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Blackout

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Len could not believe his luck. He was antsy. Happened to be back in Central City without a larger heist planned like he normally would after six months away, so he wanted to do something cathartic and nostalgic at the same time. Mick was in Iron Heights. Len had plans to do something about that later in the week. But Lisa was out of town, and while Len did just fine on his own, he craved activity. A little old-fashioned B&E sounded perfect.

And then the power had gone out. All over Central. It was like his city was giving him a gift.

He wore all black, a ribbed turtleneck, slacks, and one of his better trench coats, so he could pass anyone on the streets without rousing suspicion but still stay hidden in the dark. His tools were safely tucked away within the coat. He’d find a nice house likely to have jewelry and cash worth stealing. Len liked the challenge of having to be minimal since he only had so much space on his person if he wanted to avoid the cops noticing a strange man with a bag over his shoulder.

He found the right neighborhood only too easily, and then…the right house. It even had a porch, all picture perfect. At first glance, Len didn’t notice any flickering candles or flashlights. The house had to be empty.

Only it wasn’t. Thirty seconds in, having broken the downstairs window to get inside, Len heard a voice.

“Iris, where are you? I just heard a crash,” a young man whisper-yelled somewhere across the house—a couple rooms over only, Len surmised.

No voice responded, but the young man spoke on.

“You were supposed to be home by now, and Joe’s not answering his phone. He must be too busy with the rest of the CCPD.”

CCPD? This kid lived with a cop? Great. Len sure knew how to pick ‘em. But it sounded like ‘Iris’ wasn’t home; the young man was talking to her on the phone. Which meant he was alone.

“Please tell me you get this message,” he said next, still whispering, getting closer and closer to the room Len had entered, though he’d already moved to hug the wall and stay out of sight.

The kid wasn’t even talking to Iris directly, he was leaving a voicemail. He’d heard the crash of glass; didn’t he realize Len could hear everything he said and pinpoint his location?

“Iris, I swear, if you get this message only to come home and find my corpse waiting for you, I will never forgive you. Okay, I will totally forgive you, but you probably won’t forgive yourself, because you know how much I hate the dark. And being alone. And people breaking into the house and…” he trailed in a way that sounded closer to tears than Len was used to from someone who sounded older than a teenager. “Not again,” the kid added, as soft as he’d yet spoken and right at Len’s left, standing in the doorway.

Len was close enough, hidden just around the corner against the wall, that he heard the kid end the call with a quiet beep.

“Um…h-hello?” he asked with a tremor in his voice.

Idiot. Len could have taken him down so easily. Knocked him out, tossed him into an empty room. But the damn kid had to go and sound so afraid.

If Lisa or Mick were there, they never would have let him live this down.

“Relax, kid,” Len said, stepping into the open with his hands raised. “Had no other way in and…” Len thought quickly, “…Joe insisted someone do a drive-by.”

The tense silhouette in the door instantly relaxed. “You’re an officer?”

“Off duty,” Len said. “You okay?”

“Iris!” the kid shouted suddenly, rushing forward and pawing awkwardly at Len’s sweater and jacket for purchase. “Please, I don’t know where she is. She didn’t answer her cell and she was supposed to be home—”

“I’m sure she’s just lost in the dark,” Len moved his hands to grip the kid’s arms in turn and hold him still. “Where was she coming from?”

“Just a few blocks down, at Gino’s. She was picking up a pizza on her way home from class.”

Kid and his sister were likely townies at CCU. “Your best bet is to stay here and wait for her. She’s probably waiting out the blackout at Gino’s. Maybe lost her phone. I’m sure she’s fine.”

“But I can’t just wait! I have to find her!”

Len needed out of this situation—now. He was already being too sentimental. He could still check out one of the other houses on the block. He just needed to get out of the kid’s death grip. “I’ll head down to Gino’s. If she’s there, I can escort her back.”

“I’m coming with you.”

Damn it. Len wanted to ditch, not actually search for the girl. He might have swung by Gino’s to be sure he overheard a girl named Iris, but that would have been more than enough to round out his good deed for the night.

“Not happening, kid. Find some candles and a flashlight and sit tight.”

“No way. I’m coming with you to find Iris. If you won’t let me, I’ll…head out on my own after you leave.”

This kid. “I’m sure your sister is fine—”

“She’s not my sister.”

She wasn’t?

“Not…really. I’m adopted. You must know that if you know Joe.”

Len thought quickly to avoid giving away his lie. “Joe certainly thinks of you as his son, but my fault for assuming.”

“No, I…I didn’t mean I don’t think of Joe as my dad. Of course I do.”

Too easy. “Look, kid, just heed my advice, wait for Iris here and—”

“No. I’m coming with you.”

Len should cut and run. He really needed to cut and run. “Fine,” he gritted his teeth. “But only to Gino’s. We don’t find Iris there, we head straight back. Got it?”

“Of course. Just to Gino’s.”

“Stay close. Dangerous people hit the streets during a blackout.” Like Len. He was supposed to be dangerous anyway.

He reached down and grasped the kid’s hand. Len couldn’t see his features in the dark, but he was adjusted to the lighting enough now to make out a gangly frame, height about the same as him, and fluffy hair. Kid weighed practically nothing as Len dragged him behind him through the house toward the front door. Even never having set foot in this place, Len was able to find his way in the dark fairly easily. Once they were outside, he let go of the kid’s hand, but the young man immediately wrapped both hands around Len’s arm.

“Sorry. My night vision sucks. I don’t want to lose you.”

“It’s fine, kid.”

“I’m not a kid, you know, no matter what Joe says. I’m twenty-one. Though you’re probably closer to his age, huh?”

Len could only assume Joe’s age given he had kids in college. “Not pushing forty yet, but still old enough to call you ‘kid’.”

The young man laughed. He had a really nice voice when he wasn’t panicked. “Thanks for doing this. Especially while off duty, even if Joe asked. You live nearby?”

“Happened to be passing through.”

“Oh. It’s weird, you know? I’m walking the neighborhood clinging to your arm like we’re on a date or something, and I don’t even know what you look like.”

“You usually date men twice your age?”

“Huh?” the kid startled enough that he tugged on Len’s arm as he came to a stop. “I-I didn’t mean—”

“Relax. Just riling you. You can wait to decide if I’m your type after you’ve seen me.”

The kid laughed again, broken from his fit of embarrassment, and clung to Len’s arm tighter as they continued down the street. Gino’s was only half a block away.

“So, what do you study? You’re at CCU, right?”

“Criminology.”

Of course. “Gonna be a detective, huh?”

“CSI.”

Better. Len was good about not leaving evidence for those people. Detectives, on the other hand, had instincts that could get far more annoying. “And how does Joe feel about that?”

“Oh, he hates it. He never wanted either me or Iris to get involved with the force. But I have to be a CSI. It’s the only way I can—” He cut himself off abruptly, as if he’d been about to say too much. “Um…help people.”

“Detectives don’t help people?”

“Evidence can be more important, especially when other people don’t find any. Oh! Sorry, you’re probably a detective, right? Oh my god!” He stopped again, though this time he allowed Len to pull him forward right away. “I didn’t even ask your name.”

“Wynters,” Len gave his usual alias. “Detective Wynters.”

“Nice to meet you, Detective. I’m—”

Finally, Len was going to get a name—when the power came on.

The streets lit up around them brightly since they had reached Gino’s, which was surrounded by other small businesses at the edge of the suburban streets.

Len blinked past the bright spots of lampposts and the neon signage from Gino’s, and turned to face the kid still clinging to his arm. He was young. Baby faced. Brunette. With big hazel green doe eyes and a collection of adorable moles over his pale skin.

He stared back at Len as if in awe of his savior in black, who maybe wasn’t an entire disappointment now that the kid could see his face.

Too young. Definitely too young. And yet…

“Barry?!”

The kid spun around, releasing Len’s arm all at once.

Barry. His name was Barry.

“Iris!” Barry cried out, surging into an automatic sprint toward the doors to Gino’s where a lovely young woman was hurrying out to meet him. The kid was gangly. Too thin really. And beautiful.

Len turned on his heel and hurried back into the shadows before Barry remembered he was there. There would likely be fallout surrounding ‘Detective Wynters’ who didn’t exist and definitely hadn’t been sent by Joe, as well as the broken window back at the house, but the kids were safe. Whoever Joe was, he’d at least appreciate that.

Len hid behind a building when he neared it and peeked back at Barry in front of Gino’s. He was animatedly explaining everything to Iris and then looked back to gesture at a Len who was no longer there. It was better if the kid forgot about him, his unlikely guardian angel during a blackout one night in Central City.

Maybe Len would head back to the safe house instead, order some pizza—now that he had Gino’s on the brain—and go over his plans to spring Mick. He wasn’t in the mood for a B&E anymore. But as he hurried down the street several blocks to where he’d parked his bike, he couldn’t help wondering if he’d see that kid again someday.

THE END