Perfect 13-IV

Except When I’m Not.

The concrete was cold against my covered hands. The white gloves were insulated to an extent, but their primary purpose was to protect my hands without restricting my dexterity. To properly keep out the heat, they’d need to be a lot bulkier and more cumbersome. Given that these had thin armor plating built in over the back of the hand and the knuckles, it was a trade-off I was willing to take. The small ledge above the doorway was slightly underneath the overhanging roof, so it was free of ice and snow, but I was still careful where I placed my feet. Didn’t want to slip and fall, that would ruin the whole thing. And possibly my back.

“Flint?” came a call from inside the doorway. Talie, of course.

“Out here,” I called back, affecting a bit of sullenness in my voice. Okay, it wasn’t much of a stretch.

I heard her muttered something I couldn’t hear. Probably about me acting like a child. In case you hadn’t noticed, that was her go-to dismissal.

She stepped out through the doorway into the cold, tracking her head back and forth. “Flint?” she said again.

I breathed out, and jumped forward, drawing my knife from where it hung at my waist. My boots made a slight scraping noise on the concrete ledge, and she immediately spun around towards me, dark eyes widening. Her hand began coming up, and I felt all the air around me suddenly disappear as she used her power. Everything went completely silent, and if I’d been holding my breath, I’d probably be gasping for a breath I’d never catch, and then collapsing. But I’d been prepared, and although I could feel the burn beginning to set in, I had a few more seconds. And, more importantly, I knew my enemy.

The air came rushing back in as I landed, bringing the noise back with it. Talie never held her voids over someone for more than a second unless she was sure they could take it: apparently, sudden exposure to a vacuum can cause something called an ‘embolism’ in normal people if they have air in their lungs. I also knew that she was smart, and would do something different the second time. So I wasn’t going to give her that opportunity. Crouching into my landing, I sprang forward, turning my downward momentum straight ahead. Not with my power, that is: just the marvel of the human body. I’d never been able to affect her with my ability anyway. One of her hands shot up, and I batted it aside, using her momentum against her to send it further up than she'd expected. I stepped inside her striking range, and grabbed the top of her shirt with one hand, the other bringing the knife up to her throat. She suddenly went light, and howling wind buffeted me from behind and pulled on her body, but I held firm, and it slackened away.

Alright, that’ll do. I released my grip and stepped away, spinning the knife back into its sheath. It rasped as it caught the lip, but slipped smoothly back in. The wind died down completely, and Talie glared at me.

“What,” she said calmly, “was that?”

“That,” I replied as calmly as I could, “was proving a point.”

She stared for a second. Then, she began chuckling. “Gosh,” she said, shaking her head. “You really do have a fragile ego, don’t you?”

That hadn’t been the response I was expecting. “What?”

“You’re such a child!” she grinned. “I make one off-hand comment about us not being on the same level, and you immediately have to prove yourself in some kind of macho display.”

I clenched my fists. “It wasn’t about ‘macho’, and it wasn’t about proving myself. It was about proving a point.”

“What, that you can ‘take me'? Because, and I’m saying this in complete honesty, you can’t.”

“I think we just proved that wrong,” I said angrily.

She laughed. “That? That was you catching me by surprise, because I don’t normally expect my friends to attack me.”

I had a knife to your throat. All I had to do was push, and you’d be bleeding out on the ground right now.”

“Flint,” she said with a smirk, “I just took on Valiant, all by myself. If you hadn’t stepped away when you had, I’d have to take you back to Daniel again.”

“That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make!” I half-shouted, stepping towards her. “You’re being arrogant! You think you’re invincible, and it’s going to get us all killed. And don’t even get me started on the whole disappearing thing!”

“It sounds like you’ve already got yourself started.”

“Stop! Just… stop, okay? Take me seriously here. You can act however you want if it’s just you being put in danger, but when it’s all of us as well, you don’t get to do that anymore.”

“Okay, first off, I don’t think I’m invincible. I just know exactly the point where things start being dangerous for me, and, no offense, but it’s way above you.”

“Oh, ‘no offense'. Well now it’s all okay.”

“What is up with you today? You’re normally so good at being realistic about this sort of thing.”

“I don’t know,” I said sarcastically, “maybe it was my friend,” I emphasized it the same way that she had, “whose opinion I greatly respect and value, casually dismissed me while I was in earshot.”

“Oh.” She deflated. “…shit.” I raised my eyebrow, and she nodded awkwardly. “Yeah, okay, that was pretty crappy of me. You know I do think you’re highly competent. I wouldn’t have left you in charge if I didn’t. Seriously, you’re damn good at what you do, and implying otherwise was pretty insensitive. I’m sorry, Flint.”

I grunted noncommittally. I’m… not great with emotional stuff, not anymore, so I just changed the subject. “You’re here to convince me to change my mind, then?”

Thankfully, she took the shift in stride. “Nope. Well, yes. Well, sort of.”

I folded my arms and raised the other eyebrow. “Could you be a little less specific, please?”

“Ha. What I mean is, I know I’m not going to win you over. If I was going to, it’d have happened already. Am I wrong?” I shook my head, but stayed silent. “Right. So I’m here to appeal to your sense of pragmatism. Let’s say we do this. Are our chances better or worse with you along?”

“Better,” I said instantly, “even just in terms of numbers.”

“And you’re our best smooth-talker.”

“Going for the obvious flattery so soon is a bit cheap.”

“Hey, it’s true. I can do speeches pretty well, but I can’t talk circles around people like I’ve seen you do.”

“That was one time.”

“Flint, you’re the only person in this line of work I’ve met who actually managed to pull off the mid-fight banter. Give yourself some credit. So if this is happening anyway, with or without you, why would you choose the latter?”

“Because it’s a damn stupid idea?”

“No, it’s not: five minutes ago, you were all for it. Doing it now just heightens the risk/ reward factor. You not being there heightens just the risk part.”

I sighed. “There’s no situation where I get out of this, is there?”

“Sure there is! It just involves you being a complete and utter asshole with no regard for the safety of your friends.”

“Sometimes,” I said wryly, “I think that’d be easier. Okay, fine. But if this goes balls-up, and we somehow make it out, I get to do a full five-minute song and dance routine about how I told you so. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“Alright then.” I rubbed my hands together. “First things first, though. I’m gonna need to figure out something for my costume, because this one's torn to shreds.”

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