The thief looked uneasy. Good. Max didn’t want him at ease, she wanted him on the back foot. This time there was no building to toss her off of, and she knew what he could do now. It wasn’t just angels and carriages, he could summon whatever he wanted, or near enough for it not to make a difference to Max. Although… he could have just summoned several dozen guns and fired those all at once if that was the case, so clearly there was a limit. She slowly circled him, hunched low. She knew how tall she was. How imposing. She knew any normal person would be scared, and she could tell by the way he held himself that he was far from comfortable.
“What the fuck do you want from me?” the thief asked, and she could almost hear his voice crack if she paid attention. She grinned, her heightened senses helping her pick up on his elevated heartbeat. She felt like a predator for a moment, but all she wanted was to stop him from stealing from people. She decided not to answer his question, though. She wanted to piss him off. She had a lot of pent-up anxiety from the afternoon and he was right there. Maxine needed to express some rage.
“Why are you still wearing those priestess’s robes?” she asked, turning her gait into a four-legged crawl as she circled him, choosing to step into the shadows of the abandoned school’s foyer where she could, where only her eyes and her teeth would be easily visible. His angels moved to stand between him and her, but he made no move to attack.
“Wh-what? What do you mean?!” He shook his head. “Why do you even care!?” Maxine chuckled in the darkness, a low, mean rumble.
“I told you the other day what those were and here you are. You’re still wearing them.”
“So? What are you on about?” Max examined him, smelled in the air how nervous he was getting, how fast his heart was beating. This kept getting under his skin, and she knew she should keep pushing. She could think of a few reasons why what she was saying was bothering the thief so much, but she wasn’t in the mood to think about that now, just kept… digging the same hole.
“You can just wear clothes like that, you know,” she said. “You don’t have to be a creepy villain with a creepy mask. You can just… wear dresses.” She stopped and cocked her head. “Would that make you happy?” That did it. She could tell. His pupils widened, his heart skipped a beat and he held his breath. She braced for the inevitable attack, wondering what form it would take. She had not expected a subway car to materialize in thin air, flung at her at high speed, but she had been trying to prepare for anything. Making a quick decision, she launched herself at one of the windows, hands in front of her. She crashed through the first window, and then through the next and landed on the floor. Behind her, the car crashed into the door of an old classroom and beyond. “I think I struck a nerve.” She waited for Penny to pipe up, but they stayed quiet.
“Leave me the fuck alone,” the thief yelled, and started throwing sawblades at her. Yawn. She dodged them with ease. God, he even made a throwing motion with his arm with every throw. The blades lodged themselves into the concrete behind her before dissolving into nothing. She still didn’t move in close. She wanted to see if she could push him to the limit of his power and avoid getting donkey-punched like last time. There were also the sword-wielding angels to contend with. She squinted.
“Can’t do that, friend. You keep stealing stuff that isn’t yours,” Maxine said. “You’re a thief. I’m going to come for you, and I’m going to keep coming until you stop or I stop you.” She paused for a moment. “Do you have a name? Something cute to go with the robes, maybe?” She leapt sideways and slowed down again. She wanted him to feel caged. He was going to make a mistake or he was going to wear out at some point, and that’s when she’d make her move.
“Fuck you,” he said coldly. She laughed and dodged another projectile.
“That’s not very nice of you, hun. Do you need help picking out a name?”
“I… no! I don’t need a name!” He growled and flung another car at her. This time she managed to evade it by jumping up to the ceiling and clinging to it. She grinned at him while hanging upside down. She couldn’t help but laugh. She felt like a cat toying with a mouse. She didn’t know how he’d gotten the better of her the first time, he was just a scared idiot with superpowers. He had no idea what he was doing.
“I’ve heard that before,” she said. “Does the name your parents gave you make you uncomfortable?” He didn’t respond, but his hand was frozen mid-motion. Maxine was right on the money, and she knew it. “You want to be someone else, don’t you, ‘obviously a man’?” The humour in her voice was gone. “You want to escape who you are, because who you are is revolting,” she said, and began circling him again.
“You weren’t good enough and now you have the power to change the world,” she said, snarling as she spoke. Max, Penny said very softly, you’re pushing too hard. She shook her head internally. He needed to hear this. This was important. “You have immeasurable power, power you don’t deserve, and the first thing you do… is help yourself. Enrich yourself. Take something you don’t even deserve to have.” The figure had dropped their arms, just stood there looking at her. Didn’t even say anything anymore. “You disgust me,” she said softly.
The thief didn’t move as a concrete block appeared in thin air and fired itself at her, slower than before. She struck it with a single claw and broke apart harmlessly. Whether it was because his energy had run out, or his will to fight, didn’t really matter. She stood up straight and walked toward him.
“How…” The first of his angels stepped towards her as the words petered into nothing. She dodged the sword and disarmed the angel. The second hit killed it. It had seemed sluggish, weak. The other angel strode over to her, elongated arms and legs, sword ready. She grabbed the sword as it was thrust toward her and she broke it off, looking only at the thief as she did so. Almost casually, she stabbed the angel with the tip of the sword, and it disappeared. Now it was just her and the thief. “How do you know?”
She stood in front of the thief. Her desire to hurt someone was fading fast. She just wanted to do the right thing, and if this person was really… more like her than she wanted them to be… they needed help. Even if they were a dangerous criminal. She needed to make sure. “What’s your name?” she asked. “What name do you want? What are your pronouns? What do you want me to call you?”
“I-- R-- I don’t--” Maxine saw the hesitation, and she made herself get smaller, trying to be less intimidating. “I don’t know what you’re talking about with all this pronoun stuff. I’m a guy, and you know it. You’re just fucking with my head. I’m not one of those transgender…” His eyes narrowed. “But you are, aren’t you? That’s why you talk like you do. You’re a guy, aren’t you? You’re just… you’re just projecting!” He sounded almost triumphant, as if he was not playing with fire and asking to get his shit kicked in. “You’re a guy with delusions and you want everyone else to be too!”
Maxine stopped shrinking. This. Little. Weasel. Was not going to talk to her that way. She growled and grew again. Grew not only taller, but bigger, monstrous. If that little bastard was going to look at her like she was an abomination, then she could prove just how monstrous she could be. She growled. Snarled. She felt the rage come back up. She had been trying to help. She had tried being nice despite deciding not to be. Maxine. Please. No, he had this coming. He’d made that very clear. So she was going to treat him as the simple criminal he was. The superpowered criminal. She was going to stop him, here and now.
Maxine’s growl finally escaped the confines of her mind and erupted out of her mouth. The thief took a step back, clearly terrified, but she kept the distance between them constant. He wasn’t going to get away with… any of this. He took another step back and tripped on a piece of debris he’d dislodged, falling on his back. He started to crawl backwards, conjuring up weak constructs to throw at her. She swatted them away as she advanced on him. She was so done. She had her own shit to deal with, and she was not dealing with it well. She was letting herself down, and she was going to let Victoria down, and she was going to let Penny down. The fact that they weren’t speaking up was just proof, as she saw it, that she was nowhere near good enough for someone like them. Maxine… came the tired responses, but there was no more than that.
She lunged forward and grabbed the thief by the front of his robes and lifted him up. He finally had the good sense to beg for his life, raising his hands in fear. She opened her maw, exposing her teeth. With her other hand, she grabbed his mask. “Let’s have a look at you,” she said. “You’re never going to hide from me again.” The mask came off, and she almost dropped him, laughing. Her laugh was loud, unhinged, hysterical. Clinging to her arm, unable to release himself from her steel grip, he looked at her, his eyes wide open and terrified. She giggled again, nervously. “Of fucking course,” she said to nobody in particular. “Of course it had to be you, Andrew.”
Andrew stared at her, tears in his eyes. He had no idea what was going on. The idiot. The dumbass. The fucker. The chud. The asshole. She considered what that meant for her, for them. A lot of what he said made sense. Fuck, a lot of what they’d talked about these past few years was starting to make sense, too. But he’d been too steeped in toxic culture to ever consider the possibility of who and what he, they (she?) might be. They’d always talked about the possibility and impossibility of what they wanted out of life. She chuckled again. “Andrew,” she said again. “Can you believe it?” she asked Penny. There was no response. “Penny?” Andrew frowned through the tears.
“Who the fuck is Penny?”
“Shut the fuck up for a second,” she shot back. “Penny?” She felt them, weak, so weak, weaker than she’d ever known them to be. Where were they? She dropped Andrew. He wasn’t the priority anymore. She felt their presence weakly, it was almost like trying to whisper to someone across a giant room. Penumbra stirred gently in response to her prodding. She focused and heard them, very weakly call out to her.
I’m sorry Maxine
I’m so sorry
Then they fell away. It was immediate. This wasn’t like when they’d been asleep. They weren’t gone, not entirely, still there, but this was almost like a hibernation. The door was closed, the lock bolted, the lights were off. Penumbra wasn’t here. But that meant… She could feel them retreating, slowly.
Maxine panicked. She needed to get out of here… if she even had the time. Or at least get Andrew out of here. She spun around and focused as hard as she could. This was a lot harder without Penumbra. She opened her jaws as she could and roared, screamed in Andrew’s face. She was pretty sure he’d wet himself as he ran out the doors. Good. Just in time. Penumbra was retreating quickly now. She stood in the destroyed foyer, just a small girl, looking as the last of them retreated into her hands.
She kept looking at them, though. Something was wrong. The hair on her arms was a little thicker than it had been earlier. She looked at it closer and she saw the hairs grow on the back of her hands, impossibly fast.
No. Nonono. She ran her hands through her hair in a panic, trying to wish away the terror she feared was coming. She began to really panic when she realized she was holding handfuls, clumps of hair. Maxine screamed in pain and terror when she felt her bones begin to creak as they expanded.
She screamed for a whole lot longer after that.