Chapter 1: you're built to balance on two feet
A parting shoulder-punch, and Enid is free to coolly saunter off into the woods.
Well, “woods.” It's not much more than a grove. Anyway, it can't hurt to get a little casual training in... yeah, Rad can go on and walk, like the dork he pretends he isn't.
Enid's taking the high road.
She hops up a few low branches, crouches, launches off the trunk of a tall spruce. Feels it snap back against the force of her jump. Lands briefly and kicks off against a rock, tree, fir tree-
(She's an old hand at this by now. A few years ago, she probably would have stepped wrong and needed a substitution to keep from falling to the ground.)
(It's not like she doesn't know how to fall safely, how to correct a jump gone wrong... but it's just not cool, yeah?)
-another rock, does a double flip, and swings herself up with a handy pine branch that was just perfectly sticking out at an exact right angle-
(Tree-running is cool, but what's even more cool is-)
-and her shoes scrape against the dead wood of a telephone pole. A wave of concussive force plucks at the power lines like a pick on a guitar string, and she's the pick and the hand and the song all at once.
She's out of the woods now, into the city, the many-layered greens and browns of the good old outdoors giving way to every color in the chemical rainbow. The buildings rise up suddenly, like concrete and iron and glass could just grow up out fo the ground and cover it all. She's heard people say how hard the sky is to see in a city, and it's not that she doesn't get what they mean-
(Too-small spaces, high windows and thin walls, and the reeking coal-smoke and engine-rattles falling downwind of Boxmore.)
-but, literally? The sky is everywhere, if you just... look up.
It's right there, up to the roof and past the roofs, out beyond the telephone wires. A few clouds look close enough to just reach out and grab them, just slam her feet down and launch herself from the clouds so she can fly even higher.
And maybe someday-
(When she's a level 11 hero, or even higher. Maybe she could fly, if she's good enough, and how cool would that be?)
-she'll be able to touch the sky for real.
Someday, Enid is going to be really and truly great, so great that Elodie will be eating her dust-
(So great that she'll stop feeling like that dorky weird kid, waving sticks around in the air and pretending to make fireballs with her mind, because she wasn't brave enough to stand up for herself for real.)
She touches down on a corner rooftop. The roof is flat, moderately high, and dingy like most store-rooftops are. Like a lot of apartment buildings, too.
She lets her momentum carry her into a forward roll, comes up on one knee right up against the edge, and hops up onto the low concrete sill. Enid's never been afraid of heights before, and she's not starting now.
The city is lighting up under her feet, streetlights flickering on in all directions. Pretty soon it'll be dark, the way cities are dark, the way the collective light of miles and miles of built-up stuff builds up and out and crowds the stars away. Luckily it doesn't work on the moon, so she can still find the cardinal directions in a pinch.
Hey, ninjas gotta know how to navigate by the stars.
The western sky is still bright like old neon signage, this weird shade of red-orange that shades yellow where it hits the city's light pollution. There's a flower in her hair – it almost matches the sky-
-and it's weird and it's sappy, and she doesn't feel that way about him any more. She's not sure she ever did. Thinks that, probably, middle-school-her was more flattered by the attention than anything else.
Okay, so his helpfulness and kindness (and something else, something she hadn't realized then was actual respect) until the overcompensating-teenage-butthead attitude set in was probably the biggest part of that.
Still. She hadn't been in love. She'd liked him, for a minute-
(She was honestly, really, for-true hurt when he'd turned out to be a giant jerk on their date.)
-and she'd sworn off dating for good after that. Stuck to hanging out and training with Elodie until she'd turned out to be a total selfish jerk, too. For a while-
(Still, honestly. When she feels like being honest. That's... maybe a little more, now.)
-she'd really felt like all she did was give undeserving jerks way too many second chances, again and again.
(And every time, it hurt.)
(A deep bone-bruise ache when Elodie stabbed her in the back, left her. Still feeling it when she was gone, like cracked teeth, and it burned all over again when precious perfect Elodie came back just to rub her fame and success in Enid's loser face. Like she was just the same dumb, loser, unpopular dorky kid who had one friend, and that one friend was obviously too good for her. ...ugh, forget her.)
(Stinging like a hive of maddened bees when Rad had treated her like dirt on their one, actual first date. And it kept right on hurting until she honestly, finally, gave up on him ever being anything but a jock-y muscleheaded idiot who treated every girl like – like that, like walking verbal-punching-bags – like he had the right. Rad was just a meatbrained jerk who didn't know jack-all about anything. He wasn't worth her time.)
Enid looks around for just another second. She skims past store-signs and billboards and the strict grid-pattern of streets, back down down down to all the dumb selfish awful people that made the city more than just a bunch of buildings stuck together.
Her line of sight catches onto the next foothold on her way. Enid feels her face trying to make her smile. She lets it happen, for a change-
(And in the end, he hadn't – no, he really didn't want her to fall, did he?)
(Still. She's not waiting for him again.)
-letting the force of her stride carry her forward.
(...he can stay if he wants.)
In the middle of a jump, she could be flying.
Chapter 2: you duck some, you take some square
Rad strides casually into his room and shuts the door with a thought.
Then he locks it, and checks the lock, and then double-checks the lock. And then he shoves a chair under the doorknob, just to make sure.
He breathes out, something halfway between sighing from relief and an oh-wow-no-one-saw-me-now-I-can-relax wheeze.
Not! That he would ever wheeze. Because only tired people do that, and the great and awesome Rad doesn't get tired. Pssh, he barely even broke a sweat today. Barely, and only 'cause he was fighting Enid. She's pretty tough – not tougher than he is! But tough.
(He could barely see her against the sinking sun, right at the height of her arc-)
He braces his weight against the door a little, and the snazzy tight waistcoat strains across his shoulders. Whoof, formalwear is weird. Yeah, all right.
(-there's a moment of shock, not really pain.)
(The flower is there. The stem is tucked neatly through the buttonhole, blue petals standing out from the shiny-softness of the burgundy waistcoat like a mocking ha-ha-I-beat-you sign. He can feel its tiny weight on his chest like a – it's like a million boxes, all folded up extra-dense into one spot.)
He peels off the vest-thing.
(Is it a rose? He's never seen one this color blue, but there's a lot of different kinds and he doesn't know them all.)
And the word is definitely peels, since it barely fit in the first place. It and the shirt were all clingy 'cause of that, and that's great! There's no way he's gonna pass up a chance to show off how he's totally ripped.
(And then she was yelling at him, same as usual, business as usual. The status quo.)
Except now it's kind of annoying. The fabric's gone stiff and even-more-clingy with dried-in sweat and dirt. Ew, great, he's going to have to get all this clean.
(Fine, whatever. He doesn't need Enid to like him or anything, just as long as they could still keep working together.)
Later, he tells himself, he'll throw it in the washer or whatever the tags say to do. A little dirt can keep 'til tomorrow.
For tonight, he's just – he's not tired. What kind of baby gets tired at barely-past-sunset, anyhow?
(-not that kind of together.)
And now it's just a sigh, the kind that comes with a whole list of unworded complaints about, just, that whole entire mess. Losing to Enid was embarrassing, sure. But it isn't new.
When he doesn't win, then Enid wins. And Enid is just one of those people who wins at a lot of things.
(Or like, when it ends in a draw because Mr. Gar is yelling at them to stop slacking again, but they're just getting into it-)
He doesn't really want to mess with the flower now. He's not scared of it, or anything! What kind of baby would get scared of a little flower?
It's just that his fancy formal-date-clothes are borrowed, and he doesn't want them to get messed up. It's rude to give stuff back all ripped up.
(-and what even was that?)
Rude like he was. Is. Was – he's not (that amazingly hugely) a jerk now!
Ugh, double whatever.
He unhooks the flower out of the little useless pocket, and hangs the jacket-thing up in his closet. The shirt and pants aren't as fancy, he can throw them wherever. Just 'til tomorrow.
(He's not scared, he's not scared, he just – he got shocked, that's all. He couldn't believe that she was falling, and his hand just moved before he even finished thinking it-)
The flower kind of droops in his hand, looking harmless. The petals already look crumpled around the edges.
(-he catches her – of course he catches her! Enid's jumps are cool, but she can't fly.)
Rad walks over to his bookshelf, and takes down a big old reference dictionary. He doesn't even use it for studying now, it's just taking up space and collecting dust up there.
(It's fine, though. So what if she can't fly yet?)
He opens it up to somewhere-in-the-middle, lays the flower down on an open page, and slams the book shut before he can psych himself out of it. He doesn't want to (dare to) keep the flower where anyone can see it, but he can't just throw it out.
This is a pretty good compromise, he figures. Now he'll know where it is, and no one else will ever find out.
(He can help.)
Yeah, no one.
Chapter 3: you learn to live
Time doesn't stop for dramatic airings of old hurts, so they still have to work the day after the annual mid-February sale.
Enid settles in at the cash register, props her feet on the counter, and lets her eyes slide shut from sheer worn-in boredom.
Rad screeches into the store about ten seconds before he would have been late. “I'M HERE-”
Enid cuts him off. “Shut up, no one cares.”
“I care!” K.O. singsongs. “I care that you're here, Rad!”
Enid looks at him. “And me?”
“Oh!” K.O. looks concerned. “You were here a little while ago, right? I remember I said hi, and you said hey, and then we were talking, and now Rad's here! And now we can all get to work!”
Rad groans, rolling his eyes theatrically. “Aw, man. Work.”
Enid raises an eyebrow. “Well? Hop to it, stock boy.”
“You're just jealous that Mr. Gar never asks you to do inventory!”
“...sure, jealous. Of you stacking boxes all day. Yep.”
“H-hey! What's that supposed to mean?”
“Whatever you think it means.” She pauses. “Not like you think.”
Rad pulls a gross face, sticking his tongue out and pulling an eyelid down.
Enid laughs. “Go pack up yesterday's decorations.”
“Why can't you pack them up-”
“I have to stay here and watch the cash register.”
“We don't even have any customers right now!”
K.O. smiles at everyone. “It's so nice that you guys are such good friends now.”
“And, and you're a – aw, whatever. I bet I'll do a way better job of picking up all this junk than you ever could.”
“...hey, KO, buddy? How about I show you the best way to pick up trash with style.”
“Yeah!” KO cheers.
Rad keeps going. “And then you can have your turn at clearing up the bodega-”
“And then you'll grade me on how well I do it, right?”
“...uhhhhh. Hey Enid, want to referee?”
She shrugs. “Meh.”
Rad puffs up his chest. “All right, let's do this.”
“Oh, this should be good.”