Yin recalled the words of her twin sister with a rather uncomfortable lurch in her stomach. There was a vulnerability that came with fame, having to accept that your life would be there for all to see. There were times, foolish moments, where Yin would think she could keep some scrap of her privacy. She tried her best. Many fans, social media influencers, anybody who chatted and gossiped about the latest hero news would always remark 'You know how Achilles is. Mysterious, private, aloof. It's part of her appeal.' People always wanted to learn more when Yin felt as if she had no details left to hide.
Of course, this was not the case for every hero in Heartbeat City. Being number one had its blessings and its curses. In the cold air conditioning of her penthouse apartment, Yin sat on the plush black couch with the holo-screen of her home computer displaying a wide view of various different websites. The internet was a highway of information, over-stimulation flooding your senses if you weren't careful, but Yin had a particular focus that evening.
Something was... off. The hero couldn't figure it out just yet, but something felt wrong as of late. The internet's daily emotions about certain people and certain issues were always in flux, but it was as if the emphasis of negativity as of late was flooding fan sites and pages. Video clips of blunders during daily altercations and missions, an increase in discourse, not just of Achilles but of various heroes. Two scandals had come to her attention as of late. Some smaller names, ones with smaller but much more dedicated fan groups, had been dragged through the mud. Blunders on their part during missions, both times. Cancel culture was alive and well, apparently. It left a bad taste in her mouth. They had disappeared from Heartbeat in a jarring amount of time, forgotten about in mere days, but Yin was beginning to notice a pattern. Maybe she was being paranoid, but she was seeing the same thing happen again.
Call her old fashioned, but Yin still liked writing things down on pen and paper. Her thoughts felt more secure that way. In a small black notebook, she wrote down her thoughts in small, neat handwriting. The woman stood, flicking the screen off, and crossed the room in a few purposeful strides. Yin grabbed her leather jacket from where it hung near the front door, toed on her boots, and grabbed her motorcycle helmet from off the kitchen counter. The notebook was slipped into an inside pocket of the jacket, and only moments later, she locked her front door and headed down to the residential building's parking garage to retrieve her motorcycle.
She needed to clear her head, take a long ride and have some time to herself. But the worries lingered, making themselves known in her gut, despite Yin's best efforts. Something bad was going to happen tonight.
"This isn't really what I expected when you said to celebrate at a club, Noah."
The beat of the music could be felt in her chest, a heavy thrum that reached even the furthest corner of the club, where the party had seated themselves. At the front door, a sputtering neon green sign read The Answer, which only made Yin raise an eyebrow. The Answer to what, exactly? She was sure she'd never truly know. The day was dragging on much longer than it needed to, but she had reluctantly agreed to come out and celebrate at a club for the night with the rest of the heroes and new graduates. How could she not celebrate the accomplishment of Noah, her own protege? At everyone's insistence, Yin now sat at their booth, well into her first drink out of many for the night. This was meant to be a night of fun and celebration, but the woman found it hard to focus on the casual table conversation, instead watching the movement around their table, the mass of moving bodies on the dance floor, and how easily something could go wrong. She had been the last to sit as well, not wanting to leave herself trapped between others if she needed to get out of their booth.
Yin's remark rang true as her eyes gazed over the chaos of the club. The Answer really hadn't been what she had expected; the club was sleek, sure, with smooth shiny dark walls and flooring, stylish black tables, navy blue booth cushions, but it threw into sharp contrast the heavy use of neon lights around the bar and dance floor. With so many lights, so many neon colors, the feeling of walking inside was like being in an aphotic zone; you could fall into the deep end and never even realize. As far as Yin could tell, it was one large, long area, with the far side of the room topped floor to ceiling with backlit shelves of every kind of liquor under the sun. Over to the far right was the dance floor, lit up like a Christmas tree with its own in-floor lighting, many overhead lights, and a heavy neon glow from underneath it's very own stage, set up for the DJ to play at anytime. Sat behind the booth was a rather colorful woman with green-tipped liberty spikes, sporting a hefty pair of headphones as she nodded along to the music she played. Lined up next to the booth on both sides were stripper poles, and the DJ seemed to pay no mind to the various women dancing and twirling effortlessly, the floor underneath their poles decorated with dollar bills. The night was rapidly beginning to pick up. From behind her drink, her eyes trailed a person leave the bar and approach two bouncers apparently guarding the stairs to the upper level. A moment passed, and the patron was allowed entry, disappearing behind the curve of the staircase. Must be the V.I.P. area, Yin thought, Maybe we should've gotten seats up there instead.
"If you'll excuse me a moment, I'm getting another drink." Yin told the table, slipping out of her seat and striding towards the bar. Might as well enjoy this one night out while it lasts.
More and more people trickled in from the front door; it seemed they had arrived right before the night truly began. Closer to the dance floor now, the music was almost deafening, but she could admit that the DJ knew what she was doing. If her mood was right, maybe after a couple more drinks the gal would consider going out on the floor to dance. For now, Yin shouldered her way through the growing crowd and situated herself at the bar.
"Dry martini, please." Yin practically shouted over the music, "And please, send a round of beers to the table right over there." She pointed to her table, and slid the bartender a hefty tip. New drink in hand, the woman leaned her back against the bar, taking in the sights as she slowly sipped at it. It was an effort and a half to try and relax for even a moment, but the alcohol was beginning to help. Even at first glance, it was easy to tell that Yin was very much out of her element. The minute she turned eighteen, she was dedicated deeply to her work, and didn't participate much in the heavy party scene that permeated the westside of Heartbeat City. Shit, the gal didn't even know what people actually wore to clubs. In her naivety, Yin had worn slacks and a half-opened dress shirt, trying to skirt the line of classy but stylish. Now, she saw on full display the short skirts, ripped jeans, low-cut dresses, and mile-high heels that were apparently in fashion. It was a bit of a wake up call. Maybe this means I should get out more.
The other source of her worry so far was that Yin was highly recognizable. Whether this was a good or a bad thing depended on the time of day, and where she was in the city. Most days, folks would stop her in the streets, ask for photos and autographs. Even when she wasn't in her hero uniform, using the name Achilles, Yin was the top hero and her face couldn't be avoided no matter where you were in Heartbeat City. If she wasn't on the news, fanpages online chattered on about her latest successes, videos of her fighting circulated, and even a couple of magazine spreads here or there would have their own photo spread of the woman. And Yin was certain that with every fan, there were at least two enemies of hers at any given time. She was hoping for at least one night of fun. No fights, no dramatics, just some alcohol and nice music and the companionship of her fellow heroes.
Yin couldn't get everything that she wished for, though.
mood; a bit on edge. | location; the answer nightclub. | outfit; a slick suit with the shirt's buttons opened. | interactions: her fellow heroes. | tags: none yet. | song: come closer - boy harsher.
location: the answer
mentions: the heros
She stared at the sniveling, pathetic sack of flesh that gazed up at her from his place on the ground. Her eyes held all the similarities of a predator, the two pitch black orbs framed in the indifferent face of an executioner. She was truly a sight to behold as she towered over her target with her boot pressed firmly against his neck, restricting his breathing but not quite cutting it off.
“W-Why?” Managed to just barely pass through trembling lips. They were beginning to turn blue in color as was the rest of his face. “W-Who are…?”
If she had not been terrifying before then she certainly was now. The dim glow of the room gave off a sinister feeling, which only enhanced her appearance in a dark way. Slowly full lips split into a rather feral grin, two rows of razor sharp teeth glinted in the light. “Why? Well, seeing as you won’t be leaving this room alive I could do you a small mercy and at least let you know why you’re going to die….but then again, I am not the merciful type.” Her voice was naturally husky, some would even say seductive and pleasant to the ears.
“As for my name? Well that doesn’t matter now.” As swift and deadly as a serpent she she raised a dagger and struck.
Dina didn’t like to be kept waiting. She wasn’t an impatient individual but she usually planned out her days and night. She was something of a perfectionist, if she could she’d stick to whatever schedule she had created. Though it wasn’t like she had anything to do tonight. If she weren’t meeting with an acquaintance Dina would have been at home with Apep, spending her time taking care of her weapons and tech or enjoying true crime show.
She had no idea why her this wanted to meet here or all places. Dina was grateful for all those lessons on controlling her senses, if not for those she was sure that she’d have a splitting headache from the volume of the music. And speaking of the music, she couldn’t help but curl her lip in distaste. This was nowhere near her preferred genre. Dina grabbed her glass flute from its place in front of her. The sparkling glass of Kir Royale only soothed her for a moment. She took a moment to enjoy the feeling of bubbles tickling her lip and the taste or raspberries on her tongue. As she placed her glass back in front of her she plucked on of the raspberries off the side and into her mouth.
Dina looked around the room with her usual bored look on her face. Her interest was piqued however when one of the patrons at the table next to hers spoke. At the mention of the academy Dina looked over and to her surprise there sat a group of heros, with some who were more recognizable than others. The woman looked away and brought her glass to her lips once more. She was certainly surprised to see them here. It was a known fact that this was Hell Hound territory. She was sure that some members were in attendance tonight. Not to mention the fact that there a variety of other criminals would spend their time here. The group was either very brave or very foolish.
Just as Dina was about to glance over again she caught sight of her acquaintance. As she sat down Dina sat up straighter, crossing one long leg over the other. “Look who decided to finally grace me with their presence. Did you get lost on the way perhaps?” Her tone was one of displeasure. With that the two began chatting in low tones.
mood:pissed but focused. location: the answer nightclub. outfit:black, body-con dress & an oversized sports windbreaker. interactions: n/a. tags: none yet.
— TWO WEEK AGO.
She was right there. Danny raised the camera, ignoring the nerves pin-pricking on the back of her neck. The lens focused on a young girl situated on a medical slab, her body was slack, yet Danny could see the rise and fall of her chest. Snapping a few photos of the young girl — her name was Riley Huntington. Riley didn't look like the photo her pleading father showed Danny, she was thinner; her cheeks hollowed, pale skin taut against bone. A sense of anger burned in Danny, knuckles going white in her balled fist. Fucking monsters. Two men dressed in scrubs were on either side of Riley, surgical masks and tools in hand. What were they doing to her?
Riley's father knocked on the private investigator's door a week ago; a tired-looking man clutching a photo of a curly-haired, young girl. It wasn't the first time Danny had been approached to find a missing kid. In her experience, most children ran away lovestruck and blinded by lust or in defiance from their overbearing parents. Riley was different according to her father — she was a studious child who was quite mature for her age. She would never do such a thing, he insisted. That was when he broke the news to Danny — she was afucking super. She detested supers with every fibre in her being. Danny tried to shut the door in his face, the glass-panelled door which had 'PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR - NO SUPER CLIENTS' printed plainly on the glass, yet he began to beg.
"Please! The cops won't do a damn thing, she has been missing for two days now! My little girl is somewhere — scared out of her mind! She is all I have...we lost her mother a few months back. Please...I'll pay double, I'll do anything to have her back..." Glassy-eyed and face a deep shade of red, Mr Huntington collapsed onto his knees — literally begging. Danny sighed, maybe it was the guilt or the fact she could relate to losing a parent, regardless she accepted.
"Okay, let's begin the next trial." A muffled, yet deep voice sounded behind the larger masked-man. The smaller man nodded, his gloved hand hovering over the tray of medical tools. This was Danny's chance, she couldn't wait any longer. Licking her lips, Danny shakily reached for her handgun. The cool metal of her father's service pistol calmed Danny as she rounded the corner. Let's do this...you got this.
"Hands in the air, or else I'll—"Danny didn't notice the looming figure behind her as everything went dark.
"—yes, yes...but who is she? Some cop?" Danny woke to a splitting headache, trying to raise a hand to her head was met with resistance. Some kind of restraints, Danny realised as leather straps were tight against her wrist and ankles. Panic began to settle in, Danny tugged at the restraints, realising she was situated on a similar medical slab to — Riley was only a few feet away from her strapped to the other slab, the sparkle from her blue eyes were dulled, yet she was conscious. Barely.
"Looks like she is awake" A feminine voice this time, "and no, she is some private investigator. Found a business card in her back pocket." Heels clicked against the sterile tiles, approaching Danny. An angular, porcelain-skinned face entered her vision, the woman's lips stained with red lipstick. She would never forget her face, "I also found the subject's photo in her bag, which I'm assuming means she was looking for her. Which means you, idiots didn't cover your tracks—"
"W-we did, or at least we thought we did..." The man's voice was smaller, he was afraid of her, Danny noted.
"Not well enough." The woman's fingers delicately tucked Danny's bleach-blonded strands behind her ear, emerald eyes settling on Danny, "I'm sorry honey..." Her voice almost sounded sympathetic. Almost. She couldn't care less about her, Danny thought, seeing through the woman's acting. "Do as you will with her, just make sure you dispose of her body appropriately." With that, the woman stood, heels clicking in the distance. Danny began thrashing in her restraints, teeth clenched.
Suddenly she stopped, body going slack. She needed to conserve her energy. She could not die like this — she would not die like this.
A sharp pain pricked her arm, causing Danny's eyes to go heavy.
Danny woke to her body on the same cold, hard slab with an incessant beeping filling the room. She wore a medical gown, her back exposed with a fresh scar trailing down — that was when Danny realised. She wasn't staring at a reflection, she could see her body, as though watching an old home movie. Yet there was no television or camera in sight. Was she having an out-of-body experience or something? Danny tugged at her restraints, yet her body remained lifeless, she didn't move...but Riley did.
In the reflection of the chrome slab, Danny blinked, or rather Riley did. You have to be dreaming, Danny reassured herself. Danny raised her head slightly from the cold slab, Riley's curly-haired mop blocked Danny's vision. This can't be real...she was Riley...
The smaller man came barreling into the room, "shit, shit, shit!" Dropping a half-eaten sandwich onto the ground, his hands fumbled on the equipment next to Danny's slack body. In fact, Danny didn't seem to be breathing or just her body? This is so confusing, Danny thought, watching as the man panicked. The larger man came into the room, shooting daggers at the smaller man.
"What did you do?" He hissed, hurrying to his side.
"N-nothing! She was fine a moment ago...I was just eating in the other room and then I heard the machine going off!" He tried to explain, stumbling over his words.
"The procedure must have killed her..." The larger man sighed. Killed? What did he mean, 'killed' her? I'm okay, I'm alive...right? "We have to dispose of her before Ms Berezin returns from her meeting." Shortly after, they were unbuckling Danny's restraints which caused her to instinctively move, yet only Riley's arm moved, still firmly strapped to the slab. The larger man scooped up Danny's small, lifeless body.
"Stop! Put me down, you fucking pieces of shit!" A hoarse, pubescent voice screeched, which wasn't coming from Danny but Riley's lips. The smaller man stared at her, eyes wide.
"Shut the kid up!" The larger man growled, carrying out Danny's body as she began to thrash in her restraints, screaming. Riley's body banged and writhed against the restraints on the slab as the smaller man held a needle up to her arm.
Everything was dark.Am I dead, Danny thought? She breathed in, dirt blocking her nose. Adrenaline sank in, her body was trapped — underground? Danny's body writhed, fingers curling into fists, clutching clumps of dirt. In a panic, Danny opened her mouth to call for help, dirt filling the open space. Nails dug and feet kicked, loosening the dirt around her.
A cool breeze brushed her hand. A sense of hope drove Danny into overdrive, her other hand escaping the dirt confines. Using all her strength she tugged, gripping the grass for leverage.
Gasping for air, remnants of dirt spilled from her dry mouth as the open-air held her in a comforting embrace. Her naked body collapsed onto the grass, greedily heaving in air through her mouth.
Rushing water called to her nearby. Water, she needed water. Crawling towards the source, she cupped the water, gulping it down. In the water, she could see a warped reflection staring back. A hand ran along her face, feeling the familiar features.
She was herself again.
A stifled laugh turned into a cry, her body cradling itself, as she laid there, sobbing, in the woods.
Danny thumbed the worn matchstick box in her hand - 'the answer' printed on the front. She had heard of the place before, yet she preferred to drink at bars. Liquor was harder and wasn't watered down with complicated and unnecessary ingredients. The matchstick box was the only clue she found back at the place Riley was held, they had cleared everything else out by the time she made it back there.
Her phone buzzed in the pocket of her oversized windbreaker, most likely another message from her brother. Danny had been radio silent all fronts for the past two weeks and for now, it needed to remain that way. These people thought she was dead.
Underneath her jacket, she wore a simple, black dress that hugged her short, slim frame. Her heeled boots were suspended mid-air, situated on a stool at The Answer's bar. The rave music thumped in her ears, unnecessarily loud in Danny's opinion. She would much rather be at home working on another case or downing rum at some dingy bar, yet she wasn't here for fun.
She was here to find the bastards that made her into everything she despised — a fucking super.
Vincent hadn't been at The Answer for very long. He was sitting in a VIP booth with Q, Dante and several other Hell Hounds. He was only there for one reason; it loomed over his head like a bothersome chore he had to do. They were working on their first round of drinks and while everyone was in a joking mood, he sat in silence and savored his whiskey on the rocks for as long as he could. He was being teased, and Q kept simpering over the fact. They were going to see Vincent Wolfe, the Arsenal, dance like a stripper. It was all because of a bet he made with Q a few days ago.
Q was a relatively new member of the Hell Hounds who made meals for the gang every now and then, and although his food was good, Vincent believed he could cook better than him. So the two of them held a small cooking contest with the inclusion of a side bet. The loser had to pole dance at The Answer while everyone watched. It was simple enough. Within twenty minutes, they prepared their own dish and they both received positive feedback from each judge—Edward was one of them. But in the end, Vincent's beef paprikash with fire-roasted tomatoes was bested by Q's creativity. The loss stung his ego a bit, but he took it in stride.
One vote for Vincent; one vote for Quentin. Edward was the tiebreaker.
"You know, boys, these are both great. And you know I appreciate your talents. And this was a very close decision. But I'm gonna have to give this to Quentin, it was something different but in a good way. I like seeing new ideas."
Vincent cursed under his breath while Quentin beamed with pride. He turned to the younger man, his tight scowl slowly unraveling. They were side by side in the kitchen just a few moments ago. They fought over control of appliances and engaged in banter while they prepared food in a contained frenzy. He had to admit, although he was skeptical of him at first, Quentin's culinary skills proved to be commendable. It turned out to be a fun challenge. Vincent seemed contemplative for a moment, then he finally nodded. "Not bad, Q."
That was the first time Vincent addressed him as such. Now the nickname stuck. With that defeat, he knew he had to uphold his end of the deal. He wasn't allowed to half-ass the performance either. Lucky for them, but unfortunately for Vincent, he knew exactly how to dance like an actual stripper. No, not from experience. It was because he watched exotic dancers before, so his body had learned how to replicate their movements after a few days' time of seeing it. That was his power: being able to perfectly copy what others do. A sparse amount of people in the gang were aware of it but the government certainly wasn't; people assumed he was just a man of many talents.
One of the guys—whose name was Nico—jostled Vincent's shoulder and nearly made him spill his drink. He shot him a warning glance. The guy knew what was good for him and raised his hand off.
"Come ooon!" he complained. "Get down to that pole, man! You've been makin' us wait!" The others interjected in agreement. Q, who had been gloating since they walked in, wiggled his eyebrows. Vincent rolled his eyes, but begrudgingly conceded. It was best to get it over with now. He downed the rest of his whiskey; the warm, familiar burn that slipped across his tongue was short-lived but appreciated. "Hold onto this for me. It'll just fall out of my pocket," he said, handing Dante his phone. It was locked. With finality, he got up from his seat and told them, "I'll be to the left of the DJ booth. Keep an eye out."
Then Vincent descended the guarded stairs, made his way to the dance floor, and was immediately swallowed by the crowd. The music rattled his very core; he could feel the bass like it was his own heartbeat. Every color in the visible spectrum darted among the clubbers in quick, fleeting rays while the floor was backlit by an impenetrable glow. The people were more like shadows than anything else, amassed as one volatile entity. But he was disinterested in it—focused like a man on a mission. He parted through the dancing sea and finally reached the stage left to the DJ.
Without hesitation or words, Vincent pulled himself up. The exotic dancer first seemed astonished and startled that a patron would do something so bold, but a closer view of his face made her parted lips curl into a provocative smile. She liked what she saw and removed herself from the pole. One hand rested on her hip while the other wandered to his broad shoulders. She trailed her fingertips along his collarbone as she slowly circled around him in her stilettos. Unmoved, Vincent maintained an even expression. She probably thought of using him as part of her dance, but that wasn't going to happen. He pushed her off the stage rather easily. The clubbers broke her fall—she was fine, if not a little bruised.
He stepped towards the dancing pole and got started. He made grinding motions with his body as he kept a steady grip on the cold metal. Then he circled in an easy but confident manner that captivated the eyes of others. He even heard approving whistles. The man picked up his legs and twirled to gain more momentum. He stayed balanced when he hung upside down by a hooked leg alone, arms outstretched to the crowd while he spun. Vincent bent in ways that would make him look deceivingly flexible and he did it all with the kind of finesse befitting of a professional. It was hard to tell that his expression was deadpan the whole time—bored, almost. He danced for a solid two minutes.
Directly below him, a clubber shouted, "Take off your clothes!"
That was Vincent's cue to leave. When he slowed to a stop and let his shoes touch the platform, he spotted a woman by the bar who stuck out like a sore thumb. Her face was easily recognizable since it was plastered all over the media. From one glance, he was able to identify her.
He hopped down from the stage with a sinister grin. Since she was here, maybe her hero friends were, too. His fingers felt tingly now, eager for a fight. But he wasn't going to approach her. Not yet. She had to be either brave or stupid to waltz in the Hell Hounds' territory—maybe she was both. Still, the night just got so much more interesting.
Vincent nudged his way back to the VIP area where everyone else was waiting. By the looks on their faces, they'd clearly been watching him. He took his seat as casually as one ever could after doing what he did. "Yeah, yeah, get your jokes in," he said. He reclaimed his phone from Dante, unlocked it, and opened up the recent messages. He pressed a name that read "Boss". He stayed quiet while he typed out a text, thumbs rapidly tapping across the screen.
Achilles is at the answer. More government puppets might be with her.
He hit send and put his phone back in his pocket. Everyone was talking their mouths off now, still reeling from watching Vincent pole dance. Then he changed the tune of conversation, if only for a little bit. "I saw Achilles while I was up there."
Despite the serious statement, there was a glint in his dark eyes that suggested he was oddly pleased about this. They knew Vincent loved to fight. Why wouldn't he be intrigued by a skilled adversary whose power was to hit twice as hard?
"Seriously?" one of the Hell Hounds asked. "Then let's get her ass!" "No," Vincent firmly stated. "We'll wait for further orders. Relax, but stay on guard."
No one argued with that. They had to exercise some caution. He could see the bar from where he was seated; he'd keep observing, as he always did best.
Graduation. After days, weeks and months, counting four full years of challenging training, the day had finally come. Noah had waited for the fulfilling moment to hold his official certificate that said:
Hereby the government of Heartbeat City appoints Mr Noah Aviram Galinsky, Graduate of the Audax Corde Academy, as superhero to serve and protect.
Its paper was thick and the sheet warm, wether it just came out of the printer or if the excitement tingled his hands to release heat was unclear. But what mattered was that he achieved his goal and in this moment he felt content, which was unusual for Noah, the perfectionist. There were a few speeches by the head of the academy and a few of the best graduates; including him. He noticed a group of his fellow graduates spread the word about a party, celebrating this year’s class.
"Avi, you’ll join us tonight, aren’t you?", one of his fellow comrades approached him with a gentle smile. "To the club?"He hesitated. "Yeah, why not. We deserve a night out."
– Blinding lights, deafening music, crowds of people –
"This isn't really what I expected when you said to celebrate at a club, Noah." "Yeah, me neither."
He could feel the bass tingling his feet through his oxfords and then leaving again through his fingertips. Although Noah had never been at The Answer, he could see why people might enjoy it: The design was fancy and yet easy going as if the night was immortal, leaving guests in sparkling pearls of sweat from dancing their souls out. He watched his colleagues split up and come together once again, the club was a wild chaos in his eyes, like a maze of colors and sounds.
Noticing that a waiter dropped by their booth to distribute drinks, he glanced past him. Yin, he thought. She bought them a round, hence he grabbed a bottle of beer "It’s good Yin also came with us. I don’t see her go out a lot.", he expressed in a louder tone for the others to hear him over the drilling beat. He watched Achilles leaning at the bar with an outfit that only she would choose. Not that it looked bad but it was certainly Yin’s style. Noah liked that about her. She isn’t trying to impress anyone but somehow she always manages to do just that. He invested some time in conversations with the other graduates, catching up on latest news in their lives since the harsh training left little to no time to slack...or have free time. He didn't even notice other heroes – more experienced ones – being dragged for mistakes on missions through social media. Someone would let him know eventually, right? He wasn't much of an internet persona. The next influencer? Probably not.
Noah slicked his dark brown hair back, his eyes seemed pitch black as he started to take a sip from his beer gazing through the crowds of people. And the neon lights passed by, drawing shapes on his face, painting it in numerous color. The beat of the music changed as the familiar feeling of an oh so well known song crept upon him. How couldn't you? Cause I’m heartless, as if this song was made for this damn city.
The mountain of dirty laundry stacked in the corner of the room was now spread out haphazardly. Clothing flung through the air- a pair of fishnet tights, wrinkled swimsuit bottoms, an old t-shirt. Frantic hands made a fervent attempt to dig through the insufferable pile, searching for the dainty box she had hidden beneath it. After a lively string of expletives, she finally came up with the casket. She released the snap and popped open the lid, revealing only a dusty chasm of black velvet lining.
No one robs Two-Faced and gets away with it.
If Maggie was being honest with herself, she hadn’t been robbed in the slightest. In fact, she had been the one committing the crime in the first place. The man had simply taken back what duly belonged to him. Greedily getting ahead of herself, she had plucked it right from his wrist. She should have been more careful.
A golden watch. A Cartier, Tank Française, 18 karat, sapphire encrusted, quartz movement watch. A $20,000 watch. Maggie thought she had struck gold- literally.
Heartbeat had its fair share of wealth, primarily in the northern part of the city. Upperclassmen and their descendants resided there. Maggie saw them as perfect, prideful targets, eager to display their wealth on their necks and wrists. Pickpocketing the rich was easy compared to the less well-off, who were more aware of their back pocket. The trick to trickery was to orient the eye in the opposite direction of the action. ‘Gee, I love your pearls. They look so beautiful on you. Oh, they were your mother’s? She must have great taste,’ all the while slipping delicate fingers under the bracelet they hadn’t paid attention to. She had done just that to this man, in the lobby of The Heights, which was one of her hot spots for pickpocketing the oblivious.
'Hello, sir. I just wanted to say that I like your shoes. Sorry for keeping you. You should probably be on your way now.' He had left, annoyed and bemused by the sudden encounter. By the time his elevator had surpassed the seventh floor did he notice the bareness of his wrist.
Maggie had thought she had gotten away with her little heist. She was ecstatic. The retail price of the watch would allow her to move out of her seedy apartment, out of Heartbeat City. Perhaps she would finally escape from her overbearing sisters that called to “just check in” far too often. For the first time in her life, she was going to be her own, free person. Away from the gangs, away from the crowded city. She was going to get a new apartment, fill it with alcohol, and drink herself silly in her new mattress.
What she hadn’t realized was that she had stolen from a notorious corporate businessman by the name of Thomas Kilby had sent comrades to track her down and steal his watch back. Maggie would have let it go, but what would that do to her reputation with the Hellhounds? Her affinity for puzzles was strong, but what she truly relished were games. If he was going to play this way, he had better come prepared.
Maggie had always had an odd obsession with picturing herself living at The Heights. As the taxi navigated through the bustling streets of the Heartbeat City nightlife, the towering complex came into view. Rounding the corner, the taxi came to a stop and she stepped out after paying the driver. Before approaching the entrance, Maggie took notice of the distinct apparel businessmen and women were sporting as they passed through the glass doors. Her neon socks and subjectively charming bucket hat did not aid her drab, baggy sweats. She was not dressed for the occasion, but that would come later.
Her sneakers hit the glittering marble with an audible squeak. Above her, high ceilings were decorated with elaborate tiered chandeliers, like a display of wedding cakes suspended upside down. An oriental fountain unfurled from the center of the lobby, flanked by the penthouse concierge and management office on either side. Though Maggie appeared to be out of place, there were too many things to be done and places to be, so no special attention was paid. Perhaps a longer look here or there, but nothing of importance. She caught a glimpse of an elder woman pushing a cart of hot, pressed towels towards the elevator. Maggie slipped behind the woman to join her. The woman shuffled off at the fifth floor, but Maggie had been given plenty of time to scrutinize her physicality and uniform.
As the doors closed behind the maid, she got to work. She focused her attention towards the individual parts of her face- not only her features but the fundamental structure. Picturing the look she had in mind helped her to manipulate and shift the molecular pattern. Her face morphed in a matter of seconds. Gazing into the shine of the marble floors, she made out her new makeup- which wasn’t her own anymore. Her build was heftier now, with a mature face that crinkled at the corners of her eyes. Skin indicative of age, hair greying, twisting itself into the same top knot the maid had been wearing. Her elderly body felt slower. Even her clothes were now a perfect replication of the woman’s uniform, fitted with a name label that read “Flora.” A scheming smile broke out across her unrecognizable face.
The elevator doors dinged open at the 77th floor. She found the door and fiddled with the lockpicks she had concealed in her socks. Drawing the two, thin pieces of metal, she inserted them into the lock, methodically twisting them about. Maggie let out an audible sigh as she heard the musical clicks from within the lock. She entered the room.
Thankfully, no one was inside, and so she relaxed her hold, eased the tension, and her appearance returned to her own. She hadn’t really planned for the emptiness. In fact, she hadn’t even planned on finding the watch once she was inside. She took in the room, browsing it with her eyes. Maggie laid herself on the bed, sinking into the cotton comforter. One day, she would have this kind of money. This kind of luxury.
After taking inventory, she pondered her options. The watch was nowhere to be found, which was unsurprising- Mr. Kilby was probably flaunting it on his pudgy wrist. The TV was much too large to carry inconspicuously, as well as the suits that hung in the closet. The ornate silverware would prove to be a challenge if they clanked about in her pockets, but they would have to do. She pocketed the delicate wares.
“You just couldn’t help your sticky fingers, could you?” Maggie spun around and was greeted by Mr. Kilby, but more importantly, the watch he wore. “Looking for this?”
Maggie made a run for the door, dodging his lunge at her. She had almost made it out when he snatched her wrist, twisting her around to face him. He drew a pistol from the inside of his coat pocket and pointed it at her head. Maggie ducked and thrust his hand into the air, letting the shot ring out into the ceiling. Then, she was out the door and speeding down the hall. Another bullet whizzed past her ear, and she decided it best to take the stairs. She rode the banisters a few floors down, all the while Mr. Kilby stumbling after her. He was older and slower, and she had moved back out into the hallway to take the elevator the rest of the way down. She had gotten away, but his irate calls could still be heard from the stairwell.
When she made it into the street, she fished the silverware from her pockets, reveling them.
And the watch.
The cracked face meant little to her. It was a symbol of revenge more than anything. Mr. Kilby had been so concerned about the wares that he had hardly noticed she had nabbed the watch. Sure, she was disappointed she wouldn’t be getting her twenty grand, but maybe she could salvage the parts. If she couldn’t have the watch whole, then no one could, and that was enough for her.
After making a stop at the pawnshop to sell the wares (which was meant by a suspicious eye from the woman at the counter), she decided to spend her night at The Answer. A number of nights a week were wasted at the club- not necessarily to dance, but for something much more satisfying than a one-night stand or a round of drinks. Following a set of cavernous stairs that descended into the ground, Maggie was greeted by a broad-shouldered man.
Slapping a hand on the bouncer’s shoulder, she smiled, saying, “You take care now, Ben. Don’t want my favorite doorman catching a cold.” The man grimaced but discreetly shrugged his jacket up to his neck. He allowed her to pass, recognizing her as an affiliate with the Hellhounds and an avid clubgoer.
Maggie slipped in past the door and bolted left, towards the back of the nightclub for the bathrooms. Noisily pushing open the heavy door, she ignored the girls powdering their noses in the mirror. They gave her a once-over but ignored her for the most part. They saw her frequently enough to know what she was up to.
When Maggie reached the end of the hallway, at the last sink waited a sleazy looking girl, who had just lifted her head away from the counter and was now rubbing her nose and blinking fast. Her hair was black and slick with grease, and tired circles clung beneath her eyes. The girl stepped out of the way to make room for Maggie, but she declined with a shake of the head.
“Got anything stronger? I’ve had a long day.”
The girl nodded and opened a plastic baggy concealed on the inseam of her bomber jacket, filled with mysteriously chalky pills. She pressed the small, pinkish tablet into Maggie’s palm. Maggie received it and popped it in between her teeth, biting down on the acrid taste.
“You owe me from last time.”
“Yeah, yeah. Give me a break. Hold on.” Maggie patted her pockets and came up with a wad of cash to cover the past weekend’s shenanigans. The girl snatched it from her hands and left Maggie alone at the end of the counter.
“What?” Maggie said to another girl who had decided to sneak a suspicious glance her way.
Maggie exited the restroom, and that was when it hit. The neon lights suddenly appeared harsher, but warmer, like she could feel them radiating from the ceiling and sinking into her skin. Enveloping, embracing, comforting. If the lights hadn’t been so enhanced, she may have caught an amusing glimpse of Vincent showing himself off on stage. She wasn’t in the mood for dancing and declined the drug’s coax to do so. Instead, she leaned against a far wall, her face half-shadowed by her bucket hat that tipped over her half-closed eyes as she scrolled mindlessly on her phone. Her head bobbed gently to the pulsating music, feeling it in her bones. She felt blissfully woozy and in good spirits.
Today had nearly been a good day. Her pockets were heavy with cash from the pawned silverware, and she had gotten her fix. She wouldn’t have to worry about her overdue rent any longer. Then, she peered up from her screen for a moment. It was no secret that The Answer was Hellhound hideaway, so why did she spot unfamiliar faces?
Blue lights flashed in the parking lot of the police station. Officers bustled in and out, chatting about the gory details of their day and spreading work-place gossip; who was cheating on his wife, who was getting the next promotion, who was suspected of making some dirty money on the side. While Ford usually enjoyed engaging in banter with the more mundane officers, he’d been holed up all day in his office without much hope of escape.
On magazine covers and newspaper pages, he was often fighting crime alongside Achilles. But he’d been robbed of time in the field as of recent. With new heroes coming out of the academy and older ones going MIA or being asked to step down after a blunder, Champion had been reduced to a paper pusher.
Ford rubbed his fingers over his eyes. The light of the computer screen in front of him had begun to blur and a the beginning of a headache was gripping his mind. He’d been sitting here for too long, staring at these idiotic documents. He didn’t care what street a criminal had been caught on, he didn’t care how long processing had taken, he didn’t care which station they’d been brought to. He just wanted to be finished with this bullshit.
A sharp knock on his door caught his attention. Ford’s Chief, James Killian. A stout man with salt and pepper hair and a stern expression. He was an out-of-towner, brought to Heartbeat to run the city’s superheroes.
Heartbeat’s Champion pressed a button on his desk, opening the glass door for his boss. “Sir.”
“Ford, you’re here late.”
“Whatever it takes to get done what needs to be done.”
“Good work ethic, Champ.” He glanced back at the rest of the station. This man always seemed so happy to use that hateful nickname “The guys say you’ve been here all day. Exhausted heroes don’t make good officers.” The Chief turned back to Ford. “We wouldn’t want any mistakes, would we?”
“I’ve got five hours left on shift” Recently, work had gotten longer. With so many new heroes, his expertise was valuable and rare. “I’ll go home when its time to clock out.” With the flick of his hand, Ford had his computer screen projected on the blank wall to his right. “Beside, I’m seeing some really concerning trends in our arrest records. We keep finding unregistered supers. We have hundreds of suspected powered-people to track and we have less applications to the academy every year. I’d like your support while I look into this. I think we need to push for a better census process, give people a reason to be honest when we-“
The Chief waved his concerns away. “You’ve been here too long today. Go meet Yin and the new kids. Stay on call If you really feel that duty-bound.” With a laugh he continued “Graduation party is at The Answer this year.”
Ford looked away from the data he’d pulled up. “Who choose that? That’s deep hellhound territory. Is Yin looking for a fight?”
With a shrug, the chief left the office, calling back over his shoulder “Send me a text if you need back-up.”
Ford was already gathering up his things. His tablet was slipped into his briefcase along with some notes and pens. In a swift motion he stood and pulled his coat on. His phone and badge were slipped into his inner pocket. As a last thought, he went to grab a gun and a harness. A voice in the back of his mind was sure that something would happen. He would need it.
Ford got to The Answer fast. He’d always had a lead foot and he knew the roads to take to avoid common speed traps. A quick flash of his ID got him into the club without issue. From there, it wasn’t hard to spot the group of heroes. He, like most residents of Heartbeat, knew their faces well. It took him a bit longer to find Yin, but he’d know her anywhere; stern eyes, shining black hair. He waved down a bartender “Old Fashioned. Use the single malt” He pointed to one of the bottles of amber whiskey that was on the bar’s back shelves. The bartender and turned away. “Wait,” Ford called the man back “Put her drink on my tab as well.” He pointed to Yin.
Ford waited for his drink, happy to watch the ever-moving mass of bodies in the club. Once the glass was in his hand, he wandered over to where Yin was leaning against the bar. “Having a nice jaunt in Hell Hound territory, Achilles?”
With a withering glare, he sent a man who’d been standing beside her away and took the spot for himself. “You could have told me you wanted to get yourself into trouble tonight. I would have appreciated somewhere with palatable whiskey”
Heartbeat Police Station || The Answer
grey jacket and dress pants || white button up || blue tie
In the background, there was the idle hum of static from a poor connection beneath the voices booming through the old television speakers. It was a miracle it still worked, but Lionel insisted that the lack of immersion was better for the brain. Despite his claims, Lionel’s focus shifted between the shapely Kim Kardashian and the conversation that was currently taking place.
Milo had a box resting on his hip as he methodically plucked out a new shipment of antique china. A whole set was placed together on a shelf that Lionel and cleared by himself earlier, but his arthritis was acting up. So, Milo decided to finish the job before he and Kat hit the club later that evening.
“You going to be okay getting up the stairs, Pops?” he asked, turning his head after placing one of the final flowery plates.
“Oh, shut up. Don’t you worry about me. I’m tougher than I look,” Lionel replied, his eyebrows furrowing together as he squinted over at his son. The corner of Milo’s lip quirked up in amusement while he placed the empty cardboard box on the counter in front of Lionel.
“Right… Keeping up with the Kardashians. Kim K. isn’t coming back, Pops. No matter how many times you watch the show,” Milo teased.
If one didn’t know Lionel personally, they might have thought he looked genuinely offended. “Don’t you guys have somewhere to be?”
Kat piped in, “I don’t understand how this even aired. No offense, Lionel.”
Milo added, “I don’t understand why you don’t just watch the news.”
“It's not that bad! And I just don’t like all of that hero shit. Get out of my shop, both of you.” Lionel warned.
Shaking his head, Milo motioned towards the dinnerware he’d just set up on a shelf perpendicular to the front counter. “Wait, wait. I got a serious inquiry. How do you know this stuff is legit? Didn’t you order it online?”
Lionel clicked his tongue, grabbing the box off the countertop and placing it next to him. “Hallmarks, for one,” Lionel replied, looking between his son and Kat. At this point, she was practically considered a child of Lionel and the sister of Milo. She fit in perfectly with their abnormal family. “Now leave. I don’t want to keep you two from your party. Please, Kat.” Lionel refused to believe that his kid didn’t run his mouth like he did at home anywhere else.
Quickly, Kat gave in, “You got it. Let’s go, Milo.”
Leaning over the counter, Milo reached out and pinched one of Lionel’s drooping cheeks with a soft chuckle. “See you later, old man. Call me if you need me.”
“Go, get,” Lionel grimaced and, with both hands, shooed Milo away. “Have fun, you two. Don’t get into too much trouble.”
The need to let loose led to The Answer, a trip that Milo didn't mind making. The city scenery was vibrant and entrancing; large signs and neon lights illuminated the streets. Parts of Heartbeat City slept, but not the west side. Over the years spent there made him fall in love with the area. And while the architecture and personality of this side of the city was impressive, it was also the best place to people watch. River had taught him that years ago but was one of the few memories Milo still held onto.
Inside of The Answer was the personification of Heartbeat City that had taken all existing illegal substances. There was nothing Milo loved more. Crammed onto the dance floor with Kat after a few drinks in his system, he was sticky with sweat from all the other bodies that surrounded them. The music thudded within his chest like a second heartbeat. He was beyond grateful that she had taken the time to school some rhythm into him. Dancing was a work in progress, but he was even better than he used to be.
Then, someone grabbed onto the chain hanging around his thigh, yanking his body back by the waist of his pants. Milo was quick in ceasing his dancing in order to wrap his hand around their forearm and send a strong, warning shock into their body. "My bad." Milo deadpanned. They backed off immediately after he let go, but the short-lived situation had dampened his mood entirely.
"I'm going to go get another drink." He told Kat, shortly after disappearing into the crowd as he headed towards the bar.
For a while, he stood there, sipping at the Long Island iced tea he had ordered. His eyes traveled over the heads of the people dancing to the oddity of a DJ. Then, the man who had taken over one of the poles next to her stole his attention. He squinted at the man who Milo never would have in a million years guessed that he possessed the skills to dance like that. It was more amusing than anything. The show was over too soon, in his opinion. Still, no amount of internal urging for the guy to continue would change anything, and thus, he turned back towards the bar. The night was filled with all sorts of surprises, however.
He recognized a face from the television several feet down the counter. Achilles: the best of the best. A hero. A club was the last place he would have expected to see someone like her, and the intimidating aura that she reeked of quickly turned his head the other way. His cheeks felt warm-- a mix of the continuous amazement and alcohol Milo was sure of.
Kat was in need of a break. Stress was weighing down on her little by little, equally caused by occupational woes and the current events in Heartbeat City. A sixth super was reported missing not long ago, and the authorities had no clue as to what had happened to them or where they'd gone. Like a giant, dark pit in a floor, everyone could see the problem, but looking down into the bottomless depths provided no answers, only more questions. It wasn't as though she was hired to solve such things lately; her cases were miscellaneous and agitating by themselves. After three slow and exhaustive weeks of all work and no play, she knew she owed herself a night out. Then it became a simple matter of where.
Fortunately, a text sent from Briar helped, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. “I just worked a double shift and I need to do shots. Come party at The Answer," the message read. It had been a while—too long, in fact—since Kat went to a nightclub. She readily accepted the idea of dancing her cares away, and she included Milo because she knew he'd like to join. He was the closest thing to a younger brother she never had and loved him to pieces for it. They'd even gone club-hopping in the past, so it was within their scene. After getting ready at home, Kat had driven to Out of Date to pick up Milo. She arrived a little early, so she was waiting for him to finish up some duties in the shop before going.
She sat next to Lionel, who was watching a very old show from a very old television. Ancient, even. The device had certainly been on its last legs, but somehow remained functional after years of bygone technology. It was sputtering with static and laced the loud, dramatized music and rancorous voices. Kat was watching, but barely. She couldn't keep up with the Kardashians. Instead, she listened to the melody of Milo moving around and clinking dinnerware that was happening in the background.
“You going to be okay getting up the stairs, Pops?” Milo asked.
“Oh, shut up. Don’t you worry about me. I’m tougher than I look,” Lionel answered gruffly.
At that, Kat smiled. Lionel was a stubborn old man, but had a huge heart. At first she was just a customer here buying vinyl records that were in stock, then became familiar with the two faces she would come to regard as a second family. Lionel—a grandfather to her—opened his home and welcomed her in. She was grateful he had done so at all, but he was generous like that.
Milo stood in front of the tv now, smug, after setting the cardboard box on the counter in between. “Right… Keeping up with the Kardashians. Kim K. isn’t coming back, Pops. No matter how many times you watch the show."
Lionel looked insulted, but that wasn't the case. “Don’t you guys have somewhere to be?”
Evading his remark, Kat gestured to the rerun playing and said, “I don’t understand how this even aired. No offense, Lionel.”
Milo followed suit. “I don’t understand why you don’t just watch the news.”
“It's not that bad!" the older man rebutted. "And I just don’t like all of that hero shit. Get out of my shop, both of you.”
Kat became pensive at the word "hero". Her mind wandered to a graduation for a moment or two, almost not hearing the next exchange of words. She disrupted herself and focused on the conversation.
"...don’t want to keep you two from your party. Please, Kat."
Glancing at Milo briefly, she conceded with a shrug of her shoulders. "You got it. Let's go, Milo." She first gave Lionel a quick hug before standing to her feet, then stretched her arms.
Milo reached out and affectionately pinched Lionel's creased cheek, to which the older man was not pleased about. "See you later, old man. Call me if you need me.”
“Go, get,” Lionel said while gesturing him away. "Have fun, you two. Don’t get into too much trouble.”
* * *
The music was powerful with its sound and it reverberated through every person in the club, but especially those on the dance floor. Kat was amongst them, along with Milo. The tension from her shoulders had melted away. A sheen of sweat made her bronze skin glisten with tiny pearls. She was living in the rhythm, breathing it in with every effortless move she made. Earlier she indulged in two shots of bourbon with Briar, which was a good start, but the atmosphere accompanied by friends was what truly made the nightlife experience so fun.
Suddenly Kat caught a glimpse of someone she thought she knew and it gave her pause. Wait. Is that...? She craned her neck, trying to see above the crowd now. It was difficult, what with all the jostling people far and in between who were blocking her view. She heard Milo's voice over the music.
"I'm going to go get another drink." "Sure," she replied, distracted. "I'll be near the booths."
As Milo walked one way, Kat went another. She parted through the clubbers just to get a better look of the person she saw, to make sure it wasn't the flashing lights deceiving her. Just as she thought, it really was him. Kat's smile grew wide while her heart skipped a beat—it did leaps and somersaults at the sight of Noah Galinsky, a dear friend and former partner from her days as a police officer.
Without thinking of it, one foot continued to step in front of the other towards him, and with every stride she somehow felt lighter. It must've been close to three years since they last had a conversation. Noah had been busy with the hero training program; Kat had been busy with her career change as a private investigator. Although they were close, they eventually fell out of contact due to circumstance. Memories were flooding back, but one in particular made her hand brush against her wrist to the accessory that adorned it. She was wearing a bracelet of a four-leaf clover eternally preserved in clear resin. Her recollection of how she received it was still fresh in her mind.
In labyrinthine backstreets of small businesses stood a modest restaurant squeezed between a pawn shop and a dive bar: Story of the Bowl. Kat stepped out of the diner with Noah, laughing. They arrived in the late afternoon but simply lost track of time just talking to one another; daylight sank below the horizon while they were indoors and the evening was making itself known. Their laughter subsided for a moment as they both noticed the dim colors in the sky. They didn’t need to fill the silence. They were both aware yet content with the fact that they spent hours of their free time together—it wasn't unusual for them. Noah accompanied Kat to her motorcycle, and as they approached it, he said something unexpected.
“You know, most of the time you were my lucky charm. This morning I found one for you, too.” There was effortless composure to his voice that she noticed. He seemed confident, but relaxed.
Kat looked up at him with an intrigued tip of her head. “What do you mean?”
She watched Noah retrieve something from his pocket: a white cloth-tissue that was neatly folded in squares. When it was offered, she took it in her hands with a bemused grin. Then he nodded as if to make a signal, and she unfolded the soft material. Placed within the cloth was a delicate four-leaf clover still verdantly green. An inaudible breath hitched in her throat, taken aback by the initial awe of it, but a warm and full smile quickly blossomed across her face. Her eyes looked bright as she glanced up at him again, so flattered she was almost lost for words.
"Did you...pick this yourself?" she asked.
"Yeah. Would you believe me if I said I immediately spotted it?" he replied.
Kat chuckled and playfully said, "Maybe. If you did, I'd say you're the lucky one." She refolded the cloth and pressed out the lines with gentle precision. "This is really thoughtful, Noah... Thank you." She reached out and hugged him tight; he returned it with the same intensity. Although Kat was smiling, there was a deep pang in her chest. Her heart ached and she knew why, but just couldn't say it out loud. When she withdrew, her hand lingered on his shoulder. "This isn't goodbye, you know. Just 'see you later', okay?" She gave a reassuring squeeze. It was a habit she formed with him.
Noah smiled at her. "For sure. I'll see you around, Mercer."
That was the day before he started attending Audax Corde Academy. Since then, Kat had transformed the gift into something she could always carry with her. It served as an ideal promise that she would, in fact, see him later. But she never would've guessed it would be here, in the most unexpected of places. As she got closer, she realized that Noah looked a little different—more matured and suave somehow. Maybe it was the lighting above the booth and the way it silhouetted his face to make him appear like a picturesque dream. It could've been something internalized like the kind of growth that was small, but noticeable because she hadn't witnessed it as time did. Whatever it was, he was different, but still the same Noah she knew. She adored that.
Kat leaned her arm against the top of the booth's upholstery and shifted her weight to one leg. Her nonchalance kept a mellow smile on her face, but her eyes showed the delight of seeing him. "Well, long time no see, Noah—or should I address you by your hero name?"
Noah's face lit up with a smile when he met her gaze. It was contagious. "Mercer," he beamed, "it's been a while." He moved out of his seat with his arms open towards her and she went in for a short, firm hug that she wished lasted for a moment longer. He had a woodsy, fresh herbal smell to him and it gave her peace.
"It really has. Congrats, by the way! I heard you graduated." She was up-to-date with current news.
"Yeah." Noah leaned back in his seat and rested one arm over the padding. “I graduated from the academy a few weeks ago. It’s been busy and the first time out for us to celebrate that."
Kat nodded. "You picked a good place to do it." She thought of complimenting her old friend, but then something else clicked. Ah, he said 'us'. She glanced over at the person sitting in the booth across from him: a youthful woman with warm brown skin and soft blonde curls. Feeling a little embarrassed that she had almost forgotten her manners, Kat recovered by giving a polite smile to her. Her face was familiar of course, as one of the new heroes.
"Hello—sorry for intruding. I'm Kat Mercer and I'm a friend of his. Pleased to meet you."
Another day in paradise passed as the air slowly shifted into the blissful scent of weed. While for Quentin it usually smelled like a funny mix of burnt rubber and everything involving skunks, today it smelled like victory. He made himself visibly comfortable and cracked a few jokes about Vincent Wolfe, the Arsenal. Does he have a death wish for doing so? Don’t be silly, of course he does. But to be fair, he deserved it. After an intense cooking competition he was able to achieve the win against Vincent. "Not bad, Q", still ringed in his ears like deafening church bells on a christian holiday.
Quentin leaned back into the leather pillows of the vip booth and enjoyed this situation to the fullest; and the best hadn’t even started yet! Once the other members started to encourage Vincent to do his pole dance, he sat back up as and wiggled his eyebrows towards Vincent. When the big man got up on his feet, Quentin couldn’t help but shoot a sly smile towards him. "Somebody come get him, he’s dancing like a stripper"
Watching the other make his way through the crowds, aiming for the stage with the poles, filled Quentin in delight. "Oh Dante, isn’t this beautiful?" He always sounded over the top with all of his expressions but at some point people must have grown on it. Vincent was now on stage but what he delivered to him, the other hell hounds and hundreds of clubbers, made his jaw drop. "How– Wait what…", he stuttered as his eyes widened in such surprise that they could fall out. Quentin gulped from all the saliva forming in his mouth from both his astonishment and thirst for Vincent. "Take it all in, guys. That’s a view you’ll already miss once it’s over", he held onto Dante's shoulder as if he needed support. Sadly Vincent finished in the blink of an eye, which left him in a deep sigh. He had seen everything now, if it meant that Vincent's pole dancing was the last thing he’d see, he would die in peace.
Quentin pulled out a blunt from his pocket and sticked it between his lips. Vincent made his way back into their area as he lit the fun little thing up. The flamelet painted his face in warm colors surrounded by their dark environment. "Where did you learn that? Don’t be shy to tell us about your former career as a stripper. I did some things for money too...", he mumbled until the end of the blunt caught the flame. His attention was attracted by something else though, when Achilles was mentioned. While the others were full of zest for action in causing trouble with the heroes, Quentin rather watched because he certainly wasn’t a fighter. His talents laid in the art of witty jokes and a sense for smart business. Slowly he exhaled the fumes and he started to feel trippy. It was time to get moving, shake some hands, dance like no ones watching (even though he'd look great) and get a new drink.
The music made it hard not to fall for a round on the dance floor. The DJ had talent, he had to admit. He headed over to the bar, when he bumped into another guy who was in his way. "Oi, watch your step, kid.", he pushed the buff guy (who clearly wasn't a kid) out of his way to get access to the bar like it was nothing. "Cuba Libre." He left an extra tip.
Almost making his way back towards his people again, he noticed someone. A tall guy with shoulder-long curls who sipped a drink drawing to an end. He piqued his interest as Quentin approached him in slow pace. Cheering his glass with Milo’s out of nowhere, he put on a slight grin. "Man, you’re so handsome, you made me forget my pickup line.", which was a lie; that was his pick up line. "First time here?" He couldn’t define if his most recent acquaintance was just lost or overwhelmed by the crowds. Being the gentleman he is, he made a motion towards the bar with his head. "Care for a drink with me?" What a timing that Milo was close to finish his first one. Quentin locked eyes with the taller young man; electrifying.
This was one of his least favorite places in all of Heartbeat City.
And that was a statement, considering its sprawling, twinkling landscape that never seemed to end. There were so many places to go, and even more to hide, but the Answer still consistently ranked close to the top of ones he hated most. If someone was specifically looking for trouble, or to get their hands dirty in something they shouldn’t, they’d head to the South Side. So many went to the Answer for a nice night out with friends, only to have it completely ruined by the rotating cast of creeps who blended in seamlessly into the dark.
Either that, or they’d leave in a panic because of some skirmish between supers in the bathroom. River knew it was always seedy—he was one to keep an eye out on uncovered, unattended drinks at the bar just in case—but he especially disliked the danger factor. A crowd this size meant that his own powers would be unpredictable: there was no way of knowing who did and didn’t have powers, and if he was absorbing any unexpected abilities from the casual shoulder bumps.
So all of that being said, why was he getting dressed and ready for a night out? River grimaced at his expression in the mirror, running his fingers through the drying gel in his hair.
Vigilante work was as thankless as it was difficult. He couldn’t rely on any intel from law enforcement to make weeding out criminals any easier, so he had to hang around at the source and hope he wasn’t recognizable. It was inherently high-risk, but what other options did he have? It was either blend into the crowd and sip on a stiff drink—piecing together conversations, finding out who knew who, seeing who had access to the private rooms—or lurking around the South Side.
It was an easy choice. At least his chance of getting shot at was lower with hundreds of witnesses. (But the Hellhounds were especially bold. Sometimes he had to be reminded time and again.)
He watched the exorbitant wealth of the city pass by through the window of his ride share. Even after seeing and experiencing what he had within the limits of Heartbeat City, River still saw the mystical appeal to tourists and outsiders: seeing the skyline lit up at night, with dull, vague music playing somewhere in the distance, the low but ever-present hum of electricity adding a nice hum, a kind of white noise to the air, had a certain energy about it. Cynical as he was, it still made him feel light, just a little bit more powerful, and almost hopeful.
Getting in wasn’t as difficult as he thought it’d be. Sometimes the bouncers weren’t too keen on letting in men nearly their same size, and sometimes they only admitted people based on how feminine they looked, but he was waved through without a word after flashing his driver’s license. That didn’t mean they forgot to charge him the ten dollar cover, though; River paid up silently, flashing the receptionist an exasperated look since she has just eagerly welcomed a throng of girlfriends in before him, free of charge.
Regardless of the small blow to his pride, he was in now. River sighed as he took the place in, noting where the groups were gathered, if there was anyone he immediately recognized, and where the emergency exits were: his usual mental checklist. When nothing in particular struck out to him, he started heading towards the bar on the first floor in hopes of finding out something.
Then he literally bumped into someone. He could barely help it—River quite literally didn’t even see her.
“Oh—I’m so sorry,” he immediately mumbled, instinctively placing a helpful, protective hand on this much shorter woman’s shoulder. The palm of his hand immediately started buzzing with the light contact: whoever this was also had powers. That much he could tell, but he’d need to get an excuse to touch her directly to get a better sense of what skill set he’d have to work with.
The height difference between him and this the girl was almost comical. He had to focus to scrutinize her features out of the darkness and flashing colored lights, but then River’s expression lightened when he realized he recognized her.
“Maggie!” A sense of relief flooded over him: he’d have a lot less apologizing to do since she wasn’t just any disgruntled stranger. “I, uh. Didn’t see you, sorry.”
He managed a pleasant but sheepish smile down at her. What could he say? They barely knew each other, and he’d only ever seen Maggie up to some casually shady business on the South Side—who knew what she thought of him? River could tell she wasn't anything close to a Hellhound, but did she know that? A reputation was a fickle thing.
To be perfectly honest Juliette couldn’t believe that she would have come so far, never would have thought that she of all people would be graduating from Audax Corde Academy, thus becoming a certified hero. Someone who people looked to for protection and to deliver justice. It had felt good to walk across the stage to receive her certification. The sound of applause and cheers had made her feel as if she could do anything she set her mind to. And despite the fact that her parents hadn’t been able to see her accomplishment Juliette was filled with a sense of joy that she hadn’t experienced for a long time. So when someone had suggested a night of celebrating at some club Juliette had agreed to go, even if she would rather be at home. Juliette knew that she needed to keep up appearances after all.
As a college student Juliette was familiar with the clubbing scene, however that didn’t mean that she enjoyed it. Usually she only agreed to go out in order to keep up her social butterfly persona or as a way of making connections or finding information. She actually preferred someone classier and quieter, where she didn’t have to shout in order to talk with someone or worry about being trapped within a sea of sweaty, dancing bodies. There was also the fact that this place was crawling with criminals. Juliette would be lying is she said that the fact didn’t send a thrill through her. She really enjoyed fighting criminals, perhaps a little too much. She could feel the wires moving beneath her skin, itching to cause a little damage.
Juliette watched as the waiter placed a round of beers on their table. While she appreciated the gesture she wasn’t really a beer person. Instead she took a sip of the Sparkling Punch that she had gotten for herself, enjoying how the alcohol wasn’t harsh on her tastebuds. She could barely taste it over strawberries and lemon flavors of the drink. Juliette took a sip of her sparkling punch while she watched the others.
“You’re right, I can only imagine how stressful being the top hero must be.” Juliette focused her gaze on Noah once he spoke up. She sat back in the booth, looking around as she spoke to her fellow hero. “I think everyone will benefit from a night to enjoy themselves, especially with everything that has been going on.” Juliette frowned for a moment, thinking about the missing people in the city. So far there were no leads as to where they could be or what could have happened to them. The only known fact was that they all possessed powers, which made her heartache all the more.
Juliette continued to sip her drink, pausing mid sip when she noticed someone approaching the table. The dim lights in the club made seeing a bit harder but she could make out her feature as she spoke to Noah. Juliette placed her glass back on the table once she addressed her, introducing herself as a friend of Noah’s. “It’s a pleasure. Please call me Mari. You weren’t intruding at all.” Juliette flashed a pretty smile. She didn’t recognize the young woman from anywhere so she assumed that she was a civilian or maybe even a vigilante. “I assume you came to celebrate with Noah?”
Noah sat up as he took another sip of his refreshing beer. His lips met the cool rim of the bottle which brought contrast of temperatures to his warm lips. The tingling soft sparkle of the aromatic beverage, left a slight trace of foam on his lips as he removed it by letting his tongue lick his lips. He listened to Juliette’s words and nodded in agreement while he was being quite reserved for an environment like this. Noah never talked much, no passages or long stories, but he made sure to let every word count, and meaning each one. He was far gone in his own world of thoughts; the beat muffled and moving people in slow motion. But suddenly an oh so familiar mellow voice ringed in his ears like a distant memory that finally came to his mind again. It brought him back to the party. He shifted in his seat while looking up. Hair that appeared as dark as the void in this light, decorating soft facial features with waves that didn’t break in the shore yet.
"Mercer", he smiled gently but seeing her was feeling like an out of body experience, as if he was watching from afar. "It’s been a while" He got up to welcome her in a hug; short, firm and addicting. Noah experienced a hard time getting rid of the bright smile settling down on his lips as he treasured this very moment of reunion with Katalina Mercer. Why was it that he missed her in this moment when she was right here?
"It really has. Congrats, by the way! I heard you graduated." "Yeah, I graduated from the academy a few weeks ago. It’s been busy, the first time out for us to celebrate that."
"This is a good place to do it", she agreed. Her voice could make flowers grow honestly. To Noah this unexpected situation made him feel like a part of a huge déjà vu. All these thoughts had crossed his mind already, three years ago, but they were left unsaid. It made him feel melancholic but excited.
When Kat introduced herself to the group, Noah too found his way back to present reality, internally facepalming on missing the opportunity to introduce her to the others himself. "I’m sorry, this unexpected reunion really absorbed me", he beamed towards Kat, still not believing they met in this environment. "Kat is a good friend. Before the training started, we were partners back in the HCPD", he explained and offered Kat his seat next to Juliette before he sat down himself. "Please join us for a bit“, he insisted as he was not letting go of Kat right after she found him in this place. "How’s your life as a private investigator?" Noah couldn't just let her go after this almost fateful meeting. He grabbed a bear from the tray and opened it with another one for Kat, like a professional. "Are you here with friends?", he asked while letting his eyes roam around the room. There was so much to catch up on, it would take hours and days to be updated on their lives again but he was excited for the words to escape her mouth and the memories that would resurface with them.
The circumstance of meeting Noah again finally sank in, and there were several emotions swelling within Kat once she realized it. She was comforted by the very presence of the man she called her friend, nostalgic for their shared memories, prideful for his achievement—all of it was bundled together and wrapped in a ribbon of delight. Amidst these emotions, there was a hint of wistfulness for the words that were left unsaid in the past, but she couldn't dwell on that right now. Missing Noah was like being homesick, and now that he was here, she was stepping foot into a familiar feeling all over again. She tried not to let it show on her face too much, but a deeper look into her eyes would tell a truthful, sentimental story.
“It’s a pleasure. Please call me Mari. You weren’t intruding at all.” Mari was unsurprisingly soft-spoken, eloquent, and her honeyed voice seem to fit her appearance. Had it not been for her response, Kat would've fallen further down the rabbit hole of memories. She could've sworn this woman's name actually started with the letter J when she heard it announced on the broadcasted graduation, but she recalled her hero alias was Marionettist. Clever.
“I assume you came to celebrate with Noah?” Mari asked. "Oh, no, this is all just very lucky," Kat explained. "I came here to dance and have fun. Noah and I haven't seen each other in...well, three years now." It was the truth, but saying it out loud almost made her doubt how much time had truly passed. Was it that long ago? She wondered whether or not she looked different in his eyes.
"I’m sorry, this unexpected reunion really absorbed me," Noah said this to his coworker, but flashed a smile in Kat's direction. His words carried like a velvety song she knew so well, but hadn't listened to in such a long time that it was refreshing to hear. "Kat is a good friend. Before the training started, we were partners back in the HCPD." Then he turned, moved out of his seat, and encouraged Kat to take it. "Please join us for a bit.“
The offer was very inviting. She briefly looked over her shoulder, towards the bar where Milo said he'd be. Surely it wouldn't be bad to catch up with an old friend. Besides, it was Noah—why would she decline?
Kat faced him and smiled. "I'll take you up on that."
Despite settling down in the booth, she could feel her heart still fluttering. After all that dancing she did, she might've looked a little disheveled as well. Rosy-cheeked and glossy, but not quite out of breath.
"How’s your life as a private investigator?" he asked. He took a bottle of beer from the tray and snapped off the cap with ease then passed it along to Kat.
She gave a nod of thanks and wrapped her hand around the cold glass. "All in all, it's been a better fit for me. The past few weeks have been long though, so I'm treating myself." She indulged in a sip of the fragrant beer. It had a clean, balanced taste and a fruity note that felt gentle on her tongue.
"Are you here with friends?" "Two of them, yeah," she answered. She pointed her thumb over her shoulder. "One's over by the bar. You should meet him when you have the chance—he's practically family."
While Noah's gaze wandered around the club, she stole a glance at him for a quick moment. His jet black hair fell a little over his brow and looked messily tamed. Was it a different style from before? His dark eyes were as attentive and honest as they'd always been, forever embodying the fire from a hearth that warmed her. He was dressed classy even at a nightclub, but in a modest way that'd be praise. Kat remembered the beauty mark just below Noah's eye and it tempted her to daydream. She looked away, seeming preoccupied in other thoughts.
"Oh, before I forget," she mentioned, "let you give you my number. I had to get a new phone since I last saw you." She pulled out her phone and opened her contact list to create a new one for Noah.
He nodded. "That's a good idea."
They exchanged numbers very briefly, then after they were done, Kat tucked her phone away and lifted her head. With a grin, she addressed both Noah and Mari, "So you've both climbed another big step. How does it all feel, being new heroes?" Kat had known for a long time that Noah was going to graduate from Audax Corde Academy. He had the passion, the mind, and the aptitude to do it. She admired that about him.