Chapter 4

    His phone chirped a notification, he slid his thumb over the screen, then pulled the notification slider down. Tapping on the notification opened a forum ostensible dedicated to an online version of table top gaming. The message was in code and read, White queen has taken the field to join the demon's armies.. The Queen must fall rally the troops to your cause Black Knight! The message went on with meaningless stats and dice rolls. He tapped the photo link and it opened a picture stored on a secure cloud. It showed a tight face shot of a lovely girl, with black hair, bright light-blue eyes, and lovely clear skin. The girl's picture showed the promise of a pretty youth soon to grow into a very beautiful woman. That is if his handlers hadn't alerted him that he'd been contracted kill her as well if she showed up. Damn shame James thought but he'd do it. He'd check the dossier on the new target later right now he sat back and pretended to enjoy the rest of the evening while he watched his mark.




    Darius sat on what was far to grandly named "the stage.”  What it really was?  A five inch high five foot square platform in a dive. But what the hell, he'd played worse places. Right putting the guitar up. Problem was he wasn't sure if he could successfully navigate the two and half feet of treacherously non-level platform to his guitar case to do it. He'd drank far too much and it had piled up on him, something about that red head or her situation rattled him pretty good. Darius didn't go in for soul searching too much outside of his music; he did the jobs that were in front of him. If not he'd probably would of ended it years ago.


    “You want me to get that for you? Because if you stare at it any harder it's probably going to burst into flames.”


    Darius looked up and forced his eyes to focus. He'd count that as one of his more titanic efforts later in life. “Red?!” he stood and the whiskey hit his head hard and he sat back down before he fell down.


    “Funny thing being six-two, you don't get carded much.” She grinned.


    “That didn't have shitall to do with it, excuse my roughness. They wanted to sleep with you.” He got out slowly and as precisely as he could.


    “Oh I know, that helps too.” She blew it off. Of course she knew the thoughts that went on in the heads of the men around her. As she grew into womanhood she had two choices; get, and stay, pissed off about it, or learn to roll with it. She chose roll with it. After all, she had her own thoughts about hot guys. It'd be hypocritical of her to hold a man's against him. “It's Skylar by the way.. And you'd be Darius.. Nice to meet you.”


    “How'd you kno my name?” He slurred out shocked. “I didn't tell you...” he said this time in the slow careful drunk voice.


    “Simple,” She smiled and lied with a perfectly straight face, “I asked the bartender.” And learned from his mind what he wanted to do with cherries, a bottle of vodka, and two golf balls to me in the process. Just one of the hazards of being a telepath.  Ick.


    “Oh, prolly should of guessed that.” he trailed off, his syntax drunken sloppy


    Smiling at him amused she nudged the case to him with her foot. “So, thanks.” She said simply.


    “You gotta be careful, you're too pretty to be hurt.” Darius said in dunk honesty. The loss of an internal filter was one of the hazards of whiskey for some people. Drunken truth was often times no ones friend.


    “If I could only explain.” She mumbled, and realized she wanted to.. Which meant she probably would at some point. She wasn't great at the whole denial of desire thing. She figured why ice skate up hill?


    “Those horsesasses couldn't see you were a super. I could tell just from watching. Wht the they teach at that collage ..” He rambled on in drunkanese


    He knew? Or at least he thought he knew about her? “What makes you think I'm not just a pretender?”


    Darius eyed her. “Listen Red, no... red too common I'll call ya Scarlet... Scarlet I saw you in them shorts and that bra-thingy. Not one ounce of fat, but then your musschls are still rounded and chiseled stone but your still soft to touch... too perfect a balance, people lean in a direction.” He was sure he was getting things out of order but he didn't have much in working order at the moment. “Then the way you moved in the fight, you're either a trained fighter or a mind reader.” If he'd been sober he'd of seen her eyes flinch at that, he might even of guessed she was both.


    “You aren't going to rat me out are you? You work for the school after all...” Technically he could blow her cover.


    “That why ya didn't fight? HCP crap?” Then he went on “What a bunch of nonsense.”


    “Nope, got wait-listed... Only recently found out the key to my power.”


    “Heroes are nonsense... Everyone's got enough to worry about on their own.”


    Okay that sort of burned Skylar's butt, “You didn't think that way when you helped me.”


    “Shouldn't of...” he closed his case and stood to leave the closing dive. And never realized he passed out.




    Skylar had an arm full of a six-three 230 pound man in her arms. The night wasn't progressing as she'd hoped. She wasn't even worried about keeping up appearances of normal strength as she stood there wondering what to do with Darius. She didn't know where he lived, or how to find it. He was obviously a drifter of sorts. What the hell could she do with him?


    She decided to take him to her apartment, freshmen weren't allowed to live off campus usually. But her special situation required special dispensation from the university. After all she couldn't be expected to keep a secret identity twenty-four seven from a normal human who would start to wonder if she never took her “Contacts” out. Or if said room mate noticed that the gold tips on the end of her hair grew with her hair. No there were a thousand tiny personal things that could out someone. So her housing fees went to pay for a tiny one bedroom efficiency with a spectacular view of the tiny one bedroom efficiency right next to her.   


    She sat tall, dark, and hammered back down in his chair on stage pulled out a cell phone and called a cab. Once the cab arrived she'd solicited help from the vodka and cherry loving bartender to help put Darius in the cab. Then broke his heart by climbing into the seat next to Darius. With a brief adjustment of his guitar case, and a quick recitation of her address for the cab driver, they were on their way.


    Once in the parking lot of the apartment complex she got the guitar case out first and set it on the ground. Then she struggled pulling Darius out of the cab. It wouldn't of been difficult at all except he was completely arm flopping sloppy dead weight, and she had to be careful about his appendages getting snagged on the various brackets and braces that fastened the cabs seats to the floorboards.


    “Hey Lady, you sure you can handle him? I'm not supposed to, but I suppose I could help ya get him upstairs.”


    Time for another little white lie. “No thanks mister, His sister lives two efficiencies over, she's a hefty girl between us we can get him tucked away. But hey thanks”


    “No problem..” With that and the twelve fifty, plus two dollar tip the man drove off happy and oblivious.


    “We're so splitting the cab fare sweet cheeks..” She said.


    She tossed her load up on to one shoulder knelt down to get the guitar case and carried him up the stairs to her apartment thinking, You yarp down my back and I'll break something on you..Once at her door it took a bit of juggling to get her keys out but she managed. The thing about super strength is, it's always a balancing act. How much strength can you apply to a given area without breaking or at least bruising something, and one of the hardest things to manage is a limp body. Simply because nothing ever seems to want to go the same direction on them. She wrestled man and guitar case through the door, and toed the the door closed behind her. She sat the case down in one of her thrift-store armchairs and carried her load to her bed room.


    This was a situation for which she wished she had a couch, or at least a coach with game plan, because past getting him here she was out of ideas. But her floor plan was just too small for a couch since she liked having her “living room” open enough to do yoga in. And a coach would have been just one more person calling her a fool. So no couch, just two small armchairs in the corner and just herself to figure out what to do with a drunken guitar player.


    So she switched her load from over the shoulder fireman's carry to him cradled against her as she sat him down the only place they could both sleep in comfortably; her bed. But he was not staying in her bed in those clothes he'd worked in all day. If she could of she'd of made him shower first too but that was an adventure she wasn't up to just yet.


    She stripped off his plain black T, and exposed a chest and body that spoke of hard physical labor and not always enough to eat. He wasn't gaunt, per se, just leaner than most folks his size. She unbuckled his belt and undid his pants before slipping his boots off, she grabbed the hem of both pants legs and gave a sharp tug making a mental bet with her self on tighty whities or boxers. And rolled... neither. Commando!  She blushed and covered her eyes and breathed out, “whoa...”


    Then looked again through her fingers covering her eyes and had a couple of lewd thoughts before she shook herself out of it and went to a small plastic set of drawers and pulled out a pair of hot pink cotton shorts displaying the legend “Hot Stuff” across the butt that she wore around the apartment. She then began the tricky task of putting them on him. Tricky because, while similar in size, their respective proportions were different and of course getting certain things done without touching certain things was proving a challenge. After a few tries she gave up exhaled closed her eyes and tucked everything safely away. After all it's only weird if you look, right?


    Skylar grabbed her oldest set of sweats, a long t-shirt, and most covering set of underwear she owned. She even grabbed a bra, slipped into the bathroom to change for bed. Normally she wore less than her guest to sleep in. But for some reason she wanted it clear when he woke that nothing happened. Aside from her undressing him, then dressing him in girly shorts. Wow... She blushed again and came out to see just how little of her own bed she could lay on and get absolutely no sleep.


    Skylar knew in some part of her she could have let him be last night and he'd probably have been fairly okay. But she hadn't wanted to. Of course she also didn't want to sleep next to the man with the legend of “Hot Stuff” across his butt either, at least not yet anyway, but she wanted to leave him alone even less.




    Darius woke up in a strange place, with a bottle of water bearing a note that said “Drink me” next to a couple of pills and another note that read “Swallow me”. Seeing the stamp of a pain relief brand on the pills he did, and drank down the water in one long guzzle before getting up. He realized that something out of the ordinary had happened last night. For one thing, he was barely in hot pink shorts. For another, his clothes were nowhere to be found. And there was this whole Alice in Wonderland thing going on that was just freaking creepy.


    He staggered out of the obviously female room. It smelled too sweet to be a guy's room with the lotions and perfume scents lingering in it. He marshaled up his courage and went out to see just how big of a mistake he had made. The few other times he'd gotten that drunk before... well yeah. The smell of biscuits and scrambled eggs hit him square in the appetite, causing his mouth to water, and the sight of the woman from last night hit him square in the chest stealing his breath away. Her long copper highlighted scarlet hair was up in a messy pony tail high on the back of her head. The gold tips glinted in the cheap florescent overhead light. The tank top was loose, obviously cut from an old sweat shirt, with "Property of Wilton High School" across her breasts. Thankfully the gray yoga pants covered up the legs he remembered from last evening. He didn't know she'd already changed and gone through her morning exercise routine.


    “Well, good morning to you too.” She said eying him up and down.


    He ignored what she wasn't, somethings shouldn't be commented on it's just rude, “Hi..”


    She laughed, Darius didn't understand it wasn't that funny it was just morning time that's all. “STOP..” She wiped tears from her eyes. “Okay your right, not that funny except really it is.. Let me explain.. No there is too much, let me sum up..” She got crickets. “What no princess bride love? What the hell.. Okay I tracked you down last night to thank you even though you were an ass. I heard you play, and I liked it so I stuck around. By the time you were done you were too hammered to find the floor on your own. So I let you sleep it off here.. But I wasn't going to let you sleep it off wearing your funky, sweaty, whiskey smelling clothes, in my bed so I stripped you down to find you full on commando.” She exhaled.. “And I wasn't sleeping next to a naked stranger so I let you borrow my shorts Hot Stuff.”


    “Oh..Okay..” He wasn't exactly clear on everything. “Where are my clothes I'll change and get out of your hair.”


    “They are in the laundry washing, I'll go put them in the dryer after breakfast.”


    She put about four scrambled eggs, four buttered biscuits and three slices of ham on a hard plastic plate and handed it to him. He hadn't ate that much in awhile he was sure he couldn't eat that much now. Then she piled her plate up with even more food, looked like six eggs, four slices of ham and only three biscuits.  He eyed it.


    “Healthy appetite..” he said, and she blushed.


    “Look you called it last night I'm a super, I burn a lot of calories about three times more than a normal active person would and that's when I'm sitting still.”


    Hazy memories of her saying she wanted in the HCP or something flitted through his head. “Right, so that's why you held back yesterday. Dumb reason if you ask me.”


    “Well I didn't, Hot Stuff, so just eat your eggs.” He shut up and wisely ate his eggs.


    “So whats your deal.. I know you're a drifter but I don't know why.” She took a bite of eggs chewed and swallowed then said, “Just don't want to be tied down?”


    Darius had gone very still, “How do you know I'm a drifter?”


    Her brain was smacked around with a barrage of Does she know, is this a trap? Did he find me. “Whoa, whoa whoa, Slow down there.. No I don't know, this isn't a trap, and I don't know who He is. I'm a sort of, well, telepathic. It's part of my superness. I'm blocking most everything out, but this close? There will be bleed through; just saying it's not all my doing or in my control so don't freak.”


    Darius stilled, he didn't particularly have anything in his head other people couldn't know. But he didn't relish someone able to hear what he thought either. But it was disturbing to know she could hear everything in his head if she wanted to. “Sorry, I've got problems. They tend to follow me.” Like my father wanting me dead.


    “Why does your dad want you dead?” She asked not even pretending she hadn't heard the last  thought. It would be a polite lie to pretend he had mental privacy, but Skylar didn't like even the polite lies and hated the ones she had to live everyday.


    “Well you've sort of shown me yours, so I guess I should show you mine.” he said.


    Skylar laughed and blushed, “Seen it, was duly impressed, keep it tucked away sport.”


    Darius grinned in spite of himself, “I'm a powered..” He expected her to toss him out for it, most people would. She didn't however.


    “Go on..” She said calmly listening as she put some scrambled eggs in a piece of her ham into a biscuit.


    “Well, I transform into something that looks sort of like a demon. Jagged onyx horns, raptor slitted eyes, Dog like muzzle and ears, black and orange furry mane, and legs contort like the hind legs on a goat. I steal other supers powers that use them on me. I leave them powerless for an hour or two. But when the powers return to the other super, they are sometimes stronger than they were. Sometimes not. Don't know why, but sometimes the upgrade is permanent, sometimes just for a an hour or so.”


    “Wow.. Too bad you're powered and can't control it. You'd be awesome to have on a team. Is your transformation stronger than human? They usually are.”


    “Yeah but only marginally stronger and tougher, not much above human peak. Though I regenerate incredible fast from injury. I think it's because the power I absorb has to hit me, so I have to live through the strike. I only change though when I'm either right on the cusp of death or am about to be. I think that's why we didn't figure out I was powered until much later in life than most do.”


    “Still don't get why the parental wants to go filicidal on you. Some people would be embarrassed to have a powered in the family sure, but it's not like you are going to accidentally blow up the house or something with your power. It sounds pretty reactive, not proactive.”


    “Not completely true, the demon form sort of jacks up the temperature around me, and I start to stink of brimstone, and sulfur. The temperature rise isn't enough to cause things to burn on there own, but.. Things change even for powereds. I mean, I could spike a heat wave one day that sets things ablaze. I don't know why the temp rises around when I transform, or why I stink of brimstone and sulfur. Must have something to do with the transformations biology but I don't know what it could be.”


    “Well, your powered ability sounds awesome. There are rumors raging that people are working to stabilize powered's abilities.  Who knows maybe one day?” She trailed off. Then added, “Hell all I do is hear voices and punch things..”


    “The voices thing I get, but punch things?” Darius said, glad to get her talking about herself. “Whats that about?”


    “Well, most telepathic types are also telekinetic, it seems I'm a little different. I seem to be closer to an adaptation type that takes the mind-body connection to the next level. My advanced mind is linked to my body, the more I advance my minds potential the greater my bodies potential. I just realized that this year though. I'd been breaking my back trying to advance my physical strength with no luck at all. When a training guide for telepaths was leaked to the internet. Leaked or just put out there, I don't know how big a secret it was. But when I gave up on trying to train my body, I tried training my mind since one of my abilities had to be stronger to make hero.”


    “So go on..” He urged


    “So as a child when I started hearing thoughts, I learned enough to block out most of it and never really used it. Instead I focused on the strength, endurance, and durability aspect. Since I never used my telepathy much I never knew that using it increased my strength until this year, when I finally started breaking through my previous limits.”


    “I see, so you can read the bad guys mind and then kick his ass with it... I'm calling that unfair.” Darius said.


    “I can't do anything until I make it into a program. Then I got to make it through the program.” She sighed. “Neither of which is easy.”


    He let that drop as she finished off the last of her breakfast, and then excused herself to check on his clothes. He gathered up the dirty breakfast dishes and set himself to washing them. If she was nice enough to cook for him then she shouldn't have to clean up too.



    She came back to her apartment to find a half naked man washing her dishes and thought. Ain't this the life? She wondered why she was so comfortable with him. She knew the anger and frustration he carried, and he had a tendency towards pretty dark thoughts. If he'd done what he wanted to do to her harassers she'd of had to of taken him down instead. But he didn't, he  controlled his rage.


    He looked over at her, “Oh hey, almost done..”

    “No worries just soaking up the impossible over here..” Skylar didn't know it but she actually leered.