Max was looking out the window near the back of the living room, which looked out over a small backyard. It was wedged between two wooden dividers, and would have been overshadowed at the best of times, but Daryl and Sue had managed to turn it into a sanctuary by planting arbors everywhere and then slapping little witch lights everywhere. The whole thing looked incredibly cozy, with a small gazebo at the center with pillowed couches. The two had really done what they could with the space, and Maxine couldn’t help but appreciate it. She liked cozy.
“Hey.” Max felt a twinge in her gut. That wasn’t Victoria, coming to check on her. She knew that voice, though. She turned to Remy and forced a smile. Remy walked up next to her and looked outside. They stood there in silence for a moment. Max tried not to look as terrified of messing up as she was. Penumbra was on standby, which helped a bit. “You know,” Remy finally said, “I have spent a lot of summer nights on those benches out there.” Max nodded. She didn’t know what to do with that information. Remy seemed to be lost in reverie for a moment. “They are good people,” she added, and then nodded at the room. “All of them are.” Max smiled sheepishly and nodded.
“I think so too. They’re all great,” Maxine said. That was true, at least, and it didn’t expose her, as far as she was aware. She was trying to keep a straight face and keep breathing while Remy studied her face.
“Then why are you back here, if you will forgive me asking? Why do you look like you are terrified of everybody in that room?” Remy asked, and if Maxine had been drinking anything, she’d probably have spit it out.
“I -- I don’t…” Remy shrugged and looked out the window again while Maxine stammered up a storm. Even Penny didn’t know what to say; they were just as stumped as Max was. “What do…” she finally managed and then just let out a loud sigh.
“I thought it was Victoria, first. Anxiety about meeting her friends, but that’s not what it… feels like.” Remy glanced at Maxine. “Then I thought you were maybe playing a game with her. A cis girl messing with a trans woman, worried about being found out. But that’s not it, either. I don’t think you’re a bad person.” She sighed. “But you are hiding something, Maxine.” She turned to Maxine again and touched Maxine on the shoulder. “I’m sure you have your reasons. But be honest with Victoria. She deserves that.”
Maxine took a deep breath. She closed her eyes and nodded. “Victoria knows who I am,” she said. Remy smiled when she heard that. “It’s stuff I still need to figure out. How to… be…” Max trailed off. If she said much more, she’d talk herself into a corner. “I’m very glad she has friends like you, Remy. It’s good to know there’s people looking out for her.” She looked at the room. “I wish I’d met all of you like this a lot sooner,” she said wistfully, while Penumbra was waving a big flag in the back of her mind.
“You only met Victoria last week,” Remy said. “I would say you met us very soon.” Max blinked a few times, trying not to panic. Penny was the one to come up with an answer. She was going to have to thank them later.
“I meant… people like this. You have a good community here, a good group of friends. It’s not something I had before. I’m just glad to finally meet people I fit in with.” Remy nodded for a second, then froze, and turned her head slowly to Maxine.
“Victoria mentioned that you already had a circle of queer friends, Max. Did I mishear that?” Max knew that they both knew she hadn’t misheard that. She rubbed her face in frustration, groaned, and looked at Remy between her fingers.
“I’m really messing this up, aren’t I?” she asked, and Remy laughed softly.
“Yes, you kind of are,” Remy said. “You are juggling a lot of secrets, Maxine.”
No kidding, Penny said, unhelpfully. Max suppressed the desire to react to them.
“I’m… I’m honest with Victoria. It’s… to protect myself, if that helps?” she pleaded. Remy nodded. “I just… I can’t explain any of this to anyone just yet. Except Victoria.” She couldn’t afford to. She could lose everything. “She’s amazing,” she said, and looked wistfully at the woman, who was talking animatedly about something to the others, who were laughing at what seemed to be a very interesting story. “I don’t want to lose her. I definitely want to be good enough for her.” Remy nodded.
“She is. Don’t be the kind of person to hurt her and I don’t think you’re going to lose her.” Max nodded, and really, really hoped she wasn’t that kind of person. She didn’t think she was, at least, but she had enough experience with people who considered themselves Good and Morally Upstanding to know that thinking of yourself as the good guy didn’t necessarily translate to effect.
“The best intentions in the world don’t mean anything if the impact is bad?”
“Something like that. A little bit more nuance,” Remy said, but the corner of her mouth went up. Maxine hoped that it was something like tacit approval. “You’re allowed to make mistakes, as long as you can show that you learn from them.”
“Hah. In an ideal world, right?” Max chuckled and Remy joined her. “I’m doing my best, Remy. I just hope it’s enough. For her.” Remy turned her head to her again, but stayed quiet. If she had something to say, she was biting her tongue. “Let’s go back to the others,” Max said. Victoria’s story had apparently reached its conclusion, to loud laughter and even a little applause. Remy nodded, and they made it two steps before they heard a loud bang and all the windows in the room exploded in a shower of glass.
Maxine immediately stepped in the way to shield Remy and felt the shards rain on her back. She was going to have to find a way to hide the fact that there were several buried in her skin, because it was going to be really obvious if she had no wounds in a few minutes. I could… not heal you? I guess? Penny offered, but Maxine wasn’t listening. The noise had come from somewhere outside, and there was still a loud whooshing noise, like an airliner flying overhead. She ran over to the window and was just in time to see something that looked like a jet fighter with giant, glowing angel wings. She looked behind her and saw most of the others were fine, dusting themselves off. She made eye contact with Victoria, who had immediately been looking for her. They held each other’s gaze for a moment, and then V nodded. Maxine clenched her jaw, and nodded back, then scanned the room. Nobody was looking in her direction. Victoria was going to have to explain things, she figured, and then jumped out the window.
Already, Penny was increasing the strength of her movements, and she landed on the patio in a crouch and immediately launched herself off, one giant leap ahead, almost as high as the building, and landed on the gazebo, shards of glass already pushing themselves out of her back. She was almost hit in the face with the skirt of the dress. “Penny,” she mumbled. “Let’s suit up. We’re not dressed for this.” Penny nodded wordlessly, and after a moment, they were seven foot tall and clad in their black exterior. She could see the translucent vehicle ahead, and she knew the direction it was heading in. There was an abandoned school building a little ways in that direction that a lot of people knew about, and she had the distinct feeling it was going that way.
She leapt again, and landed on the next building’s roof over, trying to stay high up. She was going to have to avoid being seen, crossing streets in single bounds and finding flat rooftops to pick up speed for the next jump, using streetlights and power cables to launch herself even further. There was a park, between the suburb and the part of town where the old school was, and she made every use of it, sprinting as fast as she could, keeping an eye on what she knew was going to be the same character as the day before.
Maxine tried to keep her breathing steady, calm her mind. She knew she was going to be confronting the person again, a few hours after Victoria had told her it wasn’t her responsibility. Max felt like she was letting her down. But she couldn’t do nothing. She’d be letting herself down. Then there was Penny, who was clearly uncomfortable. She nudged them softly, to make sure they were okay.
I’m okay, Penny said. Tired. Try to keep this short, okay? Max nodded, but couldn’t make any promises. She wanted to make this quick, but if things went wrong, she didn’t want to assume that the figure was just going to let her go like that. She might need to find a place to hide if it came to that.
She came to the edge of the park and used a tree as a jumping-off point to make her way across the street and halfway up another building, where she clung to it -- without digging her fingers into the concrete, she was proud to note -- and immediately began to climb up as quickly as she could.
Reaching the top, she could see the figure growing smaller and landing near the school building, exactly where she thought it was going to be. Good. He wasn’t going to get away. Still, she didn’t want to give him too much time to do whatever it was he wanted to do. Last time, he’d stolen a bunch of valuables, so she had no idea what he’d been up to this time. Whatever it was, Maxine was going to stop him.
Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, landing with something between elegance and urgency, scrambling to get up, her thoroughly enhanced muscles pumping quickly between each leap. Even now, with all of that aggression, the need to stop the thief, she enjoyed the extreme freedom of it, soaring through the air in a moment of pure weightlessness, before landing and briefly becoming a creature of pure muscle and speed. She tried not to think of the guilt. She’d left Victoria behind, and she was enjoying herself. Focus, Penny said, and she nodded again.
Just two more leaps and Maxine landed on the main building, where she’d seen the figure enter. She crawled down the side of the building, trying to stay quiet as she approached the entrance. She immediately heard shuffling and scraping and saw debris and old benches being tossed out the door. Clearly, the erstwhile villain was making room, probably for his loot. She grimaced, hanging upside down above the entrance, and peeked in. The thief stood by several very large crates, and he seemed to be inspecting the contents while his army of angels were clearing space. He had his back to the door. Good. Max lowered herself carefully, and looked past him at the giant crates. She was immediately disgusted, and couldn’t stop herself from speaking up.
“What kind of a sick bastard steals medical supplies?” she asked with a low growl. Her voice had all the intimidating qualities she needed, courtesy of Penny. Immediately, the masked thief spun around. She was expecting a witty response, or at least an annoyed one, but instead, the thief just roared in anger and frustration. Maxine was going to take the opportunity to at least say something, but instead took a suddenly-appearing ghostly car to the torso and was thrown back against a wall. She’d barely had time to brace, but it had been enough. The wall had cracked. She hadn’t. Now she was just angry.
“All right,” she said as she dusted herself off. “If that’s how you want to play it, buddy, let’s do round two.” She grinned the giant, toothy grin. “I’m done playing nice.”