Prepared 20-X

FLINT
The Lights Are Not All On Upstairs.

“Isn’t-” crunch “-ice-” crunch “-supposed-” crunch “-to be-” crunch “-fragile?”

Exhausted, my arms dropped back down onto the ground beside me, bringing the heavy weight of the ice-cuffs with them. Despite repeated gravity-powered poundings against the pavement, using what little strength I could still muster, the only sign of damage on them was a small amount of chipping on the bottom. It had been a good few minutes since everyone had left, but they hadn’t begun to melt at all either.

“Fuckin’ bullshit,” I panted, as the post-exertion burn began to wash across my arms. “I’m gonna start carrying an effin’ hairdryer around now.”

“Could be worse,” Ricochet said, slightly muffled by the short wall between us. “If it started meltin’, we’d get water in our pants.”

I winced. “Small blessings.” Honestly, that would’ve been appropriate, considering the way the day had been. “You don’t have anything that could get these off?”

“Unless you wanna cut your hand off, nah. That fuckwipe took all my gear, remember?”

“Wonderful.” I let my torso fall from its awkward half-raised position, and rested my head on the tarmac, looking up at the sky. My arms were twisted awkwardly across my chest, but it was really a secondary consideration to the aching pain.

“Okay, look, when I talked about not being able to leave you alone, it was supposed to be a joke. Y'all are like puppies at this point.”

I didn't bother moving my head. I physically couldn't, but I also didn't bother. “As always, great timing, Void.”

Footsteps grew louder, and her face appeared in my vision. “What happened?” she asked. “Where is everyone?”

I flicked my eyes at the cuffs and the wall. “The Tower happened. Same answer to the latter.”

“And they left you two behind?” she asked skeptically.

Tersely, I explained to her what had happened. As I did, I could hear two more sets of footsteps moving around.

“Well,” she said when I finished, “that's, uh…” she trailed off. “Fuck, man.”

Which about summed it up. “Yeah. She sounded serious about it too, and it's not like there was any reason to try and trick us. They had us dead to rights.”

“Yeah. I’m glad I wasn’t here, honestly. I’d either be with them, or where you two are.”

“I doubt the latter.”

She grinned. “Yeah, me too.” There was a crunching noise, and chips of ice flew over my head as I felt the cuffs splinter. Another crunch, and the cold weight fell away entirely. “Daniel?” Void asked. “Are you almost done?”

“Almost,” came his reedy voice in reply. “This stasis effect is really making it difficult.” I had wondered what Void had meant when she said she was going to get help, but I really should’ve been able to guess.

“Oh, it’s difficult for you?” Ricochet growled. “Feels like worms in my fuckin’ skin.”

“That’s the musculature repairing itself,” he said, sounding strained. “It’d feel like that anyway.”

“Yer a shitty healer then.”

“Ricochet, be nice,” Void said amusedly. “He’s saving your life.”

“I would’ve been fine,” she snorted, but she shut up.

After another minute or so, Daniel let out a long, heavy breath. “Okay. How does that feel?”

“Like there’s worms under my skin. Dead worms.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty normal for this sort of thing. Natalie, did you want me to-”

“If you could, that’d be good.”

Daniel’s face appeared in my vision, red and slightly sweaty. “Hey,” I said casually.

“Uh, hello.” He looked at Void. “I think I need to warn you now, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do. I just healed him yesterday, and the more I do it in a short timeframe, the less effective it gets.”

“Just get him on his feet.”

“Without killing or permanently marring him, please,” I added wryly.

He knelt down, and placed one hand on my chest, then hissed and immediately withdrew it like he’d been burned. “What in… how are you still conscious?”

“I’m too stubborn to not be,” I replied.

He clutched his hand to his chest, looking worried. “I’m not joking. You have internal bleeding.”

“Well, that’s where the blood is supposed to be, right?”

“...how many times do you think I’ve heard that joke?”

“Never before, and I’m very original and funny?”

“Er, no. The opposite of that, actually.” Tentatively, he replaced his hand. “Euch. I’m surprised you’re not dead.”

“Can you do anything?”

He hummed, uncertain. “I do what I would normally call preventing him from dying, but I don’t think that label is accurate here. Based on this, I think I can get him on his feet? But I feel like that’s just going to mean he’s going to get even more injured.”

Ricochet laughed, and I glared at Void. “You’ve been telling him tall tales, haven’t you?”

“I have not,” she chuckled, “and if I had, they would be average-height tales. Because they’re true.”

“I got it the first time,” I grumbled. “Fix me up, doc. I’ll pinkie-swear not to do it again.”

He hesitated, glancing at Void. She nodded. “I understand where you’re coming from,” she said gently, “but this is important, Daniel. It could mean the difference between life and death-”

“Aww, I’m touched.”

“-because if he’s in this state, he’s holding the rest of us back.”

“Aw.”

“...promise you’ll try not to die.”

“Scout’s honor,” I said solemnly. Well, lied. I lied solemnly.

That seemed to do it for him. He closed his eyes and concentrated, and I felt almost painful warmth spread from his hand through my entire body. I didn’t swear, but only because I’d been expecting it.

After a few moments, it passed. I was still sore, and tired, and bruised, and also mildly naeseous, but it was no longer to the point of immobility. Hesitantly, I pushed myself up into a sitting position, and stretched my arms.

“It’s alive!” yelled Ricochet. “It’s aliiiiiiiiive!” She was on her feet, and the flesh through the bullethole in her armor was clean and unbroken.

Daniel was staring at me, rocked back on his heels. “What?” I asked him.

“That was more effective than it should’ve been,” he said. “Do you have any genetic conditions?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“If you get the chance, could you get checked? I feel like this could be important.”

“Now is probably not the best time for that, Dan,” Void interrupted.

“No, no,” he replied, flustered. “Not now, just… if you get the chance. Sometime.”

“Uh, sure, I guess.” Seeing as I could move again, I pushed myself up onto my feet, and looked around. As it turned out, the third set of footsteps I’d heard belonged to Ribbon, who was currently leaning against a wall, the strands of her costume flicking and snapping angrily at the air around her. “Ah, so that’s why you took so long,” I said to Void.

She nodded. “I figured we could use all the help we could get, and I wasn’t comfortable leaving her there in the first place.”

“Good call.” I streteched again, and found my range of motion was reduced and uncomfortable, but workable. “So. What now?”

“I don’t think we have much choice, really.” Her voice was grim. “If whatever that datapad turns out to be is as bad as the heroes think, then we’re obligated. Besides, we can’t just leave the others hanging in the wind. So…”

Ricochet made a puking noise, and Ribbon’s costume began lashing even harder.

“...we have to help the Tower,” I sighed. “Wonderful.”

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