Black 3-III


Hanging About.

Jess was on the roof, of course, because she couldn’t just sulk in a corner like a normal person.

I stuck my head out the doorway into the street, and immediately regretted it. The wind had picked up again, and a freezing gale assaulted me as soon as I exposed myself. I’d changed out of my costume, and was currently decked out in a thick winter parka, but I was starting to think I should have also grabbed gloves, a hat, and possibly a fire. Or, even better, my common sense, which was telling me to just go inside where it was warm.

As usual for this time of year, a thin patina of frost covered the world, gleaming strongly in the moonlight. If it had been daytime, I’d probably have wanted sunglasses, but as it was, it was still annoying. More annoying, though, was the fact that it was completely undisturbed. I’d been hoping to follow her footprints, but the complete lack of any had nixed that plan in the bud. I wondered how else I could… Oh.

“Jess?” I called out, feeling a little stupid for not thinking of it sooner. “You there?”

“Up here,” came the reply, sounding slightly muffled.

So when I said she was sitting on the roof, that was a little bit of a lie. She was actually sitting on an inset windowsill about three-quarters of the way up the building, but that doesn’t make such a snappy line. She was dangling her feet off the edge, lanky brown hair blowing over her face in the wind.

“Hey,” I said casually, standing in the middle of the road. I had to raise my voice to be heard over the wind.

“Hey.” She didn’t look at me when she spoke, staring off into the distance instead.

“Can we talk?"

She shrugged, still not making eye contact. "Sure. Coming down now."

I took a step back, judging angles and footholds. Jess had obviously just teleported up, but if I put my foot there, pushed off that outcropping and if I could make that jump... "No need," I said slowly. "I'll come to you."

I sprinted towards the wall, doing my best to avoid any patches of ice. My mobility was a little limited by the heavy winter gear, but without it, I wouldn't have even broken a sweat: it just made it harder, not impossible.

Using my built-up momentum, I planted one foot on the wall and pushed myself up into the air towards a thin ledge, ignoring the pain in my ribs. I really, really shouldn't have been doing stuff like that with an unknown injury less than a few hours old, but what's life without a little risk? I grabbed the cold ledge with both hands, then tucked one foot into a small hole in the brickwork and used it to push myself up towards some exposed pipes. From there, I swung over to an outcropping support pillar, digging my fingers into the gaps between the old bricks. Hauling myself up for a meter or two, I moved back over onto the ledge of a boarded-up window with a short hop, leaving me almost directly below Jess. Only one slight problem; the design of the windowsills angled smoothly down from their edge to blend into the wall, and to get a grip, I'd have to jump almost directly out and try and grab the ledge. I looked down at the ground, suddenly noticing how far down it was. I could do a few tricks, but I wasn't a real parkourist (parkourer?), and I don't know if I'd have risked that one, even if it was warm and dry and I was feeling particularly cocky (and in fairness, that's most days). But the beautiful thing about is superpowers is that they let you cheat.

I faced the wall, dredged up the last remains of my cold well of power, and jumped out, backwards. My arc carried me upwards to the edge of the sill, and I grabbed that momentum and shifted it, turning upwards-and-outwards into upwards-and-inwards, a v-shape that sailed me smoothly onto the ledge, right next to a startled Jess.

I landed with a thump, balancing on my knees and supporting myself against the window. This sill wasn't much longer than the one I'd jumped from, but it was big enough for me to turn around and sit without knocking Jess off, which I did. I dangled my legs next to hers, and grinned at her shocked expression.

"...what," she said at last.

"Parkour," I replied happily.

She stared at me for a second, face blank, then nodded appreciatively. "Cool."

We sat in silence for a minute. She'd chosen a good spot, I had to admit; the alcove sheltered us from the worst of the wind, and a small amount of warm air leaked through from inside. I leaned back against the window, slowly letting myself relax. Digging around in my jacket, I found the painkillers, dug them out and dry-swallowed two.

Jess was looking at me curiously. "For the power fatigue," I explained, tucking them back away.

"The what?"

Now it was my turn to look surprised. "Power fatigue. You know, when you overuse it, and it feels like someone's worked you over with a baseball bat and there's a tiny drummer doing a solo inside your head?"

She shook her head. "Nope."

"Huh. Lucky you, then."

"I've only had mine for 5 months. Might be why."

I shrugged. "Mebbe. But Adib and Nat don't seem to get it either, so maybe it's just one of those things, you know?"

She grunted. In the distance, a car honked. I opened my mouth, but the last remnants of my social skills punched an undead hand out of the grave where I'd buried them and told me not to, so I didn't.

My hair had come out of its knot while I was climbing, falling over my face. I pulled the scrunchie from where it still clung futilely to a few of my dreads and re-secured them.

Jess snorted at that. "Stupid look."

"What, this?" I asked, gesturing to my dreads. "They're cool! Black guys with dreads are cool!"

"Nah. It's girly."

"Hey," I protested weakly. "Some chicks like dudes that are prettier than they are." She wasn't wrong, though; though let's just say I got mistaken for a girl a lot when I was younger. "The hair probably doesn't help, does it?"

"Nope. Thought you were a girl first time we met."

I laughed. "Really? Even in costume?"

"Yep."

"Ouch."

We lapsed into silence again.

"Stupid," she said after a few minutes.

I looked at her. "What, my hair? We already did that bit."

She waved me down. "Not you. Her."

"Oh, right. Yeah," I agreed, "Nat has a bit of an impulse control issue. She's not stupid, exactly, but she doesn't tend to think things through."

She raised a thick eyebrow. "Seems dangerous."

I shrugged. "Shauna and Talie usually rein her in. I guess the latter being away leads to stuff like this." And take the plunge, Flint... "As well as stuff like earlier."

Jess surprised me, then. After the way she'd been earlier, I'd expected her to lash out or close off. But instead, her shoulders slumped, and she stared desolately up and out into the distance. "I know," she said softly.

I frowned, thrown off balance by the unexpected response. I'd been preparing to have to go on the offensive, but that didn't seem like such a good idea anymore, not with her already beating herself up over it.

"Jess," I said slowly. "What do you think would've happened if I'd taken that team? If I'd taken you and Tide and Stonewall, and you'd gone with the apartment lot?"

"You'd have won," she said, a little glum. "I'd screw up."

I made a buzzing sound. "Wrong. Think it through. We'd already have lost the element of surprise to the forcefield guy like you guys did, but we wouldn't have had enough straight-up offensive ability to keep them pinned. Shauna would've been our best AoE, and they would've just steamrollered over us and escaped, and then we would've had to chase them, and then the heroes would've gotten involved while we were at half-strength and then the whole thing would've deteriorated like a loaf of bread in a washing machine. You didn't screw up, you just got handed a situation pre-screwed. We thought, or rather, Talie thought, that you'd be going up against Crusade and Schism, not the new guys and Strongarm. And you know what?" I gestured back inside. "We're all still fine. The Cabal went down, and they'll stay that way for at least a little while. That's what really matters in the end."

"That ends justify means," she said snidely, but she wasn't slumping so much now, and her demeanor seemed a little better.

"If you're going to twist my words," I said haughtily, "please try and do it while sounding a little less like Rorschach." She snorted. "Seriously, though. Despite what I said earlier, you did fine. If anyone's to blame, it's Talie for pulling her disappearing act two days before we ran this strike and leaving us to compensate for not having her."

"Where'd she go?"

I sighed, giving a little shake of my head. "We don't know. She just ups and vanishes for weeks at a time, and then comes back acting like she never left. It's really annoying."

"Sounds like it. So normal for you guys, then." She actually grinned, and I responded in kind.

"First, ouch. Second, ouch. Third, yeah, seems that way." I glanced across the road, up at the rooftop where I'd met her what felt like a long time ago. "She makes up for it, though. I'd like to think we all do."

I shook my head, banishing the brief wave of melancholy. “Anyway! What are we doing out here, complaining about old problems, when we’ve got a fucking massive one waiting for us inside?” She gave me a flat look. “Just trying to lighten the mood, geez.”

“Flint!” a voice called out, surprising me. I searched around for the source for a second, before remembering to look down. Shauna was sticking her head out the doorway. “Get your feckin’ ass down here. You’re need to see this.”

“Well, I guess that’s our cue,” I said to Jess. I paused, then looked around. “So, uh, how exactly do weaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Just in case you’re wondering, that’s the sound of Jess grabbing my arm and pulling me off the ledge.

We hit the ground in an impact that felt like landing on a feather pillow, rather than, you know, concrete. The rolling wave of force forced Shauna back a step, but compared to some of the ones Jess has pulled before, that was basically nothing.

“Please give me some warning next time,” I said angrily, yanking my arm out of her grasp.

“Sure,” she said, smirking. “Next time I’ll know it works.”