Blades & Barriers: Chapter 26

                When he first saw it, Barrier barely registered the accident. A pair of sedans were pulled off to the side on a busy street, in an area with lots of businesses and traffic. At most, Barrier took it to be a small fender bender. One person had gunned it a little too hard and smacked the other’s bumper. His eyes skimmed past the people standing outside their cars, until Bloodfyre abruptly changed course and started heading that way.

                It was only once they got closer that Barrier picked up on the details that had been so easy to miss from far off. The way one driver was visibly more aggravated than the other, the pedestrian crowd purposefully parting to give them both wide breadth, the pair of small children’s heads in the back seat of the front car. How had Bloodfyre caught all that with a single look from so far away? Barrier’s HCP training had taught him to look for details on a battlefield, sure, but this was just a bunch of people powering through a daily commute. Yet Bloodfyre had caught the warning signs quickly, and put himself on an immediate route to help. It was easy to let one’s focus slip during patrol, without the tension and risk of battle all around. Barrier made a note that he needed to work on that as well. Already he’d compiled a sizable list of areas to improve, and they hadn’t even made it to lunch time yet.

                No one was yelling as they drew close. The man driving the green sedan who’d been hit was leaning forward, nearly dwarfing the smaller driver of a gray car with a now dented front bumper. The lack of screams should have been a good sign, but Barrier realized it wasn’t the moment he got a good look at the larger man’s face. It was red and pinched, veins in his thick neck bulging. This wasn’t a case of anger that would flash quickly and then pass away with equal speed. He was pissed, and from the way he was glaring down at the smaller driver, this whole situation was going to end in violence if they didn’t intervene.

                “Gentlemen, how’s everyone’s day going?” Bloodfyre brightened his energy somehow, making it more ostentatious and drawing in the few eyes that weren’t already on him. “Looks like somebody was riding the bumper a little too closely. First things first, is anyone hurt or in need of medical attention?”

                Despite the fact that he was clearly talking to the men, Bloodfyre actually faced the back of the green car and gave a wide smile to the children’s heads that had swiveled around to get a good look at him. He knew how to dial back the scary when he wanted, and given the way he looked that was pretty impressive. Both kids dropped out of sight, only for the tops of their heads and eyes to pop back into view a few seconds later.

                “I’m fine, but my children were in the backseat when this son of a bitch slammed into us.” The driver of the green car, a man who looked like he’d rather chop off a leg than skip a day at the gym, spat the words out toward the gray sedan’s pilot. Something told Barrier that he wouldn’t be quite so aggressive in speaking to Bloodfyre directly.

                “Well, I can certainly understand your concern. Would you like me to call in some medical personnel to check them over?”

                Giggles were coming from the backseat as the kids shuffled around, looking at Bloodfyre and occasionally glancing to the blue shield surrounding Barrier. If they were hurt, it sure didn’t seem like it, but there was total sincerity on Bloodfyre’s face as he asked about calling for medical aid.

                “No… I think they’re okay,” the bigger man said. “We got lucky this time. But I’m not letting this asshole off the hook so easily; he could have done some real damage.”

                “Look, you swerved into my lane, cut me off, and then slammed on your brakes. Get pissed and yell all you want, there are traffic cameras and witnesses all over who are going to back up my story as soon as the real cops arrive. Drop the fake outrage and just take the hit to your insurance.”

                It was the first time they’d heard the smaller man talk, and immediately Barrier knew something was wrong. A guy with his frame shouldn’t be that calm with a slab of muscle looming over him. There should have been some semblance of nerves or worry in the tone, but it was absent. He seemed completely cool and collected, more bored than anything else. Bloodfyre noticed it too, nodding for Barrier to step closer to the two men.

                “Oh what? Now that there are Heroes around you’ve suddenly got a pair?” The bigger man whirled in place, hunching over to cast a literal shadow over his opponent.

                “No, now I’ve got real witnesses if you try anything stupid. I wasn’t going to rely on these others to back my story, true or not. You people always stick together.”

                There was something venomous about the way the smaller man said “you people.” It came with a pall of hatred and dislike that Barrier had usually only heard when he and his family had traveled to a handful of small, backward, towns as a child. Given that both of the drivers were Caucasian though, it didn’t seem to be meant racially. Barrier wasn’t really sure what the intent was, but whatever it had been the big man didn’t care for the tone. Despite his kids and two Heroes both bearing witness, he reared back and slammed his fist into the smaller man’s face.

                Barrier knew the sound of bones breaking too well to mistake the noise for anything else. The hand was shattered, small bits of white sticking out amidst the sea of red. As the large man tried to pull his broken hand back, the small one snagged him by the forearm.

                “Hold on, that was assault. You think I’m letting you just walk away from this?” He squeezed, and Barrier heard another pop from within the muscular forearm. “You’re staying right here and I’m pressing charges.”

                “Assault? You’re a fucking Super! You should have told me, you have to tell people that sort of shit.” Broken hand or no, the big man wasn’t crying or tearing up, but he was staring at the small, seemingly weak hand that had his arm in an iron grip.

                “I don’t have to tell you dick. Maybe don’t go around hitting people who look weaker than you.”

                “Enough.” Barrier had barely looked away, and Bloodfyre had shifted position. He was behind the smaller man, a hand momentarily absent of burning red energy resting on the driver’s shoulder. The voice he was using was nothing like the cheerful and friendly tones he’d employed so far. He sounded cold and hard, wielding the voice of a man who knew violence like an old bedfellow and wasn’t afraid to roll in the sheets with her right now if the mood struck. “He hit you, we all saw it, but if you keep gripping that hard you’re going to do lasting damage. Let him go, now.”

                “I have the right to defend myself.”

                “Which you exercised by not getting out of the way,” Bloodfyre shot back. “I watched your eyes; we both know you could have dodged that punch. At this moment, you’re still in the clear. Push the situation in anyway, escalate things the slightest bit, and the law ceases to be on your side. That means I have to stop you.”

                The words hung there for a long moment as Barrier shifted his own position slightly. Given the durability and strength this Super had shown, he wasn’t sure he could move fast enough to save the muscular man. His children, on the other hand, were another story. Barrier would widen his shield at the slightest movement, making sure they weren’t caught in any ensuing battles. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

                With a grunt of annoyance, the small man released his grip, and the large one darted backward quickly. Bloodfyre didn’t exactly sigh in relief, but his eyes did seem a bit less tense. “Barrier, put the man in his car and take the keys to make sure he doesn’t try to flee a crime scene. We’re all staying put until the police arrive to take an official report. Dispatch will route an ambulance to our location as quickly as possible to get him some treatment. As for you, sir, you’re going to stay right here with me until this situation is wrapped up.”

                The Super shook his head, looking at Bloodfyre with unconcealed disgust. “He pulls in front of me, causes an accident, and hits me in the face, but you’re acting like I’m the criminal. I expect it from his kind by now, however I’d hoped one of my own people would be different.”

                “I’m not putting you under arrest,” Bloodfyre said, voice still calm and careful. “Just stay quiet, and don’t give anyone a reason to fear you. You’ve got the law on your side. Be smart, shut up, and keep it that way until the cops get here.”

                Barrier was helping the man into the green sedan, the children’s giggling suddenly gone as they stared in terror at their father’s mangled hand. The big guy had been in the wrong; there was no question about it. He’d attacked someone who looked smaller and weaker because he could. But as Barrier yanked the keys from the ignition and took a quick scan of the crowd’s fearful faces, he had a feeling no one would really remember it that way.