- December 11, 2022
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 15)
The Untouchable Friend
“Alright, Burke, you don’t have to show off,” Marie tells me. I catch sight of her redoing the bandage wrappings around her hands as I hold a weight over my head. Somebody’s copying a certain Tiger Fist.
By weight, I mean one made specifically for me, at 165 tons. I’m lifting a space shuttle at this weight, with one hand, and nobody’s impressed! Well, my mom is, but everyone’s mom is impressed with everything, one would hope.
Everyone uses the gym with the soldiers, but only I have a special machine, built for my increasing strength. Half the gym is the same as any other, with tons of machines and weights and whatnot. The other half is this machine, with these two large containers containing some kind of artificial pressure to make it seem like I’m lifting actual tons of weight. I’m not sure how science works, but it works for me.
All I know is this, when the Director first let us go out, when we first met the Hood, I was benching 10 tons, now I’m doing 165 one-handed. I’m getting stronger, whether through practice or natural growth, and that should be impressive.
I tell Marie exactly that.
“Come on! No one seems the least bit impressed by how strong I am! I could probably have knocked down Atlas with this much muscle now.” I try to flex, only to reveal that my arms aren’t much bigger than they were from my cheerleading days, but like… I got some muscle.
But then I realize I mention punching Atlas… “Hey, I didn’t-”
Marie waves me off as she leans back under the bar. “Don’t worry about it, but seriously, it’s not that it isn’t impressive, it’s just that you’ve always been the strongest,” she tells me. “It’s hard to be excited about something being exactly what it’s supposed to be.
When she says that my chest feels warm, and I have to keep from saying ‘aw.’
I also notice that she’s put more weight on the bar, and she’s hitting it hard. I ask Marie, “Are you sure you want to bench that much?”
“What? Are you Claire now? I’m good,” she assures me, though not well enough because those last words were really strained. I don’t try and spot her, she’ll get mad, but I’m fast enough that I can catch it when she drops it.
I pretend to drink my water, though I think I’ve worked up more of sweat from the crappy air conditioning than my actual workout. I really do wonder if this growth is from training in… whatever that magic place was called, or just natural progression.
I mean, if it’s natural that only means that I will get stronger, I’ll be better able to protect everyone, but what if none of my progress is actually because of hard work? I don’t get any satisfaction out of that, it makes me feel… kind of lazy, and not like in an ‘it’s the weekend’ kind of way.
The stronger I get, the harder it’s going to be to control, especially if it’s natural growth. I guess it’s good I picked cheerleading over soccer, the intensity might make me mess up and kick the ball through someone’s head. Actually, with cheerleading…
Yeah, if I ever do manage to get around to college, getting on the cheer team will be tough. Wait, can I even be on the cheerleading team? I graduated high school at 19, I’ll be too old by the time I get to it. Thanks for holding me back a year mom.
“Uhhhh,” Marie groans as I see her struggling with the added weight, not taking her time. I wait until it starts falling, I can think and move that fast. That way, she can’t get mad and she can’t complain.
Mostly she can’t complain.
The second her arms drop, my hand is around the bar, holding it up. I lift it up and onto my shoulder so it’s out of her way, and make sure to ask her, “Are you okay?”
Her hands are covering her face, and they crack a bit so she can see me.
“Yeah,” she groans, and sits up with this embarrassed look on her face, “say it.”
I can’t help but smile. “I don’t need to.”
We both get to chuckle, something that’s really nice over the whole, ‘I hate all the Burkes thing,’ not that it wasn’t necessarily unjustified. Still nice.
This also means she’s willing to confide that, “It’s just… watching you grow stronger, it irks me… getting left behind.”
“Well, that’s not true, I mean, it’s not like the Hood and Tommy are benching a ton like me,” I point out, trying very hard not to smile as she mockingly glares at me. I break and get honest. “Okay, not funny, I know, but honestly, pure strength is my power, yours is ice, are you trying to tell me your abilities haven’t gotten stronger? Like at all?”
Marie nods her head, thinking about that. That means I have a point, I like having a good, solid point. That sounded dirtier than it was supposed to but it’s only in my head.
I like today, today’s been good, long, but good.
Marie takes what I say to heart and stands up as she freezes her arm.
Like Tommy, she can use her powers without completely freezing her body, but that might have always been to hide her identity, I never asked before.
She looks to me and asks, “Can you clap your hands for me? I want to test something out that I noticed with Tommy.”
By clap, I guess she means my Thunder clap. Yep, came up with that name all by myself. Totally original.
I stand next to her and aim towards the ceiling. A light clap won’t hit it, it’s high up. I ready my hands to clap with my super-strength, and she gives me the go ahead.
I slam my hands back together and sends like a… a… I don’t know… like a wave? I don’t know if its wind or something but its heading towards the ceiling. Marie’s hand sends a mist upwards but it’s faint, I don’t see it reach all that far, until the wave turns into a block of ice.
She can freeze air pressure!
I feel like if I paid attention in chemistry I’d understand more why that’s impressive. Like, she can freeze gases, not just liquids and solids. Not only gases, but like the air.
Actually, that sounds pretty dangerous.
The ice looks like a wave before it hits the lamp on the ceiling, and while it doesn’t fall the light bulb shatters.
Barely any kind of loss, I blow the fragments away and get excited.
“You can freeze the air? You didn’t even need a stream of it or anything!”
She’s impressed with herself too as she looks at her hand in amazement. “Yeah, I realized that I don’t have to freeze everything by touching it, I can send out my coldness…?” she asks herself, not sure about the naming specifics. I mean, I don’t know jack shit either so no biggie. “Well, I tried just pushing it out, I’ve been doing that for a while, but I couldn’t do anything but give Tommy goosebumps. Now I can freeze gas, doesn’t have to be a liquid or a solid, so like the air!”
“See!” I begin to remind her, “I told you your superpowers are getting stronger.”
Marie smirks, happy with herself, and nods, “Yeah, you’re right,” and looks up me, “thanks, Burke.”
I’m about to tell her ‘sure thing,’ but the intercom comes on with the voice from hell.
“First off, stop breaking my gym,” Claire scolds us, and in a more serious matter she orders us, “and report to the hangar, there’s a situation. Emily, suit up, Marie hit the showers.”
We know she can hear us so Marie asks her, “Why should I hit the shower but not Burke?”
“She’s going to be the Hood’s backup for the field, you need to go to the hospital, Tommy needs you,” she says, and just like that, by just her tone I can tell that this day has went from good to bad. There was only one goddamn hour left too.
I didn’t waste much in the showers after Claire filled me in about Tommy and his sister.
She told me that this bust went wrong, the Hood fucked up and the guy escaped with the power to turn people into stone with a touch. Long story short, guy ran into Tommy and his sister…
His sister lost an arm.
I haven’t met his family; he always came over to mine house or we got lunch or something in the city. He lives in the suburbs outside Aegis City, and I had kids to watch, couldn’t be so far away. Got a sitter now, but I don’t know, I don’t like being away.
Right now, Tommy’s family is coming to Burke County Hospital, yes, this place, and all of its bad memories. They still haven’t opened up the floor to that part of the hospital yet, even after all of these weeks.
I almost thought months because of how long it’s been for me.
I don’t have to go far into the waiting area to find Tommy alone, waiting for his sister to come out of surgery. There’s also the fact that no one is coming near the shirtless superhuman, even if he’s known as one of the good guys.
He sees me as I’m fast walking to him.
“Hey Marie,” he greets me, trying to give me some kind of smile but it falls apart to the guilt and worry that must be eating him alive.
I don’t say anything I just kneel down and hug him as he sits in his seat. He doesn’t hesitate to hug me back and let me just squeeze him.
I let him hug it out for as long as he needs, press his face into my shoulder and cover his eyes. He’s doing the thing where he tries to not cry.
After a few minutes he lets me go and has a strong sniffle, his face all red but he won’t cry. Tommy’s more emotional than most but he’s still a stupid guy in public.
“Hey, she’s gonna live, she’s gonna be fine,” I tell him and I go through my backpack and fish out his clothes. Claire gave me a shirt and some sweatpants for him because he burned most of his. He could use something more than shredded shorts. Somehow she predicted that no one would offer him some hospital clothes.
I take a seat next to him. As I rest my arm around Tommy, he falls into his hands, unable to think of anything else.
He did it, he cut it off and cauterized her arm so she didn’t turn to stone. Since we’ve gotten back, people have been popping up with powers like it’s no tomorrow. These powers that people are getting, they’re not like ours like they should be. They’re not happening naturally, and they’re getting out of control. I think there’s almost more people with powers that don’t work than ones that do at this point.
“How long have you been waiting here?” I ask him.
He shrugs and tells me an hour.
Jeez, I haven’t seen Shelley or Bruce since dinner. I mean, they and the new sitter and know how to use the new door lock Emily got.
Thinking about it now, if that had been Shelley or Bruce… no, I could have done it. Their life or their arm, easy price for me. Then again, I would have nulled the pain more than cause it, being ice instead of fire.
I’m not brave enough to try to get Tommy to talk about anything so I sit and wonder how long it’ll be before his family gets here.
Before the clock strikes one in the morning, I’m still waiting with him, falling asleep on his shoulder, but he’s wide awake. I hear the doors slide open and I feel Tommy move under my head.
As Tommy gently shakes me awake, still somehow a gentleman, he tells me, “My family’s here.”
My eyes are up and at first, I have no idea where he’s pointing to, at least until I see people running towards us who look nothing like Tommy. I stand up with Tommy staring at this Hispanic couple with a black boy.
I see Tommy’s face contort, red as can be as the woman lets the man take the kid’s hand. I don’t get it until she comes and embraces Tommy, this woman is shorter than me, hugging him tight, speaking to him in Spanish.
The boy, preteen definitely, maybe younger but just as tall as the woman, comes and talks to Tommy in Spanish. I think he said something along the lines of, “Where’s Sofia?”
I’m barely decent at Spanish, but it’s easier to understand the kid. He doesn’t talk as fast as the woman.
The man, who’s at Tommy’s ear, comes and puts a hand on Tommy’s shoulder, telling him, “I’m sure you did what you could, you still saved your sister.” I notice that he doesn’t have much an accent, but its still there as he speaks English.
I look between them all. I look at this Hispanic woman with long black hair, and a Hispanic man with short hair of the same color, each with their wrinkles, him with gray hairs and hers obviously dyed.
I see the signs that they’ve aged like my mom, unlike Burke’s seemingly ageless parents. But neither of them are the Adonis that Tommy’s pretty close to being. Then the kid, a black boy with dreadlocks. The lot of them all look so different, and with Tommy’s name being Rodriguez…
Tommy looks at me, clearly marked by tears, finally being united with his mom. He introduces me, “Mama, Papa, Jonas, this is Marie, my friend,” and he looks to me and says, “I hope you don’t mind but they know you’re… you know.”
I shake my head, “It’s fine,” Tommy’s family can know I’m Icicle, it’s not like they don’t worry about him enough to know that I worry about my family. I ask Tommy more importantly, “Why didn’t you ever tell me you were adopted?”
Tommy is actually surprised at first by my question but with a scratch behind his head he admits, “Never really came up, kind of thought everyone knew, considering me and my sister are in the same grade, and we’re definitely not twins.”
Then it also dawns on me, Sofia Rodriguez, co-captain of the cheerleading team with Burke, that’s his goddamn sister! I thought he only hung out with her because she was friends with Burke, but it’s the other way around!
Tommy’s father, the one he calls papa, puts his hands on his son and wife’s shoulders to press them to calmly sit down. It so strange hearing ‘papa’ come out of a grown white boy’s mouth. An unconventional family leads to all things unconventional, but that’s cool, it’s just different. It would be more endearing to have learned this under better circumstances.
Tommy’s mother, definitely Mrs. Rodriguez, asks Tommy, “Is there any news on Sofia?”
Tommy explains to them that, “Cauterizing the wound stopped any major blood loss, and surgery is sewing the wound shut. The cut,” Tommy has a hard time explaining, being the one who cut her.
He looks down at his hand, and his breathes start getting audible.
“It… it didn’t go cleanly, there were… multiple chops.”
“Chops?” Mr. Rodriguez asks, not understanding what happened, and it becomes clear that they don’t know that Tommy cut their daughter’s hand off. His father begins to get ideas, and asks Tommy, “How did Sofia’s arm get cauterized and removed?”
The tension could have been cut by a butter knife with the way Tommy’s eyes raised to meet his father’s, afraid of something. Afraid of anger or disappointment in hurting his daughter, I hear that dads tend to be like that. Tommy is clearly afraid to say.
With a change in his parents’ faces, it’s clear that they realize that it had to be Tommy in some way. His brother asks them, “Um, what does, cauterize, mean?”
They ignore him, his father murmuring to him, “I’ll tell you later, Jonas.”
Mrs. Rodriguez goes to hold Tommy’s face and I rub his back as Tommy dips his head, about to cry again.
She asks him, “What happened… or I should ask, what did this, superhuman do?”
The way she says it, like she’s still not used to the word, it makes it sound like something still from a comic book. We’ve had superhumans for a couple centuries at least if science works the way it should, but it was only made public knowledge with the last election, a play for public acceptance, being open and honest. It has to be hard for people who never liked the movies to figure out what’s going on.
I know for Tommy, his powers showed up only a few months before S.I.L.A.S. set up shop. That’s a much shorter time frame from me.
I volunteer with my hand, telling Tommy, “The Director filled me in, I can explain if you’d rather not.” He nods his head and goes back to staring off into space. “A teammate of ours was on a bust with local criminals, selling stuff that can give people powers.”
“They can do that?!” Mr. Rodriguez is shocked to know, and Tommy gives him a lower gesture for his voice, which causes the man to apologize.
I explain, “Only for people with the superhuman gene, like Tommy and me, it kills anyone who doesn’t have it. It’s supposed to kickstart it, because even among the few people with the superhuman gene, even fewer will have theirs activate so to speak, it can only activate during puberty without being in some kind of experiment.”
Jonas, the smart little kid it seems, figures that, “So this guy is like Spider-Man, getting his powers from an accident, not a mutant like the X-Men.”
“Um, sort of, I don’t… I don’t really know what that would mean,” I say with a shake of my hand, “just… know that when it’s forced it goes wrong. This guy’s powers went out of control, unstable. If it had been triggered normally through luck or something… ‘natural,’” nothing really seems natural about it, “then maybe he wouldn’t be turning people to stone, or at least he would have some control.”
They take it in. The science and the logic must sound terrifying to them I bet. This isn’t the world they grew up in anymore.
Under his breath, Tommy’s father gasps, “He just, touched her hand, an-and then she started turning to stone? Like a statue in front of the church?”
I nod my head, because that’s basically it.
He dips his head, shaking it, seeming as out of it as Tommy. He’s unable to understand how people have these powers, wondering, “What has this world come to when people have a power like that? Only God should have something like that.”
Tommy’s head raises. I’m used to comments like that, not being a big believer in a god. Tommy’s different.
“I’m that strong,” he tells his father, and Mr. Rodriguez realizes his mistake.
“But God is in all who follow him, there’s something else is in these monsters.” Good save there, Papa Rodriguez.
Mrs. Rodriguez squeezes Tommy’s hand, assuring him, “It sounds to me like you saved your sister by doing everything you could.”
She kisses his hand, which lets his face rise a little from that frown he has going on. “Thank you, Mama.”
Jonas stands up, the kid starts pacing, unable to stay still while waiting for to hear about his sister. Can’t really blame a kid for being antsy in this situation, and no one’s telling him everything, but that doesn’t stop his father from trying to tell him to calm down.
“Jonas, please settle down.”
“I can’t!” Jonas yells, throwing his arms in the air.
Tommy reaches out and grabs his brother’s arm, pulling him close to remind him, “The doctors said that she’s gonna live, that she’s gonna be fine, so it’s just a matter of healing, there’s nothing to be anxious about.”
There’s nothing for Jonas to worry about, not in his younger mind, but I’m sure Tommy’s anxious as all hell about what Sofia is going to say to him.
Jonas dips his head, growing embarrassed. He lets his brother hold him close as they try to wait. Thankfully, they don’t have to wait long.
A doctor comes and calls, “Sofia Rodriguez?” They all stand up immediately, and I join them. The doctor is a little surprised, understandably, and asks, “Family or friends?”
They all say family. The doctor flutters his eyes and just waves them to come on. I’m sure the idea of trying to figure it out wastes more time than it’s worth.
We follow the doctor, with the Rodriguez family following the doctor at his heel, but it doesn’t quite bother him. I’m sure he’s gotten used to it by now.
He eventually leads us to this door in the recovery wing, and before he opens the door, he warns us, “She’s awake, she’s knows that it’s not there, and in my experience it’s best not to linger or look, look at her face. She knows well enough what’s happened.”
Jonas, ever the curious one, “Other people lose their arms?”
“Amputations, yes, usually because of accidents, happens at construction sites, though with this kind of incident… I’m gonna go with a no.”
Jonas sated, the doctor opens the door and the little boy runs in first, his parents close behind. I don’t move, I can’t move because I naturally stay at Tommy’s side, and he won’t move. I bring my arm to his, seeing how he stares at the ground ahead. He can’t handle her reaction.
“Tommy, it’ll be okay, you’re her brother,” but saying that doesn’t faze him.
He can’t move past the fact, “I’m the brother who cut her arm off,” and who can blame him. With that, the doctor grows surprised and moves to enter, no longer comfortable eavesdropping. “She doesn’t want to see me,” Tommy worries, “I wouldn’t want to see me,” and with this fearful gaze towards his hands, “oh god.”
I don’t know what to say to him, but I don’t have to, because even through the door we can hear his sister call, “Where’s Tommy? Tommy?!”
Tommy’s head lifts up, and this time he realizes that he can’t deny her when she’s calling for him. Tommy leaves my grasp as he swings the door open, frozen at the sight of his sister. She’s got a bloody bandage around her arm, bags under her eyes, both from being exhausted and maybe even blood loss.
Sofia still looks for him with the same sad eyes he had on, not hate. She holds her hand to him, her face cracking with the start of crying.
Tommy calls her name, “Sofe,” and races past their parents to be at her side, coming to his knee to take her hand. Crying alongside with her, her hand moves to his head to press against hers. The two of them hold each other close, him letting her know how sorry he is and her telling him that it’s not his fault.
It’s time I left this family alone, and I back out into the hallway, letting the door shut quietly. I look in from the window as the Rodriguez family comes together.
I can say that this could have been a lot worse.
“Shit!” I curse as I jump, a random noise snapping against my eardrum.
Behind me, Director Knight stands in her trench coat and tie, her hand held up in a snapping motion. “What the hell did you do that for?!”
She doesn’t answer, she just grins to herself and mutters, “Still got it.” It must be being a rude-ass jerk.
“No need to worry, Director, his sister’s fine, alive, armless but the important stuff is all good,” I inform her, trying to transition to a more formal response now that she’s here and here on business most likely.
The Director nods her head, and looks in the window to see what I saw, a family uniting around one of their own. This isn’t the time for one of her life-or-death situations, they just finished one, and I push past formality to tell her so.
“Don’t bother them, Tommy and Sofia just went through something no one should have to, don’t make it worse.”
The Director doesn’t look back at me, she stares at the Rodriguez family intently. “That’s not up to me, because the guy who did this is still on the loose.”
“What does that have to do with them?”
“Well,” she starts as she turns her head back to face me, “for one, the Hood and Espada are heading for the perp’s apartment with James, but what James found out about our… David Sanchez, involves this family.”
Of course, of course it does. There has to be something, there always has to be something else to make shit worse. Everything is always fucking connected.
“What is it now?” I ask, having a hard time not shaking so I cross my arms instead. The Director arches her brow over my attitude, but unless she wants me to cool down the temperature of this place, that’s what I have to do.
She maintains her disciplinary stare until she realizes that we have better things to talk about than this pissing contest.
She reminds me, “You remember how I told you this guy recognized Tommy, as Rodriguez, not Pyre?”
I nod my head.
“That was something I felt the need to look into,” code for having James look into it. “While everyone who cares to know can find out Tommy’s identity, that seemed strange.” Tommy doesn’t wear a mask, hiding isn’t something his family does, that much I already knew and can still tell.
Still, with Burke’s face front and center no one ever thinks to bother Tommy. It’s like being a celebrity voice actor, people know his name, not his face. Plus, he’s on fire all the time, it’s not like he’d be that recognizable.
He also has a pretty common and generic name. Actually, the more I think about it, the stranger it is that this superhuman would know him. He had to know Tommy, not Pyre.
As the Director is gearing up for the big reveal, it doesn’t take me a second to guess that, “Tommy knows this guy, doesn’t he?”
If he was covered in stone, he wouldn’t have recognized this David, but David would him. “Close,” the Director says with a smirk, playing with me, “turns out Tommy doesn’t know David, his parents do.”