'm sorry, that's such a bad excuse. I’m a terrible child..." I shook my head before taking a deep breath.
"But... I feel better these days, much better. I mean, seriously, it's a world of difference. Did you know your little boy was actually your little girl? Yeah, I know. I wouldn't believe it either." I gave the tombstone a wry smile. "But, uh, Dad doesn't know yet. Please don't tell him. It's something I'll need to tackle myself." I frowned, thinking about that future interaction.
"He's been... very distant ever since then, you know? Barely coming home, barely talking to me. Sometimes I find myself wondering whether I even have a dad anymore." A pang of guilt stabbed me as I said that. "But I'm hoping I can reconnect with him! I actually have the energy now! He might have some objections to my changes, but I'm sure he'll come around!" I said, trying to convince both myself and the person who wasn't there.
"Anyway, Mom. I'm a hero now! Or... well... I'm trying to be. I'm not sure if I'm doing it right, to be honest. You see, we made a team with Flare. You remember Flare, right? We have been friends since forever. Anyway, I'm not sure if I even am a hero. We beat some villains up, but they broke out. And... well... I think I became a friend with a supervillain? I don't get it, honestly." I chuckled. "A terrible start to a heroic career, isn't it?"
I stared at the etched text on the tombstone in silence, trying to sort out my thoughts.
"So... Mom, it happened. You were always saying you couldn't wait till I brought a girl home, but I wasn't very keen on it. Something about it felt wrong, as if I would be deceiving the girl. But things have changed. Now... there's a girl I like. And..." I sighed, closing my eyes. A few seconds later, I opened them again and continued. "It's Flare. I think I’ve felt like this for a long time, but only now I can actually admit it. She's just... beautiful, kind, cheerful, supportive. She has always been there for me when I needed her. She's amazing. She means the world to me. I..." I paused and looked at my feet. "I'm scared, Mom. I'm scared to tell her how I feel." I reached up and gripped my left arm. "I have never done anything like this. I don't know how to do it properly. What if I mess it up? What if she rejects me? Do you think I should risk it?"
I looked at the piece of marble. It never answered.
"I should, shouldn't I?" I whispered. "Yeah. You're right. There's no point in delaying it. Tomorrow. Yeah, tomorrow. We're gonna have a bit of a break from all this heroing, so I'm gonna confess to her tomorrow. Wish me luck?"
I smiled. "Thanks." I looked around to see the area was still deserted before fixating my eyes back on the tombstone.
"Mom, I miss you, I really do. I wish we could have spent more time together. I wish I could have spent time with you as a girl. Have some mother and daughter moments and all that." I sighed. "I really regret not figuring this whole thing out sooner. I was so dense, so dumb. But... well... I guess I can't do much about it anymore."
And then, I heard thunder in the distance. The storm was slowly but steadily approaching.
"Mom. I'm sorry, but it's getting really late, and I didn't bring an umbrella." I dropped my eyes. "But don't worry. I'll come to see you again soon, and I'll tell you how my confession went!" I finally smiled. "Good night, Mom," I said as I slowly turned around and wiped the tears I had been ignoring up till now.
'Good night, Chris.' My mind played back the memory of her voice.