From the Story Arc: Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Previous Story in the Arc: Field Trip Pt 4 by Victoria Victrix (Saturday, January 10, 2009)

Next Story in the Arc: Here With Me by Victoria Victrix (Monday, January 12, 2009)

(posted Saturday, January 10, 2009)

It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and for once, even the villains seemed to be taking a holiday. Outside it was frigid, a real hard cold-snap, so maybe that had something to do with it. Even the Hellions were having a hard time keeping warm.

Inside, in a concession to the season, there were little touches of evergreens, mistletoe, and holly. On the stereo, something she found appropriate. Vickie's choice of Christmas music wasn't exactly "normal." Then again...

Transiberian Orchestra, a lot of Medieval stuff, Loreena McKennit "To Drive The Cold Winter Away." Red seemed to like it, and they both had agreed that if they heard "White Christmas" or "Jingle Bell Rock," one more time they just might lose it. So no radio, either.

Cinnamon/vanilla scent filled the air. She cuddled up on the sofa with one of Red's arms around her, he reading, she plotting in her mind. Superhero romance. This time one where the two parties in question suddenly break out with their primary powers during a crisis.

Ski lodge buried by avalanche. I've never done an avalanche...

Mind, you she'd had more than one done to her. Metaphorical, at least.

Her thoughts drifted back months.

"Why Atlas Park?"

Red had gotten the comm call. The comm call. Confirming that he had been given security level fifty, the highest there was. Not even Statesman got any higher.

Well, technically.

Still. He seemed...underwhelmed. Almost resigned. And when Vickie had suggested that he go to Ms. Liberty in Atlas Park to confirm it, he'd seemed...nonplussed.

"There's kind of a tradition among some of the people who've been here a while, the people I came in with," she said awkwardly, trying not to think how many of them were fifty and long past it, who had been doing good, working their way up in skill and strength while she sat in her apartment and wrote romance novels and books about being a hero... "You confirm at Ms Liberty because it's where you started. Bringing it full circle."

Well, it wasn't as if they'd be going out of their way. The apartment wasn't that far. He nodded, still weary, and they flew towards the gateway to Atlas Park. Typically, it was crowded with new heroes. Red looked them over, watched them scurry excitedly here and there, clamoring around Ms. Liberty and sounding like a gaggle of geese.

"Oh Ms. Liberty! It's an honor, a real honor to finally meet you!"

"Ms. Liberty, how can I get someone to take me as a sidekick?"

"Ms. Liberty, I hate my costume, how can I get another one?"

"Ms. Liberty, do I have to patrol the Hollows?"

"Is Statesman really as stuck-up as everyone says?"

Red landed at the feet of the Atlas statue, and turned off the fires. He drew in a breath, and approached her. "Alright, here we go."

Vic felt anxious, looking at him. He just seemed...as if he didn't want to be here. Had this been a mistake?

"Go for it babe," she urged in a whisper.

Ms. Liberty watched them approach, and flashed a wide smile at Red. "So," she said in greeting, reaching out and taking Red's hand.

"Hiya sweetie," he said simply.

"So here you are then. I remember, y'know, the first time you approached me."

"Aye?" Red asked, surprised. "You can't be serious. You meet thousands of new heroes."

"Yep," she grinned. "But you were the first to wear a rodeo clown outfit."

Red gave Vic a sideways glance. "I was new. And poor. I told you about the last job before this gig, right?"

"You did. And...babe...when you think about it, being a rodeo clown is pretty heroic too."

"You're hilarious. Both of you." Red ignored the snickering of the new heroes around him.

She sighed. And firmed her jaw. "I didn't think I was being funny," she said for the benefit of all the shiny new kids. "No powers? No invulnerability? Putting yourself between some poor schmuck who just earned himself a concussion and three tons of raging hamburger with a couple of pointy battering rams on his head? Takes more guts to do that than to go pound on Hellions when you have fireballs or dark magic or a sword."

Red shrugged. "The kids seemed to enjoy it."

"And here you are, Red. A hero of the city." Ms. Liberty always had a warm and welcoming way about her. States had chosen well in making her the Atlas Park trainer. She handed Red a small badge.

"Huh. Hero of the City badge." Red gave it a look, and slipped it into his belt. "Thanks, darlin'."

Vic smiled a little, and blinked quickly so he wouldn't see the suspicion of tears in her eyes. "And there you are, a hero of the city, which I, at least, have known all along." Was there any way she could make him understand that this made no difference and all the difference in the world for her? All the difference, because it felt as if finally someone was acknowledging all the work that had gotten him here. "Congratulations, Red Djinni," she added softly.

"Thanks," Red said dryly. "Well, that's that."

He shook Liberty's hand once more, and before another word could be said, was off and flying.

Vic wasn't an empath like Bell; she just couldn't tell what he was thinking. Melancholy? Depressed? Was it an anticlimax? Was he--

Was he thinking maybe... maybe it was time to move to other things? Fifty... back when they'd met, the distance between them had seemed daunting, but not--not insurmountable. Now...

She got a chill.

They flew, her trailing a bit behind, to their building just outside the Steel Canyon tunnel, and hovered for a moment while she keyed the window-lock. Not a lot of heroes who lived here used their windows to come and go, because mostly after people were able to fly, they moved on to other places to be nearer their new assignments. But Vickie liked it here.

Did he?

Suddenly she didn't want to go inside, and she relocked the window, turning to him. "I got an idea," she said. "Let's go to your Aerie."

"Now?" He asked, seeming mildly surprised.

"Sure. You've been saying it's been too long." And he had, actually. Wondering aloud if someone had taken it over. If things had gotten worse in the Falls since he hadn't been doing regular patrols... "Buy you an ice cream?" she added coaxingly.

"Sounds good," he said. His delivery was off. He had been going for enthusiasm. Instead, it sounded like the resigned tone of a ten year old off to his first root canal. By tram and by flight, they made their way to the Falls, and at the tunnel entrance, Vickie hesitated.

"You'll have to show me where it is," she said, turning to him as he came through the tunnel and stopped, seeing that she had stopped. He was so unreadable in that scarf, with his eyes blazing. She felt another chill.

He simply nodded. "I can do that."

"I've never been to it, you know," she reminded him, and swallowed. "You never actually invited me, and I figured you wanted it as your private place." See? I've never invaded your space. Never asked you to bring me here before. Wanted you to keep being you, have your own alone place. Can you see that?

"Well, you can never say that again. C'mon."

She followed him, flying high because she was very much a tempting target here, and she had been warned. But it wasn't far, just the edge of the Square looking down on Numina, next to one of the lion statues. It was unexpectedly peaceful, surprisingly serene. There was an ice-cream vendor by one of the pillars in the "safe" zone, and she flew down and got a couple bars before joining him.

Red was perched high above, his hand placed affectionately on the statue. At least he looked somewhat more relaxed here. As Vic landed next to him, he turned and gave her a look, a fatigued look, but there was humour there too.

"Almost threw Comm off here once," he chuckled.

"I remember that...." she said slowly. "I mean I remember that you had it out with him out here--" She didn't recall who had told her. Johnny? It might have been. It had been awful, though she hadn't known how awful at the time. Communard was one of Red's oldest friends...

"Have a seat," Red muttered as he motioned to the step. He collapsed in a heap, resting his arms on his knees.

She tucked in between the lion's paws. The sun felt good. "So many things almost ended then..."

Including us...

His response seemed automatic, as if it had been practised and repeated endless times. "Aye, but things go on, we've got too much responsibility for them not to."

She nodded. "Truer words were never spoken," she replied, as she handed him an ice-cream bar and began slowly unwrapping her own.

"Oh I don't know about that, how about 'I love you'?" he chuckled, accepting the ice cream with a smirk. "Thanks."

That was all it took. She felt her tension evaporate, like fog in the sunlight, and she smiled, feeling peace fill her. Real peace. And in that moment of peace, she had--an epiphany. A wonderful epiphany. Like the blinding flash of lightning, but--but one that made her almost laugh at how silly she had been. "Hey."

Red grunted as a few drops of ice cream splattered onto his chest. Casually, he burned it off. "Mmmm?"

And she had to share it with him, now, before the moment escaped both of them. "I don't need a sword. I don't need a bow. Or a Warwolf or a pet witch or even Herbert my live rock. I need two things. I need you to love me, and I need friends to help me. That's all. And I have both."

She had both. Her world was complete, had been all along, and she had just been so--so mixed up inside that she hadn't seen it. How absurd, when it was all as simple as the sunlight, and as profound, if only she had opened her eyes.

Red leaned back, perhaps thinking the same, as he closed his eyes and let the sunlight wash over him. "That you do."

And another thing. "I don't need to be pretty in the mirror, as long as I'm pretty for you." What did it matter what other people thought? He thought she was beautiful. He said so, and not just with words, but with his hands, his body. Nothing else mattered.

"You are pretty though," he whispered. Pulling himself up, he turned and placed a reassuring hand on hers. "You know that, right?"

Bless him. "For you, and that's what counts."

Shaking his head, he moved closer still, then hesitated. "No, not just me..." More hesitation. He pulled back his scarf, his lips twitching as if in indecision. "Haven't you been noticing... things... of late?"

That was--an unexpected response. Things? She stopped in mid bite, and gave him a puzzled look. "I've been feeling mostly... well..." Better than she had in years, in fact, but--well, she put that down to Bella's therapy--

"Not just the anti-toxins Bella has you on. It seems like--" his voice dropped, and sounded defeated "--you still don't let me see you in the dark. But you... feel... different."

... feel... different... The words didn't make sense, and yet at the same time, something deep in her subconscious, suddenly sat up and took notice. She felt frozen in stillness for a moment. As if she hovered in the middle of a cloud, disoriented, momentarily unable to tell up from down, where she was--where this was going.


Softer. Her eyes widened. She hadn't needed the salve, the massages, in--weeks. Hadn't turned them down either, because they felt so good, and his hands were so gentle and... and sometimes the massages led to even better things. Heh. More often than not, actually, unless she was so exhausted she fell asleep in the middle of it. But--

--but she hadn't needed them.

"...what?" she managed.

Red nodded, his jaw clenching. "It's true."

Keloid scars, hypertrophic scars, they didn't get better. The Elven healers said so. The specialists at Chiron had said so. They don't get better, they don't heal, they don't go away. Ever. She'd accepted that. but-- "... that's... not... possible."

"I thought it was my imagination," Red continued, almost choking on the words. "But it's true. Didn't want to tell you before, in case I was wrong. But I think... I think you're healing."

Her head reeled. She couldn't speak. She could hardly think. As the gulls wheeled overhead and cried, she closed her eyes for a moment. Get a grip. You can tell. You can tell right now, right this minute. Do it now, don't think about it, do it.

Red looked away, and appeared to be concentrating on his ice cream.

She opened her eyes again and handed him hers.

"Hold it a second will you?" she asked, with a carefully calculated calm that was so controlled for that single moment that although she was shaking inside, her hand was as steady as a rock. The hand in that glove, in that glove, the gloves she never took off....

She closed her eyes again. Carefully, slowly, she pulled off the right-hand glove and rolled the sleeve of her new blue "superhero" costume back to the elbow. Only then did she open her eyes and look down at what she had revealed. Really look, for the first time in--

--in what seemed like forever.

Yes. Still scar-seamed, patchy and ugly. But--


Nothing keloid. Nothing hypertrophic. No hard, ugly worms and welts, no painful puckers, no skin as thick and tough as a lizard's.

Healing. Healing.

And if that was healing--there was something far more important than mere cosmetics that was healing. Swift as thought, she pulled off the other glove and began to run her fingers along her right hand and arm and--her breath caught. She had thought it was phantom feeling--like the feelings in an amputee's missing arm. When they'd been together, she'd been--his caresses--she'd thought it was all in her mind. She'd thought--

It had been real. It had been real.

Once again, she had felt the touch of her lover's hand. Everywhere. Beneath the healing skin, healing nerves. Healed nerves.


Red had moved on from the ice cream, and now appeared to be contemplating his feet. "Well?"

Quietly, almost afraid to say it aloud in case the miracle was taken from her, she spoke the words that made it true. "Babe?....I feel things again."

He nodded, and tried to smile.

She stretched the fingers towards him. "Hold my hand?" she begged.

After a moment, he reached over, refusing to look up.

"You can look." she told him, almost vibrating now with so many emotions that it created a curious stillness and calm inside her.

"I know I can," he replied, and closed his eyes.

"I want you to look," she said, simply, looking down at their clasped hands, feeling his fingers entwined with hers and knowing, knowing it was not something she was imagining, some echo of old memories cast into the present. This was his hand in hers, and she could feel it. Know it was his. The strength. The deftness.

"I..." Slowly, as if he was being asked to stare into the face of the sun, Red turned to look. He could feel the warmth of her hand. It called to him.

His gift. His gift. And if he didn't know it, she was going to tell him "You made this possible."

"I did?"

She nodded, looking earnestly into his eyes. "If I had never met you, I would still be the way I was the day you met me."

Slowly, he pulled his hand away. "You don't know that," he muttered. "Not until you know how this happened. And... and how... how far it'll go." She heard his voice catch at the last.

He didn't understand. Well--if words were spells she would set one to make him understand and believe. How much, dear gods, how much he had given her. "Love... I was the way I was for years. Nothing changed."

She thought of herself, cocooned in that apartment, a moth in amber...

"Yes, something did."

She shook her head. "Nothing was going to." She knew herself. She had feared change so much--feared everything so much--

"Yes, it was."

She felt the warmth of the sun on her back and knew she was really feeling it. And the breeze on her hands. Every second was another gift--"Yes," she agreed then. "Something did change. You. You showed up and made it change. Do you know what you did? Really?"

"Come on, Vic. You would've gone out again, eventually."

Oh, love, love, love. "But I would not have had you to do the one thing that kept me going."

Finally, he looked at her. "What's that?"

She smiled tremulously into his eyes. "Bella coaxed and scolded. Red Saviour bullied. You were the only one who reminded me how to be brave. when I had forgotten. And you kept reminding me. And you never let me forget again." Without that... she would still be cocooned, a husk of what she had been, living through the words of imaginary lives...

"And now?" he demanded, his voice rising. "Now that... that you're healing, and back, and powerful again... god, this is dumb..." He stopped, covering his face with anxious hands.

Now that she was healing? "I need you to keep reminding me. I need you as much as ever. Maybe more."

"Do you?" he asked. "I..."

A long pause.

"I have never been this afraid I would lose you," he admitted. His voice was so quiet, but in that moment, his voice filled her world. His eyes. His voice. That was all there was in the universe.

"I have this idea," he continued, pausing to take deep breaths. "Y'know, of the person you were. You're well on your way to being her again. And that person... well... I can see that person not needing someone like me around. Not wanting someone like me around."

One epiphany in a lifetime was extraordinary. Two in the course of an hour--

Another sudden, blinding realization froze her in time.

He was afraid he would lose her. And she could see it now, understand it--so many times he'd lost people he cared for, watched them run from him, from---things. His temper. Things he'd done because of that temper. Or because he'd lost his way. And they hadn't loved enough, or had the patience enough to stick it through to the other side. Or they'd left him because--because they didn't need him anymore, and there was no love along with that need.

He was used to losing people. He wasn't used to keeping them.

Oh, my dear and precious love.

All this time, all this time, there had been that gnawing, horrible fear in her--that once he was sure she could stand on her own, he would leave her. She had pictured it a hundred, a thousand times. The mirror of his own fear. He had driven people away, well, she had run from them, run and hidden and buried herself so deep they grew tired of trying to deal with her and left her alone. And she had been sure that once he thought she was secure again, he would consider his obligations over and move on to someone else. Someone better.

She was used to people leaving. She wasn't used to them staying.

And--how could she have been so wrong?

How could he?

How could they both have been?

She gazed at him with love and absolute conviction in her eyes. "I have never in my life been more sure of anything," she said, quietly. "I'm on my way to being a much different and much better person than I was. Someone with a code of ethics I never had before. Someone who is not afraid to be defeated, because she knows she'll get right back up again. Someone who is not afraid to be weak, because--because she knows that you're there to lean on long enough to get her strength back." As she would be there for him, and he for her, because--because that was the right way, the way it should be, because against all odds they were meant to be together. "And someone who knows that strength is for sharing. Who really knows in her heart, soul, and gut, that we all need each other--and you and I need each other most of all. That's who I'm on my way to being."

He look astonished and then, typically, embarrassed. He coughed. "Told you I was being dumb."

Dumb? Oh no, love--or if you were, I was just as dumb. Just as mistaken.

"Maybe I can get there without you," she admitted, because anything less than the whole truth wouldn't be right. "But it would be no damn fun, and pretty empty at the end. I--I--want, I need to do it with you."

He stood then, looking around as if seeing the world for the first time. "I'm here as long as you need me," he said, with warmth, with conviction.

She looked up at him, and let her adoration for him, for everything he was, flaws and glories combined, shine through her eyes. "Then you'll be here as long as I live," she said quietly.

"And by the way," he added with a smile. "I didn't want to say this in front of the others, but you look damned hot in blue."

She felt her whole self light up with the smile she gave him back. "Thanks," she said, simply. "I was hoping you'd like it."

He handed her the melting ice cream back; she took it, and his hand, and closed her eyes in bliss to feel his fingers under hers, "I can feel how warm your hand is," she said, with complete happiness. And then he swept her up in his arms, and she laid her head on his shoulder, so strong, so gentle he was--the sun embracing them both and so much peace in her that finally she knew, she knew what it was she had to say to him. Because he needed to hear it as much as she needed to say it. The echo of his gift to her, the mirror-image, heart to heart.

"I'm here for as long as you need me," she said, quietly.

"Marry me then," he said, softly.

For one moment, the words were incomprehensible. He hadn't.

He had.

And then--her universe dissolved in a wash of light. Breath stopped, heart stopped, time stopped. Thought stopped. She was held, weightless, in wonder.

She heard her own voice whisper. "... dear god..."

And on the second breath "... oh yes..."

And on the third, all in a rush, "... ohdeargodyes..."

The ice cream fell forgotten to the marble courtyard below the lion statue. She had both her arms around his neck, her face buried in his shoulder, and as the bells of Founders Falls rang out the hour, her heart sweetly sang with pure joy, driving the shadows of the past into oblivion.

Oh yes. Avalanche. One she did not want to dig herself out from under.

They hadn't told anyone. There didn't seem to be any pressing reason to. They hadn't set a date; putting a date to it didn't make it more real. It would happen when it happened. Besides... putting a date on it would mean pressure to invite people, turn it into some sort of... Congress-wide event. A circus. Oh no. A thousand times, no.

"Hey," she said, quietly. "Xmas Eve and all. Got you something. Two somethings."

"Hmm?" He looked up from his book.

Cleverly, she had hidden the little packages in the space between the arm of the sofa and the cushion. She fished the first one out. "This is the biggie." She smiled as she handed over the trade-paper-back sized package. "You would not believe what I went through to get this made up."

His bare hand touched hers; scars visible but nowhere near as bad as even young Ratt's. She only wore gloves now working, for protection. Never at home. She leaned forward so he could get his arm free to unwrap the gift.

"A PDA?" he said, curiously. She chuckled and reached over to flick it on. Most of the front was screen and it was hardened against just about the worst that a superhero could dish out. The screen warmed to colorful---very colorful---life. "What---?"

"It's an E-comic," she said, tucking herself back into his arm. "Hardened against everything, including Hamidon, they tell me. Whacking big hard-drive. Pretty much anything you might want to read going back to the thirties. Buck Rogers. Prince Valiant. Lot and lots of modern stuff. Was thinking about all the time we spend waiting at mish doors, sitting around waiting on people, thought this might pass the time for you. Oh, and here---" She handed him the second, smaller box. "Just a little something."

This was going to be fun. Small, square jewelry box. She knew what he had to be thinking as he slowly, slowly opened it.

He stared. "Psyche," she said, and chuckled gleefully at the look on his face. No, it was not a ring.

It was a pair of miniature spurs dangling from a clip.


"Wish them big," she said. A moment later, he had a full-sized set in his hands.

"Why--ah." Understanding dawned on his face, as the spurs shrank down to miniatures again. "Yeah, carrying around a full-sized set could be a pain. Is a pain. And these---"

"Call your 'steed, yes. Hang them from your keys or your comm so you don't lose them. Present from Robin Goodfellow and myself combined. Merry Xmas, babe." She met his kiss halfway, gave as good as she got, still alight with merriment, reveling, immersed in, sensual feeling. She chuckled again. "If you could have seen your face..."

He ignored that. "I love it, thank you."

This time it was a giggle. She'd got him. And he wasn't going to admit it.