A Big Enough Lever (Leverage/Worm AU)
By AllRoadsLeadTo with Xomniac (Sufficient Velocity) Assisting
Credit to Cyclone (Sufficient Velocity and Space Battles) for the Rising Suns and Dragonfly
The Vigilante Job
She slipped through the shadows, out of sight. Eventually she reached an isolated alley and slipped out of her civilian clothes and into her costume. It wasn't very impressive, but she was certain it was intimidating: a hockey mask, hoodie, pants, gloves and sneakers all black. She even had a cape that she'd gotten from a party store. And backing it all up was her crossbow. It may have been makeshift, but that didn't matter. She was a hero, she was strong, and she'd prove it.
She crouched and leapt into the air, shifting into shadow after leaving the ground so her momentum carried her up. When she was like this, she was much lighter, light enough that her leap carried her all of the way to the roof of the five story building. Unfortunately it didn't carry her over the edge so she had to hurriedly switch back to normal and scramble onto the ledge. Before the adrenalin rush faded she looked around, making sure that no one saw her scrambling like that. She didn't see anyone so she ran for an edge of the building's roof and leapt across the gap between it and the next building, turning into her shadow state mid-air in order to stay in the air longer. The feeling of freedom when she flew like that was exhilarating, and her shadowy form would have smiled if it could.
She landed on the next roof and kept going, running to the next gap and leaping again. Going like this, she made her way across the city as the gibbous moon shown down on Brockton Bay.
Eventually she heard something while soaring across the gap of one alley. She landed on the next roof as quietly as she could, but the sound had stopped. Still in her shadow state she crept back to the side of the alley she had just crossed and looked down. Inside were three figures, a man in a trench coat and fedora, a woman similarly dressed and an indistinct figure covered in darkness that was still distinct even in the poorly lit alleyway of the city at night. She recognized him quickly, Grue, a parahuman villain for hire according to rumors on PHO. She narrowed her eyes and tightened her grip on her crossbow in anticipation.
The man standing near Grue held his hands out and looked up towards the roofs. "Hello," he called out quietly, "we heard you pass by overhead and I was wondering if you could come down and speak with us. I know you probably don't have much of a reason to trust some random people you found in an alley, but we don't to pick a fight with you."
The two seemingly normal people stood calmly, even though the man had his hands raised and the woman had her hands spread from her coat while they looked up at her. Grue's darkness was slowly pooling around them.
Behind her mask she smirked. They were afraid of her. "Why would I talk to villains?" she asked as she stood straight with her loaded crossbow still aimed at them.
It was hard to tell from the angle and the shadows, but she thought the man was smiling. "Well, I personally don't consider myself a villain. In fact, I was about to do something heroic." He gestured towards Grue with one hand. "Grue here counts, I suppose, but he just does jobs for money, and we've hired him to help us out."
She scoffed. "If you're heroes, why would you hire a villain?"
The man shrugged. "Why not? Do you know what it takes to make a person a villain? A bad day, poor luck. All Grue here wants is money to help him and the people he cares about to get by. He isn't a bad person. So, we hired him to put his skills to better use. He wants money to get by and the city needs another cape doing good. I call that win-win."
She narrowed her eyes. "Who are you and what are you doing?"
"I'd prefer to introduce myself when I don't have a weapon pointed at me," the man replied, "but I'll tell you what we're doing right now and if you want to help you're free too. The Rising Sons, as I'm sure you're aware, are running drugs and protection rackets. Me and my companion here" – at this he gestured to the woman – "tracked down information on their organization and how their money flows. We know where they're keeping their books for tracking their drug and protection money, but the cops don't have enough evidence to get the documents and help take down the gang. However, if someone were to take the books and some other information from the gang, they could make sure that the police got the evidence they needed."
"And," the woman added, "if we're in there we get to liberate some of their drug money. Not all of it, because the police will need evidence of the sales, but enough to pay for Grue's time, some supplies, and give something back to the people that have been hurt by the gang."
The vigilante frowned in thought behind her mask. They didn't seem dishonest, and what they said made sense to her, but should she really trust them. "How do I know you're not just villains trying to…pull a ruse on me?"
The man shrugged again. "I can't really do more than give you my word that if you think what I'm doing is wrong, I'll let you turn me in."
She saw the woman and Grue look at him. Even with his body obscured by his darkness, she could tell that Grue was surprised by the man's offer. Her eyes returned to the man's and they stood watching each other for a long moment. He had been… accommodating to her, she realized, being open, but at the same time she could see an inner strength in his eyes as he assessed her, evaluated her.
She saw him judging her down there, but it wasn't harsh judgement. He'd offered to make her part of a mission to take down a gang. It was clear why he had been so willing to make the offer, after all neither the man nor the woman wore masks, or dressed at all like capes. In fact, they probably weren't and that's why they had hired Grue. While the man in particular didn't look weak even though he had his hands in the air having a parahuman on your side had to make things easier. She'd wanted to find some thugs to beat up, but wouldn't his be better? She was smart, she knew this, and that's why she knew that if the man was honest about what they were doing, then she'd be taking down ganger scum. And if they weren't being honest about, then she'd make them pay.
She jumped a short distance into the alleyway and shifted into her shadow state to make herself and her impact lighter, landing in a crouch outside of arms reach of the man and the woman. She faced the three warily, but none of them had moved. Then the man slowly reached out his right hand, offering it. "I'm Nate," he said, "Nice to meet you."
"You can call me Shadow Stalker," she replied, cautiously taking his hand and shaking it.
Brian pushed his darkness across the alley, blocking the sight of anyone who happened to pass by it. Then he walked to the edge of it. Unlike everyone else, all it did to him was look slightly darker. Then he led the others up to the back door to the building the Rising Son kept their records. While it might have seemed strange to some that the gang would keep detailed records, Brian understood the value of keeping track of money. It was after all one of the main reasons he had become a villain, and now a 'vigilante' with Nathan Ford and his partner in crime Sophie Deveraux. He had powers and he would use them to help his sister have a good home, and at least now he was using them for a nominally good cause.
Once his darkness had slipped under the door and into the room beyond, Sophie approached the lock and took out slender tools. Several seconds later the door clicked open and Brian stepped through. There were three unconscious gangers sprawled on the floor, with Shadow Stalker twirling Nate's nightstick in her left hand with her right resting on her crossbow.
"They make any sound?" Nate asked her as he walked up and offered his hand.
Shadow Stalker laughed quietly. "Of course not." After a brief pause she offered him back his nightstick and asked, "Now what?"
"Keep the nightstick for now, I have a spare. We get to their office and get their documents," Nathan replied. "Did anyone else notice you?"
"No," Shadow Stalker replied. "I took them out quick when they saw Grue's darkness. We should be clear for the next bit."
"Good, then let's follow the plan," Nathan told them.
They moved quickly through the building, Shadow Stalker's power letting her scout ahead of them, and Grue's power letting him quietly take down gangers without others noticing. Twice he had to silence and blind an opponent with his darkness, knock them unconscious and then hide them in a closet. He was glad he had brought the bat and duct tape like Sophie had suggested.
In just minutes they were in the main office, and Nathan and Sophie started pouring over the contents. Shadow Stalker looked through one of the desk's drawers while Brian stood watch. After all, if someone came upon the office, he'd be the best one for stopping them from raising the alarm. Sophie and Nathan searched for compartments and safes thoroughly but didn't turn any up. Nathan was skimming through the contents of a filling cabinet when he spoke up, "Shadow Stalker, Grue, if the safe isn't here its elsewhere; we'll need time to collect all of this and search for anything else. Can you two focus on finding the money and making sure the guards aren't going to cause trouble?"
Brian nodded. "Alright, let's go Shadow Stalker."
Shadow Stalker glared at them suspiciously before agreeing as well. "We already tested my power and your darkness, we don't work well together," she replied.
"We should still stick together, even if you can't easily use your power in my darkness," Brian replied as they quietly made their way down a hallway away from Nathan and Sophie. "We can still cover each other's backs and I can pin them down and trap them while you keep them from getting away."
"Go after the stragglers and the ones who run?" Shadow Stalker asked with amusement and anticipation in her voice. "I can do that."
Brian wasn't entirely comfortable with her anticipation, but he reminded himself that it was better to have her on his side than to have fought her unnecessarily in the alley. And anyway, she wasn't that bad.
Shadow Stalker looked at Grue and silently pointed at the door in front of them, then at herself, and then back at the door. She then pointed at him again and wave at the door. Grue nodded in response and stepped back.
Shadow Stalker stealthily back a short distance as well, before running at the metal door at a sprint. When she was only feet away from it, she leapt into the air towards it and turned into her shadow state, flying through the door and the ganger that had been reaching towards it. As Shadow Stalker flew through the break room, she quickly looked around, identifying the four startled Rising Son thugs in the room. Two were sitting in chairs at a table covered in cards and poker chips, and one was at the cabinets on the left side of the far wall. She quickly switched out of her shadow state and landed in a roll, coming up on her knees in front of one of the thugs who was just standing up from the table and lashing out with her nightstick into the man's crotch.
As he doubled over, she leapt up and switched to her shadow state so that she flew up to touch the ceiling before turning back just before touching it. Her momentum carried her forward so that she was able to double kick the second thug at the table and knock him back into his chair and onto the floor. She switched back into her shadow state for a brief moment when she fell back so that she didn't hit the table hard, switching back before impact and then rolling off of the table and sending cards and chips flying.
The thugs cried out in surprise, and the one at the back charged Shadow Stalker, switchblade in hand. Seeing him coming, Shadow Stalker charged at him as well and ducked under his swing while continuing forward to phase through his body. She spun around with the nightstick in hand, but caught a kick in the gut, knocking out her breath and sending her to the ground hard.
Wincing in pain, Shadow Stalker rolled to the side to get away from the armed ganger, before he disappeared in a cloud of darkness. She then realized that the darkness had consumed most of the room, leaving only the area around the back wall free. Shadow Stalker glared at the darkness and steped towards the ganger's last location.
"He's mine!" she growled, kicking out into the cloud and hitting something. She stood outside the darkness for about a minute, glaring into it.
Eventually it started to clear away from the center of the room, leaving Grue standing over four tied up gangers with his baseball bat in hand, surrounded by... – Tenebral? Tenuous? Tenebrous? Sophia wasn't sure – walls of darkness. He loomed over the gangers in his black leather biker clothes while his darkness clung to his costume, concealing his features. "Where's the money?" he demanded in an unearthly, echoing voice.
The gangers made panicked and angry curses in Japanese as Shadow Stalker stalked up to them, pulling out her crossbow. She put it to the arm of the closest one. "Talk."
He glared up at her, his face set in unimpressed anger. "I heard about you, you're a vigilante, a hero. You've already made us an enemy, but if you do that you'll be making an enemy of the PRT. They don't like vigilantes who don't play by the rules."
Shadow Stalker pressed the point of the crossbow bolt into his arm. "Don't you recognize my friend here? He's a villain, and has been for a while now. What makes you think I care about the PRT?" Looking into his eyes, she saw realization in his eyes. She then turned her head to look in the eyes of each of the other three thugs in turn. "So, I have more than enough bolts for each of you. Tell us where the money is, and that's that."
"My partner here can be quite rough," Grue commented as he hefted his bat as he stepped toward the other three. "You might think this is good cop, bad cop, but you'd be wrong. I hear Dragonfly is very reasonable, much more reasonable than us."
Shadow Stalker saw one of the thugs widen his eyes in fear and she shoved the one she was holding to the darkness covered floor. She swept forward and pressed the crossbow to the thug's gut and tensed and held his neck with her other hand. He started shaking with fear. "I'm running out of patience." He looked at her with wide eyes. "Three…Two…"
"Okay!" he cried out. "I'll talk! It's in a safe in the back, with the drugs!"
"Coward," the one Shadow Stalker had first spoken with snapped.
Grue nodded and said, "We're done here. Don't struggle or do anything stupid." He then moved forward and duct taped their mouths shut while making sure they could breathe. When he was done, he said, "I'm sure the police will be happy to let you out."
Hearing that, the thugs started struggling and crying out, but Grue ignored them and walked back the way the duo originally came into the break room, even though it was still covered in darkness. Shadow Stalker followed him without hesitation, striding into the thin cloud of darkness. It was thin, but uncomfortable for her to pass through. However, on the other side were Nathan and Sophie, carrying filled bags.
Sophie hefted one that was only partially filled. "Turns out there was a safe hidden in the offices like we thought," she said in explanation.
Grue nodded and took a bag that Nathan handed him. "There's more in the back according to the thugs we just dealt with," he said, "Just like you thought."
"How'd you get that out of them?" Nathan asked, given Shadow Stalker a piercing look. She glared and opened her mouth, but before she could say anything Grue spoke up.
"They're just bullies, scare good them and they'll break," he said. "Nothing to make us a priority for the police or PRT."
"Good," Nathan returned with a nod to Grue before looking back at Shadow Stalker. "Thanks for keeping him on the level, I know us villains can be hard to rely on."
Shadow Stalker scoffed. "He was a good little soldier. Now then, let's get the rest of the money, call the cops and get out of here. It's in the back."
"Lead the way," Sophie said as she stepped back and gestured for her to take the lead.
Grue glanced at Shadow Stalker and moved forward, leading them so that he could use his darkness to disorient and silence anyone that they came across. Shadow Stalker followed close behind, eager for action.
Grue looked back at her over his shoulder and asked, "'Good little soldier'?" She could hear the amused incredulity even with the distant-sounding echoes.
She shrugged even though she knew he wouldn't see it. "Minion, then."
She heard him make a strange sound, but the darkness covering him distorted the sound so that he wasn't sure what he was trying to make.
Sophia held the pack full of cash over her shoulder and looked at the villains she had worked with. Well, she wasn't sure two of them qualified as villains, since they weren't actually capes, though they had managed to evade arrest while robbing corporations and even a patent office. There was even a country they toppled the government of, if she remembered the news correctly. That had to count for something, she supposed.
"It was good working with you Shadow Stalker," Nathan told her, holding out his hand for her to shake.
"You aren't too bad for criminals," she replied, holding out her own hand and shaking his with a firm grip.
"Your power has a lot of potential for espionage and infiltration, even if you have trouble with electricity," Sophie told her. "This is what we do, and with your help we could do a lot more good."
"One job and you expect me to trust you?" Shadow Stalker asked with incredulity in her voice. "You two are notorious criminals." She hefted her crossbow with her free hand. "I bet you have a pretty high bounty."
Nathan shrugged. "We do this to help people. If you ever want to help us make a difference, then contact us," and with this he offered her a card with a phone number on it, "and we'll tell you everything about our job, who it is against, why we're doing it, and how we plan to do it. We won't hold anything back, because this world isn't fair and sometimes no matter how dedicated you are or smart or strong, you lose and there's nothing you can do about it. For those people, we provide Leverage. That's who we are and we always stand up for the little guy, like the people who live here in fear of the Rising Sons. If you hear what we're doing and still think we're the bad guys, they I'll let you collect that bounty."
"That's some big talk," Sophia replied, "but those are just words."
"If we're working with you, we're trusting that you're not going to betray us on the job. Giving you a way to contact us and join us is exactly that," Sophie explained. She held out her own hand. "So, what do you say?"
Sophia frowned behind her mask. They were right, she could take them down at any time. She looked at Grue. He was a villain, and there was the fact that she couldn't be certain that just because they claimed to have done the raid for the right reasons didn't mean that they would continue to do so. She supposed someone needed to make sure they didn't do anything villainous. Or too villainous anyway. And fighting those thugs with Grue's help had been fun. But that and the fact he looked hunky without the darkness covering his leather jacket weren't important to her decision. Really. "I'll think about it."
Lung roared, literally exploding and sending the heroes flying. Miss Militia laid down suppressive fire with a minigun from above, but the now twenty foot monster ignored the bullet storm as it ineffectually tore at him.
He twisted is head on his elongated neck around to face the heroine and then crossed the intervening block in a single jump to land on the same third story roof as her, causing to building to catch fire and collapse as she scrambled away.
Ignoring the laser beams from New Wave's three energy projection capes, Lung turned to the news helicopter's camera and let out a triumphant howl.
Shadow Stalker stopped the video and glared at the screen. She hadn't been able to do anything against him, and that grated her. She knew that she had limits, but the fact that she couldn't do anything against him wasn't something she liked. She wanted to make him pay for wrecking several blocks in the fight and laughing at her attempts to hurt him. She clenched her fists.
Just because she couldn't beat him in a fight didn't mean she couldn't make him pay.
With that thought in mind, she opened her desk drawer and pulled out the card she had been holding onto for the past few weeks. Aysim…what was the word she wanted? Asimm…Asymmetrical – that was it – Asymmetrical payback was something they specialized in.
She picked up her cell phone and dialed the number. After several long rings she heard a familiar male voice answer with calm professionalism, "Archimedes Solutions, how may we be of service?"
"Nate," she said, "did you see the news?"
"You mean Lung?" he asked, alert.
"Yeah," she replied, "do you …", she paused, thinking of how to phrase it over the telephone, "have any clients who want you for an insurance job after that?" she finished, doing her best to sound cool and collected.
"We might," he replied. "Looking for an internship?"
"Maybe a short one."
"Why don't you come in for an interview, and we can start talking about the specifics of your job here and Archimedes."
Lung strode into his command center, eyes searching. He had spent the past week hard at work and now it was time to hold audience. Ever since he had defeated the city's heroes he had been at war with its villains, crushing the various Asian gangs and assimilating their remains while destroying all others who resisted. None could stand before his might and now it was time to hold court in the kingdom he had carved out for himself here.
However, something was wrong. His new lieutenants were standing around afraid, but it wasn't the right kind of fear. His kind of fear was that of certainty, his certainty. But it wasn't certainty, or at least not just certainty. They were uncertain and afraid, and that was wrong. No one should have fear of the uncertain or the unknown in his court. They should all be absolutely sure of what they should be afraid of.
"What is it?" Lung demanded to the crowd of mewling fools.
One of his Lieutenants spoke up before the others, earning a slight modicum of respect from Lung, "Sir…your…throne…" The man's hesitancy lost him his new respect.
Lung scowled and continued forward, the crowd parting for him like the sea as he approached his throne. But, it wasn't there.
Instead, he saw two photographs and a sheet of paper with a message printed on it in large bold letters. Baring his teeth in a snarl he stormed up to the pictures and paper. He glared at the message on the floor. It said "THANKS FOR THE COUCH, LAZY BOY!" It caught fire. He picked up the photographs. The first was of a girl in black clothing wearing a cape and a black hokey mask lounging on a La-Z Boy and holding up a hand towards the camera in a "V" gesture. The second photo held a picture of a figure in black leather laying on his back on the La-Z Boy with his feet on the couch's headrest. The pictures too caught fire.
Lung threw back his head and screamed in rage, fire exploding from his body and sending his lieutenants sprawling, even Oni Lee.
Brian walked into the base to see Sophia lounging on Lung's stolen couch as she browsed on her laptop. He waved to her and she nodded back with a "Hey." He wasn't in this for the social or ideological aspects, but respected Nate and Sophie for their skills and Sophia for her own abilities as an amateur vigilante. He appreciated that fact that she was a part of their team instead of working against them, and he also quietly appreciated her athletic build.
"Enjoying the couch?" he asked her as he walked past the four couches arranged in a loose semicircle before the large screens that Nate liked to use for their pre-mission presentations. So far Sophia hadn't gone on any of their jobs outside the city due to the fact that she had to take more care to maintain her identity, but Brian could tell that Nate was trying to use the briefings to help encourage her to think outside of the box and work her way around or past problems instead of through them. In fact, he was doing the same thing for Brian, and he appreciated that as well. Knowing that his opinion was respected was another reason, besides the money and covert legal help, that he liked working for Leverage.
Sophia shrugged, drawing his eyes. "I don't know what it is, but this is the most comfortable couch I've ever had. Maybe we should get another."
"I don't think he'd like that," Brian replied. "Especially since we got more of his people arrested with stolen evidence."
"Sucks for him," she said. She looked up. "Hey, you know what Nate and Sophie are doing? They said they wanted us both here for something."
"No idea," Brian told her, "I was actually hoping that you would know. I suppose we'll just have to wait to find out."
"True," Sophia said, turning back to Facebook.
Brian turned away from Sophia and continued to the kitchen which was next to the living room area where the couches were set up. The kitchen had a sleek modern setup with smooth greys and a silver-colored refrigerator that was stocked with large amounts of a variety of foods, many of them leftovers.
Brian opened up the refrigerator and looked inside. 'Yep, mostly leftovers,' he confirmed for himself mentally before looking for something to drink. There were several sodas of various flavors, but he grabbed an energy drink before closing the fridge again. He sipped the bottle as he walked back out of the kitchen and towards one of the couches that Sophia wasn't taking up.
Brian grabbed the remote from the knee-high table in from of the couch and sat down before turning on the largest TV and surfing through the channels.
Eventually he settled on watching the news, idly hoping for hints at another job. After all, they took their pay almost exclusively from their targets, so he figured that taking preemptive jobs on valid targets was perfectly fine.
Eventually he switched to something else in boredom.
After about a half hour, the door into the residential part of the base opened and Nate stepped inside, followed by Sophie, both of them carrying wooden boxes. They walked in front of the couches and set the two boxes down. "Hello," Sophie said happily, "we've brought presents." Meanwhile, Nate walked over to a small closet next to the screens and retrieved a crowbar.
"Presents?" Brian asked, leaning forward and turning off the television.
"Yep," Nate agreed. "We're going to be having meetings like this regularly, but since you've both been with us for a few weeks now, we thought it was high time we got you proper gear." He pried open the box. "It's not much admittedly, but it should help out." He pulled a metal suitcase and set it on the table in from of Brian. "This here is a special tool made by our Tinker in Leverage West by the name of Glitch."
Brian looked inside and saw what looked like some sort of Tinker gun. "What is that?" he asked as Sophie took the crowbar and opened the second crate.
"It's a design that Hardison originally made that's been improved by Glitch," Nate explained. "We're each getting one but this is yours. It's an EMP gun that should be able to disable pretty much anything it's fired at." He reached into the first crate and pulled out a second case. "That one is yours, Sophia," he said holding it out. "There's a quick loading mechanism for the rechargeable batteries so that you can disconnect the power if it disrupts your shadow state. Just remember to reconnect the battery before using it."
"Thanks," she replied as she shifted her position, set the laptop to the side and took the case. She opened it on the low table in front of her and looked at the gun, quickly spotting the small lever labeled 'Battery.' "Cool, can't wait to use it."
"Just remember not to fire it at any of our stuff," Sophie said with a smile.
"Yeah, I'd rather not replace this stuff," Nate joked, "it cost a lot to put in."
"No worries boss, it's not like this city is short on targets," Sophia replied breezily. "Got any other Christmas presents?"
Sophie shrugged as she pulled out two packages, one of which was some sort of strangely translucent cloth wrapped in clear plastic and the other was a metal case like the ones of the guns. "Looks like it." She tossed the package of cloth to Sophia and set the case in front of Brian beside the one for his EMP gun. "That package is some specially treated cloth that Glitch helped make. It'll help you keep from being spotted by most kinds of sensors since it either bends light around you or deflects the light in the same way stealth bombers do to mask their radar signature. It's not perfect but he said that if you wrap it around yourself it should help, especially in the dark." Sophia nodded and Sophie turned back to Brian, opening the case. Inside were two black gloves with attached dark metal devices which had prongs which extended beyond the front of the gloves. "They're busy but they could make one more for you later, Brian," Sophie told him, "but Hardison wanted someone to test these out." She pointed at the odd gloves. "When he heard that you dabbled in martial arts, he wanted you to try these out. Apparently Eliot didn't want too."
Brian picked up one of the gloves and examined it with one of his eyebrows quirked in question. "Why not?"
"He said it was silly," Nate told him, "and it is, but it could actually be something useful. Basically they're gloves with Tasers on the back. When you punch someone it will release an electrical current."
Brian slipped the glove in his hand one and tested it out. He hummed. "It reduces my range of motion, but I can try it out, even if it is basically just someone's leftovers."
Sophie shrugged again. "That's basically all that we're getting really, besides the EMPs. After all, we didn't actually plan on setting up shop here until you two."
"Really?" Sophia asked.
"Yes," Nate replied, "we were planning on helping out some people and then continuing on to somewhere else. Until we told Hardison that we were planning on staying here for the time being, there was no Leverage West or East, just Leverage."
"How long are you planning on staying?" Brian asked with a frown. If they were just going to leave, even if they didn't take anything from the base with them, he would have to go back to doing odd jobs as a villain for hire. Brian didn't mind being a villain, but Nate and Sophie were nice and reliable people, and their Robin Hood-esque shtick set better with his conscience than threatening people, protecting drug dealers or robbing convenience stores. The fact that they had promised to help with his sister was another factor for him to keep in mind.
Sophie gave Brian a knowing look. "We left Leverage initially because they had everything they needed to get the job done and we wanted to spend some time together, see the world. We didn't leave it behind per say, because that's who we are. We couldn't leave this life behind any more than you could give up your lives as parahumans, but we felt a vacation of sorts was in order."
"It was mostly random chance that we ended up here," Nate agreed as he looked at each of them. "We were visiting the city much for the same reason that other people come to Brockton Bay – though we were planning on tracking down some rumors we heard about Fortress Construction – when we ran into an old client. Apparently he was being threatened by the Rising Sons and asked us if we could do anything, so we agreed to see what we could do. After that we did some research, hired Brian and you both know the rest. It isn't as far reaching as some of our other jobs, but seeing what we could accomplish working with the two of you, we decided that we should stay around to help people out how we could here." He focused on Brian, "As for how long we're staying? We're not going anywhere until you're ready yourselves like they were, at the very least." Brian nodded.
Sophie clapped her hands together. "Now then, what say we have some fun and break out the board games? I'm calling Scrabble first, unless you don't feel like losing," she said teasing.
Sophia scoffed. "You're on."
Sophia leapt over the rooftops, embracing the feeling of freedom that came with using her power like that. Then she heard panicked cries coming from the alleyway on the other side of the building. She glided to a stop on the rooftop before silently running across it to the edge before turning solid again to bleed off her forward momentum.
She took in the alley below her. There was a sedan stopped in it with the exit in front of the car blocked off by a trash bin and the exit behind the car blocked off by a truck. Three ABB gangers stood clustered loosely around a redheaded girl who was on the ground.
Sophia paused before acting, curious what the girl, who looked to be about her own age, would do. Would she fight, or would she give up? Then another thought occurred to her, did it matter? She frowned. Being strong was important. Either you were strong and fought back or you were weak and you let the world push you around. After all, even if people couldn't always succeed, the ones with the will to keep going were the kinds of people that found their way to Leverage and asked for their help. But would Nate or Sophie care about whether someone was strong or weak? What would they, or Brian, think if they saw her watching someone get attacked? Did it matter?
She abruptly stopped that train of thought when she realized the redhead had seen her. Their eyes met and they looked at each other for a moment that seemed to stretch on. Then one of the ABB gangers started to move and without thinking about it, Sophia quickly raised her crossbow to snap off a shot at the ganger. The bolt clipped the thug and sent her staggering as Sophia leapt into the air over the alley, turning into her shadow state as she started to descend so that she fell at an angle right towards one of the gangers, though he quickly dodged to the side.
Upon landing, she turned back to normal. As it would take too long to reload her crossbow, Sophia slung it over her shoulder, pulled out her collapsible baton and extended it with the push of a button and a flourish all in the same smooth motion. One of the thugs came at her with a knife and she jumped towards him, phasing through him and then turning solid on the other side to hit him hard in the base of the back of his head, sending him collapsing to the ground. She saw the second man point a gun at her and rolled to the side, shifting into her shadow state at the same time so that the shots he fired passed harmlessly through her. Once she finished her roll, she turned solid for another fraction of a second so that she could lunge at the gunman before returning to her shadow state so that he couldn't hurt her. He started to duck to the side while keeping his gun aimed at her, but she was able to bring forward her baton, switch to solidity and knock the gun out of his hand before he could get another shot off.
He staggered away from her clutching her hand and glaring at her. "You bitch!" She kicked at his knee and saw him reach for her kick, but she quickly switched into another incorporeal lunge through her enemy. This time her opponent saw it coming and was already turning to face her, but she was fast enough that she was able to send a sharp kick to his knee that sent him screaming to the ground with a sickening crack. Turning back to the last ABB ganger, Sophia saw her grappling the now struggling redheaded girl while holding a knife to the girl's throat.
"Back off, or she gets it," the ganger warned.
Sophia glanced at the man still inside the car. He was likely the girl's father and was looking on with horror. "Did you call the police?" she asked him.
He tore his eyes from his daughter to look at Sophia in blank surprise. Then he stammered out, "Uh, y-yes…I dialed 911 but they smashed my phone..."
Sophia looked the ganger in the eyes. "Just by placing that call, this location has already been triangulated, so we can expect the cops to be coming."
The ganger glared daggers at Sophia and held her knife to the girl's throat. "It'll take the pigs a good long while to get here, and I don't think she can wait that long, so I suggest you –" Sophia interrupted the ganger's ultimatum by kicking the man on the ground next to Sophia in his face before he could reach for his gun. Sophia then bent down and picked the gun up. "What are you doing?"
Sophia shrugged and pointed the gun at the ganger's shoulder, making sure to aim down the gun's sights. She had practiced using the EMP gun, and she figured that it couldn't be too different from using a real gun. "Who do you think I am?" Sophia asked in her best anti-hero voice, trying for seductively dangerous and almost certain she succeeded. She'd practiced that too, though not where Brian or the others could hear. "I'm not some silly hero posing for the cameras, drop the knife or this gets messy."
The ganger responded by barking out an incredulous laugh. "Kid, who do –" She was interrupted by the loud crack of gunfire and dropped the knife, screaming in pain from where the bullet hit her arm. The girl she had been holding hostage desperately stomped on her foot and dropped to the ground while holding her neck. Sophia took the opportunity to charge, dropping the gun and bringing her baton to bear. With a vicious blow to the ganger's neck and then her head, Sophia managed to at least temporarily incapacitate the ganger. Pulling out a zip tie, Sophia then bound the bleeding woman's hands together and turned back to the girl, who was holding her neck while her father fussed over her.
"You okay?" Sophia asked as she walked over to the two. She saw blood on the girl's neck and reached for the pouch on her back that held the small first aid kit that Nate had demanded that she carry with her. It looked like it might come in handy.
"She's bleeding from her neck!" the father shouted at Sophia. "You shot at her and now she's bleeding!"
"What was I supposed to do, let her take your daughter and get away?" Sophia demanded as she pulled out her first aid kit and opened it. Looking at the girl, Sophia told her, "Let me see your cut, I need to clean it first." Reluctantly keeping from continuing his tirade, the man shifted away from the girl and she pulled her hand way from her neck, letting Sophia see the blood. "Um, right…" Sophia pulled out the small bottle of disinfectant alcohol and a cotton ball which she doused with the alcohol and then used it to clean the bloody smear on the girl's neck. Once she had cleaned the neck some, Sophia could see where the ganger's knife had nicked the front of her neck and another shallow cut on the side of her neck. "Looks like they're shallow and aren't bleeding a lot; let me get the bandages." Sophia pulled out a larger adhesive bandage to go on the longer cut from the knife and a smaller one to go on the nick on the side of her neck, applying them both quickly. "There good as new," Sophia told her. "Now, I need to tie up these two before they try anything else," she continued, gesturing to the other two gangers, both of whom were starting to stir and moan.
As Sophia walked over to the first ganger that she had incapacitated, the girl called after her from where she sat. "Thanks."
Sophia roughly took hold of the ganger's hands and bound them with another zip tie. "No problem," Sophia replied, "I'm Shadow Stalker. You?"
"Emma, Emma Barnes," the girl replied shakily as Sophia made her way over to the ganger that she had kicked in the knee of. "If you hadn't shown up…."
Sophia quickly bound the last ganger. "Like I said, it was no problem. Helping people is what I do." Sophia glanced at Emma's father. She was going to leave, but she'd rather not have him yelling to the police about her nearly shooting his daughter. "…glad you're both alright."
She saw the man, Mr. Barnes, frowning at her. Eventually he worked up the courage to ask her, "Weren't you involved in a robbery at Claremont Technology?"
"Yeah," Sophia acknowledged, seeing both him and Emma tense up, "but they had it coming. They were trying to keep this guy from getting credit for his patent, so we made sure they couldn't."
"We?" the girl asked uncertainly.
"Leverage," Sophia replied, "we help people who can't help themselves, even or especially when it's the system letting them down."
"You don't believe in the law?" Mr. Barnes asked, somewhat nonplussed by the turn of events and conversation.
Sophia scoffed. "We're the ones that hurt the Rising Sons and kept them from forcing people into their gang, we're the ones that have been hurting Lung and the Nazis. The cops and the Protectorate haven't been doing anything to stop them. People keep joining or being forced into the gangs because they're profitable, and it's been us that have been actually doing something about it." Sophia glanced at the alley entrance, hearing sirens faintly in the distance. "I should go." Not waiting for a reply, she leapt towards the edge of the nearest roof and shifted to her shadow state so she could soar away.
Brian looked over at Sophia. Both of them were headed to Winslow High School, though he was only going there until he could get his GED. She was two years younger than him, and her mother was unlikely to let her test for her own GED, so she was going to be staying there until she graduated. She didn't seem particularly thrilled with the idea of going to school instead of working with Sophie and Nate on jobs or patrolling the streets, though Brian didn't quite see the appeal of the patrols himself.
Sophia saw him looking at her and asked, "So, how long are you going to be here?"
Brian shrugged as they neared the opened front gates of Winslow. "Three weeks until my test, so hopefully I won't need to stick around any longer than that."
"Okay," Sophia acknowledged as they continued through the crowd of students entering the school for the first time in the school year.
His eyes wandered over the crowd briefly, spotting the people sporting gang colors, most of them declaring themselves for either the ABB or the E88, but there were the colors of a few of the smaller local gangs that didn't have any parahumans, or that only had a few and that weren't on the scale of Lung. Brian frowned slightly upon seeing several of the Neo Nazis leaning against the wall of the school next to the main entrance. He didn't like the thought of his sister going to a school like this in a year. The gangs had too strong a presence for him to be comfortable with it, especially since she was a potential target of both the E88 and the ABB. Brian looked at Sophia and spoke quietly so that her voice wouldn't carry beyond the two of them, "We haven't done anything to the Empire in the past week and we don't have anything planned for the next few days, up for some fun after school?"
Sophia grinned viciously. "Definitely."
"Good, but we'll have to make it count since I'm going to be busy studying for my GED," Brian told her.
"No worries, we'll make it count," Sophia replied with her predatory smile as the two reached the doors.
Inside, Brian saw a redheaded girl that reminded him of a young model he saw posing in a picture for a magazine that Sophie had left in the living/briefing room. He was about to comment on it when he saw that Sophia had paused upon seeing the girl. "Recognize her?" Brian asked as they resumed walking.
"Remember seeing her one night," Sophia replied tersely. Brian nodded. Sophia had seen or met her while in costume.
"Anything interesting?" he asked as they neared the girl on their way to their respective lockers.
Sophia shrugged. "She just needed some leverage." Brian repressed a groan, but heard a sharp intake of breath. Turning his head he saw the redheaded girl looking at Sophia with wide eyes.
'Damn it, Sophia, stop trying to be cool,' Brian mentally cursed. He looked at the girl and raised an eyebrow.
Before he could think of anything to say, she started talking, "You – I – um…" she trailed off, looking around at the crowded hallway full of students as Sophia glared at her.
Brian sighed and elbowed Sophia before extending his hand to the other girl. "Hi, I don't believe we've met. I'm Brian."
The girl smiled at him as she shook his hand. "I'm Emma." Up close he could see why she already had a career as a model as she smiled brightly at him.
Emma turned to Sophia and blanched at the almost murderous look in her eyes.
Brian nudged Sophia in the side again. "Calm down, Sophia," he rebuked. He looked at Emma and apologized while aiming for a disarming smile, "Sorry about that, Sophia's not a morning person… or a day person." Sophia made to object, but he put a hand on her shoulder. "Really, you need to relax. She hasn't done anything."
"Well," Emma said, shuffling her feet and looking away, "I kinda recognized…um…"
"That's alright, people recognize each other from all over all of the time," Brian adlibbed, trying to find an excuse to use in public.
"Yeah," Sophia replied curtly.
"Well, I just wanted to say…thanks…again…" Emma said, discomfort clear in her voice and posture.
"Like I said, no problem," Sophia tersely replied. There was another awkward pause before Sophia held out her hand and said, "Sophia."
Emma smiled again and shook Sophia's hand, "It's nice to meet you Sophia; sorry about – um – just now, I guess."
Sophia sighed. "Its fine…." She frowned like she was trying to swallow something sour. "I should be more careful…"
Brian was beginning to think that awkward silences were going to become the norm for his three weeks in Winslow when he saw Emma perk up and hold out her hand to someone in the crowd. "Oh! You two should meet Taylor!" Brian looked and saw a gangly, smiling girl with curly dark hair walk up to them.
"Hi, Emma!" the girl said cheerfully, "who're your new friends?"
"Hey Taylor, meet Sophia and Brian, Sophia and Brian, meet Taylor," Emma said. Sophia grunted.
Brian held out his hand and smiled. "Nice to meet you, Taylor."
She blushed and shook his hand. "Nice to meet you too, Brian."
"Right, well, we should get ready for class," Sophia said as she looked meaningfully at Brian.
"Yeah, I suppose so," Brian agreed. He smiled at the two other girls again and waved good bye. "Anyway, it was nice to meet you both."
"See you later!" Emma called after them as Brian followed Sophia to the stairwell.
The pub wasn't exactly his ideal, but both it and the sandwich shop next to it were good. Nate leaned back in his stool as he set his beer down on the bar counter. He was nostalgic for his Boston bar, but as far as fronts went. They were good. Right now the place was quiet given the fact that it was in one of the nicer parts of down, right off the Boardwalk, and the fact that it was early afternoon. Brian was in the office upstairs doing paperwork as part of his cover job with Archimedes Solutions. It helped establish Brian as a credible option for taking care of his sister when he eventually filed the case. It was still years away but Brian had his mind set on getting Aisha away from both of their parents and Nate wasn't about to object to that. What he was objecting too was Sophie's semi-joking offer for them to adopt Aisha. Even if he wanted to be the overacting girl's legal guardian, they didn't have anything resembling a case for why it should be them. And then there was the fact that he didn't want to deal with a teenaged Parker. Two teenagers were enough in his opinion.
The front door of the pub opened with a jingle and Nate looked up to see Sophia and her friend come in. The girl had apparently figured out Sophia's secret identity on their first day to school after Sophia made some witty comment about 'leverage.' It was a bit disappointing that he had to work with someone who was surprisingly bad at subterfuge for someone who could literally turn into a shadow, but she was just a teenager and Sophie had taken to training Brian and Sophia more earnestly in how to blend in and avoid attention. Nate just hoped it would pay off before either of them slipped up again. Making a new friend was relatively benign, but if someone from the ABB or E88 were the ones to find out, unwritten rules or no… it wouldn't be good.
"Aren't you two a bit young to be in here?" Nate asked the two girls.
"Isn't it a bit early to be drinking?" Sophia retorted with a smirk.
"It's night somewhere," Nate replied before straightening and standing up from his stood in the practically empty pub. "So, what brings you two here?"
"I want to help out!" Emma declared in excitement. "She said most of you aren't…you know, so I can be a part too!"
Nate sighed. "No." At her crestfallen expression, he discreetly checked the pub and verified that there wasn't anyone else there and elaborated. "They can help out because of their talents, but the things we do are dangerous and require a lot of talent, skill and training. I'm sorry, but you don't have that."
"Please? Sophia says that she and Brian get training, and I can help out in other ways! I want to be like you guys, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor and taking down gangers!" Emma pleaded.
Nate sighed and gave Sophia a disapproving look, and she had the decency to look mildly embarrassed. "I know that we sound like modern day Robin Hoods and that it's easy to romanticize, but what we do is dangerous. Sophia and Brian were already doing dangerous things and they have an advantage but you don't. If you mess up, people will die, you will die."
Emma stared back at him, a determined look in her eye. "I know, Sophia's told me about it, and Brian's shared stories too, but I want to help."
Nate frowned. He didn't want her involved, but if she was this determined and already knew about them, it was probably best to have her where they could keep an eye on her. "Okay, but if you're a part of this you do what me or Sophie say no matter what. Even if you don't like it, even if it doesn't make sense, you will obey without objection because if you don't somebody could and will get hurt. Understood?"
Emma nodded. "Understood." She really didn't, but Nate hoped he could get her to understand before she did anything stupid.
Emma sat in the swivel chair, kicking her feet. She sighed. This was so boring. She'd hoped for something more exciting for her first job. Nate, Sophia and Brian had all been training her in self-defense (though for Sophia this mostly amounted to shouting "Dodge!" and attacking her) and Sophie had been teaching them how to disguise themselves, blend in and pretend to be somebody else, and with her experience as a model Emma had hoped that meant that she would be able to do some field work, like infiltrating an office or seducing a guard or something.
Instead, Emma was relegated to watching over them from their console back at base while they did the cool stuff. She glanced at the displays and saw one of the night guards was almost on top of where Sophie was picking a lock.
Jolting upright, Emma held the mike up to her mouth and exclaimed, "Sophie, that guard is almost on you!"
"Where?" Sophie replied as she continued working on the lock.
"He's right around the corner to your right and he has a gun!" Emma practically cried out as she watched in horror as the guard casually walked up to the corner.
"A gun?" Nate demanded over his mike. "I thought they didn't have guns here!"
"Clearly we missed something," Brian replied. "We'll head over to get Sophie out of there."
"Sounds good," Sophia agreed, "but I want to know what the hell these guys have guns for."
"You won't be able to get here in time," Sophie whispered.
Emma blanched. If she'd seen the guard earlier, Sophia could have gotten away, but now she was –
Emma looked at the feeds from the security cameras and saw the guard walk about the corner into an empty hallway with all of its doors closed.
"I'm in," Sophie whispered.
Emma let out a sigh of relief. If it was like this out in the field too, maybe she didn't want to go out there just yet.
Taylor sat in the school cafeteria reading. Ever since Emma had met Sophia and Brian, she'd started drifting away, leaving Taylor alone. Emma was still her friend and both Brian and Sophia were nice to her, well Sophia mostly ignored her, but she wasn't mean, just indifferent. Emma was Taylor's only real friend, and now it seemed that Emma had found better ones.
"Hey, Tay!" Taylor heard Emma call out, and she looked up to see Emma waving at her happily as she approached Taylor's table.
Taylor smiled and waved back. "Hey, Ems! What's up?" She closed her book and set it to the side.
"Not much, wanna hang out at the Boardwalk after –" Emma started to say.
"Dodge!" someone shouted and Emma jumped to the side, shrieking. Taylor whipped her head around to see Sophia laughing hysterically behind a nearby column so that Emma wouldn't be able to see her as she approached.
Taylor looked on in a mixture of confusion and amusement as Emma sent a mock glare towards Sophia before collapsing into a fit of giggles as well. Soon Taylor and the others nearby were swept up in the laughter as the staff looked on in bemused indifference. Eventually Emma and Sophia made their way to her table. "What was that?" Taylor asked Emma as she sat down on Taylor's right.
"I've been helping train Emma in self-defense and general reflexes," Sophia explained with a smirk as she sat down on Taylor's left. "As you can see, my methods work."
"You're a jerk," Emma said with a mock glare on her face again before she turned to Taylor. "So, want to go to the Boardwalk? We can go shopping, and there's this great sandwich place I've been meaning to take you."
"Sure," Taylor said, happy for the chance to spend more time with her friend.
"If that's the sandwich shop I think she means, you're gonna love it," Sophia said with a knowing smirk. "The owner's always complaining about kids hanging around, but really he likes having us around." She winked.
"Sounds good," Taylor said before giving a wicked smile, "and maybe afterward we can help Emma learn how to Dodge!"
Emma squeaked and did a little half-jump in her seat, causing Sophia and Taylor to burst out laughing. "You jerk!" she said, slapping Taylor's shoulder. Then she was the one to give an evil smile. "Actually, I think you're the one that could use a lesson in self-defense."
Taylor suddenly felt trepidation.
"I'm sure Brian would be happy to help," Emma continued with a smirk.
Taylor thought back to her meetings with the muscular young man that had become Emma's friend and felt her face heating up.
Sophia harrumphed. "He's probably busy."
Emma's smile widened. "What? Don't like the competition?"
Taylor was now intently studying the tabletop while her face was practically burning.
Silence descended upon the table amid Sophia's inarticulate anger, Taylor's abject embarrassment, and Emma's barely contained mirth.
A/N: If there are any Jobs you'd like to see the Leverage East crew take on, let me know in a Review, and I will try to fit it in if I can after the next two installments.