What Dreams May Come

From the Story Arc: Red And Blue

Previous Story in the Arc: Portals by Belladonna Aura (Thursday, July 21, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: The Day The Rabbit Died by Belladonna Aura (Wednesday, August 10, 2005)

(posted Thursday, July 28, 2005)

((This story takes place before the discovery of October Star I in the Hollows but after Bella's return from Las Vegas))


Bella had returned home to Paragon feeling reasonably stable. Grampa was improving steadily. The offer of a job from Cirque du Soleil to join them as a flying singer had improved her self-image quite a bit, though she had never for one moment considered taking it. Funny that; she'd relieved her feelings at the hospital by going outside when things got too much, going up on hover, and belting out some kind of sad song. It had been one from the Cirque repertoire that she considered to be her "trademark" piece, "Let Me Fall," that had caught the ear of the director of Xumanity and prompted the offer.

Well, hey, apparantly there was a place for blue-skinned divas after all. The offer was good for as long as her voice held up. Nice to know that there was something she could do if her powers failed; with a mutation as unstable as hers, there was no telling what it might do next.

So, with the thing with Zach hanging in limbo, no sign that he was going to do anything, no reply to any of her messages, well. She told Djinni she was going to do what she could to be happy.

Except that events conspired against her. October Star went missing. Thea was in meltdown. Her monthly lab report came in and basically said, "Do not even think about having a relationship with anyone."

And last of all, she got a glimpse of Vic and Djinni together, and the radiation of pure adoration for each other was enough to make her turn from blue to green with envy.

She took refuge in the Land's End catalog, contemplating frumpy yuppie clothes, a pint of double-chocolate-chunk ice cream, and the latest episode of Smallville. But tears kept falling on the ice cream, giving a bitter flavor to odd bites, and even though she had once thought jeans and a tee to be the height of desirability--she wanted a leather bustier. No, she wanted someone to wear a leather bustier for.

She set the empty carton aside, dropped the catalog on the floor, and curled up on her side to watch Clark in his own woes--

--and--

--her eyes closed, just for a moment.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to "The Cell" seemed to be playing in the background. She was in Perez Park.

That was odd. She hadn't had a mission there in weeks---she blinked at the column of blackness that suddenly appeared in front of her. It seemed familiar, and a moment later, she knew why.

"Zach?" she said, hesitantly. The cloud of blackness seemed to nod.

"Why are we here?"

The cloud seemed to point. And a voice that was not quite Zach's...but also not unlike his said, "Got to find this sorceror guy the Rikti captured."

She blinked. That was almost a contradiction in terms. "Rikti?"

"Yeah girlie...your favorite flavor," the voice said, as the column led her under the trees, into the maze, around and around and around. Perez was bad enough outside of a dream, which this surely was. This was worse. They passed nightmarish CoT and Vahz, Clocks and Hellions, all of which ignored them, until after an inteminable time, they stopped at a door in a hill.

"Just when I thought we were going in circles," Zach said, conversationally, "Here we are. You up for this kiddo?"

Inside the door, rather than the high-tech environments that Bella usually associated with the Rikti, lay the kind of entrance to a section of the Thorns' underground city she had become all too familiar with over the last several months.

Except that the place was overrun with Rikti. Drones perched on ledges, Mentalists and Swordsmen stalked corridors usually reserved for Energy and Madness Mages. They paused beside a pyramid crowned with an altar. "Hmm...head upstairs?" he asked.

She felt her head swimming. Um--ok---but this place is so wierd--"

The column of darkness chuckled. "You ain't seen the half of it...ever seen a Crey scientist possessed by the Thorns?"

That was even wierder. "Crey? Thorns? That's nuts---"

The column nodded. "All kinds of cross-breeding going on these days. That's the Rikti plan here....hoping to convert sorcerors into Lost."

"Why would they---" she began, and felt her brain do a little twitch at that added disconnect. "---Lost?"

"That's how they make more Rikti...it seems," Zach said, as she tried to wrap her mind around that idea.

As if in a slow-motion replay of other missions, she followed Zach, throwing debuffs, AM auras, the very occasional heal (more for herself than him) and now and again actually "shooting" something---until there was another disconnect, and she found herself separated from him and immediately and predictably faceplanted.

"ow" she said. She looked down at her body, facedown on the floor. She was having an out-of-body experience....

He called her name in alarm. And she smiled. Because it really was worth a faceplant to hear the concern, the care, in his voice....she would go into debt to the hospital forever to hear him call her name like that.

"S'okay, You can't die in a dream," she said reassuringly. "Can you?"

He laughed, relieved. "Doubt it...Coast looks clear...at least, as far as wierd coasts go," he said finally, and she found herself staggering to her feet, as if she had taken a "wakey" pill. He appeared at her side again.

"Ready for rough stuff?" he asked.

She nodded, her adrenalin up, as it always was when confronting Rikti. Dear gods, how she hated them.... "OK." It was said fiercely, and with determination.

There was more strange, disjointed fighting, and then---

A Rikti. Who threw the kind of dark powers at them that she was used to seeing Sister Hecate and Thea using. The logical disconnect almost threw her out of the dream altogether. "Know: Bestial Boy!" it said. "Now time: Die!"

They talked? The damned things talked? She'd never heard one talk before.....

"See...Rikti using magic!" Zach said, as she mentally reeled. "Now you see why we had to stop them."

They freed the mage---which revolted her. It revolted her down to her core. Next to the Riktim she hated those things the most...."That's just wrong. That's just completely wrong. How can we be rescuing CoT?"

The dark column resolved itself into Zach for a moment, then went back to the cloud. "It's like preventing terrorists from getting nukes....its not that you love the nukes...."

She looked around at the temple, and shivered. He moved closer. "Feeling cold baby girl?" he asked softly and then---

Then they were standing outside in the park again, fireflies in the trees, and the dim green glow of a CoT fire off in the distance. "How did we get out here?" she asked, bewildered.

He laughed. "Magic baby-girl, magic. Ready to pursue the Rikti to the ends of the earth?"

"Yeah....." she said, and then, "Yeah!" with more enthusiam. "Especially with you---"

There was another strange jump and they were standing in front of a Portal---

"Hmm...standing in front of a Portal..." He shook his head and looked at her slyly. "--why does this remind me of something?"

She shook her head and dashed through, and once again they were doing what the two of them did best; a strange sort of team...yet...

Against Rikit, well, she was getting hammered. But it didn't matter. She was making a difference to him, making it easier for him to fight, and---and that was good. It felt like she was accomplishing something important. And---and it was Rikti. It was Rikti. She couldn't help it; she wanted the horrible things dead, dead, dead and buried and forgotten forever....

Strangely in the dream, she began to sing. She'd never sung when fighting, although she often had a kind of soundtrack running in her head.

she's so cold and human
it's something humans do
she stays so golden solo
she's so number nine
she's incredible math
just incredible math

and is she really human?
she's just so something new
a waking lithium flower
just about to bloom
I smell lithium now
smelling lithium now

how is she when she doesn't surf?
how is she when she doesn't surf?
how is she when she doesn't surf?
I wonder what she does when she wakes up?
when she wakes up

so matador
so calm
so oil on a fire
she's so good
she's so good
she's so goddess lithium flower
so sonic wave
yeah, she's so groove, yeah
she's so groove
yeah

wow, where did she learn how to surf?
wow, where did she learn how to surf?
wow, where did she learn how to surf?
you know I've never seen the girl wipe out

how does she so perfectly surf?
how does she so perfectly surf?
how does she so perfectly surf?
I wonder what she does when she wakes up?

I wanna go surfing with her
I wanna go surfing with her
I wanna go surfing with her
I wanna go surfing with her

"Who's that?" he asked in her ear.

"Scott Matthew," she replied. "Song called "Lithium Flower." I really like it."

"You must have a great iPod." He sounded envious.

She smiled...."Archos Jukebox," she correctd. "Present from my folks."

Then, remembering his taste in music---she gave him more Rush.

If we burn our wings
Flying too close to the sun
If the moment of glory
Is over before it's begun
If the dream is won
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost

When the dust has cleared
And victory denied
A summit too lofty
River a little too wide
If we keep our pride
Though paradise is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost

And if the music stops
There's only the sound of the rain
All the hope and glory
All the sacrifice in vain
(And) If love remains
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost

"Are you holding up okay, kiddo?" he asked. She smiled.

"I'm about to sing something wierd so don't think I've been taken over by Rikti."

"Angeli e demoni kruzhili nado mnoj, Rassekali ternii i mlechnye puti
Ne znaet schast'ya tol'ko tot, Kto ego zova ponyat ne smog
Nalyubuites, nalyubuites, Aeria Gloris, Aeria Gloris
Nalyubuites, nalyubuites, Aeria Gloris, Aeria Gloris---"

He paused long enough to turn and stare at her. Or at least she thought he was, it was hard to tell with a colum of black fog. "Now you are wigging me out...you speak latin?"

She smiled. "It's Czech, actually, and no, I just learned it phonetically."

"What's it mean?" he asked.

"Angels and demons were circling above me, I feel the sharp, cutting thorns, and see the Milky way, I don't know happiness anymore, I knew who knew it but couldn't give it. I am calling, calling now, spirits rise and falling, calling, calling, in the depths of longing. Stand alone.....where was life when it had meaning---stand alone....nothing's real anymore---"

"Kinda sad," he said, sounding troubled. "Flame teach you that one?"

She had to smile at that. "Nope. Japanese animation taught me this one."

She heard the disconnect in his voice. "Japanese animation taught you a Czech song?"

"Theme song from GHost in the Shell Standalone Complex," she explained.

And suddenly, they were in Talos.

"When you want something bad enough, its easy to do. right?" But then he added, in a complete change of subject, "So, who's this Kid Crisis you've been hanging with?"

She was dumbfounded for a moment, but then realized that this was a dream, and of course, in her dream, the dream-Zach would know all about KC....

"He's a nice guy," she temporized, trying to sort out her own feelings. "Really brainy, but sweet...."

"Nice, huh? He your type?" There was an edge to the question. A dangerous edge?

She fumbled for words. "No, but---I mean for a friend, a really good friend, but---"

Now the voice held wicked good humor. "Hmm...no butt, huh? That's a problem. A nice butt is important. That's why I wear tight pants."

Good god, what part of her unfettered libido had that come from? She blushed indigo.

"Wow...his butt is that bad!" Zach said gleefully.

She struggled to get the topic back on track. "No. I mean---he was really nice to me when Grampa was in the hospital---And when I cratered after JOhnny Murdock changed---"

The cloud appeared to lean in towards her. "Not like Zach was, you mean...."

"No. It's not like that," she said, springing to Zach's defense. "Zach was busy....and I'm not...important."

The voice from the cloud sounded apologetic. "I didn't know what was going kiddo....sorry if you were left hanging...."

She shook her head. "I'm not important," she repeated. "Not like stuff in Washington important. I mean---"

"Bah....People always trump policy," he replied. "Otherwise, why are we in the CCCP?"

Yes, but---she fell back on Trek. "The good of the many---is more important---than the good of the few---or the one." The needs of the collective---like she had told Red, when she made Nat promise not to risk anyone else if something bad happened to her....

"But...to each according to her needs...." Bestial Boy countered. "What do you need, Bella? Time to play chase the bouncing lint ball."

He bounded off across the landscape. She followed, flying. Somehow they could still talk normally.

"I need---" she began, then shook her head. "It doesn't matter what I need."

"Of course it matters what you need!" he half-scolded. "At least, it should matter to you! For example, right now I NEED a twinkie---"

From somewhere below she heard the sounds of Zach stuffing his face, and had to smile a little. He was always so hungry. She wondered how he would like her red-and-white spaghetti...

"See? My need was satisfied, and everyone is better off for it, no?"

She sighed. All right, try and articulate it. "I need---someone I can count on who can count on me. I need a friend...." A lot more than a friend, actually, but---

"Hmm...that sounds like a song lyric....James Taylor?" he asked inconsequentially.

"Um, yeah," she said, feeling lame, and tearful. "Dammit."

"Problem?"

"No" she said. "Yes. Hard to see---" and it was, as she blinked back tears.

She was above the water now, Talos Harbour. "Wow! You are very high up!" he exclaimed from below.

"I like to fly high," she said simply. She did, of course. Even if it hadn't been a safety issue---to see the earth dim and mist-covered below her---all of the ugliness hidden, all of the dangers out of sight---was a kind of peace. It was why she liked to perch on high buildings in Steel; why she liked to go up as high as she could on hover and sing.

"Now I really wish I could fly!" he was saying. "I got to see if I can work on that....hey, I have an idea! When I went into the Reactor, my powers changed a bit...mostly for the better! Maybe you could zap me....."

She smiled, and put on some of her powers so that she glowed and sparkled. It made her easier to see from below. Seeing where he was in the water below her, she decided to "air-dance" for him. She hadn't done this more than a couple of times for an audience, but she figured it looked like stunt-flying.

"You look darn pretty doing that, you know? I get a nice view from here." She smiled more, and began making close passes over the spot in the harbor where he was swimming, just skimming the surface of the waves. "You are a serious flyer girlie! I'm getting jealous!" He tried to grab her mid-air... as she made another close pass over him and missed. "Cat got yer tongue all of a sudden?"

"Flying is my favorite thing to do," she confessed.

She heard the smile in his voice. "It becomes you! Me, I'm essentially land bound, except for occasionally I forget to stay on the ground."

She came to a hover a little above him "Vickie says it's her second favorite. But that's because Vickie---"

She stopped herself before she could say anything more.

But Zach blundered right into it. "What's her first favor......oh.......yeah....forgot about that...." And he blushed green. "Again we return to why a nice butt is important!"

She bit her lip. "You asked what I need, and what I need, I can't have," she said roughly. "So it doesn't matter how much I need it, does it?"

But now he seemed determined to keep the tone light. Heh. She couldn't even manage consistency in her own dream-scape. "What's that? Matching clothes? Yeah, I know its a pain for us differently hued folks to dress." Like magic, he changed costume, with a kind of smoke coming from his eyes. "I tried this one for a while...but no likey. Too 'super-dude.' And it gives me a headache to make this stuff ooze out of my eyes."

She sighed. "You are a super dude, and you're a hero," she said, with determination to get it out. "And you're my hero...and....I need you."

He laughed. "Silly rabbit....I'm right here...."

"And Carpathia is standing between us," she pointed out.

He chose that moment to ply dumb, or the dream did. "She is? Where?"

"And so is something else," she continued, waving a piece of paper---the lab report---that had magically appeared in her hand.

"What's that? your horoscope?"

"Read it yourself," she said sadly.

He perused it; being a dream, of course, he could read it while swimming, and the paper did not get in the least wet. "So...this is supposed to be news to me, that you emit tons of rads?"

"You're not immune, Zach," she said unhappily.

"Nobody is immune...but in case you haven't noticed, I tend to absorb stuff pretty easily... I'm no Chug, but I'm a tough cookie!" She dropped down into the water next to him, the better to see his face.

"How can I take that kind of chance?" she asked. "It's your life we're talking about!"

"My life, eh? Hmm...isn't that my risk to take?" he asked shrewdly. "And don't flatter yourself, I've seen you fight...you couldn't fry me if you tried." He poked her in the ribs and she blushed.

"It's not frying you I worry about," she said quietly.

"And although I hate to bring it up, my last lady-friend had a habit of bursting into flames....I'm pretty sturdy," he continued.

"There's worse things than cancer," she said darkly, her arms moving gently in the watet.

He laughed. "Worse? Like what, bad hair? I got that covered already."

"Unstable mutations," she pointed out. "Like mine."

He laughed even harder. "Unstable is my middle name! I'm a freaking nutcase!"

She felt her eyes stinging again. "You're making this very hard for me. I'm trying to give you up, and you keep coming up with reasons why I shouldn't."

He shook his head at her. "Sorry kiddo....but you're making this hard on yourself. Life ain't that complicated. You live as best you can, you love as hard as you can, and then we're gone.....But what do I know....this could all be a dream anyway....Maybe I'm imagining all of this. Man, I get stonewalled even in my dreams! Now that's just sad...."

Now she was on more solid ground, and began to quote, softly, as she went up again on hover. "Love is born with lightning bolts, electromagnetic force---Burning skin and fireworks, a storm on a raging course---"

"Sounds like fun to me!" He dolphined up and tried to grab her, but missed and flopped back into the water.

"Like a force of nature love can fade with the stars at dawn--"

He growled as she looked down at him.

"Sometimes it takes all your strength just to keep holding on---" she finished. "Is that what you mean?"

"Err....something like that," he said ruefully. "I'm just not as poetically inclined."

"Poetic?" she laughed, thinking of his taste in music. "That's Rush!"

He seemed delighted and surprised. "I thought it sounded like Geddy Lee!" he exclaimed with glee.

She nodded. "Uh huh. I don't just sing opera and Neil Diamond," she pointed out.

He looked up at her with a sparkle in his eyes. Oh, how she remembered those green, green eyes locked with hers...how she remembered what she'd seen in them then, or thought she had. "I loved "subdivisions" when I was a kid...."conform, or be cast out!"....." His eyes suddenly reflected a distant pain, and she wondered what had caused that look. "Anwyay, back to what we were talking about. yeah, love is not a safe thing ever. EVER...."

He made one more lunge into the air, one more attempt to grab Bella around the waist....and fell on his face back into the water. "Damn flyers....." he muttered.

"It's a dream, right?," she asked suddenly.

Down in the water he shrugged. "Life is but a dream, kiddo."

"So I can say what I like," she decided out loud.

"I'd love to hear it...." he replied, staring up at her with a measuring look, as if daring her to speak her mind, even in a dream/

"First time I saw you, I thought you were hot," she said, as he blushed green. "And then I found out you were funny, which is even better. Because all my life I knew that if I ever fell for a guy, it would be someone who could make me laugh Like Jessica Rabbit? That's important. She conluded solemly

"I look like Roger Rabbit?" he said, in mock offense.

She nodded solemnly. "It's the hair," she said, as if the fate of millions hung in the balance.

He laughed loudly. "My hair is a lovely shade of greenish-blue, isn't it? My stylist says teal, but I thinks it's more aquamarine. It'll be a pain when I go gray though, they don't make teal colored dye."

She shook her head, obscurely relieved that the conversation had once more reeled drunkenly past the point where she revealed her "secret" to him.

"Neither," she said assertively. "Not teal, not aquamarine. Robin's egg. Or maybe light Prussian Blue."

His expression turned dubious. "Robin's egg? Hmm....not very manly sounding......I prefer Prussian Blue...they liked to blow things up, right? Anyway, you were saying how hot I am?"

"Yeah," she replied, feeling very shy.

"Its the buns, right? I do lunges...." he said, laughing, making a joke of it. "Squats too---"

But she just wasn't going let him turn it into a joke. "It's the whole package," she said quietly, watching him float in the water below her.

"Aw, shucks...." He blushed a ver bright green again.

She hook her head. "I can't believe I'm saying this even in a dream," she muttered.

"Newsflash, earth to Bella..." he interrrupted, staring up at her intently, "You are a hottie." She felt herself blushing now as he continued. "You got a slamming bod, you're sweet as hell, and a set of lips, which, when they aren't saying things that get in your own way, are top notch, n ot to mention, the loveliest shade of blue this side of a Robin's Egg....If you are this apprehensive in your dreams, how you ever gonna get what you want in real life?"

Oh gods, it was true, but---"BUt it isn't just me."

She dropped down lower, until her feet dangled in the water. "I guess poor old Zach's just going to have to sweep you off your feet, huh?"

She paused, and closed her eyes, feeling her heart ache. "He already has...."

He grabbed her around the waist, finally actually catching hold of her, and it felt so real, so real---"Then get ready for some sweeping...." he crowed, and hurled himself into the air while holding onto her.

But she squirmed out of his grip and hovered just out of his reach again. Or was he out of hers?

Down below her, he certainly seemed to think it was the former. "No playing hard to get!" he protested, splashing at her since he couldn't reach.

If she couldn't at least tell him in a dream---"What the hell," she said aloud. "Love you."

There it was. The two words hung in the air between them, said, openly, and too late to take them back. Not that she wanted to. Not really.

He cocked his head to the side. "Shto? Ain't that a kick in the pants!"

She sighed, thinking about her new powers, and where they were taking her. And the fact that it was all too probable that everything that had happened in front of that Portal was no more real than this dream. "Ain't it just," she replied.

But he turned the most solemn look up to her, and then said, "Lucky for you.....ah...never mind. You wouldn't be interested."

She felt herself pale, and dropped down into the water, as if struck by an arrow.

"After all," he continued, "Since I'm just a dream, it doesn't matter much what I think, does it?"

"That was just wish-fulfillment---" she said, faintly.

"But just for shits and giggles, dream-Zach loves you too..." he said and swam in close to her and---

And repeated that wonderful, glorious, amazing first kiss. She melted into it---

And they both started to sink, forgetting to swim. Her head went under first, being shorter, and she began to splutter as he coughed, and she started to laugh.

Floating a little apart now, Zach looked perplexed. "Hmm..it always works so much better in the movies!"

She laughed again. "Vic and RD have the right idea, be a flyer and snog in mid-air!"

He chuckled ruefully. "Zach's a bit challenged in that department, you may have to help him up."

That was a challenge if every she heard one. and she grabbed him by his jacket, held him just a little out the water with hover on and planted just as good a kiss on him as he had planted on her. Better, since they weren't sinking....

"nice...move...!" he muttered through the kiss.

She let him go. "Because I can," she said defiantly.

He laughed. "See, now you should try some of that on the real me! The real Zach is a pushover, I'm a way tougher nut to crack, but then again, that's only because you imagine me that way---"

And at that precise moment, with timing just as profoundly disasterous as the real kiss had been, a young woman who looked like an escapee from the Carnival of shadows swam up next to them, and said, "Did you break up with Carpathia yet?"

Startled, dismayed, and plunged instantly into depression, she fled straight upwards.

And a new soundtrack began to play in the her dream.....

Stand alone....where was life when it had a meaning
Stand alone...nothing's real anymore and...
Neverendles run
While I'm alive, I can try to fall in flight
Not to forget how to dream.....to love

Down below her, faintly, she heard him speaking. "Man, even your dreams have this stuff! You are one hard-up lady! And poor old me! I'm only in this dream world, and I can't buy a break!
Bestial Boy:Hmm...what would the real Zach do.....that wouldn've made him made....he'd want to punch something."

"Maybe it's just that my subconcious is reminding me of things I should be remembering even in a dream," she replied bitterly, from so high above that she couldn't even see him as a speck in the water. Which was as it should be.....

"If you could dream up any way for things to work out, what would it be?" he said suddenly.

It startled her so much she dropped out of the sky, right as the words "To fall in flight" rang in her mind.

She landed beside him, hard, but her mind wasn't on that, and anyway, this was a dream, and there were no consequences to the fall. "I'm not the writer and plotter, Vic is....but..."

He stared at her, and listened intently, as gulls circled overhead, calling, calling--

She fumbled her way towards something she really only felt until now. "Well, it wouldn't be easy, because life isn't. But---it would turn out that it wasn't my wish-fulfillment getting pushed onto Zach. And that he feels the same. And he has for a while, and he tells Carpathia...."

And there, she had to pause, and sigh. Because that was the sticking point, wasn't it? "And that'll be a mess," she said, sadly. "I'd just hope she doesn't take it out on me." But memory of another meeting on a rooftop made her add a wistful smile to the mix.

Dream Zach shrugged, with a wry twist to his mouth. "Nah...she's more likey to burn Zach to cinders."

"You know what?" Bella said, still with that wistful smile.

"What?"

"Believe it or not, when all this blew up and I was talking to People's Blade about it, Sturmfront came looking for me and---" She hardly knew how to say this, because it had made her feel odd, and good, and charmed to the core and flattered and---a very confused mix of feelings. "--ff she challenged me over it, Sturmfront offered to be my "champion"."

Zach shook his head. "Sturmy is so dramatic!"

"I thought it was amazingly gallant and chivalrous and sweet, actually," she said, still amazed at the offer.

His smile warmed his eyes. "You have that effect on people, they just kind of want to help you out. Its called beeing a sweetie."

She flushed. "Well, considering that if she dragged me into the Arena I wouldn't last three seconds...." And Arena "defeats" didn't count at the hospital, but they still hurt. A lot. Really a lot.

He shook his head. "You'd do fine....she can't fly. That's about the only thing she and Zach have in common any more."

She blinked as she felt a surge of sullen anger she thought she had gotten rid of. "Did you know she wanted to have a confrontation and I went and faced her on her own team? Not one friend of mine; no one there but hers. She called me a coward and a cheat and I went in there on a mish about a zillion levels higher than I should have tried, and stood right next to her in the front line like I always do, and healed her like anyone else. Faceplanted four times for 'em too." If there was one thing, and one thing only, that she was proud of, it was that. She did her job, always, without holding back, without picking favorites, ungrudgingly. Without cowardice. The only time she ran was when she was told to, and only then so she could still be standing to haul the others to safety and bring them back up to their feet again. Always. Always.

"Should've let 'em bleed," Zach observed.

She raised her chin and looked straight into his eyes again. "I am a Defender," she said, simply.

He shook his head and sighed. "Sorry...just alot of frustration--"

He whirled and leveled a gang of Tsoo that had congregated behind them. At his current powers they were nothing like a match for them, and he mowed through them like a harvester taking down wheat. "You've got Haagen Daz, I've got my methods," he said, turning back to her.

She looked at the place where the downed Tsoo were now vanishing into the Zig. "Sometiems its good to hit things."

He nodded. "Damn straight!"

She closed her eyes, and felt herself lift off the ground an inch or so. "...Or fly..."

He laughed at her default. "Yeah, well that's no option por moi---" and he lunged at her before she could get out of the way. "Tag!"

He leapt off. She bided her time, following him, until