The next couple of days were surprisingly quiet.
There was no other news on the murderer, except that they were still looking for him and other group members. Wreathes, cards and flowers had been brought to school and lined outside the outer walls of the site so that those that passed, students and not, could still pay their respects. As I had thought, when it came closer to the end of the week, the teachers held a minute silence in respect for the loss of a fellow student, and an assembly was called to remember her.
Though I didn't know her very well, it still made me sad for her loss. The way she had been killed had been brutal. To say that the police hadn't found any leads on the killer's whereabouts, or identity, pissed me off so badly that once the assembly was over, I stormed out. I knew that I surprised a few people, Mike and my cousin Derek, only a couple of examples. Mike came to talk to me afterwards. It was more for his benefit than my own. He was upset too, but unlike the way I endured it, he was more complex. I was more outward with my physical feelings, Mike was not, and so where I needed to hit something, he needed to talk.
We spent a good couple of hours talking about the whole thing until we were both acceptably depressed enough for him to give me a proper telling off. My treatment of Kylie had not gone unnoticed. The day after she had tasted my knee, I received more dark looks than usual, and even a few comments thrown my way. Mike told me about how it had spread across school that I had beaten her up. I only hit her twice! But then again, I wasn't exactly light handed. The next time I saw her after the incident, I noticed that she sported a rather colourful bruise around her nose and eyes. Anyone would have thought she'd had a nose job.
He remained distant and disapproving until I told him how they had followed me, and had planned to attack me. After that, he had grown a little more understanding, but refused to talk to me properly until I promised that I'd apologize at some point. Some part of me knew that I probably would, but he should have realized that it wouldn't be any time soon. I put it on my list of things to do. Among the other things I had planned, visiting this shop, 'Comic City', that I'd seen during my internet browsing a couple of days ago was one of them. Since looking over the site the other day, I felt the weirdest urge to go and have a look and see what all the fuss is about with the heroes.
It was so strange standing in the middle of the store the next day, dressed in my uniform, but almost covered from head to toe in my half cut trench coat. I felt like a dirty old pervert trying to cover her identity in an adult store, but though I received a few strange looks, it was a necessary precaution. The last thing I wanted was for people from school to see me in here. My reputation would plummet from feared to laughing stock. The shop's population was mostly male and the shop itself reeked of paper, coffee and virginity. As if I needed anymore attention.
I think I must have spent about half an hour browsing through the shelves. Hundreds upon hundreds of different colourful comics sat upon the ledges, their titles flashing the onlookers with large blocky titles to grab their attention. It almost worked. There were a few that my eyes lingered on for a minute or so before I caught myself. I was in a nerd's paradise; I had to stop myself before I was sucked in too. I preferred books, real books without pictures, rather than these flimsy excuses for literature that Mike poured hours of reading and money into.
It wasn't long before I found a corner that seemed to be dedicated just to Omega Kid. Posters of his likeness, though obviously possessing an exaggerated build, were hung up on the walls with him striking a heroic pose, looking off into the distance with some faraway look in his eyes. Copies of his costume were squeezed onto a few mannequins in adult and kid sizes, and a small waist-height shelf with candid photos claiming to be actual pictures of the hero caught in action were sat next to them. It both intrigued and sickened me how complete strangers who ran around causing problems could have such a high market. It seemed as though the greater population would rather live in a fantasy, than actively change their reality.
"Are you planning on stealing something?" a quiet voice asked me.
I turned, frowning at the voice's owner. A boy about my height with a lanky build and short brown hair stood before me, his hands in his pockets, and a wry smile curving his lips. I frowned at his easy stance and kind eyes. "What makes you think I'm gonna nick something?" I snapped.
"I…um," The boy next to me looked me up and down, his eyes noting my coat and the way I had my shoulders hunched. Okay, yeah, so I didn't exactly look inconspicuous.
I shook my head and looked up at the bookshelves. "Don't worry. I wouldn't buy anything to do with these wackos, never mind nick it," I replied curtly when he couldn't answer.
He seemed both confused and shocked by my answer. "Why would you be here if you aren't interested, if you don't mind me asking?"
I glared at the comics, taking in the colourful images and the flashy titles. "Morbid curiosity,"
"You don't like the heroes, do you?"
I snorted and looked at him, arching an eyebrow. "What gave me away?"
He ignored my snide tone and smiled at me. "You don't exactly radiate the kind of enthusiasm that most customers have here." He gestured around the shop and we looked at the eager teen boys pouring over the comics in groups, all smiling and giggling, or pointing at some half naked woman in the comic.
I smiled wryly. "Yeah, well I ain't some hormonal virgin with nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon."
The boy looked at me, his blue eyes flashing with amusement. "What makes you think they're virgins?"
I looked at him and gestured pointedly to the group of boys. "Please, the only girlfriends they have are holding the comics," I said, and with the noticeable absence of girls in the shop, it only left a couple of things that could qualify as a temporary "girlfriend".
The boy blushed and turned back to me, trying not to grin. "Right. Well, I won't be touching those comics." He rolled his eyes at my smirk and pointed to the Omega Kid corner. "So, why has morbid curiosity brought you here? You must have a reason for not liking heroes?"
I frowned again at the mention of heroes and glowered at the poster of the Kid. "I don't believe in them. They don't help anybody."
"That's not true!" He tapped the poster eagerly. "Omega Kid has helped a lot of people."
"So one 'hero' out of fuck knows how many posers have done something - whoop-ti-doo. How many others, how many of these dumbasses have gone out and gotten themselves killed, or gotten-," my voice broke when my dad's loving smile flashed before my eyes. "…others killed."
The boy looked at me for a long time. He seemed to be thinking hard about what to say next, which was good, because with the way I was feeling, I couldn't have given him a straight and honest answer. All my insides felt as though they were on fire, falling apart with rage. I tried not to lash out or glare. Instead, I turned away to look outside at something, anything that would take my mind off of the cutting memory of my father's death. My body started to shake, and though I knew I was still breathing, it felt as though I'd been punched hard in the gut with something hard, making it difficult to gulp air into my lungs.
Shaking my head, I pointed to the Hero, reigning in my anger. "Just because you think something, it doesn't make it so. One day the world is gonna start crashing around the poor fucker's ears, and he'll realize he made a mistake. How many people have gotten hurt as a result of his "heroics", huh?" I looked at the boy and he seemed to be not only listening, but giving my words some real thought. His eyes tightened slightly and I looked back up at Omega Kid, a sardonic smile twisting my lips. "They're stupid, blindly following an ideal based on luck and a daydreaming idiot. They're fighting for a lost cause; there's no hope."
Ever since these wackos started popping up, I started losing everything that ever mattered to me. Their existence was nothing but a bane to my own. Okay, so my life wasn't exactly perfect before them, but at least I had a family. We were together – all of us. If that hero hadn't taken the law into his hands, my dad would still be alive today. I'd still receive his hugs, see his warm smile that would reassure me that, no matter how bad it got, there was always hope left; that things would eventually get better. His silent promises were the only things I had through it all. In his absence, I felt parts of me leave with him. No…I wouldn't - couldn't - be happy for the heroes' existence. They were the reason my dad was gone. How could I be happy that they've become so popular?
I blinked, surprised that I'd even heard the boy say anything. I turned to look at him and saw him looking to the floor, shaking his head. "What?"
"I said no. You're wrong." He looked up at me and I saw determination and strength in his gaze. He looked so sure that for a moment my guard fell a little. "Hope is only gone when people start to believe it is. I don't know who you are or what you've been through, and you have your reasons for being angry at the heroes, but they fight for what is right when nobody else can. They give hope back."
He stared at me, but there was no challenge in it. Instead, I saw the absolute faith he had in his words; he believed them so much that for a second, so did I.
"You really believe that?" I asked him after a long moment.
"Yes," He nodded once, smiling. "I honestly do."
The boy's eyes lit up as we looked back up at the poster. "I've always liked heroes and the idea of it. Having them in real life…it gives you hope, y'know? Knowing that there are those out there that can defy the rules to save others. They might not always succeed, but you have to remember that at the end of the day, they're human. They aren't like the ones you see in the comics. These are people that are risking their lives to protect others, just because they feel in their heart that it's the right thing to do. We need more good people like that."
"Thomas! Are you helping or what? These boxes need moving!" a woman's strained voice shouted from behind us.
The boy beside me looked back, waving to her and smiled at me. "Sorry, I gotta go." Thomas started to leave but came back for a second. He smiled sadly at me, tilting his head to one side before he spoke. "They aren't all bad. They just want to help when nobody else will. You might not like it, but try to give them the chance you'd want for yourself."
Thomas smiled once more and ran over to help the woman as she struggled at the counter. Taking some of the boxes, he shared the load and they carried them away together, disappearing out of my view.
Even after he was gone, his words rang in my head. I hated to admit it, but some of what he'd said embedded itself into the rational part of my mind and broke through, making me want to agree with him. I couldn't tell whether it was because of his seeming naivety, or something else, but he seemed so sure. I could have written it all off as him being a sheep, blindly following that which had become a viral phenomenon, but as I'd watched him when he spoke and listened to him, he seemed to have an intelligence about him that no other hero worshipper that I'd met. He didn't seem stupid. He really believed in the heroes and what they stood for.
Back when Kick-Ass had first made himself known as a real life hero in America, I admit that I'd been intrigued. The concept of a real life hero had held some appeal that I had been drawn to. It was only when they killed my dad that I had become sour over it.
I blinked as the thought struck me. Was that what it was? Was I still so angry over the incident that I held hatred toward all the rest of the heroes and refused to give any other a chance? They hadn't done anything to me personally, but thinking about them brought back bitter memories and a crushing fear of losing someone else. Maybe what Thomas had said had some truth to it? Maybe they weren't all bad?
I glanced up at the Omega Kid poster and sneered at his seriously tight-tights. Still looked fucking stupid though…
"Is that a comic book, Angel?"
I jumped and shoved the comic away under my arm, turning my body away and cursing in the process. "What would I want with a comic book, Mike?"
Though I continued to hide, I could hear the smile in his voice as he sidled up beside me, grinning as usual and knew I had been caught. He had a light in his eyes as he tried to see what I had in my hands. "Oh, I don't know…you tell me."
I gave him my best glare, but he remained unaffected and reached around me, encompassing me in the circle of his arms and clamped them down, destroying any chance I had of getting away with my guilty item. Before I could do anything, he snatched it from my hand and stood, holding it aloft. His grin grew wider while my face became hotter, both from embarrassment and rising anger. I folded my arms.
"Well, go on then. Say it!"
He looked at me, surprised. "Say what?"
I gestured to him, shaking my hand in exasperation. "Whatever the fuck you're gonna say. Go on, I'm a nerd or a freak, right?"
Mike looked as though he was going to poke fun; take my bait, but instead his eyes softened slightly, and his smile curved into one that somebody gave when they thought something was cute. "You are neither of those things, Angel. Just because you got a comic, it doesn't automatically make you anything else but what you are."
"And what is that?" I asked carefully, letting my warning leak into my voice.
He smiled and stepped toward me, gently stroking the area just below where I knew the bruise still resided under my eye. "A girl: nothing more, nothing less."
I pulled my face away, uncomfortable with the heat that crept into my face. "Yeah, well, this girl doesn't like comics. I was just…curious. About why you read them, I mean."
Mike pulled open the comic and started scanning the pages, flipping through it slowly. "Wait, isn't this-,"
"Kick-Ass, yeah," I interrupted.
"I thought you didn't like him?"
We started a lazy walk across the field, cutting across it to get to our shortcut. "I don't. I just wanna see what all the bother is about. As far as I can tell, like every other hero out there, he's just a glorified idiot in tights."
"Yeah, but so was Robin Hood, and people liked him. He did good for mankind when no one else would."
I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes. "Can we not get onto the subject of Robin Hood, please?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot you don't believe he existed," Mike chuckled.
"I didn't say he didn't. I just meant that…" I trailed off when my ears picked up a sound nearby.
Mike didn't see me stop; too engrossed in the pages of the comic book in his hands. When he realized I wasn't talking, he looked up and turned back, curiosity in his eyes. "Angel-?"
"Shush!" I silenced him, bringing a finger to my lips.
He remained quiet, watching me as I tilted my ear to the sky to listen. I frowned and closed my eyes to try and block out everything else, and sure enough, I heard the sound again. As with everything else I did after the recent atrocity that had befallen Alice, instinct kicked in and I started legging it toward the source, leaving Mike stood in the field. As soon as I reached the fence, the shouting and crying grew louder. My heart jumped into my throat when my mind pictured the disgusting, leering face of the murderer possibly trying to grab another girl.
I hopped up onto a sawn off tree trunk, grabbed the top of the fence, and threw myself over, narrowly missing a branch of a neighbouring tree to the face. I fell heavily behind the guy as he loomed over the girl on the floor. I barely had enough time to register her face as I grabbed him from behind and yanked him back, throwing him a small distance away with as much strength as I could muster after my sprint.
"Get the fuck off her you freak!" I shouted, throwing a punch his way.
He growled as it slammed into his chest, but with the awkward angle, and the speed in which he returned made my hand land awkwardly, bending it in a painful way. While I cradled my hand, I mistakenly left my side open and fell victim to his fist. It slammed into the side of my face, knocking me aside with the impact and straight into the thorny bush that protruded through the bars, slicing at the skin of my cheek. He tried to grab me but I kicked out, catching him behind the knee. As he dropped a little, I used the momentum of my movements to barge into him with my shoulder. While I was facing out, I looked down at the girl and frowned when I recognized her.
Our eyes locked for a moment and I realized she remembered me too. Her face changed from fear to surprise then concern as she watched me wrestle with what felt like a mountain. She rose awkwardly, attempting to pry us apart when I had him pinned up against the other side of the fence.
"Stop it! Stop it, now! Kevin!" she shouted.
Kevin? She knew the guy?! I glared up at him and realized that he wasn't the murderer; he looked far too young. He looked more like a student than a full grown, perverted taxi driver. Surprise failed me and I received a kick to the gut and a punch to the ribs that left me winded and holding my stomach as I fell to the floor, groaning in pain and immediate regret.
As my stomach felt like it was going to fall out of my ass, I watched as Shorty still stood between us, holding her own as she tried to protect me from the rhino of a guy I'd been attempting to save her from. Now that I had a better look, there was no wonder my hits hadn't seemed to be doing anything. He looked built like a brick house; the muscles of his abdomen, chest and arms threatening to burst through the pathetic Rugby shirt that sheathed his form.
"She jumped me, Jay! Get away. Let me finish the bitch!"
I shuffled back as it looked like he was going to make it around Shorty's tiny form. Like she had done that day I'd tried stealing her apple, she demanded attention and caught his eye, staring his six foot self ass down. "No, Kevin. It's your own damn fault for starting this. This has nothing to do with her. Just leave, will you. Leave me the fuck alone! Go back to your whore."
I blinked in surprise at the language that was coming from the girl. She looked too young and nice to be using words that I normally spouted on an hourly basis. But what shocked me more was that, though he'd obviously tried hurting her before; this defensive side seemed to throw him off as much as it did me. I felt just as lost as he looked as he glanced down at the gnome blocking his path to me.
"Are you fuckin' stupid? That's Frost!" he shouted angrily, thrusting a finger in my direction. "She almost beat you up the other day for no reason. Are you going to stand there and defend her?!"
I looked to Shorty. She gave no answer, nor did she look back. Instead, she clenched her jaw and pushed at his chest, sending him stumbling back a step. "Stop changing the subject. Like I said, Kevin. It's over. Get lost and leave me the hell alone. Unless you want me to tell your daddy what you've been up to? You wouldn't wanna lose your scholarship, would you?"
Kevin's face almost seemed to turn purple at her words under his dirty blonde mop. I felt a strange instinct to jump up and defend Shorty from the hulk that glared down at her, gritting his teeth so tightly together that I thought they might crumble into dust from the pressure. "You'll regret this, Jay. Count on it. No one breaks up with me!"
He turned to glower at me and spat in my direction before stalking off. The aura of his threat still seemed to linger in the air even after he'd gone. The effects of his punch certainly did. As soon as I thought I was able, I moved, but my stomach clenched tightly and I released a painful groan, falling back against the metal fence. Shorty, who'd been watching the retreating figure of who I guessed was her now ex-boyfriend, realized I was still here and turned at the noise.
She moved to kneel by me, her hands stumbling to do something but unsure what, and her eyes flashing constantly with concern and a reserved fear that I knew wasn't for Kevin, but rather me. I could tell it was making her feel awkward as she attempted to do anything she thought might help, and after our most recent history, I knew I would be the last person she'd wanna see, even after Kevin.
I pushed her hands away. "Leave me alone," I mumbled.
"But you're in pain…"
"I said leave me alone. Fuck, are you deaf or something?"
"Don't start with me! I was only trying to help-,"
"Yeah, well, so was I, Shorty, and look where that got me!" I snapped, gesturing to the hand I held protectively over my middle.
Shorty sighed and sat back on her heels, but didn't move away as she watched me try and move from my curled up position on the ground. I had to admit it; Hulk really did a number on me. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been his so hard in the stomach before. My stomach muscles felt bruised. I was kinda impressed.
Finally, after a moment of struggling, I growled under my breath and reluctantly reached out to the hand Shorty held out for me. With a strength that betrayed her slight figure, she pulled me up and helped me into a somewhat semi-standing position.
"…thanks," I muttered quietly.
I looked at her. I couldn't tell from her expression, but I was sure she'd heard me and just wanted to hear me say it again. Tough. I wasn't in the mood for passing out pleasantries. She saw my frown and decided not to push it. She did, however, stay with me until Mike managed to climb his scrawny ass over the fence. There was a loud tear as the cuff of his trouser leg caught the sharp prongs atop the fence, and ripped as he fell.
"Ah, shit! These were my best pair!" he complained.
"They look fine," I lied, eyeing the massive tear that ran up the inseam of his trousers. I shoved at his shoulder painfully. "Where the fuck were you?"
"I was on my way. It's getting harder to climb over that fence. In case you haven't noticed, there are sharp ends all over that damn thing! I was lucky it didn't tear my skin!"
"Oh, yeah, lucky." I narrowed my eyes and saw him flip open the comic he'd taken off me. "You were reading the comic, weren't you?"
"You ran off!"
"Because I wanted to save-," I stopped myself when I realized Shorty was still with us.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw her looking at me strangely. I pulled a face, but she didn't flinch. She just looked between me and Mike, taking in the way he took my fire with casual ignorance and a smile.
"What are you looking at, Shorty?" I growled.
"I told you not to call me Shorty," she replied.
"I'll call you what I damn well want!"
"I helped you!" she shot back almost accusingly.
She stared at me for a moment, and the longer she stared into my eyes, the more I felt my defences start to fall within. It felt as though she was seeing through me and was silently challenging me to do something about it. It made me feel uncomfortable. It reminded me too much of the way Mike looked at me when he knew I was lying, or when he could tell that I wasn't really angry, but rather annoyed that he still hung around me – even if I secretly liked it. I didn't need another annoyance.
"Look, I thought he was someone else, alright. I wouldn't have done anything if I'd known it was you," I said cooly.
"Angel!" Mike snapped, shooting me a reproachful look.
I could see the hurt that flickered across her eyes at my words, but it was necessary to keep her safe. One guy I could deal with. Another person following me around like a puppy would be too much. Some part of me felt guilty for being so horrible, even by my standards, but she'd understand eventually. It wasn't like I wanted to be friends with her. I didn't need friends.
Ignoring the looks Mike was giving me, I turned to start walking away. It was hard, but I tried to block out the disapproving mutterings that fell from Mike's lips as we walked, but my ears picked up the softly spoken "Thank you," that followed me on the air as I left Shorty in the shortcut, making my reluctant heart skip with renewed hope of a life that felt long forgotten.
I wanted to say thank you for the reviews I've recieved so far from everyone and the views, and the in-depth review I recieved from "Fan". Thank you very much, it really made my day :) I wanted to reply in a PM, but you don't have a username Dx lol Thanks for your critique :)