Chapter 15: Hoodie Pup

— 68 —


I rapped a fist on the side of the dumpster, and the clanging echoed through the rubble-strewn alley. Nearby the noise of traffic and café-goers continued; I hoped we weren't drawing too much attention in the daylight, since I was technically returning to the scene of a crime.

"So, this is the famous dumpster?" Sophia asked.

"Yeah. Tossed her in for safekeeping." I knocked on the lid. "Anyone in there? Pancakes? Panpan? Pananamacea?"

Sophia and Emma exchanged conspiratorial glances. I wasn't sure what it meant, but it probably wasn't good for me.

I poked at the hefty piece of broken concrete pinning down the dumpster's lid. "Anyone care to help me move this?" No response. "Simone?"

She squinted at the block. "Dunno. Looks kinda heavy."

"I saw you—" I began, then paused to glance towards Emma and Sophia.

The two girls were more clever than I'd given them credit for. More to the point, I was pretty sure Simone thought the word "obvious" was something French, and therefore was fancy and something you wanted to emulate. It hadn't taken them long to make the l'obvious connection between Seraph and Simone, and Simone was way too happy to basically confess, without a care in the world.

When I'd asked her about it during a brief moment moment, she'd said, "What, were you expecting something a little more knifey knifey facey facey with them? Please. Not everyone gets the V.I.P. treatment like you."

I thought it was a terrible idea to just out yourself like that. But then, within a minute it had turned Simone from creepy weirdo into cool friend with the most popular girls in school, so maybe Simone was playing some sort of four-dimensional chess or something. Might've be a good call after all.

So she probably wouldn't mind me saying this.

"I saw you lift a fire truck; this should be easy," I said to Simone. "Beside, I bet the girls here would love to see you in action, wouldn't you, ladies?"

"Might be kinda cool," Sophia said, a little guardédly.

Emma shook her head. "I just want to see you do work."

Simone tapped her cheek and hummed in thought. A moment later a large pile of bricks rose from the ground and stacked themselves neatly on the dumpster, next the concrete block. "There we go," she chirped. "Now everyone gets what they want."

"Seriously?" I asked

She nodded. "C'mon, Eric. Work those muscles!"

"Eric?" Emma asked.

"It's his middle name," Simone said, so smoothly that I imagined she'd been practicing that answer for a while. "He hates it."

I rolled my eyes. I preferred not using that name here, but whatever. I reached for one of the bricks Simone had placed.

It wouldn't budge. Not even a little bit.

I frowned, then glared at Simone. Her innocent smile didn't fool me for an instant.

"Fine, fine," she said, waving for me to continue.

This time when I pushed, the rubble scraped across the lid with a gritty shriek of metal. I gave another heave, and it all tumbled off, smashing into a dozen fist-sized pieces on the pavement.

I turned around and flexed. "How 'bout that, ladies. Impressed yet?"

Without comment, Sophia stepped up to the other half of the dumpster and lifted the lid. Not the one I'd been working on, but the other one. "Oh hey, this side works too."

"Yeah but your side doesn't burn as many calories," I said, a touch defensively.

"Riiight." She casually glanced inside the dumpster then shrugged. "Don't see any bodies."

Simone came to look inside it too. "Yup," she said. "That's pretty empty. I was promised damsels to rescue. Where are my damsels, Eric?"

"I don't know."

Had Lisa lied to me? She'd seemed so damn sure that Panacea's disappearance was my fault, but if the dumpster was empty…

No. I refused to believe that anyone could fake that level of smugness. Not even Lisa. There had to be a reason for it.

"So, now what?" Sophia asked, snapping me from my thoughts.

Emma shrugged. "I say that since we were nice enough to follow Greg all the way out here, the least he could do is buy us lunch."

"Or dinner," Simone said. "It's almost five."

"Dinner, then." Emma looked my way and added, "I mean, unless there's a few more dumpsters you'd like to impress us with first?"

"Ooh! Ooh!" Simone said, almost jumping up and down. "I saw a neat looking café near here last time. They have really big donuts!"

— 69 —

Subject: ur fucking dead

From: GloryGirl

Message: think you can hurt MY sister?

What followed was the Glory Girl equivalent of the Navy Seals copypasta. She'd sent the message this morning, and it was almost impressive how she'd had the singular focus to rage type it all out.

I just sat there at the café, reading through the various death threats, explicit and otherwise, while the girls chatted between themselves.

I hovered my finger over the "report user" button, then thought better. Because reporting people to the internet police was always so very useful.

XxVoid_CowboyxX: k

XxVoid_CowboyxX: How's Amy doing?

The reply came almost immediately.

GloryGirl: shes alive

GloryGirl: which is more than u can say when i find you

GloryGirl: she told me what you did to her

XxVoid_CowboyxX: Self defense. Did she tell you how she tried to steal my dog?

XxVoid_CowboyxX: My duster too. Because it was comfy and had pockets.

GloryGirl: fuck u

XxVoid_CowboyxX: Aren't heroes supposed to defend people getting mugged in alleys? You should be on my side.

XxVoid_CowboyxX: Tell her to buy her own if she liked it that much.

She began typing back. But that moment, dinner arrived, and I didn't exactly have time to respond. The waitress, after a short glare on her part, handed me the check. I looked it over and groaned.

"Hey, this ain't so bad," Simone said, looking at the bill in my hands. "You can probably afford this."

I let my head fall back onto the table where it belonged. They'd gotten lovely meals, and here I was with a stout glass of water. Water was free. And I was paying. Because of course I was.

This was like Taylor and that Italian place all over again.

Maybe if I just didn't say anything, they'd forget I was here.

"Cheer up, Greg!" Simone said, smiling. "This place is great."

So much for sulking my way out of troubles.

"This place is weird. Everytime I do anything, the waitress over glares at me and I don't know why."

"That?" Emma asked, glancing over. "I thought it was obvious."

I gave the other two girls a confused look. "Either of you know what she's talking about?"

Sophia shrugged, then went back to her food.

"You're forgetting he doesn't speak girl," Simone said to Emma. Then, to me: "It's because you were here with another girl a few days ago. She thinks you're a terrible person."

"Not a girl, a heinous bitch," I corrected.

Lord Woofers lifted his head from a café-provided bowl of water and barked.

"It's okay, boy," I told him, patting his head. We had been seated at the very table Lisa and I had shared Friday night. I even got the same view of the PRT building, though it was now in ruins. Honestly, I was surprised the city government had managed to clean the streets over the weekend enough for traffic to resume.

"Plus we're all pretty sure you're texting a fourth girl," Emma added. "Which is both kind impressive and sleazy at the same time."

"Yeah, sure, whatever," I grumbled, arms folded. "Don't care. And just so you know, if anyone tries to order more than one dessert, I swear I'll run out the door and leave y'all to pay the bill."

"Don't really like sweets," Sophia said.

"And I gotta keep up my figure or I lose my job," Emma said. Right, because she was a teen model. Somehow.

"Oooh," Simone squeaked, "if they don't want anything, can I order for them? I want three of the biggest donuts they have."

I scoffed. "Everyone knows the rules for dessert. There's a price."

"Yeah?" Simone asked, tilting her head.

"Just because I'm paying doesn't mean it's free. It'll cost you at least a kiss."

Emma gave me a contemptuous look. "Seriously?" She turned to Simone. "This is the guy you went all out for"

Simone gave a sheepish shrug.

"At least have the balls to ask for tits or something," Sophia said, gesturing with her fork.

"I'd normally go for that," I said. "Or at least some nudes. But none of you are older than fifteen, and I don't feel like going to jail."

Sophia frowned. "Since when do you give a shit? You're a villain."

I winced. A quick glance revealed no one but us in our part of the café.

"We're the same age," Emma said. "And besides, it's only illegal if you get caught."

I crossed my arms and leaned back an inch. "Really not carin' for this change of attitude."

Emma met eyes with Sophia and said, "Aw, did we hurt his feelings?"

Sophia shrugged.

Simone looked between us all, a slight frown on her lips. "I don't get it. Aren't you all friends or something?"

Emma actually laughed. "What gave you that impression?"

"I always saw it as cats playing with their food, really," I said.

Almost idly, Simone picked up a butter knife and gave it a spin on the palm of her hand, as if playing spin the bottle. "I don't really like where this is going," she said.

"How about you tell us where you want this to go?" Emma asked, running a hand through her red hair. "Greg's idea was a bust, so what do you wanna do?"

My mouth tightened. Shit was embarrassing. They didn't care for me, but they'd listen to Simone? Her defending me was downright emasculating! Meant they respected her, not me.

Simone frowned. "I dunno. Anything that lets me be a hero."

Sophia laughed. "PRT building's right over there, girl. Or what's left of it. Wanna go over and sign up for the Wards?"

With a dark look towards Sophia, Simone set the knife down firmly on the table. "Ain't exactly an option right this now."

Emma suddenly had this sly grin. "Well why not? You only did all that because Void Cowboy told you to."

"That's not exactly how it happened," I said.

"Isn't it? If you hadn't said anything to her, would she have even been there?"

Simone gave her a look. "What, so I say that he mastered me?"

Emma shrugged. "Something like that. It doesn't really matter what story you use."

"It doesn't matter," I said with emphasis, "because they'll never believe it."

"They'll believe it because they want to," Sophia said, poking a fork at her empty plate. "Let her join on a flimsy excuse, put her on probation, and she fights for them instead of against them. Pretty obvious to me."

Simone gazed out towards the ruined PRT building, a thoughtful look on her face. Seriously thoughtful. Like, actually considering it.

"Simone," I said, "you're not really buying this whole schtick, are ya?"

She hummed, then shot me a sly look. "Dunno, Greg. It all depends on just how many desserts I can order. Ooh! And I think I need a new dress. My old one got a lil' damaged in the fight."

Emma leaned forward. "Sophia and I know all the best places for dresses."

I stared at Simone, trying my best "You're bluffing" face. Honestly, I'd had it at this point: it was either cave in and look like a bitch, or risk losing my artillery. Her expression didn't change.

"I can't make any promises," I said at length, "but I was planning to take Woofers to the mall later."

The pup made a noise that was almost like a "Hmm?"

Scratching his head, I said, "Little guy's been through a lot. Figure he deserves something special. If y'all wanted to tag along, I don't suppose I could stop you."

"So in other words," Emme said, "back to plan A?"

I waved my hand at her. "No, it's plan P for Puppy. I'm just letting you come because Woofers here loves company. Right, boy?"

He barked.

— 70 —

Lords Woofers the Indomitable poked his head out of my backpack as the girls and I entered the mall. I could feel his tail thrashing around, like he was trying to become a helicopter.

"So," Emma began, "I think the store with the dresses is—hey, where are you going?"

This last bit she said as I just up and walked away. There was a pet store right there, and I had to go in.

The shop was relatively thin; one side and the very back were full of treats and pet toys, and the other side of the store was a valley of glass terrariums filled with animals just waiting for adoption.

I walked through the animal-filled aisle first, letting Lord Woofers gaze upon his less fortunate comrades. He gave them this really smug "haha I am adopted and you're not" look the whole time.

"So… is this normal?" Simone said from behind. "Going out with a guy and he starts ignoring you?

"This has literally never happened to me before," Emma said, almost baffled.

"Same here," Simone said, "Only more the going out with a guy part."

"Sophia," Emma said, "do you…" She trailed off.

I spared a glance over at them. Sophia almost had her face pressed up against a display case filled with kittens. As I watched, the smallest kitten tried to drink from a bowl, only for a much larger kitten to bat at its head, dunking it into the water.

"Sophia?" Emma prodded.

"Shut up," Sophia said. "This is awesome. Mom never let me have any pets."

I tuned the girls out. Instead, I set Woofers on the ground and said, "Alright boy, whatcha want? Go find a toy or something and it's all yours."

At first he looked around, almost nervously. Then he just scampered off towards the toys, where he quickly started sniffing at everything.

He wandered around until he found a joke rubber beer bottle. Woofers took it in his mouth, and it squeaked in his jaws. He dropped it on the ground before pawing at the fake cap. For a moment he looked confused, then he tried gnawing on it.

"Looks like I ain't the only one with a drinking problem," Simone said, ambling up beside me. She nodded at my dog.

"He, you, and I make three of us," I said. "Now, stop trying to be funny, Simone. Ain't never gonna work."

She looked Woofers over. "You wanna pick up some dog treats too? Maybe a leash while we're here?"

"I didn't know you had that kinda fetish!"

Simone gave me a look. "For him, ya doofus."

"Well there goes all them fun thoughts," I said, frowning.

She rolled her eyes. "Y'know, if ya think about it, he and I got a lot in common. Both adorably dangerous. Both got a drinking problem. And both blindly loyal to you for no good reason."

"If today was any indication," I said, "then you're both loyal because I feed you."

She punched my shoulder. "Jerk." But she was smiling.

"Greg!" Emma said, suddenly exploding onto the scene. "They have puppy-sized baby clothes at the place across from here! We gotta get Woofers a little puppy hoodie!"

— 71 —

Woofers made a half-growling sound as he paced around the food court table. Every few steps he'd trip on one of his new hoodie sleeves and fall over. Then he'd look up at me with these big, sad eyes that said, Why do you suddenly hate me, Greg?

Of course, every time I tried to disrobe him one of the girls would hiss at me and insist he's cuter with it on.

Bloody tyrants, the lot of them.

"We don't need to get more food," I said, looking the food court over.

"He does, though," Sophia said. It was just the two of us holding down the fort while Simone and Emma found something suitable for the dog. Why they wanted to feed him fast food was—

"Can I hold him?"

I blinked. Had Sophia just asked that? Y'know, that really dangerous piece of work with a penchant for brutality? Then again, back before I was Greg, I'd studied criminology, and there'd been this one experiment where they let violent prisoners handle and raise dogs, and that seemed to really help them. I'd even seen local inmates working the morning shift at my local animal shelter.

"Reckon so," I said.

She hefted the pup up into her arms like a baby. She flipped the hood down and gave him an almost experimental scratch behind the ears. When he didn't explode or anything, she continued with more enthusiasm.

"So, little guy," she said, almost musingly, "are you really dangerous or just a pup with dumb luck?"

He nipped at her petting hand, then looked up at her, wagging his tail.

"Cool," she said. Then, looking up at me: "He's happy. Why's he so happy all of a sudden?"

Before I could say anything, Simone plopped down in the chair next to mine. "Hey," she said, "if I was pressed up against your chest like that, I'd be a happy camper myself."

Emma sat down next to Sophia, a little box of chicken nuggets in hand.

Sophia smiled as the little guy scarfed down the first offered bit of food. "Damn, look at him go! Dunno know if I said anything before, but if I did, I take it back. Everything you did to rescue him from the PRT—totally worth it."

Simone snatched a nugget from Emma and held it out to Lord Woofers. "Helps make up for the ruined dress thing, I guess."

Sophia ran her fingers across the dog's belly as he scarfed down the nugget. She didn't even seem to notice Emma's sly grin as the redhead snapped photos of the whole thing.

I frowned. "D'y'all really gotta feed him that junk? You're gonna ruin his gains."

Sophia took a nugget for herself and offered it to the dog. Lord Woofers happily ate it out of her hand.

"Think I can borrow the little guy and make him my sidekick?" Sophia asked.

"Isn't he a little cute for your image?" Emma said.

Sophia shrugged. "He makes bombs and starts fires, right?"

"I guess," I said.

"That makes him cute and destructive. I can work with that."

"I'm cute and destructive," Simone added, leaning forwards.

"So," I said, drawing out the word, "what you're saying, Simone, is now that I got my pup back, you're redundant?"

Simone snapped her fingers. "Damn. I've been found out."

Emma reached out and pet Lord Woofers herself. "Y'know, that is sort of relevant. You've got some awesome powers, Simone. What are you gonna do with them?"

I felt a bit uneasy about the open powers discussion. But with all the noise from the food court, I couldn't even make out the table nearest me.

"I don't really know yet," Simone said, brushing her blonde hair from her face. "I mean, I should probably start with something small."

Sophia raised a brow. "If you want to hang out later, we could totally go hunting some gangbangers."

Simone considered.

"Think about it. You, me, and our puppy sidekick. I know the city. I know where shit happens. And I've got a few places I've always wanted to take down, just didn't have the firepower."

"What about me?" I said, tapping at my forehead.

Sophia frowned. "Do you have anything to even contribute in a fight?"

I held up my foot and spun the wheel I had in my bootheel. "Mover rating of at least six."

"Because that really helped us make it to the Simurgh fight on time."

"Wasn't my fault I crashed into that pet store," I said, crossing my arms. "The hill was way too steep."

"Which is why you also had to try to put back all the bunnies you accidentally unleashed."

"Free bunnies are a disaster waiting to happen!" I snapped. "Did you know there's this massive fence in Australia just to try to keep the bunny plague out of the southeast?"

Sophia rolled her eyes. "Fine. You can come. But if you can't keep up, we're leaving you behind. And first you need to learn how to fight."

While my grandfather had trained me a bit, it hadn't proven all too useful with the exception of beating up Panacea.

"Are you offering to train me?"

Sophia shrugged. "I'm offering to punch you in the face until you quit."

"Aww," Emma added, "you actually like him."

"Don't she also beat on folks she don't like?" I asked.

Emma shrugged. "Girl can be very expressive with her fists."

We exchanged contact information, and I made sure to get multiple ways to reach everyone. Didn't want a repeat of last time. When we finished, Simone and Sophia headed off to the washroom together, since girls already had to go in pairs for reasons entirely beyond me.

But hey, with them gone, I could hold Lord Woofers myself again.

"Hey, Greg," Emma said as I scratched behind my pup's ear. "Look, I don't usually do nice things for people…"

"Oh really? I never would have guessed."

She rolled her eyes. "But if you promise not to tell, I think I can make an exception. Just this once."

"Uh huh. Either this is some kind of trick, or no one would believe me anyway."

Emma laughed. "I'm serious here. You got Sophia to act all cute and happy, and that's a miracle in itself. Pretty sure I can blackmail her with that for months. And—" she sighed "—I do kinda still owe you one for… for the time with the Simurgh. At the party."

I gave her my full attention.

Emma breathed deeply, as is psyching herself up. "So I'm going to help you out here. I know we joked about it earlier, but you really should buy Simone a new dress. You know that really cool one we had her try on? The one she clearly loved but pretended she didn't care for?"

I crossed my arms, a sour look on my face. "Nuh-uh, no way. You roped me into dinner; you're not roping me into being a free wallet."

"Did you even once give Simone's clothes a good look over?" Emma snapped hard enough that I almost flinched.

"Ain't exactly this year's latest fashion," I said a touch cautiously. "So what?"

"Because I can tell when everything someone owns comes from a thrift shop. Just like I can tell that dress of hers, the one that got wrecked, meant something to her; she mentioned it twice. And need I remind you that the only reason she was there, sacrificing her best shot at being a hero, was for you?"

"Laying it on a bit thick there," I said bitterly.

"Don't be a piece of shit, Greg," she all but hissed.

I didn't meet her eyes. I just sat there, petulantly petting my puppy.

"What we did today, the four of us? It was fun. I want to do something like this again. But we can't if you're in jail.

"So buy her the damn dress, and you might still have an ally to bail you out the next time you're in trouble. And believe me—now that you're a villain? That's gonna happen a lot sooner than you think."

I glanced towards the bathrooms, then over down the mall towards the shop with the dress Simone had shyly tried on.

Then I sighed. "So. You recall what size it was?"

— 72 —

I cast my eyes over towards the clothing store a ways down the mall. With Simone's size memorized, I figured I could jog over to the store, snag the dress, and surprise her with it. Might even get a thank you kiss for my ever-so-thoughtful efforts.

I stood up and almost knocked a girl over. She looked like she'd been searching for a table, which she likely needed, as her bruised face seemed like it'd just tried headbutting her way through a brick wall.

"Pardon me, ma'am," I said quickly.

"Oh, uh, it's no—" She stopped mid-sentence and just stared at me, eyes wide. Or, well, one eye wide, and the other a little bruise-swollen.

"Fuck, it's you," she said, almost in despair. Then, as if she were about to gouge out my eyes: "Fuck, it's you!"

"Um, do I know ya?" I asked.

"Course you do, asshole!"

"Greg," Emma said in a warning voice, "have you been pissing girls off behind my back?"

"I dunno!" I told her. "I'm Greg. I do that just by existing."

"I'm talking to you, asshole!" the bruised girl hissed. "Did you seriously forget already, or do you just beat up so many girls that they all look alike?"

I blinked. Then things clicked into place.

She was wearing a new coat with all sorts of pockets, but it absolutely had to be her.

"Amy!" I said, clasping my hands on her shoulders. "Glad to see you're not locked in a hospital room."

"Don't touch me!" she hissed, slapping my hands away.

Lord Woofers gave an agitated bark from my backpack.

"I can't fucking believe it," she said. "You tell Vicky today to take me shopping, and then you go to the mall right after? I think you need to get your precog powers checked, because either they're working against you, or you are seriously fucking dumb."

"Maybe it's a trap," I said with a smile.

Her eyes flicked to Emma. "Wait, are you—"

"Nope," Emma said quickly. "I'm just eye candy. Not part of this one bit. I do like the coat, though."

"I know, right?" another girl said cheerily. Before I knew it, a well-built blonde appeared as if from nowhere, holding a tray of food. "It looks great, it's got the whole red and white design, and it was on sale for, like, thirty percent off. It's perfect."

The blonde set her tray down on the table next to us. "Victoria Dallon, but you can call me Vicky."

Emma smiled. This was her element through and through. "Emma Barnes. My dad and your mom are friends at work."

"Yeah? Small world, I guess." She glanced my way. "Who's your friend?"

"Um, Vicky?" Amy hissed in a hoarse whisper. "That's him. The guy who did this." She gestured to her still partially swollen eye.

Vicky's friendly smiled dropped in an instant. "Oh," she said in a flat, almost dumbstruck voice. She just stared at me, and I'm pretty sure my balls retreated into my abdomen under the weight of her gaze.

"This kinda changes things, huh?" she said.

Then she cracked her knuckles, a huge, toothy grin crossing her face.

Comment of the Week: Someguy the anon

first off:
what the hacking ding dong did take so long get this, you literally have already written and have it posted on spacebattles.

second off:
holly heck this is great, I kind of hope Dinah ends up becoming "future"!Dinah eventually, and the concept of the PRT-intern that is in fact an antagonist to a minor extant is great.

First: Yeah, I been slow recently. I just enlisted in the Army and am doing some training before I ship off to basic.

Second: Future!Dinah is the complete evil monster sidekick to both Void Cowboy and Coil. Stick around, folks. It's gonna be fun.