Val was a telepath, and telepaths who survived learned to control their emotions. Dave’s gaze found hers, though his eyes were unfocused. As she took in the purple bruises on his face and the way he swayed even though he wasn’t standing, she ruthlessly stomped down on the emotion welling up in her stomach. She pursed her lips in a thoughtful manner, hyper-aware of Blueblood and the Fox Woman watching her reaction.
“Well,” Val said, “That’s not what I was expecting.”
She could shoot Distortion. Shoot Distortion, take out the others telepathically, and free Dave. No, she didn’t know the whole situation yet, and besides, that was…that was a huge sacrifice to make for someone who didn’t even want to kiss her.
“Grabbing unexpected opportunities when they come up is the secret to success,” Blueblood said cheerfully.
Val looked at the Fox Woman. “You disagree?”
The Fox Woman pulled a pack of cigarettes from her purse. “I don’t have a problem with abducting superheroes. That’s fine. Wonderful. Congratulations on your success.” She picked a cigarette with her long fingers, and Distortion instantly produced a lighter decorated with a skull and crossbones. “But keeping him alive while we discuss what to do with him? You might as well dance on the edge of a volcano.”
“Let’s not be hasty, Evelyn,” Blueblood said. “He could be useful.”
“I’ve heard it all before.” The Fox Woman took a long drag and blew smoke. “It never ends well.”
“Don’t be such a wet blanket.” Blueblood opened one of the boxes and started digging through it for something. “Do you realize what’ll happen if we kill White Knight? The fame we’ll get? The respect?”
“Then kill him,” the Fox Woman said. “Quickly.”
Val realized she’d gone still. She crossed her arms and shifted her weight, watching Blueblood like she was only mildly interested in what he decided.
He pulled an ax from the box, a sturdy thing for wood-chopping, and twirled it playfully. “Where’s the fun in that?”
Then he swung at Dave. It took all of Val’s willpower not to flinch as the axe collided with his back. It knocked him forward, and he grunted. But he silenced himself quickly, and the only sound was the jangling of the heavy chains enveloping him as he struggled to move.
“Christ, that hurt.” Blueblood flexed the arm that held the axe, wincing. Then he caught sight of the blade and paused. It was cracked. “He’s going to be even harder to torture than I thought.”
Hard, but not impossible. The axe may not have cut him, but it had obviously hurt at least somewhat. And once Blueblood started getting creative….
“Another reason to stop fooling around and kill him,” the Fox Woman said.
Blueblood fingered the broke blade. “I guess you’re right. ‘The man who killed White Knight with a single touch’ does have a nice ring to it.”
“Or you could drown him.” The Fox Woman sucked on her cigarette. “If you want to make a statement, drown him in blue paint and dump the body somewhere public.”
“Now that’s an idea. It would confuse the hell out of the DSA, at least. They wouldn’t know if it was really me or just someone trying to throw them off track.”
Dave groaned from the floor, and there was an awful metal snap as he strained against the chains. All the big tough crime bosses in the room took a reflexive step back. Of course plain old metal chains wouldn’t be enough to hold Dave. Val could have told Blueblood that the moment she walked in, but she’d kept her mouth shut.
“Madame Morphine!” Blueblood called.
The woman burst in through the door, took one look at Dave, and rushed over to him. Dave’s attempts to rise slowed the moment she reached him, and after a few short seconds, he slumped back to the floor. Val felt sick. That explained the dazed look in his eyes when she’d first walked in and why he hadn’t already broken free. Madame Morphine must be constantly dosing him with her chemicals to make him drowsy and docile.
“I hate to say I told you so,” said the Fox woman, “But I did.”
“Point taken.” Blueblood dropped the axe to the floor with a metal clunk. “We don’t have the resources to hold him long-term.” He rubbed his chin and gazed at Dave’s body. “I just feel like we’re wasting an opportunity by getting rid of him straight away.”
Stall, Val told herself. Stall before they send someone off to buy the blue paint.
“He’s always managed to block me out when I’ve tried to read his thoughts before,” Val said. “Would you mind if I had another go at him?”
The Fox Woman’s head turned sharply to look at her, and Blueblood clapped his hands together.
“Exactly the kind of suggestion I was hoping for,” he said. “I knew you and I were two of a kind.”
He gave her a knowing look, his blue eyes full of significance. Val hid the way it made her skin crawl and offered him half a smile in return.
“And what are you going to be looking for inside his thick head?” the Fox Woman asked.
Val strolled up to where Dave lay. “He works for the DSA. He’s bound to know something useful. Security codes, the identities of double agents—the list goes on and on, really.”
“And you know my goals,” Blueblood added. “If we’re going get the kind of power we want, eliminating the competition is only step one. Step two is to cripple the DSA. Who knows, Evelyn.” He raised his eyebrows. “He might even know that certain little piece of information you’re so eager to get your claws on.”
The Fox Woman’s hand paused for a split-second as she moved the cigarette from between her lips. Not good. Blueblood knew something that the Fox Woman wanted, and Val didn’t.
“Fine.” The Fox Woman dropped her cigarette and smothered the burning tip with the toe of her suede pumps. “Play your games. On the off chance you learn something worthwhile, I expect to be informed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get a few things done while the DSA is distracted scrambling every resource to find him.”
She strode out, and Distortion followed, Val’s telepathic senses returning several seconds after she left.
Blueblood immediately got busy setting everything up for Val, while Giordano loomed protectively by her side. Dave’s chains were replaced with ones even thicker and heavier, and more guards were brought into the room. Blueblood outlined his strategy for if things went wrong, which was simple: Madame Morphine would sedate Dave again if he got out of control, and if that didn’t work, Blueblood would kill him. Through it all, Val tried to come up with a plan. Stalling wasn’t a plan. Stalling was what you did to give yourself time to think of a plan. And if Val didn’t think of something, all she was going to accomplish was stretching out the last painful moments of Dave’s life before they killed him anyway.
Blueblood pulled out a cheap folding chair, offering it to Val with a flourish of his hand like it was a seat at the queen’s table. When Dave groggily came to about twenty minutes later, Val was sitting in front of him with her legs crossed.
Werecat, one of Blueblood’s men with enhanced strength, had been picked to handle White Knight. He grabbed Dave’s collar and pulled him up into a kneeling position. Dave swayed, and it took a moment for his eyes to focus on Val’s knees.
You’re in trouble, she told him telepathically.
His head jerked up, and some of the fog in his gaze cleared. Val?
She was glad he hadn’t said her name aloud. But then, with her powers, she could sense the way his head felt like a pounding thunderstorm, his body like a collection of stitched-together aches and sores. It wasn’t caution that held his tongue but the fact that he couldn’t get his mouth to work.
Listen, she started, but she could feel the walls around his mind grow thicker and more reinforced. That’s not going to help.
What do you want? The words felt heavy and sluggish as they entered Val’s head.
To save your life. They’re planning to kill you, and if I’m going to convince them not to, I need to prove you’re more useful to us alive. She gave his mental walls a gentle push, a plea to open up rather than an attempt to break inside. You need to let me in.
She leaned forward. It’s the only way. I don’t know how much you remember, but Madame Morphine is right over there. She’s been dosing you the second you cause any bit of trouble. You can’t escape. You need to work with me.
No. End of discussion.
Val clenched her jaw. Fine. If you don’t want me in your head, then you need to give me something. A piece of intel, something we wouldn’t be able to find out from other sources.
He shook his head and then flinched. Val could feel it: the way the sudden motion had inflamed the pounding in his skull and made him dizzy. He wouldn’t be able to fight his way out of this, not in his condition. If Val couldn’t get something out of him, he was dead.
You stubborn ass! Blueblood’s going to kill you. Do you think I want that to happen? Do you think I want to watch you die?
He winced. I’m sorry. But you’re asking me to betray the men and women I work with, to betray my duty—
Because it’s all about duty with you, isn’t it?
The hurt on his face made Val squeeze shut her eyes. She had to get control of herself.
I’m sorry, he repeated.
It doesn’t have to be information that will get someone killed, she tried. You can give me something small, something just enough to string them along with until the DSA finds you.
I can’t. I’m sorry, Val. You know I can’t.
Val straightened up, struggling to keep her face smooth and calm. She took a deep breath—and slammed her consciousness into his.
Dave reeled back as if he’d been physically hit. Val crashed against his walls like a rush of floodwater, testing every crack for a way through. It wasn’t elegant. It wasn’t cunning. It was brute force, plain and simple, and not how she usually operated. But she’d run out of options, so she hit him with everything she had. She pushed until her temples ached, until her neck and shoulders were tight with strain. She forced herself to the point that if he didn’t break, she would.
And it was all for nothing. Dave’s walls didn’t budge. He was as unwavering as he’d been on the day they’d first met.
Val broke off her attack. She found herself hunched over in the chair, gasping for breath. Giordano put a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m fine,” she said hoarsely.
Blueblood strolled up to her other side. “I’m guessing that didn’t go well.”
His hands were in his pockets, and Val found herself staring at the exposed blue skin around his wrists. All he had to do was reach out and touch Dave, and it would be over.
“I was close,” she lied. “I want to try again. I can break him.”
“Hmm.” Blueblood looked down at Dave, and Dave, his head starting to clear, glared back. “Agreed. There’s no reason to give up so soon. We might be able to wear down his mental defenses.”
“How?” she asked.
Blueblood’s mouth split in a wide grin. “Leave it to me.”
Stupid heroes and their stupid integrity. 😉
Slightly longer update to make up for the delay again. I’m trying to shake off a head cold that was killing me yesterday. It’s still lingering, but not as bad as when my head was pounding from congestion, and every time I coughed (which was a lot), it pounded worse. Hopefully, I can get rid of it by the end of the week. Hope you all are doing better than I am!