Infected: Revolution, part 13
13 – Sea Legs
It seemed that way. Decoding his text messages took a great deal of doing, so much that, if he was in trouble and sent out an emergency text, Holden probably wouldn’t figure it out until it was too late. He was really going to have to work out a signal with him. Instead of a safe word, a safe set of numerals. 9-1-1 seemed obvious.
From what he finally pieced together, phones weren’t allowed in the compound, but he snuck one in. Holden knew better than to inquire how. Being a former drug mule, Newt knew everything there was to know about smuggling things past guards, and Holden slept fine not knowing a single one of them. He was going to keep it that way.
Holden finished sorting out the other texts over morning coffee. It seemed it was pretty cultish (well, duh) and weird there, and if Newt called it weird, it was either as straight as a Mormon bible study, or more fucked up than an early John Waters film. It was hard to tell which one from the remainder of the texts. There were a couple of words he had no hope of deciphering, as sometimes Newt sent texts minus vowels, or ones that were nothing but vowels. Couldn’t he once settle on a language?
His phone rang, and he answered it absent mindedly, assuming it was Scott giving him an update from the hospital watch. That’s why it caught him off guard when an unfamiliar male voice asked, “Mr. Holden Krause?”
He should have hung up, but curiosity made him respond, “Maybe. Who is this?”
“I’m Elliott Flanders, I work for the Times. I’m doing a human interest story on Roan McKichan. You work with him, yes?”
Holden sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. These people. “I’m sure you mean well, but if Roan wanted to be in a sideshow, he’d have joined the circus. Leave him and his husband alone, huh? They’re going through enough.”
“But this is –“ Elliott began, but Holden didn’t hear the rest, as he’d hung up on him already.
Holden assumed that if there was anything new with Roan, Scott would have called. His hero worship of Roan was undimmed by time, circumstance, or the fact that there was just no fucking way this was headed for a happy ending. The good thing about team sports was it could teach you loyalty. Even if you knew your side was going to lose, you stuck at it until the bitter end. And Scott was definitely a team player, and not a quitter. It was one of those mutually attractive/annoying things about him. Much like Dylan, he would be with Roan until the end, albeit from a distance. Of course, he would too, but Holden felt it was very different. It wasn’t hero worship on his part. Roan had turned out to be one of the better friends he’d ever had, which he never thought he’d ever say about an ex-cop, but Roan was an inherently strange creature. There was a reason he was alone in the world, and that was because the world was simply not equipped to handle two of him. It would eventually, he imagined. In fact sometimes, to cheer himself up, he’d think about a world full of Roans, and how doomed the old human race would be. It was a cheering thought to him. Homo Sapiens deserved what they got. The only humor to be had was it probably wouldn’t even be humanity destroying themselves, it would be simply built in obsolescence. They could simply not compete with Roan’s kind. It was basically the Neanderthal/Homo Sapiens thing all over again, except the Homo Sapiens were on the losing side this time. And wasn’t it high past time, really? Humanity had a good, world destroying run. Why not let Homo Felinus, or whatever the fuck Roan’s kind would be called, have a go? Maybe in a generation or two, all the pain and negative things would be smoothed over. Or maybe his kind would just get a higher pain tolerance, to the point where snapping bones and teeth bursting through gums was nothing, the equivalent of a stubbed toe.
Holden felt a bit bad for Omega, though. They were totally on the wrong side of this. Their kind would win eventually, but not with terrorism, and declaring Roan the enemy when he was actually the future was mondo stupid. They thought they were the change, but they were just the same old paradigm, dressed up in new clothes. Freaks were the future; freaks were the only chance humanity had. The normals just didn’t realize it yet.
His phone rang again, and this time he checked who was calling before he picked it up. It was Jessie. “Hey girl,” he said, wedging the receiver between his shoulder and his ear so he could keep sifting through files. Being a detective was so much paperwork, he now understood why cops always seemed impatient and stressed out.
“Hey. I was going to make small talk and sugar coat things before I asked you, but then I remembered who I was calling. How’s Roan? He going to live?”
“Probably.” Not much of an answer, but the best he could give right now.
She exhaled, in a manner that was more a release of tension than a genuine sigh. “Elena’s itching for news. Both about Roan and her sister. I think she idolizes him.”
“That seems to be going around. How’s she doing?”
“Fine. She’s an adorable baby butch. I’d adopt her myself if I could.”
“So she is gay.”
“Oh yeah. She hasn’t admitted it directly, but the fact that she said she looked up to Roan because they have so much in common, and she’s not infected, was pretty much a giveaway.”
“I feel bad for the gay foster kids. You never know what house you’ll land in, and how weirdly anti-gay they’ll be.”
“It’s part of the reason there’s so many homeless gay kids. But you’d know that, wouldn’t you?”
Holden just smiled to himself. Sometimes he almost forgot he was thrown out for being gay. Then he wondered how he could ever forget. That kind of fundamental betrayal left scars that never healed. No wonder he wasn’t big on relationships. “And I don’t need to tell you people suck.”
She snickered. “No.” Jessie worked with abused and formerly trafficked kids every day. She saw all the damage done up close and personal. “Roan did a good thing today. I really hope it doesn’t kill him.”
“You and me both.”
There was a strange pause, and she seemed to hesitate. After several seconds, she said, “You … you’ve stopped playing superhero, haven’t you?”
He reflexively felt something offensive in that. “Whoever said I was, Jessie?”
“Katie. The girl you saved from those traffickers, remember? She told me what happened.”
“Ah.” Here’s how crazy his life was: he barely remembered meeting sex traffickers in a rest stop bathroom at one in the morning – or however late it was – to purchase a ten year old. And he was the one pretending to be a suburban pervert. Still, Roan had done pretty much all of the dirty work, taking out the guys out front, and then coming in to save his ass from being shot when his timing was off. He knocked out one guy at least, and had planted rock on every single fucking one of them. He had vague memories of reading about the incident in the papers, and the cops dutifully described it as a “drug deal gone wrong”, which he thought they might once they uncovered all that meth and crack. It wasn’t like they could tell the truth (they were selling children, not drugs), because it wouldn’t help them even if the cops believed them. Which they never did. “I wasn’t playing superhero. I was simply bait. Roan remained the only superhero on site.”
“Katie takes some comfort from Roan too. She said he broke a sink with someone’s face.”
“He did,” Holden confirmed. Jessie was no rat. As a transsexual and a former sex worker, her relationship with police had always been tenuous at best.
“She also said you knocked out one of the guys.”
“I was supposed to get ‘em both, but I fucked up. Hence Roan needing to come in and save my ass. This is why you never go into enemy territory without back up. And having Roan back you up is as good as having an army.” It was too. Only idiots of the highest caliber thought they’d have a chance against him. He was the fucking apex predator of the entire world. The normals needed all the luck they could possibly scrounge.
“I get Roan. I met him when he was a cop, and he was that way even then. He wants to save the world one person at a time, even though he knows that’s impossible. But why would you want to play superhero, Fox? You know why they don’t really exist, Roan aside? Because they’d be supremely fucked up people. Roan got a raw deal, and I’m sure he’d be the first to admit he’s kinda fucked up. But you?”
“You know I’m fucked up.”
“But not in that way. I’ve never once believed you wanted to save the world. Watch it burn? Maybe.”
He smirked at that. She had him dead to rights, he really couldn’t argue. “Being a superhero really isn’t a solo job. Things get messy, and the hero isn’t always in a position to straighten things out. Someone needs to bat clean up.”
There was a long pause before she replied. “Wow. There are so many troubling things about those statements; I don’t know where to start.”
“Roan needs me. You’re right, he’s a good guy. A very good guy. I’m not all that good.”
She exhaled like she’d been holding her breath. “We’re talking vigilante here, aren’t we?”
“I thought you already knew,” he admitted. He checked his email on his laptop, to see if Roan had emailed him anything about Elena’s case before he tackled a gunman and bled from the ears. Sometimes Roan’s emails would come in delayed, by hours or days, making him wonder if the NSA just liked to be extra thorough with them, possibly scouring them for secret codes, before routing them to their intended destination. Not that he was actually paranoid tenough o believe that, but if anyone was being monitored closely, it was definitely Roan. The Feds had been interested in him for some time. Roan knew that better than anyone, and that’s why he always told possibly incriminating things in face to face talks, with his cell phone shut off or not with him at all.
“God, Fox, what am I going to do with you? Street shit never translates into the real world, you know that. You’re flirting with disaster.”
“Maybe so, but I’m bangin’ a hot young jock who gets off on dangerous men, so from my perspective I’m living the dream.”
“You ever call me from prison again, I’m reminding you of this.”
“You’re welcome to.” But she did have more of a point than she knew. If Roan was out of the game for a while – or permanently – Holden was on his own. He wouldn’t be batting clean up, sure, but he also wouldn’t have the luxury of one motherfucking trump card of a back up. Even people who thought they were ready for Roan never actually were. They were prepared for the man, or maybe the lion, but never the two smashed together like some mythical beast straight out of Salvador Dali’s hell. To paraphrase Roan’s beloved Monty Python, maybe no one expected the Spanish Inquisition, but absolutely no one, including the universe, every expected to deal with a lion-human hybrid. How did you even prepare for that? Holden worked with him, and even he didn’t know for sure. All he knew was you didn’t want to be in the same room with a furious Roan, unless you were feeling especially suicidal.
If he intended to keep a side gig as a vigilante, he was going to have to get used to flying solo. Of course, did he even want to do it anymore? Sure, he was good at it, but that alone wasn’t enough of a reason.
He’d built this weird little side career with Roan. But if it was done, he needed to figure out where he was going from here.
Goddamn it. Yet another thing to worry about.
Roan didn’t know why he was surprised to wake up, but he was.
Maybe it was because the last thing he knew, he was bleeding from the ears, and it felt like his brain was being slowly crushed by his weirdly thickening skull. The last thing he saw was just a hint of worry in Shep’s otherwise placid eyes, and when you could make a professional EMT worry, that was all kinds of bad. Still, he hadn’t got his ticket punched yet. How was a minor mystery, although Roan supposed his stubbornness combined with the lion’s made up a pretty formidable force. How long they could defy nature was up for grabs, but there was a point where, no matter how much the will wanted it, the body simply couldn’t. Even before that talk withRosenberg, he knew he was sidling ever closer to the edge every time he partially transformed. In retrospect, he wondered why it hadn’t stopped him.
Roan glanced around at his hospital room, trying to guess which hospital he was in. He felt oddly numb and really thirsty, maybe a tiny bit headachy, and he was becoming slowly aware of dull aches in strange places, like his chest and his left arm. Was he shot there? Must have been.
He wasn’t surprised to see Dylan sitting in a chair beside his bed, reading a book that Roan had given to him, and rubbing his eyes in weariness. When he was done, he saw Roan was awake and looking at him, and smiled weakly. “Hey hon, how you feeling?”
“Not too bad, considering. How are you holding up?”
“The same.” He put a bookmark in the paperback, then sat forward, putting the book aside. “So, were you ever going to tell me?”
Roan had to think about it a moment. He supposed he could have played dumb, but he knew exactly what he was referring to. He couldn’t lie to him anymore, and it seemed not only stupid, but cruel. “Yeah, as soon as I came to terms with it. I never like to think of myself as coming up against something I can’t beat.”
Dylan gave him a soft kiss and ran a hand through his hair before resting his forehead against his. “Oh hon, you’re not Superman.”
“No. Apparently I’m the Hulk.”
“You’re much too sexy to be the Hulk,” he said, putting a warm hand on his chest.
“Thanks for that.” Roan took a moment to just enjoy this closeness and peace. He stroked Dylan’s soft, freshly scented hair. “I’m sorry I got shot.”
“You were just doing what you do,” he replied, being kind.
“Throwing myself in front of bullets?”
He sighed at his stupid joke. “Saving people, smartass.” He sat back, but kept his hand on his chest. “What are you going to do?”
That was something he’d been thinking about since talking to Doctor Rosenberg. For the longest time, he really didn’t know. But now, weirdly enough, he knew. There was really only one answer, and it was high past time he pull the trigger.