By: Andrew Thomas Prenger
Dana hopped on her feet, left, right, left, right to keep her blood warm. She stood at the entrance to the arena alone. The cheers of the crowd swept down the tunnel and assaulted her.
Mixed in with the screams and the shouts and the insults was some heavy metal song. It was the start of her entrance music. She hated it. All she could hear was the screeching of guitars, some bass and a singer screaming unintelligible lyrics.
She had her mp3 player on trying to block it out. No matter how loud she turned up her volume she could still hear the noise. Her happy techno music couldn’t seem to reach her ears. Early on in her career she petitioned her manager to get her entrance music to be by her favorite band, Cutest Wave of Destruction, but he insisted that audiences would be turned off by it.
She didn’t like the noise she was hearing, but she dealt with it.
Soon enough she would be beating the holy shit of some young villainess who thought she was the baddest in creation. That brought a smile to Dana’s face which she quickly squelched. Her manager said it was bad for her image if she looked happy all the time. She had to look serious, she needed to look like fun was an abstract idea in her brain. A fearsome warrior didn’t crack a smile or enjoy herself.
No matter how much violence turned her on.
This was an ultra-heavyweight bout. Her opponent, Casey Crusher, was highly damage resistant. That meant Dana didn’t have to hold back at all. It also meant that they could use weapons, though Dana wasn’t allowed to use her real weapon.
When actually doing villainy, like robbing banks, she had a kinetic battle mace from her home country. It stored up energy from normal strikes until she pressed a button and released a devastating blast. That was too much for the arena. They had only let her use it once and the front row suffered heavy injuries.
Since then she had to use an actual mace with no technology in it. The weapon was well made, but wasn’t going to last this match in one piece. That was fine. She knew that when she won she could sell it to one of the fans for a high price. She’d end up making twice what she paid for it after she bashed in her opponent’s skull. A little brain matter on the flanges would jack up the price a bit more.
Dana could see her opponent already in the cage, prancing around and riling up the crowd. Dana had never heard of this Casey Crusher until a week ago when her manager let her know that’s who she’d be fighting. A cursory internet search revealed almost nothing. Crusher only committed a couple of bank robberies and literally knocked over one armored truck. Ironically that one was initially credited to Dana herself.
Dana had sneered when she saw that. Sloppy reporting. Dana didn’t even look like Casey Crusher except in build, though Dana was still two feet taller. Dana’s husband, Blood Shadow, told her that was a good thing. He kept telling her to fly lower under the radar, not to draw too much attention to herself.
That was his way, not hers.
She wanted people to know who she was and exactly what she’d done. That meant better jobs and bigger scores. That’s what Blood Shadow failed to see, she thought. He was alright with people taking credit for his kills. She knew he had lost jobs because people were going for different assassins who they thought had previously done a great job.
Her manager tapped her on the shoulder. That was her signal to start walking down the tunnel. She popped out her earbuds and was momentarily shocked by how loud the crowd actually was. She grit her teeth and handed her iPod to her manager.
As much as she hated to admit it, the intro music was pumping her up. She stepped out to it so many times she had a Pavlovian response to it. It put her in a killing mood. She stalked down the tunnel towards the cage.
The stands were completely full. The bulk of the audience was male, though the women weren’t outnumbered enough to make them look out of place. It surprised others by how many children were in the stadium. Not Dana. Where she was raised everyone, no matter how old, watched the blood sports if they weren’t participating.
There was a small blond-haired boy sticking his head through the rails. He was smiling. Clutched in his hand was a pro-Dana sign. She had to suppress a smile. She had to work harder not to run over and fuss over the child. She thought he just looked so cute and it made her happy that he was a fan.
Then she saw the lecherous look the boy’s dad was giving her. He nodded approvingly at her until she sneered at him. That caused the dad to take a startled half-step back which made him spill his beer on himself. He put a protective hand on his son’s shoulder.
Dana continued marching until she reached the cage. The referee opened it and she walked straight to her corner. This was another bone of contention between her and her manager. He wanted her to play it up more for the crowd, get them excited. Looking around she thought they looked pretty excited already. She spotted a few of the perverts who were nearly ready to pop.
She did her best to ignore them. She stood in her corner and glared at her opponent, phasing out everything else.
Casey Crusher kept roaring and waving the crowd on. She was dressed in a yellow cavewoman outfit. Basically just a polka-dotted dress reminiscent of The Flintstones complete with a crude looking club as her weapon. Not her normal villain suit that Dana had seen on the internet. This was something she picked special for this event.
Dana did the same thing, though her fighting outfit wasn’t quite as provocative. Her normal villain suit was a pink and black leather jumpsuit. Her arena outfit was an all-white catsuit. It was the only concession she made to the perverts in the audience. She sold more memorabilia when she ended the bout looking like she won a very gory wet t-shirt contest than if she won while basically wearing armor.
Finally, to Dana’s relief, the music faded. The crowd slowly died down and the referee, safely outside the cage, started his preamble. Dana stared at Crusher. Her opponent had a smile on her face that withered under Dana’s gaze. When the bell rang Crusher looked like she was about to piss herself.
She actually did when Dana charged across the mat.
After the match, as Dana exited the cage, she smiled. As short as the match lasted she still enjoyed herself. From head to toe she was covered in blood, most of it Casey Crusher’s. Dana felt some cuts on her chest and back where Crusher clawed at her. This was after Dana broke her opponent’s legs with her mace. The only thing Crusher managed to do was rip off the front of Dana’s jumpsuit in an effort to humiliate her.
It didn’t work.
Even now Dana didn’t care who stared. She won. That’s all that mattered.
As she walked towards the tunnel she picked a bloody chunk of scalp from her shoulder and dropped it to the ground.
The crowd was still deafening, though it was dying down. Most were simply tired of cheering. Some, newbies, were actually shocked at the level of brutality they’d just seen. People on the sides gawked at her covered in gore. The little boy who’s been so happy to see her arrive was now bawling in his father’s arms.
At the locker room door there was a man dressed in a hazmat suit. He held open a heavy-duty colorless plastic bag that resembled a police evidence bag. She dropped in her mace. The hazmat man nearly tumbled over because of the weight. Dana held out an arm to steady him. Then she entered the locker room.
Inside, away from any cameras or peeping eyes, she tore off the remains of her bloody body suit. It went into the trash. She didn’t sell them anymore. They never went for much and it was too much of hassle to try to remove them without destroying them completely. There wasn’t much of a market for a pile of bloody rags. So now they went straight into the dumpsters.
Thirty minutes later she was done with her shower. She had to shampoo her hair four times to get the blood out completely and return it to its near-white blond color. She wrapped herself in a towel. She idly scratched the cut on her chest, which was now almost completely healed, and a scab came off.
“Oh, gross,” she said as she flicked it into the garbage.
Her manager, Matt Carrick, was waiting for her, just as she suspected he would be. He looked angry. He always seemed to be angry lately. His somewhat saggy cheeks were scarlet.
“You did it again!”
“Win? Of course I did.” She was teasing him. She didn’t really care that he was angry.
“Of course you won! You always win! That’s not the point.”
“Are you sure? Because I was raised to believe that when fighting someone you win. Otherwise someone comes and scoops you off the ground with a snow shovel.”
“I keep telling you to draw these matches out. Everybody likes a winner, but that only goes so far. We’re not making any money because you’re a sure thing now. Out of your last five bouts only one has gone past the first round. I don’t even remember the last time you got knocked off your feet. You’re poison to the bookies.
“Plus! You keep crippling these gals. The only people we can find to fight you now are these scrubs. Casey Crusher? Whatta’ joke. She’s a no-name who could train her entire life and still never have a chance at beating you. But, you gotta’ pretend like she could. Draw it out more, dance around the ring. At least take a punch once or twice.”
“I took some hits this time. Little bitch tried to claw my tit off.” Dana pointed to her chest. The claw marks were completely faded.
“Other than your awesome rack, I don’t know what you’re pointing at. Whatever she did couldn’t have been too bad. The point is that this isn’t going to make us any money if you keep doing this. The fans will get bored.”
Dana leaned into the bathroom counter, away from Matt, looking down at the sink so she couldn’t see his reflection in the mirror.
“I don’t fight for them and I don’t fight for the money.”
“Good for you. I manage other people who do! I like you, but this shit isn’t putting food on my table. I know you got…outside work you do that pays better, but I’m puttin’ my kids through college and that check is coming due.”
She whipped around to face him. She pointed his finger at his face. Her towel almost slipped loose. She knew it wouldn’t matter. He could joke, but Matt was one of the two men her body didn’t seem to impress. She had seen gay men craning their necks to check her out. Not Matt. He was only motivated by money. Her towel could fly off and her nipples could start shooting fireworks and he’d still look her in the eye and talk about percentages and take-homes.
“Fine! You want to make some money? Why don’t you start looking for a new lead fighter! One who’ll follow your stupid rules!”
Matt stared directly into her eyes when he replied, “What makes you think I haven’t already?”
Dana deflated. She had to sit down on the bathroom counter to keep from falling to the floor. Out of all the blows she’d taken in her life this was one of the hardest.
She hadn’t expected Matt to seriously be thinking about dumping her for another fighter. Sure, he had other talent, but she was his key fighter. They’d been together so long. He was one of the first people she met when she came to America and had turned out to be a nice guy. For him.
Matt looked like he was about to say something, thought the better of it and left the locker room. Dana sat on the counter staring at the door. She didn’t know what else to do. She knew that she’d never be able to adequately explain her problem to Matt.
Yes, she was trained to fight. Yes, she was trained to win at all costs. Except it was deeper than that. When the fight started, when her blood was pumping and the crowd cheering she literally could not stop herself from attacking her opponent as brutally as possible. If she were fighting her own kind then it wouldn’t matter. They would be able to handle it. Humans, though, even the super-powered kind were too weak.
Dana pulled her hair back into a ponytail. Nothing fancy. She didn’t have the time nor the inclination to do more with it. Later, her friends would give her shit about it. She thought by now they would have realized how little she cared about dolling herself up for others. Every once in a while was okay, but she mostly found it a useless waste of time.
From her locker she pulled out her motorcycle gear. It resembled her villain costume, heavy on pink, with small amounts of black around the edges. She didn’t actually need to wear it. If she wore normal clothes and fell off her bike the road would suffer more than she would. She only wore it because she liked the style. She also loved the feel. It felt like armor.
Dana left through a side entrance. She didn’t feel like signing autographs or taking pictures with the perverts.
Outside she found her motorcycle. It was a big beast of a machine that, because of modifications by herself and others, couldn’t be described as any particular brand anymore. Were it not painted bright pink people would think it belonged to a monster of a man. As it was it just belonged to a giantess.
She took the helmet from the handlebars and strapped it to her head. It matched the rest of her outfit, pink and black, but it had a sticker of a unicorn on the front. The only reason she wore it was so that she wouldn’t get pulled over by the police.
She sped through the streets and got on the freeway. The sun was setting slowly in the distance. On the freeway cars caught sight of her in their rearview mirrors and parted like the Red Sea. As she passed them the rumble of her engine rattled their windows. The drivers, normally the angriest in the country, kept quiet. They were all perfect statues staring straight ahead as she went by.
She exited the freeway into the bad part of town. She hated coming here. Everything around her looked rotted and ugly. Not at all like where she lived. Her neighborhood was nice and clean. She found a parking space. The moment she turned off her engine she heard faint gunshots.
Dana pulled a slip of paper from her pocket and double-checked the address. Unfortunately she was at the right place. Frowning, she undid her helmet and slung it on the handlebars. From a saddle bag she retrieved her kinetic battle mace and slid it into a loop on her belt.
The moment she got off the bike a junkie slid out of the mouth of a nearby alley watching her. His hands were in constant motion rubbing his upper arms. Despite her size she knew that once she was out of sight he was going to steal everything he could off her bike.
Dana decided a little lesson was in order.
Instead of entering the apartment building she walked towards the junkie. He leaned against the wall and pretended not to notice her approaching. She stood in front of him until he slowly looked up at her face.
“Listen up, stupid. Don’t steal anything from my bike. If anything is missing, I don’t care if it’s you or someone else, I’ll come after you and kill you. Unpleasantly.” She sniffed deeply, “I’ve got your scent. There is nowhere safe in the city. So keep my stuff safe,” she pointed her mace at a trash can and released a small amount of energy. The blast crumpled it like a beer can and sent it flying most of the way down the alley.
Without another word she left the junkie and entered the apartment building. Inside looked worse than the outside. The lobby was disheveled. The couches and chairs were either missing their cushions or were ripped to shreds. That didn’t seem to bother a bum snoring loudly on a couch on the far wall. Dana’s boots stuck to the floor with each step.
The elevator didn’t work. Dana had to take the stairs. They groaned dangerously under her weight. On every landing there were bags of garbage the tenants were too lazy to take to the dumpster. As she ascended the stairs she saw on each floor a number of people milling about, smoking, drinking, yelling at each other.
Then she reached the top floor where her husband, Blood Shadow, lived.
The entire hallway was empty and sparse. Not clean exactly, just tidier than the rest of the building. It was quiet, too. The only noise was the ambient thumps from someone’s rap music a floor below. Dana walked down the hallway until she found Blood Shadow’s apartment.
His door didn’t have a number on it, but she knew it was his. Every other door on the floor was cheap wood. They were splintered and slightly warped. Blood Shadow’s door was steel. The same style he always had installed in his apartments.
She tried to open it with her key, but it wouldn’t turn. She remembered that this was the key to his last apartment from a week ago. She’d have to remember to get a new one for this door. She debated forcing the door. Normally she thought that it was funny to rile her husband, get him ranting about security and the need to remain low-key. She’d also get to hear about how expensive the doors were and how tight money was for him.
Dana thought the better of it. She already pissed off one of the men she cared about today. She didn’t want to risk it with the other. She knocked. Three quick taps, two slow knocks and then a single third knock. That was her ‘code’ to let him know who was at the door.
The door opened wide enough for Blood Shadow to stick a gun barrel out. After a moment of peering at her over the sight he lowered the gun and opened the door.
“Sorry about that. Thought you were going out. Wasn’t expecting you tonight.”
Dana walked into the mostly-empty apartment and closed the door. Were it not for the military cot, foot locker and table in the corner you could almost be forgiven for thinking the apartment vacant.
“I even did that stupid knock you made me memorize.”
“I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t even know you knew where my new place was.”
“I always know where you are, Shadow.”
Blood Shadow walked to the table. It was covered with boxes of ammunition and gun magazines. Dana didn’t know which type, all she knew was that Blood Shadow was preparing for a job.
He was wearing his normal “casual wear” which consisted of combat boots, dark camouflage pants and a black tank top. He was also wearing latex gloves as he worked. The finger tips were smudged black. She found that odd since Blood Shadow wasn’t the type of man who minded getting his hands dirty. She’d seen him torture a man by reaching into a gunshot wound and squeezing organs.
She opened the fridge and pulled two beers out for herself. She popped the bottle cap off the first one with her thumb and emptied it in a single swallow. She opened the other one except this one she took a normal sip.
“What’s with the gloves?” she asked.
“I’m loading magazines.”
“I can see that, jerk, why are you being so dainty about it?”
“I have to keep my fingerprints off the casings. The target I’m taking out is very paranoid and lives in a bulletproof penthouse downtown. I can’t just snipe him so I gotta’ infiltrate. My intel tells me the place is loaded with dozens of bodyguards and at least one powered individual. Means I’m going to be firing a lot of rounds and I’m not going to be able to pick up all the brass.”
“I thought you got that fingerprint-altering surgery.”
“I did…then I got my hands crushed last month fighting some super fuck. I had to get new ones and these have my real prints. Anyone in forensics could track me down in a second. Ironically I took this job so I could afford to get my prints changed again.”
“Oh. Guess I never really think about stuff like that.”
“Why would you? Subtlety’s never been your thing.”
“Could we not have this conversation again? I’m not in the mood.”
Blood Shadow shrugged and continued loading magazines. He didn’t see the glare Dana shot at him. She hated when he was like this. A normal husband would’ve asked what the problem was. They would make some show of affection. Shadow just kept loading.
“Did you want to get something to eat? There’s a new restaurant I wanted to try.”
“Can’t. I’ve got to murder this guy tonight.”
“Pfft. Blow it off. Do it tomorrow.”
“My client specified tonight. Otherwise there’s some business deal the target is going to terminate tomorrow that’ll cost my client millions. We can go afterwards if I get it done early.”
“No, that’s fine. We’ll go some other time. I’m going out with my friends anyway. Couldn’t do it later.”
Blood Shadow shrugged again and continued loading. Dana knew better than to make any sort of plans with Shadow after a job. At best the most he wanted to do was go to the Hook-Up and drink with his friends. More than likely he would come home and drink beer while in the tub.
She found it weird how working seemed to drain him. When she got done with a job she was always energized. She wanted to party, tear things, figuratively, up. That’s what she’d be doing if Matt hadn’t brought her down.
“I guess I’ll see you later,” Dana said.
“Yeah, sure,” Blood Shadow replied.
“I’ll call you.”
As she closed the door she almost said “I love you” but her heart wasn’t in it. If he even replied it wouldn’t be anything related. The only time he ever used the word love was when he was drunk.
Down on the street she found the junkie nervously pacing in front of her bike. When he saw her his face brightened even as he shied away like he was afraid she would hit him.
“Nobody stole anything! One guy came by, but I scared him off! Everything is right where you left it!”
“Fine. Whatever.” Dana pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to him. The junkie stared at it for a moment then snatched it away. Immediately it went into the pocket of his dirty jeans. He stood on the sidewalk staring at Dana until she dismissively waved him away.
She revved her engine then peeled out into the street. Behind her she left a long stretch of burned rubber on the sidewalk.
The freeway was emptier now, though the cars still scrambled to get out of her way. She wished someone would start something so that she could take out her aggression. She wanted some big bubba in a lifted truck to flip her off. She smiled as she thought of grabbing him and pulling him out his car window and dragging him down the freeway.
Dana was so deep in her revenge fantasy she almost missed her exit. Now she was in the nicer part of town in the business district. There weren’t any beggars on the sidewalks or boarded up windows. She hated that Blood Shadow insisted on living in the ghetto. She constantly offered to let him live at her place, but he’d mutter something about lack of security and change the topic.
Dana pulled to the valet stand in front of a very tall building. The bulk of the floors were occupied by offices, but the top two were one of the fanciest restaurants in Paradiso. Most of the citizens of the city didn’t even know about it and most of those who did thought it was a rumor.
It was still early in the evening so she didn’t have to wait long. Still, by the time it was her turn the valets had already gone and gotten the bouncer.
Bruce was a big tall black man who towered over most people. Dana still had a foot and a half on him. He was the only person on the premises who could handle her motorcycle. The valets tried only once and it didn’t end well for anyone.
“How are you doing tonight, Mrs. Devastation?” he asked, holding out his hand to help her off the bike.
“Oh, you know. The same. How are the kids?” She hugged him before he straddled her bike.
“They’re doing great. Candice is doing well in school and Corey is walking.”
“So cute! You’ll need to bring me pictures next time. Take care of my bike!”
She nodded at the other two bouncers at the door as they held it open for her. Even though her mace swung freely from her hip they knew better than to try to take it from her. She walked over to the bank of elevators and chose the one on the far left. It was the express and wouldn’t stop at any other floor but the top.
Dana groaned when the doors opened and she saw the maître d’ for the evening. It was Carlson.
Carlson had a crush on her. He tried to hide it by acting like an asshole to her. He constantly talked down to her even though she never gave him any reason to. She often caught him stealing glances at her when he thought she wouldn’t notice. Caught out, his face would flush red. Once she even caused him to drop some menus he was holding.
He frowned too when he saw her. All an act. She smelled his arousal. It was so cloying that she almost gagged. These interactions annoyed her. She wondered why she hadn’t killed him yet.
“Ah, Miss Devastation. Joining us again?”
“MRS. Just seat me at my normal table and leave me alone.”
He recoiled a bit from her brusque manner. Normally they traded barbs for a bit, him trying to flirt, her taking opportunity to insult him, but she wasn’t in the mood. The look of anger in her eyes scared him.
He scurried into the restaurant, heading towards the back. She kept up with him at a leisurely pace because of her long legs. Everyone dining were in fancy dresses or suits. Only a few people stared. They were new to the place. To everyone else they knew who Dana was. Dana didn’t mind. She was so much taller than everyone normally that she’d long grown used to being gawked at.
Carlson lead her to a familiar, semi-private part of the restaurant which had the best view of the city. Her friend, Madame Malfeasance, was already seated at the table, cocktail in hand, gagged slave girl kneeling at her feet. A thin gold chain ran from the slave girl’s thick leather collar to a loose ring on Madame Malfeasance’s finger. The chain would snap if the girl were to ever run. It was more symbolic than anything. The girl would never, could never, actually run away. Her eyes were glassy. It was the standard look of anyone under deep mind control.
Madame Malfeasance was a tall, slender black woman in her mid-thirties. She always wore her hair in a severe bun on the back of her head fastened with two chopsticks. Tonight she had on a tight red dress with a plunging neckline. On the table was a small clutch which matched her dress, a riding crop and an ashtray. Malfeasance took a long drag from the cigarette holder at her lips.
Dana sat down across the table from her. Madame Malfeasance didn’t look at or even acknowledge her presence until Dana ordered a drink and Carlson walked off. It was only then that Madam Malfeasance broke into a wide grin.
“I detest that man,” she said.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Dana replied.
“One of us should kill him some day.”
“Oh, my God! Right? I just don’t want to touch him!”
“I’ll get around to it, sooner or later. Give him a small blast that compels him to walk off the roof of the building.”
“I wish you’d do it already.”
“You don’t want to physically touch him. How do you think I’d feel bumping into his greasy mind? There’s no cleanser for that. I’ll have to be really drunk for me to seriously do it.”
“If I knew all it took was alcohol…”
“Ha ha, most people try to get me drunk to have sex with me. You want me to murder someone. Love it!”
They both laughed. Dana was surprised by how good it felt. Slowly she felt her mood lighten. After all the crap she dealt with during the day it was like an unseen weight lifting from her shoulders. All she needed to do was spend some time with a good friend. And drink enough vodka to kill a rhino.
An hour later she was thinking about going home when the Fearleader and Black Hat showed up. Dana and Malfeasance heard them before they saw them. Both girls jangled when they walked.
The Fearleader had two pom-poms she carried around with her at all times. Instead of plastic strips they were made of chains painted red and black. Patrons of the restaurant, even if they’d seen her before, gasped at the Fearleader. She was once a very pretty young woman, but an accident during a chemistry class melted away her face leaving only a grinning skull. A side effect of the chemicals she was doused in was that she could produce a feeling of fear in all those around her.
Black Hat was a small woman dressed in cowboy gear. She jangled because of the spurs on her boots and the guns slung on each hip. She walked into the place, sat in a chair and kicked her feet up on the shoulder of the slave girl.
“Evenin’, ladies,” Black Hat said. She tossed a bag of money onto the table. Bundles of crisp one-hundred dollar bills spilled out, “It’s time fer some serious drinkin.'”
Madame Malfeasance had her slave girl get up and order what would be the first of many rounds for them.
Hours later the five women left the bar. Dana carried Black Hat and the slave girl over her shoulders. They had gotten into a drinking contest and both lost. Madame Malfeasance carried herself well. To look at her nobody would even imagine how much she drank that evening. The Fearleader looked happy, but that was only because her skull face was always grinning.
The valets retrieved the Fearleader’s Jetta first. Dana put Black Hat, snoring loudly, into the passenger seat and buckled her in. After that Madame Malfeasance’s limo pulled up. Dana handed the slave girl off to a muscular slave boy. Madame Malfeasance pulled Dana down and kissed her on the cheek then got into the limo.
Last to arrive was Dana’s bike. It took longer since the valets had to pull Bruce off the door so he could fetch it.
“Here you are, Mrs. Devastation. Are you gonna’ be safe driving home? I can always call you a cab.”
“You know I can make it home just fine. Thanks for the concern.”
“Just be safe. This job would be a lot less interesting if you died.”
“If I crash this bike I guarantee I won’t be the one dying.”
She hugged him, almost picking him up in the process. When she set him down she slipped one of Black Hat’s one-hundred dollar bills into his jacket pocket.
She revved the engine of her bike. The noise startled a nearby high-society girl so bad that she actually fell to the ground. Dana smirked and sped off into the night.
The night air was cool. Dana drove to the outskirts of town to ride in the foothills. Here were long stretches of roads in between parts of fun turns. After an hour she was content and drove into town. As she approached the city on the freeway she noticed that the sky was lit up by the burning of an office building downtown. The light of the fire was a nice contrast to all the false lights from the bulbs in the city.
When she got closer to her neighborhood she cut her engine and coasted to the parking garage near her townhouse. She nodded to the security guard and pushed the bike to her spot and covered it with a tarp.
The lights were on in her house. She never left without turning them off. She tried the doorknob to find it unlocked. She smiled. She could be stopping a robbery. When she was done with whomever was stupid enough to break in they’d wish she would’ve called the cops. She removed the mace from her belt.
When she stepped inside she relaxed. At the same time, she grew a bit disappointed. There would be no fight. It was Blood Shadow in her house. Over the scent of vanilla candles she could smell gunpowder and blood. His normal scent. Something he couldn’t cover no matter how much Old Spice he slathered on. She sniffed again and grew concerned. The blood scent was too strong. And was his.
“Shadow?” she asked.
“In the bathroom,” he groaned.
She walked down her hall into the bathroom. She had to stoop down so she didn’t bang her head at the top of the doorway.
Blood Shadow was sitting on the edge of the tub. He was naked from the waist up. The top part of his tactical suit and mask were in the tub. His rifle was sitting on the toilet seat. His pistol was on his thigh.
Blood Shadow’s chest and arms were a mess of bruises. A number of cuts on his left arm were open and bleeding. His right shoulder looked completely out of joint, as well as most of the fingers on his hand. All the cuts on his right arm, including a large gash on his forearm, were sutured shut. Blood Shadow had his left hand wrapped around his right index finger and was slowly pulling it until it popped back into place.
He let out a small scream as he did it. When he stopped panting he looked up at Dana.
“Oh, hey. How’s it going?”
“Better than you.”
“That hit I had tonight? I told you they had an extra-human guard, yeah? Enhanced strength. Probably thought that made him bulletproof. A lot of those idiots make the same mistake. I’ve never met a problem a bullet couldn’t solve.
“Problem was that it took a lot more bullets than I expected. Even after I shot out his eyes he managed to get a hold of me. He dislocated my shoulder and most of my fingers. Feels like he broke two of them.”
“Want me to pop your shoulder back for you?”
“Would you? I’ve been putting it off.”
Dana maneuvered in the bathroom until she could get leverage. She grabbed his arm and slowly rotated and applied pressure to the shoulder. Blood Shadow grit his teeth and growled. Finally it popped back into place.
“Oh, thank God,” he said when it was done.
Dana took the lead and set about dressing the wounds he hadn’t gotten to yet. She was always interested in this part since she rarely had to tend to her own wounds. After she was done she cleaned up the bathroom. To his credit, Blood Shadow managed not to spill any blood on her bathmats or towels.
Blood Shadow moved to the kitchen and opened a beer. When Dana came in he handed it to her, then opened one for himself. Gingerly he sat down at the kitchen table. Dana thought he looked like a small, broken doll at a tea party. The table was built for her height. For anyone else they looked awkward.
“Sorry about crashing here. I didn’t expect the job to go pear-shaped like that. Your place was closer than my apartment.” He nodded to the kitchen window. She looked out and could see the burning office building.
“That’s okay. I’m kinda’ glad you stopped by anyway.”
“Yeah, it’s been a weird day,”
“Tell me about it.”
Dana let it all out. She broke into full tears when she talked about Matt cutting her loose if she persisted in crippling her opponents. As she spoke Blood Shadow dragged his chair over to sit next to her. Carefully he put his arm around her shoulders as she sobbed.
“That sucks, Dana. I’m sure it’ll all be okay. It’s not as bad as you think it is.”
“But Matt sounded really serious.”
“I’m sure he meant to, but you’re his star. He’s not just going to drop you. He probably just wants you to realize that you have to play a game before you win. He doesn’t give a shit if this Crusher chick ever walks again. He cares about you. He wants you to be successful.”
“What am I gonna’ do?”
“Knowing you, babe, you’re gonna’ do whatever the hell you want.”
She laughed. With her nose clogged up it sounded like a goose honking. They sat at the kitchen table, Blood Shadow holding Dana, looking out the window at the burning office building in the distance. Neither of them spoke for quite a while.
“Feel like having sex?” Dana asked finally.
“It’ll make me feel better,” she looked down at Blood Shadow with a smile.
“And it will make me feel worse. The state I’m in you’re likely to break me in half. You’ll put me in the hospital again.”
“You’re no fun.”
“Tomorrow, after I visit Doc Lincoln and get healed up, I’ll take you out to that fancy restaurant you mentioned earlier. It’ll be a romantic date.”
“Yes, then sex.”
They let silence fill the room again. Dana sighed, thinking about her day. She resolved that she would talk to Matt tomorrow. She would see about working something out with him. He was right. He had a family to support and she wasn’t being a good friend by being selfish. Somehow she would find a way to ignore her instincts while fighting. All today, when she was down, her friends were all there for her. It was time to spread that around.
She also resolved to kill Carlson.