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One Step Ahead

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Father. It echoed through her mind like a four-letter word, a heavy mockery, an invasive, intrusive thought that beat against the edge of her consciousness. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the cruel, laughing sound that she couldn’t truly hear. Taking a deep breath, she carefully folded the newspaper in her hand, smoothing out the edges where clenched fingers had crumpled the offending epistle. Of their own free will, the tips of her fingers ran across the blurry photo under the main headline, outlining the black-and-white form in a manner that was almost longing. THE TERMINATOR SLAUGHTERS MAYOR DURING INAUGURAL SPEECH. The headline screeched up at her, making her flinch, withdrawing her hand. He had been here, in town.

Coincidence.

There was no other explanation. She had been so careful when she had disappeared this time, laying low. No contracts. Hellfire, she hadn’t even carried so much as a blade since she had turned away from the legacy of pain and death that Slade had left her. She deserved more than misery and blood. Eddie had taught her that much, and it might have taken some time, but she had finally embraced the lesson. After struggling through addiction and self-hatred all on her own. She was strong, stronger than any of their former team mates had ever given her credit for, and now she stood on her own two feet.

Naturally, that’s when the shadow of her paternity would reach out to cloud the edges of her existence. It never failed, she could struggle and fall, and he would be there, watching with disgust, she could fly and soar, and he would be around a corner, ready to drag her back down into the darkness where he chose to dwell.

Not this time.

For herself, for her abandoned friendships, for her two dead brothers… she would not give in. Brushing her hair forward to hide her eye patch, she paid the newsstand cashier and headed back to her little apartment, going through the mental checklist of what she needed to do now. Her bug-out bag was packed, cash was taped up in a baggie inside the toilet bowl, it would take her far. Forged ID documents beneath the floorboards under the window… She just had to call the bar she’d been working at and let them know she wouldn’t be in. It was a risk, but the owner had been real nice to her, and she hated to leave the guy in the lurch after that.

She dialed his number as she headed up the four flights of stairs to her walk up, relieved when the machine picked up. A brief message, no details, and that was all taken care of. Moving across the apartment with the silent efficiency that had been beaten into her, she gathered everything she needed, pausing to sweep the small flat one more time. It hadn’t been much, one bedroom, one bathroom, Spartan furnishings, but it had been hers. She had earned every one of those pillows in their muted blues and greens, not with her blades, but with a soft smile and the skills that normal people had. It had been nice, that veneer of normalcy, but deep inside she knew it had been borrowed time. He always ruined everything, even if he didn’t know she was here.

Crossing to the small bedroom she threw open the closet, grabbing the small laptop that was set up in there and removing the rocket stick, crushing it under the heel of her boot and then kicking the twisted plastic shreds beneath the bed. With a small sigh of dismissal, she pulled the maps, photographs and newspaper articles off the wall, spreading dabs of white toothpaste over the pinholes to hide them as she rolled the papers up and tucked them into her bugout bag with the computer. The last photo, the only picture of Lillian Worth she had left, she folded up along well-worn white lines and tucked into her top, right over her heart, where Mom belonged. She was getting so close, if she only had a few more days…

Couldn’t risk it.

Ensuring that the place looked undisturbed, she paused to grab a torn and stained black hoodie off the coatrack, holding it to her face and inhaling the memories it contained. The smell of sulphur had long since faded, but the comfort was still there. Pulling the sweater over her head, she shouldered her bag and headed back out the door, tossing the key into the scraggly attempt at a garden out front. She wouldn’t need it anymore.

Four blocks later, a motorcycle engine revved, and even her best efforts didn’t prevent a strand of pure white hair from escaping the hood she had pulled tight over her face, waving behind her as she powered down the street and towards the horizon. Rose didn’t know where she was headed this time, but that lack of plan was its own layer of protection. She was erratic, unpredictable, and hopefully, impossible to locate.