Portland, Oregon, United States
August 21st, 2013
If there was a perfect complement to the burn of a good scotch, it was the crisp night air in the hills above Portland.
Optic swirled the brown liquid in his glass as he watched the lights of the city below from his house’s perch in the West Hills that overlooked downtown. It had taken some doing — he was still wrestling with his insurance company, trying to get them to cover some part of the rebuilding cost — but his house was livable again. His back deck was brickwork and tile now, with a built-in hot tub (it was still empty, covered in plastic sheeting, but it was there) and a clay-and- brick bar-b-que, made to his specifications (he hadn’t so much as opened the cover of it yet, though).
He pitched the glass back, swallowing everything in the glass, and set it down on the thick, shelf-like railing that ran all the way across the space outside his home. The warmth of the booze spread through his chest and belly, and he took a deep breath of the cold night air.
“Jesus, drinking alone already?”
Optic turned quickly at the voice, and found Deosil standing in the open sliding glass doorway. She was leaning against the doorframe that still smelled of fresh lumber, her duffel bag on the floor beside her.
Optic smiled and crossed to her, catching her up in a big hug. She giggled and hugged him back.
“Come pour yourself a glass,” he said. “Won’t be drinking alone, then.” She made a face. “Scotch is gross.”
He chuckled, and then pointed at the wide open kitchen behind her. “There’s some of those ciders you and Rusty like in the fridge.”
“Now you’re talking,” she said, disappearing back inside. Optic slid the door shut behind her, busying himself with the task of getting a small fire going in the cracked clay chiminea between two of the deck chairs. He glanced up as she stepped back out onto the deck, a glass bottle in hand. She slumped into one of the chairs, took a pull on her bottle, and then leaned forward.
“Wait, is that your old chiminea?” She squinted at the battered little thing, which stood out in the middle of all the brand new construction.
Optic chuckled, and set his long-nosed lighter down to pat the side of the jar- like container. “It is. Found it in all the wreckage. Got a couple new cracks and all, but still seems to work okay.” He squinted at the smoldering mass of tinder beneath the small tent of smaller branches. “At least, I hope it does.”
“May I?” Deosil asked, and Optic leaned away from the chiminea with a nod. She raised her hand for a moment, looking intently at the smoky opening in the fat belly of the clay fireplace, and then smiled as it quickly took fire inside. In a few seconds, the fire was burning solidly, filling the back deck with the scent of burning wood.
Optic chuckled, and eased himself into the chair opposite, almost losing his balance as he did so. Deosil chuckled, reaching out a hand to steady him some.
“Careful there, sauce-head. If the dude who can fly the literal speed of light falls and cracks his head open, I’m going to post that shit on the internet, guaranteed.”
He laughed, collapsing into his seat, one awkward foot just barely missing the chiminea.
“Not the speed of light,” he said after recovering from his laughter. “It just looks that way.”
Her funny look practically demanded from him an explanation. He sighed.
“I don’t actually move at the speed of light. I mean, I come close to it, but the energy my body becomes isn’t exactly light. It’s…weird.” He shook his head, and found Deosil staring at him, eyebrows raised. “What?”
“You get…chatty…when you’ve been drinking,” she said in a tone suggesting it was the most delightful thing that had happened to her all week.
He laughed, and shook his head. “If I get too annoying, just say so. I can make it stop.”
She fixed him with a quizzical look. “Stop? Like, with coffee?”
He chuckled. “No, no. When I go photoas…phot…when I turn into light, my body resets.”
Deosil paused. “Resets?”
“Yup. Resets. Back to factory specs. By which I mean, back to the body I had when I was Empowered.” He paused for a moment, balancing his tumbler on his knee, squinting one eye to see the lights of the city refracted through it. “I can heal injuries, get rid of poisons and diseases, shit like that, as long as I’m conscious enough to assume my light-body and switch back.”
“So you can stop being drunk…”
“By turning to light and turning back, yeah,” he said, glancing up at her. “I can’t get any more tattoos, either.” His tone was playful, like the idea of not
being able to get any more ink was a terrible tragedy, but it hid something more somber beneath it.
Deosil chewed on the idea for a while, taking a couple of sips of cider as she did so. She turned to him again. “Does that mean you’re basically immortal?”
Optic frowned and turned all his attention to the cup in his hands. He was silent long enough for Deosil to wonder if she should apologize for something before he said: “I don’t really know. The Project: Seraph scientists wouldn’t…wouldn’t tell me. I’ve had a lawyer on retainer, trying to get my medical records from the military since they kicked me out, but they keep saying they’re classified.”
“Wait, they won’t show you your own medical records?”
Optic shook his head. “Nope. It’s why I actually got with the DTPA that first year. I was hoping they’d be able to tell me something, but right after that first Health Weekend where I met Rusty, the military swooped in on the DTPA’s lab results, flashing National Security Concerns everywhere, and took those results, too. The DTPA couldn’t do anything about it. It’s why I’ve never been to anything of theirs since.”
“So what do you think?” Deosil asked.
“I mean, it’s been how long since you were Empowered?”
“Four years,” he mumbled.
“Have you…have you changed any? At all, since then?”
Optic stood, and walked over to the bar flush up against the back wall of the house. He set his tumbler down with a clink, and poured himself some more scotch. He turned, leaning against the bar, considering.
“Four weeks is the longest I’ve ever gone without shifting,” he said. He held up one hand, palm toward himself, fingers bent to consider his nails. “In that time, my fingernails grew out some, and I needed a haircut.”
He finally looked at Deosil, who’d turned sideways in her seat to regard him.
“That’s the most my body has changed in four years, and the minute I shifted and came back out? Same bitten nails, same high-and-tight haircut.”
Deosil stood, walking over to him, setting her bottle on the bar and hugged him. He quickly set his glass down and accepted the hug, taking a deep, calming breath. He chuckled as they separated.
“Poor me, right? Oh no, I might live forever!” He mocked himself in a high pitched, whiny tone.
“Hey,” Deosil said, thumping him on the arm. “That’s some serious shit. You have a right to be freaked out about it, especially since no one will fucking tell you anything about it.”
He nodded. “I try not to think about it, most of the time.”
“Hence the drinking tonight?”
Optic smiled, and picked his glass back up. “Uh, honestly, no. Some other stuff tonight.” He handed Deosil her bottle again, and the two crossed to the far edge of the deck, looking out over the darkness of the hills beneath them, and the lights of downtown Portland in the distance.
“My lawyer got in touch with me. I’ve had her on retainer for as long as I have because she’s really interested in the ways that our existences — the existence of the Changed — intersect with the law. She legitimately thinks that the Denisov Measure was unconstitutional.”
“Wait, she thinks that super powered people have a right to be superheroes?”
Optic chuckled. “No, no. She thinks it’s unconstitutional because we already have laws that govern vigilantism. The Measure segregates the Changed into their own class and then applies penalties to them that aren’t applied to everyone for engaging in that. Effectively, it doesn’t outlaw vigilantism — that’s already illegal. It just mandates an insanely harsh punishment for one class of people, way more so than other people receive for the same thing.”
Deosil looked away, considering. She looked uncomfortable, and after a few moments, nodded.
“I mean, I guess she has a point, right? I’ve never even thought about it that way. The DTPA really go out of their way to emphasize the Measure as…as just a part of reality. The idea of questioning it kinda never even comes up.”
“I’m sure that’s intentional,” Optic said. He set his glass down on the railing, sliding it aside to make room for him to lean his forearms on the railing, hunching over to watch the city below. “I mean, it’s been what? Twenty years since they passed the Supers Act?”
“Yup. In 1993,” Deosil said quietly.
“Not once has someone tried to challenge the Measure as unconstitutional. In all that time,” Optic said. “Miriam — that’s my lawyer, Miriam Friedler — is really keen to do so. Partially because she’s curious what kind of pressure is being applied to people who do to get them to stop.”
Deosil looked alarmed. “Does she think someone’s doing that? Applying pressure to people who want to challenge the Measure?”
“She’s pretty sure of it. She says that she’s found two previous cases that started the process of doing just that, but both of them abandoned it part-way through.”
Deosil turned her back to the railing, leaning back against it, and considering the newly-restored facade of Optic’s house. She turned to look at him.
“She wants to use us to do that, doesn’t she?”
Optic smiled at her. “Well, she’s not exactly telling us to go and do things that’ll get us in trouble. But she’s offered her services pro bono if we do find ourselves up against Denisov enforcement, yeah.”
Deosil sighed, and let herself slip down the deck railing until she was seated on the floor, back against the railing’s post. She looked up at Optic, who winked down at her before turning to join her.
“Holy cats,” she finally said.
“I always know you’re overwhelmed when your swears don’t include any actual profanity,” Optic said with a grin.
She laughed then. “Fuck you, buddy.” His laugh joined hers for a few moments, ending with her leaning sideways, resting her head against his shoulder. He kissed her on the top of the head.
“They’re all watching us now, aren’t they?” she finally said quietly. “Yeah. They are.”
Silence stretched between them, both of them lost to runaway thoughts about the ramifications of that.
“That’s sort of good, though,” he said finally. He glanced up at the railing and carefully reached up, seeking his tumbler of scotch.
“Why is that? And I swear to God if you spill that nasty shit on me…”
He snorted at the mental image of her reaction to that. “No, no, I’m the only one going to end this night smelling like a drunk.” He carefully lowered his hand, clutching the tumbler with two fingers until it was safe in his grasp again.
He took a drink before he spoke again. “It’s good because whatever they do, they’re going to have to do it out in the open. A lot of shit goes on behind the scenes in our world, Jesh. I mean, I saw a tiny glimpse of it, when I was a Seraph, but…there’s plenty more, I’m sure. But we’re in the public eye now.”
“What a fucking tightrope. We have to stay out in public, but that also means that if we fuck up, they’re going to be all over us so fast. That’s…that’s a lot of pressure.”
Optic nodded, and raised his glass to her. She rolled her eyes, but clinked his tumbler with her bottle anyway.
“To pressure. That’s the shit that makes diamonds, Jesh.”
“Ha!” Deosil stood, brushing down her backside as she did so. “Now I know you’re drunk as hell, you corny motherfucker.”
He threw his head back and laughed. He also didn’t deny it. He tried to rise, but it took a time or two (and a little hand from Deosil) to get to his feet.
“How was Montana, by the way? Rusty and Mitch settling down to a prairie homestead or what?” He swayed a little as he stood, but waved her off, finding his footing.
“Oh my God,” she said, clearly grateful for a change of topic. “You wouldn’t believe how they’re…canoodling.” Optic couldn’t recall a single word being forced to do the hard work of bearing so much contempt and disgust all on its own before, and he laughed.
“I’m surprised you got any work done while you were out there,” Optic said, following her through the sliding glass door into the house.
“Well, you know Mitch. Man of his word and all. He’s really dedicated to the idea that he’s going to help me get control of my powers and everything. And there’s tons of space around his place — mountains and forests and shit. Plenty of space for me to work, and if I fuck up, well, it’s just me and him.”
Optic slid the door shut, and locked it behind him. “He knows what he’s about, Jesh. Don’t underestimate him. I mean, that dude has more experience with superpowers than anyone in the DTPA. They say he was the first Original to get control of his powers, and that he helped the rest of the Champions, too.”
Deosil took Optic’s tumbler and her own bottle into the kitchen, rinsing both out. She left the tumbler in the sink, and dropped her bottle into the recycling can with a tink of glass-on-glass.
“Yeah, I know. He said something about my power being similar to Dryad’s. The way we interact with it, I mean. She controls plants and stuff, not the elements. But he said we’re really similar in how we…perceive the world. He said he’s going to try and get in touch with her, see if he can get some pointers from her.”
Optic leaned against the doorway to the kitchen. “So why are you back so soon?”
Deosil looked a little guilty. “Honestly, I couldn’t take the schmoopiness of the two of them. I’m going to let them get finished being twitterpated with each other before I start lessons back up.”
Optic laughed again, shaking his head. “They’ve got to be fucking impossible. Mitch hasn’t been involved with anyone in literally decades…”
“And you know firsthand how Rusty gets when he’s in looooove,” Deosil grinned, punching him in the arm as she slipped past him.
Deosil half-dived onto the sofa, pulling one of the throw pillows to her, cradling it under her chin, and then turning half-over to look back at him. He was still leaning in the doorway between the kitchen and living room.
“Do you ever regret?” she asked after a minute.
Optic looked up at her. “Regret what?”
“Turning him down? Rusty, I mean?”
Optic winced. “Rusty’s something else. But no, he and I wouldn’t have been very good together. I think the world of him, but no. No regrets.”
He stretched then, and caught himself from stumbling with one hand against the doorframe. “Buh. Okay. I think I need to get to bed.”
“Not before lots of water, you don’t.”
“Not necessary,” he said with a wink. “Night, Jesh.”
In a sudden flash of light, he was gone down the hall. A second later, she heard his bedroom door close. She chuckled. “Night,” she called after him.