Jon Smith began to moan.
"Watch it, Lin, I think he's waking up," Maggot Man warned.
She stood, slowly, gracefully, without hurry.
"I eliminated the hangover.....but he'll be waking to the very reality that he was trying so hard to escape," Linuial commented to her companion.
She glanced down at the paper in her hand, laid it on the nightstand, nodded to Maggot Man, and shuffled across the room to stand in the open doorway. The man in the mask joined her.
"Wha......who....." came muffled from beneath the pillow. Jon suddenly sat bolt upright on the bed, the forgotten pillow falling on the floor, swung his head, glared at the two figures sillouetted in the open doorway. "Who the hell are you?! What are you doing in my apartment?!" With a cat-like movement, he rolled over the side of the bed, landed in a crouch among the debris, arms extended, foot-long blades snapping into view.
"You better have a really good explanation of what you're doing here," he growled, visibly coiling like a spring.
"Are you John Smith?" Linuial asked.
"Who wants to know?" Jon didn't relax an iota.
"My name is Linuial," the woman said, politely, inclining her head, and bringing her upraised palm in front of her chest. She turned slightly, and made the same gesture to her companion. "This is Maggot Man. We're friends, John, although you don't know us."
"Breaking and entering? I don't think so....."
"We had reason to believe that you might be in some sort of trouble, John. We asked your building manager to open the door for us so that we could investigate. We're both registered superheroes, John. We work as a team under the name of Starfire. You can check with supergroup registration. We're here on your behalf."
"Not buying it....." but his shoulders began to droop visibly.
"I understand you haven't been to work in two weeks, John. The condition of your apartment indicates that something is very wrong. We're here to help, if we can."
He hung his head, leaned back against the bed. The knives slid back into their hiding place. "None of your business. You can't help anyway."
"Perhaps. Perhaps you aren't giving us enough credit."
He shook his head. "You don't know....."
Linuial waited for a few seconds, then smiled very gently. "I'm an empath, John, if I don't know, perhaps I can learn."
He looked up at her, a look of surprise, with perhaps a hint of suspicion, painted on what could be seen of his face.
"Mind reader....?" he snarled.
"Not exactly." She took a step into the room. "Would you mind if we came in, sat down, talked a little?"
"....don't want you here....." he growled.
"I understand that, John, but I wouldn't feel right about just going away right now, without at least checking with you to see what is going on. May we......?" She smiled, nodded her head, and pushed her way across the floor to the only chair in the tiny efficiency, sitting by the table. Without a word, Maggot Man pushed some trash aside and seated himself on the floor.
Jon glared at the two, one after the other, breathing heavily, his teeth gritted. After a long tense moment, he slumped, looked around, grabbed some fabric off the floor, stood and seated himself on the edge of the bed, clutching the fabric to his waist. "What do you want? Just ask your questions, and get out of here."
"We'll be happy to do so, John, just as soon as we are sure that it's safe for us to do so."
"Safe for who?" John snapped.
"For you," the woman said softly.
"I told you, I don't want you here."
"I know, I understand, and I'm sorry for disturbing your privacy. We'll try not disturb you any more than is necessary."
He glowered. ".....all right, whata ya want?"
"First, I think I should tell you that apparently your supervisor at your job has been trying to reach you for some time. He said that you need to call him in the next 24 hours to keep your job."
"Yeah, well, that's my business, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. But he called on your cell phone a few minutes ago, and I did tell him that I would pass on the message."
"Okay, you've done it. Now you can go."
The blonde woman nodded at the nightstand. "I wrote down his number on that sheet of paper, next to you, John."
He glanced at it. "Yeah, okay, fine. Done."
She frowned. "Would you please confirm that I wrote down the right number?"
"Look, I know my boss's number, okay?"
"Would you just confirm it for me, please?"
He pushed the fabric into his lap, snatched up the paper, looked down at it, froze, then began violently ripping the sheet and threw the shreds across the room. He sat, panting, staring at the floor, his metal hands clutching the sheet on either side of his hips.
Linuial waited, patiently, before speaking softly. "I see. I thought so." She paused, spoke even more gently. "Who is the man in the drawing, John?"
It seemed for a long moment that he was not going to answer. At last he sighed, seemed to fold into himself. "It's me....." he forced out around a strangled sob.
Their eyes widening, Liniual and Maggot Man exchanged glances.
"Yes, I do see......" the woman finally commented. "Thank you, John, for trusting me."
"So now you see? You can go, then."
Linuial stood, crossed the room to kneel in front of the man on the bed. He turned his face away from her. "John, you're not going to call your boss, are you?"
He refused to answer or look at her.
"Are you bent on self-destruction?"
"Look, I just need some time to myself, okay?!" He was nearly shouting.
She nodded. "I can understand that, John, truly I can." She thought for a second. "How old are you, John?"
"Thirty. Thereabouts." It seemed strange, to actually be able to answer such a simple question, for the first time.
She smiled. "John, have you ever worked with an empath before?"
"Yeah, I've been on pickup teams, sure."
"That's not quite what I meant. You asked if I could read minds.....if you understood more about empathy defenders, you wouldn't have asked that question."
"So.....maybe I can be of some help to you after all......."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012