Warning: Adult Subject Matter and Language. Reader discretion is advised.
 

Baptism
by Scott Bennie



"And you haven't seen Sarah in... hey!" Michael shouts, pulling the bottle away from me. I reach for it, but he slaps my hand.

"Fuck you," I growl back. This is good tequila, good shit, on a night when I need it more than I have in months. I could always become superhuman and take it back from the prick without breaking a sweat, but I'd get sober in seconds if I did that. That's the biggest, shittiest thing about being a superhero... it's way too hard to be human. I repeat the obscenity. Michael holds up a finger and wags it at me like I was a dog.

Fine. I jump Michael and try to wrestle away the bottle, one arm grabbing around his waist, another reaching for the arm. Unfortunately, I'm so out of it, it's not funny. Here I am, it's two in the morning, I'm wrestling around naked in my home, and I'm getting my ass kicked by my best friend in his Armani suit.

I don't even fucking spill the tequila. Michael sets it onto a table, braces against my charge, stands me up and leans into me. As we give a shared grunt, he wrestles me to my back with such ease that I may as well change my name to "Steve Doerksen", reinforcing his leverage advantage with a wide-legged stance while pressing down hard on me, chest-against-chest. I try to kick off, wildly, but all that does is give him the opportunity to trap my legs one at a time, double-grapevine them, and hold me down in an inescapable pin.

"Bet you're getting off on this," I pant after about twenty seconds of futile kicking and struggle. Fuck, that's pathetic. In a scrap, homosexual taunts are the last refuge of the pathetic.

"Trust me farmboy, doing 'Tommy Champion self-pity vigil' is nothing to get off on," Michael replies, slapping me in the side of the head like a dumb farm animal. I attempt to bridge, but he's practically grafted his body onto mine. "You gonna behave for the next half hour?" I snarl an unintelligible response. "Work with me, Tommy!"

I grunt something that sounds vaguely affirmative, and Michael rolls off me. "I taught you to wrestle too good." I tell him, sucking wind way harder than I should. He says nothing. "You know, I love her... I thought she loved me... and then she, she... dance to the music..." I titter again. Dance to the music. That's fucking funny. "I am such a complete bag shithead. Everything's always my fucking fault." I'm drunk on self-pity as well as tequila. "Everything."

"Goddammit, calm down and sober up," Michael protests. "Jackass."

"What is it about me that people don't want to love?" I moan.

"Shit, farmboy..." Michael snaps, not at all sympathetic. "First of all, there's your frequently high blood alcohol level that turns you into a whining idiot. Second, you're an asshole who gets off on being an asshole."

"So?" I say after pondering the comment for a few befuddling seconds.

"When you're sober, you'll be able to figure that one out," Michael assures me, slapping my shoulder. "After the headache."

I lurch to my feet and stagger over to a full-length mirror, something I frequently do when there's a lot of alcohol in my system. At least the reflection's not talking back at me this time. "Look at me, Michael. The face, the body, the teeth, the eyes, the dick. Why doesn't anyone want to fuck me anymore?"

"Maybe it's because when they kiss you, there's so much tequila on your breath that it makes them want to puke." Man, Michael's having a great time at my expense.

"Fuck you..." I say. But I can't help but laugh. Disgusted, Michael gets behind me, grabs me around the waist, deadlifts me off the ground, and once again wrestles me back to the couch. I titter while he's doing it; I don't know why this is funny, but it is. I get back up and he pulls me down again. After I break out into hysterical laughter the third time we do this, he looks pissed enough to choke me.

"Farmboy..." he finally growls.

"Yeah, Mikey?" I smirk.

But clearly Michael doesn't say what he had on his mind; he takes too long to compose his thoughts. "You haven't said word one about your kid," Michael observes as he makes sure I'm secure on the couch, and he sits down beside me. "Let's stop this bullshit about Knockout."

"Why?"

"We need to talk about the real issue, okay?" Michael says. "About Bandita and her kid..."

Her kid. My boy. The fruit of my fucking loins, delivered into Bandita's vagina on a museum floor during a foiled robbery when I coerced sex from her and then turned her over to the police. "Okay." I say childishly. "We'll talk about... Jorges." My accent attempts to mock Ricardo Montalban saying "Cordoba!"

"You don't like the name?"

"Jorges." I spit. "Jorges! Who the fuck names their kid 'Jorges'?"

"Someone from Mexico, maybe?" Michael answers. "When you sober up, you should look up what it means."

"I wouldn't even call him 'George'. 'George Champion', isn't that the gayest name you've ever heard?" I say. Michael shakes his head in disgust. "Sorry, didn't mean to mock your chosen lifestyle, Mikey." Michael scowls, so I suddenly reach up and try to lasso his head in a headlock. He deftly dodges out of the way, and I nearly fall off the sofa. "Shit!"

"That's okay," Michael says, grabbing my arm to keep me from falling on my ass. "You're not the only guy who's gotten himself so fucking plastered that he couldn't tie his shoe laces."

"I ain't wearing shoes," I say, and burst out into laughter. Of course I'm not wearing shoes, I'm naked. That's as fucking funny as it gets. But Michael ain't amused; he slaps me on the chest hard enough to sting. "Ow!" I spit. "Bastard."

"Focus farmboy, focus. What are you planning to do about custody? You gonna sue her? You gonna get visitation or full custody rights of your son?"

My son. I wasn't even there when he was born. I don't even know what his birthday is, or what he weighed. I'll bet he was a big kid; I was nine pounds thirteen ounces when I popped. "I dunno." I shrug, fighting back an urge to cry. Michael nods. "I really don't know."

"Are you going to court, have you talked to your lawyers?"

"I got a meeting tomorrow with her. We're gonna talk visitation," I finally say.

"That's good," Michael says. "That's very good."

"Is it?" I question. "They've got a court order that says I have to fucking strap myself into a fucking anti-meta restraint before she'll even fucking talk to me."

"What?"

"I can just imagine it," I say. "The instant I'm strapped in that chair, she'll draw a gun, there won't be fucking nothing I can do about it, and bang! - Omega brains all over the room, and America gets what it's fucking wanted for the last two years, my dead ass in a box." Especially when it's done by someone close to normal, with a weapon every asshole on the street can use - now that's a villain the fucking country can relate to! She killed the asshole who raped her! You go girl!

"Maybe we could get Blur to go with you and watch your back," Michael suggests.

I clear my throat. The anger's sobering me, and that's not a good feeling. "I ain't going anywhere in public with anyone I care about until the bad press dies down."

Michael sighs, and the sympathy evaporates. "First self-pity, now the martyr complex. What a lovely combination."

"Well, fuck you..." I snarl. "Don't you know just how much the press loves to watch a situation snowball? They'd love to link Blur with me. I try to imitate one of the asshole commentators on MNN, but the voice just comes out as a slur. "'And in the latest development on the Omega front...'."

"Okay, you have a point," Michael says, also looking a little more sober. "But walking into a deathtrap ain't an option either. You need a plan, farmboy."

"What I need is a drink," I reply, looking for the bottle. "Drink today, plan tomorrow."

"No, no, no, no, no..." Michael says in an amused staccato, grabbing my head and forcing my attention back to him. "You're way past the point of shit-faced. That's a dangerous place to be, farmboy."

I break out into a fit of giddy laughter that causes him to turn his head and push me back on the sofa. "I thought you liked dangerous, Michael," I smirk.

"There's 'dangerous-fun' and then there's 'dangerous-stupid'. I learned the difference a long time ago."

"I'm a superhero!" I exclaim, thumping my chest. "Ain't no difference between 'fun' and 'stupid' to our breed."

"That's why I'm here," Michael says. "To be the voice of common sense when you drown what little you've got in booze."

The remark takes a few seconds to sink in, but it does. "I wish Sarah were here..." I moan pathetically.

"No you don't."

"Yes, I do!" I insist.

"Trust me. You would not want Sarah to see you right now," Michael notes. "Now let's talk solutions. Your meeting with Bandita..."

"I suppose I could bring some cops... and wear body armor... it'll make me look like a chickenshit, but..."

"Better that than dead," Michael remarks. "Okay, what does your lawyer say about your chances at visitation? She is a criminal you know."

"Who ain't violated her probation," I note. "And the courts love to slam a deadbeat dad. It makes them feel all fucking righteous and authoritarian and manly. I gotta think of some other way to handle this..."

"Do you want your kid?"

"I'll be fucked up the ass before I let the spawn of my loins grow up to become Bandito Generation Four," I snap. "No fucking Champion is going to grow up to be a criminal." Except for cousin Cynthia, who was apparently picked up for grand theft auto last year in Dallas, but we don't talk about that bitch after what she did to mom.

"But do you want him?" Michael repeats. I guess that's the question I'm trying hardest to avoid. "Do you want to be a dad?"

"You're asking me to make that decision when I'm this drunk?" I whine.

"Okay," Michael puffs. "That's it." He suddenly grabs me, lifts me out of the sofa, and begins to drag me. I know where he's taking me, but deep down I know it's warranted, so I only put up token fucking resistance. I half-heartedly wrestle him to the shower, but when he puts on the water and tries to push me in, I hook his arm, and we go tumbling together into the cascade of freezing cold water.

"Fuck!" I say when the water hits me.

"Shit!" he says when the water hits him, transforming his Tom Cruise hair into a drowned bird's nest. That's more priceless than a Mastercharge commercial.

Within seconds, despite a quick removal of his tie and suit jacket, Michael's clothes are drenched - the shower's designed to practically sandblast you with water, and it's large enough to accommodate its use in activities other than hygiene. None of which matters to us, after wrestling for a few seconds we just sit in the shower and glare at each other.

"You getting sober?" he finally asks.

"Maybe..." I smile. "Shithead!"

"Okay, I'll take that as a yes," Michael smiles, speaking up over the sound of pelting water. "Okay, enough of this shit, farmboy. Let's talk about fatherhood?"

He's right. I need to talk about this. "What's there to say? It scares the shit out of me," I admit.

"That's a start."

"Fuck!" My fuzzy brain hooks onto a realization. "What the fuck will dad say? Granddad had a bastard daughter in England he never acknowledged, and I don't think dad will ever forgive him."

"Farmboy, you gotta live for yourself, not your daddy!" Mikey shouts back.

I've beat people to a bloody pulp for saying less, but I won't today. "What about you, big man? You got bastards that you've never acknowledged?" I ask.

Michael nods. "Yep. At least two."

"You're an asshole."

"And if I'd acknowledged them at the time, my dad would have sacrificed them to the Black Priest," Michael replies. Shit! "Of course I wasn't in any shape to be a dad at the time either. Their moms would've said so."

"I'll bet that's what Bandita's saying," I moan.

"Bandita is criminally stupid, farmboy. You do realize how many of your enemies may want a piece of Omega Junior? She should have kept her goddamn mouth shut. She practically signed the kid's death warrant."

"Why do you think I got so fucking drunk!" I tell him.

"I never said you didn't have a good reason to get drunk," Michael acknowledges. "It's just that you went - surprise - way too far."

That's for sure. "Even if I didn't give a shit about my blood, the public relations fiasco alone would force me to feed them child support," I say, somehow managing a moment of clear thinking through the alcoholic haze. "Ain't it sick when that's the sort of bullshit that forces you to do your duty?"

"That shit is trivial," Michael scoffs, "Stop whining farmboy."

It's real hard to win an argument against Michael because he's always shifting gears. I sit back and breathe hard for a few seconds. Michael reaches up with his left hand and gives the tap a quick twist, then returns to his previous position in our staring contest as the last trickle of water spits on his dress shirt.

"I ain't ready to be a dad, but who the fuck is?" I finally say. "People think I'm irresponsible just because I'm an asshole and I swear a lot and shit, but fuck them! I want to be a dad. And I want my kid."

"Okay farmboy," Michael says with a slight smile, reaching out to place his hand on my shoulder, a gesture that threatens to turn into a fraternal embrace. "Okay... dad. Let's make a plan."

******

L.A. District Court, gleaming marble on concrete, warmed by the hot L.A. sun. It's the only place where a person like Bandita would be allowed to use a power negator against a superhero. If she were a confident woman, she'd be congratulating herself for the clever abuse of the legal system, but no, she's not, she's as nervous as a Texas cat at New Year's. Yeah, she's made money from the tabloids, but a superhuman child isn't something any parent wants to raise, especially when their powers are as marginal as that of the "Two-Gun Tigress". Now she cradles the infant in her arms, but the boy's every instinct is to fly away, to fly free. And she has the bruises to prove it.

Is that why you decided to let him be known to the public? A cry for help? Do you actually need the Nebraskan, the man you called a rapist, to control the golden wonder that flew out of your womb?

Her lawyers sit next to her in sullen silence, while she waits, checking a pocket watch. Omega is late. He's late to discuss the future of his own son. Perhaps there was a fight - perhaps some costumed adversary waylaid him, and he's fighting for his life above the streets of Los Angeles? Or perhaps he doesn't care, and right now he's sharing laughter, drugs, and a sweat-stained bed with a cheap Hollywood whore, leaving you waiting, alone? But you're used to that, aren't you Bandita? You were raised in a family where the trade was more important than the woman, and three generations of Villanovae cursed you for not being born a man?

"Is there any sign of him?" she asks in a timid voice.

One of the lawyers pulls his cellphone to make a quick call. "No, Miss Villanova. No sign."

She tries to hide her nervousness behind a pretty, bashful West Texas smile. "Men. They always accuse women of being late, but when something important comes up..."

It's time to make my entrance. Riding a trail of smoke, the doors fly open, and I glide into the room. The horror on their faces almost makes me smile.

"It's the Priest!" one of the guards shouts, and I can tell he's lost control of his body functions. He points a gun at me, but I fling it from his hands with a gesture, and deftly catch it. As the lawyers look on in horror, I kiss the weapon, and it disintegrates. The dust scatters onto the floor like an unholy powder.

"I have not come here to harm... a soul," I tell the guards and the lawyer. "Do not move, and all shall be well." I can see them make a conscious effort to remain still... the little people can be so cute in their clumsiness.

"I'm not afraid of you!" Bandita declares, drawing a gun from an empty holster in her left hand, while holding her child with her right. "You'd better get out of here before Omega gets here."

"I have no interest in the father," I say.

"You can't have him!" she snarls, but she doesn't pull the trigger yet. I ignore her and move close to the child. I wiggle one of his fingers. He actually smiles.

"Aren't children little wonders?" I ask, smiling broadly. "Each of them is their own independent world, waiting to be molded by primal forces they do not understand."

"Go away..." Bandita snarls, a lovely trapped animal expression on her face.

"Jorges. It means 'tiller of the soil'..." I say. I look at her hard, and the trembling Bandita drops her gun and holds Jorges close with both hands. The child starts to cry. "Did you know the name would honor its father and his background? The father you hate?"

"Please, don't hurt him..."

"Hush, the child is crying," I reply gently. I bite my finger, drawing a drop of black blood, and I mix it with the infant's streaming tears. "No tears lad, for you have a mighty destiny!"

"You won't take him..." Bandita, like most of her confused generation, seems to believe that repeating a thing will lead to its occurrence. But magic, child, is not that simple.

"I am not here to take him from you, Bandita. No mother could be better suited to my purpose than you. How fearful you are! How filled with hatred for his father!" I laugh. "You shall take the child to your bosom, and lace his mother's milk with loathing. It will make him strong, strong enough to be of use to me." I smile. "My blessings on you and your own. You will see me again soon."

With that, the doors open again, a thick smoke rolls under my feet, and I begin to fly away. She fires several rounds into my back as I depart, but these mortal instruments have no effect on my personage.

And, when I'm out of sight, I teleport into a small office, and revert back to my true identity - Omega. It's been awhile since I had to do some serious acting (and I got way too deep into the role), but I think my inner Tom Hanks managed to be convincing, in the sickest part I've ever played. Let's hope I managed to put some serious fear into the bitch.

"Why Chosen..." a voice behind me purrs. "What did you hope to accomplish with such a flattering portrayal?"

Oh shit! I instinctively pivot and direct a roundhouse in the direction of the voice. The Priest is standing there, smiling like a madman, Hellblade and Macha at his side. As soon as my fist gets within six inches of his face, my hand begins to wither, like it was aging two hundred years in a nanosecond. Mortified, I pull it back, and it reverts to normal. No wonder Avatar told me that he'd never managed to lay a hand on the bastard! In a fraction of a second, Hellblade closes the gap, dagger poised at my throat. I land a fist to his balls, grab him, and twist him around with a sudden burst of strength so I've got one arm around his throat and the second controlling his dagger hand with a hammerlock. "Would killing this bastard do anything, or would you just reanimate him?"

"So you have matured to the point where you're threatening to kill?" the Priest notes.

"Something like that," I answer.

"Given your experiences, it is to be expected," the Priest says. "Still, I did not come for another battle. They are far too commonplace in the costumed era. Bloodshed is a thing of ritual - of meaning - and is not to be entertained lightly, or without a higher purpose."

"Threatening my boy is something I take seriously, asshole!" I snap. "You don't get much 'higher' than that."

"But I did not come to threaten him, Chosen. Rather I came to congratulate you on perpetuating the family line," the Priest smirks. "Unfortunately, you have misjudged the spirit of my visit. Why you haven't even offered me the traditional cigar..."

"If I knew it'd give you cancer, I'd give you a hundred," I snarl. "If you fucking touch him..."

"We are already at war, Omega," The Priest says. "Utterly and irrevocably. There are no deterrents left at your disposal."

"If you hurt him, I'll find a way to make it worse."

"You do not have the power to make me suffer," the Priest boasts. "Ask the Protectorate or the dear little Doctor if anyone can - the answer will disappoint you. However, the argument you made to Bandita on my behalf has... piquancy. Miss Villanova will indeed teach your child to loathe you, and your efforts to manipulate her will only increase their antipathy. So borrow my cloak. Play your games. I will watch, and when the opportunity comes, I shall claim whatever soul I choose."

"Not my boy's," I snarl.

"Perhaps not. Perhaps I'll take yours in his stead." The Priest smiles. "For you are making splendid progress on the road I have prepared for you."

Shit! To make matters worse, the remark unnerves me just enough for Hellblade to break free - and to plunge his dagger deep into my stomach.

I take a deep sharp breath as he pulls the weapon out. I take a step back, blood quickly soaks my costume. He smiles and brandishes the weapon to display the blood. "Just a taste," Hellblade says. "When we're done, I'll be wearing your skin."

"Fuck you..." I say. The Priest flashes a disapproving glance, and even Macha looks a little irritated by her comrade (though when someone wears a perpetual scowl it's hard to read them). Unfortunately, with one raise of his black hand, the Priest and his posse is gone before I can even take a swing.

Okay, next time, I'll figure out a way to cancel out his teleportation. That's a promise.

I take a minute or so to let the wound close and clean off the costume, then I don the body armor and get ready for the meeting with Bandita. I hope my little stunt is going to open her up to the possibility that she may need me to help raise our boy.

******

It hasn't been a good day. First I get drunk, then I get disemboweled, then I get fucked over by the lawyers and the press. Bandita's lawyers feel that the publicity of a hearing will be good for their client, so even after my impersonation, they aren't going to give me any slack on visitation. At least the general public seems to be taking this in stride, after all, this isn't the first time a superhero's found himself on the wrong end of a paternity suit. Although the hero's never been seen before doing the deed with a supervillain on the floor of a crime scene, and there usually isn't footage of the moment of conception.

At least Nike's not going to disown me again. At least not yet.

I perform five long patrols after the meeting, concentrating on ordinary crimes and street-level shit. I've been looking way too hard for supervillains lately, spending too much time zipping around at Mach speeds throughout the western United States. The local assholes are beginning to forget what it's like to live in Omega's town, so it's time to remind them. And I've been missing the human factor an awful lot. I'm getting sick of looking at over-muscled thugs in spandex.

At some point, I'm gonna have to have a long chat with dad, but that can wait.

At 3:30 in the afternoon, it's getting close to my twice-weekly biology lab at UCLA, so I land and assume the identity of Tom Gagnon, a nebbish student who doesn't talk to anyone. Thick glasses, an okay face, and a bit of a fat boy, in short a nerd that no one's going to bother or think twice about. It's nice to be able to change shape, and this is going to be good practice should my worst case scenario ever takes place; if it ever becomes too dangerous to remain Tommy Champion, or if I ever have to fake my own death to protect dad, I'll be able to convincingly fake a new identity. Biology class is a bit of a bore, but I need the background to take those courses next summer that'll let me attempt to use my powers to repair Buck's damaged brain.

The lab ends at six, so I spend another four hours on dusk and early evening patrol, then I head back home for bed.

I signal Ralph that I'm coming in, then fly down through the skylight. Ralph gives me a quick report, and I get ready to take a shower.

"Hey farmboy," Michael intercepts me in the master bedroom as he comes out of the adjoining study, a laptop computer in his hand. Shit, I told him to meet me here hours ago! "Wasn't somebody planning on checking in with me after their meeting?"

"Sorry Mikey," I say. "I had a visit from an 'old friend', and I needed to get away and clear my head and then everything got crazy."

"Old friend?" Michael wonders.

"You know, the two thousand year 'old friend'." I explain. "The one who wears black robes, and tries to be religious, but isn't particularly good at counseling worshippers to find their salvation. That old friend."

"Oh..." Michael says. "...shit."

"He seemed more amused by the impersonation than offended," I note.

"Yeah. Of course he would," Michael snaps. "Shit!" he repeats.

"I think we reached a stalemate after Hellblade stabbed me," I say, making a small hole in my costume to show Michael the vestigial incision. "You wouldn't mind probing this magically to make sure there's no aftereffects? Curses and poisons I can't detect?"

"Okay. Good idea." Michael shrugs, gesturing at me to sit down in a chair and let him play witch doctor. He pulls out a flask with some fine herb powders, carefully pours some onto a plate, and then sets them on fire. "This is a pretty basic ritual, although you may experience some..."

"Discomfort?"

"Hell no. This is visionquest stuff - or at least it would be if you were an Apache warrior who went out into the desert and baked himself for a week. I was going to tell you it may produce a mild hallucinogenic effect." Michael's been experimenting with native American magic a lot lately.

"Cool," I smile. "You'll corrupt me yet."

"Too late for that," Michael shoots back. "But as long as you remain in your meta form, there won't be any problems."

"Thanks," I say. He instructs me to take off my clothes, so it's time to get naked again. "You never get tired of the view, do you?"

"Yep." Michael smiles as he begins to rub the ashes from the powder on my body: once on my forehead, once on the palm of each hand and the sole of each foot, and again on my chest. He passes me a small sample of the powder. "It's almost as big as your ego. Speaking of which..." He hands me a small sample of powder. "I'm gonna need you to put this on your dick," he tells me. I shrug and do it. It doesn't turn it green.

"Shouldn't any of this shit go on the wound?" I ask. Michael shakes his head.

"It's too late. By now, any curse or poison would be infesting your entire system," Michael tells me. "So I need to examine each of the eight portals to the soul."

Eight portals of the soul? What mystical bullshit is this? "The mouth isn't a portal to the soul?"

"Our soul ain't our words, it's our deeds, farmboy," Michael explains. "What we think." He points to the head. "Where we go." He points to the feet. "What we make and shape." The hands, obviously. The trials we endure." He points to the heart. "And the last one's obvious."

"We are who we fuck."

"We are definitely that, farmboy," Michael smiles. "Baa..."

"Asshole," I say. He knows how much I hate that joke.

I move aside the bed to make room for the ritual, then sit down in a lotus position. Michael intones the ritual in what I think sounds like Sumerian - I haven't a fucking clue why I'd recognize that or why he'd use that language for an Apache ritual - and then all of a sudden, my senses are overwhelmed. Scent and touch are most strongly affected - I'm burning, and my nostrils are drowning in something that smells like I'm going into one of those shops in Chinatown which positively reeks of rose blossoms and ginseng and a dozen odors I've never smelt before. Michael's words sink into my skull like music when I'm drunk, blending into a rich throb. Dizziness, electricity, both at the same time, and then there's arousal... just what the hell is this ritual?

"Is this right?" I wonder. Michael continues the chant, and then the proceedings kick into major dramatic mode. The throbbing intensifies in both my balls and my brain, and I get the sensation of falling, even though I'm sitting, even though I'm completely still. There's a pressure inside my mind, in fact, it's a pressure that's everywhere, and I begin to scream and thrash, as wave after wave of emotion washes over me. Thrash. Fight. There's flesh In my hand, the sound of cracking bone. "Michael!" I scream.

There's no reply, except a faint voice at the edge of my mind, a voice that seems to chuckle with satisfaction. Shit, I'm in danger. Something is seriously fucked with this ritual. "What the fuck are you doing to me!" I'm not sure if the scream makes it out of my lungs. I continue to feel a sense of pressure that lasts for hours - all sight and sound is completely incomprehensible - then a sense of release, but as soon as the pressure subsides, I can feel myself tucking instinctively into a fetal ball.

When I finally regain my senses, the room looks bad enough that I could apply for FEMA assistance. The bed, previously leaning against the wall, is broken into three big pieces and hundreds of splinters. A thin coat of dust, plaster scraped off the wall by an inhuman force, fills the air like cigarette smoke. "What the hell was that?" I say.

There's no direct answer, but I notice Michael, his clothes shredded and at least a dozen good-sized gashes raked over his body, is lying against the wall, groaning. Okay, whatever he did that caused this, I don't think it was intentional. "Mikey?"

Michael groans, stirs and finally composes himself to look at me. "Just what the hell was locked inside your mind?" he rasps. I can barely recognize him through the mask of blood that covers his face.

I don't have an answer. I guess Michael presumed I caused this shit, just like I presumed he was responsible. Some great friendship we've got there, eh? I wade through the wreckage and help him to a sitting position. He recoils a little from my help. "The asshole laid a trap," I say. But it's only a guess.

"It couldn't have been him," Michael says. "I would have felt his magicks."

"I would have too. Not enough dark bullshit laughter," I note. Though I did hear something. It felt female - Orchid maybe?

That's a horrible thought. I think I'd prefer it if it was the Priest.

"You've never had those sorts of subconscious defenses before," Michael interrupts; from the hand that's heavily pressing down on one of his ribs, it must hurt like a real son of a bitch to talk.

I look down at him. Subconscious defenses. "How would you know?"

Michael responds by spitting a lump of blood, a distraction from the excuse he's going to give me. "I'm a sorcerer. We know about such things."

A sorcerer who steals little pieces of my power, you bullshit artist. But I haven't brought myself to confront him on that, even though I've known for months - dammit, why haven't I worked up the balls to settle that score yet? "You look like you're in bad shape. Sorry."

"If I wanted to have a relationship with this many apologies, I'd have gotten married," Michael remarks. He can't be feeling too bad if he's cracking jokes.

"Here..." I kneel down to his level. "Let's save you the price of a fucking ambulance." I use my powers to inspect his body and heal his wounds. I expect my hand to glow and warm slightly, as magical energies akin the white blood cells (but much more selective) rush over his body.

But nothing happens. No glow, no warmth, nothing.

"What's wrong?" Michael reads my face perfectly. I try to heal him again. Again, no results.

"What the fuck?" I say. I get to my feet, and try to put on my costume. Nothing happens. I try to fly. Nada.

"What's the problem?" Michael repeats.

"Mikey, we're not in some sort of 'no-magic area', are we?"

"Definitely not," Michael says, causing his fingers to ignite to prove his point. "What's the problem, farmboy?"

A pause as big as worlds separates our sentences. "I've been crippled," I finally say.
 

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