Janessa could hear the dismissal in Nico’s tone and she knew there was more to this than what he was saying. Weeks ago, the stubborn, confrontational Feral would have called him on his secrets right then and there, demanding the answers he was clearly avoiding. At the moment, however, Janessa let the issue rest. She was far too weary with grief and desperate to avoid yet another argument between her and the man she loved. Convincing herself to pick her battles carefully, Janessa decided to concede to this particular issue and let Nico keep his secrets, at least for the time being.
[b “It’s ok Nico, you don’t have to tell me right now. I trust you.”] She told him, stealing a quick kiss as proof of her words. It was a hypocritical of her to expect such honesty from Nico when she herself held secrets from him. Janessa swallowed her guilt and convinced herself that her deal with the Director wasn’t something Nico needed to be involved with, and that it would be safer for everyone to keep the deal to herself.
It was a struggle, but Janessa managed not to flinch too noticeable when Andrew’s voice echoed in her mind. She hated the sensation of the imposing thoughts and just hoped it would be easier to get used to than Shadow Travel was.
[i “Thank you, Andrew. I’ll make it up to you, I swear.”] She thought in return, just as Nico announced his leave.
[b "Back to the other safehouse... alright. Could you bring Kyrah with you when you come back? She'll hate being left alone in that house."] Janessa asked with a somewhat mischievous smirk. She knew that Nico and the tiger hadn't always been on the best of terms, but they had seemed to come to an understanding over the past few months. They should be able to manage a quick trip through the shadows without killing each other... right?
[b “Be safe out there Nico! You know I couldn’t stand to lose you.”] Janessa called after him as she watched Nico disappear into the shadows, hoping that dreadful foreboding she felt was simply a reaction to their recent loss. Keelyn was still lost to the world and Emma was gone, Janessa wasn’t sure she could survive losing anyone else.
The sudden compulsion was unnerving, even for the Feral. One might think that after suffering Michael’s imposing influence or even bending to the will of her Alpha, the heroine might be more resilient to the Director’s call, or at least less unsettled by it. In truth, the summons nearly drove Tigress mad. She knew her place was here, attending to her grieving friends and loyally awaiting Nico’s return, but even delaying the silent order a few seconds was eating away at Janessa. She finally understood Jason’s unwavering obedience to the Director. Even a few moments of fighting his call was enough to prove to Janessa that this was not a matter of [i if] she relented to the order, it was a matter of [i when].
[b “Andrew, I’m sorry. I have to go. Please, make yourself at home, and take care of the Tanners for me.”] Janessa excused herself, knowing she’d need little further explanation. If the Telepath wanted, he could read her mind and pluck the truth straight from her thoughts.
[b “If Nico returns before I do… Tell him I went on patrol. He knows how anxious I get in times like these, he should believe it. Tell him I’m safe and I’ll be back soon. I’m sorry to ask so much of you… but Nico wouldn’t understand. He can’t know the truth.”] Janessa insisted, giving a last long look at her new ally before retreating to her sister’s room. There wasn’t much in the way of personal belongings, but over the past few weeks Sarah had moved some of Keelyn’s things from her former safehouse, in case she woke up. Being that Janessa was still dressed for her date with Nico, she could allow herself a moment to change. [i Perspective is everything] Jason had told her. If she convinced herself that changing to more appropriate attire would allow her to fulfill the Director’s orders better, she could allow herself a few brief moments to get ready. Of course, she had her White Tigress costume with her as well, but it felt wrong to wear in a situation like this. White Tigress was Shadow’s partner, and Janessa didn’t want that identity anywhere near the poisonous words of the Director. Instead, she dressed in tight, black pants and a dark tank top, bringing only White Tigress’ belt and weapons. She tied back her long hair and took her little sister’s mask and cloak to protect her identity. The Director knew who she was, but that didn’t mean she was looking to advertise. Once ready – and somewhat satisfied that she was not immediately recognizable as White Tigress – the feral could no longer ignore the beckoning call of the Director. She slipped out the window of her sister’s room and disappeared into the streets as she had done so many times before.
Janessa made swift progress across the city. Her natural agility, feral reactions, and parkour experience made for easy travel and the Feral couldn’t help feel nostalgic for her days as a rooftop vigilante. She hadn’t felt this much in her element in years, and she couldn’t help wondering if this was why Nico was still so inclined to taking missions on his own. The strength of numbers also came with a cost: she couldn’t use the full extent of her skills and abilities if she was worrying about her team, and as Emma’s death had proven, loss was a heavy burden to bear. Janessa forced herself to push such thoughts from her mind as she neared the Director’s call; she needed to be focused on the task at hand.
Arriving just shortly after Hyperion, the Feral was too ashamed to meet the other Super’s eyes. She knew he disapproved of her deal with the Director and she hated disappointing him. There was, however, one up side to her bargain. She owed three favours nothing more, allowing Janessa to be a little more rebellious than Jason.
[b “Calling in one of your chips already? Let’s get this over with. What do you want, Director?”]
Nico wanted to get out of the room as soon as possible, the Tanners needed space and it wouldn't be right for anyone to intrude on that. Nico trusted Michael that he would keep his word, perhaps foolishly, in any case the grieving family should be alone for now but when they needed him he would be there. He remembered what it felt like when Kate died, he hadn't taken it well and as a result had caused himself more harm by cutting off all ties with others for two years. He wouldn't let that happen to the Tanners. As the family went into another room leaving Janessa, Nico and Andrew alone. It was strange, Nico didn't know Andrew, they had never met before and had only exchanged a few words since meeting but the dark elemental felt like he could trust the telepath. He seemed like a nice enough person but what was more significant was that he seemed to want to do the right thing as well. That was in short supply these days.
[b "I know, it's hard to see your friends like she was. Emma will be missed. As for what Michael and I spoke about...it's eh...not important right now. i'm not trying to avoid the question it's just there are more important things to focus on right now."] That was only half true. Nico didn't want to lie to Janessa but he knew she would disapprove of the bargain he had struck in order to secure their safe escape away from Michael. The Charmer had been a very reasonable negotiator, not at all like the crazed enemy they had encountered at first. Nico would have to pay the piper eventually but until that time came he could be confident that his bargain had just saved the lives of all his friends.
[i [#17686e "No, I won't tell him if I don't have to. I know my ability is intrusive, that's why I try not to use it on friends or those I spend a lot of time with. I won't tell him your secrets."]] Andrew's voice sounded through Janessa's mind and if she had gotten used to the uncomfortable sensation of Shadow Travel this was a whole new sensation to get used to. Andrew had learned that knowing what your friends or family truly thought wasn't always a pleasant experience, he had learned not to use his ability on those he liked the hard way and while he had just met these people eh could see himself settling into this group easily. He had often wanted to do good, be a hero but never knew where to start and then this opportunity had fallen into his lap. He wouldn't waste this chance, he would use it to fulfil his potential. He would be the hero he wanted to be.
[b "I'm going to head back to the other safehouse, I think we're going to be here for a while and we should get some basic supplies. There was probably enough here for Sarah and Jackson but not for all of us. Don't worry I won't be long."] Nico gave Janessa a quick kiss on the cheek before melting into the shadows alone. What he said was merely a diversion, he needed to keep his end of the arrangement with Michael for now and that meant freeing the rest of the captives that Michael couldn't save. It would be dangerous but Nico knew how he would do it, he had been thinking ever since the bargain was struck and he had a solid plan. he would get the supplies from the safehouse after he was done to keep his cover with Janessa intact, he was sure she would disapprove of him lying to her.
The Director sat behind his desk reviewing various pieces of paperwork, finance forms, agent assignments, active investigations and communication memos, it was the tedious side of his job but it needed done. As it happened in one of those confidential communications he received a piece of information that he had been waiting for. A smile crept onto his face as he read the letter before setting it on fire with a lighter. There could be no trace of this for anyone else to follow. He sent a message to Hyperion that he was to report to the Director immediately before also doing something else that he had been waiting for the right opportunity for. He closed his eyes and focused his mind on the deal he made with Janessa Pierce, he would trigger that deal now. He would use the first of his three one off favours. From that moment Janessa would feel an insatiable compulsion and be drawn towards him in order to fulfil the need to serve him and that feeling wouldn't stop until she received her instructions and the favour was complete. The Director would find out first hand just how useful Janessa could be to him.
At the sound of Nico’s voice, Dylan broke away from Janessa and turned mistrusting eyes towards Nico’s new ally. Grief had made the young teen unreasonable and despite NIco’s reassurance, the Technopath showed nothing but contempt for the manipulative leader. Janessa placed a comforting hand on Dylan’s arm, feeling the need to stay close to him in his grief. While she had her own personal reasons for caution around Michael, she put her complete faith in Nico. If the Elemental said Michael would keep his word, she would believe him. Cody, on the other hand, showed no hesitation in accepting Michael’s words. He nodded gratefully and faced the man with the same respect he one held, back when he lived at the Sanctuary.
[#336699 “Thank you, Michael, for everything.”] Cody offered sincerely. Michael had been a friend and a leader to Cody when he was younger. The Sanctuary had saved him, much like it had for Laura. If it weren’t for his little brother, he never would have left. Michael’s actions surrounding their escape from the Sanctuary had certainly given Cody reason for concern and mistrust, just as it had for the others, but in light of recent events, he found it hard to deny Michael’s good intentions. After all, Cody was a traitor in the eyes of the Sanctuary, as yet, the leader still spared him and his family, gave them justice for Emma’s murder, kept them safe, gave them time to grieve, and was now allowing them to leave with no strings attached. It was obvious by the Density Shifter’s expression, he held none of the same anger and hatred that his little brother held.
As Michael addressed him directly, Dylan clenched his fists at his side. His pain made him rash, impulsive, and angry, and were it not for the tightening grip of Janessa’s hand on his arm, Dylan would have liked to put a dent in Michael’s flawless face. As it was, the teen seethed in silence, just wanting to get as far away from this place as possible.
Sensing the finality of the conversation, Cody turned his attention back to Laura, mouthing a brief but genuine word of appreciation and a hope to see her soon. It took two long years and the death of his sister to reunite the two forgotten friends and Cody was determined not to let that distance creep between them a second time. Still, much like before, the needs of his family beckoned him away from his old like at the Sanctuary. Cody stepped back towards the others. He gently lifted Emma’s motionless body into his arms and allowed Dylan to grab tightly to his wrist, completing the chain of physical contact so none of them would get lost in the Shadows during their journey home.
Sarah stared blankly at the page, rereading the same sentences over and over, still unable to absorb their meaning. Her mind was so consumed with worry and fear over the fates of her siblings that each attempt to distract herself from the dread was a pitiful failure. Little Jackson slept soundlessly in the small crib beside his mother’s bed, exhausted from the flood of desperate emotions that had filled the room recently. He hadn’t stirred in hours, since the others left the safe house. But the sensitive little tot woke with a sorrowful whine the instant the grieving brothers entered the room with their rescuers.
Sarah ignored the child for the moment, letting the book slip from her fingers and she bolted to her feet. Her eyes first fell upon Nico, Janessa, and the newcomer, relieved to have them back and desperate for answers. Next, her gaze met the watery eyes of her youngest brother, followed by Cody’s dull, hollow expression, and finally, to the burden in his arms. Her breath caught in her throat as she took a hesitant step forwards, silently pleading for any sign of life in the too-still speedster’s form. Nico’s words erased all hope from the eldest sister’s mind. It was all the confirmation Sarah needed – her worst fears had come true… her sister was gone.
[#ff00ff “No... No she… She can’t… Em? No… No, no, no, no…”] The woman’s broken stutters quickly dissolved into sobs and Dylan wasted no time in running to his remaining sister and catching her in a comforting embrace. Cody took Emma to a second bedroom and gently laid her on the bed so the family could have time to mourn before they formally laid her to rest. He too joined his siblings in their sorrowful huddle, while the others left the Tanners to mourn.
Janessa, desperate for anything to distract herself from the recent loss as well as the freshly provoked fear of losing her own sister , turned her attention to Nico and Andrew. For the first time she realized how intrusive it could be to have a telepath under their roof and a flicker of fear flashed behind her eyes at the implications. If Andrew could read her mind, he would know about the deal she made with the Director… a deal she desperately wanted to keep hidden from Nico, especially in light of their recent loss. Andrew had proven himself trustworthy so far, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t share information if he thought it was best for their group.
[b “I can’t believe she’s gone… And I can’t believe Michael allowed us to leave. He had us all at our weakest and just let us go. What did you two talk about?”] She asked allowed, both out of genuine curiosity and to cover her second, silent conversation with Andrew.
[b [i “We all have secrets… for good reason. There are things I don’t want Nico to know. You won’t tell him, will you?”]] She thought pointedly toward the telepath.
The dark elemental emerged from the room with the man he considered his most dangerous foe with an agreement an strangely enough a sense of agreement. The discussions had not been easy by any means but with Andrew there he at least was forewarned whenever Michael was going to lie or use his abilities. The two enemies walked out of the room with a tentative alliance and both made their way towards the other room, the one where Janessa had gone earlier, the one where the Tanners were. As Michael opened the door and gestured for his one time enemy to enter what greeted the dark elemental was equal parts expected and horrific. From the frank exchange that Nico had with Michael he knew what to expect with Emma Tanner but seeing it didn't make it any easier. To his shame Nico had become far more calloused and hardened int he time since Kate's death and while seeing a friend dead was never easy it certainly wasn't as bad as when Kate had killed herself.
[b "His word is good enough for me."] Nico spoke hearing the last sentence Janessa spoke. Michael may be ruthless but he did still have some human emotions and even he understood what losing family was like. Nico and Michael had struck a bargain and regardless of what else he might think once Michael had given his word he never broke it.
[#cc8000 "Indeed, I am aware that our interactions thus far have been, shall we say, less than amicable but this is sacrosanct. You shall be able to leave this place unhindered, and you shall not be pursued or interfered with while you lay your sister to rest and grieve her properly."] The impossibly beautiful charmer addressed the youngest Tanner knowing exactly how little Dylan trusted him or anyone involved with The Sanctuary.
[#17686e "He's telling the truth."] The red haired telepath felt a little awkward intruding on such an intimate moment but he had been instructed to tell Nico when Michael was lying or even think about lying. That was his job and he would do what he could for this group.
[b "Thank you for your generous offer Michael, and I hope you honour to the other parts of our arrangement as well as you honour this part."] Nico's voice took on a slightly threatening tone as his mind wandered back to the meeting they had just had and the unsavoury bargain that had been struck. The dark elemental hoped that he wouldn't regret what he had done and what he had promised in return.
[#cc8000 "I don't feel it's necessary to drag this out any longer. Be on your way and know that you carry my most sincere condolences with you."] The curt dismissal was all the opportunity that Nico needed, he didn't really want to be hanging around the leader of the Sanctuary any more than strictly necessary. Nico as gently as he could took hold of Emma's cold lifeless hand and focussed on what he wanted, gradually the shadows below Andrew, Nico, Emma and Janessa started moving slowly preparing to Shadow Tarvel them back to the Sarah. Starform noticeably tensed at seeing the creeping darkness and took a few steps away from the dark swirling shapes. Soon enough the group were in the cold dark embrace of the Shadow World and were travelling as quickly as possible towards Sarah Tanner with the worst news imaginable.
The darkness made way for a small room with an unconscious Keelyn lying in a bed and Sarah sitting in the corner reading a book. Her attention would be ripped away from those pages soon enough.
[b "Sarah, I'm so so sorry..."]
[b “I’ll find the Tanners, just be careful Nico. Stay safe.”] Janessa returned the sentiment with a lingering glance as Nico and Andrew left to speak with Michael. Janessa waited until the two were out of sight before setting to her own mission. The Feral slipped off her heels and stepped soundlessly through the safehouse. Light on her feet and acutely aware of her surroundings, the Feral had little difficulty navigating the building undetected now that she was on her own. She allowed her senses to guide her, confirming Andrew’s theory of where her friends were waiting.
As she approached the door, Janessa recognized the familiar scents of Dylan, Cody, Emma, and Starform, as well as the concerning, coppery stench of blood. What truly frightened the Feral was that no matter how hard she strained her ears, she was only able to detect three heartbeats within the room. Pushing her fears aside, Janessa crept to the door and instead, focused on the voices within:
[#336699 “You know Star, the one benefit of not seeing you these past two years, is that I was able to wallow in self-pity without you nagging me. How’s a guy supposed to get any time to mope with you around?”] Cody countered, glancing up at Laura with a half-hearted, ghost of a smirk on his face – a slim reminder of that playful banter so often shared between the two in the past. Now was not the time, nor the place to jest, but Cody appreciated her support and wanted Star to know not everything had fallen apart between them over the past two years. His expression faded to a much more endearing tone one he heard Starform’s reference to him as one of her closest, most trusted friends – a position he thought he had lost a very long time ago.
Dylan, on the other hand, was less touched by Starform’s sentiment and more infuriated by it. Having been abandoned by people his entire life, the young teen didn’t cope well with loss. He channelled his pain and sadness into anger and suspicion, and despite Laura’s best efforts, there was little that could temper the boy.
[#ff6622 “Bullshit! You and Cody aren’t friends, you haven’t even spoken in years! And Michael will... wait, he’s letting us go?”] That seemed to stun the Technopath, at least long enough for Cody to offer his sincere gratitude to Laura for offering to help them get home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Dylan’s young, suspicious mind concocted a more sinister motive behind Starform’s offer.
[#ff6622 “What is Michael’s game? You can’t really expect us to believe he’s doing this just to be nice? The last time we were under Michael’s roof, he had me locked away under your supervision, he had Nico caged like an animal, and Janessa was brainwashed into attacking us! Not to mention, forcing Keelyn to be his personal bodyguard for months!”]
[#336699 “Dylan…”] Cody cautioned, not wanting his little brother to get out of hand. He knew Starform was trying to help and even Michael seemed to be making a peaceful effort here, but Dylan was determined to see only the worst from the two of them. The Density shifter’s words went unheeded as Dylan persisted in his argument.
[#ff6622 “He probably told you to take us home just to find out where our safe house is! Then you all be back to kill us while we sleep, is that it?”]
[#336699 “Dylan, stop this!”]
[#ff6622 “How low can you be? Pretending to be my brother’s friend to help your boss? After everything he’s…”]
[#336699 “Dammit, Dylan STOP IT!”] Finally Cody’s sharp tone cut through his little brother’s rant and the Technopath was left in a stunned silence. Neither of the Tanners felt pleased with themselves, yelling at each other across the lifeless body of their older sister. Dylan was far too emotional and far too protective to see any good in Laura or Michael, and Cody was desperate to find some shred of peace between them. It was at that moment that the Feral listening outside the room had heard enough. She slipped inside, sharp eyes glaring at Starform before flashing a concerned glance towards Cody, then Dylan, and finally coming to rest on the third Tanner lying motionless on the table. Her expression instantly twisted into one of sadness and sympathy for the brothers, especially the youngest.
The Technopath crossed the room in seconds, allowing the Feral to pull him into a hug. The years had passed so quickly, Janessa had almost forgotten how much the young boy she found living on the streets had grown. He was almost as tall as her now, stronger, more defiant that he once was… but none of that stopped the few tears from breaching the surface as he felt his pseudo-sister’s arms around his shoulders.
[b “Shadow’s speaking with Michael. Cody?”] Janessa let the unstated question linger in the air, knowing Cody would understand even without the words. As she waited for his response, her sharp eyes raked the conditions of both her friends, not liking what she saw. Cody’s back was caked with dried blood from an unhealed wound and his posture betrayed the cracked or bruised ribs, among the other less severe injuries. Dylan had been beaten by Boyd’s guards, but both brothers would have to wait to be treated until they returned home. The more important matter now was whether or not there was any immediate danger.
[#336699 “It’s safe Tigress. Starform is my friend, I trust her with my life.”] Cody stated, relieved to hear that for once Janessa took his word for it.
[b “I guess I owe you, Starform. Thank you for taking care of my pack. I just hope Michael is as true to his word. We’ve already shed enough blood today.”] At her last sentence, Janessa’s eyes fell back to Emma, wincing at the sight of her fallen ally and friend and letting the gravity of the loss sink in.
The red haired telepath closed his eyes and focussed his abilities on the building, it was tough the further away he was the harder it was to hear any specific thoughts. What he could hear was barely a whisper and not a very useful one at that. After a few minutes Andrew shook his head in disappointment.
[#17686e "I don't know what's happening, not specifically anyway. From what I can hear the general mood is tense, there are a lot of people on edge in that building. There's one more thing...there is a pretty strong feeling of grief in there as well."] Andrew was hesitant to give this information, he didn't know these people well and he might be telling them that one of their friends was dead.
[b "Janessa I don't know what we'll find in there, stay alert and be ready for anything. If Michael and his lackeys are in there we might be walking into a trap. Andrew if an impossibly beautiful man even thinks about using his abilities warn us. he's dangerous and definitely nit to be trifled with. Lets go."] Nico was on edge and ready for anything, be that a fight or run if need be, he didn't think that their new telepathic ally would be of use in a fight but it might mean that they had a slight jump on Michael if they knew that he was going to use his abilities. The three of them crept up to the building that the Tanner siblings were supposedly hiding in and as they got closer Nico could start to pick out some shapes through the windows, no doubt Janessa had seen them long ago. Motioning for them all to be silent Nico took them all back into the shadows and skimmed into the house and emerged into an empty room.
[b "Janessa, let me know if you hear anything useful."] It was painfully slow moving through the building, with what must be Michael's goons patrolling the halls, checking rooms but at least they were doing it halfheartedly, it didn't look like they expected to have to actually do anything tonight so at least they have that advantage.
[#17686e "Stop. I can hear something. I think it's the Michael you keep talking about but something doesn't seem right. Cody and Dylan are here, i'm sure of it they are just in that room over there on the right. Michael is...there is no other way to say it but he's waiting for you Shadow, and from what I can tell from his thoughts he doesn't want a fight."]
That piece of information stopped Nico in his tracks, why wouldn't Michael want to fight him and how could he possibly be waiting for Nico to arrive. This sounded like a trap, a very obvious one at that which is exactly why Nico didn't think it was one. The dark elemental was going to take a huge risk.
[b "I'm going to talk to him, Andrew you come with me I'll need your abilities if I'm going to have an honest conversation with him. Janessa you get to Cody and Dylan and find out what's going on. I'll have my communicator on so I'll be able to hear if you need to tell me something."] Nico didn't want to split up but in the circumstances it seemed like the best option. He gave the feral a quick kiss on the cheek and told her to stay safe before moving towards the door that Andrew said Michael was in. As the Dark Elemental opened the door to find the Charmer in the room with another figure sleeping in the corner.
[#cc8000 "Hello Nico, I've been expecting you. We have much to discuss."]
[#19701e "I didn't get there right away Cody, I had to work at it! If you could just move on after something like this then you wouldn't be human. it's a tragedy, an indescribable horror that no one should have to face but that's not how life works. People do face this every day as much as it hurts so you can either sulk for the rest of your life or make something out of it. You're not the only person to lose family Cody and you damn well won't be the last."] The little bit of tough love was needed in Starform's opinion, Cody was a strong, smart, sensitive man and if he continued to blame himself for Emma's death then he would never recover, he always took things hard and this was going to be the worst of all.
[#19701e "Dylan I know you don't trust me and I'm ok with that but it doesn't need to be that way. We don't have to be friends, we don't have to be allies just as long as we aren't enemies. You might believe what I say but I'll be here if you need me. Your brother was...is one of my closest most trusted friends and if he asks me to keep you safe i'll do it. You're not going to lose Cody as well, not if I can help it. I'll talk to Michael, convince him if need be but I will take you to the rest of your family."] Starform was as loyal as they came, to any that she viewed that deserved her trust and loyalty both Cody and Michael deserved her loyalty and she would find a way to make it work. Michael had agreed to let Dylan go and if it meant winning even a little bit of Cody back then the density shifter could leave as well for now at least. Michael played the long game and in time this would bring the whole Tanner family onto his side.
[#19701e "I'll prove it if you want, Michael will let me take you both back home to your family and you have my word that we won't come looking for you, we will give you time to mourn. We aren't as bad as we might seem. Please Dylan, believe me when I say that I want nothing more than for you and your brother to not be enemies. Let me show you that Michael isn't the monster that you make him out to be."]
Distressed, Sarah hadn’t even noticed the stranger in their midst until he spoke. The frightened woman turned her eyes to the newcomer with a mixture of confusion, fear, and pain. It was one thing to harbour these doubts herself – Sarah knew full well that no loving person could hide from her abilities, especially not her own flesh and blood – but to hear her fears confirmed aloud nearly broke the eldest Tanner.
[#ff00ff “Please tell me I’m wrong… please? She can’t be dead! Cody and Dylan would have called me if something happened… wouldn’t they? Nico, you have to find her!”] Sarah pleaded, hiding from her own grief behind a wall of denial.
Sarah, as the oldest and most reserved of the Tanners, had rarely lost her composure around the group. Perhaps it was her natural optimism or her abilities providing her with a constant reassurance of her family’s whereabouts. Regardless, Sarah had always been able to maintain her calm, comforting persona amidst the chaos. To see her in such a panic was proof alone how terrified she was!
[#ff00ff “Cody and Dylan, they’re here.”] Sarah said, beckoning Nico over towards one of the city maps she had pinned to the wall. Her abilities were so much sharper when she could visually see her target’s position on paper and so, in Nico’s absence, the Tanner sister had found and displayed all sorts of maps and documents across the walls of the safe house.
[#ff00ff “It’s just an old building, I don’t think I has any significance…”] She explained, not knowing its current use as a Sanctuary’s safe house. Since her abilities required her to be actively looking for a target before she could locate them, Sarah had no idea that Michael, Starform, and the other Supers were there.
[b “We should be wary, just in case. It’s not like Tech to go radio silent. If they’re not contacting us, there may be a reason. Nico, if you can get us close to the building, I should be able to sense whose inside.”] Janessa suggested, finally succeeding in calming her young nephew before passing him back to Sarah. She gave the worried sister a reassuring glance before taking Nico’s hand once more and letting him pull her into the darkness.
Emerging on the other side, Janessa needed mere seconds to reorient herself with the world around her – finally getting used to the troubling method of transportation. She closed her eyes and allowed her other senses to take hold: the varying thud of footprints – some lighter or heavier than others, and several different gates – and the distinct collection of scents – some suspiciously familiar - emanating from within, all indicating the Tanners were not alone.
[b “There’s other Supers inside. Michael’s there… so is Starform, and others I don’t recognize. Emma’s scent is there too… Nico, it smells like blood. Andrew, can you tell whats happening in there? Our friends, Dylan and Cody, are they prisoners?”]
[#336699 “There’s a difference between you and I Star. You let go, moved on, found a better path. You help people. The world is genuinely a brighter place with you in it. The same can’t be said for me.”] Cody retorted, coming to the grim realization that every time he’s tried to move forward, forgive his faults and fix his mistakes, he’s only managed to cause more damage. Emma’ death was just the latest in a long line of Cody’s heroic intentions that ended in tragedy.
The Density Shifter stole a glance towards his younger brother and late sister and thought, for the thousandth time, that it should have been him lying on that table instead of Emma. But Cody had learned at an unfortunately young age that life wasn’t fair, and no amount of wishes or pleas could change their fate after the die had been cast. The only sliver that broke through Cody’s despair was the promise of Dylan’s safety. Cody turned his eyes back to his former friend, not bothering to hide the relief, nor the touch of surprise as he understood the gravity of her words. [i With or without Michael’s permission…]
[#336699 “Thank you Laura… truly, you have no idea how much this means to me! I’ll do anything to make it up to you. As long as he gets home safe, that’s all that matters…”] Cody told her with sincere appreciation. After he had abandoned the Sanctuary, along with Starform years ago, he wasn’t sure he had earned any favours from his old friend. That Laura was still willing to honour that bond was proof she was a far better person than Cody had given her credit for.
As Starform left the room, Cody rejoined his grieving brother, already feeling Dylan’s wary gaze upon him as he took his stance. The youngest Tanner was not the naïve child he used to be. He didn’t trust Michael or Starform, and certainly didn’t believe that the [i kindness] they had been shown was from the goodness of Michael’s heart. The Sanctuary’s leader would surely want something in return, and Dylan was worried that in Cody’s state, he might just be willing to give it.
[#336699 “Don’t worry Kid, I’ll get you home soon.”] Cody offered in reassurance.
[#ff6622 “At what cost? If your master plan involves me leaving my brother behind, then forget it. I don’t care what deal you made with Starform, losing one sibling is enough.”]
As the trio emerged to find a distressed Jackson and Emma, the newcomer, Andrew seemed to stumble and have to grab onto something to stop him from collapsing onto the floor as his legs gave way. Nico had almost forgotten how disorientating Shadow Travel could be to to others. His friends had gotten used to the unnatural way that Nico travelled around the city and it was a little jarring to see someone so affected by the dark moe of transportation.
[#17686e "You're afraid that Emma is dead, aren't you?"] Andrew spoke without thinking, being able to hear people's thoughts wasn't always a good thing. Andrew had never met Emma but he knew that Sarah was her sister and that she cared deeply about her family. This was the burden of his ability, he knew things that sometimes he would rather not. Nico gave a cold look towards Andrew that shut him up quickly.
[b "Where are Cody and Dylan now? Janessa and I will go to them, check on them to see if they're ok and find out what is going on with Emma. You can count on us Sarah."] Nico looked on Dylan as a little brother now and that meant that Emma was family as well Nico would do whatever he could to find out what had happened to Emma although it was in his nature to assume the worst.
[#17686e "If it's alright I want to come with you. its obvious that Emma means a lot to all of you and while I might not know her personally I do know what it feels like to worry about family. If I can help I will."] Nico weighed up the pros and cons of this stranger coming with them, of course he had already considered the possibility that this man was some kind of trap sent by Michael but Nico's instincts told him otherwise besides having his abilities would be too useful in this scenario. In order to find Emma he was ready to accept any help available. Once Sarah had given them the location of Dylan and Cody Nico opened up a portal into the shadows and the three supers left to confront whatever lay ahead of them.
Starform stepped away from Dylan and the lifeless body of Emma in order to speak more privately with Cody and it was not an easy conversation to have. Laura was glad that she and Cody were able to talk as friends once again and it made her feel guilty that a small part of her was glad Emma was dead so that she and Cody could have this chance.
[#19701e "You can't dwell on that Cody. I'm not going to say that it wasn't your fault but you're going to need to move on. It won't be easy but if you don'y you'll lose Dylan and Sarah as well. Grief like this will consume you. You know I'm talking from experience here. I learnt to move on and so must you."] Laura had her own painful experiences of feeling responsible for the death of members of her own family, it was that which drove her to Michael and the Sanctuary. Michael taught her how to move on and that was partly why she was so loyal to him.
[#19701e "Consider it done Cody. I'll do what I can for Dylan, with or without Michael's permission. I am capable of my own thoughts and actions you know."] What she said was true, despite owing everything to Michael Laura would ensure that Dylan didn't fall into his hands if that was what Cody really wanted. Starform wouldn't betray Michael but she could do this.
[#19701e "I know what you mean. You should have seen Nico when he was with Hyperion. He was more like Michael than you could believe or maybe Michael was more like Nico...it was a long time ago anyway. It's because Nico settles for half measures, saving one or two here, breaking in for a file or to save a friend. Michael is the same but on a grander scale. Nico fights for his friends, Michael fights for his species. Let me talk to Michael about Dylan I'll see what I can do."] Laura left the room and made her way back to Michael where they engaged in a hushed conversation. To the others watching they might not be able to hear what they said but there seemed to be bit of an argument, eventually Michael nodded his head in agreement and sighed heavily. Laura smiled and gave a quick thank you to her leader and friend. Cody would get his wish, Dylan would be safe.
Janessa delighted in their evening out, grateful for the opportunity to just be themselves for once, instead of being constricted to their alter egos. It was a wonderful night, even if it was cut a little short. Once again thankful to have her full Feral abilities back, Janessa’s ears were easily sensitive enough to hear the panicked voice on the other end of Nico’s call. She gave him an assuring nod and reached for his hand across the table, when the two were interrupted by a surprising source.
Janessa wasn’t known to be the most trusting of the group, and this was certainly no exception. Her first thoughts upon hearing of the waiter’s abilities were wary suspicions: Why hadn’t he shown himself as a Super when he first noticed them? Why was he suddenly so eager to help? What if he worked for Michael? Despite her own concerns, Janessa trusted Nico’s judgement and held her tongue as the three left the restaurant and entered into the alley, away from the eyes of the Organization.
Well practiced at this stage of their relationship, Janessa didn’t hesitate to take Nico’s hand and close her Feral eyes for the predictably uncomfortable journey through the shadows. As usual, the skewed timeline of the Shadow realm made the trip seem far longer than it should have, but soon they arrived to the sounds of a crying infant and a desperate Super echoing across the safe house.
[#ff00ff “Nico! Janessa!”] Sarah was quick to greet the trio, holding the anxious child in her arms. Jackson could sense the fear and worry in the room – his own abilities making him very susceptible – and refused to settle down until Sarah did. She eagerly handed Jackson to his aunt and let Tigress take over while she explained the situation, too concerned to care that there was a stranger in their midst.
[#ff00ff “I still can’t find Emma. Cody and Dylan are together, but they’re not answering their communicators. I waited a few hours thinking I was overreacting, but I’m getting really worried Nico. I have NEVER been unable to find my siblings before! I’m scared something might have happened to Emma!”]
Dylan didn’t hold much faith in Starform’s words. With his older sister dead, his brother captive with him, and no way to contact their friends for help, Dylan was fully aware of how vulnerable he and Cody were. The last thing he was going to do was let his guard down with Michael’s right-hand. Instead, he stood beside his fallen sister, remaining silent but harbouring a wary glare towards Starform as she and his brother spoke.
Cody was far less hostile than Dylan, but even he seemed cautious around Laura. Whatever ease had been between them years ago had disappeared over time. Had he not been mourning – and had he not known Laura well enough to know she’d never take advantage of his grief – this may have been an entirely different reunion. Thankfully, there was no hostility on either side. Starform seemed genuine in her concern and Phaze was grateful for her support.
[#336699 “Thank you for coming Star… It means a lot.”] Cody admitted, finally accepting the comfort of his old friend and dropping his suspicion. He shifted towards the wall, beckoning Starform away from his grieving brother so they could talk without Dylan’s prying ears. Cody trusted Laura, but he still wasn’t entirely convinced that he could trust this random kindness from Michael. There was once a time Cody would have seen this as a show of the leader’s generosity: providing sanctuary for hurt and grieving Supers in their time of need, protecting his kind from their human enemies, and establishing order among the Supers. But recent encounters with Michael had caused him to doubt the man’s intentions: forcing his manipulative abilities on Cody and his friends, keeping Keelyn against her will, kidnapping Jackson… Cody had a right to be wary.
[#336699 “I am grateful… to you, to Michael, even Delta tried to keep Ice in line, and I do appreciate everything. This… losing Emma… it hasn’t been easy. What’s worse is knowing it was my fault…”] Cody faltered a little, reliving every choice he made that lead to Emma’s death. Now Cody was even more determined not to let the rest of his family meet the same fate.
[#336699 “I don’t know why Michael helped us after I betrayed him. I don’t know what he wants in return. Look Laura, I know you’d never act against Michael, and I would never ask you to. But if there’s any way to leave Dylan out of this… If you could talk to Michael or send Dylan back to Shadow and Tigress before anything happens…”] Cody bargained, trying to think of some way he could get Dylan home. He knew that with Michael’s abilities, it would take just a few words from the leader’s mouth to have both the Tanner brothers at his bidding, and he was desperate to shield Dylan from that fate.
[#336699 “I just want my little brother to get home safe, even if it means I have to stay here. I’ll do whatever it takes.”] Cody stated as he leaned against the wall, running a weary hand through his hand. It was rare to see such a defeated look in his eyes, but after failing to kill Vincent Boyd, losing his sister, risking his brother, and now having no sure way to fix all this, the Density Shifter couldn’t help feeling lost.
[#336699 “Fighting against Boyd today, freeing the Supers from those cells, working together for once… it makes me wonder why we were ever on different sides. Shadow and Michael hate each other, but they’re working towards the same goals, fighting the same enemies. Can’t help but wonder what we could accomplish if we all fought together.”]
[b "I like to think she would be for the most part, while my...night job is a little unconventional I like to think that I'm doing some good and that she would approve."] As a youth first discovering his powers Nico had lost his way but now he really had found his path and a lot of that was to do with the influence of Jason, Kate and of course Janessa. The dinner continued incredibly well, with stories being shared and Nico learning things about Janessa that he would never have guessed. He could see a future for Janessa and himself, he knew it was early days yet but he really cared for the woman across the table laughing at one of the few jokes he told, it seemed that the evening was perfect. Actually just talking, not having to worry about the safety of the people that he cared about was refreshing, however all of that was about to change.
The frantic voice of Sarah sounded as Nico answered his phone and even as she hinted at her fears the dire possibilities flooded through the dark elemental's own mind. Nico's mind was made up and he was preparing himself to Shadow Travel Janessa and himself out of the restaurant immediately without caring that everyone present would see what he had just done. Just as the shadows on the floor started to shift his concentration was broken by an urgent whisper in his ear from a most unlikely source.
[#17686e "Wait."] It was the waiter Andrew that spoke in Nico's ear which only served to heighten Nico's curiosity, why was this stranger telling him to stop.
[#17686e "Carefully look at that table near the door. Do you see those two men, they are off duty Organisation agents, if you use your abilities now you'll only put yourself and your friends in more danger."]
[b "How do...?"] Nico couldn't understand how this man could know these things, or how he knew what Nico was planning to do but all became clear as Andrew answered Nico's question before he had finished asking it.
[#17686e "It's because I'ma telepath, I can read minds. I know what you're thinking and it's a bad idea. Go outside into the alley behind this place, get to your friends safely, you're no good to them if you get captured. If you want I'll come with you, I don't know what you'll face but it might be useful to have someone that can know what someone is thinking on your side."] Nico thought about the proposal and it made sense, despite not knowing this new figure what he said made sense and in situations like this Nico wasn't about to throw away any advantage. In less than a minute the three of them were in the alley ready to rush to Sarah.
[b "Hold on, this isn't going to be pleasant."] The dark elemental didn't men to sound so ominous but given the turn his evening had taken he wasn't in any mood to play around.
Starform wasn't sure what she was getting herself into when she walked into the room containing the Tanners and while she wanted to comfort the brothers she was painfully aware that there was very little that she could do. Their relationship was a complicated one but she was willing to put her differences to the side for now.
[#19701e "Dylan, please... I don't want to hurt you, any of you. I know that you don't trust me Dylan but your brother does. I'm here for you."] Laura knew that this wasn't going to be an easy time for the brothers, especially the youngest Tanner who had little real experience of the death of family. Cody knew Starform, he knew she was a good person and had good intentions, he was who she needed to reason with.
[#19701e "It wasn't just my friend that killed Emma, it was Cody's friend as well, my leader is the one who is pronouncing justice on your sister's murderer and don't forget it was Michael who arranged for all of the supers to be rescued and for you to be kept safe and alone so you could mourn in peace. I didn't kidnap Jackson I rescued him from the experiments of the Organisation and Nico attacked me as much as I attacked him. There is more than one way to look at any situation Dylan but I don't want to get into politics right now."] Seeing Dylan fight so fiercely to protect what was left of their family was touching and Cody's equally protective attitude was obvious, she was relieved that there seemed to be no blame or malice in his voice, it gave her an opportunity to talk to the density shifter.
[#19701e "I'm here because it's the right thing to do, forget about the other night, you're my friend and you need friends right now. I know that we disagree about a lot of things but forget about that. Cody we've know each other for a long time and been friends for just about all of that. Of course I want you to come back to us but let's not talk about that now. What do you need? What can I do to help?"]
To hear that Nico liked his gift, brought a modest smile to Janessa’s face. She was thrilled that he appreciated her work and even more so that he was willing to wear the ring. Janessa felt that she had very little to offer Nico, so when he took her gift and gave her praise in return, she couldn’t be happier. The only thing more rewarding was to hear Nico open up about his past. He never spoke about his parents, aside from telling Janessa that they had passed. The memory he shared and the smile that lit his features brought a similar glow to Janessa’s expression.
[b “Your mother inspired your love of music? You play so beautifully, Nico, it’s such a wonderful tribute to her. She must have been very proud of you.”] Janessa commented, admiring the fondness in Nico’s voice as he spoke about his mother.
As they dined, Janessa continued to share more stories about herself and was excited to listen to all Nico had to tell her as well. For the many years the two had known each other, this was really the first time they had sat down and talked so intimately. Nico’s choice of venue was impeccable. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was perfectly suited for the occasion. What was more, the couple had spent nearly the entire evening alone together without interruption – that in itself was impressive. Of course, not everything could be so flawless on their first date. The night was drawing to a close before Nico’s phone rang with a call from a very troubled sounding Sarah.
[#ff00ff “Nico, I’m sorry! I know you and Janessa are on a date and I didn’t want to interrupt, but… I can’t find Emma! I can’t find her anywhere!”] Sarah started, accompanied by the frightened sobs of Jackson in the background, feeding off of Sarah’s panicked emotions.
[#ff00ff “I’m very aware of my siblings Nico. I hardly have to concentrated at all to find Emma or Cody or Dylan, but Emma dropped off my radar hours ago and I’ve been desperately trying ever since and I can’t find her! Nico, this had NEVER happened to me before! I’m scared she might be…”] Unable to voice her fears, Sarah let the fatal possibility linger in the air. She desperately hoped she was overreacting, but in Sarah’s experience there was no way any living person could hide from her abilities!
While Michael passed his judgement in the other room, the Tanner brother’s sat in silence, each on either side of their sister’s motionless form. Upon arrival, Cody and Dylan did what they could to clean their sister’s wound and lay her to rest. With her eyes closed and her hands lightly folded over the fatal hole in her chest, Emma looked almost peaceful. To the brothers, however, the sight of the Speedster so unnaturally still was haunting.
The siblings had a complicated relationship. When they were young, Emma had been a protector, a guardian, and a martyr for the younger boys. As they aged, and both sisters left the family, she was treated as a traitor. But these past few months, with Emma and Sarah reunited with their brothers, the Tanners had grown closer than ever. Emma was supportive and protective, never hesitating when her brothers needed her help. Even at the safe house, Emma had found her place among the group, offering thoughtful advice or humorous wit to anyone who would care to listen. To lose her now was devastating to the brothers; and was sure to be heartbreaking news for Sarah as well, once she heard.
Dylan, still deprived of his gadgets and isolated from his abilities, was visibly on edge as he stood beside his late sister in the safe house of one of his most feared enemies. From his perspective, he and Cody were no more than prisoners here. They had no way to escape, no method of contacting the others, and no defense if Michael walked in and forced their obedience with his own persuasive abilities. It didn’t help that their silence was shattered by the desperate arguments from the other room as Ice tried to defend himself. The Elemental claimed he did what was best for the Sanctuary. He claimed that Phaze was the traitor and that killing Emma was the best way to protect the Sanctuary Supers from further harm. To Dylan, it was just a reminder that Michael was the one who determined everyone’s fate around here, and that if he and Cody weren’t careful, they could receive the same sentence as Ice.
Cody was a little less nervous than his little brother. Where Dylan thought of this as ‘behind enemy lines’ Cody was reminded of a time where this used to be his home. These people were once his friends, and that feared man in the other room was once his respected leader. It was oddly reassuring to hear Michael’s verdict and know that despite his leaving the Sanctuary, Michael still wouldn’t tolerate any crimes against Phaze and his family. Still, too much had happened in the past few years for Cody to see this place as he once did. It would take a lot more than a show of justice to wipe clean the slate between Cody and Michael. There was one, however, that stood a much better chance to mending that bridge.
[#336699 “Laura…”] Cody spoke dully as he heard his old friend enter. His eyes rose briefly to meet hers before falling back to the lifeless face of his sister with a painful grimace. Seeing Starform was just a hurtful reminder of the truth behind Emma’s death. Cody was so determined to make things right with Starform that he rushed in to Boyd’s casino unprepared, forcing his siblings to come to his rescue. If he hadn’t been so reckless or so determined to mend those burnt bridges… if he had never made enemies with the Sanctuary in the first place… maybe his sister would still be alive.
While Cody’s guilt was reflected inward, Dylan’s was directed at Michael and his followers, including Starform.
[#ff6622 “Stay the hell away from my brother! Killing Emma wasn’t enough? Now you’re here to finish Cody and I too? Just stay back!”] Dylan snapped towards Starform, though his attempts to sound fierce were lessened by the wet streaks of angry tears that slid down his cheeks.
[#336699 “She’s not going to hurt us Dylan.”]
[#ff6622 “How do you know?! It was her friend that killed Emma! It’s her leader that’s keeping us prisoner here! She’s the one that kidnapped baby Jackson, AND she attacked Shadow! How do you know she won’t just kill us both!”] The Technopath argued, stepping protectively between his brother and the Elemental. He may not have his abilities at the moment, but he wasn’t entirely defenseless . Dylan was fully prepared to fight if he had to, but Cody was there in an instant, pulling his little brother back with a firm hand on his shoulder. The brother’s exchanged a meaningful look – some silent sentiment that only the two of them could fully understand. When done, Dylan retreated back to Emma’s side, while Cody raised his grieving eyes to his former friend.
[#336699 “What are you doing here Star? You made it pretty clear you wanted nothing to do with me unless I rejoined Michael.”] Cody asked – his voice warn and heavy from his recent loss, and yet his tone bore no anger or accusation, only pain. Cody remembered ever word of their conversation the night before. Star saw him as a traitor – an enemy. She didn’t want his friendship, nor his protection unless he bowed down to Michael. If that was how she truly felt, then why was she hear now?
Nico was enjoying the pleasant night out with the smart, beautiful woman in front of him and as it turned out Janessa had a hidden talent that Nico would never have expected. It appeared that the capable woman across the table from him was a talented artist. Nico never had much luck drawing or painting, that kind of art never lent itself to his particular talents, as Janessa well knew music was where his artistic talents lay. The mention of wire art and eventually that Janessa made her own jewellery intrigued the dark elemental greatly and luckily enough he didn't have to wait long before seeing exactly what she could do with her talents.
[b "This is incredible, thank you."] Nico admired the exquisitely crafted ring, it was one of the most interesting designs that Nico had ever seen. He loved the silver band, and what was more the Shadow Stone in the centre with the peculiar polished look caught the eye in a most pleasant way. The ring was promptly slipped on his finger and Nico was sure that this piece of jewellery was going to become one of his most prized possessions.
[b "My past is fairly unremarkable all in all. My childhood was like most others but I will always remember when my mother first taught me how to play piano. She played herself and I used to watch her practice until one day she called me over and started showing me how to play myself. That's how my love for music started, from that moment on I started learning how to play anything that I could get my hands on and it was all because of my mother."] A warm smile crept across Nico's face as he spoke about those happy times with his mother, allowing Janessa a brief glimpse into what his life had been like before his parents died and he gained his abilities.
The restaurant that they were in was steadily getting busier and soon enough he food that they had ordered arrived, brought by a man named Andrew just slightly shorter than Nico himself with bright red hair. The food was exquisite. Nico really was enjoying his night with Janessa, he didn't even care that he was opening up about his past, about his family. The ring on his finger was now a reminder of what his future could hold and he was determined not to throw it all away.
Michael paced back and forth across the room with a decision to make. Normally he would handle this in his office in the Sanctuary but that was not an option right now, given Boyd's attack. He instead was in a local safehouse relatively close to the Organisation's headquarters. In front of the charmer was Ice on his knees in front of Michael with Gladiator and Delta in the corners of the room, Cody and Dylan were were in the next room with their sister's body having refused any attempt to remove the lifeless speedster from their sight. Gladiator had sent an emergency message to Michael after everything that happened at Boyd's and given how serious everything was Michael had no choice but to be there in person. Michael had done as Delta had suggested and had contacted Starform, she would be there imminently.
[#cc8000 "You have left me with little choice Ice, you killed another Super, you did this not to protect yourself, instead taking the decision to kill one of our own in cold blood. The law of the Sanctuary is absolute and I pass judgement now. Ice, I sentence you to death."] Michael was always reluctant to kill one of their own but the Sanctuary had laws and they were followed by all who called it home, even now that the place itself was under attack that didn't mean that Supers could descend into chaos. As callous as it was this might also give him the opportunity to bring Cody back into his fold, possibly bringing the rest of the Tanners with him.
[#19701e "Where is he? Where is Cody!?"] A blinding flash of light caught Michael off guard as Starform materialised in front of him, her wounds looking much better than when Michael last saw her. Her eyes were red and Michael could clearly see the tears still streaming down her face, she and Cody had been close friends before he ran from the Sanctuary.
[#cc8000 "Star, he's in the next room with his brother. I'm giving them the space he needs, rest assured Ice shall be punished. Go to him, talk to him, when you are done I'll speak to him myself. He needs a friend right now."] What Michael said was all true but he still had his own motives. If Starform could get Cody to listen to her then maybe he would be willing to rejoin her and Michael, in any case he was far more likely to talk to Starform than Michael. How things would play out the Charmer wasn't sure all that remained was for Starform to talk to the Tanners and for Michael to wait and act upon the result.
To be perfectly honest, Cody couldn’t have expected things to go any smoother. He was trying to break into a high security building – filled with armed guards and hostile Supers – in order to kill one of his main enemies, while his former friends from the Sanctuary seemed just as willing to kill him as the former. His ability to turn his own skin into a solid shield or simply allow weapons of bullets to phase right through him was easily the only reason he was still breathing after an entire night in the casino. Even so, Cody was far from unscathed: the piercing wound in his back was staining the back of his shirt with blood. There was a rather deep wound on his neck from a knife he was too slow to block, and a few bruised… possibly broken ribs from an inhumanly strong Super that managed to have Cody pinned at one point through the night. All-in-all, he was lucky to still be standing.
Despite freeing the captive Sanctuary Supers from the cells, most of them seemed more likely to fight Cody than help him, so he tried to keep his distance, only interfering if Boyd’s men got too close. He promised himself he’d make up for abandoning his old friends two years ago, and he wasn’t about to let them die now. In order to truly protect them, however, Vincent Boyd had to die. It had taken all night to fight his way back to Boyd’s secured office, but with some of the other freed Supers behind him he was finally able to face the man that had cause him and his family and friends so much misery. Unfortunately, the last few hours had given Boyd all the time he needed to get his own assurances in order…
[#ff6622 “Phaze!”] It was the first thing he saw as he stepped through the office wall with Ice and Delta: his little brother, visibly beaten and stripped of any form of technology, effectively limiting his abilities, being forcibly restrained by one of Boyd’s hired Supers. Emma sported several fresh bruises herself, but Cody figured the only thing keeping her subdued was the active threat against Dylan.
Vincent Boyd, too prideful for his own good, took great effort to stand . His victorious grin looked just as smug, even with the split lip and blackened eye. Boyd knew he had won. Cody wouldn’t risk his siblings.
[#777766 “Stand down Phaze, I’m not dying today. Your friends are going right back to their cells, and you’re going to stand there and let me put a bullet through your skull. Otherwise, it’ll be your broth and sister that get it.”] Boyd stated with confidence, flanked on either side by his hired hands and Cody’s captive siblings.
[#006600 “He’ll kill them anyway Phaze, you know that. End the bastard.”] Delta growled behind him, not wanting to lose this war due to Cody’s conscience.
[#777766 “Your brother and sister will live Phaze. They’ll go back to the cells with your friends. The only one who’s dying today is you. Now, everyone else, shut the hell up. It’s Phaze’s decision to make.”] Boyd never let his smug grin fade. He knew what Cody would chose. Heroes were so predictable… unfortunately, not all Supers considered themselves heroes.
[#99e6ff “Then I’ll help you make up your mind.”] Ice hissed, conjuring a frozen spear in her hand and hurling it towards Cody’s sister, striking the speedster straight through her chest. The room erupted in chaos.
Boyd, no longer able to rely on threats, was rushed out of the room and evacuated by his men. Ice summoned a second, unnecessary spear for Dylan, only to find herself shoved violently away by the Feral she knew from the Sanctuary. Delta hated Cody as much as any of them, but even he could see that killing the Density Shifter’s family was crossing the line. As it was, Dylan squirmed out of the distracted grasp of his captors and joined Cody on the floor beside their fallen sister. Any remaining guards were swiftly slaughtered as soon as the doors burst open to reveal Michael’s reinforcements.
Despite their best efforts, there was nothing either Cody or Dylan could do for their sister. Emma struggled for every shallow breath and clutched desperately at the piercing shard of ice, but the damage was already done. It took seconds for the Speedster’s naturally rapid pulse to slow to a stop and for the bright, spirited light in her eyes to dim. Emma died in the arms of her brothers; killed by someone Cody used to consider a friend.
When Michael’s men cleared the rest of the building, freed the remaining captives, and insisted that Cody and Dylan accompany them back to Michael, the brothers were too heavy with grieve to resist. Dylan, still deprived of his cell and communicator, couldn’t even contact Janessa and Nico for help. Cody just didn’t have the energy to fight now that his loss and his own injuries were weighting on him. He did, however, insist on bringing Emma’s body with him – wanting to bring her home for a proper burial instead of leaving her to rot with the rest of Boyd’s fallen flunkies. Whether Michael would ever let the brothers go home… that was another issue entirely.
[#006600 “Gladiator, thank you for helping us escape. I knew Michael wouldn’t abandon his people.”] Delta said, recognizing his fellow Super from the Sanctuary. The Feral cast a conflicted glance towards the two mourning brothers, being passed from one captor to another. If Michael still saw Cody as a traitor, his fate wouldn’t be much kinder there than it was here with Boyd.
[#006600 “Someone should probably tell Starform. She and Phaze used to be close.”]
While the Tanners suffered one of the worst nights of their lives, Janessa and Nico – blissfully unaware of their team’s fate – were enjoying one of their best. Janessa was thoroughly impressed with Nico’s choice of setting for their date. The peaceful walk to the restaurant was a pleasant change to their typical urgent run or shadow travel, and the venue was beautiful. Janessa had never been there before, and was a little relieved to avoid the restaurants she used to frequent with her parents and sister years ago.
[b “Janessa Pierce isn’t that impressive. I’m not as talented, or insightful, or interesting as you, Nico. I’m really just a spoiled, little, rich kid who gets in more trouble than she’s worth.”] Janessa admitted, feeling – not for the first time – that she couldn’t measure up to the man sitting across from her. With anyone else she would have brushed off the question, leaving it at that. But Nico had this special way of making her feel comfortable enough to talk about anything, and she did want to take this opportunity to get closer to him.
[b “My parents never encouraged any interests in art. They always say it was a waste of time, but loved it anyway. I used to draw and paint when I was younger. I’ve still got a book of sketches I keep stashed in my room at the safehouse… something to distract me when I’m anxious about anything.”] Janessa told him, sharing her creative side for the first time. Not even Keelyn knew about her hidden talent and love of art. It just wasn’t something Janessa ever talked about.
[b “A few years before we met, I started dabbling in wire-art and jewelry making as well. I just did it for myself… I don’t typically show people. Actually, I made something for you. I’ve been holding onto it for weeks now, not sure what you’d think. It’s kind of a silly idea…”] Tigress reached into her clutch and pulled out a small cloth pouch which she placed in Nico’s hand. Inside was a hand-crafted, silver ring. The ring was eloquently crafted, with silver wire intricately twisted to encase a dark, black, swirling stone. The band was thick polished silver with carefully carved grooves in both sides of the ring, framing the stone that almost resembled the familiar tiger stripes on White Tigress’ costume. For a simple hobby, the ring was quite elaborate and intricately done, showing that Janessa had obviously put considerable time into the piece. She almost looked nervous as she gave Nico the gift, having never shared her art with anyone, never mind the person she cared for the most.
[b “I used one of your Shadow Stones… I thought, this way, you’d always have an extra one with you in case of emergencies. It’s alright if you don’t like it, but since you asked… this is definitely a side of myself that I’ve never shown to anyone else in the world.”] Janessa admitted a little sheepishly.
[b “What about you Nico? You never talk about your past. Tell me something about yourself. What was your happiest memory as a child?”] Janessa asked. She wouldn’t directly as about his parents, knowing only that he lost them years ago. She wouldn’t ask about his life with Kate or Jason, not wanting him to relieve anything sad or traumatic. She wanted to hear about Nico’s favourite moments – the memories that made him smile. So much of Nico was still a mystery to her, and Janessa was looking forward to learning more about the man she cared for.
The information at Michael's fingertips now was incredible, after his work with Bennett and his successful manipulation of Pascal the Organisation's most formidable enemy had access to their most secret of research. The things that he had managed to learn from Lucas Lee and his predictions had informed and pushed forwards his plans immeasurably. He had always been confident that his plans would come to fruition in time but things had progressed so quickly that his endgame was quickly approaching. Since gaining access to the Organisation as a research assistant he had managed to gain so much information and power, it was staggering how little security the Organisation actually had. When he controlled the Organisation that would be one of the first thing that he would change. While his mission in the Organisation was proceeding well his role as leader of the Sanctuary had taken a bad turn lately. Boyd would get what he deserved eventually but right now he had to focus on freeing his people. He had sent some of his most trusted generals to Boyd's casino in order to free those that resided there and possibly get Cody Tanner as well. He had heard only the most vital information since he had dispatched those he trusted to the casino, it was too risky to keep in constant contact with what was left of the Sanctuary, anyone could overhear him at any minute.
[#cc8000 "I have Pascal and Bennett in my pocket, and with what Lucas Lee has told me I will soon have the Director. Then I will take back my home and kill Vincent Boyd."] Alone in a lab that he had found on one of the lower floors of the Organisation's research facility, Michael was free to talk and think without fear of discovery. He couldn't risk Bennett or anyone else finding out what he was planning, or what he had learned form Lucas. If the Organisation ever discovered what he had learned they would likely kill him on the spot. Thanks to Lucas he knew the future, he had always been able to manipulate people but now he could use that to ensure that what he wanted would come true.
[#cc8000 "Gladiator I'll meet you at our usual meeting location. Bring Tanner with you."]
Janessa looked incredible, Nico had been used to the two of them running across rooftops or breaking into the Organisation but the elegant woman standing in front of him now looked nothing like the crime fighter. Nico had always thought her beautiful but seeing her like this just highlighted it, to know that Janessa could be elegant or a fierce warrior was incredible.
[b "Janessa you look amazing."] Nico didn't say much else, he was enjoying the moment. This was probably one of the few genuinely happy moments in the last two years, he kissed her on the cheek and took her arm in his as he walked them down the street towards the restaurant that he had picked out. Nico could have Shadow Travelled them there in an instant but as Janessa disliked the quick method of transportation and Nico wanted this to be a normal date without any influence of their other lives. It was a pleasant evening, and as they arrived at the restaurant a waiter showed them to their table.
[#1d9a58 "Hi, my name is Andrew, I'll be your waiter for this evening."] As the waiter gave them their menus and talked them through the specials, Nico couldn't help but stare at Janessa across the table. She had been brought up in a life of elegance and he had been a simple kid growing up, how had he managed to end up with such a smart, sophisticated, fierce beautiful woman. He really had hit the jackpot.
[b "Tell me something about ourself, something that no one else in the world knows. Tell me about Janessa Pierce."] The dark elemental really wanted to take tonight and learn about Janessa, he had spent most of the time he had known her with White Tigress as apposed to her public counterpart.
It had been a long time since Janessa was this excited about something so positive in her life. It seemed there had been a dark cloud above the Feral’s head for years, since the day she and her little sister were kidnapped by Vincent Boyd. Since then, there had been one tragedy after another: her sister’s ‘death’, her hazardous life as a vigilante, the misfortune of her friends, her parents’ murder, Keelynn’s coma, Jason’s deal, and even her own bargain with the Director. For years, Janessa’s only thoughts of the future were fear and dread, but for once she actually had something to look forward to.
Her first priority that morning was to check on Cody, but realized to her dismay, that the Density Shifter hadn’t returned yet. When she went to question Dylan about his brother’s disappearance, he found that both he and Emma were also missing from the safehouse, leaving only a note to explain their absence.
[i “Meeting up with Cody. We’ll be back soon. Have fun on your date!”]
Though they weren’t the most reassuring of words, Janessa knew Dylan wasn’t the careless type. If he was truly in danger, he would have told her and Nico before rushing in blindly and dragging Emma along with him. So despite the nagging worry in the back of her mind, Janessa turned her thoughts to her fast-approaching dinner with Nico.
The Elemental wasn’t the only one who wanted to look nice for their date. Janessa dawned the dress she had gathered from her old house – simple, but elegant, azure in colour to match her eyes, with thin straps and a low back – nothing too extravagant, but it looked flattering on the Feral. Finishing the ensemble with low heels, light make-up, and her hair pinned up with cascading curls, it was painfully obvious now how Janessa’s close friends and family never suspected her evening activities as White Tigress. This woman, refined, poised, and gentle, was a far cry from the strong-willed, ferocity of the masked vigilante. Of course, she was not the only one who could completely change her character.
When Janessa stepped into the living room, guided by the melodic notes that Nico so eloquently played on the piano, it took her a moment to reacquaint herself with the Elemental. Not used to seeing colour with the young man, Janessa quite likes the contrast of the blue Nico wore… although, she had to admit, she did miss those black eyes. Perhaps she had just gotten used to the unique swirling shadows in Nico’s expression, but she found an odd comfort in what used to make her uneasy when the two first met.
[b “Nico… wow.”] Janessa said – unusual for the Feral to be left speechless. She wandered over to the man, stepping lightly in her heels so that the click of her steps wouldn’t interrupt his song. Whatever excitement she had this morning was increased ten-fold now that the time was here, and although the Feral wanted nothing more that to enjoy every second of this dinner, she couldn’t erase all of her concerns. Now that she saw how perfect this night was turning out to be, she couldn’t help feel unease about what might ruin the moment. What if the Tanners were in trouble? What if something happened to Keelyn and Jackson? What if they were attacked by the Organization, or Boyd, or Michael… what if the Director summoned her in the middle of their date? Janessa had only her own misfortune to blame for these fears. Every time something seemed to be going right in her life, things took a turn for the worst. Janessa could only hope that it would not be the case tonight. She wanted nothing to interrupt this one perfect night with Nico.
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