Shadow Stalker: Advent of a Hero

Part Fourteen: Endgame

Triumph shut down the screen with the PHO boards on it, and pushed back his chair from the monitor screen. Turning, he looked around at the assembled Wards. They were all present, if somewhat bruised and battered; he himself sported bandages over the back of his head.

"So that's what happened after I got knocked out," he observed.

Aegis, currently hovering a few inches off the floor, due to his legs being inoperative, nodded sheepishly. "Sorry, boss," he muttered. "After you went down, we kinda got creamed."

Triumph shook his head. "Far from it. You hung in there long enough for help to arrive."

He looked around the group of Wards until he saw Shadow Stalker; she was leaning on Vista for support. "And talking about help; Sophia, we all owe you a debt of gratitude. You took out Othala, Rune, Victor and Tsunami by yourself."

Sophia shrugged awkwardly with her left shoulder; her right arm was a mass of bandages, the arm itself supported by a sling. "Thank Kid Win for some of that," she pointed out. "He's the one who developed the taser arrow. Without them, I would've had a lot of trouble against Tsunami and Victor."

Kid Win raised both hands; his armour looked rather battered and beaten about. "Hey, I just made 'em. You came out of nowhere and used 'em like a boss."

"Yeah," Clockblocker agreed; his costume's body armour was cracked and broken, and the clocks that usually roamed over its surface were motionless or absent. "That was badass."

"Regardless of which," commented Triumph, "I thought you had taken a day off. How did you even know to get there in time?"

Vista raised her free hand. "I, uh, called her."

Triumph looked over at her. "You called her?"

Vista nodded and looked away. "I thought she should know."

Triumph stood up, moving stiffly. "Well," he declared, "you did that against orders." Then his face split in a broad grin, and he slapped her on the shoulder. "And it was the best thing you could have done."

Apprehension fading to surprise, Vista looked up at him. "It was?"

He nodded. "It was. You did the right thing." He looked at Shadow Stalker. "And you've shown yourself to be a true member of the team, after what you did for Vista. You saved her life."

Shadow Stalker ducked her head. "If I hadn't been so hard to hit, he wouldn't have gone after her." She looked back up at him. "I was just lucky Breaker showed up."

"Yeah, well," Clockblocker noted. "That was badass. She beat the hell out of Lung."

The buzzer sounded, and everyone instinctively checked to ensure they were masked up. Triumph, whose lion's-head helmet would not fit over the bandage on his head, picked up a domino mask from the desk and put it on.

The door opened, and Armsmaster stepped through, escorting a familiar figure. The white robes, marked front and back with a distinctive red cross, identified her as the teenage healer known as Panacea. Accompanying Panacea was her sister, the white-clad Alexandria package who called herself Glory Girl.

Everyone knew their real identities, of course; it was part of what made New Wave so unique. Amy and Victoria Dallon were just two members of the younger generation of the superteam which had unmasked themselves to the world almost a decade ago. Unfortunately, the 'new wave' of superhero openness and accountability had faltered when Fleur had been killed in a home invasion after she unmasked, and her boyfriend Lightstar had quit the team altogether. New Wave had moved on, but no-one else had taken up the unmasking fad.

Glory Girl immediately zeroed in on Gallant, clucking solicitously over his injuries. Panacea kept pace with Armsmaster, whose armour still showed the scars and dents of the battle with Lung, as he approached Triumph.

"Hello, sir," Triumph addressed him. "It's good to see you."

Armsmaster nodded. "I've brought Panacea to tend to your wounded," he stated, as if it were not totally obvious. "Who's the worst off?"

Triumph looked at Aegis, who shook his head, despite a majority of his body being covered in bandages. "Help Shadow Stalker first," the younger hero told his team leader. "She's earned it."

Armsmaster nodded. "I agree." He gestured, and Panacea stepped forward.

Carefully, the healer took over supporting Shadow Stalker, and assisted her in walking toward her sleeping alcove.

As she helped Shadow Stalker stumble along, Panacea murmured, "I saw the video of the fight. You were very brave."

"Yeah, well," muttered Shadow Stalker. "That's what you do when your friends' lives are on the line." She grunted with pain. "Sorry if I'm coming across as rude. I think I might have some broken ribs."

"That's fine," Panacea soothed her. "Pain makes people do funny things."

Sophia nodded. "I suppose you don't tend to see many people when they're not hurt."

Closing the door and helping Sophia sit down on the bed, Panacea didn't comment. She helped Shadow Stalker unzip her costume until the ugly bruise on her stomach was exposed, purple against her dark skin. Laying her hand on it, Panacea exerted her power.

Sophia felt the pain just drain away; the bruising, the fractured bones, the cuts. All were healed in just a few seconds.

"Wow," she murmured, lifting her arm out of the sling and flexing it. "That's amazing." She turned to Panacea. "Listen, would you like to just hang out, talk about stuff, vent, or whatever, sometime?"

Panacea blinked. "What, some kind of team-up?"

Sophia shook her head. "No, just hanging out as friends." She essayed a teasing tone. "Unless you've got all the friends that you need, of course."

"I ..." Panacea hesitated. "I think I'd like that."

"Excellent," Sophia declared. Pushing back her hood, she pulled her mask off and proffered her hand. "I'm Sophia, by the way. Sophia Hess."

Panacea smiled as she shook it. "Amy Dallon. But you knew that."

Sophia grinned at her. "Yeah, but it's nice to meet you anyway."

She heard the warning buzzer go off, and she instinctively put her mask back on. "We'll go out for food sometime," she told Amy as she shucked off the sling and began to unwind the bandages; under them, she was missing the right sleeve of her top, where the paramedics had cut it away to get at her injuries. "Talk girl talk and solve the problems of the world."

Amy nodded, her smile wider. "That sounds like fun."

They exited the alcove; Panacea went toward the group, while Sophia headed over toward the monitor console. She was just pulling out the chair to sit down, when someone brushed back the hair from her neck and planted a kiss there.

She came around fast, hands already curling into fists, but her defensive posture fell apart when she saw who it was.

"... Breaker?" she faltered.

Taylor, standing before her, complete with tattered coat and scorched clothing, nodded cheerfully. "That's me," she confirmed.

"But ... but ... you left. Armsmaster said you had something to do." Sophia could hear the plaintive note in her voice, didn't care. She could see, in her peripheral vision, every other person in the room watching the pair of them, but she didn't care about that either.

Taylor grinned at her. "Sure I did. I came straight here, and signed up for the Wards."

There was a roaring in Sophia's ears. "You ... joined the Wards?"

"Well, yes." Taylor's voice was patient. "What else was I supposed to do, with my girlfriend a hero and all?"

And while Sophia stood there dumbfounded, Taylor gently plucked off her mask, took her in her arms, and kissed her.

It was a good kiss, one that started sweet and soft, then became firm and demanding. Sophia kissed her back, just as fervently, her arms curling around Taylor, holding her close. The kiss went on forever; it was over in an instant.

When they finally parted, Sophia became aware of general applause and whistling from the assembled Wards. "Oh," she breathed. "Wow."

Taylor smiled. "Oh yeah," she replied. "Wow. Also, yes."

"Yes?" repeated Sophia, puzzled but not caring. She was in Taylor's arms. All was right with the world.

"Yes," Taylor told her again. "Whatever you wanted to ask. Whatever you wanted to do. Just 'yes'."

And then she scooped up Sophia in her arms; Sophia could tell that she wasn't even using any amp to do it. They kissed again, soft and sweet and loving. The applause broke out again, and Sophia hid her face in Taylor's shoulder; she wasn't sure if she was laughing or crying, but she wanted it to go on forever.

"Way to go, Sophia," she heard Vista calling out. "Way to go."

"What say we get out of here?" Taylor murmured.

Sophia smiled and nuzzled into her, wrapping her arms around Taylor's neck. "Sounds like a great idea."

Taylor bore Sophia toward the door leading out of the Wards base. As Sophia reclaimed her mask, she heard Triumph calling from behind them, "Where are you going? Where are you taking her?"

"Up to the roof," Taylor replied.

Sophia giggled; she put her mask on and pushed the button to open the door, then leaned back and added, "Up where we belong."

The door opened, and Taylor stepped through; the last thing Sophia saw before it slid shut was Triumph's confused expression.

The End

[Author's Note 1: If any readers are wondering why the story ends here, it's simple. The story was always intended to be about Shadow Stalker changing and growing, becoming a good person, becoming a hero. Breaker and Shadow Stalker will go on, but this story isn't about that. It's about their beginning.

Author's Note 2: Yes, the chapter does have several references to the ending of a well-known movie. This is deliberate.]