26: Dark Sundress
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It was almost time to go to Brook’s place. I’d decided that since I didn’t actually get to show off the cool outfit that Diana… that Mum had picked out for me on Saturday, I was going to wear that to Brook’s place. She and Rosie would appreciate it, even if Maddy hadn’t even show up to appreciate it. I was also in my glowing form, because I secretly loved it when Brook called me glowstick.

Mystrix Pallas, or as Mum kept calling her, Petra, was sitting in our living room drinking tea and… and chatting with mum. Mum who was also a superhero. And here I was, her not-adoptive daughter, going off to play with friends. This was crazy strange.

Petra had her helmet off, her long curly mahogany coloured hair flowing down her shoulders in beautiful ringlets. It caught the light in some pretty crazy ways, appearing to be almost ginger when the light went through it. Her eyes were a soft blue that seemed far too calm to be the eyes of the most powerful hero in the eastern United States. Her skin was fair, but it was pulled over a facial structure that seemed odd to me. It was a human face, to be sure, but my brain was having trouble stereotyping it, like she didn’t come from any one place that I knew of.

“Hello Eloise, how are you feeling?” Mum asked from next to Petra.

They were sitting with a few feet between them, but they were also leaning in a bit towards each other. Damn, I could not figure out what was going on here. Were they a thing? Were they not a thing? They were definitely playing coy about it if they were.

“I feel okay,” I said with a smile that I didn’t entirely feel.

“Come sit for a second, we want to talk,” she said softly, patting the couch next to her.

I felt my heart do a few terrified flips for a second as I tried to figure out what they wanted to talk about. Should I be worried? I didn’t want to lose my Mum all of a sudden. I’d only just gotten her! Please tell me that this wasn’t about how I had to move out or anything! We hadn’t even had time to fix it!

I did as she asked anyway, walking around to cautiously sit down next to her. Apparently, cautious wasn’t acceptable, and I was pulled against her side in a cuddle, her arm going around my shoulders protectively. Okay, so this told me I wasn’t going anywhere? Maybe? I couldn’t resist leaning my head on her shoulder though, some of the tension from the day easing out of me in the process. I felt safe here.

“How are you feeling, really?” she asked gently, her hand rubbing up and down my arm comfortingly.

“I don’t know,” I said, avoiding their eyes.

“If you don’t mind me intruding on affairs that are entirely none of my business,” Petra said, her hands clasped in her lap. “You seemed rather more stressed than even that situation might have warranted. Accidental activation of powers like that doesn’t happen because of any old frustrated outburst.”

“Yeah… that’s just what I’m like,” I shrugged, confused as to what they were getting at. My anxiety had always been with me, for as long as I could remember. It was just something else that was fucked up in my life that I had to deal with. One of the many anchors I was forced to carry with me every day.

“Really? Could you explain? If you feel comfortable in doing so?” Petra asked, her smile sweet and caring.

I sighed and pulled in on myself a little. I didn’t like talking about it. Brook was the only person who had ever really given a shit about it before. But… but if my new Mum was asking… it would be okay right? She wasn’t going to just yell at me for being a wimp or whatever. Tell me to, “suck it up and man up,” as dad had said.

“Okay…” I finally said, letting out a huge breath. “I don’t really know that much about it. I’ve just had um, pretty bad anxiety my whole life. Just, all the time. It’s a part of me I guess. Like how you have blue eyes or whatever. I’ve just learned to deal with it as best I can.”

My words caused a nonverbal exchange between the two heroes, and I watched it with increasing worry.

“You’re saying this has been with you as long as you can remember?” Mum asked carefully, her hand squeezing my arm for a moment.

“Yeah. Brook helps sometimes, I go to her house and she cuddles me to sleep,” I said, then felt a blush rise on my cheeks. Maybe they didn’t need to know that part.

“That’s very good of her,” Mum smiled, then turned to Petra expectantly.

“Ms Eloise, I assume you are aware that I am one of the founding members of the OMR? The Heroes Organisation for Mutual Assistance and Resources?” Petra asked.

“Um, yeah,” I nodded.

“We have a little known fund related to maintaining the mental and physical health of powerful emerged like yourself. Emerged that might cause serious damage should they, uh, lose control,” she said diplomatically.

“Powerful emerged? But I thought you said that I wasn’t dangerous back at the Uni?” I asked, suddenly worried.

“I lied, I’m afraid. You are what we would call a class six or above emerged, if we were to classify the full extent of your powers, which we will most definitely not be doing,” she explained with a wince. “If the United States government were to learn of your existence, you would be taken into custody.”

“But I thought you worked with them?” I said, growing worried.

“Unfortunately, we must work within the bounds that they set us. That does not mean, however, that we can’t break those rules. And we do, often. The current administration is not to be trusted as far as a baseline human could kick the current misshapen citrus fruit that occupies the white house. We have made it our mission to identify and aid those like yourself who might otherwise be taken to a black site and abused,” she said, sounding… pissed off?

She continued, her voice growing dark with a tone that was much more in keeping with the goddess she resembled. “We will not have another… Yelmorn incident. As it was, when I was made aware of the extent to which the current administration had taken liberties with the human rights of the citizens it was meant to protect… sweet Diana here was forced to… persuade me from certain actions.”

“So you’re not going to throw me to the government…” I sighed in relief. “Thank you.”

“No, we are going to provide you with a small stipend, if you’ll take it. If you do, we’ll also pay for you to see some professionals who can help you. I can have my secretary bring the papers on your word,” Petra smiled. “Our goal is to help you live whatever life you’d like to lead, within the bounds of morality and law.”

“That… yes. Brook was saying she wanted to get me to see someone to help with my anxiety,” I nodded awkwardly.

“Good good, let me send a message to fetch my secretary then,” Petra said, carving a spell into the air with her fingers.

“Hey! Be careful of my floors! I only recently had then fixed after the last time you appeared in my living room!” Mum blurted, looking worriedly around.

“Never fear, I will have them use a rifter this time,” Petra smiled.

There was a shattering sound, as if on cue, and a hole swirled into being in the air. Beyond the hole, a disgruntled… person stepped through. I gasped and shot up out of Mum’s arms, staring at the newcomer, who stared back.

“You’re like me!” I exclaimed at the same time that they swore, “Well fuck me, now there’s two of us.”

“Caser, language please,” Petra groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Sorry ma’am. It’s just... not every day that I meet another fae like me,” the person who was apparently named Caser said. I still couldn’t tell if they were a boy or a girl. Maybe they were neither? I was going to assume neither.

“We’re fae?” I asked, stepping cautiously around the couch to stare openly at them.

They were much taller than me, and their features were way more elf-like than mine. Where my ears were just a little pointed, theirs were much longer. LotR elf versus WoW elf. Their eyes were more canted too, and their hair was a bright yellowish gold and so were their freckles and eyes. I kinda wished I looked like them. They looked almost dangerous and alien, it was a totally cool look.

“Yeah we are, although you’re considerably more human lookin’ than I am,” they grinned, offering a hand to shake with a wink. “Oh, and I totally dig the outfit ya got on. Rock it girl!”

“Thanks!” I grinned, blushing some more, then we heard Petra clear her throat back on the couch.

“Yeah yeah, I’m gettin’ there ma’am. Calm down,” Caser laughed, handing a sheaf of papers to Petra. Then they turned to me with a mock whisper, “Did ya hear about the time she got confused by one of those old revolvin’ doors? She got so frustrated with it that she systematically dismantled the bloody thing to see how it worked. Insisted there was magic going on. She didn’t want to admit she was just terrible at usin’ them.”

“It was an infernal contraption and if I was in charge of this wretched hellscape of a country, they would all be banned,” Petra grumbled, her eyes scanning over the documents with a frown, although her lips were tugging up into a smile.

Caser was cool. I liked Caser. Even if their irish accent was totally fake.

“The papers are all there, which is a minor miracle considering the idiot I hired for a secretary,” Petra said with a small smirk, earning an “Oi!” from Caser before the goddess continued speaking. “This is for you to sign and deliver to the nearest OMR office whenever you want to. We’ll discreetly handle things on our end, and get back to you when we have a plan for you. Is that okay?”

“Y-yeah,” I smiled, feeling a little dazed. It was like an actual hero had swooped in and saved me. I felt a little emotional about it… but for once it was in a happy way.

“Good, I’m afraid I must go now, I don’t want to keep our rifter waiting. Diana, I hope you don’t mind if I uh, call in later next week and see how you and little Eloise are managing?” Petra asked, smiling fondly between Mum and I.

“I always enjoy your company,” Mum smiled, and I nodded agreement. Mystrix Pallas was pretty cool too.

“Well then, I bid you good afternoon, I am sorry about the rather abrupt exit,” she smiled, then strode through the portal.

Caser gave me a quick little salute and a wink, then followed their boss. Just like that, the portal closed. I turned back to Mum with wide eyes.

“I’m going to get help?” I asked in disbelief.

“That you are, kiddo,” she smiled warmly.

 

****

 

On a whim, I decided to stop off at White Plains and grab some chinese takeout for the three of us. Brook loved the stuff, and since she was going to be trying to help me, it only made sense that I should try and make her happy. I mean, making her happy anyway would be nice, but she extra deserved it for helping… I don’t know.

I was walking down one of the main streets, trying to remember which place it was that she liked to order from. It was a mid to late afternoon, and students were everywhere, having gotten out of, whatever level of education they attended.

I found the place she liked after a while of searching, and got in line to order. I sent her a quick text telling her what I was getting, which received an enthusiastic reply. Now I just had to wait. It took a while, and while I waited I was checked out pretty blatantly by a group of guys. That was weird. Also I got a grin and a nod from a girl with so many rainbow pins on her bag she could stop bullets, which, given what had happened in penrith a few months ago, was probably a good precaution.

I collected my food and left the store, turning down the street. I decided I should just skate the rest of the way, it wasn’t too far, and the pavement had recently been repaved, which meant nice smooth asphalt to ride on. Smooth asphalt was amazing.

I glanced down at the ground and dropped my board, then hopped on. As I looked up, my eyes trailed to the other side of the street. Almost like the universe was intentionally trying to fuck with me, I laid eyes on the source of all my recent pain. Maddy.

She was walking down the other side of the street with a blonde woman who looked a little older than us, but not by much. She was short too, but she had a confidence to the way she walked that made her appear larger. She was definitely emerged or something, she had that walk that said, I could fuck you up.

In complete juxtaposition to that confidence, she was currently trying to eat a hotdog from the middle. Maddy laughed and plucked the hotdog out of the woman’s hands and placed it back in a way that she would eat it correctly.

Having finished fixing her odd friend’s actions with the hotdog, her eyes drifted up and then widened as they locked with mine. A look of guilt and worry crossed her face, and she grabbed her friend by the arm and dragged her into a random store, much to the surprise of the woman.

My heart felt like it had just been taken and beaten to death in the gutter. That answered that question then… she’d done it on purpose. She didn’t want me, because she had someone better than me. Someone cooler, if a little shit at eating hotdogs. Probably someone from another country? She’d looked scandanavian or something.

Feeling a little numb and fuzzy in the head, I let my powers carry me forward, without really understanding where I was going or what was happening. It was odd, letting my powers entirely drive my body. But I needed it. I needed to not be in this world for a bit.

Maddy had betrayed me. There was no other explanation, right? What else could there possibly be? She knew she’d hurt me too, the way she’d reacted to seeing me. She’d looked guilty, but she’d also lacked any sort of affection or care for me. Well, maybe… there was something there, but it seemed small and insignificant compared to whatever else she had on her mind.

That woman? Was that who? Had she been with her when I'd been waiting and crying outside that restaurant? Probably.

One thing was for sure. Fuck romance. Fuck ever trying for that crap. Maybe some people found it in their lives, but it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t allowed to feel love and then have it reciprocated. I was doomed to be stuck in one or the other. Either I had feelings for them, or they had feelings for me. Sure, I had a sample size of two, but whatever. It was the truth. I would die alone.

Bump.

I blinked, feeling warm all of a sudden as I came back to myself. There were arms around me. Who was holding me? I looked up… and straight into Brook’s concerned, warm hazel eyes. They were nice warm eyes, made all the better by her incredible eyeliner. She was good at the whole makeup thing, and she didn’t even have my powers.

“Oh, you’re back with us,” she said, leaning her forehead on mine and sighing in relief.

“What do you mean?” I croaked, my voice failing to work properly.

Wow, I had my free hand on her waist. Where the hell even was I? I looked around, finding myself standing in the doorway to her apartment. I’d made it? Wow, my powers were kinda freaky. She was holding me, I think I’d walked into her. She was so tall. I felt funny.

“Come inside, I have some bowls ready and my room is clean, plus there’s extra chairs,” she said encouragingly, but still looking down at me with concern.

“Thank you,” I mumbled as she put her arm around my waist and guided me through the house.

It didn’t take long for me to pull myself back together, just the trip to her room, where Rosie smiled at me and said hello. I didn’t listen though, because my chest felt uncomfortable. Strange. I think it was my proximity to Brook? I wriggled out of her arms and sat down on the chair, then realised I had the food in my hand still and held it out for her.

“Situation is that bad huh?” Rosie asked, her eyes also showing concern, although not nearly as deeply as Brook’s had. “It’s okay though! We’re here and we’ll generate some positive PR for you!”

"What do you mean?" I asked, looking between the two in confusion, noting with a start that Brook was wearing a dress. "Brook! You're wearing a dress!"

It was really cute on her too. It was a sundress, light and airy, but instead of the usual flowers and shit, it was a navy blue colour. The same navy blue as the waistcoat I was wearing.

"I am," she laughed, passing me a bowl of food. "Is that so strange?"

"You never wear femme stuff!” I said in surprise, then remembered to compliment her. “But like, you look really hot in it! Really, really hot…”

“Wanna take it off me later?” she asked with a cheeky wink that caused my mind to slam to a halt.

It was off again, but this time instead of getting lost in thoughts of never finding love again, it was lost in far more pleasant thoughts. What would it be like to take it off her? I knew she was joking… but that didn’t change the fact that I had a very excited imagination right now. God, her ass looked… I wanted to bite it. I don’t know why, but I wanted to lick and bite.

Her eyebrows were in her hairline when I was finally finished devouring her with my eyes and imagination, and I looked down into my food with a furious blush.

“Well,” she laughed. “I guess that did the trick. Note to self, the next time that Elsie is in a depressed haze, get her turned on.”

“Bully,” I mumbled, shifting my legs around as I felt an uncomfortable wetness gathering between them.

She was right though. I wasn’t feeling so dizzy and weird anymore. I will felt down, I was always going to feel shit about this I think… I mean, I was fucked as far as finding my “soulmate” or whatever was concerned. But I felt stable now… well, stable and horny for my best friend.

“So uh,” I asked, trying to change the subject. “What ideas did you have to deal with this? I almost lost my new Mum today because of this shit.”

“Your new Mum?” Brook asked, her flirtatious tone replaced by a curious one. “You’re at that point already?”

I shrugged and nodded, “Yeah. She’s incredible. She’s been taking really good care of me and buying things for me and… and comforting me when I’m upset.”

Brook smiled, her pretty hazel eyes going soft for a moment. “I’m glad.”

We sat in silence for a moment, and I noticed Rosie looking back and forth suspiciously between us. She didn’t say anything though, instead shaking her head a little and saying, “So yeah. I was thinking that both Brook and I could start including you in our feeds a bit. We’d have to hang out of course, but that way people could see there’s a person they’re talking shit about, not just a name and a face.”

“Okay, that makes sense,” I nodded, speaking around a mouthful of food and understanding so far.

“And fuck, like Rosie and I have been fighting a little internet war against her shitty old friends this whole time. We don’t know who’s fucking with you, so we can’t go on the attack, but we can at least go on defence. Talk about how Diana took you in after your asshole parents threw you out,” Brook said, then frowned. “Although, we’d need to talk about you being trans then.”

“Hmm?!” Rosie asked, clearly trying to swallow her food rather than spit it out everywhere.

“Oh shit,” Brook groaned, slapping her forehead with her hand.

“It’s okay,” I laughed softly and looking at Rosie, who was still struggling with the food. “Yeah I uh, was born male, I guess. Emerged into a girl’s body and realised I was meant to be this way the whole time.”

“That is… useful, actually. At least on a University Campus. It’s a little squicky with regards to being okay or not, but we could use that as defence. People in places like our Uni always love the story of an LGBT person being shit on by their parents and running away to find a better life,” she said thoughtfully, her mind going right back to what she knew best. “Depending on how nasty and underhanded you’re willing to get, we could start painting the management as bigots.”

I coughed in surprise at that last part. We could do that?

I shook my head, “I’d rather not be that… scary, about it.”

“Alright. Well, still. How about uh… I heard you were interested in a girl? Going on a date or something? If you two were seen together, that would make this a piece of cake,” she said, looking hopeful.

And there it was again. The despair. All that needed to happen was the mention of her name. Her name, and the way she’d looked at me as she dragged her… her girlfriend, or whoever that was, into a store and away from me. I wasn’t even worth a damn text message, that was how little— 

Brook was there again, kneeling on the ground next to my chair, taking my bowl and gathering me in her arms.

From the safety of her strong, caring embrace, I whimpered, “She stood me up.”

“What?!” Brook asked, a note of anger flickering through her voice. She leaned back to get a look at me, her eyes full of outrage.

I nodded, telling the story in a small voice, “She was acting weird, but I thought, like, maybe she was just nervous about the date or whatever, you know? I was. Anyway, I waited outside the restaurant, but she was a no show. No text to explain why. Then… you, Brook. You said you saw her with another girl. I thought maybe it was nothing, but then I saw her on the way over here with a girl, and they were being really close.”

“Oh fuck, that’s why you turned up in that state,” Brook sighed sadly, shifting forward to hug me again.

“Yup,” I mumbled, clinging to her now, with my hands wrapped around her bicep.

“Well, that’s not great,” Rosie said sympathetically. “I know… exactly how you feel, though.”

Right. She’d been cheated on pretty recently. Fuck, why was love so hard? Why was finding someone such a crapshoot?

We all sat in silence for a few minutes, until I was feeling a little better, and then Brook went back to her seat, placing the bowl back in my hands. She was so wonderful to me. It was strange though. We’d been close for the few years we’d known each other, but since I’d become Elsie, we’d become even closer. I liked it, but it was crazy nevertheless.

“What if…” Rosie murmured, after a while. “What if you still appear in public with someone else, but it’s not that Maddy person?”

“What? Are you volunteering?” Brook said, her words and tone trying for a joke, but there was a little hostility to them too.

“No! No, I’ve already got a reputation for being one hundred percent straight, at least while sober,” she shook her head. “No… I was actually kinda thinking, maybe… you?”

“Me?” Brook gasped and choked at the same time, getting into a coughing fit and rushing to put her food down yet again. Once she was somewhat recovered, she gave Rosie a pointed look. “No, no fucking way. You know I can't do that. You know… Just, no. No way.”

I curled up a little with every denial. I wasn’t in love with her, but those words hurt. Was I not good enough for Brook either? Rosie saw my expression, and shifting her eyes urgently back and forth in a way that would have been comical in other circumstances, she indicated that Brook should look at me.

“Oh shit, I didn’t mean it like that Elsie… Fuck, we all know it in this room anyway. I’ll be candid. Pretending to be your girlfriend when I’m really, actually, in love with you… it would fuck me up. I can’t do it. I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes pleading with me to understand.

And I did. Not entirely, but I had recently felt what it was like to get fucked over by my heart… which meant that if we even used that plan, the pretend girlfriend could not be Brook. Shit, the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to let Brook get hurt by this.

“You’re right,” I nodded, giving her an earnest, caring smile. “You’re like, the most important person in my life. Even more than Diana. You’re the only person who’s stuck with me through all the shit I’ve dealt with… you pick me up when I fall over, you hold me together when I fall apart. I can’t let you get hurt by this.”’

Oh the expression on Brook’s face. She looked like she was going to cry. I didn’t want Brook to cry. This time, it was me who put the bowl down and went to her. I had no idea how to do this thing, this comforting someone thing. I did it with Brook once in a while, but she was so much better at it. I hugged her, I hugged her really tight because I couldn’t do anything other than hug her tight.

“I’m sorry,” I heard Rosie say. “That was dumb of me. I’m sorry I… I’m still learning this whole, other people are people too, thing.”

“It’s okay,” I said in reply. “Let’s just do the other stuff. We’ll drop the fake girlfriend idea.”

“Sounds good… idea dropped,” Rosie replied awkwardly, but my attention was on my friend, who was very much crying now.

I kissed the top of her head tenderly, stroking one hand through her hair while the other ran down her spine. I’d… I’d take care of her. I needed to. Something in me wouldn’t have it any other way.

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