A Sure Shot into the Dark Night

Jamesyka Jadotte, Guest Writer

My name is Miles Talon, otherwise known as Nighthawk. I am the wealthiest, most powerful super villain and craftiest master thief in all of New Rociada, and have billions of dollars worth of technology at my disposal. Superheroes across the land tremble before my might, and local police forces and even the military are powerless to put a stop to my elaborate heists. There is hardly ever an instance in which I do not come out on top, and it is why I am so successful.

The only caveat to all of this is that I am one terribly lonely individual. Years and years of heists have left me with more money than I can think to do with, but money can’t buy me friends – only my fiery-headed henchman who can’t control his temper, Conor O’Connor O’McConnor. Yeah, he’s got a freakishly long name, but don’t tell him that, unless you want him to erupt. And he will, quite literally, erupt. As comical as it sometimes is, you wouldn’t want to be in his line of fire.

The one joy I get out of villaining anymore, is duking it out with my archnemesis, Sureshot. Only, he isn’t truly my archnemesis – more like my archnuisance. He and his silly group of ragtag misfits think they have a chance against me with their silly powers. Crushing their fragile hopes with the lead block of harrowing defeat would just be cruel, so I let them win. At least he’d feel like he was accomplishing something as a hero with lame powers.

That, and I was Sureshot’s best friend from high school. And I kind of like seeing his prideful little smile when he thinks he’s bested me. But that’s neither here, nor there.

“Your reign of terror is over, Nighthawk!” he exclaims from across the otherwise empty strip of asphalt, accentuating his statements with exaggerated extensions of his open hand. He sure has a flair for the dramatic, just like he always has. Even one of his female sidekicks, Aimee, the one with the high black ponytail, a bow strapped to her back, and a black belt around her waist adorned with several throwing stars, rolls her eyes. Amusement bubbles up inside me and comes out as maniacal laughter.

“Do your worst, Unsureshot,” I jeer with my hands on my hips. For a masterful supervillain, you would think I have better things up my sleeve than a petty middle school jab, but you’ll see why I make fun of it.

“That was a low blow!” Aimee shouts through cupped hands.

“So is this,” I smirk, raising my fists and suddenly flicking them towards them, which results in a nearby billboard flying off its posts that slams Aimee and Sureshot’s other two sidekicks to the ground, but doesn’t pin them to it. I’d picked the billboard up using my kinesuit, a sleek, superpowered black suit designed by yours truly, that lets me move any object of any weight from any distance without fatiguing my body. It’s also fitted with lethal talons and black wings spanning just over 12 feet.

Infuriated, Sureshot raises both his fingers to imitate guns. I still find myself amazed every time something comes out of them, no matter how random or lame it may be. He has literally Drawn this power at random from a hat, like every young adult, including me, must do in New Rociada when they become of age. His power is to shoot random objects out of his fingers as if they were bullets, and, for some reason, it’s the power he stuck with, despite how much he got picked on for it all throughout high school. Of course, this means that his superhero name is absurdly ironic, and my guess is that he knows this, because how could you be sure of what you shot out when it’s always random? Anyone would think that a power as fickle as that wouldn’t really help him in a fight, and anyone would be right.

But when a lamp and a teddy bear come out of his fingers and hit me, this powerful supervillain with literally any possible object subject to his every whim falls dramatically, just like I do every time without fail. As long as Sureshot’s friends don’t interfere, battles between us don’t usually last long, and you see why.

“Yet again,” I say, feigning a hoarse voice as he approaches me in that deliciously tight, yet horribly corny neon yellow supersuit, “You have bested me.”

Sureshot grins down at me with a triumphant flicker in his blue eyes, the brightness of his smile rivaling the harshness of his suit. But then he bends down, puts a hand on his knee and offers me the other one, his expression deepening with something like concern. It makes my brows furrow in consternation. He’s always offered me a hand, if not medical aid for my ‘injuries’, but something’s different about how he’s doing it now – it seems more earnest. Perhaps it’s because he’s completely ignored his groaning sidekicks’ injuries in favor of tending to mine. I can’t imagine why.

Scornfully, I take his hand, and try to get up as wobbly as possible to really sell the act. My hand easily dwarfs his, but his is much warmer. As deeply as his eyes look into mine, he still doesn’t seem to recognize me. The fact of the matter is that I don’t want him to. He’d just try to rehabilitate me because he thinks he knows me after all these years, and that’s not what I want. I love who I am, who I’ve become, what I’ve accomplished, and it’s all thanks to my mentor, the Mad Scientist. Before me, he was the most widely-known and feared supervillain in all of New Rociada. He taught me everything I knew about technology and villaining when I was fresh out of high school, and he’s been my father figure ever since.

Despite my many successes, the ‘rivalry’ between Sureshot and I keeps things fresh, and I like that. I don’t want it to end if he finds out who I am, so I keep it secret, though my continuous defeats by him earn me well-deserved disappointment from the Mad Scientist. Anyway, what Sureshot doesn’t know won’t hurt him, and he doesn’t need to know that I was the boy with the equally lame powers who used to call him his best friend.

Many would say I didn’t age well. But I beg to differ.

Some hours later, at the ‘Heroic Hideout’ – aka, Damian’s mom’s basement

My name is Nick Nazario, otherwise known as Sureshot. I have tasked myself with the obligation to protect the city of New Rociada from evil ever since I Drew my powers, even though they aren’t as powerful as I might make them seem. Okay, scratch that – they’re rarely ever powerful, only random.

Just a few hours ago, I managed to injure my greatest nemesis, Nighthawk, with a teddy bear and a lamp, and it seemed to have immobilized him completely, just like during every other confrontation we’ve had. It makes no sense. I’ve read about his feats all the time in the news – he is untouched by any other superhero, even my friends, Aimee, The Doorman, and the Zookeeper. How can a villain so capable, so intelligent, be knocked down by two household objects? As much as I’ve tried to convince myself that I’m a hero of some worth, just like my old friend Miles used to tell me, I know I’m not that powerful.

Aimee doesn’t have mind-reading powers, but she’s sharp enough to read my mind, anyway. “It doesn’t make any sense,” she says, echoing my thoughts as she presses an ice pack to her bruised arm. She and the others took quite a pounding from that billboard, while I was the only one who came out of that scuffle – if you could call it that – completely unscathed. My face drops in pity as I take in all of their injuries, until Aimee continues speaking. “You’re the weakest one out of all of us, Nick – no offense. Why is it that you get special treatment? Does he take pity on you because you suck? Even if he did, I don’t understand why the most powerful supervillain in the history of ever would take pity on you when he could just crush you with his fancy-shmancy kinetic suit, and then steal your wallet. Again, no offense.”

I recoil, taking offense anyway when I consider what she’s saying. I’ve known Aimee for too long to really take it to heart, though. These blatant insults are relatively tame for her.

“Ish true,” Damian, the Doorman, mumbles, spitting out a molar. Aimee cringes. “I haven’t been shut down that bad since I went through a portal I opened to my crush’s house while wearing only underwear.”

Aimee just rolls her eyes and ignores him, turning to me again. “Nick, you gotta figure this out. Unless you’re his Kryptonite or something stupid like that, then there’s no way in hell that this makes sense. I could fire arrows at his heart with my back turned and my hands tied. Sandra here can sic the whole friggin’ animal kingdom against this fool, and she doesn’t even have to ask nicely. Damian can open a portal for him straight into the ninth circle of Hell if he really wanted to, but we all know he’s too dumb to.”

“Hey!” Damian exclaims indignantly, pausing to choke on his own blood. Sandra, visibly concerned, leans in to pat his back gently and wordlessly, as usual. She then leans over to whisper to her pet hummingbird, perched in its open birdcage. The bird flits away momentarily, then returns to Damian with gauze in its beak. Damian takes it resignedly.

“Shut up, idiot, you probably broke something,” Aimee dismisses. “The point is, we’re all more than capable of giving Nighthawk the ol’ one-two. But he mows through us like grass, as you saw today, and for some reason, leaves you alone. You’ve gotta figure this out somehow, and seeing that we’re all out of commission, you’ve gotta do it yourself.”

I think back to when I’d helped Nighthawk up. For as long as our rivalry has gone on, I’ve never once seen his entire face, as most of it is covered by his signature black beaked mask. His eyes, however, calculating and silver, are left unobstructed, with the exception of the occasional wayward jet black strand of hair billowing before them. I remember seeing a look in his eyes back there that I just couldn’t place, as if he was searching desperately for something he couldn’t find.

I suppose that’s something the both of us have in common, because I think back to Miles again, someone I’ve been searching for ever since I lost him all those years ago. When he Drew his powers, he underwent some sort of identity crisis and shut me out. He wouldn’t even tell me what it was he Drew, only insisted that it was useless and dumb. Whatever it was, it caused a rift between him and his mother. I remember hearing the lapse in applause and the awkward mumbling after his name was called at graduation – he hadn’t even showed. I remember sprinting until my calves hurt and my chest was literally aching for air to his house, and his teary-eyed mother opened the door and told me he ran away.

He didn’t even say goodbye.

But before then, he’d tell me over and over again that I could really be a hero if I put my mind to it, no matter who teased me or shoved me into a locker.

If only I could’ve gotten him to take his own advice.

Nighthawk – Later that evening, at a nearby Townebank

“Just like old times, eh, my boy?” the Mad Scientist asks me. He must be referring to the times in which we’d go on heists like these together, where he’d let me work my decrypting magic on any lock that stood in our way. He winks wryly as he fits a bomb to the vault door, but what for, other than for theatrics and attracting attention, something he’s known for as the Mad Scientist?

“Sir, you know that really isn’t necessary,” I say dryly, sighing and getting down on one knee to decrypt the code on the keypad. “Oh, right! Your powers. Must’ve slipped my mind,” he chortles. “Nah, just kiddin’. I was just testing you.”

Rolling my eyes, I quickly get to work. Decrypting codes is exactly what it sounds like – it’s just evading a bunch of networks and firewalls and visualizing the strokes of fingers that leave behind oily impressions on buttons in a muddled order until it all becomes apparent. Thanks to my powers, I do it with ease, without the need for special gadgets, even though I can definitely afford them now. Back when I was starting out, though, that was the only tool in my arsenal – a tool that my overbearing mother had never approved of.

“But mom, these powers could be used for so much good! I can transcribe the lives of those that lived before us, so the rest of the world could learn!” I remember my adolescent self exclaiming, passion straining my voice. But my dear, stubborn mother was shortsighted. “But how do I know that’s what you’re going to do? How do I know you’re not going to hang with the wrong crowd and they’re gonna get you to rob a bank with them, or hack the government, or something? It’s what your father did, after all, when he left us. I refuse to let you follow in his footsteps.”

I remember tears welling up in my eyes at the mention of my father, and my mother’s implication that I’d become anything like him when I’d done nothing to deserve this other than Draw powers that she deems suspect – powers I’d never asked for. “Mom, you know I’d never leave you. Honest. These discoveries could really help the world, and they could help us! You just need to trust me. Please.”

She didn’t trust me. She never did. To her, I was a carbon copy of my father, and nothing I said or did would ever set me apart from him. So, I made like him after all, and left.

I met the Mad Scientist when I raided his secret lab after learning he had several valuable tools in his possession that I could sell to the black market. No one could get in but him, because his entry code was an extremely difficult algorithm and would strike an alarm upon any misstep, but with my powers, I could crack it without a trace. He had a most unpredictable response when he caught me, though – he grinned a terrible grin that spanned from ear to ear, displaying rows and rows of crowded, yellowing teeth. “How’d you get in here, son?” he asked me gruffly. I gulped, looked down submissively, and told him I decrypted his access code.

“Did you, now?” he mused. “Well, that won’t do. I suppose I’ll have to make a biometric palm scanner after all. And with your skills, perhaps you can help me fund it, my boy.”

“You don’t mean.. Committing a robbery, do you?” I asked timidly.

“Why so meek? You’re committing a robbery right now, ain’t ya?”

“I guess so.” I mumbled.

“Exactly. So are you in, or are you out? You’ll get a cut of what we earn, of course.” He held out a hand to me. Tentatively, I took it. I remember his calloused grip constricting my tiny, clammy hand as we shook on it.

Thanks to my efforts and his expertise, the robbery ended up being a success, but I wasn’t prepared to simply leave his service – especially since I had nowhere else to go. I was scared to voice my concerns due to how unpredictable his personality was, but when I did, he simply slapped me on the back with a hearty laugh and pride shimmering in his eyes, and said, “I considered you my son the moment you did what hundreds of master thieves couldn’t, my boy.” Considering what I’d been through, it was more than enough for me.

A few seconds into the decrypting process, the keypad finally beeps and green letters signify the code’s success. Jackpot. The vault door opens on its own accord, revealing innumerable shelves and carts filled with gold bars and fat stacks of cash. Even after all my years of thieving, my breath tapers off at a gasp caught in my throat, and my mouth salivates with greed.

Behind me, I hear the Mad Scientist chuckling and rubbing his hands together, walking through the doorway to better take in the sheer magnitude of wealth surrounding him. He takes one bar from the shelf, raises it to his stubbly cheek, sniffs it, then groans obscenely and rubs it against his face. He’s lucky I’d disabled the cameras in the vault beforehand, but I’m definitely not lucky to have seen such a disturbing image. I feel a gag rising up in my throat. Before I can vocalize it, however, I hear a strident, “Freeze, you scoundrels!” and I don’t even need to turn around to figure out who it’s from – if not from the voice, then from the unusual choice of words.

Sure enough, it’s Sureshot, eyebrows furrowed and raising his ‘weapons’ at us. He shoots, and out comes a pair of handcuffs which he catches just in time, but even he looks briefly surprised at what he ends up shooting out. “Lucky shot,” I tease. “Would a second pair be too much to hope for?”

His eyebrows steepen. “I am to put you both under arrest.. but I need answers, Nighthawk,” he says, edging towards me with resolve in every step. I can feel my face blanching with dread. Has he figured me out? Is he going to arrest me and lock me away in some sort of villain rehabilitation clinic? Or worse, smother me with rehabilitation of his own?

“If you want answers from him, you’ll have to go through me,” the Mad Scientist sneers, reaching into his utility belt and pulling out his twin stun batons, flipping them. The metal tips crackle with silvery white bolts of electricity. I gulp in dread for Sureshot; the crazy old man had invented and patented these babies himself, with 12 million volts in each baton. Please, I telepathically implore him, even though I don’t have those powers, Don’t drive him any more insane than what he already is.

Despite the obvious danger, Sureshot erroneously elects to ignore the old man as he continues to step towards me. His fervent blue eyes burn holes into mine, like a detective’s lamp being shone in my eyes and compelling me to confess my crimes. Under the pressure, however, I manage to keep my cool.

“Answers? Well, what for?” I ask, idly examining my fingernails.

“You know better than anyone else that my powers aren’t up to snuff with yours. So why do you let me win, over and over again?” Sureshot demands.

The Mad Scientist steps forward as well, challenging him. “I don’t understand it either, but I don’t rightly know why you’re complainin’. The stuff my boy can do when he actually puts in the effort… hoo, wee! He could knock you out of the park.” The bolts of his batons crackle even more feverishly. “And so can I,” he says, his voice deepening.

“Wanna bet, old man?” Sureshot calls. “Oh, fresh meat,” the Mad Scientist replies, chuckling. “They never learn.”

As soon as he says this, he raises the charged rods and lunges them straight into Sureshot’s chest. His entire body is wracked with the violent crackling of 24 million volts at that instant, making it convulse feverishly as the old man gets in his face and yells, “I’m gonna cook you like the green little insolent pig you are! Come up against my boy, will you?” Just then, I get the urge to yell for him to stop, but the words are left suspended, choked back in my throat.

Mercifully, he yanks the batons back after a few seconds, leaving Sureshot’s body as a crumpling, writhing heap on the ground, propped up on his hands and knees and gasping for air like a fish out of water. He then takes one hand to place it on his chest briefly. The Mad Scientist grins sinisterly down at him as he steps closer, and I know at that point that he isn’t nearly done with giving Sureshot what for.

Sureshot weakly tries to retaliate with two shots, and out comes a cinder block and a picture frame. The cinder block all but bounces off the old man’s head, because his skull is reinforced with titanium that he’d put there himself, the nutcase, while his head punches straight through the canvas of the frame. Sureshot’s attacks are doing nothing but making the old man even more inclined to severely injure him, and when he unsheathes the bionic titanium arms at his flanks, I know he is going to do just that.

The six silver hands curl into fists and crash upon Sureshot’s body in quick flurries. Left hook, right hook, uppercut to the chin, jab to the gut, repeat. His face is reduced to a bruised and bleeding mess within seconds. I can feel burning tears rising up to my eyes as I remember seeing bruises just like those, purple and splotchy, each time he’d get beat up after school.

It’s then that I realize – the Mad Scientist, the man I consider my father, is nothing if not a glorified bully, and he’s hurting my best friend.

Anger rises up like fire in my chest. I raise my fists skyward and pull down. The kinesuit allows part of the ceiling to cave in over the old man, halting his feverish onslaught, while Sureshot’s body just narrowly misses the debris. I use the time I’m given to rush over to Sureshot, currently hacking and coughing up droplets of blood that stain the bright yellow of his suit. I don’t even notice that I’ve called his name until I do.

“Nick,” I say hoarsely. What was once unadulterated pride deepening the rich baritone of my voice is now sheer weakness, making my voice crack much like a prepubescent boy. But Nick does not stir at the mention of his name. His head is reeling as he drifts in and out of consciousness, his eyes opening and shutting. “Nick,” I call again, more firm this time. “You have to get up.”

Just then, I see him gently shaking his head no. “He’s… too strong,” he says weakly. “Guess my powers don’t amount to much, after all.”

Before I can respond, the Mad Scientist bursts through the rubble, stalking forward towards us. “Fraternizing with the enemy now, are we? Well, ain’t this dandy,” he says, glowering at the both of us. “Step away from the boy, son. It’s no use. He’ll be dead soon.”

I stand my ground and will for it to hold me steady, as if it was considering swallowing me whole. “No, sir,” I say.

The old man raises a gray, unkempt eyebrow, then reaches into his ear with his index finger to clean it. “Did I hear you correctly, or did you just say no to me? No to the man who made you who you are today, to the man who took you in when your mother let you walk, to the man who could’ve thrown your sorry little heinie out for trying to steal from me? Is this the thanks I get, you ungrateful little…”

“No,” I say again, my voice booming through the space. “I proved my mother right by leaving, just like she said I would. I proved her right by becoming exactly what I promised her I wouldn’t. The least I can do now… is save the last person I really care about.”

“Well, alright then, my boy,” the old man simpers, curling all eight of his hands, including his own, into fists. “En garde.”

Suddenly, it’s as if the world is moving in slow motion. His arms, both flesh and titanium, reach my mask and knock it off as his fist makes contact with my face, but before I let him land another punch, I hold onto each of his eight fists under the grip of my kinesuit, push my hands towards him, and cross them over each other so he ends up punching himself in 4 different places with each fist; in the gut, on each cheek, and in the chest. The momentum of the punches all at once knocks him off his feet and lands him in the pile of rubble again.

Being mercifully granted with even more time, I make my way to Nick again. His face seems to clear when he catches a glimpse of mine, finally unobstructed by my cumbersome hawk mask. He breathes my name, my real name, the sudden outburst making him double over with another bloodied cough. I can feel my heart swelling with warmth as I reach out to pull him into my arms and pat his back – never has my name sounded so mellifluous rolling off of somebody’s tongue. “Miles… I knew it was you. I wanted.. To save you.”

“Shhh,” I whisper, placing my index finger on his lips, swollen and dripping red. He shudders in protest. “I think it’s me doing the saving, this time,” I say with a soft smile, pressing the communications button on the side of my discarded mask to page Conor, who I’d left at the lair. “Conor. I need you to page Nick’s friends. Let them know he is in distress, and.. that he needs way needs more help than I can give him.”

Before he can say, “Right away, sir,” because something about talking to Aimee gets him all giddy inside, I hear a female voice call from behind me, “Way ahead of you.” It belongs to none other than Aimee, her statuesque body emerging from the shadows with her friends in tow.

“How did you-?” I begin to ask, incredulous.

A short black girl, one of her companions whom I’ve never heard speak, and that I assume to be the Zookeeper, the girl who can talk to animals, cuts me off coyly, saying, “A little birdie told me.”

The horrific groaning starts up again – it’s from the old man who still hasn’t kicked it, apparently. Before he can begin to attack me, though, I hear an angry, strident cawing. Flocks upon flocks of various birds make nosedives through the open ceiling and dart towards the Mad Scientist, pecking and tearing at his head and lab coat. Most are pigeons, some are falcons, others are doves which are wreaking the most havoc, but among them all.. I spot some hawks.

“Damian, can we get that portal open, please?!” Aimee yells behind her amid the chorus of caws. She reaches behind her to grab an arrow from her quiver, but her hand only grabs air. She’s also fresh out of throwing stars on her belt. She curses out loud. Just then, Conor O’Connor O’McConnor rushes over, his pale Irish face redder than ever before. Where the hell did he come from? “Use me,” he says breathlessly. Aimee makes a face at the double meaning of what he just said, but he seems completely oblivious. “Just get me mad and point me at him. I know you can do it. Come on. I’m light. You’re, like, swole. It’s amazing. And you’re so pretty. I would die for you. I-”

“Alright, alright, I get it.” Aimee says, holding up a hand. Apparently, it would seem that his allegiance to the Mad Scientist is weaker than his huge crush on Aimee, but for once, that sure helps my cause. She hoists him up in her arms and points his head towards the old man, still being endlessly tormented by the swarm of birds.

“Damian, how’s that portal coming along?!” she yells again. Damian’s face is scrunched together in concentration as he puts his index and middle fingers together on either side of his head. This is how he spawns portals – he visualizes them, where they’ll lead, and presto – they appear wherever he wills them. The process is a lot longer and physically taxing than it seems, however.

“Almost there!” he yells back. “I can barely hear you over this… cacophony. Or, should I say.. Ca-caw-phony? Huh?”

Sandra makes a displeased face, and just then, a bird splits from the flock currently harassing the Mad Scientist and instead dives to peck Damian’s head, and then goes right back to what it was doing. Damian yelps in pain.

“Damian, I’m proud of you for being able to pronounce a multi-syllable word,” Aimee begins, “but the fact that you used it for a terrible pun nullifies that completely. Mark my words, I won’t forget that.” Damian offers a meek apology.

“Anyway,” Aimee says, looking down at Conor, “I hope you know this doesn’t win you any points with me.” Conor just smiles and blushes sheepishly, the redness reaching his ears.

“Yeah, dude, she’s never gonna go out with you. Believe me, I tried. But you’re definitely not her type. She’s into brolic guys, like me. I could snap you in half, little dude,” Damian calls back.

Conor is already seething with rage in Aimee’s grip. Steam starts to pour from out of his ears and becomes thicker and thicker with each passing second, whistling louder and louder like a tea kettle. His hair also gets even redder, almost unrealistically red – red as a stoplight, like a warning that Damian should stop his insults while he’s ahead, before he erupts.

There’s only one insult Damian has to level at him that pushes Conor off the edge; “Scrub.”

With that, molten lava blasts from his hair, and thanks to Aimee’s impeccable aiming skills, the blast is controlled and melts the Mad Scientist’s limbs clean off without harming a single bird in the process. At the same time, a portal opens beneath his feet and sends him plummeting down to wherever Damian thought to send him. Sandra smiles at the birds hovering over the portal and throws bird seed and a couple dead rats on the ground as thanks. They chirp happily as they dive for their food.

As the rest of the group walks toward the portal to investigate where Damian has sent the old man, Nick’s voice catches my attention from behind me, so I turn around. He is now sitting upright on the ground. I see a multitude of gauze coverings on his face and ice compresses that weren’t there before, and am confused as to how they got there, before I see a nearby crane with a nurse’s cap holding an ice pack in its beak. I smile to myself. Sandra thinks of everything, doesn’t she? “Why did you let me win?” Nick asks me.

“Isn’t it obvious? You were my friend. I remember how passionate you were about keeping the world safe. So I thought it’d help your cause a little if the big bad villain that no one could defeat.. Surrendered only to you.” I say, placing a hand on his shoulder gently so as not to hurt him.

Nick smiles softly and rolls his beautiful baby blues. “I wish you would’ve taught me a thing or two, though. I took quite a beating back there.”

“That, you did.” I say, chuckling. Suddenly, he pulls me in for a hug, and it feels like my cheeks are on fire. His head fits perfectly in the space just under my neck, his heart pulsing just below mine, and I feel him sigh contentedly as I wrap my arms around him – gently, of course.

“You never said goodbye when you went away. I missed you, you know,” he mumbles tiredly into my ear. I smile and say, “But I’ve been here all along.”

“Yeah,” he whispers. “I guess you were.”

Behind me, I hear the squeaking of what sounds like a cell door closing, and then a couple of high-fives. Turns out Damian landed the old man in a maximum security prison cell meant for the most dangerous supervillains in all of New Rociada, even worse than the ones I’ve been to. Aimee nudges him and says she didn’t know he had it in him, and leans over to kiss him on the cheek as thanks. Before she could give Conor the same gift for helping her out in a pinch, though, he gets so jealous that he blasts off like a rocket through the hole in the ceiling, magma and all. He splits through the sky like an angry shooting star.

We all exchange looks with each other, completely silent, then burst into laughter, because what else can we do? Like I said before, seeing that kid blast off is hilarious, so long as no one else is in the line of fire – or line of lava, as it were.

Once the laughter dies down, I look back down into Nick’s eyes and lose myself in them. And then he pushes himself up on his forearms, which scares me a little because of his injuries, and presses his soft lips to mine. It’s a startling feeling and makes my heart race like it’s been given a new purpose to beat, but it’s also a welcome one, and makes me feel warm inside for the first time in years. When I feel him smile into the kiss, it’s then that I come to the conclusion that sure, I might not have aged well, but there is no definitive end to growing, to learning, to changing, to bettering yourself.

So I guess getting rehabilitated won’t be so bad, after all.

* photo via Google Images under the Creative Commons license