Stand 23-VII | Anniversary Week #1

Foolish And Forgetful.

Naomi screamed. I screamed.

“We all screamed for ice cream.”

We might die.

“The point still stands.”

The street below us was coming up awfully fast. There was a crowd gathered a bit further down the street, cordoned off by police cars with sirens blaring. A line of officers stood in front of the cars, guns drawn, pointing upwards at the platform. A few of them noticed me, turning the barrels on me as we arced through the air, but I had more pressing concerns.

I’d thrown us as much outwards as down, completely unintentionally. The original ‘plan’ (read: instinct/snap judgement), was to just float down, but I hadn’t really thought about it until then. Naomi meant that it wasn’t going work; at best I’d be able to cushion her landing with my body, but that still had a pretty high chance of injuring one or both of us.

And… I didn’t have any other ideas. I hadn’t been working on logic when I’d jumped; I just wanted to get out. And now I might have gotten us both killed because of it.

The ground was coming up fast, now. It looked very… solid. So incredibly solid. Because of the initial trajectory, though, we were also getting pretty close to the building across the street. In fact, it was looking like we were going to hit it before-

I shifted so I was holding Naomi away from the wall, tucking her closer as she clung to my torso, and raised my other arm.

Please work, please work, please work, please work. As soon as this was over, I swore, I was going to test out every single dumb thing I could possibly do with these powers, just so I wouldn’t have to keep finding out when my life was on the line.

That is, if I made it that far.

My hand hit the wall first, and I immediately dug my hand into the concrete. To my relief, although it didn’t tear through as easily as it had when I hadn’t had a hole in my guts, it still tore through it pretty easily. Still hurt, though, jerking my shoulder up in a spike of pain that years of gymnastics experienced told me it was dislocated. My lower body immediately swung inwards, and I kicked out a foot and stuck it into the wall in the same way.

The wall wasn’t offering much resistance, but that wasn’t the same as no resistance, and we began to slow down. Not quick enough, though; the ground was still coming up at an alarming pace. I gritted my teeth and stuck my other foot in too, trying not to fall backwards. If only I’d had both hands, but Naomi was still occupying one of them.

Just before the bottom, I kicked my legs out to absorb the landing. We hit the ground at what was definitely an uncomfortable speed, but was far better than pancake speed. My injured ankle immediately collapsed out from underneath me, of course, and I fell over, thankfully on the opposite side to Naomi. She’d stopped screaming, but her grip was still iron-tight.

My arm flopped limply to the ground next to me. Yep, I thought, tears welling in my eyes, that’s definitely dislocated. With my non-useless arm, I patted Naomi on the head. “Hey, honey. Are you okay?”

“...yes,” came her tiny voice after a second. She didn’t let go of me, though, and she was still pinning my arm underneath her.

“Great,” I said, staring up at the building, and the long gouges I’d left in the side. “If you could just get up, that would be great? I need that arm. For arm things.”

I felt her shake her head, and clutch tighter.

“Naomi, it’s okay. We’re safe now. We can go find your parents. It’ll all be okay, but first I really need that arm.

I’m… not good with kids.

Slowly, she loosened her arms, and sat up. I shook out the pins-and-needles from the newly-freed limb, and used it to do the same. “Thanks,” I said, getting to my feet, somewhat awkwardly. Now there were two limbs that were effectively useless. I offered Naomi a hand up, and hesitantly, she took it, and kept on holding it after she stood.

We turned to find the line of police officers… well, they weren’t pointing their guns at me, but they also weren’t not doing that. It was sort of… implied.

Which didn’t make it any less scary.

“Identify yourself!” someone boomed out over a megaphone. I squinted, but couldn’t make out any features over the light from the cars backlighting them. I was just glad they hadn’t asked me to raise my hands, because I physically could not do that.

I licked my lips and went to speak, but the words caught in my throat. I coughed, cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m… with the Tower,” I called out, as loud as I could. “It’s complicated.”

“Identify yourself!” they repeated.

“It’s complicated!” I repeated back. Naomi squeezed my hand, surprisingly hard for someone so young. “Look, I have a kid here. Did anyone report missing a Naom-”

I was cut off before I could continue by a loud scream from the crowd. Some of the officers spun around, but the source quickly made itself clear as a young man pushed her way to the front of the crowd.

“Naomi!” he cried out, dashing past the police officers before they could react. He sprinted straight up to us, and as He drew closer I could see that Naomi was his spitting image. Brother and sister, if I had to guess. He looked to young to be her dad, but you never knew.

The man dropped to his knees and swept Naomi up into a hug, squeezing her tightly and sobbing. I sort of just stood there awkwardly. What do you even do in a situation like that?

After what felt like an uncomfortable eternity, he stood up, bringing Naomi with him, and looked at me, tears still in his eyes. “Thank you,” he said croakily. “Thank you.”

Words weren’t working, so I just awkwardly nodded.

Their reunion seemed to have broken the tension; the police had lowered their guns, and I let out a breath I didn’t realise I’d been holding. Now that my hand was free, I clutched my dislocated shoulder with it, trying to massage it gently.

One of the police officers was walking towards us. Judging from the megaphone in her hand, and her fancy hat, she was the person in charge. “Sir,” she said to Naomi’s brother. “You should get back beyond the cordon.”

“Y-yes,” he said hastily, turning to go. “Thank you,” he added again to me.

I managed to speak this time. “N-no problem.”

“No problem? Really?”

“So you’re with the Tower, then?” the officer asked. “I don’t recognize you.”

“It’s… um, a new thing,” I replied tiredly. “Maybe temporary, I dunno.”

“Mm-hmm.” She didn’t seem particularly convinced, but she also didn’t try and arrest me. “And is there anyone from the Tower with you who can confirm this?”

“No, they’re all…” I trailed off as I realised how it sounded. “They all got… incapacitated. By… that.” I pointed up at the train station above.

“And you came out unscathed,” she glanced at the gaping hole in my torso, “well, still standing, when the professional heroes didn’t.”

“L-luck. And I’m pretty tough.” There was a loud boom from above, and both our heads snapped up to look at the station again. “Look, uh, ma’am, t-there isn’t time for this. There’s something up there, and it’s probably going to bring the station down. Y-you need to get everyone out of here.”

“Don’t tell me what-” another boom, this one sending a cloud of dust raining down. She grimaced, and turned and began marching back towards the crowd. “Alright, everyone!” she yelled through her megaphone, “I’m going to need everyone to turn around and go home. Nothing to see-”

With a roar, and a chorus of screams from the crowd, Paladin leaped over the edge of the platform and plummeted towards the ground.

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