The Special Case: The Night Before
Posted July 22nd, 2021 by Gracithe1andonly
in denial that I'm in college
*to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star* I wrote all this on my phone. Leave a comment please. Leggo!
Why Thatcher Moss’s archenemy had decided to schedule their showdown for a Tuesday afternoon was beyond him. It seemed to be a very bad idea, since no one was on the top of their game after a Monday. Especially if said Monday was in midsummer and rainy. To check whether the summons was actually real—it still seemed so fake—Thatcher opened his communicator and scrolled through his messages from Iris Rivers, his favorite member of the Highway Heroes, more commonly known as the Double H. Yes, the Claw, the dashing wrongdoer who had ditched being an Empire spy to wreak havoc on both the Empire and the Federation, had claimed that he would finally turn himself in if his archenemy could beat him one-on-one. Iris, bless her, had let Thatcher know that no one was expecting him to, but he knew backing down would do more harm than good. The Claw didn’t tend to lie, and if Thatcher didn’t take his bait, it would add fuel to the flames of the discourse concerning whether the Double H were just a profit-making scheme.
Thatcher was currently at his workplace, a tiny cubicle in a skyscraper, glaring at the huge office windows. Ordinarily they were a godsend, but since all they were showing him were unnavigable storms, he wished they would shrink or even go away. It occurred to him that he’d have to stretch his wings later, since he’d been hiding them all day. He scowled. Thunder struck and he winced, suddenly grateful that he was in civilian guise. If anyone, friend or foe, got wind of the fact that the Wing, debonair avian hero, was frightened of sudden loud noises, he’d never hear the end of it. At last his work shift ended. To force himself to use his wings (if he didn’t, he would die tomorrow, and that was a fact,) he put on his helmet and flew home through the driving rain. He went largely unrecognized except for a lone man waiting for the gate to the underground train to open, who yelled and pointed at him as he whizzed by. He flew under the highway instead of going over it— in a city like Sepa, a winged man flying over the highway during rush hour could cause accidents.
Upon landing relatively close to his apartment, he checked twice for observers, ducked into an alley, checked again, and in a few fluid motions took off his helmet, stowed it in his bag, wrapped his wings in their binder and shrugged his coat on over all that. Only then did he walk around the block and up the stairs to his apartment. “Mr. Moss!” objected the old lady from downstairs as he passed her sitting on the porch. “You couldn’t have taken a pod in weather like this?” He waved and murmured a greeting, declining to answer her question at all. He shut the door behind him and locked the seven locks, then freed his wings and flopped onto the floor. He sighed, realizing he was physically and mentally tired enough to fall asleep where he was. He didn’t fight it.
He was rudely awakened by the feeling of his cell phone vibrating in the bag sandwiched between his belly and the floor. Groggy, he blinked, and shifted onto his side so he could get at the phone. The caller ID simply read “RANGED WEAPON.” Thatcher yawned and shook his head to clear it, delaying answering the call. Bo calling him at any time was rarely a good sign. Calls after midnight meant his vigilante friend had fallen into bad trouble.
“Hello,” he answered the phone casually in case someone who wasn’t Bo had gotten the phone. “Who’s this?”
“Dude, it’s me,” Bo replied, his usual lazy drawl tight with anxiety.
“What’s wrong, Bo?”
Bo stammered and hemmed and hawed. Thatcher rolled his eyes. “Do you need me to go where you are?”
“Yeah…yeah, I think that would be best, I can’t explain this easily,” he replied. “I’m behind the Jubilee building, closer to the highway than to Main. I don’t think we’ll be ambushed but I can’t be sure.”
Thatcher opened his mouth to ask what Bo was doing close to the Jubilee building. That was the territory of the Double H, their former headquarters and current PR building. An unsanctioned vigilante was not welcome there. What actually came out of his mouth was, “Hang tight, Bo. I’ll use my fastest route. Be there in a few.”
“Hurry,” Bo replied, and hung up.
Thatcher stretched, actually bothered to get his entire getup on underneath normal clothes, then left. From his apartment it was a three-minute walk to the mouth of the tunnels that had been specially built for the first avian hero of Sepa: Casey Rivers. Thatcher used to avoid them on principle, seeing as his relationship with Casey was strained at best and angry at worst. Lately, though, he’d begun using them in urgent situations. He had to admit they were more efficient. Since they were underground, they were protected from the elements, but large enough for his wingspan. They were pretty, too: carefully cut pale stone bricks lined the walls, and dim lights showed the way. What would have been a tough flight through bad weather without the tunnels was a five minute sprint to the southern end of the city. Thatcher folded his clothes away and put his helmet on, then leapt through the secret exit onto the street.
It was dark. Rain was still falling, and steam curled around his feet, the result of water on hot pavement. Across the street, the Jubilee building rose forbiddingly. Thatcher remembered being inside that building on a sunny day, when he’d shed his vigilante status and thrown his lot in with the Double H. As much as he appreciated the generosity of the Double H, he couldn’t help but keep associating the Jubilee Hall with what he always had: storms, darkness, closed doors, and Casey’s disapproval.
He didn’t dwell on it. As usual, he didn’t have time to be bitter. The second he was out of the tunnel, he was half-running, half-gliding around the building towards the highway. He looked for Bo for an uncomfortably long time before he caught sight of him waving across the street, towards the freeway. Thatcher chided under his breath, an annoyed sound he’d never heard from anyone but himself.
“Stupid Gulfer, island boy,” Thatcher whispered angrily once Bo was in earshot. “You call this place behind the Jubilee?”
Bo, in the guise of The Bow, black cloak and mask and all, wiped sopping brown hair out of his face. “You see,” he said, “we were behind the Jubilee, but then it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to explain myself if anyone from the Double H happened to be—”
“Wait, wait,” Thatcher interrupted. “We?”
Bo stiffened, then resignedly made eye contact with his friend. “You see, Wing, that’s the problem. I’m not alone.”
He led Thatcher under the freeway. In the grassy area between the sidewalk and the underside of the Sepoa highway, a small form shivered. It was a boy between the ages of ten and twelve, ginger and freckled. He was barefoot, wearing an old, sweat-stained white tee shirt that obviously did not belong to him, and a man’s black gym shorts fastened around his waist with a belt. The kid looked afraid, and like the Wing always did for civilian children, he gave in to his paternal avian instincts.
He knelt, extended his wings and arms, and chirruped comfortingly. “Hey, kiddo, I’m here to help.”
The boy snuck a glance at Bo before rushing into the inviting feathery embrace. Thatcher continued cooing in that comforting way only avian vocal chords could while he rubbed the boy’s back, tilting his head at his old friend. Bo was hard to read under the mask, but the tension around his eyes spoke volumes. Thatcher glared at him. Why would he be angry enough at a child to disapprove of Thatcher comforting him?
Then Bo clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Wing, I need to explain something to you.”
Thatcher gestured for him to continue.
Bo’s eyes narrowed. “In private.”
The kid immediately let go of the Wing and stepped back.
Thatcher let Bo draw him aside, but began to berate him softly. “Did you hurt that kid? He seems terrified of you—”
Bo raised a hand. “You don’t understand. Thatch, that’s the Claw.”
Lightning struck and thunder rumbled. Two men, one clothed in black and one in gold, stared down a ginger child in shock. Thatcher remembered every time the Claw had hurt him or people he cared about, every time his archenemy had seen where his spirit was sore and prodded it cruelly. Bo looked at him as though he knew why the Claw was a child, as though the Wing could resolve this situation as he had so many others. Thatcher swallowed angry chiding and instead let out a weary, murmured question.
“What am I supposed to do with that information?”
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