Chapter 8 : Stained Red
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WARNING: this one is very violent.
“You were screaming.”
Elizabeth had pressed a cup of tea (herbal- the kind that her mum insisted she stock) into my hands and sat on the edge of my bed after she’d woken me up.
“Yeah. I don’t know why... you just seemed really, really scared.”
I sipped the tea. I was shivering even though I wasn’t remotely cold, covered in sweat under my covers.
“I can’t remember what I was dreaming about.”
It was a blur of images- red splattered on white and disturbing, contorted faces- in pain or laughing, I couldn’t tell which- that watched me no matter where I was.
“I always remember my nightmares,” Elizabeth shuddered.
“I don’t think it was a nightmare-“ foot, meet mouth.
She raised an eyebrow. “Let me reiterate; you were screaming. What else could it be?”
I tried to shake my head and not answer, but she kept her eyes on me so I gestured helplessly. “A warning. It might be a warning.”
The tea was actually okay, if you ignored the taste and smell.
“I don’t really believe in premonitions,” she said, after a moments’ thought.
“They’re not... premonitions, as such,” I reasoned carefully, “more... a bad feeling.”
“Speaking as a biologist- sort of- your instinct is usually right.”
I shook my head. “It’s more than that. I had one the night before my mum left, and one the night before my dad gave me the ‘do what I say or get out’ ultimatum.”
If I were to speak to someone in the ministry, they would probably tell me I had Seer blood somewhere in my roots. I wouldn’t be able to tell them if they were right or wrong.
“That’s a bit freaky. So... don’t leave the house today?”
Even at the time, I knew it was advice I would be wise to listen to, but a bad feeling was not going to stop me saving people’s lives.
“I have to go to work,” I said, forcing a yawn. “Anyway, sorry for waking you up.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I hope you’re alright. And don’t get run over by a bus today, okay?”
“Try not to.”
“See you in morning... well later today, anyway.”
At work, Mr Ryland told me Harry had a job for me to do and I needed to take a copy of the big report to him too. I was to go to his office as soon as possible. Sure enough, he was there, but I had to completely ignore Keiran’s unsubtle attempts to get my attention as I walked across to the office. Harry beckoned me in and I firmly shut the door behind me, moving to his desk and I perched on the edge of the nearest seat. I put the report on the desk.
After a few moments, I finally asked what had been bothering me. “Why shouldn’t I speak to the head of the Hit Wizards department- Rubina Selwyn, isn’t it?”
He scrawled a signature onto a paper. “What’s your opinion on the superhero?”
I sat up straight, and stared at him. “Answer my question first.”
“Not yet. What’s your opinion?”
I raised my eyebrows. “I’ll just go and talk to her if you don’t answer my question-“
I hadn’t any time to react- my wand had jumped out of my robe pocket and into his hand and he’d locked the door before I’d barely blinked. “Rebecca, please just tell me.”
Marching over to the door, I kicked it forcefully. It didn’t even shudder.
“Let me out.”
“Rebecca, tell me. I’m on your side.”
“Yeah, it certainly feels like it,” I snapped, trying to ward off the panic in being trapped. “Keeping me a prisoner. Real friendly activity.”
He made no attempt to move towards me, but my wand was in his pocket, and I hadn’t attempted wandless magic without physical contact with my wand before.
“Rebecca- Damien and I need you. But I can’t say anything until I know where you stand.”
“Not anywhere except in this room, apparently,” I said acerbically, itching to simply dive onto him to get my wand back. He appraised me, a strange look in his eyes.
“You’re a lot more forceful than you seem.”
“I’m a lot of things, sir.”
“Just- tell me. Please, Rebecca.”
After one last stomp on the door- glad that I’d worn flats- I threw my hands up in the air. “Fine! I don’t think the superhero is entirely misguided. Why?”
He smiled, eyes twinkling. “Excellent. Now, your question...” He pointed to the report with his quill. “What’s on page... 34?”
“The mugging and attempted murder of a young man. The man was taken to safety and the belongings were recovered. The mugger got four years in prison,” I said, after a moment’s thought.
Harry nodded, and then pointedly shrugged. “That’s why this is important- you’re very useful. You’re extremely clever. If the Hit Wizards, such as Ms Selwyn... who are less than obliged to be lenient with the superhero... were to realise your value, they would most likely use you to follow through their violent tactics.”
“They aren’t entirely inclined to hold out an olive branch to the superhero.”
I studied him. “Are you inclined to be violent?”
“I don’t think violence should be our first step.”
“What should our first step be?”
“This is just one man’s opinion, but I believe that an agreement could be reached.”
“What kind of agreement?”
“The kind that gives him leniency and the promise of a future.”
I fidgeted, irritated at having to read between the lines.
“So... if I were to agree with you... I should avoid the Hit Wizards?”
“It might be best.”
“And it would best, if I were to agree with you, that a report wouldn’t end up in their department?”
“If you agreed with me, yes.”
I nodded. “Shall I go back to Mr Ryland?”
“Yes. I’m glad we had this talk.”
I wanted to tell him I didn’t feel that being forcibly kept in the office meant it was a ‘talk’, and more an interrogation, but I decided against it.
I was on my lunch when Jess swept into my office.
“Mr Ryland needs to talk to you when you’ve had your break. There’s been a... development,” she said, looking flustered, already backing out again.
She shook her head. “This superhero? She’s a girl, not a guy.”
I barely noticed when she left.
I tried to steady my shaking hands when I went into Mr Ryland’s office and he told everyone- some muggle I’d saved had realised- and it would probably be all over the wizarding headlines tomorrow but we were not to say a word on it to anyone, not yet.
And, as a result of the arson attack and the subsequent muggle response to it, in that they didn’t even try to arrest her and actually tried to help her, the Hit Wizards were going to be involved in operations from now on. It was no longer simply a matter of small searches to catch her with the Aurors; there were going to be full-out, planned attacks on her.
To begin with, I could barely stand to leave the room. Why had my supposed supporters given me away on this? How could they do that to me? I needed the protection, of being a man.
On my way back from work, the muggle headlines were all on me; ‘Superhero? Nah, it’s a SuperGIRL!’ ‘Mugging Reveals Gender of our Superhero’ ‘The Exclusive 5 Page History of Supergirl’ and ‘Clues We Should Have Seen: Supergirl’.
When I got home I threw my coat in the general direction of the sofa, where it smothered Elizabeth and she shoved it off hurriedly.
“Thanks for that.”
“Sorry,” I winced, picking it off the floor. “How was your day?”
She smiled sweetly up at me, seeming very pleased with herself. “I’ve got my date tonight.”
“...what is it?” I said suspiciously.
I dropped my coat and hurried to sit next to her, taking her book from her and waving her protests away. “Tell me tell me tell me!”
“Okay, so, he kissed me-“
“He kissed you?!”
“After class- he walked me out and then just held me really close for a while and kissed me really, really slowly- god he’s hot- and told me I was beautiful and kissed me again,” she said in a flourish, practically giddy.
“He’s either a creep or perfect.”
“He’s the sweetest person I’ve ever met.”
“He’ll probably end up being the main villain, then. I’m the funky sidekick and I’m thinking it’ll be a sort of action-adventure, romance-humour type story arch. With a gorgeous, fairytale, happily-ever-after ending,” I said wistfully.
“ ‘Happily ever after’ doesn’t exist. Mystery dates, however, do,” she said, snatching her novel back.
“Yep, it’s a surprise, apparently.”
“You’re going on a first date and he’s making it a surprise? That’s a bit risky. Definitely Bad Guy behaviour.”
She rolled her eyes at me. “We’re all the heroes of our own stories, Becca, and the villains of everyone else’s.”
I pondered that for a moment. “When did you start getting so smart?”
“Since birth. I came out of the womb spewing Aristotle.”
I rolled my eyes. “ ‘the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal’. Aristotle was full of shit.”
“I was born smart, not with perspective,” she snarked back. “Anyway, shush. I’m reading.”
I relaxed into the seat next to her. The cover was bright coloured, sporadic and an unbalanced mash of ideas. “What is it?”
“Some god awful chick flick with a definite happily ever after. They’re at the ‘I love you but it can’t happen and oh, that makes me so miserable, my darling’ stage.”
“Why are you reading it then?”
“I said happily ever afters don’t exist, not that I don’t enjoy the notion of them.”
She began to prepare for her date- in an actual dress- an hour before she left, but I ensured her makeup was flawless when he knocked on the door.
“Perfect. You’ll knock him dead.”
I smiled and waved my fingers at him as she left, and decided when they’d gone that he was too cute to be the villain of anything.
My bad dream- nightmare- was still haunting me, but I had to go out and save lives. It was my job to save people, and I couldn’t abandon them. More than my obligation to the ministry, or myself, I had to help people. The choice would never be to give up because I was afraid.
Mask firmly in place, boots laced up tightly, I ventured deep into town despite rarely doing it- few muggers and thugs use hiding in plain sight as a tactic, but on that day I thought it would have been slightly safer.
My stomach was in a knot, tightening with every step I took, every nerve ending wired to react and run for minutes on end. I scattered a few drug dealers, a few gangs of boys on street corners, before I knew I was in the right place. I had turned down into a quiet housing area, and my breathing became shallow and fast. There was a newsagent and a ‘24 Hour Booze’ ahead of me, but it mostly quiet until I heard the yelp.
“Please- no, take it, take it!”
In a rush, a man sprang out of the newsagents, clutching a bag and sprinting straight towards me.
“Stop!” I barked at him, holding my hand out in front of me calmly and walking towards him, but his thoughts were useless and panicked.
-shit who the fuck oh that bitch-
“Stop right now,” I demanded, holding firm as he charged towards me, ready to block the usual poorly-aimed punch to the face-
Instead, he slammed his shoulder into my stomach and I fell heavily onto my back, winded, and was closely followed by his full weight and his hands wrestling to get my hands above my head.
“Are you afraid, little girl?” he whispered viciously, bigger and heavier than I thought he looked. Older, too. I tried to dig my nails into his hands, but he adjusted to it and squeezed tightly.
I spat upwards, and tried to manoeuvre him to between my legs. “Not of you,” I breathed, smirking.
He flinched, then shoved both of my hands into the bruising grip of one of his. “You bitch.”
Grabbed my shoulders and lifting my head, he violently smashed me back down, head cracking on the concrete below.
I barely recognized my own voice, blinded by my eyes tearing up and knowing I’d need serious medical attention, soon.
“Scared yet?” he laughed, so I blinked rapidly to see again. As I wriggled, I managed to secure him in the right place between my thighs.
He leant down, lips passing over my ear. “You know, if we were wearing less clothing, this would be very arousing.”
“I’m sure it would,” I snapped, then yanked a hand free and slammed his nose with my palm- not as powerful as I would have liked but still effective. My legs were still tight around him as he recoiled, and I kept my arms straight as I secured his shoulders with the palms of my hand and shoved a well placed foot on his waist, grabbing his elbows as he tried to pull away.
In another second, I had put both feet on his waist and shoved him backwards, hard, knocking him off balance and sliding my hands down to his wrists. Digging my nails in tightly, but before he could so much as yelp, I was balanced on the back of my neck and repeatedly driving my feet into his face, and I only let up when I felt my foot connect with the bottom of his jaw and snap his neck back, knocking him out.
I scrambled away from him, breathing ragged and shallow. I wiped away the light sheen of sweat on my forehead, and I grabbed the long-abandoned bag and ran back into the newsagent, where the shop assistant was clearly on the phone with the police.
“He’s outside. He’s tied to a lamppost, and the police can fetch him when they want to,” I told him shortly, gingerly touching the wound on the back of my head. I was bleeding quite heavily. “No rush.”
As I passed it over, I realised the bag was full of booze, cigarettes and money.
The cashier nodded, stunned, and I went back outside where his beaten and bloody body was still lying.
I dragged him- as unceremoniously as possible, by the foot- to the nearest post and tied him to it with a quick ‘incarcerous’. I threw water over him to wake him up when I heard the sirens blaring, nearer and nearer, and he swore bloody murder about his broken nose, so I told him it wasn’t my fault- my probable concussion had made me behave in a way I wouldn’t normally. He swore more, and I was tempted to knock him out again.
For the first time, I used my usual, high voice when talking to the police. I should see their uncomfortable glances at me to begin with, not quite sure how to deal with a girl, until I explained why he was as... dishevelled... as he was, suggesting a visit to A&E wouldn’t go amiss with the way I’d kicked him. Violence they could understand, apparently, because they took it in their stride with one beginning to unpick the knots I’d conjured (‘...how the hell am I supposed to undo these?’) and the other taking in everything I told them (as an ‘unofficial’ statement).
The officer pulled out his keys to saw through the rope, beginning to issue the typical ‘you are under arrest...’ drivel, whilst the other began to interview the shaken assistant.
It appeared the officer had finally freed the idiot, but I noticed too late- the officer yelled in shock, recoiling from a well-aimed blow, and the man charged at me again-
-cut your throat bitch you’re gonna die-
-and began to slash a pocketknife through the air at me. In my panic of defence, throwing my arms up in front of my face and ducking away, I concentrated on rebalancing and slamming the sole of my foot into the middle of his shin.
The crack it made confirmed a tibia break, or perhaps even fracture, but I cared very little about it when he screamed and I whacked my elbow into the back of his neck to knock him to the floor. The officers leapt on him and pinned him down whilst I retreated, shaking badly.
“You are under arrest for assault of a police officer now, too,” one of them snarled, wrestling the handcuffs on.
“-kill that bitch I HOPE YOU BLEED TO DEATH-“
“And attempted murder,” the other one muttered, sat on the guy.
I had barely noticed the cuts he had hacked into me, but when the blood began the flow down my wrist and off the tips of my fingers, I became aware of the extent of the damage.
“I think I broke his shin,” I told him faintly, wondering how much Dittany I had in stock at home.
“Try and stop the bleeding, he might have got a main artery-“ one of them suggested, searching the guy.
My arms were littered with slices that I couldn’t see, blood covering the worst of the damage, and it finally registered that my arms were shaking- I put my hands onto my head and tried to steady my breathing, ignoring the blood that dripped onto my face, clothes and into my hair.
“I don’t think he has- I don’t feel faint,” I said steadily, “but I have to go.”
“We could get you an ambulance-“
“No ambulance. I’ll take care of myself.”
I managed to stumble to around a corner and Apparate uncertainly back home- I Transfigured my outfit into a regular one and stumbled up the stairs, hands still on head to prevent further extensive bleeding, and practically fell into the flat, slamming the door behind me. I ran into my bedroom, and yanked open the chest at the end of my bed, that was enchanted to only allow me to open; full of everything I couldn’t afford Elizabeth to see.
The contents of the chest were too great- Undetectable Extension Charm- so I accio-ed the potion out and clamped my teeth down on my lip as I tried not to cry out loud when I hastily dropped it onto my skin to seal. I felt like it was blistering over- the bastard had even caught the fleshy pad of my hand and my skin was flapping open- so I curled up on the floor and rocked as I waited for the pain to subside enough.
He had cut me deeper than I thought in some places when I examined closer, because the Dittany had left three or four scars up my arms, and my clothes were saturated with blood.
I wondered if my palms were stained red permanently.
As I began to peel the top off, I uncovered that he’d got one slash on my side, but it was still just a flesh wound over my ribs, and I healed it in one go, refusing to cry out. I undressed and Vanished the clothes as quickly as I had made them. I managed to siphon most of the blood off me, but the floor was still specked with it when I heard the flats’ door open and close. I ripped the strap on my thigh with my wand off, threw it in the chest and shut the lid of it heavily. I grabbed a towel and covered the worst of my scars up, but I had no time to do anything else.
“Becca? I want to marry him and have his babies!”
“That’s great!” I answered, and I went to shut the door but she was in the way when I got there.
“I know, right? I can’t- oh my god Becca!” her eyes went wide and she took a couple of steps forward when she saw the floor. “What the he-“
I stared down at it. “Um, okay, so I-“
“Oh my god, your head! How the hell did you do that-?” She grabbed my face from behind and was brushing away hair. “You’re really bleeding badly, Becca- what happened?”
“I slipped,” I said quickly. “Hit my head- it’s not deep, I promise, just bleeding a lot. Head wounds do that. But I haven’t got concussion, I feel fine, it just needs-“
She grabbed me and guided me back into the living room, sitting me on a chair and rooting around in the freezer, and after a couple of moments throwing a bag of peas onto the table.
“Put them on your head,” she instructed, and I gently dabbed it on the wound, wincing at the cold. “Do you feel sick? Dizzy? A headache?”
Elizabeth grabbed our medicine and first aid box. “Where did you fall? I think you’ve got grit in there.”
“...I fancied a curry for tea. Never got there- some idiot must have left out a banana skin or something,” I joked, and she frowned.
“You either have a penchant for getting hurt, or you have the worst luck in the world.”
“At least it wasn’t a knife-wielding mugger that attacked me,” I offered her, but my humour was too stupid for even me to appreciate.
She shook her head. “Don’t even joke.” She yanked her laptop out of the bag and dumped it on the table, switching it on, and I finally saw the tweezers in hand. “This is gonna sting like hell, but I have to get this out, okay?”
I nodded, throwing to peas back on the table and bracing myself by gripping the edge of the table as she drew up a chair behind me.
“...your hair is absolutely soaked in blood, Becca,” she mumbled as she swept my hair out of the way.
“Yeah, it does hurt,” I brushed off.
She fell silent, and began picking out the dirt. I only jumped when she accidentally pinched my skin instead, but after a while she gathered a rhythm and I barely felt it.
“...there,” she said quietly, picking out a last couple. “I’m gonna clean it up... I don’t think,” she headed back to the medical box, abandoning the tweezers on the table, “that you’ll need stitches, and some of it’s starting to scab over already, but I want to keep an eye on you.”
The antiseptic wipe was the one who ‘stung like hell’, but eventually she was satisfied and turned to her laptop.
Listing a ton of different symptoms from the NHS website, she seemed annoyed that I had none.
“Are you sure? Not even a headache?”
“Well, next time, call me. Even if I am out or on a date. Got it?”
I nodded, wincing when individual strands of hair tugged at the wound.
“Speaking of your date- it went well?”
“He’s kind of perfect,” she shrugged, smiling to herself. “He’s really sweet and really funny. Oh, and this waitress kept hitting on him right in front of me, and I think he realised I was really bothered by it so he went after her and asked to... y’know, not. And when she came back free drinks as an apology- I can’t even fathom how he managed to be so nice that she felt bad- that when she came back over and obviously, me and her felt really awkward so he made a joke at his own expense and I’m charmed. I’m utterly, 100% charmed.”
“Is he the love of your life?”
“Not yet,” she said briskly. “Give it... ooh, three weeks and I’ll be a lovestruck idiot. At the moment I’m just a swooning idiot.”
I laughed. “Good to know. Seeing him again?”
“Saturday. Now, blood has dried all over you and it’s seriously grossing me out, so go get a shower and try not to slip over and break your arm, okay? I think your bad-luck dream... premonition thing has served its purpose. No more.”
When I had finished, taking a long time to carefully do my hair after stretching out my newly-healed arms, I examined my newest scars, and changed into my pyjamas. I was determined to go straight to bed, but Elizabeth caught me as I came out of the bathroom.
“By the way, I completely forget to say! You’ll never guess what he told me!”
“I probably won’t.”
“That Superhero? She’s a girl!”
“Yeah, she’s been kicking butt all this time and we never knew! How cool is that?”
A/N While I was writing this I kept getting sympathy pain up my arm, and it actually made it really difficult to type. Oh, how writers suffer.
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