Several days passed with no sign of Amy. Several days of worry and fear for my friend.
I spent a lot of that time trying to distract myself from the dread churning within me, wandering around the city and thinking of how I could make good on my promise to bring hope back to Brockton Bay. All while trying to keep my own sense of hope alive.
And each day I came back to the hospital for my rounds, trusting that Amy would eventually return to hers as well.
"Amy, you're ok!" I exclaimed when I next spotted the tell-tale red and white costume of Panacea walking through the back entrance of the hospital. My body moved on its own, rushing straight towards her, acting on the potent swell of relief that filled me upon seeing her returned, safe and sound. Amy had barely turned around by the time I got to her and wrapped my arms around her in a hug.
Had I had time to actually think about what I was doing, I may have been apprehensive about hugging her. Hugs weren't something I had much practice with the last few years. I wasn't sure that I would be able to give one successfully, anymore, and doubt would have frozen me into inaction. But thoughts weren't allowed right now, not in the face of the elation I was feeling.
My body, at least, seemed to remember what to do on an instinctual level, as I pulled her close to me. It was comforting to hold onto her, the physicality of her presence confirming that she really was back and quelling the last remnants of anxiety that had been eating at me the last few days.
Amy's response wasn't quite what I'd been hoping for...
"Ow! Arm, arm, arm! Get off!" She wriggled and squirmed, desperately struggling to get out of my grip with her right arm and shoulder.
"I'm sorry!" I yelped and lept away from her. Amy backed off, craddling her left forearm defensively. An arm that was nestled in red sling and wrapped tightly in a white splint. It looked like a fracture to me.
Ok, so she hadn't returned unscathed, but she was alive and in one piece and that was all that mattered.
"I'm really, really sorry," I reiterated.
"It's fine," she replied, nursing her injured arm all the while. She sure didn't seem all that fine.
Great, she gets back from an Endbringer battle and what's the first thing I do? I hurt her. Way to go, me.
"Let me make it up to you. Bask in the light of rejuve-mmmph!"
"Wait!" she cried out, panicking even as sparkling lights slowly blinked into existence around us. She reacted before I could finish, slamming her right hand over my mouth to halt my chanting. The lights extinguished themselves.
"I don't want you to heal this!"
"Mmm?" I asked from behind her hand. I hoped that I wouldn't need to clarify my meaning, garbled and mumbled though it was. I mean, really, who refused a free healing? Did she want to be in pain for weeks? Oh god, was Amy secretly a masochist!?
"Right, that probably seems weird," she added under her breath, before realizing that her hand was still clamped firmly over my mouth and retracted it, looking embarassed.
"Yeah, it is," I confirmed, staring at her expectantly, waiting for an explanation.
"Well, you see, it, uh..." she waffled, brow furrowing in thought. Her eyes drifted around, as if searching for something to say. She couldn't have made it more obvious that she was digging around for an excuse.
"My injury is pretty minor," was what she finally settled on, looking determined. "It would be a waste of your powers."
Frankly, I was impressed that she could say that with a straight face. I sure couldn't listen to it with one, letting slip the slightest of chagrined blush, the vicarious embarrasment too much to handle. I wondered briefly if Amy knew how bad she was at lying. Probably not, given how often she tried to keep her real thoughts and feelings from others. How did she manage to get away with hiding these things from other people?
"Ok, if you say so." Both of us knew that I didn't believe her, but if she wanted to keep her real reason secret I wasn't going to pry.
"I'm glad you're alright, for what it's worth," I added. Ah, a smile! That's what I was hoping to see.
I smiled back at her. "So, what's on your schedule today?"
"Just the usual rounds. I'll probably stop by a few of the smaller clinics as well, since it's been awhile. Vicky wants to spend time with me after I'm done for the day. What about you? Maybe you can join me for today?"
There was a subtle hopefulness laced into her last question, one that Amy couldn't quite hide. She wanted to spend time with me, as real friends, hanging out and enjoying each others company. And I wanted to, achingly so.
But, I actually did have plans for today. Important plans, at least to me. I'd intended to start making good on my decision to restore hope to the city, and today was going to be my first step along that path.
Maybe I could do both today.
"Sure, I'll come with. It'll be more fun that way. We can talk and hang out while we work."
Amy nodded, her smile growing. She turned and made her way towards her rounds. I fell in place by her side, ready to face the trials and tribulations of the day with her.
"Also, I wanted to ask for your help with something, afterwards. Victoria can come, too. It'd probably be easier with her tagging along."
"What did you need help with?"
"Moving some stuff to a new place. Maybe cleaning it up a bit."
"...uhm, sure, why not?"
Stage one for healing the city: creating a place to center my efforts.
That's why we were out here, wandering through the more desolate neighborhoods of Brockton Bay. One of many in the old business sections surrounding the docks, long since abandoned by those without the strength to weather the economic storm that had hit the city years ago.
I lead the way onwards, trying to recall the path I'd taken the last few nights. It was surpringly difficult to recognize landmarks and streets in the light of day when you'd only ever seen them in darkness.
The task was made all the more difficult by the numerous boxes weighing us down, stacked atop each other to the point that our eyes barely peaked over them. Well, to be more precise, me and Victoria were carrying boxes. Amy was following along, listening to me and Victoria talk.
"Ok," Glory Girl began, "So, your plan is to make a place for yourself around here and help people out? That's it?" She seemed pretty doubtful of my plan. Not that I could blame her, it wasn't much of one, to be honest. But I had to start somewhere, and this much I knew I could do.
She floated closer to me, balancing her three boxes with skill and strength one wouldn't expect from a teenage girl. "I think you were doing just fine with that by giving sis' a hand with her hospital work."
Amy shot a mildly annoyed look at her sister's back. "She's done more than just 'gave me a hand', Vicky."
"Sure, sure, but my point still stands. Why not just keep on with what you've been doing?"
"It's not enough," I stated simply. "Healing people at the hospital is… too normal, I guess."
Glory Girl gave me a confused look. "Too normal? What, is it not good enough, or something? Fixing hurt and sick people in the blink of an eye seems pretty extraordinary to me."
"That's not what I meant." I wasn't phrasing my thoughts properly. I took a moment to collect them and tried again. "People go to hospitals in order to get healed. It's expected there, ordinary even, something that's taken for granted, even if it's done with powers. Healing people in that environment doesn't do anything to change their perception of reality, that feeling that the world itself is broken and hurt. That's what I need to challenge If I want to make a difference.
"It's hope that I'm trying to give everyone, and that requires a different statement, one that shows everyone there's somebody trying to make things better."
"If you really wanted to do more, wouldn't it be better to just hit the baddies, instead? Y'know, take down some muggers or druggies? That'll make a statement."
Amy snorted from behind us. "What's she going to do, heal them into submission? Blind them with those flashes her power makes?"
I couldn't help it, I laughed at the image that popped into my mind of Lung, in full dragon form, cowering before a solid wall of my healing lights. "All villains shall learn to fear the sparklies!"
That got laughs out of Amy and Victoria, the latter of which bobbed in the air when she giggled. It was kind of cute.
"Ok, fair point," Glory Girl said once we'd all calmed down. "But you could still join a team. You may not have any firepower yourself, but any heroes that're with you will become that much more effective, make it so we could really teach the assholes in the world a lesson."
"I could, but that's not the message I want to send. Let me ask you this: Can you say that things have really changed since you've started being a hero and fought those kind of threats? Do people really feel any better about the city? Do you?"
Glory Girl paused at my question, before adding one of her own. "So then, what are you going to do to make your statement?"
"What little I can."
Victoria didn't seem to have a response to that, shuffling her boxes around and carrying on in contemplative silence.
Well, for awhile at least.
"Where exactly are we heading to, anyway?"
As fate so often demands, the question was posed just as we reached our destination. I stopped in front of a particularly delapidated warehouse, dropped my boxes in front of the building, and fluorished my hands dramatically at it, proudly declaring: "We're here!"
The warehouse itself really showed its age. The grounds around us were covered in overgrown weeds, quite a few of them reaching up to our knees or higher. Several windows were broken, with graffiti and stains literring the outside walls. The inside was covered in a nigh impenetrable layer of dust, with spiders the only sentry left to give it life, their webs the only remaining decorations. Wait, that wasn't entirely correct, there were broken beer bottles scattered around, indicicating that there was some occassional activity here. Oh, look, old needles, dumped right there next to the door. No person had shown this place any love since it had been abandoned, that much was clear. (Though, I bet the spiders helped out, in their own way, to protect and upkeep the place. They at least ate stray intruders, even if those intruders were of the small and harmless variety. Well, they had better watch out, because there was a new sovereign of this domain, and her name was Taylor!)
Amy and Victoria stared at the place, eyeing it suspiciously. Their gazes wandered around, taking stock of the many imperfections laid out before them.
"This place?" Victoria asked as she dropped her own stack of boxes unceremoniously to the ground. "Are you crazy?!"
Amy was a bit more gentle. "It does seems pretty run down."
What was with their responses? Couldn't they see that this place was perfect! What better way to start healing the city than to rejuvenate a place that practically embodied everything I wanted to fix.
And there was so much potential to be had here, once I'd cleaned and fixed it up a bit...well, a lot of bits. Looking through the shattered windows revealed a spacious building with a lot of extra storage rooms littered throughout. The back seemed to lead into something like a kitchenette or cooking room, maybe it used to be an area to prepare food for the employees or to sell. There was even a second story!
Either way, this was going to be my starting point. I could tell, deep down, that this was the first step I needed to take.
"It's symbolic," I noted. "It's the first thing I'm going to fix. Then it'll become a center for future changes."
"C'mon," I said as I opened the door, unleashing a gust of dust onto myself in the process. I'd been about to welcome them in, too, and a particularly thick part of the dusty cloud chose that moment to rush into my mouth. I backed up, alternating between coughs and gagging on the disgusting filth filling my mouth.
Stll hacking, I tried to gesture them inside instead.
Stepping inside, Amy noticed the remains of the rusted lock I'd broken through the first time I came here, hanging loosely on the door handle. And below that was the hammer I'd used to smash it open, left behind amongst the weeds.
"Symbolically speaking, you do know that this is technically breaking and entering, right?"
I hadn't really thought of it like that. What did it matter that the building wasn't technically mine. Nobody was using it, it was just going to waste.
"It's for a good cause!" I defended. Besides, the space was awesomely huge! It would be a good place to relax and get away from the world when I needed to. "Y'know, mostly."
Amy just shot me a look. It felt pretty judgemental. Even so, she was the first to kick one of the heavy boxes inside, no small effort for the diminutive and injured girl. She then turned back to grace me with a supportive smile and motioned for me to come in. It was such a small action, and yet, to me, it felt powerful, like Amy had just planted a flag into the building, declaring it my territory in my stead.
"What now?" Amy asked.
I opened one of the smaller boxes, the one I had been carrying, to reveal a plethora of rags, towels and cleaning agents. Grabbing one of the rags, I offered it to Amy. "Wanna help me clean up?"
Amy looked into the dark, dirty interior, noting the sheer amount of grime and filt that had collected over many years of neglect and misuse. Her gaze returned to the rag with a mixture of contempt and resignation.
"What other choice do I have. If I say 'no' I'll just end up watching you do it by yourself."
Her uninjured hand reached out towards the rag, but Glory Girl yanked it from me before Amy could take it.
"You sit back 'sis, your arms still pretty banged up. I'll take care of it for you." Her words to Amy were gentle and the smile she gave Amy was full of protective warmth. She smiled at Amy and I could sense the care that she felt for her sister in her gaze.
"Thank you, Vicky." Amy replied, face turning red. She turned her head away abruptly, trying desperately to hide the flush afflicting her face.
…Oh! So that was why Amy didn't want me to heal her arm.
"Aww, your face is getting red. Are you that moved by my graciousness? You should now that I'm always there for you, Ames."
Victoria seemed rather oblivious to Amy's true feelings, if her teasing was anything to go by. And then Victoria's face lit up with inspiration, her mind having reached a stupidly brilliant idea.
"Hey White Mage, why don't you heal Amy's arm?
Amy stiffened at that suggestion. Her eyes darted to me, silently pleading for me to deny the request.
"I-I would, but…" Think Taylor, think! "I'm, uh, all tapped out for today. There's not enough in me to fix her up. Sorry."
Oh god, I'm just as bad a liar as Amy!
It took a few hours to get the place somewhat cleaned up. Well, maybe not 'clean' clean, but we did manage to get most of the dust, grime and litter out.
We even won the war with the previous tenants: the spiders. The poor things never stood a chance. Amy's pride had been the only casualty on our side, when one of the spindly adversaries, in a clear show of dominance, decided to swing down onto her head. The shrill shriek she let out may as well have been the spider's victory cheer, even as it barely managed to ride atop Amy through the flailing motions of her panic. I could practically feel the smug sense of victory coming from the spider, at least until Victoria took righteous vengeance on the brave and foolish arachnid soldier.
All in all, things had progressed quickly! Though, as the sun began to set, I could tell that Amy and Victoria were getting worn out, and maybe just a bit annoyed with cleaning up. I felt kind of bad asking for their help, or rather for asking Amy for help and having her drag Victoria along for the ride.
So, while they finished up, I took one of the boxes upstairs. Opening it up, I took stock of the materials. The box was filled with blankets, food and a couple of lanterns.
I took one of the blankets out and laid it on the floor, taking some time to spread it out smoothly and flatten its wrinkles. It was wonderfully soft and I rolled around on it a bit to enjoy its plush feel. That done, I set out and turned on the lanturns, it was starting to get dark after all and their dim glow made for wonderful atmosphere. Last up was the food, which I laid out as artistically as I could. It was mostly fruit and bread, but I also had some store-made sandwhiches with me, ones I bought just for my friends.
And voilà, a nice little picnic had been set up!
"Hey, White Mage," came Victoria's voice as she trudged up the stairs. "I think we're about done here-"
Her comment cut at the finish as she saw spread before her.
"Woah, is that for us?"
She seemed genuinely surprised and took several moments to truly appreciate the scene before her, eyes roving over every detail as the smile on her face grew to dazzling proportions. She just seemed so happy with what I'd arranged, as if I what I'd done was somehow remarkable.
Her reaction was more than I had expected….and kind of embarassing. It was just a picnic, after all!
"Yeah. I, uh, wanted to thank you and Amy for helping me. Especially you, Victoria. I've barely met you and you've helped me out so much. Sorry if you felt pressured into it because of Amy."
"That's not why I helped," she responded, looking over the items once more, seemingly in search of something. "Well, not the only reason. Sure, it's kinda my job to help out sis, but there's more to it than that."
Victoria took a moment to inspect the open box next to me, floating over to it and rummaging through. She picked out one of the other blankets inside, a small, pink one, and wrapped it around herself. It was getting cold, I supposed, not that I really felt the winter chill in my heavy costume.
"Amy told me about you, you know? She said that you helped her out when she needed it. I wanted to see what kind of person you were like."
She took out another blanket from the box and set it down onto the picnic. I assumed that one was for Amy. She went back to the box and dug for another blanket, talking to me all the while.
"And Amy could use a friend. I mean, yeah, she hangs out with me and my friends a lot, but she doesn't really have any of her own. I'm glad she's found one for herself."
She finally picked out a sky blue blanket, one dotted with little white stars, and plopped it gently over me. The edge of the blanket went right over my hoodie and obscured my face.
"Maybe even a good one. Besides, I kind of want to see where this whole plan of yours goes. It just might end up doing some good."
I gripped onto the blanket covering me, suddenly very glad for its presence. I needed it to hide the surge of emotions that threatened to overwhelm me and burst free.
She was glad to have me here, to have me as a friend. I'd found another person who actually seemed to care about me, somebody for whom I mattered. And maybe, just maybe, she believed in me as well, had faith that I could actually do something meaningful.
"Thank you," was all I managed to get out, choked up as I was.
Victoria smiled at me, barely visible through the fabric over my eyes, then took a seat at the picnic and grabbed a sandwhich. Before digging in, she leaned towards the stairs and shouted out: "Sis, we've got food up here! Come join us!"
I sat myself next to Glory Girl just as Amy popped up. She skidded to a stop when she saw us.
"...you set up a picnic in an abandoned, dilapidated warehouse?"
Well, when you put it like that-
"Cool," she added, interrupting my thoughts and taking her own seat next to me. She wrapped the only unclaimed blanket around herself, snuggling into its soft warmth, and grabbed an apple to bite into.
"This is really nice, thanks."
It felt good to have friends again.
I decided to introduce myself to everyone that lived in the nearby neighborhoods. I'd even prepared some gifts to hand out to them. Nothing fancy or impressive, mostly consisting of food and basic supplies, but hopefully it would be enough to show that I was friendly.
That was the plan, anyway, but reality has a tendency to disappoint.
Everyone I encountered was surprisingly wary of me, no matter what I tried to do to appear amiable. I greeted them all with as much cheer as I could and, while they couldn't see it, I kept a smile on my face, hoping that they could somehow sense it. But even so, I couldn't penetrate the shell of anxiety that my mere presence seemed to induce.
One look at my costume and most went on edge. It almost felt like they were afraid of me.
But why? Was it because I was a cape? Most of their cape interactions around here were probably for the worse, with the cape-run gangs of the city exerting their influence wherever they could and the heroes doing little in the way of actually helping. Heck, the heroes probably didn't bother coming out unless something serious was happening, like a cape fight, or to ask for information that wasn't safe for civilians to give out.
It didn't feel like I was getting through to anybody that I just wanted to be nice and helpful. Maybe I should have made a bigger name for myself outside of the hospitals, made White Mage more recognizable to the average person.
Sighing in frustration, I knocked on the door to the next house. I saw the light coming through the peephole dim as those inside checked on their visitor. There were muted noises coming from inside as the people inside talked amongst themselves. There was some shuffling before I heard the latch being undone and the door opened.
The man who answered was absolutely huge. He was a tower of tattooed muscles and my neck craned to meet his eyes. If that wasn't enough, his face was hard and mean, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was capable of making lesser men flee with little more than a pointed glare. A glare that was currently directed straight at me, piercing through what little confidence I tried to project.
Oh, and there was a metal baseball bat hung in his hand, which he held in a crushing grip, muscles tensed and ready for action.
The stoneskin shield glowing faintly around me felt distinctly less comforting at that moment.
"What do ya want?" His voice was gravelly, intimidating.
My heart beat like crazy and adrenaline flowed freely through my veins. I could sense the impending confrontation that he so clearly expected. He looked ready to attack at the slightest sense of provocation, intentional or not.
Instincts kicked in and I did the only thing I could think of. I took one of the clear plastic bags of fruit and bread I had on me and held it out like an offering.
"My name is White Mage, please accept this!"
He didn't move, though his brows did furrow in confusion. Or anger. It was impossible to tell with a face like that. I kept the bag of food up, willing him to take it. He never did, and soon my arms were getting tired of keeping it aloft.
In the end, I slowly set my gift down on his doorstep, careful to keep a healthy, non-threatening, amount of distance between us.
"I'm just here to say 'hello'," I continued, trying to sound much calmer than I felt, "and to let you know that I'm here to help!"
There was an awkward pause, the man thinking hard on the peculiar sight before him.
"...you're not with the Empire, are you?" It wasn't a question. It felt more like a conclusion he was voicing into the air; a revelation that he was just now coming to.
"No, I'm not!"
The Empire? Oh god, was that why everyone was so cautious of me? They thought I was part of the Empire! Of course they did, walking around the outskirts of their territory as I was, and in a flowing white and red costume no less.
Calm down, Taylor, this is just a misunderstanding. A horrible, terribly misunderstanding.
"I see," the man said. The tension that had kept his muscles taught eased, as did his grip on the baseball bat. His face relaxed as well, just a tad, moving from absolutely terrifying to merely unnerving. Maybe that was just how he naturally looked.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"Introducing myself? You see, I'm a healer and I've just set myself up in the area. I wanted to let everyone know that they could find me at Warehouse C, a few streets over, if they needed medical help or, well, anything else."
"Warehouse C?" He repeated, not entirely sure of what to make of what was happening. "One of the abandoned ones?"
"Yup!" I answered, putting what little enthusiam I could into it. If I wanted people to put their trust in me as a force of good I needed to act the part, after all.
He looked down at the food I tried to give him before, examining it intently, before glancing back at me with similar scrutiny. Finally, he nodded at me, and discaded his metal bat, placing it against the inside wall of his house.
"I"ll keep that in mind," he said as he bent down to accept my present. "Thanks."
With that, he shut the door on me. It was done with suprising gentleness.
"Haaahhh." I let my breath out in a deep sigh, feeling suddenly weak. My legs felt like they were about to give. 'Nope, don't collapse. Heroes don't collapse!'
A hero I may technically have been, but I felt distinctly powerless at that moment. That had been the most harrowing visit yet! What would I have done if he'd actually attacked me? I don't think stoneskin could take more than a few hits, probably fewer when those hits came from somebody so obviously strong.
That could have ended very badly for me. It very nearly did, too.
But it didn't. And, in the end, he did come around.
I succeeded, if just barely, and that's what mattered in the end.
I gave myself a few moments to collect myself, then gathered the last remaining bag I had and continued onward.
It was on my way to the next house that I spotted one of the homeless in the area, sitting on a curb underneath a street light. Behind him was a small field of grass that he had made his own, if the piles of discarded wrappers, cans and a few shopping carts filled with junk were any indication.
The man looked dangerously thin and wirey, his face dirty and hairy. His clothes were tattered and weathered, though he was at least covered in several layers of them, layers that couldn't quite smother the unpleasant smell of accumulated dirt and body odor.
He saw my approach and scooted a bit out of the way, enough to leave the circle of light that the streetlamp provided. He blended into the darkness so well it was scary. His clothes and skin were dark enough to make the transition seemless, as if he had changed from a human into a living shadow, with only the whites of his eyes remaining to dimly reflect the light of the world around him. Even his demeanor changed. He seemed to be hiding from the reality that the light revealed.
And it was when he scooted away that I noticed something else. He was missing a leg, the left leg of his pants were tied up around an obvious stump.
I stopped in front of him and held out one of the blankets.
"Hi, would you like a blanket?"
"You sure?" He asked, voice stronger than I had imagined. He seemed surprised by the offer.
"Yeah, I'm sure." I smiled as gently as I could and proffered the blanket out further out. "Here, itake it."
He scooted back into the light, wearing a small smile himself, and took the blanket from me. He felt the fabric and rubbed it against his face.
"It's soft," he noted, then laid it down on himself.
I grabbed the last bag of food I had with me and held it out. "Would you like some food as well?"
He eyed the bad with obvious want, stomach gurgling in anticipation of the meal before him. But even so he didn't take the bag.
"No, thank you," he answered definitively. "You've done more than enough for me. I'll be fine with just the blanket." To emphasize the point, he patted the donated sheet of fabric resting on his lap, trying to show his appreciation. The action felt practiced and just a bit exaggerated.
Was he worried about asking for too much, or being seen as a bother? Was that why he didn't want anything else from me, even something as simple as food? That made things difficult for me. Especially since I had one more offer to make, the most important one.
I hoped he would accept it.
"Well, how about I heal your missing leg?"
The man's eyes bulged a bit, his hand coming down to grasp what remained of said appendage. "What? How?"
I smirked from behind my scarf. "I thought the costume would have been a dead giveaway. I'm a parahuman. A healer. I think I can fix it for you. Untie the knot and I'll give it a shot."
He undid the knot and rolled his pants up, revealing the scarred stump. The end looked disfigured, the skin mottled and uneven in some places and burned in others.
I couldn't help the wince that came when I saw how bad it was.
"Pretty nasty, I know. I lost it to an accident a long time ago, on the job. I guess that's what I get for doing what I loved and working with dangerous machinery. Looking back, I wish I'd shot for a cushy desk job instead, but, well, here I am."
"Does it hurt?" It looked awful.
"Every damn day. Do you really think you can heal it?"
"I've been able to heal everything else I've encountered so far. Bask in the light of rejuvenation. Cure!"
Lights erupted from me, casting away the darkness around us. With a thought, I sent them towards the man, flickering along the way. Startled, he brought his arms up to shield himself from the swarm around him. Not that it did anything to stop their progress, as each twinkling sparkle fluttered their way into his body.
The skin of his stump started to move, writhing as the uneven chunks of scar tissue flattened out and dissipated. The burns and discolorations lessened more and more every second, until they took on the texture and color of normal skin, looking smooth to the touch.
And yet, despite all this, it remained a stump. No new flesh grew forth to form a new leg.
Maybe it was the wrong approach.
"Purify that which subdues the mind and weakens the body. Esuna!"
More motes of light came forth, but this time the man didn't recoil. He accepted them eagerly, watching intently.
But still, there was no change.
"Why isn't this working?" I asked myself.
"Look, I appreci-"
"Bask in the light of rejuvenation. Cure!"
I urged as much of my power as I could outward, until I could feel my energy waning. More and more sparkling motes answered the call. Their numbers threatened to surround us completely, their brilliance nearly blinding.
I fell to my knees, weakened by the exertion. I'd used up all that I had in this attempt to heal him. All that remained was the painful emptiness of overuse.
I willed the sparkles onwards, each of the lights finding their way into the man, so many that he practically glowed with them. But still, there was no change. I could not return his leg to him.
"It's not working," I breathed out, voice soft and dismayed. "I'm sorry."
Why wasn't it healing? I'd healed deep gouges and fingers that had been cut off, before. What was the difference? Was it because the missing flesh had been healed over for so long? Did my power not recognize it as a wound anymore? I scrambled to find an answer, spending long, agonized moments trying to think of some way to fix him with my abilities. But nothing came forth. I simply didn't have the power to do it.
All the while, the man just looked at me with pity.
Imagine that, I failed to heal his missing leg, and I was the one receiving those sympathetic eyes, like I was the one suffering here. I turned away, unable to face him when he looked at me like that. It was too similar to the stares of the kids at school, the ones who saw my struggles but couldn't help. I could feel the sting of tears forming my eyes.
"Thank you," he said, and my eyes shot back up to his. There was still pity in his expression, but now there was something else glimmering alongside it: Kindness.
"But, I couldn't help you."
"What are you talking about? You healed the burns and the scars. The pain is gone now, pain that I've felt for years.
"And besides that, I could see that you gave everything you had into helping me. That's more than anyone else has ever given me.
"So, again, thank you."
My heart swelled at his words. I had done some good for him, after all.
"You're welcome," I replied. It came out more as a thank you.
"Is there something I can do to repay you?" He asked, earnest and serious about his offer.
"Oh, don't worry about that. I'm here to help people. I don't need anything back."
"Trust me, kid, that's a bad idea." There wasn't any cruelty or judgement in his statement, just an undertone of coldness that came from painful memories and hard lessons learned. "Doing everything for free is just going to end up with you taken advantage of, used like cheap bubble gum: taken in and spit back out once your usefulness has been chewed out. You have an amazing ability, you shouldn't be giving it out for free.
"Besides, you won't get anywhere without help, especially out here in the streets. You need to take it where you can get it, even if it means putting a price on the good you're trying to do."
He wanted me to add a price to my healing? Sure, I've accepted money for my healings before, but those were offered to me as thanks for my service, not demanded as payment. Besides, demanding a fee for my efforts went against everything I had set out to do here. How could I spark hope and kindle good will by doing so?
My moment of contemplation was ruined when his stomach gurgled again. Loudly. He should have taken me up on my offer for food earlier, he had obvious need of it.
It was so hard to get people to help themselves, sometimes.
Wait! Maybe adding a price for using my abilities could be used to benefit the city.
"Alright then," I said, a mischivous grin hiding beneath my costume. "Here's my price: You have to share this food with me."
Hey smirked back at me. "Clever. What's your name, anyway, kid?"
"Call me White Mage," I answered as I passed him some bread and sat down beside him. "What's yours?"
"Jamahl. It's nice to meet you, White Mage"
A/N: Thanks to KillaAxeMan and Wanderer of the Dark for helping me with the beta draft! You both really helped me out.