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Harlequin and the Hunters Part Two
Pixie jumps to her feet as I stumble down the stairs, exhausted from my dive into the Sucker’s memories. Her wings, unencumbered by the jacket she normally wears over her low-back shirts, flutter nervously, raising an inch or two off the ground. She rushes to my side and pulls me away from Blaze, our fingers separating for the first time since he’d let me cry on his shoulder.
“God, Quin, I could feel your hurt from miles away!” She says, practically pushing me into a chair and wrapping her hands around mine. Her healing Surge pulses through my body, turning the dagger in my heart to a dull ache. I sigh, and she lowers the amplification of her Surge so it slowly works its way to my fingers and toes.
“Where’s the girl, Pixie?” I ask, my voice low. Blaze shoots me a worried look as he checks the team for bites and scratches. She nods her head towards our bedroom. “Wait, Lyra!” I whisper, then cough and repeat myself. She freezes, her hand on the doorknob. “Go sleep somewhere else, like the boys’ room or something.” She raises an eyebrow, stares at the boys lounging on the couches, then shrugs and walks into their room. Arrow wolf-whistles and everyone shushes him. “Right. We need someone to go out for dinner- we’ll need a lot, since we missed lunch. Marshall, you want to-“ I glance over at where he was sitting; he’s fast asleep with his head on Marrow’s shoulder. He shrugs him off, and the cat-boy falls onto his other side, snoring. I instantly feel terrible. I’d sent him on missions nonstop the past three days, leaving him hardly any time to sleep. We may be incredibly hardy compared to regular humans, but we still need a lot of sleep to keep going. And while he’s one of our best fighters, even he can’t go too long without a good sleep. “Nevermind, let him sleep. Tig, you and Arrow go get some food. Meat- and vegetables!” I call the last bit after them as they bound up the staircase and outside. Their groans echo down into the room as they slam the door.
Pixie lets go of my hands and moves on to Marrow, who has a long scrape down the side of his face from one of the Wolves. He grunts something as she lightly touches her fingertips to the scrape, and she gives him a strange look. “You want me to leave a scar?!” Blaze laughs and props his feet on the armrest, and Marrow nods enthusiastically. She huffs, but when she’s done Surging there’s a thin scar stretching over his eyebrow down to his jaw. He checks it out in the reflective side of a glass cup sitting on the coffee table and grins.
Arrow and Tig come back laden with hamburger meat, bacon, and other assorted meats. I glare at them, and they cackle, Tig producing a bag of leafy greens and fruits he tucked his tail around. I roll my eyes and we wake Lyra and Marshall- not without giving the latter a big Surge of energy. Blaze scoops from the bag of hamburger meat and Surges, fire racing down his fingertips and into the meat. It steams, sizzles, and turns a delicious brown. He grins and tosses it at Arrow, who splits the ball open to reveal a wonderfully pink interior. Blaze scoops out more balls of meat and cooks them, tossing them to people. He cooks two balls at once and tosses one to me and keeps the other, then pushing one hand into the remaining meat and just barely warms it, then pushes the bag to Marshall. His eyes glow for an instant, then he sighs dejectedly and dips a spoon into the raw meat, biting into it with simultaneous disgust and pleasure. I break my own ball in two and bite into it, smiling. Arrow makes little balls of meat and tosses them at Marrow with his infamous aim, arching each one magnificently into the bigger boy’s mouth. Lyra tips over, snoozing, and jolts awake. Pixie laughs and jolts Giz with electricity, making his brown hair stand on end. He rolls his eyes and fiddles with a little robot as he shoves meat into his cheeks like a chipmunk and makes faces at Tig.
I smile at Blaze over their heads, and he grins back at me. This is our team, our family, the kids we’ve been with and fought with since we were young. Then his eyes widen, and he looks at something over my head.
I spin around in my chair. The little blonde girl I saw before the fight with the Suckers stands outside of the girls’ bedroom door, rubbing her eyes tiredly. I clear my throat and the team falls silent, swiveling to stare at her.
Her eyes drop from mine to the floor, and she shuffles her feet. She looks no older than nine, closer to six or seven. “Um,” Her eyes flicker back to mine for half a moment. I’d thought they were blue, but in the light I can tell they’re a startling blue-green. “Do you have any fish?”
Blaze cooks the salmon Tig had been sent to get with both hands, handing a fish to the little girl and cooking another as fast as she can scarf them down. Finally, Blaze runs out of fish, and she sits back in her chair with a hiccup and a pleased smile. I crouch in front of her, my red-brown bangs falling in front of my eyes. I blow them away and meet her eyes. She stares back at me, and I’m surprised by the maturity and serenity I see in her.
I reach out mentally and brush her mind with mine. She recoils, shrinking into the chair and pulling away from me. Lyra, standing behind her, starts singing a lullaby in her high, pure voice, and the girl’s head droops forward. I catch her, and the physical contact sends me straight into her mind.
Memories race past me like doors with windows in them from which I get a quick glimpse of the girl’s life. I quickly glance at each one before shoving it aside and looking into the next. Finally, I find one I can use, and dive into the past.
A beautiful woman, her face only beginning to age, peers into an elaborately decorated crib at the sleeping child inside it. A man puts his hand on her shoulder and leans in as well, staring down at the infant girl. I glance around for a moment, then collect my thoughts and take a step forward. It’s incredibly hard to move around on your own in a memory, the action saps my strength like nothing else I’ve ever done. Luckily, I have practice- I ignore the strange feeling of my energy leaving me like a leaky faucet and struggle on, down an enormous flight of stairs and out into a huge lawn. I turn and look up at the mansion, and instantly recognize it as one in Manhattan- we’d been tempted to make the Nest in an abandoned house down the street. I note the place, then jump out of her memory and back into the hall of doors.
Already, I’m drained. I know that I need one more memory, though, so I round up my remaining strength and continue on, looking for the brightest shining door. When I find it, I leap into her memory.
This time, I don’t have to move around to get the information I need. I attach myself to the past girl’s mind and follow behind her, experiencing the same things she does, but not to the extent with the Sucker. She’s just pulled on a bathing suit- her parents had finally relented and gotten an in ground pool built for her 8th birthday. She bounces past a sign on her door declaring her name (I make a mental note) and down the stairs I’d struggled down a few minutes earlier and out the back door, taking a flying leap into the cold pool. She bobs to the surface, shrieking with laughter, and her mother looks up from her book to give her a disapproving glare. She quiets and treads water, reveling in the sunny day and cool liquid between her toes.
Suddenly, the water around her legs starts bubbling, like it’s boiling. Her skin grows uncomfortably warm, and she screams for help. Her mother starts up and runs hollering into the house. The girl cries and shouts as her legs get sucked together, burning and tingling. The water lights up with a flash of blinding brightness, then the burning and bubbling stops and she stops crying- that is, until she looks down.
Her legs have melded into a shimmering, scaly fish tale with trailing, feather-like ends. The silver tale flicks as she mentally moves her legs, and she screeches. Her parents and a few of the help come tumbling out of the house. They look into the water and scream, one of the maids falling over in a dead faint. Her father starts yelling for 911, and she has the sudden desire to run. She pulls herself from the water, and, as the last scale exits the water, dripping, there’s another flash and her legs return. She jumps up and starts running for her life.
I return to reality, pulling from her thoughts and falling back into my own body. My strength is all but completely gone, sapped by the incredible ordeal of seeing into the past. Someone puts a hand on my shoulder and Surges, the energy replenishing mine almost instantaneously. I look up to thank the person and Arrow smiles at me and shrugs. I’m surprised. He rarely Surges to energize anyone; his powers are not strong enough t support to many Surges, unlike Pixie or Blaze or me. I nod at him, and he backs up to stand beside Tig against the couch.
I hand the sleeping girl to Marrow and he gently, but easily, lifts her up and carries her into the bedroom once more, his muscular frame dwarfing her tiny one. The sight would be funny, if the situation weren’t s serious.
I turn to my team. “That girl… Her name is Clara. Clara Ellis.” There’s a collective gasp. My words are pointed towards the group as a whole, but my eyes are on Blaze. He tightens his lips. The girl’s family lives incredibly close to where the Rivers’, Blaze’s ex-family, used to live, before they abandoned him and left for D.C. He still hasn’t forgiven them- or any of the other bluebloods they considered friends, Clara’s parents included. The girl is a terrible reminder of his lost childhood.
Pixie flinches, and her violet eyes glaze over for half a second. Then she barely turns her head towards Blaze, her eyebrows furrowed. He pointedly looks straight at me, though I know he cannot possibly have not noticed, with his impeccable hunter eyesight. Arrow noticed- he gives Pixie, then Blaze, an odd look. Blaze fills with alarm, enough that he’s broadcasting it. Quin, do something! He thinks. I nod imperceptibly, and send a quick message to Pixie. She bites her lip and whips her head to me, faking attentiveness. Arrow raises an eyebrow, but his head turns to me as well. Blaze relaxes.
“She can grow a fish’s tail…” I say, and all but Blaze, Lyra, Marshall, and Pixie look shocked. “But she doesn’t have any powers.”
“What?!” Giz says, his finger twitching to his wrist. If she doesn’t have powers, he can’t pick her up using the chip he designed using my tracking senses. “What the hel-“ I glare at him, and he reworks his sentence. “heck is that supposed to mean? She’s a Surger, you said so yourself!”
“Well, I was wrong.” I sigh. “She’s not a Surger- or, at least, not yet.” He raises his eyebrows. “She’s only eight, Giz, there’s no telling when she’ll develop actual powers. The tail, though…”
Everyone starts talking at once. “QUIET!” We all glance, shocked, at Pixie. Her wings flutter and she smiles, apologetic. “I didn’t get my powers until three years ago, remember? But I’ve had my wings since I was like nine or ten. Maybe physical powers develop before a Surger’s actual ones.”
All eyes swivel to Marshall. His tail flicks, and his eyes narrow just slightly, turning more golden than brown. “Most of you were here when I changed,” He says. Giz, Marrow, and Tig shift awkwardly. “I’d already gotten my Surges when these damn things popped up.” He gestures to the cat’s ears in his curly hair. “Of course, it may not count for me, since all of my powers are related to… ya know.” I nod. He avoids calling himself cat-like whenever possible. For a boy who grew up surrounded by dogs, it must really suck to suddenly be the closest thing to the animal besides itself.
Tig nods, too. “I was the same as Pixie. I got my tail before my agility. I was actually incredibly clumsy for a few years after I got it.” Arrow laughs. We remembered that, alright. We had to keep fragile things hidden for the first few years after he joined us.
“Yeah, it’s true you guys got your tails, or wings, before your powers… but I could sense them in you. I knew Pixie would be able to heal. I didn’t know how, or when her powers would manifest, but I knew.” Her eyebrows shoot into her snowy hair. I had never told anyone I could do that. “Her, though… I’m getting nothing. We ought to just… send her home or something. Contact Era and see if she can take her. If she can’t Surge, she can’t fight. She can’t fight, she won’t survive. We can’t handle a kid, we can barely-”
“You know, I don’t really get what you’re talking about, but if I’m not good enough I can leave.” A quiet voice, a little hoarse from a day of nonstop sleep, mutters from behind me. My eyes widen and I spin around. Clara looks up at me with hurt written across her face. “I’m not like you, I get it. You can go into my head, and he can cook fish with his hands.” Arrow shoves Blaze with his shoulder. “But I am like them.” She points at Pixie and Marshall, who looks away with a frown creasing his forehead. “And I have nowhere to go. Please, can I just stay?”
Pixie zooms to her side and envelops her in a hug. “Of course you can, sweetie, that’s not what Quin meant!” She shoots me a look over Clara’s shoulder, almost daring me to say something. “You can stay as long as you want, okay?” Clara nods, and the tears welling in her eyes vanish. Pixie straightens and leans back on her feet, looking into Clara’s eyes. “Now, let’s get you into something clean, alright? You’re smaller than all of us, but I think some of my old clothes might fit you. You’ll have to ignore the slits in the back…” She stands and takes Clara’s hand, leading her into our bedroom. I’m suddenly glad she refuses to throw things out.
I look behind me, at my team. They’ve all wandered off, save Blaze. Lyra is sprawled across a couch with her arm thrown over her face, Arrow sitting with her legs on his lap throwing darts at a picture of a snarling Sucker. Tig is perched on a side table, and snatches them out of the air and throws them back to him, purposely tosses them right past Marrow’s head so the large boy flinches. Marshall and Giz play a card game, one Giz made up involving little flying robot monkeys and teeny metal swords. Blaze glances back at them and then at me, a half-smile lighting up his face. They love you, Quin. You know that, right?
I frown at him. Respect is not the same as love, Blaze. They think I was harsh, they’re mad I didn’t comfort her and Pixie did. Hell, I can feel their disgust! They’re practically projecting it!!!
He shakes his head sadly and walks forward, cupping my cheek in his palm. His skin is hot- impossibly warm, heated by his boiling internal core. I turn my head so I don’t have to look him in the eyes. Harlequin… look at them! I do, my eyes glancing off their faces one by one. Arrow notices my gaze and smiles at me. Sure, maybe they were mad at first. But they can’t stay mad- you know that! God, Q, for someone so insightful, you can be so blind sometimes! You were harsh- yeah, I’ll admit that. But you’re just trying to protect us. He lowers his forehead and places it on mine, forcing me to look into his smoldering eyes. You’re the best of us, Quin, we all know that. Taking in a little girl will be dangerous. But we can do it, I promise. No, I swear. Money isn’t a problem, Era sends enough for us to take on Clara. Sure, it’ll be tough having a little girl. And, so what if she has no powers? She can’t go home, not when water turns her into a damn fish! He presses his lips to mine. You’re amazing, and a wonderful leader. But sometimes, you’ve just got to let things go.
He rubs my shoulder and disappears into his room. I sigh and lean against the table, watching two little monkeys battle above Giz’s head. Marshall’s monkey cuts off the head of Giz’s and does a victory lap around the room.