First time reading? Start at the beginning here.
This time, the meeting was on Val’s turf. And by turf, she meant a lakefront house that her family owned and used to visit when she and her sisters had been children. She stood in the living room in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the lake. On a bright summer day, it held a beautiful view: the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan, white sailboats drifting across the distance like clouds. Today, though, it was dark and gray, and the only view she had was of sheets of rain pounding against the lake’s surface.
The furniture was covered in white sheets to protect from dust, and the heater hadn’t been turned on long enough to warm the place. At least the heating worked, though, and so did the electricity. Yet the house remained eerily silent and empty-feeling, and Val felt like a ghost within its walls. How many years had passed since the last time she’d been here?
Her thoughts went back Dave, as they’d been doing all day no matter how much she tried to think of something else. She’d wanted to go check on him in person, but she’d already taken one stupidly huge risk today, so she’d settled for tracking him down and sending flowers. Northwestern Memorial Hospital was the best in Chicago. He’d be okay.
Except no, he wouldn’t be okay for a long time, no matter how good the medical treatment. Val should have gotten him out of there a lot sooner. She should have never allowed Blueblood to torture him. He probably hated her, and he had every right to. Val had stood by and done nothing but watch as he got hurt. How could he ever forgive her for that?
The floor creaked as Joey approached her from behind. But even if she hadn’t heard him, she would have sensed his general aura of grumpiness before he spoke. Continue reading
Val didn’t pour herself another gin and tonic. She put the empty glass to her lips and leaned back her head, getting a small swallow of melted ice with just a hint of flavor. No more alcohol. She was going to need every fraction of her brainpower to stay alive. She gazed around the room, sizing up the few men who’d come to watch Joey and Cleto’s game, a crumpled wad of fifties waiting on the side of the table for the winner. She’d be able to mind-control one of them, maybe two, to cover her exit if things went south.
The heavy pool tables would make decent cover in the event of a firefight, and the cue sticks could be close-range weapons in a pinch. She’d already mapped the layout and knew about the man Blueblood had out front. That only left Blueblood himself, the most dangerous of them all. She had to keep distance between them at all costs.
Speaking of Blueblood, he walked jauntily out of the kitchen while munching on potato chips. “Ready to have at him?” he asked her.
Val set her glass onto the bar with a resolved thunk and stood. “Lead the way.” Continue reading
Dave was starting to like the concrete floor. Sure, it was hard against his skull and back, pressing each link of chain further into his flesh. And yeah, it was filthy. But letting his muscles go slack as he rested on it felt like a little slice of heaven.
He didn’t know how long he’d been lying there. He didn’t know how many times Giordano and Werecat had dunked him. It felt like it had been a lot of times, but he didn’t want to think about it. If he could have found the strength to lift his head and look at the tub, a shudder of revulsion would have passed through him. He forced himself not to think, not to remember in excruciating detail the feeling of water up his nose and rough hands on his head. He wanted to lie on the floor in a haze and think of nothing at all.
He hadn’t talked. Or at least, he didn’t think he had. He would remember, wouldn’t he? So he had to brace himself. Because when Val came back and tried to get into his head again, he was going to be tempted to tell her everything as long as they stopped, as long as they never brought him anywhere near water again. He couldn’t let himself do that. They were going to kill him anyway, and he didn’t want to die betraying everything he stood for. David Del Toro might dread what came next, but White Knight was strong. He had to be White Knight. Continue reading
Val would have given anything to leave the room, but she forced herself to stay. For one thing, she’d lose Blueblood’s respect if he thought the Black Valentine couldn’t stomach watching someone get tortured. But more importantly, this was her fault. She hadn’t been able to break through Dave’s mental shields, so she could at least bear witness to the price he was paying for her failure.
Joey had stepped into the kitchen behind the bar earlier, rolled up his sleeves, and pressed his forearms to a hot stove to put himself in enough pain that he’d be strong enough to hold Dave’s head under. Even with Werecat’s help and Dave in chains, it was a struggle. The two men crouched awkwardly over Dave’s kneeling position, their hands grasping his arms, shoulder, and head. Dave bucked and thrashed beneath them, but it wasn’t enough to throw them off. Not since Madame Morphine had gone up to him before the torture started, leaving him conscious enough to experience it but in enough of a stupor to have trouble fighting back.
When Dave’s movements began to slow, they pulled him out and threw him back onto the floor. Dave hit it hard, his head rolling back, and immediately started coughing up water. His eyes were squeezed shut, his shoulders curled in, every inch of his body language screaming torment. He looked frail, a word she’d never associated with him before. She should have scorned that show of weakness, but the world seemed to have turned upside down. She wanted to go to him. She wanted to hold his head in her lap, smooth back his wet brown hair from his face, and make sure none of these bastards touched him again.
Val hurt. She could blame some of that on her telepathy, on how she could psychically feel his pain and physical shock, but that didn’t explain her nausea or the ache in her heart.
“We should take a break.” Giordano looked down at Dave’s trembling form impassively. Continue reading
Walter Franke sat in the small interrogation room, comfortable in the way of a man who’d been in this situation a thousand times before. It didn’t matter that he’d never stepped foot into this particular room before today, or that he’d never met the supervillain handcuffed to the table across from him. Everything about this was familiar, up to and including the tangled knot of anxiety his guts had twisted themselves into.
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
“That’s not my problem,” said the supervillain.
He called himself Dr. Blood. He wasn’t a doctor. He hadn’t even made it through a full semester of college. The local agents had found him at home, thankfully, so Walter wasn’t subjected to whatever disastrous eyesore he called a costume. He wore a black T-shirt with some kind of pentagram-type thing on the front, and his dark hair was drowning in gel. The small strip of facial hair going from his lower lip to the tip of his chin might have technically been a goatee, but it didn’t deserve the designation. In short, everything about him made Walter want to punch him in the face.
“It’s most definitely your problem,” Walter said. “If you want to walk out of this room, you need to make yourself useful.” Continue reading
Dave had been ready the first time. Even half-conscious, it hadn’t been hard to figure out their plan when he saw the tub of water they’d brought into the room.
Dave wouldn’t call water his “weakness” exactly, but it was something his super-strength didn’t protect him from. Beating him was a good way to break your knuckles, and trying to cut him was like attacking a tree trunk with a butter knife. His skin was fairly burn-resistant, too, and bullets famously bounced off of him. But he needed to breathe like everyone else.
The tub was big and metal, its sides smeared with dirt. Giordano and the other one—the cat man, Dave couldn’t remember his name—grabbed him and dragged him towards it. Dave didn’t resist, his legs dragging limply across the floor. Part of that was because Madame Morphine had made his limbs feel stiff and distant, but also, he knew he should save his strength.
They dropped him into a kneeling position in front of the tub, the chains around him clinking together at the sudden movement. Dave’s head bobbed unsteadily, and he stared into the tub, seeing individual dirt particles moving in the water. Then hands gripped his shoulders and head, and he took a deep breath. Continue reading
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?” Continue reading
Val stepped out of the car, glancing up and down the seedy Chicago street. It was dark, and the area looked deserted, but that didn’t mean no one was watching. Val crossed the sidewalk quickly, her heels stepping over crumpled bags of chips and cigarette butts, two bodyguards right behind her. She telepathically scanned the old brick building, and even though she didn’t sense any danger, she let one of the bodyguards go in first.
Blueblood had set the meeting place. That meant she needed to be more cautious than usual.
They stepped inside a pool hall. It was big enough to hold six pool tables, a bar, and a dozen or so stools. Two of Blueblood’s men were playing a game, one of them lining up a shot with his cue. No sign of Blueblood himself or Joey, and that made Val worry. Not out of personal concern for Joey’s well-being, but out of the knowledge that if he hadn’t made it back, then the job had gone very, very wrong.
If things had gone wrong, it would benefit Blueblood. He just needed to make a show of trying to help her father so no one suspected him when he made his murder attempt. (Or more likely maneuvered Val into making the attempt. She doubted he’d risk doing it himself.) He may have ordered his men to fail, or set them up to without telling them. Either way, if something had happened to Joey, it was because Blueblood wanted it to. And him eliminating Val’s minions without her permission didn’t bode well for their future partnership.
Then Val noticed a third figure in the room: JB. He was hunched over on one of the barstools, sucking soda out of a glass through a straw.
“Hey, kid,” she greeted. Then she turned back to the men. “Where’s Blueblood?” Continue reading
Dave opened the stairwell door to find Joey Giordano, Madame Morphine, and another goon coming up the steps. The four of them stared at each other for a fraction of a second before all hell broke loose. The goon started shooting, and Dave yelled at the others to run.
Chung and Attwater pulled Puebla back down the hallway as a bullet stung Dave’s side. Giordano charged up the last few steps, and Dave braced himself. The sleeve of the other man’s suit jacket had a bloody tear (Moreen? Was she okay?), which would make him stronger than normal. Dave sidestepped when Giordano swung at him, trying to use the man’s own momentum to throw him. But Giordano was too good a fighter; he didn’t overextend the punch. When he missed, he pivoted and threw another.
Dave raised his arm to block, then used the fist of the same arm to pop Giordano in the jaw. Giordano lurched back and hit the doorframe, knocking the door off its hinges. Judging by that reaction, he wasn’t as strong as Dave yet. But this was no time to play nice. Dave aimed another punch at this head, but Giordano jerked out of the way at the last second. Dave’s fist hit the wall—and went straight through it.
Dave wrenched his hand out of the hole, but it cost him a precious second. Giordano brought down both fists onto the back of Dave’s head. Dave’s vision went white, and he staggered. Pain spiked through his skull, and he tried to shake it off, but Giordano didn’t give him a single instant. He socked Dave in the stomach. Continue reading
Moreen walked down the hallway slowly. Ostensibly, she was taking her time so she could observe every detail of her surroundings. In reality, she wanted to spend as much time outside of their rooms as reasonably possible. Every second was a blissful reprieve. Moreen had barely been able to handle one roommate in college; now she was sharing living quarters with four of them. It was a good thing the trial wasn’t far off, because if she didn’t have that to look forward to, the DSA would show up at the hotel to find four murdered bodies and Moreen laughing maniacally.
At least she had her own room in the suite, and the guys were all acting professionally. Being the lone woman of the group, there were a lot of ways the situation could get shitty. (She didn’t worry about Dave, but she’d never met Agents Attwater and Chung before.) But she’d only been bothered by the standard roommate stuff: people leaving their dirty dishes lying around, the TV being turned up too loud, yada yada. She reminded herself that Puebla, Attwater, and Chung had been stuck together for weeks now. If they could stay locked in a hotel room for that long, then Moreen could handle it for a few more days. She’d just keep taking every opportunity to go do recon and stop by the lobby for coffee and cookies.
A door opened in front of her, and she tensed. Then a mother dragged two children into the hallway, scolding them for goofing off instead of getting ready to leave. Probably not working for Belmonte—unless he was recruiting a lot younger these days. Moreen returned the mother’s distracted smile as they walked past each other, the family to the elevator and Moreen to the stairs. A flight of stairs wasn’t much compared to her usual daily exercise routine, but she’d take any chance to stretch her legs that she could get.
The stairway was empty and quiet except for Moreen’s echoing footsteps. When she reached the lobby, it was almost the same. The man at the front desk spoke to someone over the phone about cancelling a reservation, but there were no other guests. The tables and chairs that were normally full during the morning’s breakfast buffet were deserted, and empty luggage carts sat along the wall. Moreen spotted the cookie basket at the front desk, but first she went to get coffee.
She was pouring cream into Dave’s when the automatic front doors opened, and the man at the front desk cut off mid-sentence. Moreen turned surreptitiously to see who’d walked in. Continue reading