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Victory Over The Sun

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All that George Sears seemed to want was for his son to find some kind of passion in life; anything at all.

Growing up he always tried to, well, not pressure Jack but just to encourage him. He always tried to encourage him to try out extracurricular clubs. Every time, he insisted that maybe Jack would have a good time and make a connection. Every time, he didn’t. It was always the same. Jack wasn’t particularly good at anything and didn’t really want for anything.

He couldn’t help being so clueless – when he had adopted the boy he’d never had to look after children before. It just so happened he was the only friend of his parents. Similarly to their son, Jack’s biological parents had been major loners. Real quiet types is what they were, and seemingly just as boring.

They died in the least spectacular ways as well. His mother died of a brain aneurism. His father had a heart attack caused mostly by the pain of her loss.

They lived and died dragging their mediocrity behind them like a trash bag full of cinder blocks. They were some of George’s closest friends, but he just never truly understood them. Maybe there was some kind of genetic disposition that made Jack a similarly tough nut to crack. Maybe he’d never really ‘get him’ or truly know what he was thinking.

He did his best. It was better than not having a father at all, he told himself. Jack needed him.

-

Jack wasn’t particularly good at anything.

He didn’t have particularly great charisma, a place on a sports team, internet fame or even an edgy subculture. He was a spectacular nobody. Sometimes he impressed himself with his own lack of passion for anything. School was fine. He read comics but that was about it. He didn’t even play videogames competitively like the ‘cool’ nerds did. He wasn’t even the best out of his friends at any game.

He was another loser with unkempt hair and few friends. The friends he did have were somehow even more tragic than he was.

There was Emma for starters. She was pretty quiet when she was alone but with the others she was able to let her hair down. Hanging out with a chick who was infamously a weeaboo didn’t do their reputations any favours but it wasn’t as if anything they did would. She insisted on wearing chopsticks in her hair and preferred to read Japanese comics. Jack never really got into those himself – he could never get used to reading from right to left. She wore these hoodies that were several sizes too big with garish dorky prints and was rarely caught wearing any bottoms other than leggings. She wore glasses even though she didn’t need them. At least she had her wits about her, though. It was pretty easy for her to influence the others – all it took was a little teasing and she could get under anyone’s ego.

He couldn’t say the same about Sam. Sam was a good-looking guy but was more or less hopeless. His grades were just embarrassing and he wasn’t particularly athletic. He couldn’t socialise to save his life, either. It was a shame, too. If he was much less awkward he could probably be popular. Jack was 100% sure he’d grow up to be the most attractive out of all of them. One day he’d have a huge glow-up and be massively successful or something. Right now, though, he was still in that weird phase of life where he didn’t have his shit together. The guy was dumb as a post. He insisted on wearing plaid shirts which weren’t really in style anymore and listened to the most obscure music; he only really became friends with the other two thanks to comics. Turned out he was a huge Hellblazer fan and so was Jack.

They were waiting for him in the school hallway. Emma had her backpack at her feet, stuffed with any number of things that the others didn’t dare try to figure out. It was a wonder she found room in the thing for any of her books. Sam was rummaging through his locker looking for a book. Emma leaned over, pulled a textbook out and waved it in his face. Core level mathematics. He squinted at her, unsure of how she found it so quickly. Sam took math at core level since he was too dumb for a course any higher than core level. He took core science as well, and core english.

“You two got any news?”

Sam shoved his locker shut. “When do I ever have news?”

Emma frowned. “Oh, we already know you’re boring Sam.”

“I’ll fuckin… take your chopstick out and hide it again.”

She glared, but quickly turned to speak to Jack. The threat wasn’t hollow.

“Well, I moved up a rank in the street fighter leaderboards.”

“Oh yeah? Where are you at now?”

“Silver League.”

Sam scoffed.

“What, you think you could do better? You haven’t ranked up in weeks.”

They made their way to class, squabbling as they usually did.

“Yeah, only because I’ve been so busy.”

“Busy doing what, jacking off and picking lame characters?”

“Ken is not lame!” Sam groaned like a child defending his favourite starter Pokemon.

Emma smirked, hands on her tiny hips. “He is when you spam DP all the time.”

“I don’t- Jack, I don’t spam DP all the time right?”

Jack had only been half listening. “What’s a DP?”

They simultaneously threw their arms up and groaned.

Emma crossed her arms over her huge pastel green hoodie. It had a big magenta print of Kirby on it. “You know how he’s always using Shoryuken at like, every opportunity?”

“Oh. Shoryuken is DP?”

“Yeah and other attacks like it. Psycho upper, too.”

He nodded slowly, only partially understanding. These guys were way more into games than him and there was no point in trying to fully get what they were saying.

“Anyway, if you block Shoryuken it leaves a big opening so that means I can get SO many grabs in. If you use it all the time, you’re asking to lose. You play like a chump then you’re a free win.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” He mumbled, trying to sound like he knew what any of that meant. One time at Emma’s place he’d played a little Street Fighter with her and he just hadn’t understood the appeal. They stopped at Jack’s locker. “Can we change the subject to something less dorky, though?”

Sam laughed. “Like what? Everything we like is dorky.”

“True.”

He was trying to find a particular exercise book, running his fingertips over the spines of the ones he had.

“Hey, gorgeous.”

He looked up. It was Rose. Her locker was close to his, after all. Rose was talking to him. She was talking to him.

Rose was a pretty girl, so Jack barely knew her. She was the kind of girl who could tell him to lick the dirty fucking floor and he’d do it, without hesitation. Her hair was straightened so it fell over her shoulders so perfectly. Her face was porcelain smooth, and her smile made her cheeks twitch in the most adorable way-

“Yeah?”

Rose’s eyes widened, then she smiled at him politely. “Not you, Jack.”

He turned. Helena was behind him. Oh God. Rose wasn’t talking to him. Helena looked at him like he was a total alien, tucking a lock of wild blonde hair behind her ear.

“Oh. You meant Helena. Of course.”

They were laughing. Oh Jesus fucking Christ.

He quickly retrieved his exercise book and fled, flanked by Emma and Sam who were desperately trying to contain their laughter.

“Wow, Jack you fucked up.”

Emma poked him in the side and Sam started giggling maniacally like a little girl on laughing gas. What-fucking-ever.

Classes came and went. He couldn’t focus at all, totally distracted by how biblically he’d embarrassed himself that morning. Rose probably thought he was totally waste now.

Jack did his best to look like he was reading, but none of it was going in anyway. He did his best to make himself small, and wait for time to pass. He could always go back and re-read the notes once his brain wasn’t pounding with anxiety.

-

Outer Heaven Comix was their usual haunt – just a local comic book store and diner that acted as a sort of home turf for the otherwise reclusive trio. It was the one place that they could feel like they all fit in to some degree.

When they arrived, Emma made a bee-line for the new releases and Sam followed her like a shadow. None of Jack’s favourites had new releases lately, and he knew the two of them were after the new Attack On Titan volumes. He’d stopped reading about half a year prior and just never picked it up again. Instead, he lingered around the compilation Marvel books, looking to add to his collection of Spiderman comics. It turned out they hadn’t had any noteworthy ones in this week, though. He flipped through the other comics they had to see if any of his other favourites was in stock.

No dice. He ended up settling for a couple of blind bags instead. It never hurt to save money anyway. The others were already at the counter practically itching to get their new volumes. Emma and Sam were very fixated on this particular manga. He decided to line up for some hot tea, since the others would want theirs. It was usually the same order – Emma liked her tea with no sugar but with two thingies of milk, while Sam liked to put four packets of sugar in his. One of the group would go and order for them and the others would pay them back.

He arrived at their usual table and Emma clapped her hands ecstatically, reaching for her tea and ripping open the little milk tubs with her teeth. Sam started to pour in his sugar. He liked to put a lot of sugar in, because apparently he hated the taste of tea. Jack always asked why he even bought tea if he hated the taste. Why not just get hot chocolate or coffee? He always said Jack just didn’t get it. Jack was pretty sure he was so stupid he just hadn’t thought of ordering anything else, and now he was sticking to his guns so he wouldn’t look so stupid. The thing is, Sam was so stupid he didn’t realise that everyone already took him for an idiot. He really was that kind of hopeless, but he was pretty enough that nobody gave him a hard time for it - at least, nobody with a heart and two working eyes. Jack slipped in next to him and put one sugar in his tea. He put in just one sugar and one pot of milk, because he wasn’t really keen on experimenting. His dad made it this way and he always had it the way his dad made it.

The door opened and Emma seemed surprised by who came inside, peeping up through her black-rimmed glasses. The others turned around to catch a look over their shoulders.

Two incredibly hard looking people flanked Eli D’amico, as usual. This kid was a regular basket-case and it seriously seemed like nobody knew much about him. His family were supposedly wealthy and they hired guards to protect him, but the double edge to this sword was that they kept other students away. Hell, they kept any other kids away from him regardless. It made him super mysterious, and super lonesome.

“It’s Eli. That kid is so mysterious.” Sam was sipping gingerly at his tea, unsure if it was still too hot to drink.

Warming his hands by wrapping them around the paper cup, Jack blurted out, “I feel bad for him.”

Emma giggled. “Yeah, poor guy. He’s got a rich dad and can buy anything he wants.”

Jack stuck out his tongue at her. “You know what I mean really, Emma. He’s probably super lonely since nobody ever talks to him at school.”

Sam swallowed his overly-sweetened drink and squinted in Jack’s direction. “Yeah, maybe because he brings two fucking colossi with him everywhere. If he was our friend maybe nobody would fuck with us.”

“We should talk to him.” Jack mumbled into his cup. “Be his friends.”

Sam scoffed. “No Jack, you should go talk to him.”

“What? Why, though?”

“You’re the one who feels like he needs a friend, right? Or are you scared?”

This earned a slight frown from Jack as he took a long swig of his tea. “That’s not fair.”

Emma leaned over the table to taunt him. “Oh, you are scared!”

“I hate you guys.”

“Go get ‘im tiger! Confidence is everything.”

“Fuck you, Emma.”

She winked. He rose to his feet reluctantly; it felt like the floor would start caving in under him. Hell, he kind of hoped it did so he had an excuse to bail.

Eli was flipping through a Ghost Rider comic, his eyes studious as he debated his purchase. He wore his short-sleeved plaid shirt open, as usual. Underneath he had a snug black turtleneck on, the fabric thin and pulled tight against his slender body. In the summer he wore just vests and cropped t-shirts under but the weather was getting cold lately. His blond hair had untidy waves and grew past his ears. Somehow he always managed to look wild and strange, but that was common with those… gothic types. Jack wondered if he’d make a fine friend to Sam. They probably had the same music tastes – musicians with names you either couldn’t understand or were embarrassed to say in public. He still couldn’t figure out how “BBno$” was meant to be pronounced.

The man on one side of him was heavy-built, with some kind of black tattoos on his face. He wondered if the guy had tattoos all over, just like them. There was some kind of bird shape to the ink in some places. The other one was a sharp-edged looking woman with long blonde hair and severity in her eyes. She was also dressed in a black suit, her shirt open halfway so her bountiful chest was partially exposed. Jack tried not to stare at the exposed skin, but it took a lot of effort. The two of them made an intimidating combination.

“H-hey.”

Eli turned to look at him, recognised him and Jack could have sworn he smiled for the briefest fragment of a second. The beginning of a sentence started to twitch at the corners of his mouth until the tall, tough-looking woman stepped in front of him and Jack felt like shitting himself and crying at the same time. He looked up at her like a wild animal in the headlights of a speeding pick-up truck. She stared him down for a solid few seconds, daring him to speak another word. He wouldn’t dare. Maybe if he were like Colossus, but specifically in the genital region. If his dick and balls were made from a literal metal compound, maybe he’d dare defy her. However, he was just a normal human boy. He wasn’t a superhero, and especially not in the genitals. This woman terrified him.

Jack dragged himself back to where the others were and gestured towards the door frantically. Emma and Sam scooped up their drinks and bags and followed him out, equally wide-eyed. They diverted their eyes towards the door and didn’t dare look anywhere else.

-

“Holy shit dude.”

“You were terrified man!”

“Can you even blame me? She looked ready to kick me across the room!”

“Yeah, but you essentially shat yourself.”

“Last time I checked you weren’t winning any participation prizes yourself, Emma.”

They laughed at him. It wasn’t that big of a deal though. They all knew that they wouldn’t have reacted any differently in his situation. The difference is, neither of them had the decency to not stare at that scary woman’s cleavage. If he had to put money on it he’d bet they had stared as soon as they had seen her. Those two were a couple of perverts.

When two familiar faces rounded the corner, the three of them went quiet. This really wasn’t the time for it. Jack had already figuratively pissed himself once today, and it seemed like fate was determined to make this day particularly riddled with anxiety and suffering.

Marina was actually a good-looking girl. It was a shame she was also a grade-A bitch. She rounded the corner like the whole world was beneath her, with Clay closely in tow. She wore designer sneakers despite not having a job to pay for them. Her manicure looked expensive, so she had Clay make fists on her behalf. The guy followed her like a pet.

These were the types Jack didn’t like to fuck with. They didn’t respect anybody. They’d already dropped out of highschool a couple of years ago and had only become more of a nuisance ever since. Marina talked big, and Clay hit hard to back her up. He was a country boy, built big with muscle and delighting in his ability to use it.

Marina flipped her hair so that it flew about for a moment and then fell back over one side of her face. Emma squirmed under her intense stare.

“Alright, freaks. Hand it over.” She gestured towards the plastic bag Emma was carrying.

Emma pouted and tangled her fingers protectively in the bag’s handles. “It’s just comics.”

She gestured more insistently and Emma reluctantly handed it over to Clay, the usual grin plastered on his face. The beanie hat he wore over his extremely short hair framed it almost cartoonishly.

“And I want your phone.”

The sad look on Emma’s face only soured further. “I don’t have it with me. Forgot it at home.” She patted her own bag down to make a point, showing that there was nothing in there of value.

Marina tutted at her and turned to Sam. He hesitantly handed over his phone.

“This is shit. What, is this from like four years ago?”

Sam mumbled. “Someone already jacked my phone just two weeks ago. It’s a spare until my new one arrives.”

“Still worth something I guess. You guys are pathetic, though.” Marina grunted, rolling the old phone over in her hands and grimacing at the hairline crack she found in one corner of the touch screen.

Jack shook his head and handed over some money just to get her off his back and she smiled.

“See, now this is the kind of thing I like. A waste who knows his fuckin’ place.” She passed the money to Clay, who tucked it into the bag as well as Sam’s spare phone.

He’d wanted to keep it for next week, but there was no reasoning with these two. They could and would beat the shit out of him if he looked at them the wrong way. Just to be safe he handed them $40, which was the rest of the money he had with him.

Before they left, Marina looked them all over as if she could scan more wealth out of them. Then she followed Clay the way they had arrived, seemingly satisfied. The sway in her hips would almost be attractive if she wasn’t walking away with most of his weekly spending money. It was only fucking Tuesday, too.

-

“Wait, dude, say that again?”

Jack paused, searching his inventory for the item Emma had asked for. “Think about it. You’d think out of all the people who love superheroes, at least one would try it.”

Sam chuckled. “Yeah, but they’d be dead in, like, two days.”

“Thanks for the potion, Jack.”

“No problem, Emma.”

Dungeon crawling was how they spent their Thursday nights whenever they were all available, and tonight was no different. Jack was the team’s healer, so he found himself constantly having to supply potions and restorative spells for Emma. Being the team’s tank meant she sustained the most damage. Sam gave her grief for using so many potions, but what did he know? He was an archer. Archers didn’t know what it was like to be the one charging headfirst into battle.

“I know they’d be dead, but surely somebody crazy enough would at least try it anyway.” He mused. “I mean hundreds of people wanna be like Jennifer Lawrence but not one of them wants to be Spider-Man?”

Emma scoffed, cleaving through a hoarde of cave rats. “Yeah, because Spider-Man doesn’t have public nudes.”

Sam cackled. “Oh, you haven’t seen them? Check rule 34 some time.”

“You’re such a sicko, man. Have I ever told you you’re a sicko?”

“Oh, come on. We all know about those doujinshi you have on your hard-drive, Em-”

Jack groaned. “Guys, we’ve got goblins.”

“Oh, fuck.” Sam quickly fired some iron bolts to support Emma, who had already lost half of her health.

Jack quickly activated his targeted healing to help her with that. The new staff he’d picked up at the previous dungeon was working beautifully.

“But seriously guys, isn’t it weird? I can so see it on the news. Just imagine the headlines if some idiot tried it on and got himself whacked.”

“Hah. Yeah. I totally get that. That would be a riot.” Emma took a sip of her Diet Coke loud enough the others could hear her over voice chat and killed off the last goblin before leading the party into the next room. “Sad though.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Jack mumbled. “It’d be pretty sad.”

Sam interrupted. “Emma you drink so loudly. You’re an actual slob.”

“Whatever, Spider-fucker. You eat like a fucking washing machine full of rice krispies.”

-

Marina and Clay had taken his money from him far too many times – hell, they’d made life hell for dozens of kids in the area. People like them couldn’t be allowed to do that. There was only so much the police could do. There was only so much he could take.

It all kind of happened on its own – before he knew it he had ordered a suit and before he knew it the thing had already arrived. The old sports equipment at the back of his closet was easy to fashion into simple melee weapons – the grip tape still worked nicely despite being old and a little worn. He’d spent hours coming up with names and crossing them out. He made himself a pair of batons and a longer staff-like weapon.

More than anything, he was just giving himself a creative outlet. It was just a little project, no different to the LARPing he and Sam used to do in middle school. The main difference was that this time he wouldn’t be mocked for it, and he wouldn’t get his ass kicked while dressed like a fucking wood elf. Sure, he might get his ass kicked if he got cocky, but that was beside the point.

He’d set little challenges for himself – he trained himself to sprint a little faster by practicing, did sets of pushups and situps every other day and put in some long-jump practice when he found a good outdoor space for it. He wasn’t trying to make himself into a machine or anything, he just didn’t want to be total milquetoast. It made fantasising feel a bit less escapist and a bit more hopeful.

When his dad knocked on his door he called for him to come in, and the man seemed surprised to see his son doing sit-ups in his room.

“Hey, dad.”

“Jack, you working out?”

He stopped, propping his elbows on his knees. “Yeah, I mean… I just wanna shape up a bit that’s all.”

Dad smiled. “Probably a good idea. Wouldn’t want any rough kids thinking you’re an easy target.”

“Of course.” He got up and grabbed a towel off his bed to wipe himself down.

“I’m proud of you, kid. Food’s gonna be ready in twenty.”

Jack nodded. “Thanks, dad.”

His dad didn’t close the door when he left. Jack stood there for a moment wondering if he’d turn around and close it but he didn’t. He sighed and crossed the room to close it himself.

At first it had felt good just to fantasise, but he was feeling himself getting restless. LARPing was great when the villains were also just roleplayers. In real life, they really weren’t. It would never be enough to fantasise.

-

“I swear to fucking God I’m telling the truth.”

The warehouse echoed their voices, lit by clinically white hanging lights. The place was lined with steel racks, which were stacked with thick pieces of lumber. John looked down at his enforcer, Octopus. He was trembling, his pinkie finger firmly caught between the blades of Mantis’ shears. Octopus’ pale skin was shining with sweat under the heat of John’s stare.

“This fucking guy came out of nowhere, beat us up and took the coke.”

He grumbled in response, a hint of uncertainty in his voice. “The guy you’re saying looked like Batman?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Buffalo pitched in, her ponytail drawn back tight and her muscular upper body visible through her fitted shirt. It was open at the neck and she wore a gold necklace that peeked out in a glint. “You did, Octopus. You said the guy looked like Batman.”

Mantis hummed, distorted by the filter of his signature gas mask. “Yes, he said there was a mask and a cape? That’s like Batman.”

“I did not say ‘like Batman’ okay, I never said fucking Batman.”

“Okay.” John grunted. “That’s a problem, though, Octopus. Our mole with the Russians said you sold him my coke, and kept the money.”

“That’s a lie, Boss! I swear!” His brow was contorting into a frown. “Would you really believe all that from one of the Russians? You seriously believe Raikov over me?” He said Raikov’s name like he was allergic to it.

He gestured with one hand, his cigar hanging between his fingers. His tongue darted out to lick his lips before he laid out his question.

“Okay, tell me what’s more likely. Is it more likely that you’re a thieving traitor or that Superman stole my fucking coke?”

Buffalo piped up. “Batman. It was Batman, right?”

“N-No, no. I didn’t say-”

“Alright, I’ve heard enough.”

There were a few seconds of ice cold silence while they all looked down at Octopus, then up at their boss. John began to speak again, his one working eye narrowing in anger.

“My son’s waiting outside for me to take him out, and I won’t keep him waiting.” Turning around, he nodded to Buffalo. “You’re in charge.”

She nodded back, cracking a little smile. The Boss was already at the door dragging it open by the time she muttered, “Sorry Octopus. That’s probably the single dumbest fake story I’ve heard.”

Then she shot a commanding look at Mantis, who didn’t hesitate. He proceeded to slice off his smallest finger on Octopus’ left hand. The poor man howled in pain, and Buffalo flashed a full grin. His feet scrabbled for purchase on the linoleum as his body spasmed and his teeth dug into his lower lip in an attempt to silence himself. His attempt did nothing to muffle the sound of his wailing.

-

Eli could hear a scream from all the way outside, in the passenger seat of his dad’s new car. He didn’t usually ask any questions about this stuff. It was just every day work for his father, because there were always people that needed to be taken down a peg in his line of work. He rubbed an itch out of the side of his nose on the sleeve of his turtleneck.

Dad got into the car, sinking into the passenger seat next to Eli. The seat squashed audibly under his large, heavy body.

“Father! I don’t want to be late for the film.” Eli was a little bit agitated, but he was almost always at least somewhat annoyed with his dad.

He smiled warmly at his son, putting out his cigar on the ashtray. He’d just finish it later.

“Don’t worry Eli. We might miss the trailers but we’ll make it.”

Octopus was still screaming faintly in the distance. God, would he just shut up already?

Eli mumbled. “I want popcorn, though.”

“That’s fine. Raven, could you get Eli some popcorn when we get there?”

Vulcan Raven nodded from the driver’s seat, his brow drawn tight over his deep-set eyes.

“What drink do you want? Is 7up good?”

He nodded, eyes wandering at the view through the window.

“Yeah, and a 7up. I’ll have a Mountain Dew.”

The screaming was still going. Raven nodded again.

“Not the green Mountain Dew, though, I want the Code Red flavour.”

Then there was a single gunshot. The screaming stopped.

“Twizzlers, too.”

There was one last nod as Vulcan Raven pulled the car out of its parking spot and began the short journey to the movie theatre.

-

“G-Grandpa, I’m sssscared.” Sunny stammered. The extra weight in her coat was heavy against her chest. Her hair was tucked tightly under a thick beanie.

It was a mild afternoon, and Huey Emmerich had a fully loaded pistol pointed at his 12-year-old grand-daughter.

“Don’t be scared Sunny sweetie.” Her grandpa checked the magazine of his pistol to make sure it was correctly loaded. He almost never loaded it wrong but it was worth checking, to be safe.

“Is it gonna, um, like hurt?” Her lip quivered, her hands clenched into tight fists.

“Oh, you know you’ll be okay. A bullet of this calibur travels at what speed?” He was fiddling with the gun, passing it between his hands as he waited for her answer.

The rail yard was totally empty except for the two of them. There hadn’t been a single train on this particular slice of rail in about five years apparently. Most of the track had been dismantled and the few pieces left over had long-since rusted and decayed.

Sunny swallowed hard. “Over 700 miles an hour.”

“Exactly. It should take you off your feet, but at this distance it won’t hurt any more than a punch.”

“I hate b-b-being punched!”

“Are you ready?”

He didn’t wait for her answer, putting a bullet in her tiny body and sending her flying onto her back.

It took a moment for her to gather herself and prop her body back up, and she opened her coat to observe the bullet embedded in the Kevlar vest underneath.

“Was it alright? Not bad?” He said, coming to her side to help her up.

She yanked the bullet out between her fingers and studied it closely, running her fingertip over the crumpled surface.

“I guess. I wasn’t that sc-scared.”

“That’s my girl!” Huey smiled. “Two more rounds.”

“T-Two?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Fine grandpa b-but I wanna g-g-go to the arcade.”

Grandpa scoffed. “The arcade…?”

She blurted out, “And can we g-get ice cream too?”

“Deal. Two more rounds, and I don’t want any complaints okay?”

A warm little smile came over her pale little face. “Alright! I want hot f-fudge on mine.”

-

“You took it like a little champ though, right? Your daddy raised a toughie.” He reached out over the table and patted her shoulder. “You decided what you want for your birthday?”

She hummed thoughtfully. “I want a puppy, grandpa.”

“A puppy?”

“Yeah, and the n-newest Lala Loopsie doll too. The one with the pink curly p-p-pigtails.”

He stared at her like she’d shape-shifted into another person entirely.

Then she cracked a huge grin. “Just f-f-fuckin’ with you actually grandpa.” She looked down at her spoon, full of little pieces of fudge. “I actually want a new set of b-b-butterfly knives.”

He smiled back. “Ah, you got me there. That’s more like it.”

Sunny was over the moon. “Yes!”

“I’ll get you two.” He motioned with both hands as if he were flipping open a balisong blade in each one. Sunny bounced in her seat, eyes beaming with excitement.

-

He wasn’t sure what had compelled him to wear the stupid wetsuit thing under his clothes. Maybe it was just to bring him closer to the fantasy - to give him some confidence. Maybe Jack was finally ready to actually start acting rather than fantasising.

For the first couple of weeks, though, he didn’t have the courage. He just walked around with a very warm cotton suit on under his clothing like a total mug. He just liked to think that soon he would be ready for it. He just needed an opportunity.

Then, in a familiar alley, an opportunity finally presented itself.

Clay was trying to jimmy open a car window, Marina hanging close by. She was tapping her foot on the ground impatiently, and when she heard Jack round the corner she yelled over her shoulder. She was only half looking at him.

“What the fuck do you want?”

Instinctually, he ducked behind the wall. No. He wasn’t going to run anymore. He tugged his shirt and hoodie off to reveal the suit underneath. In his backpack was a short staff he’d made from an old lacrosse stick.

When he stepped out this time, the reaction was a little more surprised. This time, Clay also turned to look at him, visibly confused by the sight of the specimen in front of him.

The suit was a deep green with accents of pale yellow running across the chest and down the legs. The mask had similar accents, too. Only his mouth and eyes could even be seen. His weapon was tucked behind his back, ready to strike when needed but concealing its size to keep them guessing.

“What the fuck do you want?”

He stepped closer.

“I said, what the fuck do you-”

“What I want is to show a couple of worthless punks what happens when they fuck with other people’s stuff.”

Marina grinned, laughing through her teeth. Clay’s signature grin came out to join hers. The hulking country boy spoke, his voice deep and gravelly.

“And who are you, anyway? You’ve obviously gotten a little lost on your way to fuckin’ Gotham City. You got a fucking riddle for us?”

He stood his ground, and looked at them with a bit more confidence.

“Get away from that car.”

“What?”

“You can’t do whatever you want.”

Marina scoffed. “Oh, fuck you man.”

Then she threw the first punch. He hadn’t been expecting that. She had a steel ring on her middle finger and it snagged painfully on his cheek as he was hit. Clay loomed in close, ready to end him then and there.

Jack acted fast. He drew his staff and downed Clay with a single strike to the head, sending him to his knees. He had a burst of ego after that, turning to Marina who then dodged several swings from him. Shit. She was much faster than Clay.

She dodged towards his side, and he wondered why for a second until he felt it – sudden, excruciating pain in his abdomen. There was an intense feeling of intrusion and then a sickening jolt of agony. The blade made a wet sound as she pulled it out, blood dripping from the wound. She immediately ran, hoping to not be seen. The attack had been impulsive, so she clearly recognised it as a mistake. He clutched his belly, lifting himself to his feet in an attempt to-

Then he was flying. His body hit the pavement hard when he landed. His eye snapped open. Only one eye opened, though, because for some reason he couldn’t open the other. There was a car. Fuck. He’d been knocked right off his feet by a fucking car. He was distracted enough by the stab wound that the rest of him didn’t hurt, but there was a numbness all the way up one side and in parts of his legs and chest. His arm was killing, too. It was broken for sure. His abdomen spat out a gush of hot blood into his hands and onto the concrete. He heard the sound of it and felt like he could vomit, if he had the strength to even do that.

The driver sped away. He was lapsing out of consciousness for what felt like forever until the sound of an ambulance siren was unmistakeable. The pain was immeasurable now, but he didn’t even have the strength to cry out. Then he was being piled onto a stretcher and he grabbed the medic by the wrist.

“Please. Don’t tell anyone about the costume.”

His mask was being removed by one of the others and replaced with an oxygen breathing aid. The plastic dug into his face. The man nodded. “I won’t tell, don’t worry kid.”

He vaguely remembered the lights of the hospital and the feeling of needles in his skin. Then, he drifted off.