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Jack was excited.

She could tell. There was something different in the way he carried himself after leaving Valentine. They hadn’t even announced their presence, leaving the town behind before they had a real chance to cause trouble. She hadn’t even got to scream.

At first, she considered it perhaps a change of heart, however unlikely that was. That was quickly proven wrong when he gathered them the day after leaving, explaining their next stop.

Not Brockton Bay, no. Maybe some other time, that place was a shithole after all.

Santa Mosemar.

The name was new to her. A small town in the middle of West Virginia, easily overlooked. As far as she could tell, there wasn’t anything about it that would draw them to it, except maybe for some idle fun while they figured out their next destination. All it had, by her estimates, was Blacklight. A no-name cape from a no-name town, only recently pushed into the spotlight.

But that was enough for Jack.

In very certain terms, he explained that there wouldn’t be any nominations of the usual sort, not for a town with three capes. Jack couldn’t care less about the other two, weak as they were. He’d be sure to use them appropriately, but no, he was only drawn to the new celebrity.

Some were indifferent. That stupid bitch Cherish was actually relieved. She was disappointed that she was smart enough to complain once. Only once.

Bonesaw spoke up. ‘So we aren’t recruiting him? What are we doing with him then?’ she asked, disappointed. She had to admit, she was a bit disappointed too. She wanted to see for herself if he’d be a good fit for them. She already had someone in mind she wanted to replace.

But then he spoke, and she was enraptured.

Their massacre was middling. You couldn’t call yourself a slaughterhouse if you didn’t finish the job. No, there would be no recruitment when they found him. First they’d find him, then they’d chase him, through every fucking building and every fucking street, until he couldn’t run any more and his legs gave out. Then they’d make him watch while they tore apart every single person in that stupid piece of shit town.

Then, they’d make sure the world saw. How quickly a rising star and a hope could be snuffed. It was a return to form, Jack had said, breaking the very concept of the nine down before rebuilding it. It was time to make a statement. Something so everlasting that not even their deaths would be enough to erase it.

Santa Mosemar would become a true icon, and the nine along with it as they forged into the future.

Shatterbird hid her joy behind a book.

There were times she wondered why she followed Jack. It wasn’t the handsome smile, or the charm. She wasn’t that simple, even if she didn’t bother denying the allure. Sometimes she felt as if, no matter what they did, they never did enough.

But she was reminded in that moment, as a stolen RV trudged along the road, the blue above them swallowing the sky.

And soon, everyone else would be gifted the same reminder.


========================================

May 18th, 2011.

Dana Murata stared at herself in the mirror.

Her dress was black, as clean as could be. She wore a black bob cut so severely symmetrical that she wondered if she would hurt herself with it. Her usual black and white mask had been replaced with a uniform gray, with the only features visible being her eyes.

She thought she looked ridiculous, nevermind the fact that she hated dresses. But this was a price she had to pay. Accord paid well, after all.

Yet, as she left the bathroom, immediately flanked by two waiting guards, she wondered if she’d live long enough to see that money.

She glanced ahead of her, noting the waiting form of Citrine that stood at the bottom of the stairs. Everything about her was yellow, from her mask to her lipstick to the evening gown she wore. Small gemstones decorated her mask as well, Dana recognizing them as, appropriately, citrines.

They didn’t bother saying anything to each other, with Citrine only beginning to walk with them up the stairs. Dana didn’t miss the way she was surrounded on all sides. Smart. Bad for her, but smart.

They ascended the mansion and walked the halls in complete silence, broken only by the clack of heels and dress shoes, the surprisingly apparent breathing, and the eventual creak of a door they found themselves in front of, opening to reveal...him.

Dana hated Accord.

It wasn’t something that he had done to her in particular, as this had been the first time he had ever contacted her, requesting her ‘services’. No, Accord wasn’t an enemy, but she had heard the stories. The only reasons she was here now was because she was afraid of what would happen if she refused to help him.

He sat stock still behind a wooden desk, his mask morphed into a quietly neutral position, if not a bit annoyed. Citrine entered the room and took the spot to his right, holding every part of herself in perfect form.

The man to his left was a bit more reserved with what he wore, wearing a jet black suit and an expressionless white and black mask. While the woman was content to stare straight ahead, she didn’t miss the way the man gazed at her, evaluating, judging. She did her best to ignore it.

Accord himself wore white, cleaned and pressed, and his stature did nothing to take away from the fear she felt.

Silence. Behind her, she heard the door close, and she was left alone with three people who wouldn’t blink twice at killing her for sneezing at the wrong time, or saying the wrong words, or some other nebulous shit that she wouldn’t have time to comprehend before everything ended.

So she only waited, controlling her breathing and looking at Accord, not daring to break eye contact.

Accord, after a moment, spoke in a tone so clipped and neutral that she wouldn’t have been surprised if she was told he was some sort of machine. “You know me as Accord. To my right is Citrine. To my left is Othello.”

Dana, after a moment, nodded stiffly. “I’m Firefly.”

“And you are a professional,” he continued for her, leaning back in his chair. “A skilled mercenary, and experienced as well. You’ve yet to fail a job you’ve been given.”

“I do my best,” Dana said after a moment, silently groaning before pressing on. “If I’m given a job, I do everything in my power to make sure it’s done.”

“That’s commendable. And a large part of the reason I requested your services.”

And there lay the crux of the issue. Dana didn’t dare attempt to haggle or bargain like she usually did, feeling that she’d be cutting herself out of the deal entirely so to speak.

Instead, she nodded again, and took a deep breath before continuing. “Which I am curious about. What can I help you with?”

Accord didn’t answer immediately, instead leaning forward and gazing at her. She wanted to look away, she almost had to, and she was about to readjust her position before she saw a slight, imperceptible shake of the head from Citrine.

‘Stay still,’ it seemed to convey. ‘Or you’ll regret it.’

Dana wasn’t sure whether she should feel grateful or annoyed.

Accord eventually spoke again, his tone becoming decidedly irritated. “The balance of power in Boston is fragile. I would always prefer if the...troublemakers in this city were either gone or under my employ. Nevertheless, I don’t tolerate it.”

Accord looked down to his desk, wiping away what she could only assume was a speck of dust before he continued. “A group of parahumans, The Titans, have emerged and have begun causing trouble. Already they have tilted the balance of power ever so slightly. Already they have begun to throw a wrench in what needs to be done, however unknowingly. I need that to end.”

No.

No no no.

Dana kept a scowl from her face, her words coming out slowly. “If you want me to kill them, that’s not-”

“No,” Accord interrupted. “That is not needed yet. I find myself in a particularly good mood today. You will pass along my message that they have one opportunity, only one, to either leave the city or die.”

Dana felt herself calm down, and after a moment schooled her tone into practiced neutrality. “What are you offering?”

Citrine moved forward immediately, more than likely waiting for her cue, and picked up a suitcase only to open it and swivel it around, revealing the contents to Dana.

She kept herself from whistling.

“Forty-thousand dollars. We trust this is sufficient,” Citrine explained, before closing the suitcase and setting it down again. Dana nodded, not daring to speak against the amount, before she added one final question.

“Why me? With your resources, I am sure you have others you can trust with this sort of work.”

Accord nodded. “You’d be right. But I haven’t gotten where I am by being afraid of new things. I am cautious, extremely so. But I know when to strike out. I’ve planned for this, after all. And something tells me you’ll get the job done. We have information on their location, their powers, and anything else you may need. If you accept, you’ll have a week to complete your task.”

Accord paused, before nodding once. More than likely to himself. “It goes without saying, but keep our dealings between us. Your answer?”

Inwardly, Dana sighed. They both knew what she’d say next.

========================================

Torchlight. Flashpoint. Quartz.

A group of three capes that made up the newly formed ‘Titans’, who seemed to be dipping their toes in the water when it came to crime. All three had relatively dangerous powers, each enough to make them a threat on their own, nevermind in a group.

However, they all had one inescapable flaw; they were new. By Accord’s estimates, two had triggered within the past two weeks, and one within the past three.

She shook her head. It didn’t matter now.

She sat in the passenger seat of a uniform black car, Othello sitting in the driver’s seat and looking straight ahead into a small wooded area. They were a little less than a mile away from the Titans ‘hideout’, an abandoned factory that sat on the very outskirts of Boston. She was dressed fully in her costume now, which consisted of little more than bulletproof armoring she had bought years ago from Toybox, a black trench coat, and combat gear.

Outside the entrance, in the distance, she looked through her binoculars to find two new gang recruits with six-shooters. Their clothes were mostly personalized, save for a bright yellow ‘T’ on their shirts that they apparently decided they needed. She was a bit more relieved by the guns; if they were the best they had then she wouldn’t have to worry about being shredded by some anti-tank rifle or something equally as ridiculous.

She and Othello didn’t bother talking. She was a professional, she knew that, but she never trusted herself enough to speak without letting something slip, or saying something she didn’t need to. She doubted it would go over well if she asked Othello why he was working with such a maniac.

So she waited on his signal, something that had been explained only twice and something she had taken it upon herself to beat into her brain. She tried not to think about how much this place reminded her of her first night out, how she had run into some abandoned building just like this one, looking for a fight. For a distraction.

She’d found one, and almost a decade later she had made sure to never make that same mistake, and had tried once to form a team.

Idly, she thought back to her friends. It was true that she surrounded herself with other parahumans, but to call them a team was inaccurate at best and ridiculous at worst. The closest thing to accurate was a support group. She wasn’t even officially connected to Santa Mosemar, and made sure to keep it that way.

No, she wondered what they would think if they saw where she was now. As much as she liked Russel, she knew he would approve the least of what she was doing. He was a hero, no matter how much it would hurt him. The rest would either tell her to be careful or would offer to join her, both with concern plaguing their faces. Beatrice didn’t even like when she left town, something she still felt somewhat guilty about.

Then, two snaps, and a low whistle.

She glanced away from the entrance, staring at Othello and receiving a single nod in return. It was time.

No more distractions. She needed to do this now.

She got out of the car without another word, approaching the factory at an angle that made it hard for the guards to see her. They’d get a good look once she got closer, but the extra time to prepare never hurt.

Dana took a deep breath, then in half a second twelve neon pink orbs manifested and began to slowly rotate around her, glowing dimly.

She took stock.

Her orbs, depending on what she did with them, either destroyed matter they touched and stayed near her if pink or turned into explosive...grenade things, turning yellow when she willed them forward. They were useful, but she wasn’t exactly immune to their effects, and she’d have to be careful of how she used them.

Then there was her regeneration, slow, but able to keep her alive in the long run. Less something used for combat and more generally useful.

Finally, there was her ‘Dangersense’ and her ‘Strikesense’, the first warning her if she was about to get crushed or sliced or anything sufficiently deadly and exotic. The second telling her the best way to attack someone, or at least that felt right to her.

One big power, and a bunch of small ones.

It was time.

The two guards glared at her as she approached, one raising his gun to lazily point it at her. “You might wanna fuck off, dude. This isn’t-”

Dana flicked her hand forward, and two of the twelve orbs flew forward and impacted the both of them, knocking them off their feet. One flew a good three meters and landed on his ass in the nearby grass, groaning. One slammed into the wall of the factory and slid to the ground, hacking up a lung. Both lost control of their guns as they slid away on the pavement.

There was no doubt in her mind she was heard, and she wasted no time in disintegrating the lock with one of her orbs before she kicked the door open.

The room was sparse, a worktable awash with a yellow light dimly illuminated the whole room, containing little more than two couches, three chairs, a TV, and a miniature fridge. And the occupants themselves.

Eight People. Four were only now getting up, three had various pistols pointed at her, and one wore a red and black mask, dressed in a simple lab coat...and a red hoodie.

Torchlight. A tinker with a particularly interesting specialization in light and heat. He was new, that was for sure. However, no less potential to be trouble.

Then the noise began again.

Bullets rained down upon her, tearing through her trench coat before stopping dead at her armor. She threw three orbs at the two women and single man that shot at her first, earning pained screams and a single low, wheezing groan as they fell. Torchlight struggled with some sort of red clunky tinker pistol, turning various knobs and dials with shaky hands as he looked between her and his gun, the red-pink aura of her Strikesense illuminating the space behind him.

Too slow.

With a flick of her wrist, she sent an orb curving behind his back, the explosion knocking him towards Dana with unsteady feet, where she stood waiting for him. She stepped in close, reaching forward and prying the gun from his hand, tossing it down and stepping on it before slamming a fist into his chest. Torchlight wheezed, doubling over and curling into a ball on the ground. Dana whirled around to face the remaining four, bringing up her orbs to-

"S-stop! Wait, please…"

Everyone in the room froze. Dana glanced down to see Torchlight, doing his best to raise his hands in surrender. "P-Please don't kill us. I just, we were, oh god-"

"Call off the goons," Dana interrupted. Then, in a practiced gentler tone, she continued. "I'm not gonna kill you. Give up, and you'll be okay."

A beat passed. Dana turned to see the rest of the titan members glaring at her, fiercely, itching to start the fight again.

Then, Torchlight spoke again. “E-Everyone put your weapons down please…”

Slowly, agonizingly, they all complied. Dana wasted no time in reaching for Torchlight’s hands and feet, cuffing them with zipties. Slowly, one by one, she went through the rest of them and ignored their halfhearted glares and muttered curses. She distinctly heard one younger girl call Torchlight a 'pussy', not having the patience to explain to her that he had done more to save all of their lives than she had to save her own.

Eventually, after a muttered reassurance that his pistol wouldn’t explode if she broke it, Dana placed it on the ground and stomped on it twice, reducing it to an unusable mess. She told them not to move as she reached a nearby door, opening it and finding herself staring up a flight of stairs.

One down.

The stairs themselves were needlessly cramped, and Dana slowly edged up them with a single glowing pink orb to guide her way. It eventually led to another door, which she pushed open to reveal an abandoned factory floor, rusted and creaking with obvious age. She took stock of her surroundings, noting the catwalk above and the numerous conveyor belts that seemed to cover the entire floor. She moved to the only door she could see, across the other side of the large room and slightly ajar. She narrowed her eyes and moved forward, slipping inside to find herself in another hallway. Dana paused, listening.

Silence. Either they were pretending not to know she was here, or they were gone. She hoped that it was the first option as she began a slow advance forward.

Dana was surprised Accord had agreed to her refusing to kill anybody, but she was sure it was more so because of her presentation and his good mood. One thing was clear: upstarts wouldn’t be tolerated, Accord liked his partial stranglehold on Boston too much to let someone take it from him.

She hadn’t much cared for his reasoning.

Dana reached into her pocket as she trudged down the hallway, retrieving golden knuckle dusters and placing them carefully on her knuckles. She sighed, resigned, at the prominent silver letters spelling out ‘BOSSY’, and quietly lamented that, no, nothing about her costume, her powers, or this annoyingly useful tool meshed well together.

Mathew was always a fan of stupid gifts, but maybe it was her fault for having used it for this long.

There was-

Power. Pillar. Bludgeoning. Dive.

Dangersense.

Dana threw herself backwards as the floor exploded, stumbling before rolling into a messy crouch to face...whatever had just happened. She got the answer to her unspoken question as a hulking form rose from the dust, shadowed in the cloud that formed. The cloud settled only a moment later, revealing what she could only describe as a ten foot tall golem of yellow-white diamond, stepping out of a gigantic pillar of crystal that had erupted from the ground and slammed into the ceiling, both it and the golem blocking her way forward as it crossed its arms.

Quartz. A supposed Case 53 with a particular talent for taking on larger temporary forms for a few seconds at best.

“You should have stayed home,” he mocked, his voice coming out as an impossibly deep vibration, more than likely impossible to replicate. “You don’t fuck with The Titans.”

‘Who?’ an immature part of her wanted to reply, instead keeping her mouth shut as she stared the newcomer down. Mouthing off wouldn’t help her, something she had learned, painfully, when she went after them all those years ago. Quartz was new. She knew it. He knew it. She’d leave the grandstanding to him.

Instead, she formed four orbs behind her back, keeping them small as she slowly stood. She couldn’t fuck up here. Her armor would protect her, but not against being hit by what basically amounted to a giant truck. She was sure that the last part of this little gang would be showing up any second now.

She needed to act fast. She took a second to stare down at her knuckle duster and removed it, sliding it back into her pocket with a groan. It wouldn’t help her here.

“Names Quartz,” he continued, stepping forward. “And you’re about to have one hell of-”

She didn’t let him finish.

She shot her arm forward, her orbs turning yellow as they rocketed towards Quartz. She didn’t wait to see the outcome as she ran back to the factory floor and slammed the door closed behind her, anticipating the worst as she began the process of re-summoning.

Door. Projectile. Dive.

And the worst, of course, came.

The door exploded from its hinges just after she dove to the side, nearly hitting her as it slammed to the floor and slid along with a grating metallic screech. A spiked ball of crystal rolled after it before it came to a stop, Quartz shattering the crystal around him as he emerged once more.

‘Okay’, she thought sullenly, the orbs rotating around her lazily. ‘Time to evaluate.’

Her regeneration, as thankful as she was to have it, wouldn’t do anything to save her if Quartz hit with that transforming bullshit correctly. She couldn’t rely on it. Out of all of his forms, she’d only seen the pillar and the spiked-ball so far, but she didn’t count on those being the only ones.

She paused her line of thinking as she saw him run forward before generating more crystal around him again, shaping a ball around himself as he rolled towards her at a quite frankly terrifying speed. She had plenty of time to get out of the way, even throwing three more orbs that did little else other than throw him off his course, but she knew he was trying to keep her busy. On her toes.

As if to prove her point, Quartz suddenly broke free from the ball and formed a spear, breaking it off from his arm and throwing it at her with enough force to blow scattered paper and trash away.

Spear. Projectile. Erase.

She made her orbs do the work of, just barely, erasing the weapon midair as she ran to a ladder, scrambling to climb it and throwing four more even as she resummoned them all. Quartz was good at what he did however, quickly forming a wall as her orbs impacted it, leaving Quartz, of course, unharmed.

Okay.

So.

As she found herself on the catwalk, Dana gave Quartz her best glare as he looked up at her, pacing back and forth in a twisted imitation of a lion waiting for its prey.

Her Dangersense was working wonders. It only ever warned her when her life was in true danger, and even then it took a few seconds to ‘recharge’ as it were. With how much it was being used now, she figured the new guy didn’t know that killing other capes was frowned upon. Sometimes, she lamented the fact that it just happened, and that she couldn’t control it.

But right now, she couldn’t just sit here on the backfoot. She needed to throw him off balance, surprise him somehow.

She figured she’d gotten all the time she would have when Quartz apparently got tired of waiting, taking a few steps back before reforming into a pillar, rocketing up to stand next to the catwalk. He was pulling himself out and onto the catwalk moments later, beginning a slow walk towards her. Dana focused in a panic, and the telltale pink-red aura of her Strikesense radiated not from him, but from the catwalk beneath him.

That...gave her an idea.

Dana shot three orbs again, enough to make Quartz go on the defensive with another manifested wall. By all accounts, he had her cornered, something he seemed to be proud of as he let out a rumbling laugh.

Then Dana ran at him.

Even without an obvious face, she could see the surprise in his stance as he tore his wall down and took an uncertain step back, but that was all the time she needed as her pink orbs revolved around her. She couldn’t shoot them at him without having them bleed yellow, but she didn’t need to. She got as close to him as she dared, trusting her power to guide her.

Fist. Bludgeon. Dive.

Perfect.

Quartz threw a wild haymaker, and Dana responded by diving between his legs. Six of her orbs flowed underneath the catwalk to follow her, but three sheared straight through it, weaving around him and destroying the support that held a square section of it in place.

Right underneath Quartz.

Dana scrambled to her feet, seeing Quartz now falling to the floor below. In a panic, he began forming a flattened crystallized ball around himself. She guessed that he wasn’t sure if he’d be okay or not. She decided on not as she flung eight of her orbs down to his form.

The explosion rocked the factory, shaking her and the catwalk she stood on and forcing her to regain her footing with a muffled ‘shit’. The effect on Quartz was much worse, forcing him out of his half-attempted form and propelling him to the far wall, where he sat in a heap.

Now to finish it.

Dana didn’t let up, throwing one orb at a time at him, at the wall behind him, at the floor underneath him, and anywhere in his general vicinity. Each time, he tried a new form. Each time, he was interrupted by a concussive blast, strong enough to reduce the wall and the floor around him to rubble. She cycled through forming more, new ones sprouting as she threw the old, carefully managing her timing and power.

Then, with four orbs, she aimed a spiral-like blast at his arm, shattering it.

Quartz screamed, a tortured sound akin to a rockslide, and Dana winced. She was thankful to know that wouldn’t kill him, and that at some point, he’d regenerate. No matter his faults, Dana trusted Accord’s information was accurate. It never meant she particularly enjoyed hurting people.

No matter who she was before.

Still, she had to end this. Taking the seconds to resummon her ammunition, Dana aimed at his other arm, preparing to-

Power. Energy. Piercing. Jump.

No no no-

Dana leapt off the catwalk, not fast enough to ignore the large oval-shaped missile that clipped her foot, sending her spinning ass over teakettle in a flash of deep purple light. She landed on her wrist, hard, on the metal guard of a nearby conveyor belt.

She felt something snap, and she bit back a scream.

She forced her eyes up and took a deep breath, glaring at the woman in a skintight purple costume, a white helix pattern running from her legs and meeting at her stomach before splitting off again to follow her arms. She had nothing more than a domino mask, letting purple dyed hair fall lazily over her eyes as she leaned on the catwalk, rapidly retreating mists of purple rising from her form.

Flashpoint. She was the one who could turn herself into a purple hard light missile, mostly contained to a straight line but with some variation.

This was bad.

“Sorry I’m late, I just needed some good old fashioned beauty rest is all. I hope you’re not too banged up, Quartz?” she cooed, turning back to him with a smile.

Quartz only stood, pushing rubble of himself with a grinding laugh. “I’ll be fine. Let’s just break the bitch,” he replied.

Flashpoint stretched, then brought herself to a crouch. “If you say so. I almost thought you’d leave me out of it.”

Anger and calculating indifference swelled inside of her as she blinked, memories of that day forcing themselves to the surface.

Fuck this.

Seven yellow orbs flew to Flashpoint. In a burst of purple light she became a missile once more, flying to the other end of the catwalk. The section she previously stood on nearly exploded from the force of her powers, sending chunks and strips of grated metal in all directions.

This was bad.

One asshole Dana was confident she could handle, as long as she took them by surprise or knew what they did, and even then it depended on who you ran into. Two assholes were a problem. Three assholes would be game over, depending on if the kid from earlier woke up.

She didn’t have a choice. She wouldn’t kill, but fucking this up wasn’t acceptable. She’d make Accord angry, and then there wouldn’t be a place she could run unless she took the fight to him. She couldn’t afford that.

She’d just have to be careful.

Dana forced herself to her feet, trusting her regeneration to fix her fuck-up as her eyes darted between both Quartz and Flashpoint. Flashpoint held a lazy grin, casually crouching down to get ready for another ‘burst’ while Quartz was much more cautious, slowly advancing towards her with his remaining arm raised.

Dana resummoned her orbs, then made them flash green.

Flashpoint burst towards her in a straight line. Dana ignored her, running towards Quartz, even as she stumbled from the impact behind her. She’d only have a few more seconds before Flashpoint hit her from behind. Quartz stumbled back and raised his hand to strike her as she concentrated on her Strikesense, a red-pink aura surrounding his lower body.

His leg. Both if preferable. Strikesense told her the best place to hit, leaving the heavy lifting to her.

And Excalibur was no stranger to heavy lifting.

Her orbs coalesced into each other, forming an unstable, singular orb of neon green light that hovered just above her palm. Then, she thrust it forward.

A verdant flash, always just bright enough that she had to turn away, flew from her hand. A resounding boom filled the room, the sound almost identical to a torpedo from some of the old aleph star trek movies she and Evelyn had watched before. It was powerful enough to throw her back, only just barely managing to stick a three point landing.

Then, she opened her eyes fully, and lost her breath.

Quartz’ legs were erased from the knee down, and he dropped immediately. So was a large chunk of the floor beneath him, revealing cleanly cut pipes and concrete. So was the conveyor belt behind him, a section of it completely gone. So were the remnants of his previous creations, as easily destroyed as paper.

So was most of the far factory wall, concrete destroyed in a clear, giant semi-circular shape.

Immediately, she wished she hadn’t used it.

Quartz screamed, and Dana turned to see Flashpoint staring at her in shock, stepping back.

Two down.

Dana summoned twelve more orbs, wincing as they emerged from the air slower than usual. Excalibur took energy, and she didn’t dare think of using it again so soon. Not after the first time she tried. Instead, she stared Flashpoint down, her wrist finally mending itself just enough for her to reach into her pocket and idly slip her knuckleduster back on her fingers.

Flashpoint hesitated, staring at the orbs as they slowly rotated around Dana, with her making sure to make it obvious that anything that touched them would be destroyed. Not as violently as when they formed Excalibur, but almost just as deadly. Dana noted with grim satisfaction that Flashpoint understood, just based on her expression, and for a moment she was hopeful that she would give up.

She was wrong. Flashpoint suddenly formed a crouch and became light once more, flying towards her.

Dana was only a second slower. She threw five orbs at her, one at her directly, while the others flew in four directions around her. The remaining seven formed an impromptu ‘shield’ to protect herself, shaping themselves into a line.

Flashpoint was powerful. She was fast. And she could maneuver from her ‘straight line’ path surprisingly well.

But, despite her bravado, she was new. And she couldn’t maneuver well enough to escape.

Flashpoint dodged the first orb easily. Not so much the second above her, exploding just close enough to knock her to the ground and out of her light state with a panicked yelp. Flashpoint landed hard on her hands, awkwardly maneuvering herself into a rough roll that hurt more than it helped, stopping just in front of her orbs.

Then Dana punched her in the face, and Flashpoint let out a strangled cry.

She punched her again in the stomach, then brought a foot to her neck as she summoned all of her orbs again, watching flashpoint struggle to stand. She stopped as she eyed the orbs around Dana, no longer rotating around her. Instead, they formed a sort of ‘cage’ around Flashpoint, ensuring that whatever move she made next would be the wrong one.

Then, silence. Both Dana and Flashpoint drew heavy breaths, with Flashpoint throwing what amounted to a silently pleading look her way. Her hair was a mess, her costume was torn, and she was bruised to all hell. Dana knew she probably didn’t look amazing either.

Three down.

Then, she felt her anger...wash away. That quiet rage that had threatened to build to a breaking point and then cold indifference that threatened to rule her both subsided until they were nothing more than dull throbs in the back of her head. Dana cleared her throat, trying to find the words before she spoke.

“Boston isn’t open to new gangs,” she began, keeping her voice level. “You have two options. Either you leave the city now and pick up business elsewhere, or you get someone else sent after you. Someone not as nice as I am.”

Flashpoint’s expression twisted into a tired anger, and she glanced at the still groaning, barely moving form of Quartz. “Nice? Jesus, are you fucking serious? You almost killed him!”

A twang of sympathy flew through her heart, and she made sure to crush it before she continued. “Almost. He’ll recover. And so will you. I need an answer, Flashpoint.”

Then she spat blood at Dana’s mask.

Dana could have flew into a rage and stomped on her neck, or destroyed an arm or something just as fucked up. But she was a professional. And she never wanted to be cruel.

Instead, she stared, waiting.

Flashpoint, as defiant as she seemed, sagged and closed her eyes, silent for a moment before answering. “Fine. Fine, you fucking psychopath.”

“You’ll leave?”

Flashpoint narrowed her eyes. “We’ll leave.”

Good enough for Accord. But she wanted to make sure. She didn’t want blood on her hands.

Dana’s foot left her neck before she grabbed her shoulders, heaving her up. “Good. Then I’ll be making sure you leave by tomorrow.”

Flashpoints’ eyes widened, a protest forming on her lips. “But this is our shit! We’re not just gonna-”

“You will. Or you’ll die,” Dana interrupted. “Won’t be me. But it’ll be somebody. Somebody worse. You don’t have a choice.”

Flashpoint only groaned, and Dana sighed in response. It would be a long couple of days.

========================================

May 21st, 2011.

Dana sat on a hill.

Santa Mosemar was home. And she always felt better here.

She had texted Evelyn once she got back, not yet ready to talk to the rest of her friends. As much as she liked them, she had never been too good with crowds, even small ones. Evelyn was her roommate, her ex, and probably the best person able to deal with all of the strange intricacies that made her...her.

She saw her an hour after she arrived, the sun just beginning its rise as Evelyn’s car parked at the foot of the hill. She got out of the car, and Dana somehow found the tea set she had gathered from the back seat more baffling than the black dress with a pink flower pattern she had decided to wear. Evelyn waved up at her, and Dana offered a shy one in return.

Of course.

Dana waited as Evelyn trudged up the hill, who took it upon herself to start. “I wasn’t sure when you’d arrive,” she began sitting next to her before setting the tea set down. “Russel, Beatrice and Hector were really worried, and it took a bit of convincing from Cody and Grafton that you were fine.”

Dana hummed, looking out over the town. Hector. She’d have to get him a gift for that Nineteenth birthday of his. She had the money for it, after all. “They worry too much. Bee I can understand; she doesn’t even like going outside if she can help it, and Hector is...new to all of this. But Russel?”

Evelyn wore a faint smile. “He worries like that for all of us. It’s endearing in a way.”

“And yet he’s the one going to fight Endbringers,” Dana countered. None of them had bothered to hide their frustration and worry over that. “...I’m glad he survived though.”

Evelyn nodded, and neither of them spoke of what they would do if he hadn’t.

“...How about Mathew? Sam?”

Evelyn gave a simple shrug. “Mathew wanted nothing more than to come with you, even when we all told him that was a bad idea. Sam...We don’t know. They haven’t spoken to us in a bit. We’re worried.”

Dana sighed. So was she. In a lot of ways, Sam was still a kid, nevermind what they had gone through.

Nevermind what any of them had gone through.

Dana struggled with what she wanted to say next, not trusting the conversation to not turn sour. Eventually, she murmured. “I don’t think I can lose anyone like that again. I was angry. Less at him and...more at myself for not watching his back.”

“He’s strong. And it’s an Endbringer. Just volunteering-”

“That’s not an excuse,” Dana bit back. She had gotten long past the point where she was afraid to admit that she was scared of fighting an Endbringer. What worried her is that, deep down, she knew she mostly hadn’t gone because she couldn’t handle seeing someone she cared about dying in front of her. Not again.

Evelyn didn’t answer, and after a moment Dana looked to Evelyn to see her regarding the porcelain teacup in her hands with a quiet expression.

Then, the teacup changed shape, twisting into a helix, then a cube, then back to its original shape. Dana then watched Evelyn change the cup to granite, to steel, to glass, then finally back to Porcelain. She’d never get tired of that.

“I was worried too,” she whispered. “But I didn’t know how to tell him to stay, without…”

Dana stared at her before looking away. “Yeah.”

Evelyn decided then to pour their tea, Dana picking up her cup and staring down at the black beneath her. They sat silently for a while, looking at a sky full of clouds as they drank.

Then, Evelyn asked the million dollar question.

“How was...working with Accord?”

Dana grimaced. “It went...well. Too well. He asked me if I was interested in a working relationship.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him to fuck off, as politely and robotically as possible. He wasn’t very happy about that, but I’m still here so apparently it wasn’t too bad.”

They sat silently for a moment, before Dana allowed herself to continue. “He reminded me of that McVeay asshole. The one who I had to kill to get out of Georgia.”

Evelyn only offered a shoulder, and after a moment Dana took it, leaning over and resting her head there. Evelyn hummed before speaking up. “I can understand why that would make you agitated.”

“Yeah.”

“Trauma can do weird things to us,” Evelyn continued quietly. “Something that maybe looks very reasonable to us at the time might-”

“Ev.”

“...Sorry,” Evelyn replied after a moment, sighing. “I’m doing the therapist thing again, aren’t I? I just…”

“It’s your day job. I know,” Dana offered, sighing and drinking from her cup. She hated tea, but somehow never found the nerve to turn it down if it came from Evelyn.

“I wanted to kill him. Can you imagine that? I thought about trying to off Accord right then and there. I hate him, and I hate people like him.”

“What is it about him that you hate?”

Dana only stared at the ceiling. He was a reminder. Someone who thought he could just...play with people’s lives. Why couldn’t he just leave people the fuck alone?

He was just like them. The McVeay piece of shit. The assholes who had killed Tenn. She had only stuck around and pretended to be their friend for so long so she could figure out a way to end them. To show them what happened when you disrespected her and hers. She hadn’t known they weren’t from the fallen. She hadn’t known that they weren’t bringing her into a trap at the time, that they had been just as blindsided as her.

Somehow she knew. That even if all of that information was available to her, she wouldn’t have cared.

She killed three people right after she had gotten her powers, and right after they had gotten theirs too. She killed thirteen more just to get out. She hadn’t bothered to check if some were trying to run or stay, fight or surrender. She had just...kept going. She hated them all, and that had been the beginning.

She wanted people to respect her name, so that nobody would ever fuck with her again. It had taken years before she realized she wasn't happy, with plenty of people that feared her and nobody that loved her.

It had taken her longer to realize that the deaths of her first three victims hadn’t made her feel any better.

She’d never stop thinking about it. She’d never forget. And she'd never not regret that she had taken a life.

Outwardly, she just shrugged. “He’s an asshole supervillain. Do I need another reason?”

“Maybe not,” Evelyn replied evenly. “I’m just glad you’re back home.”

After a moment, Evelyn continued. “I only wish...I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I’m an outsider. When I got my powers, I thought about what I’d do with them for a long time. Then I got here, and any drive I had to do something with them just...Faded. I wanted nothing more than to stay here.”

Dana frowned, looking up at her. “Do you not like it here?”

“I love it here,” Evelyn replied, staring up at the sky. “I just feel like an imposter, sometimes. My life is easy, I think, compared to all of yours. And whenever I try to make someone feel better, I just think to myself, ‘how could you possibly understand what they’re going through?’ Sometimes I feel worse because there’s a part of me that just wants to stay here until I get old, and let my life be easy. Is that wrong?”

Dana chewed over her answer, feeling that she owed Evelyn that at least. Was it? Her first instinct was to say no, and her second was still to say no.

“...First of all, we all know how we got powers. I don’t think any of us have had easy lives, not even you, Ev. Honestly, you deserve some peace. Not everyone gets to have that. Cherish it as long as you can.”

“...You’re right,” Evelyn replied.

Silence.

It was times like this, knowing her friends were nearby, that Dana found the bad thoughts melting away. She had the town, she had people she cared about. People that she loved. People that loved her.

She wouldn’t let anyone take that from her, ever again.

“Ah,” Evelyn spoke up. “Cody is inviting us all over tonight. Sam should be back by then, If I’m remembering correctly.”

Dana frowned. “I mean, I can make it. I just wish he’d warn us ahead of time. Then again, it’s Cody…”

Evelyn laughed, a light and muted sound. “It’s Cody indeed. Want to go get something from the Alleywalk?”

Dana thought, only for a second, before she nodded. “Alleywalk it is.”

She deserved some peace, every once in a while.