“It’s not just you. Hank’s an ass,” said Miya.
“I think you mean Buddy,” said Ben with a grin.
Red gave an amused snort and nodded. She and Ben looked on as Miya rooted through her pile of remaining cow bones in the back of the auto shop. The early morning light beamed down on them, two days after Overlord and Cyrus had run amok. Ben rotated his shoulder, wincing as it elicited a twinge of pain. The others were still in the lair, either talking or, in the case of his brother and Amanda, working on something beyond his comprehension.
“I have no idea why you’re agitating him,” said Miya, tossing aside a cracked cow hipbone.
“The more serious an’ pissed a guy looks, the more fun it is to make fun of him,” replied Ben. “Yeah it backfires an’ no, I don’t care.”
“But backfiring means he tears out your intestines and wears them as a hat,” said Miya.
Ben replied with a grin. One hand rested on the handle of an iron knife strapped to his back. I’d say I’m ready, he thought.
“What are you doing?” Red asked Miya after a moment.
“I’m getting really tired of losing my golems. So if I can make a core, that would be super,” Miya replied, brushing a few more bone fragments out of her way on the pile.
Red tilted her head at Ben, who shrugged as he leaned back against the wall of the lair. “Don’t look at me, I dunno ‘bout magic.”
“I’m apparently the magic expert here. I’ve been trying to teach Olivia, but she’s just not getting the hang of it.”
“Magic. What the hell?’ Red murmured to herself.
“Oh, yeah, I can teach you too if you like. It’s a bit more involved than whatever the hell it is techies cook up. Can’t just pick it up and use it, you need to know what the hell you’re doing.”
“Techies? Like your brother and Amanda?” asked Red. Ben nodded. “What’s up with those two?”
“I think they like each other,” said Miya, shooting Ben an amused look.
“What’cha lookin’ at me for? I ain’t my brother.”
“You two look exactly the same. If it weren’t for your hand I would never be able to tell you two apart,” said Miya.
“Really?” asked Red.
“What do you mean, really? They’re identical,” replied Miya with a wave of her hand at Ben. “Oh, wait, right. You guys go by smell.”
Red turned to her, eyes wide. “What?” How is this a surprise at this point?
“I don’t remember Olivia havin’ this many questions,” commented Ben. “Or not questions, just stuff she didn’t know ‘bout herself.”
“She had, like, a week or two to figure it out before she met you guys, right?” asked Red. Ben nodded. “That must be it.”
“Alright, bored now. Think anything is open?” asked Miya, dusting off her legs as she stood.
Ben laughed. “After that superpower slamdown? Give it another day or so.”
“Do we have any food or water left?”
Ben grinned as he nudged Red. “I dunno, after those four, there might not be enough for us little folk.”
Red cracked a smile. “Not my fault you all are so small. I’m hungry,” she said, ducking through the door back to the lair.
“I’ll be right after you,” said Miya, kneeling over half a cow skull. “I need to check this out.”
Ben nodded and followed after Red, who’d headed for where the beds were set up. Hank, by the wall, snapped as Red walked by. Red snarled and took a swipe at his throat. Whoa. Ben teleported over to them. “Hey, hey, break it up!” Out of the corner of his eye, the back of Hank’s hand swung towards him. Ben ducked and backed away a few steps. He eyed the scene, trying to work out a way to separate people much larger than himself.
“Enough,” Olivia shouted behind him. She beat the tar out of Hank, leaving him winded on the ground. “All of you,” she continued, turning on the others. “Stop fighting, I’m tired of it.”
Hey, she’s got a spine after all. The lair had fallen silent, Rob, Amanda and Beth still at the table, watching on with wary looks. Behind Ben, the door opened as Miya poked her head inside. Olivia hissed as she stomped away.
“OK, think we got the picture,” said Ben with a grin. Hank slowly recovered his breath and rolled over, a shaky hiss rising from his throat. Red glared at Olivia. “I think we should all just take a step back, calm down.” Never heard her raise her voice before.
Olivia whirled around to face him, a wild look in her eyes. “Calm down?” she repeated. “I’m calm. They’re just, they just keep…” She trailed off with a frustrated snarl. Never was the best with words.
“Just what?” asked Rob, standing from his chair. “My brother nearly got his neck snapped. Gotta have a better explanation then that.”
“Aw, thanks for noticin’,” said Ben. Rob nodded and grinned.
“Get the fuck out of the way,” snarled Hank, the impact slightly lessened by the wheeze in his voice as he struggled to his knees.
“Shut up, Buddy. Didn’t ask you,” said Ben.
Olivia’s wings and shoulders slumped. “I don’t know. Too close,” she murmured.
“You guys seem very territorial,” chipped in Amanda, still seated across from Beth at the table.
“This is gettin’ outta hand,” said Ben. I like my neck not snapped.
“You guys can’t fuckin’ control yourselves,” added Rob.
“What the hell?” said Beth. “What did I do?”
“Not much. Yet,” said Ben.
“How long it gonna be before one of you slashes a throat open?” Rob asked the lair at large. “How long until an arm or leg gets torn off?”
“Two days, an’ this has happened four or five times already,” said Ben, jabbing his finger at Hank.
Miya smacked him on the arm. “Are you talking about kicking them out?” she asked, hands on her hips. “That would be a really shitty thing to do.”
Rob and Ben exchanged glanced. “I don’t know,” said Ben.
“I don’t see you lot comin’ up with anythin’ else,” added Rob.
Olivia stared at her feet for a moment.
“For fuck’s sake, Little Bird, you look like you’re stressed the hell out. Never seen that from ya before.” Given the choice between the lot of them and you, I’d go with you.
“Leaving sounds good to me,” said Red, her voice bitter. “Air would be great. Not having to fight about everything would be great too.”
“Not kickin’ you out, but this can’t keep happenin’.”
“It’s not kicking me out if I leave, is it?”
Ben chuckled. Miya smacked him in the arm again. “What are you laughing at?”
“She’s got a point.”
“What? No,” Olivia said to Red. “We can’t…”
“What we? We just sit here and glower at each other. I just want some space, alright?” replied Red, squaring her shoulders off against Olivia.
A low hiss began to rise from Olivia. “Olivia,” said Amanda, adjusting her glasses. “Remember what they said?”
“Cyrus,” growled Hank in the silence that followed.
“What now?” said Ben.
“He said he’s recruiting, right? At least he’s doing something, not just sitting around.”
“An’ what kinda experience you have?” asked Rob.
“Yeah, you woke up maybe two days ago,” added Ben.
“I bet I’m stronger than you,” replied Hank, taking a few steps to tower over Ben.
Ben grinned. “I ain’t takin’ that bet. But you’re an idiot if you think you’re invincible. You been shot? Know what to do when a mage is gunnin’ for ya? How ‘bout mind fuckery? Hell, I could slash you open right now. Stomach’s an organ piñata.”
Hank shoved him in the shoulder, sending him stumbling back. “That a threat?” He smirked when Ben came up with an iron knife in hand. Keep talking.
Hank spun around when a hiss caught his attention. Olivia grabbed the base of his wing, baring her teeth and lifting him up until his clawed feet barely touched the ground. They both hissed for a moment before Hank curled his fingers, fighting to keep the pain from showing on his face. Prick. Olivia released him and pushed him away from Ben. She’s like the big little sister I never had.
Olivia turned on her heels and stormed away. “Do whatever you want. Just don’t fight.”
Red folded her arms, purposefully looking towards the back door rather than anyone else. Miya and Beth glared at Ben and Rob, respectively.
“So you’re screwing me over because of what others are doing?” spat Beth.
“You ain’t the problem, you ain’t fightin’ much,” said Ben.
“But this is Olivia’s home. You’re a guest.”
“The internet came back a little while ago. I’ll see if I can set something up with your family,” said Amanda.
“Yeah,” said Rob. “We ain’t gonna kick you out to starve or anythin’.”
“But someone’s gonna get hurt like this. Just a matter of time,” said Ben.
“I still have Cyrus’ number. I’ll talk to him,” Miya said to Hank.
“An’ we can figure out a place for you to crash, if you want out, Red,” said Ben.
A hush fell over the lair. We gotta figure out something.
The day passed with tension so thick Ben thought something might catch fire. Hank and Red kept to themselves on opposite sides of the lair. Beth kept shooting him and Rob angry looks, and Olivia refused to talk to anyone. Well this isn’t going as well as I hoped. Though what exactly was I expecting I got no idea.
Ben hovered over Amanda and Rob’s shoulders. “What’s that do?” he asked, pointing to a random part of their railgun.
“That’s the rail,” they replied.
“What’s it do?”
“Makes not speedy thing speedy,” said Rob.
Amanda sighed. Rob rolled his eyes and said, “You know you’re not supposed to bother techies during techie time, right? I’ll fuckin’ hurt you.”
“It’s been ‘techie time’ nonstop like nothin’ happened. We nearly died.” Hell, Chris died. Ben grimaced to himself. Shit, probably need to contact his family. Or foster family. Or should we? What the fuck do I know?
“Overlord’s bunker was so freakin’ cool,” said Rob, breaking Ben’s train of thought. “Terrifyin’ then, but cool now.”
“Yeah,” agreed Amanda. “I recorded it all,” she said, pointing to a computer monitor.
“Of course you did.”
“Well, it was worth it, so shut up,” said Amanda.
Ben laughed and wandered off, leaving them in peace. Angry Rob is a scary Rob. He found himself over in Red’s corner of the lair, where she examined an old phone Amanda had loaned her. Ben could already make out a few deep scratches in its casing, even from a few feet away.
“How’s it goin’?” he asked.
She shrugged, her long and slightly greasy dark brown hair falling in front of her eyes. “Fine, I suppose.”
Ben leaned his back against the wall and studied her, a small smile on the corners of his lips. No point in not being direct. “So you don’t seem pissed. Kinda surprised.”
Red slipped the phone into one of the many pockets of the cargo pants Olivia had loaned her. “No, I’m not angry. Not really. I was honestly thinking of heading out on my own anyways.”
Ben felt his eyebrows raise. “Really?” That seems too level headed. Especially from one of you lot.
“Yes. Too loud here. It’s smells off, too.” She sighed. “God, listen to me. What am I saying?”
“Hell, I dunno. Olivia talked ’bout how loud everythin’ was before. Hell, she didn’t really know she should eat a lot more meat than normal for a while, once she wasn’t just scavengin’.”
“Why does it always come back to her?” asked Red.
“Just cuz I’ve known her a while,” replied Ben. “The way I see it, you lot just need space. No fair coopin’ you all up in a little auto shop like that. Lot of people are gonna call you murder machines, but you ain’t that way.”
Red nodded, silent for a moment. Finally, she said, “Yeah, I guess I’m just learning. God, these claws are annoying,” she said, staring down at her hands.
“Wanna learn? Gotta get out there an’ live. Me an’ Rob learned to fight by gettin’ the shit kicked outta us in school. Learned how to shoot a gun from our dad. Learned how to spot a liar, drive, mix a drink, all sorts of shit by goin’ out an’ doin’. No one knows what they’re doin’ when they start, not really. You’ll catch up.”
Red nodded. “Thanks. I just get the feeling sometimes that I would be like this if it weren’t for her.”
Ben felt his smile slip. “One, she heard that” Red’s eyes widened for a moment, before she screwed them shut and hung her head. Yeah, kind of a fuck up there. He let the thought stew for a moment before continuing. “Two, that ain’t for me to say. Ask yourself that in a couple months, once you got your feet under you. Hell, if you’re lookin’ for a place to go, I got an idea.”
Eager for a change of subject, Red reopened her eyes and asked, “Really? Where?”
“Where Olivia was squattin’ before we met her. Cops shouldn’t be lookin’ there, she ain’t returned in months an’ they got bigger problems right now. Most of the fightin’ was outta that area anyways. It ain’t much, but it’s a roof over your head. Can take all the time you need, it’s free, got a couch to sleep on. Hell, you can masturbate to your heart’s content.”
Red let out a laugh, face turning as red as the scales on her hands and feet. “God, no. Just no.” I thought that was pretty good, if I do say so myself. She composed herself and considered for a moment, gaze passing over Beth, Hank, and Olivia. “Could we go? Like, right now?” That was fast.
“Maybe. Hang on.” He walked back over to the workshop, Red following after. Amanda had vanished, though Rob was hunched over the disemboweled chest plate of his armor, gears strewn about. “Hey Rob, Me an’ Red need a ride. Can we take the BAT?”
Rob slapped down a screwdriver on the table and turned to them. “Like hell anyone but me is drivin’ the BAT,” he replied. “Where you headin’?”
“The bat? You call your car the bat?” asked Red.
“Of course,” said Rob with a grin.
“It’s the Big Ass Truck,” finished Ben.
“Wow,” she said, trying her best to roll her eyes.
“Now where we’re headin’, that would be ‘liv’s old place. I can tell you where it is.”
“Right now? You good with this?” Rob asked Red. She nodded in return. He checked his watch. “Middle of the night. Alright. Let’s get goin’.”
They headed outside. Amanda was up to her elbows in the dashboard of her car, a set of wire cutters tucked into the waistband of her jeans. “Ah hell, forgot,” Rob murmured to himself as he passed.. He smacked the roof of her car as he passed. “Hey, you working on the thing?” he asked through the half rolled down window.
“Yeah,” Amanda grunted in response.
“Cool, I’ll get on those supports once I get back.”
Amanda flashed him a quick smile before returning to her work. As Rob climbed into the driver’s seat of the truck, Ben, turned to Red and asked, “Wanna cram yourself in the backseat or go open air in the back?”
She frowned at the cab of the car and extended her wings a foot to either side. “Back.”
Ben laughed. “But we were havin’ such a good talk,” he said as he headed for the other side of the truck. Once inside, and Rob got the truck moving, Ben asked, “Amanda get hold of Cyrus about Hank?” Can’t wait for that fucker to get out.
“Yeah. Cyrus sounded interested. Said he’d stop by tomorrow”
“Hope that works out. Hank is gettin’ kinda scary.”
“If an immortal warrior dude can’t train Buddy, keep him in line, no one can.”
Ben laughed. “Ain’t that the truth. Hell, he’s got Slim Jim stashed away somewhere, right? Maybe Buddy just needs some good old fashioned whippin’.”
Rob jabbed a finger at him. “Now that’s fuckin’ scary.”
The rest of the drive passed in silence. No one passed them on the road, the city still recovering from Overlord’s invasion. With Ben’s directions, Rob came to a stop outside a familiar apartment building. As Ben and Red climbed out, Rob said, “Hey, I’m gonna stay out here, watch the truck.”
Ben nodded as he followed Red inside. He guided her to Olivia’s old room. He helped her dust off the cold couch, and make sure there wasn’t an infestation of cockroaches or anything. They both sat on the couch.
“There you go, should be set,” said Ben. “Though I bet you’re gonna wanna move to a room on the top floor eventually.”
Red shot him a questioning glance. “Why is that?” she asked.
“Gonna start flyin’ soon. Don’t even need a permit for that or anythin’.”
She rustled her wings a bit, as if mentally testing them. “I guess,” she said, doubt creeping into her voice.
“liv’ loves flyin’. You want lessons, ask her.”
“I’ll think about it. I want to try to figure out some things on my own, you know?”
“I hear you. No problem.” Ben stood and stretched. “Give us a call if you need somethin’. I’ll be tomorrow with food an’ water for you, an’ make sure you haven’t been abducted by aliens or somethin’.”
Red snorted. “I’ll try not to. See you in a couple days.”
Ben waved as he walked out the door and headed down the stairs. Sorry, Olivia, sorry Red, it’s best for all of you you stay apart.