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My writing pipes were apparently full of snow.

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The Love You Thought I'd Be

"So I've been thinking," Kit said as he stirred the bean soup he was making.

Angelica braced herself, and sipped casually at her ginger ale. She had been bracing herself for this discussion for days now; longer, even, since he told her who he was. Every time he started a conversation in a portentious way, she braced herself, and every time, he slid off into some other topic. So she braced herself for that too.

"I'm thinking maybe it's getting to be time for me to move along," Kit said.

Her stomach fell to her toes and she got a little dizzy: the roller coaster had finally hit the big drop. The can crinkled slightly under her grip, and she made herself breathe and set the can down on the side table. After a moment of steadying herself, she got up and walked over to stand next to him.

Both of them stared into the soup pot.

She said, "I guess I knew that."

He laughed, "I'm a playa, not a staya!"

Those words felt like a deliberate splash of something acrid and nasty in her face. She had sworn she wouldn't ever hit back again when a lover hit her, but Angelica had to clench her fists to stop herself from slapping the grin off his face.

She took a deep breath to still the sob that was trying to choke her, and said, waveringly, "That was unworthy of you. And me."

He sobered immediately, set the spoon down, and peered into her face. "Oh… hell. You're right. I'm sorry."

She looked up at him. He was still a blank to her new power, restful and strange. "Old habits die hard?"

"Heh," he said, sheepishly. "Yeah."

"I'm guessing you're not the sort to stay in touch either," she said, looking back into the pot.

"I dunno," he said, picking the spoon back up and scraping the bottom of the pot where things had started to adhere. "Email and texting makes it easy even for someone as lazy as me."

"If you don't lose your phone," Angelica said, letting the conversation take the sting away.

"If I don't lose my phone," Kit said. "Or end up in jail again. Or get killed again."

She swallowed hard. "Do you… get killed often?"

"Have you ever read any of my stories?" Kit said, snorting. "And like in this time, with this government in charge, I'm any less likely to get killed? I could tell you a story about how many bullets I pulled outta my hide last time around…" He glanced aside at her, and added, hastily, "But I won't."

"Does it hurt?" she said.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "But I don't remember it much later. Probably why I end up dead so often."

"Do you look the same or different when you come back?" She couldn't help asking; it was a distraction from the horrible immediacy of his departure, plus she was possibly understandably curious about the workings of the gods.

He thought for a moment, chewing his lower lip (the lower lip Angelica liked to bite). "It depends on… where I am, my intentions in coming back, that kind of thing. If I'm in this world, I tend to be kinda like that guy on that TV show you said you liked as a kid—I come back, but I look different and act different. I have come back the same way before, especially when I need to deal with the same situation. Like, there was this stuff going on with the Army a while back, and I kept coming back as the same guy because it really freaked their shit out when I showed up for meetings and fights." He smiled reminiscently.

Angelica laughed and something felt like it broke in the back of her throat. The tears just poured out of her and she couldn't stop them, so she covered her face with her hands and tried to stop the sad moaning noises.

He pulled her against him and she buried her face in his t-shirt. He smelled of sweat and car oil and beer, and for just a second, she got a complicated whiff of gunpowder and horse and wet dog. And then, of course, her nose was useless because of the tears and congestion that came with them, and she cried harder while he stroked her back and made soothing noises in her ear.

At some point, she shook him by the back of his shirt and muttered, "Goddammit, you asshole, I didn't mean to fall in love with you."

He snorted. "I wasn't enough of an asshole, clearly."

"Asshole," she said again, and let go of him. "I probably look like a damn raccoon now," she said, peering at her reflection in the glass of the microwave.

"Well, at least I kept the soup from burning?" he said.

She went to the bathroom and spent some time repairing the damage. When she emerged, she knew she looked okay, but still felt hollow-eyed and snotty.

Kit served up the soup and a green salad and some glasses of white wine from Argentina. They ate in silence for a while, until Angelica managed to work up her courage to say, "When?"

He said, "I hate dragging this kind of thing out. I was… thinking tomorrow, actually."

Angelica swallowed with care, then gave him an arch look and said, "You were going to leave without saying goodbye to Abuelita?"

His eyes got big, and then he shook his head. "Friday?"

Angelica gave a little nod. "All right." Two more days with him. Two more nights. Maybe she could call out of work… then she started laughing.

"What?" he said.

"I just realized that I can call out of work and not worry about making rent," she said. Somehow, she hadn't wrapped her head around the fact that she didn't need to work for Queer Energy for money any more. She could tell them to direct her pay into something else… hiring another admin, maybe, who she could train to take over the heavy lifting.

"Does that help a little with how pissed you are at her?" he said.

"A little, I guess," she said. "I don't think I'll ever really forgive her, though." Another thought struck her. "Oh, god, how am I going to find another lover I can actually look at again?"

Kit pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I know a coupla Mystikai who might be interested…"

"That wasn't a cue for you to start matchmaking for your soon-to-be-ex," Angelica said sourly.

"You know," he said, finishing his glass of wine, "this is one of the few times I really regret having to leave."

"Do you 'have' to leave?" Angelica said. "Is it part of your built-in wanderlust or something?"

He shrugged. "It's my job to help my people. I did my thing here, and the rest, other people are picking up. There are other places I should be, where no one else is doing enough, or can do enough."

Angelica quirked a smile. "So you admit to having a job."

He laughed and raised his hands. "Got me," he admitted. "A job I've had a really long time now, no retirement in sight. You kids make me feel old sometimes."

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Today is the first day this week I've had some time to put this posting together. I hope you're enjoying a long weekend however you choose to enjoy it.

People Couldn't Believe What I'd Become

Angelica leaned her aching head back against the couch, stared at the ceiling through the tinted computer glasses that helped reduce the visual noise of her new power, and listened to her friends amble around, getting drinks and snacks from the kitchen. As they chatted with each other, she thought about how she was going to do this.

She became aware of an expectant silence and looked around. Kit was perched on a kitchen stool, a bottle of soda held in both hands between his knees. Kendis was settled in the chair she found easiest to get out of, her crutches propped in the corner, and her glass of soda water on the end table next to her. Simon was folded into the deepest armchair, his jeans-clad legs tucked up tailor style. They all watched her with a vaguely inquiring air.

"You may all be wondering why I asked you here today," Angelica said, not intending a joke, but covering her face as soon as the line was out of her mouth. "I mean… oh, hell. All right, I have something I need to tell you. And I need you to swear on whatever you hold dearest that this doesn't leave this room."

Simon and Kendis nodded, giving her looks that said, almost identically, "What do you take me for?" and Kit made all the motions that go with the "cross my heart and hope to die" promise.

"Okay," Angelica said, and she narrowly avoided biting one of her freshly manicured nails. "Okay. This is… really stupid, actually. But huge. And… well, shit, I guess I have Jane Liberty's power."

There was a silence. Then Simon said, in a small voice, "Which power?"

"The main one! The big kahuna!" Angelica exclaimed. "The one that made all the others possible. Shit, I don't even have words to describe it. Like, I can see everything alive. Every. Fucking. Thing. I guess, eventually, I'll be able to figure out what bits I'm seeing are powers, and what bits are normal. I… already know what cancer looks like." She shuddered. "I might be able to figure out how to change them. Powers. Genes. That sort of thing."

"You mean," Kendis said, picking her words carefully, "that Jane wasn't always superstrong, invulnerable, shit like that? That this one power made it all possible?"

"Yeah," Angelica said. "Yeah, that's what I mean."

"And she gave it to you," Kendis said.

"Like she made your power more powerful, yeah," Angelica said.

"Shiiiiiiiit," Kendis breathed.

"Yeah," Angelica said, letting a little of her misery out in an exhausted sigh.

"You can see and manipulate genes?" Simon said thoughtfully.

Angelica nodded, and when his face brightened, she said, "I've already thought about it, dude. Eventually, maybe, I can give you a Y chromosome in every cell. Someday I might be able to give myself a second X chromosome. Maybe we can just swap. I don't know. I kind of think I probably can't. Even Jane's superpower can't work miracles."

Kendis said, "And anyway, even if you two swap chromosomes, you've still got the outside junk to deal with."

Simon's shoulders sagged. "I know, I know."

"You could remove the power from yourself," Kit said. "Just delete it."

"If I knew how to spot it, I suppose I could," Angelica said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Maybe. I wonder if I would remove my own ability to edit it before I could delete the power entirely. I could end up stuck with the vision, for instance, and no way to get rid of it. I can't believe it's only a single gene thing. From the reading I've done, no paranormal ability is a single gene mutation."

"You know better than I do," Kit said with a smile and a shrug. "Just an idea."

"No, it's a good one," Angelica said.

They sat in silence for a while.

"Anyway," Kendis said, "you'd never forgive yourself for getting rid of the power."

"What?" Angelica said.

"It's like my power," Kendis said, tapping the side of her own head. "I can't give it up. I couldn't at this point. I couldn't ask Jane to knock it back down. Because I do too fucking much good with it. I make people happier just by existing in their space. Who could give that up?"

"As long as no one really figures out it's you," Simon said. "Think of the Plum Blossom case."

"That the chick they chopped up and grew clones of?" Kendis said. She shivered. "Shit, thanks, Simon. I hadn't thought of that."

"You met her," Angelica said absently. "That was Madeline."

Kendis stared at her and said, "Wut."

Simon said, "Yeah."

Kendis looked freaked out and kind of ill; Angelica felt bad for having sprung that on her. One does not meet people who were at the center of a gigantic military atrocity every day.

Kendis finally shook her head as if to clear it. "Anyway. My point was: how can you… I mean, 'one', really… refuse a power that has so much potential?"

"I guess one would have to find a way to pass it on to someone who wanted it," Angelica said with a grimace. "Jane said it had to go on. I guess she felt pretty strongly about it."

"Why you, though?" Simon said.

Angelica shook her head and shrugged. "She said that maybe because I was a biologist, I could figure out how to do things, like cure cancer, that she never could. Really fixated on cancer. I guess 'cause she was dying of it right then."

"Is that what happened?" Kendis said. "I figured her heart just gave out. She was pretty old. Eighty-six the obit said?"

"No," Angelica said, rubbing the bridge of her nose again and the area between her eyebrows, hoping to relieve the headache. "Definitely cancer." She remembered the scene again, for the umpteenth time, and finally said aloud, "Lady J was asking her to 'stop using Maddy's power.'" She turned a baffled look on Simon, their resident para historian.

Simon scowled and put his chin on his fists, elbows on knees. "I think one reason the Army decided on Operation Plum Blossom was because they tried… kind of… giving some of their recruits infusions of Madeline's blood or something. Anyway, the research showed that if you weren't born with her power, use of the power would make things grow that shouldn't."

"Like cancer," Angelica said.

"Like cancer," Simon said.

"Why was she using Madeline's power?" Kendis said.

"For the same reason she was using yours, I think," Angelica said.

"She told me it was slowly helping fix the holes in her head," Kit said, interrupting Kendis' outraged outburst. "Or something like that."

Kendis settled back into cynical silence with a snort.

"Anyway," Angelica said. "Jane told me not to tell anyone until I knew what I was doing. But I can't do that."

"She was probably thinking of Plum Blossom too," Kendis muttered.

"Probably," Simon said. "Don't worry, no one will hear about it from me."

"Or me," Kendis said.

"No one smart believes me anyway," Kit said with a grin.

"Also, if there's anything I can do to help you figure it out," Simon said, "I used to help people figure their powers out all the time when I was in high school."

"Thanks," Angelica said, sunk in a brown study. Then she shook her head and pulled herself up out of it. "No, really, thank you."

"We could make you a costume," Kendis said. "With all the stars and shit."

"You should have a code name ready," Simon said. "Just in case you need to anonymize yourself quickly."

Angelica didn't want to admit she'd already been thinking about that. She didn't want to be in spandex, would never be in spandex like Jane had been. But… "I already know that," she finally said.

"Oh?" Kendis said. Kit and Simon both perked up with interest.

"Of course I do," Angelica said, with a little more confidence and her first smile of the whole conversation. "I can't be anything other than… Libertad, right?"

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The end of the summer has been busy and weird, but I'm glad I managed to finish this one up for you.

...And Dance By the Light of the Moon

Angelica stared at her ceiling in the twilight of her nightlights, breathing hard and feeling the sweat cool on her skin under the influence of the ceiling fan and fierce air conditioning in the bedroom. Every muscle in her body was suddenly relaxed, after days of being wound tighter than a violinist on stage at Carnegie Hall. She could feel muscles in her thighs twitching with relief, her pulse thudding in her throat and feet and groin, and her mind sailing free of the baggage that had been weighing it down.

Damn, Kit was good in bed.

As her temporary reprieve ended, she felt like she was sinking into the bed under the weight of the words that she had been putting off saying.

This was hard to give up. She had this impression that saying the words would break the curse, return the skin of the selkie (or whatever the hell he was), and make him vanish in a puff of smoke.

And what could she say, really? What are you? was too much like enraging and alienating things she herself had been asked over the years. Who are you? seemed a bit better, but not by much.

"You're quiet," Kit murmured from where he'd toppled over next to her.

"Yeah," Angelica said.

"You could just ask," Kit said.

She turned her head to stare at him. He was smiling lopsidedly at her, one eye almost hidden in the pillow. She almost thought that hidden eye glittered for a moment.

Finally, she said, "So, the little dogs…"

He laughed through his nose. "Not dogs at all."

She gave him a dubious look. They'd certainly looked and acted like dogs. Mean dogs. As they… ate people? Spirited them away? Turned them into little brown dogs? "Then what were they?"

"Hairs," he said. In response to her incredulous look, he said, "No, really, it's a trick a friend of mine taught me years ago."

Angelica digested that for a moment, then turned on her side and ran a fingertip along his beautiful jawline. "You're not human, are you?"

His lopsided smile didn't fail or freeze, and he didn't nod or shake his head. He just kept looking at her steadily with the one unconcealed eye.

"You don't look anything like humans on this new vision I've got," Angelica said by way of explanation. She'd not mentioned the new power to anyone yet, but this seemed like as good a time as any. "Everyone else looks… really busy. Active. That sort of thing. You… don't. So you don't look human."

He stroked her hip idly, running his palm back and forth over where her hipbone angled the flesh.

She sighed. "Jane said I shouldn't tell anyone, but against my better judgment, I actually trust you not to tell anyone else."

"Heh," he said, and while his expression didn't change, there was something strange deep in the one eye she could see. "It's a strange experience to be trusted."

They lay there quietly for a few moments, Angelica, at least, listening to the hum of the ceiling fan motor. Kit's hand continued to wander aimlessly over her hip and side.

"So, will you tell me?" Angelica said.

"Are you sure you don't know already?" Kit said.

"If I did, I wouldn't ask," Angelica said, struggling to not roll her eyes.

"Well," he said thoughtfully, turning on his back to regard the ceiling, "I'm kinda older than I look…"

When he drifted into silence, she proffered, "You have a lot of names and Kit isn't one of them?"

"Well, Kit is one of them," he said, the corner of his mouth she could see quirking again, "now."

"I get the feeling you're used to being evasive about this," Angelica said.

"Many people know me when they meet me," he said. "Or, well, they used to. Not so much any more."

"You're a lot older than you look then," she said.

"Kinda," he said. After another silence, and she opened her mouth to say something else, he said hurriedly, "No, no, I'm going to tell you, I'm just trying to find the right words."

"Okay," she said.

After another moment of consideration, he said, "Does the name Coyote mean anything to you?"

Angelica frowned, trying to think of someone whose name was Coyote. Then her gaze fell on her bookshelf across the room and she remembered some stories, all in a rush, and said, "You don't mean, like, the spirit, or deity, or whatever, named Coyote?"

In the dim light, for just a moment, his profile changed and lengthened, and when he turned to glance at her, there was a yellow glint in the corner of his eye. Then it vanished, and he was just Kit again. But that didn't stop the adrenaline that her lizard brain had just dumped into her bloodstream from making her pulse pound in her ears.

"Okay," she said, making a solid effort to sound calm and collected. I've been sleeping with a GOD??? "Cool. Thank you for telling me." She watched his face, his very human face, with its little laugh lines etched at the corners of his eyes and around his mouth, for a long moment before saying, in a smaller voice, "Can we talk about it in the morning?"

"Sure," he said, rolling toward her and putting his arms around her.

It took her a while to fall asleep, but by the time she did, she'd convinced herself that it had been a trick of the light and her bedmate was just the human man she'd thought him until a few days ago. She knew it was temporary sanity, but she wanted to spend one more night with her face in his neck, smelling his sweat and feeling safe and warm.

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Sorry for the late-in-the-week posting, but this one was a hard episode to write for various reasons. (Jane's death was hard to write, but it was one of the first episodes I wrote when I started this volume, continuously editing and revising as I got closer to it.) Hope you enjoy the longest ep we've had in a few weeks.

This Neighborhood Has Gone to the Dogs

Tinkermel and Tizemt brought a levitating gurney up from the lab and a blanket, and helped Lady Justice and Madame Destiny arrange Jane's body on it.

Angelica looked up at one point during this process, after the brief and lovely taking-down of Pastor Al. Apparently living things are just really fucking around with themselves constantly, because she kept getting dizzy on her new vision/sense/whatever the hell it was Jane had thrust upon her. The gravel was restful by comparison—still teeming with tiny life, but not as… busy as human bodies.

"I brought a stasis field too," Tizemt said. "Since we don't know how long it will be before we can get her, um, somewhere appropriate."

"She's going nowhere," Lady Justice said with a grim vehemence that startled Angelica into looking up again.

Angelica and Tinkermel traded glances (she was grateful she could see his face through the haze of !!LIFE!!). Tizemt nodded. "Why don't we go into the house?" she said.

A sudden panic seized her. She was heartbroken and devastated, and felt like she should help comfort Jane's oldest friend. But every time she looked at people, the rage at what Jane had done to her welled up. Jane had been really fucking vehement about her not telling anyone until she knew what she was doing. If she went into that house, it would all come out, will she or nil she.

Her brain flailed around for something else to do, and Angelica suddenly realized there were riots in her neighborhood, and her grandmother was right in the middle of it all.

"Watson?" she said, when Watson had stuffed her cell phone into her pocket. "Can you take me to my neighborhood?"

Watson and X stared at her for a moment, blankly, then glanced after the little trail of people going into the house.

X said, "We can turn Aloysius over to the cops."

Watson said, "If we can find any that are actual cops, as opposed to paramilitary troops."

X grimaced. "That's what I like about you, Watson: your unstoppable optimism."

Angelica summoned a smile, still looking at them despite the dizzying constant shift of their bodies, and said, "Guys? I just want to see my grandmother."

Watson and X swung into the Divine Sarah, and Angelica joined them. She spent a lot of time staring at the garnet-carpeted floor or walls. The Divine Sarah might have a personality all her own, and be older than either Angelica or X, but she wasn't ALIVE in the way Angelica's new power recognized.

It was a long, brutal drive across town as the sun set and darkness slid in over the city. Some areas were clearly without power, as people sat out on stoops with flashlights and candles and maybe weapons in complete darkness. Something was burning off to the east, possibly down by the river. Masses of people surged across streets from time to time, causing Watson to jam on the brakes (and Angelica always regretted looking up at those moments—LIFE!!!111!!!). Men in black ran pell-mell away from baseball-bat-wielding middle-aged white women. (Okay, she didn't regret looking up for that one.) A group of super-types in full colorful spandex ("Supervillains. They're called The Bloggers," Watson said. "You're shittin' me," Angelica said. "I wish I were," Watson replied.) strolled slowly down the street after a panicking trio of men in black, and Watson chose another street to take.

The drive that was normally 30 minutes took three teeth-grinding, stop-starting, nerve-frazzling hours.

(Somewhere in there, they did, in fact, manage to find actual real Wonder City police and offloaded the swollen-faced Aloysius to them. Watson suggested that they fingerprint and book him while he was unconscious, as he was Faerie-touched, which made them just get on the horn with an urgent request for the Equestrian. As Watson drove the Divine Sarah away, she was smiling grimly.)

The power was out in Angelica's neighborhood, but little knots of people were standing around on street corners with 55-gallon drums that held fires, like it was the dead of winter instead of midsummer. Her stomach clenched when she saw that the groups around these fires were not her friends and neighbors, but little masses of armed white men with appalling emblems tattooed on various parts of them (like their shaved heads). One group pushed off from their "guardpost" and swaggered toward the Divine Sarah, assault rifles lazily resting on their arms.

Watson slowed to a drift as one of them walked in front of the van, and shook her head at the gestured command to roll her window down. Angelica felt unspeakably relieved that Watson's "soft butch" persona did not include so much macha as to try to talk her way past a bunch of armed racist fuckheads.

Angelica noticed that one of the guys with a gun in front of the van had something going on inside him that looked like what happened to Jane, only much smaller and less terrifyingly active. She allowed herself a tiny vindictive grimace and tried not to think about it too much right now.

The guns erected into full assault mode, and one of the men shouted, "Roll the fuckin' window down."

Watson, already humming like a struck guitar string, ran her gaze along the line. Her hands tensed on the wheel, her right thigh tightened slightly. Angelica started to slide down to the floor.

Just then two men were taken down by huge golden streaks from the darkness. The blurs of motion slowed enough for Angelica to see the glinting yellow eyes of Simon's wolf form, and to guess that the other was Ivy. The men yelled, the men around them yelled, guns slewed around wildly…

… And then a tsunami of yelping, growling golden-brown bodies poured into the scene. Half the men went down with bloodcurdling shrieks, and the other half turned and ran. The tide of lean, brown, hungry canines followed them. The men who went under weren't there when the canine-line retreated.

A few beats later, absurdly, a tiny brown dog ran through the headlights after the horde, yipping excitedly.

The three of them sat there, staring, for a long moment, before X said, "What the fuck?"

The two wolves flashed into their human forms, and Angelica clapped a hand over her mouth in a moment of terrifying vertigo. The act of transformation changed everything about their bodies in a few seconds.

After getting control of her stomach back, Angelica had to stifle her slightly hysterical laughter at Simon wearing nothing but tiny black briefs, and Ivy wearing a pair of black shorts and a bikini top. Simon walked to the driver's door, and Watson cranked down the window.

"They're all over," he said, and it wasn't clear whether he was talking about the supremacists or the dog tidal wave. "It's been a long night."

"Yeah," the three in the van said in unison.

"You keep going, we'll run an escort," Simon said.

Angelica looked away in time to avoid seeing the pair's switch, and just watched the shadows in the alleyways out the side window, trying not to dig her nails into her legs or arms in anxiety. What the hell had happened to bring a fucking militia into her home? What had happened to her grandmother, her grandmother's house? Was her mother all right? What about Kit? Her other friends? The bodega? Her apartment?

They made painfully slow progress, especially since the militia had dumped debris and other barricade-like things in the streets, when they didn't park cars across them. Watson, X, and Angelica occasionally had to stop and duck because men with guns were being taken down by wolves (and at least one more iteration of the mass of little yellow-brown dogs), and there were some shots fired. (Angelica hoped the guy who owned the van — Watson's landlord? — would be okay with a few new decorations.)

Just when she thought she was going to explode, she realized Watson had taken them around a twisting way through a part of the neighborhood she hadn't seen in a few years, and the alley they had crawled along had dumped them out right in front of her grandmother's house.

Sitting on the front steps, near the street, was the lean, lanky, familiar form of Kit Castaneda. He was cleaning his nails, from the motions of his almost-silhouette in the city glow.

They pulled up in front and Angelica leaped out of the van. Kit flashed a grin and threw his arms around her.

A second later, she was sobbing into his shoulder and saying in a low voice, "Jane. She… it was awful, IS awful. Oh my god, Kit? ¿Está bien?"

He murmured, "Está bien, she's fine, honest, I've been here the whole time."

Angelica hugged him hard, and pulled away to look up at the front door. She didn't remember pulling away from him or running up the steps, but the next thing she knew, she and her grandmother were hugging and crying and hugging some more.

After Angelica calmed down—much later, it felt like—she was suddenly terrified by the idea of looking at her grandmother, actually seeing her with the new eyes Jane had foisted upon her. Was she some sort of horrible Valkyrie now who could see Death coming for someone? She kept her eyes screwed shut for a few moments, then decided she had to find out.

In the dim light of Abuelita's glassed candles—she saw various saints represented on the candle labels—she looked at her grandmother.

Abuelita was tiny, under five feet, brown-skinned with wavy iron-gray hair cut in a bob. She was wearing one of her good dresses for Sunday Mass, a short-sleeved floral print, and none of her jewelry, not even earrings. Angelica guessed that she was preparing for someone to break in and kill her — wearing her Sunday best and having hidden her jewelry under that floorboard she'd shown Angelica a few years earlier.

Most importantly, while there was a haze of life over and around her, there was no horrible knot of mutation present.

"Your young man, he is very kind," Abuelita said, mopping her eyes with one of the tissues she always seemed to have in her dress pocket. "He brought over a couple grocery bags of food from your place, and something he'd cooked before the power went out. We had a nice dinner. He's a good cook, a very good cook. For a man."

Angelica laughed, partly from the relief and partly from the image of Kit and her grandmother, calmly having dinner while the world went to hell. She went to the door to invite everyone in.

Just then, the horde of little brown dogs ran, yelping and howling, up the street. Watson and X bounded up the steps as the wave came toward them. Kit, however, calmly watched them approaching.

Angelica raised the light level without thinking so she could see what was happening. She almost shouted to Kit, but then the dogs started merging together as they got closer to him and confused her. They went from a mass of little brown dogs to a pack of lean, sandy, pointy-faced dogs that looked like skinny, grinning wolves.

The pack leapt for Kit so fast no one had time to react.

As they arched toward Kit, in the split second before impact, they shrank. Several leapt for his arms, a dozen or more for his lean torso, two for his feet or knees, and one directly at his crotch. They all vanished as they touched him, looking like they were pulled inside him. The echoes of the yelping faded away.

Then Angelica realized something about Kit: he didn't register on her new vision. There was no cloud of changing life there, no haze, no glow.

She felt like she'd been punched in the gut.

Kit turned toward them with a lopsided smile. He seemed different somehow. Bigger. Leaner. Hungrier. Happier. Sadder.

Her grandmother crossed herself and said, "Madre de Dios," just as Angelica said it herself.

Kit's smile got more lopsided and uncertain, and he gave them a rueful little wave. "Heh," he said.

The silence was very awkward.

Then Simon cleared his throat and said, "Well, I guess we know who let the dogs out."

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Alone Time

Angelica stretched her long legs across Kit's lap and finished her beer. "I hadn't realized how stressful it's been to have Jane in the house."

Kit grinned and stroked one of her legs. "She's awesome, but it is kinda like having your abuelita living here."

"No," Angelica said, setting the empty bottle down and plucking another one from the next six-pack. "It is not at all like having my abuelita living here. It's worse. She's a living fucking legend staying in my bedroom."

"Well, not for another couple of days," Kit said, extending his hand in mute request for another bottle. "I'm glad she's swapping back and forth to Lady Justice's, for your sanity at least."

"Oh my god, yes," she said, giving him a bottle and the bottle opener. "I love her, having her stay here has only made me more of a fangirl, but… but…"

"You want to be able to scream," Kit said, grinning smugly.

"Exactly, Jesus fuck," Angelica said.

"Jesus has nothing to do with our fucks," Kit said mock-primly.

"Okay, but some god does," Angelica said, letting her head fall back on the arm of the couch.

Kit rolled his eyes at her and drank. Angelica watched his throat move with each swallow, the lines of the muscles and veins under the brown skin, and her gaze trailed up along his sharp jawline to the perfect ear and the glossy black hair sweeping back from the temple, the high broad forehead with the thin white scar just showing before disappearing into the hairline. When she looked at his hand on the bottle, with long, lean, strong fingers, she felt herself starting to get warm.

"Tell me a story," she said, as she had on other nights, hungry for the sound of his voice, trying to hold off jumping his bones because it only made everything sweeter in the end.

Kit took another swig of his beer and grinned knowingly. "Well, there was this time in Vegas..."

Angelica swallowed a reflexive giggle.

"No, really," said Kit. "Ever been? Hell of a place, emphasis on the hell. I was just hanging out, you know? There was this showgirl..."

"Now I know you're shitting me," said Angelica, rolling her eyes.

"I'm hurt," said Kit, looking pleased. "Anyway, I was dating this nice girl, hanging out, staying away from the gambling... well, mostly..."

"Did you cheat? I know you cheated."

"I did not. It takes the fun out of it."

"You think cheating is fun."

"I only cheat when it's important," said Kit dismissively. "So there I was, and who turns up one night but Bob! I know him from way back -- friend isn't exactly the word, but it'll do -- and we go and get drunk and he makes a couple of bad decisions and I make a couple of bad decisions and we end up in jail."

"I get the feeling," Angelica complained, "that I'm missing out on the good bits of the story here."

"Well, I don't really remember what happened, but from hearsay it involved a police cruiser, spraypaint, and a tray of cold cuts."

"Cold cuts?"

"Shh, I'm getting to the good part. So there I am, rotting in a Nevada jail -- again -- and my sweet girl is going to be wondering what had happened to me! Bob they let out, he's got bail, but I don't. (He's a cheap bastard.) So I'm left sitting on my bum with this skinny half-trained kid who looks barely old enough to grow a beard rattling his keys on the bars."

"I've been there," said Angelica, a little more grimly than she intended.

"Nevada?" asked Kit.

"No, jail. Go on."

"So I look him up and down, and he's got a tattoo on his wrist -- clover, looks like -- and he's got a rabbit's foot on his keychain, and every time he walks past I get a whiff of bayberry and wintergreen. Oh, yeah, he got a job in Vegas to support his habit, if you know what I mean. So I sit down, not too far from the bars, not too near, and I start counting on my fingers and watching the clock, and every now and then I swear, real loud, FUCKING HELL, or DAMMIT ALL TO HELL, or whatever comes to mind."

"I'm intrigued," said Angelica.

"Well, it took a bit more to catch him. I went up to the bars, finally, and demanded to know if the clock was accurate 'to the second, man, to the second!' and when he told me that it was, I swore even louder. Then I said, 'Well, its not like it matters, when I'm stuck here, and someone else is raking in all my jackpots.'"

"Really," said Angelica over her bottle.

"And that caught him. He wanted to know. At first he tried to be standoffish, but as soon as I told him that I'd broken the code (they all think there's a system or a code) at 'one of the bigger' casinos and knew when one of their slot machines was going to pay out that evening, he was right up against the bars. Drooling. 'It's all rigged,' I moaned. 'And just once it was going to be in my favor! My own personal money tree!'"

Angelica raised an eyebrow.

"He wanted to know where and when. I shook my head. 'Nuh huh,' I said. 'Nothing doing. Like hell I'm going to let you go and get my jackpots when you haven't done a thing for me.'"

"Like let you out of jail," said Angelica.

"Which he did," said Kit smugly. "And gave me all the money in his wallet except for the twenty dollars I said he'd need to change into tokens to feed the one-armed bandit. And gave me a ride to the bus station."

"Bus station?"

"Yeah, I figured I would need to get out of town before the casino kicked him out and he figured out I'd directed him to the wrong one."

"What do you mean, the wrong one?" asked Angelica. "There wasn't a right one!"

"Oh, sure there was. That's where Bob was, the tricky little bastard."


"Oh, the whole figuring out the system was all Bob's thing, not mine. I told you," Kit said, with a yawn that turned into a grin. "Cheating's boring."

wonder_city: (Default)
Dancing, So As Not To Be Dead

Angelica made her way homeward carefully and casually, hoping that the God Squads weren't out in the neighborhood. She carried her heavy grocery bag in the crook of one arm and her purse slung across her chest messenger-bag style, just in case she needed to run. She'd taken to wearing sneakers when outside the house, especially since the warmth of spring had settled in and her heels were now strappy and easy to compact into her purse.

She had been embarrassed that morning when she realized her sneakers were covered in tiny Jane Liberty logos—the stars particularly prominent—but Jane hadn't seemed to notice.

As she rounded a corner, Angelica could hear Kit's voice saying, "So this Raven guy hacked into the company database..."

"That's not what a database looks like, man," said a young male voice that cracked over his adolescent protest.

Angelica peered up at the stairs at the side of the house next to her and saw Kit and two vaguely familiar hangers-on crouched against the worn brick wall.

"How would you know? Have you ever seen one?" asked Kit, angling what looked like the flat screen of a StarLeaf tablet. From her position, she could mostly see a bright reflection, although there appeared to be some sort of animation under it. She wondered vaguely where he'd gotten it; she didn't have a tablet and hadn't ever seen the need for the expense.

A second boy punched the first in the shoulder. "Shut up! This is the good part!" The first subsided reluctantly.

Kit smiled and glanced down at the square object he held. "ANYway, he hacked in and had to get through all the mazes and fight all the defenses they'd set up." Angelica could just see pixellated swoops and arcs under the reflection of the sodium vapor streetlamps, bright swashes of color glowing. "He knew the code he was looking for was in there. But when he found it, it changed his icon..."

Kit glanced up and saw Angelica watching. The glowing screen between his hands resolved, focused, and became a picture of a black bird holding something bright in its beak, revolving slowly. "You'll have to wait to see the rest of it. My date is here." The picture blinked out, and Kit was left holding a pane of window glass.

Angelica reminded herself that he'd already admitted to being para. Just because she'd never seen him do anything with his powers before shouldn't freak her out now.

The two teenagers looked over their shoulders. One of them grinned and muttered something to Kit under his breath. Kit smiled easily and said, "Yeah, she is pretty gorgeous isn't she?" The boy flushed brick-red and fled past her, his companion laughing and running after him.

Kit set the glass down in the grass next to the stoop, stood, and stretched. Angelica sighed happily at the sight of his brown belly peeking out between t-shirt hem and waistband, and the long, denim-clad legs that led to his impressive derriere. He kissed her, his sparse four-day-old stubble scratching at her chin, his warm and slightly beery breath washing over her as he laughed at her silly grin. "You look like a woman who's enjoying herself."

"Just reflecting on my luck," she said, glancing away from his amused gaze. "Come on home and make dinner for me."

"And your guest?" he said, taking the groceries and falling into step next to her.

"Yes, and my guest," she said. "How is she anyway?"

"I left at lunch, and she was flipping through channels," he said. "She waved and told me to have a good day at work."

"And did you?" she inquired. She noticed that the knuckles of his right hand were skinned and scabbed, and that he had a cut over one eye.

He laughed. "Oh, sure. I helped out at the shop."

The chop shop, Angelica knew, was one of the more consistent employers of less discriminating individuals in the area. He usually avoided it because the guy who ran it had a grudge against him. "Manny wasn't there today?"

"I didn't think so, but he came in," he said with a vaguely sheepish glance at his knuckles.

She unlocked the front door of the building and let him in. "What did you do to him anyway?"

"Oh, this 'n' that," he said, holding the stairwell door for her as she made sure the front door was locked again. "Might've had something to do with a lady. I don't actually remember."

Angelica snorted and they fell into companionable silence as they climbed the narrow steps.

The security system opened for Angelica and the two of them stepped into the living room, where the television was turned up to an ear-shattering volume and the whole place smelled of Lysol.

Kit and Angelica exchanged a bewildered look before turning to look for the houseguest.

Jane's tousled grey head poked into view over the sofa, and then she stood up from the kitchen floor, her sleeves shoved up. "Hi, there," she said, almost but not quite trying to hide the scrubbrush in her hand behind her.

"Were you…" Angelica began, advancing a step or two.

"Yes, I was scrubbing the floor," Jane said, somehow sounding irascible and embarrassed at the same time. "I got bored."

Kit slouched into the kitchen past her with the groceries and managed not to slip on the wet linoleum.

Jane dropped the brush into the bucket at her feet with a plop. "Sorry," she grumbled.

"No, it's awfully kind of you to do it," Angelica said, hanging her purse up and smiling to hide how baffled she was. "I just never seem to have the time to… do much of anything around here. I vacuum. You know."

"No, no, I used to hate it when my mother would show up and clean my apartment while I was off, you know," Jane said, drying her hands on her sweatpants. "And here I am, doing it."

Angelica said, "It's really all right. My grandmother would thank you."

Kit grinned at her over Jane's head as he unpacked the bag. "Okay, that's enough work outta you today, ma'am," he said, chivvying Jane out of the kitchen. "I hafta cook here." He picked up the bucket and dumped it into the sink.

Angelica said, as she headed for the cabinet where she kept her booze, "Would you like a drink, Jane?" She was suddenly feeling the need of one herself.

"Oh, sure," Jane said, lowering herself onto the couch. "Got whiskey or tequila?"

"Both," Angelica said, after a quick glance over her supply. "Though the whiskey's better. The tequila's cheap stuff, and I don't have any mixers."

"Whiskey and soda is fine," Jane said, rubbing her wrinkled forehead with the heel of her hand. "So I guess you're kind of a fan, huh?"

Angelica spilled whiskey on the tabletop and restrained herself from drinking straight from the bottle in embarrassment. "Yes! Yes, I guess I am."

"I like the glass case of the kitsch you've got over there," Jane said, waving a hand toward Angelica's little collection. "I remember most of those things. That doll was such a goddamn hoot, and so was the decoder ring."

"I just pick things up when I see them, you know," Angelica said, adding soda, mopping up the spill, and bringing Jane her glass. "I've been a fan since I was really little."

"I remember that poster too," Jane said, gesturing toward the framed print on the wall with her glass. "That was during the time they made me change my eyes blue, you know."

Angelica's hand twitched at this, but she managed to keep her beverage in its glass. "Really? I didn't know you could do that."

"I always thought I should study medicine or science or something," Jane said, examining the contents of her glass. "It might've made my power more useful. But I never had time."

Kit was deep into food preparation in the kitchen and didn't notice the look Angelica sent his way. To cover the fact that none of the histories or biographies of Jane Liberty had really covered the exact mechanics of her power, Angelica said, "I'm studying biology. Well, was studying biology. Genetics. I'm trying to save up enough money so I can go back to graduate school."

"You can't get a loan?" Jane asked, looking up and seeming suddenly very interested.

"I got caught up in a lot of red tape," Angelica said, sitting down opposite Jane and considering all the paperwork she had already filled out and would have to fill out again. "And my parents, uh, opted not to help me out." She waved a hand in a way she hoped was elegant and expressive. "It was a mess."

"You want to be a doctor?" Jane asked.

"Not… not a medical doctor," Angelica said. "A PhD. A researcher. You know, trying to cure cancer and all that."

Jane stared at her with an intense, disquieting dark gaze for a long moment, then looked down into her glass again.

"Dinner!" Kit sang, just when the silence was getting strangely ominous. "Hope no one minds rice 'n' beans 'n' some fish."

"Hah, sounds like something my mother would've made," Jane said, levering herself upright.

"Where was your mother from?" Kit asked, serving out dinner onto plates.

"Mexico," Jane said, "but no one was ever supposed to know that." She set her glass down on the table, then settled into the chair Angelica had put a pillow on for her comfort.

Angelica blinked. "You did a good job of keeping that quiet. I never saw anything like that in the biographies."

"It was easy to pass herself off as Italian, if anyone asked," Jane said, picking up her fork. "She didn't have an accent, and it was New York in the 1940s, after all. And then she died young, poor thing, so once I got famous, no one could pester her."

"Why break the habit now?" Kit said, falling to his meal while watching the old woman.

"Because everyone who wanted it kept quiet is dead," Jane said, picking out a piece of spiced fish. "And I'm as good as." She put the morsel in her mouth and chewed carefully.

"Aw, come on now," Angelica said with a horrible sinking sensation in her stomach.

Jane smiled at her briefly, lips pressed shut against the food she was chewing. After a moment, she swallowed and said, "It's a brief enough resurrection, kiddo. Take advantage of the weirdness of paranormal miracles. Do you have any questions you've always wanted to ask me?"

wonder_city: (Default)
I'm afraid that rather a lot of titles I've been coming up with lately are punny...

Love in the Time of Choler

When Angelica opened the door, the last thing she expected out of Kendis' mouth was, "What the fuck has she done to me?"

"What?" Angelica said, frowning.

Kendis shouldered past her into the apartment, her crutches thumping loudly on the hardwood floor. Kit emerged from the bedroom, pulling a t-shirt on. "Hey, Kendis," he said cheerily.

Angelica shut the door and listened to the locks throwing themselves a moment before turning to the room. "What the fuck are you talking about?" she inquired sweetly.

Kendis scowlingly lowered herself into a chair. "I'm talking about fucking Jane Liberty," she snarled.

Angelica sat in the chair opposite her, knees carefully pressed together under her silk dressing gown. "What has she done? Sorry. What has she fucking done?"

"I've been going to work," Kendis said, mopping her sweaty brow with a bandana handkerchief. It was the first really hot day of spring, and it looked like she'd been in a hurry. "As you do. But the thing is, everyone at the home is a fucking genius the whole time I'm there. I was suspecting that something was going on. Everyone was sharper than usual, even the staff. But then…" She lost her coherence in a growl of rage and made helpless little grabby gestures with her hands.

Kit pressed a glass of icewater into one of them and Kendis gave him a grateful look. She drained half the glass at a go, and then continued. "Then Betty, who's been demented and almost completely nonverbal for a fucking decade, out of nowhere starts lecturing one of our elderly Libertarian jackasses on history. Complicated political history about the fucking Harding administration. I didn't even know she was a political history professor before the Alzheimer's." She finished the glass and mopped her face some more.

"So you think…" Angelica began, but Kendis cut her off.

"I know that woman had to've done something to me," she said. "When I saw her last, she patted me on the hand and said that she couldn't thank me enough, but she'd try. I think this is what she fucking meant."

"She amped you up," Kit said, refilling the glass with the pitcher he was holding.

"Like fuckin' crazy," Kendis said, taking another long drink.

Angelica and Kit traded a slightly baffled look. Finally, Angelica said, "So what's the down side here?"

Kendis stared at her. "What's the… she fucking messed with me, that's the down side. Without asking."

"Oh," Angelica said, light dawning. "Oh! Yeah. When you put it like that… yeah, that's fucked up."

Kendis thumped one of her crutches on the floor irritably. "It's seriously fucked up. But… I can't ask her to turn it off! That's the really fucked part!"

"Wait, why not?" Kit said, topping up her glass again.

Kendis sighed and rolled her eyes. "Because… you didn't see their faces, dude. The people at the home. They were so happy, most of them, when they realized they could recognize their kids or grandkids or just their fuckin' nurse. They could talk, mostly. They're not all there -- there's a bunch of shit that's frustrating, like not having words, or having huge holes in their memories, or not being able to do something. But I heard one lady telling a nurse that it was what she'd prayed to happen when she was first diagnosed, it was this enormous gift from God. And…" She scrubbed at her face irritably with her free hand. "If I can give these people a few scraps of joy in what's left of their lives, I can't give that up. I would be the shittiest excuse for a human being ever if I did."

Kit looked at Angelica with his eyebrows raised, then said, "They'll figure out it's you, eventually. Someone will notice that they don't do as well on your days off. And then what will you do?"

Kendis shrugged. "I'll… I dunno. I've gotta think about it."

Angelica was about to say something when she heard scratching at the door. She leapt up, flustered, and hurried to the door, saying, "Sorry, sorry," over her shoulder. She barely glanced at the identification panel before throwing open the door.

The great golden wolf was skinny and drooping as he slunk in the door. He didn't even look up at the people in the room, but let Angelica lay a hand on his neck and hurry him toward the bathroom. "We'll be a few minutes," she said to Kendis and Kit's surprised faces, and shut herself and Simon into the bathroom.

"It's been a long time," she said, pulling towels from the closet as he shifted shape.

"I know," he mumbled, climbing into the shower and turning on the water.

"She still locking the door on you?"

"Yeah, but Watson lets me out every day," he said, and she could smell her chocolate shampoo already. "I just... didn't have the energy to leave."

"Oh, baby," she said, and got the sweatpants and t-shirt she always kept for him out of the closet as well, and plugged in the clippers and put down newspaper, and all the preparations she kept ready for his intermittent visits. She set out the T and syringe for him on the sink, next to her own various medicine bottles.

He finally mustered, "How have you been?"

She thought about the meetings in Madame Destiny's living room, about the fact that she knew what was wrong with him and why it was happening, about the fact that she had no idea whatsoever how to fix it... and said, "Doing all right. Work's been busy. No men in black on the streets around here lately."

"TV says they're mostly at the big tent revival thing," he said, emerging from the shower and rubbing himself all over with her fluffiest towel.

"Huh," she said, plugging in the clippers and setting to work on bringing his hair and beard under control. "I guess they're all shiny brothers or whatever it's called."

"Yeah," he said, standing still and naked and dripping on the newspapers while she made short work of his excess hair. "Job still busy?"

"Yeah," she said. "I'm applying to new jobs to replace the shitwork I got fired from, but that's pretty soulsucking."

He stepped back into the shower to wash the bits of hair off. "I'm sorry. I could talk to Mom about that lab job?"

"No, still not desperate enough to jump into her field." She bent and folded up the hair cuttings in the newspaper. "Still, if she's got a need for a bookkeeper or something like that..."

"Okay," he said, drying off again and reaching for the sink. "I'll let Tizemt know. She's pretty much running the lab now."

She politely turned her back, busying herself with making sure she managed to get all the hair into the trash while he stabbed himself in the ass.

It was only half an hour later that she emerged with Simon, having scrubbed, shaved, and clothed him in the meantime. Kit was telling Kendis a story, but he stopped when the door opened and both of them looked up.

Kendis broke into a grin. "Simon, man, it's been a dog's age!"

Simon smiled wanly and scratched at his beard. "Yeah, things've been kinda fucked up. You're lookin' good, Kendis."

"More'n I can say for you, man," she said, bluntly enough to make Angelica wince. "You look like hell. Not workin' out?"

"No," Simon said.

Kit had somehow managed to slouch to his feet without Angelica noticing, but now he stood up straight and was watching Simon closely.

Angelica half-smiled, half-grimaced, and said, "Kit, this is Simon, one of my old friends. Simon, this is Kit. He's been… staying here." She did not want to try to explain that.

Simon looked up and stepped forward automatically, the well-trained little gentleman, but when his gaze struck Kit's, he straightened right up, shoulders back, looking up into Kit's face while they shook hands. The handshake went on for a little too long, and both of them stood taller, legs locked and braced, staring intently into each other's eyes.

Angelica glanced at Kendis, who put a hand over her mouth to hide a smile.

"Nice to meet you," Simon said, baring his teeth.

"Likewise," Kit said, showing his suddenly long and pointed-seeming choppers.

"You from around here?" Simon asked, and Angelica could almost see the hairs on the back of his neck standing up.

"Nope," Kit said, and added, with a faintly pitying air, "Guess you are, though."

"Yep," Simon said, bracing his hands on his hips, which made his still-admirable pecs stand out in the tight t-shirt. "That means I've known Angelica for a long time."

"Bet so," Kit said, with a stiff dip of his chin that suggested he conceded that small point. "I've travelled a lot. Seen a lot. She's one of the finest folks I've met in a long time."

Angelica noticed that Kendis' shoulders were shaking. While she agreed with Kendis that this was comedy gold, she had to admit that she didn't mind having this kind of macho posturing happening between two extremely hot men over her.

"I agree with you there," Simon said, offering a stiff little nod of his own.

The two men continued to stare at each other until Kendis finally snorted laughter out loud. Then they both turned looks of such outraged dignity on her that Angelica started to laugh too. And then the boys turned sheepish, Simon rubbing the back of his head and Kit barking a laugh.

When Angelica recovered finally, she said, "We've got the makings for a big dinner, you two want to stay?"

"Oh, hell, yes," Kendis said, chuckling and reaching over to punch Simon in the arm. "I haven't laughed this much in forever."

wonder_city: (Default)
Fortunately, I had this one mostly written when the stomach bug took me down last week. :} I still owe a Madame Destiny reading -- many apologies for the lateness -- and that's my next priority.

Nothing Says Lovin' Like Somethin' From the Oven

"So I thought you needed to hang out with Jane," Angelica said, handing Kendis a bottle of root beer from the refrigerator. "Cause she'd just go back to usual without you."

"I thought so too," Kendis said, twisting the cap off and staring at it with a perplexed expression. "The thing is, she said she'd copied my power, so I didn't need to hang around an old lady any more."

"Just... copied your power," Angelica said, sitting down opposite Kendis at the kitchen table, beer in hand. "I always read that she borrowed or took powers."

"You know more than I do, sweetheart," Kendis said, taking a drink, then making sure her crutches were securely leaned in the corner. "If Lady J hadn't been there with her 'only tell the truth' field, I would've thought Jane was just trying to get rid of me. That's a damned tiny house."

Kit breezed past them, depositing a kiss on top of Angelica's head as he went to the fridge for ingredients for whatever amazing thing he was making that night. Angelica smiled up at him and wondered again how she'd ended up in this situation, where he had just never left after spending that one night with her. Amazing night. Nights. Every night. And he cooked. Okay, well, that all may have had something to do with why she wasn't throwing him out on his admirable, albeit skinny, ass. "You know, you don't have to cook for us," she said.

"I like being around food," he said, rooting around in the fridge, giving her a pleasant jeans-clad view of said ass. "And I like cooking. It's not a problem." He added, "You're the Jane Liberty fangirl." Yes, he'd poked fun at her for the Jane Liberty robe. And the posters. And the comic book collection. "There's never been anything about her copying a power without taking it?"

"No," Angelica said, wracking her brain for anything of the sort in any of the biographies or analyses she'd pored over as a teenager, secretly dressing up in her sister's old Jane Liberty costume party getup in the privacy of her room. "Never."

Kendis shrugged and glanced over at Kit's array of cooking items. Her thin, dark eyebrows rose sharply. "Hey, no offense, dude, but I'm sober."

Angelica fought the urge to duck. She'd known Kendis for enough years that she didn't think about it any more, and she'd forgotten to mention it to Kit.

"Ah, sorry!" Kit said, putting the cooking wine away in the cupboard with an apologetic grin. "I didn't even ask."

"No prob," she said, waving his apology off. "Thanks for understanding."

"Lotta my peeps are in recovery," he said. "I get it."

Angelica gave up making a mental tally of all the things in Kit's "positives" column. As far as she could tell, his only negative was "lack of job." Which wasn't exactly unique these days.

Kendis went on, "So I guess y'all don't need to scrape up cash for me any more, Ange, for rent and stuff. I can just get back to work."

"Thanks so much for being willing to take time off for this, though," Angelica said, reaching across the table and squeezing her friend's hand.

"Hey, there aren't many chances for me to save the world," Kendis said with a smirk, "between being a Quaker and not really having a world-saving style of power. Oh, and this," she waved at her legs.

"Oh, no, the braces are totally doable," Angelica said, swigging her beer. "Someone like Mel or that kid Brainchild could turn your leg braces into complete death machines." She paused and considered. "Though Mel would make them fabulous death machines."

"Riiight, just what I need," Kendis said, rubbing her face. "Anyway, they'll be glad I'm back at the nursing home. They're always shorthanded these days."

"How did you guys lose so much staff anyway?" Angelica said.

"Pastor Al's Shining Brethren Tent Revival," Kendis said in a tone she probably otherwise reserved for referring to dog shit on the sidewalk. "Like with your mom and sisters. They've got a big thing going now of only spending time with 'holy' people. Meaning other converts. So they can't work with us heathens. That ain't my kind of Christian, I gotta say."

"Nor mine," Angelica said. "My grandma's as holy as they come, and she believes in eating and keeping a roof over your head, even if it means working with non-Catholics."

"My granny wasn't big on me going the various ways I went," Kendis said, "but she didn't throw me out." She leaned her bottle against her chin thoughtfully. "Though if I'd converted to Judaism, she might've."

Angelica cocked an eyebrow at Kendis. "You? Converting to Judaism? Why have I never heard this story?"

Kendis snorted. "It was a long time ago and far away, and besides, the wench is dead." She lifted her bottle and took a drink. "Poor kid."

Angelica joined the toast silently. She knew too many dead people to press the question.

"I noticed that the men in black seem to carry around the Shining Brethren bibles," Kit said, throwing something into the wok with a sizzle.

"How'd you figure that?" Kendis asked.

Kit shrugged, and delicious smells started to fill the kitchen. "I was curious one day and snagged one while the guy wasn't looking."

Kendis and Angelica stared at him, but he affected not to notice.

"Half of it doesn't even have pages," he continued, "just a plastic block that looks like pages. And it reads like really bad Biblical fanfiction."

"You read fanfiction?" Angelica said, astonished.

"Biblical fanfiction?" Kendis said, appalled.

Kit shrugged again and grinned. "A guy's gotta have hobbies."

wonder_city: (Default)
From the depths of Nemo and an old Victorian house with a dead furnace, I send forth this episode, and hope that you enjoy it.

Wide Awake in Wonder City

Angelica grabbed her black leather car coat from the closet, and followed the last office staff and patients out of the clinic, making sure the door shut and locked behind her. She walked quickly, because the night was brisk and the neighborhood wasn't great. Well, no neighborhood was great any more. This was why she was wearing her low office heels, which were easy to run in if she had to, and her favorite loose black skirt for ease of motion. As she went, she subtly raised the light level of the entire block she was traversing, especially when there were a lot of doorways and alleys. It wasn't a neighborhood where she expected to meet the men in black, but it never paid to be lazy, since the men in black weren't the only hazards.

She reached her destination, a little hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant, and found Kit Castaneda, in faded blue jeans and a clean blue buttondown shirt, lounging on the one uncomfortable straight chair that constituted their waiting area. He sprang up when she came in the door.

"Hi, you!" he said cheerily, and kissed her on the cheek.

"'Hi, you'?" she said, mock-archly, kissing his sandpapery cheek. "Is that any way to apologize after last time?"

Kit rubbed the back of his head. "Sorry."

Angelica smiled at the bored waitress who came forward with a couple of menus. "Two, please."

The waitress handed her the menus and gestured at the nearly-empty restaurant. "Wherever you want."

They didn't even consult -- both of them headed for the corner booth where both seats had a good view of the front of the restaurant and there were no immediately neighboring tables. Angelica watched Kit sprawl into his chair from under her lashes, and had to wonder if the man ever sat up straight.

She set her menu down, already knowing what she wanted. Kit was almost hiding behind his, giving it the closest scrutiny she'd ever seen someone devote to food selection. "The pho is the best I've found in town," she said.

"What's the biggest bang for the buck?" he said, still studying the menu.

Probably you, she thought, contemplating him, but said, "The shrimp bowl."

"Excellent!" he said, closing the menu with the air of a man who'd come to terms with his probable execution. "Can I get a beer?"

She shook her head. "They lost their license a couple months ago because of something stupid, and you know how hard it is to get a license nowadays."

He sighed and nodded. She thought about noting that she had two six-packs in her fridge at home, but decided to wait until she was a little more certain about inviting him back at all.

"So," she said, folding her hands under her chin. "Any good poker games tonight?"

He had the grace to look abashed again. "Nooo. But it was a really good poker game."

"Anyone coming after you with baseball bats tonight?" she inquired sweetly, wondering again why she had agreed to go on another date with this man.

"I don't think so," he said cheerily.

The waitress arrived and took their orders. He did, in fact, order the shrimp bowl.

"Why were they after you anyway?" she said after the waitress left them with a large teapot and two very small teacups.

"Oh, you know," he said dismissively, examining his teacup gravely, then filling hers before his own. "Things. Stuff."

"Money?" she said, taking a sip of tea.

He grinned that bright, devastating grin and said, "And things."

She smiled back, and thought about how she'd seen him bumming cigarettes off those same guys a couple days later, laughing and joking and apparently best buds, even while he was sporting a shiner and a cut across his forehead that must've bled like a bitch.

"I've been dying to ask you a question," she said finally.

"Shoot!" he said, adding sugar to his tea.

She leaned forward a bit and said, "Is Castaneda really your last name?"

"Nope!" he said, swigging down the tea.

"Then why use it?" she said.

"It was funny at the time," he said, pouring himself more tea. "And once it was on my fake ID, it was too much trouble to change."

Angelica scanned the room reflexively before replying, "It's not that I disapprove personally, but you might want to be careful about saying things like 'fake ID' aloud. Nowadays."

Kit grinned and snapped his napkin open like a magician about to do a trick. "All ID is fake ID. You can't cram a whole person onto a little plastic card, you know?"

Their food arrived just then, and they both applied themselves to it. Angelica, however, seemed to have more leisure for studying her companion than he for her. He dug into his food like he was starving, his long calloused fingers as steady and determined in their grip on his chopsticks as the chopsticks' grip on the shrimp and noodles. His black hair was loose around his shoulders and one lock kept stubbornly trying to fall into his pho.

After he'd gone through about half his bowl, he finally looked up at Angelica and seemed startled by her gaze. He grinned around his chopsticks and said, "So after dinner, what would you like to do?"

She put down her cup of tea and said, "I was leaving that up to you. You asked me out, after all."

He slurped up an enormous mouthful of noodles and said, "I know where were could get a beer, but it's kind of a hike."

"Let's see if we want dessert before we decide," she replied, putting off the point of no return. A hike, at night, these days, did not thrill her.

"I always want dessert," he said, and he managed to imply both a touch of innuendo and the cheerful greed of a seven-year-old, and she wasn't sure how he managed that.

They ordered dessert. She played with her food, putting off the moment when she had to have The Talk. Kit kept up a stream of conversational storytelling even while consuming his little balls of mochi ice cream whole. There was something about a road trip, and a helicopter, and a motel room full of snakes, Angelica recalled later, though at the time, she was mostly paying attention to his warm brown eyes, the tiny lines around his mouth and eyes, and the glimpse of the hollow of his throat she could see above where his shirt was buttoned.

Finally, the ice cream was gone and he was paying the bill -- something he insisted on and she hadn't fought at all, given that she'd ended up with the bill the last two times. She took a deep breath, wondering whether she was insane or not, and said, "So, I've got some beer back at my place."

He grinned. "Sounds good to me."

"I, uh, kind of feel like we should talk before we go, though," she said. "There are some things you should know." Before we're in a private place that's been soundproofed and you decide you don't like what you find.

He looked up from counting out the tip from his change. "Like what?"

She started with the easy thing. "Well, I'm para."

"Oh," he said, finally just dropping a five next to his plate. "So'm I. Is that something people have talks about here?"

"Yeah," she said, thinking about the boyfriend before last who'd had a herd of cows over finding her para reg card in her wallet. "But there's something else that most people want to know..."

He held up one hand. "Do you actually believe that, with the way people talk around here, I haven't heard a dozen or more stories about you?"

She shut her mouth. "Um, well, I suppose," she said, for lack of anything more intelligent.

Kit smiled -- a real smile, not his usual default grin -- and said, "Most people I know have reinvented themselves. Hell, I've lost count of how many times I've done it. I don't much care who you were. I'm interested in you, right now, as you are."

Angelica was impressed. He'd possibly just given her the most graceful reception she'd ever gotten from someone who wasn't "in the family." Or was he? She'd ask later. She had just one more thing to find out. "And you don't have some kind of fetish?" she said. "Because I've got a lot of experience with that too."

The smile went to the usual grin. "Oh, naw, I buried all those in the desert and couldn't find 'em when I went back."

She stared at him, perplexed. "What?"

Kit laughed. "Never mind, dumb joke. No. I don't. Your call, hon -- bar or your place?"

She stood up, sliding into her coat and grabbing her purse. "My place. Let's go before the not-curfew kicks in."

They went out and hurried through the streets. She continued to boost the light level as they went. Somewhere along the walk, he took her hand. His grip was firm and strangely comforting. She hadn't felt so safe with anyone in a very long time, despite all that she knew about him and didn't know about him. There was also a part of her that vaguely resented the fact that, because she was a woman walking hand-in-hand with a man, the cop they passed only gave them two looks, instead of the long, hard, interrogating stare she was used to when she was out alone too late. (And she was sure that if they'd been white, they wouldn't have gotten even the first look.)

She unlocked her door with one hand on the doorknob so her biosensor security could read her fingerprints. The keyed deadbolt unlocked, and then the rest of the deadbolts unlocked in response to her touch. Kit eyed the doorjamb as they passed through the door. "That's some serious security there," he said.

Angelica wondered for a moment if she could go through with getting beers and chit-chatting and so forth, but impulsively decided that she couldn't. She grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pushed him against the steel-clad fire door. "Can't be too careful," she said as she did what she'd wanted to do all evening: leaned in and kissed that sarcastic mouth.

"I'm a fan of caution sometimes," he murmured some moments later. "So you just let me know where the Do Not Cross tape lines are, okay?"

wonder_city: (Default)
Escape Velocipede

"Oh, hallelujah," the bottle-blond white man in the dark suit said as Angelica turned the corner. He jerked his head in her direction and his two similarly-dressed white male friends looked her way. "Maybe today won't be a total loss after all."

Angelica's steps didn't slow -- though her grip on her purse's shoulder strap tightened -- while she assessed the situation: busy street to her right, building and alleyway to her left, her destination six blocks further, and three patrolling government officials of one of several possible flavors turning toward her, very probably armed.

Further analysis: below-the-knee black pencil skirt with a matching short military-styled jacket, buttoned-down pink silk blouse, hose, and her most sensible and low-key black pumps. Shoes she could definitely run in, skirt that limited her running stride. Not the best speed possible, and she regretted the full circle skirt she had passed over for the suit. That skirt had saved her ass at least three times.

But she hadn't thought to need it in her own neighborhood.

Now the adrenaline was hitting.

She tried walking on as if she hadn't noticed, but they moved to block her. Of course. She stopped and looked at them expectantly.

"Hello, sweetheart," said Bottle-blond. "Have you been saved?"

Angelica managed -- just -- not to roll her eyes, and just said, "Yes." She'd long since learned there was no point in arguing with these guys that some people don't need saving. None of them were wearing sunglasses, at least, which this particular patrol was known for. That meant that she stood a chance of blinding them if she suddenly pushed her meager light controlling para power to its limit. That might buy her the time to get a lead on them.

"Where you off to now?" the taller, darker-haired one said with what might have been a charming smile under other circumstances.

"Church," she said, entirely truthfully. She pictured her tiny, impeccably-dressed grandmother waiting for her on the front stoop.

"On a Saturday night?" Dark Hair said, shifting forward in a predatory way.

"What church?" Bottle-blond asked, also closing in.

The third, a short, skinny man, was looking at his obviously government-issued StarLeaf in a way that Angelica distinctly did not like. There were serious disadvantages to the transmitting chips they'd put in the new Paranormal Registration cards. She kept watching him from the corner of her eye as she said, "Our Mother of Sorrows." She edged one subtle step toward the curb. Better to take her chances in traffic than down an alley she knew was too choked with crap to provide a good escape route.

Bottle-blond snorted. "Catholic? Come on, honey, why don't you let us talk to you about a real church?"

Short Guy stepped forward and said something into Dark Hair's ear. Dark Hair's lip immediately curled. "Oh, you're one of those." His hands clenched into fists.

Angelica reflected wryly that she was so very many of those that it really wasn't worth trying to figure out which one he was objecting to.

Just then, there was a screech of narrow tires, and a somewhat-familiar male voice said, "There you are! Your grandma asked me to find out why you were so late!"

All three men snapped around to look at the dark-haired, dark-skinned man perched on the rusty bicycle at the curb. He wore extremely faded jeans with holes in the knees and a black T-shirt with a long-faded concert logo of some sort on it. His bicycle -- if it was his bicycle -- had once been painted white but was now mostly painted rust, and bore a shabby plastic basket adorned with fake daises on the front.

The newcomer grinned at the trio, a knife-edged smile full of mesmerizing white teeth. Angelica took the opportunity to step around them and slung her derriere gracefully onto the handlebars, and had a brief flashback to third grade and doing the same on Pepe's banana-seated yellow Schwinn. "Can't keep Grandma waiting. Onward, James!"

She was relieved when he immediately got them moving, and restrained herself from waving at the baffled knot of white men in black. He was a skillful enough rider that they got up to speed and she only had to steady herself a little, and was even able to cross her legs at the ankle to look optimally casual.

When they were a block closer to her grandmother, Angelica risked a look over her shoulder. She saw the trio of suited backs going the opposite direction and hoped they didn't have a flyer on call.

Her rescuer grinned at her, and she said, "Thanks. A lot. You probably saved my grandma a lot of grief today. Though I know she never asked you to look for me."

"Can't have sad grandmas," he said, steering around a smashed beer bottle in the street.

"Kit, isn't it?" Angelica said, trying to ignore the adrenaline shakes that were starting. She had seen him around the neighborhood off and on for the past year or so. He did odd jobs for some folks, had tended the bar on the corner while Hector took his family back to Mexico for a visit, and hung out on stoops with various neighborly groups, drinking and laughing into the night.

"Kit Castaneda, knight errant, at your service," he said. He had tiny crow's feet around his dark eyes, and laugh lines around his mouth. His hair was long, black, and silky, blowing in the breeze, without a sign of grey. He could be, Angelica thought, anywhere between twenty and sixty.

"They're not chasing us," Angelica said thoughtfully after a moment. "You could put me down if this is tiring you out."

"Hah!" Kit said and sped his pedaling. "When rescuing a pretty girl tires me out, I should just give up and go home."

"Where's home?" Angelica said, quirking a smile back at him.

"All sorts of places," Kit said with a hint of a laugh. "So I'd better not get tired, because figuring out where to go would tire me out."

He did stop a block before her grandmother's house to let her off onto the sidewalk. She hopped off with as much agility and grace as she could muster, and smoothed her skirt down. She had a brief moment of fighting to stay upright, as the shakes tried to jelly her knees. When she straightened up, he was off the bike and standing on the curb with her. She was a little startled to find that he was a few inches taller than she was -- and she was tall for a woman.

"Can I buy you a beer or something later as a thank-you?" she said.

"After church?" he said, winking.

"Well, you could come to church with Grandma and me," she said, smiling and lifting her eyebrows.

"I'd burst into flames," he said.

She looked at him more closely. "Are you serious?" You never knew when someone was telling the truth about that in Wonder City.

"Nope, I'm Kit," he said, and beamed when she shook her head and smiled. "But I could walk you two home after, if you like."

That was a surprising relief. She hadn't realized how tense the little men-in-black encounter had made her. "I'd like," she said. "And after Grandma's safely settled in, we could hit La Playa, if you don't mind their beer."

"I drink anything as long as someone else is buying," he said, giving her a little salute and hopping back onto his bike. "Seeya after Mass."

She walked the remaining block, thinking vaguely about his spicy, slightly beery, scent and those big, dark, intense eyes. Her grandmother was standing on the stoop of her little row house, wearing a pink flowered dress and matching cardigan, clutching her immaculate white handbag.

"You're late," her grandmother said in her very slightly accented English.

"I know, Abuelita," Angelica said, bending down to kiss her on one soft, papery cheek. "You know how it is."

"You know so many people here," her grandmother said, patting her hand. "Aren't you glad you came back to the neighborhood after all?"

"Yes," Angelica said, looking around at the old buildings -- two- or three-family clapboard houses, brick apartment buildings, and a few instances of Philadelphia-style row houses like her grandmother's -- and their immaculate yards and scrubbed front steps. The neighborhood felt safer to her than any other place in Wonder City, even though the people here had known her before college and were still getting used to the new her. She caught a glimpse of Kit Castaneda's lean, angular profile lounging against a wall a block away, laughing at some story being spun by Carlos' Tia Concha and said, "Yes, I am."


Author's Note:

I'm just about under the wire for time. Eek.

Don't forget to vote for Wonder City Stories at Top Webfiction!


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Wonder City Stories

June 2017

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