Author's Note: I apologize for the wait. I do have a bunch of this typed up in rough draft form, I promise. I've just not had time to whip any of it into shape lately. Blame work and life. So if there are any typos or problems with this chapter, I apologize. I wanted to get something out after a long wait.

Thanks to those who are reviewing and following. I hope this continues to be enjoyable for you to read. TorontoBatFan, iwntyou2wntme, and Makokam especially have been thorough in their reviews and the positive feedback I have received encourages me to continue sharing instead of curling up into a ball and hiding what I've written away. Thanks.

A quick rant for those who are interested: If you have not read the comics and want to without it being spoiled, skip this last note… Okay, still with me? I'm hoping that the movie next week doesn't disappoint me/us and continues to take liberties with the comic. No offense to those who love Mark Millar's work, but I feel this is one of the few times I prefer the film version over the source material. Millar's sense of "realism" is clearly skewed if it's realistic to him that a little girl could be trained by an accountant and single handedly kill the entire mob, yet he thinks a guy who dons a mask and risks his life time and again in spite of being hospitalized, losing his father, and basically being beaten badly on a number of occasions (Dave) would abandon his friend when she needed him most? To me that's completely against character. Dave, at his core, is someone who risks a lot mostly because he wants to help others. Mathew Vaughn did a lot to turn what is an amusing but flawed comic into something that's absolutely amazing. Here's hoping Jeff Wadlow can continue that trend and allows Hit Girl to continue to grow a personality that Millar never gave her… That, and let's hope they get these two crazy kids together! Anyways, onwards and upwards.

Chapter 3

"So still no word?"

Marty falls onto the stool next to me at the bar and motions to the bartender for a beer. He uses his prosthetic to do so, confident that the subtle gesture earns him sympathy with girls. I'll be damned if he isn't right a majority of the time, too.

"Nope" I shake my head, staring into the bottom of my empty glass.

The bartender, a cute blonde with green eyes and a lot of cleavage, brings Marty his beer and ignores his attempt at a flirtatious smile. She's new here so I wonder if she's just immune to his nerdy/pathetic charm or if word has already traveled about how he's "humped and dumped", as he so eloquently puts it, four of Red's female bartenders. Whatever her reason, instead of responding to his leering looks she gestures to my empty glass and asks "Another?"

I nod.

"The hard stuff tonight huh? Sounds like a good foundation for a Marty Party if I ever heard one" he laughs, slapping his good arm against my shoulder before turning to the bartender who is putting the whiskey away after giving me another three fingers. "He's having a rough time…" he squints at her nametag that is precariously placed near her cleavage, I assume for tipping purposes. "Tina" he finishes, but continues to stare at her "name tag" a bit longer than is plausible.

I notice her roll her eyes at his staring, which makes me snicker. The noise catches her off guard and she gives me a bit of a disbelieving look, like she's never had anyone focus on her face long enough to catch something like that. My chivalry earns me what I choose to believe is a genuine smile from a girl who flirts for her rent. "Is that so?" she asks, still looking my way.

"Indeed it is" he nods gravely before perking up and offering his prosthetic for a shake, one last try for sympathy I presume. "And I'm such a good friend I'm here to cheer him up! Hi, I'm Marty by the way."

His arm hangs in the air lamely as she stares at it. "That's nice" she offers with a friendly laugh but no move to shake his hand.

"Yea" he drops it in his lap uncomfortably. I understand his disbelief. That ploy usually works for him. Sensing he has no shot, he switches into what Todd used to call "The Plane Wreck that is Marty the Wingman" in hopes of helping me out. It's sweet, if misguided. "Anyways, Dave's problem, you see, is a girl."

"Cutie like him? Hard to believe he'd have trouble with girls." She smiles at me again and winks. She must think I have cash to blow.

"I know!" Marty exclaims. "His second best friend, me being his first obviously-"

"Obviously" she agrees with a faux serious nod.

"Yea, well his second best friend is having what you might call 'Super PMS'."

"Lemme stop you there" she cuts him off, not seeming particularly offended by the comment but not so fond of Marty to let it slip either. "Girls don't usually respond to terms like 'Super PMS' positively. Not a good start."

She shoots me a look, guilty by association it would seem, which sends my hands up into a defensive posture as I remind her "Hey! I didn't say it!"

"Which is why I'm still here." Another wink.

"A thousand pardons" Marty continues, "but I couldn't think of another way to put it. Let's just say she's being… unreasonable."

"How so?"

Tina seems to be settling in for the long haul as she props her arms against the bar, causing her cleavage to pop out further. Marty stares while I turn my eyes down to the pine. I'm past the obsessive spank bank building stage of my life; a fact that I have to remind myself of a lot lately.

"Well my buddy here just got into law school-"

"Congratulations" she offers and I just shrug, still not wanting to risk getting stuck in her Venus flytrap. I'm a reformed pervert, not a eunuch.

"Exactly! He should be getting congratulations, but instead she's giving him the silent treatment! It's been a week and nothing! She even disinvited him to her birthday dinner!" Another slap on my back, harder this time, and it makes my drink go down the wrong pipe with a choke.

I hear her make a hissing sound accompanied by a pained "Harsh."

"I know! Bitch move if I say so myself."

"Watch it Marty" I warn. Just because Mindy is ignoring me doesn't mean I want anyone talking about her like that.

"Sorry, but it's true."

"He has a point" Tina adds, "that does seem crazy."

"You don't know the whole story." I feel a need to defend Mindy since she isn't here to do it herself. "I'm not exactly easy to get along with, and I didn't even tell her I applied. So there are good reasons for her to be angry."

"Why didn't you tell her?" Tina asks.

"Yea Dave" Marty agrees, barely concealing the little fat man giggles he is famous for from his voice, "Share with Tina why you didn't tell Mindy about law school. Share with us all why."

Asshole.

"It's complicated. I just didn't think she'd be happy about it. It'll definitely get in the way of our… time together, and I wasn't sure if I was going to go anyways. So I put it off."

"Makes sense" Tina nods. "Your girlfriend might freak out if she thinks she's gonna lose you and you didn't know what you'd do, so you waited. But you told her when you got in right?"

"Yea, and she isn't my girlfriend."

"Ha! She might as well be!" Thanks Marty.

"Not your girlfriend? Interesting" Tina smiles, yea I finally looked up again. What of it? "I think I agree with your friend then. Longest she can be mad before going into bitch territory on this is…" she taps her finger against her chin as if she's thinking hard before finishing "three days. Four tops, then she should be over it."

"Mindy is different."

"Mindy? That's her name? Odd choice."

"No it isn't" I defend.

"No weirder than Marty" Marty reasons.

"Who's named Marty?" she questions, which seems to irk my friend to the point of righteous indignation.

"Wait, seriously? I just told you my name like two minutes ago!" The look on his face is pretty funny. He really isn't used to women being this flippant towards him. He's got this weird geeky girl whisperer vibe going for him, usually. I've never gotten how he turns girls to mush so easily but it is amusing when his "voodoo" fails him, if only because of how incensed it makes him.

"Oh, I'm sorry. You did? What was it again?" Her smirk tells me she's fucking with him, but Marty misses it.

"Marty! Jesus…"

"Right, Arty! So Mindy" Tina turns the conversation back where it was going, "she's different how?"

"She just is. You'd understand her reaction if you knew her."

"Fuck that! I know her and I still don't get it" Marty scoffs.

"Aren't you the one who is going to her party next week?"

"Well, yea... but that's strictly recon work. I'm going into the lion's den to infiltrate and report back to base! I'm falling on my sword here dude!"

"Says the guy who's been singing his 'I'm gonna get birthday cake' song all week?"

"I like cake, that's not a crime!"

"It's also not good for that belly of yours" Tina adds helpfully while eyeing the few extra pounds that Marty likes to ignore.

"Don't you have some drinks to shill, bar wench?"

Seeing how their back and forth could easily spiral, I redirect the conversation while I can. "Am I also to assume, because you're oh so generous, that a certain crush on a girl named Darcy isn't part of why you want to go to the party either?" I ask disbelievingly.

"Ooohh, juicy" Tina laughs, "Arty and Darcy huh? That kinda rhymes. Like a 70's TV show or something. You know, Mork and Mindy or whatever. Is she a friend of yours too Dave?"

"Jesus, she gets his name right after one damned try" Marty mutters before stating louder, "It's Marty, not Arty."

"My bad, I'm bad with names." Another wink in my direction. I'd swear she has something in her eye…

"Whatever" he grumbles. "The point is that if I don't go, then things will just get worse between you guys. If I go, maybe I can convince her to talk to you? I could even take that damned present you worked so hard to get her that is sitting in our living room wrapped in purple paper looking pathetic as shit."

"Awe! That's so sad!" Tina whines.

"It's fine, it's just a present." I shake off her pitying look. I hate pity. Reminds me of the looks I would get in the hallway when Katie's friends spread the rumors that I was "diddling that blonde eighth grader"… though that was more disgust than pity now that I think about it. The counselor called me and Mindy into her office three different times, once with Marcus, to discuss the allegations. I'm surprised Marcus ever let me near Mindy after that. Then again, he did institute that ban for a while after too.

"But it's like this symbol of your friendship, something unwrapped and unfulfilled. It's sad" she insists.

"Yea Dave" he's giggling again, "it's sooo saaaaad!"

"Don't mock" Tina admonishes while hitting him with her wet bar rag.

"Jesus, I was just kidding! Calm down Boozezilla!"

They are still bickering when I feel my phone vibrate. Hopeful it's Mindy, I pull it out only to feel my shoulders sag when I see Katie's number again. She's been swarming me with messages for a couple of months, ever since Marty ran into her at the school bookstore and he ended up giving her my information for some stupid ass reason. I managed to ignore her for the most part, until she mentioned seeing Mindy drunk at NYU with some guys a week ago. The thought of my Mindy out with some NYU douchebags just hours after dropping me off made me respond with questions, in spite of the fact I had no interest in ever talking to Katie again. I've been trying to get more info out of Katie ever since. It's like pulling fucking teeth though. All she does is drop vague hints about Mindy and then change the subject. It's getting old, quick.

Katie D: Hey, I got someone to cover my shift at the dorms tonight if you wanna hang?

"Fuck, is that Katie?" Marty is so helpful.

"Yea."

"Why do you even talk to her man? You were doing so well!"

"You're the one who gave her my new number and told her I was single and going to law school! You didn't think that'd get her after me when you know the terms of our last break up?"

"I figured it'd be funny to see you squirm. I also thought you had the sense to ignore her, dipshit."

"Who is Katie? Your girlfriend?" Tina asks.

"No, I don't have a girlfriend" I shake my head, staring at the lit up screen as I try to think of a nice way to turn Katie down.

"Yea" Marty laughs into his beer, "Dave's dick gets less action than a decommissioned submarine."

"At least that means he isn't rife with STDs" Tina snaps, looking pointedly at Marty. Her gaze makes him squirm and turn away.

"Get The Clap from a sketchy stripper ONCE and all of a sudden you're a leper" I hear him mutter under his breath. I wonder how she knew about that?

I'm about to ask her that very question when a group of guys pile into the bar and sit on the other end, yelling out for service. Tina shakes her head at the boisterous crowd and turns to me. "Listen, I think you're sweet. If you feel like it, give me a call sometime." She jots down her number on a napkin and stuffs it into my hand tightly. "I'd really like to get to know you." She winks again and is gone.

"Fuck, that girl is a bitch" Marty whines, though he waits until she is out of earshot like a true gentleman before saying it.

"You just don't like her cuz she put you in your place."

"Well of course that's why, Captain Buttplug! I don't happen to like being in my place, you should know that. I much prefer putting something in her place, if you know what I mean?" If I didn't know, his wagging eyebrows would clue me in.

"Classy."

"Loosen up" he groans, "I'm just fucking with you. She seems cool, you should call her. Hot too" he finishes before taking a final swig from his beer. Another bartender, a regular named Keith, brings him a second without having to be asked. We come here often enough that most of the employees know Marty's brand, his usual intake, and his limits.

"I'm just not feeling in a dating mood."

"Because of Mindy" he says bluntly, his eyes now focused on a booth full of coeds near the back of the room. He says it like it's the most obvious thing in the world. It isn't.

"What do you mean?"

He turns his eyes from his "prey", as he likes to call them, and stares at me in disbelief. "It means that you aren't dating because you're in love with Mindy. I get it, makes sense" he shrugs, rotating so he's back on the prowl.

"I am not! She's like my sister…"

"Sister you'd like to fuck" he snorts.

"Gross!"

"Well, it depends on how you do it but it can be gross depending on what hole you put it in."

"Maybe I will call Tina" I ponder defiantly.

"Cool. Won't change the fact that you're in love with Mindy, but you do need to get laid. I wholeheartedly support that move."

"You're an asshole." He really is.

"A fact which you've been aware of since, what? First grade?" I nod, though he can't see it, and he continues "So you've had ample time to stop talking to me if you don't want to hear my asshole take. Yet here I am, living in the room next door to yours. What's that say about you?"

"That I'm an asshole too?" I wonder.

"I was going to say an idiot, but asshole works."

"You're smarter than you look" I laugh, finally feeling some semblance of the cloud lifting from the past few months if only a little and for a short moment.

"Eh, doesn't take a genius to see you're fucking up with Mindy."

"How so?"

This time he doesn't turn from the girls with just a passing look, but he seems to focus on me for a longer encounter. "You think that talking to Katie will do anything positive for your Mindy situation? You are aware they hate each other, correct?"

"They don't hate each other." I'm probably less convinced by my weak words than he is. Then again, the look he shoots me tells me we may be on equal footing in that particular area.

"Bullshit!" he laughs. "Who do you think spread those rumors about you and Mindy our senior year?"

"That wasn't Katie" I defend.

"Sure it wasn't" he snorts with a roll of his eyes. "What about when 'someone' slit the tires on Katie's new car?"

"What about it? We don't know who did that."

"We may not, because we are ass clowns, but most of us saw it pretty clearly. Katie sure as hell knew."

"Mindy wouldn't do that."

She actually would. It's vintage Mindy. I remember asking her about it when it happened, but she just pouted out her lower lip and gave me an innocent look, insisting that Katie did it herself to get attention. It made sense at the time, or at least it made sense when Mindy said it in that pouty way she always uses to get me to do whatever she wants.

"Dude," he lowers his voice so no one else will hear him and leans in to whisper "Mindy is Hit Girl. There isn't much she wouldn't do if someone pissed her off enough." Pulling back, his voice returns to its natural volume and continues "Which is something you should probably keep in mind yourself. Besides, it's no coincidence that it happened the day after you guys were called in for your third meeting with the guidance counselor. Remember? Mindy threw a fit after Marcus wouldn't let you take her to the Homecoming game because people would talk? Then the next day Katie has to get four new tires? No? Not ringing bells?"

"Those two things are not related" I defend, believing everything I say less and less as the night goes on.

"Are you really this stupid? Because I always assumed you were smarter than you seemed. I mean come on Dave, seriously! You didn't put two and two together there?"

"I try not to jump to conclusions."

"Right, well how about the time that someone bleached Katie's hair green while she slept? Or when Katie dragged you away from patrol because she heard someone in her basement?"

"Ugh, anything can sound bad if you put it like that. Mindy understood I had to make sure Katie was okay."

"Jesus Dave! The noise in her basement was her brother! He fucking lived down there! Did you know that we all had to listen to an earful about what a 'cunt' Katie is after that? How unprofessional it was, how 'that bitch' needs to understand you have real business to take care of? Shit, she even printed off a picture from Katie's Facebook page and used it for knife throwing practice! Surprised you didn't see it, she left it up for over a week."

"Whatever. Even if all that is true, it isn't like I'm hanging out with Katie or anything. If Mindy would talk to me I'd have no reason to try to get answers out of Katie in the first place."

As if on cue, my phone vibrates again and I check it with less hope that it's Mindy than I did the last time. It isn't, it's Katie again.

Katie D: I guess you're busy. Some friends and I are headed to Red's for drinks if you wanna meet us later.

Shit. "Katie is coming here" I warn.

"God dammit Dave! Why would you invite her here when we've just been talking about how this is a HORRIBLE idea? You just said you weren't hanging out with her!"

"I didn't invite her! She just invited us to meet her and her friends here for drinks." I try to think of something I could say to her that would keep her away, but I'm drawing a blank.

"Of course she did! Katie knows this is our regular place, so when you don't answer she stalks you. You do realize that she's just going to fuck with your head again, right? Make sure she can get you back and then lose interest just like last time?"

"No she won't, because we are leaving" I say, getting up from the bar and grabbing my coat. I toss a fifty on the bar for my three drinks and Marty's two before I start to head out.

"What? Why?! She's chasing us out of our bar on a Saturday night? This is prime time to pick up chicks" he whines, though he does make to leave with me without putting up too much of a fight. When we are halfway to the door, he runs back to the bar to grab something before meeting me at the exit.

"Where'd you go?" I ask, funneling out to the street and starting in no particular direction.

"You forgot this." He holds up the napkin with Tina's number on it and waves it around proudly.

"I don't think I'm gonna call her" I state, keeping an eye on the oncoming pedestrians in case we somehow run into Katie and her friends. My luck seems to dictate something like that would happen.

"Pussy" Marty laughs, reaching to stuff the napkin in my jacket pocket. "Just hang on to it, in case you change your mind. It's a rare occasion that you catch a lady's eye when I'm around" he teases. "You gotta take advantage of someone that brain damaged."

"Weren't you the one telling me I'm fucking up with Mindy? How would calling that girl help?"

"Valid point. Still think you should call her. She was hot, interested, and didn't seem too vapid aside from her obvious bad taste in men. Mindy isn't talking to you, so she can't get too mad if you get your dick wet between now and when she snaps out of Super PMS."

"Ha-ha! You might have a point there, but I still think I'm gonna pass."

"Man!" he laughs, pointing us towards a late night comic shop with a sign that reads "Grand Opening" and a small chalkboard menu sitting outside the door with a list of drinks and food. I pull the door open and he follows me in, shaking his head in disapproval. "You have it worse than I thought for our little blonde friend."

"This has nothing to do with Mindy. I'm just not interested in Tina."

"Why would you be? She's just a clever chick with nice tits, a great ass, and an ability to get us free booze if you let her suck your dick. You're right, that sounds just awful" he says with mock disgust.

"Not all of us let our purple headed prince lead us around on a leash" I defend.

"Says the guy who used to jerk off to Smurfette" Marty snorts before losing interest once a stray idea comes into his head. "Ooh, I want to see if they have that 'Battle Guy' comic they put out a while ago. That shit'll be worth a lot someday" he exclaims as he's already blitzing to the back of the shop.

The place looks high end, with a ritzy cafe at the entrance and four times the booths they have at Atomic Comics. The sign says they don't close til 2 a.m. and it looks like that's a good business model judging from the number of people sitting around with coffee and baked goods while reading their newly bought comics. It's like an oasis for nerds who can't get a date on Saturday night… a.k.a. me.

Feeling awkward about just standing at the front of the store staring at people, I decide to go exploring. Each aisle has a good number of people perusing, so it's a bit of a hassle getting anywhere you want to, but I manage. I end up grabbing a Nightwing I don't have and an older Thor that Mindy spilled soda on a couple years ago that I need to replace. Besides that, I'm not really in a comic mood so I just browse through random aisles aimlessly waiting for Marty to be done.

Eventually I get antsy and go in search of my friend rather than wait for him to come to me. I find him towards the front behind a large shelf of vintage Star Wars figurines. He's talking to a woman by the sound of it. When I round the corner, I recognize the medium stature and short brown hair with blue streaks in it.

"Oh, hey Dave!" Marty is the first to notice me. When the girl turns towards me her face falls into a frown. Courtney never liked me, and I doubt this week has done anything to earn me any points with her.

"Hey Dave" she offers halfheartedly.

"Courtney, how are you doing?"

"Good."

"You liking Fordham?"

"Yea."

"I didn't know you liked comics."

"I don't. I was just getting a present for… a friend."

This is awkward.

"Courtney was just telling me a few interesting tidbits" Marty gloats, which earns a glare from the punk girl with a nose ring and a feloniously short skirt.

"Shut up Marty" she seethes between clenched teeth.

"What?" he shrugs innocently.

She rolls her eyes at him and then shoots me what is a not so friendly look. "I gotta go" she mumbles, pulling the plastic bag full of what looks like comics to her chest and turning to leave in a hurry.

"God I'm popular" I grumble.

"Exactly my thoughts" Marty agrees with a smile, slapping me on the back for the umpteenth time as he leads me to the front of the checkout. "But I got some intel which should make you happy… Well, the fact I got intel should make you happy. The intel itself? Not so much."

We both take our comics to the register and begin to pay. A pink haired girl dolled up like an anime character mans the register and her eyes shoot to Marty's plastic appendage the second he sets it on the counter. Her mouth drops open and she gives the typical response that always seems to boost Marty's self-confidence to intolerable levels. "Oh my God, you poor baby! What happened?"

"Afghanistan" he says solemnly, his usual response.

I've told him it's pretty offensive to lie about being a veteran, but he reasons he lost it in battle so he can get away with lying about what kind of battle it was. He still doesn't want people knowing he's the fat guy in the blue costume from YouTube who tripped over his own feet in our last melee with Chris, tumbled comically over a set of stairs, and got his arm caught in an old bailer on the way down. He literally didn't get touched by anyone but himself. The security cam footage has gotten several million hits so far. To be fair, about a thousand of those were Mindy, but it's still a pretty popular video. Hell, some guys at Berkley School of Music even gave it a techno remix, altering Marty's girlish screams with some sort of synthesizer and cutting it so it loops over a repetitive beat. It's surprisingly catchy.

"You are such a hero" the redhead fawns, placing a hand over her heart and giving him a sultry look. "Why don't I give you my employee discount?"

"Your country thanks you."

God he's laying it on thick.

"Do you guys want anything else? Some coffee or a bagel? They're really good."

Marty eyes the display case of goods hungrily, but shakes his head no. "Nah, thanks though. You're such a sweetie."

Her cheeks turn the shade of her hair at his compliment and she rings him up. Then she checks me out, no discount for good ole Dave, and we make our way back outside. "So what intel is it you had for me?" I wonder.

Marty starts to say something when his phone vibrates. The second he checks it, his friendly and cocky grin falls. He doesn't say what the message was about when he responds or even after he stuffs the phone back in his pocket, but his mood has clearly changed. "I'll tell you later. I don't feel like walking. Take a cab home?"

"It's seven blocks."

"I'll pay."

"Whatever."

The yellow car stops, loads us up, and immediately hits a red light. "Did you find anything good in there?"

"Stop stalling Marty."

"Stalling? Who's stalling? I'm just being friendly man. You know, you were a lot more fun before this whole law school business. Maybe this attitude is part of why Mindy won't talk to you, ya think?" His tone tells me he isn't completely serious, but I've heard a version of that from enough people to know there is a lot of truth to it. I really need to get over this funk. I guess my first step could be to indulge him in his stall tactics and let him keep his "intel" to himself for the time being.

"Sorry. Yes Marty, I got a couple comics. Did you find that issue of the fat blue guy that you were looking for?"

"Hey, name calling is uncalled for!"

"Who is calling names? It's not like Battle Guy is here in the cab with us. The corpulent crusader is probably somewhere in the Bahamas right now, ya know?"

He eyes the cabbie warily before laughing and shaking his head "No, you're right" he agrees in a tone that says he'll get me back for the corpulent comment. "But if we are talking lame superheroes then we gotta mention that green and yellow turd that is still hanging around like a dingle berry of society that should've dropped years ago. You know I heard he is GAY?!" He says that last part rather loudly, and the cabbie's shoulders visibly shake with laughter.

"I wouldn't know, but I do know he can at least walk straight. You see that YouTube video of Battle Guy tripping over his own two feet? What'd that poster's comment say again? 'So sad it's funny, but so funny it's sad'?"

"That bitch didn't know what she was talking about!"

"Watch it" I quietly warn again. Mindy isn't a bitch, she's just… different.

"Here's your stop guys, that'll be $10.50."

Marty starts to get out of the cab without paying, so I grab his shirt and say "I thought you were getting this?"

"Oh, right. I forgot my wallet." Which is bullshit, he paid from his wallet at the comic store. "I'll get you back later." Then he's walking past a new doorman I've never seen before and into our building.

"Asshole" I mutter, causing the cabbie to laugh again as I hand him a twenty and tell him to keep the change.

I don't catch up to Marty until I'm in our apartment. The place is big with its long hallway, open living room, two baths, a huge marble covered kitchen, and three bedrooms, so I don't see Marty immediately when I walk in. I chuckle to myself as I hang up my coat, remembering a few months ago when his parents came to visit and kept wondering at how we could afford such a nice place. Marty told them that I finally got the insurance money from my mom's death a couple of years ago and that paid for most of it. The sacks of drug money that sit in my closet, and in safety deposit boxes around town, are our little secret.

I can see Marty in the kitchen through the bar window as I cross the threshold to the living area. He's putting together a sandwich at the island with great concentration, so I sit on a stool next to the bar and wait for his attention. He looks focused, which is usually not a good thing.

"You want one?" he asks, seemingly genuine in his offer as he moves to get more supplies.

"Sure, if you're making it."

"Least I can do since you paid for my drinks and the cab, right?"

I smile at the offer, and at seeing him relax into what is a much more likeable version of my friend. Marty is an interesting guy. It's almost like he puts on a show in public, the smartass horn dog he thinks people expect him to be. He's a decent guy when he's putting on the act, amusing at least, but he can be a great guy when he isn't playing up to expectations or a crowd. That's why I'm not shocked when he hands me the sandwich that was clearly meant for him and goes to make another. There's no one here to impress, so he can be himself.

"You alright? You know I was just kidding about the Battle Guy stuff, right?"

"Yea, of course" he waives me off. "You know I don't bruise easy. If anything you get it worse than I do, especially lately, so I'm happy to be numero deuce in that case."

"I can't argue with that logic. I don't wanna be me right now either" I say around a mouthful of turkey.

"Clearly" he smirks. When he's done making his sandwich, he plops down next to me and takes a large bite. "So I talked to Courtney."

"Clearly" I parrot. "Did she mention anything about Darcy?"

"Um, not really. But I've been talking to Darcy a lot lately, so I'm hopeful. I actually like her a lot and the age difference doesn't seem to bother her that much."

"Why would it? It's three years dude. You're 22, she's 19."

"I don't know" he shrugs, "why does it bother you?"

"It doesn't."

"Bull. You've had a beautiful girl after you for years and the only excuse was the age difference."

"First, that wasn't the only excuse, second she wasn't after me" I point out, "and third, it's called a felony Marty!"

"Only for the first four years, the last two she's technically been legal for your purposes."

"I don't have any purposes" I say with a shake of my hands, tossing the last third of my sandwich on the plate. I'm not so hungry anymore.

"Okay, for her purposes then."

"Stop."

"Look, the point I'm trying to make is just that you need to either let the girl move on without you or start to see what's in front of you."

"Wasn't the point originally about you and Darcy?"

He looks like he's thinking hard on that point for a moment, then shoves the last half of his sandwich in his mouth all at once, mumbling out "You're right" with a spray of bread and mustard sprinkling across the tabletop. By the grace of God he swallows before continuing any further. "Not much to say there, except I think I got a shot."

"That's great" I say genuinely, "but is this serious or just another passing thing?"

"Serious, I think. She's cute, really fucking smart, and calls me on my shit. She also gets my jokes, which most of the girls I date don't."

"That's true," I offer, "if you can call what you do dating."

"Whatever you call it, I think she's different. She's making me work for it, which I admire. Plus, Mindy would prolly cut off my balls if I fucked this up. I think that's good, to have that fear be there. Might keep me in line."

"Might not."

"True, but that wasn't the point either. Stop distracting me" he chides with a smile. "My original point was that I talked to Courtney, used my charms on her, and she ended up accidentally offering me some juicy little tidbits about our girl Mindy."

"Like?" I'm ashamed to play a part in this high school gossip game, but I can't help myself. I miss her, a lot. If I can fix whatever is wrong, I'll do it by any means necessary.

"Like" he glances at me sheepishly and seems to brace for some impact after he's done, "apparently Katie is telling everyone that'll listen that you guys are back together. I guess Katie is Darcy's RA or something, so Mindy went over there the night you guys fought and Katie told her you two had gotten back together but that you didn't want to tell Mindy yet. I guess Mindy was pretty broken up about it."

Maybe Mindy really does have feelings for me then… I don't know what to do with that.

"How broken up was she?"

"Dude, how broken do you think? I've told you for years that the girl is in love with you. When will that sink in? Does it not make sense? Do all the clues not add up? Think about it for a second. I mean seriously think about it. Right now, do it. I have time" he says, getting up to make another sandwich for effect. So I do.

It's hard to say what a clue is and isn't in hindsight. That first week she was in classes was an outlier; she had the natural excitement of a kid who'd never actually been to school and who foolishly thought it'd be "really cool". Soon reality of a regular teenage life set in, though, and I'm guessing she figured out why it was I first donned the mask in the first place… Because being a normal teenager sucks.

After that realization seemed to kick in, she started to keep everyone at a distance; marching through the halls like some miniaturized T-1000 sent by Skynet to infiltrate and destroy. I felt so bad about that, how lost she looked, because I knew I was responsible. I knew that if she still had her dad around, if I hadn't come into the picture, that she could have avoided all the school bullshit and still been happy. She could have been off doing something exciting instead of facing finals, pep rallies, and all that other crap most of us hate while the teachers pretend we don't. Ya know? And since I was responsible, I knew it was also my duty to do something about it. It was my responsibility to fix things. I had to befriend the Terminator, teach it to be human.

It wasn't easy at first. Those initial two or three weeks were kind of like talking at a brick wall. I'd stop her in the hall or nag on her til she'd sit next to me at lunch, but it always ended the same. When she'd had enough, she'd stop whatever it was she was doing, look me in the eye, and slap me hard across the face… I mean hard, like really hard. It hurt like hell too, even if most people thought it was funny that I was getting slapped by a tiny girl.

Anyways, that went on for a while. Me trying to befriend her while she silently tolerated me until she had her fill for the day and her hand would finally meet my cheek. But then one day, it was a Tuesday I remember, I was yammering on as usual and preparing myself for my mid-day slap when an odd thing happened. She didn't slap me. In fact, instead of slapping me she actually responded to what I was saying. I don't remember what it was I said, something about Naruto I think, but I remember her snickering reluctantly and then legitimately responding. It was shocking, to say the least. It was like she had finally realized I wasn't going anywhere, that like it or not I was going to give her someone she could count on, and she chose to accept that.

From there on out, it was like a switch was flipped between us. All of a sudden she was voluntarily sitting at our lunch table without me having to ask. She took me with her to train and eventually to patrol. She'd come to Atomic Comics and talk X-Men with me and Todd. She'd even horn in on my date nights with Katie because she was lonely. Katie didn't understand why I "put up with it", but to me I wasn't putting up with anything. I liked having Mindy around. She was and is fantastic! It was amazing having someone around who knew everything about me and could actually understand why it was I did what I did. Not even the people in Justice Forever could get it, because she and I? We were originals. Everyone else joined a trend, but we were the ones who started it. That, I thought, would bond us forever.

Looking back on it all, though, it's hard to decipher when things might have changed in a way I was never aware. I knew she'd let me in, accepted me past her series of defenses and walls, but I never considered it was ever more than us becoming best friends. I never thought that when she would give me long hugs, or make an effort to sit next to me at the movies, that it was anything more than friendship. I never thought that when she cuddled into me when she was cold, or would occasionally ask me to carry her books in the hallway, that those were things a couple would do. Did Mindy know? Or was she as clueless as I was to the implications of our relationship?

I remember, then, the night I met her. I was so freaked out by everything that happened at Razul's that I kind of blocked out a lot of it for a long time. But now that I think about it? There was a weird smile she kept sending my way as she sliced and diced. Not to mention the fact that she blew me a kiss when she was hopping out my window that night. Was that her taunting me? Or was that her 12 year old way of flirting? Was her overzealous glee just childish excitement? Or was it the beginnings of what Marty and everyone else insists is more? It's all so damned confusing.

Marty is right about one thing, though. A lot of her behavior makes more sense if I accept his premise. The air drying, the times she begged me to sleep with her instead of on the couch because she gets cold, and all the times she'd freak out if a girl gave me their number or how much she hated Katie? It seems a lot less odd through the prism Marty seems to see things through.

"God dammit!" Marty jumps at the sudden outburst, nearly dropping the jar of mayonnaise on the floor in the process. "If you knew that's how she felt, why would you even risk giving Katie the time of day?!"

He rolls his eyes and puts the glass jar of white goo away, pulling a package of cheese out on the way back. "I told you how Mindy felt, and you wouldn't listen. Why the fuck would I think that giving Katie your info would change anything when you haven't listened to anybody about Mindy for the past six years? Besides, you're not blame free in all of this. Remember?"

He's right, I'm not. I'm probably to blame for everything bad that's ever happened to Mindy, in all seriousness. With a sigh, I concede "I know I'm not, but I don't know how many times I can apologize for not telling her about law school. I was nervous, and I really didn't think it'd blow up this big."

Without looking up from the final touches on the sandwich in front of him, he scolds "This is about more than law school and you know it. It's about you wanting to ditch that mask."

I don't know what to say to that. He's right. It's something I haven't wanted to address, but it isn't going away. As much as I want to pretend Mindy is overreacting, a part of me has always known she's smart enough to read between the lines. To see what my application really meant, even if I was too chickenshit to admit it.

"How'd you know?"

"Please" he snorts, taking a bite of his finished masterpiece, "we've already established I've known you since Power Rangers were still cool. Give me some credit. What you need to worry about is how much Mindy has figured out. Because she could just be overreacting to you keeping a secret, but my gut says she's figured out what I have. It's the only explanation for this hissy fit she's throwing."

Getting up, I feel slightly dizzy on my feet but I'm too antsy to sit. Eventually I compromise and post my elbows on the counter, resting my head in my hands. "I just don't know what to do. I want her in my life, and I want to keep making a difference. It's just that after Todd I-"

"I know dude, believe me I know." Tossing half his sandwich on his plate, he moves to grip my shoulder tightly. Leaning in, he takes a deep breath and pauses before he frowns and whispers to me "But if we keep up with all this estrogen talk, we'll both grow vaginas. You know that right?"

"You're a prick" I bite, meaning it this time as I stalk into the living room so I don't succumb to the urge to break his clavicle.

"It's a joke Dave" he whines as he follows me. "I know what you mean, I really do man! Todd dying sucked, but you couldn't help that."

"It's just that it doesn't stop with Todd. Ever since, the death toll just seems endless. And for what? So we can keep people from shooting up? If they wanna ruin their lives, let em!"

"You know it's about more than that. I couldn't cut it, clearly, but you've tackled this thing with her to the point you're a fucking beast! Why quit when you're legitimately Batman, dude? What you guys do isn't about the junkies and you know it! It's about the guys who sell to the junkies. I may joke with you, but you guys take out people who hurt innocents every day. I admire that! It's why I dressed up like a fat Captain America and got my arm lopped off like an idiot. Because I wanted to be what you are, but I couldn't! And believe me, that's the last time I'll ever admit it!"

I can feel my mouth drop open like a guppy at his admission. Shock fills my veins like ice and I can't seem to process how on God's green earth anyone could feel the way Marty just admitted to feeling. Because of all the things I could be? I definitely don't feel like a hero. Not anymore. Not with the things I've done to people, bad guys or no.

When I do find my tongue, my words sound trite. "I don't know what to say Marty. I'm so-"

"No apologies, okay? I didn't say that to make you feel guilty. I said it to knock some fucking sense into you. Besides, we are getting way off topic here. All I was saying is that Mindy can pick up on the fact that something's been up your ass for a long time. Maybe if you're honest with her, things could start to heal?"

"I tried being honest" I remind him, "which is what got me where I am right now."

"No, what got you here was half-honesty. You told her the symptoms, not the disease."

"We're eloquent today, aren't we?"

"Don't change the subject when I'm finally being serious."

"Fine, but if we're being honest then it's your turn. You know my secret and you've said your piece. Now, tell me what Courtney told you. What is it exactly that Katie is feeding Mindy?"

He looks sheepish and hesitates before answering. "I didn't get that much out of Courtney, okay? My guess is that Katie is fishing for info from you so that she can drop it to Darcy, who we all know will relay it to Mindy. The more she can tell her about what you're up to, the easier it is to make it all seem more believable. I'd bet that's half of what she's doing when she tries to talk to you."

"Fuck me."

"Told you not to talk to her."

"Even if I hadn't, it wouldn't have changed anything but the last few days. It sounds like Katie did most of her damage with info she got from you."

He flinches. "Yea, was hoping you wouldn't pick up on that."

"And now I'm left with one friend in the whole world" I sigh, feeling ultimately sorry for myself in this moment. A fact that makes me hate myself for being such a sad sack.

"I wouldn't say that" he smiles, "there's always Tina."

"Joy! Tina, the girl we just met tonight, is now my second best friend. You know how pathetic that is? I don't even know if we have anything to talk about."

"You don't need to talk to her…"

"You're an ass."

He has an uncanny ability to disarm any situation with humor. I was inches from hospitalizing him less than a minute ago and now I'm laughing.

"Hey, I'm just saying you aren't so alone man. There's that girl Jordan in your Capstone that I see giving you googly eyes when your study group is over. Plus, there's Marcus too. He still likes you."

"Jordan is a lesbian whose 'googly eyes' as you put it are actually a stigmatism. She hates my guts by the way, so thanks for that, and Marcus is totally not an option right now. I'm sure he absolutely loves the guy who's got his little girl upset like this. He probably wants to drop my balls from Times Square."

"His message sounded friendly enough" Marty says as he finishes his second sandwich and opens the fridge. He pops two beers open before sliding one to me and leaning back against the counter.

"What message?"

"Oh shit, you didn't get that?" He turns to look at the fridge and sees it's bare. "I figured you grabbed the note since it isn't there anymore." Bending down on his knees, he reaches under the fridge and paws around for a tick before coming back up with a yellow post it. He hands it to me.

It reads: Dave, Marcus left a message on the machine. I saved it. Sounds important. –Marty

"When did he leave it?"

"Um… a couple days ago I think. No, it was yesterday. I remember because the taco truck is only here on Fridays and I spilled some grease from one of their burritos on my pants while I was listening to it. Damn, hope I can get that out. I like those pants…" he trails off.

"I wonder what he wants."

Snapping to, it's clear how much he really loves those pants. "Huh?"

"Marcus" I say irritably, "I wonder what he wants."

"Oh, no clue."

"Why would he call our landline anyways?" I wonder.

Marty's brows crease thoughtfully as he agrees. "Yea, I wondered the same thing. Lucky I have been waiting to hear back from my student loan people or that message could've sat there for weeks."

"Yea, lucky" I mumble as my mind processes all the things that could be wrong. Is Mindy okay? Wouldn't someone have tried harder to contact me than leaving a single message if she wasn't? Surely Courtney would have mentioned if something were wrong when we saw her earlier, even if she does hate my guts. Right?

Marty seems to notice my concern and snaps me out of it by urging me to "Call him. I doubt it's bad. He seemed like he was more worried than mad."

"I don't know what I'd say to him" I admit more to myself than to Marty. Honestly, I don't know what I'd say to Mindy if she would talk to me either. I've worked so hard to ignore when people would imply something was going on between us for so long that denying it when something might actually happen is second nature. Denial is just the natural, and intelligent, thing to do when you're 18 and the girl in implication is 14. But that isn't really the case anymore, as Marty so often points out.

I know she's beautiful, that much is just impossible to deny. I also know that we are both old enough that it wouldn't be particularly creepy if we were together anymore. I just don't know how to go about any of this. If I'm honest with myself, the evidence does stack up in favor of there being more between us than I have ever wanted to admit. There really isn't a woman that could come close to Mindy for me in any meaningful way. She has no equal in beauty, smarts, ability, personality, or in trustworthiness. Does that mean I'm in love with her though? It doesn't feel like it did with Katie. With her I felt so sure of everything, but incredibly lost at the same time. I was so busy trying to keep her that I never stopped to really consider what it was I was keeping. I just trusted my dick to lead me in the right direction. But looking back now? I doubt more and more if it was really love I felt for Katie. Lust is more likely, or infatuation. I know I never worried about her like I do Mindy. I know being away from her was nothing like this past week has been without my short, deadly, foul mouthed blonde.

"I bet you he'd talk first" Marty says, snapping me out of my haze of doubts.

"Who?"

"Marcus" he drawls out slowly, like he's speaking to a mentally handicapped person.

"Oh, yea I guess he would. I'll call him tomorrow."

"Bull! Don't put it off. Call now" he insists, a stern look on his face as he tosses our landline at me and waits with his hands gripping the counter tightly. "This could be your chance to make your case to Mindy. Don't lose it. I feel guilty enough, so if you won't do it for you do it for me."

"I thought you were going to her party so you could be my chance to make my case?"

He looks down at his feet and scuffs them against the tile floor, mumbling something I can't make out.

"What?" I ask, not sure I want to hear the answer.

Looking up, he mumbles more loudly "I guess I'm not invited anymore either."

"Since when?" I shout louder than intended. I guess I underestimated how much I really was counting on Marty helping me out.

"Since she sent me this outside that comic shop tonight" he says as he slides his phone across the counter and looks away like he doesn't want to see my reaction.

Mindy: Hey, I don't wanna be a bitch but I don't think you should come next week. It'll just be too hard and Courtney told me what you said. I appreciate you looking out for Dave, but I just need time. I still love ya. Please don't be mad.

That takes the wind out of me. Just seeing her name, her smiling face in the background of the text bubbles, after a week of nothing? It knocks me back. Seeing words I know are from her is almost like a balm to the pain I've been trying to ignore in her absence, the next best thing to actually talking to her, until I process their content. Their meaning couldn't be worse.

"I guess that's that."

"Yea" Marty says awkwardly. "I really don't know what to say about that. No one can make Mindy listen to you.

"No one can't make Mindy do anything" I grumble.

That earns me a laugh as he nods in agreement. "That is very true, which is why you should call Marcus. While he can't force her to do anything, he can do more good than I could. She's shutting you and me out right now."

That's always been my biggest fear about all of this. When Mindy shuts down, everything is put on hold and nothing gets fixed on anything but her own timeline. Usually she would just hold out stubbornly until I'd figure out what I'd done wrong and apologize, even if it wasn't my fault. In the past, that's all it would take. An "I'm sorry". I've tried apologizing literally a thousand times this time, though, and nothing. I counted, and I have seriously sent her over a 1,000 texts, calls, and I've been to her house eight times. This silent treatment is obviously different than the others. It's more final, and I don't know what I can do to stem that finality other than pray Marcus isn't too mad and can do something to stay my execution.

"Alright, I'll call him."

I hand Marty his phone back and get off of the stool to go into my room. When the door is closed, I can feel my heart start to beat faster and faster as I scroll through the caller ID on the phone and hit "Call" when Marcus' name comes up. It's that nervous feeling you get when you're making that first contact with a girl you really like and are panicked that things will go to hell, but it's a million times worse. Closest thing I could compare it to is what I imagine a heart attack feels like.

I do some deep breathing as it rings.

"Hello?"

I'm both relieved and disappointed Mindy doesn't answer the phone.

"Hey Marcus, it's Dave. I just got your message." I guess that's a lie, I didn't actually get it. But I got the message that there was a message.

"Oh, hey Da-Marco" he says, clearly catching himself mid-name. She must be there. Pulling the receiver back, he shouts "I'm gonna step outside for a minute sweetie. It's work."

I can hear her voice, which immediately soothes my nerves a bit just hearing it third person, gripe "You're a terrible fucking liar Marcus" which is followed by a screen door opening and a wooden door shutting.

"Hey, sorry Dave. You know how she is right now. If she knew we were talking I think she may stop talking to me too."

"I think that may be a lost cause" I find myself laughing, but it's a tense laugh. It matches Marcus' nervous tone.

"Yea, I think you may be right… Shit. Thanks for calling. I lost your cell number so I hoped the one in the phone book was still good."

I guess it's good my dad insisted I keep a landline for "Just in case" then. Marty and I tend to just use this number to put on forms for school and on internet applications so we don't have telemarketers calling our cells. Before now, that's all it's been good for.

Marcus pauses awkwardly and I start to say something when he continues all of a sudden. "Look, before anything else, I gotta ask-"

"No, I'm not back with Katie."

I can hear an audible sigh of relief on the other end. "That's what I keep telling her! The girl is pig headed man" he's yelling/whispering/laughing into the receiver so it crackles a bit. He's also walking around judging by the rustling in the background.

"I'm honestly lost Marcus. I just heard about all of this tonight. I haven't been talking to Katie for more than a few of days, and it's just passive messages. I honestly don't know where this is all coming from."

"I don't have a fucking clue Dave." I never hear him curse. Things must be bad over there. "Last Friday she was chipper and looking forward to spending the weekend with you, Saturday night she's pissed, and Sunday morning she's practically a zombie. Since then it's been a mix of zombie and raging bitch." He never calls his surrogate daughter anything like that.

"Wow, never heard you use that word in reference to her."

"And you wouldn't if there were a nicer term to use. She is dead set on believing that whack job is moving in with you, no offense."

"None taken."

"I don't know why. Everyone and their mother has told her to at least ask you. I even had Jimmy come over for 'poker night' and mention he hadn't heard anything about you moving in with anybody new. She just stomped upstairs and slammed the door without even saying 'Goodnight' to your dad. No clue what to do here man. This is NOT the girl I've raised. I've never seen her so up and down."

Sighing, I drag my fingers through my curly hair. It's greasy. I haven't had the energy to shower in several days. "I don't know either Marcus. I'm sorry about all of this, I do care about Mindy and I want this fixed. I just don't know how."

There's a long pause, silence, and he audibly stops and starts as he struggles with whether to say or not say what he wants to. Finally, he decides to go ahead with it and damn the consequences. "She's talking about going out patrolling on her own. I can't tell if she's serious, but I'm really worried. She's only gone out on her own a few times before, and you remember what happened that last time."

I didn't think that would hurt to hear as much as it does. Whether I want to quit or not, and whether I knew deep down that the amazing super heroine that she is doesn't need me, it still feels like shit when the reality of it sinks in. When I think of her out there without me, a ball of nerves tangles in my legs and it feels like I'm squatting a Buick.

"That one time was an outlier and you know it. She can handle herself Marcus."

"It's not that I don't trust that she's capable, Dave" he chides, his voice dropping to the lowest of whispers when he says my name even though he's outside. "It's how erratic she's behaving. Mindy, you know, has a tendency to get carried away. It's part of why we love her." It really is. She's so spontaneous that it's infectious. "But that type of personality, put into a dangerous situation? I just feel like she needs someone to watch her back."

"She's the best I've ever seen Marcus. I've never seen anyone as skilled at anything as Mindy is at what she does" I assure him. It's true too. "She will be fine." I hate saying that.

"You haven't seen her this past week. You think she's unpredictable normally? These past seven days is a whole new stratosphere! Dave, even Ali had off nights! If James Bond didn't have his head screwed on straight, he'd get knocked into next week! I have seen her these past few days, seen how out of it she is. I promise you she will lose herself in this if she goes out alone. She's already so lost that I worry she won't get out of bed some mornings. How can I trust she won't make a mistake that you won't be there to correct? All it takes is one."

The weight in my legs is getting worse, almost pulling me down on the floor. "I understand Marcus" I sigh, rubbing my eyes tiredly. "Look, why don't you let me know if she goes out? I think I might know where she'd start. If you really want, I can watch her back. I don't think it's necessary though."

"It is" he insists.

"Fine, I want her safe too. But you have to realize that if she ever sees me helping her, there's a high likelihood that she might not talk to either of us ever again. You know that right?"

"That's a risk I'm willing to take if it means she's safe. I'd do anything for her."

I can feel myself sighing inwardly, because I know how he feels. "Me too."